Monday, July 25, 2011

Picnic Sandwiches at Home, Zucchini Bread for a Road Trip

For a long time now, I've been wanting to make Vegan Yum Yum's Picnic Sandwiches.  They just looked so good to me, and the idea of their epic portability reminded me of road trips and summer, and everything about them just seemed grand.  A sandwich that is MEANT to be wrapped in plastic or foil and saved for later -- wow!  Just the concept floors me.  It's got fried zucchini, a sun-dried tomato/toasted pine nut blend, roasted red peppers, and baby spinach.  All on French bread (or, you know, on whatever bread you dig).  Doesn't that sound soooooo good?

It is soooooo good.  But before I'd even tried it, I'd determined that it was the perfect thing for me to make to repay a minor debt I owed.  See, at work, I take the Thursday lunch orders, then order it.  Most people in the office are good about giving me their order in time.  But one attorney -- who happens to be my favorite -- often doesn't.  And then, at the last minute, I'll bug him about it, and he'll say, "Just get me something vegetarian!"  See, that's rad.  No one else in the office is like that at all.  But he wants to eat healthy, and to him, that means vegetarian.  That's not something you hear a lot of these days, I find.  One day, though, I talked with him about ordering him some mushroom quesadillas from the place we'd be going the next day.  Thursday rolled around, though, and he was out of the office.  The schedule had him at depos all day.  So I didn't order the quesedillas.  He came in pretty late, like 4 PM, and he was kinda upset about it.  I felt bad, and I told him I'd bring him something one day to make up for it, something he'd love.  And knowing his tastes, and its portability, I thought this sandwich would be perfect.  I wanted it to be something that didn't seem too difficult, either, because, you know, it's a work politeness thing, not anything creepy.

It was perfect!  He loved it, and so did I, and we had a long conversation about how to make it and how the local restaurants could do so much better with vegetarian cooking, and how his whole family loves zucchinis and can't agree on how they should be prepared each day.  Two days later, using the other half of my loaf of French bread, I decided to make them again when my friend Mary came over to my newly clean (yay!) apartment for dinner, because they were really that good.  I also made Vegan Yum Yum's Super Quick Tomato Basil Cream Pasta just because I had to prune my basil or it wouldn't grow a ton of new leaves like I want it to so that I can make tons of pesto and freeze it all winter.  I've made this pasta before, and now I have a bit of advice about it.  Don't put any of the water it calls for into it unless you need it.  My farmers market tomatoes were really juicy, and it didn't need the 1/4 cup water called for, but I just did it on autopilot like a cooking robot and I regretted it instantly.  It was still good, although not as good as it would have been with a bit of wine in it, like the recipe calls for if it needs more moisture.  Wine is better than water.  That's why Jesus turned water into wine: better sauces.  Trust me.

I put some salad on the side with CSA lettuce and cucumbers, and also some Bacos, the best vegan product ever!  Actually it's an imitation brand of Bacos.  But I just love that these crunchy processed bacon thingies are totally vegetarian.  We had a really nice summer dinner.  Eating with company, though,  I realized a problem with the idea of bringing Picnic Sandwiches on a picnic -- they require napkins.  Kinda messy.  Not horribly messy, not falling apart, but a bit drippy.  So please, consider that this entry's PSA.  Bring napkins on your picnic with Picnic Sandwiches!  And remember, nature smiles when you use cloth napkins.

I was still rocking the zucchini, though, from my CSA, so I made bread.  Can you believe I never made zucchini bread before?  I'm actually not sure I've ever even eaten it before!  But I'm determined that, by the end of this summer, I will make all the zucchini bread recipes I have.  This time, I made the Zucchini Poppy Seed Muffins in 500 Vegan Recipes.  What can I say, I like bread in muffin form. 
The day after baking them, I brought them along with my friends on an outing to this incredible Krishna Temple in Wheeling, WV called Palace of Gold.  We snacked on these in the car on the way there, and everyone declared them to be "Better than Bill's."  Bill being the driver of the vehicle, who, I gotta tell you, is the most incredible pizza-maker I know, so he's no slouch.  But he does that on his grill, and he did the zucchini bread on the grill also, and apparently, it was dry.  These were good and moist, though.  It's that soy yogurt, does it every time.  And then we got to the Palace/Temple in West Virginia!
Here I am standing among their lovely rose garden, which was completely in bloom.

This is the exterior of the Palace.

These swans were just taking it easy.  On the other side of the pond, there are peacocks (and peahens too, I'd assume, although they're less flashy and noticeable).  You can see in the distance these two dancing dudes that are meaningful to Krishnas, no doubt.
There they are, don't they look happy?  All the Krishnas were weirdly nice, it was hard to not say to them, "YOU'RE CRAZY THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS GOD!" I behaved, though, even in the Temple, where they sang Hare Krishna Hare Hare Krishna Krishna -- really great tunes, actually.  I can see why people would get into singing repetitious lyrics with a crowd to these great melodies, that seems fun.

I thought you vegan types would like this.  "Krishna is pleased by caring for cows" -- right on!  I'm not sure why only cows and not other animals, but whatever.  They don't eat meat, either, although no doubt, the food there was full of ghee and milk and so on.  I ate it, though.  It was free and it seemed really wrong to take some moral stand against these people who are living with such comparatively high levels of compassion.  This is why I don't label myself as vegan, I just cook vegan myself and mostly eat what I cook.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Living So Well Eating Vegan Warrior Food

There are some recipes that really make you feel like a vegan warrior.  The kind of thing that, when you eat it, you really can't feel anything but thrilled to be ingesting such healthy and delicious food.  Among those ranks, I nominate 500 Vegan Recipes' Quinoa with Hazelnut Parsley Pesto.

First there's the pesto.  Some hazelnuts, which you have to toast (I did it in my toaster oven, not the big oven -- too energy inefficient), all blended up with parsley, garlic, lemon juice, salt and olive oil.  It's rich and vegetable-y.  Parsley tastes very, like, "Hey, I'm a plant!"  And that can be a great thing sometimes.  The pesto gets mixed into some quinoa you cook, and, like parsley, I think quinoa is the most earthy of the grains.  There is something about eating quinoa with a parsley-hazelnut pesto that makes me feel proud of myself.  Such natural food, no trying to imitate non-vegan things.  Just enjoying real food for what it is!

And then, to make everything even greater, the recipe has you cook Brussels sprouts to put on top!  Now, I've mentioned in the past about what I see as Steen and Newman's inaccurate names for recipes, and this one's got a bit of that going on.  If I were them, I would have called this "Hazelnut Parsley Pesto with Braised Sprouts" or something like that.  That is, something that mentions the Brussels sprouts.  But hey, it doesn't matter, whatever.  The point it, it's got sprouts on top cooked with wine.  They suggest only a tablespoon of sherry wine or water, and only if needed.  But in my opinion, wine is essential to making a dish like this go from ok to Wow! so I deglazed my pan with more than a tablespoon of red wine.  I also used a lot more than ten Brussels sprouts.  Ten?!?!  Deprive me much??  I wasn't going for that, and I cooked a lot more.    

So I went to this dinner party where everyone was assigned to make something.  I got assigned apple pie.  It didn't really have to be apple pie, though, it could be any kind of apple thing, just something that screamed "All American."  I'm pretty lazy about pies, so I made something I've made many times before, the Individual Heart-Shaped Gallettes from Veganomicon.  At first, I even made them heart-shaped.  But I started to actually lose my damn mind while doing it.  It was getting to be super-late at night and those hearts are hard to do!  So I started making them circles.  And I also made real vanilla bean ice cream!  I bought some vanilla beans, and I zested one into coconut milk beverage and simmered it, and then left that milk in the fridge overnight to cool, then made the vanilla ice cream recipe as directed in Veganomicon.  Amazing.  So amazing.  Vanilla beans are expensive, but sooooo worth it for ice cream.  Anyway, here's what it looked like:


My friend Erin gave me all the leftover BBQ Seitan she had made for the party, so I brought it home and added it to this Cheater Mac and Cheese from 500 Vegan Recipes I had made.  It's called "cheater" mac because you don't bake it, or even make a proper nutritional yeast sauce.  Instead, it's closer to, like, Kraft Mac'n'cheese in a box.  You boil the noodles and strain them, then add a bunch of stuff together, including a heck of a lot of Earth Balance butter.  It doesn't even look that pretty, so I didn't even plan on take pictures of it for the blog here.  But it was so good with that BBQ seitan in it, and also, I still had the tofu sour cream I'd made to make the Cheater Mac, so I decided to make a second batch of it.  This time, I took some seitan out of my freezer and whipped up some Backyard BBQ Sauce (from Veganomicon again).
And then I grilled the seitan with some peanut oil and BBQ sauce on the ol' Forman Grill, which I rarely use, but it is kinda fun to use it.
And I added the grilled seitan to the Cheater Mac and I had a real summer meal, complete with CSA-greens salad and homemade iced tea.  Damn, I live well.

And, just for good measure, here's a closer look at the BBQ seitan mac'n'cheese.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Extra-long Anniversary Addition of Food and Loathing: CSA Cooking

We'll do some time traveling again soon, but for right now, I think I'd better start updating again on the present.  If you wait too long to post about stuff you've cooked, it's already been eaten and the dishes are all washed and it loses some of its energy.  So for now, let's talk about my CSA.

This was a rough season in Pittsburgh.  Even for a really rainy place, there was a LOT of rain leading into spring.  The folks at my CSA just couldn't plant things -- it was too wet.  So it started pretty late and the shares are not very plentiful.  It's a real shame, but what can you do?  The first week I got a very small bag of mixed lettuce, a very small bit of what I think was chard, some dried mangoes (like, a handful), two little stalks of rhubarb, and one sprig of oregano, one sprig of spearmint.  There was also one green onion, isn't that funny?  What are you supposed to do with one green onion?  I used some in salad, froze the rest for broth later.

This past Wednesday, week 2, I got a tiny bit of tiny strawberries that apparently came from an Amish farm next door to the CSA's farm, a bitty bag of kale, some dates, and another sprig of spearmint.  This week, they gave me a list and it said I was also supposed to get a bag of mixed lettuce, but it was a no show in my bag.   I emailed the farm about it and they say they'll make it up to me.

Leafy greens are easy enough to use.  Eat them as salad or cook them on the stove top and enjoy, depending on the type.  And that's all I did with them -- there wasn't even enough to make recipes out of, so I cooked the chard and kale with garlic, tamari, and some water, ate the salad greens with dressing.  Here's the kale all cooked.

I wanted to do something nice with those strawberries, because they were really incredibly sweet and juicy, but there weren't a lot of them.  I also had that rhubarb a week later because I'm not experienced with rhubarb and there certainly wasn't enough of them (or of strawberries) to make any of the pie or crisp recipes I have in books.  But I figured that if rhubarb is good cooked with strawberries in pies or whatever, it's good just cooked with sugar and water as a sauce for ice cream.  I put a little bit of filtered water and a little bit of lime juice in a saucepan, added two to three tablespoons of sugar (I measured none of it), and cooked it until it was dissolved.  Then I added the chopped rhubarb and kept it simmering.  To my surprise and delight, the rhubarb completely softened.  It was so soft that I could just mush it with a spoon -- I had thought I might need to use a blender on it.  After the rhubarb started getting soft, I added the already very soft strawberries until they mushed really nicely.  I made quite a nice sweet sauce that I was super-proud of!  Having a flair for the dramatic, I added one drop of red food dye, to make it extra pretty.

After letting it sit in the fridge overnight, I made a batch of vanilla ice cream from Veganomicon.  I don't know what came over me, but for some reason, I ended up putting a bit of lemon extract in it.  I shouldn't have done that, it would be better for it to be strawberry rhubarb with vanilla ice cream, but nevertheless, it was flippin' delicious.  Better than any vegan ice cream really has the right to be, if you ask most people.  I mixed the sauce right into the ice cream, but not too thoroughly.
And here it is unperturbed in the soy yogurt container where I stored it.

So, what else?  They gave me some dates, and I still had wicked lots of dates on hand, so I decided to make the only thing I'd ever made before with tons and tons of dates in it, which is Nell's Coconut Rolls from You Won't Believe It's Vegan! by Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty.  I don't use this book often.  My step-mother gave it to me after I first started cooking vegan.  But the name of it bugged me -- I was discovering in vegan cookbooks that food could be so much better if you had restrictions to make you creative.  The best cooking I'd ever done had come from vegan cookbooks.  So the implication that it was necessary to mask the vegan-ness to make you proclaim, "I can't believe it's vegan!" seemed vaguely offensive, though no doubt the title was a choice influenced by the publisher and I'm probably just being silly anyway.  I've held on to the book and I've made and handful of things from it, and really, I JUST SAID above that folks plain wouldn't believe that the ice cream was vegan.  So, here's one from the book: Nell's (delicious, simple, raw, relatively healthy) Coconut Rolls.  They are made out of dates, ground almonds (raw), coconut milk, cinnamon, and lemon juice, then rolled in coconut flakes.  I had to send a friend of mine who was just hanging out at my place to the grocery store on the corner to fetch a lemon, but I had all the rest on hand.
I used the coconut milk left on the bottom of the can I'd skimmed the fat off of to make the ice cream. Also, my almonds weren't exactly raw, they were blanched, but I really think that's much better because you don't really want the skins in these balls (it's funnier to call them "coconut balls" instead of "coconut rolls").  The way that the almonds crunch is so satisfying inside these fruity balls (tee hee)!  But I guess they're kind of an old lady thing to eat -- no added sugar, lotsa dates, all rolled up.  Seems like something you might eat to keep you regular.  But these are pretty great, and I had a difficult time parting with any of them to bring to my friends when we met up the next day, although I did manage.  And I don't know if the addition of the couple of CSA dates with the rest made any particular difference, but I'm sure that these tasted better than the last time I made them.  I'm just sure of it.

Earlier today, on July 4th, I went blueberry picking with some friends at one of those pick-your-own-berries farms.  They weren't very ripe, but we picked them anyway.  Right now, the ones I picked are on my counter in a paper bag.  I'm hoping that will do the trick.  Realizing I'd not had the chance all weekend to figure out what to cook this week, I just bought a great big zucchini in the farm's market because they're cheap and brought it home to cut up and cook in garlic, oil, and some lemon juice (I still had 1/2 lemon from having my friend fetch me one for the Coconut Rolls earlier), then I served it atop some tri-color couscous.  Not exactly a complete or complicated meal, but I would not be lying if I told you that in my former life as a person who wasn't obsessed with cooking, I used to eat couscous with any type of veggie I could get cheap (zucchini, squash, broccoli, frozen peas), often with some kidney beans thrown in, practically every day.  Ain't gourmet, but I was young.  Another of my favorites was to cook mushrooms, a pepper, and an onion together, then put it on a store-bought bun with a slice of cheese and, later, vegan cheese.  And then I got cookbooks and everything changed.

Still, sometimes you've got to give it up for a throwback.  Even if I suffered brain damage, I hope I'd remember just how to caramelize veggies and make couscous.  This was really way more advanced than my old incarnations, though, because I had tri-color couscous.  Well, ok, that doesn't change anything really, but it does make it look a little bit cooler.

Alright, I'm finally back to my old, blogging self!  I still have some trips back in time to make with you, but I am, in fact, current now.  And July 4 marks what is pretty much the one year anniversary of this blog.  My second entry was a July 4 entry.  Sing it with me, folks.  Happy birthday to blog!  Happy birthday to blog!  Happy birthday, Food and Loathing...!  Happy birthday to blog!
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