Sunday, July 29, 2007

Spotlight on Tofu

If there's any one thing that has inspired me to eat and prepare vegan meals, it is the amazing vegan blog, What the hell does a vegan eat anyway?

Vegan food never looked so good!

Tofu, our vegan chef, is artful and creative in his approach to vegan cuisine and its presentation. His blog also features "Raw Wednesdays", where he explores raw food recipes that would inspire anyone to give raw a go! If anyone asks me about raw food or veganism, I send them a link to What the hell does a vegan eat anyway?

If you think of vegan food as mucky rice and bean dishes, you'll definitely want to check this blog out.

Tofu was kind enough to answer my questions and provided the beautiful and mouthwatering photographs for this piece.

Q: You were a vegetarian for 8 years before going vegan: what motivated your change?

A: By that point we were 90% vegan anyway, with only the odd piece of cheese sneaking in, it seemed silly not to just go vegan.

Q: What were the greatest challenges in switching?

A: The only hazard was having to read every label on every piece of packaged food, twice. It's amazing how many times you think the ingredients are vegan and then they slip something in at the last second.

Q: What were the greatest rewards?

A: I finally learned how to cook. The days of eating out (most nights) ended, and it seemed like it might be a good time to learn. ;)

Q: What do you miss most (if anything) from switching to veganism?

A: Nothing really -- we've eaten an even greater variety of foods than our vegetarian days. Like the Sea Beans the other night... who knew? We're always looking for new things to try.

Q: What is your food training background?

A: We both took classes at Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson, OH. There were no vegan options available, so we'd observe most of time, and then adapt techniques. They were very accommodating when we'd bring in substitute ingredients for something like bread classes. However, the best "teacher" has been cooking every day for the last ten years...

Q: Your presentation of vegan food is unusually sophisticated. How much does the presentation inspire a recipe?

A: The food inspires the presentation every time, never the other way around. Our sense of plating has evolved over the years as another product of cooking every day. You start to look at the food components as colors, shapes, layers and textures. From there, it's just a matter of mentally re-arranging the blocks while cooking. For example, we're still in our "molded rice" and "tofu cut into funny shapes" phases, but that'll pass soon... ;)

Q: What has been most helpful to you in learning how to present vegan/raw food in an appealing way?

A: Hunger is the strongest motivating factor on the plating. It's done on the fly, because... well, we want to sit down and eat. No one wants to wait around while I'm fussing with the food for pictures -- meanwhile the food gets cold. The photography has also benefited from that -- get in, take the pictures and let's eat!

Q: Any advice for others?

A: The only advice we'd give on plating is to just try it out -- if it doesn't work there's always next time... The pictures we take are a bit like watching back game films -- it gives us an idea of what's working, or where it might have gone in a different direction or when it looks like dog food. ;)

Our kitchen gets a lot of natural light, plus the lighting inside gives good coverage. That's a big factor in letting the food shine. It allows you to get in close on the plate so you can see the details.

Q: What inspired you to try raw food?

A: We saw Juliano on TV, and bought his book ("Raw: An Uncook Book") and started playing around with it. That led to the Charlie Trotter & Roxanne Klein "Raw" book, which expanded our raw universe. That led to the idea of Raw Food Wednesdays. It's been a great deal of fun and we always look forward to trying something new each week.

Q: What do you feel are the benefits of eating raw?

A: The energy boost... and the dewy-soft skin ;)

Q: What are the biggest challenges/rewards associated with raw food?

A: The biggest challenge was the initial learning curve. It took a good six months before the raw food we prepared tasted consistently good. The reward has been a new culinary door that's been opened. Now we can't imagine Wednesdays without raw food.

Q: What are your favorite 3 ingredients?

A: Anything from the allium family (onion, garlic, leeks, chives), smoked paprika (heat & smoke), tofu

Q: What's the most important /useful ingredient you have discovered in the last year?

A: nutritional yeast -- better than all those parmesan cheese substitutes out there.

Q: What are your most inspirational cook books?

A: Of course, "Vegan with a Vengeance" and "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World" are genius -- is that check in the mail yet Isa? -- but few of the cookbooks we own are purely vegan.

We're definitely from the adapt/re-imagine school of recipes. Here's a desert island selection:

  • Auguste Escoffier -- "Le Guide Culinare" -- The original old-skool French cookbook, and we have a lot of fun re-inventing the wheel with these recipes.
  • Miyoko Nishimoto -- "Now and Zen Epicure" -- An elegant cookbook, and one of the first that showed veganism could be more than a brown rice casserole.
  • Julia Child -- "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking Vol. 1" -- While it may seem quaint these day, it introduced French classics to America, and we still steal ideas from this book.
  • "Compassionate Cook" -- easy, accessible recipes that omnivores can also love -- as long as you don't mention it's from PETA ;)
  • James Peterson's "Vegetables" and "Sauces" -- Two books that we run to whenever faced with an unfamiliar veg, or need a refresher on the basics of sauce building.
  • Jean-George Vongerichten -- "Cooking at Home with a Four-star Chef" -- We love the spice combinations and the fusion of French and Asian cooking -- highly adaptable.
  • Susur Lee -- "Susur: A Culinary Life" -- Lots of plating ideas and food combinations that we're still wrapping our heads around.

Q: What's the best vegan meal you've prepared?

A: Seitan and Porcini Bourguignon in Phyllo, Roast Potatoes, Braised Leeks -- for a group of 30 non-vegans at a wine-pairing dinner. Their perspective was: it was a great dinner, period. It wasn't about herbivore vs. omnivore, it was about people coming together, sharing and enjoying a great meal.

Q: What's the best vegan meal that someone else has prepared for you?

A: If that ever happens, we'll let you know ;) The truth is that last year we ate at home 360/365 days -- we just don't eat out very often, so the opportunity doesn't present itself.

Q: Favorite restaurant meals?

A: Any meal we've eaten at Dragonfly in Columbus, OH. We wish we lived closer...

Q: OK, so you go by tofu, what's the most important thing about tofu?

A: Versatility -- it has the unique ability to step into any role (sauce, dessert, main course) with distinction.

Q: You are also a musician. Any philosophical/artistic/inspirational approaches that are common to both your music and cooking?

A: It's very similar -- the ability to improvise, adapt and create on the fly -- like taking a standard (song/dish) and making it your own.


Many thanks to Tofu for sharing here. If you ever make it out to the San Francisco Bay Area, I promise I'll organize a veganfest for you!

Friday, July 27, 2007

So...where am I this week?

Seriously partying?

Actually, no, I've been having a wonderful time at work this week. No, really!

A few months back, I started a new job working on special projects for a local executive chef. It's been a dream-come-true job! A "you call this work?" kinda job. Lots of variety and it all comes back to my favorite topics: good food and good eating.

I'm cameraless this week, but, honestly, have just been going crazy with heirloom tomato, basil, red onion, olive and mozzarella salads. Throw in some really good, warm olive bread and who needs a recipe?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Squash Blossom & Jalapeno Pizza

Squash blossoms are just so appealing to me! Pretty, tasty, and very much in season.

Squash blossoms really should be eaten the same day they are picked, but I bought a bunch of day-old blossoms at the Farmers Market and sauted them with jalapeno and garlic to create this delicious pizza. While not at their prettiest, they still tasted good.

Before using squash blossoms, you need to clean them, so remove the stalks and the spiky leaves at the base, and remove the stamens from inside. Swish them around in water to make sure there are no bugs hiding out inside the flowers.

Here's some favorite squash blossom recipes from last year:

  • Fried Squash Blossoms with Garlic Cheese Filling

  • Zucchini, Mushroom & Squash Blossom Pizza

  • Squash Blossom Pizza

  • And the current recipe:

    Squash Blossom & Jalapeno Pizza:

    Trader Joe's plain pizza dough
    1 Tbsp butter
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 jalapeno (mine was red), seeded, hot ribs removed, finely chopped
    1 bunch squash blossoms, cleaned and trimmed
    3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
    1 tsp olive oil
    Salt & pepper

    Pre-heat the oven to 450F degrees. Roll out the dough, well floured, to desired thinness.

    Melt the butter in a non-stick saute pan and cook the garlic for one minute over med-low hear. Add the jalapeno and cook for two minutes. Add the squash blossoms and sauted until lightly browned and crispy.

    Cover the crust with 1/2 cup of grated cheddar. Add the squash blossom and spread evenly. Top with the remaining cheese. Brush the edge of the dough with olive oil. Season.

    Cook for 10-12 minutes.

    Sunday, July 22, 2007

    Farmers Market Bounty

    So, they say, only mad dogs and English people go out in the mid-day sun. Not true! At noon today, the Civic Center Farmers Market was totally packed and gosh it was hot. Still, look at all the wonderful goodies I found:

    Heirloom tomatoes, purslane, baby zucchini and eggplant, candylike cherry tomatoes, strawberries, squash blossoms, basil, and two products from Hodo Soy Beanery: Tofu Puffs (top right) and Spicy Tofu Strips (bottom right).

    Here's a close-up of the tofu puffs from an earlier post:

    And here's the sesame tofu strips, cousin of the spicy tofu strips (from an earlier post):

    Saturday, July 21, 2007

    Miso, Artichokes & Fries from Pacific Catch

    It was a fluke. Honest.

    My brother decided to take me out to lunch and chose Pacific Catch. (I had dinner from there last night.

    Maybe a little shameless food indulgence isn't such a bad thing? Right?

    Above, was their signature miso soup (excellent), and below my new love, Grilled Artichokes with Basil Aioli.

    Check out the sea salt on those bronzed leaves!

    Can you believe I went for a side of fries too? They were sooo good. A very pleasant combo of soft and crispy thick fries with lots of sea salt. They came with wasabi ginger aioli and a sweet Thai dipping sauce. But, trust me, ask for them with a side of the basil aioli.

    So don't I prepare my own food anymore? I do. Honest.

    Tonight I enjoyed another tomato salad, this time with cucumber and some Judy's breadstick to soak up the juices. Oh, yes, and a few fabulous fries brought home from lunch. Go ahead, try and shame me....

    Asparagus, Shiitake & Tofu Roll from Pacific Catch

    Although I am rather addicted to their Tofu Wasabi Bowl, I've discovered a few additional vegetarian items at Pacific Catch that are deliciously worth a mention.

    Above is their Asparagus, Shiitake & Tofu Roll with carrot, scallion and miso sauce. Pretty enough for a picture (I thought), and very tasty. I have to say, I'm often put-off by the texture of shiitakes, but they were just right here. The miso sauce was fantastic.

    Another spectacular discovery (my latest addiction) is their Grilled Artichoke with Basil Aioli. I think it's the best artichoke I've ever tasted and the basil aioli is incredible! They also serve french fries just the way I like them. My favorite indulgence: Pacific Catch french fries dipped in basil aioli. I'd been craving them for days...

    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    Corn Cakes and Tofu at Neecha

    Although I really not big on fried foods, the corn cakes above, from Neecha, a Thai restaurant in San Francisco, were quite the tasty treat. Corn kernels with a wonderful spice/herb flavor I couldn't identify, fried in a batter until very crispy. Believe me, these corn cakes have crunch!

    This tofu dish was also something "completely different" for me. Deep fried puffy tofu, with a lightly dusted affect, in a sweet sticky chili sauce with carmelized onions and basil. Very different, this dish literally shined.

    Neecha offers lots of vegetarian dishes. I also tried the vegetarian satay with peanut sauce and po pia. Everything was good.

    Pretty Heirlooms

    Sunday, July 15, 2007

    Heirloom Tomato Salad

    I'm a big believer that the simpler the food, the better.

    At this time of year, it's hard to beat a simple salad made from beautiful heirloom tomatoes, red onions, mozzarella, basil and olives. Just add olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and pour yourself a large glass of red wine.

    Happy summer!

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    Frittelle with Spinach, Feta, and Peperoncini Piccanti

    Gosh, I'm just in love with frittelle! Like pizza and pasta, the fabulous combinations are seeming endless.

    The original inpiration for these came from Jamie's Italy. I enjoyed these so much the first time around, I'm already making another variation. This one included fresh organic baby spinach from the Farmers Market, crumbled feta cheese, and a Peperoncini piccanti.

    Here's my adapted recipe:

    2 oz capellini
    1 tsp olive oil
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    2 handfuls baby spinach
    1 Peperoncini piccanti, seeded and finely chopped
    1 egg, beaten
    1-2 oz crumbled feta
    1 tsp olive oil

    Cook the capellini per instructions. Drain, rinse with cold water.

    Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a skillet and toast the garlic. Add the spinach and Peperoncini piccanti and saute until spinach is completely wilted. Remove spinach mixture from pan and chop.

    Cut cooked capellini into 3" strips. Combine with the spinach mixture, feta, and beaten egg. Season.

    Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a skilled and fry small pancake sized moundfuls of the pasta mix, pressing down to flatten. Grill on both sides until brown and crispy.

    Serve with juicy heirloom tomatoes.

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Portobello, Tomato & Pesto Pizza

    Still need to use up my Trader Joe's pizza dough, so here's another very thin crust winner.

    Plain Trader Joe's pizza dough, brushed with low-fat (ha!) pesto. Topped with heirloom tomatoes, a little shredded mozzarella and some cubed fresh mozzarella, topped with portobello mushrooms, sauted with garlic and fresh rosemary. Topped with grated Cacio di Bosco al Tartufo. Abbondanza!

    Plummer than Plum

    This was the plummiest, plum ice cream ever! I can't even begin to describe how incredible this was!

    Sunday, July 08, 2007

    The Best Ice Cream I Ever Had

    I had a wonderful afternoon interlude at my friend D's home sampling her homemade ice cream. The above was my favorite - can you guess the flavor?

    D has a wonderful garden full of fruit, a wonderful kitchen, and a wonderful home in general. It's totally her. She recently gifted my with home made jams that included Galia Melon, Black Mission Fig & Beaumes de Venise, and the White Peach with Lemon Verbena pictured below:

    Oh, yes, and she's made quite a few more....

    Today, I delivered about 12 pounds of apricots and told her to go crazy. Stay tuned!

    Friday, July 06, 2007

    Fig & Humboldt Fog Pizza with Arugula Salad

    It's been a while since I did a pizza and this one was definitely worth the wait.

    Trader Joe's plain dough, brushed with white truffle oil, with shredded mozzarella, caramelized onions, portobello mushrooms, figs with balsamic vinegar, Humboldt Fog cheese, and fresh rosemary. Served with micro arugula with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

    I was going to make pizza yesterday for my party, but was a little too easy going on my cooking schedule and we had so much great food to enjoy, I bailed on the pizzas.

    Honestly, this was an incredibly delicious pizza and salad combo, and definitely one to share. Guess I'll just have to have another party really soon.....

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    Blogger Birthday!

    The great thing about being a food blogger is that everyone knows what you're interested in on your birthday! Yep, today's my birthday and I had a bit of an epiphany about the people I connect with. They may not be vegetarians (although happily, they're all liberals), but I suddenly realized today I could invite my friends together for a party and we'd all end up connecting on the food element...oh, yes...and others.

    And though I feel a speech starting, I'll spare you and just let the food roll:

    Above: Il Fornaio Insalata di Bietole

    Below: Il Fornaio Pumaroru cu Piacintinu Ennese (Sicilia Regionale Special Menu)

    Soba Noodle Salad:

    Super low fat (ha!) Spanikopita:

    Vegan Quinoa Salad with cranberries and onions:

    I made English Sausage Rolls.

    Incredibly, I missed photographing a lovely green salad with avocado. And check out the gifted jams:

    I feel lucky!

    Postscript: 07/07/07

    Here's the Soba Noodle Salad recipe, per request, courtesy of cookiecrumb of I'm Mad and I Eat
    Boil a package of buckwheat soba until *just* past al
    dente. Drain it, and rinse it well. This is an
    important step.
    Drain again, and then toss in a bowl with some glugs
    or squirts of sesame oil and soy sauce, to taste.
    Cut up, julienne or grate some or all of the following
    and toss with the noodles: scallion, radish, carrot,
    immature baby pears from my backyard tree (heh), and a
    little chopped sweet kombu (kelp -- we got it at the
    Marin farmers market) that has been softened in water.

    Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
    We also sprinkled it with Japanese rice seasoning, a
    seaweed blend called Nori Fumi Furikake.
    And when we ate the leftovers the next day, we decided
    it would be nice with the kick from Japanese red
    pepper seasoning, Shichimi Togarashi.

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007


    I know I should be out there grilling some veggie burgers and corn, but it's just way too hot!

    But look what I found pre-packed at Whole Foods last night! The perfect light hot summer night's dinner for a gal with an artichoke fetish.

    Sunday, July 01, 2007

    Eating Out Week: Royal Thai

    It's July already and it's my birthday this week, so I plan eat out a lot and make the most of it. The above is water with lemon verbena from the Cafe di Vino in Sausalito.

    Dinner was take-out from Royal Thai in San Rafael. I'm guilty of always ordering the same thing when I go there, and still couldn't pass up their excellent vegetarian satay with cucumber salad and peanut sauce.

    A first time order was this Vegetarian Po Piah ( "deep-fried rice paper stuffed with carrot, black mushroom, taro and silver noddles wih sweet & sour plum sauce"):

    These are absolutely delicious and I've never had anything that tasted quite like them.

    Finally, I tried Somtum ("shredded green papaya with tomatoes, green beans, carrots and grounded peanut, servied with chile-lime dressing").

    This was pretty, but I couldn't get into it at all. Glad I tried it though.