Monthly Archives: April 2013

Ramen Bar

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Unlike the seeming many of my peers, I don’t have regretful notions of a college era spent subsisting off of a ramen. It was there, of course, those shiny plastic packets stocked next to the microwave-safe containers of Campbell’s, the boxes of Easy Mac (the best/worst thing to happen to college students since Stouffer’s frozen mac’n’cheese), and (always my mainstay, even to this day) the PBJ fixings.

But while I was not immune to the seductive allure of processed, easy and fast, microwaveable junk dinners, I had it better than a lot of other students because my campus was small, the dining options quick to get to, the selection of decent quality, and I was the proud owner of a complete meal pass for three out of four years. Even when I moved to a campus apartment, which was outfitted with a kitchen for the express purpose of self-feeding, I continued near daily visits to the dining hall. My ramen era would have to wait.

I am not so ignorant of the food traditions of various other cultures that the idea of a moderately upscale ramen place was surprising to me. Admittedly, I assumed such a thing was inevitable. Remodeling the street food of other cultures into destination dining is an easy sell in the contemporary culinary landscape. The Ramen Bar has a hook that is both international and innately familiar, making it a perfect complement to its fellow restaurants in the busy Forbes/Murray/Shady corridor of Squirrel Hill.

Ramen Bar on Urbanspoon

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Good Morning, Vegan Cinnamon Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies!

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I am exceptionally lucky to have met my partner, James, but I am also incredibly lucky that, as part of the package of falling in love with this great guy, I get to spend occasional time with his terrific folks. Down-to-earth, witty, loving, and considerate, it’s no wonder great parents like them produced such a lovable kid.

James’s mom, Nancy, is an awesome cook (as well as a phenomenal knitter). A lot of moms, when confronted with a child’s decision to adopt a vegan diet, might freak out or panic about what to serve them. Any trepidation Nancy might have had about James’s vegan tendencies have long since been eschewed in favor of veganizing old favorites, as well as seeking out new recipes to throw into the mix. Her efforts have delivered delicious vegan dish after delicious vegan dish. (Just goes to show you that you don’t have to live a diet to cook for the diet. All you need is a willingness to try out new ingredients and adapt what you already know about cooking and baking into an unfamiliar realm. The basic skills still apply.)

On a recent visit, Nancy showed me a new addition to her cookbook collection: Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Kitchen. Don’t know who Chloe Coscarelli is? Neither did I, but apparently she took the top prize on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Her stuff is all vegan, thus her success on a Food Network reality cooking competition has allowed her to leap-frog other established divas of the vegan cookbook scene.

Okay, I wasn’t exactly being fair-minded when I first started looking at the book. Cookbooks from TV stars tend to disappoint. Either the recipes are fairly simplistic dishes with exotic touches (usually hard to find or rare ingredients) or they’re extraordinarily complicated (more complicated than I suspect they even have to be). There’s also an incredibly annoying tendency to put the persona of the chef before the food itself – so instead of mouth-watering photographs of dishes you can’t wait to recreate, there are irritating shots of the smiling, doe-eyed cook laughing with friends, holding a cupcake or cookie, or standing near food that one presumes she has just whipped up, in between photo shoots and loving life.

Yes, I’m simply not a fan of this type of cookbook. Chloe’s Kitchen, however, offers more than a cursory glance at its contents might suggest. Yes, there’s the requisite ‘wholesome girl-next-door chef’ shots, plus a pretty grating introduction and bland writing throughout…

BUT I am always willing to overcome my prejudices to try out a promising recipe. Having long searched for an appropriate vegan replacement for my favorite meatloaf recipe, Chloe’s tempeh loaf recipe was too tempting not to attempt.

I’m a fan of the policy that one good recipe can make a cookbook worthwhile. If that policy holds, then Chloe’s Kitchen should be on every vegan’s cookbook shelf, based off that tempeh meatloaf alone. The result was so delicious, it warranted another round with the cookbook. Because Chloe is first and foremost known as a vegan baker, I decided to give one of her desserts a try.

I changed some of the proportions on this cookie recipe. Most notably, I was not able to easily locate instant espresso powder, so I used instant coffee instead. It worked just as well and added a little extra buzz to a sugar-packed, delicious cookie. Plus, when a baked good has coffee in it, you can practically call it breakfast. At least I did.

Cinnamon Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1 cup vegan margarine
– 2 tbsp instant coffee (Finely ground, if possible. Cheap is OK – I used Taster’s Choice packets from Family Dollar)
– 1 cup powdered sugar
– 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
– 1 1/2 cups vegan chocolate chips
– Granulated sugar for sprinkling

– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or foil. (Note: aluminum foil will brown the bottoms of the cookies faster.)

– Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

– Using a mixer, beat together margarine and instant coffee until well combined, then add powdered and brown sugars. Beat until blended thoroughly. Mix in flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time.

– Stir in chocolate chips.

– Scoop dough by the tablespoon and roll into semi-round disks. Roll each disk in granulated sugar. Place on baking sheet 2-3 inches apart.

– Bake cookies about 12-14 minutes or until edges are browned.

Cheeky Chickpea Falafel

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One way that I knew I was becoming an adult was that my method of making falafel evolved past using the boxed, pre-made falafel mix produced by Manischewitz. Upon producing my first batch of from-scratch, homemade falafel, I felt something akin to what people must feel when they make their first batch of homemade chicken noodle soup or their first non-frozen, non-Stouffer’s lasagna. Heck, I felt that way when I made my first from-scratch pancakes, and pancakes are one of the simplest (and cheapest) things to produce from scratch.

Why do we rely on pre-made goods to deliver the foods we enjoy? I think it’s a combination of the following things: Over-reliance on the food experiences we are used to, fear of screwing up our favorites, and limited time, patience, energy, and equipment. Also, for years I prepared food mainly for myself and most recipes, whether it’s a pot of soup or a plate of falafel, produce too much for one person to consume in a short period of time. Short of dinner parties and potlucks, a can of soup made more sense for my lifestyle.

I cook for two (sometimes three, if our roommate is home) now, so the amount of food is no question. But I have a long commute to and from work, so when I come home to prepare dinner, fast and simple is usually the rule. One of the defining factors of my adult life is when I decided fast and simple did not have to mean pre-made or processed.

Thanks, adulthood!

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Goodies from the PGH Taco Truck!

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Hello, My Friend, Hello

Hello, friends! Miss me?

(*crickets*)

Okay, well, you all have probably moved on. And for good reason! What kind of big jerk blogs loyally for a year, then drops everything just as she’s getting a small following, not to mention getting to know the fantastic food blogging community of Western Pennsylvania? What kind of big jerk would abandon ship like that?

Well… this big jerk.

There will be oh so much time to reconnect over the next several posts, but I won’t bore you with too many details. Suffice to say, I went to grad school and that became my days and nights. I found out that getting your Masters degree in one year is an incredible time suck (yeah, haha, who would have thunk it, but seriously, I don’t think I had one single day off from school or school-related working from September 2011 to August 2012). The time not dedicated to school work was almost exclusively devoted to sleeping.

But that’s all in the past. The ever-growing past, as it seems. I graduated in August, got a full-time job by the end of the month, and have been adjusting to and enjoying that new postition ever since….

Except something has been missing from my life. It started off as a twinge of heartache whenever I’d come across a new local food blog, or when in the infrequent moments I was able to catch up with the bloggers I’ve been following for years.

Then, I’d be at some breakfast or lunch or dinner or potluck and I’d come across some delicious dish, some delectable goodie, and I’d have the instantaneous desire to grab my camera. But I’m no Instagram afficiando and I don’t really believe that taking pictures of amazing food does amazing food justice. That’s just my humble opinion, and it probably stems from the fact that I’ve never failed to use 1000 words when 500 would suffice.

But I could never be satisfied with just keeping visual records of the food I’ve made/consumed. Really good food writing can be as good as any top quality non-fiction. It can be as riveting as a bestselling mystery, as enticing and seductive as any of the three Fifty Shades of Gray installments (which, for the record, do not contain any recipes that I can think of).

Long story short (“TOO LATE!”), here I am. I hope we can get to know each other again.