Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cooking From My New Cookbooks

I recently got four new cookbooks from a bargain bookstore.  The only books I buy are cookbooks, for everything else, I'm perfectly happy to go to the library.  So now, the goal is to cook from them all.

That's going to be rough for the book The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen.  You know I love to cook from books, and at this point, I'm pretty good at understanding what all the ingredients called for are, or at least what I can replace them with.  I mean, I can remember when I first started seriously cooking, and how I used to struggle.  Like, I had the book Vegan with a Vengeance, and I decided to make the (absolutely incredible) Coconut Heaven Cupcakes from it, and it called for "1 cup unsweetened coconut" and, I'm not going to lie, do you know what I did?  I went to the grocery store and I bought a coconut!  I remember struggling to break it open and cutting out the fruit before I was like, you know?  This cannot be right.  Eventually, I think it occurred to me that it must mean shredded coconut.  What's even funnier about it is that I HAD shredded coconut on hand, because I had bought some to make Nell's Coconut Rolls, which I first made very early on in my journey into vegan cooking.  But that had clearly called for shredded coconut, and this didn't.  My inexperienced mind was confused in a way I'd pretty much never get confused now.  A friend of mine, who decided to make seitan for the first time recently, texted me to ask if  "vital wheat gluten flour" was the same thing as "vital wheat gluten."  Indeed it is, I told her!  And I could totally see where she was coming from, being confused. 

But anyway, yeah, The Conscious Cook is going to be a struggle to cook from.  So many recipes call specifically for Gardein brand "chicken scaloppini" and crap like that.  I've never even heard of Gradein brand anything because, you know, I like to make stuff, not buy it.  And the recipes are really expensive.  So many call for this cashew creme he uses in everything, which contains a bunch of raw cashews.  And, hey, I like to splurge on cashew goodness from time to time, but it's a bit much.  Or, he'll call for, like, a cup of champagne grapes.  Come the fuck on, dude!  Why are you trying to make my life difficult?  But, OK, I'll admit, the book seems seriously gourmet, and many of the sides sound amazing and not impossible.  Like, for instance, the Grilled Artichokes with Caesar Dressing.  I'm totally down to make that for company.

Since my last blog post, I've cooked two things from two of the four new books.  We'll start with dinner before moving onto dessert.  From Quick Fix Vegan, I made the Black Bean Sunburgers.  I liked that it had sunflower seeds in it.
It tasted OK, but I have to admit that I started to put a bunch of sriracha hot sauce on it because it was a little boring.  I think it should have more onion in it than it does, and probably some garlic too.  Wanna see it more up close?  This next picture is awesome because, while I was bicycling home from work right before I took it, the chain came off my bike.  So I stopped and put it back on, no big deal.  And then I came home and washed and washed my hands, but that grease has a will to live!  So you can totally see it on my hand.

Then, from my newly purchased book Party Vegan, I made the Cherry Pecan Bars.  Long-time readers know I love me some cherry, and this didn't require me to buy anything from the store.  Who, pray tell, has both cherry preserves and also dried cherries ON HAND?  This girl, that's who.  I love me some cherry, what can I say?
This is such an amazing desert treat, although I do think it might be harmful to teeth.  It is chewy and sticky.  It's mostly made from Earth Balance (vegan butter, for you non-vegan readers), and when you first take it out of the oven, it's, like, boiling.  Once it stops bubbling and cools off and you can cut it, it's got this great crispy bottom and is completely chewy through the rest.  Oh my god, it's what they'd serve you in heaven, where you need not worry about the well-being of your teeth.  I generally will go the extra mile and make the "optional" things in a recipe, and this one has an optional glaze to drizzle on top -- you know, a normal confectioner's sugar and non-dairy milk glaze.  I decided I'd taste it before I made any glaze, and I'm glad I did, because as long as I'm not making this for a party, the glaze is really not necessary.  The book is called Party Vegan, though, so kudos to Robin Robertson for including some fiendish embellishment.

The last new book I got was Holiday Vegan Cooking, which is a gorgeous book, and I cannot wait to cook from it, holidays or no.  Mostly, I look forward to cooking from the section "Jewish Holidays."  I'm not Jewish -- my mother was a gentile, and my father converted to Christianity before I was born and much later sort of reclaimed Judaism, although without any seriousness.  However, I've been to my fair share of Seders and Hanukkah parties with my dad's side of the family.  And then, my step-mother (whose incredible cooking inspired me to start cooking myself more than anything else did) has a natural flair for Jewish cooking, as I think all Semitic amateur chefs born and raised in New York City tend to.  Her food actually changed my tastes, and now, looking through Nava Atlas's book, the Jewish Holiday section is the thing that really makes me go "Mmmmmm."  So I'm excited about this book!

Oh, hey, you know what I did recently?  Normally, I pack my lunch, but I've been casually seeing a nice young man who asked me if I'd want to go to The Franktuary, which is very close to where I work, for lunch one day.  So he came to meet me during my lunch break, which my good-for-nothing ex never did, and he willingly, without my asking him at all, got the same thing I did, which was the Chicago-style veggie dog.  That's kinda nice of him, don't you think?  Anyway, here's a picture of the dogs we got.  The bread might not be vegan, I didn't ask, but it's definitely vegan other than that.
Pretty tasty!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Food and Loathing Returns with Some Red Gunk!

It's springtime, the sun is out later, and I've decided to give food blogging another go (the relevance of the sun being out later is that it means I might be able to actually take decent pictures of the food I make).  I was feeling a lot like this

I must be depressed if my hair is all in my face, right?

for a few months there, but I'm making a very serious effort to be more like this.

Damn, I look pretty happy here, right?
Well, whatever.  I know everyone has their fair share of struggles, and that in so many ways, I'm very lucky, but understanding those things doesn't always work to convince myself that I'm not an alien from another planet, which is honestly how I feel so much of the time.  I'm something of a perennial outsider, never quite fitting in at any point in my whole life.  And, you know, it's lonesome.  Even when I'm around friends, I so often feel lonesome.  But hey, I'm starting therapy really soon.  Actual therapy, not kitchen therapy.  The kitchen therapy starts NOW.

I thought I'd make my official return by cooking some difficult-to-photograph-in-an-appealing way red gunk! 
OK, actually, it's Red Lentil Dal from Lindsay S. Nixon's book The Happy Herbivore, one of the many, many cookbooks I've obtained since I really posted on this blog.  Nixon has some kind of thing where she feels she has to cook entirely fat free, so she sautes the onion and garlic with water instead of oil.  That's all fine and good for her, I guess, and I support her eating however she sees fit, but me?  I used oil.  I'm just not very concerned about eliminating fat or whatever supposed toxins are naturally created by heating olive oil.  I welcome death.  Oh wait!  Fighting...depressive...urges....

There, that's better.

But yeah, Red Lentil Dal.  I used oil and I cut the garam masala in half (1 tablespoon instead of 2).  I don't know if it is just the garam masala I have right now or if I'm simply not a big garam masala fan, but I knew better than to put 2 tablespoons of it into the dal if I was going to enjoy it.  Also, I made it nice and spicy hot, with 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper cuz, brother, that's just how I roll.  Made it salty, too, about 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt.  I tell you what. it's really good! And so easy.  I dig.

Plus, since I posted last, I procured a RICE COOKER!!!!!  I say "procured" because it was 100% free.  I got it from some nice people over in Oakland who offered it on Pittsburgh's Freecycle.  I don't know if you people out there do Freecycle where you live, but I've given and gotten so many things from it, including this freakin' unused, brand new rice cooker that cooks brown basmati rice perfectly with no effort!  I've dreamed of having restaurant-quality rice for some time now, now my dreams have finally come true, thanks to my amazing rice cooker, Pittsburgh Freecycle, and some nice folks in Oakland. 

During this time of not posting, I certainly did not quit cooking, and I certainly did not quit making ice cream.  People who read this blog know I'm super into making ice cream.  My most recent creation was a suggestion from my friend Sara, who is a fan of the blueberry and lemon combination.  When she suggested it, I was kind of like, "But then I'll have to buy frozen organic blueberries and cook them with sugar and then let them cool in the fridge overnight before actually making the ice cream, but I'm so very lazy!"  She was all, "Bitch, just get yourself a can of blueberries."  Whoa.  I had not thought of that, but it's brilliant.  A CAN OF BLUEBERRIES.  It's not organic, and it's kind of decidedly lowbrow, but you know?  It's brilliant.  I topped it with some  Hershey's chocolate syrup, which PETA says is vegan, but vegans fight about whether or not it actually is vegan 100% of the time (something about diglycerides being sometimes plant-sourced and sometimes animal-sourced).  Christ.  I don't know.  Truth be told, I'm not looking like this

 about it.  We all do our bests.  Anyway. here's the delicious ice creamy magic:


Mmmm... diglycerides...
In other Pittsburgh news, some friends of mine had a potluck every Monday for the past few months in order to watch the highly entertaining reality TV show RuPaul's Drag Race, where one of the contenders was a Pittsburgher.  There was so much vegan goodness to photograph, and I photographed, well, none of it.  The very last week was breakfast-themed because, we joked, RuPaul had left us in a state of a hangover after unexpectedly extending the contest one more week to allow the audience to vote amongst the 3 finalists.  And, luckily, someone DID take some pictures.  Here's what I made:
It's the Tempeh Sausage Pastry Puffs from Vegan Brunch.  It got mad compliments, which is awesome because do you know how expensive puff pastry is these days?  It's definitely a special occasion kind of splurge -- and I would say that the crowning of Pittsburgh-dweller Sharon Needles as the next drag superstar was reason enough to splurge.  Behind the Puffs, you can kinda see these amazing Silk Yogurt Parfait things someone else made.  They were so good that they made me become faint.  Oh, and do want to see some super-cleverness?  Check this out:

OK, you won't get it if you didn't watch the show, but one of the best contestants, Latrisse Royale, would sing this song that went "Jesus is a biscuit and I let him sop me up."  Carrie, the woman who made this, always brought such creative homemade vegan goodness. 

Seeing as how Sharon Needles is a true local, I got to meet her the night after she won at Brillo Box, a bar that I walk to from my apartment.  Here we are together, looking like $100K.
Funniest shirt ever, right?
Also, I don't know if this link will be alive forever, but it's alive now.   On this, you can hear me read a little something I wrote about Sharon Needles on Essential Pittsburgh, a show on the local Essential Public Radio Station.  My actual voice!  At the beginning!  Hear it!

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