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Pecan Tofu Lima Bean Rice Salad? (When Husbands Invade Kitchens, part 2)

19 Nov

Earlier this week, I found myself running some errands until well after the dinner hour.  Thankfully, I have a husband who is not only creative, but also gets a move on when something needs to be done — in this case, dinner.  What I love about him is how he can concoct fascinating meals using what’s already in the fridge, usually in a 5-15 minute time period.  Which leaves me wondering, why am I the cook in this relationship?  I do love to cook, but I will admit that he can assemble the most interesting meals, such as in the Tempeh Takeover! I blogged about earlier this week.

Sometimes, we just have salad for dinner — and by salad, I mean we each get our own family-size bowl (there were two like the one pictured above).  In that case, our salads usually include not only greens and veggies, but also a starch or protein as well.  My husband found some leftover rice and leftover lima bean salad that had some corn and zucchini in it.  He put both of these onto a bed of mixed baby greens and added cherry tomatoes, celery, and pecans.  Then he cut up a block of tofu (raw) and assembled the pieces around the salad as pictured.  Then, he topped off the salad with balsamic vinegar, walnut oil, and curry powder (yes, it is his favored seasoning, as I mentioned in Tempeh Takeover!)

The salad was delicious, but we both agreed that the tofu should have been cooked, especially since it had been a block of tofu I had previously frozen.  Sometimes I freeze entire blocks of tofu, then thaw them in the  refrigerator, in order to create a more spongy texture that can absorb marinades before cooking.  Unfortunately, my poor husband opened up one of these tofus, instead of a regular one that might have been ok to eat raw in this salad.  Either way, it was a night I didn’t have to prepare dinner!

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Clean-the-Fridge Stir Fry with Szechuan Sauce

18 Nov

This week has been crazy, as I worked on several projects that were much more time consuming than I had anticipated.  Meanwhile, grocery shopping did not happen, much less any house cleaning, including the refrigerator.  About every other week I make it a habit to go through the fridge, discard any old leftovers and use up produce or packaged goods that are about to expire.

Tonight’s dinner turned out to be largely inspired by the results of a refrigerator clean-out.  I came across some old spinach, broccoli, one zucchini, and a piece of ginger.  All looked like today would be their last chance at a dignified end as food, rather than trash.  I also found pineapple chunks and minced shallots that were about to expire, and jars of marinara and Szechuan sauces with only small quantities left.

The Szechuan sauce beckoned me in the direction of a stir-fry, so I searched for some more vegetables and a starch.  I thought about fried rice, but didn’t feel like waiting for brown rice to cook.  Instead, I looked in my pantry and found Chinese noodles (reminiscent of Ramen noodles).  In addition, I found some fresh carrots, Brussels sprouts, and an onion.

For today’s stir-fry, I cut the carrots into matchsticks, following a strategy taught to me by a friend.  I started by cutting diagonally along the carrot in order to make thin slices that were about 1.5 inches long and 1/4 inch thick.

Then I cut into each carrot slice lengthwise to make the matchstick.

I sauteed about 1/3 a medium onion, coarsely chopped, in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, for about three minutes in my wok.

I then added the carrot matchsticks and mixed them, allowing them to sauté for almost ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the carrots and onions cooked, I worked on cutting the Brussels sprouts, zucchini, and broccoli.  My broccoli was already cut up from a previous meal prep, but I did have to slice my zucchini into 2 inch chunks, and my Brussels sprouts into quarters after first removing the bottoms.

Once the ten minutes passed, I checked that my carrots felt tender on the outside with just a bit of crunch on the inside, since they would continue cooking more thoroughly after mixing in more ingredients. I added all the green vegetables except for spinach.  I mixed everything with about 1/4  cup vegetable broth to prevent sticking, and covered the wok with a lid.

While the vegetables steamed with the carrot and onion mix, I put water in another pot for boiling my noodles, and also began mincing my ginger with a microplane.  This ginger was definitely getting old, because it wasn’t as juicy as fresh ginger, but nevertheless, I minced away.

I love microplanes, because they are very  handy for zesting citrus fruits and mincing nutmeg too.  Below you can see what the ginger looks like after mincing.

After accumulating about 1.5 tablespoons of ginger, I added the rest of the Szechuan sauce from the old jar (about 5 tablespoons), the rest of the marinara sauce (about 1/4 cup), and half the jar of shallots (2 ounces).

I blended these ingredients with a whisk, and mixed the sauce into the stir-fry.  At this point, my water was also boiling for my noodles, so I put them in the pot.

Once the noodles were back to a rapid boil, I knew they’d only take about 3-4 minutes to cook, so it was a perfect time to add my spinach to the stir-fry, since it only needed to wilt in the stir-fry.  I mixed in the spinach and also threw in about 1/3 of the pineapple jar as well.

After testing them for an “al dente” texture, I drained the noodles in a colander.

I immediately added about half the noodles to the stir fry and mixed it thoroughly.  The entire package of Chinese noodles was just too much, and I prefer to have a stir-fry that is more vegetable than starch.

The final entree was delicious!  We did add soy sauce once it was plated, because I didn’t even think of it while cooking, but otherwise the Szechaun/marinara blend was delicious but not overpowering.  Both the pineapple and the ginger were just the right amount to give it a distinct, but subtle flavor.  I was very pleased with how the carrots softened and had a natural sweetness, while the Brussels sprouts had absorbed a lot of the sauce’s flavor.  However, the noodles did break apart, which I wasn’t expecting — I’m thinking that maybe they had continued cooking with the heat of the stir-fry.  Perhaps next time I should bring them together on the plate instead of the wok, or boil them for less time.

Overall, it was delicious, and I am looking forward to having some for lunch tomorrow.  In the mean time, I have to think about what to do with the rest of the noodles, shallot, and pineapple I didn’t use today!

The Shepherd Has Freed The Flock

15 Nov

Sometimes, children like the most unusual foods.  I think almost everyone has a food they loved as a child, that perhaps seems gross now as an adult.  Perhaps it’s an unusual combination of ingredients, or possibly something too sugary to withstand as an adult.  It could also be associated with certain childhood memories.

For my husband, it was the dreaded Shepherd’s pie in his Catholic school cafeteria.  Most students hated it, but apparently he and only one friend loved it.  Usually it was only offered once per month, but sometimes to their delight, it would suddenly appear every week on the menu.  The boys cheered while others groaned when they heard the morning announcements proclaiming Shepherd’s pie on the menu.  My husband and his friend ran to their seats in the cafeteria, then sat quietly with their hands folded, waiting for one of the nuns to approvingly send them to the lunch line.  With glee, they dug into the mess of meat and instant mashed potato flakes, while other kids just pushed it around into alien formations on their plates.

Well over twenty years later, my husband sometimes asks fellow alumni if they remember the Shepherd’s pie and if they too liked it.  He hasn’t had any luck finding more fans —  most people either don’t remember it or hated it.

What could have possibly been so delicious about this Shepherd’s pie to these two elementary school students?  What was in it?  Apparently, just ground beef, corn, and mashed potatoes.  Nothing else — and that does mean nothing! I learned that the hard way the first time I attempted to replicate it.  I decided to get fancy and add carrots, edamame, and chopped broccoli to the corn layer, much to my husband’s disappointment.  Actually, he does like carrots, broccoli and edamame, but not in his Shepherd’s pie!

This time I promised to stay true to the recipe of his childhood school cafeteria favorite.

So I started by immediately cheating and reaching for an onion!  How could I not put an onion in it?  The flavor of a sauteed onion is too much to give up!  Thus, I began by dicing and sauteing a large onion.

My favorite ground meat substitute is Lightlife Smart Ground.  I use it for shepard’s pie, sloppy joes, pizza, lasagna, and chili (in which it has totally fooled meat-eaters at parties, and even a chili contest!)  Sometimes my grocery store runs out of it, so very often I buy several at a time because they do keep in the freezer well.

Whether you store it in the freezer or refrigerator, it is a good idea to crumble it completely into a bowl first, so that you do not have clumps.

Sometimes, I do the mise en place thing and put my herbs and spices into a bowl first.  Today I used dry parsley, oregano, basil, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper (more cheating!).  I did not measure it, but I can say the dried herbs were about 1 tablespoon and the spices were about 1 teaspoon each.

Once the onions were sauteed to the point in which they began to appear translucent, I added the Smart Ground, herbs, and spices.

After blending everything together and sauteing for a minute, I added Annie’s Worcestershire Sauce, which is vegan (many other brands are not!)

I stirred some more, until everything was incorporated.  I find that keeping a cup of water nearby and occasionally adding water prevents sticking, if necessary.

Once I was satisfied with a taste-test of the Smart Ground, I layered it thickly along the bottom of a glass casserole dish.

My next layer was frozen corn.

My final layer was a thick layer of mashed potatoes (Click here for the recipe).

I baked it in the oven at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes.  Then I turned the broiler on for about 3 minutes, but unfortunately it browned unevenly, as you can see here.  Maybe it’s my oven, but I am just not a fan of the broiler.  However, my  husband wanted it brown on top, just like when he was a kid.

After letting it cool a bit, we served large portions of it.  My husband enjoyed two hearty servings and never noticed the other ingredients outside of the corn, mashed potatoes, and Smart Ground!

Truly a mess, but ultimately a good comfort food, which brought some happy blissfulness and nostalgia for my husband.  I liked it too, although I can’t say I would have liked the original school cafeteria version.

In thinking about this meal and the story behind it, I’m going to provide a sneak peek at tomorrow’s blog:  I’m going to write about my favorite gross childhood food.  It involves chocolate, bread, “cheese,” and “ham.”  You’ll have to stay tuned!!

Vegan Thanksgiving Potluck

14 Nov

Thanksgiving… rich and decadent foods, full tummies, great laughs, and good company.  For most vegans, however, we may not get to indulge in all the foods when with our families.  Thus, our local vegetarian/vegan group had a 100% vegan meal with traditional foods.  We were a total of 10 people and all brought different foods, which we planned earlier this week.

My contribution:  a Tofurky roast with potatoes, carrots, onions, and fennel with a basting of soy sauce, agave nectar, maple syrup, walnut and sesame oil, as well as rosemary, sage, cumin, salt and pepper.

“Three sisters” salad:  corn, lima beans, and zucchini with tomatoes, dill, cilantro, salt, pepper, olive oil, apple cider and red wine vinegars.

Roasted red pepper hummus and chips.

Butternut Squash soup.

Pasta salad with broccoli, olives, beans, corn, and tomatoes.

Creamy mashed sweet potatoes

Cranberry relish with crystallized ginger and orange zest.

Stuffing with three different mushrooms.

Homemade vegan gravy

Vegan cheesecake with apples and pecans.

My plated butternut squash soup.

The beautiful and satisfying entree!

Desserts!  Cheesecake, chocolate cake, and sweet potato pie.

Wow, those are some big bananas! (Tostones: fried plantains with rice and beans)

8 Nov

If you’ve never seen a plantain, you may be surprised to see it looks like a prolific banana.  In fact, when I taught Spanish and brought them to my class, it drew quite a bit of attention from the immature minds of my high school students.  In addition to the inappropriate comments, most students said they had never seen such big “mutant bananas” and others thought they might have been rotting since even the green ones had some spots on them.

Interestingly enough, most people don’t know that our sweet beloved bananas are the real mutant.  The original fruit is the starchy plantain that can be traced back thousands of years to Southeast Asia, and is usually cooked when eaten.  And although the most popular banana we eat today is the sweet yellow one, the truth is that the banana mutation occurred in 1836 in Jamaica, when discovered by Jean Francois Poujot in his plantation.  After that, entire nations were developed due to the rising power of the banana industry.

Bananas are indeed delicious, and had a significant influence in world history, but today I acknowledge its parents, the plantains.

When purchasing plantains, you may see they are often sold either green (platanos verdes — unripe) or yellow (platanos maduros — ripe).  If you want them ripe for other recipes, you could also buy the green ones and wait several days.  But for today’s tostones, green is good.

Way before I started preparing the plantains, I planned ahead for my rice and beans.  Both needed to be soaked several hours before preparation, so I did that first thing in the morning.  But note the difference:  the beans should be soaked in boiling water, and the rice should be soaked in cold water.

Both rice and beans from dry packaging require rinsing to remove any dirt or powder.  In addition, the beans should be examined to be sure there are no tiny rocks or twigs (I have found rocks!).  For improved digestion, rice should also be soaked in cold water because it will release its phytic acid, which can interfere with the absorption of protein and certain minerals.  Beans should be soaked in hot water because it helps to break down indigestible sugars known as oligosaccharides (known to cause gas!)  Also, in both the rice and the beans, the time soaked contributes to the cooking time, thus resulting in a faster preparation later in the day.

The rest of the rice and beans preparation can occur right before you fry the plantains, or during, if you can multi-task.

For the beans, be sure to drain the soaking water and rinse them completely to wash away the oligosaccharides and any remaining dirt.  The best way to cook them is in a pressure cooker, but it could be done in a regular pot too if you give yourself more time.

If you have a pressure cooker, put the beans in it with enough water to cover approximately one inch above the beans.  Add bay leaves, and some spices to your liking.  Today, I used about 1 tsp each cumin, annatto, chili powder, dried cilantro, and garlic powder because I was going for some of the Latin flavoring.  The measurements for these depend on how much beans you’re cooking (I only had about 2 cups).  Put the lid snugly on the pressure cooker as per the directions, and set the burner on high.  Your pressure cooker may vary in its directions, and it will also vary with your choice of beans.  I used black beans, so they only needed about 15 minutes of cooking after the pressure cooker reached the point of pressure.  Unless your pressure cooker has a specific way of identifying this status, you may just need to rely on what you see and hear happening.  With mine, I start to hear a rise in a hissing sound, until it’s making quite a fuss and blowing some steam through a hole in the lid.  Then suddenly it stops and I hear a quiet rumble and hiss.  That’s when I start the timer.  When time’s up, I wait for the pressure to drop and check the beans.  If the beans are soft, then they are done.  Don’t worry if there is extra water.  You can leave the beans in that water, because this water is OK to save or even use in another dish.

Meanwhile, the rice can be drained and rinsed, and then prepared in another pot.  With the exception of the presoaking part, I still make my rice as my sister-in-law showed me using sauteed onions in the pot first, then adding the rice and mixing it all together with water and a boullion cube.  A quick trick to quickly chopping an onion:  cut the onion in half down its vertical center (not its equator!), then make several slices perpendicular to it’s root, but not all the way through so that it does not come undone.  Then slice parallel to the root and the onion will magically appear chopped into little squares.

Since the rice has already been soaked, I just use a 2:1 ratio of water to rice, instead of the 2.5:1 recommended for dry brown rice.  Once the water is on the rice, it really shouldn’t be stirred because the starches break up and make the rice mushy.  Leave it to boil until you notice that enough water has evaporated and you see sputtering holes in the rice’s landscape.  At that point, lower the burner to a simmer, and keep a lid on it for 20 more minutes.

When finished, you can mix the rice and beans together in a bowl, if you don’t mind the color of the beans running into the rice (like a dirty rice), or keep them separate and plate the rice with the beans on top or on the side.

Now the plantains!  Peeling green plantains can be a challenge.  I try to cut lengthwise along the natural creases and peel them.  If you have a very hard time, it could help to cut them first into 1.5 – 2 inch chunks and cut the skins off by tilting them on their sides and cutting downward where the plantain meets its skin.  There’s actually a great step-by-step explanation with pictures here.

Once you have these chunks, you are ready to deep-fry.  Yes, I did say deep fry.  But don’t be alarmed!  If done correctly, deep-frying can result in less oil absorption than other forms of frying.  Some general tips:

  • Use an oil that can stand high temperatures, like safflower oil, and always monitor it with an oil/candy thermometer.  Oil that is too cold will be absorbed into the food.  If it is too hot, it will obviously burn the food and also release carcinogenic compounds.
  • Use tongs to both place and remove your food from the oil, so you do not splash hot oil on yourself or your stove (it’s hard to clean).
  • Do not put all your foods in at once — that will cause the oil temperature to drop.  Regulate the oil by monitoring your burner at all times.  370 degree is generally a good temperature (recipes vary), but it should never go above 400 for most oils — also, depending on your oil thermometer, watch that the temperature doesn’t go anywhere near the maximum number, because it will break!  If you see it rises high, just pull the thermometer out so it can cool in the air, but never put it into cold water.
  • After frying, rather than setting the foods on the paper towel (where they sit in their own oil), put them on a cookie cooling rack instead, with paper towels or a cookie sheet underneath to catch the dripping oil.

To make tostones, they must actually be fried twice.  The first time, they are fried in their chunk forms only until the outside is golden and you no longer hear crackling — just sizzling.  As you fry each batch, make sure they are on a cooling rack , and keep them in some kind of order so that when you are ready for the next step you start with your cool ones first and don’t burn yourself!

Next they will be squashed with a beautifully simple device called a tostonera.  Place the fried plantain chunk onto the circular indent and close the handle onto it.  You need not smash it completely to smithereens — just enough to make it into a patty.

Once your patties are ready, they go back in the deep fry oil (check the temperature!) and continue to fry until they have become a crispy golden patty.  Remove them from the oil and drain them once again on cooling racks.

Sprinkle the tostones with coarse salt and serve with the beans and rice.

Delicious!

“A Vegan Thanksgiving”

4 Nov

I had no idea this article came out so soon in today’s paper, but I made some comments for the article:

Vegan-Friendly Thanksgiving (The Daily Journal)