Sunday, January 1, 2012

Making Stock and Taking Stock

I can't believe how long it has been since I last posted.

Never mind, I can believe how long it has been since I posted.  October, November, and December were incredibly busy months for me.  I taught and finished up the 8 classes I took on for the fall semester.  I applied for a full time teaching job.  I auditioned for one play, and rehearsed and put on 2 plays that overlapped with one another for about 3 weeks, then got a role in the play I auditioned for and overlapped rehearsals with that one for about 2 weeks.  This meant I was busy 4 nights a week for most of November and some of December.  I did one tech week during finals.  I did Christmas shopping, cooked a lot of meals (though ate a few too many on the run) and was sick for a week during all of this.

Can you forgive my absence?

So here I am, making garlic broth for the week, feeling satisfied after a nice meal of Italian potato salad with parsley and cabbage and kidney beans (both from Vegan Italiano).  I tried the potato salad for the first time last week and loved it, and wanted to try a new cabbage recipe tonight.  Seasonal eating, to a degree, appeals to me and my pocketbook and now is the time of year to snuggle up to some cabbage.  Cabbage, beans, and potatoes were a satisfying meal on this winter day, despite the fact that the weather was incredibly mild.

My present intent is to make good on my new goals, dare I say resolutions, for the year.   Some of those involve cooking, some blogging, some involve fitness, some are professional, and some are theatrical.  Since this is a blog mostly about my cooking exploits, I'll share those that involve cooking and blogging.

  • Post new entries 1-2 a week.  I'd like to keep this puppy more updated.  I follow cooking blogs as well, and I connect with people the most when they add new entries regularly.
  • Become more proficient with some cooking tools like the food processor, the new ice cream maker we got this Christmas, and knives.  I'm tired of cutting into my fingers.
  • Make another 150 new recipes this year.  I'm actually guessing about my total last year; I usually make at least one new recipe a week, and some weeks it is as many as 4-5, so in addition to my summer challenge it is a safe bet that the rest of the year I made another 50-100 recipes.  While doing that, I discovered some new favorites, likes, dislikes, became more proficient, and learned new techniques and to use machinery I'd been afraid of or avoided previously.
It's been an interesting year in food and in life.  I became vegan, and celebrated my 1 year vegetarian birthday.  I am a tester for a cookbook author I admire (although the aforesaid busy 3 months really hit my participation levels hard).  I was in 4 shows (including one I'd dreamed about doing for over a decade).  I lost another 7 pounds, getting within a hairsbreadth of my first goal weight.

So here's to 2011.  May 2012 be even better and bring new blessings and adventures.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy 100!

After rehearsal tonight I still needed to finish off my hundred.  I had planned on making cookies, but with the Baker out of town, keeping things running around the house has kinda kept me busy and a rough day Tuesday threw me for a loop I have not quite recovered from.  So I decided to finish with a fun and fizzy smoothie.

Thank you Mama Pea for your tasty, tangy non-alcoholic (I promise) margarita smoothie.  It hit the spot after a long, hard week and at the end of my summer cooking challenge.  I questioned the cilantro, but the fizzy seltzer, lime, pineapple, and even spinach, are a nice treat at the end of the day.  And yes, that is my messy counter.

Happy autumn everybody.  I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

One to Go

After the last two days, I only have one recipe to go.  I think I might make a cookie or muffin tomorrow as a treat to celebrate 100, but I've got rehearsal in a little over an hour so I thought I would update the rest of my dishes first.
95 was a Wild Rice and Blueberry salad from Big Vegan.  I questioned the combination of celery and spring onion with fruit, but it was a winning combination that I ate leftover with lunch today.  I used balsamic fig dressing instead of balsamic raspberry, but it was still incredibly good.  Once again, I reduced the amount of oil called for in the recipe by about half, and I also used thawed frozen berries instead of fresh, as those are more reliably available most of the year.  It helps they keep longer, too.  I give this recipe an A.  Why haven't I tried wild rice before now?  I love it.  The toothsome quality to it is comfortingly chewy, and earthy taste is wonderful.

Next came a new favorite for 96, Orange Scented Broccoli from Appetite for Reduction.  Once again Isa has hit it out of the park.  I am incredibly happy to have found two recipes for eating broccoli this summer that I love; one raw, one sauteed, both using orange juice.  It is amazing to me how a little ginger, garlic, and soy sauce is useful in making so many vegetables tasty.  I plan on making this recipe again, and soon.  I would have made it tonight if I hadn't been so busy trying to rack up my numbers!  A+

I also finished making kim chee last night and tasted it on its own.  I found it too sour and hot for my tastes, however, I still have some left over and have a recipe in which it is used in small servings as a condiment.  At present I'd say the recipe (from Big Vegan) is a D or D-, but I can imagine the kick might be useful played against the other ingredients of Korean tacos so I might have to come back to this one.

98 and 99 made up a Mediterranean-type dinner tonight.  I made sauteed kale with white beans and Greek roasted potatoes with oregano and lemon.  Both recipes were from Donna Klein's Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen.  I ate them with some (burnt) stewed green beans and tomato from Italian Vegan Kitchen, a favorite from earlier this summer.  As far as the new recipes went, however, I don't think I will make them again.  The beans were bland and occasionally too sweet due to the sauteed onions within, and the potatoes, while not bad, were not good enough to displace any one of the many potato recipes I already like within my cooking canon.  D for the beans, C for the potatoes.

So there we are.  One to go.  I'm looking forward to consolidating all the numbers, making sense of what I did make this summer.  I plan on continuing to try new recipes as well.  I've learned so many new techniques and how to use and combine certain ingredients, I can't imagine giving all the trying up.  However, I'm still quite excited about remaking some food I haven't had the chance to fit in due to all the new things I've been cooking.  I'm also looking forward to having a more reliable source of leftovers.  With new recipes, I never knew if something would be horrible enough to throw out or so good I'd eat it all in one meal.  This threw a little havoc in my meal planning, particularly once my weeks got busier at the beginning of the new school year.  I'm also planning on spending a little more time developing my own recipes, like the spumoni cookies I've been toying with.

See you at 100!  Enjoy your last day of summer!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Eats

Last night I made it to 90 with home-made pita from Big Vegan and delicata squash from Appetite for Reduction.

I'll start with the squash; I only ate a few bites.  The Baker is out of town, and I have these squash from my CSA.  I don't really like squash (zucchini or summer squash in a soup or stew is all right as a minor player), and didn't have high hopes for the recipe because of that, but I had this squash to use up.  So, nothing lost here.  It had an interesting flavor profile, but the texture of squash and the slight sweetness always throws me off.  It was too mushy.  I will not fail it because I think a squash person would like it a lot, but for me, no.  D-

While the squash was cooking, I got the pita bread together.  The Baker and I went to a smashing Mediterranean restaurant called The Vine this week, and I discovered how much I like falafel.  It was a wonderful experience, too, as well as the rest of the food we tried.  The pita was also a standout.  It has been so long since I've been able to order something like this at a restaurant that was vegan; the falafel patty was tasty, and the texture was somewhere between a fish cake and a breaded chicken patty.  Wonder of wonders, the patty didn't fall apart in my mouth or hands like most of the veggie burgers I've tried out (or tried to make at home), and was also toothsome in an almost meaty way.  Now that I'm pretty much vegan, this is something I can't get very often unless I make it myself, and even so have not found a good, mostly whole-foods veggie burger recipe (TVP? no thanks) that works for me at home.

So I decided to recreate the experience at home.  Last night I made the pita bread, and ate one (I had to make sure it worked, right?).  The recipe was simple enough, though the dough was much wetter than I expected, and I had to add a bit more flour.  Additionally, the pitas I made were not as big as directions said they would be, and a couple I made didn't turn out so well because I flattened them so much they were too thin.  A couple were just right, and puffy in exactly the perfect pita way.  I say B+, but they may move to an A- after user error is corrected.

They were not as good at those in the restaurant, but better than store bought.  The taste was nice, but reminiscent of the quick french breads I make.  I put 7 of them in a bag for later.

For #91, I decided to make falafel to eat with my pita for lunch.  I found two recipes, but decided to make that of Appetite for Reduction which is a baked patty instead of fried.  It was simple to put together, and one could probably even make it by hand if the garlic and onion were chopped into tiny bits  I was not reading carefully enough, and made 4 patties instead of more, smaller, patties.  I also cooked them on the Baker's baking stone.  Man, they were good.  I'm going to see how well the other three patties I made keep in the fridge and eat one with another leftover pita for lunch.  I would like to have a little bit of tamarind barbecue sauce and a handful of greens to make a complete sandwich, but I wanted to try the patties naked today to see how the recipe worked on its own.

Even though they were larger than the recipe called for, the patties held together well, though they were a touch less toothsome than the restaurant (fried) ones.  That's okay.  I call this a resounding success.  #91 is an A+.

I decided to make use of some really cheap green beans and further this past week's Thai theme and make #92 Thai green beans from Appetite for Reduction.  I had to deglaze the pan a few times with broth, and I think that I would like the beans a touch less crisp... maybe deglaze one more time and cook two more minutes?  The Thai basil was a nice touch, and Isa was right, they were lent a licorice taste by the basil.  With 60 calories and one of my favorite veggies, it couldn't go too wrong.  However, due to those other, personal taste issues, I'd rate this a B.  It was a fine dish, but lacking a little something that my walnut sauce green beans and my stewed green beans with tomatoes have.  Since green beans are cheap, however, and plentiful (and such a favorite)  I can imagine this recipe sneaking into my repetoire every couple of months or so, especially once fresh tomatoes are in short supply and will make the stewed green bean with tomato recipe more problematic.

For #93 and #94, I made another hit from Big Vegan.  I had to make  pomegranate molasses to make the dressing for the Pomegranate Tabbouleh with Pistachios, but I had a lot of aging parsley to make use of, so I decided it would be a good fit.  I took a little liberty with the directions; I minced the ingredients of the dressing small instead of making a paste of them in the food processor, and I cut down on the oil, something I almost always do these days.  It's funny how well recipes still work with 1/3 to 1/2 less oil as long as you keep an eye out for burning and occasionally use stock to deglaze the pan.  Anyway, both the molasses and the tabbouleh were good and I will probably make them again at some point.  I might even make it in the food processor next time, though I really liked the chunkier texture the non-pasty dressing added.  A for the molasses (I can't wait to find new ways to use this!) and B for the tabbouleh.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Home Stretch

I'm trying to get as many of the 100 done before the weekend is over, and there are a few I've done so far this week, so I decided to blog them out of the way before I went much further.

Now that I have rehearsal 3 nights a week, I don't have as much time for cooking, but I still managed to get several accomplished this week.  It started out as a Thai inspired week, as 84 and 85 came from Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancie McDermott.  Because I had all the ingredients on hand, I decided to make yellow curry paste, and using that, make yellow pineapple and pea curry.  The paste smelled flavorful and I could not wait to eat my curry, however the curry itself, with two kinds of peas, pineapple, tofu, and potato, was disappointing.  Other than being to hot for my palate, there really wasn't much else of a flavor to the dish.  It was hot with an aftertaste of incredibly bland.  The Baker liked, but did not love, the dish.  I'm going to use the curry paste for another dish or two before I pronounce it a lost cause, but the curry combination itself was a no go.  C for the paste, D+ for the curry.  It was edible, but I did not want to eat the leftovers.

Next came another Thai-inspired recipe, something quick, easy, and I was certain I would at least somewhat enjoy.  My love of Brussels sprouts meant that Thai garlicky Brussels sprouts met with success for both myself and the Baker.  We both assessed that they were good without being our favorite Brussels sprouts recipe.  Garlic and sprouts is a pretty good combination, and in this recipe, they have an added touch of Asian flair in the sauce.  One thing I don't like about the recipe is that it calls for a "vegetarian stir fry sauce" so there is no option to make the recipe entirely from scratch.  In a pinch, I don't mind using bottled sauces (I used a Trader "Ming's" sauce here which worked well) but I would rather have a sauce recipe from scratch with an option in the recipe to replace it with a bought sauce.  I give #86 an A-.

I went back to Big Vegan next.  This book is really capturing my heart.  It relies on whole food ingredients, does use some of the more unusual ingredients without going overboard, so I feel like I'm stretching myself without being overwhelmed.  Most of the recipes also feel simple, though I could imagine they might be overwhelming a touch for a novice cook.  This is also a rather large compendium, much like 500 Vegan Recipes or 1000 Vegan Recipes, and it covers a variety of basics, but it doesn't spend too much time or space re-making a lot of the basic vegan dishes there are dozens of recipes for everywhere.  Yes, there are some of those the authors offer their spin on, but a greater percentage is offering recipes that seem like they should be vegan standbys already.

Chilled cantaloupe soup with almonds was one of those recipes.  It was simple enough; cubed melon, blender, a little liquid.  I think the whole thing had about 5 ingredients.  Although I love cantaloupe, the toasted almonds and orange zest really added extra depth to the taste of the melon.  I will likely make this again; it seemed like a great soup for a warm summer day if you're feeling a little bored with plain cantaloupe.  #87 gets an A.

My search for the lentil soup came to an end with the French lentil and potato soup from Big Vegan.  I added a little liquid smoke, and will probably double the garlic next time, but this was quite a tasty lentil soup.  It really wasn't too different; very similar to the split pea soup I make but with thyme and lentils instead of split peas.  I guess it's the simplicity that really works.  I'm looking forward to eating the leftovers today, as the flavors are probably even more melded now.  All this is proof of success, unless I suppose I reheat and find it disgusting leftover.  This #88, since it still needed a few adjustments, gets an A-.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The lentil soup search is getting disheartening... but we're not there yet.  There are plenty of recipes to review before I get there!

Breakfast yesterday was overnight slow cooker farratto from a new cookbook, Big Vegan by Robin Asbell and Kate Sears.  It contained a mixture of faro and oats, cooked in apple juice and cinnamon with apricots.  I like oatmeal and all the fiber and such therewith, but sometimes the creamy oatmeal texture needs a little shaking up.  This grainy dish was a tasty breakfast with an interesting texture, and I think will be even better with a little soy yogurt or heated almond milk for the leftovers.  This #77 was an A-.  It needed a touch more liquid and soaking the crusty edges off the crock pot took most of the day.

We had friends over for pizza last night.  I had a lovely vegan pizza, with garlic olive oil and sea salt and rosemary on top.  I baked it for a while, then brushed on some pizza sauce.  It's not exactly fontina and feta, but then again, no animals were harmed in the process.  I think the garlic needed to be notched up a bit, but it was lovely. 

For a starter, I made a new recipe from Big Vegan. Beet and apple slaw, though it had more oil than I usually like to use even after I cut down a bit, was an interesting new way to use up the beets that have been filling our CSA.  One medium beet went a long way, and the slaw was tangy and slightly sweet.  The apple taste was barely perceptible.  The Baker liked it a lot.  I was hoping that the apple would be a stronger taste in the whole, and give it a B+.  It was almost too savory for me.

#79 was a cheescake dip with fruit skewers from Peas and Thank You.  I am not certain the cheesecake dip title is descriptive enough; the dip itself is a bit more than half blended kiwis.  The dip itself, even though I accidentally dropped more ginger in it than the recipe called for, was quite good.  I'd probably just call it ginger-kiwi cream cheese dip instead, or something of the sort.  I dipped in a variety of pineapple, grapes, and strawberries, though melon would probably have been lovely as well.  It was easy to make, and the most time consuming part was peeling all the kiwis.  I loved it, and the Baker liked it a lot too.  I give it an A.

I made it to the fantastic #80 this morning.  I've been on quite the smoothie kick lately, and was excited to try another kind of smoothie.  It isn't as if I don't still love the cherry chocolate almond and blackberry basil, but it is nice to branch out and get some variety.  I made a strawberry banana blender smoothie from Big Vegan.  Other than not having any greens in it (which I might add a quarter cup next time for some added nutrition) and having a bit of a gritty texture due to the added oatmeal, it was lovely.  It had no added sweetener, but the sweetness was just right and the color was such a lovely pink.

Last week was a bear, between school lunches and play rehearsals to attend quickly after work.  I often ran out of the house with not enough lunch, and had a second smoothie for a quick but not lasting enough dinner.  My plan this week had been to cook a great deal more in order to not only get closer to #100, but also so that I have plenty of leftovers for this work week.  I cooked a variety of things today, both old and new.

After my breakfast, I cut up a baguette and put a light amount of garlic olive oil and herb mixture to make crostini.  Now that I don't eat parmesan any more, these are a lovely addition to eat with my Italian-inspired soups.  While this was baking, I put together a disappointing cornbread from Peas and Thank You.  Cowgirl cornbread was not bad, but it was not very interesting.  I usually veganize the additions required for Trader Joe's cornbread, and I find that excellent, but I have yet to come close with any from scratch recipe sadly.  This just did not have any complexity of flavor.  It might work really well as cornbread croutons for adding to chili or some such, especially with the right herbs.  #81 gets a C-.

#82 was a cookie I've been meaning to make for a while.  Who says only kids can have a little desert with lunch?  I miss the old days of my little Debbie snack cakes just a touch, even though Mom almost always made me choose between oatmeal cream pies and fudge rounds, when I preferred the brownies or the nutty bars.  This cookie, the applesauce softie, is one of the healthiest overall cookies in Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.  I thought a couple of these low oil, low sugar, whole wheat pastry flour cookies in my lunch would add a nice little happy ending without fattening up my lunch too much.  I'm happy to say they turned out well, which is par for the course with this book.  They aren't overly sweet, just a nice spicy touch.  I think next time I will try one of the variations, though, and add raisins or walnuts for a little something extra.  They're a good solid cookie, though nothing I would die for and dream over.  B+

For dinner tonight and for lunches tomorrow, I have once again made an attempt to find that perfect lentil soup.  This time I thought I might find it in the escarole and lentil soup in Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein.  Most of the recipes I've made by her so far have been just excellent, though there have been a couple of soups that weren't too great.  Sadly to say, this was one of them.  It lacked any sort of punch, and I added a couple of large pinches of a few of my favorite spices at the end after noticing its' lack of vim and vigor.  I've read some reviews that said it was better the next day, and I hope so; I'm going to pack it for lunch tomorrow.  #83 gets a C- so far, but who knows, it might upgrade to a C tomorrow.

I might just make it to 100 by autumn equinox yet.  Ten more cooking days, 17 more recipes to go.  If I cook dinner Tuesday night, a night I have more time, and go through a goodly amount of recipes next weekend, and maybe dry another couple new smoothies or morning porridge, I might make it after all.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Soup and Philosophy

This is Annie.  We had an interesting weekend.

I have become fairly competent at soup-making. Some, the Baker included, might say skilled. I love soups for all the reasons I've mentioned before; they are easy to store and reheat for quick meals, many are incredibly nutritious, and there are also some veggies I won't eat anywhere else but will in soup. Still, with skill comes a certain level of choosiness. More plainly stated, to make it into my regular rotation a soup has to be so good that I look forward to eating the leftovers.

I have been on the quest for an excellent lentil soup for a while. I have an excellent split pea, minnestrone, ribollita, and two varieties of tomato soup as well as a couple nice tomato-based veggie soups. These soups cover a lot of bases, but one of my goals has been to get lentils into my meal rotation a little more often, hence the search for a lentil soup. I've made a couple from Isa Chandra Moskowitz, I've made some from Robin Robertson, and now I have made one by Mama Pea. I am sad to say I am still on my search.

The lemon lentil soup from Peas and Thank You was by no means bad. There have been a few soups (and other recipes too) when I have decided that I didn't like what I was eating enough to finish it at all, and this was not one of those recipes. I ate a whole bowl of the red lentil and chock-full-of carrots soup, but when I finished it, I didn't want to ladle more into my bowl, nor did I want to take the effort to pack it into the fridge, where it would have likely sat until I decided to throw it out. It was a competent, if a bit plain, soup, but nothing that would help me make it through my morning by allowing me to dream about my lovely lunch. It was a little too bland, but I could imagine it might be good for finicky kids who might not like strong tastes. I give this #70 a C+.

For morning snack today (and probably for snacks for the rest of the week as well) I kept with Mama Pea and made use of some ripe bananas and baked up some banana chocolate chip millet muffins. They're pretty good. They're sweet without being overly so, the texture is a little grainy from the millet, which I liked a lot. I didn't like the banana slices on top, however. The mushy texture was a bit of a turn off. Still, leaving off the banana slices would be incredibly simple. I think I still like banana bread better.

For #72, I decided to try escarole, something that I'd been thinking about for a while. I used a recipe from Appetite for Reduction to add a little punch to some of the green while wilting it on the stove. The flavor profile was all right, but the red pepper flakes were a little to hot for me. I know, I'm a spice wimp. I might try this dish without the pepper. Then again, the flavor profile, even without considering the heat, did not knock my socks off, it was just okay. You know me, I much prefer the savory I eat with a touch of sweet. The lemon wedge was not enough to temper this for me. C+.

Perhaps it is cheating, but 73 and 74 are two kinds of kale chips from Vegan Family Meals by Ann Gentry. I made the basic chips and the garlic sesame chips. I overcooked them a touch, but gosh darn it, they are quite yummy, both flavors, although the garlic sesame only tastes a touch different than the regular (a hint of soy and a little saltier). These will definitely be made again! And if there is adjustment for user error (since I left them in too long) this is an A-.

75 was a wonderful addition from 30 Minute Vegan's Taste of the East.  Curried (Indian) potatoes were a lovely side to my Italian green beans.  The dinner hit the spot after a long tough day.  Annie, my 18 month old dog, got injured and required stitches this weekend.  This means that she's been a little tough to deal with, especially yesterday after breaking her e-collar.  I couldn't leave her home and allow her to chew on her bandage, I couldn't take her in the car since she decided she needed to ride standing on my lap (restricting my access to not only the steering wheel but my vision).  We walked to the pet store, which secured a better afternoon for me, but it also required a good meal to uplift my body and spirits.  I give the curried potatoes an A+.  They were simpler to make than I expected, and the only down side is that they turned my nails yellow with turmeric.
76 was a quick dinner tonight, a breakfast recipe that I found simple and comforting. Quick oats with quinoa flakes, a combination I would not have thought of on my own, came from Vegan Family Meals.  Not a tough meal to make, and also quite comforting in its own warm and creamy way.  The touch of cinnamon, vanilla, and maple syrup (as well as the warm almond milk) was quite the comfort food.  In my college days I used to make oatmeal for dinner more than once, and if it stays cooler, I might be able to do this more often on busy nights-or mornings, y'know, to be all traditional about it.  I give it an A.