Monday, February 28, 2011

Give it a Chance: Coconut Curry Tofu

First of all: happy birthday, Mom! Love you!

My local Price Chopper started carrying my favorite tofu again, and I impulse-bought zucchini and yellow squash. Sometimes when I don't know what veggies I want, I buy what's on sale and looks good, hoping to find a use for them later. Here's the use I found for them:

I know, I know. You've tried tofu and you don't like it. You're not a silly hippie. If I post one more vegan recipe, you're going to leave me forever.

But please please try this first! I'm pretty sure I've converted others to The Tofu Side before. Or if you must, make this but substitute chicken for the tofu. On a side note, tofu does not taste like chicken. It tastes like tofu. Expect and accept that, and it'll be an easier transition.

And if it makes you feel any better, we're going to FRY this baby! (Surprised? Of course not.)

A couple more things about me:
-I don't have a dishwasher.
-I hate doing dishes.

So we're going to make this dinner with just this:
1 plate
1 bowl
1 cutting board
1 knife
1 fork
1 large skillet

This dish also is low-carb (Atkins and South Beach friendly) and I believe gluten-free, but you'd have to check me on that.

First, start making some rice or noodles if you're planning on eating them! I forgot and kind of wished I hadn't.

Next, if you're going to make tofu for the first time, see if you can find this kind. It's absolutely the best, it's local to KC, organic, and easy to cook with.

Cut open the package and squeeze all the liquid out. Then cover it in paper towels, put it in a bowl, and put the plate on top.

I weighted down the plate with the rest of the ingredients for dinner because I thought it would be funny. The bananas are just in the way.

While the tofu is pressing, slice up a zucchini and a yellow squash.

Then add a little oil to a pan and start frying them on medium-high. Don't turn the burner on too high because you're going to walk away from it for a while.

While those are cooking, unwrap your tofu and place on a cutting board or the plate you were using.

Slice in strips one way.

Then the other way.

Then turn back and dice. Easier (and less slimy) than meat!

Feel free to use powdered ginger, but I happened to have this in the fridge from a past recipe. Fresh ginger is awesome! Just slice off the end to throw away, cut a chunk off, peel off the outer part and mince.

Also, cut a lime in half if you're using a fresh one.

Transfer the cooked zucchini and squash onto the plate you had before. Then put the tofu in the same pan, adding a little oil if it wants to stick. (I hope for your sake that your stovetop is cleaner than mine.)

Fry for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until it's browned. Another time I'll twice-fry this stuff, but not today.

Then put the zucchini and squash back in the pan, throw in the ginger and cook about a minute.

Use a fork or spoon (I used a fork because I wanted to just use it to eat dinner with later) to get out your Thai curry paste. If you don't have this, you can use curry powder. I have in the past and I can't tell I huge difference.

Mix the rest of the ingredients into the pan and stir.

Cook until the sauce is smooth. It won't thicken much, but you could add a little cornstarch if you wanted.

Then serve over brown rice, rice noodles or whatever you want. Again, I forgot to make rice. This was delicious, but it felt like it was missing ... well, rice. And I slurped the sauce out of the bowl. Unless you want to slurp, put something under this.

Feel free to add or substitute a veggie. I love coconut curries, so this could be adapted with this sauce on other things. Also, I usually buy light coconut milk because I can't tell the difference, but you don't have to. You do have to buy coconut milk, though. Every grocery store I've been to carries it and it's not expensive.

Coconut Curry Tofu with Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Lime
(makes about 3 servings)

Vegetable or canola oil
1 12-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained, patted dry, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 green zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
Juice of 1/2 lime (or equivalent)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add veggies and sauté, about 5 minutes. Transfer to other dish.
2. Add tofu to the pan and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes.
3. Return veggies to skillet. Add ginger; stir about a minute.
4. Add coconut milk, lime juice, soy sauce and curry paste. Mix well.
5. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 6 minutes.
6. Serve over rice or noodles if desired.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Go With What Works

   My mom once told me that her coworkers kept stealing the expensive specialty coffee creamer she took to work. Apparently they thought it was a free-for-all condiment like ketchup or mustard or salt and they kept using it up rather quickly. I suggested that she start writing her name on the bottle in permanent marker.
   "No," she said, "I have a better idea. I'm going to put my creamer in one of these Gatorade bottles and remove the label."
   "That's brilliant, Mom! They won't even know what it is!"
   "And then I'm going to write 'breast milk' on it."

   My mom is a genius.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

OMG I'm Starving: Banana Nutelladilla

I have a few problems:

1. A Nutella addiction.
2. A quesadilla addiction. Or rather, the tendency to turn anything into a quesadilla.
3. Sometime when I come home I'm STARVING and will be a grumpy witch until I eat something.

So although I planned a delicious, healthy, virtuous dinner that would incorporate organic tofu and the veggies lying around, I didn't give myself the chance. On the drive home, the following occurred to me:

Oh hells yes! I buttered a pan (you could use cooking spray, but come on, this is full of Nutella). Sliced up some bananas. Covered one tortilla in Nutella, covered that in bananas.

Cook it up like any ol' quesadilla. Slice and eat! So fast and delicious. In all honesty, you should probably split this with someone and call it dessert. I did not.

Check out that gooey goodness!

I don't always buy organic, but I try to with bananas. They taste so much better. I'd seen this combination in crepes and sandwiches, but never cooked up quesadilla-style, so I'm calling this an original!

Banana Nutelladilla
(Serves 1-2 depending on what you use it as)

2 tortillas
1 banana
Some Nutella

Layer and cook like a quesadilla.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Vegan Blueberry Pancakes

I woke up on a Saturday morning not wanting my usual healthy breakfast. Pancakes! I wanted pancakes. Grant wasn't overly excited, so I decided I'd make vegan pancakes. That'll teach him to be more excited next time...

While I've been wanting to incorporate more vegan foods into my diet, I refuse to buy egg replacers or vegan margarines. So I don't ever have anything like that on hand except for some non-dairy milks because they're delicious. Today's recipe is adapted slightly from this:

I try to get everything out ahead of time so I know that I have everything. If not, then I can plan a substitute up-front or change what I'm making. Too many times I've realized mid-baking that I'm out of eggs or flour, and that makes me grumpy. Don't make me grumpy.

After I mixed everything together, I sprayed a pan with Pam and put a glob of batter in. On any other day, I'd grease the pan with butter, but I was really trying to keep these virtuous vegan pancakes to see if they'd taste as good as regular pancakes. (Spoiler alert: they did!)

If any of you are true vegans, you'll be disappointed to know that I buy regular, cheap flour. I know it's not really vegan, but it's as close as I get at this point.

Cook, flip, cook some more. I'm going to assume you already know how to make pancakes. If not, ask me or Google a bit. The big thing is not to walk away. As my mom says, "Pancakes want to burn." But in the same way water doesn't boil if you stare at it, pancakes usually don't burn that way, either. Be more patient than I am.

Then you get to eat these delicious babies! (Pancakes that is. I don't know if babies are delicious... Weird...)

Oh wait, babies taste of chicken! And chicken of humans! (If you don't get this, go watch all the Eddie Izzard you can get your hands on RIGHT NOW.)

Say you want to try these vegan pancakes but your loving spouse isn't so keen on it. Or maybe you're afraid you won't like them and you need a backup plan. Here's the backup plan / spouse alternate:

For the record, I even poured him a little glass of regular cow's milk to go with it. But really, these are so good!

Vegan Blueberry Pancakes
(Makes 2-3 breakfasts)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup soy milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup blueberries

Mix all ingredients together. Cook over medium heat until the middles are done. Eat plain or with vegan margarine.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

No-Guilt Breakfast Parfait

You know those fruit-and-yogurt parfaits a certain Golden Arches place sells? I love those! However, that establishment's fruit scares me. Did you know that their apples stay looking like apples for months if your coworker forgets them in the fridge? Ew! Apples should go bad quickly.

Good news: you can make it your own darn self!

You just need fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt and granola.

I bought a ton of fresh blueberries that I couldn't use fast enough, so I froze them. To be fair, I prefer my blueberries frozen anyway. Put your fruit on the bottom.

Then cover the fruit in yogurt. I like plain fat-free yogurt, but that can be a little tart for a lot of people. Feel free to use any kind of yogurt, and just know that many types have a lot of added sugar. If you happen to be vegan, use non-dairy yogurt. I tried soy yogurt a few times but thought it was gross. Instead I insist on organic cow-milk (regular or Greek) yogurt. Yum!

Finally, sprinkle a little granola on the top. When I can make it to Whole Foods, I stock up on the bulk granola there. It's so good and cheap! Granola also is high-sugar, so load up on yogurt and fruit if you're calorie-conscious. The granola just gives it a nice sweetness and a little crunch.

Most days I make this right before I leave the house and eat it at my desk at work. By then, the bottom of the granola pieces have soften but the tops are crunchy. It's my favorite way to eat yogurt!

Fruit and Yogurt Parfait
(Makes 1 breakfast)

1/2+ cup fresh/frozen fruit
1/2+ cup yogurt
1/4 cup granola

Mix and eat! I like mine layered, but you don't have to.

Another day, I'll share my chocolate chip peanut butter yogurt parfait. So good! If you like that sort of thing...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Non-Recipe Dinners

This isn't so much a recipe as what I don't when I don't have a recipe. The Last-Minute Vegan Stir-Fry is one example of a time I've done this and had it turn out well. Sometimes it doesn't turn out as well, but it's always edible. More often than not, you get an interesting surprise meal. Surprise!

1. Pick a couple veggies in a couple different colors. More often than not, I also include garlic or onion.

2. Pick a whole grain that seems to go with it. Brown rice or wheat pasta is easy, but you could use anything. Or grab some bread or a tortilla to hold your food together. Or try quinoa or potatoes. Something starchy and carb-y. You could leave this out if you're watching carbs, but you'll want to make up for it in veggies and protein.

3. If you're so inclined, pick a meat or vegetarian protein. Beans, tofu and eggs are good vegetarian options, although eggs obviously aren't vegan.

4. Pick a "theme." When in doubt, I go Asian or Mexican. You probably have a spice mix, sauce or marinade on hand for these. If not, keep those on hand! Taco seasoning and/or soy sauce save my butt all the time.

5. Pick a method. I pan-fry a lot, but broiling or baking would be good. If you have something liquidy like tomatoes, you can get by with cooking on the stovetop without oil. That's about my favorite.

6. Do it!

Rarely do I make sides, so this is kind of a one-dish meal approach. Often I end up with a stir-fry or quesadilla of sorts, but I know I like those things so they're an easy base concept to work from.

Do you have a method for these times? I want to know!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Archenemy Day Cookies

"We deserve better villains."
—Bliss Cavendar, Whip It

      A friend and her family celebrate a mid-February holiday called Archenemy Day. It's a little bit Anti-Valentine's Day and a little bit Thanksgiving.
      The premise of Archenemy Day is that Valentine's Day is unnecessary because, as her sister put it, "You should celebrate the people you love every day of the year. On the other hand, there isn't a day to celebrate your enemies." Therefore, Archenemy Day was created.
      On Archenemy Day, party guests briefly and civilly describe the situation behind their archenemy-of-the-year and, whenever possible, do so in a way that will allow the foe to remain anonymous. The point is not to hold a ranting session, but to focus on the lessons you learn from dealing with archenemies.
      Some themes arise. Our archenemies make us feel like muck and disrupt our lives but they also tend to make us more empathetic, patient, and conscientious people. When we examine our archenemies, we examine our own behavior and consider how it affects those around us.
      And, like that famous town in the Southwest, what happens on Archenemy Day stays on Archenemy Day.

      This year I decided to make cookies for the party. Ever since I worked on the Star Wars cookies a few weeks ago, I've been eagerly awaiting my next opportunity to play with—er, enhance my skills in royal icing.
      The party invitation featured Disney villains, so I made Disney archenemy cookies. They included:

Aladdin and Jafar from Aladdin

Ursula and Ariel from The Little Mermaid

Maleficent and Aurora from Sleeping Beauty and
Dr. Facilier and Tiana from The Princess and the Frog

Peter Pan and Captain Hook from Peter Pan

Pongo and Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians

To decorate the cookies, I printed a dozen reference photos and piped in the black outlines.

Captain Hook was my favorite.

When the outlines were dry, I flooded the resulting 'cells' with color.

The cookies were a hit. After each person took their turn in the archenemy ceremony, they picked out their favorite cookie to eat. This provided some incentive for going earlier rather than later. ;-)


      For the cookies, I researched a few different recipes (including the one Kelly used for the Star Wars Cookies) in order to come up with my own. I discovered that most of the top sugar cookie recipes are very similar to each other, only differing by half a cup of flour or an egg or so. So, geek that I am, I used an old gadget shopping trick and looked to the negative comments associated with each recipe. While positive comments like, "I love these cookies!" or "They turned out really well!" may be more enjoyable to read, they don't tend to offer useful baking insights like, "They were too dry and needed more butter." As with archenemies, we often learn more from our detractors than we do from our allies.

DeVeeM's Sugar Cookies:
Makes about a dozen cookies

12 Tbsp. (or 1.5 sticks) Butter
1 cup Sugar
(2) Eggs
2.5 cups Flour (I used 2 cups white, .5 cup whole wheat)
1 tsp. Vanilla
.5 tsp. Salt
.5 tsp. Baking Soda
.5 tsp. Baking Powder

Cream together butter and sugar
Mix in eggs and vanilla
Mix in everything else
Chill 1+ hours in fridge
When chilled, knead dough until soft enough to roll out
Cut out cookies and place on greased cookie sheet
Bake at 365 degrees Fahrenheit for 12+ minutes. The cookies are done when they just barely start to turn golden.
Place on rack or plates to cool

      Note: Unless you like very dry, crisp sugar cookies, bag them along with a slice of bread once they have cooled. These cookies tend to dry very quickly and thoroughly; the moisture in the bread will keep them soft and moist. Remove the bread as soon as the cookies have reached optimal moistness or the cookies will begin to taste like the bread.

Royal Icing:
      I used the same no-raw-eggs recipe that Kelly used for the Star Wars Cookies but with a few modifications:
      I used vanilla instead of almond extract.
      I didn't have any corn syrup on hand, so I made my own.
      If you plan on icing as many cookies as I did, I'd recommend doubling the icing recipe. Postmortem says: It's far better to have too much icing than not enough!

      If you were in a Disney movie, who would your archenemy be?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vegan Sweet Potato Chili

I know I'm on a vegan kick right now, but this chili will satisfy even meat-eaters. I have it on good authority that you could add some cooked ground turkey to this if you really want to add meat. Even if eat meat again someday, I'll always make this chili vegan because I love it so much as-is.

A while ago I found this and made it. Because I didn't have quite everything on hand (as usual) I modified it a bit. Now I'm making it again to share. The original is here:

I had three sweet potatoes left over from the Sweet Potato Tortilla, but I only ended up using two for this chili. If you don't think you like sweet potatoes, you could start out with just one.

Dice them up pretty small so they cook down all the way. Otherwise you'll have kind of a funny texture. Sometimes the sweet potatoes in the store are HUGE, so you could use one of those.

Then dice up your onion. Use whatever color onion you have on hand. When we were at Whole Foods, I told Grant to grab me whatever was cheapest and he came back with a white onion. So I used that.

Then zest the lime with whatever you have to zest with. I don't have a citrus zester, so I use my cheese grater. (The same grater I may or may not have grated butter with recently.) The only reason I actually bought limes was that I thought I was out of lime juice, but then I found some in my fridge when I got home. Because I had fresh ones at that point, I went ahead and used one of those. Feel free to use the shortcut and use lime juice that comes in the little green bottle and leave out the zest.

Chop up some garlic in whatever size you like. This is fresh garlic, again just because I happened to have some on hand. I always ALWAYS have a little glass jar of minced garlic in the fridge, so if you don't like garlicy smell on your fingers, use that. It's pretty cheap and very delicious. Or use garlic powder if you must. If all you have is garlic salt, leave out the rest of the salt in this recipe.

Throw all your chopped veggies in a pot with some olive oil. There are some black beans in this picture because they wouldn't all fit in my strainer, so I left some in the pot. No big deal. Cook the veggies until the sweet potatoes are bite-soft.

I get antsy in the middle of cooking, so I start preparing everything that comes next. You don't have to do this. But at some point you will have to cut the lime in half. (Note: buy limes that are starting to yellow; they're easier to juice.)

"Measure" out your salt. This is how I measure:

For the record, these are my spices. They're not super-fancy or extensive, so sometimes I improvise. Penzey's Spices are my favorite, but they're not open on Sundays when I usually do my shopping, so there's some other cheap stuff thrown in. When you run out of cinnamon, get more from Penzey's!

Okay, chop your jalapenos if you're using (leave out if you don't like spiciness) and juice your lime.

Because I'm impatient, I opened my can of tomatoes and mixed all of the second-half ingredients (including spices) into it. Let's say I'm being "efficient with my time." That sounds less neurotic.

Once the sweet potatoes are softened, mix in the beans and the rest of the ingredients.

Mix it up and cook another 10-20 minutes, or until you taste it and everything is sufficiently soft and flavors are melded. I never time things, but I always taste-test. It just works better for me.

While that's cooking, wash and chop your cilantro.

I can barely use up what comes in a bunch, so I pull the leaves off the stems and just use those.

You don't have to chop, but I love chopping herbs. Chop away!

This looks/tastes done to me.

So mix in the cilantro at the end.

And dish it up like any other chili! I make a pot of this on the weekend and divide it into Tupperware for the week's lunches. You could freeze it, I'm sure, but I always want to eat it right away.

Vegan Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili
(Serves about 6)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
2 small sweet potatoes, diced
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 bag of black beans, soaked and cooked (or 2 cans, drained)
5 slices canned jalapeno, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves, washed and dried

1. Warm the oil in a small stock pot over medium heat and add the onion, garlic, salt, sweet potatoes and lime zest. Cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add everything else but cilantro. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft enough to eat.
3. Mix in chopped cilantro and serve. Reheats well.