Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fast Foods and a Good Chef Knife

Unlike so many foodies, I didn't grow up surrounded by a culture of food or food lovers. My small, nuclear family, like so many others in the 60's and 70's, enthusiastically partook of the wondrous, newfangled time-savers like minute rice, hamburger helper, and canned vegetables. Frozen TV dinners were a treat and canned pasta was de rigueur for a warm winter lunch on a school day. Food back in the day was a necessary annoyance to be gotten out of the way as quickly and conveniently as possible.

Today, I love food and cooking, and I prefer my food to be FRESH...but I like it fast. The need to make quick meals is the one thing that must have stayed with me from my food experiences growing up. Back then, as with today, vegetarian cuisine had a reputation for being time consuming because of all the chopping. I don't necessarily agree, but when there is chopping to do, the right knife can make all the difference.

Way back, I'd invite friends over for dinners when I was in university and just discovering my love of cooking. One of my good friends, who worked in the food biz at the time, used to look on with horror while I chopped all the veggies for our meals with a dull paring knife. She'd warn me that I'd be more likely to cut myself with such a dull knife and that it would be alot faster and easier to chop with a sharp knife and that my hand wouldn't ache with a proper knife. It wasn't until years later that I finally discovered she was right! My husband had just splurged and bought himself a brand new 8" Wusthof chef knife.

He already had some great knives but despite his urging I refused to use them, preferring instead to use my dull bread knife because I was used to it. One day I decided to try the chef knife to cut some curly-leaf kale leaves from the thick woody stems and, WOW, it was like slicing through warm butter! It was so easy and fast! I was hooked forever. I became a chopping fanatic. Using a good knife was like the difference between riding a bicycle and driving a car. So, my husband bought me my own Wusthof and many speedy, vegetarian meals ensued.

Until, sadly, we sent the knives out to be sharpened. The sharpener shaved off a big curve from the heel to the middle of my knife and I lost contact of half the blade with the cutting board. Never again will the sharpening be done by anyone but me. I'm buying a stone and will learn how to sharpen it myself. I'm using a steel to keep the blade in good condition between sharpenings. My new knife is a lovely 7 " santoku that makes what many see as a chore into a relaxing and fun experience.

My old foodie friend is thrilled that I've finally discovered what she'd been trying to tell me for so many years and she has reaped the benefits of many a fast and fun vegetarian meal created with my good chef knife.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Kale with Vegan Sausage and Perogies

I'm fortunate to have recently moved to a lovely Polish neighborhood. The local commercial strip has a generous smattering of Polish bakeries (Yum!), restaurants, and, of course, lots of meat shops. However, being vegetarian generally means that if I feel like having a Polish-inspired dinner, I will need to make it myself.

So, feeling inspired last week for a Polish dinner, I stepped up my search and finally found a good, local source of Tofurkey products in a small fruit market in the 'hood. I picked up the vegan Tofurkey Polish-style sausage and began to visualize my Polish dinner coming together! The next stop was the local Polish bakery for some "home-made" fresh-frozen perogies. The ones with sauerkraut filling are vegan. My local Polish bakery also carries big jars of fresh sauerkraut, so I added one to my basket. On to the veggie market for some curly-leaf kale and my vegan, Polish-inspired meal was ready to prepare:

1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
pinch nutmeg
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup red wine
1 bunch kale, stems removed and coarsely chopped

Polish-style vegan sausages
Vegan perogies, fresh or frozen
Prepared sauerkraut

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and soften, about 3-5 minutes. Then add garlic, nutmeg, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Heat 1 minute, stirring, and add red wine and kale. Stir to coat the kale with wine, cover the pan with a lid and simmer on low heat for about 3 minutes or until kale has just wilted. Remove from heat and place the kale in a serving dish. The onions will be reddish from the red wine, so if you find that distracting or weird (my husband was weirded-out by the red onions), you can omit them or cook them separately, then sprinkle the onion over the perogies.

Meanwhile, slice the vegan sausage and cook according to package directions. When cooked, remove from heat and place in the serving dish with the kale.

Using the same pan, scoop out your desired amount of sauerkraut and just heat through. Place the sauerkraut in a separate serving dish.

Also meanwhile (yes, this is a multi-pan dinner!), cook the perogies as desired. Some people like to boil their perogies, but I like to pan-fry mine in a bit of olive oil until lightly browned...yummy!

Enjoy your Polish dinner of Kale with vegan sausage, sauerkraut, and perogies! I served this to a non-vegetarian family member of German origin and her good friend from Germany last year to favorable reviews!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Vegan Caesar Salad

The caesar salad is my all-time favorite salad. No matter what salad phase I'm in at any given time, I still always crave a good caesar. It must be all the garlic and the salty-creaminess of the dressing combined with the garlicky-crunchiness of the croƻtons. So, of course, I HAD to try to come up with a vegan caesar dressing so I can continue to indulge my cravings without having to turn to mayo and cheese!! So, here it is... my take on a vegan caesar. Maybe this will satisfy YOUR caesar cravings, too! :-)

Caesar Salad

1 romaine heart, chopped

Assemble chopped romaine in a salad serving bowl

2 slices of your favorite crusty bread, chopped into cubes
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Grate garlic into olive oil, stir and drizzle over cubed bread. Toss until well coated and spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes until desired crispiness. Alternatively, you can also pan fry the cubes in 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil until browned on the outside but still nice and chewy on the inside. Add to romaine lettuce in bowl or reserve until salad is dressed and then sprinkle on top to keep them from getting too soggy.

1/3 container of silken tofu (150 grams)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 lemon, juiced (about 1/4 cup)
1 T capers
1tsp tamari sauce
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c nutritional yeast
1 garlic clove, pressed or grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all dressing ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Pour desired amount over salad, toss well and enjoy!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Obama on Factory Farming

Here's a December youtube video and transcript of Obama responding to a question about climate change and factory farming. You can find this and other vegan news at the blog: (see link on my blog)

Nikki Benoit: “Thank you, Senator, very much for your strong environmental position.

The United Nations actually has reiterated that factory farming is contributing more to global greenhouse gas emissions than all of transportation. I think that as a global community we really need to be the leader and moving more towards non-factory farming animal agriculture. It’s very egregious. There’s 10 billion land animals that we are funneling our precious water and grain through when 70 per cent of all of our grain could help feed the world’s hungry. So, as the next leader of the most amazing nation in the world, how can we set the example on the more nutritional, plant-based diet that’s more eco-friendly and sustainable, that can maintain our water resources and all of our grain. Thank you very much.”

Senator Barack Obama: “Okay. Well, it’s a great question.

Now, I have to say in the interests of full disclosure, that I do like a steak once in a while. I’m just being honest. I like barbecue. I’m not going to lie. But the young lady makes a very important point and that is this: right now, our food system world-wide is under enormous pressure. It’s under enormous pressure because as a consequence of climate change, you’ve had severe changes in weather patterns. We don’t fully understand what these effects are. But, for example, Australia’s had huge drought which has taken a lot of crops. Grain production has been much lower. And supplies are tight. You’re starting to see riots around food in places like Haiti and other poor countries around the world. And what is also true is that as countries like China and India become wealthier, they start changing their food habits; they start eating more meat, more animals. And what happens then is because it takes more grain to produce a pound of beef than if they were just eating the grain, what ends up happening is that it puts huge pressure on food supplies.

Americans would actually benefit from a change in diet. I don’t think that that’s something that we should legislate but I think that it is something that, as part of our overall health care system, we should encourage because, for example if we reduced obesity down to the rates that existed in 1980, we would save the medicare system a trillion dollars. We would reduce diabetes rates. We would reduce heart disease. So, the fact that we subsidize some of these big agribusiness operations that are not necessarily producing healthy food and we discourage, or we don’t subsidize, farmers who are producing fruits and vegetables and small scale farming that gets produce immediately to consumers as opposed to having it processed. The fact that we are not doing more to make sure that healthy food is in the schools. All those things don’t make sense. It is important for us to re-examine our overall food policy so that we’re encouraging good habits and not bad habits. For example, just making sure there are more fruits and vegetables in school lunch programs. That would make an enormous difference in how our children’s diets develop. That would make us healthier over the long term. It would cut our health care costs and maybe it would help people elsewhere in the world, who are in less wealthy countries, feed themselves as well. So, it’s a great question. It’s important.”

Friday, January 2, 2009

Mango Lime Salad

Ever made an Asian-themed dinner but couldn't find a suitable Asian-inspired salad to go with it? If so, your search stops here!! This refreshing salad goes well with any Asian stir fry or Thai entree, try it!

Mango Lime Salad

1 large mango (not too ripe)
1 green onion, cut into 3" lengths
6" section english cucumber, seeded and cut in half across the width
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

Slice the mango, green onion and cucumber into thin match-sticks/julienned pieces length-wise. Combine ingredients in a medium serving bowl. Serves four.

juice of 1 lime
1 chili pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 T white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine dressing ingredients and whisk until well mixed. Drizzle over salad just before serving. You likely won't need to use all the dressing on the salad unless you double the salad ingredient quantities. The dressing keeps well in the fridge for 3-5 days.
Hey! You may notice that I'm adding a few new features to my blog as it evolves. Check back often because I plan to keep adding more veg-links and other veg resources as well as more recipes, coming soon! New link of note is the vegan blog tracker, VegBlogs, which is a great resource with links to vegan blogs from around the world. Check it out!!


Food Choices and Global Warming

So, here's a cool to fight global warming at dinner!? A study was released in early 2008 that suggested that substituting chicken, fish or vegetables for red meat can actually help combat climate change...something that most vegetarians are already aware of. Although the study didn't extend the conclusion to vegetarianism, the same can generally be said for substituting a vegetable-based diet for meat, chicken and fish.

Glad to see the studies are finally catching up to what we herbivores have been aware of since Frances Moore Lappe published her groundbreaking book Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. Although this work is best known for it's (since recanted and de-emphasized) theory of protein combining, it also brought to light the many environmental issues and inefficiencies associated with using animals to obtain calories.

The study, reported in the May 15 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology, claims that putting these foods on the dinner table does more to reduce carbon emissions than eating locally grown food. While locally grown food in general does require less fuel for shipping to the store, the study actually compared greenhouse gas emissions from food production to those of transportation. The study found that food production accounts for 83 percent of the average US household's greenhouse-gas burden while transportation accounts for only 11 percent. Shifting to a less greenhouse-gas intensive diet, for example, by eating more vegetables and less meat, chicken or fish, can be an effective way to lower your food-related climate footprint. The researchers wrote that "shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more greenhouse-gas reduction than buying all locally sourced food."

We can all do our bit to help reduce global warming, just by making positive and compassionate changes to our diet--reducing our intake of meat, chicken, and fish even just one day a week, one meal at a time.