Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Look who finally cooked again!

I know it's been a while, but new demands on my time (mainly the new job I started a couple of weeks ago) plus school have made it hard for me to spend time on the computer for recreation - or cook as per usual.  So, updates will probably be scant through the end of April, but I appreciate your patience and look forward to being able to both cook and blog again more often!

Truth be told, the next time I cooked after the last post was a massive fail.  I had this idea that a soybean cassoulet might be a really good idea, and it really wasn't.  The first mistake was putting the soybeans in the slow cooker: that alone, on the low setting, took three days, with onions, carrots and rosemary added on the last day, and it really didn't taste good at all.  Luckily it was vegan, because some of it ended up in the compost bin.  That cured me of my momentary fascination with the dried soybean.  For most of the next week or two, I just ate frozen dinners or made simple spinach salads followed by wine and cheese for dinner. 

When it started warming up again and I realized I had some week-old lemons and an untouched package of celery of indeterminate age in the fridge, it seemed like a good time to try out a new pasta salad recipe.  Twisty egg noodles from Wal-Mart, two chopped tomatoes, a tablespoon of capers, chopped celery and onion sauteed in olive oil (just enough to soften them, but not enough to get rid of all their crunch), a dressing made of olive oil, lemon juice, dried Italian herbs and pepper.  Mix it all together, chill for two hours and add shredded or shaved Parmesan to taste (try 1/2 cup to start).

More recently, I reprised the easy vegetarian cassoulet recipe, only I made it vegan by substituting nutritional yeast (2 tablespoons) for the cheese and used veggie base to make the broth.  This recipe took care of some chopped onion left over from another recipe as well as the remaining celery.  Sometimes I'm afraid to do vegan too often, lest my flirtation with veganism cause me to have a B-12 deficiency, but the yeast takes care of that.  Read here for more on that.

And most recently, an untouched bag of baby spinach from Publix inspired a pasta dish based on my favorite spinach salad: whole wheat linguine cooked al dente, 6 ounces (about 2/3 of a bag) chopped fresh spinach cooked in olive oil, juice from half a lemon, a pinch of nutmeg, and crumbled feta and fresh ground pepper added at the end.  Mix it all together, and voila!  This tasted great, but I was chagrined to see the spinach turn brown when I added the lemon juice to the hot pan before it was done cooking.  It also brought back memories of the childhood invisible ink trick - write something in lemon juice, let it dry, then run a hot iron over the piece of paper and watch it turn brown.  Oh, well - next time I'll just drizzle it on at the end like I would with the salad. 

Another reason I haven't knocked myself out to cook as often is that - aside from Steve easing up on the produce purchases and the fact that I never shop if I can help it - they actually have decent food where I work now, and it's easy to think to myself, Self, a bowl of veggie soup is just two bucks downstairs.  But as long as I have raw materials, I'll be doing my best to use them rather than make lunch from cash. 

Until next time...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Soup, Ready in 24 Hours

This photo was taken a few bites in...I was just that impatient!

I'm getting to where my freezer and cupboard are filled to capacity without the same space shortage issue in the fridge.  And since a recent warm spell has gone away and we're back to more normal, windy weather for early March, this week seemed like as good as any for making a big pot of soup. 

Until now, the only other things I'd ever made that took more than one day were the broth for the post-Thanksgiving turkey noodle soup and the North African-inspired soup I made in the crock pot a week later.  Lately, one of the items that's been taking up a ridiculous amount of cupboard space is this huge, coffee can-sized container of dried soybeans that I got from my co-worker with a vegetarian daughter (the same one who passed along the big bag of TVP that I used to make the shepherd's pie).  Having never eaten the dried kind before, I accepted it without really knowing what I was getting.  Would I would like them enough to make them again, or would they end up in the compost bin without ever being soaked and cooked?  Over the weekend I decided it was time to find out one way or another and dispense with these and some other canned and dried beans. 

And here's where the plot thickens.  You see, I neglected to look up cooking times for soaked soy beans and assumed that they would cook in an hour or so, like other dried beans that have been soaked overnight.  Wrong.

I threw the following ingredients (except the black beans and green beans) into a pot around 6:00 last night and figured it wouldn't take more than an hour for the soy beans to cook through:

Seven Bean Soup:
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup frozen green beans, thawed
1 cup frozen lima beans, thawed
5 cups vegetable broth
1 cup dry soybeans, soaked and drained
1 cup yellow split peas (?)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
salt and pepper to taste

As the evening wore on, I realized how very wrong it was to expect this to cook through in the same length of time as a package of HamBeens 15 Bean Soup.  When I went to bed a little after 9:00 (one thing about being an early morning runner is that you have a small child's bedtime), the soybeans were still crunchy!  So I took Steve's advice and turned the heat all the way down and let it cook through the night.

When I got up this morning...still crunchy!  G&^^$##*%!  So I turned the heat up a notch and headed out for my run.  Upon my return, they were...better, but they still had a ways to go.  So, I turned the heat back down to 1 and left for work a little after 7.  Thankfully, Steve works at home, so I didn't have to worry about the house burning down while I was away.  I ended up simmering it over low heat until about 5:30 tonight.  By that time, most of the soy beans were tender, but a few were still a little firm to the bite. 

Oh, well.  Since I ended up cooking it crock-pot style on the stove, the flavors had plenty of time to come together.  I added an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce near the end, which also gave it a little something something.  The soup was actually really good!  As Steve said, it was worth the wait. 

Now I know to plan ahead anytime I want to make more of these.  I'm thinking these have the potential to make a yummy cassoulet or slow cooker baked beans.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Simple dishes that last

This post is a two-for to make up for the blog post I didn't do on Sunday. 

Sunday I made...wait for it...beans and rice. 

Pigeon peas and sofrito sauce with brown rice, to be exact.  There wasn't a whole lot to blog about there.  I basically followed the pigeon pea soup recipe from over the summer except that I skipped the butternut squash and plantain and used frozen diced green peppers because that's what I had.  I think I also forgot to use the same amount of Yucateco because it wasn't as spicy as I expected.  Truth be told, this was good except that I wish I'd stirred in some tomato paste once the pigeon peas and sofrito sauce were combined.  It would have added some additional color and flavor variety that was lacking from this dish without the butternut squash from the soup.  Oh, and don't leave the peas soaking in the fridge for a day in a half unless you don't mind them sprouting a teeny bit.

Tonight I'm fueling up for another 13-miler, so I made spinach and artichoke pasta.  This used up the last of a bag of fresh spinach, some leftover canned artichokes and a lemon.  And the last of a small block of Romano cheese.  Mmm...pasta.

8 oz. whole wheat linguine
2 tbsp Earth Balance
2 oz. fresh baby spinach
1/2 can of artichoke hearts, drained
juice of one lemon
1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Drain the pasta, lower the heat to medium and stir in the Earth Balance.  As soon as it melts, stir in the spinach and artichoke hearts and cook until the spinach wilts, tossing the ingredients well in order to blend them.  Stir in cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.

Both dishes this week yielded ample leftovers, and since I haven't been hungry for more than a salad most evenings, the leftovers are all getting eaten for lunch.  And since I'm running long first thing tomorrow morning, I'm sure I'll be loving the ready-and-waiting pasta leftovers when lunchtime rolls around!