24 July 2007

Culinary Activism at its Best

"Hey, Dino! I heard you wrote a book ..."


"Yeah. Because I see you come out here with your lunch every day, and whenever I smell it, I think 'There's no meat in there, but I want to eat that anyway.'"

"Oh! (laughter) That's really kind of you. Yes, I wrote a cookbook."

"No way."

"And it's published. You can ask for it at B&N."


It's gratifying to know that just by eating my lunch every day, I'm turning people on to the fact that vegans eat well. I love it.

23 July 2007

Rainy, but pretty.

I was sitting outside of my house, on a chair on my driveway, when the wind suddenly whipped up out of nowhere. It was going to start raining. Usually, I'm not the biggest fan of rainy days, but this was different. Unlike most storms, that are dark and ponderous and angry and frenzied, this one simply was. The air blew from all directions, pushing my shirt up, then back down, then out and around. Out of nowhere, this orange butterfly flew past.

It was completely unexpected, but so amazing at the same time. Here were these tempestuous winds, flying in all directions, and there went a gentle little butterfly, just enjoying the wind with me. We sat like that, the one looking at the other for about fifteen minutes, in perfect silence. Occasionally, the weather would interject with a flash of lightning, or a laugh of thunder. We two travellers on our journey, however, simply sat in companionable silence. There were no need for words. It was nice to just revel in each other's gaze for a while.

The first few fat, lazy drops broke my concentration and his. He bid me farewell, and fluttered past me on the way to whatever errand he'd been heading off to take care of before our all too short repast. Take care of yourself, little friend.

20 July 2007

How is the Book Doing?

Many of my friends have been asking me how the book is doing. In fact, my family asks as well. In fact, more or less anyone who's in my circle of acquaintances wants to know how the book is doing. Often, the person really means "How many copies have you sold?" Honestly, I don't know the answer to that question in particular. As for how the book is doing, however, that's a different story.

I'm getting feedback from the people who have bought it, and tried out some of the food in there. People are getting back into their kitchens. They're shopping for cheap ingredients that are readily available anywhere. They're telling me that they're becoming confident in the kitchen. I remember addressing that issue on the Animal Voices interview. Lauren had asked me what I thought of people simply thinking they're poor cooks. To be honest, it's fear. I'm helping people get past their fears of preparing filling foods for themselves and their loved ones.

"I love that I've been given permission to mess around with the recipes and try shit out. It also means I'll cook something from the book even if I don't have all the ingredients, because now I know I can replace/omit/add whatever, whenever."

YES! Exactly! I want you to fuss around with what I've given you, and make it work in your kitchen. I've not only given you permission to do so, I'm outright encouraging you to do so! And this person loved it! S/he made the dressing from the Mixed Greens Composed Salad, and subbed out one nut for another, and it still came out fantastic!

"OK, I made the dry chickpeas and as I was nearing the end of cooking them I started laughing outloud cause it was clear it was going to taste so good. Wow did it ever."

"I made the Basic Kale Soup last night which was super easy and so frickin' yummy! I added chickpeas to it and a lot of parsley...Mmmm."

"Oh my god! Oh my god! I made the Lentils and Chickpeas and I am sitting here eating them cold right now. I added some PB when it was cooking and subbed out some vermouth for the vodka.
Oh my god! Oh my god!
Okay, I feel better."

"Dino, your Quick Garbanzo Soup is a godsend to a sick lazy vegan! It is so good and so easy and the only thing I needed that I couldn't find in the pantry was an onion, which was easy enough to sweet-talk someone into picking up for me. I am sitting here smugly enjoying my delicious meal whilst all the omnis I gave my bug to are choking down cans of vile processed Campbell's crap."

"Dino what I am loving most about is that your basic recipes are actually basic. Sometimes I can handle more complicated recipes, but sometimes I can't. Often as a fairly new cook, when I see the ingredients list and it has 20 items, I immediately feel overwhelmed. My kitchen isn't super well organized either, so I am never sure what I have, or I always forget an ingredient when I am shopping, even when I have the list.
Even I can't mess up the basic recipes. Yum and thanks!"

"Today we made That One Soup Dino Makes, but I had to take it off of the stove just as I got the potatoes added because my partner arranged a surprise picnic party for my birthday. So, hours later I finished the soup, but I didn’t have anything to add to it because I played instead of going shopping. The soup was really extravagant without any additions though. I wasn’t all that hungry after party food that included black bean burgers, strawberry shortcake, and potato salad - I thought I was just going to taste it, but I had a huge bowl.
And I have a lot of leftovers to play with. We froze half of the leftover soup and Tuesday we will add chopped tomatoes, corn, and black beans to the rest of the leftover soup and serve it with lime wedges, and avocado on top -- if I can keep my partner out of it until Tuesday.
It will make great quick dinners after work. I am determined not to eat any fast food type frozen foods or any other fast food during the week. We both work 10 – 12 hour days or longer with our commutes and it is pretty daunting to come home and make dinner after that. But the fast food has too much salt and sugar and other stuff we don't want to eat. We love the cookbook because a lot of the recipes are so easy, and they taste great too!!
We are trying Vizza tomorrow.
Truffle oil is my secret love. I am embarrassed to tell people how much I love it because it seems so extravagant, but Vizza has a truffle oil option. I am so excited."

"I love that the fast and easy recipes are actually fast and easy. I have been crazy-busy but I have still churned out some awesome food in the past few days. If not for this book I would probably be eating ramen for lunch today instead of this awesome cauliflower thing."

In other words, the book is a smashing, resounding success.

19 July 2007

Peanut Butter to the Rescue!

I took a container of rice and mung bean sprouts (from the pot that I'd made the other day) to work with me for lunch today. It tasted fine when it was fresh off the stove, but for whatever reason, it got sort of watered down when I nuked it for lunch. Allow me to explain.

Whenever I'm eating a daal and rice, I do the rice like my mother used to do when I was a young child. Because children really like soft food (and because I was child number three for my mother, and she knew this well), she would mash up the rice really well, then pour on the daal, then mix up the lot of it together really well. It's almost like having the texture of rice that you would with a Venn Pongal (recipe is in the book). It's comforting to the tummy, and it feels creamy when you eat it. The rice I'd thrown into my box was cold, so I couldn't very well mash it up. Instead, I figured that if I heated it up long enough in the microwave, it would come close to that texture that I so loved.

Not so.

So here I am, sitting with something that's lacking in mouthfeel. This is not a good thing at all, because around lunch time, I sort of transport to myself when I was four years old: very picky, and not eager to sit for a meal. I'd rather chat with my friends, or watch the birds cavort around. Who wants to sit around for a boring ol' meal, when there's so much to distract yourself with!? However, unlike when I was five, I know now that if I don't eat enough on time, I get cranky.

I frantically searched my office for something that would give the meal a bit more heft. When I used to eat that garbage, I would throw in some butter on top, and it would get that texture going just fine. Fortunately for the sake of the cows, those days are long past. Come on, Dino, there has to be something here!


My eyes lit on a jar of peanut butter that I always keep in my desk for emergencies. If I'm screwed, and forgot to pack a lunch, I can always snag a bag of pretzels, or some fruit, or some bread, and have a bit of a meal that's reasonably satisfying, as long as I dunk it in peanut butter. So, in went a couple of tablespoons of the creamy stuff. I added a bit more salt and pepper (also things I have access to at all times), and stirred it around some more.


What was a relatively watery mass became transformed into this delightfully flavoured bowl of creamy dreamy wonder. I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner! I'm tempted to use this trick for when any soup or stew is looking too thin, however, it does add a considerable amount of fat, so I might want to be a bit careful with the stuff. That being said, fat or no fat, it tastes wonderful, and I'm glad I kept my little jar in reserve.

18 July 2007

It may have taken five days, but it's worth it!

I was making this pot of mung bean sprouts. It took them about three days to sprout properly, and another day (in the crock pot) to cook down to where I thought they were done enough. I wanted them to cook over gentle heat, because I wasn't looking for a crispy texture. I wanted soft and soothing.

As is standard for most daals, I did the popping of spices, and curry leaves, and adding the cooked beans, and cooking them up. Somehow, because I'd given it enough time to develop, the mung beans got this gentle, subtle, smoky flavour underneath the flashy spices. It was like eating the colour of an oak grandfather clock. Very dark, very comforting, and somewhat ponderous. I liked how it smelled, but the texture was a little runny for my liking.

Granted, if I'd left it overnight in the fridge, it would certainly thicken up and become more rich and hearty in the morning, but Steve was headed home, and would be in around 7:00. So, instead of panicking, I grabbed a few potatoes, and threw them into the microwave. I let them cook up all the way, and took them out of the microwave. I gave them a rough chop with a knife (holding the potatoes with a pair of tongs, so that I don't burn my hands), and threw them into the pot. See, I wanted there to be a sauce around the beans.

I let the whole mess boil together for about fifteen minutes or so. Just as expected, the potatoes leaked out their starches into the water, and made a rich sort of gravy that surrounded the beans. Of course, there was a pot of rice cooking, waiting for the beans to finish. By the time Steve got back in, the whole house smelled of gently simmered spices, and fresh rice. Of course, there's still plenty for leftovers today!

Tonight, when I get home, I'm going to reheat the mess on the stove, along with some of last week's split yellow peas daal that I'd made, so that it makes an even more rich stew. I might even chunk up a few onions and tomatoes, and make it a completely different stew. It'll be fun.

14 July 2007

Cooking with Dino

Hello all! I figured that I'd keep a centralised location where I have all my question for the Cooking With Dino and other generalised cooking questions go.

September 27, 2007 Garlic, being your own activist, etc.
August 2, 2007
Youtube of the interview.
April 27, 2007
November 20, 2006: College dorm cooking, and cooking while travelling. Quick cooking in general.
October 14, 2006: Banana bread without egg replacers.
September 5, 2006: Chhole
July 28, 2006: Proper Salad Construction
May 21, 2006: Busy Vegans
April 26, 2006: Miso
April 12, 2006 Transcript of the recipe.
March 22, 2006: Potatoes!
March 8, 2006: Spices
January 30, 2006

13 July 2007

Back to normal, after a breif break.

I was off taking care of business elsewhere, so this place has been a bit neglected. I came home to find the fridge dead empty. No rice, no bread, no nothing. EEK! I arrived back in Florida on Wednesday night, and really needed to get cracking.

This is when I'm so thankful to myself for taking care of things far in advance. For one thing, I always keep at least a few litres of soup in the freezer. This means that regardless of how long I've been out of town, or preoccupied with other things, or just swamped for time, I'll always have a ready meal, waiting for rice and/or bread within 20 minutes (which is about how long it takes to reheat in the microwave, if you keep them in one litre increments). While the soup reheated, it was a simple question of throwing rice into my rice maker, adding water, and hitting the start button.

Additionally, we have a breadmaker, that my mom got for us from Freecycle a while back. Since I always keep a few packages of yeast in the pantry, it was a simple question of dumping in the flour, water, yeast, salt, and a bit of oil, then setting the time and hitting start. Again, I don't have to bother with anything complex after getting off of a flight that took entirely too much more time than it should have.

Finally, as always, I had some dried beans in my kitchen. On Thursday night in they went for a soak, so that when I woke up in the morning, it was a crock pot away from having fully cooked beans by the time I get home tonight. I soaked up two different batches of beans, so that I could have some variety for Saturday night. Tonight, when I'm done cooking the first variety, I'll get the second variety started in the crock pot overnight. By tomorrow when I wake up, I'll have a second variety of bean to keep things interesting.

Tomorrow morning, I'll lay down some moong beans to sprout. Those will take about a day or so to bring together, and will give me a third option to have dinner on the table. After all is said and done, beans bought on sale in the 12 - 16 oz dried packages keep indefinitely, and cost around $0.50 per package at the regular price. Rice is dirt cheap, and bread made at home is just as cheap. Meanwhile, for less than $10 or so, I've got enough of the staples for the week. Now all I have to do is spice them up, and round out our meals with some vegetables. That part's the easy part.

06 July 2007

Back to the basics ramble.

One of the people who bought my book sent me the sweetest comment: "I made some of the basic pasta with garlic for lunch, with a bell pepper mixed in- so yummy, and simple, and something I'd not have thought to do myself!"

See, that's the thing about those basics recipes; they're meant to get you to appreciate very simple and clean flavours, with few frills and furbelows. As omnis, we have broccoli smothered in cheese, and as vegans, we often have them in stir fry dishes, or in pot pies, or other places where they're drowned with ... stuff. Same with pasta; we rarely have pasta with just a touch of oil and a bit of garlic for flavour. It lets you totally appreciate the experience of pasta. And the cool thing is that if you're a vegan on a tight budget, and you notice that your pantry is getting a little skimpy, you can still invite friends over for dinner, and serve them something lovely and delicious with very little fuss or shopping. It'll let you hold off on hitting up the market for a few days, and keep you fed.

Mind you, I do encourage you all to eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you can get your hands on. We want to keep ourselves healthy and happy. However, this is not always feasible (and I'll be the first to admit that!), and you sometimes need to cut corners when money is tight.

04 July 2007

Kitchen Triage

I made a batch of potatoes, carrots, and beans. I used red potatoes, cumin, black mustard seeds, black beans, and garbanzo beans. Ostensibly, it should have tasted wonderful. Then I took a bite of the final dish.


That was the worst idea ever. Let me amend that. I don't know whether it was a worse idea to cook the dish, or for me to take a taste of it. It was horrifically bland, the texture was akin to mealy tomatoes. It was so bad that I needed a couple of hours to just get over the shame of making such a catastrophe. What's worse is that Steve took a taste as well, and was far too polite to call it the abomination that it truly was.

I knew that I would have to redeem myself.

Enter Kitchen Triage. Whenever you have a wet dish, such as a soup, stew, or curry, there are certain secret weapons at your ready disposal whenever you know that it should be better, but it really isn't. It is time for me to reveal these secrets to you. Garlic, onions, carrots, tomatoes, salt, curry powder, and oil are essential ingredients that you should have access to at all times, to save yourself from disaster. Regardless of what type of dish you're working with in this vein, you have this secret arsenal ready to save the food, and your palate.

Here's how it works. Mince up your garlic and onions (1 medium onion per pound of food, and 1 clove of garlic per pound) as finely as you can get them. Start with a healthy dose of oil. For every pound of food that you're trying to resurrect, start with 2 tablespoons of neutral flavoured oil, such as corn oil, Canola oil, or peanut oil. In a large stock pot, begin to heat up your oil over high heat. Get it nice and screaming hot. You know that it's hot when you see it shift from a thick viscous oil to a decidedly more liquid one. Once it gets hot enough, add the onions and garlic. Add a healthy dose of salt and curry powder. Roughly a teaspoon or so should do the trick. You want the taste of the spices to permeate the dish, but not overpower whatever other flavours you're trying to build. Stir the onions and garlic around in the pot to combine them with the spices and oil. Once the mixture in the pot turns yellow, turn down your heat to medium low.

While the onions and garlic are cooking in the pot, start slicing up your carrots in any manner that suits you. I personally just grate it up quickly on a box grater. Usually, one or two medium sized carrots for every onion that you add is a good amount. As soon as your carrots are processed, add it to the pot with the onions and garlic. Don't worry about stirring anything. Cover the lid of the pot, and let the carrots gently cook in the pot for about ten to fifteen minutes. Basically, you want the carrots to get soft. Stir the ingredients around every five minutes.

Open up some cans (about 1 pound should do it) of diced tomatoes. By now, there should be little bits of brown spicy stuff sticking to the bottom of your pot. You're going to think that you've messed up, because stuff is clumping and sticking, and being annoying. Guess what? This is a Very Good Thing. The flavours that you have just developed cannot be matched by any other cooking method. Be proud of yourself.

Add your can of tomatoes, juice and all, into the pot as soon as your carrots are soft. Increase the temperature of the stove to as high as it will go. Keep stirring around the tomatoes until they get sort of broken down a bit. You'll know it's just about right when the stuff in the pot starts to resemble a tomato sauce. Once you reach that stage, you're at the home stretch. Pitch in whatever it is that tasted dead to you. Pour in just enough water that you can stir everything around in the pot, and release all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add another generous dosage of salt. Let the water come up to a full rolling boil. Drop down the heat to medium low, and cover the lid of the pot. Let it simmer for about fifteen minutes.

Give your food a taste test. If there isn't quite enough salt or heat for your liking, go ahead and adjust it at this point. Let the water come up to a full rolling boil if you do add more salt or pepper. If it's still feeling a bit tired, feel free to pitch in a few more cloves of minced garlic. If nothing else, your breath will be too strong for anyone to care about the taste!

02 July 2007

Quietly productiveish

I got in on time to work today, somehow. I was still feeling groggy from not getting to sleep till around 10:00 PM, so I slept in till 6:45 (we leave at 7:00). But, as soon as I did get to work, there was a bit of a backlog of stuff to catch up on, in addition to new stuff coming in throughout the day.

This is why it's so important to be nice to people, no matter how rarely you see those people. One of the office ladies mentioned that she'd like to start up with a coffee service. They come in, deliver the coffee and sugar and filters and everything else, install the fancy coffee maker, and replenish every week. My department has that service, but there's no sense in getting me such a thing, because I'm the only one here that drinks the stuff, and even I only have it on occasion. This is why having the coffee service here would be a Very Good Thing.

I got back to my desk, made two phone calls, and had all the information within two minutes flat. I went back to the office lady, and passed it along. Hopefully, in a week or two, we'll be having decent coffee, rather than the stuff made in not-so-great individual pots. Those nice ones are fully insulated, so you're not burning the coffee with the heat from the warming plate. Also, those makers have three pots, meaning that we can have a LOT of the stuff waiting about, rather than empty out the pots so many times a day.

And all this because I know how to be nice to people, so that they'll return the niceness when I need them.

01 July 2007

Yay for Nemo, boo to laziness.

I was supposed to get up early this morning, cook up a little something, and go with Steve to his church. They've all heard of me, and would love to meet me, but I'm not a morning person, especially on the weekends. So, last night, I asked Steve to wake me up when he woke up, so that the two of us could go together. Unfortunately, I found my Finding Nemo, which is (in my opinion) the greatest movie of all time, bar none. It's a beautiful story, and there are scenes that make me cry every single time.

So there we were, watching Nemo at 12:00 midnight. Around 1:30 or so, the movie finished, and we went to sleep. His church holds services at 10 AM. That means getting up at around 8:00 to get ready, get the stuff together, and be out the door by 9:30. At 8:00, my body was so exhausted, that I begged off, and kept sleeping. When I did wake up at 9:30 or so, Steve was just about ready to go out the door. Boo to me. I wish I could've gone with him.

Of course, the laziness didn't stop there. He came home that afternoon, and asked me if I was running low on cigarettes, or anything else. To my horror, I was. So I offered to come with him to the store, and snag a carton, and maybe do some light grocery shopping. We're running a bit low on vegetables, and probably need to get some more at some point. Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to leave, I instantly got bitten by the lazy bug again, and asked Steve if he didn't mind dashing off on his own to snag the goods. He, being the ultimate in Wonderful Guy™, had no problem with it, and went off on his way. Of course, five minutes after he left, the skies opened up into torrential rain.

When he got back, he told me in an amused voice that someone had dropped him a phone number on his car. Apparently, when Steve went into the store, the guy saw which car he'd gotten out of, and was intrigued. Someone tried to pick him up! That's so cool! Steve called the guy back, and explained about his situation, and how he's got someone already. We're meeting the guy tomorrow after work just to hang out for a while. He's in from Ohio, and will be going back in a week or so. It's bound to be fun, eh?

I feel like this weekend has gone by in a flash, because I did manage to get so much cooking done for the upcoming week. I do need another few days of being lazy, so thankfully, we get 4 July as a holiday. Unfortunately, it's in the middle of the week, so no three day weekend. But fortunately, it will feel like very short weeks when we get to work! Y'know, I think it'd be nice to have that setup during regular weeks. Even if it means working for an extra hour or so during the other days, having a mid-week break would be rather nice. That way, you're only at work for two days at a stretch. I'll let you know when I manage to become king of the world or something. That'll be my first decree.