Monday, January 31, 2011

Mexican casserole

Vegan potluck. For omnivores. Bonus: It's gluten free, too!

~12 corn tortillas
1 bigass can of vegetarian refried beans (or two normal-sized ones)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 anaheim pepper, chopped
1 zucchini, cut into rounds, then quarter slices
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 butternut squash, chopped (or 1 bag of frozen chunks)
1-3 cups of spinach, depending on how much you like
1 can of tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup of your favorite salsa
1 small can of fire-roasted chopped chiles
1 tsp of vinegar
chile powder

Make this in a big lasagna pan. Think of it like a Mexican lasagna comfort food, but instead of pasta you have corn tortillas. I folded mine and broke them in half to make them easier to fit (flat edges to line up).

I did one layer of tortillas, then topped with a layer of refried beans. Sprinkled the beans lightly with chile powder.

Next layer of tortillas... Top with fajita veggies. I cooked the green and anaheim peppers, the onions, and the zucchini over high heat in a pan until the onions just got a tinge of crisp brown, like a sizzlin' fajita. Spread these evenly over the tortillas.

Next layer of tortillas... First, spread a thin layer of sauce-- can of tomato paste, water, vinegar, canned chiles, chile powder, salsa-- over the tortillas. Top with squash and spinach mixture. I used a bag of frozen squash hunks from the grocery store (so easy) and about six handfuls of spinach. I put the squash and three handfuls with garlic, chile powder, and cumin in a bowl, then microwaved for a minute and half. Stirred, added the rest of the spinach. Nuked for another minute and a half. Stirred. Smooshed the squash. Added some salt and pepper. Dropped clumps of the mix onto the layer of tortillas and spread it around.

Next layer of tortillas. Now mix the remaining beans and remaining sauce together to make a nice thick tomato-y bean-y sauce. Spread over the top of the last layer of tortillas. If you're feeling exciting, add thin slivers of onion or something else vegetal to decorate. (Frozen corn could work.)

Cover your masterpiece with tin foil. You can let it sit like this for hours. (Good for make-ahead!) If you don't have enough room in your fridge because you used a giant lasagna pan and have all sorts of other crap in your fridge, don't fret-- IT'S VEGAN. You're not going to get food poisoning from leaving it out on a cool counter for a few hours. (If it's going to be more than that, make room in the fridge. You should probably clean out your fridge anyway, right?)

Before you serve, cook covered for about 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

For fancy-schmanciness, you can top with slivers of avocado and a sprinkling of cilantro when you serve. If, like me, you get to the party and forget that you have an avocado in your purse, just relax, enjoy the night, and remember to take the avocado out of your purse when you get home.

I wish I'd taken a picture of this. And the "yum" faces as people tried it. Even non-vegans went back for seconds at our party.

(If you're not vegan, this would probably be awesome with the lightest sprinkle of cheddar or cojito cheese. But save yourself money and hassle-- just skip the cheese.)

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Saturday's Book Mixer discussion was fantastic. I loved A Single Man, and I loved hearing all the other readers' different interpretations of it. There was spirited but respectful disagreement on the ending, the character's intentions, and major plot points. Most of us loved it, some were not quite as infatuated, but I think we all came away with great appreciation for the novel and the participants in the discussion.
About three quarters of the way through the book, I went to my fantastic local, indie video store (shout out to Video Isle and Alex, who makes movie magic happen!) and rented the movie. Yowzah. It was a very different story, but I thought the atmosphere and questions raised were in keeping with the spirit of the book. How does one take a very internal novel and make an Oscar-winning movie from it? Yup, you may need to add some big drama, change who's had affairs and why, substitute two adorable dogs for a garage-ful or animals, and attach geniuses like Colin Firth and Julianne Moore to the project. I have to say THANK YOU TOM FORD-- the changes added even more to my thoughts about the novel, and we had that much more to talk about! We discussed for two hours and could have kept going.
I highly recommend A Single Man for book clubs. If you can make everyone watch the movie, do that, too.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Turmeric ginger carrot and garbanzo soup

Inspired by Liz of DishingWell's recent shout out to turmeric and its healthful properties, I served a tasty bright orange soup tonight. (A jolt of color that was very welcome after a very rainy day.)

Turmeric Ginger Carrot and Garbanzo Soup
1/2 onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
small hunk of ginger root, peeled and cut in slivers
1 package of peeled baby carrots
water (about 4 cups)
turmeric (about 1 tsp?)
cumin (about the same)
ground cardamom (about 1/4 tsp)
a handful of frozen peas

I sauteed the onions, garlic, and shallots in a pan with a touch of canola oil.
Then I added the rest of the ingredients (except the peas, salt, pepper) and simmered it up for a while. ("A while" translates to an hour plus-- I kind of lost track of time, but it was the time it took to read about 1/3 of the upcoming teen novel The Implosion of Aggie Winchester by Laura Zielin-- a fun goth girl/bass master prom romp.)

I added some salt and pepper. I checked to make sure all the sweet potato and carrots were smooshy. Then I used my wonder immersion blender-- but left a few hunks in the now brilliant orange bisque-like soup.

Then I added a handful of frozen peas because I wanted the color contrast of the bright green against the intense orange.

I served it with mini-ciabatta rolls stuffed with spinach leaves (tucked in while the rolls were still hot, so it wilted nicely) and slices of avocado with just a hint of salt.

(To be honest, I also gave us each a little serving of Jordy's leftover Mexican Mac & Cheese from dinner at the 5 Spot's vegetarian Wednesday last night, too. But if you were being all vegan-strict, you wouldn't have that in the house anyway, right?)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dear Michael Pollan

Dear Michael Pollan (of Food Rules and other food introspection fame),
I was hungry enough to eat an apple.
But I chose vegan gingerbread cake with chocolate chips instead.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Escarole: the party dress of veggies

At the grocery store the other day, escarole caught my eye. Amidst the tough-skinned cukes, the crocodile-like texture of the hearty kale, and the rubbery solidity of cabbages, escarole looked like a party dress. It was white with green edges-- like piping! It had frills! I had no idea how to cook it, but I knew I wanted to eat it.

(Crazy blogger aside: Talented people would certainly make a gorgeous dress out of escarole. Have you seen what they can do with toilet paper?)

I braised it up. We ate the whole bunch in one sitting.

How to cook party dress escarole:

Heat oil, diced garlic, and chili flakes in a pan.
Rinse your pretty escarole well. Slice into strips. (Some will be frillier than others.) It's ok if some of the stems get in there.
Add your escarole strips to the hot pan. Let it cook down for a few minutes. Your escarole will start to wilt. It won't be as spring-green. Do not be sad! It will taste better this way.
Add water, salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and some thin slivers of lemon. Turn down the heat. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.
Keep peeking. Stir. Don't let it burn! Add more water if you need. Sample it. Add more of whatever you want. (Sequins? No, they don't taste good. Maybe just more pepper.)

I'm smitten with escarole. It felt like comfort food, but I'm pretty sure it had some good nutrients, even after I cooked the hell out of it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

PNBA Awards are announced!

I can finally stop keeping secrets!
The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association 2011 Book Awards are out!

The winners are:

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr
River House by Sarahlee Lawrence
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

and a lifetime achievement award to Nancy Pearl.

What a great list, and what a fun process!

Here is the official list, with commentary:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy New Year!

For the first time in several years, I return from the holiday shenanigans without the urgent need for self-imposed detox. I'm crediting my quasi-veganism!

While a great new year's resolution would be to add to this blog more, I'm going to go easy on myself. Writing for the store's newsletter,, the neighborhood blog, the book, and my new pet project (shh, it's secret so far!)-- that's all keeping me pretty busy.

But I will continue to post here when I can, with food and book updates.

For your list-browsing pleasure, I do herewith include a link to my Top Ten of 2010 list:
Adult books (You know, for grown-ups! Get your mind out of the gutter!)

As of this post, my commentary is not yet up, but I'm sure my dedicated coworker Lil and I will get to that soon!