First, some scary news: Apparently, over twelve hundred pounds of dead octopuses (octopi? octopodes?) have washed up recently on a specific beach in Portugal – big and little, young and old. And no one knows why. Disease? A tainted food source? Mass suicide? It's not clear why they're all dying in that one particular area, but authorities are advising the locals to keep their hands off the dead beasts, as octopus happens to be a popular dish in Portugal.
And here's some less scary news: I am an aunt for the third time! My sister gave birth to a boy on Tuesday, and baby, mama and the big sis are all doing well despite sub zero temps. The poor little guy – to be born into this January of all Januaries... Which is reason enough for a memoir when he's twenty-five, plus, of course a film adaptation of said memoir. (Now, just imagine Cate Blanchett's voice over, ala Lord of the Rings): “Axton Grey was born during the coldest winter that the world had known for over one thousand years. Dirty snow piles languished at the sides of ice packed streets for weeks on end. Frozen auto exhaust hung in the air at intersections. And the people of the land donned Snuggies and fur trapper hats to ward off the unforgiving chill.”
Here are a couple of pics:
Big sister Maesa with Axton
Already pissed about the weather
But let's talk food, which is why I'm really here. Tonight I made a special version of veggie lo mein, which can be called Extreme Veggie Lo Mein, or alternately, Faux Mein.
Another one of my New Year's resolutions is to eat more vegetables. Last year it was fruit, and that was a smashing success, so this year my focus is on the other half. I've actually always liked vegetables, probably thanks to my mom the dietitian, but I feel like I've been lapsing in my consumption. In fact, for the last couple of months, I think the only vegetables I've purchased have been potatoes, celery, carrots, and maybe a random pepper here or there. Not exactly a colorful and healthy diet.
So, along with being the Year of the Tiger, 2010 will also be the Year of the Vegetable. (I've been thinking about getting a vegetable tattoo for the last couple of years; maybe after this year I will feel justified enough to do so.)
The good thing about vegetables is that usually the ones that are in season are also the cheapest. Some good winter veggies to try out include broccoli, Brussels sprouts (one of my faves!), cabbage, kale, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and rutabagas (still haven't given these a go, but we will see....). There are literally millions of recipes on the internet for tasty vegetable dishes, but they're also easy to experiment with on your own, and ruining them will not leave you in the poor house (unlike, say, overcooking a prime rib). They take to almost any seasoning and pair well with pasta and rice, or on their own with a creamy sauce or a vinaigrette. In short, vegetables are extremely versatile, cheap and healthy, and hopefully I can share with you some tasty ways to take full advantage of them.
So on to the Faux Mein. I picked up a spaghetti squash the last time I was at the store, since I think it's probably been almost a year since I've had one. And you know what? Spaghetti squash is pretty darn fun. I know it's a popular item among people on low carb diets, since it can be a stand in for pasta. Is it a good stand in for pasta? No, of course not, and if they tell you it tastes just like pasta, they're lying. There is no good stand in for pasta, because it's just that yummy.
As long as you realize this ahead of time (that your veggies will, indeed, taste like veggies, and not like anything else), you shouldn't have too tough of a time getting this dish down your gullet.
I'm sure you can prepare spaghetti squash in a microwave, but, if you're already busy doing other things anyway, you might as well pop it in the oven for awhile. Simply split it down the middle, scrape out the seeds and stringy, mushy stuff, then place both halves cut side down in a baking dish. Add a little water to the bottom, then cover the whole thing with foil. I roasted mine at 350 degrees for a little over an hour, and it was just about perfect. The object with spaghetti squash in particular is not to overcook it, since you want to make sure the flesh stays in strands. (Aha! So that's why it's called spaghetti squash!)
Once you have your squash strands, you can either use it right away, or chill it for later use.
Squash strands awaiting the frying pan
I don't know the ins and outs of real lo mein – I usually just saute my veggies (not an actual stir fry, but I guess it'll work), then add anything I feel like that seems to fit: soy sauce, teriyaki or hoisin, or another sort of stir fry sauce that you happen to have on hand; sesame oil; and of course garlic and fresh ginger if you have it. You could also probably throw in some peanut butter, hot mustard or chile paste, or you could get wild and add orange or lemon juice. As I said, veggies pair with just about anything, so as long as your sauce components go well together, it will probably taste good.
Once the veggies are sauteed/stir fried to your liking, add the spaghetti squash strands and heat the whole mixture through. I used broccoli and celery for my veggies, then threw some red cabbage shreds in at the last minute, so they would stay crunchy and not color the whole thing purple. I also topped mine with some toasted chopped almonds, because I like different textures. Voila! Pretty and super good for you:
The other nice thing about spaghetti squash, or any winter squash for that matter, is that you can also toast the seeds for a delicious snack. The hardest part is washing the muck off of them, but once you've got that done, just pat them dry, then stick them in the oven until they're crunchy and just a teeny bit browned. I spread mine out in a single layer in a baking pan, then went for thirteen minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle them with salt while they're still hot, and have a handful while you're preparing dinner.
Well, that's it for me today. Join me next time for more vegetable surprises, and I may even tell some funny stories from the internet dating world (but probably not – they may be too graphic for some viewers).