Saturday, October 24, 2009

Smoked Veggie Duck (Take 1!)

The smoked veggie duck was Kargie's favorite menu item at Alice and Friends Vegetarian Cafe. However, they eliminated it last year when they completely veganized the menu, since the faux meat they used contained whey protein. So Lake decided to challenge us to replicate the dish so that we can continue to enjoy it despite its absence from Alice's menu. The end product turned out ok, but our flavorings didn't come through so we will have to repeat the challenge to try to get it tasting closer to the original.

Months ago, when the duck first disappeared from the menu, we asked the staff at Alice's about the dish and were able to find out some information on how to make it at home. They used a product from Veri Soy (aka Vege USA) that simulated duck meat. So we went to one of the Asian grocery stores in Argyle, Chicago's Vietnamese neighborhood, to find the product. The one that we found that most seemed to fit the bill was called "Vege Golden Duck":

The veggie duck at Alice's looked remarkably similar to a duck breast, complete with striated meat, a crispy skin, and a curved shape... Which was quite different from the product we found, which looked more similar to a long slab of tofu covered with tofu skin. Getting it to look, feel, and (most importantly) taste like duck was going to be a challenge!

To start, we pulled up a generic Smoked Peking Duck recipe to work off of. We hoped the flavors would work as well with the fake duck product as with the real thing. To simulate the duck flavor without having to actually smoke the duck, we decided to add 1/4 teaspoon of a smoke seasoning to the marinade. Normally we would have used Liquid Smoke, but this time we tried out a spice blend from The Spice House:

To further give it a smoky flavor, we decided to bake the tofu steaks on wood planks:

The original Peking duck recipe calls for stuffing the duck cavity with an orange while it bakes, and basting the duck with the marinade every half hour. Since we were not using an actual duck, our cooking time was a lot shorter, and we would not be able to stuff our duck. So instead, we baked the duck-flavors steaks on top of thinly sliced oranges:

While baking, we kept the temperature fairly low--around 300 degrees--to try to simulate slowly cooking the duck. We basted the steaks before baking, as well as approximately every 20 minutes while it baked.

While the duck was baking, we prepared the sides that used to accompany Alice's veggie duck: jasmine rice and a side salad. We prepared this dressing recipe since it seemed similar to the one Alice's used. However, it turned out way too sweet, so we added more vinegar and citrus vinegar to correct for the flavor. It ended up being perfect!

Once the duck was done, we cut it up and sprinkled it with vegan duck sauce.

In terms of taste, it turned out close, but not exactly the same. The marinade we used tasted really good and seemed right, but the flavor did not come through on the duck. In terms of presentation and texture, our duck was definitely off. It looked and felt too soft and tofu-like.

The next time we make the duck, we'll use the same Peking duck sauce and our modified version of the salad dressing, but we'll incorporate the following changes to try to get the taste and texture closer to the original:
  • Freeze the duck "meat" in water to allow it to become tougher and less tofu-like in texture
  • Marinate the defrosted duck steaks in the Peking duck sauce to infuse the flavor into "meat"
  • Broil the duck rather than baking in low heat, to allow the tofu skin to crisp
  • Reduce some of the marinade into a glaze and brush that on top of the duck in the last few minutes of broiling
  • Omit the wood planks. They did not appear to make an appreciable difference in flavor.

All in all, we learned a lot during this challenge. We're looking forward to trying it again and incorporating these changes to get an even better result! Below are the recipes we actually used during the challenge, with all the modifications we made from the original recipes.

Smoked Peking Mock Duck
1 package Veri Soy Vege Golden Duck
1 orange
5 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sherry
2 tablespoons soy sauce
pepper to taste
wooden planks

Preheat oven to 300 degrees, and soak wooden planks in water. Mix the juice of 1/2 of the orange with the honey, wine vinegar, sherry, soy sauce and pepper. Bring to a boil and let cool. Thinly slice the other half orange, and place sliced onto wooden planks. Halve Vege Duck lengthwise, and glaze with sauce. Place on orange slices with tofu skin face up. Glaze with half the sauce every 20 minutes while baking.

Citrus Vinegar Salad Dressing
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup citrus vinegar

Mix sugar, 1/2 cup vinegar, and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Boil until syrup consistency, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Cool completely, then add 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup citrus vinegar.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Moroccan Lentil Soup

I loosely followed this recipe, but we had a Ras El Hanout spice blend that I really wanted to use instead of doing all the individual spices. The original recipe called for just throwing all the spices in at the same time as the water and beans. However, in general it's best to pre-cook dried spices up in the oil first, to bring out the flavor. We also ended up substituting brown lentils for the cannellini beans due to personal preference.

Here's the modified recipe, with all our changes:

1 chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
6 cups water
1 cup red lentils
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 can brown lentils, drained
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon Ras el Hanout*
1 tablespoon olive oil

In large pot saute the onions, garlic, ginger and spice mix in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes.

Add the water, lentils, chick peas, diced tomatoes, carrots, celery. Bring to a boil for a few minutes then simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or longer, until the lentils are soft.

Ras El Hanout
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
A pinch of saffron

Soups & Stews Challenge and Veggie Duck

After a long hiatus, we completed our first cooking challenge since January! Coincidentally, my friend Lake challenged Kargie & myself to a cooking experiment the same week our Iron Chef cooking challenge group also decided to do our first challenge in months. So of course, we teamed up once again to complete both challenges this past weekend.

Lake's challenge was for us to replicate the Smoked Veggie Duck from Alice & Friends Vegetarian Cafe. The duck was taken off the menu when they completely veganized everything on the menu (the duck contained whey protein), even though it was a very popular dish. Our Iron Challenge for the weekend was to create a healthy, nutritious soup or stew - just in time for fall! We chose to do a Moroccan Lentil Soup.

Both dishes turned out fairly well, though we agreed that both recipes could stand to use a few more adjustments and further experimentation in order to make them even better! See the individual posts about each dish for more details! :)

Morroccan Lentil Soup
Smoked Veggie Duck (Take 1)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Three Vegan Pizzas

Sorry, I got a little sidetracked and never got around to completing my last series of posts about the Home Made challenge! I last left off posting the pizza dough recipe, but never got around to the actual pizza recipes. But now, after long last, here they are!!

White Mushroom & Rosemary Truffle Pizza

The Whole Wheat Pizza Crust recipe we got from the Chopping Block worked really well for this pizza, since we were able to spread out really thin. It ended up being an almost cracker-like crust.

This was a real easy one to make. First, take a round ball of dough, and spread it out as thin as possible in the shape of a circle, and place it on a pizza stone or baking sheet.

Next, bake the crust in the oven at 350 degrees until crisp. Then we topped it with mushrooms, rosemary, truffle salt, and truffle-infused olive oil. We placed it back in the oven until the mushrooms were cooked. It made a great appetizer pizza!

A Cheeseless Veggie Pizza

This one was a little more labor intensive. First, we had to make a sauce. We cheated a little and used some fire-roasted canned tomatoes. We seasoned it to taste with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and garlic.

We had some frozen spinach on hand, so we microwaved that to thaw, and also chopped up some fresh red pepper and white mushrooms. We rolled the dough out into a rectangle to fit our baking sheet, but didn't make it as thin as the first pizza. We wanted to keep the crust thick to be able to handle all the toppings we were using. We rolled the edges over to make a crust and hold in the sauce.

Again, we pre-baked the crust for about 10 minutes, then piled on all the toppings. Bake until cooked through.

A Vegan Cheese & Sausage Pizza

This one took the longest to make, despite being pretty easy on the preparation. We used the same dough and sauce as the veggie pizza, but added some vegan substitutes for more traditional pizza toppings.

For the sausage, we used Upton's Naturals Italian Sausage Seitan Crumbles

And for the cheese, we used a half block each of Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cheddar and Mozzerella cheeses.

After pre-cooking the dough as before, and layering on the sauce, we generously sprinkled the sausage crumbles and shredded cheese on top of our circular-shaped pizza dough. We left some of the crust exposed on the edges for easier handling while eating ;-)

The part that took the longest was getting the cheese to melt. We had to cover the exposed crust with foil to prevent burning, then turned up the temperature to 550 degrees. It took a while to start melting, but once it did, it went fast! We had to take turns watching it to make sure we didn't end up with a burnt pizza!!

But it was definitely worth the wait! It was a pretty awesome vegan pizza, and I didn't even have to worry too much about over-indulging since my lactose-intolerant self can handle vegan cheese no problem :D

Friday, January 30, 2009

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

For our second recipe of the Home Made/ Deprocessed Reader's Choice Challenge, we made a couple of vegan pizzas. Unfortunately, my cooking partner was unable to post this entry on time, so this actually wasn't submitted for our group cooking blog. I'll make my report about here, nonetheless!

We made three pizzas, using a whole wheat pizza crust recipe we got from the Chopping Block as a starting point. It's a pretty simple and versatile recipe, and I can see myself using it on a regular basis to make my own, healthy home made pizza! My favorite part about it is that it's really easy to roll very thin, and I LOVE thin crust pizza (a blasphemy among Chicagoans!!)

Whole Wheat Pizza

For the pizza dough:
1 1/4 teaspoon dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/4 cups warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 to 2 cups whole wheat flour
Pinch sea salt

In a medium sized bowl, combine water, yeast, and honey. Allow to sit for about five minutes or until yeast becomes foamy.

Add olive oil, flour, and salt. Work with your hands until the dough forms a ball that comes away from the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until double in bulk.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Punch down the dough and knead it on a lightly floured surface for one minute.

Roll the dough very thin into a circle or rectangle. Place rolled dough on a pizza peel coated lightly with cornmeal.

Prick a fork to prevent bubbles, and brush lightly with olive oil. Slide the dough onto a pizza stone in the oven and bake for 3-5 minutes or until very lightly browned. Remove from oven, build with pizza toppings, and then return to oven for 5-8 more minutes or until toppings are hot and bubbly.

We ended up making 3 pizzas, which were all pretty good, but completely different. I'll blog about each separately since they each had their own intricacies when we made them. Stay tuned!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

High Protein Southwestern Vegan Black Bean Burger

For the Home Made/ Deprocessed Reader's Choice Challenge, I decided to make veggie burgers from scratch. I rarely ever buy them, though a lot of times when eating out at non-veg-friendly restaurants, veggie burgers are often the only choice.

My cooking buddy & I ended up making these twice (a week apart), since they came out a bit bland the first time, and we tend to have a group coming together on Friday nights anyways. I loosely followed the Simplest Bean Burger recipe from a few of my fellow Iron-Chef Bloggers' favorite cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. I changed the basic recipe to veganize it, make it higher protein, and give it more of a Southwestern kick. Here's what I ended up doing:

High Protein Southwestern Vegan Black Bean Burger

One 14-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup textured vegetable protein
1 tbsp Pilsen Latino Seasoning from the Spice House
1/4 block tofu

We doubled the recipe, since we were originally expecting about 4-6 people for dinner. I pulsed all the ingredients in a food processor until chunky. The first time we did this, we put the double batch in the 10oz food processor. Bad idea. It didn't process very well. When we tried it the second time, we just repeated the recipe twice to get the double batch.

Once the ingredients are wet & chunky (but not too mushy), I formed them into pretty thick patties, and chilled them in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. I found out later that thick patties were easier to handle than the thinner ones, which tended to crumble.

I cooked them on a griddle pan, about 5 minutes on each sides so that they were browned and cooked through.

I thought they were ok, but the spices didn't come through the first time. When we made them the second time, but increased the spices to 2 1/2 tbsp (per recipe) and adding olive oil for fat. They turned out better that way, but ended up a bit overspiced. The next time I make them, I'll probably saute the onions with 1 tbsp of the spice in olive oil, and add that to the beans, tofu, and tvp. That'll probably give it a much better flavor than just increasing the amount of spices.

We served the burgers with whole wheat buns, greens, tomatoes, avocados, and condiments. To make mine a bit more diet friendly (since we also had vegan pizza with the meal), I just ate mine as a salad instead of as a burger, and it was pretty good that way.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Home Made Challenge

Happy New Year! Sorry I've been MIA lately. . . I guess I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging after the holidays. But now I'm back, and reporting the results of the latest cooking challenge that my cooking buddy & I entered for our Iron-Chef style group blog! This time, the challenge was dubbed the Home Made/Deprocessed Reader's Choice Challenge.

The challenge was suggested by one of the Iron Blog's participants, who commented on the habits of people who've successfully accomplished healthier lifestyle changes:
One of the things that it seems like a lot of successful people here have done is limit the amount of processed foods eaten.

How about a challenge to make something from scratch that you usually don't

So for our de-processed meal, my friend and I decided to get ready for the upcoming Super Bowl by making veggie burgers and vegan pizza from scratch!

We made the veggie burgers by loosely following the recipe for Simplest Bean Burgers from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. They definitely have a lot of potential, and can be modified in various ways to give different flavors!

The pizza recipe was also pretty free-flowing. We got a recipe for a very thin whole wheat crust from the Chopping Block, and we were able to use it to make various types of pizza, such as:

    A White Mushroom & Rosemary Truffle Pizza

    A Cheeseless Veggie Pizza

    And A Vegan Cheese & Sausage Pizza

We had such a blast with this challenge, we decided to re-do both recipes the week after to test and incorporate improvements that we thought could have been made to our original recipes.

Stay tuned, and I'll post each recipe separately:
High Protein Southwestern Vegan Black Bean Burgers
Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
Vegan Pizzas