These are a few of my favorite things!

Who doesn’t love The Sound of Music?  It’s where I get today’s blog title.  With the advent of vegetarianism entering my meat eaters life, I began to realize two things.  The first is, living without meat and meat by-products isn’t as hard or easy as it sounds, and second meat substitutes are OK, but vegetables and alternative sources of protein are much better for you!

So in my quest to help my husband reach his goal of being the worlds fattest vegetarian (Joking of COURSE!) I have found some really tried and true products that allow me to keep him vegetarian and well fed, and don’t make me miss meat at all!  Here are several of my tried and true products, and a few sources of where to find them, along with a few “can’t live without” kitchen items that I would truly be lost without!

Quorn is a product that I have become completely addicted to.  You can find their website here: http://www.quorn.us/  or here: http://www.quorn.com/ .  Their products are not soy based, but made from Mycoproteins, which are a kind of fungus, similar to mushrooms.  And I can tell you, they’re delicious!  They come in chicken and beef styles, and everything from cutlets with goat cheese and cranberries to meatballs.  They’re out of this world, and we eat them at least twice a week!

Our two favorites are the cranberry and goat cheese cutlets and Quorn roast, which is what Tim eats for holidays.

Cberry gcheese cutletsTurky roast

Believe it or not, Meijer in Michigan is very vegetarian friendly, and they have these fantastic soy products called “Gardein”, they have BBQ chicken wings, beef tips, which I use for a fast stew in the cooler weather.  They have a website too (http://www.gardein.com/index.php), and tons of options, that are all super good!

Gardein

There is another product, we get it at Whole Foods, called Match.  It’s a sort of raw ground meat type product, it comes in beef, chicken and sausage flavors, and it seriously tastes and looks like ground meat.  I make faux chicken cutlets with it, and hamburgers.  It’s really delicious, and a soy based product.  They do have a website, to find where their products are sold near you:  http://matchmeats.com/wp1/

Match meat

We do use several other “meat replacement” products.  TIm loves the Tofurky products (http://www.tofurky.com/), I don’t particularly like them, they don’t really agree with me.  His favorite, after the famous Tofurky roast is brats and now they can be grilled, which is pretty sweet when you’re going to a BBQ.

We have a local restaurant that I may have mentioned before, Brooklyn Street Local (http://brooklynstreetlocal.com/), and they make this uniquely Canadian dish called poutine.  It’s french fries, cheese curd and beef gravy, sounds odd, but it’s delicious! They make a vegetarian version that Tim loves with mushroom gravy.  They also make a traditional diner breakfast, with tempeh bacon, which we have now found!  It’s admittedly NOT bacon, but if you like the smokey flavor, this will hit the spot.  Much better than the faux bacon strips that look like pink and white communion wafers….

Tempeh bacon

There are many other things that I adore, although right now, I have an obsession with a juicer we got.  It’s bright yellow and sunny looking, and juices citrus like a breeze:

Fancy juicer

However, my very old friend, the wooden reamer has to do for larger citrus, like large oranges and grapefruit:

Non fancy juicer

I am in the process of getting more blog posts put together, so I won’t be posting so sporadically, upcoming is the promised tomato gazpacho, and a really lovely desert my cousin Petula taught me to make that they called “Wellington Squares”.  I recently found a version of it in a New Zealand blog I have been following.  Maybe this favorites will be a  quarterly thing, not sure yet, but I love giving people options that they may not have known on, or wouldn’t have tried if they hadn’t heard of it.

Happy Fall everyone, the weather here in Detroit seems to have turned, I hope for the cooler side of things!

PS: Look at what Tim brought me back from Hungary!  YUMMY!!

Truffle honey

Pretzel bread…. YAY!

Last weekend, we had a semi-surprise family gathering at our house.  Tim’s second cousin was in town with his dad at the local bar playing a show.  The family, Tim’s uncle and his cousin, as well as another cousin, came by for drinks and some picky food before we all went over to the show.  It was a nice opportunity to see everyone, talk about the upcoming family wedding, and just catch up.

Of course, I was all a-twitter about what to serve, and ended up making Tim’s mom’s “Olive Puffs” … so yum… and buying other things, like some marinated mozzarella balls, and various dips.  We had cocktails and wine too.  When Tim’s cousin Keith arrived, he came bearing a cheese plate and pretzel bread.  The bread was SO good and I was reminded that one of my brothers loves it.  So I started thinking about how to make it.  I had attempted hard pretzels many years ago, but this was a new thing for me.

I looked at several recipes I found online, and there are many ways to make pretzel dough.  I attempted two of them, one involving refined sugar, one using a combination of self raising flour and plain flour, but neither was very successful.  The self raising flour seemed to bubble up all over the place and the baking soda flavor was overpowering.  So I looked at all 5 of the recipe’s I found and came up with this one.  This time, it came out great, moist, dense and very flavorful, with that chemical tang that you find in pretzels but can never pinpoint the exact flavor.  There are two methods of imparting the flavor that I came up against, both involve boiling, one in a water/baking soda solution and one in a water/lye solution.  When I mentioned to Tim about the lye, he was 100 against it, (“Why would you want to boil bread in Drano?!”) so I went for the baking soda solution.  The purpose is to set the crust, and sort of flash cook it, so it really darkens and caramelizes when you bake it, similar to the way that bagels are made.  I also added some salt to the water, because I figured it would add more flavor, and it really did.

A few notes here about the flour you use.  I ended up buying bread flour, which I know I will use again, but if you only have all purpose, don’t sweat it.  They will both work fine, I also think you can combine whole wheat and plain flour to make it a little healthier and more hardy.  I would go 1 cup whole wheat, and the rest plain flour.  And yes, it’s worth opening up another package of yeast for this one.  Believe me, it makes a huge difference, both in the rising of the bread and the flavor.  We made mock chicken burgers and had them on the breads last night for dinner… and it was divine!

Elizabeth’s Pretzel Bread

Dough:
3 ½ cups of bread flour (or all purpose flour)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
3 teaspoons (1 ½ packets) instant yeast
1 cup lukewarm water (110 – 120 °F)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
2 tablespoons whole milk or half and half
½ cup flour reserved for kneading
1 tablespoon oil

For the soak:
4 quarts water
½ cup baking soda

For the coating:
Kosher salt to taste (or pretzel salt if you can find it)
2 tablespoons melted butter

In a large bowl combine the flour and salt, make sure they are very well combined and set aside.  In another small bowl, combine the water, honey, dark brown sugar and yeast.  I suggest mixing it all together and dissolving the sugars, then adding the yeast and then mix so the yeast is completely dissolved.  Let this mixture set for 10 – 12 minutes until the yeast starts to proof (bubble up.)  Once the yeast mixture is creamy and bubbly, add in the milk and the cooled melted butter.  Add to the dry ingredients.  Mix well, you can use a stand mixer and paddle to start this, and you will have a slightly sticky solid dough or you can use a wooden spoon and your hands.  Once you have a cohesive dough, turn it out on a floured surface, or you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook, in any case, the reserved flour will help you to get a smooth supple dough (the old saying, smooth as a baby’s bottom comes to mind.)  The dough will feel heavier and more solid than you may think it should be, but that’s OK.  Oil a large bowl with some flavor neutral oil, although I used olive oil in this case.  Make sure the bowl is big enough to hold the dough after it has doubled.  Toss in the dough, turning it so it’s covered lightly all over with the oil, this prevents sticking.

Cover the bowl with a slightly damp tea towel, and allow to rise for 30 minutes, punch it down, make sure it’s not sticking, it won’t seem to have risen a whole lot, but once you punch it down this time, it will rise like crazy.  This time let it rise for another hour in a warm dry place, until it’s doubled.  I suggest on your stove top, with the oven on low.

At this point, preheat your oven to 400 ° C.  You may use a pizza stone if you like, but a good old cookie sheet with parchment over it will work just as well, set it aside, ready for action. The point here is, you need a very hot oven.  About the time you’re done with the second rise, put the 4 quarts of water on to boil.  You will add the baking soda to this when it has come to the boil, but in the mean time, you will punch down the dough again and shape it into the shape you want it to be in when baked.  I would divide it into 8 round balls, also known as boules.  My first time I tried to do pretzel shapes, but they failed miserably, came all undone.  So until you’re more confident, I would try the simple boules below, then experiment with other shapes.  Remember you can also make these into much smaller shapes, bite size servings.  It makes no difference, so do what you want.

Shaped and resting boules, before boiling

When the dough is shaped, let them rest while you add the baking soda to the rapidly boiling water.  Stir well so it’s totally combined.  Work with one dough at a a time and drop your formed breads into the water, top down, and boil for 30 seconds, turning them mid-way.

Boiling in barely bubbling water, 15 seconds a side.

Set the boiled dough onto the final baking sheet and cover with the Kosher salt.  Continue the process with the remaining dough balls.  Once they’re all on the pan and salted, cut some X’s or patterns around the tops, about 1/8 inch deep with a very sharp knife so the dough has somewhere to split and rise when baking.  You can be really creative here, it makes for a dramatic presentation and finished product.

I used a flat slotted spoon to drain them before I put them on the baking sheet.
Course Kosher salt is good, don't over salt, they'll be hard to eat.

Slide them onto your hot oven, and bake for 25 minutes, but start checking them at 20 minutes, they should be highly risen and very dark brown all over.  They may be done between 21 – 23 minutes, depending upon your oven.  They may stick if you used tin foil (as I did for these photos) but they will become easier to remove once they cool down.

They're done! Now for the melted butter.

When the breads are out of the oven, brush them lightly with melted butter, it will make them shiny and soft, as well as adding some nice flavor to them.  Let them cool well before you eat them.  An alternative to the butter after baking, is to brush an egg wash over them before you put them in the oven, that will make them shiny.  All you have to do is lightly beat one egg with a teaspoon of milk or water, and brush it over the loaves, then salt them and proceed as above.

YUM! Salty and sweet at the same time!

The most awesomest tofu burgers!

As I have mentioned many times before, DH is a vegetarian.  Not being a vegetarian myself, it’s hard to make meals we both can enjoy together.  Eating together isn’t the issue, it’s the enjoy part.  Plus, since I am pretty much the only one cooking, I need to make sure we are both getting the nutrition we need.  So, I have made huge strides in making everything tasty as well as healthy.  I subscribe to countless blogs, read web sites all the time, and have more cook books than I can decently list here.  One of my old standby websites is Heidi Swanson’s “101 Cookbooks”.  She has a great approach to food, that just happens to be vegetarian.  Go local and go fresh, and although she lives in the San Francisco area, it applies all over the country.  (Please note, not vegan, just vegetarian).  She had a tofu burger recipe that I tried a few times and we loved each time we did it.  I do give Heidi credit here, but honestly I have made changes to her basics and made it mine.  I also find that the ingredients here can easily change, making this awfully versatile.  Similar to the Portobello burgers I posted recently, the condiments here can be just about anything you like, you can swing to the more Asian style, French mustard, barbecue, anything and they will still be completely wonderful.  A word to those of you that just want a burger to LOOK like a burger… give up.  These are definitely not going to look meaty, but they taste heavenly!

Tofu Burger’s

1 pound / 16 oz / 450 g extra-firm tofu
2 large eggs
1 cup  bread crumbs
1/2 cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, whatever you like)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (preferably unsalted)
1/2 cup mushrooms (slice finely and whir first in your processor)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon garlic powder (or dehydrated garlic or onion)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (do not use table salt here, kosher or sea is best)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Place the mushrooms and nuts into a food processor and pulse until they start to look finely chopped.  Add in the remaining ingredients except 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs and the olive oil and process until a smooth paste forms.  Scrape down the sides of the food processor once or twice if needed. If it seems a bit thin to you, add the remaining bread crumbs a small handful at a time until everything comes together.  This should resemble a thick and pasty mixture, so the burgers retain their shape when formed. 

Divide the mixture into eight equal portions and use your hands to press and form into round but flat-ish patties. (It helps to lightly oil your hands.)  I usually freeze half of them for future use.

Pour the olive oil into your largest skillet over medium-high heat, and arrange as many patties as you can without crowding. Cover, and cook turning once, until deeply browned on both sides. Roughly ten minutes. You want to make sure the middle of the patties cook through. If your pan is too hot you’ll burn the outsides before the middle cooks up, so be mindful of that.  The cooked texture should be firm when you press in the middle of the patty, similar to the fleshy pad near the thumb of your hand.  Don’t worry if they crack a bit, that’s fairly normal.

Dress these as you would any burger.  I always love cheese and really sour pickles with them.  Remember that if you use a more flavorful nut, like walnut or pecan, they will taste strongly of that.  You can mix types, I find cashew and walnut or almond work well together.  Also – the cayenne can be replaced by anything if you don’t like a little mild heat.  You will truly barely notice the heat if you do use it.  I have tried dried basil, half the amount of thyme, and a mixture of whatever I had on hand and it always works.

Enjoy!  And let me know how you flavor your burgers!!