Saturday, October 31, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Thirty-One: Parting is such sweet sorrow.

So that's it folks. A full month of food blogging! Can you believe it? If you ask me, it went by really, really quickly. Crazy quick, like whoa. I enjoy the MoFo - it makes me cook, and eat out, and actually pay attention to what I'm eating and enjoy the food. My life being as hectic as it is, and my health being the challenge that it can be, sometimes eating becomes a mechanical chore rather than an enjoyable experience. MoFo has the ability to bring me where I want to be with food: a place where it is nourishment, enjoyment, comfort, and the sharing of an experience all rolled into one.

This is probably going to sound spooky-familiar to anyone who has followed me for long (more empty promises, Ms. Bastian?), but I really want to say that even past this crazy month of food blogging, I'm going to continue to post more regularly. Not every day, certainly - honestly it's too much of a strain and I have other things I need to attend to (like you know, that little wedding thing). But my goal is to post a few times a week on one or another of my way-too-many blogs, and then of course repost whatever I post anywhere on my combined blog. In case you don't know about it, it's called OK, all together now! (If you're reading this post on that blog and are really confused right now, well, don't think about it too hard. It'll just give you a headache.)

It's been a good month, a busy month. A month of awesome food, for me directly and also vicariously through so many other awesome, fantastic, ridiculous blogs written by people who possess cooking skills infinitely superior to my own. But hey - that's how we vegans are, when you get right down to it. Get us excited about food, and the craziest, most amazing recipes and meals and downright feasts will just start pouring out before your very eyes.

I first discovered this during the Christmas of... 2003? 2004? I was not to be vegan for a couple of years yet. Nevertheless, I was friends with many vegans and very interested in the food industry and such, and very careful about what I ate. I was lucky enough to be invited to a holiday feast at the home of Andy the Asian Cajun (semi-famous in certain circles) - an all vegan feast of course. Well, after leaving a day with the fam, this was such an amazing event to walk into! I ate foods I'd never even heard of before, and for the first time truly understood that vegan cuisine was anything but limited.

It was around this time that I had my first reuben sandwich - and it was a vegan reuben, made by and eaten with two friends in New Orleans (where I was of course still living at that time) at a community house called Nowe Miasto. I had good times at that house, and those were some effing good sandwiches. (Thanks Vanessa, wherever you are!)

Something about the spirit with which vegans tend to approach cooking and eating is just right. The joy of sharing a meal - a feeling which for so many people living in "western culture" has been supplanted by the efficiency of a mass-produced sandwich wrapped in paper, purchased from a drive-thru window, and eaten alone at 70mph - seems to be revived in our community. I, for one, am thrilled each and every time I get to take part in the experience. This year for Thanksgiving Jonathan and I will be having some vegan friends over for a small feast, and I can't wait.

But... what am I going to cook?!

Farewell MoFo. I'll see you next year. And until then, we'll all be keeping the spirit alive.

Friday, October 30, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Thirty!!!: She sells stuffed shells...

So, people been askin 'bout my stuffed shells. It's kind of funny, actually. I got this recipe for vegan lasagna out of a magazine like three years ago, and I've been baking it ever since! The potluck escapade was my first trial for the shells format, but I think it worked out pretty darn well. It has met with many good reviews as lasagna, and I've contemplated making lasagna roll-ups and other nutty pasta items. Once you make your tofu ricotta and get ahold of some sauce, you are limited only by your imagination. (Sorry, couldn't help myself there.)

So first we'll talk about the sauce. Why first? Because if you're going to make your own, it's going to want to cook for hours. And I mean like four hours. You definitely don't have to make your own - you can get a couple of good jars of, say, a tasty Newman's Own flavor and cut down the work on your lasagna-or-shells significantly. You can also make your own and ignore my recipe completely. Totally up to you. For me it's usually governed by the time I have to spend in making a meal. Since I started cooking for Tuesday's potluck on Sunday, I had plenty of time.

I make red sauce based on how my mom has always made it: get everything that tastes good in a pot and let that thing simmer till the cows (or in my mom's case, kids) come home. For lasagna-or-shells, you need A LOT of sauce. So I started with two of those ginormous cans of crushed tomatoes (28 oz?), and one teeny tiny can of tomato paste. I'm careful about what canned tomatoes I'll buy - the ingredient list really can't name anything other than tomatoes and maybe ascorbic acid. What else do you need in there? Nuthin.

So I empty these two giant cans and one tiny can into my big pot on the stove and start the flame on low. And then gradually, as they become prepared (there's really no rush, since it will be cooking till I go to bed pretty much), I add the following: one large yellow or red onion, coarsely chopped (how coarsely actually depends on whether or not you want to find chunks of soft onion in your sauce); about a third of a cup of fresh parsley, minced; a quarter cup to a third of a cup of fresh basil, torn then minced; six nice fat fresh peeled cloves of garlic, cut lengthwise; a teaspoon-ish of dried oregano; a teaspoon of salt; and a teaspoon of sugar.

Once everything is in the pot, you just let it cook. Keep it on low, don't let it boil, and stir it pretty regularly to make sure it isn't sticking. You have to keep a continual eye on it, but you can do a lot of other things in the kitchen or in other rooms nearby. Just remember to stir and everything is alright. You'll know it's getting close to done when you can smash the garlic cloves against the side of the pot with the back of your mixing spoon and they just turn into a dissolving mush. You actually want to root them all out and do this to all of them. Like so many sauces and soups, this one is good the first night, and even better the next day.

So, that's sauce. What did I do for all those hours as the sauce cooked? Well, many things. I do have thirteen blogs you know. But the thing you care about is that I made my tofu ricotta! This is another one of those items that is good when you make it, but even better when it's allowed to marinate in its own juices overnight. This being the case, of course I made it on Sunday as well. As I began to cook my sauce, I also began pressing tofu - two blocks of it.

Here's the ingredient lowdown, as this one is a good bit more complex than a simple ol' red sauce:
  • two bricks of tofu: I default to Nasoya extra-firm
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, torn then chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 to 3 peeled cloves of garlic
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (very optional)
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
I like to press the tofu for a long time for this recipe - a good hour or so. Is it necessary? Probably not. I'm just a touch compulsive. Also, in most recipes I have zero qualms for subbing dried herbs for fresh ones, but here I feel that the fresh herbs really carry the flavor in a way that dried just wouldn't.

Some tips: to toast pine nuts, let a dry skillet heat up over a medium-to-high flame for a couple of minutes, and then just dump those suckers on in. They have tons of natural oil, which is what allows them to toast. Keep them moving for about three minutes, until they begin to get toasty brown. Bingo: toasted pine nuts. And on juicing lemons: in case you don't know it yet, the best way to get the most out of your lemon is to squash the hell out of it before cutting. Rolling it along the counter while applying pressure with the length of your hand is generally the way to go; you'll be able to feel the skin softening and imagine the juice pockets inside getting burstey.

Why tear the basil first? Because it releases more flavor that way. I swear, it really does. As far as peeling garlic... if you can't peel garlic, I can't help you. Yes, your fingers will smell. It's part of cooking. Embrace it.

So once your pine nuts are toasty and your lemons are juicy, you're just going to dump every last one of these ingredients into your food processor. Hooray! (Don't have one? Not a problem. The first time I made this, I had my Cuisinart but I was still afraid of it, so I used a potato masher instead. It takes a lot of elbow grease but it works just fine.) I tend to break up the tofu into rough chunks and drop them in, because it makes sense to me to do it that way.

As for the red pepper flakes, they are really and truly optional. I've made the recipe several times both with and without, and I really can't tell what function they serve other than to occasionally get something reallyreally hot stuck in your teeth. You could also skip toasting the pine nuts - untoasted pine nuts have a fantastic flavor. Just make sure they're not stale, as that flavor is distinct enough to ruin the whole thing. Why do I know this? Umm... just trust me, kay?

It's kind of amazing what this mixture becomes after you pulse for a couple of minutes. Of course you'll want to scrape down the sides of your bowl a few times during the mixing to make sure that everything's getting in there. The end result is really quite tasty and creamy and divine. Jonathan, always "testing" what I'm whipping up, noted this time 'round that straight out of the processor the mix is plenty good enough to eat on crackers or use as a sandwich schmear. But this particular mix had a purpose. So I smacked him away and into the fridge it went for putting into shells the following night.

How you assemble your lasagna-or-shells-or-what-have-you is basically up to you. You'll want to either parboil your pasta of choice or make sure that it has plenty of liquid by its side during baking. For my lasagnas I just use tons of sauce but don't cook the noodles. No, I don't use special noodles - those things are a total sham! You can just use normal ones, I promise. The layers from the bottom of the dish will go something like: sauce, noodles, sauce, ricotta, zucchini (or sausage or mushrooms or whatever), sauce, noodles, sauce...

For the shells it was a good bit simpler. It was going to be baked for less time because it's much less dense, so I did boil the shells for about 10 minutes before putting them in the dish. This also made them pliable and therefore easier to fill. I of course had to rinse them in cold water before I could handle them - ouch! But the process went something like, sauce, fill shell with ricotta, put shell in dish, continue until dish is filled, cover everything with more sauce, bake at 350* for about 45 minutes covered with tin foil.

And the leftovers? Lots of em, and they're totally delish.

So try it out! Get creative. Lemme know how it goes. Send me pictures! I love pictures.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Nine: Gettin' (pot)lucky.

I know it. I've been teasing you about this potluck thing for DAYS. You've almost lost patience with me. Make with the pictures already! Give up some recipes, damnit!

You want pictures? Oh, I got some pictures. I got your pictures right here.

For real though. Right here. You're looking at one. There's more as soon as you scroll down (while reading, of course). Ready? Here we go.

You've already gotten a brief introduction to the delectable delights upon which we dined on that very special (rainy) Tuesday eve. But oh, you really don't know the half of it. Not until you see! Behold.

We started off the night right thanks to Quarantined's friend J, who provided us with artisan quality almonds in oil and fancy olives - deluxe finger foods, to be sure. As various casserole dishes of deliciousness heated in the oven, we sampled these delicacies, and engaged in delightful smalltalk... and drank beer, as all civilized and cultured people do.

Quarantined brought this lovely creamy chickpea and tahini casserole. For those of us that love those funky little peas and live for all things that emerge from baking dishes, this was quite a lovely dish. It was actually my sister, a wacky and not at all vegan gal, who made me understand the glory of the chick pea. I later learned from my local Halal food cart that chickpeas and rice really do go together! Sources say that Miss Q was working from this recipe, just in case you feel like trying some out for yourself. (You probably should, don't you think?)

Seitan Said Dance brought this fabulous quinoa dish - a recipe from the upcoming Vegan Latina by Terry Hope Romero. I am a big, big fan of quinoa. I lived so much of my life not knowing there were other grains out there, and quinoa is so unique that it still totally blows my mind. Miss Seitan was talking about how it was much too spicy for her to eat, and as I too am a giant spice wuss I was a tad worried. But that of course didn't keep me from dropping a big ol' spoonful on my plate. And I'm totally happy that I did! The grain seemed to absorb a dose of the spice while it waited for us to dine, and by the time we were ready for it, it was ready for us and just right. And not just spicy - crazy flavorful!

Alf-redo showed up with two, count them TWO!, kinds of stuffed pepper. Apparently Food Not Bombs hit the bell pepper jackpot this week, and Miss Alf decided to get creative. Fine by me - I was raised on stuffed peppers! Of course, my mom stuffs them with ground beef - not exactly up my alley any more. (R.I.P., little cow friends. :{ )The breadcrumbs, seitan, and chickpea mix in these peppers were much more to my liking. Some of these got left behind... did I totally have some for dinner Wednesday night? Well yes, yes I did.

And then we come to Sashi's baked mac and cheeze. This just may have stolen the show - at least for me, a macaroni-and-noodle freak. Did I have seconds? Yes. Did I have thirds? Well, um... Hey! Look over there! Is that a penguin?! Oh, sorry, must have been a trick of the eyes. What were we talking about? Totally forgot, better move on. So, perhaps me and Jonathan really are soulmates; today he was lamenting the fact that we hadn't kept a little extra around for today's lunch... and dinner! Fortunately, Sashi too shared the recipe, so we can all recreate this noodley joy.

And what about my stuffed shells? Oh yes, those. Well, I'd never done shells before; this was actually a modification of the lasagna I've been making for a couple of years. It's pretty simple - an herbed tofu ricotta whipped up in the food processor, some good tomato sauce, and then what you do with the pasta part and the baking-ness is pretty much up to you. I've done mini-lasagnas before, in tiny five inch baking dishes - that was kind of awesome and fun. I did make my own tomato sauce this time - I do that sometimes - which came out pretty well. Anyway, I can't judge, but I thought it was pretty tasty, and my guests were kind enough to agree. :)

Was there dessert? Uh, yeah! If you know anything about my house you know that sugar is of primary concern. (More than it should be? Well, that's a different conversation.) I baked cupcakes - stared out with Terry and Isa's recipe for golden vanilla cupcakes (oil variation), and for the extracts used half a teaspoon of lemon (a.k.a. what was left in the bottle) and 1.5 teaspoons of orange extract, along with the one teaspoon of vanilla that I put in everything sweet that I bake. (Unless I'm using way more than one teaspoon of vanilla, that is.) Lo and behold, to my surprise, what happened? Creamsicle cupcake! Given the delicate flavor of these cakelets, I ditched my original plan of a full on chocolate icing and instead did my standard "butter"cream" flavored with chocolate and vanilla extracts. Was it absolutely everything I'd wished for? Well, no. But they got pretty good reviews.

Then along comes Alf-redo with these super amazing, texturally supreme "pepita pistachio cranberry oatmeal" cookies! Pepita, in case you didn't know, is the small seed of a pumpkin or other squash. (Yeah, I googled it. What of it?!) Good thing I was already stuffed on real dinner food, or I would have gone into total sugar overload. Good thing I snagged some of these cookies for today, because I would have been sad not to get a second taste!

So as you can see, if you weren't here you missed a totally awesome feast. Come out next time wouldja? The more the merrier, so long as we don't piss off my 80 year old landlady.

Recipes forthcoming for stuffed shells, I promise! Clearly, I make good on my promises... eventually. :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Eight: Confessions of a potluck virgin.

Today... did not go as smoothly as it could have. Observe:

1) I woke up with the headache from hell. This was probably in part because it was raining, and partly because I slept terribly.

2) Work was work. It's like that.

3) The headache from hell escalated to near-migraine proportions. To the point where I had to go home from work, actually. And I kind of think one of the attorneys that I work for thinks I went home to get ready for the potluck, which I totally didn't. I went home, dosed myself with NSAIDs and caffeine, drank lots of water, and laid in a darkened room for two hours praying for the evil pain in my face to go away. Well it didn't go away, but it dulled to the point where I could function again.

4) Mobile once more, I made frosting for the cupcakes I baked last night. And for some damn reason, it just wouldn't emulsify. I don't know if it was because I was using a different kind of powdered sugar than I normally do, or because the margarine was the wrong temperature, or because I used too much extract, or what, but it just wasn't happenin. I powered through it though, and I made them cupcakes work. And then I put sprinkles on them to cover up the crappy looking frosting.

5) At 6:55 Jonathan made it home, which was a relief, because I was afraid he wouldn't be home until 8 or later. (His work has been as bad as mine lately.) But at 7:10, none of the guests had arrived yet. So of course I began to have fanciful delusions that no one was showing up at all; that it had all been an elaborate rouse. (Because, you know, clearly I'm important enough to people who have never met me in person to pull such a prank.)

But then of course the doorbell rang. Four people came together, followed shortly by a fifth, plus the two of us already here made for seven total. Which is apparently just perfect, because as it turns out I own seven plates, seven chairs, and seven forks. Who knew? My dining room also holds seven guests sitting in the round quite well.

(I may or may not have mentioned that this was a PPK meetup kind of potluck, so you'll have to excuse the use of handles below.)

All of the food was delish. My stuffed shells were not overbaked as I had feared, SeitanSaidDance's quinoa was spicy perfection, Sashi's mac and cheeze made a second appearance on most plates, Alf-redo's stuffed peppers brought me back to my mother's kitchen, and Quarantined's chickpea casserole rounded out the plate. As for dessert, everyone loved my cupcakes! But that didn't stop me (or anyone else) from having one or two of Alf-redo's delectably chewy pistachio cranberry cookies as well. And thanks Joe-friend-of-Quarantined for the almonds, olives, and chocolate! He made us fancy, yo.

We sat around and chatted and ate for almost four hours, and all in all had a grand old time. So happily, I can call my first potluck a success. And the best part is, now my house is clean! Well maybe not the best part, but it sure doesn't hurt my feelings.

It's late, and I'm going to bed. But if you're good I'll post pictures of the food and festivities. Really I will. Any day now. Naw, srsly ppl, I will. Tomorrow probly even! I'm sure you await it with baited breath.

But for now, g'night!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Seven: Stuffed shells and creamsicle cupcakes!

I'm gonna tell you right up front: this blog post is a total tease. You will neither see photographs, nor hear descriptions, of either of these dishes. Did I, in fact, bake both of these items on Monday night? Why yes, yes I did. So why am I not giving you all of the delicious/gory details?! Because I'm cruel and heartless.

Well no. Actually it's because as of 11pm, I still haven't managed to get in the shower much less get myself to bed, which I really have to do soon, because I must leave work on time tomorrow, because TOMORROW NIGHT IS THE POTLUCK! That's right people. Tomorrow night I am HOSTING a vegan potluck! Thus the baked pasta dish and fancy cupcakes.

Hoo. Ray!

Fear not. You'll be seeing lots of pictures. You'll hear aaaalllll about it. But right now I must must must must MUST get in the shower and then get to bed!

A hostess needs her rest, you know.

Monday, October 26, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Six: Beer! That is, Vegan Beer!

Beer: we love it. I don't remember not drinking beer - my parents were of the "let her have a sip" school, and I clearly remember being two years old and scamming for a second taste. But there comes a moment in the life of every young vegan when a slightly terrifying discovery is made: not all beer is vegan.

I was at a veg meetup when I found out. It was maybe a month after I went vegan. I was drinking a Guinness at the time. It was my last Guinness.

What? What the heck would they put in there?!

Well, it's not so much what they're putting in there, with the few exceptions of beer with honey in them (and those tend to be pretty obvious - they generally put the word "honey" right in the name of the beer). It's more that there are some really odd animal byproducts - "finings" - being used in the process of making some beers.

There are two main animal byproducts that pop up. The first is isinglass, which is obtained from the swimbladders of fish and used for clarification. This, I'm sorry to say, is why I will no longer drink Guinness or Murphy's Irish Stout. Not every batch of Guinness uses isinglass, which is annoying and infuriating. Every time I think about this stuff, my mind boggles. It's right up there with "how did we figure out how to eat artichokes," except with about a hundred levels of disgusting piled on top. Who figured out how to get the collagen out of swim bladders in the first place? Isn't there any other way to clarify beer? Oh, yeah, and GUINNESS ISN'T CLEAR ANYWAY. But whatever, I guess I'm splitting hairs, huh?

Then, oh, then there's gelatin. That's right - the same thing that ruins marshmallows and Altoids (which HELLO aren't even chewy) and so many amusingly shaped candies is now ruining your beer! What is the fixation with this stuff? Apparently it is also used for clarification. I think what's actually clear, though, is that using a product made from the skins, connective tissues, and other "leftovers" of "food animals" is ridiculous and unnecessary - particularly given all the great breweries that have no trouble making a wide range of beers without these substances.

The good news is that the majority of beers out there are, in fact, vegan. The ones you have to watch out for are usually odder ones: dark ones, cask ales, special brews, et cetera. And the Brits, well, they just seem to love to use this stuff for reasons unknown. But then, they put fish in all their sauces too, so go figure. (No offense loves - some of my favorite vegans are from the Isles!) The Germans, though, take a special pride in their beer making, and have actually had special laws on the books for centuries regrading what ingredients can be in them. Thank you Germans! (Not sure if this makes up for all the sausages, but it's a start.)

Plenty of great beers are vegan. Brooklyn Brewery, a fab brewery that I'm happy to call local, makes almost exclusively vegan beers, with the exception of one specialty cask ale. Abita, another beer I consider local (as I also consider New Orleans home) is an all-vegan brewery. Blue Moon, Harpoon, Sierra Nevada, and Magic Hat each make a variety of very tasty vegan beers that are widely available, and really this is just the tip of the iceberg (or should I say the bottom of my fridge).

Want to know if your favorite beer is vegan? Find out! Barnivore keeps the most extensive list that I've found, not only of beer but also of wine and liquors. This list of breweries is interesting as well, in that the list's author took the time to contact each one personally.

Do I totally want to make the oatmeal stout brownies from this article? Yes, yes I do. Maybe I will. Maybe you should!

Of course, you could also order these amazing-looking (and -sounding) "drunken cupcakes" from one of my favorite Etsy bakers, Sweet Fritsy. Chocolate cupcake + stout = I vote yes!

Now that you're fully armed with knowledge of vegan beer-ness... are you still sitting in front of your computer?! Utilize your town's public transportation system to get yourself over to the nearest beer hall, and put your newfound education to good (responsible) use!

Happy drinking!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Five: French Toast FAIL.

Today I will tell you a sad story of a Sunday past. It all started out so innocently - a plan for a little bit of lighthearted brinner as a happier finish for what had not been the best weekend. The recipe (which I of course then doctored) was simple enough; it came out of How It All Vegan, a tried and true little book, and went like so:
1 1/2 cups soy milk (I used almond)
2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbst nutritional yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon (I put in two)
(I also added a dash of nutmeg and other pertinent spices, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, because, I mean, come on, how can this not have vanilla extract?)

The batter/dip/wash/whatever came out looking pretty darn good. A solid start, I thought.

Well, I dipped in my first piece and tossed it in a heated up pan that had just a bit of oil in it. So far so good.

But when I went to flip it over...

It really just digressed from there.

Maybe I had soaked it in too much of the batter? It was in the bowl for a maximum of about two seconds, but I resolved to dip the second slice of bread much faster. After the first side fry and flip, eureka! Things were really looking up.

But then... structural failure.

Big time.

Kind of hurts, doesn't it?

Slice number three broke as I was putting it into the pan! Ended before it had even begun.

The big one kind of looks like Australia. (Use your imagination.)

Alright. So what the hell happened here? I considered many possibilities.

1) I suck at making French toast.
2) The structural integrity of my bread was somehow compromised throughout the loaf; it kept breaking in the same spot, after all.
3) I suck at making French toast.
4) Too much oil in the pan.
5) Not enough oil in the pan.
6) I suck at making French toast.
7) Pan too hot.
8) Pan not hot enough.
9) I suck at making French toast.

Did I eat the mangled wrecks of bread that I produced? Yes, yes I did. And they tasted pretty good; they tasted like French toast. They even had the proper consistency. But my oh my, there is no question that something was terribly amiss.

Well, an hour or two after I had finished making battered trainwrecks in the kitchen, Jonathan came home. There was still some batter left, so while I was back here in my studio blogging away, he busied himself in the kitchen using it up. And not that surprisingly, in he walked 20 or so minutes later with three gorgeous slices of French toast (drizzled with homemade fig syrup, obvs.).

Now, Jon is not necessarily a much better cook than I am, but he is much better at certain things. This, clearly, is one of them. Apparently, though, there is a secret here that I did not know about.

He staled his bread.

I mean, I know about pain perdu and all, but the recipe just didn't indicate that I needed to do anything to my bread. In fact, all it says about the consistency of the bread is "Soak 1 slice of bread in batter until bread is gooey." Does this indicate a stale and/or toasted slice of bread to you? To me, it does not. Nevertheless, if you're going to essentially soak your bread in milk, firmer bread does indeed seem the way to go. You can throw it in an oven for a couple of minutes, or lightly toast it, or ideally just let it sit out for a while and actually get stale. Fresh bread straight from the package? Apparenly not where it's at.

Thus is my story. Learn from my mistakes, and move forward, and be happy... and use stale bread.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Four: Stuff-I've-Used-Half-Of Stew!

Sometimes I just... sort of... start... cooking. Without, like, a plan you know? I recently had such a night. I had a half a box of leftover something in the pantry, see, and I wanted to cook that. And I kind of just started finding what else was around the kitchen half used up, unloved, waiting to be put into some meal or other. This would be that meal!

Anybody wanna guess what I made? Was it some sort of weird jambalaya? Good guess but no. Rice-a-roni gone horribly awry? Close, but no cigar. It was a dish that has never been made before, will likely never be made again, was prepared using absurd methods, and yet somehow came out surprisingly tasty. You ready?

Orzo with okra and potatoes in a tomato based sauce! Didn't see that one coming, did you.

Well it happened like this. I decided I wanted to cook the half a box of orzo that had been hanging around the pantry. I like orzo veryvery much; it's a textural thing. But what to cook it with? Well I had to season it with something, and I spotted a red onion that had been languishing on our sideboard for ages. In another week it was sure to be a goner. So I sliced it up and set it to sautee... before I had any idea what else I was cooking. I figured I'd better do some quick searching.

First I came upon the half a bag of babynewred potatoes that I had left over from my corn chowder adventures at the beginning of the week. Sure, there's always something to do with potatoes. But since Jonathan loves a good starch on starch combo, why not? Orzo and potatoes would be weird on their own though, so my search continued. And there in the freezer, I found the perfect answer! A bag of okra that I'd bought a couple of months ago, and then forgot to put in the freezer when I got home with it, so that when I finally did freeze it it turned into one giant okracube. Great!

My onion being well sauteed, I tore open my bag of okra and just dumped it right on into the pan. I then looked over at my potatoes, which I had rinsed and cut up, and realized that they would take a while to cook. And so, I did something that I was glad Jon wasn't home to witness: I put the raw potatoes right in that pan at the same time with the giant frozen block of okra. People, this is the wrong way to cook. Please do not ever cook this way. Do as I say, not as I do. Do not try this at home. I added some stock from the omnipresent carton of it in our fridge, put the lid on, and hoped for the best. (Alright, by "hoped for the best" I do actually mean "checked on every two to three minutes, gently prying apart the pieces of okra, flipping over the okracube, and adding more stock as needed". Same diff.)

Well, eventually the huge cube-o-okra broke up and the pan was as it should be. I added a healthy dose of lemon pepper and "Italian Seasoning", and then I added the final ingredient - about a third of a carton of tomato soup! Whenever I eat orzo I want it to be kind of tomato-ey, see. Plus, I like okra and tomato, and I'm intrigued by the idea of combining tomato and potato. It all works! Round about this time I also put on a pot of water to boil (along with a cube of bullion) to go ahead and cook my orzo. Orzo takes a surprisingly long time to cook, what with it being as tiny as it is. Mine took a good 13 minutes or so. Which was fine, actually, because the potatoes needed more time to cook.

After approximately an hour from when I had begun my mad kitchen-raid adventure, all of the pieces were ready. I combined the orzo with the okra and potato mix in the pan and folded everything together. I thought the veggies were going to overwhelm the orzo, but I had it bass ackwards. Orzo apparently does a ton of expanding as it cooks. I turned the fire off, put the lid on, and let it set for a few minutes before serving. (By the bye, I think the color is pretty off in this pic. Apologies. Although, it wasn't exactly going to win any awards anyway, now was it?)

The biggest surprise of the night? The meal was kind of fantastic! You may have trouble believing this, and I don't really blame you. By all accounts it should have been terrible, or mediocre at best. I should have been punished for my evil ways. But no. The sauce and orzo were seasoned just perfectly, the potatoes were amazing with a buttery consistency and great flavor, and the okra was okra - we love okra. Jon and I agreed that it was delish, and we're both stoked that there are leftovers.

Sometimes strange things can happen in the kitchen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Three: Chowda!

Over the weekend it was rain rain rain and cold cold cold - blegh. But then around came Monday, and suddenly there was the beautiful fall weather I've been waiting for! I put on my new boots, wore my autmn-ey long skirt and a brown sweater, and took it easy at work (well, a little bit easy anyway). And when I finally got home and the day was still wonderful, I was inspired to cook. Cook what? What else! Corn chowder, of course.

Now, I say that having a) never made it before, and b) never had it other than from out of a carton. But I could just feel in my bones that it was a corn chowder kind of day. So instead of heading for my apartment from the subway, I headed for the grocery store. There was a recipe in my head just dying to get out.

That's not to say that this recipe is all my own - not by any stretch. I got a solid framework for it from the corn chowder recipe in Clean Food by Terry Walters. (This book was bequeathed to me by my adorable co-worker Alyza, who may or may not be fed some vegan corn chowder any day now.) As usual, though, I deviated pretty significantly from there... partly because I am terrible at following recipes, and partly because I don't fully agree with this book's school of un-seasoning. I heart my spice rack.

As so many good things do, it all begins with one medium onion, chopped, and then sauteed for a few minutes in some good olive oil on low to medium heat. (This is a one pot soup; sautee right in that pot!) Basically, I get the onion in the pan and then start chopping the other vegetables. As they're chopped, I dump them in as well. Chop chop chop, stir stir stir, kind of like that. (What's that you say? I make Jonathan do all of the chopping for me? Hush now, don't talk so. Just because it's the truth and everything, you don't have to go talking about it.)

What other vegetables? Well in this instance, a few stalks of celery (3 or 4?) and a couple of carrots - we ended up using three small ones because that's what was wilting away in our fridge. Also, potatoes! The original recipe called for two "medium" potatoes. What does that mean anyway? I don't really like regular icky thick skinned potatoes though; I much prefer little baby new potatoes. So naturally that's what I picked up at the store, red ones. I used eight of them, each approximately the diameter of a golf ball, but flatter. I left the skins on (such a pretty red color!) and cut them into about eighth pieces.

Once all of your veggies have been chopped and added to the pot, add about a half cup of white cooking wine, or just regular old white wine if you happen to have half a bottle of the cheap stuff sitting in your fridge. You can measure, or you can eyeball, depending on how much you trust yourself (and how much you want your veg sautee to taste like cooking wine). I also added some seasonings here: celery salt, lemon pepper, and dried parsley. Let the mix sautee for a good five or ten minutes this way so that the potatoes start to cook and the flavors start to mingle.

Next, add your corn. You can use fresh or frozen. The recipe I was working from called for 3 1/2 cups, but I was using frozen, and how do you not end up with that little fist of unused frozen corn sitting in your freezer? I ended up using two 10 oz. packages of Cascadian Farms frozen organic sweet corn, which was probably about 4 cups. I didn't measure; I just dumped both bags in. Corn heavy corn chowder? Fine by me. (And actually, if/when I make this again I'll probably up it to three bags, but maybe puree one of them...)

So once your corn is in, you want to fill the pot with your "milk" of choice. As always I was using almond milk, but I could not get my normal brand (unsweetened Almond Breeze by Blue Diamond, what's up) which I think would have made the soup even better than it turned out. Anyway, you want to add enough milk to "just cover" the ingredients already in the pot - in my case this was about four cups. That equals one of the smaller (quart sized) cartons that non-dairy milks often come in. Whatever you choose to use, I suggest that you get a plain flavor that is low in sugar for this kind of cooking.

Once the milk is in, you want to bring the pot up to just barely a boil, and then lower it down to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Once your 20 minutes is up, you're going to do the exciting bit. The original recipe calls for a stick blender; I don't have one of those. What I do have, though, is a food processor. You do too, right? So grab your ridiculously oversized pyrex measuring thingy - you know you have one - and transfer 2.5 to three cups of the contents of your pot into it. A ladle works well for this kind of thing. Then pour this into your food processor. (You can let the remainder in the pot continue to simmer, but keep an eye on it.)

It will look something like this. Then... process! Pulse and process away till the contents of your food processor is smooth. It gets kind of spooky smooth, actually, kind of like creamed corn out of a can. If you've never had it, well, it borders on slimy. (Did I forget to take an "after" shot because I suck? Yes, yes I did.)

Pour your blendy-smooth mixture back into the main pot and stir well. It should hopefully look something like this. The chowder is now essentially finished, but you want to let its separated parts get to know each other again. Let it simmer for two or three minutes, and then turn the fire off and leave it covered for five to ten minutes before serving.

I served mine with a little sprinkle of dill on top, because every now and then I'm fancy like that. Was it just exactly perfectly the meal I was looking for? Yes, yes it was. Did Jonathan love it? Yes, yes he did. Should you make this chowder immediately? Yes, yes you should.

It will bring you joy. Joy... in the form of corn.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Two: Glenny's Marshmallow... Treats?

The other night, Jonathan arrived home with a treat for us! (Ain't he a sugarpants?) I had never seen or even heard of Glenny's Marshmallow Treats before, so it was quite the surprise. As you can see, they're made of brown rice - well that's cool. And they're organic - alright, well I'm not really concerned about my marshmallow treats being healthy or anything, but I'm all for less square footage of farmland being sprayed down with pesticides, so rad.

At first I thought it must just be accidentally vegan, but even if that's the case Glenny's sure has caught on. (I hear it's not the easiest process to get that little v-in-heart emblem on your box!) The truth is that I haven't had a rice crispie treat since I went vegan. Sure, there are some great vegan marshmallows on the market now (THANK YOU Sweet & Sara and Chicago Soydairy!), so the only reason for this is my sheer laziness. The double truth is that pre-veganity I never made rice crispie treats - I only had them at other peoples' houses. It wasn't something we did 'round my place. Basically, I was really psyched to try these things out!

Well... they sure are made of a puffed rice cereal type stuff. And they sure do have A LOT of sugar in them. As for any marshmallow flavor or texture... well, um, if you strain the imagination real, real hard... maybe? Perhaps if I had never had a rice crispie treat before I'd think they were awesome. As it is though, all I can say is, nice try Glenny's. Good for you for making a vegan product. (If you could make it a little better though, that'd be fab.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-One: Very Very V-Spot!

It amazes me that I have lived in NYC for four years, and have been vegan for three and a half of those years, and yet still have not been to every veg restaurant in the city. And we eat out! A lot! (Way more than we should, as a matter of fact.) I'd sort of heard of this place, but it wasn't until a fellow PPKer mentioned that a person could buy Daiya at V-Spot, a Latin vegan restaurant in Brooklyn, that I became determined to get on over to the Slope and try it out.

But holy empanada, am I glad we did! The V is simply amazing. To my knowledge there is nowhere else in the city serving vegan food anything like this. Sure you can get a great vegan burrito at Curly's, but people it is not the same thing. This restaurant has a wide range of various traditional Latin foods from different countries (though it does seem to focus on Colombian dishes), and it has some unexpected off-the-cuff offerings as well, such as quinoa spaghetti with marinara! Like whoa, right?

Their signature dish is their amazing empanadas, and OMG. There's a reason they're known for these things. If you made a dinner of nothing but these and the fried platanos, you would not be disappointed. Since it was our first visit, though, of course we wanted to try everything on the menu! Well it's a really extensive menu so we couldn't. But we did our best.

Well of course we started with said famous/infamous empanadas. As beautiful as they are delicious, as delicious as they are beautiful. It was almost a shame to cut into these perfect pockets. But then, it's a conundrum, because they're so tantalizing that it was almost impossible to wait long enough to photograph them before digging in.

For main courses, I ordered the spinach and mushroom soft tacos. A taste explosion! Spicy spicy. Certainly unlike any other taco I've ever had. And is that mashed potato in the bottom? Why yes, yes it is. Will the wonders never cease. Served with a hearty portion of fried platanos and a lovely side salad. And, of course, I also ordered the sake pina colada. How could I not? It was a strange experience - if I didn't already know what it was like to have sake instead of the proper liquor in a known mixed drink, I'd have thought something had gone funny with the coconut milk. But the cold, creamy, somewhat saltiness of it actually went quite nicely with the food. Once I got the drink, anyway. But we'll talk about that in a minute.

Jonathan got the cutlets, because it's fall now and that means it's time for dishes like cutlets. (Thus are the workings of the mind of Jonathan.) As he put it, he's had this kind of plate before at other restaurants around town, but V-Spot did a much better job with it. And the mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach that came with were quite divine.

There was one, and only one, downside to our first V-Spot experience, which was that there was a bit of a hitch in our service. Actually, all that really happened was that they totally forgot about our drinks. It got irritating, though, when we told the guy who brought our food and then we *still* didn't have them ten minutes later. To be fair, though, they were dealing with a birthday party or some such group that was at least a 12 top and involved toddlers, and compromised easily a third of their seating area. That kind of thing can really throw off a waitstaff, understandably. We had also arrived just at the beginning of the dinner rush. At any rate, we got everything in the end, and the meal came together and was pleasing, and everyone was friendly, and our head waiter guy apologized without us even making a fuss or anything - so really what more can you ask for? These things happen.

We would have loved to peruse dessert, but there was no room left! Total impossibility. Next time, next time...

Did we pick up some Daiya, that magicomystal substance that led us to the V-Spot in the first place? Oh yes, yes we did. But that, my loves, is a story for another day.