What I Ate (These Past 3 Months) Wednesday

Throughout my 6 years of French lessons, in between insulting our jaded American attitudes and telling us that no one in France would ever actually be able to understand our terrible accents, my bitter instructor would pause daily to impart on us some examples of how Europeans exceed us in all areas of life.

If it wasn’t terrible enough that the French somehow manage to maintain the smallest waist-lines in the developed world on a steady diet of butter, cheese, and pastries, one tidbit that burrowed its way into my small American mind and made itself a bitter home was the knowledge that all French workers get 7 weeks paid summer vacation that they can take all at one time.

Yes, while most of us full-time workers here in the U.S. are sitting in our window-less cubicles, counting down the days to that 1-week vacay we begged our bosses for this year, most of France is gayly sunbathing their perfect, topless bodies on the beaches of the French Riviera while stuffing their faces full of soft cheese and macarons… and will be doing so for the next 5-11 weeks. What the eff? The world is a cruel, cruel place, mes amis.

Clearly my 1/4 french heritage has been having an affect on me, because summer hiatuses seem to have become a theme of this little blog. Last year I flat out took the summer off, this year I seem to have taken an early spring leave of just under 3 months…

And lot has happened in 3 months. Since I last posted, the weather has shot from a consistent 40 degrees straight up to 90, flowers have bloomed, pollen has infuriated my sinuses, the “S*** ______ Say” meme has died, and giffs have somehow become popular again through #whatshouldwecallme-type blogs. Yes, we’ve come a long way in 3 months.

When someone asks me what I’m making for my next blog post.

Expectation:

Reality:

But just as the French still manage to vacation and eat their hearts out at the same time, just because I haven’t been bloggin’ doesn’t mean I’ve been skipping out on making yummy meals (without the help of an iron, I might add)…

…And since I’m so back-logged, what better way to play catch-up than to join in the fun that is Peas and Crayon’s “What I Ate Wednesday”!

So without further ado, here’s what I cooked (and ate) while “en vacances” (as the French would say)…

Peas and Crayon’s own Quinoa Fried Rice

Skillet Penne With Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, Cannelloni Beans, and Mozzarella

Toasted Coconut Cake Pops (my own creation!)

Decorated Marshmallow Peeps

Cadbury Deviled Eggs

Real Deviled Eggs

“Slutty” Brownies

Vegetarian Paella (From a bargain aisle cookbook) ;)

Spinach, Tempeh, and Rice Pilaf (my own concoction!)

Highly Alcoholic Butterbeer

Those who have known me for 5 minutes or more will attest that my love affair for all things Harry Potter transcends normal fandom.

This is more than just a “I-stayed-up-until-midnight-to-get-all-of-the-books-on-their-release-date,” sort of love. Sure, I’ve done all the normal fandimonium things — read all the books, saw all the movies, went to every midnight release (in costume).

No, this is much, much more.

I’ve made Harry Potter-themed baked goods. I have a memory box with trading cards, ticket stubs, and HP stationary. I am currently drinking water from a Gryffindor cup. There is a chocolate frog on my bedside table. I named my first dog after a Harry Potter character.

Padfoot, a.k.a Sirius Black

But nothing is more elusive to this muggle’s mind than the perfect pint of butterbeer.

Little is known about this magnificent beverage. HP devotees will travel far and wide to sample the J.K. Rowling approved recipe at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Indeed, this winter I was one of them!

My best friend Amanda and I sampling the offerings at the Hog’s Head Bar

Being the natural negativo that I am, I was expecting something hokey that amounted to not much more than glorified cream soda. But oh boy, was I wrong. I mean, it was like a mild cream soda, but it was topped with this thick, rich, creamy, fluff-like topping. Oh man, it was goooooooooood.

Since I’ve recently dabbled in infusing my own vodka and crafting my own cocktails, I knew that the second I returned home from HP World (i.e., paradise), I would be finding a way to make an adult (alcoholic) version of this magical concoction.

But I quickly became dismayed while looking at recipes that involved too many ingredients (really, there’s no need to be infusing butter with cloves), were not the correct color or thickness, or frankly didn’t have enough alcohol.

More specifically, I was most interested in recreating the frothy topping, which my best friend and HP companion quickly compared to liquid fluff. Since she was with me when sampling the real deal, we made it our mission the next time she came to visit to really nail down an out-of-this-world butterbeer cocktail.

Lucky, we hit the nail on the head with our very first attempt, and in both of our humble opinions, it stands up to the official, Rowling-sanctioned virgin version. We both have slightly different tastes (Amanda loves her stuff SWEET), so the recipe gives a little wiggle room for making it your own.

I’ve now tested this recipe on a half dozen in-the-know participants and it has won top marks across the board. What really sets this recipe apart is the foam topping that makes the butterbeer look like actually frothy beer from a tap. Be careful with this one, it goes down easy, but it packs a punch!

Butterbeer

  • 1 – 2 oz. butterscotch shnapps, depending on how sweet you want it (I prefer 1 oz.)
  • 2 oz. whipped cream flavored vodka
  • 6 oz. cream soda
  • 1 large spoonful marshmallow fluff + just a smidge of butterscotch shnapps
  1. In a tumbler, mix together the ice, schnapps, vodka, and cream soda. Strain into a chilled clear pint glass.
  2. In a small container, use a fork to whip together marshmallow fluff and a smidge of shnapps (a dab of cream soda also helps break it down really well) — keep whipping until liquid and easily pourable (2-3 minutes). Pour on top of butterbeer as the “head.” Enjoy!

New Year’s Resolutions and No-Calorie Noodles, Three Ways

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good at a lot of things. I’m a terrible parallel parker. My artistic abilities are limited to shoddily drawn cartoons on par with those found in a third grade art class. I can’t for the life of me deep fry something without either completely ruining it, starting a fire, or burning off half of my taste buds.

But I have no shame in admitting that I am exceptionally good at making New Year’s resolutions. So good in fact, that last year I made exactly 50 of them.

Yes, 50. I have issues, don’t judge me.

Did I accomplish any of said resolutions? Considering I threw away the notebook containing them sometime in September, I would venture to say probably not…

But this year I’m doing things differently.

For starters, I’m not making 50 resolutions.

And this year I’m not going to be secretive about them and pretend I’m above all that New Year’s hoo-ha.

And I’m going to resist the urge to lump all of my goals into one big resolution like, “I’m going to be better at everything I’m already doing and start doing all the things I’m currently not.”

And this year I’m not going to start my list of resolutions with a resolution to make a list of resolutions. Yeah, that happened:

This year, I’m narrowing it down to five solid, concrete, accomplishable resolutions with measurable outcomes.

And I’m going to work my butt off to accomplish them…

…because on the off chance the world ends this December, and judgment day is less than 12 months away…well, I’ve got a loooooootttttt of work to do if I ever have a shot of getting my ass into heaven.

So, this year I’m going to work on 5 things, and only 5 things:

1) Find a new job.
2) Cook. Five times a week. No excuses, mofo. And baked potatoes with butter and cheese don’t count. Oh, and start packing a lunch while you’re at it. And for god’s sake, eat a normal breakfast once in awhile.
3) Blog. Once a week. At least. Don’t complain about it, you love this shit.
4) Share. Let others read Two Veggies. Play guitar for someone other than your stuffed animals. Go running with someone, even if you’re afraid you look like an injured ostrich while doing it.
5) Be healthier. Resume some form of viable exercise and perform it at least three times a week. Eat more vegetables. Eat a piece of fruit once in awhile. Commit to eating “healthy” meals five days a week.

Concise, right? <<Insert applause>>

But let’s talk about that last one for a minute.

A lot of people make resolutions like that… you know, the usual buffet of typical New Year’s promises: be healthy, lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, stop drinking, stop stuffing yo’ face full of chocolate cake at every forsaken opportunity.

I’m not a nutritionist, or a doctor, or motivator, or a life coach. I can’t give a long, inspired speech about finding your inner willpower, harnessing the inspiration to make get off the couch, making small permanent changes instead of big temporary ones… all that sing-songey new year’s stuff.

But I can share a little secret I stumbled upon that might make all those things easier:

Tofu shirataki. Looks like pasta. Tastes like pasta (i.e., nothing). Has the same texture as pasta (almost). But is only 20 calories per serving.

Did you hear that?!

I said, 20 friggin’ calories per serving. If that’s not a New Year’s miracle, then I don’t know what is.

In addition, the shirataki is (sort of) all natural. It has three ingredients: tofu, yams, water. It is dairy free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, and (almost) no carb. If you’re Paleo, I imagine this is as close to a pasta substitute you can get (while I’m pretty sure cavemen didn’t eat tofu shirataki and it wouldn’t “technically” be Paleo, I doubt it would be a harmful addition to a Paleo meal when you’re just dying for some friggin’ pasta). They’re available at pretty much every grocery store I’ve been to, usually in the produce aisle next to where they keep the meat substitutes.

I’ve spent some time cooking with these bad boys over the past few months and I’ve had great results. As an Italian, it would be sacrilegious of me to ever consider permanently giving up pasta, but it’s always good to make substitutes when and where you can and save up all your pasta points for a night when you can really splurge on something goooooood…like pasta carbonara.

Here are three tried and tested recipes using tofu shirataki, each with a completely different taste to help you get kick started with your goals in the New Year! They all serve two VERY generously. Happy 2012!

Broccoli and Tofu Shirataki in a Spicy Ginger Scallion Sauce

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed with hot water
  • peanut oil, for sautéing
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 large broccoli crowns, chopped
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, ground
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (depending on how sweet or salty you like your sauce)
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • siracha sauce to taste
  1. In a large pan or wok over high heat, add a liberal amount of peanut oil and the chopped onion. Stir until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the broccoli crowns, stirring constantly until they become heated and soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and broccoli from the pan and onto a nearby plate for later use.
  3. Heat a little more peanut oil and add the scallions and ginger. Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, honey, red pepper and some siracha. Heat for about 2 minutes and then taste, adjust the ingredients to your liking.
  4. Add back in the broccoli and onions and coat well in the sauce.
  5. Lower the heat and add the tofu shirataki, stirring until evenly coated with the sauce and heated through.
  6. Serve with some freshly grated ginger on top!

Thai Curry Noodle Soup

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained
  • 2oz Laksa paste or other Thai curry paste
  • 1 large can (1 1/2 cups) light or full fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups mixed chopped vegetables
  • handful fresh basil leaves
  1. Place noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 1 minute then massage to loosen into individual strands. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or other vegetable oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add curry paste and stir fry for 30 seconds. Quickly add coconut milk and 2 cups boiling water. Bring to the boil and add vegetables. Simmer for 2 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to your liking.
  3. To serve, divide noodles between 2 bowls. Pour soup and vegetable mixture on top of the noodles and top with basil leaves.

Mexican Pasta Bowls

  • 1 package tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed under hot water
  • half an onion, minced
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 package fake veggie chicken (if you like)
  • three bell peppers (of assorted colors if you’re feeling fancy), cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup of canned black beans
  • 1/4 cup of frozen corn
  • small pinch of red pepper flakes
  • shredded chedda’ cheese, if you please (I sho’ do!)
  • Hefty pinches of:
    • Cumin
    • Chile powder
    • Paprika
    • Salt
    • Pepper
  1. In a large pan, saute the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the fake chicken, bell peppers and frozen corn. Cook for about 7 minutes, until peppers are soft.
  3. Add the black beans and all the spices, mix well and heat thoroughly, about 3 minutes. Toss in the tofu shirataki and heat another 2 minutes.
  4. Dish into bowls and serve topped with shredded cheese, salsa, gauc, or whatever else fits your palette!

A Christmas Story

‘Twas the month of December, and blog posts? There were none.
But wait! Before you get angry…there was much to get done!

I had to make presents and eat cookies and decorate my house…
…and travel to Orlando to meet a famous big mouse.
There was butterbeer to be drunk and playgrounds on which to climb…
…and two very bestest friends having a wonderfully magical time.
Then it was back to Boston, my home sweet home,
where, Merry Christmas to me, I bought an iPhone.
Then a yankee swap at work, where we drank lots of wine with lunch…
I got a margherita gift basket from those mofos. Hey, thanks a bunch!

Then off to New Jersey for more presents to unwrap.
Santa was f***ing good this year, just look at all this cool crap…

I got a zebra hat and mittens to protect from winter’s rough bark…

…a macro lens to take badass photos, and a floating toy shark.
But the real reason I’m typing out this silly, long ballad,
is because tucked in my stocking this year…

…was the recipe for my grandma’s famous potato salad!

(more about the recipe after the recipe.)

Nonna’s Smashed Potato Salad

  • 5 pounds all-purpose potatoes
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 medium sized sweet onion, grated so that the onion is essentially a pulp (more on this below)
  • Helman’s mayo (to taste…more on that, again, below)
  • Salt, pepper and garlic powder (to taste)
  • A whole lotta paprika
  1. Hard boil the eggs. (See below.) When cooled, peel and chop them.
  2. Boil the potatoes until easily pierced with a fork. They should be at a mashable consistency, not much firmer. Put in the fridge to cool. When cooled, peel off the skins (I pulled the skins off right after I took them out of the boiling pot…I see no reason why you can’t do the same).
  3. Cut the potatoes into evenly sized cubes and put into a large mixing bowl. Add the grated carrot, onion, egg, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mix well with a wooden spoon. The potatoes should become slightly mashed.
  4. Little by little, add the mayonnaise to your liking. The salad shouldn’t be white with mayo, and should have a fairly thick, stable consistency (not soupy).
  5. Continue to mix until the potato salad has a consistency of mashed potatoes with lots of lumps.
  6. Top the entire bowl with lots and lots of paprika.

I’ve loved this potato salad since I was a kid. It was the only potato salad that ever called to me. In fact, I had sworn off potato salad before I tried my Nonna’s. I don’t like the potato salads that are soupy, covered in thick white stuff, crunchy…nope, I don’t want any of that shizzz…

I begged my Nonna forever for her recipe and I got the run-around for the better part of a year. Imagine my surprise when I found a little index card tucked in my stocking this year. At one point during the holiday, I proclaimed it my favorite gift, which invited dirty looks from my mom who had just bestowed upon me a $300 camera lens.

But of course, in typical Nonna fashion, the recipe was horrifyingly vague. Look at the picture I posted of the index card above… she lists only two ingredients: 5 pounds of potatoes and 6 hard-boiled eggs. Later in the recipe, she mentions all the other crap I need, but gives no quantities. Not to mention, she says nothing about how to hard boil eggs… which I may or may not have had to look up directions for…

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that the onion is so finely grated that there is no annoying onion-y crunch present when you bite into a fork full, just some pleasant onion taste. Obviously if you like just a liiiiiiiitle bit more crunch, you can dice the onion, slice it, or mix and match.

Anyway, above is my best interpretation of her recipe and the results were spot on to the potato salad that was present at every springtime family function when I was a kid. Sure, it’s a little out of season right now, but it reminds me of family…my family…my big, crazy, food-loving, grudge-holding, tradition-following, Italian family.

Vodka Infusions

Well, well, well… look who’s resurfaced in the blogosphere…

Yep, that’s right folks, I’m strappin’ back on my bloggin’ shoes and goin’ back in for the fight.

Major apologies for my sudden (and rude) disappearance. Some big events unfolded in this veggie’s life and things got pretty darn complicated for awhile. But I’m makin’ some big changes and I want you, dear reader, to share ‘em with me!

The first major change is that, starting today, I am officially sharing this blog with a real, live human monster. He’s been buggin’ me for nearly 6 months now to see the blog and today, which just so happens to be my 23rd birthday, I’m giving myself the gift of no longer having to put up with his relentless requests. Say hi to my friend, everyone!

His name is …well, we’ll just call him Mother Monster. He’s a cool kid. He listens to Lady G. He plays some mean guitar. He is a big big fan of Oreo cookies.

In fact, we share many of the same food passions! He let me borrow his subscription to Cook’s Illustrated. We’ve gone on an extensive hunt for the best poutine in Boston together. He introduced me to pulled pork (ummmm…what? move along…). He helped me sample these vodka infusions for the first time (more on that later).

On to the second BIG change. As you can see, Two Veggies looks a little different. New templates, new header, updated pages… I would have done new fonts too, but I’m too poor to afford font packages and ill-adept at using WordPress on my own. Speaking of which, when I changed my template, I lost all my comments… has this happened to anyone else? Any WordPress whizzes out there know how to get ‘em back?!

The last BIG change? This is a tough one…

This is no longer the tale of two veggies. Le boyfriend and I split up, so now this veggie is on her own. This obviously made life supremely complicated for awhile; chief amongst my problems was the issue of this bloggity’s name. Do you know just how hard a feat it is to come up with a good blog name?! I’m not prepared to do that sort of brainstormin’ again. Send yo’ suggestions my way.

Anyways, since the breakup, I’ve tried to bite the bullet and start a big project to take my mind off of things. I had recently acquired an excess of mason jars, so infusing vodka seemed like the most logical undertaking. If not the most exceptionally stereotypical.

Infusing vodka is super easy (and super delicious).

The recipe goes something like this:

[fruit of your choosing + mason jar + a spoonful of sugar + high quality of vodka]/a few days to a few weeks = the tastiest vodka you ever laid your tongue on.

Here are some of the combo’s I made:

Strawberry Vanilla

Blueberry Peach

Raspberry Vanilla with Gold Flakes

Mixed Berry Vanilla

Aside from being painfully easy, this little project is a great way to make some unusual, customized gifts fo’ people in your life… or an easy peasy way to impress your friends. Here’s the directions (if you couldn’t figure them out from my above formula).

Homemade Vodka Infusions

  • Fruit of your choosing
  • A mason jar or other air tight container
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar (for small jars, 2 for big ones)
  • High-quality, plain vodka
  • Other additions, some recommendations
    • Cinnamon sticks
    • Whole vanilla beans
    • Spices
    • Flowers
  1. Cut and clean the fruit. Layer it nicely in the mason jar and add the sugar.
  2. Fill the rest of the jar with vodka and put the lid and ring to the jar back on. Shake well.
  3. Twice a day, agitate the jars with a few quick shakes. Store in a cool, dry place for 3-14 days (the longer, the stronger).
  4. When the vodka is finished infusing, use a cheesecloth to help drain the fruit from the jars. Discard the fruit and serve the vodka with a simple mixer like Sprite, tonic water or ginger ale.