Attempts at a Slow Carb Life

A few meals from the last two months:

Shrimp and zucchini "noodles"

Shrimp and zucchini “noodles” – an only somewhat successful first attempt at replacing pasta with pasta-like substances. Fortunately, we like both zucchini and shrimp. Unfortunately, this was a pretty lame dinner. Next time I’ll try NomNomPaleo’s version.

Adventures in Low(er) Carb Eating

Orin asked, “Is this breakfast food?”. I said, “Today it is.” Mustard tofu with sauteed kale, mushrooms, and onions. I had this breakfast pocket on the brain.

Dinner, SELMA-style

Post vacation dinner, SELMA-style: fried eggs over pulled pork, shredded cheese, and a coarse salsa made from garden excess. I discovered exactly how many successive pulled pork meals I can stomach. The answer? Five.

Straight Talk

We’re making some changes around here.  As a result, I’ve had less to blog about because frankly, food has been making me crazy.

See, a few weeks ago Shane decided to get recommitted to fitness and weight loss.  We both started P90X, and Shane has been making a concerted effort to eat low carb.  Needless to say, this has thrown a wrench in various resolutions and generally made meal planning and social events difficult – not impossible, but difficult.

At the same time, I’m trying to figure out what I should be eating.  I want to lose a little weight, but I also want to eat real food and enough of it so that I’m not constantly hungry or grumpy.  I crave vegetables and fruit.  I’ve been attempting to eat in moderation for a long time.  I’m not interested in protein shakes, and the smell of protein powder makes me grimace.

Shane has said that he’ll eat whatever I make for dinner – but that said, I don’t want to be responsible for making him stray from his diet.  We went out for nachos the other night, and both felt totally stressed out by the fact that the vegetarian/vegan restaurant was both overpriced and extremely carby.  What’s a girl to do?

We’re trying, though.  The meals posted here will probably alternate between our attempts at lower carb, higher protein – while also being as ethical and seasonally appropriate as we can manage – and weekend splurges.  There will be no photos of protein shakes.  Here’s a sample dinner from this week:

Zucchini "noodles"
Zucchini from the garden, shaved with the vegetable peeler and boiled for 1 minute in very salty water, then tossed with a coarse marinara made from last summer’s tomatoes.

Broiled shrimp
Shrimp brushed with a basil-infused dipping oil and a generous amount of black pepper and then broiled

Shrimp and zucchini "noodles"
The whole dish, followed by a Lillet spritzer and frozen banana “ice cream” for me.

0815 Pisto Manchego

pisto manchego.JPG
Photo by zordor

Without actually realizing it, I think I’ve been making pisto manchego all summer. A Spanish take on ratatouille, it is peasant food at its finest – putting together a bit of whatever’s available to make a filling and nutritious meal.  This recipe did an effective job of clearing out the crisper, using up the a handful of tomatoes, two peppers, and yellow summer squash all from our garden.

What the recipe lacks, however, is much spice.  As I was sauteing the vegetables, I was concerned that the dish was going to be boring, that I’d just wasted the last squash from our garden – curse you, cucumber beetles!  The recipe recommended serving the dish with tinned tuna or hard boiled eggs – we went with the former, and it made all the difference.  We were both quite pleasantly surprised by the complexity of flavors, especially the sweetness of the pepper in contrast with the savory fish.  I’d like to try this again with fried eggs – perhaps a Spanish improvement on the shakshuka from earlier in the year.

Pisto Manchego
Adapted from Spanish

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium green peppers, seeded and chopped
2 medium zucchinis, thinly sliced
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
hard boiled eggs (optional)
tuna in olive oil (optional)

Heat the oil in a large heavy pan – larger than you think you’ll need, trust me – and cook the garlic and onion until soft.  Add the peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes.  Season well and cook gently for about 20 minutes.  If you’ve used a pan that’s too small to allow everything to make contact with the cooking surface, it may help to cover your pan with a lid for part of the cooking time.  Stir in parsley just before serving.  Can be served hot, topped with chopped egg or tuna, or cold with a drizzle of olive oil.

0813 Sidetrack

Familiar
Photo by Michael Greenlee

We found ourselves in an embarrassing spot tonight. Not literally – there’s nothing embarrassing about Sidetrack except perhaps the size of their burgers – but then I suppose you already assumed that. What is, however, embarrassing is running into your neighbors when out to eat and having to face the fact that after a year, you still don’t know their names. And we couldn’t even blame the ludicrously large beers that Sidetrack has on offer.

25 ounce ciders at happy hour, Sidetrack Bar and Grill
Photo by John Kannenberg

See, people in Ann Arbor are friendly. And this is a good thing! But it also means that a couple of our neighbors introduced themselves within moments of us arriving in town last August. We were in the driveway, it was raining, we had frantic cats in the car, and we just wanted to get inside. Introductions were appreciated, but the timing ensured that we forgot their names almost immediately – and have felt too awkward to ask since.

Regardless, we said hello to MIKE and SHAWNA, whose names were revealed when we got home and Shane peeked at the label on their mailbox, and went about our dinner – fried zucchini, an excellent pair of grilled portabella mushrooms topped with gorgonzola, and some sort of delicious fish dish with red beans and rice.  I had a martini, which felt like the only possible drink that could be consumed while wearing a full-skirted and strappy sundress that belonged to my grandma.

We were reminded again why we kind of really want to move to Ypsi – no trouble getting a table at a restaurant with reasonably priced drinks, easy parking, and friendly people.  After dinner we wandered over to the Ypsi coop, which looked and smelled like coops should – a little earthy, a little like produce, and a little like patchouli.  I know I often say that things are just right, but this evening – the dress, the dinner, the coop – was just right.

0812 Simple Food at SELMA

One of the best things about summer’s abundance is that it doesn’t take much to make an excellent meal.  Thick slices of tomato with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Corn on the cob, boiled for 7 minutes and then rolled in an herbed garlic butter.  A ripe peach sliced and topped with a little whipped cream.  Out of season, that tomato might look great, but it will lack the warmth of the summer sunshine.  The corn won’t be as sweet.  The peach won’t be exploding with rosy juices.

I volunteered at SELMA tonight, and when we broke for our shared dinner, I was reminded of this beautiful simplicity.  I brought roasted eggplant, squash, tomatoes, and a fair shake of salt and pepper – which was served alongside a caprese salad, vegetarian calzones filled with ratatouille, Rex‘s tomato jam and pickled green beans, and Olivia‘s honey peach ice cream.  After a couple of hours of stemming greens, scrubbing beets, whisking roux, and washing dishes, I was happy with a little bit of everything, and went home tired, full, and happy.

0725 A Day of Improv Meals

Breakfast: sausages, an asiago bagel sliced into four pieces of toast, fried eggs for Shane and slices of tomato for me.  Weekend Edition Sunday and the puzzle.  Coffee.  A late morning attempt at geocaching turned into half an hour of wandering in the woods.  Who knew that we could wander in the woods without leaving our neighborhood?

Lunch: I had intended to riff on this recipe for dinner last night, but we ate at weird hours, and so pushed this back to today.  While I prepped and grilled mushrooms, zucchini, and a purple pepper on our grill pan, Shane picked basil and whipped up a quick batch of pesto.  We spread ricotta on toast, then topped it with pesto or fresh basil, piles of vegetables, and a drizzle of balsamic crema.  Soo good, especially followed by a moped ride downtown, walking around in the sunshine, and froyo from Lab.

Dinner: We picked up more chickens from Back 40 yesterday, but neither of us felt like chicken.  We did, however, feel like end-of-the-fridge snacks: corn on the cob, edamame, asiago from last week’s snack dinner, an assortment of pickles, and homemade beet chips using wee beets from our garden and a recipe from the Spanish cookbook.  They started out as small colorful coins:

Beet Chips Before

And after a short swim in very hot oil, they ended up like this:

Beet Chips After

Not really big enough to dip in the salt-and-peppered ricotta, but totally delicious anyway.  A fine way to end a fine weekend – and also another recipe knocked off of the Spanish cookbook challenge.

0724 96 Degree Canning

I’m not sure what possessed me to take on canning today – other than the giant box of 2nds peaches I picked up at the market this morning.  The peaches were a little underripe, and I wanted to leave them on the counter in a bag to ripen, but the fruit flies would not allow that to happen.  I don’t know where the little buggers come from, but they’re super annoying, and I wasn’t about to let them get the best of our gorgeous produce.

First up, zucchini pickles.  Our garden isn’t exactly overflowing with summer squash, but we had enough in the crisper that I was starting to get concerned.  We both love the zucchini pickle spears that come with sandwiches at Jolly Pumpkin, so I figured it was worth giving them a try.  I used the Zany Zucchini Pickles recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which called for a soak and a rinse, another soak in hot brine, a simmer, and then a quick pack and process in the open water bath. The recipe claimed it would yield 6 half pints – instead I got 4 pints and a whole lot of leftover brine. Pickleback, anyone?

Pickleback, anyone?

Since it was already about 1,000,000 degrees in the house and since the water bath was already boiling, I figured I might as well press on with the peaches. I think it was around this time that I popped open a beer, pinned my bangs back, and gave in to the sweat running down the back of my neck.

To can peaches, you must first peel them.  If you’re canning not-quite-ripe peaches, as I was, you’ll find this quite a chore, even with the boiling water then very cold water trick described in this recipe.  I forgot the lemon juice, so I’m hoping the peaches don’t brown too much – when you’re working with fruit canned in a hot syrup, acidity should only be an aesthetic issue.  I followed the ‘raw pack’ method, meaning that my peaches are in hot syrup but were not themselves hot when canned.  By the time the last batch was in the canner, I was disgustingly sweaty, the fruit flies were out in full force, and I’d made two trips to the compost bin with peach pits and skins.  I earned that beer, dammit.  And I’m looking forward to enjoying the jars of rosy-pink peaches that have already been transferred to the basement shelves.

Recipes:
Zany Zucchini Pickles from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Peaches (roughly the same recipe, though I used the one from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)

0721 Vegetarian this-and-that

Ann Arbor Art Fairs Photos 2010 by Michigan Municipal League
photo by Michigan Municipal League (MML)

Shane’s mom came up from Cleveland today to attend the chaos known as the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair. It’s actually more accurate to say ‘art fairs’, plural, as there are four fairs spread out over the downtown and Central Campus areas. Between vendors and visitors, the art fair conglomerate brings in upwards of 500,000 people over the course of four days. That’s 500,000 people buying and selling, wandering and eating, sweating and parking in very close proximity to where we live and work. That’s a lot of people, you guys.

After a trip to the garden (me) and some quiet post-fair downtime (Shane and his mom), we had a delicious vegetarian dinner of various things from the garden and the market. I came home with carrots, beets, rapini, chilies, and cucumbers – quite the exciting haul! Our entree resembled the sort-of ratatouille from a couple of weeks ago – onions, tomatoes, garlic, and a chili sauteed in a bit olive oil until everything went saucy, then served over warm polenta. The chili gave just a little bit of heat – a heat we’re going to have to learn to incorporate into more things, as our garden is overflowing with them. I also tossed sauteed rapini with raisins – Shane didn’t love it, but I ate it up.

It was a lovely, healthy, filling dinner improvised amidst long conversation, and then followed by a walk through the downtown masses to Ashley’s for a Bell’s event, where we hoped to try Black Note, but where we made do with a Founders Cerise (me), a lambic (Mom), and a Hell Hath No Fury (Shane). A long, relaxing evening, and a nice end to a very warm day.

0712 First Zucchini Bread of the Summer

I was home sick today – something didn’t agree with me – the sort of sick where it took approximately 30 minutes to get started on anything, whether that was a nap or lunch or knitting or an episode of Gossip Girl.  Somewhere in there I decided to use up one of the bonus zucchinis from Juli in a loaf of zucchini bread.  There are approximately 400 dozen recipes out there, but for the first zuke bread of the year, I tried one from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook, one of the oldest cookbooks in my collection, and a frequent reference point when I’m trying to figure out what to do with unfamiliar or excess veg.

Unlike my Moosewood cookbook, though, these recipes only occasionally taste virtuous.  You know what I mean, right?  Swap out the fat for applesauce, the sugar for rice syrup, and you’ve got yourself a pale imitation of a cookie.  I should know.  I baked a couple dozen of these earlier in the year.

This bread, however, verged on the virtuous and remained extremely moist after the bake and cool time – to the point that I considered giving it what Mollie Katzen calls the biscotti treatment.  While I happily snacked on the bread and greatly enjoyed how wonderfully it made the house smell, I’ll be trying a different zucchini bread next time.

Zucchini Bread
Adapted from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook

1 1/3 cups flour (preferably whole wheat)
2/3 cup bran
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon round cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup nonfat buttermilk
3 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 medium zucchini, peeled and shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)

Preheat your oven to 425.  Lightly grease a 9×5 loaf pan with butter or non-stick spray.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, blend together the buttermilk, egg whites, vanilla, and shredded zucchini.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just to combine.  Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

(Squash math: down to 1!)

0711 Our Grill Situation + Squash Math

I sort of feel bad about having people over for dinner these days. It’s just so damned hot in our house, and there’s no escaping it, no matter how precisely we angle the fans.  So kudos to Dave and Juli, who braved the heat to hang out with us tonight!

I had intended to make the beer can chicken recipe that Sarah keeps raving about, but decided against it after assessing our current grill situation:

  1. Grill #1 was, I assume, left by a previous tenant and is in a pretty sad state.  We considered taking it to the dump when…
  2. …we purchased grill #2 over the winter for $25, which included an almost-full propane tank and a bunch of grill rocks.
  3. Grill #2, despite being in much better shape than grill #1, is not operational.  I’m not sure why that is.
  4. Grill #1 is missing the front tempered glass panel, but is otherwise operational.  Lacking really solid grill tools, we’ve stuck to covering the racks with foil.
  5. Grill #1 has a hinged rack that is attached to the lid which, when closed, doesn’t provide enough upright space for a chicken on a can of beer.  Grill #1 also wouldn’t be able to trap the heat and smoke necessary to make the savory bird.
  6. We could do all of those things on grill #2, except that it is not operational.

Long story short: no beer can chicken.  I did, however, take apart the chicken and dress it inside and out with a basic barbecue spice rub.  While I boiled a couple of ears of corn and sauteed vegetables for a couscous salad, Shane grilled up the chicken.  Juli and Dave brought zucchini bread and fresh berries from the market, all of which added up to a really delicious seasonal dinner.

So where’s the squash math?  See, I had a zucchini and a small summer squash on hand, for a total of 2 squashes.  I used the zucchini in my version of Sarah’s seven vegetable couscous, leaving 1 squash.  Then Juli brought the zucchini bread (containing unknown quantities of squash), as well as 2 bonus zucchinis that she had purchased in a fit of zucchini enthusiasm, bringing the net total squash to 1+ in the food and 3 in my crisper.  Squash: the gift that keeps on giving!

Recipes:
Beer Can Chicken and All-Purpose Barbecue Rub from The Barbecue Bible
Moroccan Seven Vegetable Couscous from Vegetarian Times (heavily modified, but I’ll save that recipe for another day)