For the Love of the Game

My friend, Loretta, is a fabulous cook. She even had her own café at one time. With idols like Julia Child, Barefoot Contessa, and Tyler Florence, it’s safe to say she’s no hack when it comes to food prep. The woman knows how to wield a knife, balance flavors, and dazzle the palate regardless of the budget you challenge her with. She’s also of Spanish descent, which means she brings to the kitchen cultural influences of the non-American kind. In other words, FLAVOR! And while her cooking melds old school with the modern, I would still categorize her as a traditionalist. She isn’t afraid to use lard (I mean, who has lard in their pantry these days? Only the truly serious of foodies!) and the vast majority of time she uses meat, poultry, or seafood. I’ve been fortunate to sit at Loretta’s table a couple of times…as a vegetarian. That meant I could eat her side dishes or appetizers, for the most part, or an augmented version of her main dish. It was not only more than enough to send me home with a full and happy belly, it was also enough to give me a solid appreciation for her cooking expertise.

Now that I’m a vegan, Loretta’s food is the only time I feel like I’m “missing out” on something. People ask me all the time, “How can you give up cheese/eggs/hamburgers/ice cream/fill-in-the-blank?” I don’t miss those things at all. What I miss is the unique flavors and passion for a great-tasting meal that talented chefs like Loretta bring to the table. That’s not to say there aren’t passionate, talented vegan chefs out there. There are lots of them, but there aren’t any vegan Lorettas. Every chef, professional or otherwise, brings their own spin, their own hand, their own “bam,” and I’m missing out on Loretta’s.

When I found out Loretta was blogging about some of her favorite recipes at Around the Table with Loretta, I got really excited. It was a chance for me to peek over her shoulder and watch her work her kitchen magic. I love reading about her dishes, her techniques and recipes, why she likes to make them, and associated memories or stories. In this way, we have a lot in common. Food is a full-body experience…mind, soul, and taste buds!

After catching up on her blog one day, I decided I didn’t have to deny myself her delicious works of flavorful culinary art. I could take her recipes and veganize them. My one disadvantage is that many of her dishes I had never even tried (at her table or anyone else’s) in the time I was a full-on omnivore: seafood paella, pozole, and arroz con pollo to name a few. Was it going to be hard for me to make the same dish vegan if I didn’t know what I was shooting for in the first place?

After some serious thought on this, my answer is a resounding, NO. I believe it is the spirit of the dish that I will aim for. No one can replace Loretta in her kitchen anymore than anyone can replace me in mine. And that’s the beauty of cooking. To follow in the footsteps of one of my favorite athletes, Michael Jordan, I’m doing this “for the love of the game.” That is, after all, how and why Loretta and I succeed in the kitchen—you can taste the love in every bite of every dish we make. I just want some of the bites I make to have a little Loretta love in them too!

Last night, I attempted to make her most recent recipe post: Boeuf Bourguignon. She didn’t actually post the recipe but said she took a little inspiration from here and there: Julia, The Contessa, etc. So I looked these recipes up, as well as vegan versions I found on the web, and made up my own little concoction: Tempeh and Mushroom Bourguignon.

I am here to say that it was fantastic. Again, I can’t tell you if it tastes like Loretta’s or not but what I ended up with was something rich, deep, earthy, and with a nice chewy texture. The biggest difference between mine and Loretta’s dish, besides the obvious lack of meat, was the lack of pearl onions. I don’t do pearl onions. And I don’t care if Julia did them or not. I don’t and that’s all that matters. Instead, I used a fresh organic onion, thinly sliced, which I caramelized. I served mine over roasted baby red potatoes and I think she served hers over puff pastry or something similar. To balance the heartiness of the Bourguignon, I made the crisp, clean Thin-sliced Beans with Citrus Zest and Chives from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking cookbook (my current favorite). If there’s one thing my mama taught me, it’s that you always have something green on your plate; that holds true whether you’re an herbivore or omnivore.

So now I can’t wait to see what Loretta whips up next! I’m definitely up for the challenge. I mean, heck, I veganized Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon…can it get more difficult than that?! (I know I'm going to regret saying that!)

Tempeh and Mushroom Bourguignon

Tempeh and Mushroom Bourguignon

Serves 4

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 Tablespoons Earth Balance, softened and divided
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 (8 oz.) package tempeh (preferably something with flax, wild rice, or other grain)
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup full-bodied red wine
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 small tomato, seeded and minced or 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoons dried marjoram
  • 1 Tablespoon or so of soy sauce (optional)
  • 1½ Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Roasted baby red potatoes (1 lb. cut in chunks, tossed in olive oil, spread on parchment paper on baking sheet, roasted at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes).
  • Chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

Heat the one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of Earth Balance in a Dutch oven over high heat. Sear the mushrooms until they begin to darken, but not yet release any liquid — about three or four minutes. Remove them from pan and place in a bowl to catch any of the liquid that may come out of the mushrooms.

Lower the flame to medium/medium low and add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions, thyme, marjoram, and several grinds of black pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the carrot and continue cooking an additional 5 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

Add the wine to the pot, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom, then turn the heat all the way up and reduce by half. Stir in the tomato paste/minced tomato and the broth. Add back the mushrooms with any juices that have collected, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the soy sauce if you think the dish needs salt and simmer for five more minutes.

With a fork, mix remaining butter and the flour until well combined; stir it into the stew. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 to 10 more minutes, or until the consistency is just right for you (should be thick-gravy like).

Serve over roasted potatoes, puff pastry, wide noodles, or the like.

(This recipe is loosely based on this one and this one and, of course, this one.)