It's New Year's Eve!

Sorry to have been so absent. The last week has been nuts, but you knew that.

I'm off to San Francisco for a business trip. We already have reservations at two vegetarian restaurants, Greens and Millenium, so I am encouraged about my ability to Make Good Choices while I'm there.

I'll be back on the 8th, hopefully with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for cooking (it's been sadly lacking lately) and without any extra poundage. I picked up 4 pounds or so since I had to stop running 6 weeks ago, but the cookies are all gone now so maybe that will cease. Please, let it cease!

Have a great New Year's and I'll see you next week.



Discovery of the day: Birthday weekend from hell!

Actually it wasn't that bad, it's just that our quick little trip out of town got sabotaged by a snowstorm the likes of which haven't been seen in these parts for oh, at least a decade or so. We got trapped out of town for an extra day, which meant more (expensive) eating out than I'd planned.

I tried to be good, I really did, but expensive little hotel restaurant salads just don't take the place of a BAS.

Oh yeah, then there were these.

I won't be getting on the scale for a few days.



Discovery of the day: Reduced rations

The scale is betraying me. I thought I was doing OK, but this morning I realized that the 1-2 lbs I thought I'd gained back since I had to stop running has now grown to 4-4.5 lbs.

A couple of snacks from the holiday goodie table each day at work (damn you, Ghiradelli chocolate squares!) plus some cookies at home each night is really starting to add up. Doesn't sound like much, but say each cookie/candy is 50-100 calories apiece, and I'm scarfing up 3 or 4 at work and another 4 or 5 at home... it adds up really quick.

So I need a plan. Avoid all snacking at work unless it's really worth it (90% of it isn't) and even then, no more than one item per day. Only two cookies per day at home.

To help me cope, I have the good Callebaut bittersweet chocolate I can bring to work. A little of that does work wonders, and it tastes a lot better than the Ghiradelli stuff.

Also, I apologize for not doing much in the way of testing new recipes lately. My energy level is really low this time of year and I'm relying on old standards, so there probably won't be any new Project Weeknight posts until next year. Heck, I'll be lucky to post three times a week. I'd thought of posting about the cookie recipe

Only four more days till Winter Solstice when we start the slow climb up out of darkness. Hooray!



Discovery of the day: So far, so good

We stuck to our plans and only made four kinds of cookies. Oh yeah, and a pan of gingerbread, but it was gingerbread cake, not gingerbread cookies, so it didn't count. And the fact that the three of us ate over 3/4 of it in two days? Well, we'll just not speak of that ever again, OK?

I'm watching the scale pretty closely these days. Between my faltering mood (I have, um, seasonal issues), the recent change in my physical activity level, and now the cookies, I'm worried that I might not be able to stay the course through the winter.

So far I've only gained a pound or two. I ended up eating a lot of cookie dough and cookies this weekend and tried to compensate by skipping lunch. Imagine my surprise this morning when I saw this post on the Casual Kitchen blog! It's chock full of very helpful hints.

One thing that might save me this year is that we're not very social so we have no parties we must attend. Believe it or not, I'm very thankful for that.



Discovery of the day: Priorities

Well, I have no idea what I'm cooking for dinner tonight, but I bought everything I need to make cookies this weekend.

Good think I have my priorities straight, huh?



Discovery of the day: Holiday baking manifesto

We're only going to make four kinds of cookies this year. We've settled on the top four 'must-haves'. And I'm going to make them as written, no 'healthier' substitutions.

Did I mention that I used to be a cake decorator and a professional baker wanna-be? My rehabilitation has gone pretty well so far. I'm only hoping that the cookies don't prove to be the gateway drug to a full-on attack of holiday baking. The last thing I need is another Bûche de Noël frenzy like I had a while back. I must have made four of the damned things that year.




Discovery of the day: The Onslaught

It has begun. The company I work for has been in business for some years, owned by the same couple, and has many long-term business relationships. And apparently, long-term relationships = holiday treats.

I'd somehow managed to forget that, for the first three weeks of December, we are bombarded with boxes full of delicious holiday goodies.

Last week we got lucky, receiving only one Harry & David box containing some plain old red delicious apples and Bartlett pears and blocks of cheese wrapped in plastic that look suspiciously like the rectangular blocks I buy at the store. The pears were ripe, a nice change from previous years. I wonder how much the poor saps paid for that.

Today brought a Cheryl & Co gift basket of cookies and a pan of what looks like mint-frosted brownies. I limited myself to one Mexican Wedding/Russian Tea cookie/cake whatever they're called, but the rest of the bounty is still sitting in there on the conference table. I can hear it calling.

Did I mention that there are only six of us in the office?

I am doomed.



Discovery of the day: Apple-choco-p-b-icious

As you have already heard, I have a lot of apples at my house right now. I've been trying to find ways to get my son to eat more of them, and I recently discovered a dessert option he doesn't turn up his nose at.

Cut the apple in half, scoop out the core with a melon baller. Fill the hole in each half with peanut butter, as much as you'd like. I try to limit it to a tablespoon per apple half, just for calorie's sake.

(BTW, this is my normal breakfast, with a banana on the side.)

Melt an ounce, ounce and a half, of chocolate. I use the good stuff, the Callebaut chocolate I buy in bulk at the fancy pants grocery store.

Spoon the chocolate onto the cut halves of the apple. You can drizzle it on artfully or just smear it around. Let it sit for a minute, then NOM NOM NOM!

Acceptability factor: Pretty danged high, although he did eat the chocolate and peanut butter off his second half and tried to palm the fruit off on me. Not that I always eat his leftover food or anything. (blush)

I do keep chocolate on hand all the time. It's a habit left over from when I was really into baking and candymaking. I've learned that an ounce or so of good, bittersweet chocolate seems to stop just about any craving I have. It's powerful stuff!



Discovery of the day: Dark days

So here's the problem. Since I started running back in May, I've been able to be a little more relaxed with my food choices. And I've gotten to a point where I'm pretty happy with the balance I've reached. I'm eating grains regularly, and usually only eat salad for lunch on weekdays. I can even get away with a treat of some sort most days.

(Speaking of treat, did I mention that Sbux has their dark chocolate grahams back? I'm so happy....)

Except now it's all changed. I had to stop running a few weeks ago thanks to an extremely inconvenient injury. Hell, I'm not even supposed go for long walks! What's worse, I won't be able to start up again for another 6 weeks or so. Even worse still, the last time I had to quit running, it took me six years to start up again. It does not get easier as you get older, trust me.

Another complicating factor is that it's November, the dark days up here in the top left corner of the country. I'm pretty sensitive to the short days and this is not a great time of year for me. It takes all my willpower to fight the urge to hibernate, and my success rate is not good. I was counting on the running to help me through it this year. Harumph.

So now I have to scale back my eating to match my new (non-)activity level. And that, my friend, is going to suck.

I'm attempting to reduce portions and cut back my treat frequency, but it's very difficult when all I want to do is curl up with a bag of Kettle Chips and sleep until March.

All I can do is try, I guess.



Discovery of the day: Crockpot to the rescue

I ended up with a whole bunch of apples, then I went and got some more. Digging through the box the other day, I noticed some of them had gotten away from me. I had to throw a couple out, but most of the ones I culled had just one spot going bad.

So now what? I could make apple crisp, but I'm on a dessert moratorium (more on that another day.) I could make applesauce, but we don't really eat applesauce, like, ever. But I did see a crockpot recipe for apple butter a while back.... Mmmm, apple butter!

Per the instructions, I quartered and cored the apples. I was surprised that I only had to grab a few more to make enough to fill by 4 qt cooker. Threw the apples in, turned it on low, and went to bed.

In the morning I mashed it and added sugar, cinnamon, and cloves. Looked and smelled like applesauce! I'd read where the original amount of sugar was w-a-a-y too much (plus I was making a smaller batch) so I cut back to about 1/4 cup, I think. Went off to work.

That evening, it looked like apple butter. I hit it with the stick blender. It was still pretty watery so I turned it up to high and took the lid off. It plopped and splorped like that for 2 or 3 hours. I turned it off before I went to bed.

This morning I jarred it up and stuck it in the fridge. I think I got about 2 pints plus some. And it tastes like apple butter, although I probably should have added a little more sugar. I might leave out the cloves next time. Maybe.

All in all, I'd call it a good use of borderline apples!



Discovery of the day: Just enough

Whew! NaNoWriMo is over and I survived! Back to real life.

Thanksgiving was fun. It's the first one we've cooked together. We were cooking for three adults and my son. I told my SO that no matter how hard we tried, we would end up with too much food. I only know this because I've been doing this for, oh, a couple of decades.

With that in mind, we sat down to make our list of 'must haves'. The goal was to make as few dishes as possible but still get just enough of what we wanted. We eventually settled on turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, waldorf salad (his), succotash (mine), cranberries, pumpkin pie.

The smallest turkey we could find at the store was 14 lbs, but that was no surprise as it was the Sunday before T-day. Then SO decided he wanted to make two kinds of stuffing, regular and cornbread. How could I say no to that? We did have a moment of conflict; he's a 'cook the stuffing in the bird' guy but I have a pretty strong aversion to that. Fortuitously enough, I had seen a recipe for cooking it in a squash half, and he agreed to that. It was difficult to talk him out of making a whole batch of each dressing for 3.5 people, but we eventually compromised.

I really wanted to make another dessert even though I knew better. I really really wanted to make two pumpkin pies but that would be inviting disaster. Instead, I made some caramel apples and dipped them in chocolate (the good stuff). I cut those into wedges and we ate them while playing board games later.

All in all, it worked out pretty well. Next year I have to get in the mood earlier so I can get a hold of a smaller bird. One thing that surprised me is that I wasn't very interested in the turkey. I had one small slice and that was enough.

Turkey aside, we had just enough of the other leftovers to last us through the weekend, although I could have made a whole batch of succotash, my favorite thing, next to cranberries. (I want to post the recipe but I left it at home. I'll try tomorrow.)

I think paring it down to the 'must haves' and limiting the amount we made saved me from myself this year. Now I just have to avoid the dreaded Cookie Baking Urges....

BTW, if you want to try an amazingly speedy way to cook a turkey, try this. And here's a video!



Discovery of the day: It's a crock!

I know, I've been a complete slacker. But November is almost over, then I'll be back, I promise.

I did try one new thing earlier this week - I tried cooking beans in the crockpot. I soaked 1.5 lbs of cannellini beans during the day while I was at work. (Yeah, it wasn't 'overnight', but I was hoping they couldn't tell the sun was out.) That evening I drained them and dumped them into my 4 qt crockpot and added as much water as would fit, up to probably 1" from the rim. I left it on high for an hour (or two) then set it to low before I went to bed.

In the morning, I had a crockpot full of beany goodness. They tasted great, but... they were waaaay overcooked. I had hoped to freeze them in two cup portions but they would probably turn to complete mush.

Good news is that I am no longer afraid of cooking beans in the crockpot. Bad news is the gallon of beans in my fridge that I need to use in the next day or so. I probably should make a huge batch of bean and bacon soup.

Next time, I'm guessing I'll probably just cook them in a pot on the stove, so I can keep an eye on them. Tricksy bastards!





Project Weeknight: Potato & Cabbage Soup

Last night I decided I had to try to adapt one of my favorite soups. I think the original name is Peasant Soup, but we always called it Cabbage & Kielbasa Soup. I've been making it for probably 20 years. But how would it fly without kielbasa?

Ingredients list is simple: carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, cabbage, herbs, and stock. As always, the chopping took a lot longer than I thought. You'd think I'd have figured that out by now. A little sauteeing, some simmering, hit it with the stick blender, and done.

It could have used more simmering, but I ran out of time. And it's one of those soups that will be better the second day. But I think it'll pass.

Even though I doubled the original amount of potatoes, my son probably would have appreciated more. And as much as I wish it was a weeknight meal, the only way it'll qualify is if it's bagged in the freezer. Or maybe if I made half a batch - enough for one meal - that might cut back the chopping time enough to make it work.

I forgot to bring the recipe with me today, but I'll try to do it from memory.
Peasant Soup, Veg Style
Adapted from some book whose title I've forgotten...
(I'll remove this note when I've double-checked the recipe at home)

1 Tblsp oil
1 Tblsp butter
2 med. onions, chopped
2 cups carrots, diced
2 cups celery, diced
2 quarts stock (I used half chicken, half veg)
4 cups cabbage, thinly sliced
4 cups potatoes, diced
1 tsp dill
1/2 tsp marjoram
salt & pepper to taste

Heat fats in pan, add onions, carrots, celery, and saute until soft. Add stock and cabbage, simmer 15 minutes. Add potatoes and herbs, simmer 15 minutes. Puree half of the soup in a food processor, or just hit it with the stick blender for a couple of pulses.

Goes great with cornbread.

My SO, a former student of the Russian language, suggested beets. I'd never had borscht, but the idea intrigues me. We figured a can of beets, cut up, could be added near the end. I may have to give that a go.



Discovery of the day: <blank>

Between the election and the insanity of this NaNoWriMo thing I've decided to do, I kinda spaced it there for a minute.

I'll be back, I promise.



Discovery of the day: A salty tale

We spent most of the weekend doing home improvement-type stuff, and that does not exactly lend itself to home cookin'.

Friday night we had to go pick up a thing at Best Buy (grrr... I'm not even going to go there) and decided to try the middle eastern (Lebanese?) restaurant nearby. I'd been there years ago and had vague memories of it being mediocre and way overpriced. But that was years ago. Unfortunately, it was still mediocre and overpriced. And salty, holy cow!

Saturday we spent painting and had to run out to get more stuff. Conveniently, it was lunchtime so we decided to get something. Which happened to be something at our favorite sandwich place, where I always go for the one heavy with cured meat. Salt, much?

We were good Saturday night and enjoyed some leftovers that were not too salty, thankfully. But Sunday evening somehow we found ourselves at the Thai place, which I'm sure is full of hidden salt even though it tasted wonderful.

Oh well. Lots of water (and trips to the bathroom) for me today.



Discovery of the day: Something completely different

This is the first year ever, I think, that I am not doing the Halloween thing. My son is with his dad. It seems that trick-or-treating has fallen out of favor over the last several years. I'm not a huge Halloween fan anyway, so there just didn't seem to be a reason to go there this year.

I have bought no candy. I have carved no pumpkins. I have taped no decorations to the windows. Yeah, it's kind of weird, but it's also kind of liberating.

At lunchtime today I went grocery shopping and, I admit, the sight of all those people buying huge bags of Milk Duds and Smarties did get to me, so I bought myself a 3 Musketeers bar. I'm thinking that will fill the void just fine.



Discovery of the day: Candy from Hell

The one thing I dislike about this time of year is candy corn. I've disliked candy corn ever since I was old enough to realize that just because it's candy doesn't mean it's good. Oh yeah, and that applies to you as well, circus peanuts. (shudder!)

The ex and I used to joke that they actually stopped making candy corn in the 50's and have just been collecting, re-bagging, and reselling it ever since. And I almost half-believe that's true.

I (mistakenly) assumed that everyone in the known universe (meaning everyone I knew) felt the same way about candy corn. Which made this morning's blogwalk that much more of a shock.

Yes, there are people in the world who love candy corn so much that they will make it from scratch! Isn't that bizarre? I know!

I'm not vegan and don't aspire to be but I do read a lot of vegan food blogs. And, in case you didn't know, commercial candy corn contains gelatin, which even this non-vegan knows is animal protein at its most disgusting. If that's not bad enough, there's always the dreaded ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup. So I suppose it was inevitable that not one, but two of my regular reads had (gulp!) home-made vegan candy corn recipes posted today, both variations of this one from The Urban Housewife.

As you may have guessed, I love figuring out how to make stuff from scratch, especially if it's something one usually buys from the store. But my loathing for those orange, yellow, and white triangles is deep enough from preventing me from even thinking about this one, even though it does look kind of fun.

But if you're one of those twisted candy corn lovers, take a look. And if you give it a go, let me know how it comes out. Just don't send me any!



Discovery of the day: Downward creep

I've noticed this week that my weight has crept down just a little. It's only 2 lbs or so total, and I can't guarantee it'll 'stick', but it sure is nice to see that number. That number is the next Big Breakthrough Point, and if I ever am able to get through it and stay there, that will be a Big Hairy Deal, even though to the casual observer I will look exactly the same as I do now.

Yeah, I want it, but I don't want to have to work too hard to get it. Come to think of it, that pretty much sums me up in a nutshell.


Project Weeknight: Kale & Chickpeas

I tried. I really did. I was bound and determined to come up with some variation of greens and chickpeas that we would fall in love with. Last night was my third attempt and once again, it was not what I'd hoped for. Third strike = I'm out.

Well, OK, it may not be hopeless. It may just be me. Last night I thought I would be clever and combine elements from these two recipes: Chickpeas & Greens and Boiled Kale w/Fried Egg, both from Orangette. I loved her descriptions -- both recipes sounded like home runs. So why not combine them, right?

Um... well, if I was someone with a natural gift for creating recipes, maybe. But I'm not. I'm a technician at heart, not an artist, and sometimes these sorts of things can't be engineered.

I fried two strips of bacon (because how could bacon be bad?) and fried onions and garlic in the fat. I added a can of chickpeas, the kale (about 1 lb?) and some chicken stock, maybe 1.5 cups total, and simmered. Instead of lemon juice I threw in a splash of white wine because I had the rest of a bottle of white wine in the fridge, and isn't that what cooks do?

I wanted to serve it over toasted bread, and had picked up a whole wheat baguette, which I sliced diagonally to make those long, pointy pieces. I toasted those in a pan on the stove with some olive oil.

Bread in bowl. Greens with some juice on top. Crumbled bacon on top of that.

It all smelled good and looked good. So what went wrong? Let me count the ways:
  1. Whole grain bread? Bad idea. Should have had nothing, or crusty white bread. Oh yeah, and I should have used the broiler.

  2. Bacon. Somehow it didn't work here. Weird, I know!

  3. Flavor. I think the wine was overkill. It didn't taste like kale. It just tasted weird.

And I was late to the table, to boot. It took longer to clean the two bunches of kale than I planned, and I had not printed out the recipes ahead of time. My kitchen laptop is v-e-r-y slow and apparently could not run my browser and word processor simultaneously. I wasted almost ten minutes messing around with that before I decided to just open both recipes in the browser and flip back and forth between them.

If I had made either dish as written, I think we all would have been much happier. However, last night I did learn that my son does not love chickpeas as I do. My boyfriend told me later that, as a kid, he was weirded out by the texture of chickpeas. Since I did not knowingly eat a chickpea until I was well into my 20's, that was a revelation to me.

So where does that leave me? First off, I will follow Daniel @ Casual Kitchen's rule: Do It One Time By The Book. Secondly, next time I try a stewed greens thing, I will make it for myself before springing it on my guys.

Verdict? I'm sure the recipes as written are fine. But this time I get a EPIC FAIL at chickpeas and greens. RTFD, Liz!



Discovery of the day: Squash-a-riffic!

Lately I've been having a hankering for squash, probably because just about every food blog I read has been posting squash recipes for the past couple of weeks. I succumbed on Sunday and tried this recipe for Spaghetti Squash New Mexican from Karina's Kitchen blog.

The beauty of this recipe is that other than a spaghetti squash and a small can of diced green chiles, I had everything else on hand. I did it mostly as written, except I used a cup of thawed frozen corn and 1/2 c diced red bell pepper instead of fresh corn. And of course the canned chiles instead of fresh. Oh, and I also forgot the lime. And I didn't use any garnishes. But other than that, I followed it exactly! :)

I think I overcooked the squash -- by the time I got it out of the over it was more of a mash than spaghetti-ish -- but it was still tasty. I heated the concoction through on the stove in the interest of time. Taking a cue from the Cook's Notes, I served it over polenta and it was very, very nice.

Next time, of course, I will try to not overcook the squash. I might even try chunks of butternut or something -- that could be cool. I'll try to remember the lime juice, too.

It got 'thumbs up' all around. It's not speedy enough to be a weeknight dish (unless I magically happened to have a pre-cooked squash lying around) but it's pretty dang easy for a weekend dinner.



Discovery of the day: Salad, revisited

On top of slacking off on the veggies, I'm also in a salad rut. My salads recently have consisted of -- you guessed it -- beans & grains on romaine. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it's getting old.

My SO & I have gotten in the habit of eating salad Friday night in lieu of getting pizza. Not because we're being super-virtuous, believe me; the main reason is that we have not found a decent pizza place nearby. And we are really picky about pizza. And, come Friday night, we have very few brain cells to devote to figuring out dinner. So salad it is.

But today I was having problems even figuring out what to put on tonight's salad. I had decided this morning that I would hit the salad bar at the fancy-pants grocery to get something to put on my lunch salad. I had romaine prepped, I just couldn't think of anything to go on top.

I picked up some broccoli slaw for my lunch and noticed their black bean and corn salad. The SO is generally fond of black bean and corn things -- score! I grabbed some of that, went back to Produce and bought an avocado ($3.00! Yikes!) and a pint of cherry tomatoes. I'll pick up a can of pintos from my house and we'll be set. And no grains!

I guess I need to think about prepping things like that and the broccoli slaw to go on my lunch salads. Time to peruse Recipe Purgatory.



Discovery of the day: Apple harvest

There's talk of a food co-op starting up in my area. This would be a majorly cool thing. They're just starting to organize and have been raising money, organizing, looking for people to be on committees, etc.

I'm really excited about the possibility of a co-op and I want to help, but I have a big problem. I am allergic to committees. I'm not just making this up, either. I've learned the hard way, through a series of increasingly painful experiences over the past few decades, that I am loaded with good intentions but am miserable on the follow-through. Especially when the people running the show are not doing it the way I would prefer, or I discover that I have absolutely no interest in what they're doing and bail. And one of those two conditions, sometimes both, have existed in every single committee I've joined from high school on through the ages.

So to spare us both, I've joined the co-op's email list and I read their blog but that's about as far as I can let myself go. It's better that way. Trust me.

But last week I got an email for a co-op fundraiser: A local guy usually makes a run each October to the eastern part of the state to pick up a load of organic apples, straight from the orchard, and this year he's volunteered to donate 10% of his fee to the co-op. All I had to do was order a 20 lb box of Fuji apples and have $25 in cash on hand at pick-up. Hey, I can do that!

Twenty-five pounds sounds like a lot of apples, but it's really not. I typically eat one a day and sometimes my son does as well. If the apples average 12 oz (I'm guessing but I don't think that's unreasonable) that's about a month's worth of apples. And if I get motivated, I may even make apple crisp like I've been threatening to do for weeks.

So I now have a box of very lovely, fresh Fujis in my garage. I've helped the food co-op. Yup, there are only winners here, my friends.



Hmmm... lost another day. Hate that!
Discovery of the day: Where are the greens?

I realized this week that I am relying increasingly on grains and beans, and much less on greens and other veggies. Part of this is due to laziness time; it's a lot quicker to whip up beans & grains than to prep a bunch of veggies. But also, I love me some grains, especially with beans.

I know that if I want to get the scale moving downward again I need to take a step back toward the vegs. I've already made progress in my over-usage avocado and peanut butter (not together!) and it wasn't too painful.

I also probably need to look at portion control. Since I am eating mostly vegetarian, (heck, even mostly vegan at times) I usually give myself free rein when dishing out the goods, and I end up eating a lot more than I probably need to. I guess it's time to pull out the measuring cup. One to 1.5 cups of grains & beans should be plenty. And if I still need to eat, I can always eat more veggies.

In other news, the gym I was using to shower after my lunchtime runs closed suddenly this week. So now I'm back to not being able to run during the week. Poop.



Sorry - I started this yesterday and forgot to post!
Discovery of the day: Vegetable Korma... mmmm!

My SO made this vegetable korma on Saturday. We didn't realize that the recipe serves 6 and we kind of overshot the quantities of veggies to boot so we ended up with a huge vat of it. Well, huge for the two of us, anyway. I usually freeze leftovers but was hesitant to freeze this because of the yogurt, so we're working our way through it this week. Not that I'm complaining!

He left out the cilantro ('cause I don't like it) and the hot curry powder (in deference to my son). He subbed peanut butter for cashew butter. Also, since most of the ingredients in garam masala were listed individually, he just upped those quantities a little and added some cardamom, coriander, and cloves. I had a bag of frozen haricot verts in the freezer (baby green beans) so he used those instead of fresh. And he used chicken stock instead of veg stock, since that's what we had on hand. It was pretty wet so cutting the stock in half might be a good idea.

It would definitely feed 6 at a minimum. I guess I could try freezing some of it to see how the yogurt holds up. Otherwise, I guess the trick would be to add yogurt at the table.

After writing about it, I wish I had brought some for lunch today!


Project Weeknight: Aloo Gobi & Chapatis

I'd been hankering to cook some Indian food, and I bought that cauliflower the other day, so I guess it was inevitable that I would make Aloo Gobi. And I did, last night.

I used Manjula's recipe and watched the video, which helped a lot. I had to cheat a little on the spices, though. I subbed a little garlic & onion powder for the asafetida. The only 'red chilly powder' I had was cayenne (I was assuming she didn't mean regular old American chili powder, which is a blend) so instead I added just a few red pepper flakes. I had some dried whole ginger I grated instead of fresh. I used half a 4 oz can of jalapenos instead of fresh green chilies. Used a tblsp or so of lemon juice instead of the amchoor. And unfortunately I am one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes like soap so I left it out.

It came out pretty darned good, though! I do need to slice the potatoes thinner next time. The cauliflower was way overcooked by the time the potatoes were done. I added half a cup of frozen peas at the end, too, and that was nice.

I also made her chapatis. Once again, the video was priceless. I think I need to make my dough just a little softer next time but they came out so much better than my first attempt.

I'm going to find something resembling red chile powder for next time. Don't think I'll bother with the asafetida, since it calls for just a pinch. I may see if I can get the amchoor, though. And I'll spring for some fresh ginger.

Verdict? My SO & I both liked it. My son ate it, although the yellow color from the turmeric bothered him a little. But he's 9, so anything yellow makes him think of pee. :) And even with making the chapatis from scratch, I got dinner on in time.




Discovery of the day: Oops!

Missed a few posts there -- sorry. I'm not sure what happened to Tuesday, but yesterday I accompanied my SO to an appt. in the city. He couldn't eat anything prior, so by the time he was done it was definitely time to eat.

We went to a little Mexican cafe near the hospital. I had 'Fancy Rice & Beans', pintos sauteed with something salsa-like and rice, served with shredded lettuce, cabbage, and sour cream. It was pretty gosh-darned tasty.

I've had it pretty easy this week, cooking-wise, but tonight I will need to produce dinner. I bought a head of cauliflower yesterday and am determined to do something with it. I sure would like to make an Indian curry-type thing....


Project Weeknight: Chickpea & Spinach Stew

OK, so it wasn't a weeknight, and I can't vouch for its acceptance by my son, but the recipe is quick & easy enough to qualify.

I had high hopes for this one. The reviews were good, I had everything on hand (OK, so I had to send my SO out for chickpeas. But I usually have them!) and once I read through the directions I realized I could simplify the process quite a bit.

I used a box of frozen spinach instead of fresh, so I didn't have to blanch it. I used a can of diced tomatoes w/juice, as suggested in the comments, instead of a fresh whole tomato. And instead of that fussy 'spiced garlic paste' thing, I ran the garlic through the garlic press and added it and the spices directly to the skillet with a pinch of salt. I was a little hesitant about using all that chickpea juice but decided to go for it. I didn't have golden raisins (and SO couldn't get them at the store) so I used 1/4 cup of some mixed raisins I had. I served it over brown rice.

I love all things chickpea and was sure that this would be a grand slam. Instead, it was... meh. And I doubt it was because of any of the changes I'd made. For one, it was too salty -- I think all that bean juice plus the salt I added was just too much once it was cooked down. Next time I'll use the juice from one can and supplement with water if necessary. And I think the spice combo was just lacking, although the raisins were nice.

I think it has potential. Next time I'll swap out the spice combo for something curry-ish. And you know what? I just realized that it's an awful lot like this recipe. With these two recipes to guide me, I bet I can come up with something of the chickpea & greens ilk that works for me.



Discovery of the day: Salvation

Thanks, I guess, to the high school kids who clogged the line at the pizza counter in the fancy-pants grocery store at noon today. You made the thought of standing in line so thoroughly unappealing that I hit the salad bar and paid $4.00 for a small healthy lunch instead of $2.50 for a cheap, massive, junky one.



Discovery of the day: Surviving Jack in the Box

Last night was a fast food night. I had errands to run after work, and on a schoolnight that means fast food. We landed up at Jack in the Box. I practiced some restraint by limiting myself to a Jumbo Jack. My son got his kid's meal and we split his fries. I was proud of having fed us for under $5.00.

But someone ordered a milkshake as we sat there waiting for our order and that did me in. I love their milkshakes, especially the Oreo Cookie shake. I caved in and ordered us a shake to share for dessert.

I suppose I got points for not ordering two shakes, or not getting my own order of fries. And for skipping the whipped cream on the shake -- that was mighty tempting.

I guess it could have been worse. But I'm still not going to check the nutritional information on the website.



Discovery of the day: Tortilla tango

I made the Smoky Refried Bean Soup again last night. I did remember to add more corn (doubled it) and I used black beans, as written. It came out nicely, although next time I may well double the black beans to make it even more chili-ish.

I had picked up some masa harina and decided to make some tortillas. I'd tried it a few years back and had bought a tortilla press and everything. I remember it being a fairly straightforward process, nothing too complicated. Surely I could crank out a few while the soup finished up. What I didn't take into account was that my lack of experience would slow me down. A lot.

The soup was pretty much done when I started. I used only one cup of masa since I only wanted to make enough for that meal. I added the 5/8 cup of water specified by a recipe I found online. I though it might be a little dry but soldiered on since at that point I didn't have time to do any more research. And like the chapatis, my lack of research resulted in a less-than stellar product. I ended up with five tortillas that were adequate but not what I'd hoped for.

After dinner I found a video on YouTube, of all places, that showed me what I was doing wrong. It also humbled the crap out of me, watching the ease with which people who make these things regularly crank this stuff out.

I learned that my dough was way too dry and my tortillas were too thick. And I laughed at my methodical measuring of 5/8th cup of water, compared to the experienced cooks dumping in water until it felt right. But I was also encouraged. Having seen how it's done, I think I can get there.

Same thing with the chapatis. After watching a video, I now have a much better idea of what I'm aiming for. And with practice, I might be able to pull it off.

YouTube is a wonderful thing!



Discovery of the day: What would it take?

So I've been wondering, what would it take to break my current setpoint and lose another 5 (10?) lbs? I'm not complaining, mind you. I'm down about 15 lbs from when I started nine months ago and I'm very happy about that, but I wonder how much change would be required to get to the next level. That would be a weight I haven't seen in well over 15 years.

I know I've gotten pretty complacent with my eating habits. I'm eating a lot more grains these days -- a serving or two just about every day -- but I really don't think I'm overdoing that. I am eating a fair amount of peanut butter. I could probably examine that. I'm adding a generous amount of vanilla Silk and sugar to my vat of morning decaf, sometimes followed up with another 12 oz cup at noon. I eat dessert on a semi-regular basis, usually a Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich. Afternoons at work are a snack minefield (often including more peanut butter), especially when it's slow.

Weekends I usually allow myself to slack a little, averaging only one BAS over the two days. We usually go out for a meal at some point, although I do try to limit it to one per weekend. Sometimes I'm successful.

Yeah, there are things I could do, if I really wanted to break on through to the other side. But do I? And if I did, could I maintain it? I guess that's the more important question.

Starting a concerted effort as holiday season approaches is probably not wise, but it might bear looking at again next spring.



Discovery of the day: Paved with good intentions

I was going to cook a real dinner Saturday. I was going to try one of the entries in Recipe Purgatory; something my son wouldn't be too interested in, since he was with his dad. Something that required longer than 45 minutes. I scoured the list. I consulted with my SO. Something with vegetables, since I've been rather grain-heavy lately. I finally picked a candidate! I made my list which was pretty short, really. All I had to do was go to the store. It was early in the afternoon; I could do that later.

After a nap.

Well, two hours later, fogged from a nap-hangover, the last thing I wanted to do was go to the store and cook. So we went out for Indian food.

I was that close!

It was pretty darned good Indian food, though. We had vegetable korma and vegetable biryani and both were wonderful. It was so good that it has inspired my to finally make a decision and buy one of the two Indian cookbooks I've been eyeing. I haven't done it yet, but I'm going to! Yeah, I've found lots of recipes online, but since I have never cooked Indian food, I feel I need a cookbook written for clueless Americans to teach me the basics.

I did cook last night, though. I made another big pot of minestrone. I didn't have any crusty bread, so I tried a whole wheat chapati recipe. I was skeptical since it has no yeast or leavening of any sort, and I can't say as I cooked them properly (that's where the art comes in) but they were pretty good. My son liked them. They don't reheat well, though, as we learned at breakfast this morning. Oh well.

Man, I can't stop thinking about that korma and biryani!



Discovery of the day: Ugh...

Dark. Rainy. Low motivation. Vanilla Soy Latte and a Fruit & Grain bar instead of a good old Decaf Drip w/Soy this afternoon.

Wondering how it'll all play out this weekend.



Discovery of the day: Strung out

Man, I could really use some chocolate right now but it really isn't worth leaving the office for mediocre chocolate from the grocery store down the road. Looks like I'll just have to tough it out.

I've got some lovely Callebaut bittersweet at home -- just gotta hang on for two more hours and it's all mine! I don't get the chocolate jones often, but when I do, it's intense.

In other news, my Recipe Purgatory has turned out to be a great tool for tracking recipes I find online. Now if I could just start making them faster than I'm adding them....



Discovery of the day: Quick and surprisingly satisfying

I've kind of been slacking with my lunchtime BAS lately. If I have leftovers to throw on top, which seems to be most of the time, it's a no-brainer. I run into trouble when I have to actually make a decision, and that usually happens about 5 minutes before I have to get myself and my son out the door in the morning.

Today, however, I lucked out.

I knew I had half a can of chickpeas at work (What? Doesn't everyone?) and I unearthed the rest of the Completely Inauthentic but Passable Tahini Sauce in the fridge. I threw a couple handfuls of romaine in a container, grabbed the tahini sauce, and figured I'd make the best of it. Honestly, I wasn't that excited about a chickpea and tahini BAS -- seems like it would be a little sparse, you know? I didn't even have an avocado to toss into the mix.

So lunchtime arrived, as it is wont to do. I dumped about half a cup of chickpeas into the romaine and dropped the remaining tahini sauce on in globs. Ho-hum.

But surprise of surprises, it was pretty darned tasty! I love chickpeas anyway, and the tahini sauce was flavorful enough to round out the party. I even forgot to sprinkle black pepper on top as I usually do when my BAS seems lacking.

It was so good that I might make up more tahini sauce just for that; no falafel required.

In other news, my son & I had Q&D Grains & Beans (Ack -- gotta come up with a better name! QNDGNB?) for dinner again Sunday night. This time I added some basil pesto (in addition to the butter) and Cheese Louise, was that ever good! I have a sneaking suspicion that it may become our standard Sunday night sleaze-out meal when it's just the two of us.


Project Weeknight: Tlayuda With Black Bean Purée

Sounds fancy, no? Believe it or not, it was easy enough to qualify for Project Weeknight.

Yesterday afternoon I was stewing over what to do for dinner. It'd been over a week since we'd had Taco Del Mom, so that was a possibility. Yeah, it's easy and much beloved, but it's getting kind of old.

I'd tried Refried Bean Soup a while back and it was very well received, but we're having freakishly warm weather here (mid-70s! Gasp!) and it just ain't soup weather.

So I delved into my Recipe Purgatory, clicked the Weeknight tag, and found this one from my culinary hero, Mark Bittman.

For some unknown reason, black beans are not one of my go-to beans. They're just not something I grab very often. This seemed like a good excuse to use some of the cans languishing in the back of the cabinet. I didn't have corn tortillas so I used the handmade whole wheat ones from the fancy-pants grocery that I usually have on hand. I even had some cabbage left from a soup experiment last weekend. Add some Monterey Jack cheese and we were good to go.

I did modify his instructions slightly: I sauteed the onion & garlic in the bottom of a small saucepan for a few minutes, then added the spices and heated then through. I drained the beans, reserving some of the liquid. Removed the pan from the heat and added the beans along with enough bean juice to keep them from sticking to the hot pan. Then I hit it with the stick blender, since I hate the thought of dirtying the food processor to puree one lousy can of beans. Presto! Black bean puree.

I'd already had the oven pre-heating. I brushed the bottom of a sheet pan (relatively new & clean) with a little oil and put it in the oven upside down to get hot. I spread the bean paste on the tortillas, sprinkled with the grated cheese, and plopped them on the hot sheet pan. And I only burned my forearm once!

I could have used the pizza stone but it seemed like a lot of time and energy to preheat that huge thing for just a few tortillas. Luckily the pre-heated cookie sheet worked great.

Per the directions, I let them bake for 5 mins., then opened the oven to mound about 1/2 cup of thinly sliced cabbage on each, avoiding a matching forearm burn. Baked for another 5 mins., pulled them out, and slid them onto a cooling rack to keep the bottoms from getting soggy while they cooled enough to slice into quarters.

The wheat tortillas crisped up fine, but next time I'd like to try corn tortillas. Or even making a few big tortillas from scratch, if I can remember to plan ahead for that.

I was a little skeptical about the cabbage, but 5 mins. @ 450 deg was indeed enough to wilt it enough to make it edible. We added a little chopped avocado and tomato and you know what? It was pretty darned tasty. My son gave it a huge thumbs up and insisted I print out the recipe for him to give to his teacher.

Can there be any greater praise than that?



Discovery of the day: The Donut Lesson

Some things always seem like they're going to be better than they actually are. Like donuts. I'm not going to tell you how many years I ate donuts just because they were donuts!!!, without stopping to ascertain whether they were good donuts, or even worth the saliva it took to chew them, much less the calories.

One day some years back, standing in the breakroom at work with a stale jelly donut in my mouth, I caught myself thinking "Man, this thing is stale and lame. I'd better finish it so I can go see if there's anything better left in the box."

Even though I had had the exact same thought countless times over the years, for some reason at that moment the lightbulb came on. Stuffing a stale donut I didn't want in my face so I could go find a better one was not going to help me reach my dietary goals. In fact, it was plain stupid.

Reflecting upon that, I realized that for the most part, I don't really even like donuts that much. I like cake donuts, preferably glazed, and with a cup of coffee nearby for dunking. I've decided that just about any other kind of donut just isn't worth it.

Sounds silly, but it was a major breakthrough for me. Got me thinking how many other things I eat just because they're 'special' without really considering whether they are any good. Since then I've gotten much better at turning down the stuff that's not worth it. I still have my moments, but I'm getting there.

Yesterday was a classic example. Sunday morning I went for a run and by the time I got back it was close to 11 am. My SO and I hadn't eaten breakfast and my son was starting to sniff around for lunch. Sounds like brunch to me!

So we headed out to the pancake house, purveyors of classic American gut-busting breakfast food. I know for a fact that my eyes are much bigger than my stomach these days, and I've known since childhood that pancakes are one of those things that I usually hurt myself with, so I opted for 2 eggs with hash browns and bacon. I figured even if I ate all of it, it probably wouldn't cause me too much physical pain.

My son and SO, however, were all about the pancakes!! My SO is just now realizing that one of the side effects of eating like me for the last nine months (aside from losing 25 lbs without much angst) is that he simply can't eat the sheer volume of food he used to. And when he tries, he usually regrets it. Unfortunately, he didn't remember than when ordering pancakes!!

When the platter arrived, I think his lightbulb came on. He ended up eating not even half of the six Mancakes (as we dubbed them) before he surrendered. I picked a little at my son's but that was about it for me.

I think my SO learned the Donut Lesson the hard way. And I have a feeling it'll be a while before we head back to the pancake house.

It's fascinating how long it takes to rewrite those outdated eating scripts in our brains, especially for those of us who have been eating for half a century, give or take.



Discovery of the day: Contents of my stomach

Last night's dinner:
  • Couple of whole wheat crackers with peanut butter as I bolted through the house on my way to the school open house.

  • An Oreo at the school.

  • As soon as I got home, a piece of my ex's wedding cake and a cherry tomato, I think -- memory of that is kind of a blur.

  • A bowl of shredded wheat w/raisins at 8 pm.
No wonder I feel hungover today!



Discovery of the day: Call of the Jumbo Jack

Yesterday evening was a... challenge. My car ended up in the shop, and by the time my son & I got the car and were heading home, I realized that it was already 6 pm and I just couldn't face pulling dinner together. So we hit Jack in the Box.

I bought him what is probably the equivalent of nutritional napalm: Deep-fried mac & cheese bites. I'm actually afraid to look up the nutritional data -- I really don't want to know. So why did I buy them? Because he loves them. And we only do this maybe once a month. And he's on the skinny side. And, oh yeah, I am worthless and weak.

When we got home, I cut up an apple to complement (and maybe slightly offset?) the dietary disaster. We drank water, our traditional mealtime beverage. He actually ate most of the apple, which made me happy.

Almost as happy as the Jumbo Jack with mustard and the small fries I crammed into my face. Them's good eatin'.

And this is why I've gained and lost the same 20 lbs more times than I can count. I'm Ms Control, all full of willpower and purpose... until I get stressed.

My name is Liz, and I am a comfort-eater. I know one time won't kill me, but here's hoping that the stress is short-lived. Otherwise I ain't making any promises.



Discovery of the day: Quick and.... done

Last night was not a night I was itchin' to cook. We ended up at home earlier than usual after my son's dentist appt. so I decided to drag myself out for a waddle run. By the time I got back, producing something resembling food was the last thing I wanted to do. But I had the time and I wanted to save my Blue Box card to play later in the week.

But that meant I had that whole pesky decision-making thing to wrestle with. Argh! I figured I could cook some pasta; I had whole-wheat rotini on hand. My first choice with pasta is, and will always be, basil pesto. Yes, I've served that alone for dinner but this time I felt I should add something. Poking in the larder revealed a can of Navy beans. Hmmm... small, unobtrusive, sold!

So I cooked up the rest of the rotini (about 6 oz dry), added a couple ice-cubes worth of (thawed) pesto from the freezer, and about half a can of drained and rinsed Navy beans. Done!

I had hoped to add some frozen chopped spinach but I was out. And if I had thought about it, I could've added some frozen broccoli florets à la Broccoli Pesto Pasta.

But even sans veg, my son ate it so I consider it a success. For a throw-together un-recipe meal, I thought it came out pretty well. I try not to rely on pasta too much since it's a problem food for me (as in I have a problem not stuffing my face with it) but once or twice a month should be OK. Shouldn't it?


Project Weeknight: Chickpea Fritters

Release the pigeons! I finally made something resembling falafel!

After my last falafel disaster I was discouraged and had pretty much given up on my falafel quest. But it haunted me. Was I truly destined to fail Falafel 101 forever?

Then last month I found this recipe for Chickpea Fritters on the Innocent Primate Vegan blog. It seemed simple enough that even I could do it. I even read the directions all the way through multiple times (I admit, that's rare) to be sure that it had Project Weeknight potential and that I wouldn't find myself facing the dreaded "Bury the batter in the back yard for 2 weeks before proceeding". I hate it when that happens.

I decided that last night was the night. And sure enough, I had crunchy golden chickpea goodness on the table just after 6:30. Quick, easy, and delicious; just as advertised.

As always, I have a few notes for next time. Oh yes, there will certainly be a next time. The recipe came from a vegan blog so they used ground flax + water in lieu of an egg. I've been curious about that, so I tried it. It was fun to see the flaxseed swell up and get mucilaginous (now there's an underutilized word) but next time I might just use an egg. Because I can.

The batter came together pretty quickly. I used the amount of flour written, and the patties were a little softer than I'd hoped, like soft potato pancakes. That made them a little tough to flip without squishing. Next time I may add a little more flour, and/or let the batter sit for a few minutes for the flour to hydrate. That should firm things up. I also may have flattened them out a little too much.

I'm not quite sure I got the point of the sesame seeds so I might leave those out. I left out the heat in deference to my son, but next time I'll add the pinch of cayenne. I may also cut back on the lemon juice a tad since I think the tartness threw him off. Even though I loved the crunchy fried crust, I felt a little guilty about frying them in oil. I might try baking them as recommended in one of the comments.

I decided wanted just a little tahini sauce with my fritters, but all the recipes I have ever tried make more than I could ever eat and I end up throwing it out. So I winged it and ended up with something passable.
Completely Inauthentic But Passable Tahini Sauce
Apologies to all the real tahini sauce recipes in the world

Couple Tblsp tahini
Tblsp or so lemon juice
Tblsp or so of olive oil
Couple pinches dried parsley
Tsp or 2 of garlic powder
Pinch salt (to taste)
Water as needed

Combine ingredients except for water. Stir until incorporated. Add water, a little at a time, until the paste loosens to the desired consistency.
So what did my son think? He ate them but was a little uncertain. I'm confident that with those few tweaks he'll gladly jump on board the chickpea fritter train next time.



Discovery of the day: Quick & dirty comfort food

Sunday night was the calm after the storm (figuratively, not literally; no scary weather here!) The weekend (and the few days before) had been crazy busy, bordering on chaos. But Sunday evening, the house was empty except for my son and me, and we were both exhausted and fighting colds that had conveniently picked that weekend to arrive.

But dinnertime rolls around, regardless. Nothing sounded good to him and all I wanted was a big bowl of grains & beans.

I'd re-stocked my freezer inventory last weekend with 2 cup portions of cooked rice and Grandma's Grains, which I've really taken a fancy to. I was imagining heating up some of those with a can of cannellini beans and a big blob of pesto, but I wasn't sure my son would go for it. Then it hit me: Butter! He adores rice and butter. The mixed grains have a more complex flavor than rice, but how could they not be lovely with butter?

So to 2 cups of (thawed) grains, I added a can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans and some butter, maybe a tablespoon all told. I threw that back in the microwave for a minute or so to make sure it was all of a temperature. I dished it out, ground some black pepper on mine, and we were good to go.

And he liked it! Although, really, what's not to love about grains and butter? He did say it was pretty filling and couldn't eat a lot of it, but he ate it. Easy, quick, cheap... I think I'm in love.

I had the last cup on my BAS today. I am a happy girl.

I'm now scouring Recipe Purgatory for a potential Project Weeknight dish. That little blog is turning out to be quite handy!



Discovery of the day: This is cool!

Now that I have my Recipe Purgatory set up, I've been adding new recipes like mad. During yesterday's completely random blogwalk (that I couldn't even begin to retrace) I found Cookus Interruptus. Not only does it have a great name, but the site is both educational and entertaining. Be sure to check out the videos!

I just watched the Brown Rice in a Rice Cooker video and learned that I'd been doing it wrong forever, or at least since I got my first rice cooker some 15+ years ago. I always wondered why the little marks on the side of the pot didn't correspond to 'real' cups. Doh!

I'm thinking that my puny 3 cup rice cooker is too small for the quantity of grains I'm consuming these days. My daughter, a starving actor, is in town for the weekend and I'm hoping to get her to embrace the bean-and-grain-centric lifestyle. Maybe I'll pack her off with my rice cooker and go buy a NEW BIG one!



Discovery of the day: Maybe this will help

Last night I started a new blog, Recipe Purgatory, to keep track of recipes I want to try. You're welcome to check it out, but the posts are mostly just links to recipes with a few complete recipes I'd saved as text files before I started just saving links.

So that puts me at, like, six blogs now all told (not all are public). Geez, I start new blogs like I used to start new businesses!

Fortunately, starting new blogs is much easier on the pocketbook.



Discovery of the day: Inspiration overload

I'm struggling to keep track of all the recipes I want to try. I have 13 veggie-friendly food blogs I read regularly and that doesn't count the random recipes I encounter. I've tried saving the links to recipes in draft emails in my Gmail account, cutting and pasting recipes (or even just links) into text files (more Gmail drafts), printing them on paper, 'printing' them to PDF files, and I just can't keep up.

I'm embarrassed to admit that the only thing that's come close to helping is this blog. There have been many many nights I've been completely bereft of ideas and have ended up clicking on the 'Project Weeknight' or 'Recipe' tags to find something to make for dinner.

But that doesn't address the recipes I haven't tried yet, especially the ones I don't save links to because 'I'll remember where I saw it.' Ha! I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, let alone where I saw that cool-sounding chickpea recipe last week. And we won't even mention the stuff that I don't even remember seeing.

The big benefit of Gmail and the blog is that I can access it at work, where I do all my surfing (Shhh! Don't tell anyone!) and home. Gmail drafts function as a great file storage system -- much easier than emailing myself or trying to remember my USB flash drive. But I have well over a hundred drafts now so it's become kind of like a junk drawer.

I might start another blog, just for me, where I would post the links to recipes, a brief description, and use a system of tags to remind myself what in the heck I was thinking about at the time. Once I cook a recipe I could post it here if it's a keeper, and/or print them out and throw them in The Shoebox for future consideration.

Which brings me to my hard-copy cookbooks and The Shoebox, which is full of printed recipes covered with my scribbled notes. Trying to remember which cookbook a particular recipe is in is maddening, so often I will copy the page, mark it up, then throw it in The Shoebox. Did I mention The Shoebox is crammed full with recipes dating back to the 80s?

Sigh... I think a major organizational project is in order. Unfortunately, overcoming inertia is not my strength. But I'm looking at moving again (4th move in 2 years) so that might just give me the kick in the pants I need.

Too... much... inspiration!



Discovery of the day: Is CSA the way?

I've been having a tough time finding farm eggs. A couple of years back, I knew of no less than four local places I could buy eggs from chickens on the premises. Now that I've decided I want to buy farm eggs again, it appears only one (maybe two) are still operating and I haven't found eggs at either yet.

One of the two, a small farm, has gone CSA so their subscribers get first crack at their eggs. (Get it? First crack? Ha!)

That got me thinking: Maybe I should try to sign up for a CSA for next year. From what I can tell, it's somewhere around $500 dollars for 24 weeks of veggies, fruits, and herbs; whatever they grow on the farm. I can pay extra for eggs every week, and they even have an option for poultry (fryer chickens), which I could use for stock and such. All told, if I go for the Full Monty, it would come out to $25/week. That does not seem like a bad price for a variety of fresh local produce, eggs, and poultry.

I think I just talked myself into it. Their 2009 CSA info won't be out until November. I'll need to keep an eye on it so I don't miss out.



Project Weeknight: Broccoli Pesto Pasta update

I tried the Broccoli Pesto & Fusilli recipe again, this time as written. And you know what? I really missed the basil. It could be because I love basil pesto with the passion... oh you know what I mean. I also think that 2.5 cups of broccoli florets (3 cups less some for garnish) is a whole lot more than 1/3 cup of olive oil can handle. I ended up using at least twice the amount of oil and ended up with probably twice the amount of broccoli pesto needed for the amount of pasta given in the recipe. But I held back the rest and have been eating it on salads so no harm done.

I used a box of frozen spinach and it worked beautifully. Somehow I forgot the olives even though they were sitting right there in the front of the fridge.

It still was well-accepted and I will make it again, with some modifications. And by that I mean I'll be adding basil. By the time I get through with it next time I'll probably have the recipe for my own version to post.

In other news, I made a killer batch of Gallo Pinto last night. And I finally spent some time in the kitchen this weekend cooking up a bunch of grains (OK, mostly rice) for the freezer. I've been meaning to do that for weeks and I finally got to it. I made a pot of Grandma's Grains (again from 101 Cookbooks), a rice-cooker-full of brown basmati, and a rice cooker-full of long grain brown rice. Packed into 2 cup portions, that's a few weeks of weeknight dinners there, folks. I'm pretty happy about that.



Discovery of the day: Mark Bittman @ TED

I'm going to go and get all 'big picture' on you here. Mark Bittman is blunt and opinionated. But he's also a no-bullshitter realist who loves food. I idolize him and his cookbooks.

But even if you don't share his politics, try to squint past that part and focus on his message about what we need to eat and why. This is critically important stuff here.

I think he's pretty much got it right.

Not familiar with TED? Check it out -- some amazing stuff there.



Discovery of the day: But it's... purple!

Another thing my SO brought home from the farmer's market was a small head of purple cauliflower. I mean, this stuff is really purple! I haven't eaten much cauliflower in recent years -- I got rather burnt on it during my Atkin's phase -- but I think I'm ready to make my peace with it.

I thought about steaming and mashing it, but realized that might look rather gross. I've been wanting to try roasting some cauliflower. Maybe that's the ticket. But it'll have to wait; we're having an unusually long stretch of warm (70s) weather and it's not exactly 'oven weather'.

I wonder what color it turns when cooked? I guess we'll find out.



Discovery of the day: Figgy goodness

Since Starbuck's discontinued their dark-chocolate-covered grahams, I've been living pretty much bereft of opportunity for the occasional afternoon indulgence. I've thought about picking up the occasional bag of peanut M&M's, probably my favorite candy, but it seems like overkill most of the time. But recently realized that I've had the answer all along: whole wheat Fig Newtons!

I love 'em and I do bring them home from time to time. It finally occurred to me that I could bring a sleeve into work and dig in when the urge hits. Of course the key is to limit myself to 2 at a time, and not eat them every day. I think I can handle that. And if not, then no more sleeves at work. It's as simple as that.

I did ask whether S'bux would be getting my drug of choice in again and they really didn't know. Apparently they have no idea what kind of prepackaged snacks HQ is going to send their way. Oh well. Maybe I need to send an email to HQ. I'm not too proud to beg.

But in the meantime, it's me and my 'pig bars', as we used to call them.


Project Weeknight: Swiss Chard & Chickpeas

My SO got entranced at the little farmer's market last week and bought a butt-ton of fresh produce, including a bunch of swiss chard. I've never dealt with it before but I have been intending to broaden my use of dark leafy greens beyond romaine, spinach, and kale. Eventually.

Looked like the time had come. I searched around a bit and found this recipe from Epicurious mentioned on Adam's blog.

The recipe seemed a little... stark, but sometimes really good tastes can come from very simple ingredients, and besides, I had this swiss chard laying around.

The good news is that it came together really fast. The bad news is that my son was not interested in it in any way, shape, or form. I really didn't expect him to like it, so maybe you're thinking this doesn't qualify was a true Project Weeknight dish, but tough kitties!

Anyway, the dish itself was not a home-run but was definitely promising. I was a little short on chard and a little over on chickpeas so the CP:SC (Chickpea to Swiss Chard) ratio was a little off. More chard would have been better. My SO thought it could have used more lemon but I don't think I want it to be a 'lemony' dish. I'll probably use some (or all) of a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes next time -- I'd rather have most of the acidic twang come from tomatoes with just a boost from the lemon. I'll use more onion and garlic, and I may add a little additional seasoning (cumin, anyone?) as suggested by some of the reviewers on Epicurious.

I served it over quinoa which was good but we've eaten a lot of quinoa lately and I'm getting a little over-served on it. Next time I may just serve it alone. One of the reviewers suggested crusty bread. I could go for that.

Overall, with some minor adjustments it will work for weeknights... except that my son doesn't like it. But that's why the universe gave us Blue Box, right?



Discovery of the day: Indian food... Hmmm...

I have a new wild hair: I want to include some Indian recipes in my repertoire. I am very fond of Indian food and we're lucky to have one decent restaurant in our area. But I've never really cooked Indian. Sure, I have one vaguely curry-ish recipe that I tried (unsuccessfully) to adapt, but I've decided that I need to get 'real' with it. Or as real as I can get, given my limited patience, short attention span, and decidedly non-Indian background.

Gee, that sounds like an excuse to buy a cookbook! Can't remember if I've mentioned that I've cut way back on my cookbook acquisition. I mean, how many books am I really going to look through for a pesto recipe? Most of the time I end up searching online anyway, especially since there are so many great veg-centric food blogs out there.

But to learn the basics of Indian food I think I need a book. I tried to do some research online but some of the ingredients are kicking my butt. The types of dal alone have me horribly confused: Urad dal, for example, seem to be like black lentils but they apparently aren't true black lentils, and BTW, sometimes they're white.

What's a white girl to do?

I need a book about good, quasi-authentic, vegetarian Indian food written for clueless Americans. Time to hit Amazon.com!

Eventually I found a couple of promising books, both with a nice number of good reviews, that look like they'll fit the bill. Now I just have to pick one.

So stay tuned. This could be fun! And who knows? I may get inspired enough to start a new cook-through blog to add to my own Cooking the Books blog.


Project Weeknight: Broccoli Pesto & Pasta

I <3* pesto with the passion of a thousand blazing suns. OK, that might be a slight bit of hyperbole, but I really like pesto. And by pesto I mean the classic basil pesto. So when I saw this recipe for Broccoli Pesto & Fusilli from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks, I knew it would be mine.

Come dinnertime, I had some pesto in the freezer from a recent shearing of my basil plants. I had pasta. I had frozen broccoli florets. I was ready to rock.

But somehow I managed to mis-read the recipe as 'Broccoli, Pesto & Fusilli', not 'Broccoli Pesto & Fusilli.' Damned non-existant commas! So I ended up with whole grain penne pasta with basil pesto, broccoli, and spinach. And some toasted walnuts for fun.

But in any case, it was delicious and fast. The long pole in the tent was cleaning the fresh spinach. The baby spinach in the bags was ridiculously expensive and I was kind of afraid to use frozen spinach the first time out so I bought a clump of fresh, complete with sand and roots. Yessir, that was some fresh-ass spinach! And a total pain to clean.

Next time I will make the broccoli pesto. I will probably use fresh broccoli since the frozen stuff seemed too waterlogged to make into pesto. I'll try frozen spinach, or maybe chard, which I've not yet cooked with. I'm guessing that even with making the broccoli pesto I could get it on the table in time as long as I didn't have to clean fresh spinach.

High acceptability factor, pesto, and pasta. Can it get any better than that? I think not.

*That's supposed to be a sideways heart, not 'less than three'.



Discovery of the day: I had it just a minute ago...

I swear, I had a post all written in my head, ready to go, and when I opened up the editor it was gone.


I promise I'll have something real for tomorrow.



Discovery of the day: BnB soup for realz!

My son inherited his fondness for Campbell's Bean & Bacon Soup from his father, who would probably marry it if that was legal in the US.

But since I am now adverse to buying soup in cans, I had to try to generate something passable at home. A quick search turned up this likely candidate. I set it up in the crock pot Saturday morning and when we got home that evening, there was soup!

Of course I made a few changes and will make a few more next time. But I'm sure you guessed that already.

I sauteed (ok, fried) the onions in 2 tablespoons of bacon fat before adding to the pot. I held the crumbled bacon out and added it at the very end, after I hit it with the stick blender. And I used a tablespoon of ham soup base with the chicken stock.

Next time I'll cut the tomato paste in half and probably cut back on the ham soup base. I also might omit the liquid smoke. And next time there will be cornbread. Definitely cornbread.

It really came out pretty well, although the true test will come this evening when I drop a serving off for the ex to try. If it passes muster there, it's golden.



Discovery of the day: Oops, did it again

OK, I lost Thursday. But this time I have a reason. Let's just say that there are still cookies in the house. This is extremely unusual and will illustrate exactly how 'not myself' I am feeling this week.

I'm taking a few days off to extend the Labor Day weekend so I probably won't be posting until next Weds. or Thurs. I should have lots to share by then --- I know you can't wait!
Have a safe and jolly holiday weekend.



Discovery of the day: Minor success

So far I have not eaten any cookies today. This is a big deal.

The boxes for the service members are all packed up, I sent some home with the Ex, and I brought some into work today hoping they would be quickly devoured (and they were). I have only a few -- less than a dozen total -- left at home, and I am honor bound to have most of them on hand Thursday evening when my boyfriend gets back from his trip. That should keep me honest.

I ate my BAS for lunch today even though my appetite still isn't great. If I go home hungry this afternoon I cannot guarantee the safety of the remaining cookies.

If I eat a reasonable dinner I may eat one for dessert, but to tell the truth, after being up to my elbows in dough most of yesterday afternoon, the siren song isn't that strong.

Here's hoping I'm not making that up....



Discovery of the day: The virus among us, again

I was side-swiped by a stomach virus Monday afternoon. It reminds me a lot of the one I had last spring. Nothing violent, just enough to kill my appetite and make me feel like crap.

I'd already planned to take the day off, although I hadn't planned to feel like crap. My son & I baked cookies for Operation Baking GALS. So even though my appetite was nil, I spent most of the afternoon feasting on cookie dough and the unfortunate cookies that 'accidentally' fell apart. I had some leftover minestrone for a late lunch/early supper. Now I'm completely sugared out and ready to crawl into bed.

I'm not even getting on the scale tomorrow. I tell you, I'm the only person I know who gains weight with a stomach virus.



Discovery of the day: Minestrone Redux

It's weird to be making a big pot of soup in August, but that's the kind of weather we ended up with yesterday. It was cold and rainy. I wanted soup.

This is a recipe from my former life. It was in regular rotation during soup season for years. This time I made a few modifications, tweaked proportions of veggies, etc. I admit, I was kind of worried whether it would 'hit the spot', but it did. Yeah, I could have made it strictly vegetarian if I wanted, but as a flexitarian I don't have to!

Almost Vegetarian Minestrone
Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook

2 Tblsp olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped
3 med. carrots, chopped
2 or 3 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1/4 cup red wine (opt.)
6+ cups stock (I used chicken)
1 - 28 oz can tomatoes, crushed or diced
2 Tblsp tomato paste
2 or 3 med. zucchini, diced
1 lrg waxy potato, diced (I used some new potatoes, unpeeled and quartered. See notes)
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
2 or 3 - 15 oz cans beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
2 Tblsp fresh parsley, chopped (or 2 tsp dried)
1 to 2 tsp ham soup base (opt.)
Chunk of Parmesan rind (opt.)
Salt & pepper to taste

To garnish:
Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in soup pot over med. heat. Add onions, carrots, celery and a good pinch of salt, stir well. Cover and let vegs soften for 10 mins or so stirring occasionally. Add garlic, stir for a minute until fragrant. Add the red wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Let the wine cook down for a minute or two.

Boost the heat and add the remaining ingredients. The liquid should be just barely covering the vegs, so add more stock or water if needed. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer the heck out of it, at least half an hour, longer if you can. Garnish and serve. Goes great with crusty bread or cornbread.

  • This makes a lot, and I usually freeze the rest in dinner-sized portions. But potatoes don't freeze well -- they usually disintegrate. If that bothers you, pick them out before freezing.

  • The original recipe called for kidney beans, which is what I usually use. But cannellini beans, red beans, and even chickpeas would be fun.

  • I have a nice ham soup base (think high-quality bouillon cube) from Penzey's that I used instead of the chunk of salt pork called for in the original recipe. It worked out nicely, although I don't know if I would have missed it if I left it out.

Don't think I'm ready to embrace full-on soup season quite yet, but at least I've got my frozen bags of Minestrone just in case.



Discovery of the day: Waste not

One thing that does bug me about the plant-based lifestyle is the amount of garbage. I doubt it's really any more than I produced before, but now that I'm trying to be more conscious of what I use and what I discard, shoving all of that plant matter down the garbage disposal and into the trash makes me feel wasteful.

Ha! Waste full -- get it?


In my former life we had a compost pile. At the time it was mostly yard waste, which turned out to be a super way to gather and plant billions of weed seeds directly into the garden beds. But the pile was all the way at the other end of the yard (and I am lazy) so incorporating kitchen waste never really became part of the routine. Plus we weren't eating many vegs anyway.

But now I live in a zero-lot-line house with nowhere to compost. I think Seattle has a program where you can put kitchen waste into the yard waste can but we don't have that here. My SO has a yard, but we do most of the cooking at my house.

However, we are planning on eventually combining households and when we do, I want to do this:

I apologize for Ciscoe. Sometimes he's kind of hard to take, I know. Stick with it -- the good part starts about 1 minute in.

Cool fact: My SO used to be on the board of Seattle Tilth and knows the woman in the video.

I figure since each can takes 9-12 months to 'digest', we'll need two (maybe three?) cans. I already have some potential spots in the back yard picked out.

Now if my Ex ever reads this, I know he'll start laughing uncontrollably. And he'll mention the worm composting (I killed them all) and the dog poop composting (you don't want to know). OK, so I'm not known for my follow-through.

But this time it will be different, I know it!



Discovery of the day: Color me green

After yesterday's whine about the romaine I scored some really nice stuff at the store.

I also realized that I have had BAS for lunch and dinner almost every day this week. OK, Monday was a l-o-n-g time ago and I can't really remember dinner, but as far as I can recollect I've had five -- possibly six -- BASs so far. I'll probably do one for dinner tonight and one for lunch tomorrow, although we're planning to go out Friday tonight. That'll bring my work week total to seven or eight over five days.

I think that's pretty darned good.

As of next week I'm back to cooking for the two or three of us on weeknights. Having a mostly-green, low-cooking-effort week is a nice way to finish up the summer.

BTW, I think I'm consistently holding at about 14 lbs lost since January, counting from my 'official' starting weight. If I include the few extra lbs that came and went (and came) last holiday season, it's closer to 16 lbs. And I know I've gained muscle mass (lowered my % body fat) to boot!



Discovery of the day: State of Romaine

I'm getting a bit concerned about the romaine I've been buying lately. It must be getting to the end of the season. The heads have obviously been trimmed of the outermost (rattiest) leaves, but what's left isn't looking much better.

I just checked the archives and the last time I ran into this was late March, not quite 6 months ago. I guess that makes some sort of sense.

So it looks like I may hit another dry spell before the next growing season kicks in wherever.

Next year I am so trying to grow my own!



Discovery of the day: Oops!

Where did Tuesday go? I completely misplaced it. Sorry!



Discovery of the day: Nine bucks a pound?!?

Yes, I paid $9/lb for pasta. Actually it was a few months ago. We were at Pike Place Market and someone had a stall selling this stuff. I saw the whole wheat orzo and lost all self-control. I'd been looking for ww orzo for over a year so I only slightly blanched when I saw the price.

I finally cooked it up this weekend, and you know what? It was OK. But probably not $9/lb worth of OK.

Now generally I am a big fan of whole wheat pasta. I love the ww angel hair I buy at the store, even more so than regular spaghetti. But for some reason the texture in the ww orzo just didn't do it for me.

To be fair, a good part of it may have been unreasonable expectations on my part. My ex makes a risotto-like dish using regular orzo (orzotto!) that I was quite fond of and was hoping to duplicate. If I had thought for 30 seconds, I would have realized that ww orzo was not going to produce similar results.

I think the remaining half pound will be used in soups this fall. And if I want orzotto, I'll just have to make it in the traditional manner, with the butt-ton of parmesan cheese. Because it will be so worth it.



Discovery of the day: It's over

And not a minute too soon. Last night I had my Thai food craving satisfied with some lovely spicy fried tofu w/green beans and a few bites of my pal's wonderful caramel beef. That officially marked the end of Fend for Myself Week, and I'm pretty relieved. Tonight's Mac & Movie Night with my son, then my SO comes home tomorrow. I'll be back in the kitchen biz, baby!

It's hot here this week, in the mid-80s, which is hotter than we usually prefer up here in the top left corner. My son has developed a fondness for BLT (or even better; BLTA, using avocado in lieu of mayo) sandwiches which will cover Saturday dinner

(Note to self: Get more BACON!)

Looking ahead, the week after next the Ex and I revert to our usual 'sharing schedule' in preparation for the school year. I'll have my son on weeknights again, thus returning to my original motivation behind Project Weeknight. As we head into fall, I'll be able to start testing soups for said project. I love soups! And soup screams for whole-grain bread, of course. I haven't done any bread baking in a few of years... definitely not a weeknight task, but a fun project in its own right.



Discovery of the day: Surviving an unintended vacation

Wow - I just realized that I'll get through almost a whole week without having to cook. My Significant Other (we really are too old for me to be calling him my boyfriend, y'know) is Back East on business, and my son is with his dad most evenings.

Monday I picked up my son for dinner and since I had errands to run, we decided to go for Thai food. Unfortunately our favorite place is closed on Mondays (grrr!) so I ended up at Jack In The Box stuffing a Jumbo Jack in my face. And fries. But I only drank maybe a quarter of my son's Oreo shake.

Tuesday I had a haircut right after work, and by the time I got through that and stopped at the grocery store, I was starving. Somehow a package of bakery brownies ended up in my basket and you know what happened next.

Last night was running class. I had a pretty tough run -- forgot to drink enough water during the day and really didn't eat enough in the late afternoon. But I stuck with my beloved shredded wheat, so I didn't hurt myself too badly.

Tonight I'm meeting my best pal for dinner and I'm finally gonna get me some Thai food. Tomorrow night my son and I will enjoy our traditional Friday Night DVD and Blue Box. If the planets align and I remember to buy more lettuce I'll have a BBBAS and all will be well.

When all is said and done, it looks like I'll be two for five in the respectable dinner department. Not my best week ever.

I have been eating my regular breakfasts and BAS lunches so it's not like I've totally lost my mind. But I'm not getting a gold star for the week, either.



Discovery of the day: WTF?

I ate brownies and ice cream for dinner last night. Not a lot, just a small bowl. But still! What the heck is up with that?

I'm pretty good at producing something reasonable when there are others around to cook for. Maybe I just can't be left to my own devices.

Gotta... get... a... grip!



Discovery of the day: Surviving Denver

I got really lucky this time. Denver, at least the area around the Convention Center, is extremely survivable in the flexitarian sense. There were two Starbuck's within walking distance, and I was only two blocks down from the 16th Street pedestrian mall which houses a wide variety of do-able food.

I packed apples, bananas, and peanut butter in my luggage (Note to self: bananas don't pack well!) and that covered me for all four breakfasts. One day for lunch I hit a salad place, reminiscent of the place I found in Tucson, and another day I found a small city market with some upscale produce and bulk foods that provided both lunch and dinner.

On our last evening in town, my co-worker and I found a vegan restaurant within walking distance. It was mobbed, even on a Tuesday night. I was puzzled by that until I realized that Denver is a college town. I ordered tamales, refried beans, and rice then kicked myself when I realized that I could have had that anywhere. I should'a ordered something unusual. But it was fun.

Overall, other than getting my butt kicked by the altitude, I weathered the trip pretty well. I didn't feel like I hurt myself, like I often do on travel.

Yay, Denver!



Discovery of the day: I'm here! I'm here!

I made it back from Denver in one piece, enjoyed a weekend visit from my sister, saw my boyfriend off on a week-long business trip, and am just now starting to catch my breath. I hope to have a real post for you tomorrow.



Discovery of the day: Duty calls...

I'm headed out of town tomorrow for work and I'll be gone most of the week. I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to manage the food thing, but I'm going to try to squirrel some apples and bananas and a jar of peanut butter in my luggage; checked, not carry-on, of course. Thankfully, it looks like there's a Starbuck's nearby -- that's some small comfort.

The Avocado Abatement Project is going well. I did not bring avocado for my BAS today, although I was sorely tempted.

I hope to post next Friday, maybe even with a Surviving Denver post. In the meantime, happy eating!



Discovery of the day: Avocado love

I think I'm kind of going overboard on the avocado. It's gotten to the point where I'm eating half a small avocado most every day.

Yes, it's a vegetable. Yes, it's pretty high in fat.

I probably should try to wean myself down to a couple times week. It doesn't help that my boyfriend grew up in avocado country and, given a chance, would eat them three times a day.

Also, I probably need to evaluate my peanut butter consumption. But that's a task for another day.


Project Weeknight: Refried Bean Soup

One of the standard meals I feed my son is 'Taco Del Mom'; refried beans, rice, guacamole, and a cheese quesadilla. I was looking to switch it up a little last night so I tried the Smoky Refried Bean Soup from one of my go-to blogs, FatFree Vegan Kitchen.

(I know, I'm neither fat-free nor vegan, but she does have some nice, quick recipes.)

It was a success all around. I had all the ingredients on hand, it was on the table in time, and my son gave it '99%'. He said it couldn't be 100% because the little bit of spiciness stung his cold sore. But I don't think that's the recipe's fault. :)

I made a few minor mods. I hate green bell pepper so I used a cup of chopped frozen yellow & red pepper strips. I used low-sodium chicken stock instead of veg stock and oil instead of cooking spray. I didn't have a can of black beans so I added a can of regular pintos. I didn't have chipotle powder -- cue the chili powder. And, as is the case with most recipes I find online, I pretty much had to double the seasonings.

We put some chopped avocado on top and it was mighty fine. Next time I may add more corn. Certainly not necessary, but I like corn. And I'll be sure to have black beans on hand.

Another score for Project Weeknight!