On Becoming A Plant-Based-Eater

After spending a lifetime working towards becoming primarily a plant-eater I can honestly say that I’ve learned a thing or two.

My Story

Being raised as a carnivore, but always wanting to be a vegetarian, meant that my vegetarian ways could not begin until I was about eighteen. Once I left home and no longer had to eat what was put in front of me, I realized that I could choose how I ate. And so I did.

Back then there were not many guides to the vegetarian lifestyle, but my first cookbook was Anna Thomas’ The Vegetarian Epicure. With this one, I learned how to bake bread, make quiches, and do things with a cabbage I would have never thought of myself. I still reference its pie crust recipe to this day. Laurel’s Kitchen and The Moosewood Cookbook also made it onto my cookbook shelf and taught me how to make a hearty Black Bean Soup, cauliflower and potato crusts for quiches, and still my all time favorite dessert, Carrot Cake.

There is one warning I do have to give about the above cookbooks – if you follow the recipes to the word, and you make lunch and dinner from them every day, you will gain weight. Since these books were published, much has been learned about calories, using fats (like butter or olive oils) when we cook, food portions, and timing of meals.

Over the following years, in my twenties and thirties, it wasn’t easy to stick with a vegetarian lifestyle.

Continue reading “On Becoming A Plant-Based-Eater”

Pico de Gallo

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Pico de Gallo is probably one of the easiest Mexican dishes to make. Considered to be a salad in and of itself, its three main ever-present ingredients are fresh tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. But there are really as many variations on the Pico de Gallo theme as there are cooks wielding knives.

Pico de Gallo is also commonly, although mistakenly, called a salsa. When many people think of salsa, they are actually picturing Pico de Gallo. Salsa is the word for sauce in Spanish and salsa is much more of a thick spicy liquid than the chopped, chunky Pico de Gallo. Salsas also have many different flavors as they can be made with more variety of ingredients such as tomatoes, tomatillos, any variety of chilis, mango, or avocado as their primary base.

Pico de Gallo is a raw vegetable and fruit – since tomatoes are technically a fruit – dish and is very easy to prepare. All you need are the ingredients, a bowl, a cutting board, and a good knife.

For it to be a true Pico de Gallo, the ingredients must be fresh, no canned items or dried herbs! In El Norte, this may be something that is limited to the summer months because of the availability of fresh ingredients.

FoodSalsa7598

The Main Ingredients:
Ripe tomatoes, and if they are available, make them heirloom and organic for the flavor. Organic cherry tomatoes work well too.
Red onion
Sprigs of fresh cilantro

The Secondary Ingredients: All or Any
A clove or two of fresh garlic
A serrano or jalapeno pepper
Red and/or green bell pepper
The juice of a lime or two and if you can’t find a lime, a lemon will do
A splash of olive oil
A dash of salt

Directions:
– Chop up the ingredients into small bits and put in the bowl. Mix. Done.
– Things do not have to be perfectly sized as Pico de Gallo is very chunky. When you chop the tomatoes, make sure to capture the juice and put it in the bowl as well. The heat in the jalapeno peppers lives in their seeds. Some people take out the seeds and some leave the seeds in, it’s up to you and how you like it.

Tips:
– This dish is much more fun to make without a food processor.
– If red onions are too harsh for you when used raw, saute them for a moment to sweeten them up.

Other ingredients that also make Pico de Gallo yummy (but probably not all of these together):
Diced avocado, mango, or papaya.

What to do with Pico de Gallo?
– Open a bag of chips and dip right in.
Pico de Gallo tastes great topped on grilled chicken or fish. Use either cold, or saute very quickly to warm it up.
– Scramble into eggs, stuff into an omrlette with some jack cheese, or toss into/onto home fries.
– Salsa does like to be paired with sour cream.
– Toss into a green mixed salad with cooled grilled chicken (or just the green salad for you vegetarians).
– Stir into guacamole or a bowl of sour cream for a more creamy and cool dip.

Enjoy!

Do you have a variation on Pico de Gallo that you love? Let us know about it in the comments.

Out Of The Archives:
Potage Parmentier

PotatoLeek3366

Why Parmentier?
A few potato dishes in France are named after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737 – 1813) who is known as the promoter of using potatoes for something more than feeding the barnyard animals. Parmentier was a prisoner in Prussia during the Seven Years War and upon his return home to France in 1763 he could see that the French people were starving. In the 16th century it was a law in France that potatoes would not be used for human consumption as it was believed, mistakenly, that they caused leprosy and other diseases. But in the Prussian prison where Parmentier lived, they survived on potatoes, so on his return he set out to change the mindset, and the law, of the French people into accepting this tuber as the survival food that it is.

Potato and Leek Soup is a French staple and forms the base for a number of other recipes. It can be made hearty and thick, or thinned with cream or chicken stock. Serve it up with a warm crusty baguette smeared with butter for a filling meal in and of itself.

Ingredients:
4-5 medium sized Russet Potatoes
1 Leek
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Salt to taste
Dried Basil
Dried Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
1 Clove Garlic
Butter, or, Butter and Olive Oil
Filtered Water
Milk – The kind of milk is up to you.

Optional Ingredients:
Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh Chives

Directions:
Peel and cut the potatoes into small cubes.
Chop the clove of garlic.

Get out your soup pot. A 3-quart pot would be big enough for this recipe.
Set the fire to low.
Add the butter.
As the butter melts, add the salt, black pepper, basil, and dried thyme.
Once the butter is melted, add the chopped potatoes.
Stir to cover the potatoes with the melted butter and herbs.
Saute for a few minutes.
Add the chopped garlic.
Add the bay leaf.
If the potatoes start to stick to the pan, add a little water and stir.
Then cover the potatoes with filtered water and simmer.

Simmer the potatoes for about 45 minutes.

Take the leek and slice down the middle, then turn it halfway and slice it down the middle again. Then slice the leek into thin slices.
Put it in a colander or a strainer and rinse well to get out the dirt.
Get out a saucepan.
Set another fire on the stove to low.
Add some butter.
Saute the leeks until they are tender.
Add spoonfuls of broth from the soup when needed to keep the leeks from burning.

When the leeks are limp, add them to the potatoes.
Stir.
Simmer for another 5 – 10 minutes.

Add some milk/cream.

If you have an immersion blender, use it to puree half the soup.

Ladle this hearty and thick soup up into bowls, sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese and some chopped chives.

Bon Appetit!

Note About Potatoes:
There is a reason why a soup would call for a Russet potato rather than just any potato. Russets are starchy and will fall apart when they are cooked – especially when they are over cooked in a soup. This does two things – it spreads the potato flavor through out the soup, and it also serves as a natural thickener. By using Russet potato and cream in this soup, you can bypass making a roux.

Find more information on Antoine-Augustin Parmentier on Wikipedia.

Out Of The Archives:
Zucchini Provencal

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Zucchini Provencal in my kitchen

One way to use the end of abundant summer growing season vegetables – tomatoes and zucchini – is to make this simple side dish, Zucchini Provencal. French home cooks tend to cook zucchini until it is almost mushy. So feel free to experiment with the cooking time, and make it to your taste and preference.

Ingredients:
1 onion
2-3 medium sized zucchini
2 tomatoes
dried basil
ground pepper
olive oil

Directions:
Chop all of the vegetables in large chunks.
In a saute pan, heat some olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
Add some ground pepper and dried basil.
When the oil is hot, add the chopped onions.
Saute the onions until they start to clear.
Add the zucchini and stir.
Add the tomatoes and stir.
Saute until the tomatoes release their juice, the onions have become clear and the zucchini is soft the whole way through.

Serve hot as a side dish or a big bowl of it for a meal. It goes great with a big chunk of fresh baguette smeared with butter. I’ve also used it as a filling for a savory galette with parmesan cheese.

Et Voila!

Bon Appetit!

Out Of The Archives:
Sweet Crêpes

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Chestnut Crêpes in my kitchen

You can find many different kinds of Crêpes in Parisian restaurants and cafes as well as at the to-go windows of the Crêperies throughout the busy sections of the city. Filled with anything from ham and eggs to chantilly – whipped cream – these petite meals, or just plain treats, are easy to make and a truly versatile, standard fare in Paris!!

A Little History

French crêpes originated in Bretagne, in the west of France, although you will find a form of them throughout all the regions of Europe. Crêpes have probably been around since French cooks first started cooking with wheat. They are traditionally thought of as a French dish, but they have history in ancient Rome, as well as every other ancient culture that figured out how to mix up a batter and use a fire. The difference is that the French, of course, have made crêpe making into an art form!

Created as a substitute for bread when wheat was scarce, their main duty is to serve as a vehicle for transporting the fillings inside them. Crêpes can take on two forms, savory and sweet. Savory Crêpes, or Galettes, are heavy and earthy tasting, made with buckwheat flour. Sweet Crêpes are light and sweet and made with wheat flour and a little sugar. A meal made of crêpes can be easy and fun to make as well as filling.

The difference between pancakes and crêpes is that the crêpe batter is thinner and is spread very thinly with a long tongued spatula over the entire surface of the crêpe pan, while a pancake is made from a thicker batter that gets plopped by the spoonful onto a hot greasy skillet.

Crêpes!

A Basic Sweet Crêpe Recipe

This is a small recipe inspired by The Joy of Cooking and is enough for one person. To make more, just double or triple the recipe.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup flour – all purpose or pastry; whole wheat is too heavy so don’t use that
1/4 cup of milk of your choice
1/8 cup water at room temperature
1 egg
3 teaspoons of sugar – fine white sugar is best, turbinado is not a good choice for this recipe
1 tablespoon of melted butter
Pinch of salt

Powdered confectioner’s sugar to sprinkle on top.
Add a pinch, just a pinch, of cinnamon to the batter for flair.

Utensils:
Mixing bowl
A ladle, or 2 cup liquid measuring cup with a spout
Crêpe pan or a seasoned cast iron griddle will do, but a skillet won’t work for this project because it has sides which prohibit turning the crêpe
A long tongued metal spatula

Directions:
Combine all of the ingredients in the mixing bowl and stir until all the dry ingredients are moistened.
Let the batter stand for at least 30 minutes, until the flour has absorbed the moisture.
The batter can be kept in the frigo for up to 2 days.
Have your filling ingredients ready and handy.
Heat the griddle on a medium heat.
Rub the hot griddle with butter until it is covered.
Pour about two or three tablespoons of batter onto the center of the pan/griddle and spread it out with the spatula towards the edges of the pan, making it as thing as possible.
When the crêpe has set and the underside is a bit golden, use the spatula to turn the crêpe.
If you are making crêpes for a meal, then grab a plate. When the crêpe is done, spoon on the filling, spreading out over half of the crêpe.
Fold the crêpe in half, then in half again making a triangule shape.

Fillings:
Spread half of the crêpe with Nutella or another kind of melted or spreadable chocolate.
Warmed fruits such as sautéed apples or peaches, jams, sauces or fruit or nut purees make wonderful fillings.
Simple sweet crêpes can be solely brushed with butter for a simple treat.
Top sweet filled crêpes with whipped cream or dust with powdered sugar.
You can roll the crêpe into a cylinder around the stuffing rather than folding it into triangles.
Variations of crêpes are limited only by your imagination!

Serve warm.

Bon Appétit!