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.


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, 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?
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