Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Frugal Food: Portable Protein Snack

I started making these for a couple reasons. Firstly, tofu is not my favorite food, at least not "straight up". I like it in smoothies, dressings, lasagna, etc. but I almost never make it as a primary component of a meal. As with many people it is a texture issue, it is just too mushy for me and I've not had a great deal of luck overcoming that pitfall. However, it is an easy source of protein, so I don't want to write it off.

Secondly, I've tried a variety of the vegetarian jerky products available and while I mostly like the texture I usually can't stand the flavor, plus they are damn expensive.

I wanted something that was portable, tasty, chewy, and a decent source of protein that didn't put a huge hole in my budget. These are what I came up with. They do take some time, but most of it is hands off. I like recipes that give me pockets of time when I can get other things done!

Make Your Own Tofu Sticks
First get a block of firm tofu and cut it in half width wise. I use the House brand from Costco, you get 3 packs each containing 4 pieces (each pack is just under 20 ounces) for around $4 which is a great price in my area. What I don't understand is why each pack has 4 pieces of tofu but they list the number of servings as 5. Ridiculous. If you use a regular block of tofu you may need to cut it into thirds.

Next, line a baking sheet with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel (aside: my next mission is to drastically reduce my paper towel use). Place the sliced tofu on the sheet so that none are touching. This method is the easiest way I have found to press several pieces of tofu at once.

Cover with another clean towel or more paper towels. Place a second baking sheet on top of all of this and weigh it down as evenly as possible. I just use some of my filled jars from my pantry. Allow to press for at least 30 minutes. Use that time to make your marinade(s) - see below for ideas.

Once pressed, remove tofu to a cutting board.

Cut each piece into evenly sized sticks.

You don't need to use a ruler (although, go for it if you wish!) I just wanted you to have a size reference. Each of mine is about 1/2 inch.

Time to marinate. You can use whatever flavors you like, although I have found that thicker coatings produce a nicer crust. I prefer to let them marinate at least 30 minutes up to overnight, but if you use a thicker coating that is not strictly necessary. The flavor options are limitless, but here are some I've tried:

Agave-Mustard Vinaigrette



Teriyaki Sauce

I've also used my Thai Peanut sauce. So far my favorites have been the curry and the peanut sauce, which also happen to be the two thickest sauces. It is also really easy to make multiple flavors at once and bake them all together. You can mix up the sauce right in a zip top baggie or whatever container you want to leave them in (you can also use storebought - the BBQ sauce and teriyaki were bottled) which cuts down on dishes.

When you are ready to cook, or if you are only marinating for a short while, preheat your oven to 400*. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (easy clean up and protects your pans) and spray with non-stick spray. Place the tofu sticks on the baking sheet, making sure none are touching. Spoon a little extra sauce over the top of each stick. Give them a spritz with the non-stick spray and put them in the oven. Bake 45 minutes - 1 hour, turning every 15 minutes, until they are evenly well browned and have shrunk a bit. Remove from oven and allow to cool on sheet. Eat immediately or portion out and stash in 'fridge for easy snacking later. They will loose their slight crispness when stored for later, but the chewiness stays.

This is what the inside will look like afterward. As with good bread the holes indicate chewiness.

What's in the Works & the Weekly Menu

So you like how I titled the last post "Posting Blitz" and then posted all of two things? The computer just froze right up on me. Anyway, here are a few things I've been playing with: 

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread
I was sooo happy with how this turned out, especially since this was the first try. I just need to tweak it a bit before I post the recipe. 
Vegan Sausages
Based on Julie's recipe, with modifications. I made Bratwurst, spicy Italian, and small breakfast links. I haven't actually tried them yet, but if they turned out as hoped I'll post the recipes.
Whole Wheat Tortillas
The flavor is great but the texture was off the first time. I think I've got it worked out but I need to make it once more so I can best explain how to make them.

Pizza Margarita
This I'm sharing just because :o) I made the crust (1/2 whole wheat) and the mozzarella (a fun project if you eat dairy). The tomatoes and fresh oregano are from our garden. 

And This Week's Menu
As you can see, I actually got some things on my "good intentions" list done! Hurray! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Garden Update

The garden has gotten completely out of control. This lovely flower is out of what I thought was napa cabbage. After all, that is what I had sowed in that square... but then it bolted before it really produced anything. The bees like it and I like bees, so I've let it stay and now it is enormous. It has grown over the arugula, which is also out of control.

We took out two of the four tomato plants a month or so ago. The remaining two are still (!) producing some tomatoes (good flavor, but kind of mealy) and putting out foliage and flowers despite repeatedly cutting them back to try to encourage them to ripen the fruit they do have.

Here is a shot of the whole garden. Those enormous towering things in the back are the tomatoes.

I got a few cilantro plants (coriander) to come up from seed. Well, it bolted in a big hurry, despite the cool weather, and is now huge and flowering. I'm letting it go to seed so I can collect them. Incidentally, I highly recommend buying whole coriander seeds and grinding them yourself if you need powder, the flavor difference is unreal. When we have our own property I hope to have a big herb garden and harvest most of my own dried coriander seed (as well as other herbs and spices).

These are my two Swiss Chard plants. On the left is Ford Hook Giant, on the right is the one Bright Lights plant that came up (that is the one this leaf came from). Both of these plants were started from seed.

Posting Blitz: Starting with the Weekly Menu

If you are wondering about the repeats that appear from one week to another it is because for whatever reason, either plans came up or we just had too many leftovers to cook again, a meal did not get made so I just move it to the next week. Yes, some meals have been skipped and moved several weeks. My "good intentions" list is packed again, but this week is my short week, so I am planning on getting a bunch done (hence: "intentions"!!!).
Click on the picture to enlarge.

Friday, March 20, 2009

One Year "Blog-iversry": News that Warms My Soul

Wow, I can't believe I've been blogging for a whole year! I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who read my little corner or the world wide web and especially for taking the time to comment. I really get so excited every time I see a new comment up.

I just wanted to share with you something that I heard today that makes me so happy. Michelle Obama, along with a group of 5th graders, broke ground for a White House garden on the south lawn today. This is the first vegetable garden on White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt's "victory garden" during World War II. Local food advocates have been pushing for this for years. In fact Alice Waters just spoke about it on this past Sunday's 60 Minutes. While many of our recent presidents have been fairly healthy individuals, and Laura Bush even mandated organic for the White House kitchen, none have been particularly vocal about healthy lifestyles. I am so glad to see the Obama's talking about health, in addition to demonstrating what healthy looks like. I applaud Michelle for being open about the challenges they had not to long ago with their children's weight and diet, and also the steps they have taken to improve their diet and involve the girls. If you like to see the layout of the new garden check here.

Eating local, fresh ingredients is not just for the privileged (as I fear the movement has come off of late). On the contrary, local, in-season ingredients should be, and usually are, less expensive and more nutritious than food grown half way 'round the globe. Almost everyone can grow something at home, even if you have little or no yard. Container gardening can yield a surprising amount of food. Even sprouting is a form of gardening and you can do it right in your kitchen! In addition, farmers markets are an excellent source of local, super-fresh produce at prices that usual beat out the mega-marts. 

If you like more information about gardening in the city and growing food not lawns check out Path to Freedom. They are a wealth of knowledge. Click on the "Journal" tab on the left side to read their blog, which they update pretty regularly (aside: the family is vegetarian). Also, Simple, Green, Frugal Co-Op is a great blog that talks a lot about growing your own food, sustainability, simple living, and self-sufficiency (note: they do sometimes discuss raising animals for a variety of purposes). 

So, on this my one year blog-iversery and the first day of Spring, I challenge all of you, plant at least one food this year. Even if you think you have no green thumb or no space or you rent. Then blog about it; share your triumphs and challenges, we can all learn from one another.

Happy first day of spring!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Caesar Salad Dressing and Signs of Spring

I love Caesar salad. If you have dressing prepared it is one of the easiest salads to put together. Add a protein and it is a complete meal. However, it is very difficult to find a vegan version premade. And honestly, this is so easy to make that there is no real reason to purchase a bottled dressing, plus it keeps quite well in the 'fridge. 

The first time I made this I used the recipe from Veganomicon. While I know there are plenty of you out there who love that recipe as-is, I found it to be rather flat and overwhelming garlicky. So I continued tweaking it until I found the right balance of flavors for me. It might seem like a lot of ingredients, but don't be deterred. It only takes a few minutes to measure and blend everything together. If you have a well-stocked vegetarian pantry you will probably have everything you need on hand.

Everything you need to make this.

Lowfat, High Flavor Vegan Caesar Salad Dressing
Serving Size: 16, 2 tablespoon servings   Preparation Time: 5 minutes

12   ounces tofu, silken lite
2     cloves fresh garlic, peeled (only use 1 clove if your garlic is large)
3     cloves roasted garlic, peeled
2     tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2     tbsp flax oil
1/4 cup lemon juice (approx. the juice from one lemon, to taste)
1     tbsp capers, plus 1 tablespoons brine
1     tsp agave
1     tsp prepared mustard
2     tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4  tsp fresh ground  pepper
2     tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
2     tsp miso, yellow or brown rice
1/4  tsp kelp powder, or dulse flakes (totally optional, provides a touch of fishy flavor a la anchovies. Also a good source of iodine which supports the thyriod, especially for those of us who don't use iodized salt)
1/2  tsp salt, to taste

Put everything into a blender and blend until completely smooth.

Nutrition Facts: 
Per 2 tbsp Serving: 45 Calories; 4g Fat (69.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 120mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

Look at how creamy and rich looking (but it's good for you!)

And I just wanted to share this little sign of spring. These lovely little flowers have been springing up all over - "weeds" most noticable in overgrown yards around here. This little lady doesn't care how you classify them, she's too busy enjoying the bounty.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tempeh Crutons: Another One for Lark, and the Weekly Menu

You hear that lady? I'm doing what you asked! Here's another recipe using tempeh. This one is not so highly seasoned, so the tempeh flavor comes through a bit more. This keeps well in the 'fridge, so you can make a batch (and make the dressing while the tempeh is marinating) so later you can throw together a complete meal in just a few minutes, which especially nice when you are pressed for time in the morning. I use about 2 ounces, or 1/4 of a package per salad. 

You can make the marinade of whatever flavors you fancy. I kept it pretty basic for this. 8 ounces tempeh, two tablespoons each: light soy sauce, Bragg's liquid aminos, and apple cider vinegar, two teaspoons each: agave nectar and hot sauce (or to taste), 1 garlic clove smashed and peeled, 3/4 cup water.

Cut the tempeh into equally sized strips.

Then into cubes.

Place all the marinade ingredients into the bottom of a small sauce pan with a lid. (If you are using a ready-made marinade just put 3/4 cup water into the pot and wait until after steaming to add the marinade.)

Then put in a steamer contraption.

Add the tempeh cubes. Put on the lid and place pot over medium-high heat and bring to a bubble. Reduce heat to low and steam/simmer 10 minutes. Carefully remove steamer basket and dump cubes into marinade. Stir around to coat all cubes, replace the lid, and let marinate about 20 minutes (give it a shake to move the marinade around if you think of it).

Line a baking sheet with foil (optional), spray with olive oil, spread out cubes so they are not touching, and spray generously with more olive oil. Bake at 400 f for approximately 30 minutes. I did this in my toaster oven, so you may need to adjust the time accordingly depending on your oven.

Once they are all brown and toasty, like this, remove them and allow to cool.

Top your salad and enjoy! This is Caesar salad, with homemade dressing (recipe tomorrow) and okara Parmesan sprinkles. You can add regular croutons for more crunch if you like. This along with a piece of fruit is one of my favorite take-along lunches.

This Weeks Menu
Click picture to enlarge. Key: HM = homemade, HG = homegrown, LO = leftover

I actually got a few things done this past week so my "Good Intentions" list has shortened a bit. We are still crazy busy, but I hope to have a couple bits of news to share with you in the upcoming weeks. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Weekly Menu: 03/08/09 - 03/14/09

A little late this week but I thought I would continue posting our weekly menu. I know most of us have an irrepressible, if unspoken, curiosity about other people's lives, not the least of which includes what they eat (hello - the reason we read a ridiculous number of blogs!) and this is especially true when the person in question is vegetarian. B and I have been busy with a couple projects which have not left much time for other things recently, so we've been sticking to basics and my kitchen to-do list has been put off. BUT this is finally my short week and I will actually be home, and so intend to get more things done!
If you are interested in any of the dishes let me know and I'll push them to the front of the line for posting. If you have any other questions just ask, I'm usually happy to answer :o)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Homemade Soymilk: A Photo Essay

I've made soymilk several times now with the SoyQuick I got for Christmas. I now have a bit of a routine where I make 3 batches at once and that usually lasts us about two weeks. For easy drinking I make one each of chocolate, vanilla, and plain. We always run out of vanilla first, but it is easy enough to flavor the plain as needed. 

After some experimentation I came up with a recipe we both like. You can obviously make it with just soybeans (as you should if you are going to turn it into tofu or yogurt) but I add a couple of things to reduce the "beany" flavor and to give it a little more body. We didn't like just adding oats, it make it weirdly thick. Just rice is good, but we wanted it a little more substantial, so I use a combination of the two. This recipe assumes the use of the SoyQuick.

Basic Soy Milk
water to top fill line
6 oz soybeans (2 of the cups that come with the SoyQuick), soaked and hulled
2 tbsp brown rice
1 tbsp oats
1 1/2 tbsp sugar or other sweetener
1/4 tsp sea salt

Place first 4 ingredients in machine and press "soymilk" button. Strain and add remaining ingredients. Cool and refrigerator.


I soak all the beans at least overnight. I usually put them in to soak when I have a moment a few days before I'm going to make it and just stash them in the 'fridge until ready to use. These are applesauce jars, and each one perfectly holds enough soaked beans for one batch. If you want to make soymilk more frequently just keep a jar of these in your 'fridge all the time and change the water every couple of days. You'll have beans ready to go when you're ready to go.

Getting the skins off can be kind of tricky. I have found that if I cover the beans with boiling water and allow to cool until I can handle them they come off much easier. Additionally, it helps to remember that they are going to be pulverized in a few minutes, so being gentle with them is unnecessary. The skins come off much more easily if you smush them up real good. Also changing the water a couple time helps float the skins off. But really, you need not stress about it, you won't get them all off unless you go through them one by one (yeah right).

These are the tools I use. Don't bother with the strainer that comes with the machine, it is horribly designed and tips at the slightest bump. Invest in a good piece of cheese cloth, you can reuse it lots of times. I just put it in a small sauce pan, cover with water and boil ten minutes to to sanitize while my beans are cooling. Everything else gets scalded with boiling water. You need a strainer, cheesecloth, a spoon, whisk, tablespoon, two big measuring cups (I use the one that came with the machine plus my 4 cup Pyrex), and a glass container with lid for storage. 

If I could give you just one tip it would be this: as soon as the soy milk is done, remove the blade/heating element and rinse it. Before you do anything else. This stuff sticks like crazy given the slightest opportunity. You don't have to clean it completely until it has cooled enough to handle, but at least give it a rinse to get off the chunks. The blade cover comes off very easily and the whole thing is very simple to clean. Just make sure that you clean it completely and get everything off that clings to the machine.

I transfer all the okara to a bowl lined with a clean kitchen towel. It is easy to squeeze as dry as possible this way. 

Straining the milk a second time through cheesecloth is optional, but I recommend it. You can see here how much I get with the second straining, which makes for a much smoother milk. 

Here is the squeezed dried okara. It is easy to stash in the 'fridge or freezer until ready to use. So far I've used it to make a Parmesan sprinkle which we like very much and is lower calorie than the one made just with almonds. 

Three batches of soymilk. The red is the plain and the green lids are chocolate and vanilla (green = go/drink!).  To make the chocolate I use 2 big tablespoons of cocoa power, sifted, 2 tablespoons of sugar (plus more to taste or stevia powder), a teaspoon of vanilla and 1/4 cup fresh soymilk. Whisk together over low heat until everything is dissolved and incorporated then whisk into prepared soymilk. For the vanilla I add 1+ tablespoons vanilla extract plus stevia to taste (in addition to the 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar in the base recipe). I actually like mine more vanilla-y but B doesn't, so I add more to mine when I drink it.

I know that SoyQuick (and some of it's more enthusiastic supporters) claim that it takes only 15 minutes to make a batch. That is only kinda true. It takes 15 minutes for the machine to make a batch. But that does not take into account the time to rub the skins off the beans (5-10 minutes, plus 30 minutes hands off cooling time if you use my boiling water trick), or the time to strain and flavor the milk (10-15 minutes), and then of course there is clean up (5-10 minutes). So add that to the 15 minutes that the machine takes to do its thing and you are looking at closer to an hour. However, quite a bit of that is hands off, and if you are making multiple batches you can take that time to start the next batch soaking, clean dishes, (read...), etc.

Homemade soymilk does taste different than store bought, but we adjusted very quickly. And I feel much better knowing that there are no weird thickeners, preservatives, or other additives in something we regularly consume. Additionally, it is much less expensive than store bought. If you go though a gallon of soymilk a week at approximately $6 a gallon for commercial, you would make back your money in about 30 weeks (if you can finagle your way into getting it as a gift then you'll see the savings immediately!). Overall I like the SoyQuick - it takes the guesswork out of making soymilk, it can make a variety of milks, and it is easy to clean. If you only ever make nutmilks I would recommend investing in a high powered blender instead, since nutmilks don't need to cook and a blender is a much more broadly useful machine. However, if you want to make a variety of milks and you go through quite a bit then I think the SoyQuick is a great purchase, even if it is a bit of a unitasker (and like Alton, I have rules about those things!!!).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Lied

I know, I know, I said I would do my SoyQuick review, but I need another picture for the post and I forgot to take it, so hopefully that will be up tomorrow.

In the mean time I thought I'd share this with you. I was asked a couple of weekends ago to make a cake for a birthday party. Aside from choosing chocolate when I asked what flavor she wanted the host gave me free reign on everything else. That aways makes me nervous, but I finally settled on a bunt cake, since the party was pretty small and I like the way they present (plus it is easier to transport than a dozen cupcakes). 

I used a pretty basic "wacky cake" recipe. I like it because the cake itself is not tooth-achingly sweet, so you can add other stuff and it won't be overkill. To this one I added semi-sweet chocolate chips to the batter which become little, melty surprises as you eat the cake. I frosted it with a poured chocolate fondant (inspired by VeganYumYum's post). It was my first time working with poured fondant and my result came out a bit... lumpy, as you can see here:

There was some remaining in the pot after I poured most of it over the top, so I reheated it and painted it onto the sides of the cake. It worked pretty well. Then I gave the whole thing a sprinkle of confectioners sugar - which covers a multitude of sins as you can see from the first picture. I made a simple strawberry sauce (chopped fresh strawberries and some sugar, mix and let stand) to serve alongside. The host told me later that everyone enjoyed it, which gives me warm, fuzzy feelings. I was glad for the opportunity; I love to cook for others. 

Tip of the Day:
If you like to take salad for lunch but usually avoid it because it gets soggy from the dressing by the time you are ready to eat I have a solution for you.  

This is just a $1 spice bottle with the shaker top removed. I like it because it is small (I always feel silly putting a tablespoon or two of dressing in a 1/2 cup container) and glass, so it won't hold on to smells. The lid screws on securely for leak-proof transport and easy shaking when you are ready to eat (I was using a baby food jar for awhile, but it was difficult to properly secure the lid and it frequently leaked). In this case I made the dressing right in the jar - 1 tbsp flax oil, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 tsp Italian seasoning, and a pinch of salt. I buy nearly all my spices in bulk so this is my standard spice bottle, easily found at you local home goods store. No more soggy lettuce!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Weekly Menu: Back on Track

It's been a busy couple of weeks. The week before last I just didn't get around to making a menu and I found that that small amount of time invested (1-2 hours for me but I take my time; if you have a fairly regular rotation of meals it would be a lot faster) saves me a lot of time during the week. Last week B was gone the whole week for work stuff and I was gone for most of it skiing with my dad so no real menu then either, although I did make a loose one for me so I would know what to take for dinners while Dad and I were away. Anyway, the point is that these past two weeks reinforced how much I like using a menu - it just appeals to my OCD tendencies and since I make it I don't feel like it stifles my creativity. I encourage you to try it. In these trying economic times we could all use less stress, plus using a menu actually saves you money.  

Here is this week's menu. I use the Shopping List to help keep track of staples and produce that I'm running low on, however none of it is necessary for us to eat this week. I am way behind on my to-do list (read: haven't completed anything I put on there previously) so I definitely need to make a dent in that this week. Check back tomorrow for my review of the SoyQuick and my soymilk recipe. Have a happy Monday!