Monday, June 30, 2008

Crispy Baked Tofu

I finally got around to trying my own version of tofu nuggets with nutritional yeast. I'd been meaning to do so for a while considering that at $7.99 per pound, I will quickly go broke buying them off the hot bar at Whole Foods (nevermind the weight I'd gain since they're fried).

I remembered having some baked tofu strips that were really good at a vegetarian potluck last year and google pointed me in the direction of this recipe for crispy baked tofu.

But you know me; I can't just follow a recipe. And again, that was a mistake. I won't say that my tofu strips weren't good; they just weren't great. Here's where I think I went wrong:

1. I didn't have bread crumbs, so I mixed extra nooch with some flour for the breading. Probably should have used corn meal.

2. I used a thawed out frozen block of tofu. Freezing changes the texture of the tofu and I also think I may have pressed it out too much.

The result was a decent tasting batter, but some fairly dry strips. I think if I'd used tofu that hadn't been freezed (and overly pressed) that it would have been moister. Oh, and I may have cooked it on 400 degrees. Um.

Anyhoo, point is that the batter tasted good even though it wasn't crispy. Cornmeal or breadcrumbs could remedy that. I like-a da nooch. Now, I just have to figure out how to make cheez out of it. I think I ought to follow a recipe for that...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Finally, some more fresh produce

First, a confession. I ate bread for dinner Monday night. Organic Grains bread from Provence with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a little ground pepper. Bread for dinner. But I ate healthy food all day, so I figured I deserved it. I just had no energy. Sidenote: the bread was $5.39 instead of the usual $4.55, which makes me unhappy. I'll still pay it but that seems like a rather dramatic increase. But just about everything I bought at the grocery was more expensive. Finally seeing those increases in food costs I keep hearing about. Anyhoo.

I did better last night, though. This past weekend, I finally made it out to McNeil's Produce Stand on Highway 100 to get some good (local) stuff. I got zucchini, squash, a cucumber, blueberries, lima beans, and purple hull peas. They also have peaches from Chilton County, Alabama (though I'm lucky enough to have a co-worker who lives down there and brings baskets of them to us) and an assortment of jellies, jams and sauces from southern Kentucky as well as local honey. I got some strawberry jam (very tasty) and some honey from Fairview, Tennessee that is delicious. Not sure what the bees were working from, but I like it. I don't think it's helped me with my allergies, though.

So last night, I cooked the beans and peas (I add just salt to the limas and a little Liquid Smoke to the peas for seasoning) and then roasted slices of the squash and zucchini after tossing them with olive oil and a few dashes of dried Italian herbs. I wasn't feeling adventurous, so I just used the Weisenberger's cornbread mix and had a really great dinner. I'm going to miss these fresh veggies when the season's over, for sure.

Note: the truck of goodies from the Mennonites in Kentucky arrives at McNeil's on Friday mornings, so be sure to arrive early on Saturdays (if you can't do Fridays) to make sure you get the good stuff (including the delicious Baby Bradley tomatoes). Or you can make arrangements with them to hold some stuff back for you. They have fried pies that go pretty quickly, but sadly, the pies are fried in lard so I don't eat them. They had loaves of really great bread last year (sourdough, wheat, cinnamon raisin, etc) but I don't know if they're getting them this year or I was just too late to see them.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

'Roo food

I'm still recovering from Bonnaroo. It's fun, but for an old goat like me, it's a lot of work to be out in the sun and mostly on your feet for 8-12 hours a day for three days straight. I'm lucky I have a desk job.

So, the food. Sure, there was some good music there, too but other, better writers have written reviews, so I'll tell you about the food.

First, arepas. Not only were these guys back this year (Toby's Arepas from South Florida, I think), but they had multiple stands. Good call, y'all. I didn't have to stand in line for 20 minutes to get my fill. So I had five of them over the course of three days. Yes, five. Usually the first thing I ate...and the last thing I ate. Soooo good.

I did branch out and eat other things, though. A lot of other things. It seemed to me that there were actually more food choices this year than the last two years, so I didn't even have to eat one slice of pizza or eat one single burrito.

One vendor was selling sweet potato fries (battered, so they were different from what I'm used to getting from Bobbie's Dairy Dip) and samosas, so after my first arepa, I settled in for a pile of fries and an apple samosa (while listening to Fiery Furnaces). Later in the evening, we had a vegetable samosa and a tofu samosa. All were delicious. The samosas were more like turnovers stuffed with filling and were served with a slightly spicy salsa-like sauce. I loved them, but "deep fried" is one of my favorite phrases and not something too often associated with vegetarian food.

On day two, I sent the Significant Omnivore off for snacks to eat while waiting on Ben Folds to perform. He came back with (very expensive) Ben & Jerry's treats. I think we could have bought three pints for what he paid, but that's the price of convenience. And they were good, but a bit overpackaged, I think. Anyhoo, dinner time rolled around and we headed back in the direction of the samosas, but rounded the corner (past the vendor selling all sorts of sea-bound critters) over to the quesadilla place. I ordered a (vegan) Sesame Gingerdilla, which was red cabbage, carrots and a few other taut veggies stir-fried with sesame oil and ginger and shoved in a tortilla. The SO opted for the Feta Metadilla, which was feta cheese, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, sauteed onions, and olives in a spinach tortilla. Both were delicious and really hit the spot. I didn't think I really liked red cabbage, but it worked well with the sesame and ginger and the crunch in the "quesadilla" was a nice change of pace. I can make these at home!

We thought we'd be out of luck for a late night sweet snack before settling in to see Pearl Jam because the crowd was so thick , we were forced to the back, but we stumbled upon a stand that I could smell before I could see: candied roasted pecans and walnuts. Perfect.

By the third day (and after three arepas in two days), you'd think I would've had my fill, but I started off with yet another arepa. Really, they are that good. It was just my snack until we could decide on lunch. It was a hot day, so we yet again wandered over to that wonderful oasis of veg-friendly foods and went to the wrap place this time. I got a (vegan again--yay!) wrap with hummus, tomatoes (because I'm brave), lettuce, and cucumbers, while the SO opted for the portobello wrap. It was a little heavy on the sauteed onions and a little too warm considering the weather, but he enjoyed it. It had a great savory flavor. We ate our wraps while listening to Robert Randolph wrap up and sitting in a prime patch of shade under one of the handful of trees.

While sitting under the tree looking toward the stage where Solomon Burke was about to play, I spied the crepe vendor. I'd managed to resist the crepes for two days, but not on Sunday. So I headed over and got myself a fruit crepe (strawberries, blueberries and bananas with a little chocolate; hold the pineapple and whipped cream). The crepes were pre-made and laid out on a round griddle to be heated and the toppings were placed on top. They were pretty generous with the toppings, but at $8, the crepe was the most expensive food item we got and well, wasn't really quite worth it. But I had to do it. Going to Bonnaroo is like going on vacation; you just gotta indulge.

Which is why I had one last arepa on my way over from Robert Plant and Allison Krauss to Death Cab for Cutie that evening.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ready for 'Roo

I won't be doing any cooking this weekend. Instead, I'll be enjoying the culinary delights of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. That may sound crazy, but last year's festival was the first place I ever experienced the joy of arepas (Cliff's version: fried cornbread--yum!). Dear Lord, please let the arepa cart be there again this year.

In addition to arepas, there are lots of vegetarian and vegan options at this hippie-friendly event. I'll report back here on all the great 'roo food next week. Though I hope to to do a little liveblogging from the boyfriend's iPod.

In the meantime, if anyone's planning on going and hasn't been before (or didn't pay a lot of attention during previous visits), here're a few tips. Because I've seen a lot of bad information floating around out there. These are tips primarily for those of us who are day-tripping and won't have a campsite for refuge.

1. Water--drink lots of it, but there's no need to bring it with you. Bring two big empty plastic or metal bottles (no glass) with you to refill at the water station. Sure, a hyrdration pack will hold more, but in the heat, having that nylon against your back will not be comfortable. While I'm on the subject, get one of those super-lightweight backpacks that can easily be slung over one shoulder. You'll thank me when you realize you don't have to have sweat rolling down your back and into your nether-regions.

Some people complained about the water because it's well water and has some sulfur in it, but Itellyawhut, it's a helluva lot better than the river water that comes out of my tap in Nashville.

2. That lightweight backpack should also have a small flat sheet or one of those light lawn blankets in it for when you need to take a break. Or a shower curtain, plastic tablecloth, or trashbags to sit on if it rains and gets muddy. Any of those is much better than a heavy blanket, I promise. Though you do need things to put in each corner to keep them anchored.

And to those of you who bring chairs: the rest of us really don't like you.

3. Sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses are necessities. I've seen some blogs casually suggest them. They're imperative. And this year, I've got a straw hat from the World Market that is reminiscent of the design of a Vietnamese farmer's hat. Because my head roasted and melted under a cotton hat last year. Kavu sells a really cool version of the Vietnamese hat and I found myself coveting one last year. A spray bottle to mist yourself would come in handy, too. But I'm not sure I'll bring one.

Some people wear swimsuits, but there's nothing more I hate than sitting around in wet swim bottoms. So I wear lightweight, light-colored shirts and lightweight nylon, fast-drying shorts (from Columbia and Kavu). Yes, I pretty much treat this like an expedition, not a festival. Also, the more clothing you have on, the less sunscreen you have to apply.

4. Last year's dust and the resultant "Bonnaroo Lung" that plagued me for weeks means that I'm also throwing a couple of face masks (the kind you get at the paint or hardware store) in the bag. I saw plenty of scarves and doo rags used as makeshift masks last year, but I'm going with the real thing for a good fit. Will I look stupid? Yes, but it's Bonnaroo, which means there will be many more people who look much more stupid than me (particularly the inevitable fat naked guys).

5. Bring cash.

6. Wear comfortable shoes. I suggest Crocs. I know, you're thinking those are so 2006, but they're the best festival shoes. For one, they're waterproof. This comes in handy when you need to cool down, wash off and when it's muddy. They don't rub blisters. They protect your toes. And, most importantly, the material is impact-absorbing. Last year, I wore my Chacos one day and had aches and pains in my knees and hips (okay, I am old after all) because the farm is very bumpy. Walking over this slightly uneven terrain is hard on your joints. But the Croslite absorbs a lot of that and I didn't get fatigued at all when I wore the Crocs. And when you're at Bonnaroo, you're on your feet a lot.

7. A lightweight rain poncho. Because if you bring it, it won't rain.

8. Also helpful--extra tissue and hand sanitizing gel (or Wetnaps). Maybe a washcloth and a little soap. Yes, I'm a girl.

9. And because I am my mother's daughter, I will have a comb, ibuprofen, Clear Eyes, Rolaids, Band-Aids, and Pepto Bismol tablets just in case.

10. And, of course, I'll have my camera.

Also, last year, I coated a fair portion of my body in chemicals to avoid profuse sweating. Is this advisable? I'm not sure. But I felt better not dripping in sweat in areas that are uncomfortable (and stinky) when sweaty. My anti-perspirant of choice was Certain-Dri. It works. Another fine chemical you might consider is bug spray or cream. It's entirely possible there will be mosquitoes, chiggers and ticks waiting for your juicy self to walk by. Side note: don't wear fragrances that might attract bugs. You're welcome.

Last but not least: don't forget to bring your ticket.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A new meaning for frugal gourmet

His blog goes against all that I keep sacred and holy (among other things, to be picky about what I eat), but I can't help but admire his spirit: The 99 Cent Chef. It's a little fascinating and a little disgusting (if I were to eat lunchmeat, it would not be the kind you get at a 99 cent store).

That's not to say that I don't enjoy a bargain. I've found some very interesting and delicious items at my local Big Lots. But you have to know what you're dealing with (I'm still surprised to see the Anna's cookies there for $1 when the local groceries carry the same cookies for twice the price). And any time you get food--or anything--for a really cheap price, you have to step back a moment and ask why. Sometimes, it's a packaging design change. Sometimes a dismal failure of product marketing (whole grain Chips Ahoy, American Idol Pop Tarts). And sometimes, what you're looking at is (as Claudia says) just not good. Bargain food shopping is an art.

Update: The 99 Cent Chef cooks up a vegan Cuban meal!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

To-MAY-to, to-NOT-o

This makes me very unhappy. There won't be any local tomatoes available for probably another month, so I suppose I will just have to do without for a while (or buy those Canadian hydroponic tomatoes--ha!). Because I have decided--after two heartbreaking years of trying--that I will not attempt to grow my own tomatoes this year. All the work required to keep the plants watered and healthy is just too much hassle just to see the fruits disappear thanks to the menagerie of critters that occupy my neighborhood. So I must rely on others to get good tomatoes.

I still get unnerved about the threat of salmonella from my food. It just seems like that should be a problem for omnivores, not herbivores. But, apparently salmonella can get into tomatoes through through the plant while it's growing (from an infected water supply or infected soil), so it's inside the tomato, not just on the outside. There are ways to kill the bacteria in the tomato, but refrigerating a tomato kills not only the bacteria but deactivates the sugars that make "homegrown" tomatoes taste so good. And heating up a tomato to 145 degrees pretty much renders it useless for your average sandwich.

An herbivore just can't catch a break these days...