Sunday, February 28, 2010

#MeatlessMonday for March 1, 2010

I am relying on a new recipe that I haven't yet made for this week's Meatless Monday. A great friend of mine has given me a gift subscription to Bon Appetit for the past couple of years and I must say the magazine is more veg-friendly than you might expect. I just got the March issue a couple of days ago and was perusing it this weekend to find Primavera Risotto Nests with Fried Eggs, which sounds worth a go. So you and I will be exploring this one together tomorrow. I bought all the ingredients today. We'll see how it turns out. I'm also going to make the Edamame Dip with Pita Chips and a salad to round it out, so rather than retype the whole thing I am providing the magazine link here: (Click on the Risotto for 4 Family link to get the edamame recipe.)

More this week, followers! I'm germinating on a PETA post, which is only taking me so long because I remain conflicted on how I feel about the organization and its tactics. I'm also thinking about laying out where I came from so you can understand where my food philosophy comes from.

Until then, keep eating and exploring. I'm planning a dinner party for next Saturday night and will be sure to share the entire menu and recipes here for those interested in hosting a vegetarian feast.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Peanut sauce

I had a moment of divine inspiration this week -- combine the tofu recipe (see below) with some peanut noodles and the veggies I scrounged in the fridge for a heavenly dinner. After raving about my own handiwork on my Facebook page, I have had several requests for the peanut sauce recipe, so here it is. This one is from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin, although I modified it just slightly.

1/2 c natural-style peanut butter
1/3 c tamari soy sauce
3 T Chinese rice wine or sherry
1 T water
1 1/2 T rice vinegar or other vinegar
2 T toasted sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 t minced fresh ginger
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes

Prep on this is as easy as can be. Just put all that stuff in a bowl and whisk until it's smooth and thoroughly combined.

I served it with spaghetti noodles because that's what I had on hand, but it would be even better with Japanese buckwheat soba noodles, which are healthier to boot. I sauteed some broccoli and red bell peppers to toss with the noodles and peanut sauce and then dropped a few tofu squares on top of my serving on noodles. It was awesome!

Monday, February 22, 2010

#MeatlessMonday for Feb. 22, 2010

Many, many people are afraid of tofu. I'm not really sure why the same people who will gladly eat fois gras find this innocuous lump of soy beans such a weird and foreign threat, but they do. So this is the recipe I always use to "flip" nonbelievers. It is chewy, savory and works great in all kinds of recipes, from stir frys to salads. It will be a challenge to eat just one serving, I promise. The offshoot benefit is it makes your house smell like heaven. This recipe comes from the Moosewood Restaurant "New Classics" cookbook, although it's not a verbatim copy. I do things just slightly my own way on this recipe, and this is my way.

Simple Baked Tofu
Serves four

16 oz. firm tofu
2 T vegetable oil (peanut is my fave, but canola works too)
3 T tamari soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Press tofu to drain. If you've never done this, basically what you want to do is take the tofu out of its package and place it in a flat-bottomed bowl, like a pasta bowl, then place a smaller, flat-bottomed cereal bowl or salad plate on top of it. Find a can of something heavy (I have a big can of vegetarian baked beans that I will probably never eat but I use all the time as my tofu press) and place it on top of the tofu in the smaller bowl or plate and let it slowly press the water out for about 15 minutes, or however long it takes for you to do what follows.

3. In a square glass baking dish (9" x 9"), add the oil, tamari and garlic and swirl it around to blend a bit and make sure the entire glass dish is coated with oil.

4. When tofu is done pressing, cut it into small cubes, about 1/2" square. Add them to the baking dish and toss it thoroughly with a spatula to coat all sides of the tofu.

5. Bake tofu for 30 minutes total, pausing midway to toss the tofu again. When it's done, it will be nicely browned and chewy.

By the way, if you've never heard of tamari soy sauce, I urge you to try it. It's similar to conventional soy sauce, but better, less cloyingly salty and with a richer, more well rounded flavor. You can usually find it in the health food section at supermarkets, although I have found it with the "regular" soy sauce as well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Meat and the economy

A recent trip to New York and the fashionable restaurants we sampled there had me ruminating on our current food culture, the economy and what is behind what seems to be an increase in overall meatiness in America.

On our first day in the city, we ate lunch at the
The Breslin Bar and Dining Room after checking out event space in the Ace Hotel, where the Breslin is located. I will preface my review by saying I'm a pretty flexible vegetarian. I can usually find something to eat just about anywhere, and it helps that I'm not super picky other than on the meat issue. That said, I don't think I've ever seen a meatier menu than at the Breslin: Onion and Bone Marrow Soup, Pork Scratchings, Chargrilled Beef Tongue Sandwich, Head Cheese and even Boiled Peanuts Cooked in Pork Fat. This isn't just meat, this is MEAT. I ate a salad, which was fine, but it was the only option for me. Does bone marrow sound good to anyone? I guess it must.

Later that week we tried the Standard Grill, which is a hipster dining spot with an appealing location under the Highline in the Meatpacking District (maybe that should have tipped me off ...). This was slightly veg-friendlier than the Breslin, but it did feature a meat counter for fancy-pants cold cuts, a pate menu and mashed potatoes laced with duck fat.

These days it can be challenging to find even a salad sans bacon or a grilled chicken breast (and if you ask for those elements to be left off, I might add, you don't pay any less). Vegetarians may be a favorite cultural punching bag -- we're too weak to punch back, after all -- but to judge by the menus I've seen recently, we're not much of a threat to the thriving meaty lifestyle, so ya'll can find someone else to make fun of.

So what does that have to do with the economy?

Earlier this week, I was listening to one of my favorite NPR/American Public Media Shows, Marketplace. The story was about Fashion Week in New York and designers' efforts to create styles more accessible to the average consumer. Kai Ryssdal, the show's host, was interviewing a reporter named Ray Smith from the Wall Street Journal about how designers (in this case Michael Kors) are toning things down to appeal to cost-consicous consumers. Here's what Smith had to say:

"I mean today in (Kors') runway show, which is one of the biggest shows of New York Fashion Week, he did show a lot of fur. But what was different this time was a lot more distressed looks. I think it's just a sign of the times that the distressing is sort of like toning down that sort of luxe factor if you will."

Okay, fur isn't meat. But obviously they are both animal products. And Smith's comments crystallized for me that we're in the midst of a trend I'd call "faux poverty." All the rich organ meats and "distressed" fur is just a way for people to feel decadent in a crummy economy. We're not having bologna sandwiches, we're eating beef tongue. Plain old soup isn't good enough, let's add some bone marrow. These types of meat, as I learned from Beverly Cleary's Ramona books as a kid, are poverty foods. (Ramona and her sister Beezus are horrified when their mom tries to pass off tongue as regular meat by drowning it in gravy.) We're tipping our hat to the times with a self-conscious posture of poverty.

I probably don't need to connect A to B for you, but I will. If we're trying to give the impression of moderation, it would be better to leave the poor animals alone and eat some beans. That's REAL poverty food. I guess I'm just disturbed by the seeming fashionability of meats most people wouldn't usually dream of eating. Despite the fact that we have fewer coins clinking around in our pockets, we're eating more meat than ever.

I guess it's a symptom of the other thing I've noticed about the crappy economy and the general American malaise. We're really having a hard time not feeling sorry for ourselves. News reports on the economy are constantly comparing our situation to the Great Depression - "the worst recession since the Great Depression" is a favorite qualifier. I'm not saying that the recession is a myth or that people aren't suffering. But what better time to choose to forgo meat a few times a week than when you could really save some money in the process? I'm sorry, but until someone shows me a bread line forming somewhere, I find it all a little much. At least bread is vegetarian.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

#MeatlessMonday for Feb. 15, 2010

I'm trying to keep these Meatless Monday recipes really easy and something you could conceivably bust out after work on a Monday, but I will let you know when I find really great, more elaborate recipes mid-week.

This recipe comes from the first vegetarian cookbook I owned, and one of my favorites: "Quick Vegetarian Pleasures" by Jeanne Lemlin.

Zucchini Tostadas
Serves 4 generously

3 T vegetable oil
8 8" flour tortillas*
1/4 c olive oil
8 c thinly sliced zucchini (from about 4 medium-sized, quartered lengthwise)
1/2 t dried oregano
1 15-oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/4 c salsa
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 c grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the broiler. With a pastry brush, lightly coat both sides of each tortilla with the oil and place on a baking sheet (this will have to be done in batches). Broil on both sides until lightly golden and crisp. Cool completely.

2. Reduce the oven heat to 450 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and oregano and saute, tossing frequently, about 7 minutes. Stir in the kidney beans and salsa and toss to blend. Season with salt and pepper, and remove from heat.

3. Using 2 baking sheets, place 2 tortillas on each sheet. Spread one-eighth of the zucchini mixture on each tortilla. Sprinkle about 1/2 c cheese over each tostada.

4. Bake 5 minutes, or until the cheese melts and begins to bubble. Serve immediately. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

* If you're in Alaska, check out Taco Loco's whole wheat tortillas (available in most Anchorage grocery stores, maybe beyond?). We don't have many opportunities to eat local in Alaska, but here's one for you. Also, Mexico in Alaska makes killer hot salsa, but it's actually hot so keep that in mind if your tastes run milder.

To start, a manifesto

It's possible some will be scared by the title of this blog. Food is very, very personal. I've been a vegetarian for just over 12 years, and have, for the most part, abstained from lecturing others or going off on big rants about the evils of meat. I've always believed that people make their food choices for a number of reasons, some financial, some cultural and some - let's face it - just based on pure laziness. It is a highly sensitive and personal cocktail of factors. I was always of the opinion that being vegetarian worked for me (I have never struggled to contain meat cravings, and feel incredibly healthy) but it really wasn't my business what anyone else ate.

Recently, I changed my mind.

The reason is actually environmental. Over the last few years, I have watched as NBC trotted out its green peacock and every hotel and motel on earth started touting its earth-friendliness in self-congratulatory in-room literature. As nearly everyone I knew began replacing traditional bulbs with CFLs, diligently recycling, buying hybrid vehicles and otherwise changing their lives out of respect for our dear and beautiful planet a completely different trend was raging. Meat is EVERYWHERE. It is in everything. And it is cheap.

Here's the problem. Meat is soooo bad for the planet, and it's bad for us too. There are a number of excellent articles that document the environmental impact of eating meat and of the United States' industrial meat-production system ("Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler," from the NY Times is a great example). But for some reason, people are highly threatened by any suggestion they should eat less meat or that their food choices could make a much, much bigger impact on their personal carbon footprint than all the CFLs their home will ever need.

So I've changed my mind. It is my place to set the record straight. We certainly don't seem to be moving in the right direction - meat consumption goes up every year, in our country and in others. So I'm here to tell you you CAN cut back and feel great, that exploring vegetarian cooking is exciting and fun, and that if you decide to embrace a lower level of meat consumption (or even to give it up entirely, but I'm not a completely cock-eyed optimist) you will be doing something incredible for the planet, for animals and for your own health.

This blog will be a combination of recipes, article links, my opinions on food and food issues, book recommendations and advice. Please, let me know what you think.