Monday, December 20, 2010

The Difficulties of Risotto

Recipe: Winter Risotto with Butternut Squash and Broccolini

Risotto is one of those dishes that I never seem to get right. There are a few dishes in my repertoire, such as getting homemade bread to rise properly or really anything to do with baking, that no matter how many times I make it something always goes wrong. The procedure behind risotto is a fairly simple concept. Saute some garnish and arborio rice, reduce some wine, and add hot stock bit by bit until the rice is cooked. But you can add too much stock or not enough, cook the rice too fast or too slow, stir the pot too much or too little, and before you know it you wind up with a glutenous (or rock hard) mess without any idea of what you did (or didn't do) wrong (or right).

But Oh! When you get it right, risotto is an amazing dish. Comforting on cold winter days with a bit of braised parsnips and kale, relaxing on a spring afternoon and paired with asparagus and artichokes, refreshing in summer with roasted corn and tomatoes, and hearty for fall when eaten with a bite of squash. Creamy and chewy, aromatic and warm, risotto is that wonderful buttery comfort food that is perfect in every season.

My mother and I had consumed risotto many times at reputable restaurants across the country before we thought to make it at home. This was way before my professional cooking days, but after my "rainbow sprinkles on EVERYTHING" era. My mom and I were adventurous eaters, but needed some practice in the kitchen. Needless to say, our homemade risotto was TERRIBLE. We added way more stock than the recipe called for, but the rice was still terribly undercooked. I think we were so frustrated by the whole experience that we threw the rice in the garbage and ordered pizza.

Risotto is a laborious dish, and can be frustrating to the inexperienced. But don't give up! All it needs is a little gentle love, or as Otis Redding would say: "Try a little tenderness." I got it wrong many times before I got it right.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ode to the Local Butcher Tradition

Hey all,

Sorry I haven't posted in awhile. Its been a BUSY couple of weeks since Thanksgiving. I have a lot of recipes up my sleeve, that I will hopefully get to posting within the next couple of weeks. But for now I wanted to share a quick link. Apparently Rob Levitt, formally of Mado, is opening a butcher shop here in Chicago.

Most of you are probably thinking, "So what? This is a vegetarian blog, Dana. Why are you posting about THIS?" Well, I do eat meat if I think its from a sustainable source, and most often that source is from a farmer at the Green City Market. But, there is a new (old?) trend in the culinary world where reputable chefs and butchers are opening old school butcher shops. You know, like the kind you see in old movies, where the butcher gets in a whole cow and you can take your pick between all kinds of cuts of meat. Instead of the giant grocery stores who took over the meat market where your only cut choices are shrink wrapped steak or shrink wrapped ground beef.

Apparently people are finally starting to raise their eyebrows at the fact that all of our meat processing takes place behind closed doors. Now a demand for these kinds of neighborhood shops are growing louder. Maybe this will also create a larger demand for local sustainable meat. Rob Levitt claims his meat will be humanely raised and now we'll have the chance to ask him face to face. What do you think about the growing popularity of local butcher shops?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Curry in a Hurry or Whatever....

Recipe: Vegetarian Red Curry

I was in Japan the first time I had curry. (Seems as if I was in Japan the first time I had many things....) I remember the exact restaurant, in the Shinjuku district on the 2nd floor of a building with Bollywood music videos dancing on the walls. My friends, who were much more worldly than I, dragged me along to this restaurant and I approached the event with nervous anticipation much like a 15 year old girl about to go on her first date. Only I was a 20 year old girl and my date was with a aromatic (read: smelly) unfamiliar stew and my nervous stomach was filled less with butterflies and more with Delhi Belly.

I ordered the butter chicken curry with naan (Yes I remember exactly). As I took the first bites, of what I described at the time as "Indian Baby Food," my whole attitude changed. The sauce was aromatic (read: interesting), buttery, smooth, and satiating. The naan was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside with a wonderfully smokey after taste. OK India, you've got me, I thought. From that point forward, Indian food wasn't anything to be afraid of. I ate it every chance I got. I was hooked.

Later in the year, due to a two month break in classes, I got a chance to visit India. My friends and I young, adventurous, and stupid as we were, felt as if we had enough of Japan and wanted to see other parts of Asia. But really, I was going for the food. Our trip was filled of new culinary adventures of crunchy and spicy samosas from street vendors, squeaky paneer curries from classy restaurants, milky and hot chai tea from monasteries, or bread shared with strangers on a train. We tasted the spectrum of Indian food from highbrow to lowbrow, spiritual to downright devilish. Unfortunately for me, my stomach did not respond well to the unfamiliar. I came down with a real bout of Delhi Belly and towards the end of our three weeks in India, I could only stomach food from Chinese restaurants, toast, and lime sodas.

Regardless of how my journey ended, I will keep those memories with me for the rest of my life. Here is a simple version of an Indian curry, but trust me it is not authentic in the slightest. This is my interpretation of a simple vegetable curry, not some secret and ancient recipe. Hopefully it will be as nice to your belly as it was to mine.

There are many different kinds of curry from Indian, to Thai, to Japanese. This is my interpretation of curry with Thai and Indian influences, based on the ingredients I could find at my grocery store.

Vegetarian Red Curry
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, small diced
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
2 jalepenos, minced
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, medium diced
3 carrots, peeled and medium diced
1 Kabocha squash, peeled, seeds removed, medium diced
1 pound of crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 14 oz can coconut milk
2 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons red curry paste
2 tablespoons hot curry powder
1/2 bag spinach
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1. Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions, jalepenos, ginger, and garlic. Saute until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Add carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms. Saute 3 to 4 minutes. Add squash, coconut milk, vegetable stock, and seasonings. Bring curry to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Add spinach at the end, and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until spinach is wilted. Adjust seasonings.
3. Serve with cooked brown rice or naan.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pass the Tofurky?

Recipe: Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu

Ok. I have to be honest. I probably will have a little turkey on Thanksgiving. In fact I will probably be the one cooking it. But, my plate will be about 10% turkey and 90% delicious veggies and vegetarian. Honest! I have been doing a lot of thinking about what dishes I can cook for my family that doesn't involve meat. I know Thanksgiving is all about gluttony (not that there's anything wrong with that!) and that eating a ton of meat is what American gluttony is all about, but I think I can convince them that there is happiness to be found in veggies too.

The New York Time's Well Blog has a great article on Vegetarian Thanksgivings. They will be adding new recipes every day until Thanksgiving, and they have beautiful photographs. Using that site as inspiration, I have a few menu ideas of my own to bring to the table (so to speak). I have a lot of links and recipes in this post, s
o I'll keep my thoughts short and let the food speak for its self.

The Menu


Curried Cashews
1 pound unsalted raw cashews
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons canola oil

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Mix spices together. Heat canola oil in a small skillet. Add spices to pan and toast for one to two minutes until fragrant.
3. Toss spice mixture over cashews. Spread evenly on a sheet pan and toast nuts in oven for ten to fifteen minutes until nuts are golden brown.

Salads and Sides:

Simple Mixed Green Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette
1 bag spring mix
1 red onion, julienned
3 ripe bosc pears, thinly sliced
1/2 pound blue cheese, crumbled

For Vinaigrette:
1/2 gallon apple cider, reduced to 1 cup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons honey
3 cups olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Whisk reduced cider, vinegar, honey, and mustard together. Slowly whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Toss salad ingredients together in a large bowl. Dress salad with 1/4 cup vinaigrette just before serving. Reserve the rest of the vinaigrette for later.

Green Beans with Almonds and Lemon (VEGAN)
2 pounds green beans
1 cup almonds, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch green beans for 6-7 minutes until just tender. Drain and shock beans in ice water.
2. Heat oil in a large saute pan. Add garlic and saute one to two minutes. Add green beans almonds. Finish with a good squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Main Dishes:

Goat Cheese Macaroni Gratin
1 pound macaroni
5 cups whole milk
5 oz flour
5 oz butter
1 cup creamy goat cheese (try Capriole's Fresh or if you're in the Chicago area Prairie Fruits Farm has some great goat cheeses)
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons cayenne
1/2 baguette, small diced and toasted
1 bunch parsley, minced
1/2 cup parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook macaroni until al dente about 7-8 minutes. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Bring milk to a boil. In the meantime, melt butter in a large pot. Add flour to make a roux and cook for three to four minutes stirring constantly. Carefully whisk in hot milk. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low. Add nutmeg and cayenne and cook for twenty minutes stirring occasionally. When stirring, be sure to get the sides and the bottoms of the pot, as this sauce is prone to burning.
3. Whisk in goat cheese and season sauce with salt and pepper. Add noodles to sauce and put in a large casserole dish.
4. Mix together baguette toast bits, parsley, and parmesan. Sprinkle on top
of macaroni mixture and bake in oven for 30 - 40 minutes until dish is golden on top.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

What the *%#@! Should I Buy: How to Shop Vegetarian

Recipe: Fall Beet Salad

When I first decided to try out a vegetarian diet, the hardest part was grocery shopping. Previously, I would start at the meat counter and pick up whatever my belly craved. Then I would pick a few fruits and veggies (mainly apples and baby carrots) to nibble on in between the times I wasn't eating meat. Sometimes the meat would mingle with veggies in whatever recipe I made at the time (tomatoes in the chili, onions in the chicken noodle soup), but meat was always the star of the show.

So on the first day at the grocery store after I decided to eat little to no meat, I was a little confused and I kind of went crazy. I picked out a random assortment of vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, and grains and filled my fridge with produce that I didn't look at, let alone use, again. I was so lost without a protein to plan my meal around, that I lost focus, wasted money, and bought things that were more or less unappetizing to me. I almost lost it and went to KFC that week, that's how bad it was.

Now I'm a little more seasoned in my meatless shopping and while I still have a little vegetable ADD, I've created a few rules for myself that help keep my shopping focused and the meals I make taste good!

1. Buy seasonal. The flavors usually mesh well and the produce is going to be the most affordable and the best quality. And while you're doing that:
2. Go to the farmer's market as much as possible. You'll find some really interesting products there. I love the beautiful colors and varieties of produce that I am familiar with and I always find some new vegetable I've never worked with before. Try out new things to keep your diet exciting!
3. Buy a variety of textures, colors, and flavors. Don't just go for potatoes and sunchokes.... All your meals will taste mushy and bland. Pick out crunchy greens, fragrant cloves of garlic, bright and beautiful squashes.... It will add variety to the meal!
4. Avoid processed foods. One of the main reasons I am avoiding meat is for health reasons: I wanted to add more vegetables to my diet. If all you buy are chips, ice cream, and frozen meals then you haven't added much nutrients to the diet. Shop produce as much as possible and avoid other aisles.

Shopping seasonal is how I came up with this Fall Beet Salad. I came home from the store with some beautiful red and yellow beets, swiss chard, and more Brussels sprouts (I could eat those all day long). You'll find a variety of textures, flavors, and colors in this dish. Paired with a delicious lemon vinaigrette, this dish can be eaten hot or cold.

4-5 red and yellow Beets
1 cup white wine
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 bunch swiss chard, chopped
oil for roasting and cooking
1 onion, julienned
1 shallot minced
1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 cup champagne vinegar
3 cups olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

If eaten hot served with: 1/2 cup cooked brown rice

1. Preheat oven to 400. Wash beets and place in a roasting pan with wine, garlic, and enough water to come halfway up the beets. Cover with foil and roast in oven for 45 minutes to an hour depending on size of beets.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Par cook Brussels sprouts for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and shock in ice water and drain. Season with salt and pepper, toss in a good amount of oil and roast in oven with the beets until tender and caramelized about 20 minutes.
3. Caramelize onions over medium high heat until a golden brown color. Add chopped chard and sauté until greens are wilted, about 4 -5 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Once beets are done cooking, remove from oven and pan. Let cool for 10 minutes and peel the skin off the beets. This should be easy to do, you can use a clean kitchen towel to help you along. Cut into 1 inch cubes.
5. Mix minced shallots, lemon juice, champagne vinegar, thyme and honey together. While briskly whisking, slowly drizzle olive oil into vinegar mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Mix beets, Brussels sprouts, chard and onions, and vinaigrette together. Adjust seasonings and eat hot with cooked brown rice or cold.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Everyone's Favorite Food: Brussels Sprouts

Recipes: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Olive Oil and Garlic

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Sunchokes and Citrus Brown Butter with Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Yesterday at work I had to clean around 20 pounds of Brussels sprouts. (Side note: I love how "Brussels spouts" is written out. What other vegetable conjures up images of old world Europe, just in it's name? Nerd alert....) Cleaning 20 pounds of Brussels sprouts took about an hour, which gave me plenty of time to contemplate why people hate them so much. How exactly did Brussels sprouts get such a bad rap?

I first had a Brussels sprout was last year. Yes, I had made it through twenty-something years of life before a Brussels sprout had grazed past my lips. The real hater in my life is my fifty-something year old mother, who had such a bad experience with the sprouts when she was younger that she forever banned them from her adult life. Now her mother, my grandmother, was a notoriously bad cook. She botched every dish that touched her stove, allegedly. So its no wonder that her Brussels sprouts dishes were poorly executed. But, how bad could it be? Well, my mom gets a little queasy even at the thought of Brussels sprouts.

So, what a surprise when I liked my first Brussels sprout. No I didn't just like it. I LOVED it. I couldn't believe that all the bad things my mom had said about them were true. Not even my mom, but most of popular culture had given the Brussels sprout a bad name. They were crunchy and flavorful, fresh and nutty, and I loved how they look like mini cabbages. When I came home to visit shortly afterwords, I was armed with a bag full of Brussels sprouts aimed at changing my mom's opinion on the whole issue. She responded to my plea with a slightly green face and a firm shake of the head "no." Her fear of this inoffensive vegetable ran too deep.

There are a ton of cool things about Brussels sprouts. Here is a list I made:
1. They look like MINI CABBAGES. No way could you fit a whole regular sized cabbage in your mouth, but you can do it now.
2. They are delicious with bacon. (Wait did I say that? Wait is this blog called "Bacon NO MORE?" well shit.) They are delicious with organic, free range, grass-fed, farmer killed bacon, then.
3. They reduce the risk of cancer! Also, they have a high amount of vitamin K, C and lots of A, potassium (that that Bananas!), and some other vitamins and minerals that I don't really know what they are, but sound healthy.
4. They are filling. Its sort of like the Willy Wonka version of a vegetable. Because its a mini cabbage, its like a full meal packed in a bite-sized package. Kind of.

I think the reason that so many people have had such bad experiences with Brussels sprouts is that whoever cooked them (namely mothers everywhere) didn't do it properly. Brussels sprouts can be really bad if they are bland, undercooked, or both. The best way to extract flavor is by roasting or caramelizing the sprouts. This will bring out the nutty flavor. Just blanching the sprouts alone leaves you with a bland boring dish, but roasting will crisp the outside and give you better texture and flavor.

Here are two different ways of preparing Brussels sprouts (without bacon, wah wah). The first recipe can be used as a side dish to other entrees, and the second is meant as a complete meal.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Blanch Brussel sprouts in pot of water for 2 to 3 minutes or until par cooked. Remove and shock in ice water.
3. Toss Brussels sprouts in olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Spread evenly on a sheet pan and roast in oven for 8 to 10 minutes more until edges have browned and the Brussels sprouts are cooked fully. They should be tender yet with a little bite.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Sunchokes and Citrus Brown Butter with Mashed Sweet Potatoes

1 pound Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved
1 pound sunchokes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces (stored in acidulated water until ready to cook)
1 onion, julienned
1/2 stick of butter, cut into pieces
1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
For Mashed Sweet Potatoes:
2 sweet potatoes
1/4 cup of skim milk
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the Brussels sprouts next for another 2 minutes, remove and shock in ice water. Place sunchokes in preheated oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked fully.
2. Caramelize onions over medium-high heat. Remove from pan and caramelize Brussels Sprouts in same pan. Turn off heat and add onions and cooked sunchokes to pan.
3. To make sauce, brown butter in a frying pan over medium high heat. Once the milk solids have browned and the butter has a nutty aroma remove from heat and strain. Squeeze fresh lemon juice into butter and season with a little salt and pepper. Toss sauce over Brussels sprout mixture. Add parsley and adjust seasoning.

For the sweet potatoes:
1. Cook sweet potatoes whole in 400 oven until fork tender.
2. While the potatoes are cooking bring butter, milk, cayenne and ginger to a boil.
3. Remove potatoes from the oven and peel. Mash with a fork and mix with milk mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Crisco is 100% Vegan

Recipe: Whiskey Apple Pie

One more thing that I love about fall, besides the abundance of butternut squashes and pumpkins, is going apple picking. We used to go to The Elegant Farmer when I was younger, and I loved getting outside and picking my own food. I was so removed from knowing where my food came from, having only shopped for food at a local Pick 'N Save, that getting apples from an actual tree was such a novelty. I'm still pretty removed. I'm a city dweller and while I grew some herbs this summer and visited my local farmer's market a few times a month, the majority of my food still comes from a grocery store. So, I guess apple picking is still somewhat of a novelty for me.

Anyways, my boyfriend and I made the trek out the Michigan a few weekends ago to pick apples and drink some cider. It was a little disappointing because the only varieties available for picking were Golden Delicious and Red Delicious, which are usually my least favorite kind of apples. The Elegant Farmer usually had at least ten varieties to choose from, so maybe I'm spoiled. But, I have to say they were pretty tasty apples in any case. In the end we came home with about 5 pounds of apples, and at 80 cents a pound I think we made out pretty good.

Usually after apple picking, I come home and make a pie. You know, something delicious and full of butter or lard. This time, however, something was screaming inside of me to make a vegan pie. I am not well versed on vegan cooking, so a quick internet search showed that most recipes called for a soy-based margarine substitute instead of butter. I should let you all know right now that I am allergic to soy, so I have to stay away from any sort of un-natural dairy or meat substitutes. (More on this in a post to come. I have my opinions on these kinds of substitutes outside of my soy allergy.) Further research showed that Crisco and vegetable shortenings were an acceptable vegan substitute for butter or lard. I thought this was pretty awesome, since Crisco is familiar to me and I wouldn't have considered it as a proper vegan substitute. But closer inspection on the ingredient list showed this too contains soy. Thwarted again! But, on the other hand I had Crisco sitting in my cabinet just calling for me to use it. And I didn't think I would find another substitute for butter that didn't contain soy and since I already owned a container of Crisco I decided to ignore my soy allergy and use it. (So maybe I'm not the best at adhering to my soy allergy, but I am good at saving money.) Next time I'm just going with butter.

For the Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch salt
3/4 cups Crisco or other brand vegetable shortening
1/4 cup water

For the Filling:
3 pounds apples (such as Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, or Jonathan), peeled, cored and sliced 1/2 inch thick
8 oz sugar
2 oz water + 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 oz corn starch
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole all spice
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1/4 cup olive oil (or egg wash) for browning.
extra sugar for the top of the crust


For the dough:
1. Mix dry ingredients together and place in food processor. Add Crisco and water and mix until just combined.
2. Remove dough from processor and knead on a floured surface for one to minutes. Form into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for thirty minutes to an hour.

For the filling:
1. Place sugar in a clean saute pan and carefully pour 2 oz of water over the sugar until it dissolves. If need be add more sugar, but be careful to only add enough to make the sugar dissolve.
2. Cook over moderately high heat. Clean edges of pan gently with a clean pastry brush. Any crystals on the edge of the pan will destroy the caramel. Cook until the sugar becomes an amber color and immediately remove from heat.
3. Whisk in 2 tablespoons water to the caramel. Be careful this will cause the hot water to steam, but it will create a clear caramel sauce and stop the caramel from cooking further.
3. Pour caramel over sliced apples. Fold in the whiskey and the cornstarch.
4. Grind peppercorns, allspice, and cloves together in a spice grinder and add the spice mixture and the cinnamon to the apple mixture.

To assemble:
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into two equal pieces. Roll out the first half on a floured surface until it is just longer than the pan you are using. (I recommend using a 9 inch pie pan, so in this case you should roll the dough out to 12 inch diameter.) The dough should be around 1/4 inch thick, so roll it out until its the desired thickness and diameter.
3. Carefully place in a greased pie pan, and prick the bottom of the dough with a knife. Fill with apples.
4. Roll out 2nd crust to a 13 inch diameter and 1/4 inch thickness. You should have just enough dough. Place it on top of the pie and crimp the two layers of dough together. Trim off any excess. Make decorative slits in the middle of the pie so steam can escape. If you desire you can make a lattice.
5. Brush with olive oil. (If you have decided not to go vegan use an egg wash. I think it helps the crust achieve a better browning than oil.) Sprinkle with a little extra sugar.
6. Bake in oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the crust has become a beautiful golden brown color. If the edges of the crust are browning faster than the center you can wrap a little foil around the edges until the middle has browned.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Seaweed: Taste of the Ocean

Recipe: Udon Noodles in a Mushroom Broth

When I was in college, I spent a year abroad in Japan. I've always been a fan of Japanese food, but the food I experienced in Japan was entirely different than the American versions I was used to. For the most part Americans jumped on the sushi and teryiaki train and ignored all other aspects of Japanese cuisine. But my trip to Japan changed everything and I had a sort of culinary awakening. I discovered so many new flavors, ingredients, dishes, cuisines and I found myself inspired every day by the new foods I was cooking and eating. One of those ingredients was seaweed.

This month's issue of Saveur has a great article on nori, one of my favorite kinds of seaweed, and reading it made my mouth water. Yes I know that something a little bit more delectable like a cupcake or a barbecue would be a more appropriate thought to make my mouth water, but nori is a key ingredient in many of my favorite Japanese dishes. Onigiri, a ball of rice with a filling and wrapped in nori (kind of like a Japanese sandwich), sembe, a flavor of these rice crackers contains nori, and of course sushi.

There are also many other kinds of seaweed used in Japanese cuisine. Kombu is a dried kelp that is the basis for dashi, or Japanese stock. Wakame, is rehydrated and used as a garnish in soba and udon soups. Hijiki is a scrawny black seaweed that is best eaten in salads. All of these seaweeds bring a wonderfully salty and umami quality to the dishes they are part of, that it's almost as it you can taste the ocean. I'm not the biggest fan of fish, but seaweed brings me the flavor of the sea without the fishiness. The first time I ate seaweed, I was brought to an entirely new world (like a reverse Little Mermaid experience!)

And all this talk about seaweed got me thinking about a good Japanese noodle soup. Soba and udon soups use a flavorful dashi as their base and wakame or nori as a garnish. Many traditional ramens have some form of seaweed as a garnish too. And thinking about these noodle soups got my mouth to water once more and I had to make a delicious udon soup and broth.

Recipe: Udon Noodles in a Mushroom Broth

For the Broth:
1 piece Kombu
4 quarts water
1/2 pound mushrooms and stems, sliced
2 oz dried shittake mushrooms or other variety of dried mushrooms
1 onion, medium diced
3-4 stalks celery, medium diced
4 cloves garlic, whole, in husk
1/2 c soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 TBS chili oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 TBS ginger, minced
Salt and Pepper, To Taste

1 pound Udon (or soba) noodles, cooked al dente
1 head bok choy, large pieces - greens steamed, whites sauteed
2 pounds shittake mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
1 pound broccolini, steamed
3-4 carrots, cut into obliques, sauteed and seasoned with 1/4 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup mirin
Soft Boiled Eggs - 1 for every bowl of soup (Boil in Salted water for 5 minutes)
1 sheet nori (can use sushi nori), julienned

For the Soup:
1. Place kombu in water and slowly bring to a boil, about 30 - 45 minutes. Remove kombu once water has just come to a boil and discard. While kombu is coming to a boil, do vegetable and garnish prep work.
2.Add mushrooms, onion, celery, and garlic and simmer for 45 more minutes. Strain and flavor with soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar, chili oil, ginger, garlic, and salt and pepper. Adjust flavors as needed.
3. Place about a quarter to a half pound of noodles in a bowl. Arrange garnishes on top and pour hot broth over the soup. Slurp happily.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Shepherd's Pie...without the Shepherd

Recipe: Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

Ok. The thought of eating a stew without meat makes me shudder. What's the point of beef stew, without the beef? Saving a cow's life, lowering my risk of heart disease, blah blah blah. Give me some Beef Bourgogne and a fork! Then my conscience (or was it my wallet?) got the best of me, and I thought a stew might be the true test of how successful my vegetarian cooking is. I mean the meat really makes the stew, so tender, so delicious, but maybe I could make vegetables satisfy just as well as the meat does.

Generally speaking, the toughest part of the animal (shoulder, leg) is the best part to be stewed. Braising it in some sort of sauce for long hours on end tenderizes the meat and turns the sinewy bits into pure velvet. Not literally of course. What I mean is the meat has the soft luxurious melty qualities that float over your taste buds the way velvet floats over your skin. Smooth. In any case, I picked out the toughest vegetables to substitute for the tough cuts of meat: ROOT VEGETABLES.

Carrots, parsnips, celery root, potatoes...virtually any vegetable you can think of that grows underground is a root vegetable. They are great for braising because their texture is a lot harder than many other vegetables. Of course they aren't nearly as tough as say pork shoulder might be, so you don't have to cook them as long. Shorter cooking time is another bonus in vegetarian cooking.

For my stew experiment, I decided I wanted to try a vegetarian spin on Shepherd's Pie. (Technically Shepherd's Pie is a casserole, but I treated my vegetarian version like a stew.) A traditional Irish Shepherd's Pie calls for lamb or mutton, while many American versions use ground beef. Vegetables, such as peas, carrots, and onions, are mixed in with the meat and all of it is stewed together in some sort of sauce and baked with mashed potatoes on top.

For my vegetarian version I've used a variety of root vegetables, including carrots, turnips, and parsnips along with some other vegetables with a longer cooking time, cooked them in a red wine sauce, and spiced up the mashed potatoes with parsnips. I chose to use a flavorful red wine, something smoky and spicy to give the illusion that the stew contains meat. Ask the wine guy (or girl) at your local grocery store for a good recommendation. I used 2008 Bodegas Castano Monastrell Yecla Tinto which according to the internets is a relatively inexpensive Spanish wine that has a leathery and peppery taste. According to me, it had a medium intensity and was delicious to cook with and to drink.

For the Mashed Potatoes:
3 pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes, scrubbed well and skins on
1 pound Parsnips, medium diced
2 tablespoons Butter
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper

For the Stew:
2 Onions, medium diced
1 bunch Celery, medium diced
3/4 pound Brussels sprouts, stems removed and quartered
2 Turnips, medium diced
2 tablespoons Ginger, minced
4 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Dried Rosemary
2 tablespoons Dried Thyme
1 cup Red Wine, full bodied (such as a Shiraz or a Tempranillo)
3 1/2 cups Vegetable Stock
3 tablespoons Butter
3 tablespoons Flour
Salt and Pepper, to taste


For the Mashed Potatoes:
1. Fill a large pot with water and the potatoes. Place the potatoes in the water and slowly bring to a simmer. Cook the potatoes until tender. While potatoes are cooking, you can work on the rest of the stew.
2. Meanwhile, cook the parsnips in a pot of salted water until soft. Puree in a food processor.
3. Once the potatoes are done cooking, peel the skin off and mash with a ricer, potato masher, or fork. Mix with parsnip puree.
4. Melt the cream, butter, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon together and add to the potatoes and the parsnip mixture. Potatoes should be thick and fluffy enough to sit on top of the stew.

For the Stew:
1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
2. Blanch Brussels sprouts in a pot of salted boiling water just long enough to par-cook them, about 2 to 3 minutes.
3. In a large pot, melt the butter and caramelize onions, carrots, celery, and turnips over high heat, about 4 - 5 minutes. Add minced ginger and garlic, and sauté one minute longer. This should be done in small batches so that an even color can develop on all of your veggies.
4. Place all vegetables, including Brussels sprouts in a large cast iron pot or casserole dish. Add dried thyme, rosemary, and red wine. Reduce the wine down until it has almost all evaporated.
5. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Add vegetable stock and let cook until liquid has reduced slightly.
6. Spread mashed potatoes on top of the stew and place in the oven. cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes have browned and the liquid has thickened.
7. Eat and Enjoy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Most Beautiful Word In the English Language is Butternut

Recipes: Butternut Squash Soup with Celery and Apples
Vegetable Stock

Ah Fall. With the heat of those sultry summer days fading into blustery fall nights, my hunger for crisp and cool salads has turned into a craving for buttery steaming soups. After all, my cold-blooded body needs more than just sweaters and scarves to keep me warm.

My favorite kinds of soups around this time of year are actually not soups, but stews. Chili con carne (with extra carne!), beef bourgeon, beef barley, and a dish my mom calls "Dana Dinner," which is beef, carrots, and onions stewed together and served over mashed potatoes. These are the hearty meals that really warm a girl for the cold fall and winter months. Especially during fall my appetite revs up as if my body is preparing for hibernation. Just in case my coat isn't warm enough, I can add some extra layers from the inside out.

But, maybe all that red meat isn't so good for my heart. So I tried to come up with a soul-sastifying vegetarian soup that might be a good substitute for my beefy fall appetite.

Fall gives us some of the best flavors for cooking and eating. I love the fruits and vegetables that come in season this time of year more than any other season. Apples, multi-colored potatoes, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes. Don't forget th
e dried fruits and nuts that pair so well with the squashes. But perhaps the most delicious of all the fall veggies is the butternut squash. I know most people would argue that pumpkin is the quintessential fall flavor, but for me the butternut squash is more versatile. Pumpkins belong in the pie I eat on Thanksgiving, while butternut squashes can be eaten in soups, pastas, salads, stews,.... the list goes on. Also, you can substitute it for any recipe that calls for pumpkin and I find that it's a little easier to work with.

Butternuts (besides fun to say!) are high in potassium, vitamins A and C, and fiber. Because of the fiber they are going to keep your stomach full and happy, and the nutty flavor will satisfy your mouth. Other flavors that mix well with butternuts are apples, celery, fennel, almonds, parmesan, sage, cinnamon, tomatoes, Moroccan spices, etc.

Now, a butternut is not going to be any substitute for meat but it has a great flavor to savor all on its own. Maybe that's one of the real challenges of cutting meat out: enjoying the taste of vegetables without the addition of meat. In any case, I've come up a recipe for butternut squash soup that captures the essence of the squash. Now you can get acquainted with this delicious fall favorite all on your own.

Butternut Squash Soup with Celery and Apples

Vegetable Stock (recipe to follow) 8 cups
Olive Oil 1/4 cup
Medium Butternut Squash, peeled and pulp and seeds removed small diced 1
Apples, small diced 2 (I used Gala, but Granny Smith would be nice here too)
Celery, small diced 6-7 stalks
Medium Onion, small diced 1
Garlic, minced 4 cloves
Rice Wine Vinegar 1/4 cup
Cinnamon 2 tsp
Cayenne Pepper 1 TBS (I like it spicy, but add less if you prefer)
Salt and Pepper, TT

Garnish: Sauteed Sliced Mushrooms, Fried Celery Leaves or Fried Sage Leaves (Thank you MOM!), and Shaved Parmesan Cheese

(Obviously, if you omit the cheese the recipe will be Vegan)

1. Prep all the vegetables. Be sure to save mushroom stems and celery and onions ends for your vegetable stock. That way you won't waste as much and your vegetable stock will be delicious. Also you can save the leaves from the celery for your garnish.

2. Heat olive oil in a large pot. I used my Mom's cast iron pot and it was barely big enough, just to give you an idea of how large the pot needs to be. Add prepped vegetables (squash through garlic including apples) and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Add enough vegetable stock until it just covers the vegetables. You may not need to use all 8 cups of stock, depending on how many prepped vegetables you ended up with. Save the rest for thinning out the soup later. Cook over medium heat on a simmer until the vegetables are cooked.

3. While the soup is cooking, heat 1/4-1/2 cup of oil in a sauté pan over high heat. Fry celery leaves (or sage leaves) in the hot oil for 1 minute or until leaves crisp up. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. You can sauté the mushrooms at the same time.

4. When the vegetables are cooked, place soup in a blender or food processor and buzz until smooth. Depending on how long your machine is, blend the soup in batches making sure there is an even mix of vegetables and stock in the machine. Strain soup through a fine strainer into a clean pot.

5. Bring soup back up to a boil and add cinnamon, cayenne, vinegar, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings and thickness if necessary.

6. Place soup in bowl and serve with garnishes. Enjoy!

Water, cold 8 cups
Onion, small diced 1 Large
Carrots, chopped 3 (washed, can leave the peel on and you can use the ends)
Celery, chopped 1 stalk
Mushroom stems As many as you have!
Parsley Stems 3-6
Thyme, Fresh 5 sprigs
Peppercorns, Black 10
Bay Leaves 2
Cheese Cloth

1. In a large pot, bring the water and mirepoix up to a boil. Skim any scum from the top of the stock and reduce to a simmer.

2. In the cheese cloth, make a sachet out of the rest of the ingredients. Place in the stock and continue simmering for 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Strain into a clean pot. The stock should be clear and a dark-ish amber color.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Umami: The Fifth Taste

Recipe: Exotic Mushroom Tart

There are only five definable tastes that humans are able to recognize. Taste is different from flavor. While flavor is the inherent and distinctive quality of food that is perceived with our other senses, taste is defined as the sensation recognized in our brain as food comes into contact with our taste buds. While flavors are diverse and multiple, tastes are boiled down to a distinct five: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. It’s easy to recognize the first four tastes. Sweet is recognized as you bite into a pillowy cupcake or soft piece of dark chocolate. Salty is most apparent in a bag of potato chips, popcorn, or pretzels. Bitter is prominent in dark peppery greens and Sour is the taste you experience as you bite into a fresh lemon.

The previous four tastes are easily defined. Umami on the other-hand is unfamiliar. It comes from the Japanese word umai, meaning delicious, and is not easily translated into the English language. For me, it is the savory feeling of richness and fullness found in food.

In order to feel satiated after a meal, all of the tastes should be balanced in the dish. You can leave a meal hungry, if your tastebuds weren’t satisfied. Since umami is most commonly found in meat, that is why it’s hard to feel full after a vegetarian meal. But don’t fear my readers! Umami is found in vegetables and non-meat items too:



Soy Sauce



Aged and Fermented foods

I found the following recipe in Professional Vegetarian Cooking by Ken Bergeron. I’ve edited it significantly though so don’t go searching there if you’ve forgotten my website. It is the perfect umami meal. The meatiness of the mushrooms, mixed with the wine and the soy sauce, will make your forget the absence of meat in this meal. Enjoy it with some sautéed dandelion greens with caramelized onions and tomatoes. Dandelion greens are deliciously bitter, but the sweetness of the tomato helps your taste buds deal with the bitterness. Finish it up with a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper, and you’ve got a balance of tastes that will satisfy your palate and your stomach.

Exotic Mushroom Tart


For the pie dough:

AP Flour 12 oz

Salt 1 ½ tsp

Butter, chilled 6 oz

2 eggs

4 tsp water

½ cup mixed fresh herbs (I used thyme and parsley from my garden, but use whatever you want. Have fun!)

2 cups Parmesan

Egg Wash

Vegan option: Omit the eggs and the parmesan and substitute ½ cup Vegetable Shortening for the butter

For the Filling:

Onions, small diced 1 ½ cup

Carrots, small diced 1 ½ cups

Parsnips, small diced 1 ½ cups

Shallots, minced ¼ cup

Olive oil 2 TBS

White Wine, dry ½ cup

Exotic Mushrooms, such as shitake, oyster, enoki, lobster 10 cups

Fresh Thyme 2 TBS

Fresh Rosemary 2 TBS

Soy Sauce 2 TBS

Salt, Pepper To Taste

Note: To save on money, you can buy more of a cheaper variety of mushrooms (such as baby bella or button) to mix with the exotic mushrooms. The flavor won’t change much, but you’ll still get to enjoy the expensive ones!


For the pie dough

1. Mix the flour and salt together.

2. Cut the butter into small cubes. Mix it in with the flour salt mixture, using your fingertips, until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the herbs.

3. Making a well in the center, mix in the water and eggs until the dough just comes together. Add more water if too dry. The dough should not be too sticky, so be careful.

4. Kneed out on a floured surface until the dough is smooth, about 1 minute.

5. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes until use. Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

For the filling:

6. Sauté the onions, carrots, parsnips and shallots with the olive oil for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté another two minutes. Add the white wine and let it reduce to au sec (or almost dry.)

7. Add the remaining ingredients and sauté another 5 minutes, or until almost all the juices have evaporated. If the filling is too wet it will make the tarts soggy.

To assemble:

8. Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out dough on a floured surface until it is between ¼ - 1/8 inch thick. Using a 6-inch cookie cutter or other circular object with a 6-inch diameter (I used a cup), cut out circles and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can continue to roll out the dough as much as you need to until most of it is used up. If the dough gets too warm, place it back in the fridge to chill it down again.

9. Fill the circles with ¼ to a ½ cup of the mushroom mixture. Crimp the edges of the circle up, until it looks like a cute little coin purse. Brush the circles with the egg wash (Vegan substitute: use oil), and sprinkle with the parmesan.

10. Bake until the crust is a deep golden brown. Eat and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bacon No More - First Post!

To preface, I am not a vegetarian. In fact I have no intention of ever becoming a vegetarian. I simply love meat too much. I love the flavor, the texture, and the satisfying feeling of satiation that only a meat-filled meal can give. Meat has always been the central component in our family meals. Life would not be worth living without the Fourth of July Hamburger, Thanksgiving Turkey, or Christmas Ham. Or bacon for that matter.

Yet, despite all the reasons to love meat, I question why it is such a necessity in my life. Why does an animal need to loose its life, in order for my family to have a successful Thanksgiving? Maybe I have been reading too many books such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, but damn the life (and death) of a farmed animal sounds brutal. I can’t help but wonder what those animals must be feeling in those moments before death, whether they be killed in a humane or inhumane way. I do feel a certain connection to animals, and I’ve always had trouble separating that connection from the food on my plate. Then, I remind myself that eating meat is just part of the circle of life, and plus it’s delicious!

So I am left with, as Michael Pollan says, an “ominvore’s dilemma.” I can continue eating meat and wildly ignore the horrible way it got to my table. I can cut meat out of my diet and be slightly miserable forgoing things like sweet, smoky, crunchy, delicious bacon. Or, I can do what I am trying to do, only eat meat that I know has come from a humane, sustainable source. Though I feel that this is going to be very, very hard. I expect failure. But, I'm still going to try.

This choice brings some problems. I am a poor twenty-something recent college graduate, and I don’t quite have the money to eat grass-fed organic straight-from-the-farm kind of beef that I desire. Also, there is no way to guarantee that the meat I eat at restaurants follows my dietary choices. So, I have no choice but to eat more vegetables. But, a steak is not an even trade for a salad. How am I supposed to feel full on a meal of carrots and spring mix?

That’s why I’m here. To create recipes for other like-minded meat-lovers who might want to try an alternate diet. Recipes that are flavorful, satiating, and overall so good that you won’t miss the meat on your plate. But don’t expect meat to be missing from this blog, entirely. When I find some affordable sustainable humane meat (and the source can be guaranteed), I’ll put it on my plate and share how I did it.