Asian Broccoli Slaw, Marinated Tofu, and Salad Dressing….and bats!

Last night’s dinner was rather generically Asian-themed. I had a random bag of broccoli slaw I needed to use up and the best-sounding recipe I found when googling was something very similar to what I present below, so from there I decided to take the whole meal in an Asian direction. I prepped everything in advance, and when mixing up the slaw dressing, tofu marinade, and green salad dressing, since they were all so similar, I didn’t even bother washing the mixing bowl between each of them, keeping prep quick and easy. Here are all three things I made:

Asian Broccoli Slaw

1 12 oz package broccoli slaw (or grate your own broccoli; cabbage would be good too)
3 Tbsp sesame oil (not toasted)
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 Tbsp grated ginger
2 tsp minced or pressed garlic
2 tsp brown sugar

In a small bowl, whisk together everything but the slaw. In a larger bowl, toss the dressing with the slaw and refrigerate for at least an hour for flavors to blend.

Asian Marinated Tofu

1 lb extra firm tofu
1 cup vegan broth
1/4 low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp minced or pressed garlic
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Whisk together everything but the tofu and set aside. Slice the tofu into 1/2″ slabs and arrange in a 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ baking pan. Pour the marinade over the tofu and let marinate for at least half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. When ready to bake the tofu, pour off some of the marinade so that the tofu is about half-submerged. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden.

I served this over some mung bean noodles, which I soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes (don’t keep it on the heat, just boil and set aside), then tossed with leftover tofu marinade. I also lightly stir-fried some julienned orange bell pepper in some sesame + toasted sesame oil, then tossed with toasted sesame seeds and served both the peppers and the tofu over the noodles.

Asian-flavored Salad Dressing

4 Tbsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp minced or pressed garlic
1 tsp peanut butter
1 tsp brown sugar

Whisk or shake together all ingredients. Serve over a green salad.

Not that you can really see the dressing, but here’s the salad:

And here are all three components together:

In wildlife news, I have to take at least six hours of continuing education hours to renew my rehabbers permit every year. Last year I was so busy and there were so few classes held nearby at times I could go that I was cramming in readings at the last minute. This year I’ve scored all six hours within nine days of the permit year beginning. This I did by attending an all-day bat workshop yesterday. I was very excited about this because I’ve always had a particular love for bats and I intend to accept bats one day when I’m rehabbing out of my own home. It was a great, very informative class, although also kind of depressing because some of the species in our area (the Mid-Atlantic) are federally endangered, and many more are state-listed as threatened or endangered. Even the most optimistic bat enthusiasts are very worried that the species suffering from White Nose Syndrome will be extinct in just a few years. This is very bad. Although so far the fungus affects only those bats that hibernate, migratory bats are being killed by wind turbines, so there’s unprecedented death rates for all kinds of bats. Bats eat their weight in insects every night. You don’t want to live in a world without bats. I can even relate the wildlife portion of this post to food for once, because one of the consequences of extinct bats is going to be crop failures, greatly increased food prices, and/or higher instances of pesticide use.

I was able to take some pictures of the live bats. (Because I’m rabies vaccinated, I was also able to handle the live (and dead) bats, which even more exciting!) Unfortunately I think I’m going to have to retire the crappy “all-purpose” lens I tend to leave on my camera as a default because the pictures S.U.C.K. and I’m super disappointed by them. True, the lighting in the room was dim and terrible (though probably a lot more bat-friendly than camera-friendly), but I still think I could have gotten decent pictures with a better lens, including some I left at home. Live and learn, I guess. So I apologize for the horrible, horrible, horrible pictures, which don’t do any justice to these awesome little creatures, but bats are too cool for me not to share and I feel compelled to raise awareness of White Nose Syndrome. As of right now, it’s confined to the eastern and more northern parts of Northern America, but it WILL soon migrate to the south and west, and it’s devastating.

This is a Tricolor Bat, squawking because she’s dropped her mealworm. To reward them for good behavior while they were out being handled by those of us with rabies shots and admired by everyone else, these education bats were fed treats of mealworms. You can see this bat’s mealworm in front of her. (Education animals are non-releasable animals that rehabbers and wildlife organizations have received special permission to keep (as opposed to euthanizing) as teaching tools.)

This is a Big Brown Bat. Big Browns are a migratory species not affected by White Nose, unlike the similar-looking but smaller cave-dwelling Little Brown Bat. One kind of good thing is new Big Brown colonies have been found in areas where Little Brown colonies have been wiped out by White Nose, so nature is replacing one species for another. Note that despite the name – and he is in fact bigger than a Little Brown Bat – like all North American bats, he’s really quite small. I was actually surprised by how tiny all of our bats are. They’re not at all like the beautiful, wonderful flying foxes I saw in Australia.

Side view of a Big Brown:

Silver-haired Bat. I think he looks like a teeny-tiny, legless bull.

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Korean-style Tofu in a Spicy Fermented Paste, with Banchan

I see that the last time I posted was on December 5th, and it is now January 5th. Wow. That was an unintentional break that I didn’t even really realize I was taking. It wasn’t from lack of time (though I have none) or lack of cooking, but I guess I’ve just been getting back to basics lately and haven’t made anything I felt compelled to share because I’ve already done a post on it or it’s boring. Or things have been too experimental and I haven’t replicated them for quality assurance. Anyway, I’m back today, so yay!

I’ve been treadmilling lately. I’ve noticed a trend amongst my friends and peers – and even husband – in running. Friends who always claimed to hate running are now training for marathons. I think everyone I know is training for a marathon. Not me, man, I’m sticking to the hatred of running I’ve nurtured since grade school. When I was in 10th grade, our JV field hockey team was in danger of being disbanded due to lack of interest. A friend of mine was on the team and devastated by this and somehow cajoled me into auditioning. (I think perhaps “audition” is not the right verb for applying to participate in a sport, but I’m not up on such sporty lingo.) Despite their desperation for players, the coach wasn’t allowed to waive the base requirements for making the team, one of which was the ability to run a mile in 8 minutes. So basically I had to run a mile in 8 minutes or the team wouldn’t exist and my friend would cry and it’d be all my fault. I think my prior best time for mile “running” was in the 13-minute range. But I bucked up and ran that mile, clocking in at 7:58. The team was saved! Yes, I actually played an entire season of junior varsity field hockey, and because we had the bare minimum of players for a team, I played full-time in every game of the season. We even won a game, too! I must confess that I have absolutely no idea what the rules of field hockey are or what my “position” may have been. A couple of years ago, however, I realized it was very likely the powers that be strategically paused that stopwatch for a minute or five….

That was the pinnacle of my athletic career and quite possibly the last time I ever ran a distance further than a block. I just detest it. Walking I’m cool with – I can walk all day, but running makes me completely miserable. Unfortunately, I think the effects of my indifference to exercise are starting to show, especially since I stopped going to the gym to swim because the gym pissed me off. Plus Mark had been complaining that the company he works for now doesn’t provide a free, onsite gym like his previous employer. So last September I cashed in the ton of rewards points I’d collected on my credit card and bought a really nice treadmill with the cash. Since then I’ve been trying to fit treadmilling into my daily routine. I’ve been using treadmill as a verb because although I don’t run, I DO walk at a jogging pace and I also set the incline up as high as it will go, so I feel like I’m doing something more than just walking, in fact, I’m almost climbing half the time.

Anyway, I’ve been fitting a lot of my dinner preparations around my treadmilling. I’ll often pop home from work and begin prepping dinner, sometimes putting something in the oven to bake or roast, or rice in the cooker to steam, or tofu in a pan to marinate, or whatever, then I’ll go treadmill, then return to the kitchen to finish cooking. Last night’s meal fit this paradigm perfectly because it came together super quickly after my workout, which is good because by then I’m starving.

Banchan are the small side dishes that are served with Korean meals. Kimchi takes a few days to make, but many of the pickles and salads that make up banchan require little to no resting or fermenting time. They are therefore perfect for tossing together an hour or so before you plan to eat. Last night I made a bean sprout salad and a spicy cucumber salad, in addition to miso soup.

For the miso soup, to make the dashi, or stock, I’ll bring some water to a boil in my electric kettle, then pour it into a small, heavy pot over a piece of kombu, then I’ll put the lid on the pot and let it sit for a while. You can use the dashi after as little as 10 minutes, but it works perfectly if you plan some other task, like working out, before eating the soup.

Miso Soup
3 cups water, boiling for a faster dashi or room temperature if you have an hour or more
1 piece (about 4″) kombu
splashes of rice vinegar, mirin, and/or sake (optional)
3-4 Tbsp miso (your favorite kind; I usually use brown/yellow)
extras: my favorites are traditional – wakame, tofu cubes, sliced scallion

Put the water and kombu in a small pot and let sit for as long as you have (an hour in cold water is sufficient; 10 minutes or so is fine in boiling water). Remove the kombu. Bring the resulting dashi to a near-simmer, adding the optional splashes of rice vinegar, mirin, and/or sake. I just use these for additional flavor since I don’t use bonito, which is fish, in my dashi. Remove a few tablespoons of dashi from the pot and put it in a small bowl. Add the miso to it and stir until smooth, then add to the pot. (It’s easier to blend the miso in this way than trying to stir into a larger quantity of liquid.) Once the miso is in the pot, don’t let the soup come to a boil. Add any extra proteins or veggies you want and let them heat gently. Miso soup is a great starter to just about any meal and also a good, light breakfast.

Korean Bean Sprout Salad
3 cups bean sprouts
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar or 1 drop stevia
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1/8 tsp Korean red pepper powder
1 scallion, sliced thinly

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and lightly salt it. Add the bean sprouts. Cook for two minutes then drain and run under cold water until sprouts are completely cool. Whisk together the remaining ingredients, adjusting them to your tastes (the quantities above are approximate). Toss the sprouts with the liquid. Let flavors meld in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving.

Spicy Korean Cucumber Salad
1 cucumber, thinly sliced (mandolin preferable)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp sugar or 2 drops stevia
1/2 tsp salt
Korean red pepper powder to taste (I used maybe 1/4 or 1/2 tsp…it’s not quite as hot as “regular” red pepper flakes and not nearly as hot as cayenne)
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Mix together everything but the cucumbers, then toss with the sliced cucumbers. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to allow flavors to meld and cucumbers to relax.

Korean-Style Tofu in a Spicy Fermented Paste

1 lb tofu, cut into cubes
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets and steamed lightly
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/3 cup spicy “mixed” fermented soybean paste (see photo below) OR 3 Tbsp doenjang (fermented soybean paste) + 3 Tbsp gochujang (fermented chili and soybean paste)
1 tsp sugar or 2 drops stevia
rice, for serving (I used sushi rice)

Not a great picture – I’m experience photo editing software issues over here and couldn’t clean it up – but this is the paste I bought at Super H; it’s essentially a combination of doenjang and gochujang, which are standard fermented pastes used in Korean foods. I bought it without really knowing what it was at the time just because it seemed like something that would lend itself to quick meals, although I already had both doenjang and gochujang at home.

Prepare the tofu by chopping it and the broccoli by cutting into florets and steaming for 2 minutes or so. Put the minced or pressed garlic in a small bowl and add the rice vinegar. Let it sit for a minute or two to mellow, then mix in the paste or pastes and sugar or stevia. If necessary, thin with some water (or broccoli steaming water). Heat a wok and add some oil, then stir fry the onions, then add the tofu. Cook until lightly browned.

Add the paste mixture.

Add the broccoli. Let it all cook for a minute or two, until the broccoli is heated and the paste has cooked slightly to take the raw edge off the garlic. Top with toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallion.

To prep this ahead, I got the rice going in the rice cooker, steamed the broccoli, chopped the tofu, and mixed the paste. It took 5 minutes, tops, to have it ready once I was finished exercising.

Here it is served with the banchan.

Between prepping dinner and exercising, I did a load of laundry. When I took it to the drying rack to hang it up, I got some help. I don’t think this looks very comfortable, but here is Gomez “assisting”.

So my work with the mangy fox in my yard has not gone well, I’m sorry to report, though I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money and time on him. As you may recall, I got some medicine for him and started putting chicken out for him, trying to establish a feeding pattern so I could dose some of the chicken with reasonable expectations that he would be the one to consume it. This has proved much more difficult than I’d hoped. This fox is VERY unpredictable, showing up sporadically at all times of day and night. He did eat the chicken once or twice, then his behavior became even more sporadic. Raccoons ate the chicken most nights, and crows ate it every day. Then I didn’t see him for three whole weeks and finally gave up hope. I assumed he’d died or moved on and I was trying to come to terms with my failure when the VERY FIRST day I didn’t put chicken out for him, he reappeared that afternoon. Then at 5 a.m. Then not at all. UGH! I’m still going to see what I can do for him, but realistically I’m going to have to adjust my hopes of saving him. It’s SO frustrating to see him right outside my window when I have not one but TWO different ways of curing him (in addition to the ivermectin we use in the States, the awesome people at the National Fox Welfare Society in the UK sent me some homeopathic medicine), in the house for him if only he’d COOPERATE. I was relieved to see he’s not looking much worse but he’s not looking better and it’s getting really cold now, which is bad when you are missing a lot of your fur.

That depressing update aside, I do have some entertaining videos from the outdoor cam that I set up to track the fox. I switched to video mode because I couldn’t always tell what was going on in the still photos.

This is just the other night, when the sick fox made his reappearance. He looks strange to me, in addition to the mange, but it’s hard to diagnose that strangeness because of the infrared flash and resulting b&w video.

Compare him to one of my healthy foxes:

I have dozens to hundreds of videos to comb through every day, 75% of which are raccoons and the rest foxes and smaller animals, so that I’m shocked every time I find an animal taking up the entire frame (even though the camera I’m using is actually intended for hunters to track their prey, which I assume is mostly deer)! I at least have a small victory in this doe. In this video you can see her holding her rear hoof up. In other videos, she refused to walk on it. But in a video I captured two nights ago, she’s putting her full weight on it! I had nothing to do with it other than providing her a source of easy food while she recovered, but I’m glad SOMEONE has healed during this trying time for me.

I have a bunch of other videos but I think I’ll save them for future posts, so I’ll close with raccoon party:

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Asian Mustard Greens with Tofu

Every year in October (although once I think it was November), vegans around the world unite and participate in a blogging event called Vegan Mofo, in which they strive to blog nearly every day of the month, and every year I think yeah, I should do that, but then every year I think HAHAHAHA HOW COULD I EVER DO THAT? I’m busy all the time, but it seems like October is THE busiest time of the year for me, even with the wildlife stuff winding down a bit. I also tend to travel a lot in October. Of course, I’m just a big whiner because lots of bloggers are just as busy as I am and a lot of them travel more than I do and yet they still manage to post every day for Mofo. I just feel as if I would get stressed out about it so I’ve never made the commitment, much as I admire everyone else who does it and enjoy reading all the blogs.

Anyway, that’s a long way of saying I’m not doing Mofo because I’m a big whiner. Ironically I’m suddenly brimming with blog post ideas over here and I have a bunch of meals planned this week and next that are new and possibly blog-worthy, so maybe I could have pulled it off after all. I honestly think I could have done a Month of Vinegar theme, I have so many post ideas involving vinegar alone. Wouldn’t that have been awesome? I’m kind of regretting not signing up and at least doing a food diary. Y’all care what we eat daily chez Renae, right? Fortunately, as wildlife duties have been slowing down, our daily meals have been getting more interesting. I don’t know how interesting tonight’s really is, but it features mixed Asian mustard greens that I got at the farmers market and I get really excited about things like bundles of mixed Asian mustard greens so here I am, sharing my glee with you. I’m pretty sure I’m going to cry myself to sleep when the farmers market ends at the end of this month.

Asian Mustard Greens with Tofu

1 bundle mixed Asian mustard greens, stems removed if necessary, and chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 lb extra firm tofu, chopped
3 cups soybean sprouts
1-4 chili peppers, sliced (depending on the type and how much heat you like)
2 green onions, sliced, white and green parts separated
1 small hunk of ginger, grated
4-5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup vegan broth
1/4 cup fermented black bean paste
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
2 drops stevia (or 1 tsp sugar)
2 Tbsp cornstarch whisked into 3 Tbsp cold water

First stir together the broth, black bean paste, soy sauce, wine, and stevia in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. Set aside. Also set aside the cornstarch and water mixture.

Put some oil in a wok and add the white parts of the green onion, ginger, garlic, and chili peppers. I do this cold – although in general you heat the pan and then the oil before adding anything else – to prevent the garlic and ginger from scorching. Turn the heat to medium high and start stirring when it begins sizzling.

Add the onions and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.

Add the tofu and cook, stirring for another couple of minutes.

Add the greens. Look how pretty they are! Stir and let them cook down a bit.

When the greens have wilted, add the sprouts and stir until they wilt as well.

Pour in the broth mixture and bring it to a boil.

Then stir in the cornstarch mixture, allowing it to thicken the broth and coat the tofu and vegetables. It will become shiny.

Serve with rice and garnish with the green parts of the green onions. Mine wasn’t very spicy so I heaped some chili garlic paste on the side as well.

As you’ve probably noticed, I tend to add a personal photograph or twelve to the ends of my posts. However, I don’t have much to share with you this week. I didn’t even take any pictures of raccoons this week (too busy trying to convince them I could clean their cages much faster without two of them on my head). So I could search for some earlier photo you haven’t seen – I only have a gazillion of them – but no, I’m too lazy to do that. Last night I was testing the remote control for my camera to see from what angles and distances I could get it to work and thus the following photos got imported from the camera along with tonight’s pictures of greens and tofu, so THAT’s what you get to look at. Pictures I took to test stuff and intended to trash. Wow, I’m really hurting for content.

I don’t think when I tripped the shutter on this one that I realized I was taking a picture of Mezzaluna, but you may recall several posts back when I mentioned that we play a game with him in which we place pipe cleaners in hard-to-reach areas that he has to hunt down and retrieve. If you can see it (it’s on the shade right above his head), this one looks easy but it’s tied on securely and is the more challenging than it looks. He kind of needs opposable thumbs for that one, but I’ve seen him get even harder ones by being clever, so he’ll get it.

DERRR does the remote work when I’m directly in front of and 6″ away from the camera? AM I A HUGE DORK?

Hm, okay, next time I’ll find some real pictures, or just give you a break from my mediocre-to-bad photography.

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Orange-marinated Tofu

During dinner last night I commented, “this is a stereotypically healthy meal.” It was also a stereotypically vegan meal: brown rice, tofu, kale, and corn on the cob. While it sounds kind of boring, and it’s true that it wasn’t the most amazing meal ever, it was very flavorful and I felt good about eating it, so here you go:

Orange-Marinated Tofu
Lightly adapted from http://www.food.com/recipe/spicy-orange-tofu-136875
By “adapted” I mean I looked at this recipe briefly, went into the kitchen, and proceeded to pour mysterious amounts of what I thought I remembered were the ingredients together without measuring. So my measurements are guesses. I did eliminate most of the oil, however.

1 pound extra-firm tofu, sliced into 1/2″ slabs
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
squirt of agave nectar
6-8 dried red chilis, lightly crushed between fingers

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all the ingredients except the tofu together in a large shallow dish, then submerge the slabs of tofu. Let marinate for at least half an hour. When ready to bake, pour off most of the marinade, then bake for about half an hour.

My tofu was an herbed variety from Twin Oaks, which explains the specks.

For the kale, which was market-fresh, I just sauteed a bunch of (super delicious farmers market) garlic in some avocado oil, added the kale and stirred to coat it, then poured in a few tablespoons of vegan broth, then reduced the heat, covered, and cooked until limp.

My weekend has been raccoon-intensive, as I worked at the sanctuary both days due to volunteer shortages, and we have 43 – about to be 45, as two more were set to arrive after I left – raccoons. I literally had to clean several of the cages with a raccoon – sometimes two – on my head, which makes it very difficult. Some of them were so rambunctious, it’s worn me out! Here are four trouble-makers:

They are so anxious to “help”. Here an assistant fills his “pond” with fresh water for me:

Raccoons love, love, love water.

Actually, raccoons love just about anything they can get their little hands on. We provide a wide variety of toys and objects for them to play with. Wind chimes are fun for them to grab (and destroy), and pleasant to listen to.

I made the mistake of putting a paper towel down and completely forgetting about it. When I returned to the cage later to fill the pond, I found these two fighting over something it took me a moment to recognize: the shredded, soggy remains of my paper towel. Sometimes cleaning their cages is like taking one step forward, two steps backwards. No wonder I’m exhausted.

Raccoons are certainly not the only wildlife I see at the sanctuary. Currently the big show are the deer, including these twin fawns:

This morning in the drizzle, I encountered this doe …

… and this young buck.

And now, I must go get ready for the play Mark and I are going to see in celebration of the 11th anniversary of our first date!

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Stir Fry with Tofu and Vitamin Greens

I love finding new vegetables. Yesterday’s trip to the farmer’s market yielded something called vitamin greens. The sign said they were a “mild member of the mustard family”. I wasn’t sure what to do with them but figured I couldn’t go wrong with an easy stir-fry. And I obviously didn’t go wrong because Mark claims to hate all cooked greens, but he had two servings and ate up all the greens in each of them. I still have half a bunch, so if anyone has any suggestions for other things to do with vitamin greens, let me know! And obviously you can substitute just about any other green in this recipe.

Stir-Fry with Tofu and Vitamin Greens

3 Tbsp dried fermented black beans
1/4 cup shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine) (can sub sherry)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 carrot, sliced
chili garlic sauce, to taste
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1 lb tofu, chopped
1/2 bunch vitamin greens (or other greens)
3/4 cup vegetable broth
2 Tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp cold water
1-2 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal

Whisk together the vegetable broth, oyster sauce, and soy sauce in small bowl; set aside. Whisk together the cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl or cup; set aside. Put the fermented black beans in a small cup or bowl and add the shaoxing wine to soften them; set aside.

Chop the tofu.

Prepare all the vegetables by peeling (if necessary) and chopping.

These are the vitamin greens in all their glory:

Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add some oil. When it’s hot, add the onions and garlic and stir-fry for a minute or two.

Add the carrots and chili garlic sauce and stir-fry for another minute or two.

Add the bell pepper and again stir-fry a minute or two.

Next up the tofu:

Finally, the greens:

Stir-fry until the greens have cooked down.

Add the fermented black beans and cook for a minute or so, then add the broth mixture. Bring to a boil, then stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened. Top with the sliced scallions.

Serve with brown rice.

What do vitamin greens taste like? Well, I didn’t get a pure taste of it considering I hid it in a spicy stir-fry (maybe I should just cook the remainder up by themselves), but it wasn’t at all sharp or mustardy as I thought it might be as a member of the mustard family. It was definitely “mild” as stated on the sign. Really good, though. I’d say it was a bit spinach-like in flavor. They cook similar to chard. It might be a good green for trying on greens-haters, as it’s not overpowering. Mark’s getting a lot better about eating greens, but I was still worried he’d pick all the vitamin greens out of his stir-fry, however, he actually seemed to enjoy them. So vitamin greens are a huge winner in my book and I’ll be keeping an eye out for them. They tasted great and I liked the texture they had in the stir-fry. They are also apparently good in salads, which I may try tomorrow as well.

I dropped my camera this morning, heading out to the wildlife sanctuary. It only fell about a foot and it landed on carpeting, but a trip to the camera store later when I realized it was broken resulted in me finding out the lens was completely gone and the body would cost almost as much to repair as its current market value. Even though it was an entry-level dSLR, I loved it and hadn’t felt the need to upgrade, so I was kind of upset about this. It was a good camera. So, feeling sad, I went home and asked Mark if he’d bought me a birthday present yet (my birthday is this week), and when he said no sort of asked/informed him he was buying me a new camera for my birthday. So I very unexpectedly got a new camera today. What this means for you is probably an onslaught of posts, or at least a lot of pictures of my cats. Here, for example, is Torticia playing with a wax bean, which she removed from the refrigerator when I was in there getting stir-fry ingredients.

In retrospect, I should have just taken a video, which apparently I can do with my new camera. Woo!

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Poached Tofu Cutlets

Holy cats, have I been busy! I don’t know why, but October is always an insanely busy month for me. I guess part of it is both our birthdays, and our anniversary, and Halloween, and I always end up travelling – sometimes multiple times – in October. I’ve also been working a lot lately. All that that is why I haven’t been posting much.

We went to Charleston, SC a couple of weeks ago to visit Mark’s family. We left mid-week and right before we left, I did a quick sweep of the refrigerator for perishables and realized I hadn’t used the tofu I’d made that weekend, so I quickly threw it in a container and popped it in the freezer. I’m not a huge fan of frozen tofu; the texture doesn’t win me over as it does some, and it is so sponge-like it always seems to absorb so much salt it tastes too salty. Nonetheless I wasn’t about to waste homemade tofu, so in the freezer it went.

I was looking for a way to use it and came across this post on the wonderful Just Bento. This idea is totally ripped off of Maki, but for my broth I just started pouring things into my Dutch oven, trying but not really to keep the sodium down.

Poached Tofu Cutlets

1 block frozen tofu, thawed
3 cups vegan broth (I used “chicken”-flavoured)
1/4 cup red wine
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

cornstarch

Slice the tofu into four slabs like this:

Whisk together the remaining ingredients except the cornstarch in a Dutch oven or wide saucepan then add the cutlets. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently for 20 minutes or longer. I think I left mine for 45 minutes or so.

Remove the cutlets from the broth …

(In the wild, poached tofu is the same color as bamboo chopping blocks in order to elude knife-wielding cooks.)

… and coat with cornstarch.

Pan-fry on both sides in olive oil, or do as I did and grill on an electric grill (I brushed the grill with oil first):

Meanwhile you can thicken the (strained) leftover broth with some cornstarch (add the cornstarch to a small amount of cold water then whisk it in and heat until thickened) to make a gravy, though that’s optional.

Look at these baby sweet potatoes I got. LOOK AT THEM!

I love baby vegetables almost as much as I love baby animals. They’re tiny and sweet…just like Torticia! (By the way, upon hearing what they were, Mark informed me he hated sweet potatoes, but he tried them anyway and liked them! I know because he actually ate them! Baby vegetables are awesome!)

Plated meal:

Wow – this was the best meal I’ve made using frozen tofu, and though I’d be hard pressed (haha, like my tofu) to call the broth low-sodium, it wasn’t too salty. The texture was good too: chewy, but not overly sponge-like. Very flavourful. I think I still prefer my tofu fresh but it’s great to know I can make something really good with it even if I end up having to freeze it. And actually, frozen homemade tofu is probably better than non-frozen store-bought tofu.

In other news, I had pre-ordered then forgotten about Harold McGee’s new book Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes and was therefore pleasantly surprised to find it on my doorstep this evening. It’s almost as big as the mega-wonderful On Food and Cooking, though not nearly as dense, and looks like it contains a bazillion helpful hints. I’m almost (but not quite) sorry it arrived today, because I’m feeling a little overwhelmed between work, social obligations, and the seven or eight “spooky” books I just bought for Halloween, which were added to my queue of..oh geez, 37 books. (In other news, I’ve read exactly 100 books so far this year!)

And …

Gomez, light of my life, fur of my clothes. My kitten, my cat. Go-mez-ian: the tip of your tail twitching to and fro across my toes. Go. Mez. Ian.

He is Mez, plain Mez, in the morning, standing on my chest. He is Mezzie when he plays. He is Mezzaluna in the kitchen. He is Gomez on the vet bills. But in my arms he is always Gomezian.

…and for Halloween he is Dracula!

Which is extra awesome because growing up I had a cat named Dracula, who prior to Tigger, Brachtune, Gomez, and Torticia, was the greatest cat who ever lived, and though he now has to share the title, still has a very special place in my heart. (And my skin; I have a tattoo of him.)

(My mom made Dracula’s Halloween costume just like she made all of mine!)

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Not Leaving Tonight After All BBQ Tofu Dinner

Mark and I are headed to Charleston for five days. We’d originally planned, overly optimistically, to leave tonight but now plan to leave at the outrageous hour of 6 a.m. (We’re not ordinarily morning people.) (This post brought to you by the letter “O”.) I’d left myself with no real fresh food since I didn’t think we’d be eating here tonight, so I had to throw something together from pantry items and the dregs of the refrigerator.

I did have a package of tofu, fortunately, so that served as the basis around which I worked the meal. I sliced it up and whisked up a marinade consisting of soy sauce, “chicken”-flavored broth, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, and onion and garlic powder. Then I marinated the tofu until Mark got home, about an hour and a half. Then I baked it in the toaster oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile, I put a cup of millet in a small, heavy pot and poured some of the marinade in (I hate wasting marinade), then topped it off with water, brought to a boil, and cooked until done. In the end, I probably used half marinade/half water.

I’d made Unribs earlier in the week, and I’d made extra barbecue sauce because Mark likes to use it as a dipping sauce throughout the week, so fortunately I also already had some barbecue sauce for the tofu. I slathered some generously over the tofu and returned it to the toaster oven for another 15 minutes or so.

I had some frozen vegetables in the freezer for just a night like tonight. They got sauteed in my cast iron skillet. I’d rather have fresh, but it was good to have them on hand for a case like this.

This was really good for a plans-changed-at-the-last-minute meal, although someone didn’t eat his millet. (When informed millet is an ancient grain that was very good for him, he told me he only eats “new food”, so I told him to throw away his tofu and vegetables. Apparently they don’t count.)

In other news, today is my father’s birthday so in lieu of cat pictures, please enjoy some pictures of my father at my wedding:

That’s sort of a weird picture of him (and pictures of me are always weird), so here he is smiling nicely instead of smirking:

And here I am with my father being a totally normal bride, with my best pig (wearing his own tuxedo):

Happy Birthday, Dad!

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Grilled Marinated Tofu with Gravy

I know I have been remiss in posting of late; I guess I haven’t been very inspired in the kitchen these last few weeks. Frankly, I’m making tonight’s post more out of obligation to post at least once a week than because it’s anything special. In fact, although it’s an easy, quick, and tasty meal, grilling tofu seems a little stereotypically vegan in a way I generally try to avoid on this blog (I’m trying to prove we don’t just eat tofu). Moreover, this is far from original. Nonetheless, Mark WAS scraping his plate clean after this meal (I offered to just go ladle him a bowl of the gravy for dessert), so it’s husband-approved and it was a good weeknight meal.

Grilled Marinated Tofu with Gravy

1/2 -1 pound tofu (I only had about 8 ounces of tofu, which may be fine for two normal people, but wasn’t really enough for one normal person and a Smark)
1 cup vegan broth (any flavor)
1/4 cup white wine
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp thyme
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

for the gravy
all of marinade above
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp flour

In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients (everything above except the tofu and gravy ingredients).

Slice the tofu into 1/4″ slabs.

Put the tofu in the marinade and marinate for 1/2 hour or longer (up to 24 hours in the refrigerator).

Remove the tofu, reserving the marinade.

I grilled the tofu on my George Foreman grill. You could also do it on a stovetop grillpan, or pan fry it, or bake it.

Meanwhile, to make the gravy, in a small saucepan, stir together the olive oil and flour to make a roux.

Slowly whisk in the marinade (you can optionally strain it first as I have done here).

Continue to whisk until gravy is hot and thickened.

Grill, fry, or bake the tofu until lightly golden.

I served my tofu with roasted asparagus: doused with a vinaigrette of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, pressed garlic, salt, and pepper then roasted at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Also served with a mixed grain side from Trader Joe’s that was heavy on the Israeli couscous.

Although Mark enjoyed this meal, I didn’t get any photographic evidence of it, so you’re just going to have to trust me on this. But here he is during our recent visit to the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History (by the way, it’s not recommended you try to visit the Smithsonian during the Cherry Blossom Festival – it was incredibly crowded, even on Easter).

And finally, guess what I saw on a Metrobus during my commute yesterday …

I thought that was pretty cool.

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Random Product Reviews

A few weeks ago, I visited my favorite store, Super H and picked up a couple of interesting products, which I have taken the time to review for your edification. I’ve noticed that a lot of food bloggers seem to receive free products that they in turn review on their blogs. I’ve never received any free products. So I have to resort to buying bizarre items in the grocery store and reviewing them. Life is tough, my friends.

First up is my personal favorite:

Meatless Spaghetti Sauce with Pickled Cucumber! Because WHY NOT?

This was a tiny can and I feared there would not be enough for two so I chose to try this product on an evening when Mark was not dining with me. Because what if it was so awesome I didn’t want to share?!?

First impression upon opening the adorable little can? Well, that it resembled cat food, to be honest.

I didn’t let that deter me, however, because Brachtune really likes cat food and she seems pretty discerning, so I figure maybe she’s on to something.

To prepare this exotic dish, I removed the contents of the tin to a microwaveable bowl and heated it for a few minutes.

I then spooned it over some prepared pasta.

My thoughts? Well, that it was pretty disgusting, actually. It was greasy and weird and oddly sweet, and after considering Brachtune’s culinary opinion a little further I remembered that she considers plastic bags and her own butt to be great delicacies, so I decided that an uncanny resemblance to cat food wasn’t necessarily an indicator of good grub after all. However, I did consider the possibility that Meatless Spaghetti Sauce with Pickled Cucumber is a great idea, just one that does not translate well to canned versions. So I whipped up my own version of the same using chopped homemade seitan, cucumber relish, and chili paste …

… which I also served over pasta.

This, with its significantly lower amounts of oil and sugar – yes, sugar! – was an improvement on the canned stuff, but I still found it in my best interests to defrost a frozen pesto cube and toss it with the remainder of the pasta for the rest of my meal.

Next up, Soy Pudding. Great for dessert!

We don’t usually eat dessert unless we have company, but I was feeling a bit peckish after dinner tonight and, recalling that the Soy Pudding I bought at Super H was about to expire, I figured there was no time like the present to try it out. My original plan was to throw away the syrup it came with because it contained high fructose corn syrup and make my own ginger-flavored topping, but at the last minute I decided that would be cheating. The syrup comes in a little packet taped to the pudding tub, which is pretty classy.

I didn’t expect this one to be too bad, quite frankly. It’s really just soft tofu – how bad can it be? And I like ginger, so despite the fact it’s made with high fructose corn syrup, how bad could that be?

Mark’s a lot more squeamish than I am, however, and I’m going to tell you right now he went into this venture with a bad attitude.

I can’t help but think that if he’d cleared his mind of any prejudices against tofu for dessert this would have gone over better with him.

He valiantly tried a bite in an attempt to be supportive of my efforts to bring you unbiased product reviews.

But I’m afraid he ultimately issued an unfavorable review of Soy Pudding.

As for me, I found it much more palatable than the spaghetti sauce, but also to taste very much like tofu drizzled with ginger-scented high fructose corn syrup. I think I’ll stick to chocolate.

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Bun Rieu, or Vietnamese “Crab” Noodle Soup, and vegan “shrimp” paste

The other day I was making the unprecedented move of checking the comments automatically marked as spam on this here ole blog, and I came across a single one that I wasn’t entirely sure was really spam. Someone identifying himself as “San Antonio personal injury lawyer” had left a comment on my Spicy Vermicelli Soup post saying my soup sounded a lot like the Vietnamese dish Bun Rieu. I looked up Bun Rieu to see if it really did sound similar to my recipe, figuring if it did, the comment was legit enough for me. It did seem a little similar – in that it’s a soup and it involves rice vermicelli – so I approved the comment, but I found myself interested in this Bun Rieu as a byproduct. It did sound delicious…but decidedly unvegan: full of crab and shrimp and fish sauce. If you know me at all by now, though, you’ll recognize that I immediately viewed this as a challenge. I shall make vegan Bun Rieu!

I need to be clear though: I’ve never had Bun Rieu, or even heard of it before being left a possible spam comment on my blog a couple of days ago. All I know about it is a few recipes I was able to scrounge up on the internet (this one was probably the most helpful). I couldn’t tell you if what I ended up with was anything remotely like Bun Rieu. I can tell you that it was pretty darn good, though, and I’m glad I got that comment, spam or not. This is me in my element: challenged to veganize some crazy Asian dish I’ve never actually had. Especially a soup. (Have you noticed I sort of love soup?)

Now, first of all, I want you to know that I have not become a spokeswoman for Nature’s Soy, although I just did a post on one of their products earlier today and I’m using two of their products in this meal. In fact, it wasn’t until just a couple of weeks ago that I even realized that several of the tofu and seitan products I’ve been buying at Super H and other Asian grocery stores are from the same company, Like the tofu puffs I use in this recipe: I used to buy them all the time to make a recipe that Mark loves (I’ll do a post on it soon), but I had no idea they were made by the same people who make the “chicken” seitan I use in my “tuna” salad until tonight when I looked more closely at the packaging. Rather than looking at brand names, I usually just immediately flip everything over and stare at the ingredients list. Conditioning is a funny thing.

Anyway, on with my Bun Rieu experience. Bun Rieu is not just full of crab meat; it also contains shrimp and/or shrimp paste (as well as, often, fish sauce), all of which may seem like pretty big deterrents for veganization. I had already decided that if I could get away with using that chicken-style seitan as tuna, I could use it for crab, but what to do about shrimp paste? My first thought was actually to use some Thai green curry paste. A lot of Thai curries contain shrimp paste, so I guess I associate the two in my head, and I figured the curry paste – a vegan version of which I have on hand – is pungent and salty like I assume shrimp paste is. I’ve never had shrimp paste so this is a guess. But I wanted to see if I could concoct something, maybe something that those of you who don’t have access to ready-made vegan Thai curry paste might be able to make. So first, I’ll show you how I made vegan “shrimp” paste, then I’ll show you my Bun Rieu using it.

“Shrimp” Paste

1 large or 2 small shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced, pressed, or smashed
1 cube vegan vegetable bouillon
1/4 tsp salt (I used pink Himalayan, mostly because of the four different kinds of salt I keep out in salt pigs, it’s used the least often and I figured it deserved some glory today)
1 tsp miso (optional – it tasted good even before I mixed this in)
1 1/2 tsp powdered kelp
1/4 tsp ground dry lemongrass (this is a bit esoteric and therefore optional; you could use a bit of fresh lemongrass if you have it on hand)
1 tsp black vinegar, optional

Mince the shallot(s).

Put the shallots, garlic, salt, lemongrass, kelp, and crumbled bouillon cube into a mortar …

… and crush to a paste with the pestle. Add the black vinegar if you have it, although I tasted it before adding and it was good without it, so don’t go out of your way to buy black vinegar just for this.

Looks delicious, no? I ended up with just about a quarter cup.

Moving on…

Bun Rieu, or Veitnamese “Crab” Noodle Soup

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 red hot chili pepper, sliced
  • 2-4 tomatoes, quartered OR 1 can diced or whole tomatoes OR 1/2 can diced or whole tomatoes + 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (I used the latter because that’s what I had on hand)
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup vegan “shrimp” paste (see recipe above)
  • 4 cups vegan “chicken” or vegetable stock
  • 1 package Nature’s Soy chicken-style seitan OR 16 oz tofu, chopped OR 1 large can young green jackfruit, shredded
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 Tbsp vegan “fish’ sauce OR soy sauce
  • rice vermicelli

For garnish

  • bean sprouts
  • mint leaves
  • tia to (perilla) leaves
  • scallions
  • fried tofu puffs (optionally chopped into bite-sized pieces)
  • sriracha

Don’t not make this because you can’t find this style of seitan. While most homemade seitan is too dense and chewy to provide the right texture, tofu would have been very good in this. It may not have been anything like crab meat, but it would have been very good.

Do your mise en place: chop the onions, scallions, and tomatoes, mince or press the garlic, slice the chili pepper, chop the tofu puffs, pull apart the seitan or chop the tofu.

In a heavy soup pot, heat some oil, then add the onions and cook until soft, then add the garlic and cook another minute.

Add the chili peppers, fresh or canned tomatoes, and tomato paste and cook a minute or two.

Add the stock and bring to a boil.

Add the rest of the ingredients, except vermicelli (and garnishes), reduce heat, and simmer for five minutes.

Add the rice vermicelli. I wanted to show you how much I added, so here it is. That mole on my hand looks like an eye and it looks like my hand is eating the vermicelli, does it not?

Cook until the vermicelli is done. This will vary depending on brand and how thick it was; this brand took longer to cook than the stuff I used for my previous soup. (It was also unsettlingly spaghetti-like.)

Here’s the finished product:

To assemble, ladle some of the soup into a large bowl.

Garnish with as many or as few of the garnishes as you’d like, keeping in mind that I personally find lime pretty important: squeeze it all over the soup and mix in. Obviously sriracha’s a given for me too.

And that’s it! It looks harder than it really is; I’ve called for a lot of ingredients, but most of them get tossed in at the same time, so this is a fairly fast meal. I thought it was really good; I was pretty impressed with myself. I have no idea if it tastes or even looks like true Bun Rieu, but I’ll make this again.

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