August 18th, 2009

Tempeh Helper

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I have a few guiding principles and one is “You’re never too busy to update your blog.” I mean, spacing out over a game of Facebook Scrabble rather than talking about split pea soup is pretty much the extent of it. So I am not going to start this by saying I’ve been too busy, more like it’s fallen to the wayside and every time I think about it I get this little pang of guilt. Which brings me to another guiding principle which is “No one cares if you update your blog.” I mean, really. With that weight off my shoulders, it was a lot easier to update this god forsaken thing.

Okay, so maybe I’m not busy, but my mom sure as hell was. Three kids, two jobs, no husband to speak of (well, none that was any help)…you know the story. So most of the action that our stove top saw came from a box. Still, it was fun to help her put away groceries, open cartons and put together dinner. And because chopping veggies and throwing a bunch of spices and pasta into a pan would take 15 minutes of time and energy she didn’t have, we’d dump in the box of Hamburger Helper and that was that. So yeah, I was practically raised by that happy little oven mitt with a face.

Is this a good father figure?

Now, of course, I know better. That box is wasteful and full of nasty ingredients and that happy face oven mitt is actually planning on strangling you.  And of course meat is murder. But I still get a taste for the helper; the comforting aroma, the meaty bites, the chewy pasta that maybe gets a little burned on the bottom of the pan. And oh yeah, let me top that off with a velvety processed cheese food product.

My version still comes together in one pot. I use tempeh for a succulent bite and, although I usually cringe at the idea of granulated garlic and onion flakes, that’s what really gives this authenticity. Tiny quinoa shells are quick cooking thanks to their diminutive size, and a nice healthy (and gluten free!) alternative to semolina pasta, but you can use whatever kind you like (even though I just totally looked down on all other pastas.) No chopping or prepping required, just throw a handful of frozen peas in at the end to give a little green. If you’d like to quadruple this mix to have on hand, keep it refrigerated and just scoop out a heaping 1/4 cup full whenever you get the hankering.

The cheezy sauce is super simple, too, and because the whole meal is so very Rachael Ray, I gave it a silly sounding title. What I really love about the sauce is that there is no added fat, because we all love that New Farm recipe, but we don’t necessarily need a stick of margarine for dinner. If tempeh is usually too bitter for you, you can steam the tempeh for 10 minutes before proceeding. Make the sauce while the pasta is is cooking and you should have this on the table in about 30 minutes.

Tempeh Helper
Makes 4 roughly one cup servings (serves 2 if you’re super hungry)

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz tempeh
3 cups water
6 oz small shell pasta, or about a cup (I used quinoa pasta)
A handful frozen peas, about 1/4 cup

For the seasoning mix:
2 teaspoons onion flakes
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon mild chili powder
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoon broth powder (I used Frontier chicken-style broth)
2 teaspoons arrowroot or corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Have a lid at the ready because you’ll need to cover it at some point.

Drizzle the oil in the pan and tear the tempeh into bite sized pieces, adding them to the pan. Saute for about 5 minutes, until tempeh is lightly browned. In the meantime, mix the seasoning together in a mixing bowl.

Add a few tablespoons of water to the tempeh to deglaze the pan. Add the 3 cups of water and seasoning mix, giving a good stir to get it all mixed in. Add the pasta and cover. Bring the heat up to a boil. Once boiling, you can reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring once. Remove the lid, and cook until the sauce is reduced and thickened to your liking, usually about 3 minutes. Taste for salt.

Serve topped with Eazy Breezy Cheezy Sauce.

Eazy Breezy Cheezy Sauce
Makes 2 cups

3/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons onion flakes
1/4 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1/8 ground turmeric
2 tablespoons broth powder (I used Frontier chicken-style broth)
2 cups water
1 teaspoon yellow mustard

Add nutritional yeast, flour, garlic, onion flakes, salt, turmeric and broth powder to a bowl and mix together. Add 2 cups water and use a fork to mix and beat out any big lumps. Once relatively smooth, pour into a 2 quart sauce pot. Turn heat up to medium high and stir often for about 5 minutes. Once boiling, bring it down to a slow boil. It should start bubbling and thickening. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring almost constantly, until it has a thick, smooth melted cheese consistency.

Mix in mustard and taste for salt. Serve hot or warm.

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