Friday, September 28, 2007

Basil mushroom "chicken"

I ravaged my basil plants this past weekend to make a batch of pesto. But I had enough left to make one of my favorite dishes, Basil Mushroom "Chicken." This is a dish I've been making for quite a long time, even back when I still ate chicken years ago. I modified the recipe -- which I found on a package of basil -- once I stopped eating chicken. Besides being full of flavors I love, it's also quick and easy.

Basil Mushroom "Chicken"

1 t. olive oil
8 oz. package of sliced mushrooms
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
Vegetarian "chicken" strips or nuggets*
1/4 c. white wine
1/3 c. chopped tomato
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil

Sautee mushrooms and garlic in olive oil until the mushrooms are tender and have given up their juice. Add the "chicken" and brown slightly. Add the white wine and cook until the liquid has been absorbed. Add the tomato and basil, and stir until just heated through. Serve.

*I usually use either Lightlife's Chick'n Strips or Veat Nuggets. I've never used tempeh in the dish, but I bet that would work well, too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Squash season

Autumn, the harvest season, is of course a bountiful time for vegetarians. Among the vegetables coming into season now are the "winter" squash. They are nutritious and versatile - plus they keep for a long time and serve as a lovely arrangement on the counter as they do it.

There's just one area of trouble in this squash paradise - they are so hard to peel and chop. One way around this is to buy pre-peeled and chopped squash. You can find it fresh in the refrigerator sections of some local grocery stores. Or you can get a sharp knife and go to work ... and work ... and work. If anyone has any good tips or tricks or hints to make cutting up a fresh winter squash any easier, please let me know!

Meanwhile, I mainly use recipes where cutting is kept to a bare minimum. A simple strategy is to cut a squash in half and scoop out the seeds and pulp in the center. (You can clean and roast the seeds for a snack.) Place half a squash, cut side down, on a microwave-safe plate and microwave for about 5 minutes on high - until the squash is soft and done. You can eat it sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, with a pat of margarine. Or scoop out and mash the cooked squash for use in recipes such as squash pie - it looks and tastes just like pumpkin pie.

A winter squash risotto with sage is a true taste of fall. I tried the one in Jack Bishop's Italian Vegetarian cookbook - it was good enough to make all the peeling, chopping, boiling and stirring worthwhile. (You can easily veganize the recipe by leaving out the Parmesan cheese that it calls for. It is just as creamy and tasty.) Other recipes abound online – some examples are here, and here ... and I think I'll try the one here that calls for mashed squash, and leave the chopping behind.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Alice Waters in Charlotte

While flipping through a local entertainment magazine I picked up in Charlotte this weekend, I discovered that Alice Waters, the doyenne of the sustainable-food movement, will be speaking in Dana Auditorium at Queens College this Thursday, Sept. 27. She'll be talking about the Edible Schoolyard and the School Lunch Initiative, programs in which a student garden is planted at a school and the harvest is used to provide healthy lunches for the students. You can find out more about her appearance at Slow Food Charlotte's Web site.

You can read a recent New York Times article about her here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Quick hits

*Delicious Living magazine recently ran a list of the nine organic must-buys. The criteria for picking these products included pesticide level, impact on the environment and health benefits. I have to admit, a couple of items on the list surprised me. I had no idea that cotton was so chemical-heavy.

*I recently discovered the Web site Green Options. Its focus is on environmentalism, but there is a fair amount of vegetarian content to be found, including a collection of low-fat vegetarian recipes. I look forward to poking around further on the site.

*I went to a football game last weekend at my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, and I was very pleased to see that the concession stands in Kenan Stadium offered a veggie burger. I didn’t try it, though, because I’d eaten beforehand, expecting there not to be anything substantial and vegetarian to eat.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dilute! Dilute! OK!

It's been a busy month - for the first time in years, I forgot to celebrate favorite author H.P. Lovecraft's birthday on Aug. 20 - and things haven’t slowed down yet. And fall is such a whirl of worthy events. Off the top of my head, I can think of nearly half a dozen vegetarian-friendly events coming up in the next month or so … Maybe if I don't have time to make it to these, you can -

Apple Festival, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at Bethabara Park, Winston-Salem. It's not strictly a vegetarian event, but I always enjoy this annual celebration of one of the highlights of the fall harvest. You can enjoy music and crafts at the festival as well.

Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, in Charlottesville, Va. Their Web site says they draw 100 exhibitors and 6,000 visitors each year. One of these days, I'm going to make that road-trip and check this one out!

Very Vegetarian Society meeting, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, at Miller Park Recreation Center. This meeting will feature Dinner and a Movie. The society will have its usual vegan potluck dinner, and view a screening of Power Shift, about alternative, sustainable energy.

Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, Boston, Mass. OK, this is a far-afield dream. But, wouldn't Boston in the fall be a nice place to be?

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, The Light Factory, Charlotte. This film is described as capturing "four generations of soapmakers and the inspiring legacy of the counterculture’s favorite cleaning product." You can't (well, shouldn't) eat it, but you can do nearly everything else with this vegan-friendly cleaning product. And reading the blurbs on the bottle is great fun (and inspired the title of this post).

Readers, what events are you looking forward to this fall?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Organics and your tastebuds

I have to confess that most of the time, I can't sense a taste difference between organic and conventional fruits and vegetables. The organic apple I ate yesterday didn't taste appreciably better or worse to me than the last conventional apple I ate. There are a couple of exceptions I've found, however.

Organic potatoes taste so much better to me than conventional potatoes that it's almost shocking. I can't tell a difference when I look at them. But every time I fix an organic baked potato, I always think, "Wow, this is the best baked potato ever!" Somehow, an organic potato has a different texture than a conventional one -- fluffier and airier -- and just tastes more ... potato-y.

I always buy organic baby carrots, as they're readily accessible and cost no more than regular baby carrots -- they're actually cheaper at Whole Foods than regular-price baby carrots at most grocery stores. However, I've found that, to me, organic carrots often have an oddly soapy taste. It's not off-putting enough for me to not buy them, and I don't always notice it, but it's happened often enough to be something of a trend.

Obviously, everybody's palates are different, but have you noticed a significant taste difference between any organic and conventional produce?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Bunny Roll

Each evening as I arrive home, my three cats perform a ritual greeting that is one of the highlights of my day.

Bunny, a Japanese bobtail, is especially effusive as she rolls on the floor first for a tummy rub, then for a back scratch, and then for a tummy rub again. For a long time, I've said that there should be a type of sushi created in her honor, the Bunny Roll.

Well, as they say, "If not me, then who? If not now, then when?"

Here, then, is the Bunny Roll. It shows how fun and easy it is to make sushi at home. This is a small recipe that makes just two rolls; it can easily be doubled to make more. First make the rice filling. You'll need:

1/2 cup sushi rice
3/4 cup water
1 TBSP rice vinegar
1 scant tsp sugar

Bring the rice and water to a boil in a small pot, then cover and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let the rice stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Then, turn the rice into a glass bowl, sprinkle on the sugar and vinegar, and toss with a wooden spoon to mix. (Everything I've read says not to use metal bowls or utensils at this step - metal can leave an unpleasant taste in the rice. Ceramic, wooden or plastic bowls and utensils would probably work just as well, though.) Cover the bowl of seasoned rice and let cool to about room temperature.

While the rice is cooling, you can prepare the fillings. For the Bunny Roll, I used:

3 baby carrots, cut into thin matchsticks - because bunnies love carrots.
1 small avocado, peeled and cut into thin strip - because I love avocados. Toss avocado strips lightly in lemon juice to prevent browning.
Umeboshi plum paste - because everything tastes better with plum paste!

Once the rice is cool, assemble the rolls, using two sheets of nori (seaweed wrapper). This is difficult to describe, but not difficult to do.

To be authentic, you can use a special bamboo mat to roll the sushi. Or you can go very low-tech and use a paper towel. Put a sheet of nori on your rolling surface, shiny side down, with the edge of the nori aligned with the bottom edge of your mat or towel. Spread half of the rice over the sheet of nori. Leavie a strip about an about an inch wide at the top of the sheet uncovered, but cover the rest of the nori evenly with rice, all the way to the bottom and sides. It should be just a thin layer of rice.

Next, add your fillings in a thin, horizontal strip about halfway up the rice. For the bunny roll, spread about 1/4 tsp umeboshi paste across the roll. Next, layer on half the avocado, and then half the carrots.

Now, the hardest part - roll up your sushi by taking the bottom edge of the mat/towel and nori, and rolling it up and over the strip of fillings. Tuck the edge of the nori (but not the mat or towel) firmly down, and then roll up the rest until you come to the strip of nori without rice on it. Dip a finger in water and dab it along the edge of the nori, and finish rolling the roll. The wet seaweed will stick and keep your roll together. Roll the cylinder you just formed gently along the countertop to firm it up. Repeat with the other sheet of nori and remaining rice and fillings.

Use a serrated knife to cut your sushi rolls into bite-size pieces, and serve with soy sauce, wasabi paste and pickled ginger. This is best enjoyed with a cat sitting on your lap.

If you want to learn more about making sushi, the Post Punk Kitchen has lots of good information and recipes here. For an unusual twist on sushi, a video from Bryan Au shows how to make raw sushi - no rice, and wrapped in zuchinni strips.

Readers, what are your favorite vegetarian sushi fillings? (Or, even if you don't like sushi, who is your favorite cat?)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Quick Hit

Whew, it's been that kind of week -- rush, rush, rush, and still behind. That has me thinking about meal short-cuts, naturally. A person has to keep her strength up.

So today I wanted to mention one of my favorite convenience products, Vogue Vege Base. Any time a soup, risotto or other recipe requires stock or broth, Vege Base does the job. It’s a powder, patiently waiting in the cupboard. Just a teaspoon is needed to create a tasty broth.

The Vogue Web site mentions other products, including an onion base and vegetarian "chicken" base (and a couple of non-vegetarian products that we'll just ignore) , and has several intriguing recipes and use suggestions.

OK, I’m rushing off again.... Catch you next time. Meanwhile, what are your favorite short-cut ingredients?