Sunday, January 15, 2012

a curry to beat the cold

I'm sure this will come as a surprise, but it hasn't actually warmed up since I last wrote - today's high didn't breach 30 degrees.  I think tomorrow we might hit a balmy 38 as the high.  Who cares about the weather, though?  Someone had a birthday yesterday...

That's right - Me.  I'm still here, despite my pitiful recent blogging.  I don't normally like to designate "favorite" gifts because I love what all gifts represent - that a person loved me enough to think of me and give me a little something special.

Or, sometimes, a big something special.  Story Time!

A few nights ago, probably toward the beginning of the week, Mister and I were talking about something that made this next comment appropriate.  He said something and my response was, "Exactly, which is why I need a 1-qt All-Clad saucepan."  I'm not ashamed to say that my new 4-qt saute pan has started a dangerous and expensive "addiction" to this wonderful cookware.  Besides, I like that I can feel good about contributing to an American-owned and American-operated company, based in Pennsylvania, still doing everything in the USA, and though it hurts my wallet, I will gladly pay more to support that.

Anyway, I came home from an interesting day of teaching (nothing says, "today's gonna be great" like getting a call while you're on the train, asking if you're coming in today because the student no one told you was starting an hour before your earliest known student is in the store waiting for you) to go out for my birthday dinner at Vedge.  It was good, but I think there are still some quirks waiting to be worked out.  The noise level can get a little intense when it's a full house, and they dropped the ball on three kind of important things.

  • our original reservation, made through the magic and convenience of OpenTable, was for 9pm.  I didn't really want to eat that late, but it was the earliest time available, so I took it, figuring I'd ask about changing when they called to confirm.  They called to confirm on Friday, and I asked the girl if we could swing an earlier time.  She said there was a table available at 8:30.  When we arrived a little after 8:30, the hostess gave me the impression she thought we were early...
  • After confirming we'd like the 8:30 time, I asked if it would be possible to get a table that was not smushed in between two other 2 tops - it makes Mister and I very uncomfortable.  Him more than me, but I didn't want anything to impede our nice dinner for my birthday.  When we arrived and were told that our table was "already" ready, we were led to the only open table - a 2-top in between another 2-top and a 4-top occupied by a loud, obnoxious "party."
  • The waitress suggested 3-4 plates per person, since the new concept at Vedge is small plates so you can sample a wider variety of dishes.  Following her advice, I ordered two old favorites from Horizons, which I knew would be at least a little different for the sake of novelty: Eggplant-Cauliflower Braciole and Golden Beets.  We also got Fingerling Fries and Black Olives as kind of an antipasti.  I never got my beets.  Fortunately, that left plenty of room for the amazing Sticky Toffee Pudding with salted caramel and a scoop of vanilla-bourbon ice cream.
I don't want to come out and say I'm disappointed in Vedge, but so far Mister and I have yet to be wowed like we consistently were at Horizons.  I'm pretty adventurous about my cuisine, but when Mister has to read and re-read the menu for the better part of 10 minutes, I think it'll be a hard sell to get him back there anytime soon.

On to the happy!  It was freezing last night, so we gave the bus around 1 minute to show up then hailed a cab and got home in relative warmth.  Upon our return, Mister presented me with my gift.

Have you guessed what it is yet?

If you guessed 1-qt All-Clad Saucepan you'd be right!  Apparently, he'd already gotten it by the time I made the comment about it on Monday and told me today that his thought then was "oh good, then I can get rid of the receipt!"  I can hardly wait to make my oatmeal in the morning...except that I'm out of soymilk, so it'll have to wait a day.

I'm also out of crushed tomatoes, which is why I didn't make a neat spin-off on a shepherd's pie made with winter vegetables and covered with a blanket of couscous, not mashed potatoes.  Instead, I had to use my brain and figure out what to do with what I did have: red cabbage, carrots, peas, and chickpeas.

So I made something up and it came out well enough to share:

3-C Curry
(makes about 6 servings)
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 small shallots, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
head of red cabbage, chopped
4 carrots
15 oz chickpeas
1 cup frozen peas
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 Tbsp za'atar
1 Tbsp tamari/soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water, more if needed
brown rice for serving

Heat oil in pan over medium heat.  When oil is "shimmering," add shallots and garlic.  Stir to coat with oil, then lower heat and cook about 10 minutes, until shallots begin to brown and get a little crispy.  Add chopped cabbage and water, cover and let cook for about 10 minutes.  When the cabbage is at least half-wilted, stir in the curry powder, salt, and tamari, then add the carrots and peas.  Stir well to distribute spices throughout the curry.  Cover and cook for another 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender.  Stir in chickpeas, taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary.  Serve over brown rice.

It was pretty good - it had this amazing color scheme going on: every bad color combination that was "hip" in the 1960s, I think.  We had the deep purple cabbage with bright orange carrots, vibrant green peas and beige chickpeas.  I added a little more salt at the end of cooking to enhance the curry flavors and it was tasty enough for Mister and I to each have two servings.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the curry flavors develop between now and lunch tomorrow.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Betty Crocker, eat your heart out

No matter how vigilant you are about your health, no matter how healthy you eat, no matter how many toxins you avoid, when you come into contact with 100+ people a day, you will get sick.  It's unavoidable.

So, in an unusual departure from the Mister's Sick theme, I am sick.  It's just a cold and I honestly believe it will be gone sooner than later without any lasting ill-effects.  Nevertheless, it's annoying and has successfully knocked me [somewhat] on my butt.  I started to feel a little sneezy on Thursday night, so, being the smart young lady I am, I went to bed a bit early, hoping to head things off with a good sleep.  I thought I'd succeeded... until about halfway through yesterday, when it became apparent I was not okay.  Eventually, I was interrupting client interactions to run to the bathroom and blow my nose before I dripped on the iPads.  Paints a lovely picture, I know.

I still thought I would come home and make the Kale Barley soup I almost made the other night, but I didn't.  By halfway through my walk home, I was a sniffling, hiccuping, angry mess.  I'm not sure if there is something more irritating that sniffling and then getting a vicious bout of hiccups because you're sniffling and being unable to control your breathing (thereby stopping the hiccups) because you're still sniffling.  Anyway, I was in quite a state by the time I burst into our home.  After I blew my nose and calmed down, I sent Mister out for vitamin water, V8, tissues, and food.  He returned with the least offensive flavor of Vitamin Water I've ever had and a falafel salad, heaped with roasted broccoli and cauliflower and a Wawa hoagie for himself.

Angst was all over that.

To my surprise, you can now get baby spinach on Wawa hoagies.  To my greater surprise, Angst wanted nothing to do with that!  Mister tried to give him some and he wouldn't even touch it until Mister also put some Ranch dressing on the spinach.  Then he licked the dressing off and started squeaking for more.  He started pulling Mister's wrist toward him when Mister picked a piece of Provolone cheese off of the sandwich to share with the poor, malnourished, starving kitty.  I told Angst I was disappointed in him skipping his spinach for cheese and asked him exactly what I was supposed to call the blog now?  Mister suggested Angst Loves Stinky Italian Cheese, but I just don't think it has the same ring.

Shortly after dinner, I went to bed and slept for 12 hours before getting up and stubbornly trying to go out and teach lessons.  That didn't end up happening, so after returning to bed for another few hours, I got up and tried to make dinner.  It was at this point Mister intervened.

"Stop trying to do stuff!  Sit down."

There will be no recipe because I have absolutely no idea how he did this, but my husband morphed into Benny cRocker and made a vegan version of Biscuits with Sausage Gravy.

So it turns out my husband is actually pretty good at making biscuits!  They were soft and puffy and tasty and split right down the middle when I pulled it apart at table.

He was a little weirded out making the gravy with "fake" sausage and soymilk, since he hasn't tried to make this since giving up meat, but it was so cute watching him putter around the kitchen.  Although a bit confused, Angst genuinely enjoyed this Special Episode of the Cooking Show.

He used Lightlife Gimme Lean sausage, but it wasn't quite as crumbly as he wanted it to be.  The gravy was pretty thick and started to congeal, but he decided it was due to not using enough fat, not the soymilk that set off the fire alarm upon being added to the skillet.

I'd never had Sausage Gravy and Biscuits before (I wasn't actually a huge sausage fan when I did eat meat), but it was tasty and Mister said it was "close enough."  Mister is a CookingWithoutARecipe kind of chef, but it turns out Lightlife actually did the work for him and you can check out their recipe here.

I've been upright long enough.  Time to drink more liquids and recline a little while I digest.  Hope everyone out there in the cyberverse is feeling okay!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

sausage in my pocket

Well, it's a new year so I get to start my HolyCowIt'sSoCold posts all over again with a brand new quotient of times to bitch about the weather.  Keep in mind - I love Philadelphia, I love Philadelphia in the wintertime, and I love the cooler times of the year.  Still, there is no reason that I should be outside when the wind chill factors the temperature into the single digits.

Nevertheless, this morning I put on two layers of clothing, wrapped my puppy-scarf snugly around my neck, zipped my coat up to my nose, pulled on my gloves and hat and headed out the door looking very much like a ninja.

A cold ninja.

There's always something that astonishes me the first time each year that I look at the weather and see that not only is it 14 degrees right now, but it feels like it's 2 degrees and today's high doesn't break the freezing mark.  It's as though that's never happened before, even though it did, in fact, happen just last year and the year before that, too.  To anyone reading in Wisconsin or any of its neighboring states, and of course Canada, feel free to have a good laugh at my expense.  I am grateful that I've never seen the temperatures you deal with all winter long.  But for a relatively temperate area like Philadelphia, sub-freezing is our sub-zero.

When I got home, my first impulse was to make soup dinner despite Mister's inevitable protests.  I did not for two reasons (one of which became null): first, we didn't have any sandwich fixin's and I feel bad [now] serving Mister just soup.  Second, I was already thinking ahead to tomorrow's work lunch.  Granted, there are a ton of fabulous eating options within a one-block radius of the store I'm in tomorrow, but I haven't been keen on spending money going outside unnecessarily lately.  I don't want to test the strength of my "tupperware" by toting soup in my purse for a mile, so I wanted to make something a little more leftover-travel-friendly.

Enter Charro Beans with Chipotle Sausage from Vegetarian Times.  I've made this before, so why bother posting about it again?

That's why ^.  I've been meaning to try Field Roast sausages pretty much as long as they've been on the market, but they are about $1 more than Tofurky sausages and, being somewhat impoverished, that $1 has disproportionate value.  Regardless, since the recipe called for chipotle sausages and since Field Roast makes them (and Tofurky does not), it seemed the perfect excuse to splurge.

Unlike Tofurky, which is packaged similarly to hot dogs, the Field Roast sausages were actually packed as individually-wrapped links.  This made for quite the adventure trying to free them from their casings.  It resulted in my hands and cutting board looking like someone had just killed him- or herself in my kitchen - I'll spare you the picture I took of my "bloody" hand.

Once I'd coerced the little buggers out of their plastic casing, I cut two sausages in half (anticipating they would pack too much heat to stay in whole rounds like the recipe instructed) and then sliced them to add to my sauteing peppers.

After letting them cook a little by themselves, I added the beans and tomatoes, but I left out the chili powder because I was getting the distinct impression the sausages might end up being more than I'd bargained for.

Fortunately, I did have the foresight to serve them on a fluffy, bland cloud of mashed potatoes.

That may very well have been the only reason I could finish my first...and only...serving.  It was far more outstanding this time than the first time I'd made this dish, and that is owed completely to the brand of sausage, I believe.  Okay, that mashed potatoes are awesome doesn't hurt.

In any case, two things resulted from this dinner: first, Mister ended up with a generous portion of leftovers [read: all of them] for his lunch tomorrow and I ended up with a new strategy to beat the frigid temperatures outside: sausage.  By the time I finished my meal, I was nearly sweating, even though I'd turned down the heat while I was at work (Mister's fine - he's Greek so he radiates heat).  So, I told Mister I was going to carry the leftover sausages with me to warm me up like the brandy in a St. Bernard's barrel - just keep my sausage in my pocket until I need to go out into the cold.

Insert reallllllly immature joke here.

On a final and unrelated note, my healthcare for my new job is about to kick in, which is perfectly timed since one of my contacts decided to rip in my eye today.  All day I was walking around work squinting and blinking and putting drops in my eyes and complaining to my colleagues about my eyes bothering me.  I was counting the minutes until I could come home and take them out.  Upon doing so was when I discovered the damage, so I was reminded of yet another thing I love about Philadelphia and Winter.

In Philadelphia, especially Center City, but even on the residential streets where the homes are three stories tall, there is a natural darkness.  This is both beneficial and detrimental, depending on your point of view.  On the one hand, it might not be so darn cold if the sun could touch you and warm you up a little.  On the other hand, I can get away with not wearing sunglasses most of the time.  When it's winter, there's even less sunshine because the days are shorter and the sun never actually makes it to the "top" of the sky, so it's possible to stay out of direct sunlight pretty much all day.

Before you think I'm a vampire, let me just point out how difficult it is to wear sunglasses with seeing glasses - it doesn't work.  Since my new contacts are at least a week away from being in my eyeballs, looks like I'll be rocking my glasses, so I'm glad I don't have to worry about sun.

That's all.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

may your days be merry and bright

Okay, so clearly (in Philadelphia, at least) we did not have a White Christmas.  No, definitely not - it was gorgeous, though - around 50 degrees and sunny!  Nevetheless, I felt like the title displayed a nice blessing to begin a new year.  One which, according to some conspiracy theorists/history-ignorant human beings will be our very last one.

I say "Live it up!" then.  What better way to do so than another thrilling and incidental collaboration between my mother and husband?  I continue to be astonished by my new saute pan and am counting the days until I can comfortably add another piece of this addicting cookware to my small-but-adequate urban kitchen.

I'm fairly well convinced that food even looks more attractive in this pan.  I mean, a load of sliced red peppers sauteing with garlic, olive oil, basil, and two big bay leaves is always a beautiful sight, but I believe the reflective nature of my new pan illuminates the beauty, enhancing it even further (I know, it's difficult, but try it!)  To say I'm in love is putting it lightly.

The scent of my red peppers softening and getting all sweet and garlicky was enough to get Angst into the kitchen to be the live studio audience for The Cooking Show with Mommy...

Though I failed to be exciting enough to keep him awake.  I appreciated his support and company, though.  He appreciates warm, squishy things upon which to sleep.  Tonight's dinner was a Red Pepper Risotto, taken from the book Mister gave me for Christmas.  I'd tell you which book, but it's pretty non-descript: the title is Vegetarian and it's a compilation of recipes, so there is no author.  If it's really, really important to anyone still reading after my excessive absence, I will post the editor's name so you can try to dig it up, but it's an older book (I love how Mister knows his way around thrift stores and the store we traded a bunch of books to, for credit toward more books, when we moved last February).

This picture shows again how fortunate I am to have my new, beautiful, easy to cook with, easy to clean All-Clad saute pan.  Although I cooked the rice separately (more on why in a minute) and then added it to the pan, there is NO WAY I would have pulled that off with my 3-qt saute pan.  I would have had to cut the recipe in half to make it fit, especially since I cooked 2 cups of rice to add to that.  Rice tends to triple in volume when cooked, so that's about 6 cups of rice mixed into 3 red peppers and a 28-oz can of diced tomatoes.

By the time everything was cooked and combined, even Angst had grown more interested in dinner.  Saint that he is, Mister scooped up the sleepy kitty to show him what was on the stove.  Angst hates the stove and he hates hot food - it bites him.  That picture was snapped right before he struggled free of the Evil Man carrying him.

Anyway, as you can see, this doesn't look much like a "traditional" risotto, and if you know anything about risotto, you know I committed a cardinal culinary sin by cooking the rice by itself and just adding it to the cooked peppers and tomatoes at the last minute.  Let me explain.

Last night as we were finishing our very tasty dinner, long somen noodles sauteed with tofu, carrots, and asparagus with a homemade teriyaki sauce that didn't suck (following a New Years tradition of our Asian neighbors), Mister and I got into a discussion about his food preferences.  We were discussing the innovative but limiting fixed menu being offered by Vedge for the holiday.  I nearly choked on my noodles when Mister said, "there aren't a lot of foods I don't like, but the ones I don't like I really hate."

So I said:

  • mushrooms
  • squash
  • eggplant
  • whole wheat pasta
  • tempeh
  • quinoa
  • "squishy wheat"
  • prunes
  • raisins
  • pretty much any dried fruit, actually
  • gnocchi
  • ricotta
  • sweet potatoes
I could go on.  For heaven's sake, I even have a label on the blog for "Things Mister Hates."

So, there were two reasons I cooked the rice separately.  First, risotto takes a very long time and my hands have typing to do, so I didn't feel like wearing them out by continuously stirring rice for about an hour.  Second, and more important, another Thing Mister Hates is Risotto, so I wanted to make this as un-risotto-like as possible and it seems to have worked since he had two bowls. 

I have to admit, my favorite thing about him hating risotto is how he had forgotten and at what an inconvenient time he remembered.  Two years ago at Christmas, his father took us and his wife to Lacroix, a very fancy and very expensive French restaurant overlooking Rittenhouse Square.  For our side dishes, I selected sweet potatoes, since I never get to have them at home (see the list ^ ) and Mister chose Chestnut Risotto (to my great surprise, having avoided cooking risotto at home for this specific reason).  It came, it looked delicious, and after he picked at it for a few minutes I asked if I could try a bite.  He pretty much told me I could have it all if I wanted, revealing that he had forgotten what risotto was until it arrived.  Ahh.... adventures in fine dining.

So, anyway, Happy New year to any faithful friend who is still reading after my nearly month-long absence.  I haven't resolved to write more frequently, but I do anticipate having more to say going forward, so thank you for your patience - I hope to reward it richly this new year.  Even if it all ends on the Winter Solstice like the Mayans said it would.