Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vegan Slow Cooker Meals or Cooking once-a-...um...week

Picture this scene...
It's been a long day at work, you're tired and a little grumpy. It's cold outside and you have a ton of things to get done before you can go to bed tonight. Maybe the kids are whining as you make you're way from the car to the house, but once you open the front door, you are greeted by warm, spicy aromas that instantly make you forget everything that's been worrying you. You realize you're famished, but wait...dinner's already done! All you have to do is get a bowl and eat it!
That's what happened to me tonight (minus the whiny-a$$ kids!)
Last week I stumbled upon the idea of once-a-month cooking and the idea pretty much blew me away although I'm not sure why since I hail from a family of canners and freezers, but this idea is completely different than “putting food by” for the winter. For once-a-month cooking, you basically set aside one day a month and cook like a fiend. Then you wrap it all up in meal sized containers and live off of it for the next 30 days. It sounded like a great way to steal some time for my hectic week nights, but man, my weekends are short enough without having to spend one entire day cooking even once a month.
Then I saw this article from Once-a-Month Mom: Slow Cooker Meals. In a nutshell, you skip the cooking part and just put together freezer bags for the slow cooker. Then in the morning, you take out a bag, dump it & some water in your slow cooker and come home to a hot, delicious meal. What could be easier than that?
I wanted to do this on Sunday evening right after we got home from Greer (seriously? What was I thinking???) I knew we wouldn't be able to put together a month's worth of meals, but I was so excited by the idea that I had to give it a try. Of course I have to make it more of a challenge as well! I needed to find slow cooker meals that are not only vegan, but very low in fat as well. It took a bit of thought and some thumbing through the cookbooks, but David and I came up with a few meals we could make with ingredients we had on hand. The only thing I had to run to the store for was a package of veggie ham which I couldn't find, so I substituted veggie bacon instead.
Here are the meals that David and I prepared with just 45 minutes of prep time:
Potato soup (onions, celery, diced potatoes, veggie bacon (diced), parsley, veggie bouillon powder, salt, white pepper, black salt (used to simulate the hard-boiled egg flavor), bay leaf.
Chickpea curry (onions, celery, carrots, dried chickpeas, 2 T. curry powder, 1-1/2 t. cumin, 1-1/2 t. tomato paste, 1-1/2 t. yellow mustard (French's), ½ t. hot pepper sauce, 1 t. salt, 1 t. turmeric, ½ t. black pepper, ½ paprika, ¼ t. garam marsala, 3-4 cloves of garlic (whole)) This recipe was adapted from Taymer Mason's Caribbean Vegan.
Vegan green beans and “ham” (onions, celery, lots of green beans, cubed potatoes, ½ package veggie bacon (diced), veggie bouillon powder, 1 t. oregano, salt, bay leaf, 1 t. liquid smoke)
Vegan “beef” stew (onions, celery, 1 package Gardein homestyle beefless tips, cubed potatoes, green peas, green beans, carrots, bay leaf, black pepper, salt, veggie bouillon powder)
Black bean soup (onions, celery, bay leaf, dry black beans, carrots, 2 t. cumin, 3 cloves garlic, red bell pepper, veggie bouillon powder, 1 t. liquid smoke, salt, black pepper). This recipe os adapted from Terry Hope Romero's Viva Vegan cookbook.
GUILTY ADMISSION: OK, so I put together the black bean soup last week, but I wanted to include it here. It was sooo good!
You'll notice that each one has onions and celery. Those are the only ingredients that I cooked. I learned a long time ago that sauteing the onions and celery almost to the point of being burned adds a wonderful rich flavor to slow cooker meals. I simply chopped up all the onions and celery and put them in the pan at one time with just a light spray of aerosol olive oil. Then I divided them between all the bags. The Chickpea Curry hadn't called for celery, but got some just the same. :)
Everything else went into the bags raw, including the herbs and spices. I've found that it's not necessary or even desirable to add water to the freezer bag. That's simple enough to add in the morning and I can better judge how much is going in. So all I have to do in the morning is grab a bag, any bag, dump it in the slow cooker, add a little water and turn it on. When I come home, dinner's waiting. After dinner, clean up is pretty easy – some bowls, spoons, and the slow cooker AND my meals are vegan, low-fat and tasty! We've also had enough left-overs that I've been able to freeze a bag of leftovers to be eaten next week or take for lunches. All this for 45 minutes of prep time Sunday night. I've even had time to write TWO blog posts this week and it's only Tuesday!
How about you? Do you cook in bulk? What are your favorite crock pot meals (vegan or non-vegan)?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dipper Adventure

This weekend, DC and I went looking for a bird that's been elusive for me and one I've wanted to see since I was very young. It's a plain gray bird with an extraordinary ability.  It's named Cinclus mexicanus  or commonly, American Dipper and it's the only member of it's family in the U.S.

As I stated above, it's a plain gray bird, about the size and shape of a robin with a bobbed tail. Not really much to look at really. The real allure of this bird is its ability to walk under rushing mountain streams. It literally submerges its entire body under the water to look for bugs and larvae beneath the stones and gravel. Sometimes, it used its wings to "fly" under the water and, as I saw on Friday, sometimes, it also gets "blown" downstream!

The research I had done named several likely spots for viewing the bird. Almost all of the good leads I got were from the banks of the Little Colorado River north of here, so we started out early Friday morning as we had a three-day holiday weekend. We had clear skies as we drove north past Oracle, Globe and beyond - all the way through Showlow, Pinetop and into Greer.  Snow covered the ground above Pinetop, but the roads were clear and we did bring our very warmest clothes, including a new fleece/ raincoat combination for DC.  We pulled into the gravel at the end of the road in Greer and donned hats, gloves, warmer stockings and all that and set off on a trail that runs very near the banks of the Little Colorado. We weren't far from civilization - only maybe 500 feet from the nearest cabin, but that wasn't supposed to matter since the bird doesn't seem to be bothered too much by humans.

We walked about 500 - 600 yards away from the cabins always searching upstream with the binoculars. I felt excitement and trepidation at the same time as I slowly made my way upstream. I'd never seen this bird before. It's one I remember looking at in my dog-eared copy of Peterson's Guide to Birds. I remember thinking I would probably never see such a cool bird as that - all I ever saw were Starlings and House Sparrows. Well, within an hour, my trepidation gave way to elation when I lifted my bins to see a Dipper preening away right in the middle of the field of view!

Eventually, we were able to get closer and take some video of the bird. We watched it for about an hour and I realized the name is just right. The bird is constantly "dipping" its body kind of like the lizards who do push-ups in the sand - up, down, up, down, dip, dip , dip.