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.