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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tropical Sweet and Sour Stir-fry

Because I think I'm finally getting my groove back!

I've been in a real rut lately.  The family hasn't been super impressed with any of the original dishes I've cooked for us this month (which included shepherd's pie and a cheesy broccoli-wild rice casserole, neither of which I even bothered to write down the recipes for), which led me to making vegan chili dogs and corn on the cob for dinner this past week.  Not super creative or healthy.  But hey, the kids didn't complain.  However, I can't let picky eaters interfere with my passion for cooking.  So I've decided to work on recipe testing after everyone else has had dinner (or at someone else's house, if possible).  And boy, do I have a few good ideas rolling around the ol' noggin right now!

In a recent moment of panic, worrying about how broke I am and wondering how I could come up with some extra cash (short of selling any non-essential organs on the black market), I found a new recipe contest website.  This site gives a list, by expiration date, of pretty much any and every contest going on the internet.  So I did a little browsing and checked out a few contests that end this month (I'm in need of instant gratification, people).  First up, Chiquita Banana's Cooking Lab recipe contest.  You come up with a recipe that includes bananas, and also two "secret ingredients" which change each week.  This week's ingredients were pineapple and spinach.  I know, I know, your first thought is "Hey!  Just throw them all into a smoothie!"  But come on now, that's not the way I work.  A smoothie is too obvious, too cliche.  I have to be original!!!  No, instead, I decided to put a little twist on sweet and sour stir fry.  Pineapple is usually in this dish anyway, so I figured the banana would just add to the "sweet" and the spinach would add a little extra color.

The banana actually added a really fantastic flavor to this stir fry!  My sister offered to try some as I was finishing up cooking, and couldn't stop raving about the banana.  At least someone in this house likes my cooking!  Now, let's just hope the judges do, too.  I originally tried to fry the banana in sesame oil, hoping it would make them less mushy when added to the stir fry, but I was wrong.  They actually got quite mushy in the pan.  So instead, I'm going to recommend stirring in the banana at the end.  Hopefully that will keep the fruit from becoming too mushy.  You just let me know how it turns out, will you?

Sweet and sour sauce:
1 cup vegetable broth
3/4 cup reserved pineapple juice (see below)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch 

1 Tbsp sesame oil
14 oz extra firm tofu, water pressed out and cut into 1/2" cubes
1 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, sliced
1 lb frozen broccoli
20 oz can pineapple chunks in juice, juice reserved for the sauce
3 cups baby spinach
3 bananas, sliced into 1/2" thick discs

In a large mixing bowl, stir together veg broth, pineapple juice, soy sauce, vinegar, and pepper flakes, if using.  Whisk in the brown sugar and cornstarch and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat sesame oil over medium heat.  Add the tofu and cook until all sides are lightly brown.  Remove from pan and place tofu on a plate lined with paper towel.  Set aside for a bit.
In a large wok, saute onion and garlic in 1/4 cup water on medium high heat.  After about 5 min, add the pepper, adding more water as needed if veggies are sticking to the pan.  Cook for 5 min, then add the broccoli and cook for another 5-7 min, until broccoli is no longer frozen.  Give the sauce a quick whisk and add it to the wok, increasing heat to allow sauce to bubble and thicken.  Stir constantly, and decrease heat back to medium when sauce has thickened.  Stir in the tofu, pineapple, spinach, and banana, making sure all veggies and fruit are covered with sauce.  Continue to cook on medium heat until spinach is wilted and fruit is heated through.  Serve hot, over rice if desired.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Mushroom, Fennel, and Sausage Phyllo Cups

Because I decided to start entering contests again...

It's been exactly one month since I left my last job and I have yet to start working here.  You would think that this would leave me with endless amounts of free time to devote to cooking and recipe testing, but, no, that's not what's happening.  Part of the problem is that the kitchen in the house I'm staying in is pretty small, with limited counter space.  All of my fun kitchen gadgets are here (Yay!), but they're all packed in boxes in my room, which is downstairs (Boo!), and really, I'm just entirely too lazy to unpack what I need, bring it upstairs, cook what I want, clean off said kitchen gizmo, bring it back downstairs, and re-pack it.  Not gonna happen.

Another part of the problem is a general lack of inspiration.  The website I usually submit recipes to has stopped running contests.  I've been trying to check out other contest sites online and came across Athen's monthly phyllo contest.  I've entered this contest before but never won.  The prizes are less than generous, but, what the heck, it gave me something to do.  The theme was "Fall Flavors."  Mmmk, a little vague, but workable.  I came up with several ideas, but landed on mushrooms and fennel (brilliant combination, I must say).  And then... I ran out of time to put this together before the contest ended.  Son of a...

But whatever.  The flavor is spot on.  You could probably do this without the sausages, and substitute beans instead.  And you don't really need to put the filling in tiny little phyllo cups.  I think it would be good over rice.  Or potatoes.  Or pasta.  Or bread.  Or, well, anything, really.


1 Tbsp non-dairy butter
2 shallots, diced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and diced
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
2 veg Polish sausage links, diced (I used Tofurkey Kielbasa)
1/4 tsp poultry seasoning
Salt and pepper

2 Tbsp non-dairy butter
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1 cup non-dairy milk
Salt and pepper

1-2 packages Athen's phyllo cups, optional (I only had one package of the cups, and had lots of filling left over)

In a large saute pan, heat butter over medium heat.  Add shallots and fennel and cook for about 3 min.  Toss in the mushrooms and cook for another 5 min.  Add sausage and poultry seasoning, stirring to mix well.  Continue to cook over medium heat for 8-10 min, until veggies are soft and sausage is heated through.  Season with salt and pepper. 
In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Stir in the flour, garlic powder, and paprika until well combined.  Slowly whisk in the milk.  Increase heat to allow gravy to bubble and thicken, stirring constantly.  Decrease heat and let simmer for a minute or two.  Add salt and pepper, to taste.  Pour gravy over the veggies and stir to coat completely.  Stuff the filling into little baby phyllo cups, or eat straight out of the pan with a fork.  [I may or may not have engaged in both of these methods.]