The Gastronomist Manifesto

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Archive for the category “Vegetarian”

Celebrity Meat Snobs Can Go Tofuck Themselves

CAUTION: This post contains a fair amount of vulgar language and no recipe. I don’t know who follows me or what your personal line of decency is, but things get a little R-rated today. This may turn you off to beef wellington.

 

I like meat just fine. I don’t eat a lot of it compared to most Americans. I like tofu too and certainly consume more of it than the median level in this country. I also consume a fair number of shows related to cooking. But what I find completely inedible…

“Guuuuurrrrrr brrrrggg…. something about how gross tofu is. Vegetarian-option?! Here’s a carrot!”

-Sayeth numerous celebrity chefs

I get the whole macho image thing just fine. We all get it. No one has ever deeply questioned why meat is a slang term for a penis. The real connundrum is why people in a community that seems to cherish non-normative passions and behaviors, celebfaces suddenly develop WASP-y fratboy Tourette’s the moment “vegetarian” gets mentioned. Your cracks at the non-meat eaters echoes what I heard from my conservative aunts and uncles when I was sixteen, for whom salad was any sort of plant dressed in mayonnaise. Edgy!

“Tofu! Bland, white and flavorless!!” Yeah, you know what else is? A potato. And Americans consume the ever-living shit out of them and every gourmet raves about ’em. I think the real problem with these Star Chefs is that they simply just can’t cook outside of their petty little comfort zone. Yes, I’m calling you out… or I would if any of ’em read my trivial food blog.

If you can’t make tofu taste good, you suck or you’re not trying. It’s a blank canvass for sure, which is why anyone who’s cooking with inspiration can make it shine. And of all the “foodies” I know, vegetarians are very well-represented, which is believable as they’re obviously commited in some way to thinking about the food we grow, fix and consume. And given that a healthier, more eco-friendly sort of diet for America has solid numbers to support it, some of the top food minds in the media maybe should stop circle jerking it onto their beef wellingtons for a hot second, learn how to transform bland product to something tasty, and cut the really played-out veg-o-phobia.

 

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One Last Bake of the Season – Eggplant and Polow

Yesterday was cold, today was cold, the end of the week is supposed to go up to 80 degrees. So what better reason to fire up the oven one more time? And I just happened to have one of my favorite vegetables to oven roast, eggplant!

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Roasted Eggplant

1. Pre-heat the broiler of your oven with a rack close to the top. As that’s heating take an eggplant and slice into rings. Optional: You may want to dose them with salt on both sides to draw a little of the bitterness out. Wash the salt off and dry them with a towel after about 10-15 minutes. Season the eggplant slices and coat with a thin layer of olive oil, both sides.

2. Place eggplant slices on a baking sheet and pop them under the broiler. When I made mine I wanted my eggplant to have little contact with the cooking surface so I rigged a sort of roasting rack out of rolled up aluminum foil. This prevented sticking and slightly better heat distribution, but is optional.

3. Check on your slices after 6-7 minutes. The tops should be slightly browned, give or take depending on your oven and the eggplant itself. If so, flip them over and let them go for another 5 minutes to brown the other side and soften the middle.

4. When you are satisfied with their doneness, sprinkle on some feta cheese and pimento peppers (i.e., what green olives are often stuffed with and readily available in jars.) Throw them back under the broiler for a minute or two if you want the feta to soften a little.

5. Garnish with some fresh herbs if you have some (parsley or mint = best; I had cilantro which also went well), some good olive oil and/or some cracked black pepper as you like it.

Polow

Polow is a transliteration of an Iranian rice dish, similar to pilaf in other countries. There are numerous types and interpretations on this basic dish, here is mine.

1. Cook basmati rice–brown or white–per instructions with a few shakes of turmeric or, if you’re a baller, some saffron threads (more traditional, but also more $$$.)

2. With the rice going dice plenty of onion (I made 1 cup of cooked rice and about 1/43 cup of onion), a couple garlic cloves–minced, a small handful/palmful of dried dates, the same of raisins and one tomato. Sautee the onion in olive oil over a medium-low heat until it turns translucent and begins to take on some color. Add the other ingredients to the pan and continue to cook until the fruits/veggies soften and meld flavors. Don’t rush this step. Let it cook slowly and gently.

More options! Polow is frequently made with meat. Diced chicken, beef or lamb can be cooked with or seperately with the onion. I kept things vegetarian and threw some TVP in with a little water–not flavorful but upped the protein content. Other common & tasty additions: pomegranate seeds, lentils, peas and nuts.

3. When your rice is done and your sautee mixture soft and happily married, combine with the rice along with about a level teaspoon of cinnamon or a little less than, plus some lime juice (about half a lime.) If you have garam masala spice that can be substituted for a deeper, more complex spice profile. I wanted to keep my flavors simple this time; choose what suits your mood.

4. Throw in some fresh herbs just before serving or over top of the dish. In Iran herbs are a crucial ingredient and many types are used if the many recipes I’ve found have anything to say. Parsley and mint again would be the best picks. I again used cilantro just because I had it, and it works splendidly. Basil, dill and tarragon would also be excellent. Just avoid stronger, pungent stuff like oregano and rosemary.

 

Weatherbeaten: Sunshine Soup

It’s known to rain in Portland, Oregon. A lot, perhaps. Today I got caught in what is probably the worst torrential I’ve seen in my 1+ year here. A metal “Park Here” sign, with about two feet long feet holding it up, was blown half the way across the street. My umbrella is broken, the metal of the stem snapped right at the base of the parasol–I mean bent and then ripped open. Figuring I know have pneumonia I better start the hot soup and tea fast.

Sunshine Soup

1 golden beet, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1/2 an onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/3 cup of green peas
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon of curry powder
1 teaspoon of ginger powder
1 dash of cinnamon
water (see below for amount)

1. Prepare all your vegetables ahead and have them ready except for the peas. In a pot on low-med heat add oil or melt butter to gently coat the bottom. Add the onions, garlic and carrot. Cook for about 8 minutes, lowering the heat if browning starts to occur. Next add the beet, and stir for two more minutes.

2. Pour in water, enough to just submerge everything, and turn the heat to high. At this point you can add all the seasonings right in, plus honey and lemon. When the water comes to a boil, lower it to a simmering temperature.

3. After about 30 minutes you can start testing pieces of beet for doneness (just pull one out, blow on it and bite.) Continue cooking until the vegetables are soft and tender. Then add the peas and continue cooking until they are done as well.

4. The soup is done, but an optional step is to use a thickener, which I did. I pulled the soup off the heat until it was steaming but off boiling temperature. I think started sprinkling a little bit of one tablespoon of flour off the edge of the spoon in a thin layer, then stirring quickly; repeating slowly until all the flour is in. If you just dump the flour in, or do when there is a boil, it will just thicken into lumps.

Pretty easy recipe to make. And the bloody irony of it all is, as you can see by the picture, by the time it was done the sun was shining. Damn you! Weather gods!

Baked Cheese with Double Salsa.

This is a dish I made a couple days ago after getting the craving for a homemade salsa. I don’t like to go too far out of my way for food, so when I saw a good price on some tomaillos at the nearest market to me, which specializes in Mexican food I got them, and made a simple salsa verde (literally, “green sauce” in Spanish.) Because cheese and verdant, tart foods don’t generally mix I also got some chipotle peppers that went into a rich red salsa. These were layered into queso fresco and baked in a tortilla as brie is so often done. The results were colorful and delicious. Wish I’d had this written before the “Big Game.”

Salsa Verde:

1/3 onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic chopped
chilis to taste, I used two entire jalapenos but you can tone it down or up as you like
about 7 tomatillos chopped, about 2-3 cups worth
1 lime, juiced
salt

Start by sauteeing your onions, garlic and chilis in a bit of oil until they start getting soft. Maybe 8 minutes? Add the tomatillos and lime juice, plus about a teaspoon of sugar (tomatillos and lime are both sour, but you don’t want this salsa to pucker your mouth.) Cook until the ingredients are soft, that is when you can basically mash any of it with the gentile pressure of a spoon. Take it off the heat, LET IT COOL, and throw it into a blender or food processor until liquified. Why do I CAPS LOCK “let it cool?” Never put near-boiling liquid into a blender; even if you feel sure the lid is on tight, that whirlwind of liquid pain will find a way out and onto your arm.

Salsa Chipotle:

1 7oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (adobo is just a basic marinating sauce; if you use dried chipotle peppers just soak them and keep all their moisture, don’t drain them) diced up
1/4-1/8 cup of minced onion
a splursh of liquid; either white wine, dark beer, tomato/marinara sauce, stock, water…
1 pinch of oregano

Add all the ingredients straight to one sauce pan. When I say a “splursh” of liquid, basically it is to give a bit of something to break up the absolute power of the chipotle flavor, like 8oz or so, the approximate of a “shot.” Chipotle is hella smoky, so if you don’t cut it then you’re basically just applying smoke to the dish. I borrowed a bit of ale from a half used bottle of beer a roommate left in our fridge to nice result. Wine and tomatoes will add a tartness; beer or stock will add richness; or add juice or what you have on hand. Let it simmer until it’s reduced, thickened and the peppers are broken down.

Last preparations:

Prep your oven to 400 degrees. Take a cylinder of queso fresco and cut it into thirds against the width of the cheese (12 oz and you’ll have more than enough salsa for this  if you wanted to make two or three of these, or reserve the salsas for chips.) Place one layer of the cheese onto a large tortilla, add one of the layers of salsa, then a layer of cheese, another of the second salsa and the last cheese layer. Flip it over while tucking the tortilla over the cheese. Place on a baking tray covered with parchement paper or foil. Break and mix an egg and give the tortilla surface a wash. Place this into the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes.

*Actually, the tortilla thing is for show. If I ever do this again I think I might omit it.

Serve warm with tortilla chips or your standard crudite. Also, you might want to really pile on the salsa. I thought I had but as you can see in the second photo the layered effect was kind of lost in the end. So I spooned over the excess salsas. In fact, you might want to just make it easier and skip baking the salsas in layers of the cheese and just skip to serving them alongside. Maybe meat or vegetables instead of the salsa in layers?

Que es queso fresco?! Queso fresco is an unaged cheese–like cottage cheese, paneer or feta–that is indigenous to Spain and popular in Mexican cooking. I would describe it best as being like feta without the salt or a less chewy paneer. The great reason to look for it and use it here is that queso fresco practically does not melt. Meaning you can bake it and wont form a gooey pool as a Monterrey or Cheddar will. This is due both to the type of milk used and also the process that makes it curdle. I thought I saw a bit off spillage with mine, but it turned out to be run-off from the egg wash. Queso fresco will not melt.

Purple-Orange Salad

One advantage to living in Oregon is closer access to California produce.  And one advantage of this time of year are blood oranges!

So at the store today I just wanted an easy, light salad for lunch. In these situations I usually will wander the produce department looking for things that seem interesting, well-priced and in good quality. And there… today…. were one of my favorite fruits in the world–the blood orange. If you’re unfamiliar with these, they are produced in Italy, are mostly available this time of year and they are…


PURPLE! Vibrantly purple too. Also, sweet and delicious.

I also saw dandelion greens that we’re cheap, not terribly fresh, but I knew how to crispen them up (more on that in a moment.) Dandelions are another food a lot of people are familiar with because they’re mostly known and hated as the most oppressive weed of them all. But here’s the thing, dandelions are weeds because they were first food. In Europe dandelions have been eaten for ages, used medicinally and naturally European settlers brought this with them to America. And we all know what can happen when you introduce a non-native plant to an ecosystem (not that your lawn is in any sense, an “ecosystem.”)

Dandelions have a rather definite bitterness to them, a bit like escarole with a deeper, plant-y flavor. Fortunately, a great way to cut that bitterness down so that it’s subtle is to add sweet… like orange juice. And it didn’t occur to me until I got home that I’d bought: purple oranges, orange carrots and purple-veined greens, plus had purple cabbage in the fridge. So it just turned into:

How to make:

1/2 of dandelion greens, rinsed and dried.*
1 medium-sized carrot, sliced or julienned
1 loose handful of finely shredded red cabbage
(optional) thin-slices of red onion

*if any greens you have are a bit wilted, but not turning brown/expelling liquid; give them 5 minutes soaking in cold, cold water.

These things just get cut into salad-sized pieces. Next you need a quick vinaigrette of:

the juice of one blood orange
about a teaspoon/dash of yogurt, sour cream or tahini (vegan version.)
salt and pepper
olive oil, or any dressing oil you may have

First juice the orange. The easiest way to do this is to cut it in half and squeeze with your other hand catching seeds as the juice runs through your fingers. Or just juice straight into the bowl and pick the seeds out. Add the yogurt/sour cream, salt pepper and stir. Why not use dijon mustard like most? For one, mustard and orange juice; second the creaminess also tempers the bitter greens; it sharpens the color of the blood oranges. Now you SLOWLY! add olive oil and whisk (whisk or a fork) until you’ve doubled the size of the dressing 1:1 ration. Toss this with the vegetables in a bowl and go.

Again, breaking with tradition of a usual dressing. 1:1 ratio is no way to make a vinaigrette in a classic way. However, these are sweet oranges and not strong vinegar so obviously I don’t need to drown them in oil. Another tip is to actually toss the salad. Salad dressing advertisements pour dressing and serve as presentation; this is great if you want to taste nothing but dressing at first, then have raw greens on the bottom. Final word on this, another way to make a vinaigrette is to add all your items to a small, clean, glass jar and shake vigorously. I don’t find this easier, but if you have trouble coordinating a whisk and slow poor, it works just as well.

Poverty Food Challenge!

So it’s the end of the month, I have a moth-eaten bank account balance and jack-shit in my fridge. Basically, hard to run a food blog when you can’t afford any fucking food, am I right? But all is not lost. I still have things in my pantry and kitchen and I am nothing if not resourceful. So here is an inventory of what I have to work with…


1 jar of crappy marinara sauce, 1 onion, 1 purple potato, peanut butter, brown rice and frozen broccoli stems (plus an assortment of spices and condiments.)

Now, my challenge to myself is to figure out the best possible configuration for these ingredients and make a dish before the afternoon is over–and hunger compels me to start eating bars of soap–that is respectable for the high standards I have for this blog. This is sort of like Iron Chef: Broke-Ass Challenge–“poor-met cuisine.” Allez la cuisine!

Pickled Eggs

I come from the Midwest, from a very German-Polish part of town. Growing up I had the slow-cooker sauerkraut & sausage, the particular potato salad but nasty of them all–the pickled eggs. Pickled eggs were a staple of my grandfather’s diet, he always had a jar of those disgusting, brined eggs in his fridge with their nasty artificial dye. As a kid, I and my 12 cousins dared each other to eat those things. In later life I’ve come to understand that in some places this is typical bar food. But I will not eat anything for which red dye #40 is a prime ingredient, so I went homemade to try these things…

6 hard-boiled eggs (and if you look back I have the technique for hard-boiled eggs spelled out.)
1 can of beets, juice reserved. I broke protocol and used canned beets for this. Fresh is obviously better but I would’ve paid twice the price for secondary beets.  An optimal recipe would be one raw beet, sliced, boiled and the cooking juice reserved; but, the beets are not the focus of this so use canned at will.
1/2c beet juice, as from above, or made via fresh beets
1/2c cider vinegar, or white vinegar, hardly matters here
1 tsp salt
smathering pickling spice. If you don’t have pickling spice, but have spices, don’t fret. Add bay leaves, cloves, mustard seed, ginger, peppercorns, juniper, allspice, coriander. etc. This is where you get creative. If you don’t understand “smathering” go with about a tablespoon or so.
1 crushed clove of garlic, skin off, just smash that thing on a cutting board with the flat edge of a knife

Place the eggs into a clean jar. I used an old, glass pasta sauce jar that I immersed in boiling water for a few minutes.  As this is not pickling outside of a fridge, you don’t have to fret about bacteria, but boiling a glass jar does let you rest easy and control flavor. Shell the eggs and drop them into the jar. Add about 1/2 a cup of beet juice and 1/2 cup of vinegar. Toss in 1/4 cup of sugar and the spices. If your eggs aren’t covered with liquid entirely, place more of the 50-50 ratio onto it. Place the lid over the jar and shake vigorously. Leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours or up to one day.

Advice, comrade: You’ll see recipes telling you to cook the ingredients together before you pour it onto the eggs. That’s ridiculous. A marinade like this does not need cooking to incorporate the flavors. You’re going to let it stand for over four hours, that’s plenty of time for admixture. However shaking the jar a bit, like once an hour, is not a bad idea

Lentil Stew with Tarragon-Pesto Yogurt: Winter Comfort Food Made T.G.M Sexy

After the last few times this month I’ve decided to make something special I would up spending more than my proletarian budget should allow. So to use up some perishables and mostly dip into my reserves of cheap, healthy staples I dreamed up this little number. Serves… a lot… let them who work, eat from the pot.

This particular lentil stew is thick but still has moats of sauce around the islands of brightly spiced vegetables and legumes. Paprika, cumin and sherry make it bright and exotic (I was thinking Spanish gypsies) but the addition of pesto made with tarragon and basil incorporated into yogurt to serve on top is a nice cool, refreshing contrast. So yeah, this is especially a good thing if you’ve got a special someone you want to impress, but also want to give the comfort of a basic stew.

You will need:

The Soup:

1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, diced (medium-sized too)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup of diced potatoes (about one good-sized Yukon Gold or a very small Russet, no Redskins though.)
2 cups of french lentils. You can use green lentils if you must, but reduce the cooking time. Red or dhal is unacceptable.
1 small chili pepper, chopped (optional)
3 cups of stock or water, (plus extra nearby)
1/2 cup of sherry
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 bay leaf

The Herbed Yogurt:

1/2 cup of yogurt
about 5 sprigs of tarragon
about 3 sprigs/stalks of basil
1/2 clove of garlic, minced
coarse sea salt
olive oil

Start by dicing the vegetables into little bits, don’t get chunky here as you don’t want big hunks of vegetable oppressing the lentil masses. The garlic and chili (if using as well.) Heat olive oil in the bottom of your soup pot on a medium heat and add the onions, carrots, garlic, bay and chili. Stir and cooking for about 5 minutes or when the onions start are translucent.

Next add in the cumin and paprika, your potatoes and the can of tomatoes. Let it go for a few minutes and meanwhile measure your lentils and your liquids. When everything is in, bring the heat up to a boil and then turn it down to a low/simmer. From here keep stirring every five minutes or so to make sure nothing is sticking to the pot and keep the liquid level just above the lentils at all times. Add water/stock then stir if dry; the lentil that tries to rise above the stew will be watered down! It should take no less than 45 minutes for french lentils to be al dente. I like mine with a little bite to them, but you can keep tasting til it’s right for you. Also now you can add seasoning: salt and pepper.

During the time while your stew was cooking you have time for the topping. Start by making a very basic pesto. *Party Leader says, some purists will say this isn’t pesto because “pesto has to have only basil, garlic, pine nuts and cheese!” They’re wrong and foolish. Genoa’s sauce has a basic structure but was always adapted in tradition to how it was being used. There are many ways you can do this. A food processor, of course. I don’t have one; I use the old methods of revolutionary force. Start with your garlic (if using) and herbs. This is my way:

Take your 1/2 clove onto a cutting board, put a good sprinkle of coarse/sea salt over that, then grab your herbs in hand and press them into a tight package and place that onto the garlic. Take a good chef’s knife and begin working into the mix. Chop it like a mince, don’t be exact, just keep pulling big pieces that fly away back into the fray and go at it. Eventually the law of diminishing returns kicks in and it’s not going to get any smaller. Place it into a ceramic bowl now with evenly rounded sides. I recommend putting just a tiny, bit of yogurt in, just to hold it in place, then get a large spoon and begin mashing it, at the same time adding olive oil in tiny drizzle portions. Mash-drizzle-mash-drizzle-season-taste and repeat any steps necessary to make you happy.

Now obviously, that little amount can’t be easily made in a food processor with tall blades. You’ll probably have to bulk up the recipe, maybe with parsley too because a little tarragon and basil isn’t too expensive, but a lot is during winter. The good news is this stuff would certainly make turkey or egg salad sandwiches actually taste appealing. If you want a relatively inexpensive gadget that solves both problems: a hand blender.

In any case, once this is made, spoon in your yogurt and mix. Now it’s real easy: put stew into bowls, spoon over the yogurt mixture. Eat it by mixing the two slowly until you get the right blend of yin and yang for yourself.

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