Friday, November 30, 2012

Simple Steps to Super Salads (and why I needed them recently)

Dear Tofurkey.

I'm glad you're now taking pictures for the blog, but I have to say that your last post was a total bait and switch. I thought I was going to see cookies! Who wants to eat the moon? I demand more cookie pictures now as recompense.

Now, if I can stop thinking about cookies, I wanted to write today about a troubling subject. Awhile back, I got in a cooking rut. Do you ever have this problem? Side note: I have heard rumors that our tiny blog public is growing ever less tiny so now would be a good time to comment on solutions for a cooking rut. Perhaps our tiny blog public never has cooking ruts (lucky bitches), or perhaps they simply enjoy the cooking of others. But I'm open to suggestions if you too have suffered this affliction.

Just to make sure you get the picture, a cooking rut isn't a sudden inability to read recipes and follow instructions. Nor is it some magical rotting curse on food I touch or a series of kitchen explosions. These, though unfortunate, are the not the problem. A cooking rut is like writer's block, a loss of inspiration. It's kitchen malaise and food frustration. It's lofty goals and leftover disappointments. It's a failure to imagine as well as failure to execute. Litany concluded.

I am ashamed to cop to this intermittent affliction on my very own food blog. How can I have a food blog and be unable to cook something original and delicious? Even writing this I worry that some Blogger Secret Police will come shut us down. Or worse (for you anyway): maybe it means we'll never get rich and famous!

But I am determined to persevere. And so, Tofurkey and fair and growing blog public, I bring my plight to you for your judgment, and hopefully encouragement and suggestions.

My boyfriend, ever the engineer, would suggest that I seek the root cause of my problem. Done: butternut squash soup. For reasons surpassing understanding, I seem incapable of making a good squash soup. I say this surpasses understanding because a passable squash soup is simply boiled squash, pureed with some seasoning. What's hard about that?

Granted, I've only made two attempts, but the first was close to inedible (due to a measuring error) and the second received a tepid response from friends. Here it is:

Butternut squash soup with a cider base topped with sizzled sage, toasted squash seeds, and sometimes creme fraiche
My boyfriend said he just hated the squash seeds; I thought they were delicious. Others thought it was too sour; it was clearly too sweet from the cider if anything. And some objected to the creme fraiche; when is creme fraiche ever bad???

Forget the analysis; whatever the cause, it wasn't that good and it put me in a food funk. For about a week I couldn't make anything done. So I surrendered the battle, but not the war--squash soup, I'm coming for you in 2013!.

My solution to a food rut is to ride it out with old standbys. You know, cook the reliable dishes I can make in my sleep with my eyes closed. Who sleeps with their eyes open you ask? Most cooking sleepers, that's who!

Or better yet, I make things that involve no cooking! Like salads. I love salad, and I'm not ashamed to say it. I know you, Tofurkey, also love salad because you're vegan and you have to because it's part of the charter. So you may not know that among some company, liking salad makes you less of a man. Probably also not something you're worried about.

Salads are great because they're so easy and so versatile. They can be cold or hot. They can be savory or sweet. They can be vegan or have eggs and cheese and slaughtered animal all over them. What's not to love?

Here are some of mine of late:
My everyday garden salad

Heirloom tomato caprese
That's not the slaughtered animal that's red. It's a beet salad.
Too often my love of salad is tested by restaurants that think spilling some lettuce and grated carrot out of a bag and putting a cherry tomato on top makes a salad. It doesn't. So because I've gotten a lot of compliments on my salads lately (to make up for the squash soup maybe), I thought I'd share my simple rules about making salads. Maybe if anybody in our tiny blog public is one of those "I hate salad because, like, who wants to eat dirt?" people, he'll see the error of his ways.
  1. Use fresh ingredients. That doesn't mean you gotta grow it (though that helps); just don't get your greens out of a bag please.
  2. Mix it up. Try different greens (where applicable). Lots of those weeds have different tastes.
  3. On top of those weeds, add some herbs. Cilantro and basil are great, but even parsley or thyme means that dressing doesn't have to do so much work.
  4. Essential: a salad must have more than four colors. I know you think you can't taste colors, but you can. Try it. And yes, white counts.
  5. Add a good mix of vegetables, but don't overdo it or cut them too small. Leave big bites.
  6. Salads should have fruits as well as vegetables (for non-garden salads like caprese, this rule can be skipped). And no, tomatoes don't count for fruits here. Stick something sweet in there.
    1. Corollary: A dried fruit and a fresh fruit make good salad friends
  7. Add nuts, preferably toasted. You can substitute croutons for this crunch if you must, but nuts are better. Walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, and almonds are my usual. You can also substitute sunflower seeds.
  8. Add a cheese (vegans, sadly, skip this step). Softer cheeses tend to be favored, like feta, bleu, or goat cheese, but harder grating cheeses, like parmesan, can be good too.
  9. Meat and dressing should be kept on the side. Preferences about this are so individual it's safer to let your friends decide. Oh, and the salad keeps better this way. So you can make a whole big bowl and eat it throughout the week without it getting mushy or soggy.
That's it! Maybe next post I'll get to rules for making dressing.

Your Pal,

Just Wanted to Share

Dear Turkey,

This is a progress report regarding my love affair with my phone camera.

A famous person once said:
"sometimes the moon look like a C"

sometimes the moon just look like a moon, but still pretty cool for a free phone camera 
I moss you,

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stand Back....Thanksgiving Tried Science!

Dear Tofurkey,

As our blog public now knows, we got to spend Thanksgiving together--surprise! I had such a wonderful time that I'm sure I would kiss you even with your uncooked garlic breath (anyway, it's the farts you gotta look out for). Even the Snarky Anonymous Commenter had a fabulous time.

But lest you believe that all my talk of having Thanksgiving with his, I mean with my boyfriend's family (because of course the SAC cannot be my boyfriend), let me show you how our first Thanksgiving went.

I have only ever spent Thanksgiving with two families before, and while both put on a fantastic spread, I figured that for my first time out of the gate on Turkey Day, I would try science.

Apparently science makes me look like a giddy victim of demonic possession
I know it doesn't look much like science, but I swear it is. Here's an up close look for you.
Science, it turns out, is very, very cold
OK, so maybe it's not that exciting, but we brined our turkey, and it was simply the easiest and most delicious turkey I've had. I boiled a gallon of veggie stock with a cup of salt and half a cup of brown sugar until it dissolved. Then I added some crushed garlic, black peppercorns, savory, sage, rosemary, and thyme (no parsley, sorry Art and Paul). Then when it cooled, I dumped it all in a clean paint bucket with a gallon of ice water and deposited my clean turkey (Turkey cooking turkey--what would Freud say?).

Now here's where the science comes in. All that salty delicious broth draws water out of the turkey through a totally cool process called osmosis. You know, that thing college kids use to study when they sleep on top of their books, except it works in this case. When the concentration inside the turkey's cells reaches the concentration outside, water begins to go back into the turkey carrying all the attached salt and seasoning. Seriously, I know you don't eat meat, but this would make you consider it. The white meat was so moist and tender!

Here's the supporting cast at our Thanksgiving:

I used a theme (some might say motif) for the dinner: roasted garlic and rosemary. They were  not only in the brine, but in the bread and mashed potatoes!

Inspired by none other than Tofurkey herself, this has orange and Bosc pears in it as well for variety.

The fair accompli: turkey surrounded by dressing made by my  (soon-to-be-for-real?) mother-in-law, roasted garlic and rosemary mashed potatoes with gravy, homemade rosemary and roasted garlic bread, salad with homemade dressing that follows all my rules, and cranberry dressing.
I think I liked my Thanksgiving food better than any other, but nothing beats your company.

I moss you,

Don't Kiss Me

Dear Turkey,

I would like to take a minute to pay tribute to something that we haven't talked about much: garlic. This is an accidental tribute, because I didn't mean to eat two cloves of raw garlic last night (more on that in a minute). Now I will have to be careful all day at work, and make sure I don't get too close to anybody, or let them smell my sweat. Or my farts.

That said, garlic is delicious. And so is Listerine. 

Last night my husband made some of our old weeknight standbys. It was the end of a great day, since we both had the day off in order to be home to get our brand new propane generator installed (a dream come true for me...may that tell you something about my dreams; my other dream is to become a rich and famous blogger, but enough about me). 

First he made some parmesan couscous. Yes, from a box. Yes, I believe it has autolyzed yeast extract (aka MSG?), and it doesn't taste much like that famous cheese from Parma (and I can speak from experience, thanks for my former life as a world traveler), but it is delicious, and it hits the spot when you're in the mood for something like mac & cheese but not exactly mac & cheese. He put some spinach in at the last minute so it wasn't overcooked.

He also steamed some broccoli, which he served with garlic, lemon, and olive oil. Except all the garlic somehow migrated to the bottom of the pot. And he took his out first. Which is why you don't want to kiss me. For dessert we had two pomegranates that I dutifully peeled while he entertained the baby. 

I hope you like our "holiday" place mats

is this why my baby's poop was green this morning?

'tis the season for running in the snow and dark

Good thing you're not around so you won't be tempted to kiss me.

I moss you,

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turkey and Tofurkey United for Thanksgiving! (How Appropriate)

Dear Blog Audience,

It is my pleasure to present to you

A TurkeyandTofurkey joint production
With The Snarky Anonymous Commenter contributing
Also brought to you by 
My sister
Breastmilk (of course):

Xmas Cookie Extravaganza!!!!

Yes, I, Tofu, walked into my parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner and, to my great surprise, I found none other than Turkey (along with the Anonymous Commenter) sitting on their couch. So, Turkey and I were reunited for Thanksgiving, Fake Thanksgiving (that's another story; also called F'Thanksgiving), and The Day After F'Thanksgiving, when you make Xmas cookies and (this is the only day of the year that this is allowed) watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and A Charlie Brown Christmas on the same day! Just like the good old days.

In my family, Xmas cookies are a religion, and, when my mom gets back from Wegmans, she's probably going to tell us what we did wrong with these, and then make a respectable batch right away. 

you start with the Official Family Secret Recipe (no longer a secret)

roll them out

bake at 375 degrees for about ten mins

make some frosting - I just use butter, confectioner's sugar, vanilla, half and half, and food coloring

let them cool


and enjoy with your Turkey (the person, not the bird)
Happy Thanksgiving (etc.),

Monday, November 19, 2012

After Something Like This

Dear Turkey,

After something like this:

10 mile run on the Erie Canal, that you actually did in a halfway respectable 90 mins
You need something like this:

homemade bread with Boursin and membrillo paste
along with yellow beets, chevre, basil, mandarin oranges, and a little vinaigrette
and the best is when you husband makes it for you while you're in the shower
That's all for now. Although I could really go for a Hostess HoHo (too bad you can't take advantage of this giveaway opportunity, Hostess).

I moss you,

Friday, November 16, 2012

Scones and My Backyard

Dear Turkey,

I hope you are getting in the holiday spirit. I am, since my backyard looks like this:

too bad I won't be able to go on a nice hike this weekend since gun season starts tomorrow
Yesterday I made my famous scones. And, by "my famous scones," I mean scones from The Other Bread Bible. If you click on this link (which I'm sure you did, because I'm sure you ALWAYS click on my links), you may wonder why I called it "The Other Bread Bible." Answer: to me, this will always be "The Bread Bible." 

I changed the recipe a little bit:
Put the following things in a bowl and mix them/cut them up with your hands/a pastry cutter:
3c flour
1/3c sugar
1T baking powder
1/2t salt
1/2t baking soda
1t orange zest
1.5 sticks butter, frozen or cold
1 scant c buttermilk, OJ, milk. soymilk, whatever you have
1c dried blueberries
Mix/cut it all together until the flour is mostly incorporated but the most of the butter is still in little pieces. Make into 12 loose balls with your hands and bake at 400 degrees for 15 mins or until just golden brown.  

my white bracelet tells me which side I nursed on last

balls of dough

right out of the oven

you can see the butter pooling on the stone...tasty

there you go
I moss you,

Monday, November 12, 2012

Log Cabin Miso

Dear Turkey,

I know, I know, you know all about miso. I do not presume to argue with your authentic expertise. But I still want to tell you about Log Cabin Miso. It's kind of like Log Cabin Republicans, except not. But it does come from a log cabin, and it will cure what ails you, especially after a long run.  

where you enjoyed this

and this

We at the log cabin have decided that it's worth paying a little extra for good miso. We like all different kinds, although I am partial to barley and white miso-s. My husband is very good at putting everything in the pot in the right order so that nothing is overcooked. Last night he heated the water to almost boiling (don't boil miso! it's alive and you don't want to kill that which will cure what ails you!), and then added a can of straw mushrooms (peeled, please), and then some tofu, spinach, and green onions. He wilted the spinach just a little and then turned off the heat and added the miso.

it tastes better with those white spoons that we call "miso spoons" in our house; we have "miso bowls," too 

when we want just a little bit of something we say "I'll just have a miso," meaning, "put in one of those cute bowls"

I moss you,

Friday, November 9, 2012

Running and My Camera

Dear Turkey,

Wow, that cake looks delicious. Too bad I won't be making anything like that for a while, since SOMEBODY is still on a diet. I have figured out my husband's diet for you: it's not that he's trying to avoid fat or sugar or calories -- he's trying to avoid things that he's can't avoid, like my baking. In other words, he doesn't want to eat anything that's too good, or he will eat too much of it. So, I've been trying to tell him that the problem isn't that my baking is too good, it's that he eats too much of it...anyway, I will take it as a compliment in the meantime.

There are two other things that I've been wanting to tell you about, but I've been trying to figure out if they're related enough to our official blog topics to discuss here. I decided that when we are rich and famous bloggers, we will be able to talk about whatever we want, so our audience may as well get used to it now.

First, my camera: As you know, I do not have a smart phone (smartphone?). I don't get emails on my phone, and my phone is actually small enough to fit in any old pocket. I can't listen to music on it or watch live TV, and children usually laugh at me when they see me using it. That said, you can imagine what the camera on the phone is like (actually you don't have to imagine, you can just look at this blog).

So, I'm trying to fall in love with my phone camera. And it's actually working. The other day I was thinking, wouldn't it be fun to get an old Polaroid or something that takes really wonky pictures and see what I could do with it? And then I thought, wait, I do have something that takes really wonky and unreliable pictures. And it's free. And it's with me all the time. So I'm trying to embrace the idiosyncrasies of my phone camera.

You might think that I'm trying to use my camera as an excuse for the quality (or lack thereof) of photographs that I've put on the blog so far. That's because I was. But now we're learning how to work together and I hope you can enjoy the results.

Second, running: running is something that I mention on the blog a lot, but I want to write about it more. And it makes sense, since running and breastfeeding are the two main constituents of my gigantic appetite. And running makes pretty much any food taste good, even Gatorade (complete with its esters of wood rosin).

That said, here is a picture that I took with my crappy-but-lovable phone camera while running ten miles last weekend. (Phew, all that explanation just to post one picture):

and I even feel good enough about this picture to make it "large"
I moss you,

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's Not Too Late For You To Come To My House For Thanksgiving...Or Ever!

Dear Tofurkey,

Your husband's diet is perplexing. It doesn't make sense, except as an exercise in vexation. He can eat bread packed with grains and pumpkin, or delicious paninis dripping with melted cheese, but he can't have...what? Baked goods? Sugar? Someone needs to give him a nutrition lesson before his arbitrary embargoes drive you to drink, or worse, bake for other men.

This brings me to the subject of my renounced Nazism  As you are aware, not long ago I was on a diet that would make a tightly-wound German schoolmaster look flexible and forgiving. Now that I've liberated myself (for the low, low price of all the muscle I gained on that diet), I've been enjoying the freedom to cook with all those ingredients eschewed by your husband, and others he probably should avoid if he's really trying to lose weight: butter, cream, sugar, grains, and really anything that isn't lean meat or a vegetable.

I had forgotten why I should enjoy these things in the first place (hardcore dieting does interesting things to the mind), but now that we've been reunited, my old friends are reminding me. Still, I have never really understood Pop Tarts. They're just too sweet for me.

But in Joanne Chang's Flour cookbook she has a recipe for homemade ones that I may try. She makes them from fresh fruit and laminated pastry dough. I have cooked only a few things from this book, but every one of them has been phenomenal. And I mean it. Every one has been a phenomenon, talk of which has spread far and wide, most likely because my boyfriend is also enjoying my liberation from fitness-Nazism.

Exhibit D (for delicious):

This is the a cake I made from the Flour cookbook. It's supposed to be triple layer, but unlike your husband, I have a diet that is coherent: the diet of one. I limit myself to one. So three layers is out. It was amazing. The cake is a very dark, rich, almost brownie-like cake. But the real phenomenon was the icing. I have never in my life, or in my imagination, had icing so good. It was a milk chocolate buttercream icing which was basically a combination of meringue, butter, and ganache. It had such a rich, complex flavor that it was just unlike any icing I've had before. Like wine, it had flavors up front, at the end, and in between. It was also so light you almost wouldn't know you were eating anything. That is unless you chilled it, in which case it started out like ice cream and melted into a glorious memory on your tongue.

Chef Chang has made a few things obvious to me. One is that for a little extra effort, a willingness to dirty a few more bowls and spoons, I can exponentially improve my food. In other words, a little extra work is a LOT tastier. And second (a corollary of the first tip): air is delicious. Yes, that's right. What you breathe everyday to survive is actually the best thing you'll ever eat. Just try it. Whip your butter and eggs for just a few minutes next time you make cookies. Or that batter. Or the sauce for your entree. Suddenly it's like eating something new.

Funny you should mention the famous PCCB, because this turned out to be the case with that staple of our early friendship. I will call what we used to eat PCCB v. 1.0. I have since made PCCB v. 2.0 by adapting the Flour cookbook's recipe for banana bread. I forgot to take pictures last time I made it (so stay tuned blog public), but it hews pretty close to the original. The biggest change from the original recipe was that I beat on high in my Kitchen Aid the sugar and pre-beaten eggs for several minutes before delicately adding the oil, pumpkin vanilla, and creme fraiche. This makes the batter so light and airy that the PCCB comes out fluffier and with much richer flavors. Try it! I guarantee you'll love the difference.

Missing you (unless you want to come visit),

Pumpkin Yeast Bread

Dear Turkey,

Full disclosure: I am eating a Pop Tart right now. Hydrogenated oils: check. High fructose corn syrup: check. Regular corn syrup: check. I am ashamed. Notice I didn't say it wasn't tasty. (Attention Kellogg's: awesome giveaway opportunity!!) At least I'm at work so nobody in my family can see me.

Now I'm going to tell you about something that IS on my husband's diet. I called this Pumpkin Yeast Bread in order to differentiate it from the famous and delicious Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread (known world-over as PCCB), which one of us should put on here very soon...maybe someone who is allowed to bake...

This bread, like most foods, tastes especially good if you've just gotten back from a ten mile run in the snow.

Here's what I did:
I began with about 1/3 c of my sourdough starter that I had to "feed" anyway, but you can skip that part. Then I stirred together:
1 T  yeast
1 T buckwheat honey
1 T kosher salt (put everything in a big bowl before you stir it in order to avoid the salt coming into direct contact with the yeast)
1 t cinnamon
1/2 c cider
1/2 c cornmeal
1 reg. size can pumpkin (not the big can)
1/2 c dried currants
2 eggs
2.5 c whole wheat flour

As you can see, this is on my husband's diet, because what is unhealthy here? I stirred/kneaded it all together until the flour was incorporated (about 50-100 strokes with a big metal spoon) and gave it warm rise for a couple of hours. Then I baked it on parchment on a stone at 350 degrees for 1 hr.

Speaking of Turkey and Tofurkey, maybe you can try this delicious bread when you come to my house for Thanksgiving (it's okay; you can bring your in-laws). Or you can just have a Pop Tart. I hear they make delicious breast milk.

I moss you,

delicious bread

EXTREME close up

Friday, November 2, 2012

It's Not Too come to my house for Thanksgiving...just sayin'

Dear Turkey,

Since I have an 861 square foot house, I don't like stuff (as you know -- and neither do you). I hate knickknacks; I am a scrooge about holiday decorations (just ask my husband). When we got married, I was grumpy when people got us things that weren't on our registry. That's how I felt about the panini maker. Well, I was wrong. (I'm starting to feel like I've told this story before.) 

Here is a delicious panini that my husband invented:
- Homemade bread (by yours truly)
- Fresh mozz. (this time it was from the store, but my husband makes it if I'm lucky)
- Baby spinachi (that means spinach; did I mention that I studied abroad in Italy?)
- Grey Poupon
- Garlic greens pesto that I made this spring and froze
- Portobello mushrooms sliced thin and cooked in a little oil, tamari, and lime juice until they surrender their juices
- Panini-ify and serve with cider and a jar of pickles from 2010 that you found in the back of your pantry when you were putting away the bottled water that you got in case of a hurricane (and you didn't live in your house in 2010, and you pride yourself on being

umami mushroom sensation
melty and delicious
bonus pickles from 2010...still sealed!...of course

One more thing. As a fake-vegetarian, I resent it when people are like, "oh, you're a vegetarian? I'll just put a giant portobello mushroom between two slices of bread and serve it to you." No, thanks, people: you have to DO something to it. marinate it, chop it, cook it, something!

I moss you,