Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rice pudding

We're going away for a week, and I decided to try to use up the leftovers & whatnot in the fridge. On Monday night, I made rice pudding from some leftover brown rice. I put 2:1 rice-to-soymilk or so on the stove with a little bit of buttery stuff, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, and let it simmer for for a while. A little brown sugar is nice, too.

I don't have exact proportions for this; I just cook it longer or add more liquid until the consistency comes out more or less like you'd find at an Indian restaurant.

Acorn squash, yogurt

Last night before bed, I baked an acorn squash for today's lunch. Split it in half, put it on a baking sheet, and bake for 45 minutes at 350. I brought some yogurt into which I stirred some channa masala spice blend, and dipped spoonfuls of squash into it. It was awesome!

The yogurt I brought today was Trader Joe's goat milk yogurt, which tastes OK but is another American style custardy pectin-y yogurt, which really doesn't do it for me. My commercial yogurt of choice is Pavel's Russian Style yogurt, but they didn't have it this time for some reason.

For a few months last year, I was making my own soy yogurt, and I plan to get into that again. I tried recently using Almond Breeze almond milk, but I wasn't happy with the result... Rather than a jar of yogurt, I ended up with a jar of water with yogurt-like pellets floating in it. It actually tasted OK, but was rather repulsive.

My quicky method for making soy yogurt:
  1. Fill a clean, sterile jar with soy milk and microwave for two minutes
  2. Let cool until luke warm
  3. Stir in a spoonful or two of starter
  4. Put lid on jar
  5. Store in warm place for a few hours, then refrigerate.
Often I'd warm the oven to just over 100 degrees, turn it off, and leave the jar in there overnight. It seems to set more quickly and has a firmer texture if the temperature is higher, but beware of killing the cultures with too high a temperature.

That's all it takes... Maybe about two minutes of actual effort. My starter was Pavel's the first time, and from then on I'd reserve the bit at the bottom of the jar to start the next batch. Using Trader Joe's unsweetened soymilk, it produced a consistently good yogurt which tasted like Pavel's but was much easier on my stomach than any dairy product ever is.

Initially I followed the method from Vegan On A Shoestring then I relaxed&simplified my method a bit after reading Madhur Jaffrey's book.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Experimenting in the kitchen 2

"If you understand your painting beforehand, you may as well not paint it at all." - Salvador Dali

Monday, February 26, 2007

Guacamole and belgian endive "chips"

Tonight's (light) dinner is guacamole and belgian endive "chips." I've never had endive before, and I like it more than I expected... Which is good, because I have two more to figure out how to use the remainder. Angeline was in a hurry to get somewhere, so I pre-scooped guac into the endive leaves and poked them into the bowl going around the edges from tallest to smallest. It made for a nice presentation.

Fill-to lines; cooking in bulk; chinese food

Conceptually, I like the idea of making a big pot of something to eat throughout the week, from a convenience point of view. But I reach a point where I just can't take it anymore. No matter how much I like the thing that I made, after my 4th or 5th helping of it throughout the week, I am desperate for something new. I joked recently that I should draw "fill to" lines on our pots so I don't make too much of one thing.

So, how to deal with this? If I don't have materials to prepare lunch for the day in 5 minutes or so, I will often just skip it and go out to lunch. I do so much less often than I used to, but it's still not ideal. I'm sick of mysterious food. I want to know what goes into my food!

Well, I have a few ideas.

One, a friend of ours is a brown rice fanatic and will often cook thw whole of it at once and then freeze it in meal-portion-sized zip-locks so it is readily available every day. Rice is a good staple ingredient, because it's healthy, filling, and it goes well with most things.

Two, well, I have long been anti-chinesefood. The reason is that most chinese food you get at restaurants consists of slimey, oily glops of homogenous food. Even when I ate meat, I didn't like the fact that most chicken dishes (for example) at chinese restaurants would be NOTHING but chicken in slime. Deep-fried chicken, at that. Most of the time you couldn't even get a floret of broccoli with it. On the other hand, I work (and lunch) with many chinese people, and what I've noticed is that their food is almost always a nice portion of rice topped with equal small portions of meat and vegetables. I'm sure there's some sauce, but I've never seen the kind of oil slick that comes on most restaurant-bought chinese food, and I've never seen any of it deep-fried. I'm getting the feeling that what you find at most chinese restaurants is a very americanized version of the cuisine.

So, the idea I'm getting from this is to prepare rice as above, and then cook (or not cook) our weekly shipments of food in several dishes that are either one or two ingredients, rather than trying to turn it into one or two large dishes. Lunch ends up being a portion of rice and a selection from two to four options, plus some raw fruit and veggies. It can probably all be done in the same time it takes to make the big dishes, and the result is a more diverse menu throughout the week which can be quickly gathered before heading out in the morning.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Idealized food has an interestingly look at the top ten "Good foods gone bad." A common theme, paraphrased, is the American food industry's attempts to idealize most things into a variation on cake (cereal, bread, etc) or frosting (like our custardy, gelatinous yogurts) because, well, everyone wants everything to taste good, and I guess sweet is an easy form of "good" as far as flavors go. Just add high fructose corn syrup.

I think the fact that even we Americans don't subsist on Twinkies alone should be a hint that sweet, sweet cake and cream are not everything to everyone. Maybe we could give SOME of the sugars and preservatives a miss?

Whole Foods

I used to shop at Whole Foods a lot, mostly because at the time they seemed to be the best option for organic and/or unusual foods. Well, I take that back, they were after the little mom&pop health food store a half mile away was competed out of business by the mega WF.

More recently, I have generally avoided them, or gone just for specific ingredients that I can't find elsewhere or need to have soon. I really do appreciate the variety they offer and the quality of the products, but I just can't get over their pretentiousness. In reality, they are a large corporation packaging and selling components of a (allegedly, at least) healthy lifestyle at high prices to make as big a profit for their shareholders as possible. No matter what principals they were founded upon, as a publicly traded company, that is their goal.

In my estimation, they are in many ways they are a big step above, say, Safeway, but I don't expect it to last. The last few times I've been there, I've encountered the same hyperartificial politeness from their employees that says nothing but, "I really don't want to be here, but I have to be nice to you because it's company policy." This is all in stark contrast to my (former) neighborhood market, Cosentinos. They offer superb quality, reasonable (though not bargain) prices, and employees who seem to genuinely enjoy taking care of their customers' needs. I wish I still lived close to them, because I really felt like they were committed the wellbeing of the community.

When shopping at Whole Foods, I feel the same way I do when shopping at a place like Walmart (which, thankfully, has not happened in years) or Starbucks, who also claim to contribute to the local community.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Experimenting in the kitchen

Something in Season has an interesting post about how to experiment with recipes. A lot of his advice centers around following recipes carefully, which helps learn to predict how things will go, I suppose. It's interesting to me because it's pretty much opposite from my philosophy... I personally follow the "banana flop philosophy" by Helium (aka God around Hippycore HQ) in my favorite cookbook, Soy, Not Oi!, although ironically(?) I have yet to make the banana flop recipe.
So what kind of a vegan are you, having to read a book to cook or prepare food! You are a pitiful person. You have been socialized. You think that 1/2 cup less of this or 1/2 cup more of that will render your dish inedible. You think that a written recipe is the optimum balance of the ingredients... you are bummed. [The banana flop recipe does not include exact measurements, temperatures, times, etc]

Natural foods have the wonderful property of being able to be blended with each other in any manner or proportion and still always give a minimum total nutritional value equal to the sum of their parts, so nutritionally speaking you can't go wrong. Different combinations will bring different tastes and different textures; a wonderful array of tastebud experiences that will bring you joyful, romantic, painful, funny, gratifying, and humiliating memories... the merging of the soul and the pallet.

So my friend, break free from the rigid limit of your food habits and turn your kitchen into a playground of creativity... Welcome to the BANANA FLOP philosophy!

Since reading this, I have rarely worked from recipes unless it's something mysterious, like NYC, a grain-to-liquid ratio, something Chinese, or ... anything that's to be baked. I'm also generally pretty happy with how my cooking turns out.

In my case, I USED to rigidly follow recipes, and eventually came to the conclusion that cooking doesn't have to be an exact science. Sure, there are some things that can easily be over- or undercooked, but most things provide leeway in terms of cooking time, ingredients, etc. A friend came over a while back with a semi-improvised persimmon bread which included several whole grains (and was quite awesome, in my opinion!)... I think the key to success is to combine flavors you like, and if any are especially distinctive, don't feature more than one.

Update 2/18/2007: Inspired from writing this post, I made the banana flops this morning. Everyone should have a copy of Soy, Not Oi!

Friday, February 16, 2007


You'd think that after not one, but TWO, outbreaks of salmonella in a week, someone would realize that there's something wrong with processing food in giant batches using machines. ConAgra Foods recalled peanut butter, and Dole recalled canteloupes. We're going to the Farmer's Market in Mountain View this weekend and I'm really glad!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Growing food in small spaces

Here's an idea for growing salad greens and other vegetables even if you have poor soil or your driveway is the only place that gets good sunlight.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tree tea?

This is dredged up from memories of the people who lived in tipis up in Northern Michigan, that I was hanging out with about 10-11 years ago. PINE NEEDLE TEA is a terrific source of Vitamin C. All you need is a handful of pine needles (the long skinny ones: evergreens with short brushy needles like redwood and hemlock are NOT good for you!) and some hot water. Twist or crush the pine needles, or you can chop them up, pour the hot water over them, wait a few minutes, and drink. It's pretty good. Here's more information on living off pine trees.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More NYC

I went to Good Karma again tonight, but they didn't have the mac & "cheese" because they weren't pleased without how it came out last time. I encouraged them to keep working on it, because frankly, if someone had told me I'd enjoy eating a bunch of yeasty goo, I'd have told them they were crazy, but I trusted the GK folks and I thought it was great. I told them I'd made some of said goo and put it on potatoes, and it was really nice.

One of them recommended using kamut flour for making hearty cookies or other floury things. I have never knowingly had kamut, so I'm curious. I have some friends who are allergic to gluten, and I have tasted pancakes and birthday cakes prepared by/for them with alternative flours, and so far have been very impressed. As far as I know, I'm only allergic to papaya and cats, but why make everything with the same old bleached white flour? I always have my favorites, but I really enjoy variety occasionally going through phases where I explore different cuisines, unfamiliar veggies, almond milk instead of soy, etc.

I admit I'm still dumbfounded by my meat-eating friends who can't bear to eat a meal that didn't have meat in it. Their diets are often based around 3-5 varieties of meat, prepared in two or three different ways, with insignificant amounts of anything else. BORING!


Fingerlings potatoes have been some of my favorites ever since I used to get them at my local farmers' market and roast them with some carrots and whatever else looked good. I used to walk or bike to the market, but alas that's not really possible where I live now. We got some organic "russian banana" fingerling potatoes in our last Planet Organics shipment and a bundle of herbs (mostly rosemary and time), so I smeared some olive oil on the potatoes, sprinkled on a bit of salt and pepper, put the herbs on top and roasted it all for 20 minutes at about 500 degrees.

The smoke detector went off! It must have been the high heat because it wasn't really smoking, that I could see.

Food as activism

Here's my inaugural post: this was previously posted to Livejournal and is cross-posted here to illustrate what's been on my mind lately.

The day after we came back from the holiday excursion to Tulsa, OK and Pittsburgh, PA, we stopped at Barefoot and William noticed a new book on their reading shelf, "The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved". Having some time to kill, I picked it up and glanced at the first chapter. Then I settled down for a serious read. When we left, I insisted on going to Barnes and Noble to buy my own copy (note: I do not buy books, generally. I borrow, trade, and use up credit at Book Buyers, but I rarely BUY A BOOK). And I read it. Twice.

And now I have A CAUSE. But, it's a cause that does not divide into red states and blue states, or Bible Belt vs. Islam, or whatever else is out there to argue about. Who can argue with food? We all need it. We all prefer good food to bad food. Plus, in my humble experience, the best representatives of A CAUSE are those who simply do it, without talking about how great they are and how wrong the rest of us are. So. I hereby speak up for good food. Take it or leave it.

However, since even the Bush Administration has just grudgingly admitted that there may well be something to this global warming...'scuse me..."Climate Change"...claptrap, good food may not be available for much longer. I doubt that the American public at large will willingly give up all their comforts: cut down on driving and air travel, buy less plastic, eat less meat, use less lumber, waste less water, dump less chemicals, go without heat or A/C. Etc. Water is running out. Fossil fuels, which drive energy production, which support the vast commercial food conglomerates that convert corn into beef, are running out. Cropland is running out.

So, vat-grown food? Hydroponics? Soylent Green...? The possibilities are, presumably, endless. However, there is one thing that one person can do to take on The Man here: Grow your own food. So, since I will most likely be relocating to Oklahoma later this year, the home of my dad and his fishing buddy and their 1-acre vegetable garden just outside Tulsa, I'll be spending a lot of time there learning to grow my own organic produce. Because I don't want to be sitting around when I'm 65 or so telling the neighborhood kids about when I was their age, we had REAL food.

mysterious root veggie pt 2

I think it's some sort of radish thing. I peeled it and took a bite, and while I was temporarily overcome with horror at that "you really don't want to eat this" radish smell, I actually ended up liking it. Like most vegetables, I would have totally dreaded this thing as a kid, but now I'm able to get over the unpleasant stinky first impression and appreciate it as a very different flavor from the norm. I suspect this would be interesting grated and mixed into a salad or used in a sandwich as one might use a pickle or onion. It was surprisingly spicey, in a way similar to raw garlic, but more intense.

Update: It was a Black Spanish Radish.

Monday, February 12, 2007

mysterious root veggie

mysterious root veggie
Originally uploaded by wbajzek.
I signed up for Planet Organics a few weeks ago and so far have been very happy with it. The mid-size box is about the right size for us, assuming we are preparing a reasonable amount of food at home. I do think that the produce costs more than if I were to just buy it at the local produce market, AND we've actually been eating out MORE, but our overall food spending is way down because I have been trying to figure out what to do with all of this food that arrives each week. I have more home-cooked lunches at work, healthier meals at home, fruit smoothies for breakfast, and when I do have meals out, they feel a bit more special than when they are no longer then norm.

It's been pretty successful so far. However, they do throw me occasional curve balls. There was no itemized receipt in our last shipment, and they sent me this thing. Does anybody know what it is or what to do with it? Not me. But I am determined to find out.

I <3 NYC

A week ago I had "macaroni and cheese" at Good Karma Vegan Cafe in downtown San Jose (plug - it's one of my favorite restaurants and I've made a weekly routine of going). The "cheese" was made of this mysterious nutritional yeast stuff I have heard much about but never encountered. My impression was that it tasted somewhat like cheese, perhaps a bit more like gravy, with maybe a hint of peanut butter. Weird? Yeah, but lately I have been interested in weird vegan foods.

As luck would have it, I needed to pick up some stuff at Whole Foods, and they had nutritional yeast in the bulk bins, so I bought a bunch. Angeline has been requesting "breakfast for dinner" for the last few days and had even pre-cooked some cubed russet potatoes for this purpose. So, for dinner tonight, I made eggs and potatoes for dinner, and for my taters I made a batch of NYC.

I used 1 part NY flakes, 1 part flour, and 2 parts water, plus a bit of margarine and salt. I whisked it over a low flame until it took on a velveeta-esque texture, and poured it on the taters. This was not exactly how the guy at Good Karma said they made theirs, but it tasted almost exactly the same to me... I suppose that's mostly due to the NY's flavor.

Conclusion? I liked it so much that I wanted to lick the pot clean. But, I'm weird. Angeline said she could see why it would be used for gravy (which she generally doesn't like) and didn't feel inclined to comment any further on the subject...