Thursday, June 30, 2011

In Which the Tofu Barely Escapes with its Life

As I was writing out my weekly menu and grocery list, I saw a Blackened Tofu recipe in Appetite for Reduction and thought, "Oh, Tony was just asking for that!" It seems I made a blackened tofu years ago that he liked, and he wondered why it never made a reappearance. I don't remember that, but if my omnivore husband goes out of his way to request a certain type of faux meat that he has a craving for, he is damn sure going to get it (which also explains our recent soy curls order.) 

Only later did it hit me. Blackened tofu is broiled. I'm going to have to use...The Broiler. (Cue the horror-movie music.)

Since we moved into this house over two months ago, I have often looked at the broiler with trepidation, but I never go near it. Given where it resides, that is easy to do.

It's under the stove.


For some reason this totally freaked me out. That fiendish floor-broiler was going to take my poor tofu and char it to the point of unrecognizable ash in mere seconds. I just knew it.

I am so silly sometimes, letting my imagination run away with me. Of course that didn't happen.

Blackened Tofu, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, and Creamed Corn, all from AfR. I also oven-steamed some fingerling potatoes with fresh rosemary in a foil packet. Peanut butter-chocolate banana soft serve for dessert.

Whew! From now on, I can use my broiler without fear. It's just a kitchen appliance! What was I afraid of?

Wait...what was that...did you hear something? Down there...near the floor! And it sounds...hungry!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Soup, Salad and Curtains

I'm having another productive day. This morning I finished making some curtains for the front entry. This was the last set of curtains I needed to make for the house. Yes! And it only took me two months to get them all done, haha.

Here is a close-up of the pattern.

It's similar to the pattern on our living room rug (but not matching.)

The funny thing is, the curtains and rug have a strong resemblance to Monster's bed, which we bought long before we moved into this house and started decorating. 

Hmm... Am I subconsciously trying to make my whole house look like Monster's dog bed that he despises? Ha. If anything, I should have my couches re-upholstered to look like his bed and then, just maybe, he won't sleep on them, either.

I also did a little cooking. Hot temps = light meals, like this Cauliflower Pesto Soup from Appetite for Reduction.

I give this recipe 4 stars for kid-friendly cooking. Jackson helped add everything to the soup pot, and then he helped me blend it in the food processor. The whole thing took no time at all. Some soups need to cook for 45 minutes or an hour, but not this one. 15 minutes and done.

The soup tasted fine, but I'm afraid it's no Arabian Lentil & Rice Soup (but then, what is?) I can find better uses for fresh basil, like Nigella Lawson's Pea Pesto Soup. Now that is an incredible pesto soup. I make it often, since the kids adore it.

We also made AfR's Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad with Grilled Tofu.

I was so pleased with how my grilled tofu turned out. Look at those lovely grill marks. I used my grill pan. I had never grilled tofu before and I was afraid it would fall apart. I did lose a couple of triangles. You have to be careful not to get cracks in the tofu while pressing it, or it'll fall to pieces on the grill. 

I was happy to use these little single-serving packages of vermicelli noodles that I bought at the Asian market awhile back. Aren't they cute? I recommend breaking the noodles into small pieces before cooking them and adding them to the salad. Otherwise, they're difficult to combine with the other ingredients, being so long and stringy and clumpy.

My only complaint with the salad was that there didn't seem to be enough dressing. The dressing has a fantastic flavor -- garlic chili sauce, agave, lime juice -- I just wanted more if it.

Finally, a big thanks to Shenandoah Vegan who quickly identified yesterday's mysterious "alien flowers" as passionflowers. I love their curly purple tendrils.

My babies (and their babies) are up from their naps, so we've gotta run. Have a good evening!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Invasion of the Alien Flowers

Some weekends, it feels like we are barely home at all. Which is fine because I am not a homebody. This weekend, however, we purposely kept our plans to a minimum so we could get stuff done around the house.

I made a curtain for the guest bathroom.

I also worked in the yard, and noticed some crazy-looking purple flowers that have bloomed almost overnight. We don't know what they're called, so we've christened them "alien flowers."

We did go out to dinner on Saturday, with a couple we met in our childbirth class when I was pregnant with Jackson. It was really neat to see our two little dudes, born one day apart, now nearly three years old and playing side by side. It's amazing how fast you go from this...

to this!

For Sunday dinner I made the Tamarind Tofu Cabbage Bowl from Vegan Yum Yum.

I wanted to use up the last of my terrible, seedy tamarind paste.  Now I can buy a different brand and enjoy the sweet and sour flavor of tamarind without having to pick out rock-hard seeds. 

Tony and I enjoyed the flavors and textures of this dish, but the kids were not into it. Jackson ate some tofu cubes, but neither he nor Olivia would touch the cabbage. I guess I need to serve cabbage more often and get them used to it.

I had a hard time cooking this meal with Jackson, too. I'll be honest -- as much as I love having the kids in the kitchen with me, it doesn't always work out. There were many steps to the recipe. Making the rice. Pressing, cubing, and sauteeing the tofu. Chopping and sauteeing the cabbage. Making the sauce. Toasting the almonds. Jackson is good at adding things to a bowl or stirring a pot, but he does not have much patience for waiting around while I get everything out and do the prep work. I want to come up with a solution for this that doesn't involve sending him in the other room to watch Cars while I get everything ready. But he is still just a little guy.

For dessert we had rice pudding with pineapple. So good! Rice pudding on its own is not that exciting, but there is something about the addition of pineapple that makes it pretty amazing.

Have a good week!

Friday, June 24, 2011


Thanks to my mom, the knowledge of how to plan a week's worth of meals and buy groceries has been embedded in my brain since childhood. And it is so helpful.  Every week, I cook all but one or two meals at home. What makes this pleasurable, instead of a pain in the ass, is knowing what's on the menu and being assured that I have all the ingredients on hand to make it.  So today, I thought I would share my process, and maybe help out anyone who is still learning how to do it.

First I look at the store circular that comes in the mail on Wednesday and see if there are any sale items that jump out at me. This week, corn and pineapple are super cheap, so I start my grocery list with those items and keep them in mind when planning my meals.

Next I make my menu for the week. I ask Tony if he has any requests. I get out a couple of cookbooks and browse through them, writing down recipes that sound good. This week, I made all my selections from Appetite for Reduction. I looked for recipes where I can use my sale items. Pineapple collards? Perfect.

One thing I try to do is put the more produce-heavy meals at the beginning of the week. You don't want to be looking forward to that veggie curry on Friday, only to open your crisper and find that your zucchini are looking sad and wilted because you bought them a week ago. This isn't a huge worry for us right now because the produce I get here usually stays fresh longer than a week. In New York, for some reason, things went bad more quickly, so I really had to keep that in mind.

OK, this is my menu. The number after each recipe is the page number in the cookbook. (If I use more than one cookbook, I use little abbreviated designations like "AFR 80" or "VYY 43.") That way, when it is time to cook, I can flip right to the page.

Saturday - eating out
Sunday - Butternut Coconut Rice (80), Pineapple Collards (93), Blackened Tofu (147)
Monday - Cauliflower Pesto Soup (211), fingerling potatoes with rosemary
Tuesday - Chili Lime Tofu (155), Shaved Brussels (92), Creamed Corn (94)
Wednesday - Smoky Split Pea Soup (223)
Thursday - Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad (45)
Friday - eating at relatives
Also going to make - kale chips, chocolate tofu mousse

I don't make a breakfast or lunch menu. Tony rarely comes home for lunch, and the kids and I typically eat leftovers or graze on whatever we feel like. So I just take a minute to think about what we might want to eat, and make sure to write down anything we need, such as sandwich bread or chickpeas for making hummus.

At the same time I'm writing my menu, I am making my grocery list below it. I look at each recipe and write down any ingredients I don't have. Often this involves getting up and checking the pantry to make sure. Then I check the dry-erase board in the kitchen, where we jot down staple foods as we run out of them. After adding those items, my list is finished.

This week's list:

1 pineapple
3 ears corn
1 sm. red onion
1 med. onion
Brussels sprouts
1 butternut squash
1 shallot
Big piece ginger
3 limes
1 lb. collards
1 cauliflower
1 cucumber
4 oz. string beans
2 c. mixed greens
1 red pepper
3 tofu (2 firm, 1 silken)

Lime juice
Split peas
Granola bars
Spaghetti sauce
Tortilla chips
Pickled jalapenos

That's my list for the supermarket. I try to write it in the order that the items are arranged in the store, but usually I just end up having two columns -- one for produce and one for everything else. I don't need any "specialty" ingredients like nutritional yeast this week. But when I do, I make a separate little list for the health food store.

I do my grocery shopping on Thursday or Friday. I hate going on the weekends because it's so busy. During the week, even though I have the kids with me, I can get in and get out a lot faster.

This is just the way I do it -- I know everyone has their own method. For me, these steps make grocery shopping as painless as it can be while pushing two toddlers around in the "race car" a.k.a. the Hummer of shopping carts.

Some suggest immediately washing and prepping all your veggies as soon as you get home. That is a great tip because then everything is ready and waiting in the fridge.  The kids are usually demanding lunch by the time we get home from the store, so I wait and wash my produce that evening or the next day. It's a time saver for sure. If you wash all your greens at once, you only have to wash the salad spinner once, instead of every time you eat greens that week.

 I love a freshly-stocked fruit bowl, don't you?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Souper Summer

Summer brought its beautiful self to Texas in the form of much-needed thunderstorms and temperatures in the low 70s. Aw, summer! I already love you, but that was much appreciated.

After long hours playing outside, we made soup, two nights in a row. Don't worry, Jackson washed his hands first.

Olivia took her usual supervisory spot in the center of the kitchen. Look at the attitude on this one. Nobody puts baby in the corner.

Jackson feels that his "two spoons" stirring method produces superior soup results. Who am I to argue?

Tortilla Soup

Summer Lovin' Curried Corn & Veggie Chowder

Both recipes were from Appetite for Reduction. I'm gonna cook from it all next week, too. Can't seem to put it down. In the tortilla soup, I subbed chickpeas for the pinto beans, due to my allergy. Chickpeas work in everything and I never get tired of them. The corn chowder was so rich. You wouldn't think it came from a "diet" cookbook, not at all.  I would be thrilled to be served this soup in a restaurant. And I don't typically order soup in restaurants. Because it always costs like $5 a bowl, so I'm like, "Eh, it's just soup." I would pay $5 for this soup.

I would pay more than $5 for more rain. But even without it, we will be enjoying this summer to the fullest. Swimming, lemonade, picnics, fireworks, cooking out, road trips. Each morning I step outside with Monster and breathe in that green, grassy scent in the air. Yay, summer! You're here!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

9 Years

In addition Father's Day on Sunday, Tony and I had another celebration marked on our calendar this week -- our 9th wedding anniversary. It's actually today, but we got a sitter the other night and went out to dinner.

For our destination, Tony chose Moonshine, located downtown.  It's a really cute restaurant and I was looking forward to their good (strong) drinks. Once seated, we enjoyed their powerful
air-conditioning (did I mention we parked a few blocks away and it was 102 degrees out?) and I enjoyed my ice-cold vodka lemonade.

For our appetizer we had grilled artichokes with pimento pepper sauce.

Yeah, I didn't know it came sprinkled with parmesan, but it was easy to pick off.

We had never eaten whole artichokes before.  They are so much fun to eat. You have to tear into each leaf with your teeth and suck the flesh off.  We imagined that we looked like vicious wild animals to our fellow diners. But then we realized a lot of other tables were ordering the artichoke, too, so we weren't the only ones making goofy faces.

For my entree I had the "Bohemian" sandwich with portobello mushroom, red onion, tomato, arugula, and balsamic and sundried tomato pesto. It came with some giant French fries that were pretty tasty. The sandwich was OK, but the pesto made the bottom piece of bread soggy. Like, it was already soggy when it was served to me, which seemed odd. I discarded the soggy piece and ate it as an open-faced sandwich. 

After dinner, we walked around downtown. This is something we have always liked to do together -- wander around, talk, take in the sights and the people. These days, we are usually pushing strollers, but on this night it was just the two of us.  We could even hold hands! We came across this art on the side of a building, which seemed appropriate for the occasion.

I know Tony won't read this, but happy anniversary babe.  Love you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jackson's New "Toy"

This weekend, in addition to celebrating Father's Day with Tony, Jackson and I had some one-on-one time. This is our weekend tradition where Tony and I each take one of the kids for a few hours for some fun and bonding. It feels great to focus on just one kid at a time and make them feel special.

One of the things Jackson and I did was check out a 25-cent sale at a thrift store. I told Jackson he could pick out some things, whatever he liked.  A lot cheaper than Toys R Us, eh? Anyway, he's one of those little boys who doesn't care about things that are designated as toys.  He would rather make his own toys out of pots and pans, old clocks, a broom, you name it.  So it didn't surprise me when he immediately gravitated to a somewhat unusual object at the thrift store.

Sure, he humored me by checking out the toy selection, but I knew he had already given his heart to that old bike helmet. So it came home with us and he wore it all day. He was so pleased. I think somebody needs a bicycle for his birthday (and maybe a helmet that actually fits him.)

We also found something to add to Tony's little Father's Day gift pile. He makes his own salsas and he was happy to page through this for some new inspiration.

I'm not sure what Tony and Olivia did while we were out running around, but I don't think they just sat around. When I got home and gave Olivia some lunch, she ate a few bites and then this happened.

Tuckered out!

For dinner, we couldn't stand the idea of using the stove (it was 105 degrees outside), so we ate wraps. Wraps are always a great solution when cooking is not happening. Mine had almond cheese, red pepper hummus, Veganaise, cherry tomatoes, pickles, romaine lettuce, and pickled jalapenos.  Do you think I could have stuffed a few more things in there? Ha.

Hope you had a nice weekend!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

Jackson and Olivia got up early this morning and helped me make a special breakfast for their daddy. At Tony's request, we made peanut butter and banana stuffed French toast, with tempeh bacon.

This was something we ate for breakfast while on vacation in San Diego a couple years ago at a restaurant called Cafe 222. It's funny -- when we were planning our trip, we talked to a few different friends who'd been to San Diego, and they all told us to go eat breakfast at Cafe 222 and have the peanut butter banana stuffed French toast. So I guess it's pretty popular. It was definitely memorable.

That was our first vacation as parents. It was also Tony's very first Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day, Tony! I'm so grateful for all you do to give these babies the best childhood and make them feel unconditionally loved.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Giddy Up

Kids' brains fascinate me. Jackson has never ridden a horse. He's only seen a real horse once or twice. He's seen them in books and on TV, but never shown a real interest. Now, all of a sudden, he's getting the broom out of the closet every chance he gets and riding his "horsey" all around the house!

How do they come up with these ideas, without any kind of suggestion? I don't know, I just think it's really neat. I never spent a great deal of time around little kids before I had my own. Sometimes I feel like a scientist observing these two tiny alien creatures all day long to discover their thought patterns and behaviors.  It's amazing what they seem to "know" without being told. They are always watching and listening, though. Little sponges.

That is one reason why I like to have them in the kitchen with me. I don't have any grand ideas about them becoming famous vegan chefs because they helped me make pasta salad as toddlers, but I'd like them to enjoy and appreciate food and take an interest in how it is prepared.

Last night Jackson helped me make the Garden Rotini from Vegan on the Cheap. He added the different veggies to the bowl, and stirred it all together. I subbed almonds for cashews in the goddess dressing this time around. Aren't pasta salads the best in summer? I eat it cold right out of the fridge.

This morning we met up with another mama for a play date. As I positioned Olivia in the baby swing, I realized it was her first time on a swing! Jackson and I spent tons of time at the playground last summer, but Olivia was too little. Now she gets to try it out. She loved it! Jackson got bored after a minute and wanted to get down and run around, but Miss O was happy to swing back and forth.

Jackson prefers slides over swings these days.

After we got home, we did some more cooking together. First we made lamingtons.

A few weeks ago, I won a giveaway for the Quick and Easy Vegan Bake Sale cookbook. I asked the author, Carla Kelly, which recipe I should start with, and she said that the lamingtons were a favorite among her testers.  I hadn't heard of lamingtons, but apparently they are a popular treat in Australia. Squares of vanilla sponge cake are dipped in chocolate icing, then in shredded coconut.

I have to say, I was really impressed that I baked something that turned out looking this good.  Kind of shocked, actually! 

I'm not much of a sweets baker, but Carla's directions were very easy to follow and the results were beautiful. And tasty! These would be great for a kids' party, work potluck, or, yes, a bake sale! Thanks to Carla and her publisher, The Experiment, for doing the giveaway! I can't wait to try some other recipes from this book.

My sous-chefs and I weren't quite finished in the kitchen.  For dinner we made the Arabian Lentil & Rice Soup from Appetite for Reduction.

So good. It's my favorite recipe from AfR and that's saying a lot because there are so many winners. Cumin-y, lemony, creamy (from the cooked-down red lentils), amazing.

Olivia agrees.

Jackson enjoyed the fruits of his labors, too, but he had to eat and run.

A boy and his horsey, galloping off into the sunset.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tacos and Snowballs

Today was once again declared "too hot to cook," and we went out to eat at El Chile. I remembered getting drinks at this place a couple of times when I lived in Austin before. Specifically, I remembered them having an awesome black salsa, made with roasted, charred tomatoes. My memory did not fail me. 

That's Jackson on his third bowl.

I ordered the veggie puffy tacos. They weren't that great. The puffy taco shells were greasy and soggy. I ended up just eating the veggies and leaving the shells. I'd go back to El Chile for the chips and salsa and drinks, but maybe go somewhere else to eat.

Afterwards, we headed over to Casey's New Orleans Snowballs for a special treat. Casey's caught my eye when I was checking out Lazy Smurf's guide to vegan frozen treats in Austin. "What is a snowball?" I wondered.

Now that I know the answer to that question, my summer is going to be that much more awesome. A snowball is a little different (better) than a snow cone. The ice is super finely shaved and totally doused in flavor syrup.  It just melts in your mouth.

I got mango flavor. They have tons of fruit flavors, and also some cream flavors that are probably not vegan. Jackson and Olivia chose bubblegum and coconut flavors, and happily sucked them down. These things are sooooo sweet. I got a junior size and couldn't quite finish it. But man are they good.  A sugary frozen treat once in awhile is what summer, and childhood, is all about.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Some Food I Made This Week

I haven't felt much like cooking this week. It's hot out and stuff.  But here are a couple of dinners that I managed to put together and felt worthy of committing to blog-memory.

Cooking out -- veggie burgers, corn with garlic butter, grilled peaches.

Spelt crust pizza with cashew cheeze, tomatoes, basil from my garden, and grilled corn left over from the night before.

I made another batch of kale chips in the dehydrator, this time using Averie's recipe. I've made them in the oven before, but this way is so much better. Oven chips have to be eaten right away or they get soggy, but these keep in the fridge for days. My dehydrator cost $60 and it's going to pay for itself in kale chips, in no time at all.

I had a couple of dehydrator failures this week as well. I tried making the rye bread and corn tortillas from Ani's Raw Food Essentials. After ten hours of dehydrating, they were still goopy and messy, and tasted pretty gross. I don't own a fancy Excalibur dehydrator like Ani uses, so maybe something was lost there. But I did get good results with her eggplant bacon.  I'm looking forward to having it on BLT's for lunches this week.

Thoughts on dehydrating so's nice to not have to turn the oven on or mess up any pots and pans. But it's labor-intensive in other ways. Cashews have to be pre-soaked in bowls. The food processor gets used a lot. And the dehydrator screens must be cleaned after use. So there is still dishwashing to be done. Also, pre-planning is a must. If you think you might want some kale chips for lunch tomorrow, you best get on that tonight. And don't wait too long because you can't leave the dehydrator running and go to bed!

 I hope today is less eventful than yesterday. A guy hit my car in the H-E-B parking lot. He backed into me and I couldn't go anywhere because there was another car right behind me. Luckily, me and the kids are totally fine and there is just a minor scrape on my bumper. The man was Canadian, so of course he apologized like 20 times and that was actually kind of funny.