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all geared up

I’ve been wanting to test my new underwater camera setup for quite some time now, but it’s been taken over by other things  since I bought it last June. Meanwhile I have a dive trip to Dumaguete later this month and it would be a pity not to be able to use and have fun with it. Needless to say, I haven’t been outside of the city for the last couple of months and my feet are itching while my travel diva sulks in the corner giving me the cold shoulder.

I have to do something about this or risk being burned out from excessive work and compulsive shopping!

Then a flash of brilliance while watching Anthony Bourdain on TLC! If I cannot go to the places I want, why not travel right in the comfort of my home by experiencing what I love the most about a good getaways – FOOD, oh so glorious FOOD!

I raided the ice box and the pantry to give me a sense of direction. These are good starting points for any food trip. I figured it’s like a road map and a travel agent to consult and guide me on where to go. The ice box had pork chops, chicken breasts, tofu, basil leaves and a couple of packs of frozen roti bread, while the pantry had sweet potatoes, some canned tomatoes, red curry paste and linguini pasta. I am always partial to Mediterranean and Thai food and these are the featured destinations provided I can get the required herbs and spices – coriander, flat parsley, red chilies, kaffir lime leaves, and mint leaves.

I ducked into the nearest supermarket, luckily we were in the section of town where there’s a supermarket with a gourmet section. Some of these herbs and spices are not easy to find since they are not readily used in Filipino dishes. I got most of the ingredients I needed and proceeded to plan my food trip.

I decided to go to Thailand first, then somewhere in between, and then my final destination- Italy. To taste Thailand I will cook tofu with sweet potato curry; for something in between Asia and Italy, I’m going with herb encrusted chicken breasts with roti bread; then for Italy, I will cook pork chops in pomodoro sauce with pesto on a bed on linguini. Perfect!

I prepared the chicken breasts first – crushing and combining garlic, chili, nuts, lemon, extra virgin olive oil and kaffir lime leaves to a rough paste using a mortar and pestle – then rubbing this onto scored chicken breasts, leaving it for a while until I was ready to grill it, about half an hour to an hour. Crushing the herbs and spices together already gives that sense of excitement and adventure as I look for that perfectly balanced aroma.

Then I started on the tofu and sweet potato curry – peeled and sliced the potatoes into cubes, sliced the tofu into 1 inch cubes, fried the tofu in canola oil, stir fried the garlic, onions, coriander and red curry paste. I added the sweet potatoes to the pan, mixing it to make sure that the potatoes are well covered with the spices before adding about a cup of vegetable broth. Once the potatoes have softened I added the fried tofu, seasoned with salt, left it for a couple more minutes before plating and garnishing with coriander leaves. My first dish is a creamy vegetarian curry perfect as dipping sauce for the roti bread or served with freshly steamed rice.

a taste of Thailand

Meanwhile, as I was waiting for the potatoes to soften, I prepared my pesto sauce – picked the basil leaves off its stems, peeled a handful of garlic cloves, picked off chunks of Parmesan cheese. I whacked the garlic into the food processor, then the basil leaves, added about half a cup of extra virgin olive oil before putting in the Parmesan cheese. Adjusted the consistency with more olive oil and seasoning with salt, my pesto sauce is ready.

I then proceeded with grilling the chicken breasts as my first dish is just about ready to be plated. The herbs on the breasts gave off fantastic aroma of a destination I imagined to be a melting pot of cultures, where east meets west in perfect harmony. I was careful not to overcook the chicken for it will dry up and would taste like herb encrusted paper. Once the chicken were cooked I plated it and put rolled up roti breads in the center of the of the plate.

herb and nut encrusted chicken breasts and roti

Then for the final destination – filled up a deep pot with enough water for the pasta and set it to boil, fried the pork chops in olive oil till brown, crushed some garlic and sliced some onions, then fried these till they caramelized, mixed in the sliced parsley leaves and a bit of chili, and incorporated a can of whole peeled tomatoes. I added about a quarter of a cup of left-over pasta sauce, seasoned with salt and pepper and it’s ready! I plated this on a bed on linguine, cooked al-dente, and topped with a dollop of pesto sauce and lavishly sprinkled with Parmesan cheese..

pork chop in pomodoro and pesto on a bed of linguini

The whole cooking process took about an hour. As we sat down to eat, with a good bottle of wine, I was reminded of how my travels have enriched my culinary repertoire. I may not be able to go to these places now but I can bring them closer to home with a bit of imagination and readily available ingredients. I could see my travel diva with oil all over it’s mouth, nodding in approval, satiated.

a mouthful

Wanna share your favorite dishes from your travels and tell us how it brings you back or closer to these destinations?

You can make authentic-tasting Italian food, and eat it, too!
When it comes to real Italian food, you may picture the Olive Garden commercials. However, “Italy” Italian food has a lot of veggies and not as MUCH less cheese. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat carb-filled fake cheese-erific dishes.
With the winter winds starting to blow so early, I have been in the mood for lasagna, but it takes a bit of time and effort. For a single gal like me, for some dishes to eat alone, there is not enough motivation.
Well, I found a yummy, quick substitute to get the same taste and texture: lasagna rolls.
It’s the same ingredients, but in a quicker format and an easier way to dish out this dish. What also is great is how easy you can make the parts separately, store in the fridge and pull out to assemble. It’s perfect for an hour dinner break.

First, you need to cook the pasta noodles. Boil them according to directions, for how many you need to make. A typical 8×8-inch pan can fit about 6 rolls.

While they are boiling, make the “ricotta” cheese by using tofu. As an Italian, I am always improvising in the kitchen, so my “ricotta” is tofu, a multitude of spices and a food processor. For an actual recipe, use the one from “Skinny Bitch In the Kitch”: Take 14 to 16 ounces of extra firm tofu, crumbled, and put in processor; add garlic or garlic powder (to how strong you love garlic), 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon of oregano and a dash of salt. Add any other spices that tickle your fancy, such as onion powder, basil, Italian spices. Pulse in processor until pureed, and then use immediately or store in refrigerator for a week.

When noodles are done, rinse in cold water and lay out, one by one, on wax or parchment paper. If you want to use a tablespoon or two of olive oil in the boiling water to help the noodles not stick, you can do that, too.

When the noodles have cooled enough the handle, heat up some leftover tomato sauce. If you need to make some more, do so as the noodles cool.

Heat oven to 400-450 degrees.

Spray the pan with nonstick spray or rub with oil. Put a small amount of tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan, but not too much. Take the noodles and spread the “ricotta” on each one. Don’t add too much, because you have to roll the noodles. If you want to add anything else inside the rolls, do so now. I suggest a leafy green such as spinach or Swiss chard (already cooked), vegan meats or other types of vegan cheese.

Now, it’s time to roll! Take an edge and roll it into itself, like a jelly roll. Place in the pan with the end side down, so it won’t unroll. When they are all in there, spread tomato sauce on top of the rolls and then add the “cheese”, such as mozzarella or parm (all vegan, of course.)

Place in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, covered tight with foil. Then, take foil off, and let cook for another 10-15 minutes. When the cheese is bubbling, take out and let it sit to up to 10 minutes (put foil back on to keep warm.)

Then, serve and eat!

For recipes or more ideas, try reading: Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!)

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Finished Italian feast

One of the biggest ways a person can impact the environment and the planet in a positive way is eating less meat.
I know it’s clear that I am vegan, and I am prone to taking this stance, but the numbers and research can’t lie.
First of all, whereas there a number of health risks for eating meat (see this recent New York Times article), I will not go into that.
Did you know you can save at least $6 on your weekly grocery bill by not eating meat? That statistic is on the very low side: If you think of how much meat one person consumes in a week, and the prices of meat are usually $6-7 for a small pack, that could mean a savings of $24 per month AND that’s only if the single person eats just that small pack (about four thin cuts of chicken.) Even if you eat $1 burgers from a fast food place every day for a week, that’s $7 just right there for only seven meals! A can of beans are around $1 and can make at least two meals for a single person.
Now, moving onto the environmental aspect. By eating less meat, you can reduce the 1.4 billion tons of animal waste generated by U.S. factory farms each year, according to “Go Green, Live Rich.” As I discussed in my last article, methane is a huge harmful product destroying our planet. Methane from captive livestock accounts for about one-fifth of all greehouse gas emissions caused by humans.
In a study by two geophysicists from the University of Chicago in 2006, they determined that switching from a “Standard American Diet” to a vegetarian diet takes a bigger chunk out of global warming than trading in a SUV for a hybrid vehicle.
What also is affected is the forests.The vast tracts of Amazon rain forest that have been cleared in recent decades are used mainly for beef production. That’s not the only being used and abused: Producing a pound of beef requires 30 times more water than producing a pound of wheat, and 200 times more than a pound of potatoes, according to “Go Green, Live Rich.”
Also, producing one calorie of animal protein used 10 times as much fossil fuel as producing a calorie of vegetable protein.
There are many resources for eating a veg-filled diet, such as GoVeg.com and E/The Environmental Magazine at www.emagazine.com.
For an awesome alternative, try these “meat” balls. Experiment with the recipe and use the balls for a sandwich or for spaghetti, with homemade tomato sauce. I experiment with my own recipe all the time, but for a specific recipe, try “Vegan Italiano.”

1 cup re-hydrated TVP-textured vegetable protein
1/2 cup long grain rice
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup bread crumbs
basil
parsley
rosemary
garlic powder
oregano
salt
oil for cooking

Directions:

1. cook rice according to directions
2. while rice is cooking, rehydrate TVP with water or (we used) vegetable broth according to directions on package
3. cook up garlic and onions in oil until browned
4. once rice is finished, and onions/garlic are cooked up dump rice, TVP, bread crumbs, and onions in a big bowl
5. add all spices to your preferred taste, add different spices if you’d like! get crazy with it!!!
6. wash your hands and dig in, BE CAREFUL, it will be hot!! mash all of the ingredients together with your hands, just like momma used to do! (you may need to add more breadcrumbs, but it will be ready when it sticks together easily without crumbling.)
7. grab a decent amount (a meatball sized amount!!) and start rolling your meatballs. we got about 15 good sized meatballs out of it!
8. fry up in a bit of oil until browned on all sides
9. ENJOY!!

For vegan tomato sauce and other Italian recipes, read:

More VeganMoFo