Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Small Indulgences

This vegetarian has a sweet tooth. And despite her lack of cavities, it is a very big sweet tooth. So, in order for her to have any lasting happiness, it must be sated. If it is not, the result is a very frantic me in search of any sort of sugary something to stuff down my gullet. Hostess, fruit snacks, cakes, cookies... nothing escapes my ravenous wrath. So, I go for moderation.

Yesterday, I found a cookbook in the new section of the library: "The French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook." In this book, the madame authoress, though not condemning dessert, urged her reader (aka, me) that sometimes a good fruit should do for dessert, but that has never been the case for me. I love fruit, and it can be a meal all its own, but on its own, it can never be dessert. What can be dessert on its own is chocolate.

So here are a few recent chocolate finds to share with my as-yet lackluster readership. First and foremost is a read-worthy book I found in the clearance bin at Borders, "The Chocolate Connoissear," that really opened my eyes to the worth-while nature of a good chocolate. The authoress is a top expert on chocolate and she made the experience of eating good chocolate akin to a wine tasting. I decided I had to find some of what she would deem at least suitable chocolate to try out and see what the fuss was all about (I say suitable because good chocolate is expensive and I'm on a budget.) Well, that sort of chocolate is not easy to find. I'm not even talking Godiva or Lindt good. They don't make the cut.

To sum up a book's worth, there are three varieties of cocoa trees. The bottom rung, most hardy and least flavorful, is called forastero. That's what all the chocolate the average person eats, candy made from big batches of over-cooked and under-produced beans. That's why 90% Lindt has such a burnt after taste. It's made from burnt beans. The best tree is the criollo. This is the ancestor breed that was around back in the days of yore when Aztecs introduced the stuff to Spain. It is very flavorful but also fragile and for a very long time, was on the brink of extinction. The third variety is trinitario. This is a happy medium species that has a decent flavor and decent hardiness and is a splice created from mating criollo with the hardier forastero. "Good chocolate" bars will have perhaps a percentage on the front, but more importantly, the beans used to make the chocolate and a country or even plantation of origin, as well as tasting notes, as one would find on a wine bottle. You see, good chocolate has a unique flavor to it, unlike the sameness of your everyday Hersey bar.

I searched and searched for my illusive chocolate. And finally, I found some in Meijer of all places, in the greeting card section by the Whitman samplers. The brand is Cachet  limited edition and the bars are around $3 a pop. As a dark chocolate fan, I scored the 71% Costa Rica Bar, made with trinitario, if I recall, and the 64% Peru bar, made with criollo and trinitario. My boyfriend, a milk chocolate fan, scored the 32% Madagascar bar made with criollo, trinitario, and forastero. The tasting couldn't have been more of a shock to me. The dark chocolate was so smooth, it had all the toothiness of a milk chocolate  but the glorious taste of a dark. The milk chocolate was the milkiest chocolate I've ever tasted. It had the bitter taint of cocoa but over that was a sweet, sugary but very cream-filled milk chocolate taste that bordered on buttery with a clear hint of vanilla as an aftertaste. The tasting notes on the back of the bar, which I checked after tasting, were spot on. The Peru bar was surprisingly light for a dark chocolate, with a berry-ish hint to it and shock of shocks, no burnt aftertaste, just the delicate bitterness of cocoa.

The Costa Rica bar was very earthy tasting, definitely lacking some of the lightness of the Peru bar. When the choco-expert explained of mushroom tasting notes for chocolate, I didn't understand what that might possibly mean until I savored this bar. It was a hint of mushroom in the best way possible. I even took my 71% find, along with a dark Godiva bar, to my cousin, dear friend, and long-time Godiva fiend, Kristin, who tasted a square of each and announced herself a convert. An extra dark chocolate without the burnt aftertaste? Well worth the extra buck-fifty.

My other recent chocolate find is not a new one. Way back when I first discovered "Skinny Bitch," I made myself their recipe for hot chocolate. It turned out a bit too bitter with clumps of the cocoa powder all over. Less-than-fantastic. Tonight, I was in the mood for a little treat but a warm one, as there's been this oddly cold breeze all day that's put a chill in me I haven't been able to lose. I opened my recipe box and found the old Skinny Bitch cocoa recipe, decided to give it one last go. As you may recall, Art made me a from-scratch extra-dark chocolate cake for my birthday, so the only unsweetened cocoa powder in the apartment is Hersey's special dark, and the idea of special dark cocoa appealed to my inner dark chocolate fan. So I got out a small saucepan and got to work.

Hot Cocoa the Skinny Bitch Way (The Kate Version)
3/4 c. soy milk
1/4 c. water
2 T unsweetened cocoa
2 T sugar in the raw
1/8 t. vanilla extract
dash of cinnamon

Heat soymilk and water in saucepan. Add cocoa, sugar, and vanilla to pan. Stir until smooth. Transfer to cocoa mug. Sprinkle cinnamon and drink.

The dark dark cocoa was delightful. The powder dissolved just fine, making me wonder what I screwed up before. It was bitter but also very sweet with that hint of cinnamon that just made all the other flavors pop that much more. If I had a bad thing to say about the recipe now, it used too much sugar. Next time, I'll try half the sugar and add to taste. I drank half slowly and soothingly at the dinner table. Then, I reserved the other half for tomorrow. With it's oversweetness, I think it would be the perfect addition to a nice dark roast coffee for a morning pick-me-up.

On a related note, my favorite and only nephew turned one yesterday. His birthday party was on Saturday, though, a pool party with buffet. I brought the veggie platter and the dirt. Dirt was always one of my childhood favorites and to this day, is one of the most pleasurable of dessert comfort foods. Growing up, my Aunt Sharon always brought dirt to the family functions, and we kids gobbled it up. At one point, her and her daughter even invited me and my sister over to learn the much-guarded secret recipe. Her dirt recipe is still the one I use today. It is far superior to any other recipe I've found, but it's also something I don't have the right to broadcast to the internet. Here is an internet recipe for dirt I'm sure is very tasty, however, if you're curious to try it. Of course, I don't use the fake flowers or flower pot, though that is a cute idea, and I freeze mine, not refrigerate it. Other people add gummy worms to the top. Dirt, essentially is a frozen pudding cake with crushed oreos that resembles dirt. Other ideas include using peanut butter pudding and chocolate/pb cookies for mud and butterscotch pudding with pecan sandies for sand.

The dirt, as always, was a big hit, but I had my own little secret ingredients I added to Aunt Sharon's version. My sister had recently been battling high cholesterol, and, so she could partake of the dirt and so it would be a little better in general (dirt is not a health food), I used the fat-free/light versions of all the ingredients: reduced fat oreos, light butter, fat free cool whip, fat free cream cheese, etc. I did not use sugar free pudding, as sugar free pudding has a decidedly different taste to it from normal. That and really, those no-cal sweeteners are probably worse for you than normal sugar, unless you are diabetic. Everyone had a little bit, so no one had too much and no one noticed that the dirt was "lighter" than usual. Tips to know and tell.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Green Bean/White Bean Casserole

During the fall semester, I uncovered an interesting book from my local library. It's called "Vegetarian SlowCooker." And in it were a great number of magical recipes to use in that kitchen appliance that I, of late, have little to no use for. Needless to say, some of them looked so yummy, it prompted me to plop one of the black friday sale price 20 dollar slow cookers into my mother's Kohl's stroller-cart and say, "I want this for Christmas!"

Then, as is wont to happen in stories of this nature, I took my new kitchen appliance home, stuck it happily into an empty cupboard, and forgot about it. When the book came up for renewal for the fifth time, I copied those recipes I'd been eyeing onto 3x5 index cards, stuck them into my recipe card organizer, and returned the book.

This would have been the end of it had I not gone through my recipes two days before my birthday, struggling to find something tasty and adventurous to make for my year-over-a-quarter-of-a-century birthday. I opted, as some might recall, on a Cook's encyclopedia recipe for souffle, but among my forgotten trove of recipes, my eye caught a black bean chili, a soup with kale, slow cooker veggie pot pie, and the most exciting of all... green bean casserole!

I know what you're thinking... "That's it? That's the thing she was so excited to make?" But green bean casserole is one of my favorites. It's comfort food. It's homey and inviting. It was one of the first things I ever learned to make. And I never screwed it up. One can campbell's cream of mushroom to two cans french-cut green beans in a casserole dish and then heated in the microwave for 7 minutes and TA DA! a scrumptious meal. And it sure beat my first attempt at tuna and noodles, when, after many boxed pasta roni meals, it didn't occur to me that I might need to drain the noodles and it didn't occur to my mom, when she gave me the instructions for making it, that anyone would not know that noodles need to be drained. What resulted looked more like soup than casserole but green beans, they have never led me astray.

I've come a long way since then, but I still love my green bean casserole. And I was immediate anxious to give this recipe a go (not to mention break in that forgotten slow cooker), a green bean casserole that uses a white bean and mushroom sauce in place of the standard can of cream of mushroom.

Green Bean and White Bean Casserole
(from Vegetarian Slow Cooker)

What you need:
1 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 c. chopped white mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 15.5 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed (These puppies were not easy to come by but I finally found some Goya brand ones. Post-cooking thought: Great Northern Beans would work just as well... many even navy beans)
1 c water
salt and pepper (be generous with the salt)
1 1/2 lbs green beans, cut into one-in pieces (I translated this into 2 cans of no-sodium french cut green beans, drained)
1/2 c sliced almonds, toasted in skillet to light golden

1. Heat oil in large skillet over med-heat, add onion, cover, and cook to soft, 5 min. Transfer onion to blender. In skillet, add mushroom and garlic. stir to soft over med-high heat, 3 minutes. The stirring is very important, and if you get bored, use a long wooden spoon with which to bang about to skillet as you stir, creating a tune akin in sound to a steel drum player. Entertainment. Set aside mushrooms.)

2. Add white beans and water to blender, season with salt and pepper, and process to smooth. I used the "cream" button. It seemed very cream of mushroom soup to use the "cream" button. The blender will whir and spin and in seconds, sauce, liquid-y and looking very much like the tahini sauce I made on Monday for falafel. But I digress.

3. Place green beans and mushrooms in 4 QT (bigger is fine, just not smaller) slow cooker and pour white bean sauce over them. Cover and cook on Low 4-6 hours.

4. When ready to serve, sprinkle beans with almonds.

It was a surprisingly quick-prep and easy to follow, but a little bland (hence liberal salt and pepper). I think next time, I would cook up twice the number of mushrooms and puree half of them with the white beans, for a bit more flavor. I'm also going to think for a while on what seasonings would mix well with the beans. Suggestions would be appreciated. It was something I'd make again but with a few alterations, my own bit of flare. The almonds, I'd say, are a must, however. They add a nice nutty flavor to add a bit of pep to the blandness, along with a bit of crunch to the mush that is green bean casserole.

Note: Despite my recent addition of pictures to accompany blog posts, this one is lacking a picture.  This is not due to technical malfunction, but merely a realization on the blogger's part that there is no way to attractively photograph green bean casserole. Just picture any green bean casserole and top it with sliced almonds in your mind's eye. Now, put it in a slow cooker. That's about it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gardening at the start of summer

I will probably regret saying this later, but I'm impatient for things to do around the garden. At the moment, there's nothing but watching the plants grow, watering if it doesn't rain for a few days, and plucking the occasional weed.

Hopefully, this will change soon. The Purple Cherokee has a tiny green tomato, the Kale bush is starting to infringe upon the peppers and the zucchini is growing like a weed. I even saw a few buds on them. Soon...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Veggie Fajita: home version

Remember those veggie fajitas I enjoyed at the little Mexican place on Van Aken? Well, much like my eggplant fritter sandwich a la Italian place on Chagrin, I have managed to successfully recreate those fajitas at home for much much cheaper.

My little boy is a quarter Mexican and he's got this thing now where he is willing to try anything as long as it's Mexican. So I've intelligently named this recipe:

Mexican Stir Fry

What you need:
1 mid-sized zucchini, sliced
1 vine-ripened tomato, diced
1/2 med-sized green bell pepper, sliced and quartered
1/2 large red bell pepper, sliced and quartered
8 oz. sliced mushrooms  (white button or baby bella)
oil for frying (about 1 T or a good coat of spray)
half a packet of fajita seasoning
1 cup of brown rice
tomato sauce (sadly, I used taco sauce)
1 c. shredded mexican style cheese (in lieu of this: just go with cheddar)
Optional: Fajita-style tortillas and refried beans

1.Cook rice. I used a rice cooker.

2. In a large skillet preheated and oiled, toss in the mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, and fajita seasoning in and cook on high heat until veggies are tender and mushrooms are carmelized.

3. Transfer skillet contents into a bowl. Transfer rice to skillet and add tomato sauce until rice is sufficiently coated to your liking. Cook at med-heat until rice is hot. Add cheese and stir.

4. Assemble veggies into fajita tortillas with light coat of refried beans or by itself on plate. Plate rice on the side or mix with stir fry.

It was surprisingly delicious, despite being a complete experiment. Next time, I would use something other than taco sauce though.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lemony Spinachy Couscous

Ever since I met this pasta/grain, I have been in love with it. Couscous. Yes, it's been a torrid love affair since I bought that bag of Israeli couscous at the westside market this past winter. Since then, I have also tried the whole wheat variety, sold quite inexpensively at Trader Joe's of all places and more expensively at the standard grocery store. Tips for cheap couscous: find it here.

The first time I made lemon spinach couscous (I mean it has spinach, it has lemon, what's not the adore?), I made it with Israeli couscous using a recipe that actually called for whole wheat. Do NOT make this error. This time (and many times before this) I used whole wheat couscous but Israeli is possible (with different cooking instructions. I'll include both.

Now, originally this recipe called for the good stuff, real lemon, lemon zest, fresh spinach, the whole shebang, but in my kitchen, we don't always have a lemon handy (or ever), and I've switched things out and created my own little version. This is a recipe we turn to now when we haven't made a menu plan and we want something quick and easy (and Garet eats it too because he thinks Spinach is green cheese and we have yet to correct this inaccurate assumption).

Lemony Spinachy Couscous
(original recipe found at cd kitchen online)

What you need:
about 2 tsp olive oil (I eyeball it)
1/2 c chopped red bell pepper (the frozen bag of mixed pepper also works just fine)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/3 c water
a few shakes of sea salt
a crank of pepper
1 c couscous (Israeli or whole wheat)
3 T lemon juice (or more to taste)
2 c. chopped, thawed frozen spinach (or more as desired)

1. In med. saucepan, heat oil over med heat. Add pepper, garlic, spinach. Cook 3-4 min. until tender.

2. Stir in water, salt, pepper, and 2 T lemon juice. Heat to boiling.
For Israeli couscous: add couscous, cover, and boil for 5 minutes. Check to make sure Couscous is soft and all water is gone. If it is still hard, add more water and boil until couscous is soft and water is gone.
For whole wheat (easier version): take pan off burner, add couscous and cover. Let stand 5 minutes. All water must be evaporated before it is ready.

3. Add 1 T or more lemon juice until couscous is sufficiently lemony to your tastebuds. Stir and serve.

It makes a lovely side dish with the eggplant fritter sandwiches: pictured here in a pita.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Spinach and Mushroom Souffle

Yes, by golly, today I am no longer a quarter of a century old. Today, I am officially 26, and in celebration of that, I thought I'd try my hand at a souffle.

I remember well my childhood viewing of Sabrina, in which Audrey Hepburn goes to culinary school in Paris and pulls out a deflated souffle, its bubble burst and folded in on itself. Even as a tyke, I thought, "That shit can't be easy."

And yet I pulled out the contents of my kitchen cabinets and set to work. First, I needed the recipe and in my old green veggie cookbook, purchased for $2 off the clearance shelves of Half-Priced Books on Mayfield, the Cook's Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Cooking. In the special occasion section was the culprit I was after, on page 236:

Warning: Will require the use of most of the pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils you own. Works best if you have a live-in significant other who offers to wash the dishes for you.

Spinach and Wild Mushroom Souffle
(serves 4)
What you need:
8 oz fresh spinach or 4 oz. frozen chopped spinach
4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter,  plus extra for greasing
1 garlic clove, crushed
6 oz. assorted wild mushrooms such as porcini, cremini, oyster, and portobello
1 c. milk
3 T four
6 eggs, separated
pinch of nutmeg
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
An oven preheated to 375.

1. In preparation for my birthday quest, I had purchased a 9 oz. bag of fresh spinach from my grocer's produce section. Just last weekend, we had stopped in at the Bed, Bath, and Beyond while in Toledo for a weekend Michigan visit and used a buy $15 get $5 off your total order coupon to purchase a tea ball, a cheese slicer, a set of plastic cooking spoons, and a vegetable steamer. The steamer looks like an alien space helmet and unfolds itself outward to make an odd, hole-filled metal platter that sits over the top of a pan. With that, I was able to steam my fresh spinach to my heart's content, which I did in small batches. I tried for a larger one and ended up with the whole steamer contraption collapsing in on itself into the boiling water beneath it, and Art complained overmuch that I had probably "scarred the hell" out of his saucepan. So, little batches. After steaming, I placed the spinach into a sieve-style strainer. When I had all of the spinach steamed, I ran it under cool water and then pressed out the access water with the back of a new plastic cooking spoon against the grating of the strainer. Then I chopped it with a very large and hazardous kitchen knife.

2. Melt the butter in a med-sized saucepan. Then add the garlic and mushrooms, cooking over low heat until softened. I used a mix of oyster, cremini, shittake, and baby bella. Then turn up the heat and evaporate the juices. I had some trouble with this one and called in Art as a reinforcement, who declared "What juices?" When the mushrooms are dry (if they were ever wet), add the spinach. Our spinach was still very wet so we left it in there to evaporate awhile before transferring the mushroom-spinach mix to a bowl. It said to cover and keep warm, so I plopped the veggie steamer over the top.

3. Measure 3 T out of the 1 c. of milk and put the 3 T in a bowl. Then bring the rest of the milk to a boil in a saucepan. Stir flour and egg yolks in to the cold milk in the bowl and stir the heck out of it with a fork until well blended. Stir the boiling milk into the bowl with the flour, etc and then put all of that back in the saucepan. When it thickens, add the spinach mixture to the pan. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

4. Butter a 4-cup souffle dish, especially the sides and sprinkle with a little parmesan. Or if, like me, you don't have a 4-cup anything, especially a souffle dish, use a 6-cup stoneware casserole dish instead. If you have a circle one, it will really look about the same as a souffle dish anyway.

5. Beat egg whites until stiff. This can take awhile. And god help you if you don't have a mixer to do it for you. Luckily, I do. Bring the spinach mix back to a boil and add a brand new plastic baking spoon full of beaten egg white to the mixture. Then fold the spinach mix into the egg white bowl. I have some experience with folding in this manner, as I have helped my mother make many a no-bake cheese cake, but of you are unaware: folding in baking means, essentially taking the spoon down one side of the bowl, then under the contents, then up the opposite side in easy, slow motions until everything is all mixed together but nice and airy.

6. Turn the mixture into the souffle dish and spread level. It will look a lot like ricotta cheese jello with flecks of green and brown. It even jiggles. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top and bake 25 minutes until golden brown and puffed. Serve immediately before souffle deflates.

Our oven is sort of high, so I baked it for 22 minutes. The result: a successful souffle, albeit, a little less puffed out than it was supposed to be due to being baked in a 6-cup instead of a 4-cup container. As soon as I cut into it to distribute pieces, the whole thing sort of caved in. I assume that's the deflate part. The pieces looked like odd slices of pie and were extremely fluffy and moist. The outside of the souffle tastes like the batter of a fried something or other and the inside tastes oddly similar to fake egg but with a hint of bitterness from the spinach and a slight crunch and earthy taste from the mushrooms.

As we sat there, eating our souffle, we felt very proud of ourselves, especially when Garet tried some and shouted, "I like it!" and asked for more. (He ate around the mushrooms.) For dessert, Art made me a homemade dark chocolate raspberry two layer cake with a white gonache drizzling over it. Not too shabby for a birthday dinner, if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Free the Frittata

Art wanted tacos. So I was about to resign myself to a lackluster meal of whole wheat lavash (I refuse to bring in more than one wrap-like product into the house at the same time... I's basically a tortilla, right?) with a bunch of lettuce in it until I got an idea. As I was searching through the veggie cookbook yesterday for possible birthday feasts (my 26th is on thursday), I came, once again, across the veggie frittata. There is always a frittata in veggie cookbooks, unless of course, it's a vegan one, and I've yet to be tempted to try my hand at one for several reasons:

1. It looks like an omelet so I always think... hell, I could just make an omelet.

2. I don't like eggs. I mean, I'm fine with them in stir fries or cracked into pancake batter but as far as scrambling them or sunnyside-uping them, the taste leaves me sick to my stomach. This is mostly the result of my childhood dislike for the thought of eating pureed fetus chick, but compounded by the time my mom fed me undercooked overeasy ones and I got sick off of them. I do, admittedly, still eat them deviled, but come now, who doesn't?

3. Other food options inevitably look tastier and more daring, especially given my dislike of eggs anyway.

The second reason was remedied a few years or so ago when Art and I were at a Bob Evans and I wasn't that hungry and so, ordered the litest meal on the menu, which included a small order of fake eggs. You know the ones: they come in a carton, are essentially egg whites with yellow coloration for more of an "egg" feeling? So I sampled the fake eggs and loved them. They had all the good qualities of egg but without the heavy egg taste, which happens to be the aspect that upsets my tummy. They were just fake enough to fake my body into believing they were a new food group, and we've been fast friends ever since.

As for the other two reasons, well... I was in the mood for something new, but that would "go" with what the rest of the family was having: tacos with the meat, cheese, refried beans, onion, tomato, lettuce, and rice for Art and taco meat with cheese in a bowl for Garet (babysteps). Immediately, I remembered that frittata recipe. Frittata strikes me as Mexican sounding. I wonder if it is...

Anyway, the recipe was for onion and pepper frittata or some such thing, but as with all veggie recipes, I just use the premise of the recipe and add what I want and subtract what doesn't interest me. What I came up with, I'll call the Fajita Frittata. And it goes a little something like this:

Fajita Frittata
3 rings red bell pepper, quartered
2 slices tomato, quartered
a handful of fresh mushrooms (I used presliced baby bella)
1/2 c. fake egg
3 T shredded mexican cheese mix
1 T grated Parmesan cheese
enough olive oil for frying
salt and pepper
fajita powder (or other taco seasoning)

1. Heat about 1 T olive oil in a small skillet on med-high heat until it hisses when water is sprinkled on it. Add veggies and fry until edges are slightly blackened, flipping often.

2. Transfer veggies to a small bowl. Add fake egg and cheese and mix well. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and about 1t fajita powder. Mix again.

3. Put another 3/4 T of olive oil in the skillet. Coat evenly and put on low. Add egg mixture to skillet and shake to coat evenly. Cook about three minutes until top is set, rustling the edges often to move liquid egg to the bottom. This last bit didn't work so well for me so I just ended up flipping the thing and leaving it on for about a minute longer before flipping it back. It did the trick.

The siesta unfolded in my apartment tonight with the boys eating their various taco concoctions and me with my plate of seasoned frittata. Cooking this egg-pie thing (as Art called it) was quite enjoyable. It doesn't rip like an omelet, a common occurrence in my omelet making that usually results in scrambled eggs for breakfast. With the cheese in the "batter," the whole thing is more solid and fluffy, but with the bits of veggie peppering the top for an array of color. In addition, the fajita seasoning added an extra kick to the non-eggy flavor of the fake egg that complimented it nicely. Garet said it looked like pizza, but it wasn't enough to tempt him to give it a taste. Maybe next time...

The siesta will continue after we put Garet to bed. Art has been offered two classes to teach online for the fall and we're opening a bottle of margarita in celebration.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The New Recipe Commitment

Now that I'm really going on this blog, I'd hate to lose momentum. But then, the ability to write it depends heavily upon the fact of making something over the course of the day that I've never made and well, I'm betting on some weeks that are filled with old favorites (or new favorites). Tonight, for example, we had french toast. I make a mean french toast but it stands to reason that whether you burn the bread or let it get too soggy or not soggy enough, you know the basic gist of making french toast. It's not hard and hardly worth a blog.

The day before, I had a premade meal from Trader Joes and the day before that I ate Vegetable Stir Fry and Tofu at the Elephant Bar. I guess I could talk about the Elephant Bar meal. It's one I've had often. The restaurant is located in the mall at Toledo and while it's a chain, the one in Toledo is the only one that exists east of the Mississippi. Best Tofu I've ever had, so it's not that it isn't worth blogging. It's just that it doesn't feel new to me. The thrill is gone between me and the Elephant Bar and so, I doubt I'd give it the justice it deserves, much as a wife is bound to overlook mentioning some of the better qualities of her husband that a girlfriend would expound upon of a boyfriend. If you enjoy tofu and live anywhere near Toledo (or somewhere west of the Mississippi, you should go there and check it out for yourself. It's worth the trip.

However, back to the task at hand. I don't want to let my blogging go lax. So here's my goal: I pledge to you, dear reader, if you exist at all or care at all, to make or consume at least one new blog-worthy thing a week. I'll try to make it two or three over the course of the summer, because I have the time to dedicate to it that I don't have during the school year. But at least once is the minimum. I'm thinking if I write it out and send it into cyberspace, I'm more likely to keep the pact... with myself and you.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Eating Out: Mexican Style

I don't like Mexican. And no, this is not meant to be a pun based on the fact that I divorced a Mexican, though... there is that too. No, I'm talking Mexican food. It all started when I was a child and, like my six-year-old, I would eat the contents of a taco, but if you placed it on a tortilla, I wouldn't touch the thing. Then, there was that couple of years back in Erie when my mom worked at Taco Bell and brought us home soft tacos as snacks on a too-consistent basis. I cannot eat them too this day. But mostly, I don't enjoy the grease of it. I don't enjoy the bland mix of cornflour, meat, cheese, and tomato. And I certainly don't like when they add that blasted hot salsa to things.

I will admit that I do enjoy a good margarita.

So you can imagine my surprise when Art and I went to the mexican restaurant Los Habaneros, located on Van Aken north of the Warrensville/Northfield/Van Aken/Chagrin intersection next to the Fresh Market and I actually liked... scratch that... loved the food.

We walked in and the friendly waiter (he called us his amigos) took us to a table. It was 2 dollar margarita day but we managed to resist it. I order water. Art, the cola, and the waiter brought us some corn chips and salsa to snack on. The salsa was a medium. I would have preferred mild but I didn't mind the bite of it too much. Art really loved the salsa.

Then the waiter came back to take our orders, but we had to ask for more time to decide, because there was so much that looked good. Art had a hard time choosing between the enchilada platter and the steak tacos. I was having a unique restaurant quandary for me, in that, I had several vegetarian options to choose from, but after much debate, I decided on the veggie fajita, because I was in a zucchini mood. Art went enchilada. And before we had time to finish the chips, our plates were in front of us. I can't comment to much on Art's plate, though I did try the cheese enchilada and it was quite tasty.

For my part, the only issue I might gripe about was that all the carbs were made with white flour. But the mexican rice was flavorful with a little bit of pea in it. The refried beans had a light layer of cheese on it, and the veggies... well... they were perfectly cooked. Not too soggy, not too crisp. There was a giant heap on one side of the plate filled with zucchini, summer squash, big slices of mushroom, tomato, bell pepper, and onion. As I've mentioned before, I don't enjoy onion, but it was so mild, I didn't mind it, though I did give a lot of the onion slices to Art, as he loves his onion. With the veggie platter came three warm fajita sheets wrapped in tin foil. I filled two of the fajitas with a light coat of beans and rice before heaping on the veggies and eat them with contented slurps.

It was the best Mexican food I'd ever had in my life. And I've been to my fair share of "authentic mexican" places, a current craze in Toledo. Usually, the only thing on the menu I can eat, though, is a veggie soft taco: soft shell, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, and tomato.... sarcastic yum. Here though, there was a cornucopia of vegetables, well prepared and waiting to be eaten.

We both agreed to return again. Art still means to try the steak tacos. I aim for the spinach enchiladas. And as the waiter told us "adios amigos," we, overstuffed but happy, exited the restaurant, leftovers in hand.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Upon returning from the long weekend Michigan trip in honor of Memorial weekend (and if I'd forgotten the memorial day time-frame, I would have been reminded by the throng of folks gathered in the street in front of the town monument to killed-in-action soldiers in Weston-- home to a church, a graveyard, a post office, a bar and nothing else-- that blocked my path to Bob Evans on Monday morning), I made the decision: tomorrow, the garden must go in. So on Tuesday, despite fear of downpour, Art and I piled in the car with directions to a recommended greenhouse, a hoe, and hope that we would not end up horribly, horribly lost.

Lowe's (not to be confused with the hardware store) Greenhouse is located in the middle of nowhere, past a slew of houses up for sale and an abandoned (or at least it seemed to be to us) restaurant. About a half hour after entering the car, I arrived. The drive itself, though, was not too cumbersome. It took us past a lot of parks and woodsy areas and attractive house eye-candy to stare at. Once there, I searched out the vegetable section. The greenhouse was impressively massive, with an entire section dedicated to fruit trees and several to flowering plants. In the back of the main greenhouse, the vegetables rest with clear labeling over each variety of not just crop but also specific variety of that crop. All the beefsteak tomatoes, for example, were underneath the index card-sized paper that read "Heirloom Beefsteak" followed by the plants special characteristics, as well as tasting notes.  The same applied to every single solitary vegetable plant Lowe's carried, and it was a wide selection. There were at least ten varieties of non-hot peppers. And nearly twenty different types of heirloom tomatoes. I was in a candy store for vegetarians. Art could do nothing but follow after my excited leaps and wild bee-lines as I ooed and ahed.

In the end, we chose nineteen dollars worth of plants: Three heirloom tomatoes (Beefsteak, Mr. Stripy, and Purple Cherokee), two sweet peppers (red bell and purple bell), two eggplants (one standard variety and one called "fairytale" that's striped purple and white), two green zucchini plants, and one lone kale (blue ridge) so I could have some for the fall and maybe transplant it to a pot for the winter. I also got a packet of bush cucumber seeds, planting four hills in total.

Plants at my feet in the passenger seat, we drove the half hour back to civilization and planted the crops on our little 4 by 14 plot. There was room left for one plant, so today, we went back and planted one hill of edamame and put the cages up around the tomato plants so we won't have to deal with staking as much.

All in all, I'm excited for the future culinary creations that will result from my community garden endeavor. Surely some new recipes will find their way to the blog in the near future, featuring purple peppers and pink tomatoes.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Traveling Food and Memorial Weekend Feast

One thing about constant weekend jaunts to Michigan I've noticed over the course of my year in Cleveland: food goes bad. Perfectly fresh leftover eggplant is tuesday's liquified mess in the trash bin. This past weekend, I took yogurt so as to have breakfast while away, only to have it spoil on the way up, cooler be damned. The end of the week before a weekend Michigan trek has become a testament to our parishibles. We stuff them in our mouths in odd combinations just to get them used up. Naturally, we forgot about the zucchini we just bought and it went bad by Monday.

On the plus side, Kroger had a steak sale in Michigan, so Art bought four big steaks for him and his mother. On Sunday, while Art installed a much-needed ceiling fan replacement in the dining room, Art's mom and I made a big fancy steak dinner. She made the steaks and I made marinated portabello mushroom caps (on sale at Meijer), which is my go-to on-the-grill steak veggie alternative. Truth be told, I enjoy the mushroom caps far more than I ever enjoyed the steak from my meat-eating days. For simplicity's sake, I call them portabello mushroom steaks. And the key, as with a lot of steaks, really is in the seasoning.

I found a recipe for it online years ago that involved a marinade with fruity wine and oil. I replaced the wine with fruit juice and vinegar. But I've long-since lost the recipe. Instead, I vigorously sprinkle the caps with sea salt and pepper, then garlic powder and maybe a pinch of cayenne for a kick. Then I immerse them in strawberry balsamic vinagrette, though any fruit balsamic vinagrette will do. In Michigan, I didn't have my strawberry stuff handy so I bought pomagranette blueberry instead and that too was divine.

Then, after marinating for at least 30 minutes (1-2 hours is preferable), you put the caps on the grill for about 5-10 minutes, flipping at the halfway point. As with steak, the key is to keep a close eye. In the apartment, we don't have a grill so I fry them up in a large skillet and this works too, though lacks that touch of charcoally taste that grilled food (even gas-grilled food) inevitably has.

My favorite way to eat my mushroom steak is with a side of raw kale leaves and tomato. The sweet black "gravy" from the mushroom really complements the bitterness of the kale. This past weekend, we had side salads with ranch instead, as well as a baked sweet potato a la Long Horn (cut in half with a glop of butter and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar. Then, an apple crisp for dessert.

It was a cookout fit for the holiday weekend. And luckily, the leftover mushrooms made the journey back to Cleveland untarnished, and I had the fried version of my mushroom steak again tonight.