Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hmmm, on second thought…

I was approached by a coworker today about bringing a dish in for our holiday luncheon. I could either do this or donate a dollar amount. I immediately realized this was an excellent opportunity to expose more of my circle of friends to vegan food!

One dish that I can eat over and over is ‘Creamy Macaroni and Cashew Cheese’ from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s ‘The Vegan Table’.

A friend of mine (who I have made this dish for before and thoroughly enjoyed it) overheard me offer this dish up and commented, “Well, you can’t really call it cheese” in a halfway joking manner.

I then started to quasi-defend it (only because we have this type of good-natured, sarcastic relationship) and replied with this :

“Well, the ‘cheese’ that is referred to in ‘Macaroni & Cheese’ is typically from a cow, but we don’t call it ‘Macaroni & Cow Cheese’ or ‘Macaroni & Dairy Cheese’, so the cheese can be looked at as a general term. Cheese is a product of milk, and we can get milk from a variety of sources…nuts being one of them (NOTE: Please forgive me if I am not completely 100% precise, but I figured I was close enough for the sake of the discussion). So I guess you could say that I am bringing ‘Macaroni & Nut Cheese’ to be more precise.”

No sooner than did these words come out of my mouth, that I realized just how this sounded.

Now, I know that some people can be turned off by their perception of vegan food, but I don’t have to help at all by offering them some of my “nut cheese”.

P.S. Colleen, I am sorry to have dragged your good name into this sophmoric story.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Tale of Two (Vegan) Thanksgivings

It is a long held tradition in my family that we have our Thanksgiving on the Sunday before the official Thanksgiving. It was started long ago as my parents ran a farm and didn’t really have holidays per se. I guess it doesn’t really matter what the business was, if you own it, then calling in sick and taking vacation is not a viable option to often.

Nevertheless, this tradition still holds after more than 25 years since my parents sold the farm.

I try to help out in providing food as my 80+ year old mother should not be held responsible for feeding upwards of 20 mouth that have a hard time staying shut (present company NOT excluded).

I’ve been exposing my family to my vegan cooking gradually over the past year. Some dishes have been hits and some have been misses. I can’t really say that I improved my win-loss percentage with this latest attempt (2 wins and 2 losses…which could almost be considered 2 draws instead) but I believe that I did accomplish something worthy…that I can (at some undetermined point in the future) host my own Thanksgiving and satisfy just about everyone.

Through Erik Marcus’s website I have been exposed to a veritable gold mine of information. Most recently, some amazing recipes from Robin Robertson. Mr. Marcus posted links to her 2008 & 2009 Thanksgiving recipe collection.

Although I wanted to make and eat them all I carefully chose 4 to present to my family:

Roasted Wheatmeat
with Oyster Mushroom and “Sausage” Stuffing
Brown Gravy
Garlic Smashers
Ginger-Dusted Pumpkin Cheezecake

I made a trial version of the seitan & stuffing last Friday night for my live-in food critic (which she responded to with rave reviews). I assumed some factor of safety and waited until Sunday morning to make the gravy, smashers and cheesecake (which proved to be a good assumption on my part).

So, a few people tried the seitan (my sister even asked to take some home), more enjoyed the mashed potato, no one consumed the gravy (only because I neglected to pass it…oops) and everyone who sampled the cheezecake became wide-eyed and displayed an expression reminiscent to that of a teenage boy watching his prom date descend the staircase (which apparently only happened in Disney movies from the 1970’s).

I made these same dishes 4 days later for my wife's family on Thanksgiving, but with not much better of an acceptance percentage. I must given my test subjects the benefit of the doubt though. Many of these dishes are my first try at them and they are being compared to dishes that they have been eating for almost 50 years.

But I won't give up, I'll keep on coming back. After all, Christmas dinner is coming up soon...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New England "Clam" Chowder

I have an old recipe for New England Clam Chowder from a previous life. It was always a hit at parties, but for obvious reasons I haven’t made it in quite a while, but over the weekend I decided to give it another shot.

I picked up some MimicCreme at the Vegetarian Expo in Saratoga Springs, NY this fall in anticipation of re-structuring my old recipe.

Here is what I came up with:

2 packages of mushrooms (I used a medley of oyster, cremini & porcini)
3 large carrots (washed, peeled & diced)
6 stalks of celery (washed, peeled & diced)
1 onion (diced)
2 cans of sliced potatoes (drained)
32 oz MimicCreme

I sautéed the mushrooms in some Earth Balance until they had “wilted” a bit (do mushrooms wilt?) and then set to the side while I sautéed the carrots, celery & onions in some canola oil (as with most other recipes, I let them go until the onions were translucent).

I threw all o f the sautéed ingredients in a large pot with the MimicCreme & potatoes. I added a few drops of liquid smoke (my previous recipe called for bacon, hence the smoke). I covered the pot and let simmer on medium low for about 20 minutes.

I checked (and stirred) it often as this was the first time I had worked with MimicCreme and didn’t know what to expect.

The final product passed the test I value the most…my wife’s delicate palette. She answered my question of “How is it?” with the eyes of a child on Christmas morning. I took this as a positive response.

Normally I would toss a few handfuls of oyster crackers in but the pantry was bare. What I found out was even better was some Italian bread with some Earth Balance spread...mmmm.

Friday, November 13, 2009

They say it's the most important meal of the day

I've come up with a new favorite for breakfast.

If I don't eat a good breakfast my mornings typically result in me staring blankly at the vending machine by 10 o'clock...and that never turns out well.

Lately I've been using a recipe that borrows from a few differnt sources. I really enjoy the breakfast burrito from Nancy Berkoff's Vegan Menu for People With Diabetes and I found a great recipe for a vegan sausage & "egg" sandwich on VegFamily Vegan Forums that is delicious.

After combing a little from both and a little something else, here is what I ended up with:

1 tube of polenta

1 package of extra firm tofu (diced)

2 tbs of white vinegar

1 tube of Vegan Sausage

1/2 package of hashbrowns

black salt

vegan cheese

10" tortillas

I prepared the polenta & tofu (as suggested by the recipe from the VegFamily Forum) by bringing the tofu, 2 tbs of vinegar & 6 cups of water to a boil for 2 minutes. I then drained the tofu and let it dry & cool on some paper towels for a few minutes. While the tofu was boiling I diced up the polenta into 1/2" wide pieces and microwaved them to soften them up a bit.

After all of that had cooled a little I mashed them together in a bowl.

I then broke the "sausage" up into bite sizes pieces and fried them up in some oil in a skillet over medium heat (maybe 5 minutes). When they were done I added the polenta & tofu mixture and let go for another 5 minutes stirring and blending together.

After this I took a half bag of hashbrowns and prepared them as suggested.

When all of this was done I mixed all of the ingredients together. I then placed a heaping serving spoonful of this mixture onto a tortilla with a little bit of nutritional yeast, some black salt, and some vegan cheese (I've been using Diaya lately).

I wrapped them up individually in some tin foil and I soon had enough for my wife & me for the rest of the week (about 10 in all).

4 days into this and I've yet to grow tired of them.

What I like best is the classics tastes from my childhood all wrapped up in a neat little package that really holds me over until lunch.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Pleasant Surprise

Just recently, my wife & I attended an event held at a renovated estate that is hosts many formal events.

We knew that the menu was most likely “fixed” and, assuming that, would almost certainly be animal-based.

We, being vegan, were perplexed at first. Do we attend and eat whatever we could deem as suitable (for us)? Do we eat “our” meal before hand? What to do, what to do?

Fortunately, my wife took the initiative and called the business, explained our food related concerns and, after a few emails, we were told that we could easily be accommodated and were instructed to contact a certain person upon arrival.

I should back up and say that my wife also made it clear that were in no way demanding that we be treated special. Also, we did not want to be the reason that the host & hostess accrued any extra cost due to use. Likewise, we knew that they would be charged for “a” meal for us and it would be money lost if it was not eaten.

So, instead of an “attitude” from the caterer, we were pleasantly surprised with a seemingly joy to be able to this for us. They went above and beyond to make sure that we were provided with not only a vegan meal but delicious vegan appetizers during the cocktail hour.

The wait staff continually checked in with us asking how the dishes were and we more than eager to tell them and anyone who had a hand in the dishes just how amazing they were. We actually felt a tinge bit of guilt as our dishes were much tastier than what the rest of guests had.

Actually, I paid little attention to what everyone else ate, but I did see the standard bacon-wrapped scallops and meat kabobs. What we had the pleasures of eating were dishes such as:

Cocktail Hour
Marinated tofu kabobs,
Spicy portabella mushroom burgers,
Grilled & chilled vegetables (asparagus, orange peppers & eggplant) &

Spinach salad with toasted walnuts and balsamic dressing
Vegetable lasagna (a lasagna like I’ve never had before…with no pasta!)

What was also amazing was that the wait staff presented each dish to us with intimate knowledge of the contents. It seemed like they actually knew what vegan was (they took great pleasure in pointing out that the breads were dairy-free).

We made sure that everyone there knew just how much we appreciated the service and we even asked (if the Chef would oblige) for recipes of all of the outstand dishes.
A gracious thank note is on the way!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Simple Beauty (and Therapeutic Value) of an English Muffin

I became more and more discouraged as I was browsing the aisles of our local supermarket in search of “suitable” English muffins.

The selection was slim and the ingredient lists read like a college chemistry text book (a class I disliked both times I took it). It then hit me…"Make them yourself, idiot!" (my inner-self can be rude sometimes).

I ceased my shopping banking on the dimmer of a hope that I had all of the ingredients necessary in my pantry. This time, luck was on my side. I flipped to the required page in Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s “Vegan Brunch" and found that it called for only 6 ingredients (not counting the one flowing from my kitchen sink tap).

I almost stopped as I “felt” I didn’t have the time to assemble the dough and then (gasp) wait for it to rise, let alone all of the other steps (2 more after the dough was ready).

It was at this time that my inner-self made his presence known again…this time he used an explicative that I choose not to repeat. “I” decided it wasn’t really that much time so I soldiered on.

The dough came together quickly and I spent the next 6-10 minutes kneading it. It’s funny how words can tell you more than what you assume. Only a minute into this process I realized just how much I “kneaded” this.

I wouldn’t say that I had a particularly bad day but I felt this day just wore on me a little more than others. As I was working the dough I felt a sense of calm come over me. It felt good…in a lot of ways. I was focused on the dough, yet my mind was a million miles away. I thought about calling my sister up and sharing with her that I finally did what she’s been doing for years.

I was actually proud of the finished product and could not wait to make some more (which I plan on doing tonight).

When it was all said and done I had an English muffin tastier and “prettier” far beyond what I could have purchased in the store. I also felt that I had shed most of the day’s worries away as well.

Before I thought I didn’t have the time. After, I felt that the time had sped past me in a blur.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Through the Twitter-sphere (not quite sure if that's a word...yet) I heard that Dr. Colin Campbell was going to be on Larry King Monday night so I set up the DVR. It wasn't until last night that my wife & I sat down to watch it. Actually, my wife watched a little bit Monday night and was anxious for my reaction to some of the comments.

The show was based on the "need" to eat meat (ground beef morely) in light of recent (and not-so-recent) deaths caused by e. coli. Larry had a panel conisting of two mothers, a grandmother and a lawyer (for one of the mothers). They were urging for more public awareness about what (harm) e. coli can do and how some producers of ground beef contribute to e coli becoming present in peoples' "food".

I had no real problems with what these people shared and feel bad for their loses.
What drew my interest was the dialog provided by the additional guests: Dr. Colin Campbell, Dr. Nancy Rodriguez, Chef Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Safran Foer.

Now I know that these people are restricted in the time in which they can answer questions, but out of the 4 I'd have to say that Dr. Campbell provided the clearest, most rational statements (and yes, I am what?).

Dr. Rodriguez appeared to be reading the same teleprompter over and over and over offering the public not much in information...just possibly causing some people to speculate who exactly funds her research.

Chef Bourdain, on the other hand very clearly spoke from his heart and offered nuggets of wisdom such as these:

BOURDAIN: I think we're -- if you look at our basic design, we are designed -- our design features are we have eyes in the front of our head. We have fingernails. We have eye, teeth and long legs. We were designed from the get-go, we have evolved, so that we could chase down smaller, stupider creatures, kill them and eat them.

BOURDAIN: Well, first, it's a silly argument. Cargill is America's largest single company, I believe. To blithely talk about, well, we can replace it with lettuce growing I think is a little ridiculous.

BOURDAIN: That said, I would counter Jonathan's argument just with one word: bacon. It's so delicious.

There's nothing I could possibly add to his argument...

I wasn't really that surprised that the ethical reasons for not eating meat weren't touched upon. I find that the mainstream media is real hesitant to even broach this subject. What does amaze me is that with all of the evidence that not only supports a plant-based diet being healthier for you and but clearly indicates that a diet "enriched" with animals leads to many types of disease, that people still just...don't...get it.

Tuesday night in the kitchen

We found a recipe in the Farm & Garden section of Saturday's newspaper for Zucchini Casserole. It was a fairly easy recipe to follow. Basically it was 4 slices of cubed bread covered in 2 tbsp of butter (I used Earth Balance). I then added sliced & chopped zucchini, onion, green pepper, red pepper and tomatoes. I then covered all of that with some sliced Cheezly mozzarella.

1 hour and 350 degrees later, voila!

While that was baking I thought I would tackle a recipe I received via my VegNews newsletter. It was Pasta e Fagioli and looked waaay too good to pass up. Another simple yet tasty recipe.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vegan TV?

I watch a fair amount of TV.

For the past 6 months or so my favorites are (in no particular order):
Good Eats
The Next Food Network Star
Top Chef (& Top Chef Masters)
Iron Chef America (& The Next Iron Chef)
Jamie at Home
Hell’s Kitchen

After not too long, I noticed a trend…practically no meal was without a dead animal. Oh, sure a couple of the challenges were vegetarian and one was even vegan (gasp!) but a majority of the chefs went right to the old eggplant lasagna…oh my, how creative. It also seemed that the vegetarian challenges were framed as "a pain in the ass" or "tasteless".

It’s just amazing that the professionals get to this point in their careers and can’t figure out for the life of them how to prepare a tasty meal without any animal products.

I’ve daydreamed that I get on one of these shows (not that I’m even close to being that good…the light from the village of good chefs takes 1.5 million years to reach me) and “amaze” them when I make a cream sauce from cashews, water, lemon, olive oil & garlic or a cheese cake with tofu. But then I realize that I wouldn’t last one elimination round as I would not use the mandatory “proteins”.

I used to wonder why there weren’t more vegetarian based cooking shows (I know, a vegan cooking show is a long shot) but then you look at the sponsors for most of the shows and you find your answer.

It’s definitely not that vegan or vegetarian cooking lacks flavor as I’ve even managed to wow the omnivores that I work with, hang out with or are related to with the dishes I’ve prepared.

It’s also not for a lack of talent that these shows aren’t being produced…just look at Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Sarah Kramer (just to name a few).

Maybe it’s just not meant to be.

There’s always other ways to spread the word…

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chapter 1

I've had this dream lately of opening a restaurant and calling it "Veganomenon". It would be through this restaurant that I would share all of the amazing tastes that I have discovered since I've decided to become more aligned with a vegan lifestyle.

While this dream will maintain its status (as a dream) for most likely quite a few years, I have decided to do the next best thing and start this blog. This will still allow me to share everything I have learned and yet to learn.