Monday, May 3, 2010

James Beard Foundation Media and Book Awards-- and the winner is...

Love Soup by Anna Thomas won the 2010 James Beard Award for best cookbook with a healthy focus.  She is the author of The Vegetarian Epicure  A quick glance at the 160 recipes and I'm getting hungry. "Green Soup" and all it's variations has captured my attention.  As Anna says, "you're getting a week's worth of dark leafy greens in each bowl".  Check it out on page 90.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In Search Of Wild Leeks

I love the month of April in the Hudson Valley. The wooded banks along the Shawangunk Kill start to reveal the sweet sight and taste of ramps, also known as wild leeks.  This is my first chance to get my fingers dirty in the spring soil.

It doesn't take long to gather up a large bunch of these spring delicacies.  This is good because I am trespassing on private land and I don't want to get caught. Although I am sure they would forgive me if I invited them over for dinner and shared the wild leek feast with them.

I briefly sweated the wild leeks in a very hot pan then pureed them with some vegetable stock  I used just enough stock for the consistency to be like a sauce not a soup. I tossed some sauteed mushrooms with the wild leek sauce and some white beans I defrosted from the freezer. ( See January 10th blog entry.)  The mushrooms and beans were coated in the bright green sauce and I spread it on toasted garlic bread. This is why I love April in New York State.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tempeh Stuffed Peppers

These peppers blend the best of the carnivore and vegetarian worlds.  Garlic bread, steamed broccolini and a great bottle of pinot noir will complete this meal. Serves 4

4 strips bacon
1 (8 oz) pkg Three Grain Tempeh
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 oz) can, no salt added, petite cut diced tomato
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbls ancho chille powder
2 Tbls worcestershire sauce
2 Tbls brown sugar
2 large red bell peppers, seeds removed and sliced in half
2 oz sharp cheddar cheese, reduced fat

1. Cook bacon in saute pan until crisp, remove bacon, crumble and hold.
2. Pour off all but 2 Tbls bacon fat and add crumbled tempeh. Cook until lightly browned.  Remove tempeh and mix with crumbled bacon. Set aside.
3. Sweat peppers, onion, garlic in pan until soft. Splash in liquid from canned tomatoes to prevent sticking.  Once vegetables are soft add to the tempeh mixture and set aside.
4. Sweat the mushrooms in the pan with liquid from the canned tomatoes until most of their moisture is released.  Add tempeh mixture back into the saute pan and season with pepper, salt, chille powder, worcestershire sauce and brown sugar.  Allow to simmer while you prepare the peppers to be stuffed.
5. Microwave pepper halves for 1 minute until just soft.  Lightly char the outside of peppers over an open flame or under the broiler.  Do not over char the pepper or they will get too soft.  Remove the charred sections of the pepper skin.
6. Stuff the peppers with tempeh mixture and top with shredded cheddar cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Trying Tempeh--part two

I've made the commitment. I opened the package of tempeh and I'm ready to cook with it. I consulted some of my favorite vegan cookbooks -- The Artful Vegan, by Eric Tucker and Bruce Enloe of The Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco and Great Chefs Cook Vegan, by Linda Long.  But this was all a delay tactic to avoid what I really needed to do, taste the plain tempeh. I warmed it up slightly in the microwave for 20 seconds so the real flavors would be noticeable.

The aroma from the warm tempeh hooked me. It was a little like some rice pilaf or cooked oatmeal.  I even picked up a hint of something sweet like a fresh baked muffin.  It became infinitely more appealing after I broke it into crumbles. This could easily replace the ground turkey I use in sloppy joes. I'm off to the grocery store for some red and green bell peppers, onions, garlic and crushed, canned tomatoes.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Considering Tempeh

I have a shrink-wrapped package of tempeh in front of me. I'm stumped. What can I do with this fermented block of organic soybeans, millet, brown rice and barley? I've read every inch of the packaging looking for ideas and I finally notice "SELL BY MAY 7 2010". Wonderful, problem solved, put it back in the refrigerator. Boy I love vegan cooking.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Small Steps

An easy first step to including more vegetarian meals in your life is to serve the chicken or meat in "appetizer-sized" portions for your main course. This means you need to tame your appetite before you sit down at the table.  So while you are cooking, dip red bell pepper strips into some store-bought hummus or a yogurt-based dip.

Also try starting your meal with a soup to increase your satiety and satisfaction.  Consider a  soup with beef or chicken broth as the base but loaded with vegetables, beans, rice or barley. Now you are primed to savor a 3-4 oz portion of protein without feeling deprived.  Use the best quality meat or poultry you can afford and serve it with a pan sauce you create from the browned bits of meat and poultry that stick to the pan as you are cooking it.

To create a pan sauce, after you brown the meat on both sides in a saute pan, remove it and hold in the oven to finish cooking or keep it warm while you prepare the pan sauce.  Add some diced onion, celery, garlic or other aromatic vegetables.  As they sweat in the pan splash in some wine to loosen up the browned bits of meat in the pan. Allow the wine to almost evaporate.  Now pour in about a cup or more of  chicken or beef broth and allow it to boil to reduce and thicken it.  You can also add a slurry of 1 tsp corn starch dissolved in a little liquid to the boiling broth and it will thicken it to a sauce consistency.  Soak up the sauce with bread, rice, pasta or some other grain and you won't miss the other 4 + ounces of animal protein that you usually eat.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Enjoy A Little Flesh This Valentine's Day

Moist, pink, succulent ... I'm referring to salmon of course.  This Valentine's Day try it steamed in a Savoy cabbage leaf with a chive ribbon to tie it up.  Each little "present" of salmon is opened at the table to reveal the pretty contrast of pink and green.  Blanching the cabbage leaves and chives softens them so they can be folded around 2-3 oz portions of salmon and herbs before they are steamed.

Romance flows naturally when you prepare a fun, interactive meal with your partner.  The menu should engage all your senses--sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.  Start by steaming whole edamame, sprinkle with sea salt and eat them in the traditional Japanese manner by pulling the pod through your teeth to release the beans.  Stimulate your sense of smell by toasting some walnuts in the oven until fragrant.  They will make a wonderful sauce for pasta with good olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

Consider skipping the flowers this year and invest in a pasta-rolling machine instead. Using your hands to transform flour, eggs and salt into smooth and satiny dough will inspire even a mismatched couple.  As you roll out your pasta dough be adventurous.  How long can you make one strand of fettuccini?  The sound and sight of slurping long noodles will interrupt any dull moments of your meal.  Saute some arugula in olive oil and add the toasted walnuts.  Toss in the pasta that has been boiled in salted water for 2 -3 minutes until it is al dente.  Use a little of the pasta cooking water to help make a sauce.  Grate Parmesan cheese over the dish and enjoy.

For dessert, well, I'll leave that to your imagination.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Seductive Aromas and Flavors of Food

Mid winter inspires me to put a prime rib in the oven, roast some root vegetables and open up a good bottle of cabernet sauvingnon.  The pleasures of this meal start the moment the aromas of the roasting meat and vegetables escape during a peak and poke into the oven . The meal is simple but the positive responses it elicits are staggering. Can a vegan meal even compete with the seductive power of meat?

Last weekend I roamed New York City seeking food inspiration.  Not just a divine meal by some other chef, but an experience that would exalt great vegetarian cooking in me. A meatless meal that could rival the enticing powers of a roasted prime rib of beef. The frigid temperatures put a damper on my wandering the streets looking for enlightenment. The whole weekend became focused on finding a winter coat on sale.  Oops, I got distracted.

My revelation occurred on the Metro North train back to Poughkeepsie Monday morning. I grabbed a Penzeys Spices catalog from the Grand Central Market since it always has great information about the origin, flavors and uses of unusual and common spices. Words of wisdom from one of my culinary students also simmered in my mind. "Vegan meals are about deriving flavors from a variety of ingredients to enhance the taste, texture, smell, visual appearance, and so on." Kachina's words reminded me that vegan cooking becomes seductive when we create layers of flavor by using spices, herbs, oils and quality ingredients. I can't rely on the  predictable spices that have been sitting in my kitchen for the past 5 years to create a spectacular meal any more than I would expect a prime rib buried in my freezer for a year or two to entice me. So, I'm off to for a little culinary temptation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Culinary Student Converted!

Well, maybe not converted from being a carnivore, but Sebastian definately had a great recipe using tofu. PEANUT BUTTER MOUSSE--Blend equal amounts of silken tofu and creamy peanut butter until smooth. Sweeten with some honey if desired and enjoy.

I decided to try a variation on this mousse since chocolate makes everything even better. I used a spread called "Dark Chocolate Dreams" by "Peanut Butter & Co.".  I purchased it at my local Hannaford's grocery chain but you can check it out at or call 1-866-ILOVEPB.  Since this peanut butter is blended with rich dark chocolate I needed a little liquid to keep the tofu and peanut butter moving in the blender. If I hadn't consumed all the Grand Marnier during the holidays I would have put a tablespoon in the blender with the tofu and PB & C spread.  As I foraged through my pantry I found some coffee-flavored soy milk and almond extract. A little of each and the mousse was moving. I topped off each serving of mousse with some chopped, toasted hazelnuts.  My tofu-fearing husband ate the mousse and loved it. I did too.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Respectful Eating

"Respect for food is a respect for life, for who we are and what we do." -Thomas Keller, The French Laundry Cookbook

 On page 205 of The French Laundry Cookbook, Chef Keller describes an experience early in his career that helped him develop his respect for food. He describes the first time he killed a rabbit that was to be served in the small restaurant where he was working in the Hudson River Valley and the impact this had on his career.  After reading this page as a culinary student I saw the value in participating in ALL aspects of procuring food. So I caught a large-mouth bass from the pond on my farm and proceeded to kill, clean, prepare and serve that fish to my husband and nephews who were visiting. Each person got one glorious bite of fish and had to fill up on the vegetables and rice I served with the meal. 

For some people these kinds of experiences would convince them to adopt a vegan lifestyle.  For me, I give thanks and cherish each bite of the animal that gave it's life for my meal.  I serve much smaller portions of fish, chicken or meats and purchase them from farms committed to a humane way of raising and killing the animals.  This often requires me to purchase serveral whole chickens at a time or plan to purchase half a hog or a quarter of beef and store it in my freezer.   Since defrosting the meat takes time and some advance planning, chicken and meat is saved for special meals.  My quick-to-defrost, cooked beans have taken a more prominent role in my daily meals.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I'm A Carnivourous Vegan

I enhance my vegan meals by garnishing with meat, butter, cheese or sometimes sneaking in some chicken stock to make a sauce.  Ok, I confess, I almost always use beef stock or chicken stock when making my beans and grains. I also start with dried beans, soak them overnight in water and then cook a big pot of them the next day using the stock to which I've added some kosher salt.

Please don't try eating a whole pot of beans in one sitting.  It is digestive suicide and guaranteed to make you hate beans. As soon as the pot of beans is tender, not mushy, I drain them and spread them in a large roasting pan to cool.  Speed up the process by placing the pan in an ice bath and gently stir the beans.  Once the beans are cool put 1 cup portions in freezer bags and freeze for another meal.  Beans prepared this way have a much better flavor and texture than canned beans and you can use them in small amounts by adding to soups, stews and making into vegetable salads.

Try this with some black beans and next summer combine them with some fresh-off-the-cobb sweet corn, red onion and diced peppers. Season with chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice, a little salt and a little chopped, fresh, chilli pepper and you will join me in cilantro heaven.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Developing A Taste For Tofu

It's taken two attempts with my curried tofu but I finally hit on the best way to prepare it.  Start with extra firm tofu if you want it cubed. Keep the cubes small and the texture, which can be a little hard to get used to, blends right in with the dish. Microwave the tofu for 4 minutes to release the moisture in it. Now you are ready to saute it and add it to your curry sauce.  When I did not pre-microwave the tofu it released it's moisture in the saute pan and took much longer to lightly brown. By that time it was sticking to the bottom of the pan and I had to add more oil or let it burn.

The other way I prepare tofu for carnivore's is the classic spinach dip in the pumpernickel bread bowl.  Use soft silken tofu in place of the sour cream or for just a portion of the sour cream.  You can also reduce the amount of mayonnaise. I've served this to many carnivores and my reputation as a chef has stayed intact.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reluctant Vegans

I just told my future-chef students at The Culinary Institute of America that they must prepare AND eat a vegan meal by next Wednesday, Jan 13. Absolutely no butter, cheese, eggs, chicken stock or any other animal product can be included.  I think some of them are now bingeing on beef and butter in anticipation of this project. Telling culinary students to give up their beloved meat, butter and eggs is unthinkable for many chefs. 

I'm an animal lover.  If they are not my pet then I want them on my plate. So why do I insist my students experience a vegan meal?  That's a longer story. I'll fill you in after I finish my tofu curry for dinner.