Sunday, July 29, 2012

Meatless Mondays

It's Monday, and the Texan and I are going meatless.


After reading this article in the latest issue of my UCLA Alumni magazine, I was inspired to go totally meatless a minimum of one day a week. There was only one problem: I knew I had to get the Texan to try it. Otherwise, each Monday I'd be nibbling on tofu and salad greens while he chowed down on a steak, my martyrdom to the planet spilling over onto the table between us. But how was I going to convince a guy to go meatless who owns a t-shirt from a barbecue joint in Texas that says, "Vegetarian: The Indian word for Terrible Hunter"?

I decided to take the direct approach. One evening when I knew we were going out to an area with a large bookstore, I told him I had a proposition for him that involved reading a short article. I figured this would help my cause because a) he is an avid reader, and b) he loves facts. When he finished, I planned to just come out and say that I wanted to do Meatless Mondays and I wanted him to do it with me, please. I sat him on the sofa, handed him the article, and had this conversation:

Me: (silently rehearsing elevator speech)
Texan, finishing article: "You know, we should probably eat less meat. We could do Meatless Mondays or something like that."

Me: (silently) Wait, what?
(out loud) "Yeah, that's what I was thinking. We can stop at the bookstore tonight and look at vegetarian cookbooks."

Texan: (silently) That's EXACTLY how I wanted to spend my evening: perusing tofu and bulgher wheat recipes.
(out loud):  "Great! Let's go!"

As luck would have it, we found not one but two cookbooks we both liked, one of which is appropriately titled The Meat-Free Monday Cookbook and offers three seasonally appropriate meals for each week of the year.

Over dinner that night, we had this conversation:

Texan: "You know, it's really just one day a week. We can totally do it."

Me: "Yeah, and we already eat vegetarian breakfasts, so it's just two more meals that day that have to be veg."

Texan: "But if we like it and find recipes we like, we could make it two nights a week. Or even three."

Me: (silently) What the $*@%? Who ARE you?
(out loud) "That'd be cool. I have to admit, though, I was surprised when you suggested doing Meatless Mondays."

Texan, waving hands evangelist-style: "As I read the article, I was worried you had, like, seen the light and wanted to go totally vegan or something. So that's why I suggested Meatless Mondays before you could say anything: I figured one day a week was better than seven."

Ah, there's my carnivore.


Tonight's meal? Homemade tamales, salad, and maybe some vegan chocolate cake for dessert.

Fall from Glory

First, there was this:

Then, there was this:

And when I wasn't sure it could get any better there were these:

For vanilla-sea salt caramels in dark chocolate

So I decided to go really big and enter the California State Fair, and instead of entering two items, I figured I'd go for broke and enter three. All of which, of course, I wanted to be as fresh as possible so I waited until the day before the drop-off to make them. And so there was this:

Yep, two second places and a third place. And the most ironic part is, the third place entry won Best Of Show at the previous fair; the espresso-hazelnut truffle that placed second here placed first not once but twice at previous fairs!

The competition wasn't really that much stiffer at the state fair. The system of judging was different, but not necessarily harder. The problem was me: making three totally different products in a single day and expecting all of them to be cosmetically perfect is just plain stupid. Candy is time-consuming to make and chocolate is finicky to work with-- it can't be rushed, no matter how big a fair I enter. And sometimes I get impatient, and then I make tiny mistakes that no one else but me and the judge would notice, and then I don't win.

I would love to be able to say that I never make the same mistake twice, but I can't. Usually I have to make it a few times before I finally learn my lesson.  This isn't the first time I've made cosmetic mistakes on my candy, but I'm hoping that three non-blue ribbons, framed on the wall, will help me make sure it's the last.

Especially next summer, when I enter the state fair again, and WIN.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Taco Night

The Texan loves fish tacos. Like, to the point where I wouldn't be surprised if he up and moved to Baja and grew his hair all long and stringy and started wearing board shorts every day.

The first time he suggested we eat them, I wasn't altogether sure I'd like them, much less love them. I admit now that I do love them, but there are three problems with them.

1. Our favorite kind involves fried fish.

2. Fish is loaded with lead.

3. Many popular varieties of fish are overfished, or come from poorly managed fish farms.

On a weekend when the Texan happened to be out of town, my neighbor made fish tacos that offered a compromise to Problem Number 1. She breaded the fish filets in panko-style breadcrumbs, and then baked them in the oven. The breadcrumbs created the textural appeal of fried fish without all the fat and cholesterol. She sliced them into strips to serve, along with cabbage slaw, avocado slices, and lime quarters to squirt on top.

I liked them so much that I made them the next day for my dad, substituting shrimp for the white fish and adding a black bean-corn mixture to the fixings, as well as a little bit of jarred salsa. He seemed to like them, and they were ready in a ridiculously short time.

For a quick dinner before a date at the ballpark this week, I decided to make the fish tacos for the guy who loves them the most. I used shrimp again (I bought the 16-20 size, which I think is a little too big; in the future I'll use the next-smaller size), sauteeing it quickly in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and a teensy bit of cayenne.

I couldn't remember exactly how my neighbor made the slaw, so I just sliced cabbage very thinly, added some cilantro, and then lemon juice, S & P, and an even teensier bit of cayenne. I think she added either yogurt or sour cream to hers, but I don't use dairy if I can avoid it.

I sauteed some green bell pepper with a bit of onion in some olive oil and S & P, sliced some avocado, and boiled an ear of corn, and put them in individual bowls to be used according to taste. I also had a ripe mango and some peaches just waiting to be used, so I diced those, added some cilantro, onion, lemon juice, S & P, and a teensy bit of cayenne to make a fruit salsa with a little kick.

The fruit salsa adds the perfect amount of moisture to the tacos, without becoming soggy and drippy.

He loved them. What surprised me the most was that he also loved the fruit salsa, because he is not the Number One Fan of either mango or peaches. Granted, I had just found his new favorite chip at Berkeley Bowl -- a blue corn-quinoa-chia-maca salt-free chip -- so he had reason to eat many of them, but he's perfectly happy eating the chips plain so he must have actually, like, liked it. 

The only way to deal with Problem Number 2 is to eat fish sparingly. This would put a definite cramp in the Texan's Baja style, but while we still live in northern California, this is Just The Way It Is.  And as for Problem Number 3, I screwed up this time around. Not only were the shrimp I bought too big, but they were wild-caught from Mexico, which, according to my Seafood Watch app, is not a well-managed source of seafood. Think tons, literally, of sea turtle and small fish bycatch. Had I bought the smaller ones, I would have purchased US farm-raised shrimp, which is one of the most sustainable options.   See what happens when I get all greedy?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Olive Oyl

My Italian ancestors would be mortified, I'm sure, to know that lately I've kept canola oil in my pantry instead of olive oil. Seriously, I haven't even owned a bottle of olive oil in over a year.

While canola oil is the better choice for baking, which is why I chose it, it doesn't give much flavor to salad dressings or anything that is sauteed. I figured this could be compensated for to a certain degree with seasonings, whereas the density that olive oil gives my baked goods can't. A brick, after all, is still a brick no matter how much sugar I add.

Enter the June 2012 issue of Vegetarian Times where, amidst a series of baking recipes calling specifically for olive oil, there just happened to be a cake recipe with berries, citrus, wine, and olive oil. I screamed silently at the editors of the magazine, "Gawwwwd, twist my arm, why don't you!" Then I ran to the store to buy a bottle.

Despite such terrible pain in my arm, I managed to come up with this:

I take back everything I ever said about baking with olive oil. This cake was light and fluffy, almost sponge-y but in a good way, and the flavor was not overly sweet or olive-y. The citrus zests and wine lent bits of flavor that were perfectly balanced, yet there was plenty of room for a berry compote or maybe a sorbet to accompany the cake.

The editors note that the "recipe calls for a sweet wine to flavor the cake, but you could also use white wine left over from last night's dinner." While several of my regular readers don't ever wonder what to do with last night's wine because there is never any wine left over, those who do might find their own arms twisted just enough to... well, you know.

Figs were tasty, but I suggest a juicier berry to serve with the cake.

Olive Oil-Wine Cake
from Vegetarian Times, June 2012

Serves 10

2/3 C olive oil
1 1/2 C AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 C sweet dessert wine, such as Moscato, Marsala, or Muscat
1/3 C orange juice
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp grated lemon zest
4 eggs
1 C sugar
2 TBSP confectioners' sugar
1-2 pints fresh berries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9" springform pan with cooking spray or olive oil. Line bottom of pan with a circle of parchment paper, cut to fit.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together olive oil, wine, orange juice, and zests.
3. Beat eggs and sugar in stand mixer or with electric mixer for 4 minutes, or until pale yellow and tripled in volume. Add half of dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until blended. Add half of liquid mixture, and mix to blend. Repeat with remaining dry and liquid mixtures.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan, and set on baking sheet. Bake 50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes, and then remove sides of pan to cool completely. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve with berries (or compote).