Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gulf Coast Blues

Unless you're living under a rock, you all know by now about the BP Deep Water Horizon spill that's threatening essentially the entire Gulf of Mexico, if not the entire North Atlantic down the line. It's an environmental disaster, it's an economic disaster, it's a tourism disaster, it's a personal livelihood disaster. Let's face it, it's hard keeping up with the different sorts of disasters we have on our hands and will have for months and years.

Since this is a food blog and I try to stay on topic, a disaster that hits close to home is that I may be an old man before I'll ever have another gulf coast oyster again. That's tough to swallow. Tougher still when I remember what is probably the best dish of my life.

Last year on Mother's Day, I took my mom out to a nice little restaurant called Satterfield's. There were a few options for the special holiday prix fixe, but the starter I picked (paired with champagne) was a little flight of oysters.

The first oyster was a no-frills classic Oyster Rockefeller, with a touch of tarragon and rich creamy flavor that reminded me of every trip I've taken to New Orleans. The next oyster was a blue point, served raw on the half shell with shredded cucumber and a granita of passionfruit on top. Contrasted with the fatty Rockefeller, the brisk cold and acidity in that oyster completely wiped my palate clean and left me tasting the sea and sun all at once. The final oyster was such a bizarre presentation that I still smile thinking about it. A cordial glass was filled with a Bloody Mary, and nestled into the bottom of that glass was a raw gulf oyster, like the olive at the bottom of a martini. The salt and umami in the oyster really brought out the Worchestershire of the Bloody Mary, and the tart and the alcohol swept everything along as I chased it down. Three completely different directions with an oyster, and I was thrilled to be along for the ride.

I don't even really remember what else I ate that day. It obviously wasn't that important. But those oysters sure were, even as far away from the coast as we are in Birmingham. You see, even if we're not on the coast, the South relies on the gulf more than most people realize. It's our livelihood, sure, but it's also largely our culture. And with our culture involved, it certainly involves our food. The thought of a shrimp gumbo containing shrimp flash frozen from California or Mexico sickens me. The thought that I probably won't have another raw oyster unless I travel to some place with shores that aren't befouled by oil is almost unthinkable. It wasn't too long ago that I can remember being in the company of friends at a dive bar in New Orleans, down a few dozen bottles of Chimay and many more dozen empty half shells. I was a late bloomer liking those little things, and now that this has happened, I regret every day that's gone by that I didn't squeeze in an oyster or two. You just don't think about these things simply not being around anymore.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Strawberry Limeade Créme Brûlée

Yes, it sounds absurd, but you see I had a lot of strawberries and a lot of limes and my idiot brain is prone to run with hair-brained schemes.

As a cap-off to yesterday's Mother's Day spread (Steak Ducasse, thyme potatoes, haricot vert, baguettes, and red pepper pesto) I knew I would be making Créme Brûlée for dessert. Now, I'm not much of a dessert guy, so when I decide I'm even gonna bother, it's a moment of terror.

I've made Créme Brûlée before, so I know it's something I can do, but I didn't want to re-hash the same flavor. To top that off, we did get some very good fresh strawberries from Grow Alabama, and I had a general idea to top them on top of the sugar crust.

But...Créme Brûlée & berries alone is so played. It's the generic presentation. While there's something to be said of simplicity, I wanted to try it different than I've had it a million times over. That's when I remembered the limes we bought to make sparkling limeades (lime juice, carbonated water, sugar, mmmm), and I realized we had a ton left. Since both my wife and my mom are huge fans of Sonic's strawberry limeade drinks, it seemed like a sure thing. Most of this crap is a copy-paste with tweaks from my previous Créme Brûlée, so whatevs

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 3/4 quart heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar + more for the top + more for macerating strawberries
  • zest of two limes
  • juice of two limes
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • About 6 strawberries, sliced
Begin by splitting and scraping your vanilla bean. You can do this with a good pointed knife by jamming it in the middle and pulling on it until it unzips, then turning it around to fully split it. Once split, scrape out the tarry inside of the bean.

Combine the bean and scrapings with heavy cream in your sauce pot. Bring this just to the threshold of a boi and remove from the heat. Cover and let cool completely. Remove the bean and discard. Whisk in the eggs and sugar, and add your lime zest to the cream.

Preheat the oven to 325. Get 4-6 ramekins and fill them with the cream. Put into a casserole dish and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the ramekin sides. Cover with foil. Bake for about 50 minutes or so, or until just barely set.

Cover and refrigerate a few hours, or up to a couple of days. About 30 minutes prior to eating, remove from the fridge. Dust enough sugar on the top to coat evenly. Using a blowtorch (you do have one, right? Get one!) start running the tip of the cone of blue flame around the surface of the ramekin. Turn as you apply heat. Avoid buring sugar. Keep your flame moving and your sugar moving. Work outside in.

When you're done, you should have a nice sheen of caramel-colored sugar armor on top of your custard.

From here, add sugar to the lime juice until it's fairly thick, then add your strawberry slices. This is called maceration. By putting your fruit into a very sugary mix, you will both soften the strawberries and also leach some of the strawberry juice into the sugar-lime syrup.

Last thing to do is to spoon some syrupy strawberry slices on top:

This was an awesome idea. The lime zest in the custard meets the lime juice on top and the strawberries and the acid punches through the fat in the custard. Feels very light.

It was a great end to the Mother's Day lunch. Mom loved it, and after that, we sat around enjoying some french pressed coffee and listened as my wife played some tunes on the piano. Happy Mother's Day, mom.

Steak, the Ducasse way

I've been eating a lot of steak lately.

Mind you, this isn't a backlash to my Lent days. You see, I'm on a mission to understand steak. I mean, I think most guys get the whole primal 'piece of meat, insert on grill here' thing. And yeah, that does produce a tasty steak when you're not using a crappy cut, cooked to medium or worse, and drowned in "steak sauce" (blech). But isn't there something else out there, man?

If you've been paying attention, you've seen the signs. I fiddled around with cast iron searing for those nice ribbon-thin italian steak salads (arugula mandatory, y'all). I've scourged my soul against the bottom of the barrel of French depravity with steak au poivre, and still I want more.

Enter Alain Ducasse, some French guy who cooks and apparently also likes steaks. Being French, he overcame his first instinct to surrender to the daunting challenge, and instead opted for the second instinct, which is to drown the hell out of a random thing with butter. Ahhh....buerre! Look, nobody said steak was a staple. If it's a staple for you, you're probably gonna die. Enjoy it as a treat, because it is a treat. And when you do, be EVIL. Seriously.

What Monsieur Ducasse does is two-fold. First off, hot fat (butter, also rendered beef fat) is a transport mechanism for flavor. You ever see those premium-priced flavor-infused olive oils? Well you're paying a premium for non extra-virgin oil that's basically heated with whatever it wants to taste like chucked into it. In that same respect, by adding aromatics and herbs into a pan with hot fat and cooking on a medium-low clip, you can pull the flavors out of those things into your delicious fat, which is...

...then basted over a steak in cast iron, cooking over a fairly low temperature. Why low? Doesn't this go against everything good and sacred in the Tome of Steak? Well...not really. For a thin steak (like, say, hanger steak), yes you want very very hot temperature on your grill, pan or whatever. That's because you want to spend as little time inducing the Maillard Reaction as possible.

Pause for a moment. Go up, click that link. The ideal crust for a steak is BROWN. Black is burnt. Black is carbon. Black is coal. You have gone too far. Unless you're a bad kid around Christmas, I don't imagine you have plans on eating coal, so STOP doing this to steak you spend your hard-earned money on, capice? There are grill-stripe fetishists out there and I guess y'all can toe the line if you must, but please don't overdo that stuff. Dry your steak off as completely as you can, season with salt and pepper, and you'll find that crust is easy to get, and you'll never look back.

Anyways, sorry for the segue. The gist is that brown is good, and makes us all happy campers. If you're keen on living on the wide open ranges of Flavor Country, you'll also want a little moo in your steak. I fully admit I used to be a medium to medium-well guy. I also fully admit I used to un-ironically listen to Chumbawamba. Bad choices only become mistakes if you don't learn from them, so I fully own up to being human. If you're an overdone steak afficionado and you're reading this, I've probably offended you. I'm not going to apologize for that, but I'm not going to prosthelytize either. You'll either try a little strange or you won't. I will tell you that if you're one of those weirdos, I've got to absolutely adore you as a friend or you've got to be a blood relative for me to overcook a steak for you. And even then, it kills me to do it these days.

So, let's assume here that we're all fans of that range between rare to medium-rare. To get that, and to get the Maillard crust, a thin steak has to be seared off fast, and is essentially over and done in maybe three or four minutes. I recommend even using it straight from the fridge so you've still got a bit of pent up chill for a cool center. For example, here's how my hanger steak turns out using that method:

Note both crust and center. That's about as money as it gets.

Now for a steak in the Ducasse style, we're basting the steak in that tasty flavored butter, right? Well to get the most flavor into that steak, we cook slow. We also do that so that we can cook a very thick steak and not have the outside a blackened mess and the inside still cold and raw (not to be confused with rare, y'all). I found most of my success to be with New York Strips. Here's the kicker, I would shoot for a cut that's two inches thick AT MINIMUM. This seems like madness, doesn't it? Well, at that thickness, I consider a cut of strip can be split to feed two people. Instead of imagining steak as some plate-covering thing, think of it instead as a fist of meat. Equal x, y, and z dimensions give or take. I highly recommend you get chatty with your local butcher if you can. Don't trust any place that just has meat out in shrink-wrapped packages and nobody to talk to. Talk to a butcher. Tell them you want some cow cut up the way you like it. That's why they're there.

With the steak being thick like that, you'll also want to bring it closer to room temp. How close is up to you. I've brought a steak all the way up to room temp and it was a bit too done through for my liking. I usually let it out of the fridge for an hour as a guess. The great thing about NY strips is that they also have this substantial strap of fat running along the back. After you rub both sides with salt and pepper, you can heat a dry cast iron pan and rest the steak on its side. This renders the fat off that strap and into your pan, so it contributes to your baste.

Once you slap a side down, DO NOT move it. Moving a steak, lifting it up to see "is it done yet?" is a great way to make sure you never get a crust at all. Busy your idle hands by putting herbs and aromatics into your skillet, then tabs of butter until you've got a liquid you can collect with a tilt of the pan, and can spoon over the top. Keep the steak where it is. If you must check on it, give the steak a prod on top. As a steak cooks, it will "tense up" a bit. Raw steak does not recover from a prod. As it cooks, it gradually gets more resilient. I'm loathe to throw out a real number of minutes to expect, but at a low gas setting on my burner, I usually keep a steak on each side for about ten minutes. Don't let this numerical estimate betray your instincts. Imagine I'm Ben Kenobi and you're Luke Skywalker, and there is a Steak Force. Use it.

Once you flip and repeat, all the while basting, you'll eventually be done with the task. I rest my steak on a cooling rack over a plate. Don't tuck into it immediately. I recommend resting it for about ten minutes after cooking to redistribute the juices inside. If you are a greedy pig and eat it piping hot, you'll leak all of the flavorful juice all over your plate and the rest will be a bit dry. The time it takes to rest will make for a better steak, trust me.

Something else to consider is that if you're like me and add shallots to your pan to flavor your butter (for mine, I ideally use rosemary, thyme, garlic, and shallots), you might be able to reserve a few of the now french-fried shallot rings as a tasty topper for your steak. I highly recommend it.

Here's a good idea of the finished product.

I made this one for my mom yesterday for Mother's Day, and it's a pretty solid medium rare. I'm happiest at the threshold between med-rare and rare, but it takes a bit of nuance to get consistency. If you've got a digital thermometer, you may want to consider catching a reading to see what is ideal, and then get used to the tell-tale signs of when you get there.

At any rate, I would highly recommend trying this method. It makes for one of the best steaks I've ever eaten.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Spring Potluck

Last week, we had the first of what I hope to be many season-oriented potlucks at my house. It was really awesome to have friends come over, bring either food or booze or both, and spend a night chatting about everything and nothing over some food and drink. The weather cooperated about as well as you can expect it to in Alabama; which is to say, it didn't rain but it was about 200% humidity all weekend and looked at any moment as if a hurricane would drop out of the sky. Nevermind, we mainly stayed indoors, but under the light of tiki torches my wife played grillardin and worked both of our grills to put out a never-ending flow of kebabs for hungry folks.

She also made me these delicious stinky sardines!

These ginormous Portugese sardines own incredibly hard. I gutted them and cleaned them, then marinated them in some sherry vinegar, olive oil, thyme, and salt & pepper, and the wife grilled 'em whole. Good in a focaccia sandwich with some aioli, or equally good to yank the head off on the spot and eat it with your hands, like a bear.

I spent a good chunk of the party being the fry slinger, which actually works because my station behind the kitchen island gives me clear view of the dining area and the living room so I can chit-chat, drink, and fry whatever I please. Mainly for this evening, it was Spanish Calamares.

Calamares are awesome, but I firmly believe you can't get a good batch at a restaurant because they use wheat flour batter and fry at too low a temp. By the time their batter's set, the squid inside is tough. Instead, my batter is based on rice flour, I ramp the fry temp to the max, and those things stay in oil for 45 seconds to a minute, TOPS. The result is a completely crisp batter coating that isn't too thick and obnoxious, and the meat inside is so tender you can cut it with the flat of your fork. That's perfect. I'm normally not a guy that plays in absolutes but I'd put my calamari against anyone's, and I expect to win. Especially with the pesto I made, which is from roasted red peppers.

I made other stuff too. You have to bear with me, it's all a blur at this point. It was mostly a tapas sort of thing. We had spanish almonds, chorizo & mushrooms in a red wine sauce, some chorizo empanadillas, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, hommous, pita bread, rosemary focaccia, etc. We also had tacos de lengua and chicken qandahari on deck, but it was plenty clear that by that time, we had no need to serve them. Our guests also came in full force, bringing tons of fantastic stuff. Lots of Leinenkeugel beer, Jefferson whisky, a fantastic fresh fruit parfait, and a Three Philosopher's beer cheese soup.

That being said, the food's only part of it. Here's the reason I love these events:

Spending hours upon hours with nothing on the agenda but hanging out, chatting about everything and nothing, and having a great time. Thanks once again to all our friends for coming out, and I hope that we can get our act together for another round of fun in the summer!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The end of Lent, lessons learned, and a few pictures along the way

This post's been a long time coming, and I'm sorry to keep y'all waiting. Just been gripped by a case of lazy, and been busy doing other stuff.

The long story short - I survived Lent. It was easy. VERY easy. I went through 40 days of vegan eating with variety, imagination, and ease of transition. I won't say I didn't have cravings for omnivore food, but they were fleeting and easily put off. To be honest, I was more interested in thinking of ways to use my local produce in the next night's meal than to worry about pining over chicken livers or a good steak. Not that I don't like those sorts of things, but it wasn't causing me any undue distraction.

It was interesting to see it from the other side. Though I've never really agreed personally with the reasons most undertake vegan living, I certainly empathize with them and respect them for being very personal moral doctrines. I've already talked before about the sort of weird tendency of society at large to feel the urge to evangelize vegans back into the fold, so to speak. I got plenty of that from friends and relations. A lot of it comes from simple misunderstandings, and a lot of it comes from folks who grew up as kids who hated their veggies served by parents who maybe didn't know how to make them appealing.

The best thing about my vegan experience, and one that I would suggest the whole experience is certainly worth, is learning how to color pictures using the crayons in the box you may not use as often. Let's face it, America's a pretty red meat reality. Most folks aren't just omnivorous, but they're also pretty plain about it. My origins are actually pretty laughably sad, because I used to be a very picky eater if that can be believed. It all changed once I reached college, but some folks just don't break out of the mold easily. It's one thing to learn that veggies can be tasty, but another thing to just fully take the plunge. Having almost all of my food delivered by my local CSA helped a lot. Before this, I had only the most passing and vague idea of what it was to eat by the seasons. Now, it's in my blood. Right now I can feel it inside me, this weird ticking clock that KNOWS when tomatoes are going to go from being milquetoast abominations into being orbs of the most amazing flavor (June in case you're wondering) Eating by the seasons made me appreciate the seasons more. Of course the irony here is that Lent is positioned squarely in the midst of the waning winter, so it was creative, shall we say, to celebrate that in food. Still, one day I remember busting whole turnips with the greens into a south Indian-inspired dish that only existed in my head. It felt good. It felt sexy. There's a bit of pride in knowing that you can be a part of that celebration.

So that's a lot of rambling for me to basically tell you obvious things. Eating a vegan diet for Lent makes you a much better connoisseur of vegetables, I think. Shocking stuff huh? When you start eyeballing a sack of collard greens the way some folks eye a steak, you start to commit your perverse imagination to bringing about the types of things that you otherwise would treat as an afterthought. An accompaniment. A side dish. It's that sort of thinking that makes me respect vegans who keep it real. There's honest food to be made for a vegan diet. I've made it. I've eaten it, and it's good. Is this my clarion call for you to abandon yon omnivorous habits and take up ascetic living? Naw. But I'm confident that not only does eating vegan give you a full perspective for all sorts of cooking, but it also has legitimacy in and of itself.

As for how the fast ended, let me go ahead and say that I caught an itch for sushi in my final 48 hours and made plans to debauch myself. Easter Sunday I had a fantastic multi-course sushi romp, which I enjoyed every minute of. I didn't feel liberated or rescued, it was just something different and appreciated, sort of like the change of seasons. Kind of fitting I think.

I'm sure that some of y'all are "blah blah too long didn't read where are pictures." I realize I had a few snaps I never posted, so here's a brief gallery of other vegan eats I had during Lent:

Sweet potato & roasted red pepper flautas with avocado, cilantro, onion, and salsa verde

A vaguely-Japanese udon noodle bowl with broccoli, marinaded tofu, carrots, green onions, shitake mushrooms, and cabbage.

This one was amazing. The soup is called Sopa de Grao com Espinafres, which is basically chicpea & spinach soup. Extremely rib-sticking and rustic food from Portugal. The bread, also Portugese, is a demi-cornbread called Broa.

I cheated and got an out-of-season tomato because I wanted to make taboulleh, which is an arabic salad made with bulgur wheat, tomatoes, parsley, herbs, and served in a romaine lettuce leaf. Funny, I could resist meat and animal byproducts, but I got my pride crushed by an out-of-season tomato from Mexico that honestly was only average. Still, the itch was scratched.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Redneck hommous

In a fit of mad science, I decided to make a "hommous" using traditional southern cuisine ingredients. It sounds bizarre, but if you think about it, it should work! I tweaked a little past this video (added citric acid to improve the acidity). It's not as pretty a color as traditional stuff, and black eyed peas don't quite spin as smoothly, but it's not a bad variation!

Here's the finished product, topped with some paprika and served, in true redneck fashion, with saltine crackers.

Monday, March 29, 2010

So how's your diet going?

This is the number one inquiry into my vegan experiment, and it's interesting to think about it. Most folks think of vegetarian and vegan food as super-prim rabbit food. From the examples given in most pop culture, I can't blame folks. What is it again? Tofu, bean sprouts, lettuce lettuce lettuce?


So when folks asking how my diet's going, I point to my pretty substantial middle and arch an eyebrow.

"How do you think it's going?"

I eat gooood. Probably "too good" heh. Vegan sure as hell don't mean diet, I can help you go ahead and dispel that rumor. So I figure I might as well go ahead and offset some of that by getting my workout routine back on schedule. Did a good 2 1/2 mile run tonight, which was fun to do while playing with Juno and watching the news. Hope to make it a habit again now that the weather's turning nice.

In the meantime, maybe I should eat more taboulleh and less falafel. Yeeeaaaah....

At least this way I can afford the occasional bit of evil I dish up.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Welp, I'm farming for reals now

I've gone ahead and done it now.

To the tune of about 80 bucks, I've gone ahead and stuck myself into the farming racket, and purchased my first batch of seeds for the season. Mind you, I've got a nice half acre of land I can turn into veggies if I'm lucky, so hopefully this will be a fruitful (lol) endeavor.

The trick now is to stick to this. I've pretty much done the easy part. What I now need to do is to get a tractor or a tiller and tear up the earth good and proper the first time (should be easier after that!) go ahead and work in some composted manure and other nice stuff, then get a UV lamp to sprout some of the little babies as I grow 'em in bathroom cups. I'm trying to not overextend myself with growing too much stuff that I may not be able to control. Arugula, broccoli, some tomatoes, peppers, herbs, a few beans, corn, butternut squash, some kale. I'm getting okra from a friend, so that'll get put in as well. There's also the possibility something else might tickle my fancy and I might want to plant other stuff. I want to start small, but larger than last year.

Now to find a benevolent soul who can let me drive their John Deere on my property for a day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I'd sneak into the Gaza Strip for a good Falafel...

...fortunately, I don't have to.

Falafel's one of those things you don't realize it's potential until you have a good one, and then you spend an eternity wallowing in inferior ones, cursing the world that you can't find a good one anymore. At least, that's how it is for me. I had the luxury a few years ago of having a really good restaurant near my office that made what I still consider to be the best falafel in Birmingham. They were a little unconventional, as they were patties instead of the round hush-puppy-esque balls most places serve. The flavor was fantastic, but what really made the falafel an experience was the texture. I believe the shop owner fried em up in a cast iron skillet, because the mouthfeel was almost exactly like a good piece of good southern sage sausage. That perfectly crispy, yet fork-tender outside that yielded into a substantial, very moist, yet meaty interior. It was light years beyond the usual Lebanese stuff to be found in town, which had a sort of shapeless soft texture that reminded me more of dry cornbread stuffing than anything.

I was content to rest on my laurels and eat there pretty much forever, and then the shop closed. It broke my heart. I haven't been that upset about a restaurant shuttering in effectively ever. It wasn't just the falafel, which alone was worth every meal. Their baba ghannouj was the richest, their maamoul made me never want for a fig newton ever again, and I probably shouldn't talk about the electric-purple pickled turnip straws in their salads and shawarma plates, lest I get kind of emotional. Suffice to say, best pickled anything. Ever. Nevermind that the place had a hookah (and the same three dudes were always out front puffing on it, just chilling out) and had a market in the back where you could buy everything from spices to turkish delight to tea sets, but to make it even better, the proprietor was a big Alabama fan. I could go in there and BS about cooking, BS about the Tide, and enjoy every moment of it.

I tried to replicate the magic for years and the results were hit and miss. My falafels would fall apart. I'd try to dredge in some rice flour to crisp them up, which resulted in a hard outside and a fairly under-done inside. It was still better than chain falafel, but man, it was nothing like the good stuff. I began looking for volunteer slots in UNICEF to see if I could go on sabbatical doing humanitarian work that would be paid in falafel. I was that desperate.

Fortunately, I struck gold, pretty much because I was randomly looking for a recipe to try. I yanked this recipe from Chow Vegan, which is actually a baked falafel. I tweaked it a little bit because I wanted it fried (basically removed the baking powder, lemon juice, and oil) let each batch rip in 320 degree oil for about nine minutes. The results weren't as good as the best falafel I've ever had, but they're so close that I can curb my nostalgia a little bit. The bits of onion carmelize into that deeply bittersweet flavor, and the little bits of un-smashed chicpea get very nutty and provide a great difference in texture to the rest of the falafel. I crammed those into some homemade pita breads with some spinach, plum tomatoes, and diced purple onion, then spooned some dill hommous over it. I realize it's a bit of a weird move, hommous on falafel. Chicpea dip meets chicpea croquette, but seeing as tzatziki isn't vegan, it's perfectly passable, and more to the point, tastes good.

So while I eat this complete badass of a pita, I'm pouring out a little cardamom chai on the ground for my departed homie, and while it still sucks that the restaurant is gone, I'm at least able to make a falafel that I know can throttle anything else in town I've tasted.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Boom, headshot!

Now that I have your attention. Looks good, huh? We all like crackery things we can dip into tasty stuff, eh?

Poppadoms, my friends, are the cure to your itch. Whether it's smearing some leftover curry on top, or dunking into a chutney, it's one of those awesome little snacks that I've eaten plenty of, but never made until now.

I even made a few videos to help you do the same:

Now, this is more of a snack thing than a meal accompaniment thing, but I was really hungry yesterday and I needed to make actual food, so how about a tofu mattar recipe as well? This is vegan-ized paneer mattar, but paneer and tofu are so similar to each other that it doesn't really matter to be honest.

Here's your meez for making tofu mattar:
  • 1 pound tofu, cubed
  • 1 cup sweet green peas
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • about a cup of tomato puree
  • about 7 ounces of coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp dried chili flakes
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • handful of cilantro, chopped, for garnish
  • basmati rice, for accompaniment
It's a song and dance you probably know by now if you've followed my recipes. Heat your oil to near-smoking in a pot, toss in cumin, let it pop, then coriander, then turmeric, garam masala, chili flakes, pepper, onions, and salt in rapid succession while taking the pot off the heat to stir. Drop heat to low, cover, sweat for 10-15 minutes.

Add your coconut milk and tomato puree. Now I left the measurements approximate here because you kind of want to add and combine until you get to an orange color. Add, stir, and taste. You want just enough coconut milk to not make the sauce overly tangy, but not enough to make it just completely coconutty. Err on the side of more tomato to coconut. Take the pot off the heat and onto a trivet, and either blend with a wand blender or transfer to a food processor and whiz up until it's a uniformly thick liquid. Return to the pot if you took it out, add your peas and tofu, then let the pot ride on low heat while covered for at least 15 minutes. I let mine go for a while and everything generally comes together nicely.

From here, serve with the basmati rice, chop up some cilantro and sprinkle some on top, and it's food. And since I was starving, go ahead and add on the poppadoms and chutney too. And if you're really wanting to seal the deal, crack open a bottle of IPA and be in pure bliss.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Three weeks in

Hey guys, sorry about the lapse between posting. I promise I've been cooking fun things and enjoying the hell out of them, just haven't quite gotten to the point of posting anything substantial. Maybe this weekend will be the time.

I just by happenstance managed to check today's date, and realized it's three weeks into Lent. That makes twenty-one days of me on the vegan kick. How's it been? Pretty damn easy for the most part. The closest I've been tempted was maybe two days in when somebody had some good southern fried chicken livers. I thought "hey, I want one!" then immediately "naaaahhhh".

I'm not going to become one of those new-age health promoters. Going vegan hasn't added years to my life, made me rich and powerful, or taught me how to fly. I feel pretty good, but that's also because I'm not eating as much convenience foods as anything else. Probably the best thing I've been doing is eating plenty of fruit, which keeps me full of energy, and I only need one cup of coffee a day, instead of tapping an IV to the bean like I'd been doing before.

To be honest, I eat about like I ate before, minus a few frivolities that I usually reserved for the weekend anyway. I'm still a curry fiend of the like that puts Dave Lister to shame. It's just convenient that it takes zero effort to make vegan curry. I'm also getting through the backlog of a few slow-mover items that come in my CSA, so anything that gets us to finish our portions is always a good thing.

It's been fun to put myself into a lifestyle I haven't experienced before. I've found a lot of things that I expected to see, namely a lot of people not understanding/fearing veganism, and the really bizarre tendency of folks to blatently prosthelytize their eating habits to me. I could probably go out tomorrow and say I'm a member of the Church of Satan and have less people come rushing up to me to steer me on the path of their choosing. Mind you, I've seen the cheerleaders for vegans like everybody else. When your best known white knights are PETA and Moby, I guess it sort of makes credibility something you have to cook yourself at home.

Restaurants have been pretty chill for the most part. As long as you're not a dick, it's easy to ask people "Hey, does this thing have any animal products in it?" Whenever I do eat out in the first place, it's at places they generally care enough about their food to be able to tell me. Going to Flip burger boutique and getting a fauxlafel burger, they made sure to avoid both the butter on the bun as well as the feta, which I subbed out with artisanal ketchup anyway (Their rutabaga fries, by the by, are ridiculous and you should eat them if you get the chance). The key is don't be a dick, but this is sort of the golden rule isn't it? I'm from the South, so manners are always a good thing. I find that people respond well to them.

It's still not a game changer y'all. If some people are trying to convert this wayward lamb, don't worry. I still like food of all sorts. But I still think there's wisdom in both walking miles in other peoples' shoes, and learning how to prosper even when doing without.

And, I hate to be all doom prognosticator here, but people who deride vegetarians and vegans need to at least figure this one out: America (and to some extent other first world nations) can not survive without changing the way we eat, and being so dependent on meat as the centerpiece of each meal. I didn't eat much meat before I went vegan. I'll eat it again, sure, but I still won't eat much at all, because the amount we eat on average these days ain't sustainable.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Seitanic Verses

Yes, I went there. A cheap pun combining meat substitutes and Salman Rushdie (since we're having a curryl). Don't judge me, I've had this in my head for days.

My wife baffles the hell out of me sometimes. I make lots of curry at home. Lots. Aside from Italian and good ol' Southern cooking, it's probably the most common staple we eat. The woman eats rasam, she eats dal, she eats stuff I have no idea what I'm making, other than "it's some stuff and I'll make a curry out of it."

Despite this high sense of adventure she has when I'm the one cooking, she's hell-bent on eating only one dish at our local indian restaurant whenever we go out. It's always "Chicken Afghani, mild please!" No saag paneer for her, no. Gosht Vindaloo? Why never! Yes, she'll pick at starters and appetizers. She likes their mulligatawny soup. She likes stuff like samosas, bhajjis, and other things. But the main dish she gets is always the same, which drives me nuts.

Because I'm a great husband, I've tried to recreate this dish at home, just going by taste. It's been pretty trial and error. I finally got it right this time (or really close at least) and with a vegan dish to boot!

Now vegan chicken, hmmm how do I go about this abomination? Well, I was gifted a few cans of "meat" from a friend who dabbles in seitan, which I've made before. It's vital wheat gluten, fast-kneaded with spices and then boiled to set. Marinade it in salt, fat, and whatever you want it to taste like, and voila, it's a meat-like thing! See:

"Quack Quack"

"Bock Bock!"

I had a can of "chicken" and a can of "duck". After tasting each, I'm pretty sure there's no real difference. By themselves they really don't fool a soul, but they're decent enough that you get the right effect in a curry. Also, since this is very much a northern curry, the real McCoy traditionally uses cream or yogurt. Instead, I'm using coconut milk, because it tastes great.

Now, let me preface this by repeating my beliefs: this sort of thing is a bit of a mockery. I think vegan foods that aren't trying to be something they're not are preferable to the alternative every single time. However, sometimes you have to stuff your principles a little, especially if you are cooking for a wife who wants to eat the same sort of stuff she was eating before you went to the V-side. In that case, go for it.

Here's my mise en place, sort of.

  • About a pound of seitan, hand-shredded
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 12 ounces coconut milk
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 tbsp amchoor powder (dried mango, can be found in indian/ethnic grocers. Sub with a tablespoon of lemon juice if you don't have any, it'll be close enough)
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp salt + more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Heat your oil in the pan to near-smoking. Add cumin, let pop for a few seconds, then add coriander and keep on heat for two or three more seconds before removing from the heat. Add your onions, turmeric, salt, and garam masala, and turn the burner to medium-low. Stir and cook, cover, and come back every five minutes or so to stir more, for 15 minutes. If it starts to stick, add a little water to deglaze and keep stirring.

Add your tomato puree, chili flakes, and amchoor, uncover, and let cook on medium heat, stirring frequently for five minutes. To that, add your seitan, cinnamon, and cardamom, and cook another 5 minutes. Afterwards, add your coconut milk carefully, stirring to combine as you drop the heat to low. Let it go another five minutes or so and turn the heat off. Stir your minced garlic in. Taste and adjust your seasoning.

It's a very thick and rich sop, and you can either have it with rice or a flatbread like naan or roti. Since I like my options open, I usually have a little of each. In this case, roti's vegan so there you go.

Mission was accomplished apparently since she raved about the curry and asked me to make it again. I may very well later down the road, but I'm ready to move onto more fun things.

Rasam for days and days

It may be a byproduct of me feeling under the weather, but I've been fiending for Rasam. I did a prior blog post about the stuff before, but this time, with Dino's permission, I'm putting up the recipe for you. This is from his book Alternative Vegan, which is coming up for a second edition. Even if you don't give a damn about veganism, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's great for approaching food from a South Indian perspective, which is often crowded out of our understanding of Indian food by the better-known stuff coming out of the north. It's also perfect for being creative and learning to love all of your veggies, which we all need to eat more of.


Rasam Powder:
  • 1 tablespoon dry toor daal or yellow split peas
  • 5-6 dry red chilis
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon corriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon dry curry leaves

Roast all the spices in a small pan, and grind in a coffee grinder.

  • 1 cup dry yellow split peas or toor daal
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
  • tiny dash asafetida
  • 1/4 cup curry leaves
  • 1 pound tomatoes, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup cilantro, minced for garnish

Boil the split peas or daal in a separate pot for 20 minutes. Heat oil in a pot, add mustard seeds, and allow to pop. Add a dash of asafetida. Wait 3 seconds, and add the curry leaves. Add the tomatoes, and sprinkle on salt. Cook for about five minutes. Add the black pepper, the rasam powder, and the tamarind paste. Add the water and cooked, drained split peas. Bring to a full boil, and keep it boiling for 15 minutes. When cooked, sprinkle on cilantro for garnish. Serve over mushy rice.

Now, straight up, this is going to create a lot of food. Easily twelve servings, if not more. Don't believe me, here's the haul I produced:

For clarity, the one in the top left corner is a double portion I didn't have enough rice to dole out for. See what I mean when I say massive quantities? It's perfect to fill a week or two with staple meals and give you some room to play around.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Okay, I admit as I do this vegan thing, part of me is kind of curious about folks who do this sort of thing as their real culinary gig for life. Some folks make the switch pretty painlessly, but others don't quite give up the life of an omnivore. Fear not, because SCIENCE has come to the rescue, promising vegan analogues for all sorts of things to keep otherwise sane people from thirsting for blood and their pound of flesh. Vegan, but want to eat meat? Well they got "meat". More specific, how about "sausage"? Got that, in all sorts of varieties. I bet you weren't expecting vegan bacon? Think again! Vegan cheese? Kazaam! Vegan ice cream? Kamehameha! All of these quick fixes, no doubt funded by DARPA and NASA to keep us from descending into our collective savage, hard-coded Lord of the Flies behavior. It sounds like an episode of True Blood or something, haha.

As I went out grocery shopping today, I got a weird bit of curiosity to come over me about these abominations of nature, and while my cart was otherwise loaded with nice wholesome ingredients, I had to stare into the abyss.

Went for the brass ring at first, and had some sausage. Okay, it's equal parts tofu and seitan from the package with "herbs" and a lot of SCIENCE in it. Fired up my skillet, rolled em around for a bit till they were equally crispy-brown on the outside. Divvied em up with my wife, and had em with mustard.

The inside's got a pretty compelling texture, but the outside gives it away. It forms almost like a bready crust on it, instead of a thinner, crispier outer cover you'd have with real sausage. Flavor is pretty much seitan, a ton of salt, fat, and italian herbs. It's alright enough, but you'd never for an instant think you were eating meat. These things were LOADED with salt. It's unreal. I haven't been this thirsty in a long time.

After that, time for dessert. Who likes ice cream? Who likes SCIENCE flavored ice cream! That's what this is, because I guarantee I don't know what "Vanilla Almond Bark" is, but if it tastes like SCIENCE they did a good job at recreating it. The ice cream was thin, bland, and had too many ice crystals in it. It finished with almost a gritty texture, like toothpaste. The carton said vanilla but I didn't taste any. The rabbit poop looking specks in there are I guess the "almond bark"? I don't know, there were bits of nuts coated by a bitter cocoa science alloy or something. It tasted not great.


The sausage was alright, if you are under no illusions that you're not eating a meat sub. If you're jonesing for some pig, then man, don't do it. Whatever you do, bring like two gallons of water because you're going to need it.

The ice cream is an abomination throughout. It's pure crap.


It can be pretty hard to be a vegan it seems. As Americans, we're used to protein being the center of each of our three meals, and we're used to what we've grown up with. Folks wanting to make the moral switch to veganism, I can understand if you're not quite there culinarily. Myself, I'm kind of the opposite. I hold no allegiance to the moral ethos, but I think vegan food certainly has the capacity to be more honest about what it can offer than fake sausage or fake ice cream. There are fulfilling dishes out there that are honest, full of whole ingredients, and taste a lot better. To somebody who's ready to make their stand, but not quite ready to part without their tofu pork chop, I empathize. Maybe it's best to make the stand first, and develop an appetite for veganism's true bounty later. That said, I'd strongly suggest putting the bean pig aside for maybe some good hearty dhaal or ratatouille. You may just discover you like that way more.

Back in my rhythm

Well after having the wind knocked out of my sails with weekend sickness, I'm slowly getting back on my feet and cooking again. Getting to clean things up a bit got me in the spirit, and after that, it took very little else.

Indian food is such a lay-up if you're wanting a good idea on how to eat honestly on a vegan diet. Most of the good dishes are already vegetarian, and without much fuss at all can become vegan. Like I mentioned before on the roti, the only thing that might prevent otherwise is ghee. Now, I love the flavor of ghee, but in the grand scheme of things, it's easy to use a neutral vegan oil to grease them up afterwards and its all good nonetheless. Usually, that's the case you'll find. It's the enrichments in vegetarian Indian dishes that are all you need to swap out. The creamy northern curries that use cream, yogurt, etc can do just as nicely with coconut milk. I usually prefer it that way, because coconut tastes flat-out amazing.

For curries further down the subcontinent, usually that ain't a problem. They're either thinner liquid curries, or they're dry stuff. Smoky-hot combinations of cumin, mustard seeds, curry leaf (tricky to find, I've got a funny story on it) and lots and lots of chili make a good southern style curry when I'm not angling for anything in particular. I'm weak in the knees on fenugreek too so I'll often sneak it in if I can get away with it.

This is one I put together in a vague south indian style. No recipe in mind, just a general idea of the flavors that work. If you'd like to recreate, here's what you'll need:

  • 2 pounds Kale, roughly torn (stems removed)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sambal oelek, or sriracha, or 1 tablespoon dried chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (optional - find in any specialty or indian grocer)
  • small handful of curry leaves (optional, generally only available in warmer climates, check indian grocers, but its not required)
Heat your oil on high till it's nearly smoking. Add mustard seeds, wait five seconds (careful they'll be popping on you) add your cumin, curry leaves, and fenugreek seeds, wait another five, and pull off the heat. Drop heat to low. Add onions, salt, and turmeric to your pan, stir together, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring about every five.

Crank the heat to high again, and add your kale and the water. Stir and press into the pan until the kale is uniformly wilted. Keep stirring to prevent anything from sticking and burning. Should take about five minutes at most. Remove from heat. Add your hot sauce or chilis and garlic, stir completely. Taste, and adjust your seasoning.

From here, put that on top of rice. I like basmati but any rice will do.

Also, folks may remember an old recipe I did back in 2008 called Gajjar ka Halwa. I reprised that one as well and used coconut milk rather than dairy milk to make it vegan. My camera skills, plating kung fu, and general awesomeness have all since improved, as has the product:

This is one of my favorite desserts ever, and a clear example of how less is sometimes very very much more. That's about three tablespoons of halwa. If you think that ain't enough, there's enough sugar in that to cause a meth-head to tweak. It's got a nice cardamom flavor too, so it leaves your breath nice and fresh. Y'all gotta try it sometime.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Feelin Coconutty

Well as my last blog post hinted, I got sick. Boo sickness >:(

Nothing bad, just a massive congestion, sore throat, fever thing that left me a zombie all day yesterday and most of today. The gripe of it is that most of my potluck curry I made was used instead to supplant meals where I was physically too out of it to even shamble into the kitchen and turn on a burner.

I did, however, drink tea. LOTS of tea. Rooibos, which is a lovely and mild red tea from South Africa, that tastes vaguely of honey and vanilla, and Assam, an Indian blend most often used for the ubiquitous masala chai that folks enjoy. Of course, no milk or cream in my tea because it ain't vegan. So what to do?

How about a half teaspoon of coconut cream?

Hell yes.

It rendered thoroughly and gave the tea a lovely color. The coconut went well with the Rooibos and VERY well with the Assam, giving an added layer of comfort to the whole thing.

Yes I'm sure that I could have also used soy milk, True. That said, soy milk's expensive and coconut milk is less so. Plus I have multiple cans of coconut milk, and soy milk is...a fifteen mile drive away at the nearest grocery store.

So it's no contest. Tastes better and it's convenient. Stir in a teaspoon of raw sugar and even more awesome.

Maybe tomorrow I'll have my skills back on and I can make some Rasam.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Vegan: Day One

Gotta admit, I started my first day of vegan eating pretty lame. I had a salad. It wasn't even really a great one either. It was a nice cheap $2.50 salad of spinach greens and everything in the veggie bins I could get (minus mushroom slices because raw mushrooms suuuuuuuuck) I did this for several reasons though.

Reason one is that after my blockbuster Mardi Gras dinner, I was freakin spent and didn't make any vegan chow for the next day (aside from broccoli and lemon rice which was my breakfast, nom). I have lots of non-vegan leftovers, but they're forfeit to my wife as of now.

Reason two is that I kind of wanted to see for myself how easy you could find something vegan to eat without really planning and looking. The result, it's pretty tough. Aside from junking on oreos (yes y'all, they are vegan too), the salad was pretty much the only game in town if I wanted to get vegan eats. That's fine, I'm not planning on making it a habit, but it's nice to know that if I'm stuck at work and just cannot make anything myself, I can at least do that.

I packed fresh local fruit (CSA's crankin out apples and tangerines like a monster lately) but ate none of it because I was tweaking off french press dunkin doughnuts medium roast coffee. Got home and immediately went to work slamming down food for our work potluck.

Cranked out dozens of roti and a big pot of chana masala, all done up vegan (I usually use ghee for roti but that's easily subbed) I will probably never make that many roti at once again, or at least not at night. Took forever, geeez. Dinner was pretty much me playing the part of a starving bachelor. I pawed a hot roti, spooned curry into that, and ate it sort of the way a ravenous zombie would eat brains. By that time I was pretty hungry but one roti pretty much took care of it, and what that can't cure, Abita beer can.

One minor note, I think I'm getting sick LOL VEGAN IMMUNE SYSTEM, but seriously, work has been more or less a general plague area for months so if I do end up getting felled by something it's more a work of inevitability than anything. Still, the timing is humorous.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Farewell to the flesh, hello to the vegetable

This is the end, my friends.

The end.

Fare thee well.

Au revoir. C'est la vie. Some other French cliché phrases to emphasize the gravity of the situation.

Mardi Gras, for most folks, rightfully should be about over-eating crawfish, gumbo, etouffee, king cake, jambalaya, and binging on Abita beer and hurricanes. It should be about beads, boobs, parades with names like Endymion and Bacchus, and, wondering what the hell did I just step in while drunkenly shambling in the vieux carre of New Orleans. Something dark and joyous and terrifying and mystic grips my soul around this time of year, and while I haven't been to the city I love since 2005 (cue sad violin), I get filled with a wonderful nostalgia every time January turns to February.

Most people aren't even aware when the other shoe drops, and Fat Tuesday becomes Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lentan fast. As I've mentioned on my blog earlier, I make it a point to observe Lent, and have done so for years. It's a challenge of will and spirit, and I find it renewing to embrace what wonderful things you discover when you willingly do without things you otherwise take for granted.

But before all that jazz, I had to have my send-off. I'm not a regular steak-eating guy, so I figured it was a special enough occasion for filet mignon au poivre, which is a steak finished with a sauce of peppercorns, cream, and either cognac or brandy. To pair with something that delightfully unhealthy, my wife helped me make truffled and creamed yukon gold potatoes that we browned under the broiler.

For all the ruminations on how it's done, I saved my lazy ass some keystrokes and made videos for you that will hopefully drop a little science on the subject.

After all that, the best nightcap to the evening and the carnival season would be a king cake slice, served with the traditional pairing of Abita beer. Beer and King Cake, you say? Traditional? Madness! No I'm holding firm on this. During Carnival, ANYTHING goes with Abita beer. I've even considered pouring it over cereal.

Anyways, wish me the best of luck for the next 40. If it's anything like last year, I've got this no problem, but since my wife remains as carnivorous as ever, who is to say if I might face temptation.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Borscht and deglazing lessons

Made borscht tonight and it turned out way, way better than the one I made around last year. My wife, who hated the one I did before, was very into this and she cleaned her bowl. The one I made previously was a kosher vegetarian one, whereas this one was Ukranian and neither kosher nor vegetarian (pork sausage and sour cream). I think the big difference is that I straight up pureed the beets though, which changes the whole experience completely.

If winter's got you in that weird russian mood I'm in, here's how you can make this. You'll need:

  • 1 pound bratwurst, kielbasa, or other pork sausage, casing removed and chopped
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 4 beets, peeled and chopped
  • 4 red potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • sour cream, for topping
  • dill, dried or fresh, for topping
Start by browning off your meat in a big pot or dutch oven. Once its browned, remove to a dish and put away. You should have some gunk on the bottom of your pan, which you can then deglaze to remove from the bottom. Since I'm a nice guy, I even put in a video segment on how-to deglazing. It's one of the nicer ways to up your skill and the flavor of whatever you make:

Add your butter and get the heat to near-high. Pop cumin seeds, then add your aromatics (onion, bell pepper, carrot) and salt. Drop the heat to low and cover for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover, add your beets, maybe a cup of your stock, and thyme, and continue simmering for another 20 minutes. From here, dump all that jazz into your food processor and spin it up. Beets are jerks and they're very hard and need to be destroyed without mercy, so we'll let the heat do half the work and the blades to the rest. Make a puree out of that crap.

Return the puree to the pot, add the rest of your stock, paprika, pepper, sugar, lemon juice, and bay leaf. Add your potatoes. Bring up the temp to a near-boil, and back off to a simmer. Cover, and cook down for another 20 minutes. (yes it takes forever but its worth it in the end) When that's done, taste and adjust your seasoning. Add your sausage back to the pot and give it all a good stir.

You're ready to serve. Now, if you're just famished go ahead and eat it, but borscht is tricky. It's supposedly best the day after, and you can either eat it hot, or some swear it's better cold. I really like it either way. No matter, dollop some sour cream into it and add dill at the end. If you're fully embracing the russian spirit, blare some Red Army Choir and throw back shots of vodka. That's optional.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sodas going retro

I like an occasional soda now and then. It's a treat, as it should be. It's not a water substitute or anything you should be enjoying on a daily basis at all. That said, unless you're on the look-out for good small-batch sodas or maybe like to shop at latino grocery stores or ethnic markets like I do, you're usually going with something over-saturated with high fructose corn syrup instead of real sugar. While the health issues are pretty much the same with each, the corn syrup just doesn't taste right to me and never has.

So it's been sort of a nice change of pace to see a lot of companies starting to bottle throwbacks of American brands and put them on the market. Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Dr. Pepper have done it, and I'm happy with each of them more or less. The taste is less sticky-sweet and you actually catch the flavor of the drink behind it without feeling all disgusted after having some.

It's a great start, as I said. What I'd like to see now are the return of 12 ounce glass bottles in general markets. Yes, you can go to the aforementioned latino grocers and ethnic markets and get an imported real sugar Coca Cola, and I do that every now and then. It's a shame that it's sort of tucked away as a little secret, because glass retains the cold so much nicer than plastic. Further, I'm sorry, but you can taste a difference with plastic. It's just a little off.

So, keep putting out real sugar soda. Let's get em in glass now. Maybe after that, reduce the portion size. Y'all remember eight ounce bottles? I sure do.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Eatin' Po'

The biggest kvetch I get from folks (aside that I eat like a globe-trotting pinko) is that people think I spend a lot on certain things that they can't afford. Yes and no. I fully admit that sometimes it's awesome to grab that brass ring and spring for stuff like truffle oil, jamon iberico, roquefort, and other stuff that most folks don't fit into their grocery lists. But I also (increasingly so) try to go the other way, and eat cheaply. Finances have a way of doing that to you sometimes. Having a mortgage and a car payment sometimes means that when the weather is in the single digits for a month and your power bill rolls yahtzee on your ass, maybe you can't spread it on quite so thick.

Also my unique situation grants me access to seasonal vegetables that are delivered to my doorstep, but for certain things, I still have to schlep on down to the grocery store. Since I'm waaay out in the country, our closest store is still a good 20 minutes from me. Sometimes I just can't make the time, and it's good to save money and make do with what I've got on hand.

In the spirit of both frugality and laziness I put together a dish tonight consisting of four potatoes, a head of broccoli, a cup of yellow split lentils, two tablespoons of canola oil, a quart of water, salt, pepper, and some assorted south indian spices. Spices are becoming easier to buy in bulk, and so you can easily save a lot of money by doing so. Say you spend ten bucks on a bulk load of spices. You dole that out in increments of maybe a few cents per dish. The veggies I put in that dish probably set me back two dollars and the lentils maybe a quarter. The only other input I used is tamarind, which is getting easy to find in the ethnic aisle of most grocers, and a 12 ounce jar of it sets me back three bucks and lasts me nearly half a year. Two tablespoons or so go in the pot.

The result is a stew that feeds six people to the gills and costs maybe three dollars per iteration if that? Divide by six, and you're grubbing at 50 cents, and I guarantee this will fill you up and leave you happier about life than whatever's on a value menu. Thirty minutes is a round trip for me to the nearest fast food joint, or it's the time it takes for me to make this.

The biggest leap you've got to take is overhead at the beginning. If you're willing to put down a few bucks for the spices and stuff that will keep and last, you divvy up that cost big time as you keep making little meals.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lent is three weeks away

If you don't know from my earlier posted foray last year, I'm some sort of weirdo protestant who's been observing Lent for about 15 years. I won't get into the why's and the how's other than I think it's a good thing to challenge yourself to go without for forty days. Last year I kept to a strictly ovo-lacto vegetarian diet for the duration of Lent. That was pretty easy, and the hardest thing for me to do without was anchovies of all things.

This time, it'll be harder. I'm going fully vegan.

No meat, no dairy, no eggs, no honey, no derivative stuff like gelatin, none of that stuff. I wouldn't undertake it if I didn't think it was possible, but I admit it's going to be a wild ride. Those who've known me for years know I used to be the pickiest of eaters and could barely be bribed to eat veggies on my plate. What a difference a few years make.

Fortunately, my friend Dino has added his metaphorical axe to my quest, so I'm sure that if I ever get pushed against my own personal dinner rush without any ideas left, I've got a lifeline. I doubt it'll be down to that wire, but who can say.

Part of me is also interested in this because I'm keen on veganism not for any moral or ethical reason, but because I see it as a kissing cousin of sorts to kosher and halal cuisine, which is to say that it can be a cuisine that defines itself, diversifies itself, and creates its own world based on its limits. People hear vegan and they think vacu-formed tofu "meat" and garbage like that, and I'd like to make a lot of honest food that's vegan and tastes delicious without putting on pretense.

So for now, I'll be having an extended farewell to the flesh.

Because while my chana masala is vegan, that nice little slice of naan next to it ain't. Bummer!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy 2010, belated

Hey y'all.

Glad you're still reading my blog. As of now we're less than a week into 2010 so I hope y'all had some of this:

Followed at some point by some of this:

(and if y'all don't know about greens & the new year, you gotta eat 'em to make sure you bring in the $$$ this year. serious business in the south btw)

I hope everyone had a great new year and a great Christmas / Channukah / Kwanzaa / Eid, etc. My new year's resolution is to pick up the pace that I once maintained here, and to keep this place updated with fresh new articles. Even if I can't cook or snap a picture, I'll do my best.

So how's 2010 been so far? Here's a pictorial review.

This monster entered my kitchen. A fantastic gift from mom and dad, this is the steam driver to John Henry's hammer. I still like to hand-knead, but man this helps immensely when I'm too busy to bother. I hear I can do other things with it besides making bread (ie, grinding meat, making pasta, churning butter from heavy cream to name a few) but I haven't been bothered to do any of those things...yet.

Sometimes, with work and arranging furniture or whatever mad whim we're on, I'm just too tired to cook. Bless the KitchenAid for making the act of baking sandwich loaf a trivial issue. If you've got that, it's second nature to make a sandwich in about five minutes. Nevermind that I'm eating a decidedly non-kosher sandwich with a Jewish beer. I atoned for this...

...with bagels like a true mensch should.

We rang in the new year with a dinner of alligator gumbo, paired with a local Alabama pinot grigio. The pinot wasn't the best local wine I've had so far. For that, y'all better go to Morgan Creek. They love their muscadines.

And I tried my hand at chicken wings for the first time. Never been a fan of buffalo wings, so the sauce is inspired from South African cooking, using periperi chili, and a lot of lemon juice, butter, honey, ginger, and garlic.

Anyways, hope this is a sign of things to come. Looking forward to keeping y'all updated on all sorts.