Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bean Week 2.0

This may be a little short because its week two so there's slightly less to say. Also, I'm moving yet again tomorrow (ah the transience of youth!) so everything is a bit hectic at the moment.

On the plus side, I sorted out the bean snafu of last week. If you'll read the comment my mother left, everything is illuminated. I also figured out why I was so convinced everything I was eating was a pinto bean. I'd bought a can of pinto beans to refry and through the power of suggestion assumed I must have consumed said pinto beans. I suppose this is one of the hazards of the two week system.

However, this week I did make the refried beans and they were quite good and very easy! That recipe can also be found in the comments (though you'll have to go back to artichoke week). I'm not used to working with fried pork skins and was a little wary of them at first. I think I saw some Food Network special on how they were made which scarred me from ever trying them straight. Once mixed with beans, however, I could forget all about them while enjoying their delicious taste. Obviously the problem is completely psychological, but its so hard to get the image of a conveyor belt full of whole pig skins out of your head. I don't watch the Food Network so much anymore.

Speaking of things left over from last week that I hadn't tried, I cracked open the hummus and that seems to be yet another thing to eat on a pita chip. The thing I'm noticing about all bean dips though is that while they may be okay, there are usually other dips available that are better. However, I can reasonably promise that were bean dip or hummus the only option (in some less than adequate party spread where cheese ball, salsa, spinach dip, or ranch dip were unavailable), I would indulge in the brown stuff.

I had two types of beans in restaurants. At the Black Eyed Pea, I got some red beans and rice. Not bad, but I also didn't exactly clean my plate on that one. Of course, the large portions of food at the Black Eyed Pea didn't help matters. I guess again beans failed to excite when there were better options to be had. I mean sure, they're not bad, but they're no chicken fried steak or peach cobbler. I think if I'm ever going to really eat beans, it will have to be when I am too poor to afford other foods.

I also had some beans at a BBQ restaurant. I'm at a loss to determine what kind of beans were used to make BBQ beans not because I can't remember, but because I didn't ask. They had a lot of cumin in them though, so that was pretty good.

In honor of my Mexican friends who were in town this week (as well as a testament to the fact that I'm running out of things I want to try), the vegetable of the week is jicama. I can't say how much I'll get to, as again the transition time is upon me again, but I'm going to do my best.

Next week: jicama!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bean Week 1

As the title will suggest, I have decided to go with the two week bean plan as outlined last week. My reasons for this are threefold:
1) I determined I liked beans well enough to focus on them for another week. And with such wealth of bean diversity, there is still ground left to uncover!
2) I have yet to try the refried bean recipe so highly recommended last week, and I bought all the ingredients for it--so clearly that needs to happen. I also have some uneaten hummus, and have decided chickpeas fall squarely in bean territory.
3) I'm too lazy to think up anything other than "radishes" right now, and its just hard to get psyched up about a week of radishes. You know?

I've been a little busy/distracted this week, and I've been eating beans at random intervals. For that reason, I realize I'm finding it difficult to actually remember what I ate this past week. I worry at forgetting things at such a young age. Sure now its just what bean was in that soup I had last Sunday and the name of those little things at the end of shoelaces (an occasional crossword word), but pretty soon it'll graduate to more important things--the names of pets or the password of this very blog!

Okay, piecing things together slowly...I definitely had some black beans and chicken which was decent. I haven't developed my bean senses enough (or maybe my palette in general) to really tell the difference between beans that readily. Perhaps week two of the bean feast will cure that? At any rate, I suppose black beans go on the good list.

I had some baked beans--the kind with bacon on top--with dinner the other night. That seemed pretty good too. What kind of beans are generally used to baked beans? It again like something I should know. Who knew I was so intellectually unprepared for the rigors of bean week. For all that, the baked beans were decent. I enjoyed the sweetness accompanied with the always enjoyable tell tale taste of bacon grease.

I'm beginning to feel more confident about dubbing the soup beans pinto beans. Of course if my mother (the creator of the soup--as well as most of the bean creations witnessed in this post) comments otherwise, I will print a full retraction. Then henceforth I can refer to this episode as the "pinto bean scandal." As for the potentially pinto soup, it was enjoyable. There was ham in it which lent it a nice flavor. My only complaint is that bean soups are not as easily removed of texture by blending. It seems that even in soup the maintain a certain stoic grittiness. Not unpleasant, per se, but a little damning to my "soup is a panacea for all texture issues" theory.

The other night bean dip was definitely consumed. But again I'm at a loss to determine what kind of beans might have been in it. It was dark, certainly and I instinctively want to say black beans. The dip was delicious and had there not been slightly more delicious spinach dip to its left, I might have eaten a lot more of it than I did.

This is maddening because I know I ate at least two other kinds of beans this week, and I'm at a loss even to remember the species of those I did eat. I know I had a bite of falafel (under the "chick pea as bean" rule posited earlier) yesterday, but then I already liked falafel. Hopefully, I can iron out all these issues in "bean week 2." I can seamlessly add anything from this week that I forgot and no one will have to know that they are secretly part of the somewhat less than illustrious "bean week 1." So yes, welcome to "bean week 2" the week where I learn to write things down.

Next weeek: bean week part deux!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Artichoke Week

Isn't that just lovely? Of course, artichokes don't often get to this beautiful flowering stage because they are picked that they might be sold around the country for $3 a piece. Now is this price too steep for the fun of sucking a small amount of edible "meat" from the leaves in one of the more labor intensive vegetable eating experiences I have encountered? Well, apparently not for some. For my part, the word on artichokes is: I just don't get it.

I don't understand why something costs that much when it is virtually tasteless (mostly just tastes like the butter or mayonnaise you dip it in ) and I'm convinced any slightly slimy thing dipped in butter would taste about the same. And clearly artichokes don't want to be eaten. They stab you with their razor sharp leaf spikes as you descend them into a boiling pot of water. More vicious than lobsters! Artichokes probably assumed (you know, if they were sentient beings) that they were relatively safe for all that. I mean who would look at them and think "Now that looks tasty. I'm going to need to eat one of those right now." My mother, an unabashed artichoke lover, has often mused on the first person to eat an artichoke and how they must have been exceedingly hungry to attempt it. There must have also been a great deal of trial and error involved. I can't imagine eating a leaf, discovering it was bitter, and then thinking "oh I see, you can only eat this tiny milimeter at the bottom; the rest is just compost!"

But enough of a rant on artichoke leaves, which if you couldn't gather, I was not a big fan of. The real reason people outside of my family seem to like artichokes is to buy the hearts, and just the hearts, in little jars of water or oil. The existence of hearts in artichokes has the added benefit of being fodder for many a cloying vegetable joke, the sort published in Reader's Digest, like "Why are artichokes so sweet?" "Because they're all heart!" No really, I think I've read that somewhere. And for the record, artichokes are not sweet at all.

The hearts, in addition to being much easier to eat and a source of questionable humor (yes, even I look down on anthropomorphizing from time to time) are a great deal more versatile. I tried them in salads, on a pizza, and they can also be put in pastas. They were admittedly better in this easier to eat form, but I still don't understand the reason for the extravagance. They don't really seem to taste like much, and their texture reminds me of a hard boiled egg. Eggs are so much cheaper. Overcook one, chop it up, and soak it in olive oil, and I doubt there would really be a difference.

I did try some artichoke dips because I always try to like at least one thing each week and that seemed like my only option. I got two: an artichoke garlic dip and a spinach and artichoke dip. The last one was perhaps a bit of a cheat because I already liked spinach dip, and honestly that was the predominant taste. And because I had the tasty spinach dip as a crutch, I tended to eat less and less of the straight artichoke dip, which without comparison, really wasn't that bad. See? "Not that bad"! There is some end to my artichoke bitterness.

So yes, to sum up: artichokes--just don't get the hype. I think after this week I need something a little easier. I've been thinking I should tackle beans (other than the previously friended "green beans" from many a week ago). I'd thought about dividing this category because there are so many beans to chose from, but the idea of a straight "lima bean" week wasn't particularly appealing. Still, it does seem rather difficult to cover the category in a single seven day period. I thought about maybe making it into two (possibly consecutive) weeks. Right now, my plan is to just start with week one and see how I go from there. So yes, I'm relying on the advice of my commenters on what beans to focus on! Thanks!

Next week: bean (feast) week!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Celery Week

I'll give celery one thing: it certainly lends itself well to cheap puns. Beyond that though, I honestly was looking forward to celery week. When I was younger, I was always jealous of the ants on a log crowd because it seemed like such a good snack (who doesn't want to eat something compared to insects crawling on wood?) but I could never really enjoy it. Thus ants on a log was the first thing I excitedly tried. Turns out though, celery with peanut butter and raisins on it tastes a whole lot like celery and not so much like peanut butter or raisins. This would not necessarily be a bad thing (though it would sort of defeat the purpose) if I didn't also realize I'm not that enthusiastic about celery. I see it as a much less offensive carrot. Oddly, I can't figure out what exactly bothers me about it--the taste is sort of refreshing. I think it might be the slight stringiness which accompanies the crunch.

As another vain hope of recapturing a celery-centric childhood, I wanted to do that thing where you put a stalk of celery in water with food coloring and watch it change color. I like to think this was a staple of elementary school education or at the very least the sister experiment where you use white carnations instead of celery (the color is better, but the vascular tissue is less pronounced). Its a good experiment because it combines the wonder of plant water absorption with the fact that kids love when things turn unnatural colors (something the Koolaid industry has capitalized on). Sadly, this whole last paragraph was something of a nostalgic digression because I didn't actually do the food coloring experiment. Apparently "having a constant supply of food coloring in my cabinet" is another vestiage of childhood I've left behind. As is "remembering to buy some when I'm actually at the store."

I tried celery with ranch dip which at first brought back more painful memories of carrot week, but then it really wasn't too bad. Celery lends itself far more to ranch dipping because it lacks carrot's officious density. A couple of bites and the celery is appropriately chewed without ever losing the ranch dip. I also tried celery with the cream cheese orange juice mixture mentioned in the comments. That seemed to work better still because its thicker than ranch dip. Also it offers a sweet option to vegetable consumption, something which is always appreciated.

I had intended to try a celery soup (my cure-all for texture problems) but found it more difficult a recipe to find than you would think. Apparently the Joy of Cooking does not consider such a thing worthy of publication. They do however, have a juice drink that combines watermelon and celery. It sounded rather good until I read the directions which instructed me matter-of-factly to put the watermelon and celery into my juice extractor. I am unfortunately one of those shortcut-taking modern women who doesn't own a juice extractor. So much for enjoying a delicious watermelon celery breeze on a warm summer's day.

So yes, no soup this week. I did make some dressing with celery in it to be served along side some roast chicken. It wasn't bad at all. I'm a true believer in box stuffing. Its so simple and yet always delicious. Perhaps not a summer food as much, but I enjoyed it thoroughly nevertheless. I think dicing the celery up and cooking away a little of the crunch really went a long way in this instance.

Now onto next week! I've finally been worn down...

Next week: artichoke!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Eggplant Week

Post is a little later today (and will be a little shorter) because I'm out of town right now and my internet's a little spotty. Also, I think blogger was down this morning. However, I'm making up for it with something special and never-before-seen on vegetables are friends, but I'll get to that in a moment.

I'm going to skip the usual vegetable/fruit debate because I feel like we've covered that many a vegetable/fruit ago. That aside, its interesting to note that the eggplant is botanically classified as a berry. I had a lot of fun with eggplants this week. These pendulous, purple friends are so easy to make in a variety of fun and unhealthy ways.

I found that frying eggplants allowed too great a margin of error (if the oil is not the perfect temperature, they absorb too much oil and become inedible); however, baking them in a pan of oil gave a similar effect minus the guess work! I made very thin slices of eggplant and breaded them and baked them on a pan of olive oil for about 25 minutes and ended up with delicious slices of eggplant heaven. As an added tip, I salted them and towel dried them prior to breading. I tried the baking-not-frying method both with these eggplant chips (accompanied by a blue cheese sauce) and then again with thicker slices for some eggplant parmasean. I tried this both with a Chinese eggplant and a regular eggplant and while I couldn't really tell the difference, many friends seemed to prefer the Chinese eggplant.

That's actually all the eggplant cooking I did for myself--as I mentioned, I'm out of town at present--but luckily where I am is chock full of delicious eggplant eating options. The other day I tried eggplant pizza. I'd never even seen that before! I thought it was quite serendipitous. Also, just tonight I stopped by a nearby Greek restaurant and got some moussaka. Its a layered casserole with eggplant, lamb or beef, and bechemal on top. Its impossible not to like anything with bechemal on top, but the eggplants certainly pulled their weight in this delicious dish. Had I not previously liked eggplants this week, moussaka would be reason enough to friend them.

Now for the surprise promised four paragraphs hence. I have always (since the onset of spinach week oh those many posts ago) sought to maintain my anonymity here in the blogosphere. Mostly just for a lark since almost everyone who reads this knows me and/or shares a bloodline with me (with the notable exception of the wonderful susan t!). However, I feel it is difficult to get through eggplant week without posting a picture of myself from last Halloween when I went as an eggplant. Why would I go as an eggplant when I didn't even like them or any vegetables last October, you may wonder. Mostly it was because I had purple tights and no where to wear them. So without further ado:
I wish you could get a better shot of my felt leaf cap with pipe cleaner accent--I really was quite proud of that. Also, apologies to the bear that's with me (who I know reads this faithfully) for an unauthorized picture posting.

Next week: celery!