Vegetarian

Off the Menu Podcast: Shady Business and Awkward Moments

 

 

Elephant in the room: Mr. Burch and Junior are vegan and vegetarian, respectively, and have been so patient with my continuous stream of pork/beef/cheese compliments. In this edition of Off the Menu, we finally address the awkward moments. We also discuss that girl who allegedly sprayed Windex in her roommates’ food.

Toast Is In Season

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Props, Mr. Dickens, a more accurate turn-of-phrase is difficult to come by.

It’s been Spring in Los Angeles since….three years ago? With the exception of a few days of either rain or blistering humidity. The farmers markets are finally (and when I say finally, I realize I have zero control, which is as it should be) matched with the season. Green things are everywhere. Stone fruit season is the most wonderful time of the year – a description I ordinarily attribute only to March Madness and Champions League Soccer.

It’s also apparently a season of toast? I am hard-pressed to remember a time when I wasn’t thoroughly surrounded by artisanal Wonderbread upgrades. FYI, I’m sure I’m supposed to provide some sort of commentary on the patriarchal cultural norms currently causing me to cluster the letters forming the last name of the woman in the vintage ad below ad into “Barbie” instead of “Barrie.”. Respect for Wendy Barrie being one of the O.G. talk show hosts, but the 84 out of 100 women who participated in the advertised test (see the lower-third of the photo) deserve both better bread and a less vapid iteration of publicity.

Hearing about The Mill in San Francisco clued me into the amount of money individuals are willing to pay for delicious bread, butter, and spread. ($4.00, by the way, in case you’ve got better things to do than click on the links I attach.) I am also guilty of paying $6-8.00 for a tartine at various other establishments. (Btw, those are open-faced sandwiches which have roots in the Middle Ages, when thick slices of bread called “trenchers” were used as edible plates to not waste the juices of whatever was placed on top of them, then given to the poor or fed to animals. I digress. This post is getting way longer than I originally intended it to be.)

Yesterday, Francis Lam, an editor and food columnist, tweeted this brilliance, to which I am countering, “How Many Days can I live on Sourdough Bread with Whatever Spring Shit I have in the Fridge?: An Experiment by Sydney.”

Today’s toast has green onion butter, fava beans, and basil.

Spring Toast

 

Gee, Vocal Chords. You Suck. : A Miso Soup Re-Run

Dear Vocal Chords, you’ve got to understand where I’m coming from. Your decision to go on strike is getting a bit out-of-hand. If it’s about indulging in dairy products or consuming alcohol, we can discuss other options besides a complete shut-out. I feel like it’s the 90s and any minute now, Ashton Kutcher is going to walk out with a Zoo York or Von Dutch trucker hat and tell me I’ve been Punk’d.

Exhibit A. Him holding a T-Mobile Sidekick is just a bonus.

I didn’t realize how upsetting a sudden onset of vocal chord drama could be. This is nothing compared to the misunderstood teenagers on Degrassi: The Next Generation.

I digress.

I’m pretty rough on my vocal chords. I’m sure I could be a better human by valuing my ability to speak. I have no other symptoms of misery – fever, chills, etc. – just a cough worthy of Lifetime movie drug addicts and no sound when I attempt to speak. I’m a loon, and as such am not using sick leave from work, and have been getting by with e-mails, a notepad, and goodwill of others.

And miso soup. Misoshiru, for members of my family reading this who think I’ve forgotten all of my toddler Nihongo.

I’ve posted about miso soup before. I’ve even made a shitty video with no background music attempting to demonstrate how to make it. It is disturbingly simple to make, and miraculously healing. That is quite a deal – a lot for soup to give you in return for a trip to a Japanese market or international aisle/section of a grocery store.

We’re going to have a brief discussion about miso. Roll your eyes, but if you end up with nasty or weak-tasting soup, don’t come back crying. These next two paragraphs are crucial.

The type of miso you use will drastically change the flavor of your soup. All misos are not created equally. My mother (and entire family) uses Shiromiso, or white miso. It is the most widely produced type of miso, and uses the least amount of soybeans and fermentation time. The taste is consequently sweet, soft, and light. Awase miso is my favorite. It mixes white and red miso together for a slightly stronger taste without losing the light texture.

After choosing your miso wisely, choose your proportions wisely. Since I like stronger miso, 2 tablespoons dissolved in 2 cups of boiling stock is more than enough for me. Experiment. You’ll be buying these ingredients in bulk, anyway.

Misoshiru aka Miso Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 stick iriko dashi – Japanese Soup base. The tubes look like blue pixie sticks with Japanese writing on them. They come in large bags at Japanese markets. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you want konbu dashi, since iriko dashi is made with a fish base.
  • 2 cups Water
  • 2 tablespoons awase miso (or shiro miso)
  • 4 inari – Fried Bean Curd. Eat them, don’t eat them, choose your own adventure. Buy them and use them to give your soup flavor, even if you don’t like eating the curd itself.
  • 1 block Extra-Firm Tofu, cut into bite-size cubes – Anything less firm than Extra-Firm will fall apart in the soup and look gross. Tofu is like binary code, use the right kind (1) or nothing at all (0).
  • Green Onions – Roughly Chopped

Combine the iriko dashi and water together in a pot over High heat. Stir until the dashi powder is dissolved. Bring to a solid (not rolling) boil, then turn the heat down to medium. Add the miso, and stir until it is completely dissolved.

Once the miso is dissolved, add the inari and tofu.

Let everything simmer together until the tofu is cooked to your liking.  (15 minutes? 20 minutes? Something like that.)

Cure yo’self.

miso2

No Muss, Some Fuss: Cumin and Citrus Roasted Carrots

One of the reasons self-diagnosed lachanophobics still risk the possible horror of eating vegetables is the possible magic of beautiful and delicate flavor. Sometimes it’s best to steer into the curve and forgo meat in favor of vegetable authenticity. Plus it couldn’t hurt to throw the vegan, gluten-free members of my core a bone. Or carrot top, since nothing they eat involves bones. Hey! No judgment. This recipe is warm and luscious with a spicy edge, just like that George Clooney scene in “Out of Sight.” See below for reference.

As an alternative, I also present a synonym to this level of steaminess: Jessica Alba and Paul Walker in “Into the Blue.”

This recipe is from a Jean-Georges cookbook, which makes it elegant and flavorful, with a hint of food-snob. Get “kinda interested,” in this one. I know you’re probably not in the market for a celebrity chef commitment, but this recipe takes less than an hour to throw together. That’s not even enough time for two episodes of “Friends” on Netflix.

The light-hearted references aside, this is one of those perfect recipes that will make you look like a more talented cook than you actually are. Your day will change. And don’t worry, it’s not always perfect in Curating My Cooking Land. Later this week, I’ll update you on what happened when I tried to mess with creamy salad dressing. For now, just make these carrots.

Roasted Carrots with Whole Cumin and Citrus

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound medium carrots – peeled
  • 3 garlic cloves – finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds aka “Whole Cumin” if you shop at Vons or Whole Foods
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Red Chili Flakes
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Equal parts (about 1 to 2 tablespoons each) Red Wine Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and boil the carrots for 20 minutes.

While the carrots are boiling, combine the garlic, cumin seeds, thyme, red chili flakes, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Whisk in the red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Remove the carrots from the boiling water with tongs, so they keep their pretty shape. Place in a small baking dish, and pour the cumin seed dressing/marinade thing over the top. Slice the orange and lemon in half – squeeze the juice on top of the carrots, and leave the halves resting on top during the roasting process to infuse the flavor.

Roast for 25 minutes.

Shazam. Flavor.

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Great Pumpkin Soup, For Those Of You Who Don’t Want To Wait in a Pumpkin Patch with Linus

I waited until almost the last possible second to make this. As a Thanksgiving-ish baby who chowed-down on full-size pumpkin pies instead of birthday cake, my pumpkin season begins during the week of Halloween. After prancing about in a culturally-contrived “sexy” costume for a few evenings, I finally let peer pressure run its course and slide into legwarmers, sweaters, and seasonal Starbucks drinks.

What is everyone doing for Halloween, by the way? Are you dressing up? Staying in? Staying in and dressing up? Ordering pizza, watching horror films, and passing out candy? None of the above? Have I inquired enough into your personal lives?

I’m sorry, by asking you too many questions, did I become this girl?

As opposed to this girl?

The original recipe for this came from food52, I’ve supplemented a few of my own proportions, beer preference (did I forget to mention this soup is flavored with pumpkin beer), and – because the pumpkin I purchased for this purpose was utilized in a homebrew experiment – canned pumpkin.

Pumpkin Soup with Pumpkin Beer and Various Bourgeois Toppings

  • 1 can Pure Pumpkin (go with Libby’s on this one, most other canned varieties use a lower quality of squash instead of anything remotely sweet and orange-colored)
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted Butter
  • 1 finely chopped Sweet Onion
  • 4 finely chopped Garlic Cloves
  • 16 Ounces Pumpkin Beer – I used half of one Growler Saranac Pumpkin Ale and drank the rest. A 12-ounce Dogfish Head Punkin Ale would also be perfect. (Tangent: There’s so much shitty pumpkin beer on the market. It’s unreal.)
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • 2 cups Vegetable Stock
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 heaping tablespoon Brown Sugar

Bourgeois Toppings:

  • Pepitas (That’s Spanish for “Pumpkin Seeds,” for those new to the class.)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Sage Leaves
  • Goat Cheese

Heat the Extra Virgin Olive Oil over Medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft. Pour in the pumpkin and season to taste with cinnamon and nutmeg (be generous, but remember you can always add more later if it’s not saturated enough with autumnal spice.)

Turn heat up to High and pour in the beer. Leave uncovered and let half of the beer burn off. (It should almost not smell like beer anymore.)

Turn heat down to Low and pour in the Vegetable Stock. Let simmer for 20-ish minutes. Stir occasionally so disgusting scalded soup won’t ruin the pot you’re cooking in.

Puree until smooth using an immersion blender – (Real talk, I highly recommend investing in one of these. It cuts hot soup puree time in half.) – or in batches in a Vitamix/stand blender. Once smooth, stir in the heaping tablespoon of brown sugar, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

I might be stating the obvious here, but TASTE YOUR FOOD. If it’s too bitter, add more brown sugar. If it doesn’t taste like anything besides pumpkin, add more cinnamon and nutmeg. If it’s missing something, but you can’t tell what, it’s bland, i.e. add salt.

To prepare the bourgeois toppings:

Toast the pepitas in a dry pan over Medium-Low heat until slightly fragrant or one of them pops. (Take it off the heat if they pop. You’re not in a movie theater. The time for popcorn-esque things is later.)

Heat Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a pan over Medium heat and fry the Sage Leaves until they’re crispy, but not brown and dead-looking.

For the goat cheese, you have two options: crumble it on top, or place a disc of it somewhere near the middle.

Drizzle Extra Virgin Olive Oil (no more than a tablespoon) on top of your vat of soup slash whichever garnishes you elect to make use of.

pumpkin beer soup

“Baby’s First Curry” Has a Better Ring to It than “Baby’s First Steps”

The first time I had curry and remembered it was at a Japanese restaurant I frequented growing up in Sacramento. A new collaborative chef-partner revised the menu after I left for college. While home for a visit and out to dinner with friends, I randomly selected one of the new dishes to try. My initial reaction was to look around in shock, my eyes widened and most likely dilated. “Guys, this is f**king perfect. I’m serious,” I said.

After that, I didn’t speak very much. I was too busy shoveling as much curry as possible into my mouth like a truck driver. The restaurant in question passed to new ownership last year. This broke my heart, but I’ll always have my spicy and creamy memories.

Do not fret. I won’t get on a plane and leave you without giving you this curry recipe. I’d regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of my life.

My preference for curry exploded during my senior undergraduate year. A conservative estimate is that I ordered or ate curry out once every other week. I’ve calmed down about various combinations of garam masala, coconut milk, tamarind, ginger, chilis, papadum, sambal, etc. from various parts of South Asia, but this doesn’t mean I’ve stopped imbibing occasionally. On the rare irksome day where I come home and the thought of cooking fills me with anxiety, I will inevitably roll lazily to my computer, where curry is only a few clicks away.

The title of this post is deceptive, because I’ve actually attempted making my own curry several times; usually when I look at charges made to my card, and realize that I could probably figure out how to satisfy my own craving.

Curry is a difficult thing to execute correctly. The spicy, sweet, creamy, and crisp stars all need to align into a gorgeous constellation of flavor. This isn’t an easy task to accomplish. Unless perfection is staring you straight in the face, you’ve failed miserably and should run along and play with other toys for awhile.

I still want to refine this recipe, but it’s the closest to a restaurant love-affair with a curry recipe I’ve ever gotten. The original proportions for the curry paste came from the Foot Network website, but the vegetables and methodology have been revised considerably to suit my kitchen.

Almost-A-Love-Affair Green Curry

Ingredients:

  • Green Beans
  • Small Purple Potatoes
  • Broccoli Florets
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Coriander
  • 1 bunch Cilantro, roughly chopped (No that’s not an error. Use the ENTIRE bunch.)
  • Fresh Ginger, roughly chopped – I used a piece that was the size of my two thumbs held together
  • 1 Jalapeno, seeded
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 Lime’s-worth of Juice
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Stock
  • 1 cup Unsweetened Condensed Coconut Milk – Yes, the kind from a can, guys.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil over High heat. When the water boils, add a large pinch of salt. Throw in the potatoes and let summer for 5-ish minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, toast the cumin and coriander in a tiny (as tiny as they make them) skillet over medium heat. When you can actively smell the spices without trying too hard, they’re ready.

Blend the toasted spices, cilantro, ginger, jalapeno, garlic, onion, lime juice, and 2 tablespoons of water until a thick paste forms. This is your curry paste (duh.)

Throw the broccoli into the boiling water and cook for 1-ish minutes. Stir in the green beans and let them cook for another minute. Drain the vegetables (careful of the boiling water and steam, I accept no responsibility for you inadvertently scalding yourself) and put them back into the pot.

Pour in the vegetable stock, coconut milk, and 3 tablespoons of the prepared curry paste from the blender. Bring everything to a simmer, then serve over steamed rice or coconut rice.

Green Curry

Try not to shove your face into the bowl. I know it’s tempting.

Wake Me Up When September Ends: Denial of Summer Growing Season Ending Charred Corn Salad

“Don’t you love New York [i.e. Los Angeles] in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I’d send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”

-Meg Ryan (sort of) in, “You’ve Got Mail”

Things that excite me about September:

  • Not being socially shunned for drinking hot coffee
  • Festive legwarmers and boots
  • Soup, Stew, Chili, and every other warm, hearty comfort food

Things that are the opposite of exciting in September:

  • Pumpkin mania – Thanks, Starbucks for killing my soul by offering Pumpkin Spice Lattes in 95-Degree August Los Angeles weather
  • The implication of everything becoming serious again, i.e. school beginning for those still doing that sort of thing and work vacation time elapsed with no end in sight until Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • The end of the summer growing season

I love so many things about autumn, but I’m definitely attempting to ignore summer being over like a parent dealing with a bratty child….which is not unlike how decent human beings treat ratchet girls at the club…..I digress.

This recipe is ridiculously simple. Twenty minutes gate-to-gate simple. Use-up-the-last-summer-corn-before-it’s-too-late-you-fool simple. Seriously, go make it. Slice some avocado on top of it, while you’re at it.

Charred Corn Salad

  • 4 Ears of Corn, Shucked
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 1/2 Small Red Onion, Thinly Sliced
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • 1 teaspoon Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 Jalapeno, Diced
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro

Brush the corn with olive oil and season with salt and pepper before grilling over Medium-High heat for 12-ish minutes, i.e. until charred all over.

Meanwhile, let the onion sit in the lime juice for 10 minutes to mellow out the flavor. After 10 minutes have passed, add the maple syrup, jalapeno, and 2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once the corn is charred to your liking, remove from the cob and toss with the dressing you’ve just made. Tear the mint, parsley, and cilantro leaves – because chopping is too much damn work when you’re hungry – and add the torn leaves to the corn mixture to your liking.

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Sometimes You Want Other People to Do the Cooking (Even though I Contributed a Side Dish)

Raise your hand if someone else cooking for you sounds like a good idea. I’m glad you agree.

The gentlemen in our apartment went on a massive Costco run, leaving me to fend for myself for a few hours. Uncertain about the evening’s plans, I picked up a few standards at the market and chose to bide my time until it was time to unload. This translates to eating rice cakes and falling asleep while watching “How I Met Your Mother” reruns. Upon their return, I was told Awesome Roommate would be preparing salmon with a cucumber salad side for dinner.

Awesome Roommate’s salmon was fantastic. He marinated the fish for about 2 hours in sesame oil, maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, and red pepper flakes, squeezing lemon juice on top after it came off the grill. It’s simple, and maybe it has to do with him knowing the contents of our fridge and pantry (and being able to reach all of them, being almost a foot taller than me) – but he’s got the most fantastic culinary knee-jerk inclinations with flavor and technique.

There’s a food version of trivial pursuit, and he’s the only one who’s ever beat me.

I contributed a simple salad (NOT part of the 50 Shades of Salad entries) that intrigued me to use caraway seeds for the first time. If you’re wondering what caraway seeds taste like, think of a bitter version of cumin, with an aroma like dill.

Caraway is from the carrot family – no, I didn’t know this before I liberally sprinkled the seeds all over my roasting vegetables – but the irony of using something from the carrot family to season carrots is not lost on me.

I’m probably the only one who actually thinks the above joke is funny. No matter.

Roasted Carrot and Mushroom Salad

Turn an oven to 450.

Put 1 and 1/2 pounds of sliced carrots (I just bought the bag. Like I mentioned above – I wasn’t in the mood for putting forth much effort.) and 10 ounces of halved mushrooms on a baking sheet.

Drizzle with 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, toss on two cloves of mashed garlic and three sprigs of fresh thyme, then sprinkle to taste with caraway seeds, kosher salt, and paprika.

Roast for 30 minutes until tender, then squeeze one lemon’s worth of juice over the top.

It looks like something to be eaten in autumn, but I promise it’s very light.

Other people doing the bulk of the cooking can lead to fantastic discoveries. Or something charred and inedible. (The Awesome Roommate makes killer salmon, by the way. Definitely try the simple marinade above.) Moral of the story: cook with friends. Regardless of what happens, I’ve never encountered that couldn’t be solved with good company and good wine.

A Two-Ingredient Side Dish for Dieters who Miss Mashed Potatoes

This weekend, I was all set to consume a few cocktails. I wanted to lie poolside and bake myself as golden-brown as a cookie. (Wear sunscreen though, kids. Safety first.) And it RAINED?? All weekend?? Rude.

Cauliflower gets featured in a lot of magazines as a dieter “go-to.” Some claim the texture of baked cauliflower resembles the taste of oven chicken wings. It doesn’t. Shift topic to mashed potatoes. It’s not just a Thanksgiving or Christmas side dish. Restaurants serve it year-round, and….why shouldn’t they? Eating mashed potatoes is like eating a buttery cloud of unicorn magic.

I’ve been asked about healthy alternatives to mashed potatoes, and I promise this one will give you the idea you’re craving. The texture and creaminess is on point. All you need is cauliflower and nonfat plain Greek yogurt, plus whatever herbs/seasonings are already in your kitchen.

What to do:

Turn your oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray the foil with non-stick spray. Chop up the cauliflower (the smaller the pieces are, the easier it will be to mash) and distribute evenly on the baking sheet. Season to your liking – I only used kosher salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes on this one and it was fantastic.

Make a foil package of sorts by putting another layer of foil over the top of the baking dish to seal in the heat.

Roast for 20 minutes. Then remove the top layer of foil, and roast for another 15 minutes. Mix with 1/2 to 2/3 cup of the nonfat plain Greek yogurt, then puree in a blender or Vitamix, pausing to stir up and mash with a fork every now and then.

I consumed this with spirit and fervor – not unlike battling my cousins for side dishes during family holiday dinners. Maybe I could use this as a training mechanism for maximum holiday meal efficiency. Hmm….

Fifty Shades of Salad #5: Mediterranean Vinaigrette (and a Moderately Serious Post About My Mother)

My mother loves fresh vegetables, especially tomatoes grown at my grandmother’s farm in Sacramento. She still finds it amusing that the bumpy, multi-colored tomatoes too ugly to sell for profit and only used for family meals are now the expensive “heirloom” varieties in stores and farmers markets.

I didn’t develop an appreciation for tomatoes and salad until my senior year of high school. Strange, but true.

My mom is awesome. I talk to my parents as often as possible, and can honestly say there are no secrets between us. Nothing is off-limits with them. From a very young age, they drilled into me their desire to always know – the sex, drugs, and Kim/Kanye elements of everything I do.

Don’t worry. She’s not this mom.

My parents let me experience things for myself before asking them for help. This is especially emotional for me to process now, since some of the stuff I pulled couldn’t have been easy to watch. It was recently the three-year anniversary of a very intense brain surgery my mother had in 2010. Needless to say, I’m feeling very nostalgic and had some tears to spare earlier.

Mediterranean Vinaigrette for Any of Mom’s Salads:

Whisk together 2 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar + 2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard + 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + pepper to taste + 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Mash in 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese.

Whisk in an additional 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley + 1 teaspoon dry oregano + 1 diced plum tomato.

This vinaigrette goes wonderfully with any Mediterranean-type chicken recipe.

Tell whatever motherly figure – family, friend, etc. – that you love them.

Love you, Mom. Real talk.