Sunday, August 9, 2009

why I am not a vegan

So, I am a vegetarian. For lots of reasons - environmental, health, moral and also, to be totally honest, because I really just don't like meat that much. It was a completely logical and natural decision for me to give up meat.

Why not just eat less meat? Why not stop eating meat, but without any fuss? Why bother to identify as a "Vegetarian?" Answer: it's easier. It's easier to not eat meat if you have made the unilateral decision not to -- easier to explain to people why you're passing over the main course. "I don't like meat" is an insult to your host. "I'm vegetarian," much more of an exonerating explanation. And it's easier to resist eating the occasional chicken salad, which at this point, might make me sick.

I understand there's a certain amount of baggage to picking up any label - for vegetarians, stereotypes about crazy evangelical types, or delusional "oh-i-couldn't-hurt-any-creature" types. If you eat meat, you really ought to check out your local farmers market to see if you can buy some chicken or beef that was raised humanely and sustainably -- that's about as evangelical as I ever get. And personally, I firmly believe that animals raised for human use should be treated decently, allowed to grow up healthy and be killed painlessly - but I wear leather. I kill flies without guilt. And I am not a vegan.

Sometimes I think I should be a vegan. Especially when you consider the sheer awfulness of commercial egg production, and the difficulty of obtaining local dairy (basically impossible to make a living with small- or medium-scale milk production these days). And I don't really like drinking milk at all, and while I enjoy the occasional poached egg, I'm not a huge fan of boiled, scrambled or sunny-side up. And I have absolutely nothing against vegans or veganism. It seems completely legitimate and reasonable to me, as long as your soymilk is B12-fortified.


Life without CHEESE? life without YOGURT???

life without.... heavy cream??? and butter?

You can't see me, but I am basically swooning at the thought. Look, I completley understand those of you who say, "yeah, sure, I see why you want to be a vegetarian, but I could NEVER give up steak." Because me, I could never give up cheese, not of my own accord.

Goat cheese. Cheddar cheese. Brie. Gruyere -- oh, gruyere! Stilton, jack, creamy ricotta... what would tiramisu be without marscapone? What would pasta be without parmesan? And what, I ask you, what would pizza be without mozzerella? The horror!

Vegan cheese? That's like those people who consider carob an acceptable substitute for chocolate. Look, I'm trying, world. I want to do this right. But I am not, in my heart, an ascetic. I believe in pleasure! In flavor! In taste! I BELIEVE IN CHEESE!

And it's not just cheese. Having tart yogurt with fresh berries on a bright summer morning seems to me a valid reason to be alive. (Speaking of which, I think I need a yogurt-maker. Andrew's math is quite convincing me that it would be a good investment).

And heavy cream and butter... well, there's a bit of a paradox. Savory-food-wise, I'm all about the healthiness. It seems to go hand in hand with flavor; brown rice, wheat bread, lots of fresh vegetables, lightly-dressed salads, fruit. It's tasty, it's good for you, life is wonderful!

But when it comes to desserts... well. Don't get me wrong, fresh fruit for dessert is good, but by all that's holy, there's nothing to beat tarts, cookies, pies, chocolate, ice cream, crepes, chocolate, cakes, mousses, chocolate... and with the singular exception of sorbet, I simply cannot bake, freeze, chill or fry a great dessert without butter, cream or eggs. I'm sorry, vegans and the lactose-intolerant. Ya'll have some pretty good desserts. I've had some quite tasty vegan cupcakes. But I can't give up heavy cream and butter. I won't!

And speaking of reasons to justify human existence, I nominate ganache. In fact, I nominate ganache as one of the most incredible substances on earth. Totally delicious, wonderfully textured, the perfect filling, frosting, topping, or base -- and nothing but chocolate, heavy cream and heat. I make mine with a bowl, a measuring cup, a microwave and a fork. It is a primary reason for my joy in life

The best substitute vegans have for ganache is tofu mixed with chocolate. Which sounds tasty and all (actually, yeah, it does -- I like tofu, I really do). But. No substitute. Nowhere close.

Anyway, the whole point of this epic post was actually supposed to be how much I love cheese. It's a lot, in case you missed that. In honor of cheese, here are a couple of dinners I made this last week. Actually, I could have just put these recipes here under that title, and it would have made about the same point. Oh well.

Goat Cheese and Tomato Tart.

This is SO easy and delicious. Tarts, I have discovered in my last month of frantic tart-baking (I shall have to describe my epic tart pan quest sometime) are greatly undervalued as a food type. They are much easier than pies, and look very impressive, which is also a plus.

1 savory tart shell, unbaked (try this recipe for pate brisee)
1/2 log of goat cheese
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Spices of choice (I used dried basil and oregano)
Really delicious tomatoes of choice (I had a great big yellow one and some red cherry tomatoes)
Fresh basil (I used green and purple)
Salt and pepper

Tart shells are really easy to make if you have a food processor, and pretty easy even if you don't, Make yours, and chill in the refrigerator for an hour or more to make your life easier. Of course, I just stuck mine in the freezer for 15 minutes, because how often am I thinking that far ahead?

Roll out the chilled dough between two sheets of floured wax paper. Make sure the paper isn't sticking -- sprinkle flour on the dough as necessary. When thick enough to cover your tart pan, lay the dough round over your pan, press in and trim/press off the excess dough.

Your hardest part is over. Now, take about 1/4 cup of goat cheese and soften it in the microwave. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, the minced garlic and dried spices. Mix well and spread on the bottom of your tart crust (this will keep your tomatoes from making your crust soggy). Spread a layer sliced tomatoes on top of this. Dot generously with goat cheese. Add more tomatoes, and if you really like goat cheese -- like me! -- dot generously again. Top with some salt and pepper.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the tomatoes look deliciously soft. Remove, top with sliced fresh basil, and serve with a salad.

Say "AHHHH I love goat cheese! I'm so glad I'm not vegan!"

Summer Vegetable Frittata

1 baby yellow squash, sliced
1 baby zucchini, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
A few carrots, sliced (what? I can't remember how many it was!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive or canola oil
5 eggs
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
A few tablespoons of milk or cream
1/8 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Salt, pepper and any other spices your heart desires (I used a pinch of dried oregano)

Prep your veggies -- or better yet, recruit somebody else to. In a bowl or large measuring cup, beat your eggs with a fork, then mix in the cheese, milk (okay, yeah, I used heavy cream here... maybe I love the stuff for things other than desserts), parsley and spices. You should end up with at least a cup and a half of gooey, unvegan delight. I was closer to 2.

In a medium cast-iron (VERY IMPORTANT) pan over medium-high heat, saute your vegetables in a generous amount of oil. You want to make them all almost-but-not-quite done.

My advice: start with the minced garlic (it will brown away to nothing by the end, but the flavor will be wonderfully dispersed) and the carrots. Stir for a minute or two, then add the squashes. Stir for a minute or two, then add the onions and pepper. Keep stirring for another 3 minutes or so, then sample them. Nothing should be mushy, but nothing should be crunchy. Don't you love my technical terms?

Add a bit more oil, because you don't want your frittata to stick, then pour your gooey goodness into the pan. Stir until everything seems will-dispersed, then STOP STIRRING. Turn the heat down to medium, and let your frittata sit for a while. Something like 7 minutes, maybe? At any rate, it should firm up so that when you shake the pan, it seems to jiggle, not slop.

The top will still look firmly underdone. There's a solution! Put the whole thing in the oven under the broiler. Broil for a few minutes, or until the top looks nicely set up. Don't wait until it browns, though -- firm and yellow is good enough.

Remove from oven. Slice in the pan. Do try not to burn yourself in the process. Personally, I am convinced that my fingers will eventually turn into asbestos and this won't be a problem someday.

Serve to delighted nonvegans with crusty bread and a potato-feta salad! Or, you know, whatever salad you like. That's just my recommendation as a clueless cook.


andrew david said...

I am so printing a tee-shirt with a big cartoon wedge of swiss that reads "I believe in cheese!" The fritatta sounds interesting- I have heard of them, but did not know what they were.

Whole wheat pate brisees are bad. I know. Do you really do the chopped chilled butter and then squeeze it into the mix with fingers? I did that and Paula Sr laughed at me and said that's just what people who want to cause themselves stress do and it is stupid to not just melt the butter first and won't affect taste.

Camila said...

yeah, I did not do whole wheat... I think with tarts you just sort of have to embrace that they will never be a health food.

I do use chilled butter and a pastry knife, because I think pastry knives are really, really fun. But I have also made a "browned butter" tart shell where you actually melt butter in water first, so I know you can definitely melt the butter and it works fine.