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 www.penzeys.com for a little culinary temptation.