Archive for May, 2008

Getting Started

May 30, 2008

I’ve gotten some nice emails and phone calls from friends who have been reading my blog. Some even say they are inspired to either go vegetarian or incorporate more vegetarian foods in to their diet. More and more Americans are are making the decision to eat less meat, whether it’s for environmental, health, or cruelty to animals reasons. With the big push to go green in this country, I think vegetarianism (at least some of the time) is poised to become even more mainstream. Check out this article:
But how do you get started? As someone who hasn’t eaten meat in 21 years, I can tell you it is real shift in thinking. Even these many years later, I am frustrated when I am served a bowl of something in a restaurant (usually a pasta) with a one note flavor while my husband is served a well-balanced plate with a protein, starch, and vegetable. The idea of many different flavors happening in one meal is something I constantly strive for in my cooking. It is why I almost always bring three different meal components (not including dessert) to my clients. Meals are important to me and I want to taste lots of different things.
I love to cook so it doesn’t always feel like work to me to make lots of different dishes (sometimes it does). However, to enjoy vegetarian food, you do not necessarily need to work hard. If variety isn’t all that important to you, you can make a big batch of something (a delicious spring stew perhaps) and eat it all week, just varying the salad or appetizer you serve with it.
We are coming in to the most wonderful time of the year for vegetarian cooking. The sheer bounty that comes to us in the Pacific Northwest in June, July, August, September, and October makes me wonder why anyone eats meat. There are so many incredibly delicious and satisfying things out there to eat! Here are a few pointers on making the shift.
Get Thee to a Farmer’s Market
Here in Seattle, there is at least one Farmer’s Market going on each day of the week all over the city. (Check out I know the trend is rising all over the country and it is one of the best ways to get your ideas and taste buds going. We all hear that we should eat with the seasons and I think it is an important part of vegetarianism. The impact to the environment is less, food tastes better, and we are eating the foods our bodies need. You can get great information from the farmers themselves. I went to the Phinney Ridge market yesterday and bought some beautiful tiny turnips. I asked the woman at the booth how she liked them best and she suggested roasting them in a hot oven (tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper) and then sprinkling them with Parmesan cheese. Yum!
Buy a Couple Cookbooks
The very first cookbook I bought is one I still use and the first one I recommend to people who ask which is a good one. It is called Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin. I have made probably 75% of the recipes and can honestly tell you they are indeed quick, they always turn out, they are easy, and they call for ingredients easily found in the supermarket. You will have success and will love the food. She has at least three other cookbooks (two of which I have) and they are all good. This one is the easiest though and a good one to start with. I think the vegetarian bible is Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. She is one of the founders of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco which is a veg Mecca and her book is wonderful. Again, most recipes, and there are over 1000 of them, are totally approachable, just maybe a little more time consuming than Lemlin’s book. I use it as a vegetarian Joy of Cooking. It is the book I turn to most often. is a great place to buy cookbooks because they deeply discount the books (which can be expensive) and if you spend $25, the shipping is free. They have almost everything. If you prefer the bookstore experience, please shop local! Carol at Santoro’s Books here in Seattle has a very nice cookbook selection and will order anything for you. By the way, the above photograph is about one fifth of the cookbooks that I own!
Subscribe to a Magazine
You may be surprised but I don’t necessarily recommend getting Vegetarian Times. I find the recipes and the articles a little too overzealous. I think the food tends to be either overly flavored or really bland. I get Cook’s Illustrated, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Food and Wine. I find that in any given issue there are plenty of delicious vegetarian choices, if not as main courses, then at least some soups and salads I want to make. There are lots of interesting articles about food and I have a feeling that we are going to see more and more about vegetarianism.
This is my favorite food site. Let’s say you just went to the Farmer’s Market and were inspired by the radishes (they are beautiful right now). You can come home, go to this site (which is the web site for Gourmet and Bon Appetit), and plug in radishes. It will give you tons of recipes from their archives and best of all, there will be comments from other cooks. So you know that if 30 people said it’s delicious, chances are it’s delicious.
Of course I am always available for questions and inspiration.

The Day I Stopped Eating Meat

Let me start by saying this: I never really liked meat – even as a child. Some of my early food memories have to do with not wanting to eat the main dish and just wanting the sides. Thanksgiving for example – I hated turkey but LOVED mashed potatoes. Things have not changed much. When I was eight years old, my mom went back to school to get a nursing degree and somewhere in her first year, they dissected a fetal pig. She decided then and there to not cook pork and I remember being relieved that I would never have to eat pork chops again. Surprisingly (or maybe not), the place where I said goodbye to meat was in France.

For middle and high school, I attended a wonderful school in Seattle that had many things going for it, one of which was a foreign travel program. We all had the opportunity to spend spring trimester of either our junior or senior year in France (for those studying French), Mexico (for those studying Spanish), or somewhere else interesting. Since I studied French, I opted to spend the spring of my junior year on a bike, camping and eating my way through that beautiful country.

I would like to say that that three month trip is when I fell in love with food. I would like to say that France is where I learned that I wanted to cook, and dream about cooking, and write about cooking. But instead I can only say that France (that trip at least) is where I gained 15 pounds in spite of the fact that I was riding a 60 pound loaded bike all day almost every day.

All in all, we ended up riding about 1500 miles around five different provinces. As amazing as it sounds (and it was amazing), it was a very difficult trip. To start with, I was only sixteen years old. We had only one adult teacher in our group and she was a disaster, so the inmates were essentially running the asylum. There were a lot of logistics involved in getting from place to place and none of us really spoke French all that well. There was a lot of down time as we waited for the slow riders in the group to catch up (I was one of the slow ones) and as we tried to reunite as a group each time someone got lost. What was there to do during these hours of waiting? Well, eat.

Again, I wish I could say that I was taking advantage of the incredible food on offer to us in the wonderful provinces we visited but for the most part, we were eating out of supermarkets. Whatever was fast and cheap is what we ate. We did have cooking stoves and there were those in the group who actually cooked at night but I was too starving all the time to wait for even water to boil for pasta. My appetite quadrupled in the three months I was there and I am amazed today, even having been through two pregnancies and having nursed two children, by how much I ate.

Breakfast was at least three pastries and a whole baguette was consumed durning the course of a day. If we were to stop at a creperie for lunch, I would have a savory one, a side of pommes frites, and a dessert crepe to top it off. Snack was a giant chocolate bar – like one of those baking sized ones. Can you wonder how I gained 15 pounds?

One of the things that kept us all going on our endless bikerides in terrible weather was the fact that we had homestays scheduled throughout the three months in various locations. These were three day respites from sleeping in tents, arguing with each other, and getting lost. We were able to eat in someone’s home and perhaps most importantly, we got mail from our families and friends. My homestay mothers were all a little horrified by what we were doing and they let me soak as long as I wanted in the tub and fed me copious amounts of food. I ate whatever they put in front of me, so grateful was I to be eating something that someone cooked for me instead of something I essentially scavenged from a supermarch√©.

Approximately halfway through the trip, we boarded a boat in Marseilles and sailed for Corsica, an island in the Mediterranean just north of Sardinia. After a long month of rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow (not to mention injuries, countless flat tires, and lots of in-fighting), the prospect of two weeks of sun was most welcome. Corsica remains one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and at the time, it was still unspoiled. We didn’t ride many miles each day because the terrain was very difficult and the roads were not in great shape. Several times each day we had to stop to allow a herd of goats to cross our path. As much as I hated climbing the mountain pass we did each day, I almost preferred the climb to the descent because of all the potholes – I was terrified of falling off my bike. But endless days of sunshine make up for a lot.

Our homestay in Corsica was in the magical town of Calvi. It is quite a tourist destination, but in late April, it was nice and quiet. My wonderful friend Jen (with whom I am still close) and I had the ultimate luxury; we got to stay at the same house. It was a good thing too because this family was a little on the crazy side. They were kind though and excited to have Americans staying with them. The last night we were there, they had a celebratory dinner and brought a delicacy for us – foie gras. I took one look at it and knew there was no way I could eat it. And so as not to hurt their feelings or appear rude, I told them I was a vegetarian. My friend Jen glared at me (she didn’t want to eat it either) and the family seemed to think there was something seriously wrong with me, but I didn’t eat the foie gras.

And I have never had meat since. After declaring it at a family home in Calvi, Corsica, it just became so. I had never liked meat and so I just stopped eating it. Even now when someone asks me why I am a vegetarian, my first instinct is to say, “Because I am”. It’s like being right-handed. Of course I don’t agree with the slaughter of animals (although I wear leather shoes), and I am horrified by the environmental impact of all those cows (although I drive an SUV), but more than anything, it has just been so many years since I ate meat that it doesn’t even occur to me anymore.

I ate fish for a few more years after that and, ironically, my last fish dinner was with Jen as well. I took her out for her 21st birthday to the Dahlia Lounge, a great local restaurant that is still around these many years later. I ordered salmon as I almost always did in restaurants in those days. It came, it was delicious, but I thought to myself, “I think I’m done with fish now”. And I was. In these many years that I have lived as a vegetarian, I have cooked and eaten some delicious things. I am looking forward to sharing many of those with you.

Roasted Potatoes and Onions with Wilted Greens
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4

I love anything with potatoes, especially if they are roasted. This is a great way to combine a starch and a green for a two-in-one side dish. I imagine it would be great with meat of all kinds. I served it with a vegetable frittata and cherry tomatoes that I sauteed with garlic and herbs.

2 lbs small red potatoes
2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 pound spinach
4 tsp apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the potatoes in half or quarters if they are large. Try to have the pieces be of uniform size. In a shallow baking pan or sheet, toss potatoes and onions with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Roast potatoes and onions in middle of oven, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and tender, about 25 minutes.
Place spinach in the bottom of a large bowl. Transfer hot potatoes and onions to bowl, sprinkle with vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, then toss until spinach is wilted.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Repeating Recipes

May 26, 2008

I rarely cook the same thing twice. Really. You can ask my clients. In the year and a half plus that I have been cooking for them, I have only repeated a menu two times and both of those times it was a specific request. I may repeat certain dishes (salads for example), but even that is not that frequent. I really like variety in my diet and get bored with making the same thing. I also have a lot of cookbooks – somewhere around 75 – and I like to find inspiration for different things in all different books. So you can imagine how it makes me laugh when someone says, upon learning I am a vegetarian, “What do you eat?”.

But this holiday weekend, I have been repeating and to tell you the truth, it has saved me. One of the things I most enjoy about cooking is menu planning. It feels exciting to me to have the whole week laid out in front of me and a million options of what to cook. How it ususally goes is that I am inspired by a dish and then build a menu around that one dish. Sometimes it is the main course, but often it is a side dish, a dessert, or even an ingredient. If I have that jumping off point, then the process goes relatively quickly. One part of the menu is set and it becomes clear to me what other kinds of dishes I need to complete the menu. Sometimes I will spend way too long looking for that perfect pea recipe, but at least I know I am looking for a pea recipe. The hard menu planning sessions are the ones where I start with no inspiration. That is when I start cracking the spines of my most trusted cookbooks hoping something will spark my interest. I will sometimes just go to the index of Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and look up an ingredient I love (lentils for example) and hope that that helps everything fall in to place.

But sometimes, I just have so much cooking to do for so many different meals, I just want to get to the cooking and not waste time on the planning. That was this past week and weekend for me. I had my regular client delivery days (Tuesday and Thursday) and then we had my sister-in-law Susie and her husband Bernard in town for the weekend. We invited my parents and brother and sister-in-law over for dinner last night and we are having our friends John and Lauren over for dinner tonight. As I was putting together the week’s menu, I just decided to make it easy – prepare some things I have made recently and not torture myself with re-inventing the wheel. I also decided that we should grill a salmon for Susie and Bernard, who were visiting from Houston, so they could enjoy our local bounty. I made the Orzo and Carrot Salad and the Fontina Galette (see the photo above), both of which I made for a party a couple of weeks ago. I had a crust in the freezer so choosing the Galette was a no-brainer – all I had to do was roll out the crust and make the filling and bake it. Easy peasy. I doubled the Orzo Salad (note to self: do not double that recipe, it makes entirely too much) so there would be enough for tonight to serve with Nicoise Tartines with Peperonata.

I had never made a tartine before. I have made bruschetta which is the same idea but for the record, defines it as “a French open-faced sandwich, especially one with a rich or fancy spread”. They were a nice surprise – really delicious and easy. I first made the peperonata which consisted of cooking onions and peppers for a long time so that they get rich and syrupy. I grilled some bread (I highly recommend the grilling, it gives the whole dish another dimension of flavor), laid the peperonata on top, the non-veg’s got a layer of high quality tuna, and then thinly sliced hard boiled eggs. I think next time I would add a layer of arugula tossed with a little olive oil under the eggs – the peppery bite would be delicious.

A side note: I am a kitchen gear-head. I read about people who don’t like lots of tools, especially those that only perform one function. I REALLY like kitchen tools and am fine if they only perform one function, but really only if they perform that function well – better than some other multi-task tool. So, I would never buy an herb cutter because I know that my chef’s knife does a better job. But an egg slicer…it’s a must have. For those (admittedly) rare occasions when you need to slice eggs, this tool will give you uniform perfect slices. It’s small, fits in to a drawer easily, and it actually does have another function – it slices squishy mozzarella balls easily in to clean, thin slices.

Our dessert was the Gianduja Mousse that I also made for that party but this time I resisted temptation to make it more complicted (and truthfully, I didn’t have time). I just made the mousse and served it in little French glass yogurt jars with (the horror!) storebought cookies. It was a lovely evening.

Nicoise Tartines with Peperonata
(Adapted from The New Classics by Martha Stewart)
Makes 6

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves
4-5 large peppers (either all red, or an assortment of colors), thinly sliced
Pinch of paprika
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
6 slices (1/2 inch thick) sourdough bread, cut from an oval loaf
4 large eggs
1 can tuna packed in oil, drained (veggies, omit this – it is still delicious)
4 tsp capers, drained
Fleur de sel

For the bread: Drizzle both sides of each slice with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. If you can, grill it over medium heat until grill marks appear. Alternatively, you can bake it in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes, flipping it half way through.

For the peperonata: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring frequently, over medium heat until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the bell peppers and paprika; continue cooking until the peppers are soft and juicy, about 30 minutes. (You may need to add a little water if things are sticking too much). Add th
e capers and cook for a few more minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.

For the eggs: Place eggs in a saucepan and then cover with cold water. Add about a tablespoon of white vinegar. Bring to a full boil, then cover and turn off the heat. After 10 minutes, drain and run cold water over the eggs. When cook enough to handle, peel and slice thinly.

To assemble: Spread the pepper mixture over slices of bread; top with tuna (is using), dividing evenly. Place slices of egg on top of the tuna and season with fleur de sel if desired and black pepper.


Fear of Filo

May 22, 2008

There was a time when I had a serious fear of working with filo dough. It just seemed like one of those projects in the cooking world that were too scary to tackle. No matter how many times I looked at a recipe and read my way through it, I would get tripped up on that whole idea of the filo drying out and how to prevent it and what to do if it does. It just seemed like one of those things I wasn’t going to get. Cooking, and especially baking, has been a series of these obstacles for me. Or maybe I should say, becoming a better cook (and a better baker) has meant overcoming the idea over and over again that something is “too hard” for me. Then I try it, have some degree of success, and either keep trying it to perfect it, or move on to the next challenge.

Layer cakes is a good example of tackling something I perceived as “too hard” for me. For some incredibly strange reason, I decided it would be a good idea to make my own wedding cake. Randy and I got married in 2002. It was a second marriage for both of us and we decided to have a very small ceremony with just family and close friends. A week after the wedding, we had a party for all the friends that we couldn’t invite to the wedding. 75 of those friends. I found a recipe on Epicurious for a Lemon Berry Wedding Cake and decided that for this party that I had to make that cake. At that point, I was a decent baker who had made tarts, bundt cakes, pies, and more cookies and brownies than I could count, but I had never tackled anything of that magnitude – not even close. In fact, I had never even made a layer cake before.

Fortunately, I had enough time to do a practice run, well, a much smaller practice run. I cut the recipe in half and made a single 12 inch layer cake and served it to a bunch of people who I didn’t know that Randy invited over to our house. Fortunately, my brother Michael was there and so I knew I could trust what he had to say. Both of my brothers are amazing eaters but neither of them are that keen on dessert. Something has to be really good for them to even eat a serving of it. That evening, Michael had three pieces and said it was the best cake he had ever eaten. So, no doubt, this was going to be my cake.

A month or two later, in the days leading up to the wedding, I logged some serious time in our (then) tiny little kitchen. I seriously challenged our old gas oven that was very tempermental, I battled our tiny refrigerator that had barely enough room in it for a salad for space, and my KitchenAid mixer started throwing butter back at me when I tried to one and a half the buttercream frosting for the 12 inch, 10 inch, and 8 inch cakes I thought we needed. I got cake pans, cake boards, and the little tower to build a wedding cake on (and some very good advice) from Home Cake Decorating Supply on Roosevelt Ave. I juiced 24 lemons (with a reamer!), made a last minute run to the Pike Place Market for berries, split cake layers, reassembled layers that looked crooked no matter how hard I tried, and spread the whole thing with an ocean of buttercream frosting.

And then, I loaded it in to the car, brought it to the reception site and assembled it. A three Iayer cake I made all by myself. On towers! I bought a beautiful orange and red ribbon to wrap around each of the layers but there was so much butter in frosting (even without the bits that the mixer spit out) that it bled through the ribbon and darkened it in spots. And it was pretty crooked. But here is the important thing – everyone loved the cake. I had so many people tell me it was the best wedding cake that had eaten even if it wasn’t the most beautiful (they didn’t say that last part, but I knew). It’s true that most wedding cakes are beautiful and don’t taste like much. This one didn’t look all that great and tasted wonderful.

I made that cake one more time right before we moved to London for a year. We had a party to say goodbye to all of our friends and I thought it was only fitting to make it again, the smaller version this time. Our dear friends John and Lauren brought their son Jaden, 18 months old at the time, to the party. Once it was time for dessert, Lauren took a piece of cake and was slowly feeding it to Jaden. A dessert lover even then, he decided she wasn’t going fast enough and stuck his whole face in to the cake. Yes, it’s that good.

So, I had tackled layer cakes – in a big way – what was to stop me from making all those things I didn’t think I could? And this is where filo made its first appearance in my life. I just went for it and truth be told, it was a little challenging at first. But there are a few things I learned along the way that make it much easier and less intimidating. Without further ado, here are my filo tips:

First, the day before you are going to use your filo dough, remove it from the freezer and put it in the fridge to let it thaw overnight. Then use it directly from the fridge.

Second, filo does dry out quickly but not that quickly, so try and relax as you are working with it. Once it does dry out, the corners start to crack and it can be a little hard to separate the layers. The best way to keep it moist is to just cover the portion you are not working with with a clean kitchen towel. Don’t bother with plastic wrap or a damp towel, just a clean dry towel.

Third, use olive oil to brush the layers. Your choices are usually butter or olive oil, but when I use butter I have to keep rewarming it to keep it liquid so I just stick with oil. This is true even for sweet things (like baklava) because the oil doesn’t really add much flavor, it’s just there to keep everything moist and to give you a nice crisp crust on the outside.

Fourth, if it does tear – don’t worry about it. Almost anything you make with filo will have many sheets of it layered on top of each other so any tear will be invisible and insignificant. If your top layer tears, just brush it with oil and add one more layer to the top.

Fifth, ENJOY the delicious and wonderful things you can make with the versatile product. Last night I made Filo Purses with Leeks, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese from Everyday Greens. Delicious, delicate, but with a wallop of flavor, and of course that wonderful crisp yet flaky filo dough. Go for it!

Brown Rice Revisited

May 20, 2008

I made brown rice last night. That may not sound earth-shattering for a vegetarian, but the truth is that I almost never make it. I like the idea of brown rice – how it is much more flavorful and much more nutricious than white – but every time I have made it I wonder why I wasted 40 minutes on it. It almost always turns out mushy, so much so that the nice flavor boost is lost in the yucky texture.

So I was reading an article in Saveur magazine recently (Saveur is one of the few food magazines that I don’t receive) and they had a long article about brown rice. Now, I didn’t actually read the article because I didn’t find it all that interesting and these days, something has to really be fascinating for me to challenge my attention span. But, I did skip to the recipe for not-mushy-brown-rice. Long story short: you cook it like pasta. You boil a bunch of water, add some rice and a bit of salt, and then let it boil, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, then you drain it. And you know what? It was delightful. Nutty, a tiny bit crunchy (in a good way), and all the grains were separate, not a mushy one in sight.

So, I’m a convert. I do love white rice as well and I think with some dishes it just tastes better. Like Indian or Thai food for example, where you want the rice to be the backdrop for the other strong flavors on the plate. But if rice is the star of the show, I think I’m going to use brown from now on. Dinner last night came from the website and it was really good. Onions, garlic and chickpeas (I have never met a chickpea I didn’t like) sauteed until nice and browned, asparagus added in for a bit of green, and all mixed together with the rice. I spooned a delicious lemon tahini sauce over top which added just the right amount of acidity and garlicy-ness to make it all more interesting than the sum of its parts.

Tonight I am going out on a limb – Vietnamese Sandwiches from the Everyday Greens cookbook. I’m not a huge sandwich eater (vegetarian ones are always just so boring), but I am a huge Asian food eater and this sounded too interesting to pass up. Besides, I have made very few sandwiches for my clients so this is something new. Nice ciabatta type rolls will be stuffed with a delicious tofu mixture that includes onions, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes that have cooked down. On top of the tofu, there will be some Carrot and Daikon Radish pickles, and then the top of the roll. I’m intrigued and I hope it’s good. Along with the sandwiches, I am bringing them a Green Bean and Noodle Salad and a Spinach Salad with the rest of the Lemon Tahini Dressing from last night. The Dana Treat is Rhubarb Bars from the Simple Vegetarian Cooking cookbook. I wasn’t sure about these when I pulled them from the oven (although they smelled wonderful), but the corner I sampled is great. Today is my wonderful friend John’s birthday and I seem to remember that he loves rhubarb so these are in honor of him. Happy birthday John!

« Older Posts