Food in Indiana & Illinois – 2015

I’m a major foodie, but I don’t go out to eat a lot, mainly due to my dietary restrictions: vegetarian and I don’t eat onion, garlic, leeks, chives, or hing (asafoetida). Basically, everything in the genus Allium, which also includes leeks, shallots, scallions, etc. What makes it a lot easier is that my entire family follows the same diet so in order to satisfy my craving for foods of all kinds, I end up cooking. A lot.

Why? Purely because though America is getting on that vegetarian bandwagon with things like Meatless Mondays and an increasing amount of vegetarian-friendly restaurants in addition to the all-vegetarian/vegan eateries, those aforementioned spices that I don’t eat are often featured in the food. It also saves me the waiter/waitress the trouble of having such a “difficult” customer and me the trouble of trying to figure out what in the world I could eat. As a note, my brand of vegetarianism is more Asian-based; if you go to Taiwan, all vegetarian restaurants there actually make their food without those spices (I was in Gastronomic Heaven there). Traditionally, Buddhist vegetarianism doesn’t include those items. Of course, this differs by the country, but if you trace it back to the very beginning, that’s how it was. There are several folklore-like stories of why this is which leads back to how eating those items was akin to eating meat itself. Then more scientifically, some of them, like garlic, is touted for their antibacterial character… which is great when you have tons of germs that need to be killed when eating meat. What is it going to kill when you’re only consuming plant-based foods? In a sense, you’re just harming yourself… plus, people that eat it mainly do it for the flavor it imparts and not its ‘benefits’. That’s just a nice side effect.

Plus, I frankly avoid them now because they’re so pungent. Comparably speaking, it’s all right if other people eat it because it’s easy enough to avoid them, but it’s hard to get away from yourself when the smell is, well, coming from yourself. Interestingly enough, I have met some people who have an actual allergy towards onion and garlic, so if you’re wondering, that is an actual allergy. Personally, I’m not allergic though if it’s strong enough, my eyes actually water and my nose stuffs up to the point that I feel as if I somehow got severely congested (and blinded by the influx of tears) in the matter of 5 seconds, so I guess I am somewhat allergic in a sense. That only happened once to me and I never want it to happen again. Trust me, if you avoid them for just a week or two, you’ll start feeling the affects due to your increased sensitivity towards them.

So, on this trip up to the Midwest, I found myself battling the constant frustration of trying to find food other than sweets, salads, or sandwiches that I could have, since I no longer had access to my beloved kitchen. Plus, I hate buying food that I can make. It seriously bothers me. To make it more simple, I would either tell my waiter/waitress that I was allergic and if I found myself in an Indian restaurant, I would tell them I ate Jain vegetarian, which also avoids those spices, among other things.

Continue reading

[RECIPE] Ham ‘n Cheese Pockets

I love potlucks… but when you have two potlucks in one day, no matter how many recipes you have on your To Do List, sometimes, there just isn’t time… or the ideas are never enough. This past weekend, I was brainstorming trying to figure out what to make. The people? Totaled around 20 and split down the middle when it came to the number of adults and the number of kids. They were mostly Asian, but of the more open-minded sort. The kids tended to like American foods. Then – I remembered these pockets and I thought they looked amazing. The cool thing: I recently bought a big pack of vegetarian bacon ham (I kid you not – they’re called bacon ham).

It all fell into place…

Ham N Cheese 5

Plus, I really wanted some nice salty (humane) protein with some nice, melty cheese. How does that not win anyone over?? The fact that the dough is homemade cinched it. I ended up doubling the recipe and cutting out a total of 32 pieces (there were 8 “breadsticks” per recipe that I halved). Continue reading

Day 1: Downtown Bloomington & Thereabouts

It was only 2 weeks ago that plans were finalized and now, I find myself in Bloomington, Indiana. I’ve never been up here before, which was what ultimately brought me here. The real reason why I found myself here was because Hubby needed to go for a program at IU.

Welcome!

On the way here, I sat between two men – one of whom was originally from a small town (or “village” as he called it) right outside of Indianapolis, the state capital.

Me: Do you have any recommendations?
Him: [slight pause] No.

Well, that was promising for my prospects for the rest of the week, especially since Bloomington is actually an hour’s drive outside of Indianapolis. I made a list of possible places to get food, as per usual (food is very important to me, you see). However, I didn’t find much online either other than for the Indy 500 in Indianapolis.

IMG_8996 Continue reading

[RECIPE] Creamy Vegan Potato & Cauliflower Soup

Something came up last minute and my dentist appointment this past weekend had to be rescheduled for a weekday afternoon. As such, I got out of the office early to make it to this appointment (still ended up being about 12 minutes late because there was an unnatural amount of traffic and lets not talk about the traffic after the appointment). This got me excited because I found this awesome soup recipe and I wouldn’t need to prep the ingredients the night before for the next day’s dinner and I wouldn’t need to run around when I got home to cook it.

In theory. You know – because I forgot to factor in after-work traffic and how yesterday was the first official day of the Rodeo.

Most of my plans ended up not going through. I didn’t get home on time. I didn’t end up making an absolutely delicious-sounding soup for dinner. It wasn’t a relaxing evening at all. In fact, we were stuck in so much traffic that we (husband was with me… our dentist is a bit far so we try to carpool to save on the gas and book out appointments at the same time) decided to go to Chinatown and get our dinner there, because I have a deadline for dinners (I can’t eat that late and the prep work would definitely push me past my dinner time). I also got a little special treat from Bambu to try to calm my growling stomach for the 1 hour ride back into the city for dinner, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. The only thing that went according to plan was that I did end up cooking the soup – but a much more simple version based off of the original for the next day’s lunch with mushrooms thrown into the mix because I found some that weren’t looking so good in my fridge. Sadness.

Soup - 3

Excuse the not-so-pretty-to-look-at photos. I literally only made it for lunch at 9 PM the night before, so it’s not quite photogenic. How do you make off-white-golden soup look beautiful, anyway? Although it lacks somewhat in the visual department, I have to say that I loved how it tasted. 🙂 It even tastes better the next day (as seems to be the case with most soups)! Continue reading

[RECIPE] Braised Tofu & Oyster Mushrooms

Although I am Asian by ethnicity, I was born and grew up in the States. Unlike most other families with immigrant parents, my mother was a stay-at-home mom and she was in the PTA. Our neighborhood while growing up, though predominately Caucasian, was still made up of a lovely mixture of cultures and ethnicities and with my mom being a part of the PTA, her friends were not of the usual Asian variety (there were some, but they weren’t her only friends). Honestly speaking, though, she didn’t have to learn how to cook until she got married so though her baklava was pretty good, I still remember her first attempt at making pizza from scratch.

About 70% of it was burnt. We ended up eating out that night.

I actually didn’t get into cooking until I was in college, mainly because it was most convenient, being a vegetarian (my family became vegetarian when I was around 14 years old)… and one that didn’t eat onion, garlic, leeks, and chives, all of which are almost always used in American vegetarian cuisine. And hing (asafoetida)… but that’s not as common unless eating Indian cuisine. I wasn’t even a foodie until I got older. I don’t know what happened, but when I was growing up, I didn’t like to eat. Now, I wish my parents didn’t make me finish everything in my bowl; perhaps then I wouldn’t feel the need to do so till this day and, consequently, gain weight so easily.

Once I got into cooking, though, I made a point not to make a lot of Asian food. My family is Vietnamese-Chinese so though my mom does like venturing into other cuisines, it was still mainly of the Asian variety. They make it well, I thought, so why should I make a mediocre attempt at it? Well, since I got married to a Taiwanese guy and his older brother lives with us for the time being, I have been cooking a lot more. Yay! However, it’s been mainly of the non-Chinese variety, because these two guys can cook and they only cook Taiwanese food. Occasionally, I have been toying with the idea of making Asian food because these two guys apparently prefer it. My husband’s more open-minded but the other one… let’s just say I have a lot of leftovers on the days where BIL (brother-in-law) doesn’t like the food as much. Plus, after staying in Taiwan for a month and eating Taiwanese food about 98% of the time, I suppose I can’t “deprive” them, either. Taiwan is great at their vegetarian food, but after eating almost the same thing day after day, I was having intense cravings for non-Chinese cuisine.

However, like I said, Taiwan is a great country to visit if you’re vegetarian. A good 10% of the population is full-time vegetarian while a portion of the remainder may go vegetarian for a couple of days a month for religious (Buddhist) reasons. As such, there are a lot of choices there. While there, I bought two Taiwanese vegetarian cookbooks. I came across a recipe one day while designing the menu for a Chinese-themed dinner. It seemed pretty easy. Too easy, one might say. It was essentially tofu and oyster mushrooms. How did one make it? You lay it in a pan, pour the sauce over it, cover it, then forget it for 12 minutes. Done.

I was skeptical, but I decided to try it out. Also, it was on the healthy side, which is something I need. The Taiwanese people are all about hospitality and I was fed wherever I went, even when I didn’t want to be fed. I was fed so much that when I returned to the States, I found out I gained 5 pounds. Great. Good thing the engagement photos we had done was at the beginning of our stay there…

Tofu - 6 Continue reading

An Expedited Thanksgiving

It’s amazing how time flies these days. It’s already November!

Even though my favorite time of the season is fast approaching, I find myself a little sad, because I’m caught up in this whirlwind of “adult” things (this will be reserved for a separate post… if I ever find the time for it). How did Halloween sneak up on me?? Then again, I really didn’t do it much justice – instead, I scheduled our family’s Thanksgiving 2014 Dinner the very next night.

This was mainly because I would be leaving the country the week of the actual Thanksgiving Day and I refuse to not have Thanksgiving Dinner this year. My family didn’t really care too much – they just enjoyed the fact that we would be getting together over food so they were pretty excited. Who am I kidding? I was most definitely excited as well. Food: the magic word. Now, I wouldn’t say our Thanksgiving Dinners are terribly traditional, but they are most definitely epic on their own level. Okay, quite honestly, they became more epic starting last year, because it was my first Thanksgiving with me married (Hah! That still rings odd in my mental ears.) and I wanted to have a legit Thanksgiving Dinner. Plus, it turns out that my other half never had a real Thanksgiving celebration and I was determined to change that. Before this, they were small, normal dinners with my immediate family and we might even have dessert (I live in a family of health nuts). Even before that during my childhood in California (and before my family became completely vegetarian), my parents would buy ready-made Thanksgiving Dinners and we would eat at home.

Last year’s Dinner was ridiculous. I put it together so I did most of the cooking and, of course, I insisted on making everything from scratch (except for the veggie “meat”). I don’t quite remember the menu but I remember cooking from the day before up until the actual dinner itself. There was vegetarian “turkey” (it was disturbingly in the shape of a chicken mold including the head), biscuits, mashed potatoes with gravy, veggie meatloaf, Cornbread stuffing, Grapefruit tart… my Asian family also brought over more Asian fare.

This year, we all had our roles, which is a big relief when you work full-time and my family Thanksgiving dinners means you cook for around 15 people. (The sad thing is that if we had one with all of my family members not in town, we might as well be a restaurant.)

Continue reading

[RECIPE] Vegetarian Greek Moussaka

I love cooking, but my creations tended to be more on the simple side of things, if one did not count making baked goods from scratch, because I would be lying if I said those aren’t time consuming. I blame this on the fact that I began to cook in college. Even so, I’ve always harbored a wish to tackle and conquer more complicated dishes.

The other day, I came across a recipe for moussaka – Greek moussaka, to be exact. In theory, it seemed to be fairly simple: layers of roasted eggplant interspersed with a tomato “meat” sauce topped with béchamel sauce and shredded Parmesan. On the other hand, the steps involved meant that there were more chances to make mistakes. Still, I endeavoured to at least try, even though it would mark the first of many things…

Though I have cooked with eggplant before, I have never roasted them. In addition, eggplant is one of those things where it’s either a hit or miss; either it comes out well, or there’s something off about it (perhaps the slight bitterness from the seeds?). Then there are those moments it just comes out, and you don’t really know if it’s good or bad. I’ve also never made a sauce with a French name before and to be quite honest, I’ve never made something that required a roux base, either. Well, good thing I enjoy challenges – plus, I had the entire kitchen to myself for the 4-5 hour undertaking.

Once I completed it, I realised something: the only thing daunting about this dish is the fact that it is time consuming. The preparation of the eggplant, the roasting of the eggplant, the making of the “meat” sauce and the béchamel, not to mention the assembling, and finally, the baking of the moussaka as a whole. I’m happy to say that, yes, it is worth it, because it came out rather well and pleasing to my taste buds… if not all that visually pleasing due to the sputtering of the sauce underneath.

Out of the Oven!

I can’t help but think of “lasagna” when I see it… but it tastes a bit more exotic. 🙂

Dig in!


Continue reading