"Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it."
And it occurred to me that even our passions deserve care and attention and ... well, work. And I think I've been riding on my passion to create it's own creativity and inspiration instead of working hard for it sometimes. And this last year or so I've been working hard. In a different way. I've been in my kitchen rediscovering what food means to me. I don't think my philosophy has changed, except that I feel it with greater strength. Each meal I prepare means more to me because I put more thought into it.
You know that magical friendship where you might not talk to each other for months or even years and when you finally pick up the phone or go out to lunch, you can pick up right where you left off? Let's be those friends. I'm back. And we're still besties:)
One of the big changes our family has gone through in the past year is that we eat a lot less meat. We're not vegetarians by any stretch of the imagination, and if I claimed to be, I think I would be insulting the discipline and life choices of the admirable people who choose to live their lives that way. But we do eat a lot less meat. And the meat we do eat, we avoid (or have eliminated as much as we can control) CAFO meats. And the produce we eat is mostly organic. So when you read my recipes just know that I'm using free-range meats and mostly organic produce, and of course you don't have to. I won't write it in my recipes unless it could comprise the integrity of the dish. And it's probably no surprise to anyone that a person like myself that feels so strongly about knowing what's in my food and therefore cooks mostly from scratch would make that change. I don't tell you this to get on a soapbox or to belittle anyone else's choices. It's just me being transparent. I think the more I research health, the more I realize that there's no umbrella magical answer for health. We all need to find our own path to optimum health. For some that's the choice to eat a completely plant-based diet, for some a paleo diet, for some gluten-free, for some dairy-free, soy-free, whole grains, from scratch, growing a home garden, and the list goes on. But I think the one thing we can all agree on is that we need to be eating more vegetables. So let's start there, shall we?
I have a good friend, Jill, who is a vegetarian. She is one of those people that is real and down to earth, but is so on top of life. And she gets that she can't do everything, but she does everything she can with her whole heart. And she's a foodie. So we can sit and talk food and health for hours and run out of time. And since meeting Jill, I've been on a quest to invent a vegetarian Bolognese sauce. It's one of my absolute favorite things, a real comfort food for me. But coming up with a meat-free version that is just as hearty and rich in umami flavors is hard to accomplish. But I came across a post from a favorite food blogger of mine that explains how to make vegetarian "ground meat" using tofu and I decided to give it a shot. And it's pretty much changed my life. As long as you season it well with aromatics and umami packed foods like mushrooms, you'd be surprised how much you won't miss the meat. You won't even notice. I tested it on a couple of manly men including my husband yesterday, and they had no clue and raved about it. I think that says it all. So if you're joining the Meatless Monday movement, or if you just want some variation, give it a try. Just keep in mind because of freezing and thawing time for the tofu, this will take a couple of days of not-hands-on time.
Meatless Bolognese Sauce
makes enough for 1 9x13 lasagne or 1 lb of pasta plus lots of leftovers for a rainy day
updated 3.1.2014: I just made this for the hundredth time for dinner and discovered a couple of minor adjustments that helped develop even richer flavor. I added that in this color.
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
2 stalks of celery, cleaned and cut into large pieces
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz cremini mushrooms
4 oz shiitake mushrooms
3 28oz cans whole, peeled tomatoes
1 14oz package firm or extra firm organic or Non-GMO verified* tofu
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 bunch of basil, separated
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter, separated
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, separated
depending on the tomatoes you use, you may need some honey to taste (if you stick with San Marzano tomatoes, which I recommend, you most likely won't need to sweeten your sauce, but some canned tomatoes are very tart)
*soybeans are one of the most commonly genetically modified foods on the market, so it's best to stick with organic or non-GMO verified products.
- 3 days before you plan to make the sauce, place your tofu (still in the package) in the freezer and let freeze completely. 24 or so hours before you plan to use it, pull the tofu out of the freezer and let thaw completely in the refrigerator. Once completely thawed, place a colander in a clean sink, and while holding the block of tofu in between your two flat hands (in order to maintain the shape), press gently under cool, running water. The more you rinse, the more of the "soybean" smell you'll get out, so rinse and squeeze several times. Once you've sufficiently rinsed the tofu, squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible, crumble into little pieces, and let rest in the colander to drain some more while preparing the other ingredients.
- Place onion, carrot, and celery in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until chopped very fine. You may need to scrape down the sides a few times.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 1 tablespoon each of the butter and olive oil over medium heat until butter is barely melted. Add the chopped vegetables, season lightly with salt, and sauté until liquid begins to release. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates.
- Meanwhile, prepare the mushrooms. Using a damp paper towel, thoroughly wipe the mushrooms clean. (Don't immerse mushrooms in water. Mushrooms are like sponges, and they will get water-logged, which will result in slimy mushrooms) Remove the stems, chop into medium pieces, then pulse in the food processor until chopped medium-fine. You don't want the mushrooms to turn into a paste, so just pulse a few times until it resembles the rubber on a running track. (nice image for food, huh? Sorry, I couldn't come up with something more appetizing that would describe it quite right)
- Once the liquid has evaporated from the mirepoix, you want to keep an eye on it, stirring frequently. The vegetables will start to stick together and get some nice color. Keep stirring and scraping up browned bits off of the bottom of the pot, until a nice, dark brown.
- Add the mushrooms and garlic and stir frequently. It will also release a lot of liquid so stir occasionally until the liquid has evaporated. Remove the mushroom-mirepoix mixture from the pan. Add the remaining butter and olive oil, add the crumbled tofu and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Continue to stir, breaking up big clumps of tofu, until the tofu gets some color. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the mushroom mixture back to the pot and stir to combine.
- Pour the tomatoes and their juices into a large bowl and carefully crush with clean hands until large pieces are broken up. Add to the pot. Stir to combine. Pick off the basil leaves and tear into smaller pieces Add the thyme, bay leaf, and half of the basil. Let simmer for 1~2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Add the remaining basil leaves and honey, if using. Season with salt and pepper to taste, serve with hot pasta.