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?

The Mighty Mango

I freakin’ love mangoes.
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A good mango is one of the sweetest, creamiest things there is to eat. Period. A bad one is…bad.  Mealy, stringy, too flavorless or too tart, any or all of the above.  Fortunately I have long since learned the art of picking out a good mango. There is no science to this, just my own personal experience.  First, the color of the skin matters less than you’d think.  I used to think I wanted ones that were more red, or had a nice balance or red and green, but my experience has been that even mangoes with a uniform green or slightly yellow color to the skin can be good.  Second, the fruit should be relatively firm; not rock-hard, but definitely not soft.  Third, and most importantly, the smell of the mango should be, well, mango-ey.  Test the smell by inhaling near the stem end.  You can’t miss that sweet, citrusy mango smell.  If you don’t pick up on it, then you have a crappy mango.

My new job is conveniently located in a shopping complex that includes a Stop & Shop (as well as an A.C. Moore, an Applebee’s, and a liquor store, because why not?).  S&S recently has had crazy insane sales on mangoes so I’ve been stocking up bigtime.  Obviously many have been enjoyed as is, for breakfast or a snack, but I have also turned out some stellar recipes with them.

First is Mango BBQ Baked Beans, from Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.  This is the first recipe that really jumped out at me when I got this book a couple of weeks ago.
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Served with Jerk Asparagus, also from AFRIt was even better than I had hoped!  Sweet, smoky, complex barbecue flavor in a hearty, warming dish perfect for a winter evening (though I can also envision it as a kickass addition to a summer barbecue!).  H loved it.  He has added it to the list of vegan meals he will eat “anytime.”   As an additional matter, I know I am totally late to the party on AFR but better late than never, right?  This book is SO awesome.  I have like 56 stickies indicating the other recipes that I can’t wait to make.

Another gem from Ms. Moskowitz is Mango Fried Rice from her blog, Post Punk Kitchen.  Click through for the recipe.
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I ate mine with Asian Baked Tofu from Veganomicon (my go-to baked tofu, in case anyone was wondering).
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I also separately cooked up a little bit of chicken for the man (tofu remains on the Do Not Call list for my H) and was shocked when he told me he actually preferred the rice as it was, without the addition of meat!
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This incredible recipe does require a little extra work in the kitchen (the rice has to be cold before being added to the skillet, for example), but the beautiful, exotic and flavorful results are worth it!  It’s also easy enough to cook rice the day before and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.
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Bonus: makes lots of leftovers for next-day lunch!

Now to be truthful, I actually made this many months ago but never got around to posting the pics until now.  But the recent bumper crop of mangoes has me thinking of whipping some up again this week…

So, I am currently training for a relay race in May, and the combination of Sunday cross-training and Monday running had me feeling super-sore, so yesterday was a rest day.  With my amazing new job getting me home around 5:30 every night, and no gym time scheduled, I realized that I’d have extra time to spend in the kitchen.  And so, last night I went for broke and attempted the Mango Masala Panini from Chloe’s Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli.

When I say “went for broke” what I really mean is that I chose a recipe that has multiple components that I knew would take me a significant amount of time to prepare.  Basically, making this Panini recipe requires making three mini-recipes: Mango Tamarind Chutney, Cauliflower Curry, and Chickpea Masala.
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Three bowls, Three Recipes (sorry for the dark [and, actually, kinda gross] picture)

While the final result was undeniably tasty, I would be remiss if I didn’t let you know that it took me a total of 2.5 hours to get it all done, and by the time it was over, I was too tired to flatten it into a “panini” using my grill pan and a weight, so I just toasted the ciabatta and ate it that way.
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When I say “ate it that way” what I really mean is I cut it in half and then opened each half up, leaving me with four open-faced “sandwiches”, because it was way too messy otherwise.

To be fair, part of the reason that it took so long to get this together is that I was washing dishes before, during, and after cooking.  Starting with a clean kitchen obviously would speed the process.  But even so, the food processor is required for all three of the mini-recipes and needs to be cleaned in between.  Let’s just say I cleaned A LOT of dishes last night.  And actually, since I’m big on honesty, I will admit that I used my immersion blender for the Chana Masala.  I just couldn’t clean that processor again.

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Mango Tamarind Chutney
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Cauliflower Curry
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Chana Masala

Final verdict: I liked this recipe, and I liked all of the components.  I am not sure that the final result is worth the aggregate time/effort, but if in the future I had time to do some ahead-of-time/day-before prep, I would make it again.  Plus, there is now a ton of leftovers in my fridge, which I always welcome during the work week.  I am even thinking about making the leftover Cauliflower Curry into samosas tomorrow, using another recipe from Chloe’s Kitchen.

Anyone else have any great recipes that use mangoes?

Quick, If Not Terribly Creative

It took alot of struggling but I am back to full veganity and it feels amazing!  With my schedule being free-er now that Law Revue is over, I am committing myself to food planning and preparation throughout the week, so that I don’t fall into the same ruts as two years ago.  After all, a vegan diet (like any other kind of eating) is only healthy if you do it right.  Veganism is not outrageously hard to do; it just takes a little more planning and creativity because you can’t just rely on fast food or grab-and-go.

Luckily, since recommitting myself to this lifestyle, I’ve taken an opportunity to really scout the Boston vegan scene through the interwebs, and I have a list of things I’m now dying to try.  Apparently this city is more veg-friendly than I previously realized!  I plan to try some new spots in the next few weeks so check back for pics and reviews!

So, going back to the “veganism requires planning and creativity” thing…sometimes no matter how much you think you’ve planned, you end up just having to roll with it!  For example, when you’re doing dinner at your future in-laws’ house…

H’s mom is awesome about always preparing a separate meal for me when she knows we’re coming for dinner.  But when she doesn’t get alot of notice, it might be necessary to pull out a quick fix.  Enter the following:

Grilled portabellos, roasted potatoes, roasted asparagus. Presto.

I assumed (correctly) that the MIL was going to have vegetable sides so that part was easy, but on the way over, H and I just grabbed some bellos at the store and threw this together. I actually grilled the mushrooms a little longer than I meant to, but they tasted great anyway drizzled with a little balsamic.  I mean, it doesn’t get much simpler than that.  While this meal didn’t exactly require culinary genius, it did the trick and I was satisfied.  Plus, everyone else got to enjoy the vegan parts of the meal as well (clearly I didn’t eat all of those potatoes…though I did do a number on that pile of asparagus.  God, how I love asparagus.)

I have more pictures of recent on-the-go meals to share, and as I mentioned above, I will be doing some Boston restaurant reviews, so check back soon!