Wednesday, January 31, 2007

a chilly kitty and tofu X2, plus a P.S.

First, I assume Oliver must have been cold today, because he spent most of the afternoon camped out in front of the radiator. If I had been him, I would have been majorly overheated, but I guess he was happy!

Next, here's what I had for dinner sometime last weekend . . . one of my many "cheater" meals, consisting of buckwheat soba noodles tossed with "special peanut sauce" (peanut butter, tamari, ginger, rice vinegar, and a splash of sesame oil, warmed, with a little bit of water to thin it out,) pan-fried tofu cubes, and steamed broccoli.

Last, here's a repeat of mashed potatoes with (leftover, from the freezer) Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy, and roasted veggies and tofu:
(My eyes were more than a little bigger than my stomach . . . I saved about half the veggies for another day! Oh well.)

It's been a busy day -- five loads of laundry and several mountains of dishes later, I'm ready to relax for a while . . . !

P.S. I also made some soup tonight, but it's absolutely nothing to look at, which is why there's no picture here. It's not the best soup I've ever made, nor is it the worst, but it tastes pretty good. Chickpeas, green beans, green peas, onion, garlic, olive oil, veggie broth, tumeric, lemon juice, and parsley. (Oh yeah, and salt and pepper, of course.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

tortilla-making 101

A couple of weeks ago, I found the tortilla press I had been eyeing on one of our half-price tables at work . . . I had someone put it on hold for me, and I ended up purchasing it about a week later, for the bargain price of about five bucks. (I love that we get our discout on top of sale prices!!) See how pretty:
Now, this little aluminum tortilla press by NorPro is not the best tortilla press we sell, and if I had all the money in the world, I would have bought the cast-iron press we have, because it works lots better. But, this little dude did a nice enough job for now, and since I don't make tortillas all that often, I figured it would do the job just fine.

I've made homemade tortillas before a few times, but this is my first time using a press, and I have to say, it was TONS easier. Here's what I did!

1. Stir together 2 cups of masa harina (Bob's Red Mill makes a nice masa harina, or you could also probably find it in a latin/Mexican market -- but make sure you're getting masa for tortillas, as opposed to masa for tamales, because they are different flours all together -- the things I learn at work!), 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, and 1 1/3 cups cold water, until a nice, soft dough forms (it will look and feel sort of like playdough.) Cover this dough and let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes. It should look like this:

2. Preheat a heavy-duty, dry skillet (such as a cast-iron skillet or any other not nonstick coated skillet) over medium-high heat. Form some of the dough into a ball slightly larger than a golf ball. Cut two squares (or if you want to be anal, circles) of parchment paper to approximately the size of your tortilla press. Place one square on the bottom of the press, and slightly flatten your dough ball and place it in the "back middle" of your press's surface. Why? Because the dough will ooze forward slightly (towards the handle/lever part) when you press it.

3. Place the other square of parchment over the dough, close the press, and press down with the handle slowly and gently. Once you have pressed the dough as far down as you can get it, open the press, rotate the tortilla/parchment 180 degrees, and press again. (Why? Because the tortilla will be slightly uneven due to uneven pressure from the press, and rotating and repressing it will give you a more even tortilla thickness.)

4. Open the press and gently remove the top layer of parchment. Flip the tortilla over on to your hand, and remove the bottom layer of parchment. (Carefully . . . the tortillas are kind of fragile and prone to ripping at this point. If you tear it, just remake your ball and repress it . . . no worries!)

5. Cook your tortilla in your preheated pan on the first side until black spots and a few stripes begin to form. (If your tortilla sticks to the pan and you don't get black spots, your pan isn't hot enough.) Flip and cook on the second side, until the tortilla looks dry all over. (But you don't want to brown the second side.)

6. Repeat and enjoy. (Keep your dough covered between tortillas so it doesn't dry out, 'kay?)

Dan and I will be having quesadillas on Sunday night . . . I can't wait! I need to make refried beans this weekend, and pick up a few additional ingredients.

Now, go out, buy a tortilla press and some masa harina, and make tortillas! (Or, at least wish you could go out and buy a tortilla press!) They taste a million times better than store-bought ones, I promise. :)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

job news, sort of. :)

As many of you know, I have been working full-time at a locally-owned, high-end kitchenwares store since November or so, to make ends meet during the holidays and to avoid looking for something more permanent. As my temporary status will wear off in a couple of weeks, I had started the search again . . . only to be presented with a possibility from my current employer! My store manager offered me 32 hours a week on the sales floor, plus as much independent contracting work as a server upstairs in our cooking school and event center as I want (which pays better than the sales associate work,) and also offered me one more exciting possibility: they are looking for an editor for their newsletter! I don't have that job yet, because I need to prep a writing sample on a topic they have not yet given me, but it's sure exciting. I'd love to get paid to do food writing! :) I have to say, it's really nice working someplace where my presence is valued, and they are excited to have me around for the long term. Novel concept, eh?

Speaking of work . . . I should probably finish up my lunch and head over there right about now! Later, skaters.

Monday, January 22, 2007

strange, but true.

Every once in a while, you make one of those meals that tastes great, but just doesn't "go" together . . . tonight I am having one of those meals for dinner. Why? Because I have some fresh sage I need to use up, and thawing a lentil burger was quicker than thawing a whole bunch of white beans (which would have made WAY more sense with the pasta.) And things went crazy . . . because I usually top my lentil burgers with a dollop of vegenaise, but I stirred in a wee bit o' prepared wasabi this time round. Finished product:
On the left, some whole wheat macaroni with green beans, butter, garlic, fresh sage, and a little romano cheese. On the right, a teriyaki lentil burger with wasabi vegenaise.

Strange, but true. And tasty, too.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

mise en place

When I cook, I don't typically do a "mise en place," simply because I think it dirties a lot of extra bowls, which I later must wash. (Boo on dirty dishes.) However, the ingredients for my lunch yesterday were so pretty, I decided to arrange and take a picture! Before:


Add heat and some stirring, (and some water to the couscous,) and you get:



Segue . . .

A few weeks ago, I bought some oranges at the co-op. One day, I took one to work, and began to peel it. I yelped! Why? Because the flesh inside the orange was a reddish-pink color, almost like a ruby red grapefruit. I tasted it, and it tasted like a very fabulous orange. The sticker told me it was a "cara cara" orange, which I had never heard of before! I bought more at the store last weekend, just to be sure I wasn't going crazy:
They are quite tasty. It's fun, eating a pink orange! It's also an oxymoron, but then again, new produce does tend to keep things interesting.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"It's like vegan Thanksgiving!"

(a direct quote from Dan the Man last night, upon initial inspection of what we were having for dinner.)

First off, I made an apple pie yesterday afternoon. I love making pie -- it's a long process, but it's so darn much FUN! (Yes, I'm a nerd.) I made my great-grandma Agnes Donahe's pie crust recipe, and then filled it with peeled, sliced, Granny Smith apples, mixed with cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and flour. I know that I've told you all about my love affair with pie in the past, so I'll spare you a retelling. Photos are better anyhow:
I had a piece last night, as did Dan, (the man who hates all dessert except for pie and gummy candy,) and I had another piece for breakfast this morning. Three cheers for pie!

Now, on to the taters. Aren't they cute?
I had never heard of buttercream potatoes before, so I decided to give them a try. Holy yumminess, Batman! I quartered and boiled the 2 pounds of potatoes pictured above (that's a cereal bowl they are spilling out of -- aren't they cute?) with four cloves of garlic. Once the taters slid off a fork when pierced, I drained and mashed them (and the garlic) with a little bit of butter and a little bit of rice milk, salted and peppered them, and then folded in some chopped parsley. I haven't made mashed potatoes in a LONG time, and we both enjoyed them very much.

AND, I made Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy for the first time! Upon initial review of the recipe, I decided I would make one major change, which was pureeing the gravy with my stick blender, instead of leaving it chunky. I thought the gravy had a slightly unusual flavor on its own, but when spilled over the potatoes, it was fabulous! I only made half a recipe and had a TON of gravy leftover, (even with two pounds of taters,) which I stuck in the freezer to use another day. Next time, I may use a little less tamari, because I found the soy flavor slightly overpowering -- I may substitute a little miso, or just plain ol' salt. We shall see.

For our main course, I chopped up a bunch of veggies with my new knife, (sweet potato, onion, fennel, zucchini, and red pepper,) tossed them with some cubed tofu, extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs (fennel fronds, parsley, thyme, and rosemary,) and roasted them in a 425 degree oven for about 45 minutes. This yielded enough dinner for Dan and I, plus leftovers for both of us for lunch today. Me, being the hungry moron I was, forgot to take a picture of my plate last night! So, you get a photo of leftovers . . . sorry!
(The gravy did kind of congeal in the fridge overnight, but I assume it will loosen up once rewarmed.) You can kind of see the potatoes peeking out underneath the mountain of gravy over there on the right, can't you?

I may make "Swiss Chard with Chickpeas and Couscous" for lunch today, and save my leftovers from last night for work lunch one day later this week. Off to job search now . . . wish me luck!

Monday, January 15, 2007


Enough of this popcorn-for-dinner nonsense. (Not that I don't love popcorn . . . .) I (finally) have a day off tomorrow, and I'm co-op bound, with the following list:

red pepper
sweet potato
red onion
yellow onion
yukon golds
swiss chard
pine nuts
eggs (gasp! local, cage-free, and organic, of course.)
dish soap
trash bags
canned chickpeas
fire-roasted canned tomatoes
white vinegar
extra-virgin olive oil
curry powder
mustard seeds
dried rosemary
dried oregano
ground coriander
xtra sharp cheddar (gasp again! local, free-range, organic, and made with veggie rennet, of course.)
sandwich bread

Because, I have the following recipes to make this week:

tomato-basil soup (with grilled cheese sandwiches)
apple pie (!!!!!)
swiss chard with chickpeas and couscous (who knew "Real Simple" magazine was a good place to find a vegan recipe or two?)
roasted tofu and veggies
mashed potatoes with PUNK ROCK CHICKPEA GRAVY (I've never made this before . . . I think I'm excited! I should be excited, right?)

I also still have a mountain o' beans and rice to plow my way through. And I'm going to make homemade tortillas -- I think the beans and rice will go down easier when wrapped in warm, homemade corn tortillas. Plus, I might make egg salad.

Watch for photos . . . .

Sunday, January 14, 2007

free sharp things make me happy!

Wusthof Trident, a well-known manufacturer of fabulous knives, has a wonderful incentive program for people who sell their knives -- they return a small percentage of their sales to their salespeople, thus enabling folks who sell their knives to own some for free! (Their thinking is, if people use their knives at home and like them, they will be more inclined to say wonderful things about them when they sell them.)

Since my place of employment sells Wusthof, we get a gift card every month with a portion of our Wusthof sales from the previous month on it! In just two months, I was able to save up enough for a very nearly free knife and steel! (After the gift cards, I think I had to kick in seven bucks, which just covered tax.) See how pretty:


For you sharps snobs out there, that's a Wusthof Grand Prix 8 inch cook's knife, and their 9 inch steel. Wee.

Off to chop something. Who knows what I'll be chopping, but it will be AWESOME.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

lazy day

What a treat -- I don't actually have to work until 3:30 today, so I have had the most wonderful morning! I slept until 9:00 (despite the construction that starts at 7 am across the street from my apartment,) lounged around on the couch forever while eating breakfast (cinnamon-raisin oatmeal,) drinking coffee, and writing in my journal. I also managed to cook up a big pot o' black beans (most of which hit the freezer after cooling), wash a few dishes, do a load of laundry, and stew some chickpeas for lunch! Mmmm . . . .
A yummy, slightly curry-ish melange of chickpeas, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, and some "secret spices." I took pretty decent notes, but this one will need to be retested (I did not measure the salt, as usual,) before being included in the cookbook. :) (That's whole-wheat couscous hiding in the bottom of the bowl.)
Man, I'm going to have to finally get up off my tush, get dressed, and head off for work here in a little while. I'm so thankful for my relaxing morning, though! Hooray for lazy days.

Monday, January 08, 2007

"Dan's Soup"

What the heck have I been eating this week? Honestly, I couldn't tell you -- I haven't cooked much of anything noteworthy! I think I defrosted some leftover lentil soup at one point, cleaned up some leftovers in my fridge, and, of course, had some pasta. :) What is it about spaghetti with marinara that is just so damn satisfying?

I did cook one impressive dish this week . . . it all started with going out for Thai food with Dan a while ago, and watching him rave about and devour a large quantity of tom yum (sp?) soup. I wanted a bite of the soup so desperately, but it's loaded with chicken . . . boo! So, I filed away an idea in the back of my brain -- seek out and vegetize a tom yum soup recipe!

One of my projects for the week between Christmas and New Year's was flipping through, chopping out any noteworth recipes, and then recycling the mountain of food periodicals I had littering my apartment. (I subscribe to Eating Well, Cooking Light, Cook's Illustrated, and Vegetarian Times, as well as Real Simple, which has some nice recipes in the back.) While flipping through an issue of Cook's, what did I stumble upon, but a recipe for "Thai-Style Chicken Soup!" As I read through the recipe, I realized this was, what I had come to call in my head, "Dan's Soup." Let the vegetizing begin!

Saturday, I went to the Wedge to collect a few ingredients I did not already have on hand -- lemongrass, shallots, more mushrooms, jasmine rice, and more tofu. I also needed to solve the fish sauce dilemma -- most Thai food calls for fish sauce, and I figured the Wedge would have a vegetarian alternative for me. I asked a Wedge employee, she chatted with three other Wedge employees, and they determined the closest vegetarian alternative to fish sauce would be "Concentrated Shiitake Mushroom Broth." I read the ingredients in the mushroom broth, looked at the fish sauce, and stood in the aisle debating for several minutes. I ended up purchasing the fish sauce. Why? Because the fish sauce was $2.89, the shiitake mushroom broth was almost ten bucks for about half as much, and I am dirt poor these days. I'm a broke vegetarian, so I decided to "cheat." Next time, I'll buy the shiitake mushroom broth -- but for now, I'll use up the fish sauce. Regardless, it's nice to know that there's an alternative out there!

In the end, it was a snap to prepare, Dan was impressed (he walked in my apartment and exclaimed, "do I smell lemongrass?!?!") and so friggin' tasty, this one's going in my regular repertoire. Photo op (after I had started eating, so the presentation is not quite perfect):


Here's the recipe, adapted from Cook's Illustrated:

Yields four meal-sized portions (I cut the recipe in half when I made it, and it was almost too much for Dan and I to get through in one sitting.)

INGREDIENTS (organic whenever possible):
1 teaspoon canola oil
bottom 5 inches of 3 lemongrass stalks, halved and thinly sliced (remove any tough outer leaves)
3 large shallots, chopped
8 sprigs fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons fish sauce OR concentrated shiitake mushroom broth, divided
4 cups vegetable stock/broth (preferably low-sodium)
2 14-ounce cans light coconut milk
1 tablespoon natural granulated sugar
1/2 pound white button mushrooms, sliced
1 14 to 16 ounce package firm, water-packed tofu, pressed and diced small
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
sliced green onions and additional cilantro leaves for garnish
hot cooked jasmine rice

1. Saute lemongrass and shallots in oil over medium heat until soft. Add cilantro and 1 tablespoon fish/shiitake sauce and continue cooking 2 minutes.
2. Add vegetable broth and 1 can coconut milk. Bring soup to a high simmer. Lower heat, cover partially, and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain broth, discard solids, and return it to the pan.
3. Add remaining coconut milk, sugar, mushrooms, and tofu to pan. Return the soup to a high simmer, and cook for an additional five minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender.
4. Whisk together the lime juice, remaining 2 tablespoons of fish/shiitake sauce, and red curry paste. Stir this mixture into the soup and heat through.
5. Mound about 1 cup of jasmine rice in the middle of a soup bowl. Ladle the soup over and around the rice, and garnish with the green onions and cilantro.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Sushi New Year!

It has been far too long since I last posted, because working retail the weeks of Christmas and New Year's pretty much sucked the life out of me. Fortunately, things will slow down at work now, and I can begin looking for another part-time job, or a full-time job, or some other form of additional income beginning in February. (I have full-time retail hours through January.)

Christmas was kind of a let-down for me this year -- I woke up in a funk, moped around my apartment most of the day, and went to see "The Holiday," which was surprisingly well-written, funny, and charming, for a Hollywood holiday romantic comedy. :) Nice brain junk food -- took my mind off my funk for over two hours! I then came home, ate my weight in Annie's organic mac and cheese, and moped some more. Not the greatest holiday on record, but probably better than some. :)

I've been cooking a little bit, but have taken few pictures. Here's what I have!

This is a pasta I made sometime over the last week or two. Basic whole wheat spaghetti with jarred marinara (I've fallen in love with Middle Earth Organic's tomato and porcini mushroom,) topped with a saute of zucchini, onion, mushroom, kidney beans, garlic, and some fines herbs:

Here's what I made for dinner tonight:
I followed the recipe off the back of the package of udon noodles my dear friend Marie sent to me for Christmas, (she also sent me a large jug each of maple syrup and toasted sesame oil -- thanks Rie!), and it was a perfect example illustrating my point in a conversation I had with a coworker this week. We were discussing cooking styles, food, and flavor, and he was explaining to me how he loves food with layers of flavor, complex sauces, and the like. I explained I enjoy much of my food quite simply, using a few high quality ingredients, and flavor boosters like fresh herbs, vinegars, garlic, and the like, to bring out the subtle nuances of my very high-quality ingredients. Anyhow, these udon noodles were delicious, perfect, and simple -- a quick stir-fry of tofu, onion, carrot, mushroom, and cabbage, followed by adding the noodles for a minute once fully cooked, and then a generous but not overabundant amount of low-sodium tamari. Mmmmmm . . . slightly salty, slightly crunchy, noodley goodness.

AND, the food finale for this post:
I made sushi for New Year's Eve! Why, you ask? (Especially considering I've never made sushi before, and never cared for sushi in the past.) Well, because sushi is one of Dan's all time favorite foods, and I decided I was ready for a culinary challenge. I picked up a few key ingredients (nori, prepared wasabi, sushi rice, and sushi vinegar) at work, as well as a few key tools (a rolling mat, soy sauce dishes, and chopsticks,) and loads of awesome advice from my coworkers, including detailed instructions on how to cook the rice to perfection, what to serve with the sushi (steamed edamame and miso soup,) and rolling and cutting tips. After a quick trip to the co-op for a few additional ingredients to round out the meal (cucumber, red pepper, and avocado for the rolls, pickled ginger for a side, and shiitake mushrooms and spinach for the miso soup,) I was ready to steam some rice and get rolling. My verdict? Surprisingly easy, surprisingly tasty (but I think my favorite part was the pickled ginger!), and Dan was floored.

Sushi New Year to all!