|But it looks so real ...|
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
I'm abstaining from meat for a week. Read why here.
Day 1 was weird.
I blame my abnormal breakfast/lunch intake on superego trepidation. Like a denial-ridden alcoholic coming to grips with his gin-soaked addiction, it took me awhile to full accept that The Week Without Meat (TWWM) was officially upon me. After all, for a burger-chawing dummy like me, the thought of stretching this veg streak out for a fully seven days — through the burnt-flesh carnivale that is Super Bowl Sunday, no less — is sobering. Still, I should probably make it a point to consume more than five peanut butter M&Ms and one green grape in the daylight hours if I am to make it into February alive.
After work yesterday, I made a beeline to Monk's, where Meal Ticket culinary co-conspirator Felicia D. was working the back bar. After mumbling incoherently for awhile and downing the better part of a Russian River Damnation, I ordered their vegan burger, opting for "Monk's style" (bleu cheese and leeks, swiftly un-veganizing it), along with a side of frites and another beer, this time Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA. Monk's superserver Charissa informed me that the burger's inside had a consistency similar to veggie spring roll filling, which I found worrisome. Turned out, though, that it was pretty tasty — crumbly melty cheese notwithstanding, the burger's crispy outside and silky inside lent it a crab cake-like feel, sans the crab meat. Sans the sweet, delicious crab meat ... oh man crab cakes are so good. NO THEY'RE NOT. THEY'RE HORRIBLE. BULGHUR WHEAT IS BETTER.
I ate the entire basket of fries. The little pile of greens on the side, too. Those are vegetables, kids.
Later that night, I wrapped myself up in a blanket on my couch, ate an entire pack of Airheads Xtreme Sour Belts and wept softly.
I have yet to eat lunch today, but I believe that I'm going to pop by Joe's Peking Duck Original 1984 in a bit for a bowl of their vegetarian noodle soup. Dinner plans are up in the air. Ideas and suggestions are welcome! Comment or e-mail drew.lazor @ citypaper.net.
Other TWWM notes:
- Thanks to everyone who commented on yesterday's introductory post. A few readers sent in links to some terrific-sounding veggie/vegan recipes, which I will definitely attempt to cook later this week.
- Guardian's Fraser Lewry attempted a Week Without Meat of his own in May 2008 to coincide with World Vegetarian Week. How'd it turn out? "I'm very sorry to say that I won't be joining you on a full-time basis," Lewry wrote. "I'm simply not tough enough to make the choices you've made and live your kind of existence, and I haven't found anything in your world that promises the rapture I know I'll get from a perfect veal cutlet or a simple roast chicken."
- Yesterday evening, I received a press release detailing Xochitl chef/owner Dionicio Jimenez's plans to serve an unusual tasting menu of indigenous/archaic Mexican fare to honor legendary prez Benito Juarez. On the menu — grasshopper tacos, breaded veal brains, crayfish tacos, braised wild boar and buttery garlicky frog legs. I want to eat all of those things. Luckily, this isn't going down until March so I will be able to take advantage.
- Also last night, I got an e-mail from Amy Giuffi of Cochon, one of the premier meat lover's restaurants in Philly. She wanted to share their latest $35 four-course tasting menu. It consists of:
- Chicken Liver Mousse with cornichons, croutons, whole-grain mustard
- Oyster and house-cured bacon chowder
- Duck with sweet potato puree, sauteed spinach, fig vincotto
MUST EAT LIVER OYSTER BACON DUCK NO NO NO DELETE E-MAIL DELETE E-MAIL DELETE E-MAIL SEITAN SEITAN SEITAN
I mentioned Mark Bittman's Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating earlier today in my first post about about The Week Without Meat challenge, pointing out that my almost-entirely-flesh diet is antithetical to the healthful, low-impact approach to eating the Times columnist introduces in his new book.
A little earlier, he sent over these words of encouragement:
From: Mark Bittman
Subject: you'll be fine
Date: January 26, 2009 4:49:40 PM EST
To: Drew Lazor
Good luck. See you next week, maybe - mb
Thanks, Mark! I appreciate you being so much more supportive than my old college roommate, who's also named Drew. He sent along this charming message when he heard about The Week Without Meat challenge: "I can safely say that by Wednesday, you will won't even be able to see straight and will just be sitting in your office muttering 'bacon ... bacon ... pork chop ... '"
Have a little faith, dude.
Oh, the "next week" engagement Bittman's referring to: He's reading at the Free Library next Wednesday, Feb. 4. Be sure to pick up our upcoming issue to read Kelly White's chat with the author.
OK, now it's off to Monk's to make Felicia D. give me a vegan burger.
|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 l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
One night, when Israeli wunderkind Michael Solomonov ran the show at Marigold Kitchen, he turned his kitchen and staff over to fellow chef Ana Sortun for a dinner celebrating her new cookbook, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean. The meal started with a variety of mezze (small bites) that Sortun serves at her Boston restaurant, Oleana. Crisply layered spinach falafel with pickled ramps brought more yummy noises than was appropriate out of an adult dining table, and Turkish-style steak tartare lured with aromatic teases of spice. The most-coveted mezze, however, was a warm ball of butter-stuffed hummus wrapped in basturma, a dry-cured, thin-sliced beef.
Nearly two years later, Solomonov is chef and owner of one of 2008's most-lauded restaurants, Zahav. A variety of hummus is served with laffa, a unparelled bread fired to order in the brick taboon oven, as a palate-warming first course. Like the country cousin of Sortun's cosmopolitan basturma-wrapped balls, Turkish buttered hummus makes an appearance as a hot dip, glistening with pale yellow pools of everyone's favorite fat. Though I wouldn't even attempt laffa — without a 750-degree brick oven and a training course in Israel, why even bother? — the Turkish hummus is just too good not to try at home.
This recipe was inspired by my trip to Cappadocia, in the center of Turkey... In Cappadocia, they make hummus without tahini, and they use butter instead of olive oil because of its quality and availability.
Ana's recipe uses dried and soaked chickpeas, which you cook and then pulse in the food processor while still hot. Since I am fundamentally lazy and wanted to get to the "hot buttered" part as quickly as possible, I used canned chickpeas (which were one dollar a can at the Acme, natch).
After the jump, check out my interpretation of Zahav's, and Ana Sortun's, Turkish Buttered Hummus. You're on your own for laffa-imitation.
Turkish Buttered Hummus
(adapted from Ana Sortun, p. 200 in SPICE, and Mike Solo's version at Zahav)
Go Get This:
Two 16-ounce cans chickpeas (also called garbanzos), drained and liquid reserved
Two cloves garlic, diced small or mushed through a garlic press
7 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces
Several glugs extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Two teaspoons cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Now Do This:
In a very small sauté pan, melt a tablespoon of the butter. When it foams, add the diced garlic and gently cook until soft. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, six tablespoons of the cut butter, the juice of one lemon and cumin. Add the olive oil a glug at a time as you begin to process the mixture. If more liquid is needed for through blending, use some of the water the chickpeas were packed in. Blend some more. Blend the hell out of it until smooth and creamy. You could leave the food processor on max and go take a shower and the hummus would be better for it.
Turn the machine off and taste the hummus. Add salt and pepper to taste, or more olive oil if it needs it. Blend!
Use a rubber spatula to pour the hummus into a small ovenproof casserole dish. Smooth into an even layer. Dot the top of the hummus with the reserved pieces of butter. Sprinkle with a bit more cumin.
Bake in the 350 degree oven until butter is melted and hummus is hot all the way through.
Serve hot with pita, raw vegetables, laffa and olives. Pretend you're at Zahav, or on a pastoral dairy farm in Cappadocia.
|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.
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