September 30, 2008

Spinach Enchiladas with ranchero sauce

I recently posted about making quesadillas for the first time after being inspired by a Public Television cooking show. The TV chef (TVC) was really into shredded chicken and cream, but he cooked enough stuff that I was able to take a little of this and a bit of that and concoct my own version of his dishes. One of the things he made was ranchero sauce. He used the ranchero sauce for a spinach-stuffed poblano pepper dish, but I decided to stuff corn tortillas with spinach and use the ranchero sauce (no cream) to make enchiladas.

I try to stick to a theme of "easy vegan cooking" when I prepare food for these posts. This doesn't always translate to "fast" vegan cooking. This dish truly is easy, and can be made faster with jarred ranchero sauce, but I was staring at a giant bowl of plum tomatoes just picked from the garden, and was not about to go buy a tomato-based sauce. So I'm going to give a recipe for the sauce and then the enchiladas, and anyone who wants to make this can make or buy whatever. However, if you have access to fresh, ripe plum tomatoes, please make this sauce.

TVC said to use 3 pounds of roasted, peeled and cored tomatoes, but he didn't say how to roast them. I love roasted veggies and make them often, but would you believe I've never roasted just tomatoes for the purpose of making sauce? I tried to find a recipe, but all the ones I saw were for slow-roasted and reduced tomatoes. I filled a 9 x 12 pan plus a 9 x 9 pan with tomato halves drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with oregano. These I put into a preheated 400˚ oven for about one hour. (Cooking time will vary with the size of the tomatoes. Larger tomatoes will take longer.) Maybe because I used plum tomatoes which have a much lower water content, or maybe because I didn't slow roast them for hours, my tomatoes really didn't reduce much. The picture you see is how they looked when I removed them from the oven. Although they didn't reduce, the flavor was intensified to the woohoo stage! I let them cool a little and started to remove (and eat) the skins but the skins were so tender and delicious that I abandoned that idea and decided to just puree the whole lot.

After pureeing, I froze one pint unseasoned, and used the remaining 2 to 2-1/2 cups for the recipe below.

Ranchero sauce
  • 3 pounds ripe, roasted tomatoes, peeled if the skins are tough (see above text)
  • 2 serrano chiles or jalapeños (or unidentified medium hot peppers!) I used 2 jalapeños and the unidentified choice
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (TVC used 1/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar
  1. Puree the tomatoes, peppers and garlic until smooth.
  2. Cook onions in oil until translucent (about 4 minutes) and add to tomatoes.
  3. Stir in salt, cinnamon and sugar.
  4. TVC said to simmer the sauce 30 minutes until slightly thickened. Since I was planning to bake my sauce, I skipped this step. Besides, my sauce was already really thick and delicious beyond belief.
Now for the filling. Normally I use fresh vegetables but TVC suggested using frozen spinach to save time. He said it would take 2-1/2 pounds of fresh baby spinach and you'd have to wash, chop, steam and squeeze it. This sounded like a lot of work so I decided to make the project seem more manageable by taking his advice and using frozen spinach. My bags of frozen spinach were from Whole Foods and really, when it was cooked, I couldn't tell it wasn't fresh. Anyway, the spinach was supposed to be defrosted and squeezed out, but of course, I planned poorly and was faced with using the spinach frozen or not making the enchiladas. It worked perfectly so I don't know what to say about this step. Here's what I did.

Spinach with pine nuts and raisins
  • 20 ounces frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup plain unsweetened soy yoghurt (optional but recommended)
  1. Sauté the pine nuts and raisins in the oil until the pine nuts begin to brown and the raisins plump up. BE CAREFUL NOT TO BURN THEM. Stir in the spinach and cook until fully defrosted and dry.
  2. Season if desired.
  3. Stir in the yoghurt if using.
We're almost done. And really, I think it's taking longer to write this post than it did to make the enchiladas. The last part involves softening corn tortillas, stuffing them with the spinach and baking them. TVC used 1/4 cup of oil in a skillet to warm each side of the tortillas before draining them on paper towels. I sprayed them with a little olive oil, heated them in a small cast iron skillet, flipping them over until they were pliable. If you know a better way to soften corn tortillas, please let me know.

  • 12 softened corn tortillas
  • spinach filling
  • ranchero sauce
  • vegan cheese
  • plain unsweetened soy yoghurt (optional, but creates a sour-cream-like effect)
  1. Divide the spinach filling in the pan into roughly 12 parts.(you know, spatula lines)
  2. Place the ranchero sauce in a 9" x 12" heavy baking dish.
  3. Soften, then fill the tortillas with spinach and roll up.
  4. Place the tortillas in the dish and spoon a little sauce over them.
  5. Place shredded or thinly sliced vegan cheese over the top.
  6. Drizzle soy yoghurt here and there.
  7. Bake at 350˚ for 30 to 40 minutes until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly.

Post Script I mentioned before and I'll mention again that we just had our first taste of Teese. That's what I used on the enchiladas. I sliced rather than shredded it and it didn't quite melt all the way but it was totally my fault. I probably should have waited a little longer or covered it for a few minutes. No matter. It's really in a class by itself as far as vegan cheeses go. It's scarily like the real thing. I was actually a little embarrassed at work when I reheated my lunch and it smelled like actual cheese!

On the other hand, the nutritional value of Teese is somewhat suspect in my mind. According to their Web site, there is zero protein, 9 grams of fat and zero everything else, per serving. I see it as a condiment rather than an actual food. Kind of like drizzling olive oil on hummus. It does taste great though!

September 27, 2008

Quesadillas stuffed with eggplant

I watched a cooking show on public television last weekend, and there was a Mexican cook making all sorts of stuff. First he made adobo sauce which looked fantastic, until he added cream. Then he made enchilladas stuffed with shredded chicken (Yes, this is a vegan blog. I won't be using chicken.) and covered them with the adobo sauce and cheese. He made spinach- stuffed poblano peppers and baked them with ranchero sauce and more cheese and cream. Then he used more shredded chicken to make quesadillas.

I am sheepishly admitting that until I watched this show, I never really knew what a quesadilla was. I had been planning to cook some eggplant from our CSA for lunch and when I found some leftover whole wheat tortillas in the refrigerator, I knew this would be the day I prepared and ate my first quesadilla. Do traditional quesadillas have eggplant inside? Can't say. But quesadillas are basically a sandwich, so the fillings probably vary widely.

My husband had also just purchased our first roll (it comes in a long roll) of Teese, the much acclaimed vegan cheese from Chicago. This stuff actually tastes like real cheese. There's honestly no comparison with any of the other fake cheeses we've tried. I popped a piece in my mouth and WHOA. Couldn't believe it. So it was quesadilla time in the cookeasyvegan household. I only made one so I'm not giving ingredient quantities. Make as much as you need.

First I dredged 1/4 inch slices of baby eggplant in potato flour* and sautéed them in a cast iron pan with just a little olive oil and a little extra spray oil when I turned the slices over. I cooked the eggplant until the slices were browned and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I added fresh ground pepper and a tiny sprinkle of salt. As I've mentioned before, I don't like to salt vegetables when their incredible fresh flavor is so intense anyway. In this case, I also knew I'd be using other non-homemade ingredients with added salt (tortillas, salsa, cheese) and that the salt content would be on the heavy side. I prefer to make my own tortillas and salsa but this was a quick dish and I didn't have time.

To assemble the quesadillas, spread grated or thinly sliced vegan cheese on a large tortilla. Next place a layer of cooked eggplant. I think the TV chef used a top layer of cheese on the chicken quesadillas but I didn't. Cover with the second tortilla and press down to seal the edges. (This part is theoretical—my edges didn't seal but this wasn't a problem because of how I cooked them.)

The TV cook used a heavy griddle, but I used my waffle iron. I reversed the plates so the smooth grill side rather than the waffle side was exposed. (My iron has reversible plates but I think most of them do.) I placed the quesadilla in the preheated iron and within seconds I heard a hiss. The Teese was melting and oozing out! How perfect. The tortillas were crisp on the outside, the cheese was melted and the filling was warm, just as the TV cook said it should be. He cut his quesadilla into eight slices and offered them with a choice of pico de gallo or guacamole, which sounded great, but all I had on hand was fire-roasted salsa, so I used that.
With a large spatula, transfer the quesadilla to a cutting board, cool for a minute and cut into eight wedges. Serve with the toppings of your choice.

My husband and I both agreed that the quesadilla was really, really good.

*potato flour. I've been experimenting with potato flour and potato starch. I've added the flour to bread to see how the taste and texture would be affected, and I've added the starch to cake to for the same reason. The flour will make baked goods more dense, and the starch is used to lighten the texture of baked items. Potato flour is made from whole potatoes, and if you taste it, it tastes just like baked potatoes. It is gluten-free and can be used as a thickener in sauces and soups. You can also use it as a coating for sauteeing vegetables like eggplant. It enriches the flavor with a slight potato taste and helps create a crispy crust, much as flour would. Potato starch is made, as the name implies, from just the starch of the potato.

September 23, 2008

Rice cooker revelation

The first time I ever saw a rice cooker was while visiting a friend whose husband was from Thailand. The husband was very particular about his rice and it had to be cooked in the rice cooker, just like the rice he grew up with in Thailand. This was about 20 years ago and I remember being surprised and intrigued by how perfect and delicious the rice my friend made was. I'd been making pretty good rice in a pressure cooker but this seemed so easy.

It wasn't until years later that I finally purchased a rice cooker of my own, and although the rice tasted good, the cooking process was evil. As the rice cooked, starched-laden steam would spew from the lid vent and cover everything around the cooker—counters, cupboards, other appliances— with a goopy liquid coating. I could put a kitchen towel over the top, but then I'd be left with a sodden towel. We ate rice a lot and those towels could add up!

The rice cooker came with a stainless steel steamer-basket insert, and just recently I discovered that if I cook the rice with the insert in place, nothing comes out of the vent. Eureka! Did everyone already know this except me? And why didn't the little instruction booklet say this? So now you know. If you have a rice cooker with a steamer basket and a spewing problem, you can now cook rice neatly and perfectly. Whew.

Now, on an entirely different subject; the last time I mentioned my rain garden it was not in a positive light. I was weeding it and there were mice ... It's never been the most attractive of gardens, but at the moment it doesn't look so bad! Here are a few pics I snapped a couple of days ago. Now I just have to figure out what to plant that will be attractive from early spring to mid summer. I have columbines but they are so small.

September 19, 2008

Quick pickles in a pickle press

We're still dealing with the harvest from our small backyard garden. Some of the cucumbers went into the handy-dandy Japanese pickle press that I still have from my macrobiotic days when I made pressed salads and such. It's very useful for making quick cucumber pickles that taste really good. All that's needed for these very basic pickles are cucumbers and salt. I also added half a small onion to this batch, but sometimes I layer cukes and onions equally. I also like to pickle cabbage, daikon radish, carrots and turnips. As the liquid is pressed from the vegetables, you can apply more pressure until the liquid rises above the veggies. It only takes a few hours. Then I pack the pickles into jars and keep them in the refrigerator. Sometimes I add other flavors to the jars such as vinegars, herbs and spices. If I've made a lot and plan to keep them more than a few days, I drain them and pack them into jars, and make a pickling brine to fill the jar.

You can also use it to press tofu.

September 16, 2008

Salsa verde

We received a salsa kit from our CSA and my son made this beautifully delicious and spicy salsa. The kit included tomatillos, jalpeño, onion, cilantro and garlic. And a recipe! It was very quick and easy and would be a great condiment for tacos or burritos or anything that would benefit from a little heat.

Salsa Verde (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 6 to 10 tomatillos
  • 1 to 2 small onions
  • 1 jalapeño (use more or less to taste)
  • 1 small bunch cilantro
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  1. In a small saucepan, bring 3 cups water to boil. Remove husks from tomatillos and rinse. Boil tomatillos for about 5 minutes or just until softened.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine tomatillos with remaining ingredients. Blend until mixture is a course purée. (Use cooking water to thin if necessary)
  3. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Adjust seasonings and serve with tortilla chips, tacos, enchiladas.
This recipe (and the salsa kit) came from Harmony Valley Farm CSA in Viroqua, Wis.

"Tomatillos are a member of the nightshade family which includes eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. They are and have been an integral part of Mexican and Latin American cuisine and are thought to have been domesticated by the Aztecs as early as 800 BC. They are also referred to as husk tomato, jamberry, and tomate verde. The plant and its fruit resemble a small green tomato, but tomatillos have a special little feature. They grow in a papery husk that encloses the fruit.When it is at full maturity, it should fill up its husk to the point of breaking it open. These look like little lanterns hanging on the plant and are quite intriguing. Tomatillos have a tart, tangy flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked, after removing the inedible husk. When raw, they should be green and firm and can be used in salads or raw salsas. They cook down into beautiful green sauces and are used in Mexican cuisine in salsas to accompany tamales, tacos, etc; sauces for enchiladas, rice, roasted meats, or fish; and in soups and stews. Tomatillos are often paired with onions, jalapenos or other chiles, lime, corn, beans, and squash. To use, simply remove the husk and wash to remove the slightly sticky film.They will keep for 2-3 weeks if left in the husk and stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator. You can also easily freeze them by removing the husk, washing and drying them and sealing in a freezer bag. It’s an easy way to make a batch of salsa in the winter."
-from the Harmony Valley Newsletter

September 14, 2008

Dried tomatoes

Many years ago, we got a food dehydrator so we could dry our surplus garden tomatoes and make stuff like fruit leather from bountiful summer fruit. One day I was feeling creative and decided to turn too much chili into dried "chili-leather" to take on a camping trip. Why buy expensive dried camping food when you could make your own? Right? Well, I don't remember exactly how long it took to dry the chili, but it was several days. And the whole time it was drying, I was picturing botulism spores growing and multiplying. Would I actually eat this stuff? Feed it to my children? I was practically driving myself nuts between really wanting this to work and fearing a medical rescue from our campsite. Well, we took the stuff camping, re-hydrated and cooked it, stared at it and then consumed it. The taste was a little unusual but no one got sick. And no, I never dehydrated chili again, although I have dried lots of other stuff.

It's that time of year again when we can't give away any more garden tomatoes and we're stuffed to near max with pasta sauce and salad. Time to bring the food dehydrator up from the basement and start slicing and drying. My drier now has the maximum number of trays (12) and if I fill all 12 trays, I end up with about 1/2 a gallon bag of dried tomatoes. I will usually fill about three gallon bags. Because it's so hot here at the moment, it took about 24 hours to dry this batch and now I'm going to pasteurize them in the oven for 10 minutes, let them cool and then pack them into a freezer bag to store in the refrigerator for use during the winter.

My dehydrator is pretty old. When I bought it, there were only two American Harvest models to choose from and I chose the less expensive one. If I were buying today, I'd probably go for a more powerful version so the food would dry more quickly. It originally came with four trays but I quickly found that if I were going to the trouble of drying food, I wanted to dry a lot at one time so I added the maximum number of trays. Even 12 isn't enough when you've got advancing tomatoes and bagfuls of pears.

Here you can see the tomatoes on a drying tray at the start of the drying process.

And here is a bowlful of gorgeous, dried tomatoes.
I'm very careful when I preserve food. I disinfect all the prep surfaces and knives and wash my hands a lot. I've never had a spoilage problem or gotten sick from the food. I love having the dried tomatoes available - they really add a punch of flavor to dishes all year long.

After you have a quantity of dried tomatoes, you could create beautiful jars like this for gifts or to keep.

September 12, 2008

Boiled raisin cake

I've been thinking a lot about my grandmother, lately. I've been wanting to make a cake that reminds me of the raisin cake my grandmother made, and thinking about the cake has gotten me thinking about my grandmother and how much I adored her. When I was very young, my parents would drop me at my grandparents' house for the weekend. I guess it was a beneficial arrangement for all concerned. I hated when Sunday came and my parents would arrive to pick me up. My father would wait in the car and my mother would come to fetch me and my belongings, and I'd go back home where no adoring grandmother and grandfather doted on my every move.

One of my earliest memories comes from my grandparents' house. Nannie put me in the crib for a nap, and she covered me up and tucked me in. I was feeling really hot and wondering if it would be okay with her if I kicked the covers off. I remember thinking that Nannie wouldn't have covered me if I wasn't supposed to be covered. (I must have been a cooperative child!) Then I got an idea. Maybe if I pressed the covers very neatly against the edges of the crib, she wouldn't be upset. I think I didn't want to hurt her feelings by undoing something she had so carefully done.

Years later, as an adult, I was having one of those "shared memory" sessions with my grandmother when I mentioned the memory I just described. "Oh my God," she shouted, you were only 12 months old! She said, "I remember that so well. When I went upstairs to check on you all the covers were pressed neatly to the crib edges. I thought to myself, 'this baby is smarter than I am.' I felt so guilty for trying to suffocate you in that warm room."

I asked if she was sure I was only 12 months old, and she insisted it was correct. "I'll never forget that," she said. Yikes. That should give parents something to consider.

I'm so sorry I never got that raisin cake recipe. I've been collecting recipes for boiled raisin cake for years, and today, with all of them spread before me, I attempted to make a cake. When I mixed the spices together and pressed my finger into them and then to my tongue, it was like a light coming on in the room. I could taste Nannie's cake in those simple spices. So I made the cake, and I'm happy to say the taste was right, but sorry to say the texture was WRONG. The original cake was very firm—almost hard. It had a very tight crumb, and you could slice it ultra thin and hold it in your hand. The cake I baked was soft like an ordinary cake. It's a delicious cake, but not the one I was looking for. And the shape was wrong. The hole in the center was much too large. I'm posting this recipe because it's good, but will have to try again to create the cake I'm after. I think it was more of a pound cake. And I need a new pan.

Boiled raisin cake
  • 1-1/2 cups seedless raisins
  • water to cover raisins
  • 1/4 cup vegan margarine (Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup evaporated cane juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, sifted before measuring
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup boiling water

swirl topping
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
  1. Put the raisins in a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until most of the water has evaporated. (about 20 minutes)
  2. Remove from heat and add margarine, sugar, salt, cocoa and spices.
  3. Stir in flour.
  4. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water and add to mix.
  5. Place in greased tube pan or 9" square pan.
  6. Mix together the cocoa, cinnamon and sugar for the topping. Swirl it onto and into the cake with a knife. (I used about half of the mixture.)
  7. Bake at 350˚ for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake tests done.
I used an 5-cup tube pan but it was too small, and I made three cupcakes with the extra batter. I think I need a bundt pan.

September 09, 2008

Tofu squash curry with swiss chard

My son and daughter-in-law have a large garden in their back yard and one of their most successful crops is swiss chard. You know, anyone who plants swiss chard in their garden is bound to have success. It's hard to fail with this prolific leafy green. Growing it is good for your gardening self-esteem, but when you have a lot of it, you should eat it. Swiss chard has been off my list of favorite vegetables for a long time — maybe this has something to do with my past success at growing it, and eating it and eating it and eating it...But after having this fabulous curry, I'm thinking of growing it again. My kids all tend to cook "free-hand," but I've been forcing them to pay attention to ingredients and quantities so they can share their creations with me, and I can post them on this blog. My son made this dish, and he said in the summer he uses summer squash and zucchini, but his favorite way to prepare it is with winter squash. He said he peels and bakes butternut squash in the oven until it's soft, and then uses it in this recipe. We used to have a Thai food cart on campus that used both summer and winter squash in their squash curry all year. I like the idea of cooking with the seasons, so this recipe will be presented with summer squash.

Tofu squash curry
  • 1 pound block extra firm tofu, cut into 1" cubes
  • oil for browning tofu
  • tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • small can bamboo shoots, cut into strips
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (Thai Kitchen is a good one)
  • 1 tablespoon Sucanot or similar organic unprocessed sugar
  • 1/4 cup basil (Thai basil if you can get it)
  • 3 small summer squash, cut into chunks (or 1 butternut squash peeled and baked until soft)
  • large bunch of swiss chard, washed well and roughly chopped, tough stems removed
  • cooked (brown) rice
  1. Lightly brown the tofu in a small amount of oil in a dutch oven. Sprinkle it with tamari as it cooks. (about 1 to 2 tablespoons) Remove tofu to a bowl.
  2. Dissolve the curry paste in 1/3 of the coconut milk. (Curry paste varies in spiciness and some are really hot. Use more or less depending on how hot you want the dish to be. Use caution if you are unfamiliar with red curry paste.) Place in the dutch oven and simmer for five minutes.
  3. Add sugar, tofu, squash and remaining coconut milk. Cook until squash is almost done.
  4. Add chard and cover. Steam for several minutes. Remove lid and mix.
  5. Add basil and cook a couple of minutes longer until flavors are blended and vegetables are cooked.
  6. Serve over rice.

September 07, 2008

Help save the planet—become vegetarian!

©2008 all rights reserved

Here are some highlights from three articles found today by my husband. They concern the effects of eating habits on environmental issues. (I've provided links in case you'd like to read the original article without my edits. The emphases are mine.)
I've been thinking a lot about this lately as I listen to candidates speak to environmental issues without ever including dietary choices as one of those issues. In fact, my husband and I try do our part to follow the guidelines for cutting
energy use. As so many others do, we recycle, compost, grow a garden, have a rain garden, use compact fluorescent light bulbs, walk to work, use low-flow aerators, blah, blah, blah. But those who are vegetarian or vegan—even part of the time—are perhaps making the biggest contribution of all, and that should be acknowledged as part of the global warming conversation.

Sunday September 7 2008
The ObserverPeople should have one meat-free day a week if they want to make a personal and effective sacrifice that would help tackle climate change, the world’s leading authority on global warming has told The Observer.
Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which last year earned a joint share of the Nobel Peace Prize, said that people should then go on to reduce their meat consumption even further.
His comments are the most controversial advice yet provided by the panel on how individuals can help tackle global warning.
Pachauri, who was re-elected the panel’s chairman for a second six-year term last week, said diet change was important because of the huge greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems - including habitat destruction - associated with rearing cattle and other animals. It was relatively easy to change eating habits compared to changing means of transport, he said.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. These are generated during the production of animal feeds, for example, while ruminants, particularly cows, emit methane, which is 23 times more effective as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide. The agency has also warned that meat consumption is set to double by the middle of the century.
‘In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity,’ said Pachauri. ‘Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there,’ said the Indian economist, who is a vegetarian.
However, he also stressed other changes in lifestyle would help to combat climate change. ‘That’s what I want to emphasise: we really have to bring about reductions in every sector of the economy.’
A few statistics from The Guardian

  • 990 litres The amount of water that is required to produce one liter of milk.
  • 100kg The amount of methane emitted by the average cow every year. Methane is a greenhouse gas with an effect 23 times greater than carbon dioxide, so this is equal to 2,300 kgs per year, or almost the same as two return flights between London and New York, or driving 7,800 miles.
  • 1.5 billion The estimated number of cows and bulls worldwide. They produce two-thirds of the world's ammonia, which is the principal cause of acid rain.
  • 7lb The amount of grain it takes to produce just one pound of beef.
  • 36.4kg The amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the production of just 1kg of beef, according to a recent Japanese study. It also releases fertilising compounds equivalent to: 340 grams of sulphur dioxide and 59 grammes of phosphate. It consumes 169 megajoules of energy. In other words, one kilo of beef is responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometres, or the energy required to light a 100 watt bulb for 20 days.
  • 1kg The amount of carbon dioxide needed to produce one burger in a fast-food restaurant.
  • 456 million The amount, in tonnes, of global meat production forecast for 2050 - almost double that of 2001. Half of the world's pork is now eaten in China, while Brazil is the second largest consumer of beef, after the United States of America.
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

Is our taste for Sunday roast killing the planet?
A UN expert has blamed meat eaters for visiting environmental mayhem on the
world as the demand for beef drives deforestation, water scarcity, air pollution
and climate change. Science editor Robin McKie and Caroline Davies report
Robin McKie and Caroline Davies
Sunday September 7, 2008
The Observer
Your Sunday roast stands accused. According to the United Nation’s chief climate
expert, Rajendra Pachauri, that tasty piece of top rump resting on your dining table
is the source of many of the world’s environmental woes, in particular those
involved in the dangerous warming of the planet’s climate.

Our appetite for animal flesh is boosting fertilizer production, pollution and emission
of greenhouse gases to dangerous levels, Pachauri has told The Observer. Give up
meat - at least for one day a week - and we can help to save the Earth, he added.
Nor is Pachauri, the chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, alone in his complaints. A host of campaigners have united to condemn
meat-eaters for bringing environmental mayhem to the world. ‘The human appetite
for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of
environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion,
fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social
injustice, the destabilisation of communities and the spread of disease,’ the
Worldwatch Institute has warned.

The facts:
‘The average meat eater in the US produces about 1.5 ton of carbon dioxide more than a vegetarian every year. That’s because animals are hungry and the grain they eat takes energy, usually fossil fuels, to produce,’ he says.
The world’s fertilizer industry uses natural gas as a basic ingredient and therefore contributes to global warming when it uses fossil fuel to manufacture the extra fertilizers needed to ensure cattle and other animals have sufficient food. For example, it requires 2.2 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of plant protein, according to researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In turn, it takes even more plant protein to make animal protein. It requires four calories of plant protein to make one of chicken protein, while the ratio for pork is 17:1; for lamb, 50:1; and for beef, a staggering 54:1. ‘That is a lot of energy and a lot of grain diverted,’ adds Patel.
In fact, it is a massive amount of energy, the journal Physics World has noted. ‘The animals we eat emit 21 per cent of all the carbon dioxide that can be attributed to human activity,’ it states.
Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin from the University of Chicago have even calculated that changing eating habits to become a vegetarian does more to fight global warming than switching from a gas-guzzling SUV to a fuel-efficient hybrid car, such is the amount of Co2 generated in the production of beef, pork or lamb.
Nor is carbon dioxide the only issue. Apart from turning grain into flesh, livestock also transforms it into methane, as flatulence. And that has especially serious consequences, as the World Watch Institute stressed in 2004 in its report ‘State of the World’. ‘Belching, flatulent livestock emit 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas,’ it noted.
According to scientists’ calculations, methane has a global warming potential that is 23 times that of carbon dioxide. This means that a gram of methane - produced from a cow’s rear-end - warms the planet’s atmosphere 23 times as much as a gram of CO2 produced, say, from a car engine. Thus the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has concluded that nearly a fifth of all greenhouse-gas emissions come from livestock, more than from all forms of transport.
On top of these ecological headaches, there is the issue of rain forest clearance. Despite all efforts to halt their destruction, rain forests are still being cut down at an alarming rate. Every year, 32 million acres - an area the size of England - is destroyed or degraded. Some of this land is used to provide pasture for cows. Other areas are given over to fields for the growing of soy beans which are then used to feed cows.
Apart from the increased amounts of methane and carbon dioxide that are produced by this type of farming, the world loses out though loss of wildlife - 90 percent of all species on Earth live in rain forests - as well as through the destruction of trees which filter our air, emit oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. Rain forests are the lungs of the Earth but we are choking them through our appetite for meat, say environmentalists.
Nor are there any signs of improvement. In 2006, farmers produced an estimated 276 million tonnes of chicken, pork, beef and other meat: four times as much as they did in 1961, according to the Worldwatch Institute. On average, each person on the planet now eats about 43kg of animal flesh. Nor is this trend getting any better. It is estimated that meat production is destined to double from its present level by the middle of the century.

Hence, Pachauri’s urging of the world to give up meat for at least one day a week. ‘In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity,’ said Pachauri, an Indian economist and a vegetarian. ‘Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there,’ he added.
It is a fairly forceful conclusion and it has triggered an equally robust response from those who believe the lifestyle of a carnivore is perfectly acceptable, both morally and environmentally.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008
 illustration ©2008 all rights reserved

September 05, 2008

Rice pasta with kale and olives (gluten free)/Polish tomatoes

My daughter-in-law, Taryn and her mom, Judy are both great cooks who rely on instinct rather than recipes. I've been a guest in Judy's home and can tell you first hand that the food she prepares is fantastic and she makes it look so easy it's disconcerting. Judy has no problem cooking in any dietary style from omnivore to vegan and Taryn has obviously inherited her mother's skills. While I was visiting her last month, we were having a video chat with her parents when the subject of dinner came up, and Taryn asked for some advice. She wanted to use the red russian kale that was ready to harvest from her garden. They discussed what ingredients would work well and a plan was made. Judy suggested steaming the kale before sautéeing it but the kale was so young and tender that it wasn't really necessary. With older, tougher kale, it's a good idea to steam it first. The resulting dish was so good that we devoured it before I remembered to take a photo. I brought the recipe home and my husband finally got around to making it last night.

We served it with the simple but amazing Polish Tomatoes from one of the first vegetarian cookbooks I ever bought — "The Vegetarian Epicure" by Anna Thomas, published in 1972. This salad seems so easy you might wonder why a recipe is needed. That's what I was thinking the first time I made it. It's the perfect example of how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts! If you are flooded with tomatoes as we are, this is the perfect way to use some.

(As a side note, in addition to writing several cookbooks, Anna Thomas is mainly a screen writer and producer. She won an Academy Award for best writing/screen play written directly for the screen for El Norte, and additional kudos for My Family/Mi Familia which she co-wrote and produced. She was also a screen writer on Frida as well as other films. She wrote "The Vegetarian Epicure" while in grad school.)

Rice pasta with cannelini beans, kale and olives (serves 4)
  • 1 pound organic brown rice pasta (Trader Joe's makes a good one)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup sliced black olives, drained
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons capers
  • large bunch red Russian kale or other hearty greens, roughly cut
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil to sauté kale and garlic
  • splash of white wine or rice vinegar
  • 15 ounce can of cannelini beans, rinced and drained
  1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
  2. Sauté the garlic for a minute or two in a large pan and then add the greens. Cook until greens are nearly done.
  3. Add the olives, beans and capers.
  4. Splash in the wine and cook a minute more.
  5. Add the cooked pasta and heat gently until hot.
  6. Add freshly ground pepper to taste and salt if needed.
Judy says, "My Northern Italian family favored greens sautéed with garlic, olives, canneloni beans, white wine and pepper flakes. Escarole was a popular favorite as well as broccoli rabe."

Polish tomatoes
adapted from "The Vegetarian Epicure" by Anna Thomas
  • About 6 firm, ripe tomatoes (Beefsteak tomatoes make a superior salad. I like to grow Brandywine, an heirloom, and Beefmaster, a hybrid.))
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • fresh sweet basil, crushed or chopped
  • fresh dill weed
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh parsley
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons wine vinegar
  1. Cut the tomatoes into thick slices. Place them in a large shallow bowl with the onion, basil, dill, parsley, salt and pepper.
  2. Toss to coat the tomatoes with herbs.
  3. Add the oil and vinegar to taste, and toss again.
  4. Refrigerate until well-chilled before serving.
This is a very flexible recipe. We had lots of basil but very little dill. This simple salad always tastes great no matter what herbs you use, as long as you use good quality tomatoes.

September 02, 2008

Sweet potato hash browns

On our little camping trip to Whidbey Island, we had just spent the night in our mini-tent, woke up refreshed in the clear morning air, and made the four-mile trip to our son's campsite for breakfast. I reveled in my good fortune at being just about to enjoy an open-air breakfast that I didn't even have to cook! Food under these circumstances always tastes better, and my steaming bowl of oatmeal confirmed this. It was absolutely plain—no raisins, no soymilk—and it tasted fantastic. I was savoring each mouthful when my son offered me some leftover sweet potatoes he'd brought from home and heated up. "Uh, no thanks," I said. I know sweet potatoes are nutritionally superior, but there's something about them that doesn't appeal to me. Maybe it's the sweetness. I like the color. : ) I like them garlicky and baked into fries. But, there in the quiet of my yummy oatmeal bliss, they looked like ... sweet potatoes. It was clear, though, that he REALLY wanted me to try them, so I plucked a small piece from the pan and whoa, there was a burst of delicious flavor that I didn't expect. "These are really good!" I said. "I should post the recipe on the blog."

Sweet potato hash browns
  • 3 sweet potatoes, washed, peeled, small diced
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 3–4 cloves garlic, minced
  • oil
  • habanero pepper sauce (Noah likes Marie Sharp's Belizean Heat but any habanero sauce will do)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat a cast iron skillet and add some oil (1 or 2 tablespoons) Sauté the onion and garlic about a minute. (Don't burn the garlic!)
  2. Add potato and continue to cook until the potato is soft. (If potato mixture gets too dry, add a couple spoonfuls of water to the pan.)
  3. Add habanero sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.