Sunday, July 17, 2011

No Appetite for Choppin'

All for me?

I have learned a very, very important thing in cooking the recipes from Isa's Appetite for Reduction:  Aside from the Quinoa recipe, if you are a B'klyn<3, then this is not a weeknight cookbook.

I really, sincerely have a chopping problem.  I strive for perfection, and the amount of effort I put into it usually doesn't even show!

This night saw me making two dishes from the book; Jerk Asparagus (because I like jerk seasoning as well as immature laughter at calling something like asparagus a Jerk.  A suggested main course for this was Caribbean Curry Black Eye Peas with Plantains, a recipe you can find on Isa's very awesome website, Post Punk Kitchen.

This was a preparation nightmare for me, as I am incapable of a) chopping anything in a time that even vaguely resembles reasonable, and b) doing more than a couple of things at once in the kitchen.  I should note that although the meal took ... 3 weeks, I'd guestimate, longer to prepare than it should have, I did manage to get it all to completion at the same time.  This would be the first time ever.

Caribbean Curry Black Eyed Peas With Plantains

I still managed to get confused.  "Finely dice"... wouldn't that be a mince?  What kind of chunks are we talking about with one inch chunks?  Juice of just half of a lime, what?  And, of course, what the heck is a Ninja Storm?!

Out came a dish that left me wondering (again), does this look right?  Is it right?  No, it turns out I did screw up the plantain chopping... but I could not deny the sweet and spicy flavors this dish offered up.  This was... oh my goodness, this was gorgeous!  Vegans eat very, very well, thank you very much!

The Jerk Asparagus (heh heh Jerk), on the other hand, turned out to be... asparagus with effort.  It was slightly spicy, and perhaps it was operator error (I wouldn't put it past me), but ultimately I could produce the same effect with a lot less effort by using a scant amount of oil and ground spices.  The Husband took great offense that the asparagus, while called Jerk (tee hee Jerk),  didn't use any hot peppers in the seasoning.  (The curry did, and it was fabulous, he's looking forward to me making more of her curries).  
I'm either a bad photographer or you are drunk.

So almost done with this tour of a Vegan cookbook.  I can see I will use it again and again, but not on a school night... or, indeed, any night where I'm needing to chop-chop-chop!  Fortunately I did leave the lasagna for the weekend, and will wrap up the review.  So far, I'd say it's worth a read.  

Now I need to find a slightly faster (at least for B'klyn<3s) cookbook of light vegetarian/vegan cuisine!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What is Provencal? What the heck is a Ninja Storm?!?!

Some times, things don't sink in for me.  I often find myself asking What the heck is a Ninja Storm?  And yes, I did just link to an answer of sorts.  I'm actually (being a huge geek, but you've been warned before) a Power Rangers fan, but my brain can't wrap around it.

Another concept readily explained but constantly going over my head is Provencal.  Provencal this food.  Provencal that food.  Wiki seems to think it involves France in one of several ways.  

I don't know what it is... which is why I was puzzled when The Husband selected this as his chosen dish in our Appetite for Reduction journey.

Is this right?  Does it look like this?
(By the way, yes.  I know I'm not reducing anymore.  This does not mean I'm not continually interested in lean and healthy dishes... especially of the vegetarian and vegan sort!)

So, without a picture to go by or any real clue (despite having the whole of the internet to just confuse me more on the topic, I made Isa's Eggplant Provencal.

Here is where I started learning something about the book I'll reveal later.  All I know is that I tend to be... slightly... anal retentive.  I know at one point Mark Bittman made a joke on one of his The Minimalist clips taking 2 or 3 hours to precisely dice carrots.  Except I did not laugh, because, some how, that is my life.  

Apparently, Provencal involves chopping.  A lot of chopping.

It also involved red wine.  I added my favorite red wine and all liquids into my dutch oven.  I'm told by the book not to worry if the veggies poke out a little, as they would cook down.

I look into my pot.  They are poking out more than a little.  More to the tune of a helluva lot.

I do like a lot of veggies (yes) but I was trying to be as true to the recipes as possible and thought I was using an appropriate amount.  I ultimately wound up adding more veggie broth (or water... or some liquid, maybe wine?) so I got the point of poking out a little.

After all, I do not know what a provencal is!

After much cooking... much, much cooking, I swear three days passed between the chopping and the cooking, I looked at my dish and thought... it's stuff.  I placed it in a bowl.  I didn't have anything in the way of cool bread.  So I stuck an English muffin in.  Because in the world of Provencal, English and French go together.  Right?  Right?!

So, 8 weeks later, I sat down and had my first bite of Provencal.  And do you know what?

English invades France!  Is that right?  Is that provencal?
Is this a Ninja Storm?
I did not like it.

It tastes... sweet.  Is that right?  Should it?

I take 2 more bites.  I don't like it.  It's warm... eggplant is mushy... but doesn't that normally happen.

I take another bite.  I scoop some on top of the English muffin.  It's not bad.

I take 2 or 3 more bites.  Actually, it's not quite so bad.

The dinner goes on (very long, I take a while to eat) until my ultimate decision is that it's warm, filling, slightly sweet, slightly mushy.  Potatoes and carrots cooked to perfection.  It does go good with bread.  It's actually very, very good.

Which is my way sometimes, which is why I like to take more than 3 bites.  Unless it is really, really bad.  That usually takes just 2 bites.

So, I recommend this... provencal thing to people.  But really, can you answer me a question?

What the heck is a Ninja Storm?!*

*  Yes.  I am crazy.  Thank you for noticing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Appetite for Quinoa, Cookbooks and Reduction

Ah, Quinoa.  It seems like only yesterday I was reading about you in an issue of Real Simple on the 30 Healthiest Foods and thinking, "Kee..noo...whaaaaaaaaaa?"

If it makes them delicious,
more foods should start with the letter Q.
Then again, I thought that about a lot of the foods, because while I had heard of things such as blueberries, walnuts and spinach, there were things I certainly never deigned to eat in the past (vegetables?  p'shaw!), and things I'd never even heard of (what's a Chard?  Kale?  Bulgurwhaaaa?). I'd never had a lentil, but knew them to be mocked in some fashion in The Young Ones.  I'd certainly never ate one.  On purpose.  I wasn't some poor hippy depressed college student having madcap adventures with my wacky roommates in England, now was I?!

Then of course, Quinoa.  I made a vow, upon reading the issue, that I would try these... "Super" foods, as "they" were apt to call them, and quinoa, somehow, became the last of them I tried... and somehow I saved the best for last because wow.  The texture, the taste, the strange little white circles it developed... Everything about it was wonderful.  Everything it went with was wonderful.  All other grains were shoved aside for this... yes, I agreed with "them"... a SUPER food.

In any case, in ever learning that there is more I need to learn, I started gathering books for healthier cooking.  I think around here is where I started gathering books specifically on vegetarian cooking as I wanted to cook more vegetarian meals, and I thought to myself "what better place to go than a vegetarian magazine or cookbook?"  (Good thing I have them now!)

My appetite for new cookbooks was voracious... and now, I have a metric ton of them!  New recipes for... I don't know, forever.

So maybe I should focus a little.  Work on cooking, using these books (as I love the ideas, but only have finite time to actually cook and eat these things, right?)

My book, de-piled and ready for action!
I chose Appetite For Reduction by Isa Chandra Mokowitz because of several reasons:  The recipe list looked interesting, she's from Brooklyn, she has a book called Veganomicon, and... it was also on the top of my teetering pile of books!  So away we go!  I chose 3 recipes and The Husband also chose a recipe.  And away we went.

The first one done was Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Toasted Cumin Seeds.  Ah, Quinoaaaaah! We meet again!

This actually turns out to be a bonus recipe.  We were due to make massive vegetarian chili (tried and true WW recipe that, despite most things that prevent dish repeats, has been repeated several times due to ease, flavor, and The Husband's constant amazement that it does not contain beef).  By the end of the day, however, we were both feeling a bit like lighter fare.

Off to the interwebs I went to look for a healthy, light salad... and while I swear I did not specify anything about vegetarianism or this book (which I had been flipping through earlier in the day), one of the first results I got (for whatever it was I was looking for) was this recipe.  Further good news, I had most of the ingredients on hand (quick shopping trip for the greens though).

I appreciated that this took no time to put together.  With me and my anal retentive chopping, I was pleased to find I was practically in and out of the kitchen in 5 minutes.  Maybe 10, as I didn't have any pre-cooked quinoa on hand (it goes fast). 

The flavor was simply amazing!  Black beans, nutty quinoa, the sweetness (but not overly sweet) of the dressing, the flavors and textures went together so nicely... this was a great salad.

A light salad, yet we ate heartily and well.
As many on the internet have indicated as well, it gets better with age.  The leftovers were transformed from a great salad... to a SUPER salad.  

Also, does not need to just be just a salad.  I've also stuffed this into a tortilla as a wrap.  Tomorrow, I will take the last of my leftovers and have it as my breakfast, and smile for much of the morning.  (Haven't decided to wrap it, toss it on greens... or straight down my gullet). 

With ease of prep and highly delicious flavor, I was looking forward to the recipes The Husband and I had prepared for.  I wondered if the rest of my experiences would be the same...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Husband 'Maters

I still feel about as green as the tomatoes were...

It's been forever, and I would love to say that this is the day I get better about posting regularly.  But the moment I say that is the moment that seals the fate that it'll never happen.  Things I to say will happen or will not happen tend to go in the opposite direction.

For now, enjoy the (not so brief, it is me we're talking about) update and recipe goodness!

I reached my goal weight.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, after struggling on the 10-pounds-to-go-5-pounds-to-go-10-pounds-to-go-yo-yo, I walked into Weight Watchers and found myself 1/2-pound under my set goal weight.

Those I will remember as very shakey, watery times.

Shocking times to the point that... well, I still don't quite believe it.

Which is why there is now a 6-week period where I have to stooooooop losing weight (and, of course, not gain any weight), the end result being that I will become a lifetime member.  (As of right now, I've completed 4 weeks... it's so close!)
Like these tomatoes, done but with more to do...

All in all, things haven't changed nor will they change.  I will be a Weight Watcher for the rest of my life.  I'll continue to track, I'll continue to go to meetings, and I will continue to learn more about diet and exercise and staying on track.  The change right now is that I have to eat a little (eat the amount to keep a weight rather than to lose weight) and the change in 6 weeks if all goes well is that I will no longer have to pay for the service.

Wish me luck, because I very much love money.

I'm Vegging Out
The Husband's funny, truly unbeknownst* to either of us at the time, ultimately became a self fulfilling prophesy.  I'd venture to guess there were at least two more conversations after that (namely, I'm going to try this Meatless Month of May thing! and I'm going to do the Vegetarian Times Veg Boot Camp thing! spring to mind).  I then decided to remain a vegetarian.

There was a lot of soul searching going on.  At the time, I was doing it for personal challenge, to explore the many many foods and food groups I'd all but ignored in the first 30 or so years of my life... but there was also the aspect of the treatment of animals raised to feed us, the impact on the environment, many different things that ultimately lead me to decide that even though I like meat, I don't want to eat it if it helps (even ever so little) ease the burden to pave the way to change.  My voice may be small, but I will lend it.
If this is part of Meatless Everyday, then I'm good to go.

As with the Weight Watchers thing, though, I hope this doesn't preclude friends from inviting me out to places just because they thing a vegetarian might not want to go there (which I know, is a tough thing to do, right?!)  I'd rather be in charge of my own destiny in that respect, and I'd much rather my friends preclude me from going out to places on the basis that I'm being particularly annoying that day.**

By the way, I won't ask you to do anything with your eating styles, but I'd encourage all to check out Meatless Monday.  Maybe try it on, see if it fits.  It can be healthy for you and for the environment.  Every little bit helps.

Polenta Margherita

Two years ago, The Husband and I attempted to grow our very own tomatoes and herbs.  It was a small, sad display, with some meager results, but we'd just started out.  We were young and foolish then, as opposed to the old fools we'd soon become...

One year ago, we grew a basil plant so large it was practically sentient.  I'm not sure how we accomplished this, but it was amazing.

What was not as amazing?  Our tomatoes.  We had several factors against us, the two biggest being severe drought conditions that apparently only a basil plant could survive and even thrive on, and squirrels the size of Volkswagen Beetles that leap nimbly through the wispy trees, pluck off tomatoes that look like they were in danger of turning ripe eat half and leave the rest in neat little rows on the balcony rail.

Finally, I ate the tomato before the squirrel did!
This year, things went a little differently, and we're seeing some fabulous results.

1) No drought.  At least not yet, but I am sure it is coming.

2) Aside from choosing the plants (and occasionally adding some), I've virtually nothing to do with the growing of the plants.  The Husband apparently has enough green thumbs for 10 men, so my brown thumb hasn't been messing things up so much.  I prefer to think of myself more as management in that respect, and on that note...

3) Squirrel repellent!  There was a spray (looks to be garlic based) that I picked up at Ye Olde Whole Foods which, after I saw a rather plump, violent fellow of a squirrel who would not back away from the plants until I was practically standing on its head, I sprayed liberally on the tomatoes (about the only interaction I've had with the plants).  Since that time, no squirrels.

Witnessing  two of The Husband's 'Maters growing so big and beautiful under his tender loving care, I knew I had to make something special.  Something like pizza (what's a B'klyn<3 to do, right?), but low calorie, easy and delicious.

The reviews (from The Husband and a friend we had over for dinner) were outstanding enough that I thought I'd post the recipe!  The recipe is inspired from several sources, all rolled up into this nice little package below.  I hope if you try it that you enjoy!

Polenta Margherita
Serves 4-6

This has its basis in many pizza recipes (regular and polenta style).  This one was made to our taste and was marvelous!  I hope you give it a swing!  I think it is easy, filling and delicious... and certainly can be customized!


Polenta Margherita
  • Tube of pre-made Polenta (I used San Gennaro Basil and Garlic... gaaaaahlic!), sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 Large, Luscious, Sun-ripened The Husband 'Maters (or 2 regular tomatoes if you aren't as lucky as a B'klyn<3), sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 tsp of olive oil, divided
  • 1 Tbsp garlic (gaaaaa-oh, you get the idea), minced.  Optional, more or less to taste, on that note.
  • 6 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 oz parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 2 Tbsp basil, cut chiffonade style.


Pre-heat your broiler.  Coat a pie plate with cooking spray.  Take your polenta slices and, starting from the center, make intricate, beautiful concentric circles.  Marvel at their beauty.  You won't see them again.  Get the dish into the broiler for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the polenta is heated through and golden brown.

Once out of the oven, and starting from the center, make intricate, beautiful concentric circles.  Behold their glory, especially if they are  The Husband 'Maters.  You may want to allow them to show a little.

On top of this, sprinkle your gaaaaahlic (if using, shame if you are not), mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.  Drizzle remaining olive oil on top.

Throw this masterpiece back into the broiler and broil until cheese is gooey, lightly browned and delicious.  Sprinkle with basil.  Smell the deliciousness.  Eat at a dinner table with family and friends and enjoy with a glass of red wine!

* What a cool word I got to use at last!

** I understand this is usually every day.