Friday, October 14, 2016

Learn to Cook Series: Give Confidence By Showing How...


Knowing how to cook is a necessity, a survival skill and a way to maintain health. When you've got the basic techniques down and understand how to use ingredients in multiple ways, the food world becomes your delicious oyster. Seeing is believing right? Learning to cook can be found in all kinds of on-line videos nowadays but nothing beats saddling up, sleeves-rolled and creating food with someone live who can show you exactly how and to ask questions and exchange ideas.

I've been cooking for a long time in my professional and home life. Prior to having kids, meals included occasional trips to simple eateries to fancy restaurants which made up my weekly dining pleasures. When twins then a third came along, my eating-out days were numbered. Not only could I not frequent these establishments as much, healthy eating became the primary focus for my family, and the only way it has to be done is by home cooking-- cooking-from-scratch. So in my kids early years, instead of yearning for that bite of Jamaican beef patty at the corner store or slurping spicy beef noodle soup at my favourite Vietnamese resto.... I seeked out authentic recipes and steadily created adapted versions at home. My kitchen became my restaurant kitchen, turning out easy to elaborate meals, dishes that I fancied and restaurant-inspired foods I missed, but incorporating flavours that everyone in the family could enjoy. Soon enough I took my passion for cooking combined with my love for writing and Susan's Savour-It! was born

Fast forward now with my kids all going to school it allows me time to take my culinary experiences and expertise to the next level. I want to help individuals and families one-on-one to meet their eating and cooking goals. It could be anything from learning cooking basics, family weekly meal planning, how to cook for picky eaters, trying new foods, learning to make a specific dish or cooking with kids. We can shop and cook together in the comfort of their home and have a meal prepared by the end of the session to be enjoyed. Inspiring the confidence to cook great meals in one's own element with lots of practical as-you-go tips along the way is what I'm looking to bring.

My friend Alvin who cooks every day has been adopting a more plant-based diet. Keen on knowing where food comes from, his tireless research confirmed that this is the right path for him although he occasionally eats a little meat. As a person of health and fitness, his big concern was where he would get his protein and enough of it. Together, we explored some high protein meat-alternatives and how he can incorporate them in a variety of ways to his daily eating regime. His two teenage boys do not share the same sentiments, but he is hoping he could get them to like some of the things so he doesn't have to prepare a separate meal with meat every time.


Curry soy protein over udon noodles in miso soup.

Some of the ingredients we looked at for inspiration... Lentils and beans are amongst the most versatile and nutritious foods available with great sources of iron, fibre and protein. Soy protein aka tvp (textured vegetable protein) is a perfect meat substitute and super high in protein-- when well-soaked in water, the pieces hydrate into sponges with a chewy texture like meat. For what to serve with, frozen fresh udon is a nice option. Delicious Japanese thick noodle can be cooked in a vegetarian broth and served with meat-free toppings.


Soup made with a blend of lentils in a vegetarian broth topped with chopped cilantro. A hearty bowl chocked full of nutrition. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad to round out the meatless meal.

Lentil Soup

Dried textured soy protein can be found in most Asian and South Asian grocers. They come in small forms that resemble ground meat to large chunky pieces for a range of optimal culinary uses. My reference for soy protein is liken to that of wheat gluten (seitan) popular in Chinese vegetarian restaurants and shops. Also sponge-like for high absorption, spices and marinade penetrate from long-time braising and simmering methods resulting in deeply flavourable pieces inside and out, making it a delicious meatless choice for many.

Vegetarian mock meat using wheat gluten (sweet and sour, soy,
BBQ and curry to name a few kinds)

Cooking with tvp, I knew an intense sauce was in order to really deliver on the flavour in a rather tasteless bland ingredient, especially since our cooking time together was short. The sauce of choice was Japanese curry cubes, a rich flavour we already knew his teenage boys liked. And how perfect was it to serve the saucy mock meat over udon noodles. Miso paste made a harmonious vegetarian-based soup broth to tie it altogether!

As simple as onions and garlic sauteed at the beginning with the tvp and curry cubes
added to create a smooth thick sauce after simmering in water for ten minutes.
Just as you would make meat curry, follow the instructions on the curry box or jar.


Scrumptious!


The other ingredient we worked with was tofu. Although Alvin was somewhat familiar with it, I wanted to show there are multiple ways to treat and cook tofu and how with the different kinds. Medium-firm tofu was crumbled and mixed along with cooked salmon flakes in a two-to-one ratio to create salmon patties. Alvin used to eat salmon regularly, and I thought this was a great way to demonstrate how tofu can help extend even just a bit of meat in a recipe. Seeing tofu crumbled into a food was a first for him and breading and pan-frying them into crispy tasty patties was a delightful AHA!


See here for the salmon tofu patties recipe.

Dressed up curry tvp udon soup and breaded salmon tofu patties ready to hit the pan.

Trying this for the first time, Alvin cannot believe the textured pieces were made from soy. He definitely did not miss the meat and felt the curry meal was deeply satisfying. Hurray! His kids however, picked up on the soy aroma, thought it had a funky taste and did not like it. That could be resolved by soaking the tvp longer, squeezing the water out well and cooking it in a sauce over a long simmer. Tips and techniques you naturally gain over time as you get more familiar with ingredients. The important thing is to make that start, don't give up and get a sensory and taste reference to adapt to your preferences.


Salmon tofu patties looking good and tastes greeeeattt!

Alvin's Custom Portrait

"Susan expanded my mind and I'm no longer afraid to use some of the things she showed me. I didn't know tofu comes in so many different forms and textures and now I know how they are best used. Crumbling it to make patties was new for me and I liked how it has the hearty taste like meat. Wow, soy protein is really good and cheap too. Now that I tried making it in curry it opens up new ways to use it. Cooking with different alternatives, I don't miss the meat and I look forward to see what else I can do."
-- Alvin's Testimony

The ultimate reward for showing someone how to cook something new... that they use these bits of tips, techniques and on-hand learnings to confidently recreate the dishes or better yet, come up with their own recipes! The following are some of the meals Alvin has cooked up since and I think they are super inspirational. You go Alvin!

Alvin using curry cubes to make chicken dinner for his kids
and pan-fried tofu and beans for him.

Alvin loves wraps! Boring they are not. On the top, soft tofu is pan-fried in black bean sauce with spinach and red chilies topped with avocado slices. Bottom right, an innovative blend of chickpeas and tvp cooked in curry and combined with soft tofu and sweet potato. The remaining dish on left consists of red kidney beans cooked with rice in coconut milk served with tofu pan-fried with onions and tomatoes in vegan oyster sauce and more avocados! 

I tried some of his wraps and I'll say he's bordering into rivaling some really good vegetarian burritos out there! 
He's definitely inspired me to add more meatless dishes on my family table!

Photo Credits: Alvin Hoang

Taken from a recent issue of Sage, a Canadian-based health magazine, scientists believe these characteristics produce the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world. "Participating in daily, low-intensity physical activity, building solid social networks, eating mostly a plant-based diet and having a purpose and sense of meaning in life." These are great things to live by for a longer, happier and healthier life!



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