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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why Vegetarian?

Recently I was invited to an event to meet blogger (, food photographer, and cookbook author Michael Natkin.  His new, first book, "herbivoracious", published by the Harvard Common Press, is a beautiful, useful, practical, and aspirational collection of his recipes and philosophy that vegetarian cooking is very special while still accessible.

Melissa's Jalapenos + Lemon Grass
The recipe I chose to cook from the book, Aromatic Tofu Packets (p. 221), is not only composed of ingredients I already love, but it gave me the perfect reason to try the Paper Chef brand culinary parchment paper that was in my Camp Blogaway swag bag.  It's kind of amazing that you can put some tofu, veggies, chile peppers, sauces, and spices in a square of magic paper and end up with a steamy, incredibly fragrant, neatly wrapped packet of fantastic flavors.

In "herbivoracious" Michael asks the simple question "Why vegetarian?" then answers "Because vegetarian meals are good for you, tread more lightly on our planet's resources, and are kinder to animals."  Whether you agree with this 100% like I do, or if you just want to have more variety and healthful ingredients in your diet, you will surely be inspired by "herbivoracious".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Salads - Simply Sensational

Fruit Salad Fixins from Camp Blogaway

Salads are sensational, on so many levels.  They can be light or substantial, combining raw and cooked, cold and warm, savory and sweet, local and exotic.  All vegetable, all fruit, or a combo?  You can leave them au naturale, or dress them up any which way.  From hundreds of greens, grains, vegetables, beans, protein (vegetarian, of course), cheese (easy does it), nuts, crispy bits, herbs, fruit, seeds, oils, vinegars, fruit juices, wine, and spices, you can create thousands of combinations for every occasion, special or du jour.  Something classic done exactly according to tradition, or maybe with a twist; something with ethnic inspiration to evoke exotic places; what's on hand; what's at the market; whatever.  

For lunch, a snack, as a dinner starter, or main course, a salad could be just what you need to fill up, and not out.  A nice salad, without high calorie/high fat embellishments, eaten at the start of the meal, has been proven to result in consuming less calories overall.  And nearly all of salads' plant-based ingredients have health benefits like vitamins, antioxidants, and/or fiber.  While it's sure nice to have all of these benefits, even without them, salads are so darn delicious I'd eat them anyway.
Actual Bloggers, not actors, 'Created by Diane' and 'Liz the Chef'

Whether it's supper for one or enough to please a crowd, as in the two dinner salads I created and served at Camp Blogaway (fresh air, fun, food) recently, if you haven't already elevated the salad from what you think you should eat when you're on a diet, to what you want to eat as often as possible, let the ingredients and your imagination be the guide to your own sensational salads.

Camp Blogaway Friday Night Salad
Spring mix salad greens
shelled, cooked edamame
ready-to-use beets, diced
shredded or diced carrots
fresh mint leaves, torn into small pieces
shallots, minced
crumbled feta cheese
garden herb croutons
dressing: seasoned rice vinegar,
grapeseed oil, fresh lemon, pepper

To make the dressing: whisk 1 part vinegar to 1 part oil, add as much lemon juice as you like, and add pepper to taste.

To make the salad, toss together the greens and veggies (in whatever proportion you like), add dressing, toss, add cheese, toss, add croutons, toss, maybe add more dressing, toss and serve.

Camp Blogaway Saturday Night Salad
Spring mix salad greens
baby heirloom tomatoes
mini cucumbers
shredded or diced carrots
fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
shallots, minced
pine nuts
shredded Parmesan cheese
tomato & basil croutons
dressing: extra virgin olive oil,
seasoned rice vinegar, pepper

To make the dressing whisk 1 part oil to 1 part vinegar, and add pepper to taste.

To make the salad,  toss together the greens and veggies (in whatever proportion you like), add dressing, toss, add nuts and cheese, toss, add croutons, toss, maybe add more dressing, toss and serve.

Thanks Melissa's for Sponsoring Camp Blogaway!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cinco de Mama

At our latest Los Angeles Food Bloggers' potluck we were asked to bring a recipe that represented something from our mother's repertoire.  After hearing from several bloggers that their mothers didn't cook, heated-up tv dinners, or ordered out, I realized again how lucky I was to have a mother who cooked every night, and as a bonus, her cooking was really good.   Maybe that's why I cook almost every night, and really good too I think.

While my mother was able to embrace a variety of cuisines, so there was spaghetti, chop-suey, and many "American" dishes on the menu, her specialty was and is Moroccan food, and my favorite has always been her Tomato and Preserved Lemon Salad.  I loved the other salads too, and there were usually at least 4-5, but I'd be happy if there was just T&PLS, with hunks of bread for scooping, dipping, and sponging.

Since this salad has some of the best qualities of a really, fresh tomato salsa and since Cinco de Mayo is coming up, I thought I'd cross-purpose the salad to accompany some easy, delicious Tamales, with a Moroccan twist.  Starting with Melissa's Tamale kit, I added some ground cumin to the masa mix, set this aside, and then roasted strips of sweet potatoes and zucchini sprinkled with cumin, cinnamon, sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, and olive oil.  The beauty of this kit is that the masa mix is made by simply adding water, and is already very tasty just that way but will gladly except any flavor you'd like.  The corn husks are pre-soaked, pliable, and after adding a nice amount of the masa mix, they can be topped with anything you can imagine - in this case, the roasted, spiced veggies.  No cheese was added because a. not Moroccan, and b. not necessary - the roasted sweet potato added an almost cheesy texture.

In about 1 1/2 hours (30 minutes to roast the veggies, 1 hour to assemble and cook the tamales) I had a dozen, hot, steamy, creamy, flavorful tamales to be deliciously embellished by my mother's wonderful tomato salad.

So for those of you celebrating Cinco de Mayo and/or Mother's Day (whether your mother cooked or not),  I take my sombrero off to you all!

Marie's Moroccan Tomato & Preserved Lemon Salad
8 ripe Roma tomatoes, diced
10 pepperoncini peppers, stems and seeds removed, diced
1/4 of a preserved lemon, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
handful of fresh parsley, minced
extra virgin olive oil
salt/pepper to taste

1.  Mix everything together.  You may not need salt because the preserved lemons are salty, but you decide.
2.  See #1.

Serve this salad as an appetizer alongside chunks of French bread or equivalent, use as a salsa, or any other way you'd like.  It's really good.