Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thunderstorm Blues

It's been raining in Chicago for the past decade.  OK, not the past decade, only the past 5 years or so it seems.  I heard recently that this April may be the cloudiest on record.  It's been crazy.  It's rained every day for the past week, at least, and will rain again tomorrow.  Everything is starting to turn green and flowers are starting to bloom, but all of these clouds and rain are damn depressing.

On top of the rain, it's my week to work late.  That means that I am working until at least 6 PM or 7 PM depending on how much of the staff wants to work overtime.  Monday and Tuesday, I worked until 6 PM.  Tonight, I worked until 7 PM.  One of the best things about my late week is that I can accomplish a bit more during the morning before I go to work.
Yesterday morning, I made Butternut Tofu Stuffed Shells.  I knew I would be working until 6 PM and wouldn't get home until at least 7 PM.  The Bulls game started at about 7:10 PM.  There was no way that I wanted to be cooking out in the kitchen when the game was on.  I love the playoffs and am particularly happy about the Bulls being in them.
I had roasted a butternut squash over the weekend specifically to make the shells.  I mixed it with the tofu, lemon juice, and spices.  While I was combining the tofu mixture, I cooked the shells and rinsed them in cool water.  Then, I just left them in the colander until it was time to stuff them.
I read all of the reviews on VegWeb.com for the shells recipe.  I decided to dice two links of Tofurky Italian Sausage made with Sun Dried Tomatoes and brown it in a tablespoon of olive oil.
I added it to the tofu mixture before stuffing the shells.  I ended up making 24 shells.  The recipe calls for 16 to 20 shells.  I only had 24 in the box, so I cooked all of them.  I think my butternut squash may have been a little bigger and the sausage gave the filling a little more volume.  I used about a jar and a half of sauce (32 oz. total).  After all of the shells were stuffed, I put the casserole in the fridge until it was time to bake it.  I kept 18 shells at home and took 6 shells to work in a small pyrex dish and baked them at work for lunch.
My son put the casserole in the oven at about 6:15 PM, which gave me time to stop and buy some bread to go with it.  I got home at about 6:55 PM and the meal was ready to eat at about 7:10 PM.  It was perfect timing.  I didn't tell my sons that it was vegan shells and they couldn't tell the difference.  At some point, I will tell them, but it's nice that my sons liked it and ate it the same as they would have if it had been filled with fat laden dairy.
This morning, I wanted something for breakfast, but I didn't want anything I had in the house.  I had enough high fiber bread with peanut butter, enough oatmeal, enough high fiber cereal, and enough steel cut oats.  I had 4 ripe bananas that I needed to use, so I pulled out a few vegan cookbooks and went searching for a recipe.  I ended up choosing Lower Fat Banana Bread from Veganomicon
One of the ingredients in the recipe is molasses.  I have only recently started baking with molasses.  As you can see from the picture above, the wet ingredients were a dark chocolate brown from the molasses.  I did make one alteration, which was that I added cinnamon flavored applesauce instead of regular applesauce.  It added a tad more cinnamon flavor and a tad more sweetness since it was sweetened applesauce.  I had regular unsweetened applesauce, but the recipe only needed half of an individual portion of applesauce and I didn't feel like eating unsweetened.  :::grin:::
The batter wasn't quite as dark once the dry ingredients were incorporated into the wet.  I used a whisk to mix the wet ingredients and then used a wooden spoon to stir the flour mixture into the molasses/banana mixture.  I was careful not to over mix the batter.  Instead of making bread or 12 regular sized muffins, I made 6 jumbo muffins.  My sons prefer the bigger "deli" sized muffins, so I usually make them.
I sprinkled some large decorator sugar on the muffins before baking.  I think it's made by Wilton.  It took me a long time to find it.  It was another request by my older son so my homemade muffins would be more like deli muffins, which always come with the large sugar sprinkles.  The muffins turned out fabulous!  The sugar sprinkles added just the right amount of sweet.  This recipe rocks.  I love the flavor the molasses added to the muffin.  This was the perfect morning breakfast for me today.  It was a perfect match to my cuppa joe.  This is definitely a repeat recipe!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pressure Cooker Indian Chickpeas

I printed the Pressure Cooker Indian Chickpeas recipe out months ago.  I saw it on the blog Vegan Dad.  I've tried a couple of recipes off of his blog and have enjoyed them.  I pulled my copy of this recipe out on Saturday thinking I would make it on Sunday for one of my weekly meals.  Well, THAT didn't happen after making the Cheezy Tofu Potato Skillet (which I still have enough for at least one or two more meals).
This morning, I decided that tonight was the night.  I put my remaining stash of dried chickpeas, which just happened to be about 1½ cups, into water before I left for work.  When I returned home, the chickpeas had been soaking for about 10 hours, which was great.
I started piling ingredients into the pressure cooker.  I ended up putting the sweet potatoes on top.  The recipe calls for butternut squash or sweet potatoes.  I used sweet potatoes as I think I'll be making Butternut Tofu Stuffed Shells for Easter Sunday dinner.  They just sound SOOOO good!  Who could resist?!?!?

So, I threw all of the ingredients for the Pressure Cooker Indian Chickpeas in the pressure cooker.  I didn't have curry leaves, so I threw in ½ teaspoon red curry powder.  Not sure that was a good substitute, but hey, I did what I could.  While it was cooking, I threw a couple of scoops of a brown rice mix in the multi-cooker to cook.
My verdict is, it's a good dish, but too bland for my tastes.  Maybe that's because I used red curry powder instead of curry leaves.  I honestly don't know.  Perhaps it's because I like my dishes on the spicy side and this is definitely NOT spicy at all.  It's good for a family meal with younger children or young adults who don't like spicy.  I like the dish, but definitely will spice it up if I make it again.  For now, I just put a conservative squeeze of Sriracha sauce in mine.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cheezy Tofu Potato Skillet with Classic Cafe Hash Browns

After seeing my Mom off on her train, I was thinking about what I was going to make myself for breakfast brunch. It's a 25 minute drive from my house to the train station, so I had some time to think about it.  I have been wanting to make a skillet out of Tamasin Noyes' American Vegan Kitchen.  The Cheezy Tofu Potato Skillet on page 30 caught my eye, but she warns in the description that it's not a quick fix.  She's right.  It's not, but it's well worth the effort.
First, I made the Classic Cafe Hash Browns on page 44.  However, I used two russet and two sweet potatoes for the potatoes.  The hash browns had a wonderful flavor, but took longer to cook, I'm guessing because of the sweet potatoes.  In the end, it didn't matter because I just let them cook on medium/medium-low while I pulled the rest of the skillet meal together.
After the hash browns were made, it was pretty simple.  I sauteed the green pepper, onion, and spices.  I think the oregano flavor was too bold for me.  That may have been because I didn't have any fennel, but I don't really know.  Next time, I'll probably leave it out all together.  I won't miss it. 
I was being REALLY lazy and didn't want to get my garlic dicer gadget out, so I used Penzey's dried garlic, which is in perfectly formed little cubes.  Instead of sauteing it with the peppers and onion, I threw it in with the tofu, thinking that the moisture from the tofu would plump up the dried cubes.  It seemed to work wonderfully.
I put the onion/pepper mixture on top of the hash browns.  Next, I added a layer of Nacho Cheese Teese.  I put it between the peppers and onions and the tofu layer.
I piled on the tofu, diced tomato, and diced onion.  I put a single round of Nacho Cheese Teese on the center of the top of the skillet before popping it into the oven under the broiler.
When it came out of the oven, it looked pretty perfect to me.  I mean, how much more delicious can a dish look?
 
Two hours (at least) after I started preparation, I dished up my plate and made myself a fresh cuppa joe and got ready to eat.  I did add some taco sauce to my plate.  It was most excellent.
I will probably leave the cheese out of this next time.  I'm not a big vegan cheese fan.  Don't get me wrong, the Nacho Cheese Teese was good.  But, I don't think I've eaten a vegan diet long enough to fully embrace cheese substitutes.  I'm so used to not eating cheese at all and there were enough wonderful flavors in this skillet that I am sure the cheese would not be missed.  This is definitely a do again recipe for me.

Saturday Supper

My Uncle Dave, who was also my Godfather, passed away on Monday.  My Mom planned on going to the funeral with me, so she came up to Chicago on Thursday evening.  We split a bottle of red wine and sat at the kitchen table and talked.  Friday, we traveled to Galesburg, IL for the funeral service.  Saturday, we cooked.  My Mom and my sons are omnivores.  So, I fixed a roast for them.  While their main dish cooked, I made my own main dish.
My main dish for Saturday supper was BBQ Tempeh Burgers from the blog, Our Veggie Kitchen.  I've made burgers with TVP and wheat gluten, tofu, and chickpeas, but I haven't used tempeh for burgers.  These looked good and I had all of the ingredients in my kitchen.  That's always a plus! :::grin:::
Everything came together fairly easily.  Boiling the lentils and brown rice, and then the tempeh were no brainers.  I used the small dice blade for my Vidalia Onion Chopper to chop the onions and jalapeno.  I kneaded the mixture for about 3 minutes.  (It makes my hands tired. :)  Then, I used my 30 year old Tupperware hamburger press to form perfectly round burgers.
I baked them for 15 minutes.  The first one I removed stuck a little, but the rest were ok.  I rubbed a small amount of olive oil on each burger before flipping them so they wouldn't stick again.  The burgers turned out great.  My youngest son grabbed one, and my Mom took one home, to Springfield, IL today.  The rest went into my freezer for future eating enjoyment.  I'll make this burger again.  It was very easy to assemble and doesn't require steaming an hour.  While I love the burgers I steam, it's nice to have a quick alternative.
Meanwhile, Mom when to work on the veggies.  She made Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon, Curry, and Cumin from the blog Kalyn's Kitchen.  Kalyn's Kitchen is not a vegan blog, but I happened across the recipe for the roasted cauliflower a few months ago and really like it.
Mom didn't stop with just cauliflower, but also added some diced russet potatoes and baby carrots.  We also added a dash of smoked paprika.  After the cauliflower mixture had baked for about 20 minutes, we added some baby portabella mushrooms.  The veggies ROCKED!

I also made dessert, but I did not photograph it.  I put 1½ cups of soy yogurt, 1 sliced golden mango, 1/4 cup of rum, and 2 cups of a frozen mixture of pineapple, mango, peaches, and strawberries in my Vitamix and let it blend until smooth.  I refrigerated it until we were ready to eat it.  I think it would have been excellent if I had thrown it into the ice cream maker and made frozen yogurt.  I'll try that next time.

Of course, we had our cooking session and dinner with more wine and great conversation.  Although we were together for a sad reason, we had a very enjoyable visit.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chickpea Rice Soup with Cabbage and Lemon Gem Cupcakes

If you are wondering if I am power blogging today, the answer is:  Yes, I am.  I didn't mean to.  Actually, I meant to blog about my Brown Rice with Veggies and Roasted Veggies last week when I made them on Wednesday.  The problem was that I didn't get to eat until 9:45 PM, and by then, I was too tired to blog.

I had to work to 7:00 PM on Thursday to cover for another manager due to a family emergency, so when I got home at 8:30 PM, all I could think about was watching Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice.  Turns out I could have skipped Grey's Anatomy last week.  I absolutely HATED it.  I do not care for 99% of all musicals.  And on Friday, well, it's the end of the week.  I ate dinner with my sons and then I watched the Bulls game with my son and read a book about Ruth (in the Bible) on my Kindle.

So today, I am cooking.  I like cooking on the weekends.  I ran through all of my soup on Monday and had no soup in the house.  I have grown to love soup over the last year and love having it on hand for my fast food.  I have some in the freezer, but I wanted to make a soup I've never had.  So, I turned to my bookmarks to see what links I had saved.  I found a recipe for Chickpea Rice Soup with Cabbage on Post Punk Kitchen
This recipe was perfect for me as I had chickpeas in the freezer.  However, I only had two cups and I used them all, so I'll be cooking more in my pressure cooker tomorrow.  Plus, I had a big head of cabbage that I needed to use.  I didn't have any baby carrots, but I had regular carrots.  I used a half of a head of cabbage, which is double what the recipe listed.  I also use 8 cups of water with 1 no-chicken bouillon cube and 1 low-sodium vegetable bouillon cube.
I didn't think the recipe had enough spices in it, so I added 1 teaspoon of dried jalapeno flakes and maybe half teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  I also put a healthy squirt (maybe a teaspoon or so) of Siracha sauce in the soup.  It added some zip.  I didn't have fresh dill, so I ended up using a teaspoon or so of dried dillweed. 
The soup is good.  I think it may have been better with the fresh dill added just before eating.  Definitely, for my tastes, the extra spices were a requirement.  Otherwise, it would have been too bland for me.  It's a nice, basic soup.
I also am baking today.  A friend, Amy, turned 40 on Wednesday.  Tonight, a group of girlfriends are gathering to have dinner and then go to a club for cocktails, dancing, and dessert.  My contribution will be Vegan Lemon Gem Cupcakes.  The recipe is from Vegan with a Vengeance, and interestingly enough, both of the recipes I made today are by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
The cupcakes were very easy to make.  I used an electric mixer to combine the wet and dry ingredients and I'm not sure I was supposed to do that.  It made the batter very light and airy, but I had more batter than 12 cupcakes, so I put the remainder in two ramekins.  I did taste the batter and it was VERY good.  And the baked cupcakes have a great flavor, with a subtle lemon flair that isn't overwhelming.  However, there was a serious problem with that frosting recipe.
There was way too much liquid in the frosting recipe and the frosting was a "soup" not a frosting that could be spread on the cupcakes.  As you can see, at first, I tried to use it, but I have to transport these cupcakes to dinner tonight and a soupy mess will not work.  I opted for a more traditional vanilla frosting.
As you can see, this will work much better for the dinner tonight.  I'd make the recipe for the cupcakes again, but definitely will not be trying that frosting again.  I made two batches of it and both were disasters.  Hopefully the cupcakes with the vanilla frosting will be a hit.

My Week and Veggies

I begin with a picture of Kobe Bean who is proudly standing over the mess that she and Jordan have made on the deck.  They are always quite proud when they can tip over a pot of dirt or drag the kiddie pool off of the deck and fill it with a million little tooth puncture marks.  Yes, I will be getting a new pool for Kobe this summer.  :::smile:::
I continue with a picture of Jordan standing on the hot tub enjoying the morning out in the sun and fresh air.  Skittles, the Yorkie, is somewhere in the house snoozing. 
Next, I present a picture of my lemon tree.  I'm in the Chicago area.  Winter is NOT friendly to citrus trees.  I've had the lemon tree for almost (not quite) two years.  The first year, it had about a half dozen leaves.  Last summer, it had a growth spurt and was filled with new leaves and branches.  That is, of course, until I brought it in the house and left it in my kitchen for the winter.  The French doors in my kitchen face north, so there is no direct sunlight.

I don't really have a good window for the plant, so I was going to take it into my office and leave it there.  (I have a wall full of east windows that I thought would be great for it.)  However, that never happened.  I needed to top off the dirt and then it was absolutely freezing in Chicago, so I was afraid of shocking (and killing) the tree.  I have the fluorescent light bulbs in the kitchen, and they must have given the lemon tree more light than I imagined, as it didn't drop "ALL" of its leaves, just most of them.
So, I'm looking at the plant about a week ago and see tiny bumps that look like buds.  There are 5 of them.  I'm thinking, "Could these possibly be lemons?!?!?!"  I really doubted it as the tree has been in my kitchen dropping leaves all winter.  A week later, I am sure ... my lemon tree has 5 lemons growing on it.  This "tree" is pretty much just a branch and if it was on a Charlie Brown cartoon, it would be the summer equivalent of his Christmas tree.  We'll see how this goes.
As you can see, the lemon tree is a pitiful tree, but it is growing some fruit.  How amazing is that?!?  I'll post a few progress pictures as the lemons get bigger.

OK, so I actually did cook this week.  I roasted a head of cauliflower (that had frozen in my bottom produce drawer of my fridge) and a pound of Brussels sprouts.  I drizzled a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over them and sprinkled them with sea salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika.  I roasted them at 400ยบ for about 40 minutes, stirring after 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, I made Brown Rice with Vegetables in my new multi-cooker.  It is a rice cooker (separate cycles for brown and white), slow cooker, and a steamer.  :)  I sauteed onion, celery, and mushrooms (baby bellas), and then added 3 cups of a brown rice blend (love mixing up those brown rices), water, and one no-chicken and one low sodium veggie bouillon cube.  After the rice was done cooking, I added about ¼ cup of finely chopped raw pecans and ½ cup of craisins.  This is a variation of one of the recipes that came with the multi-cooker.  I had to change some of the ingredients to vegan versions and I added baby bellas.
The cooking cycle for the brown rice is much longer than I anticipated.  Evidently, the multi-cooker cooks it at a lower temperature for a longer period of time.  The rice turned out absolutely wonderful.  Now that I know the cooking time is longer, I'll be able to adjust my cooking coordination so that everything is done at the same time.  Although I ate the dishes separately, they were both extremely tasty ... even as leftovers for lunch at work the next day.