Wednesday, January 13, 2010

this vegan life

Two weeks into this vegan deal--some discouraging moments, along with breakthroughs to cooler stuff.

1. The web remains, as we well know, a dangerous superhighway, pocked with noxious DIY potholes. A good many of the vegan recipe photos I have encountered thus far bear a striking resemblance to indistinct offal or, perhaps more accurately, cud. I pass.

2. I miss honey. Eat some for me. Honey, as it turns out, happens to be on everything crunchy and delicious. See labels. Truth.

3. Rip kale, drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, go at 350 degrees for a flash of minutes till just crispy. Jesus, so good. Just like potato chips, I swear.

4. Vegans are magicians in the art of substitution. Not the silly "meats" so much as baking substitutions. Take eggs, for example. Depending on the recipe, you can use bananas, avocados, or applesauce in their place. Also all the synthetic soy and corn products, of course. I am, in fact, making Avocado Brownies tonight. Oh that's what I said.

Anyway, it's not all roses for the beginner. It can be discouraging. Going out to dinner is a joke when you do not know your way around. My most significant encounter was at my local Thai place. I asked if the masaman curry was vegan and she said, "Yes, masaman chicken (pronounced cheeken) and ... ?" (Pause) No, no. Not exactly right.

So most days I venture into establishments, I do feel like Felix Unger, alienated and underserved. But the upshot has been an intense increase in cook-at-home meals, not bad since I'm pretty good in the cocina. All told, it's a hard adjustment, so much to learn, but I feel good, cleaner, for the most part. It's a hard feeling to convey, much like the impact peppermint has right after you breath it in. That kind of thing. And I feel a lot less guilty for complicity in all sorts of things. That's worth a great deal. I've lost weight already. I'll have to watch that. I've been having especially lunatic dreams. Related? Perhaps. It's all becoming part of my routine and I'll just end up rambling about my dog and books and movies in no time at all.

In the meantime, I have to go soak some nuts for a raw pizza. I kid you not.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

thai iced tea for now

I had Thai food after work and was jonesing for a Thai iced tea. It was a rocky road to that damn drink. I nearly broke the veganism only five days in. Turns out this is a landscape rich with mines. Non-dairy, apparently, doesn't mean non-dairy. Casein, essentially a cow's milk protein, is found in cheese, as might be expected, but also in non-dairy creamer and, incidentally, plastic. Awesome!

So I backed off that, but most of you probably suspect that coconut milk has such a strong flavor it would interfere with the tea taste and the other milks would just be too thin. And you're right. The recipe below comes close enough for a beginner, but it's not the same as Thai iced tea. I see, though, that there are soy non-dairy creamers out there, so there are likely rice versions too. I'll have to look around and revisit this one.

Ohh, and neat molecular gastronomy-ish stuff: I'm going to see about experimenting with Irish moss, carrageenan, and other thickening agents. I'm not so into cornstarch; I can taste it like I've stirred my drink with a tire iron. Not the taste I'm going for. Who knows, comrades. It's all an imperfect process. We'll see what we can unearth (other than mines and tire irons).

Meanwhile, here's one for the passage of time:

Thai Iced Tea, Sorta

2 tsps. Thai tea blend (China Black tea and red tea leaf, plus "natural flavor")
1 c. boiling water
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. rice milk
1 tbsp. coconut milk

Fill a glass with ice; using a ceramic one-cup coffee filter, run the hot water over the tea blend. Once that's brewed, add the sugar, stir, and add the milks.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

rosy cocoa

Food's great, but the warm drinks are the order of the day.

Rosy Cocoa

2 tbsp. Dagoba Fair Trade Baking Cocoa
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 c. hazelnut milk
1 tsp. Magliano Organic Rose Syrup

Whisk cocoa, sugar, and milk over medium-low heat in small saucepan. Once cocoa is dissolved and milk is letting off steam, add syrup. Get a book, find a blanket, call the dog over, and delight in it all.

Hmm: This just in. I've been told that you can't actually raise any nut milks over the boiling point because they scald. I certainly didn't have any film on my cocoa and it tasted great. Okay, well whisker beware.

Monday, January 04, 2010

cinnamon raisin tea

It's cold out! Not sure how I got on this drink kick, but here's a suitably cozy bevvie, original and interesting, from comrade Karen's mother.

Cinnamon Raisin Tea

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
5 cinnamon sticks
5 cardamom pods
1/2 c. raisins
1 c. prunes
6 qt. water
2 tbsps. brown sugar (add at the end to taste)

Add first five ingredients to the water in a large soup pot. Boil for fifteen minutes and then simmer for at least two hours. Strain and sip. Mmm.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

cold-pressed cardamom coffee

It’s Sunday morning. I have my morning paper and that means the time for lattes is upon us. It’s come-to-Jesus time, my flockmates. Must. Have. Good. Coffee. What’s a die-hard Peetnik to do? Is this it? Will the whole vegan bag be hoisted into the Bay because I pitched a fit over an insufficient coffee option? I seriously worried—veganis interruptus was nigh. Since I have never been crazy about a cup of joe without milk, soy lattes or sugared-up chai seemed the best options. Bleak prospects, both, by way of substitution. (And don’t suggest carob to me, you communists.) I thought all hope may be lost. Then ah, sweet, punk-rock cherub of provision screeching up to the curb gifted me last night at the last possible moment with this cold-filtered concept.

For the uninitiated, cold-filtered coffee—to my knowledge—is indistinguishable from the standard, classic French press treatment of the coffee, only more coarsely ground and left in cold water for twelve-plus hours (rather than steeped for five minutes in hot water). I swear to you: this is a delightful discovery, even for the omnivorous coffee ho.

The brew is totally free of bitterness, not acidic at all, yet full of the robust flavor we fiends cannot do without. My sole warning for the coffee critic is that it lacks that roundness that comes from the oils released with hot-water steeping—it’s thinner. I was okay without that quality, but you may not be. And here’s the stunner: the way I made it, I didn’t actually want milk in it. Whoa.

One other note: I use a thirty-two-ounce French press from Bodum. Peet’s recommends two-thirds of a cup of grounds for that. I am disinclined to add hair to my chest, hence my reversion to one-quarter cup. But hey, do your worst King Kong if two-thirds speaks to you. I won’t judge.

Acid-free Paper

1/4 c. coarsely ground Peet’s Fair Trade Blend coffee
32 oz. water
10 cardamom pods
1/2 vanilla bean

Smash the cardamom so that each pod is cracked open. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scoop out the bits. Put it all in the press pot—grounds, water, cardamom, vanilla bean, scooped bits. I pressed it halfway down before bed, sort of arbitrarily, then pressed the rest in the morning. Poured a cup (I had it up and cold), read paper, saved myself for veganism. God bless. That was a close one.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

drinks with the vice squad

Lifestyle discovery of the hesitating vegan, exhibit A: plan ahead. A number of the better looking recipes found in the few vegan cookbooks I've gathered thus far call for long-term maneuvers—soaking, sprouting, fermenting, and the like. An unexpected ancillary effect is I find myself considering the whole package, the full meal deal, well in advance.

That includes drinks. Being three years sober now, I have no less interest in beautiful drinks and pairing them than any other enthusiast. But my cocktails call for creativity. So this long-term thing may work out. The first drink I made was entirely my creation. It worked out well, I think. Good for tamarind freaks, an order to which I tithe with feeling.

Dum Dum 2.0

These drinks taste almost identical to the lollipops of yore. No joke.

15 whole tamarinds
1 gal., plus 1 c., water
1/2 c. agave syrup
15 sprigs fresh lemon thyme

Soak the tamarind in the gallon of water overnight. Bring the cup of water and the agave to boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat immediately and add thyme. Simmer on low for ten minutes. Remove thyme sprigs and cool completely.

Next morning, strain tamarind water with fine sieve or china cap, as well as the thyme agave syrup. I like a three to one ratio, water to syrup. Serve on the rocks and with a freak at the table, ifn ya like.

Friday, January 01, 2010

the hesitating vegan

The majority of private emails I’ve received about my going vegan for 2010 have asked what in the world I—the sensualist omnivore who practically sleeps snuggled up to the Roquefort in the kitchen—am doing. I am improvising, that’s what. I have spent several inquisitive years badgering farmers and trying to monitor the quality of life for the animals I eat. I have, in my own assessment, for the most part failed, no matter how I have tried, so I’m venturing an experiment.

I am a solid amateur cook, a snob—a judgy, fussy, discerning, demanding girl who has long enjoyed access to a wide range of excellent product and deep gastronimical resources. I know what’s up. With a twelve-week course from Kitchen on Fire treading my soles, and more importantly, plenty of time with my boots on the ground at the range, I have just that mix of bravura and ignorance that makes a chef lusty, brave, and reckless. So if there were ever a time when I could give this a go without going full-tilt-boogie into culinary school enrollment, it's now. So I assure you: I have not changed. I still like meat, cheese, honey. I love the mouth-feel of cream in my coffee, the taste of chicken in my stock, the sight of a steak on the grill pan. But I am curious to see what a chef can do without all of that. Call it a conscious year-long Quickfire Challenge. (Longer, who knows, should my nutritional and culinary results prove out.)

These posts will be real when meals taste awful, but focused on pleasing and surprising. I will be going with all my heart for hits, not misses. No one should expect this to become the depot where we sing the song of tempeh soy-cheese scrambles. In fact, we take this truth to be self-evident: soy is the devil. It tastes bad, we can’t digest it, its producers are ravaging our primeval forests. But the soy devil will, alas, show up in these recipes here and there. I’ll just operate on the presumption that there's more to veganism than Tofu Pups and their attendant fleet of fake meat travesties, and that the better I get at this gig, the less I'll need to employ them.

I’ve got the here, I’ve got the now. So on we go, friends, launching our own minor variation on JFK’s theme from the 60s. We do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others too.”

My favorite recipe of the weekend, for your fun, is this macaroni and cheese. It’s delicious. Honest to god, you can take the word of this cynical omnivore. Trust. I’d be the first to roll my eyes.