Taking it easy

November 1, 2009

Last week was sort of a blur, which is mostly to do with the thin film of fatigue that settles over me whenever we move from one season to another. It’s been particularly strange this year, with the “it’s fall, it’s winter, it’s fall, it’s summer, it’s winter, it’s fall, now it’s summer again” thing we’ve had going on here in Kansas, and my body has been protesting any kind of activity beyond work and non-negotiable errand-running. But, hey, we got an extra hour today. Which means that now it’s going to be dark when I leave work, more or less without fail. So that should help.

Anyway, I try to push through these quirky seasonal changes in my energy levels so that I can actually cook decent food, which theoretically should be helping. And it does. Kind of.

I go on auto-pilot, really, and cook the things that I am halfway done making before I realize that I have put 0 seconds worth of thought or mental effort into them. Vegetable soup is good, what with the methodical chopping and the various “exciting” spice blends I can use to take it from one cuisine to another. This was an Indian-inspired one, with a little rice thrown in. For fun. Just because I’m in cruise control mode doesn’t mean I can’t be a little crazy, right?

curried vegetable soup with rice

curried vegetable soup with rice

And the most automatic meal of all is some version of pasta with beans and greens and something red. This time it was french lentils, spinach, and a ridiculously overpriced (but shrewdly unlabeled) red pepper, with a quick lemon-garlic sauce.


go-to pasta

Tonight, though, in a sudden burst of energy (the extra hour, perhaps?), I set out to try something new. I grabbed two pie pumpkins at the last farmer’s market of the year yesterday, and tonight I baked one and pureed the flesh to use in another pumpkin bread, and to try in something savory: pumpkin and black bean soup. I started with the smitten kitchen recipe but diverged quite a bit. Maybe that’s why my soup looks approximately 0% like hers.


vegetarian black bean pumpkin soup

I’m going to work on this recipe more before I post it, but for now I’ll say it was certainly passable, and even good, if not what I was actually going for. See, the pumpkins I’m getting are just not orange inside. Maybe they’re past their prime, or haven’t even reached it yet. I have no idea. I have yet to farm pumpkins. They taste just fine, but aren’t terribly pumpkiny, which seems, well, strange. While I did tweak the proportions here, I think the pumpkin I used just blended in, both taste and color-wise. It did add a little body to the soup, as well as a bit of creaminess, both of which I appreciated. Plus, I put the bowl of soup on a orange plate so that makes up for the lack of color in the soup itself.

I was going to roast some pumpkin seeds but I decided to use my energy to bake bread instead. I thought cornbread would be a great fit for this soup, but apparently Matt is some kind of cornbread-hater. Instead, I found an easy recipe in How to Cook Everything for whole wheat quick bread. I’m afraid of real bread baking, what with the yeast and the 110* water and all of the other nerve-wracking elements of it, including kneading and “turning out on a floured surface.” I’ll get there. Eventually. But for now, I’ll stick with this one, which was quick and easy and hearty and doughy with a little hint of sweetness from molasses. That Mark Bittman and his cooking of everything. It never ceases to amaze me.


The world’s slowest quickbread

October 25, 2009

Today at the co-op a tiny little pumpkin caught my eye and I was so enchanted by its cuteness that I guess I picked it up and carried it around the store and eventually bought it.

So then I got home and had a pumpkin to deal with.

My new issue of Vegetarian Times came on Friday, and one of the features is on baking with natural sweeteners. I went right to it and saw a recipe for a maple pumpkin bread that sounded pretty awesome, and I thought of that today when I came home with my wee little pie pumpkin.

The pumpkin was probably 2 or 3 pounds, and I wish I had taken some “in-process” pictures because I actually split a pumpkin in two for the first time in my life. There’s so little flesh, it’s kind of ridiculous, and the pulp was so opposed to being scraped that it probably took me a good 15 minutes to clean it out.

I baked the two halves for about an hour at 350*, until the skin was brown and easily pierced. Once the halves cooled, I scooped out the flesh and pureed it in the food processor. All that effort, and the entire yield was only a little over a cup. Luckily, that’s all I needed, but next time I’ll know that cuter isn’t always better when it comes to pumpkins for roasting and pureeing. Live and learn.

At least I have a bag of roasted pumpkin seeds now.

Oh, and this killer loaf of bread.

its awesomeness could not be fully captured

its awesomeness could not be fully captured

So, let’s total up the time this (admittedly delicious) baking project took:

Cutting and cleaning: 20 minutes
Baking the pumpkin: 60 minutes
Cooling, scooping, pureeing: 20 minutes
Recipe prep: 15 minutes
Baking the bread: 55 minutes
Grand total = 170 minutes

Yes, that’s right. Almost 3 hours of my Sunday.

But, it was actually pretty fun. And it gave me a chance to cook some black beans. And a great excuse to skip out on cooking dinner.

Killer tofu

October 7, 2009

Miss me?

Rhetorical question!

Did you ever watch Doug? It reminds me of sleepovers at my friend Cassie’s apartment in elementary school. Her apartment had Zax lightswitch plates and her dad made breakfast on Saturday mornings. It was awesome and made me really want to live in the apartment. On an unrelated note, I also aspired to be a cashier at that point in my life. Having now lived both of those dreams, I know they both suck. But I still had a lot of fun walking up and down the cash register aisles at Office Depot.

Anyway, one of those Saturday mornings I spent at Cassie’s, we watched an episode of Doug featuring awesome mythical band The Beets’ seminal hit, “Killer Tofu,” which I loved, even though I probably didn’t eat tofu until maybe a dozen years later.

Take note of awesome lines like “I can eat my sugar cereal, but it makes my teeth bacterial.”

There’s a point to this, beyond random childhood memories.

Tonight’s dinner had some killer tofu in it.

sweet and spicy stirfry

sweet and spicy stir fry

This was an eggplant, red pepper, and tofu stirfry with a generous helping of crushed red pepper and garlic, balanced out with a little rice wine vinegar and ground ginger. I was pretty nervous about the eggplant, but since I’ve been enjoying it so much roasted and baked, I had to give it a shot. Success! I’m looking forward to having it again for lunch tomorrow.

It more than made up for yesterday’s disappointingly bland chili, and left me with enough room for a slice of this awesome apple cake I made last night. I’d share a picture, but they’re fairly awful. I need more light bulbs, stat. But, seriously, I’m two for two with cakes from The Food Librarian, and I keep finding more recipes I want to try. Food + librarians = obviously a good match.

Piece of cake

September 28, 2009

I spent the majority of my Sunday in and out of the kitchen – cleaning a little, but mostly freezing fresh tomatoes and some chickpeas I cooked on Saturday, simmering enough stock to use for dinner with some left for the freezer, cooking dinner, and even making some dessert. Sometimes you build up that kitchen momentum and it would be dangerous to stop. Plus, I learned today that freezers run more efficiently when nearly full, so the fact that I added all of the above mentioned things to ours makes me feel like I did a good thing.

Even though it was still in the 80s when we sat down to dinner last night, I was dead-set on having soup. This soup in particular caught my eye after buying my first leeks ever at the farmer’s market on Saturday. My version was quite similar but with olive oil instead of butter (we’re out) and, sadly, there was no dill to be found at my usual markets. It was still lovely and warming and hearty and I know it will be perfect in about two months when I’m coming home with frozen hair.

I hope you click over to the recipe because her picture is quite impressive and my picture is, well, I don’t have a picture. What I do have is four different shots of blinding white light that might be bowls of soup. Now that it’s getting dark earlier and we use those low watt cfl bulbs (hides the dirt – try it!), it’s almost impossible for me to get a decent picture. I really don’t know how to use the camera, to be honest, and it’s not actually mine.

I did get a shot or two of this:

what's more comforting than cake?

what's more comforting than cake?

I baked a cake! All by myself! People who know me in real life might be aware that, while I’m obviously an accomplished home cook, I’m not much of a baker. And, aside from the occasional batch of cookies, I try to stick to what I know. But, when I was visiting my family a few months back, my mother patiently stood with me while I made my first zucchini bread and “helped” me make a pound cake. Since then I baked 2 loaves of zucchini bread before I put my hand mixer back in the bottom drawer where it belongs. With all of the other stuff I don’t use.

But this? This was easy. I stumbled on this recipe last week and when I bought a pint of raspberries at the farmer’s market this weekend, I knew I wanted to try it. While the soup was cooking, I bravely preheated the oven and got to work. The batter was thicker than I expected but other than that, it went off without a hitch.

I’m glad I had the foresight to take that picture before I “plated it” because I did a truly horrifying job removing the cake from the pan, and it fell apart in about 25 different pieces. Oh well. Easier for snack-size servings. It tasted great, and the raspberries were a good counter to the sweetness of that 3/4 cup of sugar. I’d like to reduce the sugar next time, but I’m not sure what would happen if I did. Do you know? This is why baking makes me nervous. Because of science.

I just had another piece, and I can’t help but think how nice it would be to have a homemade cake on hand all the time.