Sweet Things

I could care less if I have someone to spend it with, I love Valentines Day!

Sure, its a exploitative ploy by heartless capitalists to take advantage of our fragile emotions in the arena of relationships for profit, but.... chocolate! pink! flowers! Sorry, i love it. There is no other holiday that practically mandates champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. And well, even if you end up spending it with your parents (cough, cough) it can still be fun. Actually, maybe more fun...

I had the chance this week to make lots of sweet things... the delicious chocolate chip cookies from VWAV and agave nectar cupcakes from VCTOTW. I topped them with simple buttercream frosting and sliced strawberries, for a friend who is diabetic, but willing to indulge a little on her birthday. Both turned out absolutely perfectly , prompting the usual disbelieving "This is VEGAN?" remarks. How sweet...

Anyways, for the sake of Valentines Day, I would like to send a shout-out to three people that I'm sure would have been my Valentine if they knew I existed...

First, obviously, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who makes my life SO SWEET! Whether through cakes, brownies, cupcakes, cookies or delicious savory items, how could I live without the Goddess of Vegan Cooking and her tomes? I couldn't, and I don't want to try. A world without Isa is a world I don't want to envision. (And she's pretty adorable, too...)

And then there's the wonderfully witty Dan Savage, who's weekly sex column, Savage Love, is the first thing I flip to in the City Paper every week. Sure, he's dirty. But he is ALSO an incisive critic of all those opposed to gay rights, the first to point out political hypocrisy in sex-ed, and the first to tell you to DTMFA (dump the mother forking a$$hole) if someone is treating you as less then deserving of respect and satisfaction. And I love him for that, and would love to take him (and his partner) out for cupcakes and cocktails.

Finally, and I would like to say in advance that I am available for next year, the hilarious and adorable Ryan North, who's dinosaur comics rule my world. Ranging in subject matter from religion, philosophy, movie plots, politics and modern physics, North always makes me chuckle gleefully at his static dinosaur creations' antics. Plus, he's a redhead! *SWOON*!

At any rate, i hope that the above-mentioned, and all of you lovely bloggers, had a luscious and indulgent Valentines Day, whether with your dream date, your parents, or your lovely selves.

Song of the Day: Universal Heartbeat- Juliana Hatfield


Beta Carotene Buzz

My current late winter obsessions include:
-Vitamin D
-Jake and Amir
-The Dresden Dolls
-The Rocky Horror Picture Show
-Maritime Law
-Step Class
-Making valentines
.... and apparently, orange food.

Carrot-Ginger-Cashew Pasta
*This recipe is casual with portions, because it can easily be stretched. I usually use about 3 carrots and 2 handfuls cashews.

-Raw, unsalted cashews
-Carrots, peeled and chopped
-1-2 cloves garlic, peeled
-1" ginger root, peeled and sliced
-1/2 tbs agave nectar
-Whole wheat pasta
-Kale or swiss chard, loosely chopped

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil for your pasta. Bring a small pot of water to boil for your veggies.
2. Using a steamer insert, put equal parts carrots and cashews, along with the garlic and ginger in a pot to steam. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and steam for about 5 minutes, or until carrots can easily be pierced with a fork. Meanwhile, cook desired amount of pasta.
3. (Carefully) add steamed veggies to food processor or blender. Add a dollop of olive oil, a splash of braggs, and agave nectar. Blend until smooth-ish.
4. Once pasta is al dente, pour over kale or chard. Then toss with carrot sauce, adding a tiny pasta water if desired.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage

-1 Butternut Squash, halved and de-seeded
-4 cloves garlic diced
-13 sage leaves, julienned (roll them up and run your knife through them)
-Olive oil
-Earth Balance
-1 small onion, diced
-1 c. Arborio Rice
-1 c. white wine
-4-6 c. vegetable broth

1. Pre-heat oven to 375. Set up the prepared butternut squash in baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Rub in with your hands, then sprinkle over about half the garlic, all the sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Stick it in the oven. Then, get rest of ingredients ready.
2. After 30-45 minutes, or when squash is fork tender, remove from oven and let cool. When suitable to handle, scrape out squash in small clumps into a bowl. Drizzle any pan juices over top. Set aside.
3. In a large pot, melt 1 knob of earth balance along with 2 T EVOO at medium low. Add in the garlic and allow to cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add in the onion, stirring to coat. Cook until soft, about 3 more minutes. Then, season well with salt and pepper.
4. Meanwhile, put the broth in a small saucepan and place over medium low or low heat.
5. Add the rice to the large pot and stir to coat for a minute or so. Then, add in the wine and raise the heat to medium. Stir until rice has absorbed the wine.
6. Now comes the portion of risotto-making called "ladle and stir." As in, ladle some of the warmed broth into the rice, and stir with a wooden spoon until it has been absorbed. This is going to continue until the rice has lost all of its crunch. If and when you run out of broth, use warmed water.
7. When rice is soft and each grain is encased in a creamy sauce, your risotto is ready! Stir in butternut squash, more salt and pepper if wished, cover and reduce heat to low. When ready to serve, stir one more time.

Song of the Day: Dresden Dolls- Night Reconnaissance
(Listen HERE)


Oldies but Goodies

I so dearly love reading cookbooks. Ever since I was a child, I loved to browse through my mother's collection while I sat and ate my Special K at the kitchen table. Flat bound bread machine cookbooks, thick Good Housekeeping compilations, glossy Martha Stewart tomes... I read them all cover to cover, even (especially!) the recipes I would never think of trying, like liver and onions. I loved to find the secret ingredients to big stews, or the kneading technique to the author's pizza dough. Similar to biographies (my other favorite reading material), cookbooks often tell you more about the author than the subject matter. How could you not wonder about the woman who drew the whimsical illustrations for the Moosewood Cookbook? Or the serene goddess who had time to whip up a loaf of cocoa nut bread for the kids, then wrap it in a towel as they head to the beach? Cookbooks, a lot like blogs, are a window into someone else's day- not the exciting love affairs or professional accomplishments, but the mundane stuff that fills in the gaps... which is also where a lot of life's small, personal pleasures derive from.

At any rate, I sometimes forget that cookbooks are also instructional, not just aspirational! I thought this week I would dig up some dog-eared recipes I have never tried from my treasure trove and see what I've been missing.

First up was Dreena Burton's The Everyday Vegan. Burton has come out with another cookbook at this point, but this is still my favorite. The tone is encouraging, not preachy, and she makes sure to point out that some people are simply looking to incorporate more healthy food into their diet, not defend animal rights, and that's also a perfectly valid reason for cooking vegan. She also includes a list of pantry essentials and health information for new vegans (all the hotspots- vitamin b, protein, ect.) And better still, she is oriented towards entertaining- she has menus and party ideas, along with quick meal tips. (I imagine this book is especially useful for people with small children.)

I've made a lot from this book but haven't checked it out in a while. This time, the Spicy Thai Stew was calling my name. Yams, carrots, peppers and onions in a spicy peanut sauce. Rather than add the chard into the stew, I wrapped it around it so I could tear off little pieces and make roll-ups... This was so good that my roomate was pissed at me for making a half-portion. Also, this recipe was super versatile- I could imagine using the same sauce with green beans, cauliflower, ect. If you have a jar of peanut butter and few veggies, you can make this. Yum.

The next cookbook I dusted off was my all-time favorite, The Garden of Vegan by Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard. This cookbook, like its predecessor, How it All Vegan is more like an all-around vegan handbook, packed with tips, crafts, and inspirational stories. There's even a section on college meals- when your only kitchen might be a dirty microwave down the hall from your dormroom. The recipes are generally pretty simple, but the carefully measured ingredients and spices ensure things come out suspiciously terrific.

I made the Dinner Crepes, thin delicate pancakes around a heady mixture of shallots, lentils, veggies and walnuts. This dinner, friends, was a glamorous affair. The filling was not at all difficult to put together, despite containing my achilles heel, lentils, and was so aromatic and satisfying. It seemed like just the thing you would eat at a cute french bistro with a glass of wine and a cute guy named Jacque.

The best part? Leftover crepes... to fill with bananas and sour cream, faux nutella, butter, brown sugar and almonds... have I mentioned I love crepes?

I plan to continue on my cookbook revival all week... I've still got some I've never ever cooked one thing from!

Song of the Day: Animal Collective- Daily Routine


Budapest-Inspired Strudel

Budapest has a thriving cafe culture that has lasted from the days of Austro-Hungarian empire, and wasn't touched by the double occupation. The number of beautiful (or sometimes decrepit) old coffee houses and "etterems" around Budapest is staggering, and quite of a few of them have some delicious little pastry on offer. The ones that tempted me were always layers of golden puff pastry encasing juicy sour cherries, slices of apple, or rich poppyseeds resembling millions of caviar. What could be more stylish to eat then one of those and a small cup of expresso?

Cafe Szimpla, in the Jewish Quarter

I decided to try my hand at the delicacy and gave it a shot using the recipe for "Black Forest" strudel from The Joy of Vegan Baking.(Although "Black Forest" stuff is usually German... oh well.) It turns out that making a strudel is a delicate process, but not at all time-consuming or difficult. You have to brush thin layers of thawed philo dough with soy-butter, then wrap them around your filling... and then a few minutes later, you have the world's best coffee accompaniment!

I can't wait to try this with other fillings (apple! sour cherries!) but I think I'll hold off on the intense poppyseed ones... for now.

In other news, did anyone see this story about a guy who got fired shortly after his boss found out he was a vegetarian? Apparently he called him a "vegetarian homo." Putting aside for the moment the legal questions here (most likely diet-based discrimination IS acceptable in the workplace under the law... ) I'd like to just point out how ridiculous it is that vegan/ veg men often get overly taunted for their diets. Eating meat does not make you a man. And making fun of other people for their humane lifestyle is such a sad way to hide your own insecurities.

Song of the Day: Golden Age- TV on the Radio