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.

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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.


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.

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[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…

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[RECIPE] Alcohol-free Tiramisu

This marks the first recipe I had to go back and make a second attempt for.

I would like to say that this was pretty authentic, as authenticity goes. I found the recipe from the package of Italian biscotti savoiardi, or lady fingers in layman’s terms. Brand: Alessi. In actuality, I found several recipes but all of them went out the window when I went shopping for the actual ingredients and found it on the side of the cookies. After all, the lady fingers were made in Italy and who would know the recipe more than the Italian company that makes the lady fingers, a major component of tiramisu?

I thought it would be simple and I followed the instructions well. Wrong decision. It was a three-step recipe that was squished into a block rectangle text. Of course not all the details were written! Unfortunately, I found out belatedly.. either that or the recipe’s author assumed all people following the recipe were hardened chefs, of which I most certainly am not.

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[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!

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[RECIPE] Green Tea Bundt Cake

I love tea. I love desserts. Bundt cake – or, really, any cake – fits under the aforementioned category. Green tea Bundt cake fits under both the aforementioned categories. Hence, when I came across this recipe, I froze – I had to make it. Plus, it was intriguing: the only liquids used were sour cream/Greek yoghurt, eggs, olive oil, and flavoring extracts. I just had to!

The Before!

On another topic that slightly veers off… it always amused me how there’s a cake named after the fact that it’s baked in a ring-shaped pan – a Bundt cake pan. Either way, cake is cake and I guess a cake shaped a certain way a lot more festive! Not to mention amusing to those unfamiliar with it…

Friend A: What’re you eating?
Friend B: A bundt cake.
Friend A: What’s that?
Friend B: A cake shaped like a Christmas wreath.
Friend A: …right.

Either way, I gobbled it up!

Last Bite!

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[RECIPE] Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

I love food. I have not encountered a food that I absolutely hated, though I admit I have preferences (one cannot be perfect, after all).

Every once in a while, I would encounter an intense craving for a certain food: a tomato-based pasta dish, the unique amalgamation of spices found in Indian cuisine (something I have yet to come near to mastering), or the fragrance of some food imbued with green tea. This time, I suddenly wanted a Mediterranean favorite of mine: hummus. Luck was on my side — I found myself free this weekend and off I went…

Hummus at an AngleIn truth, my mom has made hummus before, but it never quite hit the mark like store-bought hummus did for me. However, I was willing to take a chance and I’m glad I did! I must say that I succeeded… and I will never buy store-bought hummus again. (Unless I find myself in a dire situation that I need hummus right then and there.)

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