The Crinkly Nose Chronicles: Yams

I've never considered myself a picky eater. I like to think that if someone were to make me a meal, no matter what was on the plate (well, y'know, as long as it wasn't a big bloody steak or something, obviously!), I'd eat it willingly and gratefully. And I suppose that's true. But then I realized that there are certain foods that I just won't purchase or cook on my own because, well, I don't really like them! So I've decided that I'm going to try and overcome these food aversions - thus, the Crinkly Nose Chronicles were born. Why the name, you ask? Well, what facial expression does a child make when you ask her to eat a food she doesn't like? Yup - she crinkles her nose and pairs it with a disdainful look that leave no confusion as to her meaning. And the questionable food I'm dealing with today is the humble yam.

Now, the food I really have an issue with here is the sweet potato. I know that's weird, and I know that yams and sweet potatoes are not exactly the same thing, but my local grocery store had yams on sale last week - with no sweet potatoes in sight - so I decided to just pretend that once I learn to like yams, sweet potatoes will naturally follow.

I think my dislike of sweet potatoes stems from childhood. I've always had an issue with tastes - I don't like my dinner to taste sweet, and as I've mentioned before, I am not a huge fan of the savory breakfast. So, while regular ol' potatoes are just fine with me, the sweet ones have always tripped me up. As a kid, I'd watch the rest of my family enjoying baked sweet potatoes with butter and brown sugar and wistfully wish I could learn to like them, but I just couldn't. Not only did their taste not fit with my conceptions of what dinner should entail, but their general flavor, quite honestly, just did not do it for me. I also have issues with texture - I hated yogurt as a kid and bananas still make me gag - and the texture of sweet potatoes was always slightly off-putting to me. As I've gotten older, I've grown more tolerant; if yams or sweet potatoes are part of a side dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas, I'll force down a small helping. But buying them and cooking them of my own volition? Not on your life!

...until last week, that is. I came home from the grocery store with two big ol' yams last Monday, and decided that the best way to trick my taste buds into enjoying them was to make baked yam fries - and yes, that's probably the same approach I'd take with a child, hehe! In search of some appropriate seasoning, the very first result from Googling "sweet potato fries" led me here. Hmm - her husband hates sweet potatoes but loved these fries?! Sounds good to me! So I chopped up my yam into some strangely shaped pieces, mixed up some olive oil (way less than the 1/4 cup in the recipe, goodness!) with some paprika and cinnamon (a spice mixture that sounded just crazy enough to work) and popped 'em in the oven.

Um, consider me chastened! These fries were delicious! I liked the ones where the skin had gone all crispy, but I was even able to eat the ones with mooshy insides without having texture OR flavor issues! In fact, I actually enjoyed the yammish flavor. I liked these fries so much that I made them again last night when I wasn't particularly hungry for a big dinner.

As you can see, I had the fries with some asparagus I needed to use up. The asparagus looks really shiny, but it's just flavored with a little Earth Balance and some squeezes of fresh lemon juice. Yum all around.

I've made progress, I think, in my journey towards becoming a yam/sweet potato fan. But I still have a ways to go. I've got to graduate to actual sweet potatoes, and I need to stop eating my yams as fries (or do I?) and try another way of eating them. In fact, I bought two more yams at the store today, and I promise that the next time I see a sweet potato, I will purchase it and try to enjoy it!

So - what's YOUR favorite way of eating yams/sweet potatoes?


Cupcakes, Pancakes, and Soup, oh my!

My cooking rut has ended, but my time crunch has begun, giving me a new reason not to post, alas! Carleton has a trimester system, so we have three 10-week terms per year. It's eighth week of winter term right now, and things are getting hectic. I've got all my regular work to finish, plus my huuuge comprehensive exercise exam for which to prepare. So that's my excuse for this boring, mostly picture-less post!

I tried the VWAV recipe for pancakes last week, and they were yummy! I added lots of cinnamon to the batter, because I love a little spice in my pancakes, and ate them with maple syrup and the applesauce and apples topping I blogged about here.

After picking up some canned pumpkin at the store, I made the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from VCTOTW. Mmm! They were like a cross between cupcakes and muffins, though the chocolate chips definitely pushed them towards cupcakedom. I thought they were *slightly* bland, but that might be because I'm so used to eating pumpkin based baked goods that use lots of pumpkin pie inspired spices.

This weekend, I made a big ol' pot of the Curried Split Pea Soup from VWAV. I'd had a bag of split peas sitting in my cupboard for weeks, so I was glad to finally use them up. I've never had curried split pea soup before; in fact, I'm not sure I've had split pea soup at all since going vegetarian just about four years ago! Weird, huh? I altered Isa's recipe slightly for lack of certain ingredients, namely onions, ginger, and cardamom. If I'd had them, I bet the soup would've been even tastier, but I really loved it as it was, especially since I chopped up a couple of baby carrots and added them. The curry flavor was mild, but I thought it worked well that way; the soup wasn't overpowering at all. I froze about half the batch, and tonight I ate my last not-frozen leftover bowl with some "sweet potato" (read: yam!) fries that might show up in a post soon. It was the perfect comfort meal on a cold night when I had a headache and generally didn't feel too well.

I did make one recipe from VWAV that wasn't a success, however. I decided to depart from my standby burger recipe - a variation of the Black Bean Burgers from Fatfree Vegan Kitchen - and try the TVP-based Veggie Burgers instead. I was not impressed. Granted, my substitution of chopped olives for the recipe's chopped mushrooms could have altered the taste, but I thought the flavor overall was just not good. I find that many of the recipes from VWAV are really salty, and this one was no exception, especially if you cook the TVP in vegetable broth, which is loaded with sodium. That plus the 3 T soy sauce, the Dijon mustard, and the optional liquid smoke (I didn't have any) equals waaay too much salt for my tastes - and I even halved the amount of soy sauce! I just wasn't impressed with the taste; there were too many flavors going on - Dijon mustard, peanut butter, soy sauce, and all the spices... bleh. I like the idea of a TVP-based burger, but I won't be making this particular recipe again.

That's all I have for now on the food-related front! I will leave you with a cute photo of my little Mistletoe as a thank-you for reading all this boring, picture-less food blather. This is one of her favorite positions, with her head resting between someone's legs - mine, in this case. Enjoy the doggie cuteness, and check out this post for a photo of my other baby.


Spinach Gnocchi, or, A Monochrome Meal

With a word like gnocchi, the temptation to make some sort of horrible pun is almost irresistible. A large number of such puns ran through my head the other day in a cavalcade of groan-inducing wordplay, yet tonight I feel braindead - none of those hi-laaarious titles will condescend to return to my memory. Maybe that's for the best, however, so I'll skip the silliness and get straight to the food.

It was my turn in the three-week cycle of house dinner making, and I felt like going all-out and going crazy in the kitchen. Obviously that meant making my own pasta. Potato pasta, but pasta nonetheless. For a first gnocchi-making experience, it went quite well. I followed the recipe from VWAV, and added spinach, as per one of Isa's suggestions. I ended up with a large batch of minty-green gnocchi speckled with darker bits of spinach. Kind of pretty, in a strange way, even in their misshapenness - they were certainly not all exactly the same size, and the little riblike lines that scream "GNOCCHI!" were not entirely noticeable. But they were certainly tasty, if perhaps ever-so-slightly gummy. Definitely not a light meal, that's for sure. I served them with a spinach thyme toss from Vegan Visitor and some marinara sauce, along with a side of green beans sauteed with garlic and - of course - garlic bread. Yum yum yum.

Without the marinara sauce and the bread, that meal would've been entirely green! Hmm... I think I know what to make on St. Patty's day! :)


Ethnically Diverse Toast (aka French toast made with Italian bread)

My lack of posts lately may hint in a fairly obvious way that I've been in a bit of a cooking rut for a week or so. I just haven't felt inspired, I guess. But luckily that all ended last night, when I journeyed into the land of pasta making and whipped up (cough, cough) a batch of homemade spinach gnocchi. Yeah, you heard that right. ;) But more on that in my next post, because this morning I made something you'd think really shouldn't be veganizable, since the original relies almost solely on animal products. Obviously I'm talking about French toast!

It was with a certain amount of, well, apprehension that I tried the recipe for "Fronch" Toast from VWAV. Isa says that chickpea flour possesses the magical ability to transform the egg- and milk-free version into one that tastes amazingly close to the real thing. Well, truth be told, I don't really care for the taste of chickpea flour. I learned this the hard way after I made a batch of pudla (Chinese scallion "pancakes" made with chickpea flour) based on this recipe. But since I was halving the VWaV recipe (I'm only cooking for one, here!) and it therefore only needed 1/8ish cup of chickpea flour, I figured I'd give it a try. Oh, and please excuse the questionable quality/composition of this photograph - my camera was having focusing issues, and this was not an exceedingly aesthetically pleasant food. It's rather... beige.

So - the result? Tasty, and surprisingly like "real" French toast (why does she call it "Fronch" Toast, anyway?), but not indistinguishable from the original. I added some cinnamon into the mix, because I don't have any maple syrup for a topping and wanted to sweeten it up. Unfortunately, I could taste the chickpea flour. That was a little disappointing, although I think I might've used too much flour, since I was just eyeballing it. Next time, I'll definitely be stingy with the chickpea flour. I'll also use slightly stale bread (mine was leftover Italian bread from the night before) and let it soak in the mixture for a longer period of time.

Oh, and that topping on my French toast? That, my friends, is a yummy, sweet, apple topping based on something my dad used to make when he'd cook up a big batch of pancakes for my family on the weekends. It's pretty simple - first, you pour about 1/4 or 1/3 cup of applesauce into a small pot and heat it up on the stove. While that's getting nice and bubbly, chop up an apple into small cubes and add it to the pot. Since I use unsweetened applesauce, I like to add a sizable sprinkle of cinnamon and a little sugar, but you can definitely leave the sugar out. If you have maple syrup, that works nicely too; Dad liked to use it. I bet you could give it a nice apple pie type flavor by adding nutmeg, allspice, etc. Anyway, once it's bubbly and the apples are nice and soft, just spoon it right over your French toast or pancakes and enjoy! I sure did. :)


Veggie Chorizo Brekkie Burrito!

Like many Americans, I am a cultural mutt. My mom's side is French-Canadian, English, and Scottish, while my dad's side hails from Portugal, Ireland, and Russia. While I can't say that any one culinary tradition was prevalent in my immediate family's kitchen during my childhood, special occasions were often an excuse for my extended family to make foods following those traditions. French-Canadian meat pie, or tourtiere, is a New Year's Day tradition on my mom's side of the family (and no, we're not talking about the Sweeney Todd type of meat pie!). On the other side, my grandmother always buys traditional Portuguese sweet breads - complete with the hard-boiled egg in the middle - on Easter and makes a variety of Portuguese dishes for family dinners or her annual Christmas party. Some sort of pepper and chorizo dish is usually present at these types of gatherings.

I've got to be honest - even when I did eat meat, I was never a fan of chorizo or any type of sausage. It seemed like the epitome of everything that was wrong with meat to me, all sorts of unidentifiable bits of animals thrown into a grinder and labeled edible. And the few times I tried it, I didn't care for the taste. But I was willing to give chorizo another try... in its vegan form, at least. :P

So I made the Breakfast Veggie Chorizo from VWAV. As usual, I didn't have a couple of the ingredients (bay leaves, fennel seed.) But it ended up being really tasty! It was sweeter than I'd expected, which was probably a good thing - I'm not really a savory-breakfast type of person. Nope, I'm a sweet-breakfast girl - I'll take pancakes/smoothies/cereal/waffles/oatmeal, please! But I tried something different with the veggie chorizo and was pleasantly surprised, especially because it tastes really great in a breakfast burrito mixed up with sauteed green peppers, onions, and potatoes! I even went so far as to top it off with a smidgen of ketchup, which is totally against my sweet-breakfast nature, but it was really the perfect topping for the burrito.

Tasty AND filling! And for a first experience using TVP, it really could not have gone much better. I'm sure this doesn't taste anything like real chorizo, but hey - I'm fine with that. :)