Mastering The Art of Vegetarian Cooking

Day 41: Broccoli Puree, Baked Tofu, Barley Risotto, and Sauteed Peppers

You know, sometimes you do your best, and it’s just not good enough.

This menu was a fairly big risk, and a fairly spectacular failure. I figured the kids love tofu, they love broccoli… I needed some color, so I added the peppers. I love barley, and the others typically do, too, so I put that in. In retrospect I think it was a failure of menu planning, rather than of recipes or of preparation; just too risky.

The puree was too strange a texture for the kids (I actually loved it); I had so much left I was trying to figure out what kind of soup or something I could make out of it. I didn’t ever think of anything, but I served it to a friend instead. The peppers were the thing the kids all professed to like (and chose when I served a leftovers smorgasbord a few days later), but they didn’t really eat them.

I thought the tofu was a slam dunk, but Jon was completely turned off by the mustard marinade, and the kids scraped it off before they ate it. (I must confess, it had a…strong…flavor.)  The barley was excellent– a perfect risotto, despite not being arborio rice (who knew?), and Jon and I loved it. The kids didn’t.

So, you live and learn. I learned another way to make a “risotto” (I also make it with Orzo, the tiny rice-shaped pasta, and it’s delicious and–bonus– you don’t have to watch and stir, just simmer and it’s done). I learned there’s only so much mustard I can get away with putting in Jon’s food. I learned that cooked peppers are never as good as they look or sound. And I learned that I loved pureed food, but my kids– not so much.

Broccoli Scallion Puree, p. 340; Sauteed Peppers, p. 402; Baked Tofu in Mustard-Honey Marinade, p. 605; Barley Risotto, p. 520.

Next: Black Bean Soup, Quinoa Muffins,  Spinach Salad with Sunflower Seeds & Sprouts.


Day Eleven: Composed Salad, Tofu with Paprika and Sour Cream

This menu was built entirely around the leftover Romesco sauce I had from Wednesday.  The recipe calls for cauliflower, carrots, potatoes and beets. I had potatoes and carrots from Saturday’s visit to the farm, meaning that I only spent about $25 at Whole Foods–a minor miracle.

I steamed everything up, and that went fine. I decided to roast the beets (instead of steaming them, as I did for the salad last week), since I had plenty of time. The book said a small beet would take about 25 minutes. 45 minutes later, most of the beets weren’t close to done. Ack! So I peeled the couple that were done, and plated it up. I think it looked kind of nice (with the exception of the even-fuglier-than-my-Corningware platter, a leftover of my mom’s Melamine set from the 70s). If I could do any of it over, I’d try to time it so everything was warmer.

See? At the bottom there? The lovely Harvest Gold pattern on the platter?

See? At the bottom there? The lovely Harvest Gold pattern on the platter?

Then there was the tofu with paprika and sour cream. By the way, I made it with fat-free sour cream, and it was fine. It tasted good– the kids love tofu, though maybe not as much when it’s not fried– but the sauce was deeply odd. Maybe I didn’t cook the vegetables long enough, but the sauce was crunchy. Yes, crunchy sauce. Not really what I was going for! And also, a little homely to photograph:

It tasted better than it looks. Honest.

It tasted better than it looks. Honest.

But, as mentioned, when you serve this food to kids, you never know what to expect. Baxter cleaned his plate, asked for seconds, and declared this the “best meal you’ve ever made, Mom!” Can’t beat that review.

Composed Salad of Winter Vegetables with Romesco Sauce, p. 165; Tofu with Paprika and Sour Cream, p. 606

Up next: Vietnamese Spring Rolls, p. 108; Vegetable Stir-Fry with Glass Noodles, p. 271; Tofu in Coconut Sauce with Ginger & Lemongrass, p. 600

Day Four: Herb-Crusted Tofu, Sweet Potatoes and Cabbage

I am not a picky eater.

I say this with a straight face, despite the fact that I do not eat nuts, coconut, canteloupe or bananas, I have not eaten meat, poultry or seafood in nearly twenty years, and I don’t like “sweet food” in my “real food.” I say this because, except for those things I listed, which I detest, I will try anything. Well, anything without animal products, but that’s not preference or pickiness, it’s philosophy, so I don’t think it should count. Some of my friends see it differently (are you reading, Houston?).

With a challenge to that “sweet food in my real food” aversion in mind, I created my Day Four menu. (In case you’re wondering what happened to day three, it was Sunday, and we went to the Rockies game. The kids ate leftovers from Saturday, we had burgers–veggie for me– fries, hot dogs.) I chose Candied Sweet Potatoes because, historically, I don’t love Sweet Potatoes, particularly with sugar or syrup. I chose Cabbage with Apples because that actually sounds kind of good to me, despite a sweet-and-savory combination. And I put Herb-Crusted Tofu on the menu because we needed some protein. Good thing I did, because I turned out I also needed a dish all my children would eat– but more on that in a minute.

I managed to have all the ingredients together this time, and I even boiled the potatoes and shredded the cabbage first thing yesterday morning. (That was good planning, because I ended up dragging the kids to Bed Bath and Beyond after school, and we didn’t get home until 5:30.) When we did get home, Sophie was the only one without homework to do, so she was my sous chef for the evening. She’s not too good with a knife (that’s a joke– she’s six), but what she lacks in skill she makes up for in enthusiasm. And sampling. Lots of sampling for that girl, though I can hardly argue with anything that gets my little picky eater to try raw cabbage, plain sweet potatoes, even onions and other previously untouchable foods. I had to draw the line when she wanted to eat a pat of butter, though.

The meal was easy to put together, but it took a while to cook. The cabbage should be cooked very slowly for an hour, according to Deborah. I did that, but I think the larger pieces were a little crisp, still. And Jon’s review was that it “smelled like Germany.” It did, a little, but I thought it was good. The kids weren’t so sure, though they all ate some. Madeline said it was sour. The sweet potatoes got mixed reviews, too. They just weren’t sweet enough, frankly, for Sophie. I think the problem might have been the hype– when you’re six, “candied” might mean something different than it does when you’re 44. Baxter didn’t eat them at all– he learned last night that he finds sweet potatoes’ sweetness plus their texture disgusting. Jon and I liked them fine, though– yes, even me. I have to admit, though, that given a choice between brown sugar and maple syrup to sweeten them (because Deborah did give me a choice), I chose the sugar because (and I left this out of the list above– forgive me) I hate the flavor of maple. It’s possible they’d have been sweeter (and therefore more to Sophie’s liking) if I’d used syrup.

The tofu was a hit all around– if I make it again I will double the recipe.

I used Firm tofu, which worked well (it called for Chinese style, and I’m afraid I just don’t know what that means). You squish the water out of it–Sophie is excellent at this– dip it in egg mixture, then in herbs and bread crumbs, then pan fry it. I’m thinking the frying is what made it so good, but regardless, the kids all asked for seconds and would have taken thirds if they’d been available. This, even though I undersalted the bread crumbs and the tofu had to be salted at the table.

I’m off to the grocery store now for the next three days’ ingredients. I added a list at the side of the pantry staples and tools I’ve added to my kitchen since beginning the project; it seems to grow with every recipe!

The cabbage dyed the apples purple; you'd think kids would be more excited about purple food.

The cabbage dyed the apples purple; you'd think kids would be more excited about purple food.

 Red Cabbage with Apples, p. 347; Candied Sweet Potatoes, p. 429; Herb-Crusted Tofu, p. 603