Kitchen Purge: A Romantic Comedy

A little creativity and basic food knowledge can take you pretty far.  Sometimes, I manage to make something truly delicious out of the most random crap.

I’m sure we’ve all had those times were there is just an accumulation of stuff in the kitchen. In the fridge, on the counter, in the cabinets, etc.   On one recent evening, for example, I came home from work and spent about two hours trying to decide what I wanted to do for dinner since H was at a work event.  I knew I had food in the house and it would have felt distinctly irresponsible to get takeout. So I took an inventory:

Counter: one super-ripe mango, one pineapple that needed to be cut, one cantaloupe that needed to be cut [I am soooo lazy sometimes], one Russet potato that was beginning to be questionable, and the ever-present garlic, onions, and shallots

Fridge: Crikey. Um…some sliced crimini mushrooms (which turned out to be gross and I had to throw them out), cooked brown rice, turnip greens, asparagus (some cooked and some raw), Trader Joe’s soy chorizo (FAVE), an unopened package of tofu, a baseball-sized chunk of cauliflower (why?), some past-due edamame hummus, and a mango-flavored coconut yogurt

Cabinet: let’s not go there

Eventually I formed a loose plan, incorporating the cauli-ball, some garlic, the cooked asparagus, the brown rice, and the soy chorizo.

I started the cauliflower first, since it would have to cook the longest.  Since I didn’t feel like turning on the oven, I just sauteed it in a little bit of olive oil on the stovetop, and covered it with a lid to help it cook faster. I tossed in a clove of chopped garlic about 2/3 of the way through, and toward the end I added a dash of garlic salt and a couple of dashes of red pepper flakes (and then I spent the next hour coughing. I knew that was going to happen when I put the flakes in, yet I continued breathing. How stupid of me.)

Anyway, I just heated the chorizo through in a pan with a little cooking spray. I cut the asparagus into pieces and was going to heat that in a pan too (stuff reheated on the stove is SO much better, in my opinion) but then I got impatient so I just nuked it, along with the rice.

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What I should have done

When everything was done cooking, I put it in a bowl and VOILA:

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I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but this was a giant bowl of food. Since I am not exactly svelte, I thought to myself that I should probably only eat half, but of course I ate the whole thing, and then wished I had even more. Sigh.

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Anyway, I was pretty happy that I managed to make a really tasty, filling dinner (despite starting with only a loose plan), make some room in the fridge, and incorporate some stuff that needed to be used (my battle against wasting food is ongoing, but that’s another tale for another day).

I do feel that this is important, because even if one does not have the time or resources to shop for and cook a big, fancy meal each night, a little resourcefulness and some standard ingredients can go a long way!

Let’s review: anything sauteed with olive oil and garlic is good, amirite?! Hello, cauliflower. Add some texturally-pleasing and flavorful ingredients (here, chorizo, though I could have definitely been healthier and used beans or non-rotten mushrooms. With either of those, I would have added some more spices and maybe a touch of tomato sauce or veg broth, but I didn’t need to do that with the chorizo because it is a processed food that is pre-flavored). Finally, a mild starch (here, brown rice) provided the vehicle on which to enjoy it all.

Of course, now that farmstand/farmer’s market season is here (rejoice!), I’m guaranteed to have loads of random produce laying around on any given day.  Maybe I’ll start my own Chopped competition of one.  Poor H.

Anyone else have any tips for incorporating various ingredients from around the kitchen? Or any examples of seemingly-incongruous stuff you’ve thrown together in a pinch?

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A. Cook for Five Years

Today marks five years since I published my first blog post.  When I first started, there were only a handful of vegan blogs out there, which I read religiously. Some of them (Chocolate Covered Katie and Happy Herbivore, for example) are still going–with amazing success!–while others have sadly fallen away. My own blog has been somewhere in the middle (between “still going” and “falling away,” having never attempted nor approached the amazing success thing).

Now, of course, there are 63904850398 vegan food blogs and it’s overwhelming to think of how much our little lifestyle or movement or whatever you want to call it has evolved and spread. Combined with ridiculous advances in technology and information sharing, it’s no wonder that so many people have taken to the free media of blogging to share their passions.

Believe it or not, though, I didn’t set out to write a recap of the years or to wax poetic about veganism and technology.

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Warm and Spicy Kale with Shiitake Mushrooms by Maria Guadagno (click for recipe)

Even though I’ve been prone to long blogging absences (I’m looking at you, 2010), I’ve thought of this website almost as a diary these five years. It means a lot to me to be able to look back at old posts. The memories that they evoke go far beyond the actual food that was eaten to remind me of wonderful times shared with family and friends. Even my bar exam posts are enjoyable for me to read, safely positioned as I am, two years removed from that hell.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not any big deal that it’s 5 years for this blog. This blog is very unassuming. I use a free blogging service and I don’t have any fancy software for photo editing, nor do I engage in more than the bare minimum of food styling or background design.  I take photos on my point-and-shoot digital camera (or, more recently, on the iPhone).  I’ve never tried to promote the blog to sponsors or do anything with it other than give credit to some of the wonderful recipes and products I’ve encountered and show how fun and exciting a vegan diet can be, and how accessible, even fit into a very busy lifestyle. At the end of the day, I blog for me.

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Caesar Salad with Avocado and Chickpeas by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (click for recipe)–LOVE THIS RECIPE

It might seem like the majority of my posts are about going to restaurants or making food from other people’s recipes, and that is accurate in a way. The truth is, I have thousands and thousands of recipes, in cookbooks obviously but mostly ones in electronic format that I’ve scoured and pooled from all corners of the Internet. Finding new recipes just happens to be super-exciting for me (nerd), and often times after I see a beautiful photo of a recipe on a blog, I get tunnel vision and just want to make THAT recipe immediately.

Nevertheless, I have learned so much about cooking since the inception of this blog. This is the one message I really want to convey in this post.

It started out with a simple lesson from my dad: the basis for any good dinner is onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil. Dad taught me to heat the oil a little, add garlic first so that it can infuse the oil, and then add the onions and cook until they’re a little translucent and a little browned. But I’ve since learned that with some meals, it isn’t as good to add garlic first, because it gets too browned/burnt by the end of the cooking process. For example, when I cook leafy greens or asparagus now, I like to warm the oil and add the veggies first, then the garlic once the veggies have started to soften. I’ve also learned that all veggies, especially leafy greens, taste amazing finished with a splash of lemon juice.

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Banana Cupcakes from Chloe’s Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli (these were later topped with Lemon Icing)

Things like this aren’t groundbreaking, but my current grasp of them is a testament to my growth over the past 5 years, and the process that all of us as cooks undergo.  Somehow, without studying the actual science behind the chemistry of cooking, we come to understand it.  I know that, even when making something as simple as a stir fry, certain ingredients have to go in earlier because they take longer to cook (onions, broccoli, carrots) and others have to go in at the very very end because otherwise they will reduce to nothing (mushrooms, bean sprouts).  Fresh herbs ALWAYS go in last. It’s second nature by now.

Over the years, I have learned to recognize when vegetables are done cooking by looking at them.  I know how to get a great sear on a piece of tofu or tempeh.  I know how to cook perfect brown rice and recently I’ve started doing it with add-ins too (most often with sliced shiitake mushrooms).  These things were learned over time.  Cooking from the recipes of others helped with this education. I am grateful for it and most of all, I truly love it.

Finally, I have learned about so many new foods and uses for foods since becoming vegan and since starting this blog. And I am still learning!

For example, just recently I tried jackfruit for the first time. I only learned about it in the past few months and now after making it I’m not really sure how this thing hasn’t exploded more forcefully in the vegan world. I mean, look at it:

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It may be hard to totally tell from the picture, but in person this stuff looks exactly like pulled pork or chicken.  Like, weirdly so.

I made Jackfruit Carnitas (click for recipe) from Made Just Right, the Earth Balance blog, and enjoyed them the first night as tacos.

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Served on corn tortillas with a dab of Mindful Mayo, some vegan slaw (I went with Summer Slaw from Happy. Healthy. Life.–click for recipe), and fresh cilantro.

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The Summer Slaw:

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The next night I had the leftover jackfruit as a BBQ “Pork” sandwich. Just…look.

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With the addition of barbecue sauce it truly takes on a pulled pork texture. I could see myself eating this at every barbecue from here on out. Again, amazing that I could have just discovered a brand new food!

Anyway, this post has gone on for long enough and I think I have made my points, but in closing, I am truly looking forward to continuing my journey as a cook and as a blogger!

Not Yo Mama’s Happy Meals

Those who know me know that I strongly believe that being vegan is a snap if you plan and are adequately prepared on any given day. Even so, in the midst of busy lives, work schedules, and obligations to family, friends, and significant others, true preparation can be a lofty goal.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feelin’ 22 I find that every aspect of my life runs so much more smoothly when I am on top of my food and eating. Recently, I did a 3-day Detox Cleanse from Maria Guadagno at Bombshell Blueprint (more information here). The cleanse was awesome of course, but what it really showed me was that having a true plan and schedule for what I’m going to eat, when I’m going to eat it, and maybe most importantly when I’m going to prep it, is the key to my feeling happy, productive, and in control of my life and health.

So today I present some of the “happy meals” that I have been eating of late. These are meals that, with a little advance preparation, can be thrown together super-quickly at any given time, whether it’s the usual early-morning-packing-lunch-for-the-workday grind or a getting-home-after-Zumba-and-have-no-time-to-cook-dinner situation.

Ever since my cleanse I have been wild about cooking up a pot of brown rice with shiitake mushrooms at the beginning of the week and using the rice in all sorts of meals. All you do is add the sliced mushrooms to the rice about 10 minutes before the cooking time is up.  You get a whole lot of extra texture and nutrition with little to no extra effort. Best of all, you can eat this rice with basically anything.

For example, here we have shiitake brown rice packed alongside lentils (which my mother-in-law cooked up with a little onion and carrot and gave to me), ready to take to work.

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I stirred some turmeric and cayenne into the lentils and it was absolutely delicious, hearty and filling, not to mention healthy!

I tried the shiitake mushroom trick with soba noodles as well. Scroll down for shiitake soba noodles three ways:

1) with stir-fried green beans and red pepper (also a gift from my mother-in-law):

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2) with sauteed sugar snap peas:

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I topped and tailed these babies the night before, then sauteed them with toasted sesame oil (my LOVE), garlic, ginger, and a little fresh cilantro in the morning and packed it all up to take to work.

3) with the remaining sauteed sugar snap peas, with Sticky Maple Tempeh by Happy. Healthy. Life (recipe here) for dinner:

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Another big reason that meal planning is mentally refreshing for me is that it allows me to actually use up the ingredients I have in my constantly overpacked fridge and pantry, which is especially important this time of year when fresh produce is everywhere. Planning also allows me to utilize a handful of the several thousand recipes I have stored in my email (never mind the ones in all my cookbooks) that I want to try which use those ingredients.

I especially love to make a recipe that leaves leftovers that I can repurpose in another way. One night I made Summer Slaw from Happy. Healthy. Life (recipe here) and used it as a base for jackfruit carnitas tacos (look out for those in an upcoming post).

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The slaw recipe made a TON! So the next day I ate some of it with the leftover Sticky Maple Tempeh. The rest of the week I had it as a side with pretty much everything else that I ate. (I highly recommend both the slaw and the tempeh recipes, but especially the tempeh, by the way. I have had mixed results with tempeh in the past but making this gave me more confidence to try other things with it in the future.)

With a block of extra-firm tofu that was on sale, I made Curried Tofu from Veganomicon. That one block of tofu lasted me more than a week, and was delicious chopped up over salads or used in sandwiches like this one:

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I also recently made Curried Chickpea Salad from Fettle Vegan (recipe here) one night and used it on sandwiches and wraps for days.

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I only used 2/3 of the amount of mayo called for and still found the recipe a little too rich/creamy for my tastes. I’m not sure I would make this specific recipe again but I would definitely tweak it and/or use other chickpea salad recipes (Lord knows there are thousands) because I love the idea of having something like that available for quick meals, snacks, or sides.

Finally, since it’s berry season, I’ve been all about fresh strawberries and blueberries (organic because the other ones scare me). I made Strawberry Mint Salad by Maria Guadagno (recipe here) and ate that over organic baby spinach and oh my.

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For breakfast, some blueberries mixed up with So Delicious strawberry coconut-milk yogurt and hemp seeds.

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Or cherry vanilla smoothies that I made for H and me after finding cherries for $1.99/lb (yay!).

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Each smoothie had about 2/3 cup of pitted cherries, 1 cup of unsweetened almond-coconut milk, 1/4 of an avocado, 1/2 a frozen banana, 1 tbsp of hemp seeds, and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract. They were really tasty but strangely turned a nasty-looking gray/steel color after 2-3 minutes (?!). Not sure what that was about.  I didn’t take a picture because it was disgusting.

Another popular and quick breakfast has been a sprouted whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter, hemp seeds and banana slices (this breakfast idea came from H, my little hemp seed convert).

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Those are just a few of the happy meals that, along with the beautiful summery weather, have been keeping a smile on my face!

What are your happy meals made of?