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February 21, 2011

Instant Cheezy Sauce

Like so many vegans before me, I have discovered the cheezy joys of nutritional yeast. However, it wasn't always this way--my bliss is fairly recent. My first container of the yellow stuff lasted me ages, and I only enjoyed it when it was hidden among many other ingredients. When I ran out of the first container I decided to try a different brand, which turned out to have a much better flavor. It was then that I discovered my undying love for nutritional yeast.

I eat steamed veggies with my dinner most nights. Once I realized my love of nutritional yeast I got into the habit of sprinkling a big spoonful over top of my veggies for added flavor and nutrition (B-12 baby!). Then to change things up, I started to drizzle some tahini over top of the veggies in addition to the nutritional yeast. I wasn't done there, the third ingredient that I eventually added to my veggie toppings was lemon juice, which rounded out the flavors perfectly. It wasn't long before I realized that rather than messily heaping these ingredients onto my veggies I could premix them into a sauce. A couple more flavors made their way into the mix, and my instant cheezy sauce was born.

This tangy cheeze sauce instantly became my favorite way to dress up steamed vegetables. Before you try this, I should mention that as a prerequisite, you must love nutritional yeast. It is the dominant flavor in this sauce, and if you are anything like I used to be when I first tried nutritional yeast, this one is not for you.

Instant Cheezy Sauce
Serves 2

2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp onion powder

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Add up to 1 additional tablespoon of water to achieve your preferred thickness. Spoon over 2 servings of steamed veggies.

Thanks again to everyone that entered the TofuXpress giveaway. There were 83 qualifying entries in total, and I used to generate the winning number of 73. Congrats to Cadry, the lucky commenter!

February 14, 2011

Thai Coconut-Crusted Tofu Hearts and a GIVEAWAY!

I will never forget my first time cooking with tofu. I was a sophomore in college and the dish was stir fry with tofu. Clueless, yet lucky enough to choose the right kind of tofu for my purposes, the extra firm variety. I drained the water out of the package and plopped the cold, wet block of tofu down on my cutting board and proceeded to cut it into 1" cubes. I chopped up some veggies too, and added everything all at once into a hot skillet. A few minutes later I had a pool of water in the bottom of my skillet. I clumsily drained the extra water out of the pan and continued to cook the mixture of tofu and veggies. When it was all said and done, by the time all of the water cooked out of the tofu, the veggies were obliterated.

I did not give up on tofu after this experience, but I did alter my technique. From then on the tofu always went into the pan first and cooked for 15 minutes or more on its own, until the water evaporated out and it started to crisp up. I was so proud of myself for conquering tofu.

A few years and many stir fries later my tofu world was turned upside down when someone gave me a copy of Vegan With a Vengeance. Not only did I discover there are many other uses for tofu beyond stir fries, I also learned that I should have been pressing the water out of the tofu before cooking it. Pressing goes like this: wrap the block of tofu in a clean dish towel or 3-4 layers of paper towels. Place wrapped block between two clean plates and balance heavy objects (books, pans, weights) on top and let sit for one hour to drain.

It was a tofu epiphany. Since then I have been doing the tofu draining balancing act, and as far as I knew things could not be better. Then a month ago came the game changer, the perfect tofu draining tool, resulting in the densest, and most perfectly chewy tofu I have ever experienced. The gadget I am referring to is the TofuXpress. For a month now I have been enjoying better drained tofu which fries up faster and soaks up marinades better. I cannot imagine going back to the old balancing act method!


This is the TofuXpress in action. I was surprised by how sturdy this little gadget is. Constructed of thick plastic and a heavy duty spring -- you can really feel the force when you press the top piece down into place. Water starts pooling in the container instantly, and in an hour or less the tofu is well drained. For an even denser tofu you can leave it to drain for longer. The TofuXpress can also be used to press water out of other foods -- I am excited to try it out on frozen spinach, a food that I have never figured out how to efficiently press the water out of.

Now here is the really exciting part. TofuXpress is hosting a giveaway so that one of you can give this awesome gadget a try! More details on how to enter after the recipe.

I was excited to try marinating some tofu that had been pressed in the TofuXpress. I decided on a Thai red curry marinade and for a Valentine's Day twist I used heart shaped cookie cutters on the tofu. You could skip the hearts and cut the tofu into slabs instead (12-16 pieces per block), but then you will want to do 1-1/2 or even double the amount of coconut breading to make sure you have enough to cover all of the tofu. 

So often Thai curries involve veggies and tofu stir fried in oil and then immersed in a thick, coconut milk based sauce. My method involves using steamed veggies and a light drizzling of sauce, and the shining star heart is definitely the tofu! The tofu hearts are marinated, then dredged through a coconut breading and baked. By skipping the frying, the only fat in this dish comes from the bit of coconut, coconut milk, and peanut butter. Light and packed with flavor, just what I going for! I couldn't be happier with this dish or the TofuXpress. Don't forget to check the bottom of this post for details on how you can win a TofuXpress of your own!

Thai Coconut-Crusted Tofu Hearts
Serves 4

Will need a 3" and a 1" heart cookie cutter

1 lb extra firm tofu, pressed

3 tsp Thai red curry paste
1 tsp creamy peanut butter (organic preferred)
1 tsp lime juice
1/2 cup lite coconut milk (or 1/4 cup regular + 1/4 cup water)
1 tsp ginger, minced
1 tsp garlic, minced

reserved marinade
1 tbsp creamy peanut butter (organic preferred)
1/2 cup lite coconut milk (or 1/4 cup regular + 1/4 cup water)
1 tbsp lime juice

Coconut breading
heaping 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1-1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1-1/2 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional, omit to keep this dish mild)

steamed veggies and rice

Press tofu for 1 hour. Cut the block of tofu in half, depth-wise. Cut one 3" heart out of each of the two halves, and as many 1" hearts as you can fit (2-3 per block). Then cut each of your hearts in half depth-wise again, so that each heart is about 1/2" thick. You should have 4 large hearts and 8-12 small hearts. (Be sure to save your tofu scraps for tofu scrambles!)

Lay tofu hearts in a single layer on a rimmed baking dish. Whisk together marinade ingredients in a small bowl until smooth and then pour over the tofu. Flip the tofu to coat, then cover and refrigerate overnight (or for 1 hour if you are in a pinch).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a baking sheet. Mix the coconut breading in a small shallow bowl, and set up your tofu and baking sheet nearby. Pick up the tofu one piece at a time and use a spoon to scrape off excess marinade leaving it behind in baking dish (reserve this, you will be using the leftover marinade in the sauce). Dredge the tofu hearts through the coconut breading on both sides, being sure to coat the edges as well, and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all of the tofu is breaded. Spray the tops of the tofu hearts with a bit of cooking spray before putting into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, and then flip, spray, and bake for 15 minutes more.

While the tofu is baking make the sauce. Whisk in the additional coconut milk, peanut butter, and lime juice into the leftover marinade. Transfer to a small pot and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and remove from heat until you are ready to serve.

Prepare the rice and steamed veggies also while the tofu is baking. I chopped up a broccoli crown and 1 large carrot. In the last 2 minutes of steaming I added a can of straw mushrooms and a can of baby corn just to heat them up.

Serve rice and veggies on the bottom layer, drizzle with sauce, and top with one large tofu heart and 2-3 small hearts.

Congrats if you made it through this super long post! Your reward is this super awesome TofuXpress giveaway. There are many ways to enter, please leave a separate comment for each. You must live in the United States to win. The winner will be selected using a random number generator. The contest closes at midnight on February 20, 2011, and the winner will be announced on the 21st. 

For your first entry leave a comment telling me about your favorite tofu dish. For up to seven additional entries you may choose to do any or all of the following:

- follow @tofuxpress on Twitter 
- like TofuXpress on Facebook 
- subscribe to the TofuXpress newsletter at
- follow @ordinaryveg on Twitter
- like The Ordinary Vegetarian on Facebook
- tweet about this giveaway, including a link to this post and @ordinaryveg
- post about this giveaway on facebook, including a link to this post and @The Ordinary Vegetarian

Good luck!

February 11, 2011

Wedding planning and vegan eats in Las Vegas

See that? That's me. In a tshirt. In February. Outside.

I was lucky enough to spend 4 days in sunny Las Vegas, returning home Wednesday morning. I was accompanied by my friend Becca, and our mission was wedding planning! That's right, Steve and I are planning our October 2011 wedding in our favorite southwestern city. It was a very productive trip, and the most important decisions have been made (namely ceremony/reception locations and the vegan menu!). I will save those details for another time, for now I wanted to share my well documented vegan food extravaganza!

Tacos and Tequila
We had our first lunch out at Tacos and Tequila inside Luxor. There are two great vegan options there including these vegetarian tacos (minus sour cream). On other visits I have gotten the falafel tacos which are also awesome, and really unique. I found out that since my last trip to Las Vegas the beans are no longer vegetarian, so they gave me a double side of rice instead. Added bonus, there are always coupons available on, making this a very affordable place to dine as well.

Vanilla bean cake
On Saturday afternoon we had an appointment for vegan wedding cake testing. We tried the vanilla bean pictured above, and the red velvet pictured below.

Red velvet cake
The cakes were both very good. I am thinking about having each of the 3 tiers a different flavor so I don't have to choose just one!

Gluten-free brownies and carrot cake
The cake lady also brought samples of her carrot cake and gluten-free brownies, in case we want to do a whole dessert table. Sounds good to me!
Mint Indian Bistro

For dinner on Saturday we went to a place picked out by Becca, Mint Indian Bistro. I was ecstatic when I saw that all of the vegan options on the menu were clearly marked, including several dishes which are typically not vegan (naan, saag, daal maharani). Overwhelmed with having to decide on one dish, my decision was made easy when I noticed the vegan sampler at the end of the menu. In the end, I think it was overpriced ($27) for the amount of food provided. Especially considering that I didn't care for a few of the dishes. Next time I'll order one entree, and that will probably be the chana saag. YUM!
P.F. Chang's
We started our Sunday cheaply with a buy one get one free coupon at P.F. Chang's. Some of the items in the vegetarian section are naturally vegan, but I chose to modify the Vegetable Chow Fun which usually includes egg. This dish was spicy, delicious, and the portion was huge!

Sunday night we had a simple dinner at Chipotle, located on the north end of the strip near Harrah's. This is by far my favorite chain restaurant, and I always order my burrito the same way --rice, beans, hot salsa, corn salsa, and guac!

Bellagio breakfast buffet
Vegas is famous for their buffets. You can even buy an all day pass to sample several buffets in one day, oh my! I promised Becca that I would do one buffet with her in Las Vegas, and Monday morning I fulfilled that promised. We didn't skimp on this meal, we chose the Bellagio which is famed to be the best brunch buffet in town. I was a little worried that it would be a waste of money for me, without many vegan options, but I was wrong! One of the chefs kindly pointed me in the direction of several vegan options. I visited the impressive oatmeal bar, topping mine with figs, almonds, walnuts, and banana chips. I filled a separate plate with Mediterranean lentils, black beans, roasted potatoes, tomatoes with capers, melon, and bok choy with chili sauce. They even had soy milk in the kitchen for my oatmeal and coffee! Way to go Bellagio!

Mt. Everest Indian Cuisine
For dinner Monday night we had Indian again, this time at Mt. Everest Indian Cuisine. I chose the Aloo Kauli, a yummy curry dish of cauliflower, potatoes, peas, and tomatoes.

Ronald's Donuts
Tuesday morning started out very naughty with a trip to Ronald's Donuts. Actually I didn't eat these donuts in Las Vegas, they came home with me. Most of the donuts at Ronald's are vegan (top two rows in the case), but better to ask and confirm which are which if you visit. These vegan donuts are better than any non-vegan donut that I have ever had!

Go Raw Cafe
Craving some good healthy greens, I opted for Go Raw Cafe for lunch. I started out with a raw kale salad from their impressive raw buffet.

Go Raw Cafe
I followed up my salad with the "Traditional Pizza". Oh my goodness, this was amazing! The raw bread, raw marinara, and the walnut "sausage" were all superb. I was floored by how much this tasted like pizza.

Whole Foods salad bar
For my final meal in Las Vegas I hit the Whole Foods salad bar and built my own asian noodle salad. I started with the oil free sesame linguine noodles and topped it with cauliflower, green onion, roasted garlic, tofu, carrots, shredded zucchini, mushrooms, and a little bit of oil free tamari miso dressing. This was so filling and delicious, and kept me full all evening and during my red eye flight home (remind me not to do that again, by the way!).

What a delicious trip! I am also relieved by the wedding planning success. Now if only October would come sooner...

February 4, 2011

Pizza Stuffed Portobellas with Arugula Pesto

New loves of my life: mushrooms and arugula. There was a day that I detested mushrooms, most of my days, actually. I am not sure why things changed, but now I can't get enough. As for arugula, I had just never intentionally had it until recently, and it was love at first bite.

My new loves met in these pizza stuffed portobellas. I want to thank Jess for the idea of using a portobella mushroom in place of a pizza crust. It is such a fun and easy idea, simply fill a portobella with your favorite sauce, veggies, and non-dairy cheese and bake. I chose to sauce my caps with arugula pesto and then stuff them with artichokes, tomatoes, and non-dairy cheese. Admittedly not the most common pizza flavors, but delicious nonetheless. 

Pizza Stuffed Portobellas
(Inspired by Get Sconed!
Serves 2

Arugula pesto sauce:
1 cup arugula, packed
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp onion powder
1-2 tbsp water

2 portobella caps, gills scraped, stems reserved for the filling
1 tbsp sherry
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup frozen artichoke hearts (or canned)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
portobello stems, chopped
1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
Mozzarella style non-dairy cheese
1 tsp nutritional yeast

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Pour the sherry and olive oil in a small baking dish (large enough to hold both mushrooms), and stir to coat. Put the clean caps stem side up in the dish and rub them around a bit in the sherry oil mixture. Set aside.

Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a food processor and puree. Start with 1 tbsp of water and add another tbsp if the mixture is not saucy enough. Set aside.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Add the frozen artichokes, portobella stems, oregano, and thyme, saute for about 3-5 minutes, until the artichokes are thawed. Then add the cherry tomatoes and saute for another minute or two, until the tomatoes are a bit shriveled but not mushy. (If you are using canned artichokes put all of the ingredients in the pan at the same time and cook 3 minutes). Transfer mixture to food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times, to chop up the artichokes.

Now assemble the mushrooms. Spoon the pesto into each cap, half per. Next stuff half of the artichoke mixture in each mushroom. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of nutritional yeast on top of each, and finish off by sprinkling some non-dairy cheese and fresh ground pepper.

Bake uncovered for 15 minutes and then broil on high for 2-3 minutes to finish cooking the cheese, watching closely to avoid burning. Serve hot.

February 2, 2011

Snow Day Tofu Scramble

All week Chicago and the surrounding areas have been preparing for the Blizzard of 2011, also known as snowmageddon, snowpocalypse, blizzastrophe, SN(OMG), snowzilla, and thundersnow (yes the combo of thunder, lightning, and snow!). I thought that the predictions might have been a little exaggerated, but no, we got every last inch that they said we would-- 19" in total in my area.

The wind was incredible. The snow blew itself into most of the big piles that you see in the photo below. Surprisingly my driveway only had about 4 inches because the snow blew to the side creating a 5' tall drift. The wind was not so friendly to others, some friends' cars are completely buried and they have been digging out for hours. As peaceful as it looks here, the scene downtown is still a total mess. They closed down Lake Shore Drive and hundreds of people were stranded overnight, with rescue efforts taking up to 12 hours for some. It is still closed down now, and they are towing the abandoned cars to nearby lots as it continues to snow.

I am thankful to be in my warm house, thankful for canceled work, thankful that the snow has stopped here, and thankful for tofu. Just as the snow was starting yesterday afternoon I made a quick stop at Whole Foods for bread and milk tofu and kale before locking down for the storm. This morning I treated myself to a most delicious tofu scramble and the raspberry cornmeal pancakes from Eat, Drink, & Be Vegan. This is my new favorite pancake recipe. This recipe is wheat-free, utilizing oat flour, cornmeal, and flax--so as far as pancakes go, these ones are pretty darn healthy!

If you haven't scrambled tofu, what are you waiting for? This recipe is more of a guideline to get you started. Use your favorite spices and veggies, and have fun with it! 

Tofu Scramble for Two

1/2 package of firm or extra firm tofu (8 oz)(not silken)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped onion or 1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp turmeric (optional, but makes the tofu yellow like eggs)
1/2 tsp oregano 
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 cup broccoli florets, chopped small
5 button mushrooms chopped
1 cup kale, tough stems removed and chopped (or spinach, or chard)
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp parsley, chopped (optional)
1 tbsp chives, chopped (optional)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tbsp tahini (optional)
1 tbsp unsweetened non-dairy milk (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Drain tofu well, and press out water as much water as possible with a clean dish towel or paper towels by hand. You will be crumbling the tofu so feel free to squeeze down hard and allow the tofu to break apart a bit. Put the tofu in a bowl and mash with a fork until the consistency of scrambled eggs. 

Coat a skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Add tofu and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and onion (if using) and cook until fragrant. Add spices, broccoli and mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes (until broccoli is crisp-tender). Add in the kale, tomatoes, parsley, and chives and cook until the greens have wilted. Stir in remaining ingredients (the optional ingredients will give a cheesy flavor), and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.