Monday, July 26, 2010

CSA Mysteries

My CSA box brought no zucchini, but it did bring some mysteries.

The first was easily solved. I thought these lovely little oblongs were some sort of squash, but upon consulting the product list from the farm, and doing some Googling, and actually cutting one open, I discovered that they were in fact mini white cucumbers!

The second is still unsolved. It's some sort of bulb or something? I don't think it's a root as it's not terribly dirty and it has wilted leaves on it. So tell me, what is this thing?

While trying to figure that out, I needed to decide what to do with the mini cucumbers. I ended up incorporating them into my morning smoothies. They blend up splendidly and make for a light and easy to drink smoothie. The flavor is an eye-opener in the morning too.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dealing with Zucchini and Irony

After making this Zucchini Bread, I got to thinking about other ways to deal with the flood of zucchinis I was sure to get on Tuesday in the CSA box. So I went to my Gmail recipes stash and fished out some fun zucchini ones and got this post ready ... and opened the box on Tuesday to find not a single zucchini.


I did get one from Mr. Miller though, so that's something. I also got many lovely Japanese Eggplants, so I made Balsamic Glazed Tofu and used the same marinade to cook the eggplants. It was almost too easy, but turned out brilliantly.

Anyway, since I'm sure I'm the only person who is wanting in this arena, here are some of my favorite ways to combat the green wave.

Vegan Zucchini Bread

Creamy Zucchini and Basil Soup

Gnocchi with Zucchini Ribbons and Portabella Mushrooms

Chocolate-Zucchini Muffins Recipe

Stuffed Zucchini Bites

Zucchini Dressing (Raw. Scroll to the bottom.)

Creamy Zucchini Soup (Raw.)

ETA: Zucchini Pasta Dressed in Spicy Peanut Sauce and Topped with Tofu

Posting from work means no pictures and I've been sitting on this post for days now. Besides, what if you have zucchini to cope with NOW? Links are almost as fun as pictures and all the bloggers linked take waaaay nicer pictures than I do, so go over there and have a look.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Perfect Timing

Terry Hope Romero shared her Fresh Gazpacho Salsa Dressing recipe on No Meat Athlete. I mentioned it in this post, but didn’t share because I didn’t have permission. Now you can check it out!

Friday, July 16, 2010

I'm becoming a real live cook!

I'm pretty proud of last night's dinner! I had planned on using all of the yellow summer squash and the green patty pan squash collected from CSAs and friendly coworkers (as I'd finished off the zucchini and yellow patty pans the night previous -and promptly had the zucchinis replenished). I also determined that I need to use up the many, many cherry tomatoes I'd acquired.

So good they're emitting light!

As I was looking over my grains, millet fresh on my mind, quinoa protested by the household, tired of the rice, out of barley, not feeling the bulgur, I spied my long-neglected jar of corn meal. I've had the first Savvy Abby post I'd read on my mind for some time and dinner immediately came together:

Cumin Chili Squash over Corn Bread topped with Fresh Gazpacho Salsa Dressing!

The above post was about hot water cornbread. I'm not giving away any secrets when I say that this is essentially cornmeal and hot water mixed, formed into cakes, and fried.

For mine, I used two cups of cornmeal, 3 diced jalapenos, a big pinch of sugar (will probably go for more next time), some granulated garlic, and enough water, added slowly, to form a paste.

Before I fried those up, I sautéed the squash in oil, waiting until they were tender to add cumin, chili powder, and salt. Once they were removed from the cast iron skillet, I added more oil and fried the corn cakes without washing. Cross-contamination can be your friend.

The Fresh Gazpacho Salsa Dressing is one of my favorite recipes, but sadly it is not my own. It comes from Terry Hope Romero's Viva Vegan!. The only adaptation I made was replacing the chopped tomatoes with halved cherry tomatoes. This Gazpacho is a cool, and refreshing all-purpose topping and I'm glad I own the book for it. (However, it's not my favorite from Viva Vegan! - my heart belongs to Yuca with Cuban Garlic-Lime-Mojo Sauce).

There is one more component that I left out of my already uncreative title: black beans and corn. I lazily tossed them with lime juice before assembling my meal.

All in all, an easy meal to make and lots of complimentary flavors and textures to enjoy. It's also perfect as lunch the next day! I'm proud because it used up a lot of ingredients I had around that needed using, it's delicious, it's filling, and I didn't have to think very hard to do it. It was a very intuitive cooking session. This leads me to believe that my recent experiments are helping me to become the kind of cook I want to be!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oven Night!

Oven Night is a product of my love of efficiency and environmental efforts. Sadly, ovens are inefficient little beasts and so consequently, part of my meal planning involves oven use. When I choose my meals and desserts, I try to double up on anything that's going to be using the oven. This means my oven only has to heat up once, my air conditioning only has to battle it for one evening, during which I adjust it to a higher temp, and I don't have to work in a hot kitchen for more than one night.

So last night's menu was:
Green Mashed Potatoes
Stuffed Acorn Squash
Chocolate Chip Cookies (double batch)

I had planned on Lavender Tea Cookies as well, but the dough did not firm up in time, so it's stowed in the freezer until the next Oven Night.

Moving on, last night's haul from the CSA was oddly bereft of greens. All that I got was one bug-nibbled bunch of ... something. I don't actually know what this is:

But it, along with a bunch of kale, fulfilled its destiny in the Green Mashed Potatos I mentioned awhile back.

The shopping ban has been lifted, by the way, but I still haven't done a big shopping trip. I picked a few staples at MOM when I picked up my box, and already obtained potatoes from the Farmer's Market.

In addition to the mystery green, I got another bunch of carrots, some Japanese eggplants, and a variety of squash.

Last week also brought a tiny bunch of carrots, but they were quite limp by the time I got to using them. They perked right up after a short soak in a bowl of ice water, however.

In addition to all of this fun, there was still an acorn squash from Mr. Miller's garden that needed cooking. The first one I did simply by roasting it after coating the inside with Earth Balance, brown sugar and maple syrup, but I wanted to stuff this one.

For this task I turned to Coleen Patrick-Goudreau's Vegan Table. This seasonal cookbook suggested a harvest-stuffed acorn squash, assuming fall availability, and used many ingredients I did not have, but I knew that going in and was ready to improvise.

First of all, I had scored two purple peppers at the Farmer's Market and wanted them to be a part of it. I had also pre-soaked and cooked some black-eyed peas, so they were part of the mix.

When it came time to measure out the spices, I realized I did not want the sweetish mix of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg going over my peppers. I love that mix, but this called for a different combination.

Consulting The Flavor Bible. I settled on Basil and Coriander. This is when I realized that my recipe was similar to Goudreau's only in baking directions, and even then, I might go a little less the next time around.

The final result was stellar. I made way too much filling for one squash, but I ended up eating a lot of it out of the bowl anyway and then for lunch today. I'll probably tweak it a bit in the future, but I've included my recipe below anyway.

And I've obviously switched from iPhone to real camera for the most part, but I'm still learning what makes a good photo, so bear with me!

I still don't know what this is.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Best Vegan Blogs

This list of the Best Vegan Blogs showed up on my Facebook feed this morning. Many of my favorites are listed in the ranks. This is a great resource for those of you who need to populate your readers. Enjoy!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Shopping Has Been Reconsidered

Considering that I started this blog to demonstrate that eating incredibly delicious, home cooked, vegan meals every day was downright easy, I hate to admit that I was concerned about my move to rethink grocery shopping. I usually start each week on Sunday by going through cookbooks to choose some recipes, writing the menu on my kitchen whiteboard, checking my stores for what's needed, and finally going to the market for the necessary supplies.


This all changed when the CSA pickups started on Tuesdays. Not wanting to buy a bunch of food, then have food delivered, I shifted my process to Tuesday evenings, and chose recipes that used the CSA haul.

Still pretty easy, if mildly annoying to have to try to use up pounds and pounds of greens for the first few weeks.

But now, I have to work with what I have. That's kind of scary.

My first stab at this was inspired by my macro-living sister. She loves to eat brown rice and pickled things all the time. So I made brown rice with umeboshi plum vinegar, frozen corn and peas, and the kimchi that had been languishing in the back of my refrigerator since I first tried it and was not impressed.

I have to say, for a meal that was so easy to make, and not heavily spiced, I was pretty happy. I'm still not in love with kimchi. But that was it for the brown rice.

That was a devastating moment, since that and wild rice are my go-tos for base grains. What would I do when I made green curry? It turns out that the answer to that is ignore the doubting Thomases, use barley, and revel in a wonderful heavy and filling meal! Barley added a surprising amount of decadence (and buffer for the jalapenos I added) to my usual dish.

I won't bore you with the day to day method of devising meals. It's now the fourth week of this mode of eating, and I couldn't be happier.

Last night, I moved my oils to the food cabinet and now I have plenty of space for my cookbooks. My large pantry holds trash bags, and a few bulky items, but the food is otherwise removed. My small pantry boasts plenty of space for restocking and nothing is hidden. My freezer is a dream. Once stuffed to the point that each door opening was a direct threat to one's well being, I now have the space to put a giant sheet of no bake cookies to set. Finally, my refrigerator is easy to navigate and I won't have to risk losing the smaller storage containers behind everything else, only to discover a fuzzy nightmare months later.

Granted, it's gone on this long because of the weekly CSA box and the generous coworker who has gifted many squash, peppers, and tomatoes. Also, I have a rediculous stock pile of dried beans, nuts, grains, and fruits all about the house.

So, the best part? I'm not sure. On one hand, my grocery bill has dropped dramatically. I know this is temporary, as someday I will have to buy food again, but for now I'm living on dollars already spent. So the balance is restored. On the other, I'm more adventurous and intuitive a cook. I wasn't bad before, but now I'm getting hit with strokes of genius and I'm unafraid to combine spices and herbs in new ways.

It turns out I gleaned quite a bit from my devoted reading and use of cookbooks. I have always believed that recipes are a guide, not the law. I don't cower under what Dynise Balcavage refers to as the tyranny of the recipe. Now I look at recipes for ideas, put the book down, and go about my dinner prep.

This experience has also changed the way I eat in another way. This Saturday, I treated myself to a video game binge. Usually on those days, I subsist by popping something in the microwave during load screens. But this weekend, each time, I got up and prepared something. It was usually just sautéing some squash, eggplants, or whatever was available with some couscous, but it was prepared each time. I can't help but feel like I'm getting ever closer to my goals of cooking for myself with whole plant foods, as opposed to turning to convenience foods out of laziness.

I will return to the cookbooks eventually. In fact, when I discovered that I had just 1/2 cup of vegan sour cream tucked away in the fridge, I followed Tamasin Noyes' recipe for Cinacrunch Muffins almost to the letter (I was a little low on brown sugar) and they were incredible! I love cooking from my books, and I have two more on the way to my house now.

So in the end, my fears were allayed. I enjoyed the creative process that cooking should be. I also realigned my relationship with food and shopping. I have brought a good deal of simplicity to my kitchen and some resourcefulness to my planning.

I went to the farmer's market yesterday and came home with cantaloupe, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and onions. This week, after I pick up my CSA box, I may pick up a few extra things at the store. My return to grocery shopping will be gradual and I doubt that I'll return to doing the once weekly full-cart mega trip, though.

So I declare this experiment a success! And I declare it easy as well. It was actually so easy that I'm embarrassed to have admitted my trepidation. But I take great comfort in the fact that I'm right: it's easy to eat well and eat vegan, even when you don't have access to everything you could ever want.

I’ll share more about the recipes I used in an upcoming post, along with some after shots of the pantries. Below, the before shots!