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Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update
Healthy Tips and Recipes for Institutions

Volume V, Number 4  Autumn 1997  

By Michelle Adelman

Janet Pfeiffer, owner of Funks Democratic Coffee House, finds most of her ideas for vegetarian and vegan recipes from the Moosewood cookbooks, which are based on the restaurant located in Ithaca, New York. Pfeiffer also uses a number of Indian cookbooks for ideas since Indian food is generally vegetarian.

Vegan Substitutes in Cooking
At the base of nearly all of her recipes is a good amount of garlic, olive oil, and sautéed onions. She says they provide a really strong flavor that can replace the butter taste. In addition, she utilizes Mediterranean, Indian, Thai, and other Asian spice combinations and fresh herbs to add life to different entrees. She uses over sixty spices, including cumin seed and oregano, in various combinations to flavor different ethnic dishes. The amount and quantities of each spice depend on the ethnicity of the dish.

Vegan Substitutes in Baking
Janet uses a greater proportion of baking powder and vinegar in vegan baked goods, often replacing butter with olive oil on a 1 to 1 basis, and she uses an egg replacer product manufactured by Energy Foods, Inc. (5960 1st Ave., PO Box 84487, Seattle WA 98124) to replace the eggs in recipes. She also uses soy milk to replace regular milk on a 1 to 1 basis.

Keeping Food Fresh
Foods stay fresh because she does not cook in large quantities. She makes no more than 12 servings at a time of any dish. Baked goods, like cakes however, can be frozen. Janet completely wraps up the product in plastic after it has cooled and freezes it for no more than a week to maintain freshness.

Creating the Menu
To find out which items are the most popular, Pfeiffer constantly surveys customers and gets involved with their desires. She posts three different menus on chalkboards labeled "vegan," "vegetarian" and "carnivore" and she changes the boards on a daily basis. She feels she has to keep each menu fresh because the same customers often return day after day. Certain customer favorites like vegetarian black bean burritos and vegan chocolate cake, which is adapted from a recipe found in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, are constants on the menu. She is working on maintaining one set menu that customers can choose from, aside from the daily board specials. Part of what determines what will appear on the board is based on the seasons. She does not plan out menus more than a week in advance because she likes to take advantage of available seasonal produce.

Obtaining Raw Goods
Pfeiffer relies heavily on the local farmer’s market to buy produce. When the farmer’s market is closed in the winter, she orders produce from a distributor. She buys her dry goods in bulk from a local restaurant depot. Pfeiffer obtains tofu directly from a local manufacturer. She only buys it in a really firm form and thus treats it like cheese in her dishes. It stays fresh because it is vacuum packed, and she only buys small quantities at a time.

Cost of Vegetarian Cooking
Pfeiffer says that cooking vegetarian is no more expensive, and in some cases it is actually cheaper than cooking for meat eaters. This is because Pfeiffer relies mainly on seasonal produce, dried grains and dried beans in her meals, which are all very inexpensive to buy. She buys these products at ethnic markets. For example she can purchase Jasmine rice, Basmati rice, Japanese sushi, and brown rice all from the Japanese market.

Cooking Methods
Pfeiffer always creates her meals from scratch and never buys prepared foods. She won’t even use canned items. Those dishes that take longer to prepare she makes more of, and she makes sure that they have a longer shelf life. For example vegetarian lasagna takes a long time to prepare, but it can stay fresh stored for a while, so she creates as many as 18 pans of it. She relies heavily on two pieces of machinery that she says she could not live without in the kitchen for cooking vegetarian. One is a Cuisinart and the other is a Robotcoup. They allow her to process, slice, grate, and prepare vegetables and fruit in a fraction of the time it would take her to manually prepare them. The Robotcoup specifically only slices and grates, but because it is an industrial machine and has a 1/4 horsepower motor, it is very helpful in speeding up the preparation of raw foods before they are used in recipes.

Staff Education
Because all of her items are clearly labeled, it is easy for her staff to differentiate between every item and not to mix up non-meat with meat items. She also encourages them to try everything so they can gain a greater appreciation for the taste of the vegetarian items.

Vegetarian and Vegan Ideas
Pfeiffer mostly prepares original vegetarian and vegan entrees, but sometimes she creates non-meat items to compete with meat counterparts. For example, she offers vegetarian shepherd’s pie and vegetarian chili. Her most popular vegetarian items are black bean burritos, potato knishes and bruschetta. Vegan favorites include sushi and sesame peanut noodles, which are made with fresh vegetables, regular pasta and a sauce with sesame oil, peanut butter, garlic and ginger and peanuts on top. Another popular item is the empanada, a refried bean and salsa filled pie. Of course the vegan chocolate cake is always a popular choice as well.

Michelle wrote this article while doing an internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group. She is majoring in Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.

Excerpts from the Autumn 1997 Issue:

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