Sunday, October 28, 2007

Welcome to Winter

It's frickin' cold outside!

It's officially scarf and gloves season. At times like these, half of me wants to move to California and half is just glad I knit. The other half is excited about winter vegetables, so it's no surprise that this weekend was all about the squash, i.e. Vegetarian Times' Herbed Winter Vegetable Roast.

I doubled the recipe, and as you can see, it made a hell of a lot of winter vegetables! That's absolutely thrilling because it tastes amazing. It was really difficult for me to pack it away in containers instead of my belly (I ended up eating some, of course) and I've spent all day today looking forward to having it for dinner (I had the last of the Byzantine Vegetable Stew for lunch. Yummy even three weeks old!)

This is another amazingly easy dish to make. Cutting up all the squash is the most time-consuming part, since you can just throw your herbs in the blender and hit the Chop button (or a food processor, or whatever). The recipe is very clear on the size of the pieces that should be cut, but I think I'll go smaller than instructed next time. I'd much rather have bite-sized pieces than need to cut up slices the diameter of the actual squash while eating. The roast probably took closer to an hour and a half to cook than 45 minutes, but that makes sense since there was twice as much food cooking.

When I was done cooking all the squash, I roasted the seeds. I don't know what kind of seeds would be done in 3-5 minutes; mine took close to an hour to be dry and golden-brown.

I've been rethinking a bit of how I do this blog. The Internet is very fluid. What's here today may be gone tomorrow, so going forward, I will not only link to recipes but include them in my posts as well. The only recipes I won't include are ones I get from current, easy to find cookbooks, since I'd rather not steal the authors' thunder. Pictures will follow recipes.

Herbed Winter Vegetable Roast
Serves 6 - Vegan

Thin-skinned delicata and butternut squash can be roasted without peeling. Serve this satisfying vegetable roast with brown rice, steamed bulgur, or polenta. Sprinkle leftovers with grated cheese, and broil until bubbly for a delicious next-day dinner.

2 Tbs. olive oil, plus more for greasing pan
1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
2 delicata or 1 large butternut squash, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds (2 1/2 lb.)
1 acorn squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (1 lb.)
2 medium carrots, cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices (1 cup)
2 medium parsnips, cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices (1 cup)
1 medium onion, cut into 1-inch-thick wedges

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan.
2. Whisk together olive oil, rosemary, basil, thyme, and garlic in large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add delicata or butternut squash, acorn squash, carrots, parsnips, and onion; toss to coat. Spread in single layer on prepared baking sheet. Roast 45 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, stirring every 15 minutes.

Per Serving: 190 Calories; 4g protein; 6g total fat (1g saturated fat); 34g carbohydrates; 0mg cholesterol; 408mg sodium; 7g fiber; 10g sugars

Butternut squash with guts:

Butternut squash cleaned out:

Acorn squash. How floral:

Butternut squash seed:

Acorn squash seed. Can you tell the difference?

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I'm starting this blog with entries about what led up to me wanting to keep it. This post is backdated to approximately the date it happened.

Once I got back on solid food, my plan was to cook a large amount of food every Sunday so I could eat it for lunch and dinner during the week. I decided to stick to raw and cooked vegetables and fruits I prepared myself for a while. I also wanted to try new vegetables I'd never really worked with (or even knew I'd eaten) before, so I made Mediterranean Swiss Chard and Artichokes in Tomato Sauce (second recipe).

Mediterranean Swiss Chard: This is so fast and easy it's almost silly. I didn't follow the recipe precisely. Instead, I used one enormous bunch of swiss chard, two cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and not so virginal olive oil. I also let the chard sit in the dressing for ages because I just didn't feel like bringing two separate containers to work with me. Once I saw what boiled swiss chard looked (and smelled!) like, I didn't expect to like this, but did. It's probably not something I'd make again, but I liked it enough to eat all of it. Unfortunately, I ate it for dinner on my way home from work. Everyone in that train car must hate me. The smell of boiled chard + lemon + garlic isn't pretty.

Artichokes in Tomato Sauce: OMGYAY! This recipe is yay for so many reasons.

1. It tastes SO good.
2. It's ridiculously easy, once you know what you're doing.
3. It tastes SO GOOD.
4. It impresses people because fresh artichokes look so intimidating.

I generally assume everyone knows more about cooking than me, but I got a lot of blank stares when I told people I was making artichokes, so here's some of what I learned:

1. You can't eat over 80% of the artichoke.
2. Artichokes are pointy both inside and out, so be careful with them.
3. Be sure to check and clean your artichokes really thoroughly. One of mine had a worm in it. If you miss the worm, it's no longer vegan!
4. They have fur inside.
5. The have a choke (prickly) inside that needs to be removed before eating. So you neither eat the outside nor the center, but a layer of leaves in between.

The recipe said to "Clean the artichokes by removing the tough outer leaves". Once I ripped off the first few layers of leaves, they started to feel softer to me, so I left them on and proceeded to follow the instructions (with some exceptions I'll detail below). I made the sauce, added the artichokes and knew just from looking at it that I'd done something very wrong. The artichokes took up way too much space and were never going to get cooked. If I didn't do something, I'd end up with a pot full of raw artichokes, some of which happened to be covered by burnt tomatoes. I started pulling the artichoke wedges out of the pot one by one, yanking off the outer leaves until I was just left with the heart and throwing them back in the pot. This worked fine for the top layer of artichokes, but as I worked my way down, they got hotter and had actually started to cook, so I had to fish them out with a spatula and run them under cold water before I could handle them. Even after all that, I had to be careful when I ate because I missed some of the tough leaves. Adventure!

As mentioned previously, I made a few small changes to the recipe:

1. I used two small onions instead of one medium.
2. Since I was packing this up to take to work for lunch, there wasn't really any place to garnish it with the chopped parsley. Instead, when it was all done cooking but still slightly warm, I folded the parsley into the dish itself so I'd have some in each serving.
3. I used four cloves of garlic (two were really tiny)
4. I didn't want to use anything with preservatives in it, so I chopped 28 ounces of tomatoes (2 1/4 BIG tomatoes) myself instead of using a can.

Going fishing through a simmering pot might seem like too much effort just for food, but this is so tasty it's worth it. I will definitely make it again, now that I know what I'm doing. Chopping the tomatoes myself definitely gave the dish a fresher, brighter flavor than it would have had if I'd used the can, so I think I'm going to use fresh whenever I make this. Not only that, but the sauce is so quick and easy to make, I think it's just become a staple for whenever I want tomato sauce.

Sexy, steamy artichokes:

Step by step artichoke prep (Ha! A rhyme!):

Look! An artichoke!

O NOES! It's been hobbled!

Off with its head (or top third).

Inside. Do not eat the green. Or the purple. Or the fuzzy white stuff beneath the purple. And the purple may look smooth and soft, but there IS stuff in there that will stab you so don't say you haven't been warned! Beware the savage artichoke!

With fur on the left (do not eat). Shaved on the right (tasty goodness...once you get rid of the rest of the green leaves).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Soup of the Evening, Beautiful, Beautiful Soup!

I'm starting this blog with entries about what led up to me wanting to keep it. This post is backdated to approximately the date it happened.

You can't go straight back to eating heavy, solid foods when you finish the Master Cleanse. You start off with fresh squeezed orange juice, then vegetable broth, vegetable soup, salad, and finally whatever you want. Since the vegetable soup/broth was going to be the first thing I've cooked for myself (and the first thing I'd eaten in a month and a half), I wanted it to be a good one and chose the Golden Vegetable Broth from VWaV. I doubled the recipe and ate it clear on the first day, then added the vegetables back in as I went along on other days. The only other variation on the recipe I made was a bit of extra garlic and I peeled the onion but not the carrots and parsnips.

This soup is SO GOOD. And not just because I hadn't eaten for 45 days. I'm not one for serious relationships, but I would marry this soup. Aside from the broth being fabulously tasty, the vegetables all absorb the amazing flavor of the broth and are wonderful even by themselves, which is a good thing because it yields a TON of vegetables. I'm currently almost done with my broth and still have a few quarts of vegetables in the freezer, waiting to be devoured.

I'm definitely going to make this again. I probably want to make sure I have the necessary ingredients and at least one portion of finished soup on hand at all times. I think I'll add zucchini and celery next time.

Reserved vegetable goodness. The colors! The colors!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why Am I Here?

I'm starting this blog with entries about what led up to me wanting to keep it. This post is backdated to approximately the date it happened.

No, this isn't one of those philosophical posts about the meaning of life, but with the ridiculous number of food blogs, message boards and websites around, I thought I should explain why I thought the Internet needed another one.

I didn't. I thought I needed another one. One of the many things I learned about myself from doing the Master Cleanse is that my chances for success increase when other people know what I'm doing. This may partially be because my friends are all awesome, supportive and inquired about every step of it (some of them even did it for a few days themselves), but I think it's more because if people know what I'm doing, I feel stupid wussing out of it publicly and there's nothing I hate more than feeling stupid.

As I think I may have mentioned, now that I'm done with the Cleanse, I'm starting with a clean slate, nutritionally. Making the most of that will take the kind of vigilance that comes from not wanting to look like an ass in public, so I'll be using this space to post recipes, pictures, food links etc. that I'll be using to keep myself healthy. Since I'm mostly cooking food that'll be packed up into single-portion containers and brought to work, my photos won't be all pretty like the ones you see on the PPK flickr. They'll just be good enough to see how mine turned out, so if you try the recipes and they look completely different, you know one of us goofed (probably me).

If I don't update for a while, please send someone to find me. I'll probably be trapped in an avalanche of pizza, macaroni and cheese and General Tso's "chicken".

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Joy of Not Cooking

I'm starting this blog with entries about what led up to me wanting to keep it. This post is backdated to approximately the date it happened.

The two fabulous people my friends and I threw that shower for got married. It was lovely and I had no idea what to give them. I wanted it to be something special that showed I truly care. Something that was both very "them" and very "me", not just another set of cutlery.

Neither of them are vegetarians or vegans, but they recently decided to explore the raw food lifestyle. They left for their honeymoon right after the wedding and I was pretty sure that after being abroad for two weeks, the last thing they'd want to do when they got home would be prepare food. The only thing that might have sucked as much would be going out to eat again. So I decided to make a raw vegan dinner and some snacks, load it all up in a superhero cooler and leave it on their doorstep for when they got home.

I wasn't sure what to make, but Italian seemed like a pretty safe bet (who doesn't love Italian?), so I ended up with Dole Italian Salad with Pine Nut Basil Dressing (scroll down to last recipe), Italian Wild Rice Pilaf, and Raw Lasagna for dinner, Raw Apple Pie for dessert and Buckwheat Crackers with Veggie Mac Cheese Spread (second recipe) and freshly dried fruits and vegetables to snack on.

Most of what I made had at least one element that needed to be soaked in advance. Some for one half hour, some for five days. I started dehydrating the fruits and vegetables about a week before they needed to be ready so I could make enough. My family absolutely loved having the dehydrator and soak bowls sitting around for a week...only not really. Despite all the advance prep, I ended up staying up all night making the food to take them (I blame my sleeplessness for forgetting to photograph some of the food). I know that sounds awful, but it was actually fun; the time flew by, but I certainly felt it at work after dropping off the cooler! And, of course, the irony was I still wasn't eating and had to go by scent to decide whether or not it seemed palatable enough to give people.

Basil Pine Nut Dressing: Could not have been easier to make, smelled fabulous (though I have a weakness for basil) and made quite a bit. It made enough to fill the dressing bottle I bought them and leave some over for my family to try. It's very similar to pesto sauce (which I love), but smoother and milder. It also stores well. Definitely something I'd make again.

Italian Wild Rice Pilaf: The rice had to soak for five days to soften and the water had to be changed twice per day, which isn't that big of a deal, but between that and making the lemonade for the Master Cleanse, I felt like I was moving in to the kitchen. I didn't use the flax oil, but did everything else according to the recipe. Again, I don't know how it tasted, but it looked beautiful. I loved the colors and hope to make it again for myself.

Raw Lasagna: The recipe says it makes 1-2 servings of lasagna and four of marinara sauce, but that's nonsense. I used 3/4 zucchini instead of 1/2, all the marinara and the whole avocado and still kind of felt like I was skimping, but I didn't have enough ingredients (or time) to make more. Beyond that, I really don't think I could have messed it up, aside from not being very good at the thin slices yet. I'm working on it!

Raw Apple Pie: This was significant because I goofed and I improvised, but one was not relevant to the other. I remembered to soak the (poorly sliced) apples in the lemon juice/cinnamon solution, adding it to the growing collection on the soak table, but didn't realize I was supposed to make and refrigerate the crust the night before too. Not only did I make it that night, but it was also one of the last things I made. I made it, filled it and only got to refrigerate it for a couple of hours before moving it to the cooler. However, as far as I know, that was all right. No one has told me the pie fell apart or anything. My big improvisation was adding some of the golden raisins I had left over from the stew to the pie. I saved the best apple slices for the top and arranged them as a pretty feeble flower, then drizzled the excess lemon juice/cinnamon sauce over them. The pie still looked kind of plain so I tossed some raisins around it and arranged a few in the center of the "flower". I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I like the whole apple/cinnamon/raisin combination. Don't you?

Buckwheat Crackers: This was another recipe that required two days of soaking, for the buckwheat groats. Then the crackers themselves spent about a day in the dehydrator. I went according to the recipe, but I omitted the carrot pulp. The recipe says to coat the dehydrator tray with a small amount of olive oil, but the instructions for my dehydrator specifically say not to, so I didn't. I regret that now. The crackers stuck both when I tried to flip them and when they were done, so they came out in all sorts of crazy shapes. I hope they tasted better than they looked. The batter was about the consistency of babaganoush and had a lovely, garlic scent that made me want to dive right into it without even drying it out. I definitely want to make these again, but I think I'll double the recipe: I'll dehydrate half on oiled trays and use the other half as a dip with carrots (it'd be way to carb-heavy to put in pita like real babaganoush).

Veggie Mac Cheese Spread: I did everything according to the recipe, using sea salt instead of vinegar. It was more nights blending and draining, but well worth it. I used two pint containers of macadamia nuts and it made enough cheese to give my friends a container of it and keep a container for my family, who LOVED it. It has a nice bite to it from the garlic and onions without being too overpowering. My other family members are all omnis, so they're kind of freaked out by the idea of cheese made out of nuts, but they adore the cheese. My mother (who initially didn't even want to taste it) craves it. Victory for the veggies!

Dried Fruits and Vegetables: I included sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, pluots, celery, apples, pears, peaches and kiwis. I tried skinning the kiwis before drying them, but the ones I bought were stubborn, so I decided to wait until after they were dehydrated, hoping the fruit would pull away from the skin as it shrank. No such luck. The skin ended up totally stuck to the fruit, so I gave it to them with the skin on. I wonder how that turned out for them.

Overall, it was quite a bit of work, but very much worth it. The bride called me when they got home and she seemed very excited because they hadn't eaten and neither of them wanted to cook. The crackers, rice and pie were all successes but eating lasagna cold seemed kind of weird. I can't say I blame them.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Stew Take Two

I'm starting this blog with entries about what led up to me wanting to keep it. This post is backdated to approximately the date it happened.

I had some time off again the week after I made the knishes and decided to cook some more for my family even though I still wasn't eating. I gave the Byzantine Vegetable Stew another shot and made my first BIG cooking mistake.

The recipe states:

"Place all of the ingredients in the casserole dish, cover, and cook in microwave oven on "high" for about 1 hour, mixing well every 20 minutes…If you don't have a microwave oven, and since the stew is very thick, it would be best to cook it in a regular oven at 350 degree F. Even in a conventional oven, it would be best to mix the stew about every 20 minutes as described above. It might be necessary to add a little more water with regular oven cooking so that the stew doesn't dry out."

I wasn't able to use the microwave that day, so I put it in the oven. I didn't think about what I was doing, I just followed the instructions, so it didn't occur to me that there may be differences between the microwave and the oven in addition to moisture. Like, you know, time. SIX HOURS after I'd put the stew in the oven, the vegetables still weren't completely soft and my family had already given up on eating it, had leftovers and went to bed. Suck.

That said, I did get it done sooner or later and my family loved it the next day. So it's still a really good recipe, just be prepared to use the microwave or clear your calendar for the entire day (since you need to mix every twenty minutes).

Monday, October 1, 2007

Starting With a Clean Slate

I'm starting this blog with entries about what led up to me wanting to keep it. This post is backdated to approximately the date it happened.

There's something weird about cooking when you're not eating. Especially if you're not eating for an extended period of time.

I'm not skinny. Up until a couple of months ago, some might even have considered me fat, and I'd have agreed. I got fed up and decided to do something impetuous about it: I went on the Master Cleanse on September 1. And stayed on it for a month and a half.

So what did I do with all the time I saved by not eating? I read recipes. And looked up restaurants. And watched cooking shows online. And planned meals. I became completely obsessed with food, but it was all healthy, mostly vegan food. I bought a dehydrator, got some fruit, and dried it so my family could eat it. I read about the best places to find organic, locally grown produce. I wanted to grow my own herbs. And since I couldn't actually cook for myself, I cooked for others.

I've never been really pleased with my weight, but I always thought "If I could just start over from scratch, I'd take better care of myself. I wouldn't abuse my body with junk food and a lack of exercise if it was a healthy one. Starting out as I am and trying to get into shape is too much work, but if I could start in shape, I'd keep it." I guess I saw the Cleanse as my chance at a clean slate. I was very diligent about following it and went to the gym several times per week while on it (and continue to).

While I was in food research mode, I discovered Isa Chandra Moskowitz (author of VCTOTW) had written another cookbook before that: Vegan With a Vengeance. Obviously, I had to have it and despite not eating, I ran out and bought it right away and began ogling the recipes.

So I had some time off from work and decided to make my family some Byzantine Vegetable Stew. I bought all the ingredients, then lost the link to the recipe (I've obviously found it since). My family was totally disappointed by the lack of homemade food and I was pissed I wouldn't get to play with vegetables. Then I had a brilliant idea: I whipped out my new VWAV, looked for a recipe with similar ingredients and found Knish Madness. Knishes! WIN! I didn't have any spinach, so I made two batches of potato and one of sweet potato.

I don't know what kind of sweet potato can be soft enough to mash after sitting in the oven for forty minutes, then cooling, but it's certainly not the kind I bought! The knishes took at least two hours longer to prepare than I thought they would based on the book because of those damn sweet potatoes. I really wanted to put them all in the oven at once, but I started to worry the sweet potatoes would never soften, so I finished the potato ones while waiting for them. They were almost completely done baking by the time the sweet potatoes were soft enough to mash. Damn!

Aside from that, I really enjoyed making the knishes. It was like cooking and baking in one. And I had left over filling, which everyone loved to eat plain as a side dish. My brother's mantra has always been "Why would you ruin a perfectly good potato with something as nasty as onions?" so my jaw nearly hit the floor when I asked him what he thought of the potatoes and he said "They were amazing. Best. Potatoes. Ever. The onion was a nice touch." I had chopped the onions up so fine it was crazy, so there's the lesson of the day: want to trick a kid into eating something s/he hates? Chop it up small.