Monday, March 31, 2008

Avocado Week

Did you know you can get this on a shirt? Exciting news, I know. To answer the question posed by the shirt, I would have to say that avocados are friends (though, as a side note, vegetablesarefoes could be a fun counter blog to this one). Of course some readers may consider this question of avocado allegiance to be merely a distraction from the bigger question--avocado: fruit or vegetable? Yep, taxonomy got me again. Wikipedia isn't as helpful at debunking this one, so I'm going to just go ahead and use my authority as a blogger to dub them "vegetable enough."

But since I'm on Wikipedia, it seems impossible not to share a few fun facts of avocado etymology. Did you know that the avocado, sometimes called the alligator pear, is dervived from the Aztec word ahuacatl, meaning "testicle, because of its shape? Also interesting: "Historically avocados had a long-standing stigma as a sexual stimulant and were not purchased or consumed by any person wishing to preserve a chaste image." Luckily times have changed, and I received no great loss of virtue by buying avocados in bulk.

My creativity again suffered this week and I mostly relied on the avocado staple guacamole. I tried the recipe mentioned in the comments and it was delicious. Thanks again, Susan T! At that time I had no guac frame of reference, so I didn't know if the secret ingredient had a big impact. However, later in the week I tried some at a restaurant, and I will say that I thought mine was better. Also, the restaurant's fare was too chunky. With such a smooth texture, avocados deserve to be well blended.

I tried the avocado on a sandwich as well, and according to one friend of vegetablesarefriends, it also goes well on pizza. Unfortunately, my pizza making of the week involved blue cheese, and I made the executive decision that the two flavors might not meld well. I remember seeing on Top Chef once (and really I see no reason to doubt the wisdom of reality tv) that avocado could be used in ice cream to give it the proper texture with perhaps less cream. I fully intended to try this even though I don't have an ice cream maker, but somehow time got away from me. Isn't that always the way of it though? I still have one avocado, so I'll try to give it a go tonight. Check back for updates!

Next week: cabbage!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Lettuce Week

I'm going to go ahead and start off by saying that isn't me in the picture. Seriously, if I were to dress up like a head of lettuce, I would look absolutely nothing like this person. That said, I really admire their commitment to whatever occasion necessitated sticking their head through not only a wicker basket (surely that's itchy!) but a table and festive Hawaiian cloth.

Perhaps it seems I am stalling by focusing on this picture instead of talking about lettuce as is truly the point of this post. Or maybe it doesn't seem like I'm stalling to anyone but me, but rest assured: that's what I'm doing. Its not that lettuce week went badly because lettuce isn't perfectly enjoyable--its more just that I didn't put the appropriate vegetablesarefriends effort into it. I was so looking forward to lettuce after my first run in with salad greens (surely you all remember spinach week!), but I may have dropped the ball on this one.

I think the problem may have stemmed from the fact that lettuce is not a stand alone vegetable. I knew this going in, but somehow the thought didn't stay with me while I was at the grocery store doing my weekly veggie shop. Consequently, I only bought lettuce (specifically some mixed Italian greens). It wasn't until I was home and excitedly ready to construct my first salad that I realized I had nothing to eat with it. Don't get me wrong; I improvised to some extent, but I'm just not sure I ate enough salad to really be proud of it. Not since bell pepper week has there been so poor a showing of any vegetable (and yes, I realize this would be a more dramatic statement if I had more than eight posts)!

Nevertheless, and acknowledging first and foremost that this is based on limited research, I have come to some conclusions based on the salad I did eat. First: salad is something that I will never order in a restaurant on its own, but would definitely eat if it came with my chosen main course. I've also compiled a list of things that go well in salad:

Things that complement lettuce:
cheese (particularly feta and blue cheese. yum!)
certain other past-friended vegetables (tomatoes are allowable as are mushrooms)
oils and dressings

Things that do not complement lettuce:
carrots (yep, still not a fan)

I really wanted to try a lettuce wrap and a better selection of different types of lettuce, not to mention some more exotic salads. Man, this whole post is really just an exercise in shame. I think I'll try to keep eating salads with lunch for a while, at least until I clear my conscience. I may even try this on a week in the future when I'm not so busy with other things. Speaking of the future, I believe the winner for next week will be avocado. Bring on the the guacamole recipes!

Next week: avocado!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mushroom Week

How were your respective weeks, readers? Mine was pretty good, but then how could it not be on the week that I willingly introduced consuming fungus into my life. Really mushrooms are pretty unobtrusive, but I found that it takes some skill to avoid a less than savory, at times termed "slimy," texture.

I will say I enjoy weeks that allow me to experiment with different types (yet another reason to reminisce about squash week), and so I began mushroom week with the purchasing of three different mushroom sorts: Shitake, Cremini (young Portabellas), and the typical white kind that they sell in those blue foam tubs. With such a fine diversity of mushrooms (and at such a diversity of prices), I thought that surely there would be a great difference in taste. Unfortunately, as it turns out, my palette is not yet refined enough in the world of mushrooms to detect that difference.

I started with the Shitakes, though because they cost $8 a pound I only had a small amount. I made a Shitake-crusted chicken, and eagerly awaited the delicious subtlety of flavor that would no doubt accompany high-end fungi. But in the end the taste was just a little too subtle; to me it just tasted like chicken, and my attempts to feature the 'shrooms were mostly wasted. As a plus, I really don't think it would be that difficult to pass off something as "Shitake-crusted" and then just use the regular cheap mushrooms, depending, of course, on your ethical standards and willingness to lie to dinner guests.

I had some mushroom crepes in a restaurant, but, and I realize this goes against what I said during squash week about restaurant veggies being superior--I found they were rather slimy. The crepes were still good, and the mushrooms edible, but the texture was not my favorite. The best way to eat mushrooms then is to disguise the sliminess by surrounding it with a more appealing sliminess, such as cheese. To that end, the mushroom pizza I made later that day was definitely a step up.

For the Creminis, I wanted to do something a bit special. My friend, a seasoned mushroom connoisseur, and I stuffed some mushroom caps with pesto and put them in the oven with a dash of Parmesan. They came out quite well, though I will admit to refusing seconds. I would definitely try one at a party though. Perhaps I'd even make them for a party! "What's a party without mushrooms!" is such a common phrase these days, after all.

Yesterday, I had some cream of mushroom soup, which was as good as any soup. I'm begining to see that soups are the best ways to deal with vegetables (particularly those that suffer from issues of texture). On the one hand, this is an easy solution; on the other hand, while I like soup, I do also really like chewing things. I'll keep working on it.

Here's a picture of some mushrooms I didn't try:Isn't bio-diversity great?

I think for next week I'll go back to basics with some greens, as I believe I now have the assemblages of a pretty decent salad. Anyone have any exotic salad recipes to share? Speaking of reader participation: does anyone have thoughts on a vegetable for next week? I'm getting bored of thinking of them, and I don't think I'm ready to resort to asparagus just yet. Anyway, your continued readership and feedback is appreciated.

Next week: lettuce!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Squash Week

I love this picture because it means that someone, somewhere saw the artfulness of lovingly placing squash in front of a beach scene. A friendly vegetable gesture if ever there was one. But do these gourds deserve the pampering? After squash week, I must heartily accede that they do.

Squash week began with the harried purchasing of every kind of squash I could get my hands on, which, in my neighborhood Krogers, meant: butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and acorn squash. I'll admit, I passed on buying a zucchini, but that was an oversight I corrected later in the week. Even buying squash is kind of fun; they're just so large and comical. And then after having a squash tower in my fruit bowl for a few days, I seriously considered making them some sort of cornucopia to dramatically spill forth from. They're just so friendly, squash are.

But even on a blog that shamelessly anthropomorphizes vegetables, I feel I should leave the friendliness quality for a moment, and focus on taste. There's much do be done with squash. I began the squash journey with the spaghetti squash because I was endlessly intrigued after a friend told me it could be used as a substitute for actual pasta. I am a pasta lover to the core, and was unsure as to how what appeared to be an unremarkable squash could possibly transform into noodles. And yet, lo and behold, it did. Once plied lengthwise with a fork, the squash meat took the shape of a mid-size pasta (perhaps linguini, with spaghetti being a bit of a misnomer). So excited I was by the illusion, that I even ate it with pasta sauce. On tasting, the illusion was somewhat shattered as the consistency was not like pasta. This may have something to do with under-cooking the squash (and I've noticed under-cooking things seems to be a theme on this blog), or it may have to do with the fact that I was eating squash and expecting it to taste exactly like gluten. Nevertheless, I'd eat spaghetti squash again just for the fun of scraping pasta from the hull of a gourd.

Next, I tackled my friend the acorn squash. The easiest thing to do was to soup that sucker. I found a recipe online for a sweet soup with apples and acorn squash. It sort of reminded me of a pie filling, but it did give me a chance to use nutmeg, which I fear has become the most underused spice on my rack. It was tasty, but I think I just find sweet soups disorienting. That's why when I turned to the butternut squash, I chose to make a savory soup. Actually, it would be more fair to say "my mother" chose to make a savory soup. I'm visiting my parents this week, and my mother (a proud supporter of vegetablesarefriends) was kind enough to make me soup from her own, long-standing squash soup recipe. But then, perhaps that's the only action you can take when someone brings you a butternut squash via an eight-hour drive.

The remainder of the butternut that was un-souped, I put some butter and sugar on. This has been suggested to me by numerous sources, and even the sticker on the butternut squash advised on how it could be done. Vegetables themselves do not usually come with recipes attached, so I felt this was worth attending to. It tasted a lot more like eating butter and sugar and a lot less like eating vegetables, which presumably is the point.

My final squash encounter was out to dinner. I had some fried zucchini at an Italian restaurant, and it was absolutely delicious. I really need to eat vegetables out more often, because they can do things that I just plain can't with my limited cooking space and ability. Plus if I were to make fried zucchini on my own, I would once again be confronted with the dilemma of whether or not eating vegetables is still a healthful practice when they are breaded and fried in oil. This seems to be a controversy that surfaces often on this site. Perhaps controversy is the wrong word, but I do manage to be continually surprised by what is no doubt painfully obvious to well-established eaters of vegetables: vegetables, like all things, taste better when made with fats. Not much of an epiphany, but good enough for vegetablesarefriends.

Next week (at my mother's suggestion): mushrooms!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Green Bean Week

Greetings, readers! Yet another fine week has transpired, and a hell of a week it was. For a number of non-vegetable related reasons, my attention was taken from green beans during the week. Really my only during-the-week encounter with them was at lunch in the dining hall, which (as you may well imagine) was only so-so. Never fear, I made up for it by gorging myself on green beans over the weekend. And what a bean feast it was!

The only recipe most people associate with green beans (and consequently the only recipe most people offered me) is the traditional Thanksgiving casserole, so I started with that. I'll admit I was wary at first--it involved mushroom soup and fried onions, both as of yet un-friended. However, my worry was unfounded, and it turns out that people are on to something with green bean casserole. I no longer wonder why its a Thanksgiving staple. Fact, I wonder why people don't seem to eat it on just an average Tuesday. But, and I hate to say this on green bean week, its really not the legumes that make this casserole. Allow me a minute to rhapsodize on the show-stealing French's french fried onions. I guess its just another testament to the fact that anything bad for you probably tastes delicious, but man alive are those things good! I almost made it onion week this week in their honor, but ultimately decided to save that for when I've given up interpersonal relationships.

Leaving casserole for a minute, I also made "green bean almondine" which is my short hand for "steamed green beans tossed with hastily sauteed blanched almonds." From this I learned that steaming vegetables in the microwave would be easier if I had some sort of covered microwaveable dish, and that, in fact, a bowl with a plate precariously balanced on top of it is not the most efficient cooking system.

I also made a green bean tomato salad, the recipe for which I found online. I was planning on posting said recipe, only I can't say I entirely recommend this salad. It ended up more like a sauce than a salad, and when I added sour cream (per the recipe) it looked like something regurgitated. Aesthetics aside, it was completely edible, but still nothing I would add to my culinary repertoire.

I was going to take pictures of some of my green bean creations because 1) I've grown accustomed to putting pictures on each post and a google image search for "green beans" reveals nothing remotely funny, sexy, or in any other way interesting, and 2) It hardly seems a danger to anonymity, because really if you can recognize me by my mismatched kitchen ware, you've probably already breached my security. However, I did not take any picture and sadly will be relying on the (less than satisfactory) bounty of google images because 1) I can't find my camera cord, and 2) I just now though of the picture taking thing, and all my culinary creations are long since digested. At any rate, enjoy this lackluster picture of a boy who has yet to be seduced by green beans:

Hang in there, kid; I was you once. (Just so we're extra clear: this isn't a picture of me.)

Next week: various squashes!