Don’t put off ’til tomorrow what you SHOULD do today!

Tofu Ricotta Manicotti

I do not like manicotti, I really don’t like tomato sauce (except my own), and I don’t like cheese with the exception of smoked Gruyere. So to say that I was not looking forward to the Tofu Ricotta Manicotti assignment is an understatement. But after several days of putting it off, I realized that there have been times in my life where I had to cook things I didn’t like and there will be more…so suck it up. More…

I do not like manicotti, I really don’t like tomato sauce (except my own), and I don’t like cheese with the exception of smoked Gruyere. So to say that I was not looking forward to the Tofu Ricotta Manicotti assignment is an understatement. But after several days of putting it off, I realized that there have been times in my life where I had to cook things I didn’t like and there will be more…so suck it up.

Once I got past my own mental block, I realized that it was not all bad; I was getting to practice my pasta-making skills, got to try a tomato sauce recipe, and use up some cashew bechemel sauce I had left over–and who knows, maybe I will like this vegan version. But because I waited so long, I am getting stressed as there is still so much to do before the class ends. So without further ado, I chose to make single-serve manicotti dishes and grated some veg cheese over the top once out of the oven. I also exchanged the spinach for peas; and it turned out to be a fresh pop and nice textural contrast to the tofu ricotta.

Tofu Ricotta Manicotti

This dish was not one of my favorites, but that is no big surprise, it tastes like the original. So for some, that is great. And while I will not be making this recipe anytime in the near future, I at least know that I have a vegan comfort food dish in my back pocket should I need it. And I am finally done with the pasta unit. Not a moment too soon!

Plant-based what?

penneIt’s easy to think of a plant-based red sauce; that is what tomato sauce is. But white sauce, not so much. After all, traditional white sauces consist of butter, flour, and milk or cream. In one of the assignments in Unit 13, we were asked to do just that. In this plant-based version, soaked cashews are used as a base combined with white wine and seasoning, but without the dairy or wheat.

I really enjoyed this assignment as it allowed me to play with new ways of introducing proteins into my diet without meat. I am not vegetarian, but spent 10+ years as a pescatarian. More…

It’s easy to think of a plant-based red sauce; that is what tomato sauce is. But white sauce, not so much. After all, traditional white sauces consist of butter, flour, and milk or cream. In one of the assignments in Unit 13, we were asked to do just that. In this plant-based version, soaked cashews are used as a base combined with white wine and seasoning, but without the dairy or wheat.

I really enjoyed this assignment as it allowed me to play with new ways of introducing proteins into my diet without meat. I am not vegetarian, but spent 10+ years as a pescatarian. I actually love the flavor meats bring to the table but am trying to use it more of a garnish much of the time. I believe this recipe will become part of my go-to sauces with only one small modification. I would either omit the onion crystals altogether and add more fresh onion, or cut down the amount of onion crystals. It may have been a case of the quality of my onion crystals not being up to par, but I think that some additional fresh onion would not adversely affect the recipe as it may just make the sauce a little thinner in the end; which would not be a bad thing as it thickens up upon sitting.

To produce the final dish, a Penne Carbonara,  I started the pasta. In the meantime, I brought a fry pan to medium–high heat; adding minced leeks and stirring until the leeks began to stick to the pan. I then deglazed with the white wine and continued to stir for about 2 minutes. I then added a cup of the white sauce to the sautéed leeks, stirring well. I did have to dilute the mixture as it had thickened up. At this point, I added some bacon that had been cut and cooked previously that I had in the fridge along with a 1/2 cup of peas. Yes, this did make the final dish no longer vegetarian, however it was in line with my focus on using meat as more of a garnish. I mixed thoroughly and brought the sauce to a simmer. I then added the penne and stirred to combine. After tasting, I added a bit of salt and pepper along with fresh parsley, stirred again, tasted one last time, and plated. The cashew white sauce was really smooth and satisfying; coating the penne perfectly.

plant_sauce

I think that I could and would use this sauce for a riff on chicken tetrazzini that highlights the mushrooms. I think that I could actually omit the chicken altogether as the cashew/mushroom combination would be quite satisfying on their own. I also think that if I added a few spices, caramelized the onions a bit, and allowed the sauce to thicken even more, it would make a really quick dip for naan or pita.

The Great Cover Up!

spoonLearning to cook has been an ongoing process that was propelled by this cooking course. And while there have been quite a few “aha” moments, one that sticks in my head is when I made my first beurre blanc sauce way back when I first had a trial membership on Rouxbe. Not to be obnoxious, but it turned out perfect. As I recall, it was a recipe that included a white fish and golden beets. I have made that sauce many times since, but my favorite has to be with tarragon beurre blanc over a bed of fingerling potatoes and pan-seared salmon. More…
Learning to cook has been an ongoing process that was propelled by this cooking course. And while there have been quite a few “aha” moments, one that sticks in my head is when I made my first beurre blanc sauce way back when I first had a trial membership on Rouxbe. Not to be obnoxious, but it turned out perfect. As I recall, it was a recipe that included a white fish and golden beets. I have made that sauce many times since, but my favorite has to be with tarragon beurre blanc over a bed of fingerling potatoes and pan-seared salmon.

After that, I learned how to make a basic roux that has served me well in making many things, but most importantly, in the gravy for biscuits and gravy—my daughter’s favorite meal. And with roux under my belt, I was able to make béchamel for the base of my tetrazzini and pot pies.  And I cannot forget when I learned how to make pan sauces from the sucs, stock or wine, shallots, etc. While I felt I had a handle on sauces, I am humbled to know that there are many more sauces out there that deserve my attention as well.

Unit 13: Sauces expanded on my horizons and honed my current sauce skills. My favorite new sauce has to be the velouté sauce though. It was actually one of the graded assignments in this unit so I have detailed pictures for my virtual scrapbook…To being the process of making the velouté, I set up 3 tablespoons of butter and all-purpose flour along with 2 cups of chicken stock. I also made sure the salt and pepper were close by for final seasoning. And lastly, I got out a sauce pan, wooden spoon, and whisk.

To make the roux, I melted the butter over medium-low heat. I then added the flour and began to whisk to incorporate. I cooked the roux until the blond stage which took about 6 minutes. The roux took on a slightly darker color than a white roux and no longer smelled of raw flour.

1

Once the roux was ready, I started to slowly add the stock, whisking to incorporate. I continued to add stock in small batches, waiting for the mixture to come to a gentle boil between additions. I continued to add stock until the sauce looked smooth and silky; which ended up being almost all of the stock.

 The upper picture I provided for this process showed how my velouté looked after the initial addition of stock. The lower picture showed the gentle boil that I was looking for to know when to add additional stock as the sauce was coming together.

The upper picture shows how my velouté looked after the initial addition of stock. The lower picture shows the gentle boil that I was looking for to know when to add additional stock as the sauce was coming together.

Once the velouté was done, I added a pinch of salt and some pepper, tasted, added a bit more salt, and tasted again. The final velouté was smooth with a gentle shine. It coated the spoon, but as it dropped back into the bowl, it did not leave any obvious marks in the sauce. I was surprised by the amount of flavor it had; given that it was basically only three simple ingredients. I have spent the last half hour dipping my spoon in it and licking it clean…over and over, again!

3