A Lovely Day and Jennifer's Tacos de papas y lentejas

Even with the stress of finals (...and break-ups, and upcoming trips I'm not prepared for, and whatever else the world decides to throw at me) I'm trying to enjoy these first couple days of truly gorgeous weather in DC. The tendency during hardcore studying may be to lock oneself in a dark room and inhale coffee (and other substances, if you're from my school...), but I prefer to sit somewhere I can be easily distracted. Just look what's right outside my house!

Its the little things that make you more cheerful when you're incredibly screwed. For instance, instead of typing up an outline I'm hand-writing it. Its easier on my wrists, and since I can't bring it to the exam anyways I think the act of writing aids my memory. I'm also blasting music and making sure there are plenty of bananas and faux-nutella nearby, as crucial study aids.

You know what also helps? Having a full meal- not just vending machine cuisine. While I was wondering if I could possibly dream up something on my own, my roomate suggested tacos and I thought- "you know who makes yummy-looking tacos...?"

I was of course thinking of the lovely Jennifer of Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings blog. I've been drooling over a few of her recipes lately, but the ingredients and timing were right to make Potato and Lentil Tacos (minus the home-made salsa.) I also tried out the avocado cream from a few posts earlier. And ladies and gentlemen, I'm happy to announce that both items were a rousing success.

In fact, when my omni roommate saw what was cooking, he decided not to cook the lbs of greasy taco meat he had planned on. :)

I have to say that I'm always a little nervous about lentils. I either make them too mushy or under-cook them, or I under flavor them... its just a mess. But for once I got it right, and the mixture with the onions and jalapenos was flavorful enough on its own that I plan to eat it tomorrow over some leftover lettuce and tomatoes. The potatoes were also awesome. I really under-utilize plain old potatoes- and they can be so good! The whole thing came together really well, and I loved the avocado cream (which was also super-simple.) I can only imagine it was better with the addition of home-made salsa, but I was happy with the store-bought kind too.

So thanks Jennifer! An easy and spicy meal was just what I needed to get me prepped for an all-nighter with my good friends Of Montreal and Understanding Trusts and Estates. And just so you know, the timing you wrote was accurate- minus the salsa the whole think took just under 40 minutes from start to finish. Not bad for such awesome results!

And now... sigh...back to work....


Protein Power: Chipotle Black Beans & Red Quinoa

This is another one of those super-easy meals that comes together before you can get annoyed at yourself for not starting earlier. The portions are also ideal for 1-2 people. Not only that, but its packed with protein with the combo of quinoa and beans. Perfect for when you've been relying on beer and soy ice cream as your protein sources for the last week, like some people I know. (cough, cough.)

The red quinoa isn't prepared any differently then regular quinoa, nor does it taste any different. But hey, its cool looking!
Chipotle Black Beans*
-1 onion, diced
-1 can black beans, drained
-3/4 can chipotles in adobo sauce, chopped with sauce reserved
-Garlic powder or other spice mix

So simple. Cook the onions in some oil of your choice on med-low until softened, and sprinkle with garlic powder. Add in the beans and the chipotles and sauce, stir, raise the heat, and cover. In about 15 minutes you have the perfect accompaniment to quinoa and veggies of your choice. I thought it was particularly amazing with some slices of avacado, diced mango, tomatoes and a dollop of soy sour cream.

*I should mention that this was quite spicy, even with the cooling avacados and sour cream. So just be sure to use a little less adobo sauce if you're not a big heat-person.

And speaking of incredibly easy, which is about all I can handle at the moment, I've been making a lot of little parfaits for myself lately with the various kinds of soy yogurt and puddings out there. The best? Fresh rasberries, almonds and chocolate pudding layered in a little cup. It feels so fancy even though it takes about two seconds to put together. So yay for quick, yet distracting, meals!

Also, I wanted to thank all of you for your kind words about my recent break-up. You guys are awesome. However, if you really wanted to put your money where your mouth is, I'd appreciate your assistance in hooking me up with one of the following excellent candidates for my affection. I know someone out there must know at least one of them.
Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal sings the soundtrack to my life, so he may as well be in my life...

James McAvoy is ruggedly handsome, but more importantly, hilarious and seemingly very smart and cool...

And Dave Eggers wrote one of my favorite books (What is the What) but also has amazing taste in music, as evinced by his awesome columns in the old Spin magazine.

So guys, thanks in advance for your help! I will go ahead and clear my calendar for the weekend. :) Don't forget to mention that I can cook.

Cupcakes and Heartbreak Salad


When your relationship ends, the whole world comes to a stop. Minutes seem like days and its hard to believe that you will ever want to listen to music, read a book, or eat anything that doesn't come out of a box again. However, if you can drag yourself out of bed and away from the Jameson's, its possible that some sifting, chopping, and mixing could cheer you a little.

Well, it did for me. Just a little.

The cupcakes I made for a friend's birthday party which she conveniently held at my bar. They're both from VCTOTW. On the left we have the gingerbread cupcakes topped with lemon cream-cheese icing, and on the right the strawberry tallcakes (a variation on my favorite chocolate cherry cream cupcakes. While the tallcakes were good and very pretty, the gingerbread cupcakes were INSANE. Kind of spicy and slightly salty, topped with the most fabulous icing I have ever had, vegan or not. My roomate was furious with me when I polished off the last of those two babies.
Seriously, try them. Its always nice to be the one bringing cupcakes to the party. :)

After the rush of the weekend, I was still (understandably, I think) pretty miserable. On a whim I stopped into Wholefoods, vaguely planning to get something from the to-go section. But walking through the produce aisle, inspiration struck. Some bright and ripened mangos caught my eye, reminding me of all the mango trees in Cuba and what a wonderful thing it is to reach up and grab a juicy piece of fruit when its hot outside. Some avacado and fresh corn got tossed in, reminding me of a delicious guacamole they have at a restaurant in Atlanta that I commonly frequented when I was single. Some fresh cucumbers and tomatoes so red they made me smile. And finally, some wasabi dressing- to wake me up and work magic with the avacado.


So I chopped up all the veggie, sliced off the corn kernals, cubed the mango and avacado, and tossed it all the with dressing. (Actually, I made enough for two servings and squeezed some lemon on one so it would keep for the next day.) Maybe its not the prettiest picture, but believe me. This salad is magic. The entire time I ate it, the sun was shining in the window and all my favorite food memories were popping in my head. I couldn't think about the break-up for even one bite. Now that's a good salad. I highly recommend it next time you find yourself eyeing the boxed mashed potatoes and cookie crisp.


Spicy Gingered Chickpeas and Unidentified Pakistani Spices

I have to tell you, I really haven't been in the mood to cook lately.

Well, that's not it exactly. Its more like I haven't wanted to go to the grocery store. Although I have a very nicely stocked pantry, between work, school, and sleep I just haven't had a lot of time to head to the store for those fresh essentials: onions, garlic, bananas, soy cream cheese... I've just been too busy to stop in for even a few minutes.

And sadly, when I do get a chance to pick up a few things, its the solo person's nightmare- throwing them away a week later when they go bad. Such a waste. But I decided to conservatively take a step away from living on cashew butter and jam sandwiches and make a meal that is 75% pantry essentials and just a few things from the store. That way, there's no chance of throwing a bunch of vegetables away when I neglect the kitchen for a busy week. Thankfully, the recipe turned out great! (I was really surprised, actually!) Just spicy enough and very filling. Perfect with some ginger beer. Give it a shot the next time you're too busy to shop.
Spicy Gingered Chickpeas
-2 Tbs Coconut Oil
-1 small onion diced
-2 cloves garlic, diced
-2 tbs ginger, grated and chopped
-1/4 tsp. turmeric
-1/8 tsp. cumin
-1 14 oz can chickpeas, drained
-1/2 can diced tomatoes with peppers
-1 T brown sugar
-pinch of salt

-Naan and mango chutney to dress it up (if you like)

1. In a small pot heat the coconut oil on med-low. Add the onions and cook until they start to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the turmeric, cumin, garlic, ginger and a little salt and let cook for a few more minutes. (At this point you could also add more chili powder or cayenne pepper to up the heat level.)
3. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, and a cup of water. Raise the heat to medium until it reaches a boil, then reduce and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until sauce has thickened. Stir in brown sugar and cook a few minutes more. Season to taste and serve with naan and a dollop of chutney.

Note: This was enough for me and leftovers. Doubling the recipe would probably serve 4.

Now, as much as I love using ginger and the like, I've been trying to branch out in terms or what spices I use. Luckily, my Dad brought me back some new things to try from Pakistan. Unfortch, he didn't bother to buy things with labels or anything useful like that. So now I have all these spices, and have no idea what they are.
I'm pretty sure a few of these are some kind of fennel variation. Any idea about the rest? I'm particularly intrigued about the last one- little charcoal-black hard pieces of something. No idea. Maybe I will just start cooking with them and hope for the best!