Wednesday, August 26, 2009

back in the swing of things

It has certainly been a helluva month. Moving is a total pain. Compound that with the fact that our apartment still is not technically finished and that they are renovating our whole building... Well, lets face it: it sucks. Not only does it just generally suck, but it sucks the lifeforce out of you. So yes, when we first moved in, I was motivated to make dinners such as this:
tofu-stuffed swiss chard packets with sauteed rainbow stems and couscous

Or this:
crispy baked tofu with fresh salsa (and yeah, more couscous)

Then our meals declined into eating out. Which isn't that exciting in this town, for a vegan. Lots of veggie subs, pizzas, Mexican food, and a helluva lot of beer got us through this month. In the meantime, our dining room table was looking like this quite often:
one simple farmers market trip...

And I was keeping myself busy doing insane crap like this:
peeling and seeding around 6 dozen tomatoes for marinara

So that I could end up with lots of these:
my august project (like the new banner?)

For when veggies and fruit start to get expensive again. Yes, canning has become a new obsession of mine. It makes the kitchen hotter than hell and takes me pretty much a full day to get a single turn finished, but my goodness is it ever satisfying. My parents let me borrow their old pressure canner, and I think I've been making pretty good use of it.

Anyway, eventually we had to go to the grocery store because we ran out of tofu and tempeh. And I decided I was tired of milling around the kitchen every evening without a plan or a clue. When you're tired from work (or from dealing with ridiculous landlord/maintenance people situations), going into the kitchen without a plan is a recipe for nothing but picking up the phone and calling your nearest pizza place. So, with the help of a few newly purchased cookbooks (Greek and Jewish vegetarian [blah, but whatever] cooking! a tofu cookery! a book on how to cook every single vegetable ever!...there was a booksale this past weekend.) and an old favorite (Eat, Drink, & be Vegan), I made a grocery list, and a plan. So far so good, I might add, even with a little improvisation.

At the farmers market on Saturday, these people convinced Michael to buy 3 eggplants. Imagine my complete and total dismay, since we both allegedly hate eggplant and neither of us can figure out how to cook it so that it's not completely disgusting. The farmer and his wife were very devious though, luring him in with fairy-tale visions of layered eggplant parmesan and luscious textures and...ooey, gooey cheese? Well, good thing I went to the grocery store, at least, so I could get a package of Follow Your Heart vegan mozzarella for this (in my opinion, doomed) venture. Well, when it came out of the oven, it did smell awfully good.
what lies beneath the layer of breadcrumbs?

We tasted cautiously. To our delighted surprise, it was absolutely, perfectly wonderful! The eggplant was simply velvety. It was smooth and tasted like nothing either of us had ever had. And I get to take most of the credit here, since I learned about salting the eggplant before Michael ever showed up to help me layer the casserole. Salting the eggplant is key, obviously. I let those forkers sit for an hour in a crapload of salt and then we rinsed, squeezed, and patted out all the extra moisture. We got 2 layers of eggplant with 3 eggplants (small ones, though, really). In between were sauce, the FYH cheese and some vegan parmesan, a sprinkling of Italian parsley and basil, and a layer of garlic (also layered all that on top again). Finished with a coating of whole wheat breadcrumbs and baked at 350F for about one hour.
like how we went old-school shoney's with the kale garnish?

Ok, so it isn't too pretty. Guess what? Most of the totally awesomest food we make and enjoy isn't. That didn't stop us from eating the entire pan in one sitting. (It's all we had for dinner though, so that might be excusable.)

Next up on my list for dinners was the Palak Soyabina Panira from ED&BV. With a little prep time, it came together in an absolute snap and was delicious to boot.
green mound of glory

I was impressed with myself for two reasons here. Actually 3.
1) I didn't burn down the house when I fried the tofu. I also didn't burn the tofu.
2) I didn't mess with the recipe, except to leave out the cloves (allspice already has cloves in it, and we are clove-phobic around here).
3) I had the brilliant idea of serving this with quinoa instead of rice.

The quinoa added a nice crunch and some extra protein (to make up for our lack of protein from the eggplant parm night). Plus, quinoa is a lot faster to whip up than brown rice when you realize you forgot to make anything to serve with your spinach goo. The recipe was awfully nice though. Slightly spicy and not the typical curry flavor. And easy. Yet another ED&BV recipe that was a hit in our house.

When I was grocery shopping, I tried not to impulse buy too much (which, I'm sure, is why I ended up coming home with 2 pints of ice cream, soy pudding, and a variety of Cliff, Luna, and Bumble bars...sheesh), but I could not pass up two packages of oyster mushrooms for the low, low price of $1.85 each. They're usually almost $4, so I snatched them both up in the hopes of finding some clever use for them. Michael took care of that with the idea of a Manhattan clam(less) chowder. Lighter than my winter-time favorite of New England chowder, and finding that we already had all the ingredients except for crushed tomatoes, I was all for it.
yes, we are still eating soup in august

Nice and tomato-ey with lots of hearty veggies in a surprisingly tasty broth (we used the recipe from the idiot cookbook [you remember...that one with the stupidly long name, but lots of simple and yummy recipes in it]), we thoroughly enjoyed eating bowls of this throughout the evening as we hung out with friends and had a few beers. Prefaced by a simple ceasar salad (recipe from the uncheese cookbook), it was another easy and delicious summertime meal.

Yes, I realize that cooking from cookbooks isn't always the most creative way to go in the kitchen. But honestly, sometimes it is just so much easier to go in with a plan. Michael and I have the list of recipes (headed by each cookbook) magnetted to the freezer door. We cross them off as we go and have assigned recipes to certain days, depending on who will be home to cook them and what time each of us gets off work that evening. There are some more involved meals (which are going to be made on days one of us isn't working and has more time in the kitchen) and some super fast and easy meals for nights that we both work until 9 or later. That way, we are garaunteed a nutritious, homecooked meal every night. Just look on the fridge and see what's for dinner. What could be more simple, delicious, cost effective, and healthy?
an artful arrangement of our veggies and fruit, by Michael

Continue enjoying your summers, everyone. And if you're pretty much sick of the heat (like me), don't worry. Fall casserole weather is right around the corner. Pretty soon you'll be wondering what on earth to do with all that butternut (instead of summer) squash.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

bear with me!

We did, in fact, get the apartment. The past three weeks have been a frenzy of packing, moving, unpacking, and figuring out where to put stuff. We've been eating a lot of salads and sandwiches and fake meat and chips and salsa or hummus for dinner. I have not forgotten the blog or my lovely readers! Things are just hectic at the moment. Hopefully, by Monday, Michael and I will be more settled, less busy, and more apt to cook instead of put together tables and chairs and arrange furniture and corral cats and clean up endless messes. Stay tuned!