February 15, 2011

a vegan valentine's

So this might sound crazy, but J and I are trying something new: no meat or dairy or anything that comes from the animal kingdom! This is a huge departure for us, especially Jason. While he's very good about trying all the weird things I make for him, one of his favorite meals is hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. And yet somehow, I've convinced him to go vegan for a temporary period? Now that's a real man, ladies and gents. He's a real trouper.

Our friends Ian & Rachel inspired us to try a cholesterol-lowering diet called Engine 2 which is essentially a vegan diet. Someone in our relationship has high cholesterol (hint: it isn't me). Who knew that even chicken and fish have cholesterol?? And that dairy actually leaches calcium from your bones instead of adding to them?? We are now enlightened. Now don't worry - we're not planning to become total, dedicated vegans for the rest of our lives. But we are trying to re-train our bodies to enjoy more whole grains and veggies instead of meat and white bread. 

We've made it through almost 4 days now, and I really don't feel like I'm missing out on anything! (Besides Valentine sugar cookies slathered in frosting, but sometimes you gotta make sacrifices.)

Last night, for our little Valentine dinner, I made us a meal with brown rice pasta - something I had never ever cooked with until last night. And the surprising thing: I don't think I would have known the difference if I hadn't opened the package myself. I also loved the fact that after dinner, I didn't have that heaviness that usually comes from eating pasta. Go brown rice! I also made a quick little appetizer from all kinds of yummy things from Trader Joe's. Go Trader Joe's! I do love Trader Joe's. Sigh.

Good-for-You-and-the-Planet Vegetable Pasta
Serves 4-6, depending on how hungry your husband is after having been deprived of meat for 3 whole days.
1 1lb brown rice spaghetti pasta
1 jar of Arrabiata pasta sauce (or any sauce without cream or Parmesan) or make your own!
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup of dry white wine
4 stalks of asparagus, chopped in 2 inch pieces
1 cup of cauliflower, cut in to bite-size pieces
1 cup of baby portabella mushrooms, chopped
1 cup of kale, chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup kalamata olives, diced
salt + pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Add the entire package of pasta and cook for about 15 minutes, or until al dente.

In a large saute pan, cook red onions in the white wine until soft. Add the rest of the vegetables and the lemon juice. Cover and cook until veggies are done to your liking. Add more white wine as necessary.

Add the cooked pasta to the veggies and cover with the pasta sauce. Toss until combined and heated through, about 5 minutes. Top with fresh basil and kalamata olives. Congratulate yourself for being so healthy.

February 1, 2011

pancakes and a snow day.

I don't know if this is normal, but I am a person who associates food with memories. It's similar to when an old song comes on the radio and immediately takes you back to some other time in your life when things were happy or sad. Pancakes, for example remind me of one person: Gary "Double Ugly Andre" Ellis, my dad's best friend. He earned that nickname from his famous campfire eggs that he made for me and his daughter, Emily, who is my best and oldest friend and someone I love dearly. Em and I learned from a very early age how to set up a tent, steer a canoe, tell ghost stories, not ask what time it was (answer: "it's daylight"). But my fondest memories of the Ellis family were Gary's famous pancakes. Not only were they perfectly cooked and buttered, but the piece de resistance was the fact that Gary made them into intricate shapes. An Eiffel tower for me, a cat for Em. In my young mind, it was something close to magical.

As I write this, the whole Midwest is being covered up with, by some accounts, the worst snow storm in 100 years. While meteorologists are busy scaring the crap out of everyone, I'm cozy at home with my dog and my husband, watching the blizzard outside.

Gary never would tell me his secret pancake recipe, although I have my theories (it's called butter). So instead, I consulted my cooking bible, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Whatever you need to make or bake is in this cookbook, which makes it my go-to when I need a recipe for something. Because of the "snowmageddon" going on outside, I didn't have a lot of fancy ingredients on hand. Luckily it didn't matter because these pancakes are incredibly simple and perfect and made with normal stuff. The only thing I ask is that you use real maple syrup if you're going to go to the trouble of making pancakes from scratch. Please do this thing that I ask, ok? Ok.

Basic Pancakes
adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman

Mr. Bittman writes this about these pancakes: "Americans must have been sadly alienated from the kitchen for pancake mixes to ever have gained a foothold in the market, for these are ridiculously easy to make."

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons of butter melted and cooled, plus more for cooking
1 cup real maple syrup

Preheat a griddle or skillet over low heat while you make the batter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs into the milk and add the melted butter.

Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing just until moist and combined. It's okay if a few small lumps remain. If the batter seems to thick, add more milk. If you're using a non-stick pan, you may not need additional butter for cooking. We have stainless steel cookware so butter is definitely needed. Melt about 1/2 tablespoon of butter in the pan before adding the pancake batter. Turn the heat up to medium-low and add pancake batter to the pan using a 1/3 cup scoop. Resist the urge to flip the pancakes before they are ready. You can tell readiness by bubbles in the batter on the top side, or when the edges start to brown slightly. 

Repeat with all the pancake batter. You can keep pancakes warm in a 200 degree oven. Serve hot with real maple syrup and a little pat of butter.