Something’s (Tofu) Fishy With The July Daring Cooks Challenge!

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This month’s challenge was chosen by Sketchy of Sketchy’s Kitchen. Sketchy has a real passion for molecular cuisine (MC), and July’s recipe was chosen to share this interest in MC with all of us! I think this was a wonderful initiative and a lovely introduction to MC – thank you, Sketchy!

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Unfortunately, I think to successfully complete this month’s challenge owning a dehydrator was de rigeur. The challenge, “Skate, traditional flavours powdered” by Grant Achatz, found in the Alinea cookbook, uses “flavour powders” made from dehydrated ingredients such as banana chips, parsley or red onion to accent and add dimension to poached fish, or fish substitute. While Sketchy did suggest alternate methods for drying – such as using the microwave or traditional oven – I found they just didn’t work for me. I did give these alternate methods a shot, but my attempts were met with frustration and failure.

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This, however, doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy this challenge, on the contrary! Thanks to some chatting on the forums, I was reminded of one of my favourite faux-fish recipes, the Tofu Fish Sticks from one of my favourite cookbooks, Vegan Lunchbox. If you haven’t a copy of Vegan Lunchbox, don’t fret! The recipe is available here at Schmooed Food, the author’s blog where she features recipes from her fabulous book. One of my favourites from her site is the recipe for Vegan Twinkies. I’ve only made it once, but oh-my, talk about a heavenly childhood flashback!

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So after a few failed attempts at dehydrating onion and parsley in my microwave (oh scaldy-stinkies), I just opted to honor the spirit of the challenge and go with what worked for me! I tried to make a powder out of some nori sheets, but I didn’t get a nice, fine, powder – it was more like hunks of ugly confetti. I did just add the nori to the Tofu-fish fingers breading, so there was no waste. I also used a mixture of sea vegetables rather than just the kelp flakes called for in the original recipe. I feel it adds even more variety. In the end, I just used some dried parsley flakes to decorate our plates, and that was just fine!

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We don’t eat alot of tofu – maybe 2 or 3 times a month – not because I’m afraid of the “fu” for any reason (because there is no reason to fear the fu, unless you have an allergy), but it’s a processed food, and as with all processed foods we tend to go lightly on them. Because I so rarely purchase tofu, I forget about some of our favourites, such as these tofu fingers. It’s been nearly a year since I last made these, which is too long if you ask me! If you’re ever in a pinch and need to make something quick, easy and healthy for kids (and adults, ahem), this is a great option.

I’d like to once again thank Sketchy of Sketchy’s Kitchen for hosting our challenge, and I enthusiastically recommend Vegan Lunchbox, weather or not you eat a boxed lunch! Lunchbox has many innovative, mostly healthy options that are adult and kid friendly, and it’s a sound addition to any cookbook library. Do you like to play with your food? Visit The Daring Kitchen for wonderful food articles, sexy food p*rn and lovely portraits of the Daring Cooks and Bakers.

The Daring Cooks Have Arrived! Vegan Ricotta Gnocchi

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This is a very speical day, and not only because it’s Celine’s birthday or because Ricki’s fabulous Sweet Freedom is available tomorrow!

Today The Daring Cooks make their début! I’m genuinely excited to be part of this groovy group of culinary crusaiders, bravely going to new and uncharted foodie-lands. I know this group is going to help me flex my creative muscles in the kitchen, veganizing new foods and old favourites, and if this first challenge is any indication of the fun we’ll be having than I know this is going to be a blast!

I’m sincerely honored to have been named the Daring Alternative “Cookie”, meaning I’m trolling the Alternative forums to try to field questions and help find solutions for my fellow Alternative Daring Cooks. This is really exciting because I know I’m going to have many opportunities to learn so much, and even more importantly, to get to know my fellow Daring Cooks even better.

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Tofu Ricotta Gnocchi…can you feel the Yum?

The Inaugural Challenge recipe is the Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi from The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers, and it could not be more fitting that our founding Mothers, the wonderful, the fabulous, the ridiculously underpaid Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and Lis of La Mia Cucina host this first challenge. I loved them before, but after making this month’s challenge, I love them even more!

This month’s challenge, the Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi, is a blast! (For the recipe go visit Lis – she’s got it up on her blog). It it’s delicious, fun and easy to make, too. Oh, and really easy to veganize! I suggest using everyone’s favourite tofu ricotta recipe, found on the PPK and in Veganomicon. You’ll want to make a few subtle changes, but it’ll work famously. This tofu ricotta recipe will yield about 25 gnocchi, about half of the challenge recipe’s yield.

If you’ve never made this ricotta recipe, I have just a few suggestions 1) add way more garlic because it’s so tame you can’t taste it; 2)add whatever herbs you’d like – you can add more than is called for; 3) make this in advance. I’d suggest 24 hours, to really allow time for the flavours to take hold.

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The big change that I made to the ricotta recipe was to add gluten flour to the ricotta once it was all mashed to paste. I used between 1/4 and 1/3 cup gluten, and I let it set a good few hours before forming the gnocchi. It worked like a charm. I had doubts, but it was a slam dunk.

There is one thing to keep in mind – do not follow the main challenge instructions which tell you to be delicate with your ricotta. You need to man-handle the stuff, I mean really, really knead it, and force it into little gnocchi, squeezing tight with your hand. That’s the ticket. I tried to be sweet and gentle with the first few and they came apart in the boiling water. A tight squeeze makes for a solid little gnocchi.

The other cooking directions for the challenge are valid and work with the ricotta. After boiling mine up and flouring them I let them set a good hour, even more, in the fridge before pan-frying them as per the challenge and that seemed to work well. You could let them set longer, too.
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I really can’t stress enough how fun and easy this challenge was! I had fun making it, and my family had fun devouring it. Give it a try – it’s  worth it!

Would you like to play with your food? Everyone is welcome in The Daring Kitchen! I would especially like to extend this invitation to any vegans and vegetarians out there – this is an excellent opportunity to flex your creative culinary muscles and veganize omni fare. Learning to prepare delicious “omni-friendly” meals is a wonderful talent to develop, and it’s such a relief to have more recipes in your repetoire!

And…be sure to come back tomorrow for a very special interview! Woo…how mysterious and exciting is that!

I love crêpes & la fête de la Chandeleur! Oh, and Whatever happened to Sunday dinners? Sweet & Sour Tofu and Asian-Style Veg

Happy fête de la Chandeleur! Let’s get crazy and eat crêpes!

While some of you are “celebrating” Groundhog Day, here in France it’s one of my favourite little holidays of all – la fête de la Chandeleur, and we get to eat crêpes! I wrote a lovely explination of this holdiay last year, and let me tell you, it is the most popular post on this blog. I can’t begin to tell you how many English language “Chandeleur” searches lead folks to me. There is also my tried & true vegan crêpe recipe on that post, which is also quite popular this time of year. So go read up on Catholic propaganda and crêpes – what fun!

But what about Sunday dinner?

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Sweet & Sour Tofu

One of my favourite “treats” as a child was going out for Chinese food. Now grant you, there was only one Chinese restaurant near-by (and near-by being a rather subjective distance), and it was only on very special occasions that my parents piled us all into the mini-van for some Chinese cuisine. Now a mum myself, I can only discern virtual Congressional Medals of Honor for the courage and heroism (and insanity?) my parents displayed bringing us all out to eat in public, in a restaurant. All six of us.

My absolute favourite thing as a kid was the Sweet & Sour Chicken balls. The sticky-sweet red sauce clinging to the deep-fried, breaded balls – which really should have been called Sweet & Sour breading balls with a tiny piece of chicken in them, seriously – and the sticky white rice painted pink after a proper slathering in the sweet & sour sauce…it was like dessert, but for dinner.

I haven’t had the sweet & sour goodness in so long it is crazy, since at least 1990 when I went veg, but probably before. This is a test recipe for 500 Vegan Recipes, and I feel like I need to have a second child and name her Joni in order to properly thank her for this recipe it is so damn good. If you ever enjoyed food-court-style take out in your pre-vegan days and miss that wonderful, terrible sticky red sauce, you are going to love this recipe.

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I’m a little embarrassed, but I’ll admit it. I made this twice in three days I love it so much. There. I said it. Please don’t totally lose respect for me.

I don’t know what I’m going to do when Joni & Celine are done testing their recipes for their upcoming cookbook 500 Vegan Recipes. What will I make? Seriously, I love this because I just consult what needs to be tested and I have my menu for the week! Don’t forget the Flickr group for more food p*orn love.