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Entries in vegetarian (30)


Fresh Figs have Ruined Dried Figs for Me

Of all the dried fruits there are, dried figs are probably/obviously the best.

But Hungry Sam, you ask, how can you discount the wide world of other dried fruits?

Easily! I answer. I mean, raisins? Don't make me laugh. Apricots? Better than raisins, but never as intriguing as a plump, dried turkish or black mission fig. Carob? What am I, a dog? Blueberries, strawberries, apples, bananas? Weak, at best.

Ah, but FIGS! Figs are complex, they have real, fascinating, texture, sweet, nutty flavor, and they instantly transport me to the Levant and Near East; they make me think of the lunches of countless ages of nomads wandering the emptiness between city states and oases.

But you know what's INFINITELY BETTER? Of course you do, because you saw the title to this post!

Honeyed, melon-y, succulent, juicy, plump, fresh, off the tree black mission figs.

Oh my god. I had my first fresh fig only a year ago (Jen's neighbors have a tree), and have only had perhaps a dozen in my life, but they're memorable, each one. They have an otherworldly-looking interior, with weird-tentacly tendrils, and each one looks a little different inside. The flavor is sweet but not saccharine and presents irresistible honeydew tones. Because the sugars are still dissolved in the fruit's juices and not crystalized, fresh figs have a smoother texture and don't have the grittiness of the dried fruit. Each bite pierces through taut skin  and a thin, soft flesh, right into the aforementioned interior.


Run, don't walk, to a place where you can get fresh figs. Then eat them. Eat them allll.


Plantains FTW

Enhanced with a bite from Hungry Sam!

Ok – can’t rock a hiatus forever. I’ve found a new apartment, I’ve moved, I’m somewhat unpacked, work is busy but (for the moment) not unmanageable. In sum: I can take a deep breath, savor my food, and write up some of my awesome food adventures.

Tonight, we make baked fried plantains. Or fried baked plantains. No, I think the first one.

Obligatory backstory: I am a meat lover, but honestly, the best part of Brazilian churrascaria is the fried plantains. Doesn’t matter what absurd quantities of beef and lamb and chicken and pork I consume right of the sword from which it’s served – I ALWAYS have room for just one more sweet, browned, rich, earthy chunk of plaintain.

So when I saw some perfectly overripe, oversized plantains stacked high in my strange, wondrous/kinda smelly Latin grocery store in my new neighborhood, I knew it was time to try it myself.

"What are plantains?" a person might ask. "This is a plantain," I reply:

"Isn't that just a banana?" that same person might also ask. "NO DAMMIT," I calmly reply. Then I check Wikipedia, and see that a plantain is, in fact a banana. There is no "botanical distinction" between a banana and a plaintain; the former is smaller and sweeter due to specific environmental factors and not to a difference in genetics. The terms, then, are tied to more to usage than anything else -- a "plaintain" is a cooking banana.

Being a little adverse to fried food generally AND disliking the oil spatter burns I inevitably suffer whenever I fry things, I decided to coat the plantains with a little oil then bake them. The same general strategy works when I make my sweet potato fries, so hey, why not?

Several recipes I found online noted that overripe plantains are the best for this dish; these can be identified by their intense yellow color and black spots. I chopped off the ends, peeled the fruit, then sliced at a diagonal into 3/4 inch chunks.

For oil, vegetable would probably have been the right direction, but having just moved, all I happened to have on hand was olive. Using a spritz bottle, I coated everything lightly and evenly and spread the coins on a tray I'd also spritzed. Just for giggles, I used cinnamon and a little brown sugar on half, and set the whole shebang to bake at 450 degrees. 

As sometimes happens when trying a new technique, I didn't know quite the amount of time to bake the dish. I knew the general consistency I wanted (very tender, a slight browning crisp on the edges) -- trial and error, then, was the name of the game. I think I tried them at 10 minutes, 12 minutes, and 15 minutes; they were finally done to my liking at 18 minutes.

Tasting notes: Texture was close, about as close as I was going to get without actually frying. The edges were crispy but the interior never reached the silky, smooth, melt-on-your-tongue tenderness that you get from fried plantains. Flavor-wise, the cinnamon sugar side was delicious; the un-seasoned side was a little bland. Perhaps it was the fruit I purchased, but these babies benefited from a little extra sweetness. I thought the baked plantains were decent, but not as good as fried -- if I use this technique again in the future I intend to use significantly more oil.

On another note, I'm taking these pictures with my new camera. Learning the manual controls will take some time, but definitely better pictures, no?


The Great Granola Caper of 2011

Well, I like to think that I gained delicious granola, rather than losing delicious granola BARS. Yes, I failed at granola bars, hard.

But I made epic vanilla granola.

Also, I shall name my vanilla granola concoction: "GRANILLA." Sweet.

This afternoon, I visited Whole Foods and played "Bulk Foods Aisle Master Challenge," which is where you attempt to create complex meals using primarily and as many ingredients from the bulk foods section as possible. I opted to make granola bars using every item that could reasonably or conceivable be included, including:

  • rolled oats
  • flax seed
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • bran
  • coconut
  • pecans
  • almonds
  • walnuts
  • craisins
  • dried mango
  • banana chips
  • raisins
  • dried figs
And...I eyeballed ALL the quantities. Mostly small handfuls of everything, except for the oats (I bought about 2 1/2 c. of regular rolled oats -- not quick cook).

The tab? $5.34. Why buy granola? Ever? Yeesh.
The root of my granola BAR fail lay in my ratios. I started by making a basic granola -- I toasted everything but the fruit, then tossed all the ingredients with melted butter (1 T.), vanilla extract (2 t.), and honey (1/2 c.).

Then, at the suggestion of the interwebs, to turn regular granola into bars, I pressed the mixture into a buttered 9" x 9" pyrex pan and baked at 325 F for about 25 minutes.

It had so much "bar" potential!
I suppose what I really needed was significantly more of the butter/honey mixture in relation to the dry ingredients. Although the recipe baked just fine, and although I refrigerated until bars were cool, everything just sort of fell apart...
...Yet didn't really stay in "bar" form.

Flavor-wise, I was pretty happy with the results. I forgot to put in any spices (I mean to use ginger, or maybe cinnamon), but the result was that the vanilla really burst through as the primary unifying flavor. The texture was super, inevitable when using this many diverse ingredients, although I particularly dug the figs. 

I really had been looking forward to making little bars, but hey -- I basically have awesome homemade cereal for a while. A bittersweet granola victory, indeed.

But not really. Pretty much just sweet.

***Look how much better the picture are in daylight!


Vegan for a Week:

This post was written by a good friend and former colleague of mine, Daphne. I (Hungry Sam) am clearly not a vegan, nor do I aspire to be, and yet there remains the question of ethical, healthy eating, as well as the implicit challenge: Could I even do it? Daphne, who, as you will read, has experience with a restricted diet, takes this challenge. Read on!
(Also, I can tell you from experience, Daphne is right: Sitting down and eating a pound of baby carrots is an express train to one unfun stomach ache.)

Google Images "Vegan." Odd.
I am generally mindful of what I eat.  As an observant Jew, I don't mix milk and meat, I don't eat pork or shellfish, and I choose food that is certified kosher.  As someone who is relatively health conscious, I try to maintain a balanced diet and to make healthier choices about the foods that I eat.  And because I do my best to be an ethical consumer, I've been spending more time exploring local, organic, and other ethical and sustainable food options.  When it comes to food, I'm often thinking about how I can do better. 

I started thinking again about some of these questions - and the relationship among these concerns - after I heard Rabbi Yoffie deliver his 2009 Biennial Sermon, launching the URJ's Shulhan Yarok, Shulhan Tzedek (Green Table, Just Table) initiative. Rabbi Yoffie inspired a room of 3,000 Jews to think critically about how they eat and what foods they buy, and how these decisions impact our own health, the strength of our communities, and our global environment.  There are valuable lessons to be learned from this initiative, and synagogues and individuals continue to explore the various changes they can incorporate into their lifestyles (find out what leading synagogues are up to and what you can do on the Green Table, Just Table program bank).

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Oprah Winfrey caught my attention when she challenged her 378 person staff to embrace a vegan diet for a whole week.  Rabbi Yoffie had encouraged us to reduce our red meat intake, but Oprah was going further - no meat, chicken, fish, eggs or dairy.  Her staff took the challenge, and the testimonials about their "vegan week" experiences were entertaining, encouraging and inspiring.  The next day, I mentioned to a Rabbi David Saperstein how interested I was by the show. As I was describing the episode, I thought that experimenting with a vegan diet could be an interesting way to bring together all of my dietary requirements - kosher, healthy and ethical.  So he and I decided to challenge ourselves and to become vegan for one week too. 

Initially I found myself stressing over what the next week might look like: with my limited food choices, I might be hungry all the time, or fall into the French fry/cracker/potato chip trap.  So I decided to think about food a little more creatively, and made the conscious decision to eat as many whole/non-processed foods as possible.  I pureed my own hummus, made 2 different vegetable-based soups (zucchini and butternut squash-pear) and baked enough chocolate fudgy brownies to hold me through the week. (Feel free to ask me for my recipes.) I carried lots of nuts, fruits and vegetables to snack on.

To my surprise, I felt pretty good!  I wasn't hungry for a moment - probably because I was better prepared for meals than usual.  I felt (ahem) cleansed.  I felt healthy.   I discovered which fruits and vegetables worked for me, and which worked against me.  (Note to self, it's never a good idea to eat a pound of baby carrots in a single sitting.)  And as an added bonus, at the end of the week, I discovered that I lost four lbs. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking to become vegan.  This week-long experiment may have worked, but it wasn't easy. I avoided restaurants so I wouldn't be tempted by meat, and so that I wouldn't feel deprived as I coveted my friend's meal. I missed having milk in my cereal and in my coffee (neither soy nor almond milk did the trick for me).  I missed sharing a pizza with my kids.  I missed eating chili on Super Bowl Sunday.  I missed nibbling on the milk chocolate kisses that sit on my desk.  Even so, after eating vegan for a week, I am giving serious thought to changing some of my eating habits for the long-term -- maybe taking on a "Meatless Monday" and/or a "Tofu Tuesday." I can be an omnivore and still continue to be thoughtful about what I buy, how my food is prepared, and what I eat.

I have a newfound understanding of vegans and veganism - of the challenges of a restricted diet and the rewards of being more thoughtful and intentional about my food choices. I'll carry this week-long lesson with me for a long time to come.  How about you?  What changes have you considered making to your dietary lifestyle, and what motivates those changes?

This entry was originally posted at RACBlog.


The (Ginger-Cognac) Truffle Shuffle!

The Stuff I used. Mostly!
Jen and I were pretty much on the same page vis-a-vis Valentine's Day. Granted, it helped that she was in town not for the "holiday" (I'll keep my feelings on contrived holidays to myself), but rather, primarily for a family celebration. But either way, we both independently chose to exchange gifts that reflected a gift of time and effort, not of shininess (or whatever). 

My gift to Jen was homemade chocolate truffles. I'd never made such a thing -- if you haven't noticed, I'm not hardcore into dessert-making. So I suppose that part of this gift was developing a skill she'll be able to take advantage of more than once. 

I kind of like this take on V-Day -- I think I've always tried to be a little subversive about the holiday by doing something simple, but in a way that reflects effort and thoughtfulness. 

The recipe I found called for:

-8 oz. of high quality bittersweet chocolate
-4 oz. of unsweetened chocolate
-1 (12 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
-8 T. unsalted butter

Clearly, it was in the last two ingredients that my creativity had room to shine. The recipe offered suggestions for "flavoring"; most involved a few tablespoons of a flavored liqueur and some essence of the corresponding flavor (i.e. 6 T. Grand Marnier and 1 T. orange zest). 

Never wanting to rely completely on a recipe, I thought and thought and thought. Finally, it hit me -- among my favorite liqueurs is Domaine de Canton, a ginger cognac delicacy (great in champagne or with a splash of whisky). Add to that a little fresh-grated ginger root, and I figured we had a solid start on our hands.

I started by coarsely chopping my chocolates. For the bittersweet, I'd opted for a solid Godiva; for the unsweetened, I used Baker's, which (usefully) comes packaged with each one ounce segment individually wrapped. 


Next, I went at the ginger, peeling the root then finely grating it. I wanted to prep this stuff first because, as anyone who's worked with melted chocolate knows, it can be fickle and require a lot of attention. Hah. Anyways, I wanted to have everything ready.

Once I was set to proceed, I threw the chocolates into a small saucepan over low heat with the butter (cut small) and the milk. The key here was to stir or whisk constantly to avoid burning the chocolate; I could have sped the process up by using a double boiler, but I don't own one and I was too lazy to MacGyver one up.

Still lumpy.
After my chocolates melted, in went the liqueur and the ginger. I transferred the mixture into a large bowl, and into the fridge everything went to set, theoretically for two hours.

For anyone trying to do this at home, this whole "getting cool" part did NOT take two hours, it took approximately forever. Since I was in a rush, I used the freezer for part of this process and the chocolate STILL wasn't where it was supposed to be. Whatevs, time, she was a wasting.

When it was time to start up again, I prepped my coatings. I had put together three options -- toasted walnut, unsweetened cocoa, and cinnamon. Only after I tasted the mixture did I realize it would be a crime to introduce a new flavor at this late stage. And it would be rookie. So, I whisked the cocoa with a half teaspoon of ground Chinese ginger, and put this into a largish cereal bowl.

Using a scoop, I began the awesome and messy process of molding about a tablespoon at a time of the chocolate into a ball, then tossing it with the coating. After about 30 minutes of this, I had FORTY TRUFFLES.

Oh, also: MESSY, right?
What the hell was I going to do with forty truffles? "Here, Jen: a satchel of truffles. A saddlebag of truffles. A... lot of truffles." How romantic, right?

Instead I gave her a pretty little bag of six (because truffles are the sort of thing that should be given in numbers to savor, not chow, right?). I scored brownie points by giving the rest to her family. POINTS.

Here is the ALMOST final product: 

I say "almost;" in a stroke of creativity I decided to roll them in my palms once more before wrapping, which had the effect of knocking off excess coating and smoothing the ovoid shape a tad. Sadly, I didn't photograph the product after this additional step. But trust me, they looked awesome.

Final thoughts: This was fun. And really not that expensive, which makes me feel dumb for buying 4 or five dollar truffles in the past. And there's room for endless creativity, which is pretty fun -- I might even say this would make a fun date activity. All around -- a keeper!


Pineapple-and-Ginger Infused Rum

WHIMSICAL. And delicious! And alcoholic!
I get to have a little Christmas morning every month: the day on which my Everyday Food magazine arrives. I suppose it's more a of Christmas eve, in that looking at the little magazine is more like viewing the potential treats, the meals yet to be made.

I know I talk this magazine up, but Everyday Food really does seem to hit a good balance, proffering numerous affordable and interest-piquing dishes and desserts without falling into the traps so many other food publications do (recipes with overly-esoteric or wicked pricey ingredients, for example).

Each month, they spend a little time highlighting fruits and/or vegetables which happen to be in season, and this month Everyday Food included several dishes and recipe ideas with my personal favorite: pineapple. I LOVE pineapple. I can, and have on numerous occasions, eaten a whole fruit in one sitting -- it's among my favorite treats and one I frequently use to quell my sweet tooth, with great success. Even after it starts to hurt a little, I just don't want to stop eating pineapple.

Now, I'll eventually get down to the pineapple black bean salsa, or the pineapple jerk pork chops, but I was a little TOO excited to see the recipe for pineapple-and-ginger infused rum. I've made infused spirits before, but always with vodka, and always using the zest of citrus fruits. This recipe constituted some new ground, and for every bit of enjoyment I'll wring from the liqueur, I'll gain in equal measure from the soon-to-be pineapple rum cake WITH RUM INFUSED PINEAPPLE.

So, win-win, right?


Although I often use recipes as a jump-off point for creativity, in this case I followed the recipe closely. The hardest part by far was securing a 2 Qt-ish glass jar, it not being canning season -- I eventually found a big jar of Mott's apple sauce, which I emptied into another container and washed. Then, in went thin, inch-long slices of fresh ginger root.

Then, After removing the pineapple's rind and frond, I cut the fruit into long strips and began to see how much I could fit into the jar (note: about 3/4).

Then, with the rum. The recipe called for decent stuff; I went for Bacardi silver. Sue me. I managed to fit a full fifth (.750 L) into the jar. Now, it's supposed to sit for a few weeks in the fridge with a daily shake-up, but I'm more than a little excited to give it a shot.
I'm still pretty entertained by the fronds atop the jar.

I'll keep you all posted.


Pootsie Bread

Pootsie Bread, nee Cheddar-Corn Spoon Bread
On Tuesday, Pootsie, my roommate John's cat, passed away, after 11 years of being huge and awesome. He was pretty badass, all around, and in the four months or so that I got to know him, I liked him. And I'm not blindly pro-cat -- some are cool and some are smelly. Pootsie was cool.

(He was also HUGE. At least part Maine Coon Cat.)

John's grief and sadness, only amplified by Pootsie's rapid decline, needed fixing. On Tuesday night, a group of friends drank to Pootsie's memory; snowed in as we were on Wednesday afternoon, my reaction was to cook for him.

John's from the south, somewhere in bumblefudge (you can't swear on the Internet; it's in the rulebook) Virginia, and seems to me to be very southerny. Or at least his accent says so, which might not even be that heavy, but what the hell do I know -- I'm from Maine. I think I imagine him growing up wearing overalls and chewing straw, for the love of Pete.

Martha's pic, not mine.
Martha Stewart is always emailing me stuff, and one of the recipe's caught my eye as appropriate for the occasion. Cheddar Corn Spoon Bread, a cheesey, almost pudding-like corn bread seemed like the sort of thing they eat in the South, right? Alright, done with spouting preconceived notions about the great state of Virginia (Sic Semper Tyrannis!) et al.

The recipe, found here, involved bringing butter, corn kernels, corn meal, cayenne pepper, and milk to a boil before stirring in cheddar cheese. After the mixture cooled somewhat, I stirred in egg yolks and folded in egg whites I'd beaten to the point where small peaks started to form. The mixture, which already kinda looked at that point like something I would eat, baked 20-odd minutes in a 375 degree oven. In other words, the whole thing was easy.

I liked the dish a great deal, as did, I believe, John, and so, as I copy it into my recipe book, the dish will go by the title "Pootsie Bread."

John, there's more in the fridge.