Sunday, August 29, 2010

What do you feed someone you need to impress?

Recently, my brother brought his girlfriend home for a visit. We'd met her before, but I hadn't really had a chance to get to know her at all. I wanted to make her feel welcome, so I decided to prepare a late lunch for all of us on Sunday out of a new cookbook I'd just gotten, The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook by Tanya Petrovna. I selected a tempeh pâté, a caesar salad, and "Le Benedict Florentine" sandwiches. I never made it to the salad, because I got so wrapped up making the sandwiches, which were very labor-intensive for the output. In between marinating and baking tofu, preparing the Hollandaise, steaming asparagus, and frying the fake canadian bacon, I prepared the pâté, which turned out to be the real star of the meal.


Tempeh Pâté from The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook by Tanya Petrovna (paraphrased)

1 8-oz block of tempeh, cut into about 8 pieces

Combine:   1/3 c. soy sauce or liquid aminos
                  2/3 c. water
                  1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger (you can keep a ginger root in your freezer for use any time)
                  1 clove garlic, chopped

Saute tempeh pieces in a little bit of oil until brown, turning until browned on all sides. When they are finished cooking, pour soy sauce mixture over them and let it simmer for a couple of minutes, turning so that the tempeh pieces absorb the mixture evenly. Pull them out, drain if needed, then chop as finely as possible. Then, combine with:
                        1/4 c. vegenaisse
                        1/2 c. chopped green onions
                        1/2 c. chopped dill (dried is fine, too - probably about 1-2 tsp?)
                        1/4 tsp. sea salt
Mix with a spatula; then, if you want a smoother texture, blend with a stick mixer or food processor.

One delightful thing to do with this pâté is to make little puff pastries, or "French Love Bites" as they are charmingly named in The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook. I made those for brunch this morning along with the plain pâte, and both were completely devoured. Even the most conservative eater in the group grudgingly came back for seconds and thirds.

And yes, my brother's girlfriend loved it, too.

I have a little bit of history with stuffed mushrooms. When I was in high school, I worked for a caterer, and when there were left-over crab-stuffed mushrooms, I would pop those babies like candy. Later, on a first date, I ordered stuffed mushrooms that were bathed in some heavenly sauce, and I was so enraptured that my date suggested I "get a room." Suffice it to say, I have high standards when it comes to this particular dish. I used the leftovers of my last batch to make a sample batch of stuffed mushrooms. I had some baby portobello caps laying around, and I wiped them (I'm sure you all know this, but don't wash mushrooms...ever....which is why it's good to buy organic ones. Just wipe them down with a towel) and removed the stems, then chopped and sauteed the stems with garlic and olive oil, then added them to the pâté with some homemade bread crumbs to bind, then stuffed the mushrooms and baked them in an oiled pan for 15ish minutes at 375ish... and they were miraculous. I ate THEM ALL. Well, I gave one to my roommate, but I ate the rest. Don't judge.I'm sure there are lots of delicious ways you could tweak this recipe to stuff mushrooms, puff pastry, etc. No doubt substituting sage and rosemary would be delicious with a higher concentration of bread crumbs (fresher bread, rougher cut); I would even like to try something with some snap, like a bit of olive or caper. The richness of the pate should balance even relatively strong flavors with moderate to high acidity, but I'll report back when I've tried that.

Moving on, the "Le Benedict Florentine" sandwiches worked out well. Some credit for that belongs to my dad, who is quite a good baker, and I used thick, toasted pieces of his rich white bread to anchor this mix of textures. One problem I had was that the marinade for the tofu was too strong, or I marinated for too long, or just cooked it for too long (at such low temperatures, the tofu never changes consistency, but just absorbs more marinade and releases more water, distilling the flavor). The sandwich is composed of lemon-garlic marinated tofu, Hollandaise, steamed spinach or asparagus (asparagus! asparagus! It's so much more dramatic looking and holds up so well), fake canadian bacon, tomato, and some nice sturdy bread. Of all these, the only one worth reporting to you is the Hollandaise.

Hollandaise Sauce from The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook (paraphrased)

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 c. soymilk (plain, unsweetened)
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. turmeric
pinch white pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
cornstarch, arrowroot, or kuzu for thickening (more on this later...)

Heat oil in a saucepan and saute shallots until translucent and lightly browned. Put shallots in a blender with 1/2 c. of the soymilk and blend well. Pour back into the pan and whisk in other ingredients, except for your chosen thickening agent. Mix 1 Tbsp. cornstarch or arrowroot with 1/4 c. water, then add little by little, stirring until thickened.

The only problem that I had with this recipe was that I tried to use the same amount of arrowroot as the recipe required of kuzu, which was too much, giving my Hollandaise a slightly jelly-like consistency. Take it easy with the thickener, add gradually, stirring consistently. Then drizzle over something delicious and serve hot. I'll be on the hunt for more uses for this classic tangy-creamy sauce, and I'd appreciate your thoughts...

Tempeh Pate

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Polenta-Crusted Tofu with Balsamic Caper Pan Sauce

The first recipe I chose from Gourmet was Polenta-Crusted Chicken with Balsamic Caper Pan Sauce, from the January 2009 issue.

Here's my version (not including corrections; this is exactly as I tried it, as close as possible to the original):

Egg substitute, equivalent to 2 eggs
1/2 c. polenta (preferably quick-cooking)
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 lb. extra-firm tofu (drained)
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. plus 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. water
3 Tbsp. capers
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. butter substitute
1 lb. escarole, torn into bite-sized pieces

Blend egg substitute (prepare according to box if a powdered kind) with 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, combine polenta, flour, and another 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Dip tofu in liquid, let drip, and then coat in polenta mixture. Heat vegetable oil and 1/3 c. olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Cook tofu in batches, turning once, until golden, and set aside loosely covered. Pour off oil and wipe skillet. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat, until it shimmers. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in vinegar, water, capers, sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt and briskly simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and swirl in butter substitute. Toss escarole with about half the sauce, and serve remaining sauce on side of tofu. Gourmet suggests serving with mashed potatoes, and I bet they're right.

And the verdict...

Selected purely because I already had some polenta I've been wanting to use, this certainly wasn't an inspired choice. I substituted tofu for the original chicken and made some other minor substitutions, but nothing that should significantly affect the overall flavors of the dish. It worked out fine, but wasn't amazing. Still, I think the issues it had could be resolved... I wanted to use seitan instead of tofu, but the store didn't have any. I did buy wheat gluten so I could make some myself, though - I'll chronicle that adventure soon. I ended up with a locally produced fine-herb flavored tofu, which was dense and relatively dry, and I thought it would work well in the place of chicken. The dryness turned out to be a good thing, and I'd worry that anything too wet would prevent the breading from adhering properly. The herb flavors were blah, but didn't cause any trouble; the major problem was tofu was completely unsalted, lacking any savoriness (umami...what a great word) to balance the richness of the oil. I'd like to try breading only the flat surfaces and pan-frying them in a great deal less oil, just sort of sear them, to prevent the breading and the tofu from absorbing as much oil as possible.

I couldn't find escarole, so I substituted curly endive, which added a nice texture. Escarole, Belgian endive, and curly endive are closely related, so you should be able to use whichever one you like the look of best. I bet, if you use Belgian endive (which has such a lovely shape) you could very lightly saute them in the pan with the sauce rather than tossing them with it.

Other than the tofu, the only things I had to change were egg substitute for eggs (to bind the crust to the tofu) and butter substitute for butter - by far, the best I've found is Earth Balance.

I think I'll try again with home-made (and seasoned!) seitan, and I will definitely go easy on the balsamic; it was a little overwhelming. I have weakness for sauces, and I tend to use every drop I can get - but if you make this, do your damndest to resist that urge. A light-to-medium coating on the escarole will be better.

This would be a good breading to use elsewhere - it's very crunchy and with a solid black-peppery flavor, and the texture of polenta is an interesting alternative to flakier breading.

One final note - don't freak out when you add the tomato past to the oil - I was convinced I'd done something wrong when I realized I was basically frying tomato paste. After you break it up a bit, it helps to tilt the pan so that all the oil and the tomato paste drip to the bottom, then swish a whisk back and forth through it to blend. Go easy, though, and be careful of the hot oil!

Side-note: my spell-check is convinced that I meant to type "polecat" instead of "polenta".

That would be a very different kind of recipe.

Let me know what you think, what you would change, how you would make it better!

Polenta Info

Escarole on FoodistaEscarole

Friday, August 6, 2010

Who is The Vegan Home Chef?

Is The Vegan Home Chef too pretentious a name for a blog? I wanted something that seemed respectful of food, and something aspirational. I am not The Vegan Home Chef, but I'd like to be... I'm a good cook, but I have two 'real' jobs and a small business, and it takes some determination for me to plan and execute a great meal. I have some good fallback recipes that I use a lot, but cooking is one of my favorite things, and I should be prioritizing the things I love in what free time I have.

I have an idea for a project, inspired by the loss Gourmet magazine, a truly great publication. I unintentionally become a collector of old issues of Gourmet when I found a full year (I think it was 2005) carefully preserved at a yard sale in the parking lot of a church. They were in perfect condition, and it felt a little obscene to see them sitting there on the pavement curling in the heat, and so I paid my $2 and brought them home. At a library sale recently I bought 2009 (minus one month) for about the same amount, and a collection was born.

My goal is to work my way through issues of Gourmet and adapt recipes to be vegan. It will be a challenge, because, God help me, Ruth Reichl et. al do love a stick of unsalted butter and some prosciutto di Parma, but it will be my tribute to the great palates behind one of my favorite magazines. The other is Oxford American. You should check it out.