Vicarious Valentine

So as it turns out, I didn't have anyone special to cook for on St. Valentine's day. I mean, there is always my roommate, but since her and I will likely spend the rest of our days together until we drop dead and get eaten by our 25 cats, every day is like V-day for us.

I turned to my beloved vegan food blogs to take solace in some crunchy, anti-"corporate holiday" rhetoric, but my RSS feeder looked like the inside of a goddamn Hallmark store by about February 6th. Recipe contests for romantic foods, tofu colored with beet juice and cut into heart shapes, good lord, it appears we're not even safe on the commune anymore.

Good thing there was a fantastic recipe for these Parsnip Dumplings. I love parsnips, and could not let my generalized dissatisfaction with all things valentine get in the way of making these beauties. Lucky for my dinner guests, even a jaded, rapidly-aging single woman on Valentine's day can acknowledge the power of pan fried dumplings made from caramelized onions and parsnips.

The sauce I made was a bit simpler than the one made by Becky Timbers. It was two red peppers pureed in my food processor, two cloves of pressed garlic, a can of tomatoes and some olive oil. I reduced it for a few minutes on the stove and called it good. The flavor had just enough punch and sweetness to nicely complement the flavor of the dumplings. I also grilled some romaine that had been marinated in olive oil and balsamic. Who knew cooking lettuce would be so delicious?

After the pan-fried dumplings were so amazing, I was inspired to make dumpling soup. It's been years since I've eaten dumpling soup, and I'm sure it contained chicken (as is traditional). The idea of tender dough with the parsnip/caramelized onion flavor cooked in rich, delicious vegetable broth was incredibly appealing.

I made a mirepoix in one pan, and sauteed my "chef's sampler" of mushrooms along with some sliced fennel in another, like so:

The dumpling dough was the same as in the recipe posted above, the only difference that I made the balls of dough much smaller and dropped them into boiling soup in lieu of frying. As for the soup, It really doesn't matter. Mine was comprised of all the vegetables in my crisper drawer (onions, carrots, celery, fennel, mushrooms, garlic) a cube of Rapunzel broth, some salt and pepper, a can of tomatoes, and enough water to fill the pot full enough to make lots of soup but not so full that it boiled over. I tasted the broth and seasoned it until it was to my liking. The soup was delicious, though not especially photogenic. It looked like this:

P.S.... The dumplings are done when they float to the top, akin to cooking fresh gnocchi or something similar.

For a fun rainy Sunday project, I made focaccia. The oil to pour on top was infused with garlic, sun dried tomatoes and rosemary, and I brushed on a very thin layer of the red pepper sauce for some sweetness. I kept the stuff i strained out of the oil (softened garlic, slightly crunchy rosemary, soft sun-dried tomatoes) and added it on after baking.

This stuff was like crack. If we finished it all in one day, you wouldn't judge us... right? Look at the picture before you answer...

Last but not least, in the category of "cleaning the fridge," this is cashew curry made with Vadouvan according to Susan's recipe over at the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen. This spice is BRILLIANT. I'm pretty sure my onions were more "burned" than "dehydrated," but it still makes things taste really awesome, not the least of which was this curry. I think I did a bit of "globetrotting" here, but if it's ok with Nigella, it's ok with me.

About 3/4 cup of the vadouvan went into the food processor with about 1/2 cup of cashews. Those were spun around together, almost until the cashews formed a paste but not quite. I then streamed in soy milk until the texture was somewhat like a thin syrup. I added this to a pan full of onions, red peppers, cauliflower and cashews that were cooking up in a smidgeon of olive oil. I added a can of coconut milk to that, a few dashes of soy sauce to taste, and let it simmer until the vegetables got soft. I'll be trying this with more vegetables in the future, as it was positively delicious and really hit the spot during all the cold weather we've been having. Until next time...

Furlough Day Ride

Last Friday, my dad and I took a ride to the S.F. Bay Area.

A photo from "The Wall," a popular stop for motorcyclists that overlooks U.C. Berkeley and San Francisco in the distance. It's generally pretty hazy, but we could see the city fairly well.

After pausing for photos and to chat with some other riders, we headed down into Port Costa. As far as I can tell, Port Costa was home to a few houses, a brothel (maybe) that's been turned into a "hotel," a post office, and a huge bar called The Warehouse Cafe. The main attraction on Friday was the road in to Port Costa, but only because I had to get home somehow. Were I spending the night, the main attraction surely would have been the bar's outdoor seating area and selection of microbrews.

But the road, ah, the road. It was quite scenic, and also quite curvy. Observe:

The most interesting part about Port Costa (to me, anyway) is its location in relation to the Carquinez bridge. I've been over that bridge a million times, but never gave much thought to the idea that there might be civilization down where the C&H plant sits. Of course, if the Yelp! reviews of the Burlington Hotel are at all accurate, my original assumptions may very well be correct. I am simultaneously (and quite inexorably) drawn and repelled by the idea of this place. Part of me thinks the dirt and riffraff sounds scary and gross, part of me thinks it would be ten kinds of awesome to put Devendra Banhart on a boombox and just get weird. Anyway, I had never seen the bridge from this angle:

While I was taking a picture of the bridge, my dad spied a benchmark. I had never seen one of these in my life before I started riding a motorcycle, and now I've seen two in the last six months. Coincidence? Probably.

After Port Costa, we did a whole lot of splitting traffic before making a run around the Berryessa GP (Hwy 121-128), which made for a satisfying end to a great day.


Stories from the last few weeks, Part III- Assorted Food Randomness

This is my first attempt at bread. I wanted to put sun dried tomatoes, olives, and garlic in the loaf. So I did. It looked so darn good, I ignored the part of the recipe that said "let it cool before you cut into it." Then I forgot that instruction altogether and couldn't figure out why my bread never seemed cooked. Turns out the cooling process is important. I'm pleased to report I finally figured it out, more on that later.

I bought lots of avocados the last time I went to the grocery store. In an effort to find something that I could justify serving guacamole on top of, I made a variation on the chickpea cutlets using black beans, lime juice, and taco seasoning. I also had a big pile of root vegetables I wanted to roast.

I guess all this equals out to a pretty weird juxtaposition in a meal, but if all elements are delicious, doesn't that mean the meal is delicious?

The best part was the next day, when I took the leftover patties and guacamole over to my mom's place and made tacos by slicing up the patties and crisping them up a bit with a handful of pepitas. They were heavenly!

Also, wow... how great does natural light make that look? I can't wait until summer!

For my lunches, I made a very basic lentil soup- Black (very dark green?) lentils, Rapunzel broth, a can of tomatoes, onions, garlic, potatoes, chard and black pepper. Topped with pepitas, french onions and avocado, it was delicious and satisfying and great for lunches.

...Which brings us to last night. Mari and I saw a huge, perfect rainbow as we were leaving the grocery store, and the sky was unbelievable on the way home, inspiring me to take pictures of the sky and the beautiful Italian pine right by our house.

Also, I figured out the bread thing, crisped up some whole wheat/sweet potato gnocchi in olive oil, and gave my new cast iron grill a spin for a romaine salad. The salad is topped with crisp shallots and a sweet balsamic reduction, and the gnocchi is tossed in a pesto made from about 2 cups of arugula, a half cup of toasted walnuts, 3 cloves of garlic, 1/4 olive oil, 3 Tbsp capers, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, and black pepper. The addition of capers to my normal pesto was so fantastic... The flavor is sharp and no need to add extra salt given how briny they are.

As always, thanks for reading!

The stories of the last few weeks, Part II, Avocado "Buttermilk" Dressing and Spinach Salad

I like thumbing through Mari's vegetarian cookbooks. There's lots of great ideas in them, and things that i feel challenged to veganize. One that caught my attention in particular was Avocado Buttermilk Dressing.

My god, that sounded so good. Immediately I thought of something rich and creamy and a pretty shade of green... I wanted to make it, but not with actual buttermilk. So, I poked around the internet for a while about how to make vegan mayo. The answers were pretty uniform, involving soy milk, safflower oil (for some reason, it's the only one that properly thickens), acid of some kind, a pinch of salt, and a tiny bit of sweetener, be it agave or brown rice syrup, or in my case just a pinch of organic sugar.

And into the food processor went about 3/4 cup of soy milk, about 1/2 cup of safflower oil, 2 Tbsp of cashews, 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast, a pinch of sugar, salt to taste, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, garlic powder and an avocado. It was exactly as I thought it would be, rich, delicious, and the most perfect shade of green!

Avocado and spinach leaves (the only leafy green in my crisper drawer) got me thinking about bacon, and the things that are good about it- namely the smoky, salty goodness. I recreated said goodness with white onions and walnuts saute├ęd in olive oil with salt and lots of smoked paprika. Here the onions get a turn in the pan:

I topped off the salad with a few little bits from our rowdy green onion garden we have going on the windowsill above the sink:

It came out pretty delicious, though the dressing (as previously mentioned) is very rich! I think it would make an awesome spread on a sandwich, maybe with tomatoes and some crisp tempeh or tofu. The photo of the salad is regrettably blurry and for that, I apologize.

The stories of the last few weeks, Part I

Since a portion of my blog is supposed to be about riding, I finally took my camera along with me on a ride a few weekends ago. The weather was lovely, and my friends were up from LA, so I invited my dear friend Lauren to come along with my dad and me. She rode on the back of my dad's VStrom, and we had lunch in Georgetown (there's a deli there that makes killer vegetarian sandwiches). We met about four young riders at the deli, invited them to come along with us. We headed over to Placerville by way of a road that features unbelievable elevation changes around hairpin turns, and a one-lane wooden suspension bridge. All in all a beautiful day, and the best part was being along for Lauren's maiden voyage by motorcycle. She had a button that allowed her to talk to me, and was able to chat with my dad and hear music via the intercom. I could see him in front of me, talking to her while pointing out the sights. It was fantastic.

In the driveway of my place, my dad helps Lauren get geared up.

On the way to lunch, we paused at the Bear Creek picnic area... two tiny picnic tables tucked away down a dirt road next to a babbling brook. It's very "enchanted forest."

My dad and me:

Lauren and me:

We stopped after crossing the bridge on Mosquito Rd., and I couldn't pass up this shot:

One of the views from the bridge:

On the way back to Latrobe Rd. and Hwy 16, we paused at Brandon Rd. The girl on that adorable pink and black R6 had some mechanical trouble and, unbeknownst to us, stopped to fix it. One of the group caught us and we all waited for everyone else. Brandon Rd. has the kind of scenery that seems like it shouldn't exist so close to a northern california metropolis.

All the food is on its way in the next few posts!