Tofu “fish” fingers with vegan tartar sauce

Last week I was hit with a bizarre craving for fish “fingers”; or, in American speak, fish sticks. I really never ate those except in Britain, so I suppose that’s why the UK moniker stuck. Maybe I was feeling wistful.

A little random trivia about fish finger-sticks (the actual information being from the Telegraph):

  • The fish finger was developed in an old Birds Eye factory in Great Yarmouth by Mr H A J Scott in the 1950s.
  • The American version/fish stick is said to have been invented in the 1920s in Massachusetts, allegedly to help fisherman find larger markets for their increasingly large catches of cod.
  • I don’t like fish fingers, because they’re usually loaded with unwanted junk and taste rubbery.
  • Even though I don’t like fish fingers, I felt compelled to make something to satisfy the urge to have them, which leads me to

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Tofu sticks.

One delightful aspect of these tasty tofingers is how easy they are to make. Not only do they come together quickly as a dish, they are so satisfyingly perfect in shape, if you want them to be. They do need a go0d seasoning blend thrown in, imho, or they can taste bland; but, add in a little mustard, salt and pepper and some spices, and they make that crispy on the outside, meaty on the inside mouthful that is superb across all meal types. We tried dipping these in Sriracha Just Mayo, and in a simple vegan tartar sauce (Just Mayo continues to impress me with how easy can be to make a creamy classic dairy free). Little Monkey tested with ketchup. All in all, adult and toddler-approved.

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Tofu “fish” fingers

  • 1 package extra firm tofu
  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoons seasoning blend of choice
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup quinoa or other flour
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • Cooking spray 
  1. Wrap the tofu in a clean towel and place it on a baking sheet. Balance a second baking sheet over the top. Add a weight to the top baking sheet, and press the tofu to dry, 15 – 20 minutes.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the almond milk, mustard, and seasonings in a bowl and set aside.In a separate bowl combine the quinoa flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  4. Slice the tofu into strips (I cut in half both cross-wise and lengthwise, then sliced a total of 12 sticks). Dip each stick into the milk mixture, then dredge in the flour mixture. Set the fillet on a baking sheet coated with cooking sprady, then follow with the remaining fillets.
  5. If there is extra milk and coating, re-dip each stick. Spray liberally with cooking spray and bake at crispy and golden brown. Bake 15-20 minutes; turn with a spatula and bake a further 15 minutes. Serve with ketchup or tartar sauce, below.

 

tofufingers2Simple vegan tartar sauce with Just Mayo

  • ½  cup Just Mayo plain or garlic mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons cup chopped dill pickles
  • 2 tablespoons cup chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  • dash chili powder
  1. Stir together all ingredients.

Let’s Play!

Go ahead. Play with your food.

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That’s our tag line for Plot to Plate, and I can’t help but admit I love it.  Even more so as of Wednesday, when Melissa and I got to share an edible play date with some 50 or more creative kids and LiveWell Longmont at the Longmont Downtown Farmers’ Market. As part of LiveWell’s mission to promote healthy eating through early educational opportunities, we’re hosting an edible activity booth highlighting seasonal produce at the market the first Wednesday of each month. For this first event, we featured cool cucumbers…but the stars, of course, were the kids who came to visit, and their marvelous inventions.

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As a new parent,  aligning play with food will no doubt taunt and even haunt me at times in years to come, but that’s ok. Because, there will also be magic.

“Can I eat it now?” asked one young boy as he proudly held up his creation for a photo. Others were overheard talking about adding toppings like hummus or cottage cheese when they got home. Faces beamed as plates were gingerly carried away. Dave brought Felix by to get squished with fierce cuddles see us, and it made my heart swell a little to see my little 10-month old’s eyes widen in awe at the bright colors, swirls, lines and designs of the vegetables and the art kids made with it. By the end of the evening, we must have seen 60 kids, all of whom created incredible, edible art, and/or approvingly sampled the simple and nutritious refrigerator pickles we had on hand, taking home the simple kid-friendly recipe cards.

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It’s amazing how appealing produce can be when it decides to play dress-up with imagination, becoming caterpillars, trains, sea monsters, flowers, and a limitless universe of possibilities. Throw toothpicks and maybe a lego or two into the mix, and WOW!

Of course, magical as moments may be, there is no magic “fix”. Now that Little Monkey’s taste buds are developing, and his preferences made clearer, our happy, easygoing eater is showing signs of occasional fastidiousness. At breakfast, he may pointedly clamp down his jaw surveying his porridge, while pointing, grasping for, and nearly hyperventilating at the sight of his current favorite, blueberries. All we can do as parents, I suppose, is continue to expose, expose, expose, and have fun with the journeys our children take wherever we can.

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I saw this fascinating TED Talks video the other day, which focused on correlations between the decline of play and the ride of mental health issues. Play, it said, is nature’s means of ensuring young mammals acquire the skills they need to develop into healthy, successful adults. This message has been persistently popping up lately, through new studies and commentary, reminding the world of the psychological and educational advantages of learning and exploring through play. Wednesday night made me reflect more, and emphasized for me where I stand. It’s sad when we see play getting the life squeezed out of it, or when it’s squeezed out of life.  Whether the context is a work-addicted, weary world that values hours logged over quality and efficiency or budget cuts and focus on rigor meaning less recess, free exploration, and time in the day for kids to make choices and create on their own.

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As we grow, we learn and learn to accept life is never ever all about play. There are times to buck up, even with food, including “have to try”. There is a point where we all have to suck it up and work hard even when we don’t want to, as contributors of society and people who do need to eat, clothe ourselves, and have shelter. But isn’t everything so much better when it’s at least a little playful? 

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Next month at the Downtown Farmers’ Market we’ll be exploring zany zucchini. Come see us if you can! We’ll have zucchini chips and fun edible supplies for your children and your inner child. You’ll see, we take our play seriously. 🙂

Veggie-packed light “pad thai”

pad_thai2I’m not sure when it was exactly that I stopped hating–or at least strongly disliking–Chinese food. Whenever that was, I went straight to loving it. I think there was a moment, staring at my 15-year old reflection aboard a train careening through the Chinese countryside; something clicked about the majesty, mystique, and complex contradictions that belonged to that culture, when I realized it was shameful that I’d allowed myself to be ashamed of my mixed heritage.

Even as a baby, it seems I had some kind of innate aversion to being half Chinese. My mom recounts how, when she would try to speak to me in Cantonese, the 12-toned cacophony caused such distress I shrieked my lungs out. In the then homogenous town that was home through 4th grade, kids would wear pins that said “kiss me, I’m Italian”. I regularly got teased with “ching chongs”, and fingers stretching faces to create slanted eyes. I pretty much cried every day for a couple of years. It pains me to think how much that must have hurt my mom, who worked her butt off getting into the schools and striving to introduce beauty and diversity and respect for worlds far away.

When my sisters and I were given the gift of joining our parents on a state goodwill mission to China, three weeks provided an education worth a lifetime, no matter how much hard info we would retain from the journey. Treated to a talent show by a primary school, I was moved near to tears by the talent and the passion exploding on stage. Suddenly “Chinese” meant real people, not just an adjective I tried to avoid.

By the time I traveled to Taiwan to spend a year teaching English in between college and grad school, my taste buds had matured, and I truly loved Asian food. It was then I discovered another side of being half Chinese. To the Taiwanese, I was not Chinese. I was very clearly American, maybe even Latino. Unlike American Chinese who looked fully the part, there was no expectation that I should already speak Mandarin. When my Chinese friends learned my mom was from Hong Kong, they were shocked.

That year my family flew into Taipei after Christmas to visit, and I planned a lunch including Chinese and other ex-pat friends. I’d thought I’d done a pretty good job of preparing Asian dishes; but as we were eating, I overheard some of my Chinese friends asking one another whether or not they’d ever had Western food before. Since then, I’ve jumped at the opportunity to identify food as “fusion”. I never make Chinese food, only fusion. I don’t authentically know how. Maybe one day…but I think fusion is beautiful.

cutiefaceNow that I’m a mom, there is a new profundity accompanying the recognition that shame is something we learn. I look at my sweet baby boy, and the purity of his innocence jumps out at me. It causes a pang or two here and there for it’s temporal nature. He will face, have to deal with and make sense of, countless challenges, prejudices, injustices, and hurts. They will change and shape him in ways I can’t begin to imagine or hope to protect him from. I hope to help him develop a moral sense that brings with it regret and desire to right his negative choices. But no matter what, I with with a full heart he never be ashamed of who he is.

For a long time now, any kind of Asian food is not only up there with my favorites, it carries kind of a a festive feel to it. At new year, some kind of noodle dish has to happen.  I guess it stems partly from a blend of superstition and respect for the Asian tradition of “long life noodles” at the new year, bringing the eater what the name suggests. OK, pad thai’s not Chinese, but as I said, all my attempts at Asian food are “fusion” anyway, and it’s awfully good.

This is just loosely “pad thai”. It happens to be (of course) easy to prepare and full of veggies and potential for variation. This year, as our holiday plans temporarily collapsed in one stressful day, Asian-inspired noodle dishes are appearing sooner and more often. They make me feel closer to family.

 pad_thaiLight vegetable pad thai

  • 6 ounces dried wide rice noodles
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 8 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • approximately 6 cups mixed vegetables of choice: I used a red bell pepper, a small broccoli crown, mushrooms, and some bean sprouts
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy or tamari sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • dash cracked red pepper
  • generous splash of lime
  • Chopped dry-roasted peanuts
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and cook until just al dente, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain.
  2. Heat oil in a wok or large deep skillet over high heat until very hot. Add garlic and vegetable mix and stir-fry about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate or bowl.
  3. Add eggs to skillet and cook, stirring, until scrambled, about a minute. Add shrimp and the reserved vegetables; stir-fry until the shrimp curl and turn pink, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the noodles,  scallions, vinegar, fish sauce, soy/tamari sauce, honey, pepper, and lime juice; toss until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. If desired, sprinkle with peanuts.

Butternut custard bake

Here’s a simple, scrumptious, healthy treat for anyone who, like me, loves homemade pumpkin pie year-round, could eat it any day, and doesn’t feel the need to include crust. I’ll be honest–I always try to be–even if you are like me as just described, this is probably not going to be your favorite dessert. Somewhat pock-marked and unassuming, you’re not likely to serve it to company. But bets are you can happily eat it for breakfast, and it makes a really great snack that lovingly stirs a little Thanksgiving feeling without overindulgence. You can use pumpkin, acorn, or a mix of squashes over the butternut, too.

This started as an adaptation of this delectable looking slow cooker recipe for sugar free, gluten free crock pot pumpkin pie pudding, only it turned out more like soup. I had swapped the flour suggested for almond meal and a little rice flour (which, in the below, you could probably forego and just increase the almond flour). I also used a little molasses and maple syrup over Stevia, simplified the spices, used almond milk for evaporated…and completely  forgot about the eggs. The result was a soupy mess, but a tasty, salvageable one at least.

Looking at my liquid mix, it struck me that I hadn’t saved myself any prep time by using the slow cooker versus popping in the oven. I’d just been drawn to the idea of a crock pot dessert, given how the slow cooker has been my culinary salvation over these past two months that have ushered us into the busy, distracted state of absolute devotion that is new–old, and ongoing–parenting. After whisking in two eggs and baking, I pretty much got what I’d hoped for in the end. And then I had to make it again, sans slow cooker, to make sure it still worked without the 8-hours cooking on low the previous attempt had undergone.

In a (butter)nutshell–ugh, how cheesy, but that’s the closest I get to humor after hours of rocking to Raffi everyday–I spent an inordinate time I don’t have on an adequate dessert/yummy snack (that I happen to really, really like) because of a fixation on adding “dessert” to the slow cooker repertoire, and at the end of the day I didn’t officially use the slow cooker. It happens. You may not find this worth the trouble in the season of pumpkin pie aplenty, either. But if you’re tempted, you’ll only be indulging in a satisfying, creamy dose of vitamins A, B6 and C, fiber, potassium, and more, plus flavor that doesn’t lean on sugar for its goodness.

Incidentally, Raffi really does rock! I never before realized how much. Time is passing by so fast, I’m not only grateful for the rock-a-bye moments swaying to Raffi with my Little Monkey, I’m thankful for the time in a bottle that is already each and every track of each CD.

Butternut custard bake

  • 1 3/4 cups butternut squash (or pumpkin/acord/squash mix) puree
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain or vanillar almond milk
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup almond flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown rice flour (or incrase almond flour to 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

Instructions

  1. Prepare an 8X8 square baking dish with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Whisk together all ingredients until well mixed.
  3. Pour mixture evenly in pan. Bake at 400 F for 35-40 minutes, or until set. Allow to cool slightly and slice into squares to serve (warm or cold).

 

 

Citrus Sunshine: Brown sugar broiled grapefruit

Who can help but love a grapefruit? Bright and tangy, and singing of tropical sunsets and journeys. Grapefruit’s zing has hefty health benefits, too. It’s packed with vitamin C, can curb your appetite, and protects your heart. And it’s in season, now.

Of course, when it comes to good things, there is always such a thing as too much. You can overdose on grapefruit juice, you know. It’s true…grapefruit and certain medications, particularly statins, just don’t mix.  If you have any reason to doubt the friendly intentions of this sweet-tart citrus and your own prescriptions, be sure to consult an updated list.

This week, we rang in the New Year with snores and exhaustion. We had a long, cramped flight back from the UK the previous day, and we were jet-lagged and weary, and a little loath to accept the routines and obligations of regular life again. A little post-holiday blues, perhaps. I woke up  a tad dejected, feeling the weight of lethargy and irritable with myself for starting the new year in a rut.

It’s the little things that matter most, most of the time, though. They add up and turn around a bad mood or day, thank goodness, with greater frequency than we tend to acknowledge and appreciate. New Year’s Day, my turnaround vehicle was broiled grapefruit. Tried it yet? If not (and if you like grapefruit, and um, won’t die if you eat it), then seriously, do. It’s like sunshine in it’s own sustainable bowl.

I got the recipe from this month’s issue of Eating Well. It’s super simple…simple, few ingredients and easy-peasy steps. So, resist the urge to skip the sectioning.  This allows some of the (very little) sugar and cinnamon to filter down to the bottom of the fruit. Also, be sure to line your baking pan with foil, as there will be a fair amount of leakage…on the tray, but, very pleasantly, not on your plate once you eat it.

I admit, I was lazy about melting butter. In that, I didn’t do it. Which meant I cut down on the already lean butter considerably by just rubbing a tiny dab over the top before sprinkling with the brown sugar and cinnamon. Speaking of which, I cut back on the brown sugar too, using about 1 to 1.5 teaspoons per grapefruit half as opposed to the suggested two. And it was still delectable. I was let my lethargy win when it came to preparing the simple cream to dollop on top. We used a generous spoonful of vanilla Noosa yogurt instead, and that was heavenly.

This grapefruit wowed us as a side at lunch, but it really carried off the loveliness and sophistication worthy of dessert…at least to health-conscious dinner guests. I’m already planning to trial it next weekend. Breakfast, snack, appetizer, this is one that makes you go mmmm without the guilt.

Brown sugar broiled grapefruit from Eating Well

Serves 4

  • 2 red or pink grapefruit
  • 8 teaspoons packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons melted butter (optional)
For topping (optional…I topped with a dollop of Noosa yogurt)
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons nonfat or low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Position oven rack about 3 inches from the heat source; preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Cut each grapefruit in half, then trim a thin slice off the bottom so it sits level. With a paring knife or grapefruit knife, cut around each segment; remove any seeds. Place the grapefruit halves on the prepared baking sheet. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon (or cardamom) in a small bowl. Brush each grapefruit half with butter, then sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of the sugar mixture.
  3. Broil the grapefruit, watching carefully and rotating the pan front to back once halfway through, until the tops are bubbling and golden brown, 7 to 12 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, beat cream in a small bowl until stiff. Beat in yogurt, granulated sugar and vanilla just until combined. Serve each grapefruit topped with a heaping tablespoon of the vanilla cream.

 

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