Archive forNovember, 2011

Lima Bean Soup

Thanksgiving is my father’s favorite holiday. My mother does not like to cook (and my father does not cook), so I think Thanksgiving may be her least favorite holiday. But no one wants to disappoint my dad, and no restaurants are going to have anything for me and Mark, so my mother continues to make Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, everyone’s problems would be solved if I were allowed to host Thanksgiving dinner since I love to cook and I love hosting dinner parties, but that’s a rather Renae-centric perspective because I’m pretty sure my father would counter there’d be the problem of a lack of a dead turkey. ANYWAY, I’m trying to help ease the burden on my mother and aunt by bringing whatever I can. This year one of the things I offered to bring was succotash.

Now, in prior years I would never have made such an offer, because lima beans, gross! But then a couple of years ago I found fresh lima beans at the farmers market and learned I do like lima beans. In fact, not too long ago, I made succotash – the single part of Thanksgiving I despised as a child – and loved it. So I said I could make succotash this year, IF I could use dried baby limas instead of the nasty frozen ones. But I’ve never made it from dried beans before, so today as a trial I soaked and cooked some of those dried baby limas, mixed a few with some corn and Earth Balance, and tried to decide if I thought there was a chance my family would eat it. It tasted fine, but I haven’t yet admitted to Mom that dried limas are white, not green like the frozen ones, so not only is it an extremely boring looking dish, it may be too different-looking to pass muster with my father. I’m thinking about adding some chopped scallions for Thanksgiving, though, to give it color.

That’s a very long way of telling you that today I had a mess of cooked baby limas and nothing to do with them. Actually, they’d have been fine just waiting for Thursday so I guess I didn’t have to do anything with them. But I like cooking a whole bunch of things at once for holidays, so I’d just as soon cook another batch of limas on Wednesday. (Is that weird?) Today’s limas went in…well, if you’ve been reading long enough, you know. Soup. If I don’t know what to do with something, it’s soup. Soup, soup, lovely soup. Oh 8-year old Renae, how I love to confound you with my lima bean creations.

Lima Bean Soup

8 oz dried baby lima beans
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped (I included some leaves, too)
3 medium carrots, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 oz white wine
14.5 oz tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried thyme
4 cups vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Note: I cooked my lima beans separately from the soup because I was trying them in a different dish as well. You could also simply cook the limas in the soup, adding 30-60 minutes to the soup cooking time as needed.

Soak the lima beans overnight in cold water, or pour boiling water over them and “quick soak” for an hour or two. Drain, then cook in fresh water to cover until done. I think it took about 45 minutes for mine; maybe not even that.

Chop all the vegetables, then heat some oil in a Dutch oven and add the onions, celery, and carrot. Cook until soft, then add the garlic and cook another minute or two. Deglaze the pot with the wine. Add the chopped tomatoes and thyme and cook for another minute or two, then add the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then add the limas.

Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. This is particularly good with a nice crusty bread and salad.

In cat news, Gomez gave us a scare last night when he didn’t appear for cat dinner. Mark searched the house while I went outside in the cold desperately calling his name. Eventually I went back inside in full panic mode and started randomly opening closet doors I knew Mark had already searched. I was talking to Mark and absentmindedly opened a dresser drawer…and out sprung Gomez like a jack-in-the-box! Which was both astonishing and a tremendous relief, although I’d like to know why he didn’t ANSWER US when we called him. Apparently he just sat in there in oblivion for 45 minutes. Well, other than the psychic “meow” he sent me. I had thought I heard a faint meow just before getting up to get their dinner, and I said to Mark, “Gomez is trapped somewhere!”, in fact, that’s why I got up to get their dinner. But Mark hadn’t heard it and didn’t think anything of it until Mez didn’t appear for his food. If Gomez HAD meowed from the dresser, I couldn’t possibly have heard him in the room I was in, so I guess my brain was just sending me a signal he was in trouble. It was weird. Here are some pictures of Gomez NOT trying to give me a heart attack.

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Chipotle Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

For dinner tonight I got the idea to combine sweet potatoes and baby kale. It seemed very autumnal. I gave the internet a half-hearted search for ideas, but didn’t come up with much. Sweet potatoes and kale are not an unheard-of pairing, but a lot of the recipes I came across were soups or stews and I was worried about overwhelming my delicate baby kale. During the search, I did find an intriguing non-kale recipe, however: Smoked Chile Scalloped Sweet Potatoes.

The only problem? I think heavy cream is gross. It’s not even the vegan thing, although obviously it’s off limits because of that. Maybe it’s because I was raised on skim milk and I don’t recall ever even having cream of any sort, but I just think heavy cream – especially in a savory recipe – is disgusting. (I also tried whole milk once – before I was vegan, of course, – and almost threw up.) I don’t even want to substitute for it; I just think the idea of putting it or anything that is remotely like it in my food is abhorrent. And heavy cream is a pretty big component of that recipe. Fortunately, my vegan sub doesn’t just make the recipe safe for those who prefer not to eat animal products, it also makes it much healthier and a lot less…gross.

I cut this back to serve two as a side dish. If you’re serving more, feel free to double it.

Chipotle Scalloped Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from The Food Network

1 medium to large sweet potato, sliced thinly
1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used hemp, and not only that, I only had 3/4 a cup left so I thinned it out with 1/4 cup water, which was even better for making this dish as little like heavy cream as possible)
1 – 2 tsp chipotle powder, depending on your heat preference
1 tsp vegan vegetarian or “chicken” bouillon
2 Tbsp Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix (you really want to have some of this stuff lying around at all times)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peel and slice the sweet potato about 1/8″ thick. A mandolin is a huge help here as uniform slices will look best and also cook evenly.

See? Nice and uniform:

Whisk together the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl.

In a small baking dish, layer a row of slightly overlapping sweet potato slices.

Add additional layers until all slices are used up.

Pour the “milk” mixture over the sweet potato slices.

Cover and bake for 45 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft.

Since I wasn’t putting them together in a single dish, I just simply sauteed the baby kale in a little olive oil with garlic and seasoned with salt and pepper. This was my first time trying baby kale. It’s gorgeous.

Baby kale is every bit as awesome as I expected it to be.

I didn’t cook the sweet potatoes and baby kale together, but you can be sure I ATE them together. I’m one of those people that happily mushes everything on their plate together – I don’t understand people who have “food touching” issues – but the sweet potatoes and kale were particularly awesome together. Also served with barley pilaf from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Mark said the sweet potatoes were great; “surprisingly great”. The surprising part wasn’t that I made something great (I don’t think), it was that the sweet potatoes were spicy. And smoky. Chipotle-y! This was a really good meal.

Halloween was a couple of weeks ago, but my friend Dave just sent me this lovely photograph, which he snapped Saturday night. It’s Renae, The Happiest Zombie Ever.

Creepy? Okay, to make up for it, here’s a nice, non-creepy squirrel on our patio:

And here is a skunk who wants to come in. AND I WANT TO LET HIM IN BECAUSE HE’S AWESOME. But I’m not going to. No, I’m not. I swear. It’s wrong to invite skunks into your home. No matter how awesome they are.

Maybe he could just come in for 5 minutes?

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Chole Saag

Mark’s been sick this week and wasn’t up for dinner tonight. Long-time readers may know that when Mark doesn’t eat dinner, dinner is Indian! I’d been planning a nice autumn meal of seitan, kale, and delicata squash before he announced he wasn’t hungry, so I decided to save it for tomorrow instead of eating it alone. But then I eyed up the kale and considered how much I’d been looking forward to eating it…so I didn’t put it away.

Like a lot of my Indian meals, because they are generally impromptu affairs born of Mark’s refusal of dinner, this recipe was made up on the fly using ingredients I had on hand and needed to use up. I’d done a really smart thing Sunday afternoon after returning home from LA: I cooked up a pound of dried chickpeas, reserving some for salads, and freezing the rest. I also cooked up a large batch of rice and portioned it into single serving sizes, which were also frozen, ready for me to grab for a quick meal down the road. Tonight that quick meal was realized.

Chole Saag

1/2 large or 1 small onion, small dice
about 1″ of ginger, grated
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 bunch kale, chopped into fairly small pieces
8 oz spinach, also chopped into fairly small pieces
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water, plus additional (I start with 1/2 cup broth and add plain water)
salt to taste (I used Indian black salt, but regular old salt is fine)
asafoetida to taste (optional; I love the stuff)
lemon wedges, for serving

In a large pan, pot, or wok, heat some oil over medium high heat, then add the onions, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, turmeric, garam masala, and asafoetida if desired. Cook until soft, then add the kale. Stir and cook down slightly, then add the spinach. Stir and cook down again, then reduce heat to medium and add about 1/2 cup broth or water and the chickpeas. Cook for about 20 minutes, adding 1/4 cup of water or broth periodically if it looks dry. Salt to taste. Serve over basmati rice with lemon wedges.

Since I didn’t take prep photos (I didn’t know it would be blog-worthy!), this post seems uncharacteristically short. To make up for it, here are some pictures I took shortly before our vacation, when I spotted a cardinal outside the window taking a bath in an overturned planter. Not the greatest pictures since I was taking them through both a screen and dirty glass, but the subject is pretty.

I wasn’t the only one charmed!

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A brief overview of onigiri, and Los Angeles

Those of you who live in the US may have heard (or dealt with) about the slightly freakish snow the East Coast got last Saturday (it doesn’t usually snow in October in the mid-Atlantic region). Ordinarily this is something I would have been loudly whining about – probably right here in this blog – but as it turns out, Mark and I left for LA Friday night and missed the whole ordeal. Yes, it was snowing at home and I was in California enjoying sunshine and 90-degree temperatures. Boy, was that a great feeling.

For our late evening flight, I prepared onigiri (rice balls), which is perfect travel food. I wish I had taken pictures while preparing it, but I was busy getting ready for the trip. Next time I’ll take pictures and do a real post, but really it’s so easy, you don’t need much of a tutorial. And as with most things Japanese, there is little point in me doing a tutorial when Maki of Just Hungry has one that can’t be beat.

To summarize, though, I used a mold similar to this one (Maki’s tutorial explains how to do it without a mold). Just prepare some sushi rice, but don’t cool it and don’t season it as you would sushi – just cook it. Then stir in some salt to taste. Next, fill the mold a little more than half way with rice, then (optionally), make an indentation in the middle of the rice and add about a teaspoon of filling. The filling can really be just about anything as long as it’s not too wet. I used pickled radishes this time. Umeboshi is traditional and I often use it, but I was afraid Mark wouldn’t like it and didn’t want to worry about marking what was in each onigiri. Then fill the rest of the mold with rice, put the top on the mold, and push together. Then unmold – my mold has tabs on it that facilitate pushing the onigiri out.

Finally, and this is also optional, wrap the onigiri in nori, which you can cut out into fun shapes. For traveling, I then wrapped each onigiri in plastic wrap. Unless you use a mayonnaise-y filling, these will be safe at room temperature for quite some time, which is one of the many reasons they are so great for traveling. Other reasons include: you eat them with your fingers, they are filling, they are healthy, and they are super-portable.

For maximum fun, be decorative with the nori.

And now time to bombard you with pictures, though I will try to keep them mostly food- and animal-related. Last year I went totally nutso over the food in LA. As the Angelenos would say, it’s amazing. Here is an example of how amazing: Monday night Fort and Mark and I were at an event, after which we were meeting friends in Silver Lake. I was hungry and my friend warned me there was no food at the bar we were going to and so urged me to find something on the way. I figured that would be a hopeless cause, as we were in a hurry. Then, a block from the bar we drove by a restaurant called Vegan House. There wasn’t anything else around, just a random, open vegan restaurant with, of course, awesome food. There is no need to plan your meals in LA if you are vegan: vegan food is EVERYWHERE. (Except the airport. I hate LAX.)

Another example: I was browsing thrift and book stores near Fort’s new apartment in Echo Park and walked by an ice cream shop. I had really liked the book store I was in and thought how neat it would be if this ice cream shop a few doors down had anything vegan. Turns out it was ALL vegan. That’s LA: I think it might actually be harder to NOT be vegan there.

So anyway, here’s a little recap of my trip. I managed to forget to take pictures of many of my meals – despite the fact I lugged my new camera everywhere – but I did get a few. Saturday Fort took us for a walk through nearby Elysian Park. I love this picture I took of a lizard because he’s looking right up at me and I swear, SMILING! (I have another photo where he’s NOT looking at me or smiling, which makes me all the more sure that’s what he’s doing in this one.)

We hit up wine country on Sunday, where Mark made a new friend …

… as did I.

The views were almost as great as the animals.

Oh yeah, the wine was pretty awesome, too.

Even if I had to share.

Monday night was not only the best holiday of the year, it was Mark’s and my 7-year anniversary. Do you know who we were??

Tuesday we again met up with our friends, who suggested we check out Mohawk Bend. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of our food because it was very dark but I did snap a shot of the menu because I thought it was really cool that everything is “vegan unless marked” otherwise, instead of the other way around! Not only that but they have separate kitchens for the vegan and non-vegan stuff. Everything was delicious here and the drink selection was terrific.

I chased a few cats around throughout the week. There are a particularly high number of them in Venice, where we went Wednesday.

Because I am a great wife, I suggested we go to Disneyland on Thursday, as Mark LOVES Disney. Disneyland fun, see?

Disneyland also vegan-friendly! Vegan gumbo in New Orleans! In a sourdough boule! If you’ve ever tried to find vegan food in a non-Disney theme park, you know how incredible this sort of thing is. It was good and very, very filling. Just what you need to fuel an action-packed day.

The rides are super-fun at Disney …

… but Mark found it very typical that I took more pictures of the ducks than anything else.

Disneyland and Disney World are kinda the same and kinda different. The castles…very different. Like Disneyland in general, it’s much smaller, for one thing.

After a long, hard day of Disneying, we were starving, so I checked my phone for vegan-friendly restaurants in Anaheim. Tana Ethiopian got good reviews and I love, love, love Ethiopian, so away we went! Veggie soup:


Friday the unthinkable happened: it RAINED! Actually, I didn’t have a problem with this, other than the fact that LA drivers are even worse in the rain than they normally are, and normally they are even worse than Northern Virginia drivers, who I previously thought were the worst. Mark and I took it easy and stayed local while Fort was in school, though. Which was fine because it gave me a chance to check out Sage Bistro, which was great.

A bright respite from the rain. The counter up front actually contains the vegan ice cream I mentioned earlier.

Mark’s Cobb salad:

My tuna melt with German potato salad:

The snails come out when it rains in LA.

Our final day was yesterday, Saturday. Fort insisted we go to his favorite beach, Malibu. I’ll let the pictures do the talking: gorgeous!

And that was our trip…and also an explanation of where I’ve been during my lull in posting. I’ve really missed Fort and V and am already looking forward to returning to LA, but in the meantime I’m glad to be home with Gomez and Torticia…if slightly less glad to be going back to work tomorrow!

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