Thursday, February 28, 2008

beater vs. whisk

For those of you who have argued the specifics of kitchenwares in the past, you'll laugh at this as much as I did:

Free Rice!

Go to Free Rice and play their vocab game, if you haven't already. For every correct definition you choose, twenty grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Program.

I helped donate 1400 grains of rice this afternoon!

(Man! Rice sounds good right now. Sushi, anyone??)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


1. What were you doing 10 years ago? In 1998?
Ah . . . I was a freshman at the University of Minnesota, studying psychology, French, and singing in the choir. Also, right around this time, I started a student office worker job at the College of Pharmacy. Big fun, let me tell you!
What were you doing 1 year ago?
Working retail (taking a break from teaching,) poor as dirt, and probably trying very hard to come up with something fun to do that was also free! Also, cooking and baking, I'm sure.

2. Five favorite snacks?
Yogurt, chips and salsa, fruit, muffins/cookies/sweets, popcorn, cheese and crackers (or just cheese!)

3. Five favorite toys?
Hm . . . my MAC santoku, my Bamix, my computer, my bike, and my planner.

4. What I like doing:
Cooking, baking, walking, hiking, biking, travelling, teaching, watching movies, reading, drinking coffee and/or tea, going to the library, going to museums, seeing live/local music, going to plays/theatre, hanging out with friends, going out to eat, having people over for dinner, shopping (but not at malls!), singing,

5. My bad habits:
Overthinking/overplanning, getting ahead of myself, picking at my cuticles (but I used to be a nail biter -- I think this is a step up!), not allowing myself to leave things unfinished, letting the dishes pile up in the sink, not flossing,

So, if you haven't done this survey yet, consider yourself tagged. (And let me know if you've done it, so I can read your answers!)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Malaysian Food!

I made two recipes from the most recent issue of Cooking Light tonight -- Char Kway Teow (Stir-Fried Noodles with Green Onions and Eggs,) and Rojak (Bright Fruit and Vegetable Salad.) The article focused on Malaysian food, which is essentially super-Asian-fusion. Tonight's dinner:
Both recipes were relatively easy to prepare, although the salad did require a bit of chopping. (Plus, jicama's just a bit tricky to peel, in my opinion.) The noodles were good -- not spectacular, but good. I definitely prefer Pad Thai over these noodles -- the Char Kway Teow is just lacking the complexity I'm used to enjoying when I eat Asian stir-fried noodles. The salad, however . . . SPECTACULAR! Spicy, sweet, crunchy, and just plain DELICIOUS! And I'm just now realizing I forgot the cucumber . . . sheesh. Oh well. I also couldn't find any fresh green beans at the store this week, so I substituted fresh snow peas -- yum!

Hm. Should I go back in and add the cucumber? I think I will! Silly Catherine.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

quote nerd, plus (lots of) food!

I am a quote nerd! My planner has a quote on each weekly page, and here's this week's:

"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot forsee."
~ Marian Wright Edelman

So, with that said, on to the food!

Lunch yesterday:
Baked beans and sliced Yves veggie dogs, bread and butter, and steamed artichokes! My first time steaming artichokes was a success! Tasty delicious. :)

Haul from the Asian grocery store this afternoon:
I really only intended on purchasing the "sweet" soy sauce, but couldn't help picking up the other ingredients because they were SO CHEAP. Plus, when Dan and I visit the Asian grocery store, we each pick out a "fun beverage." I chose coconut juice with jelly, (the little jelly floaties are so chewy and fun!), and Dan chose "Pennywort Drink." He said his drink tasted kind of like sweet asparagus . . . I wasn't brave enough to try. We looked up pennywort on Wikipedia -- it's supposed to help with memory function, extend your life, and lower blood pressure, among other uses! Magic sweet asparagus, I guess!

Tonight for dinner, I made Dreena's Peanut Thai Vegetable Stew from the Food TV Canada website. All of the ingredients, waiting patiently for some kitchen magic:

And an hour later, dinner was served:
This was definitely worth the hour of prepping and cooking that it involved! (Well, and I like doing that prepping and cooking bit anyway!) The only changes I made to the recipe were subbing peanut oil for the canola/coconut oil, doubling the amount of chili flakes, and adding some sliced mushrooms (just 'cause I like mushrooms in Thai soups so much!) Dan added a few squirts of sriracha to his serving after taking a couple of bites, but the stew was a huge success! (P.S., the recipe says that the stew serves four, but we got more like six servings out of it -- and that was with some brown rice!) Thanks, Dreena, for being a super vegan chef and sharing your recipes with us!

More fun cooking projects planned for this week include:
Mango and Black Bean Salad
Rojak (Bright Fruit and Vegetable Salad)
Char Kway Teow (Stir-Fried Noodles with Green Onions and Eggs)
(all three recipes are from the most recent issue of Cooking Light magazine, and the last two were from the article on Malaysian food! Woo!)

plans to bake!

Have you ever made plans with a friend, specifically, to get togther and bake? I never have . . . until this weekend! Courtney and I hung out on Saturday morning and worked together to try out two more recipes from The Joy of Vegan Baking -- lemon bars, and hearty spiced cocoa muffins. We had so much fun! Who knew cramming two people (and a very large, overly interested cat)
into the smallest kitchen imaginable could result in delicious treats!

First, we worked on the hearty spiced cocoa muffins. Courtney measured the dry ingredients, (including several spices -- yum!) while I whipped the egg replacer, added milk, and melted the Earth Balance. And then . . . a funny thing happened. When I poured the melted Earth Balance into the bowl with the other "wet" ingredients, it mysteriously re-solidified into a lumpy, almond-milky, buttery mess. Extremely strange. We weren't sure whether we could rescue the wet ingredients -- we assumed the cold milk caused the Earth Balance to firm back up, but we weren't sure. First we tried sticking the bowl in the preheated oven . . . no luck. Next, we tried putting the wet ingredients back into the microwave . . . much better results! After finally adding the dry ingredients, (and some walnuts and chocolate chips), we were in muffin business. Courtney, scooping muffins into her muffin pan (she brought hers along since I struggle so much with mine!) --

After baking:
Yum! I sampled one warm yesterday, and another one that had been chilled, for breakfast this morning. These muffins are rich, deliciously spicy from cinnamon, cloves, and cayenne, chocolatey, sweet (but not overly so,) with enough structure to make you feel as though you've eaten something. I think the only change I would make for next time would be omitting the chocolate chips (I think the muffins are plenty chocolatey without them,) and adding additional walnuts, because they provide a wonderful crunch and flavor contrast to the overall muffin. YUM!

After the muffins came out of the oven, we worked on vegan lemon bars. Relatively easy to prepare, with a stellar finish!
I do have a couple of changes I would make to this recipe for next time, however. First, the lemon flavor is VERY present -- almost overly present. The bars are more sweet-bitter, as opposed to sweet-sour. The original recipe called for the zest from TWO lemons, in an 8-inch pan of bars. I think I will cut down the zest to just one lemon's worth, next time. :) Also, the author did not suggest building the crust up the side of the pan, which I will DEFINITELY do next time. Why? Because shortbread shrinks a little as it cooks, which left gaps between the crust and the pan for the filling to seep down into, and then burn and glue the bars to the bottom of the pan. Grumbe, grumble, growl. I ended up losing a few lemon bars this time around, because the edges of the crust were positively glued to the pan -- I cut around the edges, lifted out the middle of the lemon bars, and used my chef's knife to cut them into squares on a cutting board. The pan and sticky, burned edges are still soaking in my sink. Now I know for next time!

ALSO, since I am becoming a baking queen, I may have to invest in a new square "bar pan." Lately, I have been dreaming of this removeable-bottom, 9-inch square pan that my former employer carries at the store . . . I may have to pop in and pay them a visit in the coming weeks!

What (tasty) fun we had! The next time we're getting together, we've already planned to make Courtney's recipe for carrot-spelt muffins, and a maple cake recipe from Cooking Light, which we plan to veganize. (Courtney gave up cane sugar for lent, so we need to use recipes that call for more natural, unrefined sweetners. She's taking her share of this week's treats to her coworkers -- bummer for Courtney, but bonus for them!)

I'm planning a trip to the asian grocery store this afternoon -- wahoo! I have only a couple of things on my list, but we'll see what else I end up hauling home. :) Until then!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

join minnesota public radio!

Hey -- for all you Minnesotans out there in blogland --

Join Minnesota Public Radio today!

Why? Well, for starters, public radio rocks. Especially in Minnesota, since we have the news and classical stations, as well as the Current, which is my radio station of choice. :) So much good music; so much awesome local music!

Also, if they get 5,000 members to join and/or renew (which I did) today, they will receive an extra $50,000 for programming!

Follow my link above, and join today. It took me about two minutes. :)

Happy almost Friday!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Megan's links!

No, not web links . . . breakfast links! I made Megan the Vegan's breakfast links today! I have seen many people exploring the recipe posted at Everyday Dish, and I had to try it. Not a lover of seitan, Megan's adaptation appealed to me the most, since she boosted the seitan with tofu and panko, to soften the typically chewy "wheat-meat" texture. Plus, I really loved breakfast sausages, (one of the only meats I miss,) and haven't found an adequate veggie replacement yet.

First, I made the sausage mixture:
Kind of freaked me out by how much it looked like actual raw bulk sausage. But I kept cooking, knowing something awesome would greet me later!

Formed the sausages and wrapped them, per Megan's instructions:
I found the mixture easier to just pat into shape, as opposed to rolling.

After steaming for 30 minutes:
My friend Ann happened to be over when these came out of the steamer, and she remarked how much they (still) looked like raw sausage. I was skeptical . . . but I chilled them for later use.

After a quick dusting of flour and pan-frying in some canola oil:
Breakfast for dinner! Wahoo! (And yes, more waffles.) Dan mentioned that he liked the veggie links better than he likes regular breakfast sausages. I have to agree! They were moist but held together wonderfully, spicy and sweet and savory all at the same time -- the mark of a perfect breakfast link.

Thanks for the tips and recipe, Megan!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Flickr is Funny!

For those of you who use Flickr to manage your online photos, you're probably familiar with their greeting feature. When you log in, you are greeted in some random language, and then they tell you what language you now know how to say "hello" in. (For example, "Përshëndetje -- Now you know how to greet people in Albanian!") Last night when I logged in, my greeting was "Ahoy!" but there was no "Now you know how to greet people in . . . " part.

Was Flickr too chicken to say, "Now you know how to greet people in Pirate?"

Tee-hee. Flickr is funny!

On to the food . . .

I've been busy exploring The Joy of Vegan Baking. I made Raspberry Oat Bars Thursday night.
These were so freakin' simple to make, with only a small handfull of ingredients and even less prep, and turned out to be absolutely delicious! Made with all pantry staples, these could be a quick go-to dessert in a pinch. I took a couple to work for my coteachers on Friday, and they loved them. Dan even liked them, which shocked me, since he doesn't like many desserts. (He said they reminded him of apple pie.)

Also from JVB, Ginger Muffins:
First, let me rant about my muffin tins, before I talk about the actual muffins. I love my muffin tins -- they are basically thick, bendy aluminum, and used to belong to my great-grandmother. (She passed away when I was a junior in college.) When she moved out of her apartment into the nursing home near the end of her life, she let me go through her kitchen and take whatever I wanted -- these muffin tins were one of the things I chose. (I also have some fabulous bread pans made out of the same material.) These tins brown beautifully, bake evenly (despite my teensie apartment oven,) and are light as a feather. However, considering their age, they are considerably smaller than standard-size muffin tins you can buy commercially nowadays -- and this screws with my recipes and baking times more than a little bit. I end up getting lazy, overfilling the muffin tins, and the muffins spread out like crazy instead of rising properly. (Notice in the picture above.) Grr. (Also, muffin papers are too large for my tins! Much scrubbing ensues.) I should really just pull out the second muffin tin and fill my muffins accordingly, right?? :) (Or alternately, make a half-recipe, and end up with eight or nine muffins, instead of fourteen or fifteen, right??)

Okay, now that that's out of my system, on to the Ginger Muffins! These were, simply, a LOT of work. As most of you know, muffins are supposed to be simple -- chuck a bunch of ingredients in a bowl, stir six or so times, scoop them into the tins, and bake. Not the case with the ginger muffins . . . after having to make flaxwhip, puree ginger, cook the ginger with some of the sugar, zest a lemon, and juice a lemon, I had a MOUNTAIN of dirty dishes! Ack. All those pots and bowls and gadgets like my microplane and mini-food processor to wash. Grr. I was really hoping the muffins were going to be worth all the effort . . . and they were! Sweet, tender, slightly spicy, with a nice, present ginger flavor, these make a delicious breakfast, snack, or dessert. I'm in ginger heaven -- those of you that know me well, know I have a special relationship with ginger. :) Who knew one could pack so much ginger flavor into a humble muffin? Yum, yum, yum. (P.S. I used white-whole-wheat flour instead of AP flour, with excellent, non-noticeable results. Delish.)

Friday Night Dinner:
I made a Potato and Chickpea Curry from a past issue of Vegetarian Times. I have made several recipes from this article so far, and have loved them all -- the article explored cooking in a Dutch oven, which has been so fun to try out! Layer a bunch of ingredients in the pot, cover, stick in the oven for about and hour, and ta-da! Dinner is served. This recipe was no exception -- Dan and I gobbled this curry down with big gobs of plain yogurt over all. One gripe I have, though -- the recipe called for drained, canned tomatoes, which I found strange. Overall, I thought this curry was kind of dry, and needed a little more liquid, especially since the rice that touched the pan on the bottom and sides acquired a "paella" effect. Next time, I will probably leave the tomato liquid in (and make a half-recipe -- this yielded enough for me to have a big bowlful for dinner -- and Dan to have two bowlfulls -- plus a big container of leftovers for Dan to take home, and an additional FOUR portions of leftovers for me to keep here. Ack! Curry everywhere!) In the end, who doesn't like rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and chickpeas?? YUUUUM.

Saturday Night Dinner:
Dan requested Italian this week, and I'm typically happy to oblige almost any culinary request. :) (Well, as long as it's a vegetarian culinary request -- sometimes Dan teases me when I ask him what he's hungry for -- "steak," he replies. I shake my head, and he laughs.) Anyhow, I made my "classic" spinach and artichoke lasagna. This used to be my go-to dish for parties way back in the day, before I began exploring different genres of cooking, and before I became a vegetarian. I've made several modifications over the years, including adding artichokes, garlic, and nutmeg to the filling, and using real, organic cheeses, as opposed to pre-shredded stuff in plastic bags. It was very good this time, but not as good as it could be. I used homemade sauce, which got kind of watery in the freezer, which I think was half the problem. (The other half of the problem could be attributed to fat-free ricotta. That's what I get for trying to cut a few calories. Alas.) Anyhow, plenty of this leftover to send home with Dan and eat all week long, too.

One more cooking project planned for tonight! Until then . . . .

Thursday, February 14, 2008

greener still . . .

I greened up my phone usage tonight! I set up voicemail and bought a new phone with a cord, for a whopping five bucks! Before:
(aka, "energy-sucking eyesore")
(aka, "tidy, green little thing")

Why, you ask? According to the green book:

"Answering machines guzzle energy 24/7. . . . If all answering machines in U.S. homes were eventually replaced by voice mail services, the annual energy savings would total nearly two billion kilowatt-hours. The reduction in air pollution related to this decrease in energy use would be equivalent to removing 250,000 cars from the road for a year."


"If you need to buy a new phone for a bedroom or home office, consider buying one with a cord. You'll save about 28 kilowatt-hours of energy per phone annually. Standard corded phones consume little energy, while cordless units draw constant power during charging and standby modes. If 5 percent of U.S. households chose one corded phone over a cordless model, the energy savings would total 140 million kilowatt-hours annually -- enough talk time to keep 130,000 teens' phone lines busy for every waking hour of the summer."

Why not!

(P.S. I'm going to take the old handsets from my cordless phone to work for the kidlets to use in the dramatic play area. Save one more thing from the landfill!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

retro Chinese restaurant food!

Holy yum. The story behind tonight's dinner is hilarious, with a fantastic ending!

Back on New Year's Day, my friend Chelsea invited Dan and I over to her apartment to visit one last time, before she and her family moved down to Arkansas for her husband's job. As we were leaving, she welcomed us to anything out of her fridge or freezer that we were interested in. One of the items we snagged was a box of frozen cream cheese wontons . . . not healthy, certainly, but mighty tasty!

Several weeks ago, I went to prepare the wontons, and horror of horrors, realized I had no sweet-and-sour sauce in the house! I figured I had the ingredients on hand to make some, it was just a matter of finding a recipe. I scoured every single cookbook I had on my shelves, with little luck . . . until I found a recipe in my Betty Crocker Cookbook! The recipe suggested stirring in bell pepper, pineapple, and tomato, and serving over chicken or pork (double ew?) I made half a sauce recipe without the added fruits and veggies, and it hit the spot with the wontons.

THEN, I had sweet-and-sour tofu on the brain. For weeks. Until I finally picked up the ingredients at the Wedgie and got cooking. Results:
Sweet-and-Sour Tofu and steamed broccoli!!

Wowza. This has been the easiest, most satisfying meal I have made in a LONG time. (I think the entire meal was ready in 40 minutes, and that's only because brown rice takes a while.) Seriously, I could lick my plate clean . . . but I won't, I promise. This reminds me so much of the sweet-and-sour chicken I'd get at Chinese restaurants as a kid . . . retro fabulous!

RECIPE: (Adapted from Betty Crocker)
Makes 4 servings
1. Prepare 1 cup brown rice according to package directions. (This should yield about 3 cups cooked rice, or enough for four 3/4-cup portions.)
2. Brown one package of water-packed firm or extra-firm tofu, diced, in a small amount of oil in a large skillet.
3. Drain 1 8-ounce can diced pineapple (drink the juice, because you don't need it for this recipe!) Core and slice one small tomato. Seed and chunk one small green pepper.
4. Combine 1/2 cup water, 1/3 cup white vinegar, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari, 1/4 teaspoon salt, chili flakes to taste, and 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed up, in a large glass measuring cup. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar.
5. Combine 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl, and reserve.
6. Once the tofu is reasonably browned, stir in the vinegar-sugar mixture. Stir the sauce, until the sugar dissolves and the sauce begins to boil.
7. Add the cornstarch slurry to the pan, and stir until the sauce returns to a boil, thickens, and clears.
8. Stir in the pineapple, pepper, and tomato, and allow to heat through for one minute.
9. Serve over rice! Accompany with steamed broccoli!

Now -- go make some. Enjoy!

one more green thing

I just made one more green choice tonight -- refusing ATM receipts! I used to always get one, (my bank gives me the option,) but I'll start writing down ATM transactions in my planner, instead of wasting extra paper.

According to "The Green Book,"

"ATM receipts are one of the top sources of litter on the planet. If everyone in the United States left their receipt in the machine, it would save a roll of paper more than two billion feet long, or enough to circle the equator fifteen times."

I think Kermit might have been wrong -- it is actually quite easy bein' green!

Monday, February 11, 2008

bein' green!

First, a present from Courtney:
Courtney and I got together on Friday night to go see the silent film "The Mark of Zorro" (accompanied by live organ!) at my church, and she surprised me with this belated Christmas gift! I have been reading the book all weekend, and LOVE it. If you haven't read this book yet, find someone to borrow it from, find it at your library, or buy your own copy! The book is conversationally-written, a quick read, and full of well-researched ways we can all cut down on water, energy, garbage, and food waste. Changes I'm going to make now: unplugging the TV when I'm not using it, buying a corded phone and switching to voicemail (I currently have a cordless phone and answering machine,) and using bar soap instead of body wash. Oh, and I'm always trying to take shorter showers. :) (Key word there is "trying.")

And, as a vegetarian and consumer of largely organic foods, I'm already pretty green.

Speaking of food . . .
I cooked brunch for Dan and I yesterday. I realize I've taken a picture of almost this exact meal many times before, but I had to show my nearly-perfect hashbrowns. The trick? Screamingly hot cast-iron pan, screamingly hot safflower oil, and careful attention paid to shredded yukon gold potatoes. (Oh -- and a pinch of salt. That's all!)

I made a lemon merengue pie for Dan on Saturday as a special treat. I had the opportunity to test out my Christmas present from my dad, which I've named the "snot-nosed egg seperator." Action shot:
While a hilarious idea in theory, the device doesn't actually work that well. My experience was that the yolks fell down into the nose cavity, plugging the whites from flowing through, and then the yolks broke. Alas. Still, a funny conversation piece.

After returning to my classic way of seperating eggs, (passing back and forth between the shells, and/or using my fingers,) I did manage to finally finish the pie:

Lastly, vegan valentines:
My first foray into "Joy of Vegan Baking." I'll have to make the recipe as writ next time, because these just are not quite right. Oh well. Cookies are cookies, in the end, and they still taste pretty good!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

latest arrival

Look what came in the mail this week:
I'm saving nearly all of my tax return money for travel expenses, but I had to buy ONE treat . . .

. . . which will lead to lots more treats in the future!! Woo!