Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Teriyaki Experiment


One of my favorite addictions is watching cooking shows on public television. For a couple of reasons (well, principle & price) we don't have cable, so I'm not privy to Food Network programming. However, whether it be Scandinavian Cooking, Oregon foodies or French fast food, I'm perfectly at home in front of Channel 11 on a lazy Saturday.

It was one of those easy Saturdays that I happened to watch America's Test Kitchen, and they were cooking from-scratch Chicken Teriyaki. It looked delicious. If I could smell and taste through a television (a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) I'm sure it would have been a heavenly experience indeed.

Now, I don't mind eating chicken but having to handle it raw throws my nerves into a spastic fit. I simply can't stand it; it once mingled with the scent of raw onions on a wooden cutting board and ever since that frozen moment in time I don't cook raw chicken at home (unless absolutely necessary; there's nothing shameful about a rotisserie bird). It was with this revulsion in mind that I chose to make from-scratch teriyaki with tofu. Why couldn't it work? Cook some rice, fry up the tofu, and top with the sauce. The results were fantastic!

Rice, Japanese-style
2 c short grain rice (rinsed under cool water & drained)
2-1/2 c cold water
Combine in a 2-quart saucepan (that has a tight-fitting lid) and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to almost nothing, top it with the lid, and simmer for 15 minutes. After the timer goes off, turn the heat off and let sit another 10 minutes.
Note: Begin cooking the rice before the other stuff, as it takes at least 25 minutes.

Fried Tofu
1 block of tofu, frozen for 24 hours, thawed in the fridge, and then pressed (makes for better texture)
canola oil
Slice the tofu, and sprinkle with a tiny bit of sea salt. Heat oil in a heavy pan, and add tofu. Cook about 3-5 minutes until browned & crisp, then flip and do the same on the other side.

Teriyaki Sauce
In a saucepan combine:
1/2 c soy sauce
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 garlic clove, pressed or minced
2 T mirin
1/2 tsp corn starch
In a small saucepot over medium heat, combine the soy sauce, sugar, ginger, and garlic. Stir to dissolve the sugar. In a small bowl, dissolve the corn starch in mirin, and add to the pot. Boil for about 3-4 minutes, until reduced and thickened to a glaze-style sauce.

Serve the tofu over rice, and drizzle with teriyaki sauce.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Moroccan Stew


We've decided to try a few new vegetarian entrées, after a disastrous night of hot dogs and potato salad. Sure, the pups were kosher but still processed with plenty of...stuff. Whatever that is.

This Moroccan-ish stew was surprisingly good. I think any vegetables could be used; some of my measurements are very approximate...use what you have and whatever you can get your hands on! Perfect food after a day at the farmer's market.

Moroccan Stew
1 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground chili pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground coriander
1 28-oz can stewed tomatoes with juice (or whole peeled tomatoes, run briefly through a blender)
1 red pepper
1 small zucchini
1 handful chopped cauliflower (more or less)
3 cups shredded cabbage
1/4 c seedless raisins
1 15-oz can chickpeas (or 1-1/2 c cooked)
sea salt & pepper

1 c couscous
1-1/2 c water

Begin by heating the olive oil in a pot and add the cumin, chili pepper, red pepper flakes, and ground coriander. Cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until translucent. Add tomatoes, simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Add the rest of the vegetables, raisins, and chickpeas. You might want to add about 1/2 c water if the mixture seems too dry (keep in mind, as the veggies cook down, they'll release water and the mix will become more "stew-like"). Top and simmer for about 20 minutes.

While the stew is simmering, get the couscous going. Package directions may differ; I buy mine in bulk and use this method. Bring water to a boil, add a dash of sea salt. Stir in the couscous, top with a tight fitting lid, and turn off the heat. Let this sit at least five minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Check the stew for doneness (veggies tender) and season to taste. Serve the stew over couscous.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Asian-Inspired Chicken Salad

In the past, I have had terrible luck making any sort of Asian-inspired salad or noodle dish. The sauce, typically peanuty, usually ends up being too sweet, too salty, or too....nasty. Fortunately, I found this recipe online and have fallen head over heels for the dressing. I've made a few changes, which are reflected below. I'm also envisioning it over noodles with fried tofu or steamed veggies.

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons peanut butter (I used chunky)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons chipotle pepper puree (optional--I finely chopped 1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 cup canola oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 11oz bags salad greens
1/4 pound snow peas, thinly sliced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts

In a medium size jar (with lid), combine vinegar, peanut butter, ginger, chipotle pepper puree, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, and canola oil. Shake well to mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl, and toss with dressing.

The salad greens I bought came with little packets of fried wonton strips. Why let them go to waste? They were a delicious addition to the salad—crispy chow mein noodles would work, too. John tried the salad in a wrap and found himself licking the dressing off his fingers once finished!

Summertime Foods (Part 2): Iced Tea

Sunny days and cool drinks are a natural combination. I admit, I'm a bit afraid of making sun tea as I've heard many horror stores about bacteria. Ew. Not one to give up easily, I quickly hunted down and tweaked an iced tea recipe that can be safely made indoors. I used loose tea, since that's what I had on hand (a delicious black tea with dried lemon--on sale!--from Tea Source in St. Paul). Note: I prefer iced tea really strong, and slightly feel free to adjust this recipe to your own liking. A combination of green & peppermint teas works well, too.

4 tea bags, or 3 tablespoons loose-leaf tea in a muslin bag or filter (your choice of tea)
2 cups fresh cold water
1/4 cup sugar
Additional fresh cold water
lemon slices & ice cubes (optional)

Place tea bags and sugar in pitcher or jug. Bring the two cups of water to a rapid boil, and pour into the pitcher. Let this steep for 20-30 minutes (the first time I made this, I think I forgot about it and it steeped for about an hour... whoops). This makes the “concentrate”, and can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Remove the tea bags, and add enough fresh cold water to make about 2 quarts. Cover & refrigerate before serving. Serve with lemon slices and ice cubes. This makes about 8 servings of iced tea.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Summertime Foods (Part 1): Black Beans

Each day this week, the temperature has increased a few degrees and I'm scrambling to collect recipes that require little to no actual heat. I'm not into the raw food lifestyle, so mostly I am paying attention to dishes that can be grilled or salads hearty enough to be a main dish.

We eat a lot of black beans. In fact, I rarely buy any other variety. Once I have a pressure cooker, I'll be cooking them myself but in the meantime they must be purchased in cans. An absurd thing I noticed one day was the addition of high fructose corn syrup or other additives in canned beans. Why?? Fortunately, the store we shop at has its own organic brand (only a few cents higher in cost), which has only the addition of sea salt and water. Perfect.

An amazing black bean salad recipe can be found at Simply Recipes; we had this a few nights ago (made without any changes to the original recipe) and there were no leftovers to spare. It is delicious, and with the exception of the beans, mostly raw. I served this with grilled sweet potatoes and it was sooooo great on a warm evening.

I'm very excited about my recipe below, but it makes sense on a hot day only if the patties are grilled. I've tried a few burger recipes in the past, and usually they are tasteless with a weird texture. These are fresh tasting and hit the spot:

Black Bean Patties
1 15-oz can black beans (drained & rinsed, mash with a fork)
about 1/2 c shredded carrot
1/4 c red onion, finely chopped
small handful of chopped cilantro
3/4 c frozen corn (rinse under cool water to defrost slightly)
1 egg
fresh bread crumbs, as needed (around 1-1/2 c)
few dashes of Louisiana hot sauce (suit to your taste buds)
sea salt & black pepper for seasoning

Combine all ingredients, adding bread crumbs as needed. Season to taste. Form into patties, should make 5-6 depending on the size. If it's hot out: grill 2-3 minutes (or as long as necessary) until nicely browned. If it's cool enough to make them indoors, fry in a skillet with a few tablespoons of veg oil for 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve like a regular burger!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Potatoes Yayoi & The Furry Bandits

Before a pack of raccoons pillaged our campsite at 3 a.m. and stole the butter, ice, and a granola bar still in its wrapper, we were cooking with a campfire in Giant City State Park. It took a few hours to get the campfire going (somehow, we got it started without lighter fluid) and enjoyed delicious grilled apple/chicken sausages and these lovely potato packets. I call them Potatoes Yayoi, in honor of my friend who first taught me how to make them. She told me that this was how it was done in Japan when cooking over an open flame, and it is the ultimate easy campfire food. They literally melt in your mouth.

Potatoes Yayoi

1 campfire
1-2 sweet potatoes per person, plus enough foil to wrap each into a little packet

Cut a slit into each sweet potato, and wrap tightly in foil. I tend to do this burrito-style. If I remember correctly, Yayoi said to add butter before grilling, but I have found that it works fine without doing this. Place the packets in the hot embers of the campfire, and forget about them for 1/2-1 hour. Use tongs to remove them (obviously, they’ll be hot) and if they seem squishy in the packet, they are done. Open carefully, and place a big dollop of butter into each one. Be generous with the butter—camping is no time to start dieting. Yum.

The next morning, after discovered the bandits had made off with a few items, we set off to our favorite downstate cafe, Long Branch Cafe (100 E. Jackson St, Carbondale, Illinois—sorry, no web site). This place is vibrant and puts most other casual organic vegetarian places to shame; the coffee rocks and the ambience makes me want to live next door. I enjoyed an omelet with tomato, spinach, and herbed cream cheese (complete with biscuit) and John had a soysage & egg buttermilk biscuit with vegetarian gravy. My mouth is watering again just thinking about it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Salmon Croquettes


As a kid, I remember nibbling on canned salmon and crackers with my mom at the kitchen table. It was (and still is) a delicious tidbit to eat! The thing with salmon is that there are so many different preparations: canned, smoked, grilled, poached, steamed... the list could go on and on. Sadly, it can be difficult to find good-quality fresh seafood in Illinois, so we are left to improvise with everything else (so is life in the Midwest, -sigh-). This is one of the ways I like to eat canned salmon—the herbs and lemon are essential. I usually keep an airtight container of fresh bread crumbs in the freezer, and then discovered Panko crumbs at the Chinese grocery store down the street. They are sooooo much better, but in all honesty either one will work fine.

It's become a tradition in our household that whenever canned fish is opened, the cats get a sampling in their tiny dishes. I swear they are purring as they eat it.

1 15-oz can salmon (bones removed)
2 eggs
small handful chopped cilantro (parsley works, too)
juice from 1 lemon
sea salt & cracked black pepper
1 bunch green onions, chopped (white part only)
Panko or fresh bread crumbs
oil for frying

Mix the first six ingredients, adding enough of the bread crumbs to be able to form patties (about seven of them). Fry on each side for about 2-3 minutes or until done.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Kabobs in the Dark

My parents visited this weekend, and with all my “oh my goodness we just got a gas grill” enthusiasm we did kabobs. Beef, chicken, and salmon... why stop with just one?! Among bottles of Corona and a red wine from Spain we devoured those tasty little morsels plus some fresh berries. The unfortunate part was that it got dark before we finished the cooking!

I didn’t really follow any recipes, but here are some guidelines to follow with any kabobs. I marinated the beef, chicken, and salmon as follows:

• soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped green onion

• honey, dijon mustard, dash of soy sauce, black pepper

• fresh lemon juice, cracked pepper

We skewered them with red onions and mushrooms, I think next time I'd add in red bell pepper and tiny potatoes. There are so many other marinades to try too... my vegetarian tendencies go out the window with stuff like this!