Saturday, April 3, 2010

My first veggie burger...

Had my first veggie burger last night at Tyler's, and I have to say, as a "burger substitute", it was awful. But, as a "patty comprised of beans and other stuff", it was pretty ok. I was trying to stay away from stuff like this, but I'd already had a salad earlier in the day, and I figured that if I didn't try a veggie burger at least once, then I really wasn't getting the vegan experience. I shall speak of it no more.

Before I went out last night, I made dinner for the girls, and while I was cooking that, I made a snack for myself. When we were cruising the grocery for dinner ideas, I saw that avocados were on sale, 2 for $3. So, I picked up an avocado, some little heirloom tomatoes, some cilantro, a lime, and a serrano pepper, thinking I'd make a kind of guacamole-ish tomato salad.
I ended up chopping the avocado into chunks, and tossed it with the chopped tomatoes, some lime juice, some olive oil, and the cilantro. Some coarse kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, and it was done. I was careful not to mash the avocado, since I really didn't want a pure guacamole, and I had to use lime juice to keep the avocado from going brown. I think it was pretty tasty, and it was a nice snack to tide me over until Tyler's. If I could've brought some to put on my veggie burger, it would've been pretty darn good.

I also saw "Hot Tub Time Machine" last night. It was funny, but it didn't really live up to my expectations. I was thinking it would be laugh out loud funny (and there were some parts where I did laugh loudly), but overall it was "good", not "great". (Although there were a lot of cameos, where I thought "man, whatever happened to _that guy_?" "Bad Guy from The Karate Kid", I'm thinking of you).
The soundtrack was pretty good, though, and any time you can hear one of "the Greatest Bands of All Time" in a movie, it's getting at least a couple points:

(this is just the audio)

An aside:
In the pantheon of "bands that changed my life", the biggest has got to be these guys. There was a time when I spent way too much effort tracking down and buying every single 'Mats album (including "The Shit Hits the Fans" bootleg).
They were the first band that I listened to in high school that really sounded like they were talking right to me. In much the same way that I will always be a Rolling Stones guy over the Beatles, I will always be a 'Mats guy over REM. The Replacements always seemed like a "high school" band, while REM was always more of a college band, with abstract arty lyrics about "feeling gravity's pull" and stuff (although, I do think REM's a great band, those early albums are terrific), while the 'Mats talked about being a misunderstood teen, the difficulties of growing up, drinking too much, and had jokey songs like "Gary's got a boner" and "Lovelines" (with the lyrics straight from the Minneapolis personals, and containing gems like "slightly overweight girls need sex also, similarly noted desires: means of contact po box 891, baby, you've been alone"), along with serious songs like "Sixteen Blue", or "Kiss Me on the Bus".

They never got played on MTV, probably because they made videos like the one here, which were a middle finger to the whole thing.

I was lucky enough to meet Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson when they played in Richmond in 1988/89, and ended up going to a bar with them and a couple of other people. They were very cool, and I remember I got Paul's autograph in the back of my copy of Goldfinger. This also makes my "Axl Rose" number 1, since I've met Tommy, and he plays bass in the "new" Guns and Roses. This signifies absolutely nothing, but I figured I'd mention it. It also gives me a "Bacon" number of 3, since Paul Westerberg did the soundtrack for "Singles", Kyra Sedgwick was in that movie, and she's married to Kevin Bacon.

For me, it's still a quick "cool check" on someone. If they've heard of the 'Mats and like them, then I have a pretty good feeling that I'll like the person. (and the reverse is true, as well. If they're really big into a band that I hate, then it's a giant red flag).
It extends musically, as well. One of the reasons I gave Justin Townes Earle a listen was because of his cover of "Can't Hardly Wait":

Anyway, the point is, if you've never given the Replacements a listen, you should. They're one of the best bands ever, and it always made me mad that they never made it big.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Half-way home....

Dinner last night was a noodle salad with tofu, red pepper, and snow peas, dressed with a peanut sauce. I also had some roasted cauliflower with cilantro dressing.
Both were really good, and were what I had in mind when I thought of avoiding "fake meat". I wish I'd given this whole thing more thought before I dove in, because I feel like every evening I've been scrambling to come up with something meatless to make. If I were carnivorous, it'd be easy to just slap a piece of meat on the grill and do some veggie sides, but without that fallback, it's tough. I guess the flip-side of that is that it forces you to be more creative with your meal planning.

Anyway, the kids were eating dinner with their mom, so it gave me a quiet evening by myself to cook solo and listen to music, dork around on the guitar some, and basically relax.

I need to get some new music, though. I bought the Hold Steady's Separation Sunday the other day, and I think I've listened to this song:

about 8 millions times already. But it's a great song, and if you've never checked out the Hold Steady, you really should. I saw them last fall on a double bill with the Drive-By Truckers and they both absolutely killed.

Both have new albums either out (DBT) or coming out soon (Hold Steady). Unfortunately, neither will be at Bonnaroo, but then again, the Gossip will (and they apparently are great live), so I guess things even out in the end.

The recipes:
The peanut sauce came from an excellent blog I read called "Thursday Night Smackdown", and the cauliflower came from the equally good Serious Eats blog).

Cold noodles with peanut sauce:
1 red bell pepper
1 cup snow pea pods
4 oz extra firm tofu
soba noodles or "good" ramen noodles (1/2 lb?) (not Top Ramen!)
peanut sauce (recipe follows)

Blanch snow peas in boiling salty water for 1 minute, and then shock in ice water. Drain and set aside.
Cut off top and bottom of red pepper, remove seeds and membranes, and cut into julienne strips.
Cut tofu into strips.
Boil noodles according to package directions, and drain and rinse with cold water.
Put in large bowl, add half of the pepper, snow peas, and tofu, and add peanut sauce to taste. Toss to combine, and use remaining pepper, peas and tofu on top.

Peanut Sauce
(from Thursday Night Smackdown)
Spicy Peanut Sauce
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. soy sauce
3 tbsp. mirin
1 14oz. can coconut milk
2 tbsp. chili-garlic paste
4 tbsp. sweet chili sauce
1-3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1/2 c. peanut butter (not the all-natural kind)
2-4 tbsp. sugar
salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a saucepot over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and let sweat for 5-6 minutes.

Add the soy and mirin and let them reduce to a syrupy consistency. Stir in the coconut milk, chili-garlic paste, sweet chili sauce and sugar and whisk together.

Once it comes to a simmer, whisk in the peanut butter until smooth. Taste, and add rice wine vinegar to taste; you want to add brightness without turning the sauce overly acidic. Add sugar to taste; you want some sweetness but you don’t want the sauce to become unbalanced. Salt to taste.

Let simmer for a few minutes and adjust any flavor if necessary – soy or salt if it needs salt, vinegar if it needs brightening, chili-garlic paste if you want heat, and sugar for sweetness. Use on noodles, as a dipping sauce or for whatever the hell else needs some spicy peanut.

Chili-roasted Cauliflower (from Serious Eat's 'Crisper Whisperer'):
Chili-Roasted Cauliflower with Cilantro Dressing

- serves 4 -

1 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 small bunch cilantro (leaves and delicate stems), roughly chopped
2 small cloves garlic. roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 425°F with a rack in the center. Wash and thoroughly dry the cauliflower and cut into large florets.

2. In a small bowl, combine the two tablespoons olive oil, chili powder, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Place the cauliflower florets on a baking sheet and toss well with the oil mixture. Roast for 25 minutes, turning once with a spatula mid-roasting.

3. While the cauliflower roasts, combine the extra-virgin olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, cilantro, garlic, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender. Blend until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as necessary.

4. Drizzle the roasted cauliflower with the dressing and serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kathleen Edwards is awesome

That is all.

Day 3, or now I know why vegans are so skinny....

I've made it to day 3.

I've been having a blue period lately, so after lunch at Udupi yesterday, I ran 6 miles in Umstead on the trails, which helped quite a bit. There's something about charging up and down hills pockmarked with roots and rocks and holes that focuses you, and helps you forget your troubles for a bit.

When I got back to work, I was little high from endorphins, so I really didn't plan a meal for dinner. After a busy evening of gymnastics, the library (where the girls got books on tape and I picked up the "Ad Hoc at Home" cookbook, which is probably not the best thing to be looking at right now, but it was an impulse grab), tubs, and a quick game of "Trouble" (where Bridget got mad about losing to me, and threw each playing piece, one-by-one, across the room. I don't know where she gets that from...), I still had to feed myself.

I scrounged around in the fridge for a bit, and came up with a salad of silken tofu, grape tomatoes, torn lettuce, cilantro, and pickled mushrooms, dressed with a little olive oil, a bit of rice vinegar, and a sprinkle of coarse kosher salt.
I've always liked simple salads like this, and it really hit the spot (enough that when I finished it, I immediately made the same thing again, minus the lettuce, and ate a second helping).

It's getting a little easier to avoid the meat/animal products, I think, and I feel pretty good but a little weird, like I'm really on edge or something. I don't think it's the food, though.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Udupi, Idupi, Wealldupi...

It's day 2 of the 'vegan challenge', and I'm already feeling the strain.
My breakfast today was some fruit (cantaloupe and an orange), and when I reached into the fridge to put my leftover cantaloupe in, I admit that the eggs in my fridge were very tempting.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I think that's the toughest part for me. It's not the "no meat", that's surprisingly easy. It's the "no animal products".

But there's one place where it's easy to get a vegan/vegetarian meal, and that's Udupi Cafe. We went there for lunch today, and it was great. The food was good (even though I have no idea what most of what I ate was), and I didn't have to deny myself anything. I think if I were a permanent vegan, I'd be eating there an awful lot.

Does my company hate me?

So I decide to be meat-free for a week, and the last two days, the cafe has served buffalo wings (yesterday) and steak today.

What's for tomorrow? A lamb? Barbecue? Sheesh.

Monday, March 29, 2010

And dinner...

I'm a little drained from my first meat-free day, so this is pretty bare bones.
I started thinking, what can I make?, and scribbled these ideas:

Out of all that, I came up with:

and enjoyed a nice bowl of:

If you want to do the same, email me for the recipe (it's late, and there's only like 5 people who read my blog anyway).

Using your noodle...

Ok, that title stinks.
But, that's what I'm doing for lunch today. I love noodles anyway, so this is another "ease into things" meal.
I'm a big fan of ramen (who isn't? I mean, come on, it's 17cents a pack), especially the "good" ramen where you make your own broth, and add stuff like nori, pork belly, onions, etc.
When I do noodles at work, I usually take some miso, add hot water to make a miso broth, drop about half a pack of ramen into it, cover the bowl, and let it set until the noodles are done. Then I add whatever stuff I bring from home (like hard-boiled egss, pork belly, cubed tofu, chopped scallions, what-have-you) or get from the cafe here at work. Since pork belly is obviously out (but is really good in ramen), I made some pickled shiitake mushrooms last night to provide some umami flavor (got the recipe out of the Momofuku cookbook) and brought those in (along with some cilantro), and to round things out, I just hit the salad bar here to pick up some spinach and tofu.

The worst part of this lunch is that they were serving buffalo chicken wings at the cafe right next to the salad bar, and I admit, I looked upon them with lust in my heart. But I was strong, and resisted the temptation. But man, I do love some chicken wings...

Lunch should be pretty easy this week, if a little boring, since I could get by on a salad every day for lunch. I don't care for creamy dressings too much anyway (my go-to salad dressing at work is oil+vinegar+dijon mustard, which is safe), and dressing seems like the only thing that could screw me up (that, and I'd need to avoid cheese).

The usual "eat-out" lunch places are tough, though, since the rotation is usually Super Wok (hole-in-the-wall Chinese), Little Tokyo (sushi), and Bosphorus, and none of these are particularly vegan friendly. (One of my lunch buddies said "just get the greek salad at Bosphorus", and I was like, "nope, feta's out". That's ok, though. I don't like feta). I'm going to make a push for Indian next time we go out, since that's supposed to be a safe haven.

I did want to mention the pickles again, though. I'm thinking that various pickled/preserved vegetables are going to be a good way to add the flavor that gets lost by not using cream/butter/stock/etc, so I expect to be making more pickles through the week.

Here are the pickled mushrooms I mentioned earlier (from Momofuku cookbook):
2 cups dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup usukuchi soy sauce
1 3inch knob ginger, peeled

Put mushrooms in a bowl, and cover with boiling water. Let soak for 15-30 minutes.
Remove mushrooms, and strain soaking liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove any grit, and reserve 1 cup soaking liquid.
Remove stems from mushrooms, and slice into 1/8inch slices.
Combine sugar, soaking liquid, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger and mushrooms in a sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and gently simmer for 30 minutes. Allow to cool, discard ginger, and then pack mushrooms in a pint container (I used one of the big olive containers from the olive bar at Harris Teeter), and cover with the pickling liquid.

And so it begins...

Had my first vegan breakfast today, which wasn't that much different from my normal breakfast. (An aside: I'm not a big breakfast guy, at least as far as eating it regularly. Don't get me wrong, I really like breakfast food, and in my younger days, was always up for a late-night Waffle House hit (scattered, smothered, and covered, thank you), but most mornings, I'm not motivated enough to do more than 3 cups of coffee, and maybe a banana or something. Maybe that's why I'm a little sick feeling by lunch time, but I digress)

Anyway, I figured I'd ease into the whole experience with something simple, which for me meant "smoothie". I admit, it's a little weak, and not really blog-worthy, but it's better than "I had an orange". I think I've given a smoothie recipe before, but if I haven't, here's today's version:

Mixed Berry/Banana Smoothie:
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1/4-1/3 c silken tofu
1/2-1c frozen mixed berries
1 banana

Combine in a blender, blend until smooth. Drink.

My usual smoothie is milk and yogurt (and a little honey to take the edge off the yogurt), so soy milk was a natural to replace the milk, and I figured silken tofu would be a good thickener. Since vanilla soy milk is sweet anyway, and there's no yogurt tang from the silken tofu, I skipped the honey. (and I guess honey is technically an animal product, so that should be verboten). I'll have to check the nutrition label for soy milk, I'm curious as to how much sugar is in it. I know that when I took a food class in college, the professor was talking about low-fat food (which was the fad at the time), and how "low fat" != "low calorie", since a lot of times, replacing fat meant jacking up the sugar content to get the same mouth feel. I wonder if makers of soy milk employ a similar trick to make it taste better.

So far, no real challenges (even though it's just been one meal). I did have to remind myself as I made the kids' sandwiches not to snack on turkey (or cheese), but that's not a big deal. I think the constant checking of things, and reminding myself that a lot of stuff I like to eat (cheese, meat, a lot of condiments, a lot of chinese food, sushi, etc) is off limits for the week is going to be a pain, though.

I told my oldest about the vegan thing, and she said "we don't have to eat tofu do we?!". I assured her she was safe, and that when we had dinner together, there would be a meat option.
Then we had this exchange when Bridget came in the kitchen:
Bridget: "what happened?"
Gretchen: "Daddy's a vay-gan"
Me: "Vee-gan, not vay-gan, get it right".

(I thought it was funny)

Next up, the thrilling experience of lunch....

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Vegan Challenge....

I've been going through a bit of a dry spell on the ol' blogging front, mostly because I haven't been able to think of anything very interesting to write about.
So, I'm thinking I'm going to try something a little different for the next week, and maybe that will break me out of my rut.

Basically, I'm going to go vegan for a week, starting tomorrow and going through to Saturday. (I'd say through to Sunday, but that's Easter, and I'm planning on eating lamb that day, and well, nothing gets between me and lamb).

My motivation is that I have several friends who are vegetarian or vegan, and I've always wavered between "gee, that must be hard to stick to" and "how hard could it possibly be?". I don't think it'll be easy, but it should be interesting.

The ground rules (such as they are) are pretty simple. Every meal/snack/etc has to be vegan, and no meat substitutes (ie, tofurkey, fake bacon, veggie burgers, etc). The only exception for that is tofu, since I figure it's been around for hundreds (thousands?) of years, and it's established enough as a food that it's not "just" a meat substitute. I think the "no fake meat" rule will force me to be creative (plus, I have been known, on occasion, to render some strong opinions on the subject, and this will make me see how hard (or not) it is to do this without falling back on them).

So, for the next week, it's "no meat" in the house.