Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tempeh Hash with Tarragon Sauce

"Tis an ill cook that cannot lick [her] own fingers."

'Struth! I made this finger-lickin' good brunch on an underslept Sunday morning, when the mercury was predicted to top out at a miserable 16° and my ambitions for the day consisted of a hot bath, Jacobean revenge tragedy, and a nap. In light of so taxing an agenda, some hearty fortification was clearly indicated, and with one last package of my beloved Henry's tempeh - *sniff* - languishing in the refrigerator, a Mom's Dineresque, hash-like application sounded like perfection on a plate. In half an hour, this amalgamation of yumminess was seated cozily atop toasted English muffins; with the addition of a lovely, herbal tarragon sauce, it proved sufficient to take us all the way through to dinner (even with all that bathing, reading, and napping going on).

The Hash
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 large stalk celery, diced
~ 1 small (or 1/2 large) red bell pepper, diced
~ 6 oz. mushrooms, chopped (about 1 cup)
~ 1 8 oz. package tempeh, diced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, marjoram, sage, smoked paprika
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 3 small potatoes, baked in the oven or microwave
~ 1/4 cup vegetable broth or water

~ In a large, deep skillet, saute the onion in the olive oil, over medium high heat, for about 2 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, celery, and bell pepper, and saute another few minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms, tempeh, and seasonings and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Chop the cooked potatoes, and add to the pan with the broth. Mix thoroughly, and cook another 10 minutes, stirring every couple minutes or so. If things get sticky, add a little more broth or water to get things moving again. (You want a crust to just begin to form on the bottom, at which point you mix it all up and let it happen again.)
~ Remove from heat and start making...

The Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1 tsp. each: dry mustard, tarragon
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, garlic powder, turmeric
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1.5 cups vegetable broth
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ Toasted English muffins

~ In a small bowl, combine the flour, seasonings, and the nutritional yeast.
~ In a beaker, combine the vegetable broth and the soy milk, and heat for a few minutes in the microwave.
~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over medium-low heat. Begin adding the flour/seasoning/nooch mixture to make a roux, stirring constantly.
~ Gradually add the broth/milk mixture, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.
~ Raise the heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes or so, until slightly thickened.
~ Serve the hash on top of split, toasted English muffins, with the sauce ladled over the top.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chicken a la King (or: Towards a "Creative Temple" of Conscience)

A few days ago, I had the quixotic notion to veganize this 1960s dinner classic, and since I was A. cooking while snowed in on the day after his birthday, and B. had been reading, hearing, and thinking a lot about him (as one does this time of year), I briefly entertained the waggish notion of christening it "Chicken a la Martin Luther King, Jr." Cognizant that such an idea could be misinterpreted as trivializing or disrespectful, I dismissed it, but I would like to take a few minutes to think about Dr King's message of freedom and justice for all. (And yes, we'll get to the recipe; patience, as the saying goes, is a virtue.)

OMarch 3, 1968, barely a month before he was assassinated, King delivered a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on the subject of "Unfulfilled Dreams," which began with the proposition

“Whenever you set out to build a creative temple, whatever it may be, you must face the fact that there is a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil." 

This is a compelling notion; whether or not we believe in a religious interpretation of concepts like "good" and "evil," most of us can relate to the ongoing internal struggle between what we would do, and what we actually do. He went on to speak of the constant uphill battle to be compassionate, kind, and charitable when "something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate." He described this struggle as "a civil war...a schizophrenia" going on inside each and every one of us, but also addressed the importance of trying to be our best selves, of being able to honestly say that we are doing our utmost to be the people we wish to be, in spite of that "something" pulling on us to be just the opposite. 

Although he was most famous as a civil rights leader, King was also an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised, and spoke out passionately against the war in Vietnam before what became known as the "peace movement" was getting much press. King's appreciation for the importance of what we now term intersectionality is striking, and he came in for a fair bit of abuse for stepping out of what many considered his "field." But despite harsh criticism - and growing pressure from civil rights allies as well as the US government - he continued to stress a recurring theme: the importance of being clear in one's conscience. Again and again, King encouraged  listeners to "get your hearts right" and work towards a place where the person in the mirror is someone we are not ashamed to acknowledge, although we inevitably fall short of perfection. 

It can often feel - especially in our increasingly polarized political climate - that we are actively encouraged  to feel hatred. Hatred for those who are different from us, who disagree with us, whose choices make us examine our own behavior in uncomfortable ways, or whose beliefs threaten our assumptions of how things "should" be. I often think that, for my generation's grandchildren, things like marriage equality and animal rights will be "issues" they look back on and say, "what the hell was that about?" in the way that I grew up viewing the civil rights movement: something so basic, so obvious, that the idea of disputing it is ludicrous. 

Yet all too often it's painfully apparent that we aren't anywhere close to that day yet: not in terms of civil rights, or women's rights, or LGBT rights, or so many other categories of human rights, let alone the rights of non-human animals. But I still insist on imagining such a time, and on hoping that someday the idea of eating animals will occupy a similar place in our collective social conscience to the one held by slavery, segregation, and all types of inequality and injustice. And that all thinking people will be aghast that living creatures were ever treated so cruelly in a putatively "civilized" society. 

And there are signs that, as a culture, we are beginning to think more carefully about what, how, and who we eat. It's worth noting in the context of this post that Dr King's own son, Dexter Scott King, has been a vegan and an animal rights activist since the 1980s, and Coretta Scott King was inspired to stop consuming animal products in the final decade of her life, as part of her enduring commitment to non-violence

As Mahatma Gandhi put it (in a quote beloved by vegans everywhere), "the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated," and in his sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King invoked the "powerful non-violent revolution" that Gandhi had "labored for years and years" to bring about. Wouldn't it be wonderful to live in a nation - in a world - where we could embrace such non-violence towards everyone? A world that could acknowledge the right of all creatures to live free from torture, exploitation, and objectification?

Unfortunately, our deeply anthropocentric world has yet to take that message on board about our fellow humans - much less our furry, feathered, finned, and scaly friends - so we have a long way to go for such a dream to be realized. But we have to keep dreaming it, and more than that, we have to do something to bring it about. All we can do is our best, all we can do is try, but we have an obligation to do at least that much, and to hope a time comes when we can "Get somebody to be able to say about [us]: 'He may not have reached the highest height, he may not have realized all of his dreams, but he tried...He tried to be a good man...He tried to be a just man. He tried to be an honest man. His heart was in the right place.'” 

And that, my friends, is why the "chicken" in my Chicken a la King is made of soybeans. So now let's cook some dinner, because building a more peaceful world takes fuel.

Chicken a la King for a peaceful world
~ 3 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 tsp. tarragon
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, thyme, marjoram
~ Pinch nutmeg
~ A few grinds black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance
~ 2 cups chopped shallots
~ 1/2 cup finely diced celery
~ 2 cups chopped mushrooms
~ 1/4 cup flour
~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric
~ 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. dry sherry
~ 2 tsp. white truffle oil (optional, but swanky) 
~ 2.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tsp. corn starch
~ 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
~ 1 tbsp. parsley

~ In a beaker, combine the soy curls, broth, bay leaves, salt, tarragon, thyme, marjoram, nutmeg, and black pepper.
~ Cover and bring to a boil in the microwave, or in a pot on the stove top.
~ Allow to sit, covered, for at least an hour (the longer the better), until the liquid is mostly absorbed.
~ Drain the soy curls and set aside, reserving the marinade.
~ Combine the marinade with 2 cups of the soy milk, and heat to nearly boiling. Set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the margarine over medium-high heat; saute the shallots, celery, and mushrooms for 5-7 minutes, until softened.
~ Stir in the flour and the turmeric, and cook for about 1 minute.
~ Add the 1/4 cup sherry and the white truffle oil (if using), and cook another minute.
~ Begin adding the marinade/soy milk mixture about a cup at a time, stirring constantly with each addition to prevent lumps.
~ In a separate bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup soy milk and the corn starch, then add to the sauce. Mix thoroughly and cook another 5 minutes, until slightly thickened (we're looking for a gravy-like texture).
~ Add the drained soy curls and cook another 5 minutes or so, until hot.
~ Stir in the remaining 2 tbsp. sherry, the lemon juice, and the parsley.
~ Serve hot over rice, noodles, or (my strong recommendation) biscuits

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chocolate Orange Muffins

When I was a kid, a Terry's Chocolate Orange was one of those treats that you could only get in England, or when it emerged from the suitcase of someone who'd just been there. Nowadays, they can be found in the "import" aisle of most mainstream American supermarkets, but I still have fond memories of those coveted, foil-wrapped spheres, with their embossed, tightly-packed wedges. These muffins have a taste very like that venerable piece of confectionery, only interpreted as a wholesome, home-baked treat. This constitutes a total win since - despite their gooey, orangey, chocolatey goodness - they actually contain comparatively little fat or sugar, and the fact that they are muffins makes them a perfectly respectable option for breakfast (which we all know is the most important meal of the day, innit?). This recipe makes a dozen, but the batch I made the other day disappeared in less than 24 hours, so you might want to double it, just to make sure that you actually get to eat one.

Chocolate Orange Muffins
~ 2.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, cinnamon
~ 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli semi-sweet)
~ 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup orange juice
~ 1/3 cup sugar
~ 1/4 cup canola oil
~ 1/4 cup applesauce
~ 1 tsp. each: vanilla extract, orange extract

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a muffin tin with cooking spray.
~ In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and chocolate chips.
~ In a separate bowl, mix the soy milk, juice, sugar, oil, applesauce, and vanilla and orange extracts.
~ Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
~ Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, and bake for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
~ Allow to cool briefly in the pan, then remove to a cooling rack. These are yummy served warm or at room temperature.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Classic Stuffed Shells

Si, Big Anthony, it's another casserole! This time it's classic stuffed pasta shells like Mama used to make (and like my friend Strega Nona would have, if she'd stepped away from her magic spaghetti pot long enough for it to occur to her). The addition of  spinach to the filling makes a nice contrast with the white pasta and the red sauce, creating an effect somewhat reminiscent of - yes! - il Tricolore. 

Whip up a pan of this crowd-pleasing comfort food, and prepare to hear everyone say - like the good people of Calabria - "Oh, grazie; thank you, thank you!" Even if they're not Italian, and you're not a witch. (NB that I include directions for a pretty basic sauce here, but you can obviously substitute your own favorite recipe instead. For that matter, if you're short on time and/or can't be bothered, a good jarred sauce will also do nicely.)  

Classic Stuffed Shells
The Sauce
~ 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
~ 1 small onion, chopped fine
~ 1 carrot, small dice
~ 1 stalk celery, small dice
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: basiloregano, marjoram
~ Freshly ground black pepper
~ 3 tbsp. tomato paste
~ 1 28-ounce can fire-roasted pureed tomatoes
~ 2 cups vegetable broth or water

~ Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and saute until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, salt, basil, oregano, marjoram, and black pepper; cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Stir in the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Taste for seasoning, set aside to cool, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth.

The Filling 
~ 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in boiling water at least 30 minutes
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, drained and crumbled
~ 1 package vegan mozzarella, grated (I used Teese)
~ 2 tbsp. lemon juice
~ ¼ cup olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each salt, basil
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/3 cup vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast
~ ½ lb. frozen spinach, thawed and drained 
~ ½ cup chopped, fresh parsley

~ Drain the cashews, combine with remaining ingredients in a food processor, and blend to a thick, smooth, delicious paste. (Easy, wasn't it?)

The Assembly
~ Cook 1 lb. of jumbo pasta shells according to package directions; drain and set aside.
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a baking dish with cooking spray.
Spread about 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. 
~ Carefully stuff the cheese mixture into the cooked shells, and arrange them in the baking dish, open-side up; you want to pack them in pretty tightly. 
~ Pour the remaining sauce over the shells, cover tightly with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. 
~ Remove the foil, raise the heat to 400, and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes. 
~ Allow to cool slightly before serving.