Tofu is NOT easy (Part 2)

Part 2 of the short series on one of my (ex-) favorite topics, Tofu, can be considered pretty much a failure. It consisted of 4 batches of tofu (both regular extra-firm and sprouted tofu) being pressed, cubed, and then stir fried in canola oil in various non-stick pans. These attempts included varying levels of heat, varying methods of preheating pans and oil, and one very smoky disaster. I’m stubborn like that.

I am trying to not use non-stick cookware (there seems to be agreement out there that the coatings are not healthy). Despite all the variations and time spent googling “tofu and non-stick pans” and many other apparently never-used combination of words, I could not get around a certain layer of tofu sticking to the bottom of the pan. I decided that oily fried tofu cubes are not worth all the work at this point. I think baking makes the most sense for health reasons and will be much less oily and easier to clean up.

Here are some pictures of the process (warning-none are going to make you jump up and want to try this. If you are trying to evolve to like tofu…stop here and read part 1 of this earth-shattering series. Or have a beer first!)

(Note layer of tofu on bottom becoming stubbornly attached to bottom of pan. The cubes did mostly hold together however). This happened every time.

This was the pan at end of the most successful batch. The cubes were slightly browned. I think they would only taste great if mixed into a stir fry with a sauce.

Lessons learned: 1. Baked tofu seems healthier 2. You have to use enough oil to absolutely prevent a dry bottom of the pan (so more oil means less healthy…)  3. Just above medium seemed to be the best level of heat in my 2 stainless steel pans with a smooth-top stove. 4. In reading about tofu, the opinion seems to be that sprouted tofu is slightly better because it is easier to digest and has a slightly better nutritional profile. They seemed to cook the same from what I saw.

Have a great second half of the week and may your cooking ventures be successful…As always, tofu tips are appreciated!

Sweet Victory ?! and Cheese Sauce for Veggies

I had the most fun surprise today! Shocking, actually. If you have known me for a while, you know I cannot run as fast as I used to. Today I went to a small, very small, local 5K road race, which raises money for a ministry to provide diapers and baby supplies to low-income mothers. I did not have expectations of any sort except to enjoy a wonderfully cool morning (about 55 degrees-amazing for June). When I finished I learned I was the first female! I won the race! I never found out my time, but that’s ok with me:) They handed me a race shirt immediately and later I was given a good quality pint glass with the race logo with a 25.00 gift card to a sporting goods store. I have never been the first female in a road race, ever. It was too fun!

My goal for this week has been to experiment with cheese sauces until I found one I liked, and could see myself making quickly and regularly to increase the vegetable intake of all of us around here. I hit the jackpot and found one on the first attempt! In the future, I have a vegan/dairy-free version I want to try, but I need to get across town to buy Daiya cheese first.

In general, my boys do not like vegetables. They each have 1-2 vegetables that I serve over and over to them. Embarrassing given the name of this blog, but true. As a child, I remember liking broccoli much better when it was served with Velveeta cheese sauce. Here is the one I found, minus the Velveeta! Ha, did I scare you there for a moment?

Adapted with a few changes from recipe by Sue Lau, the original is posted on food.com, titled Microwave Cheese Sauce

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp all-purpose unbleached flour

1 cup warm milk (I used 1% milk)

1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I used sharp shredded cheddar)

Note: I left out salt, recipe lists 1/2 tsp salt is optional

Directions:

1. In a large microwave safe glass bowl, heat butter for 50 seconds on high or until the butter is melted.

2. Whisk together the butter, flour, and milk.

3. Add 1.5 shredded cheddar cheese and stir

4. Place bowl in microwave and cook on hight for 1 and 1/2-2 minutes (2:10 worked for me), whisking every 30 seconds or so, until the sauce is thick and heated through.

5. Season with salt if desired (I did not think it was needed).

Three out of 4 family members loved it. One was just 14-year old boy grumpy that day…so I have not given up on him yet.

Just curious, do you have any easy sauces to enhance veggie intake? Please share!

 

 

 

Veggieversary!

Yes, it’s a made up word, I think. Veggieversary is the anniversary of becoming vegetarian (or I suppose it could be vegan also). This coming weekend is my 2 year point! I will always have Memorial Day Weekend to help me remember, and because we are going out of town this weekend, I am writing this early.

Here is one reason I took action on my long-standing thoughts about becoming a vegetarian. In full disclosure, I will tell you this is actually my second (and I believe the last) trial of the veg thing. I had tried it for a year when I was in my 20’s and gave up, feeling protein deprived and demoralized. I had no idea how to fit vegetarian cooking in my busy work life back then.

Charlie is the first dog I ever owned. We grew up without pets, until I was 9, and a cat we named Marble found us. From then on we were cat fanatics. I never knew a dog well. In 2007, I was hoping for a stray cat to come adopt us, because my husband did not want a pet in the house, and it seemed silly to seek one out when we did not know how our son with asthma would react to pets. The boys wanted a pet badly (read: cat or dog) and the youngest son was especially sad at the start of each school year that he did not have a pet to mention when introducing himself at school. I thought a stray cat might stay outside for a while and eventually make its way in, which we all know is how these things usually go!  Literally, within 2 weeks of that wish/prayer, this dog, whom we named Charlie, was dirty and loose in my yard. We tried to find his owner, and we never did. So I had my first dog! He was trained, loyal from day one, and cuddly–he is a lap dog, in fact. Getting to know a dog really started me thinking about why we eat some animals and not others. And you know the rest!

I decided to eliminate meat from my diet as I read books on the topic under a tree at a soccer tournament 2 years ago. I have been thankful every single day that I made the decision, and I know it was right for me. I had been telling myself to wait until the kids were gone to college…I’m so happy I did not put it off. Really, what in the world was I thinking?

Here was my veggie recipe for the week…Yes I am still trying out roasting every veggie under the sun! Hopefully now that school and all that craziness is ending for the boys, I will finally get to the farmers markets and have the chance to be more creative and adventurous.

I used this recipe as written, although my slices were closer to 1/4 inch thickness. The sweet potatoes were tasty. I like leaving the skin on…so good. I would like to try this again and experiment with some flavor combinations–maybe some minced fresh ginger, maple syrup, smoked salt…the possibilities seem endless.

http://www.food.com/recipe/roasted-sweet-potato-slices-37089

Here is what mine looked like. Note: The plate was designed by my brother when he was 3. I inherited my grandmother’s set we made for her. I just love how little kids draw people!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tofu is so easy…(not!)…Part 1

The truth is, vegetarians can get by without tofu these days. It’s not absolutely necessary. I can go weeks without giving it a thought, and then have a week like this week when I have purchased 4 containers! I’m striving to make the perfect tofu…because somehow it always seems to taste the best at restaurants or prepared by someone else, and that is frustrating.

Here is part 1 of what I have picked up on about tofu so far. (Side note, I only buy extra-firm tofu, so these tips may not apply to the softer tofus).

Pressing is essential! I mean it really is. I have had some really bad results over the years when I did not grasp this. Some, if not most, cookbooks and sources recommend this method, which I will call the brute force method: Drain tofu, place on cutting board, lined with kitchen towel or paper towels. Place more paper towel or towel on top of tofu block, then another cutting board, then place as many heavy books on the top as you can. Maybe a chemistry book from your past can come in handy here. BUT, here is what can happen…a thunderous crash ensues, books tumble into the sink, time is spent to reassemble this craziness so you can get the extra moisture out of that darned tofu. Tofu does not seem to want to release its moisture in perfect symmetry; hence the books are always sliding off to one side. Or as happened to me once, the tofu just breaks up under this overwhelming weight into a messy heap…then it is impossible to slice or cut into nice cubes like I prefer. I don’t want “heap-a-tofu” for dinner.

Here is my latest method, inspired by Mark Bittman, whose book “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” is yielding some nice tips. He is in the gentle school of tofu pressing, pressing with 1-2 pounds of weight. Now I drain it, place the block on the cutting board with 1-2 layers of paper towel on it. I put more paper towel on top of the block and then a mini cutting board. On top of this is one nice little 16 oz. can of anything. Then I leave it alone for 30 minutes to several hours. When I pressed some moister Nasoya brand tofu last night, I replaced the paper towels a few time because they became saturated quickly. Here’s my method:

Why press? It cooks better, firms up a little better, and soaks up flavors better, which is what tofu does best. How to cook it? Lots of options there also. My favorite method I had used and enjoyed eating before this week, was pressing, marinating, and then broiling. It was time consuming and messy to clean up, but delicious. However this week I used a method I felt was less intensive (but worked for me as I was home and doing multiple tasks at once). This method can be summarized as pressed, marinated, baked. It worked just as promised, so no need to hover near the oven. My method and recipe were adapted from one of my favorite books “Veganomicon” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I used 1 block of tofu, 1 cup of a local sweet and slightly tangy barbecue sauce, a rough 2/3 tsp soy sauce, and 1 tsp canola oil.

Directions:

1. Drain and press tofu at least 30 minutes. After 30 minutes cut your block of tofu into 8 slices, as if cutting bread.

2. Mix BBQ sauce, soy sauce, canola oil. I marinated one hour.

3. After marinating one hour, I sprayed my cooking sheet with non-stick spray, and baked the slices at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. I flipped them at this point, and cooked 10 more.

4. Serve any way you want! I ate my BBQ slices over plain quinoa with cooked broccoli mixed in the same bowl. I also had one slice with warm macaroni and cheese I had fixed.

The verdict: one son tried it and stated he did not like tofu, which was expected. Other son (victim of the great Tofu incident of February 2012–we won’t go into details in midst of a recipe) is not ready to eat tofu again. However, success was achieved when we rushed out to a program at the school (hence the rushed picture I took) and husband came home from soccer and polished most of it off! I had the last slice at work the next day over quinoa and the flavors were even better.

In the next week I plan to try a new recipe with sprouted tofu (supposedly easier to digest-I have to learn more about this) and tofu on the grill. I need to find out if the Tuesday Farmer’s Market is open too.

One last fun thing–I made these business cards on Vistaprint to hand out to friends in case they want to check the blog out. Just arrived today as I worked on this post. I loved the design they had with the veggies. I did black out my phone number for this picture.

I’d love to hear how you cook tofu! Have a good week.

Thankful for some little things

I have been feeling a little sorry for myself in the cooking realm. Here’s the recap: Husband with outrageously overactive metabolism (read: vegetarian food does not satisfy or fill him up), fairly “picky eating” children (if only I knew back then what the research says about exposing kids to foods when young). And now, the new development …older son just got braces and is in present but improving pain. Trying to put a good meal on the table has been tough.

Yesterday I had a realization, that maybe I could find a few positives in the last few weeks. Frustration is just a non-productive cycle for me. After all, I am always finding ways (however miniscule) to improve our diets and move the other members of the family towards vegetarianism–at least when I do the cooking–because frankly, I don’t want to cook meat. And in honor of Mother’s Day this weekend…”Because I’m the mom, that’s why!!!”

Here are my little things:

1. One of my sons said last week “I like the whole wheat kind better”…I had served regular spaghetti for the first time in a while. This is big news. Due to the new braces, we’ve been having even more pasta around here. They will never see regular pasta again.

2. We have been doing pretty well with the whole family going meatless on Mondays for “Meatless Mondays”. This week I made whole wheat spaghetti with Trader Joe’s organic marinara sauce (the best ever) and crumbled Morningstar “sausage” patties and salad. Yes, I am still trying to interest my sons in salad. Still a work in progress…

3. I found a refreshing healthy summer drink. Maybe not for every day (still has lots of sugar)…but probably better for us than soda. Sparkling Blackberry Izze with a little fresh lime juice squeezed in and then a skinny lime wedge pushed into the bottle. The lime “cuts” the sweetness down just a little as it floats at the top. I also like the clementine flavor, especially with spicy foods. Izze drinks are all natural with no added sugars and no refined sugars.They are in the natural foods section of my local store.

I have been keeping up with my vegetable trials (asparagus, brussel sprouts, collard greens) lately, but I did not deem them successful enough to write about. I think everything will cook and taste better when purchased at the farmer’s market in upcoming months.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the fabulous moms out there, including mine!

Challenge of the kale chips

Confession: As a teenager, I did not know people ate kale. Kale repulsed me a bit. I worked at a steakhouse (ironic, eh?) and we used kale only to decorate the dessert case each day. I vaguely remember one of the older customers telling me that it was good to eat, and I probably looked at him like he had three heads. It was a thick leaved, large variety, maybe only sold for decoration purposes. Once in a while we found a big old slug in it, which further decreased my opinion of it.

So, twenty or so years later, I was intrigued about all the “buzz” about kale and how nutritious it is. Then I started reading about kale chips. I figured this was something I could find a way to eat! Here is my best method after several trials (and my usual tribulations)…

  • Preheat oven to 275 degrees. A fairly low temperature for the delicate leaves.
  • Start with 2-3 “stalks” of kale for one large cooking sheet. I use my jelly roll pan, ungreased. Rinse the kale well, tear into your desired chip-sized pieces, making sure to tear it off the center stalk. Discard the stalk.
  • Dry the kale fully. Feel free to use salad spinner, but then you may need quite a bit longer for it to finish air drying. Trust me, this takes a while (seemed like 1-2 hours). From now forward my plan is to wash early in day and cook in the afternoon!
  • In a bowl large enough for the kale (don’t add yet), mix 1-2 Tbsp olive oil–probably closer to the 1 Tbsp for this amount of kale, 1/4-1/2 tsp kosher salt, about 1/8 tsp black pepper, and maybe a dash of garlic powder, or paprika, or seasoned salt. I’ve seen many combinations in the recipes I have read.
  • This is the key–Now place the dry kale leaves in the bowl and mix the oil mixture and the kale with your hands until the leaves are well coated. I found that drizzling the oil over the kale leaves was very uneven and led to overly crispy chips, nearly burned in some places, when I made my first attempt a few months ago.
  • Place the kale leaves on the cookie sheet, without touching each other. Place in the middle rack of oven.
  • Turn the leaves over during cooking after 10 minutes. Cooking time is approximately 20 minutes.

This is the happily coated kale prior to being placed on the cooking sheet.

This was the kale just before cooking. Although it does shrink, I definitely had too much on the pan, which made the chips slightly less crispy.

Most importantly, it tasted quite good and I got a lot of healthful greens in as a late afternoon snack. My husband was eating them so quickly that I had to ask him to stop for a quick picture. So success was obvious there. Younger son was somewhat willing to try them. His comments were less than edifying…”Bad…Well, not that bad.” Hmmm, am I suddenly on American Idol’s premiere of a food episode?

I’ll admit, this is not the most artistic or enticing arrangement of chips. I had to rush an unappreciative child to soccer after all!

Please share if you have any tips for kale chips…any thoughts on how to store them?

P.S. I watched the episode of Dr. Oz from last Thursday. Chia seeds were not featured (see last week’s post). I think I must have seen a bowl of flax seeds in the promo ad. I don’t even know how to begin to summarize the episode (on fat burning). If you are interested, you could check out his website.

Teeny Tiny Health Food

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia…………Remember the Chia pets advertised on TV? With the little song that was somehow both annoying and addictive? Have you heard about chia seeds as a super easy health food? You really can eat them…and I have not sprouted bright green grass anywhere to this date!

Here’s the low down. They contain soluble fiber, protein, calcium, antioxidants and the very important omega fatty acids. They’re a little easier to manage than flax. You don’t have to refrigerate or grind them. I purchased them in the bulk section at Whole Foods. The amount in the picture below plus about 4 Tablespoons was priced at 3.69. I think it was about 1/2 a pound. After about a month of using them almost every day, I am comfortable with using 1 tsp. a day. From my reading, too much (varies by person I am sure) can have unpleasant intestinal effects.

One place I read about them was Dr. Oz’s website. I like Dr. Oz…have only seen him a few times but he seems like he has good insights being a heart surgeon. He definitely promotes eating healthy and not consuming only the “typical” American diet. It looks like he may even talk about chia seeds this Thursday on his show (April 26). I caught part of the show Monday and they are advertising Thurday’s episode about fat burning…they showed an image that seemed to be different bowls of seeds…so I am guessing chia will be featured…Never fear, I have set the DVR and can report back on what is said…

In addition to the digestive, nutritional, and energy claims, people claim chia seeds can help you lose weight, by expanding in liquid, and thus making you feel full. They absorb up to 12 times their weight in liquid and form a “gel”. I am naturally skeptical when people seem to claim a food or supplement can do mulitple amazing things. But there seems to be something about this chia thing…

I like to sprinkle a teaspoon of Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia on my oatmeal or cold cereal in the morning. I make sure that I drink an extra 8 ounces or so of water at breakfast to give the chia enough liquid to use to “gel out”. After about a month of throwing these on my cereal, I have not noticed major changes, except maybe some improved “regularity”, if you know what I mean 🙂 Other ways to eat them are to put them in your liquid (maybe a glass or juice) and wait 10-15 minutes and drink the “gel”. I made a jar of the gel to add to foods but something about the look and texture in that form was not for me. I prefer dry. Here they are sprinkled dry on my oatmeal. Hard to see with the gigantic blackberries!

Enjoy and let me know what you think if you decide try them or already consume them.

(Disclaimer: I am not a nutrition professional; all things presented here are just my opinion!)

Thoughts from vacation

Despite not relating to veggies or anything else I aim to write about, number 1 has to be: when one gets a cold just before flying home, get some decongestants no matter how tired you are or how inconvenient it might be. Because hearing is important!!

My favorite thing I ate during the trip: A slice of “Elton John” pizza at Bill’s Pizza in Prescott Arizona. In part, this was the best because the slice was an awesome combination of veggies including artichoke hearts, cooked spinach, fresh tomato, etc. Even more so because we (I) had just driven through an April snow, through a fairly nerve-wracking 7,000 ft plus mountain pass. We were heading back to Phoenix to end the trip and did not know what that route entailed. Finding a warm, crowded, pizza joint before noon on a Saturday was a gift for the soul. Apparently this non-pretentious restaurant was voted one of Arizona’s best restaurants by Arizona Highways magazine for 2012. A lucky find!

I did not do much cooking at our home for the week, in Sedona. I did find a very easy way to make asparagus in our condo, which provided basic pans, but limited extras (i.e. only salt and pepper). I may use this idea again when I find myself cooking in a time crunch. My goal was to not buy anything extra (e.g., spices, cooking accessories), because the suitcase was already bursting. I cut the bunch of asparagus into 1″ pieces and placed it in a casserole dish with about 1/8″ of water and salt. Cooked in the microwave 5 minutes on high. I have to say it was delicious considering the circumstances!

Over the week, I ate quite a few veggie burgers, black bean burgers, and veggie sandwiches, at restaurants. I had hoped to experience more creatively prepared vegetarian dishes being closer to California and the west coast, but I found that Arizona seems to like its meat. That’s ok! Now I know. This menu selection could also be attributed to choosing family/kid friendly places for the most part.

Now, it’s time for more decongestants for my ear. The doctor thinks I may be able to clear it on my own without an antibiotic. No permanent damage she says. Have a great week!

This past week needed 12 days…but I only got 7

It’s been a busy week around here. Spring has come ultra-early, and I am battling the weeds already! I did not accomplish much blog reading, cookbook reading, or experimenting this week.

 I did take some classes at the YMCA over the weekend about basic exercise principles (11.5 hours worth!!!) I learned some good basic facts. One is that cool water is better absorbed by our bodies than room temperature water, as related to exercise. Makes sense of course that you want to cool down and colder water tastes really good. But I never knew cooler water was absorbed better. Yes, that would have come in handy! So I am making sure my water bottle has some ice cubes when I exercise. I learned about why a variety of forms of exercise are valuable…some for cardiovascular benefits, some for bone density, and in general our bodies adapt when we repeat the same things over and over. We benefit from changes in intensity and the combination of muscle groups we focus on. I also met some fun Zumba instructors. They assured me you don’t have to be coordinated to enjoy Zumba and get a workout. Although I have my doubts, I really do want to check out new forms of exercise, so I’m going to give it a shot. I am curious if anyone has any Zumba experiences?
Over the past few months I have experimented with roasting vegetables in the oven. I based my methods on what I read in the cookbook “Veganomicon”, which is a vegan cookbook with lots of good information, even if being vegan is not your goal. I ordered their book via Amazon and have enjoyed hours reading the sections on cooking grains, beans, and vegetables, terminology, stocking the pantry, etc. The authors say just about any veggie can be roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and garlic if desired.
I followed Veganomicon’s directions for the Brussel sprouts I made a couple of weeks ago. I just cut off the stems and sliced them in half lengthwise. I lightly brushed my cooking sheet with olive oil (I love my silicone brush!), laid them face down/flat side on the sheet, and brushed over them lightly with olive oil (you can drizzle if you prefer). My cooking sheet is a jelly roll type pan with sides…helpful with roasting your veggies. Sprinkle with salt and pepper or whatever you enjoy…I would think a salt-free mix could work also or maybe fresh or dry herbs. I baked for about 15 minutes at 400. They will brown a bit and that’s to be expected. The next day they were tasty also, eaten cold with a vinaigrette salad dressing.
The same basic method has worked well with bite sized bites of cauliflower also. That time I added fresh chopped rosemary by stirring the cauliflower in oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary before placing on the pan. They also took 15-20 minutes.  Great stuff. I think the key is experimenting with how much oil you like. You need some for vegetables to maintain moisture, but too much oil detracts from the vegetables. I love this method because it is easy, tasty, and you don’t lose nutrients in water as you would with steaming and other methods.
We’ll be heading out of town for a little while. I hope to get some inspiration and ideas from another part of the country, northern Arizona. Plus we all need a vacation around here! I apologize for the formatting of this into one overwhelming paragraph. I keep adding space but it does not seem to be corrected. Hopefully I will figure it out along with adding pictures soon.

Getting started

Where to start? I guess with hello and thank you for reading! My original name for this blog was going to be ” The Quinoa Chronicles” (sadly already taken by a man in France!), but I will go ahead with one of my favorite foods to kick this off.

Quinoa (pronounced something like “keen-wah”) is an ancient grain and a pretty hot topic right now. It is a whole grain and contains all the essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks our body uses to build protein. Our bodies can make many of the 20 amino acids we need, but we have to eat the essential ones via food for our bodies to have the materials to make all 20 amino acids. I kept reading about quinoa and felt it would be the perfect food for me. You see, this is my second period of being a vegetarian. The first time in my 20’s lasted a year. I gave it up because I felt I needed more protein, and quickly! I was busy working, single, and training for marathons. My vegetarian cooking was frustrating and literally unsatisfying. I gave up.

Fast forward to 2011, vegetarian again for about 18 months, and the quinoa I thought I wanted to try was sitting on my pantry shelf for months. Filled with trepidation, I finally cooked it with vegetable broth dissolved in the water. I loved it! It can be eaten alone, in place of rice, or combined with any vegetables. Here is how I have done it…boil 2 cups water in a small saucepan. Drop in veggie broth cube intended for 8 oz water (or skip this if you like). Stir to dissolve the cube, add one cup quinoa, reduce to simmer, cover and cook 15-20 minutes or until water is just absorbed. So easy! And if you belong to Costco, they have a nice price for a large bag. I know I can’t live on it, but it feels like insurance that my body can make all the amino acids it needs with quinoa here and there and a varied diet. I have also learned through research in the last 2 years that our bodies don’t need as much protein as we tend to think. More on that to come!

My new goal in addition to posting here at least once a week is to prepare a new vegetable every week. It can be one I have eaten, just have not prepared. This past week I roasted brussel sprouts. Good stuff.  I’ll tell you about that later.

Have a great week!

Julie