Sunday, July 31, 2011

Some Meals I Didn't Cook

Still having computer issues -- I can only get online occasionally, for a few minutes, before it crashes again. Most of the time, it won't boot up at all. Dell is sending a guy out sometime this week to install another new hard drive. This will be the third hard drive. Even though we have a warranty (we just bought the computer in January) they won't replace the computer or give us a refund until we go through all their tech support steps. And of course they won't tell us how many steps there are left to go. Sigh.

Anyway, at least I was able to load some pics off my camera today (saved them all externally, of course!) and I realized, wow, I've been eating out a lot lately! So this post will be all about restaurant meals.

Whenever my parents visit from Michigan, as they did last month, they always want to get some Texas barbecue.  Most BBQ joints in Austin are vegan wastelands, as you might imagine.  But there is one place, Artz Ribs, that offers a few veggie options. Actually, now that I think about it, Ruby's also has a vegetarian menu.  But, Artz happens to be my parents' favorite, so that's where we went.

I ordered the grilled veggie plate. The grilled pieces of potato, squash, carrot, pepper and onion were quite tasty when I doused them in Artz BBQ sauce. They also offer a veggie burger, but I'm not sure if it's vegan.
Artz usually has some kind of live music in the evenings. I was hoping for an old-timey Texas swing band, like we saw last time, but this group was more folksy. Jackson was into it.

Up next, Guero's. This was a date night for Tony and me. I used to think Guero's was kind of gross, but then I heard that they developed a complete vegan menu, so I'd been wanting to check it out.

They must have the hottest salsas in town. I seriously can't handle them. But, as you can see from the multiple salsa bowls littering our table, Tony was not even close to being intimidated by their heat, and I am clearly just a big wuss. I did enjoy the pico de gallo, however...

...especially with a couple of these to wash it down.

Many Austinites love their margaritas, but I'm a mojito girl all the way. Love that mint.

I ordered the veggie enchiladas. One was filled with spinach and mushrooms, the other with grilled veggies. The roja sauce was delicious.

I wasn't sure what to do with the side of potatoes that came with my enchiladas, so I ordered a cup of vegan queso to dip them in. Yum! I think it's awesome that a restaurant like Guero's, which is super busy all the time and obviously doesn't need to cater to vegans, serves a vegan queso.

Next time Tony is asking for Mexican, I'll be glad to return to Guero's and sample more of their vegan offerings (chorizo!)

Lastly, we took the kids to Titaya's one recent afternoon for their first-ever Thai food experience.

When exposing my kids to a new cuisine, covering it in peanut butter is a sure-fire method to insure they will at least try it. So for starters, we ordered the spring rolls with peanut sauce...

...and the tofu satay skewers with peanut sauce.

Olivia liked tearing the spring rolls apart and slurping down the slippery vermicelli noodles. Jackson devoured the tofu, carefully dipping each piece of "tofu steak," as he called it, in the nutty sauce.

Next, we ordered a plate of pad thai for them to share.  Our waitress said that Titaya's doesn't use fish sauce in any of their dishes marked as vegetarian. By omitting the egg that is typically mixed into the pad thai, we got a completely vegan dish.

We were surprised by how much they ate! Olivia finds all noodles fun right now, and Jackson liked the sweet/sour flavor.

I ordered my favorite curry -- the sweet, mild, peanutty massaman curry. You don't have to look too hard to see where my kids get their peanut butter obsession from. The curry came in a generous bowl with plenty of nice chunks of chewy tofu.

The next day, I wanted to serve leftover pad thai and curry for lunch, but we needed something to go along with it, so I made my own spring rolls.

I soaked some tofu slabs in the Asian marinade from Veganomicon, then grilled them on my grill pan. I've really fallen in love with that grill pan. Look at those cool grill marks!

I rolled up the tofu along with vermicelli noodles, shredded carrot and cucumber, and mint leaves. 

The kids enjoyed my homemade version just as much as Titaya's -- with plenty of peanut sauce for dipping, of course! To make the sauce, I combined peanut butter, rice wine vinegar, and soy sauce.

I could post some more restaurant visits, but I won't press my luck -- I'll go ahead and hit "publish" now!

Have a good week!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Simply Summer

I'm back...after two weeks...countless hours on the phone with Dell...and one new hard drive.  

I missed this. But I did find other ways to fill my days.

Nectarines love mint, and so do I. No matter how high the summer temperatures get, mint is cool and refreshing.

Nectarines with Mint Cream
4 nectarines, sliced
1 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least 1 hour, then drained
1/4 cup non-dairy milk, plus more as needed
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
2 Tbsp. agave syrup or honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla
In a food processor, combine cashews, 1/4 cup milk, mint leaves, agave or honey, and vanilla. Process until cashews are ground up. Stream in more milk as needed to reach a smooth, creamy texture. Chill the mint cream for 1 hour. Spoon over sliced nectarines and serve cold.

How have you been?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Quick Like a Bunny

I'll try to keep today's post brief, so I can get it done before my computer crashes again! Yeah, the fancy new PC we got 6 months ago is turning out to be sort of a lemon. A few weeks ago it crashed completely and Tony was on the phone with Dell customer service for FIVE HOURS as they determined that we had some sort of virus, because the anti-virus software they sold us with our computer was the wrong one. After "fixing" the problem, it started happening again a couple days ago. Some mornings I can turn on the computer and use it for an hour but then it will crash again. They are supposed to be mailing us some new software and we will probably have to wipe everything and start over. My mother-in-law bought the same model at the same time we got ours, and is having the same problems. Ugh. One lesson I've learned is that the newest version of something is not always the best! Luckily, I already knew another important lesson: always back up your files! I have thousands of pictures of my little family double-backed-up because I am that paranoid.

These guys right here, they are my life. I love documenting our life together and couldn't stand to lose those images.

We cooked out last night, and I made some jalapeno poppers. Some of them lost their little "hats" in the grilling process, but the cheese stayed inside where it belonged, so I was happy. For the filling I used Wayfare Foods' We Can't Say It's Cheese, hickory cheddar flavor.

I made a raspberry-lime dipping sauce by simply thinning out raspberry jam with lime juice until it reached a saucelike consistency. Tony and I were once served jalapeno poppers with a strawberry dipping sauce at a Mexican restaurant, and we loved the way that the fruity sweetness both complements and lessens the heat from the peppers.

We also grilled veggie burgers, and I baked some sweet potato fries. I usually make my own fries, but this time I used the Alexia frozen fries. They're really good. It's hard to get my homemade fries this crispy, so I'll probably buy the Alexia ones from now on, and deal with the crushing blow to my ego that comes with not making something from scratch (kidding...sort of!)

Hope to be back soon with regular posts after we get our technology back in line. Have a good week! 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday Already

Just when I thought the Arabian Lentil & Rice soup was the best Appetite for Reduction recipe, I made the Smoky Split Pea soup. And, although the lentil soup is still my personal favorite, I'm outnumbered, because everyone else in my house loves this stuff.

It is so good. If you haven't used smoked paprika, I can't recommend it enough. There's a lot of it in this recipe, which explains why a soup made from green split peas has a deep, dark red hue. In addition to color, the paprika imparts such an amazing smoky flavor. You will love this. Jackson and Olivia did, and Tony says I need to make it every week.

Another night this week, I took some basil from my garden and made a batch of pesto using almonds and sunflower seeds. I tossed it with wagon wheel pasta, sliced radishes, kalamata olives, and lima beans. Random, I know! But really good. I feel like lima beans are underrated. I really like 'em.

This week has flown by. I have a lot to do today. My parents are coming to stay for a week, and I need to clean and pick up groceries before their flight arrives. I've been up since 4 a.m. with Olivia the insomniac, so I will need to locate some extra energy somewhere.

Have a great day!


Monday, July 11, 2011

A Couple of Lunches

Hey, how was your weekend? We were out and about most of the time, so I did not do any cooking. But we had a couple of good restaurant meals. On Saturday we ate lunch at Shady Grove. There was a long wait for a table in the huge outdoor seating area. Jackson amused himself by climbing on some wagon wheels.

Olivia was glad to finally be seated and get a cold drink. Yes, she really did drink from that giant red cup that's almost as big as she is. She loves drinking with a straw.

Tony and I were ready for a cold drink, too. We had a pitcher of Arnold Palmers (half lemonade, half iced tea) spiked with vodka. Not very much vodka, sad to say. But it was probably for the best since it was only 1:00 and I had other things I wanted to get done that day, ha.

I loved this giant tree hanging its branches over us and keeping us from baking in the sun.

I ordered a salad with gingery Thai dressing and half a Hippie Sandwich, which came with thin slices of eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and mushrooms (hold the mozzarella.) It was tasty, if not super filling. The menu said that this sandwich was "award-winning" and I thought it would be a little more substantial.

All in all, a so-so lunch experience. But there were other items on the menu that looked interesting, so we will probably go back sometime and try it again. I love eating outdoors, so the atmosphere was really appealing to me.

On Sunday we grabbed lunch at Elevation Burger. Tony goes there for lunch occasionally, since it's near his office, and he told me I would probably like it. He was not wrong.

The vegan burger was one of the best I've had. It was made from rice, corn, red pepper and other veggies, and it was delicious. It had a light, delicate texture and seemed handmade, not just a reheated Boca burger. The fries were awesome, too. Thin and crispy the way I like them. But the most amazing thing was their pop machine.

Seriously! I've never seen one like it.

There is a touch screen full of drink choices. From a main menu, you pick the kind of pop you want. For example, Diet Coke. And then it gives you all these options to add flavors. My choices were cherry,  orange, vanilla, strawberry, lime, and cherry vanilla. Fun!

Hope you have a good week! My parents are visiting later in the week and they will be staying with us for awhile, so I'm going to be getting the house ready for that. They love to eat out whenever they come to Austin, so I'm sure I will have a lot more restaurant reviews to post soon!

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Friday Night Post

Last night's dinner was Noodle Salad with Peanut Mmmm Sauce. Another awesome recipe from Mama Pea. When I went shopping for ingredients, they were out of edamame. So I substituted, uh, lima beans. They kind of look the same, yes? Even though lima beans aren't typically found in any sort of Asian cuisine I've ever heard of, the salad still tasted amazing. We had no leftovers.

At lunch today, I made a pint of strawberries into strawberry-nectarine-vanilla smoothies for the kids. They are really into smoothies now. It's been a long time coming. Jackson never cared for them in the past. But Olivia has decided she loves drinking anything with a straw. And of course, Jackson wants whatever Olivia has. Yes! Now my plan is to get them drinking smoothies on a regular basis, and then start adding greens.

 Tonight's dinner ingredients...can you tell I did not feel like cooking?

Soy curls, my omnivore husband's very favorite faux meat product. And Taco Bell sauce just makes everything better.

Tonight I had to run to Whole Foods and picked up some $2.99/lb. organic cherries. They are normally like $7.99/lb. Score!

I see cherry smoothies in our future.

Finally, a little update on my mini-garden. The poor tomato plant had six or seven little tomatoes on it, and just as they were turning red, Jackson plucked them all off. And I think he sent the plant into shock, because it hasn't done anything since. The jalapeno and cherry pepper plants flowered, but never produced fruit. I think maybe I needed to get two of each, so they could pollinate? Not sure. The strawberry plant fried in the heat pretty much immediately. I thought it might be too late in the season to try for strawberries when I bought it, and I guess I was right. 

But wait, there's good news! The lavender, rosemary and aloe vera are all champs. Totally indestructible. And I have BASIL!

Y'all know I love basil more than words can say, so it's absolutely delightful to go outside every few days and harvest my own fragrant little bundles of leaves. And then, next week, it grows back! You gardeners are like, "Uh yeah, that's how plants work..." but this is all new to me, this watering and checking and the payoff of having fresh basil to use whenever I want. What's your favorite way to use basil?

Gotta get my night owl babies to bed...have a great weekend! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cupcakes and Coffee

Today Tony's car was in the shop, so he took my car to work. I figured it was a good day to get a lot of cleaning and laundry accomplished, since I couldn't take the kids anywhere. But Jackson was sticking to me like glue. If you've ever tried to mop a floor with a barefoot 2-year-old trailing behind you, you know it's a wasted effort. So I told him, "If you let me clean in peace, you can help me bake something later." He paused to consider the deal I was offering. Then he said, "We not bake something. We bake cupcakes."

The kid drives a hard bargain.

We made the red velvet cupcakes from Quick & Easy Vegan Celebrations, topped with the sour cream frosting from Vegan Bake Sale. I picked that frosting recipe for one reason -- I had a tub of Tofutti sour cream sitting in my fridge. I don't like its super-thick texture dolloped on top of a baked potato or nachos, but it worked perfectly for making a creamy frosting.

I let Jackson and Olivia share a cupcake, and froze the rest. I was in the mood for a different kind of sweet.

Everyone has their own method for making iced coffee. I brew my coffee twice as strong as normal, chill it, and then add ice. I figure the ice cubes dilute the coffee to the point where it all balances it out. I used to just sweeten it with stevia, but then I found out that my liquor store carries all the Torani flavor syrups. Sugar-free hazelnut is my favorite. (The raspberry flavor is good in iced tea, too!)  

I always hated coffee until I moved to New York, and then I started drinking it to stay warm during the long, cold winter. (I also drank tons of hot tea, but it wasn't enough!) When we moved back to Texas, I had a full canister of coffee, so I started drinking it iced, just to use it up. Now I am hooked. Most days, it's my treat when the kids nap. Are you a coffee or tea drinker? Or both, like me? 

For dinner I made Chili Lime Rubbed Tofu and Pineapple Collards, both from Appetite for Reduction, with roasted butternut squash. Everything was delicious. The tofu is fast and easy to make (no marinating necessary) and I always adore collard greens. I peel and cube my squash and roast it with a little bit of olive oil, salt, and dried sage, at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. It turns sweet like candy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

4th of July Recap

Hey all, how was your 4th of July this year? Tony had a four-day weekend, so we headed up to Oklahoma to stay with his mom for a few days.

On Saturday, I met up with an old friend in my college town. We went to the splash pad so we could visit while our kids played. Having endured a 6 1/2 hour car ride, Jackson and Olivia had tons of pent up energy and could have played under those sprinklers all day! But we left at lunchtime to go meet up with some other friends and their new baby girl. She is a super cutie! As a bonus, we ate at my favorite restaurant in Norman, Pepe Delgado's. This was the kids' first time eating there.  

They liked the food, but they were not in the mood to sit and let Mama and Daddy visit for very long. I wonder if Pepe's would consider installing a splash pad out back?

At Grandma's house, Jackson spent most of his time playing with her dog, Boone, who is 17 years old. Jackson loves him so much. Whenever we ask him if he is excited to visit Grandma, he says, "I go see Boone! I play with Boone! I throw the ball with Boone!" As you would expect with a 17-year-old canine, Boone isn't doing so well. Sadly, we know this is probably his last summer. So I made sure to take lots of pictures of Jackson and his buddy together.

On the last night of our visit, Tony's mom and cousin surprised us by offering to babysit so we could go run around without the kids. There's not much to do in the small town where my mother-in-law lives, so we found ourselves back down in Norman at a bar where I spent many, many evenings in college.

I celebrated my 21st birthday in that very booth! Ha. I'm a sucker for nostalgic experiences like this one, but it was also surreal. Nothing has changed. I mean, literally every fake potted plant in the bar was still in its exact same location. 

Afterwards, we walked around the OU campus and passed by my favorite house in town. I always called it the Italian villa. It looks like it belongs to a ministry group now. Maybe someday they'll sell it to me and I can have it transported brick by brick to Austin. Ha, maybe not. But it's sure pretty. 

On the hour-long drive home from Norman to Grandma's house, we saw fireworks the whole way. A lot of small towns were having their displays on July 3rd for some reason, and we unintentionally timed our drive so we got to see them. That was nice. 

On the actual holiday, we were making the long journey back to Texas. When we got home, we thought about taking the kids in search of fireworks, but Austin and many surrounding towns cancelled their displays due to the drought and wildfire hazard. I think a couple of small towns still had displays, but we were pretty tired and we thought the fireworks might scare Olivia since she's still so small. So we decided to go grocery shopping and then come home and relax.

Look what was buy one, get one free!

Such a lovely sight to behold. Had to stock up on fruit, too. Nectarines and pineapples were cheap this week. And of course I always need a supply of bananas on hand for my little monkeys.

Olivia is quite a fan of the pineapple. She's had a little cold for a couple days, so I'm glad to see her getting her vitamin C.

Today was the last day of Tony's mini-vacation. We thought about cooking out, but it was hot and we were lazy. Also, Tony has caught Olivia's cold, and he thought some spicy food would be good for his sinuses. Off we went to Polvo's. The Michoacan avocado salad was one of my first meals when we moved back to Austin because I missed it so much. It's what I always order.

So there you go -- no parades or barbecues, but a fun and relaxing July 4th, all the same. Hope yours was, as well.