Thursday, May 29, 2008

in which we eat while watching "Lost"

A kitty watches us watching Lost.

Daiku and I are fanatical about Lost. He introduced the show to me in season 1 and I've been hooked since. Back then, I lived in California while he lived here and so we would always discuss the show on the phone after it aired. Getting to watch the show together was one of the fringe benefits of me actually getting to move back to the east coast!

Flash-forward a few years. Last December, at the holiday party at Daiku's school, we were talking to a friend of ours who had just moved here from California. She mentioned that she and her husband are big Lost fans too. It just seemed natural that we would get together to watch the new season once it started airing. Two other friends of ours looked at us like we were crazy- they wanted to know what this show was and why we seemed so crazy about it. Well, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring two more people to the dark side! And so, starting with the first episode of this season in February, the 6 of us got together every Saturday night for food, drinks, and fun while watching Lost. I have to say, it has been the funnest semester, and an awesome way to watch the show. Sure, it meant a nail-biting wait between when the episode aired and when we got to see it, but it was so worth it! Through bad weather and dark nights, through school holidays and exams, through teaching highs and lows and travel and family obligations, we managed to watch almost every episode of this crazy show together, as a group.

One of the coolest things for me was that our friends made huge efforts to make sure that there was always vegan food for me to eat at their houses. In return, I made sure to cook the most delicious foods I could, so that they'd be happy and satisfied with the vegan offerings at hand. The result? Lost of delicious food!

Let me show you:

homemade pizza with tons of veggie toppings at R. & D.'s house. I love broccoli on pizza, don't you?

also at R. & D.'s house, homemade focaccia with marinara dipping sauce

an entire plate of vegan goodness at H. & E.'s house: black bean and sweet potato wraps, mango salsa, and pineapple rice. Wow, these were good! Notice how the wraps have a "v" baked into them, to made sure we could pick out which were vegan vs. which had dairy cheese in them- a thoughtful touch. I believe that these were all Moosewood cookbook recipes, and they were so good.

Here was an awesome make-your-own burrito station at R. & D.'s house- rice, beans, salsa, tortillas and tortilla chips, cilantro... all the goodies.

I especially liked R.'s "no tomato salsa" (no tomatoes here in Syracuse in the winter!) with hominy. I love the toothsome texture and satisfying flavor of hominy and it went well with all the other burrito ingredients on hand.

H. is the master of salads- here was a colorful and tangy mixed bean salad she made.

And here's the striking beet and parsnip slaw that she made, from Veganomicon! This salad was so good- we were all oooohing and aaaahing at the bright pink color and amazing flavor. Who know you could eat raw parsnips? Yum!

Here's one of our contributions. Daiku made this black-bean chili with cornbread topping on a particularly icy night. The spicy chili, comforting cornbread, and toppings (onion, cilantro, lime) really hit the spot on that snowy night.

But we mainly contributed desserts. Here you have some chocolate cupcakes with chocolate mousse topping. (That chocolate mousse is my favorite frosting recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. It is so flavorful, and yet so light).

Here you have Brooklyn brownie cupcakes with my own invention, a chocolate mint crumb topping. These cupcakes are so awesome- I'm sad I didn't discover them earlier! (There are so many cupcakes yet to be discovered in that book, right?)

Here we have a Lost cake! The design on the top is my clumsy rendering of the Dharma Initiative logo, and the blue frosting on the sides is supposed to represent the ocean. Ok, I'm not the world's best decorator!

But, what the cake lacked in looks, it made up for in flavor. I made Kittee's red velvet kake recipe- and it's a winner! It has a unique flavor and all our friends loved it.

Of course, one can't live on cake alone. (Well, one could but perhaps shouldn't...). Daiku made this fruit crisp for one of our get-togethers, using his favorite apple-cherry crisp recipe from Whole Foods. However, since this was the middle of winter, we had to improvise with the fruit a little bit, so we threw in what we had in the freezer- we ended up using frozen apples, peaches, blueberries, raspberries and cherries, as well as canned pears and fresh lemon juice and zest.

The result was an awesome and flavorful apple crisp. I love freezing as many fruits as possible in the summer, because then you can be rewarded with comforting fruity creations such as this one in the winter.

Finally, we had to have drinks! Usually, we drank lots of wine at our gatherings.

However, it is worth noting that prosecco (a dry and mild Italian sparkling wine) also goes well with vegan feasts and cupcakes.

And, if an episode of Lost is particularly mind-blowing, there is nothing wrong with drinking some absinthe to add to the effect!

Tonight is the season finale of Lost. This is a bitter-sweet moment for me. It is the last time we will see a new episode of the show before next February (!), and it is the last of these weekly get-togethers with our awesome friends before we all scatter for the summer. This the last full day Daiku and I will be in Syracuse before embarking on our June travels. This semester would have been a lot less enjoyable had it not been for the good food and good company that we got to share almost every weekend while watching the weirdest of shows!

After today, my posting will be sporadic, but watch here for updates from Virginia, St. Louis, Kansas City, and St. John! And for those of you watching Lost tonight, let's toast to each other- namaste!


Thursday, May 22, 2008

latin jazz and food: a two part haiku

following sights, sounds,
toward our hang-out we stroll
a crowd gathering

Latin jazz hopping,
arroz con gandules* with
tostones** and beer.

*arroz con gandules: rice with pigeon peas

**tostones: fried green plantains

Las Delicias Restaurant
Puerto Rican and Pan-Caribbean food, plenty of vegetarian/vegan options.
550 Westcott Street
Syracuse, NY 13210
Phone: (315) 422-0208

Read my previous post about Las Delicias, one of our favorite neighborhood restaruants.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

flashback: bake sale

Well, the temperatures are still cool and the heater is still on (*drats*) so I figured I might as well do a flashback post. Back in February, I decided to do a little baking to contribute to a bake sale being held by SARO- the Syracuse Animal Rights Organization. I don't do a lot of high-volume baking, so this was a good learning experience.

First, it was time once and for all to address the frosting issue that I've had. Does the above look familiar to you? This is a cupcake that I baked back in the Fall of 2006. I always have a vision of the picture-perfect cupcake with a perfect dollop of frosting on the top, but even after using my biggest pastry tip, the results always looked a bit more like toothpaste!

Sensing my frustration, Daiku went to the kitchen supply store and found the most ridiculously large pastry tip he could find and brought it back home. At first, I was a little skeptical- the thing was huge! But guess what- I finally got the perfect-looking frosting mound that I'd always dreamed of!

Here are some of the baked goods cooling- I baked several miniature banana bread loaves and several batches of cupcakes. To keep things simple, I stuck to straight-forward and tried-and-tested recipes- vanilla and chocolate cupcakes. Someone left a comment here once asking me about my cooling rack- yes, it's just a kitchen rack that usually stores produce, but I often use it for the purpose of cooling baked goods. I don't have enough surface area in my kitchen for cooling racks otherwise!

Another thing I don't have enough room for- cool cupcake transportation contraptions. But these roasting pans from the supermarket did a great job- the plastic tops were high enough to not disturb the frosting. I finished baking and decorating late at night and ran the finished results over on a cold and snowy night. I wish the snow was a distant memory, but it's not. Afterwards, SARO told me that the goodies were snapped up at the bake sale- success!

Ok, now that I have your attention with some goodies, could I please ask you to visit SARO's webpage? They do a lot of really good work on behalf of animals and it would be great if some of their campaigns could be publicized, especially for those of you with connections to Upstate New York. One issue that is especially pressing right now is an adoption drive for a large number of rescued laboratory rats down in the Philadelphia area. Any of these rats that don't find homes by late June will be euthanized with carbon monoxide.

rats for adoption- please help!

Aren't they adorable? Is the little guy on the right giggling?? They've already overcome one hurdle by getting to leave their lab rat days behind- now they need good homes to go to. If you or anyone you know is looking to adopt a cute new pet, please consider these rats. Thank you!


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

market finds and fresh foods

smiley face tomato at the Syracuse Regional Market

Right now, there is a chill in the air here and we have our heater on. It's a crying shame to have October-like weather in late May, (*shakes fist at Syracuse*) but at least we had some warm spells in the previous weeks. So having thought, however incorrectly, that summer was indeed upon us, Daiku and I did get to cook and eat some delicious warm-weather foods.

First up, some more Yellow Rose tester recipes for Joanna. Above, we have a cabbage salad with a sweet sesame dressing. So much lighter and more flavorful than a run-of-the-mill coleslaw- I could eat this by the bucket!

Next, we have a roasted beet and pear salad with a citrus-mint vinaigrette. I loved being able to use fresh mint from our mint plant that has survived for over 2 years!

Next, we have a spring greens soup. I chose to use fresh dandelion greens from... our lawn! It is so fun to forage for food in your backyard, doesn't it? And since we don't use any chemicals in our yard or on our lawn, we can eat dandelions to our hearts' content, worry-free.

I love visiting the Susu kim chi booth at our local farmers market. Isn't that the cutest label ever? The jar you see pictured above is something that is new to me- watercress kim chi. But boy, is it good! It has a lighter and sweeter flavor than regular cabbage kim chi, and goes well with everything. The fact that it's vegan, local, and organic, adds to its awesomeness.

We picked up some veggies at the market and made the tapas spread that you see pictured above- tomato/caper salad, broad bean/cucumber salad, lemon parsley steamed potatoes, shallot spice roasted potatoes, and last but not least, crisp bread with roasted caramelized garlic to spread on them. We had this meal with a glass of sangria- pretty much the world's most perfect meal set-up, as far as I'm concerned!

Finally, we have what Daiku and I call our "hippie meal." It's an arame-zucchini stir-fry recipe from the Natural Grocery Company website. Whenever we feel a bit run-down, or want to eat something super healthy, we turn to this dish. It's a simple stir-fry of tofu, zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, and TONS of seaweed! (We actually used wakame instead of arame, since that's what we had on hand.) Served with brown rice and a healthy sprinkle of sesame seeds, it's a nourishing meal. After you eat it, you feel full and yet light. The satisfaction carries over to the next morning. I'm usually ravenous for breakfast when I wake up, but not if I had this for dinner the night before. My hypothesis is that the seaweed is so full of minerals and nutrients that my body feels that it has everything it needs, and thus doesn't crave anything more! I don't know how scientifically sound this hypothesis is, but why don't you experiment and see if this meal doesn't nourish you the same way?

Now, I'm going to go check on the thermostat. Brrr!


Monday, May 19, 2008

3 loaves, no fishes

I love baking bread. Everything from taking out your frustrations while kneading the dough to smelling the intoxicating smell of bread wafting from the oven is really exciting. However, all that work to make one loaf of bread, one loaf that often disappears in a mere day or two? Not so good. So, I decided to feed not one, but two big batches of sourdough starter and make not one, but three big loaves of bread last week!

I decided to make two loaves of sandwich bread. As you can see above, the silicone pan expanded a bit! The bread on the left is a combination of white bread flour, rye flour, and semolina flour, with cranberries and a maple sugar swirl, topped with poppy seeds. The bread on the right is a combination of white bread flour, spelt flour, and rye flour, with raisins and a cinnamon/date sugar swirl.

Here they are out of their pans and ready for the cooling rack. I was so happy with how they came out, especially because I improvised and didn't really follow a recipe.

You'll notice my swirl skills need a little bit of work! This bread still tasted great and made wonderful cinnamon toast.

Ok, you can barely even see the swirl in this loaf! But it's there, I promise!

The final bread was a free-form loaf, the same as the raisin bread above, but without the cinnamon swirl. I love the combination of dried fruit and sourdough bread because the resulting bread is flavorful, but not too sweet, and perfect for sweet or savory uses.

Here's an X-treme close-up of a raisin poking out of the bread. Baking multiple loaves of bread at one time is a great strategy. It doesn't take considerably more time or energy to make three instead of one, but you are left with a bigger payoff for that work. The great thing about sourdough is that it acts as a natural preservative, and so breads made with sourdough starter don't go stale as quickly. However, to keep them at optimum freshness (and to guarantee that we wouldn't finish them too quickly!) I sliced and froze half of each loaf. This makes for convenient toast at a moment's notice. It's also fun to experiment with ingredients and flavors. Next time you decide to make a loaf of bread, why not make two? Or more?


Sunday, May 18, 2008

muffin post!

This post is for
Catherine! I commented on her blog that I'd been baking a lot of muffins lately, and she came here and didn't see any. As usual, there's a lag between when I eat something and when I get around to blogging it, but I hope that she and all of you enjoy these muffins.

First, we have these blueberry muffins, the recipe for which comes from AmyArgh over on the PPK. (Here is the recipe- scroll down on the page. I left out the almond topping since I had none.) I was going to go shopping with a group of co-workers one day, and I wanted to get brownie points by baking everyone breakfast muffins. The recipe had to be suitably impressive, since I had a group of non-vegans to impress. This recipe, with its professional bakery-style topping was a hit. All these decadent muffins were gone quickly!

Second, we have these cranberry-orange-walnut(+chocolate) muffins, the recipe which I thought up one morning when trying to create a yummy yet healthy breakfast goody. They are whole grain, not-too-sweet, and if you omit the chocolate chips, totally free of refined sugar. Here's the recipe:

Pre-heat oven to 350. Line muffin pan with liners or lightly spray with oil.

In a bowl or measuring cup, mix together the following and set aside:
  • 3/4 C unsweetened soymilk
  • 1 TB flax meal (ground flax seeds)
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 C agave nectar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
Next, mix the following dry ingredients together:
  • 3/4 C whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 C cornmeal
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix gently with a whisk or fork until just mixed. Now add small fistfuls of:
  • dried cranberries (unsweetened if you can find)
  • walnuts
  • chocolate chips if you're feeling naughty!
And mix until just incorporated. Fill muffin pan and bake 20 minutes for normal-sized muffins and 15 minutes for mini-muffins. (I baked these in my toaster oven, so you might have to slightly adjust oven temps and times for your oven.) This recipe makes 6 big and 10 mini-muffins, or whatever combination of big/small you feel like!

*Note: I made another batch of these muffins, replacing the whole wheat pastry flour with barley flour and the cranberries with chopped dates, and those came out just as well. Feel free to mix up your ingredients to suit your tastes.*

By the way, thank you all for your blog suggestions in my last post! I am slowly making my way to visiting all of them. In celebration of all this new-found blogging energy, I promise to blog every day this upcoming week, with lots of recipes and photos that I have backlogged!


Saturday, May 10, 2008

memes! (and a request)

Ok, I've been tagged several times for these memes, and I feel like a very neglectful blogger for not acknowledging the lovely bloggers who have tagged me! Now that my teaching for the semester is over and I have turned my grades in, I have a lot more time to catch up in the blogging world.

The first meme, sent my way by SaraJane of Vegan.Chicks.Rock. is the one where I am to tell you 5 things about myself. These memes are really interesting, because I always have fun and interesting things floating around my head, but when pressed to reveal 5 things about myself, I draw a blank. I will try, though.

1. I will be turning 30 next year. I don't usually make a big deal of birthdays, but 30 does seem like a big milestone. I have come up with a "30 before 30" list of things I want to accomplish before then. You can see the list here. (Your comments are always welcome!)

2. As #1 demonstrates, I am a huge fan of lists and to-dos and goals set down on paper.

3. But I'm also a huge procrastinator, so not all of my lovingly-created lists get accomplished. My procrastination can make blogging particularly painful at times, when I realize that I took a photo of a wonderful meal months ago and never got around to blogging it!

4. I've learned to deal with feelings of blogging angst, though. I'm nearing the 2-year mark on this blog, and if I were to take myself too seriously or make it too hard on myself, I'd never have been able to hang around this long.

5. This idea of being calm and peaceful is going to come in really handy as Daiku and I scramble to finish out the semester and leave for almost the entire month of June- eep!

Ok, one meme down, 2 to go! The second one comes via Celine, a.k.a. the baking genius behind have cake, will travel! I'm supposed to list 6 words to describe myself:

1. Ok, I was going to say "Koreaphile" meaning one who is interested in Korean culture. But, thanks to Google, I see that this might get confused with "korephile" and so I'm not going to go there. Hmmmm. How about "kimchi-lover"?
2. academic
3. grammatical
4. funny
5. neurotic
6. wanderlust-haver

Finally, I was overjoyed to receive this award from two blogs: Hezbollah Tofu and love like a vegan. To think that the brains behind these excellent blogs would say that this one ranks as "excellent" is very awesome, indeed. Now, what I'm supposed to do is pass this on to 2 blogs that are excellent. Well, this is where my request comes in. I feel that I've been a bit out of the blogging loop lately, especially as so many new vegan blogs are cropping up! So I want to use this as an opportunity to familiarize myself with some new blogs, especially now that I have a little more time for browsing them. So, do you know any excellent blogs that I might not have heard of yet? Or are you the owner of a blog that you think I would like? Please, leave me a comment and I promise to visit it! Hopefully this way, the "E for Excellent" award will serve as an impetus for me to find some new excellent blogs and keep my blogging mind fresh! Thanks in advance, everybody.


Monday, May 05, 2008

olive divinity

Just a quick product review for tonight. Since there are no Trader Joe's locations anywhere near where I live, I love going there whenever I'm traveling. While at my mom's last month, we decided to try their mixed olive bruschetta, a savory mixture of "black, brunettte and green olives with red peppers in olive oil." This stuff is, in a word, divine. It packs a salty and savory punch, and so a little goes a long way.

My favorite way to eat the stuff was as a topping for these crispy and flaky roti. The buttery flavor of the bread complemented the piquant olives perfectly. Trader Joe's has several types of olive spreads, and so far I have liked every one that I've tried.

Here are some other ideas for what to do with any olive bruschetta or tapenade type things you happen to have on hand:
  • they are a great starter for pasta sauces, just sauté some with onions or garlic before adding your other ingredients, or just toss straight up with pasta
  • as a stir-in for dips- whether bean-based (like cannelini bean dip or hummus), or cream-based (try stirring some into cashew cheese or Tofutti cream cheese)
  • a sandwich spread, especially good for heated sandwiches like panini or grilled sandwiches
  • mixed with a little bit of oil and citrus juice and vinegar to make a great marinade for veggies, tofu, or tempeh, or as a topping for grilled foods
  • as a way to add quick flavor to any soup, stew, lentils, or beans that you are cooking
  • add-ins to nut pâtés (olives and walnuts go especially well together)
  • a spread for pizza, to replace or be added to tomato sauce, or used as a pizza topping
  • and of course, just straight with bread, veggies, or crackers as an appetizer
Summer is a great time to experiment with olive pastes, and I hope these ideas inspire you to try them out!