Cooking from Cans: Pigeon Peas and Coconut Rice

How often do you use the recipes on the boxes and cans in your pantry? I don’t do it very often. But as I was poking through my stash of canned beans, I noticed an appealing recipe on a can of coconut milk: Gungo (Pigeon) Peas and Rice. I had a can of pigeon peas; I obviously had the coconut milk; I had rice… so why not try it?!

In retrospect, choosing to make this rather heavy dish — which required 45 minutes on the stovetop (with me stirring and testing the rice frequently) and which is best eaten hot — on an 83˚F day was perhaps not my finest move. I blame my caffeine-addled brain; slightly jittery from too much cold brew and too few carbs, I clearly lacked some key critical thinking skills. No matter; a little sweat never hurt anyone. Anyway, this came together relatively easily in one pot and required minimal dishes  for preparation — just a cutting board, a can opener, and a measuring cup for the water/broth and the rice. The result? Not bad! Perhaps a little simplistic in flavor, but it’s probably because I had to make quite a few substitutions. Specifically, I:

  • Used brown rice in place of “Grace Rice,” which I can only assume is white rice.
  • Replaced the escallion (!) with a few rather anemic scallions I’ve been regrowing in water for a few weeks.
  • Opted for dry thyme rather than fresh, because I didn’t have fresh.
  • Used garlic-ginger paste rather than fresh garlic and ginger, because I was lazy.
  • Added a teaspoon of dried allspice rather than pimento berries (!).
  • Used a mysterious hot pepper (grown from seeds my dad bought in India!) rather than the Scotch bonnet.

So, yes. Given that rather extensive list of substitutions — most of which replaced flavorful fresh ingredients with, um, less flavorful and less fresh ingredients — it’s no surprised that my rice wasn’t terrifically flavorful! It was not bad at all, though, especially when I added some lime juice. (It was missing an acidic element, in my opinion!)

For the curious, the recipe is here. I also recommend scrolling through the Grace Foods produce list — I enjoyed seeing all the Jamaican and Caribbean favorites, especially this amusingly-named “Grace Food Drink.”

(If you’re curious, here’s the “chicken” broth I used (affiliate link!). Better than Bouillon is killer!)

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Silver Diner Review | Vegan Options at Silver Diner

When I first moved to Maryland seven (!!!) years ago, I was delighted to discover a local diner chain with vegan options. Back then, Silver Diner had a location at the mall near my office, and it was a not-infrequent destination for celebratory team lunches. The options were good and creative, too, more than just your average portobello burger or veggie wrap. Unfortunately, the mall location closed years ago, and I haven’t really been to a Silver Diner since.

This year, though, Silver Diner has upped its vegan options game, introducing a Just Egg Benedict, adding the Beyond Burger, and offering an entire section of vegan entrées. So when a (vegan!) friend suggested we head to the location in Frederick as part of her low-key birthday celebration, Steven and I thought that sounded like a perfect idea.

After much deliberation, I ordered the cauliflower mac and cheese, which features tempeh bacon, roasted tomatoes, asparagus, and a cheesy sauce served over cauliflower and zucchini… all topped with Beyond Meat meatballs. An unexpected combo, to be sure, and not only because there’s no pasta in this mac and cheese. I was dubious, but hopeful. Local vegan restaurant Great Sage has an outstanding mac and cheese that includes both pasta and big chunks of cauliflower, and I’ve often pondered ordering that dish sans pasta, but with added cauliflower.

Alas, Silver Diner’s take on cauli mac and cheese couldn’t live up to Great Sage’s classic version. Instead of big, toothsome cauliflower florets, the cauli, tomatoes, and zucchini are finely chopped, mixed with nearly undetectable  bits of tempeh bacon, and stirred up with a Chao- and nooch-based cheesy sauce. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a sauce, because it was indiscernible from the rest of the dish’s elements (as I’m sure is obvious from the photo).

To be fair, it all tasted pretty good (if a bit overly herby). The Beyond Meat meatballs were tender and flavorful, and the asparagus was cooked just right. But to call this a mac and cheese is, frankly, absurd. Call it a stew, maybe, or a cauliflower “rice” dish, but not mac and cheese. It irks me that Silver Diner is presenting this as a vegan take on mac and cheese when our mac and cheeses are not generally pasta-free! If any curious omnivore were to order this, I fear they’d be quite disappointed. It felt like a dish that just wasn’t well conceptualized. Why are there meatballs served on top?! That’s not a feature of mac and cheese. Nor are roasted tomatoes. It’s just bizarre.

On the bright side, the side of fries we ordered for the table to share were absolute perfection, the perfect combo of crispy, salty, slightly herby goodness, and my dining companions enjoyed their dishes (Beyond Burgers and Just Egg Benedicts). And afterward, we got to hang out with Maggie: always a good time.

Bits ‘n Bobs ‘n Buffalo Cauliflower

Hello, hello, hello!

While I haven’t exactly missed the daily MoFo blogging, I have missed feeling connected to my blogger pals. All the more incentive to keep up a semi-regular posting schedule, right?! (It also doesn’t hurt that I’m still catching up on MoFo posts, yikes.) And so: My first foray into non-MoFo casual diary-style blogging. It feels weird. I still feel like I need a “point” to my posts, a recipe to share or a restaurant to review. And I do have a few of those in the works: an extremely overdue post about my trip to Copenhagen last March (!!!), a review of a vegan-friendly local diner, etc. But for now, something much simpler. :)

We kicked off September with Labor Day weekend. Three-day weekends are just so magical! I had a pretty great one, full of fun knitting and good food and a nice solo hike, where I spotted this tree with a little heart motif. I agree, tree. I heart being outdoors too. On Sunday morning I whipped up a tasty (if monotone) breakfast: tofu scramble, home fries, and a kiwi. It’s much healthier than that bland palette suggests! I used this tofuevos recipe, which is my absolute favorite bare-bones (i.e., no veggies) scram. I always reduce the soy sauce, though, because two tablespoons is just too much. A half tablespoon is perfect, plus a little sprinkling of black salt for some eggy flavor.

What else, what else… I haven’t been photographing my dinners, partially because MoFo is over but also because the sun is setting earlier. :( Ugh, autumn. Please stay away! I did snap a quick pic of this buffalo cauliflower and tofu I made last night. I used Chocolate Covered Katie’s baked buffalo cauliflower recipe as a template, with some modifications: I doubled the cauliflower to a whole head, added a block of pressed firm tofu, and switched up the sauce a bit (1/3 cup of Frank’s Red Hot plus two tablespoons of vegan butter). It was spicy enough for me! I served it with some homemade vegan ranch and fresh raw veggies. (About that vegan ranch: It’s mayo-based and so simple! I omitted the raw garlic and instead used a few cloves from this amaaazing garlic confit I made last weekend.) This is a dinner that feels indulgent but is actually decently healthy, with lots of protein (half a block per person!) and plenty of veggies (~half a head of cauliflower, plus pepper and carrots on the side). Yes, please.

I’ve also been enjoying the fruits (…veggies…) of my gardening labor, as I mentioned in my recent MoFo post. Today I picked a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes, a few carrots, and LOTS of those fun little sour gherkins. So colorful! The tomatoes went right into a panzanella salad, along with some rosemary-garlic sourdough squares, basil, green pepper, and a garlic-lemon dressing.

And finally, here’s a sweet shot of Maggie (formerly Margaret), a hound mix we fostered for six months (!) last year. She was adopted by our close friends about six months ago, which is amazing: She gets spoiled to within an inch of her life by our friends, and we get to see her frequently! We hung out with Maggie and her canine and feline brothers on Saturday night while celebrating our friend Rachel’s birthday, so we made sure to snag some cuddle time on the couch. This girl is incredibly sweet and goofy, and it’s absolutely wonderful to see her enjoying life in her forever home. <3

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Long Weekend Eats | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Thirty-One

And here we are: the final day of MoFo! If my goal with this return to diary-style blogging was to (1) make MoFo enjoyable again, and (2) evoke the simple pleasures of simple blogging (i.e., what I experienced in Days of Yore), I’m glad to say I’ve succeeded on both fronts. Are these posts particularly memorable? Nah. Did I produce ~*~solid content~*~ that will ~*~drive traffic~*~ to my blog? LOL, no. Did I enjoy myself? I sure did!

So, what did I get up to on this final day of August — and the first day of a long weekend? Well, I started off with my new favorite breakfast. I often rely on oatmeal or overnight oats, but earlier this week, I made something different before heading to work. I mixed up oats, oat milk, a little agave nectar, and some coconut flakes, and ate it all as-is. No heating; no overnight soaking. “Wow,” I thought. “This is good! Lightly soaked oats with fun add-ins, how novel!” And then I realized… oh yeah. I’m eating muesli. Haaaa. I returned to this newly discovered — yet well-known — brekkie this morning, right before I headed off to a volunteer assignment with two hospice patients. I used oats, oat milk, peach slices, coconut flakes, and a little sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. Perfection!

Post-volunteer assignment, I took a quick trip to the farmers market for the weekly shop. (My assignment happened to be at an assisted living facility right next to the market.) My favorite stall wasn’t there, though — one of the owners had passed away. :( They had a chair set up in their usual spot with a sign informing patrons what had happened, along with details about the funeral. Super sad.

A little later, Steven and I decided to spend some time outside at Paladar, a rum bar and self-described “Latin kitchen.” I had a gift card I wanted to use up, so we figured we’d take advantage of the mild weather (well, low 80s…) and sit outside on their dog-friendly patio. Naturally we brought Rosie, who did not seem to enjoy it quite as much as we did. She was cute, though! I had a couple drinks (a meh mojito and a very tasty mango mule), Steven had a terrible beer, and we split a cauldron of guac, which is served with tortilla, plantain, and malanga (!) chips. (The plantain chips were my favorite.) I snapped a photo of the guacamole, but said photo was boring, so here’s a pic of Rosie staring up at us and wishing she were snoozing away back home instead.

Invigorated by the lovely late summer weather, I headed to the pool after our Paladar excursion. It was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday, and I spent the time when I wasn’t swimming listening to an audiobook and indulging in a decidedly un-summery activity: knitting! I got the urge to pick up my knitting last week, when I started a hat on our drive to Asheville. Now I’m going full-steam ahead and getting a head start on my winter projects.

When I came home from the pool, Steven was just wrapping up a very tasty dinner: BBQ heart of palm sandwiches, served with a carrot-y, lime-y guacamole! Guac twice in one day; how indulgent.

(I apologize for that awful photo, I was quite hungry and could barely wait to snap a picture before diving into my sandwich!)

And here we are, at the end of the day(ish) and the end of the month. What a great start to the long weekend, though — I hope the next two days are as enjoyable! Gotta savor these warm, late-summer moments while we still have ’em.

Late Summer in the Garden | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Thirty

A bit of a departure for today’s post! Rather than talk about prepared food, let’s talk about ingredients that come straight from the source — my garden!

Things are wild out there this time of year. All the vine-like plants are twining themselves around any upright stalk they can find, creating dense vine-y thickets. The tomato cages are groaning under the plants’ weight; after a rainstorm, I have to go outside and set them upright because they’ll invariably have fallen over. And finally — finally! — my pepper plants are thriving, even the ones that I planted months ago, right when the weather got hot, the way they like it.

Today I trial-picked a few carrots. I’ve never had much luck with carrots, possibly because my soil is pretty dense, even when I mix in compost and add a few bags of garden soil. But this year things are looking promising!

I planted purple nebula carrots, and although they’re a bit short and stubby at this point, they’ve got a unique and slightly tart bite. (Unfortunately, they’re just plain orange on the inside, not purple!)

I plan to do some fall sowing this year, and I think I’ll go heavy on the carrots — I received a few packs of free carrot seed samples with various seed purchases earlier this year, so I’ve got some fun varieties to try out.

I’m also growing these fun Mexican sour gherkins — basically, tiny roundish cucumbers (although they’re not truly in the cucumber family). These plants really took off about a month ago and have gone bonkers since then. They’re actually the prime offenders when it comes to vine sprawlage: They’ve spread out over my middle garden bed, climbed up my pepper plants (pictured at right), and have even jumped across to the first garden bed, where they’ve hitched a ride on a tomato cage. They definitely require some serious trellising, but this makeshift approach works just fine too.

The plants are producing like mad, and I picked a few today to try them out for the first time. I’m not sure how large they’re supposed to be when you pick them, so it’s possible mine were slightly immature. (Shown at left in my carrot-stained hands.)

I loved the taste and texture — crisp and refreshing and just a bit sour. They have a slight resistance but burst in your mouth easily, a bit like a cherry tomato, in a very pleasing way. I’m all about veggies you don’t have to cut or peel to enjoy. Easy snackin’! I’ll happily grow these guys again. They’d be fun and rewarding for kids to grow and pick, too; they require very little attention and are clearly opportunistic little buggers, even when you don’t provide a trellis!

There’s plenty more going on, too, from big mystery squashes that may’ve been cross-pollinated to the stalwart green beans, which are only now beginning to slow down. A single okra plant is only just beginning to take off, and there are already a few baby okras growing. (I don’t know why they didn’t do well this year! Last year the plants were taller than me and produced like mad.)

And, of course, the tomatoes are going strong as ever. They’re all exceptionally sweet this year, making them a real delight to eat right off the vine. Although the cherry tomatoes are most prolific, my larger slicers are finally picking up, and I’ve got quite a few big green ones slowly ripening.

Here’s a funny sight — a mystery squash growing on the opposite side of the house, opportunistically climbing up the fence between our neighbors’ and our yards, between the pokeweed and the hedges. This is pretty close to the spot where our neighbors have their garden, so I bet this is a volunteer from one of their plantings last year (or maybe some escaped seeds from this year). There are two of these plants between our yards. The fruits look like immature butternut squash to me, but we’ll see! I’ve done literally nothing to nurture these little babies, yet look how strong and vital they are. Sometimes I think it would be fun to literally throw a bunch of seeds into the wild patches of my yard and see what comes up. :)

A Vegan Italian Sub | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Twenty-Nine

This morning, I was chilly getting out of the shower. This means only one thing: autumn is coming. 

NOOOO.

Ugh, I’m not ready! I am a perpetual heat-seeker, a lizard in human form, a freak who loves humidity and scorching temperatures. I require at least one more month of warmth before descending into the interminable chill. No talk of apple picking or pumpkin spice or colorful leaves will change my mind. Dramatic sigh.

Super glamorous work desk shot, right here.

Enough of that. Onto the food. Today was a bit odd, meal-wise. I had an unforgivably light breakfast (a single Larabar, ugh!) and thus was required to eat my lunch (leftovers from yesterday) around 11. My stomach was grumbling by 1, so I had a peach, and then knew I’d require a more substantial second lunch. Well, I just so happened to have a 2:00 dermatologist appointment right next door to Firehouse Deli (that of the surprisingly wide vegan selection), so I was compelled to get a vegan Italian sub (cold cuts, cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, an herby vinaigrette). All in the name of supporting local businesses, right?!

It was just what the doctor ordered (not my dermatologist; she didn’t order anything). Super filling, relatively inexpensive, and quick. And while I was there, I noticed a sign for the Impossible Burger — apparently they’re serving it now! (And by “sign,” I mean that they printed out a graphic from the Impossible Burger site and pasted it onto a piece of cardboard. Adorable.) Good to know!

So, having had a 3:00 p.m. lunch, when will I be hungry for dinner?! I suspect I’ll feel some rumblings around 7. I’m about to put a loaf of sourdough bread in the oven, and I’ve got some Violife cheddar from last week’s sandwiches… perhaps a grilled cheese with garden tomatoes is in order, with a side of kale salad. We shall see.

(Oh, and about the weather — it jumped back into the 80s today and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. So it’s only the chilly nights and mornings that are harbingers of autumn’s inevitable arrival.)

Hoisin Mock Pork with Soba Noodles | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Twenty-Eight

I think that having a weekend away (or really, dining on food other people made) has reset my tastes: I’m feeling the noodle, sauce, and veg bowls that I’d gotten a bit weary of last week. And that’s good news, because they are just so easy.

Tonight I tried out the mock pork I purchased a few weeks back, making a veganized version of this hoisin pork recipe. The “sauce” in that recipe is meant as a marinade, so I altered it a bit (reducing the soy sauce, mostly) and thickened it up to function as an actual sauce.

I used my ubiquitous green beans from the garden and shredded carrots as the veg in this recipe and served it all over soba noodles rather than rice noodles — I prefer the former, not least because they’ve got more protein! I topped it off with sliced scallions and a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds.

The results were… not nearly as tasty as my mock duck experience. :( First, the pork itself is just inferior. The duck had unique, specific flavor and texture, whereas the pork really didn’t. Second, the sauce was not great. There is a LOT going on in that recipe, to its detriment. The one I made for the duck was far tastier. So, altogether, it was not a terrifically inspiring dinner, though it certainly wasn’t bad. Just a bit of a disappointment, and it sat in my stomach for quite a while — we just got back from a post-dinner trip to the gym, and I’m feeling a bit queasy. (Though that probably won’t stop me from devouring a bowl of ice cream that Steven apparently bought yesterday. Surprise ice cream is the best ice cream!)

In fresher and tastier news, today a coworker brought in a huge bag of fresh organic peaches — she buys them at a farmers market for $10 a bucket, but can’t use them all, so she very kindly shares them with us. She brought in a bag last week, and I helped myself to a few, but this week I was a bit greedier. There were quite a few left at the end of the day, so hey, why not take a bowlful?! I already blanched, peeled, sliced, and froze the ones from last week, and I’ll probably do the same with these. It’ll be nice to have summery peaches as the weather cools. (Assuming I can exercise some self-restraint and not bake with them, like, next week!) I may also make some peach jam. I did that with some apricots and nectarines last month and it was just so tangy and delicious. Maybe peach-basil jam for something fun?!

Kale Caesar Salad | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Twenty-Seven

After a long weekend spent gorging on indulgent meals in Asheville, I knew exactly what I wanted tonight: KALE SALAD. It doesn’t really get much more wholesome or healthier than that, you know?

Steven took the lead, putting together most of the salad while I was at work. He chose this kale Caesar — a fine choice! The crispy garlic roasted chickpeas made for a nice topping, which we augmented with some store-bought croutons he picked up (not pictured). I had intended to add some freshly picked cherry tomatoes from the garden, but then completely forgot in my hungry state. :)

I fully expect to require a snack this evening… although the salad’s tahini-based dressing made the dish nice and creamy and filling, it’s still not a large dinner! I’ll probably make a bowl of popcorn, a go-to night snack. I’ve got a few pre-mixed toppings (one that’s inspired by sour cream and onion, and another that tastes like Doritos), so it’s easy to make a flavorful bowl. I also like doing kettle corn, although that requires a bit more work. We shall see.

And now I’m heading out to the garden to see how wild it got over the weekend. Tomatoes, prepare to be plucked from your vines!

Vortex Doughnuts | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Twenty-Six

It is a non-negotiable: When vegan doughnuts are available, one must consume said doughnuts. We followed this very edict this morning on our way out of Asheville. Our fried dough purveyor of choice? Vortex Doughnuts.

Don’t let the oddly negative reviews on HappyCow fool you: Vortex has plenty of vegan options, and not just of the cake variety. We found eight (8!) yeasted varieties on offer this morning, all of them looking fresh and delicious. I opted for a glazed apple fritter, which was bursting with pieces of apple and a nice sweet glaze. If I had one critique, it would be that the dough was just the tiniest bit dense, but that might’ve been thanks to all those lovely apple bits. Steven opted for a blueberry- and lemon-glazed doughnut and pronounced it “really good,” with a pleasant tang. (His coffee — the light roast — was less than stellar, but my dark roast was perfectly pleasant.)

We weren’t heading out of North Carolina straight away, however: We were stopping at the ASPCA’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Weaverville, where a friend and former coworker now works! Sarah gave us a wonderful, comprehensive tour of this lifesaving, life-changing facility, which is really one of a kind. Trained behaviorists used time-tested protocols to help prepare fearful dogs from horrific situations  — fighting rings, hoarding, puppy mills — for adoption. The idea is to gather data, fine-tune the protocols, and share them with shelters around the country so they can develop their own programs. It’s really amazing work, and I loved hearing about it.

Of course, we couldn’t show up empty-handed! Sarah is also vegan, so we brought a half-dozen doughnuts for her to share with coworkers and her husband. I wish I could remember all the varieties we selected, but we were slightly rushed in the morning and I didn’t snap a photo of the doughnut case. I know there was an espresso-glazed, a chocolate-glazed, one with cinnamon and sugar… something with vanilla… an unglazed apple fritter… and some others. :) All fabulous, I’m sure!

Beer Snacks! | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Twenty-Five

Hello from Asheville, North Carolina! We’re here for the weekend and having a fantastic time in this dog-friendly, vegan-friendly city. I’ll have all sorts of exciting food to talk about when I’m back, but for now, how about some simple bar snacks?!

During our first full day in Asheville, we paid a visit to the Wicked Weed Brewpub, a sprawling establishment with a restaurant, beer garden, bottle shop, and on-premises brewery. Something for everyone! We were there around 2:30 p.m. and had 7 p.m. dinner reservations elsewhere, so we decided a liquid lunch was ideal. :) We headed down to the basement-level outdoor beer garden, found a few empty spots at a table, and perused the menu.

I’m a fan of sour beers, so I had the Sandiaca (barrel-aged in gin barrels with watermelon and basil) and the Floresca (tequila barrel-aged with peaches and pink sea salt). While they were both tasty, I really enjoyed the former. I can drink those juicy sours all day long! (Though that might not be a smart move: The Sandiaca was 9% ABV!) Steven stuck to a pilsner and a grapefruit radler, but we both enjoyed some simple salty bar snacks on the side: marinated olives and boiled peanuts.

I’ve never had boiled peanuts (a Southern mainstay, apparently) before but really enjoyed them… until we found an unsavory, unmentionable, un-foodlike bit of detritus in our bowl of peanuts. Y’all. It was nasty. I won’t go into details, and you should thank me for that. I’m not one to complain about food at restaurants, but I did tell a staff member about this particular issue. After one look, he rushed our bowl away, and we looked on as he showed multiple other staffers, who were all equally horrified. We got the peanuts taken off our menu and got a round on the house, so all’s well that end’s well. Top-notch customer service wins the day!

Unfortunately, I think I’m put off boiled peanuts for the foreseeable future. Although our little bit of extra disgustingness probably came from their kitchen and not the peanuts, I’ve now got a strong visceral, visual association between it and boiled peanuts. And here I was, thinking I’d found a new favorite snack. Alas.