Monday, January 01, 2007

Southern comforts, and some new discoveries

Welcome 2007!

I don't really make new year's resolutions; if I think I need to make a change in my life, I try to introduce it instantly, rather than waiting for a "new beginning." But there is something to be said for starting a new year--it's a natural time to just evaluate things and to "put the right foot forward," so to speak. I've been thinking a little about some of my daily habits, and decided that I want to be even more of a "health nut" than I have ever been (and I have always been pretty nutty about it). I also hope to spend more time reading and writing for pleasure, more time outside... less time on the internet. I hope it won't cut TOO much into my blogging time--there are plenty of other things I do online that are a complete waste of time, whereas blogging has been a very positive thing for me. Still, I may scale back just a little bit. Don't be surprised, anyway.

Enough with that. On to the food...

The title of my post refers in part to new year's dinner, which was one of the most comforting and "traditional" southern meals I've had in a long time (you have to understand--I was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia). At first I thought about making a vegan version of hoppin' john, which is traditional new year's day fare here in the South. I don't know if it's just a southern thing, but for those of you who may not know what it is, usually hoppin' john is a dish of black-eyed peas and rice, seasoned with all kinds of stuff that I don't eat anymore and served on January 1 to bring "good luck." Well, since I don't really buy into the notion of luck, I was not really concerned about sticking to the tradition. What I really wanted was a good pot of black beans, served with cornbread instead of rice.

What is more traditional than beans and cornbread? Well, beans and cornbread and collard greens, of course! Yum, yum, yum... and healthy too (if you can resist the temptation to go overboard on the cornbread, that is).

For the beans, I started with 2 pounds of black beans and plenty of water in my crock pot. I chopped and added:
2 small yellow onions
1 green bell pepper
3 stalks celery
4 large garlic cloves

For spices I added:
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Several dashes chili flakes
1 tablespoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
3-4 bay leaves
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
Several dashes liquid smoke

Then it just cooked on high for about 5-6 hours.

For the collard greens, I started with a little bit of olive oil and about 3 garlic cloves in a sauté pan. When they were tender and aromatic, I added the chopped greens and stir-fried them on meduim for several minutes. When they were starting to get tender, I added a splash of cider vinegar to the pan, and some salt and pepper, and I put the lid on and let them steam on low heat until they were soft.

I used the PPK recipe for the cornbread, adding a bit more baking powder because a couple of the comments said the cornbread was a little dense. This cornbread has an excellent flavor, but I found it to be a little dry. Not a problem, though--it's still tasty and crumbled up with the beans and collard greens, the dryness was not an issue. We enjoyed this meal, and we will enjoy the beans many, many more times, as my six-quart crock pot was absolutely filled by the time they were all cooked up.

New year's breakfast was VWaV Pumpkin Waffles. Several bloggers had mentioned their plans for making waffles on January 1, and it made me think about how I have not had waffles in quite a while. We ate them with syrup and Soyatoo! whipped topping. A decadent breakfast, but I felt somewhat better since I used whole wheat pastry flour in place of the all purpose flour in the waffle recipe.

After breakfast, I made myself a latte with our new espresso machine that our families got us for Christmas. I added a bit of ground cinnamon to the coffee in the brew basket, and I stirred in just a little bit of sugar to make a cinnamon latte. I have not gotten used to the steaming mechanism yet--it works a bit differently from our old machine, and I cannot seem to get the perfect amount of foam. Some things just take practice. Doesn't affect the flavor, though--my latte really hit the spot.

This is one new discovery: Kai-lan, also called Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale. Bob found it at our local Asian market--which, I am embarrassed to admit, I have just recently discovered after living here in Athens for four and a half years. But it was very inexpensive, about a dollar a pound, so we picked up a good amount of it. I didn't really know what to do with it, but I came home and looked it up on Wikipedia, where I learned that a popular way to prepare kai-lan is to stir-fry it with garlic and ginger. We tried that today with lunch:

The taste is similar to broccoli, but slightly more bitter. The fresh ginger was a good balance to the bitterness of the kai-lan, and we both thought this simple stir fry was delicious. I'm sure it would be very tasty mixed with some sweeter vegetables too, such as carrots or snow peas. This vegetable is supposed to be very high in iron and calcium. We have much more, so I am going to keep trying it out in different ways.

Speaking of trying new things, Bob and I recently purchased a package of Vegan Gourmet Monterey Jack cheese alternative--the first fake cheese we have ever bought. At first I was surprised by the texture, reminding myself that it is not cheese and I can't expect it to be exactly like cheese. After getting over that initial reaction, I have been quite impressed with this product. It was very good on a simple Boca burger with some sprouts and Dijon mustard--and it even melted in the toaster oven. It's not cheese, for sure, and I doubt it would ever fool anyone. But it's a really great substitute. Not something we plan to make a habit out of, but once in a while it can't hurt.

It's days until school starts back--my last semester!! What will I do with myself until then? I have a few plans. But I'll leave that alone for now. Peace and happiness to all of you!


Anonymous said...

You forgot about the green peppers in the beans, luv. They were so gooooooood..... I think the peppers were a major part of the overwhelming goodness of the really clean beans ;P
I love you.

laura jesser said...

Oh, thanks! I just edited the post to add that in. You have to keep me straight sometimes!

Dori said...

Glad to see that Bob ejoyed the food! We only get to see it and you know cooks can be biased sometimes :)

More of a health foodie.... oh my and less internet, yes we have to do this osmetimes, but I hope to be inspired by your healthier choices in 2007.

Beata said...

I love seeing all your food! The Pumpkin waffle looks so yummy. Sean is crazy for pumpkin and he would love that! I'm also glad you discovered Kai-lan. It's one of my favorites growing up as a kid.

Anonymous said...

I bet you have a good new year day! thanks for the recipes in the 2006 and for the new ones you will put here too!

bazu said...

Happy New Year to you and Bob!

I am embarassed to admit that we forgot all about black eyed peas yesterday, even though we had a couple of cans waiting in the fridge. Maybe today.

And I LOVE Chinese broccoli! It is one of my all-time favorite veggies. I'm glad you guys discovered and liked it.

Jennifer C. said...

Ooohhh...Chinese Broccoli is one of my favorites! Yummy!

Anonymous said...

Your black beans sound delicious. Thanks for sharing the recipe. For a really good cornbread recipe (although pretty sweet), check this one out on my blog.

Since becoming vegan I have yet to purchase and try vegan cheese. I remember trying some when I was a vegetarian about 10 years ago but it was pretty gross. They're quite expensive for my frugal nature but I do think I should get around to trying a few of them. I've never had Kai-Lan either. I'll have to look for it.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year! I've never hear of Kai-Lan but it looks great (and, based on Bob's comment above, it tasted pretty good too!)

My goal is to get a little more health foody too -- I'm looking forward to see what you do.

Have a great week.

Anonymous said...

hey - that's one nice look espresso!!! I think I'll make me one of those (in my new xmas machine!)

Kris said...

I agree with you, I want to spend less time online and more time reading and writing. Those are good goals.

Being a northern gal who grew up in a fast food house, I'm still ignorant to many things and greens are definitely in that catagory! They are really intimidating, but your post looks so delicious. I may have to overcome my fear and give them a try.

jess (of Get Sconed!) said...

Good to hear you were okay with the FYH! Sometimes it goes bad pretty quickly, so don't be nervous about freezing it if need be!

aTxVegn said...

I'm a southern girl too and I definitely ate blackeyed peas and cornbread on New Years Day. I thought about Hoppin' John too, but after coming back from Alabama where all the veggies are cooked with hamhocks and butter and cheese, I just wanted some clean food. Your meal looks great and so do the waffles.

I always see Chinese broccoli at my asian market, but I guess I just love broccoli too much to stray. But I've always got an eye out for different veggies!

Happy New Year, Laura!

Candi said...

Hi Laura! I loved your post here. I'm glad you will take time to write and drop some online activities, but keep blogging when you can! :)

I never heard of Kai-Lan! Looks really good. Your meals all look so healthy - even the latte! :) I love the cinnamon touch you added!!

Harmonia said...

Happy 2007!

I'm back bloggin' - same place!

Everything looks tremendous!

Anonymous said...

Wow ! 2007 is beginning well for you, my dear ! Do you know that you have won Dreena's free book yet again ?
You are a lucky, lucky gal :) Congrats !

Happy New Year to you and Bob :) It was so sweet to read his message to you <3

Anonymous said...

I forgot to say that the Kai-lan looks like Broccoli Rabe (Rapini or Italian Broccoli) and I love Rapini :)

Urban Vegan said...

I love the southern way of ringing in the new year.

I love bitter greens. I could eat them every meal. ANd those waffles..oh la la!

Britty said...

Hi Laura!

Thanks for stopping by my blog and saying hi!

I've never heard of Kai-lan either! I bet I'd like it if it tastes like Swiss Chard.


Caty said...

Hi, Thanks for the blog comment and Happy New Year.

The waffles look great, I'm getting VWaV soon and I can't wait to try them out now that I've seen how delicious they look.