Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lemon and Garlic Roasted Eggplant

I just excused myself from the room so Rich would not see me crying. Today I received the book Forks over Knives; The Plant Based Way to Health and began reading while I enjoyed a dinner of tapas-style spinach and chickpeas over quinoa. I had never considered myself an advocate for animal welfare. My interests in veganism were purely self centered: to look better, feel better, save money and avoid the chronic disease that is the consequence of the standard American diet. 

That all changed about ten minutes ago when I turned to the chapter Good for Animals. A mere six pages, it provided me with just enough information to reconsider my dinner plate forever. Unlike the movie by the same title or the many other documentaries chronicling the horrors of the meat industry, the book provides no gruesome images. I'm reminded of the anti-abortion posters with arresting graphics designed to convince young mothers not to kill their unborn children. 

Images are powerful. 

But tonight the words were enough. 

We often hear about the mistreatment of calves raised for veal, but really, who eats veal? Not me. I'm more into the gateway meats, fish and chicken. I had convinced myself that fish are only kind of animals (Don't ask me how I managed to hold that belief; I taught myself biology.) Kind of animals don't have feelings or nervous systems or, well, I guess I just didn't want to think about it. It's easier that way isn't it? To not think about where our food comes from?

Just because it's easy, doesn't mean it's right. 

The book describes the problem with fish, "Those who make it to the ship's deck alive are left to suffocate or are cut open. Purse-seine nets are used to catch large fish such as tuna, cod, and haddock, who are fully conscious when their gills are slit and their bodies disemboweled... And the story is worse for farmed fish." 

It's so much easier to just plug my ears and shout, "LA LA LA LA!" 

But just because it's easy, doesn't mean it's right... 

So there's no easy way to transition to the food, but thank goodness it's yummy and vegan. 

Lemon and Garlic Roasted Eggplant
adapted from Tyler's Ultimate

serves four-six

zest of one lemon
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
generous pinch sea salt and granulated sugar 
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large eggplants, sliced in 1/4 inch thick slices
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Toss the eggplant slices to coat, adding more olive oil if necessary. Nothing soaks up oil like eggplant does.

Arrange the eggplant in a single layer on a baking tray and roast for about 30 minutes until browned and bubbling.  
Remove to a serving platter and douse with the red wine vinegar. Serve alone or with bread as a delightful appetizer. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Veganomics: Week 2

So here we are, at the end of the first week of eating vegan. Though not the intent of the project, I have lost a pound and about three percent body fat. (I'm not complaining.) The real goal of the experiment was to force myself to readjust to a plant-based diet. I used to think that we had a plant-based diet, but the truth is, the main part of the main dish at the main meal of every day came from an animal. Fish. Chicken. Eggs. Cheese.

What's wrong with that? Nothing. It's just that I'm starting to look my age. I'm starting to wish we spent less on groceries. And I'm starting to realize--no, starting to do something about--the fact that industrial animal farming is bad for everyone and everything. Except maybe livestock futures traders.

Thus, I'm embarking on another vegan week. This time with more enthusiasm. Tonight during my yoga class I felt this sense of peace--which, by the way, is totally irrelevant of my circumstances at the moment--a sense of oneness and steadfastness of strength and being. It was a cool feeling.

I created another menu and went shopping yesterday. Thanks to a few frequent-shopper points at Sainsbury's, I finished the grocery shopping for the week for our family of four at $33.05. Yes, you read that right. And we have guests coming over two nights this week. Tonight we enjoyed a Mexican tortilla soup with smoked paprika, fresh cilantro, black beans and avocado. Perfect on this bleary spring evening.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Veganomics: Day 6

My week got better by a factor of about 100 when I received this package in the mail from my friends Cameron and Kim Howell. The cookies are the most delicious, soft, moist, pillowy, did I mention delicious, gluten-free, vegan treats on earth. I miss them. Both our friends--"the Owls" as Brad calls them--and these  snickerdoodles from Trader Joes.

My vegan week is winding to a close. But I'm not dying for meat. Actually--and I never thought I'd say this--it sounds kinda gross right now. Truth is, I'm thrilled with the results of this week. There's more money in my bank account and more food in my fridge than there usually is at this time of the month. It's a beautiful thing. 

Speaking of beauty, when I woke up this morning, I noticed a glow to my skin. I've been looking for it, hoping that all I needed was one green smoothie or a few glasses of water to tap into that fountain of youth. But, after less than a week of eating vegan, I'm noticing a difference in how I look. 

If this isn't killing two birds with one stone, I don't know what is. I save money on food and the beauty treatments that keep my fellow thirty-somethings looking youthful over the next decade. It makes the cheap girl inside of me dance a little jig. 

Tonight I made this amazing Spanish tapas, espinacas con garbanzos from one of my favorite food bloggers, Smitten Kitchen. Check out the recipe here:  Spinach and Chickpeas

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Raw, Vegan, Just-Like-Lara Bars

I am enjoying my week of living vegan and astonished at how much food we still have in our refrigerator, how few extra trips I've needed to take to the grocery store--none actually--and how great I feel. I thought I would be hungry all the time or shrivel up and die without animal protein. Perhaps that comes later? 

For now, I'm just savoring all of the new things I'm coming up with in the kitchen, especially these orange chocolate bars. They're the closest thing to Lara bars I've ever found outside of, well, an actual Lara bar. Simple. Cost effective. Vegan. What's not to love? 

Yields four four-ounce bars

1 cup walnuts
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons raw cacao powder (regular unsweetened cocoa powder is fine too if you don't care whether they're 100 percent raw)
3/4 cup fresh dates, pitted
1/4 cup raisins
1/8 teaspoon natural orange flavoring 

Pulse the walnuts, sea salt and cacao in a food processor until it resembles coarse sand. This is entirely a matter of preference. As you can see from my photo above, I left the mixture fairly chunky. 

Add the dates, raisins and orange flavoring and pulse until well combined. 

Remove the "dough" onto a cutting board and flatten into a square. Slice into four or five rectangular pieces. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for a month. 

Raw, Vegan Chocolate Truffles 

Yields 20 truffles 

If you're feeling fancy, cut each bar into five pieces and roll in additional cacao powder. The trick with these is to make sure you pulse the walnuts to a very fine crumb and blend in the dates very well. I ate about four of these last night on my way to yoga class and felt so guilty until I remembered there wasn't a pat of butter or cube of sugar in sight. Sweet bliss!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Green Smoothie

"Where is the last of the apple cinnamon bread," I asked Rich as I opened cupboards and made myself a pour over cup of coffee. He grinned and pointed to his belly.

"Well, I definitely cannot take a picture of that for my blog," I moaned. 

He suggested I photograph the empty plates. See that's the problem with food blogging; you make something really, really good and everyone in the house gobbles it up before you can snap a decent picture. Oh well, guess I'll have to make it again. Shame. 

After breakfast, we drove to the air base where I served lunch to the first-term airmen at the cafe. Only 27 to cook for today. In appreciation for my vegan week at home, I made my vegetarian chili and gluten-free cornbread. I thought about making them both vegan, but didn't want to push my luck. GI's have a legendary appetite for meat. Nevertheless, several returned to the kitchen for seconds, and thirds. Win. 

Now, I'm home enjoying my absolute favorite raw, vegan smoothie. It's in my cookbook, Modern Family Table, but I'll share it with you here! 

1 lemon, peeled and seeded
1 orange, peeled and seeded
1 lime, peeled and seeded
2 cups fresh spinach
small handful of fresh Italian parsley
small handful of fresh cilantro
1 cup frozen pineapple
½ cup water
1-2 tablespoons of agave nectar to taste

Layer items in a high-speed blender with citrus fruits and water on the bottom, then spinach, pineapple and herbs. Blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vegan Chocolate Mousse

"Wow, I really love the texture of the mousse! So much better than last time," Rich said yesterday as he all but stuck his tongue down into the glass to lick off the last bits of chocolaty goodness.

The last time I made chocolate mousse, I followed Julia Child's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Crazy amounts of butter. But problematic. And expensive.

What Rich didn't know about yesterday's mousse was that it was vegan. I mentioned this fact as I prepared to write this blog post. He looked at me, incredulous. "That was vegan?"

If he were not already sold on vegetarianism, I would say I had made a convert. 

Yesterday was the first of a week of only vegan foods in our home. Motivated in part by economics in part by the physical benefits of a plant-based diet, the week is taking shape nicely. Yesterday I enjoyed a smoothie of banana, peanut butter and coconut milk for breakfast. For lunch, I devoured an Asian noodle salad. For dinner, we enjoyed this amazing vegan baja bowl with beans, rice, pico de gallo and avocado. I also whipped up a vegan apple-cinnamon toastie bread from the cookbook Babycakes. I enjoyed it immensely with a cup of coffee this morning. Pure vegan bliss!

Ok, enough talk, time for the food. Ahem, the chocolate.

Yields four 1/2 cup servings

1 small block silken tofu
4 ounces good-quality chocolate (70-80 percent cocoa solids)
1/4 cup strong coffee
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 cup white sugar

Melt the chocolate in a heavy-bottom sauce pan or a double boiler.

Puree all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Divide between four cups, cover and refrigerate for about one hour until chilled.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


For several weeks I've been contemplating adopting a vegan diet. Not permanently. Well, maybe. I think I just miss home. And we need to start saving more money. 

So last night I informed Rich about my plans for a vegan menu for the week. He almost smiled. 

"And I want to keep the grocery tab below $50," I added. 

He got that, "guess I'll be sneaking through the Taco Bell drive through," look in his eyes. 

Don't get me wrong; he is very supportive of all of my culinary adventures. He was patient when I tried an eat local project last spring, and we ate nothing but lemons and pecans for a week. He even tolerated my brief raw food phase when I interviewed raw food chef Ani Phyo for the Asian Reporter two years ago.

So I took inventory of our refrigerator (read: thoroughly cleaned it for the first time in five months) and our pantry. We have plenty of fresh herbs, beans, rice and pasta, both silken and firm tofu, and an endless array of oils, vinegar and spices. We also have some animal products remaining from last week: eggs, feta cheese, brie and smoked mozzarella. I would feel like a sellout for using these in my menu planning, but this isn't a religion. And if saving money is at least part of the goal, it makes no sense to throw out perfectly good food.

I began my shopping trip at the Commissary. As I set everything onto the conveyor belt to check out, the woman behind me quipped that she felt guilty for the things in her basket given all of the health foods I was purchasing. We have such a funny relationship with food, don't we? 

A little over $23 later, I walked out of the Commissary with about half of what I needed and contemplated exactly how much the exchange rate was going to cripple my budget. Fortunately, the local Sainsbury's has amazing prices and quality, especially on produce where I found the remaining items for 20GBP, about $32. 

Grand total: $55.20. This should be interesting. Tonight: eggplant involtini with the feta I already had and a vegan chocolate mousse. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Vegan Asian Noodle Salad

I've heard it said that you can never have too much butter, but my complexion says that in fact, you can. In embracing my new life here in Europe, I plunged headlong into a love affair with dairy. Stilton. Cambozola. Parmigiano Reggiano. Danish Butter. Irish Butter. British Butter. Oh my!

This new affection coincided nicely with my training for the Suffolk Heritage Coast Marathon next month. But some late snowfalls, back-to-back viruses, and a general disdain for running for more than two hours at a time   knocked me off the wagon. For the record, you cannot eat butter and cheese with reckless abandon without some consequences to your waistline.

So here I am, wearing my fat pants and thinking I either need to spend all day Saturday logging miles or perhaps start embracing some of my favorite vegan recipes. Armed with the book, River Cottage's Veg Everyday and an amazing produce market in our village every Friday, I'm all in.

I've made this salad a few times and absolutely love it! It reminds me of those Asian salads at chain restaurants. Enjoy this salad as a starter, or serve as an entree with seared tofu.

serves two as an entree, or four as a starter

200 grams rice noodles, soaked in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drained
8 cups mixed greens
1/2 English cucumber, sliced
1 cup green beans, blanched and cut in half

1/2 cup salted peanuts
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
3 sprigs mint, leaves only, finely chopped

1 teaspoon minced chili
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lime, juiced and zested

Arrange greens, noodles and vegetables on a platter. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and drizzle over platter, tossing gently to combine. Top with peanuts, cilantro and mint. Serve immediately.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Pasta with Artichokes, San Marzano Tomatoes and Smoked Mozzarella

About ten years ago I worked in an Italian restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Between lines of coke, the general manager made it his personal ambition to make me cry during every shift. Okay, maybe he had a few other things on his mind, but as far as I was concerned, he had it in for me.

One evening I waited on a table of three Portlandia types. As I cleared their entrees, they asked what the cheese course was for the evening. I walked into the kitchen to find out and shouted above the clamor of line cooks and a flaming grill.

"What's on the cheese plate tonight?" I hollered.

"Fontina and..." the sous responded unintelligibly.

"Fontina and what?" I said.

"Golden glow," I could have sworn he said.

Well, they ordered the cheese plate and as I delivered it, I noticed that the "golden glow" was in fact gorgonzola. Oh well. I informed the table as I dropped it off and didn't think about it again.

Until a few days later.

I walked into a shift meeting as the manager fumed. "Golden glow? Sniff. GOLDEN GLOW?!? Snifffff. I don't even want to know who is responsible for this!" he said as he waved a copy of the review printed in the local paper.

Even now it makes me smile.

The restaurant wasn't all bad though. The chef was a passionate Italian who, like all good chefs, cared deeply about the quality of the food emerging from his kitchen. Under his watch, I learned to love good cheese (and how to pronounce it). I learned to appreciate good wine. And I enjoyed my first oyster on a half shell.

One of the customer favorites at the restaurant was linguine with artichoke hearts, fennel and smoked mozzarella. It has simmered in my memory for the past ten years, but at long last, I tried to recreate it in my kitchen tonight. It has a certain golden glow I hope you enjoy as much as I have. The success of the dish depends entirely on the quality of ingredients. So don't skimp! Make sure you buy the San Marzano tomatoes and get your hand on plenty of fresh basil and the best cheese you can afford.

serves four

1 pound gluten-free linguine
1/2 cup olive oil
1 fennel bulb, diced finely
1/2 cup onion, diced finely
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
pinch red chili flake
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes
8-10-ounce jar artichokes, drained
1 cup hand torn fresh basil leaves
1 cup smoked mozzarela cheese
1 cup freshly grated parmigianno reggiano cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions in salted water. Drain, douse in olive oil, and reserve.

Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat and cook the fennel, onion, garlic and spices until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.

Preheat your broiler to high.

Remove the sauce from heat and add the artichoke hearts, basil and cooked pasta. Toss gently to combine. Divide between four large bowls. Top with the smoked mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano.

Place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Remove with an oven mitt and serve.
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