I like to cook. Sometimes my daughter likes to eat.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eating low on the food chain

We've been enjoying some outstanding vegetarian food lately, two from the redoubtable Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks, and two old favorites.

Last night it was cold, a real Fall evening. MZ took a long nap, we had work to do and by the time I realized we would need dinner, I also realized I hadn't made it to the meat market. I had all the ingredients for a recipe I'd been wanting to try, a vegetarian chili loaded with legumes and whole grains. It seemed the perfect dinner for a cold night, and lo, I also had all the ingredients for her lovely-sounding apple cake, thanks to a bag full of apples our neighbor dropped by.

Both recipes came out great, definitely something we'll make again:
I made it exactly per the recipe, using the recommended veg bouillon. For a garnish, I stirred 1 t lemon juice and 1 t salt into a bowl of nonfat Greek yogurt. It was delicious, although her oregano oil sounds pretty tempting, too.

This has a nice biscuit quality. I made it in a ceramic tart pan, and it took 35-40 minutes. I'm not fond of apples and cinnamon, so I used 1 t ground cardamom and 1/2 t ground cinnamon, but other than that followed the recipe exactly. Perfect with some agave-sweetened whipped cream.

These followed on the heals of two other winners, a surprisingly satisfying tofu-based onion "quiche" that we've enjoyed for years and a twist on the Greens tofu salad which is also a family favorite.

Brother Ron's Alsatian Onion Pie
This quiche-like pie comes from a vegan cookbook called Friendly Foods, by Brother Ron Pickarski, a Franciscan friar. Since I'm not vegan, there are certain time-consuming meat-imitating recipes in this collection that I'll never make, but so many recipes really shine that it's been worth packing and unpacking for the last 15+ years. I've made a few additions over the years, and this remains a favorite. It's savory and very satisfying, I don't miss the eggs and cream at all.

Right now I have a surplus of sweet potatoes from our farm box, so this time I quartered and sliced a small sweet potato, steamed it in the microwave while I sauteed the onions, and tossed it in. I also had chanterelles instead of shiitakes, so in they went. Both went beautifully with the other flavors. I usually use a frozen whole wheat pie crust, which increases the baking time, but if you make your crust and bake it in a tart pan, this will cook in just 30 minutes.

2 T vegetable oil
5 dried shiitakes, soaked in warm water till softened, stemmed and thinly sliced
3 large onions, quartered and thinly sliced
1 t minced fresh thyme
1 cup soy milk
2/3 cup firm tofu, crushed by hand
1.5 t kosher or sea salt
1/4 t black pepper, freshly ground
1/8 t nutmeg
2 T unbleached flour
1 T whole wheat couscous
1 whole wheat pie shell

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line the frozen pie shell with foil or parchment, and add pie weights. Bake 8-10 minutes, till the crust has browned just a bit.

Lower oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil on medium heat, add the onions and 1/2 the salt. Saute the onions till translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the thyme and mushrooms, stir and remove from heat.

Whisk the soy milk, tofu, salt, pepper, nutmeg and flour until smooth. Add the onions and the couscous, stir to combine and pour into the prepared pie shell. Bake for 40-55 minutes until filling is set. Test by pressing lightly with a knife, if liquid pools, bake longer.

Greens' Tofu Salad
This next recipe is another long-time favorite from a cookbook I've been carting around since my first apartment. I love this cookbook, the soups and tarts are delicious, as are the salads and sides. Far from vegan, The Greens Cookbook leans on cheese and nuts for protein and I tend to avoid the main dishes because they can be so heavy. There are only 2-3 tofu recipes, all of which are excellent. This tofu salad is wonderful on whole-grain bread. I've successfully substituted 1.5 T curry powder, some minced ginger and 1/2 t rice vinegar for the herbs, sherry vinegar and capers.

18 oz firm tofu
5 T bell pepper, finely diced
5 T celery, finely diced
4 T carrot, finely diced
2 T scallion or red onion, minced
2 T fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, marjoram or a combination
1/2 t Dojon or whole grain mustard
2 t capers or cornichons, chopped
1/2 c mayonnaise
1 t nutritional yeast (optional)*

Rinse tofu, then wrap in a clean kitchen towel and twist to wring out excess moisture. Place the now-crumbled tofu in a bowl and combine with the rest of the ingredients through the cornichons. Stir lightly, then add mayonnaise as needed until you reach the desired consistency.

Wonderful on a sandwich of whole grain bread with lettuce and sliced tomatoes. This keeps about one week.

Dinners Week of 11/8: Chicken Sweet Potato Curry!

Shopping on Fridays means the week of menus starts on Fridays, ahh Shabbat, ahh the weekend. In these weeks of school tours, that time is more welcome than ever. Weeks are frantic right now with 2-3 tours eating into our work days and the constant catch-up that entails. We've been trying to keep it simple and healthy, and I've been relishing the chance to be more elaborate on the weekend.

Fri: Grilled steak, potato-stuffed pasilla peppers

Sa: Date night! Velvet Cantina is a good spot for groups

Su: Vietnamese pork chops, stir fried bok choy and brown rice

M: Out for meetings, MZ home with M&P

Tu: School Open House, Mac 'n' Cheese and Peas for MZ

W: Chicken Sweet Potato Curry* over Brown Rice
I made double the rice on Sunday to have some to reheat tonight

Th: School Open House, lamb steaks and string beans w Bubbe for MZ

* Chicken Sweet Potato Curry
I recently picked up Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express. It's organized by season, and touts 404 recipes that can be made in 20 minutes or less. More than a cookbook, it's really a series of ideas, it doesn't offer ingredients lists so much as a series of steps you might take in pulling dinner together. I thought I'd hate it, but I'm finding it really suits the way I cook. I find Mark Bittman's recipes tasty and dependable, and felt pretty confident leaving this for R to put together. I did all the prep the night before, and left the dry ingredients out on the counter along with a more detailed take on the recipe.

I'm the primary cook in our household, but R has been picking up Wednesday nights as my commute is so hideous. Truth be told, he has a much better palate than I do. When I came home, he had made the most delicious, comforting curry, and some significant changes to the recipe. This is definitely a keeper, and absolutely perfect for a chilly Fall or Winter night. I could eat this every week. MZ loved it, too. Yellow curry is mild enough for most kids, and the addition of fish sauce, ginger, lime juice and lemongrass peps up the prepared curry paste nicely.

This would be perfect with a cucumber and red onion salad, if you have time.

1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 cans coconut milk (do not shake the cans!)
1 can-full low sodium chicken broth
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced ~3/4" pieces
2 handfulls string beans, cut to 1" lengths
Juice of one lime (or more to taste)
1 T fish sauce
2 t. minced ginger
1 stem lemon grass, pounded and cut to 1" lengths (optional)
2-3 Keffir lime leaves, slivered (optional)
1 lb. chicken breast tenders, cut to 1" pieces

Open the coconut milk and heat a saucepan over medium heat. Skim the thick coconut milk from the top of the can and put in the saucepan. When it liquifies, add the onion and garlic and cook till just softened. Turn heat to medium-high and add the curry paste. Stir and fry till fragrant, about 60 seconds, then add the rest of the ingredients through the lemongrass, if using. Stir, bring to a simmer and cook 7-9 minutes till the sweet potato is tender. Add the chicken, stir and simmer 6 minutes. Adjust flavors, adding more lime juice or fish sauce as needed. Serve over brown rice.