Monday, April 26, 2010

"You're pretty proud of yourself, aren't you?"

I was thinking I should do an everyday vegan post to make sure I wasn't creating an illusion that vegan cooking is an all day event. I'm having a few friends over on Friday for dinner before seeing an encore screening of the movie Holy Wars at our church. It originally played at this year's local film festival and the director is coming back for this showing Friday. Overall it should be a great night from start to finish.

So I had been brainstorming things to cook for dinner on Friday and risotto crossed my mind. Actually, a better description would be that it came to me, and then stuck there...all day. Since I've never made risotto before I thought I'd better try a run through tonight to avoid any Friday night calamities. I also thought it would go well with fish (and roasted carrots), which gave me a great opportunity to finish off the last bit of tilapia I had in my freezer.

If you caught that slip there your suspicions are correct. Fish is not vegan. My diet hasn't been 100% veganized yet primarily because I've been working on finishing off some non-vegan foods in my pantry and freezer. But there's only one thing standing in my way after tonight, though. Me and those stinkin' MorningStar sausages I posted about a few weeks back. Ironic?

Luckily, if I ever find myself missing those sausages I can just stir myself up a pot of this risotto! A+! I taste tested the risotto to decide if it was finished or not and the "Mmmmm" from my lips and the grin on my face must have been ridiculous because my roommate looked at me and said, "You're pretty proud of yourself, aren't you?" Whether you make my version or not, if you want to get more into cooking definitely give this dish a shot. It's a relatively simple meal to make, but it carries this air of sophistication that will make you feel accomplished. I also like that it forces you to not read a recipe, but go with your gut. I think the biggest leap between a recipe follower and a chef extraordinaire is having the confidence in your own intuition and taste buds to make a delicious meal.

I looked through a few recipes to get the gist of the risotto concept, but didn't follow one what so ever - though I was tempted. Therefore the recipe below is a Kristy-original. But I highly encourage you to disregard everything I type below and create your own risotto-original, which I'm now calling "Risotto-O's".

Mushroom and Broccoli Risotto
Serves 4-5 as a side dish

~4 cups vegetable stock, heated
1 small onion, diced
2 "glugs" EVOO (~2 Tbsp)
dash salt
2 cloves minced garlic
1 large handful mushrooms, chopped
1 cup arborio rice (what makes risotto Risotto)
3 "glugs" dry white wine (if you forced me, I'd say it was 3/4 cup)
2 cups broccoli (thawed/warmed if frozen)

Warm the vegetable stock in a pot on a back burner of your stove. Meanwhile, heat EVOO in a large, deep skillet and add onions and a dash of salt. Saute the onions until they begin to caramelize and then add in the mushrooms and garlic and saute for another 30 seconds or so. Make sure the oil isn't so hot that your garlic will burn. Add arborio rice and wine and stir consistently for about 1 minute. The wine will start to infuse into the rice and become very fragrant. Go ahead and pour a glass for yourself at this point.

From the pot on the back burner, add in one ladle full of broth and stir every couple of minutes until most of broth is absorbed. Add in another ladle full. Repeat this process until the rice is cooked through. You'll be able to tell when it's getting close because it starts looking more and more creamy. You may or may not use all of your broth, so go by your sense of taste, not by how much broth you used. If you plan on adding any extra veggies do so 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through the broth adding process. Sooner for heartier veggies, later for more delicate. My broccoli was par-cooked so I added it with my last ladle of broth.

If you're being all fancy-pants you could garnish with rosemary, sliced and toasted almonds or green onions.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Onward we march

Here we go, another week another Saturday filled with experimental vegan cooking. This past Saturday was particularly productive. By 7am I was out of bed by my own accord. I've always thought sleeping in on a Saturday is a waste of precious free time, unless of course "sleeping in" is actually laying in bed relaxing. Relaxing and sleeping in are two completely different occupations in my book.

By 8 I was dressed and had cleaned a few rooms, paid bills and started making breakfast (steel cut oats - my weekend favorite). By 9 I had enjoyed breakfast, cleaned the kitchen and was in route to the farmers market. From 9 to about 11am I was lost in foodie heaven somewhere between the farmers market, the new HyVee and Clovers, with a quick swing by work to pick up my gym bag I left on Friday.

By the time I got home I was in that agonizing crossroads where you're starving but nothing sounds good to eat, until I remembered that I had impulse-bought a box of frosted mini wheats, my second favorite breakfast cereal, earlier that week. If you're wondering, my first-favorite cereal is cocoa puffs, but since I have a hard time calling this "breakfast" cereal (it's more like puffed dessert-in-a-box) I can't justify buying it more than once every 3 years or so. This means I won't see cocoa puffs in my pantry again until sometime in early 2012 or so. But I digress...

I had spent all morning on the hunt for ingredients for this weekend's feast. I took a small hiatus to visit some friends, Abby and Garrett, and see their new puppy - Titan, a very cute lab/chow mix, and finally, finally watch The Hangover. But by the time I came home it was apron on and sleeves up.

First up, I got an Indian dish called Palak Daal started. The best way to describe it would be a Indian-flavored lentil stew with chopped spinach and tomato. I got this recipe off a favorite site of mine - I highly recommend checking it out. While that was simmering away I switched into baking mode. I had spent a good chunk of my Friday looking for a vegan peanut butter cookie recipe, and the hunt came down to two recipes. One that was also from 101cookbooks and another from a great cookbook called Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by the same authors of Veganomicon, which Emily had sent me via email after asking her for some help (Emily's a much better baker than I am). In the end I chose the latter because it seemed like a much heartier cookie. It's chuck-a-buck full of oats, which was what I was in the mood for this weekend.

So here we are Sunday with the reviews. The Palak Daal was a let down. I've enjoyed several different Indian dishes in the past, and this one wasn't terrible, just not something you really want seconds of. I will give it one plus - it does fill me up. And for those keeping tabs, it's a great source of, what? Protein! I'll be working on the leftovers all week and am hoping to find a way to tweak it into savory submission.

Now the cookies...oh the cookies. The cookies fulfilled every meaning of the word scrumptious. They aren't your traditional criss-cross peanut butter cookie, but they are a chewy, oaty, peanut buttery delight. Definitely the kind of cookie that would pair well with a cold glass of milk whether it's cow, soy or almond. I've posted the original recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar below but I made a few adjustments to my version. I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of AP, almond extract instead of vanilla and instead of rolling the cookies in nuts I used chunky peanut butter. I have a thought on switching out the brown sugar for maple syrup next time. So if anyone happens to try these and make that switch, please let me know how it turns out!

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 2-1/2 dozen

Peanut butter and oatmeal partner up to create another stick-to-your-ribs oatmeal cookie, even wholesome enough for breakfast if you must eat cookies then. Briefly rolling the dough in salted peanuts really makes this one, so definitely use those over the unsalted variety. For serious ice cream sandwiches, serve this excellent cookie with vanilla chocolate chip dairy-free ice cream.

1 1/3 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups oats
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup creamy natural PB
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup nondairy milk
4 teaspoons ground flax seed
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup roasted, salted peanuts, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets.
2. In a medium-size bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Sir in the oats and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat together oil, peanut butter, sugar, brown sugar, nondairy milk, flax seeds, and vanilla until smooth. Fold in half of flour/oat mixture to moisten, then fold in the remaining half.
4. Place the chopped peanuts in a shallow dish. Drop 1 generous, rounded tablespoon of dough per cookie into the peanuts, pressing the nuts into the dough. Move the dough onto the cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each cookie. Flatten slightly with moistened fingers.
5. Baked for 12-14 minutes until the edges just start to brown. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to racks to complete cooling.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New plot line and yummy food

It took me a few tries to get this post complete but I think I finally found my words. This week I kind of decided to use this blog as a bit of a food journal. Though I doubt I'll write solely on food, there's definitely a specific plot line in my life that I want to document.

It's an idea I've been hovering around since August, but over the past month I've been making an official move towards a vegan diet. I could easily devote an entire post to why I'm eating vegan, and I probably will at some point, but today it's not a tale I feel like typing. The reason I want to chronicle this, though, is because I hope to show that vegan cooking is not limited by the things you DON'T eat but opens up doors to the endless list of things you DO eat. From a psychosocial perspective I also am exploiting my story to show that eating vegan doesn't mean I'm going to stop shaving my legs or refrain from car dancing to Lady Gaga. And I also hope to answer that age old question loved by vegetarians and vegans alike: "But then where do you get your protein???" Spoiler alert: it's more than just beans and I can still easily keep up with my MWF weight lifting schedule. I might even give you free tickets to my gun show. Get excited.

But to the fun stuff: the food!! This weekend was a culinary success. My friend Emily and I have been working our way through this vegan cookbook, Veganomicon. I had been wanting to make some more quinoa (pronounced kind of like "keen-waah") which, for those of you keeping track, is a high protein grain, quite delicious and...not a bean. So I made a promising-looking recipe called chickpea-quinoa pilaf that I paired with roasted carrots and brussel sprouts and (on impulse because the meal screamed for it) a glass of merlot.

For dessert I enjoyed some chocolate-chocolate chip cherry cookies that I made earlier that day which I had also found a recipe for in Veganomicon. The experience of making these cookies can be summed up in a quote directly from the cookbook itself, "When the batter starts to get too stiff to mix with a fork, use your hands....Your hands will get covered in chocolate, but worse things have happened." Pluses of this cookie recipe: 1) you can eat the batter without fear of E. coli because there's no egg and 2) since it's mixed primarily with your hands you get dibs on licking the "beaters" clean. Score. I think they turned out quite nice and I'll be snacking on these all week.

Vegan or not, it was definitely one of the best meals I've made in a while, which is saying something. If you don't trust my taste buds though, hear this: my meat-eating roommate has been enjoying the cookies so much she had 4 this morning for breakfast before her coffee was even finished brewing and had leftover chickpea-quinoa pilaf for lunch today with rave reviews.

If you're interested in trying them out for yourself I've got both recipes below.

Chickpea-Quinoa Pilaf

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped finely (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed (I used ground)
Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste (I used ~1 1/2 Tbsp and was glad I did)
1 cup quinoa (make sure it's pre-washed or rinse well yourself)
2 cups cooked or 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (more protein!)
2 cups vegetable broth or reconstituted bouillon

In a small stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions in olive oil for about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 more minutes.
Add the tomato paste, coriander, cumin, black pepper, and salt; sauté for another minute.
Add the quinoa and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add the chickpeas and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling, lower the heat to very low, cover, and cook for about 18 minutes, or until the quinoa has absorbed all the water; stir occasionally. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cherry Cookies

2 cups AP flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons ground flaxseed
1/2 cup soy milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (I completely forgot to add this and the cookies still tasted great)
3/4 cup vegan chocolate chips (just read the ingredients and make sure there's no milk fat; should just say chocolate liquor, cocoa, cocoa butter and soy lecithin or close to it)
3/4 cup dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 F
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
In a separate large bowl, mix together the oil and sugar. Add the flaxseeds, soy milk, and vanilla, and mix well.
Fold in the dry ingredients in batches. When the batter starts to get too stiff to mix with a fork, use your hands until a nice stiff dough forms. Add the chocolate chips and cherries, and mix with your hands again. Your hands will get covered in chocolate, but worse things have happened.
Wash your hands (especially if you "licked the beaters") and line two baking sheets with baking parchment. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and flatten into disks about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place about an inch apart on the lined cookie sheets.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Kristy's Garden Attempt* #1

*Until I happily consume something that pops out of the 4' x 7' hunk of ground I cultivated I'm only calling it an attempt.

As I sit at my computer, if I drop my neck down, cock my head to the left and peer through the branches of the gorgeous yet massive tree outside my window I can just barely see my first attempt at a garden. Because I've either been out of town, held up by my landlord or stuck inside due to the downpour, for the past month my gardening plans had to be put on the back burner. But this weekend I finally dug up, leveled out, filled in and sowed my very first garden. Woohoo! And ever since Saturday I've felt the need to walk out and visit my garden at least once a day to make sure everything is ok as if I'm sort of overprotective mother of a 30 year old.

"Is everything OK? Is it too hot? Too sunny? Do you need water? Are the squirrels bothering you?" if these plants haven't been doing this all by themselves for the past billion years or so. If anything, I'm more apt to hinder than help, but I can't not check on them. The more I think about it, the more I think gardening is a very giving hobby. Let me explain.

First off, work has been uber-stressful lately and of all the things I tried in order to relax, gardening was the only thing that worked. And by worked I mean worked. Ten minutes in I was about as stress-free as if I had been on a 2 week vacation in the Alps.

And second, there are endless resources when it comes to learning the how-to's of gardening. From books to friends to websites to entire TV channels. Everyone wants to know the secret to growing the best tomato just as everyone else wants to tell you the secret to growing the best tomato. But in the end, what do we really do? Relatively little. Sure the plants used whatever resources we gave it, be it fertilizer or pruning shears. But when you really look at it, humans saying we grow the best tomato (or spinach, or carrot, or rutabaga...which, on a side note, is THE most fun vegetable to say) is the same as your OB/GYN saying he grew a great human, when really all he did was prescribe some prenatal vitamins, tell you your child was developing nicely and then...catch. (Please note, I think OB/GYNs are a valuable part of society and this hyperbole is by no means a reflection on their expertise in the field of obstetrics).

But as we humans do all the work in creating and raising humans, plants do all the work in creating and growing plants. It's a freaking beautiful thing!! Plants grow, we take. Food, oxygen, relaxation. So I guess in the end I would like to thank plants for being plants. Clearly "The Giving Tree" is not just a children's book, it's an insightful and poignant summation of the entire human race since the dawn of put it mildly. And I should also thank God for giving us plants. They are pretty to look at, lovely to smell and yummy to eat and every day I'm grateful to be in their presence.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Chelsea Lately speaks louder than words

Justin Bieber (which, apparently, is NOT pronounced "bye-burr" like I had thought) was all up in my face today. He was EVERYWHERE! So much so that I finally was like, "ok kiddo, I'm going to iTunes your face all up and see what you're all about because I just don't get it."

30 second iTunes clip later (played twice)...

I still don't get it. You said "baby" 17 times in 30 seconds (trust me, it was the reason for the 2nd run through). Does that make a pop-icon-in-training nowadays?

So I had this whole post going on the Bieber-baby and then it was deemed unnecessary after the LP posted this gem on facebook. Long story short, I deleted the original post because Chelsea speaks louder than words. Enjoy.