Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Guess Who Has the World's Best Boyfriend?

I do. Because he bought me this. Yes, that. A Kitchen Aid Mixer. I screamed like a contestant on The Price is Right when I saw it. I have dreamed of owning one for years and now I have one! The mixer is in addition to all the DVDs (My So-Called Life and Twin Peaks) and music (Challengers by the New Pornographers and the Into the Wild soundtrack by Eddie Vedder) and freakin' Veganomicon and more cookbooks and a cute tote and too much. I am truly not worthy. And it's not all the stuff, it's all the thought, truly, that Brian put into everything. I'm so amazed and very grateful.

Now I have no excuse to not make a billion vegan cupcakes and sugar cookies.

I made this soup for Brian because he trekked from Philly to New Jersey with a cold (or "allergies" if you ask him) just to spend the day with me.

Brian's Quick Cold (or Allergy) Remedy Soup (vegan)

You can add any vegetables that will stand up to a few minutes of simmering to this soup. This was just what I had in the house yesterday. Other additions could be two generous handfuls of sliced onions (I'd lightly saute them in some olive oil before adding to the broth), sugar snap peas, a cup of frozen baby peas and corn, green beans, button mushrooms, or dried mushrooms. To avoid oversalting, be sure to use low sodium broth and then add your own salt to taste. Luckily, Brian likes his salt so we were ok but lesson learned. Also, a smaller pasta, such as macaroni, ditalini, orzo, and even leftoever rice, might work even better than the linguini but again, this is what I had. Use the broth, water, and pasta sauce measurements as a rough guide and feel free to add anything else on hand.

1 cup organic, low sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup cold water
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 cup canned cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup sliced carrots
4 tablespoons pasta sauce (I used Newman's Own Marinara)
3 broccoli spears, finely chopped
2 ounces cooked linguini
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a small pot and over high heat, combine broth, water, and seasoning. Stir well and bring to a boil.
2. Lower heat and add beans and carrots. Simmer for about five minutes.
3. Add pasta sauce and broccoli (or any other delicate veggies, such as frozen peas, that don't need as much cooking time), stir everything together, and allow to simmer for an additional three minutes.
4. Serves two, or one sick and sweet boy.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Seven Ways to Host a Vegetarian-Friendly Cocktail Party

1. Focus on Cocktails: Cocktail parties are much easier to vegetarianize or veganize since the emphasis should be on the drinks and the finger-food, not on a main dish that must seemingly be meat-based. Perhaps you’ll decide to make wine the centerpiece of the event. Have a few bottles of white, a few bottles of red, and you’re done. If you’d like to make an actual cocktail, focus on making one or two rather than buying enough hard liquor bottles to stock your neighborhood watering hole. The point is to welcome and share time with loved ones, not to overwhelm yourself and your guests with choices. Make a pitcher of pomegranate margaritas or green apple martinis. Have some ice-cold beer on hand for those who want less sweetness in their life. An even cheaper and particularly festive cocktail option is making bellinis. Buy a few bottles of Asti Spumante or Prosecco at around 12 bucks a pop and a few cans of Goya apricot, peach, or mango nectar for less than a dollar each. Fill a champagne flute about a quarter way with nectar and top with the fizzy wine. No need to stand around pouring, shaking and stirring various liquors as you consult a mixing bible. A bonus is that everything always looks more delicious and bright when there are champagne flutes involved. Whatever the main cocktail will be, be sure to have some sparkling water and ginger ale spiked with grenadine or cranberry juice on hand for the teetotalers and for booze breaks. Also, not all alcohol is vegan. Stella Artois and Yellowtail wines apparently are. Check company web sites and the following resource on vegan liquor for more information.

2. Hello Hummus: Vegans are notorious for loving hummus. I never even really ate much hummus until I started dating Brian and I am now addicted to it to. Hummus is also one of those "naturally" vegan foods, meaning that meat-eaters don’t give much thought to whether or not it is vegetarian as they might with, say, tofu. They just know it tastes good. Hummus is a wonderfully nutty, creamy dip can be made in classic form-just tahini, chickpeas, and olive oil-or enhanced with red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, fresh garlic cloves, or kalamata olives. The possibilities are endless. Hummus complements cut up, raw vegetables, crackers, pita wedges, bagel chips, sliced and toasted baguette, anything you can dip. Mixing up a batch at home is not difficult but there are many quality brands you can pick up at your local market. I like Sabra, as it is the creamiest and most vibrant-tasting store-bought brand I’ve come across and is sprinkled with fresh parsley or paprika.

3. The Grapes of [Having a] Blast: I’d consider this option no matter what drink you choose to highlight, but a plentiful bunch of plump black grapes draped onto a simple white dish is a no-brainer choice for the wine party. Sumptuous on its own or with cheese, grapes signify abundance, sweetness, and a true party. Bacchus, often depicted as surrounded by grapes, was not the god of wine and getting down for nothing.

4. Cheese-One Word Says It All: Cheese is not vegan. Unfortunately, I cannot yet endorse an edible vegan cheese substitute, particularly ones that can be eaten without having to melt it and hide into other ingredients first. Certainly you can have a cocktail party without cheese and no one will notice but if you choose to include it along with myriad other plant-based options, I don’t see a problem. If you want a truly vegetarian cheese-meaning it is made with microbial rennet rather than with the stomach lining of baby cows-there are plenty that are easy to find. I just found a great one, Andes Panqueche Cheese with Chive for less than three dollars at Stop and Shop . Cabot, Organic Valley, Horizon, and kosher cheeses have varieties that do not contain animal rennet. Alouette, makers of herby cheese spread, do not use any enzymes so it’s entirely lacto-vegetarian, no cow tummies whatsoever.

5. Put the Vegetable Back into Vegetarian: Meat-eaters often think of tofu, veggie burgers, and oddly formed Tofurky when they envision a life without eating animal flesh. They forget that there are no vegetables that are off limits. There are hundreds and thousands of vegetable varieties that are all for the taking. They are delicious raw, steamed, grilled, roasted, stir-fried, or spiked with garlic, lemon juice, oil, and sea salt. For a cocktail party, stick to varieties that are naturally finger food-sized or can be easily cut and served raw, like crudite standards carrots, broccoli, grape tomatoes, and celery. But don’t discount other less obvious choices such as sliced radishes; sugar snap peas; olives brined in gin and stuffed with whole garlic cloves; glistening platters of ruby-red and savory peppadews; caramelized red onions; blanched asparagus turned in a small amount of balsamic vinegar and tamari; peppers roasted into sweet, charred blackness and seasoned with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and olive oil (you can buy them frozen and just reheat according to package directions if you don’t have the time or wherewithal to torch them yourself); fried green beans; even fried onion rings. The options are as infinite as your imagination or recipe library. The salty, savory notes of these dishes go great with alcohol. Besides, these are guaranteed to go so much faster than any half-hearted vegetarian cocktail sausage that just ain’t gonna cut muster with avowed meat-eaters (believe me, I tried and failed at tricking one with mock meat).

* This is me, pre-party, as Hostess Bear. Whenever I make this face, I turn into a bear, any kind of bear I choose. It's a really long story. It's also one of those Couple Things that only Brian and I find endlessly hilarious. My mother too. But that's the sorta story behind this picture.

6. Relax and Enjoy Your Guests: There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious in the kitchen but if you’re having people over to eat with the sole mission of impressing them, consider becoming a caterer. The whole point is to be with people you love and perhaps don’t get to see very often. If some dishes are eaten up more than others, don’t take it personally. Food left behind is a sign that people were thoroughly enjoying rather engorging themselves. And if anyone complains that there wasn’t enough or any meat or that the queso-less quesadillas taste bad without cheese, don’t give up throwing parties. Consider having a talk with or even getting rid of a “friend” who’d judge you and your hospitality so harshly.
7. Always Serve Dessert: Especially when dessert is a vegan chocolate ganache chocolate cake from Whole Foods that you surprise your Christmas baby girlfriend with. Other lovely cocktail party desserts: brownies or rice krispie treats cut into mini, bite-sized squares and stacked like a pyramid; cupcakes; dried fruit dipped in dark chocolate; roughly cut shards of bittersweet organic chocolate with almonds and dried blueberries; a big bowl of clementines alongside small plates and more than a few napkins; spritz cookies.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not Dead. Just Frozen.

It's officially winter. Out here in my part of the Northeast of the US of A, central New Jersey, yesterday we had what the weatherpeople like to call a wintry mix. I call it a multitude of collisions waiting to happen. On the highway I steamroll down on sunny days, I went a mere 25 MPH. People who drive 18-wheelers and SUVs are, quite frankly, morons. As one radio listener noted on NJ's own semi-conservative radio station--that I listen to for weather, traffic, and to keep up with how the other half lives--"I don't know where these people get their tires but their not invincible. Just dumb." I concur, my brother. But it doesn't matter because they are usually the ones who end up jackknifed on an exit ramp or wrapped around a tree.

Anyways, the delight of my morning today wasn't my cup of lemon tea or my lovely commute through ice and traffic. It was the half-sandwich I ate and I can't get enough of it. It's been my obsession of the week. I go through these phases where everything I eat for a week or two is centered around one ingredient.

A few weeks ago it was ricotta cheese cooked a la Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe--stir-frying it in some olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and some dried Italian seasoning, like a creamier, more delicate scrambled egg.

This week it's been sun dried tomatoes packed in garlicky, herby, red-hued olive oil. Before my last cookbook writing class on Monday, I stopped into Whole Foods' Fresh and Wild and got the Grilled Salmon Omega Salad: grilled salmon, dried cranberries, walnuts, avocado, sun dried tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigerette over a bed of greens. Much more delicious (and cheaper!) than the so greasy they were slimy sugar snap peas and rubbery tofu I kept eating from the $8.99 a pound buffet before. That started my sun dried fixation.

I've been eating sun dried tomatoes at home mostly as a sandwich filling to tide me over before workouts or before bed when I'm feeling the stirs of hunger but have already had dinner. This morning, it was my pre-breakfast breakfast (I usually have either two breakfasts or two dinners with a few snacks throughout the day because I'm hungry pretty much every two hours. And this is one of reasons I have to workout). You should have it for breakfast, lunch, a snack, or light supper too. It's delicious anytime. The well-seasoned and pleasantly chewy sun dried tomatoes pack a surprisingly meaty flavor and texture that will please meateaters and veggies alike. The recipe below could be replicated on several slices of baguette or on one large focaccia loaf and serve as a very nice appetizer for a few folks. This is how I make it for me.

Sun Dried Tomato and Avocado Toast
2 slices of whole-grain bread
1 ounce (basically one chunk, about the size of two dominoes) of Monterey Jack cheese or 1 tablespoon of garlic herb Alouette spread, optional
1/4 to 1/2 of Haas avocado
3 slivers of sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (you can use completely dry ones if you're watching your fat intake but I'm not going to lie and say it will taste as luscious)

1) Toast bread. If using Monterey Jack cheese, add to bread before toasting so it can melt. If using Alouette, add after bread has toasted. If omitting cheese, just toast the bread.
2) Add avocado and tomatoes to one slice of toast. Top with other slice and smoosh down to break up and spread the avocado. Eat.

Serves one, happily.