Monday, June 21, 2010

The Everything Chili + Announcement

Pin It It's been a busy few days around here. I feel like I've been running around all weekend. You see, we are moving.

Yes. Again.

It's the second time in a 10-month period and we must be outta here in a week or two. Over the weekend, we found a new place to live (with a big kitchen!) across the Bay. We're slowly packing some stuff into boxes and purging others. The cats know something is up and are wary about what will happen next. Frankly, so am I. I feel like a fugitive running from the past and blindly into the future. I sincerely hope our second stint in the Peninsula will be better than our first. Really, it couldn't possibly be worse.

*Fingers crossed*

In the meantime, blog updates will be sporadic until our lives are back to normal. For now, priority number one in the kitchen is to pack food into our tummies so we have less to carry with us. Unfortunately, we have a particularly stinky food project that we'll have to take with us. But that's for another day, another post...

I made this chili so that I can basically throw some produce and pantry staples into one big pot and eat it for a few meals. It's simple and festive. I love the combination of sweet crunch from the fresh corn and savory creaminess from the kidney beans.

Goodbye, East Bay! I'll miss you, at least a little. Maybe not at first, but someday... eventually... I think...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Roasted Corn Stew

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Nothing says summer quite like fresh corn and ripe tomatoes. We found some among other fresh summer offerings like watermelons and blueberries at our local produce market. Sure, you can get corn and tomatoes in the winter, but they never look or taste the same -- winter corn is always a bit dry and shriveled and tomatoes are bland and pale. So I thought I'd take advantage of the fresh produce and make something simple and amazing.

Initially, I thought I'd make a succotash of sorts. Then I realized that I don't know what goes in it besides corn. Then I thought of Sylvester the cat ("sufferin' succotash!"). Then I thought I'd wing it and make a soup, which came out pretty tasty.  

You'll need:
  • 2 ears of corn, husked
  • 5 medium tomatoes (I used plum tomatoes), diced
  • 2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, medium diced with skin on
  • 1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 onion, diced small
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 5 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped cilantro for garnish
  • fresh lemon juice
Place an oven-proof pan in the oven and pre-heat to 500 degrees. You want to use something sturdy like a cast iron skillet, so the high heat doesn't warp your pan. Place the corn in the pan. Grease it with a little bit of canola oil if you are worried about sticking. Make sure the corn is in contact with the surface of the pan because you want nice brown bits. Turn the corn every 5 to 10 minutes until the corn is nicely browned, about 30 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. You can also grill the corn instead.

In a large pot, saute diced onions in olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook for another minute. Add vegetable stock and Yukon gold potatoes. Season with salt. Crank the heat up to high and bring the soup to boil. After it reaches boiling point, reduce the heat so the soup simmers. Cook for 15 minutes. Add diced tomatoes and crank up the heat for another 10 minutes. Add black beans. Shuck the cooled roasted corn and add into the pot. Cook for 5 more minutes. Check the seasoning. Turn off the heat and serve with chopped cilantro and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice on top.

The fresh corn gives this soup some sweetness while potatoes and black beans give it more substance and body. I think the key ingredient here is the fresh lemon juice, which keeps the soup from being too heavy. If you like it a bit spicy, this would be great with a dash of hot sauce or some red chili flakes. I liked it as is -- rich, sweet and flavorful.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tofu Picatta

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Conventional thinking says I've clearly got the better end of the deal when we dine out. As an omnivore, I have many more options to chose from and I'm never weary of chicken broth or fish sauce or gelatin or lard or any number of non-vegetarian ingredients that tend to creep onto the plate.

But what I've learned from dining out with a vegetarian is that good restaurants serve delicious food and bad restaurants serve crappy food. Period. It doesn't matter whether there's meat on the plate; VB and I are generally equally happy (or unhappy) with our respective meal.

Well, that's true most of the time...

Occasionally, we would go to a restaurant where one of us loved the food while the other ate nothing but the bread. We had that experience recently at a fine dining eatery. I ordered pork two ways with pork tenderloin and pork belly. VB ordered tofu picatta. No contest, right? I thought so too. But it was VB who loved his food and me who hated my pork both ways. It just goes to show that a meal with meat doesn't always taste better than a meal without.

That was weeks ago, but I still think about the terrible pork that I barely ate. The only way to atone for crime against the piggies is to make some tofu picatta. I think that would give me some closure and make me feel better -- a symbolic return to the scene of crime and exorcise one's culinary demons of sorts...or something.

Anyway, it was what we had last night, okay?

It was a pretty quick meal and full of flavor. The mushrooms were meaty and robust while the lemon and capers bring a nice balance to the dish. I can see why this could be more delicious than pork two ways. You can find the recipe here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

'Turkey' Dinner

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VB's birthday week finale (*sad*) was this grand faux turkey dinner with all the trimmings. He wanted to try this recipe from Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit ever since he saw it a few months back. But it is very involved and time-consuming (2 days of prep and 6 hours of cooking!) and should be reserved for special occasions... and this was the perfect time for it.

We made faux turkey (very similar to Tofurky, I was told), mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, soy mac n' cheese from a box (had to cut corners somewhere), and steamed snow peas (the only non-Thanksgiving item).

Cooking this meal was unlike any other vegetarian meals that I've ever cooked -- we used very few vegetables in this entire meal. In fact, I wouldn't even call this process "cooking"; it's more like a mad science experiment. I kept thinking about my high school lab class and the movie Frankenstein. As I watched powder that I bought from Whole Foods turn into Butterball turkey breast, I had the urge to laugh like (a prettier?) Dr. Evil (muhahahaha!!!) and give someone a crisp backhand slap as a demonstration of my indisputable supremacy and brute strength (of either I have none, natch).

The highlight of the meal? Gravy made with nutritional yeast and fresh herbs. It was salty, creamy and flavorful like real gravy. The faux turkey looked freakishly realistic when basting in chicken-flavored broth, but the taste didn't quite live up to the expectation (Lindy Loo's all caps blog post title 'OH MY GOD GO MAKE BRYANA CLARK'S VEGAN SEITAN 'TURKEY' ASAP I DON'T CARE THAT IT'S NO LONGER THANKSGIVING AND YOU HAVE NO REAL EXCUSE!!! ON A DISTANT PLANET SOMEWHERE IT'S LIKELY TO BE THANKSGIVING SO JUST RUN WITH THAT!! DO IT! NOW!' was just a touch too enthusiastic). It was good, but I wouldn't say it tastes like meat.

It doesn't not taste like meat either, if that makes any sense at all...

My least favorite item came from a box -- Road's End Organics Dairy-free Mac n' Cheese was bland and tasteless. But overall, it was an excellent faux turkey dinner in June.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sausage and Mushroom Pizza + New Blog Feature!

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VB's birthday week continues with pizza, his all-time favorite. Pizza is pretty much the only food that keeps him from giving up dairy, because, let's face it, soy cheese tastes pretty gross. I have yet to taste a soy cheese that's a good enough substitute for dairy cheese.

While we're on the subject of soy products, over the last couple of years, I have sampled various 'meatless' meat replacement products like veggie sausages, soy hot dogs, chicken-less chicken strips, tofurkey and the like. I don't like them for two reasons. First, I'm generally averse to frozen or processed composite food (meatless or otherwise) -- if at all possible, I like to cook my food from fresh ingredients so I know exactly what's on my plate. Second, these imitation meat products generally taste artificial, bland, mushy, or chewy. The vast majority of the products out there do not remotely taste like meat, or worst yet, taste like anything from nature.

Even though I don't like them, I have (begrudgingly) come to accept that they are important to a vegetarian diet and good for days when we're hungry and short on time.

So from now on, I will occasionally post my reviews of these imitation meat or cheese products. I will comment on their overall taste, texture and resemblance to meat. I guess I'm uniquely situated for this task since I regularly eat meat -- VB hasn't had meat in 9 (or 10, 11?) years; the taste of meat is probably a distant memory to him.

(photo courtesy of Food Frenzy and Adventures in Fake Meat)

To start off this new feature, today, I'm reviewing Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-less Sausage, which went on our sausage mushroom pizza. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I prepared the sausage according to package instruction -- by microwaving on high for 1 minute and 30 seconds. I sampled the sausage twice, both as-is and on the pizza. The texture was spot on -- not too mushy or too firm and very similar to medium cooked meat sausage. There was no casing on the sausage, so in that sense, it was dissimilar to a real sausage.

I thought it tasted pretty good as-is. It has a faint soy aftertaste, but not terribly obvious from the first bite that it's not meat. Despite being labeled as Italian sausage, it wasn't very spicy. It was notably bland on the pizza -- the flavors were overpowered by all the other ingredients.

Texture: 5 out of 5 stars
Taste: 4 out of 5 stars
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In A Nut Shell: As I ate it, I actually wondered if I accidentally bought meat sausages. I don't mind this on my pizza and I would certainly repurchase it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cat's Ear Noodles (Mao Er Duo 貓耳朵)

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This week is VB's birthday week, which is always filled with lots of his favorite foods. Last night, I made 'beef' noodle soup for him again. But this time, I thought I'd step it up a notch (it is his birthday week after all) and make noodle from scratch to go with the soup. This particular noodle is called mao er duo or cat's ear. No, it's not my friend Cat's ears or Tangerine's or Raisin's. It is a traditional Chinese noodle named for its resemblance to cat ears. In bizarre coincidence land, the Italians also call a similarly shaped pasta "small ear" (orecchiette). I'm not saying that we're the innovators and they're just the imitators... I'm only implying it. Please don't send me hate mail!!

Wherever the origin is, these noodles are delicious and -- for lack of a better word -- "toothsome." They "bounce back" as you chew them. Fair warning though, these take a bit of work. It's probably good to make ahead and refrigerate before use.

You'll need:
  • 2 1/3 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
Combine flour with salt and make a well in the middle of the flour. Pour cold water into the well. Mix into a slush and then slowly integrate the rest of the flour. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes by hand. No cheating! If one hand gets tired, use the other. The dough should be smooth and just a little bit tacky.

Cover the dough and let it relax for at least 15 minutes. Roll out the dough into a sheet that's about 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick. Use a knife and slice the dough into 1/4 inch squares. Take a square, and with your thumb, gently push down and forward on one corner until the pasta rolls up into a cone like shape. At this point, try to enlist some innocent bystanders to help you. Otherwise it's going to be awhile. Try not to put them in a big pile like I did -- they stick together. I learned the hard way.

Toss the pasta into boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. They will not float when they are done, so the timer is your best friend here. Pair them with your favorite broth or soup and you've got a delicious meal!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Grilled Polenta Cake

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We just got back from an extra indulgent weekend in Buffalo, where all things fatty and delicious were consumed. I had A LOT of chicken wings (Anchor Bar over Duff's -- I don't care what the Travel Channel says) while VB took down La Nova's famous Papa Joe's pizza. We both consumed glasses of robust Cabernet and enjoyed a beautiful weekend of fun and relaxation. But we're back to the grind now and facing the consequences of overeating all weekend long. So I decided to make something easy, delicious and skinny jeans friendly (for me; VB likes his bell bottoms just fine).

You'll need:
  • 1 cup of corn meal
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of dried herbs (try a combination of rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley and oregano)
Bring the vegetable stock to boil in a medium non-stick pot. Add salt and dried herbs. Slowly whisk in corn meal. Whisk vigorously for 5 minutes until the mixture starts to thicken. Turn heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Prepare a 8 x 11 oven proof baking dish by spraying it with non-stick spray. Pour the polenta mixture into the baking dish. Smooth out the top with a spatula. If the mixture sticks to the spatula (it will), spray the spatula with non-stick spray as well. Let it cool for 15 minutes before covering and chilling in the fridge, for about 1 to 2 hours.

When you're ready to grill, portion the polenta cakes. I got 8 slices out of my pan. Grill gently over medium high heat in a non-stick skillet or on a grill for about 5 minutes, or until browned. I served this with a side salad and some homemade marinara sauce.

I really like the smokey grill flavor and the crunchy crust. The creamy sweetness of the polenta cakes pairs really well with marinara sauce. The consistency reminds me of turnip cakes, but more creamy and less chunky. The best part? They are filling but don't have that many calories. This meal can't undo the whole weekend of gluttony, but at least it makes me feel less guilty about it.