1. Food and cooking are deceptively simple acts that are encountered by everyone, every day, and everyone has his or her own opinion on just what tastes good. However, as with effective spiritual practice, good cuisine requires both intelligence and wisdom, both individual experience and a willingness to trust the classics and the experts. Instead of The Gospels or the Dhammapada, you’ve got Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Instead of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, you’ve got Harold Mcgee.

2. Sure, people can cook without ever having cracked open a book on the subject. Some people can cook intuitively with very little need for recipes or measurements, but the food they cook tastes so good because of the processes described in the books they don’t read. If I intuit that searing a lamb shank and then slow-roasting it in liquid makes for a delicious lamb shank, it doesn’t make my process any more “valid” than a recipe for “Braised Lamb Shank” in The Joy of Cooking. Studying what the experts have to say give you a foundation for your own practice.

3. This doesn’t mean you have to follow what Jacques Pepin says to a “t”– indeed, the best instructors are the ones who teach you how to improvise every now and again. But, this improvisation isn’t “making stuff up,” it’s personalization.  Myths are recipes for spiritual practice, and deviating from them here and there should be encouraged. However, you can’t make hollandaise sauce using rum and tuna fish, any more than you can make enlightenment using Ken Wilbur and ayahuasca.

4. Just as with spiritual practice, if you don’t try to figure out what you’re doing when you’re cooking something, you’re gonna end up screwing up. You can substitute baking soda for baking powder all you want because you think it’ll work, but you’re gonna end up with some nasty cookies. And you’ve got a bunch of nonsense out there, too– no matter how many dumb jerks in restaurants are trying to pass off tilapia as Chilean Sea Bass, there’s a huge difference for those who choose to take the time to understand it.

5. Cooking depends to a great extent on the imperfection of the world, on the need to kill to survive, no matter if you’re killing animals or plants. Nonetheless, it’s also the perfect example of the spiritual seed hidden in all things that can manifest in the simplest form: a perfect brioche, a melt-in-your-mouth grilled sirloin, a piece of raw salmon wrapped in a thin layer of nori.

6. There’s a reason so many food critics describe eating as a “revelation,” or “sublime.” As far as I’m concerned, if the flavor of the tenderest slow-cooked forkful of corned beef with a little caramelized carrot and potato isn’t enlightenment, I don’t know what is. For you, it might be the first bite into a hand-picked tomato fresh off the vine, or a swallow of a perfect Italian vino rosso that doesn’t even have a label.

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While shopping for ingredients for our traditional Super Bowl Nachos, it occurred to me that traditional jars of pickled jalapeños (like the ubiquitous versions of Mezetta) can cost as much as $4.00, depending on where they’re purchased.

MEZETTA, WHY YOU NO CHEAPER?

Sauntering over to the fresh produce section, I find that fresh jalapeños are a mere DOLLAR A POUND!

JALAPENO, WHY YOU NO COST MORE?

Plus, they’re more delicious!  So, instead of spending almost $4.00 on a jar of old peppers that’s probably been sitting on the shelf for a long time, I picked up $0.50 worth of fresh jalapeños (1/2 lb. — more than enough for a couple of  heaping piles of nachoy goodness) and took them home to play.

Warning: cutting jalapeños (or any hot pepper) should be done with care! Those bad boys will burn anything you stick your fingers in after you’ve cut into them (wink wink! What? No, I’m talking about your nose!). You could wear gloves, or you could just be sure to wash the dickens out of your hands, especially under your fingernails, when you’re done preparing.

QUICK-PICKLED JALAPEÑOS

1. First, slice the peppers into little disc shapes (of course, you could cut them into any shape you think works best, but I’m a traditionalist). (At this point, you could remove the seeds if you want milder peppers, but what are you, a wuss?)

2. Next, put the peppers into a glass container.

3. Next, measure enough white vinegar to cover the peppers and pour the vinegar into a small saucepan. Add 1 tsp salt per cup of vinegar. At this point, you can mix it up a little and go crazy!  I tossed in some salted ginger and some allspice. Bring this mixture to a boil until the salt dissolves.

4. Pour the vinegar mixture, still hot, over the jalapeños.

5. Cover, chill for at least an hour, and serve.

These are not mine, but look basically identical

Of course, depending on what you add to the mix, the longer these puppies sit, the more flavor they develop. I let mine sit overnight, and YUM!

These should keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Did I mention this cost me FIFTY CENTS? Yeah.

Make some quick-pickled jalapeños today!

One of the amazing things about living in Seattle is how one day of sunny, 60-degree weather cancels out about 30 of the darkest, coldest days of the winter. This past weekend brought some of the most delightful sunshiny days in months, and we decided to take advantage of the relative warmth and start prepping the garden beds for an upcoming planting.

I’d covered most of the beds with landscaping fabric during the off-season, since we didn’t do any winter gardening this year (new baby and all), but a couple of plots remained uncovered because we still had some radishes and carrots hanging around in November. The uncovered plots had, of course, become covered in little seedlings, which have to be removed prior to planting.

The seedlings were almost all dandelions, so, rather than simply chuckin’ ’em into the compost pile, I took the nicest samples and placed them in a bag. We found a few other goodies as well:

Yum!

From top to bottom:  radish greens, stray radishes, stray baby carrots, baby dandelion greens, another carrot, baby bittercress (aka shotweed), some green onions on the side.

We had more than enough to make a nice little salad. It was  too bitter for Emily; next time we’ll probably mix the weeds in with some other kinds of greens. I’m more of a fan of strong flavors, so I enjoyed the salad with some oil and vinegar, and I especially enjoyed the fact that it was completely free of charge!

We’re happy foragers, and love looking for wild foods in our local urban parks, but once you’re familiar with edible weeds, you’ll be amazed at how much free food you’ll find growing in your very own yard! And, you don’t have to use it all in salads. We’ve featured dandelion salsa on this site, and will include some other wild food recipes if we can get our book funded.

(Warning: never eat weeds that have been treated with chemicals or poisons, because Yuck! Instead of poisoning your dandelions, pick them and eat them.)

Howdy to our Friends and Supporters! Thanks to everyone who has backed us so far– we’re $331 closer to meeting our $3000 goal. Of course, that means we have quite a way to go if this cookbook is going to be made.

We’ve reached the 30 day point, which means we need to average about $89/day between now and March 2. YIKES! Seems daunting, but WE CAN DO IT! Please consider helping by becoming a backer, or by sharing our little project with anyone you think might be interested.

ANY LITTLE BIT HELPS!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1787931793/meat-no-meat-a-cookbook-for-the-biculinary

Please Help My Mommy and Daddy Write a Cookbook!

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Although it’s tempting to characterize Meat/No Meat as “Flexitarian,” or “semi-vegetarian,” we prefer the term “Biculinary.” There are dozens of flexitarian cookbooks on the market already; what makes our cookbook different from all of those guys?

A flexitarian diet is one in which someone eats mostly vegetarian cuisine, but occasionally adds meat.  Emily is 100% vegetarian (“ovo-lacto-vegetarian if you’re a hair-splitter), so she wouldn’t ever use the meat versions of the recipes we’re including. Jeremy, on the other hand, greatly enjoys vegetarian cuisine, but is a dyed-in-the-wool omnivore. The meat versions of each recipe won’t just be vegetarian versions with a little animal protein added for flavor.

This is why our recipes are a little more complex than just “Stir fry with chicken or tofu! *Giggle!*”

The eggplant salt pork or veggie sausage experiment are excellent examples. We’re concerned not with simple substitution, but with coming up with holistic flavor contributions that will contribute additional complexity to a recipe. This might mean a little more initial work, but the payoff is always something more than the simple, utilitarian flavor of seitan. We want to turn that seitan into something sublime!

Of course, we’ll also provide “easy” versions for those times when you don’t feel like whipping up a two-day eggplant confit.

The other flexitarian trope that doesn’t fit into our philosophy is the idea that semi-vegetarian cuisine needs to be “healthy,” or healthier, than meat-based food. Meat/No Meat is not a health food book. Granted, we won’t subject our readers to Paula Deen-style butter debauchery, but we don’t feel it’s our responsibility to count calories and fat for people who use our recipes. Eating more vegetables is better for you, yes, and some of our recipes will be healthy and wholesome, but this isn’t the main concept behind our book. We’ll also be including recipes that are deep fried, salty and fatty.

Flexitarianism is great, but it’s different than what we’re doing. We’re more interested in the commingling of two culinary philosophies, not mere replacement therapy.

We still need your help!  We have 31 days to go to raise $2,669.00, or the project won’t be funded or produced.  Please consider becoming a backer today!

(Continued from Part 2)

So, in an attempt to create the perfect vegetarian Country-style Sausage for Scotch Eggs, we came up with a product using bulgur wheat, black beans and powdered buttermilk that tasted almost exactly like the real thing:

I'm Vegetarian Sausage! SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS....

The problem: the binding agent, or lack thereof, caused the mixture to break down into crumbles.  Although this is dandy for other recipes– dolmes, sausage casserole, and stuffed peppers come to mind– we really need something for Scotch eggs that will hold together well enough to wrap around a hardboiled egg.

The problem is that most binding agents come with their own flavors. Since this mixture tastes and feels almost perfect, we don’t want to alter the flavor or texture palate to a huge degree. We thought of a couple of possibilities.

– Regular wheat flour seems the obvious choice, but we’re concerned about how it might affect the flavor and texture.

– We could try some egg, but since the recipe is based on hardboiled eggs, we’re worried it’ll be too eggy.

We ransacked the pantry, and found a couple of items we thought might fit the bill: soy flour and gluten. We divided the remaining batter from the original batch and measured soy flour into one and gluten into the other. Since we’re still in the development stage, our measurements were fairly inexact; mixing was performed by hand and enough of each substance was added to better bind the batter (say that five times fast!).

The results of both were fairly underwhelming.

The soy flour gave the sausage a “green” flavor, like we’d mixed in edamame. Blech. It also didn’t hold together well enough. Better than the original batch, but not well enough to wrap around an egg.

The gluten held together wonderfully, but imparted its own flavor to the mix that almost overwhelmed the sausage-ness. In fact, the mix which included the gluten tasted almost exactly like the fake sausage brand we buy at the store. So, we know how they do that, but we’re trying to avoid the flavors of store-bought veggie sausage. Gluten won’t work.

Frustrating! But now’s not the time to quit, not when we’re close enough to taste that Scotch egg and its tangy intersection with HP sauce and our bellies. So, what next?

Next, we hit the grocery store again to procure a couple of other possible binding agents. A quick bit of research gives some possible clues. I’d like to try arrowroot starch– supposedly high on binding ability but low on flavor. Another thought is unflavored whey protein powder. (At this point, it’s beginning to feel like the Ingredients Playoffs.)

Of course, this will have to wait until we can afford to run out and buy some new ingredients, so it’ll likely be next week before we post the next installment. If you’ve been following along so far, thanks a mil! And, if you’d like to help support this project, check out Meat/No Meat: A Cookbook for the Biculinary, and maybe consider becoming a backer!

We’ll be returning to our discussion on the perfect vegetarian sausage substitute shortly, but first, we wanted to draw your attention to the anti-foodie Culinist Manifesto.  So there.

—————————————–

1. A “Foodie” is an amateur Culinist, concerned primarily with eating (enjoyment of food).

2. A “Culinist” is ultimately concerned not solely with eating, but with culinary art: cooking (ingredients + practice), then eating.

3. The difference between being a foodie and being a culinist is that one can become a foodie by paying for it, whereas  being a culinist takes practice.

4. The culinist understands that the soul of culinary art is the home-cooked meal. The culinist is a Maker, a DIY cook, a radical improviser; not necessarily a chef.  She respects those who have dedicated their lives to food as an industry, but focuses on cooking at home.  Witness the number of chefs who, when asked about their favorite meals, recall not a dining experience at a high-end establishment, but food prepared by a loved one in her own kitchen.

5. The culinist also recognizes the class issues of food. Although certainly cognizant of the joys of popular food culture– television, celebrities, magazines– the culinist recognizes that most of the trappings of popular food culture are accessible only to those who can afford them.  Although she uses fresh, healthy ingredients whenever possible, she recognizes that these ingredients aren’t always available or affordable.

6. The culinist enjoys dining out as much as anyone else, but instead of simply thinking “this dish is delicious– we should come here again!,” is inspired to try to recreate the dish in her own kitchen.

7. The culinist believes that basic cooking skills are accessible to everyone, not just the privileged few, and considers it a duty to encourage others to cook, and to cook for others.

8. The culinist encourages and supports local food movements and farmer’s markets, but sees no shame in taking advantage of less expensive options, or using out-of-season ingredients should the mood strike. If using, for example, out-of-season tomatoes, the culinist will find a way to compensate for their inadequacies instead of going without.

9. The culinist is a gustatory adventurer. A true culinist will try anything in her ethical alphabet, as long as it is considered food by at least one other culture. A vegetarian culinist won’t hesitate to dive into huitlacoche; an omnivore culinist won’t balk at entomophagy. A true culinist will enjoy a wagyu rib-eye, but will not hesitate to indulge in a Big Mac should the mood strike.  The difference between the foodie and the culinist is that the culinist will likely try to use these ingredients for herself.

OUR DEMANDS

ON NOMENCLATURE:

10. We demand to be recognized as culinists, who see the culinary arts as living practices instead of as commodities and consumables.

ON REVIEWS:

11. We demand an end to useless reviews of high-end restaurants that most people can’t afford.

12. We demand reviews of establishments accessible to average people.

13. We call for reviews of recipes which can be cooked at home; reviews of ingredients that are delicious and cost-effective; reviews of cookbooks that are practical, not celebrity-driven or full of expensive recipes useless to the home cook; reviews of grocery stores and retailers.

14. We call for reviews useful to the Home Cook, not the faddist hobbyists of the modern food scene.

ON INGREDIENTS:

15. We demand affordable and accessible high-quality ingredients.

16. We call for higher taxation of processed foods and tax-breaks and incentives for small producers. 

17. We also, however, call for an end to the bigotry of whole-food purists. A culinist attempts to fashion an amazing meal regardless of the provenance of the ingredients available, and doesn’t look down her nose at those who cannot afford to pay for high-cost organics or boutique ingredients. A culinist occasionally might enjoy a fast-food hamburger from a national chain or a sausage full of nitrates and doesn’t need a lecture.

18. We call for a greater tolerance of interesting and exotic ingredients. Someone who wants to cook at home with grasshoppers shouldn’t have to face cultural derision for doing so.

ON RESTAURANTS:

19. We call for greater recognition of those who actually do the cooking. We don’t care about the public face of the latest trend-setting gastro-fad celebrity persona as anything more than ephemeral entertainment. Instead, we are interested in the line cooks, the wage slaves, the home cooks. 

20. We call for restaurants to explore creative cuisine available for everyone, not just the wealthy classes.  

21. We call for multiple portion sizes for more menu items available in all dining establishments, which will reduce waste and make better food available to a wider audience. Less waste + a wider audience = more cost-effective dining.

IN CONCLUSION

22. The Culinist is a hands-on devotee of cooking as an art form that should be widely available to all, in home and out; that the cook should have access to the widest possible palette of ingredients; and that everything is worth trying at least once. Any other approach is mere foodery. 

Are you a FOODIE, or a CULINIST?

(Continued from Part 1)

In our quest for the perfect vegetarian sausage, we decided that a base of bulgur wheat mixed with black beans should pretty closely approximate the “mouth feel” of ground pork sausage. So, to start our first test recipe, I decided to cook 1/2 cup of bulgur wheat and mix in a cup of black beans, which will give us enough of a base to stretch out through a couple of test sessions.

Every step in the process will eventually contribute to the final flavor. With this in mind, and because I’m not a fan of cooking grains in plain old water, I decided the wheat needed to be simmered *in* something. What might add an earthy, slightly bitter complexity to the grains? Vegetable broth would be too sweet, and not quite on the mark in the flavor category. How about…. coffee?

Sounds strange, right? But coffee has a nuttiness that I think just might work in the final product.  So, one cup of brewed coffee and 1/2 cup of bulgur wheat into the pot, boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes, and step one is complete. Upon tasting the cooked grain, I did think the coffee flavor was a bit too strong, but a quick rinse under cold water in a mesh strainer mellowed the excess flavor.

To the mixing bowl! I added the black beans (canned) and, since we don’t have a food processor, smushed them into the wheat with a potato masher.  Next, it was time for the Secret Ingredient:

Powdered Buttermilk

"'Atsa good buttermilk!"

Although in the last post we thought we might try powdered milk as the binder, the store was out of it. They did, however, have this lovely canister of powdered *buttermilk*, featuring this handsome, red-cheeked chef of vaguely European mien. His charming smile all but called out to me in mock Italian: “Hey, you! Forget about powdered milk, try-a my powdered buttermilk, capice?” Why not give it a whirl? The sournesss of buttermilk might add something traditional vegetarian sausages miss, and anything with butter in the title can’t be that bad, right?

I added the buttermilk, measuring as I went, and it seemed to be working wonderfully. 1/4 cup did the trick. I then added a combination of other  ingredients to approximate that inimitable sausage archetype. Since this is a test recipe, I’m not going to provide their exact measurements here, but I will tell you that I used soy sauce, sage, thyme, nutmeg, pepper and salt. A quick taste let me know I was on the right track.

The Mix, Mixed

Flavor seemed right. Consistency seemed right. So, it was time to toss some of this stuff into the old frying pan and see who saluted.

By the way, I do mean OLD frying pan. Wondering why we’re trying to raise some seed money to get this project started? It’s to replace equipment like this:

Help me! HELLLLLPPP MEEEEE.....

Since our eventual goal is something that will be deep-fried, we need to know that a) it won’t cook too unevenly in oil; b) it’ll hold together if wrapped around an egg; and c) it will taste delicious. To that end, I decided to make a few patties out of half of the mixture and fry ’em, leaving enough left over to muck with if the first batch didn’t work. I put about 1/4 cup of Canola oil* in the pan and turned that sucker up to 7.5 (out of 8). When it had a nice sizzle, I spooned in three patties of varying thicknesses and let ’em have it!

I'm Vegetarian Sausage! SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS....

As the mixture started cooking, it really began to develop a distinctly delicious sausage-like smell, a perfume  you’d imagine wafting from the kitchen in a Southern grandma’s house at breakfast time.  True fact: when Emily came into the kitchen, I asked her whether she thought it smelled like pork sausage. Her reply? “That’s not real sausage?” I was on to something.

Then it happened. Before my eyes, the lovely little patties I’d created began to break down into crumblies. I tried to hold them together, to retain their shapes as I inserted the spatula under each one. They simply weren’t holding together. Part of the problem was the condition of our little frying pan, to which even the oiliest ingredients will stick like evil glue. However, I believe that what was happening was that the buttermilk was breaking down and absorbing the liquid as the sausage cooked, losing its consistency and causing the patties to crumble.

Still, holding together is one small part of what we’re looking for from our sausage. more importantly, how did it taste? After it had browned, quite nicely, I used a slotted spoon to remove the sausage to a plate, and called in Emily for a test:

There is no meat in this picture

It is delicious!

The flavor, the mouth-feel, the texture, are almost exactly identical to country-style pork sausage. The ingredients as used, in the proportion they were used, were nearly perfect. It was slightly salty, so I’ll need to cut down on that just a bit, but otherwise it tastes closer to real pork sausage than any store-bought substitute I’ve ever tried. I sincerely doubt that a meat-eater would even be able to notice the difference if unaware. We mixed the crumbles into a tomato sauce and served over butternut squash ravioli, and oh my goodness, you guys! This stuff is REALLY, REALLY GOOD.

Still, it’s not quite ready. It just needs one more something that will help it stay together as it cooked. What would that something be? Tune in shortly for the exciting conclusion and find out!

And don’t forget to visit our Kickstarter page and help support this lil’ project!


*It’s always tempting to use olive oil, but don’t forget that olive oil has a flavor. I don’t want that flavor in this dish, so to the Canola I went.

Some other recipes that will definitely appear in the book:

– Spaghetti Pie
– Oven-poached fish in olive oil
– Scotch Eggs (hardboiled eggs, wrapped in sausage and DEEP FRIED)
– Picadillo (a kind of Cuban chili)
– Redneck Sushi (involving bacon and asparagus)
– Chao Tom (Vietnamese Sugar Cane)
– and many more!

If, of course, we manage to raise the funding.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1787931793/meat-no-meat-a-cookbook-for-the-biculinary/widget/video.html

Visit our Kickstarter Page for more!

http://kck.st/tRD0k3

Let’s say we’re interested in making a vegetarian version of Scotch Eggs, those delectably delightful staples of British Pub Food, hardboiled eggs wrapped in pork sausage and deep fried. We could always pick up a package of prefab vegetarian sausage substitute– Lightlife’s Gimmee Lean certainly fits the bill, even though it’s sticky and difficult to work with. However, in the interest of the Meat/No Meat philosophy, we want to figure out our own version.

So, let’s think about sausage. The kind we use is country style, which I suppose we could categorize as “plain sausage”: think Jimmy Dean, breakfast patties, salty, juicy goodness.  (We don’t want anything too exotic at this point, since we’re just making the basic, so no chorizo (yet)). The best kind is, of course, fresh, purchased from a butcher shop or other purveyor of ground, spiced pork, especially since Jimmy Dean usually has copious amounts of MSG and nitrates, which many find categorically yucky. Typical sausage seasonings usually include sage, maybe some thyme, nutmeg, perhaps a couple of fennel seeds tossed in for good measure.

When we think about our vegetarian version of sausage, we want to compare it to the pork version. Pork sausage is slightly crumbly, moist, fatty, salty, juicy. It isn’t usually consistently textured; in with the ground meat we usually find little pockets of gristle and grease. This is a big difference between store-bought veggie sausage substitutes and the real thing. The kind we find in the store is often smooth and pasty.

For our version, we’ll need some kind of base. Since we want to come close to the texture of the real thing, we’d like to have at least two components to our base, a main ingredient and a secondary. We think crumbly, moist, so a grain of some kind– perhaps quinoa? It would do the trick, especially since once it’s cooked it can be mashed and has an interesting mouth feel. But alas, the store we visit is out of quinoa (only in Seattle) so we need some other possibility. Looking around, most of the other grains are too large to work. Amaranth is a possibility, but it’s kind of obscure, and would need to be ground further at home. We settle on cracked bulgur wheat, familiar to most people from tabouleh.

What about the second ingredient? We’ll want less of it, and it should be interestingly textured and readily mash-able. How about beans? Black beans have a nice, meaty flavor and would add some proteins to the mix, so we’ll go with a can of those.

Now we need something that, when mixed with liquid, will bind it all together.  The problem with many of the usual binding agents– flour, for instance, is that they have a bad habit of drying out whatever you’re trying to cook. Since Scotch Eggs are deep fried, this is an even greater concern; we don’t want our sausage substitute to turn the egg into a crispy asteroid with a sandy interior. We need something that will help retain moisture.

We also want to add some kind of fat to the mixture. This could be oil, but we are going to fry them in oil, so we run the risk of a final product that’s too oily. It could, theoretically, be butter. We can try these as possibilities, but let’s explore other options and think outside of the box a little bit. What kind of binder could both hold our veggie sausage together and add a little fattiness and sweetness to our sausage? How about powdered milk? It’s sometimes added to pork sausage for the exact same purpose, so let’s give it a whirl!

Now we’ve got the basics for our first test batch of veggie sausage: bulgur wheat, black beans, powdered milk. We’ll use water and a little soy sauce as our liquid, since soy salt adds a little saltiness. For seasoning, we’ll use sage, thyme, savory, nutmeg, salt and pepper– traditional sausage spices.  In the next installment, we’ll whip up our first test batch and see how it goes.

Continue to Part 2: The First Test Recipe