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!