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)