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Tofu Meuniere


I spent most of the week sick with a pretty wicked cold which wiped out every bit of my appetite from Monday through most of Saturday. I ate to keep up my strength, but I lacked my characteristic zest for the meals I was eating. Even my standby favorites like Piaquadilo’s Cajun corn chowder and the vegan buffalo seitan wings from Spak Bros. did little to inflame my senses. I was congested, my throat was sore, and the idea of eating food, let alone preparing it, seemed like a chore.

This past week, while I was sleeping and moaning and spending as little time in the kitchen as possible, Nicole of Yum Yum posted her preparation of a Giada De Laurentiis recipe, Chicken Meuniere with Tomato-Parsley Sauce. I could tell I was finally coming out of the fog when, upon reading Nicole’s entry, I thought to myself, “Well that looks delicious. And I bet it would be totally easy to veganize.”

So Saturday, when the urge to cook started to creep back into my brain, I looked over the original recipe. The term “meuniere” refers to the process of dredging the fish, chicken, or whatever protein you’re using in flour before baking or frying. It’s a classic rustic Italian dish that is easy and quick to prepare, and for as few ingredients as it calls for, it’s an incredibly flavorful dish.

Based on the contents of my cupboards and personal preferences, I made a few variations, including substituting basil when I could not seem to locate my large canister of parsley. Also, because I like a thick sauce, I added some of the dredging flour to the roux. If you want a lighter, less creamy sauce, just skip that step.

Don’t forget some good crusty bread and a fresh green salad to go along with this dish. It’s a very refreshing dinner for a warm spring or summer night.

Tofu Meuniere

Ingredients

For tofu
– 1 pound tofu, cut into eight even slices
– 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
– 1 tsp poultry seasoning
– 1 tsp garlic pepper seasoning
– Oil for frying

For sauce
– 4 to 5 Roma tomatoes, diced
– 1/3 Kalamata olives, chopped
– 2 shallots, sliced thin
– Zest of a small lemon
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 1 tbsp basil

– To prepare the tofu: Mix together flour and seasonings. Dredge each piece of tofu in the flour mixture until both sides are well-coated. Heat oil in a large pan, then add the tofu slices. Fry until lightly browned, then flip. Once all slices are cooked on both sides, remove them from the pan and keep in a lidded container.

– For the sauce: Using the same pan, add the tomatoes, olives, shallots, zest, white wine, and basil. Simmer for five minutes. If thickening, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture used to coat the tofu. Stir and cook until thick (but not too thick), then remove from heat.

– Plate the tofu, then cover with the sauce.

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Good Morning, Rabanada!


I’ve tried many of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s cookbooks, but in the short amount of time I’ve owned Vegan Brunch, I’ve utilized it more than the nearly six months I’ve owned Veganomicon or the many years I’ve turned to Vegan with a Vengeance. Aside from the Sarah Kramer cookbooks, which I have turned to on a regular basis since 2008, Vegan Brunch has been the most prolific presence in my kitchen since I purchased it in early April.

Part of the reason is that it has a perfect blend of savory and sweet foods that work well for any meal. But the biggest reason by far is the simple fact that the recipes are damn good. They’re inventive but casual, not requiring a vast array of ingredients or a large prep time. There are some more advanced recipes, but for the most part, these are dishes that are easily prepared in an hour or less and that serve a whole host of functions, be it a lazy Sunday afternoon brunch with my partner or a potluck or even, on the rare occasion where I actually make something special for myself, a solo treat.

Because of my particular affection for pancakes and French toast, I’m always on the lookout for good vegan variations of these dishes. [Of course, the definitive list of pancake options appears in the fantastic Eat Me, a collection of recipes and general retrospective of Shopsins in New York, which features tremendous feats of pancakery such as the macaroni and cheese pancake. But more on Shopsins another time.] Browsing through the options in Vegan Brunch, one recipe caught my eye.

In Brazil, rabanadas is prepared to celebrate the birth of a child, as well Christmas, Easter, etc. The tradition of preparing rabanadas is so ingrained in the culture, bakeries sell special loaves around holiday time, called “Pao de Rabanada.” The prep includes soaking the bread in milk or water to soften, then dipping the slices into egg and frying in a small amount of oil. So, yeah, not much different from how French toast is prepared stateside.

Vegan Brunch‘s recipe offers a few very innovative (and tasty) vegan changes. Instead of egg, the stale bread slices are soaked for twenty minutes in a banana-almond milk custard. I made a few slight changes to the recipe, but basically prepared it as specified in the book. So, thanks in advance, to Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and this great recipe that made me and my partner pretty darn happy this past Sunday afternoon.

Brazilian Rabanadas

Ingredients
– 1 stale loaf of bread (she specifies baguette, but I used a stale Italian loaf and it worked fine)
– 2 ripe bananas
– 1 1/2 cup almond milk
– 3/4 tbsp Xanathan gum
– 1/2 tsp almond extract
– Vegetable oil for frying
– 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– Strawberries (or other fruit) for garnish

– Slice stale loaf into eight thick slices. Lay out slices on a flat baking pan.
– In a food processor or blender, combine the bananas, almond milk, Xanathan gum, and extract. Process until mixture is smooth, then pour mixture over the slices. Allow to soak for ten minutes, then flip slices and let sit for ten minutes more.
– Once slices have soaked for twenty minutes, heat oil on a pan and prepare as normal, keeping the cooked slices in a warm stove or microwave until all are finished.
– Combine the cocoa powder and cinnamon in a sifter, if you have one, or if you’re like me, use a small measuring cup and hope for a steady hand. Lay out finished slices on plates and dust with the cocoa/cinnamon mixture. Top with berries and add syrup and vegan margarine.

Anatomy of a Sandwich: Tomato and Balsamic Tofu


A simple idea can often be undone by its own simplicity. You figure, it seems so obvious, why isn’t it just assumed that this already works? And then you think, well, duh, cause of course it doesn’t work, and everyone already knows that.

When I was at the terrific Osteria 2350, I enjoyed a sandwich fairly common to Italian cafes and delis alike: The tomato and mozzarella with roasted red peppers and balsamic vinegar. This sandwich knows no one cuisine, because although its roots are clearly in Italian staples, its appeal is widespread and its basic form – a warm and possibly grilled cheese sandwich with added ingredients – is a well worn food item among any number of cultural heritages.

Osteria’s version was very delicious, so delicious that I had to lament the fact that, for my vegan partner, there is no accessible way for him to enjoy this sandwich. The tomato, red pepper, and vinegar portions, yes. The cheese? No. Vegan cheese can be tasty, but it has its limits, and there is not a vegan cheese on the planet that can imitate faux mozzarella.

Except that, as I considered the giant pillows of fresh mozzarella stuffed into the sandwich, I found that it bore a striking similarity to something most, if not all, vegans heartily enjoy: Tofu. Specifically extra-firm, uncooked tofu. Both are white and soft. Both have neutral, almost watery-fresh flavors. Tofu can’t melt like mozzarella, but in this sandwich, the mozzarella stayed perfectly solid, so melting wasn’t an issue.

So, I’ve had this dish in mind for a while. After a short stop into Lotus Foods on Saturday, I decided it was high time that I tried out my theory.

Success? Well, you be the judge. But would I write about it if it were a total failure?

A few tips for this very easy recipe:
– A pound of tofu should yield four sandwiches worth, unless you really want to get heavy on each sandwich.
– Soak the tofu in balsamic vinegar for extra flavor
– Press your tofu, but don’t get rid of all the moisture. A little dampness inside helps to mimic the mozzarella.
– Use good crusty bread for this. Jackie, my friend and most fantastic cooking partner, brought over some homemade sandwich bread that worked fantastic. Make sure to use thick slices and toast for extra support.
– We slightly cooked our tomato slices, but if you want to leave them firm and crispy, go right ahead.

Tomato and Balsamic Tofu Sandwich

Ingredients
– 1 pound of firm tofu, sliced widthwise into four big slabs
– 2 small tomatoes, sliced
– 1 red bell pepper, sliced into small strips
– Salt and pepper (to taste)
– Balsamic vinegar – we weren’t precise on the measurements, so use your judgment. About a 1/4 cup overall should be fine.
– Eight slices of thick, crusty bread, toasted
– 3 tbs olive oil or grapeseed oil (use more as needed)
– Fresh spinach (as desired)
– Vegan mayo (optional)

– Heat the oil in a pan, then add the red pepper slices. Saute until soft, adding salt and pepper as desired. Add the tomatoes, cooking for about a minute. Remove from the peppers and tomatoes from heat, but keep the pan hot.

– Put a slab of tofu in the pan. Add balsamic vinegar, cook for a minute, then flip, adding more vinegar. Once slab has soaked up some of the flavor – a touch-and-taste test works – remove from heat. Repeat with each slab.

– Assemble your sandwich. Toast the bread, then layer tofu, tomato, red peppers, and spinach. Add vegan mayo if using. Enjoy!

Good Morning, Apricot Coffee Cake!

I used to make a killer sour cream coffee cake. The original basis came from AllRecipes.com, but as I returned again and again to the dish, I put my own tweaks on it. I toyed around with extra flavors, zests, extracts, fresh and frozen fruits. I got the cooking time just right. I knew when to use icing and when to use a crumb topping, and I knew exactly how much to use.

And they always came out perfect. Soft, but substantial, sweet but not overpowering, absolutely great for either breakfast or dessert. Provided there were any leftovers, they even stored well and could keep for up to three days if packed properly. I ran through every idea I had and the best turnouts- chocolate chips and cocoa powder, cardamom and orange zest, cream cheese and blueberry preserves – more than made up for the few failures. I never got tired of making them and no one seemed to be tired of eating them.

Then I moved.

The new apartment had a rented stove that was about fifteen years older than the one I had during my coffee cake renaissance. When I cooked my first coffee cake in my new kitchen, I was shocked by the way it had turned out. Where was the fluffy, moist cake? Why was the crumb topping so dry and flavorless? Why was everything so flat? And how did it get burned?!?

I was dispirited. Even my failed experiments had never been this bad. This was barely edible (in fact, after bravely eating a piece, most of the remains did find their way into the trash). I tried to learn from my potential mistakes: I must have been careless about the amounts of flour, baking powder, and sugar. It must have baked too long. I must not have greased the pan enough.

So I tried again. But even with the tweaking of cooking time, the careful attentiveness to ingredients and prep, and a watchful eye while the cake sat in the oven, it still failed. It wasn’t the horror show that the prior failure had been, but it was still a failure. I had to face facts.

The magic was gone.

So, flash forward to the present. Since my coffee cake heartbreak, I have made a total of zero coffee cakes. Like any jilted lover, I moved onto other culinary distractions. I had brief flings with cupcakes, dabbled casually with muffins, and settled into a nice routine with the dependable and delightful cookie, a relationship that satisfies me to this day. But sometimes, when I’m craving something that I can’t quite name, I know what I’m actually yearning for.

I was tempted by the coffee cake recipes in Sarah Kramer’s books, as well as the sure-to-be delicious recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking, but I was always afraid to attempt them. For one, I didn’t want to come back to coffee cake baking after such a long absence just to fail once more. In addition, I had never tried a vegan coffee cake recipe, so I was worried about botching not only my comeback cake, but my first attempt at a vegan one at that.

Sunday, however, after a week that was rich in both pain and healing (a story that I will come back to another time), I was looking for a distraction and picked up my recently purchased copy of Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Mokowitz. Thumbing through the recipes, I was about to try out the tomato-rosemary scones when one last courtesy flip through the pages landed me on her recipe for “East Coast Coffee Cake.” And I thought, well, why the hell not?

For my first time back to coffee cakes, I stayed fairly true to Isa’s recipe, tweaking just a few ingredients to match my own tastes. Her basic recipe does include fruit preserves, but she includes handy directions on including any number of ingredients. The recipe turned out to be a cinch to make, and while the results weren’t perfect, they were far from the disasters of my last coffee cake attempts. I’m not sure we’ll ever be as close as we once were, but it looks like me and coffee cake are on the redemption road to a casual friendship.

Apricot Coffee Cake

Ingredients

For the topping
– 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
– 1/4 cup veg oil

For the cake
– 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
– 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup veg oil
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/2 tsp almond extract
– 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp baking pwoder
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup apricot jam

– Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8×8 square pan. Add the apple cider vinegar to the milk and set aside to allow for curdling.

– For the topping: Mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the oil by tablespoons, mixing it into the dry ingredients with your fingers. Keep mixing until you’ve got a mixture of large and small crumbs. Set aside.

– For the cake, mix together the milk-vinegar mixture, sugar, vegetable oil, and extracts. Sift in flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until smooth.

– Pour the batter into the pan. Pour the 1/2 cup of apricot jam over the batter, then swirl it with a knife or fork. Sprinkle topping over the batter and lightly pat down.

– Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool, add powdered sugar if desired, then slice and serve!

Good Morning, Vegan Banana Pudding


I once had a banana pudding so good it had to have been evil. I don’t mean “sinfully delicious” or so bad for you but so good-tasting. I mean that it literally had to be evil to be that good. It had to have communed with the beast. It had to have divined its powers from another worldly realm so deep, so far from the simple divinity of heaven.

It was heavy and sweet and body-possessing. As a follow-up to an already very substantial lunch in Athens, Georgia in mid-August, it was a little too much to take. It was a taste that knocked the wind out of me, and pretty much every ounce of energy I might have had left. Emerging into the well-baked afternoon, I promptly fell into what could only be described as a euphoric food coma. It might also have been described as heat stroke.

Anyway, I suffered the same fate as those who dare chase the forbidden fruit. To this day, I’ve never found the equal to this banana pudding (found at Peaches in Athens, GA, if you’re interested), and I’ve never really desired to. One encounter is enough.

Still, I love banana pudding. Serve it with vanilla wafers, ladyfingers, or whipped cream. My favorite preparation is simple: Pudding and banana slices. I had some silken tofu and bananas on hand, so I was set to make up a vegan variation, which me and my partner set about devouring as soon as it left the fridge. Thank goodness this only takes five minutes to make. Next time I’m saving it all for myself!

Vegan Banana Pudding

Ingredients
– 2 ripe bananas (Don’t forget to have an extra on hand for topping!)
– 1 12 oz. package of silken tofu
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
– 1/2 tsp Xanathan gum

– In a food processor or blender combine all ingredients until well blended. Chill for at least two hours. Serve with banana slices.

(Adapted from this recipe on Vegweb.com)

Good Morning, Green Onion Stir Fry!

They say that what you cook for yourself and yourself alone is a good indicator of how much you consider your own well-being. While I think there is some truth behind that – after all, if you didn’t care about yourself, you would care little for nourishment even when absolutely required – it’s largely a subjective matter. What one person considers a perfectly adequate meal for one might horrify another solo diner, and these opinions are, for the most part, a matter of taste.

I just finished reading Alone in the Kitchen With Eggplant, a compilation of essays from different writers focusing on the idea of cooking for one, dining out alone, and generally eating by one’s lonesome. Some of the essays took the stance that one should treat themselves to a meal that is on par, if not better, than what they would serve other people, because it’s important to show yourself the same level of consideration and care that you show other people.

That’s all well and good, but I tend to side more with Ann Patchett on the subject. Despite her years of food knowledge and preparation expertise, she is reluctant to put any significant effort into a meal meant only for herself. She writes of subsisting on crackers eaten over the sink, meager yet satisfying meals of odds and ends and non-cooked foods. Despite having the ability to make challenging and delicious cuisine, the last thing she wants to do after the trying experience of cooking that meal is to sit down and eat it. So when it came to feeding herself, she stuck to things that required as little effort as possible.

I don’t exactly eat saltines every night for dinner, but I understand the point. When I’m not cooking for others, I tend to lack the focus and energy to make a complete meal for myself. There are things I’d rather be doing with my time, and besides, I’m very easily satisfied. What’s the point in expelling all the energy, using up all that time, dirtying another dish, another pot, another fork and spoon?

But last Monday night, I felt in a bit of a food rut. I had eaten out a lot the prior week and hadn’t really gotten a whole lot of time in the kitchen, not even on the weekend when I generally do most of my meal-making. I still had quite a bit of produce in my fridge thanks to a Strip District visit the weekend before, and I didn’t have much to do or anywhere to be. I wasn’t even particularly tired.

So I set to making a simple stir fry.  Those of you who already have their chosen stir fry, feel free to ignore this recipe. Those who haven’t found their recipe might want to try mine. I’m not saying it’s the best, but it’s damn satisfying, especially with the addition of the green onion pancake.

Another one of my problems in cooking for myself is that I always end up making way too much, to the point that it’s more than even simple leftover lunch the next day can handle. This recipe yields a quantity big enough to share between two people.

Green Onion Pancake Stir Fry

Ingredients
– 2 to 4 green onions, chopped
– 1 small green pepper
– 1 small red pepper
– 1 small zucchini
– 1 tbsp veg oil
– 2 tbsp dark sesame oil
– 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 1/4 tsp ground ginger
– 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
– Garlic chili hot sauce (optional – use to taste)
– 1 pre-packaged green onion pancake (found in Asian grocery stores – I got my pack of six at Lotus)
– 1 cup instant brown rice

– For rice, prepare as instructed on box.

– Heat vegetable oil in a large, deep pan. Add green onions and sesame oil. Saute until onions are tender, then add peppers and seasonings. Cook for a few minutes longer, than add zucchini and soy sauce. Toss until everything is well coated. Allow to simmer on low heat for ten minutes.

– Cook the pancake in the toaster until lightly browned.

– Assemble your plate: First a scoop of rice, then the pancake. Add extra soy if desired. Then top generously with veggies and leftover sauce from the pan.

Good Morning, Cauliflower Cheese Soup!


Mollie Katzen, Mollie Katzen. Is there anything you can’t make delicious?

Some of you out there might know of my current quest to conquer cauliflower. I’ve long held the albino broccoli in disregard. Its pure whiteness, its bland nothing flavor, its weird not-quite-crunchy-enough texture… All I’ve ever known of cauliflower is that people tend to avoid it on vegetable trays. While their fellow tray-mates, the robustly orange carrots, the crunchy, stringy celery, the vibrant and tree-like broccoli, find better homes on small plates and napkins (to eventually be devoured and rest inside various digestive tracts), the cauliflower is left to an uncertain fate.

All that changed with a little dish from Tamarind Savoring India: Gobi Manchurian, dry, fried, crunchy, a little spicy. The cauliflower was more like Korean spareribs than that pale, lonely little vegetable left alone on the party tray. This cauliflower was savory, vibrantly colored, and extremely flavorful. I was completely turned around.

So I’ve made a little mission of coming to terms with  cauliflower. Considering the benefits of the vegetable itself – low in fat, high in fiber and Vitamin C – and the expanding possibilities of its taste capabilities, this seems like a fairly easy challenge.

But one cannot subsist on Gobi Manchurian and only Gobi Manchurian. So it’s up to other cooks to show me how to best utilize this former enemy. Enter lover of all things veggie and culinary genius, Mollie Katzen, whose Moosewood Cookbook has become a formidable weapon in this delectable battle of will, wit, and tastebuds.

My pal, Jackie, had a great recent find at Beyond Bedtime Books on Potomac Avenue. Seemingly moments after saying that she needed to pick up the Moosewood at some point, she found a used copy right there on the shelf. Flash to weeks later and she’s cooking us up a version of Katzen’s “Cauliflower and Cheese Soup.”

Recommended for this recipe: Do not over puree. A little texture keeps the soup from being to gruel-like. We also threw in some steamed asparagus, optional, of course, but it was the perfect crunchy counterpart to the creamy, mildly cheesy soup.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup

Ingredients
– 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
– 1 medium to large cauliflower, cut or broken into florets
– 3 garlic cloves, minced
– 1 large onion, chopped
– 2 to 3 tsp salt
– 4 cups water
– 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
– 1 cup shredded Colby Jack
– 3/4 cup milk
– 1 tbsp fresh dill
– Black pepper to taste

– Set the water to boil and add the potato, cauliflower, garlic, onion, dill, and salt. Bring to boil, then simmer until all the vegetables are tender. Add milk.

– Puree about half of the mixture in a blender or food processor, then transfer back into the pot. Keeping on low heat, add cheese, then stir until cheese has melted completely. Season with black pepper to taste.

Optional: Take a pound of asparagus and chop off about two inches of the stem from the bottom. Steam asparagus and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook until asparagus is bright green and tender, but still crunchy. Add a few stalks to the soup as a delicious garnish.

(Recipe adapted from “Cauliflower Cheese Soup” from The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen)