Sunday, June 29, 2008

Big Salad of the Week and Lentils &Rice

I think as long as we're getting so many salad greens from the CSA, I'll do a "Big Salad of the Week" post each week. I think it's fun! Hmmmm. I was thinking they would always involve tofu, but I just started thinking of making some chickpea cutlets, but cutting them into strips and making a "chick'n salad." One like you'd get in a restaurant with chicken tenders on it. I may do that at some point. Or, making some black bean burgers and doing something similar. With a homemade chipotle ranch dressing. I may have to do one of those this week. Okay, enough of the daydreaming and on to food that I've already made.

So, this week's big salad was a barbeque tofu salad with homemade croutons. I made the Backyard BBQ sauce from V-con, and just used the Baked BBQ Tofu from the same cookbook. It's a fantastic BBQ sauce. Much better than your run-of-the mill bottled, store-bought kind. So easy to make too. For the croutons, I bought a loaf of french bread from the supermarket deli. I sliced the bread, peeled off the crust, and cut the bread slices into cubes. I put them in a large bowl and drizzled just a little oil on them, sprinkled with sea salt and garlic powder, and baked them at 350 degrees until lightly brown. I'm guessing it was 20-25 minutes? They were very good croutons. Usually the croutons you get in a restaurant or store are a little greasy, but not these. Perfectly crisp without too much oil. For the dressing...I didn't have everything I needed to make my homemade ranch, so I cheated and used Newman's Own ranch. I mixed it with a little bbq sauce to make a tasty BBQ ranch.

The next night, I made the Lentils & Rice recipe from V-con. It's a really easy, one-pot meal. Pretty much toss the water, lentils rice and seasonings into the pot and cook them. At the end, you fold in some onions which have roasted in the oven and become very brown/black and caramelized. I was worried that it would be a bit bland, but it was perfectly spiced and one of my favorite things I've made recently. To go with it, I threw together a simple side salad with a honey-dijon dressing. I mixed about a TBS of honey, a TBS dijon mustard, a dollop of Vegenaise and a splash of cider vinegar. Whisk it together, and you have a very tasty dressing. You can make it according to your taste too. For a sweeter dressing, just add a little extra honey. If you like it spicier, just add some more dijon. You could even make it extra creamy by adding some extra mayo.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Six Penn Kitchen

As I mentioned in my previous post, Sleek, the kids and I headed to Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon to check out the Three Rivers Arts Festival. As part of the festival, The Avett Brothers played a free concert in downtown Pittsburgh that evening. We're fans, so there's no way we could turn down a free show!

I searched the internet for a good, kid-friendly restaurant downtown. I finally found Six Penn Kitchen. The menu looked fantastic, and the prices were very reasonable. They also focus on fresh, local ingredients, and you know I'm always impressed by that. They recommend reservations, and even have an online reservation form that makes it so easy. No phone call required, and instant confirmation. If the time you want isn't available, it instantly gives you other times to choose from.

We got to the restaurant, and it really has a nice atmosphere. Not too fancy, but very nice, with an open kitchen. We were seated in a large booth with a window looking out onto the street. The kids really liked being able to look out at a city street from our table. We decided to get some onion rings to share for an appetizer. Julian loves onion rings, and he knew they were on the menu. We didn't really have a choice in the matter! When the onion rings were brought out, we about fell over. It was the biggest pile of onion rings I've ever seen! They were very thinly sliced, and served with a mango ketchup. Best onion rings ever! They also brought out their house-made foccacia and crackers along with some herbed butter. These were also fantastic.

For my entree, I decided on the beet salad and skillet cornbread with molasses butter. The beet salad had fresh greens, orange sections, spiced pecans, and feta. Oh, and beets of course. The dressing was an orange-y vinaigrette. I managed to eat the entire salad, but the skillet of cornbread was much larger than I expected. I ate a small wedge, and had to get the rest boxed up to bring home. The cornbread was some of the best I've had. It had some jalepenos which gave it a little kick, and the top had a few sprinkles of brown sugar which added a nice sweetness. I told Sleek that I didn't think it would be the last time we ate at Six Penn! He agreed.

Sleek ordered the lobster mac n' cheese, which he loved. He was able to eat the entire thing, even after all the onion rings! Julian had a grilled cheese, which was served with a stack of fries that was nearly as large as the stack of onion rings. Annelies had pasta (their house-made pasta) with marinara. The portions were HUGE compared to the price. When you go to a restaurant like that, you just don't expect the portions to be that big. You could easily make a meal from just a salad and appetizer. I'm already thinking about what I'll order next time!

The Avett Brothers show was really cool. There was a good-sized crowd there, but everyone was very mellow. Lots of babies and kids. Julian totally rocked out, and had a bit of an audience himself. More concerts for him! I would like to check out more of the festival activities next year. I know they have lots of great kids' activities that mine would enjoy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lettuce, Anyone?

Lettuce and greens seem to be the focus right now since we're getting them in abundance from the CSA. It's fun to try to come up with new things to do with that. I've been trying to do one big salad for a meal each week. They seem to usually involve tofu. Thankfully, the co-op is once again stocked with Spring Creek tofu. Whew! We can all breathe a sigh of relief about that.

Let's start with last Tuesday's dinner, which was black-bean lettuce cups. Talk about an easy meal to throw together. I heated up a can of rinsed, drained black beans with a can of drained, fire-roasted diced tomatoes. I added some chili powder, cumin and tad of agave nectar. Oh, and salt and pepper too. I let them simmer for a while while I washed and dried the lettuce leaves. I'm not sure exactly what kind of lettuce it was, but it was perfect to use as cups for the beans. I scooped some of the beans/tomatoes into a leaf and topped with bit of Tofutti sour cream and guacamole. Very, very tasty. Lettuce wraps/cups pretty much rule, and you can really get creative with the fillings.

Wednesday night was big-salad night. This week, I did an Asian-style salad. I started by pressing my block of tofu for about an hour. After it was well drained, I sliced it in 1/4 inch slices and marinated it in a mixture of mirin, shoyu, rice vinegar, agave nectar, Thai chili sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper. I let it marinate for 30 minutes, then flipped the slices over for 30 more minutes. Then, I put it on a baking sheet and baked it at 375 for 20 minutes, then flipped and gave it another 10. I let it cool just a bit, and put it on a nice pile of fresh greens. I added some fried rice-noodles (from a can). Those things definitely aren't healthy, but they sure do add a nice crunch to a salad. I made an Asian vinaigrette to go on the salad:

1 inch piece of ginger
a clove of garlic
2 TBS tamari
2 TBS rice vinegar
a little squirt of agave
1 TBS sesame oil.

Give it a good whirl, and there you go.

Okay, my last greens were used making the Popeye Pasta from ED&bV. You can use any type of pasta with this. (I used whole-wheat rotini.) The sauce is very simple: Onion, lots of garlic, white wine, crushed tomatoes, and whatever Italian herbs you like. (I like to use dried oregano and basil. I'd use fresh if I had them.) I used my perpetual spinach (chard) from the CSA. It was a pretty hefty bag, and I used the whole thing. It's leaves are tougher than those of spinach, so it really held up well in this dish. It lent the dish an earthier flavor which was really nice.

On Saturday, Sleek, the kids and I headed up to Pittsburgh to take in some of the Three Rivers Arts Festival, which included a free concert by The Avett Brothers. We had dinner at a really fantastic restaurant before the show. I'm going to do a post about it tomorrow, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Happy Birthday, Julian!

Yesterday my little guy turned four. FOUR! I can't believe it's been four years since I woke up at 5 a.m. and thought I may be in labor. After the stressful event of nearly giving birth to Annelies in the car, I had decided that if I thought I was in labor with Julian, I was heading to the hospital. My midwife agreed. So, off we went. I thought they would tell me it was going to be a while, and send me back home. Imagine my surprise when my midwife told me I was a good 7 cm dilated. Shocked! I was fortunate to have a very nice, relaxed and peaceful labor. Julian was born just after noon. He's a really sweet little fella. (When he's not being a little demon.)

He was lucky enough to have two birthday celebrations. The first one was at my parents' house on Saturday. He had a Spiderman ice-cream cake from Cold Stone Creamery. It was pretty good, but I prefer homemade cakes. He loved the novelty of the cake, though, so it was really cool.

Yesterday, we had a small party here and invited just a few friends. I made some baked beans, macaroni salad and cupcakes. We also had hummus, guacamole, chips, veggies, fruit, etc. I'm going to re-post my baked bean recipe here because a couple of the guests requested the recipe. It is a modified version of the recipe my mom has always used for baked beans.

2 large cans (28 oz?) of Vegetarian Bush's Baked Beans
1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 jar of Newman's Own pineapple salsa
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup ketchup
a couple squirts of mustard
1 TBS of molasses (Optional. I've made them without and they're just as good.)

Mix everything up in a large baking dish. Bake covered for 2 hours at 375 degrees. Uncover and bake for an hour or so, or until the sauce thickens up.

For the cupcakes, I went with two vegan versions. A plain chocolate with plain buttercream frosting. I found the recipe for the cupcakes and the frosting here, but I think it's from Vegan Cupcakes Rule the World. I also made the Coconut Heaven Cupcakes from VWaV. I didn't eat any of the chocolate ones, but the kids seemed to really like them. The coconut cupcakes were just off the hook. I'll be making them again for sure. Like soon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cookies, Pizza, A Big Salad and Chili Dogs

Last Friday was Annelies's last day of kindergarten. I can't believe the school-year flew by so fast. My little girl is a first-grader now. It truly makes my heart ache. Although, since last Friday, I've spent my days playing mediator for the kids. When they aren't fighting, they're zipping around the house. Trashing the place and screeching. I may very well lose my mind before the end of summer. Maybe once we get into a routine, things will run smoother. For now, though, I feel like I can't get a single bit of work done and I want to go to bed at 8 o'clock at night. I'm worn out already!

To celebrate her last day of school, I made her favorite sugar cookies and her favorite dinner, "Mama's homemade pizza!" I didn't do too much cooking the rest of the weekend since Sleek was out of town. I had lots of salad mix and fresh spinach from the CSA, so I did eat a good bit of salad. Wondering what to do with my bunch of fresh chives, I decided to try a vegan ranch dressing. It turned out to be excellent. Here's what I did:

3/4 cup soy milk with a good splash of cider vinergar. Let it sit for a few minutes until it curdles.
3 TBS Vegenaise
a good pinch of sugar (You can make it on the sweeter side, or not. Just whatever you like.)
pinch of salt
good pinch of dried parsley
black pepper

Whisk it all together, and there you go! It's best after it's been in the fridge overnight. The flavor of the chives really comes alive after a day or two.

When Sleek arrived home, I decided to make some buffalo tofu salads. After pressing the tofu, I sliced it and brushed both sides with a mixture of peanut oil and shoyu. I baked it at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Then I flipped it over and baked it for 15 minutes more. After that, I covered it in buffalo sauce and baked it for 15 more minutes. I let it cool a bit, then put some slices on the salads. I put some french fries on top, then followed with the ranch dressing. So good! A great way to use up the CSA salad greens. I figure on one big salad a week for dinner as long as we're getting this many greens. Oh, and I made the buffalo sauce by melting about 1/3 cup Earth Balance and adding 3/4 cups of hot sauce to that.

Last night, I went with an idea that Sleek had the first time he sank his teeth into a Snobby Joe. Veggie chili dogs. I bought some veggie dogs and made the very simple Snobby recipe as a chili. Add some mustard and chopped onions, and OMG! It's a vegan chili dog! Even better than the "real" thing. I made some of my vegan macaroni salad to go along with them. A true summer meal.

I'm at my parents' house for the next several days. My next post will be Julian's birthday post. My little guy will be 4 on Monday. 4!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Quesadillas, Foccacia, Pie and Thai Curry (Not All at Once!)

Summer is nearly here, and blogging becomes less of a priority. I think that's normal, right? We had our first CSA pickup on Tuesday. Due to a very wet, chilly May, it's off to a slow start. That's okay. It just means more for later. This week we got a nice bag of salad mix, a beautiful bunch of spinach, a nice bunch of radishes, and lots of fresh chives. Tomorrow I'm going to start using it up, so stay tuned for that. It all looks so beautiful!

We were once again out of town last weekend, and Sleek left today for a long weekend of fishing with his brother and friends. So, I haven't been doing a whole lot of cooking. So, I'll start with last week...

Sleek was working some long hours last week, so to save my sanity, I kept things pretty simple. Wednesday evening I made some veggie quesadillas. I diced an onion and red bell pepper and sauteed them with a bit of garlic until soft. Then I added a can of black beans (rinsed and drained), and a generous sprinkling of taco seasoning. Then I just spread it between some whole-grain tortillas and grilled it. Easy, yummy and relatively healthy!

I had been dying to make the foccacia that Carrie blogged about a couple weeks ago. She found it on the blog of Vegan Dad. Very easy recipe. It turned out great. I made a very simple spaghetti with olive oil and garlic and roasted asparagus to go with it. I can't wait to get a big bag of fresh basil from the CSA and make a nice pesto to slather on this foccacia. OMG. It will be so good!

Friday was the day we headed to my hometown. I decided to make a strawberry-rhubarb pie to take along. I had dough in the freezer that I had made last month, so it was a relatively simple operation. Here's how I made it:

3-4 cups rhubarb, sliced in 1/4 inch pieces
2 cups sliced strawberries
scant 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 TBS cornstarch
1 cup sugar
sprinkling of brown sugar
a few TBS chilled butter (or margarine) cut up to dot the filling

I filled the pie shell and topped with a complete top crust. (Not ready to attempt a lattice-top yet. Plus, I like lots of crust with a fruit pie.) I baked it at 475 degrees for about 15 minutes, then reduced the temp. to 375 degrees for another 45 minutes.

I had really been craving a Thai curry, so Tuesday evening I whipped one up. I started by lightly sauteeing an onion, green bell pepper, a few carrots and a couple cups of broccoli florets. I added in a good tablespoon of minced ginger and a couple large cloves of minced garlic. I let it sizzle for a minute of so, then added probably 2.5 tsp of Thai curry paste. I smashed it around a little, then added a can and a half of lite coconut milk. To that, I added about a tablespoon of brown sugar, a good pinch of tumeric and a pinch salt. Then I added about a cup of frozen green beans and brought it to a boil, reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. I made some coconut rice to go with it. Honestly, it was so good we just couldn't believe it. It had a nice sweet and spicy flavor to it. I'll certainly be making that one again!