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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Curried Pumpkin and Black Bean Cakes

Because sometimes recipe ideas come to you when you're trying to take a nap.

I made pumpkin cookies yesterday to take over to my friends' house, and found myself with about half a can of pumpkin left over.  I had considered making a sauce to go with pasta, a pumpkin hummus, pumpkin french toast, or a super small batch of pumpkin soup.  Ultimately, I decided to lay down for a nap, leaving the pumpkin on the counter until I knew what I wanted to do with it.  Five minutes into my "nap," I thought of these cakes.  I've had something similar at a tapas restaurant, and thought I'd take a stab at it myself.

If you're not familiar, tapas, or small plates, are like appetizers or snacks that you share with friends.  Generally, everyone in your party orders a small plate or two, and everyone shares.  The tapas restaurant I've been to has these spicy black bean-quinoa cakes that are to die for.  So that was my inspiration here.  These turned out more moist than the restaurant cakes, with a subtle pumpkin-curry flavor and plenty of spice.  The roomie and I are thinking about hosting a tapas party in a few weeks, so I'll probably play with this recipe again.
If you have cooked wild rice on hand, this recipe comes together in 40 minutes or less.  It's a breeze to make, and definitely worthy of an at-home tapas party or dinner party.  I wish I had come up with a sauce to go with these spicy cakes, but I failed miserably at making a tahini sauce.  However, I just reheated a cake, and tried out three different dipping sauces: ketchup, garlic hummus, and vegan mayo.  I actually liked all three, so go with what works for you.  Or you could try a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt.  Or nothing.  I'm not judging.
15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup cooked wild rice
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 Tbsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cayenne
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried cilantro

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, mash beans until chunky but not too mushy.  Add rice and stir to mix well.  In a food processor or blender, add remaining ingredients and blend well.  Pour pumpkin mixture into the bean mix, and stir to combine well.  Divide the pumpkin-bean mixture evenly in the muffin pan.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Serve with any kind of sauce you see fit.  Enjoy!

Bonus photo:  I brought these cakes over for my friends to try and their daughter, Sophia, snapped this excellent shot of the cakes for me.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Let's Talk Tofu

As a non-vegan, non-cook, Jennie (the Officer) confessed to me recently that tofu is super intimidating.   

What's the difference between silken tofu and other tofu?  What do you do with it?  What does it taste like???  How do you prepare it?

All excellent questions. 
Let's start with the basics.  Tofu tastes like... nothing.  Really.  It tastes like whatever you make it taste like.  (So, to those of you who say that tofu tastes like sh*t, you're doing it wrong.)  I've used regular tofu as a sandwich filler, like a mock-egg salad, and as a taco filling.  I've marinated and grilled up tofu "steaks", and cubed and fried it for salad (see Lemony Tofu Skillet Salad).  Silken tofu is, well, silky in texture.  I've used that in desserts, like "cheese"cake, and in sauces (mmmm, Alfredo) and dressings.

What I'm calling "regular" tofu (I'm not sure it has an official name) comes water-packed in a plastic package.  The varieties include soft, firm, and extra-firm.  For most recipes, I use firm or extra-firm.  (On this blog, I will always explain which kind I used and why).  This kind of tofu has a sort of spongy texture.  You can achieve a denser texture, however, by pressing excess water out of it.

[I also read in a cookbook once that, if you first freeze the tofu overnight, then defrost and press it, you will get a better, even denser-er texture.  I've actually done it before, and unknown cookbook author was right.  But really, who has time to "plan ahead" like that?  Certainly not me.]

You can buy fancy tofu presses (google it, if you feel the need), but it works just as well to press the tofu between two plates with a heavy object on top (try a large can of tomatoes or something.  Do not use a bottle of wine.  Trust me on this.).  Just let it sit for about 15 or 20 minutes while you're prepping the other ingredients.  Drain the water occasionally.  Try to keep the tofu block intact.
OK, so, on to the recipe.  There are probably about three-hundred and seventy-four billion scrambled tofu recipes out there in Internet World, but hey, here's one more!  The joy of this dish is that you can really change it up as much as you want and it will still turn out awesome, for the most part.  The veggies I used are what I normally go with, but I have also added zucchini in the past, and was just thinking earlier about trying this again with broccoli and cauliflower, maybe using great northern beans and herbs de Provence for the seasoning.  Feel free to use frozen veggies.  It will save you tons of time.

*A quick note before we get started:  Turmeric is an herb that is used to make the tofu (and everything else it touches) yellow.  (In fact, that's where mustard gets its color from.)  It doesn't have much of a flavor, but it is a natural anti-inflammatory, so that's cool.  Up until today, I have always used turmeric in my scrambled tofu.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find mine for the life of me until about an hour after I was done cooking.  Anyhow, use it or don't use it, it won't make much of a difference.  I just wanted you to be aware that your dish will look waaaay more yellow than mine if you use it.

*PPS: I talked too much about tofu and forgot to educate you on the awesomeness that is nutritional yeast.  If you're unfamiliar with it, read this lovely piece, thoughtfully put together by Susan from fatfreevegan.  (What can't that woman do?!)

12 oz firm or super-firm tofu, pressed
1 small onion, chopped (or 1 cup frozen chopped onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup shredded carrots
1 small red pepper (or pepper of your choice), chopped
15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (more, if you're an addict like me)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chipotle chile powder
1/4 tsp turmeric (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp soy/almond/other milk
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Sprinkle of dried cilantro, if desired

Press your tofu.  (You know how; we just talked about this above.)  While it's pressing, chop veggies, if need be.  In a large skillet pan or wok, saute onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons of water on medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Add carrots and pepper, and cook about 5 minutes more.  Add more water, one tablespoon at a time if veggies are starting to stick.  Add beans and stir to mix well.  This is what we've got so far:
Now, take your pressed tofu and add it to the pan, crumbling it with your hands.  That looks like this:
Stir the tofu in with the other ingredients.  Add nutritional yeast, cumin, chile powder, turmeric, and salt and pepper.  Stir to mix well.  Let cook for about 9 or 10 minutes, until the tofu is hot.  Add milk and mustard and stir to mix well.  Give it about 2 more minutes, then remove pan from heat.  Sprinkle cilantro over everything, if desired.
Dish yourself up some awesome tofu scramble.  Whip up a mimosa.  Eat, drink, and be awesome.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Good Day Sunshine! Salad

Well, hello there!  First things first: I lied.  I did manage to find time to create a new salad recipe this week.  The idea had been rolling around in the ol' noggin for a while, but I finally put it together this week. This was mostly prompted by my sweet roomie, who, when I told her my idea, squealed and shouted "OH MY GOSH YOU SHOULD MAKE THAT RIGHT NOW!!!"  (I waited til the next day, because it was 10pm and I didn't have all of the ingredients.)

*Disclaimer: This next part may be boring.  Feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to learn about nutrition.
 Here's a little trick to eating healthy, if you're having trouble getting in enough veggies on a daily basis.  If the meal you are sitting down to eat does not include at least one serving of vegetables, it is junk food.  Bottom line.  This also includes breakfast.  "What???  Veggies for breakfast???"  I know, it sounds like an alien concept, but follow me here.  My typical breakfast is either a fruit smoothie with spinach (I'll post that recipe at a later date), or soup or other veggie-filled left-overs.  I gave up cold cereal a long time ago, and haven't remembered to buy more oatmeal from the store in months.  Truth is, when I have veggies for breakfast, I feel more energized throughout the day, and I honestly would rather eat breakfast food in the evening for dinner.  I'm not saying that you have to swear off waffles for breakfast, or start adding peas to your pancake batter, but throw in a small serving of veggies along with the sweet deliciousness you're already enjoying.  If you're making scrambled eggs (or scrambled tofu, recipe coming next week!), throw in some onions, peppers, and the like.  If you're having pancakes, french toast, oatmeal, toast, anything else people typically eat for breakfast, also eat a handful of carrots, or a small salad.  "Salad for breakfast???"  It's not that weird.  [Now, I should also mention the importance of eating enough fruits on a daily basis, but, unless requested, I'm not going to give a spiel about how to do so because, honestly, I have never had someone come up to me and say "I don't really like fruit.  How can I get myself to eat more fruit throughout the day?"]

I created this recipe thinking that it would be best served for breakfast or brunch, but obviously you can eat it whenever you want (elevensies?).  The veggies provide a typical salad base, the mandarin oranges give it some sweetness (strawberries would also work), and the granola replaces croutons for a crunchy topping.  The dressing reminds me of a PB&J, and I have decided to make a huge batch of it in the near future so that I can drizzle it on everything.

Once again, this recipe comes together quite quickly and makes a lot, so you'll have food for days (well, depending on how many people you're feeding at the initial meal in which the salad is served).

 Now, enjoy this Beatles tune while checking out the recipe:

Strawberry Almond Dressing:
1/3 cup strawberry balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp almond butter
2 tsp brown sugar

4 cups fresh baby spinach
1 cup shredded carrots
1 small zucchini, cut into half moons
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 cup mandarin oranges
1/3 cup vanilla almond granola

In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined, then set aside. In a large salad bowl, toss together the spinach, carrots, zucchini and onion. Top with the oranges and granola. Serve with the strawberry-almond dressing.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Lemony Tofu Skillet Salad

I found a new hobby last year that makes me happy, keeps me well fed, gets my creative juices going, and sometimes brings in money.  The hobby: Entering recipe contests.  It's cool because the contests have a theme, which helps me narrow down what kind of food to make (you know, breakfast, dessert, casserole, etc.).  I have entered recipes on several different websites, but my favorite is  http://www.betterrecipes.com/contests
This week's recipe theme is "Best Salad Recipe Ever."  Which automatically sounds epic.
School starts back up tomorrow, and I just spent the weekend in Indiana with my buddy Ty, so there's little chance I'll be coming up with any new salad recipes this week.  However, I just so happened to have an epic salad recipe laying around from a previous contest (that I did not win).  I just entered it into the contest [you should definitely go to the site and vote for it] and I might just make it for dinner this week.

OK, so about the recipe itself.  A warm salad may sound weird, but it's actually pretty awesome.  I mean, if you think about it, stir-fry is kind of like warm salad, right?  Anyhow, I got the idea from Susan at fatfreevegan.com (recipe here).  The previous contest theme was citrus, which is where I got the lemon from.  It's super healthy but also tasty, easy to make (although you do have to plan ahead for the marinating), and comes together quickly.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.  Oh yeah, and vote.

1 cup vegetable broth
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons (save the last 1/2 lemon for the salad)
1 Tbsp Bragg's liquid aminos (or soy sauce)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp agave
1 tsp ground cumin
1 lb. firm tofu pressed and cut into 1 inch cubes*
1 large sweet onion chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
1/2 head red cabbage chopped
5 oz shredded carrots
1 bunch kale stems removed and leaves cut into small pieces
1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

 In a large bowl, combine all marinade ingredients (except tofu). Whisk to mix well. Add cubed tofu and stir to cover all pieces. Let tofu marinate for two hours or overnight.
Heat a large wok or soup pot over medium high heat. Add tofu, saving liquid for later use, and saute for 10 minutes, or until tofu is browned on all sides. Remove tofu from pan and keep covered in a separate dish.
Return pan to stove and add onions, garlic, and 2 Tbsp marinade. Saute for 5 minutes, until onions are soft. Add cabbage and carrots, and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring frequently. Add more marinade as needed to keep veggies from sticking to pan.
Add kale and the juice from remaining lemon half. Sprinkle on generous dose of salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until kale is wilted.
Return tofu to pan and mix well. Serve warm, with additional lemon wedges if desired.

*Note: To press tofu: Remove tofu from package (drain the water) and place between two large plates. Place something heavy (like a soup can) on the top plate and let sit for about 20 minutes. Pour off excess water and cut into cubes.