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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Curried Tofu Chicken Salad

In January 2009 - I wrote a post called "The Hearty Girls Go Biking and Cooking".  I was on a recipe writing roll, high from a great winter's bike ride and enjoying the company of a good friend.  Buried in the post were two recipes, one for Tuna Salad with Shredded Veggies and Hummus - an anti-mayonnaise tunafish spread.  The other was a curried tofu salad, inspired by a salad I would often buy at the grocery store near my office.  Great recipes that stand the test of time, but hardly anyone saw them.  I even forgot about the curried tofu recipe, and it's a shame because it's a great salad and it deserves a stand alone post.  So I cut it out and am "reposting" it here, two years and almost three months later.  I'll be posting some other tofu recipes soon.  I have a tofu parmigiana recipe on my draft board that I need to finish this week, as well as a tofu dessert.  Call this The Bicycle Chef's National Tofu Week.  

This was true back in January 2009 and remains true today: 
Since I started Weight Watchers, I've completely given up eating mayonnaise. It's not hard to live without the Hellman's, but it is an ordeal to find ways to eat tuna salad on the WW plan that are quick, easy and tasty. I've had to say goodbye to quick trips to Wawa for a tuna shortie hoagie or making a daily run to the deli counter for a scoop of unctuous tuna salad oozing with mayonnaise. Luckily I remembered a tuna fish recipe from my Vorspeise days and have modified it for my core meals. As for the curried Tofu "Chicken" Salad, it's another variation of recipe ideas from Whole Foods and some careful reading of tofu salad containers. I hate spending close to $4 bucks for a 1 cup container of tofu and veggies when I know I can make it better, cheaper and healthier.
The tuna with hummus is quick — and you can use any kind of hummus. I like Tribe brand, roasted red pepper. It's low fat and is not high in sodium. Sabra is another great brand, but definitely higher in fat. Yes, home-made hummus is easy to make, but honestly, there are some great brands out there and it's my compromise on finding a mayonnaise alternative. The tofu salad recipe has more steps and prep work, but if you are looking for ways to incorporate tofu into your mostly vegetarian/vegan diet, then this recipe is worth trying.

Curried Tofu Chicken Salad Ingredients:
  • 1 pound Container of Firm or Extra Firm Tofu - drained, patted dry and shredded
  • 3 Tablespoons Curry Powder - divided
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 2 Medium Carrots - Peeled and Finely Shredded
  • 2 Celery Stalks - finely minced
  • 1/2 Small Onion - finely minced
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley - loosely packed and coarsely chopped (reserve some for garnish)
  • 1/4 Cup Unsalted Almonds - Roughly chopped. If using raw almonds, toast in a dry skillet
  • 1/2 Cup Fat Free Vinaigrette of choice, such as Italian or Balsamic
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard or Honey Mustard
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Drain the tofu and pat dry. Shred it or finely grate it. Alternatively, you can finely dice the tofu. Add it to mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. Toast the curry powder in a dry skillet for 3 minutes until the curry powder becomes fragrant. This will enliven the curry and bloom its flavor.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of the toasted curry powder (reserve the other tablespoon of curry) to the shredded tofu and stir in the tablespoon of olive oil. Mix in a 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
  5. Spread the curried tofu onto a sheet tray or oven safe baking dish and bake the tofu stirring every 10 minutes, or until the tofu becomes crisp around the edges, appears firm and any moisture has evaporated; bake for 30-35 minutes total.
  6. While the tofu is baking, shred the carrots, mince the celery and onions and chop the parsley. Add to a mixing bowl and set aside.
  7. Chop (and toast if needed) the almonds and add to the vegetable mixture.
  8. Whisk together the salad dressing, Dijon or honey mustard and the remaining tablespoon of curry powder; set dressing aside.
  9. Remove the tofu from the oven and cool. When the tofu is completely cooled, add it to the prepared veggies and almonds.
  10. Pour the curried vinaigrette over the tofu and stir to combine. Tasted and adjust seasonings, adding more salt or pepper to taste.
  11. Makes 3 cups of tofu chicken salad. Serve at room temperature or cold and garnish with freshly chopped parsley.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

White Bean and Sausage Soup

Another Lenten Soup Special and a "confession" — this soup is not exactly Bicycle Chef sanctioned.  Oh, it's good — too good; the soup is intensely meaty, rich and flavorful, but it's not on my low-fat, low-sodium healthy meal plan.  I think I went too over-board on vegetarian menu with last week's puree of carrot, sweet potato and ginger soup for the Lenten Soup Special at my church.  I was cooking for myself and neglected to consider the people who were eating the soup.  They wanted all the butter, cream and salt that the soup could hold.  Oh well, live, study and learn.  Pastor Hawkinson suggested a sausage soup for this week's Lenten study session.  Can't say that I ever had such a soup before but few ideas came into my mind. After a quick recipe search on the Internet, I decided to concoct this recipe.  While the group eating the soup would be virtuously studying the Lenten Cannon of the Bible and not necessarily eating virtuously, I went the full-fat route.  The recipe reflects the use of those ingredients.  To lower the fat and sodium I suggest substituting the pork sausages I used with turkey sausage; swap out the chicken broth (which was low-sodium) with either vegetable stock or water.  There are plenty of vegetables in this soup, you will only need to increase the seasonings — using more Italian Seasonings - oregano, basil, thyme, parsley and red pepper flakes to round out the flavors.  Salt may not be necessary, as the canned goods will have plenty — regardless of being labeled low or no-sodium.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as you go along.

White Bean and Sausage Soup Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Pound Sweet Italian Sausage
  • 1/2 Pound Hot Italian Sausage
  • 3 Large Carrots - (about 1 & 1/2 Cups) peeled, washed and cut into medium dice
  • 2 Celery Stalks - (about 1 cup) cleaned and cut into medium dice
  • 1 Large Onion - (about 2 cups) peeled and cut into medium dice
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1 Large Red Bell Pepper - (about  1& 1/2 Cups) seeded and cut into medium dice
  • 6 Cups Lower-Sodium Chicken Stock or Broth or Vegetable Stock
  • 1-14/16 Ounce Can - Cannelloni (White) Beans w/juice
  • 3 Tablespoons Dried Italian Seasonings (or a combination of Basil, Oregano, Parsley and Thyme)
  • 1-14/16 ounce Can Diced Tomatoes (no salt/no seasoning added)
  • 2 Cups Frozen Chopped Spinach - Thawed
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste

Directions:

  1. Cut the sausages into small bite-sized pieces and saute them over medium-high heat in a large stock pot, browning them well and rendering the fat.  Remove the browned sausages from the stock pot and drain off most of the fat, reserving some to saute the vegetables.  Set the cooked sausage aside.
  2. In the same pot, saute the carrots, celery and onions until they vegetables begin to caramelize — about 6 to 6 minutes.  
  3. Add in the garlic and red bell peppers and saute for another 3 to 5 minutes.  
  4. Add in the stock, the can of white beans with their juices, the cooked sausages and the dried seasonings. Bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes before adding in the can of diced tomatoes (with juices) and the chopped spinach.  Simmer the soup for another 10 to 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding freshly ground black pepper and salt, but only if absolutely necessary.  
  5. Serve hot.  Soup will freeze well for up to three months.  Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.  Makes 8 servings.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Whole Wheat Banana Muffins with Pure Dark Chocolate Slab pieces

Over the weekend I had invited an old friend to come to my house for brunch.  It's easier to entertain at home these days since Nate has become a rambunctious 17 month old toddler.  I had not seen this friend in over 20 years and I wanted to roll out all of my culinary tricks to woo her.  I didn't have the energy or time to whip up a five star-breakfast-at-the-Ritz meal.  However I had just enough time and all of the ingredients to make my whole wheat banana muffins.  Plus I had a secret ingredient that I really wanted to utilize — a fabulous "Slab" of 70% Cacao chocolate from Pure Dark.  It was the 2nd chocolate sample I had received from FoodBuzz and I had not even opened the package yet — talk about will-power!  I was hoping to use the chocolate in a recipe and this one seemed like the perfect pairing.  The slab of chocolate worked even better than I would have guessed.  I cut the chocolate slab using a serrated knife and kept some pieces in chunks; the rest of the chocolate was finely chopped.  The results were amazing; pockets of dark chocolate pieces and feathers of chocolate throughout each muffin.  TASTY!

Whole Wheat Banana and Chocolate Muffin Ingredients:
This is version 3 of my banana muffins — you cannot go wrong with this recipe.

  • 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour (or White Whole Wheat all-purpose Flour such as King Arthur brand)
  • 1/2 Cup Quick Cook Oatmeal
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 Cup Packed Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Non-Fat Greek Style Plain Yogurt (use as much as a 6 ounce container if that's what you have)
  • 2 Large Eggs or 1 Whole Egg and 1 Egg White (it depends on what you want-or of course, you could use egg substitute liquid)
  • 1 & 1/2 Cups Banana Puree - about 3 Medium/Large Bananas. (It's okay to use a bit more, up to 2 cups, if that's what it measures)
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 to 3 Ounces Pure Dark Chocolate Slab - cut into chunks with a serrated knife (or use a good, dark chocolate, 60% to 72% cacao)
  • 12 Walnut Halves to garnish each muffin (optional)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 Degrees. Use a 12 portion regular sized muffin tin and line each with cupcake liners/inserts.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, flours, oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In another large mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar and the yogurt and whisk to "cream" the sugar — incorporating the dairy product with the sugar to help the sugar to dissolve. Mix in the eggs, banana puree and vanilla. Whisk vigorously until the mixture is frothy.
  4. Gently fold in the flour mixture and the chopped chocolate into the wet ingredients, folding to combine.  The batter will be wet, but should not be too loose.
  5. Using a spring loaded ice-cream scoop, fill each muffin insert to the top with the mixture. It's easier to fill the muffin cups with the ice-cream scoop.  Add a walnut half, (if using) on the top of each muffin, pressing gently to slightly submerge the walnut half into the batter.  Bake the muffins until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Cool muffins in the muffin tin for 5 minutes before removing them. Turn out and cool the muffins on a wire rack completely before serving. Makes 1 dozen 4-6 ounce muffins.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pureed Carrot, Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup

For the days of Lent, I was asked to make soups for a Lenten study group at my church at Wallingford Presbyterian Church.  One soup was my chicken and vegetable soup (recipe to be posted later this week); the other soup needed to be vegetarian.  I instantly thought of my puree of carrot pumpkin and ginger.  It's easy to make, it's low-fat, vegan and amazingly creamy without a trace of cream, butter or any animal products.  Since I wanted to boost the mouth-feel of the soup, I added in sweet potato.  While I was tweaking my recipe, I decided to add a Fuji apple to the soup to add additional sweetness and to counter-balance the sharpness of the fresh ginger.  The soup was so delicious, it needed very little salt and the puree became two products; soup for church and a bit was reserved to serve to Nate for his lunch.  Right after I pureed the cooked carrots, onions, sweet potato and ginger, I spooned a bit out of the food processor before I added the cooking broth to thin the puree to make it a soup.  Not only is this ideal to serve to a baby/toddler, but you could serve the thickened puree as a side dish for a fancy meal.


Puree of Carrot, Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon Vegetable or Olive Oil
  • 4 Cups Diced Carrots (about 6 large carrots) - peeled, cleaned and cut into medium dice
  • 1 Large White Onion - large dice (about 2 cups of onion)
  • 2 Large Celery Stalks - cut into large dice (about 1 cup of celery)
  • 1 Large Sweet Potato - peeled, cleaned and cut into large chunks (about 2 cups of sweet potato)
  • 1 Fuji Apple - peeled, cored and cut into large chunks
  • 2 Tablespoons Ginger - Minced (about a 2-inch piece, peeled and minced)
  • 4 Cups Cold Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • Salt and Ground White Pepper to taste
Directions:

  1. In a large heavy bottomed stock pot, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers.
  2. Saute/sweat the onions, carrots and celery for about 8 minutes, until the onions turn translucent, the carrots start to release their water and the onions are starting to take on a golden color.
  3. Add in the minced ginger and sauté for 1 minute.
  4. Add in the sweet potato and apple and then pour in 4 cups of cold water; bring the mixture to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat; add the 1 teaspoon of salt; allow the mixture to cook at a gentle simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
  6. Check the soup, when the carrots and sweet potato are fork tender but not falling completely apart turn the heat off.
  7. Strain the solids from the liquid, reserving the broth. Set the vegetables aside in a large bowl for about 10 minutes to cool before pureeing.
  8. Working in small batches, puree the cooked vegetable mixture in a food processor or blender - CAREFULLY! The vegetables are still hot and will feel like napalm on your skin if it splashes on you!
  9. Use some of the reserved broth to thin the soup and to get the puree to move freely in the food processor or blender.
  10. Add each batch of puree back to the stock pot. Thin the soup with any additional reserved cooking liquid. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and white pepper. Use white pepper, since the black would appear as annoying little specks, and this soup is all about the gorgeous orange color.
  11. Serve hot with chopped fresh parsley or dill as a garnish (optional). Makes about 6 cups of soup.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Notes on a Birthday - or hitting the REAL Middle Age Years

Photo - taken by Liz with her Iphone.  
Waking up with Nibblet on my birthday.  This what I look like today and it's okay with me.

Cue the music - Today is/was my birthday.  I like birthdays and I especially like my birthday.  Not the presents or special treatment or cake (well, of course the cake and a bit the presents and treatment), I like the idea of embracing and celebrating one's life and for making it through another year.  I've written before that my mother has age-phobia issues, refusing to admit her true chronological age, to the point that it's become psychotic and dangerous.  Let's just say that she lies so much about her age that there is no time warp that could explain my 44 years of existence.  I am truly a by-product of the infamous South Philadelphia Senior-Week shenanigans; a baby practically born at South Philly's best Maternity Ward - St. Maria Goretti High School, my mother is barely a generation older than me.  However because she's so mental about her age, I feel I've been forced to embrace my climbing years with a swaggering brio I might not have chosen I had not been raised by a crazy wolf who is afraid of getting old.  
There are a few key phrases I've heard in my lifetime that I truly cherish — "If you are lucky, you return to the true person you were when you were five." "When we are old, we get the face we deserve." "You will be fabulous in your 40's." I'm trying hard to be that inquisitive and open-minded, wide-eyed wondering child of five, with the knowledge and smarts of all the intervening years.  I embrace the wrinkles and lines forming on my face, giving me character to match the character I think I am.  As for being fabulous in my 40's (a statement told to me in my early 20's by an older girlfriend)-well, I certainly have been enjoying this 4th decade of my life.  It's too late to do anything drastic about the past and the past has been gone too long to care!  I hopefully have a lot of years ahead of me to do more fun things and have more adventures to share with Nate, Liz and many other friends and family.  

I've remembered some notable birthdays of my life today: My 10th birthday, a party held at local restaurant — my 4th grade girl friends taking bets if I would come wearing a dress or not.  I did, and kinda enjoyed the spectacle that I cause - I felt like I was dressed in a costume. Maybe my first "drag" act?
Turning 17 and this great party at my house — my mom's friends were upstairs and my friends were downstairs in the basement.  It was 1986.  I almost kissed a girl that year.  Almost.
Turning 18 and spending it with my best friend and her family since my mother felt it was more important to extend her vacation in Florida that year.  It was better for me - I was with people who cared.
Turning 19, at college and having new friends stand in as my family.  There were balloons.
20 - coming out, going to clubs, having lots of new experiences.  It was a manic time in my life but I wouldn't trade the many experiences I had for anything.
31 - a night out at The Victor Cafe - The Opera Lover's Rendezvous, with many good friends. That was the year when I stopped being young and dumb.  I was still young but I didn't do that, "Oh, Gawd, I'm 30!" bullsh#t that we all do. It was also the year my friend Cheryl sang happy birthday to me in her raspy Texas voice while she channeled Ethel Merman doing opera.  Legendary.
35 - a surprise party that Liz threw for me after a church pot luck supper.  I can still remember coming home, seeing candles lit in our house and thinking "OH NO! I left the candles on!  I could have burned down the house!" I didn't even see the people standing in our living room.
40 - I looked forward to my 40th birthday since I was 24, when my old girlfriend assured me that I would be fabulous in my 40's.  I spent the last night of being 39, out carousing with friends with whom I spent many previous birthdays.  There was a lot of drinking. Good beers and Manhattans.  I think I may still have a residual post-birthday debauchery hang-over four years later!  For my birthday, we went shopping.  That night we had a terrific dinner out with 10 or 12 of our most favorite people.  
Turning 44, which as I now understand, means I'm entering my 45th year of life, is more the middle of one's life than when you are in your 50's or 60's.  Let's face it, the odds are better that I will, or any of us will, last into our 80's than living into our 90's or reaching the bewitching Smuckers Birthday Years of the 100s.  I don't think a robo-version of Willard Scott will be wishing me Happy 100 on the Today Show - even if I continue to be a bike riding/bicycle chef granny.  The road only goes forward in life or it stops and there's no more scenery.  I'll keep pedaling forward, thanks.