I have so many exciting things to talk about that I don’t really know where to start — and I’m normally pretty good at that sort of thing.
Short version: I have had an excellent weekend.
I guess you could say my weekend was destined for greatness on Thursday night when I settled in (albeit a bit late) to do a reading for one of my classes — it was about Feminism and as someone who is pretty well-read in Feminist theory and someone who considers herself a Feminist, I was delighted. Louise Brealey is an actress from “Sherlock” and also a journalist and a very, very strong Feminist and I have been following her on Twitter for quite some time now. Her tweets about her Feminist beliefs (especially when they relate to body image) are extremely thought-provoking and powerful and as I was doing the reading, I couldn’t help but think some of the things that she has tweeted that stuck with me. Thus, I just tweeted how I was doing a reading about feminist theory and how it’s my favorite theory and made me think of her insight. Fast forward eight hours and a time difference and I woke up Friday morning with my usual routine before emerging from the duvet: check email, check Twitter, check the news, check Facebook, check anything else that needs my attention. I checked Twitter: 1 new notification. Okay, I thought. Probably just a favorite or a retweet. Oh was I wrong:
I probably shouldn’t have been as excited about this as I was…but it was so special that she saw my Tweet about how much I respected her as a Feminist and took the time to reply. Elated doesn’t even begin to cover it. I went through all of Friday on Cloud 9 — everything was lovely.
To end a wonderful day and start the weekend, I decided to take myself to see “August: Osage County.”
I have never gone to a theater alone but I had always wanted to try it. When I was dating, I saw movies on a pretty regular basis but since July, not so much. To anyone who ever wants to see a movie but doesn’t have anyone to go with, I say: go. Do it. It was one of the best experiences I had watching a movie: you don’t have to fiddle with a seating arrangement and battle for an armrest, you don’t have to chat during previews, you can direct all of your attention to what’s in front of you and, to be quite honest, it’s such a liberating thing to do — almost like taking yourself on a date. And I couldn’t have picked a better movie to go see.
Now the real fun of “What did Danielle cook this weekend?” begins.
Just like last week, I was to have dinner with my two friends, Kate and Jackie, this time at my apartment. As I have said before, I love cooking for others — especially when it is for good friends who are excited to try vegan food that might be a bit out of the regular for them. Instead of playing it safe with pasta like last time, I suggested Indian food which was met with a good reaction. Let the games begin!
I love Indian food: I love the spicy/sweet taste, I love the way the aroma lingers in the kitchen for a few days, I love when the food is so spicy that it makes my nose run, I love when all of the things on the plate eventually get pushed to the center and you just eat everything mixed together and then mop up the sauce with a fluffy piece of naan. If you haven’t tried Indian food or any Middle Eastern food, I can’t suggest enough that you go try it.
I live by myself so I really don’t go all-out when I’m cooking since it’s too much of a production if I’m only cooking for me. However, I don’t miss the opportunity to make a spread for company. I wanted to keep it agreeable and somewhat simple yet really delicious and as close to an “authentic” experience as possible. Thus, enter:
Vegan naan from PETA (enter this site with your own discretion — I found it through Pinterest. I won’t provide a link as some images can be graphic and I don’t want you to accidentally see something you can’t “unsee,” for lack of a better term)
Basmati rice (this is a fragrant rice you can find at most grocery stores)
Indian food is great since you can get creative — want more spice? Toss in more cayenne pepper. Want a kick to your food? Splash in extra lemon juice. I stuck with the recipes to the T, with the exception of omitting onion from all of the recipes since I hate onions. The result was so beautiful:
The hardest part about all of this was getting everything done at the same time. The rice was easy: just cook according to the package. The Chana Masala was also very easy and the recipe is extremely straightforward. I have cooked a handful of Chana Masala recipes and though all have been delicious, this is the closest to restaurant quality that I have cooked — just the right punch of spice. Do be sure, however, to let this simmer for a good 10-15 minutes so the sauce reduces and your result isn’t soupy. What you’re shooting for is almost a gravy-like consistency. The sauce needs to stick to the beans and once that happens, cover it and put it on “low” so it doesn’t burn! I used my Le Creuset round French oven for this and it worked like a dream.
The same goes for the naan: I have tried other vegan naan recipes and have had my heart broken before. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a baker’s intuition or perhaps it is because of my extreme impatience, but the dough never seems to rise or roll out in the way it should. I took my time with this naan and was very happy with how it turned out:
Be sure to follow the instructions with this or else I promise you, your dough will be too runny or won’t rise properly. The only change I made was using All-Purpose Flour for Bread Flour. I did my research and basically, the main difference in the two is the protein content that activates gluten and impacts the texture of the bread. Working with dough is tricky since you can’t always make substitutions, so always do your research so you don’t wind up with a doughy mess that won’t cook or won’t rise. This naan? Ten out of ten, would recommend. I used my KitchenAid stand mixer with the dough hook attachment and it rolled up perfectly. (*Note: When using the dough hook, do not exceed the second speed on the mixer as it can burn the motor. Yikes).
Chutney — what can I even say about this condiment from the Heavens? I’ve tried a lot of chutneys (restaurant and store bought) but had never made one, which should be a crime since it is really so easy. I cut up the chile pepper and threw it and all of the ingredients into my blender and set it to “puree” and let it work its magic. I have a KitchenAid Architect Series blender that I adore (Thanks again, Shazib!) and it gave me a beautiful chutney. Try this with naan with a slice of cucumber or push it onto your rice — anything goes.
For a treat, I wanted to try something new as well. For Christmas, I was gifted a beautiful set of Le Creuset square dishes in the Caribbean color. With it came a little cookie cutter in the shape of the signature French Oven with a sugar cookie recipe affixed to it. I bet I could make that vegan, I thought. So I did.
The original recipe is as follows:
Cream together: 1 cup butter + 2/3 cup sugar. Beat in: 1 egg. Add: 1 tsp. vanilla + 1/2 tsp. salt + 2 1/2 cups sifted flour.
Mix until well blended. Chill dough 3-4 hours before rolling. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out 1/4″ thick and cut. Bake 8-10 minutes or until barely colored. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks before frosting.
(for the frosting):
Combine: 3/4 cup confectioners sugar, 1 tbsp. butter (melted), 1 tbsp. milk, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/4 tsp. lemon juice.
Beat until smooth. Add food coloring, if desired.
Not really the most vegan-friendly recipe, but some adjustments can be made. Instead of butter, I used Earth Balance (equal ratio). Honestly, Earth Balance tastes exactly how I remember butter tasting and so there is no discernible difference here. Eggs are a little more tricky but essential as they bind the ingredients together. There is a method of combining baking soda and flour and water but I wanted to try the flax egg for the first time. I don’t have any picture of this but basically follow the ratio in the link, whisk and refrigerate for a pasty, fluffy binding ingredient. It will make your sugar cookies a bit of a speckled brown color, but you can’t taste any difference. I only baked for 8 minutes on an ungreased, unlined cookie sheet and it was the perfect amount of time. Be sure to find what works best for your oven, though.
For the frosting, I used Earth Balance, again, and Almond Breeze Vanilla unsweetened almond milk in place of regular milk (again, same ratio). No food coloring but sprinkles were definitely brought out to play:
These were phenomenal — perfectly chewy, the icing wasn’t too hard or tasteless, the cookies weren’t too buttery or too crumbly.
Kate and Jackie seemed to really love it and though I was anticipating a ton of leftovers, there were none to be had. Another Saturday night with good food and two of my best friends and sharing things we all enjoy.
It was most certainly a weekend for the books.