Making Tofu

We made tofu this week, yet another thing I never really imagined myself doing until culinary school. Here’s a summary of the process:

  1. Soak soybeans overnight.
  2. Grind the soaked beans with hot liquid.
  3. Boil the beans in the hot liquid.
  4. Pour the hot liquid through a strainer lined with cheesecloth and capture the liquids. The solids you capture are called okara, which has some limited culinary use. Press out as much liquid as possible. It can be useful to put the okara-filled cheesecloth into a nut milk bag, twist the top, and press out the liquid. The cloudy liquid you capture is used to make tofu so you want to get as much as you can.
  5. Heat the liquid and coagulate it using a natural compound such as calcium sulfate or magnesium chloride. (If you merely simmered the liquid, you could add sweetener and it would be a drinkable soy milk at this point.)
  6. Press the coagulated solids into a cheesecloth-lined tofu box for 45 minutes or so. You could also use a regular mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.
  7. Pull out the tofu. You are done!

Below: A plastic tofu press.

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Below: Black soy beans in their soaking liquid.

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Making Seitan (Wheat Gluten = Fake Meat)

What is seitan? Seitan (SAY tan) is wheat gluten. You know gluten, right? That sticky substance that your liberal friends are in a panic about and that your conservative friends think is a myth? That’s the one!

Below: A package of commercially available seitan. Seitan is very spongy and has a chewiness, like a medium rare steak.

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Gluten, in fact does exist, and you can prove it by making seitan. Why make seitan? Because it has a texture that’s very similar to meat and it can be flavored to be an Continue reading

African Flavors Lab

We had another special Friday afternoon lab for the Natural Epicurean students and this time it involved African recipes and flavors. I don’t think anyone realized just how much we would enjoy the food, which is saying a lot because a few of us already had a very positive view of African food. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a cuisine that I had ever attempted cooking (okay, I did once, but it was during the development of this very lab) so I was appreciative of the chance to do this. One of my classmates, Todd Heyman, with whom I also cook once a week, was the driving force behind setting up this lab in partnership with Chef Rosa, one of our main instructors. They worked together to test and perfect the recipes that we ended up cooking.

African food, based on my very limited exposure, makes heavy use of garlic, ginger, lentils, root vegetables and tubers such as sweet potatoes and cassava, and greens. The food is aromatic and delicious with bold flavors that are reminiscent of India and even Italy.

Below: A bean salad (below) and a cassava mash (top).

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At the Open House

[This blog mini-post was written during the May 19 Natural Epicurean open house about 60 seconds before I got up and talked about blogging and my experience as a student. Talk about real time! Below, school VP Ken Rubin is photographed with NE graduate Christy Morgan, The Blissful Chef.]

Here we are at the NE open house!

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A few other photos…

Below: Me talking about the blog and being a student (thanks to David McIntyre for the photo). Apparently my video is being recorded for posterity. It was kind of weird and fun talking to a group which several months ago I would have been a part of — prospective Natural Epicurean students.

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Below: My fellow students, working on samples for the guests at the open house.

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Below: Open house attendees were treated to some African food samples from our lab on the prior day. It was really great food.

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Taste of Health Chef Showdown in Austin

I had the opportunity to assist Chef Marko Ellinger with a public event in Austin recently. He was doing a cooking demonstration for the Natural Epicurean and I helped him do advance prep the night before, as well as with the event itself. Some people dropped by and inquired about the culinary program. A lot of other people watched and enjoyed the demonstration.

Chef Marko is a creative guy and he has a good presentation for cooking demonstrations. One of his angles is that he sings these funny, slightly corny, songs that gets everyone smiling and thinking about food in a fun way. He has backing musical tracks that he creates himself with piano and everything. It definitely gets attention. His food is really good, too, and he is creative on the fly.

Below: Chef Marko demonstrates one of his outstanding recipes.

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Primavera Lab

I’m so behind on my blogging… Sigh. How about I start with a sweet treat? Classmate Kim Gallogly made these excellent chocolates as part of her mid term. They tasted amazing.

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Chef Alex Lopez, aka the Food Diva, set up an extracurricular lab to cook some fresh and delicious primavera dishes. When I think “primavera” I think fresh, lighter, and gentler cooking methods, which is what I think Alex was going for. It was a fun and delicious lab session. As always, it’s great fun to cook with members of Group A, the other “homeroom” section in my class. Sadly, I didn’t get a ton of pictures, but we cooked a lot more than what’s photographed here.

Below: Chia seed cocoa pudding. Yum! Creamy and slightly sticky in a fun sort of way. :)

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Macrobiotics Theory

Macrobiotics has a history that dates back a couple of hundred years, but it basically seems to boil down to eating a balanced diet and being mindful of several attributes in your life/diet: your lifestyle, the weather/climate, “yin” and “yang” balance of your food, acidizing and alkalizing qualities of your food, and more. Mastering the premises of macrobiotics seems to be a venture which could take years. After a few books and a week of classes, I’m a bit closer to competence in the theory but still a good way off.

Macrobiotic cooking has been seen by some as a path to healing their bodies and lives, and some have hailed it as cancer preventing and curing. With its emphasis on whole grains and vegetables, macrobiotics is intuitively a health-promoting diet. One thing I like about macrobiotics is that there is a sense in the theory of more than food – there is an appreciation for making one’s body, mind, and overall life better. There is also the idea that you can heal yourself – you can let your body heal itself by bringing it into attunement with your food, your environment, and the universe.

Below: Some popular books on macrobiotics.

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Addressing Skepticism and Assimilation

A lot of macrobiotic theory sounds questionable to Westerners (I would know, since I am one :) ). Yin, yang, the five elements, energy in food — it’s unnatural to talk about such things for us. I believe there is a very strong bias in effect, however. What I mean is that every culture has unique worldviews that color the way they view their lives. In some cultures, even inanimate objects have gender. In other cultures, they also have a spirit. We cannot know if their beliefs are true, but I think sometimes cultures use these spiritual or nebulous concepts to capture an idea that is actually more true and/or accessible than the way Western science explains them.

An example of this is the idea in macrobiotics that different cooking styles imparts different energy to the food. You may not believe this or understand what it means, but you can certainly understand that food that’s steamed with no lid (upward energy) is noticeably different from food that is roasted (inward energy, I believe). And in ways that can be very distinct or subtle, your body handles those foods differently.

Since macrobiotics was popularized by people who subscribed to Chinese medical philosophy and thousands of years of Eastern culture, their worldview is going to differ greatly from ours and I think it’s not useful to merely discard it. In the West we have a tendency to label things as either “true” or “untrue” and “good” or “bad” but I think reality is more complex. I prefer to us my own filter to interpret and accept what makes sense to me.

We have a tendency to assimilate new information. This means we hear it and we try to make it fit or not fit into what we already know – we try to make it similar to our current information. The limitation of this is that if something new comes along and it is so radical that it doesn’t fit into our worldview, then we simply cannot see it as being true and we discard it. An alternative is to expand our worldview and grow, but this is more difficult and requires patience. I am in this phase of my understanding of macrobiotics.

More Theory

At the core of macrobiotics is the idea that food has energy and we must keep this energy in balance within ourselves and being mindful of the energy around us. Energy can be

  • Upward
  • Outward
  • Inward
  • Downward
  • Horizontal

Many things affect the energy of food and give indications of what type of energy is in that food. A vegetable (e.g., green onions) that sprout up toward the sky would be an example of upward energy. A carrot that grows below ground would have downward energy. How you cook imparts energy to the food, as well. Steaming imparts upward energy, while pressure cooking imparts inward energy.

One aspect of macrobiotics which was new to me is the idea of the Five Transformations. It’s also still an idea that I’m working on adding to my worldview. The basic idea is that there are five elements in nature that provide a framework for looking and our diets (and probably everything, but I haven’t gotten to that). Each element is associated with a season, a type of energy, kinds of food, etc. For example, the tree/wood element is associated with springtime, green foods, new growth, and upward energy. Keeping these elements in balance is key.

Another key element of macrobiotic theory is yin-yang balance. This is another way of thinking about the energy of food. Yin foods tend to bring expansive and light energy to your body and yang foods tend to bring contractive, heavier energy. Tropical fruit is a typical yin food. Meat is a typical yang food. Imagine how a person who eats tropical fruit all the time would be compared to a person who eats meat all the time. Neither is really healthy, and each would likely be very different in their temperament. This is an example of how the energy of food affects our own energy.

Summary

Using macrobiotics to improve people’s health means knowing about yin-yang, the five elements, acid-alkaline balancing, and more. It means knowing how to bring people’s diets and lives into balance. I have a long way to go, but I think macrobiotics will be a good tool for me to use in my cooking and consultation work.

Below: A whiteboard showing the five elements and their associated attributes.

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Below: What does it all mean? Time will tell…

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Dishing With… Amy Ramm (founder of Nada Moo!)

Amy Ramm is a graduate of my culinary school, The Natural Epicurean, and also the founder of Nada Moo!, a vegan ice cream company that she started here in Austin, TX, and that she has grown to multi-state distribution. She actually attended The Natural Epicurean way back when it was almost all macrobiotically based and — big news here — she recently sold her stake in Nada Moo! to focus on the next chapter in her career.

I sat down with Amy to talk about how she got Nada Moo! off the ground and into widespread distribution, what it took to keep it going, and where she’s headed next!

Below: Amy Ramm, holding a pint of Nada Moo!, the coconut-based ice cream product she developed over eight years ago.

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Tell me about the start of Nada Moo!

I was an aspiring artisan baker and pastry chef before I became a student at the Natural Epicurean. I was going down this path of learning how to put butter, flour, sugar, and eggs in everything and my sister was consulting with a nutritionist about her bad allergies that were getting worse. So she was going through an elimination diet and I was working with stuff that was very different. She came to me and asked me to change up some recipes so that she could eat them, but I wasn’t learning any of that in the training I was getting. So, I became more curious about how to do that. And I also realized that a lot of people were enjoying my baking work but who also may have had allergies without realizing it. So I decided to become a natural foods chef. At that time (ed., about 10 years ago), the Natural Epicurean was very much geared toward the home cook. I also studied Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford to learn more about healing foods.

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Iron Chef – Raw Edition

We got a new challenge Tuesday – a Raw Iron Chef challenge. We’ve spent the past several days learning about raw food, so it was appropriate that we got a test of sorts – Sylvia Heisey, owner of locally-renowned Beets Cafe, stopped by to guest judge a raw food Iron Chef competition. The atmosphere in kitchen stadium was electric, as Alton Brown might say.

But before that…

Raw Mediterranean

Chef Alicia showed us how to adapt a few raw concept to Mediterranean cuisine. We made dolmas using raw “rice” (made from shredded zucchini), raw falafel, and some sauces.

Below: Plating raw falafel balls with a vegan tzatziki sauce.

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Raw Lasagna

Monday we discussed how we could take the premise of “raw food” and apply it to an existing framework such as ethnically-based food, specifically Italian food. We talked about some of the key flavors in Italian food and how we could use raw methods to create those flavors. As it turns out, you can use raw food to make just about anything.

Below: Zucchini noodles being softened for a raw lasagna recipe. The recipes for all of our classes are provided to the Natural Epicurean students in advance so we can review them.

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Below: All of the ingredients for the raw lasagna. Creating the lasagna was a simple process of layering the noodles, marinara, mushrooms, cream sauce, etc. All vegan, all delicious.

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Below: Chef Alicia rolls a raw manicotti with a zucchini noodle and raw nut-based “ricotta.”

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Below: A raw pizza using a dehydrated crust, nut-based cheeses and sauces, olives, and mushrooms. Yum!

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Below: A raw lasagna I made. It was phenomenal!

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We spent the afternoon on Monday making raw desserts. More delicious recipes. We also tasted more of the fermented drinks we started last week like the coconut kefir. Mmm.

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Below: A superfood cacao cluster with coconut, goji berries, and other good stuff. :) So tasty!

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