Green Island Lunch

I’ve been helping out Rebecca, the owner of Green Island Catering (a vegan catering company), and she started making these pre-packed foods. I got to try one – the stacked enchiladas – and it was truly excellent. The portion was huge and it had this creamy cashew-based “cheese” sauce that was so silky and delicious with a little spicy punch. The enchiladas had beans, corn, zucchini, and rice stacked between corn tortillas. The whole thing is gluten-free, too!

Rebecca is trying to get broader distribution, but she is currently selling them through Daily Juice on North Loop. So check it out and let the manager know how awesome it is!

20120725-224104.jpg

Eating this reminds me of one reason I decided to almost totally cut out my animal product consumption. It’s because eating plant-based food feels so much more wholesome. It doesn’t feel like a brick in my stomach like you get from meat and cheese. Plus you get more nutrients and when it’s well done you get more flavor, like in these enchiladas!

20120725-224111.jpg

 

Time is Flying By

Time is flying by.

Rewind six months or so: I quit my job and started culinary school. Probably the boldest move of my life. Back then, I had not much of an idea what I wanted to do except work with food and support people in becoming healthier. I had no idea how to go about that.

If you read the blog, you know that we had a catering event about 1.5 weeks ago, which was a great success. The lead-up to the event was packed with planning. I learned a ton. Since then, I’ve done a few things… Continue reading

Video Retrospective

I’m in my final week of classes here at The Natural Epicurean. I was lucky to be in such a large, diverse, and wonderful class. Heather Dale, one of my classmates, put this video together as a look back on the people we learned with and the memories we made. Watch and enjoy!

NE Class of February 2012 from The Natural Epicurean on Vimeo.

Watermelon Juice

I’ve spent a lot of time with watermelon recently and I discovered during that time that I love watermelon juice. Why? Because it takes that sweetness and ruby red color and distills it into a concentrated fruit nectar that can slake the most intense of thirsts. Vitamin C? Check. Vitamin A? Check. Lycopene, a health protective phytochemical? You betcha. Processed sugar? Not a drop. You will never think about Powerade again.

How to make it?

Start with one juicy watermelon. Seedless or full of seeds – it doesn’t matter.

20120715-194737.jpg

Next, peel the watermelon.

20120715-200129.jpg

Then chop the melon into roughly bite-sized chunks. At this point you’re going to need a fine straining device. The cheapest option is to use paint strainers. Don’t worry, it’s totally sanitary. You can wash them in hot water if it makes you feel better.

Below: Buy a couple of paint strainers from your local hardware store. Much cheaper than rice/almond/nut milk bags you get at natural food stores. I think it was about $2.

20120715-194753.jpg

Put your watermelon chunks into one of the paint strainers and methodically crush the watermelon chunks with your hands as the juice runs out into a large bowl. You could try putting the chunk-filled bag into a bowl and mashing it with a potato masher, too. Twisting the bag helps put pressure on the melon, like wringing out a towel.

20120715-200118.jpg

Lastly, view the glory of your watermelon juice! Best served really cold, by my taste.

20120715-200047.jpg

 

 

 

Street Food – Vietnamese Noodles

Just a strollin’ through the downtown Austin farmer’s market, run by the Sustainable Food Center, I picked up some Vietnamese noodles by True Nature’s Child. They make gluten-free breads and have diversified into other prepared foods. I love Southeast Asian foods – Thai, Indian, Vietnamese. This plate featured rice noodles, tamari, peanut, cilantro, and lime – plus a few squirts of sriracha. Fresh and bright, this is what you want on a hot day (NPR recently ran a story on how hot food actually does cool you off).

Below: Spicy and fresh Vietnamese noodles. Goes well with giant foam tinker toys.

20120715-130939.jpg

Event Day – Pregame Show

Friday was a big day for us, our 100-plus guest catering event. We had planned it carefully but it was now time to execute the plan. I’ll call this post the “pregame show” because I didn’t really capture the event itself very well. I will share photos of that, though.

Below: Unloading our massive order from Central Market.

20120714-121446.jpg

20120714-121457.jpg Continue reading

Culinary Showcase Behind the Scenes – Planning

We are in the midst of preparing for our culinary showcase on Friday. The showcase represents a kind of last hurrah for our class, even though we have two more weeks of class following it. We’ve invited 150 industry guests and friends to come taste our food and learn about what plant-based cuisine can be when well executed. We’re going to host two separate sessions of 90 minutes each, with a 30 minute reset period in between.

The planning and execution is a learning experience itself – this event is part of learning to be a well-rounded chef. Chef Marko Ellinger from Balcones Springs Resort and Chef Alex, two of our instructors, are mentoring us through this process.

I’ve been working on the front-of-house team, mainly devoting my attention to invitations. However, I also developed a watermelon-basil-lime appetizer recipe and have been working to support the printed menu and materials. It’s been fun so far and a lot of work.

Below: During one of our early planning sessions, the smaller group of students selected for event leadership brainstormed this event logo and invitation vision. The final result was pretty true to this original concept.

20120711-215854.jpg

Below: Another early planning project was a brainstorming session on menu items. However, I must add that Continue reading

Indian Stuffed Okra

I love the okra. My mom used to cook fried okra and it was so good, but I don’t eat it much any more. I learned from my friend Todd about stuffed okra – an Indian dish that calls for stuffing okra with a mix of intense spices. We cooked it once during one of our Thursday night regular cooking sessions and it was an instant favorite.

Below: Start with fresh organic okra. Preferably from Texas, if you happen to be a Lone Star stater like me. 🙂

20120710-194801.jpg

You make a slit down the side of each okra. Your goal for making this cut is to create a pocket inside the okra into which you can stuff a half teaspoon or so of powder. To make my mix, I used 2 tsp mango powder, and one tsp each of chili powder, cumin, and turmeric. Next, you toss the okra in the leftover spices and saute them with some chopped tomato in a hot pan. I sauteed them in some ghee, which is clarified butter. (I can handle ghee since the proteins have been removed.)

20120710-194755.jpg

Now, after a super hot meal (I also added some whole dried chiles), I needed something to cool me off. Luckily I had some NadaMoo! in the freezer. Ahh…

20120710-194806.jpg

Dosa!

I love dosa. I think I might go out to Swad and get some dosa later. I just think I could over-dosa on this delicious gluten-free flatbread from India.

Dosa, Basically

Dosa is made from ground urid dal (a white legume) and ground rice. Some methi seeds (fenugreek) are added for flavor. The blend is mixed with water and left to ferment, which gives it more flavor. The batter is spread thinly and cooked to crispy, golden-brown-and-delicious perfection. If you’re in Austin, I recommend the aforementioned Swad (up North) or Nomad Dosa (South). Then, make it yourself.

Below: Chanha dal, soaking. We used this to make a thicker dosa.

20120701-111445.jpg

One of our recipes called for fresh coconut water AND we had a recipe to make a chutney from fresh coconut shreds. So, Chef Maya showed us how to open a mature coconut. Up to this point, we’ve only worked with young coconuts, which are relatively easy to hack open with a cleaver or even a regular chef knife. Mature coconuts required a bit more force, however…

Step one is to drive a pointed object into the coconut so you can drain the water.

20120701-111457.jpg

Below: Chef Maya about to pierce the coconut with a screwdriver.

20120701-111514.jpgBelow: Draining the coconut.

20120701-111528.jpg

Below: You have to smash up the mature coconut to get at the white fleshy part.

20120703-201229.jpg

Below: Making a perfect dosa takes some skill as the batter lacks gluten to make it stick together. I’m still working on my technique…

20120701-111545.jpg

Below: A fresh dosa with yummy chutney and savory potatoes. Welcome to yummytown!

20120701-111602.jpg

Chutneys and Oils

Ghee and chutneys are like key parts of an ayurvedic sandwich. The ghee is the bottom slice of bread; chutneys the top slice. The main stuff goes in the middle, but without that bread, your sandwich wouldn’t be the same.

Ghee

Ghee is clarified butter. There you have it.

To expound on the topic, clarified butter is when you heat butter to a simmer, thereby pulling out the milk solids and boiling off the water. The result is pure milk fat with no proteins or sugars – this would render the butter digestible for people with dairy allergies and lactose intolerance. If those are properties of interest to you, I recommend you only buy ghee that claims to be casein free and/or lactose free.

Ghee is used as a foundation for many dishes – it provides the oil you’ll saute your aromatics in. It works like olive oil does in Italian cooking. Or pork fat in less health conscious recipes. Ghee gives the silkiness, the fat, that makes life sweet and delicious.

Ghee is considered a prized ingredient in the ayurvedic arsenal. Quality ghee is said to produce ojas, the element considered the foundation of immunity in ayurveda. Ojas is really good. One website said ghee is the recipient of a “crowded river of praise” (1). Wow.

To make the ghee, you just cook the butter at a fairly low temperature and bring it to just a simmer. You don’t want to burn the solids.

Below: About to make some ghee.

20120701-112130.jpg

Below: Pouring off the ghee. The milk solids are the brown bits you see in the saucepan.

20120701-112148.jpg

Below: Two ghees – the darker one is close to burned, but OK.

20120701-112159.jpg

Chef Charlotte Jernigan had us infuse some oils. I chose a roasted peanut oil, added lime and garlic with red pepper flakes. See photo below…

20120701-112209.jpg

Chutneys

Chutneys are intensely flavored condiments you can eat with breads or along with your main dish. What really helped me envision chutneys was Chef Charlotte’s direction that you’re going for something really salty/spicy/sweet. This is because you want the chutney to hold up to whatever else you’re eating it with. Also, you’re not going to make a meal out of a chutney, so it can be extra salty or spicy. The main idea is to create something really strong and unique to provide a counterpoint to the meal.

I guess you could make a chutney out of a lot of different things, but I ended up making a few variants on the classic coconut+cilantro+spices theme. Another favorite was apple+spices. Chutneys are a great tool to have in my culinary toolbox.

Below: Apple raising chutney at bottom.

20120701-112258.jpg

Below: A cool, herby and delicious cilantro-coconut chutney. Really great with any Indian meals.

20120701-112320.jpg

Below: A palate of chutneys! One of them is coconut black peppercorns. A few of them are apple based, and some cilantro based.

20120701-112333.jpg

(1) http://www.amritaveda.com/learning/articles/ghee.asp