Here it is, the world’s most dramatic December Menu Challenge ever! I think this one is going to be super fun, even allowing for the failures that are bound to happen when we consider holiday festivities.
Consumed for the rest of the November Menu Challenge (bold = things that complied with the rules, italics = failures):
November 20: Pumpkin Soup (recipe) (This is still one of my favorite foods of all time.)
November 21: frozen pizza (Oops, but Ben had a test that day (he’s taking a math class, which is super great if by “super great” I mean terrible) and didn’t feel like making tacos.)
November 22: tempeh reubens (recipe) (more details about what I did) (This is one of the best things I’ve ever had.)
November 23: vegetarian pepperoni pizza (pepperoni recipe here)
November 24: Greek salad
November 25: Cumin Lime Quinoa Black Bean Salad (recipe) (We liked this so much we made it again to take to Friendsgiving.)
November 26: Rigatoni with Black Bean Chipotle Sauce (recipe)
November 27: Roasted Tomato Soup (recipe) (Very good, very rich. A nice way to use tomatoes that aren’t beautiful, and the Vitamix really does obliterate the tomato skin and seeds. Ben wanted to serve it over pasta.)
November 28: Friendsgiving (We brought Cumin Lime Quinoa Black Bean Salad, stuffing (recipe), and cinnamon ice cream (recipe) (So good, even for my first attempt at custard-based ice cream).)
November 29: Okay, we had our family Thanksgiving feast, featuring stuffing (we made enough for Friendsgiving and this), Tofurky, Quorn Turk’y Roast, gravy, some roasted veggies, and leftover ice cream. I still owe Ben a pumpkin pie.
November 30: sausage, pepper, and onion pizza (We use Upton’s Naturals Italian Seitan, which is so good we’re going to open a pizza place and put it on our sausage pizzas and even meat eaters will be like holy shit this is amazing.)
So this was super fun! In fact, we liked the menu challenge so much we’re doing it again in December! Details soon!
You have to listen to this (it’s a Soundcloud thing and I hope you can see it).
A long time — maybe two years? — ago, Ben, Soren, and I had dinner at the Vine Street Pub. One of the items on the menu intrigued me — it was a tempeh Reuben. I’d never had a Reuben in my life and honestly the idea of it terrified me, if it’s okay for me to admit I’m such a delicate flower I can be terrified by the thought of a sandwich. I don’t like 1000 island (except on the rare vegetarian Big Mac) (When I was a kid, my mom always put 1000 island on her salads. It was typically the only dressing we had in the house. I thought it was gross and, as a result, thought I didn’t like salad. Then I went to college and discovered ranch.) I don’t like sauerkraut and in fact hadn’t touched the stuff since my mom made me as a kid (although to its credit, sauerkraut was never as bad as the times my mom made me eat smoked butt and cabbage; I am traumatized forever). But somehow, the idea of combining all the weird-ass shit you combine to make a Reuben intrigued me. I almost ordered it but then didn’t, and the thought of a Reuben dissipated in the ether of my brain.
Until earlier this month, when I was thinking about sandwiches, what with sandwich Friday and all. At first I was going to make samosa sandwiches but then I was all hm, I love carbs but there’s a chance a combination of bread and potatoes is going to piss me off. Hey wait what about Reubens? So I put Reubens on the calendar for today and I shit you not I looked forward to it all week, which is solid verification of the fact that my life is not very exciting. (My latest thing is thinking about how, because I arguably could do my job anywhere, we should move to Uruguay. I am very serious about this.)
I figured that, because Ben and I have never even had a Reuben, we should follow a recipe. I found one that looked decent (here) and we pretty much followed it. Instead of 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, I used one tablespoon of tamari and 1 tablespoon of Bragg’s liquid aminos (this turned out to be too salty, even for me; this might be because our sauerkraut was on the salty side). Ben made his own 1000 island (mayo, ketchup, relish).
I made this rye bread (I just throw all the stuff in the bread machine in the morning before leaving for work and set the timer so the bread will be done when we need it) and we used some super-fancy sauerkraut we got with our organic produce delivery (the “classic caraway” variety from here), Organic Valley baby Swiss, and the called-for Lightlife smoky tempeh (one thing to know if you make this — the tempeh will break into a million pieces while you cook it but this doesn’t matter).
Now comes more bad food photography but I don’t even care. These are so good I want to eat them every day for the next month, at least. It’s so weird that you can take a bunch of stuff I don’t particularly like and combine it into the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever had. It’s like magic sandwich physics or something.
Consumed so far this month of the November Menu Challenge (bold = things that complied with the rules, italics = failures):
November 1: nachos (What else can you eat after a Day of the Dead thing?)
November 2: pasta (We had dinner with friends who brought pasta and figured that was a good excuse.)
November 3: breakfast burritos (Planned cheat day.)
November 4: Tempeh Chimichurri (recipe) (You should make this now.)
November 5: Roasted Red Pepper Mac & Cheese (recipe) (Very good!)
November 6: Beer Cheese Soup (recipe) (Without the bacon, of course. This recipe isn’t a keeper — flavor was good but texture was not and I followed the directions exactly but for the bacon.)
November 7: faux chicken tacos with roasted tomatillo salsa (salsa recipe)
November 8: veggie cheesesteak sandwiches (made with Tofurky roast beef style deli slices, onion, mild green chiles from the garden, veggie bouillon, and Swiss because that’s what we had, on homemade French bread)
November 9: pizza with cheddar and fresh oregano
November 10: salad with ranch and buffalo faux chicken (ranch recipe here, but I’ll have to post a new recipe for this soon because Ben has improved it)
November 11: frozen pizza (We had good intentions but after drinking all afternoon, nobody wanted to cook.)
November 12: the fajitas we were supposed to have yesterday (Didn’t want the veggies to go bad. Not sure whether to call this a success or failure so it’s neutral.)
November 13: Potato Leek Soup (recipe from Totally Vegetarian, added Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, tamari, and — this is key — smoked sea salt; next time would add veggie bacon)
November 14: Curry Tofu Tacos (recipe) (OMG make these now — they are so good. I would’ve never thought to combine any of these things/flavors and it’s honestly mindblowingly awesome. Your house will smell like curry for days and you won’t even care.)
November 15: grilled cheese sandwiches (low-tech, with American singles (granted the fancy organic kind) on homemade French bread)
November 16: 3-pepper pizza (mozzarella, cheddar, green pepper, jalapeno, green chile)
November 17: salad with ranch and no faux chicken, plus arugula (Was supposed to be Greek salad but the ranch was still good — better to use than waste. This was slightly different from the salad with ranch we had a week earlier so I say it counts.)
November 18: Red Lentil Thai Chili (recipe) (Very good but kind of missing something? My guess is tamari??)
November 19: baked mostaccioli with ricotta and mozzarella
I’d give us, what, a B if I were grading this, which I’m not because grading yourself is totally weird. We’ve done pretty well and, this is super dorky, but the challenge has made me more excited about cooking and has made us try a lot of new stuff, including the soups and the tofu tacos, which are so good. And we’ve only had one frozen pizza so far this month.
The glaring omission from this menu challenge is: egg-related dishes. We’ve been eating frittatas and omelets every Sunday for lunch and are nowhere near keeping up with the ladies’ production. If I can talk Ben into doing this again next month, one day will be for breakfast/egg dishes.
Remember the November Menu Challenge? We’ve mostly been doing pretty well with it. (I’ll give you a full update this weekend, when we’re halfway through the month — try to contain your excitement.)
Today I just have to tell you about the tacos we had tonight because they were one of the best things I’ve ever had to eat. And they were vegan!
Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for them because I used a recipe – Curry Tofu Tacos with Pintos & Kale Slaw from Post Punk Kitchen. I followed the recipe but, because there are a lot of components to work with especially for a weeknight, I seasoned the tofu as directed and baked it ahead of time (400 degrees, 20 minutes on each side) and just broiled it today. (As always, I highly recommend Woodstock organic extra firm tofu (and I have no commercial interest in Woodstock or any other products).) If you make these, you might consider using red wine vinegar and a little lime juice in the dressing and possibly substituting tomato sauce or juice for the fresh tomato in the beans for extra moisture and to avoid unappealing tomato skin if that’s something that bothers you.
Even Ben and Soren enjoyed these, which is cool because Ben doesn’t particularly care for (1) tofu, (2) things without cheese, (3) particularly tacos without cheese. Soren didn’t like the beans (he likes plain beans) but devoured the tofu and even ate the kale in a corn tortilla.
A++ will make again.
To make our lives even more exciting and sexy (no), I’m instituting a menu challenge for the month of November. I’m doing this because I’m pretty much uninspired and bored as hell with our dinners lately, plus we eat too much frozen pizza (this usually happens on Thursdays, which is the day the week always starts to catch up to us and we don’t really feel like cooking or doing much of anything resembling work or effort of any kind).
The menu challenge goes like this: Each day of the week is assigned one type of food. For example, pizza Saturdays, which, now that I think about it, is the same as every other month in our lives because we almost always have pizza on Saturdays. But November is even more hard core because every day will have its own thing.
Surprisingly, vegan Monday was Ben’s idea; unsurprisingly, I’m super excited about it. Pasta Tuesday was a last-minute change from stir fry when I realized it was unreasonable to go an entire month, especially in the fall, without pasta.
Other than “no frozen pizza” the only other rule is “no repeats,” which means after I make pumpkin soup on a Wednesday I can’t make pumpkin soup again for the rest of the month.
Of course there are lots of things we’ll be missing in November, but that’s cool because the tradeoff is that we’ll have to be more creative. I hope that instead of being all, “pasta again wtf” I’ll be inspired to come up with some kind of pasta that’s even more exciting than the pasta we had the week before. Like, hey that baked rigatoni with ricotta was awesome but how about this super sexy spinach and artichoke pasta?! (Wow, this sounds even dumber than I thought it would.)
Two more things: (1) we get one cheat day for breakfast burritos because we just had them for Soren’s birthday and I only got one and want more; and (2) the rules don’t apply on Thanksgiving.
Here’s to not flaking on this!
Saturday nights are for, well, partaking and other fun things. Sunday mornings/early afternoons are for running and having a smoothie. I’ve finally perfected my Sunday smoothie, like so:
- one banana (preferably frozen)
- up to one pint strawberries (I usually use 1/2 to 3/4 of a pint) (preferably frozen)
- 6 nice big kale leaves, stems removed
- one cup water (or ice if your banana and strawberries aren’t frozen)
- one Medjool date, pit removed
Put that all in your fancy blender and blend on high until smooth. Enjoy!
Also here’s a good Sunday song for you.
You guys this pizza.
Leeks are one of those vegetables I’d probably never buy at the store, but when they started appearing in our produce delivery bin I was all, okay, let’s get some leeks. All I ever do with them is make leek pie, which is very good but after a while I thought hey, what if instead of leek pie, we had leek pizza? It would just be a matter of substituting pizza crust for pie crust, leaving out the eggs (which is bad because our chickens keep laying eggs at a much faster rate than we’ve been eating them), making a few other adjustments, and maybe adding vegetarian bacon.
So here’s what we did: garden-variety pizza crust (Ben made it), olive oil and lots of garlic brushed onto the crust, leeks (chopped and cooked in butter until soft), Swiss, gruyere, and vegetarian bacon (we used Upton’s Naturals bacon seitan, which you can get at Whole Foods or Nooch).
Have you ever thought to yourself: Hey, so I grew a bunch of tomatillos. Now what?
I did that today. We have quite a few tomatillos in the garden, many of which were ready to harvest. So I harvested them and did what I always do with tomatillos. I made roasted tomatillo salsa.
(You might wonder why I grow tomatillos when all I do with them is make salsa. The answer is that they’re incredibly easy to grow from seed and you get a lot of them for very little work. If you want to have an amazing garden success, tomatillos are for you!)
It seems like all the tomatillo salsa recipes out there call for one pound of tomatillos. I don’t have a food scale and I don’t know what a pound of tomatillos looks like, so I just used all the ones I harvested, which was this many:
And then I did this, which is very slightly adapted from this Tyler Florence recipe (which, by the way, I’ve vegetarianized and served for Soren’s birthday).
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Recipe
- one pound or so fresh tomatillos, husked and cut in half
- a big onion, peeled and quartered
- 5 or so cloves garlic (peeled or not — doesn’t matter at this point)
- 3 or 4 jalapenos, whole
- one lime, juiced
- a nice big handful of cilantro
- 1 teaspoon salt (plus extra to taste if you’re into that sort of thing)
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
Preheat oven to 400F. Place tomatillos, onion, garlic, and jalapeno on a large baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, add lime juice, cilantro, salt, and cumin to your blender or food processor (I use the Vitamix for this because it’s too much liquid for my ancient food processor to handle without overflowing and I like smooth rather than chunky salsa anyway). Add the roasted vegetables (after peeling the garlic if you didn’t before roasting and seeding the jalapenos if you like) and juice from the pan to your blender/food processor and blend/process until the salsa is as chunky or smooth as you like. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Eat some, freeze some, can some. (I really want to learn how to can but it seems a little overwhelming — I should probably take a class.)
Ben and I have been making what we refer to as “stoner bruschetta” for years (quasi recipe here). It’s just bruschetta made with peanut butter, mango, caramelized onions, and blue cheese. Mangoes keep appearing in our organic produce delivery bin, so I figured it was a good time to make the bruschetta. But then I had an idea! A good one, for once! What if, instead of bruschetta, we turned this into a pizza?
That was pretty much the best idea anybody has ever had. So good. The trick is to bake the crust until it’s done, turn the oven off, apply all toppings, and put the pizza in the oven for a minute or two just to warm everything up. (If you need a pizza crust recipe, you can find one here.)
Now I’m on a mission to turn as many things into pizza as possible.