Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for October, 2007
Well folks — it’s official: we CAN’T go a month without eating meat. In fact, we can’t even continue with the “experiment” for a full month.
As I hinted in my last post, the going was getting tough. Whenever I deprive myself of something, that’s ALL I can think about. In addition, by foregoing meat I was making up for it in terrible ways: giving myself carte blanche when eating chips and salsa, fried food and cheese. Oh, and did I mention wine? Here I thought I might actually lose weight, but I’ve managed to gain a couple of pounds (although that may have to do with not being able to run for the past couple of weeks due to a hip issue).
We haven’t gone whole hog (just part of it!). I’ve been allowing myself fish on several occasions (I was getting tired of having an apple with peanut butter for lunch each day; the sushi at Whole Foods called out to me). Our Chinese take-out on Thursday included our favorite, salt & pepper prawns, and on Friday my darling and I had lunch with a friend at a Korean restaurant. I ordered the pork and mushroom soup, he ordered the bibimbap. Although neither contained a plethora of meat, it was still a transgression.
But what totally put me over the edge was the posole.
GOD! This is getting tough. It’s all I can do to keep from thinking about meat. Today was particularly excruciating as smells kept wafting toward us during our bike ride (including burgers from Kidd Valley. Mmmm… burgers!) I even dreamt I was gnawing on a big slab of steak. Perhaps my darling is right — maybe I AM the biggest carnivore on the planet! Fortunately we’re now into the single digits — only nine more days and we can indulge (assuming I don’t tear into the package that should be arriving at my doorstep on Wednesday).
I suppose I should fess up — I tasted some meatballs and flank steak during a client cook date last week. Technically tastes are allowed, but the reason for tasting is to adjust the seasoning. Once the meatballs were baked and the flank steak was grilled, there ain’t no adjusting. It wasn’t a huge taste — I merely scraped up a couple bits of meatball left on the baking sheet and sliced off the teensiest piece of flank steak — but the damage was done. I’ve only managed to go six days without eating meat (assuming you don’t count the beef broth for the Asian soup).
But once again I’ve added some clear winners to our vegetarian repertoire. As I was organizing my kitchen cupboards I found the box of whole wheat pasta flour I received at the personal chef conference this past summer. I’ve been meaning to come up with my own recipe for whole wheat pasta, but this was so easy: all I had to do was add water and send it through my pasta machine.
At first I thought about doing some sort of squash ravioli — either butternut or pumpkin. But I just couldn’t face making them without including the classic pairing of bacon, prosciutto or pancetta. As I was perusing Epicurious for ideas I saw a recipe for goat cheese and arugula ravioli. Viola! What a great way to use up the last bit of arugula in my crisper. Topped with a chunky sauce of baby grape tomatoes, spinach, Kalamata olives and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, they were light, yet filling (my recipe follows). The next night I used up the dough to make cheese-filled ravioli with a sauce of tomatoes, basil, garlic and pine nuts.
16 days down, 15 to go. So how are we doing?
If this were a bet, my darling would have lost big-time. However, from the start I viewed this as an experiment: CAN we go a month without eating meat? The answer is clear — NO!
I’ve already mentioned a few of our transgressions — the previously planned French dinner, my darling’s steak feast, my experience at the Thai restaurant — but there have been more. In fact, we haven’t even gone FIVE DAYS without eating meat! But I’m determined to see this through, especially since we have enjoyed some fabulous vegetarian meals (more on that in a moment).
My darling visited friends in Vancouver this past weekend, and I gave him my blessing to eat meat. From pork dumplings to bulgogi to a burger, he took it to the extreme. To torture myself I peppered him with questions about everything he ate; I figured if I couldn’t have it myself I could at least get some satisfaction from hearing about it.
But he wasn’t the only one to indulge. On Friday I picked up a bunch of salmon filets for a catering gig and when I found out they grossly under-charged me (almost $50!) the manager of the fish department rewarded my honesty with some house-smoked salmon (we both noshed on that). Last night, not wanting to head out in the rain to pick up some vegetarian broth for our soup, I just grabbed for the Asian beef broth in our pantry. While technically not meat, it certainly wasn’t vegetarian.
While I haven’t experienced any changes in my energy level, I’ve been craving fat, sweets and booze. During my darling’s meat-fueled orgy in Vancouver, my dinner consisted of cheese nachos, three small Halloween cupcakes and a bottle of Gewurztraminer. Pretty pathetic, huh? (Although to my credit I also ate a huge bowl of steamed broccoli).
If I thought cooking during my colonoscopy prep was tortuous, that was nothing compared to what I’m going through now. Monday’s menu had TWO dishes with bacon, along with chicken noodle soup (which sounded divine given the dreary, rainy day we had). Today’s menu included a chorizo and chicken paella, along with sausage manicotti. It took an incredible amount of resolve not to sample some.
Now for the highlights.
I know I owe you a recipe for baba ghanouj and taboulleh, but first I must come clean: meat has once again touched our lips (and our gullets).
You see, my darling and I both faced a conundrum this week. While we certainly have no problem keeping a vegetarian diet at home, what happens when we’re out and we have no other options? Sure, we could say we’re vegetarians and politely decline, but we’re NOT vegetarians. We’re not doing this for health reasons; in fact, we’re both probably the healthiest we’ve ever been. (Even when meat is part of our diet we eat relatively little beef, lamb or pork, favoring poultry and seafood instead). We’re certainly not doing this for political reasons. (I feel SOME vegetarians/vegans get too militant, which is a complete turnoff. In fact, I was just listening to a vegan in Chicago — a teacher who was fired due to preaching veganism too strongly in the classroom — who attributes school shootings to eating meat (I swear I’m not making this up). A bit extreme, don’t you think?).
Anyhoo, I’m just glad it was my darling who fell off the wagon first. (And boy, did he do it with flourish!).
Today’s regularly scheduled blog post has been canceled so we may bring you the following special presentation: Tastes of France.
That’s right — on the 6th day they ate meat.
Lest you think we so quickly lost our resolve, rest assured the experiment is still on. We merely took a “bye” to thank our cat/house sitters with a French-inspired dinner. Sure, we could have made it vegetarian, but we wanted to ensure they’d be willing to sit for us again if need be. (And there was NO WAY I was going to let them enjoy the treats without indulging myself).
We began with an interesting aperitif I made up. The weekend before I had poached some apples for a dessert, then reduced the poaching liquid down into a sauce, adding some Calvados. I had a bunch of the sauce left over, so I decided to make champagne cocktails. Because of the pectin from the apples the sauce turned to jelly in the fridge. I placed a dollop in the bottom of a champagne flute, then stirred in a bit of champagne to help it dissolve. Some of the jelly still remained, but the apple flavor infused into the champagne. They were quite tasty!
These two friends love my chicken liver mousse, and I just so happened to have some in my freezer. In June I had some black truffle pieces that needed to be used up, so I included them in the mousse. I made way more than I could eat at the time, so I decided to experiment with freezing it. I was pleased to find it tasted just as delicious as it did freshly made (not surprising considering the amount of butter that goes in). I spread the mousse on crostini slices and topped each with a halved cornichon to balance out the richness. We gobbled them up while sipping our cocktails.
Next up was the beef carpaccio. I’ve never made it before but became enamored with it in France. I quickly seared pieces of beef tenderloin to help develop the flavor, then wrapped them in plastic wrap and stuck them in the freezer for two hours so they’d be easier to slice. I sliced them about 1/4″ thick, then pounded them until they were paper thin. I placed the slices on the serving plates, wrapped the plates in plastic and put them in the fridge until serving time.
Mmmmmm… Fried egg rolls.
I couldn’t resist — I just HAD to try the egg rolls again deep fried. For the filling, I kept the shiitake mushrooms and extra firm tofu for some oomph, but added shredded carrot, Napa Cabbage and green onions to the mix. And instead of Lapsang Souchong I sprinkled in a bit of freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns. I made a simple dipping sauce my mixing plum sauce, shoyu and red pepper flakes (I would have used Sriracha, but we were out. Who the heck is stealing things out of my pantry?)
I hate to admit it, but I liked the deep fried rolls better. The fillings were both winners, but I liked how crispy the deep fried ones got. And the more I think about it, I’m not so sure they’re any more caloric than the baked ones. Fried properly, the egg roll wrappers should form a protective layer upon hitting the oil so it doesn’t seep into the filling (they certainly didn’t taste oil-soaked). If you had seen the baking sheet after the baked egg rolls came out, you wouldn’t consider them to be “healthy” (I was quite generous brushing the butter/sesame oil mixture on). But unless you have a deep fryer (and even if you do), cleanup can be quite messy.
I served the egg rolls with a simple green salad of Napa cabbage, romaine lettuce, sliced green onions and cucumber in a dressing of yellow miso, wasabi, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and canola oil. Very light and fresh.
So day 5 of MFaM is behind us, and I can’t say we’ve felt deprived. In fact, my darling said he has more energy than he’s had in quite some time (I’ve heard that can happen when switching to an all-vegetable diet). It’s been difficult for me to tell given my cold (which appears to have finally left me). However, I have noticed my hunger pangs seem more frequent and severe. But again, it could be because my cold sapped my energy, so I would just nosh on small nibbles (and then be ravenous a short time later).
Considering we’re runners, we have to make sure we eat enough protein during this experiment. There’s no way we’d do this if we had to give up eggs and cheese (so no, there won’t be any VFaM posts — Vegan for a Month). A gal can only go so far, you know?
Before I get to the spring rolls, I just have to say I have the best husband there is. Not only did he dash out for some sesame oil just as I was starting my food prep (HOW I managed to run out, I’ll never know), he also saved our house from collapsing in a fiery heap.
You see, our humble abode was built in 1906 (by drunken carpenters, according to my darling). Although we eventually hope to tear the thing down some day and rebuild (believe me — given the cost of homes in Seattle, that would be the most inexpensive way to go, especially if we want to stay in our neighborhood), for now we’re happy with the status quo. Sure, we’ve done a few small remodeling jobs — a little paint here, some new flooring there — but we’d rather save up until we can afford a tear down.
However, lately the house has started to show its age. We’ve known from the start the wiring was wonky — we can’t run the dishwasher and our toaster oven at the same time without a circuit breaking — but said breaker has started to sputter and heat up considerably, emitting a weird smell. My darling has always joked our house problems would be solved with “a can of gas and a drifter,” but once fire seemed a foreseeable risk, the joke was no longer funny.
Things came to a head today as another circuit breaker cut out once we turned on the heat. We could no longer ignore the problem. But my darling, putting himself at considerable risk, managed to swap out two of the aging circuits, thus saving the house — and us — from certain demise. My hero! (Given his bravery I could probably even forgive him should he decide to sneak a burger).
But back to the spring rolls.
A successful marriage requires patience and compromise; you have to be willing to forgive minor transgressions. For my darling and me, that means forgiving him for eating shrimp last night.
I really can’t fault him. I was the one who came up with the “rules” for our Meatless for a Month (MFaM) experiment, and although I said we MIGHT have fish on occasion, I figured it wouldn’t be until later in the month when we really started craving protein other than vegetable-based. But when I talk to him about food, he often hears what Charlie Brown hears when adults talk to him — Wah waah wah wah. So I’m calling it a legitimate misunderstanding. Besides, when he goes out to buy me cold medication and Creamsicles when I’m laid up on the couch with a 100-degree fever, how can I begrudge him a couple of shrimp?
In my last post I said I was fighting off the last vestiges of a cold, but not only did they not want to leave me, they came back with a vengeance. So not only am I not up to cooking, I also haven’t had much of an appetite. My breakfast and lunch have consisted of an apple with peanut butter and a big bowl of popcorn; for dinner last night I mustered up the strength to make another quesadilla (my darling was out on a photo shoot). Tonight he’s making pizza with the last of the eggplant sauce.
But I’m hoping tomorrow I’ll be well enough to make Heidi’s baked spring rolls. They’re loaded with mushrooms (I’ll be using cremini and shiitake), tofu and spinach. She claims they get as crispy as those that are deep-fried; we’ll see about that!
So here it is, the first day of our Meatless For a Month (or MFaM for short) when I happen to pop by BlogHer. What do I see as the very first headline?
“Today’s World Vegetarian Day”
That’s right — October 1 is World Vegetarian Day, the kickoff to the North American Vegetarian Society’s Vegetarian Awareness Month. What a bizarre coincidence! I suspect I’ll be checking out the site frequently as we forge ahead on our quest.
But back to today’s meals.
Breakfast was typical — a bowl of Optimum Power cereal with black coffee — but temptation reared its ugly head the moment I hit Whole Foods. They’ve gone at LEAST a week without offering samples in the meat department (I never turn one down), but of course today they had a heaping platter of Polish sausage bites.
I also made the unfortunate decision to prepare roasted corn chowder for my client. Now you may think that would be allowed — it’s corn after all — but to make it extra tasty I fry up a quarter pound of diced bacon until crispy, then use some of the drippings to saute the onion and celery. Normally I’ll take a bite, or two, or, um, 10, of the bacon, but today it sat draining on a paper towel, taunting me with its salty, crispy baconny goodness. I finally had to throw it in the pot as the potatoes cooked for fear I’d lose my resolve (I didn’t even lick my fingers after throwing out the paper towel. Not that I’d EVER do that).