Milking a Cow and Making My Own Cheese…

March 4th, 2011

I really like being a vegetarian.  It makes me feel special.  Like I am a special breed of human.  Like there is the more standard meat-eating variety of human and then there is the unique hybrid variety known as vegetarians.  As opposed to the ‘standard meat-eaters’ who enter the world via their mother’s bloody birth canal, vegetarians are grown in greenhouses by people wearing straw hats and peasant blouses.  These blouses are embroidered in a pleasing array of brightly colored Native American designs and a variety of turquoise and beaten silver jewelry completes the look.  Everyone plays the guitar and excels at interpretive dance.  There are frequent flower festivals and workshops on wild crafting.  It is not unusual to speak Gaelic and wax poetic on the sighting of a bird on a wing.  Picnic baskets abound.  I can only imagine how incredibly unique a vegan must feel and what their greenhouse workers wear!

I bought some tofu to try out, but so far the quavering white substances only adorns the shelf of my fridge.  Does bean curd have an expiration date?  I have no idea how to cook it.  I found a recipe for tofu cutlets in mushroom gravy, but that seemed strangely meaty to me.  Should I really be trying to make tofu resemble chicken fried steak?  Doesn’t that kind of make me seem like a wannabe meat eater?  Personally – I think trying to make vegetarian fare resemble meat is a strange approach to giving up animal flesh.  Seriously!  If you were a cow, would it make you feel that much better that your vegetarian neighbor kept right on eating food that looked like a ground up version of yourself?  In the aisles of the organic/health/vegetarian food stuffs at the grocery store, I have discovered an enormous range of products that try to make tofu look and taste like meat.  Tofu dogs, tofu burgers, tofu bacon, tofurkey… I picked up a tube of tofu sausage and stared at it for a long, long time.

“Should I buy this fake sausage?  Should I take it home and fry up little patties of processed bean curd and vegetable protein made to look and taste like pig flesh?  Is this what vegetarians do?  Will this fake sausage bring my family closer together?  Will it make my dreams come true?”

The fake sausage had all sorts of warnings on it like ‘only eat this fake sausage product while it is extra hot or it is going to taste like crap‘ and ‘don’t even think about eating this in the vicinity of real sausage as you will instantly become a meat eater again‘.  I decided to not buy the fake sausage.

So far I haven’t bought any of the prepared vegetarian fare.  It’s amazing what is available.  Frozen dinners, pizzas, breaded cutlets that look just like chicken patties, lasagna, stir frys, curries, burritos!  Pretty much anything you can get in the ‘standard meat eaters’ frozen food aisle, you can also get in the ‘special hybrid vegetarian’ aisle.  Except all the vegetarian prepared food has an ethnic flair.  Instead of chicken pot pie, vegetarians get coconut rice and dahl pot pie which makes you feel strangely empty inside.  You can almost hear the food developers saying…

“Those poor meatless bastards.  They can’t eat chicken pot pie anymore.  I know! -Lets’ put some coconut milk and curry sauce on top of these miniscule amounts of chopped vegetables and rice and see if that makes them feel better.”

And then there’s the packaging in all that prepared food.

Never fear – I still buy plenty of packaged food items.  Although I have evolved into something of a compulsive obsessive recycler since I became an atheist.  Recycling helps me to fill up the god shaped hole.  Presently, we recycle cardboard, tin cans, aluminum, milk jugs, plastic bottles, glass and several other items reducing our kitchen waste significantly.  Still – I can’t imagine a vegetarian stocking up on prepared food.  It doesn’t go together to me.  Making a bean burrito from scratch just isn’t that hard.  Frozen rice and veggies?  Really?  That takes like twenty minutes to make.  I guess I have tried a few of the prepared vegetarian soups and they have been really good.  I eat them for lunch sometimes when I can’t be bothered to make a bean burrito from scratch.  I also have easily eaten my weight in prepared hummus since I became a vegetarian, so I guess I need to shut up about the whole food packaging thing.  I am not exactly milking a cow and making my own cheese am I.

Comments

  • I think the general consensus is that the transition from being a meat eater to a vegetarian is easier when the tofu resembles meat. As for it being ethnic, Indian especially, I think that because there’s a large vegetarian culture in these countries, these are dishes that are staples in the vegetarian diet there. Then again this is the opinion of a New Yorker who eats meat at least once a day so it’s not worth much.

  • Shelley:

    You need to try the Soyrizo (soy chorizo)! I’m a meat eater who entered the world via my mothers bloody birth canal (& will soon have an interloper joining me via my own bloody birth canal!), but the soyrizo is so good – it’s even better than chorizo! Put it on a made from scratch breakfast burrito! And by “made from scratch,” I’m assuming you’ll be pounding out your own tortillas from corn & milking a cow to make the milk to make the cheese & sour cream :)

    • Renee:

      Yum! We love soyrizo. We had it this week with fideo (noodles) and almonds, in a modification from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. We also it for burritos.

  • Kiara:

    I’m a vegetarian (well, I still eat seafood, but I will cut that out eventually) and I say, go for the meat-looking stuff! I’m a big fan.

  • Renee:

    I am a vegan!! I don’t remember what the greenhouse workers looked like :-(

    I do know a thing or two about eating tofu, though. I’m not particularly fond of it in it’s jiggly cube form, but when my son was littler, I had to be careful not to cut his little baby fingers off with a knife while cubing tofu because he couldn’t get enough of those raw, tasteless nuggets. I think the two most popular things to do with tofu in my house are

    1) cut it into inch thick slices, brush with olive oil (or spray with olive oil spray) and toss it in the oven at 350 for a while. As it dries out, the edges get crispy. I add variety and flavor by marinating it for a while first, rubbing herbs in the olive oil before baking, basting with marinade, topping it with a sauce after baking, or some combination of these.

    2) blend it with enough soymilk to thin (you could use cow milk) and about a tablespoon of starch (corn, arrowroot, potato, etc.) Then I mix it with sauteed onions and veggies and fresh herbs, season it and bake it, either with or without crust as a veggie quiche (there are about a million recipes for these on the internet).

    Of course, you can also use it for stir-fry and the like, but I hate cleaning up the stove after stir-fry, and I stand over the stove cooking various bean-related dishes most nights, so tofu is sort of my convenience food.

    If you get really desperate to dispose of it, toss it in the food processor with either melted chocolate or cocoa powder and maple syrup. Puree the living daylights out of it, then refrigerate. Serve it to your boys as chocolate mousse. Then tell them it was tofu and laugh maniacally.

    A note about freezing tofu: it’s entirely possible, but it changes the texture substantially. Layers of ice form inside it, and after it thaws the tofu has a chewier texture and sort of peels off in layers. I think this is a delicious change of pace, but some people aren’t that into it.

    • Rechelle:

      Thanks for the suggestions Renee. I am going to try out the roasted option.

  • poppy:

    I was a macrobiotic vegan for a long time. Then I met my Navy Seal husband and started eating meat again. Please don’t judge me. My mom and dad were full-on lovers of love back in the day of free Grateful Dead concerts in Golden Gate Park. They wore peasant blouses and played guitar and smoked a lot of pot. They also embraced tofu with a vengeance. I know a thing or two about bean curd. One of my favorite ways to prepare extra-firm tofu is to replace it for the ground meat in chili. Just mash it all up and add it into the pot when you’re browning the onions and proceed from there as you would normal chili. My meat loving sons and husband don’t complain too much it there is enough cheese involved. Plus, leftovers are great over bean burritos.

  • Rechelle, have you tried making your own hummus at home? It’s soooo yummy and much cheaper than buying it prepared. Tahini can seem expensive, but it goes a long way.
    This is the recipe that got me started:
    http://www.sayyestohoboken.com/2010/11/homemade-hummus.html

  • Priss:

    Amy’s vegetable pot pies aren’t ethnic and are yummy. Most grocery stores carry them. Both the vegan and non-vegan versions are quite good.

    My favorite way to have tofu is tofu nuggets, though I use tofu in lots of ways. This receipe does taste chicken-y so maybe you wouldn’t want to try it, Rechelle, but it’s tasty enough that my meat eating husband and son are always happy when I’ve made some. Here’s a copy of the recipe I make that someone posted on my behalf a few years ago: http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=331193
    Spike seasoning isn’t absolutely necessary and is sometimes hard to find. Just use some seasoned salt and some no-salt seasoning that you think would taste good with chicken. I use dried thyme most of the time, not fresh as it says in the recipe, and plenty of it.

  • Jay:

    From what Im told about tofu, it doesnt have much flavor on its own, but is superb at absorbing all the good flavor of whatever youre cooking it with.

    As for eating fake meat-shaped stuff, I dont think it makes you a “wanna-be meat eater”. Just because someone chooses to be a vegetarian (for whatever their personal reasons) doesnt mean that certain flavors stop tasting good. If you can get those flavors while staying true to your life style, then go for it!

    As for making it resemble the meat its trying to simulate I (again) dont believe it makes you a “wanna-be”. First of all I think texture is important. I like fresh green beans, but I wouldnt want to eat them in jello form, or pureed like apple sauce. I also believe a lot of the reason they try to simulate the shape and texture of meat is for psychological reasons. Imagine if some brand of soy sausage tastes like an EXACT mix of sausage and beans; 50%/50%. If its shaped like beans and you try it, Im willing to be your first thought is that it tastes like beans with a sausage hint, whereas if its shaped like sausage, youre going to think its sausage flavored with a hint of bean. (To be fair though, Im no expert, this is all just personal opinion.)

  • Priss:

    Rechelle, I just posted a comment that must’ve gone to the spam folder. Maybe a brand name of a veggie pot pie that I mentioned is the same as the name of a past commenter that is no longer welcome? Anyway, if you’re interested in that and also in a tasty tofu recipe, check your spam :-)

    • Rechelle:

      Thanks Priss – I checked it out and sure enough it was there. Sometimes the most benign stuff gets in there. Thanks for the suggestion and the recipe. I will check it out.

  • I’ve eaten tempura tofu with ginger sauce and really liked it. The texture is a bit of a turn off for me, though.

  • JennyME:

    My attempts to cook with tofu have been disastrous, except for a couple of batches of hot & sour soup that weren’t too bad.

    Now tempeh, on the other hand–that stuff is the jamz. I love to chop it into blocks & saute it with a bit of soy sauce, then put it in a salad.

    I used to eat the vegetarian corn dogs & buffalo “chicken” nuggets they have in the frozen aisle. They taste just like real corn dogs & spicy chicken nuggets, which is to say they taste processed. Highly recommended if you get a random craving for junk food.

  • p:

    I’ve actually made chicken fried tofu. It was pretty ok. I should have bulked up the gravy with mushrooms or bacon grease (because I’m not actually a vegetarian) or something.

  • Kait:

    I will never be a vegetarian if I have to eat tofu. AND they are using all the farm land in my neck of the of the woods to plant houses and now I am afraid that SOYLENT GREEN IS COMING TRUE.

    • Reeformed Addict:

      LOL

  • Lee (sometimes known as Another Lee):

    Try drying it out in the toaster oven (or regular) at 350 degrees by slicing it about 1/2 inch thick (turn over half way through). Then cube, and use it in your favorite chicken salad recipe – I use Veganaise but Mayo works too. Raisins, or grapes, celery for crunch – fabulous!

    If you can get Artisan Fields sausages – made from wheat – they will elevate your breakfast/soup/bun to a state of Nirvana. Soooooo good!

  • Hiss:

    But apparently you can be a die-hard vegetarian and still eat fish, seafood and chicken! Just ask PW! (The only provisos with this particular form of vegetarianism, I understand, are that you must a/ bleat about it endlessly, b/ use it to define yourself because without it your personality is even les than marginal, c/ divest yourself of it (and whatever philosophical/ethical stance caused you to embrace it in the first place) within hours of meeting a hunky wealthy cowboy you’re desperate to impress/marry, and d/ use your new non-vegetarian status as a weapon to beat your ex-boyfriend of four years around the head with in order to convince him to just please stop ringing you up all the time begging you to marry him.) x

    • poppy:

      I love how you are always wearing your angry eyes!

      • Hiss:

        Who, me? Well, I think we should ALL pack them just in case something we ree-d somewhere ree-minds us of you-know-who! (And ree-ally, doesn’t everything?) x

  • Melinda:

    I second what has been said about tempeh. It’s great in lots of meals. Amy’s entrees are good too. Check out the blog : theactorsdiet.wordpress.com. She has some great meals that she throws together for her vegetarian husband. Very creative.

  • Melinda:

    P.S. Vegetarians are all about the goat milk. Ditch the cow and get a goat!

  • Spinny:

    My husband and I did a week of vegetarian just because. I also thought it was weird to buy substitute meat. My reason was that I’m trying to eat food that isn’t as highly processed (overall, not just that week) and since I’m kinda unsure of what they do to that fake meat, I avoided it.

    This chili was my favorite recipe that week. Served with skillet cornbread. Mmmmmmmm.

    I also liked this Tuscan Chickpea Soup served with crusty bread.

    • Skattebol:

      Spinny,
      That has become my issue with the substitute meat products. I sometimes want a “traditional” dinner, with chicken, potatoes and a vegetable, so I will by the Quorn “chicken” cutlets, which are delicious tossed in olive oil and herbs and then baked. But these products are processed foods, which I am really trying to avoid.
      I find that many veg recipes are cumbersome for me, as they require many spices or ingredients that I often do not have on hand. I am trying to make more dishes with different types of legumes that are easy to fix and do not have a laundry list of ingredients.

      I would provide the links but I am too lazy – at the Veg Times website, there is an awesome recipe for a chickpea-artichoke-fennel salad and a great white bean dip that could be used as a sandwich spread, rounded out with fresh vegetables.

      My biggest issue is living with a carnivore, something I am sure to which Rechelle and others can relate. A great meal for him is steak, a baked potato and salad. It is difficult to get away from the processed “meat” substitutes when he wants to make a traditional meal (see above re: Quorn cutlets).

      I have at least made a switch from highly processed white bread to Wasa crackers for sandwiches – they are chock full of fiber and nutrients and taste really good slathered in edamame dip – it is a really nice change from hummus. Now if I could remove sugar from my coffee and skip the 2nd glass of wine at night, I may actually really improve my diet.

  • If you want a good tofu recipe, you could try this amazing pot pie: http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/vegan/recipe-vegan-tofu-and-vegetable-pot-pie-134550
    You could just use butter in the crust if you want, and I’ve made this in oven-safe bowls and in a larger single dish. But it’s fantastic – you won’t feel like you’re missing out by not having chicken in it.

    When I was first vegetarian and living on my own, I bought a lot of those very processed soy-based meat substitutes. But now that I’m a better cook, I almost never rely on any of that. I eat a decent amount of tofu and tempeh, but rarely buy any soy stuff that’s more processed than that. I will agree with Shelley that soyrizo is AMAZING, though. A lot of restaurants here in San Francisco will make fantastic breakfast scrambles with it.

    One of my favorite vegetarian recipe sources is http://www.101cookbooks.com which is worth checking out if you haven’t already. Occasionally the recipes will call for ingredients that can be hard to come by, but she’s good at offering alternatives and I have never been disappointed from anything I’ve made from that site.

    • Rechelle:

      Thanks for all the recipe suggestions and web sites for vegetarian recipes everyone. I will happily spend some time digesting them.

    • Mo:

      Hey look, two different Mos!

  • AmeliaJake:

    That first paragraph – I have a place like that. I am not talking food here and I don’t think you were either. My place is eyes closing to the smell of pillowcases dried in the sun and the encompassing softness of a grandma-made down pillow. A place where books are read and language is spoken, not yelled; and the grammar, though not always correct, is polite and gentle. Where stories of horse and buggies and sleigh rides are told – and the one about a father waiting at the crossroad with a lantern for his schoolteacher daughter’s buggy in the dark hours of winter.

    Standing on a stool to help a crisply dressed person do the dishes in twice the time it would have taken her alone. To know that a man’s strong hands smelling of soap would tuck me in and that his teaching and my learning were a good thing full of giggles.

    And poems – there were always poems. And it was daily life.

    • Albug:

      What a beautiful memory. Of course, that’s why I love your blog :)

  • Anoria:

    I haven’t had a lot of experience with tofu, because while my mom always tried to make at least one vegetarian dinner a week while I was growing up, my brother was allergic to soy so tofu was out. I enjoy it in stir fries though.

    I’m a much bigger fan of vegetarian protien made with other kinds of beans. Falafel is one food that I really miss since moving away from the significant mid-eastern population in my hometown. I would miss hummus too, but as Nadine mentioned above, it’s a snap to make at home (the worst part is cleaning the blender). Black bean anything is tasty. I also like peanuts used in savory dishes, though I think you’re going to have to get pretty ethnic to find any recipes for such a thing.

    I personally enjoy veggie burgers just because they’re tasty in their own right and healthier than a huge wad of red meat. One of my favorite things to do is take a Morningstar Farms vegan burger (they have like 110 calories, which is tiny considering I’m eating it for dinner) and layer it on a hamburger bun with a similarly tiny patty of actual ground beef. The flavors compliment each other and my stomach, brain, and iron levels are all left satisfied after the meal. Maybe one or two of your carnivorous menfolk could be convinced to try such a thing.

  • LucyJoy:

    Although hubby & I aren’t vegan, I do use flavored tofu in my recipes. Taco flavored in chili & nachos, for instance. We also love the “sausage” patties chopped up in scrambled eggs with veggies for breakfast and a spicy black bean burger are yummy by themselves or chopped up & nuked with 1/2 of rice & vegetables makes a delicious lunch!

    One of my Japanese friends told me to press firm tofu between paper towels to get more of the moisture out & then cube it & heat it in vegetable broth & garnish with sliced green onion for a quick snack. It’s really, really good that way & filling, too!

  • Reeformed Addict:

    Oddly, this meat-eater (sorry) post just made me hungry. lol

  • Megan:

    Ok, here’s the gig with tofu, from someone who was vegan for 12 years and who’s husband has been vegan for over 20. The amount of tofu I have cooked, pureed and eaten over the years is astonishing and truthfully, I am NOT a fan of tofu! I am really, really picky about it, so here are my tips for tofu success:

    1. For grilling, sauteing, baking or stir-frying, buy the absolute firmest tofu you can find. Trader Joe’s has a really good extra super firm tofu. This is great marinated forever and then grilled on the grill (the best way to grill tofu is on non-stick foil), or basted with BBQ sauce while it grills. Amazing!

    2. Cook it until it’s crispy, golden brown and delicious, no matter what method of cooking you use.

    3. The expiration date is clearly marked on the package.

    4. Rinse the tofu well and pat it dry before cooking.

    5. Buy silken tofu in aseptic containers off the shelf at the grocery store and use that in dessert applications like puddings and my favorite, to make a vegan cheesecake that is super delicious and tastes just like cheesecake, but is slightly healthier without all the animal fats. Find a good vegan cream cheese (tofutti makes a really good one) for this.

    6. Buy a vegetarian cookbook, so many great ways to enjoy being vegetarian and still feed your whole family.

  • Heather in MT:

    I grew up vegetarian, from birth until I was about 15-16. I couldn’t wait to try meat, I was starving! I will never go back!

  • AlysonRR:

    My family’s favorite tofu recipes are both from Marilu Henner’s “Healthy Life Kitchen”. I don’t agree with Marilu’s general food philosophy (she avoids dairy but eats dairy substitutes that have casein, which defeats the purpose in my book, plus adheres to food-combining rules that don’t make sense to me), but we really like quite a few of the recipes collected in her book. The tofu ones are: Hunter’s Tofu (contributed by Pat Erickson), Tofu Tacos, and Coconut Curried Chowder (contributed by Suzanne Palumbo). I imagine I can’t post the recipes due to the copyright, but it might be worth checking the book out of the library because they’re darn good.

    Our other favorite recipes from that book (seafood ones are obviously not vegetarian) are: Banana Bread, Wild Mushroom Bruschetta, Shrimp and Black Bean Lettuce Wrap, Wild Mushroom Soup, Potato Leek Soup, Lusty Lentil Soup, Thai Shrimp and Asparagus Salad, Sesame-Crusted Salmon, Baked Salmon with Tomatoes and Olives and Capers, Rich Man’s Stew (mmm, lentils and portabello mushrooms).

    My daughter loves tempura tofu and she and my son devour tofu cubes in miso broth. That’s about it for our usage of tofu – six dishes…. HTH!

  • action squirrel:

    Tofu is not meat substitute, it’s tofu. Any concept that begins with a Meat Substitute is never going to satisfy you, just give that up right now. It’s either meat, or no meat. And whoever above said tofu is Indian is very much mistaken. Also, tempeh is vile.

    There is no reason I can think of to chow down on loads of tofu. Infrequently, I’ll throw some small cubes of tofu in water to boil, then add a few dried wakame flakes and miso paste for a quick soup. If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll marinate pressed, dried (I press it, I dry it, you should, too) cubes briefly in tamari or soy sauce, whatever is around, and either sesame or olive oil and some garlic, then bake it. That’s good for sprinkling on salads or in wraps or quesadillas.

  • M.R.:

    My favorite tofu recipe is hot and sour soup. I hope you try it — I think it is yummy:

    Press the tofu — put it on a plate and put a stack of heavy plates on top of it. A bunch of water will come out. Then cut it up into smallish chunks, like maybe 1/2 inch squares.

    Marinate the tofu pieces overnight in some brown rice vinegar, soy sauce, cooking sherry, toasted sesame oil and either so hot (as in spicy) oil or some hot sauce. (I like something milder than Tabasco.)

    Make the soup:

    6 cups of veggie stock (I like organic Veggie Better than Bouillion)
    2 Tbsp dry sherry
    2 Tbsp soy sauce
    3 Tbsp brown rice vinegar
    2 tsp toasted sesame oil
    1 tsp coarse salt
    1 tsp ground white pepper
    several shakes of hot sauce

    Bring to a boil and then after this has simmered for awhile, add some chopped up shitake mushrooms. When the mushrooms have cooked down, add some chopped up green onions and the tofu.

    Once the tofu is good and hot, dissolve 1 Tbsp corn starch in 1/4 cup water. Add to the soup and sir for about 3 minutes.

    Lightly beat two eggs. Slowly add the beaten egg to the soup in a thin stream abound the egg, stirring slowly while doing it (having someone else stir helps) so that the egg forms long threads as it cooks.

  • M.R.:

    that should read: “and either some hot (as in spicy) oil….”

    not “so hot … oil”

    and that should read: “in a thin stream around the edge.:”

    not “in a thin stream abound the egg.”

    Sheesh — you’d think I could proof before hitting submit.

  • Emily:

    I am not even remotely vegetarian…though I just realized I ate vegetarian dinners every day last week without trying to. Anyway, I actually like a lot of the processed vegetarian crap. Morningstar Farms black bean burgers are awesome; I was originally put off by their “chik’n” products, but I found those to be really good too. There’s no point in eating them all the time, because you can make great homemade vegetarian dishes much cheaper, but I really like them for the occasional quick lunch. I don’t see the big deal about eating “meat substitute”, and I’m not sure why those couldn’t be perfectly satisfying as long as they are well-seasoned/well-cooked.

  • Michele:

    Meh, been there, done that. Now embracing my omnivore nature. I did eat fish and seafood during the time I didn’t eat meat since I am allergic to soy,. I never could understand the :meat substitute thing. I stopped eating meat because the soy it was fed bothered me. I can’t figure out why people make such a virtue out being vegetarian. It’s just another way of eating. I only buy free range meat so there are times we eat vegetarian if that’s all there is available. For me tofu and in fact all soy is the nastiest tasting thing on earth. Not being able to breathe however takes precedence. If you’re going to espouse vegetarianism do it but eat vegetables, don’t pretend their meat.

    • Michele:

      That should be “they’re meat”. That should teach me to proof read better.