Grog and Vittles

Food and Spirits by an Vegetarian in Atlanta

Saturday, February 03, 2007

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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