Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easy as Risotto!

One of my New Year's resolution "intimidating meals to try," was certainly risotto. I have never made it before, and honestly I'm not a big "creamy white rice" kind of person, mostly on account of health reasons (and, risottos usually aren't vegan).

But, enticed by a recent Veg News recipe for Springtime Medley Risotto, using sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus (two of my all-time fav veggies!), and lured by a box of Arborio rice already sitting in my cupboard (and thus costing me only the price of the fresh asparagus, which was so delicate and skinny - yum!), I jumped in.

You know how they say, "easy as pie?" Well, pie crust and pies are nothing to sneeze at. They can be fiddly and difficult! Risotto, on the other hand, is a breeze in comparison (thus the title of this post). For this recipe, you just saute some green onions, salt, and garlic in olive oil, add the rice to toast it quickly, then add 1/2 cups of veggie stock one at a time, stirring a bit, until all 6 cups are absorbed. Nothing to it! The blanched asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes were added at the end with some lemon zest, lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper. Results? Fabulous! Creamy and flavorful, the only tweak I would make would be to use less salt (the tomatoes I used were already heavily seasoned as they were from an oil-packed jar, so it was probably my fault!). Three stars ***, only because of the saltiness.

To go along with that perfectly spring-like dish, we had this spring salad, its recipe from the same article in Veg News. This was even better! Greens, fennel, oranges and pine nuts (supposed to be almonds, but I'm a little over-dosed on almonds recently) with a dressing that kicked ass! Even my husband, who hates all things fruity, ate this salad and especially liked the dressing. It was just a white balsamic/olive oil vinaigrette. Four stars for this baby ****! I'm not a jump up and down fennel fan, but it was a perfect spring choice and the whole dish matched the risotto perfectly!
Last weekend, we were so busy making these stuffed peppers, I didn't have time for my usual blog post! We opted for a recipe from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook, by Robin Robertson. The filling was wicked easy: brown rice, black beans (from the freezer - yay for another New Year's resolution: cooking dried beans!), salsa, cilantro, and corn, I think. Then, we sealed them with water-soaked toothpicks and popped those babies on the grill!

Alongside some steamed asparagus, they were a hearty, filling meal! Three stars ***.

Earlier in the week, I made these Oatmeal Fruit Squares, from The Joy of Vegan Baking, for a Sierra Club meeting. I wasn't too sure I liked them at the time, but this was because I had been eating jellybeans and had overdosed my sweet tooth :) So much for going without sugar all year - oh well! I actually forgot to put the salt in, but everyone who ate them raved about them, so four stars it is ****! They were pretty easy and I used raspberry jam for the filling. Trappist Jam is my favorite jam (I grew up on the seedless red raspberry!), but as it's a Massachusetts jam that's often hard to find down here in VA, Bonne Maman jam/preserves is a decent replacement. Just wish it were local! I've never made homemade jam before. Maybe that'll be another thing I'll try this summer!

Meanwhile, it's finally smoothie weather down here (at least on occasion - it got to over 80 degrees yesterday -woohoo!), so Dreena's But Where Do You Get Your Protein? Smoothie was a big hit in our household. I used hemp seeds and cashew butter, along with the soy milk and frozen fruit. Three and a half stars *** 1/2!

Meanwhile, my husband had a week's vacation, and he promised to make dinner one night. When he said he was making Beans and Franks, I was like, "OK...." but he made them from scratch! Well, the beans at any rate. Well, they were canned but the sauce was homemade and he took his time making them just right. They were pretty good, but I'm not sure I liked the brand of hot dogs (Smart Dogs). At any rate, is was nice having a hot meal waiting for me after work. Two and a half stars ** 1/2.

And what's faster on a weeknight than beans and franks, a simple salad and a glass of red wine? I think a side of cornbread would have made this the perfect meal.

In non-food news, our rain barrel is finally up and running (literally!- ha, ha!). It filled up after just one morning rain - wow! If you're looking for an easy "green gardening" tool, this is the one to have. Cut down on water waste, conserve during droughts, and save on the water bill, too, if you have one! Gravity forces the water out the bottom, which we propped up on cinder blocks to give it height so the watering can would fit underneath.

And, with the gorgeous weather this weekend, we even got away for a first of the season hike. The trees are still just barely budding, so the leaves didn't inhibit the view. These two picks were actually taken from the road as we drove away from the parking site at the end of the hike. Can you imagine living there?? What a view!! Happy spring everyone! Now go make some risotto!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Spring Things

It appears that despite a yummy week of food, it was all mostly leftovers that I blogged about last week! Thank goodness for the freezer and stockpiling meals for busy nights!

Anyway, I did manage to make some fresh goodies this weekend. These Coconut Candies from Veg News magazine, are all completely raw and also completely delicious. I made them for my monthly Veg Group meeting, and there wasn't a crumb or shred of coconut left! Just dried fruit and nuts and unsweetened coconut, and they really do taste like a sinful treat! Four stars, as always ****!

Alongside those, I served these Carob-Almond Truffles from the same Veg News issue. This picture isn't as pretty - I think I over-did the carob. It does tend to soak in to the fruit/nut mixture overnight.
Still, a big hit! Three and a half stars ***1/2.

Tonight, I promised to drop off some vegan treats for a fellowship event, so these Snickerdoodles from Vegetarian Times magazine were whipped up with little work! If you have never heard of this cookie, it's basically a sugar-"butter" cookie, rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Delightful and perfect every time, this recipe never fails, although I usually find that the recipe only produces about half the number of cookies that it claims to make. And I don't think I'm making them too big! They are really cute, little cookies! As always, four stars ****!

Of course, my mind was elsewhere this week, as not only did I forget to take a picture of the other cookie I made for this event (Walnut-Carob-Cranberry Clusters, from ED&BV), but I also forgot to take a pic of the Cooking Light Tropical Muffins w/ Coconut-Macadamia Topping. The clusters came out looking like clusters when I was looking for cookies, which may have been my fault, but to be honest, I also expected them to taste a little sweeter - more like a chocolate chip cookie. I love carob and I love cranberries (and there was coconut in them, too - yum!) but I was really disappointed in these. I think I would add more sweetener and flatten them out a little. They were nutty and crunchy and since I only had one bite (I'm still trying to stay low-or-no-sugar!) maybe they were better than I thought. At any rate, the ED&BV clusters were OK, maybe a two star rating ** out of four.

The muffins, on the other hand, were fabulous! Moist, sweet and just perfect. However, I did have to not only veganize them, but, surprisingly enough, make them more healthy! They had oil, refined sugar and sweetened coconut in them! I took out the egg (used Ener-G-Egg replacer), used agave nectar instead of the brown sugar (also better for you), used whole wheat pastry flour, unsweetened coconut, and left the topping off altogether. I felt pretty proud, making a Cooking Light recipe not just vegan, but healthy! Four stars ****

After a week of Black Bean and Banana Empanadas (from the freezer - made these last week) and Raunchy Red Lentil Soup (also made last week - both are amazing!), I was ready for something more spring-like this weekend. Hubby and I settled on this Tempeh Asparagus Stir-Fry from a Vegetarian Times 2007 issue (not 1907, as it currently says at this link - ha, ha!). I made it a couple of years ago, and the tempeh was just as moist and flavorful as I remembered! Even my husband remarked on how tasty it was. The veggies and the broth, however, could have used more spice. Three stars ***.
And that's it for the week! I made a really quick (but huge!) salad tonight, topped with fresh tofu and a Mango-Coconut jarred sauce I found on sale a while back. It was all I wanted after a day in the sun! We finally installed our rain barrel, and I put in lots of flowers.

Here are some crocuses, which came in several weeks ago...

And here are my favorite hyacinths, drooping because the blooms are so heavy! A lone purple tulip keeps the newly planted yellow marigolds company.

And it seems that pink and yellow are my garden colors for the year! These are my first hydrangeas ever (hope they last!) and hopefully my daffodils and pink tulips will also take to the rather damp clay soil. Ran into lots and lots of worms (like, 20 per shovel scoop!), so cross your fingers for a good planting season to come!