Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cold and Raw in Kenmore

I've been thinking about going up to at least 50% raw food for a few years, now. It's not so easy when you live in Buffalo, NY, or anywhere East Coast-ish. We don't have these year-round farmer's markets with abundant produce that easily translates into wonderful raw dishes like people in LA or San Fran. And I'm a foodie first and foremost, so it HAS to be wonderful, or at least very very good. And a veghead for 15+ years, yeah, and it hasn't been hard and it may have even saved my life. Going raw is a whole other basket of apples, especially if you're an aspiring pastry chef!
But as Ani Phyo says, no need to be extreme. We're sinking into a raw habit, slowly and with lots of mistakes being made. Last year, I instituted the Raw-Day-a-Week plan. It has become the Mostly-Raw-Day-a-Week, but it's happening now, that way. That's the critical issue-- what you need to do to make it real, do. And skip the craziness that comes from throwing your life out of whack over what's on your plate. There are, in the end, more important things.
So I got a book, Ani Phyo's RAW FOOD ESSENTIALS and I'm borrowing a dehydrator (to make it simpler for family to deal with, and for the hubby-man more than myself-- I can live without cookies, but not everyone can) and tomorrow I'm making Rawmesan with cashews to put into a raw style Caesar. Caesar salad, sans anchovies*, is literally my favorite thing in the world to eat-- preferably with a side of crusty real baguette and a glass of Penfolds Chardonnay. My dream dinner, my Last Meal on Earth meal, my passionate hungry need. I used to go on binges, when my garden in Indianapolis was producing romaine off the charts, and make it three or four times a week. There aren't alot of restauants in this area that make a real, good Caesar anymore, though I used to be able to find one easy enough. Everything slides, and nowadays people make them with crappy mayo cut with cheap pre-grated parm and think it's worth two bucks more than a side salad, but it's not. Now, Alicia Silverstone has a Caesar that's vegan and almost raw, but frankly I hate tahini, and can't abide the use of garlic powder, even to make croutons. Besides, croutons are not essential to me. I've been messing around with a delicious Walnut & Almond Caesar that uses cold-pressed walnut oil with the olive oil in place of mayo, and quick-candied spiced almonds, but it has cheese. If I combine the ideas of nuts and nut-based cheeses, and steal the shoyu idea from Alicia but use miso instead, I might have an awesome vegan Caesar, and nearly raw, too.
I'm thinking here of the excellent miso dressing The Juicery Cafe (sadly defunct, was in the Northtown Plaza in Amherst with an outpost in Delaware Park) used to serve on salads and Lite Bites. I loved the Hummus Lite Bite, and that, with Hungarian Mushroom soup and a Starburst smoothie***, was pretty much my usual meal at the Juicery. Luckily for me, both my niece and my sister worked there a year or so before it closed, and I was able to get a copy of the miso dressing recipe, which I use and tweak. The light miso makes a thick, creamy dressing that really needs no cheese to satisfy in a caesary-style.
When I perfect it, I'll let you know.
Anyway, it's almost the last day of this year. It's cold, but not brutal here in Buffland, and the sun has winked at us often today. We are lucky to get so much sunshine all through our winter-- believe me, there's much less in Indianapolis this time of year! And we have better food.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was at Cafe Allegro on Hertel Avenue for my writing group, and hungry since it was 6pm and I hadn't eaten since 11am. There wasn't anything on the day's menu that was veg, but when asked if they could make me a grilled cheese-- they said sure. So I asked for sliced tomato, mustard and fresh spinach on it too, and some chips, and in a few minutes there it was-- stuffed and dripping, gooey melted deliciousness on a plate. Allegro is good that way-- they often have veghead grub on the daily board, but not a whole lot in the way of vegan. Still, it doesn't hurt to ask, and they have a huge variety of Republic of Tea teas. Also in the summer, wonderful fruit smoothies made with more real fruit than anywhere I've tasted, rotating in a big slushie machine, but better than a slushie by far.
You see, I went for hot food that night... and ever since, have been jonesing for soup: hot, homey and full of good things. The kind of soup that makes you feel comepletely nourished in a single bowlful. The kind you eat crouching over the bowl, dipping toast into every other bite. That same week, I made some Minimal Minestrone, and Christmas week, a potato and broccoli soup with dill.
Last night, I got a bowl of Panera's (veghead) Creamy Tomato. It's good, but not perfect; could be tangier, but a splash of hot sauce works. Tonight, my soup craving still unsatisfied, I've got some Butternut Squash roasting for this:

Roasted Squash Soup with Maple-Glazed Bananas**

One 2-pound butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
Kosher salt
1/2 cup pecans
1 banana, scooped into balls with a melon baller or sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 cup water
1/2 cup crème fraîche (you can use sour cream or vegan sour cream)
Pinch of ground cinnamon ( I like a dash of ginger and coriander, too)
8 small watercress sprigs


Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter a medium baking dish. Season the squash with salt and set it cut side down in the baking dish. Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, until the squash is very tender. Let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, spread the pecans in a pie plate and toast for about 7 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool, then coarsely chop and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the banana and maple syrup and stir to coat.

Peel the squash. In a blender, puree the squash, water, crème fraîche and cinnamon until very smooth. Transfer to a medium saucepan and warm over low heat. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with the banana-nut topping and watercress and serve hot or at room temperature.

From Competing at the Bocuse d’Or: Team USA’s Unbeatable Recipes, Pairing of the Day: February 2009
Published February 2009, Food and Wine Magazine
**Recipe by Adina Guest and Timothy Hollingsworth

Eat something good tonight. Peace, Mari

*The original Caesar had no anchovies, and used romano cheese, not parm. The lettuce leaves were left whole, as well.

***(The Juicery's Hummus Lite Bite was a mound of cumin-y hummus on a bed of mixed greens with yellow miso dressing. MMM. A starburst was a blend of fresh strawberries & fresh-squeezed orange juice.)

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