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:

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 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!
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