Day 14: Vegan Kung Pao Broccoli and Tofu–“Cooking ‘The Blooming Platter Cookbook’ Julie and Julia Style”

Kung Pao Tofu(A sequential installment from Kim Hastings, my photographer friend and, along with her vet husband, owner of Independence Veterinary Hospital, who decided on her own to cook her way through The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes Julie & Julia Style for her omnivorous family as a strategy for more healthy eating.)

I have had the Kung Pao Broccoli and Tofu recipe on my list for the last two weeks and replaced it each time. I have looked at it so many times that my book opens automatically to it now. Why have I been putting it off? Maybe it was the tofu, but I conquered my fear of that a few days ago so I’m doing this recipe today.

My husband is thrilled that it is a one skillet dish. He always has some comment about the state of the kitchen when I’m done cooking these days. I do honestly try to clean as I go. In fact I hear my mom’s voice in my head telling me those exact words but it usually looks like a cyclone went through my kitchen no matter what I do.

I must admit that I prepared chicken on the side so that if my men refused the tofu they could pick it out and substitute the chicken, but I’m not going to pick it out for them. I was a little worried about what kind of reactions I would get from this meal but I have to say that even I was impressed with the way the tofu looked (and tasted!) before I placed it in the warm oven.

Everything was moving along just fine until I realized I did not have the hot dried chiles. Now that is an important ingredient in Kung Pao and somehow I missed it so I just used a healthy amount of red pepper flakes instead. No problem. Everything else came together beautifully.

My family did not see the tofu part of the preparation so when they asked what it was I just said it was a veggie. That’s not a lie right? One just took it at face value and said it was good. The other tried to analyze it and decided it was fried mashed potato chunks. I think the funniest thing was that my older son came home to eat the leftovers the next day and when he took the foil off the dish, he was so upset that all that was left was the chicken and a few peanuts. His brother had beat him to it.

Get this – no one had eaten the chicken!! (Until that was all that was left of course). I think that speaks for itself about just how amazing this dish tastes. My challenge to get them to love vegetables just as much as the other items on the plate is working! I am so proud of myself – seriously proud.

~Kim Hastings

Kim Hastings

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Vegan TFLC Cookies (Tea-Infused Five-Spice Lime-Scented Chocolate Cookies)

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

This is the second iteration of what has become an incredibly adaptable “chewy chocolate cookie.”  Actually, it’s the third version because the first was a “veganization” of a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.

This one was inspired by a group I chaired during the 2010-2011 school year: The Teacher Forum Leadership Council (TFLC).  I had wanted to create “TFLC Cookies” as favors for our end-of-year dinner, but simply didn’t have time.  So this recipe is a posthumous tribute to a group of teachers–and even a few administrators–who selflessly volunteer their time to further the mission of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools, especially through the presentation of a National Speakers Series and follow-up workshops.  I was so impressed all year by how these men and women never expected someone else to do the work; they always stepped up to shoulder their share of the responsibility with good humor and good will.

It was a little tricky coming up with ingredients whose names began with each letter in the organization’s name and tasted good together.  But my friend Sheila Giolitti, quite a foodie herself, tasted one recently and proclaimed that TFLC Cookies should definitely be in Volume II of The Blooming Platter Cookbook.  I hope you agree.

2 limes, zested (set zest aside)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (warm limes for about 10 seconds in the microwave and then gently roll on the counter in order to extract the most juice)
4 tea bags (I like an Earl Gray or an English Breakfast, but experiment!)
1 cup vegan butter, room temperature (I like Earth Balance)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/3 cups natural sugar plus 1 cup for coating
1 cup pure cane syrup or, if you dare, dark corn syrup
1/4 cup molasses
2 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour (or white whole wheat; my favorite white flour substitution)
1 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)
1-2 teaspoons Five Spice Powder (or more to taste; I like a pronounced flavor that still makes people wonder exactly what it is)
8-9 ounces vegan semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Line two cookie sheets with Silpats or parchment paper and set aside. In a small bowl or cup, place the lime juice and tea bags.  Heat them for about 1-2 minutes in the microwave and then set aside to steep for 2 minutes.  Squeeze bags firmly without breaking them to extract all of the tea flavor.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, place butter, oil, and 1 1/3 cup sugar.  Reserve remaining 1 cup sugar. At medium to medium-high speed, cream mixture until well-combined and fluffy. Add cane syrup, molasses and vanilla and beat just a few more seconds to combine, scraping bowl, as needed. Mixture may look slightly curdled, but don’t worry. Add remaining ingredients, except chocolate chips, but including lime zest, and beat on low speed, scraping bowl as needed, just until combined. Taste and mix in more five spice powder, if desired.  Add chips and beat on low just a few seconds to distribute.

Cover dough well and chill for half an hour, but no longer. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a small scoop with a release lever, scoop out balls of dough about 1 1/2-inches in diameter. Roll in reserved 1 cup of sugar and place a generous 2” apart on baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time for 4 minutes, open oven door and, using a spatula, quickly flatten each cookie slightly to 1/2-inch thick. Close the oven door and continue baking for 6 more minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Cookies should be ever-so-slightly cracked, look a little moist and soft in the center, and be more set around the edges. Leave cookies on baking sheet and set on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Then, using a spatula, transfer cookies to the racks and cool to room temperature. Repeat with remaining baking sheet.  Store in an airtight container.

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Vegan Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Crispy Kale

Serves: 4
I like to build meals around greens and this ultra-clean version is one inspired by seeing lots of recipes for “kale chips.” I call it “Crispy Kale” and serve it as a vegetable rather than as chips, though it is good enough to eat as a snack. Just watch the salt, as it takes a tiny amount when prepared this way; plus, miso is quite salty on its own. Isn’t the kale lovely paired with the white fluffy noodles (or rice) and golden sesame-crusted tofu?
1-2 tablespoons light miso (miso is very salty, but it has great body, so choose your proportion accordingly)

4 tablespoons vegetable stock

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar (unsalted/unseasoned)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

squirt of fresh lemon juice

optional: a pinch of Five Spice Powder (if you want a more Chinese flavor)

1-16 ounce box, extra firm tofu, pressed, drained, and sliced crosswise into 4 equal pieces

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

white sesame seeds

For this recipe and some 170+ more,
I invite you to purchase my first cookbook:

The Blooming Platter:
A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes

Vegan Heritage Press
Spring 2011

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Vegan Grilled Hearts of Romaine Salad with Vegan Chinese Mustard Dressing and Vegan Five Spice and Lime Roasted Cashews or Peanuts

Yield: 2 salads with leftover dressing (dressing recipe makes 8 servings)
This, my favorite new salad, was inspired by three restaurant dishes. One was a grilled salad from a local pub that was good but the Romaine wasn’t caramelized enough and it wasn’t served with anything very interesting in the way of dressing or garnish. The others, a Caesar salad with addicting spicy cashews on top (the only part I could eat) and a mound of haystack fried potatoes with a dreamy Chinese mustard sauce, were both served at the fantastic China Grill in South Beach. So, I decided to grill the Romaine lettuce typically used in a Caesar salad and replicate both the nuts on that salad and the mustard sauce from the potato dish, making it into a dressing. I didn’t want to use peanut butter as the creamy base, as I wanted the flavor to be more Chinese than Thai, so I decided on tahini which, though I usually associate it with Mediterranean food, is a sesame paste and sesame is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking. I think the result is fantastic–in fact, I ate both salads for lunch today–and hope you will too.

For this recipe and some 170+ more,
I invite you to purchase my first cookbook:

The Blooming Platter:
A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes

Vegan Heritage Press
Spring 2011

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Vegan Vegetable-Coconut Milk Rice Pilaf with Vegan Five Spice and Lime Roasted Cashews or Peanuts

Yield: approximately 4 servings

After a beautiful family-style pan-Asian meal at China Grill–much of which I couldn’t eat– over New Year’s weekend in South Beach, I was craving foods inspired by their creations, especially something with their spiced cashews that I picked off of their version of a Caesar salad. Here’s what I came up with and I have found it so satisfying as leftovers all week. Measurements of vegetables are approximate. Use what you have and it will still be wonderful.

Vegetable-Coconut Milk Rice Pilaf:
1 generous tablespoon vegetable oil (you may mix in a little sesame oil)
1 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup baby carrots, halved lengthwise
1/2 of a yellow or red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (shitakes are especially good)
2 cups vegetable stock
1 can (about 1 1/2 cups) coconut milk (I used the “lite” variety)
1 cup Jasmine rice (I recommend not substitute because the fragrance can’t be duplicated)
1 cup of trimmed broccoli florets
optional: coarse kosher or sea salt
Garnish: chopped fresh cilantro and spiced cashews or peanuts (see recipe below)

In a wok or large saute pan over medium-high, heat oil to shimmering. Add green onions and stir fry for a minute to flavor oil. Add baby carrots and stir fry for another minute, followed by bell pepper and mushrooms, stir frying for a minute after each addition. Stir in vegetable stock, coconut milk and rice. Cover (use foil if you don’t have a lid to fit your wok) and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to insure that rice isn’t sticking. Lower heat if necessary. Stir in broccoli, cover, and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until rice is tender, most of moisture is absorbed and broccoli is tender but still bright green. Check for salt and add if necessary. Garnish with cilantro and spiced nuts. Serve warm.

Vegan Five Spice and Lime Roasted Cashews or Peanuts:
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice and zest of 1/2 of a lime
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (start with smaller amount and add more if desired)
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) five spice powder
1/8 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper
12 ounces lightly salted cashew halves and pieces or peanuts (reserve can)

Line a baking sheet with a brown paper bag, waxed paper or parchment paper. In a wok or large saucepan over medium high, heat olive oil to shimmering. Meanwhile, combine all remaining ingredients except peanuts. Stir into hot oil, being careful not to splatter, followed immediately by peanuts. Roast and stir for about 7 minutes, lowering heat if necessary, or until exterior is caramelized and peanuts taste slightly roasted. Avoid scorching or you will have to throw out the whole batch. Pour immediately onto prepared baking sheet to cool completely. Store in the reserved peanut can.

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Vegan Chinese Orange-Sesame Chicken with Carrots

Yield: 4 servings

This dish is so rich and flavorful, it is difficult to believe that it is actually good for you. (If you fry the chicken, it is a little more decadent, but worth it to me.) Made from fresh oranges, the sauce cooks down to a thick pulpy melange with a complex balance of tastes: sweet, sour, salty and savory. Serve the chicken and sauce over brown or white rice (I like Jasmine) with a side of steamed broccoli for a dinner that is as nutritious and colorful as it is delicious. If you opt not to serve it with broccoli, you might want to garnish it with an additional sliced green onion for color contrast.

Chicken Mock Stock

2 cups water
¼ cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon celery seed

Combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan and set aside while you make the boneless “chicken” pieces.

Basic Seitan or “Wheat Meat”

1 cup instant vital wheat gluten flour
1 cup water

In a medium bowl, stir together wheat gluten and water until completely combined. Knead for about 3 minutes (many recipes say 5 minutes, but I think the extra minutes toughen the product). Shape the seitan into two short baguette-shapes about 5 inches long and then cut or tear each one into about 16 nice bite-size pieces. Bring stock to a boil. Stretch each piece a little before placing it carefully into stock. Reduce heat to a very slow simmer and cover pot with lid. Let simmer for 50-60 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes (or whenever you think of it), until broth has almost completely reduced. If it doesn’t, no worries. (Pieces will expand, but shrink back down.) Use immediately or store in the refrigerator (for up to 6 days) or the freezer (for up to 6 months). While the seitan simmers, make the Orange-Sesame sauce.

Source: La Dolce Vegan by Sarah Kramer

When the seitan has finished simmering, you may remove from the pot and toss with the sauce as is. However, for a chewier texture, fry the chicken first according to these directions:

Chinese Fried Chicken

Canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Pinch of salt

In a large iron skillet over medium-high, heat 1/4 inch of canola oil. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining ingredients in a small bowl. When oil is hot, but not smoking, dip each piece of chicken into the batter and place it carefully into the hot oil. To avoid overcrowding, you may need to cook the chicken in two batches. Cook each piece on both sides for a couple of minutes or until golden and drain on paper towel before tossing with the sauce.

Orange-Sesame Sauce

2 very large navel oranges, skin removed and flesh separated into sections
1 1/2″ piece ginger, peel removed, and cut into about 4-6 pieces
2 tablespoons mild molasses (not blackstrap, as the flavor is too strong)
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon five spice powder
tiny pinch of cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3-4 green onions, rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced (I use a garlic press)
3/4 cup carrots, very thinly sliced on the diagonal
zest of half of a large lemon

Garnish: approximately 4 teaspoons of sesame seeds

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, place first 11 ingredients and process until smooth, but pulpy. Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium-high, heat sesame oil. Add green onions and garlic and stir fry quickly until softened, but not brown. Scrape orange sauce into skillet, add carrots, and cook until sauce reduces slightly and carrots are just tender. Stir in fried seitan and lemon zest and serve over rice. If desired, sprinkl with about 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds per serving.

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