Sunday, February 14, 2010

First glance: Get Cooking

When I learned that Mollie Katzen had released a new book, I had to get it, even though this queen of vegetarian cooking has crossed into carnivorous waters. Katzen, you may know, authored the original Moosewood cookbook in 1977 and it has become one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time. She is widely credited with moving vegetarian cooking off the periphery and into the mainstream of American cuisine.

She doesn't directly address why this new book isn't vegetarian; actually, she doesn't seem to be talking to her former, all-veg constituency at all. Rather, she's reaching out to people who have been smitten by the images on the Food Network and in the glossy magazines, but don't know how to create them.

Her primary message is to enjoy food and to eat healthfully. And, as I had hoped, the book is top-heavy with simple recipes for vegetarian soups, salads, pastas, and side dishes. So far, I've tried only the all-American three-bean salad, but it was the real deal, almost exactly like my mom's, only better (sorry mom). I'm looking forward to trying broccoli-cheddar cheese calzones and hot fudge sundaes, so stay tuned for upcoming dispatches!

Katzen's unmistakable style shines in this book. She's that good friend or older sister in the kitchen with you, whispering instructions and encouragement over your shoulder. Everything about the book, from the typeface to the sepia-toned photos (of which there are many) says comfort.

Having used her cookbooks for almost 30 years, I feel like I know Mollie and that we're growing old together. To me, Mollie Katzen is a state of mind as much as she is a talented, creative person. To sample her aura, be sure to visit either of her web sites, or And get cooking!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Recipe Flash: Chickpea Curry

If you haven't been to the grocery store lately, the produce at this time of year is depressing -- even in so-called sunny California. The selection is sparse: apples that have been on the shelf since September, limp grapes, that kind of thing. The bright, fresh flavors of summer and autumn are just not to be found on the vegetable aisle in February.

Instead, you'll find the perky tastes you crave in cans and the on freezer shelf. At this time of year, canned and frozen goods are a better value than fresh. Because they're processed at their peak ripeness, canned and frozen veggies are almost as good for you as the real thing. This week, I tried Chickpea Curry in a Hurry from Lorna Sass' recently re-released book, Short-Cut Vegan. It's made using spicy Ro*tel canned tomatoes with green chiles, frozen spinach, and a can of chickpeas. For dinner, I added a pound of cubed tofu to keep my tummy full until breakfast the next morning.

Chickpea Curry in a Hurry
reprinted from Short-Cut Vegan

by Lorna Sass

1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes with green chiles (I used 2 10-oz cans of Ro*tel original)
1 10-oz package frozen chopped spinach (I thawed it)
1 15-oz can chickpeas
1 T minced garlic
2 tsp curry powder
1/3 c unsweetened, dried, grated coconut
1/2 tsp salt, to taste
1 lb firm tofu, cubed (my addition)

In a large saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Break up the block of spinach with a fork, cover, and continue cooking until the spinach is cooked, about 5 more minutes. Stir well before serving.

Serves 2 or 3.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Food Matters: A Reverse Book Review

After a brief hiatus, I'm back with lots of new information and ideas to get more veggies into your life!

First though, I want you to go get yourself a snack and something to drink and settle in for an entertaining and enlightening half hour of Mark Bittman discussing his new book, Food Matters. Click here for the video. (If you don't have 30 minutes, you can also listen to selected bits of it, which run in roughly 5 minute chunks.)

Bittman, a longtime food writer for the New York Times, says that, "shifting the balance of what we eat is the top priority." The typical American eats half a pound of meat every day -- and an additional one-and-a-half pounds of animal products, such as butter, eggs, and milk. Taken together, this amounts to two-thirds of the American diet originating with animals.

With animal agriculture comes a host of catastrophic problems: increased emission of greenhouse gases; animal cruelty; and numerous diseases of over-nutrition, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. All are part and parcel of a society that eats primarily animal products.

To Bittman, the key to heading off these dire consequences is shifting the balance. Reducing our animal consumption by 10 percent, would reduce greenhouse emissions and diet-induced disease by 10 percent each. As I've said before in this blog, it's not an all-or-nothing. Big changes are the result of many, many small changes. Skip the burger once a week and replace it with a slice of veggie pizza and you're making a difference. Really.

Along those lines, Bittman promotes what he terms "less-meat-terianism." This means that you don't have to bite off more than you can chew, so to speak, of the vegetarian lifestyle. Do what you can, one meal at a time. Bittman himself follows a diet he calls "vegan-til-6;" that is, he eats vegan and eliminates the junk in his diet until 6 pm. In the evening, he eats whatever he wants.

Bittman is exceptionally articulate, easy to follow, and an entertaining listen. I look forward to reading Food Matters.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haitian Remorse

I have found it debilitating to follow the coverage of Haiti's earthquake. How can we begin to comprehend the suffering and the sheer chaos of the situation? To raise funds for the recovery effort, I'm planning to compile an e-book of Haitian and/or Creole recipes, which are surprisingly few and far between -- at least in my cookbook collection. If you have any recipes, I'd love to see them. Don't worry if they contain meat; I'll find a way to veg-ize them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Ultimate Winter Salad

Salads in winter? Absolutely! But at this time of year, I don't base my salads on lettuce. Last night, I improvised a delicious, crunchy first course built upon a foundation of fennel.

Fennel is a delicious vegetable that looks and has a texture similar to celery, but is more fibrous. I love its mild licorice taste. The trick to fennel is cutting it paper thin -- think 1/16" or less. Much thicker and you'll feel like a cow chewing its never-ending cud.
The best tool for the job is the mandoline. Mine is an oxo and truthfully, I don't use it very often. However, when I need it, there is really no other utensil that can do the job. You can pay whatever you want for a mandoline, from about $20 dollars up to several hundred dollars. Because it isn't a high-use item in my kitchen, I'm wasn't compelled to go for the high end. My mandoline, which I received as a gift, retails for about $60 dollars
The salad couldn't be simpler. Here's the recipe:

Cyn's Fennel Salad
1 large bulb fennel
6 or 7 mandarin oranges
1 ripe avocado
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Use a mandoline or very sharp knife to cut the fennel bulb into paper-thin slices. You won't need the stalks or the pretty fronds, so put them aside.

Peel the mandarins and half-heartedly squeeze them into a bowl with the fennel. You want to express some, but not all of the juice because you put the sections into the salad, too, and you don't want tasteless segments.

So your bowl now contains the slivered fennel and the mandarin segments and juice.

Chop the avocado into small, 1/2" or so cubes. Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Toss and devour!

You'll never miss the lettuce!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

First Farmer's Market of 2010

In California, the farmers' markets run at full tilt all year. Today's crowd was as dense as any summer
Sunday -- only the produce is different.

In January, you'll find citrus...

and mushrooms...

How about some nuts?

Fresh eggs are available all year. The green things to the right of the eggs are green tomatoes. Only in January would the farmers give up and pick the tomatoes before they were ripe.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Special Vegan with a Vengeance Dessert

Last night, a couple we like but with whom we have rarely connected, invited us over for an impromptu dinner. They asked if I would mind bringing dessert. Would I mind? I spend half my waking hours thinking about dessert, so I was thrilled!

I had just one evening to decide what to make and seriously considered picking up something at my favorite local bakery, Sugar, Butter, Flour. But then I picked up Vegan with a Vengeance. This is a terrific book written by the reigning queen of vegan punk-dom, Isa Chandra Moskowitz. It's filled with easy, appealing recipes and, so far, I haven't found a dud among them.

When I saw the recipe for no-bake black bottom peanut butter silk pie, I knew I had to make it. There's no dairy -- no cream, no eggs, no butter -- and you'll never miss it. It's a heady mix of peanut butter creme, chocolate wafer cookies, and semi-sweet chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger) that will send your taste buds soaring.

Here I am, the proud mommie...

And the Oscar goes to...