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Vegetarian Runzas

26 Jan

I’d never made Runzas before, but I’d always wanted to try. When I wasn’t eating meat, I often had a craving for the sandwich, and when I started eating meat again, one of the first things I had was a Runza. I made the mistake, though, of ordering my first Runza at Memorial Stadium during a Nebraska game. It was smooshed. And lukewarm. And not that great. (For those who are saying “what’s a Runza? Try one when you’re in Nebraska. But in the meantime, click here.)

So when my friend Quentin asked me to try making a meatless Runza for our most recent pot luck, I really wanted to give it a go. I’d seen a recipe for vegan Runzas on the Post Punk Kitchen and decided to use it. Technically, my version of the sandwich wasn’t vegan, as I couldn’t find soy yogurt. I used regular yogurt and regular milk.

The Runzas turned out great. I did bake them for an extra five minutes, so they’d be golden brown. I was nervous to cut one open at the party, but when I did, they looked just like the picture on Isa’s blog. The bread tasted very similar to an actual Runza, and the filling had lots of flavor and a nice bite.

They were a huge hit at the party, and something that I’ll definitely make again.

I hadn’t kneaded dough in years — in fact, since I worked at a bakery when I was 17 — but I remembered how to do it just fine. (Though I will say my wrists and hands were super sore the next day.) The dough didn’t rise all that much in the bowl, and I was a bit concerned, but the Runzas rose fine in the oven and turned a lovely shade of gold.

My Seven Day Detox Diet

18 Jan

As promised, here’s my story about my seven-day detox.

It was hard.

I lost some weight on the detox, but I haven’t weighed myself since I ended it. I think I’ve gained some of that weight back. My favorite jeans don’t feel as tight as they did after the holidays, but they are tighter than they were the day after the detox ended. I’m fine with ending up somewhere between where I was before the cleanse and right after it ended.

A lot of people asked me: would I do it again? I would. But I would try to get my husband to do it with me. And I would probably research better tasting recipes before going in because a lot of the recipes in this detox were absolute flops: a marinade didn’t work out, and turned into a rock as it cooled. I don’t care for avocado, and it was in many of the recipes. And one can only drink so many blueberry smoothies.

In the days after the diet, I continued a few of the habits. I am still starting every day with a big glass of water. I’ve stayed off Diet Coke, save for one or two slips. And I downloaded the Whole Living Smoothie iPad app, which gives me lots of options aside from blueberry. My blender is still on my counter instead of hidden away collecting dust.

I feel like the positive changes that came from the cleanse were (almost) worth the pain.

My Vegetarian Favorites

12 Jan

So yesterday I posted a response to an article in the New York Times about how it was difficult to eat meatless in the Midwest. Today, I figured I’d put my money where my mouth is and post a list of places that I like to eat meatless in Omaha and Lincoln.

Please post your own favorites in the comments or on my Omavore Facebook page.

Lincoln has three completely meat-free restaurants, and I’ve been to two of the three. Yesterday, I learned about Pepe’s Veggie Bistro in Havelock. I haven’t been there, but it gets great reviews on Yelp. I’m going there the next time I’m in the capitol city.

Grateful Bread/Freakbeat Vegetarian: Seriously, this place is so good. No meat in sight. The Moroccan tomato soup is notorious for haunting people’s dreams. My personal favorite is the Santa Fe Chowder. The restaurant also serves delicious cheese scones, bread, muffins, cookies and a daily selection of macaroni and cheese. Don’t expect to be alert after lunch if you down a plate of the mac.

Maggie’s Vegetarian Cafe:  I have a lot of love for the baked tofu wrap at Maggie’s. It’s delish, and also vegan. I remember eating it before I really knew how to cook tofu and it served as inspiration for me to get to work in my own kitchen.

The Blue Orchid: This downtown Thai place isn’t meat-free, but my goodness, the meat-free items on its menu are great. I prefer the panang curry, ordered with extra-large rectangles of tofu that help soak up the ridiculously good, spicy sauce.

Bread & Cup: Delicious hummus, a wonderful peanut and apple butter sandwich and a rotating selection of pizzas and pastas make this cute cafe in the Haymarket district a good veg stop, though the menu does include meat. It has always reminded me of Lincoln’s more contemporary version of La Buvette.

Omaha doesn’t have any completely meat free restaurants at the moment. But there are still many options. I listed a few in my post yesterday. Here are a few more:

Tapas at Espana: Many are meatless, both hot and cold. Plus, the tiny Benson spot has atmosphere to spare and great sangria.

I’ve already gone on in the paper about my love for brunch at Dixie Quicks, particularly about my love for the soyiso scramble, a really great vegetarian dish that’s like none other. Also, pancakes. Apple brie omelets. Sexual chocolate French toast. A new dish called cappuccino eggs that you have to try. Anyway. You get the idea.

Blue Planet Natural Grill is casual, not too pricey and has a great selection of veggie burgers with good toppings. I prefer the black bean burger. I also love the veggie burger at the Upstream, of all places. The  brew pub used to serve the sort of pre-made burgers you can buy at the grocery store, but now it’s a spicy homemade patty that even my meat-eating husband loves. And while on the topic of burgers, the spiced lentil veggie burger at Blanc is pretty darn good, too.

The Shrooms pizza at Pitch. Be still, my beating heart. That pizza and a glass of wine make me a happy woman.

Finally, a note on cooking at home.

When I stopped eating meat, it forced me to learn how to cook. I couldn’t eat fast food burgers any more. I couldn’t buy a pre-packaged dinner from the grocery store.

I cannot stress enough how much Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian changed my view of both cooking (it wasn’t hard) and meatless food (it could be delicious.)

My husband bought it for me just after I stopped eating meat and I didn’t know what to cook or how to cook anything, really. I remember he came home from a trip with it in his bag — at more than 1,000 pages, this is commitment — and told me the woman at the store told him to tell me not to be scared that it didn’t have any pictures. So I’ll tell you: Don’t be scared. It doesn’t have any pictures.

I’ll never stop praising this book, or it’s author. For anyone out there who doesn’t already own it, buy it today and start reading it. My copy is stained. It has bookmarks throughout and folded pages to identify things I always need, or things I want to try or things I already love. The dust cover is worn and torn. And even though I eat meat now, I refer to it again and again and again.

Top two photos courtesy of the Library of Congress. Third photo courtesy of the Office of War Information.

Detox Diet

9 Jan

So for the past five days, I’ve been on a detox diet.

I’m on the diet for a story that I’m working on about the fad of detox and cleanse diets, and the story will be partly about my personal experience. Let me just say that Wednesday (a.k.a. “day seven,” the final day!) can’t get here soon enough.

Though I also know it could be worse: my friend Quentin sent me a clip from “This American Life” where a reporter went on a three-week fast without any solid food.

So yesterday, after a trip to the Asian market, which is always a fun adventure, I made miso soup. A lot of the recipes on the diet I’m following fall firmly into the “bland” category, and I’ve been having poor results with a lot of them — they just haven’t been turning out right, which is pretty frustrating.

This soup was an exception. It was really tasty, and actually pretty closely resembled the miso soup I’ve had at Japanese restaurants, though because my diet doesn’t include soy, mine didn’t have tofu.

Miso Soup (adapted from a cleanse designed by Dr. Alejandro Junger.)

6 cups water
a bit less than a half cup of dried bonito flakes (find them at the Asian Market, 321 N 76th St.)
3 dried Shitake mushrooms, plus a handful more that you reconstitute separately (find them at the Asian Market.)
1/2 cup (or to taste) dried wakame (it’s the green stuff you see floating in the bowl above. Also from the Asian Market.)
6 tbsp miso paste (I used light miso, but use what you like best. It’s in the refrigerated section of the Asian Market by the produce.)
matchstick sliced carrots and zucchini and sliced white mushrooms (you can add whatever type of vegetables you like.)

I suggest adding Tofu if you are not on a soy-free diet.

Heat the water in a medium pot and when bubbles begin to form around the edge, add the bonito flakes. Turn the heat down and simmer for two minutes, then turn off the heat and let the broth sit for five minutes. Strain the broth and discard the bonito flakes.

Return the broth to a clean pot and add the three dried shitakes and the wakame to the broth and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Pull out the mushrooms, discard the stems and slice the tops. Add the vegetables of your choice and raise the heat a bit, but be careful not to boil the soup.

In a small bowl, blend the miso paste with a bit of the broth and whisk together. Pour the miso mixture into the pot and stir, then let the soup simmer for about ten minutes.

Mulled Wine Party

27 Dec

It’s a tradition on the Hansen side of my family to have a wintertime mulled wine party. My mother-in-law brews up a big vat of mulled wine along with hot chocolate and hot tea and my father-in-law builds a big campfire in a pretty clearing next to Indian Creek, near their house. Fixings for s’mores are, of course, mandatory.

Lots of friends and family come to the party, which this year was unseasonably warm. We’ve mulled wine in much colder weather and drank it while shivering and standing in ankle-deep snow before, so not even having to wear a winter coat this year was a welcome change.

I share a recipe at the end of this post that’s similar to Sally’s recipe. A big batch would be a great way to ring in the New Year.

Mulled Wine, via Epicurious
serves 8

2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
5 cardamom pods
3 black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine such as Côtes du Rhône
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1 small orange, thinly sliced
1 small lemon, thinly sliced

Special equipment: a 6- by 4-inch piece of cheesecloth; kitchen string

Wrap cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, peppercorns, and cloves in cheesecloth and tie with string. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a 5-quart heavy pot, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then add spice bag, wine, vanilla bean, and fruit. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes.

Chefs for Christmas, part two

23 Dec

A handful of Omaha chefs were kind enough to answer a question or two about their holiday traditions for the paper earlier this week. I asked them all one more question to feature on the blog: “What is your favorite holiday dish?” See the first two here. Enjoy!

Chef Clayton Chapman, The Grey Plume: Cheesy potatoes!  The traditional casserole with loads of cheese and sour cream.

Chef Jessica Joyce, New York Chicken and Gyros: Although I am honestly crazy about pasta and always ate more than my fair share I can’t help but mention turkey skin with mashed potatoes and gravy.  I loved peeling the crisp, golden brown, greasy skin from the turkey and making little skin cups that I would then fill with mashed potatoes and gravy.  As an adult I now gravitate towards more sophisticated things, especially tourtieres, except when nobody’s looking!

Chef Jesus Rivera, Rivera’s Mexican restaurant: Pecan Pie, and my wife’s pasta salad is to die for.

Chef Jon Seymour, V. Mertz: My family always had a bowl of mashed potatoes topped by the homemade chicken and noodles.  It’s reminiscent of high school cafeteria turkey gravy over mashed potatoes, but exceedingly better.

Chef Gina Sterns, Dolce Cafe: Paraguayan corn bread, called Chipa Guazu. This is from a period of my life I spent in Paraguay South America.

Some of the chefs also shared recipes; find them here.

Happy Holidays!

Chefs for Christmas

21 Dec

Today in the World-Herald I have a few Q&As with local chefs from Lincoln and Omaha about their holiday traditions. I also asked each of them one additional question and saved the answers to be featured on Omavore: “What is your favorite holiday dish?” I’ll share a few of their answers today and for the rest of the week. We’ll begin with two chefs from Lincoln.

Happy Holidays!

Chef Kevin Shinn, Bread and Cup, Lincoln: It probably sounds odd, but I like the soup I make from the turkey after the main meal.  I take the carcass, and make a stock, add the leftover meat, vegetables and seasonings and let it simmer away.  I eat it daily until its gone.  It makes the holiday meal seem like it lasts longer. (Kevin’s recipe for leftover turkey soup ran today in the paper.)

Chef Erik Hustad, GUP Kitchen, Lincoln: I almost hate to admit this, but my favorite holiday dish is actually green bean casserole.  Now, sometimes just for fun, I like to make this dish with fresh green beans, homemade bechamel sauce, and fresh mushrooms.  But, there is something about the version made from canned beans, canned mushroom soup, and canned fried onions that just takes me back to my childhood, and that’s really what’s so wonderful about food.

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