Friday, December 28, 2007

Butterballs (the cookies, not the turkeys)

I was inspired to try a couple of new cookies for my holiday baking this year. This post over at Home-Ec 101 was one source of inspiration. They had several yummy-sounding cookies featured during their Cookie-a-Day series, but this one really caught my attention. Primarily because it sounded very easy.

But as I am wont to do, I searched for other versions of the recipe and developed my own sort of Frankenrecipe:

Russian Tea Cakes aka Butterball Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup finely ground toasted hazelnuts

First, the nuts. You can use any nut you like (though I recommend sticking with the true tree nuts such as pecans or walnuts and not the legume "pea" nut). To toast them, I just dumped a 6 ounce bag of hazelnut pieces onto the pan of my toaster oven and baked them on 350 degrees for a few minutes. Note that they toast quickly in a small toaster oven so keep an eye on them. Next, put them in a small electric "nut chopper" or food processor to chop them to bits and powder, essentially. This will flavor the flour.

Next, cream the butter and sugar until blended completely. It should be light and fluffy. Blend in the vanilla. Combine the nut bits and powder with the flour and salt and blend into the first mixture until it becomes a uniform dough.

If your kitchen is really warm, you'll want to refrigerate the dough for a little while to get it stiffened up a bit. Form the dough into small balls--about one inch in diameter and set on an ungreased cookie sheet about two inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees. Be careful not to overbake--these cookies will not brown and are a bit on the fragile side when they come out of the oven. As soon as they're out, carefully roll them in powdered sugar and set aside to cool. That last step is semi-optional. You can let them cool a few minutes before you roll them. The powdered sugar may not stick as well, but it also won't get gloppy when combined with the butter. Or you can just dust them with sugar instead of rolling them, too.

Your choice because at that point, it's all for show. If you've sampled the dough, you already know this is a dang fine cookie. This recipe makes about...four or five or six dozen (very delicious) small cookies. That's an estimate because I didn't count them. And many were eaten in the sugaring process. You can also make a few and keep the dough in the fridge for batches a few days later (because you might get a little tired of the rolling). Just seal up the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap so the dough doesn't get dried out.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

I've been busy, busy, busy, but I will post soon about all the holiday delights I've baked and/or consumed. In the meantime, if you celebrate it, have a Merry Christmas! And enjoy this photo of a giant lemon that came from near Jacksonville, Florida. I really wish I could have seen the tree this thing was plucked from.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Turkish delight

Preface: I'm kind of slow-witted sometimes. I mean, I'm reasonably intelligent and can conjugate most English verbs and a few French and Spanish ones as well, but I'm not always the quickest on the draw.

That said, this past weekend, I was over in the Brentioch area of town and was hungry, so I stopped at a little gyro place for some falafel. The falafel was going to take a few minutes, so I decided to duck in to the grocery next door because it was advertised as an African grocery and I was intrigued.

The grocery is Gateway 2 Africa (warning: sound), which is on Nolensville Road, just south of Old Hickory Boulevard. The people running the store were so incredibly nice, friendly and helpful, that it made me slightly less disturbed about the selection of unusual dead animal parts in the freezers. I quickly scooted past the various goat parts and headed over to the cookies and candies. Mmm...plaintain chips and ginger cookies (tons of ginger cookies). I thought that I was done choosing my purchases when, just as I reached the register, I saw it--a Kit Kat. And not just any Kit Kat, but what appeared to be a British Kit Kat. And next to the Kit Kat? More Cadbury bars than you can shake a stick at. I ended up getting nearly $20 worth of candy bars. Why? Because these candy bars are made with a different recipe that produces a different taste than the American versions. And also because they're not made with Hershey's chocolate (which, indisputably has been formulated for the distinctly American palate for chocolate).

The Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars are my favorites of the "bars" (Raisinets are still number one of the general candy population), so I definitely got one of them, but I also got a few that I'd never seen before--a rum raisin version and something called "Turkish."

Here's where the dots become very connected for me...finally. I bought the "Turkish" having absolutely no idea what that meant. I've never read "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," so I wasn't aware that Turkish Delight was a sort of confection. Frankly, I thought it was going to have a rich coffee flavor, because that's what I think of when I hear "Turkish" with regard to flavoring. I thought this despite the fact that (I now see) there's a photo of a piece of the candy split open that reveals a pink center. And much of the package is a bright pink. It's very pretty. I love pink. But I still didn't expect to find pink stuff inside the chocolate because, well, I just wasn't paying attention. And I skipped a rite of passage that most children make in reading the C.S. Lewis books. I wasn't even aware that Turkish Delight enjoyed a surge in popularity after the release of the Narnia movie. Luckily, I have wikipedia to tell me these things...years later.

But I digress. I turns out that Turkish delight generally has a rose flavor to it. I was trying to figure out this familiar taste when I turned to the internet to figure out what the heck I was eating. It certainly makes sense now...all that pink. And, oh yeah, that rose is a popular flavoring for Turkish (and other Mediterranean) desserts. I know this since I actually own a jar of rose jam purchased at one of my favorite (and Turkish) restaurants, Anatolia. Duh.

And as if you weren't convinced enough that my thinking cap was missing the day I visited the African grocery, I'll tell you I thought I was buying British versions of these candies (because they looked like what I'd bought in the UK) but they were actually from South Africa. As in, from Africa. Double duh.

Incidentally, I really liked the Turkish Dairy Milk bar, but I like rose flavoring (and roses themselves, for that matter). It's an acquired taste, though. If you'd like to acquire one yourself, go visit the store. They have a little cafe as well that those of you who are a little more adventurous (and carnivorous) would probably really enjoy.

Lemon Herb Chik'n

I'm generally not one of those vegetarians that eats a lot of meat substitutes. I didn't much like meat before becoming a vegetarian, so I don't see the need to replace it. I eat Gardenburgers because I like the taste and consistency (they're not hamburger-like) and avoid the Boca Burgers because they're too hamburger-like. Creepy.

An exception would be Quorn, though. The Quorn Chik'n nuggets are tasty and just as good as I remember the nuggets from Chik-Fil-A being (well, almost). And the Naked Chik'n Cutlets are amazingly versatile and have the texture of a good chicken breast (albeit not as stringy). The cutlets were on sale at Kroger the other day, so I picked up a box and decided to make one of my old favorites, Lemon Herb Chicken.

I started out by pouring in six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and four tablespoons of lemon juice in a shallow glass baking pan. I stirred in about a teaspoon of minced garlic, a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of oregano, and a generous amount of crushed dried rosemary (I really love rosemary). I stirred it all up and placed two frozen Chik'n breasts in the mixture and spooned it over them as well. I then sprinkled more oregano, rosemary, and pepper on top and set the dish in the refrigerator.

In the meantime, I cooked some organic brown basmati rice. When there was about 20 minutes left on the rice, I placed the Chik'n in the oven and baked it for 18 minutes at 400 degrees. The marinade for the Chik'n makes a good sauce for the rice, though it's not quite the same as with real chicken that has broth that cooks out, but it's just as good. I placed the Chik'n on the rice and drizzled the marinade/sauce on top. I think marinating the Chik'n helped ensure that it didn't get dried out while cooking, because not only was the flavor really good, the Chik'n itself was flavorful and moist. It was probably better than if it had been made with real chicken!

I didn't serve a side dish with this. I opted instead to get my greens by starting with a Mediterranean-ish-style salad of mixed baby lettuces, black olives, sauteed onions, and roasted red peppers. I topped the salad with crumbled goat cheese (because that's what I had on hand) and a little salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sesame Ginger Tofu Noodle Salad

Tuesday night, we had a potluck dinner for our monthly vegetarian meetup. The dish I made for the last potluck (the dish that shall not be named) was a bomb, so I was really hoping that I could make something that was really tasty this time around.

As with most potlucks, it's best to take a dish that doesn't need to be cooked or reheated upon arrival, so I decided upon a tofu noodle salad after perusing recipes over at Mac & Cheese and seeing this one for a Udon Noodle Salad. I'm a bit of an experimenter, so I tend to look at 5 or 10 other similar recipes and pull out the parts from each that I like to form a bit of a Frankenrecipe. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Fortunately, based on the fact that copious amounts of this noodle salad were consumed, I'd say this one worked. I also got several compliments that seemed rather genuine. Additionally, I really liked it myself!

I tripled the recipe for the potluck, but I'm going to include only the manageable size ingredient list for you (as in, a side dish for four people or dinner for two).

4-6 ounces udon noodles (approximately)
1 tablespoon high-heat vegetable oil
1 package of extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoon(s) grated fresh ginger (depending on taste--I like more ginger)
1 tablespoon minced or finely chopped garlic (I use the stuff in a jar)
1 teaspoon chile sauce (that stuff you get in the Asian grocery; add more if you like more of a kick)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 to 1 cup each of shredded carrots and fresh cucumber cut into matchsticks
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Salt (preferably ground sea salt)

Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again and set aside. Heat vegetable oil to medium frying pan on high heat for a couple of minutes until good and hot and add tofu. Cook until golden brown on at least two sides, change heat to low and then remove tofu to a paper towel to drain and sprinkle with salt.

Add the sesame oil, ginger, garlic and chile sauce to the frying pan and cook (on low heat) long enough to infuse the oil with flavors. Do not let the garlic and ginger brown and stick together. Remove from heat and add soy sauce and sugar and stir until sugar dissolves.

Scrape the mixture into a mixing bowl (with a flexible spatula) and add the lemon juice. Add noodles in manageable increments and mix to coat with oil. Add carrots, cucumber, tofu, and sesame seeds and mix to combine.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I started making oatmeal cookies a few years ago at my mother's request. The dough for these cookies can get rather difficult to stir and if you've got any arthritis in your hands or elbows, it can be downright impossible.

I tried several recipes I found in various cookbooks--some had more flour than others, some used quick oats instead of old-fashioned and so on--but the recipe I like the best came from the inside of the lid of the Quaker Oats oatmeal. Here's the recipe with a few tips and slight modifications.

1 cup/2 sticks margarine or butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed (I used dark brown sugar)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I usually use all-purpose whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or a little more if you really like it)
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional, but I use it)
3 cups uncooked oatmeal (you can use quick oats or old-fashioned oats)
1 cup raisins

Additional options:
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Pre-heat oven to 350F degrees. Beat together margarine/butter with the sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and (optional) salt and ginger in a bowl and then add to the mixture and mix well. Stir in oats (about a cup at a time) and raisins and (optional) nuts. Drop by small spoonfuls (about an inch in diameter) on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for a minute and remove to a wire rack. Yield: about four or five dozen (depending on cookie size).

If you're confused about what oats to buy, here's a cheat sheet on the various types of oats. I use the old-fashioned oats for nice, chewy cookies, but it does help to refrigerate the dough for about 20-30 minutes before baking as well as between batches so they don't spread too much. Also, the original recipe calls for the cookies to be baked 10-12 minutes, but I bake mine for about 15 minutes. Note that they'll continue to brown after being removed from the oven, so be sure not to overcook lest you get oatmeal discs instead of oatmeal cookies. I also like to add in some chocolate chips to a portion of the batter as well. It's a nice way to make an otherwise nutritious cookie somewhat bad for you.

Last year, I decided to mix this recipe up a little bit and made oatmeal-cherry-chocolate cookies with some dried cherries. Don't bother. The taste of the cherries couldn't hold up to the rest of the cookie and though fairly good, the cookies weren't quite cherrilicious enough. Stick with the raisins. They're good for you.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The four-hour meal

Yes, it actually took me four hours, start to finish, to prepare this meal. Had I some experience (and/or a sous chef), it would have taken about an hour, but I'm a novice, you know.

The first thing I made was the element that I was most unsure of--because all I had was a suggestion from Claudia, but no recipe to follow. I poked around on the internet and then came up with a fairly tasty yogurt-garlic-cumin sauce. This process took about 30-45 minutes. I zested a lemon. I combined ingredients slowly. But then I had it. And I didn't measure a thing. So, this is about as good as I can do for a recipe:

Mediterranean-style yogurt cumin sauce
About 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
About half the zest of one small lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 or 2 teaspoons minced garlic
A few drops of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

After that, I started preparing my onion. Half the onion was cut into long-ish pieces to be caramelized, the other half chopped. I started caramelizing the onions (which can take a while) and then set about peeling and chopping the sweet potatoes (while trying to keep an eye on the caramelizing onions). At least I was smart this time and got small sweet potatoes at the grocery. I spent more time peeling, but it was worth it not to kill myself chopping them up into bits.

At some point, I started preparing the Israeli couscous, which I cooked with a mix of half water and half vegetable broth for a little extra flavor. How are those onions doing? Still caramelizing. Okay.

Once the onions were done, I set them aside and started cooking the sweet potato hashbrowns. Nothing much to this recipe--I just saute the chopped sweet potatoes and onions in some olive oil and sprinkle them with salt, fresh ground pepper and a little ground red pepper while they're cooking. Very good and fairly healthy. I usually cook them until they're cooked, but still have some resistance. Unfortunately, I cooked them too far in advance this time and they were a little mushy.

Next up, I had to chop some red bell peppers to roast in the toaster oven. And prepare the broccoli for roasting. By this time, I was about an hour and a half into the process, thanks to this very labor-intensive meal I'd planned. Once the red peppers had roasted, I added them, along with the caramelized onions and some capers to the Israeli couscous.

Then came the fun part. That is sarcasm, by the way.

I've always been willing to pay whatever amount of money I needed to pay for baklava. I love the stuff, but you couldn't pay me to make it. I don't have the patience. Now, why I thought that this wouldn't be that big a deal, I don't know. Anyhoo, I first had to convince the fillo dough to thaw by sitting it on the heating vent. So about 8 of the outside sheets were rendered unusable. Once separated off and disposed of, I began the arduous task of preparing the fillo pockets. I melted some butter and went to it. I laid out the dough, I brushed and then I melted more butter. And then brushed and melted and brushed and melted and brushed. I'm not sure of the final count of sheets. I just kept going until I got to the end. I think I went through at least half a stick of butter.

When I finally finished preparing the dough, I plopped down the Israeli couscous mixture and set about folding it up into a pocket. This sounds much easier than it was. Apparently, I did not use enough butter, so instead of a pocket, I got a double-open-ended burrito. No matter. Looks don't count at home, right?

So I stuck the "pocket" in the oven at 400 degrees, with the broccoli. And then the broccoli came out. And the hash browns were getting cold, but that fillo pastry was nowhere near brown. When it did get brown, I had to flip it. And wait some more. I turned on the eye and re-heated the hash browns. I stuck the broccoli back in and lo, just before the fifth hour was about to turn, I was finished.

So, here it is: fillo pockets stuffed with Israeli couscous, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, and capers topped with a yogurt cumin sauce and served with sweet potato hash browns and roasted broccoli. Also known as the four-hour meal. Also known as one of the tastiest meals I've ever made...that I will never make again.

Many thanks to Claudia for her tips and suggestions.

I'm putting "sous chef" on my Christmas list.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


I still need to tell you about my four-hour meal, but it's seeming like it will take me as long to write about it as it did to cook it. Nonetheless.

As I mentioned before, this is the time of year when I like to do some baking. So I've had to evaluate the contents of my refrigerator and pantry to determine what I need from the grocery to spend the day baking without having to make a trip mid-prep.

I had two partial cartons of eggs. Despite the fact that eggs are good for three-to-five weeks after the published expiration date, the now-ex-boyfriend wouldn't eat an egg that had been purchased longer ago than a week or two. I'd intended to use the remaining eggs for something but apparently never got around to it. I checked the expiration date to see if I could use them in any of my planned goodies and, nope, no dice. Expiration dates: June and July. Yikes. I've really had bad eggs in my refrigerator for months? Obviously, I'm not a fan of eggs.

Which brings me to this lovely webpage: How to Replace Eggs in Your Cooking. I'm still not 100% on board with using margarine instead of butter, but I might try that tofu trick and invest in some Earth Balance to see about making some of my recipes vegan (and a lot healthier).

Now I have to figure out how to dispose of six-month-old eggs. Unfortunately, the wiki answers on this topic are of little help. I'm thinking about a little patch of land at the back of my property instead of the landfill. Or maybe a little patch of land at the back of my neighbor's property. I kid, I kid. Kind of.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Christmas gift suggestions for you

I've been doing a lot of eating and not a lot of writing lately. I apologize, but I will get back to it soon. I had a meal the other night that took four hours to prepare. Four hours. I was whipped afterwards, but--thankfully--it was good. But I won't be making it again!

I'm very lucky--I don't have a long Christmas gift list and the few people that are on it are happy to get edible gifts. I'll be making (and posting) several of my favorites this year, including banana nut bread and oatmeal raisin cookies as well as hoping to add some new, possibly vegan treats to the bunch.

But I can't make everything and The Best Friend™ gets a few bonuses. First, a selection of chocolates from Jacques Torres (that's Mr. Chocolate) as well as a selection of goodies from Family Farm Defenders.

I don't get credit for buying local from FFD since I don't live in Wisconsin, but it's fair trade cheese (not from factory farms) and it's made with vegetarian rennet, so it's a cause I'm reasonably happy to support (since I've not yet been able to figure out a way to kick the cheese addiction). I think I'll skip the sausage, though and hope that The Best Friend™ is happy with a selection of cheeses, crackers, and other (vegetarian) Wisconsin goodies.

And, yeah, I'm going to order a few things for myself, too.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


I'm going to be eating lasagna for quite a while, so in the meantime, if you're interested in such things, Almost Vegetarian is having a contest where you can win some natural face, body and hair care products. She's posting about a different product every day for two weeks. I'm not sure exactly what the contest will entail, but I'm hopeful I'll win. I mean, I'm due up, I say. I might be one of five bloggers who's never won a Dyson.

Speaking of, this post (and its comments) over at Music City Bloggers has got me contemplating the vacuum cleaner issue. I have appealed to the Great Ivy of Shaks and Home-Ec 101 for some help. We'll see what she comes up with. My issues are that I have long hair and I have a cat with short hair. I don't have dry allergies, so I'm not as concerned about the HEPA stuff, but I have an old Kenmore canister vac that just can't handle the long hair. It gets caught in the roller and takes forever to clean. I need a long-hair resistant vacuum with a lot of power than can go from carpet to floor. Because I shed all over the place. Probably more than the cat.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Really Easy Garden Lasagna

When I was a kid, my mother discovered that I'd eat just about anything as long as it had spaghetti sauce on it. She didn't always indulge me, but we were both thankful when broccoli was served on the same night as chicken cacciatore or chicken parmigiana (after my stepfather's first heart attack, it was "chicken something" just about every night). Not much has changed since then except that I no longer eat chicken. I still don't love a whole lot of vegetables that are really good for you, which is why garden lasagna is such an easy way to make things such as broccoli and carrots go down a little easier.

Before I start in on this recipe, let me tell you that it is a heavily modified lasagna recipe. As in (obviously) there's no meat sause and also no ricotta or parmesan/Parmigiano Reggiano. Ricotta is a vegetarian cheese, but it's a colossal pain in the ass and I didn't really think it added all that much, so I started leaving it out a few years ago. So here we go. Note: The recipe is meant to be "easy" but I've put some alternatives in parentheses that may make it a little more labor intensive. The easiest part is you let the sauce and water from the vegetables cook the noodles instead of cooking them ahead of time (so this lasagna takes a little longer to cook in the oven).

1 cup chopped summer (yellow) squash
1 cup chopped zucchini
1 or 1 1/2 cups shredded carrot (to taste)
1 medium jar or can of mushrooms pieces and stems, drained (or fresh sliced mushrooms if you prefer)
1 cup thawed and drained frozen chopped broccoli (or fresh, finely chopped)
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
9 lasagna noodles (I use a whole grain noodle)
1 26 ounce-ish jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I use Newman's Own Organic Herb Marinara)
1 15 ounce can or 2 8 ounce cans of plain tomato sauce (I use the 15 ounce can of Contadina Roma Tomato Sauce or the Dole Organic Tomato Sauce)
Chopped garlic (I use the stuff in a jar, because I'm lazy like that)
Dried herbs (whatever you like--my favorite herb is rosemary, so I add it to my sauce).

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the sauces into a medium bowl and add the chopped garlic and herbs (to taste) and mix well. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 pan (I use a glass baking dish) and then spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom. Place three noodles on top of the sauce, evenly spaced (they'll expand during cooking). Then spread the chopped broccoli, mushrooms and carrot over the noodles and top with half the cheese. Pour 1 1/2 cups of sauce over the cheese and then place three more noodles on top of the sauce. Sprinkle on the squash and zucchini and the rest of the cheese and cover with 1 cup of sauce. Place three more noodles on top and cover with the remaining sauce (cover it completely to avoid crunchy noodles). Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and (optional) sprinkle some additional cheese on top. Bake (not optional) another 15 minutes.

Notes: You can choose any combination of vegetables you like but note that some vegetables have a higher water content than others. The squash and zucchini in this recipe means that you have to let it set for a while after baking so that the water is absorbed. I usually just turn off the oven and let it sit in there another half an hour before serving. Let it set even longer and re-heat it later, if you like. I don't make lasagna often because there's a lot of it, but the leftovers actually taste better than the first night because the added herbs and garlic have time to really sink in. It's a good thing, because now I have a week's worth of lunches. It ain't pretty, but it sho' is good.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Almost Vegetarian

One of the cookbooks I have in my increasingly-large cookbook collection is entitled "Almost Vegetarian." And considering that nearly eight years into this process, I'm still stumbling over hidden critter bits and juice myself, I was intrigued by a comment on this post at Back in Skinny Jeans that I found via Brittney, she of now-deceased blog, Vegetarian Nashville, seein' as how she has relo'd to the Bay Area and I'm green with jealousy (insert pun here).

What was I saying? Oh, I found this blog, Almost Vegetarian. It's sassy. I like it. I've already found an easy and seemingly tasty recipe I want to try. And I don't yet know her well enough to tell her that Parmesan cheese (and certainly not Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese) is not vegetarian. I only found out myself a few months ago (you know, that rennet thing). As I've mentioned, the world is full of little landmines for vegetarians. She is, at least an admitted "almost" vegetarian. I'm sometimes an accidental and ignorant omnivore!

Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas

I have updated this recipe for black bean and corn enchiladas. Previously, I tried to skimp on fat and calories by not re-heating and re-fatting (?) the corn tortillas. Yesterday, I was feeling a bit cheeky and decided to try them the right way. That is, first heat your tortillas before rolling them up. And boy, was it worth it. So, here's the revised recipe:

Corn tortillas
One can of black beans
Frozen whole kernel corn (or drained canned whole kernel corn)
Shredded Mexican cheese (use your favorite cheese here or vegan cheddar)
Tomato sauce (for 8 enchiladas, I use 1 8 oz. can of organic tomato sauce)

To prepare the corn tortillas:
1. Heat a large fry pan on high heat with about a teaspoon of refined peanut oil (or other high smoke point oil; see here for a list of suggested oils). Keep the oil nearby.
2. Place one tortilla on the oil and brown for 3 or 4 seconds (long enough to pick up the next tortilla).
3. With a spatula, lift the first tortilla and put the new one down on the pan and the first on on top of it. Repeat with as many tortillas as you'll want to use. Add oil as necessary (every 2 or 3 tortillas).
4. Lay out on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

While the tortillas are cooling, mix together about half a can of black beans and equal amounts of (thawed or drained) corn with a little bit of your favorite salsa. Put a strip of the mixture in the middle of one tortilla, top it with some shredded cheese (don't overstuff) and roll it up and place it in a baking dish. Repeat until you've filled up your dish. Then cover the enchiladas with the tomato sauce (and salsa, if you like) and top with a little more shredded cheese.

Some recipes will call for all of the enchiladas to be covered with the sauce, but I prefer to keep part of the tortillas sauce-less so they can get crunchy while cooking. Bake at 375 for about 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted (if you used more cheese inside the enchiladas, they may need to bake longer). This photo is pre-baking, of course since I was starving by the time they were ready to eat. But, hey, I'm getting better.

I serve the enchiladas with a side dish of Mexican rice. Most Mexican rice blends in the groceries have chicken stock, so I buy the small package of saffron rice and stir in some salsa. The leftovers are good filling (along with leftover black beans) for burritoes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Holy cow, I paid three frickin' dollars for a red bell pepper from Nicaraugua at Harris Teeter. I really need to explore this locavore thing more. Though I'm not sure if, like my ancestors, I really want to survive all winter on blackeyed peas, cabbage, potatoes, squash and cornbread. I need a hothouse out back. Can Santa fit one of those on his sleigh?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What I won't be eating this Thanksgiving

In just a little while, I'll pack up the car and head home to Memphis for the holiday. Thanksgiving is a little different this year in that I usually host it for my (small) family here in Nashville. Last year's feast was good, but quite heavy on the winter squashes. There was a lot of yellow and orange on the table.

This year, though I will be going to my mother's house and, unfortunately sharing space with a large bird carcass. Thankfully, she doesn't put it on the table and must keep it covered to protect it from the cats. I'll be eating a meal of sweet potato casserole (no marshmallows), homemade craberry sauce, and fruit salad. If I choose to forgo the mac & cheese, it'll be a vegan Thanksgiving feast for me.

I don't step up onto my soapbox often, but a conversation I had recently reminded me that so few people understand or are even willing to understand the processes that result in the meat appearing on their plates. Certainly, I appreciate those who choose local and organic meats over the factory farmed meats that are so cheap and plentiful, but the process (to me) is still quite horrifying. And I'm disturbed that for most of my life I ate meat without any thought or respect for the being that suffered.

That said, I do hope that those who plan to consume a turkey will read this article from The Daily Page in Madison, Wisconsin: "To Kill a Turkey: If you're going to eat animals, shouldn't you be willing to do the deed?". It's an excellent and informative article and is written by a person who is a meat-eater, so it's not "vegetarian rhetoric" or something published by PETA, which has a tendency to alienate rather than engage omnivores these days. And to those of you who will be consuming animals on this day, I hope that even if you don't read the article, that when giving thanks for what you have that you will also honor and respect the animal and the humans who suffered so that you could eat today.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In need of a better diet

It's been awful quiet around here, I know. There are a couple of reasons for that:

1. My tonsils are still rebelling against me and my body. I'm now pulling out the equivalent of an atomic bomb on them in hopes of getting them unswollen. And praying I don't have to have a tonsillectomy.

2. There is no number two except to say that side effects from the treatment of my tonsils continues to render most food inedible or unappetizing.

I did manage to go out to dinner last night with some friends to Rumba on West End. It's been a couple of months since I've been there (I used to be a regular), so it was good to indulge on all of my favorites: rosemary naan, roasted red pepper flatbread and the tempura haricot verts. The fried green beans are topped with a little soy sauce and some sesame seeds and, as my dining companions noted, "totally addictive."

Aside from that, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the vegetarian meetup we had Saturday afternoon. We started off with a potluck lunch (I refuse to say what ill-executed dish I took with me--it didn't taste bad, but it didn't taste like it was supposed to) in conjunction with the raw food meetup group. There were several dishes from the raw foods section that I really enjoyed. I hope that they post their recipes for us all. I ate lunch with Yvonne Smith, The Traveling Vegetarian, who has pretty much convinced me that my next road trip must be to Asheville, North Carolina. I spent Sunday catching up on the latest installments of her show. You should check it out, too.

After lunch, we listened to Will Tuttle talk about his new book, The World Peace Diet. What an engaging speaker Dr. Tuttle is. I already knew most of what he said during his talk, but it's good to be reminded of things that are easy and convenient to forget regarding the food choices we make. Though it's hard to imagine that I'll ever go completely vegan, I did at least eat a vegan meal Saturday night.

On a rather amusing side note, one of the friends I had dinner with last night lives in London. She said that since she's been there, she's eaten mostly vegetarian Indian food. She doesn't eat chicken anyway and she said the beef tastes really bad and "gamey"; ostensibly due to the fact that they eat grass instead of corn. I thought that was funny given this post and comment thread over at Music City Bloggers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How not to cook

It was time to get back into the kitchen last night and I wanted to do something a little special with my pizza (good pizza in Nashville is not terribly convenient for a West-sider). Claudia was kind enough to bestow upon me a few cipollini onions, which I hoped to prepare in some way with balsamic vinegar before plopping them on the pizza. I've had "balsamic marinated cipolline onions" at Memphis's tapas joint (I love to say that), Dish (no link because their site is an irritating flash-only site), but I didn't have time to marinate them. So I looked up some ways to prepare them and settle on this:

Peel and saute onions [whole, apparently] in 1T olive oil until browned on both sides. Add 1 tsp sugar and 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar to pan and reduce until onions are soft. Cool and slice into rings.

Sounds fairly simple, right? First, let me say that one should definitely not put too much oil in the pan (it will pop, but most people know this; I just got carried away). Second, adding the vinegar will create smoke if the pan is too hot (which is inevitable if you're using cast iron). Third, reducing a sugar, oil, vinegar concoction in your beloved cast iron pan will create an unholy mess. Fourth, even with your sharpest ceramic knife, it is impossible to cut those tiny onions into appropriately-sized rings (for pizza). Next time I'll know: cut the onions first, plan ahead and marinate the onions for several hours, cook in a regular saute pan. Regardless of the immense pain in the rear the onions caused, they were quite tasty, but kind of got lost on the pizza because I also had black olives, fresh tomato and white mushrooms on there (along with my own pizza sauces which is fairly heavy on the herbs). The best way to enjoy cipollini onions is really on their own and roasted in a balsamic marinade. This recipe (with some modification to taste) looks like a good one to try.

Next time...

UPDATE: Here's another recipe with cipollini (not onions) that looks scrumptious.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Foodie vs. Eater

I'd tell you about the wonderful dinner I had last night, but Claudia does a much better job. There were a lot of flavors in this dish and the combination really worked. To an extent that every bite tasted slightly different, but in a complementary way.

What's particularly interesting to me about this dish is that it contained red onions that I liked. As I've mentioned before, I'm picky about onions and not a huge fan of red onions, really. But these onions had been roasted and browned with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, so not only did the texture was soft and taste sweet and savory at the same time. I also enjoyed a delicious and simple salad of butter lettuce with (roasted?) walnut oil and a pinch of some special salt that I'd never heard of before.

In fact, Claudia discussed a lot of dishes and ingredients that were new to me, so not only was dinner fun, I learned a lot as well. Claudia is a true foodie--being from New York tends to make one's palate at least slightly more sophisticated than, say a person who's never been outside of Tennessee for more than two weeks at a time--whereas I'm just a person who likes food. An eater, if you will. So it's always nice to get to experience firsthand the fruits of someone else's learned lessons and labor! Count me as a new fan of (among other things) farro, roasted red onions, walnut oil for salads, and live butter lettuce (which should last longer in the fridge than my usual lettuce). And, interestingly, black pepper in pumpkin cake. I'm suddenly regretting not taking a slice of pumpkin cake to go...yum.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pimiento Cheese

I think the first time I realized that there are some distinct differences in cuisine among the various regions of the United States was in 1995 when my roommate had to mail care packages that included boxes of instant grits to her boyfriend who'd gotten transferred to Michigan. He'd gone to the grocery store to get some upon his arrival only to be disappointed that the employees had never heard of such a thing.

Even now, I still get a little surprised by some of the cuisine that I grew up with that's fairly confined to the region. I only recently discovered that pimiento cheese was considered a Southern delicacy. What, Yankees don't know how to mix together some cheese and sweet peppers to make a spread? What's wrong with them? I kid, of course. The funny thing is that my mother does not like pimiento cheese [spread], so we never had it at home. My beloved grandmother loved it, though so it was a real treat for me to get to eat it during visits to my mother's family in Paris, Tennessee. I still remember my mother grimacing at us while we ate pimiento cheese sandwiches (on white bread, naturally). I think it's because my mother hates mayonnaise (she only eats Miracle Whip--yuck).

Its status as a southern delicacy makes pimiento cheese sandwiches a staple at local restaurants that appeal to the "ladies who lunch" crowd. While I am a female and do like to eat lunch, I don't count myself as a lady who lunches, but I sure enjoy their restaurants. Last week, I met a friend at Bridges on White Bridge Road, a cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and takeaway that's inside Belle Meade Drugs (more info here). The pimiento cheese is good, though the consistency is a little different than what I'm used to. The cheese they use is "finely shredded" instead of grated, but the taste of the mix is very good. I like that I could have it on wheat bread as well and with a slice of tomato and some leafy green lettuce. They scored points with the leafy green lettuce; iceberg lettuce has no purpose in this world. It is the cockroach of lettuces. They probably use the finely shredded cheese because it's likely they can't let the cheese sit out for the compulsory half hour to get the mix at room temperature and the cheese at a smoother texture since that's just inviting bacteria and a reprimand from the health department, so I'd say that was a good call on their part.

I'd read some complaints about the service at the cafe, but though the food itself took a while to arrive at our table (my dining companion ordered a Reuben), the server was sweet and earnest and made sure we had water, so I have no complaints about having to wait a bit to get food. Incidentally, I ordered the pasta salad for my side dish with the sandwich and that's the source of my only complaint. I found pepperoni in it. As I've said many times, eating at restaurants can be a bit like walking through a minefield for a vegetarian. You never know when you're going to stumble upon critter bits in your food. Next time, I'll get the fruit salad instead.

All that said, here's a simple pimiento cheese [spread] recipe like my grandmother used to make:
1/2 pound/2 cups/8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup mayonnaise (or less if you don't want it too creamy)
1/4 cup (1 small jar) sliced pimientos with the juice

Mix together all the ingredients and season to taste with salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, and/or black pepper (whatever you like, but my grandmother only used salt). You can even add a little lemon juice for some zest.

I remember very distinctly that one of my grandmother's sisters made pimiento cheese sandwiches (on white bread, cut into quarters) and brought them to the funeral home for me (and, I guess other family members--ahem) to eat during the visitation when my grandmother passed away in 1990. She must've known that it was something my grandmother and I shared. Or maybe it was just because it's a (Southern) comfort food staple. Either way, I really enjoyed those sandwiches.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


It's been quiet around here mostly due to the fact that I haven't cooked or eaten much interesting lately. No one wants to read that I've been subsisting on bananas and whole wheat English muffins, I'm sure. A high dose of penicillin every day taken to rid myself of an ear infection has rendered most food completely unappetizing to me. If not for the implications (ie, superstrains of viruses), I'd recommend penicillin as a weight loss plan.

Though I did go out to dinner at Anatolia over on White Bridge Road this week (despite the recent crime spree at restaurants in the area). The menu is heavily focused on meaty Turkish favorites, but there are quite a few vegetarian options. What I like to do is get an appetizer sampler platter (to share--it's huge) and a side order of veggie kabobs and rice pilaf. It makes for quite a filling meal but is still pretty cheap.

The appetizer platter includes hummus and pita triangles, vegetarian dolmas (still happy that most dolmas in Nashville are vegetarian), and sigara boregi, also known as Turkish cigars. They're cylinders of phyllo dough stuffed with feta cheese and parsley that's been deep fried. And they're the most heavenly sweet and savory thing you can imagine. La Luna over in Berryhill serves them as well with a side of apple chutney for dipping, but Anatolia serves them with rose jam, which perfectly complements the dish. I loved the rose jam so much that I bought some to bring home with me (I bought it from Anatolia, but it's available at most Middle Eastern or international groceries). I love roses in every form--I wear rose perfume, I grow roses in my garden and yes, I even eat them. If you haven't had the rose jam, I highly recommend it. A good place to start is with the sigara boregi at Anatolia. Even when nothing else sounds or tastes good, the Turkish cigars will rescue your appetite.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Vegetarian Meetup

If you're not familiar with, it's a website that lets people with similar interests (usually in the same geographic area) connect with each other. There are tons of meetup groups for every topic you can imagine. I'm a member of the Nashville Vegetarian Meetup Group. I've met some very interesting and wonderful people through this group and learned a lot and it usually gives me an inspiration boost to get back in the kitchen when we have potlucks.

The next meeting, though is not only a potluck, but will also feature a speaker, Will Tuttle, author of "The World Peace Diet."
It's a book that makes, "explicit the invisible connections between our meals and our broad range of problems - psychological, social, spiritual, as well as health and environmental. It offers powerful ways we can all experience healing and peace and contribute to a positive transformation of human consciousness."

If you're a vegetarian (or "veg-curious"--ha!), I recommend signing up with the group and/or attending this event.

Event Info:
Saturday, November 17, 2007, 1:00 PM
First Unity Church of Nashville
5125 Franklin Road Nashville, TN 37220
For more information, call Sharon: 615-556-1152

This event has been listed in other meetup groups as a vegetarian potluck (no meat/fish or animal broth, gelatin, etc) , but I have also seen it written that there will likely be plenty of food, so if you'd like to attend but do not necessarily want to join one of the meetup group or may be a little challenged in the kitchen, if you contact Sharon at the number above, she'll be able to give you more information. More than likely, though I'd say that attendance is open. As long as you're not planning on bringing a rack of lamb or ribs!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Woodlands Vegetarian Indian Cuisine

Yikes, I haven't posted since Sunday! I've, of course, eaten since Sunday, but nothing particularly noteworthy at home. I did, however, join a friend for lunch yesterday at Woodlands Indian vegetarian restaurant. The restaurant specializes in southern Indian cuisine (as opposed to your typical Indian restaurant that serves northern specialties such as Chicken Tikka Masala and Tandoori whatever, etc.). Their dinner menu is huge but I suggest trying the lunch buffet on your first trip.

Typically, I hate buffets. It brings out the glutton in me who feels the strong need to get her money's worth at the expensive of comfort. And I'm not sure I entirely trust most sneezeguards. Or other buffet patrons. But the buffet is a great way to get acclimated to a different kind of Indian food, find what you like (almost everything!) and go back for seconds, of course. And each person receives a masala dosa--one of my favorites.

The only problem, which really isn't a problem is that the selections change often and you can't always expect your favorites to be set out for the day. And not everything is always labelled, so I have a couple of favorite items (which, incidentally are all fried) that I have no idea how to ask for. One item is this homefry-looking fritter made from lentil flour. It's hard and crunchy like a fry, not soft like a bread. So delicious. They did have on the buffet yesterday some eggplant pakoras, some chickpea curry, and some of those savory lentil pancakes make with tomatoes, onion and cilantro. They do always have white basmati rice as well as a flavored yellow rice with vegetables and seasonings as well as two soups and a variety of sauces for dipping.

The best part for me, of course, is that everything is vegetarian (and much of it vegan), so I can fill my plate with reckless abandon (with a side order of rice pudding). Even better is that the food is so good, that it's a favorite among my non-vegetarian friends, too. So even if you're a committed omnivore, you'll never miss having critters in your food at Woodlands.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A trip to Taqueria Doña Tere

A small group of us braved the chilly weather Friday to check out Taqueria Doña Tere and sample the elotes, champurrado, and other authentic Mexican lunch items.

I decided to try the elote as suggested--covered with mayonnaise, rolled in crumbled cheese and sprinkled with lime. It is very rare that I eat mayonnaise, but I wanted an authentic experience. It was...mayonnaisey. I think I would have preferred it with just a teeny bit of butter, cheese and lime instead of the mayonnaise. I don't think I've consumed that much fat and calories on a stick in my entire life. And once you've started eating an elote, you've pretty much committed to it because you can't really set it down (or share it, really). Despite the fact that I had my face buried in an ear of corn that I did not share, my dining companions did offer to share what they'd ordered. Jim Ridley from The Scene offered a bite of his bean and cheese gordita and boy am I glad I tried it. A layer of beans and cheese with fresh cilantro and onions (optional) between two thick corn tortillas. Delicious. Though, I fear not completely vegetarian (as in, I'd be willing to bet the beans contained lard).

But what is vegetarian is the champurrado, which was like cinnamon-y hot chocolate mixed with finely-ground grits (hominy). Claudia was kind enough to share her champurrado with me and it's a good thing because there's no way I could have finished an entire cup on my own; it really is a meal in itself (and likely whole grain!). And they also serve stewed nopales (the fruit of the prickly pear cactus stewed with onions and spices), which we were given to sample. Several people in the group really liked the nopales, but Claudia and I agreed it was too salty for our tastes and the dish was a little too spicy for me, as well.

We all also enjoyed washing down our food with Mexican sodas you don't find at most restaurants. Once again, on Jim's recommendation, I ordered the Senorial Sangria soda and I was not disappointed. I love sangria in just about any form and one that's appropriate for a non-three-martini lunch (because I don't work in the ad business any more!) is a winner with me. Next time, though I'll try the tamarind soda.

It was great to see some old friends and meet some new ones. Next time we all get together, we need to do so when we have more than an hour!

Thursday, October 25, 2007


When my friends and I were visiting New York City at the end of August, we were browsing around the shops of SoHo and NoLita when we stumbled upon quite a crowd at the corner of Prince and Elizabeth streets. When we investigated the fuss, we discovered a line of people waiting to get into Cafe Habana. And even more people spilling out onto the sidewalk eating ears of corn (elotes). Mmmm...corn. We didn't have the time or energy to deal with the crowd that day and I've regretted that ever since.

So imagine my delight when I read the Nashville Scene's Bites blog post where Jim Ridley tells us about a little place over on Nolensville Road selling elotes. Well, you don't have to imagine, because I commented there and wrote a post about it on Music City Bloggers. And I'm writing about it again. So, yes, I'm excited. I love corn.

Anyhoo, I'm not the only person salivating over this news. Claudia over at cook eat FRET is, too and we're meeting up tomorrow (Friday, October 26, that is) at noon to chow down. Ivy's hoping to join us as well and you're invited, too. You can find the elotes (and the bloggers) at Taqueria Doña Tere, a lunch trailer near the El Fandango Club at 2196 Nolensville Pike (and across from the Circle K). See you there!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spaghetti Squash

I actually cooked myself a meal last night! I decided to bake one of the spaghetti squashes that I've been stubbing my toe on for two weeks. So I got out the cleaver and went to work.

The cleaver was a bad idea. It's necessary for a big ol' butternut squash, but next time, I think I'm going to use my bread knife again. Or maybe buy a cheaper bread knife just for squash. Anyoo, after wrestling with the squash, I baked it rind side up for 35 minutes at 375 degrees.

While the squash was cooking, I made a sauce for it. Like most people, I eat spaghetti squash like it's spaghetti, so I whipped up a quick pasta sauce for it. First, I caramelized some onions (not red ones, of course). Some notes about caramelizing onions if you haven't done so before--it helps to throw the onions in the pan and let some of the water cook out before you add any fat. It only takes a couple of minutes. Also, you need to prepare 3-4 times as much as you think you'll need since those slivers get even smaller once they're cooked. And be sure to cook them on medium to medium low heat and use plenty of olive oil or butter (I prefer butter) or you'll end up with crispy onion bits, not caramelized onions.

Once the onions were nearly done, I added some diced tomatoes, chopped garlic (from a jar; I cheated), olive oil, salt and pepper. I stirred and let the mixture cook for just a couple of minutes--I like for my tomatoes to still be in chunks.

Once the squash was done, I scooped out the strands, mixed in the sauce and voila! Dinner. I took pictures, but it's not the most attractive dish, so I won't bother to publish them. But it was tasty! And I've still got half the squash for dinner tonight--not sure exactly how I'll prepare it, though. I might peruse a few sites and books for some inspiration.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bad cook, bad

It's Tuesday and I don't remember the last time I prepared something more than a salad or sandwich for a meal. I've been really busy and going out a lot, so I have been relying on restaurant food and frozen dinners. Sunday night, I ate the Seeds of Change Spicy Thai Peanut Noodles for dinner. I'm hesitant to stray past Amy's for frozen dinners, but this dinner was pretty good. It is fairly spicy (I'm a lightweight), but not so much that I couldn't take it. The tofu chunks were a palatable size and the mix of ingredients was quite tasty. That's what's rather remarkable about this entree. Unlike a lot of frozen dinners, it not only looked like something you'd want to eat, it also looked like the photo on the box after it was been prepared. The vegetables maintained a bright color (even the broccoli) as well as the proper taste. As in, the carrots tasted like carrots and the broccoli tasted like broccoli. It hadn't been packaged in such a way that the flavors inside the container all blended into one singular taste. It really looked and tasted like it had been recently prepared.

Last night, though I took a step down from frozen dinners. A step down? Yes. I ate cookies for dinner. Granted, they were Kashi Oatmeal Dark Chocolate cookies, which is not your standard junk food, but cookies nonetheless. And I ate four of them--half the box. Tonight, though I resolve to actually prepare myself a meal. My refrigerator is nearly bursting; certainly there's something in there I can throw together to make something decent.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Vegetable stock really is an acceptable alternative, y'all

If this is starting to look like some sort of vegetarian review of Nashville restaurants, I apologize. I hope to get back to cooking soon, but I've been catching up with friends quite a lot. I do intend to make some sort of concoction with butternut squash and phyllo in the near future, so be on the lookout for that.

In the meantime, my whirlwind week of dining out ended yesterday with a trip to Bistro 215. It was a friend's birthday and Bistro 215 gives diners a free dinner on their birthday, so it was a natural choice. Also, the weather was just the right temperature for dining al fresco. I was a little hesitant about dining outside since Tennessee's recent ban on smoking in restaurants has forced the smokers outside, creating a suffocating cloud of smoke on most patios, but Bistro 215's patio was amazingly and thankfully smoke-free.

After being seated, I asked for the special vegetarian menu. Oops, I'd gotten Bistro 215 confused with its neighbor, Green Hills Grille. But the server pointed out the three vegetarian options at the end of the dinner menu. I opted for the vegetable napoleon since I'm a fan of polenta and rarely make it at home since it has a tendency to pop and I've burned myself on it.

When the entrees came, it was another server who brought our food--luckily for me. He asked me if I was a vegetarian and when I said yes, he informed me that the polenta was made with chicken stock. He asked if I wanted it or a substitution, noting that he was also a vegetarian and didn't eat it. Of course, I said I did not want it and was really disappointed. But he helpfully suggested a few items for me to choose from to replace the polenta and I settled on some asparagus.

The meal was quite good, but I'd really wanted the polenta. Our original server said he wasn't aware that the polenta was made with chicken stock and apologized profusely. I suppose that it really only occurs to the most diligent of vegetarians to ask about every single ingredient used in food preparation. I really don't want to be the kind of person who wants every restaurant meal to come with a Nutrition Facts label and a list of ingredients, but I'm starting to think that I really need to ask more questions. It reminds me of when I ordered mushroom barley soup at Noshville and when it arrived at the table, I could see the oil slick floating on top and asked for a manager who confirmed that the soup was made with a base of animal stock.

Is that really so necessary? Vegetable stock is very tasty and is an excellent base for soups as well as seasonings for grains (such as a wild rice blend that I like to use as a stuffing for acorn squash). Perhaps one of our advocacy groups could spend just a little time and effort on some sort of chef education program to promote the use of vegetable stock instead of animal stock in food preparation and make restaurants safe for vegetarians. Vive le revolucion!

It would also be nice if chefs and restaurateurs educated themselves on what foods are and are not vegetarian. For me, it's pretty simple. If there is a trace of dead animal in an item, it's not vegetarian.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A trip to Panera

I have a lot of friends who love Panera. I think that today was only my second time ever in a Panera; I'm more of an Atlanta Bread Company gal, I guess. But I was out shopping with a friend at lunch today, and decided to give it a try.

I had a salad for dinner last night (still loving the Naturally Fresh Pomango dressing with fresh fruit, gorgonzola and walnuts), so I decided on a sandwich. There are exactly two vegetarian sandwiches and since I don't like peppers and onions, I decided on the portobello and mozzarella panini. Their description:

Portobello & Mozzarella
Portobello mushrooms marinated in our balsamic vinaigrette with fresh mozzarella, caramelized onions & fresh chopped basil, grilled hot on our Focaccia.

First of all, I don't really care for onions. They hurt my stomach and, well, give me onion breath. But I do like caramelized onions--caramelized meaning that they've been sauteed to an extent that they're a nice caramel color and are sweet in taste. So I was ready to have one heck of a good sandwich.

A good sandwich is not what I got.

Let me say that I am not a trained chef, but I know how to caramelize onions. I also know that you caramelize white or yellow onions, not red onions. The sandwich I got was not what I was expecting at all based on the menu's description. Though in Panera's defense, they do indicate on the website's nutritional information for the sandwich that the onions are red. I suppose they do this as a cost-saving measure--use the same onions for this sandwich as they do for all the others. But I can't imagine why their executive chef really thought this was a good idea. Particularly when it should have been anticipated that during a lunch rush, the cooks would not take the time to fully caramelize the onions. My sandwich had an inordinate number of slightly cooked pink onions on it. So many pinkened red onions that when I first got it, I thought they'd accidentally given me a ham panini instead.

It appeared to me that what transpired in the kitchen was that a thin slice of fresh mozzarella had been placed on a panini, topped with a sprinkle of very small marinated (not fresh) portobello mushrooms and then covered in a large handful of red onions that had been slightly cooked in some oil. I did see two small pieces of green, which I suppose was chopped basil. But there was not enough of it to register a basil taste in any bite. The onions were still so moist from not being cooked down that the panini bread was soggy inside. It was a really unpleasant sandwich. But lunch was my friend's treat and I didn't want to complain (or wait for another sandwich). I just opened it up and picked through the pink onions to eat the mushrooms (which also were sub-par), cheese and a little bread.

In my opinion, I'd say this sandwich needs a major overhaul or needs to be removed from the menu. It would benefit a little from having actual caramelized yellow or white onions or even fresh white onions. And having a decent amount of fresh basil would also help and probably even some tomato. But there's not getting around the fact that the canned "marinated" portobello mushrooms are tasteless (I detected no hint of this balsamic vinaigrette of which they wrote), small (for portobellos) and have an unappealing texture. That texture is okay for a smaller white or button mushroom, but not one that's more than an inch long, I'd say (these ranged from 2-3 inches in slices). Portobellos might not be the best choice for a fast-casual restaurant.

The sandwich may not have been what the chef had in mind, but I don't even see how the base ingredients could have made a good sandwich in even the best of circumstances. Portobellos need to be fresh and caramelized onions should be caramelized (not pink).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pad See Ew

Since I was looking for a replacement for tofu massaman, I went with my friend, (evil)Amy to Siam Cuisine (not Siam Cafe on Nolensville) last night and tried tofu Pad See Ew (substitute tofu for prawns).

It was a very delicious and certainly less fattening alternative to my beloved massaman. The soy sauce base sweetened with sugar really made the broccoli go down easier (sounds like a song, no?). Not that it needed the help--the broccoli was a nice bright green and slightly crunchy--not overcooked at all, but cooked enough to get rid of the raw taste. There was a hearty amount of tofu as well as a garnish of kale and carrots. I ate the carrots, but skipped the kale as well as most of the fried egg. The dish was well-presented, too which you would be able to see had I not, yet again, let my zealousness take over. I was 3/4 of the way through devouring my dinner before I thought about taking a picture. Which was too late, of course.

Another nice touch is that Siam Cuisine is all decked out for Halloween. And I don't mean just a little bit. As Amy noted, it seems they cleared out the Halloween section at the Target down the street. They even bought special orange linen napkins. Hilarious.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Wedding

I attended the wedding of a non-vegetarian friend of mine Saturday night. It was not a large affair and I don't expect people to cater to my unique eating habits, so I ate a snack beforehand and expected to load up on cake.

And though the buffet was stocked with the usual suspects (chicken fingers, prime rib, meat ravioli), there was a very well-stocked fruit and vegetable selection as well as fettucine with a selection of sauces and one of my favorite party foods, spanakopita. And truly the best wedding cake I've ever tasted (the groom's sister-in-law made it)--strawberry cake with buttercream frosting. However, having eaten that cake sometime after 9:00pm, meant I was wide awake on a sugar buzz until the wee hours of the morning.

I started to feel a little guilty about being a vegetarian that evening, though. After the ceremony, the groom asked me if I was happy with the food. I just felt terrible. This man just recently lost his mother (as in, just days before his wedding) and he was getting married and he asks to see if I ate okay? I just felt very self-conscious at that moment. I feel like my lifestyle choice is very unselfish, but it was hard to feel that way when I know that these two people had to actually think about whether or not I--and just one other guest--would have enough to eat.

There's a larger social commentary to be made here, I'm sure, but I don't have the energy for it. I will say that for most weddings, I really don't expect the food to be good and I felt that way long before I was ever a vegetarian. But I do expect the cake to be good. There's no excuse for bad cake.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The downward spiral

What I eat directly affects how I feel. That's true for everyone actually, but I'm either more sensitive or more aware than most people. Which is why I don't slide on the downward spiral very far. A day or two of eating junk usually leaves me lethargic but craving better food.

That said, today is day two and the final day of junk consumption. I did have a salad yesterday for lunch, but after I had only some of a freezer-burned frozen dinner (it'd been in there for two years--don't judge me!), I pigged out on tater tots. But hey, they're vegan. As are the Jujyfruits I bought to give away at Halloween but opened yesterday.

Today, I had more Jujyfruits and though I had a decent sandwich, I had a huge box of Raisinets. They were really good. But now I have a headache and really, really need a nap. I've had my fill of junk for now. I'm back on track starting with a planned salad for dinner. I'm still happy with the Pomango salad dressing and am planning to add some of the season's last affordable strawberries to it, too. Maybe that will be sweet enough to keep me away from the Jujyfruits (side note: I worked in a movie theater in college and lived on popcorn, Coke, and Jujyfruits for a year; I have no idea how I stayed so thin doing that, though).

All that to say that when I get back from a weekend trip to Memphis Sunday, I'm planning to get cooking again. A comment from Lannae about sweet potato samosas has me thinking about the butternut squash I've had in the freezer since February. I got fairly burnt out on the squash last winter, so the last one went into the freezer. I'd been trying to think of what to do with it other than soup, so I think I will sub it for sweet potatoes and make samosas. I'm just trying to decide how sweet or savory I want to make them. I'm open to suggestions. I also remembered that during a visit to see my friend, Christy last year in Las Vegas, I had some really tasty sweet potato tamales. Perhaps some butternut squash tamales are in order? I've never made tamales, so I'm a little intrigued and a little scared.

It was a really big squash, in case you are wondering. And I hope it's not freezerburned.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Best of Nashville

The Nashville Scene released it's Best of Nashville issue last week while I was visiting the Redneck Riviera, so I'm a little late in registering my approval for mentions of some of my favorite restaurants.

My favorite local restaurant, Zola was honored by readers as well as the writers for Best Use of Too Many Ingredients. Whereas that may sound like a bit of an insult, it is not. My dining companion and I went to Zola to celebrate my birthday recently (as we always do) and I ordered chef's selection of a vegetarian option (as I also always do). My dining companion got the menu's vegetarian selection, but I wanted to see what the chef/owner would come up with this year. Last year, I got the most delicious dish that included among other ingredients, Israeli couscous and capers in a pocket of phyllo and topped with a sauce that I'd love to tell you about but can only say it was amazing. The year before, I was treated to a special olive plate that I will remember forever.

That's the thing about Zola--Deb Paquette combines an array of everyday and very unusual ingredients in such a way that your tastebuds practically jump for joy. This year, I got a "Mediterranean Burrito" that used phyllo as the wrap and was stuffed with chopped asparagus, eggplant, red and yellow peppers and about a half dozen other things that I can't even remember. And it was divine. It bothered me to leave any on the plate, but I was nearly bursting about two-thirds of the way through it. But each bite was even better than the previous. And unlike Anthony Bourdain, Paquette and her staff are gracious and accommodating to vegetarians, even when we order off-menu. Judging by the delightful and thoughtful entrees I've been served, I might even say they were happy to accommodate me.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Dinner Party

I have some friends who like to entertain in their home. They're very considerate of my diet and quite gracious hosts. It's not a sit-down dinner, usually but a very good selection of fruits, vegetables, multi-grain breads with dipping oil and other finger foods. I am generally considerate of their diet as well, but sometimes questions arise.

Last night, the topics of marshmallows and rennet came up. The hosts had made a healthier version of Rice Krispies Treats with a Kashi cereal and some dried cranberries. Nonetheless, it was made with marshmallows, which contain gelatin. Gelatin is, unless otherwise noted as "vegetarian," derived from animal connective tissue. And it pops up in the craziest places, including local favorites, Moon Pies as well as Starbursts and Altoids. So I politely declined the treats, but was pushed a bit so I decided to just say that I don't eat marshmallows and why. The wife was surprised, but the husband, who is from Georgia and familiar with the marshmallow plant knew exactly what I was talking about.

I then indicated how I'm trying to phase out some other things from my diet that aren't very vegetarian, including most hard cheeses. I love cheese (they know this) and they served some very good sharp white cheddar for dinner. I had a few bites, but I'm still trying to cut back in hopes of cutting out animal rennet cheeses altogether. I've already cut out Parmesan (real Parmesan; Kraft parmesan--in the green can--is not real Parmesan but is vegetarian), but it's going to be really difficult to cut out artisanal cheeses, particularly European cheeses. I don't know that I'll ever be 100% rennet cheese-free (mostly due to eating away from home), but it'll be a goal. In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy my favorite vegetarian cheeses at home: Sargento (most types) and Tillamook (all but the two-year aged cheddar).

You know, I never did get around to telling my old neighbors back in Memphis that I was a vegetarian. Though they did eventually stop asking me if I wanted a hot dog or hamburger when they were cooking out after a couple of years of declining without too detailed an excuse.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Business Lunch

When I first became a vegetarian in 2000, I worked for a large manufacturing company based in the meat-and-potatoes Midwest. So business dinners and lunches (particularly when visiting company headquarters) could be a real challenge. I mean, just because I'm a vegetarian doesn't mean that I want to eat a salad at every meal. But I've had to suffer through eating a large plate of asparagus accompanied with bread at Ruth's Chris (it was good, though), eating cheesestick appetizers as a meal and, of course, eating mediocre iceberg lettuce salads at more places than I can think of.

My current job is based on the gulf coast of northwest Florida, a place that has great seafood but lacks a wide selection of restaurants that include thoughtful vegetarian selections. Likely because the people who visit locally-owned restaurants are looking for fresh seafood, so I can't blame them. Supply, demand, all that. Yet another reason I like staying in a condo and preparing all my food from what I buy in the Greenwise section from Publix.

Inevitably, though, I have lunch meetings down here and I have to balance my desire to have something other than a salad with my desire not to be a wet blanket on co-workers and business associates who don't really care to go to McAllister's or Panera. I once really liked the Donut Hole's egg salad sandwich, but I'm trying to really cut back on eggs (and mayonnaise), so I didn't have a good suggestion for lunch today. Just that we not go to a specifically seafood restaurant. So we ended up at Pineapple Willy's in Panama City Beach.

Funny, I haven't been to Pineapple Willy's since the summer of 1983 when my family stayed the one and only time at Pier 99 (since gone and replaced with a high-rise condo, Shores of Panama--this is a good thing; Pier 99 was a dump). I remembered liking the place then and it is very kid-friendly. But not terribly vegetarian-friendly. There were exactly two meat-free items on the menu, from what I could tell. Onion rings and a "house salad." So guess what I had for lunch. Iceberg lettuce, a few cherry tomatoes (better than sliced large tomatoes), a few cucumbers (oh hey, that's a nice bonus), shredded cheese, onion and bell pepper (which, fortunately was easy to remove) and croutons. A fairly bland and unexciting salad. But they did serve Newman's Own balsamic vinaigrette dressing, so that helped. It just would have been nice to have something a little more interesting.

Oh, and I totally got the Vidalia onion rings. They were pretty tasty. But, you know, a roasted portobello mushroom sandwich woulda been nice for lunch. Eh.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


As I've mentioned before, I don't like store-bought salad dressings. But I can't go this entire week without eating some salad, so I perused the selection of dressings in the Greenwise section of the local Publix and found this Naturally Fresh Pomango Dressing. This dressing and the market lettuces salad I had at Marche for brunch this past Sunday inspired me to do a little something different with my salad while I'm away from home this week.

So tonight's salad had a base of baby romaine lettuce tossed with the Pomango dressing and topped with walnuts, slices of golden delicious apple, and gorgonzola cheese. Fortunately, this was a combination that worked thanks in large part to the Pomango dressing which is light (not oily) and citrusy without being overly sweet or tart. So, in short, Naturally Fresh Pomango Dressing = thumbs up for a light, citrusy and slightly sweet salad (with fruit, nuts and light, soft cheeses).

Monday, October 1, 2007

Amy's Indian Samosa Wraps

I'm in Destin, Florida this week for work. I've been in the hospitality business for a while and my favorite places to stay (for business) are condos, particularly when travelling alone or for more than a few days. That's because I'm not a huge fan of eating in restaurants alone or for several nights in a row, so staying in a condo with a full kitchen enables me to go to the grocery and get what I need to eat in for a while. It helps me stick to my nutrition plan, too.

And, also, I get to buy groceries and expense them so I go to a new grocery and try some things I don't typically try at home. Tonight, I got some Amy's Samosa Wraps. This wasn't much of a risk since I've never had an Amy's product I didn't love.

Until tonight. The wraps were okay and I'm full (and I should be considering the two wraps in the package have a combined whopping 520 calories), but they weren't as good as every other Amy's product I've had. The wraps were a little dry. And though I'm sure they were authentic as possible, I think they could have benefitted from a little chopped tomato inside. But the wrap itself was the driest part. I suspect it's because it's vegan, but I could be wrong. It's highly likely that I just overcooked them a bit. Regardless, a little chopped tomato in with the rest of the filling would be nice, but it might not hold up to the freezing process so well.

All that said, next time I want to spend a ton of calories on an Amy's dish, I think I'll stick with the cheese lasagna. Yum.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Miss Saigon (the restaurant, not the theatrical production)

I still haven't really got the hang of this foodblogging thing. I have this tendency to dig into my food and get halfway in before I realize that I neglected to take a picture. Such is the case for a lovely Bibb lettuce salad I had at Green Hills Grille earlier this week. Note: the vegetarian menu there is separate from the main menu so you have to ask to see it. Frankly, I think they should have the vegetarian items on the main menu; even omnivores like to have fresh, healthy, meat-free meals once in a while.

I did, however remember to take pictures during yesterday's lunch with my friends, Emily and Tabitha. We went to my favorite local Vietnamese restaurant, Miss Saigon. Where the vegetarian section of the menu is thoughtfully placed on the very first page, directly underneath the appetizers.

Tabitha and I started off the meal with an order of vegetarian spring rolls. We were both ready to dig in, so I neglected to get a picture of them. But they're very large and filled with lettuce, vermicelli, shredded carrots and cucumbers, and shredded tofu. A note on the tofu: I don't know how they prepare it or where they get it, but it has the consistency (al dente, that is) of pork. So much so that the first few times I ordered the appetizer, I had lengthy discussions (okay, inquisitions) with the staff to make sure it was really tofu. They're delicious and at two for $2.75, a bargain. They come with a soy-sauce type dipping sauce which I have not yet asked about. There's no oiliness about it, so I'm hopeful it's vegetarian. I've been reluctant to ask, though.

For lunch, I ordered the tofu and vegetables with vermicelli (AKA #10). It's a bowl dish with layers of vegetables, the thin white rice noodles, tofu and some toppings. At the bottom is a layer of shredded lettuce and bean sprouts (both crunchy, not soggy), then a layer of vermicelli, and topped with shredded carrots, shredded cucumbers, chopped peanuts, the same shredded tofu that's in the spring rolls, what I think is carmelized onions (crispy and brown) and a garnish of chopped fresh mint leaves. It comes with a sauce that's similar to the spring roll dipping sauce, but I usually just use my leftover dipping sauce so that I don't have a soup in my bowl. This is one of my favorite dishes at this restaurant. It's light but also filling and very satisfying. And only $5.95!

Emily ordered the lemongrass tofu (AKA #12). She opted for the vermicelli, so it comes prepared in a similar way as the tofu in vegetables, with the key difference being the preparation of the tofu. Instead of shreds, it's sticks of tofu breaded and fried with essence of lemongrass, which gives it a citrusy and spicy kick that is very yummy. It also comes (as you can see) with large chunks of stir-fried onions and the same sauces at the #10. I highly recommend it, but note that it's a heavier dish than the #10.

Tabitha ordered crispy noodles with shrimp, so we won't talk about that. Except that to say that minus the dead crustaceans, looked quite yummy.

Getting to Miss Saigon can be an adventure if you don't know where you're going, too. It's in a shopping center that's not really visible from the road, so the best directions I can give to locals is that if you're driving west on Charlotte from White Bridge Road, stay in the left lane and right before it ends, turn left up the hill into the shopping center. Miss Saigon greets you as you crest the hill. And be sure to leave some time to stop in to the K & S World Market next door. They have an incredible selection of international foods and drinks (real Pepsi with sugar!) and an impressive produce section. Sometimes, the stench of the dying or dead seafood at the rear of the store is a little overpowering, so beware.

Update: Miss Saigon is closed on Tuesdays.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Baghali Polo

An update to my previous post on one of my favorite dishes, Persian green rice (baghali polo). My friend read the post and shared her recipe with me. She also clarified that baghali polo is the rice dish with dill and fava beans and sabzi polo is a rice dish that is prepared with a variety of herbs (including parsley, cilantro, dill, green onion stems or chives, and mint among many others) and is usually served with fish.

Here's the baghali polo recipe she sent:
First, prepare the rice.
• Soak rice in salted water for a few hours prior to cooking [check the rice package to determine amount you need; she uses brown basmati rice]
• Boil salted water in pot you are going to cook your rice [the amount of water doesn't need to be an exact amount since the rice won't be soaking up all of the water as is typical when you cook rice]
• Once water boils, drain previously soaking rice and add rice to boiling water
• Check in about 5 minutes, the consistency of the rice should be soft on the outside, but hard in the core/middle - I guess you could call it "Persian" al dente for rice. If rice kernel is soft, you have gone to far and rice will turn out mushy
• Drain rice and pour water from tap on top of rice and drain again
• In your pot, add 1 to 2 tablespoon of oil (canola, olive, enova, butter, etc...choose your fat). Also, add enough water to have it cover the bottom of the pot about 1/4". You can also use a saffron and water mixture instead of plain water (saffron-infused water prepared by grinding up saffron threads in hot water and left to infuse). Depending on how much saffron you add to the water, the saffron/water mixture can be burgundy to yellow in color. I prefer it on the burgundy side, which means more saffron. The combination used on the bottom of the rice pot can vary greatly. Optional: You can add potatoes in the bottom, or bread, onions, so you get that in the bottom in addition to the rice. [I prefer just rice and fava beans.]
• Add drained rice

To make the baghali polo, alternate dried dill [because it is stronger in flavor than fresh dill] and [cooked] fava beans [or lima beans] in between layers of rice. Then cook on medium heat for about 12 minutes and then on low for 45 minutes and then you should have tadeek (the crunchy rice on the bottom) and cooked rice.

When serving make sure you mix up the dill and fava beans and enjoy....

Reading the recipe makes it sound a little on the labor-intensive side for me, but it's very much worth the effort. It can be a main dish or side dish.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Potato, Potahto

I learned a tough lesson the other night. A lesson that I should have already learned at some point during the past never-you-mind how many years that I've been cooking for myself. That lesson: Yukon Gold potatoes are for mashing, not for baking.

You can look at the various types of potatoes and tell there are some differences, but it never really occurred to me how different they really are. That is, until I baked a hefty Yukon Gold potato for well over an hour and instead of getting a soft, fluffy inside, I was met with one tough potato. There's a reason why the labels on the bags of Russet potatoes say "baking potatoes." But I did not (and rarely do) want to make mashed potatoes and it's possible that my potato was beyond the point of no return after having been baked to death, so I ate it anyway. It wasn't good. So, for future references, The Food Network offers this explanation of potatoes. And what's good for what purpose.
Starchy potatoes have high starch and low water. Starchy potatoes are great for baking and French fries, and good as mashed potatoes. When cooked in water, they disintegrate but when cooked by dry heat, they become crumbly and fluffy. Russet Burbanks are a popular type of starchy potato. Often russets are called Idahos or Washingtons (these are not varieties, only the farm location). Starchy potatoes can also be purple, like Purple Peruvians.

All-purpose or chef's potatoes have medium starch and medium water. All-purpose potatoes are great in stews, soups, mashed potatoes or for roasting. When cooked, they are at once moist and fluffy: they keep most of their shape in soups and don't dry out when baked. All-purpose potatoes are white, like White Roses, although they are also yellow (Yukon Golds), red (Red Golds), and blue (All Blue). Some all-purpose potatoes are called Maines, Long Islands, and Delawares (again, not variety names, but only the location of the farm). Fingerling potatoes are long, oval-shaped potatoes that have not grown to full size.

Waxy potatoes have low starch and high water. These potatoes stay firm in liquids and moist when roasted. They are good for stews, roasting and potato salads. Waxy potatoes can have red or tan skin, and white, red or yellow flesh. Different varieties include Irish Cobblers, Red Bliss, All Reds, Ruby Crescents and Butterfingers.

By the way, new potatoes can be any texture or type of potato, as long as the potatoes are harvested when the potato plant is still alive and the potatoes skin is still so thin that it can be rubbed off easily. Nearly all new potatoes behave as if they are waxy; that is, they have a low starch and high water content. New potatoes are good roasted, boiled and steamed. Creamers are potatoes that are no bigger than 1-inch in diameter.

Note that it doesn't say "Don't bake a Yukon Gold potato." But I will. Roast it or mash it, but take it from me, don't bake it.