Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cashew Tofu

One of my awesome friends (which one of you was it?) gave me an old cookbook called Tofu Cookery. I'm trying to expand my tofu recipes so it was fun to go through the book and pick out something to try.

The cookbook is totally 80's. I think I'll pass on the tofu vegetable gelatin mold (grody!), but there are a few winners in there. This recipe is one of them. It's so versatile that you can substitute other nuts and other proteins depending on your taste - Peanut Shrimp or Almond Chicken are just a couple of examples that spring to mind.

Also, it probably goes without saying, but just as in every stir fry recipe, you can use ANY vegetables that tickle your fancy. Bell peppers would be awesome, as would bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, broccoli, spinach, etc. But all I had on hand was celery, edamame, and leftover romaine lettuce and it worked just fine!

Cashew Tofu, adapted from Louise Hagler
1/2 cup raw cashews (or peanuts or almonds)
1 package extra-firm tofu, cut into pieces
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 clove garlic, grated on microplane or minced
1/4 medium yellow onion, grated or minced
4 ribs celery, cut into bite sized pieces
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1/2 bag frozen shelled edamame
Big handful spinach, lettuce, or other greens
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger (or 1/2 tsp powdered ginger)
2 cups water
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp cornstarch

First, toast your nuts in a dry skillet (or roast in an oven) until golden brown and fragrant.

Then, mix together soy sauce, peanut butter, garlic and onion. Marinate tofu in this mixture for at least 30 minutes. Pan fry tofu in non-stick skillet or bake on parchment-lined sheet until browned.

In another skillet, heat 2 Tbsp vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add all your veggies and ginger and stir fry on high heat until crisp-tender.

Shake together in a jar (or whisk together in bowl) the water, soy sauce, and cornstarch until no lumps remain. Pour over veggies and boil until mixture thickens. Add browned tofu and toasted nuts.

Serve over brown rice or oat groats with lots of Rooster Sauce (sriracha hot sauce).

ONE YEAR AGO: Thanksgiving Shepherd's Pie (a brilliant way of using your leftovers)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pinecone Cheeseball

I offered to bring an appetizer to our family's Thanksgiving day celebration again this year. It's purely selfish. I love the idea of Thanksgiving but end up eating mostly snacks, sweets, and wine because it turns out I don't really care for the turkey meal itself. So I wanted an extra fancy appetizer to look forward to.

Last year I brought a super cute apple salsa with cinnamon chips. This year, I'm going straight up traditional cheeseball! But to make it appropriate for the seasonal occasion, I'm stealing the idea for how to present it from my co-worker. You certainly can make this same recipe in a round ball shape and just roll in crushed nuts.

Or you can spend a few extra minutes to make it a pinecone.

Seriously. This is too fricking adorable, I'm afraid to even cut into it! Won't it look awesome on our Thanksgiving pre-dinner snacking table?

Pinecone Cheeseball
1 package cream cheese (8 oz), room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 Tbsp dried dill
1 garlic clove, grated on microplane
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 cup sliced almonds (you could use whole ones or pecans too - it's easier!)
fresh rosemary

Mix all ingredients together well in a big bowl. Carefully shape into one large or two small teardrops on a serving platter. Refrigerate.

Toast your almonds on a sheet pan for 8 minutes in a 350 degree oven, or until they just start to turn golden brown. Remove cheese teardrop from fridge and begin studding with almonds.

Start at the pointy tip of your pinecone and insert almonds parallel to the platter. Cover the whole pinecone in almonds, by the time you get to the large end, they'll be standing straight up and down. Garnish with rosemary to look like a twig from a pine tree.

Serve with crackers, bread, or raw veggies. And plenty of wine!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pumpkin Scones

Ah, Sunday mornings. My absolute favorite part of the week! It involves hot coffee, the New York Times, and United States of Americana on The Current. Today it also involved watching a handful of cars try unsuccessfully to drive down the glare ice masquerading as a street in front of my house.

One thing missing in this whole scene was the smell of freshly baked breakfast treats wafting from the kitchen, so I searched out a recipe and got to work. I've been craving pumpkin like crazy so yesterday I baked up a huge buttercup squash (always my best pumpkin substitute because I find canned pumpkin tastes like metal).

I used the pureed squash to make a pumpkin spice latte and these scones. They required no specialty ingredients, so I had everything on hand except buttermilk for which I easily substituted plain yogurt. Good thing, since I'm sure my car would have ended up in the ditch or someone's front yard if I had tried to make a trip to the store!

Pumpkin Scones, adapted very slightly from Picky Cook
2 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup squash puree, or canned pumpkin
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix flour and other dry ingredients in food processor. Add in butter and pulse until it's a coarse sandy texture. Mix together yogurt, pumpkin, and vanilla. Add to food processor and pulse until just combined.

Transfer mixture to well floured countertop and shape into a long rectangle, about 3 inches tall, 12 inches wide, and 1 inch thick. Cut into triangles and transfer to parchment lined baking sheet. Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 20 minutes or until golden.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vegetarian Lunch Meat

Well well well. This was certainly an experiment out of my comfort zone. I commented on Crystal's post a few days ago about how afraid I was of vital wheat gluten. It just sounds so foreign and I'd never seen or used it before.

But just like any time I finally admit one of my fears, I seem to instantly become determined to get over it. I found vital wheat gluten in the bulk bins at the co-op, it's a silky white powder that I think was about $2.50 per pound, and you can get it packaged from Bob's Red Mill also. With this bag of strangeness staring at my from my cupboard for a few days, I decided to tackle a crazy recipe for homemade vegetarian lunch meat.

The recipe is so incredibly simple and it makes a huge loaf of veggie meat that tastes fantastic sliced on bread with mustard and pickles! I still can't wrap my brain around the concept of making meat out of wheat, then serving it on more wheat...but it tastes so satisfying and delicious that I don't really care. Plus I have heard that vital wheat gluten is super high in protein so it's probably good for me to boot.

The cooking process involves both steaming and baking. I puzzled over how to steam my loaf for awhile and then I decided to elevate it on a few canning rings from pint jars in a half inch of water over medium heat. It worked like a charm.

This fake meat tastes just like seitan, or mock duck, if just a smidge drier for easy slicing. If sandwiches aren't your thing, you could use this loaf cut into cubes for stir fries, curries, or pot pies.

Vegetarian Lunch Meat, adapted from Vegan Dad and The Life
1 can or pint of white beans, drained
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 medium onion, grated on a box grater
2 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 chipotle pepper in adobo (from a can)
2 Tbsp poultry seasoning
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 cups boiling vegetable broth
2 3/4 cups vital wheat gluten

Add beans, oil, onion, garlic, soy sauce, chipotle, and spices (through pepper) to a food processor and blend until smooth and well mixed.

Remove to a large bowl and stir in broth. It will look like a red watery mixture. Add the vital wheat gluten and mix well. It will quickly become very thick, use your hands to knead for a few seconds to ensure it's very well mixed. Add to a foil-lined loaf pan (or just wrap in foil like a burrito).

Heat 1/2 inch water in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Place 2 metal canning rings in the pot. Put your loaf (in the pan or out, doesn't matter) on the rings, cover, and steam for 1 hour. You may need to add a bit more water after 30 minutes.

Then put your loaf (again, in the pan or out) in a 350 degree oven and bake for 40 minutes. Let cool.

Tastes great on bread with mustard and pickles.

ONE YEAR AGO: Kale and Chard Panade

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jones Chili

Jones Chili is also known in my house as The Cheapest, Easiest, and Healthiest Thing I Have Ever Cooked That Also Tastes Delicious, but that title is a bit verbose and won't fit up on top of this post.

Cassandra made this for me once in college in her boyfriend's grungy kitchen in a crappy white house on Fifth Avenue. If I remember correctly, it was something her mom made for her when she became a vegetarian. I love this recipe and I make it at least twice each winter.

If you can use a can opener, you can make this awesome huge pot of chili. At the core of the recipe is simply a bunch of canned goods. Even though I was told there would be no math in this blog, I think this formula is simple enough to remember - 5 cans or pints beans, 2 cans tomatoes, 1 jar salsa (as hot as you can stand).

Warm it all up together and PRESTO, you have an awesome bowl of chili. Technically, I guess you should probably throw some chili powder in there too. But the best part is that your salsa has all the spices and flavors you need to season the whole pot. If I forgot anything or got the formula wrong, I hope I get corrected in the comments.

There are also lots of other ways to make your chili more complicated (if you're like me and want to spend a few minutes chopping and stirring instead of just opening cans). I like to add onions, carrots, garlic, corn, green chiles, and sometimes bell peppers too. I also like to add some type of whole grain to my chili to help soak up some of the liquid and make it taste a bit heartier (brown rice, wheatberries, quinoa, or oat groats).

Leftovers are so versatile...I love eating them with tortilla chips for chili cheese nachos, with eggs, or even wrapped up in a tortilla. And bonus - leftovers freeze great.

Basic Jones Chili
5 cans of beans, plus liquid (my fave combo for taste and color is 2 cans spicy chili beans, 1 can black, 1 can garbazno, 1 can dark red kidney)
2 cans diced tomatoes (I like the fire roasted flavor)
1 jar salsa (I used homemade super spicy roasted salsa)

Heat all ingredients together in a big pot with 1 Tbsp chili powder and salt and pepper to taste.

Fancy Jones Chili
1 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 bell pepper, diced (any color)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 bottle beer (I used Fat Tire)
5 cans beans, plus liquid (see note above for my fave combo)
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 jar salsa
1 can shoepeg corn
1 can green chiles
1/2 cup brown rice, quinoa, wheatberries, or oat groats

Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in large dutch oven. Add onion, carrot, and bell pepper. Add chili powder and salt and pepper to taste. Saute until veggies are soft, approximately 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Add beer and deglaze bottom of pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes until beer has reduced by half. Add beans with their liquid, tomatoes, salsa, corn, chiles, and your grain of choice. Simmer 30-40 minutes to let flavors meld and serve when your grain is fully cooked.

ONE YEAR AGO: White Salad

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cheesy Stuffed Squash

Clearly I'm a little obsessed with stuffing cute little squash with tasty fillings. It's just such a convenient and beautiful way of presenting the super healthy vegetable and it works as either a side dish or a fabulous vegetarian entree.

This stuffed squash (inspired by the awesome A Good Appetite blog) is without a doubt the most delicious version I've ever tried. It's scary good - one of those recipes where you can't eat it silently and instead continuously mutter to yourself about how good it is.

I was concerned that the combination of wild rice and vegetarian sausage would be too much richness and was going to just do one or the other but I'm glad I didn't. Field Roast brand of vegan sausages are absolutely amazing and I swear the apple sage flavor was invented for this recipe. I like to break apart the links and brown the "meat" in a skillet. Then adding the wild rice adds a nuttiness and great chewy texture. Some crusty bread cubes, gruyere cheese, and cream bind the rice and sausage together to make a sinfully good cheesy sauce.

When the most difficult thing about a recipe is using enough muscle to cut off the top of a little squash, it's clear that anyone can make this recipe! I tried to make just a tiny bit of filling because I had only one squash, but I still had enough of the mixture leftover to fill another one.

It's a rich and savory little pot of deliciousness, that's also very nutritious, especially when served with some Dijon Brussels Sprouts.

Cheesy Stuffed Squash
1/4 cup cooked wild rice
1 Field Roast vegetarian sausage (optional - apple/sage or Italian flavors)
1/4 cup crusty day old bread, cut into cubes (I used ciabatta)
1/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
half and half - enough to cover the other ingredients (approx 1/2 cup?)
salt, pepper, and fresh grated nutmeg
1 small squash - acorn, festival, delicata, or other variety

Cover a sheet pan with tinfoil and preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the top off the squash and scoop out the seeds. Cut a tiny slice off the bottom so the squash sits upright.

Mix all the other ingredients together and add half and half until everything is moistened. Spoon the mixture into the squash until filled, add more half and half if so it's good and moist (it will thicken upon baking). Put lid back on squash and rub olive oil all over the outside of the squash.

Bake 45-55 minutes or until squash is tender when poked with a knife. The cheesy insides will probably have seeped out but that's what the tinfoil is for!

ONE YEAR AGO: Thanksgiving Wild Rice Salad (I'm totally bringing this to my family's T-Day celebration this year!)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mushroom Souffle

In a desperate search for something new and interesting to cook, I scoured my cookbooks the other day. In an old book titled "Vegetarian Dishes from Around the World" by Rose Elliot, I found this awesome Mushroom Souffle recipe that I was so excited to make.

It's sad to me that so many of my friends don't like mushrooms. Because I had to make this whole souffle just for me. But it's not really that sad, because that meant I got to have this whole souffle just for me.

Souffles are intimidating. But this one was as easy as 1-2-3. 1) saute mushrooms, 2) make a roux, which is just flour and butter cooked together with milk, and 3) gently fold in egg whites.

The resulting souffle was as light as air, but the flavor hits you like a ton of delicious bricks. I felt very French eating my souffle with a green salad and glass of wine. All I need is a few more mushroom loving friends - if you're out there, you've got an open invitation to dinner!

Mushroom Souffle, adapted from Rose Elliot
2 Tbsp butter
2 packages mushrooms (I used crimini and button), cleaned and chopped finely
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk
salt, pepper, and fresh grated nutmeg to taste
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites

Butter a 2 quart souffle dish and preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Saute mushrooms and 2 Tbsp butter together until fully cooked.

Melt 3 Tbsp butter in another saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat. Whisk milk in slowly and cook for a minute or two until thick.

Mix butter/flour/milk mixture with mushrooms and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Let cool. Mix in egg yolks.

Beat egg whites separately until firm but not dry. Gently fold into mushroom mixture and then add it to the buttered dish. Bake 30-35 minutes or until skewer comes out clean when inserted into center.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

About Me

I've been contemplating publishing this post for the past six months. Why have I hesitated? Because this is my food blog, not weight loss blog. I think reading about calories, fat grams, and weigh-ins is so freaking BORING. I prefer to talk about food, wine, music, fashion, the fun things I do with my friends, and the awesome ways I enjoy the outdoors in beautiful Minnesota. That shit is INTERESTING.

Well then, why did I change my mind? Because first, I lost my digital camera. So the nice pictures of the yummy wild rice soup I made last weekend are missing. Also, my readership has grown (over 1,200 unique visitors have given me over 5,600 page views since April, 2010) so many of you may not know me personally, other than what I eat (although you could argue that's pretty personal!). I decided it was time for me to open up a little bit more on here so you can understand where I'm coming from. Finally, I wanted to write this post for ME, because this is MY food blog, and I wanted to have this story recorded somewhere for my memory, which slips more and more each day.

In the past few years, I've completely transformed how I eat and live and it has resulted in a physical change as well. This photo is from when I think I was at my heaviest - my 10 year high school reunion in July, 2007.

Three years later, I'm playing with my nephew on his 3rd birthday in September, 2010 (only head to toe shot I can find):

I have been approached with increasingly frequent questions from co-workers, friends, and even neighbors about the change. Their questions stump me and I never seem to have a good answer ready. So this is my attempt to answer these questions for myself and I guess you can read about it too if you want to. If you come here just for recipes, ignore this post and I won't care. I promise this is the only time I'll blog about this subject and I'll be back to food as soon as possible.

"What's Your Secret?"
This is by far the most common question I am asked. Everyone wants to hear a magic answer and I hate the look of disappointment on their faces when I tell them the truth: eat real food and be active. If you do it consistently for a long period of time, you will become healthier (that may mean losing, maintaining, or gaining weight - depending on where you started).

"What Motivated You to Get Healthier?"
So many things!!
  1. Cooking - I got interested in cooking when I discovered the Food Network in 2001. I had quit eating red meat when I was 18 but never emphasized veggies in my diet until I learned how to cook. By 2008, I was experimenting with more and more vegetable-based recipes and cooking with real, whole foods.
  2. Blogging - Because I was cooking so many good meals, I was trying to write them down so I could document the recipes to make again later. It started out as a basic food journal/cookbook but evolved into this blog.
  3. My friend Cassandra - Cass has truly taught me how to enjoy food. First, she taught me about vegetarianism, as she was the first real one I'd ever met (back when we were 18-yr old punks and I was just beginning my own meatless adventures). I also remember Cass making a huge batch of cream cheese spread with a mountain of fresh herbs - I'd sadly never used fresh herbs before - and I was totally blown away by the simplicity and flavor. Finally, I'll never forget her saying she had given up processed foods. People, this was the late 90's. This chick has always been so far ahead of the trends. She still teaches me about enjoying food and wine, and she's a constant inspiration and catalyst for creating healthy meals. Good food is NOT about low fat/low calories, but about QUALITY and Cass has taught me this.
  4. My friend Marney - Marney has taught me about living an active life, which does NOT mean going to the gym and sweating your butt off for 30 minutes each day (that's a chore and unsustainable for me). Active living is incorporating activity and nature into your everyday life. It's going for a walk to socialize with your friend. It's riding your bike to the grocery store or library instead of driving. It's family outings hiking and picnicking. It's weekends spent in the backyard, not on the couch. It's a lifestyle where activity IS your down time, and if you do it right - it's both relaxing and energizing. I'm lucky enough to get to go for awesome walks with Marney many times each week - it's our social time, workout, and stress reliever all in one.
  5. My friends Colin and Johanna (Marney's husband and sister) - Both are or were very successful athletes. Colin was an Ironman Triathlete and avid biker, and Johanna an elite marathon runner who has qualified for the Olympic Trials. Both have serious health conditions through no fault of their own that limits their ability to be physically active. Here I was, able-bodied and pissing it away on beer and bar food and packing on the pounds. It seems insulting to Colin and Johanna to waste the good health I was lucky enough to have been blessed with.
  6. Myself - My friend Jacque (who has gone through her own transformation) said it best - everyone who is overweight has some emotional or mental issue that is behind it. Figure out what that is and you remove the barriers to a healthier and happier life. I sought counseling and began understanding myself better. Once I was on the right track mentally, it was actually very easy to stay on the right track physically.
"What Changes Did You Make?"
Nothing extreme, all minor things!
  1. I drink a big glass of water first thing every morning before I have coffee or any food. Then I drink as much water as I can throughout the day. Water with lunch, water with snacks. Water at night. Lots of water.
  2. I eat breakfast every day. Usually (homemade plain, full fat) yogurt with fruit and homemade granola. But I also like eggs occasionally or toast with peanut butter and fruit on the weekends.
  3. I weigh myself regularly. Not to stress out over the number, but to spot patterns and see how I'm doing.
  4. I record what I eat. It's on an Excel spreadsheet. I'm not super strict about it, but it helps me realize when I'm not getting enough healthy vegetables or if I'm eating out too often. When I started I was precise (2 pieces whole wheat bread, 2 Tbps peanut butter, etc). Now I just write: pb sandwich, apple, wine. It's too much work to do anything more and I'm not doing it to count calories, just remember what I eat.
  5. I eliminated packaged/processed/artificial foods from my diet as much as possible. I think this is the most effective change I've made. No more Doritos, processed cheese, canned soup, or breakfast cereal. I try to make as many things from scratch as I can. If you read my blog, you pretty much know what I eat. You also know I haven't deprived myself at all! In fact, I've eaten better, more delicious, and satisfying foods now than I ever have in my life.
  6. I make a point to be active almost every day. The activity can be a walk, yardwork, cooking (yeah, it counts!), cleaning, riding bike, etc. I typically don't like gyms or organized classes but I have taken some Community Ed Pilates classes and recently found a yoga studio I like.
That's it, it's not rocket science. It's common sense. And it takes consistency over a long period of time to reap any benefits. Also, I do break all of these rules from time to time because I'm a real person and I want to live life and enjoy it!

"Has Your Life Completely Changed?"
Of course not. I'm still the same person and don't feel any different, other than I can shop for smaller sizes (and I didn't magically start loving shopping either - still hate it).

However, I have gained some nice perks from my healthy lifestyle, other than weight loss. My hair curls better. My nails grow longer, stronger, and don't peel as much. My teeth are healthier. My skin is clearer. I haven't had a bad cold or other major illness in over 2 years (and I used to get horrible colds twice per year!).

"How Much Weight Have You Lost?"
I find this question to be totally rude and intrusive. People I don't even know very well have asked me this. I usually answer, "I don't really know because I never weighed myself at the beginning." What I really want to say is, "It's none of your damn business!"

"Do You Have Any Advice for Others?"
I'm no doctor. What worked for me may not work for you. But if I had to give advice, these are my favorite tips:
Don't buy or eat anything labeled "low fat" "low calorie" "low carb" or "fat free." That's code for fake, or engineered food. Foods labeled this way are usually not satisfying or filling and you'll probably end up eating more. Real food has fat and calories and is good for you!
Don't count calories or fat grams. I'm sure my fat consumption is off the charts with as many nuts, oils, and avocados I eat. Yet I'm able to maintain because I eat real foods and don't worry about counting or stressing out over weight watchers points.
Don't focus on the scale. Your weight should fluctuate, it's normal. Like age, it's a number that doesn't define you as a person. There's nothing less productive than worrying about a number on a scale. Plus, it makes you boring to hang out with. Focus on your overall health instead and you'll be better off!
Do eat good real food, occasional good real desserts, and drink good wine, preferably with good friends. It will make everything else in your life seem so much better, I promise!