Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye to the Aughties!

I can't believe calling this past decade that Aughties never caught on, even if it made it to Urban Dictionary. Here's to not poking our eyes out when we hear people say Oh-Ten.

Honestly, I can't say that the New Year means much to me. Usually I'm more inclined to make resolutions on my birthday, as I enter a new year of life. Yes, it's all about me. As I've gotten older, time does seem to pass more quickly, just like my daddy told me it would, and I missed Thanksgiving. So today, right in the middle of Thanksgiving (a month ago), New Year (tomorrow), and my birthday (in a month), I'd like to mention a few food-related things I'm glad to have. Give thanks!

1. Finding someone to cook and eat with who is amenable to my vegetarianism and keeping meat out of the house. I'm also thankful he will at least try anything I put in front of him. Faithful readers have seen we've had our share of recipes flops and near-fails. Full disclosure: we almost always have a California Pizza Kitchen frozen marghertia pizza in the freezer.

2. Having a large enough kitchen to play in, even if the stove is a little tilted (I bet I could fix that if I tried). I'm not prepared to say I love my kitchen, but as we consider moving to a new place, we do have higher standards than we would have previously held.

3. Getting together with some good women each month to cook for the Ronald McDonald House. Even if the residents prefer their cheese and meat to whatever I cook, it's a good time -- not just fellowship over a meal, but over the preparation as well. That's a special feeling of teamwork and togetherness.

4. Being able to walk to two grocery stores. Right now, I am thankful for this. When I move, I will try harder to plan ahead and not drive to the store too often, which I hope will help my pocketbook. These days I drop almost as much as (an inexpensive) dinner out each trip I make, and I limit myself mostly by what I am willing to carry. If I drive for food shopping, I'll also try to shop locally -- Kroger doesn't count -- to balance the environmental detriment. That's something I want to do anyway, but those resolutions are for another post...

5. Not to get sappy here, but another (and different) thanks to my partner Alex. He helps me cook and stays out of my way when I want to do it myself. He's diligent in cleaning vegetables, browning tofu, and he loves to help, especially if it means using the broiler. He's come a long way from not really knowing how to mash potatoes to being able to pull his weight in the kitchen. That's what it's all about for us -- not making something spectacular or fancy or selling what we do, but just making good, healthy food. Food that we know what is in it, and that meets our ethical standards. Plus, he makes it fun. Take a peek at this photo of him kneading seitan, our third attempt -- post on that coming later.

Runners up: DVR, which allowed me to watch Top Chef at my leisure; new gadgets and new cookbooks; taking that cooking class at Park + Vine, which although I complain about it, I sure talk about it a lot and learned two important things; using Twitter more and connecting to more blogs; and, finally, reluctantly, I'll admit to thanking Weddingbee for reminding me that blogs aren't just online journals, but can provide ways to connect and learn

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Italian Chickpea Soup, with Sweet Potatoes and Dijon Mustard

For the longest time, I was never a soup fan. Might have something do with mild Southern winters, or the abundance of chicken broth in many soups, or even mediocre canned soups that turned me off. Lately, though, I've been hungry for soup.

I found this recipe in a copy of Vegetarian Times I picked up before Thanksgiving. This is one of the all-time reader favorites, and I really agree. I think I'll be having some more of this for lunch today.

Start with the usual celery, onion, and broth, along with some dried spices, and cook with a can of chickpeas*, a diced sweet potato, and -- the kicker -- some Dijon mustard. After the vegetables have softened, mash everything together, leaving some chunks of sweet potato and chickpeas. I'm marking this as easy, too, because the ingredients are readily available and besides a little chopping, it comes together quickly.

I could not have imagined ahead of time how yummy this would be. Try it, you'll like it.

* I did use canned beans, but one of my forthcoming goals is to move away from those kinds of things.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Slow Cooking Corn Chowder

I have recently been gifted a few new cookbooks, one of which is Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker. It's chock-full of crock pot recipes that are surprisingly fresh, focusing on grains, beans, soups, and stews, with an intriguing dessert chapter. In other words, the recipes are all made with ingredients that are meant to cook slowly. Of course there are more foods that do well cooking slowly than big hunks of meat -- she has a recipe for "Not Your Mama's Pot Roast" (sorry, Mama!).

So far, I've only made one soup, and I'm worried it looks a little gray in the photograph, at least against my bright yellow place mat -- oops! Too bad you can't smell this; the chowder smelled amazing while it was cooking, and it tasted pretty fresh. Green Giant commercials have informed me that my frozen vegetables are frozen within 8 hours of being harvested, so I wouldn't expect less.

This is Winter Corn Chowder, and I made it because I happened to have all the ingredients on hand: yellow bell pepper, potato, frozen corn, celery, vegetable stock, onion. I also gave a generous splash of Pickapeppa Sauce.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Eats, for Two

Although this wasn't technically the first Christmas Alex and I have spent together, it is the first year we've spend the entire day together, and to add to that, it's the first (and hopefully the last, at least for a while) that we spend alone, together. We spent a good bit of time trying to figure out what would be important for us to do to make the day feel special. Okay, I spent a while trying to think about what I wanted to do and trying to get Alex to tell me what he wanted. We ate, played video games, went to the movies, and ate some more.

I knew I wanted to have a special breakfast or brunch. As a kid, we always had French toast and a sausage and egg casserole my grandmother would make. I toyed with the idea of making something similar with vegetarians soysage, but simply ran out of time to plan after a busy week. As it was, I was at the grocery store on Christmas Eve during the single available hour between when I finished work and the store closed.

We had red & green (red bell pepper and broccoli) frittata for breakfast, along with some garlic cheddar biscuits.

For Christmas dinner, we snacked on mushroom bruschetta: chopped cremini and shiitake mushrooms, red onion, garlic, and thyme piled on pan-toasted baguette slices, rubbed with a bit of olive oil. Some we tried with a smear of goat cheese, others just the mushroom mix and bread.

We also ate a spring mix salad topped with pistachios, dried cranberries, goat cheese, red onion, and balsamic vinaigrette. I've said before I don't like to eat right off the stove -- I prefer to relax for a few minutes before eating -- so it was nice to have these appetizers with some Pere Jacques while our oven roasted potatoes, well, roasted in the oven.

I prepared blackened tofu from the recipe in a new cookbook, The Vegan Soul Kitchen, along with some sautéed kale and those oven roasted potato slices. I know I'll be looking at some of Bryant Terry's black-eyed pea recipes for New Year's Day.

This meal was certainly a success. and although I can't say this will become a Christmas tradition for us, it was certainly a very nice meal for our first Christmas alone together. At least Alex liked the meal better than the movie I wanted to watch (Mixed Nuts).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From Santa's Toyshop

Fun find at the York St. Cafe Mercantile last night:

These are stretchable, bendable action figures. A must buy!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Company's Coming!

I did a quick search at Amazon for the cookbook I remember called Company's Coming. Couldn't find it. No biggie.

Tomorrow, my parents are visiting. They haven't been here since last February. I need to get them into town when it's not winter, but I guess this year between my wedding and my brother's wedding, this is the best we can do. At least there's snow in the forecast, which somehow makes the cold more tolerable. They rarely see snow in their part of Tennessee, and my father gets excited like a little boy about snow.

I've been trying to decide for a while what to cook for them. Tomorrow, I'll work a regular day, and they'll be in late afternoon. I was thinking we'd eat something at home, but what? I'm seriously leaning toward lasagne with mushrooms and spinach. I don't know how they'd handle tofu or seitan. Tuesday night we have firm supper plans, but we have one more supper and two lunches to plan. We'll see how it goes, I'm going to try to relax the planner and food-lover in me and just go with the flow.

Where do you take your company to show off the best of your city?

More Holiday Treats

Would you like to see what I've been up to this weekend?

Fudge, with walnuts, from The Joy of Vegan Baking.

I also made a tasty vegan fruitcake. I searched online for a good recipe, reviewed a few, and found a gem of a website with complete and well-written recipes. This is Bryanna's Low-Fat Vegan Carrot Fruitcake. I've never made fruitcake before, but this was really tasty. I used those super-sticky-sweet store bought candied fruits (high fructose corn syrup, I know) and both walnuts and pecans because I love them both.

I'm cutting all my holiday treat recipes in half so I can enjoy a variety, but I'm almost ready for another batch of oatmeal cookies. I think I'll make this this time with nuts and dried cranberries.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Seriously yummy.

I think we all have those treats that we crave year to year. I can't quite explain why I love oatmeal cookies, but they are my favorite treat. I love how chewy they are, I love how well they accept raisins and walnuts or pecans, and I love the way they smell -- oats and cinnamon and brown sugar.

One thing I'm consciously trying to eat less is eggs. Honestly, I don't really care for eggs, save the occasional frittata loaded with veggies and cooked well done, but I use them for baking and binding ingredients. For these cookies, I left out the eggs. I used the recipe on Quaker Oatmeal canister and substituted Ener-G mixed with water for the egg, and also using the much-lauded Earth Balance in place of butter or regular margarine.

Ener-G egg replacer is made of potato starch, tapioca starch, and other leavening ingredients and mimics what eggs do in recipes. It's a powder that I mixed with a bit of water and added to the cookie dough in place of eggs. I think it did the trick -- cookies spread out a little more than I'm used to, but there was nothing at all wrong with this batch.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Millet with Brussels Sprouts, Creamed Mushrooms, and Sage

I saved this recipe from the October-November "Whole Deal" I picked up at Whole Foods. I have never cooked millet or fresh Brussels sprouts, so I wanted to make this easy-looking recipe to give it a try.

Alex told me ahead of time that he wouldn't like it, but he also wouldn't dislike it. He gave me permission to quote him on that. As it turns out, when he saw the sprouts, he didn't know what they were and had them confused with asparagus.

He ate two helpings.

Start this recipe by cooking the millet and preparing the vegetables, cooking both at the same time. I replaced the half-and-half with cashew milk and added more than was called for, and also cooked all the vegetables together rather than cooking the mushrooms separately and adding the cream only to them.

1 cup millet
2 cups water
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
3/4 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half (or roughly chopped)
1/2 onion, sliced
3 cups sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup cashew milk
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

To cook the millet, toast it in a medium pot for 4-5 minutes until it's fragrant. This is what the recipe says -- and you'll know when it's fragrant. The millet has a delightful nutty smell. Add 2 cups salted water, bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes. Mine took closer to 25 minutes. Let sit covered an additional 5 minutes, off the heat, then uncover and fluff with a fork.

To cook the veggies, heat the oil in large skillet and add the onions and Brussels sprouts, cooking until almost tender. Add the mushrooms and cook those to your liking, adding salt and pepper at the end. Then add the cashew milk and sage, cooking until thickened, and mix with the millet and lemon juice.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Product: Mycoprotien, or Quorn

I was feeling a little lazy and decided to throw together a stir fry with some fresh fun veggies I got at the international market. I bought a bag of Quorn tenders in chunks, which I'd never had before, because they were 80 cents off and I was a sucker for a bargain. Can you believe I've never tried Quorn before? I have a vegetarian friend at work who's always telling me how great it is, and I finally made the orange purchase.

I did take a look at the ingredients, and of course I immediately wondered what mycoprotein is. I checked out the website but I'm still not sure. Some kind of fungus? What can I say? It was easier and quicker than tofu, and Alex really liked the chicken-y texture. I'd buy it again. Maybe I'll ask him to buy it.

Quorn, broccoli, baby corn, onion, snow peas, red, green, & yellow bell peppers, mushrooms, onion.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Experimentation Sunday: Soul Sushi

Tonight, I made Soul Sushi from The Ethnic Vegetarian. Sounds good, and this recipe caught my eye early on. The first time I took Alex out for sushi, we went to a place in Philadelphia -- I can't remember where -- and they had all kinds of vegetarian options, including a sweet potato tempura. It was good. Here, the veggie rolls are simple: avocado, "veggie", and tamago (ick). Some places have an asparagus roll. If you know of any better selection around, do let me know!

I don't think I'd make soul sushi again, but we ate it. I didn't dislike it. I do need to practice rolling.

I think I'd be more inclined to try a different roll next time.

Sweet potatoes blended with cilantro and soy sauce; celery and cucumber marinated in rice wine vinegar and sesame oil; nori; sushi rice.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This is about food, not cooking. And me.

Sometimes, mostly when I'm not at home cooking for myself, I am torn between loving food and being afraid of it. Especially this time of year. With holiday parties, get togethers with friends and family, and mystery treats tempting me, it's easy for me to get lost and overwhelmed and want to step back, out of sight. I'm quick to shy away from my love of food and instead suggestthat food doesn't show love or tradition, and that eating is a necessity of life that could just as well be done in private, like bathing or sleeping.

I guess I'm still trying to figure out how to handle myself as an adult and deal with these basic human interactions. I recently read an article in the Vegetarian Times about how to deal with mixed lifestyles, and it advises to alert the host ahead of time and offer to bring a dish.

Seems simple enough, but when your host already knows that you are vegetarian and insists there will be plenty of food, what do you do when there's not? How do you enjoy yourself at a dinner party when your choices are one scoop of greasy macaroni and cheese, half a turkey carcass, and dessert? (I can tell you what not to do.) You can't fault the host, but maybe it would have been best to eat ahead of time. Certainly better than leaving early to grab food or getting tipsy from wine on an empty stomach. Yes, eat before the dinner party.

How about just meeting up with friends? So-and-so friend of a friend is going to choose a restaurant. You tell your friend that anything is okay as long as they have vegetarian options. No, actually, you tell your husband to ask his friend for the name of the restaurant so you can examine the menu ahead of time. Maybe even call them. Instead, he says not to worry about it (a line he uses on me multiple times a day). He tells me we can all discuss our options when we get there. We drive two hours to meet for dinner. Not only was everyone we were meeting still full from lunch, but the person choosing the restaurant didn't know -- hadn't been told -- that we needed a vegetarian option. And didn't give us a choice; we all went blindly along to the selected eatery. Thanks to cheese, the great meat substitute, I didn't go hungry, but that's the kind of thing I like to avoid whenever possible. Hey, if I'd followed the advice I'd learned the week before, I'd have eaten ahead of time and we could skipped the meal altogether.

Back to speaking of cheese, tonight I'm meeting some friends for dinner at a family-style Italian restaurant. I'm nervous. I have visions of cheese mountains (this is Cincinnati, after all) or fried eggplant. Am I being silly? I guess so. I just want to develop a way to deal with this so I can relax. When I read other vegan and vegetarian blogs, they seem to talk a lot about potlucks. Maybe that's the best direction for me, too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Kale Chips: Fab, or Flop?

The recipe for kale chips has been floating around the web for a while and has been something I wanted to try. I compared a few recipes and decided to go for it.

I washed and dried my kale.

I cut it into pieces, tossed in a small amount of olive oil and salt, and spread it on a cookie sheet. As you can see, I didn't cut away the stems. Seemed wasteful.

I baked at 400F for about 10 minutes, tossing it partway through. I would have baked it longer, but I thought it was done enough. Some of the pieces were dried and crisp, although they were so thin they had a papery quality. Others were nice and juicy, especially those with a piece of crunchy stem in them. I liked those the best, and I thoroughly enjoyed the simple flavor of kale and salt and a little olive oil.

What does this tell me? I need to find a better way to cook the kale, and I certainly need to throw it into the rotation!

On a sidenote, I was listening to a piece on The Splendid Table with some guy talking about how search engines put the relevant recipe sites further down the page and favor giving you recipes from sites like, where people post recipes that haven't been tested or carefully written. He used the example of someone getting a "tummy ache" (his words, seriously) from a recipe that wasn't clear on whether to use raw or cooked chicken in a casserole. I think that this kind of insults us in two ways: first, our ability to cook and see a good recipe; second, our ability to use the internet and find a recipe worth trying.

Oh well. Maybe I'll take that advice and try this recipe, tried and true from The Peppertree, which tells me to remove the kale stems and cook them longer in a cooler oven. I'm not going to say it won't work, but I did like to crunch on those stems. And I did polish off my baked kale.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Experimentation Sunday: Sweet Potato Fries and White Barbecue Sauce

This supper worried me a little, or a lot -- in the "we might have to make a frozen pizza if we can't stomach it" kind of way. It's one of those suppers that sounds good in theory, and then at each step got worse and worse. The sweet potato fries were a hit, and Alex says to quote him saying they're the best he's ever had, but next time I'll want to find a better sauce for them.

Ever heard of white barbecue sauce? Evidently it's popular in northern Alabama. I've never had it, but as a fan of mayo I was eager to try it. (I know it's disgusting; it's my guilty pleasure.) Now, you may not want to take my word for it because I can't be absolutely sure that what I made actually is Alabama white. Then again, maybe I just don't care for it. But I consulted several recipes and found that they all had nearly equal parts mayo and vinegar, a little lemon juice, some salt, pepper, sugar, and cayenne. I used cider vinegar and made a small batch. Alex said he enjoyed it, but I'm not sure if he just likes more vinegar tang than I do, or if he was just being nice.

I put the sauce over sweet potato fries, made in the oven. These were a hit! Again I consulted several recipes; I cut a sweet potato into fry-style strips, tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and cumin, and baked at 400F for about half an hour, flipping halfway through.

We also had barbecue-spice rubbed tofu (from a packet) and broccoli.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pantry Vegetable Soup

After a week of meals high in calories and eating out multiple times, I was ready for something healthy, homemade, and cheap earlier this week. I made some pretty good vegetable soup with Thanksgiving leftovers and frozen vegetables I had on hand. To make this even easier, I used the Crock Pot and it cooked while I was working.

Not the prettiest dish, but comforting and delicious.

I used a large can of crushed tomatoes, filtered water, and nutritional yeast for broth. I seasoned this only with sea salt and bay leaf. I diced up a yellow onion, some celery, and a few small potatoes (all left over from Thanksgiving recipes) and cooked them in the Crock Pot for a couple of hours on high. Once those were pretty soft, I added frozen lima beans and frozen green beans. That's it! Normally some corn or okra is a tasty addition, but I didn't have any. I think Alex is happy that I omitted the okra.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Restaurant: Creperie Beau Monde

The second of my two dinners in Philadelphia was again a return to a place I've been on more than one occasion: Beau Monde. I can't say that this would have been my top choice, but in the spirit of getting along, we went to the creperie and had a good time, only sullied by an awkward waiter and the stink of beef soup. One of my goals before my next trip to Philly is to research some new restaurants, as my trips back are becoming increasingly frequent -- I'm taking suggestions!

Enter Beau Monde through a heavy gold-colored curtain sectioning off the entryway and you find yourself in a large room that is warm and inviting, with a fireplace ahead and a bar lit with twinkle lights to your right. We sat along the windows facing Bainbridge Street; it wasn't very crowded on our Tuesday night visit and the hostess was careful to separate all the diners so as not to be bothered by other tables.

We started with a shared grilled pear salad, which has endive, spiced pecans, roqufort, and a delicious and delicate pear vinaigrette.

The savory entree crepes are made with buckwheat flour and have your choice of fillings: meats, vegetables, cheeses, nuts. You can choose your combination or take the suggestions from the menu.

I typically go wrong choosing my filling because I like certain things that don't really go well together. I ordered broccoli, mushrooms, and olives, and got funny looks both from my dining partners and the waiter who nearly insisted I add a cream sauce or cheese, although he finally allowed me to order as I wished. I'm still trying to figure out why he insisted I need this when the mushrooms on the menu are listed as a saute of mushrooms and sauce, but he certianly ensured mine arrived to the table as dry as can be. Even so, I very much enjoyed my crepe and the broccoli was cooked perfectly.

They fold the stuffings in the crepe and fold it into a square, then place a few pieces of filling on top to indicate what's inside.

Even after the salad and crepe, we are usually nippish and want dessert. There are sweet crepes, made with wheat flour, and again you can choose your fillings or take a suggestion. They offer ice creams, fruit and berries, and sweet sauces. Alex and I split a crepe with bananas and dulce de leche.

They divided the crepe onto two plates for us, and this was heavenly, even with the overly generous dumping of powdered sugar (a major ick factor for me). I love warmed bananas.

Beau Monde on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Restaurant: Vietnam

Last week in Philadelphia, we went to one of my favorite restaurants, Vietnam. For me, it's that place that I go almost every time I'm back in town. Although they violate several of the 100 things restaurant staffers should never do, including not taking reservations and not seating you until your entire party has arrived, they serve some of my favorite food and I like being there. A few times I've been lucky enough to sit by the windows on the second floor, away from the bustling and often crowded dining room.

Because I only eat at Vietnam once or twice a year, I usually get the same thing. We'll start off with a shared plate of veggie spring rolls, served crispy and cut into big bites. They come with lettuce, mint leaves, carrots, cucumbers, and a side of their house sauce, sweet nuoc mam. The serving is heaping; we split it three ways and all had more than enough.

I also like the tofu rolls, which are very different from the crispy spring rolls: translucent rice paper wraps rice noodles, a slice of tofu, lettuce, bean sprouts, and basil. My photo of these turned out completely blurry. I was slightly self-conscious about snapping photos in the restaurant, even though the family at the next table over was taking camera phone shots of their giggly toddler gnawing on his spoon. The darker the restaurant, the more obtrusive the flash, even when our friendly waiter saw me with the camera out and smiled (or laughed to himself at me!).

For entrees, I usually stick to the vermicelli noodle bowl, known as bun. Alex got the crispy spring roll vermicelli and I got the tofu vermicelli, having already eaten my fill of spring rolls. Both of these bowls have soft rice noodles, lettuce, sprouts, cucumbers and carrots and a little hot sauce. The noodles and vegetables are cool, and the tofu or rolls on top are warm. I pour on some of the sauce and scoop it up -- it's delightful and unlike anything else. I actually prefer the tofu because it's not as crunchy as the spring rolls and the soft tofu really soaks up the sauce. I'm getting hungry again looking at these photos.

One last thing. I very rarely order dessert, although I had dessert both nights in Philly. I was immediately attracted to the black eyed pea pudding when I first saw it, and now I get it nearly every visit. I had no idea until I researched black eyed peas that they are native to India and are grown throughout Asia. So this dessert isn't special to Vietnam Restaurant, and it's even mentioned in Wikipedia -- che dau. It's warm, sweet sticky rice with black eyed peas and coconut milk. And it's seriously good, and almost a surprise as it's so different from the usual way I think of eating black eyed peas and rice.

Excuse the blurry photo. It's not much to look at, but this is a tasty dessert, probably one headed toward being recreated at home.

Vietnam on Urbanspoon