Sunday, December 28, 2008

Worth the Wait!

I know, I know. It's been a long time. Many the time I've thought, "I really need to go blog this recipe," only to get carried away with other busyness until it just doesn't happen. However, tonight's dinner, Almost Tarascan Bean Soup, was one of those, "I really have to blog this--right NOW!" kinds of meals. If nothing else, it's beautiful. Who doesn't want to get out a spoon and dig in to this on a cold winter night?

Second, it is a great showcase for Rancho Gordo cranberry beans. For whatever reason, it has been taking me forever to get beans cooked to doneness, but I do not hold the fact that I was up until 2 a.m. making this sound against it. Not at all. I really should have known better, the way bean cooking has been going. However, this made a good-sized batch of soup, much more than the 4 servings the recipe states. This would be dead simple to double up and keep in the freezer, and the garnishing steps take only minutes on the night you want to serve it.

While the beans were simmering, plump Roma tomatoes were halved and cooked on heavy foil in a skillet, and turned several times until they began to char. Half an onion was sliced thinly, garlic was minced, and they were sauteed, along with the cooked, chopped tomatoes, until thick and jammy. This mixture is then set aside until the beans are tender. An immersion blender made quick work of the pureeing step. At that point, since we were not up for an early breakfast, I put the soup in the refrigerator, which allowed the flavors time to meld and deepen.

When it was time to eat, I spent the few minutes it took to warm the soup to quickly fry some very thin tortilla strips and thinly sliced ancho chile strips. That's right--fried dried chiles. I was skeptical, but the deep, almost fruity taste of the chiles was an amazing offset to the more staid basic soup. These two items topped the soup that was ladled into the bowls, along with sour cream, queso fresco, and some chopped cilantro. Next time, I'll try to have a lime on hand, as I think the acid would add one more layer of flavor and brightness to the finished dish. Served with warm chips and guacamole on the side, this was a memorable meal that I look forward to having again.

Monday, September 15, 2008

More end of summer bounty

Have I mentioned that I love arugula? Yes, I'm sure that I did. So why, oh why, do I never think to buy it at the grocery store? So, many thanks to Kelly Saxer over at Desert Roots Farm (my CSA) for reawakening my interest. I don't know what it is about this leafy green that is so intriguing. Maybe it's the smell--as distinct as cilantro, but more earthy and mysterious. Or the slap-your-face bite of the raw leaves, which mellows with just a bit of heat. Or could it be the way it plays an outstanding supporting role to almost any other vegetable? Could it be that it's just fun to say, or makes people look at you like you're crazy (because most of them have NO idea what it is)? Or maybe it's all of those things.

All I know is that I now have a mighty craving for arugula. Today, I was sitting in the hospital with my mom (who, thank God, is okay, but we had quite a scare involving hot--according to her--paramedics and an ambulance ride) and trying to figure out what I could throw together for dinner when I got home. I knew it MUST contain arugula. A recipe for a roasted potato salad with arugula came with my CSA delivery, but I knew that I had other vegetable delights that needed to be used. Once again, for instance, I have the most gorgeous, tiny eggplant--some of them only about 3" long. And there was that bell pepper half. And an onion starting to look tired.

Perhaps it was sleep deprivation, or maybe just inspired instincts, but I tinkered with the recipe to include all the things I had on hand. The result--an amazing, simple, and delicious dinner of Roasted Vegetable Salad with Arugula. The potatoes, eggplant, bell pepper, and onion were chunked and cooked to a crispy turn in a very hot oven. A light dressing of olive oil, grainy mustard, and wine vinegar was whisked together with just a few turns of the fork. The vegetables came out of the oven, danced through the bowl of torn arugula, and were kissed by just enough dressing to enhance the flavors. Another keeper was born.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Arugula and Eggplant--A Marriage Made in Heaven

First, I have to apologize for no pictures. This was beautiful, but it disappeared in a flurry of flying forks before I got the camera out. This is another recipe that came from efforts to combine and use the CSA bounty. We got more eggplant this week, along with a new treat--arugula. I love arugula, and I'd forgotten how much. If you want to have your taste buds send thank you notes, toast a whole wheat English muffin, spread with some cream cheese, and top with a roasted red pepper half and some arugula. But I digress. This particular harvest burst with the earthy heat this green is known for. I started looking around at what I had in the cupboard and the refrigerator, checking out the crisper drawer, and digging deep for inspiration.

Ratatouille came to mind, but it just sounded like more work than I was interested in. I knew I liked the preparation of the eggplant I used in the stir-fry with the ginger-pepper sauce, as it resulted in a nice, meaty texture. I wanted to try that again. What else did I have? Half a bag of bow-tie pasta. A container of roasted grape tomatoes. Pine nuts. Onions from the CSA. So, I put on a pot of water to come to a boil for the pasta, sliced up the eggplant and got it in a skillet, then let inspiration take it from there.

One important step is the deglazing of the pan once the eggplant, onions, and red peppers are finished. I used a dry white wine, which added a nice undertone to the finished dish, but I'm sure you could use white grape juice, apple juice, vegetable broth, or another liquid of your liking just as successfully.

In the end, it only took about half an hour to complete the Ratatouille Pasta Toss and sit down to dinner. For now, there's nothing left but the memories.


Sometimes, the planets just align for a soul-satisfying meal from elements that should be just so-so. This was one of those times. With the summer season of the CSA coming to a close, I am trying to make sure I don't let any of that organic goodness go to waste. So, I started thinking about what I could do with another bag of Anaheim chiles. While we really did enjoy them stuffed with rice and beans, I wanted something else. And a dinner was born.

I thought of Mark Bittman's bean burgers that we hadn't made for awhile, and how good they would be topped with some cheese and dripping with sauteed chiles and onions. Of course, the bean burgers call for Moomie's buns. Every time I make them, I ask myself again why I EVER buy buns from the grocery store. These just couldn't be easier, and they taste 1,000 times better. Literally five minutes in the KitchenAid mixer, some rising time, slapping the dough around a bit, another half hour of rising, then into the oven to bake.

So, we got that bit out of the way, and it seemed like a great excuse to try Crash Hot Potatoes, the latest potato craze making its way around the Internet. These were pointed out to me on the Pioneer Woman's blog--a site well worth checking out if you are not already a regular visitor. This is actually the second time I've made them, the first being (in my opinion) a greasy failure. So, I'd like to share a couple of things with you that will probably make your attempt rise to the pinnacle of crispy roasted potato goodness that I reached the second time around.

I think the most important thing is to not overcook the potatoes in the boiling stage. They should cook only until they don't give too much resistance to a skewer (or fork, if you live in my kitchen). I cooked them until they were soft the first time, and they just stayed too wet and mushy.

Second, drain them really well before transferring to the baking sheet. See "wet and mushy" comment above.

Third, don't worry too much about how you mash them, BUT you do want the white part of the potato to come out on top. I tried several items to mash with--my potato masher, a glass, my hands protected with paper towels, and my meat mallet. They all mashed them, but I was always left with skin on the top, with the potato flesh sticking out the sides. This time, I mashed them until the flesh popped out, then flipped them around to get that part on time, and then mashed a little bit more. It worked out SO much better.

Fourth, do get the oven really, really hot. I did convection roast at 500 degrees. And these, my friends, were incredible. Crispy. Crunchy. Golden. Roasty. Worth the effort.

So, all of those pieces, none of them difficult or requiring any real skill, came together to a plate of goodness that made me glad to be a vegetarian, because I get the BEST food!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Global Warming

Another CSA treat the past two weeks has been eggplant. Not the big, spongy, take-over-the-world eggplant. No. We've had tiny, tight-skinned globes no more than 4" long. I wanted to do these more justice than just roasting them, so I went to the cookbooks that started this blog. The winning recipe came from Mollie Katzen's book, Vegetable Recipes I Can't Live Without. This recipe is simplicity itself. The eggplant are cut into 1/2" x 1/2" sticks, then sauteed in a very hot skillet until they are brown on all sides and meltingly tender. Off the heat, a plum sauce made of plum (what else?) jam, Dijon mustard, and freshly grated ginger is stirred in, along with the standby salt and pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

What an incredible burst of flavor this recipe delivers with such a small smattering of ingredients. The spicy mustard plays off the sweet tang of the jam, and the eggplant plays a great supporting role. This would also make a great base for Moo Shoo vegetables. I'd love to have leftovers for lunch, but it's all gone. I saw the Husband standing in the kitchen, finishing off the last of it.

If you're tiring of the summer eggplant standards, and would like to finish the season on a strong note, this recipe is worth a try.

Back into the magical world of the CSA

After getting burned (no pun intended--well, actually, it was) by my previous CSA experience, I have stuck my toes back in the water with Desert Roots Farm Summer Survivor Season--just four weeks to see if this one is going to work for me. So far, so good. We purchased a whole share, even though there are only two of us, thinking that, as vegetarians, the more vegetables the merrier. I still don't know if it's too much, considering my crazy work schedule. I have to decide soon, though, because it's time already to sign up for the fall season. Perhaps while I can't sleep tonight, I can figure that one out!

For those of you who haven't heard of, or aren't sure about, CSA's, I'll tell you what I like about mine:

  • It's absolutely local and organic eating.
  • Things come to me fresh from the farm, so there is no sitting around losing nutrients in the grocery store.
  • My CSA farm is run by a womah. I like that.
  • My share comes each week with a compostable bag, so all my scraps from the farm (or other organic produce) go in there, and get picked up to add to the farm's compost pile when my new week's worth of goodies is delivered.
  • It stretches me and forces me to cook, as I really hate to throw food out. Essentially, I nurture myself through nourishment, forcing myself to take time to cook instead of just work all weekend.
That last part gives me the heebie-jeebies a little bit, though. Right now, I have things cooking everywhere, knowing that the weekend may be the only time I really get to do much in the kitchen. Today, for example, I roasted butternut squash. I approached the task with some trepidation, as neither the Husband nor I have ever really been butternut squash lovers. However, they were in the bag and needed to be used, so what'a girl going to do?

I got out a big, giant knife and started working on skinning those varmints. Even though mine were small, the skin was still hard. I started with a paring knife, and quickly graduated to my 9" chef's knife. I hacked off the skin, scooped out the seeds, chopped the flesh into big chunks, then tossed the whole bit with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and tossed into a 450 degree oven. I have to admit to thinking the whole time that this was a total waste, as we don't LIKE butternut squash.

To my surprise, though, it started to smell pretty good. While the squash was cooking, and winning me over with its aroma, I chopped some walnuts and toasted them in a skillet. In a short time, the squash chunks were roasted, with crispy exteriors and meltingly soft interiors. I tossed them with a bit of walnut oil and the toasted walnuts, then took the bowl to DH with two forks. And you know what? We ate it. All of it. Every last, little bit (well, except for the two bites DH gave the dog, who wagged appreciatively.) So, I think we have another winner.

Isn't it crazy how we work ourselves to death sometimes with recipes when really simple preparations are also delicious? While I can see a riff on the plain roasted squash with walnuts being a possibility (sauteed onions, browned mushrooms, delicate frisee of sage?), it was good-really good-just as it was. I have to admit to frantically looking through cookbooks for something to do with that squash, then falling back on our standby of roasting when nothing else sounded all that good.

Speaking of recipes, though, I do have one to share. It started off with a bag of Anaheim chiles from the CSA. I poked around on their website a bit and found a recipe for chiles stuffed with a can of pinto beans, white rice, and salsa. That sounded like a good starting point, but not a good way to finish. So, I borrowed the idea and improvised heavily, and the results were delicious.

I started by blanching the Anaheim chiles in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes. I almost skipped this step, but I'm glad I didn't. The final recipe doesn't have much liquid in it, and I think the peppers would have been tough and fibrous without their first soak in the Chile Spa. The hot bath was followed by a quick dip in ice water to stop the cooking. I stopped there and bagged the chiles to use one night during the week. I also cooked a generous handful of basmati rice with some salsa added as part of the water, also setting that aside in the refrigerator.

On the night I made this, I got home from work and got into the kitchen. They were in the oven in about 20 minutes. I did use the can of pinto beans from the original recipe, but then went to work on some seasonings: onions, garlic, chopped green chiles, and tomatoes to moisten the mix. And cheese, of course. Hello. Beans and rice without cheese is like Thelma and Louise without a car. (I did have more filling than would fit in the chiles, so I just packed it into a small casserole dish and baked it right along with the stuffed chiles. While they were baking off in the oven, I chopped some tomato to toss over the top. About 30 minutes later, we had a dinner that we both enjoyed tremendously. Another one to go into the rotation, based on what came in my CSA bag. What's not to love?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Mashed Potatoes meets Artichoke Dip

The last few weeks, I've pretty much eaten garbage, albeit vegetarian garbage. It's taken a toll on my wasteline AND my finances, as that Wendy's egg, cheese, and tomato panini with a large diet Coke costs about $5--every day. Lunches have been nonexistant or have come from the school cafeteria, neither of which is a good choice. Dinners have been a boring blur of quick standbys or take out. So, this weekend I decided I really wanted to get some cooking done ahead of time so that I could eat something that at least came from my own kitchen.

Add to that that I've had this weird craving for artichokes. I don't know why. I never had artichokes as a child, and my exposure as an adult has been limited. Nonetheless, artichokes in anything have made my ears perk up. At the same time, I've been craving some of the creamy comfort of mashed potatoes, but when you don't eat meat, it can be hard to find something to serve them with.

It was destiny, I suppose, to find this recipe for Parmesan Artichoke Potato Casserole over on the CLBB. It goes together quickly and uses few ingredients. It makes a large casserole full, so it is even economical. But best of all, it's good. There's something about the piquant tone of the artichokes that offsets the potatoes perfectly. There's just enough tang, just enough creaminess, to make it all work well together.

I put this together this morning, just to take for lunches. Then we had an impromptu gathering of our children and grandchildren. I still tossed the casserole in the oven to finish it off. Frankly, I didn't think they would eat it. Artichokes? Faggidaboutit. Mayonnaise? Their proper raising doesn't always stop them from making gagging sounds. My nice full pan of casserole? Down by 1/4. And I didn't serve it to them, which explains why there are so many spoons and little bowls in the dishwasher. Like little chicks, they just kept going back and pecking at it while we waited for our "real" lunch to be ready. So, I would say this one definitely qualifies as a winner. Sorry I have no pictures yet, but you can see it in your head. My pretty green casserole dish filled with white creamy goodness, with that crispy-cheesy topping of bread crumbs, parmesan, and paprika baked to crackly goodness. Mmmmmm....lunch will be good this week, for sure!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Yes, I'm still here!

I haven't forgotten my blog, not at all. In fact, I spend a little time every day feeling guilty that there is nothing new posted for the past few months. As always, the end of school was very busy, then we were off to Hawai'i the day after. Sixteen days later, our plane landed at home, and eight hours after that, I was on another plane to Baltimore for a conference. A couple of weeks at home trying to catch up on a year's worth of tasks didn't leave much time for cooking, then I was back at work.

There have been a few new things here and there that I will share over the next few days, but we've relied a lot on improvisation and stand-bys. Tonight, I wanted to show you a light dessert that had us pretty much licking the dishes. Since our traveling wings are clipped by the resumption of the school year, we have to rely on food to take us to exotic destinations. For some reason, it is foods of the Mediterranean and the Middle East that most often do that for me. It is those foods that you can sit down with, knowing that you might have a counterpart thousands of miles away, eating the very same type of thing--not in a fancy restaurant, but outside watching a sunset, or around the table with her family.

This recipe was born out of the fact that I had figs--too many to eat out of hand. The figs were the result of an overly ambitious trip to Costco. So were the mangoes, pineapple, grape tomatoes, and oh so many other things, but that's another story. I borrowed technique from a Nigella recipe, then went with my instincts.

The figs are prepared by slicing them almost all the way through in quarters, then fitting them into a buttered baking dish close together, but opened just a little bit. I used about a dozen. Melt about half a stick of butter, and stir in a generous 1/4 cup of sugar and a drizzle of vanilla. Pour it over the figs, especially into the open area. Roast the figs in a 500 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, spoon some Greek yogurt into a dish, topping it with a drizzle of honey and some chopped almonds. When the figs are out of the oven, let them cool just a bit, then spoon them over the yogurt along with a bit of their syrup. Top with another dollop of honey and scatter some more chopped almonds over the top. (Nigella recommends pistachios, which would also be good. I even like the idea of pignolias.) Quick and low maintenance, and much cheaper than a trip to Greece.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Sweet Ending

When I was at the grocery store today, I guess my subconscious was working on what to do with all that strawberries sitting in the refrigerator, because my cart was suddenly drawn to a place I NEVER go--the forbidden zone--the cookie aisle. Seriously, why would I go down there? I don't eat sweets at all very often, and when I do, I make them myself. But I knew I wanted to do something with those strawberries and I didn't want to turn on the oven to bake a pound cake. So...this little creation came from a package of Pepperidge Farm Chessmen Cookies. There's not a recipe--just a block of cream cheese blended with some agave syrup (or sweetener of your choice), the zest of one lemon, and a drizzle of vanilla. Strawberries macerated with a bit of sugar. Put the cookie on a plate, spread on some of the cream cheese (chilled back to its original consistency), and spoon on the strawberries. These quickly became addictive, and I'm afraid that we all ate far too many. They were certainly good, though. If I were serving them to company, I think I'd go for nicely sliced fruit and skip the macerating. Perhaps even just setting some raspberries and blueberries into the cream cheese could be nice. I think I see more of these in our future!

While I haven't had much of a chance to cook the past couple of weeks, I did have this photo lying around of a recipe I haven't posted yet. And that's a shame, because this was truly an exceptional, and exceptionally quick, side dish. You start by using a microwave to bake a few potatoes--just as many as you need. I used four medium Yukon Golds. (And for those who know me well--yes, I did use "microwave" and "potato" in the same sentence. You can shut up about it now. Taunting me will not really make your life better.) When the potatoes come out of the microwave, they take a little bath in ice water to spare your fingerprints from being cauterized off of your body. Slice 'em or dice 'em, it really doesn't matter. But get some olive oil in a skillet, heat it up, and throw those babies in there. When they begin to turn golden, add lots of sliced scallions, as much minced garlic as sounds good to you, and a "generous" sprinkling of paprika. I used smoky Spanish paprika, and loved it. I guess I should mention that this is one of the "no recipe" recipes from Vegan Express. I actually have re-planned the menus that I planned on, and shopped for, two weeks ago from this book, so hopefully, that cooking will actually get done this week.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

More cooking than time

Although I haven't had much time to post this past week, I have been cooking from the cookbook I previously mentioned, Vegan Express by Nava Atlas. I picked this up while browsing through Borders a couple of weeks ago. Actually, I didn't go in to browse; I went in to purchase a specific guidebook for our June trip to Kauai. However, they were out of the book. Never one to waste a coupon, I headed to the cookbook section. Bad. Bad. Bad. This one appealed to me because of the creative-sounding recipes loaded with anti-oxidant rich veggies that could be prepared in (mostly) 30 minutes or less. So far, I have to admit that I'm not loving this cookbook. I don't think it's the cookbook's fault, though. I think we're just not "vegan enough" yet to appreciate it. We recognize that there is a process we must go through to change our taste buds' expectations for dinnertime delights. I think we can also attribute at least a little bit of my dissatisfaction to user's error. I just haven't really fully developed my vegan cooking bag of trips with some of the more popular ingredients.

I do think there's hope, though--both for the book and for us. Different just means different--not bad. We are committed to moving into the vegan camp in the coming months--maybe even years before we're there 100%. And the journey should lead us to new appreciate for flavors, ingredients, and cuisines.

So, what was on the menu this week, and how did it fare? The one I liked the best was Golden Tofu Triangles with Rich Peanut Sauce. Cute little tofu triangles were simply sauteed in olive oil, then topped with a Rich Peanut Sauce. I served these over some coconut rice that was in the freezer from a previous cooking spree. The perfect side was a Bok Choy, Red Cabbage, and Carrot Salad with Sesame Ginger Dressing. Even the Husband, who doesn't like cabbage AT ALL was able to eat it (2 helpings, in fact). He did say he didn't love it, but knew it was good for him, and he could tolerate it. That's what I mean about learning to develop new tastes; you've just gotta keep coming back until a new appreciation develops. And I will say that the salad was an absolute stunner on the plate. Beautiful, beautiful colors, especially against the golden browns of the tofu, rice, and peanut sauce. (What I'm trying to say is that the tofu dish would have been B-O-R-I-N-G to look at without the salad!) I did use the optional cilantro, and in my opinion, it added the perfect piquant note to the plate.

Another dish that we need to develop an appreciate for is the Quinoa with Wild Mushrooms and Mixed Squashes. I know that quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse, but I really don't love it. I can eat it, but it will never get me all excited; it's too mushy. This dish, in particular, just didn't hit any major notes of pleasure for us. It's functional, certainly, but there's too much good food to make do with functional. However, it's possible that, again, we just haven't "arrived" at our appreciation for this. Therefore, I've included the recipe for those who might be further along in their vegan evolution--or for those who just love quinoa. In this dish, the vegetables are pan roasted. However, there are so many vegetables that they tend to steam and never develop the rich, dark fond that I love. I wouldn't want to switch them to the oven to roast unless it was done in a pan that would allow the deglazing with white wine, which does add a unique note to the dish. This could also benefit from the addition of something bright--red peppers, sun dried tomatoes--something to wake up the mouth. There really isn't anything here that does that.

I also made BBQ Flavored Roasted Tempeh with Vegetables. I think we might have liked this had I followed my instincts. The recipe called for roasting a mixture of tempeh strips, bell peppers, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, and onions after giving them a light bath in barbecue sauce. However, it called for a roasting time that would merely have softened the vegetables, not truly roasted them. In my heart, I knew I should wait until the vegetables were about half done to add the tempeh to the pan, but I didn't. Instead, I put it all in at once. By the time the vegetables were done to my liking, I had tempeh bricks. I could have built a cute little adobe house model out of them, in fact. They were edible, but barely. However, the vegetables had a nice flavor, and the barbeque sauce as the roasting liquid (replacing oil) was a very nice touch.

One real winner from the book was served alongside my tempeh brick disaster--Pan Roasted Corn with Peppers and Pumpkin Seeds. I didn't have any pumpkin seeds on hand, so I can't vouch for what they would have added, but this dish melded the sweetness of corn and thinly sliced red bell peppers with the smoky hint of cumin and the bite of hot chiles. The recipe called for jalapenos, but I couldn't find the one I thought was still in the crisper. Instead, I pulled some jarred yellow chiles out of the refrigerator, minced up several, and threw them in the pan. This is a keeper side dish, one that will reappear on our menu again. I wish I'd taken a picture, as the colors and varied shapes in the bowl were vibrant.

There's a lot more on the menu this week. I have two more weeks of menus planned from this cookbook, so hopefully, I'll find more winners. If not, we've still at least eaten well and made healthy choices for our bodies. I'm now going to return to cell phone Hell. It was time to resell our souls to Verizon today, getting two new cell phones for us and adding my parents to our account. I'm going crazy trying to figure out how to set the numbers to the speed dial positions in which I want them on mine, and I'm setting up new phones for my parents--their first. I never feel older than when new technology comes to my house. That, and my beautiful baby turning--gulp--30 years old. Happy birthday, honey!

Monday, March 31, 2008

I am SUCH a bad blog mom!

If my blog were a child, CPS would have intervened long ago. Fortunately, it's an e-baby, although I hope none of you have suffered from severe pangs of neglect. There was that week before vacation where I had four 16-hour days in a row, then a 22-hour day of work and travel. Then there was vacation in a charming B&B with no Internet access...and no kitchen, so what's the point, right? Then there was the week of being back from vacation in which I did cook, but didn't blog. Instead, I was trying to put my house/job/life back together. And do my taxes.

However, some cooking did take place, some of it more worthy than some of the rest. Let me start off with the best--tonight's dinner. I felt like I was hanging out somewhere in the Middle East. DH and I cuddled up on the couch with a big, Moroccan-designed platter between us. It was heaped with spicy chickpeas, fresh slices of jalapenos, tomatoes, and onions, a dollop of Greek yogurt, and tiny little lime wedges. A basket of warm, soft naan was there as well. It became an orgy of scoop, stack, and eat. Martha Stewart, from whom the recipe for Spicy Chickpeas with Fresh Green Chiles came, would probably have blushed with embarrassment at our happy sounds--all from the food, I assure you. An added bonus? This is the kind of recipe that you can start one step, then do the next bit of prep while the first part cooks. Dinner made it to the table...or about 30 minutes. Nothin' to complain about there. This is one of my new favorite meals. I think this one will qualify for the ARF/5-A-Day Roundup hosted by Sweetnicks, too. Be sure to stop over there and check it out.

Just to bring you up to speed, I'll fill you in on a couple of other dishes that came out of the kitchen this past week, although I don't have photos to share. (All of these, by the way, are Martha recipes, from the same cookbook.) Yesterday, we had a fabulous grain salad that could quickly become a summer staple. Farro with Thinly Sliced Zucchini, Pine Nuts, and Lemon Zest went together quickly (I had precooked the barley, which I used in place of farro), is loaded with fiber, and literally explodes with fragrance. There is one step in the recipe in which pine nuts are sauteed in olive oil instead of being dry toasted. Once they begin to brown, you blast the pan with lemon zest. Oh, man, did that smell good! This would be very versatile with other summer veggies such as asparagus, broccoli, or whatever grabs your fancy. It can also be made with whatever grain really floats your boat, so have fun with it.

I also have a couple of bags of Whole-Wheat Pasta with Lentils, Spinach, and Leeks in the freezer after eating a large dinner and a couple of lunches from the original recipe. This is good, earthy peasant food. However, to plow through the rest of it later, I want to come up with something a bit more exciting. I'm thinking of trying the olive oil/pine nut/lemon zest trick on this, with the possible addition of some sun-dried tomatoes. Whaddya think? Sound good? I'm open to other ideas, as well.

The last recipe to share tonight is Jamaican Rice and Beans. In this recipe, almost a cup of dried red beans simmers in a coconut milk bath with crushed garlic and bay leaves. Another winner in the home-fragrance department. Who needs air fresheners? After an hour or so of this, rice and more liquid are added, more simmering ensues, and the result is a beautifully fluffy, light side dish. I did make this as a main dish, but wouldn't recommend it. There just isn't enough substance to it. However, I have plans for this dish in the future, as part of a meal--just not the centerpiece.

There is lots more cooking planned, from yet another new cookbook: Vegan Express. Some of the recipes sound delicious, and I can't wait to try them. I actually have menus planned for the next four weeks, along with my shopping list, courtesy of the hour and a half wait at the carwash yesterday. I may not get the recipes posted nightly, but I'll sure give it a try.

It's good to be back!

Monday, March 10, 2008

A cold winter day

Well, not really--unless you consider 80 degrees cold. It is still winter, though. While other parts of the country were shivering under blankets of snow, we were totally enjoying the springtime weather. Before you hate me too much, though, I will say that I worked 12+ hours on Saturday, then spent all day Sunday trying to get ready to take my tax stuff to the accountant. Still not ready, either. However, when I did get to look out my window for a few minutes, we were delighted to see this pair of cardinals snacking on our quail block. For those not in the know, the male is bright red, and the female is almost all brown, but with the signature crest and yellow beak. This is the first time we've seen the pair in the yard together. They usually take turns. And I have to say, it thrills me every time I see them. They just don't seem to belong in the middle of the desert.

On a more blogger-ish note, we're leaving for San Francisco Friday night. I have work events every night between now and then, so I can tell you that there just won't be any food posts here. Hopefully, we'll be shooting some great photos of great food while we're in SF. I can't wait to get there!

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Have Issue with Satan

Okay, sorry. I just can't resist a good seitan/Satan pun. I do have issues with it, though--the food. I think I would like the taste if I never saw it before it was cooked, but the texture just sort of does me in. It seems to feel a lot like fatty chicken in my mouth--and if I wanted to eat fatty chicken, I wouldn't be a vegetarian now, would I?

Truthfully, this Veganomicon recipe for Sauteed Seitan with Spinach and Mushrooms has good flavor. Bite sized pieces of seitan are sauteed in olive oil until they develop a bit of a crust. Onions are then added to the pan and covered to cook until softened. Mushrooms and spices dive in next, with more sauteeing. Finally, white wine and vegetable stock are added to deglaze the pan, then bright green spinach is added and cooked until wilted.

I think this could be improved with a bit more white wine, and perhaps a bit of lemon juice--maybe even a handful of capers. It's not that it was bad--I just could have used a little more flavor to overcome the wiggly, jiggly seitan. However, all is never lost when there is a bowlful of mashed potatoes and some crispy roasted broccoli to take up the slack.

So, if you haven't dug your heels in, resisting the temptation of seitan, this one is probably worth a try. For now, I'm tired and headed to bed. Sorry I have nothing truly entertaining to offer tonight, but tomorrow is always another day!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Look! There's Food in That There Blog!

Finally--food. Real food. I actually did do a little cooking (and I do mean a little) last weekend. I was craving the vegetables from pot roast. Not the pot roast, just the carrots and potatoes with that rich, roasted flavor. I decided to play around a bit, and came up with a version we consider a winner. I call it No Pot Roast Carrots and Potatoes. The vegetables are cut into large chunks, then bathed in a mixture of water, olive oil, and soy sauce. They're tucked in tight under a blanket of aluminum foil, and baked for about 45 minutes--long enough to soften them. Then, the foil is removed, the heat is raised, and about 20 minutes later, the vegetables are caramelized and brown on the outsize, with a sticky, almost sweet glaze. And on the inside? Potato and carrot nirvana. Granny would be proud. (Although she would wonder why in the heck I didn't just cook the pot roast and be done with it. I don't think Granny would have spoken vegan.) Speaking of vegetables, don't forget to visit Sweetnick's ARF/5 a Day Roundup every Tuesday for lots of ways to get the healthy phytonutrients into your diet.

Yesterday, we took our oldest granddaughter to see a local theater company's production of Goodnight Moon. I wondered how on earth they would turn that simple book into a play, but they did--and filled it with humor, wit, and wisdom. They incorporated another of my favorite children's books, The Runaway Bunny. We all had many good laughs; it was a sweet time. I am so grateful that she still values times with us. At 9 1/2, we realize that the years are flying by, and that someday, much too soon, a weekend with Poppa and Grandma might be just as appealing as purple gravy (which I'll get to later). For now, though, the times are precious and we wouldn't trade a second.

After a busy Saturday, though, I spent the first 8 hours of Sunday working. There is no feeling quite as good as finally walking out of my office and taking a shower. Yeah, I'm one of those who just sits down at the computer in pajamas and works 'til I'm finished. Otherwise, I tend to get distracted. But, finished I finally was, and headed into the kitchen to do some real cooking. I had my eye on a couple of recipes from Veganomicon. In fact, my eye was on them so firmly that I had stopped on the way home from work early in the week to get the ingredients to prepare them. Of course, the week went to Hell after that, and I didn't get to them until today. Anyway, this is where the purple gravy comes in. See?

This meal started with Chickpea Cutlets, a nice, meaty center of the plate recipe. Simple to prepare, chickpeas are mashed with oil in a bowl until all the beans are broken up. Additions to this mixture include bread crumbs, vital wheat gluten, soy sauce, and a variety of spices. A bit of kneading develops the wheat gluten as evidenced by the strands that begin to form. The mixture is formed into four rectangles (or any other shape, I suppose--the chickpea police probably won't come and arrest you if yours vary) and panfried or baked. I baked them, as I already had the oven on to roast sliced zucchini. I see great potential for these. They would make a great "no-chicken fried steak," or take a breading to become a base for marinara and vegan cheese. They would make a great sandwich with sauteed peppers, onions, and mushrooms. In fact, they might just take over the world, as the author of Veganomicon suspects.

While these were baking, I made the purple gravy, aka Red Wine Roux. The directions for this seemed strange to me, but I followed them to the letter. The margarine and flour roux is cooked for almost 8 minutes, then minced shallots, garlic, and celery are added and cooked for several minutes more. The mixture forms such a thick paste that I began to wonder if it would ever allow me to incorporate the vegetable broth warming on another burner. When the time was right, I poured in faith, and lo and behold, the water incorporated. I then added 3/4 cup of red wine and whisked my heart out. With my first taste, my heart sank. This was bitter brew; in fact, it tasted more like it should be ladled from a cauldron than a saucepan. However, I just left it on a simmer per the recipe. Within 10 minutes, it had turned to perfection--a rich, winey sauce which paired nicely with mashed potatoes and the very toothsome chickpea cutlets.

The Husband loved this. Although I do have to say that the meal looked weird (just like you are afraid vegan food will look), it made up for it in flavor. Sort of like the blind date with a "great personality." In this case, another date will definitely be in the works.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Okay, I don't even know what that title is. I'm frustrated and grumpy. I am working on a BIG project that I can't really even talk about right now, and it's complicated and makes my head spin. I need to do it, but I don't enjoy it. I wanted to plan menus, grocery shop, and cook all day on my day off and alone today, but instead, I was chained to a computer. I still have papers everywhere, and need to get them in some kind of order, then hurry and go to bed so I can get up and go to work in the morning.

I tried out a new make-up look this weekend, and totally want to do it for work tomorrow. (Yes, I'm still a teenager at heart, even though I turned 48 this weekend. I like to reinvent myself a little on my birthday every year, even though it never lasts.) Anyway, if I do the make-up, I need 15 minutes for that part of my routine instead of the 2.5 minutes I usually allow for makeup. We'll see. I do have a killer dress I want to wear, too. I love it, and for some reason, rarely put it on. It's very professional, very sharp, very together.

We did get to see the family over the weekend. Birthdays are good for that, at least. We had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. I had some avocado egg rolls (something I would NEVER have thought of) with a tamarind cashew dipping sauce which tasted neither of tamarinds nor cashews, but was good anyway. And I had cheesecake, which I don't think I've ever done at the Cheesecake Factory. I tasted my son-in-law's banana cream cheesecake, and man, do I want to figure out how to do that! My Tres Leches Cheesecake was pretty doggone tasty, though.

So, right now, I have a project I want to talk about, but really shouldn't. I have no groceries, no menus, no nothin'. I have a squeezed-tight budget, so I need to cook at home, which means trying to get the dry cleaner AND the grocery store in tomorrow night, plus the work I never picked up this weekend. I need to go to the bank on my way to work tomorrow, and a visit to the post office (a stand-in-line-kind-of-visit) is on the lunch menu. Oh, and I was craving Lucky Charms today--with milk (which I'm allergic to). I did make it to the store for that, and I'm feelin' it now!

So, if any of you would like to give me a good e-kick in the butt and get me off my pity party, feel free. Hopefully, I can get my kitchen mojo back tomorrow. I'm taking Veganomicon to work with me tomorrow in hopes of picking out at least a couple of recipes to shop for. I only looked through 10 cookbooks today, and couldn't find one single thing to make.

Thanks for listening. If any of you are actual psychologists, send me a bill. I'll be happy to pay for services rendered.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tag--I'm it!

LisaRenee over at Unique Little Bits tagged me to share 5 little bits about me. She and I have been following one anothers' blogs for a little while and find that we are, indeed, somewhat mind meshed about food. These are the rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names, linking to them.
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

Okay, five things about me:

My favorite time of day: When everyone else is asleep. I love a quiet house almost more than anything. It is the one and only time that I feel I truly get to live my own life and breathe my own air, without sharing with anyone. Sometimes, I walk up and down the hall just so I can stay awake a little bit longer. (I'm not really pitiful; I'm just an introvert, and my job requires me to be around people almost continually--sometimes with a line out the door.)

My favorite words: My youngest granddaughter is 14 months old. Last time I saw her, I was wearing a shirt with sparkly things on it. She kept running her tiny little finger over them, saying, "Pretty, pretty, pretty grandma." I felt young again!

My longest-running craft project: A Christmas stocking I'm cross-stitching for my oldest granddaughter. I started before she was born. She's 9. And a half.

The thing I hate most: Paying bills. I don't know why. I just do. I usually put it off until it just can't wait any more, then end up giving up some of my precious "the house is mine alone" time to do it. Hate that!

My weirdest childhood hobby: I was a ventriloquist. I was really sort of famous locally. My children, however, have never seen me perform. I quit when I was 14, and have never looked back.

I tag:

Erika at Tummy Treasure. I "know" her from the CLBB and read her blog daily. She is just a nice person. Plus, she hasn't been feeling well, so hopefully this will distract her.

Alysha at The Savory Notebook. Another CLBB friend, she and I are like minded in many ways.

Ricki at Diet, Dessert, and Dogs. I've been noticing her blog lately, too, and enjoying it.

Josie, at 1 Kitchen, 2 Dogs, and a Girl. A brand new blogger, and I'd like her to come out and play.

Helene, at Le Cuisine d'Helene, a beautiful bilingual blog. I can barely keep up in one language. She amazes me!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hello. How YOU doin'?

Wow. What a week. Work was crazy busy, and while I did do a bit of cooking, there was no time to blog. I didn't even really get to visit and read my favorite blogs, and am just jumping in here on the fly today. I'm trying to finish up some projects this weekend, and just needed to give that priority. Of course, before work, there's always family. My oldest daughter needed some time at her work today, which was the perfect excuse for Poppa and Grandma to drop everything and spend the morning with the granddaughters. We visited the park, where the tiny one had her first ride on a big slide. She started out with her sister, but did have a solo venture later. Daredevil that she is, she laughed hysterically when she did a 360 about half way down. Of course, Grandma was right there to make sure no harm was done. The 8-year difference in their ages means that the tiny one is always stretching just a bit beyond her abilities in an effort to copy everything big sister does!

I'm continuing to cook out of Veganomicon, and still really loving it. Earlier in the week, I made Snobby Joes--another lentil version of that old family standby. DH and I both liked this one quite a lot. In fact, DH liked it so much that he took all of it to work before I got to have a proper portion. The night I made it, I hadn't had a chance to eat, and snacked so much before dinner that I wasn't hungry. Of course, I thought I'd get to take it for lunch the next day, but....Oh, well. That's over and done with. I vented to my friends and left him unscathed. Instead of copying the recipe here, I'm going to link to its location at the authors' website, The Post Punk Kitchen. Lots of cool stuff to check out there!

Friday night, I finally had a chance to really get into the kitchen. This Mexican Millet recipe, again from Veganomicon, had caught my eye earlier. Per the authors' suggestion, I served it with Black Beans in Chipotle Adobo Sauce. It made a really nice, comforting combination. I'd never really cooked with millet before--maybe once, in my murky past. Of course, that was my maiden name, so it always felt kind of weird. Like, what if there was a food named Jones or Smith--would you want to eat that? I didn't think so.

The Mexican Millet starts by sauteeing the aromatics, then toasting the grain in the same skillet. Next, broth, spices, tomato paste, and chopped fresh tomato is added, then a half an hour of simmering ensues. I couldn't resist a spoonful right out of the pot as soon as it was done. It had all the soft, almost creamy consistency that I was looking for, with nuances of jalapeno competing with the acidic bite of the tomato.

For the beans, I used Rancho Gordo Black Valentines that I had cooked previously. This recipe calls for canned beans which are enhanced by bay leaves and onion, and simmered for a good hour until they practically melt. This worked just fine with my homemade beans, too. While the beans simmer and soften, onions and garlic are caramelized, then goosed with some chopped chipotle and adobo sauce. Interestingly, this is supposed to be blended to make a sauce. I gotta tell ya', I went looking for errata in the book, because there is absolutely no liquid in this. Despite a good half hour of online searching, I found no recorded errors for this recipe. I did add a bit more olive oil, scooped the mixture into a small bowl, and used the immersion blender to mix it up. As you can probably tell from the pictures, it didn't drizzle. However, it did stir nicely into the beans. I don't know that creating the sauce and spooning it over the beans really does anything more than just stirring it directly into the bean pot, but it does make for a nice presentation. I'm also thinking that the "sauce" would make an awfully good dip stirred into some regular or tofu sour cream.

And last, I just thought this was the prettiest slice of beet ever. I had a bunch of red beets and a bunch of golden beets. I wrapped them all together in foil and roasted them, and as a result, some of the red beet juice stained the golden beats. I'm thinking I need to come up with some sort of alcohol-based vinaigrette for these, and have Tequila Sunrise Beets. For now, I have the slices marinating in a Raspberry Walnut vinaigrette, and plan to top them with some sheep's milk feta and toasted walnuts for lunch tomorrow. I don't know how much I'll be able to post this week, but stop back if you have time. I'll do my best!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Clever Title Wanted--Please Apply Within

I believe I've discovered that I have a mysterious power. I am a drought buster. Yes, that's right; my next business will be consulting all over the world wherever rain is needed. I know this because it fortuitously rains every &*@#$ time I schedule a fire drill at school. Nothing like scheduling 1700 kids to stand outside in a downpour. No sirree! Think I can market it? Yeah, me either.
Therefore, I must turn my powers to something more do-able, like cooking dinner. I'm still working out of A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen with tonight's Pan-Fried Noodle Cake with Stir-Fried Bok Choy. Noodles. Cake. Pan-fried. What's not to love? This whole process was new to me, and I spent more than a few minutes trying to figure out how to make this whole thing come together at the same time. Finally, I decided to start the water for the noodles and use the time waiting for it to boil to prep the stir-fry ingredients. Once the noodles were cooked, I heated the requisite non-stick skillet after sweeping it with roasted peanut oil. LOVE that smell! I also started another skillet, readying it for stir-fry.
Once the first skillet was hot, I dumped the bowl of noodles coated with roasted peanut oil and soy sauce into the pan, pressing down hard with a spatula to form a dense noodle cake. As that cooked, I tossed the bok choy stems (and some leftover cremini mushrooms I sliced up) into the other pan over a high heat. Back to the first pan, where I slid the well-browned noodle cake onto a plate, covered it with another plate, and flipped it over, then back into the pan for the other side to brown. More spatula pressing. Back to the other pan, stir-frying the bok choy leaves, fragrant garlic and ginger, and a mixture of hoisin, water, and rice vinegar. After a few minutes of Tasmanian Devil moves--Success. Wedges of crispy noodle cake were covered with the stir-fry, and served up in no time flat.
It was only later that I read the recipe's intro in the book, telling how to make it all come out right. No harm done. This is another recipe with quite a bit of versatility. The noodle cake is a great base, and the possibilities for topping it are limited only by your imagination.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Finding Comfort in the Arms of a Chickpea

It was a cold rainy day, with Mother Nature shaking her fist at the organizers of the Super Bowl and the FBR open. Add to that the fact that my issue of Veganomicon arrived in my mailbox this week (possibly becoming my new favorite cookbook just for the writing style of the authors alone), and it seemed like it was just time to make some soup. This Chickpea Noodle Soup doesn't have a very fancy name--nor even a very appealing one. However, it is a very appealing soup. The broth is a rich brown as a result of a quick deglazing of the pan after sauteeing onions and carrots. Mushrooms and spices are added in, followed by chickpeas and water. Once things have made it up to a rolling boil, three ounces of pasta are dropped in, then the whole thing is covered up until the pasta is al dente. Finally, a liberal dose of brown rice miso is added, creating a complex, almost wine-y broth. This is good stuff. It could probably kill a cold--maybe even the flu. It definitely is going to have a permanent place in my heart, not to mention my lunches. In the meantime, I think I'm going to try to think of a better name for this soup. Any ideas? This little number is so deserving that I'll send it to the Presto Pasta Night Round Up. Check in there on Fridays before planning the week's menus--every week is rife with great pasta ideas.

And what is soup without a salad? While at Trader Joe's last night, I found a nice container of imported sheep's milk feta. Coincidentally, Jack Bishop had a recipe that had caught my eye earlier--a Greek Salad with Marinated Radishes and Feta Cheese. This salad starts with tender lettuce which is tossed with halved cherry tomatoes, briny kalamata olives, and tangy feta. Defanged radishes are tossed in, along with their marinade, to dress the salad, and the whole thing is served over thick slices of grilled country bread. The Husband didn't care for it much, but he doesn't like olives. Or feta. Or red wine vinaigrette dressing. So, his opinion doesn't count in this case. I, however, enjoyed it very much. Definitely worth a try.
Hopefully, this week will be a little more sane, which will mean more cooking. I certainly have menus planned, so we'll see what happens.

Rancho Gordo Heaven

If you remember, a few weeks ago I got in my first order of Rancho Gordo beans. The first ones I cooked up were the Christmas Limas. Huge, meaty, and delicious, they star in Baked Lima Beans Parmigiana. This is another winner from Mark Bittman, who consistently turns out easy, delicious recipes. A quick tomato sauce is put together. I added some garlic to the basic recipe, along with a little bit of red wine to deglaze the pan after sauteeing the onions. It was a little chunky for my taste, so I gave it a whirl with the stick blender until all the big chunks were teeny, tiny chunks. The lima beans are spooned over the top, then cubes of mozzarella (I used the little mozzarella pearls) are pushed down into the beans, creating pockets of cheesy, chewy goodness after baking. A final topping of Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs is the piece de resistance before the dish goes into the oven to bake off. A liberal sprinkling of chopped Parsley adds a final, bright note before taking the dish to the table.
Between the antioxidant rich tomato sauce and the phytonutrient packed beans, I think this dish is a shoo-in for the ARF/5-a-Day Roundup over at Sweetnicks. Be sure to check it out on Tuesdays for lots of great ideas to increase your intake of fruits and veggies.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Pass the Pizza, No Cheese, Please

We've been wanting to make the leap to cheese-free pizza for awhile, but whenever we go out, it irritates us to be charged the full price if we ask for no cheese. So...I decided to make it myself. I started with a whole wheat crust recipe that's quick enough for a week night. I followed that with a pizza sauce that comes together in minutes. While this recipe does contain some grated Parmesan cheese, it could be left out without sacrificing any flavor. While the sauce sits to meld the flavors, I sauteed some sliced mushrooms so they would retain their meaty texture and sliced up some bell peppers and onions. About an hour after I walked in the door (with most of it spent doing other activities, I slid the pizza into the oven on the hot pizza stone. 15 minutes later--dinner was ready.
I was pleasantly surprised that I did not miss the cheese. This was good, and almost as fast as waiting at the pizza shop for them to bake us up a pie. If you are feeding more than two fairly light eaters, I'd suggest doubling the crust, as it only makes one 12-inch pie.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Reality Check

Don't you hate it when you get to Tuesday night, and you've already worked more than 35 hours? Me, too. The reality is, this week is going to be screaming busy. There's not likely to be any cooking worth blogging about; in fact, I could (and might) live on toast and oranges the rest of the week. I did make a great dish over the weekend I didn't have time to post (started working like crazy on Sunday--about 12 hours that day alone). So, check back on the weekend, and I'll bring you up to date.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Martha Stewart + Paper Towel Rolls = Pretty Cookies

But when you're baking on a whim, you might not have extra paper towel rolls just sitting around. So, my Icebox Butter Cookies aren't Martha-pretty, although I do notice that even in her cookbook, she only shows the pretty RAW dough slices. These just look a little like the frog before the kiss if you ask me. However, they are pretty good. Perhaps they would have been perfection if I had an empty cardboard tube to slip them in while chilling. Who knows?

I do know, though, that this recipe makes the best cookie dough I have ever snuck when I thought no one was looking. I made the variation with chopped pecans, and after quickly roasting the finely chopped nuts in a skillet, I put the dough together in minutes. Then, it was tidily rolled up in parchment paper, left to chill for an hour, then rolled in sanding sugar prior to slicing and baking. Were I to make these again, I think I'd roll them in more toasted nuts; the sanding sugar overpowers the delicate, simple flavor of the cookie itself.

At least they provided one last diversion from the work I need to do, as well as something to nibble with the coffee I'm now drinking to keep me awake to do it. So now, at 10:57 p.m., I think I'll get started on that.

Bean there, done that!

Oooh...a new favorite food. In an admirable effort to avoid all the work I brought home to do over the weekend, I've been playing in the kitchen. I once again spent some time baking bread, with a revisit of Moomie's Beautiful Burger Buns. Then, I pulled out Mark Bittman's newest book, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which is vying for menu space with Jack Bishop's A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen. After all, what's the point in having buns if there's nothing to dress them up with, right? Bittman has a whole section on bean burgers, which sound gross, but are really, really, really good. I used black beans, which take a spin in the food processor with onion, rolled oats, chili powder, salt, pepper, and an egg for binding. From there, they can be cooked immediately or, as I did, refrigerated for awhile to allow the flavors to meld.

Once formed into patties, they are fried in a skillet or baked. I chose baking for a couple of reasons. Mine were really wet, and I just didn't think they'd make it into the skillet. So, I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper, then scooped out the mixture and formed the patties right on the parchment-lined pan. I covered and refrigerated them a bit longer, as I was still waiting for bread dough to rise and bake. When I took the buns out of the oven, I cranked up the heat and tossed the whole baking pan in the oven. Fifteen minutes, turn, fifteen more minutes--success.

There was a tiny little roadblock which had me worried for a minute. When I took the burgers out of the oven to turn them, they were glued to the parchment. I did scrape them up and turn them onto a clean spot, and they were fine after that. I think the bean mixture was just so wet that it got too attached. Next time, I think I'll just use Reynold's Release or a Silpat sheet to eliminate the problem.

There are about a million possible variations on this, using any kind of bean (or even lentils) and any kind of spice. The book has directions for making the mixture into cutlets, meatballs, or meatloaf, or even changing the whole thing up with different additions.

We topped our burgers with chipotle ketchup, which was a perfect go-with. I can tell I'll be making these over and over again.

Given all the healthy properties of beans and all things legume, I'm sure you'll want to check out My Legume Love Affair over at The Well Seasoned Cook. The results of this blogging event will be posted the week of February 10. In the meantime, check out the blog itself for lots of great recipes and ideas.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Something Old, Something New

When I made the Quinoa with Caramelized Onions earlier in the week (something old), it made a ton. I knew I needed to find something to make with it that would compliment the flavor without copying it. Another Jack Bishop recipe, Spicy Pan-Glazed Tofu (something new), was a perfect match. Now, I have to be honest. I'm still struggling with tofu. I like it crumbled and squeezed dry, then cooked, but slab o'tofu still leaves me cold. It has the texture of over-fried eggs. Plus, I made roasted Brussels sprouts again, which eclipses every other food group in my kitchen. Plus, I pretty much had a toast orgy when I got home tonight. I was starving, it was cold, and toast just sounded good. So, my appetite didn't exactly have a razor-sharp edge by the time I got dinner on the table.

With that said, though, I can still be objective about this. The warm, cinnamon undertones of the quinoa dish, and the sweetness of the caramelized onions, called out the sticky, warm notes of maple syrup and balsamic vinegar in the tofu glaze. In this preparation, the tofu is sliced, patted dry, and pan-fried to develop a golden brown crust. The glaze ingredients are then poured into the pan with the tofu, where the crispy cutlets absorb the flavor but still retain their chewy texture and crisp exterior. I turned my back at a crucial moment, though, and let the syrupy glaze absorb completely into the tofu. I think I would have liked this better had I had some of the glaze to drizzle over the tofu. I really liked the glaze, and I can see using it over a crumbled tofu/browned mushroom mixture, or even to glaze braised and browned tempeh.

And I just need to work on my tofu attitude.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My new addition

Over on the right side of the screen, you'll see a new addition to my blog--The Foodie Blogroll. It includes a scrolling list of tons of great blogs where you can satisfy yourself with all things foodie. Best of all for my fellow bloggers, joining automatically links you to tons of sites, boosting your search engine ranking and giving you a bit more exposure. Best of all for my non-blogging readers, it's just a great way to click across some blogs you might not find otherwise, and who knows where your next favorite blog is lurking? Jenn over at Leftover Queen manages this resource and runs a great blog to boot. Give her a visit, will you?

Dinner tonight was supplanted by a long nap on the couch. The Husband wasn't feeling well last night, and when he can't sleep, I can't either. So....I had been up since 12:30 a.m. Really and truly, I was just going to rest for a few minutes while watching the Food Network, but instead slept through Ina, Paula, and Rachel. Wouldn't have woken up then, either, but the phone rang. So, thermometer and extra blankets in hand, I'm headed back to bed, where hopefully we can both get a little shut-eye. Tomorrow, however, is looking good for dinner. I have plans involving the leftover quinoa and some glazed tofu--and a repeat visit from my very favorite roasted brussels sprouts. See you then!

Monday, January 21, 2008

I Bake Bread, Therefore I Am

When I start to feel like I'm getting lost in busyness, there is one thing that always calls to me--bread baking. There is something so elemental about bread, so connected to life, that it always brings me back to myself. Maybe it's the alchemy that causes such simple ingredients--yeast, flour, water, salt--to spring to life. Or the smell that promises something that has to be good. I don't know, but I know that I needed to bake bread this weekend. And I did. Specifically, I baked an epi. I never knew what that was until I was clicking through some blogs and found a great set of pictorial directions on KitchenMage. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to make it. I turned to Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread, by Richard Bertinet, for a recipe and more directions. The recipe I used is just a simple baguette dough. I found Bertinet's directions less than clear, so I went back to KitchenMage. It worked like a charm; after your baguette is shaped and risen, you just use kitchen scissors held almost perpendicular to the loaf to cut almost through, then pull each leaf to alternating sides.

To get the crispest crust possible, I put a baking stone in the oven while the oven preheated. I turned a rimmed baking sheet upside down, covered it with a piece of parchment, and shaped the epi there. When the oven temp hit 475 degrees, I pulled out the rack with the baking stone, spritzed the entire oven with water, and slid the dough--parchment and all--onto the stone. Twelve minutes later, I had a beautiful, crusty, just-dense-enough loaf. Who needed anything else for dinner?

I went back to Jack Bishop for dinner again tonight, turning out Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Dried Cherries, Chard, and Walnuts. Another simple dish, this one starts with minced garlic sizzling in olive oil, followed by a huge bowlful of chopped chard that wilts down to nothing. Once the chard has had a few minutes to wilt, a handful of dried cherries is tossed into the pot, given a quick stir, then covered and taken off the heat. There is just enough moisture to allow the cherries to reconstitute without losing all of their intensity and chewiness. Meanwhile, the pasta is boiled, with a bit of the cooking water retained for finishing the dish. A few tosses with the tongs, and dinner is on the table. I will say that I thought this dish called out for crumbled feta or goat cheese; the tanginess of either would be a nice note to accompanies the sweet-tart cherries and earthy chard. For lots more great pasta ideas, don't forget to check out the Presto Pasta Night Roundup every Friday at Once Upon a Feast.

I also put together a huge pot of Pasta e Fagioli from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I doubled the recipe, which is both good and bad. It's good, because the soup is delicious, and I am working to fill the freezer for busy nights. It's bad, because some salt voodoo devil apparently came to my house and swam in my soup. It's like plucking petals off a daisy, saying, "He loves me, he loves me not." Except in this case, it's, "It's just right, it's too salty." You can eat ten bites of this soup and be in heaven, and suddenly get a bite that tastes like you ate a salt cube. I have NO idea what happened. I've added water, reheated, stirred...and laughed like crazy when the Husband literally spit a mouthful of soup into his hand halfway through a bowlful. So, I don't know if the whole bit is going to go into the garbage disposal, or if a night in the refrigerator might somehow dissipate the salt. I'll report back.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Have you met quinoa?

If you've never cooked with quinoa, Bishop's Quinoa Pilaf with Caramelized Onions and Toasted Pecans is a great way to start. Quinoa is considered a "supergrain" with unbelievable amounts of nutrients and protein. It cooks pretty easily and typically doesn't take too long. I don't know what happened with my dinner tonight, because it took me over an hour to get the quinoa tender and to absorb all the water. Of course, what happened is really a no-brainer; I apparently wasn't cooking at a high enough heat. I'm still in a bit of a learning curve with my Le Creuset cookware. Too high a temp and things scorch, too low and they don't get done--and the range between the two is very narrow. (I never cook above level 5--of 10 levels--when using my Le Creuset.) But, I digress.
Another thing I really like about quinoa is the way it looks after it's cooked. The grains plump up, and you can see an opaque spiral running through them. They just look very cool. The grain is also versatile, able to take on many flavors and feel right at home with all of them. One word of caution: If you're going to use quinoa, don't ignore the directions to rinse it well prior to using. The grain has a natural protective coating of a substance called saponin, which is very bitter. A good 30-seconds of rinsing is a great investment into your finished product.
This recipe starts with diced onions and bell peppers cooked for five minutes. Ummm...that doesn't really caramelize them. So, I threw them in the pan and gave them about 20 minutes, which is what it took for them to brown and take on the sweet flavor characteristic of caramelized onions. Warm spices--cinnamon and ginger--are added and toasted just long enough to bring out their fragrance. The quinoa is then added to the pan and toasted for about a minute before the water is added and the whole mixture sets to simmer. After 20-30 minutes, you should be able to fluff it up, add some toasted pecans and chopped parsley, and sit down for dinner. We were going to have this with some roasted broccoli, but it took so long to cook that we had broccoli as an appetizer while we were waiting for dinner. I love roasted veggies, but that should probably be another post entirely!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Let's Thai again!

After the long, dark work week, it seemed like a good day to start off with a hike. Actually, "starting off" isn't technically correct. It was more like a "hang out for a few hours then go for a hike, then drive home really fast to take a shower so you can go to that work-related event, then leave there and drive really fast some more to meet the kids at church." At any rate, we got to spend a couple of hours at the absolutely beautiful Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area. This is a beautiful desert riparian area, and for a while, we were hiking there every weekend in preparation for our upcoming trips to San Francisco and Kauai. Things happened, though, and we haven't been for awhile. Lucky for us, the creek was still running after the rain a few weeks ago and the desert was awash in green. We took the relatively flat Metate Trail (named for the large metate left behind by the indigenous people who once lived in this area) so we could always be within earshot at least of the creek.

Tonight I'm very sore, but it was a beautiful spot to get back in touch with what's real--and to have a better picture of nature than the Ikea rock prints on my wall at work.

All that hiking made us hungry, so we eventually got to each a good dinner (although I admit to vegan Boca burgers for lunch). This is another Jack Bishop recipe--Potatoes and Chard with Green Curry Sauce. I served this over Sticky Rice, but it would have also been just fine as a stew. We really liked this recipe, also. There were gentle hints of coconut, ginger, and garlic backed by the slow burn of the green chili paste and the bright finish of lime juice and cilantro. The technique is a little different. Instead of just dumping a can of coconut milk into the pot with the other liquid, the cream is skimmed off the top when the can is opened. This is why he cautions not to use the "lite" coconut milk. The cream is reduced with the garlic and ginger infusing it with flavor. Finally, the potatoes and water are added, then left to cook until tender. Finally, ribbons of chard are added to the pot, and a few more minutes of cooking time ensues. Finally, the dish is finished with the cilantro and lime juice.

This dish makes plenty, and I suspect the leftovers will be out of this world after the potatoes further soak up the delicate flavors of this dish. I know what I'm having for lunch tomorrow--if I can wait that long!

Excuse me, waiter! There's a chard in my taco!

Wow--what a week! There are lots of changes happening in the work place, and they have been accompanied by long, long days. The worst part is, I had this absolutely great menu plan for the week, but nothing got cooked. If I ever doubted how much of a negative impact fast food has on my body, I put the doubts to rest this week. I've stayed vegetarian, but that doesn't always mean healthy. After all, french fries and a diet coke are vegan!

Last night, the walls were closing in, so I decided to load up the briefcase and come home. Foolishly, I thought I'd get some work done here. Why, I don't know, because when I'm that burned out, my self-discipline flies out the window. Instead, I pulled myself into the kitchen and happily rinsed, chopped, minced, and diced my way to a really good dinner.

I'm still cooking out of Jack Bishop's A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen. I really like the way this book is arranged by season. It helps me as I try to reduce my carbon footprint, as the seasonal vegetables tend to be grown more closely to home. This book has been on my shelf for a couple of years, and was untouched until recently. Frankly, it looked too "vegetarian" for me. It features the kind of food I was always afraid I'd have to eat if I became a vegetarian. Apparently, the only thing I had to fear was fear itself. Tonight, we had Soft Corn Tacos with Garlicky Greens, accompanied by Mexican Citrus Salad and a crock of frijoles refritos.

This was really good. Who knew? I was surprised at how flavorful and satisfying the tacos were. The chard has a nice, earthy taste, which is livened up by carmelized onions, minced garlic and jalapenos. The rustic flavor of warm corn tortillas complimented it perfectly. We topped it with a jarred salsa from Trader Joe's, but any favorite salsa would work. The citrus salad wasn't anything special, but it was an easy and quick side with a nice flavor. It is short week to use a sharp knife to trim the vibrant citrus of it's pith and rind and cut it into slices. I arranged the slices on a platter before sprinkling them with lime juice, coarse salt, a whisper of chile powder, and chopped jalapeno. I loved the way this meal looked on the plate. It was like a rainbow had landed on the table.

I would suggest a bit of pre-prep work if this is to be a weeknight dinner. If the chard is prewashed and chopped, the whole thing could go together in 30-40 minutes. I hadn't cleaned and chopped my chard, so I did that while the onions were cooking. Otherwise, I would have done the citrus salad during that time. As it was, I did the salad first, then started the main.

Given the array of power-packed fruits and vegetables, I'm going to send this one to Sweetnicks for the ARF/5-a-Day roundup. Check it out weekly for lots of good ideas on ways to incorporate more antioxidant rich fruits and veggies into your diet.