Saturday, December 8, 2012

LENTIL SOUP BLISS and other stories...

It's been a couple weeks since my last post.  Since I'm still alive you can probably assume I've been eating in that span of time.

Since Gina and I are both posting, I guess it's a good idea now to start saying who's talking to you at the beginning of each blog.

Hi!  It's Jason.

Anyway, I'll get to the good stuff now:

A couple weeks ago my awesome cousin and his amazing girlfriend came over to our house and made us a delicious feast of...


Okay - Ive mentioned before how much I love soup.  It's true.  In fact, I eat it for breakfast sometimes (okay, maybe more often than sometimes...)

I really didn't do too much to help except drink lots of wine and offer moral support.  Here's some prep work:

Like I said, my cuz did most of the cooking.  He started with, I believe, the sauteing onions, garlic, celery and carrots:

It smelled delicious.  Stir it, cuz.  Give it goooood stir.

I'll lower the creepy meter for a bit, sorry.

After a whole bunch of other ingredients were added including spinach, and (as a really neat surprise) kalamata olives, he added the lentils:

Go on, hear that lentil shower sound in your head.


Like rain on a cold night when you're wrapped in a blanket on the hearthstones beside the enormous crackling fireplace (that you secretly don't have except in your head) with a cat curled on your lap, purring, and you realize that somehow you are in Poland and from the kitchen emerges the kindliest, most elderly woman you have ever seen and she has made you Lentil Soup.

Something like that.

 This is what a bowl of it looked like in all of it's steaming, heartwarming glory:

And here's the money shot:

It was amazing.

We invited them to come back and cook for us anytime.

Seriously, guys.  ANY. TIME.

Other than that, we didnt really take too many pics of meals we have made ourselves.  It's been a very cray couple of weeks - thus the drought in posting.  We did go out a couple times.

I had been meaning to take some pics of a meal at The Pine in Kennedy.  Its seriously right up the street from us.  We could walk there if we ever had time anymore to do something like walk up the street.

From the menu, I usually get the Create Your Own Pasta meal.  I was boring this time and only got penne with broccoli.

It looks like this:

Their sauce isn't bad, and the pasta was decent.  They give you a pretty enormous portion so you usually have enough left over to take home, put in the fridge, intend to bring for lunch the next day but instead forget all about it and end up buying a Sheetz MTO instead.

Gina got the Veggie Grilled cheese which looked like this:

I like that they put it on that swirly rye bread - you don't see that too often.

We also treated our selves to something I have been desperately craving recently:  Indian Food.

Gina was working out in the North Side for a bit and I picked her up from work and we went to our favorite Indian Restaurant in Pittsburgh - Taste of India in Bloomfield.

Kennedy has no Indian Restaurants (I think, though, if there was a Pizza specific to India, Kennedy would open an Indian Restaurant stat.), Robinson has no Indian Restaurants.  Moon had an Indian Restaurant but it closed.  I've been huddled, shaking in an alley going through the throes of Indian Food withdrawal. 

Our dinner looked like the below picture, but the picture doesn't do justice to the explosion of bliss each bite brought us:

I got the one closest to the foreground:  Aloo Ghobi, which is potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes in a wonderful sauce full of Indian spices.  Gina got the one in the background - Malai Kofta.  It is fried vegetable patties in a creamy curried, coconut based sauce.

The baskets of flatbread are Naan and Praratha.  I got Aloo Praratha, which is a potato filled bread, and Gina of Onion Naan.

And that is all I've got.  Hope you're all well!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Some Thanksgiving Business

Hello world. Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving if you happen to celebrate it. We had a very nice one. As you probably know or at least can imagine, Thanksgiving can be a tricky day for vegetarians. I would probably pass out from shock if anyone in either of our families presented us with a Thanksgiving Day Tofurkey. We do not expect this of them, we don't like to make anyone feel like they have to change the way they do things for us, especially on holidays that are steeped in tradition. We usually have a Vegan Thanksgiving with our friends in December and it is definitely one of my favorite traditions we have made our own.
Since we do a lot of running around on Thanksgiving being that we are bouncing back and forth between my family and Jason's family I wanted to make something for each place we were going to that would be okay to sit in the car for a little bit. For dinner at my aunt's house I made a Broccoli Cheese Casserole which I thought was my mom's recipe but then my grandma said it was hers but then said it was really my other aunt's so who knows. If you are Italian you probably know a little something about awesome yet crazy Italian grandmothers that you wouldn't trade for the world but sometimes make no sense. Regardless of who actually created this recipe, it's extremely simple to make and everyone always loves it. It's obviously also vegetarian friendly and could very easily be made vegan.

The ingredients are below:
If you are as awesome as me you will accidentally buy one package of chopped broccoli and one package of broccoli spears (how does that even happen?)which you then have to chop up after they are cooked. Sigh.I prefer to steam the broccoli, I think it tastes better and stays together better than boiling it. 
I put a little bit of butter around the dish just to prevent any sticking. 

Everything is in except for the Ritz Cracker crumbles.
Put a bunch of crackers in a baggie and smush them. Ta da! 
This will be your delicious finished product!

For Jason's aunt's house which is where we went to for dessert I decided to make Butterscotch Blondie Bars. I had never made these before but they ended up being amazing. 

This is the recipe I used. 

Set up

Why hello Kitchenaid Mixer, nice to see you. 

Would you like to mix some things for me? Of course you would!

This is the point where I always want to eat the batter. 




These were also fairly simple to make, I made both of them in the morning and I believe it was under 2 hours total for both of them to be totally done. So that is really all I cooked for Thanksgiving. Hope yours was wonderful and I am sure Jason will be updating soon with more of our food adventures. I will leave you with this.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Local Bar/Restaurant and a neighboring Township's varying Asian fare.

It was a long work week.  I mean, really long.  I swear Tuesday felt like it should be Thursday and it just went downhill from there.

We celebrated the end of the long week with Loving Hut and a giant, beautiful jug of Carlo Rossi.  More on Loving Hut later (no more about our old pal Carlo need be said.)

One of the unbelievably long days this week - I truthfully do not remember which one - I met up with Gina and one of her co-workers at a restaurant/bar in our hometown of Kennedy Twp. that I have been meaning to go to for a long time, The Tower Lounge (the link doesn't go to a webpage for them, I couldn't find one.  Instead the link goes to their menu.)

I arrived late, having worked overtime.  The place was much larger on the inside than I had thought that it would be with walls just exploding with Pittsburgh Pirates paraphernalia.  The bar is located in the center of the room, tables are along the walls.  The place had few customers when I arrived - Gina and her co-worker were the only people occupying a table, there were a couple of people sitting at the long bar who appeared to be regulars.

I'm going to be honest - I didn't really read the menu.  Cut me some slack, though - it was a long day! 

Gina let me know that there were not an overwhelming array of veg friendly options on the menu, but that the pizza sounded good (Side note:  There are a great many Pizza places in Kennedy twp, as I have mentioned in past posts.  They range in quality, but nearly all say that they have won the honor, somehow, of being THE BEST PIZZA IN PITTSBURGH - The Tower Lounge makes no such claim, as far as I could tell, but the pizza was really, really good - so maybe they should.)  So we ordered a pizza.

A slice of said pie looked like this:

What really won me over, though, was the hot pepper flakes they provided.  Advice to restaurants globally - you can all learn something from The Tower Lounge.  When your customer asks for hot pepper flakes for their pizza pie, please give them this:

Yes, that is a gigantic glass jar shaker FULL of delicious hot pepper flakes.  Oh, and BTW, the picture is blurry ON PURPOSE so as to give you the effect of the three Straub's that I downed almost immediately upon arrival that night (see prior notes regarding long, hellish week).

The pizza was very good, the staff were very attentive and friendly, and the atmosphere was great - we definitely plan on going back.

So after that night, we made it somehow through the remainder of the week and finally found ourselves, Friday night, at Loving Hut - our neighbor, Robinson Twp's vegan restaurant (In pondering Robinson Twp as a choice of locations for a storefront on the part of the Loving Hut chain, it's a mystery to us too.).

A creature of habit, I have to confess I have been to Loving Hut many times since it's mysterious opening not long ago - but I have only ordered two things from the menu - and both are giant bowls of soup.

We started off with an order of Spring Rolls.  "Spring Rolls in the late fall!" - you gasp.  Yes.  I didn't stutter.  And they looked like this:

Standing guard on either side of them is Gina's iced cappuccino and my (less than great) green-drink-whose-name-I-cant-remember.  I wanted it to taste like some kind of green tea/bubble tea asian goodness - but instead it tasted exactly like sprite with orange juice dumped in it and green food coloring added for ambiance.

The Spring Rolls were wonderful - that's peanut sauce in the middle (we encourage double dipping).

I have a weakness for large bowls of soup.  Really, I could eat soup for every meal if I could.  Even in the summer.  Rain or shine.  National Holidays, religious holidays - it's always a soup day in my book.

As I mentioned before, I have only had two things on the Loving Hut menu and they are Pho, the delicious giant bowl of Vietnamese goodness - and Bun Hue (sometimes called Bun bo Hue), also a large bowl of soup of Vietnamese origin.

I got Bun Hue this time, it's likeness is displayed below:

Bun Hue is named for the city of Hue in central Vietnam - the one time capital of the country.  The real deal dish is most definitely not vegetarian let alone vegan, being a broth based on beef bones and shank with fermented shrimp sauce added in, and obviously having never tried the for reals version, I dont know how close Loving Hut came to replicating it as a vegan alternative.  The Loving Hut version has a miso-ish broth, rice noodles, and what I believe are thin slices of seitan as a nod to the slices of beef shank in the original soup.  There are also strips of cooked tofu, mushrooms and cilantro to be found.  A side dish is served with it with what I believe is cut cabbage, and a sliver of lemon to squeeze into the soup.

But all of that is totally overshadowed by this:

Yes, thats right - each table has its very own bottle of Sriracha.  Always a win for me.

Gina got Loving Huts veggie burger which she said is very, very good:

To finish things off - I went grocery shopping with my Dad today and after we went to Ya Fei (in Robinson - yeah, if you are thinking, "Why does Robinson have all these restaurants of varying cultural variety?", we wonder the same thing.)

We were in time for the lunch special menu - and they had General Tso's Tofu as an option!  I asked the waiter if their Hot and Sour soup was vegetarian thinking it was almost definitely not - but I shouldn't assume - it is! (and it's awesome).

The Hot and Sour soup looked like this:

And the General Tso's Tofu looked a little somethin' like this:

The tofu was crisp on the outside, and very soft on the inside.  While I typically prefer it to be really firm all the way through - this was done really nicely.  It was in a brown sauce that was decent - both salty and sweet (and probably very American).

That all I got for now.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What I Did While Jason Was Eating Ramen.

Well, as you know from Jason's post yesterday, he spent most of his day healing from the night before and actually relaxing for once. I, on the other hand, went to a craft show at Canevin High School with my mom. Since buying our house I have become totally obsessed with home decor and the cheapest ways to obtain the items or looks I want in my house. This has turned me onto Etsy which I love dearly and also has me checking out every antique, thrift, consignment, or craft store I can find. You can imagine I was delighted with the prospect of a craft show. Okay, onto the food! (Jason will ban me from blogging if I spend much time gushing over the wonders of Etsy and home decor.)

We stopped at Hanlon's Cafe in Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center for lunch before heading over to the show. Crafton is only about 15 minutes from our house and I actually grew up in Crafton, we lived there until I was in 5th grade which is when we moved to Robinson. If you've never been there, I would definitely recommend checking it out, Crafton has these really great tree lined streets with awesome older houses that are gigantic and whimsical looking. At least to me.

Hanlon's Cafe apparently used to be called Andrea's and just went under a big re-design. I'm not sure if it was a switch of owners or just a total makeover. When we walked in I noticed they had really cool pictures on the wall of the Crafton Ingram area from a very long time ago.

There were a decent number of vegetarian friendly items on the menu and as you can see, A VEGGIE SALAD!! One of my biggest pet peeves is when a restaurant will have 80 different salads and none of them are vegetarian. Really?? It's a salad, you jerks. 
I opted for the Veggie Hoagie as it was listed. We cannot get one anywhere around us in Kennedy. All of the 700 pizza places refuse to carry a veggie hoagie and I love me a good veggie hoagie so that has been disappointing to say the least. I jumped to get one at Hanlon's hoping for the joy of the ones I would get in the city (Kristophers in Greenfield and OMG Spak Bros) but sad to say I was kind of disappointed. 

When I get a hoagie I generally expect it to be on an actual hoagie bun. The bun it was on was more like a big hamburger bun. It was pretty difficult to keep everything in it while eating.Inside was lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and tomatoes. There may have been zucchini but if so it was not memorable enough for me to recall. That was it, though. There was nothing to hold this together. No mayo, dressing of any sort, mustard, nothing. The broccoli and cauliflower did not taste like they were cooked enough and honestly, the whole thing was pretty bland. It needed some sort of kick to it. Another veggie hoagie dream goes down the drain. Sigh.

I eased my pain by purchasing these things at the craft show :

Awesome necklace !
Handmade soap - another weird love of mine.

For our spare bedroom which I have my owl collection in. 

Hummingbird ornament hand carved 
A Pittsburgh shadowbox because we're THOSE people

SO today I am off work because I work for a bank so I had the luxury of waking up at 10 and doing nothing. I made waffles for breakfast/lunch.

Here is one of our cats, Max. He is 17 lbs. I don't even know why.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

RAMEN. A hung-over dinner story.

Today I was feeling slightly under the weather.  Totally my own fault.  My brother in law came over last night and he, Gina and I had a drink or two...  He and I drank skrewdrivers for some unknown reason, Gina stuck with beer because she is infinitely wiser than we are - and not very many beers at that.  Needless to say, he and I were in the silent, headachy club this morning while Gina was feeling well rested and healthy.

I'd like to believe I learn from my mistakes...

Anywho - today I did something I really never do - I actually rested on a Sunday.  No pace reading, no frantic, obsessive (to the point of pathology) cleaning, no plans.  Nope.  This guy sat on his B-hind and played video games pretty much all day.  And liked it!

So, in essence, I was a pretty normal dude, for once, if only for a day.

It was an eat leftovers cold kind of day.  And it was a Ramen for dinner kind of day as well.

Gina had a salad - I dont think a picture of it is out there.  But I opted for my old pal Ramen.

If anyone is just starting out as a vegetarian here is a quick tip you will thank me for forever (money gifts as your way of saying "Thank you!" are graciously accepted.  Seriously.):  The only Ramen that is vegetarian (that I know of) is the one in the blue package.  They call it "Oriental Flavored" but I feel kind of uncomfortable calling it that - so I just always say, "The one in the blue package."

It looks like this:
 Ramen - which some (wikipedia) say has it's etymological origin as the old school Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word for "hand pulled noodles" - was, as my understanding goes - a noodle soup made with for reals noodles, the kind you actually have to cook.  It wasn't until Momofuko Ando perfected and began selling the first instant noodles in 1958 that Ramen could be purchased as a packaged product and prepared very quickly at home as we know it today.

Ramen is - as anyone who has ever lived on their own in their late teens, early twenties knows - very cheap.  And also does pretty little for you nutritionally.  As a young-buck vegetarian making pretty much no money, blue package Ramen became very well known to me - but in order to bulk it up nutritionally, I have experimented with many different methods of preparation.  I even had a phase where I was adding 2 tablespoons of peanut butter to the pot around the time the water boiled and stirring it until it melted in.  Don't knock it till you've tried it - the peanut butter added a really cool depth of flavor to it.

Another favorite of mine is to add mustard to the broth while its cooking before you put the noodles in (my college roommate's girl friend taught me this one).  The salty/tangy combo is really good.

Sriracha in the broth is a no brainer - but then, Sriracha goes with everything.

Tonight I used the below method of preparation:

Hung-Over Ramen Special

Fill a pot with water totally ignoring the instruction on the back of the package to only use 2 cups.  I like a lot of broth - I feel like I get to enjoy eating it longer.  Don't judge.

Bring water to a boil and add SALSA.  You heard me.  SALSA.

Put on Pandora on your iPhone and find the Cuban station and do a little dance while you are doing this.  Yeah, you're feeling it now.  Go on.  Move those hips.


Add a healthy glug (or perhaps two glugs - go a little nuts) of soy sauce.


Shake in a nearly inhuman amount of cayenne pepper (or don't if you are not ridiculously into spicy food.)


Add a TON of frozen veggies.  I used a Stir Fry mix package that had broccoli, mushrooms, string beans, and onions.


Add a can of black beans for some added protein, and because they are freaking delicious.  (I dump the can in a strainer first and rinse them because I am crazy and believe that this changes the fact that they just came out of an aluminum can.)

While you stir the beans reflect on the fact that you have been meaning, for pretty much your entire adult grocery shopping life, to start using the dry beans that feel like they're too much work to prepare.

Let this all simmer for a couple minutes to give the frozen veggies time to be - you know - not frozen anymore.  During this time, do NOT do what I do and continuously bring to mind that weird and probably unresearched internet article I read a couple years ago that advised me that every ticking second you boil, bake, or cook vegetables they lose their nutritional value.

Cut the heat.  Add the flavor packet and give it all a good stirring until it's good and mixed.

Ladle that steaming, delicious bad boy into a bowl as shown below:


And that was dinner tonight - and for many, many nights in my early twenties.

Now I'm going to go to bed and tell myself, again, that I will never drink again all the while knowing that I very likely will.

Or maybe I'll just play more video games.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Being a homeowner is expensive.

Sup Blogosphere,

I wanted to do my wifely duty and creep into Jason's blog to bring you a post detailing the usage of cheap "side dish" options and how to make them a meal.

Jason and I have found that once you pay your mortgage and all 7 billion utilities involved and deal with whatever surprise expenses that always seem to pop up, you can't always afford to peruse the grocery store with reckless abandon and throw anything into the cart. While we would love to hit up Market District in Robinson and gorge ourselves with all the Tofurky products in the world, it's just not in our budget on a consistent basis. Also, when getting home after a long day of work, we often do not feel like making a meal that takes an hour or two to prep and cook.


Through some good ol' Kennedy Township Shop n' Save research we have found that Pasta and/or Asian Sides can actually make a decent meal when you supplement them with tofu and a shit ton of vegetables/beans. We have also found we are able to buy Hamburger Helper products and obviously instead of putting meat in them we use vegetables/beans/tofu. We are only spending around $1-2 on the actual sides/hamburger helper and then we buy canned beans which are only about 60-80 cents a can. Tofu can definitely get a little pricey but when you are spending a lot less on everything else it's more affordable to sneak in. 
Below is our version of the Chipotle Rosa Pasta Side with the addition of black beans, tofu, broccoli and tomatoes. They made it pretty flavorful and decently nutritious. This isn't gourmet cookin y'all. 

One of the many things I love about tofu is all the options you have when cooking it. We generally prefer ours to be as firm as possible but it's all personal preference. When we want it to be really firm we typically will open it, press it and then put it in a container and freeze it for at least a day before using it. Occasionally when making these quick side dish meals I do make the tofu more "home-style" and leave it softer. If you want to mix it up more and get a little CRAZY you can bread the tofu. I dip it in almond milk and then just use Italian Style breadcrumbs to coat it and then bake it for about 20 minutes. 

Usage of softer tofu 

Today Jason had the genius idea of COMBINING two different sides!!! OMG BREAKTHROUGH!! 

It was pretty delish.

I know these are not the most exciting meals ever but they can be pleasantly tasty, easy to make and cheap.

Here is a picture of Jason and I from 4 years ago wearing matching clothes and shelling peanuts. You're welcome.