Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Quick corn

My parents recently taught me a great way to prepare corn on the cob in the microwave. It's quick, the corn comes out perfectly tasty, and the kitchen isn't heated up by a boiling pot of water. Here's how:

Dampen a paper towel with water and wring it out. Then unfold it and wrap the damp towel around your shucked ear of corn. Put it into the microwave for 2 minutes on high. Then, unwrap it and enjoy!

As I’ve said before, corn on the cob is at its best when spread with a small amount of umeboshi plum paste. Now, that's a taste of summer.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Salad days

The meal that I eat most in summer is a big salad. With the hot weather and all the fresh vegetables around, salads are a natural. Unfortunately, I do tend to get in a salad rut, where my salads are usually made up of the same, rather boring ingredients: lettuce mix, fresh herbs, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese and croutons. How I tend to mix it up is by using different dressings. I've mentioned before that I have a "cookbook problem." Well, I also have a "salad-dressing problem." Right now, I have eight bottles of dressing opened in my fridge and no fewer than 15 (!!) unopened in my cupboard.

I've been trying to diversify and be more creative with what I throw into the salad bowl. At various times, I've added almonds, pecans, soy nuts, dried cranberries, broccoli or cauliflower. One of my favorite new salad ideas I've come up with is to add pieces of Yves' Lemon-Herb "chicken" skewers and slices of avocado. That's proven to be very yummy and filling.

Still, I'd like some more fresh ideas. What are some things that you like to add to your salads to make them more interesting?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hot Dog!

As a vegetarian, for years I could only drool as I heard and read about the by-all-accounts-wondrous pretzel buns at Skippy's Hot Dogs. The Journal's Dinner Belle wrote a glowing review this spring, and still I yearned.

But that's all over ... because now Skippy's has veggie dogs! They’re not on the menu board yet, but they are there. The Chicago dog I had for lunch today -- with mustard, relish, dill pickle, tomato, banana peppers and celery salt (hold the onion) -- was tasty and satisfying. And the pretzel bun was just as delicious as I had imagined.

Skippy's was crazy-busy long after 1 o'clock, when the lunch rush has usually abated at downtown restaurants. But owner Mike Rothman, who also mans the grill, took a moment to talk about the veggie dogs.

Skippy's uses Morningstar Farms veggie dogs, which are vegetarian but not vegan, since they contain egg whites and dry milk. Rothman also realizes that vegetarians may growl if the veggie dogs are cooked on the same spot where the meat is cooked. So he is working on finding the best spot to grill them, either on the side of the grill where the pretzel buns are toasted, or in the area where the vegetables are heated.

I really appreciate that Skippy's has made the effort to include a vegetarian option, and I'll be back soon to try that Reuben dog.

Skippy's is at 624 W. Fourth St. in Winston-Salem. Their menu and other information is available online at www.skippyshotdogs.com

Friday, July 20, 2007

Food when you're sick

Generally, soups are not something I am in the mood for during the hot summer months. But when I'm sick, I crave soup. And I've managed to pick up the respiratory cold that's been going around my corner of the office. Unfortunately, I've yet to find a vegetarian soup that delivers the comfort of chicken-noodle soup when I'm sick. A lot of vegetarian soups tend to be heavy on the spice, acidity or cream, none of which I'm in the mood for even when I'm feeling healthy, let alone sick. One soup my mom used to make when I was feeling under the weather is still good for me these days: potato soup, basically a really thin version of mashed potatoes. If only I could make it as good as she used to, without a recipe!

Since chicken-noodle soup is not on my menu these days as a vegetarian, I decided to try my hand at a quick vegetarian version the other evening. I sauteed some onion and garlic, then added vegetable broth, carrots, egg noodles, fake-chicken strips cut into pieces and a few spices. I let it simmer until the noodles were soft, and I had my comforting "sick" food. It wasn't quite as medicinal as the original, but it was pretty darn close.

Have you come up with a vegetarian version of something that helps you feel better when you're sick?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summer's bounty

For vegetarians - for everyone, really - one of the best parts of summer in the South is the amazing abundance of vegetables. And even better is the warm generosity of family and friends eager to share the fruits of their labor in the garden.

My dad, for example, has a small plot that is producing an amazing amount of yellow squash, eggplant, green beans, and cucumbers, along with what must be the sweetest corn ever. He has been giving me all I can eat for weeks now - I must be getting healthier just having them all in my fridge!

It's an enjoyable challenge to find delicious and healthy ways to savor all these veggies. Below is an eggplant recipe that turned out really well. It’s from the Fatfree Vegan Kitchen blog. (More about the recipe, comments and photos are available here.)

Do you have any other good suggestions for using eggplant? Or are there any veggies you're looking for ideas on how to use? Maybe we can share recipes and ideas....

Nasu Dengaku (Japanese Eggplants Broiled with Miso)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons saki (may substitute dry vermouth or white wine)
4 tablespoons mellow white miso (reduced sodium, if available)
3 tablespoons agave nectar
4 Japanese eggplants, stem end trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
sliced green onions, for garnish

Place the mirin and saki in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for about 2 minutes to allow some of the alcohol to cook off. Then add the miso and stir until smooth. Stir in the agave nectar, reduce the heat to very low, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, while you broil the eggplants:

Brush the cut sides of the eggplants with the sesame oil, if desired. Put the eggplants cut-side down on a baking sheet and place under the broiler of your oven for about 3 minutes, checking often to make sure that they do not burn. Turn them over, and cook for another 3 minutes or until the tops are a light to medium brown. Do not burn!

When the eggplants are tender, top each one with the miso sauce and put them back under the broiler until the sauce bubbles up--this should take less than a minute, so watch them closely. Serve hot, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and green onions.Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Per serving: 152 Calories (kcal); 2g Total Fat; (11% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 740mg Sodium; 5g Fiber.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Oddfellas Cantina, an unexpected treat

This past Saturday, a friend and I went to the Wine Down the Musical Trail wine festival along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Despite some subpar directions that had us backtracking to find the correct turn more than once, it was a great day. After the festival, we went to nearby Floyd, Va., for dinner. I had found a place online, Oddfellas Cantina, that boasted tamarind tofu on its menu. Alas, when we got there, the actual menu was very different from what was posted on their Web site. I hate that!

However, they did have a dish of tofu in an Oriental brown sauce, so I "settled" for that. It turned out to be absolutely divine, with an unusual, wonderful sauce whose flavors I couldn't quite pin down. Probably some soy sauce, possibly some plum sauce, something slightly spicy, maybe even some tamarind. It was sweet and savory at the same time, and I wished I could have the recipe to take home. I only just managed to avoid licking the plate. It was served with rice and the vegetable of the day, steamed broccoli with a hint of a tangy, vinegary marinade.

What made it extra-special was that it was so unexpected to find a restaurant serving tofu in a town with 432 people and directions that referred to "the" stoplight in town. The restaurant is small and packed with tables (you might feel as if you're dining with the people at the table next to yours), and seemed to be a popular spot in town. We were told that we had an hour and 15 minutes at our table -- I'd never been given a time limit at a restaurant before, so that was a bit odd, although we finished well within the time limit. There was a live band playing, including a harpist, which made for a pleasant dining accompaniment. We wanted to get some of the yummy-sounding desserts, but we were just too full.

Have you ever found a gem of a restaurant or a vegetarian dish where you least expected it?


Friday, July 06, 2007

Live Earth

This Saturday -- 7/7/07 -- is Live Earth: The Concerts for a Climate in Crisis, a 24-hour, multi-city concert event to promote awareness of and action to help fight global warming. There will be more than 100 musical acts across eight cities, including Madonna, Bon Jovi, The Police, Sheryl Crow, Kelly Clarkson, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West, Melissa Etheridge, John Mayer, Faith Hill, Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas.

Many vegetarians embrace a philosophy of concern for the environment, but this is a notable event whether you're a vegan or carnivore, because the state of the world's environment affects us all.

There aren't any concerts near here, but you will be able to watch the Live Earth concerts streamed live online at MSN.com. They will also be aired across the channels of NBC Universal. Here's the TV schedule:

NBC: 8 p.m.-11 p.m.
BRAVO: 9 a.m.-2 a.m.
Universal HD: 4 a.m.-2 a.m.
Sundance: 4 a.m.-2 a.m.
MSNBC: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. (continuing coverage)
CNBC: 8 a.m.-2 a.m.
Telemundo: 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
MUN2: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Restaurant ratings

The recalls of Veggie Booty and Super Veggie Tings are, sadly, only the latest items in a spate bad news about of food- and product-safety. So it might be a good time to mention a useful Web site for anyone - vegetarian or not - who dines out in Forsyth County: the health department’s site for restaurant inspection reports.

This site is almost addictive. You can see what inspections were done the prior week, or search by name to find out how your favorite restaurant did on its most recent few inspections. If you come across a strikingly horrifying number, you can click on the report to see exactly what is behind it.

It used to be that restaurants in this area received a letter grade. I really learned to look for those one day when I noticed a restaurant had a C grade - only after I had finished my meal there. Now, I always look for the number before ordering.

Anything under a 90 makes me hesitate, and if a restaurant fell under 85, I would try to talk my dining companions into choosing another place. (Of course, my fastidious friends would probably already be running for the door.)

How much attention do you pay to restaurant sanitation ratings, and how low will you go before walking away?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Recall update

The recall of Veggie Booty has widened. Here's an AP story with an update:

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A company recalled on Monday a second popular snack food over fears it could be contaminated with salmonella.

Robert's American Gourmet Inc. said it was recalling all lots and sizes of Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks Snack Food sold across the United States and Canada.

Company president and chief executive Robert Ehrlich said the recall was precautionary, since the product used the same seasoning as the Veggie Booty Snack Food recalled last week. Ehrlich said his Sea Cliff, N.Y., company is still doing testing to determine the source of any contamination. The seasoning is exclusive to the company, he added. The actual product is made under contract by an unnamed manufacturer, the company said in a release.

The original recall was prompted by 54 cases of salmonella poisoning in 17 states. Many of those infected reported eating Veggie Booty.

Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections, especially in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks are packed in a flexible, plastic foil bag in a 6-ounce size, and bears universal product code 15665-10356.

The company said consumers who purchased Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks and still have the product in their homes should discard the contents and contact the company at 1-800-626-7557 for reimbursement.