Tag Archives: tofu

Good Morning, Vegan Southwest Quiche!

Are you a quiche eater?

A 1982 bestselling book, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, firmly defined the egg, cream and cheese savory pastry as feminine and therefore beneath the standards of masculinity for any man who didn’t want to been seen as some namby-pamby New Age sort. The book goes on to describe this man as the sort who refers to his significant other as “life partner,” and who likely make the quiche, serve it to his partner, and wash up afterward. Needless to say, this man is not to be aped but to be despised and dismissed.

Due to the book’s 55 weeks on the bestsellers chart, “quiche eater” became briefly synonymous with a person too fancy to get his hands dirty. Having made more than a few quiche crusts, I find the insult to be a little ironic, considering how quickly the hands get floured, crummy, and sticky while forming the dough. But maybe the idea is that the quiche eater doesn’t make the crust.

Actually, going even further on this line of thought, the book admits that it’s perfectly masculine for a man to eat an egg and bacon pie that his spouse might offer him, but to make it himself would be deemed less than masculine. So it’s somehow less dainty to be waited on? Bruce Feirstein, you’ve got me thoroughly confused.

Anyhoo, there are many good vegan quiche recipes among my collected cookbooks, but for Sunday morning’s pie, I used what I had on hand and made a sort of Tex-Mex, Southwest pie with red onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and some of the field garlic we received in our CSA this week. Filling in for the egg and cream, I mashed in a pound of extra firm tofu. You can take or leave the turmeric in the recipe, but I think it gives the overall look a nice, rich color.

Word to the wise on tofu-based quiches: I don’t mind mine being a little loose and crumbly, but if you want a tighter, more gelled pie, use a food processor to blend the tofu smooth before adding it to the sautéed veggies.

Southwestern Quiche

Ingredients
– 1 9″ vegan pie crust
– 1 medium red onion, chopped
– 1 small red bell pepper, diced
– 5 or 6 fresh mushrooms, chopped
– 1 stalk field garlic, finely chopped (optional – but tasty)
– 1 pound extra firm tofu
– 2 tsp chili powder
– 1 tsp garlic pepper seasoning
– 1 1/2 tsp cumin
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– Turmeric (optional)

– Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

– Saute the onions in oil until translucent. Add the bell pepper and continue cooking for three minutes. Add mushrooms and seasonings and saute until everything is tender.

– Crumble in tofu and turmeric, then stir briskly with a fork until everything is well combined and fairly smooth, adding a tablespoon or two of water if needed. Pour into pie crust.

– Bake the quiche for 40 minutes in the oven, until the edges are browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before eating.

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!

Chicago: Day One

They could be playing "Stormy Weather" all night...

The weather on Friday was a dance between cold, wet, colder, and wetter. Every time we stepped outside the conditions seemed to have changed for the worse without somehow changing very much at all. We were colder with every new trip, or the rain struck us harder.

This did not make ideal weather conditions for taking photographs, but that’s alright with me. To tell the truth, I’m not much of a picture-taker when on vacation. I wish I was. I envy people who come back from long trips with a mile of photos glorifying their travels. They have pictures of everything they did, everywhere they went, everyone they saw. Drank a pint with friends? It’s in the pictures. Car got stuck in the mud? It’s in the pictures. Ate an amazing dinner at a famous four star restaurant?… Well, it would be in my pictures as well. But you get the idea.

As a result of the crappy weather and how it restrained us to our hosting neighborhood- Lincoln Park – and the surrounding territory, I don’t have much photographic record to share. The picture above was taken a few doors down from one of my favorite stores in Chicago, Shake Rattle and Read, on Broadway in Uptown. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Green Mill Jazz Club is a famous Chicago venue, opening in 1910 as a roadhouse complete with indoor and outdoor dining and dancing areas. In the twenties, Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, henchman of Al Capone, took over a large percentage of the club’s ownership, and the place became a favorite mob hangout. The story of McGurn’s takeover is best described in the historical summary on the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge website:

“Manager Danny Cohen had given McGurn the 25% stake to “persuade” comedian/singer Joe E. Lewis from moving his act south to the New Rendezvous Café at Clark and Diversey. McGurn managed to convince Lewis by slitting his throat and cutting off his tongue. Miraculously, Lewis recovered, but his songs never regained their lush sound.”

Ah, isn’t history wonderful, kids? I’d love to be a school child on a walking tour of jazz clubs in the city. Way more blood, booze, and broads than an average Pittsburgh field trip to the zoo.

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Good Morning, Brunch Feast!

Despite the time invested in this pile of delicious breakfast, this post is going to be exceedingly brief. I spent Sunday evening in glorious doom and gloom entertainment, first watching the final performance of Next to Normal Downtown [capsule review: Could also have been titled Depression! The Musical], then after post-show drinks, rushed home to watch the 11:00 pm re-run of the latest episode of The Killing on AMC.

I spent Sunday evening enjoying the most downbeat offerings stage and TV could possibly provide, which starkly contrasted with my midday minor vegan feast and the pure joy I felt throwing it together.

The meal was this: Roasted Cajun potatoes, scrambled tofu, navy bean gravy, and tempeh bacon. All delicious items when eaten apart, but as America knows, best when it can be collected in a big sloppy pile. The potatoes are easy enough – sliced and roasted with Cajun seasoning – and the tofu was just your typical scrambled tofu – turmeric, a little bit of vegan margarine, a little bit of liquid smoke, some salt and cayenne pepper – so the real stars here are the tempeh bacon and the amazing navy bean gravy, a vegan gravy so good, it could easily run for the same affections currently claimed by beef and chicken gravy devotees. And it’s incredibly easy to make.

Navy Bean Gravy

Ingredients
– 1 15 oz. can navy beans, drained and rinsed
– 1 tbsp oil
– 1 half onion, chopped
– 3 garlic cloves, chopped
– 2 tsp dried rosemary
– Black pepper (I tend to think more is better than less, but the actual quantity is a matter of taste)
– 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
– 1/3 cup flour
– 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 1/4 cup water

Saute the onions and garlic. Add the rosemary and black pepper and cook until the onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant. Combine the broth and flour and stir vigorously with a fork until there are few lumps of flour left.

– In a blender or food processor, combine the stock mixture, beans, soy sauce. Blend until smooth, then add the onions and garlic. Puree again until mostly smooth.

– Pour the pureed mixture into the stove pot and simmer until bubbling, stirring frequently. Add water to desired consistency.


Tempeh Bacon

Ingredients
– 8 oz. package of tempeh, sliced widthwise into 1/4 inch strips.
– 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 1 tbsp liquid smoke
– 1 tbsp maple syrup (I used honey)
– 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
– 1/2 cup vegetable broth
– 1 tsp garlic salt
– 1/4 tsp black pepper

– Combine all ingredients (except for the tempeh) into a large bowl. Mix until well combined, then add the tempeh strips. Marinate for 1 hour (can be done overnight as well).

– When tempeh has marinated long enough, heat some oil in a large frying pan. Fry the slices for six minutes on each side, or until both are browned sufficiently.

 (Adapted from recipes in Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

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)

Thai Cuisine


Thai Cuisine would be completely inconspicuous if it weren’t for its bright yellow exterior. Even the name, as suitable as it is, is laughably generic. In fact, it seems tailor-made for one of those “Who’s on First?” type of scenarios:

“Where are you going for dinner?”
“Thai Cuisine.”
“Oh, I love Thai food. Which restaurant are you going to?”
“Thai Cuisine.”
“I understand. Which Thai place are you going to?”
“Thai Cuisine.”

Its cheery yellow front makes it a standout on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield, a strip already busting at the seams with decent places to dine. As generic as the name is, the experience dining there is anything but. In full disclosure, I’ve eaten Thai Cuisine numerous times, including dining in and ordering to-go, and I’ve never had a bad meal there. Ever.

My partner’s parents were in town and kindly took us to dinner. Now my partner has a few favorites in this town, all of which he sticks to with a fierce loyalty that echoes the devotion he has to his favorite sports teams. Knowing Thai Cuisine as well as I do, I understand completely why he’s always eager to go there. Luckily for us, his parents don’t seem to disagree.

Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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Anatomy of a Sandwich: TLT


The majority of the restaurant reviews you read on this site come from dining out mid-week, and there’s a good reason for that. I’m often not very energetic when it comes to my weeknight cooking. With most people, the inverse is true: the bulk of their kitchen time is during the week and they use their weekends to go out and have fun and dine around town. Not me. I like to have good quality weekend time with my kitchen.

But not on weeknights. On weeknights, I want to be either 1) napping, 2) getting up from a nap, 3) writing, 4) accomplishing the various post-work tasks I normally have to see to, 5) going to the gym (that’s right, pumping iron, alright!), 6)….. you get the picture. I don’t really want to cook. I eat leftovers. I eat cereal. Sometimes I eat peanut butter and honey on toast and call it a meal. Sad, but true.

My laziness gives way to a decent recipe about every six months. Tuesday was one such night, when, needing to use up the leftover tofu from the weekend’s Southern feast, I decided to make a sandwich.

If you’re not a huge fan of tofu, let me advise two strategies to help you get over your concerns:
1) Extra Firm, Extra Pressed: Buy extra firm tofu, drain it, then press it until most of the excess moisture is out. You can gently press on it with your hands (like a sponge), or you can set up some kind of contraption to do the work for you. I balance a cutting board so that a side drains into the sink, then put the tofu on there. I cover it in paper towels, put a plate on top, and then add a few cans or bags of beans. Thirty minutes and the tofu has gone from wet and crumbly to… well, drier and crumbly. But the results really show in the cooking.

2) Don’t just fry it, coat it and fry it: Frying tofu can be awesome without any extra ingredients aside from oil and a few seasonings. But if you’re squeamish about the possible squish, coat tofu slices like you would chicken fillets. It takes to a breading really, really well, and it can often times smooth the transition into eating it.

Lazy Loafing, Ever Loving TomatoLettuceTofu Sandwich

Ingredients
– Three slices of extra firm tofu, about 1/3 inch thick. (Can vary depending on taste.)
– 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
– 1/2 tsp of baking powder
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
– 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
– Salt and pepper (to taste)
– Oil
– Two slices of tomato
– A couple of lettuce slices
– Vegan mayo (c’mon, you gotta have mayo or a mayo-like substance on a sandwich like this)
– Two pieces of bread, toasted
– Oil to fry tofu

– Mix the flour, baking powder, and seasonings in a large shallow bowl. Coat each piece of tofu in the mixture. Fry the slices until golden on both sides.

– Assemble your sandwich. Apply vegan mayo to one or both sides of toast, layer with tofu, lettuce, and tomato.

Square Cafe


For such a small business district, South Braddock Avenue is a culinary powerhouse. Upscale options like Legume commingle with delectable down-to-earth favorites like D’s Six Pax and Dogz. Laying somewhere in the middle is a little cafe catering to both breakfast and lunch diners and commuting visitors just stopping in for a cup of coffee to go: The Square Cafe.

My pals (and previous dining companions) Maureen and Brandon had sampled Square Cafe while looking for a place to hold the rehearsal dinner before their wedding. They were thoroughly charmed not just by the food and decor but by the friendliness and attentiveness of the staff. But what really won me over and convinced me that a visit was necessary was their high praise of the vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, including tofu scrambles and soy chorizo. When they offered to take me with them on their next visit, I jumped at the chance.
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Good Morning, Southern Fried Tofu with Biscuits and Gravy

So, if the concept of Meatless Mondays are to cut down on overall meat-consumption by dedicating one day to meatlessness, then I am right there with it. Much of my week is dedicated to meatlessness, in fact. But if the concept of Meatless Mondays are to invent and prepare meals that are meatless and healthier than we may normally eat… well, I may have missed the mark.

Vegan soul food exists. Anyone who tells you differently has never been down to the freaky little college towns of the South, like Athens, GA, where soul food and vegan cuisine commingle in ecstatic proportions. Then there are terrific vegan cookbooks like Alicia Simpson’s Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food, a book that while not strictly soul food-oriented, has more than a majority’s share of veganized Southern dishes. I have tried many of them (including a take on her pasta salad recipe) and they have all satisfied that soul food craving while being delightfully animal-free.

Today’s recipe does not come from Simpson’s cookbook. It’s a blending of a variation of recipes from different sources, VegWeb, a biscuit recipe in La Dolce Vegan, and some of my own kitchen noodling. It’s not heart-healthy, really, but it’s damn tasty. I make when I need a soul food fix, when I need something special, or when I want to make my partner smile.

Southern Fried Tofu with Biscuits and Gravy

Tofu and Gravy Ingredients
– 1 pound extra firm tofu, pressed and cut into eight equal sized slices
– 1 cup all purpose flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, but recommended)
– 2 tsp poultry seasoning
– 1 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you like it spicy)
– Pinch black pepper
– 1/2 tsp onion powder
– 8 ounces soft silken tofu
– 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
– Oil
– 2 cups unsweetened non-dairy milk (for gravy)

– Mix together the flour, baking powder, and seasonings and set aside. Mix together the silken tofu and 1/2 cup “milk” in large, shallow bowl.

– To prepare the tofu slices: Dip each slice first in the flour mixture, then coat in the silken tofu mixture, then coat in the flour once more. Fry each slice until both sides are golden brown.

– To prepare the gravy: Save at least two tablespoons of the cooking oil. Add two to three tablespoons of the leftover flour/seasoning mixture and stir in up to 2 cups “milk” (more if you like it thinner, less if you want thicker). Keep stirring until gravy is thickened.

Biscuit Ingredients
– 2 cups flour
– 3 tsp baking powder
– 3/4 tsp salt
– 1/4 cup vegan margarine
– 3/4 cup “milk”
– 1 tsp apple cider vinegar

– Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt. Stir in the vegan margarine, “milk,” and vinegar until well blended. Knead dough for about a minute, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut out biscuits using a biscuit cutter, cookie cutter, or do what I do: Lightly flour the edge of a glass and use that to cut out the biscuits.

– Bake the biscuits on a lightly greased sheet for 12 to 15 minutes.

(Recipes adapted from this recipe on VegWeb and “Basic Baking Powder Biscuits” from La Dolce Vegan by Sarah Kramer)

Good Morning, Spinach Pie!


I love pie. Particularly savory pies. Upon discovering that a decent pie crust is fairly easy to make (after a little personal trial and error, that is) I set about to make as many pies as I could. I made pie after pie after pie. Quiches and pot pies, tarts and tortes. I went a little pie crazy.

Savory pies are great because they require so little work. Make the crust, press it into the pie plate, then add your filling. Bake, cool, cut, eat. They take a little time, especially if you don’t use a food processor to mix your crust dough, but they’re not something you have to watch every second in the oven. Set the time and relax.

What I really want to get is a set of mini pie plates. Because, as we discussed with the almond tarts, everything seems a little better when it’s miniaturized. But big, small, savory, sweet, doesn’t matter. I’m a pie addict. Now you know.

This recipe is an adaptation, of sorts, of a great recipe in The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. I really need to do a feature on this incredible collection, and I will at some point, but suffice to say, if you don’t own this book and you enjoy spending even occasional time in the kitchen, but it ASAP. It’s vegetarian cuisine for people who like to eat well, regardless of dietary preferences. The only problem is that it’s a little butter and egg heavy in spots, so it’s not always adaptable for a vegan diet.

However, looking over the recipe for “Spinach Ricotta Pie” got me thinking, however: Silken tofu and ricotta, aside from what they actually are and what they taste like, are very similar. Texturally, they’re identical. This dish requires both the ricotta and 2-3 eggs, and tofu can more than make up for both. The end result of the substitute was pretty satisfying. On the whole, it was lighter than the Katzen recipe, with maybe a tiny bit less flavor, but I can more than make up for that the next time around. And there will be a next time.

Spinach Tofu Pie

Ingredients
For crust
– 6 tbsp vegan margarine
– 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
– 4 tbsp water, non-dairy milk, oil (I went with the water, because the only non-dairy milk I have is vanilla soymilk – delicious, but not appropriate for this.)

For filling
– 8 ounces silken tofu, firm
– 3/4 lb fresh spinach (I stress the use of fresh spinach in this recipe – the frozen stuff gets too soggy too quickly)
– 1 small onion, chopped
– 2 tbsp vegan margarine or oil
– 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
– 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
– Salt and pepper to taste

– To make the crust: In a food processor (or using a pastry cutter or two forks) cut the margarine into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse cornmeal. Slowly add the water to form a dough. (The recipe works with 4 tbsps, but feel free to add an extra tbsp or two if the dough is proving too dry to work with.) Roll out your dough and press it into a pie tin.

– Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium saucepan, saute the onions in the margarine or oil until translucent. Add spinach and spices. Continue to saute for about three minutes, then crumble the tofu in. Using a fork, combine until the mixture is fairly smooth and the spinach is wilted.

– Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Add extra paprika or vegan sour cream on top, if you like, then place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes. The top should be lightly golden brown and slightly crisp. Serve warm or cool.