One pot, three meals, and reflections on a month of no meat

January 31, 2009

I love few things more than I do a one-pot meal. Considering that Matt is our designated dishwasher, I think this is a sign of my true and pure selflessness. I just want to make things easier on him.

Even better than a one-pot meal is a one-pot meal that I stretch out over three days. As was the case with this winner:

pasta and mushrooms marsala, Pretty Darn Quick style

pasta and mushrooms marsala, Pretty Darn Quick style

I’m really into this cookbook, in case you haven’t been paying attention. Now, I’ve never actually had a marsala dish of any kind, so I didn’t know what to expect beyond a pretty darn quick meal. And I got a little nervous while reading the recipe, which warns against using “cheap Marsala cooking wine found in most supermarkets,” as what I had in my hand at that moment was cheap Marsala cooking wine found in my supermarket. But I went with it because, hey, it was there. We can’t buy regular wine in the grocery store, so without dragging out my already overly complex weekly shopping trip, I went with cooking wine. And, guess what? It turned out fine.

More than fine, in fact. This meal was amazing and very rich-tasting, without actually being rich. Which means I was able to eat more. Which always scores points with me. I was especially a big fan of their method of cooking the pasta and mushrooms in just enough broth that it all got absorbed and there was no draining involved. This also helped the pasta get humongous, which is how I stretched it out for so many days. It also helped that Matt didn’t eat any of it until tonight.

And now for a lot of musing about meat

This little experiment was harder than I thought and easier than I thought. The easy part, which I’ll cover first, was finding good vegetarian recipes, trying new dishes, and keeping the grocery budget on the low side. The hard part was shifting my lifestyle. Duh, right, but I really thought that this would be easy since we don’t eat much meat to begin with. What I didn’t really consider was that I tend to cook with chicken broth several times a week, that I sometimes like turkey sandwiches for lunch, and that, oh yeah, I really like sushi and other varieties of seafood. And poultry. I do. And so, while meatless January was actually a great experience, and it’s not like I’m waiting for the clock to strike twelve so that I can scarf down a turkey burger, I’m just not sure that I’m ready to completely commit to a vegetarian lifestyle.

I’m kind of torn on the whole thing and I already planned our meals for next week and they are all vegetarian out of habit and blah blah blah, but the truth is that we’re going out to dinner tomorrow night specifically so that I can order the shrimp fajitas I’ve been avoiding this month. Also, there’s apparently a big football game or something, so it’ll be an ideal time to go out on the town.

Am I really still talking about this?

I’ll just leave it at “we’ll see what happens.” And we’ll see what happens.


Scroll down for the food

January 28, 2009

I never delivered on my promise to tell you about my fascinating knee treatment. For a few weeks, I’ve been having iontophoresis treatments on my left knee. It was weird and painful at first, and a little frightening when, before my physical therapist hooked me up to the little jumper cables (technical term) the first time, he had to ask another therapist which one was positive and which was negative. Which, if you’re wondering, did very little to inspire confidence. But anyway, the point is that I don’t know if it really worked, but I got discharged from physical therapy today anyway.

Throughout this whole ordeal, I’ve been on and off with my exercising, which means I’ve been up and down with my moods. I only started exercising in summer 2005, but I’m pretty sure I’m a lifer now, because when I can’t sweat out my stress I walk around like a cranky two year old that you woke up early from a nap. So it’s a challenge when I really just can’t do it. Last week was my most normal one in over a month, activity-wise, with four days of cardio at about 40 minutes a pop. But, in the end, I paid for it. IN BLOOD.

Not really blood. Just pain. COURSING THROUGH MY BLOOD. So I took a few days off, read some books during my exercise time, moped around, the usual. And then I decided I needed to make some changes. So, for the next few weeks, I’m cutting down my cardio and ramping up my other stuff, like yoga. I did a good class last night, which was 90 minutes of deep stretching, more or less, and while it probably didn’t burn off the six cookies I ate through the course of the evening, it did make me feel better, and it was good to remember that that’s really why I exercise in the first place. Tonight, in the spirit of Getting Out There And Doing Things, I tried tai chi for the first time. I hated it, but that’s okay. At least I tried. Basically, it was all about centering your mind, but all I could focus on was that I was in a room full of mirrors and I didn’t have a clue how to do what the teacher was doing. And the moves are called things like “stroking the horses mane” and I just couldn’t get into it. So instead of a centered mind, I had more of an “okay, I look like an ass and there’s college basketball on that I’m missing and I really just want to go home and make dinner” mind. Plus, my knee started hurting after the class, so I think I did it wrong.

See, I made you read through all of that just to get to the food.

Dinner made the whole failed tai chi experience seem like a distant memory:

baked quinoa

baked quinoa

This is pretty much the dish to which all of my previous quinoa experience has been leading. We loved it.

I did, however, spend the entire time I was preparing it thinking about how I could never get my immediate family to eat this, even if I paid them all. But hey, it’s their loss.

And now I’m off to enjoy some treats. Matt, in the mood for cookies and looking for a project, baked some chocolate chip cookies for us yesterday, and they’re delicious. To top that off, I had a visit from the chocolate fairy today, and came home to a box filled with these:

TCHOcolate!

TCHOcolate!

There was no note that we could find, so I spent some time this afternoon trying to figure out if it was possible that TCHO could have discovered my address in some secret way after reading about how much I love their products. For what it’s worth, Matt thinks I sent it to myself.

I plan to enjoy it, whomever it’s from, so thank you, silent benefactor!

Seriously.

They’re the only thing that will get me off the couch at this point.


Brrrrr

January 26, 2009

I know we’ve been having soup a lot lately, but it has been freezing here. Just really, really cold, and all I want is warm food. Even eating a room temperature apple at lunch today was kind of pushing it. So last night I tried out a recipe that I saw a few weeks ago for lentil and vegetable barley soup.

soup, salad, english muffin

soup, salad, english muffin

Matt liked this soup, but I thought it was pretty bland. Hearty, yes. Filling, yes. Flavorful, no. So I made up for it with a generous serving of feta. And I threw some on the salad for good measure, too.

I liked tonight’s dinner a lot better. However, it was another lesson in “reading the recipe” because, while I had every intention of making this recipe, I came home from work ready to cook and, reading through it again, realized that I was supposed to put things in a slow cooker for 6-8 hours. This would already have been a challenge, as it would have had us eating between midnight and 2am. The challenge was intensified by the fact that we do not have a slow cooker. But, at that point, I was all hyped up to try this, so what I just took inspiration from the original and made it my own way.

vegetarian cassoulet + roasted broccoli

vegetarian cassoulet + roasted broccoli

Here’s what I used:

  • ~tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 stalks of celery, finely diced
  • 3 cans of great northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • ~1 cup of vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • ~tsp dried thyme

And here’s what to do with it:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium heat.
  3. Add onions, saute for 2 minutes.
  4. Add carrots, parnsips, celery. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add beans and broth. Stir. Bring to a high simmer for about ten minutes.
  6. Transfer to a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.
  7. Top with bread crumbs.
  8. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until browned.

This makes 4-6 servings, depending on how hungry you are.

The most exciting part of this experience for me was trying parsnips for the first time. They’re delicious.

I didn’t mess with using any meat substitutes, because I usually don’t like them and because the beans seemed like plenty. Plus, I’ve never had a real cassoulet, so, as far as I’m concerned, this is what they’re supposed to taste like. It was just plain good food, so I’m happy with how it turned out, even without the slow cooker.

Now I’m going to enjoy some cookies painstakingly baked for me by Girl Scouts. And maybe some hot chocolate. I think it’s still snowing, and that really calls for hot chocolate.


Pretty darn quick

January 23, 2009

I can’t even believe I’m saying this, but we stayed completely on track with our meal plan for this entire week. I can’t remember the last time that happened. It usually falls apart around, oh, Tuesday.

I think the trick to this week’s success was that I carefully planned a menu of dinners that were super quick. Cookbooks like Vegetarian Times Fast and Easy and The PDQ (Pretty Darn Quick) Vegetarian Cookbook pretty much did my planning for me.

Last night, we had the greatest food on earth.

quinoa and mushroom skillet

quinoa and mushroom skillet

The recipe can be found here, and I highly recommend that you make it immediately and then again every day from now on. I even took some leftovers for lunch today and I never interrupt my peanut butter sandwich / hummus sandwich rotation.

Tonight’s meal was from PDQ.

hearty minestrone

hearty minestrone

Part of the reason this was pretty darn quick was that it called for frozen peas and carrots. Well, I couldn’t find a bag of just plain peas and carrots, so I picked up one that had carrots, peas, green beans, corn, and limas. Basically: even better. Add vegetable broth, a can of red kidney beans, and some acini de pepe, and you’ve got a pot of soup that will last at least a few meals. Brilliant.

And now, as a reward for how well we’ve stayed on track this week, we’re bundling up and going out in the freezing cold for dessert. That’s how committed I am to cake.


Fake pho and real TCHO

January 20, 2009

I’m back again! This is probably my last post for a few days, so I figured I’d make something special for my readers.

I saw this recipe when I was working on my meal plan for the week and was intrigued (I know this is my second New York Times recipe in as many days, but I swear I don’t work for them. Although, if you’re in a position to make that happen, please feel free to contact me). It included things we’re not eating right now, like a chicken, but it made me think about noodle bowls and this awesome pho we had in Seattle a few years ago, so I decided to create my own version.

Tofu Noodle Bowls

img_1952

Bear with me, because there wasn’t a lot of measuring that happened here, but I’ll recreate it as best I can.

You need:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 block of extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
  • 2 cups of sliced mushrooms
  • 3 large handfuls of spinach, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • rice noodles (probably about 2 oz), soaked in warm water for about ten minutes
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth
  • ~2 tsp soy sauce
  • splash of rice vinegar
  • garlic powder (to taste)

And then you:

  1. Heat the oil over medium in a large pot or dutch oven
  2. Add cubed tofu. Cook for five minutes. Flip. Cook for five more minutes.
  3. Add mushrooms. Cook until just softened, stirring occasionally, about four minutes.
  4. Add water, broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar. Bring to a boil.
  5. Add rice noodles and simmer, uncovered, for ten minutes.
  6. Stir in spinach slowly, increase heat to medium, simmer for five more minutes.
  7. Add garlic powder (and other spices) to taste.
  8. Serve.

It’s important to use just a little olive oil since tofu doesn’t really absorb it. I used too much and I think it would have been better with less. Still, it was a nice, warm, satisfying meal in a bowl. The beauty of this is that you could basically put anything you wanted to in it. I’m thinking now that I’d like to try it again with a tiny bit of green curry paste, some broccoli, some shredded carrots… so many possibilities.

I followed up my meal with some of the TCHO chocolate that Matt got me for Christmas. I can’t recommend this chocolate enough. The bars Matt gave me are “Citrus,” “Fruity,” and “Chocolatey,” all dark chocolates (my favorite) with really nice, nuanced flavors. I’m almost out, sadly, and I think it’ll be a little while before I recover from my December spending and have some disposable income to order more.

img_1878

I didn’t make it to the gym this morning (surprise surprise). I couldn’t fall asleep last night, and the idea of going to the gym on 4 hours of sleep was really unappealing. Maybe I’ll give it another go tomorrow.


Do you ragout?

January 19, 2009

And the hit titles just keep on coming.

Can you believe I’m posting two days in a row? I doubt it will become a habit again, as 2009 is shaping up to be a fairly busy year, what with my new productivity systemâ„¢ (read: a notebook I use for my to do lists at work that involves a complicated system of two different colors of ink) and my lofty goal to read 100 books in 2009. Obviously my work life has little to do with this blog, but the reading thing does get in the way. If you’ve ever worked, lived, or spent any significant amount of time with me, you know that I’m highly goal-oriented, so setting a number on my reading goal for the year is kind of a blessing and a curse. In order to get on track for the year, I’ve been reading for pleasure at a pace unprecedented in my adult life. At any rate, blogging keeps getting inadvertently moved to the back burner (get it?? Back burner! Because this is a cooking blog!). Personal enrichment comes at such a high cost.

Okay, I know, this is about food. But, actually, I’m reading a book about food right now, so… it’s all kind of related.

Today was kind of mellow, just physical therapy and reading and some yoga, so I went for one of the more complicated dinners on our meal plan for the week.

red chard, potato, and white bean ragout

red chard, potato, and white bean ragout

The recipe that inspired it can be found here. My modifications included: using canned cannellini beans instead of dried, using dried thyme instead of fresh, using vegetable broth as the liquid base, and leaving out the step where you saute the chopped chard stems (“That does not sound good.” -Matt). This was a winner, and the next time I have two hours to prepare a meal, I’ll be making it again. It’s actually a very simple dish, but anything with chard takes a good bit of prep time for me.

I think you could make other substitutions in this dish, like subbing in another hearty green (kale, even collard greens). I think spinach would be too flimsy all around, but it might work if you just threw it in for a few minutes instead of the 15 they call for. I was actually planning to do kale, but our supermarket miraculously had really pretty bunches of organic red chard, so it worked out perfectly.

And now I’m off to get some sleep so that I can return to work (and my system) feeling refreshed. Also on tomorrow’s agenda: my first 5:30 gym appearance in… probably months. We’ll see how that works out.


It’s just how I ‘role

January 18, 2009

Casserole, that is.

Get it?

Back in the dark days before I actually realized it was okay to cook more than three things in rotation, one of our stand-bys was a chicken and rice casserole that had chicken, rice, cream of chicken soup, and a lot of cheese. I did use brown rice, so it was, you know, healthy. Right? Apparently, Matt misses those days from time to time, and will speak wistfully of the food I used to cook. And, I must admit, sometimes I just really want a big plate of something with rice and cheese myself.

So, I took it upon myself to search the vast internet and find a vegetarian version of our old favorite, maybe toned down a little so that it would be a little healthier for us. Here’s what I came up with.

I made some modifications to the recipe, including using brown rice, throwing in a bunch of extra broccoli, and leaving out the water chestnuts, but I think I kept the spirit of it.

mmmmmm

mmmmmm

It was cheesy and delightful, even though it had much less cheese than our version of old, and because of the novel inclusion of vegetables, it had more vitamins and minerals and probably even antioxidants.

Best of all, it helped clear our palates from another recent casserole attempt, which I have to file as a total fail. I saw this recipe on Sarah’s blog, which I just discovered recently. It looked amazing and I love all of the ingredients, so it seemed like a perfect meal.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I don’t know what happened, because, as I said, I love each individual component of this recipe: pasta, winter squash, rosemary, cheese, bread, even onions. But somehow it just didn’t come together and it was bland and gross at the same time. Not enough squash? Too much reserved pasta water? Who knows. Suffice to say we won’t be making this one again. But, for the record, here’s what it looked like:

at least the brussels sprouts were good

at least the brussels sprouts were good

Last night, while we watched a Carolina game, I whipped up our favorite basketball meal: burritos. I didn’t take a picture of the final product, as they just looked like burritos, but I was pretty happy with the stuffing, so here it is:

pinto beans, broccoli, corn, mushrooms

pinto beans, broccoli, corn, mushrooms

When I was making our meal plan for this week, I realized that this is reminiscent of something I’ve made before from Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan. And here I thought I’d come up with something brilliant on my own.

Now I’m off to clean up and read. I have the day off tomorrow, but I have to get up almost as early as usual to go to physical therapy. I’m not happy about it, but Matt keeps reminding me that some people aren’t so fortunate and still have to work tomorrow.