Monthly Archives: January 2011

meatless mondays: tofu for you…

Everyone has heard of tofu but not everybody knows exactly what it is. In fact, some people are even afraid of it! Its not a mystery food. It is simply pressed soy bean curds, made from soy milk/soy beans. Tofu has a high protein and iron content and is relatively low in fat and calories.

Because I’m a vegetarian, people assume I eat a lot of tofu and salads. While this is partially true, you’ve seen that I eat a whole heck of a lot more than that! The key to my diet is variety. I might only have tofu twice a month, tempeh once a month, textured vegetable proteins once a week, and legumes with whole grains and vegetables for the remainder of my meals.

Tofu is all about preparation. It takes on whatever flavor you prepare it with. You can make it sweet or savory, spicy or salty, and eat it warm or cold depending on the dish. It is important to drain it as much as possible beforehand (see below recipe for tips on how to press out the water). Deep frying the bean curd until crisp is the most delicious way to eat tofu, but its not the healthiest. I save that treat for when I eat out.

Tofu can be substituted for meat in a stir fry dish, smoked/braised/fried to be eaten on a sandwich, blended into a spread, used as a substitute for eggs in a scramble or an egg salad, added to soup, mixed into a pudding, or any other creative method you can think of to consume it! Of all the “meat alternatives”, tofu is probably the most simple and versatile.

Recipe: Seared Tofu

16 ounces extra-firm tofu
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
3 tablespoons fish sauce (optional)
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 nub ginger, freshly grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
5 tablespoons dark sesame oil
salt and pepper

Put the block of tofu on a cutting board, propped up to slope down toward the sink (or, you could just use a plate.) Top it with a sturdy plate. Weigh the plate down with a couple of your favorite textbooks or other flat, heavy objects . Allow the water to seep out of the tofu for at least an hour. Drain off any remaining water. This will keep the tofu firm when cooking, instead of watery.

Preheat oven to 450. Combine the oyster sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger, garlic, 3 tablespoons of the sesame oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl, whisking together. Adjust seasoning per your taste.

Cut the tofu into desired pieces, either 1 inch cubes for a stir fry type dish or large flat rectangles for patties/sandwiches. Toss tofu into the marinade. Coat well and allow the tofu to marinate for about an hour.

Bring a cast iron skillet or a large sauté pan to high heat and pour in the remaining sesame oil. When the oil is very hot, carefully place all the tofu cubes in the skillet (it may splatter so be careful). Cook about 4 minutes, or until the bottom of the tofu has browned. Turn carefully and brown the other side.

Pour any remaining marinade over the top of the tofu. Slide the skillet into the oven and cook for about 5 minutes.

Serve with stir fried vegetables, on toasted bread with sauteed spinach, or as a side dish.

Recipe: Broiled Tofu with Spicy Mango Sauce

2 mangoes
¼ cup water
½ cup apple cider or white vinegar
½ brown sugar
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp fresh ginger
1 tsp cayenne pepper
¼ cup raisins
1 Tbs canola or olive oil
1 16-oz pkg extra-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
Salt and pepper

Peel and dice 2 ripe mangoes. Combine with vinegar, brown sugar, minced garlic, shredded ginger, cayenne pepper, and raisins. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add water if needed to keep it saucy while it cooks down.

Preheat oven to broil, and place oven rack in highest position. Coat baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Halve each tofu block crosswise to make pieces the size and thickness of sandwich bread. Cut each tofu piece into 4 triangles. Brush each tofu triangle on both sides with oil and a little of the mango sauce, season with salt and pepper, and place on prepared baking sheet. Broil ~5 minutes. Flip triangles, and brush with more mango mixture. Broil ~5 minutes more, until browned and crispy.

Serve tofu triangles drizzled with remaining mango sauce. Delicious over cooked greens.

meatless mondays: tempeh, its not a city in AZ…

Last week I talked about different processed meat substitutions, like Quorn and Textured Vegetable Protein. This week, I’d like to play around with one of my favorite natural soy protein sources: tempeh, a traditional soy product from Indonesia. (I pronounce it “TEM-pay”).

I know the package can look a little scary, but really its just fermented whole soy beans. Tempeh is more dense and textured than tofu. It has a nice nutty, grainy flavor and can be eaten on its own or combined into recipes that might otherwise call for meat. The most basic way I use tempeh is to cut it into strips and include it in my stir fry dishes (instead of tofu or chicken).

I like to substitute tempeh for beef when making sloppy joes. You can either finely dice it or shred it, saute in a little olive oil, and then add your sloppy joe sauce (canned or homemade). Serve it on a bun and call it dinner! Tempeh can be substituted for sliced beef in a Philly Cheese Steak or I also enjoy it doused in BBQ sauce and served on a roll with some cole slaw. I almost forgot to include the Tempeh Reuben topped with sauerkraut on rye bread!

One of my all time favorites is the “Tempeh Burger” . This turns out the tastiest if you throw all calorie caution to the wind and actually deep fry the tempeh patty (Just cut the packaged piece into 3 burger size squares. I like to slice it in half through the middle lengthwise also, making it half as thick, and stack the 2 thinner pieces together instead of biting into a big hunk.) It can be lightly sautéed or grilled for a healthier option. Top with cheese, lettuce, onion, pickles, and tomato and serve on a grilled bun as you would a hamburger.

If you are feeling even more adventurous, here is a stuffed pepper recipe that you can try! (editor’s note: i am writing up this recipe from memory and may have some quantities out of whack…i’ll make it again this week and actually write down my measurements and make any adjustments as needed. i really wanted to include the recipe in the tempeh conversation this week though! please check back for any changes at the end of the week.)

Recipe: Tempeh Stuffed Peppers

4 Green Peppers
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 package tempeh, any flavor, finely diced or shredded
1 small onion
1 tablespoon oil
1 can diced tomatoes in juice
1 jar marinara or spaghetti sauce (I like Newman’s Own without the high fructose corn syrup)
1 cup shredded mozzarella, pepper jack, or cheddar cheese (optional)
basil, oregano, salt, pepper to taste

Prepare about 2 cups of rice per instructions on box or bag (I use a rice cooker to save time). Pre-heat oven to 350.

Bring a pan of water to a boil. Clean green peppers and cut off tops, cleaning out seeds from inside. Parboil peppers in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Remove, let drain and slightly cool.

Saute finely diced onion and tempeh in oil. Mix in canned tomatoes, including juice. Stir in cooked rice. Add additional seasonings to taste (basil, oregano, salt, etc). You can add a little of the jarred marinara to make it saucier if desired.

Scoop mixture into green peppers. Place green peppers into a baking dish. Cover with remaining marinara or sauce and sprinkle cheese (optional) over the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

meatless mondays: meatless meat, vegetable protein, and quorn…

For Meatless Mondays, I usually try to offer up natural protein alternatives. Most are bean, egg, or dairy based, or sometimes just a carb-alicious treat like pasta or pizza. Others use soy varieties, such as tempeh and tofu. Today I’m going to talk about the different products that are available as processed meatless substitutes.

I’m not exactly sure how I feel about imitation meat products. If I never loved the real thing, then why in the world would I want to eat something that looks or tastes or chews like it?

Well, personally, I get bored or lazy with the foods that I make from scratch. I need some variety in my protein intake. What easier way than to nuke a veggie burger and throw it on a bun, or roll up some cheese in Tofurky slices for a quick protein snack, or nibble on fake chicken nuggets dipped in ranch, hello?! Hey, I’m not perfect.

I try to only consume these “Frankenfoods” (as my husband fondly calls them) once or twice a week. For a special treat on the weekends, I like to make the Morningstar Farms Breakfast Patties to serve with my eggs and toast. I’m not a fan of the fake bacon or the sausage links, but the vegetarian sausage patties are pretty darn tasty. They make a good filler in an egg sandwich with a little cheese too.

Boca Vegan Burgers are my favorite basic soy burger. For flavored burgers, I love the Morningstar Farms Black Bean Veggie Burgers or their Mushroom Lover’s burgers. Sometimes I put them on a bun with all the trimmings and other times I just eat them on their own with a fork, like you would a chicken breast or a Salisbury steak (forgive the comparison).

I have a few recipes that call for meatless crumbles. Both Boca and Morningstar Farms make a textured crumble I enjoy that you can use as a substitute for ground beef. I like to add taco seasoning and eat it like taco meat. Lightlife makes the tastiest meatless Chicken Strips that are nice to use in a stir fry, fajitas, or cold in a salad. I also like their Italian Sausages to add to pasta or to throw on the grill at a BBQ.

Most of the above products are soy based or just textured vegetable protein. In general terms, protein is extracted from soy beans (defatted soybean oil), wheat, oats, etc to create a flour. It is then mixed with water and processed at a very high heat to create a lean protein product. Or something to that effect…I’m not a food scientist nor will I pretend to really know how they make it.

Its not necessarily natural, that is for sure. It is controversial whether this is “healthy” or not. Most of us have a hard time digesting soy proteins, especially the over-processed ones, so consume in moderation or pay the price of an unbalanced digestive tract.

And then there is Quorn, my recent discovery of yet another “meat substitute”. I’ve started dabbling in Quorn, a mycoprotein from England. So far so good, although I haven’t made it enough or tried enough varieties to vouch for it. I can, however, share with you what I’ve found out so far.

Mycoprotein was discovered in the 1960s, at a time when nutritionists believed there would be an overpopulation epidemic and worldwide protein shortage. It is a fungus in the soil that they found could be cultivated and fermented, similar to yogurt, to create a usable protein that is low in fat and high in protein. Although the fungus is compared to a mushroom, it is far from it. It is actually grown in large vats in England and looks more similar to a bread dough.

I tried the Quorn Meatless Meatballs this week. Its ok, you can laugh. Its funny…fake meatball sandwiches! They are nice addition to pasta too. I’m looking forward to sampling their version of a fake burger and see what their chicken-less strips have to offer.

So if you are feeling adventurous (or just plain lazy) this week, pick up a box of a meatless alternative and use it as a substitute in an otherwise carnivorous meal.

Quick and easy ideas: Tofurky Sandwiches with a Bean Salad, Meatless Meatball Spaghetti and Salad, Boca Burgers served with Sweet Potato Fries, Stir Fried Vegetables and chicken-less Chicken Strips, Tacos made with Meatless Crumbles, Italian fake Sausages with Sauerkraut…the possibilities are endless!

These products certainly aren’t for everyone and I’m not trying to advocate for them or push them on anyone. I just wanted to share a few of my favorites and some ideas of how to use them should it strike your fancy. There are plenty that I don’t care for at all but I’m not here to criticize. If you’d like my opinion on any specific product, just ask! Please feel free to comment and share your experiences with the mysterious Quorn product or any other meatless alternatives.

snooze-a-roo…

Soundly sleeping…
5:30 am MEEEOOOOWWWW- good morning Alarm Clock Kitty!

Completely back asleep and dreaming…
5:45 am- bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bumpa-bum bum
SNOOZE

Half sleeping, partly dreaming, drifting…
5:55 am- bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bumpa-bum bum
SNOOZE

Half awake, warm bed conformed around me…
6:05 am- BUM-BUM-BUM-BUM-BUM-BUMPA-BUM-BUM
I’m up! I’m getting up! Just 5 more minutes! I promise I’ll get up before it goes off again…

6:10 am- BEEP BEEP BEEP goes the coffee pot letting me know its finished.
I roll out of bed, my now awake husband grumbling next to me. Sorry honey!

I am in a mixed marriage. You see, I’m a snoozer and my husband is a get up and go kind of guy. He used to have to wake up before me to hit the road and make his long commute before rush hour. Now, as a grad student, he gets to sleep in. Except for when I press snooze and constantly wake him every 10 minutes for a good chunk of his morning.

His solution is to set the alarm clock for later or go to bed earlier. But really, that has nothing to do with it for me. I truly enjoy “stealing” another 10 to 20 minutes in my warm, cozy bed. I know that I’m not getting any more valuable sleep. I just like the feeling of laying there, relaxed, easing into my morning and my routine.

When I have to get up for some reason, I have no problem getting right out of bed and starting my day. I could easily be a morning person under the right circumstances. When its by choice, I thoroughly enjoy an early rising followed by coffee, newspaper, yoga, and pre-primetime errands. I can be bright-eyed and bushy tailed. But why waste that on a train commute and work? Let me press snooze!

In my defense, I actually have a very nice, peaceful alarm tone. It starts out low and quiet, the distant sound of a tribal drum. Gradually, it gains momentum and volume. Its not a screeching beep or a loud radio or a bell of any kind. Its your basic iPhone “Timba” sound. I think it is soothing.

I should probably try to allow my husband some peace and quiet these next few weekday mornings. His hiatus from the weekly grind is coming to an abrupt end. He’ll be starting his student teaching gig in less than 2 weeks.

We’ll go back to our morning dance in our one bathroom home. There will be a shower schedule. The blow dryer will move back to the bedroom. I’ll get dressed in a fully lit room. And I can press snooze guilt free while he is getting ready before me.

But the very best part? I’ll once again get to have coffee with the man I love every morning! After a good snooze…