Monday, January 2, 2012

Monday, August 23, 2010

How fun, Chow Fun

Let me confess here and now, I enjoy international food. My family and I lived in Singapore when I was young, and I believe that had a big influence on my tastes. So many cultures and cuisines co-exist in Singapore and I was fortunate enough to be exposed to them early. Our friends and acquaintances were from all points on the globe and from many cultures: Australia, India, China, England, Malaysia, just to name a few. A beautiful city-state, Singapore is an amazing country that I'd be happy to visit anytime.

That said, this next dish was not something I recall from my time there, but rather, was one from a visit to PF Chang's. I love Asian food and really enjoy PF Chang's, even if it is a chain restaurant. I tried their Vegetable Chow Fun a while back and have been craving it since. After looking around online to discover that the same "Chicken Chow Fun" recipe got posted to all the copycat recipe sites, I decided to experiment a little for myself. This is what I came up with.

Chow Fun uses wide, flat rice noodles instead of egg or wheat flour based noodles. These are white, somewhat transparent, noodles. In other dishes, these noodles are sometimes fried, and become puffy and crunchy. This is what I found at a local international grocery. Inexpensive at $1.69 for 14 ounces. The recipes I found call for using all 14 ounces, but let me warn you it'll feed an army. These are apparently the Vietnamese version. They are called something different in Chinese. Just look for white, wide, flat rice noodles.

Now on to the recipe:

Vegetable Chow Fun
2 tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons Vinegar
2 tablespoons Sugar
2 teaspoons Oyster Mushroom Sauce *(see note)
2 tablespoons water (or mushroom broth)

Dish: (The veggies are your call. This is what I had on hand.)
14 ounces Rice Noodles
2 cloves garlic, minced (approx. 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon chili paste (I used Sriracha chili sauce)
1/2 small onion, sliced thin
3/4 of a green pepper, sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cups fresh green beans after being trimmed and cut
7.5 ounces. baby corn (about 1/2 can)
4 ounces canned water chestnuts, sliced
4 ounces canned bamboo shoots
2 teaspoons Canola oil
1 teaspoon Sesame oil
Broth (I used mushroom, because I had a package open)

1. Mix all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Lightly steam carrots and green beans.Just enough to tenderize them. Set aside.

3. Remove noodles from package and rinse under running water. Place into pot of boiling water. These will cook for about 6-8 minutes. (Check your package for directions.) You'll want these to be done just before you need to add them to your dish. After cooking drain and rinse again. I've seen instructions that instruct you to separate into smaller portions and cover with plastic wrap while you start cooking everything else. Just remember that they get super sticky after sitting for a few minutes.

4. Meanwhile, using just a little canola oil or broth, saute' garlic, and chili paste in a wok or large skillet (I didn't have either, so I used a large Dutch oven) for a dew seconds. Add onions and peppers and saute' until soft. Add sauce and remaining veggies and saute' for a couple of minutes until veggies are tender. Add rice noodles a little at a time, until total desired amount is added. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes to allow the noodles to absorb the sauce and are hot, about 2-4 minutes. Toss with sesame oil and serve. This was how it looked:

I used the whole 14 ounces, but I also doubled the sauce. The other recipes I saw only used ground chicken (so not vegan) and I used a lot of veggies. It was tasty, even 3 days later when we finally finished up the leftovers. Definite repeater.

*Note: Oyster sauce is obviously not vegan, but there are vegan options made with mushrooms, called Oyster Mushroom Sauce. Be careful, because some of the brands add lots of MSG to enahnce the flavor. If wanting to stay vegan and avoid added MSG, be sure to read the list of ingredients.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Red greens

At the market today, I dallied a bit. You know how it is. I was there for an old friend, collard greens, but then was allured by something new and exciting, the brilliant colors of Swiss chard. The bright green leaves with the scarlet red ribbing. It's like the collards and rhubarb got a little too close in the produce aisle and *poof* Swiss chard happened. I have no idea it's history, but that what it makes me think of.

I've thought Swiss chard beautiful for a long time but had never tried it. Even though I've really developed a taste for collards, I still don't care for mustard or turnip greens much, so I was a bit hesitant to give it a whirl. But then I thought what the heck. I could always go back to the collards, right?

When deciding preparation, I knew I didn't want it to be a minor ingredient in a busy dish. I wanted to taste the chard itself. So, I found a simple process and tweaked it a bit.

Swiss Chard

1 bunch Swiss chard, washed, with the tougher 1/3 of the stalk removed (apparently you can save this part for another dish)
1 garlic clove, sliced (I used minced, from a jar - I didn't realize my fresh garlic had gone bad)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil (or as little as possible; I probably only used about 1)
1 Tbsp Water
1 Tbsp Cider Vinegar
Pinch of Crushed red pepper
Salt/Pepper, to taste

Slice the chard into approximately 1-inch slices. Heat oil in sauce pan over medium heat. Saute' garlic and red pepper for about 1 minute. Add chard. Cover pan with lid. Cook approximately 5 minutes. Check chard. If it's too dry, add the water and vinegar. Stir so that the bottom chard is on top and vice versa. Cover and cook about 5 more minutes. Taste test and add salt pepper to taste.

This is darker than the actual finished dish. But since I was cooking at night, I didn't have any natural light to help with the photo. The green is a little brighter and the red is not as orange.

Yum. It was tasty. Not as strong as the other greens, but definitely still a green. The cider vinegar helps cut that a bit. I did try one batch with water and no vinegar, and it was still good. We just preferred the batch that with the vinegar. No leftovers. Next time I am thinking I may try using using broth instead of oil. Just to see. Always trying to improve.

Going back to the market tomorrow. Will have to have a talk with the collards to explain it's not them, it's me. My appetite for greens is expanding. And while I will continue to enjoy the flashy chard in all its Swiss-ness, the collards will always be my go-to green. Probably. Unless you count spinach... Oh well, there's no such thing as too much greens, right?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tortilla, tortilla

I am a Texas girl. I am a sucker for a good tortilla. I can tell you where to buy them, but I have never tried to make them. It's just always seemed like this mysterious magical process that would be difficult to try at home, and even more difficult to make them taste right. So, after lots of research over many years, I finally sucked up the courage and tried it. At home. And, as a bonus, I'm guaranteed that they're vegan because I made them.

My recipe is the White Flour Tortilla one from Jane Butel's Southwestern Kitchen. I used the Whole-Wheat Flour variation in which I subbed 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour for that amount of the unbleached AP flour.

In a large bowl (I just went straight to the food processor), combine 4 cups unbleached flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar.

Cut in 1/4 cup margarine or butter (I used Earth Balance margarine). You could also use a pastry blender or your fingers for this step. The processor is just quicker. Then remove to a mixing bowl.

Add and mix in a little warm water at a time, up to 1-1/2 cups, until a soft dough is formed, working the dough with your hands until it is manageable. Knead 15-20 times, then let it rest for 10 minutes, covered with a clean towel.

I deviated a bit from her instructions on this next part. She instructs to form 2 inch balls by pulling a bit off at a time, while keeping the remainder under plastic wrap. I am a little OCD. I weighed the dough, halved it, then cut it into approximately even pieces. The yield is listed as 8-12 (6-inch) tortillas. I would love to say I experimented with measurements on purpose, but alas, I calculated oddly in my head. The first half I divided into 4 pieces (pictured above). The second half I divided into 6 pieces. In the end it is a happy mistake because it allowed me to compare outcomes. The larger ones were larger than I prefer. In the future I will divide by into 12-14 pieces for smaller final product.

Another experiment (intentional this time) was rolling pin versus tortilla press. In our town, there is a restaurant that has a tortilla production line that you can watch while you await a table. They have the neat-o commercial hot press that presses and cooks simultaneously, and the tortillas are delish. I bought a nifty looking hand press (above) a couple years ago thinking it looked interesting and would be authentic. I compared the two methods and noted the results below.

I rolled the first half of the dough with the wooden pin on a silicone mat that has diameter calibrations. (I just happened to have the mat.) Didn't stick. No problems. Easy peasy. Didn't really need the mat for it's measuring ability, although, it was a handy reference. (Ms. Butal instructs you to roll them into 6-inch circles at 1/8-inch thick.)

I intended to press the second half of the dough, but about 3 tortillas in, I changed my mind. It caused the dough to be uneven, and it squooshed out the sides. I still had to turn and press each piece a few times. Not a time saver. Didn't seem particularly authentic, but then, I've not had the opportunity to witness an authentic homemade tortilla process.

From the same size dough balls, here is the result, rolled on the left, pressed on the right. Just a note, I do like tortillas to be a little thick, I don't want crackers after all, but I don't like them too thick either. The rolled one shrank a tad prior to hitting the pan.

Andrew helped with the project. This was his design. :)

The recipe instructs to heat cast iron comal or griddle over medium heat, lightly oiled and wiped with a clean paper towel. Since glass-topped stove (sadly) does not accommodate cast-iron, I used a stainless skillet wiped with oil. Heat first side of tortilla for 45 seconds until brown spots appear, flip, and heat second side for just a few seconds.

The final product: A stack of warm, homemade tortillas. This picture actually doesn't represent ALL of them because about 4 disappeared *poof* before I could make the picture.
After they cool, place uneaten tortillas - if there are any because it's amazing the riff-raff these attract to the kitchen for a snack - in an air-tight container. I keep mine in the fridge to extend their life. No preservatives, remember. To reheat, place on hot skillet for a few seconds each side. I don't nuke them because they tend to get chewy and tough. If heating several, you can stack them, wrap in foil and pop in the oven to reheat for several minutes. Just be sure to check to ensure they don't get too crispy.

A couple of notes:
  1. I diligently rolled the dough balls and stacked them to be cooked. BAD IDEA. They didn't seem sticky when I rolled them, but they stuck together while awaiting the pan. Had to re-roll several. I tried putting wax paper between, and they stuck to that too. So, now having done it all, I can attest that the recipe instructions to roll and cook at the same time works. It takes a bit for the first side to cook, allowing plenty of time to roll the next one.
  2. Overcooking the thin ones results in crispy tortillas. However, not all is lost (assuming that is not your intended result). I placed the cooked tortillas in a stack on a plate under a clean tea towel. Several of the tortillas were crispy going in. A bit later when I took them out, the crispy ones were now soft and tasty. Steam. Who knew.
  3. The whole wheat was OK. I usually like whole wheat. But I think next time - and there will be a next - I will only use one cup instead of 1-1/2 cups.
  4. Be sure to keep the unused dough under plastic while rolling and cooking. Don't want it to dry out.

Andrew and David loved them. Andrew even declared, "Mommy, we don't have to go buy tortillas anymore because yours taste really yummy!" *sigh* Now that's an endorsement I cherish.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Quick lunch

Summer has been a busy time for us. David has been able to work from home a bit, I've got some projects going, Andrew and I love going to the water park whenever we can, and our schedules have just imploded. Fortunately, we've been able to eat in (mostly) so our eating routine has been pretty stable. But because I'm needing quick meals, I'm not doing many "grand" meal prep.

Lately I've taken to steaming and/or prepping lots of veggies to stash in the fridge, ready to be used in the next meal concoction or to be nibbled between meals. It's amazing what a kiddo will eat if they think they're "sneaking" it. Andrew will eat all kinds of food that he appropriates from the cutting board while I'm prepping veggies, even the very same ones that would cause him to recoil in disgust when beautifully presented on a plate for dinner.

A couple of nights ago, using veggie broth, I "sauteed" steamed cauliflower, steamed broccoli, onions (shh, don't tell Andrew!), yellow squash, green peppers, mushrooms, fresh spinach, and capers, seasoned it all with Bragg's Amino and a little ginger. Served it with spaghetti tossed with a little pesto from a jar. Yes, I know that pesto's not vegan, but I had it on hand and the boys like it. Andrew would eat it every day if I let him.

Today for lunch, I still had several prepped veggies so I did a quick version of the same without the pasta, and it was delicious all over again! Easy.

Yesterday, I had a grilled vegan-cheese sandwich. I used Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds and Earth Balance "butter". It was good. I'm a little leery of veganized foods. The problem for me is, if I liked a non-vegan food enough to seek it out it's vegan substitute, then I likely have a strong taste memory for it, thus anything that doesn't taste the same and or have the same mouth feel is probably not going to do it for me. However, I read a review about this cheese, and it noted that there is a California pizza restaurant that uses it in a popular vegan pizza with great success. This was totally worth the try. It tasted liked cheddar. Melted like cheddar. Made a great sandwich. Since it is still fattening like cheese, I'll use it only occasionally, but it is good to know that I have an option.

I used to love cheese, and it's hard to move on from it for several reasons. 1) Tex-Mex uses LOTS of cheese. For those who know me, that's self-explanatory. 2) There's still cheese in the house regularly because of David and Andrew so I'm reminded of it. 3) Sometimes, there's nothing tastier (or quicker) than grilled cheese sammie and tomato soup or red beans. 4) Pizza.

OK. Now I'm off to do a load of laundry, pick up the living room, and figure out what's for dinner.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Holy frijole!

Growing up (mostly) in Texas and being raised by Texan parents, I've eaten heaps of pinto beans in my life. They are a staple here. You just can't have good Tex-Mex without them. I also grew up with the idea that you must have salt pork, ham hock or bacon to make them taste good, because that's the way it's always done. And you just can't add other "stuff" to them. "Cowboy beans" were a Yankee invention. (By the way, the only things we use the word "Cowboy" in the name are boots and hats.) So, when changing to a veg diet, the idea of cooking them was daunting, but I've found a secret.

The key flavoring that the meat adds, for my taste anyway, is the saltiness and/or the smokiness. So, I've tried a couple of things. Obviously, making sure they're salted well is important. And I've tried adding a little Liquid Smoke. That helped. I've added whole tomatoes, sauteed onions, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and peppers in various combinations. And it's all tasted good, but I struck upon a favorite by chance.

I started cooking the beans in vegetable broth and realized that I didn't have any onions or tomatoes. I opened the fridge to see what I could find and came across a jar of smoky garlic salsa and thought, "Why not? " So, in went the salsa and then I salted to taste. Wow. It was wonderful. Didn't miss the pork flavoring at all!

How do I cook pinto beans?

1. Prep: Sort beans, discarding any debris and bad beans that may be present. Rinse well and drain.

2. Pre-Soak: There are a couple of way to do this, the long way and the quick way.

  • Long soak: Place beans in large pot. Cover beans with water by 4 inches. Cover pot with lid. Allow to sit at room temperature overnight or 8 hours.

  • Quick soak: Place beans in pot and cover with water by about 4 inches. Heat to strong simmer for approximately 5 minutes. Cover and turn off heat. Allow to sit for 1 hour.
3. Cooking: Drain soak water and rinse beans and pot. Return beans to pot. Add fresh water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring pot to low boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium and gently simmer for a couple of hours until beans are tender. I love them when they're creamy, but some folks prefer them a little firmer. One last tip. These beans are tasty right after cooking, but let them sit in the fridge overnight, and they're even better. Not often a leftover is better than it was at the first serving.

4. Seasonings: Oh so many options.
  • Add salt to taste toward the end of cooking, when the beans are ready to be taste tested for doneness. It is especially important that you wait to salt if you are using other seasonings that include salt.

  • If you wish to add sauteed onion, garlic or peppers, saute them in the pot after soaking the beans and before returning the beans and fresh water to the pot for cooking.

  • If you wish to add tomatoes or salsa, add those about half-way through cooking. If you're feeling a-spicy, add a little jalapeno.

  • Add a little cider vinegar to the pot while cooking, a tablespoon or so. It gives a little kick to the beans, and it supposedly it helps to reduce the gas emissions later.

  • Another secret, add vegetable bouillon to the fresh cooking water or sub vegetable broth for part or all of the cooking water. I happen to like Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon with Sea Salt. It has such great flavor. I add it to lots of dishes.

  • Shhh. My secret favorite combo is using the bouillon in the cooking water and adding Mrs Renfro's Roasted Garlic Salsa toward the end. Then salt to taste at the last.

Beans are a great staple to have on hand, but even the short method takes a while to cook. Luckily, they freeze beautifully! You can pack them in any amount that suits your needs. If you make ahead for a big gathering, then you can pack them into large plastic sealed bowls. If you use the 15-ounce cans for recipes, then you can pack them into freezer bags or reusable freezer bowls (you can find them BPA free!). I like to freeze them in an unseasoned state so that I can use them in any way that I need. Once thawed, I can add my favorite combo seasonings if I choose.

Approximately 1 1/2 pounds of dried beans made 7 cups of beans to freeze and 2 cups of beans for dinner.

Be sure to label your freezer items with contents and date. It seems like you wouldn't forget what's inside, or that you would be able to tell through the jar/bag, but freezing changes the look and makes it difficult to determine contents sometimes. Also, be sure to include the year on the date. I have a tendency to freeze things, thinking that I'll use them up quickly. However, I've been known to clean out the freezer and find dates from past years (I shan't reveal how many lest I embarrass myself!). My rule of thumb is, if no year is indicated, and I can't positively remember when I did it, out it goes!

Speaking of labels, these containers have spaces to write the info, but I love blue painter's tape. Inexpensive. Easy to remove. And pretty color. I think painter's or masking tape comes in other colors, but this is what I had left from a project. Easy.

What to do with my beans?

1. Beans are one-half of that great partnership, Beans and Cornbread. Serve with hot sauce on the side. I prefer Cholula, and David prefers Louisiana Hot Sauce. Other options might be Sriracha or Tabasco. This is an especially nice meal during cooler months, which is difficult to remember when it's 105 degrees outside, but trust me, it'll happen again before we know it.

2. Don't forget the Tex-Mex classic, Beans and Tortillas. Shoot. Fast food empires have been built on this concept!

3. Drain them and toss into a Tex-Mex salad with lettuce, corn, cilantro, purple onion, and red peppers. Drizzle with a little Catalina, vinaigrette or top with a little salsa.

4. Make Texas Hummus: Use pinto beans in place of chickpeas and add southwestern spices like cumin, oregano, garlic, chili powder, and/or hot sauce. Serve with corn chips or toasted pita crisps.

5. Serve as a side dish with enchiladas. (I have a forth coming recipe for enchiladas! Stay tuned!)

6. One word: Burritos! Drain, mash beans. Fill warm tortilla shell with beans and toppings like lettuce, onion, tomato, cilantro, chopped peppers, etc. As an aside, we have a local cafe called Sevi's Burritos that makes the most divine tortillas, burritos, etc. It is such a Saturday morning ritual for us that my son refers to "Saturday" as "Sevisday". Our standard is the bean and potato burrito. Divine tortilla filled with refried pinto beans and cottage fried potato. Add in their homemade hot sauce or pico de gallo and hmmm. My mouth waters just writing about it.

7. Add chopped veggies part way through cooking, or add thawed frozen veggies and heat thoroughly, to make veggie bean soup.

This is certainly not a definitive list, just a starter. This is a very versatile legume.

Want another reason to make these beans? Cost. The pinto bean is very inexpensive. Even the organic ones are relatively inexpensive. So, cooking your own allows you to control the salt, fat, and preservatives, and is still less expensive and much tastier than using canned ones from the grocery market. I can't think of a down side.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Friends Bearing Gifts

My friend Amy posted this quote on Facebook recently: ‎

"There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate." -Charles Dickens.

If that is true, what about a friend with dark chocolate and cherries, a classic flavor combo? If you agree that would be even better, then I might be your best friend right now. Mom found this recipe and encouraged me to make it. She is my best girl friend and not the least bit concerned about my waistline. She probably thinks I look a little too thin now. (See? My very best girl friend!)


Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active), plus 2 hours cooling time
Servings: 1

Ingredients :
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/ 3 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Wonderslim Wondercocoa)
1 ½ tablespoons canola oil
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet mini chocolate chips, divided (I used non-dairy)
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup, blended with 3 tablespoons lukewarm water
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 Pinch of salt
1 large egg (I used Ener-G egg replacer)
3/4 cup dried sour cherries


1 Position a rack in center of oven. Heat the oven to 350 F. Coat an 8-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray (this is important!)

2 In a small bowl, sift together the flour, powdered sugar and cocoa powder.

3 In a heavy, medium saucepan, combine the oil and half of the chocolate chips. Place the pan over the lowest heat and cook, stirring constantly, until just melted and smooth (be careful that the chocolate does not overheat).

4 Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the granulated sugar, corn syrup mixture, almond extract and salt until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the egg until smoothly incorporated. Gently stir in the dry ingredients. Fold in the cherries and the remaining 3 ounces chocolate chips just until well blended. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, spreading evenly.

5 Bake until almost firm at the center and a toothpick comes out with some moist batter clinging to it, 25 to 30 minutes. Let Cool completely on a wire rack, about 2 hours.

6 Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 brownies, wiping the blade with a damp cloth between cuts.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 192 calories, 58 calories from fat, 6 g fat (3 g saturated, 0 g trans fats), 15 mg cholesterol, 34 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein, 3 g fiber, 33 mg sodium.

I had a helper, Chef Andrew to be exact, and thus, fewer hands to take pix along the way. I seriously considered it, but he was already feeling a little grumpy, and we were well past nap time. So there you go. You only get a beauty shot and no play-by-plays complete with him testing the cocoa powder because he didn't believe me that it would taste bad. And I'm sorry about that, because the batter (more a dough) was worth seeing, all thick and rich. If I make it again, maybe I'll post pix. But here it is:

This picture really doesn't do it justice. These are chewy and rich and chocolate-y and hmmm-hmmm-hmmm scrumptulescent (according to Andrew using Lin's word).

A few notes:
+Don't overcook them. I did overcook slightly causing the edges and a couple of the cherries to be a bit too crunchy.
+Do have the patience to let them set up for the 2 hours after. It's hard, but so worth it.
+Don't let them sit in the pan much past the 2 hours. I did, and it was like scraping old glue out of the pan.

Now, on to the next thing, finding a trainer who will help me work this off. Any recommendations?

7/30 edit:

You'll want to eat these fairly quickly, like the first couple of days. They seem to dry out a little fast. They're certainly still edible, but not as fabulous after day 2.