Saturday, February 28, 2009
Easy eggplant parmesan, 2.25.2009
Udon noodle soup, 2.23.2009
Vegan dashi, 2.23.2009
Basic tomato sauce, 2.21.2009
Hijiki with carrots via The Kitchn, 2.28, 2009
I love design, especially mid-century modern design. One of my favorite design blogs is Apartment Therapy, with its emphasis on small space living solutions. I am constantly checking Apartment Therapy throughout the day for ideas and inspiration.
Apartment Therapy has a great companion food site called The Kitchn. Yesterday, a recipe (vegan) posted on The Kitchn for Hijiki with Carrots caught my attention.
A few weeks ago, I purchased a package of dried hijiki (black seaweed) strands at Super H Market, a large pan-Asian grocery store in Northern Virginia. The Kitchn reports that hijiki may also be found at many health food stores and at Whole Foods Market.
I purchased the hijiki with the thought of making a salad using a recipe I saw in one of my Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks. But this hijiki salad from The Kitchn, with its flecks of orange from the carrots, looks so much more visually appealing. I especially like the use of sliced kumquats as a garnishing.
Friday, February 27, 2009
My partner and I stopped using teflon-coated pans last year based on reports that the chemical used to make the teflon coating, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), was carcinogenic. I also read that studies had shown that the coating tended to break down and release toxic particles and gases when exposed to temperatures higher than 400 degrees.
I replaced our teflon pans with reasonably priced cast iron skillets from Lodge, which I love. Although our cast iron skillets came preseasoned to make them non-stick, I still seasoned them prior to their initial use. Below are the steps I used to season the new cookware.
1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
2. Wash the skillet with a mild soap and water and dry thoroughly.
3. Rub a thin coat of canola or vegetable oil all over the skillet (inside and outside, including the handle) with a paper towel.
4. Stick the skillet upside down on the upper rack of your oven. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack below the skillet to catch any drippings.
5. Turn off the oven after a couple of hours. Leave the skillet in the oven while it cools down.
During the seasoning process, the heat opens the "pores" of the cast iron, which are then filled with the oil to create a slick surface.
When you use your seasoned cast iron cookware for the first time, you may still experience some sticking. In that case, I suggest you fry (preferably deep fry) something - anything - in your cast iron cookware. What I did was fry my morning eggs with a little extra canola oil in a skillet for about a week, after which time they began sliding out of the skillet as easily as they had when they were cooked in a teflon-coated pan.
Caring for cast iron cookware could not be easier - warm water and a sponge. (A colleague of mine just wipes down her cast iron cookware with a paper towel.) Do not use soap. Soap will remove the seasoning, as will certain acidic foods, such as tomatoes. Last Saturday, I was making an omelet, and I decided to dump some leftover crushed tomatoes into the cast iron skillet. Within seconds the seasoning was completely stripped from the skillet, and I had to re-season it using the steps above. Lesson learned.
Two days ago, I mentioned that I enjoy biking to work. On days I don't bike to work, I spend 45 minutes at a bike spinning class at my gym during my lunch hour. With all this intense physical activity I'm engaged in, it's no surprise I possess a soaring appetite.
Last weekend, I came across frozen vegan and vegetarian wraps at My Organic Market (MOM's) from Guiltless Gourmet and Amy's Kitchen. Each costs about $3 and contains only about 300 calories. I ate one after spinning class on Wednesday and Friday, along with an apple and an energy bar. They tasted good, and my appetite was fully satisfied throughout the day. Sure beats spending $10 a day for lunch at Au Bon Pain.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Drinking Liberally is a progressive social group that holds happy hours in cities and towns across the country. My partner and I have been attending these weekly happy hours - held at Capitol City Brewing Company in Shirlington - for the past 3 years. What I find surprising is that there are 9 DL chapters scattered throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, which, until last year, had not gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.
The times they are a-changin' . . . for the better. Check out a Drinking Liberally or an Eating Liberally chapter near you!
But it ended up tasting crappy-ish.
Last night, I took one of my favorite recipes from my meat eatin' days, Grandma Roach's Beef Stroganoff, and tried to veggie hack it using these steak-style strips from Lightlife. Instead of beef broth, I used mushroom stock and vegetable broth. I also omitted the sherry and the tomato paste, and substituted olive oil for the butter.
The result was that, while the mushroom sauce was fine, the mock steak strips killed the dish. The steak strips were way too salty and, when I bit into them, I encountered this flavorless, sponge-like, texture. I ended up picking out the steak strips and eating the "beef" stroganoff without the "beef." (For others' opinions on Lightlife steak and/or chicken-style strips, I refer you here.)
Had I just bought a couple of large portobello mushrooms, cut them into strips, and used them instead of the Lightlife steak strips, I think the dish would have been fine.
Now, I'm afraid to use the package of Lightlife's ground beef that's been sitting in my 'fridge for the last two weeks. I'm open to suggestions.
Check out this CNN.com article titled "Low-fat? Low carbs? Answering best diet question." The article reported that Harvard School of Publiic Health and Pennington Biomedical Research Center conducted a study of four popular diets - high carb, high fat, low-fat, and high protein - to determine which resulted in more weight loss success. While all were successful in helping study participants lose weight, researchers concluded that calorie reduction was the real key.
This article caught my attention because it featured a woman, a former vegetarian, who began eating meat again 6 years ago to meet the demands of a high protein diet to lose weight quickly. Although she abandoned the Atkins diet 7 months later, she and her fiance recently decided to give Atkins another try. Her reason? She said it would be nice to look slimmer in her wedding photos. She did say, however, that her going on Atkins would be temporary, and that vegetarianism is where she wants to be the rest of her life. Let's hope that will be the case for her.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The food section's main article might be of interest to vegetarians. It's about a restaurant called Ubuntu, in Napa,California, and its chef, Jeremy Fox. Ubuntu touts itself as a "vegetable," not a vegetarian, restaurant, with the focus being "a celebration of the garden," as opposed to the fact that no meat is served there.
There was also a fun article about a group of D.C. bloggers who make up the foodie website, Internet Food Association. By day, these individuals work in such fields as education, urban planning, and health care policy. At night, they're live blogging Bravo's "Top Chef," among other food-related topics.
Finally, in keeping with the vegetable, or the vegetarian theme, of the main article, this week's Front Burner meal featured a vegetarian recipe for "Mushroom, Spinach and Fontina Panini" that can be prepared in approximately 35 minutes.
My partner's mother lives on Long Island. In her town, there is a small family-owned Italian restaurant that serves up amazing eggplant parmesan, with a generous heaping of spaghetti on the side. Not exactly healthy fare, but it is so good! Below is my favorite way of making this dish.
Approximately 4 servings
4 cups (approximately) of your favorite tomato/spaghetti sauce. (I use Mario Batali's basic tomato sauce, the recipe for which was posted on 2/22/09. You may also use your favorite jarred spaghetti sauce.)
2 medium eggplants cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (I use low or reduced fat)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs (or add dried Italian seasoning to plain bread crumbs)
Salt (preferably Kosher)
Flat leaf Italian parsley for garnishing
Generously salt the eggplant slices and place them in a colander in the sink or over a plate for about 30 minutes. This will cause the eggplant to release some of its bitter juices. After 30 minutes has elapsed, rinse off any residual salt on the eggplant slices under cold tap water and thoroughly blot dry with a paper towel or a cloth dish towel. (Rinsing the eggplant slices is important. Do not forget this step.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat approximately 1/8 - 1/4 inch of canola oil in a pan. Combine the flour and breadcrumbs in one bowl. Beat the eggs in another bowl. Next, coat each eggplant slice with the beaten eggs and dredge in the flour/bread crumb mixture. Place each slice carefully into the oil and fry until lightly browned, about 10 seconds on each side. Remove using tongs and drain on paper towels.
In an oven safe baking dish, lay down 4 large eggplant slices. Add 1/4 cup of tomato/spaghetti sauce on top of each slice. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/8 cup of parmesan cheese on top of each slice and top with another eggplant slice. Repeat these steps until you have 4 individual stacks of eggplant, with each stack containing 4 eggplant slices. Each stack should be topped with the remaining tomato/spaghetti sauce and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
Bake in the oven until the mozzarella cheese has melted, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve. (I like to serve the eggplant parmesan alongside a heaping of spaghetti tossed in the same tomato/spaghetti sauce used earlier.)
Finally, go to gym the next day and work off calories you consumed the night before!
I live approximately 1 1/4 miles from the nearest subway (Metro) station. For years, I drove my car to the immediate neighborhood surrounding the station, parked my car on a street in that neighborhood (parking is not available at the station), walked 8 minutes to the station, jumped on the train, and, 20-25 minutes later, arrived at my office in D.C.
Last March, I purchased a bicycle to transport me to the Metro station. In July, I began commuting to my office with my bike and have continued to do so during the winter. If the temperature outside is more than 30 degrees in the morning, and absent rain or snow, I'll eagerly hop on my bike for the 7 1/2 mile, one-way, commute into the city, which takes about 30 minutes. No excuses. I'll ride to my gym, which is located near my office, lift weights for 15-20 minutes, shower, and then head off to work.
Biking is probably the only other sports activity, besides tennis (big Serena Williams fan here!), that I enjoy doing. My fondness for biking has led me to search out websites dealing with bike commuting and/or alternative transportation issues. This site will, on occasion, address both of these topics. In the meantime, though, I encourage you to check out Bikecommuters.com and Commutebybike.com if you are interested in information about bike commuting, and Streetfilms.org and Commuterpageblog.com if you are interested in alternative transportation issues. Streetfilms.org is a particularly interesting site. It is, as the name suggests, a video blog. Check out the Streetfilms.org video titled "Portland (Green) Bike Box!" It's great stuff!
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I first came across the blog, Almost Vegetarian, in fall of 2008. I really enjoy reading this blog, the content of which is overwhelmingly geared toward vegetarians and those interested in becoming vegetarians. The blog is nicely designed and, more importantly, the writing is honest and sincere.
Two weeks ago, the author of Almost Vegetarian announced she would be attending culinary school and that she would be blogging about her experiences as a student.
Yesterday, for the first time, I checked out her culinary school blog, CookingSchoolConfidential.com. It offers a day-to-day account of her life as a student, both inside and outside the classroom. She shares with us what she has learned (practical information for anyone who enjoys cooking) and what she is in the process of learning. As someone who occasionally dreams of attending culinary school, I find this blog fascinating. It's definitely one of my new favorite reads!
Experiment15 via RDFrank67
PETA's "Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door 2009" contest is underway and you can vote online among 16 men and women.
Let's talk about the male contestants (of course). While all of them are attractive, my vote to take the entire contest has to go to Monty. If he's "next door," then I'm packing up and moving back to Los Angeles! My vote for Monty is not because he has a gorgeous face or a sculpted body. It's because he has a gorgeous face, a sculpted body AND he is a chihuahua lover!
The profiles for both the male and female contestants may be found on PETA's website by clicking here.
Monday, February 23, 2009
I just got these in the mail today. My niece and nephew in Southern California sent these treats to my two chihuahuas as a belated Valentine's Day gift, along with two matching pink Valentine's Day heart dresses for the dogs. Yes, the dresses are for the dogs - not for me and my partner!
I'm so tempted to lick the "strawberry" ice cream to see if it tastes as sugary as it looks!
Yesterday, I mentioned that I regularly make udon noodle soup on Mondays and posted a recipe for vegan dashi, the basic stock used for udon noodle soup.
I have seen recipes for udon noodle soup that call for adding 1/4 to 1/3 cup of soy sauce to approximately 6 to 8 cups of dashi. I use less soy sauce, as I prefer my soup to be lighter and more balanced, so that the flavor of the dashi is not overwhelmed by the flavor of either the mirin or the soy sauce.
Udon Noodle Soup
Approximately 2 main course servings
8 (approximately) cups vegan dashi (see recipe posted on 02/22/09)
2-3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese rice wine) (see note below)
2 servings (or bundles) dried udon noodles (thick wheat flour noodles)
2 scallions thinly sliced
2 eggs (optional)
1/3 - 1/2 cup shitake mushroom pieces (optional)
1 cup frozen chopped spinach defrosted in hot tap water (optional)
1/2 sheet of nori (dried seaweed) (optional)
Japanese red chili pepper (optional)
Drop the udon noodles in a pot of boiling water. After approximately six minutes, drain the noodles, rinse them thoroughly with warm water to remove any saltiness, and place them in two soup bowls. In a separate pot, slowly bring the dashi to a roiling bowl and then add the soy sauce (start by adding no more than 2 tablespoons) and the mirin. Ladle the soup over the noodles, garnish with the scallions, and serve.
Variations: As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I normally toss a handful (1/3 - 1/2 cup) of shitake mushroom pieces into the dashi before heating it. I also garnish my udon soup with a small bundle of spinach (thawed in hot tap water and squeezed by hand), along with egg omelet strips, small nori strips (cut with a pair of household scissors), and a couple of dashes of Japanese red chili pepper (Chinese chili oil, used sparingly, can be substituted) for kick.
Note: I have found mirin, udon noodles, nori sheets, dried shitake mushrooms, and Chinese chili oil at Whole Foods grocery store.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
watching and listening to my favorite Bruce Springsteen performance of my favorite Springsteen song, "The River," on Youtube. This song, about vanishing dreams "on the account of the economy," resonates with me more now than ever as I read about our current economic problems, including our country's high unemployment rate, people losing their homes, people paying through the roof for barely basic health care coverage or forsaking coverage altogether, and people losing large chunks - if not the entirety - of their retirement savings either because of the tumbling financial markets or because unemployment and/or illness left them no choice but to completely cash out in order to survive. In other words, vanishing dreams for our working women and men.
During winter, I make a Japanese udon noodle soup once a week, usually on Mondays. It's a nourishing meal that's simple to make.
Dashi is the soup stock used to make udon noodle soup. Dashi is also used to make dipping sauces for cold noodles, such as soba (buckwheat noodles). Traditional dashi consists of water, kombu (dried kelp) and bonito (dried fish) flakes. The specific steps for making this dashi may be found on the internet. You can also purchase instant dashi stock in powder form or in concentrated liquid form. My mother had a huge box of instant dashi powder - about the size of a box of Tide, I kid you not! - in her kitchen. Be aware, though, that virtually all such instant dashi contain significant amounts of monosodium glutamate (MSG), and all instant dashi contain bonito.
After adopting vegetarianism, I tried making vegan dashi by simply omitting the bonito and heating the water with a small piece of kombu. The result was a dashi that was too weak. I tried using larger pieces of kombu and even pre-soaked the kombu in the water for 30 minutes to an hour before heating it. The dashi was still too weak. Then I came across a blog called Just Hungry, whose author recommended pre-soaking the piece of kombu in the water overnight before heating it. I tried it, and the resulting dashi was perfectly balanced.
Nowadays, I prepare the following vegan dashi in the morning before leaving work for use later in the evening. It's so easy. Also, vegan dashi is budget friendly, in that a package of kombu containing several pieces costs about $3.
Makes just under 8 cups
8 cups water
1 strip (approximately 8 inches by 5 inches) of kombu (see main photo above)
dried shitake mushroom pieces (optional)
Wipe the kombu with a damp cloth to remove any white powder and immerse it in water for several hours in your refrigerator. When ready to use, slowly bring the water to a roiling boil and remove the kombu. That's it!
For a slightly stronger stock, which is my personal preference, toss a small handful (approximately 1/3 - 1/2 cup) of shitake mushroom pieces into the water before heating it. (See photo above.) You may opt to remove the shitake depending on the kind of dish you're making.
Note: Dried shitake mushroom pieces may be found at Whole Foods grocery store. Kombu will probably have to be purchased at an Asian grocery store or online.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
I was cleaning out the 'fridge this morning and came across a package of fresh thyme purchased by my partner about a week ago. He used maybe one or two sprigs. The fact that we have essentially an entire $3 or $4 package of unused thyme is bothering me. I hate wasting food and, nowadays, with our tanking economy, I'm particularly conscious about making sure any food we purchase actually gets consumed.
So, what to do with the leftover sprigs of thyme? I like making batches of Mario Batali's basic tomato sauce from his book, "Molto Italiano 327 Italian Recipes to Cook at Home." This sauce, which is naturally sweetened by the carrots, is my favorite tomato sauce to make. It's also versatile. I've used it for eggplant parmesan and lasagna, among other dishes. I typically make two separate batches and freeze the sauce in GLAD containers containing 2 1/2 cups each (enough for 2 people).
Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes approximately 4-5 cups
1/4 cup extra virgin oil
1 Spanish onion cut into 1/4 inch dice
4 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 finely shredded medium carrot
Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand (see note below), and juices reserved
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook until the carrot is quite soft, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, with their juice, and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer until sauce is as thick as hot cereal, about 30 minutes. Season with salt.
Note: I chopped the thyme leaves in a coffee grinder, and did the remaining chopping and shredding in a food processor. As for the crushed tomatoes, I just poured the whole tomatoes and their juices into the saucepan and then gently crushed each one using both hands, being careful not to touch the sides or the bottom of the hot saucepan.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Recently, my partner and I were visiting his mother in Long Island. While we were there, I suggested we go into the city so that I could check out this store, Moo Shoes, that sells vegan shoes (for men and women) and related apparel (e.g., vegan belts and wallets). We put our jackets on, drove to the train station, jumped on the LIRR, and headed into Penn Station. All the while, my partner kept complaining about having to go all the way into the city for, of all things, naugahyde shoes. As I'm telling him to zip it, I'm thinking to myself: God, I hope we didn't just blow an entire afternoon going into the city for some naugahyde shoes.
Moo Shoes is located at 78 Orchid Street. I bought a pair of "Kent Klarke" shoes for $119, which are not made of non-breathable naugahyde or "pleather." (Shoes that do not breathe would not work for me in D.C., especially during the humid summers.) Instead, the shoes are made of a breathable microfiber that really does act like leather. They bend and scratch like leather and can be polished and buffed like leather. I have been wearing them for a couple of weeks now. They feel comfortable and well made. I couldn't be happier!
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Yes, that is a photo of my passport, which I received in the mail last Thursday. In fact, it's my very first U.S.A. passport. So let's crank up the Lee Greenwood song, "God Bless the USA," in my honor!
Um, on second thought, let's not, as I've yet to finish digesting my lunch.
I'll admit that I've been a total loser for not having had a passport earlier. My excuses were that the process for obtaining one was either ridiculously expensive or too time consuming. In fact, neither was the case.
The passport application fees amounted to approximately $110, and I spent less than 10 minutes at the post office where I submitted my application and got my passport photos taken. Ten days later, I had my passport in hand!
Now, I just need to save money so that, one day, I'll be able to afford to go on one of these culinary vacations in Italy. In the meantime, I can dream.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
After a somewhat heavy meal of cheese enchiladas that I made last night, I was craving for something lighter and healthier tonight. For reasons I can't explain, I'm also feeling a bit tired today. (Actually, I'm guessing that I'm still suffering from a hangover from the two huge - HUGE - lemon drop martinis I made for myself after last night's dinner.) So tonight's dinner had to be easy to prepare, and it was!
I found a recipe for a tomatoes and white wine sauce from the cookbook, "Pasta Sauces," published by Williams Sonoma. I bought this book years ago, but recently found it when I was searching through my basement for items to donate to charity. I just tossed the sauce over spaghetti cooked al dente, and topped it with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and chopped flat leaf parsley. On the side, I served a salad (from a bag) that I topped with avocado slices and walnut pieces and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, along with salt and pepper to taste.
Tomatoes and White Wine
Serves approximately 4
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 pounds fresh plum (Roma) tomatoes, peeled and chopped (see note below), or canned plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
freshly ground white pepper
Warm the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, add the garlic, and cook for a few minutes until the garlic turns golden in color. Next, add the white wine, raise the heat to high and cook until the wine evaporates, approximately 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook uncovered over low-medium heat for approximately 5 minutes until sauce thickens slightly.
Note: I normally buy canned Roma tomatoes, but I wanted to try this recipe using fresh tomatoes. For instructions on how to peel tomatoes, I found this site helpful. Instead of pouring boiling water over each tomato, though, I just dropped each one into a small pot of boiling hot water on the stove for about 15-30 seconds and then dumped it in ice water. (Use tongs!) The tomato skin practically came off on its own.
The feature article, "Pasta Tonight," was fun to read, even though the recipe accompanying it was Pork Ragu for a Crowd. The article offered basic and useful information on how to match pasta shape to sauces and how to cook your pasta so that it comes out perfectly every time.
Equally important, though, the article reminded us that pasta is inexpensive, and in these uncertain economic times, inexpensive is a good thing.
Finally, the back page of the food section had a graphic titled "Pasta Pairings, by the Numbers," which provided recipes for 6 simple sauces, 4 of which were vegetarian, including a tomato cream sauce, a Gorgonzola sauce, a mushroom ragu, and a roasted red pepper sauce. A link for these recipes may be found here. (Free registration may be required to view.)
Monday, February 16, 2009
Last night, I made cheese enchiladas with a crumbling "queso fresco" I purchased at a local Latin market. While I would normally make a yellow rice using very good quality saffron to accompany a Latin dish, I decided to try making a green rice. The rice I made to accompany the enchiladas came from the book, "Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers: Fresh Ideas for the Weeknight Table," published by the Moosewood Collective. I was surprised by how flavorful the green rice tasted, especially considering the recipe called for using water, as opposed to vegetable stock, and spinach, as opposed to, say, cilantro.
I always make extra rice for dinner, which I top with a fried egg for breakfast the next day. (Heat the cold rice in the microwave for about a minute.) With leftover white rice, I will also drizzle some soy sauce on top. Growing up, I probably had fried eggs over rice for breakfast at least 5 times a week, because I just really disliked boxed cereals.
Approximately 4 Servings
1 1/2 cups white rice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or olive oil
2 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups loosely packed spinach (about 3 ounces)
pinch of black pepper
Heat oil in a saucepan under medium heat and saute the rice in the oil to coat each grain, about 1 minute. Add the water and salt, bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to very low. Cook rice until all of the water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes.
While the rice cooks, coarsely chop the scallions and, if necessary, rinse the spinach. (I used a half bag of pre-rinsed spinach.) In a large skillet, saute the scallions in 2 teaspoons of oil, about 1-2 minutes. Add the spinach and pepper to the skillet. Cover and cook until the spinach has just wilted but is still bright green, about 2 minutes. In a blender, puree the spinach and scallions until smooth. Add a little bit of water, no more than a 1/4 cup, if necessary.
When the rice is done cooking, stir in the spinach/scallion puree, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.