I learn things.

I dove into Vegan Yum Yum tonight, and I’m already happier with this book. If our first meal, Caramelized Leek and Spaghetti Squash Polenta with White Sauce, is any indication of how good the rest of the book is — I think I really will be saying farewell to the fromage for good.

Hi! I will make you better next time!

Hi! I will make you better next time!

This recipe was a good starter for a few reasons: (1) I slept like crap last night, so I wasn’t too excited about slaving in the kitchen for hours. This was super easy to make. (2) There was nothing too kooky about it — meaning I wasn’t going to be chopping up rudabagas or anything we don’t normally eat. I was leary because of the “white sauce” element — I have a rule of not eating white, creamy foods EVER. Ugh. The recipe made this look like something I could choke down, though. I am moving on from this topic because it disgusts me.

I have shit-tons of polenta in the cupboard and this recipe utilized some of that. In the past I haven’t had much luck with the stuff, but this recipe gave me some new perspective on how to eat it (though I kind of made it wrong – we’ll get to that though). Also, it called for spaghetti squash — which I haven’t been nuts about in the past (odd, because I love squash).

When we sat down to eat Joe asked “did you cut some corners on this?” And yes, I had. The polenta in Lauren Ulm’s photos look like crispy little triangles. Mine was sort of blobby and gelatinous. BUT, with that said, it was really tasty. The polenta was seasoned with veggie bouillon, red pepper flakes and some other delicious stuff. The white sauce was like a buttery roux. We decided it would be amazing over vegan biscuits. In my dreams, Joe would wake up early tomorrow to make fresh vegan biscuits with the leftover gravy for me before I start my new in-office job. A girl can dream, right? SIGH.

So, in keeping with the title of this post I have learned a few things:

(1) Cook polenta for the full recipe time, even if you really want to go to the mall after dinner to spend money you don’t have.

(2) Spaghetti squash has other purposes besides being a weird pasta substitute. It is really good when mixed in with yummy polenta.

(3) White sauce, like peace, should be given a chance.

Culinarily speaking, I’m a little worried about my new life that starts tomorrow. I’m starting a really super cool new job, but I’m a little worried about how I will veganize my lunches to bring to work. I’ve looked at Vegan Lunch Box for tips — but JAY-SUS that woman looks like she has more time on her hands than me. I need some good vegan lunch tips. Not sure what I will bring tomorrow. Please enlighten me with your ideas.

Veg-PDX and Vegetar-parents

We’re in PDX — have been for the last couple of days and the next few, which explains my lull in posts. First, I’ve been waiting for51xxvarIAkL._SS500_ our new vegan cookbook beacon, and got it today! I pre-ordered my copy of Vegan Yum Yum: Decadent (But Doable) Animal-Free Recipes for Entertaining and Everyday and, in the interest of lessening my carbon-footprint, had it delivered to the Powell’s by my folks place. We’re back on track, folks.

Being back in Portland is funny — there are things I miss, and things I don’t. When I visit Portland, things like the rain seem so much more charming than when I stood in it every day waiting for the bus. Or the hipsters — I detested the mere presence of them when I lived here, but found myself happily standing among the best of them at last night’s Sunny Day Real Estate show at the Crystal. There are things I definitely don’t miss — traffic, mostly. My heart is torn right in half, part of it a loyal Oregonian, the other part a happy Spokanite.

The thing I might miss the most, however, is being a cook in Portland. No, I never worked on a line or as a chef — just as a home cook. I used to drive all over the damn city trying to find what I needed. A tiny Korean grocery story on North Killingsworth was my spot for cheap shallots and $1 cans of coconut milk. New Seasons or the Farmer’s Markets for beautiful produce. I could find anything I needed here (except papadums, which forever eluded me) — not so much in Spokane. And going out — you can be vegetarian in Portland and eat anywhere. Our favorite was Farm Cafe, but we always knew Proper Eats, Kalga Kafe, Vita Cafe and the Red & Black Cafe were all just a few minutes away. Sigh.

My mom warmed my heart the other day when she held up to the camera (we chat on the computer) an ad for Veg Fest 2009. “There’s a food presentation by… Isa…?” … I cut her off. “ISA CHANDRA MOSKOWITZ OMG I HAVE ALL OF HER COOKBOOKS!” Dorky, you don’t even know the half of it. So we headed today down to the Convention Center for Veg Fest, and while it was mostly a banquet hall of samples, it was cool to see how mobilized the Portland Vegetarian community is, and how mobilized it isn’t. It was impressive how many people were there — but the message seemed overwhelmingly militant to me. Why put dead animals in the faces of vegetarians? We know why we’re vegetarian, at this point. And all the shirts for sale with animal rights-y slogans across them… it just all seemed kind of similar to abortion activists to me. It made me think we have the right idea with the Spokane Vegans: veganism and vegetarianism is conscious, healthy eating. We don’t have to be in people’s faces about our diets to feel good about it. Alright, enough pukey, happy shit. We left before Isa — I survived.IMG_0041

Tonight I tested a little Vegan Yum Yum action on my parents with the really yummy looking Rustic Bread and Eggplant Lasagna. My parents are pretty conscious omnivores — but they aren’t exactly ready for tofu cutlets or seitan. They freaked over this. My dad ate two pieces. I always give him shit for taking a bite of my cooking and nodding, chewing a little and saying “yeah, it’s not bad.” Which I always argue means it’s not that good either. He was all over this shit. Loved it. That’s saying a lot, I think.

I really need to work on my food photos not looking like puke. That’ll come with time, I’m hoping.

On “quiche”

Looks like puke! Tastes like awesome!

Looks like puke! Tastes like awesome!

I used to be such a freak about quiche. During that time I gained lots of weight and probably pumped my arteries with lots of cholesterol. My quiche fixation ended abruptly after I ate a piece from The Rocket that sent me into a pukey-fit of food poisoning or SARs or something like it. Quiche was not my thing anymore. Neither was The Rocket.

After my longest dabble in veganism a few years ago, when I integrated non-vegan ingredients back into my diet I found I couldn’t eat eggs anymore. Sure, if they’re in stuff I’m fine (cookies, cakes, delicious things). But an omelet, an egg sandwich, a scramble. No effing way. Made me want to barf.

I make a mean vegan frittata, but I’d never tried making a quiche until today. Yes, that baking pan of totally unappetizing looking brown stuff is a vegan quiche, sans tofu. I made it from a recipe in the genius Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. One of the things I always loved about quiche were the stringy bits of cheddar and little surprise puffs of goat cheese. This quiche (actually called Mushroom, Leek and White Bean Pie) is delicious without cheese. In fact, I didn’t even think about quiche having cheese until right now.

I’m savoring every day by taking afternoon naps and making mid-day quiches. I start a new job in a week and will have to get back on a normal 9-5 schedule.

Need to nap now.

I’m seeing other cookbooks; Joe & Leah Kitchen History

Mmmmm.

Mmmmm.

I’m planning on punting Great Chefs Cook Vegan here pretty soon, and replacing it with my favorite blogger’s new cookbook. Lauren Ulm, who writes the totally food-porny VeganYumYum.com, is releasing her first cookbook next week. When Ulm went vegan, she was devoted to showing that vegan food can be gourmet and decadent. This is perfect for my cause!! I would pre-order it if I had money… but I’ll wait until next week when I get some $$.

In other news, I have been cooking some decent vegan food on my own from The Vegan Gourmet and of my own creation. The past week we’ve made Soba Noodles with Veggies and Peanut Sauce (from TVG) and a Mexican pizza. Other meals have been kind of cobbled together and not totally notable.

I have committed many of what I have referred to heretofore as “cheese offenses” in the past week, but plan to now call them “cheese explorations.” Yes, that’s an excuse for now. Don’t care.

Today is me and the big guy’s three year wedding anniversary — it’s so weird how that time flew by. Funny, at the time we were actually vegan (nearing the end of our 6 month tenure at that point) and had the most amazing vegan chocolate cupcakes at our wedding from Portland’s Saint Cupcake. At our one year anniversary, we did the traditional freeze-the-top-of-the-cake-and-eat-it thing, which most people say is totally gross. But ours was definitely not. Our cake had no eggs or butter or other shit in it that would make it spoil. It was as delicious as the day it was made.

The first kitchen

The first kitchen

It’s funny how I think about the time that’s passed as an old, married broad. I don’t picture our lavish vacations (because they don’t exist) or whatever else you’re supposed to think about; I always picture Joe and I in the kitchen. When we first started “hanging out” in my tiny downtown Spokane apartment (which literally was one wall in the living room with a stove and a fridge) we had no clue what we were doing. My parents had recently bought me a 90-piece kitchen set from Target — a box full of plastic spatulas and can-openers, simple pots and pans. An oven mitt. Joe and I would get together to cook meals — things we laugh at making now. I happily ate Fettucine Alfredo, betraying my personal law to NEVER eat white foods because Joe wanted some. We’d steam broccoli and eat it plain. We really had no clue what the hell we were doing. I got Joe to eat some Avocado Risotto I made — a neon green paste that was the consistency of putty. He didn’t tell me until much later how much it disgusted him. We still have a few survivors from that first kitchen kit in our catch-all utensil drawer.

The next kitchen

The next kitchen

We decided to try being vegetarians in our next kitchen. We’d experiment with making all of our favorite non-veg recipes meatless. Our spice rack grew from just Italian Seasoning and Oregano. We’d scour the aisles of Hastings for books that could help. But we never faltered — not eating meat was something that just came completely naturally to us. Joe was never a big meat guy and I’m such an animal freak, it really wasn’t hard for us at all. Cooking continued to be a daily activity for us. A de-frag from the day at the office. I think onions were sweating on the stove when Joe came into the kitchen with a wedding ring. I cried, said yes (duh), we hugged and kept cooking. I can’t really think of a better place for us to have decided to seal our relationship. The kitchen is where all of our big decisions have been made.

IMG_4372

Southeast kitchen

In a fit of anti-Spokane rage, we moved back to my hometown of Portland the next summer. We found a cute little apartment in Southeast Portland — a 1940s one with hardwood floors and built-ins. It was the checkered kitchen floor that sold me though. That’s where Joe talked me off mental ledge after mental ledge over my numerous insane jobs and suffering artist struggles. It was the site of our first kitchen fire (all was well) and where we tried veganism for the first time with Sarah Kramer’s La Dolce Vegan. It’s where we made mead with our friend Dan. Where I made a ravioli sauce that came out purple and my loving parents willingly choked it down. Where we had a three-cheese meal with our friends John and Leah later, one where I ate so much I had to go to sleep immediately. That was a good kitchen.

I don’t have pictures of our next kitchen because it was kind of gross. When we moved in we thought it was perfect. We even sat on the floor and ate Little Caesar’s (something we promptly swore to never do again — floor eating and Little Caesar’s).

We upped the ante with our next kitchen. It was beautiful. Here’s me loading the cupboards, ones we would promptly unload four months later after deciding to move

Best kitchen ever!

Best kitchen ever!

back to Spokane. I miss that kitchen — it was beautiful, and we made so many good meals in it. It was almost too nice for us. We don’t need the fancy, showy kitchen.  Just a kitchen for two.

Our next kitchen was awful, which is probably why we hated everything else going on in our lives so much at the time. We kept finding bees swimming in the cat bowls. The cupboards were filthy no matter how much bleach we wiped them down with. The garbage disposal sounded like it was crunching human bones. Our landlord was a total prick and we got out of there as fast as we could.

In the five years since I’ve known Joe, we’ve done a lot of cooking in our seven different kitchens. Mostly good, quite a few terrible. But it’s where our collective heart is. In the fridge, over a bowl of steamed rice or a simmering pot of sauce — it’s where we’ll continue to solve our life problems and celebrate our achievements. We’re not hikers or bikers or whatever else other couples are; we’re eaters, and I like that.

Hey Joe! Lets go eat!

Hey Joe! Lets go eat!

Fromage-free Meal #3: Bradford Thompson

Let me say this first: Just because you’re a great chef hardly means you’re a great vegan chef.

Three meals in, I’m seeing the comedy in the title of the book I’m cooking from: Great Chefs Cook Vegan. It’s an assemblage of all the biggest names from the fanciest restaurants to prove that chefs can make a gourmet vegan meal. I’ll say that again: A (one, singular) vegan meal.  Not a lifetime of great vegan meals, but a one-off meal on the off chance a filthy yucky vegan makes its feeble little way into their restaurant.

These chefs are people known for their fantastic perspective on French cooking. On Southern fare and neo-American. These are all cuisines based around meat. There isn’t one vegetarian chef in the book — and it shows. These jackasses are stuffing ravioli with tofu. Just tofu. Or seasoning a soup with just salt and pepper. Not only are there little appearances of great spices, these chefs show little grasp of vegetarian stand-bys like Earth Balance, nutritional yeast, egg replacers, liquid amino acids, miso, TVP. Flipping through the book, I’m shaking my head at how retarded they seem. Tofu? Alone? Most vegetarians don’t even like the taste of a pure soybean cake. You’ve got to know how to finesse it. What to marinate it in, how to bread it…

All of what you just read was basically our conversation as we ate Bradford Thompson’s meal for the book: Celery Root Soup and Celery Apple Salad with Almonds, and a main course of personal Roast Vegetable Pot Pies. He had a salad in there of beets, but there were so many garnishes and side-garbage to prep, I just skipped it.

These chefs don't know jack about veganism.

These chefs don't know jack about veganism

I spent a lot of fucking time on this meal, which I normally don’t mind. I love cooking. Cooking distracts me. It’s like I just shut off and becoming a cooking robot. It’s therapeutic for someone as neurotic as I am.

First came the dough: a fennel-infused dough. Joe hates herbed breads crusts. He’s like a bloodhound for that shit. Even if I sneak in just a tiny bit of rosemary, he’ll give me the sneer through a mouth of half-chewed food: “what’s in this?” This was heavy on the fennel, but he ate it anyway.

The idea of this recipe, I presume, is to treat gourmet-dinner-party types to a meal of comfort food. Personal pot pies, served in little bowls. How quaint. This means the crust is just a little wafer on top of a bowl – not encasing the pie like we’re normally used to. So this meant baking the crusts ahead of time. For some reason it never browned, and it wouldn’t stick to itself. Hence a Lincoln Logs effect when we dug in. Stupid. This guy’s dough is even dumb.

The first course of celery root creations were a pleasant surprise. I’d been wanting to cook with celery root for some time after watching a show about it. It’s kind of a rad little thingamajig, but damn is it ugly. The salad took grated celery root and apple and combined it with a sauce/dressing of coconut milk and other shit… all in all, it was tasty. That smear that looks like tomato sauce below it is actually apple butter. I thought it was a perfect combo.

The soup was awesome. I thought it tasted like Vichyssoise, Joe thought it tasted like Split Pea. It was neither, but it sure was tasty. Tasty enough that we did not throw the leftovers away — which we’re finding is odd for this book.

The pot pie was stupid. It took hours… HOURS to prepare. Not only does throwing a Lincoln-log crust on top NOT make it a pie, the veggies inside were not pot pie vegetables. The veggies — Brussels sprouts, turnips, leeks, baby carrots — were steamed, not baked. And there was none of that delicious sauce that, in my opinion, is the real reason to eat pot pie. Not even a fucking roux. Come on, Bradford Thompson.

Needless to say our cute little pies went in the garbage pretty fast. The book hasn’t followed it — yet.

I’m reluctant to continue this blog with this book. It’s really kind of a piece of shit and I hardly think it’s the Holy Grail of gourmet vegan cooking. I may cook one more meal out of it, just to see if there’s something else redeemable here. But I’m on the hunt for a new book to guide me — one that not only shows vegans how to make their food gourmet, but is compiled by people who actually know what the hell a pot pie is.

Fromage-free meal #2: Cat Cora

I’ll admit I squealed like a stuck pig-girl when I flipped through my copy of Great Chefs Cook Vegan last week and saw that one of the featured chefs was CAT CORA! Dude. She is the only chick Iron Chef and she always kicks ass. Plus she always reserves time at the end of the show for a shot of ouzo with her crew. Dude!

OMG CAT CORA!

OMG CAT CORA!

So I tackled her meal next: Basque Veggie Kabobs with Key Lime Sauce, Curried Cauliflower with Currants and Pine Nuts and, for dessert, a Kiwi Parfait.

The ingredient hunt was nowhere near as difficult as that silly okra jaunt the other day. The list was all produce, a couple spices (to which I haughtily kerfuffled at: “But of course I have garam masala on my spice rack.), some seeds and nuts and shit. Nothing weird that Rosauer’s wouldn’t carry.

I was surprised to not find Poblano peppers in the produce section, so instead I opted for one that looked similar: a Pasilla pepper. Again my kitchen chef ego was boosted when I found out that Poblanos are often sold north of the border as Pasillas. Harumph. That’s an interesting little tidbit I thought you might like to know.

Prep was easy, and Joe did the manly part of barbecuing for me so I didn’t risk burning my face off. However, on second thought, I did deep fry food the other day. The idea of burning from a barbecue sounds much more enticing and than burning from hot oil. I feel like I could stop-drop-roll faster and more rationally. Anyways.

Everything tasted excellent. No need for cheese anywhere.

A photo:

Yummmm

Yummmm

The kebabs were all mesquite-y and spicy, and the sauce had a nice kick in the ass right at the end. Seeing as the last time I made anything with cauliflower gave me ass-blasting gas for like three days afterward (did you know that about cauliflower? Consider yourself warned.) this was a nice re-introduction. Hello Cat Cora’s cauliflower salad, you are delish.

I made the kiwi parfaits for dinner with vanilla soy yogurt, graham crackers and kiwi. Awesome. Didn’t last long enough for a photo.

Aside from last night’s cheese offense (hey – I admitted it!), I’m not feeling the need for anything cheesy. We’ll see how long that lasts though.

Cheese offense #1

Cheese offense #1

Cited Aug. 31, 11:30 pm.

Annie’s Mac & Cheese

I was starving, and nothing sounded better than mac and cheese. So I did it. It was hardly gourmet, but damn did it taste good.

Hoping to redeem myself tonight with the next gourmet vegan meal. Mmmmm.