Saturday, March 21, 2009

Seitan Nuggets with Maple Mustard

Originally uploaded by jennifermf
Recently, my husband and I made a spur of the moment trip to Chicago. I was really excited to check out the Chicago Diner and we ended up having both dinner and breakfast there. It was fantastic! We had these great seitan nuggets (we had great food period, but I'd never had seitan nuggets before) and they were inspiring. I tried to make my own version here. They went over so well that my husband asked me to make them again a couple days later!


1 cup vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
a few dashes of black pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp sage
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp soy sauce
a dash worcestershire sauce


In a bowl, mix the flours and spices. In a small bowl, mix all liquid ingredients and pour at once into the flour and spice mix. stir until combined and knead for about 5 minutes.

While the gluten rests, preheat oven to 350f. fill a 9x13 glass dish with water and about a tbsp sea salt. Dissolve what you can but the rest will dissolve eventually.

Break off tablespoon-sized pieces of the gluten and flatten them as much as possible. They'll expand when they cook, so don't make them too huge if you don't want giant nuggets.

Once you've made a pile of flat nuggets, drop them into the salt water (it's okay if they touch, but try and spread them out evenly), and cook for about 40-45 minutes. When they're done, you can drain them in a colander and rinse with cold water so they're cool enough to handle (or just use tongs, which is what I did).

Dip them in bread crumbs (i seasoned mine with thyme, salt, and pepper), spray lightly with cooking oil, and bake at 400 for 15 minutes on each side, or until they're as crispy as you like them. I ran out of bread crumbs halfway through the second batch pictured here, so I used matzo meal, which made them lighter in color, but just as tasty.

For the sauce, I mixed dijon mustard with maple syrup about half and half, until I liked the taste. The other ramekin is ketchup. :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

All About Tofu

Tofu gets a bad rep. People fear it. People judge it. People make fun of it. After talking to a friend of mine about her sad experience attempting tofu taco "meat" I decided to talk about tofu here, because I have lots to say about it.

I used to joke about tofu, too. It's sort of a boring block of flavorless... jello. It's mysterious. And I haven't had much luck in finding tips and tricks all in one place, so I hope I can fill in the gap a bit.

Tofu's a great food. It's made from soybeans, and as far as prepared foods go, it's one of the least processed foods of all processed foods. You can even make your own, if you're so inclined. It's low in fat, free of trans fat, cholesterol free, low carb, high protein, and is a decent source of iron and calcium. (nutritional info)

There are rumors that tofu will cause men to grow breasts, women to ovulate constantly, (hormone imbalances), thyroid problems, and a host of other scary things. These are scare tactics, and I highly suggest people do their own research before listening to anyone who says a food will cause men to grow breasts. Check out The Safety of Soy. Go on, I'll wait.

So now that you know tofu is nothing more than a bean (a soybean, to be specific), and is nothing to be feared, let's talk a little about how to make it not suck. Tofu is great! Tofu is healthy! Tofu is fun! Tofu is flexible, versatile, and awesome.

Types of tofu. I'm going to abbreviate this, because I'm a simple girl. There are two distinct types of tofu: fresh, and not fresh. Fresh tofu is packaged in water and is sold in the produce/refigerated section of the market. There are lots of brands, like China Rose, Nasoya, and House. Not fresh tofu is packaged in an aseptic container (much like a juice box), and is shelf-stable. The only brand I've ever seen is Mori-Nu. Mori-Nu tofu resembles custard, doesn't have air holes (no spongy texture), and is really only good for pureeing in sauces, puddings, cakes, and so on. Fresh tofu is the type of tofu that's best for marinading and eating in chunks, slices, and crumbles.

Both types come in different densities, from soft to extra firm. In general, soft tofu is best for pureeing, or when you don't care if it keeps its shape. Firm or extra firm tofu is best for slicing, dicing, and serving whole. I always buy the firmest tofu I can find. Keep in mind that extra firm tofu in one brand might not be as firm as another brand, so there's some experimentation and experience that happens, too.

For ease, when I talk about tofu, I'm talking about fresh tofu, unless I specifically state Mori-Nu, or tofu an an aseptic package.

Texture of tofu. There's nothing wrong with busting open a package of tofu, and using it the way you bought it. Tofu is great as-is, and it has nothing to be ashamed of. However, something magical happens when the whole package gets thrown in the freezer, it's allowed to freeze solid, thaw, and be used in recipes. Freezing tofu changes the texture so it's more chewy, and it increases the size of the little holes in the tofu, which helps it absorb more of that awesome marinade you're using.

When I get home from the store, I throw most of the tofu right into the freezer, which keeps it longer, and when I want tofu, I take it out in the morning and leave it on the counter/in the sink (a LOT of condensation happens), and it's ready for dinner. I prefer un-frozen tofu for tofu scramble, but for almost anything else, I like my tofu frozen. If you lack forethought, like I often do, you can defrost the tofu in the microwave for 4-5 minutes. Just be careful that it doesn't get too hot to handle. And don't try to cut frozen tofu: your knife and the ice crystals will just tear it up and break the tofu.

Getting ready to cook tofu. Tofu needs to be pressed. This means the water needs to be expelled from the little holes in the tofu (think of tofu like a big sponge), to make room for marinades and sauces. There are lots of instructions out there about how to properly press tofu, but I'm impatient, so I'll tell you how I do it.

I get out two small plates, sandwich the tofu brick between the flat sides (the sides you eat from), and gently press evenly over the sink. Lots of water will come out, and eventually it'll slow down. Don't squash your tofu (frozen tofu can handle squashing a lot better than unfrozen, just FYI), and take care not to break the block up, but just gently press evenly with your hands until the bulk of the water is removed (you won't get it all). Some people rig up elaborate tofu-pressing devices, with stacks of plates and cans and heavy objects, with a tofu block wrapped in towels, and leave it for an hour... but I'm much too impatient for that. I find this works just fine. Now the tofu is ready to be marinaded or otherwise cooked.

Cooking tofu. When marinading tofu, longer is better, but even just a half hour to an hour is enough to soak up flavor. Then it can either be baked or pan fried. When I bake tofu, I've discovered that my Sil-pat baking mat is fantastic: tofu never sticks! It's amazing. But if you don't have a Sil-pat or don't want to use one, any baking dish lightly sprayed with oil works fine. spray the tofu before you flip them, so the other sides don't stick! I bake tofu at 350f for about 10-15 minutes per side, depending on how crispy I want them.

For pan frying, I admit I have some trouble with this. We use stainless steel cookware, and tofu always sticks to it. I've destroyed so much tofu on these pans, that I tend to avoid using tofu in them at all, which limits my tofu flexibility. I have a background in chemistry, and after reading many articles talking about the potential toxicity of non-stick cookware (example here), I'm really really leery about non-stick cookware, as convenient as it is for tofu. So, I admit (somewhat shamefully) that I have one lone non-stick frying pan that I'm going to use until the coating starts to peel off, and then I will throw it out and never use non-stick again. In the meantime, I do use it for tofu (and not much else), because it gets a nice crispy outside and keeps the inside chewy. (Baking tofu makes the tofu crispy throughout.)

If you have cast iron cookware, I'm jealous, because cast iron makes tofu awesome. It browns the outside nicely, and well-seasoned cast iron can be just as non-stick as Teflon or other non-stick surfaces, without the cancer. I have a great new cast iron pan, but I bought it about a month before we bought a nice new cooktop stove, and I'm paranoid about destroying the cooktop, so I have not use my cast iron since the stove arrived. But I highly recommend cast iron for tofu!

Enjoying tofu. Well, that's about all I can think of for now! If you have any tofu tips, tricks, or suggestions, I'd love to hear from you. Tofu is a great food, and it should be celebrated, not feared!

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I've been somewhat MIA because I haven't been feeling well and it's kept me out of the kitchen. I have a back problem that causes me lots of pain (especially when standing), and I also found out I have fibromyalgia. Now I have better drugs, and I'm able to stand for longer, and hopefully that will lend itself to more kitchen experiments.

Also, in terms of new news, my husband and I have decided to move out of state, so we're busy freecycling, selling, and packing things. We normally keep a well-stocked pantry, so at this point we're not grocery shopping and we're having whatever's in the pantry. It should make for some interesting recipes. I hope.

So today I found a box of manicotti noodles, and one lone box of Mori-Nu tofu. So I tried to make it not suck:

manicotti noodles (1 lb)
1 box Mori-Nu tofu
1 cup (roughly) cooked kale or spinach
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp basil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce


Preheat the oven to 350F. Put the noodles on to boil and ready the food processor. In the food processor, put the tofu, kale, nutritional yeast, spices, and lemon juice, and puree until no tofu chunks remain (you may want to puree the tofu first and then add everything else).

Put a small amount of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9"x13" glass baking dish.

When the noodles are done, rinse them with cool water so they can be handled. Using a fork, stuff some filling into each noodle. When all the noodles have been stuffed, cover the noodles with the remainder of the sauce. (Rinse the jar with a little water and add that to the pan too.)

Cover with foil. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before devouring!