Day 29: Frozen Tofu

September 29, 2008

I’ve tried a good number of meat analogues during this month, from textured vegetable protein to tofu. So far, tofu has proven versatile and easy to use. It absorbs flavours easily, has a decent texture most of the time, and can be used with a wide variety of other ingredients, in all different kinds of food.

Silken TofuAs I’ve mentioned before, tofu comes in many different basic forms, like the silken tofu on the left, which is a soft and jelly-like mass, and then runs to firmer types, according to how much water has been pressed out of it.

It has a long and illustrious history throughout the Far East; in Korea, tofu is held in such high esteem that certain restaurants only sell Sundubu jjigae, a hot and spicy stew made with soft tofu. In China, tofu was once a favourite offering to the spirits of departed ancestors, because it was the only food soft enough for them to eat, supposedly.

As a foodstuff, tofu is also very good for you – it is high in protein, low in fat and studies in Japanese men have shown a positive correlation between tofu consumption and decreased likelihood of cerebral atrophy. In other words, it’s good for your brain.

One of the many ways in which tofu has been prepared for hundreds of years is by freezing it. Varying according to the variety chosen because of the differing amounts of water present, frozen tofu forms large ice crystals which, when defrosted, leave large cavities in the flesh of the tofu. It results in a better flavour, with a more meaty texture. I’d read about this earlier in the month, and I was determined to try it. So I got a block of firm tofu, and left it in the freezer overnight. It duly turned into a soy lolly, and I defrosted it and pressed the water out; this is a necessity with most tofu varieties, especially the firmer ones.

I then cut it into strips and marinated it in soy sauce, and fried it. And it brilliant! The texture was actually really meaty, with a chewiness that ordinarily-prepared tofu lacks. It was the meat substitute that I’d been looking for: totally vegan, and totally tasty. I only wish I’d found it sooner.

One more day to go, and I find myself looking forward to it. I’d like to cook something very special for tomorrow night, but I can’t think just what yet. I’d like it to be a suitable marker for my time doing this, something which will send me out with a bang. I’ll think it over and hopefully something interesting will come to mind.

In the meantime, before I post for the last time as a vegan, I hope that anyone who’s been keeping up with my time here has enjoyed reading.


Days 26 & 27

September 28, 2008

I spent Friday evening with my grandfather again. I pretty well always do. He’s 80, and has many and varied health problems, so I make a point of spending some good time with him every week; I often go over there in the week as well, just to check in on him. He’s had two heart attacks, and one of the little rituals we have is that at 9:00 p.m., we have a little snack, because that’s when he has to take his array of pills and potions and inhalers, and he’s supposed to eat something right afterwards.

I don’t usually have much in the way of meals on a Friday, aside from lunch. I tend to snack more than anything, mostly every half hour or so having a small bite to eat. It’s usually something like hummus, or maybe some crisps. I’ve kind of gotten into that pattern for some reason.

As an aside, I go the opposite way on a Saturday: I don’t eat most of the day and then have a big meal in the evening, usually right after I’ve worked out. Huge loads of carbs, even before I started doing this thing. Moreso now, I suppose, because I’m eating more veggies, although I suppose they fall under the category of complex carbs.

I just ate a large dinner of sweet and sour tofu with onions and peppers. I cut up the tofu into little cubes and marinated it in the sauce for a few hours. I used a bought sauce, because, well, just as life is too short to stuff a mushroom, it’s also too short to make sweet and sour sauce from scratch. Trust me, I’ve done it.

When it was ready, I took it out of the sauce and dredged it in flour, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and then fried it. While that was frying, I stirfried some some sliced onions and green peppers until a little soft, but not too soft: I like them with a little bite to them still.

Sweet & Sour Sauce

Sweet & Sour Sauce

I then added the remaining sauce and let it simmer a minute or two, more to heat it up than anything else.

Then it was a case of piling the crunchy tofu chunks onto the plate and drenching them in the sauce and veggies. It was tasty as all get out: the tofu was crunchy on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle, and the sauce complimented it perfectly, the vegetables and sweetness offsetting the crunch of the batter. I imagine it would probably be even better with a halfway decent sauce; I just used Sharwoods, the bog standard off the shelf stuff available in any supermarket.

I’m going to try making some onion bhajis tomorrow. I don’t know how available they are in the US, but onion bhajis are basically a little fried dumplings made with strips of onion and spiced gram (chickpea) flour. They’re served all over the place in Indian restaurants and are widely available in supermarkets as snack food; they’re also delicious when freshly made.

A symptom of loss due to veganism – I’ve been craving eggs and eggy things, and mayonnaise in particular, although I’ve said before that I probably won’t be trying any egg-free mayo. It’s fairly nasty from what I remember; I don’t even really like light mayonnaise because it doesn’t have the proper kind of eggy flavour and richness a lot of the time, and the texture is frequently quite odd, more like a kind of jelly than the smooth emulsion of an actual mayo. I shouldn’t complain, really; come Wednesday next, I’ll be able to eat all the mayonnaise I want. I could have a big bowl of it if I so chose. No doubt as soon as I can eat it again, I won’t want to.

That about covers it for now; I’m going to go to bed in a few minutes.

Day 24: The Following Events Occur In Real Time

September 24, 2008

Hehehe… Couldn’t resist that one.

Well, I had another long day again, finally leaving work at around 6:30 or so. I’m glad of the opportunity to have flexitime, I really am, but it can be wearisome doing several long and busy days right after the other.

I had teriyaki tofu tonight with a stirfry. I marinated the tofu in some teriyaki sauce I picked up cheap from the local shop, and did a stirfry with Chinese leaf, bean sprout, onion, broccoli and noodles. I added dark soy sauce to the veggies so that I wasn’t overwhelmed with the sweetness of the teriyaki; I love the stuff, but it can be a little too sweet sometimes, and adding some soy sauce cuts through that nicely.

Weird coincidence of the day, if not the whole month – I was browsing through the vegan tag on WordPress today, and I found a blog called The Vegan Experiment, which is straplined with “The adventures of a cheese-loving girl during a month without meat, eggs, dairy‚Ķor alcohol. Starts September 1.” She’s apparently having a harder time of it than me, by the looks of things, but what a bizarre coincidence!

Her “What I miss today” thing is a good idea; I wish I’d thought of it. She also has some good recipes on there, and I may have to steal some of them. The guacamole recipe looks pretty good, and I think I’ll give it a go in the next few days.

Incidentally, it’s my last week as a vegan. This happened without my even noticing it. It’s started me thinking about this whole thing coming to an end, and I kind of have mixed feelings about it. It’s been good, and I’ve even enjoyed a lot of it, even while missing cheese, and milk, and honey, and and and… But I think I might miss it at the end, in a crazy kind of way; while the vegan diet is very restricted and can be difficult to manage, it also provides a sense of purpose and order which might previously have been lacking.

It’s also been very good for me in terms of general health; I feel pretty good and healthy generally, with more energy and zest. So I’m kind of in two minds as to what to do at the end of it.

I may stick with being a vegetarian or even try to live longer as a vegan. It might be hard, but I think I could do it.

Incidentally, I found out the creators of Bacon Salt (originators of the awesome slogan, “Everything should taste like bacon”) have a blog, and that some varieties of Bacon Salt are even vegan. So I could, theoretically speaking, if I stuck with the diet, make bacon-tasting vegan food. Bacon-flavoured tofu, here we come!

Day 17: Nooch!

September 17, 2008

Today was veeeery busy at work, plus I overslept a little and ended up in a rush this morning. I didn’t really do myself proud at lunch (becoming a theme) but I did stay vegan, despite an overpowering urge to go and buy cheese and scoff the lot while laughing maniacally. Yay me!

To celebrate this, I decided to make cheesy food for dinner. I didn’t succumb to the cravings because the Force is strong in me but I did want a cheesy taste. Like a nicotine addict with that horrible gum. I swear, giving up smoking was never as hard as giving up dairy.

Wholewheat noodles, because I love those things. I said it before, but it bears repeating: the texture is much better. It’s a little chewer, a little less prone to being sticky and slimy. I added some Tofutti cream soy cheese to the noodles when they were cooked, and it was good, but not quite right. It might’ve worked with cream Sheese, but unfortunately, the shop where I bought it has decided not to stock it anymore. Gah etc.

So, I added Tofutti Garlic and Chives, and tasted it from the pan. Not bad, but not quite right. A little salt helped, and some pepper did too, but it wasn’t quite there. On a whim, I added some Engevita, and stirred it in, letting it kind of melt into the sauce of Tofutti. It was perfect! I gobbled up this whole huge bowl of noodles in about two minutes flat, face in the bowl and everything.

EngevitaEngevita is what’s known as nutritional yeast. It’s a by-product of brewing, usually, and consists of deactivated yeast in flakes. And, I gotta tell ya, it looks like the evil love child of dandruff and toenails. The flakes are light yellow or cream in colour. I’ve come across it before, in passing, but it’s a staple to a lot of vegans. The taste is what makes it – it’s slightly cheesy, nutty and a little rich, as well as being chock full of vitamins and minerals, particularly those important B vitamins which can be difficult to obtain in a vegan diet. I wouldn’t recommend it dry, although apparently some vegan fans swear by it as a popcorn topping, to which I say, to each his own. Perverts.

My Columbo moment today is to bring to your attention that I will be at a works function tomorrow evening. It’s supposedly a team-building exercise, designed to bring us all together as a smooth functioning team that cares about each other and shit. In other words, we’re being taken out to dinner at an implausibly remote location and entertained by a magician. No lie.

I’ve been promised a vegan menu in the form of an “oriental stir fry”. Yeah, exactly. I went “Whut?” as well. It should be interesting, and it’ll be my first experience eating out as a vegan.

In the meantime, good night all.

Crossposted at The Odd Blog

Day 16

September 16, 2008

I’ve been having fun with tofu, which is a sentence you only rarely see written down.

Unadorned tofu is terribly bland. You know that expression about there being a party in your mouth, and everyone’s invited? Yeah. That never gets used about untouched tofu. It’s more like a funeral.

So, I’ve been having fun with marinades and so on. After the success of my Bourbon Tofu yesterday, which I am considering renaming to Drunken Soy or something, I decided that I would try to do barbecue tofu.

Now, correctly speaking, barbecue as a cooking method means slow cooking over a low heat for a long time, with smoke from wood chips on a banked fire trapped in an enclosed space, like a drum. It is then smothered in a spicy sauce.

This is obviously not a viable means of home cooking. At least, not in my house, and I don’t know that it would work with tofu.

So I went with the barbecue sauce flavour. I marinaded the tofu in it for a few hours, and then shallow fried it. Boy, but did it spit! I think the wateriness of the tofu and the sauce itself were was did it, and I can only counsel caution to anyone else.

I had it with sweetcorn again, as well as mashed potato, which was somewhat disappointing: I caved and bought some soya milk earlier, a brand called So Good. It actually seemed to work in coffee without separating, which was a bonus. Unfortunately, it’s rather too sweet to use in mash, as I found out, and there is a very slight, almost unnoticeable vanilla flavour to it which didn’t go over very well. I coped by adding salt and pepper afterwards, but I think we can put it down as a qualified success.

I know I promised something about weight lifting and veganism, and I haven’t forgotten: my brain is not yet cheesecake, as I have been taking my B12 supplement. Interestingly, though, it seems that B12 is one of those which builds up in the body and is recycled somehow… but I don’t want to take the risk, really. I mean, my brain is one of my favourite body parts. I use it all the time, and I’d hate to lose it to a freak vitamin deficiency.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Have a good night!

Day 15: Bourbon Tofu

September 15, 2008

This is just going to be a quick one, as it’s late. I left it kind of late in the day to do this one, because I was, well, doing other stuff.

Lunch was fairly dull, I’m afraid: bits of cheddar-style Sheese in wraps with salad. Not about to light the vegan world on fire with that, really.

Dinner was more interesting. One of my favourite things to eat in the whole world is bourbon chicken. It’s tasty and moreish, and I can eat platefuls of it all day long, especially when there’s broccoli in it as well. I was really craving some tonight, but obviously I couldn’t have any.

But then I thought to myself, why not try it with tofu? One of the virtues of tofu is that it takes on flavours very easily when cooked. A classic form of it is to simply marinade firm tofu in soy sauce and fry it. It comes out very nicely, especially if you let it get really crispy. The saltiness of the sauce comes over really well.

I decided to go looking for various recipes for bourbon chicken in the hopes of finding something I could apply to a block of tofu. Some of them were really complicated, I must say, which I didn’t want to do. Yes, I realise that vegan cooking requires a little more thought and planning, and I enjoy cooking; but I don’t want to be chained to the stove, either.

Eventually, I amalgamated some of the simpler ones, and came up with a nice version of it which I think almost anyone could eat and enjoy.

Taifun TofuFirst, the tofu. This is all based on a 200g block of firm white tofu, in this case, the Taifun. Taifun is a German company which specialises in tofu. It makes all kinds of flavoured varieties, as well as the plain, and I would particularly recommend the basil flavoured variety. It’s firm and chewy and delicious.

I cut the block into bit-sized pieces and left it to drain. The marinade was equal quantities by volume of soy, whisky and brown sugar, about 60ml each. That’s a 1/4 cup to you Merkans. I then added about half a teaspoon each of garlic powder, ginger and vinegar, and left the tofu marinating in it for a couple of hours.

Chinese LeafI then chopped up some asparagus that was about ready to be eaten or thrown away, along with some Chinese leaf and stir fried it, setting it to one side. No special reason, those were just what I had in the way of green veggies.

The tofu was then fried until crisp and set aside. I then added the remainder of the marinade sauce to the pan and reduced it until it was thick and sticky, and then chucked in the veggies and tofu and stirred it all in. I ate it with boiled rice, and it was delicious. I will definitely be cooking this again soon!

I have a dentist’s appointment tomorrow, so I have no idea what I’ll be eating. It’s for a filling, so something soft, most likely. I’ll keep you posted.

Crossposted on The Odd Blog

Day 14

September 14, 2008

Not a lot happened today. I did a lot of grazing – just minor snacking throughout the day. Most of it wasn’t exactly tiptop, healthwise: lots of flour tortillas and rice cakes spread with hummus or with Sheese. I don’t think I actually ate a meal until just a couple of hours ago, really.

I found out something very cool to eat, though – I bought a block of tofu the other day. It was firm tofu, rather than silken, so the texture is chewier to start with. I then cut it into strips, which I marinated a little while in some dark soy sauce. I prefer dark soy sauce, because it’s saltier and stronger, basically. After that, I got a pan and heated some sunflower oil up until very hot, and then fried the slices until they were crisp and browned on both sides. And gosh-a-loo, what a revelation! The first bite of tofu was delicious, tasting of both the soy and the sunflower oil, and the texture was crisp and crunchy on the outside, with a magnificent contrast on the inside… I guess the closest thing in texture is like when you get some French toast, and the outside is as crisp as you like, and there’s the wonderful inner part where the egg and bread have combined to form a kind of substance that’s almost jelly-like in consistency, but smoother, a sort of bread custard. You know what I mean. It’s difficult to describe, but you know what I mean. It was eye-poppingly good, and I will be trying variations on it for some time, no doubt.

I then thought to myself that however healthy tofu may be, it’s not really a good thing to not being eating veggies; especially as a vegan, because then it seems almost perverse to not do it. So I found some avocado, and chopped it up, and then added some tomatoes and a little salt; I think there’s very little better in this world than an avocado which has been just a little salted. But it seemed even then to be missing something, which is when I hit upon the idea of adding some tahini and stirring it all together well, and it was good! Maybe it’s just me, but it was really good! The slight bitterness of the tahini contrasted well with the sweet tomato taste, and both of them were brought together by the smoothness and softness of the avocado. I ate it in a tortilla, and it was just fab.

And then I ate corn again. I just can’t get enough of it lately, and I don’t think that you can do it any btter than to cook it under a grill or on a barbecue with a little oil and some salt and pepper. It just begs to be eaten.

OK, planning for the week – at some point I’ll be blogging about vegan weight lifting and exercise, as well as eggs. Or rather, not eggs.