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!
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