Tag: recipes

Sometimes, Ugly Food Can Still Taste Good

The Scarlet Plate … like the scarlet letter but for food that just didn’t do the right thing.

Since I had to run errands today, I thought I might take a day off from cooking. But when I was putting some fresh produce in the fridge, I was shocked to find more ingredients that need to be used. You’d think I’d have cleaned out everything by now but nooooooo. I ran across things that got pushed to the back of the crisper OR that migrated to parts unknown only to be discovered on the threshold of expiration. I SERIOUSLY over-bought for the Christmas and New Year’s and, yes, some of this stuff is really THAT old! Thankfully, between an extra “garage” refrigerator that doesn’t get opened and closed much, as well as an overabundance of Lock & Lock containers, I lose far less to the trash than I might otherwise. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Today’s find … broccoli. Still looks good, still tastes good. It’s a miracle! I also found a block of tofu that’s ready to expire. Those things made me think of long ago and far away when a friend of mine introduced me to some amazing vegetarian recipes. Back in the late 80s and early 90s Broccoli Tofu Casserole was one of my favorites.

Unfortunately, no one remembers that recipe. I remember the flavors but have no idea about the quantities of ingredients or the cook times. I’ve searched the internet far and wide and can’t find any recipe that ticks all the boxes. It’s hard to think that a dish that was so memorable to me didn’t stand the test of time and turn up on someone’s website. So I have no choice but to throw caution to the wind, try to rely on my recollection and experience, and just take my chances that I can pull together something edible from these sad, forgotten foods.

One of the advantages of being just an OK home cook is that I’ve got nothing to lose by trying. I don’t have much of an ego in the kitchen so reputation and standing aren’t considerations. When I was younger, I admit that I was sometimes reluctant to cook anything that wasn’t a guarantee. Those days are long gone. What’s the worst that can happen, right?

So I’m flying by the seat of my pants today. Working without a net (i.e., a recipe). Armed with a general idea about ingredients and techniques, I’m going to face the uncertainty and just go for it. The only thing I know for sure is that one way or another, I’m bound to learn something.

Here goes nuthin’ …

Ingredients

Olive oil, milk (dairy or non), brown rice, tofu, broccoli, onion, garlic, Worchestershire sauce, cornstarch, salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, & additional salt/pepper.

The casserole that I made with my friend was pretty straightforward. Basically just throw everything into a baking dish, add the liquid, cover and bake. Today, I’m going to add a couple of steps to that to give it a boost.

Drain the tofu and slice in half lengthwise.
Dice 1/2 at a time into cubes.
I like the bigger cubes but you can go smaller if you prefer.
Combine the cornstarch, paprika, onion powder, salt, and pepper.
Sprinkle over the tofu cubes, toss gently to coat.
Put the cubes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 400.
After 15 minutes, remove from the oven, turn them over, and bake for another 15 minutes.

If you haven’t already done it, while the tofu is baking you can prep the rest of the ingredients.

Break the broccoli up into florets.
Rinse the rice.
Mince the garlic.
Dice the onions. This takes about 2 seconds in the Genius Dicer. I LOVE this thing!
By this time the tofu should be ready to come out of the oven.
Heat a pan, add 2 tbsp. olive oil and saute’ the onions and garlic til tender.
Add the broccoli florets, salt and pepper.
Cook about 3-4 minutes until the broccoli is bright green.
Add the rice to a 3 qt. baking dish.
Spoon the broccoli, onions, and garlic over the rice.

Up to this point, everything was going pretty well. But this is where I needed the recipe. Even though I know more about food science than I used to, I made a pretty catastrophic mistake which I forgot to photograph because I panicked. But I’ll add a section about “what went wrong” at the end, just in case anyone actually wants to try this at home.

Add the tofu and pour the milk (heated) over the top.
Drizzle with the Worchestershire sauce.
Cover and bake for 45 minutes at 350. Then remove the lid and top with shredded cheese or bread crumbs if desired. Then bake another 15-20 minutes.

So there you have it. There is no picture of the finished dish still in the baker because it turned out really super ugly (see photo at the top of the page). No curb appeal (or plate appeal) whatsoever.

Here’s what went right …

Right #1: The flavor was pretty close.

Right #2: Cutting the tofu into large cubes was definitely the thing to do because it held up to the size of the broccoli florets.

Right #3: Seasoning the tofu ahead of putting it into the baker was definitely a good idea, and baking it separately ahead of time helped the tofu add some texture to the dish. It’s not something we did back in the day, and the tofu was always pretty mushy. But doing it this way made for a better dish.

And here’s where the train went off the tracks …

What went wrong …

WRONG #1: I should have known that milk and Worchestershire sauce would NOT mix. The recipe back in the day called for a lot of Worchestershire. That was the main flavor bomb for the whole dish and it was delicious. HOWEVER, nut milks weren’t in the mainstream then and I THINK I remember that the recipe called for nonfat milk. I used 2% today because (big surprise) … it was due to expire shortly and I needed to use it up. And what do we get, boys and girls, when we add acid to hot milk? That’s right!

We get CURDS!

When I made this recipe years ago I remember that I used to combine the Worchestershire and the milk and the salt and pepper and cayenne (which I forgot about until right now). Just dump it all in one vessel, mix it all together, and pour it into the dish. That way, all of the flavors were distributed evenly throughout. And there were no curds.

Back then, I had no knowledge of kitchen science so I didn’t know that curds were even a consideration. It just so happened we always drank nonfat milk so the ingredient on hand was always the right one. But in my quest to bring my skills up from just “OK,” I have learned how to make ricotta and farmer’s cheese. Today, that knowledge just didn’t immediately come to me as I wasn’t in a cheese-making context. Actually, I WAS in a cheese-making context. I just didn’t know it! And I imagine that the original recipe maintained a lower ratio of acid to milk so even the small curds that can form in skim milk wouldn’t have shown up.

So I had to start over with the milk and at that point, I really should have moved over to nut milk (which was probably WRONG #2) but I thought I could get away with just pouring a fresh batch of heated milk over the dish and drizzling the Worchestershire. I kinda didn’t. Which is one reason that it’s a really ugly dish.

Wrong #3: I used too much rice. I did look up some tips on how to bake brown rice in the oven, because I remember the original recipe called for uncooked rice. But looking back, I’m pretty sure that the original recipe just called for plain old white rice so that would be …

Wrong #4: I second-guessed myself and used 2 cups of brown rice instead of 1 1/2 cups. I just used too much brown rice and …

Wrong #5: The rice needed to cook longer. Rather than bake it any longer (because the broccoli was looking pretty sad), I took it out of the oven and left it in the dish, covered, thinking that the residual heat would help the rice.

Wrong #6: I sprinkled some grated cheese over the top … to try to make it look better. It didn’t. And it didn’t add much to the flavor. If I was going to do it, I should have used better, sharper cheddar cheese (or a Gruyere) OR I should have used pulverized cashews with nutritional yeast because that would have given it a nice topping, a cheesy goodness AND a better texture without making it gummy.

The original recipe did call for cheese on top. Possibly to help hold everything together, but I’m not sure.

So there you have it. In case anyone wants to try this, here’s the recipe, revised to (hopefully) take care of today’s mistakes:

Broccoli Tofu Casserole

Part 1

  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, cubed
  • olive oil cooking spray (or olive oil in an EVO sprayer)
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Drain excess moisture from the tofu. Combine seasonings with cornstarch and toss tofu cubes in the mixture. Spread the cubes on the baking sheet, spray lightly with oil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, turn the cubes over, spray lightly with oil and bake another 15 minutes.

Part 2

Reduce oven temperature to 350.

  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 c. broccoli florets
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 1/2 c. brown rice
  • 1 3/4 c. almond milk, heated
  • 3 Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce

Add oil to hot pan on stove, and saute onion and garlic until tender. Add broccoli, salt and pepper, and saute for 3-4 minutes until broccoli is bright green.

Rinse rice and drain well. Put rice into a 3 qt. baking dish. Spoon broccoli mixture on top. Add tofu on top.

Combine milk with Worchestershire, salt, pepper, and cayenne and stir well. Pour over rice, broccoli, and tofu.

Cover and bake for 45-50 minutes. Then remove cover, add topping of choice (seasoned bread crumbs, grated cheese, nut/nutritional yeast “cheesy topping”) and bake another 15 minutes til rice is tender.

While my effort today didn’t turn out as planned, it still tastes pretty good. Very close to the original recipe but I think the omission of the cayenne made a big difference. I knew the dish was missing something but didn’t remember until I started writing this up. And I think that the Worchestershire sauce would work much better with an almond or cashew milk because you’d get the flavor and not have to worry about the curds. That would, however, mean that there was nothing (not even tiny curds from nonfat milk) to hold everything together so that’s something to think about. A binder of some kind might be needed … not sure flax would do it. If I think of something, and I have a chance to test it out, I’ll let you know!

As with some of my other recipes, this is vegetarian. Given the curd situation, it’s better to use nut milk of some kind but remember if you use soy milk, soy milk still makes curds. You’ve been warned!

Also, like some of my other recipes, converting this to a vegan recipe is super simple – nut milk instead of dairy, leave out the cheese and use the cashew/nutritional yeast suggestion if you want something to sprinkle on top.

Good luck! I’ll keep you posted if I discover how to make additional improvements over time.

The Best Things in Life Always Include Butter … or DO THEY?

Well, today’s the day I find out if that’s true. Or should I say that I’m going to find out if that’s true of pie crust. I’ll tackle more “best things” in subsequent posts. But first, a little background.

I have a longstanding relationship with butter.

It started when I was still a baby. See? That’s me in the picture, and the semi-soft clump stuck to my face is 100% butter, fresh from the dairy.

Buttered Baby … mmm mmm GOOD!

I was only four months old and already, I had a deep and absolute understanding that butter was nothing short of magical. Evidently, I wanted to be smeared with it from head to toe. And who could blame me? I wasn’t old enough to ask to be coated in butter, so I just did it myself. I wish I could remember how it felt but I’d be hard pressed to think that it was anything short of magnificent. Well worth the scolding that (I’m told) came next.

When I decided to become more than just OK in the kitchen, I channeled my inner baby and kept it simple: Grab what I could reach and practice full immersion. I cooked more often, used different cookware. I tried different tools and techniques, and I used ingredients I had no experience with. Turns out that’s the best way to do it and that’s what I’m still doing today. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with more plant-based options.

It’s a trend, sure, but it’s something I’ve fiddled around with off and on since the late 70s … when the information superhighway was still a one-lane road paved with punch cards and people spreading the word were pretty hard to come by around these parts. Thankfully, times have changed A LOT!

While I’m not exclusively vegan or vegetarian, I do get a huge kick out of learning how to use nontraditional ingredients in traditional recipes. And I get pretty excited when I run across something new and different at the grocery store. I like to see how I might be able to work it into one of my go-to concoctions.

I recently discovered Country Crock Plant Butter — sticks of “butter” made from almond oil, avocado oil, or olive oil.

Too good to be true?

I’m curious to see if the claims on the outside of the box (“Great For Cooking and Baking”) are the real deal. Not that I think they’d lie about something like that. I’m sure they’re being completely truthful, but when people get excited about a new product, it’s easy to be overly optimistic. Plus, we all have varying preferences when it comes to the finished results. It could turn out to be the case that, like many plant-based ingredients, the product is limited in its baking applications. In other words, just because you CAN use it in baking, doesn’t mean you should. And more specifically, it might work better in some recipes than others.

Having said that, if you do decide to take the plunge, be sure to read the label. I saw it at the store and grabbed a box of each variety without reading the fine print. It is true, this is plant-based, but nowhere on the box does it claim to be vegan. It does say right on the box that it’s 79% plant-based oil spread. Admittedly, I’m not the best at seeing those details when I’m in shopping mode, armed with a list and a pen, maneuvering a cart and navigating grocery store traffic on a tight schedule. I tend to ride the wave of my initial enthusiasm at the time I discover something and then neglect to think of details when I’m in the moment. I imagine a lot of other people are the same way.

Nevertheless, I gave it a go, just because I’d already made up my mind to see how it worked in real baking where fat is critical to the success of the recipe. So what better recipe to try than a pie crust?

Pie Crust

A basic pie crust constructed with alternative nut butters.
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 stick of butter I'm substituting the plant-based alternative, almond oil "butter"
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar I leave this out if I'm making the crust for a savory pie
  • 2 Tbsp. ice water with an additional 2 Tbsp. on the side just in case it's been really dry here.

Instructions

  • Add flour to the food processor, add cubed/grated butter, sprinkle with salt (and sugar if you want a sweeter crust), and pulse 5 or 6 times until the butter is cut into the flour and the ingredients look like loose crumbs.
  • Add the water 1 Tbsp. at a time and pulse about another 5-7 times until the ingredients come together very loosely. It should still look look crumbly inside the bowl of the processor, but when you pulse, you should see the ingredients slowly climb the sides of the bowl and fall back on top of themselves. The mixture should not look like a dough. It should look crumbly.
  • Spread a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and tip the food processor out onto the plastic. Pick up the plastic from the corners and keeping your hands on the outside of the plastic, squeeze the ingredients into a ball. Flatten into a disc and refrigerate for an hour before attempting to roll out. *It should feel fairly firm (not soft, but not hard as a rock) before you try to roll it out.
  • Once the crust is chilled sufficiently, lay one sheet of parchment on a solid surface. Remove the plastic wrap from the chilled pie dough. Place another sheet of parchment on top of the disc and roll out to 1/4" thick. Then continue with the recipe for the pie you've chosen to make.

Notes

Tools:
– I use a Ninja food processor for my crusts, but if you want to do it by hand you'll need a bowl.
– Plastic Wrap
– Parchment
– Rolling pin
– Pie plate
Make sure the butter is very cold. I usually put mine in the freezer for about 1/2 hour before I assemble the ingredients. You can either cube the stick of butter - about 1/2" cubes - or you can take a box grater to it.

Nutrition


Per Serving: 580 calories; 33 g fat; 50.6 g carbohydrates; 20.3 g
protein; 50 mg cholesterol; 760 mg sodium.

I made a blueberry pie. I made a small one, and used 1/2 of the crust for the bottom and 1/2 for the top.

B for blueberry, not B for beautiful!
The good news …

using the plant-based butter, I did manage a crust, as evidenced in the photo. It rolled out OK and didn’t split, although there are a couple of tiny holes I didn’t notice when I took the picture. In the finish, it was tasty enough. I eventually got a decent bake out of it, no soggy bottom.

No soggy bottom
The bad news …

the dough took longer to chill. It always felt soft when I checked, so I left it until I finally decided to take a chance rolling it out. Given the softer texture, I lacked the courage I needed to roll it thinly. I think I left it a bit too thick. It took longer to bake than usual. Pie recipes usually take about an hour (425 for 20 minutes and 350 for 40), but this one took forever and I lost track of how long I left it in. It easily took an additional 30 minutes over the prescribed time, and I may have given it another 15-20 minutes on top of that which puts it at a whopping 1 hour and 45/50 minutes. I covered the crimp in foil, but it still browned more than I preferred. And the top center looked very pale compared to my usual pies.

As to flavor, the crust was too salty. I forgot to check the sodium content of the almond oil variety in the nutritional information on the box. I’m not sure how or whether it’s even possible to clear that hurdle. There has to be salt in the flour/fat mixture in order for salt to cut the fat into the flour. That alone might make it a less than suitable choice for pie crusts.

The verdict

Using Country Crock Plant Butter to make a pie crust is not worth the bother. Not for me, anyway.

The crust wasn’t awful but it wasn’t brilliant, either. And nutritionally, Plant Butter sort of lands somewhere in the middle. It only has 2g less saturated fat than dairy butter. Calorie count is the same, fat grams are the same. However, Plant Butter is cholesterol-free, so it wins in that category.

If it weren’t for flavor, vegetable shortening would be the better option – a tried and true fat for making crusts. Nutritionally shortening only has 1 additional gram of fat than Plant Butter BUT it’s got less saturated fat. Shortening is also available in a butter flavored option.

I’ve heard that coconut oil makes a tasty crust. And I’ve seen some really stellar results on other blogs and recipe sites so I’ll probably try that option next. I may try the other 2 varieties of Plant Butter since I already have them on hand. However, I’m not convinced I’d get a substantially different result. They all have the same added ingredients to make up the 21% that’s not plant-based.

For now, in the context of butter being part of the best things in life, I’m going to declare that to be true when it comes to pie crusts.