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.