Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cooking for 14?

Thank you all so much for your comments and wishes in response to my last post! It was strange for me, being so reliant on my e-mail and such, to not have Internet access for so long... I should probably "get away" more often. But it was so wonderful to read over all your comments once I got back!

Actually, I have been back for a few days. But I had another CPA exam this morning, so I have spent the time since I returned preparing for that while I was still "out" of the blogging loop. I'm excited, now that one more part is behind me, to take a break and catch up with you all! The trip to Nebraska and South Dakota was an amazing and much-needed experience for me. I saw some things that I could never have imagined, beautiful things and horrible things alike. For those of you who might be interested in the non-food aspects of my trip, I have been doing a series of posts on my other blog to try and put into words a little bit of what I did and learned and saw.

Of course, cooking for fourteen people for a week was a separate adventure in itself! When Bob and I were planning recipes, we knew that we wanted to expose our team members to some new foods and flavors that may have never tried before, but at the same time we wanted to make things that almost anyone was sure to like. We wanted it to be healthy and colorful and rich in nutrients, just as we try to eat at home... But we also had to keep a budget in mind. Our trip leaders, before we left, told us that the food budget was $10 per person per day, which came out to about $1,000 total. This included breakfast and lunch as well, which we would really not be able to cook because of being in a hurry and not knowing where we would even be at lunch time on some days. So planning the meals was a little more complicated than I had imagined it might be.

The good news, though, is that we underspent our budget by HALF, and still had leftover food that we were able to leave at the ministry, where I am sure it will be put to good use. Everything that Bob and I planned and prepared was 100% vegan, but this is not to say that everyone on our team ate 100% vegan the whole week. People bought dairy milk and cheese and so forth to accompany their meals, and it wasn't really our place to try to stop them from doing so. I feel good about it on the whole, because everything we served was well received and we were able to explain a lot of things about a healthy, balanced vegan lifestyle, and we had some encouraging conversations about veganism that I feel sure got people started on thinking about the issues. But anyway... enough talk about that.

Days 1 and 2 were on the road... no cooking. The highlight from that leg of the trip was when we stopped at a pizza place in St. Louis, Missouri, and Bob and I shared a delicious vegan pizza. It was certainly not as good as we make at home with our tofu ricotta and pesto, but it was quite satisfying just the same. On day 2, we had dinner in Rushville, Nebraska, where we stayed for the duration of the trip. We got in at about 9:00 that night (mountain time, so it was 11:00 "our" time) and went to this little diner where my only menu option was a tossed salad. I was immediately discouraged, though the salad itself was very good and actually quite refreshing after a day of eating "on the road."

Day 3: Bob and I made sloppy lenties for dinner. Thanks, Leslie! (For my slightly modified version of the recipe, check here.) We shopped for the lentils ahead of time and took them with us on the trip, not being very confident about the availability of red lentils in Rushville, Nebraska. It was a wise decision.... This was the grocery store we had to work with.

It was fine, though, not lacking in anything basic. Organics were really not an option, which I had braced myself for ahead of time.

This was the biggest pot of sloppy lentils ever. I started with six cups of lentils, to give you an idea. There were a lot of leftovers, which was a GREAT alternative to PB&J for lunch every day. We had salad and French bread with this meal.

Day 4: Spaghetti with marinara sauce and roasted squash, zucchini, and eggplant.

The marinara sauce recipe was from The Grit cookbook, but what really made this meal special was the roasted veggies. Bob also made some garlic bread by heating a bit of oil with some minced garlic, then slicing a loaf of French bread and drizzling some of the oil, along with some salt and pepper, between each slice and then baking it, wrapped in aluminum foil, to get it warm and toasty. Served with leftover salad.

Day 5: Chipotle, Corn, and Black Bean Stew from VWaV. This was easily my personal favorite meal for the entire trip. Most of the team members also liked it very much but found it to be a little on the spicy side. Maybe I was a bit heavy-handed with the chipotles... oops. I forget that I eat spicier foods than most people.

We had this with tortilla chips and, yes, leftover salad again. I think this was the last appearance that our salad made. Bob and I both agreed that this stew turned out better this time than it ever has when we have made it in the past. Because we used pre-cooked beans? I can't think of what else we could have possibly done differently.

Day 6: We were out much later than we expected to be, and when we got back to the motel we were too tired to cook. So leftover black bean stew it was (yes, we made enough of this to feed the entire team two, probably three times)... I steamed some broccoli to go with it this time, and it was a welcomed change from salad.

Day 7: Bob made his signature "hash browns"--stir-fried potatoes, this time with onions and garlic and plenty of green peppers, broccoli, squash, and mushrooms.

Here's a tip: Serve this with cilantro and salsa... mmm.

Day 8: The meal I had been waiting to make all week was Chickpea Ratatouille from Vive! This recipe has, I think, the most non-traditional flavor combinations and was the most "daring" of all the meals we selected. Not to mention that we served it with quinoa (and we got to pronounce the word "quinoa" countless times that night), which has become my favorite grain for its ease of cooking, its taste, and its nutritional punch. The quinoa was another ingredient that we had the forethought to buy ahead of time and pack with us.

This meal was very popular with most of the team, though I think that they were even more excited about the quinoa than about the ratatouille! We served this with steamed broccoli. There were lots of leftovers, which made great breakfast and lunch the next day.

Day 9: Bob and I had a meal planned for this day, but we did not get to cook it. Instead, the missionary that we worked with invited us all over to his house for dinner. What was dinner?

Grilled kabobs! We built our own kabobs, and I was very pleased with the available veggies. There was actually a clean spot on the grill for us, too. The pasta salad that they made was quite impressive--carrots and cucumbers and snow peas and cherry tomatoes tossed in a vinaigrette dressing. There was also quite a selection of olives and pickles and such... I could not complain.

Days 10 and 11, again, were on the road. I ate lots of salads and energy bars and peanut butter on tortillas... it was good to get home and eat tofu again.

So that describes the cooking side of our adventure. What did I learn? Well, one thing that we did which I was very glad that we thought to do was to buy our spices in bulk, ahead of time. The day before we left, Bob and I made a list of everything that we would need, including quantities, for all the meals we had planned. Then we went to the health food store and bought precise amounts of everything. This helped keep the cost down immensely, and it was great to work with fresher dried herbs. The other thing, which we didn't plan so well, was quantities of food. We greatly overestimated the amount of food that fourteen people would eat, so we were constantly dealing with massive quantities of leftovers! This worked out fine in the end, but it was a little inconvenient trying to find room in the refrigerator, containers to hold everything, and so forth.

Since I've gotten back, my cooking has been minimal as I've been cramming for today's exam. I look forward to getting back into the normal swing of things, and having more food to share with you all soon!

I'll leave you with just a taste of the beauty that I got to see in South Dakota... This is a view from the top of Sheep Mountain, located in the Badlands on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Badlands were perhaps the most amazing thing I have ever seen.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Soul veggies, pasta pasta, and it's over

I'm not really sure how to begin to describe the past week. So much has happened... I guess I'll just start at the beginning.

Bob and I found an apartment in Atlanta! Woot! It's a quaint little place in a nice, quiet part of town, within walking distance of a commuter rail station, and we can have a dog in our new place! This last part is the most exciting of all... we have wanted to rescue a dog for so long but the place we are in now does not allow anything with fur. We'll be moving in mid-July.

While we were in Atlanta, we ate out to celebrate my finishing school. Thanks to Happy Cow, we found this place called Soul Vegetarian--a 100% vegan restaurant not far from where we will live. It was kind of a hole-in-the-wall sort of restaurant, but the food was amazing.

We started with onion rings--one of my all-time favorite vices, which I only eat about once or twice a year.

Bob's entrée was called the Jerusalem Rice Dish--a smoky, earthy flavored veggie stew served over rice. It contained what the restaurant calls "kalebone"--basically their own seitan recipe. It was served with a spicy ginger sauce.

I went with a salad platter, which was a sampling of three of their salad entrées. Carrot salad, bean curd salad, and "egg"less salad are what you see here, with a side of creamy roasted garlic dressing and a slice of cornbread. My favorite was the carrot salad--it was savory and mildly sweet, with a hint of cinnamon and clove.

When we saw banana split on the dessert menu, there was no way we could pass it up. Bob and I split this huge creation, made of three scoops of soy ice cream (two scoops of vanilla bean and one of butter pecan), a carob hot fudge sauce, and sprinkled with chopped almonds. Wow... Bob declared Soul Vegetarian his new favorite restaurant. As our first experience at a vegan restaurant, it certainly did not disappoint.

My friend Abby and I have been studying together every free minute this week for our exams, and cooking when we couldn't take it anymore. Thursday and Friday we tried two different pasta dinners:

Thursday was the Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto from VWaV. It was delicious... but I thought it was extremely ugly. I won't tell you what it reminded me of, but I doctored this photo a lot so that I felt okay about putting it on my blog. We served it with sautéed mushrooms and a mixed greens salad.

Friday we turned to Vive Le Vegan! and made the Roasted Red Pepper Cannellini Bean Sauce. This recipe was much more photo-worthy, and as far as taste goes, I enjoyed this one more as well... though Abby and Bob both preferred the pesto. What can I say? They were both so good.

We served the cannellini bean pasta with roasted mushrooms and asparagus.

Now, the best news of all. Yesterday, I officially received my masters degree! Woot woot!

My parents and Bob's parents came into town to go to the ceremony, and we had a little "reception" at my place afterward. The menu included:

Coconut-Lime Cookies from Vive! This was my first run on these cookies, and mmm... So soft and chewy.

Pineapple coffee cake from Susan's Fatfree Vegan Blog. This was a first as well, but I've seen it on many, many blogs and it seemed like a hit. It was! My mom loved it and asked for the recipe. By the end of the party, the coffee cake and the cookies were all gone--thank goodness.

A quick "egg"less salad that I made when I realized that we didn't have much real food in the house... Tofu, red peppers, celery, onions, lemon juice, paprika, turmeric, kelp granules, salt, and pepper. It was actually quite good, especially for a last minute creation. Bob and his mother loved it especially.

And finally, a fruit tray consisting of strawberries, blueberries, and red grapes. All organic, and beautifully arranged by Abby, who has quite the talent for entertaining.

Beyond graduating and new homes and pasta parties, I have a couple more things to show you from the past few days. When we went to Atlanta, we stopped by a farmer's market where we bought a huge box of mangos for $4.50. I love when mangos come in season. I remembered seeing a recipe on Vicki's old blog, many months ago, and have thought about it ever since. Unfortunately, mangos were no longer affordable and so I just filed it away, vowing to make it as soon as mangos became available again. Finally...

Sweet potato fries with mango dipping sauce. The recipe is pretty simple: 1 finely chopped mango, 1/4 cup Nayonaise, and 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce. Oh my goodness, how delicious! It has a nice zing to it, which pairs well with sweet potatoes and with mangos... I love the combination of sweet and spicy. Thanks, Vicki!

And for those of you who remember my leftover bharli mirchi filling, you will be glad to know that I used it up to make samosas. I used the samosa dough recipe from VWaV, subbing in whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose.

I made up a quick coconut-lime sauce inspired somewhat by Isa's Coconut-Mint Chutney recipe on the page following the samosas. It was sweet, again the perfect complement to the spicy samosas. These were good--I am sure the crust would have been flakier if I had used the white flour as I was supposed to, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. Bob could not get enough of these! I feel so good when my food gets gobbled up like that.

With that, I sign off for the next couple of weeks. Bob and I are leaving tomorrow to go on a mission trip to South Dakota--where he and I are in charge of food for the entire team. We have a nutritious, delicious, and inexpensive menu planned, and I will fill you in when I get back! I won't have Internet access, but I look forward to catching up with you all when I have the chance. Take care!

Friday, May 11, 2007

More cupper cuteness

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you...


Basic chocolate cupcakes with raspberry buttercream frosting.

Toppings include sprinkles, chocolate chips, and strawberry slices.

That's all for now!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Home, home again

...I like to be here when I can.

It's been a hectic, yet fun, past few days. We have been on the run quite a bit... and it's not going to stop anytime soon. Sorry for not commenting on your blogs--I will try to catch up soon.

Saturday our friends had a cookout, and instead of taking the standby Boca burgers, we wanted to take some really special black bean patties for grilling out. I have a recipe that I have used before which worked fine on the George Foreman grill, but I had serious doubts about how it would hold up on a real grill. So after playing with my old recipe some, and reading this recipe for some more inspiration, I finally came up with the following recipe--and it's a keeper.

Laura's Grillable Black Bean Patties

2 cups cooked black beans, drained well
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeño, coarsely chopped
1 bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
3-4 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
3/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup quick oats

Place the beans in a large bowl and mash with a fork until well mushed. In a food chopper, combine onion, peppers, garlic, and sunflower seeds, and pulse until veggies are well chopped and sunflower seeds are crumbly. Add to black beans, along with dry spices, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and liquid smoke. Mix with fork until well combined. Add the gluten and the oats, and fold them in well with the fork. Mix for several minutes until well incorporated. If it seems too dry, add some cooking liquid from the beans or some more of another liquid, until it gets to a nice workable consistency.

Form into patties (you should get about 7-8) and wrap each patty in a piece of lightly oiled aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes in a preheated 325 F oven; then flip patties and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, unwrap and allow to cool down. Then rewrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, until ready to grill. The patties may seem flimsy at first, but once they chill they firm up nicely. Grill on a lightly oiled grill rack until delicious.

Alongside the black bean patties were these lovely grilled vegetables that the host of the cookout made. They were marinated in balsamic vinegar, oil, and some spices, and they were fantastic on top of the patty as well as on the side.

And for dessert the hosts made one of those cakes with whipped cream and angel food cake, and strawberries and blueberries on top to look like an American flag. Why? Because one of our friends just returned from Italy, and it was their way of welcoming him back home. Anyway, they reserved some of the fruit for Bob and me, and we brought our own whipped cream.

The whipped cream was made from a recipe out of Vegan Vittles, and it was wonderful--much better than Soyatoo. In fact, I have not purchased Soyatoo in a while because the last couple of cans we bought had little air pressure in them, and we could not get all of the product out. Bummer. But this was much better, though denser and more liquid than commercial whipped cream.

That was Saturday. Sunday I left to visit a friend in the small town of Manchester, Georgia where we had fast times, studying for the CPA exam together. We had fun too. We went hiking today and the woods were in full bloom with mountain laurel.

...So gorgeous.

We also cooked dinner together... and being in Small Town, Georgia, we decided to go with the most basic recipe we could find. Veggie-Bean Burritos from Vive Le Vegan! This is the filling, which was simply and deliciously seasoned with chipotle sauce and a touch of cumin, oregano, and other spices.

Jessica and I became quite proficient at rolling up burritos.

And here it is after hanging out in the oven for a little while. We served these with salsa and a tossed salad with a simple cumin vinaigrette that I threw together with ingredients that were on hand (and reading Dreena's Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette recipe for a bit of inspiration).

This tofu is one of the best whims I have ever had. I pressed it and sliced it into 16 pieces, and I marinated it in a mixture of soy sauce, ketchup, hot sauce, maple syrup, oregano, paprika, and a touch of olive oil. After it sat in the marinade for about 30 minutes, I pan-seared it over medium-high heat, and I tossed each piece in nutritional yeast when I took it off the pan.

The tofu made a great lunch on tortillas with spicy mustard, lettuce and tomato, and a drizzle of the cumin vinaigrette from the night before.

I just got home an hour or so ago from visiting my friend, and tomorrow we're up and at 'em early again. In fact, for the rest of the month, we'll be going and going and going. I'll be back again soon, but peace for now!

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Grit again, and more

You may be tired of seeing and hearing about my meals from The Grit, but I don't get tired of sharing them! One of my friends wanted to go to lunch with me, and The Grit is the place we chose. I could never get tired of their food, and she had never been there before--after several years in Athens. So it really was a must.

This time around, I just got a "veggie" plate--steamed broccoli with spicy peanut sauce, lentil and chickpea stew over brown rice, and a cup of hot and sour soup. The broccoli and peanut sauce was excellent, as always (secret ingredient in the sauce = orange juice), and the stew was very thick and hearty--fairly mild, with a slight curry flavor. The soup? Maybe my favorite thing on the plate. But if you don't do spicy well then this would not be the soup for you--it wasn't hot and sour, it was HOTTTT and sour! Quite tangy, with huge chunks of veggies in it, just like I like it. Sorry about the glare on the soup--it was a pretty sunny day, and we sat outside.

At The Grit they have this huge dessert display case, and recently they have always had some variety of vegan cupcake on display. There was no way we could have eaten dessert after that meal (a good chunk of my meal came home with me as it was), but I had cupcakes on my brain after that. Later that night Abby and I returned to my place, and...

Vanilla cupcakes with cinnamon frosting, from VCTOTW. I used a little chunk of cinnamon stick to dress these up a bit. So tasty! I've got to get more artful with the frosting, though. It's harder than it looks to make all those incredibly cute designs that I have seen around!

If you remember, I recently bought a ton of red and orange bell peppers, and I knew that I wanted to make stuffed peppers at some point before they were gone. I did a search on stuffed peppers just to get some ideas, and I came across this recipe for bharli mirchi, Indian stuffed peppers. I knew I had to try it.

These peppers are stuffed and then sautéed, rather than baked like most Italian-style stuffed peppers. It was tricky turning them over and over in the pan to cook all sides--you know how peppers naturally want to sit in just a few positions based on their shape. But they finally did cook all over.

The filling is made from potatoes, and your traditional spices. I added some peas just for good measure. When I finished making the filling and tasting it, I was a little skeptical--it was kind of bland. But once the peppers had cooked and released some of their juices into the mixture, it was better. I think that there was too much potato--I had a good bit of filling left over, and so the flavors probably got too thinned out with all that potato. Next time I'll use smaller spuds! But we really enjoyed it, with some homemade roti.

What can I do with the leftover filling? Indian-style potato pancakes? Or... samosas? We'll see!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It's simple!

What I have to share with you today are some very simple, no fuss, (mostly) healthy choices! Sometimes that's just what you need...

When it's almost 80 degrees when you wake up, what better breakfast can there be than a lovely smoothie?

This one's one of my favorites--blueberries, blackberries, a banana, raw almond butter, cinnamon and ginger, vanilla, soy milk, and flax meal. I like the almond butter--it helps smooth out the texture, and it provides some healthy fat and a good dose of calcium. I like to grind the flax meal and then blend it with the milk before I add everything else. It improves the texture, I think.

This idea came from stonielove's gorgeous blog. A nice RAW lunch with sprouts, red peppers, carrots, green onions, and raw pepitas with a little drizzle of vinaigrette, all wrapped up in collard green leaves. Fabulous, healthy, quick, and all-around perfect.

These don't taste quick and easy, but believe me, they are! Fudgy Brownies from Vive! are only the best brownies I've ever put in my mouth... and fudgy is definitely the proper description for them. The best part is, it took me all of five minutes to whip up the batter. If you're feeling really frisky, have one of these à la mode--it just doesn't get much better than that. If you are still not convinced of the greatness that is Dreena's fudgy brownies, well, I happen to know that someone else recently made them too, and I'm sure she will vouch for them as well!

On a more serious note, here is another simple thing you can do--and it will make a great difference. Our excellent administration is now proposing to remove the protections afforded under the Endangered Species Act to the gray wolf. About 12 years ago, wolves were reintroduced into the Northern Rockies after becoming severely endangered--and upon reintroduction, their impact on the ecosystem was dramatic. The aspen population rose sharply, which in turn allowed the beaver population to grow. Beavers are a keystone species to any ecosystem in which they dwell, creating wetlands that improve the overall health and biodiversity of the area. Removing just one species from an ecosystem can have any number of unforeseen consequences... and removing the gray wolves from their habitat did once, and assuredly will again, have a stagnating effect on the ecosystem. Yet, the governments of Idaho and Wyoming are prepared to legalize drastic wolf killing programs as soon as the ESA protections are lifted.

You can visit Save America's Wolves for more information and a chance to send a message to the federal government urging them not to de-list the gray wolf until proper protections are in place to prevent people like the governors of Idaho and Wyoming from opening fire on them. I took a class this semester on endangered species conservation and management, and one of the animals we studied in some depth was the gray wolf. I was amazed by the complexity and sophistication of these animals' social interactions. They really are beautiful creatures, and it angers me that people can so vehemently advocate their eradication on the grounds that they are a threat to livestock and to the elk-hunting industry. Just once, I would like to see our government put its priorities in order.

Have you read Aldo Leopold's wonderful essay, "Thinking Like a Mountain"? It's a beautifully written reminder that the ways and interests of human beings rarely line up with those of the natural world... and a clear challenge for the reader to discover which one's ways serve the higher purpose.