Sunday, November 18, 2012

Over the River and Through the Woods

I've written before about how I obsessively prepare for travel.  Well, on Wednesday my girlfriend and I are going to New York City for Thanksgiving; we'll be gone three days and you would think I'm packing for the North Pole.  It's not like they don't have vegan food there.

My thing is, I want to be prepared, and I don't want to be any trouble.  When I'm around my family, I go into serious people-pleasing mode and often don't take care of my own needs.  This is my issue and mine alone -- my family is wonderful and is incredibly accommodating of my vegan-ness.  My omnivore mom and aunt have planned what I think is going to be an entirely vegan menu, and my girlfriend and I will be the only vegans attending.  This won't be my first vegan Thanksgiving with them, either.  So they are amazing and kind  and supportive and nevertheless, I.  Have.  Issues.

For years, I would binge whenever I went to New York.  There is so much yummy food there, much of which you can't get, or can't get as good, anywhere else.  And there's a lot of food I connect with emotionally.  (Bialys are probably the best example of both these qualities, but there are many others.)  The last few times I've visited, I've been so worried about not overeating that I've undereaten, and then there has been an equal and opposite reaction when I've returned home.   On this trip, I am determined to do neither of these things.  I am determined to take care of myself.  I didn't take good care of myself when I lived in NY, and so far I haven't pulled it off on a visit, either, so this will be a first.  And for me these days, taking care of myself means bringing my own food.

So what do I do when I'm nervous and pressed for time?  I try a new recipe.  I decided today was the day to tackle the famous Chickpea Cutlets from Veganomicon.  I know I am very late to the party on this one.  I'm not much of a homemade seitan person, although of course I do eat it in Chinese restaurants when I can get it, and I have a bag of vital wheat gluten in the cupboard.  It usually doesn't feel worth the effort to me. Plus the portions are tiny, so one batch lasts me forever.  Last winter I made corned seitan and cabbage, and I thought it would never get eaten.   And the original cutlet recipe calls for a lot more oil than I generally use, and I have worried that they wouldn't turn out right if I tried to cut back.  Still, the recipe has always intrigued me.  Then Isa shared on facebook that you could substitute tomato paste for oil.  Since then I've been determined to make them, but somehow the time has never seemed right.

I had already planned to make the tried-and-true Basic Baked Tofu from Appetite for Reduction to take with me on the trip, so I had that marinating in the fridge when I decided to make the cutlets.  I threw some chick peas in the slow cooker and left them to do their thing while I ran some errands (which included buying the awesome new Trader Joe's tomato paste in a tube).  Then this evening I mixed the dough and baked everything up.

Of course I can never do anything the easy way.  The recipe calls for one cup of chick peas, but I cooked three cups, so I decided to triple the recipe.  I made a few other changes.  I substituted tomato paste for most of the oil, including just one tablespoon of oil for a triple batch.  I didn't have any lemons, but I did have sumac.  I read somewhere that you can substitute lemon zest for sumac, so I decided to sub sumac for lemon zest.  I didn't have enough Hungarian paprika for a triple batch, so I added a bit of smoked Spanish paprika to supplement.  And I don't eat bread, so instead of breadcrumbs I used some rolled oats I pulsed in the food processor.

For the tofu, I pretty much went by the book.  I was out of thyme, so I used marjoram in the marinade (by the time I was ready to make the chickpea cutlets, I had been to the health food store and replenished my thyme supply), but otherwise I followed the recipe.  I do cut the tofu a little differently than Isa recommends, because I want it to be easy to serve myself the amount required by my food plan.  So I cut it in 10 slices instead of 8.  Two slices is a meal-sized serving of protein for me.

I had already figured out that one chickpea cutlet is a meal-sized serving if you make the number the recipe calls for, so that was good.  But how to make them uniform?  I did what I always do with seitan -- pulled out my kitchen scale.  I weighed the whole ball of dough, then divided that number by 12 and figured out that each cutlet should be 92 grams (92.3333 actually, but who's counting?).  So then I weighed each ball of dough before I flattened it into a cutlet.

The nice thing about making these 2 recipes together is that the oven temperature and baking times are the same for both.  I put the cutlets on 2 cookie sheets, and squeezed the tofu slices in around the edges.

This is the first tray to come out of the oven.  I'm kind of wishing I hadn't already eaten dinner, because they look yummy and I want to try one freshly baked.  Oh well.  To me they look like a cross between falafel and schnitzel, which I guess they are.    

Of course Newman the cat wanted to help.  I shut him in the bedroom until the pans were in the oven, then let him out.  He did try to help me flip the cutlets, but retreated quickly once he realized how hot the pan was.  He mostly helped by cleaning the mixing bowl:

Yes, the cat is standing on the cutting board.  I know.  I know.

This concludes our obsessive-compulsive cooking hour.  I have another pre-Thanksgiving post on deck.  When I get back from NY, I'll report on how it all went, including traveling with the baked tofu and chickpea cutlets.

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