Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vegetarian Book Review: James McWilliams -- Just Food

courtesy of

I've spent the past week and a half doing three things: drafting a review on a vegetarian restaurant that was wonderful to eat at but could not "pop" as an article, reading a book (Wild Swans) about the various horrors of being caught up in several huge historical movements one after the other, and reading another book, Just Food, on sustainable eating for the next century.   These are activities that are unlike only on the surface:  vegetarian restaurants are by their nature political beasts, and even though they serve an absolutely killer linguine with Gorgonzola-and-squash sauce they have to be considered as a statement on more than simple culinary pleasures. (As they themselves acknowledge through their policy of donating money from various dishes and substitution requests to selected charities.) Wild Swans contained so many descriptions of various famines that I found myself raiding the kitchen repeatedly.  (Books about hunger do that to me, I must've spent endless sums of money on snacks when I read The Carpenters: The Untold Story.  I think that was when I discovered Dunkin' Donuts pumpkin muffins.  But I digress....)  

Just Food caught my eye because I'm a historian, and I'm interested in ethical eating.  These are two things I share in common with the author, James McWilliams.  Unfortunately, the book would be stronger if he spent more time talking about history or food.  Instead, he talks endlessly about crop yields and food miles.*  These are important subjects, but a too-rapid change in tone from an amusing and refreshingly honest first chapter's spiel on the first world hypocrisy of the organic movement and how farmer's markets cater to yuppies. 

This book answers the question "is obsessing about sustainability a self absorption of the privileged world?" with a yes, but with a corollary: an assertion that such obsession is our duty, as privilege brings responsibility.  However, our near-total inability to really look at the facts (eg: that we need to radically change our diet or we're all going to wind up starving) is probably going to mean our doom. This is an issue which really hits home if one has been reading a book in which the heroine/author starves during the Cultural Revolution because Chairman Mao had absolutely no grip on the basic precepts of agriculture or economics. Unfortunately it also triggers one to think about how much more gripping and visceral the book about starving on a commune was, and how the book about starving on a commune got me to really appreciate that day's lunch of leftover veggie curry and rice. It also got me humming "Holiday in Cambodia" and more soberly thinking about how quickly society can go completely insane, but sadly, it didn't really get me all that interested the following numerous pages of statistics on global rice yields. 

I think Just Food is an important book, and I'm not just saying that because he condemns meat eating as a completely unsustainable practice.  It brings to light many pious hypocrisies -- on both sides -- that need to be exposed.  However, it suffers from telling too much and showing too little.  Keeping genetically modified crops out of sub-Saharan Africa might be a humanitarian disaster, but he doesn't talk about the people involved, he just talks about GM corn's resistance to the corn-borer

*Which, much like the terms "free range" and "organic" is a buzzword that tells you next to nothing about a food product's carbon footprint.  

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Presidential Turkey Pardon

I've had a full week of trying to keep up with my day job, attending to relatives, and volunteering.  This is more a mini-rantlet than a full blown post.  Happy Thanksgiving!

You know, I think even if I ate meat, I'd find the Presidential Turkey Pardon a bit sick.  I mean, by its very nature, it acknowledges turkeys as condemned, and what have they done?  Nothing.  Abe Lincoln pardoned Union deserters in the Civil War.  He called them his "legs cases", and opined that if the Almighty God gave a man frightened legs there was nothing to stop his running away on them.*

Now that's sweet and a bit folksy.  The Turkey Pardon?  A show trial by comparison.

*Sarah Vowell -- Assassination Vacation 

Thursday, November 18, 2010


    Freedom From Want (1943) -- Norman Rockwell
 part of  his series on the Four Freedoms
                                     Not a lot of people partook in a real life scene like this in 1943.


“We were the first in doing good to the English and the English the first in doing wrong.”
— Metacom/King Phillip (Wampanoag)
I like Thanksgiving.  But I feel kind of weird about it.  I enjoy the fact that it's a relatively low key holiday that involves eating spaghetti with squash-and-pesto-sauce (recipe below), stuffed peppers (recipe below), and exploded apples (recipe also below) and getting to see my relatives, but not much else. The vegetarian me is turned off by the sudden surplus of visions of anthropomorphic turkeys just dying to be eaten.  The historian in me just can't stop thinking about smallpox, or about how "Days of Thanksgiving" were common in 17th century England, however they were companions to "Days of Humiliation and Mourning."   We kept the fun part.  Whatever happened to the latter? I mean, okay, there's some helping out at homeless shelters and charities, but on the whole, it seems to be just a runup to more Christmas partying.  I think the nation could use a good day of voluntary humiliation and mourning once in awhile.  Hopefully, it would give us some perspective.  

Thanksgiving: Girl Praying (1943) -- Norman Rockwell
The less popular Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting, possibly because it's something of a downer. 

I haven't even started talking about how Thanksgiving is often used to gloss over some of the less savory chapters of our national history, like, oh, our systematic near-extermination of several entire civilizations.

                                                      Courtesy of

But this is a food blog, you say?  Well, the personal is often political.  Especially when the blog is about vegetarian food.  There isn't that big a step from writing about Thanksgiving to writing about the politics of food to a broader discussion of all the topics (genocide, representation, environmentalism, the myth of American exceptionalism) brought up by writing about Thanksgiving and the politics of food.  

Spaghetti with Squash Sauce

1 medium butternut squash, baked at 425 until brown and soft
2 tablespoons pesto sauce 
(I like Classico, but you can use whatever -- the original recipe called for fresh garlic and basil but I can't afford that this week, however I always have a jar of pesto around) 
salt and pepper to taste
3 pinches nutmeg
3 cups water

1 package of spaghetti

Combine ingredients in spaghetti pot, cook for three hours until mixture turns from orange to golden brown, let sit another hour.  Boil the spaghetti according to the directions on the package.  Pour sauce over the spaghetti and serve while still hot. 

Stuffed Peppers

5 large Cubanelle peppers
4 eggs
1 large package of onion and sage stuffing
2 cups milk
1/4th cup cilantro or parsley 
1/4th cup Romano cheese
pepper, curry powder, and salt to taste

Combine onion and sage stuffing, cheese, eggs, milk, and spices (cilantro et al) in large mixing bowl.  Wash hands carefully and mix mixture by hand.  (Keep some paper towels nearby so you don't contaminate the entire kitchen with egg.) Wash your hands carefully again.  Clean and deseed the Cubanelles, then cut them in half legnthwise and stuff them with the stuffing mixture.  Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them in the oven for an hour.  

Exploded Apples 

Core two apples all the way through and stuff the inside with raisins, cinnamon, and maple syrup.  Put in microwave safe bowl, put the bowl in a microwave, cover with a paper towel, and cook on high for 2-3 minutes.  They won't blow up over the whole microwave, but they will puff up and ooze quite satisfyingly. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Traveling Vegetarian

"My son was a vegetarian before he went to Morocco, and found that being a vegetarian was really difficult there.  He isn't a vegetarian anymore."

"What's the polite way to survive through a meat eater's wedding?"

"I'd like to be a vegetarian, but the food's too expensive."

Don't scoff--after thirteen years of traveling as a vegetarian, I have learned the following:

1.  If you're going somewhere and you're not sure there's going to be anything you can eat, either eat a bowl of cereal before you leave or take something that can be stuffed in a purse or otherwise covertly consumed.  (Granola bars are the vegetarian's best friend, especially at weddings and other functions where the set menu might not have a vegetarian option.)

2.  If you're traveling to another city / country, do some ground research before you go. If you're a relatively mainstream vegetarian, travel books and Zagat are good sources to consult.  (Zagat recommends some surprisingly inexpensive places sometimes, although you do have to do your homework and double check prices if you're on a budget.)  Of general interest travel books, I find that Rough Guide usually has the best food guide when it comes to trying to find vegetarian friendly places to eat.  If your vegetarianism is more of a general lifestyle than a diet, there are vegetarian resource groups that can help you find either a good place for lunch, a  vegetarian cafe in an occult bookshop, or the best vegan ashram in the state.  It's all good.

3.  Bagels, bagels, bagels. I'm not a huge fan of chain stores, but honestly, if I had become a vegetarian before places like Dunkin' Donuts had started serving bagels, I don't know how long I would have stayed vegetarian. Filling, tasty, cheap, good for any meal, they are probably my ideal fast food.  Mmmmm...carbs.

4.  This one is probably very Northeast-urban-US specific, but: pizza slices are also a (lacto)vegetarian's best chance at a quick, inexpensive lunch. An LA equivalent would probably be that corn-on-a-stick guy.

 5.  Delis at such enlightened chain grocery stores such as the awesome Publix (Florida and Georgia), Stop and Shop (New England), Hannaford (Maine, New Hampshire, North and Central Massachusetts),
Shaws (New England)/Albertsons (the rest of the country), Vons (California), Sainsburys (UK), and Tescos (Europe), have vegetarian options and are cheaper than their Trader Joe's/Whole Foods equivalent.
Anti Vegetarian Hall of Shame: Market Basket (Massachusetts/New Hampshire), Ralph's (California).

6. An off the cuff list of vegetarian friendly chain stores: Au Bon Pain (great pumpkin soup and spinach croissants, but expensive), Starbucks (decent vegetarian sandwich options, also kind of expensive), Caffe Nero (UK -- great ploughman's sandwiches), Pret a Manger (UK -- good selection of cold curried veggies, I've never been to the one in Chicago).  Actually, I find British fast food places in general to be a good deal more vegetarian friendly than American ones, although in the five years since I've been back from the UK we've made significant strides in catching up.

7.  Asian food, unless you're in the middle of the absolute boonies, is usually the best type of food to try to find if you would like to eat a big meal.  Due to religious, historical, and socioeconomic issues, much of Asian cuisine is traditionally meatless.  Even in places where it is relatively hard to get meat free food (Nashua, New Hampshire springs to mind), there will usually be a couple of Chinese places offering veggie fried rice or veggie lo mein.

Remember: in vegetarianism as in life, a little preparation now can save you from an empty stomach later.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cafe Asia, New Downtown, Washington DC

Eric and I had a fabulous time at the Rally to Restore Sanity on Saturday, and although my resulting good feelings and faith that the American people don't want our governing bodies to act like partisan jackasses has been completely obliterated* by this afternoon's announcement that the GOP basically doesn't plan on actually trying to govern so much as paralyze the government, I did have a very nice time in DC, and got to eat a very nice post-rally dinner at Cafe Asia, one of the few affordable places  in the area that had managed to stay open after the rally.

Now, full disclosure, I had managed to have an egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast, but the closest to food I got for about eight or nine hours after that was dining on cheesy crackers and Kudos on the National Mall.  Anything would have been manna after that, but I was impressed by the way the food at Cafe Asia managed to take Asian standards (fried tofu with sweet soy sauce, yellow tofu curry, and spicy Malaysian-style noodle), and give them a homestyle quality.  The decor was hip neon and concrete, but the fried Nippon tofu was sweet and fried-doughy enough to comfort the far from home and politics-stressed soul.  The undercurrent of soba in the soy sauce on the tofu whetted the appetite, while the two curries we ordered filled our bellies and warmed us up on a chilly October night.  Eric's curry was a standard vegetable curry, that initially tasted mild and comforting but had a nice gathering burn to the pepper fire.  Mine was done in soup-form, so the taste of the coconut milk was much more noticeable, as was the snap of the pepper fire. (I had to order two beers just to stop my mouth from burning, and I eat spicy food like it's about to be declared illegal.)

We were still a little hungry, so we ordered dessert: fried bananas and ice cream for me and a brownie a la mode for Eric.  I grew up on fried plantains served with claret sauce at Christmas, so the comparatively austere taste of bananas and honey came as a bit of a shock, however the vanilla ice cream more than made up for the comparative lack of sweetness.  I have Eric's word that his brownie was appropriately chocolately, however I didn't get a chance to sample some myself, as I was full to bursting at the time.

After dinner, we walked down the National Mall and back to Union Station, making plans for another trip to Washington DC.  Next time, we'll do the sight seeing we couldn't do last week because we were sharing the Mall with half a million people. And if we have time, we'll also come back to Cafe Asia.  

*Yes, I am a liberal, but my frustration with the election is more motivated by my growing conviction that the two party system is completely detrimental to the sane running of the country, and thus has got to go, than it is with the fact that the Democrats didn't win. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Inauthentic Yet Still Delicious Oaxacan-Style Chili

I'm going off to Washington to attend The Rally to Restore Sanity at the end of next week, so I did my cleaning and my cooking in one burst today.  I even found the time to cook something I haven't cooked in a long time: chili.

It's been so cold lately that my thoughts cannot help but turn to a climate a little less brutal (well, in the winter) than that of New England.  That, and I have a friend in Arizona and she's been bragging that it doesn't get that cold there. It is cold here. Humph. I love fall in New England, but the gradual loss of daylight and the ability to stay outdoors for long periods makes me miss the days when I could escape the gathering gloom by flying out to LA to meet my boyfriend (who lived there for a few years) and then going to Guelaguetza for some Nopal Zapoteco sin la carne and a cafe de olla. (I like the Northeast, but it's somewhat wanting when it comes to places that serve cactus.  Sigh.)

So to cheer myself up, I searched my cookbooks for some chili to get some ideas, and then I made up this chili with those two lovely Mexican cooking standbys: cinnamon and chocolate.

1 small onion

3 bell peppers, chopped (I used green and red.)

3 large tomatoes

1 can stewed tomatoes or tomato paste (in emergencies, plain bottled pasta sauce will also suffice.)

1 bag of fake beef (I prefer Morningstar Farms), if you do not live in the US, you can get fake lamb -- that's actually probably closer to the original dish -- if you don't like fake beef, add an extra 2 cans of beans

4 tablespoons cinnamon (adjust for your tastes)

2 tablespoons UNSWEETENED chocolate

2 tablespoons cilantro

hot sauce to taste (I used my old standby, siracha sauce, however Texas Pete's Hot Sauce or Cajun Chef are also good)

Fry the peppers and onions in vegetable oil in a big soup pot, stirring occasionally.  Add the cinnamon when the vegetables get soft.  When the vegetables begin to brown, add the chopped tomatoes, the can of stewed tomatoes, and the fake meat.  Stir in the chocolate and cilantro.  Simmer for an hour.  I like to serve it with a side of rice, as that kills the pepper fire.  Serves four.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oven Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Sauce for Wheat Pasta

There was recently a sale on store brand ground wheat pasta at the local Shaws, so Eric and I bought home a few boxes of it.  Now, I've had Pastene ground wheat pasta, and couldn't really tell the difference in texture or flavor.  With Shaws brand, you can -- it's much rougher and the flavor's a bit sweeter.  This isn't a bad thing, although it does disqualify this pasta from having store bought sauce poured over it.  (Store bought sauce is far too sweet for this type of wheat pasta, and I find that the pureed tomato makes the noodles feel a bit slimy.)

However, if you want to get all fancy and start flinging  around the word "artesian" when you invite people over, these are the noodles and this is the sauce for you: a chunky, smoky sauce with a vague tinge of pesto resting on a bed of rustic wheat pasta.

Word to the wise: this was made in the oven in my apartment, so if you don't have a forty year old, rather eccentric oven, you might want to keep an eye on this sauce, or cook it at a slightly lower temperature.

3 red peppers, diced
1/2 cup Romano cheese
2 tomatoes, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
pesto sauce and/or fresh basil leaves to your taste
pepper to your taste
olive oil

Combine the diced vegetables, cheese, and spices in a ceramic pie plate large enough to accommodate them.  Preheat the oven for 350 degrees for ten minutes. Put the mixture in the oven and bake for an hour at 350 degrees or until the vegetables have browned and are soft enough to shove a fork through.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Recipe Aid: Help My Aloo Palak

Last night, I experimented with combining elements of various Aloo Palak (creamed spinach and potato curry) recipes I have read over the years, and my experiments have yielded this dish.  All in all, I'm pretty happy with it, but it needs a something little extra.  Je ne sais quoi.  Do you have any ideas?

Basic Aloo Palak 

1 cup strained Greek yogurt
1 cup water or milk
1 cube frozen chopped spinach
6 diced Yukon Gold potatoes
3 tablespoons garlic
3 tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
curry powder to taste (I like my curry strong so I used at slightly less than 1/4 cup, which sounds like a lot, but potatoes, yogurt, and spinach tend toward the bland otherwise)

Sauté garlic, cinnamon, ginger and curry powder in large saucepan.   Add the frozen cube of spinach and let it thaw and soak in the spices.  Add the potatoes and simmer for half an hour.  Serve on a bed of rice.
Serves 4.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Add-ins and Vegetarian Cheats

I had a friend over on Thursday night.  We all met up at the apartment right after work and Eric and I didn't want to waste any time hiding in the kitchen.  So we did what foodie blogs say not to do and served stir fried vegetables with store-bought Golden Curry*.  We didn't even serve it Japanese-style: as a thick curry and vegetable gravy with rice on the side.  Instead Eric prepared the curry with a mixture of sesame oil, fresh chopped broccoli and onions, and then added soba noodles to the mix and simmered the whole thing until the noodles picked up the curry "gravy".   It was delicious.

Sometimes, when it's been a hard day at the office and you just want to focus on the company you have over, or even just zonk out to some old horror movie on  some obscure cable channel** while you sit in the dark alone in the house, nothing is better than just throwing some vegetables and seasoning into a pre-made sauce and slopping that sauce over some rice or noodles.  

Here are my two favorite types of pre-made sauce: 

Alfredo Sauce with Peas and Carrots 

(NB: peas and carrots and pasta or rice also go well with Discount Blue Eyed Curry, which you can make from scratch.) 

1 jar of alfredo sauce, any brand will do
1/4th cup milk 
2 diced carrots
2 cups of peas 
(frozen will do for either of these vegetables)
2 tbs of olive oil
3tbs curry powder
2 tbs Herbes de Provence 
2 cloves of garlic

Sauté the garlic, curry, and Herbes de Provence in the olive oil until they brown slightly.  Turn down the heat on the stove.  Gently stir in the milk and jar of alfredo sauce.  Add the vegetables and simmer for about ten to twenty minutes.  (You want the vegetables to pick up the flavor of the sauce.) Serve over a heavy type of noodle that can hold its own against a rich sauce: fettuccine or linguine or penne would be my choices. 

Store Bought  Tomato Sauce Alla Veggie Bologonese 

1 jar plain tomato sauce OR one can tomato paste
2 fresh tomatoes
1 diced pepper
1 can of beans (I know, I know!  Look, I keep meaning to try Anna Thomas's advice for cooking dried beans but then I go shopping and always forget to buy a packet of dried beans.) 
2 tbs curry powder
1 clove garlic
1 tbs olive oil

Again, sauté the curry powder and the clove of garlic in the olive oil until brown.  Then add the jar of tomato sauce, the peppers, the beans, and then the tomatoes.  Simmer ten to twenty minutes, depending on the kind of effect you want: if you want a great mid summer dish with crisp, incredibly fresh veggies, the less time you cook it the better.   

*A type of Japanese curry that was introduced to Japan by the British in the 19th century. I've had Japanese curry before, and before I started researching this blog I was convinced that it had come to Japan from India via some ancient trade route.  As a fan of both the East and the West, I get a kick out of the fact that the Japanese once considered curry to be a Western dish.  The world of culture is so wonderfully odd.  Heh. 

** Tis the season. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chang's House, Brighton, Boston MA

All attempts to blog last week were derailed last week by a mixture of my own laziness, Netflix suddenly finally sending me Max Headroom after jerking me around for a month by promising there was no wait... until they were about to send it, at which point it became totally unavailable and no I'm not still bitter, and actual misfortune. (In the form of my car kicking the bucket in a truly stunning manner.  Expect even more subway-friendly restaurant reviews for at least the next couple of weeks.)

During this little intersession, it was my great delight to be able to eat at Chang's House, which is fast becoming my go-to local Chinese take out restaurant.  Chang's House is unique in that their vegetarian menu consists extensively of fake beef and fake chicken entrees.  This is good for people who are trying to "convert" to vegetarianism, or people who simply want to cut some fat from their diet.  However, they really didn't do anything for me.  (Disclosure:  one of the reasons I stopped eating meat was because I didn't like the taste, and I tend to find even meat analogues a bit too much like the real thing -- if they're good quality.) The meat-analogue entree we ordered was a disappointment. The General Gau's "chicken", little balls of gluten done up like dim sum chicken balls, had a wonderful sauce but the fake chicken itself was dry and there was barely enough sauce to moisten both the "chicken" and the wonderfully fluffy jasmine rice they served it with.  

My advice is to stick to the tofu dishes, as they offer a wonderful and selection of really tasty tofu entrees.  My particular favorites are the crispy sesame tofu (fried tofu served covered in sesame seeds and sweet and sour sauce, a delightful appetizer if you order it alone, but also good with rice), and the spicy curry tofu.  Unlike the crispy sesame tofu, the spicy curry tofu is a full meal.  The spicy curry tofu (triangles of fried tofu drenched in yellow curry sauce) is cooked with some nicely steamed vegetables, and the overall pepper fire is moderated somewhat by the aforementioned fluffy jasmine rice.

All in all, Chang's House offers up an excellent vegetarian meal at a good price.  They are also one of the few Boston-area restaurants that stays open until one in the morning.  When I moved to Brighton, one of my tiny niggling worries was that I wouldn't find a Chinese place to replace Rose's, but Chang's House is a great substitute. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vegetarian Book Review: Jonathan Safran Foer -- Eating Animals

Thanks to the entry for Eating Animals on wikipedia. 

I was really not expecting to like this book, I hated Everything Is Illuminated, and I was expecting something similarly tragic-cutesy.  Well, I got the cutesy, but I was more moved by the book than I expected to be.  Vegetarianism is a loaded topic, and Safran Foer does nothing to make it less loaded. In fact, the critical reception from the New York Times to the Onion AV Club seemed to agree that Jonathan Safran Foer is way too upset about this whole cruelty-to-animals thing, and should aim his compassion at a more appropriate  -- read human -- recipient.

I can't help but think there's something terribly reductive about that line of thinking.  Why is it a waste of ethical energy to wonder if there might be something a wee bit queasy in having some animals as friends and eating some for dinner?  Did I just miss some sort of mainstream-America memo because I'm Catholic and therefore am culturally conditioned to question the ethics of my pleasures?* Why is it considered too "crunchy granola" and over privileged to be concerned that our taste for hamburgers and hot dogs might be inflicting great pain on creatures who have been proven to feel great pain?  When did it become okay to ignore an ethical quandary because a. there were more horrible things going on in the world and b. because it presented an inconvenient truth?

In fact, one of the more interesting aspects of the book is how Safran Foer illustrates how human suffering and animal suffering often flourish in the same environment: much of the book is spent discussing the damage done to employees of meat packing plants who work for low wages, are subject to hideous on the job injuries,** or the people living around the plant who have to deal with festering pools of shit, as well as how the atrocities present within the meat packing plants affect plant employee quality of life and family time. Aren't these people important? Shouldn't someone be concerned about them? Shouldn't we be ashamed that our craving for cheap chicken and hamburger leads these people to be worked like mules? (And isn't that an interesting way to put it?)

These meat packing plants knowingly hire sadists. Shouldn't we be worried about the correlation between animal abuse and pathological behavior?   For all we know, they could be incubating the next Robert Pickton.

Eating Animals is not a one-sided book.  Safran Foer alternates his writing with the writings of others involved in the factory farming issue. Not just the PETA people, but also the factory farmers, humane slaughter advocates, and vegan slaughterhouse designers who think meat is a necessary evil.  This is not a book that is hellbent on getting people not to eat meat, instead it is a study of all the ways we try to rationalize eating meat, the cultural taboos we put up to make eating meat acceptable, and why the modern factory farm is such a nightmare that all traditional meat eating versus vegetarianism arguments wilt before the agricultrual-industrial complex.  (In which ovo-lacto vegetarians like myself are totally complicit.)

Safran Foer's observations about the ethics of meat eating have been made before, and not just by animal rights activists: Anthony Bourdain (no friend of vegetarianism) discussed the ethical difficulties inherent in killing his dinner in A Cook's Tour, Julie Powell (a butcher) confronted the reality of killing a lobster in her kitchen, David Foster Wallace had very little fun at a Maine lobster fest in Consider the Lobster.  I was a meat-eater once upon a time.  Do I not have the same credibility as those who still eat meat?

*I've always wondered if my ability to give up meat in some way stemmed from the fact that I grew up in a culture where giving up something you desire to accomplish a greater moral good is highly esteemed.

** There's one story about death by pig shit that will probably give me sporadic nightmares for the rest of my life.  And no, I'm not over reacting.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mashed Potato Time

In spite of my dislike of meat, I don't really think of myself as a food snob.  I like Wonder Bread and processed cheese, my favorite ice cream flavors are plain ol' vanilla and chocolate,  and my morning beverage of choice is black instant coffee.  (It's so hyper-caffeinated and awful you can't help but wake up and pull yourself together in a way you really can't if you're drinking something you might find pleasant.)

However, there is one area in which I am a purist: I do not like instant mashed potatoes.  Not at all.  It must be the Boston Irish in me*, but I never thought that real mashed potatoes were bland -- they have a subtle, but unique, taste and texture that makes for a nice substitute for rice in vegetable dishes.  One of my special joys in life is eating a plate cold, fresh salad on top of hot mashed potatoes.  Something about the marriage of salad dressing, tomato, hot creamy potatoes, and lettuce just makes for a very satisfying summer lunch.

Here is an admittedly slightly sexed-up recipe for mashed potatoes, based on my feelings that creamer potatoes require less butter and milk and therefore are slightly more "vegetarian" and also a bit healthier for you, and also that cutting russets after a hard day of work is a huge pain in the bum that can be circumvented by simply mashing whole creamer potatoes into a wonderful, golden pulp:

8 medium sized creamer potatoes
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons of butter
pepper to taste

Clean your potatoes.  Boil in pot until soft.  Drain the water.  Add the butter, milk and pepper.  Mash as hard as you can for about three minutes.  Stir to blend in remaining milk, butter, and bits of dried potato.

As an added bonus: here is a veggies-in-'gravy' dish inspired by my mom's recipe for Chicken Marengo, it goes great with mashed potatoes.

2 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped
4 cups of diced broccoli and cauliflower
2 cloves garlic
1 can of butter beans, drained
olive oil
sesame oil (to taste)

Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with olive oil.  Sauté the diced garlic until brown.  Add the cups of diced broccoli and cauliflower and let them cook down until they're wilted but not brown.  Add the butter beans, sesame oil, and tomatoes.  The beans and tomatoes will break down to form a reddish-brown gravy that goes great with red creamer potatoes.

Serves 2

*Technically, I'm originally from Lawrence, not Boston, but we're still talking Eastern Massachusetts so allow me some poetic license.  It's pretty much the same culture. Although in Southie I would be considered a yuppie. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Oeufs De Provence" With Spinach and Rice

I'm sorry I missed my Thursday deadline last week, I thought I'd be able to come up with something food related, but my brain was fried due to the heat, and my pots and pans were all over the place due to the move, so it took me until Sunday to cook something that could be a suitable subject for a post.
By Sunday, the weather had cooled down considerably, and the general Sunday vibe seemed to indicate omelets would be a welcome food for dinner.  I wanted to try something different from the burritos, veggie burgers, and pasta I've been eating lately, so I made "Oeufs De Provence", which sounds complicated but is simply an omelet flavored with Herbes de Provence and stuffed with a filling of spinach and rice.

As a spice mixture, Herbes de Provence has only been around it its present, Americanized, form since the 1970's.  I went through years of foodiedom without really hearing that much about it, but it seems to be enjoying a comeback lately.  This summer, I was lucky enough to be given a baking class at King Arthur Flour for my birthday.  The virtues of Herbes De Provence were praised during that class.  After that, I started hearing references to les herbes pop up on cooking shows and in magazines, so my curiosity was whetted.   When I made my weekly grocery trip and saw that Badia had a Herbes mixture, I decided to try it.

The flavors are pretty subtle, a nice alternative to the fiery hot pepper blends I've been favoring this summer, and they seem to work well with the two dishes I've used them in: fried peppers with beans, and the following omelet recipe.

The egg "shell": 

4 eggs
1 tablespoon of Herbes De Provence
4 teaspoons water

Greasing and flavoring the pan: 

Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Add garlic to taste.

Whisk the eggs, water, and herbes together in bowl until throughly blended. Sauté the garlic in the olive oil until brown, and then add the egg mixture. When the egg mixture solidifies, take a fork and gently loosen it from the sides of the pan.  Then take a fork and a spatula and gently try to turn it over until the "top" of the shell is on the bottom.  I find this method works much better for me than the more traditional "flip".

The filling:

1 cup leftover rice
1 package frozen spinach, or 2 bundles fresh spinach
2 slices swiss cheese (known as emmenthaller cheese to European cooks)

Defrost or wilt spinach in small sauce pan.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix one cup of leftover white rice into the spinach.  Bring to a boil for three minutes.

Put omlette shell onto a plate, placing the slices of swiss cheese on top of the omelet shell.  Cover half of  the shell with the rice and spinach mixture, and then fold the uncovered side of the omelet on top. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ariana: Cuisine from Afghanistan -- Allston, MA

I have just realized that it has been a few months since I have written a recipe post.  There is a reason for this:  all summer we have been living in a temporary apartment and half my kitchen pots, pans, and dishes are in storage.  Also?  It's been brutally hot.  Also?  I'm a little lazy.  However, in a few weeks I will be moved into my new apartment and, then, hopefully, I will have some new Fall recipes to test pilot.

But it is through the seemingly endless process of moving that I found Ariana, a semi-famous Afghani restaurant in Allston.  I had met Eric up at the realtor's office to pick up some paperwork, and we were both very hungry.  We wanted Chinese.  We got on the 86 bus and rode to Brighton Center.  No good Chinese in sight.  We then got on another bus with the intention of going to Super 88, but then we were both distracted when that bus suddenly turned on to a street filled with Indian and Afghani restaurants.  We roamed around and then picked Ariana because it had reasonable prices and neither of us had tried Afghani food before.

The restaurant was wonderfully decorated: blue glasses set against white table cloths and plates, a  cheerful yellow on the walls, and carpeting and appointments in jewel tones.  It was also surprisingly quiet.  We decided to get the most value and range for our money by eating dinner European style: many small courses, each offering a different taste to the diner.  The first course was an appetizer: bowlani, which is somewhere between a Chinese fried scallion pancake and an Indian samosa.  They came in two flavors: fried scallion and mashed potato, and they were served with thick Greek yogurt that took the edge off the spicy potato filling.

The second course was kourma challow, a mellower version of Indian korma made with green beans, carrots, and turnips.  It went wonderfully with the rice, challow, which had been boiled, seasoned, and then baked.  

My favorite dish was the sheerehk, which doesn't sound like a desert but it is: vanilla ice cream dusted with pistachios and cardamom. The entire tab came to about thirty dollars: a small price to pay for such a luxurious-feeling meal.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Flatbread Company at Sacco's Bowl Haven -- Somerville, MA

The best thing about The Flatbread Company at Sacco's Bowl Haven is the food.  The pizza has a wonderfully crispy crust and the slightest hint of basil in the cheese and sauce.  The root beer is by Maine Root, and thus is an old fashioned boiled-roots recipe that produces a drink with a lovely bite.  The beer selection is also quite good, I selected a Blueberry Ale that had a wonderful hint of blueberry to it.  The waitstaff was friendly and genuinely wanted to make sure we had a good time.

The worst thing about The Flatbread Company at Sacco's Bowl Haven is the wait for a bowling lane on a Saturday night.  Full disclosure: Eric and I did not make a reservation, and we definitely should have and that was our fault.  However, when we first came in we asked how long the wait might be.  The vaguely annoyed hostess told us it would be about an hour, and so we went off to the bar to wait.   I have to admit, The Flatbread Company is not really my kind of place:  I have had some crappy jobs (farmstand employee, tour guide) in a few well heeled rural towns, so Flatbread's super-organic-expensive crunchy granola ambiance brings back a lot of frustrating memories for me.  Eric observed that we were the only people there not wearing ironic flannel, and he was right, there were few non-hipsters in attendance.  I do have to say that the piped in music was quite good, I'm a fan of early Janet Jackson and Marvin Gaye, so it was nice to have some music I liked playing while we waited. And waited. And waited.  I took a nap on Eric's shoulder.  I woke up.  We were still waiting. The people who were ahead of us on the list for a lane left.  I went outside because I felt claustrophobic.  I came back in when I felt better.  We were still waiting. Our one hour wait turned into two hours before we were awarded with a lane.  

Again, these things happen, but the way it was handled left something to be desired: the hostess acted as though she thought we were a declasse nuisance,  we were repeatedly left in the dark as to how long the wait would be, and we couldn't leave the bowling alley to do something else while we waited, so the only entertainment available was drinking their beer (a sneaky trick on their part) and nursing our resentments and various anxiety disorders.  

Eric mentioned to me that they should have a system similar to that at Panera Bread, where the customer on the waiting list is given a beeper and at least allowed to go outside to explore Davis Square.  Failing that, he thought they could text the customers when their lanes were ready.  Instead, it felt like we were trapped in the bowling alley.  The food was good, but the attitude of the hostess and the lack of a system to manage what was obviously a chronic problem means that we will try Jillian's and Lucky Strike or Lanes and Games the next time we go bowling.

Update 8/20/10:  Credit where credit is due: I just got a really nice email from the manager of the Flatbread Company at Sacco's.  He apologized for our experience and offered me a gift card.  I couldn't take the gift card (journalistic ethics still apply to bloggers), but the email itself was very classy.  

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vegetarian Book Reviews: Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat!

I wish I had had a copy of Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat! to give to my parents when I decided to become a vegetarian at the age of 15.  That was in 1997, and while vegetarianism was neither a novel idea nor completely unheard of in my community, it was still an era in which is was relatively hard to find restaurants that served any vegetarian dishes, my high school cafeteria was completely unequipped to serve a vegetarian, and my dietary choices were regarded by all with a sense of mystification and a touch of hostility.

My parents were nonplussed by my decision, but pretty supportive, and my cooking skills did improve considerably after I made this decision.  However, in terms of getting food to eat in the outside world, I think I spent the first three years I was a vegetarian subsisting on salad and muffins.  As frustrating as vegetarianism can be for me now, as some people still insist on regarding vegetarian eating habits as a personal affront, times have changed considerably.  Today, every grocery store offers vegetarian analogues and most restaurants offer at least one or two non-salad vegetarian dishes.  Books like Fast Food Nation are building sympathy for vegetarianism in places where it might never have existed before.  Clearly, it is a different world from the one in which I attended high school.  Thank God.

Help!... is definitely written for a white, middle-class, audience.  So if you come from a different culture you might or might not be helped by the advice in this book.  I am also not a parent, and thus biased towards the wants and needs of vegetarian teens, and therefore take my opinion with a grain of salt.  However, that said, what is worthwhile about this book is that this is not a book about giving in to your child's every whim, no matter your own feelings.  Instead it is an attempt by the author, Carol J. Adams -- author of the early-Nineties feminist classic The Sexual Politics of Meat -- to understand both sides of the issue and see that teens choosing to embrace vegetarianism are really just trying to engage their world and the issues of their times.  They may or may not stay with vegetarianism, but respecting their choices isn't "indulgent", it's treating them like human beings worthy of notice.

My only major complaint is with the recipe section, which displays a large number of European-style "comfort food" choices that aren't particularly practical or inviting to either decades-old vegetarians like myself or non-vegetarians.  I wish they had thought to include a section on vegetarian flavor theory (which is much different from meat-oriented flavor theory), more pasta dishes, and a little more background on world vegetarianism and how it's reflected in different cultures' styles of cooking.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Frozen Fruit Smoothies

I went to a baking class last weekend, and there will be a post on that, but I'm behind on a lot of chores since a pothole ate the highway outside my house this week and I have a present to finish knitting and so: tonight we're talking smoothies.

I go through bouts of smoothie making fairly regularly, and this is one of my favorite standby smoothie recipes:

1 cup yogurt
1 cup milk and/or 1 cup orange juice
2 cups fruit of your choice
handful of ice

You do not need the ice if the fruit is frozen.  However, be careful with different types of frozen fruit as some of the tougher ones, such as mango, can do a number on your blender.  In fact, I must admit, I usually have a terrible time with mangoes -- a little overripe and they make your smoothie stringy, a little under done and they add nothing to a drink except bulk.   However, I love the flavor of mangoes and if anyone has any tips for how to blend them properly into a smoothie give me a shout out. Fruits I have particular luck with are: fresh or frozen strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and peaches.  Bananas are good as well, although, like mangoes, if they're even a little too under ripe you cannot taste them.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cocktails for Classic Movie Buffs

It is, once again, ridiculously hot, so I am going to talk about historical cocktails.  Why? Because I'm long overdue for a history blog -- and what better subject for a history blog than old Hollywood's complete disregard for prohibition?  Also, I've long wanted to post pictures and videos of Buster Keaton and Anna Mae Wong to this blog, and now I finally have an excuse to do it.  That, and even thinking about an Orange Blossom just cools me down.

Orange Blossom

The traditional recipe for Orange Blossoms uses superfine sugar or simple syrup.  I have always found that adding extra sugar to orange juice makes it nauseatingly sweet, so I've left it out.

Virginia Rappe and Maude Delmont famously swilled these during Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's infamous San Francisco party -- the same party that resulted in the death of Rappe and a resulting rape trial for Arbuckle which instantly became one of the first major media circuses of the twentieth century.

1 tumble filled with orange juice
2 jigs of gin
1 wedge of line (squeeze into orange juice and then use as garnish)

If not consumed by scam artists who go on to die at your party, a nice time will be had by all.

Sloe Gin Fizz 

Some versions of this recipe use egg white, however Eric had salmonella once and now I share his anti-egg paranoia.  Once again, I have eschewed Simple Syrup, and I prefer lime juice to lemon.

1 Tom Collins glass or moderately sized tumbler, into which you should pour
1 jig sloe gin
1 jig gin
fill glass with soda water
add lemon or lime to taste

Variations of this drink were much loved by non-movie star Huey Long, but it's also a drink much beloved in "women's pictures" of the 1940's.

I don't have a drink for Buster Keaton, apparently he liked to drink beer.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Storyboarding and Pizza Tasting: Pino's Pizza, Brighton, and Presto Pizza, also Brighton

Thursday, July 22, 2010:

Eric:  How about using your affection for True Crime as a jumping off point for one of your blogs?

Me:  The only vegetarian criminals who come to mind are the Manson Family and Hitler, and those two subjects are really played out.  A blog about Victorian poisonings would also be unappetizing.  I don't like True Crime because I like glorifying criminals through food blogging.  I like it because I'm fascinated by detectives and lawyers.  Is Vincent Bugliosi a vegetarian?

                        Thanks to

Eric:  What about reviewing those pizza places in Cleveland Circle?

Me:  That's probably a better idea.

Pino's Pizza, Cleveland Circle, Brighton  

Eric and I walked out of the rainy Boston day, and into the relative calm and quiet of Pino's Pizza in Brighton. Although the outside of the restaurant boasted a gloriously tacky and obviously unrestored 1950's beach-boardwalk style sign, the inside of the restaurant was bright, clean and surprisingly contemporary.  We decided to order the 2-slice, 1 drink cheese pizza special.  We grabbed our slices and drink and headed to a booth.

The crust was possibly the crispiest crust I have ever tasted.  (Possibly because, as is standard procedure in most restaurants selling single pizza slices, the slices were taken from a pre-made pie and reheated to order.)  The cheese and sauce were both fresh tasting, but a little on the bland side.  It tasted better than the average Papa Gino's slice, but no flavors particularly stood out.  I took a quick bite, and added Parmesan cheese and pepper to my slice, as is my habit.  The slices were generous, and the pizza folded well, which made for easy eating.  I was also pleased to note the comparative bounty (for an unyuppified Boston-area sub shop) of vegetarian sub and pasta options on the menu. We left feeling relatively full and satisfied.

Presto Pizza, Cleveland Circle, Brighton 

The exterior of Presto Pizza is unremarkable, but the inside of the restaurant, with its gigantic tree, Tiffany lamps, and 1982 World Cup soccer posters, is a little reminiscent of the Regal Beagle.  Once again, we ordered the six dollar double-slice-and-one-drink special, and once again we retired to a booth table with various condiments.  I was impressed by the Parmesan cheese on offer, it was hard to get out of the container, but that was because it was fresh grated.  It had a wonderfully creamy, nutty taste that added to the general garlicy-olive oily*, just-a-hint-of-basilish flavor of the pizza. The slices were so big, they wouldn't fit on their paper plates and ended up touching the table in a way that bothered me a little bit.

Eric and I agreed: if Presto was busy, going to Pino's wouldn't spoil the night.  However, Presto had the better slice by far.

*Presto Pizza is noticably more greasy than its competitor.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What to Do When Food Tastes Like a Ceramic Fridge Magnet

I have recently come down with a particualry bad sinus cold, the result of which has been a several day long inability to taste anything.  My high school biology teacher said that losing one's sense of taste during a cold was an old wives' tale, but nothing's tasted right since some time on Saturday.

This is inconvenient if one has a food blog to write.

It's true that sick vegetarians cannot rely on chicken soup, however there are many ways one can tempt oneself to eat while sick. Here's a list of some:

Hot Sauce
"Burning" may not be a flavor, but a dash of hot sauce in some home made broth or on top of some fresh vegetables will certainty clear your sinuses.

A hot mug of tea is good all year around, however in the summer I like to follow my boyfriend's aunt's lead and get a 2 quart plastic pitcher, and throw three to five tea bags in it.  Fill it with water, stick it in the fridge, wait overnight, and you have efficient, no boil iced tea.

Oranges, Lemons, and Limes
Once rare and prized in New England for their ability to keep away disease today's sick vegetarian can use them to flavor just about anything.  I like to toss a can of mandarin slices in with my raspberries and blueberries, and drizzle it with lime.

What to eat when you can't stand the thought of eating anything that requires actual prep time or tastes like much of anything.
Short oatmeal recipe:
1 cup instant oats
2 cups hot water
cinnamon or jam to taste
Pour the hot water on the oats and stir until the oats absorb the water.  Mix in the cinnamon or jam.  Add milk if you want just that much food.  Try to eat.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Two British Summer Sandwiches

Okay, so those who know me in life know that I talk about the fact that I have an MSc in Archaeology from the University of Edinburgh.  (I'm both brilliant and modest that way.)  However, I didn't spend all my time in the UK drinking myself silly and learning about the built environment of workingclass England.  I also spent a lot of time in the kitchen of my Edinburgh student rooming house, drinking myself silly and learning about the European approach to food.

I already knew about the Asian approach to food.  During my undergraduate years at UMass Lowell my roommate Truc and I set up an illegal hot plate in our dorm room and she taught me to cook Vietnamese food.  However, that is a story for another time.  Suffice to say that I was already familiar with the idea that, to every other culture in the world, most of the time, cooking and eating have a wonderfully slow-paced sense of ritual about them.  I've never really seen it done much in my part of the US, but when I've been in other countries people gather in kitchens, not only for special occasions but for every meal, to cut up fresh ingredients cook and talk and bond.  Some of the best times I ever had were in the kitchen of my rooming house in Edinburgh, talking about culture and politics, and, for some reason, Poland.

However, being a poor student, a busy student and a lazy American cook, I mostly stuck to making sandwiches based on what I saw the other students eating and what I saw on telly.

Here, finally, are two of my favorite British sandwiches:

Pub Pickle and Cheese

2 slices toasted white bread (I had a hard time finding wheat bread in Edinburgh, strangely enough)
2 slices cheddar or Red Leicester cheese
Branston's Pub Pickle to taste (do NOT use American-style pickle, pub pickle is a totally different animal, you can get it in the specialty aisle of just about any big chain grocery store)

Assemble sandwich.  Consume while hurriedly studying Man Makes Himself for your Archaeolgical Theory paper.

Cucumber Sandwich 

1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
2 slices white bread

Assemble sandwich.  Consume while leisurely reading Hello! magazine.  (Paper? What paper?)

A Fussy Meat-Lover Embraces Vegetarianism

The below was written by guest blogger Eric Cheung

Yesterday, July 7th, was the six month anniversary of my last meal with meat in it.  I ate a heaping take out container of teriyaki chicken in the food court of The Corner Mall in Downtown Crossing, Boston.  I intended to fill up because I was going straight from work, upstairs at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, to a theatre gig in South Boston, as a sound tech for Actors Shakespeare Project's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  And just like that I said goodbye to meat.

One of the most common assumptions about my decision is that it was somehow Mary Beth's decision, or at least that there was some undue cajoling on her part to coerce me away from my rightful place atop the food chain.  No, this decision was mine alone.  I say this as someone who likes the taste of meat, yet does not miss it.

Though I've been cold turkey since January 7th, it hardly feels like such an immediate transition.  I've never been one to buy meat in grocery stores very often, so most of my meat-eating centered around going out to eat or just grabbing a quick bit of take out--my last meaty meal seems all the more appropriate.  I would usually have a favorite hot dog (which must show some signs of charring, and stuck in a New England-style bun, which has been toasted and buttered), I'd have a favorite cheeseburger (medium-well and should not taste like a big corporate chain), and many other kinds of meats.  But my family has a history of high-cholesterol, I have a heart condition, and I really do believe that animals in most commercial facilities are treated in an absolutely abhorrent manner.  It was time to put my vegetables where my mouth was.

So let me first tackle the first of these points, which leads to the next question I get about my new-found vegetarianism: You're doing this for your health?  Won't you be deficient in protein, iron, Vitamin B-12, et cetera?

Protein is certainly not a problem for me.  Since at least early last  year, I've been big fan of some of the meat analogues available, primarily Morningstar's fake chicken and sausages (when you think about it, a sausage is primarily texture and spices; you're not tasting meat per se, so it's not much of a leap to start with meat-free sausages).  In addition to that, I've recently tried their beef analogue, and it's virtually indistinguishable from real hamburgers.  These products are fascinating to me because they remind me of how much more mainstream vegetarianism has become in the past several years, and because if we can manufacture food this realistic, then perhaps the Star Trek food replicators are not far behind.

But aside from trying to hold onto my meaty tastes, I've found that I like eating lots of beans, tofu or bean curd, and nuts.  I also enjoy spinach and drink milk and orange juice.

As for the second point, the welfare of the animals, I must concede some points here.  The precise type of vegetarianism to which I currently subscribe is pescatarian ovo-lacto vegetarianism, I do eat eggs, fish, and dairy.  Before January 7th, I did not eat fish, but I've found that when dining in some restaurants that aren't vegetarian friendly the compromise has become an etiquettal necessity (Ironically, vegetarianism has helped me broaden my palette, as I've always been quite fussy).

Dining out has changed only slightly.  I now find my favorite restaurant type to be Indian.  I describe it to the skeptical as "beef stew without the beef."  Though I've eaten Indian food for years, this phrase to me evokes the hearty and filling nature of the food.  There are a lot of potatoes, basmati rice, spinach, and delicious gravies and sauces.  I've also eaten more Thai and Chinese food, even an attempt at seeing what meat-free delights awaited me at China Pearl's Sunday dim sum!

The plan is to stick with this for the foreseeable future.  I see no reason to stop.  In this time, perhaps I'll try to challenge my taste buds, and maybe eventually discard fish, eggs, and dairy and go vegan (assuming I can find appropriate substitutes).  Whatever anyone can do to reduce or eliminate meat intake will do wonders for their cholesterol and their conscience.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fake Meat, and A Baked Burrito Recipe

Happy Fourth of July! 
Later today, Eric and I are heading to my aunt's and uncles for a barbecue.  Barbecue presents many challenges for vegetarians, as there is always the danger that you will find nothing to eat except salad.  My way of politely combating that is to bring a vegetarian dish, or even just a package of frozen veggie burgers if you're really well acquainted with the hosts, to the barbecue.

Here's a possible vegetarian barbecue dish using fake meat.  Now, I don't want to advertise, so take the products I used as recommendations only.  

3 diced tomatoes
1 package of frozen spinach
1 small onion
2tsps of olive oil
1 package of chopped fake sausage (I prefer Morningstar Farms breakfast sausage or Field Roast Mexican Chipotle)
2 lavash wraps
Fry the spinach, onion, and chopped sausage in a skillet until brown.  Wrap in the lavash wraps.  Put the lavash wraps in a pie pan.  Cover with tomato and cheese.  Bake 10 minutes.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I'm working on a post about fake meat.

There's a big divide, I'm often told, in the vegetarian community: to eat fake meat and thus play into the meat eating one entree and two sides culture, or to not eat fake meat and spend the rest of your life eating casseroles and soups but also not playing into the idea that meat eating, especially the American way of meat eating, is the norm.

Sometimes I really crave fake meat.

I'm also tired of the one entree and two sides culture.  Most cultures eat soups and casseroles. The US is one of the few that MUST eat meat in at least two meals.

It's a hard call.

Something more erudite should be out by the weekend.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fritatta a la Anna and Julia

This zucchini and pepper fritatta was inspired by a recipe in Anna Thomas's The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two, but due to my the chronic difficulty I experience when attempting to flip anything omelet like, it was served with a heavy side of Julia Child's "never apologize, never explain" attitude.

The Basic Ingredients
1 medium zucchini
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pepper
2 tbs of garlic
6 eggs
1/4 cup of water
3 tablespoons olive oil
pepper and cilantro to taste

If you want to conceal a little fritatta flipping damage...
2 to 3 slices of cheddar cheese
1 chopped tomato

Dice the zucchini and pepper and set them aside.  Add  the olive oil and the garlic to a large skillet and sauté the garlic until it begins to cook down.  Add the zucchini and peppers and fry them until they're just getting tender.  While you're waiting for that to happen, break six eggs into a bowl and whisk them together with the water, pepper, and cinnamon.  Pour this mixture on top of your zucchini and peppers, turn the heat down to "medium" and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

What Anna Says Will Happen:  "when the eggs are firm on top, loosen the frittata carefully by sliding a spatula around under it.  Then place a plate upside down over the top of a pan like a lid and invert it, dropping the fritatta out onto it."

What Happened to Me:  When the eggs were firm on top, I loosened the fritatta carefully as Anna specified, however a little of the fritatta must've caught on the bottom because when I inverted the pan and plate, a little drippy egg splashed out while the fritatta fractured a little but otherwise stayed put in the pan.  I turned the stove off, got a knife and a spatula, and cut the fritatta into four sections, carefully scooping them out of the frying pan and placing them on a waiting plate.  I then put them back into the pan, one at a time, and fried them until they were safe to eat.  I then put the sections on to two different plates, and covered the part that tore with cheese and tomato.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Spinach Enchiladas

After two weeks of really hot, appetite killing weather, we New Englanders have found ourselves experiencing some relatively cool weather.  

And why is it cool that the weather's cooler?  
Because we can now use the oven without heating up the entire house and bringing the wrath of our housemates upon us!

I've been dying to experiment with enchilada recipies for a long time.  This one came out great: comfort foody but with an undertone of pepper fire. 

The Filling

2 packages of frozen spinach
1/2 can pinto beans
3 cloves diced garlic
chili flakes to taste 
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 flour tortillas
4 slices of cheddar cheese

The Sauce

4 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 can pinto beans
3 tomatoes, diced
cilantro, garlic, and pepper flakes to taste

Fry the pinto beans olive oil until they become slightly paste like.  Add the tomatoes and spices and cook for three more minutes.  Pour the mixture over the burritos.   

Get a large skillet. Sauté the diced garlic and the chili flakes in the olive oil.  Defrost the spinach in the pan, stirring occasionally.  Bring the spinach mixture to a boil, and then cool.  Make two burrito wraps with the cool spinach mixture.  Get a greased, large, shallow Corningware bowl and layer those two wraps on the bottom of the bowl.  Cover with cheese and the sauce mixture.  Add another layer on top of the first.  
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Watch This Space

I'm sorry!  I was so busy with everything: apartment hunting, starting a new job, having my car overheat and getting it towed, that I didn't have any time to write anything food-related or go to any restaurants that weren't the burrito place down the street.  I will cook this coming week!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Public Service Announcement

I'm running the Larry Kessler 5K AIDS run on Sunday.

If you'd like to donate, I have a page here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Vintage Veggie + Memorial Day Feast: Wacky Cake

I haven't been baking much since Christmas, because the oven in my old apartment didn't work very well and I didn't have an excuse such as a pending holiday to drive to my mother's and usurp her oven.  However, Eric and I have moved to a sublet, pending a further move closer to Fall, and the oven here seems to work fine.  Expect more baking recipes, as I really love to bake and I can do it all I want to now.

I have long wanted to try this recipe for "Wacky Cake", a World War II-era chocolate cake recipe that is fascinating in the way it showcases the degree to which rationing impacted the American table.  A cake recipe like this seems rather odd to us, with its relatively sparse chocolate usage and commands to dig holes in the mixed dry ingredients, and pour some of the wet ingredients in the holes in order to produce a chemical leavening reaction because eggs were in short supply.  A cake such as this would have probably been a special event, as chocolate itself was hard to come by in 1942.

I found this version of Wacky Cake in America's Best Lost Recipes, by the editors of Cook's Country Magazine.  They found it in The Time Reader's Book of Recipes (1949), where it had been submitted by a Mrs. Donald Adam of Detroit, Michigan.  I did not tweak this recipe much at all, as I wanted to pay a Memorial Day tribute to wartime scarcity by being as accurate as was possible within my budget.

Wacky Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup natural cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons vegetable oil (NB: I used olive oil, because I dislike vegetable oil in cooking and hadn't been baking enough to warrant buying any for baking)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
confectioner's sugar (to be dusted over the cake when done)

Part 1.

Adjust an oven rack so that it is right in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.  (I used margarine because I wanted to be authentic.)

Part 2.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in the pan.  Make one large and two small craters in the dry ingredients.  (This is where I had problems, as my craters crumbled rather quickly once I started filling them with stuff.  It didn't seem to hurt the recipe, but the ingredients did mix a little more quickly then they were supposed to.)  Add the oil to the large crater and vinegar and vanilla to their own individual craters.  Mix these ingredients while pouring the cup of water into the pan.  (You should hear a fizzing sound.)  Mix until only a few little streaks of flour remain in the pan.

Part 3.

Bake for thirty minutes.  Dust with powdered sugar before it cools.

Verdict:  This really needs more chocolate, but otherwise I was surprised by how moist and fluffy it was.  Yay, chemistry!