Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Apologies for the Lack of New Content Posted Today

I've been having serious problems with my internet connection. The post that was scheduled to go up today (Thai drunken noodles) will go up tomorrow evening, assuming, of course, the technician for the internet provider can fix the problem. See you then! David

Monday, March 30, 2009

Grilled Pineapple with Creme Fraiche

Check SpellingI'm not a sweet desserts type of guy. I prefer to end a meal with fruit, rather than with, say, a slice of chocolate cake.

Yesterday, I picked up a whole pineapple at the grocery store. I love fresh pineapple. Normally, I would just slice it into chunks and serve it. Last night, though, I was in a mood for something different.

So after dinner, I grilled
slices of pineapples on a very hot cast iron grill for about 5 minutes. I added sugar and vanilla extract to sweeten the creme fraiche. When the slices where done grilling, I set them on a plate. I drizzled 1-2 tablespoons of dark rum and some of the creme fraiche mixture on top of the on top of the pineapple slices.

The pineapple tasted really good. It had a crusty exterior. And the acidity of the softer interior was counter-balanced by the sweetness from the creme fraiche mixture.

Now I'm wondering what other fruits I can try grilling. Peaches? Plums?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Just Vegging Out on a Sunday Evening . . . .

On Sunday evenings, I've been posting live performances of some of my favorite music artists.

Tonight, though, I'm posting a Youtube video of one of my chihuahuas. This video was taken by my partner last year. This video cracks me up. My favorite part of this video is that exact moment when April pops out of the blanket.

I hope enjoy, and I hope you all had a great weekend!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Recipe: Smoky Mole-Type Sauce for Roasted Vegetables

I love roasted vegetables. They're colorful, and they taste good. Roasted veggies are also versatile. I've folded them into risottos and used them as pizza toppings. And leftover roasted veggies make a great omelet filling for breakfast the next day.

Last night, I tossed chunks from 3 medium yams, 1 large red pepper, and 1 large sweet onion in extra virgin olive oil, dried thyme, and Old Bay Seasoning. I roasted the veggies in a 450-degree oven for about 25-30 minutes. I stirred them with a spatula after the first 10-15 minutes had elapsed to prevent them from sticking to the foil-lined baking sheet.

While the veggies were roasting, I made the following Southwestern Native American-inspired, smoky mole-type sauce, from the cookbook,
Simple Suppers, by the Moosewood Collective.

1 15 ounce can of tomatoes
1 tablespoon canned chipotles in adobo sauce
1/2 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 15 ounch can of butter beans or black beans, drained

Flatbread, such as tortillas, lavash, or pita, warmed (optional)

8 ounces of plain yogurt or sour cream (optional)

Puree the tomatoes, chipotles, and the cilantro in a blender until smooth and set aside. When the vegetables are done roasting, place them in a baking dish, stir in the tomato-chipotle puree and the black beans, and place the baking dish in a 450-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Serve the stew, topped with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, in bowls, along with flatbread on the side.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sen. Specter (R-PA) Was For The Employee Free Choice Act Before He Was Against It

"Chicken Flip-Flops" by Joe Shlabotnik

The title of the image above pretty much sums up what I think of Sen. Arlen Specter's changing position, announced earlier this week, on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for working people to get a fair shake on the job. But maybe that's only for hedge fund managers.

Off to Drinking Liberally now.

Using Saffron to Make Yellow Rice

"Saffron Crocus" by LindaH

Two nights ago, I served yellow rice alongside the chiles rellenos I made. The bright yellow coloring of the rice came from using good quality saffron.

Saffron is, by weight, the most expensive spice in the world. An ounce of good quality saffron will run you about $100-$200, comparable to, say, an ounce of mid-grade weed in some parts of the U.S. (so I've heard only). Expensive, yes, but worth it (I'm talking about the saffron here). And because only a small amount of saffron is used at any given time, an ounce of saffron should last for quite a while.

Saffron is harvested from the red stigmas of the saffron flower,
Crocus Sativus Linneaus. Each saffron flower contains 3 red stigmas, and it takes nearly 14,000 of these threads for 1 ounce of saffron. The primary reason for the high price of saffron is labor costs. Each thread must be picked by hand.

I use saffron mainly in rice dishes, for example, paella. It is the saffron that is responsible for turning the rice bright yellow and giving it that pungent, spicy flavor. Super cheap saffron substitutes made from dried safflower flowers may be found at large grocery stores for around $3.00 for a 1 ounce package. The package might even refer to the contents as saffron. I wouldn't bother. Dried safflower flowers add neither taste nor the proper coloring when added to a dish.

The brand of Spanish saffron I use is called
The Gathering of Saffron, a 1 ounce tin of which I found on clearance online in December 2007. Other quality brands of Spanish saffron that are less expensive can be found online. You can also buy saffron in smaller amounts for much less. Again, the amount of saffron used at any given time is so small that it should last for quite a while.

Yellow Rice

Serves approximately 4

1 cup white rice (I used Uncle Ben's)

2 1/4 cups of vegetable broth or water (I used vegetable broth. See also note below)

1 tablespoons olive oil
A pinch of saffron (between 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of salt (not really necessary if you're using vegetable broth)

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the rice and the saffron and stir until the grains are coated, about 1 minute. Add the broth or water and salt, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

(Note: the amount of liquid you use depends on the kind of rice you use. Follow the instructions on the package with respect to the liquid-to-rice ratio.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chiles Rellenos Con Queso

I must have been on crack when I decided to make this somewhat time consuming meal last night!

This past Sunday, I ordered chiles rellenos con queso (cheese) at a restaurant, Cactus Cantina, located in the District. They tasted amazing. They also looked amazing, in that each fried chile was perfectly coated with an egg batter and covered with a tasty tomato sauce.

So, crazy me, I just couldn't wait until the weekend to attempt making chiles rellenos. I found a recipe from the
People's Guide to Mexico and got busy in the kitchen yesterday evening after stopping by the grocery store on my way home from work.

For the most part, I followed the recipes for both the chiles rellenos and the accompanying tomato sauce as written. I did use monterey cheese, as the recipe suggested. But, rather than stick the charred and blackened poblano peppers in a plastic produce bag, I placed them in a large bowl and covered it with plastic food wrap for about 30 minutes. This allowed the peppers to "sweat" and made it easier (alright, somewhat easier) to remove the charred and blackened outer skin under running cold water.

I also made sure to roll the chiles in the flour before dipping them in the egg batter. The flour helps the egg batter stick to the chiles. I thought I was able to get a pretty decent coating on the chiles after frying them in canola oil, although they were not perfectly coated as the ones I had on Sunday at Cactus Cantina.

Still, though, I was very happy with the way the dish turned out, including the accompanying side dishes. I will definitely be making chiles rellenos again, but only on a Saturday or Sunday!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Are You a Low Carb Vegan or Vegetarian?

"Pasta" by onio-n

Last December, I bookmarked this online article entitled, "Terri's Low Carb Vegan Diet," as a favorite.

In the late 1990s, I was an Atkins diet adherent who ate lots of meat. Literally, an insane amount.

For a while, the Atkins diet worked for me. I was nearly 30 pounds overweight at the time, and I was able to quickly (within 2 months) drop all those excess pounds. My problem with the diet, though, was that ultimately I found the food choices to be too restricting. For example, I missed eating pasta. But, if I had a bowl of pasta on a rare occasion, I found myself dragging and lacking in energy the next day.

Eventually, I concluded that there had to be something wrong with a diet that allowed me to eat so much meat, including red meat, at the virtual exclusion of all else, including fruits and vegetables.

I abandoned the Atkins diet in 2002, and, instead, focused on monitoring general caloric intake and portion control. For the most part, I have been able to maintain my lower weight. When I became a vegetarian in late 2007, I resumed monitoring my carb intake to some extent. I noticed that if I consumed too many carbs, I gained weight more quickly than in the past. I also had more difficulty losing any excess weight. These effects became more pronounced when I reached my late 30's. Now that I've turned 40, I suppose I will have to be a bit more vigilant about monitoring my carb intake.

Hence, I tend to eat eggs for breakfast and rotate between vegetable salads and vegan wraps for lunch during the weekdays and weekends. (I do eat 2 pieces of fruit and a protein bar in the afternoon.) I try to avoid heavy carb-based meals for lunch, such pizzas or pastas. This allows me flexibility in terms of what I can eat for dinner. As evidenced in prior posts on this blog, I eat all kinds of pasta. I love pasta, and I will almost always have two plates of pasta for dinner, without shame. So far, this way of eating has worked for me for purposes of maintaining my current weight.

Do any of you who are vegans or vegetarians watch your carbs? If so, how do you monitor your carb intake?

Monday, March 23, 2009

CNN Article on Health Risks Associated with Consuming Red Meat

"Cattle Jail" by etahaholic

Just came across this article entitled, "Want to live longer? Cut back on red meat," at CNN.com. A study of nearly half a million people revealed that people who eat red meat daily have a higher risk of dying over a 10-year period by way of cardiovascular disease or cancer, compared to persons who eat less red or processed meat.

In addition, the article reports that:

The American Institute of Cancer Research recommends that people consume less than 18 ounces of red meat (the equivalent of a child-size fast-food hamburger) per week to reduce the risk for cancer, and the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to less than 7 percent of total daily calories. (Animal products, such as meat and dairy, tend to be higher in saturated fat.) The United States Department of Agriculture food pyramid recommends two to three daily servings of protein, which can include lean meat, but can also come from plant sources.
Ultimately, though, the article comes down in favor of simply reducing, as opposed to eliminating, consumption of red meat, stating that:
[Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina] says that consuming meat in moderation is important for our diet, as well as the health of the planet. Americans consume around four times more meat and dairy than the rest of the world, which may contribute to a number of global concerns, including an increased demand and price for meat, increased greenhouse gases, and a rise in disease, he says.
It seems that if meat consumption, particularly red meat consumption, poses a risk to our individual health and to our planet, then these effects would be effectively countered by adopting a vegetarian lifestyle, an option not mentioned in this article.

Recipe: Pressure Cooker Portobello Mushroom Risotto

Because I was playing tennis on Saturday evening, dinner had to be quick and easy to prepare when I returned home. Initially, I was thinking of making a creamy mushroom and pea risotto dish using my pressure cooker (see note below). So, on my way home from tennis, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a bottle of white wine and some portobello mushrooms.

While preparing the dish, though, I ended up not using the frozen peas I had. Rather, I used a green pepper that I had to use before it went bad. For seasoning, I added dried thyme and a generous pinch of saffron. The end result? Pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. And it took about 30 minutes from start to finish.

Portobello Mushroom Risotto
Serves approximately 4

2 cups arborio rice
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3-4 tablespoons garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups vegetable broth
2 portobello mushrooms, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 generous pinch saffron
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1/4 cup milk (I used 2 percent milk)
3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Italian parsley, chopped, for garnishing

In the pressure cooker pot, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat with the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, and the green pepper. Mix with a wooden spoon until the onions become soft, about 2 minutes. Add thyme, the arborio rice, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and stir, about 30 seconds.

Add the wine and continue stirring until the rice nearly absorbs the wine, about 1 minute. Add the vegetable broth and the saffron and stir. Cover the pressure cooker and increase the heat to high. Once high pressure is achieved (15 psi), reduce the heat to low-medium, and maintain that pressure for another 6 minutes.

As the rice is cooking, melt the remaining butter in a skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until they become soft, 5-6 minutes.

When the rice is done cooking, release the pressure naturally (as opposed to under cold water). Open the pressure cooker. Add the milk, and stir in the grated cheese and the mushrooms. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chopped parsley on top.

(Note: if you do not have a pressure cooker, then heat the vegetable broth in a separate pot. Add 1 cup of the warm broth to the rice and stir until the broth is nearly absorbed, 5-7 minutes. Continue adding the remaining 3 cups of broth in this manner. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Just Vegging Out on a Sunday Night . . . .

watching Janis Joplin's performance of "Ball and Chain" at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. I remember watching the documentary Janis: The Way She Was on VHS in the early 1990s, and from that point on, I've been a fan. I recall the documentary portraying the fact that she was picked on and teased by classmates growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, simply because she was different. As a gay man, I can relate to her experiences growing up, which is why I feel connected not just to her music, but also to that "outcast" persona of hers.

At 3:24 minutes into the video, the camera pans to Cass Elliot (The Mamas & the Papas) in the audience. At the end of the video, the camera pans to Cass Elliot again, and you see her mouthing the word, "Wow," after Janis' performance.

Wow, indeed.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Weekly Recipe Round-Up for the Week Ending 3.20.2009

"Santa Barbara farmer's market," by ClatieK

Tempeh Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, 3.16.2009
Paella with Tomatoes, 3.18.2009
Penne Alla Vodka, 3.20.2009

Poker Night Food: Mac and Cheese from VeganYumYum

Last night, my partner and I went to a friend's home for low-stakes poker. The host, who is a vegan, made a really delicious mac & cheese dinner, the recipe for which came from VeganYumYum. I believe the only change he made to the recipe was to add defrosted edamame (soy beans) before baking in the oven.

VeganYumYum is a fun blog, and the photos on that site are quite stunning. And speaking of photos, I apologize for the qualiity of the images above. I took them with my iphone.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Recipe: Penne Alla Vodka for a Date Night

I've gotten a few emails from people who have complimented me on this blog. One person emailed me to tell me that he (a non-vegetarian) had just started dating a vegetarian and that perhaps he might find some good ideas on this blog.

So now I'm asking myself: what's a good date-dish to make for a vegetarian? It should, of course, taste good, and it should be simple to prepare.

I love the penne alla vodka from Jeane Lemlin's Vegetarian Classics. This dish takes less than 15 minutes to make. It has so much flavor, even though it requires so few ingredients. And it looks nice, too, especially when presented on plain black or white wine. Serve with a simple side salad, your favorite bottle of wine, and you are set to go!

Penne Alla Vodka
Serves approximately 4

16 ounces penne
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
1/4 vodka (I used Skyy)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Parsley, finely chopped, for garnishing
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Add the penne to a large pot of boiling water and cook according to the directions on the package.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large 10-12 inch skillet. Add the garlic and the red pepper flakes and cook for about 1 minute. (Make sure to lower the heat, if necessary, so that the garlic does not burn.) Add the crushed tomatoes, vodka, and salt, and continue cooking for about 10 minutes over low heat.

When the penne is done cooking, drain the penne in a colander. Pour the cream into the skillet. Add the penne to the skillet and gently toss until coated with the sauce. Garnish with parsley and serve. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese at the table, if desired.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Round 3 of PETA's Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door Contest - Go Monty!

View on Black by rough hands!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that PETA was holding its annual contest for Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door. Monty, the incredibly hot, vegan, chihuahua lover, has made it to Round 3, with 3 other male competitors remaining. Click the contest link and vote for your favorite male and female entrant! I've already voted for Monty using my home computer, my work computer, and my iphone.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Recipe: Mark Bittman's Paella with Tomatoes

Got home from work a little later than usual last night, so I wanted something that was fairly quick to make for dinner. I had tomatoes that I was planning to use later in the week. I decided to use them yesterday to make Mark Bittman's paella with tomatoes, a dish I've made reference to in a previous post about rice.

Prep took less than 10 minutes. I did add about 1 1/2 cups of frozen peas into skillet before placing it in the oven, because, well, I like the combination of peas and rice. This really is one of my favorite dishes to make on a weekday.

Mark Bittman's Paella with Tomatoes
Serves approximately 6

3 1/2 cups vegetable stock (see note below)
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (approximately 3 medium tomatoes), cored and cut into thick wedges (I skipped the coring part)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Large pinch saffron threads (optional)
2 teaspoons smoked or other paprika
2 cups Spanish or other short-grain white rice (I used arborio rice)
Flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped, for garnishing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Warm the vegetable stock in a pot. Place the tomato wedges in a bowl. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over them, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss, and set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 10-12 inch, oven-safe, skillet over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the onions until they become soft, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, saffron threads, and paprika for about a minute or so. Add the rice and stir until the grains become shiny, 1-2 minutes. Add the warm stock and stir until combined.

Spread the rice evenly in the skillet and then place the tomato wedges on top of the rice. Drizzle with the tomato juices from the bottom of the bowl. Place the skillet in the oven for 15-20 minutes. When the rice becomes tender, remove the pan from the oven (MAKE SURE TO USE A POT HOLDER) and let it sit for another 5-15 minutes. Garnish with finely chopped parsley and serve.

(Note: Although Mr. Bittman calls for using either vegetable broth or water for this dish, I recommend using vegetable broth. I've tried both and find that this dish has much more flavorful when broth is used.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Orean's Health Food Express: Vegetarian Fast-Food Drive-Thru

"Drive Thru" by SMercury98

A few weeks ago, I read about a fast food vegetarian take-out restaurant called Orean's The Health Express, which is located in Pasadena, California. The menu looks delicious - burgers, dogs, and burritos. I really wanted to check it out for myself. But, I don't have any anticipated travel to Los Angeles - my hometown - in the near future. I have a younger sister who does live in L.A. County. She agreed to take her kids to Orean's and give me a report.

She described Orean's as basically a burger stand, similar to the original In-N-Out Burger stands (a hugely popular regional burger chain) found in Southern California. She said you order at a window and there are only about 2 or 3 tables to sit at. Most customers came via the drive-thru, which was busy the entire time she was there. She was somewhat surprised at how busy Orean's was, given that it is situated on one corner of an intersection, with KFC, McDonald's, and Carl's Jr situated on the other corners. In other words, Orean's was kicking butt, despite the number of fast food options at this one intersection.

My sister, who is not a vegetarian, ordered the Orean cheese burger with everything on it, including cheese, tomato, lettuce, ketchup, mustard, pickles, and relish. She said that she really enjoyed it, although she thought all of the toppings somewhat overpowered the taste of the patty, which had a "nutty texture." She said that she and her kids were in agreement that the "Super Shakes were the best. They was soooo good."

Orean's is located at 817 North Lake Boulevard in Pasadena, California. I wish we had one of these in the D.C. metro area, preferably, of course, in Alexandria City!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Recipe: Tempeh Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Yesterday morning, I overheard my partner talking to his mother on the telephone and lamenting the fact that I won't ever again be making the corned beef and cabbage I used to make for St. Patrick's Day prior to becoming a vegetarian in late 2007.

Listening to their conversation, though, I began thinking about dishes I have not made since becoming a vegetarian. One of those dishes is stuffed cabbage rolls. So, last night I decided to vegetarian-ize my mother's basic recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls by substituting the ground beef for "ground" tempeh, and replacing the strips of bacon on top of the cabbage rolls with dollops of sour cream. The end result? Flavorful cabbage rolls that rival the original recipe.

Tempeh Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Makes approximately 4 servings

1 large cabbage head

1 package tempeh

16 ounces tomato sauce, diluted with 16 ounces water
(I used two 8 oz cans of tomato sauce)
1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 cup cooked white rice (I used jasmine)
1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons olive oil



Using a knife, carefully cut (3-5 inches deep) around the core of the head of cabbage. (If you can remove the entire core from the cabbage head, then go for it.) Place the cabbage head in boiling water for 10-15 minutes, until the outer leaves have softened.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a skillet under medium heat. While the oil is warming up, break up the tempeh using your fingers into finely "ground" pieces. Drizzle approximately 1/4 cup of soy sauce over the "ground" tempeh and saute the tempeh in the skillet, about 5 minutes. Remove the tempeh from the skillet and set it aside.

Add the chopped onions and garlic into the skillet and cook until the onions become soft, 3-5 minutes. Add the "ground" tempeh back into the skillet and stir in the cooked rice, about 1/3 of the tomato sauce-water mixture, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the beaten egg. Remove everything from the skillet into a bowl or plate.

Remove the cabbage from the boiling water. Take a cabbage leaf and add 1 tablespoon (a heaping) of the tempeh-rice filling onto the leaf. Tuck the sides of the leaf over the filling, roll the leaf, and place the leaf in a baking dish with the seam side down.

Repeat until you have about 10-12 rolled leaves. (Use a knife to cut away any rough leaf stem parts before rolling.) Pour the remaining tomato sauce-water mixture over the top of the rolled leaves. Cover the baking dish with foil and place in the oven for about 30 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just Vegging Out on a Sunday Night . . . .

I think this is an amazing performance from singer-songwriter James Blunt, performing at last year's Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England, a festival I would love to attend one day. "Goodbye My Lover" is from his album Back to Bedlam.

I really enjoy watching live concert performances on Youtube, probably because I didn't go to concerts when I was in my teens. My parents didn't live close to any concert venue, and they were not in a position to pay for concert tickets for me or my sisters.

I did have a series of part-jobs while in high school - Mrs. Fields (where I witnessed cookie dough balls rolling into the bathroom, which my supervisor then picked up, baked, and sold to unknowing customers), McDonald's (where I received a generous 5-cent raise after 6 months as a reward for my work performance), and as a video store clerk. In all of these jobs, I received minimum wage, which made concert tickets, for the most part, unaffordable to me.

But now I have Youtube to watch all those great live performances I missed in the '80s from such artists as Wham, Duran Duran, REO Speedwagon, Styxx . . . .

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Onigiri Wrapped in Roasted Nori

In a post earlier this week, I made reference to onigiri (rice balls) wrapped in roasted nori (seaweed). Here's a photo of onigiri I made this afternoon. I cooked some Japanese sushi rice this morning. When the rice cooled down, I wet my fingers, sprinkled a bit of salt in my palms, grabbed a some handful of rice, and began pressing and molding the rice into a somewhat triangular shape. I wrapped a strip of nori around the rice ball and ate.

My mother would add a pickled plum in the center of the rice ball.

Weekly Recipe Round-Up for the Week Ending 3.13.2009

"Banana leaf magic" by allspice1

Vegetarian Pizza, Cap City Style, 3.12.2009
Easy Marinara Sauce, 3.11.2009
Grilled Portobello Mushroom "Burgers," 3.9.2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Just Vegging Out on Friday Night . . . .

My partner and I just finished watching the movie, "Pineapple Express," with Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Every week, I check out www.metacritic.com to see what's being released on DVD. I put "Pineapple Express" in my Netflix queue because it had a pretty decent Metacritic score. I laughed my f'ing ass off throughout. Seth Rogen was hilarious, as he had been in "Superbad" and "Knocked Up." It was one of the funniest films I've seen in a long time.

D.C. Korean Food Cart - Vegetarian Bibimbap

A coworker of mine, who is a
vegetarian, was recently telling me about some of the places he goes to for lunch that have decent vegetarian selections. One of these places is a Korean food cart in D.C., near the southeast corner of “L” Street and 14th Street, NW. The cart is bright yellow in color, so it’s somewhat hard to miss. The mother and son team serve up various bulgolgi and bibimbap with meat. They also offer a vegetarian bibimbap.

I decided to get lunch there today. The vegetarian bibimbap ($6.75) I ordered consisted of cooked rice topped with a fried egg, alongside various pickled vegetables, including julienned carrots, spinach, bean sprouts, and kimchi (pickled cabbage). I poured some spicy red sauce over it all.

This dish was really, really good – I highly recommend you check it out! Again, it's the yellow cart at
14th Street and “L” Street, NW.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Just Got Back From Drinking Liberally Tonight

Image: American Rights at Work

After making pizza for dinner tonight, I headed off to Capital City Brewing Company in Shirlington, Virginia, to socialize at Drinking Liberally, where I found myself engaged in discussions about sci-fi conventions, the movie "Twilight," the Jonas Brothers, and how to meet and marry a rich foreign diplomat by securing employment in one of the many embassies here in D.C.

On the subject of liberal politics, click here and here for more information about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and what you can do to show your support for this bill.

Recipe: Vegetarian Pizza, Cap City Style

One of my favorite dishes at Capital City Brewing Company in Shirlington, Virginia, is the vegetarian pizza. It consists of very thin flatbread topped with tomato sauce, spinach, tomato slices, and lots and lots and lots of mozzarella cheese.

Tonight, I attempted to duplicate Cap City's vegetarian pizza at home. I made marinara sauce last night, because I believe Cap City uses marinara sauce for its vegetarian pizza. Earlier in the week, I had purchased Middle Eastern flatbread that was almost as thin as a flour tortilla. Initially, I was worried that the flatbread I had purchased - a white lavash (of Armenian origin) - was too thin. But, it ended up being exactly what I needed.

Vegetarian Pizza, Cap City Style
Serves 2

2 pieces of Middle Eastern flatbread (I used white lavash flatbread from Middle East Bakery, Inc.)
1-2 cups marinara sauce (use your favorite)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces fresh spinach leaves
2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced
Shredded mozzarella cheese (I leave the amount up to you!)
Fresh basil finely chopped or julienned, for garnishing
Red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place each piece of flatbread directly on the lowest rack for 3-5 minutes on each side until slightly crisp.

While the pieces of flatbread are toasting in the oven, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach leaves and cook them until they start to wilt, about 1-2 minutes. Remove the spinach from the skillet and set it aside. After the pieces of flatbread are done toasting in the oven, remove them from the oven, and set them aside. Turn the heat to 400 degrees.

Set each piece of flatbread on a baking sheet. Spread approximately 1 cup of marinara sauce over each piece. Top with the spinach leaves, followed by the tomato slices, and a couple dashes of red pepper flakes. Add the mozzarella cheese as the final layer and place in the oven. When the cheese has melted, about 10 minutes, remove the pizzas from the oven. Garnish with basil and serve.

It tastes just as good as Cap City's!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Recipe: Simple Marinara Sauce Using Low Cost Ingredients

Prior to becoming a vegetarian in late 2007, one of my favorite tomato sauces to make was the marinara sauce from the magazine, Cooking Light. I haven't made Cooking Light's version of marinara sauce since becoming a vegetarian because the recipe calls for the use of chicken broth. When I look at that recipe now, I wonder why I hadn't realized the oddity of adding chicken broth for something that traditionally has been made from fresh earth-based ingredients, such as ripe tomatoes, garlic, and herbs.

Tonight, I made the marinara sauce below. It comes from an episode of Tyler Florence's Food Network show, "Food 911." I chose this sauce to make because it was simple and permitted the use of basic dried herbs. (I have a lot of dried herbs that I need/want to use up.) The end result was a very tasty tomato sauce with just the right amount of denseness. I plan on using this sauce for tomorrow night's planned dinner, so stay tuned.

Marinara Sauce
Makes about 3 cups

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 whole bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot and add the onions and the garlic. Sprinkle about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt over the onions and continue cooking the onions until they become soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaf. Stir in the oregano, basil, and sugar. Turn the heat down to low and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (You might want to consider using a splatter guard over your pot.) Add pepper and additional salt, to taste.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pantry Item: Rice, Rice, Baby

Last week I ate rice - lots of rice.

This got me thinking about the different kinds of rice I have stocked in my pantry, which include
jasmine rice, arborio rice, Uncle Ben’s Original Rice, and a huge bag (20 lbs!) of Japanese short-grain sushi rice.

The Japanese sushi rice was what I ate exclusively growing up in my parents’ home. The brand I tend to purchase is Kokuho Rose, which can be found in many major supermarkets. I like this rice for its stickiness. I use it primarily for making vegetarian sushi rolls (e.g., California or Philadelphia rolls) or for making onigiri (rice balls) wrapped in sheets of roasted nori (seaweed) for a quick weekend lunch or snack.

For most dishes that call for any kind of white rice, I turn to jasmine rice. Jasmine rice is a long-grain rice originally from Thailand. The grains fluff up nicely and have just a little bit of stickiness to them. Jasmine rice has a soft texture and a slightly nutty flavor. It can be used in Asian, Indian, Latin, Middle Eastern, and other ethnic dishes. Cooked jasmine rice also refrigerates better than other cooked rices, in that it does not get as dried out and hardened when cold. For that reason, jasmine rice is ideal for making fried rice using any leftover rice cooked the night before.

I buy Uncle Ben’s rice out of habit, although I'm personally not a fan of it. My partner, who is vegetarian-inclined, uses Uncle Ben’s for some rice dishes he makes, including yellow rice and
arroz con pollo, which means rice with chicken.

Arborio rice is a must-have pantry item. It is a short-grain Italian rice (the grains almost look like perfectly round balls) that releases a lot of starch when cooked. I use arborio rice for making all kinds of risottos, the basic recipe for which involves gradually adding some kind of broth to the rice (over the course of, say, 30 minutes) and then mixing in grated parmesan cheese right before serving. I also use arborio rice for Mark Bittman’s tomato paella recipe.

If someone were to ask me what kinds of white rice he or she should stock in his or her pantry, I would recommend purchasing a bag of jasmine rice and a bag of arborio rice. And if you think you may be inclined to make vegetarian sushi rolls, then I would recommend purchasing a small bag of Japanese sushi rice. Actually, on second thought, I can probably just give you some of mine!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Recipe: Grilled Portobello Mushroom "Burgers"

After the wonderful food and wine I had on Saturday night for my 40th birthday at a restaurant called Rock Creek in Bethesda, Maryland, I was set on having something simple for dinner last night.

I don't know why, but last night I was craving a portobello mushroom "burger" with lots of onions, and fries on the side.

I recalled last year making Ina Garten's matchstick fries from an episode of "The Barefoot Contessa" on Food Network. Last night, I made matchstick fries again. But rather than sprinkling them with salt and chopped parsley, as called for in the BC's recipe, I sprinkled them lightly with salt and Herbs de Provence. I cooked the fries as I was
sauteing the onions (until soft and dark brown in color), and kept the cooked fries warm on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven until dinner was ready to be served.

I grilled the marinated portobello mushroom caps for about 3-5 minutes on each side until they were soft. After I removed the caps from the grill, I cut them into 1/4 inch slices. I placed a generous heaping of onion slices on a kaiser roll. I topped the onion slices with several slices of mushroom and crumbled blue cheese. It so hit the spot!

Marinade for Grilled Portobello Mushroom "Burgers"
Serves approximately 3

4 portobello mushroom caps (1 to 2 caps per person depending on the size of the caps)
1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup of water
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix the balsamic vinegar, water, olive oil, garlic, and salt in a small bowl and pour into a large freezer bag. Add the mushroom caps (stems removed), seal the bag, and marinate for about 1 hour. Shake the bag after about 30 minutes to make sure all the mushroom caps are coated with the marinade.

The mushroom caps will cook quickly on the grill - about 3-5 minutes on each side. So, begin grilling them approximately 10 minutes before the meal is ready to be served.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Do You Hear the People Sing?

In a previous post, I made reference to the song "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from the musical Les Miserables, in discussing my partner's declaration: "Let vegetables be vegetables!"

Just imagine the opening singer in the video brandishing a carrot in his right hand . . . .

Ways to Cut Your Food Bill

"Paying Bills" by seaofteeth

I thought some of you might be interested in this article on ways to cut your food bill by 25 percent that I just came across this morning on Yahoo's home page.

Personally, I would probably find myself wasting more food and, hence, wasting more money, if I took the article's suggestion to shop every other week. I shop every week and only purchase enough food for that week. I do like the article's suggestion to resolve to eat, within 24 hours, whatever leftovers (or "layovers") from the day before, even if you have to eat them for breakfast. There have been plenty of times I've eaten lasagna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the same day to ensure it wouldn't end up getting tossed.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"10 Ways to Eat an Egg Tonight" via The Kitchn on 3.5.2009

"Eggs" by cursedthing

Of the 10 ways to eat an egg listed by The Kitchn, 9 of them are vegetarian.

The egg pizza intrigues me.

Today is a Special Day!

Today I turn 40 years old.

My next door neighbor told me he thought I looked 34. What?! I thought I looked like I was still in my late 20's!

Weekly Recipe Round-Up for the Week Ending 3.6.2009

Today's high in the D.C metro area is expected to reach 70 plus degrees. Hence, the photo chosen to accompany this post. (It's hard to imagine that this past Monday, it had snowed and had, with the exception of Friday, been cold throughout the remainder of the week.)

Fried Rice, 3.5.2009
Mattar Paneer via Manjula's Kitchen, 3.4.3009
Fried Eggs Over Rice
, 3.4.3009 (not really a recipe, but a breakfast idea)
Paneer Cheese, 3.3.2009
Potato, Spinach and Feta Cheese Gratin, 3.2.2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

February 2009 Issue of Vegetarian Times Profiles Jason Mraz

Last month's Vegetarian Times featured an interview with talented singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, who is a vegan. In the interview, Mraz talks about his experiences with the raw food diet. (He says that he eats raw "probably about 75 percent of the time.")

His dessert recipe for "Chocomole," mentioned in the VT interview, may be found here.

On a side note, check out this video of one of my favorite Jason Mraz songs, "You and I Both," released in 2002.

My Perfect Chihuahuas

In my personal profile, I made reference to my two perfect chihuahuas. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Joy (foreground) and April.

My partner and I adopted them in September 2007 from a
breeder in Bristol, Virgina, which is about a 5-hour drive south of where we live. Joy is approximately 2 years, 2 months old, and April is approximately 1 year,11 months old. They each weigh about 8 lbs.

Joy is soft and mushy. She loves to be held and gently caressed. She'll lie right next to me in bed, with her head sharing my pillow and the rest of her body beneath the comforter. She has a big appetite and will stand on her hind legs and hit me as I'm pouring food into her bowl. And she loves to play fetch with her many plush toys.

April is a little rebel. If I tell her not to do something, she'll still see if she can get away with doing it. If she doesn't get her way, she becomes loud and mouthy. She is energetic and can run around the park non-stop for hours. She's always smiling - her grin reminds me of the Joker! And she loves to be vigorously caressed, especially on the top of her head.

Our babies.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Recipe: Fried Rice

Most Asian Americans I know grew up with their mothers making some variation of fried rice. My mother made fried rice with bacon bits, scallions, and a couple of egg omelets cut into small pieces, so you would see flecks of brown, green, and yellow in the dish.

In my version, I substitute tempeh for the bacon and, taking a cue from my college roommate, add peas and carrots. While cold rice (leftover from the night before) is preferred, you can use freshly cooked rice. I've done so on many occasions. Freshly cooked rice will be stickier than cold rice and, therefore, more difficult to stir in a pan or in a wok. Using either, though, will yield an equally satisfying meal that is easy to prepare (one pot) and is delicious.

Fried Rice
Serves approximately 3 as a main course

5 cups cold rice (preferably cold - I used leftover jasmine rice)
1 package tempeh cut into small bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (or a mixture of frozen peas and carrots) thawed
2 eggs beat
6 scallions finely sliced
soy sauce (I use low sodium)
2 tablespoons oil (I use canola)

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok and fry the pieces of tempeh until they turn light golden brown. Add the rice and stir until it is heated and the grains of rice are separated. (If using freshly cooked rice, don't worry about the grains of rice separating - it won't happen.) Add the scallions and the peas. Next, pour the beaten eggs over the hot rice and continue stirring until the scallions, the peas, the tempeh, and the egg mixture are evenly distributed throughout. When the egg mixture is done cooking, stir in approximately 1/4 to 1/3 cup of soy sauce. The rice should turn light brown in color. Add more soy sauce if necessary. Finally, add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

What is Tempeh and Why Use It?

One of my favorite ingredients to use is tempeh. Tempeh originated in Indonesia. It consists of cooked soybeans (tofu is made from soy milk) that have been fermented and pressed into a cake. It is high in protein and is often combined with rice or other grains, which gives it a nutty, somewhat chewy, consistency. Tempeh is often used in vegetarian cooking for its meat-like consistency in such dishes as BBQ tempeh "wings" or tempeh "meatloaf."

I tend to purchase the three-grain tempeh because I love the nuttiness that comes from the barley, millet, and the brown rice. What I like about tempeh is its versatility. Like tofu, tempeh takes on whatever flavor you cook it in.

You can purchase tempeh that supposedly mimics the taste of bacon. I have not tried it and probably never will, especially after my unpleasant experience recently using mock meat seasoned to taste like beef strips. I have pretty much come around to the view that ingredients from the earth should actually taste like ingredients from the earth. As my partner authoritatively declared, after taking one bite of a mock beef strip: "Let vegetables be vegetables!" (I swear I thought he was going to push his dining chair back, stand up, and launch into "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from Les Miserables.)

On the subject of flavored mock meats, I suspect it is too late for me to cancel my online order for dehydrated textured vegetable protein chunks, seasoned to taste like chicken. I ordered a jug of these TVP chunks shortly before my experience last week with the mock beef strips. Money meet toilet. Toilet meet money.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Veggie Watching the Washington Post Food Section, 3.4.2009

Of possible interest to vegans and vegetarians in this week's Washington Post food section:
  • Review of Soul Vegetarian Cafe & Exodus Carryout. BBQ tofu subs, mac and cheese, collard greens, and candied yams. I'm definitely going to have to check this place out. Other reviews of this restaurant may be found over at Happy Cow.
  • It's the Post's third annual Beer Madness tournament. Thirty-two beers, divided among four categories - lagers, ales, specialty & fruit beers, and dark beers - compete for the title of best tasting beer, to be decided on March 25. I'm somewhat intrigued by the Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat beer, which made it to Round 2. I don't think I've ever tried a fruit beer. Maybe I'll try to order something like that the next time I'm at Drinking Liberally at Capitol City Brewing Company in Shirlington.

Recipe: Mattar Paneer

So, I finally got around to making mattar paneer using homemade paneer cheese, and I was happy with the way the dish turned out.

There are many different variations of this dish on the internet. I decided to try the mattar paneer recipe from Manjula's Kitchen. I chose her recipe, because, quite honestly, I already had most the necesary spices in my pantry, except for the hing. (And since I didn't feel like searching for hing at area grocery stores last night, I just omitted it.)

A couple of things you should consider if you plan on trying this recipe. First, watch the video accompanying the recipe. In the video, Manjula adds a small green chili pepper in the blender, along with the tomatoes and the ginger. The written recipe beneath the video makes no mention of a green chili pepper. Oops. Luckily, I had one jalapeno pepper laying about on the counter, which I cut in half lengthwise and seeded and then tossed into the blender. The chili pepper is important. It is primarily what gives this dish its heat.

In addition to omitting the hing, I also omitted the starch/water mixture as a thickener. It wasn't necessary, because the sauce thickened on its own. Finally, before plating, be sure to add sugar (approximately 1/2 teaspoon, as called for in the recipe) and salt (approximately 1 teaspoon) to taste. As you can see from the photo above, I served the mattar paneer over rice (jasmine).

This dish was really simple to make, despite some of the above-described obstacles I encountered while trying to follow Manjula's recipe. I think this recipe is a keeper, although I would still like to try making one of the more complex variations of this dish.

My Favorite Breakfast: Fried Eggs Over Rice

In my very first post on this blog, I mentioned that I usually make extra rice for dinner so that I can top a fried egg over some rice for breakfast the next day. With leftover white rice, I will also drizzle a little soy sauce on top of the egg.

Above is a photo of my breakfast from this morning. Yummo!
Absolutely deee-lish!

(Alright. My apologies for subjecting you to TWO "Rachel Rayisms" in one post.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Recipe: Paneer Cheese

I love Indian cuisine and one of my favorite Indian dishes is mattar paneer, which consists of green peas and cubes of paneer cheese in a spicy sauce. The first time I had mattar paneer was in March 2008 while on a work-related trip to Cincinnati. I was looking for a vegetarian restaurant and found Akash India in the downtown area near my hotel. While not exclusively vegetarian, Akash India offers a very good selection of meatless dishes at reasonable prices.

Since returning f
rom Cincinnati, I have been wanting to make mattar paneer at home. Much to my surprise, the large pan-Asian supermarket where I shop for ethnic foods - Super H Market - does not stock paneer cheese. Recently, though, MOM's, a small organic grocery store down the street from my house, began selling small blocks of paneer cheese for $5.99.

I've been told by my friends who are of Indian descent that making paneer cheese is easy: just whole milk and some vinegar or lemon juice. So rather than spend $5.99 for paneer cheese at MOM's, I bought a 1/2 gallon of whole milk and a handful of lemons, did some additional research on the internet on making paneer cheese, and then gave it a shot. I'm quite pleased with the result!

Paneer Cheese

1/2 gallon (8 cups) whole milk
3 tablespoons lemon juice (strained of pulp and seeds)

Slowly bring the whole milk to a boil in a large pot, about 15 minutes. Once the milk starts to boil, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. The milk will start to curdle (if not, add 1 more tablespoon of lemon juice) and the curds will start to separate from the liquid whey. When the separation is complete, strain the milk in a colander lined with cheese cloth.

Rinse the curds carefully under cold tap water to remove any lemon juice. Gather up the edges of the cheese cloth and being twisting the ball of cheese to squeeze out any excess liquid. Because the dish I'll be making tonight calls for the paneer cheese to be cut into small cubes, I've flattened the ball of cheese slightly with my palm while it was still wrapped in the cheesecloth. This will make cutting these cubes easier. Place the wrapped cheese in the refrigerator for a few hours to harden. It's really that simple. Wish me luck on making the mattar paneer tonight!

Slavery and Food Production in the U.S.

Yesterday, there was a post at Apartment Therapy's companion food blog, The Kitchn, discussing a story from the March issue of Gourmet about the slave conditions many tomato pickers working in Immokalee, Florida, "the tomato capital of the United States," are presently subjected to.

By coincidence, this past weekend I came across this post by Natasha Chart, blogger at Change.org, that references the situation at Immokalee and delves deeper into her assertion that "slaves and sharecroppers harvest much of our food."

Chart discusses the practice of farm operators who use labor contractors to transport women and men into this country illegally. These contractors charge each immigrant a high transport fee. In return, the immigrant agrees to pay back the fee, along with accrued interest, through his or her wages earned by toiling long hours in fields in the middle of nowhere. The problem, though, is that the wages are so low, and the interest rates are so high, as to make it impossible for these immigrants to repay the transport fee.

These immigrants are forced into further debt by having to borrow more money (with interest, of course) from the contractor to pay rent to live in dilapidated shacks owned by (surprise!) the contractor on the farm operator's premises. As a result of all
this indebtedness, these women and men remain at the mercy of the contractor for the rest of their lives. The contractor essentially owns them and will do anything and everything necessary, including beatings, to keep them productive and to keep them from running away. There is no word, but slavery, to describe this situation.

believe many, if not most, of us are aware of these practices committed by farm operators. I think, though, there are some individuals who would turn a blind eye or hesitate to call this slavery because of their bias against undocumented immigrants. These individuals would argue that it's not slavery, because these immigrants voluntarily subjected themselves to these "harsh" working conditions by coming into this country illegally. In other words, they asked for it.

They asked for it, because, surely, they were told by the labor contractors what their working conditions would be like when they arrived in this country: no breaks; no sick leave; no holiday leave; no health care coverage; no family medical leave; no right to organize; no right to collectively protest working conditions; and no ability to leave the premises of their overseers.

Yeah, right. They really asked for all these things.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Recipe: Potato, Spinach and Feta Cheese Gratin

I usually play tennis on Saturday evenings. This past Saturday was no exception. So, while I was on the tennis courts ripping Roger Federeresque forehands past my opponents, my partner was at home preparing one of my favorite vegetarian meals: Potato, Spinach and Feta Cheese Gratin.

This dish, from Jeanne Lemlin's book, "Simple Vegetarian Pleasures," takes about 30 minutes to prepare and 60 minutes to bake. The ingredients are few in number. There are, however, a few time-suck steps in the prepping process, including peeling each potato and blanching the spinach. You could prepare this dish more quickly on a weeknight by opting not to peel the potatoes and using frozen, instead of fresh, spinach (thawed in hot tap water and pressed to remove any liquid). You could also try getting away with baking this dish in the oven for a shorter amount of time than the 1 hour specified in the recipe.

Potato, Spinach and Feta Cheese gratin
Serves approximately 4

10 ounces fresh spinach leaves (washed or bagged) or frozen chopped spinach
Unsalted butter for greasing dish, plus 2 tablespoons cut into small pieces
5 medium-large (2 1/2 pounds) boiling (waxy) potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced (preferably using a food processor a mandoline slicer)
4 ounces feta cheese
2 scallions, very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried
1 1/4 cups low-fat milk
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the fresh spinach. When spinach turns bright green, about 30 seconds, remove it using a slotted spoon and plunge it in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Press the spinach to remove any liquid and set the spinach aside.

Butter a shallow 9" by 13" glass baking dish. Lay half of the potato slices in the baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Next, top with the spinach, the feta cheese, scallions and dill. Layer the remaining potato slices in the baking dish and pour the milk all over this top layer. Dot this top layer with the small pieces of butter. Cover the dish with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Bake another 30 minutes uncovered and serve.

(Tip: I've been purchasing spinach leaves at the supermarket's salad bar. It tends to be less expensive than purchasing bagged spinach.)