Eat, Memory

Friends and fellow bookworms, I'm off my rocker. I'm off my rocker and into a cushy upholstered chair, because it's the only place I can get comfy enough to bury my nose in a book but not so comfy that I drift off into dreamland after just a few pages. I've had a lot of reading to do this month, and I can't wait to share it all with you.

You see, I joined two food-centric online book clubs last month. Let's face it, food IS my favorite subject to read AND write about after all. And isn't that why you're here too? I'll have another review for you soon enough, but today I'd like to tell you about one of the titles I've had my nose in. It's this month's selection for The Kitchen Reader book club: Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table, a Collection of Essays from the New York Times, edited by Amanda Hesser.

Typically, I'm the gal who swims against the stream and thinks essay collections like this are overrated, boring, and redundant. However, Hesser's got a good eye--and perhaps a great stomach to go with it. During her tenure as food editor of The New York Times, she took on the challenge of breaking the boring old habit of sentimental, sad-bastard food writing with a column entitled--you guessed it--"Eat, Memory." She looked past the sea of tired old essays about mom's apple pie and grandma's strudel and latched on to the pieces that were really about something-- the connection between food and love, loneliness, desperation, and a range of other very real, powerful emotions.

The book contains 26 of such essays, Hesser's cream of the crop. Topics range from mysterious almond-flavored carrots to a bickering match in a Paris restaurant to a forbidden childhood love affair with Tang. I'm not going to tell you about my favorite essays or the ones I didn't care for, because I want you to go pick up the book yourself and read for yourself. And then I want you to give the book as a gift. That's certainly one of this book's strongest attributes: it's got something for everyone's appetite.


How to fake gourmet cooking when you're busy as hell

I had a conversation with a good friend of mine the other day that made me realize I'm missing my mark here on Verdant Eats. What I mean is, my friend - who considers himself a foodie and rather handy in the kitchen - couldn't fathom cooking the way I do. It's too complicated, too time consuming, too out-there, too difficult. I was startled by his feedback, because I don't feel that way at all. If only you all could be in the kitchen with me, I'd show you...

So, after his words rattled around in my head for a few days, I decided on a new plan of action. I'm going to reveal some super secret foodie wisdom to you all, and you have to promise to share it with as many people as possible. Or I'll have to send someone to breaka' your kneecaps.

Keep in mind that you're not seeing all of my meals, 3 times a day, 7 days a week. I've had plenty of dinners composed of olives and almonds and French bread, and spaghetti for breakfast. That's not important. There have also been a few dinners that were such a big flop that I dare not even begin to admit to you what they were. That is also not important. What is important are the successes, of which I try to share with you in totality. Looking back, I realize that I'm still leaving out a lot.

Most of my meals - dinners in particular - are not cooked from a recipe. I'm not a chef, I'm a cook. I'm a food whisperer. I throw things in a pan and it all just comes together and I realize that's a skill that not everyone possesses. But, there are a LOT of tips and tricks that I can tell you about to help make your kitchen dreams come true - or at least help you reduce your dinnertime stress. These'll be my Food Rules and you can follow as many or as few of them as you like.

1. Use fresh ingredients whenever possible. Fresh, ripe tomatoes will take any dish over the top, as will most other veggies in season. For a guide on what's in season in your state, check here or - my better suggestion - shop your local farmer's market if you can. They're starting around the country now, so make friends with your local farmer and get first dibs on the finest produce around. No time to shop? Lots of farms - even small ones - have CSA (community-supported agriculture) programs that allow you to purchase a box of organic produce for a reasonable price AND have it delivered to your doorstep.

2. If fresh produce isn't available, use citrus and fresh herbs. Citrus includes lemon, lime, and oranges - and don't forget all the different varieties of oranges out there, because they all have different flavors. I can't think of a single type of cuisine that can't benefit from some citrus at one point or another. Most major supermarkets sell fresh herbs in small quantities and - although they might be a tad expensive - they do a lot of work in the department of adding flavor and interest to your dishes without adding calories or fat. If you're so inclined, consider growing a few of your favorite herbs indoors on a kitchen sill or in one of these grow kits.

3. Keep "old faithfuls" in the deep freeze. My freezer is stocked with frozen edamame, cut spinach, cut bell peppers and even dried mushrooms. I use these to supplement fresh ingredients in almost every dish I make. Because I do a little stocking up from time to time, I can get better deals (like those 10/$10 sales that don't apply to single items) and I know I always have certain things around if/when I need them. (Frozen veggies, defrosted and lightly salted, also make excellent work-ready snacks.) Just get the plain veggies or veg mixes - avoid the stuff with the sauces and seasonings. It's also getting easier to find frozen chopped herbs in the freezer section as well, from companies like Sabra and Dorot, for cilantro, basil and even garlic (although, I'll freely admit to using the jarred crushed garlic from Trader Joe's).

4. Cheat on your veggie broth. Unless it's late summer and I've had an enormous amount of veggie scraps to use in homemade vegetable broth, I don't typically keep cartons of the stuff on hand. It's pricey and takes up valuable fridge real estate. So, I use Better than Boullion which is a concentrate paste/goo that tastes divine. Mixing 1 tsp of the concentrate with 1 cup of hot water gives you 1 cup of veg broth - but I sometimes add the concentrate straight to soups and sauces just for the flavor. Plus, one jar costs $5-6 and is equivalent to 9 1/2 quarts of vegetable broth. Can't beat that with a stick.

5. Stir fry is your friend. No matter what's in your fridge - fresh veg, leftover lentils, scraps of lettuce, rice or other random things - chances are, you can throw it all together with a little soy sauce and garlic and call it supper. If you really wanna kick it up a notch, add some curry paste and coconut milk and go all out. Pair with rice, quinoa, pasta, naan or flatbread of your choice and you're all set. And chances are, you'll have leftovers for lunch the next day.

No matter how little time or energy you have to prepare your meals, these tips will help you stretch it into forever. Another tip that is just as great but just doesn't quite make my Top 5 is using your free time to its utmost. Got a spare hour on Sunday afternoon, maybe while the laundry is going? Make up a batch of my vegan pizza dough (or two), divide and freeze it to become pizza one night and naan for another, or even cinnamon rolls on Saturday morning. Doing a little extra prep work when you have the time can make those super busy weeknights an easy-peasy breeze. And you don't have to take it from me - try it yourself. If you still can't make it work, get in touch with me and I'll be happy to give you even more free advice. Whatever it takes to get more good eats on your table, I'm there.


Foodista + Moleskine Recipe Contest

As a writer and fervent note-taker and list-maker, I <3 Moleskine like nobody's business. And it just so happens that Foodista, Seattle-based food blog extraordinaire (although not 100% vegan) is one of my hands-down faves. I'm super thrilled to learn that the two have joined forces to present the Passed Down Recipes Contest, running through March 31.

Why, you say, that's only 3 days away! Well, March has been a busy month and I'll readily admit to falling behind a bit on my Google Reader duties. This morning, I was finally able to catch myself up to speed on all my favorite blogs, so I'm just learning about the contest myself. Trust me, folks, I would have shared it sooner if I'd known about it!

The skinny is this: Become a (free) registered user of (totally worth it) and enter your favorite family recipe in the contest for a chance to win a a suite of Moleskine products, including their snazzy new recipe journal that I want so badly I can almost taste. Yum.

So, dust off those family recipe cards and binders and get to work, folks!


Best Breaky Evar: Polenta & Veg in Garlic Cream Sauce

I love polenta and I love breakfast-for-dinner. This week, the two were an obvious combination. I tackled a motley crew of veggies from the fridge and invited them to the party. This is the kind of dish intended to use up the lonely random veg hiding in your crisper, and it doesn't matter what combination you use. Success is guaranteed.

Polenta & Veg in Garlic Cream Sauce
Yield: 2-3 servings

2/3 cup quick cooking polenta
2 cups water
4 cups assorted fresh veg (I used red onion, broccoli, yellow pepper, mushrooms and sweet corn kernels)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup veg broth, divided
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
fresh ground black pepper
1 recipe garlic cream sauce (below)

Garlic Cream Sauce
(You might recognize the basic sauce from this recipe)

1 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter sticks
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plain unsweetened almond or other non-dairy milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated garlic

For the polenta:
In a medium saucepan, boil 2 cups water. Reduce heat to low and add polenta, stirring to thoroughly soak. Continue to stir for several minutes over low heat until polenta begins to thicken. When it's about half as thick as you want it to be, remove it from the heat, cover the saucepan, and set it aside.

For the veg:
In a nonstick or cast iron skillet, heat lemon juice and 1/4 cup veg broth over medium heat. Add all the veg at once and cover. Allow to cook several minutes while you make the garlic cream sauce (see below).

After your cream sauce is complete, it's all about finishing up that veg. Stir with a wooden spoon and scrape any browned bits off the bottom of your skillet. (Yum!) Add 1/2 cup veg broth, basil and oregano. Stir to coat the veg and continue to cook uncovered until the liquid is almost gone. Add the final 1/4 cup veg broth and reduce heat to medium-low. Add pepper to taste.

For the garlic cream sauce:
In a small saucepan, melt margarine. Sprinkle in flour and stir with a whisk to combine. Cook over low heat until the mixture begins to pick up some color. Add all of the milk, salt, and garlic. Stir to combine and increase heat to medium. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken. Once it has reached the consistency you like, remove it from the heat and set aside.

To finish:
This meal can be served in a bowl or on a plate, depending on your preference. Whatever your vessel, spoon the polenta on the bottom, top with veg and spoon the garlic cream sauce over the lot. If you like a lot of sauce, you may want to double the cream sauce recipe.


Starboard Batch 88 - Dessert wine with a chocolate kick

Here on Verdant Eats, you haven't seen a wine review before, so you might not know how much I like love simply adore wine. Recently, the extremely kind folks at Quady Winery, based in Madera, California, offered to let me sample some of their wines (which, by the way, are 100% vegan in their ingredients and their processing). How on earth was a mere mortal such as myself expected to resist their delicious, grapey advances? I said yes.

This is the first of Quady's offerings I tried, and I was sold from the first sip. What follows below is my completely subjective review of my first experience with this port-style wine, Starboard Batch 88.

Starboard - Batch 88 from Quady Winery

Batch 88 is a port-style wine with as much personality as its makers possess. Why is it called Starboard? The promo materials explain:

"Because it is not port. Genuine port comes from a place in Portugal, the Douro River Valley. Starboard, the nautical term for right, (as opposed to port - left) is unique to our place."

Origin: Madera, California, USA

Date enjoyed: 3/19/10

Price: $20-24 (750ML)

Alc: 20% by vol

Paired with: Dark Chocolate (71%)

Initial reaction: Angels have intervened and mixed dark chocolate in liquid form with phenomenal red wine flavors, and then someone came along and turned up the volume. This port-style wine is a dessert by itself. Paired with a dark chocolate -- such as Organic Very Dark Chocolate Bar (71%) or Organic Panama Extra Dark from Equal Exchange -- it's so good, it's almost too much. Almost.

Further: This wine is not for sissies or for lightweights. At 20% alcohol by volume, you'd better check yourself before you wreck yourself. Just one small glass of this port-style wine is a satisfying end to a beautiful meal -- or will absolutely save your rear end if dinner was a flop. It's rich without being overwhelming, sweet without being syrupy, and intense without being heavy. Pairing this sipper with a few bites of chocolate enhances its smooth, silkiness and highlights the delicious hints of raisin hiding in the complex flavor.

Might also work well with: Fresh, sweet fruit such as strawberries or possibly some melon.

More: Quady Winery uses a neutral grape spirit of 190 proof instead of 140 proof fortifying brandy, and 60 gallon barrels instead of 140 gallon pipes used in Portugal. In Batch 88, several different vintages (with an average age of 5 years) are blended to create its "Vintage Character."

Buy again?: As soon as possible!

For more information on this and other wines from Quady Winery or to get your mitts on a bottle of Batch 88, visit their website.


Meatless Monday: Vegan Teriyaki Sauce

Last Friday, I put out the call to all my tweeps and #vegan Twitterati, requesting ideas for unusual pizza toppings. You see, Lee and I have really been enjoying our weekly homemade pizza nights on Fridays, but we've been getting a little stale (heh, get it?) in the topping department. So, earlier last week, we decided to get adventurous and come up with a new and interesting pizza each week. The only problem? Our creative juices just weren't flowing in the pizza department. Luckily, the good folks on Twitter came back with some great suggestions, including jalapeño peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and tacos. What?

I considered all those options and was just about to start tearing apart our pantry in search of inspiration when Lee let me know that he was headed home and that he wanted to make his teriyaki pizza dreams come true. He'd mentioned it in passing earlier, and we'd both tabled the idea to search for more exotic options.

In the end, the omnivore won. For my pizza, I decided to go with something of a classic combination of tofu, broccoli florets and thinly sliced red onion on my homemade vegan pizza crust. I highly recommend this approach.

The only thing left was the sauce. Since we're not "teriyaki people" in general (and the last thing we need is another bottle of super salty commercially-made sauce in our fridge), I found myself learning to make teriyaki sauce from scratch in a big fat hurry. My friend Katie chimed in with her recipe (she's always been a smarty pants) and adapted her ingredient list along with an amalgam of 10 or so other teriyaki recipes. Without having a whole lot of confidence in the result, I went to town. By the time Lee got home, the pizza dough was done rising and the sauce was thickening into a delicious, rich, complex sauce that I thought was  "pretty darn good." So, I decided to share it with you guys.

Vegan Teriyaki Sauce
Yield: About 1 cup

1/2 cup cold water
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
Juice of one large orange (1/4-1/2 cup)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup mirin
1 tsp crushed garlic (2-3 cloves)
1-inch piece of fresh gingerroot, skinned and grated

In a measuring cup, whisk cornstarch into cold water and set aside. Combine all other ingredients in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved completely. Pour in the cornstarch mixture and whisk to combine. Bring mixture to a simmer, whisking regularly, for 4-5 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat and allow to cool and continue to thicken. The sauce can be used immediately, or refrigerated in a squeeze bottle for up to 1 week.

To use as pizza sauce:

Use 1 Tbsp prepared sauce per 10-inch round pizza (or more to taste). The sauce can be used as a marinade as well, but since we were short on time, I just dredged my tofu pieces in sauce before putting them on the pizza and then drizzled a little extra sauce over the top of my broccoli and onions as well, to ensure full teriyaki flavor coverage. Nom!


Tom Kha Tempeh

The other night, as I contemplated what to make for dinner, I decided to clean out the fridge a bit and see what I could come up with. Combining seemingly random leftovers into a cohesive meal is a bit of a challenge, but the results are always at least edible. This time, I really outdid myself and managed to throw together a "must-go" meal that will quickly become a "go-to" favorite for us.

We had some leftover coconut milk from my French toast adventure, and some tempeh, carrots and celery, and basmati rice. Quickly enough, the ingredients spoke to me: Tom Kha! Tom Kha is a Thai dish that usually features chicken (Tom Kha Gai) in addition to coconut milk, galangal root and lemongrass. It's a creamy, slightly sour soup but the galangal root gives the dish its signature flavor. In its absence, I've found that a combination of ginger and Bragg's liquid aminos mimic the flavor pretty nicely.

Tom Kha Tempeh
Yield: 1 large serving or two side dishes

4 oz tempeh, sliced length wise into thin squares or triangles
1 stalk celery, sliced thinly
1-2 medium carrots, sliced thinly
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 inch piece of ginger, skinned and minced
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 Tbsp Bragg's Liquid Aminos
2 tsp Sriracha or other hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a stock pot over medium heat. Cook til veggies are tender, about 10 minutes, and reduce heat. Taste and adjust soy sauce, lime juice and hot sauce to taste. Serve with a small mountain of basmati rice.


Butternut French Toast, vegan style!

We've been really digging our breakfast foods around the old homestead lately. Wednesday nights have been officially declared "Brinner" (Breakfast for Dinner) nights for some time now, and we're getting gung-ho about brunch foods on the weekend as well. This weekend, we finally made a dish that we've both been lusting after for some time: French toast.

This is not your typical maple-syrup-and-non-dairy-milk type of vegan French toast, though. This is my new, patented, hands-down favorite French toast dish of all time (as of Sunday).

The inspiration came when flipping through Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I adapted her recipe for Pumpkin French Toast to use roasted butternut squash. I had the butternut on hand in the freezer, but I also chose it for the flavor. Butternut squash, when roasted, is sweeter and milder than pumpkin, so I knew this dish was going to be a winner.


Butternut French Toast
Yield: 4 slices

1/2 cup mashed roasted butternut squash
1/2 cup coconut milk (plain soy milk can be substituted)
1/4 cup plain soy milk
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
4 1-inch slices of day old bread (I used multi-grain French bread)
Oil for pan

Mix all ingredients (except bread and oil) in a wide, shallow bowl. Dredge bread in liquid, turning to coat both sides. Allow to soak for 5-10 minutes on each side, depending on how stale your bread is.

Heat a nonstick frying pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat and spray or drizzle lightly with oil. Transfer soaked bread to your frying pan and cook 5-7 minutes, turn, and continue cooking another 3-4 minutes. Your bread should be medium-brown and slightly stiff at the corners.

Remove from heat, garnish with nondairy cream cheese and frozen cranberries. Nom!


Sweet Spring Salad with Pears, Mâche and Balsamic Reduction

Pears have a reputation as a fall fruit and it's true. They were destined to be paired with cranberries in hearty fall and winter tarts and treats, or with ginger in preserves, or poached in wine to end a chilly evening. What people might not realize, though, is that some varieties of pears enjoy their heyday in the spring time as well, like green and red anjou pears and bosc pears. Colonists brought pears to Oregon and Washington in the 1800s and they've been thriving ever since. This year will be no different.

[caption id="attachment_496" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Courtesy MultiVu"][/caption]

One of my favorite uses for spring pears is in salads. My favorite combination features sweet green d'anjou pears, soft and subtle greens, candied walnuts and rich balsamic glaze. This salad is a great addition to your brunch time antics, but also makes a great meal when pan-fried tofu cubes are added. Butter leaf lettuce, Bibb lettuce, and escarole are all good options for your salad greens, but today I'd like to introduce you to another green you might not have tried yet: mâche.

Mâche is also known as "lamb's lettuce" because it's in season in the spring, just like the lambs who like to chew on it. Oh yeah, and mâche is big in France. It's in the valerian family and it's said to have some of the same relaxing, stress-busting benefits of its herby cousins. Raw or cooked, it's a mild and softly flavored green without any typical offensive bitterness. Now's the time to catch it sprouting up in your local market--or think about growing some yourself. If you're shopping for it, you might also see it labeled "corn salad" or "field salad." Come the warmth of summer, mâche's all gone.

Epic Roots is a great source for mâche. They grow it right here on the left coast, down in California. Although their farms are not organic, the company is focused on sustainability and I think that makes it a-ok. Here in the Pacific Northwest, both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods carry their products. For today's recipe, I've veganized a recipe that Epic Roots is featuring on their packaging in March and April.

Pear Salad with Mâche Greens and Balsamic Glaze
Yield: 2 side servings or 1 dinner serving

1 green d'anjou pear, ripe but firm (cored and sliced thinly)
4 oz mâche (Epic Roots offers rosettes or a mix)
1/2 cup chopped fennel bulb and fronds

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp finely chopped shallot
3/4 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
Sea aalt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 cup candied walnuts (The Trader Joe's variety are vegan!)
2 Tbsp balsamic reduction (About half of the recipe below)

Toss salad ingredients in a bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together vinaigrette ingredients. Pour vinaigrette over salad and toss. Sprinkle with candied walnuts and drizzle with balsamic glaze to garnish.

To make balsamic reduction:

Heat 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, reducing by half until the vinegar is syrupy. Take care not to overcook it, and check for consistency periodically by drizzling some on a plate. When it's thick and syrupy and tastes sweet and tango, you've crossed the finish line!

To make a meal out of it:

In a medium nonstick saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Cut 1/2 lb extra firm tofu into 1-inch cubes. Fry in oil, turning frequently, until tofu is lightly browned on all sides. Remove from saucepan and sprinkle with a pinch of salt before placing on top of your assembled salad.


Meatless Monday #16: Tofu Leek Tart

Who says tofu can't be rich and savory and delicious all at the same time? (That's a rhetorical question, folks.) This tart takes a little bit of time to prepare but it's not difficult and the result is dense, rich and omigod creamy. Lee, my Meatless Monday carnivore is celebrating his 16-week-Meatless-Monday-versary, so he wanted to make this Tofu Leek Tart with Mushroom Topping all by himself. (Ok, so I chopped veggies.) It just so happens to include two of our absolute favorite things, too: leeks and mushrooms.

Although this recipe makes a 9-inch round tart, we also think it would make great mini tarts by using a muffin tin (or even my favorite mini muffin tin) to create appetizer-sized portions with very little extra work!

Tofu Leek Tart with Mushroom Topping
Adapted from The Voluptuous Vegan

1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup plain soy milk
Pinch salt

1 Tbsp olive oil
1-lb mushrooms, sliced thinly (we used crimini)
2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce

4 Tbsp olive oil
3 leeks (white parts only), chopped
1-lb firm tofu, pressed
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tsp red miso
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp arrowroot powder
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped

Make the crust:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a food processor, combine walnuts with a few tablespoons of the flour until finely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl, add the remaining flour and baking powder and whisk to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk oil, soy milk and a pinch of salt. Add the wet mixture to the flour-nut mixture, stirring until completely moistened.

Press the crust into an oiled 9-inch tart pan. Bake empty shell for 5 minutes, then remove from oven and set aside. (Don't turn off the oven yet!)

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