Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How I converted to Seitan!

In our protein series I want to start with - it pains me to write this - a “meat stand in” that is not only often overlooked - because the first thing new vegetarians always think of is - quick - yep “tofu”, but is also really cost effective and mimics meat in texture, taste and appearance. All these things cannot be said about tofu. Even the most enthusiastic tofu fan would have to admit it to be a bit of an acquired taste. Not so with seitan.

Apart from the unfortunate name - we really should come up with a better one - this is an unmeat, that will not easily be detected, even by the suspicious carnivore. As a matter of fact, we used to be quite freaked out by a dish in our local Thai restaurant back in Greenpoint. “Vegetarian duck” was so close to the real thing - it was almost off putting. To this day I don’t know what they did to their wheat gluten - but it was impressive. We actually sent it back many times because we would not believe it was not duck. I should state here that I don’t miss any meat - honestly zero cravings, and when I thought I missed hot dogs - I found out I actually craved mustard!
So, this wonder can also be really cheap - but, and here comes the caveat - you should make it yourself.
By the way - the lovely image of the seitan stew is from one of my favorite blogs: What the Hell does a Vegan eat anyway. Thank you guys for letting me use your pic!

If you buy it prefab - often found in the freezer section - one brand “Ray’s Wheat meat” which is really good - it will cost you. One tub of Ray’s which contains 12 oz of ready made seitan retails for about $4.49. Using one whole tub to feed three hungry vegetarians usually had us fight for every little bit of seitan. If you made your seitan yourself - you can save more than a third!

Let me demonstrate. Now keep in mind that I am not willing to spend my life in the kitchen and I abhor anything that has to be kneaded, stirred or in any other way nurtured for more than 5 minutes. I am sorry I just do not have that much patience. So I had pegged making seitan as something completely out of my reach, since I was not going to devote my life to it - well, last week I thought I give another try - and, what a surprise. It is easy - efficient and fast. Why did I not try this earlier?
Ok - here is how I did it. Confession - there are other, probably more complex ways - I just usually bring it down to the simplest form. But experiment yourselves!

Simplest instructions how to make seitan:

1 box vital wheat gluten ( I like Arrowhead Mills) $2.99
2 cups warm water
4 tablespoons soy sauce $0.50

1.Mix wheat gluten with water in a big bowl. Stir until well mixed.

2.Start kneading the dough. Instructions will tell you everything from 5 to 15 minutes. I did it for two minutes tops - and it came out great. This would be something even little kids could do - since it is basically like play dough!

3.Add two tablespoons of soy sauce and let the dough rest for at least 5 minutes.

4.Meanwhile prepare a big pot with hot water - add the rest of the soy sauce.

5. Cut the dough into pieces and put into the lightly simmering broth. Cover and let simmer for about an hour. You could also add other seasoning at this time - either soup cubes or chicken seasoning would work well. Seitan will absorb any flavor you expose it too - so be creative!

To store you can either transfer the seitan - broth and all to the refrigerator or freeze it for later use - without the broth in that case.

Cost: For 28 oz of Seitan you spent $3.49. So your homemade seitan costs you about 12 cents per ounce, compared to 37 cents for the store bought one. That is a saving of 68%! for about 5 minutes of real work!

So make your seitan - plug it into any recipe, even Grandma’s Beef Bourguinon will work with seitan!
The lovely picture for this post came from one of my favorite blogs: What the Hell does a Vegan eat anyway. Check them out they are awesome!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chat away and get your veggies 50% off!

One aspect of the CSA experience is often overlooked. You get to meet so many cool people! I have met artists, teachers, bankers, musicians, college students, 70 year olds, who look not a day over 50, people helping out at food banks and many more colorful characters, over picking veggies. Just like at every party, where people always gather in the kitchen - where the food is - people also get chatty while picking their food. Everyone can talk to everyone else easily. Often the conversations go to the phenomenal quality of the food we all share. Some of the produce is new to us - some really takes getting used to. I can proudly say, I have finally found a way to embrace Okra.
Where did I find out what to do with it - and how to pick out the best Okra - on the farm, of course - talking to one of the farm interns, all of whom are an impressive source of information.
So talking to your friends and neighbors and the wonderful souls, who work day after day growing our food - what a wonderful side benefit. One that will be missed after the season is over!

Here is our list for this week:

2 bunches scallions $3.98

4 heads lettuce $6.76
2 pounds onions $2.60
1 ⅓ pounds collard greens $2.60
10 pounds tomatoes $39.90
4 heads bok choy $6.00
1 pound summer squash $1.89
1 pound cucumbers $4.49
2 big winter-squash $3.00
2 handfuls raspberries $3.00
unlimited flowers $5.00
unlimited cherry tomatoes (5 pounds - worth for me) $15.96
1 bunch flat parsley $1.99
1 bunch curly parsley $1.99
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 handful hot peppers $1.00
1 handful okra $1.00

Total this week: $105.14
Added to the grand total for the season of $1302.59 equals: $1407.73 or in other words, you would have had to spend $1407.73 to purchase the produce in local stores, we pre purchased through the farm for $855 back in February. We will get to a point where our farm produce was not only more nutritious more varied and more ecologically sound, but on top of all that 50% off! Wow what a deal!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pick your Veggies!

Back after a bit of a break. The amounts of produce picked up now really require work and planning so that nothing spoils.
When I promise people that it is possible to eat really well and for not too much money, and then they complain to me that they don’t want to spend any time cooking or picking free produce - I am perplexed.

I understand it may be difficult to pick when you have little kids with you or you are elderly and bending over hurts, but for the rest of us it should not be such a big deal.
What I have seen in my CSA, is moms alternating watching the kids. One mom stays with a bunch of children playing in the sandbox or looking at the chickens so the other moms can get a break and pick. And for elderly members I would like to propose to my CSA that we start a pick up service. Every time one of us goes picking we would just pick a little extra and give that to our members who are not able to pick for themselves. I know other CSA’s have done away with picking altogether, but I feel it is an essential part of the CSA experience. Picking your own food is a lovely way to spend time outdoors, enjoying the farm while doing something useful. That’s what always bugs me about going to the gym. All this energy expenditure without any tangible reward. I know going to the gym is reward in itself - but bringing home 15 pounds of green beans seems so much more of a gain.

Anyway - here is the list. We are slightly past peak now:

2 bunches scallions $3.98
4 heads lettuce $6.76
1 pound kale $1.86
10 pounds tomatoes $39.90
3 pounds peppers $5.52
4 cucumbers $4.49
2 pounds squash $3.98
2 handfuls raspberries $3.00
4 quarts green beans $7.96
unlimited cherry tomatoes $15.96 ( I picked 5 pounds worth)
1 bunch edible flowers $1.99
1 bunch rosemary $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch sorrel $1.99
1 bunch apple mint $1.99
1 bunch lemon verbena $1.99
1 bunch hot peppers $1.00
1 bunch tomatillos $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 handful okra $1.00
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 bunch parsley $1.99

Total this week: $115.31 added to our proud total of $1187.28 our new total reads: $1302.59! Bravo!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Just resign yourself and give in! The tomatoes have taken over your life!

Another phenomenal pick-up - and another 20 pounds worth of tomatoes! Remember back in pick up #9 , when I compared them to those creatures in Star Trek that keep multiplying - well that is what it looks like in everyone’s kitchen right now, where every square inch of counter space is covered with tomatoes!
I have sundried, frozen, salsaed and gazpachoed them and they are still everywhere!
But we will have lovely tomato sauce all winter long.
Also, they have inspired me to run a new feature on my blog called “Food Crimes” - which is all about silly things we do with food, simply because we are told to do so! Check it out here.

Here is the list for this week: Another 50 pounds worth!

4 leeks $5.56
4 pounds potatoes $3.99
1 ⅓ pounds swiss chard $3.28

½ pound mesclun mix $3.00
20 pounds tomatoes $79.80
1 pound peppers $1.84
1 ½ pounds kale $2.79
1 pound cucumbers $2.99
2 pounds squash $3.98
2 heads garlic $1.00
unlimited cherry tomatoes ( I picked 5 pounds) $15.96
unlimited green beans ( I picked 15 pounds) $29.85
unlimited flowers $5.00
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch parsley flat $1.99
1 bunch parsley curly $1.99
1 bunch basil $1.99
1 bunch thai basil $1.99
1 handful okra $1.99
1 bunch edible flowers $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 bunch mint $1.99
1 handful tomatillos $1.99
1 handful hot peppers $1.00

Total this week: $160.04
Added to the overall total for the 2008 season of $1027.24 we have a new grand total of $1187.28.
So I have picked up $1187.28 worth of produce form my farm share for which I paid
$855 in February.

But where will you get your protein from ?

If I had a dollar for every time if have been asked this question in the last twenty years I would be, not rich but at least have enough to open a savings account. There is the myth, that will not die, that protein is the ever elusive ingredient, that we constantly have to be on the look out for.
In reality, you will have to try really hard to find any food that does not contain protein, and yes, even vegetarian foods have protein in abundance. Also the proteins from vegetarian sources are of the same (some say superior) quality as those from meat sources, and let’s not forget, they come without cholesterol and saturated fats, although I personally do not worry about those either.
So, in this climate, where one’s diet is discussed and defended in crusade style rants on so many forums in the internet - it is quite hard to take a stand. Especially when one is very non-confrontational, as I am. You somehow always end up offending one or the other camp - either the protein worshippers a la Atkins or the protein negaters a la Raw Fooders - all of them believe only their doctrine, and are ready to defend it at the drop of a comment. So here are my two cents.

I believe protein is one of the necessary ingredients in everyone’s diet.

I believe it to be rather easily obtainable - unless you are a junkfoodie, and then protein deficiency is probably still not your biggest problem.

I actually like all vegetarian protein sources - such as tempeh, seitan, tofu, beans, lentils and the various soy and nut milks.

I would hope that it was finally universally accepted, that amino acids do not have to be combined - our wonderful bodies can do that without our supervision.

I think that overindulgence in any food will lead to problems, therefore over consumption of carbohydrates is just as idiotic as over consumption of protein. Moderation is always the key.

You can never eat too many vegetables. Period. So make them the star player on your team and add carbs and proteins as sides. Done! No worrying!

I don’t fear soy - it goes through cycles of acceptance and damnation. Again the mantra always is: Dont overdo it! I for one, am not a friend of over processed meat substitutes, and enjoy using tempeh, seitan and tofu in more unusual ways other than as a stand in for steak.
And that’s where it becomes interesting for me - so in the next couple of weeks I will post - “Protein recipes” - for fun and to debunk the myth...

Monday, September 8, 2008

New Feature: FOOD CRIMES

Sometimes we do things to food that just aren’t right and I do not mean cooking greens until they turn grey.
The over abundance of tomatoes the last couple of weeks has let me to research what to do with them.
And here was the problem: Every single recipe for making tomato sauce describes in painstaking detail how to get rid of the tomato skin. Boil and blanch, and this and that. Nauseating! Why?
Because 90% of the nutritional value of the tomatoes is in that skin you are told to throw away, or else your sauce will be rubbery. One word - Rubbish!
Why would you waste the beautiful skin of these lovely, heirloom, ORGANIC tomatoes to make sauce? Actually it really helps in making sauce, and here is why.
Yes, there is fiber in the skin, but that is A - good for you and B - makes an awesome natural thickener for the sauce. I would skim off the extra water the tomatoes release, and save it for the next soup or add it to any recipe, that asks for water and just use the tomato water instead.
The way to naturally thicken the sauce is to ladle out the skin parts of the sauce and puree them in the blender. Your sauce will have a beautiful consistency and you do not have to fidget around endlessly to get the skin off, nature intended to stay on!

CSA pick-up: The lucky 13!

This is truly half-time at the CSA - and not only money wise. The pick ups are starting to be so immense that even three hungry vegetarians cannot keep up. So let the freezing begin!
This pick-up was close to 50 pounds worth of produce - and that is not a typo.
And of course let’s not forget the quality of the produce is unparalleled.

The list:

1 bunch scallions $1.99
1 head radicchio $2.69
4 stems leeks $5.56

5 pounds potatoes $4.99
1 ⅓ pounds swiss chard $3.28
½ pound mesclun lettuce $3.00
20 pounds heirloom tomatoes $79.80 ( After much deliberation I priced the heirlooms at $3.99 per pound - I have seen them both cheaper and more expensive - even non organic ones! - but thought this to be a fair average)
1 ½ pounds peppers $2.76
2 pounds eggplant $3.69
1 ½ pounds cucumber $4.49
2 pounds summer squash $3.98
4 pints cherry tomatoes $7.98
unlimited green beans ( I picked 10 pounds) $19.90
unlimited flowers $5.00
1 bunch parsley $1.99
1 bunch edible flowers $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 bunch chives $1.99
1 bunch thai basil $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch peppermint $1.99
1 handful jalapenos $1.00
1 bunch thyme $1.99

Total this week: $166.03 which is of course a record for a single pick-up!
If we add this to our season’s total so far of $861.21 - we have a new grand total of $1027.24! Woohooo!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Observations while shopping

While shopping late at night at my local supermarket I noticed several traps that even the experienced shopper can fall for. If you consider yourself a novice read up on my shopping 101 tutorial. All you pros out there read on.

Trap #1: Five for $3
Trying to buy one tiny can of tomato paste - to process all these tomatoes from the farm share, I almost fell for this one. I nearly stacked five cans of tomato paste into my cart even though I only needed two. Why do we do this? They tell us to buy five, and we automatically do! I think partially it is guilt - a la - they are giving me a break on this so I will buy as much as they are telling me - and partially it is, that we are secretly afraid the deal is only valid if we buy as many as we are told. This also works in the produce section - Five plantains for a dollar! And we go ahead and buy five even though we only needed one. Very few deals fall apart if you don’t buy as many as you are being told. Usually it has to say - MUST BUY FIVE - but it very rarely does. So let’s pay attention.

Trap #2: The Bigger the Better?
We have been trained to believe that the bigger a package, the better the per ounce deal we should get. This works most of the time.

For some items, however - amaranth in my case - different producers offer vastly different prices per ounce. I always feel inclined to reach for the bigger package, but usually catch myself and whip out my handy calculator to make sure that, in this case at least, the smaller package is the BETTER deal. This is so counterintuitive for me, I actually have to use the calculator every time! Lesson learned - clip one little calculator to your purse and do the math. Those tiny calculators are one dollar and worth their weight in gold. Alternately, your cell phone might have a calculator function - so use it!

Trap #3: The item on sale has to be the cheapest one, right?
I almost stumbled on this one in the cheese section. Brie on sale for $9.99 per pound - not much of sale - but the sign was huge. So I reached for it, when I saw in the corner of my eye mixed in with the imported brie, that was not for sale at $12.99 per pound, the regular domestic brie - not on sale but only $8.99 per pound. Not that much of a difference, but the principle holds. The on sale item is NOT necessarily the cheapest - keep looking and comparing!

Trap #4: I would recommend to you, my advanced shopper to keep a sharpie marker in your purse and write the price of an item on the item, or if you are more timid write it on your shopping list. There will be no more wrong prices and nasty surprises at the checkout. When it is your turn at the checkout - TAKE YOUR TIME. That is why it is good to shop at off hours, or alternatively use the self check out. I like the self check out, because it gives me a chance to double check the price on every single item and reevaluate the purchase. Some times I feel cashiers rush you way too much. While you are bagging, it is impossible to keep an eye on the bill, as the products are rushed through the scanner. I know it is not the cashier’s fault - they have to rush, but the problem is, that once the item is bought and paid for, the likelihood that you would spot a price difference or return that item is getting ever closer to zero.
Ideally don’t bag, and watch the checkout process like a hawk, to spot differences. I still prefer self check out - I often change the language into Spanish and brush up on my language skills as well. I know I am crazy!

Trap #5: Forget sliced or diced.
It is basically impossible to buy fruit or cheese - any other way than whole, because the moment any kind of peeling, slicing or dicing took place the per pound price of the item quadruples. I know that meat eaters know no shame and walk to the deli department to have their lunch meats sliced - I think we should be able to do the same with cheese or bread and not have to buy the pre sliced older stuff only to pay four times the money.

Those were just a few observations on a recent shopping trip. Of course, as always, don’t shop when you are tired or highly caffeinated - you need a calm inner peace to not screw up.