|Last meat for a week. Sigh.|
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
My culinary co-conspirator Felicia D. claims that she's never seen me consume a vegetable. That's patently untrue. I often eat bacon cheeseburgers with tomato and onion — sometimes even lettuce — on top.
OK, I'm not the most responsible eater on the planet. With my high-protein, high-fat, shamefully greasy bacon-centric dietary approach, I'm the precise antithesis of the low-impact, light-on-the-meat standard proposed by food writer Mark Bittman in his recent book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. And you know what? I don't really feel that bad about it. Perhaps it's the pigheaded ugly American flesh chewer in me, but even since I was a chicken bone-gnawing lad, I have loved meat and it has loved me back. As much as I enjoy buying, heavily salting, butter-frying and then eating a bundle of asparagus along with a fatty New York strip, its inclusion in my dinner plans feels less like welcome healthful accompaniment than a shallow attempt to prove to myself that I am not the unhealthiest bastard alive. Know what I mean?
Recently, my girlfriend, a pescetarian, stated that she didn't think I could go a week without eating meat or seafood. I took her up on her challenge because I am stubborn and stupid — starting today, Jan. 26, through Super Bowl Sunday, Feb., 1, I will adhere to an entirely vegetarian diet. If I succeed, I get a sweet steak dinner at Capital Grille. If I fail ... well, nothing has been drawn up as a consequence in that respect just yet, but it will most likely be brutal and humiliating.
Pictured is Sunday night's dinner, the last meat dish that I ate — garlic lamb from King of Tandoor. There were some leftovers ... but I cannot eat them. Cruel.
So what's going to happen? Will I waste away into The Machinist-like nothingness? Go blind from pork withdrawal and begin lashing out at the people who care about me most? Uncover a newfound love for tempeh? I'm really scared, so I need your help. I'll be chronicling every suffering (or perhaps triumphant?) moment of The Week Without Meat right here on Meal Ticket. Feel free to share words of encouragement, pure hatred, vegetarian recipes or anything else in the comments section or via e-mail (drew.lazor @ citypaper.net).
Wish me luck!
Disclaimer: I want to state for the record that I do not think I am in any way special or valiant for eschewing meat for seven days. I understand that there are many people out there who do not have enough food — meat or no meat — to sustain themselves on a weekly basis. The Week Without Meat is in no way an attempt to trivialize the great privilege of plentiful food that we Americans so enjoy — it's simply a curious experiment executed by a curious and generally unapologetic carnivore.
|Cut-off scraps = free flavor|
|Photos l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Remember Janina? That thrify vegetarian cook saves her vegetable scraps in a jar and makes stock once a week. Her theory: vegetable stock is free and tastes better than water. Which makes everything taste better. For a detailed, ridiculously useful method on stock-making, including what vegetables to go wild with, and which to use sparingly, take a peek at Janina's stock article at IsGreaterThan.net.
|One piece of beet lent a lovely hue. |
Meal Ticketers Drew and Felicia have been accused more than once of having a carnivorous bias. It's not that we don't like vegetables — it's just, well, why waste the valuable stomach real estate on salad when there is so much lovely meat to be consumed? Sorry. The good news is, not only do know vegetarians, we count a few among our very best friends. Joining us for our SUPPER feature today is Janina Larenas: vegetarian since she was in the womb, gelato-master at Capogiro Gelato Artisans and creator of Little Isobel all-natural fruit preserves and herb jellies.
Janina developed her recipe for a long-cooked, hearty vegetarian stew by combining several beef stew recipes, making substitutions and adjustments. Seitan (wheat gluten meat substitute) is layered with a variety of vegetables and aromatics in a slow cooker; just a cup of red wine and a splash of apple cider vinegar extract maximum flavor. Janina picked up a $12, 4-quart Crock-Pot at the thrift shop at Eighth and Wolf; prowl your local second-hand shop for a good deal. The stew can also be made in a covered pot or deep, lidded baking dish and placed in the oven for 4 hours at 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
A few recommendations on slow-cooking: Choose a fuller-bodied wine with some residual sugar for cooking, like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, over lighter wines like Pinot Noir and Côtes du Rhône that have less sugar and more acid. No matter how horribly tempted, do not lift the lid of your slow-cooker. Dramatic temperature drops from lifting the lid add cooking time and subtract moisture.
Layer your way to a stick-to-your-ribs veggie dinner with Janina Larenas' Slow-Cooked Seitan & Veggie Stew, after the jump.
|Janina peels broccoli stems for her stew.|
|All Photos l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Janina Larenas' Slow-Cooked Seitan & Veggie Stew
Go Get This:
One 12 oz. package braised seitan (wheat meat, wheat gluten), crumbled
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Favorite vegetables, peeled if necessary, cut in finger-size pieces
Like: peas, potatoes, carrots, one apple, onion, parsnips, celery root, sweet potatoes, squash, garlic, peeled broccoli stems
1 cup full-bodied red wine
1 cup water or veg stock
1/4 cup apple-cider vinegar
Now Do This:
Layer all ingredients, beginning with seitan, into slow-cooker or pot. No need to chop or strip herbs, just pick out stems as you serve the stew later. Cook on low setting for at least 4 hours, or in a 200 degree F oven. Serve by itself, or over noodles if desired.
|Photos | James Saul|
The year of the ox is stampeding down the prairie, bringing winds of change to the vegan Chinese realm in Phlily. Ming Chu (pictured) who founded Kingdom of Vegetarians (129 N. 11th St.) a decade back and New Harmony Vegetarian (135 N. Ninth St.) in 2004, recently sold KoV to concentrate on making New Harmony the best place for vegans (and curious meat eaters) in Chinatown.
At KoV, nothing much has changed. The same takeout menu is taped to the front counter, those cheesy Mandarin pop songs play over the loudspeaker and the food magically appears via dumbwaiter. You'd never know that the place was under new management. The new owner was unavailable for comment, but according to waitress Fang Zhou, Kingdom is "the same space with the same food, [with] maybe a few new items after Chinese New Year."
|Photo | James Saul|
At New Harmony, there's an upgraded menu featuring peanut beef, fried mushroom strips — and deep-fried cheesecake! Move over, molten lava — this cake (pictured) will blow your mind with its uber-gooey, chocolaty goodness. On Chinese New Year's Day (Jan. 26), New Harmony is also opening a brand-new VIP room, good for groups of people looking to wile out on dim sum and karaoke. "Karaoke is good for the kids, it's fun!" Chu tells us. Couldn't have said it better ourselves. You're damn right we'll be there, with our best renditions of "Love Shack" and "Panama" at the ready.
To read more about the new New Harmony, check out this week's print edition. Until then, we'll be warming up our vocal cords.
|Photo | Michael T. Regan|
Today, PETA posted a list of the eight "most outstanding" vegetarian restaurants in in America. We're very proud that Philly's own Horizons, owned by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby (pictured), made the cut:
Horizons, Philadelphia: Horizons specializes in "new vegan cuisine." What does that mean? Well, the current menu features delicious dishes such as saffron cauliflower soup and Pacific Rim grilled tofu. If that's new vegan cuisine, count me in!
Bravo! Y'all deserve it.
Just because, here's a funny anecdote Landau recently shared with me. I interviewed him for a Meal Ticket piece on how long-distance travel, particularly via air, is difficult for vegans due to the lack of edible options. Here, he's talking about searching for "hippie crunchy outpost" health food stores as a last resort when you find yourself in unfamiliar dining territory:
"These places have been a thorn in the side of my career since I have been in business. They give vegetarian food a bad name. But when you have eaten your fill of junk and can't take the garbage anymore, find the health food stores and get some healthy, crunchy sprouted nut bean-head blandness. It will clean you out and balance the guilt. My favorite story — a health food store in Michigan that gave me a steamed carrot in a bun when I ordered their 'veggie dog.' 100 percent true — and I ate every crumb of it."
We're so glad you guys try harder than that.
RELATED: Ashlea Halpern's 2006 story about Horizons' move to Center City.
h/t: Wendy Rosenfield
|Baba ghanouj and pita|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
This first sentence of Michael Pollan's New York Times essay on nutritionism was written not quite two years ago. Simple as it seems, he goes on to describe what those seven words really mean. Eat whole food, not "edible foodlike substances." Consume mostly plants, especially leaves. Cook. Get out of the supermarket and get down with the farmer's market. Pollan also cites Thomas Jefferson's advice to treat meat more like a flavoring than a food.
The infant weeks of the new year are rife with unlikely resolutions. Lose weight, go to the gym, stop smoking/drinking/Internet porn-ing. Mine is simple: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ways of eating make use of a little meat and lots of whole grains and vegetables, along with healthy fats like olive oil. One of my favorites is baba ghanouj, a simple roasted eggplant dip. A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil add a bit of fruity brightness to the smoky eggplants, along with a handful of chopped parsley and a generous turn of black pepper. The dip can be scooped up with toasted whole wheat pita or raw vegetables for the truly virtuous, and makes a great pita sandwich or roll-up with a few leaves of romaine or arugula.
This recipe for baba ghanouj was kindly explained to me by Gloria Bitar, who was born in Lebanon and is looking good at 81.
Check out the Tete-approved method after the jump.
Tete's Baba Ghanouj
Go Get This:
2 medium eggplants
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced tiny or smushed through a garlic press. Adjust to taste, if you like more garlic go for it.
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon (if desired. Tete doesn't do this, but i snuck it in mine)
Two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Now Do This:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Wait until it is truly preheated, at least 15 minutes.
Poke the two eggplants all over with a fork. Place them in a roasted pan or on a cookie sheet. Roast at 375 for one hour.
When eggplants are soft all over, remove from oven and peel. Use a fork and a knife to hold the flesh of the eggplant and pull away the skin. Rough chop eggplant flesh into cubes.
Place eggplant, crushed or diced garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper and parsley to large mixing bowl. Mash everything with a potato masher or the back of a big fork.
Taste, adjust seasoning. Lightly mash in olive oil.
Serve room temp or cold from refrigerator with pita, lavash, and cut-up raw veggies.
My culinary co-conspirator Felicia D'Ambrosio heads up our excellent SUPPER feature, but since she is on vacation this week, I promised her I would try my best to whip up something at home for the Meal Ticket faithful. I ain't half the cook FD is, but I try my best! Here's what I came up with.
I'm told I was discovered passed out on my living room floor, wearing shoes, a jacket and various other cold-weather accessories, around 3 a.m. New Year's morning. I arose around 10 a.m. with a "Hell's Bells"-ian headache, a weird berber rug pattern on my face and an uncontrollable urge for something heavy, starchy and Italian to soak up all the Blanton's and Woodford Reserve that directly contributed to this epic NYE fail. (At least I made it home, right?)
My lovely girlfriend and I spent a good hour or so narrowing down our pasta parlor options before realizing that we should just man up and make something at home. I'm really glad we did.
I cook hot Italian sausage and peppers for myself pretty regularly. It's a great go-to. But this marked the first time I doubled up and made a separate batch with fake Italian sausage, which I found in my local supermarket (the girl does not eat meat). To put it plainly, the veg stuff has little in common with the real thing — it's got a lot more give and is strangely, overtly sweet. Season it right and cook it with the right accompaniments, though, and it's a perfectly respectable stand-in.
Idiot-proof instructions (idiot-tested, idiot-approved!) after the jump.
His and (Vegetarian) Hers Sausage and Peppers
Go Get This:
2 large bell peppers, one red and one green
Half a white onion
4 cloves garlic
2 links hot Italian sausage
2 links vegetarian Italian sausage (We used Boca brand)
Salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes
Now Do This:
1. Coarsely chop the peppers and onion. No need to get too fancy with it.
2. Over medium-high heat, add olive oil to a large saucepan. Let it be for a second, then throw in peppers and onion. Note tricolor motif; hum Rosemary Clooney's "Mambo Italiano" to yourself.
3. Stir veggies a little bit, then season generously with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
4. While veg simmers, cut Italian sausage and veggie sausage into half- to one-inch segments. Come on, use two different knives. Finely dice garlic; separate into two equal portions and set aside.
5. After about 6-8 minutes, peppers and onion should be mostly cooked down, with some nice caramelization.
6. Dump half of the peppers and onions into a second saucepan over medium heat.
7. In both pans, push the vegetables to one side. Pour a bit of olive oil into vacant pan space; dump meaty sausage into first pan and veggie sausage into second pan.
8. You want the sausage segments browned on both sides. This'll take about 3-4 minutes per side for the veg sausage and 6-8 minutes per side for the regular sausage. Just keep an eye on it.
9. After you get the meat and "meat" nice and browned and crispy, add the garlic to both pans and thoroughly mix the sausage, peppers and onions together.
10. After letting both pans simmer for 2-3 minutes, you're done! Serve sausage and peppers over a very large pile of pasta with red sauce, parmesan cheese and a side of garlicky spinach.
|Wally reclines among the winter squash at Fair Food.|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
A cook friend and I were discussing vegan-izing recipes the other day. He is a rather strict vegetarian, and was a vegan for years. "To make, say, a seven-ingredient recipe vegan, it will take at least 20 ingredients," he said, adding that eggs are the hardest to replicate, and that's why vegan baking can be very challenging. "That's why meat substitutes have such texture issues," I thought to myself. I never seem to enjoy meat substitutes. From spongy soy to heavy, soggy seitan, their textures are always so disappointing, no matter how assiduously flavor is applied.
The very next morning, I was shopping at the Reading Terminal Market's Fair Food Farmstand (soon to take over the primo former Rick's Steaks real estate) and spied a familiar-looking block with an unfamiliar label: Vrapple. A cheerful pig in a chef hat grinned out, next to the legend Vrapple: The Vegan Breakfast Treat. Wally says, "We kick the crap out of scrapple!"
With a tagline like that, I had to try it.
Sarah Cain is the evil genius behind Sarah's Savories, which produces Vrapple. When a vegan friend pined to Sarah that she missed the hometown pig-part treat, Cain began ruminating on ways to reproduce the porky patty. Her final product is constructed from a base of organic mushrooms, wheat gluten, cornmeal, buckwheat flour, a touch of organic cane sugar and plenty of black pepper. The breakfast non-meat is sold in familiar scrapple-ish blocks, frozen for freshness.
Once defrosted, I sliced my Vrapple in to serving-size slices, and fried it in canola oil in a very hot pan until both sides were crispy and browned. I forked off a piece of the hot meat substitute, closed my eyes and took the plunge.
It is freaking delicious. It's BETTER than scrapple. The crisp outside and soft inside perfectly mimic scrapple's characteristic texture. The slice yields immediately under fork and tooth pressure and has a meaty, mushroomy base and a sweet, peppery finish. It is satisfyingly spicy and rich. It was so good I stopped writing my impressions to fry myself another slice. A splash of organic Grade B maple syrup took the already-delightful Vrapple to an even more decadent place. I could not believe how good it was.
Cain has converted me to actually preferring one meat substitute to the real thing. As Wally, the pig mascot, smiles out of the package at me, I grin back, pleased to feel so virtuous while eating something so tasty. Then I go back for another slice.
Vrapple is available at the Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market at 12th and Arch streets, 215-627-2029. It is sold by weight at an average of $5-$10 per frozen block.
|One, two, three, baby.|
|Photos l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Sabrina's Cafe is rightly famous for their ample brunch portions and epically long waits for said portions on the weekend. For a nominal upcharge, one can add their divine polenta fries with spicy tomato sauce to any sandwich. The crisp bricks of polenta are the most satisfying thing you can make with cornmeal and a little bit of water, and wonderfully cheap, as well. Minimal kitchen skills are required to covert cornmeal dust into happy little fritters — the ability to stir fast for 5 minutes is the main requirement.
Polenta served hot from the pot is an ideal comfort food, with all of the pooling butter and spoonablity of a good mashed potato, and none of the tedium. Hot polenta cooled in a shallow baking pan or casserole can be cut into bricks and then fried, for a great second-meal iteration.
Pick up a bag of Italian Instant Polenta from Di Bruno Bros. for $2.99 and ignore the totally useless directions on the back. One Tsp serving? What in the name of Fabrizio Moretti does that mean?
Recipe and method after the jump.
Polenta Fries A-Go-Go
Go Get This:
One cup of instant polenta
5 cups water
Olive or vegetable oil for frying
Little bit of flour for dredging
Now Do This:
Boil the water in a medium-sized pot. Once boiling briskly, whisk in a little of the polenta at a time, whisking away like mad continuously. No lumps! Keep whisking.
Keep adding polenta and whisking until all of the polenta is incorporated into the boiling water. Keep stirring away for about 5 minutes, until the polenta is thick, with a texture similar to Cream of Wheat.
Pour the hot polenta into a baking or casserole dish and allow to cool in the fridge, at least half an hour, until the polenta is firm to the touch. You should eat some hot, too, with heaps of butter and salt. So good.
Once firm, slice the polenta into little bricks, any size you like.
Heat olive or vegetable oil in a medium sauté pan until hot but not smoking. Roll the polenta bricks in flour to just coat, and place gently in the hot oil.
Fry for about 3 minutes per side, until crisp and brown.
Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with coarse salt. Eat solo or with a spicy tomato sauce, hot sauce, or as the starch with a stew or soup.
February or March 2009 will see the opening of the third location of Byeong-gwan "Ben" Yu's Tampopo, which already has locations at 21st and Chestnut and Seventh and Sansom. It's slated for the corner of 44th and Spruce, right next to Brendan Hartranft and Leigh Maida's forthcoming Local 44 Beer Bar. Yu says the menu will be "almost identical" to the other Tampopos, with the addition of ramen noodle soups and an extended selection of tofu- and vegetable-based dishes. Tampopo's dual BYOB policy — meaning bring your own bottle and bring your own bowl (the latter saves you money on your order!) — will apply here, as well.
RELATED: Fishy business at Tampopo
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