Category Archives: Meatless Mondays

I8tonite: with Friends, Team Changes and Mashed Cauliflower

Courtesy of Apatow Productions
Courtesy of Apatow Productions

I was watching “Bridesmaids”, the hysterical friends and relationship comedy with Kristen Wiig.  Though the movie is heavily based on deep female friendships, there is a poignancy — that as a gay man with a multitude of amazing women comrades I can identify — that underlies the relationships. In one side-splitting scene, and there are so many, Melissa McCarthy’s character visits Wiig’s Annie, who is feeling sorry for herself. Her baking business went belly-up. She’s lost her apartment because she doesn’t have a job, lives with her mother. Her car is a junker. The only thing she isn’t doing is entering rehab. Basically, she’s hit rock bottom. But McCarthy, with her robustness, throttles Wiig’s character, by knocking her upside the head, proclaiming, “I’m life. Is life bothering you?” And yes it is…,.and it’s not going away, like McCarthy in the scene.

Six years, ago it was like that for me. A 14-year relationship went into the toilet. My business tanked. My ex-partner in business and in life, well — turned out not to be such a significant other. Broke. No home. No car. And starting life again past the age of forty. After leaving everything behind in San Francisco– including the dog – (heartbreaking), I retreated to Los Angeles and to my best friends: Shelley, Lulu, and Bonnie. There are also my dear friends such as Kim, Pat, Sophia, Margot, Barbara, Kathy, and Jenny – many of whom I have known since the beginning of my career — but the pattern for me is women. With a couple of exceptions, such as my oldest friend Sean, John and former therapist Peter, these women, plus many more (Tanya, Annie, Myra, Myrna, Linda Chester, Katherine Lape, Julie, Charlotte, Teryann, Rita, Beverly, Katherine, Christine, Beth, Janet, Penny, Sharon – I know I’m forgetting someone. Forgive me if I am as the list is lovingly long) have been my salvation. My family. My friends. My confidantes.

I know the fairer sex isn’t all peaches and cream. There are some women I would never want in my corner: Lizzie Borden, the female half of Bonnie and Clyde, and Sarah Palin to name a select few.

Overall, the ladies in my life have been strong, resilient and loving. (This is what my memoir is about: a series of personal essays on the women I have loved as a gay man.)

Jessie with Mallard Cottage's chef Todd Perrin - site of one of my favorite meals this year! St. John's, Newfoundland
Jessie with Mallard Cottage’s chef Todd Perrin

With all that said, in less than five months – I can’t believe it – i8tonite.com has grown as a site to roughly over 10,000 unique visitors per month. I can’t keep up with its content and rapid growth. So, I have brought on Dr. Jessie Voigts to become my collaborator, co-publisher, and co-editor to assist in the endeavor. Another great feminine presence – to keep my ass moving forward.

Jessie has another site called Wandering Educators. There she is Queen Bee, holding court amongst her loyal subjects discussing the importance of travel in education.

Cauliflower by Liz West.
Cauliflower by Liz West.

Mashed Cauliflower: This holiday eating season, I baked up cheesecakes, biscuits, breads, assorted pies, and cakes. Now, I need a sugar and flour respite and some weight loss. I’m getting older, and it doesn’t come off as fast as it once did. Additionally, I’m 49. I want to look good as I hit that mid-century, I want to look Daniel Craig-splendid, all sinew, and muscle, one more time before I hang up the Speedo. Not for anyone else…..but for me, and Nick.

I made this dish, and I may never ever go back to mashed potatoes again. (I love potatoes!) It held the pot roast gravy perfectly and was luxuriantly delectable. Who cared that there wasn’t a spud in it? And it’s low carb.

To Make: Boil a head or two of chopped cauliflower, minus the outer leaves, along with several garlic cloves. Cook until it falls apart. Strain. While, the vegetables and garlic are still hot, add a dollop of cream cheese (don’t argue), grated parmesan or asiago. Use an immersion blender to puree. Add some chives. Serve this puppy with anything. Game-changer.

The End. Go Eat.

Meatless Monday: NYC Style Tofu and Vegetable Tempura

(Note: This is re-run — currently traveling in Denver.  We will be back to our regularly scheduled program on Wednesday.)

Way back….way back…in the old days, the 80s, I was a vegan. Yup. Yup. I know it’s hard to believe but I was and living the romantic (not!) bohemian (not!) life in New York’s Tribeca. Times were tough. Money was not plentiful (It’s not now either). I was young, idealistic, hungry having just graduated school, working in an art gallery doing marketing plus waiting tables to make ends meet.

Vegetables and Tofu for Tempura

It was the late 80s, early 90s. The Tunnel was the place to go. Tama Janowitz was big in the literary circles. Madonna was doing “voguing”. Ross Bleckner was the artist everyone was buying and I got involved in my first relationship and started to cook vegan. We decided to stop eating dairy products since he was lactose intolerant. His parents never removed his tonsils as a child, he was now subjected to severe bouts of strep throat for weeks at a time, especially after he drank milk or ate cheese. Bacteria clung to his tonsils and had a party.

We lived in a converted loft in Tribeca on Franklin Street, between West Broadway and Broadway, three blocks south of Canal Street. At the time, there was a store about three blocks to the West, called Commodities just up from the glorious restaurant Chanterelle. It was a huge massive store. One of the few groceries stores in the area (down a little further there was a Gristedes or some chain supermarket) and it featured a lot of soy products, tempeh, meatless burgers, seitan. This was long before Whole Foods or Erewhon. This may have been the first store of its kind in Manhattan but I don’t remember. I do remember it wasn’t cheap. But it was their produce section and soy area that I started to make tempura without egg. It’s a simple process of a cup of flour (any flour), a teaspoon of baking soda and powder and club soda, maybe 1/2cup. (I eyeball it.) Stir until you get a thick paste with lumps. Throw in your veggies: onions, carrots, broccoli, whatever you have. (In tonight’s Meatless Monday, I used Swiss Chard stems. Yum!) Fry up in a wok or sautee pan and dip. Salt while still hot. And since, it was a rainy LA Monday, it was perfect comfort food.

Tofu, Zucchini, Swiss Chard Stems, Red Bell Pepper, Carrots
Tofu, Zucchini, Swiss Chard Stems, Red Bell Pepper, Carrots

And The Beet Goes On…

Sadly, I didn’t have a good food childhood. Once my parents divorced, it was mostly canned stuff my mother (or I) prepared, since the only one who cooked was my father. My mother would make the occasional meatloaf, with packaged breadcrumbs and Heinz ketchup. That was pretty much it except for the holidays when all the vegetables we ate would be canned. String beans. Corn. Beets. I wasn’t a fan of any of them, especially the beets. Oye. I thought canned beets were disgusting. I know she tried. She just wasn’t a cook. (Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like them.)

Cut to living in New York City, and a very awkward young man walking through the Union Square Farmers Market. I would only buy potatoes, not sure what else to purchase or do with any of it. I was fairly ignorant of food, until I started working in restaurants. First as a waiter; then, as a bartender. Not only was I learning how to do pattern-making (it went the way of geometry)  while attending Fashion Institute of Technology, but I began to acquire knowledge of food and drink. A lot about the drinking. One of my favorite sayings was and still is, “Pour me into a cab.” I learned about wine while working at Soho Kitchen & Bar as well as scotch, cognacs, gins, and beer. We sold over 110 wines by the glass, 60 types of bottled beers with 24 on tap and all could which would be paired with simple bar food, like Spicy Buffalo Wings, pizzas, easy salads. But the star was the grape: chardonnay, cabernet, merlot. The restaurant had on the menu a Grilled Chicken Salad with Roasted Beets. It was a fairly simple meal of grilled chicken breast sliced against the grain, on a bed of mixed greens with roasted beets in a mustard vinaigrette.

But it was the beets that I ate. And ate. And ate. I realized that when cooked properly, they have a sweet, buttery quality with a chewy, yielding texture. I loved them. Their colors are brilliant hues such as a bright orangey, yellow which is tantamount to the color of a fall sunset or the purple, reddish color that reminds me of exotic, richly colored Indian batiks.

Now, I cook them all the time and love every minute of it…and the beet goes on….

Let’s make some beets.

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.  While the oven gets up to speed, cut off the beet leaves and save them for a salad the next day. Wash the beets thoroughly and cut up the large ones in quarters, then wrap them loosely in foil. No need to dry the beets before wrapping.

2. Place the wrapped beets on a baking sheet and roast for 50-60 minutes.

3. Let the beets cool before handling them. Using a paper towel, rub the skin off. It should come off easily.

4. Now, cut them up to eat. My favorite thing is to dress them with a little olive oil and mix them into a salad of butter lettuce, bleu cheese and filberts with garlic chives. Awesome!!!

Meatless Monday: Grilled Caesar Salad (just Meatless) and Family Suppers

Restaurant and Waiting Tables
Restaurant and Waiting Tables

It’s a funny thing about Caesar Salads. They bring me right back to waiting tables/bartending or working in a restaurant kitchen. Many of the “family meals” when I worked in restaurants consisted of a salad, burgers, pizza or pasta. There was never any of the slaved over staff dinners that is being touted in the new cookbook “OFF THE MENU: Staff Meals from America’s Favorite Restaurants”. (Lucky them!) In the almost 2 decades of not working in eateries, clearly the times have changed since I plied my trade for tips or peeled potatoes. (I wonder how many publicists actually worked in a commercial kitchen?)

Secondly, I love the salad…when made right. They have a wonderful garlicky and salty crunch that reminds me of eating a potato chip. It’s that bite of lettuce snapping and saltiness from the dissolved anchovy. (Yep, a Caesar with anchovies…kind of novel, huh?) And, then made with a coddled egg, (yep, again a little more novelty… made with an egg) just cooked so the yolk is still runny to give it the unctuouness, clinging to the Romaine and holding the freshly grated Parmesan.

Thirdly, bringing me back to where I started, the family meal at a restaurant…when the dinner shift began at one of the five New York City restaurants that I had worked in during the 80s and early 90s, and my co-workers, some of who are friends to this day, would talk about their mornings and afternoons, of auditions, of gallery installations, of stapling resumes to headshots, of writing….or of getting over last night’s hangover…of being in my early 20s.

Lastly, they remind me of warm New York City summer nights with blaring taxis horns, beautifully curvaceous women wobbling in excessively high shoes, worked out men in tight T-shirts and baggy jeans, neon lights, shots of tequila and one of the happiest times in my life. (Of course, I wish I knew it then.)

Grilled Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons
Grilled Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons

Who knew that all these memories came in a salad and some nourishment too?

YOU WILL NEED (2 servings):
1 clove garlic
2 anchovies (or paste).
1 egg
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 juice of one lemon
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan (However much you want)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 heads romaine lettuce
Croutons (Store bought or homemade. Make it easy on yourself. Do what you want and have time to do.)

GRILL THE LETTUCE (Or skip this altogether and chill lettuce for about 5 minutes in the freezer. If you do this, just tear the lettuce apart just before you dress it.)
1. Heat grill.
2. Peel outer leaves of romaine off until you get to the heart. (Or you can leave a couple of the dark leaves on.) Cut in half.
3. Brush cut side with olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Place on grill until slightly charred and wilted.
5. Remove from grill.
6. Arrange prettily on plates, cut side up.

LET’S MAKE THE DRESSING:
1. Using the blade of a knife, carefully make a paste with the anchovy and garlic. Just mash it together and add a little…just a drop or two of oil.
2. Put this paste and the remaining ingredients… egg yolk, mustard and lemon juice… into a mixing bowl or food processor.
3. Whisk or process for about 30 to 40 seconds until the mixture is smooth. (If whisking, go a little longer. If you are really anal about it, pull out the timer and set it for a minute…and whisk.)
4. Now add the olive oil slowly until it becomes mixed and a little thicker, similar to a thin aoili (this may not happen if you are using a whisk…but give it a try.)
5. Add some Parmesan, a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. (Get a pepper grinder if you don’t have one. It makes a huge difference.) You can refrigerate the dressing if you make a little too much.

LET’S FINISH THIS PUPPY UP:
1. Arrange the heads of lettuce cut side up.
2. Pour the dressing in a ‘Z’ pattern over lettuce.
3. Use enough dressing for you to be satisfied and happy. Dress the the salad to your liking but don’t over do it. (Remember, you pay that trainer at the gym a lot of money.)
4. Sprinkle with the freshly grated Parmesan.
5. Arrange croutons, ever so….
6. Voila!
7. Take a picture and upload to Instagram. (Most important part. You can use my photo if you don’t think yours is photogenic. You have my permission.)

Dinner at Mark’s

There is nothing like being with friends. Then, there’s nothing like being with friends and eating. Lastly, there’s nothing like being with friends, eating and laughing as we like to do when you sit down over homemade Indian dinner of Mulligatawny Stew, Spicy Pan Fried Cauliflower and Eggplant with Red Peppers.

Eggplant with Roasted Peppers
Eggplant with Roasted Peppers

It’s a connection that we don’t find so much as when there is a waitperson hovering around asking you what you want to eat. At someone’s house, after drinks are served, which you normally pour for yourself after inspecting each label, you walk into the kitchen and peer into the savory-smelling pots, asking, “What’s this? It smells so good!”

I’m blessed that I have friends who love to cook and share their food with me. I do think it’s truly a gift. Someone has taken the time out of their schedule to shop, slice and dice, and serve something made by their hands. It’s an emotionally soul-satisfying experience, kicking back and gossiping, talking about our latest trials and tribulations as being in their home or mine. It’s an intimate exchange between people and honestly, I’ve never ever had a bad meal at someone’s house. I really can’t say that about a restaurant.

Oven Roasted Indian Potatoes and Cauliflower
Oven Roasted Indian Potatoes and Cauliflower

Mark’s Indian Oven Roasted, Spiced Cauliflower & Potatoes

YOU WILL NEED:
1 (or 2 small) cauliflower, cut into florets
lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeño, including seeds
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup water

COOKING:
TO start: Place a shallow baking pan on rack, while preheating oven to 475°F. You are getting the pan hot to begin roasting the vegetables.

Then, mix: Toss cauliflower and potatoes together in a bowl with 3 tablespoons oil, cumin seeds, and1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread in hot baking pan and roast, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and browned in spots and potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes.

Continue with rest of ingredients: While vegetables are oven-roasting, cook onion, garlic, jalapeño, and ginger in remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until very soft and beginning to turn golden. Add ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes.

Let’s finish this puppy: Stir in water, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of skillet, then stir in roasted vegetables. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.

Meatless Monday: April 29, 2013

Asian food is amazing. It’s very complex and a lot of flavors together. I think that’s one reason that I find it’s easy to be vegan with cuisine. Lots of combinations to consider without resorting to meat or diary.

Today’s Meatless Monday is Thai inspired. It’s Pan Seared Tofu with Thai Rice Noodles. It consists of 3 different herbs: coriander, basil and mint.

ImageInteresting Thai Food Fact: In the Thai culture, it’s considered bad luck to dine alone and to waste food which is why in Thailand, they serve smaller portions and you will find large groups dining at one table.