Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Indian cooking, veganizing, and the quest for the perfect hummus

Here it's been a whole week again since I posted... That's partly because the black bean chili I posted about last time lasted us an entire week, and partly also because it's been so gorgeous out that the thought of staying inside on the computer has not been very appealing. But here is a sample of what's been cooking...

On Saturday evening a good friend of mine came over to cook dinner with me, and I thought, What would be a simple, flavorful, fun vegan meal to teach Kelly how to make? And nothing seemed to fit the bill better than aloo matar, Indian potatoes and peas. I didn't remember until she got here that she had actually spent the summer in India, so we spent the evening discussing Indian cuisine and culture, and enjoying this spicy meal with whole grain chapatis.

Sunday morning I made these FatFree Vegan omelettes--I doubled the recipe and made vegan omelettes for two! I filled my omelettes just like SusanV did, with sautéed spinach and mushrooms--not because I meant to imitate her necessarily, but because those are my favorite omelette fillings. As you can see from the photo, I stuffed my omelette a little too full! Hee hee.

Bob wasn't too crazy about this breakfast... but I loved it. I think his main problem with it was that the inside of the omelette didn't cook up very firm, so it was a little squishy. A couple ways I could try to remedy this are to make thinner omelettes, or to cook one side of the omelette and then attempt to flip it and cook the other side. Both of these options sound tricky to me. I happened to like the softness of the inside, personally, and I think these omelettes could not be more perfect. There was a time in my life when omelettes were my favorite breakfast, and now that option is open again! Thanks, Susan!

There are some great pubs around town that Bob and I have had fun becoming familiar with. The default food item for a vegan to order at a pub is hummus--around here, every place has hummus, and so Bob and I are becoming hummus "connoisseurs," if you will. The good news is that every place we've been to serves first-rate hummus; the bad news, though, is that I've become addicted to it. And since going out for hummus two or three nights a week could become quite expensive indeed, I am questing to create the perfect hummus for those nights when I can't justify going out to satisfy my hummus needs.

I have made hummus many, many times before--just search my blog for "hummus" and who knows how many results you will find. And many of those times, I have been creative and come up with recipes I would gladly make again. However, I have to admit that I have never created the "perfect" basic, standard hummus recipe--you know, the plain, lemon-garlic variety. It often has a) a slightly bland flavor, b) too much garlic and/or lemon, or c) a dissatisfying texture. But in the next couple of weeks, I am determined to jump this hurdle and create a tasty, creamy, perfectly balanced hummus, and then I am going to do a happy dance.

This hummus came close, but it wasn't quite there. I was very satisfied with this hummus, though, and I'm looking forward to building on it next time. I found some big fluffy whole wheat pita loaves at the nearby grocery, and I warmed those up to serve it with--they're so much better than the thin, flimsy, cardboard-esque pita loaves that I have become accustomed to... Does anyone know a great recipe for soft, fluffy pitas?

My sister is coming to visit me this weekend, with her fiancé! I am having a hard time believing that my baby sister is engaged, but that's the way of the world, I guess--you get older, the people you love get older, and then you wonder where in the world all the time slipped off to. Anyway, I'm looking forward to her visit, and we've got some fun planned, so I may not be around until next week. But I wish you all a super-fantastic weekend, until next time!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cake and chili

These two foods have nothing to do with each other, actually... unless you consider that fall weather has inspired me to make both of them.

I could never get tired of showing you The Grit's Black Bean Chili, because it is the one food I think I could never, ever get tired of eating. Whether you stick it in a burrito, on top of a tofu scramble, or serve it with baked blue corn tortilla chips (and maybe a dollop of vegan sour cream), it is a healthy, filling bowl of tastiness every time. The only modification to the recipe that I suggest is using quinoa in place of bulgur... but really, either way it's fantastic.

Now, we keep a lot of bananas on hand during the summer, because each of us probably consumes about five smoothies per week. But when the weather cools off and the icy cold smoothie is not on the top of our list of culinary desires, those bananas sit around longer and longer, getting riper and riper, until you have to use them or lose them. That's what this cake sprung out of--shopping in summer mode but eating in fall mode. I froze about ten bananas yesterday and still had six left--so flipping through Kris's book I spied a recipe for banana cake, and got to work.

Per Kris's suggestion, I made a batch of her Peanut Butter Frosting to finish. Frosting and sliced bananas make up the middle layer. Also per Kris's suggestion, I made a batch of chocolate sauce to serve alongside this already rich confection.

Bob's slice. He was so impatient for this because he could smell it baking, and could hardly stand to wait for it to cool before diving in. Several delightful grunts and one clean plate later, he thanked me profusely for getting it in my head to bake this cake. The cake is sweet and moist, and the peanut butter with the (better than) cream cheese make for a rich, heavy frosting. I cut back significantly on the sugar in the frosting because the cake was sweet enough. And the cake with the icing is certainly rich enough without adding the chocolate sauce... but if you can handle a rich dessert, then go ahead and add the chocolate--it complements the cake so well!

With that, I wish you a fabulous end of the week! And I appreciate all of your comments, as always. Peace!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A rather taxing time

The only thing I can think of to say about tax season in my office is, it's taxing! For the past couple of weeks I have been working pretty long hours, and eating 2-3 meals per day at the office. Needless to say, I have not been able to cook much at all, especially this past week. And quite honestly, when I have spent 12 hours or more out of my day looking at a computer screen in my office, the idea of coming home and blogging in my leisure time is not too appealing. But that's not to say that I haven't missed reading your blogs these last couple of weeks. I certainly have missed each of you, and plan to pay you all a visit soon. And I appreciate all of your comments and wishes!

Let me start at the top... Several weeks ago I picked up a copy of Kris's book, and the first recipe I tried from it was the Lime Coconut Bars--by default, actually, since that was the only recipe for which I happened to have all the ingredients on hand.

I have always loved the pairing of lime and coconut, and this is another great marriage of the two flavors--creamy and zesty all at once. The recipe was simple, and I'd make it again in a heartbeat as a dressed-up dessert to share with company. I will say, though, that the crust was a little crumbly, so perhaps I'd go a little lighter on the oats next time, and probably pulse them in a blender a few good times before mixing them in.

Last week I had the opportunity to test another recipe for Melody--her Summer Black-Eyed Pea Spread. I cooked up a huge pot of black-eyed peas and froze them in batches, and I'm glad I did because now I can make this fabulous spread anytime I want! We ate it twice--the first time on open-faced sandwiches...

And the second time on crisp French bread rounds, with an ultra-sweet and juicy tomato. It is fabulous with tomato and other fresh vegetables, and can be made in a snap if using pre-cooked peas. Bob and I both agreed that this was one of the best meals we'd had in quite some time.

Two fabulous recipes from Vegan Vittles up next. The first is a favorite around our house--the Kale and Kraut Sandwich. This time, I opted to grill the sammiches in the George Foreman for a panini-style lunch.

Also featuring kale--the Potato and Kale Soup. Yes, it's soup weather again! And this was a great, creamy, filling soup to kick off the fall. The puréed kale makes it turn a lovely green color, and it looks so elegant served with freshly cracked black pepper on top. This is another recipe I'll be making again.

Today Bob requested homemade cookies, and he always likes me to surprise him by not telling him what kind I'm going to make. So I secretly picked out these tasty treats from Vive!

Can you guess which cookies I made?

If you tasted them, you'd know in an instant that these are Dreena's Maple Walnut Cookies, for they are simply bursting with maple-y goodness! Bob said with conviction that they were the best cookies he's ever had. As for me, it would be difficult to pick out the best cookie I've ever had--but these would certainly qualify. I like to take my cookies out of the oven when they still look just slightly under-done--they continue to cook, of course, once they come out of the oven, and taking them out a little early ensures that they stay soft and chewy in the middle.

Finally, this pita may look ultra boring, but it was a healthy and delicious dinner. Aside from the assorted fresh veggies I stuffed it with, I also drizzled it with this wonderful vinaigrette from Diann's blog, which I made a large batch of and have been enjoying on salads galore for the past two weeks.

I'm likely to stay busy for the next month or so, because October 15 is another tax deadline. And now that the summer is winding away and being outdoors is pleasant and refreshing again, I plan to spend as much time not cooped up inside as I can. But I will still be around when I can. I hope you all are well and happy, and I can't wait to visit your blogs soon.

I'll leave you with this meme, which Diann tagged me to participate in.

1. Players must list one fact, word, or tidbit that is somehow relevant to their life for each letter of your first or middle name.

2. When you are tagged you need to write your own post containing your first or middle name game facts, word, or tidbit.

3. At the end of your post choose one person for each letter of your name to tag.

4. Don’t forget to leave a comment telling them ,they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

5. If I’ve tagged YOU (the bloggers that I've tagged are listed at the end), please join in on the fun!


L - Loony. I may come off as reserved when you first meet me in person, but once I get to know you well enough, look out because I can be pretty weird and silly when the occasion arises. How else would I have earned for myself the name "Loony Laura" among my high school friends?

A - Artsy accountant. One mistake people tend to make when they hear that I'm an accountant is to assume that I am a "numbers person." Maybe I can calculate your taxable income, but even more than that, I love to write and to sing and to adore colors, nature, rhyme, and anything that breaks the mold.

U - Undeterred. If something needs to be done, then by golly, I'm going to find a way to do it. I find it hard to rest until all my tasks are complete.

R - Rushed. I always feel like I'm in a hurry--I'm not good at taking things slow and steady.

A - Active. I don't like "wasting time," which means I always want to be doing something. I don't even sleep as much as the average person... though I'm not trying to imply that sleep is a waste of time. :)

I'm supposed to tag five people... but I would really love to see any and all of you play. So if you read this and feel like joining in the fun, then consider yourself tagged!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Finally, enchiladas... and other stuff

I was in awe when I visited Vivacious Vegan's blog this weekend to find her mouth-watering enchilada post. See, it's been several years at least since I made enchiladas, and I've long been jonesin' to try my hand at a vegan variety. In the past week or so, for reasons I don't understand, my craving became particularly strong, and it only took one person's blog to push me over.

I followed Crystal's step-by-step as a guideline, though I didn't exactly follow the recipes she shared--I took her ideas and made them my own.

I used a can of spicy refried beans, a can of black beans, sliced black olives, sautéed onions and green peppers, one batch of Vegan Vittles' Melty White Uncheese, and a can of enchilada sauce. I'd love to try making my own sauce next time, but I figured I ought to use what I had on hand. I rolled up ten tortillas like this:

Refried beans, black beans, a scoop of onions and peppers, a scoop of cheese, and a sprinkling of black olives.

Once they were all packed into the casserole, I spread the rest of the cheese over the top...

then poured the enchilada sauce over everything.

Into the oven it went, covered, at 350 for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, I chopped up some avocado, cilantro, and lime wedges to finish.

Tossed together a quick salad with a mango-chili vinaigrette.

Then they were ready to serve. Yum! Thanks, Crystal--you prodded me into one of the best meals I've had in a while.

I made these griddle-cakes out of leftover cornmeal "mush" that I made recently. They were okay... a good use for the leftovers, I thought, but not worth writing home about. Topping them with warmed blackberry preserves and some toasted walnuts was a good choice.

This tofu salad was a pretty decent invention--my goal was just to use up a handful of items in my fridge, but the flavors really worked well, with sort of an Italian flair. I wish I'd had time to drain the tofu a little better--it was a little on the wet side. But still, I can't complain. I'll leave you with the recipe.

I've got some great-looking recipes on my radar screen to try this week... so hopefully I'll have some time! Take care, until next time!

Thyme-y Tofu Salad

1 block firm tofu, drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons Nayonaise
2 celery ribs, finely diced
3 green onions, green and white parts, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, slightly crushed
3 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons chopped black olives
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork until mixed.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

No such thing as a free lunch?

I am finally back from my week of training in North Carolina... As we were coming home yesterday, though, I thought we'd never get here--the Atlanta airport was backed up like crazy for the holiday weekend, and our flight home was delayed more than four hours. Eesh!

The week was nice, however. I can't say that it was relaxing because I did actually attend meetings and classes and socials for about 16 hours out of each day. But it was a nice change of pace from the office, and a great chance to get to know some of my new co-workers. And I've always thought that perhaps of all the states I have been to, North Carolina is the most beautiful. Friday's sunrise was a lovely sight.

As far as food went, I cannot complain at all. My meals were very simple but fresh, healthy, and beautifully presented. I did not take pictures of all my meals, but I couldn't resist taking one. This simple veggie plate is a good representation of the sorts of meals the chef created for me:

Today, Bob and I went to R. Thomas Deluxe Grill for brunch. When I went to R. Thomas before, they messed up when they ran my credit card and ended up charging me much more for my meal than they should have. After I called them and talked with them about it, it took them nearly a month to get everything straightened out and issue a refund. At that point, I was pretty hacked off and swore I would never go back to the restaurant. However, the manager sent me a very sincere apology, as well as $40 in gift cards! So if this meal looks a little extravagant, that's why.

We started with the Basil Tofu Lettuce Wraps, with diced veggies and tofu simmered in a curry basil sauce.

Bob enjoyed this gigantic smoothie, the Lemon Mango Slider, with coconut milk, lemon, mango, grapes, and agave. He said it was easily his favorite element of the entire meal.

For his entrée, Bob chose this Raw Veggie Dinner. Starting at the top and going clockwise, you see a collard kale salad, guacamole served with flax crackers and dehydrated sweet potato strips, a broccoli cauliflower medley, and a walnut sunflower loaf with chipotle sauce. In the center is a seaweed salad topped with raw sauerkraut. Everything on his plate was absolutely delicious, but my favorite was the nut loaf and chipotle sauce.

I ordered the Thai Express, a vegetable sautée with tempeh cubes, served over quinoa with a spicy peanut sauce. Very flavorful, and very, very filling. I didn't manage to eat much of this at all before I wimped out and asked for a box. It will make a fantastic lunch tomorrow.

When we discovered the Raw Apple Pie on the dessert menu, we had to try it. It was worth saving some room for.

You may remember when I ranted before about R. Thomas and their claim that all their omni choices are made with organic, free-range, "cruelty-free" meat and dairy products. However, as several of you pointed out, it is probably better for me to be thankful for the things that the restaurant is doing right, such as being committed to fresh, organic, local ingredients, than to be bitter about the fact that they market their meat as humane. R. Thomas really is a good spot to get great, healthy vegan food, and they're truly doing much more for the well-being of farm animals than 99% of the other restaurants in Atlanta... so I am not going to hold a grudge against them. (I'll just make sure I pay in cash from now on!)

It's supposed to storm across the Southeast this holiday weekend. Thank goodness--we surely need the rain and the relief from the heat! Have a safe holiday, and be careful traveling!