Sunday, April 29, 2007

2 dinners, 1 dessert, and random thoughts

So, TV turnoff week is coming to an end. I survived it just fine. I do admit to going through some withdrawals, but it's amazing how quickly you can distance yourself from t.v. Usually, a new episode of a favorite show would be much anticipated, but if you don't watch it, it starts seeming pretty unreal! What did I get accomplished? I did some major filing and organizing. The house is pleasingly clean and clutter-free. We took a really nice road-trip to Massachusetts (more on that later). I got to enjoy the newly warm weather with walks around the neighborhood and just sitting in the back yard.

What I thought was especially fun was that Daiku and I sat down at the dining room table and had really nice dinners. Usually, we time our dinner to coincide with t.v. and eat while watching some show. This has a double negative effect: the eating distracts from the show and the show distracts from the eating. So this week, we tried some new recipes, had some old favorites, and got the luxury of getting to really savor what we were eating. I'll share two of those meals with you in this post.

Dinner #1:

Menu: Cypriot lima bean soup (I subbed cannelini beans, cooked quickly in the pressure cooker), Moroccan carrot salad with cilantro (because we had a bunch of cilantro that we needed to use up!) and homemade pita breads.

The soup and the salad were from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. I was weary of the salad at first- when I mixed all the ingredients together, it gave off a pungent smell. But it got better as it sat, and it was especially good the second day, when the flavors had melded together. I made Cypriot soup because... well, I won't tell you yet, it's a surprise! The pita bread recipe came from Nava Atlas's blog. I used 1/2 white bread flour and 1/2 white whole wheat flour. They were really good. I had previously baked pita bread using a no yeast recipe, and this one, with yeast, was definitely more fluffy. As much as I liked them, I can't help but think that our local Egyptian market sells fresh baked pitas, fluffier than I could ever make them, white or whole wheat, for only $.69 for 8. How can I match that?

Dinner #2:

Ok, it's confession time. Ready? Daiku and I love baked beans, and often make huge batches in the crock pot. (I've posted the recipe on this blog). But sometimes, we just want store-bought baked beans (vegetarian, of course.) Yes, those baked beans- jacked up with sugar and corn syrup and all manner of things that don't belong in beans. There is just something in canned baked beans that reminds us of childhood and we succumb and buy a can every now and then. To eat them, we doctor them up with blackstrap molasses, sriracha, cayenne, paprika, and some other spices.

We had the baked beans (in the top photo you see the molasses swirl) with a side of Susan's cajun tempeh bacon. I had read on Amey's blog that when she made the bacon, she found it too salty, so I took that into account (I have a pretty low salt tolerance.) I cut the soy sauce in half and increased the water, decreased the hot sauce, and only used cajun seasoning salt on half the batch. The result was delicious, but still a bit too salty for my taste. However, the tempeh bacon (salty and smoky) played off of the sweet and spicy baked beans really marvelously. We had some leftover pita breads with the beans 'n bacon.

To round out the summery feel of the meal, we had a fabulous salad of organic spring mix, organic strawberries, cucumbers and mandarin slices with a balsamic vinaigrette. Yum!



Ok, I have another confession to make here! A couple of months ago, I got sick. Very, very sick. I'm not sure exactly what I had, but it knocked me out for more than a week and was stronger than any other flu I can remember having. While I was sick, I lost my appetite, big time. I couldn't even drink water. Everything tasted really weird- too metallic, acidic, just wrong. For the first time, I realized how it must feel to be a picky eater, someone for whom most foods just don't taste good. This was actually a psychologically and emotionally stressful time- for someone as in love with food as I am, suddenly losing all interest in eating was pretty alarming. By the end of the week, I could tolerate only one thing: coke. For 2-3 days, it was my only source of calories and hydration. How sad, right?

Well, I got better of course, and once again, slowly, tentatively, could eat. Coke was again banished from my house, and all was as it should be. Everything was right with the world again. Except for one thing. I realize now that this might have been residual psychological dealing with the illness, but something inside of me snapped and I started hating healthy foods. One day, I made some scones with white whole wheat flour. When I tasted them, they were so flour-y and heavy, so not like scones, that I actually said "fuck whole wheat!" I went crazy baking everything with white flour, white sugar, the works. This was a passing phase, but I think the result is that I no longer think that whole grains can be substituted into any recipe, willy nilly. I respect the texture and flavor that white flour brings to foods, even though I also respect that for health reasons, I shouldn't eat that way all the time. I have learned to experiment and not be so dogmatic.

Ok, that was a long introduction to one of my favorite discoveries this week. You might remember these "banana chocolate chimp" muffins that I posted about back in November. The recipe was from VegNews magazine. This week, I had a lot of ripe bananas to get through, so I decided to make some more of these muffins, which are just amazing.

I made one batch using half white flour and half white whole wheat flour. I thought they were ok, until I made another batch- and hit pay dirt! Surprise, for the second batch, I used 100% whole spelt flour. And guess what? These were so much better than the first batch, even though the first only had 1/2 whole grain flour and the second had all whole grain flour. The spelt made the muffins tender, light, and delicious! So that was my real learning experience this past week: experiment, experiment, experiment. I still don't think 100% whole grain flour is always an appropriate or tasty substitute, but in this case, it was just perfect. I think the key is finding recipes where whole grains work perfectly, rather than automatically subbing whole grains in everything.

So I bring you the recipe for:

Bazu's Whole Grain is O.K. After All Banana Chocolate Peanut Butter muffins. (Ok, the title is a joke, but these muffins aren't!)

(adapted from recipe in the October 2006 issue of VegNews magazine)

Ingredients: (makes 6 muffins)

2.5 TB Earth Balance margarine, slightly softened
1.5 TB all natural peanut butter
1/4 Cup unrefined sugar (I used Florida Crystals)
1 Cup whole spelt flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1.2 oz. dark chocolate bar, smashed to pieces (or 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 very ripe banana, smashed
1/4 Cup soymilk (I used unsweetened)

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. (I used a toaster oven, since I was just using a 6 cup muffin pan)
  • Using a fork, mix margarine, peanut butter, and sugar until well incorporated
  • In a seperate bowl, mix banana, vanilla, and soymilk until well blended and set aside
  • Add flour, baking powder, and baking soda to margarine/PB/sugar mixture and mix
  • Add liquid mixture to this, mixing until well incorporated
  • Gently fold in chocolate pieces
  • Divide batter among 6 muffin tins, and bake 20-30 minutes until golden brown.
  • Cool on wire racks.
  • Enjoy!



aTxVegn said...

Oh, Bazu, I can totally relate. I was feeling guilty today for making a dinner without really cooking. And I bought some big white flour buns that were so soft and better than anything I could bake. I enjoy all the different flours, but you're right, sometimes you just don't want their texture and flavor to interfere and make the food weird.

On the other hand, your dinners look fabulous! The soup and salads, and that pita - wow! And you know I'll be making those muffins.

I'm impressed with the success of TV turnoff. Hopefully the good weather will get lots of folks outside and away from TV.

laura jesser said...

Good stuff here, Bazu! Baked beans are truly a comfort food.. and yes, I also have a weakness for the canned kind, despite my best efforts. You have intrigued me with your talk of spelt flour--I have been meaning to experiment with the stuff, and now I think I'm going to go get a sack of it tomorrow and make good on that! Maybe starting with your muffins! :) I'm pretty much used to subbing whole grains into everything, though you're right--it just doesn't work as well in some recipes.

Your blog is going to be the reason that I have to break down and buy the World Vegetarian book! Grrr.... (No hard feelings, though!)

springsandwells said...

Hi Bazu!
I love this post. YES. I hear you about not always wanting whole wheat. I often allow myself to make things with straight up white flour. It does indeed give a certain texture. That said, those muffins look fantastic!! I will definitely try them. I've been wanting to bake up some sweeties lately... Also, I'll confess that when we were in India a couple of years ago, we drank SO MUCH PEPSI. Really, at least 3 a day. It was so good. So, now, every once in a while I'll get a soda and just enjoy the heck out of it! :)

also, homemade pitas have been on my list for a LONG time. yours look great!

smiles to you bazu!

Urban Vegan said...

What yumminess. I love Madhur Jaffre's's like a never-ending source of culimary inspiration. I know what you mean about whole grains. I usually do 1/2 and 1/2 but I do find that whole wheat pastry flour (not regular flour) is just as good as white regular flour.

Omni and I usually eat dinner with just music in the background--more condusive to conversation--but once in a while, we leave the TV on, when something is on that we just can't miss (or are too lazy to tape).

Kati said...

Guilty as charged! I put whole grain flour in EVERYTHING, as you may have noticed by now. I just have serious moderation issues - it's pretty much all or nothing for me. If I allowed white flour back into my cupboards, I'm pretty sure I'd end up eating it everyday...all day. I admire your approach, but for now I'll just have to enjoy white flour when I'm out to eat. Hopefully someday I can develop a little self-control...

I will definitely try your recipe and the spelt flour - that is one grain that I haven't baked with yet. Thanks! =)

Neva Vegan said...

You have a secret?

Some salads really are better the next day. It's strange.

The soup sound wonderful. I've avoided that recipe because I'm not big on limas, so I will try it with white beans. A good substitution.

I always make my pitas half white and half wheat. For some reason I always wind up with silly shapes, but nothing beats the homemade (definitely yeast recipe though) on the day they're baked. Of course, I can only get pitas wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. So I don't know the wonders of fresh baked from the Egyptian grocery.

I hate to admit that I love salty tempeh. I think I'm more a salt addict than a sugar addict even.

Mihl said...

I can relate to a lot of things you said as well. Sometimes I have such a strong craving for pepsi or for lye prezels (which are always made with white flour!)and then I just buy the stuff, eat and drink it and completely forget about the stuff for the next couple of months. Until the next craving comes!
And tv - it's really interesting how weird a lot of series seem to be if you haven`t watched tv for a couple of days...

Courtney said...

That soup looks amazing! I just may have to break down and buy Madhur Jaffre's cookbook, which I have always pick up in the bookstore and then put back down at the last second, to get the recipe...

Lovely photos!


SusanV said...

Everything looks delicious, especially the muffins and pita (fresh pita's for 69 cents? That's amazing!)

Sorry the tempeh was too salty for you. I have to admit that I'm a semi-recovered salt fiend. I kind of throw caution to the wind, though, for anything bacony.

Anonymous said...

wow, everything looks good! i undertand you! and agree with you!

scottishvegan said...

What gorgeous looking food, especially the pita bread! You are so right about using white flour when it’s appropriate, but since finding white whole wheat flour I find it hard to justify (to myself) using white white flour. Your enthusiasm for Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian and Silk Road Cooking prompted me to order them from the library. I’ve now got them but not had much chance to look at them. They both look great so far though :)

textual bulldog said...

Beautiful dinners! They all look soooo good, but the salad especially is speaking to me right now. Also, this is my first time commenting, so just wanted to say that I love your blog!

Emmy said...

The pita bread looks absolutely perfect. Peanut Butter + Chocolate = Rob's favorite food combination. I'll have to make these muffins for him soon :)

Mikaela said...

I think it is *so* awesome that you guys turned off the tv for the week :) Good for you!

Vincent Guihan said...

I was never really big on baked beans (could take them or leave them) until I started eating them for brunch. There's just something about them with potatoes, toast, some scrambled tofu, and some roasted tomatoes.

vko said...

Yum on the baked beans and that strawberry salad looks so fresh & inspiring!

Sorry to hear you weren't feeling well and went through that phase- I've been there a little bit- where I don't feel like eating anything at all amd I'm guilty of craving bubbly-sweet coca-cola.

I had my first spelt cupcake this weekend and I agree- so moist & yummy, so much so that Booboo loves it too. Hurray for spelt muffins & cupcakes!

Anonymous said...

Oh Bazu, this confession makes me feel less alone in this harsh world. I go through serious phases where I eat very very healthy with everything 100% whole grain, no refined sugar, etc. Then I just lose it and the next thing I know, everything I'm cooking has white sugar, white flour, oil, and so on. I wish I could find a happy medium but it's hard for me. I know those things are bad for me but then it becomes so easy to rationalize them. For example, I'll say to myself, "I can order a diet coke with lunch because I never drink diet coke and one every so often isn't going to kill me." But the next time I'm at the grocery, I'll see diet coke on sale and I'll pick up a case thinking I'll just have one every so often. But every so often turns into every day and quickly I find I want 2-3 a day. It's frustrating. I really wish I could be Dr. Furhman (Eat to Live) healthy all the time. But I guess I am just like the rest of America.

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