Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday morning's take

I love Saturday mornings because with them come a new box of produce from Full Belly Farm, the CSA we've belonged to for a couple of years. Here is this morning's glorious gleanings.

While this sort of windfall can be overwhelming, I divide and conquer, pairing up like vegetables and making several dishes over the course of a week. For this booty, I already have several things in mind: with the carrots and beets, I'll make carrot and beet juice (drink it as soon as you make it so that it doesn't separate).

The cabbage will be turned into a cabbage-ramen slaw-like salad we call Runner's World salad because the recipe originally came from Runner's World magazine. If I have a chance, I'll post the recipe.

With the green beans and potatoes, I'm going to try the potato-green bean salad with lemon and basil from the FatFree Vegan Kitchen. The carrot-beet juice will go really nicely with this.

For the second week in a row, Full Belly has sent a bag of baby apricots. They're about the size of a ping-pong ball, though much denser. Sweet like candy. I keep meaning to put them into a crisp or a cobbler, but in our house, stone fruit doesn't usually last long enough to be cooked into anything. If you've never had plums or nectarines or apricots from Northern California, put it on your to-do list.

A tip: to know when stone fruit is ripe, gently press the little cheeks on either side of the stem end. If they give slightly and have a beautiful, concentrated, unmistakable scent, it's ready. Eat it immediately or store in the fridge. Ah, summer!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vegetarian birthday dinner

My birthday is today, but we started celebrating this weekend with a special trip to Millennium, arguably San Francisco's best vegetarian restaurant.

Millennium is acknowledging the economic crisis with a special Frugal Foodie Menu. For $39 dollars, you select an appetizer, main dish, and dessert from a subset of the regular menu.

I started with a refreshing nectarine salad. It was a very delicate dish with butter lettuce, sesame seeds, and a fresh creamy lemongrass & ginger vinaigrette. Aaron's sweet chili-glazed tempeh was popular, too, seeming to show up on every table.

Both entrees were showstoppers. Recently, we discovered a delicious vegan Vietnamese-style crepe at Merit vegetarian restaurant in Sunnyvale, so when we saw it on Millennium's menu, we had to try it. With mung sprouts, sunchokes, cubes of firm seared tofu wrapped in an amazingly eggy-flavored crep
e, it's definitely something new (to me, at least).

I opted for the French fingerling potato roulade, which is something like potato strudel, in a beautiful orange puddle of carrot puree. Haute comfort food!

In my book, the appetizer and entree are nothing more than an excuse to kill time while waiting for dessert. We shared two desserts, rice pudding and dark chocolate vegan cheesecake.

The rice pudding had just the teeniest hint of hot pepper that I could only taste at the very end of each bite -- something like a culinary peck on the cheek. Almost every dessert came with a little scoop of a sorbet or ice cream, which I really liked because it didn't force me to choose between a cakey dish or ice cream. A sherbet of pluot and Pu-erh came with the rice pudding. Pu-erh is a kind of tea, but it was wasted on me; I really couldn't identify its taste. Really, the plum and apricot stood out more.

My own dish, dark chocolate cheese cake, was delicious, but a far cry from cheesecake. It tasted like a very dense chocolate cake with a melted chocolate bar on top. The winning taste in this dish was the blackberry coulis. Very seductive taste with the dark chocolate!

To mark the occasion today, I'm planning a little trip to Sugar, Butter, Flour, a really fun bakery in Sunnyvale that has a big selection of individual-sized desserts. Watch out!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Goodbye PB&J, hello PB&More!

Going from carnivore to herbivore has its moments. Even now, I am tempted by the fragrance of rotisserie chicken at the deli counter and sometimes day dream about chopped liver. Just because I've gone veg doesn't mean I don't like the taste of meat! Though my values and my taste buds clash, my values generally prevail.

Here's a baby step you might consider on your way to a meatless diet: Instead of eliminating the meat, try increasing the number of vegetables you consume at every meal. Go for five a day -- and really give it the old college try. It's not as easy as it sounds. Eventually, the vegetables will displace the meat and you'll wonder why you ever felt that a meal wasn't a meal without a slab of flesh on the plate.

I'm also a fan of sneaking the veggies into unlikely places. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently released a new cookbook, PETA's Vegan College Cookbook, and their Bunny Butter Spread does exactly that. You make it by grating a carrot into a bowl containing enough peanut butter for one sandwich, along with a few raisins and a little orange juice. Slap it between two slices of bread and you're done.

Peanut butter has an assortment of strange bedfellows. As a kid, my grandpa sometimes fed me peanut butter sandwiches on crispy Italian bread between whose slices he slid concentric circles of sweet Spanish onion. And though I've never tried it, I imagine that peanut butter and chile peppers is probably a nice combination, too.

The PETA cookbook has an entire chapter (20 recipes) devoted to peanut butter. While I enjoyed the Bunny Butter Spread and I'm eager to try the Super Quickie Peanut Sauce -- which combines PB with lemon juice, soy sauce, and chili-garlic sauce for slathering over steamed veggies and tofu -- I'm a lot less interested in The Nut Job Salad, which pairs our hero with Italian dressing. Yechhh!!
Experienced cooks may find PETA's new book to be frustratingly simplistic, but if you're brand spanking new to cooking or just don't like to cook, but want to move in the direction of a healthier diet, its 275 recipes are worth investigating.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Vegan Scoop transcends inferior hardware

I was truly excited when I received Wheeler del Torro's new book, The Vegan Scoop, because it gave me a great excuse to take my dusty old ice cream maker out for a spin. The book is a compendium of ice cream fantasies with flavors ranging from sweet curry fig to sweet potato basil.

For my first attempt, I decided on classic chocolate. I could have drunk the unfrozen base and called it a day. The flavor and creamy texture were that good.

I dutifully followed the instructions for my Cuisinart ice cream maker, but after 30 minutes, nothing had happened. The base wasn't freezing.

Determined not to waste the precious chocolate base, I put it back in the fridge, returned the bowl to the freezer and tried again two days later. No deal. Several days later, I repeated the charade, producing the same results.

I was ready to take full blame for the failure, until a friend started telling me about her recent experience making ice cream. Without knowing of my fiasco, she related to me having made two different bases, neither of which froze. Her machine? The same Cuisinart as mine! She ended up tossing both the bases as well as the machine.

In desperation, I poured the beautiful chocolate base into ice cube trays, froze them, then scooped out the glorious product. Even without a bona fide ice cream maker, The Vegan Scoop delivered the deepest, darkest, best textured chocolate ice cream I've had.

I contacted Cuisinart, but heard nothing. Until they explain where I might have gone wrong and why two of us had identical (bad) experiences, I can't recommend their ice cream maker. I heartily endorse The Vegan Scoop, however. It would make a great gift for your favorite ice cream lover -- vegan or not.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Veg Party of the Year

Yesterday, I had the good fortune of attending the launch party for The Vegan Table, Colleen Patrick Goodreau's second book. By her estimate, more than 160 people attended; it was definitely a standing-room only shindig. Held at Numi Tea Garden in Oakland, CA, the fete offered live music, good food -- from the book, of course -- door prizes, and book signing.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Warm up to a veg diet through baking

My transition to a vegetarian diet occurred at the same time I was learning how to cook for myself. I had always enjoyed baking, so it was a logical starting point for my new role as chief cook. My curiosity led me to Ann Arbor's baking cooperative, Wildflour Bakery.

Wildflour had beautiful, whole grain breads which I bought unsliced so I could cut myself inch-thick slabs of it, onto which I spread freshly ground peanut butter from the People's Food Coop next door. (Peanut butter is another great food for easing into a vegetarian diet. More on that later.) The bakery also had an essene bread, the sort of which I have never seen since. It was unleavened and filled with dried fruits, nuts, and sprouted grains.

After Wildflour, I couldn't look at conventional bakeries the same way. Their hydrogenated buttercream frosting, sugary glazes, and white flour-based cookies and muffins were a lot less interesting now that I had been initiated into the world of mellower sweets made with honey, molasses, and maple syrup. And so began my cooking journey.

If you're feeling bogged down by the myriad offbeat foods and condiments on the shelves of natural foods stores, maybe what you need is a stroll down the baking aisle. Colleen Patrick Goodreau's new book, The Vegan Table, has a fabulous apricot whole wheat muffin that you'll enjoy and be proud to share with friends.

Being as I am possessed by the need to alter recipes, I made just one small change: Instead of using dried apricots, I used reconstituted sun-dried peaches from Full Belly Farm in Guinda, California. Sublime!

So, with the generous permission of Patrick-Goodreau's publisher, here are The Vegan Table's apricot whole wheat muffins. I'll be reviewing other recipes from this glorious, 304-page tome, so stay tuned.

Apricot Whole Wheat Muffins
makes 12

1 tsp. ground flaxseed plus 3 tablespoons water or egg replacer plus water equivalent to 1 egg
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar, as your sweet tooth dictates
1 1/4 cups nondairy milk (I used unsweetened soy milk)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup chopped dried apricots (I used a generous cup of reconstituted sun-dried peaches)
1/2 cup walnuts or almonds, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil muffin tins.

In a food processor or blender, whip the flaxseed and water (or egg replacer and water) together, until mixture reaches a thick and creamy, almost gelatinous, consistency. Set aside.

In a large-size bowl, combine whole-wheat flour, whole-wheat pastry flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Add milk, oil, flax or egg replacement blend, apricots, and nuts and stir quickly until just combined. Be careful not to overstir.

Spoon into prepared muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes, until lightly browned.