11/24/09

"But it's just a little!"

One of those things that really annoys me about the recipes that people are churning out at this time of year is that they're unnecessarily cruel. Cruel to your wallet, to the planet, and especially cruel to the animals that had to suffer for it. Let's get a few things straight right now: the animal product isn't strictly necessary every single time.

It's one thing to go to a place where people are eating actual animals. They're acknowledging the act, and doing so with whatever level of justification they have to do to get to that level, and that's for them to decide on their own. It's completely another thing, however, when cooks/chefs/etc. are encouraging ... nay demanding the use of animal products in places where it's not really needed. I'd say you're a pretty lousy cook if you think that those trace amounts of cruelty really make that much of a difference.

1) When you're cooking an enormous quantity of food, whether you fry the onions in olive oil or bacon fat isn't going to make an enormous difference at the end. Use the olive oil, and if you really think that it's making a largehuge difference, throw in a touch of hickory salt at the end to get that smoky flavour, which isn't really all that necessary, and will be generally washed out anyway. The olive oil is healthy, tasty, and a fairly easy shot, as you're going to be able to serve it to a much wider variety of people.

2) If you desperately need the saturated fat's taste, consider something like coconut oils. The flavour I get from a scant amount of coconut oil, added to my regular cooking oil is far superior and more fragrant than any amount of butter or margarine that people insist on using. A very small amount goes a very long way, and the result is so many kinds of delicious. You can go to the health food store, and invest in the fancy extra virgin stuff, or you can run down to the Indian store, and snag the slutty version. Both of them smell pretty amazing.

I made lemon rice the other day, which traditionally calls for nuts (which I didn't have in the house). I wanted that rich flavour, and pregan (pre-vegan, that is) cooking would have meant throwing a bit of ghee in there to give it a bit of a fat and flavour boost. Instead, I added in about a scant 1/2 teaspoon to the cooking fat at the very end (this was meant to spice and flavour about 10 cups of rice [uncooked, not cooked]). It really was a hit. That's the thing: coconut fat rewards you when you use it in the smallest amounts necessary.

3) STOP. USING. CHICKEN STOCK. If you're looking for that chickeny taste, add in about 2 TB of nutritional yeast to ever litre (4 cups, roughly) of water you're using. If you insist on making the bouillon stuff to sprinkle onto veggies and the like, use the wonderful, the talented, the beautiful, and the ever-giving Bryanna Clark Grogan's recipe for it:

BRYANNA'S HOMEMADE VEGAN CHICKEN-STYLE BROTH POWDER
makes about 1 and 1/2 C.
Blend in a dry blender:
1 and 1/3 c. good-tasting nutritional yeast flakes
3 T. onion powder
2 and 1/2 T. sea salt
2 and 1/2 tsp. garlic granules or powder
1 T. soymilk powder
1 T. white beet sugar
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. finely crumbled dried sage (NOT powdered)
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. tumeric
Store in an airtight container and use 1 level tablespoon per cup of water.

By the by, if you haven't checked out her site yet, please go ahead and do so. You won't regret it. She is like the Julia Child of the vegan world. She has deconstructed /everything/ and generously shares it to everyone who wants to see.

The thing is that stock doesn't really have that much flavour. That's kind of the point of stock. Animal stock is really there because of the gelatinous quality it gives. For vegans, getting that same texture and savoury flavour is simple, via the fenugreek seed. Boiled gently in water, the fenugreek makes a very delicious stock all on its own. If you can't find fenugreek seeds, use the recipes above to give your water some oomph.

For the record, I don't use stock at home, and neither does Boss Man. Everything we cook comes from things that are flavoured specifically for the dish, and for the occasion. The vegetables themselves will give that texture. If something is too thin, make a quick slurry of 1 part cornstarch, tapioca starch (not tapioca pearls), potato starch, arrowroot powder, or just plain old flour, and 2 - 3 parts cold water (use COLD water, please, so that it doesn't clump), whisk it together quickly, and slide it into the soup or stew. Let it come to the boil for a few seconds. Turn off the heat. It'll thicken up as it cools. For about a litre of water, I'll use around 2 TB of the starch, and 5 TB of water. It thickens a lot more once it cools down.

While we're here: stop using stock to cook plain rice, pasta, potatoes, etc. Those foods are in desperate need of salt, and stock doesn't contain enough to make a difference (if it's a good stock). If it's not a good stock, how much /good/ flavour are you getting out of it in any case? Use water, use plenty of salt, and let 'er rip. The starches need the salt early on, or else it won't penetrate.

4) Fish really isn't a vegetable. Seaweed is. See the difference? Gooooood. :)

5) To get that creamy texture, use soy, almond, hemp, or coconut milk. They're all delicious. They're all incredibly creamy. Even the giant bottles of Trader Joe's soymilk, which is like $3 or $4 creams up beautifully when cooked. And frothy coffee drinks and lattes and all the rest happen beautifully with the soy milk. If you can't do soy, try a combination of rice milk and coconut milk (about 2 TB coconut milk per 1 cup of rice milk). It doesn't pile up the froth quite like soy does, but the creaminess is quite delicious.

For your smashed potatoes, throw a bunch of potatoes on the boil, drain when fork tender, throw on 1 can coconut milk per 3 lbs of potatoes, throw in some chopped garlic, some minced parsley, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and a good sprinkling of salt. Garnish with snipped chives, or your herb of choice. So delicious.

When doing sweet potatoes, toss peeled, cubed sweet potatoes in a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, drizzle on some pure maple syrup, finish it off with a touch of vanilla extract, then roast at 350 until tender and caramelly on the outside. It works the same for pumpkins (only with the pumpkins, throw in some pecans or other related nut to make it so much the better). No need for boatloads of sugar and other disgusting things. Keep it simple, and the vegetable will thank you.

6) BREATHE! This is a time of year when people can easily get stressed. Nothing ruins all the hard work and the effort you've put into things like a poor outlook. There is no disaster that is so horrible that you can't recover from it. Remember in the midst of the rush and the rabble that you're allowed to stop and breathe once in a while. It's allowed!

I've learned over time that as long as I have a few tins of beans, some oil, some spices, and a bit of rice lying around, I can mostly salvage any major disasters fairly quickly. If you need rice in a hurry, there is a way to speed things along.

Toast the rice in a bit of fat, and have a tea kettle with boiling water ready and waiting. It'll knock off a good 10 minutes from your total time needed. You just need to toast the rice till it's opaque (not browned), and then pour in the boiling water. Add a bit of salt, slam on the lid, and let 'er rip till it's cooked. Tinned beans take minutes to put together on short notice, and can even use them to fix things.

If you oversalt your food, you're really going to need more bulk. This can happen in a couple of ways:

- baked potato
- cooked rice
- breadcrumbs
- coconut milk

If you don't have enough salt, add less than you think you'll need, and let the food boil for about 30 seconds. This will allow it to naturally get mixed through. This will also prevent over-salting.

Lime or lemon juice will cut through something that's too hot and spicy. Sugar will do the same. Orange juice would be a sort of one-two punch. Keep around some simple syrup (1 part water, 1 1/2 parts sugar) if you'll be serving cocktails of any sort. It will fix a too-sour, too-alcoholy, too-anything drink in a trice. Simple syrup also works for fixing too much salt, too much chili, too much anything in food too. It's a powerful tool to keep around. Just dissolve the sugar in boiling water, and keep it in a bottle in the fridge.

Hope everyone's holiday season shapes up beautifully, and your plans all work perfectly!
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