Back to Basics: Tomato Basil Garlic Pasta Sauce

on
Thursday, May 17, 2018


So among the things I've started buying less of is pasta sauce.  I've posted about my efforts to go "back to basics" and become more well rounded as a cook.  It's fine and dandy if you can whip up a fancy shmancy meal for a few guests, but if you don't understand the basics of cooking and the basics of developing a palate,  you'll be lost outside of your go-to recipes.  Learning how to make your owns sauces, broths, and other staples will also save you money.  I don't buy vegetable broth anymore.  I also don't buy as much pasta sauce (sometimes I'm tired, sue me).  Another perk is that you aren't getting the added sugar and sodium that is packed in pasta sauce.  Sauce in a jar is mostly awful for you, but I have found a few local brands that are pretty good for when I don't feel like boiling tomatoes.  Making your owns sauces, broths, and other basics is less wasteful as well.  You avoid the packaging from store bought, and you can toss all your old veggies that are about to turn in a pot for broth.  One of my goals right now is to reduce my waste by a LOT, and keeping glass jars full of sauces and broths is one way that I've found I can reduce the amount of trips I take to the garbage chute.

Photo courtesy of Monsieur Marcel
On Sundays Alex and I go to the LA Farmer's Market.  This is where we buy our produce for the week, get a chance to be outside, and form a relationship with our food.  The food that I make with the produce from the farmer's market is noticeably better than with produce from the grocery store (even from Whole Foods, it ain't that great).  My favorite places at the farmer's market are the produce stands of course, but also the Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market. Here, I get a lot of handmade pasta and specialty salts and spices.  They also have a fantastic wine selection (thought their bottles can get pricey pretty fast).  They have a lot of great housemate sauces here that are a really good alternative to making things yourself.  But this past weekend, I topped their pasta with a sauce of my own choosing.


I love experimenting with making my own sauces.  There's not a lot you can do to screw them up, honestly.  And as I always say, don't be afraid! It takes a LOT of trial and error to make your own sauce recipes, and find some creative ways to make it yours.  Here's one that I created on the fly last Sunday:


Ingredients
4-5 medium tomatoes
1 medium shallot, diced
3 or 4 garlic cloves, (this is garlic sauce after all, so don't be stingy) diced
Olive oil
handful of basil, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste (sometimes I use himalayan sea salt, some times I use smokey black salt)

Fill a pot with enough water to cover the tomatoes, and salt.  Bring to a boil and add in the tomatoes.  Boil until the skin starts to peel off, then drain, rinse with cold water and set aside until they are cool enough to handle.  Peel off the skins, and slice them in half.  Spoon out the seeds and insides, only the outer flesh should be left.

Transfer these into a food processor, as well as the rest of the ingredients.  Add in the olive oil slowly, so that you don't oversaturate.  Puree until smooth, or to your desired texture (I like my sauce to be as pureed as possible, but I know some people who enjoy a chunkier sauce). Mix in with your fav pasta (picture here with Capricci). I also paired mine with some grilled broccolini and mushrooms with black truffle olive oil and for dessert, grilled peaches with olive oil and paprika.  It was one of the best meals I've ever had.


Et Voila! You have made pasta sauce!
It's great to make a ton of it and store it for later use.  You can even freeze it!
It's so good and super simple.
Let me know some of your experiments, I'd love to post them on my instagram!

Vegan in Vegas

on
Friday, May 4, 2018

Last weekend Alex and I took a much needed short holiday to Las Vegas with my sister and brother-in-law.  I had just had a 6 day work week setting up a show at the gallery, and needed to unwind.  We left on Saturday night after my opening, and made the 4 hour drive into Sin City.  I hadn't been in years, and this was honestly the most fun I had (my last trip was a total bust and not really any fun at all, so this was a nice do-over).  I've been to Vegas on 3 separate occasions, and the first two were a blast, but something about this trip made it so much better. Maybe it was the company, or maybe it was because I'm older and enjoy different things, who knows. Or maybe it was because I have a newly acquired taste for different food, and it was kind of an adventure.  I thought that being vegan in Vegas would be a little bit of a challenge, but HOLY CRAP the food is amazing!! And really couldn't be easier to find.

On Sunday morning we ate at the Modern Vegan, a brand new place that just opened up. They have a huge menu and I was a little overwhelmed, but I think we made the right choices.  That day we hit up one of those psycho pool parties that's basically like Dionysian madness set to a contemporary remixed soundtrack.  I was completely out of my element (Sundays are apparently hip hop day, and while I recognized a couple songs I had no idea what was going on most of the time) but it was actually a lot of fun being immersed in a subculture I am in no way a part of.  Also, when you have a couple drinks by a pool you tend to just have fun regardless.  That night, we went to the Wynn, which was GORGEOUS and had dinner at Lakeside. Every restaurant inside the Wynn (including room service) has a vegan menu, which you'll read more about later.  This was probably the highlight of the trip.  The Wynn is colorful and cute and really creates an atmosphere, and every single restaurant is elaborately decorated and themed...and you know how I love a good theme.  In our Vegas last day haze, we made our way to Nacho Daddy at the Miracle Mile Shops on our way out, and did a little shopping.  I sasn't expecting a ton of vegan options...but they delivered and then some.  And it was all delicious.

Anyway, here are the details. And don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't find good vegan food in Vegas.


Vegan at the Happiest Place on Earth

on
Monday, April 30, 2018

I lived in Orange County for 7 years.  It was an absolute MUST to have Disney pass, to hit up Disneyland whenever you were feeling blue/bored/Tuesday and we always knew the best places to eat.  The chicken nuggets at the Golden Horseshoe, the turkey legs everywhere, the Mickey Pretzels, the big ass corn dogs at the Little Red Wagon on the way out....oh shit, those aren't vegan are they? (Well, the Mickey Pretzels actually are!)

Lagom Är Bäst

on
Sunday, April 29, 2018

Who else is a little tired of hygge, the Danish trend that took over last year inspiring many an Instagrammer (yours truly included) to post photos of warm drinks, cozy socks, and faux fur accent pillows and throws?  I know I am. And let's face it, I love everything Scandinavian, from Norwegian Black Metal to lingon berry jam and back again, so if I'm over it you know it's done.

So why am I buying into another Scandi trend? Well, because this one is more than just a trend, and it's something that I have been working towards for about a year without actually knowing it.  Lagom is a Swedish word meaning just the right amount.  Something that has really been a struggle for me since entering my 30s is figuring out what I need as opposed to what I want.  I graduated from my MFA program this past winter and without the aid of student loans and the looming inevitability of paying them back for the rest of my life, I'm beginning to figure out how to properly budget not only my money, but my time, stress level, workload, etc. Hygge is about making cozy moments, while lagom is about a more balance lifestyle.

Am I Still Vegan If....?

on
Friday, April 13, 2018
Recently I found out that one of my favorite vegan products, Impossible Meat, was tested on animals to submit full transparency to the FDA.  (I will unpack this later in detail, and what it means to me).


Learning this, and grappling with the ramifications and affect on the vegan community as well as the meat-eating community, and expressing my thoughts on an Instagram post of an Impossible Umami Burger, caused a few people to take issue with my comment (My comment was as objective as I could make it. I always try to be as compassionate and moderate on social media as possible about these things, as I know they are sensitive issues).  One individual, whom I have never spoken to or heard of in my life decided that I was somewhere on the spectrum of pure evil and left a series of comments not only calling into questions my "right" to be vegan, but also leaving sarcastic comments about my posts, and implying that I'm only vegan because it's "trendy."  I was honestly genuinely hurt.  I have been meat-free for 2 1/2 years, and have been vegan since December (I'm still a newbie, sure) but it seems ridiculous and counterproductive to treat being vegan and plant-based like an elite club that you have to pledge and be inducted into, and you are only allowed if you fit someone else's strict criteria.

NO one is perfect. No vegan is perfect.  We all do the best we can, and when we make a decision to alter our lifestyle in a way that invites criticism from the general public, it helps no one to being criticizing others within that community.  There is no such thing as "true veganism."  We all adapt the lifestyle to ways that fit our lives.  Of course, if someone eats eggs occasionally they are not vegan, but that doesn't mean that they deserve to be ridiculed and made to feel "less than" because of it. But on that same note, if you kill a bug in your house that doesn't mean you aren't vegan (contrary to a recent conversation I had with someone who isn't vegan or vegetarian...)  The goal of being vegan is to live as compassionately as possible, and do as little harm as possible.  I try to live this way everyday, in the best way I can.  The vegan community should not be elitist and exclusionary, we should all be welcoming, informative, and above all compassionate.

Which brings me to my thoughts on Impossible Meat.  You can read the company's statement here.  Let me start by saying that my first experience with veganism was in high school, when my first boyfriend ever was vegan.  It was difficult (to say the least) to find vegan options that didn't taste like cardboard to cook at my house for him when he came for dinner, and also going out to eat in our small, Central Valley town was a real task.  There was a time when plant-based burgers were gross and bland and plant-based food in general was difficult to come by if you weren't in a metro area.  In 2018, we have  so many meat-free options it's almost overwhelming.  One of the biggest innovations in recent years is the burgers offered in restaurants by Impossible Foods.  Impossible foods uses a unique ingredient called soy leghemoglobin.  If part of that word looks familiar, it's because heme is an iron carrying molecule, and it's what gives meat the "meat" taste.  Impossible Foods found a way to isolate this molecule in plants, which was a huge discovery. This heme is identical to the heme found in your blood.

In an effort to be "fully transparent,"  Impossible Foods submitted additional data tests to the FDA.  These tests included testing the heme on rats.  I, like most vegans, do not condone animal testing and will not use products that are tested on animals (I do make one exception: I wear Chanel No. 5 as a tribute to my grandmother who recently passed. Chanel has no statement on animal testing on their website, but like many high end cosmetic and fragrance brands, they sell in mainland China, which requires animal testing by a 3rd party.  So, though Chanel may not test on animals stateside or in the EU, which actually prohibits animal testing of any kind, they allow their products to be tested by others in mainland China. So, judge me as you see fit). However,  I fully believe that Impossible Foods is making great strides to reduce and hopefully one day eliminate the human consumption of animal products.  A meatless product that tastes like meat? This is revolutionary!  So many people can't tell that they are not eating an animal, and it could be one of the first major steps to introducing the plant-based lifestyle to the general public.  The founder of Impossible Foods expressed his moral dilemma with this animal testing, and in the end I agree with his decision to "advance the greater good." Impossible Foods has also ceased testing their product on animals, as it was a one time certification requirement.

In fact, most medications that you take are tested on animals. Of course, I try to keep my body healthy to avoid illness and medication, but I take hormonal birth control and OTC medication for migraines.  The medication keeping a lot of people alive has been tested on animals.  I would never shame someone for taking a medication that keeps them happy and healthy because it doesn't align with my personal life choices. You would really have to be a special kind of asshole to do that (pardon my French...).

I think my takeaway from this is that no one is perfect, not even vegans. Not even gluten free vegans. Not even gluten free raw vegans.  I always like to live firmly in reality, and while I will never support animal cruelty, or killing/harming of animals for human consumption, I am not perfect.  I have done everything I can to help animals by abstaining from consuming them or their byproducts.  But I support Impossible Foods' decision to complete these tests in order to present the world with a product that could quite possible convert more people to a plant based lifestyle, then I'm here for that.

And let me urge all of you to remember that being vegan is above all, about compassion.  If you disagree with someone or don't think they are the picture of plant-based perfection that you are, please keep that to yourself. If you want to educate someone on their food choices and what it means for animals and the environment, engage thoughtfully and tread lightly because no one wants a stranger interrupting their day by making them feel bad.  Being vegan is about feeling GOOD.  It's about helping, and educating, and informing, not judging and pointing fingers. I frequently voice my opinions about animal rights and welfare, and my post about "Selective Compassion" is probably as aggressive as I'll get. But I do make it a point to remind everyone that I'm not judging by expressing my opinions, and we can still be friends if you eat meat.

I would love to hear others' thoughts on this, do you support Impossible Foods, or have you given it up?

For more information about volunteering to save farmed animals, and for ways to explore ta plant-based lifestyle, visit Mercy for Animals.  They have all kinds of great resources, including the Vegetarian Starter Guide.


Pyttipanne

on
Sunday, April 8, 2018

Pyttipanne, or Pytt i Panna in Swedish, means "little pieces in a pan."  I made this once for my family at Christmas, when I still ate meat, and it was such a big hit.  I sometimes think of that as my first real dish that I cooked.  I have cooked plenty before that, but it was at that moment that I realized I had a gift for bringing people together with food.  I have never been very outgoing, or very warm and friendly (sorry), and I have struggled to find words to express things sometimes.  It was on Christmas day when I served pytt i panna and my brother-in-law told me I had to bring that to every dinner at their house that I realized, "wow, I can actually do something that makes people happy."

Fast forward about 4 years, and I no longer eat the beef or lamb that I once did, so making this dish again required a little finesse. This dish is rustic comfort food that was born from necessity and locale.  It features ingredients that are always typical in Scandinavian cooking (potatoes, meat, dill...) and was usually made using leftover meat from other nights.  Scandinavian cooking is one of my favorites, because it is so simple and so accessible, but is so full of flavor and life.  It is also really easy to make most dishes vegan, even though they usually have a meat or dairy ingredient.  In 2018 we are so lucky, because we have so many easy substitutions for ingredients that were once necessity. It is one of my dreams to go to Norway and cook using local ingredients.  Which may happen sooner than later...

This meal is surprisingly light even though it's hearty, as well super simple to make.  And as I've said many times before, I love Scandinavian cooking because it's so easy, but special at the same time.  Which is honestly the whole appeal of a Scandinavian lifestyle (remember what a big hit hygge in the past few years?).  Scandinavian people are among some of the happiest in the world, and it's because they life simple lives, eat simple food, and honestly probably a little because they have a adopted a 6 hour work day, they get tons of paid time off at work, and exceptionally generous maternity leave (Sweden gets 480 days at 80% normal pay and Norway gets 35 weeks at full pay). If you live in the US, you don't get nearly that much time off, but this recipe is a pretty good consolation, amiright? No, I'm not, but it is a pretty good meal.


Ingredients:
1 yellow onion, chopped
around 4 or 5 potatoes, chopped small
3 vegan sausages (your choice, but I'm partial to field roast. I used Tofurky bratwurst in this version)
1 cup vegan beef crumples (I used Gardein)
dill, fresh or dry
salt and pepper to taste
parsley
vegan butter (around 2 tbsp)


Melt half of the butter in a pan, and add in the potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and dill and let cook until just about done.


Meanwhile, heat the rest of the butter in a separate pan on medium heat, and add in the onions.  Cook until nearly transparent, and add in the sausage and crumbles.  Cook until the crumbles are browned (some may get crisp, but this is good! We are subbing this for bacon that is in the recipe I based it on).  Add the meat and onion mixture to the pan with the potatoes and reduce your heat, and cover. Cook until potatoes are easily pieced with a fork. Top with chopped parsley.

You can also serve with lingon berry jam, for an authentic-feeling meal.



See? Easy sneezey. 

Skål!