Saturday, August 29, 2009

Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Seed Rice Paper Rolls

A rather long name for a pretty simple dish. I had never made anything with those spring rolls skins before, so yet another road untraveled in the cooking department. I'm always excited to be doing something new with cooking.

Overall impressions
Difficulty: Pretty darn easy, but a little delicate when rolling the skins up

Price: Reasonable. There aren't many ingredients.

Taste: Good. We weren't blown away, but it was light and tasty, especially the dipping sauce.

Cleanup: Easy.

With this dish I really saved on time by buying a bag of precut, precooked butternut squash, which I steamed for about 5 minutes. The book says the prep time is about an hour and 15 minutes. It was definitely less for me mostly because of bypassing the whole squash prep steps. However, I will say that a fresh squash probably would have had much more flavor. The frozen cubes seemed pretty bland to me. We've had better ones before, so it could have just been a bad bag.

Anyway, aside from that, before assembling the rolls, all there was to do was the cook some noodles and whip up the sauce.

I couldn't actually find the rice paper rolls so I bought my only option, which were some rolls made out of tapioca flour. I followed the instructions the same way (by dipping them in warm water) and they worked out perfectly.
I'm not one who enjoys delicate operations that require patience, but there's no avoiding it with the rolling step. But it really wasn't as delicate as I thought and it wasn't messy at all. I probably could have done a better job rolling them up as a couple of them opened up at the sides when eating, but all in all it wasn't a problem. Stickly noodles don't tend to slide out of sticky rolls.

For the two of us, it was a light yet filling meal. And healthy, too. Not one you want to have on a day you're craving comfort foods, so keep that in mind.

We thought of an alternative way of stuffing these next time, with little cubes of fried tofu, the noodles, ground peanut and maybe some green onion. And we'd definitley use the same dipping sauce.

This recipe is on page 59 in Veganomicon.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Recipe 3: Spaghetti and Beanballs

I was really excited to make this recipe. I'm a total pasta lover and love trying new "faux meat" dishes.

Overall impressions:

Difficulty factor: Simple
Price factor: Relatively inexpensive
Taste factor: Yum
Cleanup factor: Easy

We enjoyed this dish. I'd say Bryan enjoyed it more than I did, but mostly because I was hoping the beanballs would have a bit more give and chew to them. Bryan ain't down with that, so he really liked the softer, less chewy texture.

The homemade pasta sauce was extremely easy and very tasty. It felt very authentic and healthy. I've made tasty homemade sauce before, but it's smooth as I usually buy whole, canned tomatoes and add them and the other ingredients in a blender. So we appreciated the little pops of flavor with the chunks of tomato in this sauce.

Since this only called for 1/4 tsp of lemon zest, what I did was zest the entire lemon and freeze the rest of the zest. Why buy a whole lemon and only use part of it. Oh, and I also squeezed the juice and stored that in a little bottle for future use.

I also used a whole pound of pasta instead of 1/2. Hey, didn't I say we like our pasta? I was worried it would come out dry, but it was just about right for us. For most recipes that call for 1/2 pound of pasta, I usually use a whole pound and it almost always works out just right for us.
Okay, so that's not a money-saving tip, but at least pasta is cheap. And it makes twice as much in the end.

For the beanballs, I used the oven method. It meant less oil splattering and thus less stovetop cleanup, although I'll probably try the pan fried method next time. We do likes us some fried foods!

This recipe is on page 189 of Veganomicon.

Recipe 2: Spicy Tempeh Nori Rolls

I'll never forget these three words when I think of this dish: "Horrible, vomitous shit." Those came out of my husband, Bryan's, mouth. But the only thing they related to was the smell of the nori seaweed.

When Bryan first came upstairs when I told him dinner was ready, he had to walk into the other room because of the smell. I got irritated at first, probably out of always wanting my work to be worth my time and to be appreciated. So I got a little cranky. But we started to eat it anyway.

It was a pretty simple dish to make, actually. I had never worked with nori before and at first I thought it was just going to break apart as I tried to roll it. But the rice that goes on the bottom 2/3 actually moistens the nori and makes it rollable. That was the point, obviously. I was pleased with how it looked - cute little rolls with regions of avocado, tempeh and green onions. Not that I haven't seen those before, but making it myself felt so rewarding.

The filling was deliciously creamy and meaty. But that nori took over everything. So I gave Bryan permission to scrape off the filling from the nori. And I must admit, I did the same, at least to the extent possible.

When all was said and done, I admitted to Bryan that I thought it smelled like "horrible, vomitous shit" as well but I had to pretend otherwise at first. Later that night I kept saying how much I wanted something else in my stomach to overwhelm that feeling of having that stuff inside me.

This dish was pretty simple and inexpensive, so I don't have any tips or workaround. If you don't mind the smell of seaweed, I highly recommend this dish. If you don't, well, just say you were warned. But, another dish idea came out of this. The tempeh filler would probably make a great "tuna salad." Add a little celery and any other favorite "tuna salad" ingredients, slice up some avocado and put on toasted bread or stuff it into a fresh tomato. I'll try trying that one at some point.

This recipe is on page 47 of Veganomicon.

Recipe 1: Baja Style Grilled Tempeh Tacos

Monday, August 17. Day 1. My first new dish that I probably would not have made were it not for the new found inspiration from seeing Julie and Julia.

This was a great example of a recipe that I would have passed over out of the extensive list of ingredients. And it also calls for beer. At the time I thought, why would I buy a 6-pack of beer just so I could make a recipe. But then I realized that we could just keep the extra beer in the back of the fridge until the next recipe that calls for it (right!). Luckily, we had a dinner party the week before and had some leftover beer some friends brought.

The recipe says 80 minutes of cooking time, lots of it inactive. Well either I'm too slow (which I know is not true as I'm quite a fast-paced cooker) or too unorganized, because I felt pretty active for most of those 80 minutes.

This was quite a messy dish to make, although I think I still need to learn better logistics in this regard. The end result, however, was very tasty.

The most exciting thing was when first started making the recipe and I threw the chopped garlic in with the beer. It started to fizzle. I thought, how exciting. I never knew garlic would make beer sizzle. Then again, why would I?

Now for the tips, adjustments, workarounds and money savers.

One, it calls for picked jalapenos. Now, I don't know about where you live, but here in Seattle, every damn thing is so expensive, including pickled jalapenos. So, I decided to use fresh, which I would have preferred anyway for the context of the dish. Also, I used canola or olive oil in place of grapeseed or avocado oil in the crema. I can't say I've actually used those oils, so I don't know how much of a difference they'd make, but I suspect little, if any, and they're a hell of a lot more expensive.

I also added in a teaspoon of sugar to the taco slaw. I just like things a little sweeter, which will become obvious in time. I have to say, the slaw was uniquely tasty. The first thing I thought when I took a bite was shrimp cocktail sauce. I don't eat shrimp, but I used to love that sauce.

When marinading the tofu, a wide dish that is deep enough is very helpful. My dish was almost wide enough, but I had to put some strips of tofu on top of the others. I also added salt to the water used for boiling the tempeh. You'll also come to find out I like my salt, too. I'm not buying all that high blood pressure crap. Just give me my salt and shut up.

As for 3/4 cup of soy yogurt, that's the size of most individual yogurt containers (6 oz), so if that's the size you buy, don't waste your time or dirty a measuring cup for this.

As for time savers, don't bother with grilling the tempeh. Just fry it. I will never use our grill pan again. I mean, sure, I like grill marks as much as the next person, but not for an extra 10 minutes of scrubbing. That tempeh gets wrapped into a corn tortilla and eaten too fast anyway.

You can also skip the step of warming your oven to keep the tempeh warm between rounds. We just popped it in the microwave for 20 seconds instead. Why waste all that energy and use yet another pan?

This one was a winner in our book.

This recipe is on page 96 of Veganomicon.

Why I Started This Blog

I'm starting this blog out of inspiration from the movie Julie and Julia. All of my cooking life, I have always always always avoided recipes that either look too hard, have too many ingredients or ingredients that I don't know or haven't used before.

But the fact the Julie went through an entire Julia Child cookbook in a year really struck a chord with me. If she could do it after working all day then so could I. I finally said to myself, enough of being a scared, lazyass; just get off your butt and stop taking the path of least resistance in life. So that night I told my husband I was going to work through the entire Veganomicon cookbook, the best cookbook I've come across.

For the last several months I've had the book, I've skimmed through, dismissing any recipe that met the aforementioned criteria. No more! This past week I prepared and ate 3 new dishes from the book. I'm sure that I may have never made at least 2 of them were it not for this new flame of inspiration.

Anyway, the first new recipe I tried I knew right away this blog would have a focus. It was not only going to be about letting go of inhibitions, but also of finding ways to make recipes less complicated and/or less expensive. Hey, it's not just about embracing my lazy and cheap side - there are almost always shortcuts, alternative ingredients and workaround that can help make cooking (and cleaning!) a lot more enjoyable, less intimidating and more affordable.

I started this blog to have a journal and repository for the experience of the project, but if this provides inspiration or ideas to anyone or becomes a portal for sharing ideas and experiences, then all the better.