Friday, March 8, 2013

Relapse link dump

I am up to my tits in relapse, people.  I'll have more to say about this, but for the moment, here are links to some posts that are really speaking to me today:

Does it really hurt to have something just once?

Does "everything in moderation" work?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Another health food "vegan" is now a health food "ex-vegan"

Bleargh.  Via Vegansaurus, we learn that Alex Jamieson, as in "Healthy Chef Alex," as in "I tried to leverage my boyfriend's fame after he ate nothing but McDonald's for a month," is no longer vegan.

Suh.  Nore.

Here's the thing:  Alex tells us she went "vegan" for her health.  Tl; dr:  me, me, me, me, me.  Then she decided that "living her truth" (ew) meant eating dead things.  Again:  me, me, me, me, me.  She's part of a deeply boring trend:  people who go "vegan" for their health decide something else would be healthier, and then become "ex-vegans."  I keep putting "vegan" in quotation marks because by definition, veganism is not about health.  It's about not exploiting animals.  It's not about me.  It's about them.

I think maybe Alex needs to read her own web site.  Maybe the part where she talks about being "a complete slave" to her junk food cravings.   Somehow those cravings were bad, but cravings for dead animals are all about "living her truth."

Now me, I'm an addict.  And here's what addicts know:  feelings are not facts.  And your brain can lie to you.  If "listening to your body" means listening to your addict brain, then listening to your body can kill you.

I suppose this all sounds easy for me to say, because in my own case, going vegan did make me healthier.  I've never tried the perfect, most-health-promoting-possible omnivore diet (assuming there is such a thing), nor am I following the perfect,  most-health-promoting-possible vegan diet (again, assuming . . . . ), so I'm not comparing those two hypotheticals, but I can tell you from experience that eliminating animal products from my highly imperfect, junky ovo-lacto-fisho diet immediately improved my health according to a bunch of  objective markers, like blood sugar and cholesterol.  So yay.  No conflict between health and ethics here.

But what if your health and your ethics do seem to be in conflict?  I suggest going beyond "your truth" and looking at some science.   You know, the truth of a whole bunch of people, validated through replicable experiments.  That truth.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I had such a good time at the potluck Sunday!

I first discovered potlucks when I was in college.  I was a vegetarian back then, and I hung out at the food co-op a lot, so the potlucks were all with kind of a hippie crowd.  Everything was always vegetarian, and pretty much on the crunchy granola side of things.  I think I assumed all potlucks were like that.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Lunch

I have a bunch of cookbook reviews on deck, but until then, here for your delectation is today's lunch:  chipotle baked tofu from Vegan Eats World, yellow garlic rice from Viva Vegan, and  "kaleidoscope chard" from Trader Joe's, cooked according to the directions on the package.  All the colors made me so happy.


Recipe of the day: Greek bean salad

I'm going to a potluck dinner tonight and was asked to bring "protein," so I invented the following salad.  I'm calling it Greek because I'm using Greek dressing, and because of the kalamata olives.

Greek Bean Salad


1 cup dry black beans
1 cup dry chick peas
1 cup dry red kidney beans
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 green bell peppers, finely diced
About 4 oz pitted kalamata olives, sliced in rings

Dressing (very slightly adapted from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook):

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
Soak the beans overnight, then drain, add fresh water to cover, and simmer until cooked to your liking.  For best results, cook each type of bean in a separate pot.  Or you can do what I did, and cook the kidney beans and chick peas in one pot, and the black beans in a second pot.  Your chick peas will turn pink, but at least everything won't be stained purple from the black beans.  Drain the cooked beans, rinse them in cold water, and combine in a big bowl in the refrigerator to cool off.  If you don't want to cook your own beans, you could substitute two 15-ounce cans of each type of bean, drained and rinsed.

Once the beans have cooled off, add the other salad ingredients to the bowl and stir.  Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar, shake it up, pour it over the salad, and stir until salad is evenly coated with dressing.  Keep this at room temperature until ready to serve, so the olive oil doesn't solidify and get yucky.  Om nom nom.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Vegan. Girl. Scout. Cookies.

You heard me.

File this one under "information I wish I didn't have."  One of the two manufacturers of Girl Scout cookies makes vegan Thin Mints and something called Thanks-a-lot, which did not exist when I was a Girl Scout but are also vegan.  They also make a version of Tagalongs that are not labelled "vegan", but I didn't see anything non-vegan on the label (maybe it's in the natural or artificial flavors?).  Thanks to The Laziest Vegans in the World, I now have this dangerous information.  And our secretary sells Girl Scout Cookies for her granddaughter's troop every year.

At least they aren't making vegan Samoas -- yet.  That would just be too much to bear.

Fuel for the engine

I've been going to the gym every day for over a month now, and I'm hungry.  Want.  Food.  The problem is, I am really bad at discerning whether my body actually needs food or something else is going on that my brain is translating into "hunger" because eating is my default coping mechanism.  I'm even worse at discerning when I've had "enough."  There is no such thing as enough -- there's not enough, and then there's too much, but there's never enough.  So I rely on my food plan to assure me that I am not going to starve to death and can get on with my day until it's time for another meal.  I am losing weight -- have lost about 10 pounds since New Year's Eve -- but it doesn't seem excessive and I'm now at the top end of "normal" (whatever that means), so theoretically either staying the same or losing more would be OK.  But I'm hungry.  And when I'm hungry, I make regrettable decisions, like treating leftover coconut cream (hardened in the refrigerator) as an hors d'oeuvre.    

So I emailed my nutritionist this morning and asked her what she thought I should do. I asked for help from someone who knows more than I do (and in the process, acknowledged the existence of people who know more than I do, which is not always easy for me).  And while I'm waiting to hear from her, I'll keep doing what I'm doing and remind myself that I'm not starving to death.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Improvised slow cooker posole

Posole (or if you prefer, pozole) is one of the foods I discovered when we visited the Southwest last fall.  It's a soup made with chile, hominy, and, traditionally, something dead.  According to Wikipedia, the original posole was made by the Aztecs and included meat from human sacrifices.  Ew.  After the Conquistadors arrived there were no more human sacrifices, so people used pork, the other white meat.  Still ew.  I make mine with beans -- in this most recent instance, cute little Sangre de Toro beans.

The hardest thing about making posole on the east coast is finding dried hominy.  Canned hominy is easy to find, but canned hominy is gross.  The first posole I made was with blue corn hominy I found at Whole Foods in  Santa Fe.  I haven't been able to find that here.  The closest I've come is at our local mercado latino, where I found Goya brand white and golden hominy, which according to the people at Wegman's (where I searched in vain) is positively loaded with iron.  Who knew?  Goya hominy is not whole kernels, it's cracked, so it's not nearly as dramatic looking, but unless I'm going to nixtamalize my own corn it appears to be the best I can do.

One thing about making posole -- even after you soak it overnight, the hominy takes forever to cook.  Hours.  Longer than beans.   So this time, I decided to try making it in the slow cooker.  I soaked a pound of hominy and a pound of beans overnight, then the next morning I put them in my biggest slow cooker crock with an onion, a bunch of ancho chile powder, some Mexican oregano, a little cumin, and water to fill the crock.  Lots of water.  Plenty of water.  Or so I thought. 

When I got home from work, the corn and beans had slurped up all the water.  Instead of soup, I had a big pot of stew thick enough to stand a spoon up in.  Fortunately, it didn't stick to the crock.

I suppose I could have added some broth and tried to soupify it, but I decided just to eat it as is: 

That's garnished with raw cabbage, a raw bell pepper, guacamole, and a lime wedge.  It was kind of bland the first day, so I added some of my new favorite commercial spice blend, Trader Joe's South African Smoke.  Over the next day or two, the flavors developed, and it was perfect as is.

My girlfriend doesn't like posole -- I think she had a bad experience with canned hominy as a child -- so I ended up eating the whole pot myself, mostly for breakfast.  I didn't intend to make a stew rather than a soup, but I might actually prefer it this way.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Greek salad with tofeta

After the success of the cheezy broccoli soup, I was leafing through The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook to see if there was anything else I wanted to try.  I've had that book for a while, but I tend to make the same couple of recipes.  We came across the recipe for "betta feta" made with tofu, which to me has always just sounded way too weird, but feta is one of the things my girlfriend misses from pregan days, so she decided to make a batch.  It sat in the refrigerator in its brine (made from salt, water, miso, and vinegar) for a week, and we faithfully shook it up every day.  On Saturday I mixed up some Greek diner-style vinaigrette, and we had Greek salad for lunch:

The tofu even crumbles like feta.  It kind of freaked me out a little bit:

Does it taste like feta?  Not quite, but to someone who hasn't eaten feta for years it seemed pretty darn close, especially when I ate it combined with the vegetables and vinaigrette.  I added some cold brown rice for starch, and this made a complete meal.

We have enough left over for a few more salads, and will probably make this again, maybe in the summer when we can get real tomatoes at the farmer's market.

Monday, February 11, 2013

International spice blend extravaganza

I've said before that I like to make my own spice blends.  The quality is so much better, and when you buy your whole spices at your local Indian grocery store, you save a ton of money.  I've made several different blends from my favorite 660 Curries,   and I recently decided to have a spice blend party and make some from Vegan Eats World, too.  Once you've got a good supply of whole spices in the house, all you need are a frying pan and a coffee grinder to make just about any spice blend you can think of.  And the toasting spices make the house smell great.

This is my all-time favorite, Punjabi garam masala (what most people just call "garam masala," but I learned from my boyfriend Raghavan Iyer that there are many different garam masalas), from 660 Curries:

before toasting . . . .

. . . . and after.

My masala-making got kicked up a notch when I finally discovered black cardamom pods, or as I like to call them, rat turds:

I wanted to try some recipes from Vegan Eats World, so I made two more spice blends.  This is baharat, a seven-spice Persian blend that bears some resemblance to garam masala, but is heavier on the peppercorns:

And this is the Ethiopian classic, berbere.  First you toast some whole spices:

And then after you grind those up, you add a bunch more pre-ground ones:

Here are the three spice blends, ready to be used:

 I haven't used the berbere yet, but I made  some baked tofu with the Persian blend and it was really great.

My only criticism of the spice blends in Vegan Eats World is that there is no instruction to spread the spices out and let them cool between toasting and grinding.  This is an important step, because if the spices are too hot when you grind them, you'll trap moisture in your powdered blend and it will cake up and I imagine not keep well.  As soon as the spices are toasted, pour them out of the frying pan and onto a dinner plate.  Spread them out in a single layer.  It only takes a few minutes for them to be cool to the touch, and then you can grind to your heart's content.  

I know not to expect much from the American Heart Association, but this is really over the top

Check this out -- "Midwestern corn-fed beef," certified by the American Heart Association.  Certified to do what, cause heart attacks?  That's all I've got.  I'm speechless.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How I learned to stop worrying and love tempeh

Since I first encountered it as a college student, tempeh has been one of those foods I've wanted to like more than I do.  It's high in protein and fiber!  It's made from whole foods!  It's fermented!  But I've always thought it tasted kind of nasty, and I've avoided it for years.  My girlfriend disliked it too, so I had no reason to try cooking it.

I'm not sure how it happened, but lately we've been talking about giving tempeh another try.  Maybe it's because I decided seitan is a trigger food for me, and stopped making it.  We both felt like it would be nice to add a little more variety to our protein options.  I was looking through my copy of Vegan Eats World and found a recipe for tempeh chorizo that sounded easy and tasty (except for the tempeh part).  We figured that might be a good gateway recipe since the seasoning would help disguise the tempeh. So we bought a package of tempeh and it was hanging out in the fridge, waiting for the weekend, when I do most of my kitchen experiments.

Then we went out to dinner to celebrate a friend's birthday.  I have to say that with the exception of sushi, I'm not really a big fan of eating out these days.  Most restaurant food has crack in it (read David Kessler's brilliant The End of Overeating to learn about how this is done deliberately), and when I find some that doesn't, I usually think I could make something tastier at home.  So these days I eat out almost entirely for social reasons, and do what I have to do to make the food work.

We ate at One World Cafe, which is sort of the tempeh of restaurants.   It has a lot of vegan options on the menu, and the kitchen uses organic produce when they can.  It's wheelchair accessible.  It's in a convenient location, although the parking is less than ideal.  We want to love it.  But the food just isn't that great.   I know I can get brown rice, veggies, and tofu, though, so at least I don't have to carry a protein option in my purse.

My girlfriend decided to order curried veggies and tempeh over rice noodles.  The dish looked beautiful, and the flavors were good, but the salt and oil in the dish were just overwhelming.  I expect restaurant food to be saltier than what I cook at home, but this was really over the top.  She couldn't finish it, and neither of us was tempted to take the leftovers home.  I thought to myself, "I can do better than this," and on Friday night I decided to try.

I used this recipe as a guide, and came up with this:

That's tempeh with carrots, Shanghai bok choy, and fresh basil, in a sauce made with onion, garlic, curry powder, Bragg's, and coconut milk.  I am not a fan of packaged curry powder, but I had some homemade Madras curry powder from a recipe in 660 Curries, and it worked well. I used an 8-oz package of tempeh and enough veggies to make two generous dinner servings.  And we broke the tempeh barrier.  We loved it. What can I say?  Pan frying plus coconut milk makes everything better.

I did make a huge mess, though, and even working in shifts we were not able to get the pan completely clean. Next time we are going to try baking the tempeh in the oven to get it brown, and then adding it back to the veggies when we add the coconut milk.  I think that will work a lot better and will also reduce the fat in the dish (although nothing can make this low-fat, because soybeans and coconut milk).  We'll try out different veggies, too.  This dish is a keeper.

That was Friday dinner.  You know it really broke the tempeh barrier, because I made the tempeh chorizo for breakfast the next morning:

I followed the recipe in Vegan Eats World pretty much to the letter, except I used a lot less oil.  I've never had "real" chorizo so I have no idea whether this tastes anything like it, but it's yummy so who cares.  This is a great weekend breakfast dish that I will definitely make again.

Breakfast of champions:  temprizo, reheated baked potato, and a very ripe banana.  Om nom nom.

And that, my friends, is how I learned to stop worrying and love tempeh.  Watch for more tempeh recipes, and much more from Vegan Eats World, in future posts.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

If you eat chocolate, please consider this

If you're reading this blog, you probably know that ethical sourcing of chocolate is a big issue.  Child labor, and even slavery, have been widespread on West African cocoa farms.  You may be thinking, "But I only eat organic chocolate."  But an organic label, or even a Fair Trade label, is no guarantee that the chocolate was not produced with child labor or slave labor.  And many chocolate companies are very secretive about their sources, so it's impossible for outsiders to judge whether they are following ethical practices or not.

If you eat chocolate, please take a look at this list of companies that are are recommended and companies that are not.  There are many, many choices on the "recommend" list.  I am not suggesting you stop eating chocolate.  I'm suggesting you stick to the "recommend" list.  I'm also suggesting that if you currently use a product from a non-recommended company, you write to them and tell them your concerns.  Tell them you can't eat this product until they show they are at least trying to source their chocolate ethically.  I was disturbed to see that several companies loved by vegans -- Clif Bar!  Q.bel!  Trader Joe's! -- were unwilling to disclose their chocolate sources to activists.  What are they afraid of?  And then there are the companies that failed to respond at all -- including the Alternative Baking Company, which was a favorite of mine back in the days when I ate cookies, and Green and Black's, which I used to think of as "ethical" because they make organic products.  If you use products from companies that failed to respond, write to them and ask them to respond -- and stop using their chocolate products until they do.

Despite how you may feel when you're about to get your period, no one needs chocolate -- or cookies, or  convenience food, for that matter.  If you're vegan (and if you're not, why aren't you?), there's already a list of products you avoid for ethical reasons.  Is eating "vegan" chocolate produced with slave labor really more ethical than eating chocolate made with dairy?  Humans are animals too.  Children in particular are vulnerable animals who need our protection and care.

If you want to think more about these issues, you might want to participate in this webinar.  

These suggestions are relatively easy for me to take because I don't eat sweets any more.  Those Alternative Baking Company cookies were crack to me, and they had to go, along with all the other vegan goodies.   I don't want to sound smug, though.  I am able to do this because I'm in recovery, and I get a lot of help.  When I was in the midst of my eating disorder -- something that could happen again at any time, if I'm not careful -- I didn't give a shit about ethics.  Fair trade, shmair trade.  I'd certainly binge on vegan stuff -- vegan does not mean healthy -- but when I needed a fix I would eat anything sweet, whether it was vegan or not.  I wasn't able to live according to my ethics, and for me that is one of the worst things about this disease.

If you need help with an eating disorder, I suggest you go here.  To learn more about what it means to be vegan, go here and here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

tortilla-free enchiladas, here I come!

I already commented on the original post on "That Was Vegan?" but I just want to take up a little bit of my own real estate to say that this is brilliant.  Enchilada.  Stuffed.  Peppers.  I don't eat tortillas any more (because they are crack), and with my recent interest in Latin cooking I've been feeling sad about not being able to make enchiladas.  No more.  Give me an enchilada recipe, and I will convert it into stuffed pepper goodness.  The linked recipe doesn't include sauce, but I see no reason why you couldn't pour enchilada sauce over the tops of the peppers before putting them in the oven.  And it just occurred to me -- stuffed cabbage is basically burritos with cabbage instead of tortillas.  Cabbageitos, anyone?

I'm going to look over some enchilada recipes, and try this over the weekend.  Pictures to follow.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A bounty of beans

I went to my neighborhood mercado latino on Saturday in search of cranberry beans.  I didn't find cranberry beans, but I did buy a big bag of Roman beans, because I love them and they were the best price I've ever seen.  Now Wikipedia is telling me that Roman beans are a variety of cranberry beans.  But in Viva Vegan, Terry Hope Romero talks as if they are completely different.  I don't  know who to believe!

This morning I am eating some posole I made with Sangre de Toro beans.  Gross name ("bull's blood"), but the beans are cute, very small and dark, glossy red.

I really like exploring different kinds of beans.  I've been into Indian dals for a long time, and now I am getting more into the Latin American beans.  In addition to Roman beans, on Saturday I bought Dominican reds (dark red with lighter spots, like pinto beans in reverse), and pigeon peas.  Pigeon peas have been hard to find -- I think maybe we have a dearth of Puerto Ricans here in Baltimore.  We've apparently got a critical mass of Peruvians, though -- the mercado has tons of Peruvian products, many of which I have no idea how to use (giant kernels of blue corn still on the cob, anyone?)

I've been making recipes from Viva Vegan and Vegan Eats World over the past couple weeks.  Pictures and recipe reviews to follow.

What is your favorite bean?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Broccoli cheezy soup -- a decadent meal in a bowl

It all started with the squasheeta.

I came across this recipe for "butternut squasheeta" and had to try it, partly because I'd never made a squash-based cheez recipe before, but mostly because I loved the name.  I mostly followed the recipe -- I included a generous tablespoon of the optional miso, and only used one teaspoon of olive oil to roast the squash, which turned out to be plenty -- and it was great.  I made this ahead of time and didn't use any water.  It was velvety and thick and beautifully orange (and like an idiot, I didn't take a picture).  When it was time to actually eat it, I heated up the portion we were going to use with some plain unsweetened soy milk to take it from a spread to more of a sauce consistency.

The only problem with this orange goodness is I was having trouble fitting it into my meal planning.  See, a standard dinner at my house is starch, legume, vegetable.  Butternut squash is a starch, but squasheeta cries out to be eaten with more starch -- over pasta if you eat pasta, or rice, or a baked potato.  The first night we had it, I ate it with rice, broccoli, and a side of baked tofu.  That was good, but after that I was having trouble figuring out how else to eat it.

Yesterday it occurred to me to make it into soup.  I had about half the squasheeta left at that point, and I knew I wanted to add protein so the soup could be a complete meal.  Silken tofu to the rescue!  Here's what I did:

Broccoli Squasheeta Soup

Makes 2 meal-sized servings

About 1/2 recipe butternut squasheeta
12-oz package silken tofu (I used extra firm)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 T lemon juice
1 generous T white miso
unsweetened, plain nondairy milk of choice (I used almond, because that's what was available)
1 lb broccoli florets

First, put some nutritional yeast in your cat's food dish, so he doesn't drive you nuts while you're cooking.  Actually, lock the more rambunctious cat in the bedroom, and give the more well-behaved one (who also knows how to open doors) some nooch in his food dish.

Puree the silken tofu until it is very smooth.  I was feeling lazy so I just dumped it in the cooking pot and used my immersion blender.

Add the squasheeta and stir to combine.  Now you have a  yellow mass of creamy goodness that tastes kind of bland.

Add the nooch, lemon juice, and miso, and use the immersion blender again to combine and make very smooth.  Turn on the stove

Slowly heat up the soup mixture, stirring in milk of choice until you get to the consistency you want.  At some point you will want to cover the pot because it'll start blorping and spitting all over the stove.

Add your broccoli florets.  I used frozen broccoli and dumped it directly in the soup.  You could also use either fresh or frozen and cook it separately.  When the soup and broccoli are hot all the way through, it's done!

Tell the cat he'll get his when you're finished.

My girlfriend pronounced this the best cheezy soup I've ever made.  I'm thinking it's the super smoothness of the squash and tofu.  In the future, if I didn't already have squasheeta on hand, I think I would just use some plain baked squash, processed until it was super smooth, and add additional miso, lemon, nooch, and maybe some garlic powder.  If you're allergic to soy, you could follow Jo Stepaniak's suggestion and use pureed white beans instead of tofu, but it won't be as rich and decadent tasting.

It was really good with some of this sprinkled on top:

 My latest Trader Joe's purchase.  Smoked paprika, garlic, and salt in a cute little grinder.  Essentially, it's calorie-free vegan Bac-os.  Om nom nom.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

My purple Chia Pet

Chia pudding is one of those things like massaged kale salad, that all the cool kids have been making for a while now but I am only just getting around to.  I bought a small bag of chia seeds at Trader Joe's a few months ago, put them in the pantry, and forgot about them.  Last week I had some soy milk to use up and decided to give chia pudding a try.

Chia pudding could not be easier to make.  You combine the chia seeds with a liquid, mix it up really well, and leave it in the fridge overnight.  The chia seeds drink up all the liquid and transform into something a lot like tapioca pearls, with little crunchy centers.  If you like tapioca pudding, you will like chia pudding.  If you don't like tapioca pudding, you should probably stop reading right now.

I approached this project without a specific recipe or even a very clear idea of what I was doing.  First I mixed 1/4 cup of chia seeds with a cup of unsweetened soy milk in a Mason jar.  I left that in the fridge while I ate dinner, then went back and mixed it up again.  The chia seeds had massed into a solid clump at the bottom of the jar, and it took me a while to break that up.  I mixed it up really well so the chia seeds were more or less evenly dispersed throughout the milk, and put it back in the fridge.

Then I started to think.  This chia pudding, as is, was not going to taste very good.  I'd started out with sort of a vague idea of folding whole fresh blueberries into the pudding, but after looking at Gena's amazing chia tutorial and recipes, which is where I should have started in the first place, I decided that I should puree the blueberries and mix them in ASAP.  So  I did that -- pureed a cup of fresh berries in my mini-processor, and mixed them into the pudding really well.  I considered adding some stevia powder, but I am really trying to break my dependence on added sweeteners, so I put in some cinnamon instead.

The next morning I woke up to this:

This pint-sized Mason jar was solidly full of pudding.  It came out just the right texture, not too watery, not too firm.  It had kind of a subtle blueberry taste.  Most people would probably prefer it sweetened.

Verdict:  I will probably not make this again.  It was good, and would be refreshing on a hot summer morning, but it just wasn't filling enough to justify the fat and calories in my book.  My intention was for this to be a new breakfast option, but it's not enough breakfast for me.  It would be better in smaller portions as a dessert, and I don't eat dessert.

If you can handle added sweeteners and are looking for a light, healthy dessert, I recommend trying some of Gena's recipes.  The pumpkin one sounds especially good to me.  I will probably end up eating these seeds a tablespoon at a time, sprinkled into my rice and beans, for the omega-3's.  Actually the pumpkin pudding might be good without any sweetener at all -- maybe I'll make it next Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bean and barley chowder

After last week's broth debacle, I was still determined to cook a bean and barley soup.  "Bean and Barley Chowder" was last week's "recipe of the week" over at the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, and it sounded good to me, but maybe a little boring, especially once I knew homemade vegetable broth was not going to be part of the formula.   Then I got an email from America's Test Kitchen about a vegetable barley soup that had deep flavors without homemade broth (warning:  non-vegan site), and the way ahead was clear.

I combined elements of both recipes, and as always this dish was also influenced by what I had in the pantry.  Lima beans and barley sounded good, but I didn't have either.  I found barley at my local health food store, but no lima beans, so I went with the cannelini beans I already had in the house.  I liked the idea of using ground dried mushrooms to add flavor to the broth, but didn't see any reason to stick to the stingy amount in the America's Test Kitchen recipe.  I ended up grinding an entire package of mixed dried mushrooms (about 0.8 oz), and putting that in.

Flavor enhancers:  portobello mushrooms, extra virgin olive oil, Bragg Liquid Aminos, ground dried mushrooms, onions, celery, leeks.

Mushroom, Bean, and Barley Chowder

All ingredient quantities are (very) approximate

One tablespoon olive oil
One onion, chopped
Two stalks celery, chopped
Two leeks, white and light green part only, halved lengthwise and then sliced crosswise
Six ounces portobello mushrooms (two big mushroom caps), diced
0.8 oz package mixed dried mushrooms, ground to a powder in an electric grinder (What?  You don't have a coffee grinder you reserve for grinding spices?  Why not?)
One pound cannelini beans, soaked overnight and then drained
About half a pound of barley
A few carrots, peeled and sliced
Bragg Liquid Aminos, to taste
Poultry seasoning, to taste
Chick'n style seasoning or nutritional yeast, to taste

In a large soup pot (6-8 quarts), saute onion, celery, and leeks in olive oil until onion is translucent.  Add portobello mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms release their liquid.  Sprinkle in poultry seasoning and powdered mushrooms and stir so they coat everything.  Add all other ingredients (I would start with two quarts of water and see how you feel), stir, bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans and barley are fully cooked.  


A few notes on ingredients:
  • There's no poultry in poultry seasoning.  It's a mixture of thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, black pepper, and nutmeg that makes things taste like Thanksgiving.  If you don't have it, but have all those other herbs and spices, you can make your own.   
  • Those ground mushrooms really added body and flavor to the broth.  Highly recommended.  I used a mix of mushrooms that I happened to have in the pantry.  I think either porcini or shiitake would work fine.
  • If you don't have cannelini beans, any kind of white beans would work.  I would advise against using canned beans, because the cooking beans add body to the broth.
  • I threw in some chick'n seasoning because I happened to have it made up, and poultry seasoning made me think of it.  You could also use a couple tablespoons of plain nutritional yeast, or leave it out.
  • Can I just give a shout-out to Trader Joe's Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil right here?  That stuff is a revelation.  It tastes like olives.  It's probably really wasted on this recipe.  If I were really feeling decadent, I would drizzle a little on top of my bowl of soup, right before I ate it.  If you are the kind of person who likes to dunk bread in olive oil, this is the olive oil to use.
This soup was really yummy and reheated well.  I ate it for breakfast for most of the week (the photo above was taken on my desk).  My girlfriend pronounced it a keeper.  And as a bonus, I got a good start on my next broth bag: 

Onion, celery, leeks, mushrooms, carrots.   No mystery ingredients this time.


Friday, January 18, 2013

When good broths go bad

You all know about the broth bag, right?  You save all your vegetable scraps in a ziploc bag in the freezer, and when it's full you use it to make stock.  Well, I've had a bag in my freezer for a while now, and I want to make some bean and barley chowder this weekend, so I decided to make some broth.  I put the contents of the bag in my biggest slow cooker crock, filled it with water, and left it on High all day.

When I got home from work, I could smell the savory broth the moment I got off the elevator.  It smelled great, and my apartment smelled even better.  I turned off the slow cooker and strained the broth into a storage container.  It was a lovely dark brown, and smelled like onions and other wonderful homemade goodness.

And then I tasted it.  It was bitter.  I tasted it again.  Still bitter.  I tasted it a third time.  Did I want to use this bitter liquid as the base for my chowder?  I did not.  I poured it down the sink.

I'm trying to figure out what went wrong.  Here's what was in the bag:

onions (ends and skins)
garlic (same)
carrot peels
potato peels (just a few)
celery tops and ends
fennel tops
lime rind
squash ends -- summer and winter

I'm thinking either the squash or the lime rind was a mistake.  The other stuff seems benign.  I always use the onion skins in my broth because they make it a pretty color, and I can't remember ever having a problem.

Any ideas?  I had both red and yellow onions in there, but I don't think that can be it.

So I will be making my soup this weekend with Spike broth powder, plus about a cup of bean stock I have languishing in the freezer. Gayelord Hauser was a charlatan, but the broth powder is pretty good.  I'm going to grind up some dried wild mushrooms too, as recommended by America's Test Kitchen, and hope that does the trick.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fennel Compote with tomatoes, olives, and butter beans

I came across this recipe by Mark Bittman the other day and was intrigued. I love olives, capers, garlic, tomatoes, and thyme, separately or in combination, so it sounded like something I should try (and it was a good excuse to visit the olive bar at Wegman's).  I was also curious about roasting the canned tomatoes, which I had never heard of doing before, although I have used the Muir Glen fire-roasted canned tomatoes in the past and was not particularly impressed.

The recipe suggests serving this with fish, but of course that wasn't going to happen.  I pondered my protein options for a while and settled on giant lima beans, or butter beans if you prefer.  I cooked them separately the night before. 

I don't think I'd ever cooked fennel before.  I wasn't even sure which parts we were supposed to eat, so I started off with this video: 

I did put the stalks and fronds in a ziploc bag and stash them in the freezer for stock, as suggested.  I diced the trimmed fennel bulbs in small pieces, like onions.

I decided to try roasting the tomatoes.  I drained two 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes (I needed about one tomato's worth for a different recipe, so I didn't end up using 2 full cans, but this is a pretty forgiving recipe and I think it would have been fine with a little more or a little less).  I lined a cookie sheet with foil and sprayed it with cooking spray, then spread the tomatoes across it in a single layer with my hands:

After about 20 minutes in the oven, I had this:

OK, maybe that isn't as dramatic as I'd hoped.  You can see a little caramelization on there, though, and I really do think roasting them concentrated the flavor.

While the tomatoes were roasting, I worked on sauteeing the fennel.  The recipe says not to let it brown at all, but I found that impossible.  Here's what the dish looked like when I got all the ingredients in the pan:

That's fennel, tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, and thyme.  I used big olives, with pits, and put them in whole as instructed.  I can't tell you what kind they are -- I just picked what looked good at the olive bar.

To serve this, I heated up the butter beans I'd cooked the day before.  I was worried about them drying out in the microwave, so I cooked them in the leftover juice from the canned tomatoes.  Then I drained them and mixed them with the compote.

That's my Sunday lunch.  We served the beans with baked potatoes and a second rendition of the massaged kale salad.

Verdict:  delicious.  I was afraid the fennel flavor would be really strong and overpower everything else, but it was subtle.  I'm not sure how I feel about the few big olives.  Next time I might use Nicoise olives, or cut the olives up.  The leftovers tasted even better the next day, with a baked potato and some steamed green beans.

I would definitely make this again.  If I couldn't find fennel, I think it would work with onions, too.  In fact, that sounds great. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How to go vegan

Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times's "Well" blog has put up a nice post titled "How to Go Vegan."  She interviewed my favorite vegan blogger, Susan Voisin, and the post has generated a lot of great comments.  In fact, some of the comments are better than the original post.  It's worth a read, and it inspired me to come up with my own list of "how to go vegan" tips.

  • Do it for the animals.  Lately it seems like a lot of people are adopting vegan diets, or veganish ones, for their health.  A vegan diet can certainly make you healthier -- it's done that for me -- but from my perspective, that's more of a side effect than the main goal.  My personal experience is that if I'm trying to make a dietary change for my own health, I'm much less likely to stick with it than I am if I'm doing it for ethical reasons.  Read about factory farming.  Check out the pictures and videos Compassion Over Killing has taken at farms and slaughterhouses.    Watch "Meet Your Meat."  I know, I know, PeTA, but they really have done some good work here.  Visit a farmed animal sanctuary, get to know the animals, and hear their stories.   Your mileage may vary, but my own experience has been that even after a significant health scare (or series of scares), compassion for other creatures is a much stronger motivator than fear for my own well-being.
  • Don't neglect umami.  Umami, the "savory" taste, is one of the things people miss most about meat and cheese.  Seeking out vegan sources of umami -- miso, tomatoes, nutritional yeast, mushrooms -- will help make your meals yummy and satisfying without animal products. 
  • Skip the substitutes, at least in the beginning.  Commercially available vegan substitutes for meat and  dairy tend to be highly processed, full of salt and fat, expensive, and not very satisfying.  Especially in the beginning, they will seem like very feeble substitutes for the real thing.  Daiya cheese, probably the best vegan cheese widely available in the U.S., may satisfy your Velveeta jones, but it won't take the place of  a good aged cheese, and if you expect it to you will just be disappointed.  On the other hand, six months after you last tasted "real" ice cream, a bowl of So Delicious coconut milk ice cream -- especially the Turtle Tracks flavor, OMG -- will really hit the spot (so much so, that I can't eat it any more). 
  • Expand your culinary horizons.  Take this opportunity to learn new ways to plan a meal, and explore new tastes.  If you don't cook now, learn (or you can be one of the laziest vegans in the world, but I don't recommend this).  There are a zillion vegan recipe sites on the Web -- Fat Free Vegan and the Post Punk Kitchen are two of my favorites -- and many of the recipes are quick and easy.  Explore cuisines that have a strong tradition of meat-free cooking.  Asia is now your favorite continent.
  • Learn to love beans.  Cheap, high in protein, high in fiber, low in fat, and very satisfying -- beans are the word.  Beans are how you get protein-rich satisfaction without relying too heavily on soy products and fake stuff.  There are so many varieties, you could eat a different bean every day for weeks. Dry beans are cheaper than canned and, in my opinion, healthier and tastier (and there's a much greater variety available), but canned beans are also very good and with canned beans, you don't have to plan ahead to have a great meal ready when you want it.  I eat beans at pretty much every meal.  Yes, including breakfast.  Baked beans on toast are a traditional part of an English breakfast, but it's also worthwhile to expand your concept of what constitutes appropriate breakfast food.  There's no law that says you can't eat the same things for breakfast you eat for lunch and dinner, and in my opinion "lunch and dinner" foods can be a much more appropriate way to start the day than the sugary crap so many people eat for breakfast.
  • Abstinence is easier than moderation.  Again, your mileage may vary, but this is my experience.  If you keep eating animal products "once in a while," you won't lose your taste for them, nor will you really learn how to thrive without them.   Just quit.  When it gets hard, watch Earthlings.
I do have a criticism of the Times post.  It focuses completely on food, and there's a lot more to being vegan than that.  Finding nice winter clothes and shoes that don't contain animal products can be a challenge, and you may need to start shopping for cleaning products and personal care stuff at the health food store to find things that aren't tested on animals (or made by a parent company that tests on animals).  Shoes, sweaters, and lip balm have been the toughest ones for me, but it's all doable, and there are a lot more choices now than there were even a few years ago.  It's not that hard.  And it's worth it.  

What are your best tips for new and aspiring vegans? 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Massaged kale with tahini-miso dressing

This afternoon at Wegman's I found a huge box of organic baby kale.  I knew it was coming home with me, and of course I immediately thought of massaged kale salad.

Massaged kale salad has been a thing for a couple years now.  Basically you tenderize the kale by physically massaging it with your hands, plus an acid, a fat, or some salt.  It's fun and messy.  I made a massaged kale salad a while back with beautiful fresh pineapple and tomatoes.  The acid from the pineapple and tomatoes tenderized the kale, and the fruit basically formed the dressing.

This time I knew I wanted to use a tahini-based dressing.  I had seen a yummy-sounding kale salad on Choosing Raw, with a dressing made from soaked cashews.  I can't have cashews in the house because they (and most nuts) are like crack to me, but for some reason I am OK with tahini.  I started to type "massaged kale" into Google, and it suggested "massaged kale tahini dressing" as a search option, so clearly I am not the first person, or the five hundredth,  to think of this combination.  

I used the first dressing recipe that came up, minus the cilantro.  I liked the idea of combining tahini with white miso (mmm, umami), and I had all the ingredients in the house.  I put everything in my mini food processor and whipped it up in less than a minute.  Here's what I did next:

First, I had to give some kale to the cat, so he would leave me alone and let me cook.  He loves greens.

This is what the kale looks like right out of the package.  The leaves are about the same size as baby spinach.
I put about a third to a half of the pound of kale in a big stainless steel bowl, and sprinkled it with a few pinches of coarse kosher salt.  Then I started squeezing and massaging it with my hands.  The salt adds friction and helps draw out the liquid in the kale.  After I'd worked on it for a few minutes, it looked like this:

 See how it's kind of glossy and wet looking?  It also takes up less room in the bowl than it did before.

Next, I mixed in a little dressing and massaged the kale some more:

Then I let the salad rest while I prepared the rest of dinner, which was basically the same leftover dry chickpea curry and brown basmati rice we've been eating all week.

Here's my dinner plate.  I drizzled some extra dressing on the kale.  Om nom nom.

If you like cooked kale but can't imagine eating it raw, I strongly encourage you to try a massaged kale salad.  The massaging really does transform the kale, as if it had been very, very lightly steamed or sauteed.  Plus it makes a mess, and it's fun!

If you've made massaged kale salads before, what is your favorite dressing?

Monday, January 7, 2013

The dairy habit

Here is a good collection of information about the addictive qualities of dairy products, and why they are so hard to kick.  So many people tell me, "I couldn't be vegan because I could never give up dairy."  There's a reason for that:  it's addictive.

Back when I ate dairy, cheese and ice cream were two of my major binge foods.  As a vegan, I continued to binge on soy or coconut milk "ice cream," and I found that Daiya cheese (especially those cheese blocks they have now) was almost as much of a problem for me as dairy cheese had been.  I think it has to do with the texture and the fat, rather than the umami flavors, since I can eat other umami foods like miso and nutritional yeast (and Bragg's) and do okay.  These days I don't eat ice cream or cheese, whether it's cow-based or vegan.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Review: Eat Vegan on $4 a Day

Image stolen from Amazon
I'll start this review with a confession:  I don't know how much money I spend on food.  I shop carefully, and most of what I buy is unprocessed or minimally processed:  bulk dry beans and whole grains, and fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.  When I do buy processed stuff, like canned tomatoes, or the almond milk (for smoothies) and coconut milk (for Indian food) that are on this week's shopping list, I tend to buy store brand, and I compare prices.  But if I want, say, organically grown pears, I don't worry about the fact that they are $2.50 a pound.  I buy the more expensive balsamic vinegar because it's better quality.  I often choose organic, even if it costs a lot more than the conventional item.  Then there are the days I say, "Screw organic, I'm buying this 10-pound bag of conventional potatoes for $5."  I also enjoy cooking and have the time to devote to it, so I don't have to weigh price against convenience (if I go for convenience, it's because I'm lazy, not because I really need to).    So I have the luxury of not having to struggle with a tight food budget, and I have the time to do things that save money, like use dry beans instead of canned.

Still, I was curious about this book.  I care a lot about making sure healthy food is accessible for everyone, and I hate how our government subsidizes things like meat, dairy, and highly processed grains so they are cheaper (until you factor in the medical bills) than the good stuff.  And I know there are plenty of people who could benefit from advice about how to eat healthy on a tight budget.  So I wanted to see if this book was any good.

There is some good stuff in here.  I was appalled, though not really surprised, by the chart comparing how much the USDA spends promoting animal products ($107.8 million for fluid milk alone) versus plant foods ($10.7 million for potatoes).  There are the usual tips, which are excellent if you've never heard them before: keep a running grocery list and don't shop without it, shop the periphery of the store, compare unit prices, avoid processed food, do food prep on the weekends to save time during the week.  The author includes one of my favorite time-and-money-savers, which is to cook dry beans in the slow cooker rather than use canned.  There are cooking time and yield charts for beans and grains, and a sidebar explaining the vegan four food groups (whole grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies).

I haven't tried any of the recipes, so I will have to make a few and report back.  Reading through them, they sound pretty basic, but tasty.  There's a quinoa-and-chickpea loaf (with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, yum!) that I would definitely like to try.  There's a "chocolate surprise cake"  containing beets, carrots, and zucchini, that I'd be very curious about if I ate cake.

But the big question, of course, is can you actually use this book to feed yourself for $4 a day?  The author gives estimated costs per serving (rounded to the nearest $0.25) for every recipe,  and in the front of the book there are sample menus for a week, with the cost of each item and the total cost calculated.  The costs range from $2.25 to $4.00 for three meals and a dessert or snack.

But here's the thing:  the portions are TINY.  For example, the recipe for "Hot Whole-Grain Cereal" calls for one cup of raw rolled oats to serve 4 people, and that's the entire breakfast.  That's half a cup of cooked oatmeal.  Period.  When  I eat oatmeal for breakfast, my food plan calls for me to eat a full cup of cooked oatmeal (1/2 cup raw),  plus a protein like beans or tofu, plus a fruit.  There's no way 1/2 a cup of oatmeal is going to keep someone going until lunch.  And then lunch that day is hummus with lettuce on a whole wheat pita.  How much hummus?  Well, 3 1/2 cups of chick peas are supposed to serve eight people.  That's a little less than half a cup of chick peas per person.  It just isn't enough food.

This kind of deception really pisses me off.  It's like processed food labels that try to convince you the food is lower in sodium, fat, or calories than it really is by making the serving sizes ridiculously small.  And this is clearly supposed to be a book for people who are not experienced with plant-based diets.  I'm really afraid someone would try these menus, feel hungry for a week, and decide going vegan is not for them.

What's really sad is that these menus do not meet the basic needs described in the very chapter of the book in which they appear!  For example, the sidebar on the vegan four food groups says a person should eat at least 5 servings of whole grains per day.  The menu I was just describing contains three servings (in addition to the oatmeal and pita, there's a half-cup of brown rice included with dinner).  So on page 26, there's a menu that the nutrition advice on page 18 says is nutritionally inadequate.

The recommended daily food plan on page 18 is as follows:

3 or more servings of fruit (one piece, or 1/2 cup cooked)
4 or more servings of vegetables (1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked)
2 or more servings of legumes (1/2 cup cooked beans, 4 oz tofu, or 8 oz soy milk)
5 or more servings of whole grains (1/2 cup cooked grain, 1 oz dry cereal, or 1 slice bread)

According to my dietitian, that's not nearly enough beans, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.

The menu I referenced above costs only $2.25.  So maybe in theory, we could add another $1.50 worth of food and make it nutritionally adequate.  Let's look at a menu that costs a full $4.00:

Breakfast is "multigrain cereal combo".  That's 1/2 cup puffed grain, 1/2 cup soy or other plant milk, a banana or 1/4 cup berries, and 1/2 cup chopped nuts.  That's one serving of grain, maybe one serving of fruit (1/4 cup berries seems small), and actually quite a bit of protein from the 1/2 cup chopped nuts.

Lunch is a Portobello Poor Boy Sandwich.  You get a mushroom, a roasted red pepper, an ounce of spinach leaves, and half of a "small loaf whole wheat french bread."  I have no idea how big that small loaf is, but let's say we're getting 2 slices of bread.  So I've got 2 grain servings and what, 2 servings of vegetables?  Maybe?

Dinner is "penny pincher pitas."  Each person gets a little less than half a cup of beans, 1/2 a whole wheat pita, a little bit of corn, and some raw veggies.  Call it one bean serving, one grain, and not even one vegetable (Half a cup of lettuce for four people?  Really?)

Dessert is a mango smoothie.  Each serving contains 1/4 cup mango, 1/4 a banana, and (not making this up) 1/8 cup soy milk.  So we've got . . . . about a half serving of fruit and a 1/8 serving of beans?

Daily total:  4 grains, 1 1/2 fruit, 2 veggies, and one serving of beans, plus all those nuts.  1/2 cup of chopped nuts actually contains about as much protein as a cup of beans, so in terms of protein we're not doing badly at all, but that's a lot of nuts to eat in one day.  Still, according to the vegan four food groups as described in this book, the menu is inadequate.

To sum up:  this is not a bad book for a beginning vegan cook, or someone who is just starting to live on his or her own and doesn't know how to grocery shop or plan menus. I've seen better books for that, but this one isn't bad.  But when it comes to proving that a person can eat well on $4 a day, forget it.

An interesting exercise, and maybe a subject for a future post, would be to figure out how much a day's worth of my own meal plan (which I'm assuming is nutritionally adequate, since it was prepared by a registered dietitian) would cost.  I'm guessing it's more than $4 a day, but I'm kind of curious, now, to know how much more.  Since I buy so much of my food in bulk, it's going to involve a lot of weighing and calculating cooking yields and prices.  We'll see if I find the energy.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Vegan Books at Barnes and Noble

My girlfriend took this picture at our local Barnes and Noble today.  "You could put it on your blog," she said.  I usually do what she tells me, so here it is.

I've actually bought quite a few vegan cookbooks at Barnes and Noble.  They've had a good selection for a while now, but it's nice to see it so prominently displayed.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hoppin' New Year!

In honor of the new year, I quickly whipped up some Hoppin' John, Maryland-style.  I threw a bag of frozen black-eyed peas in a pot with a chopped onion, green pepper, 2 stalks of celery, a can of diced tomatoes, smoked paprika, Old Bay (the Maryland element), and water.  Cooked it uncovered until the veggies were done and the water was almost gone.  Here it is served with a baked potato and some plain kale.  It seemed kind of bland to me, so I sprinkled more Old Bay on everything.  Om nom nom.

I think next year I'll take more time with it and start with dried black-eyed peas.  Or I may do something non-traditional, like Goan black-eyed peas with coconut milk.  Actually, I don't think I'll wait until next year to make that one.

Resolved: not to make any New Year's resolutions

January 1!  Time to make all those resolutions about quitting smoking, losing weight, and going to the gym.  Or not.