March 16, 2010

A new chapter for 'Delicious TV' chef Toni Fiore

— The last time I spoke with Toni Fiore of Cumberland, her vegetarian cooking show, ''Delicious TV,'' had just been picked up by 21 public television stations nationwide. That was 2005.

Today, the show, now called ''Delicious TV's Totally Vegetarian,'' airs internationally in Eastern Europe -- apparently there are a lot of vegetarians in Romania and Bulgaria -- and podcasts of the show have been downloaded from iTunes more than half a million times. (The show airs locally at 11 a.m. Saturdays on Maine Public Television.)

Fiore, who tapes the show in her own kitchen, now gets mail from vegetarians and vegans all over the world. People send her old family recipes and ask her help in making a meatless version. She cuts the fat and cooking time, too.

''I get stuff from Brazil, from Europe, Australia -- I get all kinds of things,'' Fiore said. ''People write in and ask, 'I like this recipe, but I have this, what can I do with it?' And I'll sit down and figure it out for them. I answer all my mail. I learn a lot that way, too, so it's a good thing.''

Her own experiments in the kitchen, along with dishes submitted by viewers and recipes from guest chefs, result in about 30 to 40 new recipes in a season. The next step seems like a natural one: a companion cookbook to the TV show.

''Totally Vegetarian: Easy, Fast, Comforting Cooking for Every Kind of Vegetarian'' (Da Capo Press, $27.50) is a collection of almost 200 recipes that starts with ''light bites'' such as veggie potstickers and Gorgonzola and pear bruschetta.

There are alternatives to meaty sandwiches, too, such as ''burgers'' made with black-eyed peas and a Reuben made with Tamari tempeh.

There are recipes for vegans in the book, but there also are lots of options for folks who are trying to wean themselves from meat, or who just like having a few meatless meals every week.

Fiore includes her low-fat, meatless take on many old favorites. Feel like fajitas? Fiore has a version made with tempeh. Love fettucine Alfredo but consider it a heart attack on a plate? Fiore has created a ''fettucine walnut Alfredo'' that uses walnuts and water (along with olive oil and a few other ingredients) to make a creamy sauce filled with omega-3 fatty acids.

Fiore also shares a technique for keeping eggplant chewy and meat-like in soups and stews. She cubes it and then bakes it slowly at about 350 degrees.

''It will become drier and firmer,'' she said. ''It's not like roasting it, where you want to accomplish breaking it down. What you're doing here is slowly dehydrating it a little bit.''

Below you'll find two recipes from Fiore's new cookbook. Since it's still summer, at least according to the calendar, we've chosen barbecued tempeh.

''It's extremely healthy, and it's something that people are completely perplexed about,'' Fiore said. ''It's really easy to work with.''

The other choice is wine-braised fennel, which can be used both as a side dish or as a bruschetta.

''Fennel's another one of those foods that people don't know what to do with,'' Fiore said. ''They don't think they're going to like it. But I'll tell you what, when you braise that, it's so sweet and it's so delicious.''

BARBECUED TEMPEH

This tempeh, Fiore writes, can be brushed with a little vegetable oil after it's cooked, then skewered with sweet red peppers, Vidalia onions and mushroom caps to make grilled kebobs. The tempeh can also be cut into square burger shapes and grilled like a hamburger.

Two 8-ounce packages tempeh, any variety

1/2 cup shoyu soy sauce

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/3 cup maple sugar or syrup

1/4 cup canola or other vegetable oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons ground cumin

Preheat oven to 350. Cut each tempeh cake into quarters. Turn each quarter on its side and slice through the middle to make 16 thinner slices. Arrange the tempeh in a single layer in a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Nestle the pieces right up against each other; it will be a tight fit.

In a medium bowl, whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, maple syrup, vegetable oil, olive oil and cumin until well blended. Pour over the tempeh and cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Check the tempeh to see if most of the sauce has been absorbed. If it's still fairly soupy, re-cover and bake 15 minutes or so, until the tempeh is swollen with the sauce. Uncover the pan and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until the tempeh has absorbed the sauce but isn't too dry.

Serve hot, cold or at room temperature. Serves four to six.

WINE-BRAISED FENNEL

4 fennel bulbs

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup dry white wine

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons grated dairy or vegan Parmesan

Remove any discolored, woody outer layers of the fennel bulbs and slice the bulbs crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Heat a heavy saute pan large enough to hold the fennel in a single layer over medium heat. Add the butter and heat until the foam subsides. If using olive oil, heat slowly just until warmed through but not smoking.

Add the fennel in a single layer, pour the wine over, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the fennel is fairly tender when poked with a knife. The fennel should appear caramelized, turning a light golden brown underneath, and most of the liquid should be absorbed.

Turn the fennel pieces, cover and continue cooking until the other side colors, another 5 minutes or so. Sprinkle with cheese, if using, and serve hot.

Serves four.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

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