Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Taking Stock

It may seem like soup season is over. Spring has sprung pretty much everywhere by now. 
Sunshine and flowers not withstanding, the other day while cleaning the apartment, I found myself making a big pot of vegetable stock. Maybe it was nesting, maybe it was insanity - it was 80 degrees in Los Angeles - but it felt good to have something cooking while I worked.

There's no denying that a good stock can deepen the flavor of even the simplest of dishes. The workhorse of the stock world is your basic Chicken Stock. It cures the common cold, makes frozen peas taste like a delicacy.  Throw in some noodles and you've got everyone's favorite comfort food.

For those of us who cook without meat, finding a good substitute can be daunting. I find most store-bought vegetable stocks to have an odd sweetness or spice to them that often overcomes the flavor of the food it's supposed to enhance. Good stock should be like a killer back-up singer - it makes the main ingredient look like a rockstar but is gracious enough to stand just outside the spotlight.

A few winters back, I set out to make my own. What I arrived at, after a little Google-ing, is a nice, basic stock that does the job of a chicken stock without the chicken. Easy to make and easy on the wallet, this stock is a great way to maximize the flavor of any soup, sauce, or boiled veg. You can make additions or subtractions, as you like. Mushrooms might be good for something more akin to 'beef stock'; tomatoes if you prefer a red stock. I've added the green end of leeks when I've got them on hand. Improvising won't hurt here.

A little tip: I find that salt often brings the stock together, so don't be discouraged if at first taste it doesn't immediately ring your bell, salt it and then see what you think.

Once the stock has cooled, I put some in the fridge in an airtight jar for use during the week. The rest I freeze in quart or sandwich sized baggies for the weeks to come. It's a lifesaver to have on hand and the product you get far outweighs the effort (and $) required!

Don't worry that your stock will go to wase with summer fast approaching. A few baggies of frozen stock in the freezer will come in handy all year long. I thaw it out and use it to thin gazpacho or as a base for other cold soups. Swap stock for water next time you make rice or quinoa, it's a great way to add a little extra flavor and maybe break the monotony!

Veg Stock

6 carrots
1 celery heart (about 7 stalks)
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp peppercorns
salt (to taste)
2-3 bay leaves
10 cups water
olive oil

Rough chop carrots, celery, and onions. (or don't! You can actually just throw them in whole if you've got a big pot) Put a little olive oil in the bottom of your stock pot** over medium heat.

Add the onion and a little salt to get a good sweat on. Once you get a little brown color on the edges of your onion, add the celery, carrots and whole garlic cloves, sauté for another minute or two. (I find that sautéing the veggies first gives a little extra bit flavor. If you're short on time, feel free to skip this step and leave out the oil all together. Boiling alone works just fine.)

Next, add 10 cups of water, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Cover and leave over medium heat to slowly bring water to a boil. Let the stock boil, covered, for about 45 minutes, until vegetables become soft and there is a noticeable darkening of the water. Turn off your burner and let the stock stand, leaving vegetables to 'steep' until the liquid is cool.

When you're ready, scoop out the vegetables and discard (all their flavor is now in your stock, so don't feel guilty about sending them straight to the compost pile!). Pour stock through a mesh strainer to catch all the leftover pulp and peppercorns. Freeze or refrigerate as desired.

(If you're in a pinch or prefer to buy veg stock, I recommend
Imagine Brand 'No Chicken Stock'. It absolutely does the trick and runs about $4.00 a quart at most grocery stores. Making your own is cheaper, but do what you gotta do!)

**It should be said here that I did not own a stock pot, or anything resembling a stock pot, for the first year of my efforts to make my own stock. My dear friend Erica was kind enough to loan me hers every other Saturday until I got a pot big enough to fit 10 cups of water. Thank you, Erica!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thank you, Canada!

Thanks for the love, Friends to the North!

I can't believe it's been a year since the Thanksgiving Family Feast. I am so thrilled that we are still reaching people, especially those trying to figure out what to do for their vegetarian friends and loved ones on such a 'meaty' holiday.

In response to Denise's question (so sorry for the late response!), I use the standard tofu block as a measure in the I Can't Believe It's Not Turkey Tofu Loaf. Generally, that means 15.5 or 16 ounces. In metric terms, that would be 454 grams or just under a half kilogram. Now, I have never been grocery shopping in Canada, so I'm not sure how that translates into shoppable terms, but I hope it helps.

Anyone who can jump in and speak to this, please do. I would love to know more about Canada's Thanksgiving, so please feel free to send some info my way.

Happy Eating!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, July 3, 2010

30 and counting....on Fresno.

In Fresno, there is a place where you can get homemade popsicles. La Reina de Michoacan They come in all flavors, some of which are tough to convey in English. Mamey and nanche and chongo. Mango-chile-pineapple-cucumber, pistachio, strawberry, cantaloupe, walnut, bright blue bubblegum, and the list goes on. They come in either cream or water and they are that perfect wide flat popsicle shape. $1.50 a piece, although pricing seems to be a somewhat fluid enterprise. We got two dozen for far less than what it should have cost, and when the man behind the counter was unable to identify the flavor of a bright pink, raisin-laced pop he let us see for ourselves for free. (by consensus - Rum Raisin)

As far as weekend plans go, “I’m going to Fresno,” doesn’t exactly draw the envy of strangers.


I answer that my boyfriend’s family lives here. Family seems to be a strong enough justification for willingly heading up the Grapevine for the farmlands of the Central Valley.

What strikes me most about Fresno, is not the desolate downtown or the empty storefronts. Not the lack of nightlife (check out The Olympic Tavern, formerly ‘Club Fred’), not the overwhelming heat, or the seeming lack of culture (there’s a dinner theater, just down the street from The Olympic Tavern). What strikes me is the bounty. Everything you can imagine grows here. Oranges, figs, arugula, almonds, citrus fruits, peaches, tomatoes, squash of every variety, beans, peppers, grapes, olives. Everything. It is a tiny Garden of Eden. You can live and eat and thrive here in a way that I’ve never seen close up. For all of us trying our best at farmer’s markets and fruit stands, Fresno is the Mecca. It’s where everything in our re-usable bags comes from.

I happen to love it here. Maybe, because I didn’t grow up here. Maybe, because getting out of Los Angeles to just about anywhere feels good. Maybe it’s being a part of a family. I love it because it feels self-contained. It offers up everything you need, straight from the ground. God or someone made it this way. Blessed with plenty, blessed with the balance of the earth to make it so.

On a famous bridge over the Delaware River in Trenton, New Jersey, there is a huge sign that reads ‘Trenton Makes, The World Takes’.

It’s tough to reconcile the run-down buildings and the gang violence with the rolling farmland. It’s tougher still to realize that a life here may not yield much in the way of opportunities for a future. Fresno makes, the world takes.

Here, though, you could have things – a garden, a house, a dog. Give up some of the buzz of the city take on the quiet nights and mosquitoes. Settle down and spend time doing what you love, simply because there is nothing else to do.

Plus, there’s popsicles.

Monday, April 26, 2010

30 and counting.....on lentil, er, balls.

This is the text I got from Erica in the middle of a workday afternoon: 

what bean goes with basil?

My reply: 

white beans cannelini great northern emailing you a recipe

I sent her this link to this Tuscan bread soup I remembered by Rachel Ray.  I remembered it because it has day old bread and stewed tomatoes in it (two kind of gross things that end up tasting really good), in addition to white beans and basil. 

On the phone later that night, I asked if she'd tried the bread soup to solve her beans/basil issue.  She hadn't, she'd actually been thinking about trying to make 'meatballs' out of beans - beanballs, if you will.

And the wheels started turning.  Lentils.  I kind of knew I needed to start with lentils.  (Although, now that lentils worked, I'm formulating a white bean meatball recipe to try, too.)  So, jumping off of my lentil burger recipe, I came up with this:

Lentil Meatballs

1 cup dried lentils
2 cups water (salted)
1 med. onion - finely chopped
1/2 a red bell pepper - finely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic - finely chopped
1 carrot - (you guessed it!) finely chopped
2tsp dried basil
2tsp dried oregano
6tbsp oat bran (or rolled oats you've pulsed in your food processor)
olive oil
vegetable oil
salt & pepper to taste

Bring your 2 cups of salted water to boil, add lentils, return to boil then simmer with a lid on until water cooks out and lentils are tender.  (I cook lentils like I cook rice, feel free to do it your way.) 

While lentils are cooking, heat olive oil in a medium saute pan.  Add onions, saute alone for a minute or so, then add carrots, garlic, and red pepper.  Saute for 5 min, until all vegetables have softened, then stir in basil and oregano and cook for another minute.  Remove vegetables from heat and transfer them to a large mixing bowl. 

Once lentils are cooked, add them to the sauteed vegetable mixture.  Combine the lentils and vegetables, adding a little olive oil to coat and salt and pepper to taste.  (At this point, if you'd like it to taste a little more 'italian', feel free to up the basil and oregano.)  Add oat bran, one tbsp at a time, mixing as you go.  Once all 6 tbsp of oat bran are in, whip out your potato masher and give the whole mixture a good mashing.  This will help all your ingredients stick together when it comes time to form the meatballs.  (You should still be able to see individual lentils, the idea is a course meal, not a puree or paste.)  While the mixture is still warm, form into meatballs, about 1-2in in diameter, as you like.  Once all your balls are formed, let them stand for 15 minutes.* 

Heat canola oil in your favorite frying pan, enough to coat the bottom.  Place your lentil meatballs in the hot oil, one by one, allowing space to flip them once they brown.  Use a spoon to gently roll them over in the pan, some lentils will jump ship, but the meatballs should remain intact.  Brown them on all sides and then transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. 

We ate ours with a kind of chunky sauce with diced tomatoes and olives.  Don't get me wrong, it was really tasty, but ideally, I think I would serve the lentil meatballs over any kind of spaghetti pasta (wholewheat, spelt, rice, whatever your fancy) with a smooth red sauce like marinara. 

This same recipe could be used to make italian-style lentil burgers.  Buon apetito! 

*It may help to refrigerate them, but in this initial run, I didn't have the time so I can't vouch for the results.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

30 and Counting.....on giving up coffee.

Just about every other day, I swear that I am giving up coffee.  It's more an exercise in voluntary torture than a smart decision to give up caffeine an it's evil side effects (icky skin, stained teeth, heartburn!, etc).  So, when my lovely sister-in-law sent the recipe below, it put a big smile on my face.  I'm always a cold-turkey-switch-to-herbal-tea kind of gal.  Maybe a healthier, trick-me-into-thinking-it's-coffee substitute would be the way to go. 

Here's Kristina's tips/recipe for Iced Non-Coffee:

*When I went to the health food store, I found two "versions" of a product called Cafix (an all natural coffee substitute). The first version was a very fine grind and has ground figs in it. The second version consisted of larger pieces that had the appearance of Sanka or something like that and did not have the figs. I bought the second version simply because it was cheaper. I bet the other kind is just as good- just adjust the recipe according to taste if you use the fine grind.

*On the Cafix label it instructs you to add 1 cup very hot (not boiling) water to 1 teaspoon of Cafix granules. I always double this when I drink it hot (2 teaspoons to 1 cup water).

Iced non-coffee

Fill a large cup with ice (if you are using glass, be careful! Only use a very thick heavy glass or it may shatter- I used a tall plastic cup) Measure 2 cups of water in a measuring cup. Pour into a pan and bring to a boil. Pull off of heat. Measure out 8 or more teaspoons of Cafix (depends on your taste) into the now empty measuring cup. Pour the hot water back into measuring cup (be careful!). Stir this mixture and then sweeten to taste with agave syrup. Pour this mixture into the cup filled with ice. Stir until ice is mostly dissolved and add more ice if needed. Add rice milk to taste. Enjoy!! :)