Monday, August 24, 2009

Jocalat on one shoulder, Seitan on the other...

I decided to start sampling my treasure trove of bars today. Ordinarily, this is how my day goes, eating-wise:
morning snack
afternoon snack (sometimes)
The morning snack is usually a piece of fruit - grapes, an apple, a pear. However, I've found that they don't hold me over very long. Usually, I have my snack about two hours into my work day, but today I knew I was going to be too busy to eat something then, so I would have to go at 1 hour into work and make it last until a few hours later when I got lunchtime. I figured a 180 calorie fruit, nut, and chocolate bar would do a better job than my grapes, so I just grabbed the first one I could reach and it was my Larabar Jocalat Chocolate Mint bar.

I have to be honest: when I opened it up and smelled it, I thought, 'I don't know about this..." and when I took the first bite, every impulse in me wanted to be completely unladylike and spit it out in my trashcan. I fought the urge to be utterly uncouth and managed to chew it up and swallow. Upon doing so, there came this kind of nice aftertaste that made me pause and say, "let's try another bite." I realized about halfway through the bar that sometimes you just need to give your tastebuds a moment to shift their paradigm. If you are expecting something chocolatey the way that a Hershey's bar or (ooohh) a Dove bar is chocolatey, you will be sorely disappointed. Once I realized that something that had dates as a first ingredient wasn't going to be creamy, it was actually a delightfully dark and bitter chocolate taste on my tongue.

By the way, that little bar got me through four and a half hours of training before I could have my lunch (leftover "black bottom" tofu).

Tonight, I had more fun with gloppy sauces and once again marvelled that I can make them without gobs of some fatty substance. None at all, actually! I made Pineapple-Tamari Braised Seitan for dinner tonight. Tamari is a japanese version of soy sauce - a little sweeter, a little more piquant, if you will. If you cannot find it (though it is widely available where I live anyway), regular soy sauce will be an adequate substitute. It didn't turn out completely as I imagined, but it was really good, and could be a great noodle dish if I made 3 times as much sauce...and with the huge can of pineapple juice I got (because apparently they don't make single servings anymore), I very easily could have!

Pineapple-Tamari Braised Seitan with Vegetables
2 Tbsp peanut oil, divided
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
8 oz seitan
1 1/2 cups pineapple juice
3 Tbsp tamari/soy sauce
2 Tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in 2 Tbsp warm water
4 cloves garlic, pressed/minced
1 bunch of asparagus*, ends trimmed and bias-cut
2 medium carrots, bias-cut
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
cooked brown rice

Tear seitan into bite-sized chunks with your hands. Heat 1 Tbsp peanut oil in a large saute pan; add seitan and saute 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until edges start to brown. Combine pineapple juice and tamari, pour into seitan and stir to coat. Bring to simmer, then cover and reduce heat slightly. Braise, stirring once or twice, 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the garlic and vegetables by pressing all garlic into a small bowl and placing all cut vegetables in another bowl. Heat 1 Tbsp peanut oil and 1 tsp sesame oil on high heat in a large wok or a very large pan - it is ready when the oil shimmers. Add garlic all at once and stirfry rapidly for about 15 seconds. Add vegetables and stir constantly for the first minute, and very frequently for another 2-3 minutes.
Dissolve the cornstarch in water and add to seitan mixture, then pour seitan and sauce into wok to thicken with vegetables. Stirfry one more minute until sauce is thick and gloppy. Remove from heat and serve over rice.
* Note:
Asparagus has an early and short season - usually around early- to mid-springtime. I was absolutely astonished to find not-rotten/rotting asparagus at Whole Foods so I bought it because it competes only with cauliflower for Mister's affections.
Asparagus is "ripe" when it is colorful and closed up - the tips should be tight and pointy, nothing should be "blooming," so to speak. If the heads are opening, you're better off skipping it. Also, always eat asparagus as soon after you buy it as possible - it's a finicky little vegetable without a great deal of stamina.
If you cannot find an appetizing bunch of asparagus, broccoli would make a very close substitute - as far as the stems are concerned, I can't taste a big difference in flavor, only texture.
final note: bias-cut means to slice crosswise diagonally.

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