Friday, August 6, 2010

Southern-Fried Salad

I love a fried item. It's the southern in me, and I don't consider it a curse so much as a blessing, except when I've put on a few extra pounds that require me to make a choice between fried foods and more exercise. But regardless, I love that salty greasy taste so much that I can even turn an emerald green salad into a bowlful of hearty fried loveliness. Now that takes talent!

Two of my favorite things are chicken fried tofu and fried okra. A third, unrelated yet deliciously complementary, is bleu cheese dressing. But how to incorporate all this into something that's not so heavy that it will leave me Laz-y-boy chair bound? I had a date last night with the tennis court, and my family would not be amused if I left them in a state of stupor with a heavy Southern fried meal.

Southern-Fried Salad to the rescue! Leafy greens, crisp refreshing cucumber, and a pint of sweet grape tomatoes provide the base of the palate with jewels of fried okra and cubes of chicken fried-tofu providing just enough heft to make it substantial. Everything is finished off with a nice dollop of vegan blue cheese dressing. Y'all enjoy!

1 tub extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 cups fried okra - either prepared from scratch, or frozen, prepared according to directions
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
2-3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1 head romaine lettuce, rinsed, dried and chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
Vegan Blue Cheese or Your favorite dressing (Ranch would do nicely here)


Prepare Chicken - Fried Tofu

1. Heat oil in non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu cubes and cook for what will seem like hours until they're getting nice and crispy. (Probably 15 minutes or so).
2. Douse with soy sauce (I don't measure - I just sprinkle the soy sauce on liberally - but you're welcome to.)
3. Continue pan-frying until tofu cubes are nice and brown, another 5 minutes or so.
4. Sprinkle tofu with nutritional yeast and flip cubes to coat. You can add more soy sauce here, if needed to help the nutritional yeast stick.
5. Cook another 5 minutes til done and transfer to a paper towel lined bowl.

Assemble Salad
1. In large bowl, toss romaine, cherry tomatoes and cucumber.
2. Divide among bowls and scatter about half cup of tofu and half cup of fried okra on top of salad.
3. Douse liberally with vegan bleu cheese dressing (there's a great one in Alicia Simpson's Vegan Comfort Food) or dressing of your choice.
4. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

If I Could Only Eat One Cuisine for the Rest of My Life...

Dude, this is a no-brainer. The Italians get my undying love and cheek kisses for their cuisine. If I had to give up all others, I would miss creamy coconut curries, fresh guacamole with warm salty chips, and the soul-satisfying age-tofu roll that I get at Fuji Sushi about once a week. But those things all pale away into the culinary abyss when chummied up next to Italian food.

To me, the success of Italian food depends on the freshness of its ingredients. I actually don't find it a complex cuisine. The beauty is in its simplicity; the best flavors, blended together in holy matrimony. It is the zap of fresh ingredients combined with even fresher ingredients that makes it so addictive to me. Italian is comfort food at its finest. All comfort foods are laced with some kind of secret ingredient that makes you pause in silence to reflect on the fulfilling nature of what you just ate. Italian food does just that for me.

Many of my favorite ingredients are used judiciously in Italian cooking - What's not to love about huge bunches of basil, creamy cannellinni beans, balsamic vinegar, sun-ripened tomatoes, red wine, and olives?

Let me pause at the mention of olives. I love an olive. Hey, if it was good enough for the ancients, it's good enough for me. My idea of Mecca is the olive bar at Whole Foods, where I try hard not to rack up $20 worth of olives that likely will all be eaten on the car ride home. Olive oils are like wines to me, ready to be sniffed and savored. The pale green gold makes bread seem magical, salads glisten, and makes every vegetable more true to it's beautiful little vegetable self.

Many of my favorite dishes are Italian: eggplant parmesan, lasagne, homemade pasta of any kind, fresh-baked foccaccia or baguettes, grilled pizza, pasta puttanesca, freshly made pesto, pasta fagioli soup. I love to recreate traditional favorites and put my own twist on them, like lasagne layered with creamy cashew ricotta, chicken seitan cacciatore, or tofu marsala. Last night we had homemade Italian bread, oven-fried eggplant parmesan with a wine tomato ragu and a crisp romaine salad with red wine viniagrette. Mmmmm. I've got leftover eggplant in the fridge waiting to be warmed up and stuffed into a hoagie roll with some soy mozzarella for an eggplant parm sub.

For those interested, my foolproof go-to Italian cookbook is Nonna's Italian Kitchen by Bryanna Clark Grogan. It's all vegan and almost everything I've tried is delicious.

What is your favorite cuisine? What would you choose if you were forced to eat only one region for the rest of your life? Would it be Thai, Mexican, Indian, Southern Soul, Cajun, Japanese, Vietnamese.....What would keep you satisfied?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

5 Vegan Ingredients I Can't Live Without

What are the basic ingredients I turn to again and again to create vegan dishes? I have tons of fun using all kinds of obscure and interesting ingredients, but there are a handful that would cause me a mild panic attack if they weren't present in my household. These are the ingredients that many of my recipes call for. Without them, my cooking would be sad and not so spunky at all.

1. Nutritional Yeast I have a love affair with this stuff. I could say that I love it most for its high nutritional value but that would be a lie. I truly love the taste. I can not get enough of the slightly cheesy, salty, yeasty flakes. I buy it bulk at Whole Foods, $5 to $6 at a time. Our cat Stella the Fella is obsessed with it, too. If I leave the bag out on the counter, he tears into it like catnip. My favorite ways to use nutritional yeast? Chicken-fried tofu (cubes or slices of tofu coated in nutritional yeast pan fried in olive oil, sprinkled with soy sauce), nutritional yeast gravy (to smother the chicken-fried tofu with, of course), on popcorn with smoked sea salt, in vegan mac-n-cheese; the list could go on and on.

2. Lemons I go through about a bag of lemons a week. It seems that almost every recipe I use calls for them in some form. Cashew ricotta, Smoky Lentil Soup, Garlic Pasta with Cannellini and Arugula, Lemon-blueberry muffins, lemon Italian dressing. I think lemons enhance vegan cooking so well because of the brightness they impart. Vinegar also lends a brightness, but with a much stronger more distinct taste.

3. Cashews Though I always have a container of raw cashews in my fridge, I rarely eat them whole. I usually blend them in the food processor with lemons, tofu, garlic and salt to make the most delicious vegan ricotta. There's nothing I've found that works better to replace the rich creaminess of ricotta than cashews. I use the ricotta to stuff shells, layer lasagna, make pumpkin-baked ziti, and other Italian comfort foods.

4. Soy cheese products: Cream cheese, sour cream and cheese. While many vegans don't care for dairy analogs, I heart them big time. I didn't stop eating dairy because of it's taste, I stopped eating it because I didn't want to contribute to the suffering of animals. I use Tofutti cream cheese and sour cream exclusively because other products I've tried taste super foul. Like "I'm not sure how there's even any demand for the product for them to continue making it" kind of foul. I use cream cheese on bagels, in icing, to make the best caramel macchiato "cheese" cake, in potato salad, and to make a delicious Blueberry Cheesecake Icecream. I use sour cream to make seitan stroganoff, creamy chicken stew, or just with a package of Lipton's Onion Soup mix and a bag of Ruffles (total guilty pleasure, I know). Soy cheeses I'm a little picker about. I mainly use Follow Your Heart and Sheese. I really would like to try the cheese that the vegan community is raving about - Daiya - but no luck yet at my lil Jacksonville store carrying it. My favorite? The blue cheese version done by Sheese. Mmmmmm blue cheese dressing. I have half a block of it in my fridge now that I think I'm going to stuff the jalapeno peppers with that I got from the Farmers Market this weekend.

5. Tofu I know this is probably a no-brainer, but I love tofu the way white loves rice. I buy it by the ever lovin case at Whole Foods (did you know that buying 8 boxes earns you a 10% discount?). Tofu is magic and alchemic. You want a smooth chocolate mousse or a peanut butter pie? Tofu. A rich replacement for ricotta? Tofu. Chicken fried loveliness? Tofu. Grill night? Miso glazed grilled tofu. A smoothie? Tofu. I eat so much tofu that I'm certain I'm contributing singlehandedly to soil depletion by the amount of soybean crops they must grow to meet my insatiable appetite for soy. Eating 432 pounds of tofu a week can't possibly be good for you, though, so I'm currently trying to break my crack-like addiction and eat less of it.

There they are; the five ingredients I couldn't live without. What are yours?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dog friends

Sunday night Brandy demanded that we take her to "Bark in the Park". Held twice a season, our local baseball stadium opens the grounds to dogs and their companions for a home game. At first I was a little annoyed; we sat out on the grounds waaaay past third base where you got a crick in your neck if you wanted to see anything baseball related (you know, like a player, trying to hit the ball)

Very quickly, though, I forgot I was annoyed because I was too busy meeting all my new doggie friends.

My personal favorite was the college-age couple next to us, and their dog, Keggers. Seriously, Keggers. Keggers was awesome and very chill. There was a prissy poodle named Dougherty that was very keen on Keggers. Keggers was disinterested and a little aloof. That's Brandy in the corner watching a hot dog.

There was the most beautiful Great Dane you ever saw. I want one. Every time I say I want one I feel like I'm Violet in Willy Wonka and the Chocololate Factory..."Daddy, I want one. I want a pony." Seriously though, one day we'll have a rescue Great Dane. Just not quite yet. Apparently they go through a 30 pound bag of food a week.

Here's the most chill scene at the park; an elderly basset hound with his parents. None of the trio moved very much during the game. The most action occurred during beer retrievals. The basset looked bored, as if to say "Young-uns, you are tiresome with your hoopla and shenanigans. I think this might be my last year to come to the game. It's just been overrun with hormones."

I forget the name of this wee one, but we all renamed him Cujo. Cujo had several costume changes throughout the 2 hour game. He must have a lot of laundry.

Here's Brandy the Boxer taking it all in, and then running the bases with Dakota afterwards.

This morning Brandy asked me if I was taking her to a soccer game or football next. She's ready for her next adventure.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Crack tempeh

To think that I never used to be a fan of tempeh. It just tasted oddly nutty, with a slight fermentation. Ew. Now, you can't keep me away from it. I usually have 4 or 5 packages sitting in my fridge waiting to be cooked up. My favorite things to do with the cultured bean? Slice it up and pan fry it in garlic, soy sauce and maple syrup to make tempeh bacon. Or, marinate it in apple cider, tomato paste, garlic, worcerstershire sauce and whatever else I have lying around, pan fry it and serve it up in tempeh reubens. Mmm...tempeh reubens.

These were my two favorite ways to make tempeh...until now. For lunch yesterday I made the most simple and addicting tempeh salad. Seriously, I don't know what makes it so good; it's one of those things were the whole is greater than the parts. I fondly refer to it as Crack Tempeh.

The recipe came from the Native Foods Restaurant cookbook, which as usual I tweaked to fit what was in my lil cupboard.

Crack Tempeh

1 package (8 oz) tempeh, sliced widthwise and lengthwise into 4 pieces
2-3 Tbs olive oil
2Tbs soy sauce
4 Tbs water
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup Vegenaise
Scallions, herbs or whatever your heart desires to throw in


1. Heat oil in pan over med-high. Add tempeh patties and cook a couple of minutes each side until golden and crispy, adding more oil if needed.

2. Mix the soy sauce, water and garlic in a bowl and add to the pan.

3. Lower heat and cook til the liquid has been absorbed.

4. Allow tempeh to cool slightly, and chop roughly into chunks.

5. Combine tempeh, vegenaise and whatever herbs you're using in a bowl.

That's it! I served my tempeh crack on a bed of romaine lettuce with basmati rice and the most delicious balsamic dressing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Raw foodism and Macrobiotics - How to Reconcile!

I did some research today on raw foodism and macrobiotics; two things I've been very interested in learning more about, but haven't had the time to research. I bought and read cover to cover "The Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics" and then did a bunch of research about raw foodism on the internet. It's hard to reconcile the two, and my head is swimming a little bit.

Raw foodism is based on the premise that cooking food destroys beneficial enzymes and that nutrients are supercharged when not cooked. Because of this, foods are not heated to above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprouting and dehydrating are two common forms of preparations for things that can not be consumed raw (i.e. beans) or to have variety.

A macrobiotic diet is more about balancing "yin" foods with "yang" foods and eating foods on a spectrum. Yin foods are those that are considered stimulating; overstimulating yin foods like sugar, alcohol, coffee, and chocolate are to be avoided, or at least only eaten in moderation. Yang foods are considered grounding and strengthening. Consuming too much of the edgy yang- meat, eggs, salt, are harmful and cause you to feel sludgy. At the base of a macrobiotic meal are cooked grains, steamed veggies, and pickles to help aid in digestion.

So here's the conundrum; Eat raw and worry about being too harsh on the body, or eat macrobiotic and worry about destroying all the beneficial enzymes. (For some reason I have this weird visual of the cute little enzymes baking in the sun to a burnt crisp.)

As with any diet, I think it's most important to listen to your body's intuition. For example, I've been feeling very sludgy lately, so I was craving raw foods earlier today. I made a delicious raw wrap that consisted of a sunflower seed pate with sliced avocado, chopped tomatoes and cilantro and a tahini dressing (ok, not 100% raw, but good enough for my first attempt.) I wrapped it all in an ezekial wrap (sprouted grains) and thought it was absolutely delicious!

Later on today, though, the thought of consuming more seeds about sent my stomach into a tailspin. NO, THANK YOU. So, I took a page out of the macrobiotic book and had brown rice, pan seared swiss chard, seitan and a nutritional yeast gravy. Again, not completely macrobiotic, but it was grounding, comforting and seemed the perfect mix of that elusive yin/yang balance. One of my twitter friends eats raw every day until dinner; not something I'd do every day, but definitely a good way of looking at it...

It will be interesting to see my journey into these new philosophies. To me, food philosophy has always been a life philosophy; how I eat is indicative of how I move through the world. I'm excited to take what I'll learn from both raw foodism and macrobiotics, put my own spin on it, and continue to move through the world consciously.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Staycation Bucket List

Two weeks of staycation is a glorious thing. No plans, no schedule to keep to, no alarm clock, no owing people all kinds of work and being stressed out about it. I could do everything or nothing, and that suits me just fine. Being an INFP Meyers Briggs type of gal, I truly like to dwell in possibilities; not nailing anything down til the last minute.

We did have tentative plans to go to either Key West - visiting Sublime Restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale along the way, or to North Carolina for hiking, tubing and mountain biking fun, but it seems that the hurricane season would have other plans, as both KW and NC are going to be affected.

Ah, well, then, I will stay home and putter. What's on the list to do? Here's my staycation bucket list:

1. Cook as many recipes from The Tropical Vegan Kitchen cookbook as I possibly can. It's Florida, it's August and it's flippin hot. Mangos, avocados, coconut anyone?

2. Go through the house and purge; I used to pride myself on being a minimalist. I slept on an air mattress on the floor for many years and moved around so many times; each time selling what couldn't be packed in the car. Now, I've stayed put in Jacksonville for so many years, I've accumulated enough stuff for umm....probably 4, yes 4, households. Too. Much. Stuff!

3. Shop for organic produce, making sure to include intimidating painful looking veggies like celeriac and sunchoke. What the hell do you do with sunchoke, anyway?

4. Read all my favorite cookbooks again, including Cookin Southern Vegetarian Style, Nonna's Italian Cookbook, and new friends, Tropical Vegan Kitchen, Vegan Brunch, and the Native Foods Cookbook. Actually, who am I kidding? My kitchen bookshelf will probably be empty due to all the cookbooks being next to my bed, stacked up precariously.

5. Do things to make the house cheery, like how I just hung up sweetly adorable kitchen curtains. With three teenagers living here, this house can use all the cheer it can get. Whose idea was it to have kids, anyway?

6. Drink wine in the afternoon, preferably chardonnay, most definitely buttery. Or perhaps, a nice bloody mary in the morning?

7. Pick up the crochet hook and start to knit a cheery (there's that word again) shawl, to beckon Fall. There's a great one from The Happy Hooker that I've been wanting to make; it's lovely and pink.

8. Take walks, ride the bike on the river walk, go swim in the ocean.

9. Consider the future.

10. Visit a Greek Orthodox, Episcopal or Catholic church. It's been a long time, and I love the smell of insense. It's so serene.

11. Take long breaks from the computer, or anything technological. I get so out of balance, so fast.

What else? What would you do with 2 weeks off and no plans??