Grog and Vittles

Food and Spirits by an Vegetarian in Atlanta

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Stealing Meals from Other ATL Veggies

Foodie Thievery.

Today we're going to steal from another pair of Atlanta vegetarians. I happen to read their eats blog via RSS. They recently made a vegetarian Shepard's pie and a walnut, avocado, Dijon honey mustard and butter lettuce salad.

Now I think these two make good stuff quite often. They cook a little too vegan for my taste, eschewing milk/egg products where I'd use them. This is a problem for me because cheese is the most important of the four food groups here (cheese, eggs, vegetables and hot peppers). However, her husband is a great food photographer as you'll see on their blog. In addition, she's usually dead on with her mix of veggies.

In her post, Sally says she'd like Vegetarian Times recipes to include more spices. She says she added some, but I don't think she added enough. (She added aromatics [garlic+onion], which is better than nothing, but don't fill the exact role as spices for me).

I think Sage will be a nice addition to this dish. It is something that is used with meats and any other fatty foods. It tastes like an astringent, extremely fresh black pepper. It was one of the herbs we saw growing wild (along with lemon grass) when on Antigua for our honeymoon.

In addition, I think some further bite is needed. So we'll throw some paprika (which is indeed only a little bite) and some dried thyme for a rounding out of flavor.

Also, I'm used to cheese in my Shepard's pie. Alexa thought the pretty orange mashed potatoes were cheese and isn't interested in the dish without it. So, time for a finely shredder cheddar to insinuate itself throughout the dish. I believe it will find itself mixed into the "meat" part rather than the potato part.

Also, Dan said that they thought tangerines would go well in the salad. So we're going to add those in too.

I think it is a *much* safer thing to cook three dishes rather than two. You're insured against one just being plain bad, one having something a guest can't eat [a problem with 4-14 guests], and one being burnt or undercooked. Alexa agrees, and so today, we're also going to make a third dish.

Lentils with Goat Cheese, Olives, and Fresh Thyme. This is out of Three Bowl Cookbook. It will lend a strong snap to the meal with the goat cheese and will round out a meal if the pie or salad proves unsuitable.

--Michael

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

India

Tonight, we make Indian food.

A strange thing about ethnic Indian food: It is often quite a bit cheaper to make than most other ethnic foods, yet it costs more, without fail, when purchased from a restaurant. Weird.

Glossary:
  • Aloo - Potatoes
  • Chana - Chickpeas
  • Dahi - Yogurt, although less viscous and sweet than the stuff some Americans eat out of cups with fruit. Many "Lassi" drinks are smoothies made out of this and a fruit.
  • Garam Masala - A common Indian spice mix ("Chili powder" is a spice mix common to the US. [Chili powder is otherwise as unlike garam masala as it is unlike the hobby of cockfighting]). Garam masala has cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, black pepper, dried chilies, cardamom and/or mace. Others may be put in, and some may be left out. To me, I most noticeably smell the cinnamon and coriander when I sniff the mix I buy from Your Dekalb Farmers Market.
  • Lassi - To offend an entire subcontinent with a concise definition: A Smoothie made with Dahi
  • Masala - Literally, "Spice"
  • Naan - An elongated flatbread sometimes used to sop and eat foods without utensils. I doubt we'll have that much.
  • Panir - A fresh cheese, often served fried, but also useful in many other ways. Some people mistake it for "good fried tofu". It really is nothing like tofu except it is also white and compressed protien. Tastes quite different and has a different texture, especially when non-fried.
  • Tamatar - Tomato
Let's start off with one tried or true dish: Aloo Curry in Puff Pastry Hexes. I once wanted to cook with puff pastry sheets and made the mistake of buying these little hexes made of puff pastry (they were mixed in with the sheets). So add some spices (cumin, coriander and ground red pepper) and an herb (cilantro) and some diced potatoes, then finish with some green curry paste, stir then stuff into the puff pastries after they've been baked up into little towers with lids.

Now, lets get something with a little more fiber in it, Panir, Summer Squash, and Bell Peppers.This is basically, a large quantity of cubed squash with tomato and a slew of spices: Cumin, fennel, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, and a little coconut.

And to finish, one of my favorite indian dishes is Chana Batura. This is a bowl of chickpeas in a tomato based sauce served with a giant balloon shaped piece of bread. Now I don't have a pot big enough to fry a piece of bread like that, so I'll leave out the bread.

So instead, we'll serve this with the Naan and use what this here cookbook calls Tamatar Kabli Chana Usal. Its a similar red sauce and tastes quite close enough it will pass for me. I doubt anyone else eating tonight goes to Udipi Cafe enough to notice the similarity or difference. (You all should, especially on the weekend afternoons for the buffet). This dish is tomatoes, peppers, ginger, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, more garam masala, and some turmeric too.

As I mentioned before, this will be served with naan. I hope this goes over well. I've had all of these before except for the squash dish.

I'm probably going to make some Dahi as well to cool peoples palates. If it turns out, we might dessert on Lassi. To make Dahi, you take some milk, and put some (active culture, preferably Dahi) yogurt in it and keep it as close to 115F as possible for 5-10 hours. Most people add some powdered milk to up the protein content (and I will too).

To make Lassi, you do the same thing you do to make all other smoothies: You put yougurt in a blender, with some honey or sugar, and a couple other spices and fruits, and blend. I'm angling for banana.

Time to go start the yogurt now.

--Michael

Ps: This is all from Lord Krishna's Cuisine.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Truffles, inspired by Vodka, Fucking and Television

On V-Day, the missus and I went to Dad's Garage, and excellent Atlanta theater. We saw a Russian play by the name of "Vodka, Fucking and Television" (translated into English) .

There was a free Vodka drink by 3 Vodka (which is deliciously smooth, and I suggest using it when shooting if you do that sort of thing).

In addition, Jake's Ice Cream made truffles. I had thought Jake's had been bought out. Turns out I was wrong. But their truffles were pretty good, and make me want to make some.

What's a truffle? Its chocolate ganache covered in a chocolate coating, which is dusted with cocoa. They look vaguely like the sort of truffle that's found underground in certain parts of the world.

To make them, you first make a firm ganache. This would be 4 parts cream to 5 parts bittersweet chocolate if you were a French traditionalist. Most Americans require more sweetness, so use 3 parts baker's chocolate and 1 part semi-sweet chocolate if you're serving it on the left side of the Atlantic. Chop it up into lil' bits. I use a serrated bread knife and a rolling pin to chop it up using a jackhammering motion. Yes, chocolate chips do work too, but chocolate is a lot more expensive that way. Just like with decaf coffee, the price may not be that much higher for chips, but the quality is often lower.

Melt the chocolate. Repeated microwavings with stirrings every 15 seconds works just fine. Careful, you'll burn it if you go too long.

Warm the cream up as well. You can use the microwave or the stove. You're looking for bathwater warm here. Pour a small amount of corn syrup (for texture) into the cream and stir.

Mix the chocolate and cream together until you have a uniform mixture. Add 2 parts flavorful, 80 proof liquor. You can use a less alcoholic flavorful liquor if you mix with grain alcohol to bring up the proof. There are certain flavors in chocolate that only dissolve in alcohol. You won't taste them if you omit it. We often use Frangelico, although we've also used brandy, Armagnac, and almond liquor. Their flavoring is only slightly noticeable in the finished product.

Pour this mixture out into a shallow vessel, glass bottomed vessel.

Refrigerate for hours. It will harden. It's done when it's hard to the touch.

Use a mellon baller or disher to make little balls out of it. Or you can score it like mini brownies and ball them up. Set the truffles out on something large and flat, and put it back in the fridge.

Here is the annoying and hard part of truffle manufacture: Coating.

Pour out a pile of cocoa into a bowl.

Now, BARELY melt 4 parts of semi sweet chocolate into a barely melted gel. This gel must stay below 92 degrees F (otherwise you're going to have sticky candy). That means you have to keep the chocolate between 88 and 91 for about 20 minutes. Alton Brown says a heating pad works (it does, sorta). I've found success with a heating pad set too warm (where I take the pan off and off the pad) as well as an electric fryer set to really low where I keep turning it on and off.

However you create this coating gel, you next need to dip each ball in it, then roll the ball through the cocoa, then place it on wax/parchment paper. Do this with all the balls, and you'll have truffles.

I suggest mixing some crushed red pepper in any remaining chocolate, then making some popcorn and pouring the chocolate over the popcorn. Once it hardens, you'll be in heaven.

--Michael

PS: I'm probably making some soon, as the ones on Wednesday were inspiring, but not as good as home made ones.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dinner proposal for Sunday 11 of Feb

Barley....that's terrific sounding this week.

Ooh look. One Dish Vegetarian has a great barley, spinach & peas dish. I like using this book for dishes that have some heft. It's full of casseroles and such, but also use veggies in non-boring ways.

Let's find something with more veggies to complement this. A vegan cookbook we got for xmas will very likely have more than a "normal" share of veggies in it.

Green beans with sundried tomatoes/olive sauce! Nice and veggiful, yet not bland (important, as barley dishes rarely are called....overflavored).

As both are what I'd call "filling", two dishes will probably be enough this week. Perhaps this will free up time for a cookie or something to be baked.

--Michael

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Sunday Recap

The meal was created as listed. Every part of the meal was liked by at least 2 people, so I'm going to count that as a success. We decided that each dish could have been a meal in itself though (Chili, Sandwich, Quiche).

The mass bread toasting method worked out much better than I guessed it would of. It consisted of using the toaster convection oven 4 slices a time on it's "4" setting. These were then set aside until after the Quiche came out of the oven, then were put in the still warm oven to finish toasting.

No changes were made to the proposal (well, we did use dried lemongrass rather than fresh, but that's it).

--Michael

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Proposal for Dinner on Sunday Feb 4th, 2007

These things either come about quick, or take about an hour. This fits into the latter category.

When figuring out what I wanted to suggest to Alexa (my wife) for tomorrow, I got sidetracked for awhile in Herbs and Spices by Jill Norman. Its pages contain in depth info on a spice or herb, and wonderful photography of all of the forms of the spice. I was looking for some suggestions on what to use turmeric in beyond Indian food (my principle use of the spice).

Its a "Warm" spice. That means, well, it feels a little warm when eating it. Its yellow, and stains many things (hands and clothes included). Warm spices are excellent in spicy foods and in winter. I buy this spice already powdered. You don't use it by itself, but as something to make many flavors cooperate to make the dish good overall.

The H&S book says it combines well beans, eggplant, eggs, lentils, rice, root vegetables and spinach (some things omitted from this list). Other herbs and spices it handles that stick out to me are chili, cilantro, cumin, garlic, lemon grass, mustard seed, and pepper. These complements say to me as possibilities:

Veggie Fried Rice (eggs, lemon grass, rice)
Citrus Lentil Stew (lemon grass, lentils, root veggies)
Spinach and Swiss Quiche (eggs, spinach)

Of those, the last one screams to me because its easy (It could cook in the convection toaster oven)
The first one screams to me because I've not had it in awhile.

But what if I took the best of both worlds:
Fried Rice Quiche :o)

The Japanese regularly put rice in their omelets, so that should work out.

I source my quiches off the Refrigerator Pie recipe from Alton Brown's TV show, Good Eats, except I ditch the nutmeg

1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
2 eggs
2 pinches kosher salt
Frozen 9-inch pie crust
Stuff

Time to be a dork here: How much fits inside a 9in pie pan? Well measuring an empty pie pan with water tells me about a quart (humans are horrible at guessing the volume of wide deep things so I don't try).

We have about 2.75 cups of "stuff" to fill this thing up with.

I'll use the recipe out of Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone to suggest a cheese to me (she uses Provolone on her Rice and Eggs recipe on pg 548). I'll use provolone for the dish. Quiche has cheese. This is a matter of common law. You will be put in gaol if you do not follow this law.

For the fried rice (which I don't think I've ever made before), I'll go a searching on the interweb:

I find this one

Our internet recipe search usually goes like this:
Check the internet
Check the food network site
Reject anything that just won't work, or is made by Emeril Lagasse (but I repeat myself)


Remember I wanted to add turmeric. And lemon grass. So we will. And we get:

3 cups cooked rice
2 Tbs oil
1 carrot, shredded or thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1 shaft lemon grass
salt and pepper to taste
Peas


I took out the eggs and meat because there will be plenty of eggs, and the meat is non-essential (I'd put in a fake meat if it was essential). Likewise, the "milk" is unneeded since all the half and half will be there.

We've got a main dish now.

For sides...... Chili always goes over really well at Superbowl parties, as do sandwiches. Avocado Sandwiches with 4 bean chili as the other two dishes. We can toast the toast whilst the quiches set. A high fat meal, but the large amount of polyunsaturated fat in the avocados will make this probably a good meal all in all in LDL vs HDL battle

I think we have a winner folks:
Fried Rice Quiche (with Shredded Provolone)
Avocado Sandwiches
4 Bean Chili

Let's see what the wife says....

--Michael

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What's up with Sunday Dinner

Every Sunday, my wife and I invite 6-18 people over for dinner and other social things. Here is how it happens:

Vegetarian cooking is *cheap*. I can feed all those people with much less than you'd spend on a restaurant for 4 meat eaters, and I cook better than most restaurants that would charge that much for those meals.

My wife and I, both being vegetarians, cook something vegetarian for everyone. We do strive for certain goals when doing so:
  • Make dishes from many unprocessed items
  • Make dishes that use an interesting veggie or two
  • Use spices and herbs in a traditional way
  • Make at least one dish that doesn't blow their "what the hell is this?" quota.

We often use cook books. More on this in another post

As this Sunday is the Superbowl in addition to our normal activity, I'll probably try to make something that doesn't require me to step into the kitchen too often to finish.

We're firm believers of mis en place, which is French for "cut everything up and put it into a bunch a bowls before you start cooking". It makes cooking a much more sensual experience to do it this way, as all you're doing at first is "cranking widgets". Your brain relaxes the way that it can on a long walk, as all you have to do is chop, measure, etc. Some would call this "Zen". I call it quite enjoyable. You can smell, feel, and taste the ingredients as you do this lite work. Sometimes we mis en place the whole meal, other times, we do it dish by dish. Sometimes we cheat, and don't do it (this happens most often with baked goods).

Mis en place is a fundamental step that saves time (even counting extra dish time), and reduces the stress of cooking. It clears the mind to do what is most important: Cook things well.

Timeline of Sunday:
  • Morning somtime: Wake up
  • Morning sometime: shower, etc
  • Morning-2pm: Goof off, work on business/websites/HOA/Possible shopping if not already done for the week
  • 2pm-5pm: Cook as much as can be cooked, and clean up around the house
  • 5pm-7pm: Play with friends
  • 7pm-8pm: Finish cooking, set out utensils and dishes (This step is often "put X in oven, put Y in microwave, go play with friends")
  • 8pm-12: Play with friends (Alexa sneaks off to throw stuff in the dishwasher many weeks here)

Before I go any further, I'm going to reveal something that some of you are going to stick your nose up at so far you smack the back of your head on the ground:

I regularly use a microwave in my cooking.

If you find yourself in this group, I apologize for your mis-education. The microwave is a valid cooking device, just like the stove and oven are. You usually don't want it to be the *only* way to impart heat when you cook a particular dish, but you do want it to be involved in the process for many foods.

The microwave doesn't:
  1. Brown food [something you usually want to happen as it tastes delicious]
  2. Allow you to use the metal pans [if it did, you could use fewer dishes]
  3. Evenly heat all food [microwaves heat water in food, not the other stuff]
  4. Heat the kitchen up a lot [a blessing in Atlanta]
  5. Let the delicious smells out of the food into the house
  6. Require oil/fat to transfer heat to the food [usually a good trait]
The microwave does:
  1. Heats foods with even water distribution quite quickly [good trait]
  2. Allow you to warm things without further browning [sometimes a good trait]
  3. Work completely independent of the oven [good trait for cooking more than one thing]
  4. Melt things better than any stove ever dreamed of. [great trait]
  5. Get potatoes dry and hot enough they'll brown by another method sometime before the sun goes red giant. [great trait: potatoes are my nemesis]
So if you don't try to use it to cook everything, it makes *great* food.

So here is an example dish that uses the microwave (when prepared for these Sunday Dinners):

Veggie Sausages
  1. We wash our hands
  2. We buy 2-3 packs of Gimme Lean veggie sausage. We put it in a bowl, and sprinkle with kosher salt and cumin.
  3. We form into links (aiming for a triangular prism shape rather than a cylinder)
  4. We wash the gooey sausage off our hands
  5. We melt a 1/3 of a stick of butter in the pan (we want the browning, otherwise we'd use the microwave)
  6. When its almost melted, we put 5 links in to cook.
Aside: Why only 5? This is a secret many people don't get. The element or flame on your stove doesn't heat the food. The heating source heats the pan, which heats the food. Setting the (relatively) cool food onto the hot pan makes the heat transfer to the food (Think when someone puts their cold hands on your warm body in winter and holds them there. Same principle). It takes some time for that part of the pan to heat back up (just like you take some time to heat back up after the unwilling hand warming incident above). If you put too many bits in the pan, the pan won't reheat quickly, it will heat unevenly, and some parts might not get cooked (which is a huge problem if this was real meat). This principle is why most people who make fried food at home think fried food is oily: more on that another time.

  1. We cook each of the 3 sides, letting it brown. We pull off and drop into a plastic container on the counter (favor small containers over large ones, even if you have to use more). We pour out then brown new butter if the old is looking burnt.

  2. We do this for all the other bits, being careful to not leave the pan empty for long (the butter will burn).

  3. We grind some fresh black pepper over the food.

  4. We let the food rest in the little plastic containers for a few minutes

  5. We put food away in fridge until just before dinner

  6. We put food in microwave, then put on a serving plate and serve it.

Principles in action: We used spices to accent a dish. We browned food that needed browning, but did not fear to reheat via a non-browning method. We served something not too unhealthful.

Try this sausage yourself even if you are a carnivore. It is much lower calorie and fat than real sausage, and tastes delicious and well spiced.

--Michael

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Blog about Veggie Tarian Ism

(This post originally appeared in Get Rich Slowly's article on Vegetarianism as a cheap way to eat)

I've been an ovo-lacto vegetarian since 2000.

The tricks to becoming a vegetarian are not complex. Some *are* hard though.

When I became a vegetarian, I was living in a fraternity house at college. I didn't have much money, and there was a lot of pressure and teasing about doing this "unmanly" thing. The small amount of pressure you will get from your parents and friends will not be anything as bad as many of us went through.

Eating out vegetarian:
1. Learn to order ridiculous sounding things "I'll have the chicken pad thai without the chicken or shrimp"

2. Don't complain when you occasionally need to order a pile of a la carte items to eat at a restaurant with your friends. On average, you'll make up for those times with all the times there are normal plates for you

3. Create a short explanation of what you're doing and why. Say it 42 times one evening (to yourself or partner). Now when someone asks, you won't have any emotional reaction at all, and therefore won't dread eating with them.

4. Expect many people to think you're a PETA member. Find one thing to object to about them, and one thing to commend what they've they've done.

5. Learn the difference between vegan and vegetarian. You will have to explain it *many* times.

Eating with your vegetarian family
1. Buy at least 2 good cook books. I'll list a few at the end of this list that deal well with this.

2. Learn how to pick out a veggie/fruit that is ripe (I use the book listed at the end). Unripe veggies taste nasty to everyone. And no, tomatoes you buy at the supermarket aren't ripe. All of those are unripe, just like the green ones. They've just been turned red with a dose of ethylene gas

3. Learn to cook more complex dishes. Meat is a complex thing. It has a lot of flavors that stand out. Veggies aren't very complex things on their own. You need to learn about 6 spices and 4 herbs to really be able to keep your food from being overly bland. I suggest cumin, tumeric, ground red pepper, coriander, mustard seed and black pepper for the spices. For the herbs, learn cilantro, flat leaf parsely, oregeno (dried and fresh) and thyme( dried and fresh).

4. *SLOWLY* change your fat intake. Many people will drop to 1/9th or 1/10 their fat intake when they "go veg" or "go vegan". This does *not* make them feel good, and also can cause their skin to dry out. We cook in butter all the time (while saturated fat, the buteric acid makes it act more like unsaturated fat in the body). Vegetarians still fry things. My favorite foods are eggplant parmesan (which is fried) and friend zucchini. You will have a much lower *saturated* fat intake when you're a vegetarian, and you will have a lower overall fat intake (which is only important from a caloric standpoint).

5. Learn to make filling foods. You will eat less protein as a veg. This is not a bad thing from a nutritional standpoint, you need very little protein when not trying to add muscle mass. However, the lack of protein can make some omnivores and new vegetarians overeat (if you're making stuff that tastes good). I cook dinner for 6-18 friends of mine every Sunday night, and we quite often see them overeating (and borrowing some Rolaids afterwards) when we don't observe this rule. Learn how to cook things like barley, lentils, steel cut oats and really try to think of "fiber" as a food group.

Eating when visiting friends:
1. This is the hardest part about being a vegetarian. If its a dinner party, let your host know, offer to bring a dish or two.

2. If its an event like a wedding, eat beforehand, and pick around (your eating habits shouldn't be worth bringing up to your hosts, who honestly have more than enough to worry about). Keep a pack of nuts in your pocket if you can't eat beforehand, and sneak some to fill you up. If someone provides vegetarian meals, thank them profusely.

3. Some times you have to chose between what you eat and offending people some. You can lie and say you already ate at a catered work thing, etc, but sometimes, you gotta pick your battle. Its not easy, but this just happens sometimes.


--Michael


Good Cookbooks:
Three Bowl Cookbook - has whole meals planned out for you (honestly a hard part of vegetarianism)

Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant
- Dishes from all over the world (has some fish recipes, but plenty that aren't fish related).

Good veggie picking guide:
Field Guide to Produce

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