Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I've come down with the Januaries...

I have a bad case of the Januaries.  If December is a rich, buttery, sugar cookie, smothered in buttercream frosting and glittery sprinkles, then January is a bowl of drab lentil soup.  Not any lentil soup, but the lentil soup I made tonight for dinner.  This soup was an unappetizing greyish yellow color, and even though it was studded with sweet, earthy carrot slices, the shock of those bright, orangey rounds couldn't buoy the soup's spirits. 
 Even though it was fairly tasty and satisfying, it was drab, January soup.

Perhaps I'm overly sensitive because even though my resolution to use up pantry items and freezer inventory is going well, there has been quite a depressing run of dull, drab, ugly, and bland food around here.  I do not think it's the food's fault either.  I seem to be lacking inspiration.  I'm choosing recipes based on healthiness and the ingredients I already have on hand, rather than jazzy, showy, and impressive dishes that have, oh say taste, because they're full of fat and sugar.

This week's meal plan was lacking in color, lacking in flavor, having textural problems, or just plain lackluster.  This recipes were the ho hum, worn out,  put on sweatpants and crawl under a blanket and don't come out until spring sort of dishes.  Here's the list of blah January food I've made lately that seems to mimic the gray, cold, days of January.

1. Seitan and Polenta Casserole

This recipe came from Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet.  It's a goregous book and makes excellent points about the benefits of a vegan diet, but so far the recipes--many of which lean toward a microbiotic slant--have been lackluster.  In this casserole, you layer a mixture of polenta and mashed cauliflower over a bed of sliced seitan, frozen peas and frozen corn.  These are all ingredients that I like --the only thing that wasn't from the panty/freezer was the fresh cauliflower--but together all of these ingredients were incredible blah.  I dutifully chipped away at the leftovers, making them palatable only by large doses of ketchup and barbecue sauce.

2. Bean & Farro Stew
This recipe again seemed like a good idea, it seemed like the sort of dish that a Tuscan grandmother would make on a cold day.  The cabbage and potatoes and beans and farro were indeed hearty, nearly gut-busting hardy, which was surprising for a recipe that was vegan and low-fat.  This recipe came from 101 Cookbooks, and I felt betrayed by an old friend because I consistently find such great recipes there. However, just like the polenta casserole, even though I liked each ingredient on its own, the whole was not even close to the sum of its parts.  Even worse, with a full pound of beans and nearly a pound of farro, this would have fed a small (disappointed) army. It wasn't awful by any means, just blah.  I did foist a lot of the leftovers on my unsuspecting friends and neighbors, with the warning that as long as they added a good dose of sriacha or hot sauce to each bowl, it would be fine.

3. Multigrain Bread
I love baking bread, and over at Ruhlman.com, it is bread-making month.  Bread-baking, for me, is the quintessential winter homebody activity.  It's an excuse to turn on the oven and bask in the heat, it's an excuse not to leave the house, what with attending to the bread as it needs periodic attention every couple of hours, it makes the house smell great, and it's an activity that is best performed during a pajama day.  So on a whim, I made this multigrain loaf, reveling in how it called for 3 different kinds of flours, one of which was buckwheat, and I had all the ingredients in the pantry.  I even used all of my flax seed stash!  However, the recipe said this was not a typical heavy multigrain loaf, but boy oh boy, it was positively leaden.  The crust was delicious, and we've been dutifully eating toasted slices of the bread with butter and honey, but it just compounded the already dismal cooking that's been coming out of my kitchen lately.

4. Arabian Lentil Soup

This soup comes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's new book Appetite for Reduction.  It's very similar to Melissa Clark's Red Lentil Soup, which is in heavy rotation around here, but by wrongly thinking change is good and even exciting, I tried this variation.  In this application, ground coriander is toasted along with the cumin, and the tomato paste is omitted.  Losing the tomato paste was a fatal error in this case.  Rather than a orangey, rosy glow, this soup looked like a bowl of congealed oatmeal.  Not only that but it suffered from the sweet yet tangy flavor the tomato paste gives.  Kent took one bite and grimaced.  "What's the matter?" I asked.  "Ugh.  I think it's the color getting to me," he said as he choked down the rest of his portion.  "But, it used up a bunch of things from the pantry," I claimed.  He looked at me with an expression of pity, openly showing his disdain for my recent kitchen ineptitude.  "You're going to be saying that a lot aren't you?"

So, here's to hoping that I can find better ways, more tasty and colorful ways to use up the pantry goods, otherwise it's going to be a very long winter indeed.


Anonymous said...

I actually thought the lentil soup was oatmeal with peaches, which sounded like a great January meal to me! I made a dish recently with brown rice, a can of garbanzos and some dried herbs/spices from my pantry that, although lacking in color, was very tasty.

Anonymous said...

You're totally right about the colors reflecting the blahness of the time of year. We're eating a lot of brown rice, cabbage, rutabagas, parsnips...*sigh* a meal can have six ingredients in it and it all looks like your lentil soup! How dull and unappetizing.

Turmeric and paprika are my friends. :) As are a few bright green leaves - kale, beet "greens" - anything to break up the uninterrupted taupe of a pantry meal.

Janet Holmes said...

Hi Sarah! We got snowed (actually iced) in over New Year in Minnesota, & Al was "forced" to make a pasta with roasted walnuts & sauteed anchovies from a can. I take it you're vegetarian -- no Indian food on your mind? a yummy fragrant rice with (ta-da) frozen green peas? We always keep frozen green peas in case we need color. And I have to admit that roasted walnuts, while brown, really enhance a lot of dishes.