Vegetarian Food

salsaI have issues with salsa around here. Like, why do Mexican restaurants give you hot salsa — as in tomato soup? Maybe it's me . . . I've had several local friends say they like cooked salsa. But my favorite salsas are fresh with lots of bright flavors that typically can't be found in a jar . . .

. . . that is until I discovered Malco's Magnificent Salsa from Baton Rouge.

I actually had two new salsas to try, Joseph's Garden Salsa from Madisonville and Malco's.

malcos_smalljoseph

So the family had a taste off of the two local salsas. We tried each one with chips and on cheese quesadillas. And there was absolutely no comparison. Let's just say the Joseph's is pretty much full, still in the fridge and Malco's is long gone.

Joseph's was OK, it was just like most other bottled salsas . . . muddled flavors with limp, if any, veggie presence. And Malco's was just such a nice surprise. 

I haven't given up on Joseph's Fine Foods, though — I plan to try some of their pickled veggies next . . . maybe even their "Zesty Brussels Sprouts." My husband is puking somewhere right now . . .

br_la_heartBATON ROUGE

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dinnerThe bounty of summertime is always amazing to me . . . and I most enjoy it at the beginning, before I'm tired of any single crop and the heat has sapped my enthusiasm. And, go ahead and call me cheesy, but I like to make a game out of finding ways to use as many fresh, local ingredients as I can in one meal.

For dinner the other night, we started with a super easy, but looks rather gourmet salad of Louisiana baby lettuces topped with Louisiana Strawberries, chopped Sucre candied pecans, blue cheese from somewhere up north and Hanley's strawberry vinaigrette (get this while you can . . . it's seasonal and only available March - May).

And I've found my menfolk tolerate veggies better when I add pasta . . . it's like it distracts them or something. Anyway, back in college, I got this cookbook with easy, from scratch pasta recipes. I've had mine for a long time and it looks pretty crappy, but I still love almost any recipe from it. It's not strictly vegetarian, but it has a lot of meatless options that are really good. The cookbook was out of print for a while, but I looked today and it's back with a much prettier cover on Amazon (just in case you were interested).

So we followed our Louisiana salad with a pasta featuring local mini portobello mushrooms with a side of local yellow squash. I've made the following pasta recipe with both the pepper and herb Boursin, a creamy French cheese, as well as used lots of different veggies. It's a recipe that works well with lots of variations.

Pasta Shells with Portobello Mushrooms, Asparagus & Boursin Cream Sauce
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Ingredients
  1. 1T butter
  2. 1T olive oil
  3. 1lb portobello mushrooms, stems removed, caps cut crosswise in 1/4-inch slices
  4. 1/2t salt
  5. 1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  6. 1 51/2 oz package pepper Boursin cheese (or herb)
  7. 1lb asparagus
  8. 3/4lb medium pasta shells
Instructions
  1. In a large frying pan, melt the butter with the oil over moderate heat. Add the mushrooms and salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are tender and well browned, about 8 minutes. Add broth and Boursin cheese and bring to a simmer while stirring.
  2. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and discard them. Cut the spears into 1/2-inch pieces. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until almost done, about 6 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook until it and the pasta are just done, about 4 minutes longer. Drain. Toss with the mushrooms and sauce.
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thib_la_heart

SOUTH LOUISIANA

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trulyfreeThis post marks a conscious decision to be real. Very real.

I really wish everything in South Louisiana was wonderful with fairies and sparkly dust. But is isn't. Alligators are scary, it's more humid and hot than you can possibly imagine until you've experienced it and… not all local food and goods are . . . well . . . good.

So, here I go with being real.

bangsFirst, I'm skeptical of trends and fads. Ever since I did poofy bangs in the early 90s, I have been wary of what's "in." Look over there, see, I learned the hard way (and I was so good, I did my little sister's hair too . . . poor thing). Anyway, I feel like the trendy food thing right now is gluten free/diary free/something free . . . whatever. Now I know allergies are real and if you truly are allergic to one of these things, that must stink.

Another thing I dislike is substitutes. I've been around health conscious people all my life and have seen oils/fats in a recipe replaced with applesauce, meats with processed soy "meat," and chocolate with carob. I say, if I decide, for whatever reason, not to eat something, then I just won't eat it . . . I'll eat other stuff rather than look for substitutes.

So all of that influenced my lunch experience yesterday. I've been wanting to try Truly Free Bakery and Deli, a wheat, gluten and dairy free eatery in Baton Rouge. I mean it's local, its mission is healthy, they will deliver even to Thibodaux, and . . . . . it's just not good.

Other than the humorless waiter . . . seriously, he never smiled and recoiled at my friend's 10-month-old's bottle asking, "is that dairy?!". . . . they were really nice. Now to be fair, the sweet potato fries sweetened with Agave were good. But the fresh-squeezed limeade was overly sweetened with something that left a strange residue and bad aftertaste in my mouth . . . like for hours. And the vegetable panini was dry with raw summer squash and zucchini, overly sweet raspberry salad dressing all on strangely textured gluten-free bread. I will say the 10-month-old liked the bread for a little while . . .

I'm totally hoping this was just my personal experience — a one-time thing — and in the sub-genre of everything-free food, they're really great. But I think I'll just be moving on to other food experiences. And if I want food with nothing in it, I just won't eat.

br_la_heartBATON ROUGE

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geauxfishFirst, let me just say that I think it's charming that anything with a long o sound in South Louisiana gets spelled eaux.

So it's no surprise that my favorite local sushi and hibachi restaurant is named Geaux Fish.

Not only does it have a cool, local-styled name, but they also have two fantastic vegetarian choices: vegetable sushi rolls and vegetable tempura . . . oh and they also have vegetable spring rolls, though I can only handle one fried item per meal and the tempura gets my vote.

Vegetable tempura is basically vegetables dipped in a very light batter, fried, and then served immediately with tentsuyu sauce — kind of a sweet soy sauce — for dipping. My favorite vegetables for tempura are broccoli, green beans, sweet potatoes and mushrooms. But you can basically do any veggie.

My grandmother was born in Asia (the Philippines to be exact, but they also lived in China and other countries) to missionary parents and is a fantastic vegetarian cook . . . especially Japanese food. She taught me how to make vegetable sushi and happily slaved away over tempura for us. It's funny how you have no idea how much of a pain something is until you grow up and try to do it for yourself. . . . so I eat at Geaux Fish until I can make it to my grandma's kitchen in Northern California (remember that Air Force brat thing . . . . yea, that means my family is all over the freaking place. . . no good, really).

Anyway, while tempura is best fresh, it and the sushi still make pretty good takeout when you just can't stand the thought of managing your kids in public . . . which would be me tonight!

thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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m_andersons2Every time we go to Baton Rouge, my husband tries to talk me into eating at Mike Anderson's Seafood . . . he says it's an institution there. Problem is, I hate fish and anything that comes from the sea. And he knows it.

But, I guess I was feeling giving . . . maybe it was the Easter break . . . and I went to make him happy . . . and hopefully to get him to stop suggesting it. Anyway, the obvious part is that there was basically nothing on the menu without some kind of seafood in it.

Except one: the fried green tomato poboy.

I don't do fried very often, but this was delicious and so worth it — a fun take on two Southern specialties: fried green tomatoes and poboys. On the side I got the sweet potato fries. I was a little on fried-food overload, so I chose the baked option, which makes for a soft textured and rich flavored fry . . . I guess without being fried it's then just a slice/wedge/chunk?

Anyway, there may only be one thing on the menu I like, but it's good enough that I don't think I'll mind when he suggests this again. And I did have fish . . . . just as my plate 🙂

br_la_heartBATON ROUGE

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soup_povOne of the many great things about South Louisiana — in addition to the food community — is the vibrant local magazine community.

And in the April issue of Point of Vue there's a recipe for a Southern-inspired vegetarian tomato soup that looks really good . . . . no, I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but it's by the executive chef at one of my most favorite restaurants, Cristiano Ristorante in Houma. So the odds are good.

So grab an April issue before the end of the month or check out the recipe on their website.

houma_la_heartHOUMA

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tn_viewSo I took a break. You probably didn't notice . . . but I DID! We took a quick little trip to Tennessee for Easter with my family. And . . . look at the sunset view from my parents' deck . . . can you blame me??

My littlest, who was born and raised in flat-as-a-pancake South Louisiana, thought he was on a huge mountain and asked if he was close to heaven . . . . yes, baby, I think you might be.

Anyway, while we were there, my mom made this awesome creamy but cream-less cauliflower soup — an unusual take on a basic veggie.

Cauliflower Soup
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Ingredients
  1. 1 head cauliflower (2 pounds)
  2. 8T unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  3. 1 leek, white and light green parts, sliced thin
  4. 1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
  5. Salt and pepper
  6. 4 1/2 - 5 cups water
  7. 1/2t sherry vinegar
  8. 3T minced fresh chives
Instructions
  1. Pull outer leaves off of cauliflower and trim stem. Cut around core to remove; thinly slice core and reserve. Cut heaping 1 cup of 1/2-inch florets from head of cauliflower; set aside. Cut remaining cauliflower crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices.
  2. Melt 3T butter in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leek, onion, and 1 1/2t salt. Stirring frequently until leek and onion are soft but not browned, about 7 minutes.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high. Add 4 1/2 cups water, sliced core, and half of sliced cauliflower. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add remaining sliced cauliflower, return to simmer, and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender and crumbles easily — about 15-20 minutes.
  4. While soup simmers, melt remaining 5T of butter in skillet over medium heat. Add reserved florets and cook, stirring frequently until florets are golden brown and butter is browned and imparts nutty aroma — 6-8 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and use slotted spoon to transfer florets to small bowl. Toss florets with vinegar and season with salt to taste. Pour browned butter in skillet into small bowl and reserve for garnishing.
  5. Process soup in blender until smooth — about 45 seconds. Rinse out pan. Return pureed soup to pan and return to simmer over medium heat, adjusting consistency with remaining water as needed (soup should have thick, velvety texture but should be thin enough to settle with flat surface after being stirred) and seasoning with salt to taste.
  6. Serve, garnishing individual bowls with browned florets, drizzle of browned butter, and chives and seasoning with pepper to taste.
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Anyway, the break was great, but I realized as I looked out of the airplane window and saw the swamp coming into view that I was happy to be back — South Louisiana is now home . . . and where my heart is.

chat_tn_heartCHATTANOOGA

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curryThai food is crazy diverse with awesome, rich flavors that don't need meat. And my favorite Thai food nearby is Song Phi Nong in Houma.

I usually get red curry with tofu. But the other day I was chatting with my seriously tall Australian student and he looked down at me like I'd lost my mind . . . . "Nobody eats that. Try the green curry." But I don't like chunks of eggplant and green peppers . . . .  "Try it." OK.

And you know what, the big chunks of eggplant were really good in this coconut milk-based sauce. And he's right, it's a new favorite.

Just one quick piece of advice . . . the spice levels are kinda unpredictable. I'm sort of a big sissy and don't like much spice. And even though I've learned to ask for no spice, it was still so spicy once that I couldn't even eat it. Like sweating, chugging water kind of spicy. So I said something and the waitress was just like, oh OK. I've decided you get what you get.

So I asked the Aussie if he had any trouble with the spice. No. But then again, when you're 6'7", most people know better.

houma_la_heartHOUMA

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french_toastSo my very best friend from graduate school — yea, that's my out-of-place-in-South-Louisiana Syracuse license plate frame — made the great suggestion to make French toast with my 12th Street Bakery bread.

And make French toast we did this morning! My boys said they even liked it better than their beloved homemade waffles.

Anyway, here's a quick and fairly painless recipe for French toast from Food Network's Alton Brown, whom I love. . . just because he's so scientific about food.

French Toast
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup half-and-half
  2. 3 large eggs
  3. 2T honey, warmed
  4. 1/4t salt
  5. 8 (1/2-inch) slices of bread
  6. 4T butter
Instructions
  1. In medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, honey, and salt. Pour custard mixture into a pie pan and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Dip bread into mixture, allow to soak for 30 seconds on each side, and then remove to a cooling rack that is sitting in a sheet pan, and allow to sit for 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch nonstick saute pan. Place 2 slices of bread at a time into the pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and place on rack in oven for 5 minutes. Repeat with all 8 slices. Serve immediately with maple syrup, whipped cream or fruit.
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And we added some pecans from the Bass Pecan Company in nearby-ish Lumberton, Mississippi, and, of course, some Louisiana strawberries. (Oh and that's kiwi from Italy . . . . totally far away, but hey, I'd love to live there and have local kiwi).

thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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KrisCarr-Calcium-Infographic
click for full graphic

I came across this cool graphic that, against what dairy marketers have been telling us for years, shows we can get just as much if not more calcium from plants than from dairy.

And, if you look, kale is a calcium superhero. Which got me thinking about kale and then later at the grocery store I saw a gorgeous bunch of organic curly kale . . . . which got me thinking about that stupid article last month in The New York Times that said you can't get kale in New Orleans. Well, I just bought some and I eat it regularly. Even my 3 year old loves Brad's vegan kale chips that we pick up at our South Louisiana grocery store . . . so there, uppity New Yorker.

Anyway, after that strange mental turn, my new bunch of kale got me thinking about how to eat it. Which led me to one of my favorite kale recipes.

WARNING: my Kraft-Macaroni-&-Cheese-"It's-the-Cheesiest" loving husband isn't a huge fan of this recipe. BUT, my two children like it . . . . after they complain a little about the large green chunks . . . . sigh . . . kids.

Anyway, this is my beautiful, crazy healthy sister's recipe for Indian-inspired red lentils and kale. And I love it. Even reheated for leftovers.

kaleRed Lentils and Kale // from Erin's kitchen

4T butter or ghee
2t coriander
1 1/2t cumin
1t mustard powder
1t turmeric
1/2t red pepper flakes
2 cups onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2t ginger, minced
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 cups red lentils, washed (I have to order these online)
2lbs kale, deribbed and chopped
salt & pepper

Melt butter in large pot (I use my stew pot). Add spices until aromatic - about 1 minute. Add onions, sweat until soft. Add garlic and ginger until soft and fragrant. Add chicken stock, 3/4t salt and lentils and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in kale and cook until lentils are cooked - about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

And my sister recommends topping it with a sprinkling of coconut for flavor and a dollop of pasture-based butter or ghee to create the "holy trinity" of calcium, K2 and vitamin A.

And after all that, I got more kale this week — a gorgeous bag of local Red Russian kale in my weekly CSA bundle from Country Table. This kale is one of the sweetest kale varieties with a mild, peppery flavor. Just make sure to remove as much of the fibrous, hard-to-chew red stems as possible before cooking/eating.

So take that NYC. We be having all kinds of kale for dinner in South Louisiana.

thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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