Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Week with Isa, Day 2

As it turns out, I've got plans for a few nights this week that take me away from my kitchen, so my seven days of Isa are going to stretch out over at least a week and a half. But I've got the stuff, I've got the recipes bookmarked, I'm pumped to try out a ton of delicious new things.

Monday I did have my leftover 40-clove chickpeas for lunch. And for dinner. And then for a late-night post-tattoo drunk snack, so there weren't any left for Tuesday lunch. So it goes! It was delicious all the way to the end though.

Tonight's dish isn't a new one, but I made it a little differently last time since I didn't have all the ingredients. Plus I accidentally changed the proportions of ingredients this time -- it's easy to mess things up when you're trying to read the recipe with two pans sizzling loudly on the stove.

Lettuce wraps! I actually have never ordered this in a restaurant because I guess it wasn't trendy before I became vegetarian? But this was one thing I was super stoked to make as soon as I bought AfR because I am always looking for ways to use delicious sweet and savory hoisin sauce. Plus lettuce wraps seem so fun. We did have lettuce wraps sometimes at the Korean restaurant where I worked in college, which involve romaine lettuce, steamed rice, kimchee, and big slabs of pork fat. (I tried the pork fat once or twice, but I couldn't get into it, even pre-vegetarianism.)

Here's what's involved: extra firm tofu, soy sauce, onion, red pepper, garlic, mirin, soy sauce, red pepper, yellow mustard, and lettuce! Oh, and sesame oil, which I forgot about until after I took this picture.

Dice everything up and fire up a couple of burners on the stove. Yes, my blender lives on the stove, because I only have one useable outlet in my kitchen. Someday I will live someplace with a great kitchen! Or at least, one with sufficient outlets so I don't have to keep the blender (and coffee maker) on the stove.

Sautee red pepper, onion, garlic, and red pepper in sesame oil.

The tofu cooks in a nearly dry cast iron pan with just a little cooking spray. Resist the urge to move it around until it's cooked for a couple of minutes, so it won't stick. Cast iron is so great and nonsticky!

After about 5 mins, add some soy sauce to the tofu and stir around. Instantly it looks brown and delicious.

The recipe calls for adding the mirin and cooking off the alcohol for a few mins (mirin is cooking wine, but it's pretty mild -- usually I add it at the end of a recipe and don't cook it at all). I managed to not only miss that point, but also added an extra tablespoon of hoisin sauce. So, I glopped in the hoisin and mustard, added the mirin, and brought the whole thing to a simmer to cook off a little of the mirin. Once it reduced a little, I threw the tofu into the veggies and sauce, et voila! Serve it up alongside some iceberg lettuce leaves.

Isa says this makes 4 servings, and recommends serving it alongside some rice and a veggie. I am lazy! So I just split it in two and have this as a whole meal. Yum! It was pretty sweet with the extra hoisin, but I can't complain.
Tomorrow night I think I'm going out again (a date, hooray!) but when I return to the kitchen: pasta con broccoli! Or possibly herb-roasted cauliflower over pasta. We'll see!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Week of Isa, Day 1

I've definitely been in a January state of mind -- healthfulness, self-improvement, the undertaking of huge and unrealistic projects, you know -- and also have been buying myself a whole lot of Christmas gifts, since I'm finally being paid enough that my budget isn't a depressing and futile attempt at austere living. So, along with several other cookbooks, a couple weeks ago I picked up Isa Chandra Moskowitz's low-fat vegan cookbook, Appetite for Reduction.
I have probably said this before on this little blog, but I LOOOOVE Isa Chandra Moskowitz. She is a genius, seriously -- vegan cooking and baking can be tough, and in the past 10 years a billionty terrible vegan cookbooks have been published, some of which were purchased by or for me. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between the good ones and the bad ones, but anything by Isa (and her frequent co-author, Terry Hope Romero) is reliably awesome. Clearly she actually puts in the time to research what makes her favorite foods taste as they do, and to testdrive the recipes before dumping them into a book.

And in the "undertaking huge projects" vein, I've set out this week to make something from AfR every night. In the past few months I have bought or received a lot of cookbooks, and I've spent hours and hours reading them and putting post-it flags all over the recipes that I want to try. This is a habit I've had for a while and as my cookbooks multiply, the flags start to look like hundreds and hundreds of unrealized intentions. Sigh. But really during and since my 2 months of "funemployment," I've made a lot of progress with the flags, and I've been marking it by little penciled checkmarks next to recipes I've actually made.

The week of Isa is already subject to one cancellation, since I made plans tomorrow night (to get tattooed, eek!). The recipes in this book are mostly for 4 servings, and usually for me I make half of the recipe so that I have leftovers to bring for lunch the next day. So, this time I'm making the whole recipe for FORTY CLOVE CHICKPEAS & BROCCOLI and I'm just going to be eating it all the time forever.

This is a super simple Sunday dinner that takes a long time and makes the house smell fantastic but doesn't require any real work. Especially if, like me, you have filled your freezer to capacity with frozen broccoli bought at the wholesale store. This has been my main solution to the long and unpredictable work hours -- I have lots and lots of frozen broccoli, which is easy to toss in with boiling pasta water or throw in the oven still frozen and roast along with potatoes or whatever.

The frozen broccoli goes into a 9x13 baking dish with A TON of smashed garlic cloves, a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas, lemon zest, dried oregano, salt and pepper, and a little olive oil. Toss it around, then into the oven at 400*. Stir/flip everything after 15 mins, and again after a half hour, then add vegetable broth and cook for 15 more minutes. When it's done the broth will mostly be evaporated and the chickpeas and garlic will be soft and creamy. If you're not a garlic fiend like me, you probably want to remove the garlic cloves, but I just left them in and ate them, and since they're so thoroughly cooked I'm not breathing garlic-fire or anything.

To accompany this garlicky stuff, I cooked up a cup of whole wheat couscous (which turns into about 3 cups after it's done) and I added a few shakes of dried oregano and the juice of half a lemon to it.

The verdict? Isa delivers, as usual. I think if I make this again I'd serve up less couscous and more of the chickpea & broccoli stuff, or add another element, because the ratio of (boring) couscous to (awesome) other stuff could have been a lot better. Or maybe actually make a totally interesting rice pilaf instead of lazy couscous.

The whole spread: 2 dinners and 2 lunches
Today I went to Trader Joe's and got almost all of the stuff I need for the other 5 thrilling recipes I've got on deck for the week! Thankfully they share a lot of elements (vegetable broth, lemon juice, etc) so I won't end up tossing remainders of things, which is the problem a lot of times with buying things just to use in new recipes.
In the works for this week:
  • lettuce wraps with hoisin-mustard tofu (have done this one before and it's sooo delicious)
  • pasta con broccoli
  • herb roasted cauliflower over pasta
  • orange scented broccoli and fried rice
  • braised cabbage with seitan

I'm especially excited/nervous for braised cabbage. This is one veggie I really never, ever ate growing up, and I thought it was pretty unappealing until I started receiving it in my farm share haul this past summer. I fed a few of them to the rabbit, but I did actually attempt a few recipes, some of which were delicious. I think this one is going to be terrific, so we'll see! I managed to buy the seitan but not the cabbage today, so that's on the to-do list for Tuesday when I go stock up on a few things at the crappy local store.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Breakfast in a beer glass

It's snowing again in Boston. I do remember this being a really, really snowy place when I was a little kid, but living 10 minutes' walk from public transit and having to go to work everyday puts it in a different kind of perspective. It's a really, really snowy place.

Anyhow. I was talking to my friend G, aka 141 Characters' Vitamin G, and she mentioned this old blog and how if I am really cooking as many fantastical things as I say I am, I should post them here.

I'll start slow, with the thing I have for breakfast probably 4-5 times a week. The green smoothie, aka Green Monster. As it turns out, it doesn't really warm me up when it's cold and snowy, but it goes well with a giant mug of hot coffee. And really, it injects a sort of virtuousness into my day that can't be duplicated. It's a beer glass filled with 2+ servings of fruit & veg, protein and fiber, and yes, it actually tastes awesome. (I swear, I got my extremely skeptical and picky exgirlfriend hooked on them last summer.)
So, without further ado here is a quick tutorial on the wonderfully virtuous and delicious green smoothie!

I start with 1 cup/8 oz of almond milk, but any old milk should do the job. Put this in the blender first. (Note the 3 feet of snow on my deck in the background.)

Bananas! Break up and add one banana (about 4 oz, preferably peeled and frozen ahead of time, but if you use a room temp one just add a cube or two of ice to the blender now too).

This jar actually contains Trader Josef's Peanut Flour from Trader Joe's, since I ran out of PB2 and discovered the even better peanut flour. Add a tablespoon of the powdery stuff, or of real peanut butter if you prefer.

Here's where the protein comes in. There's a fair amount of protein in the spinach, almond milk, and nut butter already, but since I don't eat meat and I don't give a lot of thought during the rest of the day to how much protein I'm getting, I like to toss some in here. The best vegan protein powder, without question, is Sun Warrior. It's made from brown rice, and it's smooth and delicious unlike say, hemp protein (ick). Whey protein is just as good, if you are into the animal products, and soy or pea protein is fine too, or you can leave this out altogether.

Lastly, I stuff as much organic baby spinach into the blender as I can fit in there. Probably about 2 cups, generally. Cram it right down so it'll get sucked into the blender's blades.

Like so.

Blend! My blender has three settings -- 1, 2, and pulse. I turn it to 1 and let it whir for 30-60 seconds and that's enough to pulverize the bananas and mostly puree the spinach. If you have one of these ones with 150 different settings, pick one that's somewhere between mix and vaporize, on the higher/stronger end. If you're using ice cubes instead of frozen banana you might want to roll with "ice crush."

Pour into a pint glass and enjoy!

Relish the knowledge that you have just consumed more vitamins and nutrients before work than the average American will all week. Revel in your nutritional superiority. Or just chase it with a candy bar and a cigarette -- it's all about moderation, right??

Monday, September 27, 2010

on (f)unemployment and the microwave

Hello old friend,

Well, time marches on. I finished up my year of do-gooder 9 to 5 law work. I ran a half marathon (in May) and signed up for another one (Philly, in November, which I did last year too). I re-upped my lease and celebrated my birthday.

Life is good, but life is also a bit disorderly at the moment while I'm in the midst of a nearly-2-month period between jobs. I get up every day and lounge, watch tv, nap, occasionally make it to the gym, meet friends for happy hours -- all the things you might expect from such a lady of leisure, naturally! I've been eating out a lot but I've been cooking lots too. I got Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian for my birthday and I've been reading it and cooking from it compulsively for the past 3 weeks.

But oh! That isn't even what this post is about. Hopefully tomorrow I'll have something to say about Bittman's tomato paella recipe, which I have been dying to try for ages and even bought a special skillet for. But today I made a different new-to-me rice recipe, curried butternut squash risotto in the microwave (!!) from this month's Vegetarian Times magazine.

So, my parents bought me a microwave for my birthday last year. They were, I think, appalled or confused that I had been living without one for most of the previous 5 years. (Similarly, over the past few years, they have bought me a gigantic toaster oven and an HD television, which apparently were missing from my life.) I was resistant. But just like the toaster and the TV, I eventually took the microwave out of the box and plugged it in. I use it reasonably often lately for egg puffs a la the Fitnessista, and also as an oven timer since the sound it makes is marginally less obnoxious than the timer attached to my oven.

This month's VT had a set of recipes that utilized prepared soups to boost flavor or save effort. I glanced at this one and thought butternut squash soup sounded brilliant as an ingredient in a risotto. (Having once attempted this risotto from Simply Recipes and ended up with chunks of raw squash in my fully cooked risotto, I suppose I know what I'm talking about.) I didn't even realize it was a microwave recipe until after I'd bought the squash soup. But I was intrigued. Maybe this giant egg-zapping machine can be used for other purposes. Tonight, I tried it, and followed the recipe very precisely since I don't know anything about microwaving.

It was delightful! Creamy, currylicious, sweet, warming and filling. And vegan to boot, so no angry stomach or icky throat afterwards. I'll add a link to the recipe if it goes online, but googling "microwave risotto" made clear to me that everyone on the internet is making risotto in the microwave. So, friends, if you're still out there, go out and try it!

Oh btw -- I spent half the afternoon making vegetable stock from scratch, in order to then make this quickie microwave risotto. Funemployment leads to some weird choices.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

And another thing

I signed up for the Bourbon Chase!
Friends, strangers, comment-spammers -- this has been the light of my life lately, this exciting thing to look forward to. Except for how I haven't managed to actually put together a team yet. Sometimes this kind of worries me, but mostly I am pretty sure it'll all come together. And someone will pay me back for all the $$$ I've shelled out so far to secure us a spot.

Anyway, the Bourbon Chase is a 200-mile overnight relay through Bourbon County Kentucky, from the Jim Beam Distillery to Lexington. 12 people, 36 relay legs, 36 hours. Hoo-ah! It's going to be extremely smelly, and probably I will never be able to walk again afterwards. I can't freaking wait!

ALSO I am most probably going to attempt the full marathon at Philly this year. It was such an awesome course, and if I'm already running 18-20 miles at the BC a month earlier, what's another 6-8, right? Eh. So probably April 1 when Philly registration opens I'm going to take the plunge so that I can't have second thoughts about it. So, if you are still reading this and you were wondering what my race plans are for this year, here's the tentative schedule so far (which looks pretty much the same as the list of races I ran last year, give or take one or two):

May 30 -- Boston's Run to Remember Half Marathon
June 27 -- New Charles River Run 7.5 miler
Oct 11 -- Tufts 10k for Women
Oct 22-23 -- Bourbon Chase
Nov 21 -- Philadelphia Marathon

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hey strangers

Oh lordy. I keep starting to write posts here and then abandoning them. Here is why: I have not yet come up with a way to use my computer in front of the TV at home. Faced with the choice of vegging out for 2-3 hours on the couch in front of the TV or sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the room occupied by Daisy the Bunny to use the computer (after 8 hours in front of my work computer) I have been going for option 1. I am lazy, but at least I'm not an internet addict, right?

Well, anyway. I have been watching copious amounts of TV, and that's what I wanted to talk about.

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Oh jeezus.
OK I love West Virginia. And I used to really adore Jamie Oliver before he got incredibly over-exposed. And before I went vegetarian, I guess, since there's really not a whole lot I would eat from the one cookbook of his that I have. But my apprehensions about this show were pretty much entirely validated when I finally got around to watching it on the DVR this morning.

Really, incredibly wealthy British man? Have you not given any thought to the culture clash that is inherent in your imperial health food world take-over plan? You are really surprised, and upset to the point of tears, that the "lunch ladies" in WV are not down with switching from USDA-approved convenience food to spending all day peeling potatoes at your command? And you're shocked that newspapers and talk radio aren't getting behind you?

I went back and forth between thinking he was faking his surprise at their reaction, and kind of buying that it was real. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle -- I think this guy has probably not spent a lot of time in the US aside from in liberal coastal cities or maybe on sustainable meat ranches. And I haven't seen the shows about his UK project where he managed to convince the national government that he was right about school lunches. But if he'd done ANY research at all (by which I mean, thinking on a very, very basic level about what kids get taught in school about nutrition, what the guidelines are for school lunches, and most importantly WHO is setting those guidelines) he would realize that he is going about this project in absolutely the wrong way. Why would you think you could just convince KIDS to eat brown rice instead of pizza, and why would that be your step 1 to trying to get a hostile, food-addicted, foreign city on your side about eating healthier?! Sheesh!

I'm going to have to say "to be continued" on this one because I don't really have time to try and parse the rest of my thoughts on it, but I'm going to stick with the show. In the giant industry of reality TV, they're pretty good at manufacturing happy endings and I'll be very interested to see if Jamie O is able to reform the school lunch program in Huntington, WV. But I will also be interested to see if he takes his fight to the real source of the problem -- industry capture at the USDA and the huge, evil agribusiness companies who pay the lobbyists who decide what children learn about nutrition and what they are fed.

This is pretty much my #1 issue that makes me angry, but over the last few years I've stopped talking much about it. Largely because I think it can make me sound like a wacko, but also because people want to eat what [lobbyists and companies that manufacture addictive food additives tell them] they want to eat. They don't want to talk about factory farms or corn syrup or whatever. It is daunting, and exhausting to think of, I know. I do my best to use my dollars to express my politics about food, and I will continue to do that (and probably go further with it in terms of avoiding pesticides and stuff) when I have kids but I'm just one person and I don't really want to be a crusader. Sigh.

But as a last point, I think of it kind of like this: sometimes we are harsh critics of our own friends or family, but when an outsider comes in and wants to bad-mouth the people who are close to us, we'll defend them to no end. As a country, Americans obviously know that we have poor nutrition and issues with obsesity-related disease, etc. How many people watch shows like The Biggest Loser, Ruby, Dance Your Ass Off, etc.! We know! But when a Brit comes in and starts tellin' the rubes in WV how to "eat good," it rubs even me, a coastal elite with strong feelings about food politics, the wrong way. Come on, Jamie Oliver, really.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Soup: A Love Affair

Like everyone on the East Coast I'm walking in a winter wonderland today. In the sense that I'm staying indoors as much as possible since there's a zillion inches of snow out there. Other than helping a friend bail out his car in my PJs this morning I've pretty much managed to avoid the cold, wet elements. I've got the Sunday NY Times, some Christmas movies that I DVR'd, and of course the fixins for what has become the highlight of my weekends -- a giant pot of tasty soup for Sunday dinner. It's a good day, friends.

When I was little I never ate soup. I think that other than clam chowder from the can my parents never made it, and because I really do not like milk I never got on the clam chowder bandwagon. It's sacrilege for a born and bred New Englander, but who knows, maybe one day I'll find some really amazing non-dairy clam chowder for the lactose intolerant and milk averse New Englanders like me. Anyway the first time I remember eating soup and really liking it was when I was an exchange student in Germany, junior year of high school. There weren't a lot of things I ate in Germany that were actually good, so it really stands out in my memory, though at this point it'd be hard for me to say exactly what was in it. Tiny bits of veggies, a lot of salt, and probably some kind of meat grease, knowing those Germans. In any case I haven't had anything like it since then, but it did broaden my food horizons.

Then in law school I survived the chilly, finals-stress-laden winters with a hefty amount of Udon and Soon Duboo Jigae from my neighborhood Japanese and Korean restaurants. There is nothing better than a humongous bowl of Asian umami goodness at the end of a hard day of studying. Or the beginning of a hard night of studying, as the case may be.

Now, I'm back in Boston where it's ridiculously cold and I've been whipping up enough soup to drown an ox. Last week I brought a different soup from the freezer for lunch every day. It's a great way to deal with the work lunch situation when I'm too lazy to go buy sandwich stuff and assemble veggie sandwiches. Veggie sandwiches done right take a lot longer to make than baloney and cheese!

Anyway, back to today's soup. I had stopped buying kale because I find it too tedious to wash and trim so I always end up tossing it out after it wilts in my fridge. But last week it was 50 cents a pound at the store, and none of the other veggies were looking very good, so I had to get some. And a week later, it was starting to look a little haggard and I knew just what to do with it, a recipe I've had bookmarked for years but never got around to. Spicy, creamy, kale-y, potatoey -- it's a good one.

Kale & Potato Soup with Red Chili
(Adapted from Greens by Deborah Madison) Makes 4-6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
8 small to medium cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp salt
1 lb red potatoes (4-5 medium sized), cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1 bunch kale, rinsed very well, pulled from the stems and torn into roughly 2-3 inch squares
32 oz (4 cups) vegetable stock
3 cups water
fresh ground black pepper

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaf, red pepper, and salt. Sautee over medium-high heat for 3-4 mins, stirring frequently, until the onions start to brown at the edges.
  2. Mix in the potatoes, nutritional yeast, and 1 cup of water. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover. Cook for about 5 mins.
  3. Add the kale and steam, covered, stirring occasionally until it turns dark green and wilty, about 4 or 5 mins.
  4. Add the rest of the water and stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 30 mins or until the potatoes are soft and smooshable. Taste for saltiness and add fresh ground black pepper to taste.
  5. To thicken the soup base, either smoosh most of the potatoes against the side of the pot and stir in, or take 2 cups of the soup, puree in a blender or food processor, and then add back in.
  6. Let sit for up to an hour for the flavors to meld, and serve. A slab of fresh whole grain baguette would be amazing with this, but some of us are snowed in and have to make do with regular old toast. Either way, dunking carbs into this soup makes it even better.

A few notes --
  1. This soup is on the really salty side for me. If you're not a salt aficionado I'd suggest adding 1/2 tsp of salt at the beginning and then more at the end if it's too bland. That goes double if you're using a commercially prepared vegetable stock, unless it's a low sodium one. I used homemade stock and I don't actually remember whether I salted it when I made it.
  2. The nutritional yeast is also on the salty side and probably not a pantry staple for most non-vegans, but I think it's worth adding if you have some available. It adds a creamy/cheesy quality that complements the potatoes and balances out the spiciness of the chili pepper.
  3. If you don't have a Deborah Madison cookbook (and especially if you're a vegetarian) you should run out and buy Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone right this minute. And make the Kale with Cannellini Beans immediately -- it will make you fall in love with kale.