Thursday, November 30, 2006

Govinda's - Philly Cheesesteak

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Govinda’s on South Street in Philly. Govinda's is a puzzling mish-mash of vegetarian Indian dining upstairs (Govinda’s Vegetarian) and a vegetarian sub shop downstairs (Govinda’s Gourmet To Go.) I was completely confused the other day when I walked into Govinda’s for a sandwich and found the lower sandwich shop gone, but the upper Indian restaurant still open. I walked out disappointed, hopped in the car, pulled around the corner, and, to my delight, found that the sandwich shop had relocated a few doors down at the corner of South and Broad streets. I’m not sure when the relocation happened, but better signage - or any signage - at the original location of Govinda’s would be a smart idea.

The new Govinda’s Gourmet To Go has a long counter with sandwich fixings behind the glass partition, an open grill on the back wall, and a small glass case filled with vegan desserts. Adjacent to the counter are a handful of two-top tables and a beverage refrigerator. Govinda’s looks like your basic, no-frills sandwich shop with the exception of a small, more formal dining room at the end of the building.

Taking my sandwich to go, I hung around to watch the sandwich being made. The sandwiches at Govinda’s are delicious, but my one gripe is skimpy fillings. In the past, I would scrape the innards of my sandwich from one half of the hoagie roll and put it on the other half to create a better filling to bread ratio. I had no filling to bread ratio gripe this time. The sandwich constructor hollowed out the hoagie rolls and filled the sandwich liberally.

I’m still not convinced that the Philly Cheesesteak is a great sandwich, but, in the spirit of assimilation, I keep trying them. I’m pleased with Govinda’s vegetarian Cheesesteak, but the house gravy that is ladled on the soy meat and peppers while on the grill has a mysterious flavor. The flavor is reminiscent of Chinese Five-Spice, but I’m not sure. The sauce is tasty, but I don’t think it would be considered a traditional Cheesesteak sauce.

The chicken salad sub with soy meat, celery, and soy mayonnaise is my favorite, so I ordered one of these, too. Again, props for substantial fillings. They must have been out of celery that night, as I was disappointed to see bell peppers instead. The peppers provided the necessary crunch, but, in my opinion, it’s not chicken salad without celery.

I’m so happy that Govinda’s sandwich division didn’t disappear. Now that I know exactly where you are, I’ll be back for the yummy, fat sandwiches. Stock up on celery, though. Thanks.

Govinda’s Gourmet To Go, 1400 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19146
Phone 215-985-9303
11:30am-11pm; Fri-Sat: 11:30am-Midnight; Sun: 11:30am-10pm

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cranberry K-nowledge

Photo by bcmom
- Raise your hand if you can tell me which US state produces the most cranberries.
- Ooh, ooh, me, me! New Jersey!
- Sorry, that’s incorrect. Can you name another state?
- Ummm. I give up.

This is the only season when fresh cranberries are readily available in the stores. Did you ever stop to think where they come from? When a friend brought me back a gift of cranberry confections from Oregon today, I exclaimed, “Who Knew!” I’m certain I would have known that cranberries grow in Oregon if I had grown up in the Northwest. Gawd, I hate failing tests.

Oregon’s not at the top of the list, though. Wisconsin blows everyone out of the water.

NASS 2006 forcasted cranberry production in barrels.

  1. Wisconsin -3,750,000
  2. Massachusetts - 1,750,000
  3. New Jersey - 490,000
  4. Oregon - 485,000
  5. Washington - 160,000
Ocean Spray’s live bog cam. Don’t fall asleep.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mac & Cheese Finder

This site gets a lot of hits for macaroni and cheese recipes. I feel bad for these lost souls clicking on misleading search results, so I did a little legwork. Some of the queries are a little puzzling, but this is what people are looking for.

Martha Stewart - Basic one, but her site -duh!- lists many.
Paula Dean - Right here, sweetie.
Star Jones - This one was hard to find.
Rachel Ray - Recipe-o for M&C.
Elvis - Couldn't find; he's dead. You'll have to buy the book.
Betty Crocker - Not a real person, but...

Southern - See Paula Dean.
Soul - See Southern.
Deep Fried - See your doctor!
Greek - Who knew!
Cold Salad - See here and here.

Gouda - Smoked or Aged?
Havarti - Have at it.
4-Cheese - One, two, three, four.
Feta - See Greek
Cream Cheese - Just cream cheese or with cheese.
Cottage Cheese - Low-fat and not-so-low-fat.
Real Cheese - Put down the box.
Sour Cream - See Paula Dean.

Cornflakes - Crunchy tops here and here.
Mayonaise - Think pimento cheese and something else.
Coconut Milk - Intriqued? Scroll down.
Sundried Tomatoes - Here.
Rosemary - Here.
Curry - From scratch or altering boxed.
Sugar - Here and here.

Eggs - Stay away from Southern-style.
Grit - Again, put down the box.
Dairy - Here, here, and here.

Wine - It's actually on a chart. Scroll down to pasta.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Seitan Turkey

After last year’s tofu turkey left us wanting something meatier, we tried making a similar concoction, but with seitan. So, here we go...

I'd heard good things about VWaV seitan, so I made a batch. I turned the gluten dough out, and, great mother of God, if it didn't have fully developed left and right hemispheres!

Then I followed these procedures to make a turkey loaf. Press the doug
h out to form a rectagle.

Wrap the slab of dough in cheesecloth, covering the bottom, top, and edges. This is so the dough will not stick to itself when rolled up.

Roll dough, and tie loosely with string to allow for expansion.

Go back to the VWaV recipe and boil as directed - drop in cold water or broth, bring to a boil, simmer for 1 hour, and cool in broth for 30 minutes.

Pull it out of the
broth. Ooow, it expanded! Slightly.

Unroll the seitan and remove the cheesecloth. Crap! The seitan fell apart. There went my plan to make a roulade.

So, I just slapped it on top of the stuffing and tucked in the edges. Oh yeah, make about 2 cups of your favorite stuffing.

To immitate the texture of turkey skin, use those crazy-large sheets of yuba. I used frozen, so no need to hydrate the dried form.

Cut the yuba to fit your turkey and tuck the edges in. Use one or multiple layers of yuba, brushing each layer with butter or oil. I used two layers of yuba.

Glaze that baby! I made an impromptu glaze from tomato paste, orange marmalade, garlic, soy sauce, and something else? Use your favorite glaze.

Bake at 350 ยบ for 1 hour. Slice it, serve it, and you should get something similar to the very first photo in this post.

*Whoa! That seitan was salty! I followed the VWaV seitan recipe, which calls for soy sauce in the dough and soy sauce in the simmering broth. I opted for vegetable broth instead of water in the simmering broth. That was salt on salt on salt. Next time I'd skip the vegetable broth or use a no-sodium vegetable broth.

*Yuba! You're such a funny little guy. You feel like plastic and taste like nothing, hence I can mold you into what ever I want. The yuba picked up the flavor from the glaze and was given a nod by a meat-eater. Meat-eater said it was chewy just like real skin. I didn't give it a nod because it doesn't stick to the seitan like real skin. Cut the turkey and the skin slides a
ll over the place. I'd use yuba again as turkey skin if I could glue it down. Don't know how, though.

*Otherwise, this year's turkey was good.

Next Year
I'm going to try Bryanna's soy and seitan turkey. This woman has devoted her life to fake meats and probably has this one down. I saw this recipe after I had my plans, but could not bring myself to abandon mission. Must. Follow. Through.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tofu Turkey

Tofurky Roasts allows vegetarians and vegans to take part in holiday feasts without feeling left out. Nothing worse than a crying vegan! Tofurky Roasts are dense, football-shaped loaves of gluten and tofu, filled with stuffing. Quite tasty, but a bit pricey.

Last year we decided to try our hand at making a tofu turkey. The recipe we used called for blending tofu and seasonings together, pressing the tofu into a mold, filling with stuffing, and baking. We nicknamed our tofu turkey “The Brain” for obvious reasons.

"The Brain" was an unappetizing color, even with a glaze. There must be some way to add color. Maybe a little soy sauce blended with the tofu?

While this recipe was flavorful after extra salt, garlic, and spices were added to the tofu, the texture was not meaty enough. To remedy the lack of meatiness, we vowed to make a seitan turkey in 2006. True to our word, we did.

Stay tuned for “The Brain of Seitan”…

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Massaman Curry

Want to make Thai curry that tastes like the ones you eat at restaurants? The secret is to use the same curry paste and tofu as they do.

Grinding curry paste with a mortar and pestle is a lot of work. Make life easy and use the Maesri curry pastes. That’s what restaurant’s use. I’ve asked.

You can’t miss the small cans of Maesri curry paste in the Asian market; there’s a picture of a woman on all the products. I like to think of her as the Betty Crocker of Thailand. (Be careful with these curry pastes if you’re vegetarian, as some contain fish.)

Go ahead and buy fried tofu, too. Because, unless you have a deep fryer, you’re not going to fry up tofu in a skillet and get the same texture you get at restaurants.

I wanted to be lazy and just link to a Massaman curry recipe, but I couldn’t find one as easy as the one I use. So, damn it, I have to write it out. Of course, I’m subbing Maesri Massaman curry paste.

The recipe is adapted from Thai Vegetarian Cooking by Vatcharin Bhumichitr. This beautiful book, filled with vegan Thai recipes, was given to me in the early ‘90’s. Unfortunately, it is out of print, but you can find it used. These recipes are the real deal - not hokey, vegan re-do’s of Thai food.

Massaman Curry

Massaman curry is traditionally made with meat, potatoes, and peanuts, but feel free to add vegetables. I recommend trying it without vegetables first. Use full fat coconut milk for the best flavor; it makes a difference. I use reduced fat coconut milk when I make it for myself, but full fat when serving the dish to others. It’s impossible to make food and not eat it right away, but save some for lunch. The flavors are vastly superior the next day.

2 tablespoons oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 ounces Maesri Massaman curry paste
8 ounces coconut milk
⅔ cup peanuts or cashews
1-2 potatoes, chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 ⅓ cups ready-fried tofu
3 shallots, sliced
1 tablespoon tamarind juice, or lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar

  • Heat the oil and fry the garlic until golden.
  • Add the curry paste, stir briefly, and then add the coconut milk. Stir well.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked al dente.
  • Serve over rice.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Siam Lotus

I judge Thai restaurants by two things – Pad Thai and Massaman curry. Massaman curry is a Muslim-influenced, Thai curry that contains the aromatic spices cardamom and cinnamon. I haven’t had the Pad Thai at Siam Lotus, but I've heard it's good. The Massaman curry is one of the bests I’ve had. So many places do it incorrectly – usually too watery and no depth of flavor. Siam Lotus’ Massaman curry is thick, rich, and right on.

Siam Lotus is on an uninviting block of Spring Garden St. - not that any block on Spring Garden is attractive. At night, neighboring businesses are locked down, and you feel as if you're in a desolate area of the city even though you're only minutes from Center City. Get past this, and enjoy some tasty Thai food surrounded by schizophrenic decor - homey, cute wainscoting and mod, plush wall hangings. A small bar and a DJ table up front transform the restaurant into a nightclub. I just went for the food, though.

Siam Lotus, 931 Spring Garden St, Philadelphia, PA, 19123
Lunch -Tues.-Fri. 11:30AM-2:30PM; Closed Mon., Sat., Sun.
Dinner - Sun., Tues.-Thurs. 5:30-10:30PM; Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11PM; Closed Mon.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

New Food Sites

Yahoo! launched a food site, Yahoo! Food, last week. It’s full of recipes and celebs like Martha Stewart and the Rachel Ray – two women you hate to love, and love to hate. Yahoo has partnered with Epicurious, Food and Wine, Cook's Illustrated, and others. There’s so much going on with the site layout that it’s going to take me a while to get familiar with it.

Yahoo! Food will be a place to look up recipes. Try not to get sidetracked, because there’s way too much shit there. Chow launched last month, and aims for a more hip crowd with entertaining man-on-the-street videos and podcast interviews with Top Chef losers. They have recipes, too, and their already popular Chowhound forum.

Chow will be a place to get sidetracked; it’s a lot of fun. Look up a recipe while you’re there.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Green Tomato Pickle

I’ve been waiting to harvest the end-of-the-season green tomatoes that won’t ripen - not to fry them, but to make green tomato pickles. When I visit my dad, he always has homemade pickles, chutneys, and hot sauces in the pantry. He could survive forever on the many jars of pickles and cases of wine stored in his closets.
This is a sweet pickle he devised from a handful of recipes. Follow the recipe, and you’ll have enough to can. I’m not going into canning, but if you’re interested Not prepared to can? Reduce the recipe to make just enough for one container, and eat it within the next couple of weeks. That’s what I did, because when the apocalypse comes and the terrorists win, I’m looting! First stop: dad’s house.

Green Tomato Pickle
makes about 6 pints

1 peck or about 40 small green tomatoes, sliced thinly
4 cups onions, sliced thinly
4 cups sugar
4 cups white vinegar
2 tablespoons celery seed
1 bay leaf
1½ teaspoons ground mustard
¾ ounce mustard seed
12 whole cloves
8 allspice seeds

  • Alternate layers of tomatoes and onions on a large platter. Shake salt on each layer like you’re salting a meal.
  • Cover platter with plastic wrap and store overnight in refrigerator. Salt will draw moisture from the tomatoes and onions, so place platter on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any water that may spill.
  • The next day, drain tomatoes and onions in a colander.
  • In a large pot, add the tomatoes, onions, sugar, white vinegar, celery seed, bay leaf, ground mustard, and mustard seed. Place cloves and allspice in a cloth bag, and add to the pot.
  • Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
  • Spoon into sterilized canning jars and seal.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Pesto Three Ways

I rarely eat pesto, so…I delved into a basil pesto project to see what I was missing.

Personal Findings
- I don’t really like pesto on pasta. I prefer pesto as a spread on sandwiches or thinned down as a sauce on vegetables. I also don’t like oily pesto. All the recipes I used/adapted called for minimal oil.

Classic Pesto – I used this recipe, but halved the amount of oil. Classic!

Vegan Tofu Pesto - I used the pesto part of this recipe and added sun-dried tomatoes. I liked the creaminess that the silken tofu added. Unexpectedly, the sun-dried tomatoes did not add much flavor. Red + Green = Brown ! Blech.

VWAV Hybrid Pesto – I combined the miso and cilantro from this recipe (There’s a misprint in the ingredient list. Mint should be cilantro) with the nutritional yeast and extra garlic from this recipe. The miso provides the salt and depth of flavor that Parmesan cheese would provide. Nutritional yeast also provides depth of flavor. In a re-do, I would omit the cilantro, since it’s flavor is negligible, and tone down the garlic.

Winner – None! They all tasted fine. Get the garlic, salt, and oil levels to your liking. The two vegan pestos did not lack anything that Parmesan cheese would provide. The addition of cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, or other ingredients cannot compete with the strong flavor of basil. If you want sun-dried tomatoes, for instance, make a pesto heavier on tomatoes than basil.