April 2011

Defending Vegan Cuisine (as a non-vegan)


I'm not a vegan. Not even close. I'm one of those rare creatures who lives on the west coast but has no dietary restrictions, either by choice or from allergy. I love meat, dairy, honey and whatever the hell gelatin is made out of these days, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate good vegan food where I find it. And yes, there is such a thing as good vegan food, though with a significant caveat. The crux of my argument could not be better illustrated than it was by VegNews recently. The vegetarian and vegan culture magazine got in trouble recently for publishing pictures of meat-filled dishes as meatless. When asked why they went for the fleshy pics, the reps from VegNews cited the difficulty of finding appetizing photos of actual vegan food and the high price to the rights of those few images that do exist. There are two things wrong with this: Tasty-looking vegan food exists in greater abundance than one would imagine and there's no reason VegNews couldn't have used original photography instead.

Outfitting the Frugal Kitchen

This article at The Atlantic is a great illustration of how easy it is to run amok when buying kitchen tools and equipment. By the author's own admission she has hundreds of dollars of Shun knives (a high-end chef's knife brand) and virtually never uses any of them.

It's easy to be swayed by the dream. The dream of effortlessly slicing tomatoes and onions into dishes of your own devising. "If only I had the right tools," we think, "I would cook at home all the time! My food would taste so much better! Life would be so much simpler!"

This attitude was lampooned in a South Park episode (also mentioned in the article) when Stan's father purchases a Margaritaville Frozen Drink Maker (basically a very expensive blender). When Stan tries to return the blender because their family can't afford such an extravagantly useless appliance, he falls down the rabbit hole of toxic assets and CDOs.

Happy Grilled Cheese Month!

Last week I visited a nearby restaurant with a friend, and I was pleased to note that they were overtly celebrating Grilled Cheese Month with a special grilled cheese sandwich: honey, cream cheese, and gruyere cheese on sourdough bread. I ordered it just because it was special, and I was intrigued, but I have to confess I didn't really care for it.

(Then again, I'm not a huge fan of the sweet/salty thing. I don't hate it - I'm just not a big fan.)

However, it got me thinking about the near infinite possibility with grilled cheese sandwiches. As many grilled cheeses as I have made in my life, and I have never tried cream cheese! In fact, I hardly ever mix cheeses, unless I'm running low on something. As a rule, I prefer the single-cheese sandwich. But don't let that stop you!

Poisonous Food

Surprisingly, you don't have to look far to find examples of poisonous food in cultures around the world!

Fugu (pufferfish) is probably the best known example of a food which is poisonous.

Several organs of the pufferfish contain a potent neurotoxin (tetrodotoxin) which shut down the action of your muscles, causing the sufferer to become paralyzed and eventually causing death by asphyxiation. There is no antidote for tetrodotoxin, and it takes only a tiny amount to cause death. (Tetrodotoxin is 10 times more poisonous than cyanide.)

Dutch Babies for Breakfast (or Dinner!)

It may sound downright Swift-ian, but the Dutch Baby (and its variant, the Apple Baby) is a popular Seattle brunch item - and easy to make yourself!

The Dutch Baby is like a popover made from crepe batter. You pour some batter into a super-heated pan, and it puffs up while it cooks, making a sort of informal soufflé.

Dutch Babies are beloved among Seattle brunchers, but also a little bit dreaded. A Dutch Baby cannot be prepared ahead of time, and it takes at least 20 minutes to prepare. At a busy restaurant, ordering a Dutch Baby can delay brunch by 45 minutes or more. Nothing makes you feel like groaning in dismay like having someone in your party order a Dutch Baby when you are A) really hungry, and/or B) hoping to get out of that restaurant in a somewhat timely fashion.

April is National Pecan Month

April is National Pecan Month, one of my mother’s favorite holidays! Where I grew up in Chaffee, Missouri, we had a pecan tree growing in our backyard. I don’t remember much of those years as I was so young, but I do remember how much my mother loved that tree. I tried to plant my own once in the front yard, but my father ran over it with the lawn mower and broke my heart! I do remember him re-planting it, carefully surrounding it with stones to avoid its destruction in the future. Since then, we’ve driven by, and that tree is a monster these days.

The Olive Garden: Why?

This less-than-flattering review of The Olive Garden kicked off a vicious (and surprisingly long-winded) discussion of The Olive Garden's merits and demerits on Metafilter. It seems odd but I have noticed before that, of all the chain restaurants, for some reason The Olive Garden seems to bring out the most passionate debates.

I myself am merely puzzled by The Olive Garden. By its strange offerings, its surprisingly high prices, and its continued popularity. I live about halfway between Seattle and the Canadian border, and The Olive Garden is one of the few Italian restaurants in the county.

Even so, it's always surprising to see how amazingly crowded it gets on a Friday or Saturday evening. The entryway is always crowded, the bar is always full, and if the weather is nice the line will spill out onto the sidewalk outside. Even the 15 minute take-out parking spot sees constant traffic from people who apparently stop at The Olive Garden on their way home from work to pick up dinner.

Adventures in Meringue

Yesterday I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how to make the perfect baked meringue, which the author assured me was both simple and effective. I was intrigued, but extremely skeptical.

Let me back up. These days I'm a reasonably accomplished cook. Although I'm far from an expert, I would estimate that only 5% of my attempted dishes end in failure. That is a significant accomplishment, given that I never really learned how to cook when I was young (I was raised on a steady diet of Hot Pockets).

In fact, in my 20s I attempted a lot of new dishes, and many - maybe most - of them were failures. Put it this way: I had to beg a friend to teach me how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Requiem for Sbarro

Due to a high debt load and the overall reduced number of people at shopping malls these days, Sbarro pizza has announced that it will declare bankruptcy. (I can't hear that phase now without thinking of Michael Scott bellowing "BANKRUPTCY!") Oh Sbarro, we hardly knew ye.

Although Sbarro started in 1956, it went public in 1985 - which is the year that inaugurated its sudden expansion into malls everywhere. But my first experience with Sbarro wasn't until I moved to the Lower 48 to attend college in 1990. There were no Sbarro outlets in Anchorage, nor are there today. (I just checked.)