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.