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, 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. VoilĂ  - 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