Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Carbonara Vegetaria

Sometimes (quite often actually) the love of Italian food cannot be denied, just as surely as the cravings for cuisine of the American South. One of the most beloved dishes is carbonara, which also has about as many different versions as there are people who love it.

This is my recipe for a sumptuous vegetarian version of the dish, and it's especially great if you have some veggie hot dogs just lying around in the icebox, going spare.

Carbonara Vegetaria


Pasta (you can use any pasta; I like fiori) enough for 1-2 people
2 vegetarian hot dogs
1 egg
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
Black olives
Synthetic bacon pieces
Black pepper
Cooking wine

1) Cook and drain the pasta, setting it aside. You can also do this at the same time as you are preparing the rest of the carbonara if you want.

2) Heat 1-2 tsp olive oil, or more if needed, in a frypan. Either press or cut the garlic cloves into the oil. Use only medium heat; you don't want to cook too hot with olive oil. Let the garlic cook and release its aroma, then add 1-2 tbsp synthetic bacon pieces. Stir to coat with oil and cook it all together.

3) Slice the vegetarian hot dogs lengthwise and then cut them into slices and add them to the oil. Stir again to coat. Cook these for about 5 minutes, longer if desired.

4) Add the olives and stir to coat. You won't need to cook these for as long.

5) In a bowl, blend the egg with pepper and stir until smooth and consistent.

6) Add the pasta to the oil mixture and, as before, stir to coat. Add the cooking wine and stir again, making sure to cook it long enough for the wine to cook out. You want only a hint of it and its roundness.

7) Turn off the heat and pour the egg mixture in, stirring thoroughly and constantly until the residual heat cooks it enough. You want the pasta and the rest to be coated in the egg, not for it to cook itself separately.

8) Serve while hot!

Tips and Such

- You can probably just cook the pasta at the same time as the rest of it, but if you feel like you might make a mistake or feel rushed, just cook the pasta first, drain it, and leave it in its pot. It won't be sitting long enough to get cold, and its heat will be refreshed by cooking it with the oil mixture.

- There are various brands of synthetic bacon pieces. These are commonly found with the salad dressings and fixings in many markets. Make sure to read the ingredients, though, because not all of them are vegetarian! However, many of them are just textured soy protein pieces with smoke flavour. Brands like Bacos and McCormick are, at present, completely vegan and have a circle-U symbol on them.

- Due to the nature of this dish, it doesn't keep very well refrigerated, so try to fix only as much as you intend to eat. If you do end up saving some as leftovers, refrigerate it and try to use it within the next day or two at most.

- If you don't have cooking wine, you can just use mirin and sake in combination. As with the wine, make sure it cooks out before you add the egg.

Ingredient Info

Vegetarian hot dogs are hot dogs, or wieners, that are made with only vegetarian ingredients, typically from soy.

Synthetic bacon pieces are commonly pieces of soy protein that has been textured, coloured, and flavoured with smoke to give it a taste similar to bacon. Several of these are vegetarian or even vegan, but be sure to check the label and, if in doubt, check online or ask around.

Cooking wine is wine that is not intended for drinking, for whatever reason, and so is used for cooking. It can be that the wine is not of a suitable quality according to its vineyards, or perhaps it just didn't turn out the way they wanted. Note that you can use any wine for cooking, but wine that is sold as cooking wine in grocery stores is usually of a quality thought unsuitable for drinking purposes.

Italian food is so romantic! Although if you're having an intimate night, you may want to omit the garlic. But who knows, perhaps if you both eat it, your kisses will be fiery and no-one will try to ease in on your fun!

Buon appetito!

};) Dhiar <3

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Country Fried (Actually Baked) Tofu

Sometimes you get a hankering for some good, old-fashioned homestyle cooking.

Well, that's pretty much every day for me, and it's always homestyle since I make it at home. But there is the desire, once you have had it, for the comforting, delicious, and delightful foods popular in the American South. It comes up every so often, and it's difficult to deny.

Many traditional southern foods, however, have a lot of things that wouldn't agree with most vegetarians, and additionally they tend to be deep fried, which isn't something you want to have too often.

Still, there's not a lot you can do if you have a craving, other than indulge it. If you don't, it just builds up until you're quaking and you go out and eat something you probably shouldn't. What better way to indulge a craving than to do it in a healthier way, and handmade, so you can be sure of what went into it!

Country Fried (Actually Baked) Tofu


The Steaks

1 block firm or extra firm tofu
2 tbsp cornmeal
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
Soy sauce

The Gravy

1 tbsp butter or margarine
milk (whichever kind you want, soymilk works beautifully)
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

1) Make sure to press the tofu. I know experienced tofu cooks will have already done this, but I can't say it enough. If you don't know what I mean, see my post here about tofu. If you don't press tofu, it retains water. If it's full of water, it will fall apart quicker than the main character of a Lifetime Original Movie.

2) Preheat the oven to 350 F or about 175 C. While you're doing this, mix the dry ingredients for the coating of the tofu. Also while you're at the oven, put a piece of aluminum foil on a cooking sheet. Sprinkle some of the coating mixture onto the aluminum foil, or if you prefer, use cooking spray or brush oil onto it, to prevent sticking.

3) Pour some soy sauce in a bowl, not a huge amount, but enough to cover the bottom of a cereal or soup bowl. You will be using this to dip the tofu slices in.

4) Slice the tofu into thick slices. You can probably get 6 or 7 slices per block of tofu.

5) Dip a tofu slice into the bowl with the soy sauce, and turn it slowly over a few times, to coat it completely. Then do the same thing with the bowl with the coating, making sure it is completely covered all over.

6) Place the slice on the cooking sheet and repeat the process for the rest. You should have some of the coating mix left over, so save it. We're going to be using it.

7) Once the oven is preheated, bake for 15 minutes, turn, and bake for another 15 minutes. Oven temperatures sometimes vary, so be sure to check in and make sure they're doing okay. If they stick to the foil, carefully pick up the foil (the pan and the tofu will be hot, the foil probably won't be that hot) and curl it, working the slice to gently separate it. Don't burn yourself! Use tongs or chopsticks if it's too hot.

8) Once the tofu is done cooking, turn off the oven and leave it in for just another minute or two. Take a small frying pan and heat the butter in it on medium-high heat, until it starts to sizzle. Add the remainder of your coating mixture to it and stir thoroughly; it will become a lumpy mass. Add small amounts of milk at a time and work it to your desired consistency. Add salt and black pepper.

9) Serve the tofu slices covered in your delicious creamy gravy. Eat while hot!

Tips and Such

- Remember to press the tofu! I can't emphasise this enough. If you don't press it, it will be crumbly and will affect the flavour. Tofu can't absorb flavours as effectively if it already is suffused with its own liquid. Pressing tofu makes it more effective to cook with, and much easier to handle.

- Nutritional yeast isn't a necessity for this dish, but it does enhance the flavour and helps to thicken the gravy and give it the right creaminess. You can omit it, but you should add a pinch of turbinado sugar and a little more salt. It won't be exactly the same, but it will do fine! Nutritional yeast flakes are great, even if you don't cook vegan all the time. They're delicious, versatile, and very good for you! They add immense nutritional value to every dish, and they also make a fabulous non-dairy cheese sauce!

- This dish won't keep very well once you've added the gravy to it (unless you made very thick gravy), so if you're unsure that all of the slices of tofu will be finished, just keep the gravy warm and add it when you serve up a slice of tofu. That way, you can save the leftover slices and gravy separately, and heat them up when you want them. Try to use them within a day or two, though. This is a dish best enjoyed as fresh as possible.

- You can add extra spices to the coating mix, if you want. There are plenty of delicious ones that would work, like perhaps oregano, basil, parsley, or even a little ginger! It depends on what your tastes are, so if you have a favourite spice you think might add a dimension of flavour, go for it!

- If you get the gravy too thin, just add a little flour at a time, stirring it throughly, until it reaches its desired consistency. If you get it too thick, a little more milk will help it to thin. Don't add a lot! When heated, gravy tends to thicken naturally.

Ingredient Info

As usual, I'm only covering ingredients that haven't been discussed before, so if you see something in the recipe you don't recognise, look back through my previous entries to find them!

Cornmeal is coarsely-ground corn. It isn't exactly the same as corn flour, generally speaking, and it tends to be rougher in consistency. It also isn't the same as cornstarch, so be careful! Cornstarch is a starch, not a flour, and is basically a thickener. Cornmeal can also be called polenta flour or polenta (which usually refers to cornmeal in a very coarse form) or maize flour or meal.

Enjoy your delicious southern-style meal, and don't forget...baking a meal for someone is like giving them life!

};) Dhiar <3