Sunday, August 12, 2012

Work Lunch and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Tomatoes?

So, remember I told you I'd had some vegan veggie stew for lunch in my entry Eating Vegan and Weight Issues?  Well, back to that.

Here is an actual picture of the lunch I ate that day, complete with my desk's telephone chord and some notes I'd scribbled onto scrap paper (I tried to eat them, but they weren't that good).
Pretty healthy fare, right there.  I had the bread without any type of butter or anything, dipped into my stew, because I was too lazy to pack some Earth Balance, and also, it's Pittsburgh BreadWorks bread: absolutely delicious unadorned.  I think about buying a breadmaker sometimes, or just getting into baking bread myself, and maybe someday I will, but because it is so easy for me to walk over to Donatelli's on a Saturday (their limited hours mean I cannot get there on a weekday) and buy BreadWorks thick Italian bread for $1.99, it's really difficult to NOT just do that.

Anyway, the stew is the Tofu Bouillabaisse from The Vegan Slow Cooker.  I picked this recipe for two reasons, really.  One, it calls for tomatoes--either canned or fresh.  I had a bunch of fresh ones from my garden ready for use, so I used them.  Two, it called for the spice saffron, and my friend Sara, after traveling abroad, brought me a baggie full it!  I was excited about this, but because it is such an incredibly expensive spice that most people do not have on hand in their fridge like I do now, not many recipes call for it.
I made an executive decision to replace one potato with a yam because I prefer them.  Also, the woman at the grocery store, when I went to buy a bulb of fennel was all like, "Ummm, what's this?"  "Fennel," I said, "a bulb of it."  She puzzled and puzzled over her screen for a long time.  "Is it an onion?" she asked.  "No," I said, "It's a vegetable herb thing. I think it's closer to celery?"  She called a co-worker over.  "What's this thing?" she asked, holding it up and glaring at it with bewilderment.  "Anise," the guy said, and left without even looking at her.  "Ohh, yeah, anise," I said, a bit ashamed.
But, for the record, I don't think anise and fennel are actually the same thing, though they're quite similar.  Whatever.

Anyway, the Tofu Bouillabaisse was pretty good, and I enjoyed it, but I got sick of it before I was out of what I'd cooked.  I ended up giving a bunch to my friends in containers and throwing out about two cups-worth.  Pity.

What's a girl to do with a ton of tomatoes, huh?  It seemed like all my tomatoes became ripe all at once.  I decided to make an old favorite, which I've written about on this blog before, Vegan Yum Yum's Super Quick Tomato Basil Cream Pasta.
I love this recipe.  I love that its two fresh ingredients--tomatoes and basil--are both growing out on my porch.  I love that I keep everything else on hand.  I love that I've made it enough times to remember to NOT add water, as she says to, but instead to ONLY add the "optional" wine.  I love that because it uses fresh tomatoes which may vary in taste and size, the recipe never tastes exactly the same twice.

Now, I don't have a fancy blender.  Laura Ulm, the author, suggests that you might need a Vita-Mix to get the creamy consistency you want in this recipe.  Well, maybe so.  But all I've got is a low-end food processor, so that's what I used.  OK, it's not completely creamy.  Still, I have no complaints about the taste.  Maybe someone out there wants to help me out by having a sham marriage with me in order to receive expensive kitchen gifts?  We can totally go our own ways afterward and split the take if you like.  Bonus if you've got citizenship to a country that has universal healthcare--then I'll put out.  Hahahaha!

For the rest of the tomatoes, I was super-excited to use the instructions from The Vegan Slow Cooker for Preserve-the-Harvest Diced Tomatoes.  I love love love the first section of this book that's all about making kitchen staples like beans and bouillon and ketchup and glazes.  As she instructs, I diced my tomatoes, slow-cooked them, then placed them into freezer-safe baggies in 1 and 1/2 cup measurements, which is about equivalent to a can of diced tomatoes, to freeze for the winter and use in place of cans in a recipe.  I had already been doing that with beans per her instructions, and her Chickeny Bouillon has absolutely improved my life.  No more buying bouillon cubes, I've got something better stored in my freezer.

I started this post with lunch, let me end it there.  Every once in a while, I fail to pack my lunch and have to search out some affordable vegan lunch in Downtown Pittsburgh.  I tell you, it ain't an easy quest, and I'm always mad at myself whenever I don't pack.  But, my favorite place to go is this new tiny little Mexican place called Madonna's that is on the corner of Smithfield and Forbes.  I went in there one day and saw that on their menu, they had a "value burrito" that contained only rice, beans, and hand-cut salsa.  The "chico" cost $4.50, the "grande" $5.60.  I ordered the smaller one and the owner/cashier asked me if I wanted and cheese or sour cream.  "No thank you," I told him, "No animal products."  He got all excited.  "Vegan??" He pronounced it, "vey-gan."  "I cook all the food vegan!  All veggie broth, nothing added unless you want cheese or meat!  I always eat vegan myself, except maybe once a week meat!"  Which, you know, cool.  I'm all for progress, even if it's not 100%.  And, also, how could I not love this guy?  He's so cool!  Anyway, the burrito was good, and quite large, and I sat in the restaurant and ate it with a lot of hot sauce and got really full and it made my blood sugar super-high later (whoops).
Madonna's Rice, Beans & Fresh Hand-Cut Salsa Value Burrito - $4.50, already over half-eaten


  1. I too have ran into the anise vs fennel conundrum at grocery stores, I just usually give them both names and anise works 99% of the time. Weird. Great way to use up your tomatoes! I am lame and have been eating tomato salads by the ton- so.. good..

    ALSO- I have been to Smithfield and Forbes tons of times and haven't seen a place called Madonna's!!! I'll have to get there straight away- bless that cool dude for thinking of the veygans! ;)

    One last thing. Can we hold hands and be besties while we talk about our love for Vegan Yum Yum everything? And how I pine for her to return to her blog. Ya know... I got you to come back maybe we can do the same to her!!!

  2. How funny- I recently made that same pasta dish from Vegan Yum Yum... yours looks better though :)

  3. Lindsey - Madonna's is accross the street from Macy's, caddy-corner from 7-11 and I think there used to be a Quiznos there, maybe? Re: Vegan Yum Yum, yes, it is definitely among my top favorite cookbooks. I have a theory that Laura Ulm suffers from depression, as many people who are so artistically-inclined do. I think that the anti-her push from PPK folks probably drove her from the scene forever, which is really a shame. Last time I checked, though, her Flikr account was still active. No food, just bands and stuff. Really nice photos. I feel super-weird talking about her like I know her when I don't, but if she googles her own name and finds this, I hope she sees she's got support out there for a return to cooking from her. I'd buy her second book, if she ever released one. In fact, I'd pre-order it.

    Barb, did you put in the water she calls for? I did that before and it's unwise! It's better to add no water and put the optional wine in. Very, very tasty that way.

  4. Fennel, anise, it's like calling bell peppers capsicums. Actually I have no idea if they're the same thing... isn't anise just fennel seeds? No...that would probably just be fennel seeds, ha ha! No clue. Also that guy at the Mexican restaurant sounds awesome! Anyone who gets excited about a vegan order kind of makes my day. :)

    1. Frankly, I don't know. But I know that fennel bulbs are delicious but I don't really care for fennel seeds. This might be a job! Haha.

      That guy was definitely awesome and if you read the Urban Spoon link I posted, it would seem that it is not only vegans who love this guy.

  5. So, I just got back from Market District. I was buying some stuff to make cabbage soup, and the clerk checking me out held up my bag of bunch carrots (not in, like, branded packaging... but STILL) and asked me what they were. I thought of this post immediately. But who the heck doesn't know what carrots are? Ludicrous.

    1. Ahhhhhhh hahahaha!!! That's funny, but it's also incredibly sad. It fills me with, well, loathing.


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