Cookbooks, cookbooks, cookbooks

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2009 by hoveringdog

I’ve been having so much fun cooking from the great vegan cookbooks published so far this year that I haven’t been very inclined to experiment with my own historical weirdness. It’s amazing to see how vegan recipes have evolved in only a couple of decades from obscure underground zines to glossy best sellers, andVegan Brunch the standard of the food itself from bog-standard grilled tofu dishes to a genuinely distinctive and varied cuisine. Here are a few 2009 cookbooks I’ve been exploring lately:

The lovely and talented Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author with Terry Romero of Vegan with a Vengeance and Veganomicon, has published Vegan Brunch, with more than 175 recipes for what is arguably the best meal of the day. She includes a handful of indespensible brunch items reprinted or slightly revised from her previous books, standards such as pancakes or tempeh bacon, but the bulk of the Tropical Vegan Kitchenvolume is filled with original and innovative brunch ideas, such as a variety of tofu omelettes flavored with the uncannily egg-like taste of black salt and several waffle ideas including gingerbread, peanut butter, and chocolate beer.

I love Donna Klein’s books Vegan Italiano and Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen because they include so many recipes that are quick and inexpensive. Most other cookbooks I whip out for special occassions or a random indulgence, but a number of Klein’s recipes have become my regular standbys. She uses very few obscure, foodie ingredients, just basic fruits, vegetables, grains, and other readily available staples. Her most recent book, Tropical Vegan Kitchen, is similarly quick and easy to use, with recipes from tropical locations around the world, Vegan Soul Kitchensuch as coconut tofu with spicy pineapple chutney or African black barley stew with okra and tomatoes. Her recipe for Bangkok-style basil sesame noodles has become a regular in my kitchen.

In Vegan Soul Kitchen, food activist Bryant Terry reinvents African-American cuisine with healthy, animal-free recipes like black-eyed pea fritters with hot pepper sauce, spicy mafé tempeh, and savory triple-corn grits. A nice added touch is the “soundtrack” with each recipe, suggestions like Toots & The Maytals’ “Water Melon” for the citrus and spice pickled watermelon rind or Booker T.’s “Green Onions” for the pan-fried grit cakes with caramelized spring onions, a gentle reminder of the intersection of food and other aspects of culture and community.

I’ve also been recently inspired to start pickling with the publication of the revised edition of Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling. It’s not a strictly vegan book—there’s one short chapter in the four-hundred-page tome on pickled meats and eggs—but it seems to be an excellent primer on preserving vegetables. I say “seems to be” because I’m still awaiting the chance to deliver a verdict on the Japanese kimuchi that’s currently fermenting away and stinking up one of my cupboards.

Anyway, I promise I’ll tear myself away from these books sometime soon and get back into the wonderful Victorian world of boiled celery on toast. On second thought, I might just spend a little more time with my new cookbook purchases…

‘Shrooms

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , on May 1, 2009 by hoveringdog

An ex-girlfriend of mine described my compulsive need to find an answer to any random question that occurs to me as “Research OCD.” And it seems to me an apt enough description. It’s what made me a mediocre research student—my doctoral thesis was a painfully drawn-out affair because I got too easily distracted by other interests—but what I hope will make me a tolerably decent librarian once I’m through with my most recent reckless foray into postgraduate education.

Mushrooms

So when I discovered today that the grocery store had acquired a stock of strange and wondrous new mushrooms, including the white beech mushrooms I ultimately bought, I began to wonder about the history of fungiculture. I assumed that eating edible wild fungus dated well back into prehistory, but when did humans start cultivating ‘shrooms for themselves?

I was surprised to find that with all the food-related microhistories written in recent years on everything from cod to coffee to corn (just to name the C’s), I couldn’t find a comprehensive history of fungiculture. Hallucinogenic mushrooms, yes, and a book about truffles, but not the plain old edible ones. I did put my research skills to work, though, and found a few interesting historical tidbits.

Turns out I had assumed correctly that the consumption of mushrooms goes back quite a way: traces of puffball mushrooms have been found in Stone Age settlements. In ancient Egypt, only pharaohs were allowed to consume mushrooms, which the Egyptians regarded as “sons of the gods” sent down to earth on lighting bolts. Apparently, this wasn’t an isolated notion: Roman folklore also perpetuated the strange association of mushrooms and lightning, claiming that mushrooms sprung from the earth in places where lightning had struck.

Actual cultivation of mushrooms, however, turns out to have been a much later development, in the West at least. The technique to cultivate the common button mushroom was discovered in France by mid-seventeenth-century melon farmers. By the mid-eighteenth century, mushroom cultivators had discovered that mushrooms could be more easily grown in subterranean caverns, where the factors of temperature and humidity were less variable. The US didn’t catch on until the latter half of the nineteenth century when fungiculture was introduced to the US from England and small-scale efforts at cultivating mushrooms began in New York’s Long Island.

So anyway, today’s mushroom purchase was destined for the wok, where I stir-fried them up with some carrots and snowpeas and my own spicy miso stir-fry sauce. Here’s the formula I used, after the fold:
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Reverse Engineering the Funyun

Posted in twentieth century with tags , , on April 21, 2009 by hoveringdog

When Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson died earlier this month, barely a year after the other co-creator Gary Gygax passed away, I knew I had to write something. Over thirty-five years ago, when Gygax and Arneson created the game that would become known as Dungeons & Dragons, no publisher would touch it. So, instead, long before zines were cool and the DIY ethic had a name, the two decided to turn that bitch out themselves, and within the first year, sold all one-thousand hand-assembled copies from their first print run.

Reverse Engineering the Funyun

Within only a few years, D&D would become iconic for a whole generation of marginalized geeks.  By the early 80s, the game was popular enough to attract the ire of concerned parents and the nascent religious right, who claimed without evidence that the game was harming the youth. Eventually, actual sociological research (Imagine that!) would vindicate gamers, finding that teen gamers suffered no measurable harm from the game and in a number of measures were actually better adjusted socially than their non-gaming peers. In the meantime, though, the controversy did manage to produce a spectacularly shitty Tom Hanks film

Anyway, a session of D&D can easily go on for hours, during which time significant quantities of crappy snack foods are often consumed. And for some reason, the phrase “Funyuns and Mountain Dew” has become a common shorthand for gamers’ eating habits. So, in tribute to Gygax and Arneson, here’s my effort to make something at home that vaguely resembles the iconic geek snackfood. I wasn’t able to get the texture quite crispy enough, but after the fold is the formula for my first attempt. Perhaps you food fans can improve on it.

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Tots

Posted in twentieth century with tags , , , on January 28, 2009 by hoveringdog

Tots

Making homemade tots is hardly rocket science, so I can’t figure out how so many of the recipes online get it so badly wrong. Seriously, mashed potatoes? The traditional method, apparently, is to lightly steam the taters, grate them, season, press the gratings into a mold, chill, and let the potato starch do the binding. I don’t have that much patience, nor do I possess a suitable mold, so I add a bit of all-purpose flour, about a half tablespoon to a tablespoon per potato, and in lieu of a tot mold, I press them into shape by hand, using a little force to squeeze out any excess wetness. Works just fine. Fry ’em up until they’re golden—if you don’t have a deep fryer, oil in a cast-iron skillet will do the job nicely—and then bake ’em on a baking sheet until they’re crispy and suitably tot-like.

I was going to write about the history of the tot, but John Kessler at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has already written in some detail about the Tater Tot’s secret origin and the resurgent interest in tots among hipsters and foodies. And now that I’ve eaten a heaping plateful of childhood nostalgia, I’m feeling a bit like nap time is overdue…

Quince Poached in Rum

Posted in long eighteenth century with tags , , , , , on December 10, 2008 by hoveringdog

Quince

So, I poached a quince in rum with a little vanilla and all-spice. This was my first experience with quince (I’ve since incorporated them in a very expensive and tasty, but not very photogenic cobbler), and I went with something simple. The fruit themselves are interesting: far too astringent to eat raw, the uncooked fruit nonetheless gives off this tremendous aroma that can fill an enclosed space in little time at all, a scent somewhere between pineapple and pear. I’m tempted to buy another just to keep around for the aroma.

Anyway, after a bit of searching in the library, I didn’t really find much of interest on quince itself. The fruit seems to have once been more popular than it is today, now relegated to the exotic fruit section (even though the quince I bought was grown here in California). But otherwise, there wasn’t a lot I could find about the fruit’s history. So a bit about the other main ingredient here, which I had already known had a fascinating and turbulent history: rum.

Poached

Turns out English varieties of yeast didn’t do all that well in the colonies, and it wasn’t until hardier German varieties were introduced in America that the states began brewing in earnest. In the meantime, colonists still needed to get their drink on, and the demon rum, produced by fermenting the molasses imported in large quantities from the West Indies, quenched the colonists’ need to get crapulous. Apparently by 1700, the per capita consumption of rum among American colonists came out to around four gallons per year. Such was the demand for rum that British duties and taxes on molasses helped fuel the colonial unrest that eventually led to the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The war wasn’t just about freedom; it was about the freedom to get shitfaced on a budget.

Now I doubt many of the colonists wasted good rum poaching fruit, but it didn’t turn out too shabby. I used maybe a half cup of rum, a splash of vanilla extract, and a pinch of all-spice to start, popped it in the oven, and added water as necessary to keep it from drying out. Toward the end, I sprinkled on some demerara sugar, let it sit under the broiler for a minute or two until the sugar began to brown and caramelize. Not too bad…

Guido Dogs

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , , on October 28, 2008 by hoveringdog

I’m still alive. I’ve just been too stupidly busy to cook anything historical worth posting about, but I did indulge recently in a nostalgic moment from my own personal history. Back in high school, I had a good friend who inexplicably went by the nickname Guido. And after a long, hard day of D&D or tabletop wargamming, we’d sit back, watch some Monty Python, and eat what he called “Guido dogs.”

Vegan Guido Dogs

Guido dogs were, as far as I can recall, a mixture of sliced hot dogs, beans, pico de gallo, and mayonnaise, spooned into toasted hot dog buns. I’ve replicated the admittedly disgusting sounding but surprisingly palatable concoction with LightLife Smart Dogs and Nasoya Nayonaise. It looks and sounds foul, I know, but it’s really quite good. Perfect with a large helping of Flying Circus and whatever cheap booze your friend Guido can lift from the liquor store. I kinda miss high school sometimes.

Stewed Seitan and Turnips

Posted in nineteenth century with tags , , , , on August 27, 2008 by hoveringdog

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861, is probably the most famous volume of English cookery, though it is valued more today for its quaint evocations of what was then the disappearing (and now, largely, the disappeared) rural British life than for its recipes themselves.

Stewed Seitan with Turnips

I admit I find her lengthy descriptions of animals entertaining in a perverse way, alternating between clinical descriptions of their biology, antiquated teleological assertions about the “end and design of nature,” and a frankly disturbing disregard for the possibility that animals might have interests and purposes of their own that don’t involve being boiled, roasted, or fricasseed. Reading her description of domestic fowl, however, I had hoped for a moment of conscience:

Brillat Savarin, pre-eminent in gastronomic taste, says that he believes the whole gallinaceous family was made to enrich our larders and furnish our tables; for, from the quail to the turkey, he avers their flesh is a light aliment, full of flavour, and fitted equally well for the invalid as for the man of robust health. The fine flavour, however, which Nature has given to all birds coming under the definition of poultry, man has not been satisfied with, and has used many means–such as keeping them in solitude and darkness, and forcing them to eat–to give them an unnatural state of fatness or fat.

But just when one anticipates a remonstration against fois gras…

This fat, thus artificially produced, is doubtless delicious, and the taste and succulence of the boiled and roasted bird draw forth the praise of the guests around the table. Well-fattened and tender, a fowl is to the cook what the canvas is to the painter; for do we not see it served boiled, roasted, fried, fricasseed, hashed, hot, cold, whole, dismembered, boned, broiled, stuffed, on dishes, and in pies,–always handy and ever acceptable?

Oh, Mrs. Beeton, the things you say. Anyway, I decided her recipes needed some radical veganizing, and decided to have a go at her recipe for “stewed duck and turnips.” I was making this up as I went along, taking liberties with Mrs. Beeton’s original, and likely made the whole thing far more complicated than it needed to be. But here’s what I did, with what are likely unnecessary steps still left in. Feel free to revise as necessary: Continue reading