HAPPY HOLIDAYS from Fat Albert

...And a happy new year!

A Very V'Con Holiday, part 2

Ah, the second night of Christmas treats was as good as the first. I followed the Veganomicon recipe for Almost All-American Seitan Potpie, except for a few variations. I added leeks, because I pretty much add them to everything. (And it usually turns out well!) Also, I was at lack for seitan so I used baked tofu. Still wonderful.

I made them in these tiny caphalon pots that my parents had on hand, and me and my little brother munched away while my parents dined on steak topped with crab in cheese sauce or some nonsense.

*Phew!* After all this rich holiday food I'm ready for super-crunchy scary health food- like steamed tofu, kashi and kale. But on the other hand, I'm stocked with all these brand new fancy cookbooks, so I'm being pulled in two directions... we'll see what I come up with.

Also... anyone else see this? Yay Natalie Portman!


A Very Veganomicon Holiday, part 1

As bloody usual, I spent the whole of Xmas eve rushing around trying to buy last-minute gifts for everyone. Although the store situations weren't quite as dire as usual (boding poorly for the economy perhaps?) it was unpleasant circling the Best Buy parking lot for 45 minutes in my 1990 Volvo with my younger brother urging me to "be more aggressive". Whatever.

In the back of my mind, amidst all the people I forgot to get gifts for (my college roommate! my boyfriend's Dad's girlfriend! the postman!) was also the distinct possibility that if I didn't book it to Trader Joes, I was going to end up eating the following for dinner: sweet potatoes, french bread slathered with BBQ sauce. (If it hasn't been totally obvious, I've spending a lot of time with my family lately- none of whom are particularly fond of non-meat-centered dishes.) So, as we car-stalked old ladies potentially heading to their parking spaces, I had my little bro flip through Veganomicon to try to find some stuff for dinner tonight and tomorrow.

Typically I would try and use a combination of dishes, or veganize something I've been craving, but honestly, that book is so rock solid that I just knew anything he picked out would be a crowd pleaser. (Yes, its that good.) Soooo... not wanting to be all trad and pick out anything remotely Christmassy, he instead picked out the Pineapple cashew quinoa stir-fry and their take on a pot pie. "Good, grand, wonderful!" I cried, and quickly scoured TJ's for the necessary ingredients.

Now, its past midnight, I'm tucked into bed in brand-new pajamas (thanks, Mom!) and I can say, looking back, that despite lacking certain ingredients (cough, cough, mirin?), the quinoa was a complete success. Succulent pineapple, crunchy golden cashews, and tons of spices in each bite. Relying on Veganomicon was a phenomenal idea for Xmas eve. Tomorrow, I start on the Pot Pie. Maybe this should just be a new holiday strategy for me?

*The sweet potatoes were quite excellent, btw. Its another of my Dad's recipe which I will get into later. (He stole it from the White House kitchen!)

Basti's Gluhwein

My former roomate Sebastian came over for a holiday feast tonight, and brought as a great contribution the ingredients to what Germans call "Gluhwein" and English speakers probably call "mulled wine." There are as many recipes as there are types of wine, but I thought his was spiced just right, not too sweet, and made the whole
house smell like the holidays.

2 teabags of your choice (black, cinnamon, holiday blend, ect.)
2 bottles decent red wine
whole cinnamon sticks
whole cloves
1 orange, sliced (or berries)
dark rum

1. The basic set-up is this. Bring about 1 1/2 c. water to a boil, then reduce the heat and add the tea bags. After a few minutes, add the first bottle of wine. (This recipe is easily increased.) For each bottle of wine, add 1 T. sugar, 4-5 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tsp. allspice, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and slices of orange to your taste. As you increase the wine content, increase the other ingredients accordingly. Heat on low for 10- 15 minutes, but it can also sit for much longer.
2. When you are about to serve, add in 1 shot of dark rum per bottle of wine. Strain or carefully ladle into mugs or other glasses that are appropriate for hot beverages. Ahhhh.

Sure beats apple cider!


Penang Tofu

My Dad has been on a Thai food kick for the last, say, 15 years, but its rare that we attempt to recreate any of our favorites at home. We have such phenomenal restaurants nearby that we usually take out.

In NOVA, the golden standard is Duangrats, a classic Thai restaurant that's on the fancy side. You can't go wrong with the Sweet and Sour Tofu, the plaintain tempura, Pad See Ew... oh honestly, you can't go wrong. Everything here is fresh and perfectly seasoned- and their peanut sauce is the best I've ever had. On the other hand, there are plenty of meat dishes for family and friends to obsess over, so this can be a convenient special occassion place.

Right around the corner of the same shopping complex is Rabieng, a smaller restaurant owned by the same folks. The food is just as good but there is more of a street food focus, and the prices are slightly better. I always tend to get the ginger tofu, with plenty of fresh ginger and wood eared mushrooms, but all the other standards are equally great.

In Silver Spring (one of my other haunts) Thai at Silver Spring, right on the Hellsworth ave strip is actually pretty decent (and delivers!)I rarely stray from the Penang tofu (because its so freaking awesome) but I'm sure there are plenty of other great things too.

Which brings me back to my Dad. He discovered a small Asian foods market right next to Rabieng that has a lot of the ingredients necessary for their dishes. On top of everything else, they sell tofu wholesale for $.33 a pound. They also have a small can of penang curry paste with which he makes this simple and delicious dish. Its so good that is has actually held us back from Duangrats a few times.

Penang Tofu
1 package tofu
1 can penang curry paste
1 can coconut milk (1 1/4 c.)
1 tsp oil

1. Do your usual routine to rid tofu of excess water. (Freeze and defrost, weight it on a colander, ect.) Cut the tofu into thin squares, and in the meantime heat a wok or saucepan full of vegetable oil to high. Deep fry the tofu by placing pieces in the oil, and plucking them out when they are golden brown and floating. Keep the finished pieces on a plate with paper towels.
2. In a large pan, combine the paste, coconut milk and oil. Heat to medium and add the tofu. Serve over rice.


If you can't beat 'em... (NYC restaurants)

It would be too much to hope that my family would happily accompany me to a vegan restaurant, even in a town as packed full of them as New York City. But, every so often we come across a place that has as many delicious vegan options as meaty ones- so that I don't end up munching on french fries. Little Havana is just such a place.

It's a cute little restaurant in the Village that is so small, the bathroom is literally in the kitchen. But its authentic, the service is great and the small menu packs a punch with plenty of diverse and flavorful dishes. I got the fantastic lentil, kale, and butternut squash soup. Spiked with spicy ginger and big chunks of butternut squash, I'm dying to make this at home. (And so I shall... soon.) I also got sweet plantains (known as Maduros) and a salad with avocado and a house-made vinagrette. I also helped myself to some of my Mom's beans and rice. Having been to Cuba, its safe to say that Little Havana beats the Big Havana (with its state-run restaurants) in everything except location.

The fam also headed to little Italy to take in some fine cuisine at Angelo, a real institution (and Little Italy's oldest restaurant!). Its definitely the place to go if you've watched too many mafia movies. My brothers were convinced that the blinged-out old men at the table nearby were mob bosses. (I'm not so sure...) My parents munched on calamari and lobster ravioli, and I had homemade pasta with mushrooms, garlic, and tomatoes (no butter please). It was simple and fabulous- and so wonderfully garlicky. (And you know how I love that stuff.)

So while I wish I could have visited all the vegan hotspots, its nice to know that if you keep your eyes peeled you can find places that make everyone happy.


Creamy Mushroom and Leek Risotto

Its the end of the semester at law school. The time when I retreat to my parents house to hibernate and study for five days with my best friend. The situation is perfect because its nothing like our house: the pantry is always stocked, there's always a full supply of booze and coca-cola, and our laundry magically gets done. Since its the first night here, I decided to thank my parents for their hospitality by cooking up something delish. With stress levels being what they are, finals food needs to fulfill two requirements:
1. Must be creamy and comforting, and
2. Must produce leftovers.
(Note how I am unconsciously writing everything in outline form. Ugh.)

So what could be more perfect than warm, rich mushroom and leek risotto? (Never had it with leeks before, but suspected it would make it even creamier, which was right.) I served this with a side of green beans (leftover from the Spicy Peanut Stew) sauteed in garlic and a splash of good balsamic vinegar. It was so good, I nearly forgot that I will be taking a 4 hour evidence exam in less than 3 days...

Creamy Mushroom and Leek Risotto
2 knobs Earth Balance, or other vegan margerine
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 large leek (only the white and light green parts) rinsed, sliced and halved
1 c. white wine
4 c. vegetable broth
1 and 1/2 c. Arborio rice
2 c. mushrooms, (I used shitake, baby bellas and caps), clean and sliced thin
1 and 1/2 T. thyme
salt & pepper

1. In a large pot, melt 1 knob of earth balance along with 2 T EVOO at medium low. Add in the garlic and allow to cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add in the leek and onion, stirring to coat. Cook until soft, about 5 more minutes. Then, season well with salt and pepper.
2. Meanwhile, put the broth in a small saucepan and place over medium low or low heat.
3. Add the rice to the large pot and stir to coat for a minute or so. Then, add in the wine and raise the heat to medium. Stir until rice has absorbed the wine.
4. Now comes the portion of risotto-making called "ladle and stir." As in, ladle some of the warmed broth into the rice, and stir with a wooden spoon until it has been absorbed. This is going to continue until the rice has lost all of its crunch.
5. While all the ladling and stirring is going on, heat 1 T EVOO and 1 knob earth balance in a saute pan over medium low heat. When nearly melted, add in your shrooms and toss to coat. After a few minutes, add in a splash of wine and the thyme. Cook until softened.
6. As you continue to add broth to your risotto, taste it occasionally for seasoning and crunch. If you run out of broth, its fine to ladle in some warm water. When the risotto is done, the rice should be cooked through and not too chewy, and it should be surrounded by a thick sauce. When it hits this point, lower the heat.
7. Add in the shrooms and stir to mix. Turn off the heat and cover until ready to serve, stirring again before doing so.

Now that is some satisfying finals food. Serve with crusty bread and bracing veggies or salad.


Spicy Peanut Stew

If you hang out on Epicurious at all, you will start to notice that every recipe has about 24 comments. I always read these, not just because they tell you if the recipe is any good, but also because they are hilarious. The two most common types are over-shares ("I tried making this for my little darlings, Albert and Geoffrey, but they simply won't touch lettuce because it reminds them of Oscar the Grouch...") and chronic alterers ("This dish is great with a few changes- eggplant instead of chicken, and pesto instead of garlic-lemon sauce".) I guess I'm sort of a little of each. I can't follow a recipe all the way through, whether because of a stupid problem or an overactive imagination.

You see, I had every intention of making this recipe from the May issue of Vegetarian Times. But problem after problem prevented me from following the recipe, to the extent that I made a whole new- but excellent- variation. The recipe calls for celery, cauliflower, butternut squash and sweet potato. I used chickpeas, green beans, butternut squash and kale. I also used extra ginger and garlic. :)

I eyeballed the recipe, headed to the store, and promptly forgot the celery and sweet potato (although, to be fair, I usually have those on hand.) I did remember the butternut squash and cauliflower. But when I got to cutting up the cauliflower, I noticed these tiny little bugs all over it. Not wanting to toss the thing, I did a little googling and found out that soaking it in salted ice water for 10 minutes will usually do the trick. Um, not so much. So it had to go. :( Luckily, I had some kale and green beans handy. Add a can of chickpeas for the sweet potato, and I was back in business. So I will reprint the recipe here with my little variations. I highly suspect that with the spicy, garlicky, gingery, peanut sauce, any combo of veggies would work.

Spicy Peanut Stew, a la T
2 tbs EVOO
1 diced, medium sized onion
1 1/2 T grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with chiles
1 lb/ 3 c. butternut squash, cut into smallish cubes
1 handful green beans (about 1/2 c.)
1 bunch kale, washed and chopped
1/4 c. peanut butter
3 c. cooked brown rice

1. Heat EVOO over medium well and throw in the onions, cooking until they are translucent. After that, throw in the garlic and ginger. Cook a few minutes longer, then stir in the tomatoes and chickpeas and raise the heat to medium.
2. After sauce has thickened, add 2 c. of water and season well with salt and pepper. Cover partially and simmer for 10 minutes, then add in the squash. Cook for five more minutes, then add in the green beans and kale. Cook the whole thing partially covered for about 10 more minutes.
3. Whisk 1/2 c. warm water in with the peanut butter. Add that into the stew, stirring well. Reduce the heat and let it thicken a few more minutes before serving over the brown rice.