Some like it hot

June 24, 2012

I usually don’t bother making New Year’s resolutions anymore.  Oh, I understand the psychological appeal of a new, unsullied year to finally kick that bad habit or start a good one, but it’s just not my thing.  Most resolutions fail, due either to lofty goals, ill-defined goals, or zero execution plan.  For example, “I resolve to lose weight” is too vague.  “I resolve to lose 50 pounds” is ambitious – but not totally impossible, if it’s accompanied by a list of Hows, which it usually isn’t.  “I resolve to lose 20 pounds; to do so, I’ll cut out my daily can of soda and walk for half an hour four times a week” is manageable and well-laid out, but most people don’t demonstrate this foresight.

In my own case, “I resolve to become a gourmet vegan chef” is just…not…gonna…happen.  But I do have a bit of an addiction to printed matter, including numerous cookbooks.  I buy them, ooh and aah over the recipes, and then put them back on the bookshelf without actually doing anything vaguely domestic.  So, for the last couple years, I’ve had an “unspoken resolution” of sorts: I resolve will endeavour to cook at least one new dish per month.  The only catch?  It has to be “real food”, and not a cupcake or cookie recipe – something that can be eaten as a meal.  That’s only twelve instances of real cooking per year; who can’t handle that?  Some of my experiments have been…less than pleasing…but for the most part, this has been a really fun undertaking, and I’ve been motivated to try dishes I might not have otherwise.

I realized last week that I hadn’t yet tried a new recipe for June, but after flipping through a couple of books, it didn’t take me long to come up with a relatively cohesive meal plan.

Left to right: “Better Love Your Beans Bake” from Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites, and “Curried Cabbage and Peas” from Appetite for Reduction.  And before you ask, no, I’m not a professional food photographer.  😛  The cabbage dish looks way prettier in person, with curried-yellow cabbage, plus bright green peas and orange carrots dotting it.

Cross-section of the bean bake:

It looks all rich and creamy – it is! – and cheesy – it isn’t! – but the topping is reasonably healthy, with a cup of puréed chickpeas making up the bulk of it, plus some nondairy sour cream, almond milk, nutritional yeast, and spices.  I’m a little obsessed with chickpeas, so finding a new way to use them in a recipe was A-OK by me.

A note on Hearty Vegan Meals: that books is full of recipes that will satisfy omnivores.  Quite a few of them call for deep-frying, which doesn’t thrill me, but I haven’t hit a bad recipe yet out of the ones I’ve tried.

The curried cabbage is hot-hot-hot – I could have halved the curry powder and been happy – but the bean bake worked wonders to temper it.

The best part?  I get total points for cooking something that everyone can enjoy.

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I was sitting at work yesterday, minding my own business, when I thought I heard someone say “rhubarb” in the general vicinity of the kitchen.  Has Paul brought in his tasty rhubarb cake again? I wondered, and began a stealthy, nonchalant trek to see what was going on.  He had brought it in a couple of weeks ago, and I wanted in on the ground floor if there was more.  There was no rhubarb cake to be had, alas, but what there was, was free rhubarb (or deconstructed rhubarb cake, if you will).  In fact, its purveyor attempted to send me home with the entire garbage bag full that he had brought in.  I demurred, but decided that a few stalks  – or, ahem, sixteen – couldn’t hurt.  I had never cooked with rhubarb before (although I do enjoy eating it), but getting tons of it for free was like a carte blanche to try something new.

You’d be surprised how difficult it is to find a rhubarb recipe (that’s not pie, because it’s hot out and I’d prefer cooler temperatures to fiddle with pastry) in a vegan cookbook.  Hello!  It’s not kumquats, or something equally exotic, but a springtime farmer’s-market staple.  Fortunately, Hannah Kaminsky’s Vegan Desserts came through with Spring Fling muffins.  And since I had the day off today, I was up and baking first thing in the morning while it was still reasonably cool.

Yum!  I love the streusel-y topping, and the little extra crunch that the sugar gives.  The recipe said it made 12, but I’m not sure what sort of oversized muffin cups the author used, because I got 15 nicely-sized muffins out of the deal.  (Not complaining…now I have more to share with an eager test audience.)

I thought the watermelon cupcake liners were a nice touch, as their main purpose seems to be to send mixed signals about what kind of fruit is inside.

This is probably the kind of thing that could get my citizenship revoked, but I hate Tim Horton’s.  Oh, sure, they used to be good, back when their donuts were actually baked on-site, fresh, in each individual store, before these dark days of par-baked pastries that are frozen and sent to the stores to be “finished off”; back when they focused on being a half-decent coffee and donut shop instead of expanding their lunch menu to include sandwiches that probably taste better from Subway, salty-yet-flavourless soups, and institutional-sized vats of (shudder) beef lasagna casserole.  Unfortunately, flash-frozen donuts and subpar lunch items seem to be the order of the day, and I no longer have any interest in them.  Also, their coffee smells like cat pee (and I live with both cats and Tim’s drinkers, so trust me on this one).  But I digress.

I had some oat bran left in the cupboard from my last adventure with the Applesauce-Oat Bran muffins from Veganomicon, and thought I ought to bake some muffins this weekend.  Last time, I made them pretty much according to the recipe, and added raisins.  This time, I had planned to add some dried cranberries, when my mom reminded me that there were oodles of fresh blueberries in the fridge.  Lightbulb moment!  What about a cranberry-blueberry-bran muffin, much like the ones found at the above-mentioned national treasure of a coffee chain?

Ha!  Tim’s can suck it!  Not only did these come out beautifully, they have almost half the calories of one of those flash-frozen abominations (based on a rough calculation using calorie counts for my individual ingredients, divided by twelve muffins).  I followed the recipe for the most part, increasing the cinnamon by 1/2 tsp and swapping out the cardamom for 1/2 tsp ground ginger.  I also added just a touch of molasses to give them a deeper flavour, and then folded in 1/3 cup dried cranberries and 1/2 cup fresh blueberries.  Now that’s a satisfying 174 calories!

But don’t worry – I haven’t gone totally health-food on everyone.  It was my turn for Bake Day at work last week; check out the margarita cupcake redux:

The minis are so cute; the public loves them; I may well spend the rest of my days making margarita cupcakes to slake the desires of friends and co-workers.