Monday, April 16, 2007

Rainy day eats

Due to a statewide flood alert and high wind warnings, I managed to get the day off from school today. We aren't suffering any ill-effects from the storm other than a little water in the crawl space, so I'm taking advantage of some much-needed time to just chill.

This morning I took the time off and made some pancakes. They aren't always my favorite morning food, but they make me think back to when I was in elementary school and I would be allowed 7 or 8 friends to sleep over for my birthday. After a long night of truth or dare [can you believe that Susie likes Jimmy!] and terrible kid movies, we would all crash to sleep in sleeping bags on the floor. Ahh, those were the days, but I digress, this was supposed to be about pancakes. When we woke up, my mom would make pancakes for me and all my sleep deprived friends.

This morning I edited Isa's recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance for Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Pancakes to make some Blueberry Chocolate Chip Pancakes. The only problem I've found with Isa's recipes as a whole is that the yields never quite work out for me. According to the book this should have made me about 10 pancakes, it ended up making closer to 20. Maybe I was making them smaller than I thought. On the bright side, pancakes freeze pretty well can are yummy reheated in the toaster oven.

Blueberry Chocolate Chip Pancakes
1 cup + 5 TBS all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup soymilk
2 TBS canola oil
3 TBS brown rice syrup or maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
canola oil or cooking spray for pan

In a large mixing bowl sift together dry ingredients. Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix until just combined. Don't overmix.

Oil and preheat a nonstick pan or skillet. Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the hot pan and cook until small bubbles appear on the surface, flip and cook a minute more or until pancakes are browned on both sides. Repeat until all batter is used. Serve plain or with maple syrup. Makes about 20 pancakes)

For lunch I didn't feel much like cooking so I opened up a package of Trader Joe's Punjabi Eggplant and made some basmati rice. We don't have a Trader Joe's close to where I live, but my dad was passing one by on his way home the other day and he picked this up because he saw that it was vegan. For a product that looked like canned cat food coming out of the box (I'll spare you an actual photograph here), it was surprisingly good. Not restaurant quality but something I would buy again if I got the chance. The spices were well balanced and it wasn't too oily.

As a last plug, I would highly recommend checking out the new and improved VeggieBoards blog. With about 20 bloggers participating, the site is updated almost every day (sometimes more than once per day) and covers a wide variety of veg*n related topics. Bloggers include myself, Michael (the awesome creator of VeggieBoards), and the lovely Marti of the Fairly Odd Tofu Mom blog.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Passover Madness

Passover is one of those holidays that I view with both anticipation and dread. It's of those times when my family gets to shine as the absolutely stereotypically Jewish family. Most years we trek to Queens or Long Island, stopping only in traffic to look at the Chasidic Jews with their long coats, beards, hats, and boxes of handmade shmura matzah walking home to prepare for the seder, the traditional ritual meal.

When we finally arrive at our destination sometime in the middle of the afternoon we're greeted by my sleep-deprived aunt who has been cooking straight for almost a week. She bustles around the kitchen, anxiously asking if we remembered the wine. Of course, the wine. It comes out of the trunk of our car by the case, two, three, maybe four cases full of wine. I lay the table, if I have a spare hour or so I make the salad. It takes a long time to make salad for this many people. The dinner tables stretch from the kitchen to the living room. There were once more than fifty people at a single family seder.

There is panic: nobody bought gefilte fish (of course, that doesn't bother me), we're out of matzah meal, where are the lemons? Of course, nothing is really the matter. The fish is in a jar in the back of the Passover closet, the matzah meal is just where it was left on the counter and the lemons are probably already out.

Guests slowly arrive throughout the afternoon, some are more useful than others. The younger kids run around throwing a ball until they are exiled to the short driveway to play. Some other guests wander into the kitchen to lend a hand, others sit on the couch and read a paper. My uncle Robert, who has Down's syndrome, wanders around the house asking when he will get a key chain (he collects them, he must have more than a thousand) and alternately telling us all that he hates and loves us. Then of course, there are the ever-present grumbles of, "When do we eat?"

And to be honest, that's the question that concerns everyone, "When do we eat?" [There was an absolutely horrendous Passover movie by this same title release a year or two ago, but I wouldn't recommend watching it unless you really want brainless entertainment that isn't that entertaining.] The answer to this question is unknown. We can't start until services are over and the people at services walk home. Then there are last minute concerns that take a good hour or so. If we're lucky we might get started by 8:30. If we aren't so lucky, maybe 9:30.

Starting the seder doesn't mean dinner, though. It means a long-winded Passover story, told in a mix of English and Hebrew (and it's never possible for everyone to be in the same place at the same time, someone always wants to rush ahead, lag behind, or just switch languages), two cups of wine, beating all the other guests with scallions or leeks (yes, it hurts sometimes, but it's great fun so it's worth it. put on some long sleeves and brave it like a champ, think of your ancestors who were beaten by their taskmasters in Egypt), celery, parsley, salt water, vinegar, matzah, charoset (see the recipe below), horribly out of tune singing, and a couple Talmudic and political debates. Eventually we reach shulchan orech, the festive meal. Hopefully it's before 10:15. Pouring soup and matzah balls for this many people takes quite some time.

We chow down, pass every dish around the table, and an hour or two later, we're ready to search for the afikoman, a piece of matzah hidden someplace in the house. Sometimes it's hidden really well. It might take another half an hour until someone finds it and trades it in for a prize. Finally we all have a bite of afikoman, sing the grace after meals, drink the last two cups of wine, sing some more, open the door for a prophet that doesn't exist to come in and drink a cup of wine off the dinner table, and finish the seder, if we're awake that is. It's a long proceeding, all of which will be repeated the next night.

Passover. Simultaneously my most and least favorite holiday of the year. With a few great recipes, though, you can pretend that you survived my whole family ordeal. Nobody would have noticed if you dropped in, anyway.

A great seder can only be judged by it's charoset, the sweet spread we eat to commemorate the mortar that our ancestors used to make bricks in Egypt. This recipe comes from my grandmother, and probably from some religious Jew before her, so you know it's good. Feel free to multiply it to serve as many as you need.

Serves 4 as a side dish

1/4 cup almonds
1/3 cup walnuts
3/4 apple, peeled
2 dates
10 black grapes
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 pomegranate (optional)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
dash of black pepper
1/4-1/2 cup sweet red wine

Add all ingredients except the wine into a food processor and process until chopped into coarse pieces. Pour into a bowl and slowly add the wine while mixing. Add wine until the mixture is uniformly moist and can almost be rolled into balls. The ingredients should not be swimming in wine. Serve at room temperature on matzah with romaine lettuce or just eat with a spoon. If you aren't observing Passover, it'd probably be good on some crackers.

I tried out this recipe for tzimmes from heeb'n vegan and it was delicious. Another crowd pleaser, just be sure to stir it every ten minutes or so after removing the cover or you will burn the nuts like I did. I subbed walnuts for pecans, which worked out well.

Sweet Potato Pear Tzimmes with Pecans and Raisins
Serves 6

2 pounds yams, peed and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
3 firm bartlett pears, cut into 3/4 inch chunks (without the seeds of course)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus spray on a little more if it needs it
2 tablespoons mirin (or any sweet cooking wine)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pecan halves
3/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350.

Place yams and pears on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with the oil and mirin and mix it all up to make sure everything is coated. I just use my hands for this. I use my hands for everything, actually. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, salt and pecans and toss to coat.

Cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the tin foil and add the raisins. Carefully toss to combine using a thin flexible spatula and being careful not to break up the sweet potatoes. But tzimmes is a forgiving dish, so if some get mushed up that's perfectly acceptable.

Return to the oven uncovered and bake for a 1/2 hour more, tossing every now and again. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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