Mmmmmayo…

Memorial day served as a perfect bookend between spring and summer this year. The wind and drizzle have been replaced by gloriously warm sunny days. The absolute highlight of the long weekend was laying in the sun on our “porch” (roof) and blasting Bob Marley to drown out the abysmal musical taste of our frat-boy neighbors—a quintessentially summery activity. Of course summer also brings the urge to cook less, picnic more and feast on such delicious things as sandwiches, coleslaw, potato salad. And what do these beacons of summer have in common – mayonnaise, of course! I’ve never been a big fan of conventional mayo—the eggy aftertaste was always a bit too off-putting, but I do love just about everything you can make with it. Just about everywhere now you can find a couple of brands of vegan mayonnaise for sale, generally based on tofu. Veganaise, one of the most ubiquitous offering is really very good. I was doubtful that I could match its texture and flavor at home…but I had to try!

And, if I may toot my own horn *toot!*, I must say my mayo absolutely blew theirs out of the water. I can barely resist eating by the spoonful. Considering my success using blending silken tofu in my hollandaise sauce, I decided to take the same approach with TPC’s standard mayonnaise recipe. I blended it as smooth as possible to begin with and then also used my immersion blender when adding the oil to ensure silkiness throughout. I ended up needing to add significantly more tofu that I originally anticipated, based on my egg to tofu approximations in the hollandaise. I think the fact that mayonnaise using liquid oil instead of melted “butter,” which has much more of its own body as it cools probably accounts for this. Anyway, without further ado, here’s the recipe:

12 oz. (1 box) organic firm silken tofu
1 Tbs. water
3 Tbs. ume vinegar (If you’ve never heard of this stuff, try it immediately. Its salty, sour, fruitiness is unbelievably good in just about anything! )
1/2 tsp. prepared dijon mustard
1 cup organic sunflower oil (or other neutral-tasting oil)
 
  1. Combine the tofu, water, vinegar and mustard in deep jar. Set on top of a damp towel (to keep the jar from sliding around when using the blender).
  2. Blend with an immersion blender until as smooth as possible.
  3. Dribble in the oil with your blender running.
  4. Once all your oil has been added blend a few more second until perfectly smooth and glossy.
  5. Add a little salt, to taste, if necessary.

Some ways to use your mayo:

  • Combine with crumbled tofu, capers and mustard for “Egg” Salad
  • Combine mashed chickpeas, diced celery and apples and curry powder for a fabulous sandwich filling
  • Mix mayo and siracha sauce for homemade bahn mi or as a dip for veggies.
  • Make vegan BLTs with temphe “bacon” (marinate with smoked paprika, maple syrup and soy sauce and saute with plenty of oil)
  • Potato salad – nuff said
  • Coleslaw (my favorite is green cabbage with sweet onion, red pepper, carrots & caraway seeds)

Excuse me while I go salivate over more ideas….

Investing (time) in Stocks

Stock. The basis of so many recipes, and yet something of an antiquated procedure in most home kitchens – it certainly has been in mine. I’ve made de-facto stock, as the first step of a soup, often enough, but I’d never taken the time to prepare stock to store for use in other recipes. Even this first, quite simple, recipe made me realize what a departure from my normal cooking style this project will be. Namely, that it will be slow. Particularly in the past several years of being in school or at work more-or-less full time, my cooking has tended toward dishes that could be thrown together quickly, relying on spices or condiments for much of the flavor. Making stock, in contrast, is all about the slow extraction of flavor from the food itself. Different for certain, but also very satisfying. As The Professional Chef (TPC) decrees, good stock tastes not only flavorful but wholesome.

TPC devotes several pages to veal, beef, fish and chicken stock, among other meaty variations, but also includes a recipe for vegetable stock. Vegetable stock, along with chicken and fish, are classifying as “white” or light stocks, as opposed to the heartier “brown” variations. Apparently an extra-rich stock can be made if you use the nasty bits of younger animals, as they have more connective tissue clinging to the bone, which will melt down into your stock making it richer and more”gelatinous” – yum. But stock is really more about technique than ingredients. The only difference between making a meat stock and a veggie version is that you chuck some extra veggies in the pot instead of bones. And so I decided there was no real need to try to make a un-beef stock, as veggie stock can pretty much go wherever the meaty stuff does.

Considering that I will be using this stock only vegetarian preparations, I figured that a mild vegetable stock would be sufficient for most recipes.  But, since veggies lack tendons and cartilage and such to add fat and body, per TPC, I made sure not to skimp on the oil – 1/4 cup per gallon of water. I began with a standard mirepoix – 2 parts onions to 1 part carrot and 1 part celery, chopped in ~ 1/2 inch cubes. After heating the oil, the onions went in first until they began to release their juices. Then I added the carrots until they began to brown, then then celery. After about 10 more minutes on stove, I added more vegetables, the same total volume as the mirepoix. (I think I may need a scale…). TPC specifies that any “non-starchy” veggies may be used. I used some leftover leeks and portobello mushroom trimmings, hoping the mushrooms would contribute a rich flavor. These sautéed for another 10 minutes. Then I added the gallon of water plus ~ 2 teaspoons of sea salt. The whole pot then simmered for about an hour (while I took a bath). I chucked in the flavoring bouquet (a bundle of cheesecloth containing 4 parsley stems, 1 sprig of thyme, 1 garlic clove, a bay leaf and a few pepper corns) about 15 minutes before the end. Finally, I strained the stock through a mesh colander.

The results were good, but not overwhelmingly so. Really, I was a little disappointed- all that work, and it didn’t taste all that different than something that could have come out of a can… But then, sitting overnight deepened the flavor improved remarkably. And the next day, I made polenta with the stock, to see what sort of difference the flavor would make in such a simple recipe – it was incredible! Worth the trouble…I think. I can’t imagine making stock very often, but a big batch every now and then seems like a great way to use up vegetable scraps and its easy to freeze. I may be a convert after all…

Next, I plan on tackling a less-orthodox vegetarian brown stock. Traditionally, the brown color and richer flavor would come from both the meat an from well-caramelized mirepoix and a bit of browned tomato paste. I’m thinking of subbing dried mushrooms for the meat, to try to capture a similar depth of flavor.

Stay tuned…

Next, my stocks will be turned into sauces!

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Let the veganization begin!

Since adjusting to being back in the Hometown it has become more and more clear to me that I want to pursue a culinary career. No matter how long or tiring a day I’ve had, I’m always eager to get home to my kitchen to try out a new recipe or whip up a familiar batch of cookies. And while I’ll be the first to admit that many of my interests can be intense, but fleeting, this joy from all things alimentary has been a constant in my life pretty much as long as I can remember. I’ve been concerned that to turn this passion into work might somehow cause it to disintegrate and no longer be enjoyable, but the more I reject the possibility on those grounds, the more I simply don’t see an alternative. To push aside this love and skill of mine would simply be nonsensical.

Of course, coming to this conclusion has only been just the beginning of turning this new direction into a reality. I want start from a fancially stable place, meaning this is not in the immediate future, and, most importantly, I want to find a culinary school that supports my values, as most well-know schools (CIA, Cordon Bleu, etc) tend to have a very strong French/ Classic/ decidedly un-veggie focus. Much research has turned up a couple of options: The Natural Gourmet Academy in NYC and Bauman College, with branches in Berkley and Boulder. Both offer a curriculum based around health-supportive vegetarian and vegan cuisine, with additional units on humane meats. The very fact that these schools are out there is immensely exciting to me. My personal decision to follow a predominantly vegan diet, beginning a couple of years ago, has transformed my relationship with food. The possibility to create and share this sort of food, that is not only delicious but also key in lessening the environmental degradation, human suffering, and lack of personal responsibility that is so rampant in our world, is even more exciting. But, of course, the power of food extends beyond responsibility or health. It’s also about community, comfort, culture and tradition.

In that vein, I’ve dreamt up a fascinating project to dip my toes in the world of culinary education. I have decided to veganize the Culinary Institute of America’s standard textbook, The Professional Chef. There are many fantastic vegan cookbooks out there these days, but I’ve found a frustrating dearth of tomes that focus on the fundamentals of cuisine – the how and why of recipes. Particularly when attempting to adjust or recreate animal-based recipes using vegan ingredients, I find it absolutely fundamental to understand the role each ingredient plays in the dish—are the eggs acting as stabilizers? emulsifiers? adding bulk? moisture? lift? By starting with a book which does focus on these fundamentals, I hope to create my versions of each recipe from the ground up.

I intend to make my way through the techniques and recipes, adapting them to vegan ingredients, as much as possible. There are several chapters focusing on meat, poultry and fish. I will not attempt to duplicate all of these recipes with faux-meats, instead I plan on experimenting with the flavors, textures and techniques, exploring ways to incorporate the appeal of many of these recipes into vegetable ingredients. The same goes for the egg and dairy-centric recipes. That having been said, I anticipate that my approach will evolve with my progress. My goal is to translate much of the tradition, history and science that runs deep throughout the sort of classic Euro-American fine cuisine found in this book, and so many others like it, into a completely new way of thinking about food, health and the environment.

Wish me luck!

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