Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fishless Friday Feast: Butternut Squash Soup, Macadamia-Crusted Seitan, Mushroom Filo Triangles with White Sauce and Zucchini Fritters

My parents observe Lent, so I invited them over for a Friday dinner that would be a change from the same old fish fry.

The Macadamia-Crusted Seitan was the main course, but in case it didn't go over well (I was a little worried the texture would be too weird for my parents), I made Mushroom Filo Triangles with White Sauce as well. Rounding out the meal were Zucchini Fritters, whole grain rolls from the bakery on the corner and some kale (whaat, my mom never had it before and I wanted her to try some!).

None of these recipes are completely my own invention, but I've altered most of them from their original states.

The Butternut Squash Soup is the same recipe I posted here, doubled.

The Macadamia-Crusted Seitan is kind of an amalgam of these recipes from; here's how I did it:

For the marinade:
• 2 pkgs White Wave Seitan
• 1/2 c soy sauce
• 3 scant tbsp dijon mustard
• 4 large cloves fresh garlic, minced
• 2 generous tbsp olive oil
• 1/4 c water

For the coating:
• 1/2 c macadamia nuts
• 1/4 c whole wheat bread crumbs (optional; if not just use more nuts and flour)
• 1/2 c flour
• salt and pepper to taste
• 1/2 c plain unsweetened soy milk for dredging (can substitute corn starch mixed with water to a milky consistency)
• canola oil for frying, about 1/4 c

First, make the marinade, enough ahead of time (at least an hour, preferably more) for the seitan to marinate. Combine the soy sauce and mustard in a bowl and mix until uniform. Add the garlic, olive oil and water; stir to combine. Pour into a bag or small covered plastic container and add the seitan, making sure it's all covered. Let the seitan marinate (I let it sit for about 4 hours, I think that was optimal).

To make the coating, toast the macadamia nuts in the toaster oven or conventional oven until just golden; cool. (This is just to make the macadamias taste a little richer; you can skip this step if you want.) Process the cooled macadamia nuts in a food processer until ground, about the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. Combine the macadamia nuts, flour, breadcrumbs (if using them) and salt and pepper in a bowl. Pour the soy milk into another bowl. In a small, non-nonstick pan on medium heat, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan until hot but not smoking. Coat the marinated seitan pieces one at a time by dredging in the macadamia mixture (the marinade should be enough to make it stick), then dipping quickly in the soy milk and dredging again in the macadamia mixture. Fry in the oil until golden (it won't take long) and drain on a cooling rack over a couple of paper towels.

The Mushroom Filo Triangles were from the Voluptuous Vegan, and since I don't know if the author would be cool with my posting the recipe here, I'll just post my comments:

These are basically mushroom turnovers made with phyllo dough (filo, fillo, depending on who makes it -- those paper-thin sheets of pastry dough that you brush with oil). The filling is a mix of mostly mushrooms, crumbled tofu and spinach with some onion for flavour. I used fresh baby spinach instead of regular spinach (don't have to wash and de-stem, sweeter taste) and I think that was a good idea. There is also a miso mixture that you add at one point that gave the turnovers a complex, 'gourmet' flavour; it was very good but if you'd prefer a more 'meaty' flavour, then I'd recommend omitting it and just adding soy sauce to taste. I prepped the filling ahead of time and and let it sit overnight; I did this mostly to save time, but it also allowed the flavours to mingle -- always a good idea when working with tofu.

For the White Sauce I experimented with the sauce from this recipe. I made a quarter recipe of the sauce as it is the day before, and I wasn't too thrilled with it: too thin and too orange-y. So I browsed recipes for traditional white wine sauce and here's what I came up with. It actually turned out pretty well, but it really was an experiment, so all measurements are very approximate:

• 2 tbsp margarine
• 1 medium-large shallot, finely chopped (closer to medium or large depending on how much you like onion-y flavours)
• 1/2 c dry white wine (I actually used a dry red, but a dry white would be better)
• 1/2 tsp orange zest
• 1/2 c plain, unsweetened soy milk
• 1/4 c veg. stock
• 1 tbsp flour
• 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

Melt the margarine in a frying pan, add the shallot and sauté until golden. Add the wine and orange zest; bring to a boil. Add the soy milk and stir, returning to a boil. When it begins to thicken just a bit, strain the sauce into a bowl, discarding the shallots and orange peel. Place the flour and olive oil in the still-heated pan and stir to make a roux; when it bubbles return the sauce to the pan and stir quickly to thicken it uniformly. Adjust consistency (mine was on the thick side) and flavour with vegetable stock, or if it's really bland a little soy sauce. You might also want to add a teaspoon or so of nutritional yeast; I did to the leftover sauce and it complemented the orange essence nicely.

The Zucchini Fritters were taken from this recipe almost exactly, omitting the egg:

• 2 large zucchini (uh, that's grocery store large, not monster-from-your-garden large)
• 2/3-3/4 c flour
• 1 small shallot, finely chopped (you can also use about 2 tbsp finely chopped onion)
• salt and pepper to taste
• oil for frying

Shred the zucchini into a bowl with the coarse side of a cheese grater. Add the flour, shallot or onion, and salt and pepper and mix well. Heat a non-stick pan on medium heat and when heated, add a little oil. (We learned the hard way that if you use too much oil or if the pan isn't heated first, the zucchini will just soak up the oil and your fritters will be soggy.) Spoon the zucchini mixture into the pan in small pancake-sized dollops and fry as you would pancakes, flipping when golden on one side. When they're cooked, dab off the excess oil with a paper towel.

My parents liked the Macadamia-Crusted Seitan even more than I expected them to, although I must admit it's kind of hard not to like. The tangy marinade coupled with the buttery-sweet coating is a great combination. The Zucchini Fritters were also a favourite; they're basically like potato pancakes only less greasy and a little softer. I'll definitely be making them again as zucchini comes back into season. The Mushroom Triangles held their own, but since I made them as a second entree I think I would have preferred a more meaty flavour from them. And it's hard to argue with creamy Butternut Squash soup, fresh rolls and yummy kale.

I'll also mention my mom brought an excellent dessert: Ghiradelli's Chocolate muffins (made with egg replacer), topped with fresh raspberry or strawberry sauce (made by sprinkling sugar on the fruit and letting them sit until they make their own juice), served à la mode. The muffins were more like fudgy cupcakes, rich and moist. If you can find the mix, I highly recommend them.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dessert: Lemon Cookies Made With Olive Oil

We're having pasta primavera again tonight, and since it's once again gorgeous out I was in the mood for a spring-y dessert. Grocery shopping is tomorrow, though, and so we we're low on a few dessert ingredient staples. After some googling, I came across this recipe, which is mostly vegan on its own, and that I halved and tweaked just a little:

• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 c sugar, plus sugar for rolling
• 1/4 tsp baking soda
• dash salt
• 4 scant tbsp light olive oil
• 1 tbsp plain soy milk (vanilla would work well too)
• scant 1/4 tsp vanilla (less if you use vanilla soy milk)
• zest from 1 small lemon
• juice from 1 small lemon (about 1 1/2 tbsp)
• approx. 1 tbsp water

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in medium-sized bowl and mix well (sifting these ingredients together would be ideal if you have a sifter). Make a well in the center and add olive oil, soy milk, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir together until mixture comes together. If dough is too dry or crumbly, add water a teaspoon at a time and stir until it forms a ball.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place 1-2 tbsp of sugar in a small bowl. Form dough into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar to coat. Place on a cookie sheet and bake until just golden. Cool before serving.

These were kind of like a cookie version of lemonade -- light and refreshing (as far as cookies go, anyway). They were very fast to make and I like the fact that they use olive oil, which is comparatively healthier than the shortening or margarine that most cookie recipes use. And no, you can't taste the olive oil, although this is not the recipe to break out your extra-virgin for, either.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: "Beef" With Broccoli

So, about the lack of pictures recently: a bunny appears to have surreptitiously nibbled on the cord to the charger for our digital camera, so bear with me while I try to fix it (or give up and replace it).

On to dinner. I was so stoked on those "chicken" filets from the other day that I figured I'd give their beef strips a try. I was a bit disappointed -- they were exactly the same as the meatless strips that the other grocery store carries, and they're only okay. The texture is great, but they still have a bit of that characteristic, sort of plastic-y taste. But, they're just fine for the kinds of recipes that are usually made with cheaper cuts of meat (since those recipes are less focused on the meat anyway). Hence tonight's dinner: takeout style beef with broccoli.

I modified a recipe I found elsewhere on the internet, but can't find for the life of me now -- if I find it, I'll come back and link to it. I'll also note that the conspicuous absence of soy sauce is due to the fact that I somehow forgot to purchase it this week, and not by design.

Anyhow, the recipe. All measurements are, as usual, very approximate:

• 1 package imitation beef strips
• 1 tbsp black bean garlic sauce (I used Lee Kum Kee, you can get it at most grocery stores)
• 1 tbsp corn starch
• 1 c water
• 3 crimini, oyster or shiitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
• 1/2 c water
• onion powder
• garlic powder
• salt or soy sauce
• 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
• 2 tbsp vegetable oil
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 3 large garlic clove sized pieces fresh ginger, peeled
• 1 tbsp rice wine or rice vinegar (you can skip this if you don't have any on hand)
• steamed rice (I used jasmine)

First, make a marinade for the veggie beef strips. In a small bowl, stir together the black bean paste and water. In a small dish, add a bit of water to the corn starch and stir well to make a milky slurry; add to the black bean paste mixture and stir. Add the veggie beef strips and set aside for fifteen minutes or so.

Next, make a mushroom broth: in a small bowl combine the mushrooms, 1/2 c water, a dash each of garlic and onion powder and a shake or two of soy sauce (or, if you're me, a quarter teaspoon of salt). Stir; microwave for two or three minutes, stir again, and set aside.

Chop the broccoli if you haven't already and get your rice steaming. Heat a wok or large frying pan and add the oil. Add the beef strips, reserving the marinade, and stir-fry until browned. Take out the beef strips and set aside.

Now, put the broccoli in the wok with about 1/4 c water and stir-fry until crisp-tender. Add the beef strips and stir to combine. Make a little well in the middle and add the marinade, garlic, ginger (I just pressed this in a garlic press right over the wok), rice wine, and mushroom broth with mushrooms. Stir fry for a minute or two and taste; you may want to add some soy sauce at this point. Also, if the sauce is too thin make a little more corn starch slurry and add that while stirring. Once you're done making adjustments, remove from heat and serve over rice.

This was surprisingly good, given the fact that I wasn't too high on the beef strips initially. The nice thing about making takeout style food at home is that you can control how much oil goes into it; this was not greasy at all. Next time I'll probably use more ginger, but I'm kind of a ginger fiend. Oh, and soy sauce. I'll remember to buy soy sauce.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Veggie Burgers and Fries

It was gorgeous out today, so we decided to fire up the grill. Veggie burgers can get really boring, so here's what we top them with to liven them up a bit:

• Grilled green peppers
• Grilled red onions
(throw those on the grill halfway through cooking the veggie burgers)
• Lettuce
• Sliced tomato
• Sprouts
• Dill relish or sliced pickle
• Any combination of the following condiments: dijon mustard, ketchup, vegenaise, dill dressing (or some other kind of dressing), guacamole

All that on a toasted whole wheat roll with a side of fries (we just used the frozen kind, but if you're feeling fancy baked sweet potato fries would go very well) -- yum. Quick and not boring.

I'd also like to take this moment to give a shout out to Lick's, a local burger chain in southern Ontario. They make the best veggie burgers (or "Nature Burgers," as they call them) I've ever had, and not only are they vegan, they sell them in grocery stores so you can make them at home. If you're in the neighbourhood, definitely give them a try. I also like Boca burgers (the vegan Original kind), but alas, none of the stores around here carry them.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Super Quick Lunch: "Chicken" Tenders and Okra

The Boy is on business all week, so I'm spoiling myself a bit with more convenience food than I normally eat. Tops on that list has been these "Chicken Filets" that the grocery store here has recently started carrying. They are really good -- the marinade is delicious and the texture is great. No artificial or chemical-y taste like a lot of soy "meat" products have. They're pretty expensive so we won't be having them too often, but for when I simply don't feel like cooking, they're nice to have around. Lots of protein, too.

Anyhow, I also picked up some fresh okra on sale this week, and it just so happens you can microwave that too. So I set up a plate with the chicken filets and the washed whole okra, popped it in the microwave for one minute, put a dab of margarine and a little salt and pepper on the okra, and lunch was done.

Okra has a kind of asparagus-y flavour, but in my experience it's not as likely to be tough (tough asparagus...shudder). If you leave it whole, it's way less messy to eat, and I find that biting into the 'pods' is more satisfying than eating cut okra -- but try it either way to see what you like.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: White Bean, Spinach and "Sausage" Ragout

This meal came together much more quickly than I thought it would, and it was very very good.

A friend pointed me to the recipe, which came from Cooking Light. Although the recipe isn't vegan, I was able to veganize it easily by doing the following:

• Substituted three Tofurky Sweet Italian Sausage links for the sausage.
• Substituted vegetable broth for the chicken broth.
• Substituted baby spinach for the escarole.
• I also omitted the rosemary and subsituted a dry red wine for the white, but that was just because I didn't have those ingredients on hand.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Tofurky sausage -- I actually liked it better than I remember "real" sausage. I was glad to note that it doesn't cook down as much as meat sausage does, and so you don't need to use as much.

And, in keeping with my quest to broaden my nutritional yeast horizons, I sprinkled a little on my ragout. It was, in fact, very much like parmesan and went well with the dish. Hooray! (A little goes a long way, though.)

Owing to the fact that the Tofurky sausage is kind of pricy and only infrequently available around here, I don't know how often I'll be making this. Even so, this was quick, healthy and tasty -- a definite success.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A Shout Out to Nutritional Yeast

Since Suzanne asked (and since I probably should start explaining the more bizarre ingredients I use anyway), here's a little post about nutritional yeast.

Nutritional yeast is a type of yeast with a sharp parmesan-y flavour rather than the typical yeast-y flavour you'd expect. It's also, as the name indicates, loaded with vitamins (although a bunch of them, like B-12, are added to it). For these reasons,
it's pretty popular with vegans in making cheesy-tasting dishes. You can get it powdered or in flakes, and I much prefer the flakes -- they have a lighter, tangier taste that's more conducive to mimicking cheese or upping the umami factor in whatever you happen to be cooking. (Also, a lot of the powders have non-vegan additives in them like whey, so be sure to read labels.)

Surprisingly for someone who's been vegan for a while and likes to cook, I haven't used nutritional yeast in very many dishes. It's apparently very good as a coating for frying tofu, sprinkled on popcorn, and in place of parmesan on pasta and the like. (Hm, maybe I'll challenge myself to branch out now.)

In addition to the alfredo, I make a pretty decent mac'n'cheese with nutritional yeast. It tastes more like that white cheddar mac'n'cheese than the yellow stuff, but it satisfies that cheesy comfort food craving.

I pretty much never measure the ingredients, so all measurements here are very approximate:

• 1 c pasta (measured dry)
• 1/2 tsp miso paste (a little less if you're using dark miso)
• 1/2 c water
• 2 tablespoons white flour
• 2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
• optional: a little turmeric for colour
• 1 tbsp soy sauce
• 3-4 drops of apple cider vinegar
• 2 tbsp margarine

Boil pasta in slightly salted water. In a bowl, mix the miso paste in the water until diltued evenly. Add the flour, nutritonal yeast flakes and turmeric (if using it) and mix well until there are no lumps. Add more water if necessary; it should be a heavy cream-like consistency. Add the soy sauce, a little at a time, to taste. Add the vinegar. Pour into a saucepan, add the margarine, and heat, stirring, on medium low heat, until it begins to boil and thicken. Remove from heat, stir well, and pour over cooked and drained pasta. Yum!

More info on nutritional yeast:


Monday, March 5, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Cornmeal Crusted Tofu Over Whole Wheat Pasta and Veggies With Ginger Tomato Sauce

Tonight's dinner is sort of an homage to a dish served at Off the Wall in Buffalo. It's been a while since I've eaten there, so I'm pretty sure this doesn't taste quite the same, but it's a favourite nonetheless.

For the tofu:

• 1 block extra-firm tofu
• 1/2 lemon (or equivalent amount lemon juice)
• salt

Press the tofu under a weighted plate for at least 15 minutes. Drain off the liquid and cut the tofu into little cutlet-sized pieces; I third the block width-wise and quarter it depth-wise. Squirt a little lemon juice on a plate and begin stacking the tofu slices, squirting lemon juice and sprinkling a little salt in between layers. Let stand for at least fifteen minutes, preferably closer to an hour.

For the sauce:

• 1 1/2 c canned tomatoes, diced or crushed (I use diced because I like it chunky)
• 1 small clove garlic, minced
• 2 garlic clove-sized pieces of ginger, peeled
• 1 tbsp soy sauce, approximately

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes and garlic. Over the bowl, press the ginger in a garlic press -- you won't get much ginger, but you'll get a lot of "juice" from it, which is what you want anyway. Alternately, you can finely grate the ginger into the bowl. Add soy sauce, a teaspoon at a time, to taste. Set aside.

About now is when you can start boiling the water for the pasta.

For the cornmeal crust:

• 1 c cornmeal
• 1/4 c white flour
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/4 tsp onion powder
• 1/4 tsp garlic powder
• 1/2 c plain soy milk, or 1/2 c water mixed with about 1 tablespoon cornstarch
• vegetable oil for frying

Heat about 1/4" of oil in a small stainless steel pan on medium heat. In a shallow bowl, mix cornmeal, flour, salt, onion powder, and garlic powder. Pour the soy milk or water/cornstarch mix in a separate bowl. Dredge the tofu slices first in the cornmeal mixture (the lemon juice should give it enough to stick to), then quickly dip one side in the soymilk or water, then dredge that side in the cornmeal mixture, then dip and dredge the other side. By now the oil should be heated, so fry the crusted tofu slices until crispy (it won't take long -- they'll become a slightly lighter shade of yellow when they're done). Drain on a cooling rack over a couple of paper towels and dab off excess oil.

For the veggies:

• 1 large portabella cap, coarsely chopped
• 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
• any other veggies you want (snow peas, bean sprouts, red pepper, etc.)

Stir-fry the veggies in a bit of olive oil until crisp-tender.

Now that all that's ready, heat the sauce (I just did it in the microwave), portion the cooked pasta onto plates, top with veggies, heated sauce, and tofu.

This is obviously a bit involved, but it's not hard at all. We don't have this too often on account of the tofu being basically deep fried, but we sure do enjoy it when we do.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Panang Tofu

This is one recipe I'm pretty proud to post, if I say so myself. Ever since we first had Panang at Spicy Thai in Buffalo, it's been a mild obsession of mine. I've tweaked the recipe over time, and while it's not quite as good as theirs, it's still pretty darn close. Here it is:

(measurements are approximate)

for the tofu:

• 1 block extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
• peanut oil for frying

Cut the tofu into bite-sized pieces and fry in the peanut oil until crispy on all sides. Set aside.

for the sauce:

• 2 tbsp chopped onion
• 1 tsp A Taste of Thai red curry paste
• 1 slice from the base of a piece of lemongrass
• 1 tbsp peanut oil

sauté until fragrant; add:

• 1 can coconut milk less ~1/6 can
• the rest of the base of the stalk of lemongrass (about 1 1/2 inches from the bottom), bruised (keep this in a few large pieces, since you'll want to pick it out later)
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 1 – 1 ½ good shakes soy sauce
• 1 tsp minced fresh garlic

stir. taste. add:

• 1 tbsp peanut butter (add 1 tsp at a time)
• 1 tsp grated fresh ginger (works best if you squeeze a couple garlic clove-sized pieces in a garlic press; you'll get mostly juice but that's what you want anyway)
• 1 ½ tsp (1 good squeeze) fresh lime juice

Stir. Taste. Add rest of the coconut milk and adjust with soy sauce, curry paste, sugar, peanut butter, lime. Thicken with corn starch slurry. Add:

• 1 head broccoli, cut into florets, steamed or microwaved until crisp-tender

and the tofu to the sauce, stir until combined and heated evenly. Serve over steamed jasmine rice. You can pick the lemongrass out of the sauce before serving or just put it to the side of your plate while you're eating. (It's kind of like bay leaves in that regard -- you want it in for flavour, but it's too tough to eat.)

Obviously this recipe isn't ridiculously healthy and is a little more involved to make than my day-to-day recipes, so we don't have it too often. However, when we're craving Spicy Thai and can't make it down there, this definitely does the trick.