Wednesday, December 26


A two-part culinary festival by N., A., and Me.
Christmas Eve:

Roasted vegetable terrines with goat cheese and pine nuts (N)
Curried carrot soup with croutons and yogurt (N)

Beet latkes with rice vinegar and yogurt (A)

Pistachio souffles (Me)

Cranberry-almond (-orange-white-chocolate) biscotti (not pictured due to excessive nibbling) (A)

Christmas Evening:

Artichoke-olive galette with feta and pine nuts (Me)

Truffled arancini with peas on endive (N)
Roasted asparagus (N)

Beets with citrus vinaigrette (N)
Mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy (See below) (A/Me)

Pine nut torte with citrus caramel and kumquats (N)


The mushroom gravy was my favorite part, surprisingly. It's a vegetarian/vegan classic:
+Saute onions or shallots in oil
+Add mushrooms and brown
+Add (LOTS of white) wine, some vegetable stock, and some soy sauce
+Season to taste (I like onion powder and a little rosemary)
+Thicken with flour and/or corn starch

NB: I tried pureeing it at Thanksgiving, but I definitely prefer it chunky--cleaner flavors, more palatable texture, and more appetizing aromas.

I don't really know how the galette turned out--it was pretty, but my taste buds were a little confused and no one made any comments on it (which is generally a bad sign). The risotto was delicious but the arancini cooled a bit before we ate it, which sort of muffled the flavors and muddled the consistency. And the torte was tasty, but all that dairy was less than kosher for my poor little stomach. Luckily, the spiked soy nog saved the day...

Tuesday, December 25

Holiday Foods

The holidays are here, and so are holiday foods. One classic holiday food: roasted chestnuts. I attempted to recreate this classic, first boiling the chestnuts a bit to soften the skins, then scoring them (so as to prevent oven explosions), then roasting them in a 425 oven for 10-15 minutes. They were...pretty gross. One member of our little party might even say "REALLY gross, yuck, yuck, yuck." I think perhaps the boiling was not the best idea, as the predominate flavor I identified was "boiled peanuts." But how else can you score them? Etc. I now have a pan of badly roasted chestnuts demanding a purpose. Ideas thus far include chestnut pancakes, chestnut sauce for (soy) ice cream, chestnut sauce for my vegetable galettes, and chestnuts-in-the-garbage.

Other mainstream holiday foods include ham, fruitcake, egg nog, potato pancakes, plum pudding, Yorkshire pudding, almond roca, Ferrero Rocher, creamed vegetables, green bean casserole, truffles, and champagne.

Few of these foods are included in my own alimentary associations with the holidays. I think of grapefruits, shipped every year from Texas by Aunt Lucille (who was really great-Aunt Lucille). Colin Street Bakery fruit cake from Aunt Barbara (a legitimate aunt), and Harry and David pears for grandma, from my dad (which would reach the pinnacle of their ripeness simultaneously, necessitating a deluge of pear-eating over the 48-hour window of pear perfection). Uncle Terry's ubiquitous snacks of salami, cheese, crackers, olives, and mixed nuts (on the good years, just cashews). My father's stocking stuffers of Power Bars, which would actually be palatable after hanging in the stockings above the fire; my grandmother's more traditional stocking stuffers of clementines and Hershey's kisses (and, fittingly, toothbrushes). A. laughed at me this year when I cracked open a bottle of Johnny Walker, inhaled the alcoholic fumes, and reported, "This smells like Christmas!"--a byproduct of years of sniffing, disdainfully, grandma's somewhat related scotch-on-the-rocks.

Last year I was in southern California with A., and we had a proper southern Californian Christmas weekend, complete with fish tacos; this year fish tacos were one of the few things she mentioned missing. My roommate, from western Pennsylvania, has mentioned sundry gelatin-based salads and desserts, which she defended rather forcefully. My favorite little jew mentioned potato pancakes, unsurprising after her enthusiasm throughout our expedition to Zabar's in NYC.

I suppose the ultimate rubric for a "holiday food" relates to your memories of the holidays: personal meaning, tradition, ritual, and the like. And I think this might be why holiday foods hold such a dear place in so many of our hearts and palates--I think in many ways Americans are ritual-starved, and we cherish and savor those we do have, particularly those that are enforced in our national culture (but don't get me started on how exclusive and oppressive Christmas-as-a-national-holiday is in my eyes). Despite my opposition, the traditions of Christmas still remind me of home, comfort, community, and sharing. Which may actually be part of the opposition. Ah well, there's plenty of good food.

Tuesday, December 18

Bachelor Cooking

I'm sharing this somewhat relevant and quite humorous video for your non-Food-TV enjoyment. I wanted to post the first episode I saw, but the steak au poivre was a little too unvegan. I think you'll see why this video is particularly germane to my lactose-intolerance theme, although I'll take this opportunity to note that real extra-sharp cheddar is 100% lactose-free. The aging process eliminates the lactose sugars, and real cheddar is aged at least six months, hence, no lactose.

You can find more episodes here.

Sunday, December 16

Combining several recent posts...

On this typically domestic but atypically lazy Sunday, I spent several hours perusing online personals ads and eating whole-wheat fig bars. When these things failed to satisfy my heart and stomach, I turned towards the kitchen, just in time to notice my wonderful roommate whipping up some sort of culinary delight. I postponed my plans to saute kale and returned my attention to menu-planning for the holidays. Shortly after, there appeared on the stove a perfectly baked (and perfectly vegetarian) shepherd's pie, which was apparently almost as easy to make as it was to eat!

She combined vegan meat crumbles, frozen mixed vegetables, vegetable stock, and seasonings in a casserole dish. She topped this with instant mashed potatoes augmented with plenty of parmesan cheese, and baked it until it just started to brown. So good! And easy, and quick, and relatively nutritious (better than another few whole-wheat fig bars anyhow). Brava--next time I'll try making it myself.

Wednesday, December 12

Autumn Delight

I don't have a photo, since I've eaten almost all of it, but let it be known that I made pumpkin bread pudding, the almost-vegan way. I used a standard bread pudding recipe but used brioche for the bread (and a bit of whole wheat to add a chewier texture) and a combination of soy nog and soy milk for the liquid. I also added canned pumpkin puree, spices, dried cranberries, and pecans...and a nice dose of rum for some holiday cheer. It went quickly.

Working Woman Woes

One of my roommates and I went grocery shopping together this week. Our cart overflowing with vegetables, soy products, canned goods, and two packages of Fig Newtons, we were stopped in our tracks in the "prepared foods" aisle. We had actually just vacated the produce section, where S. painstakingly deliberated purchasing a pre-cut fruit bowl. Frustrated and overwhelmed, we debriefed her consternation amidst the soup mixes and packets of instant rice. She/we want to eat well, which for both of us (in large part due to our respective upbringings and introductions to the culinary world) entails home-cooked meals invariably made from scratch and involving many laborious hours in the kitchen. However, she/we also need to eat quickly and often on the go. We find ourselves grazing a lot, and ironically end up eating more refined crap because we're hesitant to find the middle ground of, for instance, pre-cut fruit or rice-in-a-box. (Does that sound appealing though? Really?)

Exasperated--even rather angry--S. brings up a point I've often considered. How do you eat well, quickly? I feel like more often than not I end up grazing or snacking instead of having a meal, because I feel that I "ought" to prepare some sort of elaborate, balanced, colorful creation (that supports local farmers, encourages organic methods, and fights world hunger). And then I end up feeling unsatisfied and undernourished, getting most of my calories from simple carbs (including lots of sugars). I know there are options that dodge the world of preservative- and artificial-coloring-ridden world of prepackaged foods and mixes, but even *healthy* frozen foods and canned goods still seem like cheating. I know I have to find the middle ground, but I wish I could just learn to whip up easy stir-frys, sandwiches, and pastas without the unnecessary addition of stress.

Monday, December 10

Beer, Beer, Beer

Knowing that at least a few fellow beer geeks peruse my un-vegan findings, I wanted to offer this link about BEER. I was searching for info on the American Eats segment on Beer, and the subsequent Modern Marvels episode on distilleries, when I came across these lovely beer-centric videos. Sadly, the Family Guy links don't work, but do check out my personal favorite: Beer Drinking Pig

I felt a twinge of guilt at straying from my not-quite-vegan theme, then I remembered that beer is actually the perfect example of a not-quite-vegan product! As a PSA, let me here note that most beers (and wines) are fined with egg whites or fish guts to reduce or remove the hazy quality and produce a clear, appetizing product. You can find unfined beer and wine, but the appearance and sediment are a detraction for many drinkers. Unwilling to give up my favorite beverages, I'll turn a blind eye towards the non-vegan fining products. Prost!

Friday, November 23

The *Real* Big Day: Thanksgiving Revised

So I should have another storyboard, replete with coursed photos and witty anecdotes. Instead, I have the slightly revised menu, and one photo for good measure--

We snacked on baked Brie stuffed with cranberries and walnuts, gruyere, and this pear-gingerbread cake. I made the cake by browning the pears in butter, sugar, and lemon juice; deglazing the pan with pear brandy and a little more sugar; and lining a cake pan with the pears and juices. The gingerbread batter was pretty basic, and I baked in a little longer than the recipe wanted me to, so the edges got nice and crisp:

After a late lunch of butternut squash soup with parmesan-sage croutons; wilted spinach salad with poached figs, goat cheese, and a warm red-onion/sherry vinaigrette; roasted vegetable bruschetta with gruyere; and stuffed mushrooms; my cohort H. and I examined our original menu and decided to make some necessary cuts. Survival of the tastiest, here's what we ended up with:

+Brussels sprouts (caramelized in beer) with dried cranberries and feta, anyone who thinks they don't like Brussels sprouts should reconsider

+Candied yams with pecans, my Thanksgiving favorite

+Cranberry sauce made with Port, citrus, and whatever other delicacies H. selected

+Soy-buttermilk biscuits, because H. cares about my intestinal well-being

+Cornbread and caramelized onion stuffing, which was perfect with...

+Mushroom gravy (pureed, though I think I prefer it unblended)

+Turkey, which turned out perfectly to my objective and disinterested eye

And to finish,
+Apple pie and pumpkin pie with soy vanilla ice cream*

I realized that there are two kinds of people in the world: circular eaters (finishing off each item, one at a time) and mixers (self-explanatory). I'm definitely the latter, which is probably part of why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The focus on family, gratitude, and good food aside, said good food is so compatible with my try-this-with-that-and-then-that-with-this eating philosophy. "A gastronmically successful day."

*Tangentially, allow me to point out that soy ice cream can in fact be quite tasty, depending on the brand. I traditionally pledge my culinary allegiance to the former "Soy Delicious", now a slightly less punny "So Delicious". I also have a very soft spot in my heart/mouth for "Tofutti", of "Tofutti Cutie" fame. At Thanksgiving we had Whole Foods brand soy ice cream, which was quite tasty, though I little more obviously the soy variety. With any soy frozen desserts, always allow plenty of time to dethaw, as they are inevitably rock-hard straight from the freezer.

Sunday, November 18

The Clean Platter (Ogden Nash)

Some singers sing of ladies' eyes,
And some of ladies lips,
Refined ones praise their ladylike ways,
And course ones hymn their hips.
The Oxford Book of English Verse
Is lush with lyrics tender;
A poet, I guess, is more or less
Preoccupied with gender.
Yet I, though custom call me crude,
Prefer to sing in praise of food.
Yes, food,
Just any old kind of food.
Pheasant is pleasant, of course,
And terrapin, too, is tasty,
Lobster I freely endorse,
In pate or patty or pasty.
But there's nothing the matter with butter,
And nothing the matter with jam,
And the warmest greetings I utter
To the ham and the yam and the clam.
For they're food,
All food,
And I think very fondly of food.
Through I'm broody at times
When bothered by rhymes,
I brood
On food.
Some painters paint the sapphire sea,
And some the gathering storm.
Others portray young lambs at play,
But most, the female form.
"Twas trite in that primeval dawn
When painting got its start,
That a lady with her garments on
Is Life, but is she Art?
By undraped nymphs
I am not wooed;
I'd rather painters painted food.
Just food,
Just any old kind of food.
Go purloin a sirloin, my pet,
If you'd win a devotion incredible;
And asparagus tips vinaigrette,
Or anything else that is edible.
Bring salad or sausage or scrapple,
A berry or even a beet.
Bring an oyster, an egg, or an apple,
As long as it's something to eat.
If it's food,
It's food;
Never mind what kind of food.
When I ponder my mind
I consistently find
It is glued
On food.

Thursday, November 15

The T-day Countdown Begins

The Big Day:
Crackers, cheese, and fruit
Pear gingerbread cake
Stuffed mushrooms
Roasted vegetable bruschetta
Butternut squash soup

The Big Night:
Wilted spinach salad with poached figs, caramelized onions, and goat cheese
Caramelized Brussels sprouts with feta and craisins
Candied yams with pecans
Gingered cranberry sauce
Biscuits with herbed butter
Mashed potatoes with roasted garlic and spring onions
Mushroom gravy
Pumpkin souffle

The Big Dessert:
Pumpkin pie
Apple pie
(Soy) Vanilla ice cream

Photos to come...

Wednesday, November 14

Winter = Soup

I'm doing a winter fast: soup and tea for two days, then add brown rice and veggies for two more days. It's reminding me how much I love soup! --to cook it, to eat it, to share it with friends. Soup is a particularly communal food, I believe. The book I eventually write on potluck parties is definitely going to have a page dedicated to a "stone soup" type of supper. I also find soups especially easy to make, perhaps because they're quite copacetic with my own cooking style: no recipe necessary, just throw schtuff in a pot, simmer for a while, blend if you wish, and perhaps add a tasty topping to serve. I've been eating a lot of Amy's (100% vegan!) soups, but today I took the plunge and made lentil chili with chipotle tomatoes. Delicious, and I found that I slow down a bit when I eat soup: I think I taste it more, and savor the whole experience--spoon from bowl to mouth and back again--just a little more mindfully. Soup is obviously widely hailed as a nourishing food, in the colder months as well as to fight the common cold, and I find that many of the liquids we consume are associated with rituals, and thus, to a certain extent, with comfort .

Cooking soup is, in fact, as fun as eating it, thus I present my list of soups I'd like to make this winter:

*Zucchini soup with sourdough (my grandma's classic--I didn't use a spoon, it was so thick I could just scoop it up with the bread)

*Pumpkin, or butternut squash soup, with some sort of yogurt sauce on top

*Lina's Carrot-Ginger Soup (courtesy of Moosewood Cookbook, I believe, and served with yogurt again--gotta uphold my almost-vegan reputation after all)

*Pho-type soups (rice noodles, broth, veggies)

*Coconut-milk-based soup, maybe with thai basil, lemongrass, tofu, and veggies

*Miso soup, because I've always wanted to cook with miso

*Chili, but only because I really want to make jalapeno-cheddar cornbread to go with it

*Minestrone, for my Godfather marathon

*Egg-drop soup, because it looks fun to make

Friday, November 9

Under the influence...Nancy's influence

Last weekend I went to Boston to visit my best friend from college. As per usual, many of our activities were planned around food, and the highlight of the weekend, for me, was the delicious meal we prepared for a mutual friend on Sunday night. It seemed innocuous enough, but if you look closely at the following storyboard you may sense that my tastebuds had fun at my stomach's expense...

We went shopping at Formaggio Kitchen, "a unique gourmet foods shop specializing in small production artisan cheeses & charcuterie "...hmmm, pity cheeses and charcuterie aren't so much my thing. Luckily, Nancy found these root vegetables to keep me occupied...

...But I couldn't be kept far from the cheese counter. There were actually a few cheese counters, but this was the most photogenic. There were also many samples, which I was too busy eating to photograph...

...Not that such samples satiated my lactose-deprived palate. We served this Vacherin Mont D'Or (a raw cow's milk cheese from the Pyrenees) as we were preparing the meal--with honey, crackers, and pears. But Nan was busy cooking and our guest didn't like stinky cheese, so I polished off just about all of that by myself. Luckily the drinking had already commenced, and after finishing off a couple bottles of riesling I was sure I was invincible, even against the most lactosey of foes.

Here she is, hard at work in the kitchen, slaving away over a wild mushroom risotto that we agreed really needed some parmesan. So Nan ran to Trader Joe's for cheese and beaujolais as I ate stinky cheese and peeled beets for...

...Our roasted beet salad! Complete with a hunk of goat cheese and toasted pine nuts, on a bed of pea shoots tossed in a truffle-vinaigrette. Yummm. Doesn't that goat cheese look...lethal? It was actually quite tasty...

Next came the risotto, which turned out quite well with the liberal addition of parmesan, and the salt addicts's favorite secret ingredient: soy sauce!

Finally, more cheese. Yeah, oops...but it was so good! A crisp tart of puff pastry, sweetened mascarpone with just the right amount of vanilla, oranges "supreme" (without the skins--I learned a new word for an old favorite :), and a drizzle of honey. Delicious--the citrus cut through the creaminess of the cheese in all the right ways. Oh cheese, why are you so right, but so wrong?

And here's what remained of all those lactose products:

Not a vegan meal by any stretch of the imagination. Yum!

Friday, October 26

Bill's Excellent [Sandwich] Adventure

The problem with panini?*

They really only work out when a decent portion of cheese is used to adhere the bread and/or filling.

So, whenever I visit Bill's on Juniper and Sansom, I am again thankful that I am not quite vegan and will sacrifice a bit of gastrointestinal discomfort for the sake of a delicious lunch. Bill's offers an array of soups, sandwiches, and salads, but unlike typical Philly luncheons featuring cheesesteaks, hoagies, heavy Italian dishes, and greasy meat dishes, Bill stocks his kitchen with plenty of fresh ingredients and offers a wide variety of not-quite-vegan vegetarian options. His unchanging daily specials might as well be menu items, and I wish they were since they're my favorite selections: a grilled eggplant sandwich on a long roll with cheese and tomato sauce, and--my latest obsession--a panino of spinach, grilled peppers, tomato, and mozzerella or feta on Le Bus multigrain bread. I think the bread totally makes the sandwich. I get it with sharp provolone instead of the listed cheese options, since that tends to be (supposedly AND in practice) a little easier on the lactose-sensitive intestines. And it is d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s: grilled to a perfect golden brown, with just the right amount of veggies packed-in/spilling-out, all held together with a smooth, firm paste of melted provolone. After months (literally) of passing Bill and his specials sign, my taste buds discovered this concoction yesterday, and I went back today for another one since I liked it so much.

And an added bonus--the staff is delightful. Friendly, funny, and with the usual Philly brusque-ness but tempered by a congeniality that can be hard to find in this city. The woman who took my order checked with Bill, who was working the grill, to see if there was an upcharge for the cheese substitution (there wasn't), and she not only remembered me when I came in today, but remembered my beverage preferences (half lemonade, half unsweetened iced tea, not much ice, wedge of lemon). Service with a smile is refreshing these days (and especially in these parts), and Bill and company can count on many more visits from this non-vegan sandwich aficionado.

*PSA: "Panini" is in fact the plural of "panino." So you want a panino and we want panini. Si? Bene.

Tuesday, October 23

Herb is Good

So, as a lactose-intolerant vegetarian who's avoiding raw foods, I occasionally have difficulty finding good things to eat. Shocked? Don't be. This is not due to a dearth of cooked lactose-free vegetarian options, but rather because I am lazy/busy and rarely find/make the time to cook(/eat). In an (overly?) optomistic attempt to remedy this situation, I planted an herb garden.

Bear in mind that I live in a city apartment with no deck and limited room. So, I decided to try a container garden in the hallway outside my apartment. I had an old (read: disgusting) cooler that would never have the priviledge of cooling a taste beverage again, thus I converted it into a garden with the help of a lot of soil and a few packets of miscellaneous seeds garnered from a compulsive eBay purchase (I guess compulsive + eBay is a bit redundant, but bear with me). I also (again, compulsively) bought a few pots at Ikea and finally had the chance to fill them with dirt and hope for the best. I planted peppers, basil, and tomatoes in the pots (placed in the windowsill), and peppers, chives, dill, and parsley in the cooler (right below).

After extensive passive research, here are my findings:

*Plants need sunlight. No, really. Lots of sunlight. The plants in the window did brilliantly, while only the peppers survived (but bore no fruit) down below in the cooler.

*A friend speculated that this may have been additionally due to the depth of the cooler, which may not have been ideal for water retention/drainage (whichever the poor suckers needed).

*Plants also need...WATER! Not my most original revelation, I know, but I found that it was genuinely difficult to remember and make time for watering the garden daily. I felt like every day as I was racing out the door to work or yoga I would cast a forlorn glance towards my neglected herbs and promise myself I would water them when I got home (I work in a restaurant and usually get home between 1-2am...this promise was rarely fulfilled). I feel this was the most significant impediment to my success.

*I also had to rotate the pots in a moderately successful attempt to make the plants grow straight. It felt kind of like seventh-grade science class.

In the end, I cranked out some fine basil and a few very, very hot peppers (eBay's "mixed pepper mix" yielded an awful lot of serranos), which definitely helped out some wayward sun-dried tomato tapenade; an impromptu brunch of apple-cheddar omelettes and roasted potatoes; and a few bruschettas that needed an extra kick (and boy did they get it). In the future, I want MINT, more basil, rosemary (isn't that supposed to be hardy?), and will probably give the chives and parsley another the windowsill this time.

Monday, October 22

Topless Tapas (with shirts)

My roommates and I had a tapas-style dinner party last night. We each invited three guests, and asked them each to bring a tapas-style dish to share and a bottle of "something exciting."

We made:
Torti/Frittata di PastaCrudites
Melon balls with Prosciutto
Pomogranate Gelato-Prosecco Shots
Black Bean Dip
Cheese Plate with raspberries and pomogranate seeds
Butternut Squash Empanadas
Polenta Rounds
Eggplant-Pesto-Mozzerella Rolls
Pumpkin Bread
Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade

Our guests brought:
Shrimp Cevice
Baked Shrimp
Garbonzo Bruscetta
Olive Tapenade
Cheeses and Meats with Olive Bread
Chocolate Croissants

Here are my reflections on the evening:

*Next time, I'll stagger the food presentation in three stages:
-Initial cold nibbles (laid out in dining area) and welcome shots/drinks
-Hot food and savory guest contributions (in kitchen)
-Sweets and appropriate beverages (in dining area after preliminary clean-up).

*TAKE PHOTOS. I'm so shy about photographing my food in front of people, but the presentation looked sooo nice with tea lights and halloween decorations, etc.

Here's a non-photo of the evening to prove this last point:

[ X ]
Caption: A lovely array of tapas and fermented lactose products adorn cmoore's abode for a festive Sunday afternoon.


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