Saturday, May 30, 2009

Golden Tofu with coconut curry sauce

One of the nicest things about this meatless journey is the opportunity to cook things that I've always wanted to try but didn't. I'm not even talking about the complex recipes that require obscure ingredients that have to be flown in from another country. I'm talking about simple things with few ingredients that are easy to find. It occurred to me this morning that when people cook with meat, they tend to focus more on the meat than the rest of the meal. With meatless cooking, it definitely shifts my focus on finding new ways to make things like rice and pasta more flavorful and interesting. I find myself treasuring fresh herbs that I never used before.

Today, I'm sharing my recent culinary treat: Golden Tofu with Coconut Curry Sauce. I'm not a girl who likes hot, spicy food. I think in the past I've steered clear of curry because I had this belief that it would send my mouth in to flames. I know now that curry comes in all kinds of varieties and different degrees of strength. For this recipe, I used a very mild curry paste. The result: a subtle warm plate of comfort food enhanced with coconut and peanuts.

Tofu in Curry Coconut Sauce

1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 small green or red pepper, thinly sliced
1 to 2 teaspoons of Thai Curry Paste or curry powder
½ cup of coconut milk
½ cup of water
Golden Tofu (see below)
3 tablespoons roasted chopped peanuts

Heat a wok, add the peanut oil, and when it’s hot, add the onion and pepper and stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir in the curry paste, then add the coconut milk and water. Arrange the tofu on a plate and spoon the sauce over it. Serve with rice or noodles garnished with peanuts.

Golden Tofu:

One pound package of extra firm tofu, cut in to slabs about ¾ inch thick
2 tablespoons peanut oil

1. Get as much water out of the tofu by pressing the slabs between paper towels
2. Heat the oil in a medium, non-stick skillet over fairly high heat
3. Add tofu and fry until golden
4. It takes several minutes to color. While it should color, don’t let them get burnt or dried out.
5. Drain briefly on paper towels and salt lightly

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Day 28....Mushroom Lasagna

Last night I had a craving for comfort food. I've been walking around with Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone like it's a freaking bible. I've got so many tattered little paper bookmarks all over the book that at this point, I might as well start with page one and work my way through.

I've always wanted to make a vegetable lasagna with a white sauce and this recipe really screamed to be made. I also got a chance to pair the fresh mushrooms with some sage right from my herb box. A few pinches of fresh nutmeg......heaven on a plate. Here's my adapted version:

Mushroom Lasagna (from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)
Bechamel sauce (see below)
One pound baby portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
One pound white mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley
One pound lasagna noodles (I used a box of oven ready instant noodles which require no precooking)
One cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly milled pepper

Bechamel Sauce:
2 1/2 cups milk
4 1/2 tablespoons butter
4 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup of finely chopped onion
2 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

1. Make the bechamel sauce. Heat the milk with the onion and sage in a saucepan over medium heat. Turn it off just before it boils and set aside for 15 minutes to steep. In another saucepan, make the roux by melting the butter, adding the flour and stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Quickly pour the milk in to a strainer over the roux and whisk until thickened. Set the pan over very low heat. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. While this is simmering, it's time to get the mushrooms ready.

2. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil, butter and garlic. Add mushrooms. Cook until they begin to color around the edges and soften; about 5 minutes. Toss them with the parsley and transfer to a bowl. Add any juices that collect in the saucepan.

3. Butter a 9x12 baking dish. Cover with a layer of pasta, then with 1/2 cup of bechamel sauce, one-fourth of the mushroom filling, and two tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese. Repeat this layering until you have 4 layers of filling. spread the final layer of pasta with the remaining sauce and cheese.

4. Preheat oven to 400. Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until browned in spots on top, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Day the wagon

The long holiday weekend is coming to a close today. This weekend I drove my vegetable wagon through some rough territory. So rough in fact that I fell right off the damn wagon. I wish I could say that it was a graceful sort of tumble. But it wasn't. I fell smack in to a heaping plate of freshly grilled burgers with mayonnaise and slabs of juicy tomatoes. My brother-in-law informed me that he just bought half of a prize winning cow from the nearby farmer and that the cow was completely grass fed and roamed free. Somehow, it made me feel a little better at the time I was scarfing down my second burger. At first I was horrified with myself and then I realized that my body has been screaming for this type of protein for the entire month. In addition, my body and mind have taken a beating with anxiety for the past few weeks. My body feels "off" and a little freaked at some of these changes I've been going through. At first, I wondered how I could go on with this blog if I gave in to the temptation of meat. Then I realized that this is a memoir which should tell the process of going meatless in a totally truthful way. I'm only human and this particular journey is about what happens over a year. There will be rough spots for sure. Just as there will be triumphs.

For now though, I'm going to scrub the red meat stains off of my white t-shirt and get back up on the wagon. I've been perusing my Deborah Madison vegetarian cook book for the past day looking for fresh redirection. This week, I'm going to cook up some mushroom lasagna with garlic bachemel sauce, some rice with pesto and pine nuts and some golden tofu with coconut curry sauce. Stay tuned.....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Day 20

It's day 20. I was sitting here this morning surrounded by 2 amazing vegetarian cookbooks and my binder filled with recipes I've been collecting over the past few months. I'd like to say that I'm cooking from these sources daily but the truth of the matter is this: my life is hectic these days. Lately, it seems we're all eating on the fly at my house. The one thing I do find important is to have fresh produce on hand and a block of tofu. I don't have time these days to labor over recipes. I'm in to the art of the quick cook. I do envision more time to test lots of recipes from my cookbooks in the upcoming summer months. But for now, I'm finding it crucial to have the basics on hand for quick healthy dinners. Ingredients like nuts, rice, tofu and loads of fresh veggies. I'm slowly building my pantry.

Last night, I gathered my key ingredients:

Mustard coated tofu:

A quick stir fry of peppers, mushrooms and bean sprouts:

I ended up with a very quick and delicious meal. Check out the onion chives on my potato....fresh from my herb box.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Day 15....quick. simple. lovely.

Last night, we had my son's school play to attend after work. I needed to make something quick and simple. I've had so much tofu in the past week, that I decided to mix things up a bit. I opted to cook up a plate of cheese ravioli with pesto and toasted pecans and fresh asparagus and grape tomatoes cooked on the grill. The result was quick, simple and lovely. My plate was bursting with bright flavorful colors and freshness. Once I have a bumper crop of basil within the next month or two, I'll whip up my own pesto. But in the meantime, I always have a packet or two of Knorr Pesto Mix. Very simple and quick: mix it with water and olive oil, bring it to a boil and you've got a really great sauce for pasta, pizza and dips.

I love this warm time of year for grilling. I've got mine conveniently located right outside the kitchen door along with some herbs. I am so looking forward to playing around with different marinades for portabello mushrooms and vegetables. I might even try my hand at tofu and vegetable skewers. Hmm....makes me wonder if polenta slices can be put on the grill....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Day 14

We are just a few short weeks away from summer here. I'm already planning to visit quite a few produce markets on the summer weekends. Sometimes I'm torn between buying produce at a Farmer's Market (pricey), a produce outlet (less pricey but sometimes not the best quality) or a regular super market. One of my favorite haunts is the Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. There is an Asian produce vendor who bags up tons of fresh fruit and vegetables for $1 a bag. I'm also passionate about photographing all of the colors and vibrant characters around me.

Summer brings me luscious berries for my green smoothies...

and pots of fresh herbs right outside my door. This year I'm growing onion chives, basil and sage. Can you just smell the fresh pesto and white beans with sage already??!

Recently, I scored a real treat at Wegman's. A container of mustard panko crumbs from Iron Chef. On sale for $1.49. Damn it, I wish I had bought every container on the shelf. Last night, I sauteed some mustard crumb tofu slabs in some olive oil and served it alongside a chopped salad, corn and mashed potatoes. Note to self: consider peanut oil or make sure to keep olive oil at a steady medium heat to prevent burning!) Regardless of a little char, it was delicious!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Coconut curry cashew rice cakes

Day 13. This morning I got a fierce craving for bacon. There is a small amount of thick cut bacon in my refrigerator. It was wierd; I could smell it without even cooking it. I remained strong though! I opted for a toasted bagel and a bowl of grits with butter, pepper, sea salt and parmesan cheese:

Yesterday morning before work, I cooked up some Coconut Curry Cashew Rice Cakes. I think I got the recipe from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Suppers. In any case, I took the original recipe and added curry paste and toasted cashews. Once the rice finished cooking on the stove and the cashews and scallions were folded in, I transfered the rice mix in to a 9x12 glass baking dish, pressed down on it with saran wrap and let it chill all day in the refrigerator. When I got home, I cut strips of the rice and sauted them in a little bit of olive oil and butter until they were toasty brown on each side. I served them with shredded romaine, cucumbers and tomatoes mixed with Tahini and lemon juice:

Here's the magical thing about this rice dish: it stays well in the refrigerator for a few days and it continues to soak up the sweet flavors of coconut and curry. I used more of the rice cakes today in my Bento Box with pan fried vegatable dumplings, avocado, mango and papaya:

Coconut Curry Cashew Rice Cakes
1 1/2 cups of basmati rice, rinsed well
2 cups water
1 cup coconut milk (when you open the can of coconut milk, poke your knife through the coconut "fat" and pour. It should yield about one cup of coconut milk)
1 heaping tablespoon of curry paste (or adjust to taste)
1 tablespoon of organic coconut oil (if you don't have this, simply scoop up one tablespoon of the coconut "fat" from the can)
a pinch of saffron threads
1/2 cup of chopped cashews
4 scallions, diced

Bring water to a boil and add rice, coconut milk, curry, and coconut oil. Put a lid on the pot and turn to low. Rice should be fully cooked in about 20 minutes. In the meantime, heat a little bit of olive oil on medium heat in a pan and saute the cashews and scallions. Fold the cashews and scallions in to the rice. Transfer the rice to an ungreased 9x12 glass baking dish. Take a piece of saran wrap and press the rice mix down firmly. Chill in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat the rice cakes, cut the rice in to squares, strips or desired shapes. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook until each side is golden brown.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day 12

Day 12. I'm discovering that my old myth that it's too daunting to come up with recipes and cook meatless meals is proving to be completely untrue. For starters, there are thousands of recipes on line and an abundance of books at the local library and book store. There were hardly any good sources of vegetarian inspiration 15 years ago. Now, the Universe is bursting with healthy ideas.

My project this week is to rearrange my pantry so that I have at least one shelf that houses my vegetarian staples like: beans, rice, pasta, curry paste, nuts, olives, dried fruits, cooking oils and seasonings. I truly believe that part of the ease of preparing my meals is directly related to the ingredients being easily found in the kitchen. With that being said, I whipped up a quick batch of pasta last night. Monday and Wednesday nights are softball nights so I don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. I need something quick when we get through the front door at 7:45. I cooked up some medium shells, sauteed some fresh vegetables and tossed it all together with a roasted red pepper alfredo sauce. My sister-in-law told me about a simple salad she makes. She shreds lettuce in to cole slaw style strips and tosses it with lemon juice, a little olive oil, sea salt, garlic and pepper. I had myself an awesome meal and it really took a minimal amount of time to prepare.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Day 11

Day 11. Still going strong. Yesterday, I was at my parent's house celebrating Mother's Day with a brunch. My mother made it easy for me. She only served one egg, cheese and sausage casserole. She was gracious enough to make another casserole which consisted of baked apple french toast. She also offered fresh fruit, corn bread and pumpkin bread. My brother and his wife were raving about the roasted kale chips they make. Well, I love using raw kale in my morning green smoothies. But the thought of kale chips intrigued me. I've been singing the praises of this nutritious leafy green for many months. Not only is it nutritious, it's also inexpensive. I can pick up a huge bag at the grocery store for about a dollar and it lasts me all week. Here's a little google information:

Kale is one of the healthiest foods around. It's full of vitamins A, C and K, and it is a great source of manganese, calcium and iron. It also has no cholesterol and offers a nice serving of fiber and protein.

This morning while I was getting my Bento Box ready for lunch, I tried the kale chips and I have to say that I am hooked already on this crunchy green goodness. Here is the recipe:

Roasted Kale with Sea SaltSeveral large leaves of kale
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil mixed with one crushed clove of garlic
1 teas. sea salt (I used kosher)
A grind or two of fresh pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Wash and trim the kale: Peel off the tough stems by folding the kale leaves in half like a book and stripping the stems off. Toss with extra virgin olive oil and garlic. Roast for five minutes on a cookie sheet. Turn kale over. Roast another 5 to 7 minutes until kale begins to turn slightly brown and becomes paper thin and brittle. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately.

Toss it in a bowl with olive oil and seasoning:

Spread it out on a cookie sheet and bake until crisp. I'm already envisioning this sprinkled on top of soups and mixed in with rice and sushi.

Check out today's Bento Box. With food this pretty and healthy, who would want to go back to meat?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Everything but the kitchen sink

It's now day 8 and things are going well in the meatless world. I haven't had another red meat craving since the other night when I was returning home from the gym.

Two things usually happen on a Friday. I either order out or scape together something from the refrigerator. I don't usually have much in the house since my grocery shopping doesn't happen until the weekend. Tonight I had the best intention to try my hand at Tofu Pad Thai. I had such a craving for it but I was missing several ingredients. Armed with my recipe and my debit card, I walked down to the Japanese grocery store. They had the fish sauce but no tamarind paste. They have all kinds of dried soybeans but no peanuts. Finally, I decided to scrap the Pad Thai and opted instead for a bag of vegetable goyoza in the freezer section. I came home and pan fried a half dozen of those plump little dumplings. In addition, I remembered I had left over white rice and sesame tofu from Wednesday night's trip to the Chinese restaurant. I mixed in all of the half-used veggies from the week and I ended up with a delicious fried rice and vegetable dumpling plate. It took no time at all and it was so good. I love cleaning out the refrigerator in this way.

I must mention that I have developed a binder for vegetarian recipes. I find it so helpful. One of the problems I experienced in my past attempts to go meatless is that I had no decent source of recipes at hand. I would stand there like a deer in the headlights when it came time to cook. Nowadays though, there are so many places on-line to find good vegetarian recipes. I simply print them out and put them in my binder. I never get bored with meatless cooking because I keep getting visually inspired on-line and I keep adding new pages daily.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Day 6

I had a moment last night. I had finished my work out and was pulling out of the parking lot when I smelled it. The familiar smell of red meat being grilled at a restaurant nearby. I can live without chicken and pork and turkey. I could even imagine giving up shell fish if push came to shove. But red meat was always my favorite. That smell was embedded in my memory for at least 15 minutes. Now I know what it means when a junkie has a drug dream soon after they go in to recovery.

I handled it well though. I remembered that going meatless is something that feels very important to me. This is a project that I want to see through. There's no way I'm giving in on day 5 just because some grill is beckoning me to come partake. I went home, grabbed some pasta, vodka sauce and Trader Joe's flame broiled meatless meatballs and made myself dinner. In the end, I felt proud of myself for not giving in to the temptation.

I think my body is going through some adjustments though. My stomach feels a little off and I wonder if it is simply trying to process all of the tofu. I'm sure it's a shock to my system to actually be eating healthy. Imagine that!

Dinner tonight might be Tofu Pad Thai. I've researched a bunch of recipes on line and this is one that calls to me. Quandary of the moment: where in the hell do I find fish sauce and tamarind paste?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Day 5

It's Day 5. So far, so good. There are two things I love: tofu and stir fry. Last night, I decided to make a stir fry. I love this method of cooking. It's such a pleasure to go through the rythm of chopping up vegetables and putting each item in its own little bowl until it's time to cook. I made a chicken stirfry for everyone else. I made a tofu stir fry for me. I simply got out two skillets and divided the vegetables between them. When my daughter came in to the kitchen, she saw the tofu cooking. She said, "Mom, is this what you'll be existing on for the next year??!!". She said it with such distain. I told her that tofu was just one of the many things I'll be eating. "Yeah, good luck with THAT" and she turned and left the kitchen. Today's mantra: I will not be deterred by a 10 year old (but just for a minute, it was the presence of my mother standing there berating me for no meat.

My usual morning ritual is to make a green smoothie with kale, fresh fruit, wheat germ, coconut oil and Omega Lemon Swirl. But this morning, I decided to shift things around by adding some extra protein. I made a banana chocolate peanut butter shake with chocolate protein powder, coconut oil and vanilla soy milk. I'll make the green smoothie for a late afternoon boost.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The beginning...

I've been meatless now since Friday, May 1. It almost seems ridiculous to blog about the process of going vegetarian but for me it feels so important to document this journey. Like so many others, my attempts to go vegetarian over the years have been half assed. In the past, I would find myself 14 days in to it at a McDonalds scarfing down a double cheese burger with fries. It really comes down to a lack of discipline; well, that and the fact that I was just not ready. I think I've pinpointed the problem: in the past, I made a very abrupt conscious decision to stop eating meat. This time around, I've felt a calling to go vegetarian. Lately, I feel repulsed when I stroll my cart past the meat department. Especially looking at cut-up chicken parts. I've even felt repulsed at the idea of buying processed foods, frozen and boxed. I feel happy at the thought of eating things like tofu, beans and fresh produce from the local farmer's market. I wish you could have seen the face of my mother as I told her the other day that I plan to go vegetarian. I'm 44 years old. My mother is in her 7O's. She was raised with the basic belief that you would die of malnutrition if you didn't have your daily serving of meat. Only hippies and strange cults did things like being vegetarian. She rolled her eyes at me and then, literally laughed at me. As a child, I was extremely underweight and a picky eater. I hid my peas in my milk. I only ate corn as a vegetable and today, I wonder if corn even really passes as a legitimate, nutritional vegetable.

Although I still don't eat peas and carrots to this day, my tastes have vastly expanded. Every morning starts with a green smoothie loaded with fresh fruit and kale. Once I bring myself to justify the expense of a Jack LaLaine Juicer, I may get my daily dosage of beets and carrots after all.

The way I see it, there will be several challenges in this process:

1. What type of vegetarian will I become? How far am I willing to go? Am I really prepared to give up dairy products and eggs? I freaking love these things. I can't even imagine giving up shellfish at this point (maybe I'll have to start watching Lobstermen on the discovery channel until I feel so guilty about those crustaceans that there would be no way to eat it).

2. Every one else in my house eats meat and/or poultry. My daughter and husband eat it all. My son only eats turkey, fish and chicken. My daughter would rope a cow from a car speeding at 80 MPH. As it is, I find myself preparing 2 different meals to accommodate the four of us. Now I'll be adding a third meal for me.

3. The ultimate dilemma: if I find that it is unacceptable to buy and prepare meat for myself, what gives me the right to justify that it's okay to prepare it for my family?

So, what's been on my plate since Friday, May 1?

*eggs and homefries
*miso soup and vegetable sushi
*green smoothies
*eggplant Parmesan and Caesar salad
*bowtie pasta with pesto, red peppers and shrimp