Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tofu Etouffee Over Corn Cakes

I have been checking out cookbooks from the library so I can explore various cuisines and flavours for free. I have been having good luck with the Williams-Sonoma cookbooks--nice pictures, solid recipes, and some cultural history to boot. This recipe is inspired by the New Orleans collection. I thought the corn cakes would be a little ponderous, but they are actually a wonderful addition that complete this flavourful dish.

Tofu Etouffee
- 1 pkg tofu, cut into small cubes
- oil
- 1 tsp ground thyme
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp sage
- 1 tsp smoked sea salt (or regular)
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/3 cup oil
- 1/3 cup flour
- 2 onions, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 red pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 green pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 4-5 cups veggie stock, or water
- 2 generous tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper to taste

Corn Cakes
- 1 1/4 cups cornmeal
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups soy milk (less 2 tbsp)
- 3 tbsp oil
- 4 green onions, finely chopped

1. Fry in tofu cubes in a thin layer of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat until crispy and golden brown. Transfer to a bowl and toss with thyme, pepper flakes, paprika, sage, salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add oil, then whisk in flour to make a roux. Continually whisk for 4-5 mins, or until flour is a deep golden brown. If you burn it, you have to start again. Reduce heat to medium and add onion, celery, and peppers. Cook, stirring constantly, until veggies are tender (about 8 mins). Add a splash of water or two to the pan to deglaze if the flour sticks too much.
3. Add garlic and cook for 2 mins, then slowly add in stock, stirring well to incorporate. Stir in tomato paste and herbs. Add tofu, bring to bubbling, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 mins, allowing the sauce to reduce and thicken. Add more water if it is too thick after reducing, or more tomato paste if too thin. Season to taste before serving.

While the etouffee is simmering, make the corn cakes

1. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Pour apple cider vinegar into a 4 cup measure, then fill up to the two cup line with soy milk. Whisk together, then whisk in oil. Add to dry ingredients and gently mix until just incorporated. Fold in green onions.
3. Cook, as you would pancakes, on a oiled griddle, using about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake.

To serve, place two pancakes on a plate and cover with etouffee. The pancakes re-heat nicely on a griddle the next day (can be stored in the fridge, or you can just make a 1/2 recipe), and the etoufee tastes even better as leftovers.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to Throw a Vegan Party that Everyone Will Like

On Friday I had the history department over for a reception to celebrate the impending birth of our department chair's second child. I decided that, rather than making it a pot-luck, I would make everything. I think this made some of the meat-dependent grad students a little wary, so I wanted to make sure that I could deliver a menu that would not disappoint. I think the trick is to keep the menu clean and simple by sticking to dishes that are more or less naturally veggie. It took some careful planning (i.e. a comprehensive chart of what had to be made and when) but the whole thing went off very well indeed. Here is what I did:

Since the reception was on Friday after a long week of work, and right after back-to-back departmental and grad faculty meetings, I wanted to make some food that offered protein and carbs to nourish and energize. To that end, I served Kung Pao Sliders from the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times. I made my own buns (50g of dough makes the perfect slider bun) and grated the zucchini and carrot for the slaw rather than julienning them as per the recipe. These were far and away the most popular item, with 36 of the 40 I made eaten. I also served white and whole wheat pita (sub 50% of the white flour for whole wheat) with hummus. I also included a veggie tray with the hummus (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots).

In keeping with the Asian flavours of the sliders I also offered Spicy Fried Shitake Mushrooms. I tossed 1 lb of cleaned and stemmed shitake mushrooms with a large minced clove of garlic, 1 tsp minced ginger, a generous tsp of hot chili powder, 1 tsp black mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp tumeric, and some salt. I then fried the shrooms in a hot wok in some oil (adding more as needed), and when soft I poured in about 1/2 cup of coconut milk and heated through.

The other food was inspired by Italian flavours and dishes. I started with focaccia, which I cut into small squares and served with marinated veggies: I roasted 6 peppers (2 red, 2 yellow, 2 orange) and de-seeded, skinned, and thickly sliced them. I then tossed them with some olive oil, salt, 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves, some chopped fresh basil leaves, and salt and pepper and let marinate overnight in the fridge (let come back to room temperature before serving). I also thickly sliced 1 lb of washed and trimmed white mushrooms. I then sauteed 1 large minced clove of garlic in 1/4 cup of olive oil, added 1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary, and then 1 cup white white. I brought that to a boil, added the shrooms and let simmer for 1 min. I let them marinate in the fridge over night, then drained and served at room temperature. I also served Zucchini Pancakes with Tomato-Onion Relish. These were also very popular. Maybe not Italian per se, but the sage in the pancake and the tomato relish went well with everything else.

Of course we also had to have dessert. First up were Apple Turnovers. I used 1/2 block of puff pastry and rolled it into a 10 x 12 inch rectangle. I then cut out 2 inch squares, then filled them with a version of the filling here (1 tbsp margarine, 2 apples, 1 tbsp brandy, and white sugar instead of brown). I baked them as per this recipe, but for only 15 mins at each temperature. Next were Schnecken (filled with a strawberry/raspberry filling), as well as good old fashioned chocolate cupcakes.

Many apologies for not having a picture of the entire spread. Guests were arriving, I was making still firing food, and things just got too busy.

Guests: 20 adults, 8 kids
1. Make ahead and freeze: pita (I made a double recipe of white and a double of whole wheat. It was too much and I could have done a single of each); slider buns, schnecken (unfilled, as per the recipe linked above); puff pastry dough (make sure to put the dough in the fridge no later than the day before the party).
2. The night before: marinated veggies (I did a 1.5 recipe of the shrooms); schnecken filling; turnover filling; bake the tofu for the sliders; make and pan (and refrigerate) the focaccia; make tomato-onion relish; make hummus.
3. The day of: (several hours before) thaw previously baked and frozen goods; thaw and bake schnecken; bake focaccia; make and bake turnovers; make and bake cupcakes; make slaw for sliders; cut up veggies for veggie tray; mix wet and dry ingredients for pancakes in separate bowls; remove marinated veggies and hummus from fridge to get to room temperature; toss shitake shrooms in garlic, ginger, and spices.
4. 30 mins before (or so): Heat tofu in the oven in a covered dish at 250 degrees; make Fried Spicy Shitake mushrooms and keep warm; heat tomato-0nion relish; cut pita; warm pan for cooking the pancakes.
5. As guests arrive: assemble half of the sliders (keep tofu warm in the oven); start cooking some of the pancakes. Keep the pan warm and replenish the plate as needed. Make more sliders as needed.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Apple Brandy Croissants

This recipe came to me one night while I was preparing a special meal for Vegan Mom and myself. The original idea was to make Apple Brandy Crepes, but then the croissants were sitting there just begging to be used. The result is absolutely divine. The sweet, syrupy filling runs into the nooks and crannies of the pastry which still imparts a delicate crispiness to contrast the soft apples.

Serves 2
- 2 croissants, halved lengthwise
- 1 large cooking apple, small dice
- 3 tbsp margarine
- 3 tbsp brandy, divided
- 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- icing sugar for dusting

1. Melt margarine in a small saucepan over med-hi heat. Add apples and cook for 4-5 mins, until soft but not mushy. After 2 mins, add in two tbsp of brandy, mix well, and let cook down a bit.
2. Add brown sugar and mix well. Then add the remaining brandy and mix well. Let bubble for a min or so, until nice and syrupy. Mix in spices and remove from heat.
3. Spoon 1/2 of the apple mixture over each bottom slice of croissant. Top with the top slice, then dust with icing sugar.

A Final Word on Lamination

I know I said I would not post about laminated doughs again, but I lied. Son #2 is going to a birthday party this weekend where they are having croissants (geez, why wasn't I invited to a party like that when I was a kid?) so I need to provide him with a vegan substitute. No problem. So, I added croissants to my baking list on the weekend. I then remembered that the very first recipe I used to make puff pastry used a double turn to laminate the dough. This sounded perfect to me since my weekend baking schedule is busy enough getting ready for lunches for the week. I tried the double turn and it worked perfectly, and meant I got the dough ready in about half the time (considering you need to let the dough rest for about 40 mins between turns, this was significant time savings). Check out the link and try it yourself. As you can see from the pic above, the croissants came out flaky and crispy and delicate, but this could be because I let them rise longer than usual.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pain Au Chocolat

Alas, this is the last of the laminated pastry posts. I had a lot of fun (and possibly gained a few pounds) but I realize that not everyone is game to spend the entire day laminating and baking dough and pastries. Still, if you ever decide to give it a whirl know that it can be done and can be tasty. Pain au Chocolat is a snap to make (provided you have some croissant dough already made). You can also use the same method to make chocolate croissants.

Makes 6
- 1/2 recipe croissant dough
- grated or finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
- soy milk for brushing

With the oven at 425 degrees, the pastries spring up quickly and bake to a lovely golden brown. The quick oven rise means that the pastry comes out fairly soft but with a few air pockets.
1. Roll dough on a into 8 x 12 inch rectangle, then cut into six 4 inch squares. Place about a tbsp of the chocolate down the middle the each square, then fold the top 1/3 down and bottom 1/3 up. Gently seal the seam and place seam down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
2. Cover the pastries and let rise for about 1.5 hours, or until nicely swelled.
3. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Brush pastries with soy milk and bake on the middle rack for 15-17 mins. Let fully cool in the pans and serve.

With the lower oven temp and longer cook time, the pastries rise more evenly in the oven but are a bit drier than the above method.
1. Do Steps 1 and 2 as above.
2. Bake as per the instructions in the croissant recipe.