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.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My name is Michelle, and I am addicted to Brussels sprouts

Mark Bittman wins again with these Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic. It's that simple. It's all simple, actually. Bring those Brussels sprouts home. Cut 'em in half. Heat some oil, put the Brussels sprouts in the pan. Let them cook for 5 or 10 minutes, sprinkle some salt, pepper, and peeled garlic over them. Put it in the oven. Let it cook another 20-30 minutes, and hit it with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Caramelized. Sweet. Crunchy. Crispy. Smooth. Tender. Yum. Yum. Yum. This is now my go-to Brussels sprouts recipe. The Husband even ate one and said it wasn't bad. That's actually sort of high praise. If he wants any, though, he's going to have to fight me for them. I only made a pound. He can eat ice cream.
Although I know that Cate over at Sweetnicks doesn't really love Brussels sprouts, I'm going to send these over to join her ARF/5-a-Day Roundup anyway. Maybe we'll make a believer of her.

Morphing it

Since I'm really trying to be a responsible consumer (and a wise budgeter), it was important to me not to end up throwing the leftovers of the White Bean and Tomato Casserole with Bread Crumb topping into the trash. So, as promised, I did a little work with the remainder, and I'm proud to say we've finished it off. I'm glad I didn't bake the whole casserole with the breadcrumbs, as it would have really limited my options.

Yesterday, I took all of the bean/tomato/garlic/onion mixture, tossed in about 2/3 of a can of chopped green chiles, some cumin, and handful of cilantro, and some salt and pepper, then gave it a few seconds of quality time with my immersion blender. Heated, spread on crispy tostada shells (Trader Joe's corn tortillas spritzed with a little olive oil and baked until crisp), topped with some shredded cheese (any variety would work), and shredded romaine, we had great tostadas with built-in salsa.

Today, I took the remainder of that, threw it in a gratin pan, topped with some cheese, and baked until brown and bubbly. Once it was out of the oven, I scattered it with some chopped tomatoes and sliced green onions, and it made a great bean dip. I didn't have the ingredients on hand, or I would have thrown in a few tablespoons of cream cheese and some chopped jalapeno--fresh or jarred--before baking to really make an over-the-top dip. At any rate, it made good breakfast.

This is what I hope to do more of in the coming year, as it pains me to throw things out. I find that Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is really helping me adjust my thinking to one of adaptability. The thing I really love about his book (in addition to it's exhaustive reference capability and tons of good recipes) is that it virtually oozes flexibility. There are few recipes that aren't followed with several variations. In an effort to live more gently on this planet, we're making lots of changes in our lives. It seems to me that the most basic of these should be to not waste food. And that, at least in our household of two, means learning to do more with leftovers so that they all fuel our bodies instead of the landfill.


It's funny that a choice to eat a vegetarian diet has been quickly followed by other lifestyle changes. We're eliminating bottled water, and using filtered tap water instead to cut down on plastic usage. While we do recycle most of the time, I realize that we would all be better off if plastics weren't making their way into our landfills, where they don't biodegrade, and they eventually leach chemicals into the groundwater.

We're replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs as the incandescents burn out. Right now, our lighting is a little uneven, but I think of my grandchildren living in the world I help create, and it's worth it.

We've gone to biodegradeable laundry and dish soap that does not contain animal-tested ingredients.

And I know that these changes aren't enough, that we're truly leaving too large of a carbon footprint. We will continue to do what we can as we become more knowledgeable, and will continue to love and embrace those who don't. For what, indeed, is the point of saving the world if we hate everyone else in it?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Encore, please!

I really want to like this Jack Bishop recipe. But I don't. Certainly, it's okay. But it's not stellar. It doesn't transport me. It just leaves me flat. Full, but flat. Part of it is ingredient error. I used Muir Glen brand diced tomatoes, and the pieces are too big. I should have chopped them up a bit, but I didn't. When I want beans and tomatoes, I want BEANS and tomatoes, not beans and TOMATOES. So, it's my own fault that I didn't fix that. But as usual, I was in a hurry. I also really like to follow a recipe without a riff the first time. After all, the author got paid MONEY to write their cookbook. I get paid bupkiss to cook from it. So, they must know more than me, right?

It seems like I've had a lot of uneven success with Jack Bishop recipes. When they work, they are sublime simplicity. They are always quick, and I like his balance of healthy ingredients when they work, and going with the less-healthy-but-better-in-this-dish when they don't. However, he just isn't one of those cookbook authors who I feel I could pull anything they have published and cook from it, ending with a happy dance. I feel that way about Ina Garten. I feel that way about anything Cook's Illustrated publishes. So far, I feel that way about everything I've cooked from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. Robin Robertson never steers me wrong, either. So why is it that Bishop, a noted cookbook author, doesn't always get it right? I don't know, but I think I must turn my recipe instincts on when cooking from his cookbooks.

But wait! There's more! We haven't talked about this recipe yet. One of my issues with this was the bread crumb topping. It's not that I don't treasure bread crumbs, for I love all things yeast-based. But I had a concern about topping a 6-serving dish with breadcrumbs, then eating two servings. What, I asked, would happen to the toasty layer of bread crumbs on the remainder of the dish as it sat in the refrigerator? Here is where I must admit that I'm not a big fan of insanely, considering it nothing but soggy bread that sat too near leaking tomatoes. I could see a bread crumb version of this salad forming on top of my casserole, rendering the leftovers inedible. So, I made our servings in two ramekins (just purchased in the Crate and Barrel after-Christmas sale, thank you very much), topped them with bread crumbs, and broiled them. I then toasted the rest of the bread crumbs in a skillet and toasted them, storing them in a plastic bag after they cooled.

Well, let me tell you, the thick layer of bread crumbs in the original servings were panzanella-ish on the bottom, although nice and crisp on the top. We ate it. It was fine. I wasn't excited about eating it again. But I did--I took it for lunch today. (Yes, this is a stealth blog entry--I made this two days ago, but had to choose between sleep and posting.) It was better today, scattered with the fully toasted bread crumbs. However, it still isn't grabbing me. However, I have a plan. I think I know what to do with the remainder that will be really, really yummy. You'll have to check back, though, to find out. I think it will be tomorrow's lunch, maybe even tomorrow's breakfast. See you then!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

No beauty pageant winners here!

Today started inauspiciously. When the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m., I knew I wasn't going to make it to work on time; I was in the grip of a migraine. Back to bed I went, loaded up on medication. I made a couple of false starts as the day wore on, only to be driven back to bed. At one point, I was actually dressed, wearing make up, and in the car, only to come back home before making it even a mile down the road. Not a good beginning. However, after sleeping until 4:30, I woke up absolutely ravenous, with the migraine seeming to be at bay. The only thing left on my week's menu plan was this recipe for Black Sesame Noodles from Jack Bishop's A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen. I wasn't sure it sounded good, but it was this or leftovers, so this won.

And oh, am I glad that it did. I've had a few sesame noodle dishes, which all just struck me as okay. This one, however, transported me. Like so many of his other recipes, this one came together very quickly--less than 30 minutes from the time I put the water on to boil for the pasta. I've never used black sesame seeds before, but I will again. They have a taste just a bit stronger which really shines through. This dish is served warm, but leftovers should be fine cold. Grated carrots, cucumber, and radishes add a nice, fresh note and lighten what could otherwise be a heavy dish. I used only 3/4 pound of pasta, as Bishop's recipes are usually to heavy on the pasta, and too light on the sauce for my taste. In this instance, when I make this again, I'll go with the full pound. I would also up the shredded veggies a bit, as they could have a stronger presence without overwhelming the balance of this dish. I don't often repeat dishes, but I see this one coming up again in our future.
One of the things I'd like to do this year is participate in more Blogger events. I'm giving up my virginity in this area to the Presto Pasta Night Roundup at Once Upon a Feast--Every Kitchen Tells Its Story. This is a great site to check on Fridays before the weekend grocery shopping trip. Pasta shines in all its forms of glory.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Sunshine on a rainy day

Tonight, we pulled dinner from a new vegetarian classic, Jack Bishop's A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen. The Linguine with Orange Sauce and Cilantro couldn't have been easier. I squeezed a half dozen oranges, which yielded enough juice to set over a low boil with some crushed garlic cloves and sliced ginger. While that was reducing, I put some linguine on to cook. Strain the garlic and ginger chunks out of the orange syrup, add a little olive oil, chopped cilantro, and some pasta water and, voila, you have dinner. I will say that this probably wasn't a very good dinner on its own, speaking from a nutrition point of view. It needed a salad, or even some steamed broccoli and sugar snap peas tossed in the sauce along with the pasta. Sliced baked tofu would be good, too, and for those not mucking about with a vegetarian diet, the sauce would be great over chicken. Nonetheless, this was truly a 30-minute meal, and one that was refreshingly bright on a winter night.

I also came home to my first delivery of Rancho Gordo beans. The cooks over on the CLBB have been all abuzz about these heirloom beans, and company owner Steve Sando has even weighed in. He seems like a very nice guy, and he's very knowledgeable about his beans. Being much fresher than supermarket dried beans (and with much more variety available), this is reputed to be the beginning of a sublime bean relationship. I couldn't be more excited to get started cooking a pot or two of these, although it will probably be the weekend before I can even consider it. It's so hard to decide what to start with. Christmas limas? Good Mother Stallards? Black Valentines? Borlottis? Yellow Indian Woman? Ojo de Cabras (Goat's eye)? I might have to just randomly pluck, something out of the box and start cooking!

Tomorrow night is a meeting night, so I know there will be no cooking. We'll enjoy leftovers (the Boulangerie Beans and Potatoes from last night have melded into a wonderful, homey bowl of goodness) or planned overs (Sloppy Lentils with Wheatberries, or more of that Lentil Soup--oh, how I wish I'd had some of that for lunch, too). I hope you enjoy the night with whatever you decide to nurture yourself with.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Catching Up

It would be far too cumbersome to try to go back over everything I've added since I last posted. The holidays were busy, but my plan was to catch up while we were out of town resting until we were bored out of our heads. Unfortunately, the place we stayed had not entered the 21st Century, and therefore, I was without a reliable Internet connection. So, I'll just fill you in on some highlights.

First, I must share this French Lentil and Vegetable Soup from the Barefoot Contessa. This is everything a soup should be--rich, brothy, deep undertones. It is definitely a go-back-for-more kind of soup, one that takes any pain out of being a vegetarian. Truly, I can't imagine anyone not liking it (even you, blonde-haired mother of my grandchildren). The ingredient list isn't much different from any other lentil soup. I think the magic is in the slow saute of the onions and leeks at the beginning, and the splash of red wine at the end. Whatever it is, it is totally over-the-top good. This screams for some hearty, crusty bread to sop up any last bit of broth at the bottom of the bowl.

Another winner is Boulangerie Beans and Potatoes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Attractive enough to serve to company, this is hearty and melts in yourmouth. I did the variation with sauteed leeks layered between the thinly sliced potatoes and creamy white beans. I already have leftovers packed to take for lunch tomorrow.
Although I stocked up on cookbooks at The Good Cook's after-Christmas sale (as well as their before-Christmas sale), Bittman's newest book is standing out as a favorite. I have his other cookbooks, but haven't used them a great deal. However, this one is a must-have resource. The recipes aren't complicated, but like Ina Garten's, seem to be more than the sum of their parts. Many substitutions and variations are provided for almost every recipe. They are also full of REAL food, not fake meat and other not-so-good-for-you vegetarian fake-outs. You could serve these to anyone and not feel compromised. Several of the recipes are already becoming standards in our house. Check out the Buttermilk Biscuits--they were in the oven within 10 minutes, and came out unbelievably light and rose sky-high. The Bulgur Chili is another winner, with a meaty taste despite being a vegan offering.

Check the side-bar under "Vegetarian," where I've indicated in parenthesis whether a recipe is vegan, or could be modified to vegan (by using a butter substitute or subbing vegetable broth for chicken broth). Sorry--they don't all have pictures. They were good, though.

Certainly, we are finding it easier than we thought to follow a vegetarian diet. Our resolution in this new year is to move further toward the vegan end of things, for all the same reasons we became vegetarians. I hope that I can still continue to providing you solid, family-pleasing meal ideas to help keep you healthy throughout your life. We don't like weird food any more than you do--so if we like it, there's a good chance you will, as well.

Christmas Cookies!

When we got together to bake, we didn't get a whole lot done. Mostly, we made gingersnaps (which turn out to be the favorite of Miss Brooklynn) and some crazy sugar cookies. The cookies pictured here were made from the Cook's Illustrated recipe for Glazed Butter Cookies. These have a very nice taste and texture, and are egg free for those with allergies.

The next day, I decided to make some Snowballs, White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies, and my favorite Nielssen Massey Chocolate Chip Cookies.

All were good, all were eaten. I promise to be better next year and post while we're all still in a baking mood.