Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tofu Hokey Pokey

So each year my husband and I throw a huge blowout party.  We just hosted our 8th annual Kumoniwanalaya Summer Luau complete with a (poor porky) pig roast, a DJ, dancing, pool, bartender, server, live entertainment (acoustic guy and then a fire-eater this year)....the works.  We spend an ungodly amount of money just so that we can entertain almost 100 of our closest friends and have a hell of a time in the comfort of our own home and we love every second of it.

Every year since changing my diet, although we have not abandoned the pig roast part, I use the luau as a venue to showcase my culinary skills and prove to people that dairy-free and mostly meat free food can be delicious.  This years biggest hit?  My not-at-all-vegan but 100% delicious ceviche topped the charts.  I dont have pictures, but I served said ceviche in empty and sanitized scallop shells passed around by our lovely server.

Next came one of my scariest recipes yet.  I thought it sounded like a brilliant idea and when I made it, it smelled great but watching it marinate in my fridge, I got nervous.  I even told my friends who were helping me prepare for my soiree that I had this idea for a Hawaiian favorite, tuna poke (pronounced pokey) but minus tuna, plus tofu.  While I would LOVE to serve tuna poke, lets be honest, at nearly $30 per pound, that is not a feasible option for serving about 100 people.  In addition, I wanted to create a recipe that did not involve fish since most of the food I prepared for hors d'oeuvres was in fact, seafood.  Salmon cakes with dill 'sour creme', shrimp cocktail, ceviche....tuna poke just sounded so divine, so elegant, so perfectly 'luau', I had to try to make it with tofu.

And I did.  Successfully.  And it was effing awesome.  I am not one to toot my own horn, but TOOT freaking TOOT...I surprised myself.  It was elegant, beautiful to look at and full of flavor.  While the tofu didnt fool many people, the color confused people and it was close enough for normally unwilling tofu-eaters to taste, and fall in love with.  I did not use vegan wontons, though I hear they exist.  This was meat and dairy free but the wontons I am sure had egg.

And I present you with....AHI TU-NO TOFU POKE

Ahi Tofu Poke
Makes 25-40 ahi tofu wontons depending on size

1 lb firm tofu (Not silken), drained and pressed at least a few hours
1/2 medium cucumber
3 green onions
1/3 c tamari
1 Tbsp beet juice*
1 lime, juiced
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1 Tbsp sriracha sauce
2 Tbsp white sesame seeds
1/2 tsp dulse powder
1 large sheet toasted nori seaweed OR 3-4 sheets of the snack size toasted seaweed
1 package won-tons
1-2 avocados, diced
1 lime, for juice
high heat oil, for frying

black or white sesame seeds
hoisin sauce (optional)
sriracha sauce (optional)

Dice the tofu into a small dice like the size of tuna poke.  Peel and seed the cucumber and dice that as well.  Chop green onions, white and green parts into 1/4" or smaller pieces.  Toss together in a bowl.

In a seperate bowl, whisk tamari, beet juice, lime juice, sesame oil, ginger, sriracha, sesame seeds and dulse powder.

In a blender, food processor or with a mortar and pestle grind the seaweed until it is almost a powder but not quite.  Add that to the tamari mix.  Toss this marinade with your tofu mixture.

Store in an airtight, shallow dish or tupperware for 8 hours or overnight.  Turn over or toss as needed to make sure it is evening marinating.

When tofu is ready, cut wontons on the diagonal.  Sprinkle the juice of the second lime over the diced avocado and set aside. Heat about 1" oil in a skillet to medium heat.  Have tongs ready...these puppies fry up FAST.  It only takes a few seconds each.  Prepare a plate with paper towels next to the stove to drain fried wontons.

When the oil is hot, place a few wontons in the oil.  Fry them only a few seconds on each side.  As soon as they are a medium-light brown color, remove them to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.

To serve, Top each crispy wonton with a small heap of the tofu poke and then with a little of the diced avocado.  Likewise, you could serve the tofu poke in a small dish with crispy wontons for dipping.

Optional: sprinkle with sesame seeds, drizzle hoisin or sriracha over it.

*Yes, I actually ran a beet through my juicer as suggested by my friend Deanna when I was running the idea by her.  This gives the tofu a reddish pink color likened to tuna.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pho-king Pho-nomenal Vegetarian Pho

Pho, pronounced 'fuh' the sound F makes, is a poplar Vietnamese soup that only made its mark in history about a century ago.  It consists of broth, rice noodles, meat and herbs.  My husband is a pho-king Pho pho-natic!  He was first introduced to it by his Vietnamese business partner and has since developed an addiction that lands him in our local Vietnamese joint at least twice a week.  Considering I do not eat a lot of meat, eating food typical of other cultures is more common for me than eating nasty ass greasy cancer causing American food.  So, I quickly jumped on the bandwagon headed straight for taste-bud heaven and began learning more about cooking southeast Asian food.

I recently became good friends with a woman who was born in Cambodia and spent her early years there, in Thailand and in the Philippines.  She is no stranger to the food of that region and came over to give me some tutorials on authentic southeast Asian cuisine.  Using her guidance, I made Pho for the first time for my hubby.  Now, I have no idea what the hell the stuff even tastes like because it is always made with oxtail and other disgusting meats....tripe anyone...ick!  I made it, he raved and I never even so much as licked the spoon.  So, I had to really wing it to attempt to veganize this one.  And, not just veganize a dish popular for its odd meat selections that I have never even tasted but also make it without....DUN DUN DUN....MSG.

Yesterday was the day I finally got to taste Pho for the first time.  The house smelled DIVINE while it was cooking but my heart was in my stomach when my Pho-natical Pho-loving husband took his first bite.  Was it good enough?  He is very critical of my food and if he does not like something, he has no qualms about showing his disgust.  Especially when it comes to a dish he knows well and eats twice a week from both the restaurant and made by his Vietnamese friends who hold tight to their culture (i.e. food).  Needless to say, I was hoping for the best while watching him slurp up his first bite of vegan Pho but expecting a harsh critique and then a lecture about how MSG just belongs in some food (Don't get me started...).

His reaction, "It's good babe! Spot on!"

Whew, I wiped the sweat from my brow and dug in to what would be my first love affair with this delicious soup.  As close to authentic as I could possibly make it, behold: VEGAN PHO.

Vegetarian Pho
serves 8

20 cups water
1/4 c tamari (or shoyu or Braggs liquid aminos)
2-3 cups dried shitake mushrooms
3 Not-Beef bouillon cubes
2 Tbsp salt
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 large onion
1 3" piece ginger root
2 garlic cloves, still in garlic 'paper'
8 whole star anise
5 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
1/2 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 Tbsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
rice noodles*

bean sprouts
jalenpeno slices
basil (or thai basil)
hoisin sauce
sriracha sauce
chili garlic sauce

Turn oven to Broil.

Put 20 cups of water, tamari, dried mushrooms, bouillon, salt and sugar into a large pot.  Turn heat to high.

While that is heating up, cut onion in half and remove onion paper.  Half the ginger.  Put the onion and ginger halves cut side down onto a cookie sheet with the whole garlic cloves.  Broil about 10-15 minutes until they blacken op top.

While that is broiling, heat up a skillet to medium-high heat and toss in your spices.  Toast until fragrant, about 8 minutes on med-high heat.

When your onions/ginger/garlic are done, remove them from over and toss the onions and ginger into the pot.

When the spices are toasted, toss them into a bag from from cheesecloth along with the broiled garlic.  I was out of cheesecloth and used a nut milk bag for my spices and an S hook to keep it in my pot.

Bring pot to a boil.  If a thick foam appears on top, scoop that part off.  After the broth comes to a boil, turn heat down to a simmer and simmer 4-5 hours until your liquid is reduced by at least 1/3.

When ready to serve, bring another pot of water to a boil and cook rice noodles according to package.

TO SERVE: Place garnishes on tabletop for all to use.  Herbs, jalepenos and bean sprouts on one plate and a dish for each sauce.  Place a heap of noodles into the bottom on each serving bowl and top with broth.  About 1 to 1 1/2 cups of noodles per bowl fill each bowl with broth.

TO EAT: toss in a handful of bean sprouts and whatever herbs you like.  Jalepenos if you like it hot.  Then, put a spoonful (or more) of your favorite sauce if you like.  Hoisin for sweet and the others for spicy.


*We like the pre-moistened ones from our local Asian store.  They require no cooking.  Just throw them in hot water for 10 seconds and they are done.  If you haven't familiarized yourself with your local Asian store yet, go do it!  And no two are alike!  We have 2 near us.  One owned by Koreans and one owned by Thai.  They carry a very different selection of foods each.  Go check them out!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

FOR PARENTS - How to cope and keep it healthy when your kids are surrounded by CRAP!

I can't even tell you how excited I was when YumEarth contacted me to try out some of their new products. My family depends on the products of this company on a regular basis.  Here's the thing: I have friends who have young children not in school yet who would cringe at the idea of giving their kids sweets at all.  I have others who allow their toddlers to drink Coke (ick!).  The truth is, no matter how healthy you and your family may be, your kid at some point is going to be left out unless you figure out how to 'merge' your healthy eating habits with the standard American diet of pizza and soda.   Sure, when your kids are at home all day or just in preschool some it can be easy, but when they are old enough to realize they are 'different', they can feel confused at times and it can be lonely being the ONLY kid in class who is forced to sit and stare at his classmates when Suzy's mom brings cupcakes into the class for her birthday.

For those of you parents who have not lived through these yet, you learn now!

Lesson 1: It is important to constantly (without nagging!) talk about healthy options and to discuss with your young children why you choose to eat healthy and why others don't.  Having a school age child with friends who eat far differently than us allows us plenty of time to casually discuss the topic.  I have explained to her that although eating 'bad ingredients' will not usually make you sick immediately, that over time it can cause bad diseases and a weakened immune system.  I explain to my 6 year old that an immune system is the system in the body that keeps us well and helps us to not get sick, and helps heal us when we do get sick.  I have pointed out how many of her friends have 'real' food allergies and how many of them get sick far more often than we do and how much they go to the doctor.  She knows that we eat the way we do so that we don't have to go to the doctor all of the time because we heal ourselves when we can.  We have been talking about this since she was 3 and I can almost guarantee she knows more about health than any other 6 year old.  When she told the man who offered her a free sample of beef jerky at the farmers market, "No thank you, I don't eat meat", he asked where she got her protein from (SMH!), she told him exactly where she got it, eggs, tofu, veggies, fish.  The more you talk about it, the more second nature it will become.

Lesson 2: You have to understand that if you are stringent, your child will rebel.  She will drink soda at a friends house.  She will share food in the lunch room.  The trick it to allow sugar in small doses, make it organic and PROVIDE SUBSTITUTES that look like the real thing as much as possible!  

Scenario 1: Your child is invited to a friends birthday party.  There will be cake.  There may be ice cream.  There will likely be loot bags full of high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, red #40 and all sorts of other chemicals that candy companies will try to pass off as edible.

What To Do: I bake my own dairy-free, mostly organic cupcakes and I will bring one with me to the party.  If you feel the need, explain to the parent hosting the party that your child is 'allergic' or 'sensitive' to certain ingredients and you hope its ok but you brought a cupcake for your child to eat during cake time.  I once did this and the party host had purchased princess cupcakes with Disney princess rings on the top of each.  Since she had planned for my daughter to receive one of those anyhow, she allowed me to remove the ring off of one of hers and put it on top of mine.  The trick is to allow your child the same crap....but without the crap.  ;)  If the party is at a friends house who knows our diet, I will bring a pint of dairy-free ice cream.  If it is not, I will explain to my daughter that if ice cream is served, that she I will make sure she gets some as soon as we get home and I thank her for being so good and understanding.  We also privately share how much better our ice cream tastes and that keeps her sane while the other kids dig in and cover their faces with chocolate ice cream.  She would rather have our dairy-free Mint Chip or Cookie Dough anyhow.  I also will bring some YumEarth  lollipops, jelly beans and gummy bears to stash in my purse in case of a pinata or candy-filled loot bag.

Scenario 2: You go to the bank and your child is offered a lollipop by the teller.  OR You are walking your child home from school and your daughters friend who is walking with you has a lollipop and offers one to your child

What To Do: For unexpected occasions like this, I always try to keep a small stash of YumEarth lollipops in my bag.  I swear to you I am not being paid for this, lol.  They are the only brand of organic lollipop I know of that is reasonably priced and easy to find.  So, I buy them by the big bag and keep them in my purse for anytime when a situation may arise.  They also make gummy bears and peppermint candies and other sweets that are perfect to substitute for the junk your kids may be offered.  Another good brand is SurfSweets for jelly beans and sour gummy worms!

Scenario 3: Its Halloween!  Your child is dressed up with pail in hand but do you let them go collect junk?

What To Do:  Yes, I am the person on the block with pretzels, gummy snacks, organic lollipops and toys instead of the 'good' candy bars.  But, when it comes to my kids, I take them out shopping the day before to pick out a toy.  I give them a limit, like $10 and they pick out whatever toy they want.  They are not allowed to open this yet.  Then, I go to the health food store and grab a few organic fair trade chocolate bars, a couple vegan GoMaxGo candy bars (OMG Sooo freaking good!), some SurfSweets sour worms and jelly beans and YumEarth gummy bears and lollipops.  I make a small basket for each child with the toy the chose, some candy and maybe a few other small trinkets.  When they get home from trick-or-treating, they trade me!  They get to open the toy they picked out and I let them stuff their faces with some of the candy.  I throw the junk candy away because I'm a freak like that and don't want to be the person giving it to another child to eat and further contribute to any health issues.

Scenario 4: Suzy's birthday is today and her mom came into your child's classroom with cupcakes for all of the kids.  Well,. except that your kid can't have it.

What To Do: At the beginning of each school year I initiate a conference with the teacher.  I instruct them about our eating habits.  I leave them with a bag of YumEarth lollipops and a ziploc of organic cookies or sweet that my child CAN eat.  I talk to my daughter about birthdays and that this situation will happen at some point and that she can have the sweets I left with the teacher.  She and her teacher both let me know if a birthday did happen and I make sure she gets a special treat after school for being so good and understanding.  She usually picks out ice cream or we make cupcakes.  Needless to say, when my dairy free ice cream is on sale, I LOAD up and keep it stocked in the deep freezer.  I ALWAYS have ice cream and YumEarth lollipops in case of an 'emergency'.  ;)

Scenario 5: Eating Out

What To Do: Restaurants.  I had a friend who was invited for a play date at McDonald's.  Though I myself would have declined such a trashy invite, lol, she took her son.  She ordered a hamburger without the meat.  She brought along a veggie burger and slapped it on the bun before it was wrapped and tossed into a box with fries and a toy.  Her son never knew it.  At my local pizza joint, I bring them Daiya vegan cheese and they gladly make us pizzas with it.  The kids think this is the cats ass and though we don't do it often, a special night for them includes getting pizza!  At the movies, we bring our own popcorn and snacks.  Another great option for special treats is Zevia soda.  It is sweetened with stevia which has no effect on blood sugar and is delicious!

Scenario 6: School

What To Do: SNACK TIME at school.  When Addison was 3 and in preschool a few days a week they provided snack.  Cheese and crackers was the most common.  They also had a fridge/freezer there.  I baked a dozen cupcakes, iced them and froze them.  After frozen, you can wrap them in saran wrap and stuff them into a big zip lock bag.  I brought a bag of a dozen iced and frozen cupcakes to her preschool for the 'birthday scenario'.  I also bought a ton of vegan cheese slices since the other kids were eating slices american cheese, and they would give her the vegan cheese and none of the kids were the wiser.  It looked the same!  The cheese stayed in their fridge and the cupcakes stayed int heir freezer until needed.  It is important to keep an open line of communication with your child's caregiver or teacher and stress the importance of health to them. If they don't take you seriously, tell them your child gets sick if she has anything other than what you give her.  Better yet, find a good doctor that supports your lifestyle and have them write an allergy note.
A similar situation happened recently.  My daughter was invited to go to VBS with a friend.  Not knowing if there would be a snack time,. I sent her with a baggie of Annie's bunny grahams.  When she got back she was still a little upset because apparently there was a 'treasure box' and all the kids got candy too.  Next day, she was prepared with her lollipops and gummy worms.  Most of the kids were jealous of her this time!  Luckily, she is wonderful and shared with her new friends.  
Additionally, when my daughter was in K4 preschool, her class had a treasure box.  So what did I do?  Brought in a giant bag of YumEarth lollipops along with a bunch of small trinkets/favors to fill it with.  That way, there were plenty of great options for my daughter and her classmates.

When you take your health and the heath of your kids as seriously as I do it is hard to go unnoticed.  Teachers, bankers, fellow parents, everyone will start noticing.  A few may make every second together hell but for most, a little spark will be ignited.  They see how happy and healthy you and your children are and soon the recipe requests start coming.  My children lead normal lives and hang out with normal friends.  I keep a stash of healthier junk food options for them.  Can it be a pain in the ass sometimes?  Sure, but having kids is not supposed to be easy.  You are supposed to want better for them.  To keep them healthy.  To make sure they are happy.  When I got knocked up I made the decision to be the best parent I could be.  Serving them Pepsi and McDonalds does not fit that description. They deserve all that I can be and do for them.