Category Archives: reviews, critiques, and commentary

Two Cookbooks

Piss me right off, when I bother following a recipe and then it fails. But sometimes cookbook authors know just the right way. The problem is choosing a cookbook you can trust. I’ve been cooking from these two recently, and they haven’t let me down.

The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen
by Peter Berley

This guy used to run the kitchen at Angelica Kitchen, the macro-vegan restaurant in New York. He uses a little butter here and there, but pretty much all of the recipes can easily be made vegan. The desserts are spectacular–I have been making the chocolate cake and the lemon rice pudding at a vegetarian restaurant I work in, and selling them out like crazy. The vegetable recipes are simple, but just a little better than what you might throw together without a recipe; they have that one extra ingredient that makes the dish memorable. And almost above all, included in this book is a recipe for BBQ tempeh, aka, vegan pork ribs.

Baking Illustrated
from the America’s Test Kitchen editors of Cooks Illustrated magazine

This is a big-ass book of recipes that almost all contain eggs, butter, and/or milk. BUT, the authors and test kitchen bakers tell you why they used what, so if you do need to make substitutions you will have some idea what might work. My friend and I once stayed up all night baking Christmas cookies in Queens, with this book as our guide. The ginger-snap style turned out especially nice with our vegan substitutions, and you can read about my experiments with the Baking Illustrated soda bread, vegan-style.

Have any trustworthy cookbook suggestions of your own?

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Greenberg’s Food Combining Principles

The book Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford (North Atlantic 1993) offers advice on traditional, healthy food-pairing. Pitchford looks to ancient Chinese medicine and current nutrition research. He claims the only vegetables good to eat (combine) with fruit, for proper digestion, are lettuce and celery, and that beans are best eaten with green vegetables (such as kale).

But the movie Greenberg, starring Ben Stiller and directed/written by Noah Baumbach, offers alternative, intuition-based food combining principles. Here are the top three combinations from the movie, followed by one example that is not a food combination exactly but relevant nonetheless. See the movie for more.

1. Whiskey and Ice Cream Sandwiches
The movie’s plot revolves around Stiller’s character, Greenberg, watching his brother’s house while his brother is gone on business in Vietnam. When his brother’s assistant swings by to get her paycheck, she offers to pick up anything Greenberg needs from the store. “Make a list,” she says. Greenberg writes a list including, and limited to, whiskey and ice cream sandwiches. The most interesting thing about this food combination is that it is exactly the opposite of what anyone sincerely interested in food combining would choose if asked to plan ahead.

2. Whiskey and Raisins
Greenberg makes a habit of writing letters of complaint to companies that piss him off. His snack during one particularly eloquent letter-writing session (to Starbucks) is whiskey with raisins. The two most interesting things about this combination/scene are first, that Greenberg takes the opaque inner bag of raisins out of the box, so that the fact he is eating raisins is not explicit. Second, this combination is like a recipe for chocolate sorbetto (sorbet), made from cocoa powder sweetened with whiskey-soaked raisins.

3. Whiskey and Instant Noodles
There are a lot of eating scenes in Greenberg but Greenberg never cooks. His dinner one night is cup noodles and whiskey at the living room coffee table. Did you know that George Ohsawa, the founder of macrobiotics, is said to have enjoyed whiskey? The Japanese are also fond of noodles. And, the MSG in cup noodles is one thing that might stand up to the strength of pure whiskey when tasted together.

4. Whiskey and Inappropriate Behavior
All whiskey drinkers know about this classic combination. Actually it works best without any food at all! Greenberg gives several examples combining whiskey or another booze with inappropriate behavior; sexual and vulgar. See for yourself in the movie, as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone.

Home Cooking versus Restaurant Options in Colorado Springs

My recent food adventures have been limited to simple variations on the grains-beans-greens theme punctuated with occasional excursions into the Colorado Springs restaurant scene. While simple home-cooked meals are always satisfying, we don’t always have time for them. Too bad it is nearly impossible to get legitimate food in a restaurant!

The most satisfying meal is based on whole grains. Brown rice, quinoa, or even homemade bread are all good choices for the grain. Combined with soft, pressure-cooked, onion-and-cumin-spiked beans and simple steamed or seared greens or a sturdy orange vegetable (see my many posts on carrots and squash), grains make a fully satisfying meal.

Several restaurants in New York City (most notably Souen) serve spectacularly simple, cheap, satisfying meals of whole grains, beans and steamed vegetables. In Colorado Springs and Manitou, it is possible to get a good organic salad or a more-complicated–and not organic–approximation of grains-greens-beans, but anything more requires home cooking. Here are the places I go in a pinch:

Mountain Mama Natural Foods
This health food store is on Uintah street just West of downtown Colorado Springs. There is not an official place to sit and eat, but curbside picnics are fine in warm weather. The deli sandwiches are made on house-baked, whole grain bread (which is sweetened with honey, but otherwise vegan) and stacked with fresh, organic vegetables, including shredded carrots, sprouts, onions and avocado. The Italian-seasoned tofu sandwich, available wrapped in the produce cooler by the fruit, should be eaten with sesame blue chips and shared by two people. Whole wheat bread and blue corn provide satisfying, though ‘processed’, grain base, with fresh, organic raw vegetables a nice change from cooked greens and tofu a hearty replacement for whole beans. The sandwich is around $6, but you’ll probably spend a few more on chips, kombucha and maybe organic dark chocolate.

The Mate Factor
The Mate Factor, by Soda Springs Park in Manitou Springs, offers another variation on the raw-vegetable sandwich. Their tofu and vegetable wrap is made in a whole wheat tortilla, with lettuce, tomato, green olives, red onions and baked tofu. It comes with shredded cheese, which they are happy to omit for vegans. The vinaigrette dressing is vegan also. Who knows if this thing is organic?! It is, however, tasty and fresh. The Mate Factor also serves organic green Mate tea, hot and with re-fills. Though it doesn’t stick to your ribs like hot cooked grains-greens-beans, the tofu wrap is a good light lunch. Vegan carob-chip cookies make good dessert. The wrap is just over five dollars, with tea less than two and the cookie just under two also.

Adam’s Mountain Cafe
Adam’s, also in Manitou, is the only place I know of that serves organic, plain brown rice. Get it next to the garden salad with sesame-crusted tofu, and red lentil dal if you are extra hungry. The brown rice isn’t half as good as homemade, pressure-cooked brown rice. But, the salad is pretty amazing, with raw carrot spirals, red cabbage, cucumber slices and pea shoots and a creamy sesame-ginger dressing or a more oily lime-chipotle dressing. Adam’s is the only sit-down restaurant I believe really tries to use organic ingredients. They also offer cooked vegetable and grain dishes, such as Tibetan vegetables over brown rice with tamari, garlic and ginger. Meals get up to around fifteen dollars, or even more with added tofu, here, but the quality is dependable and worth the money.

King Chef Diner
Why am I even mentioning this place? They say the fake sausage is vegan, but I don’t believe it. Grains are limited to white-flour tortillas, or hash browns (those aren’t really a grain, they are made out of POTATOES). However, the green chile is spicy, vegan and very ‘green’. The walls will also blind you with their boldness, and the waitresses look like they just rolled out of bed after two hours of fitful, drunken half-slumber.

Rico’s/Poor Richards
This place is downtown Colorado Springs on Tejon Street. Here is the complicated and not-organic version of grains-greens-beans. Upon discovering their Seared Greens and White Beans, I became obsessed with them and ate them twice a week with corn chips on the side. They were less than five dollars, though now cost close to eight. After being hired in the kitchen and learning to make the greens and beans myself, I still consider it one of the more legitimate meals available in town, although the ingredients are not organic. The corn chips are not natural, which can be proved by simple inquiry of staff as to their ingredients. Brown rice is available, though microwaved. Elizabeth David wondered, in her English Bread and Yeast Cookery if it would be acceptable to bring one’s own bread to a restaurant. If it were, I would bring my own bread to eat with Rico’s beans and greens. Poor Richard’s offers part-whole-grain pizza crust (spelt), with hummus and a choice of vegetables (avocado pizza!).

Various Falafel Shops
The falafel shops I go to are Arabica Cafe and Taste of Jarusalem, both downtown Colorado Springs. They offer good hummus, raw vegetables, bean-flour falafel and white pita or rice. If only the grains were whole and the ingredients organic, these places would be ideal. Even so, they offer tahini sauce that provides a sesame fix, and satisfying beans in the hummus and falafel. Dolmas are wrapped in hearty green grape leaves. For less than ten dollars you can get a plateful. Arabica cafe specifies one meal as ‘vegan’ on the menu. The vegetable and falafel plates at Taste of Jarusalem are vegan as long as you don’t get the yogurt sauce (tzaziki).

El Tesoro
Located downtown Colorado Springs next to the library and Pike’s Peak Community College. Happy hour caters to students with cheap house margaritas. They offer cooked greens (spinach) in a burrito, but a better option is combining sides of the vegan pinto beans with blue-corn tortillas and fresh guacamole. Corn chips and salsa come with the table. The bean tacos, available without cheese, are filled with the same pinto beans, or black beans with lettuce and some zucchini on the side. But, they cost 8-10 dollars (lunch and dinner prices vary) plus more to add guacamole. The sides of beans and tortillas are just two dollars each, with guacamole ‘market price’ of around six dollars for a whopping bowl-ful.

La’au’s
Another taco shop, a few blocks north on Tejon Street near Colorado College. The tacos are good, with vegetables, beans, guacamole and corn or tomato salsa. The atmosphere sucks. Tacos are just a couple of dollars each. Get mini-bottles of Sol beer for the mood. Flour tortillas are made in-house, but of white flour. Corn tortillas and fried tortilla chips offer whole grain corn. The vegetables are a blend of onions, peppers, zucchinis; good but not organic.

Smiley’s
Morning oatmeal with thawed frozen blueberries. Up on Tejon Street. The oatmeal is sweetened with something like brown sugar. The best part is the pile of blueberries. Thick mugs of coffee. All the drowsy CC kids go there for breakfast at noon on the weekends. They also have homemade wheat bread, though it obviously contains a good portion of refined white flour too. For a pseudo-vegan treat, get it toasted with no butter and soak it with honey. Oatmeal, toast and coffee for two will run you about 20 dollars.

Wooglin’s Deli
Rarely go here. They do have Wimburger’s sourdough rye toast and beany, vegan red chile. Odwalla carrot juice in the drinks case stands in for a vegetable. Chile, toast and carrot juice should be less than ten dollars. There are booths to lurk in and vats of hot coffee, too. Located a few doors up from Couture’s laundrette up on Tejon Street. Carrot juice while you wash your clothes? Then you will have a fantastic tan to go with all your favorite shirts!

So it is apparent the options in town are very limited when it comes to getting a balanced meal. The best choice is to cook food yourself, with fresh organic produce, dried beans and whole grains. But an occasional trip out to one of these places will provide entertainment and a reminder of just how good home cooking is.

Arugula with Curly Endive, Celery Root and Walnuts

Tuesday, 5 January 2010 at Macrobiotic Cooking Club

Boxed greens are irritatingly convenient, but it is muddy bunched arugula and feathered heads of curly endive that are irresistible. For a small winter salad, the task of cleaning them is not so tedious after all. I learned from reading Deborah Madison’s The Greens Cookbook and The Savory Way. Madison admits of pre-washed greens’ contribution to a speedy salad, but encourages her readers more towards garden toil and countryside gathering. Far from being a nuisance, “Handling the tender, delicate leaves,” she says, “…is one of the keenest pleasures in the kitchen I know.” (The Savory Way)

To make eight small salads:

1 smallish celery root
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch arugula
1 head curly endive
3-4 Tablespoons raw walnuts (halves/pieces)

3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
3 Tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1/2-1 teaspoon toasted walnut oil
1/2 cup cold water

(Heat the oven at 350 degrees F to toast the walnuts.)

1. Peel the gnarly outer layer off the celery root. Use a vegetable peeler to make thin shavings of the inner root. Toss the shavings in salt and set them aside in a small bowl to ‘quick pickle’ while you prepare the rest of the salad.

2. Wash and dry the arugula, removing any tough stems and wilted or yellow leaves. Trim the base off the curly endive and wash and dry the frilly leaves. Set these aside while you prepare the walnuts and the dressing.

3. When the oven is heated, toast the walnuts just until crisp and very lightly brown. Check them every 5 minutes, as they are easy to burn. Once they are toasted, set them aside to cool while you prepare the dressing.

4. This light dressing is based on Aveline Kushi’s Tamari-Lemon Dressing. Combine the lemon juice, tamari, walnut oil and water. It is easy to shake them all in a jar together, then store any extra dressing in the same jar.

5. Add cold water to the bowl with the celery root and swish it around to wash off the extra salt. Taste it and rinse again if it is still too salty. Drain off the water.

To Serve:

1. Divide the curly endive between eight small plates.

2. Toss the arugula with dressing to taste. Divide it between the plates, mounding it atop the endive. Use half again as much arugula as endive.

3. Place several strips of quick-pickled celery root atop the arugula on each plate; to equal about 2/3 the volume of endive.

4. Roughly chop the toasted walnuts and sprinkle them onto the salads.

About Celery Root and Curly Endive

The French enjoy both of these vegetables. Flying to Paris from New York aboard an AirFrance airplane, I tasted celery root for the first time. Shredded and dressed, as it was, in vegan remoulade, it tasted like a delicate and string-less version of the ribby, stalk celery. It is actually not the same vegetable at all, but, according to Larousse Gastronomique, an entire other “…variety of celery grown for its fleshy whitish root, which can weigh…(1 3/4-2 1/4 lb).” In France, it is called celeriac, or celeri-rave.

Celery root is adaptable to cooking styles ranging from the near-raw remoulade and quick pickle, above, to steaming, braising or stuffing. Curly endive, however, with its “very thin and serrated” leaves, is “…eaten mainly in salad.” (Larousse Gastronomique). The Chef at a French restaurant I worked in pointed it out in the salad mix we used, saying he wished he could buy it alone. Similarly, many American restaurant guests pick it out of the salad mix and leave it on the corner of their plates. To each their own, as they say. Those who wish to buy curly endive alone should look at Whole Foods, where I chose mine from a row of the small, individual heads. It may also be called frisee or chicory.

Four of us cooked and ate at Meeting Eleven of the Macrobiotic Cooking Club. In addition to salad, we had the following:

Red Lentil Dahl
Arame and Onions
Brown Basmati with Spinach
(Red Wine and Green Tea)

Next week we’re making sushi.