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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Tofu Mousse

From the recipe files of Tasty Tofu dishes I am sharing an oldie and a goody, Vegan Chocolate Tofu Pudding aka Chocolate Tofu Mousse.  Years ago, when I worked at Whole Foods, this was one of our most popular items on the salad bar and at the grab-and-go area.  It's amazingly rich and luscious and a little goes a long way.  When I was teaching cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma, I taught a Vegetarian Cuisine class and figured out the ingredients in the Whole Foods vegan pudding and put it on my course menu.  That class was a surprise hit due in large part to this simple 4-ingredient dessert.   

Inspiration to make it again came by way of a free sample of Ghirardelli's Twilight Delights Chocolate bar, from the Taste Maker's program by FoodBuzz, my blog sponsor. I could have just eaten the candy bar and blogged all about how good it was - the 72% cacao bar has notes of deep red wine, cherries and berries and a spicy undercurrent of black pepper.  I wanted to do something more with the chocolate but time and ideas were in short supply, hence this very simple yet elegant vegan dessert.  The pudding/mousse can be used as a mousse pie filling, just pour it into a graham cracker crust of choice.  It can be layered in fancy tall glasses with whipped cream or vegan whipped cream.  You can use it as a cake filling for a vegan chocolate cake - here's a good recipe to try for that idea.  Or you can just spoon some into a small bowl and enjoy!  

Chocolate Tofu Mousse Ingredients:

  • 7 to 10 ounces, about 2 Bars of a High-Quality Dark Chocolate - 65% or higher Cocoa (Such as Ghirardelli's Twilight Temptations 72% Cocoa or Ghirardelli's Intense Dark bars) - melted
  • 1 Pound Package of SILKEN Tofu - drained
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Cherries - rehydrate in hot water
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Equipment:
Food Processor or Blender - Mixing Bowls &  Spatulas

Directions:
  1. Break the dark chocolate bar into pieces and melt it either over a double boiler or in the microwave.  If melting the chocolate in a microwave, use a microwave-safe bowl and heat the chocolate in 30 second intervals until it is completely melted - about 1 minute and 30 seconds total.
  2. Rehydrate the dried cherries in 1/3 cup of hot water until they are plump and pliable.
  3. Blend the rehydrated cherries, the silken tofu and the vanilla extract in a food processor or blender until very smooth. 
  4. Carefully pour in the melted dark chocolate into the tofu mixture; cover the food processor and mix until the tofu is creamy and the chocolate is thoroughly incorporated. 
  5. Pour the tofu mousse into a serving bowl and chill for at least 1 hour.  The mousse will firm up as it cools.  Makes 8 servings.  Keeps for up to 5 days tightly covered and refrigerated.

NOTES:
  • SILKEN TOFU is the best - I tried using soft tofu, and this is what it looks like when you make this pudding - a grainy, firm mess!  It tasted okay, but had a funky soy aftertaste. It was more like a tofu fudge which was not the dessert I was trying to make.
  • In order for this to qualify as a vegan dessert, you must use a bitter-sweet or semi-sweet chocolate, which contains no milk-solids or animal fats.  A high-quality dark chocolate will yield a richer, tastier dessert.
  • Any kind of dark chocolate can be used, though in fairness, I did have the Ghirardelli chocolate on hand so I used it because I received it as a premium.  If using dark/semi or bitter-sweet chips, use at least 10 to 12 ounces, which is about 1 3/4 cups in dry measurements, or sometimes the contents of an entire bag.
  • A funny side-note: Don't assume that just because this is vegan and sort of low-fat that you can eat as much as you want. We had an annoying customer at Whole Foods who would come in every day and "sample" the pudding.  Her samples were the size of a quarter pound take-out container.  When approached on this liberal sampling "theft" of product, she was appalled that we would even say anything to her about the tastings.  She then began to buy it by the ounce, stating that this was her main meal of the day and that it was so good for her. Little did she understand that the Whole Foods version is super rich, high in sugar and not that low-fat.  As Mark Bittman says, just because a junk food is labeled organic doesn't make it any better for you - it's still junk food.  This is still a sweet dessert and should be eaten in moderation.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Buffalo Style Tofu Sandwich with KC Masterpiece Buffalo Marinade

Tofu and Buffalo Sauce aren't two food words you would normally read in the same recipe, until now.  When I received a bottle of KC Masterpiece Buffalo Marinade from FoodBuzz, the blog advertiser on my blog, I wasn't quite sure what I would do with it.  I wanted to create an original recipe that is true to my cooking and blog mission - healthy real food that you want to eat.  The usual Buffalo-style chicken wings are entirely too fattening and not on the Weight Watchers list of acceptable foods.  Buffalo-style pizza might work but there's too much cheese and dough to make it work the the way I wanted.  Then I thought about foods that need a lot of oomph of flavor and it hit me, TOFU!  I've been experimenting with tofu for a while now, discovering that the best way to cook tofu and still have it be healthy is to bake it.  However, unless you season it liberally tofu doesn't pack a lot of flavor.  That's where this marinade came in handy. It's tangy, piquant and packed with flavor.  Taking a cue from my tofu parmigiana recipe, I decided to marinate slices of tofu over-night, then bread the tofu and bake it until firm.  Voila!  Thinking this through a bit more, I decided that Laughing Cow Bleu Cheese wedges would be a perfect bleu cheese substitute, at 35 calories a wedge, you can't go wrong.  Fresh celery, carrots, lettuce and slices of raw zucchini on a whole grain baguette would complete my sandwich, with a final drizzle of the KC Masterpiece Buffalo Marinade for one more punch of flavor.  This was a sandwich so good it made me want to slap my momma!

This recipe is done in steps.  You can marinate the tofu for 30 minutes or up to over-night.  What's key to do and use are the following:  Use firm or extra-firm style tofu only - it holds up better.  Use whole wheat bread crumbs and season them with salt, pepper and flavors of your choice.  Bake the tofu to reduce the trouble of handling the breaded tofu strips and to cut out almost all the oil needed for "frying".







Buffalo-style Tofu Ingredients:
  • 1 Block (about 1 pound) of Light-style FIRM Tofu - drained, patted dry and cut into 1 inch by inch thick wedges
  • 1 Cup KC Masterpiece Buffalo Marinade
  • 1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil (or light olive, canola or other mildly flavored oil)
  • 1 Cup All-purpose White or Whole Wheat Flour - sifted
  • 1 Egg - beaten and thinned with 2 tablespoons of water
  • 2 Cups Whole Wheat Bread Crumbs
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Tablespoon EACH - Ground Onion and Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Paprika (smoked or hot is best!)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Oregano
For the Sandwich:
  • 1 Whole wheat or multi grain baguette or roll (cut the baguette into 3 or 4 pieces, depending on its size)
  • 1 Laughing Cow Bleu Cheese Wedge per sandwich
  • 1 Leaf of Romaine Lettuce per sandwich- washed and dried
  • 3 or 4 Baked Tofu Strips per sandwich
  • 1 Tablespoon KC Masterpiece Buffalo Marinade for drizzling
  • 1 Celery Stick per sandwich - cut into long thin slices
  • 1 Small Carrot per sandwich - Cleaned and Peeled then shredded or peeled with a vegetable peeler into thin slices
  • Zucchini Slices (Optional) - peeled with a vegetable peeler to get thin ribbons
Directions:
  1. Drain the tofu and pat it dry.  Cut the block in half through the center, creating two thin pieces.  Cut each slice into 4 or 6 long strips.  Carefully place the cut tofu strips into a shallow dish or container and pour 1 coup of KC Masterpiece Buffalo Marinade over the tofu.  Cover, refrigerate and marinate 30 minutes or up to over-night.
  2. When ready to bake the tofu, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prepare a sheet/baking tray by lining it with either a Silpat, aluminum foil or parchment paper.  Pour the 1/4 cup of oil onto the sheet tray and set aside.
  3. Create your dredging station by preparing three shallow bowls or plates: one with the flour, one with the beaten egg and water, and one with the breadcrumbs.  Season the flour with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Season the breadcrumbs with the salt, pepper, ground onion and garlic powders, paprika and oregano.  
  4. Carefully remove each marinated tofu slice from the marinade and allow some of the excess marinade to drain off.  Dip each slice of the marinated tofu, first into the flour to coat it; then dip it into the egg to give the breadcrumbs a surface onto which to to stick; lastly dip the tofu strips into the seasoned breadcrumbs, coating the tofu entirely.
  5. Place each breaded tofu strip onto the prepared oiled sheet tray. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, then turn each strip over and bake an additional 15 minutes.  
  6. When ready to make your sandwiches, cut the baguette (if using) into sandwich sized slices and cut open.  Spread one wedge of the Laughing Cow Bleu Cheese on  each sandwich; lay one leaf of romaine lettuce onto the sandwich, top with the baked tofu and drizzle with additional KC Masterpiece Buffalo Marinade then top with shredded carrots, celery strips and zucchini slices; close the sandwich, bite it, eat it and and enjoy it!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

South Philly Walkabout: Gardens, Food and Art Finds


Over a week ago, I had the chance to do a garden and "Urban Farm" tour of South Philadelphia.  It was organized by the South Philly Food Co-op.  I've been wanting to post photos about our walkabout but never got around to it.  So, before it's the dead of winter, I thought I'd put the photos up and share the experiences of what we found and saw in and around South Philly.  The above photo is at Broad and Synder Avenue - at South Philadelphia High School - a school more infamous for all the strife and violence than for anything nurturing or growing there.  In a small reclaimed plot of land, the students and community have staked out a lovely garden, or  orchard.  In this spot are blackberry bushes, herbs, wild strawberries, a fig tree (planted by Mayor Nutter); crepe myrtle and other assorted flora and knit/yarn bombed artistic embellishments.  There's a compost bed and a water recycling barrel.  This was our first stop on the garden tour - getting us off to a great start.


 Next on our tour was a house and garden on Sartain Street owned by the most lovely couple, Randy and Erica.  They had a wonderful little house which they graciously opened to all and even allowed Nate to enjoy their garden and wagon.   This garden was out front and out back of their house.  Inside was their great collection of reclaimed house ware, art, furniture and home to a large Gila monster/iguana and some doves.


 After two gardens on the East side of Broad Street, we headed over to the West Side and made a pit stop at Cafe Ultimo for the best Macchiatto outside of Italy.

 Found some cool Street Art along the way too.

Then we visited this public garden in the middle of Hicks Street between McKean and Mifflin Streets. This garden is in a former space that once had a house in the middle of a block of row homes.  It starts on the street - and leads all the way back to where a traditional city back yard/patio would normally be located.  The owners/gardeners have worked on this for years, adding all kinds of embellishments - mosaics, brick pathways, trees, shrubs, butterfly gardens and a back pergola sitting area.  Nate thoroughly enjoyed walking through the garden and wanted to try his hand at a bit of gardening too.



 After we left the public garden, we were treated to a magnificent view of Center City on a clear and sunny day.  Almost makes me nostalgic for City Living.  Almost...
 Back on the Eastern Side of Broad Street, we visited a garden above the street - a back yard with a small street level garden but also with a garden up on a patio, above a garage.  Lots of self-contained vegetables growing, cucumbers, chard, herbs, in addition to flowers and bamboo.
 Having found a few hidden gems, I didn't think I'd see anything more magnificent in a South Philly back yard, until we came to this place near 12th and Dickenson Street. It was like stepping into another country.  Such a formal garden with a bit of whimsy too.  The owner said it's about 2 years strong now.  The garden crew from Urban Jungle on Passyunk Avenue helped to build the raised beds and put in the plants.  Very impressive and very large by South Philly standards.
 A few houses down the garden was a bit different.  Just as large, but the space was used more like an outdoor living room or patio.  A few tomato plants.  It was impressive for its size more than anything else.
A little stray we spotted along the way
 After a few more blocks, both Nate and I were nearly done for the day - we were out for over 3 hours and had walked about 3 miles.  Since there were a few more gardens on our way to our house, I meandered a little more.  We stopped at one house that I often pass by, so I had to stop in to see what was behind their doors.  The garden was big, but didn't have much in the way of plants or vegetables.  They did have a very lovely cat that tolerated Nate getting down next to him.  In my book, if the pet is cool with my kid sticking his face up against yours, then that's a great pet.  Nate enjoyed this garden far more than I.


 Last stop of the garden tour - along 8th Street.  Tiny house with a tiny garden but the owner made the most of both.  The back garden was a postage stamp size filled with plants and a tree! I was so tired that I forgot to take photos of the garden but remembered to snap a photo of her front stoop.  Love it when people take care enough of their homes to continue the pretty to the front for everyone to enjoy.


Home! After a proper rest, something to eat and a clean up, we went out that evening to see a friend's art at B Square Gallery off of 9th and South Street.  By this time, Liz had come home from a long day at work, so we made our evening art and food find a family affair. We made a quick stop in the gallery to see my friend, Diane R's drawings.  The theme of the show was the Insect Invitational.  There are many lovely pieces in the show, some of which include hand made jewelry with a bug/insect theme.  Even the catering, by Gerri Demitry, was bugging out.  As much as I loved the art, and really enjoyed having the chance to a) get out and do another fun thing with my family and b) do





something adult and run into an old friend, I really loved finding this beautiful catered food-as-art.  Ideas I will definitely be incorporating into my Bicycle Chef recipes and techniques.  It's funny, but it's been so long since I've had any artistically creative food design ideas but I used to do stuff like this a lot when I worked at Whole Foods.  I really loved the chef's creative use of food and vegetables.  She had beautiful displays using food in clever ways.  The food was edible and approachable while being whimsical.  A lovely touch for an art show opening and a great last find of my long wonderful day.  For the full photo show of the garden tour, visit my Flickr page - The Bicycle-Chef via this hyperlink!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cool Finds: Clorox Wipes, Brita Water Bottles & Glad Salad Containers




Came home to discover a package in the mail today - a bunch of great items back-to-school essentials were delivered to me courtesy of DailyBuzz Moms, the Tastemaker program and blog site that's part of FoodBuzz, my blog advertiser.  Who doesn't love coming home to goodies and gifties?  I sure love 'em!  I had been waiting a few weeks for these to arrive and was about to give up hope when these arrived.  I knew about the Clorox wipes, a necessity in my house in the kitchen and bathrooms, but I wasn't sure what the Glad Lunch to Go containers were going to be and I sure didn't expect to find this smart water bottle with a Brita Filter.


Most people might not get excited about cleaning products and lunch box gear, but I have to tell you  - these are the sorts of things that I love (aside from finding great street art, donuts or candy!)  It's the little and simple things in life that please me.  I've already put the Clorox wipes to good use, cleaning up a basil oil spill on the kitchen counter.  I was straining my basil oil from the basil puree through a fine mesh strainer into separate containers.  Somehow, even though I was being very careful, I had a bit of an anti-freeze coloured oil slick on the counter.  I'm becoming a more of a neatnik around the house these days as we have just listed our house for sale.  The City Gals are moving to the Country.  Or rather, we hope to go over the river and cross a bridge to South Jersey, specifically, Collingswood, NJ.  It's imperative that we keep our house as neat, clean and clutter free as possible now that we'll have potential buyers coming over to have a looksee at The Bicycle Chef's Kitchen.  Gotta keep it neat and tidy.

As for all the uses the Brita Filter water bottle and Glad Lunch to Go Containers will get, I've got ideas teeming in the old noggin.  The water bottle is great since I can take it to work and fill it there and have fresh tasting water instead of Schuylkill Punch.  I usually take a water bottle to work filled with filtered water; having this bottle with a built in filter will allow me to drink more water every day, not just what I carry.


The Glad containers have a built in salad (or dip, hummus, salsa, guacamole, peanut butter & jelly, etc.) holder that you can fill then snap onto the underside of the lid.  I'm bringing one to my co-worker, Phyllis, she should get a lot of use out of this clever idea.  She has a salad for lunch every day and she brings her dressing in an old plastic pill bottle!  I'm always teasing her about this and for her bringing hummus wrapped in a bit of tinfoil.

I've been looking for some sort of self-contained dressing and salad lunch kit and this Glad Container will fit the bill for both Phyllis and me.  As my little Nibblet, Nate, who's now playschool age, is ready to take his lunch or water bottle to school, I'll have extra lunch box goods for him to use.  Liz should be able to take salads or left-overs to work and have a "picnic-meal" for her lunch or dinner just like The Bicycle Chef.  Great finds in the mailbox today, and great finds to be put to use for tomorrow's lunch.  Thanks DailyBuzz Moms and Clorox!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cool Finds: Beer Cozy


Nate and I did a walkabout today through South Philadelphia, checking out urban public and private gardens.  It was a tour organized by the South Philly Co-op, to raise funds for their food co-op, to bring awareness to the area and to showcase the most innovative and imaginative gardens and urban farms in the South Philadelphia region.  I have a post and lots of photos to come all about our adventures today but I wanted to highlight a find I discovered today along the way.  It has nothing to do with the tour but it was a find I came across because of the tour.  


Our wanderings took us across Broad Street to the 15th and Mifflin Street area.  As we headed over there, Nate in his stroller and me in my walking sneakers, I realized that we'd be passing near to Cafe Ultimo, Philadelphia's best Brew Boutique, coffees and bottled beers.  I took a side trip to the cafe to enjoy a macchiato and a savory scone (the espresso was full-bodied, smooth, rich, flavorful and velvety; the scone was buttery and nutty with hints of herbs and vegetables.)  

As we were heading over to the outdoor garden in the 16th and Hicks Street Block, I notices two girls with a stash of crocheted/knitted items.  I stopped to chat with the girls, Jennie and Liz, and asked them if they were part of the yarnbombing crew around the City.  They said, no they weren't and we had a laugh about that as they clearly knew my reference.  Our chitchat meandered, much like my walk, here and there.  I asked them what the items were and when Jennie told me they were beer cozies, I got really excited.  We talked about places to sell them, with me suggesting my favorite store in the neighborhood - Nice Things on Passyunk Avenue.  As our conversation went on, I realized that I needed to show my appreciation of her  craft work, so I bought two, for 5 bucks each.  I love them!  Used them tonight and they kept my sweaty beer bottle from dripping all over my table and me.  The beer stayed cool longer even though it wasn't in an insulated cover.  Quite a find.  Jennie, Liz, if you are reading this, please send me your info and leave a comment here!  I'd love to buy more and to have others enjoy your cozy as much as I am!  Cheers!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Basil Oil in 6 Easy Steps

Every summer I make big batches of basil oil, which is similar to pesto but better because it's fresher, lighter, more fragrant and in an odd way, healthier.  The basil oil that I make yields two products (the gorgeous oil and the basil paste), lasts for nearly a year if you freeze it in small batches and you can still make pesto out of it whenever you need it.  I was looking through my recipe archives on the blog and realize that while I talk about basil oil and make it every year, I don't think I've posted a recipe for it on this blog, until now.

Here in six easy steps is your key to making use of all the fragrant basil that is in abundance in gardens and farmers markets.  The recipe is more about the technique so exact amounts aren't necessary.  I picked as much basil as I could out of my garden without completely stripping my basil plant of all of its leaves.  I estimate I used about a half pound of basil leaves and a full liter of light olive oil.  The oil you use shouldn't be expensive or extra virgin.  I'll tell you a secret about flavored oils - they are usually the cheapest, poorest quality oils, as the flavoring agents are what you are tasting.  I'm not advocating buying a crap olive oil, but don't stress and spend the big bucks on a fancy schmancy imported Extra Virgin, organic and or limited pressed olive oil.  Buy a decent bottle of light olive oil from your supermarket.  You can even use canola oil or an olive oil blend though I prefer the flavor of plain light olive oil since I will be using the oil for cooking and the basil by-product in pesto.  If you are going to make this, make a large batch and freeze it in small containers or in ice cube compartments.   In the bleak mid-winter, you'll thank me for having it on hand as a reminder of the glory days of summer.  The recipe is written to make a liter of basil oil.

Basil Oil Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Pound of Fresh Basil Leaves
  • 1 Liter of Light Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Salt
  • 4 Quart Sauce Pot or larger filled with cold water

Directions:
1. PICK THE and CLEAN THE BASIL LEAVES: 
Remove the stems and clean the basil in cool water.  










2. BOIL WATER AND BLANCH THE BASIL LEAVES& THEN SHOCK THEM TO COOL
Bring a large pot of water to boil; when the water comes to a rolling boil, add in 2 tablespoons of salt. Working in batches, add the cleaned basil leaves to the pot of boiling water and blanch for 30 seconds; Remove the blanched basil leaves and immediately shock in cold water.

3. STRAIN THE BLANCHED BASIL AND PUT INTO A FOOD PROCESSOR: 
Strain the blanched and cooled basil leaves and wring dry of excess water.  Don't worry about "man-handling" the basil leaves, they can take the abuse at this point.  Besides, they'll be pulverized in your food processor or blender, turning into a darkened paste in a few moments!  Add all the basil leaves to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  If you are using a blender, work in batches and fill the blender half full with the basil leaves, tamp down a bit and then add a handful more of the blanched basil.

 
4. PROCESS THE BASIL WITH THE OIL:
With your food processor or blender off, pour in half of the olive oil.  Then put the lid on the food processor or blender tightly.  Pulse to blend and get the oil and basil moving in the work bowl.  For a food processor - pour in the remaining olive oil through the food processor's top.  If using a blender, turn the machine off, add in more basil and olive oil and pulse again.  Pulse or blend until the mixture is thoroughly incorporated and the basil is completely pulverized.  


5. PUT THE MIXTURE INTO A CONTAINER AND REFRIGERATE: 
When all the basil and olive oil is used and the mixture is completely pureed, carefully pour the mixture into a large, clean glass or plastic container.  Seal with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate up to 3 days to allow the basil's flavor to fully incorporate into the olive oil and turn it the most beautiful chartreuse shade of green.


6. STRAIN THE BASIL FROM THE OLIVE OIL TO MAKE YOUR OIL and PESTO PRODUCTS: 
After the olive oil has steeped for a few days (up to a week), take the container out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature and return to a liquid state.  Strain the basil "sludge/paste" out of the oil using a fine mesh strainer.  For a pure, sediment free basil oil, strain it several times through as fine mesh strainer (or use a coffee filter) as you have on hand.  Save the basil paste to use in a pesto base, adding cheese, pine nuts, garlic and salt and pepper.  The basil paste can also be used to flavor sauces, tomato sauces, soups, vegetables, potatoes, salad dressings or other dishes when a pop of intense basil flavor is needed.  Use the basil oil as you would regular olive oil; salad dressings, to saute foods; as a drizzling oil; for dipping bread; to flavor mashed/smashed or boiled potatoes.  Refrigerated, both the basil and the oil will keep for a few weeks in tightly covered containers.  For best storage, freeze the oil and the basil paste in small batches. Frozen, both products will keep for up to 9 months.

UPDATE @ 9/12/11: Here's what it will look like after several days of "steeping" and settling in the refrigerator:
The basil puree will settle to the bottom and the luscious green basil oil will be on top.  At this point, allow the oil to come to room temperature for easier pouring.  Strain the oil through a fine mess strainer inter a clean container and reserve both the oil and basil puree separately.  I filled and froze an entire ice cube tray with the basil.  I have about 3/4 of this container filled with the oil - about 3 to 4 cups of basil oil.