Mel’s Diner – Funkify Your Food – Vol. 4 (Part 1)

Few things put as many ants in your pants as that heavy, New Orleans funk. So it was the other day
that I had The Meters’ Soul Island in my head, inspiring me to throw together some Tofu Creole.
Cajun and Creole cuisines are notoriously heavy with flesh and it can be extraordinarily difficult to
replicate the flavors in vegetarian recipes. I’ve managed to convert two dishes – Shrimp Creole and
Gumbo – into meat-free versions that capture the soul of all things N’ahlens.
Creole is one of the few dishes from the region that doesn’t start with a roux. Its thickness comes from
a long simmer – the longer, the better. However, if you are like me and don’t start thinking about
making dinner until well after 5 pm, you can save time by adding cornstarch. If you want to let it simmer
for an hour or two to thicken up, then skip the cornstarch step.
I throw in a couple tablespoons of sugar to cut through that tomato edge, but only after I’ve tasted it
first to see how tomato-ey the dish is. This is typically dependent on the brand of tomatoes you use – in
mine, I use locally packaged Eden tomatoes. Some folks think adding sugar is sacrilege, but hey, I think it
tastes better. Skip the sugar step if you like – definitely don’t add it until after you’ve tasted everything
else put together.
Leave the Tabasco on the grocer’s shelf – Clancy’s is made right here in Ann Arbor, and tastes much
better.
Substitute oil for the butter and make this a vegan dish.
Tofu Creole
Serves 4
2 tbsps butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
½ large green pepper, chopped
1 block extra-firm tofu, cut into chunks
4 tbsps Creole seasoning (recipe follows)
2 tbsps cornstarch
¼ cup full-bodied red wine, such as Bordeaux
1 large can Eden Foods crushed tomatoes, no salt added
1 small can Eden Foods diced tomatoes, no salt added
A few drops of Clancy’s, to taste
2 tbsps vegan cane sugar
2 cups rice, cooked according to package directions
In a soup pot, sauté the onion, celery, green peppers and tofu for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add
creole seasoning, stir, and cook for one minute more. Add cornstarch and stir in thoroughly. Deglaze
the vegetables and tofu with the wine, and cook until the wine has evaporated. Add both cans of
tomatoes and Clancy’s and stir well. Taste and add sugar, salt, additional creole seasoning, or more
Clancy’s if necessary. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve warm over rice.
Creole Seasoning
From Mr. B’s Bistro, New Orleans
1/3 cup paprika
3 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon granulated onion
4 teaspoons dried thyme
4 teaspoons granulated garlic
Mix all ingredients well and keep in an airtight bowl.

Few things put as many ants in your pants as that heavy, New Orleans funk.   So it was the other day that I had The Meters’ Soul Island in my head, inspiring me to throw together some Tofu Creole.

Cajun and Creole cuisines are notoriously heavy with flesh and it can be extraordinarily difficult to replicate the flavors in vegetarian recipes.  I’ve managed to convert two dishes – Shrimp Creole and Gumbo – into meat-free versions that capture the soul of all things N’ahlens.

Creole is one of the few dishes from the region that doesn’t start with a roux.  Its thickness comes from a long simmer – the longer, the better.  However, if you are like me and don’t start thinking about making dinner until well after 5 pm, you can save time by adding cornstarch.  If you want to let it simmer for an hour or two to thicken up, then skip the cornstarch step.

I throw in a couple tablespoons of sugar to cut through that tomato edge, but only after I’ve tasted it first to see how tomato-ey the dish is.  This is typically dependent on the brand of tomatoes you use – in mine, I use locally packaged Eden tomatoes.  Some folks think adding sugar is sacrilege, but hey, I think it tastes better.  Skip the sugar step if you like – definitely don’t add it until after you’ve tasted everything else put together.

Leave the Tabasco on the grocer’s shelf – Clancy’s is made right here in Ann Arbor, and tastes much better.

Substitute oil for the butter and make this a vegan dish.

Mels Tofu Creole

Mel's Tofu Creole

Tofu Creole

Serves 4

2 tbsps butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
½ large green pepper, chopped
1 block extra-firm tofu, cut into chunks
4 tbsps Creole seasoning (recipe follows)
2 tbsps cornstarch
¼ cup full-bodied red wine, such as Bordeaux
1 large can Eden Foods crushed tomatoes, no salt added
1 small can Eden Foods diced tomatoes, no salt added
A few drops of Clancy’s, to taste
2 tbsps vegan cane sugar
2 cups rice, cooked according to package directions

In a soup pot, sauté the onion, celery, green peppers and tofu for 5 minutes over medium heat.  Add creole seasoning, stir, and cook for one minute more.  Add cornstarch and stir in thoroughly.  Deglaze the vegetables and tofu with the wine, and cook until the wine has evaporated.  Add both cans of tomatoes and Clancy’s and stir well.  Taste and add sugar, salt, additional creole seasoning, or more Clancy’s if necessary.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Serve warm over rice.

Creole Seasoning

From Mr. B’s Bistro, New Orleans

1/3 cup paprika
3 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon granulated onion
4 teaspoons dried thyme
4 teaspoons granulated garlic

Mix all ingredients well and keep in an airtight bowl.

Mel’s Diner – Covering the spread on football Saturday – Vol. 3

Football means friends and food.  I love to put out a ‘grazing’ spread of hearty, no-plate-required snacks so people can grab a quick bite throughout the game yet still feel that they’ve had a solid square.

So forget the wings, nachos, and ribs.  Leave the heartburn behind and embrace a menu that celebrates the spices that aid digestion, so you don’t feel sluggish for the after-party.

Football means beer – IPAs are a nice pairing with this menu, and many of them are made right here in Michigan.

Go Hokies!  Go Blue!

Lentil Sliders

Lentil Sliders

Lentil sliders

Makes 12

1 cup green lentils
1/4 cup pearl barley
3 tbsps unsalted butter, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tsps curry powder
3 tbsps chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup bread crumbs
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 slider buns

Suggested toppings:
Goat cheese
Cucumber raita
Tomato

Pick and rinse the lentils.  Add lentils and barley to a saucepan with water, add salt, and boil for 20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Cool.

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a skillet and sauté the onion, garlic and ginger for five minutes.  Cool and add to the lentils and barley.

Stir the curry powder, cilantro, bread crumbs, and egg whites into the lentil mixture, and season with

salt and pepper to taste. Mash one cup of the mixture and transfer back to the bowl.  Mix well.

Form 12 sliders and brush each side with remaining butter.  Cook for 4 minutes on each side on a hot grill.  Lightly toast the slider buns on the grill as well.  Alternatively, they can be pan fried over medium heat for 4 minutes on each side.

Put the sliders together using your favorite toppings.

Tofu tikka masala quesadillas

Tofu tikka masala "quesadillas"

Tofu tikka masala “quesadillas”

Makes 16 wedges

1 pkg tofu
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsps fresh ginger, minced
2 tsps paprika
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
4 pieces of naan
Cucumber raita

Place tofu block on a plate and set another plate on top, leaving there for 5 minutes or so to squeeze the excess water out.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients thoroughly.

Cut tofu down the middle lengthwise, then slice into thin (1/16”) square pieces.  Transfer to a shallow dish and pour the sauce over the tofu.  Marinate for one hour.

Transfer to a frying pan and cook marinated tofu over medium heat for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.

Spoon tofu over ½ of each piece of naan, fold over, and slice into quesadilla-esque wedges. Serve warm with a side of cucumber raita for dipping.

Curried sweet potato kabobs

Curried sweet potato kabobs

Curried Sweet Potato Kabobs

Makes 12 skewers

2 sweet potatoes, peeled
2 tbsps butter
2 tsps curry powder
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp cayenne
Salt to taste

Parboil sweet potatoes in salted water for 5 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes, then chop into chunks.

While the sweet potatoes are cooling down, mix spices together in a small bowl.

Rub sweet potato chunks with butter and skewer.  Sprinkle with spice mix.

Place on the grill and cook for 12 – 15 minutes, until soft.

Pineapple skewers

Pineapple skewers

Pineapple skewers

Makes 12 skewers

1 pineapple, cut into chunks

Place pineapple chunks on skewers.  Grill for 2 – 3 minutes on each side, until grill marks appear.  For the more adventurous, sprinkle skewers with a touch of cayenne before they hit the grill.

Mel’s Diner – Volume Deux

Not too many things are as sublime as a hearty pasta dish that is light enough to serve during the summertime.  Paired with a salad that gives me an excuse to fry up some goat cheese and get some bubbly on the plate, and it’s a reason in itself to celebrate.

Most of the ingredients are made in Michigan and are easily secured at the farmer’s market, local grocers, and party stores.   Yes, bubbly is made in Michigan – I used Chateau Chantal’s Old Mission Peninsula.

Summertime pasta and a salad with champagne vinaigrette and fried goat cheese

Serves 4

Pasta:
½ lb. capellini
1 cup snowpeas, trimmed
2 cups arugula, trimmed and roughly chopped
3 tbsps butter
¼ cup grated parmesan
½ cup toasted pine nuts

Salad:
4 cups baby lettuces
4 saladette tomatoes, quartered
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
8 oz goat cheese, sliced into 12 medallions
1 cup panko
1 egg, slightly beaten

Champagne vinaigrette:
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsps champagne vinegar
¼ cup champagne*
½ cup olive oil
a dash or two of Clancy’s extra hot
Salt and pepper to taste
*If you don’t want to serve the champagne straight up in the dressing, substitute this with ¼ cup champagne vinegar and skip the 2 tbsps

So that champagne doesn’t go to waste …Pour ¼ oz Chambord in the bottom of champagne flute.  Top off with champagne and garnish with a raspberry.

Is eating less meat too much to ask? (With recipes to prove it isn’t!)

By: Melissa Combs, 350 Gastronome / Ecology Center Development Director


My grandmother, a life-long Southerner who would put meat powder in her coffee if it were socially acceptable, would emphatically say yes.  At dinner during a family gathering where everyone else ate hamburgers hot off the grill, I was cutting up a veggie burger for my two-year-old and my grandmother said, “I don’t understand what you eat.  It’s all side dishes.”

My mom, who had just lived in our vegetarian household for a month,  jumped in with a glowing review about how wonderful our meals had been, to which my grandmother replied:

“I don’t know how you made it that long without eating meat.  I cried for you.”

Yikes.  The very idea of my mom subsisting on a vegetarian diet for a month sent my grandmother into an angst-ridden tailspin that ended in tears.

Okay.  I get it.  Hers was an extreme response.  Over twelve years as a vegetarian I’ve been called a lot of things.  Elitist.  Hostile.  Loony.  To name a few.

The good news is that the tide is turning.  There are more choices for vegetarians in restaurants. Vegan lunch carts are popping up on the streets.  Even meat lovers like Chef Mario Batali are acknowledging that meat production has an enormous carbon footprint.

This week, the Environmental Working Group released the Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health.  In it is a staggering statistic – if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it’s like not driving 91 billion miles, or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.  Other research indicates that this would also free up enough land, water and energy from livestock production to feed 40 million hungry people.

So why is eating less meat one day a week too much to ask?  Many of us are willing to buy pricier light bulbs, use our bikes instead of our cars, and separate our recyclables to do our part for the environment.  What gives here?

The most reasonable theory I’ve come across is that it’s asking people to step out of their comfort zone.  As Americans, we grow up on meals made up of a meat, potato, and side.  Plus, our lives are so busy that the task of researching how to make vegetables the star of a meal is overwhelming.

I’m here to help.  I’ve been invited as a guest writer on this blog to occasionally submit veggie-centric recipes.  I’ll also do my best to include recipes that showcase local selections and result in zero waste.

Today’s entry is perfect for summer:  Hearts of Palm Ceviche followed by an aromatic watermelon dessert.


Hearts of Palm Ceviche

Oh my...Hearts of Palm Ceviche

Oh my...Hearts of Palm Ceviche

Serves 4

1 14.5 oz jar hearts of palm, drained and sliced

5 saladette tomatoes, quartered

1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced

1 red onion, diced

¼ cup orange juice

½ cup lime juice

1 teaspoon sugar

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Popcorn or sautéed maiz cancha

Mix all ingredients, except the cilantro, in a shallow dish.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate for at least six hours.  Add cilantro just before serving.  Serve ceviche in a bowl, topped with popcorn.


Watermelon skewers

Watermelon Skewers!

Watermelon Skewers!

Serves 4

16 bamboo skewers

½ seedless watermelon, cut in 2-inch cubes

Juice and seeds from 2 large tomatoes (flesh can be added to ceviche, above)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 sprigs fresh lavender

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

Lavender or borage flowers

Blend tomato juice and seeds, lemon juice, zest, olive oil and vinegar with a whisk in a small bowl.  Place watermelon cubes and lavender sprigs in a shallow dish and pour liquid over them.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.  When ready to serve, place one watermelon cube on a skewer and stand on a plate. Compost lavender sprigs.  Drizzle with remaining liquid and garnish with lavender or borage flowers.

Have a recipe you’d like to share?  Email it to annarbor350@ecocenter.org.

Additional resources: http://www.meatlessmonday.com/

March Newsletter

March: Seed swap, great blog posts, and more!

Contents:


March 19: Local Seed Swap at Downtown Home & Garden

seed swapWe’re partnering with wonderful local groups to host a seed swap to prepare for the 2011 garden season. If you don’t have any seeds, come anyway! You can buy a packet to share at the swap.

Where: Downtown Home & Garden
When: Sat., March 19, 10am-noon

Everyone is welcome! Please tell us what you’re bringing, though, so we can be more organized and save everyone time.

You can also spread the word on Facebook.


ACEEE Launches New Web-Based Resource in Response to Opportunities in Local

By Eric Mackres, Communities Program Manager

Local policy is becoming an increasingly important driver for energy efficiency with local governments and other local leaders continuing to create innovative solutions even when federal and state leadership is lacking. Additionally, local governments have many responsibilities and relationships that put them in a unique position to effectively translate energy efficiency goals into successful implementation, and ultimately create tangible on-the-ground results.

Read more at ACEEE’s site >>


723 Platinum Tour

Entering 723 Spring Street is like entering a modern museum. Visitors are enveloped in air that is highly controlled and comfortable.  Snowy shivers as well as piercing train whistles stay outside.  The crisp white oak floors gleamed as Ann Arbor community members enjoyed a Friday afternoon tour of the city’s first LEED-certified Platinum home.

Among the highlights of the tour given by Meadowlark Builders:

Top FloorBedroom

Read more >>


One Michigan winter meal, more than a snow cone

As Education Associate for Energy Works Michigan, Courtney is committed to working towards a sustainable, equitable, and prosperous energy future.  She sees sunshine in Michigan’s economy in the promotion of green initiatives that involve educational partnerships.  As an Ann Arbor resident, she also makes the most of Michigan harvests.

“It has become my hobby to see how local I can go, no matter the season,” said Courtney. “Participating in Sunseed CSA has given me more freedom of choice in developing a healthy diet that integrates community and concern for my carbon footprint.”

Read more >>




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Make a donation to support projects of the Ecology Center.

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Recipes: A Locally Sourced Winter Meal

Local_Soda_Oat_Bread

Soda Oat Bread
From 101Cookbooks.com

  • butter, to grease pan*
  • 2 cups / 7 oz rolled oats
  • 10 ounces / 285 g / ~2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and kneading (whole wheat flour from Westwind Milling Co – purchased from By the Pound)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt*
  • 1 3/4 cups / 415 ml buttermilk, plus more if needed, and 2T. for brushing*
  • mixed seeds – sesame, caraway, poppy, etc.

Preheat the oven to 400°F / 205°C with a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and line a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan (or one with ~8 cup capacity) with parchment paper and set aside.

To make the oat flour, use a food processor to pulse the rolled oats a few times. Then process into a fine powder – another minute or two. If you are buying oat flour, not making your own, measure out 7 oz / scant 2 cups.

Sift the flours, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Stir just until everything comes together into a dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter top and knead for 30 seconds or so, just long enough for the dough to come together into a cohesive, slightly flattened ball without many cracks or fissures. If your dough is on the dry side, add more buttermilk a small splash at a time.

Brush all over the top and sides with buttermilk and sprinkle generously with mixed seeds or flour, 2 tablespoons or so. Slice a few deep slashes across the top of the dough. Bake for about 30 minutes, then quickly (without letting all the hot air out of the oven), move the rack and the bread up a level, so the top of the bread gets nice and toasted. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until a hard crust forms and the bread is baked through. It will feel very solid and sound hollow when you knock on it. Carefully lift it out of the pan, in a timely fashion, and allow to cool on a wire rack. Enjoy with a good slathering of salted butter.

Makes one loaf.

Prep time: 10 min - Cook time: 50 min

Corn Chowder
From Locavorious

  • 1.5 Tbsp unsalted butter*
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)*
  • 1 or 2 large carrots (Sunseed CSA)
  • 1 or 2 celery stalks
  • 16 oz frozen sweet corn kernels (Locavorious)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 ½ cups milk (Calder Dairy)
  • Handful of Russet, scrubbed and diced (Sunseed CSA)
  • About ½ cup of frozen red pepper strips (or 1 fresh peper), chopped*
  • Kosher salt* and fresh ground pepper
  • ½ tsp fresh thyme leaves or ¼ tsp dried*

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, until soft. Add the carrot and celery and cook for 4 or 5 more minutes.
Add a little water to the saucepan to cool it off.  Add the milk and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a bare simmer. Cover the pot and cook for 20-30 minutes. Make sure the heat is as low as can be and still maintain a gentle simmer. At this point you can partially thaw the corn in warm water or a microwave; pour the corn juice into the pot.After 20-30 minutes, discard the bay leaf.  Raise the heat, add the potatoes, 1 tsp of salt, and fresh ground pepper to taste, bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are almost fork tender.
Raise the heat, add the corn kernels and chopped red peppers and the thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

*(These items can be purchased locally through Locavorious, Calder Dairy, and Meat Michigan)

Salad
Salad Green mix (Sunseed CSA)
Dried Cherries (Michigan grown from By the Pound)
Nuts
Salad Dressing

One Michigan winter meal, more than a snowcone.

As Education Associate for Energy Works Michigan, Courtney is committed to working towards a sustainable, equitable, and prosperous energy future.  She sees sunshine in Michigan’s economy in the promotion of green initiatives that involve educational partnerships.  As an Ann Arbor resident, she also makes the most of Michigan harvests.

“It has become my hobby to see how local I can go, no matter the season,” said Courtney.  “Participating in Sunseed CSA has given me more freedom of choice in developing a healthy diet that integrates community and concern for my carbon footprint.”

One recent chilly Saturday afternoon, Courtney put her Michigan produce and her parents’ palettes to the test.  Her challenge: to make a hearty meal with all local ingredients.  Courtney’s “local” is simple. In lieu of a matrix or complicated point system, she works within supply parameters that include Locavorious, Calder Dairy, and Meat Michigan.  Her menu — soda oat bread, corn chowder, and mixed salad with dried cherries — makes me wish she would open shop instead of moving to Seattle.

“Thanks to high-quality ingredients, I managed to make a parent-presentable meal that maximized local productivity.  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of identifying local products and recipes to match.”

Courtney’s photos, accompanied by the recipes she used, give me a greater appetite for looking at supply-chain links on the local level.  Courtney reminded me that she is just one member of a community concerned about local products, and encouraged us to create this online space to foster connections and feature what she found to be surprising and delightful convenience.

We invite you to treat us and other readers with your own three-course Michigan meal stories.  Until then, from close proximity to our Paris of the Midwest, bon appétit!