Sunday, July 21, 2013

Experiment #6: Tofu and Veggie Potstickers

First, a quick health update: I'm allergic to eggs! I don't know why my doctors didn't think to do an allergy panel years ago, but finally I found one who actually rules out the simple things first. I've probably been mildly allergic my whole life, but stress has triggered a stronger reaction. I've been egg-free (and up to about 75% vegan, though I've had some weird chicken cravings) now for about two weeks, and I feel better than I have in quite a while. I ate French toast the other day as a test to see if my symptoms returned, and they did within an hour of eating. My mom-in-law was worried about making me sick, but for me it was the happiest sickness I've ever felt! To finally know the cause of my illness and the simple solution to it is AMAZING!

I had planned to do an avgolemono (Greek Easter Soup - it's name means "egg and lemon") experiment last week, but I found a pre-existing recipe that was everything I wanted! The only substitution I made was swapping in 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley for dill since a) the non-vegan version I used to make had parsley, and b) B apparently hates dill (but loves ranch dressing?). We were both surprised by how much this recipe tasted like the real thing!

This week's experiment comes with two big thumbs up from B! They also come from a craving for Chinese food mixed with frustration over not being able to find egg-free wonton or spring roll wrappers. I tried Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Talin with no success. I was too tired to try La Montanita Co-Op or any of the smaller Asian markets this afternoon, but I'll keep my eyes open.

Until I find them, I'll have to make my own. I considered making Chinese pancakes and using them to make spring rolls, but decided against it because they're labor intensive. You can, however, freeze them easily for later use, so I probably will still make some soon. Browsing the web for easier options, I came across a recipe for pierogi from Post Punk Kitchen. Mmmm....pierogi! B and I are both of Polish descent, and I squealed when I saw this recipe. I'll definitely make these for Christmas Eve dinner with B's family this year. Polish Catholic Christmas Eve meals are always vegetarian, but I'll be skipping the quiche this year. These savory dumplings will be an excellent accompaniment to my mom-in-law's sweet and sour borscht.

This pierogi dough looked perfect for potstickers. If you think about it, pierogi and potstickers are pretty similar to begin with. They're both dumplings that are first boiled or steamed and then pan-fried for a crispy exterior. It always amazes me which foods seem to be universally delicious regardless of which culture or region they come from. FRIED DOUGH --> DELICIOUS. I'm pretty sure science can support this as fact.

Note about the filling: For B, I replaced half the tofu with an equal amount of ground pork to make a more traditional ma po-style dish since he's still learning to like tofu. Replacing some of the tofu with mushrooms would also be a delicious (and meat-free) alternative to a tofu-only dumpling.

Another note about the filling: You'll notice that the recipe as-is makes entirely too much filling. I'm saving the unused filling to make fried rice later in the week. If you don't want extra, then cut the filling recipe in half.

A partial mise-en-place for the filling - the tofu was still pressing!

Tofu and Veggie Potstickers - Makes 18-20 dumplings
For the filling:
  • canola oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 16-oz block firm tofu, pressed and crumbled
  • 1 carrot, minced or shredded
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 3 scallions, sliced thinly (reserve 1 tbsp for sauce)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, minced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sriracha (or to taste)
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
For the dough:
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, separated, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 3/4 tsp salt
For the dipping sauce
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sriracha (or to taste)
  • 1 tbsp scallion, sliced thinly

Heat 2 tbsp canola oil plus 1 tsp sesame oil in a wok or frying pan over medium heat. Saute the carrot and celery for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the scallions, garlic, and ginger, and saute for another minute. Place the veggie mix in a bowl and set aside. Add another 2 tbsp of canola oil to the pan and fry the tofu. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tofu to the veggie mix, and then add the rest of the filling ingredients. Set filling aside to cool while you make the dough.

Add the water and oil to a mixing bowl. Stir in two cups of flour and the salt. This should create a sticky wet dough. Dust your work surface with flour and place the dough on it. Add an additional flour 1/4 cup at a time, kneading the portion into the dough. Continue adding 1/4 cup portions of flour and kneading until you have a smooth, elastic, not too sticky dough. You may find your dough at the right consistency with slightly more or slightly less than 3 cups of flour total.

Flour + water + oil + love = dough

Roll the dough to a 1/4 inch thickness. Use a large glass or cookie cutter (I used the lid to a large drink shaker) to cut dough circles. Then roll each circle to 1/8 in thickness to create a large dumpling. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling into each circle and pinch closed. You may need to use a little warm water on your fingers while you pinch them to get them to stick. 

Dumplings! I need to work on my folding technique...

Add water to a large skillet (with a lid) until it is about 1/2 inch deep. Heat the water on medium-low and add the dumplings. Cover and steam for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is cooked. As an optional step, you can briefly fry the steamed dumplings in a little canola oil to crisp them up. I shouldn't call this optional makes them extra delicious! Remember what I said earlier about fried dough?

While the dumplings steam, mix all the dipping sauce ingredients together. Serve the dumplings immediately with the sauce on the side. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Experiment #5: Chocolate Amaretto Pie with Cherry Sauce...and some personal stuff

It's been a rough couple of weeks health-wise, but I'm feeling much better. Right after my last post, my digestive problems flared up badly. Two weeks of cramping, throwing up, aching in every joint, and barely wanting to eat. I missed some work, visited the doctor, and I'm still waiting on some test results. I've also been battling dizzy spells the last week while I wean off citalopram, which I took for anxiety but can proudly say I no longer need. The decision about whether or not to take antidepressants is an intensely personal one, and I don't think there's an absolute right or wrong answer. While I'm thrilled to be back in control of my emotions, I understand that I couldn't get there on my own. The feeling-like-crap part of me wishes I hadn't taken it because the physical addictiveness is so strong. The logical side of me is glad that I did because it gave me the boost I needed to help me  recognize the confidence and bravery already inside me. I don't stress over little things or feel unreasonably afraid of anything anymore.  Bring on the experiments!

My appetite came back for the Fourth of July, and I made these delicious raw lemon/coconut/banana bars from This Rawsome Vegan Life. My family enjoyed them (except B who isn't a big coconut fan) and they took a whopping 10 minutes to make (not including refrigerator time), so I'll definitely make them again. This week's experiment is a different summer-friendly dessert. It requires minimal baking (setting the crust for 10 minutes) and uses seasonal fruit (I found beautiful dark sweet cherries on sale at Sprouts today!). The experiment is my take on this chocolate pie with almond crust and strawberry compote from Oh She Glows.  I changed the flavors because chocolate + almond + cherry is one of my all-time favorite flavor trios (second only to green chile + cheese + potato...oh, cheese *sigh*).

This pie is a celebration of feeling better. It's also a celebration of cooking with booze since I was on Tylenol and not able to drink while I was sick. 

Chocolate Amaretto Pie with Cherry Sauce - serves 8-10 depending on how you slice it
  • 3/4 cup raw almonds
  • 1 1/2 cup oats, separated
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup (or the liquid sweetener of your choice)
  • 7.5 oz coconut cream (or 1 15 oz can coconut milk chilled overnight to separate out the cream)
  • 2 oz amaretto liqueur (I like D'Saronno)
  • 1 12 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 lb sweet cherries
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the almonds and 1/2 cup of oats in a food processor and grind into a coarse flour. Add the rest of the oats and process briefly to chop the oats. Then add the coconut oil and maple syrup and process until the dough forms. 
Dough that smells as good as it looks!
Lightly grease a pie pan with coconut oil. Add the dough to the middle of the pan and use your fingers to press it into a crust. Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Let the crust cool while you make the filling and sauce.

Smells like a freshly-baked granola bar! YUM!
I made the sauce next because, like an idiot, I didn't read the directions for the filling very well. I bought coconut milk because I read the ingredients list quickly. The filling actually uses coconut cream, which you can buy pre-separated. The original recipe asks you to make your own by chilling coconut milk overnight to separate its parts. So I threw my can in the freezer while I baked the crust, made the sauce, made spaghetti for dinner, and watched the first half of The Hobbit. That's approximately how much time it takes to separate coconut milk in the freezer. Overnight in the refrigerator works better because it separates the liquids without freezing, so they're easier to work with.

Pitting the cherries is the worst part of the recipe. It's tedious, and I don't have any good tools or strategies for it. I just make a slice or two around the pit with a paring knife and pull the pit out with my fingers. It's messy, but it gets the job done.
Cherry pitting or bloody murder?
Place the cherries in a small saucepan over medium heat. Use a potato masher to mash the cherries and extract their juice. Slowly add the cornstarch, whisking quickly to avoid lumps. Then add the maple syrup and vanilla. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until desired thickness. Let the sauce sit while you make the filling (or in my case, store it in the fridge until ready to reheat since it's going to be a while...)

If you start with chilled coconut milk, carefully separate the cream from the watery part. If you start with coconut cream, congratulations: you win at reading directions. Just pour it into a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the amaretto and the chocolate chips, stirring constantly until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and stir in the maple syrup, vanilla, and salt.  

I wish I didn't have to wait two hours to eat it!
Pour the filling into the pie crust. Cover the pie with foil or plastic wrap and chill it in the freezer for at least two hours. After that, if everyone you're serving it to likes cherries, feel free to layer the sauce on top. Otherwise, reheat the sauce and serve it over individual slices.