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??