Thursday, April 26, 2012

Live and Learn

I'm a bit of a Food Network addict. I love to watch cooking shows. David, for the most part, does not. But, he does have a particular fondness for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives - a show where host Guy Fieri drives around the country looking for small and offbeat diners, drive-ins and dives (you could have guessed, right?).

Last week we saw a show featuring restaurants on Route 66. One of the places featured a chicken dish that looked divine. Despite our pledge to eat less meat and cook very little of it, we were both intrigued. I googled it. I bought the ingredients. And... we both got really sick of all the meat, almost immediately. Wow!

Tonight, eating the left-overs, David noted that the food we ate all during Lent was amazing - 9/10. And, he gave this dish a 4/10. So, live and learn. We really are going to eat less meat!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lenten Discipline: The Final Report

I know we just celebrated the Third Sunday of Easter, but such is the life of a priest. I'm only now getting the chance to really think through and check in on our Lenten Discipline.

I think we were about two weeks into Lent when David asked me, quite seriously, "Do we have to go back?" After I laughed about the steaks in our freezer, I replied simply, "No." We've loved experimenting with new recipes, cooking together, and trying new foods. And, we've loved having our food consumption make a a smaller impact both on the planet and our budget.

Neither of us is a budgeting whiz! So, I can't say beyond the shadow of a doubt that we saved X dollars through our eating choices. However, since one tub of tofu used to produce two portions, and now it produces six portions, I think I can state with certainty that we did save money.

So, what we've decided to do is to choose to eat less meat. We won't throw away the meat in our freezer. We'll enjoy the occasional bacon (as we did this morning). When we are out, we'll eat as we please. However, most of the meals we cook for ourselves will be vegan/vegetarian.

I also have to share that there were health benefits to our choices, as well. We certainly didn't take on this Lenten discipline to lose weight. But, I did! About 10 pounds worth. So, if a healthier lifestyle is something you are looking for, consider eating less meat!

I've really appreciated the positive response these posts have generated. So, I'll continue to post recipes and pictures as I am able. Keep those comments coming - let me know what you've tried and liked.

Finally, since I made it again last night, here's the Thai Tofu Soup from the last post!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Last Lenten Recipe: Thai Curry Vegetable and Tofu Soup

OK. I'll admit it. I'm kind of out-of-control when it comes to cookbooks, recipes, cooking magazines, etc. On Holy Saturday, I ducked into the store to get one thing - and found this magazine on display by the register: Real Simple - Easy, Delicious Home Cooking, Spring/Summer 2012. Generally, I find that things in Real Simple are often neither. But, as I waited in the long line and perused the recipes, I was totally hooked. So, into the bag it went! That very night, I made Thai Curry Vegetable and Tofu Soup and served it over white rice before we headed off to the Easter Vigil. Wow!

Thai Curry Vegetable and Tofu Soup
2 c low sodium vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk
1 T red curry paste (I only had green, and it was fine)
1 t grated fresh ginger
kosher salt to taste
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced (no shiitakes, only regular old mushrooms, again this substitution was fine)
1/4 pound green beans, trimmed and halved (no green beans, only snap peas, again fine)
2 carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise
14 oz extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed, and cut into cubes
1/4 pound snow peas (skipped these)
2 T fresh lime juice
1/4 c torn fresh basil leaves
Asian chile garlic sauce for serving

1. In a large sauce pan, whisk together the broth, coconut milk, curry paste, ginger and 1 t salt. Bring to a boil.
2. Add mushrooms, green beans and carrots. Simmer until just tender - 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add tofu and snow peas, simmer until snow peas are bright green, about 1 minute more.
4. Stir in lime juice, sprinkle with basil leaves, and serve with chili-garlic sauce.

I didn't have lime juice, basil,or chile garlic sauce. I found the soup a tiny bit flat and so instead added some soy sauce, fish sauce, and about 1 t of sugar. I served topped with crushed red pepper flakes.

Maundy Thursday Lentil Soup

This year on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday in Holy Week) we marked the day with a simple potluck supper embedded in a Eucharist. Folks brought a variety of things to share: cheeses, dried fruit, olives, hummus. I made a giant pot of Lentil Soup to share. This recipe is from Alton Brown - and can be found here.

Lentil Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 pound lentils, picked and rinsed
  • 1 cup peeled and chopped tomatoes
  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground toasted cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground grains of paradise
  • 1. Place the olive oil into a large 6-quart Dutch oven and set over medium heat. 
  • 2. Once hot, add the onion, carrot, celery and salt and sweat until the onions are translucent, approximately 6 to 7 minutes.
  • 3. Add the lentils, tomatoes, broth, coriander, cumin and grains of paradise and stir to combine. 
  • 4. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook at a low simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 35 to 40 minutes. 
  • 5. Using a stick blender, puree to your preferred consistency. Serve immediately.
I never got a picture, sorry!

April 4, 2012: Super-simple Rice and Beans for Holy Week!

Rice and beans is one of the easiest (and healthiest) suppers you can make. Oh, and it's super-cheap, too.

2 c cooked beans - choose your favorite kind (in this case, I used pinto)
2 c cooked rice (brown is healthiest, of course, but I had rice on hand and no time to waste)
salsa - you can make your own, or, in this case, we had some great fresh salsa from the produce aisle
toppings - You can get elaborate, or be simple - in our case, it was just a dollop of vegan sour cream. Other toppings could be: shredded cheese, chopped jalapeños, black olives, shredded lettuce, or whatever suits your fancy.

1. Warm the beans. I used a medium sauce pan, a bit of water, and medium heat.
2. Put some rice in a bowl, top with beans, top with toppings, and eat.

March 25, 2012: A Three Part Dinner

The recipes in this three-part dinner come from three sources: A package, my Mom, and our last Community Supper at St. Barnabas.

Pan-Fried Tempeh
If you are not familiar with Tempeh, you should try it.  It's made of fermented soy beans. I tend to think of it as tofu's uglier, but tastier cousin! You can do many different things with it. Our favorite way to eat it is in a simple pan-fry.
1/2 package of tempeh, cut into strips (for 2 people) (The package instructions say 1/4 inch, but mine tend to be a bit thicker. I get six strips out of 1/2 package.)
1 T olive oil
1-2 T soy sauce
1. Heat olive oil and soy sauce in a medium size fry pan.
2. Place tempeh strips in, one of the wide sides down.
3. Saute for about a minute, then flip over (You want to do it this way, as the tempeh will absorb the soy sauce and the oil, and this gives the liquid a chance to absorb on both side. I neglected the first time, and I had half dark/half light tempeh.)
4. Continue to saute, first one side, then the other, until lightly browned and heated through, about 5 minutes.

Pan-fried Zucchini
Yvonne and Larry made this at our last community supper and I was so enchanted with it that I've made it three times since!
1 Zucchini per 2 people
1 T olive oil
spices of your choice
1. Halve the zucchini, first the short way, and then the long way, and trim off the ends.
2. Rest each quarter of the zucchini on a cutting board, and trim a thin piece off of the outer side of the zucchini. When you are done, you should have four thick planks of zucchini.
3. Lay the zucchini, one wide side up, on the cutting board. Season as you like. (I've done this now with salt, pepper, and then either garlic powder, middle eastern spices, curry powder, or basil, depending on the dish.)
4. Heat oil in a medium sized fry pan over medium-high heat. Place zucchini, spiced side down, and fry for 3-4 minutes, until the bottom caramelizes. While it's frying, repeat the spice process on the now exposed other wide side.
5. Flip and fry 3-4 minutes on the other side.

Vegan Creamed Spinach
This recipe is one my Mom used to make with milk. It was lovely subbing in soy for the milk. This is a great way to deal with spinach that may be getting past its prime, as was our case this night!
1 pkg baby spinach
1 small onion, chopped
a pinch of salt
1 T flour
roughly 1/2 c plain soy milk
2 T olive oil

1. Heat the olive oil in a large fry pan over medium high heat.
2. Add the chopped onion and a pinch of salt.
3. Saute until soft, roughly 5 minutes.
4. Sprinkle flour over onions/oil and stir to combine.
5. Add spinach and sauté until the spinach starts to cook down, 2-3 minutes, usually.
6. Pour soy milk over the spinach and stir until combined and heated through.

April 1, 2012: Stir-fried Rice Noodles with Quick-Braised Vegetables, Thai Style

This keeper is adapted from a recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food, John Wiley & Sons, 2007.  He gives some great suggestions for vegetables to use, but I just used what we had on hand. Prepping all the veggies takes a bit of time, but the whole thing comes together quickly after that.

1/3 package rice noodles, prepared according to package directions, rinsed in cold water, and drained
3 T oil (I always use olive)
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 chile, chopped (or you could use 2 dried chiles, or 1 t chile paste, or eliminate the chiles all together if you aren't a spice fan)
lime leaves or lime zest (we didn't have any, so I skipped this - it would have deepened the flavor, for sure)
a quantity of fresh vegetables, chopped into bite-sized pieces (we used mushrooms, broccoli, and snap peas - and we pressed 1/3 of a package of tofu and added it in with the mushrooms)
1 can coconut milk
3 T fish sauce - this is a place where I go ahead and use the real thing, not a vegan alternative. You can sub soy sauce or fish-less fish sauce if you prefer.
salt and pepper
lime wedges for serving

1. Put the oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Sauté the garlic and onions for about 5 minutes until soft.
2. Stir in chiles and lime leaves.
3. Add vegetables - put in the longest cooking first, followed by the shorter cooking ones. Sauté, stirring frequently. Depending on the veggies you use, this could take 5-15 minutes.
4. When the veggies are nearly done, add the rice noodles and sauté very briefly, to heat through.
5. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer until thickened, then add fish sauce, salt and pepper.
6. Serve hot with lime wedges.

Taste this before you serve it. You may want to adjust spices with more fish sauce, or chile sauce, or by adding a bit of sugar. Trust your own palate and what you like as you finish this up.

March 21: Sesame Noodles

There are some recipes I have been carrying around with me for decades. This one is part of that collection. It was given to me years ago (quite possibly almost 20 years ago) by a friend of a friend. It's been so long, I can only remember her first name - Cathy. I don't know where she got it, but she wrote it out for me on a little piece of legal paper, and I've been making it off and on for a long time. This time I adapted it, and liked it even more.

1/4 c tahini (first adaptation - I used peanut butter instead)
1/4 c warm water
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c vegetable oil
2 T sugar
2 T cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 t chili oil (second adaptation - no chili oil in the house, so I used hot sauce!)
2 t sesame oil
1/2 c green onions
1 cucumber, chopped
1 1b of spaghetti (third adaptation - instead of spaghetti, I used soba noodles)

1. Whisk together the tahini/peanut butter (whichever you use) and warm water. (I moved this process along by using boiling water.)
2. Whisk in all other ingredients (except vegetables and pasta)
3. Cook the noodles according to package directions, then drain.
4. Coat noodles with sauce - add cucumbers and green onions.

This whole recipe can be made in the time it takes to cook the noodles.

I served it with a side of braised tofu.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

March 19: Braised Seitan with Red Wine and Mushrooms

If you've not delved deeply into vegetarian food, you may be wondering about seitan. It's made from wheat gluten, is a complete protein, and has the texture of meat. I hadn't eaten it in years, but found some at the Littleton Coop and decided to get it. You can also make your own, which would be much cheaper than buying it. You can find many sites with instructions - here's a great one with pictures:

I found this recipe in my vegetarian crockpot cookbook - Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker: 200 Recipes for Healthy and Hearty One-Pot Meals that are Ready when You Are by Robin Robertson (Harvard Common Press, 2004). The flavor was amazing.

2 T olive oil
1 pound seitan, cut into 1/2 inch slices
6 shallots, quartered (you could certainly use an onion if you have no shallots - we had some left over from the last Farmer's Market of the fall - if you use an onion, chop it roughly)
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz small white mushrooms, sliced or quartered
1/2 c vegetable stock
2 T tomato paste
1/2 c dry red wine
1 T minced fresh time or 1 t dried
salt and pepper to taste
[1/2 t Gravy Master or other vegetarian browning liquid]
3 and 1/2 or 4 quart slow cooker

1. Heat 1 T oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add seitan and cook until brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
2. Return skillet to heat. Add other T oil. Add shallots and cook until softened and slightly brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Place shallot mixture in crockpot. Add mushrooms and seitan. Stir in stock, tomato paste, wine, and dried thyme (if using). Season with slat and pepper. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
4. Near the end of the time, stir in fresh time (if using).

The recipe suggests scooping out 1 c of mushrooms at the end and blending in a blender or food processor with the Gravy Master and then returning it to the pot to thicken the sauce. We had no Gravy Master, so I eliminated this step. Instead, I took a bit of sauce and mixed it with 1 t cornstarch and then returned that to the pot for about 5 minutes. It thickened the sauce enough for us.

This was wonderful served over quinoa, with a side of roasted asparagus.

March 17: Vegan Veggie Enchiladas

I love enchiladas. Really love them. But, since going back on the no-cheese diet, it's been hard to eat them. So, I wracked my brain to remember how I used to make vegan enchiladas - and came up with this recipe.

1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1-2 T olive oil
1 8 oz package mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 package fresh spinach
1 15.5 oz can of beans (use your favorite - black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans - all are good)
approx 2 cups of cooked grain - rice, quinoa, again, whatever you like
4 flour tortillas (medium size or larger)
1 can enchilada sauce  (Note well -- all sauces are NOT created equal. Some cans of sauce are wonderful and some taste terrible - it's up to you to decide what you like.)
a 9x11 baking pan and some non-stick cooking spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Sauté the garlic and onions in the olive oil until soft, then add mushroom, cooking until they soften and get brown on the edges.
2. Add spinach - cook until it wilts a bit and reduces in size.
3. Spray cooking pan with non-stick spray, then pour 1/3 can of enchilada sauce into pan.
4. Place approx 1/2 c grain, 1/4 of veggie mixture, and 1/2 cup beans in the center of a tortilla. Roll. Place in pan. Repeat until all four enchiladas are made.
5. Top with remainder of enchilada sauce, cover with tin foil.
6. Bake at 350 for roughly 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5-10 minutes until sauce is bubbling.
7. Serve - We topped ours with some jarred salsa and a bit of vegan sour cream.

This makes four large enchiladas - enough for two meals for a family of two.

March 14: Iron Chef - Milan (aka, another Tofu Stir Fry)

After making many stir fries from the Wok Fast cookbook, I decided to go it on my own and see what I could come up with. So, based on what we had in the fridge and in the cupboard, here's my own version of a stir fry sauce. It was pretty good!

1/4 c vegetable stock
1/4 c cooking sherry
1/4 c sesame oil
1 T soy sauce
1 clove garlic
1 T chopped ginger
1 t corn starch

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl, and when the stir fry is nearly done, add to the pan. Cook another minute or two and the sauce will thicken.

Two Stir-Fry Sauces

One of our Lenten lessons has been how little tofu you actually need to make a meal. It used to be that when we made a stir fry, we opened a container of tofu, pressed the tofu cake, and then used the whole container to make a stir fry, which David and I ate in a single sitting. What we learned is that we only need 1/3 of a container of tofu to make dinner for two.  So, once we open a container, we need to make three meals of the tofu in fairly short order - or then we have to throw the tofu away.

So, here are two yummy and easy stir fry sauces that can go over any stir fry - see the post below for some stir-fry basics. They both come from the cookbook called Wok Fast by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison (Ten Speed Press, 2002). I think it's long out of print, but we found a used copy online last summer after a friend recommended it. "The sauces for stir fries are worth the price of the book," she said. She was right.

Cantonese Black Bean Sauce
1/4 c chicken broth (I used vegetable broth and it was just fine)
1/4 dry sherry or Chinese rice wine (I used cooking sherry)
1 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
2 t black bean garlic sauce (you can by this in the International section of any larger grocery store)
2 t corn starch
1 t sugar
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper, or Asian chile sauce (siracha would be great, I used a Thai chile sauce - and we like spice, so I used a bunch of it!)

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. When the stir fry is nearly done, add to the pan. Cook another minute or two and the sauce will thicken.

Spicy Peanut Stirfry Sauce
3 T chicken broth (I used vegetable broth again)
3  dry sherry or Chinese rice wine (I used cooking sherry)
3 T creamy peanut butter
2 T oyster sauce
1 T hoisin sauce
1 T sesame oil
1 T Asian chile sauce (again, siracha would be great, but what I had was a Thai chile sauce, and I used more than 1 T)
2 t cornstarch
(I felt like it could have been sweeter, so I added a bit of sugar, less than a t)
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. You might want to put the peanut butter in the microwave for 20 seconds to soften it). When the stir fry is nearly done, add to the pan. Cook another minute or two and the sauce will thicken.
Black Bean Sauce

Spicy Peanut Sauce