Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Let's have a party

I've been wrestling with something rather prickly lately. As you may recall, I recently resolved to be a bit more outspoken about why people should eat less meat. (A refresher: It makes the earth cry, and our modern agriculture system is an affront to the dignity of animals.) However, I've found that this topic has a very awkward tendency of coming up over dinner, typically when everyone around me is eating meat. Nothing brings a pleasant dinner conversation to a halt like talking about manure ponds or chickens allocated only one square foot to live out their pathetic lives. It's a downer. It makes people feel bad, and I'm guessing it makes them hate me a little bit for ruining their dinner.

I decided talking about it over food is impolite.

In response to tweets I've issued about #meatlessmonday and other vegetarian topics, people have responded, "I could never give up meat - I'd die!" This is ridiculous for a couple of reasons: One, because I'm not asking anyone to give up meat completely - JUST CUT BACK; two, you absolutely will not die. Don't make me measure and submit to you the circumference of my thighs to prove it. I've been doing this for more than a decade now and I am nowhere near starving to death or dying of malnutrition.

So, marrying these two seemingly unrelated trains of thought ... What better way to show people that they can eat decadently as a vegetarian AND eliminate awkward obstacles to discussing the issues than to prepare a killer meatless feast for friends?

I did this a couple of weekends ago with the following menu, and it ROCKED. For a starter, homemade guacamole and chips, followed by Vegetable Enchiladas with Creamy Poblano Sauce, Basic Skillet Black Beans and Spanish rice (this from a box, because let's face it, I'm awesome but I'm also human and that was enough cooking for one day). Dessert was Devil's Food Cake with Marshmallow Frosting. Of course we drank beer. I love that dessert and beer are always vegetarian.

Read on for recipes/instructions for everything.

Guacamole a la Amy
There's no real recipe for this, I just do my thing, which includes: about four avocados; the juice of one lime; finely diced roma tomatoes (maybe 3/4 of a medium-sized one, seeded); finely diced jalapeno (one or so, depending on your spice tolerance); two cloves of garlic, minced; 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro; and some sea salt. Add avocado, lime juice and garlic to a bowl and mash with a potato masher, then stir in the tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro and sea salt. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours for maximum flavor, although it will still taste awesome right away.

Vegetable Enchiladas with Creamy Poblano Sauce
Serves 6-8

For sauce:
3 poblano chiles, roasted
(Thing 1: poblanos are dark-green, 4-6" long and easily found at the grocery store with the rest of the peppers. Thing 2: Cut the ends/stems off the poblanos and then slice them lengthwise on one side so they can be spread out flat. Depending on your heat tolerance, remove the ribs and seeds, or don't. Then roast them under the broiler, turning frequently, until the skins are charred and blackened.)
1/2 c chopped white onion
1 large garlic clove
1 t salt, or to taste
1 1/4 c water
2 T vegetable oil, preferably corn oil
1 c Mexican cream or creme fraiche (I found it at Fred Meyer in the fancy-cheese roundabout near the deli)

For filling:
2 T vegetable oil, preferably corn
1 c chopped white onion
2 large garlic cloves
1 t salt
2 c corn kernels (10 oz. frozen package)
1 lb zucchini (3 med), cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 (14-15 oz) can diced tomatoes with juice
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
2 t chopped jalapeno chile, including seeds, or to taste

For enchiladas:
3 T vegetable oil, preferably corn oil
12 (6-7 inch) corn tortillas
1/4 lb Monterey jack cheese, coarsely grated

Make the sauce:
Coarsely chop roasted chiles. Combine chiles, onion, garlic, salt and water in a blender and puree until smooth.

Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Carefully add sauce (it will spatter) and cook, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about eight minutes. Stir in crema and remove from heat.

Make the filling:
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add onion, garlic, and salt and cook, stirring, until onion is softened, about five minutes. Stir in corn and zucchini and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about eight minutes. Add tomatoes and juice, cilantro, and jalapeno and cook, uncovered, over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Transfer filling to a large bowl to cool.

Make the enchiladas:
Put a rack in the upper third of oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a 13-by-9-inch baking pan or flameproof baking dish. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

Transfer sauce to a shallow bowl or pie plate. Add oil to cleaned 10-inch skillet and heat over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add one tortilla and cook, turning once with tongs, until softened, 4-6 seconds on each side. Transfer to paper-towel-lined baking sheet and blot each side. Repeat procedure with remaining tortillas, stacking them once blotted.

Dip one tortilla in sauce, turning it with your fingers (or tongs) to coat both sides, and transfer to baking dish. Spoon about 1/3 c filling down middle of tortilla and roll up to enclose filling. Push enchilada to one long side of baking dish; you will be forming two rows of six enchiladas each. Make more enchiladas in the same manner, arranging them tightly side by side in dish. Pour remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with cheese.

Bake enchiladas, uncovered, until hot and bubbling, about 15 minutes. If desired, brown under the broiler for a second to make the top brown and bubbly. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe from "Gourmet Today" cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl.

Basic Skillet Black Beans
Serves 4ish

2 t olive oil or vegetable oil
1 1/2 c diced onions
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground coriander
1 c salsa or a 15-oz can of tomatoes with juice
2 15-oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained

ADD ONS: You can add all kinds of veggies to these beans during the onion-cooking phase. I enjoy diced carrots, celery, bell peppers of any color, zucchini and/or corn. It's sort of an opportunity to use up whatever is in your fridge. I also sometimes use a combination of pintos and black beans instead of just black beans. You may need to use more oil and salsa/tomatoes and adjust the spices if you add a lot of additional vegetables - just use your best guess and taste it a lot as you go.

1. In a covered skillet or saucepan, heat the oil on medium-high heat. Add the onions (and any other veggies) and saute for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the cumin and coriander and stir for one minute to toast the spices.

2. Add the tomatoes or salsa, stir well, cover and simmer until the onions (and other veggies) are soft, about five minutes. Add the black beans and simmer until slightly thickened, about five minutes. If you like, mash a few times with a potato masher.

(If you have leftovers of this, which you will if you embrace the spirit of tossing in whatever vegetables you have on hand, I recommend serving it over brown rice with either sour cream or cheddar cheese for a very filling lunch.)

From "Moosewood Restaurant New Classics" by the Moosewood Collective.

Devil's Food Cake with Marshmallow Frosting

For cake:
2 c all-purpose flour
3/4 unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 1/4 t baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, left at room temperature for 30 min.
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/3 c water

For frosting:
2 large eggs, left at room temperature for 30 min.
1/2 c granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 c light corn syrup
2 T water
1 t vanilla extract

Make the cake:
Put the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch baking pan and dust with flour.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soad, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture and water alternately in three batches, beginning and ending with flour and mixing until just combined.

Pour batter into cake pan and smooth top. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45-55 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack for one hour.

Make the frosting:
Combine all ingredients in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and beat with a handheld electric mixer at high speed until frosting is thick and fluffy, six to seven minutes. Remove bowl from heat and continue to beat until slightly cooled.

Mound frosting on top of cake. Dust with a little extra cocoa powder.

Recipe from "Gourmet Today" cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl.

Photo courtesy of Sara Boario.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

#MeatlessMonday on Tuesday

Okay, the past week-plus has been really heinous and I have neglected my blog. For instance, last night, rather than cooking, I went out to eat at the Bear Tooth. However, it occurred to me it might be helpful to provide a list of the best vegetarian eats to be had at Anchorage restaurants and some specific items I really enjoy. One thing that is wonderful about being vegetarian is it makes you more adventurous when it comes to food. You'll notice that many of the restaurants on my list are ethnic places, and I LOVE having the multiple menu options these restaurants provide -- no obligatory pasta primavera here!

Lahn Pad Thai -- This lovely Thai restaurant does not have a Web site for me to send you to, which means they are keeping it REAL and it is good. :) I love their curries (red, green) as well as the incredible Drunken Noodles with Tofu. You can request tofu soft or fried, and if you're interested in nutrition, that's a nice choice.

Bombay Deluxe -- Bombay Deluxe offers a large variety of vegetarian dishes, and all of them are pretty good. My favorites are the Palaak Paneer, Dal Makhni and Chana Masala. All of them can be done very spicy, which I love, or mild, if you don't enjoy self-torture. The garlic and plain naan are also both awesome.

The Bear Tooth Theatre Pub & Grill -- Both the casual menu on the theater side and the more sophisticated menu on the grill side offer lots of options for vegetarians. This is one of the few non-ethnic restaurants in Anchorage that is not afraid of tofu and actually knows what to do with it. My personal favorites include (from the theater side) the Spicy Bear Burrito, the Tostada Salad, the MuShu Veggie Wrap and any of the vegetarian pizza options; at the grill, I love the Avocado-Tomato Salad with Smoked Corn Vinaigrette, the Chili Rellenos; Zuchini, Cheese and Toasted Corn Tacos; the Potato Burrito; and the PEANUT NOODLES. The specials at the Grill are not infrequently vegetarian as well. Also, my mention of the Bear Tooth is not to overlook the Moose's Tooth. It too is great for vegetarians, it's just, well, order any of their veggie pies and enjoy. That's pretty much all there is to say.

I'll give an honorable mention to Falafel King on Gambell. Eat the falafel.

These are a few of my favorites, and I hope you'll order something meatless the next time you, like me this week, are feeling lazy on a Meatless Monday night.