Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dijon Chicken (or not)

I've been thinking about it and it's high time that I post one of my recipes that takes you either the vegetarian OR the flexitarian (um, this time I mean meat-eating) way. This is one of my old fallback recipes when I don't know what to make and have the ingredients on hand. As a student, easier said than done especially since I'm not eating chicken any longer. All the same, it's a good recipe that comes together pretty quickly.

If you're using both chicken and faux chicken to make everyone you're feeding happily, you can certainly double or triple this recipe. You should keep in mind though that the chicken and faux chicken should be cooked separately and if you're using the same dish of mustard for both, the respectful thing to do is to dip the fake strips first and then the real chicken.

Cutting the chicken (or substitute) into strips will help it cook faster and increase the amount of flavor per bite--but if you're short on mustard, feel free to make larger pieces. If you're using chicken, just make sure the meat is cooked all the way through before serving. It shouldn't have any pink color left.

Easy Dijon (Faux) Chicken
1 breast of chicken, OR faux chicken of your choice (I like Quorn), chopped into 1" x 2" strips
5 tbsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
1 tsp turbanado sugar
bread crumbs

Mix the Dijon mustard with the salt and turbando sugar. Dip the strips of chicken or faux chicken into the mustard mix, then cover with bread crumbs. Lay these into a baking dish. Cover and bake in a 325 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until hot (covering it helps it cook through without drying out). Uncover and turn over to ‘broil.’ Continue cooking for 5 to 7 minutes. Serve.

Note: Quorn and other meat substitute products often absorb liquid. If you're using one of these products, you may want to add 2 tablespoons of water when you uncover the dish, if the dish is starting to look dried out.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tuxedoed Oreos

"I'm serving chocolate mousse cake from Trader Joe's with French Vanilla ice cream. I was thinking about buying some of those chocolate wafers, but I didn't and these will work just as well."

I'm paraphrasing of course. My mom's boss and family friend held a going-away party for another co-worker and herself at the end of June. Their jobs had been "eliminated" in a series of budget cuts the local school district had to make in the wake of a budget shortfall--the third one within 9 months. The economy sucks everywhere, I know.

Anyway, she asked my parents to bring cantaloupe soup (a cold soup, it's wonderful for less than wonderful cantaloupe) and vegetarian picadillo stuffed peppers. Picadillo, pronounced peek-a-dee-oh, is a sweet and (sometimes) lightly spicy way of preparing meat. Our version has raisins and almonds in it and we use soy crumbles from the frozen foods section. She insisted she had dessert planned, that I didn't need to bring anything. But I didn't feel right going to a dinner party meant primarily for her co-workers without bringing something.

But, I was going to be going almost straight from my internship at a local natural history museum to her house. There was no way I was going to make anything that day. It had to be something that I could make over the weekend and which would age well.

When Mom said her boss would be doing something with chocolate mousse, these seemed like a natural. The Internet is full of recipes for this, so I don't claim anything particularly original, but I do want to point out that these work perfectly well with reduced-fat oreos and neufschatel. The best part about these is that they're kid-friendly (no baking, no sharp implements needed) and flexible...plus they go together pretty quickly. The ones I made used the white bark coating.

Oreo Bon-Bons

1 pound reduced-fat oreos
1 8-ounce block neufschatel (reduced fat cream cheese)
Powdered sugar for coating OR
White Bark coating (about 1/2 pound)

Smash the oreos so no huge chunks remain. This can be done with a gallon bag and a rolling pin--just be sure to get all the air out of the bag before you start hammering it. Or, you can toss them in your food processor and pulse it to break up the cookies. In a large bowl, using a fork, mix together the cream cheese and oreos until the color is even and it starts to come together to form a ball.

Roll small, equally sized balls of the cookie-cream cheese mixture. These can be any size you want, but it's easier to coat these if they're evenly sized--especially if you're using the white bark coating. Chill the small balls for an hour or two, until firm.

Spread the powdered sugar in a shallow dish, if using, or melt the white bark coating (follow instructions on the package, but generally you can do this in a double-boiler or by microwaving it on HIGH for 1 minute and then stirring. Microwave on HIGH for additional 15-second intervals until it is completely melted).

Dip or roll the balls through the powdered sugar or melted white bark. Let set and then store in refrigerator.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Time for Summer Salads!

With all of the fresh produce at the farmers market and at my local favorite grocery store for produce (most of it local, all very fresh, all reasonably priced), I find myself eating at least one salad a day during the summer. Fruit salads, green salads, orange jello "fluff" salads (a bit of an indulgence)...there's a long list.

Green salads call out for some sort of dressing. If you disagree, you're not listening closely enough. Even if it's just some oil and vinegar--or even just vinegar. Another time I'll post a different non-fat, vinegar based dressing I like to make for cabbage salads (they are not coleslaw).

Dad makes a really fantastic flexitarian Caesar dressing (it uses fish sauce). It's light and lemony and you don't feel like you're overindulging if you spoon on a little extra because compared to normal Caesar dressing, you really aren't. However, you just can't make that every time and not get tired of it. I recently added this dressing to my repertoire. The roasted garlic is a lot less...pungent than regular garlic. As I've said before, in the summer I tend to have roasted garlic around. Not only is it easy to throw on the grill if I'm grilling already, but it's also great smeared on bread and mixed into things like yogurt-tahini sauce for falafel.

You could make this salad dressing vegan if you substituted just a few things (namely the yogurt for a non-dairy yogurt, the Worcestershire sauce for vegetarian Worcestershire--regular Worcestershire contains anchovies--or liquid smoke, and used golden syrup instead of honey).

You might be tempted not to add the oil. I certainly was when I first tried this. In fact, I was pretty determined not to add oil. But, it wasn't going to happen. Without the oil, the flavor is sharper (but not in a pleasant way) and the foam just won't go away.

French Dressing

1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4-5 dashes Worestershire sauce
3 dashes Tabasco
2 large cloves roasted garlic
2 tablespoons honey or golden syrup
Large pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a small blender and blend well. The mixture will look a bit frothy. Taste for salt and pepper, adjust. While blender is running drizzle in 1 ½ - 2 tablespoons of olive oil to create an emulsion.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cocktail Smoothie

The smoothie craze seems to have ebbed, but I still like them from time to time (they're fast and cheap), especially when it's hot outside and we all know July is great for that. Actually the weather here is pretty pleasant right now, deceptively unlike the beginning of July and for the first 4th in years this area isn't under water restrictions.

The basic idea for this smoothie came from an Alton Brown recipe and is something I've been fiddling with for a few years. If you like your cocktails as you'd get them in cocktail hour, add a couple of ounces of rum (for a bit more sweetness) or vodka--you won't be able to tell it's there and neither will your guests--or leave it plain. Either way is good and the tofu adds a bit of protein. I tend to add 6 ounces, but if you're just starting to try tofu, you might be shy about using so much. You can't taste it, it just makes the drink creamy.

I usually buy frozen cranberry concentrate and add water to make my cranberry juice. It's easier to keep around a can of concentrate than to keep a 1/2 gallon of juice around. Because I do this, I usually do about a 1:1 ratio of concentrate to water, but it works just fine with normal-strength cranberry juice from a jug as well.

Don't leave out the salt--tofu also has a tendency to absorb a lot of flavor and you'll miss out on some of the fruity tang of this smoothie if you try to reduce the sodium. It's only a pinch.

Cocktail Smoothie

8 ounces troupical fruit cocktail in light syrup, frozen
1 teaspoon instant lemonade mix
6 ounces cranberry juice
4-6 ounces silken tofu
Pinch of kosher salt
2-3 ounces rum or vodka (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serves 2-3, depending on how much smoothie you want!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

4 Grain Pilaf (aka at last, something besides amaranth "grits"!)

A while back, I bought some amaranth because it's a good source of vegetarian protein. Little did I know that the primary recipe available on the Internet is for amaranth grits. There are a few that call for puffed amaranth, which is fine if you buy it that way but time consuming to do.

Amaranth will pop like popcorn, if you hydrate it first and then put it in a dry skillet. And like popcorn, it goes everywhere, only the "kernels" are very tiny. However, it's got a nice flavor and is great for surprising popcorn lovers.

Needless to say, my unpopped amaranth has been living in my refrigerator for a while. I try to keep my whole grains cool if I'm not going to be using them up pretty quickly. It keeps them from becoming rancid. But the other day I was in the mood for a pilaf. My two usual pilafs are made from bulgar wheat or quinoa. They're wonderful. Those recipes supported this one, which was partially gleaned from an idea on the web. The great thing about this recipe is that it's pretty flexible. If you don't have enough of one grain, add some extra of one of the others. It saves well and is good cold--I've been taking the leftovers to work for lunch.

Use veggie broth for a richer flavor, if you've got it on hand. If you like, add some dried fruit to your pilaf. I added about 1/4 cup of dried cranberries to mine because that was what I had open. It makes for a nice sweet bite.

4 Grain Pilaf

1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ medium onion, chopped
½ jalapeno, chopped (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup amaranth
1/3 cup bulgur wheat
1/3 cup quinoa (rinsed and drained)
3 1/2 cups veggie broth or water
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
½ cup frozen green peas
1/3 cup couscous
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon garam masala
Dried fruit (optional)
Sea Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the olive oil, onion, pepper and all the seeds in a large, non-stick frying pan. Stir 1 to 2 minutes over high heat, until the seeds begin to pop and become aromatic. Add the amaranth, bulgur and quinoa and toast slightly. Add the broth and bring to a rapid boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until grains are tender, for about 20 minutes. Add the finely chopped vegetables. Add the couscous and stir to combine. Stir in the lemon juice and garam masala. Continue to simmer, covered, another 5 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed and the grains are tender. Add the dried fruit, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper.