Monday, December 27, 2010

Gingerbread Folks and Fall Fruit Crisp: An X-Mas Special!

My family doesn't really do X-Mas anymore.  We officially gave it up last year, deciding gifts were unnecessary and we'd rather just have a meal together.  This year, we made like Jewish people and had Chinese food.  Since my father and step-mother are both Jewish by birth, it seemed appropriate.

Still, though, I made gingerbread men and women.  See, a long, long time ago, I bought these gingerbread people-shaped pans at Goodwill for $1.99 and I figured that if I went a-whole-entire-'nother year without using them, I'd truly be a failure as a person not engaging in hoarding behavior.  So it had to be done, despite the fact that I don't have time for ANYTHING these days.  Not even for blogging (which I do while at work -- don't tell my bosses!).

On one hand, I wanted to decorate the men and -- even more -- the women with icing details to give them faces and buttons and dress frills and the like, but on the other hand, I don't like gingerbread all that much but I love me some icing.  I also let the fact that I pretty much suck at putting icing on things in a pretty way also weigh into the decision to just cover the whole thing with white icing.  That looked fine for the gingerbread gentlemen, but the ladies looked pretty much like ghosts.  Or, if I'm being charitable, I could say they look like angels and it was deliberate.  Yeah, that's it!  It was totally by design...
You know, even when I don't try to do fancy icing, and I just keep it simple, it still looks pretty messy.  But that's OK.  No one will look a gift cookie in the mouth.  And I gave these out to pretty much everyone I saw for a few days straight.

But wait!  There's more baking to come!  I work for some attorneys, and I'm not sure if you know this, but around the holidays, attorneys tend to receive fruit baskets.  I cannot really explain this phenomenon, but it's the truth.  And the attorneys I work for, at least, don't really want fruit baskets for some reason.  So I tend to take the apples, pears, oranges, and the occasional grapefruit home.  And they go bad at my apartment instead of in the office.

This time, though, I thought I would avoid the rotting fruit by making The Joy of Vegan Baking's Fall Fruit Crisp, which would use up a couple apples and a couple pears.  I brought them all over to my father's house, along with a stick of Earth Balance, thinking (wrongly) that my bake-tastic step-mother would have the rest of the ingredients.  She mostly did, but she hates nutmeg and allspice so she had no nutmeg and I omitted it, and she only had whole allspice, so I had to mortar and pestle it, which was actually pretty fun.

This was so good!  My step-mother declared it to be better than hers, which is a giant accomplishment for me.
It's got whole-rolled oats and pecans and some walnuts in the crisp on top and it's got these delicious fall spices, which I really think of as being holiday spices, not just fall.  I think I'm really won over to grinding my own whole spices, because this was more delicious than it really had any right to be.  I cannot recommend it more highly!

In other news, my step-mother gave me a late birthday gift -- a cookbook called The Indian Slow Cooker.  At first, I was kinda like, "Oh no, this isn't even vegan" but then I looked through it.  She writes in her intro that her recipes started out vegan and she added meat to them in order to appeal to more people, but that you can make them vegan if you want to.  Yay!  Will do!  Also, she's from King of Prussia -- the town next door to Phoenixville and also the place where I grew up, and yet, as you can see on her Amazon reviews, people everywhere dig this book.  That's cool.  I'm into supporting locals.  Also, a while back, I took my mother's slow-cooker, which was just sitting on a high shelf at my dad's house, replaced by my step-mother's much larger slow-cooker, and I look forward to using it out of respect for my momma, even though I think that the only thing she ever cooked in it was veggie and beef stew.  I'm happy to expand its horizons.  And, last but not least, as you may recall, I fail at cooking Indian, and it usually turns out too spicy.  But author Anupy Singla promises me that it'll be better and easier in a slow-cooker.  I look forward to finding out if this is true, because I'm really sick of failing at Indian food.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cooking with my Big Sister, Yay!

As promised on yesterday's blog post, I spent last night cooking, baking, and dying my hair.  Just FYI, I dyed my hair the same color I always dye it: black.  I've been dying it black ever since Kerry lost that election.  I'm still not over it, as Bush did so much harm to our country and world, so my hair is a constant reminder.  Some mourning never ends, you know what I mean?  I'm not a violent person, but I'm not going to lie.  I'd still love to kick George W. Bush in the face.  Hear that, secret service?  Hear that?  Don't arrest me -- I can't even kick that high!  It's a totally inactive wish, like wishing to win the lottery when you're not even buying tickets.

It was going to be one of my casual listening-to-the-This-American-Life-podcast-while-cleaning/cooking evenings, but my sister, Rachel, who lives a town away with my father, was bemoaning her feeling of being stuck in the house with nothing to do and, she claimed, nothing to eat.  So I offered to come pick her up, as long as she didn't mind a Futurama-watching homebody kind of night (Futurama instead of This American Life because Rachie don't dig NPR the way I do).  She thought that sounded fun, so I ventured out into the outrageous cold to get her ass, because I love her.

Actually, it was nice to have her there, and, in all seriousness, I hope that eventually she'll become my roommate.  She was nervous about what I would be making, I think, because she cannot help but not take it easy.  It's not that she's actually a picky eater, she's just got to stress about everything.  And, truth be told, I was making something kind of weird -- Supermarket Vegan's Chutney Peanut Pita Pizzas with Broccoli.

The last time I made a pita pizza, I was in college and just starting to cook, and lacking in truly excellent cookbooks, and I thought it was super-gross.  But this wasn't gross at all!  It was super-good!
Rachel described it as tasting like "Savory peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with vegetables," which, I gotta say, is a pretty excellent description.  I didn't use sweet mango chutney, instead choosing hot mango chutney, which I really recommend.  Also, I didn't have any sesame oil, so I used peanut oil.  For the leftovers, I cut them into quarters and froze them, uncovered.  Once frozen, I wrapped them in plastic and put them back into the freezer, to be placed in my toaster oven at my convenience.  Brilliant!  Good call, me!
After having eaten this, and also eating the last of my leftover Tomato Soup with Thyme, my sister started looking through Supermarket Vegan and, when I heard a lot of "I'd make this all the time," and "This is pretty much what I've been craving," I pushed her to take the book home with her.  Ever defensive, she said, "Why do you want me to take this book so badly?!"  I told her the truth: "Because cooking is awesome!"  She borrowed the book.

Onto dessert.  From The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, I made the Chewy Banana-Banana Cookie -- so named because it's not banana-oatmeal or banana-walnut, but plain old banana.  And also cuz they're chewy.  I LOVE banana baked goods, and I also had one super-ripe banana, so I went for it.
Terrific!  Despite having three types of sugar (cane, brown, and powdered), they're not overly sweet.  I actually forgot to put in the vanilla extract because I'm an idiot, and still, very good!  The only thing was that the dough didn't stay together.  It kinda crumbled apart.  I ended up adding quite a bit more oil to make it into a cohesive dough.  Also, Kelly Peloza, I know, is part of the internet generation who are likely to be functionally illiterate, but I have to say, her direction-giving has some issues.  I did fine because I bake all the time, and I know how these things go, but there were a few things I thought required some editing.  For instance, she probably should have simply instructed the users to combine the sugar and the wet ingredients together in a large bowl, then combine the remaining dry ingredients in a smaller bowl, then add the dry to the wet.  I mean, that's standard.  But instead, she lists every ingredient and it makes the recipe seem more complicated than it is.  It's a super-simple recipe, and that's what I like about it!  And then she wants you to take about two teaspoons of dough for each cookie.  Now, I don't know about you, but I don't think in two teaspoon amounts.  In my opinion, she should say a half a tablespoon, or walnut-sized, or something like that.   And a lot of the wording in her directions is pretty awkward.  I'd quote some to you if I had the book with me here, but I don't, so I won't.  Not everyone is going to be a former copy-editor, though, so I guess it's OK.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Phoenixville Festivals and Soup. Plain Old Soup.

I'm sure you're all sick of hearing about how I'm busy.  But I'm busy!  So busy.  Pathetically -- and also tragically -- I was working during Phoenixville's Firebird Festival.  The Firebird is the best event of the year in the 'ville, and this is a town with a lot of events.  It's very Gilmore Girls' Stars Hollow-esque.  I don't know if y'all have ever seen that show, but the folks there live in this town called Stars Hollow that, like Phoenixville, is highly walkable, has a downtown area where you'll run into anyone and everyone, and has a great many events.  Stars Hollow had The Festival of Living Art, we've got a Jazz Festival, an Irish Festival, AND a Celtic Festival (as if we needed both an Irish and a Celtic fest).  They had a Winter Festival, we have a Christmas parade, which is reminiscent of the super-pathetic parade in the movie "A Christmas Story".  They had a basket auction, we have an auction of chairs-made-fancy by local artists.  They've got a Hay Bail Maze, we have the Dogwood Fair and Parade.  They have a Dance Marathon, we have the Blob Fest, which involves a Blob Ball (the film "The Blob" with Steve McQueen was filmed here, and the Colonial Theater where much of the action takes place is still standing and continues to operate as a movie theater and live venue).  But, most notably, Stars Hollow had the Firelight Festival, Phoenixville's got the Firebird Festival.  For the Firebird, local artists build this giant phoenix out of wood and put fireworks in its mouth.  Then, on a Saturday night, after Renaissance Faire type of people do some dancing with fire and long sticks and the like, they light the whole thing aflame.  Clay birds made by even MORE local artists are kilned at its base.  Everyone takes really similar-looking photographs, and they all look something like this:
I stole this picture from the Fest's web site (although I could have stolen it from pretty much any of my local friends' facebooks), which I encourage you to visit for more photos: http://www.firebirdfestival.com/.

The point is, I missed it this year.  I was working.  I didn't even go to the many after-parties, which are some of the best shindigs of the year, only because I knew parking would be a bitch and, also, my friend had invited me to a Christmas party in Philly that I decided to go to.  I shouldn't have, though.  It cost me a $51 parking ticket, and it wasn't even that fun.  I was super tired, and I was far from home, and hardly knew anyone there, and the good times of Phoenixville with all of my closest friends was calling my name.  But by the time I got back to town, I was just too tired to keep making a night of it.  A little pathetic, but, as you'll learn at the end of this entry, I am getting old.

I did, in fact, receive Appetite for Reduction and The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur  in the mail and did the thing I always do, which is that I read new cookbooks pretty much like novels -- cover to cover.  Especially a cookbook by Isa Chandra Moscowitz, who is hilarious.   I would love to tell you guys about some of the super-funny things she writes in this book, but I don't have it with me here and I've only written one thing down.  It's in the obligatory "Why go vegan?" section at the beginning.  Explaining about the ecological impact of eating animal products, she says, "Keep eating those fast-food burgers and there won't be a planet on which you can eat those fast-food burgers! You'll just be floating in space with the burger, I guess."  LOL!  No, really, I laughed out loud.  For a really long time.  


I'm really glad I bought both of those books at the same time because Appetite for Reduction, as you might presume, is free of desserts -- and I'll never give up baking.  I think that my great love of sweets is rooted in the fact that I have type 1 diabetes (juvenile diabetes, insulin-dependent diabetes -- you know, REAL diabetes) and when I was a kid, I wasn't allowed sugar.  I used to sneak whatever I could get my hands on whenever possible, but this relative restriction made me really appreciate sweets when the doctors figured out that they'd been wrong all along, that sugar does NOT raise your blood sugar and then make it drop again without the assistance of insulin (uhhh, I could have told them that.  When I'd sneak sugar, my blood glucose would just go HIGH, it never dropped down again without me injecting insulin).  It goes to show you: 1) there are a great many misconceptions about diabetes and 2) doctors sometimes don't know shit.  And health teachers sure as shit don't know shit about shit!  When I was in high school, I had an argument with my health teacher, who said diabetics couldn't eat sugar.  Ummm, yes we can.  I love sugar.  My hemoglobin A1c is 5.2, which is the hemoglobin A1c of a non-diabetic.  I'm doing great!  And I don't even have health insurance!  BUT ANYWAY....


Looking through these two books, here are my observations.  First, I'm very excited for all of the produce-heavy recipes in Reduction.  When I first started eating vegan, that's what I was really looking for in a cookbook, and mostly, I cooked from The Moosewood Cookbook because it was nice and veggie-heavy, although many recipes require some vegan adjustments.  I gave that book up, though, because it's not very tasty.  Can anyone back me up on that?  Do any of you find Moosewood to be not-very-good?  I'll take Moscowitz over Moosewood any day of the week.  I'm also thrilled that is has so many salad recipes that sound great, because I'm actually not much of a fancy salad eater.  I usually just get spinach in a bag and put some carrots and cucumber in it and top it with commercially prepared balsamic.  But I guess it's time to get out of that particular rut.  Also, great soup recipes.  I love soup!


As for Connoisseur, I'm excited.  I folded over the corners of some 70 recipes (that's just how I roll).  Do you guys know that the woman who wrote that is so so young?  She's in college -- her first year, I think.  She's just a baby!  No, I'm kidding, I have quite a few friends that young, but none of them have a vegan cookbook published.  Mighty impressive.  One thing that is odd about the book, though, is that many of the pictures are pretty bad.  Super dark, not really visible, not that great-looking.  Now, I don't actually care about that.  Really.  I know everyone in the world disagrees with me, but I really don't care if a cookbook has pictures or not.  But still, I thought that it was kind of odd that there are quite a few crappy pictures in the book.  Not that I could do any better.

As for me, pressed for time but requiring food, I made Tomato Soup with Thyme from Supermarket Vegan.  Tomato soup is a no-brainer, and I've made many different recipes of it from many different books.  They're all good.   I never met one I didn't like.  This one's no different.  It's super-easy and pretty much cooks itself.  If you've got an immersion blender, there's really nothing to it.  I've been eating it with toasted rye bread.

It's my birthday on Wednesday.  I'll be 28.  I'm working Tuesday and Thursday night, so I'd better make Wednesday count.  Tonight, though, I'm going to dye my hair, cook and bake.  Having a birthday in December sucks.  So cold, so busy, so stressful.  Maybe I'll just start telling people that my birthday is in October, and celebrate it then, because it's my favorite month.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Clutter, Coconut, and Cookbooks (and Alfredo)

Who works 65 hours per week?  This girl.  My apartment is even more of a wreck than usual and I haven't gone food shopping (although, I swear, cleaning and shopping are on the books for tonight!).  I've been watching that show Hoarders on Netflix Watch Instantly as I fall asleep, and it's really lit a fire under me to unclutter.  Not that I'm anywhere near being a hoarder, but seeing these people who have a house filled with trash not be able to dispose of a 7-11 Big Gulp cup really makes me realize that I could get rid of a lot of stuff, and moreover, I ought to do so.  I just run into these things I don't know what to do with.  Like, I overpaid for this wire I needed to hook my camera to my computer, but then I found that I already had one from my old camera and I never returned the new one, and it's been sitting in my living room ever since.  What do I do with it?  I think it'll end up in my wire/battery drawer.  But is that crazy?  Maybe it should go to Goodwill?  Please weigh in, I need help!

Anyway, after work on Sunday, starving, with virtually no fresh ingredients, I cooked one of my most-cooked recipes: Urban Vegan's Fettucine Alfredo.  I make this every time I'm hungry and haven't gone shopping because I always have all the ingredients on hand -- Earth Balance, non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper, and pasta.  Dynise Balcavage suggests the addition of herbs of some sort and/or sun-dried tomatoes.  I still had cilantro from the Arroz Con Seitan and I've always got jarred sun-dried tomatoes in oil, so I added them.  Yum! 


The recipe calls for soy milk, but I rarely use soy milk.  Actually, I want to take this opportunity to talk about my favorite non-dairy milk by far: So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage.  
In my opinion, it does not taste like coconut at all.  It tastes like, well, milk.  Dairy milk.  It has the consistency of dairy milk more than soy (too thick) or rice (too thin) do.  It's not as absurdly sweet as almond milk (I know people love their almond milk, but I'm really not a big fan).  I don't know if coconut milk beverage curdles -- I still use soy milk when a recipe calls for it to be mixed with apple cider vinegar.  But if you want to make delicious creamy recipes, like the Fettucine Alfredo, I really recommend using this stuff.  I always use it, and it's becoming more and more available.  Wegmans has it, of course, but even Giant carries it in their organic/vegetarian/health food aisle.  Pick some up!  Just know, though, that, like soy, there are folks with coconut allergies and so, when baking for a crowd, you should warn people that it contains a trace of coconut.  Say "a trace" only because you don't want to mislead people into thinking that it is coconut-flavored, because it won't be, and there are a lot of folks out there who believe they hate coconut.  I'm always really careful about people's food allergies -- aren't you?  It's really the reason I mostly stopped using soy milk, because I have a number of friends with pretty serious soy allergies.  


In other news, I got some new cookbooks... like I needed that.  But I can't help myself.  I got Supermarket Vegan from a bargain book store for a song.  Also, a friend of mine gave me her unused copy of Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen.  Both are by Donna Klein, and though I can see me using Supermarket Vegan quite a bit and am very drawn to many recipes, I don't think I'll touch Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen until summer comes 'round again and tomatoes are in season.  I also bought over Amazon.com the new Isa Chandra Moskowitz hilariously-named Appetite for Reduction.  I really believe that that woman should write funny essays or something, because her cookbooks, besides being so freaking amazing cooking-wise, are also a legitimately entertaining read.  Like, read the recipe for the Minonos (vegan Milano cookies) in Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar -- funniest recipe ever.  I also ordered The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur because I'm crazy about making cookies.  I have so many baking books -- I hardly use The Joy of Vegan Baking -- but because this one is devoted just to cookies, I'm down.  So, let there be cooking!  Especially if I can get a night off and clean my apartment first.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bake the Lonesomeness Away

Hey, remember when I wrote that, uncharacteristically, I was actually seeing someone?  Well, characteristically, I already dumped him.  You know what that means, right?  It means a triumphant return to baking!  I wish I could say that I was in pain about it, because that would make me feel like I was a normal person, instead of a cold-hearted person who prefers her oven over most men, but I'm really not suffering.  I'm actually pretty at ease with my aloneness.  Not that I'm really alone -- my life is highly peopled.  I just don't date.  I think that maybe my older sister and I will live together eventually and become old maids together.  That might be fun.

Lazy Samoas from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar!  Yayy!  These little chocolaty, coconutty treats are the vegan version of the classic Girl Scout cookie, and they're just my kind of cookie: small in size (I like l'il cookies), far simpler to make than they look, and -- most importantly -- so so pretty!  It's really important to me that my baked goods LOOK nice.  Maybe I'm shallow.  But I'm convinced that people enjoy baked goods more if they look impressive or cute.  It's one of the reasons why I generally prefer to make a complicated cookie instead of a drop cookie.  Drop cookies just don't look as nice, although one can, in theory, work hard to shape up uniform drop cookies that look pretty good.
Ooh, I just love them!  They're so cute!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Baking

Despite working constantly, I managed to bake for Thanksgiving on Wednesday night.  I got back from my second job at around 10:15 PM and started baking.

I feel I must tell you that I had tried really hard to start baking the day before.  But I failed in a really elaborate way.  I was making sugar cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, and it calls for a stick of margarine and 1/2 cup of shortening.  But because I'm overworked and overtired and it was the middle of the night, I went into my fridge drawer and took out a stick of regular, non-vegan butter.  Now, my family are not vegans, and they wouldn't care about it having animal butter, but the thing is, if I had a stick of regular butter, it's got to be at least 2 years old.  I just wasn't thinking about it.  It didn't occur to me that this was not the Earth Balance that I ALWAYS use, I just used it.  And then I made the batter and tasted it, and I was like, "WTF, this tastes gross like gross refrigerator!" and I looked at the wrapper of what I had used and sure enough, it was wicked, wicked old butter.  GROSS.  I had to throw away the batter.  I would have just started over that night, but I had used my very last 1/2 cup of shortening.  So I was just screwed and, one night and one trip to the grocery store later, started again.

As I had promised my family, I repeated my baking performance of the year before -- rosemary foccacia with plenty of caramelized shallots.  It's really great, salty bread (from Veganomicon).  The kind of thing you want to dip into olive oil.  I've made prettier loaves of it in the past, but here's a photo of my most recent loaf.

But my real achievement this holiday were the sugar cookies, which I took practically all night to cut out and decorate with pretty icing.  Here are the cookies pre-decoration:
And here's the finished product:
Cute, right?  I was awfully proud of them and I really took them on the rounds.  Delivered some to my friends who didn't have family dinners on Thanksgiving, took them to my family, then brought the rest to my retail job, where I worked on Thanksgiving night from 10 PM until 6 AM.  NOPE, not kidding about that!  So that was two nights in a row that I was up all night -- first baking, then working.  You know, I really prefer baking all night.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Food Post Completely Unrelated to Thanksgiving

I've been working a second job as of late and panicking because it leaves me with no time to bake for Thanksgiving (somehow, tonight, I must at least fulfill my family-prescribed Thanksgiving duty of baking the feast's bread).  But I did manage, on a combination of Sunday and Monday night, to at least cook really amazing food for me to not starve amidst my working at a law office from 9 AM to 5 PM and then in retail 6 PM to 10PM.

Going back to my bloggy roots here.  It's been since my very first post back in June, when I hadn't yet found my bloggy voice, nor felt comfortable enough to make my signature bloggy jokes, that I wrote about cooking from Terry Hope Romero's endlessly brilliant cookbook Viva Vegan!  You may have heard from other bloggers that this book is brilliant.  Why do we all find this book to be so amazing?  Well, thanks for asking -- I'd be happy to tell you!  Because when you follow these recipes, you make food that is better than anything you ever ate at even the best Mexican restaurant in your pre-vegan days.  How is that possible without cheese?  I don't freakin' know!  It just is true.  The complexity of the tastes just scream "gourmet."

Take what I made this week:  Arroz Con Seitan.  For those of you who think espaƱol is pronounced "es-pan-ol," that translates to "Rice with Seitan."  Sounds kinda plain, right?  Well!  This is nothing close to plain.  I made the seitan on Sunday according to Romero's recipe which, I contend, is the best seitan recipe out there (just omit the cumin if you want to use it for non-Latin recipes).  You proceed to fry the seitan with some lime juice, oil, and oregano and then go about cooking the rest.  Rice, annato paste (or annato-infused oil, if you're cool enough to have also followed her recipe to make that), garlic, onions, green pepper, peas, carrots, veggie broth (or Corona, if you don't live in Pennsylvania where you can't get beer at the grocery store so it's a pain in the ass to get), and the flavor kickers -- green olives stuffed with pimentos and capers.

OMFG SO EFFING GOOD HOLY S!!!!

Sorry for the freakout, it's really just that good.
 I wish I were better at taking food pictures so so much!  But hopefully you get the idea.  See the seared seitan?  See all the different yummy stuff?  See how it looks so delicious and it would never even occur to you to put cheese on it?  I made some re-fried beans too, also from Viva Vegan!

Hey, did you know you can watch Terry Hope Romero making this exact recipe cooking show-style right here?  It really must be your lucky day.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  I hope you all have good vegan food to eat tomorrow.  If not, I hope you're either ok with eating some animal products for just one day or I hope you're anorexic.  Because it's just not right to not feast on Thanksgiving which, in my opinion, is by far the best holiday.  Maybe that's just because I actually love my family and love spending time with them.  I guess I can understand why people who don't like their families don't dig it.  If that's the case, can I recommend making the holiday into T-Hanks-giving?  The day when you celebrate by watching the movies of Mr. T. Hanks?  I recommend Big and Joe Versus the Volcano -- classics!  And if you can get your hands on it, the TV show Bosom Buddies.  I used to watch the reruns of that show every weekday, my momma loved it.  In fact, she told me once that my father and her gave up religion because they were sick of missing Bosom Buddies on TV.  I don't know if that's true, but it stuck with me.  Anywho, give some thanks and eat some grub.  And drive safely!  There are a lot of drunks on the road for this holiday.

I'll leave you with another picture, this time with cilantro on top.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Indian Shmindian!

You know what discourages timely posting?  When the food you've cooked isn't very photogenic.  But remember I said I had big plans for my little, 1-pound eggplant?  Well, I did, in fact, fulfill the plans -- making Spicy Indian Eggplant from Urban Vegan.  But it's not very pretty.  Still, here goes nothin'.
The eggplant, which is the stuff on the left, was waaaay too spicy.  I cut the recipe in half, using a small onion instead of a large one, using my lone eggplant, and cutting the many spices in half.  But, really, I think I should have put even fewer spices because it's a bit overwhelming.  I'm good with hotness -- cayenne doesn't bother me.  But fennel and stuff like that, well, I should have cut it down.  In order to make it more accommodating to my taste buds, I whipped out a box of Kitchens of India Chick Peas Curry and, although I initially photographed them separate from each other, I ended up mixing the whole shebangbang together, which made it delightfully palatable.
The question simply must be asked: Why, oh why, can't I make good Indian food?  Why is this Chick Peas Curry so good but my eggplant not really that good?  What am I doing wrong?  Do I need a different cookbook?  So far, my Indian food out of any given cookbook has been sub-par.  It's easier to make Thai -- my other favorite.

You know what else discourages timely posting, not to mention doing my normal amount of baking?  The fact that I met a man.  Ha.  That's not like me.  I don't do a lot of dating.  I'm a pretty girl and wicked smart, but the former discourages the smart, insecure man from talking to me and the latter makes me not want the kind of men who hit on me.  It's not that I swore off dating, just that I don't tend to meet anyone it seems worth dating, and the ones I have liked either don't seem to be very interested in me or they're just such wimpy wimps that they never put a move on me, and, frankly, I don't want to be the man in a relationship.  So whatever.  But over this past week, I've spent, like, three evenings with a guy who is maybe a little weird, but I'm cool with that, and he clearly likes me a lot and I actually like him too.  I know this isn't my diary and any readers of this blog (if there are any) are much more interested in baked treats than my (lack of a) love life, but I wanted to offer this as an excuse for my non-cookie-making.  It's a legitimate excuse.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fruit and Veggies Without a Trip to the Dreaded Grcocery Store

I can't get on a CSA here in Phoenixville.  There are CSA's, but they're all filled up and have waiting lists.  Basically, I'm shit out of luck.  But, hey, there's the farmer's market and there's Wegmans and I make do.

You know Groupon.com, right?  Well, there was recently a Groupon offer for this web site called Door to Door Organics, which will deliver boxes of organic fruit and veggies to your door every week or every two weeks (your choice!).  The offer was that, for a "bitty box" (the smallest one, for single folks like me), it was only $13, instead of the normal $26.  I was like, "Sweet!" and bought it.

It was exciting to get veggies delivered to me.  Also, it's exciting to figure out how to use everything.  It came with a couple oranges, bananas, apples, pears, 4 onions, a 1 pound eggplant, a bunch of Swiss chard, a pound of carrots, and a bunch of romaine lettuce.   Not bad for $13!  I'm not really sure, though, if it would be good for $26.  Is that a good price?  I do know that I found an identical web site called Suburban Organics that has a bit more than that in their $25 little box, so if I subscribe, it'll probably be to them.

I was all ready to cook.  First thing I did was just cook the chard leaves the same way I usually cook kale or spinach (truth is, I've never made chard before!).  That means I cooked them on the stove top with some minced garlic, a tiny bit of tamari, and a few tablespoons of water.  Delish!  You can't go wrong like that!

Now, the ridiculously named Crescent Dragonwagon (is that her real name??), author of the cookbook Passionate Vegetarian, had advised me via her book that the stems of chard are good in stuffing.  I took that to mean that they're pretty good and edible, so I decided to do something I was super-excited about.  I was going to use my juicer to liquefy some of the carrots, one of the apples, the chard stems, and maybe a little bit of romaine.  I was so happy to let nothing go to waste!  I really wanted to join the juicing crowd.

Alas, it was not to be.  See, I bought this juicer over a year ago from some folks who were moving back to India and leaving behind all their nifty stuff,  People who are moving back to India are one of the best sources for good stuff!  That's how I got my awesomely awesome yin-yang shaped table.  No!  It's not like the one they make fun of in Fight Club!  It's wooden, not black and white, and it's two separate tables that nestle together like lovers, and it's got a glass top so you don't have to put magazines and stuff actually on top of the table, you can leave the glass top clean.  It's so rad, but I'm not explaining it well.  ANYWAY, I bought this juicer, never used it, plugged it in yesterday, NO GO.  Does not work!  It's got no power to it at all.  Such a let down!

I ended up chucking the stems because, well, I wasn't about to make stuffing.  And I was trying to be all, "I let nothing go to waste!  I'm better than you!" But no, I can take my superiority and shove it.

OK, so I had some tofu.  I also had a tomato that was on its last legs.  My friend Jenn picked me this tomato, and it was once a real treat.  But it was in my fridge for a hell of a long time, and so it was kinda soft and rotten on one side, but you know, it's still good.  You don't believe me.  But it's true!  The side that wasn't rotten tasted really good even though it's a little soft.  I bought some rye bread and made some tofu bacon.  Yay!  Tofu bacon is so good!  I've never made tempeh bacon, only tofu.  And I don't see any reason to change.  Then I enjoyed some TLT's with a little Vegannaise.  When I run out of tomato, I'll use oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes because, c'mon, the summer's over.
 
I have big plans for that eggplant, although it involves picking up a can of crushed tomatoes.  But I don't FEEL like going to the store!  DARN!  Whine whine grumble grumble...  Even more difficult than going to the grocery store is eating all that fruit, and the carrots.  I keep having to be like, "No, no cupcakes!  Eat an apple!"  Boo.  My life is just sooo hard.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fish AGAIN? Yes. Fish. Again.

I'm aware that November is Vegan Mofo (the vegan month of food) when vegan bloggers everywhere put up lots and lots of recipes and celebrate cooking and eating, and I think that's great -- especially because I read a heck of a lot of vegan blogs.  But I can't really participate.  I don't even invent many recipes.  But it's ok, I'm totally used to being an outsider even amongst outsiders.  In the words of Elliott Smith, I'm not uncomfortable feeling weird.

On the subject of feeling weird, do you know how many people I met this weekend who told me they are vegetarians who eat fish?  This upsets me so much, as readers of my blog know all too well.  Not sure of what I speak?  See here and here.  And what you've got to understand about me is that not only will I not allow offensive things to stand without comment, but I'm inordinately articulate and expressive, especially when spouting my oft-repeated spiel about fish.  This one girl I met at a party told me that she was a vegetarian who eats fish and I told her "Fish is the worst thing to eat!" and she said, "I've done a lot of research and I know fish is the BEST thing to eat, and I only eat wild-caught salmon, nothing farmed."  Even though she was getting the information from a person dressed as a cat burglar, I pretty much blew this young woman's mind explaining how we're decimating every level of the ocean food chain.  How it is really no good to eat even Alaskan wild-caught salmon even though the Monterey Bay Aquarium web site says that is a "best choice."  I explained that the MBA is being conservative, suggesting the "best choices" among a list of very bad choices because they're not prepared to take the radical step of advocating for the complete ceasing of eating sea life.

Of course, as always, I made sure to explain to her that if she must eat sea life, she should eat clams, oysters, mussels, scallops -- "Things in a shell like this," I always say, gesturing with my hand like Pac-Man.  I explained that those things are farm-raised and vegetarian, so they do not use fish meal and are a great deal more sustainable.  I like to give people options, since people pretty much freak out when I tell them about fish.  They have NO IDEA, and this information makes them feel paralyzed with worry and indecision.  I tell them, flat out, that is is completely immoral to eat most fish, and how can you continue to do something you know to be immoral?  For me, that's a very compelling argument.

I hope you all find this visual aid to be helpful.
A friend of mine posted on my facebook wall this link to a New York Times article about how keeping carnivorous animals (like cats) in your home is extremely harmful to the environment and to fish populations.  It's written by Paul Greenberg, the author of the book Four Fish, and someone I respect as being one of the few warriors out there trying to spread the word about fish.  I find his op-ed to be beyond compelling and, although I've never done this in the past, I want to figure out a way to have my cat eat vegan or meat scraps or something (I have no clue where to get meat scraps).  But certainly, after Rory passes from this life, I will not be getting another cat.  I am very curious to know what other animal-lovers think of this article.  Any feedback?

Honestly, I do feel that I make a difference each and every time I give the fish speech.  My friends are sick of it, but they understand and they love me, so they accept it and move on.  I told this awesome girl I know about fish at Friday's party, and her boyfriend works at a sushi place and always posts pictures of sushi on his facebook, and when he arrived later, she said to him, "You should let Melissa talk to you about fish, it's really important."  That kind of support really means a great deal to me, and I'm sure that the most powerful thing I can do is actively spread this information the way I have been.  So I'll keep on.

Coincidentally, right now Simon Winchester is on NPR's Radio Times talking about how the once extraordinarily plentiful cod in Canada are now completely decimated.  Thank you, Simon Winchester.  Although he described Chilean Sea Bass as "completely sustainable" just because the British government actively enforces poaching rules.  I'm not sure he really gets it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hardcore Halloween and a Recipe Debut

To say that this was a busy Halloween weekend would be an understatement.  I dressed up on four nights, each time in a different costume. The first one was a southern barmaid, second was a 60's style future-woman a la The Jetsons or Star Trek, third was a cat burglar (I had bags with dollar signs on them & everything), and on the fourth night, exhausted, I just wore a blond wig.  When people asked what I was, I'd say, "Ummm... I'm wearing a blond wig" because I didn't want to say I was "a blond" because I thought people would want me to act stupid for that and *I* think it's stupid to say blonds are stupid, so...

Hey, want to see some non-food related pictures?  No?  Too bad!

Cowgirl/southern barmaid?  Unfortunately, you can't see the flippin' AWESOME dress I'm rocking.
A guy put his wig on top of my wig.  Unfortunately, you can't see the bright green stockings and white moon-boots I'm rocking.
 There are no pictures from the cat burglar night!  It was a super-dark night, all outside by a fire.  But I (ahem) used the same exact costume a few years ago (you can tell this was a while back from my short-ass hair).  So here I am a few years ago, picking a model's nose.

I pose with a cop, some french fries, and Princess Peach.
Ok, that was a lengthy way to get to the point.  Usually, I bake for every party, but there were just too many parties and not enough time!  But I baked for the last one, which was actually on Halloween last night.  I made Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Cinnamon Icing from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and, to be extra fancy, put them in Halloween cupcake liners, causing them to have an extra bash of Halloweeny goodness!  I feel like engaging in a little overkill, so here are no fewer than three pictures of them.
A thing of beauty.

My friend Jake looks thrilled to eat one.  Of course, I put a picture of one of maybe five people at the party not in costume.

Elegant li'l guys, aren't they?

Some people spend their Friday nights living it up.  I spend mine cooking.  Well, ok, later on Friday night, I did go to a party, but earlier, I cooked one of only things that I can pretty much call my own.  Usually, I cook from books, but here's a debut for you: my first recipe posted.  It's super-simple and nothing very creative, really.  There are probably many similar recipes.  It's a Moroccan-style stew, which I serve over couscous.  It looks a little something like this:
Well, ok, it looks EXACTLY like this.
Here goes nothin'.

Moroccan-style Stew
--olive oil
--1 onion, chopped
--2 cloves garlic, chopped
--1 bell pepper, whatever kind you like (I used red picked from my friends' garden), cut in strips
--2-3 zucchini, cut in strips
--about a head of cabbage or less, chopped
--14 oz can of chickpeas, drained
--28 oz can of diced tomatoes
--1/2 cup of raisins 
--at least 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
--at least a teaspoon of salt
--pepper, to taste

Cook up that garlic and onion in a great big pan with the olive oil.  After about three minutes, add the bell pepper and zucchini and cook a little longer.  Add in the cabbage and cook it for a while.  I wish I could tell you how long, but just use your instinct, keeping in mind that you'll be cooking it more later.  Add the chickpeas, diced tomatoes, raisins, and cinnamon.  Put at least 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, but I totally support you putting more.  I always put more.  Also, put the salt in.  Cover it and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste and serve over couscous.

By the way, I have some advice about couscous.  When you cook it, of course you should put some olive oil and salt in the water, but after it is done cooking, put more olive oil in each serving and add salt and fresh-ground pepper into it and mix it up.  That makes it super-tasty.  You don't need those stupid things in boxes with spices in it -- all you need it olive oil, salt, and pepper.  I promise!

So, tell me the truth, readers?  Did I do alright on my first recipe?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fake Nostalgia

For some reason, I made Spaghetti and Beanballs from Veganomicon.

I say "for some reason" because, for me, spaghetti and meatballs are not a comfort food I was ever accustomed to.  My mother used to make a meat sauce, but the meat would be loose in the sauce, cooked along with onion -- never shaped into balls.  I guess I just decided to make it because I love Veganomicon and trust it thoroughly, and also because I had everything I needed without going to a grocery store.  I still had homemade sauce in my freezer, about two months old (and still good!) but, to tell you the truth, I supplemented it with some Newman's Own sauce -- the tomato and basil kind.  Also, I had some leftover shallots and a green bell pepper picked by my ever-generous friend Jenn, so I chopped them into tiny bits and cooked them into the sauce just to veggie the dish up some.

It was good but not great.  I'm not really sure why I made it, actually.  Sometimes when I'm hungry I just cook what I've got all the ingredients for without thinking.  Kids, think before you cook!  If you're not really into beanball-type things, don't make them!  It just doesn't make sense.  Still, I've eaten worse things -- usually made by professional chefs, who, in my opinion, must suck at life to serve bad food professionally.
For the record, that is vegan imitation Parmesan cheese, folks.
While we're on the topic of fake nostalgia, I accidentally bought celery.  "Whattayamean you ACCIDENTALLY bought celery?"  I mean that I thought a recipe called for it, but it didn't.  So I decided to use it as the ultimate vegan childhood snack -- ants on a log. 
OK, but I've got to confess: I never ate ants on a log in my childhood.  I don't think my mom knew about putting raisins on the celery with peanut butter.  We only ever ate it without raisins.  I know, I totally had a deprived childhood.  But now, in my adulthood, I would never dream of eating the logs without the ants.  And the celery I didn't enjoy in this manner, I put into my freezer for eventual usage in some veggie broth, for I find that, because I so rarely buy celery, I'm always lacking it when I go to make broth.  And it is absolutely essential for veggie broth. 

Today is the birthday of my previously-mentioned friend Jenn, and tonight we are having a campfire gathering to celebrate.  I've made her some Individual Heart-Shaped Galettes from Veganomicon because she is such a love-bug, I know it will make her cheery vegan heart grow three sizes.  Although I suspect that her chest would explode if that were true because she's already got a huge heart.  Man, I love my friends.  As I'm sure we all do.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Read this, then get ye' onto the ground. Also, Vegan Soul Kitchen!

 You know how I claim in my bio on the right that I am "serious as a heart attack"?  This post is mostly about that.

The other night, some friends of mine and I went to a bar in Spring City to watch the Flyers game.  It wasn't as crowded as a Phoenixville bar because Spring City isn't as happening and also, the whole town is totally haunted, or so my friend Morgan tells me.  Sitting across from us at the bar was a young guy who was wearing a hat advertising his love of fishing.  Our friend Steve ended up getting into a conversation with the guy about hunting and fishing, about which they both knew a great deal.

Round these parts, there are a lot of deer.  It's pretty dangerous to drive down Route 23 through Valley Forge Park at night, but, truth be told, there are so many deer that they're not even shy during the day.  I read a newspaper article about how the deer are getting smaller because they're literally starving -- there isn't enough green space to sustain them.  And it's no wonder.  We've killed off all their predators.  So, I hate to say it, but I understand the need to hunt them, although it seems really messed up.  But you know what's really messed up?  Ever see that show Meerkat Manor?  The way the meerkats sneak away to kill their rival sisters' pups?  Man, that show is almost too sad to watch (as a side note, it is the ONLY show that my cat Rory is interested in).  In any case, I didn't say a word during their hunting conversation because, let's face it, there's no convincing a hunter that hunting is no good.  At least he's not out hunting elephants on safari.

But fish are another story.  Actually, I didn't have to tell him the story.  He knew, and he told us without any prompting.  He said that he throws all the fish he catches back now because there are hardly any left.  He said that when he was a kid, there were more fish, but now they've "cleared out."  That's right, "cleared out."  As if they just decided to go elsewhere instead of what has really happened, which is that they've been commercially fished close to extinction.  I decided to speak up for the first time in the conversation.  I told him that if he cares about fishing, he should advocate for marine preserves and drastic commercial fishing regulations.  That fish are well and truly going the way of the dodo.

Did you ever see the video for the Radiohead song "Just"?  If you haven't, watch this before you read further.  I can't embed it because it is the official video and they won't give the embed code for it.  My sister and I were blown away by this video in 1995 or 1996 when we first saw it.  "What could he have said?"  we asked ourselves with characteristic youthful exuberance.  Well, a few nights ago, she told me that I reminded her of the guy on the ground in the video for "Just."  That to make everyone else lie down too, he could have told them about fish, or peak oil, or water supply issues, or any of my other pet causes.  She didn't mean it as an insult, mostly because she and I are the same kind of people, and we understand each other.  Really, she was just pointing out that it is terribly isolating to be the first guy on the ground.

It's true.  I'm kind of a downer, and I suffer the consequences.  I'm willing to take on this morbid responsibility because I really, truly think it is important to spread the word.  Sometimes, I hope that there is such a thing as God, because I hope for divine retribution of wrongdoing and, even more, I hope that after people die, the truth will be revealed to them.  That all the wrong beliefs they once held will be dashed and their eyes and minds will be truly opened.  But I doubt very much this is the case.  Sometimes, I really feel overcome with despair about everything that's going on.
Yeah, this seems about right.
 A friend of mine just got back from Palestine, where she went basically to support the local people's peaceful protests against Israeli military occupation.  She came home and was telling me about it, and I was thinking about how, ok, she's younger than I am -- not even 21 yet -- and when I was her age and younger, I was protesting first our invasion of Afghanistan and later our invasion of Iraq.  I totally respect her commitment to doing what she sees as clearly the right thing.  But for me, although I still become upset about all of the truly awful political/humanitarian problems that are going on, I also really believe that things are going to fall apart so much that all politics will have no choice but to become completely localized.  What I'm saying is that people are going to be worried, first and foremost, about their ability to procure food and water.  That transportation will not be easily accessible.  That energy resources will be scarce enough that we can no longer rely on technology to solve our problems (all the time, people tell me that technology will save us from these problems -- what they don't seem to realize or understand is that technology requires energy resources to first create said technology and then to use its fruits).  It makes me want to join a commune.  Of course, I rely on injecting myself with insulin to live, so it is unlikely that I'll survive the upcoming energy scarcities unless I'm exceedingly lucky.  As MLK, Jr. said the night before his death, "I intend to live a long life -- longevity has its place."  But, like the good reverend, I doubt very much that I will make it.

On that happy note, I'll return to our regularly scheduled program and tell you about making Jamaican Veggie Patties from the book Vegan Soul Kitchen.  I first bought this cookbook because gmail featured this exact recipe at the top of their page, yet I never got around to making it until last night.

I have some problems with Vegan Soul Kitchen.  I want to like it, but I find I almost always have to change the recipes.  Also, I've had some recipe fails with it.  For instance, for his Black-Eyed Pea Fritters, he wants you to fry it in five cups of coconut oil.  Five! Cups! Of! Coconut! Oil!  Is he freaking kidding me?  There aren't five cups in one jar of coconut oil, and each jar costs $8-$9!  When I made those, I fried them in canola oil.  Still, it was a total fail.  First of all, it calls for freakin' RAW peanuts.  Nothing is more gross than a raw peanut, but when I made them, I didn't know this (I thought that, like cashews and almonds, raw peanuts would taste good), so I actually bought a bag of raw peanuts, individually shelled them, and then used them to make the recipe taste like dirt.  To add insult to injury, the fritters completely fell apart in the oil.  I was not a happy camper.  But I learned two important lessons about this book: I simply must replace expensive ingredients with more reasonable ones, and Bryant Terry likes to eat things a lot more raw than I do.

The dough of the Jamaican Veggie Patties also contains coconut oil -- 3/4 a cup of it.  I used about 1/2 a cup of the oil and replaced the other 1/4 cup with non-hydrogenated organic shortening.  Other than that, I pretty much stuck with the recipe.  And you know what?  It turned out well!  Yay!  Not a recipe fail!  The only problem was that I made the patties a little too big and had more filling than dough.  I saved the filling, though, and I can make some more dough tonight if I want to.  The filling is good on its own, but, truth be told, it's a heck of a lot better cooked in the dough and eaten with hot sauce, as Terry suggests.

I also made a side of his Chilled Citrus-Broccoli Salad.  He only has you flash cook the broccoli (one minute in boiling water), but I said screw that and cooked it for just under three minutes before putting it in ice water.  I was lucky enough to be able to steal the basil from the garden of my favorite local bar, which is a really good thing because if I had bought basil for this recipe, I would have been pissed.  I don't like the recipe.  Firstly, I want my broccoli hot, not chilled.  Secondly, I put three cloves of garlic instead of the two it called for because I like garlic and my cloves were small, but I shouldn't have done that.  Maybe if the garlic was roasted instead of raw it would have been good, but it wasn't, it was gross.  Thirdly, there's no salt in the recipe.  I think there should be salt in it.  Of course, I added salt before eating it, but overall, I thought I wasted a perfectly good lemon, lime, orange, and two heads of broccoli.  Still, somehow I keep eating it, mostly out of some dislike of wasting food and a belief in eating one's vegetables.

I do recommend the patties, though.  They're a lot of work, but worth it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rich Dessert Treat and a Mystery Bird

I haven't baked anything since that baklava.  I know, crazy, right?  Time to get back into the swing of things.  Luckily, I saw something on this here interweb that got me eager to bake.

On Post Punk Kitchen's facebook page, Isa Chandra Moscowitz posted a (beautiful) picture of some Chocolate Peppermint Creme Bars.  Turns out, it wasn't her recipe, but The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur's recipe, found here. They just looked so pretty and sounded so tasty, I couldn't wait to try them.  So I printed out the recipe and got to work.

Truth be told, I didn't really understand what kind of treat I was making until after I made it.  The bottom layer is sort-of like a brownie, and sort of like fudge.  It's really dense and rich, with the consistency of fudge, but it contains flour, so it's not really fudge.  It was really difficult to mix the flour into it, too.  I actually ended up adding extra non-dairy milk because it was pretty dry.  Maybe it was dry because my chocolate chips are mini, so there are more chips in 1 1/4 cup than rightfully ought to be in the recipe.  The middle layer is mint icing, not really "creme."  And the top is just chocolate and some shortening melted together, put overtop, and hardened in the 'fridge.

Overall, it's really tasty and really rich. Maybe too rich for my blood.  Also, it uses a heck of a lot of margarine, which is expensive and also, I think, hard to work with.  I guess I just prefer oil-based recipes.  But I really can't say anything bad about this dish.  It's very good, and it would be terrific for a special occasion when it seems acceptable to have something super-decadent.  Here's another photo:

In other news, I redesigned the blog a bit, adding a picture at the top that I took of the bird that, for some reason, takes up fall/winter residence in the dam off the Low Bridge.  You may remember Phoenixville's Low Bridge from this post.  So here is my question for you guys: what kind of bird is that?  Does anyone know anything about birds?  Do they not move south for the winter?  Do they live alone?  If anyone can give me any significant information about this bird, please post!  I'll make it worth your while -- whoever gives me good information on this bird will get a care package from me containing baked goods of some sort.  We'll discuss it and I'll send you something you'll like!  And I'll blog about it!  Yay!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

"The Joys of Tofu" or "Tofu: Yer Doin it Rong"

For a lot of people, when they think of vegetarianism, they think of tofu.  And that's really not such a good thing, because people just HATE tofu.  Really, I can't blame them, even though I LOVE tofu.  And that's because they've never had tofu done right.  Maybe they had a tofu dish at an Asian restaurant.  Now, while I'm willing to say that some Asian restaurants do tofu right, mostly they don't.  Mostly, they have pretty flavorless, soft, big blocks of tofu. 

The first thing you've got to know about tofu is that you've probably got to press it.  If you're buying extra firm tofu, chances are, it's going to require pressing.  It's easy to press!  My favorite way to do it is to wrap the tofu in a towel, put some really big books on top of it, and let that sucka' sit on your counter for a half hour to an hour.  You're probably asking yourself, why the f do I have to do this s?  I'll tell you why (and it's really obvious).  To get the moisture out!  It's just got to be done, no skipping.  It's easy, but if you're excessively lazy, you can buy a pricey tofu press:
If you're into totally extraneous kitchen gadgetry, you'll love this!

I'm not trying to insult your intelligence.  People who already know about pressing are bound to say, "C'mon, girl, I know how to press, give me a break!"  But you'd be surprised how many people are totally unaware of pressing, ESPECIALLY people who attempt to make a vegetarian dish for a guest before they realize that they don't know a darn thing about how to do tofu right.

Now, if you want to crisp tofu up for a stir fry of some sort, I recommend cutting your pressed tofu up, making an Ener-G Egg Replacer egg, coating your cut-up tofu with it, and then coating it with cornstarch.  Put it on the frying pan with a whole lot of oil on medium high heat, and then let it just sit for a good long time.  I mean it now!  Leave it be!  It takes a really long time to cook, and burned tofu is pretty much the opposite of unappealing.  That is, burned tofu is nice and crispy.  But it's cool, you don't have to burn it if you don't want to, it's your kitchen.  I'm just saying, leave it alone for a long-ass time.  Don't even check it before ten minutes, there's no point.  Resist!  Eventually, check it, and if it looks nice and brown on the bottom, flip 'em and do it again.  And that, my friends, is how you get terrifically crispy tofu, as seen here:
This is Broccoli Almond Sweet and Sour Tofu out of Laura Ulm's Vegan Yum Yum.  She uses the Ener-G Egg replacer/cornstarch method to incredible effect in this crowd-pleasing recipe.
Another good method (after pressing!) is to roast tofu in the oven in a nicely-oiled glass casserole pan.  Roasting always has the pleasant advantage of letting you do other things while it happily cooks away below, forgotten.  Different recipes tell you different times to cook tofu in the oven, but in my experience, it takes longer than they say.  Maybe I'm just a fan of the not-mushy, chewy kind of tofu, but I regularly increase my tofu-cooking time.  Please note: my oven is NOT too cold.  In fact, I usually reduce baking times for sweets.  So don't try to put this on my oven -- leave her alone!  She's a slave to my whims.  It takes even longer to roast tofu than to fry it, and you still have to take it out halfway and flip it, but it really is a nice method, as you can see here:
Rosemary-Roasted Tofu Cubes and Creole Hoppin'-Jean from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen.  Mmmm, I wish I was eating this right now, it's so good. 
The truth is, though, that there is one way I can think of to use extra-firm tofu without pressing it first, and it is a way not to be ignored, and that is by making scrambled tofu.

OK, I'll admit, scrambled tofu is not really like eggs.  But it is delicious (find a recipe, you have to put spices and whatever kinds of veggies you like), protein-rich (if you care about that kind of thing -- I don't), and deeply satisfying.  You should make it at least once, and because it doesn't require pressing, you can whip it up in the morning when you're totally hungover.  I know that when you're hungover, pressing is the straw that breaks the camel's back!  "It's bad enough that I have a headache, but now I've got to PRESS MY TOFU?!"
Scrambled tofu cooked with onions, a heck of a lot of mushrooms, and topped with avocado, made using the Vegan Brunch recipe.  A side of gourmet toast.  OK, just kidding, it's just regular toast with Earth Balance butter.
You got it?  Think you can stop badmouthing tofu now?  Don't get upset if your tofu sticks or is undercooked or whatever.  Just remember, folks: practice makes perfect!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Licktober

You know, I'm really not like other vegan cooking bloggers.  Why? Some of the reasons are more obvious than others.  One is that I do not call myself "vegan."  Also, I don't generally invent my own recipes.  But, possibly most strikingly, I'm not really what you would call an "animal person."  Going right along with that territory, unlike so many vegan cooking blogs, I don't tend to post pictures of my cat, Rory.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I love my cat.  She's the sweetest cat in the whole entire world.  But she's also SUPER annoying.  She's ALWAYS at my feet.  I can't sit without her climbing on my lap.  She loves me too much.  Her unconditional love embarrasses me.  Unconditional cat is unconditional.

But, you know what?  I give in.  I need to get it through to everyone JUST HOW MUCH THIS CAT LOVES ME.  So here is a short video that proves it (ummm, think you could just, like, fail to notice how messy my apartment is?).



And, lest you think that this was a rare occurrence, think again.  This type of lick-fest will go on as often as I allow it, so far as Rory is concerned.  She's irrepressible.  Irrepressible cat is irrepressible.

Most notable about my kitty's licking, I think, is the love biting.  It doesn't hurt, it's actually really gentle, sweet, and loving.  It's kind of like a teething child biting your fingers.  But, you know what, Rory?  You're too much.  Whatever happened to the kind of cat who hides under the bed?  Who wouldn't dream of coming when called?  Who doesn't have to sleep directly on top of me every night?  Who will let me cook, test my blood sugar, or eat a bowl of soup in peace?  Who isn't always ALL UP in my shizzle?  Why couldn't I just be one of those people with a normal cat like that?
But, ok, I'll admit it, she's sooooooo cute!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Awesome Life: Going to Rad Parties, Meeting "Rock Stars," and Making Guests Cry

Over the weekend, I went to one of the coolest parties I've ever attended.  This is one of those parties that I've only ever seen the likes of 'round these parts -- almost Pennsyltucky but not quite, right in the Philadelphia Folk Fest's backyard, far enough from the city of Philadelphia that we all have to make our own fun.  When my friend Tara invited me, I thought it was just going to be a bunch of people playing music around a campfire.  Actually, though, it was her father's annual "Harvest Party" held at his wickedly awesome, mostly hand-built home.  There, he set up not one but TWO camp fires, as well as a stage area that was fully mic-ed.  Oh my god, it was rad.  I wish I had pictures and better video to post, but it was too much fun to be wasting time taking pictures.  Instead, I only have this VERY short clip of Tara and her boyfriend Pete performing.  It's not the best clip (what with Tara's self-proclaimed "fuck up") and it really doesn't do justice to how incredibly good those two are when they perform (they usually perform with a full band, but in my opinion, they are far better by themselves), but here goes nothing:



Anyway, I made baklava for the party (recipe from 500 Vegan Recipes by Steen and Newman)!  I'm, like, pathologically incapable of attending any party without bringing food.  I felt a little silly bringing it because I thought it was going to just be around a fire and I figured baklava was far too messy to eat around a fire.  But, turns out, it was the potluck event of the year, for which baklava was a perfect fit.  A lot of people don't know what baklava is, but there are others who freakin' love baklava.  Both types were well pleased with what they ate!

Before I left for the party, I ate some of it myself, and it's a good thing I did, because otherwise I would not have gotten to try any, because it got eaten pretty quickly.  However, here is a photograph of the solitary slice I ate:

Want to know something else kinda interesting?  The next day, Sunday, I met a childhood idol of mine, Evan Dando!  I used to love The Lemonheads when I was a kid.  I haven't listened to them in years, but my friend Julie loves him, so we went to his show at Philly's North Star Bar.  He ended up sitting in my car with us  before the show for a really, really long time chain smoking.  Then after the show, he asked me if we could do it again, and we did.  We sang along to Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark and he told me I had a great voice and should record with him!  Haha!  I don't think that's going to happen, but it was pretty darn fun.  Here's a picture of me and him:

OK, back to dinner.  What do I make when I'm not really interested in cooking?  Steen and Newman's Veggie Curry Feast, of course!  Why?  Because I really don't even look at the recipe to make it.  A buncha spices (more turmeric than I ever use in any one recipe anywhere else), some shallots, broccoli, cauliflower, a can of chickpeas, and a can of coconut milk (I buy organic coconut milk in bulk from Amazon.com).

My secret to making this recipe so damn good, though, is that I don't use red or yellow curry powder when it calls for curry powder; I use this delightful Thai green curry spice mix I got from Home Goods.  Sometimes, just for fun, I smell the spice mix because it smells so freaking good.  Then I insist that my guests smell it.  Then I tell them about the evils of eating fish.  Then I make them listen to Elliott Smith.  Then they leave crying.  It's awesome!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

There Are Plenty of Fish in the Sea... NOT!

Yeah, that's right, I just hit you all with a "NOT!"  Oh, snap!

For a long time, I've been crazy fish girl.  I'm always going on about the evils of eating fish.  It all started a few years ago when I worked at Borders and this book came out.  I didn't read it, but I flipped through it, which is almost as good.  And then I started listening to NPR all the time.  Every so often, there'd be an oceanographer on a program, and he or she would inevitably talk about the emptying ocean.  The overfishing.  Do you know that "overfishing" is a word -- it doesn't get underlined in red.  That's because it is a real and common problem.  And, I'd argue, among the world's biggest problems.
My friend Ken drew this fish "tattoo" on me because I am crazy fish girl.
I also read the excellent book What to Eat by Marion Nestle, where I learned all about the high levels of mercury and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in fish.  PCBs are basically all the accumulated chemicals we've ever used, all of which ended up in the water.  It's recommended that people not eat fish more than once a month.  That's messed up.  They're toxic.  But if you want to eat chemicals, more power to you.  I'm not going to judge you for it.  It's your health.  But I WILL judge you, and judge you harshly, for eating endangered fish!

So, for years, I've been telling anyone and everyone, including a total stranger at the Philly Folk Fest that I overheard saying she was a vegetarian "except for fish," that fish is the WORST thing to eat!  Eat beef, eat a chicken, whatever, that's far more responsible than eating fish.  I find the term "pescatarian" to be highly offensive.  What a terrible, terrible thing to be.  Also, not to be an echo chamber, as I'm sure most people have heard this said before, but fish ain't a vegetable.  Don't kid yourself about vegetarianism and eat fish.  Although, I admit, I feel guilty writing that because it is my opinion that people should be as vegetarian/vegan as they can manage and not give it up just because they eat something that isn't vegetarian/vegan sometimes.  Frankly, people's self-labels don't particularly interest me.  What interests me is sustainable food production.  So cut way back on meat, cut way back on cheese and eggs, that's cool with me.  You don't have to be 100%.  But the same does not go for any endangered fish!  It is NOT COOL to eat endangered fish.  Hear this: you are officially an asshole if you eat endangered fish.

Some endangered fish I see people eating all the time include all sorts of tuna (everyone knows about the fact that bluefin will be extinct within 10 years, but even albacore is being overfished, and really, no one knows where their tuna is coming from), Chilean Seabass, any kind of sea turtles, octopus (calimari), cod, sturgeon eggs (caviar), and sturgeon themselves.  A friend of mine told me that she even saw Trader Joe's selling Orange Roughy!  For shame!  They are seriously endangered.  Not cool, Trader Joe's, not cool.
Orange Roughy, which is also called by the charming name Slimehead.  Haha.  Slimehead.
Conservative estimates say worldwide fish populations have decreased 75% since the beginning of commercial fishing around 1950.  That's the CONSERVATIVE estimate.  The more realistic one is 90%.

So what's up?  Why have worldwide catches gone down so dramatically?  Well, basically, because commercial fishing is far, far too efficient.  Huge ships put out nets that trawl the ocean floor, scraping the sea floor and destroying plant life and habitats, not allowing ANYTHING to escape.  They then throw back, dead or dying, the "bycatch."  Poor countries make deals with fishing corporations to let them trawl their waters, starving their local populations that relied on fishing to feed their people.  Now we have an empty ocean and West African food refugees.  It's not cool.
Trawling.  This drawing doesn't do justice to the harm trawling causes.
So, do people have to give up all fish?  No, there are some sustainable fish -- farmed ones that are fed a vegetarian diet (non-vegetarian farmed fish use 5 oz of wild-caught small fish per 1 oz of fish farmed).  If you must eat sea life, choose mussels, clams, and oysters.  They're farm-raised vegetarian and not pumped full of antibiotics because they're not disease-prone.  Also catfish.  US-caught crabs and lobster are plentiful right now because we've killed off all their predators, but they could very well end up overfished eventually, at current rates.  But for now, they're pretty safe. 

OK, it's link time.  Firstly, god bless the Monterey Bay Aquarium web site, where you can read at length about every kind of commercially-available fish, their sustainability (or lack thereof), and their health hazards.  I get so much information to preach at people from them.  Also, after years of ranting and raving about fish, I found out there is a documentary about it called The End of the Line!  Documentaries and railing against overfishing -- two of my major interests!  And guess what -- it's on Netflix Watch Instantly.  So you probably have no excuse not to watch it.

So what to do.  Firstly, don't freaking eat endangered fish.  If you must consume sea life, please limit it to sustainably raised/caught sea life.  Also, advocate for ocean preserves.  If we had a heck of a lot more sections of the ocean where it was not legal to fish, populations could increase.  Third, spread the word.  Call people out when they eat endangered sea life.  Complain at restaurants.  Complain at grocery stores.  Tell other people to advocate for ocean preserves.  Just keep on pushing for it, make it a part of your identity, like I do -- "Hi, I'm Melissa, I'm a liberal atheist cooking addict who believes we need more ocean preserves.  Do you know about ocean preserves?  No?  Well, let me tell you ALL about them..."
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