Friday, May 29, 2009

A surprisingly tasty summer soup

My DH, Aaron, came home from the gym with a new recipe and a bag of produce. "Look at this great recipe," he beamed. "I'm going to make it for lunch!"

I rarely refuse when Aaron offers to cook because 1.) he's a good cook and 2.) I hate chopping vegetables, of which -- being vegetarian -- we eat a lot. So off I went for my own hour at the gym, leaving Aaron with his vegetables and his new recipe. The dish, called Rena's Summer Soup, originates with a friend of the Y's nutritionist, Anna. It's a straightforward recipe that didn't sound at all good on paper, but turns out to be brilliant. (BTW, the sandwich next to the soup bowl is something called Better Than Tuna Sandwiches from Colleen Patrick Goodreau's new book, The Vegan Table. More on that in an upcoming post.)

But enough talk.

Rena's Summer Soup
1 avocado
1 mango
1 medium tomato
1/2 green pepper
1/2 red onion
salt, pepper, and chopped fresh cilantro, to taste
juice of 1 lime
12 oz. tomato juice (we used V-8)
12 oz. pineapple juice

Chop the avocado, mango, and tomato into small, but not tiny pieces. Do chop the pepper and onion into tiny pieces. Mix all ingredients -- we used an 8-cup measuring cup for easy pouring. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Anna recommends eating this immediately. "It isn't as good if it's been sitting in the refrigerator for several days," she cautions.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Resources for bloggers

I've recently come across two opportunities for food bloggers. The first is BlogHer Food, a conference for women food bloggers scheduled for September 26 in San Francisco. While there isn't a schedule of events yet, it promises good networking and sneak peeks at what's new in food blogging. For more info, visit BlogHer's web site.

On a different front, the Zesty Cook blog is having a contest to win a free blog makeover! Be sure to click through for details.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quorn Mango Chik'n with Barley & Asparagus

I might not eat meat, but that doesn't mean I don't like the taste. Quorn's Naked Chik'n Cutlets are a terrific substitute. They look, feel, and taste like boneless, skinless chicken breasts -- without taking any lives. And they're a mere 80 calories per cutlet!

I made up a fun little skillet starring Naked Chik'n; here's the 411:

Naked Chik'n Cutlet Skillet Dinner
Serves 2 - 4

1 box Quorn Naked Chik'n Cutlets (4 cutlets)
1 bunch asparagus
1 1/2 cups cooked barley (cook like rice)
1/4 cup mango or apricot preserves
Vegetable broth

Thaw cutlets in the refrigerator or in the microwave, covered with a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying out.

Cover a large skillet with pan spray and put in the cutlets. Heat through on both sides, adding a small amount of broth if necessary to keep them from sticking. Remove cutlets from pan.

Chop the asparagus into 2" pieces and cook briefly, until it's bright green. Add the cooked barley.

Make a thick sauce from the jam and broth. Paint it onto one side of each cutlet and place the cutlets back into the skillet, jam side down. Add broth to the pan if needed to keep the food from sticking.

Brush the top of each cutlet. Add remaining sauce, if any, to the pan.

Cook until heated. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Delicious!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: Made from Scratch

I'm mad about crafts and fixing up my house. Growing vegetables, making quilts, baking bread -- I love to do them all and have a long trail of partially completed projects to prove it. It's finishing that's hard, which is why I want Jenna Woginrich to be my new best friend.

Woginrich knows how to complete her home improvement projects. She chronicles them, and her larger journey towards a more self-sufficient, simpler life, in Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life.

For Woginrich, living more simply means doing things like raising chickens, teaching herself how to play the fiddle, and growing some of her own food -- simple for her perhaps. Into her tales of shearing angora rabbits and recovering a nearly decimated colony of bees, she weaves plenty of practical advice for the wanna-be homesteader.

For example, in the chapter on raising chickens, Woginrich explains that the primary reason baby chicks die is because they get cold. She then details how to rig a brooder box with a bare lightbulb to keep them warm.

Woginrich relishes the past and isn't afraid to say so. In her quest for a cheese grater, she spends an hour scouring two antique shops before locating her booty. "There are a lot of really good reasons why I run to the past when I need something as utilitarian as a cheese grater. Things were made better, looked prettier, and lasted longer before plastic took over," she declares. Maybe, but sometimes Walmart is just easier!

To her credit, Woginrich gives ample recognition to the people who have helped her create her homestead. Throughout the book, she enlists coworkers, shopkeepers, and anyone else she can lasso into helping her, proving over and over that first, experience is the best teacher and second, no man is an island.

Woginrich is a vegetarian, even  though she raised her family's Thanksgiving turkey (which her family then couldn't bring themselves to eat). "I haven't eaten any meat in almost seven years. I do, however, plan on eating meat again when I raise it myself," she writes in an e-mail message.

"I am not anti-meat. I'm anti assembly-line, cruelty, factory farms, and agri-big business. Small local humane farms of veggies and animals are my kin," she says.

Remarkably, Woginrich manages a regular 9-to-5 job in addition to tending her farm. She encourages newbies to experiment with self-reliant living in whatever way they can, no matter how small. "Just because you won't be moving out of your apartment any time soon doesn't mean you can't be more self-sufficient," she says in the book's preface.

"Plenty of people in suburbs and sublets all over the country are replacing their pansies with peas and putting up henhouses where doghouses used to be. Knitters are casting on in subways and homebrewed wine is fermenting in your neighbor's basement. A revolution in self-sufficiency is riding the L train and we saved you a seat," she offers.

What I liked best
• The book is enthusiastic, not preachy, and is filled with personal stories and tips for numerous homesteading activities.
• Woginrich operates from the premise that finished is better than perfect, which enables her to plow through any number of projects and complete them, when navel-gazers like me would have abandoned them.

To learn more about Jenna Woginrich, view her video or visit her blog.

You might also enjoy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The good enough vegetarian

In the scholarly work on child-rearing, some experts refer to what they call good enough parents. These are parents who might not always achieve perfection in parenting but who still get the job done, raising successful, independent children. The idea here is to relieve the pressure on moms and dads who feel that their efforts are never sufficient and to assure them that they'll still raise great kids even if they sometimes fall short of their own standards.

I think the same can be said about eating on the vegetarian spectrum. Some of us -- me included -- can't always achieve that state of grace whereby no meat, dairy, fish, or honey passes our lips and no leather, silk, or wool adorns our bodies. We can't all be perfect all of the time and that's no crime.

Max Fisher explores this idea in a recent essay published in The Atlantic magazine. What I took away from it is that no matter where you are in your vegetarian journey, you're fighting the good fight and making a difference, both to yourself and to the world.

Vegetarianism, as I see it, is a continuum, not an all-or-nothing proposition. As much as we herbivores might wish for it, the world is never going to completely stop eating meat. But small changes can reap huge rewards. In his book, Diet for a New America, John Robbins reveals that 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of beef. Have one fewer meat-centered family meal each week and save a swimming pool's worth of water!

The benefits to personal health of eating more vegetables and less meat are abundantly documented -- and every little bit helps. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition. So you had a burger at lunch; have vegetable soup for dinner. Can't live without dairy-based yogurt? Then buy soy milk instead of cow's milk. It's all about incremental change and you can do it.

Ms. Veggie's Review is here to help and encourage you, one baby step at a time. Stay tuned for reviews of eggplant cutlets, naked chik'n, and an exotic cool soup.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Textbook-perfect oatmeal cookies

I have an insatiable sweet tooth and I love to bake. This is why I'm a slightly chubby girl in spite of being a regular at my local gym. I try to limit my sweets to one a day (a valiant, if sometimes elusive, objective) and confine my baking to once every week or so.

My sweet tooth was twitching this weekend, so I pulled out a recipe for oatmeal cookies that I'd picked up at -- of all places -- the gym. My gym, the Silicon Valley YMCA, has a nutritionist who regularly posts healthy (or at least, healthier) recipes on the gym's bulletin board. The recipe, from the Promise Institute for Heart Health Nutrition, looked encouraging, calling for just six tablespoons of margarine, one egg, and half a cup of yogurt.

The results were more than encouraging; these cookies were textbook perfect. Saving for the possible addition of a little cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice, I wouldn't change a thing. Well, actually, I did change just a few little things, which I've made note of in the recipe. Still, these cookies are stellar!

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
makes 28 cookies

2 cups quick or old fashioned oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons Promise Buttery Spread (I used Earth Balance)
1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg (I used Energ Foods, Inc.'s Egg Replacer for one egg)
1/2 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt (I used plain, nonfat yogurt)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins (mine were a little old, so I soaked them briefly in hot water to plump 'em up, then drained them)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I toasted them in the toaster oven for 5 minutes)
(in addition, a bit of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice would be brilliant)

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease baking sheets; set aside (I use Silpats.)

In medium bowl, with electric mixer, beat Promise Buttery Spread and brown sugar until creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg, yogurt, and vanilla until blended. Gradually beat in oat mixture just until blended. Stir in raisins and walnuts.

On prepared baking sheets, drop dough by 1 tablespoonful. Bake 12 minutes or until edges are golden and centers are set. On wire rack, cool 2 minutes; remove from sheets and cool completely.

I'll let you go to Promise's web site for the vital statistics on these tasty morsels. Trust me, Promise's chewy oatmeal raisin cookies will deliver the next time you're prowling for a little something sweet.