I promised another post regarding the visit by internationally-recognized macrobiotic counselor Warren Kramer, so here it is. Overall, I’m just really glad to have gotten the chance to see someone who is such an authority in the healing art of macrobiotics. The appreciation for alternative approaches to health is one of the things that sets The Natural Epicurean apart from what other culinary schools offer, so I’m glad to be a part of the program.
There were a number of highlights from Warren Kramer’s visit that I figured I’d jot down in hopes that it would help me remember them!
- A healthy person tries to keep empty, not full. Eating just enough to be strong is the goal, not feeling full all the time.
- People tend to crave more of the foods that exacerbate their current condition. Continue reading
One of the recommendations made by Warren Kramer (the noted macrobiotic counselor from New England) on his recent visit to Austin (and my culinary school) was to surround yourself with green plants. Well, I’ve never been a very successful grower, but I like the idea. By chance, I got two free plants from a graduate of The Natural Epicurean who is moving out of state to take a personal chef job for a CEO. I’m very grateful for this because they really liven up my view while I’m cooking.
According to Warren, they reduce air, noise, and electromagnetic pollution and he recommends them mostly for the kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms. They also have a positive effect on your mood, which I have already noticed. 🙂 They have taken up residence on the window sill above my kitchen sink, between my pressure cooker books and my mortar and pestle.
The Natural Epicurean brought Warren Kramer in for several days to teach some macrobiotics classes to the professional program students and in a couple of public classes. Warren is an internationally recognized macrobiotic counselor based in the Boston, MA, area who also studied with Michio Kushi, one of the chief pioneers of macrobiotics in the world. (For more on macrobiotics, read below and check out my posts here and here.)
I participated in a group consultation with a few other students one evening. Warren reviewed our brief health histories, evaluated our morphology very quickly, and made some high level recommendations. Each of us had 20 minutes, so it couldn’t be very in-depth, but it was a wonderful way to see how a top macrobiotic counselor works with clients. It was a really useful experience.
Below: Warren discusses umeboshi plums, which are a condiment used in Japanese cooking and macrobiotics. They are very salty, but good!
We made tofu this week, yet another thing I never really imagined myself doing until culinary school. Here’s a summary of the process:
- Soak soybeans overnight.
- Grind the soaked beans with hot liquid.
- Boil the beans in the hot liquid.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- Pull out the tofu. You are done!
Below: A plastic tofu press.
Below: Black soy beans in their soaking liquid.
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.
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
One of the cool things about being a student at The Natural Epicurean is that we get access to really cool people who are doing cool things with food. One such person is a fellow blogger, foodie, and career-changer, Michael Natkin. Michael is the man behind Herbivoracious, a well-read blog featuring vegetarian food. Herbivoracious has been recognized by the New York Times and Saveur magazine for it’s outstanding writing and recipes. Michael said the blog gets about 6,000 hits per day, which blows my mind.
Michael has been blogging for a few years now and thanks to his hard work, he landed a book deal. He is now marketing his cookbook across the country, doing public events in several major cities. He just quit his job two months ago to support his change into full-time food work. We were lucky to have him do a cooking demonstration at The Natural Epicurean where he talked about blogging, cooking, and changing careers – all topics that I am quite interested in these days! There were a handful of Austin bloggers present, as well, from the Austin Food Blogger Alliance.
Michael cooked a bahn mi and a mango salad, both delicious!
Ah, home made yogurt! Fresh and delicious.
A Word on Fermentation
As a fermented food, making yogurt at home brings an element of danger. Normally leaving a moist food out at room temperature for over 24 hours translates into multiple runs to the restroom later that day, so what is it about a controlled fermentation that safely produces some of the world’s favorite flavors? I’m talking about things like yogurt, kimchi (kim chee), sauerkraut, kombucha, sourdough bread, aged cheeses, etc.
Somehow fermenting inhibits the pathogens from growing on the food, while beneficial bacteria and yeasts flourish. In fact, fermenting food is a known and traditional technique for improving the shelf life of food and is probably one reason it became popular. Even so, it’s still a kind of homestead alchemy that I imagine most people have never attempted or considered. Until I came to the Natural Epicurean, I would never have tried, quite frankly.
Below: Fresh coconut yogurt with homestead honey. Looks like ice cream, right? I say it tastes just as good! 🙂
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).
I conducted a cooking class for some friends last week – my first class ever. I was very excited and had a great time. We cooked a quinoa salad and Thai spring rolls with a peanut sauce and I showed them some steel cut oats, as well. I also brought some raw almond-flax muffins with a lemon-blackberry icing.
This is something I would never have done had I not started culinary school, so it was kind of a milestone in my career journey. I really had a lot of fun and felt fairly comfortable. I wish I could have had my ingredients a bit more prepared, but otherwise it went very well and everyone seemed to learn and enjoy the presentation.
Below: Making spring rolls with lots of greens, herbs, and vegetables. Here I am dipping a rice paper wrapper in hot water to soften it for the rolling process.
This past week we continued our exploration of macrobiotic cooking. We made pressed salad, a nishime* (nuh SHE may) of cooked vegetables, grains, and several other items.
Nishime is Japanese cooking style that involves an easy simmer in a heavy pot with the lid on. The vegetables soften and their sweetness develops. We add some shoyu (like soy sauce) and it is fantastic. Warm, sweet, slightly salt-ish – it feels nourishing without being too heavy.
Below: Sliced cucumber for pressed salad.