Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chickpea Cutlets

There is nothing sexier than when a man knows his way around the kitchen. Historically, young girls were encouraged to learn how to cook assuming that one day they would find themselves in the position of a housewife. We were encouraged with old adages such as "the way to his heart is through his stomach". The signals were clear: cooking is a womanly art and one we must master if we ever want to find true domestic bliss.
Those girls had it easy.
Nowadays, young women have to be everything. We're expected to be good at our jobs and follow our killer instincts at work. We're expected to know how to do all of the traditional "girl stuff". We're also expected to be impossibly thin and are constantly bombarded with images of women who are unrealistically beautiful. You can't stand in line at the grocery store without being confronted by seven different images of women whose job it is to be beautiful and who are  buffed, waxed, polished, and airbrushed within an inch of their lives, all to bring you the latest edition of Cosmo or Marie Claire.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love cooking. I find something incredibly soothing about starting with the most basic building blocks of a meal(vegetables, grains, and spices) and crafting them into something bigger, better, and more delicious than the sum of their parts. I take comfort in knowing that if I follow the correct steps, I'm going to end up with something wonderful. I love setting the table and watching people dig in to meals I have prepared. I live for the look on their faces as they savor something really delicious.
On the other hand, life can get pretty tough.  Day in and day out, I go to work, I deal with people, I manage things, I dot my i's and cross my t's. Then I go to the gym where I sweat needlessly (which I hate) so that I can make up for the time that I spent sitting at my desk, because humans weren't designed to sit at desks anyway. At the end of a long day, there is nothing better than sitting down to a meal that someone else has prepared. The only thing that makes it better is if the chef of said meal happens to also be funny and sweet and incredibly amazing. Needless to say, I was very excited when my boyfriend put together chickpea cutlets in a lemon-caper sauce.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Karyn's Kitchen in Chicago

Dear readers, I hope that none of you are under the impression that my Mis-Adventures are in any way limited to the kitchen. On the contrary, I find disasters happy accidents at every turn. Case in point: my boyfriend and I were on a trip when our plane was grounded for 2 hours outside of Chicago. The official reason given to us by United Airlines was that there were weather delays and flights were delayed in and out of Chicago. Wrong. Flights were delayed by fifteen minutes and our plane didn't have enough fuel to circle. As if being stranded on a runway for 2 hours wasn't enough, United was unable to put us on another flight that day. A very rude and unhelpful customer service agent did get us seats on a plane the next morning. but that left the two of us in Chicago for the night.
Always ready to make lemons out of lemonade, we got a room in downtown Chicago and I set about the business of happy cow'ing a dinner venue. I happened upon a chain of restaurants in Chicago: Karyn's On Green, Karyn's Cooked, and Karyn's Raw. We were staying walking distance from Karyn's Cooked and more than happy to make the trek in eight-thousand degree Chicago weather (with 99% humidity). OK, maybe I wasn't thrilled to make the trek, but when we got to the hippest, trendiest vegan restaurant I have ever been in, my mood instantly lightened.
Here is my theory: Chicago is a big foodie town, and to compete, Karyn and her staff have to maintain a certain level of service, excellence, and delicious food. The restaurant was entirely vegan and the service was warm and friendly (unlike some places in Los Angeles where the wait staff is stiff and not a little bit rude)
After salivating over the menu (remember we had been stuck on a plane all day),  we started off our meal with delicious "buffalo" wings. They were so delicious that we had made it halfway through the plate before it occurred to me that I might want to take a picture.
I followed this course with one of the most amazing bowls of pasta I have ever had in my entire life. While I'm sure that my hunger had something to do with it, it really was exceptional. Pasta was tossed with spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, and a healthy dose of olive oil. Sitting here writing about it is making me hungry. I will say that the bread was not the best of my life, but I didn't really expect it to be. While we were eating, Karyn herself made a stop in and dropped off some flyers at our table. She was awesome, super-skinny, and tanned within an inch of her life. Not many women can pull it off like Karyn can.
After dinner, and even though I wasn't really THAT hungry, we splurged and ordered some chocolate cake with vegan ice cream on the side. My boyfriend wisely reasoned that we weren't going to have another opportunity for vegan cake for the next couple of days, and I decided to accept his premise and his conclusion. The cake was great, but nothing compared to that amazing pasta. I really should try to recreate it on my own.
Anyway, thank you Karyn and company, for making two out of place vegans feel welcome in the windy city. 


Friday, July 23, 2010

Spring Rolls

I really was super-excited to make spring rolls with a peanut dipping sauce. The main reason why I was so excited was that I got to make a trip to Mitsuwa, Mitsuwa is none other than the largest Japanese supermarket in the West, and it is also right down the street from my new house. Walking into Mitsuwa, I imagined finding tons of hidden vegan jewels and walking out with a full cart. Instead, I left shell-shocked, bewildered, and generally shaken, but with spring roll wrappers.
It was very, very strange to be in a store where I literally could not read the labels. Most of them had english on the back, but it was so tiny and indecipherabl, that I was not really sure of what went in anything. I perused the produce section, which had so many umeboshi products that a macrobiotatian would have thought they had died and gone to heaven. On the other hand, I do not much care for umeboshi after a particularly nasty incident with a weight-loss tea consisting of umeboshi, daikon, carrot, and (wait for it) soy sauce. Surprisingly, it was not as good as it sounds.
Back to my trip. I wandered shell-shocked up and down the aisles, occasionally picking up funny-looking boxes and straining to read the ingredients. Definitely NOT vegan-friendly. Even the breads seemed to all have either milk or butter in them. I'm sure I would have had more luck if I had gone with someone more familiar with the cuisine or the language. Fortunately, I did make it out in one piece and with my spring roll wrappers. I got home and was very excited to make my peanut dipping sauce with fresh peanut butter from the Whole Foods. Unfortunately, the peanut butter had some hard, grainy substance in it. Now, I was never emo enough to eat broken glass (I just walk on it), but if I had, this is what I imagine it would have been like.  I was very much into these spring rolls when we had them for dinner, and very much not into them the next day. So the lesson there is that they do not keep well. The other lesson is that Whole Foods puts plastic or something in their fresh-ground peanut butter, or at least they did that day.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Granola Bars

Only 2 days through my now-infamous McDougall week, I caved. My stomach was demanding a mid-afternoon snack, and I got caught at work without access to suitable food. The next thing I knew my legs had carried me to the vending machine. I don't remember buying it, but somehow 85 cents ended up in the machine and a granola bar ended up in my hand. It was like magic, I swear. I was probably possessed.
I didn't actually feel bad about caving, but it was not something I wanted to repeat. Thus, it became critical to find an oil-free granola bar. I know that a l'arabar would have been acceptable, but they charge a buck sixty for those things, and they are pretty much mashed up dates. They are delicious and good in a pinch, but they are not what I would consider a granola bar.
A granola bar should have, well,  granola in it. However, granola is chock full of fat, so I had to go to the source: the oat. Oats are just as good as granola; they just haven't been toasted with a lot of oil and sugar. In a way, it's granola in it's natural habitat. I perused the McDougall forums and found a recipe that looked promising, except it was missing a very key ingredient: carob chips. I understand that I probably screwed up the entire "no-oil" guideline by the addition of these sweet little darlings, but they made my granola bars something like ten thousand times as delicious. Plus, even with a couple of carob chips, these were much better for me than anything that ever came out of a vending machine.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Meetup Group

I am conducting a little social experiment with the folks over at meetup.com. In my social experiment, I have created a meetup group for people who are looking for friends. Let's face it, people are busy with work and school and families, and it doesn't leave much time for making friends. Most of my friends from college have abandoned me moved to NYC.
It's not that I'm friendless, persay. I have lots of friends on the east side (I'm huge in Silverlake, I promise). I have friends from work, I attend regular meetups. I just think it would be fun to crowd-source friend-making and see what turns up. Maybe it will be a bunch of weirdos. Maybe it won't.
Anyway, if you would like to join, here is the link: Super Best Friends Club

Alternative Pizza

Sometimes I get to share my great successes with my readers, and sometimes I feel the need to own up to my mistakes. The following is an account of a pizza gone wrong:
During the week that I stuck to the McDougall plan, I decided to play around with their concept of replacing the cheese on pizza with hummus. It seemingly makes sense, hummus is delicious, oil-free, and easily spreadable. My pesto recipe is also oil-free, delicious, and easily spreadable. Throw either one of them on top of a pizza crust, top with vegetables, and you're in business. Or so I thought.
My first mistake was in the cornerstone of any good pizza: the dough. A good pizza dough is made of yeast, flour, and water. It only uses olive oil to coat the bowl it rises in and prevent sticking. This adds a negligible amount of oil to the recipe, and I should have just accepted it and moved on with my pizza making. Instead, I allowed myself to be seduced by the novel idea of crafting a pizza crust out of whole wheat pastry flour and beer. Yes that's right, beer-crust pizza. It sounds like a great idea, because the two usually make for an excellent pairing. On this particular occasion though, the two did NOT go together. The crust was hard without being cooked through and lacked any flavor whatsoever. Fail.
The second shortcoming of said pizza was in the lack of cheese. The hummus and pesto would have been ok, if I hadn't cooked them within an inch of their life while waiting for the beer dough to solidify and the vegetable toppings to cook. In the future, I would probably pre-cook my veggies and crust, so that I didn't inadvertently suck all the moisture out of the sauce.
The final shortcoming of these pizzas came in the form of the Most Cursed Vegetable. I'm talking about the artichoke. I did my internet research. I trimmed the leaves. I steamed it with lemon. I ended up with a purple-tinged artichoke heart. Now I've never worked with fresh artichoke before, but purple food is just weird. I learned a very important lesson, however. That lesson is to never try to cook fresh artichokes, because I will end up with a mess of purple leaves and very weird pizza.
We ate it anyway.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Proof is in the Pudding

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were at Urth Cafe in Santa Monica, waiting in an extremely long line for the privilege of paying $6 for a cup of coffee (which we gladly do, because it's worth it). The line takes you past a very full and very delicious looking pastry case full of non-vegan baked goods. Now don't get me wrong, Urth does a decent job of having some vegan options. However, their vegan cookies taste like cardboard ground into dust and then stuck back together with glue. Even though I know they don't taste good, I sometimes end up with one of these cookies to quell the cravings brought on by that hellish pastry case. If I thought that I could get away with it, I would certainly bring my own delicious dessert to accompany what has to be the most perfect latte in the universe.
That particular time, I happened to notice a bread pudding. OK, I was probably staring at that bread pudding the way a Manhatten Socialite eyes the jewelry counter at Harry Winston's. Logically, I recognized that that bread pudding was full of butter and cream which were produced at the expense of baby animals everywhere. On the other hand, my mouth was telling me I was hungry. I decided to do what I always do, which is put together my own vegan version of said bread pudding.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

OK I guess that I have to live up to it. After a very successful first week on the McDougall plan, I fell of the wagon. In spite of my McDougallings, my body started retaining water like crazy(more on that personal issue later, I promise). I quickly grew frustrated with my body. It was a lot of work to avoid ALL oils, and going through that trouble without seeing any results was a disheartening experience. I just had to give up the McDougall plan for the time being, with the intention of returning to it.
Of course there is one major exception, and that is that I continue to cut back on oil when I cook at home. By eliminating some of the empty calories that were coming from oils, I've been able to work in more whole grains. They're full of fiber and really do help control your appetite. Last week, I made some delicious oatmeal for breakfast. The recipe serves two, so you can either find a breakfast partner or save half for the following day. It tastes just as good re-heated, so I give this recipe a D for delicious.

 Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 1.25 cups oats
  • 1 apple, cubed
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1tbsp cinnamon 

Bring the apple juice and cinnamon to a boil over medium heat. Add the oats and cook for 5 minutes, or until the liquid disappears. Add the cubed apples and stir. Sprinkle with raisins and brown sugar.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Little Help from My Friend Amy

So yes, it is always good to make your own chocolate cake with applesauce and cocoa powder, and the end result is always something deliciously low in fat and almost good for you. On the other hand, sometimes you are willing to take a break from your diet and are looking for something delicious to round out a low-fat dinner. Last night, I had a failed attempt at gnocchi. I'm not sure what really went wrong, but the end result was a lumpy, sticky potato-mush on the counter. The upside was that I was ready with brown rice pasta as a backup, which ended up going very well with my oil-free vegan pesto. Since we started the meal with a tomato bruschetta (which used a very teensy teaspoon of olive oil), I felt more than justified in taking a major shortcut with dessert.
Cue Amy's. for those of you not in the know, Amy's is a brand that produces natural, organic packaged foods, which are largely available in the frozen section of grocery stores. Even Ralph's carries Amy's products. Yesterday, I was at Whole Foods trying to improvise a dessert. We were in the frozen section, checking out a selection of raw gelato and ice cream. After checking the ingredients on the raw ice cream, I realized that it had just as much oil as any other dessert. and I reasoned that if I was going to break the McDougall plan, I was going to do it for something I knew would be delicious. Cue the improvisation. I debated the idea of baking a lemon-poppy seed cake and wrestled with the notion of baklava. I was considering a lemon tart when, like a shining beacon of hope, Amy's frozen cakes jumped out at me. I originally went for the lemon poppy seed, but it was not vegan. Our choices were limited to orange or chocolate, and the boyfriend made the right choice with the chocolate. I also snagged a bag of Whole Food's frozen berry medley, making this quite possibly the easiest dessert ever created. As a bonus, it was also delicious.

Wine pairing: an entire bottle of Almond Creek Champagne :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Breakfast Bran Muffins

One of the many diet books that I have consulted over the years was the Fat Smash Diet. Yes, that's right, it's written by Dr. Ian from VH1's Celebrity Fit Club. He actually has a degree from Harvard, so I felt comfortable listening to his advice. Unfortunately, that diet was hard to maintain and I came upon it before I really discovered willpower. However, the one thing that always stuck with me was how much Dr. Ian loathed muffins. He would have taken every muffin from every coffee shop and bakery in America, rounded them up, and marched them to their deaths. Why?
Because muffins are totally bad for you. Starbuck's Apple Bran muffin has 470 calories. It's a bran muffin! It's supposed to be healthy, or so one would think. Wash that sucker down with a frappuccino, and your breakfast has 800 calories in it. To give you some perspective, my caloric intake is somewhere around 1800 a day to maintain my weight. So, I could have that "healthy" muffin and some sugary syrupy goodness, but what would I do about the rest of my day?
Now, I wouldn't actually ever eat a Starbuck's bran muffin, because it has little baby animals in it, and I do not eat little baby animals. That whole rant was just a hypothetical exercise. Anyway, since regular muffins are so unhealthy, and since I decided to try out the McDougall plan for a week, here is a decent recipe for oil-free bran muffins. They're very dense and chewy, and it is my experience that one is more than enough for a filling breakfast.
Disclaimer: It's not the most delicious muffin ever, but If you are looking for non-fat recipes, than this is the way to go.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Oil-Free French Toast

Wow, or as the French would say, Oo-la-la. I am a girl who loves sweet foods for breakfast. However, when I think of French Toast I can't help but feel a little guilty thinking about all of the fat involved in cooking. Veganism took care of eliminating the cholesterol, Dr. McDougall took care of eliminating the fat. I, however, will take credit for my brilliant elimination of processed syrup by replacing it with a date compote.
Last month, I made my first-ever trip to Farmer's Choice, a brand new produce store on Pico in Santa Monica. It is in the same shopping center as the Trader Joe's and it is absolutely amazing. The produce looks, feels, and tastes as fresh as a farmer's market, but it's also incredibly cheap. On my second visit, I managed to buy 90% of the weekly produce for 2 people, and it only ran me $17. From talking to the checkout girl, I learned that they get most of their produce shipped in daily and use local sources whenever possible.
I ran in there to pick up some raspberries, but ended up taking a "quick look" around. My quick look turned into an excuse to fill my basket with fresh fruits and vegetables, including some of the sweetest, softest dates I've had in a long time. I previously have sworn by the date lady at the Virginia Avenue Park farmer's market. However, I am switching my allegiance over to Farmer's Choice.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tex-Mex Breakfast!

OK, so I probably talked a lot of shit about tex-mex breakfast when I found the recipe on the McDougall website. I probably continued to poke fun at it as I reworked the recipe. I continued to be a smart-ass even as we sat down and ate tex-mex breakfast. However, I was eating my words once I realized 1: it's delicious and 2: it's really, really good for you.
I made this breakfast a few weeks ago and substituted tofu for the brown rice recommended by the officiall McDougall recipe. Some members of my household can't really get behind the entire "rice for breakfast" idea.
On the day I took the picture, I may have undermined the entire "oil-free" concept by adding some crumbled vegan sausage. The reason behind the addition was pretty straightforward. I had the vegan sausage patties on hand from before I went on my McDougall bender, and didn't want to let it go to waste. I'm big on not letting things go to waste.