Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Omnivore's Dilemma -- Not for This Vegetarian

My father and I have been having quite an online discussion about Michael Pollan, of The Omnivore's Dilemma fame, with whom I went to school from elementary to high school. Dad and I agree that Pollan is teaching those who can afford to learn the truth about their food supply. Others may not have the luxury.
But I had a thought about that. I wonder what kind of effect it would have on lives and health, personal and planetary, if just one day a week was reserved for whole grains and legumes, with a few veggies, of course. I imagine everyone cooking up a pot of brown rice and another of lentils (or their favorite bean) and that's what they eat for the day. It has to be less expensive than almost any other food -- fast or slow, and equally or more nourishing. You can likely feed a family of 4 for less than $5 including a bag of organic carrots or some other veggie. Now, how difficult is that?

Certainly the problem with our eating, as Pollan pointed out in a 10,000 word New York Times piece on food called Unhappy Meals is that what most people are eating is not food, per se, but something processed. We must get back to the basics which I have been espousing for far too long with the sound of my voice echoing. (What's the sound of one hand clapping?) Pollan, on the other hand, has a large audience. I can only hope that people will not only listen but make the requisite changes to upgrade their diets. This may involve going back to simpler, peasant-type fare. Funny but when I mention polenta to my culinary students, they often don't realize its humble beginnings. Now you pay $10 and up for a plate of it paired with a simple sauce. Not so funny but interesting.

Dad and I both agree with Pollan on a few points that he makes: eat more "food", the real stuff, get out of the supermarket whenever possible and support local farmers, eat mostly plant foods especially leafy greens, and if you are going to use meat, use it as a flavoring, a la Thomas Jefferson, with whom I share a birthday. (I'm also a TJ fan for many other reasons.)

Pollan suggests that cooking is also crucial but my Dad leaves that up to my mother, who has mastered making fresh food taste great. For those who need to learn, there are ways. Many of them call first for boiling water. And how hard is that?

You can always read my cookbook or watch my DVD to learn more. In the meantime, master cooking a pot of rice and beans or lentils. It could change your life.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Latest Book Review for The Veggie Queen cookbook

I am convinced that my cookbook The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment has taken on its own life as book reviews keep popping up on the web. The latest of them was written by Ryan MacMichael of VegBlog, a blog of cookbook reviews.

Although I am a cookbook author and recipe writer I still like to read other cookbooks to get ideas and see if I've managed to stay on track with my recipes, as if they go out of style. I have never understood that part of cooking. We may use new ingredients in new ways but the basic recipe is often the same.

For instance, just this past week I made 3 different grains and had them all in the refrigerator. I pretended that I had died and gone to heaven when putting together my lunches and dinners using red and white quinoa, wild rice with mushrooms and Thai Purple Jasmine Rice from Alter Eco, the best of the 3. I paired one of those with my not-quite-yet-famous 2 Minute Tofu and Veggie Du Jour (pressure-cooked, of course) and voila -- an easy breakfast, lunch or dinner.

To get the most out of cooking, I suggest that you make a big batch of a grain, 2 or 3 each week and refrigerate or freeze for later use. You can do the same with a main dish of beans, tofu and veggies. This makes it easier to eat at home than going out and tastier than most pre-frozen food (although Amy's Kitchen makes some great tasting frozen vegetarian and vegan meals).

Use what little time you have for cooking wisely to make great choices such as whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, red rice, black rice, and now purple rice, wild rice, millet or buckwheat. They lead to interesting meals and better nutrition. Oh, and the carbs, these are good carbs. If you don't believe me, then give them a try.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Veggie Queen Cooks Under Pressure while Mushroom Hunting

Yesterday I had the pleasure of going on a mushroom hunting foray. And the pressure cooker once again came in handy. The drive to the Sonoma coast took about an hour and a half. The pot luck dilemma revolves around the best way to be sure that your food is hot. My pressure cooker made this possible.

I had intended to make wild rice and mushroom soup but changed it to a wild rice and mushroom dish when I discovered that my chef friend Patrick Hamilton a.k.a. Mycochef was making Thai soup. So I served wild rice with Trumpet Royale Mushrooms and Black Chanterelles with Balsamic Vinegar Glaze. It was black on black but quite tasty, especially with a sprinkle of Salt and Truffles that our resident mushroom ID guy, Darvin, brought along.

Wild rice takes only 25 minutes in the pressure cooker, cutting the time by more than half. I wasn't sure what would happen when it was left in the cooker for more than 4 hours. I let the pressure come down naturally, very naturally as the pressure cooker sat for at least 3 hours in the car, waiting for hungry foragers to return. Lo and behold, when I opened the pot the 4 quarts of cooked wild rice was still hot, not warm but hot. A fellow Sonoma County Mycological Associaton ( member, Linda, asked how I managed to have hot rice at that point. I mentioned the pressure cooker. But when I saw the rice which was a bit mushier than I had wanted, I wished that I had made soup. Not many critics, though, and it was eaten up.

It was a beautiful day and many people, with a large group of first-timers, found a variety of mushrooms. Included in my haul were black chanterelles (but very few), two types of hedgehogs, chanterelles and winter chanterelles, also known as tubies or yellow foot for the color of the stem and one lone candy cap to add to my already dried collection.

The real and best work began when I arrived home and started sorting and cooking. And more about that another time.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Veggie Queen Teaches Veggies at Elderhostel

About 8 times each year I get the opportunity to teach Elderhostel groups at Bishop's ranch in Healdsburg. The groups range from about 20 to 35 very interesting people who are over 50+ years of age. People who have experience, some more than others. It seems, though, that I have something to teach them. I enjoy my chance to do show and tell, especially with people who hail from areas of the country, other than here in California.

One couple thanked me for my presentation. The husband said that they couldn't get greens in Ohio in the wintertime, while the wife told me that they have 7 farmer's markets in their area. Surely, they must be able to find something green such as collards, mustard, kale, Swiss chard and more. Perhaps salad greens are unavailable but surely there's something healthy to eat.

Today I showed the group how to make Red and White Quinoa with Mushrooms, Greens and Herbs, Salad Mix with Greens, Reds and Oranges with Simple Citrus Dressing and 4-Minute Pressure-Cooked Winter Fruit Compote.

Someone asked me if they could cook the compote without a pressure cooker. So I went explained why the pressure cooker works so well for cooking fruits and vegetables. The fruits and veggies keep their shape and color and the flavorings added, in this case cinnamon sticks, lemon and orange zest, and juice or wine, get infused into the dish. You get flavor, texture and shape not available with regular stove top cooking. If you want to know more, just let me know. And if you want to be informed about when my Pressure Cooking DVD is available, please sign up for my email newsletter by going to The Veggie Queen website at I offer recipes not available in my book or on my website on a mostly monthly basis. And because I'm a vegetarian, there is no SPAM.

Whether I am teaching young or older, I enjoy showing and telling about new things. Today that included watermelon daikon radish, Moro blood oranges and green garlic. You never know what I've got up my sleeve. Hopefully it's not too messy.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Diet Pill or Diet Change?

Front page news today, February 8, 2007:
FDA approves Diet Pill Sale Without Prescription

While this news is nothing shocking, it sends me into a fury. Instead of people (not you, of course) taking some responsibility for what they eat, they'd rather pop a pill. I know that it's asking a lot for people to have to think about what they put in their mouths and the effect that it will have on them.

The drug, Alli (a lower dose form of Xenical), will be available in the summer but by then it will be too late to lose weight to look good in your swim suit. So, why not start today by eating more vegetables every day? If you lose just one quarter pound a week between now and summer, you can say goodbye to 4 pounds. And if you lost 1/2 pound a week, that would be 8 pounds.

The cost of the pills is estimated to be 2 to 3 dollars per day. Spend it on food and you don't have to be concerned with side effects including flatulence, diarrhea or oily stools. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Of course, drug company Glaxo-Smith Kline will have a website and provide information and education so that people can learn how to eat better while they take this "drug". Oh, did I mention that when you stop taking the drug, you stop losing weight?

If you want a drugless approach, food is the answer. Ask me, I'm an expert.

Veggie Queen Mistake: Oprah not Real Simple

In the last newsletter I sent out I wrote that tofu has become more mainstream, appearing in the Real Simple magazine that I spied at my mother in law's house. Well, I was wrong. The magazine that I saw was Oprah, not Real Simple. I know that MIL subscribes to Real Simple and since both magazines are large sized, I got one confused with the other. Please forgive me, I do know the difference but...
The good news is that when tofu is featured in Oprah, I know that it has become more mainstream. That's good.
In a class the other evening I made a tofu dish in the pressure cooker and converted a student into a tofu eater. She said that she really liked it. Now, I've got to tell you that the kind of tofu that you choose will make a difference. My absolute favorite tofu is Small Planet Tofu but you may not be able to get it where you live. It's available in the west, Alaska and Hawaii. Tofu Phil plans to offer it for online ordering.
I also recommend Wildwood tofu here on the west coast. Look for smaller regional tofu makers
in your area.
Check back for more on tofu -- choosing it and using it.