Friday, February 18, 2011

Cooking under the influence.

Red was away for work this week, so once again I was left to entertain myself. I didn’t burn the house down, but I did decide to combine two activities that are usually better done solo: cooking and boozing.

On the menu was Appetite for Reduction’s Potato-Spinach Curry. But first, allow me to issue a brief PSA: Finish all your chopping before you start drinking. Safety first, darlings.

What was I drinking, you ask? Oh, I had a few bottles of Sam Adams in the fridge. My girl Liz came over the other night, and we went out for sushi and then came back for some frosty adult beverages. West Coast, do you have the deliciousness that is Sam Adams? You probably do, but I don’t want to fall into the East-Coast trap of thinking we’re the center of the known universe. Anyway, it’s mighty fine beer and I enjoyed it as I cooked.

This is a delicious curry that comes together very easily. As Isa notes, it’s extra-fun because you get to pop the mustard seeds at the beginning. Dodging the little bastards as they tried to escape the pot challenged my coordination, but it does that even without an assist from my friend Sam. Once you manage to corral your mustard seeds (now toasty and even more delicious), the rest is a snap. What am I telling you this for? You’ve probably made hundreds of curries.

I did tweak the recipe a little. It called for a pound of frozen spinach, but we only had a 10-oz. bag in the freezer. So I used that, then added a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach. The hippie grocery only had russet potatoes (no Yukon gold), but I couldn’t tell the difference. And I have an irrational dislike of chopping tomatoes, so I used a 14-oz. can instead of the two fresh tomatoes listed. Also, I had a few scraps of tofu hanging around from another recipe, so I added those too. Still, for all that, I think the finished product was pretty close to the original.

While the curry was simmering, it occurred to me that what I really wanted was chocolate. I wanted chocolate bad. I started scouring cookbooks and cupboards to see if I had enough of anything to make brownies, or half-assed cookies, or anything. Surprise: I didn’t. No chocolate chips, and only a measly quarter-cup of cocoa powder. Oh, the humanity. I had a fresh chocolate bar in the fridge, but I wasn’t feeling creative enough to smash it into chips or grind it into powder—besides, we all know that would have been a really bad idea. And I was psyched to get baking.

I did, however, have plenty of peanut butter. Jars full of it. Therefore, I would have peanut butter cookies. Red called me at that point, and I (drunkenly) hollered that there would be peanut butter cookies when he came home. I imagine that his dining companions were amused.

I ate a little bit of the curry (trying to save room for the cookies-to-be), then switched to wine. It seemed classier. I gathered the ingredients for Vegan with a Vengeance’s Crispy Peanut Butter Cookies and got to work. With only eight ingredients, how hard could it be? Clearly, this recipe was made with drunk bakers in mind.

I’m gonna cut to the chase: Sweet God Almighty, what a horrible failure these cookies were. I know you’re thinking, “Of course they sucked, you stupid lush. You probably added vinegar instead of oil.” No, I swear to you, it wasn’t me. I did everything right. I hopped on the PPK to check it out, and I am far from the only person to have had piss-poor results with these cookies.

After 12 minutes in the oven, I checked them. Too soft. Three more minutes. Still too soft. Three more. Not working. Grumpily, I set the timer for a final five minutes, determining that those cookies would be done or there would be hell to pay. After a grand total of twice the recommended baking time, they were still mushy and crumbly—the mere touch of a spatula made them fall apart. Their bottoms were also mildly scorched. I didn’t bother transferring them to the rack to cool, but after a few minutes, I took a nibble of one anyway.

It wasn’t good. Still, my anticipation had been building for a few hours, and I really wanted dessert. I placed three of the misbegotten cookies into a bowl, then poured chocolate syrup over them in an attempt to salvage a sugar high.

It will not surprise you to learn that the chocolate syrup resented being dragged into this atrocity, and refused to help the cookies taste better. I sadly sipped my wine and texted Red to say that both Leonard Nimoy and Stephen Root had cameos on TNG that evening. (Aside: I adore them both, and I think Nimoy looks like he’d give an excellent hug, but I find myself channeling Root’s Office Space character Milton more often than I do Mr. Spock. I’m working on it.)

In a last gasp at optimism, I put the cookies in the fridge, hoping that they’d firm up overnight and that my taste buds would recover from any booze-related trauma. When I woke up, the cookies would be magically delicious.

They weren’t. They found their end in the compost bin. I was crestfallen.

However, this weekend I plan to indulge in a fit of brownie baking like no other. I will not be denied again! I think I’ll bake sober this time, though.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Stuff we’ve eaten lately.

While Red and I continue to nibble away on the vat of buffalo tofu we made over the weekend, here are some other things we’ve eaten over the last week or so:

This here’s a nice minestrone. I have a recipe I printed from some website a few years ago and veganized, but you don’t really need one. I like to think of minestrone as “Italian leftover soup,” because that’s basically what it is. Got some sad veggies languishing in that Crisper drawer? Chop ‘em up and throw ‘em in a pot with a can of beans, a can of tomatoes, a few cups of broth, a handful of small pasta, and a few shakes of Italian seasoning. When the pasta’s ready, chow down. Because my inner child demanded to be indulged, we used ABC pasta this time. I did not torment Red by insisting that we play Scrabble with our soup noodles.

I made a double batch of seitan last week. Some went into Appetite for Reduction’s Portobello Peppersteak Stew, which is delicious but not at all photogenic, so I didn’t bother with a picture. (It is incredible though, so you should make it.) Red sliced up the rest and we made barbecue seitan! This is one of his favorites. I sautéed the seitan for a few minutes in our biggest cast-iron skillet, then poured a bottle of Organicville Tangy BBQ Sauce over it and let it simmer until we got too hungry and had to eat it. Because nothing accompanies barbecue like cornbread, I made Cornbread Biscuits from Vegan Brunch. They were possibly even easier than regular cornbread, and very tasty. Them’s frozen green beans up there, if you’re keeping track.

This is Quinoa, White Bean, and Kale Stew from Appetite for Reduction. Isn’t it pretty? I love all the colors. It is a total color-texture extravaganza. This stew has damn near everything in it—kale, potatoes, carrots, quinoa, beans, parsnips, leeks, a bunch of spices, and on and on—but it comes together very quickly. I know I mentioned parsnips and they are kind of creepy to some people, looking like albino carrots like they do, but believe me, you won’t even notice them. They blend right in with the potatoes and you can’t tell the difference. I have examined spoonfuls of this stew, looking for something identifiably parsnip, and I haven’t found it yet. You should also know that the quinoa soaks up the broth like crazy, so after a night in the fridge, your stew becomes less stewish and more like a delicious amalgamation of veggies and grains that you need to eat with a spoon. It’s doesn’t bother me at all, but if you want to preserve your solid-to-liquid ratio, you might be SOL unless you eat the entire vat at once.

Last night, we made Pasta con Broccoli, also courtesy of AFR. It’s pretty obvious what this is, right? We cheaped out and used frozen broccoli, so it was extra-quick. Red was a little skeptical of a pasta dish that didn’t have an accompanying sauce, but he was pleasantly surprised. I was surprised by how filling it was—I didn’t expect that plain old noodles and broccoli would leave me satisfied for more than an hour or two. It is a garlicky delight that you could easily change up with whatever veggies in your fridge or freezer crave the loving embrace of pasta.

So there you have it. We’ve noticed that although we’ve loved everything from AFR so far, we seem to always end up with one less serving than Isa suggests. This isn’t really a problem for us—that pasta dish was supposed to make four servings at 300 calories each, so even if Red and I each snarfed down half the pan, that still would have been only 600 calories apiece for dinner—but maybe you care more about calories than we do. Anyway, all the AFR recipes have been so easy and tasty, three servings instead of four (or seven instead of eight) is totally justifiable.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stain THIS.

For all the time I spend in the kitchen, I am not one to be precious about my cookware. One of the best frying pans I ever had came from humble thrift-store beginnings to help me create many satisfying meals. (I think my sister has it now, so the cycle continues.) Last year, my mom gave me her cast-iron skillets, and you would have thought the Publisher’s Clearing House people showed up at my door with their balloons and giant check. I’m cool with hand-me-downs, is what I’m saying.

However, even though Red had a very serviceable set of pots and pans when I moved in, they were never meant to last forever. The nonstick stuff is flaking off. They’re all scratched. I was happy cooking with them, but we occasionally talked about what we wanted to replace them with. We ultimately decided that we didn’t want to go the nonstick route, as that leaches Goddess knows what horrendous chemicals into your food, and we didn’t want anything cheap. Whatever we bought would last.

Enter stainless steel.

We decided fairly quickly that we wanted to go stainless, but holy cats, there are a lot of stainless cookware sets out there. Some we could afford; others (I’m lookin’ at you, All-Clad) we most definitely couldn’t. After a few days of researching, we lucked into a gorgeous set of Cuisinart Multi-Clad Pro. The Amazon reviews, plus this in-depth comparison and recommendation, convinced me to whip out the old credit card and take the plunge. And I am so glad we did.

These babies are awesome, y’all. They are most definitely high-quality. They’re nicely weighted—no flimsy pans here. They heat evenly and the few meals we’ve made with them so far have been great. The handles stay cool (lids don’t). Pouring is easy. Cleanup is just as easy as nonstick. They fit in our cabinets. The lids have a mirror finish, so when I peek into a pot of simmering soup, I can smile at my reflection.

I think I’m in love.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How to get the pretzel you want.

Pre-Puppy Bowl, Red and I found ourselves at the mall. He needed a cell phone case and I was trying to take advantage of a sale on pants. I also wanted a big soft pretzel, because it only seemed fitting to start my day of junk food off right.

Auntie Anne’s has my heart because right there on their website, for all to see, is their Vegan Guide. I think I danced for joy at my desk when I found it. With that, I decided to be uncomplicated in my pretzel desire and order an original sans butter.

The gentleman taking my order asked if I was allergic. Without thinking, I said, “I’m vegan. It’s an ethical allergy.”* To my surprise, he not only got it, he cracked up laughing. “I love that!” he exclaimed. It took a few minutes for my dairy-free pretzel to be ready, but when it was, it was hot and fresh from the oven. No languishing under heat lamps for my pretzel, no sir.

Let this be a lesson to you, my darlings. Never be afraid to ask for what you want, and don’t dumb it down for anyone. You deserve the very best pretzel.

Nommy pretzels ripped from EV Freebies.

*Feel free to use this! I stole it from some brilliant soul on the PPK.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Puppy Bowl gluttony.

Unless you live under a rock on the moon, you know that yesterday transpired one of the most legendary athletic events of our time. I speak, of course, of Puppy Bowl VII.

If you’ve somehow managed to never experience the amazing cuteness and guileless joy that is Puppy Bowl, hie thee to that link up there and watch the recaps immediately. The suckiest of days can be brightened by puppies rolling and tackling and chewing on stuffed footballs (and, it must be said, occasionally on each other). If you fancy felines, the Kitty Halftime Show is a spectacle all its own. The chicken cheerleaders looked kind of bored and the hamsters piloting the blimp weren’t manning their controls very diligently, but luckily all disasters were averted.

Such a hotly anticipated sporting event calls for plenty of nutrition-optional snacks, am I right? Puppy Bowl is the one day a year when I deep-fry things. (I initially mistyped that as “deep-fry Tings,” and I don’t know about you, but deep-fried Tings might just kill me with awesome). Our game-day standby is buffalo tofu, but this year we decided to add to the fun with Hell Yeah It’s Vegan!’s mozzarella sticks.

I was quite nervous about the mozzarella sticks, because vegan cheese can be fickle even when superheated oil is not involved. Here’s me, mid-preparation, batter-covered Lady Gaga hands and all:

Ready for freezing (a crucial pre-frying step):

Red handled the frying while I hovered nearby. (Note: We used peanut oil, and I am a total convert now. It beats the hell out of canola oil for all your high-heat endeavors.) Despite my fears, HYIV’s recipe worked exactly as promised, and the rewards were reaped with a generous side of spaghetti sauce (out of a jar, because what else did you think?):

They were really good! Of course, deep-fried Styrofoam would probably taste good, but I quite enjoyed my vegan mozzarella sticks. They held together very well and were appropriately gooey, if only for a minute or two. They firm up quickly, as HYIV notes, but if you’re down for DIYing your own greasy diner food, these are right up your alley.

The buffalo tofu was less fraught, because we’ve made that before. We decided to go for the gold and make two pounds this year, and that almost did me in. It took a while, probably about an hour, to fry all of it. I was tired of battering by that point, and Red was tired of frying. It was all worth it, though:

This tofu is always delicious, with a nice crispy coating and messy sauce. Why am I trying to sell you on these? Just go make them. I have decided that buffalo sauce on anything is never wrong, and I never even liked buffalo wings, so there. We have so much left over, I’ll be snacking on it all week.

Red tried to be the healthy one by adding dippable veggies to his feast:

I didn’t even bother. We settled in to scarf our noms and squee over the puppies. This year, there were two adorable pittie contenders! Way to go, Animal Planet, for including bully pups and promoting their adoption.

This little lover is Thirteen, a pit mix from Ohio. Look at those ears! And that perfect little eyepatch! Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.

Sweet Sadie is an APBT from Connecticut. I love brindle pups! Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.

Of course, I also nibbled some Tings during the second half. I didn’t take a picture of them, though. Once the game ended, it started all over again in a never-ending loop of cuteness. Calorifically sated, I curled up in the recliner to doze off to puppy yaps and referee whistles (and David Duchovny’s wonderful voice during the Pedigree commercials) while Lucy, true to form, spazzed at the sight of a stinkbug in the dining room. If only every Sunday was this great.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fruity oaty awesome, or how I learned to stop worrying and love parchment paper.

I am a breakfast kinda girl. I have to be, because without it I either throw up or pass out. While either of those can be a serviceable ending to a hella fun evening, I prefer to start my mornings off with a little less excitement.

Anyway, breakfast. Cereal and PBJ on toast are both delicious options, but I found myself getting bored. I wanted an easy breakfast that was filling yet tasty and didn’t involve hauling out the pots and pans at 6:00 am. Imagine my delight when my newly acquired Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar featured an entire chapter full of healthy, won’t-give-you-a-sugar-high cookies!

I settled on making Fruity Oaty Bars, and they did not disappoint. I was a little leery at first, because the recipe calls for both brown rice syrup and barley malt syrup, but the bars aren’t too sweet at all (or sticky, which is a problem with some granola bars). They don’t jack up my blood sugar, either. The benefits of using unrefined sugar, represent. They were very easy to make, with the only minor annoyance being chopping the dried apples. But whatever, you’re probably tougher than I am and don’t mind hacking through desiccated fruit. After that, it’s a veritable orgy of mixing and smushing and squishing everything into a baking pan before shoving it into the oven and digging oatmeal out from under your fingernails. Half an hour or so later, you have 16 delicious little breakfasts waiting for you.

What’s in here? Apples, cranberries, ground flax, sesame seeds, pepitas, oats, cinnamon....

For my first batch, I stuck close to the recipe and only used apples and cranberries, which seemed like a safe combo. The second time around, I found some stray dried blueberries, maybe a quarter-cup, and tossed those in as well. They added a nice little something, so if you like blueberries, go for it. I’m sure they’d be extra-awesome with chocolate chips, but that might skew away from the wholesome aspect.

Here’s where my newfound obsession with parchment paper comes in. For batch #1, I lined the pan with my old standby, aluminum foil. It worked fine. I always thought that parchment paper was an extravagance I didn’t need; after all, what could it possibly do that foil couldn’t do better and, well, shinier? I like shiny. Ask my husband. Still, we ended up buying parchment paper out of curiosity and I gave it a try with batch #2. You probably already know this, my lovelies, but it is SO WORTH IT. You don’t have to grease anything. It’s amazing. It’s so easy. It’s even compostable. Once your bars have cooled, just lift that paper out of there and you’re good to go. Parchment paper, I love you. I even suspect that I can reuse you after baking non-greasy cookies, like dog treats.

Um, so evidently I have kind of a thing for parchment paper now, but you’ve always known I was a little weird. These tasty little granola bars are incredible, and you should make them. (Hint: Search on Google Books. Maybe that’s cheating, I don’t know. Take it up with Google.) I thought a single bar wouldn’t fill me up, but it totally does. I’ve given the recipe to two omni coworkers, both of whom are stoked to try them.

Best of all, they are perfect with coffee. Good morning, indeed.