Saturday, February 23, 2013

Revisiting The Pine.

Hello world, it's Gina. First things first,  I want to add some pictures Jason did not know I had of the polenta casserole and the homemade pizza. I actually really loved the pizza, Jason was not as fond of it because it was very rushed but hey, we've had a very rushed week or so. It was still everything a pizza should be and the first vegan homemade pizza we have made so there is definitely room for improvement. 

The polenta casserole was really just a way for me to use up stuff we had in the fridge that was near expiration date. You should try it, you can come up with some pretty cool recipes! Or some really awful ones. I've had it happen both ways, but it's always a lot of fun and I feel better knowing I'm using the food we bought instead of having to throw it away a week later. It consisted of polenta, tofu, mushrooms, daiya mozz and cheddar cheese and "Cheezy Sauce" from one of the vegan cookbooks we have. I can't even tell you how I made it because I think I modified like ten different recipes all into this one. It really did taste like scrambled eggs though, it was awesome. I always was a big omlet fan and now I think I might be on to something to replicate the taste. More on this once I experiment some more. 

I don't know if you are familiar with Frittata or not. Growing up my Dad always made it for us for breakfast. I've tried to make my own several times in the past but it is a little tricky being able to flip the mixture at the right time and I have had some major kitchen disasters. (spilling the egg mixture all over the stove etc.) My father has this down to a science though and I apologize but I could never reveal his Frittata making secrets however I can assure you he makes the best Frittata I've ever had, besides my Mom's of course. :) (which is likely the same recipe) However, Jason surprised me one morning with his own Frittata, it was awesome!! I can't wait to try some different ways to make it.

I had received an e-mail from one of our local restaurants The Pine about some special menu additions they had going on during lent and was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of options that were veganizable. 

A veggie burger with blackbean salsa on top! 

                                                        A "Vegetable Stack on Quinoa"

If you've been reading this blog for awhile you probably have realized that by default when we go out Jason always ends up choosing the healthier meal and I inevitably am eating a veggie burger or some sort of sandwich. I love bread. It's a problem, I'm working on it. 

Anyways, the veggie burger was awesome! The salsa they had on it was amazing and overall I was very pleased. Jason, however, did not have as great of an experience because his portobello mushroom tasted a lot like chlorine. I'm not sure what they marinated it in but it was pretty gross. He did not seem to have any complaints about the rest of the (very sparse) veggies on his plate. It was really nice to FINALLY see one of the restaurants nearby have some vegan options, we've had a lot going on recently and not cooking for ourselves was a much needed break! My only gripe is I wish they would keep this stuff on the regular menu. Why does it just have to be a lent special? 

Here is Stella and Max pretending to be statues on our bedposts this morning while I am probably watching Harlem Shake videos and hoping they don't jump on my head. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Ode to the Casserole, Asian Inspired Soup, and a Pizza Failure

Last weekend was a tough one - but a weirdly good one.

It's tough times in a family that can bring everyone together the most, and that was proven Saturday and Sunday as Gina and I found ourselves gathered at my Aunt's house - as we had been so many times before - and despite it being a shockingly serious occasion, we all I think had a weirdly good time being together again laughing around the dining room table.

A big Italian family around a table full of food is not uncommon, and nothing on this planet speaks to the need for comforting like a big tray of casserole.

Make that two.

Gina spent Sunday afternoon making two really delicious trays of "lasagna".  It was layers of eggplants, zucchini, mushrooms with a ricotta-like mixture of tofu and spinach between each and a layer of mozzarella flavored Daiya.  We didnt have time to make our own sauce - which, for this occasion would have been perfect - but instead opted for jarred, store bought sauce (sorry moms).

Gina also made the most delicious cookies ever - seriously.  You may be reading this thinking, "I've probably had better cookies."  But you haven't.

They were so delicious, in fact, that they were eaten before a picture could even happen.

I humbly assembled a forgettable salad, all of this is pictured below (minus the cookies), spread before my overjoyed niece, Tessa:

Here's a different angle.  This doesn't really do them justice.

The Gina-Made casserole's are bookending my Aunt's Stuffed Shells in the middle.  She did actually make the sauce for hers.

The left overs got us through a good part of the week.  Gina made another casserole with some leftover polenta that we had.  She used nutritional yeast and tofu in it and the whole cooked final product had the taste and texture of - I kid you not - for real scrambled eggs.  It was delicious.


I'd like to take a moment here for us all to raise a glass to casserole's in general - Thanks casserole for being so easy to make, and for saving us all from cooking due to your inevitable leftovers.


Okay, I had to look up our fine friend casserole in wikipedia.

Here's the gist - Casserole is the French word (who knew?) for "Saucepan".  The British call it a "Bake" instead but what do the Brits know?

It usually (unless you're weirdos like Gina and I) consists of a Meat, or Fish, various vegetables chopped, a starchy binder like pasta or potato (or tofu and spinach - don't judge.) and a sometimes a crunchy, cheesy topping.

They also make your soul weep with bliss (okay, Wikipedia did not actually say this, it was my own addition.  BUT IT'S TRUE.)

Historically speaking, I was surprised to discover that casserole's aren't that old compared to the antiquity of a lot of the things we eat.

They're credited (via Wikipedia) to a French Canadian (CANADIAN!?) immigrant by the name of Elmire Jolicoeur in Berlin, New Hampshire.

New Hampshire.


In the 1950's, when new forms of metal and glass cookware began to develop, the casserole gained widespread popularity.  Wikipedia claims that by the '70s the casserole "took on a less-than sophisticated image." - but it's not a real encyclopedia anyway so don't listen to them.  This is sophistication with a capitol S.



We have not been cooking much recently in light of the vaguely mentioned family stuff that's been going on.  Loving Hut has been our dinner plan to an almost embarrassing extent.

The other night we did make the below soup:

It was surprisingly quick and easy to make.

Its like a pound of Shitake mushrooms, chives, ginger, garlic, soba noodles and 4 cups of vegetable broth, 4 cuts of water.  Spinach.  Lime.  Soy Sauce.  In total, prep work included it took about 40 minutes to make AND IT WAS AWESOME.

We had tried to make this a month or so ago and failed at it miserably.  The problem was, last time we put too many soba noodles into it and they soaked up pretty much all of the broth making it this weird, starchy,  Asian  inspired stew.

Oh, we also made pizza dough one night - but despite the final product tasting great, it was kind of a failure.  We had like 45 minutes of time to make dinner one night last week so we took the dough (which we had made over the weekend) out of the fridge and tried to work with it.  Bad idea.  It was way too cold to work with and the pizzas were roughly the size of a CD.

That's the messy little guy going into the oven there.  I didn't even bother taking a pic of the final product, it was so sloppy.  When we have more time we'll try pizza again and I'll run through the dough making process (which was pretty cool) more thoroughly.

That's all I gots!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Music, Winter Blues, and Foodz

Jason posting.

I feel like kind of an idiot but it never occurred to me that you can take your own, like, physical CD's (remember those?) and import them into your iTunes library.

Don't judge.

So I've spent the morning importing all my CD's into iTunes and making this killer playlist.  So far I've been rocking Alabama Shakes, Of Monsters and Men, Nico, Foxygen, Rainer Maria, Karmella's Game, and Blonde Redhead - and the list is growing.

(A note on Foxygen - A very good friend of mine whose musical opinion I hold in very high regard told me about them the other night.  He suggested I listen to their song Shuggie - so I YouTube'd it.  I suggest you do the same - it's a life changer.  Foxygen - Shuggie.  DO IT.  weirdly, the very next day a coworker gave me a copy of the same album.)

Anyway, other than listening to music and trying desperately to survive the cold, arctic tundra that is western Pennsylvania in the wintertime - Gina and I have been cooking up a storm.

Ever since the decision to go vegan, we have really limited our options for eating at restaurants 'round here (although we did discover that Angelia's does, in fact, have a veggie sub that you can get without cheese if you are obnoxiously specific about it) - so Giant Eagle and Shop 'n Save in Kennedy Twp have become our best friends.

We've also been opening the eyes of many a teenage cashier in the checkout line with all the fresh produce we've been buying.  My favorite moment so far was the following exhange at Giant Eagle a week or so ago:

Teenage Cashier #1:  What are these?  (throws a skeptic glance to Teenage Cashier #2 who is standing beside her, in her hand dangle a cluster of large beets with the greens still attached.)

Me:  Beets.

Teenage Cashier #1: (smiling uncertainly and glancing again at Teenage Cashier #2 who makes a face akin to the face one would make had I placed on the checkout counter the rotting corpse of a largely mutated sewer rat.)  I should really learn the vegetables.  What are these, lettuce?

Me:  Kale.  (by now I am smiling really intensely and making a super exerted effort to not seem like I'm "that guy" who buys all the weirdo stuff and publicly calls himself a "foodie" and over pronounces things like arugula.)

Teenage Cashier #2:  (Leaning towards Teenage Cashier #1 conspiratorially)  I've heard that beets are super gross.

Teenage Cashier #1:  (Nodding in agreement, but then glancing back at me)  I'm sure they're probably not too bad... (She is now looking at me with something like sympathy.)

Teenage Cashier #2:  I wouldn't eat them.

It was awesome.

That said, I have failed big time at actually photographing everything.  I'm going to be honest, I've been experiencing the Winter Time Blues recently and ambition has taken a severe blow.

I did catch a couple - like the below pic:

 Please excuse our kind of messy kitchen table.  This was a really great stew of Kale, parsnips, potatoes, carrots and white beans and quinoa - it's from Isa Chandra Moskowitz' Appetite For Reduction cookbook.  Here's a closer look.

 It was really delicious, and really great for the cold weather.  A really warm-you-up stew great for a frigid winter's night.  From the same cookbook (we've been really into that one recently), we also made the below mushroom and Cannellini Paprikas:

This was really savory and comfort-food-ish (to me, anyway) - Mushrooms, red onions, garlic and spices are first cooked in red wine and veggie broth until it reduces a bit.  The cannellini beans are then added, cooked for a bit, and them some of them are mashed into the broth with a fork to thicken it.  You're supposed to add smoked paprika (thus the ending of the recipe title) but we forgot to buy it and didn't feel like going to the store again so we used chili powder instead and it still tasted great. We garnished it with fresh chopped dill and served over couscous.

One night we made marinated portobello steaks (that I don't have a pic of - Gina might.)  The next night we had left over portobellos so I marinated these in olive oil, white wine, soy sauce and grated garlic and balsalmic vinegar and baked them for 20 minutes.  We then sliced 'em up into a salad of mixed greens, left over red onions, celery, carrots and chickpeas.  Thinking this wouldn't be filling enough I cracked open two cans of vegetable soup and we had Soup 'n Salad and left the table unnaturally full.

Gina made the dressing for the aforementioned salad from Isa Chandra Moskowitz' Veganomicon (yeah, we pretty much just recreate the Post Punk Kitchen every night minus the cameras, live punk band in our living room doing prep work, and cameras).  It was dijon mustard, maple syrup, red wine vinegar and grapeseed oil.

Lastly, my absolute fav - I've been making VEGAN SAUSAGES that we eat with english muffins (we've been rocking that Ezekial brand recently, its really good!) for breakfast every morning.  These are from (don't get annoyed) Isa Chandra Moskowitz' Vegan Brunch and are surprisingly simple to make and only take about 45 minutes tops.

They're made from white beans mashed up, vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, olive oil, vegetable broth, oregano, and fennel.  They may not photograph very well but believe me when I say, they are delicious, and meaty, and wonderful - plus, they cost practically nothing to make and last for about a week - a $6 box of Morning Star patties last about 2 days (when I am involved) and have, for no feasible reason, egg whites in them which, as you may know from prior posts, I think is creepy and that's not even from a vegan or vegetarian standpoint.  COME ON!  Its like eating cooked up embryotic fluid.

Anyway, like I said, they may not make a pretty picture, but they are delicious:

I'll try to better at taking pics of stuff we make this upcoming week.  Gina may have some that I dont know about that she took on the sly (she's sneaky like that.)

Stay warm!