Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pâté en Croûte ... and it's vegan

Years ago, my first "fancy" culinary job was as the garde manger in a French-American restaurant, which was perhaps a bit ironic for a vegetarian but really good training in the "how not to be bothered by all sorts of innards" part of cooking for a living. Charcuterie seems to be one of those newly sexy culinary trends, but it wasn't so popular then, which might be why I got the job. I made lots of sausages and lots of terrines and lots of pâtés. Anything that called for forcemeat and a cornichon or three for garnish, well, there I was.

Those aren't dishes I've regularly thought about since then. Oh, veggie sausages are yummy and useful, but most veggie pâtés bore me. They always seem to be made from cannellini beans or red lentils that have been pureed with some herbs. They're good ... they're just not exciting to me. Plus, they're really not what I think of as "pâté." They tend more towards the hummus/bean dip side of the scale; they are to pâté what the lentil loaf of yesteryear's health food store vegetarian meal was to beef wellington.

Then the other day I discovered, some months after the fact, that PETA held a contest for the best vegan version of foie gras, with a prize of $10K. I rather wish I'd known about this *before* the contest ended, but at any rate, it started me thinking about the possibilities for vegetarian forcemeats. I decided that I wanted to make a traditional-yet-vegetarian pâté en croûte, no lentils involved.

As it happens, I needed a dish for a gathering with friends, so despite the fact that I should be cleaning the house and baking an enormous number of Christmas cookies for various destinations, I spent the morning making this, instead:

Now, one of my friends is vegan, so this pâté en croûte is vegan, not simply vegetarian. The only real difference, however, is that I used Earth Balance shortening (which, by the way, reminds me a lot of lard) instead of butter in the pâte brisée and for sautéing. You could use either one; I'd probably use butter myself, but that's just my taste.

This was a first attempt, so it needs a bit more work. It tasted good, but didn't turn out exactly as I wanted, that is, exactly like a meaty pâté en croûte. Next time, I'm going to use puff pastry rather than pie dough, and add more aspic to bind the filling. I've no earthly idea what to make for Christmas dinner, so perhaps I'll give this idea another go and post the changes next week. At any rate, this was a good starting point, so here 'tis:


1 c "chicken" stock
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 vegetarian duck breast
4 T butter or shortening, divided
2 large shallots, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c marsala wine, divided
1 1/2 lb mixed mushrooms (I used oyster and cremini, since that's what I had), chopped
1/4 c chopped curly leaf parsley
3 T fresh thyme
3 T fresh rosemary, minced
1/3 c panko breadcrumbs
the juice from one large lemon
salt and ground black pepper

1 recipe pâte brisée (or puff pastry)

1 c "chicken" stock
1 t agar

* Bring the first cup of stock to a boil and add the porcini. Set aside to soak about 20-30 minutes.

* Chop the duck breast and toss in a bowl with 1/4 cup wine. Set aside.

* Melt 2 T butter or shortening over medium heat; add shallots and garlic, sautéing till soft and slightly colored, about 5 minutes. Remove to a large bowl. Wipe out pan and add remaining butter or shortening. When it's melted, add fresh mushrooms. Lower heat to low-medium and sweat them about 8-10 minutes. Turn heat up to high, add remaining wine and cook till dry (only maybe 2 minutes). Remove from heat.

* After cooling slightly, put the mushrooms in a food processor and whirl till very fine. Add to bowl with shallot mixture. Add the marinated duck breast, the herbs, panko, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

* Set oven to 350 F. Meanwhile, combine second cup of stock and the agar in a small sauce pan. Let it rest about five minutes, then bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer another five minutes. Then, add to the mushroom-duck mixture, combining well. [Note: I did not use the entire cup, but I wish I had.]

* Line a pâte mold with the pastry dough, overlapping the sides a little bit and saving a piece for the top. Add filling, making sure it's even, then replace top piece of pastry and turn the edges over to seal. If you're feeling artsy, decorate it with additional pieces of dough. [I didn't have enough leftover, but really - it makes the whole thing look so much better.]

* Bake for 50 minutes and chill for a few hours before serving. Don't forget the cornichons!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pollo Fritto alla Toscana

Pollo Fritto alla Toscana!

First of all, I realize I really need to change the description of this blog. Seitan, I love you so, but I've been cheating on you with other vegetarian meats ... It began innocently enough, with a little TVP here and a little tofu there, but lately, I must admit, I've been seeing a lot of (gulp) store bought veggie meats. I'm sorry; sometimes, you're just too time-consuming. And sometimes, I'm out of ingredients.

And it happened again last night, again with the Mah Wah veggie chicken legs. I really, really adore those things. They're great barbecued and make absolutely divine Southern fried chicken, both vegan and vegetarian versions. (I made a vegan version for a party some months ago; the meat-eating guests couldn't believe they weren't real chicken!) At some point soon, I'm going to have to try them in a stew. And I will have to ... I've got a freezer in my basement that's full of them. But, yesterday being Sunday, which often means Italian for dinner, I decided to try them fried in a slightly different style, namely Tuscan.

Everyone loves fried chicken, right? It's not a dish we Americans generally associate with Italian cuisine, but maybe we should consider it. There are a few versions I've come across, the main difference being that some use breadcrumbs and others don't. And the main difference between the American and Italian versions seems to be the marinade. And time.

It's time-consuming. Well, in terms of the marinade. If you want something NOW, go for Southern fried chicken (unless, of course, you're one of those people who marinate the chicken in buttermilk overnight ... but seeing as this isn't *real* chicken, you don't need to do that).

But, these were lovely - a nice change and seemed to be a good bit less greasy. And, as I'm currently finding out, just as good served cold for the next day's lunch. Better, actually.

The marinade gives it a light, fresh flavor. I probably should have made these in the summer, something to take to a picnic in the park along with a cannellini bean salad and a bottle of Chianti. But, as I sit here and look out at the trees, bare in the 25 degree weather, I can plan that picnic and enjoy this practice run.

Chicken resting in the marinade ... don't they look creepily like real chicken?


3/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 T each: minced parsley, oregano, rosemary
2 T minced garlic
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper


12 May Wah chicken legs or enough seitan for four people
all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 t salt
1/2 t ground white pepper
vegetable oil for frying

Prepare marinade and add chicken. Let it rest, turning pieces regularly, in a large bowl or casserole dish, for at least two hours.

Prepare batter: flour with salt and pepper in one dish, beaten eggs in another. Let excess marinade drip off each piece before adding it to first the flour, then shake off the excess and dip the piece in the egg. Meanwhile, allow oil to come to temperature (about 350) in a large frying pan - you'll want about a 1/2 inch depth. Carefully add the pieces to the hot oil, cooking for a few minutes on each side. Place on paper towels to absorb excess oil and serve.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Beetroot Ravioli and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

So I'm trying to be a little healthier, which means I thought it might be a nice idea to incorporate a few more vegetables in my diet. In general, though, I don't really like vegetables so much. Or maybe I just don't like "healthy" (read: boring) vegetable recipes.

I do, however, really like beets and brussels sprouts, which is why, though there is no seitan anywhere in this meal, I'm posting this entry.

I had these ravioli on the menu of my old restaurant as a small plate, along with a pea puree and pea green salad, which means that serving ten of them for dinner made me feel very decadent. (We all have our vices.) The sweetness and the soft texture of the ravioli went extremely well with the crispy saltiness of the brussels sprouts, so if I ever put the ravioli back on a menu, it will be in this combination, or something very similar.

At any rate, if you are wary of beets and brussels sprouts or have only experienced them in horrible cafeteria-style dishes, I highly suggest you give these two recipes a go. (If you're reading this, Mama, this means you.) They're very simple, but most of all, absolutely amazing. And mostly vegetable. Probably not so healthful, but not too bad, either ...

Beetroot Ravioli

one bunch beets
2/3 cup ricotta cheese
3 T panko breadcrumbs
zest of one lemon
sea salt and cracked pepper
wonton wrappers

4 T butter
2 t poppy seeds

Wrap beets in tinfoil and bake in a 400 F oven for an hour. Allow to cool, then peel. Grate the beets by hand or in a food processor, then add the ricotta, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, and salt and pepper.

Laying out a few wonton wrappers at a time, place a heaping teaspoon of the beetroot filling on each. Fold into a triangle, first wetting edges with water so they'll stick better. Place them on a sheet pan or plate lined with wax paper - careful not to overlap or they'll stick to each other if you're refrigerating them before cooking.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add ravioli, no more than a dozen at a time; cook for about two minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saute pan and stir in poppyseeds. When the ravioli are done, carefully lift them out of the water with a slotted spoon (note: these are delicate and do NOT do well swished around or tossed into a colander) and gently toss with the butter. Plate them and add a little freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Okay, this is too easy to be so delicious, but there you are. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Trim brussels sprouts and halve (or quarter, if they're on the large side). Toss with olive oil, kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Turn out onto a sheet pan, spread them out a little and roast, shaking the pan once or twice, for about 35 minutes. Add a little bit more salt when they're done. They're amazing: try them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Melanzane Farcite Alla Mozzarella E Salsicce, Orecchiette Alla Pugliese

Between my camera dying and the rather dull but time consuming chores of daily life, I haven't had an opportunity to post. But, little blog, I haven't abandoned you. There's mostly good news: I got a new camera, and (excitement, excitement!) I finally, after much frustration, have an appointment for the health inspection on my new restaurant. Of course, the less good news is that this camera seems to take mostly bad, blurry, oddly-colored photos (I might have some role in this, but due to circumstance outside my control, I also have no manual, which I probably wouldn't read anyway) and that, while the inspection has, as of eight minutes ago, been scheduled, it won't take place for several weeks, which means several more weeks of twiddling my fingers and being asked, again and again, by well-meaning but accidentally irritating people as to when the restaurant will open. No, I should be all positive: I have a chance to learn new photography skills and an opportunity to finally get the house organized before the culinary craziness begins.


If you could only eat one sort of cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be? For me, Italian, always Italian. Oh, I'd miss all the rest ... I adore Ethiopian, particularly fasolia wett and gomen with beautiful, spongy injera and a glass of honey wine ... French, especially delicate crepes filled with mushrooms ... German, Japanese, Greek, and so on. But always Italian. I was obviously born in the wrong country, not to mention that my parents didn't even have the decency to be of Italian descent. But, no matter; I'm making up for it in my meals.

Lately, I've been obsessed with meatballs, but sadly, I don't really have any good pictures, so I'll have to leave that for another time. The key is lemon zest, though. Now (as if I needed an excuse), I will have to make them again so I can try for better pictures to go with the recipe.

Last night, though, we had roasted eggplants stuffed with mozzarella and veggie Italian sausage along with orecchiette with broccoli rabe, tomatoes and black olives. Now, I'd love to say that I invented the best-ever vegetarian Italian sausages, but I can't. That honor, at least in my opinion, goes to the Field Roast Grain Meat Company, whose Italian sausages are made with eggplant, red wine and spices - deliciousness! But, for those whose local stores don't carry Field Roast products, I recommend trying Julie Hasson's recipe, which is also quite delectable.

For the eggplant -

1 medium eggplant
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, diced
2 Italian sausages, ground in a food processor or a small dice
1/2 cup prepared tomato sauce
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Halve eggplants lengthwise and carefully scoop out flesh to leave two intact shells. Dice the flesh and set aside. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over med-high heat and add garlic. When fragrant, add eggplant flesh. Saute till soft and golden, about eight minutes. Remove and wipe pan. Add another T or two of olive oil and, when heated, add sausage. Saute till browned. In a large bowl, mix eggplant, sausage, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Fill eggplant shells and, in a lightly oiled pan, bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Easy, fast, yum!

For the pasta -

Orecchiette pasta
one-half bunch broccoli rabe
olive oil
2/3 cup black olives, roughly chopped
one tomato, chopped
red pepper flakes

Prepare the orecchiette according to the directions. Meanwhile, remove a couple inches of the rabe's stems, then cut the rest into pieces. Blanch in boiling water for two minutes, then drain and rinse in cold water to halt the cooking. When the pasta is done (or nearly done), heat oil in a saute pan and add garlic. Saute one minute, then add broccoli rabe and red pepper flakes to taste. Saute for a couple more minutes, then add the olives and tomato. Saute for another couple minutes, then add the pasta. Toss, drizzle with a touch more olive oil and serve with a little parmigiano on top.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Deep Fried Pimento Cheese Balls

I love-love-love pimento cheese. I can't help it; I'm Southern, so along with biscuits and white gravy, fried pickles, and Moon Pies, pimento cheese is part of my DNA. I made a batch for a party last weekend, but the recipe makes so much that I had a lot leftover. What to do? Keep on eating pimento cheese, veggie bacon and avocado sandwiches for lunch each day? (Maybe. There's nothing wrong with that.) Or ... I could fry it.

Generally, I'm a bit appalled by some of the over-the-top fried, heart attack-inducing and artery clogging foods I see. Really, does a double bacon cheeseburger NEED to have the bun replaced by a glazed donut? Or does bacon even really need to be battered and fried and dipped in ranch, the universal dip for fried foods? Probably not, but I'm biased and so I decided pimento cheese needed to be fried. I experimented a bit with panko, as called for in the only similar recipe I could find on the internet. It didn't work out so hot, as that recipe didn't start with authentic pimento cheese itself, but a mixture egg whites. The balls just dissolved in the hot oil.

Take two, though, was a success! I know this has absolutely nothing to do with seitan and it probably has nothing redeeming about it as good food, but damn! I pulverized Morningstar veggie bacon strips and Cape Cod Sweet and Spicy Jalapeño potato chips, then mixed in a little flour. The pimento cheese balls were dipped in egg, then rolled in the bacon-chip mixture. I froze them -a very key step- for about three hours before frying them in hot oil for about 30 seconds. I dislike ranch dressing (more for overexposure than for flavor), so I served these with blue cheese dressing, but that was unnecessary. These things were so amazingly delicious! So, next time you have a hankering for over-the-top Southern yumminess, whip up some pimento cheese and fry away!

Laura's Pimento Cheese

8 oz. monterey jack cheese
8 oz. extra sharp Vermont cheddar (white)
6 oz. sharp NY cheddar (yellow)
1 - 1/2 big kosher dill pickle (preferably Claussen's)
1 - 4 oz. jar pimentos, drained
3 cloves garlic
6 oz. cream cheese

1/2 c. mayonnaise (I'd prefer Duke's, but you can't get it up here, so I used Hellman's
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
hot sauce to taste (I always end up using a lot more than I'd guess because the fire really gets subsumed by the cream cheese)
1-2 tsp. veggie worcestershire sauce

1) Using a food processor with a grating blade, shred monterey jack and both cheddars. Add pickle, pimentos and garlic. Add the cream cheese, pulsing.

2) Turn mixture out into a large bowl. Blend in mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, hot sauce and worcestershire sauce.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Beef Seitan and Cremini Stroganov

Suddenly, it has become cool enough that I can again cook in my own kitchen. (I'd like to be excited about this, and I kind of am, but then I remember that all too soon it will be below freezing when I wake up and there will be two feet of snow outside. I should stop being so weather-whiny.) Anyway, this means I can get back to trying out more dishes, and last night's dinner was Beef Seitan and Cremini Stroganov.

Okay, so I'm going to go ahead and say that this dish was awesome. It took almost NO time to prepare (assuming you have the seitan on hand already) and was really rich and delicious without being super-heavy. There were no leftovers, although next time I might double the recipe so that, not only could we have had second helpings, we could have it for lunch the next day. And by "we," I mean "I."

Beef Seitan and Cremini Stroganov

one recipe beef seitan (about 9 oz)
1-2 T flour
8 oz. cremini or button mushrooms, sliced thickly
1/4 c red onion, minced
1-2 t garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
3 T butter, divided
3/4 c vegetarian beef broth
1/4 Marsala wine
2 t vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c plain Greek yogurt
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut seitan into cubes no bigger than an inch square. Toss with the flour to coat and set aside. Slice mushrooms, mince onion and garlic.

Add olive oil and one tablespoon of butter to a saute pan over medium heat. When butter has melted, add mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, till they exude their juices, about 7 minutes. Add Marsala and raise heat to high; stir well, scraping up any mushroom bits, as they absorb the wine. When all the liquid is absorbed, remove the mushrooms to a bowl and turn the heat back to medium-high.

Add the remaining tablespoons of butter to the pan; melt and add red onion and garlic. Cook, stirring well, about two to three minutes. Add seitan cubes. Tossing gently, let seitan brown (about five minutes). Add mushrooms and broth. Raise heat to high and let the broth reduce to about a third. Remove from heat, stir in yogurt and Worcestershire sauce. Serve over noodles. Yumminess.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dongting Stir-Fried Duck Breast

I know ... it has been a very long time since my last post. That's partially because I've been rather busy, but mostly because, in the summertime, our house heats up incredibly quickly whenever I use the kitchen. This means that, for the most part, we're cooking on the grill (or getting takeaway ... thanks, local pizzeria and Chinese restaurants, for doing your part to help me gain some weight). It also means I don't make seitan at home; that hour or so that it simmers on the stove would turn my kitchen and living room into a steam room.

Even though it's been on the warmer side lately, the evenings are cool, so I've started back with some stove top cooking - but it has to be quick, so homemade seitan's still out. I'm still enamoured of May Wah veggie meats, and yesterday I received a great big package of seitan "duck breast." Hmm, stir-fry?

I've only ever eaten real duck once in my life, and I only vaguely remember it. I think my parents had guests or relatives in town and decided to take them to a new (read: not the neighborhood place with the flaming pupu platter I loved and cockroaches I didn't, but fashionable and located in what was then the suburbs) Chinese restaurant. I got the duck. The only reason this has stood out in my rather fuzzy collection of childhood memories is because of how grossly fatty I found it. Crispy skin, yes, but oozy, squashy, just plain nasty fatty. Yuck. Okay, I know some people love that; I'm not one of them.

The seitan duck has no such drawback. It came frozen in a big (seven pounds?) bag, so I'll be trying lots of recipes, but last night, I used one "breast" to make Dongting stir-fried duck breast. While this version comes seasoned, I think you could easily used homemade chicken seitan because the marinade changes its flavor.

Marinade: I didn't measure, but I'd say a couple tablespoons each if not otherwise noted

soy sauce (some recipes call for a mix of light and dark; I only have the one)
dry sherry
a splash of rice wine vinegar
a splash of chili sauce


one large seitan duck breast (or chicken seitan)
6 scallions
4 chilis, deseeded and thinly sliced (I used a mix of sweet red chilis and spicy yellow)
1 bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1" piece of ginger root, peeled and minced
vegetable oil for cooking
sesame oil for finishing

Thinly slice the seitan and add it to the marinade ingredients; stir well and let it sit while you prepare the vegetables.

Thinly slice the scallions; keep the white bits separate from the green, as you'll add them separately during cooking. Prepare the garlic, ginger and peppers.

Heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok or large saute pan till hot. Add the marinated seitan and cook, stirring, for a few minutes till it has begun to brown or crisp slightly. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the peppers. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes, till peppers seem to be softened. Add the garlic, ginger and scallion whites. Cook a further minute, then add scallion greens. Stir to incorporate and turn off heat. Serve with a small drizzle of sesame oil atop.

I served it with brown rice, but noodles would be just as good.

Now I guess I need to explore the world of, well, what the heck one does with seven pounds (minus a little) of duck breast. I think crispy duck might require the oven, so that's out for now, but perhaps there are some moo shu duck pancakes in the future.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fried Chicken - an update

I made the fried chicken again. In fact, this time, I made tons and left it in the fridge for my husband, who was out of town/getting back in town as I left town. I figured there'd be some leftover, though; there wasn't.

I didn't bother with the panko, but went ahead and did a simple Southern-style: flour with spices and herbs, shallow-fry in a pan on the stove. And my goodness - it's good! Not much else to say about it, other than, damn, it's good! And I'd really like some more. I just felt like putting up the photos since I managed to take some (probably only because I made so much).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When we lived in Brooklyn, there was a vegetarian Asian restaurant - Vegetarian Palate - around the corner from our apartment and it delivered, which is particularly nice after a long day and a four story brownstone. I was particularly fond of their Orange Tangerine Beef and their Hawaiian Chicken. Even better, there were two veggie restaurants near my school and office in Manhattan: Red Bamboo and Vegetarian Paradise 2, both (oddly) located on the same block of 4th St. (I figured if any of y'all travel to New York, you might like the names of some tasty veg places.) At all three, the variety of mock meat dishes amazed me and I longed to be able to reproduce them. Now, I'm kind of less impressed with their chefs' skills because I just ordered an immense quantity of mock meats from May Wah, and it's like having these restaurants in my freezer.

I know, I know - this has nothing to do with seitan other than that many May Wah products are made from seitan. But, I'm so excited that it must be shared. Last night, I made soy-agave lacquered salmon with sesame noodles and a cucumber salad. Unfortunately, we were starving, so it got eaten before it got photographed. The mock salmon is weirdly salmony, although it would never fool someone. It was pretty good, though.

However, of all the things we've tried so far, the absolute, stand-out best has got to be the chicken drumsticks. They're so good, in fact, that I just ordered a case. They even have a little "bone" made of sugarcane so that you can hold them like a real meaty drumstick! (That might appall some; I liked it.) I tried them fried (and will do so again) and barbecued, which was amazing. I have quite a bit of yuba sitting in the pantry, so I also plan on covering them with "skin" before frying them as an experiment.

So, just a shameless plug for May Wah - www.vegieworld.com. Try it - tis fabulous!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Capt'n Crunch Fried Seitan

Capt'n Crunch Fried Seitan. Okay, not gourmet and definitely not healthful. But good. So, apparently there is (or was?) a chain of restaurants called Planet Hollywood that I somehow never noticed the existence of, and this chain was famous for their chicken fingers made with breakfast cereals and a creole mustard sauce.

Capt'n Crunch Fried Seitan with Potato Salad and Coleslaw

I'm not a big fan of chain restaurants; I venture into them extremely rarely, like once a year, and generally only because I'm staying in a hotel located in the middle of Nowhere, New Jersey, whose only nearby restaurant with a bar (very important when visiting family) is T.G.I. Fridays, or because my friends and I have ventured across the state line into the land of box stores (hello, Target!) and are now too tired, overwhelmed by commerce, and starving to make it back home and thus instead must graze at the next-door Chili's.

Anyway, so all that is to say that not only have I never heard of the recipe, I never heard of the restaurant ... except, mentions of this dish keep turning up lately and thus I had to make it, or something like it. Much like the explorations of restaurant-style General Tso's, I came up with a lot of similar recipes. I just couldn't bring myself to buy two kinds of sugary breakfast cereals, since we're more of a English muffin and egg kind of household. (I actually just threw away a giant box of breakfast cereal; we bought it three years ago for my nephews when they came to visit. Apparently two small kids don't need the family size box.) So, I did use the Capt'n Crunch, but substitute panko for cornflakes. And the spices seemed a little dull, too, so those got upped with additions of oregano and paprika.

And the sauce just seemed to complicated ... I mean, who really needs a FIFTEEN ingredient dipping sauce for fried chicken? It's supposed to be a "creole mustard sauce," but while that's as may be, I don't quite know if that's really going to make or break the dish. So we went with honey mustard. All in all, this was pretty damn tasty, if a little sweet - probably a honey mustard/dijon blend would have been better, but I was out of dijon.

I'm catering a luncheon for mostly kids this week (an end of school celebration), and I've been wondering what to make for the veggie adults coming - and this is it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chinese Take-Away

Hoisin "Chicken" in Lettuce Wraps & Scallion Pancakes

For most of my adult life, I haven't been a huge fan of Chinese food. In comparison with Vietnamese or Japanese or Thai choices, it seemed to be the most boring (and gloopy) option out of local Asian restaurants. But, my husband likes it, plus we now live in a town with fewer choices, so we've been getting take away from this one place fairly often. And it is good, although like all overly salted, sugared, sauced, greased, and generally unnecessarily fattened up foods, it leaves me feeling a little disappointed. It isn't that I mind consuming extra calories - I mind wasting them on something like an undeserving dish. I'd rather have a giant slice of Opera Cake than one of those nasty pastas-in-a-bread-bowl from Domino's.

Anyway, since I hate that feeling, I started making some of the dishes we order most often - scallion pancakes and General Tso's. I had never even had scallion pancakes till my husband ordered them, and I was pretty unimpressed. Why eat this bland, greasy, doughy, chewy triangle that only tastes like the soy sauce you dip it in? I made them for him anyway, though, and - oh my - homemade and fresh from the skillet, those things are good! And they freeze well, too. Just layer them with parchment paper and freeze flat (obviously) in a ziploc bag - they defrost in the microwave in seconds before frying.

I start out liking the General Tso's at restaurants, both the tofu and seitan versions, but by the time I get even halfway through the dish, the sauce seems to be weighing me down - plus, the protein's almost always deep fried. Don't get me wrong; I love deep fried foods. I'm just not sure they belong everywhere.

But that's what GT's like, isn't it? The versions I made at home were pretty much the same, which of course was the goal - getting the recipes from internet sites like Allrecipes.com, they were advertised as being "just like the restaurant version!" And they were. The amounts of sugar, soy sauce and cornstarch most versions call for is insane, but since they all read like that, I made it like that until I tried Emeril's recipe last week. Okay, so this is a total plug for his recipe, but really - it was a completely different and much improved dish. Obviously, I used chicken seitan rather than chicken chicken, but that's not a particularly big difference. So try his version.

Finally, last night I wanted something to go with the leftover scallion pancakes that I knew were lurking in the freezer, but I didn't want a heavy dish (aka, anything with rice or noodles) or one that took much time. Voilà - Hoisin "Chicken" in Lettuce Cups! My mother used to make something like this when I was little, and I thought it was awesome. I still do - I wish I had her recipe. But while this one was a little saucier, it came together in minutes and was not only rather tasty, but fun to eat.

Hoisin "Chicken" in Lettuce Cups

1 T vegetable oil
1 T fresh ginger, minced
1 T fresh garlic, minced
4 scallions, chopped

1-2 c seitan, diced
1/2 can water chestnuts, diced
4 large cremini mushrooms, diced (I'm sure you can use whatever - I had cremini)

1/4 c hoisin sauce
1 t rice vinegar
1 t vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
a couple shakes of sesame oil

1 head Boston Bibb,Romaine or Greenleaf lettuce, washed and leaves separated

In the vegetable oil over high heat, saute the ginger, garlic and scallions for about a minute, till fragrant. Add the seitan, water chestnuts and mushrooms and continue to saute, stirring, for about five minutes. Add the liquids, incorporating well, and cook another one to two minutes.

Place a generous spoonful on each lettuce leaf (but not too generous, or you'll end up with a mess) and serve.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sureloin Gyros

Soul Vegetarian restaurant in Atlanta makes this scrumptious seitan they call kalebone, but they don't seem to want to share the recipe, making me and several other folks I know very sad. I don't miss all that much about living in Atlanta (it was fun and I liked it while there, but haven't felt the need to move back ... yet), but their kalebone gyros top the list of things I wish I could experience again. So yummy ... sigh.

Anyway, I figured that I'd like to have something similar at my new restaurant - not a fake chicken or a fake beef, but a unique seitan that diners could order in substitution for real meat - ie, their choice of beef, chicken or seitan quesadillas. I wanted a name, though, so I polled friends on Facebook and got a lot of humorous suggestions as well as some really good ones. I decided to go with "sureloin," although if you have any more ideas, please let me know!

Having a name's one thing, but more important is the actual recipe. I've been experimenting, trying to come up with the perfect sureloin, and by total accident, I think I stumbled upon the secret of kalebone yumminess: mushroom stock. Of course, I obviously need to take a trip to Atlanta and do a taste test comparison, but at least from fond memory, this tastes pretty similar. At any rate, it has a pretty nice umami flavor and good texture without imitating meat.

Since after this, I've been craving gyros, that's what I decided to make for dinner. I made the tzatziki earlier this afternoon with mint and basil from our sadly neglected garden. I'd forgotten how good tzatziki is. Since Soul Vegetarian is actually vegan, they use a different kind of cucumber sauce, but the real stuff reminds me of pre-veggie childhood and getting freshly carved gyros from the little cart at festivals. Thick and rich and tangy with lemon and garlic and herbs ... I don't know if I will make it till dinner time, but I'll try to at least take some pictures of the finished product before scarfing it down!

Gyro Fixings

The Gryo Itself

My Greek Dinner Platter: Gyro, Hummus, Falafel and Olives

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Involtini di Melanzane

So it isn't made from seitan and it certainly isn't a summery dish, but my goodness, involtini di melanzane (or eggplant rollatini for us English speakers) has to be one of the best dishes ever created. When I lived in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, I was lucky enough to live around the corner for a bustling, family-style Italian restaurant. I don't even remember the name, but I still long for their involtini which was, hands down, the best I've ever had.

I had an eggplant, a bunch of basil growing in the aerogarden, and a little time on my hands, so I decided to try to recreate their involtini for last night's dinner. Some recipes I found have you bread the eggplant; some fry it. After slicing it as thinly as possible, I dipped them in flour, then egg whites and baked them in the oven. Meanwhile, I mixed together spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, parmigiana-reggiano, another egg white, basil, and seasonings. One meets the other, the rolls get popped in a pyrex dish with tomato sauce and topped with more mozzarella and parmigiana-reggiano, and 45 minutes later, we had dinner.

It was good, but not a patch on the restaurant's version. I'm pretty certain the ingredients were the same - sort of. This turned out to be a real lesson in sacrificing flavor for healthier foods. Summer is (hopefully) coming soon, so in a fit of winter flab angst, my last grocery trip netted fat free ricotta and fat free mozzarella. (Real parmigiana-reggiano, though; it will be a cold day in hell when I buy that powdered crap in the green shaker.) On the plus side of fat free ricotta, I didn't need to drain it ... of course, that means that it is dry, dry, dry already. And fat free mozzarella turns out to be flavor free mozzarella. Using whole eggs rather than egg whites might have made a slight difference in flavor, but it is really down to the cheese.

I love cheese.

Next time, I'll make this with fresh mozzarella and whole milk ricotta. Or maybe I should just head back to Brooklyn - purely for research, of course. There are probably lots more restaurants' involtinis I never tried.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cashew-Coconut Crusted Chicken

In an attempt to pretend that summer is here and that we live somewhere a bit more tropical, I installed a flock of plastic pink flamengos all around our deck. Really, all this did was prove that my mother's despair over my taste is valid and that all those finishing school-type activities were a waste of their money and my time. I like my pink flamingos; I did not like cotillion. Anyway ...

To go with the tropical theme, I tried another version of the coconut crusted chicken seitan: cashew-coconut crusted chicken! Okay, so it isn't that different; I added crushed cashews and used panko instead of ground up Fiber One this time, all for a more tropical/less-healthful version. Plus, I liked the combination of salty cashews with sweet coconut.

But, it was good - and easy. Take seitan chicken, dip in egg, dip in a mixture of cashews, coconut and panko, then bake at 400 F for twenty minutes, turning halfway. I dipped it in an Asian sweet chili sauce, but honey mustard was also tasty - one of the diners preferred them mixed together.

It's 47 outside and I'm freezing inside, thanks to drafty windows and a lack of insulation, but I'm going to keep making tropically seitan dishes and staring at the flamingos ... eventually, hopefully, it will be summer.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Seitan Chicken Paillards with Artichokes and Tomatoes

Nearly a month since I last posted ... it isn't that I haven't been cooking so much as it is that I am just not a good photographer. Pictures turn out blurry; the food looks weird and inedible. My husband thinks we need a new camera, but he thought that before, which is why we bought this one. I think we both need to admit our lack of photography skills.

But, last night's pictures turned out *okay* so ...

I'd made a bunch of seitan chicken earlier in the day and wasted much time wondering what I'd do with it. I had all sorts of fancy ideas, but by the time 5:30 came around, I was tired and hungry and digging in the pantry.

These days, I always seem to have a can of artichoke hearts in the cabinet. I used to always have a can of water chestnuts. In fact, at one point, I had over half a dozen, some of which had moved with me from the United States to Ireland and back again. I finally gave them to a food drive; now, I keep forgetting to buy more and wish I had some. But, apparently artichoke hearts have replaced water chestnuts as that random canned food item that lurks at the back of the shelves and occasionally, how I know not, reproduces. I swear I don't buy artichoke hearts, but open the cabinet door and you'll find several dusty cans clustered guiltily together.

I sliced the seitan into paillards, then dredged them in seasoned flour before sauteing them in a little olive oil and butter. I usually avoid butter for sauteing, but hey. When the paillards browned, I set them aside and added garlic and thinly sliced red onions to the pan, deglazing it with dry vermouth. I added half the can of artichoke hearts, a diced tomato that I'd found lurking in the fridge, and a cup of vegetarian chicken broth. A few minutes to reduce, a little basil and pepper, a bit more butter (apparently, I was on a butter kick) and dinner was ready.

I'm not a huge fan of artichoke hearts (which is why, I suppose, they cluster in the cabinet: to taunt me), but the sauce turned out to be really good - very rich without being heavy. I kind of wish I'd doubled it ... but since I have all those artichoke hearts, I suppose I will be making it again.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Coconut Crusted Chicken

A few months ago, I took my husband to Key Largo for a surprise 40th birthday trip. Coming from chilly, snow-covered New England, I didn't care that the temperatures were "below normal" - hey, if 65 in February is below normal, you are still incredibly lucky. We rented a house on a canal where we cooked out a lot, drank wine by the water and watched the fish jump and birds fly. Every day, we did something outdoorsy (snorkeling, swimming, boat trips) and went somewhere on the waterfront for either lunch or dinner.

Now, it's a tourism economy down there, so there are lots and lots of restaurants ... some good, some bad, all serving variations on a theme: lots of seafood, a good measure of steakiness, some chicken for those boring "I'll just have the chicken" people, and (laud!) an assortment of vegetarian dishes, oddly seemingly all based around eggplants. I love eggplant; I just don't associate it with the Florida Keys. Anyway.

The weather here is getting warmer, and it makes me long for real heat. I hate that, even though it is a good deal warmer than, say, two months ago, I still have to wear jeans and a sweater. Tonight's low is supposed to be 26, for goodness sakes. I want summer! And so I find myself wanting hot weather foodies, as if I can conjure up some 85 degree afternoons just by cooking. I find myself wanting to be back in Key Largo, sipping champagne by the canal.

I decided to try my weather conjuring skills out on coconut crusted chicken. I mixed together orange juice, coconut milk and egg whites in one bowl, sweetened grated coconut, breadcrumbs and spices in another. I double dipped the chicken seitan in each and baked it for about twenty minutes, during which time I made a sauce of apricot preserves, sriracha, and Dijon mustard. Sweet potato fries (yes, from frozen) and coleslaw on the side completed the meal.

Coconut crusted chicken is definitely a keeper, plus it turned out to be delicious cold, too! Sadly, while the coconut chicken is good, my weather working skills obviously aren't, but I suppose I'll just have to keep trying.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Meaty Treaty Wonton Soup

Wonton soup has never held much appeal for me; it just looks bland, plus I was never quite sure what went into wontons. Some kind of meat, but the details seemed hazy to me. I was always more of a hot and sour kind of girl, with all its strips of bean curd and slick, chewy mushrooms. And of course, it almost always has pork in it, too, so I generally just pass on the soup course when we're picking up some Chinese take-away. On those rare occasions that I visit a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, I'm very excited to have some hot and sour soup.

Which is why it seems a bit odd that I've never made it at home, but spent this morning making wontons for tonight's wonton soup. However ... strolling through the frozen food aisle last week, I noticed that Morningstar Farms now makes a "Grillers Turk'y Burger," which also struck me as a bit odd. Vegetarian turkey burger? I kind of thought turkey burgers were already a burger substitute for people that didn't want to eat beef, but hadn't ventured fully into vegetarian territory. Burgers for people who want to feel they make healthful meal choices but who cannot conceive of a meal sans animal protein. Burgers for people who dine at chain restaurants a lot and think this is a good way of watching their cholesterol intake. (Boy, are they going to be surprised when Romano's Macaroni Grill and The Cheesecake Factory start publishing their nutritional information on the menus. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how The Cheesecake Factory fattens up all their food so incredibly much, but their turkey burger has 1373 calories and 32 grams of fat. One turkey burger. What??? But I digress.)

The Grillers Turk'y Burgers screamed "Buy me! Buy me and make me into wonton soup!" I don't know how this happened, but it seemed to click. And home we went.

After thawing a couple in the microwave, I ground them up in the food processor, which gave them a texture much more like pate than veggie crumbles. Into the pate-like turk'y, I added chopped scallions, minced ginger and garlic, and a healthy dose of soy sauce. Using a spoonful of filling per wonton, it made fourteen. So, a little Frontier no-chicken chicken broth, some sesame oil and more scallions, and we have wonton soup.

Unlike myself, the husband is a fan of wonton soup, and he orders it nearly every time we visit a vegetarian Chinese restaurant. I've tried the proffered bite several times, but they tend to be very bland to me. The ginger in the wonton stuffing really made a difference in this case, though. And, the splash of sesame oil contrasted nicely with the ginger; it gave the soup had a rich feel in the mouth that balanced the brightness of the ginger.

I'm still not sure I'm a convert to wonton soup, but I was pretty happy with the Morningstar Turk'y filling. I'm looking forward to lunch, when I'm going to pan-fry the remainder like pot stickers.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Seitan Asada Tostada!

There's something about the name "carne asada" that sounds so very enticing to me; it hints of richness and spices, of something slightly mysterious and definitely delicious. It sounds a heck of a lot more appealing than "roasted meat." I've never actually had any authentic carne asada, but surely that's no reason to miss out now.

I played with the new easy beefy seitan recipe, adding about a quarter cup of oats to the dough for texture and a tablespoon of vegetarian Worcestershire sauce for depth of flavor. The first batch was pretty damn good, but this was far better - plus, it slices very thinly.

That's my main beef (ahem) with all the baked SoG recipes out there; they always seem too tough to slice very thinly. I'm not looking for a meat substitute whose virtue lies in it, well, not being meat. I want something that's delectable on it's own. Oh, okay ... there's a time and place for all kinds of seitan, but there's only so much jerky one woman can take.

But I digress ... thin slices, thin slices. I figured this seitan would be great for seitan asada tostadas. The marinade was a mix of lime juice, meyer lemon juice (because our tree's been very productive this winter, relatively speaking), balsamic vinegar, garlic, olive oil, cumin, ground coriander, and oregano. I tossed the slices in a ziploc bag with the marinade and let it sit a couple hours, turning it occasionally, before pan-roasting it till slightly caramelized. Oven baked tostadas, refried beans, and the steak, then julienned romaine, chopped tomatoes, avocado and scallions and sour cream.

This dinner made me very pleased indeed - it was delicious and I felt like we should have some sort of frozen cocktails. Of course, the front yard is also still frozen, so maybe I'll wait ... but next time, I'm trying this on the barbecue grill outside!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Easiest Beef Seitan EVER!! (And Pretty Damn Tasty, Too.)

*beef and Guinness stew with champ and pan roasted brussel sprouts*

So I just discovered that amazon.com sells groceries. They've probably been at it for ages, but I never noticed; I'm not generally thinking "mushroom spread" when I'm ordering books. But, now that I know ... I might have gone a little overboard. I now have ten pounds of nutritional yeast, among other things. I get a little obsessive sometimes.

But, I also got meatless beef broth powder, made by Frontier, the folks who make the meatless chicken powder I like to use in my chicken seitan. Oh, my. This stuff is FANTASTIC! It makes making beefy seitan the easiest thing ever! I became so excited that I couldn't decide what to make for dinner. I was thinking Mongolian beef and broccoli, then carne asada soft tacos, then beef satay. In the end, though, I had to choose the obvious: for St. Patrick's Day, I made seitan beef and Guinness stew. And it was awesome.

*seitan beef and Guinness stew: Happy St. Patrick's Day!*

I'll work on the recipe further - this was the first shot, after all - but something this easy and delicious needs to be shared right away!

Easy Beefy Seitan Yumminess

2 c water
1/4 c nutritional yeast
2 T meatless beef broth powder

1/2 c water
3/4 c vital wheat gluten
2 T meatless beef broth powder
2-3 T steak sauce
couple shakes liquid smoke

Combine the first three ingredients in a large sauce pan and bring to the barest simmer. Combine the rest of the ingredients and kneed for a couple minutes. Cut the dough into four pieces and add to liquid. Cover and cook on low heat, turning the seitan occasionally, until the liquid has been absorbed (about an hour). Easy peasy!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Seitan Chicken - It's What's for Dinner

When my husband's under the weather, he turns into a very small, needy child who reminds me every couple minutes, "I'm sick! I'm sick!" When I'm confronted with a needy sick child-husband, I can't do anything other that suggest, "Uh, chicken noodle soup?" This means I can: 1) spend time away from the sick one while I make the soup, which I do not so much because I'm mean as because he's exceedingly cranky when ill, and 2) get credit for being such a caring person that I make chicken noodle soup from scratch. There's a reason why I have two large retrievers, but no actual human children. So I spent an hour this afternoon making some seitan chicken noodle soup, which isn't really a big feat by any means, and I started thinking about much how seitan chicken has become a staple part of our diet.

I'm beginning to see why Americans eat more chicken than any other kind of meat. It's so ... easy. And versatile. And off the menu, if you're a vegetarian. I think this simplicity is why I've been whipping up batch after batch of seitan chicken breasts lately ... to make it is even easier (and somewhat less time consuming) than if I had to get dressed, get into the car, and drive to the grocery store for some Perdue, were that my wont.

Seriously, though, seitan chicken is so simple. It takes about three minutes, plus a little time on the stove during which many other things (the rest of the chicken noodle soup prep, putting together shelves from Target, playing with the dogs in the frozen tundra that is our backyard) can be accomplished.

I made a double batch last time, which then became Southern Fried Chicken Tenders and Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Brie and Caramelized Onions ... something casual, something all fancy.

The tenders were easy: cut into pieces, then bread as you could any nugget (seasoned flour, followed by beaten eggs, followed by panko breadcrumbs, followed by a healthy bath in boiling oil). This is pretty much the same way I've made seitan buffalo wings, skipping the eggs and panko. I lightly coated the seitan pieces in flour and deep fried them before tossing the batch in a bowl with buffalo sauce ... which is, by the way, disgustingly unhealthy, even to me. (Hey, I may not be a super healthy eater, but I'm a fan of using delectable fats like really good cold pressed olive oil, truffle oil and European butter ... but all in normal quantities. The sauce for buffalo wings actually makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong and unsavory, as if I should be checking into a sleazy motel to eat them ... but maybe that's just my own issue I should work on.) Anyway, it's this: half a cup of melted butter, half a cup of Frank's hot sauce. Voilà! Heart attack on a plate ... even before you factor in that bacon ranch dip, packets of which are now available from J&D's, the folks that gave us baconnaise.

For the stuffed breasts, I made the stuffing while the seitan cooked. I caramelized onions in olive oil, then stirred in about a third of a small wheel of brie, sans rind (which went straight into my mouth) and some fresh oregano. All of this got thrown in the fridge for dinner, when I slit the breasts, filled them with stuffing, and sautéed them for for a few minutes on each side, till they were browned nicely. Accompanied by wild mushroom couscous, spinach and a sauce suprême with mushrooms, the stuffed breasts were a big hit.

So, the point is this: seitan chicken is super easy. Seitan chicken is super fast. Seitan chicken is super versatile. And, seitan chicken is super yummy. Here's the recipe:

Stir together, then kneed for a couple minutes:

1 cup vital wheat gluten
4 T vegetarian chicken bouillon powder
2 tsp garlic granules
1 cup water

Cut it into four pieces (for breasts) and add to:

4 cups water
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 T vegetarian chicken bouillon powder
2-3 tsp poultry seasoning

Bring it close to a boil, then reduce and simmer, covered, until the liquid is absorbed. Flip the breasts over every so often, making sure they aren't sticking. And that's that.

This makes what looks like an enormous amount of seitan because the pieces swell up in the pan while they cook. But, I've found, it doesn't last long afterwards. I've halved it when I just wanted something quick for dinner that night, but I wished afterwards I hadn't ...

*simmering liquid*

*seitan chicken breasts taking up the entire pan*

*yummy, easy dinner: stuffed with basil & mozzarella, served over orecchiette*

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Seitan Sliders - This Time, with Recipe!

"Seitan Sliders" seems to be the term that, more than any other, brings google-searchers to this blog, so I've been feeling a bit guilty that I've got pictures and some bragging, but no actual recipe. I've been reminded that I need to rectify that. So, since today is again football day in America (as I've also been reminded, several times) and I'd better be rustling up some yummy foodies for today's games.

seitan slider stack

I went to two grocery stores (in two states, no less) looking for slider buns, but they seem to have disappeared. I don't know if Pepperidge Farm took them off the market (although their website still lists them) or if there was a run on slider buns in New England, maybe in time for today's championship games or some giant cocktail party I didn't hear about. Anyway, I was forced to buy dinner rolls instead, which are really pretty much the same. Once you steam them, they're almost exactly the same. And on the plus side, they're square like Krystal and White Castle buns. Now if only I had little paper boxes saying "The Vegetarian Carnivore" in bright letters ...

Steaming: that's the real secret to making seitan sliders that are just like their meaty cousins. Steam the buns, I mean, not the seitan. (Although I think Krystal and White Castle "steam-grill" the meat as well, which might account for it's gray color.) And make sure you've got some finely minced white onion and hamburger pickle chips on hand. And yellow mustard.

Since we were eating these as our dinner, I also made some collard greens and butternut squash fries, even though part of me just wanted to scarf down a half-dozen sliders on their own.

So, slice the seitan and sear it in a pan before assembling your sliders. Then, yum!!

This is a really tender seitan roast, so it works best sliced for sandwiches, as pan-seared steaks or baked in puff pastry for wellington. I don't think it would hold up as well for stir-fries, although I have not tried that ... I just suspect it might fall apart. On the other hand, it marinates well, so maybe I'm wrong. Onto the next experiment, then ... Next time: Chinese Pepper Steak!

Dry ingredients:

2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic granules

Wet ingredients:

1 14oz box firm tofu
1/3 cup water
1-2 tsp Marmite
1 Tbsp vegetable stock paste - I like Better than Bouillon
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce - Annie's Naturals is vegetarian
1/4 cup steak sauce - fantastic: Good Housekeeping Good Food Mushroom Marsala
2 Tbsp ketchup - I like Heinz organic
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp browning liquid - I like Kitchen Bouquet
few shakes liquid smoke

Boiling liquid:

10 cups vegetable broth
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup red wine
1 Tbsp browning liquid
several shakes each liquid smoke and Worcestershire sauce

1) Combine dry ingredients in a bowl, or if possible, a KitchenAid mixer

2) Blend together wet ingredients and add to dry. Mix together and kneed by hand, or if you have a mixer, allow it to kneed for several minutes. Let it rest for a few minutes while you put together the boiling liquid. Before adding, divide the seitan into four pieces and wrap each ball in cheesecloth or muslim. Tie with kitchen string.

3) Boiling liquid should be cold to start, so blend together but don't heat until you put the bundled seitan in. Bring to a boil, immediately turn down to very low and let simmer for an hour. Towards the end, preheat the oven to 325.

4) Remove the seitan from its cheesecloth and place in an oiled pyrex dish. Add a little of the liquid (not too much, maybe half a cup to a cup), cover with foil and place in oven for an additional 45 minutes to an hour. Turn occasionally.

Some people store their seitan in its cooking liquid, but I just toss these in a ziploc bag, sans liquid, and they keep for about a week in the fridge.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

pizza, or, the food of the gods

Okay, so there's no seitan in this post. No meat substitutes of any kind, actually. Just pizza. And a shameless plug for Price Chopper, which surprises me even as I type.

Pizza might possibly be, hands down, my most favorite ever food. It's just ... perfect. Good pizza, anyway. We left Brooklyn for a rural New England town a couple years ago, which significantly limited my choice of pizza. Somewhat surprisingly, this town has more pizza restaurants than any other kind ... but there's no comparison. For starters, most of the pizzerias here sell what I've heard called Greek style pies: thicker, oilier crusts. I'm a thin crust kind of girl; I like hand-stretched, thin-as-possible crusts, chewy rather than oily. But more importantly, most of them here, well, suck. They just aren't any good. And that makes me sadder than it probably should ... or not. It is pizza.

We were directed by a friend to try Pizzeria X here, assured that it was far superior. We ordered a margherita pizza and baked ziti, of which I am also quite fond. With anticipation, I opened the boxes. This pizza crust was too perfectly circular, creepily round and pale. It looked like cardboard. It tasted like cardboard. The sauce was tomato paste, and the cheese was plasticky, flavorless and, well, not actually discernible as cheese. As for the baked ziti - it was an overcooked lump of penne pasta with more of the same cheese melted atop. It had formed a solid sort of cheese crust (without being crusty ... more of its plasticine characteristics, I suppose) so that when I put my fork into it, the entire mass lifted up as one piece. I started to cry. I felt silly, sitting outside a pizzeria crying over bad food, but the whole thing was just so depressing.

Obviously, we never again went to Pizzeria X (and also found out that it isn't so much that my friend liked their food so much as she liked the guy who runs the place). There are better places here, and we order from them occasionally, but I cannot shake my feeling of disappointment. I always want it to be better than it is, but it isn't

So here's the shameless plug for Price Chopper. On a whim, I snagged a couple bags of their fresh pizza dough, thinking that it would probably be okay if not particularly good. I was wrong: Price Chopper fresh pizza dough is fantastic. How, I don't know, but it is.

I've tried making dough at home before and never been satisfied. I couldn't get the crust as thin as I'd like, plus it seemed to lack the tang that good pizza dough has. But, this dough (and it does also come in whole wheat for you healthier folks) is fabulous. It stretches out to paper-thinness: I could see through it as I stretched it and lay it on the pizza wheel. And yummy, oh so yummy! The crust is chewy without being dense, and it has that slight sourness that makes good crusts really good.

I topped it with some pizza sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and oil cured black olives. I wish I had more, but I was forced to share and so we had no leftovers. But, maybe again tonight ... maybe red onions and feta and seitan sausage, just so I don't forget about seitan for too long.

Oh, pizza. I love you so.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Roast Beef, or More Experiments in Seitan

There's this amazing little hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant in Memphis, TN that makes a barbecued wheat gluten dish I could eat every day. Plus, they sell these little tiny deep-fried egg rolls, each one about the size of my pinky, that you wrap in herbs and lettuce leaves and fiery sriracha before dipping them in the most delectable sauce ... but I digress. The point is, that their barbecued wheat gluten is not only totally, completely and utterly delicious, but also very realistic. The first time I had it, which to be fair was also years ago and the first time I had seitan, my friend and I were so convinced there'd been a mistranslation somewhere in asking for vegetarian food that we kept holding slices up to the light to try to figure out if we'd been slipped some pork or not.

I haven't had breakfast yet, and goodness, I wish I had some of that barbecued wheat gluten right now. Or, I'd happily take a kalebone gyro from Soul Vegetarian in Atlanta. Anyway. I'm still agog over the incredibly realistic variations that can be found in veggie fake meat restaurants. Once, through sheer luck, my friends and I were treated to a seemingly endless parade of fake meat dishes at an all-vegan restaurant in the West Village. Apparently, the kitchen was making them for food photography and the waiter decided that the three of us looked like we should be the recipients of all these (um) free, meat-free meals. We sampled crispy soul chicken nuggets, Mongolian pepper steak, and duck l'orange, but what really impressed me was the salmon steak. Alright, in truth it tasted less like salmon than the other dishes did their meaty namesakes, but it looked just like a salmon steak, down to the crisped skin. And it was rather tasty.

Anyway, all of this is by way saying that there's a wide world of meat substitutes out there and somehow I need to make them. I'm just not sure how.

Sometimes I feel that there are only so many variations on seitan I can try. I'm not a big fan of the "this seitan is Italian 'cause I added oregano and this seitan is Mexican 'cause I added chipotle powder" variations. I mean, they're tasty ... just not too exciting for me. I start to notice the texture more than the flavor in those cases and sigh ...

I keep experimenting with my beefy seitan recipe, trying to reach beefy seitanic perfection, and I started to wonder how tvp would affect it. Some of the beefy seitan recipes I've tried, be they mine or others, have a texture that's almost too smooth for me; it reminds me of steak tartare that's been overly minced, all slippery and, well, a little yuck. How come no one seems to use tvp when making seitan? (Or perhaps the question should be, how come I can't find such a recipe with google?)

So this pondering led to me the most recent experiment, i.e., making some beefy seitan with tvp. I hoped it would add some, well, meatierness.

This turned out ... well, not so much what I had in mind. Don't get me wrong: it tastes rather yummy, although could use a dash of salt (which I forgot). But, I was hoping for something more along the lines of a tenderloin texture and ended up with a very sliceable, firmer seitan ... kind of like a seitan Sunday roast, perfect for a carvery station.

I saved the simmering liquid and reduced it to about a quarter of its original measure. While making dinner, I added in a couple tablespoons of heavy cream and a half tablespoon of butter and allowed it to thicken - delicious sauce!

I sliced the seitan into thick steaks for dinner and sautéed them in a little olive oil and butter before braising them with about half cup (plus) of red wine. I made gratinéed potatoes with brie to go with it - not a meal for those on a diet, I guess!

So here I was, all proud of myself for adding the tvp, and now I think I'd like to try this again sans-tvp, just to see how it turned out with only the mushrooms for texture. It tasted really good - and very meaty - but the search goes on, at least for beefy seitan for steaks.

But, I discovered this morning, while packing B's lunch, that this recipe makes AWESOME roast beef sandwiches. It was tender and sliced easily into thin pieces. I tend to make a couple seitan logs (you know, the variations that get wrapped in foil and baked) each week for his lunch, but I'm not generally happy with the way they slice. On one hand, well, they slice. On the other, they don't slice well. They're too tough. This, however, was real-beef tender. And yummy. So, try it for dinner if you like, but definitely try it for cold roast beef sandwiches ... don't forget the horseradish!

Seitanic Roast Beef

1/2 onion, minced
2 cups mushrooms, whirled in the food processor
small handful dried porcinis, reconstituted and liquid reserved
2 c vital wheat gluten
1/4 c nutritional yeast
1 T garlic powder
2 t browning liquid
1 t liquid smoke
2 t Worcestershire sauce
3 t evoo
1/2 c tvp soaked in 1/2 hot veg broth

Simmering liquid:
5 c vegetable broth
any leftover mushroom liquid
1/4 soy sauce
couple dashes worchestershire and liquid smoke
1/2 c tomato sauce
1/2 red wine

1)Saute onion in olive oil till softened; add mushrooms and sweat over low-medium heat for about twenty minutes, deglazing with balsamic vinegar or red wine
2)Soak tvp in hot vegetable broth, along with a couple dashes of browning liquid
3)Add liquid flavors to reserved mushroom broth - will need a half cup
4) Combine vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, and garlic in bowl; kneed with finger tips to make a kind of stretchy, shredded texture. Add tvp and combine. Carefully add liquid mixture to bind all, but make sure it isn't too soggy.
5) Separate into two pieces; wrap each in muslin or cheesecloth.
6)Add to simmering liquid and, well, simmer for 45.
7) Unwrap, turn into an oiled baking dish and bake, turning occassionally, for about 45 minutes.

Note: AFTER I wrote this, I tried searching once more for a seitan recipe using tvp and, following some sort of cosmic law, one turned up. Vegan Dad did one for a noodles and beef seitan in black bean sauce that sounds very yummy, but very different. I'm really tempted to go make his recipe right now, but since I've already got seitan chicken on the stove as well as the beefy seitan ... could be seitan overload. Maybe tomorrow ...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Seitan Fatback, or Happy New Year 2010!

As a good Southern girl, even if now residing in chilly New England, its pretty much required that I make a big pot of Hoppin' John on New Years' Day. That's black eyed peas and rice to y'all from north of the M-D, and traditionally, eating the dish on the first day of the year is supposed to ensure good luck and good fortune - and even more fortune if paired with greens. I didn't make any last year and 2009 certainly could have been a lot better, so I figured that I'd better not tempt fate for 2010.

The problem, though, is that I've never really liked black eyed peas. On New Year's Day at my parents' house, I'd eat the obligatory spoonful, hoping there was no correlation between the amount of peas ingested and the amount of luck received. They just always seemed so bland, like the dish was missing something. (Sorry, Mama.)

Non-vegetarian Southerners use fatback to flavor their Hoppin' John, but it isn't as if Morningstar Farms or LightLife are turning out veggie fatback alternatives. That's probably only slightly more likely than some veggie chittlins. (And if you don't know what those are, don't ask.) I did buy some veggie sausage, hoping that might suffice, but I couldn't bring myself to use it. Really, I thought, why should I? Wasn't that the whole point of these seitan experiments, to have not a passable substitute or filler, but something better? Damn it, I wanted seitan fatback - so I made it.

This recipe came about through experiment. Last week, I ran out of nutritional yeast, which I use in my seitan chicken recipes, so things just got tossed together. And much to my surprise, it tasted very ... well, hammy. So I made it again, this time leaving the seitan pieces to marinate while we took the dogs for a hike, and the result was seitan fatback - just as porky, salty and fatty-feeling as the real thing. Plus, when it was added to the Hoppin' John, it cooked up wonderfully, adding good texture and flavor.

While the peas cooked, I threw together some cornbread and collard greens, figuring that, if I still didn't like black eyed peas, I'd at least have something. But, luck was already on my side: the seitan fatback made all the difference. Now I see why folks love this dish so much. It must be true: (seitan) bacon makes everything better!


for seitan:
1/2 c vital wheat gluten
1/2 c water
several dashes liquid smoke
onion powder to taste
garlic powder to taste

boiling liquid:
2 c water
1 tsp Better than Bouillon vegetable paste
3 tsp browning liquid
2 tsp veggie Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Marmite
3 Tbsp ketchup

for marinade:
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c water
2 tsp sugar
2 T rice vinegar
2 T vegetable oil

Combine seitan ingredients and kneed for three to five minutes. Cut into four pieces. Combine boiling liquid ingredients in a pan with a lid; bring to a boil, add seitan pieces. Lower to a good simmer and cover. Stir every so often and, when its been on the stove for about twenty-five minutes, remove the lid and bring it back to a boil, stirring, until the liquid has reduced to about four tablespoons and is syrupy. If you're going to marinate the seitan, add it now, along with the remaining liquid, to the marinade.

Note: whether you cube or slice the seitan fatback for use in a stew, it will absorb more liquid and increase in size.