Friday, October 15, 2010

The Family Album : Jasmin Singer from Our Hen House Meets The Shannons

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Jasmin's Spinach & Bacon Salad Featuring The Vegan Hard-Boiled Egg

Our Family Album is one of our favorite segments on Meet The Shannons. Over the years we've been lucky enough to meet some of the most amazing animal advocates on the planet. I won't lie technology like Facebook has made it easier than ever for vegans all over the world to connect, learn from each other and build a strong online community that is promoting a more compassionate world for animals on a scale that has never been seen before. One of those marvelous and outstanding advocates I've had the privilege of  meeting is a lovely lady named Jasmin Singer. You may know her as 1/2 of the talented and dedicated duo at Our Hen House - a website and resource that is really leading the way in helping folks find their own way to change the world for animals. I know her as Kick Ass Activist All-Star Sista and am honored to have her as today's guest blogger! XO - Annie 

I'm not a cook. Which is why I was nervous (petrified?) when Annie asked me to guest blog and try out one of her and Dan's recipes. I won't admit to you how many months it took me to decide on what to cook. Most things just seemed too difficult for me, which is probably because my regular diet consists of really a lot of blender concoctions, the occasional stir-fry (no recipe, just going by the seat of my pants and the contents of my freezer), and the good old standby, tofu and broccoli at Suzie's Chinese Restaurant on Bleecker Street.

Now Annie wanted me to cook? Really? Me? Like, in a way that holds me accountable for my actions? Was this really a path I wanted to stumble down?

Truth is, I do know food. Aside from being a proud vegan food-lover (cliche', I know), back when I was a struggling actor, I decided that becoming a holistic health counselor would be a good field for me, allowing me to have my own business that promoted veganism, while maintaining the flexibility that allowed me to audition for plays (that I rarely got cast in). So I enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, followed by pursuing an MA in -- ready? -- Experiential Health and Healing. I kid you not. Oh, to be 20-something and confused... (I'm allowed to say that, since I'm now 30-something... and confused.)

When my activism eventually took over my wilted theatre career (turns out that zaftig tattooed girls with noserings are not easily cast, but fit in really well at AR conferences), I decided I had become too busy to cook. In 2007, I abandoned my holistic health practice, landed a job at Farm Sanctuary, and started writing freelance for a bunch of publications (VegNews being my favorite, not surprisingly). Then, earlier this year I co-founded my own animal advocacy organization, Our Hen House, along with my partner in crime (and in take-out), Mariann Sullivan. At this point, we were using our oven for storage (no joke). Cooking? Pheh. I live in lower Manhattan. My menu drawer is easier to reach than my underwear drawer.

So when Annie emailed me, I came very close to saying no thanks. But then I remembered that I'm vegan, and it's therefore my moral obligation to become well-adept at cooking -- at least a little bit -- so that when my non-vegan friends say ignorant things like "I could never give up bacon and eggs..." I can offer them a delicious veganized version of it (after, of course, I explain to them that chicken period and baby pig carcasses do not do any body good).

So I got to thinking about all of this, and decided that by golly, I was going to do it! Where there's a will, there's a way (but no whey)! Finally, I was determined to set aside my fears of my stove, and make The Shannons proud! I would try out the Bacon & Spinach featuring The Vegan Hard-Boiled Egg. My hands were clean. I was ready...

Some of the ingredients were new to me, and I had to special order a bunch of them that I didn't have in my cupboards, like Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, Lemon Pepper, and Liquid Smoke. There was a moment or two when I wondered if that was too high-maitenance for a salad (since, after all you're only using 1/4 tsp. of the creole stuff), but in hindsight, I'm really glad that I bit the bullet and wound up ordering precisely what Annie suggested. Normally, I'd make do with what I had, but something about the combination of these precise items (including white wine -- I used the vegan-friendly Hermann J. Weimer Riesling Dry) made it just right. But more on the meal's perfection in a moment...


For the "hard-boiled egg" --

1 package of extra firm tofu (drain as much water out of your tofu as you can); 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast; 1 teaspoon cumin; 1/2 teaspoon onion powder; 1/4 teaspoon turmeric; 1/4 teaspoon Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning; 1 tablespoon olive oil for cooking (don't add to the "egg")

For the Bacon & Spinach Salad --

6 pieces vegan bacon (I used Lightlife Smart Bacon); 3 tablespoons olive oil; dash of Liquid Smoke; 5 green onions (diced); 2 tablespoons fresh parsley (diced); 1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper; pinch of celery seed; 2 teaspoons Braggs; 3 tablespoons white wine; 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar; 2 tablespoons lemon juice; 1/4 teaspoon agave nectar; 1 clove garlic (minced); spinach (Annie and Dan left this out of the ingredient list by accident, so I just eyeballed it and used the amount of baby spinach that would feed two people large salads)

For the "egg," Annie has both an easy way and a fancy way to make it. Disregard the easy way altogether; go with the fancypants. It's really not that difficult (I did it, which bodes well for its accessibility factor), and the presentation alone makes it worth it.

In case you're wondering, this is how I drained the water out of my tofu: I wrapped it in paper towels, put a plate above and below it, and put a heavy (and cute!) paper towel holder above the top plate. Incidentally, I'm looking forward to receiving the TofuXPress that I ordered, which will make this a lot easier...

 According to Annie:
The Fancy Way:

Preheat oven to 300.

Cut the block of tofu into 4 rectangular pieces.

With your 1 Teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop a half-circle cup out with the Tofu. This is what you are going to fill with your "yoke," so make sure it isn't too shallow -- but you want to make sure it isn't too deep either, because it'll make your "egg" fall apart. So try to make it about the same size and depth as the measuring spoon.
I think I might not have made the half-circles as deep as would be ideal. I'd say you can make them a little deeper than you might think, maybe digging a little deeper than your teaspoon. IMHO.
Then, with a soup spoon, form the outside shape of the "egg." Just gently cut the corners off your rectangular "egg."
I wasn't sure why it said to use a soup spoon. I used a knife. I'm a rebel like that.

Put the extra tofu you scooped out of and cut off your "egg" in a small bowl. Mash it into a paste, and mix in the seasoning ingredients to make your "yoke." Then, with your soup spoon, fill the cup you made in your "egg" with the "yoke" mix. You are going to have some "yoke" leftover, so it's okay to over-fill it.
Coupla things: First of all, I couldn't imagine that my mix could possibly become a paste. Yet sure enough, after mixing it long enough, a paste was formed! Amazing how RIGHT Annie Shannon is...

I did have way too much "yoke" leftover. I wound up significantly overfilling the "egg," and then eating a little of the "yoke" because everything smelled so good and I was being impatient. Reason number 8,943 why it's good to be vegan: You can eat raw vegan "yoke" and not get Salmonella! (Same goes for cookie dough, too...)

Coat a glass baking dish with olive oil. Place the "eggs" in the baking dish and into the oven for 10 minutes.

Then, remove from the oven and set aside to put into your salad once they're cool enough to pick up with your hands.

Now, on to the Bacon & Spinach Salad portion!
In your delightful little iron skillet, cook your Fake Bacon in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil with a dash of Liquid Smoke at a medium heat. Once it's crispy, remove it from the skillet and set it aside. You want the oil on the Fake Bacon, so you don't want to put it on a paper towel like I usually tell you to. Cut into bite sized pieces.
Now, my skillet was hardly "delightful" or "little," nor was it iron, but I made do with my oversized silver pan.

Add the last Tablespoon olive oil -- and maybe another dash of Liquid Smoke -- and take the heat down to low. We're recreating Bacon Fat. Yeah, gross, right? But we're going for the smokey flavor so we're using the Liquid Smoke. I added another dash. I love liquid smoke; if you don't, one might be enough.
Bring it, Annie. I love me some Liquid Smoke. In addition to tasting like Fall in New England (poetic, right?), I think the name is sexy -- like Marlena Dietrich might pop out with a long gown, smoking a cigar and wanting just a dash of Liquid Smoke with her vegan bacon...

(Note to Fantasy Life: You're weird. Love, Jasmin.)
Then, add Green Onions, Parsley, Lemon Pepper, Celery Seed, Braggs, White Wine, and Agave Nectar. Heat until the Green Onions become tender. Then, add White Wine Vinegar and Lemon Juice. Remove from heat.
I must tell you that my apartment was apparently built on a hill, because everything I cook winds up with uneven consistency. Oftentimes, one side of my pan burns everything while the other undercooks. If I mix everything around the whole time, this is pretty much a non-issue. Oh, the challenges of city life...

Put your Spinach in a large bowl. Pour the warm Salad Dressing over the Spinach and toss your salad to coat. Place your "Eggs" around the bowl, and sprinkle the Bacon Pieces over the top of your Salad. You need to serve the Salad immediately so it doesn't wilt too much.

When you eat it, make sure you get a lot of dressing on your "Eggs," because they taste almost poetic together.
I must tell you, I didn't know was meant by "Salad Dressing," and I seriously thought I must have missed a page when I printed out the recipe. I quickly realized that the final concoction of onions and garlic and spices (Oh My!) was the "dressing," and I used my hands to toss the salad and get it evenly distributed. I could basically hardly contain myself at this point, because it was just so magnificent -- while oddly actually resembling bacon and eggs. The hearty, rich smell wafted through my tiny apartment, captivating me as acutely as Glee reruns. (Or maybe that's TMI?)

The result? Pure, unadulterated scrumptiousness. I have absolutely no idea how The Shannons concocted such a diverse arrangement of ingredients to create this filling, nutritious, veganized meal. I haven't eaten eggs in 7 years and I haven't eaten meat since I was a bratty teenager, but the visceral sensation I had when eating this Bacon & Spinach Salad featuring The Vegan Hard-Boiled Egg was almost unnerving. I remembered, suddenly, what it was like to eat bacon and eggs -- then I quickly rested easy knowing that I can enjoy this smokey yumminess because nobody was hurt in the process... Well, except maybe my pit bull, Rose, who didn't understand why she only got one piece of Fake Bacon. Poor thing.

While making this dish, I also thought of ways to tweak it for other recipes. The spice blend that became the "yoke" is something that will make a frequent appearance in our kitchen and our tummies from here on out. I intend to put it on just about everything, from stir-fries to salad wraps. This process made me remember that even if you master just a few recipes for your portfolio, you can make dozens of different meals out of them. It's like owning a few pieces of basic black clothes -- with a little imagination, and some accessories that pop, you might just have an entire new wardrobe!

Now that my Meet the Shannons recipe challenge is over, I must admit that I'm impressed with myself! Even though this wasn't their most complicated recipe, it took me out of my comfort zone just a little and exposed me to new spices that will accessorize my food wardrobe and make my dishes pop. It also helped me to put my computer down and get out of my head a little, which I think cooking can really do if you allow it to. It's like meditation for the rest of us.

Okay, I'll admit it: In retrospect, I'm so grateful to Annie Shannon for foisting her compassionate food agenda in my direction, encouraging me to dust off my spatula, and saying "go." And most importantly, for the animals' sake, I'm beyond thrilled that folks like The Shannons are working so diligently to mainstream yummy, vegan versions of every food under the sun. As Annie and Dan are so clearly demonstrating, when you squint your eyes just a bit, you'll see what a truly delicious world it can be.


Jasmin Singer is the co-founder and executive director of Our Hen House, a clearinghouse for all kinds of ideas and opportunities to create change for animals. With its primary goal being to effectively mainstream the movement to end the exploitation of animals, Our Hen House showcases opportunities for individuals who already care about animals to start changing the world. In addition to her blog and video page, be sure to check out Jasmin's weekly podcast, which includes ramblings from the world of animal rights, reviews, interviews with movers and shakers, and current events pertaining to animals. Jasmin is also a contributor to VegNews Magazine, and is the former campaigns manager for Farm Sanctuary. She lives in New York City and spends way too much time on Facebook.

Jasmin Singer; Photo by Jessica Mahady

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