This blog is dedicated to my mom, who first inspired me to cook and still always wants to know that I'm eating right. <3

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17 November 2013

Pasta e Fagioli and Herb Pull-Apart Rolls

It's finally been starting to get a little chilly here in New Jersey.  I know not everyone is a fan of the cool, crisp fall weather, but I certainly am.  And, in my house, cozy weather calls for warm soup and fresh-baked bread.  Now, as I have professed on here many a time, I am not much of a baker.  But these rolls are so fool-proof that even I can manage them.  They were the first yeast-based recipe I ever mastered in my living-on-my-own young adult life, and W looks forward to the time each year when the oven is safe to turn on again and these emerge.  And I almost always make them to accompany my pasta e fagioli.  After my co-worker brought me some gorgeous fresh rosemary from his garden, that sealed the deal.  This meal was happening.

Happy fall!

Pasta e Fagioli
(Adapted from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis)

3 T. olive oil
2 strips veggie bacon, finely minced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely diced
3 carrots, finely diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ - ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
6 c. no-chicken bouillon (I use Better Than Bouillon brand.  I have tried making this was veggie stock, and it's just not as good)
1 branch rosemary
1 bunch thyme
1 dried bay leaf
1 (15 oz.) can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 (15 oz.) can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 c. elbow macaroni
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high, and cook the minced “bacon” until nicely browned and crispy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the onion, celery and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and cook 5-8 minutes, or until softened.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook about 1 minute.  Add the bouillon, herbs and beans, and bring to a boil.  Simmer 15-20 minutes.  Ladle out 1-2 cups of broth, veggies and beans (not the herbs) into a blender jar, and blend until puréed; re-add to the soup.  Add the macaroni and simmer for 8 minutes, or just until tender.  Remove and discard the herbs, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Herb Pull-Apart Rolls
(Adapted from this Holiday Kitchen recipe)

1 packet active-dry yeast
¼ tsp. sugar
1 c. warm water
¼ c. melted margarine
3½ c. unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
2 T. sugar
1½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. dried thyme
¼ tsp. dried dill
¼ tsp. dried oregano
1 T. additional melted margarine, for brushing

Combine the yeast, ¼ tsp. sugar and warm water in a bowl, and let sit until foamy.  Add the ¼ c. melted margarine.  Combine 2 c. of the flour and dry ingredients (sugar through oregano) in a food processor fitted with a dough blade; pulse 4-5 times.  With the motor running, add in the yeast/margarine mixture; process until a ball forms.  Add remaining 1½ c. flour in ½-cup increments; process until the dough gathers on the sides of the processor bowl.  Let the dough rise in a greased bowl, covered, for 1 hour (I do this on top of my radiator!).  Punch the dough down and flatten into a disc.  Divide into 6 wedges, then divide each portion into 6 balls (36 in total).  Grease a muffin pan and place 3 balls in each cup.  Cover and allow the rolls to rise, covered, for 45 minutes.  Brush with melted margarine and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Bake at 400˚F for 15-20 minutes.  Brush with margarine while still hot.

Vegan Fritatta (Tofu-Free)

Back from the dead, and I bring to you... a vegan fritatta that contains NO TOFU!  It's oven season again, and I am back in full swing.  I have to admit that, for awhile there during the summer, I was subsisting on a lot of boring food that either came pre-made (hello, Tofu Pups and canned baked beans!) or was not interesting enough to post.  I bought myself a neat indoor grill that made me one of those ladies that grilled dinner every night.  Kebabs became a way of life.  I am an apartment dweller with neither a backyard/porch/patio/balcony nor an air conditioned kitchen.  So W would come home in the evenings to find me in the living room easy chair, beer in hand with the A.C. cranking, cooking up grilled veggies on my new little toy.  And it was nice!  But I am so happy to be able to comfortably cook in my kitchen again.  Anyone else who lives in an apartment knows exactly what I mean!

Now, in my pre-gan days, I was not a huge egg lover, but I did love me a fritatta every now and again.  Maybe a quiche from time to time.  But once I formally forswore eggs, I found myself craving such custardy, baked delights more and more.  I made several attempts and veganizing my favorite fritatta, a recipe from Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen (p.p. 35-36), including this one and this one.  (This was my first cookbook ever, and Lidia's fritatta is the one my mom always made at home.)  However, these endeavors were all tofu-based to some degree, as were all the recipes I found as I scoured the Internet.  Some relied minimally on it, while others loaded up on add-ins like chickpea flour.  They were fine, but none of them tasted like the real thing.  Not one.  I love tofu; don't get me wrong.  It's a great protein and all that jazz.  But the consistency and the taste just weren't right when I made these fritattas with tofu.  I think you'll know what I mean when I say tofu can have a bean-y taste, especially when cooked.  And silken tofu (I've tried several brands, vacuum-packed, not vacuum-packed, fresh, etc.) always wound up a bit chalky on the tongue and still with that damn bean taste.  Firm or extra-firm tofu just crumbled and fell apart no matter how many binders I added.  And chickpea flour just ended up lending too prominent a flavor to the end product, even when I only used a tablespoon, and that flavor was decidedly not that of an egg custard.  So I gave up for awhile.  Then I'd try another tofu fritatta from the Interwebs. W would hate it.  I would find it merely passable.  Then I'd give up again.

The last time and cooked and ate a real-thing fritatta was in August 2009, a month before going vegan. I remember this because it was in the midst of a Kingdom Hearts-playing binge during which a ate almost the entire thing by myself while in "gamer mode."  (I am not a gamer myself, but I loved this game the second W showed it to me.)  With the re-release of Kingdom Hearts for Playstation 3 looming in early September, I knew I had to return to my longstanding vegan fritatta challenge.  I am not one to give up an veganizing anything.  So I thought to myself long and hard, Self, how can I achieve that creamy, slightly gelatinous yet slightly puffy texture?  And it dawned upon me: the perfect storm of vegan secret ingredients.  You may read this recipe and think it's not possible that it will taste authentic.  But it works.  I promise you!  No crumbling, no off taste, no soggy middle.  W, who still eats eggs frequently, actually loved it.  And if that isn't a testament to this recipe, I don't know what is!

Frittata Rustica

1 c. raw cashews
2 c. almond milk
1 russet potato, scrubbed
½ c. organic cornstarch
½ c. nutritional yeast flakes
2 T. vegan mayonnaise (I like Follow Your Heart brand.  Tofu-based mayos are strongly discouraged here.)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. Eurasian black salt (kala namak)
½ tsp. white or black pepper
1½ tsp. prepared yellow mustard (this is vital for taste and a nice yellow color)
½ tsp. garlic powder
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1½ c. cubed, stale bread (use 1 extra potato for gluten-free)

Soak the cashews in the almond milk overnight (refrigerated).  If you're short on time (like I always am), combine the nuts and milk in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on High for about 3 minutes, or until the cashews soften.  Poke the potato all over with a knife, and microwave on High for 5 minutes. Rotate the potato and microwave for 3 minutes, or until it is tender but firm.   

Meanwhile, add the cashews and almond milk to a blender. Add the next ten ingredients (cornstarch through garlic powder), and blend until very smooth, about 2 minutes.  Set aside.

In a 10-inch non-stick, oven-safe skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high.  Sauté the onion until softened, then add the peppers and sauté until crisp-tender.  Remove the skin from the potato, slice lengthwise, then slice into ½-inch thick pieces.  Combine the onion-pepper mixture, potato and cubed bread in a large bowl, and pour in the cashew cream mixture.  Stir gently to coat, then let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Wipe out the skillet of any burned bits, and generously grease it with oil.  Pour in the fritatta mixture and heat on the stovetop over medium-high, uncovered, for 5 minutes, or until it just starts to set around the edges.  Transfer to the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes, or until cooked through.  Cool for 10-15 minutes, invert onto a plate and serve.  I like to sprinkle on a few pinches of additional black salt just before serving to perk up that sulfuric, "eggy" taste.  Can be served room temperature or cold.

Here's the top:

The "pan side."  I find it a bit uglier, but some people are into that sort of thing:

29 July 2013

Vegan Primanti's-Style Sandwich

Okay, guys.  I know I haven't been on here in forever, but I just ate this, and I had to tell somebody.  W is currently out in western PA visiting family, and the cat gave me a more-or-less indifferent reaction.  Although, for a cat, I guess it was a somewhat positive response; he seemed to want to nibble on it, but I wouldn't let him.

I may or may not have mentioned it before, but W was a New Jersey transplant, and most of his family still live out in western Pennsylvania, a lot of them in or near to Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately, we don't get to see as much of them as we'd like, and I had to stay behind this trip because A) I couldn't take off from work and B) We had no one to look after our kitty.  So W made the trek across the great state of Pennsylvania sans copilot, and I've been stuck here missing him.  Now, I am pretty much a Jersey Girl through and through, with the exception, perhaps, that I speak like a normal human being, albeit a bit fast.  I don't say mawl for "mall" or caw-fee, though I know plenty of people who do.  I can tell you that no self-respecting New Jerseyan in the history of this state has ever said "Joy-zee," so please don't ask us if that's where we're from.  I also don't know how to pump gas.  Don't hate!  All that being said, I am no yinzer, but W and his family have rubbed off on me just a little.  So, as my tribute to W's solo trip out to the Pittsburgh area, to show that I am there in spirit, I made myself the granddaddy of all sandwiches for dinner tonight: a vegan sandwich à la Primanti Bros. Restaurant.

Being a Rutgers alumna, I can tell you that folks around here like to fancy themselves the inventors of something as deliciously revolting as putting French fries in a sandwich.  I am no food historian, but I can tell you that the epic Pittsburgh eatery known as Primanti Brothers has been doing this long before Darrell decided to order himself a fat sandwich from the Grease Trucks.  (Sadly, anyone who was not alive before the days of the current obesity epidemic might not understand that the notion of mashing up insanely unhealthy foods à la Paula Deen was not always commonplace.)  If you want to read more about Primanti's, or anything that has ever existed anywhere, please consult the all-knowing, all-seeing Wikipedia.

But if you do not feel like clicking off this site (how can I blame you?) to read up, a Primanti's sandwich primarily consists of deli meat, cheese (usually Provolone), Italian-style coleslaw (read: no mayo) and French fries, all stuffed indulgently between two pillow-y slices of bread.  And ZOMG dat bread.  I think it might be from Mancini's Bakery  another Pittsburgh staple  but I've never been able to confirm this.  Anyway, this method of hedonistic sandwich-ery was allegedly invented back in the 1930s to cater to truckers passing through Pittsburgh late at night, so the sammiches packed all the usual fixin's plus the side of fries into one neat, portable package.  Nifty.

Now, I am not a crazy person (well, not that crazy), so I was not about to make real French fries for just myself, especially not in the dead middle of summer.  In fact, I wouldn't even do such a thing if W was home and if it were midwinter.  I mean, I love him and all, but...  Or, wait.  Because I love him, I am looking out for his health.  That's totally it.  I am not lazy!  So I made some microwave "fries."  I've experimented with these before, and I think they're pretty cool.  Are they the gloriously golden, tender/crispy sticks of heaven you'd get from a fast food drive-thru?  Well, of course not.  But they clock in at a fraction of the calories, and they do the trick in a sandwich like this, where they are not standing on their own.  I make all kinds of low-cal snack in the microwave, personally, namely low-fat potato and tortilla chips.  I know some of you will be all, "THE MICROWAVE IS EVIL.  IT WAS SENT HERE BY SPACE ALIENS TO REMOVE NUTRIENTS FROM FOOD AND KILL US ALL."  To which I say, that's just, like, uh, your opinion, man.  The jury is still kind of out about microwaves, and I live in such a densely populated/polluted area that I don't think, if I were to get cancer, that I will be ruing ever having owned a microwave.  Also, for applications such as this, my opinion is that I'd rather use this evil kitchen appliance than have all the fat in normal fries.  It's a trade-off, and it's entirely up to you.  But I can tell you that, if you don't put some type of fry on this sandwich, it just ain't a Primanti's sandwich.  I'll tell you how to make the "fries" below, but here's a picture:

For the other schtuffs, I used some coleslaw that I made the other day; the previously posted recipe is here, but I use way less sugar these days.  I believe that version was based on a recipe I found in an online newspaper.  So I dunno, I was just really feeling some coleslaw, but I made kind of a lot, so that was really my inspiration for making this sandwich.  I used the Tofurky Hickory Smoked Deli Slices as my "meat."  It was pretty good, but I must say I am not a huge fan of vegan deli meats, as I was never a huge fan of real deli meats in my pregan days.  Similiarly, I hated cheese of pretty much any sort before becoming officially vegan (I know, I am bizarre), so I do not buy those fake soy cheese slices.  Ever.  For a nice, fatty mouth feel (gah, I hate that term!), I mashed up some beautifully rip avocado.  From what I recall, I think they put some kind of butter/mayo on some of the sandwiches, so this was perfect!  I had to settle for decently nice supermarket Italian bread, but there's nothing like the bread they use at Primanti's.  Give it a try – you'll feel like you're in the Steel City!

Vegan Primanti's Style Sandwich
Makes 1 sandwich with leftover slaw - like that's really a problem

For the coleslaw:  You weren't paying attention, were you?  The recipe is here.

For the "meat":  I used Tofurky Hickory Smoked deli slices.  I usually find these a little rubbery, so I heated them up a touch in a nonstick pan sprayed with a touch of oil.  I think it made them a bit more palatable.  Don't get me wrong; they're not inedible on their own, but they're not my style.  Also, I believe Primanti's heats the meat up slightly on a flattop.  For the future, I think something like grilled zucchini or eggplant would be super delish.

For the "cheese" substitute:  Scoop of the flesh of half a small, ripe avocado.  Mash until smooth, and season well with salt and pepper.  Ta-da.  Nature's butter.  Spread onto two slices of bread.

For the "fries":  Peel and rinse one small-medium russet potato.  Cut the potato into planks roughly ⅜-inch thick, then cut lengthwise into strips about ⅜-inch wide.  Ya know, like French fries.  Don't get a ruler or anything.  Be one with the potato.  Pat these pieces gently with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture, then season with salt.  Spray a microwave-safe place with a thin layer of canola oil/cooking spray, and lay out the potato strips in a single, even layer, making sure none of the pieces touch.  Spray once again with oil, then microwave for 10-12 minutes in 2 minute increments, flipping the potatoes carefully about halfway through.  Your total microwave time may vary greatly; my microwave is 1 kilowatt, for reference.  You want the potatoes to just start to get a crispy, shiny-looking skin on the outside.  They should not be all flabby and weird but rather pretty stiff.  There may also be a couple of brown spots, which is quite alright.  Remove them from the microwave, and let them cool for a minute or two; the outsides will continue to crisp up further.  You don't want to over-microwave these, or the insides will dry out too much.  See?  It's easy.

For the bread:  Take a plane, train or automobile to Pittsburgh (whichever best suits your schedule and budget) and do some sleuthing to find out the source of the bread used at Primanti's.  Report back to me immediately, then use that.  Or, while you're out there, just pick me up some Mancini's.  Okay, fine.  Just use something nice from your local store.  Whatever.  Last time I do you any favors.  (jk lol!  Omg, is it 1998 again?)  As you can surmise, I'm getting pretty punchy putzing around all by myself...  And the fact that I just said "putzing around" rather concretely proves that I am New Jersey born and bred, I think.

Okay, now mush everything together into a hot mess so that it most closely resembles what a sandwich means to you personally, and dig in.  If you don't get coleslaw all over your face/lap, you're doing it wrong.  Enjoy!

13 April 2013

Mock Grilled Cheese

Did you know April 12 was National Grilled Cheese Day? There's a celebratory occasion for anything and everything these days, so it would seem. As I always tell you, I do not like fake vegan cheeses, probably because I never liked real cheese in my pre-vegan days. (I used to ask my mom to make me grilled cheese and quesadillas without any cheese... Weirdo.) My vegan "grilled cheese" consists of a bean-based filling, some seasonings and LOTS of nutritional yeast. And my secret to perfect, crispy bread is to spread a thin layer of vegan mayo on rather than margarine, which can tear the bread and has less flavor, in my opinion. So that's it. Happy National Grilled Cheese Day, everyone!

How do you like to make your vegan grilled cheese?

11 April 2013

Mapo Tofu

Confession time:  I am a really picky eater.  I’m not as bad as I once was (I don’t know how my mother put up with me).  I will say that there was never a vegetable I wouldn’t eat, and most of my pickiness was directed at foods I no longer consume.  But there’s still a pretty good chance if you put a menu in front of me, even if I find something I like, I am going to diverge from the description provided therein.  I’m a regular Sally Albright.  Trying to eat vegan at most dining establishments usually only compounds the problem.  So I very rarely eat take-out or even eat out at restaurants because I am so (ahem) particular.  

Consequently, I am not a regular at the Chinese take-out joint that is literally at the end of our street.  And it makes W sad because he loves him some Chinese take-out.  I have a steady rotation of two things I can eat there: steamed vegetables with brown rice and General Tso’s tofu, it being the only tofu dish on the menu aside from one other: mapo tofu.  (I stopped ordering vegetable lo mein there because I found pork and/or chicken in it more than once.)  You can imagine my disappointment to be told that mapo tofu is made with ground pork.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve become so accustomed to omnivores’ distinct aversion to foods like tofu that I completely forgot any dish based around it might not be vegetarian by default.  Never one to back down from a challenge, I decided I would make my own mapo tofu.  So there.

Wikipedia gives the dish the following description:

Mápó dòufu, or mápó tòfu, is a popular Chinese dish from the Sichuan (Szechuan) province. It is a combination of tofu (bean curd) set in a spicy chili- and bean-based sauce, typically a thin, oily, and bright red suspension, and often cooked with fermented black beans and minced meat, usually pork or beef.

You can read more on Wikipedia about how its name translates roughly to “Old Pockmarked Lady’s Tofu.”

Aside from traditionally being not vegetarian, a lot of recipes I found called for ingredients that would require me going to my big H-Mart (asian hypermarket), which I only do every so often.  For example:

-  “Sichuan chili spicy bean paste.”  I used Sriracha, which is Thai and so ubiquitous in the U.S. now that Lay’s made it a potato chip flavor.  

-  Another key component is the fermented black bean paste, which I know is easy to get at specialty stores.  But I already had some black bean sauce (which contains sugar and other seasonings) in my refrigerator, so I used that.  My local grocery store is pretty small for a supermarket and, sadly, often not that well stocked.  So if I could find this at my Stop & Shop, I know it’s readily available.  

-  I also used regular firm tofu because my store was sold out of silken tofu when I went.  Consequently, I seared off my tofu cubes in a nonstick pan for a little bit because A) I didn’t have time to press my tofu for long and B) I knew it would make it more palatable for my better half. 

-    One of the ingredients considered essential to mapo tofu is ground pepper from Sichuan peppercorns.  However, these are pretty hard to track down, since they were were actually illegal in the USA until 2005 because they were believed to be the cause of a citrus blight.  The ban was strictly enforced, and the availability of the spice has been slow in returning.  I used regular black pepper instead.  So sue me! 

-  And finally, instead of ground meat, I used some leftover Boca crumble baglers (the bits at the bottom of a bag) that I had kicking around in the freezer, even though I drafted my recipe to use grated, steamed tempeh.  Next time!

Now, a word of warning: mapo tofu if meant to be spicy.  Like, indecently spicy.  If you at it at a restaurant, you might be caught off guard.  So another great perk to cooking your own Chinese take-out is that you get to control how mild or flesh-meltingly hot you want your food to be.  (We like something in between, bordering on flesh-melting, but your mileage may vary.) 

Of course I thought I was doing W a real solid making him so “take-out” at home.  But what did he eat for lunch?  Chinese food, of course.  He was dubious at first, but he ended up loving it.  Another point goes to eating in!

Mapo Tofu
(Spicy "Pockmarked Old Lady" Tofu)

½ c. soy beef-style crumbles (such as Boca brand)
     or grated, steamed tempeh
2 T. canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. grated fresh ginger
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 T. Sriracha, or to taste,
     or other hot chili paste
1 T. black bean sauce  (recommended: KA-ME brand)
     or 1 tsp. fermented black bean paste
1 T. low sodium soy sauce
1 c. no-chicken bouillon,
     vegetable stock or water
1 (14 oz.) block medium firm tofu,
     drained and cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 tsp. cornstarch + 2 tsp. water, whisked into a slurry
4 scallions, thinly sliced
Szechuan pepper, if available
     or ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a wok or large, deep skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the soy crumbles/tempeh, and cook until lightly browned all over.  Add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes, and stir-fry for about 1 minute, or just until fragrant.  Stir in the Sriracha, black bean sauce/paste and soy sauce, and stir-fry for about 30 seconds.  Add the bouillon/stock/water, stir well, then add the tofu and simmer for about 2 minutes.  Gently mix in the cornstarch slurry, being careful not to break the tofu.  Simmer for about 1 minute, or just until the sauce thickens.  Remove to a serving bowl, and scatter the scallions over the top.  Sprinkle with the pepper, to taste.

Serves 2.
Served with steamed brown rice and sesame sugar snap peas.

07 April 2013

Breakfast Sandwich Tofu Patties

As previously mentioned, I've been working Saturdays lately.  :( :( :( :(  Sad faces forever and ever.  Weekends are usually when I like to get a bit more "down home" with breakfast, as I usually don't have time during the week.  In all honesty, I'm pretty useless in the first 1-2 hours of being awake.  I knew I'd be hurting on Saturday morning without something warm and toasty, so I planned ahead on made myself up a little breakfast sandwich to bring along to the office.  The sausage patties are made from Lightlife's Gimme Lean ground sausage, which I usually jazz up with some additional red pepper flakes, ground sage, onion and garlic powder.  The "egg" patties are something I make quite often, but I usually only make one at a time, so I don't know if they save or freeze, to be honest.  Even so, they're a great protein punch in the morning!

Tofu Egg-less Patties

c. crumbled extra-firm tofu
2 tsp. canola oil or vegan mayo
1-2 tsp. nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. yellow mustard
½ tsp. agar-agar powder
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. Eurasian black salt, or to taste
¼ tsp. white or black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a tall, microwave-safe container, and use an immersion blender to blitz into a smooth paste.  Lightly oil a ramekin that is the width you'd like your patty to be; I like my 4-inch, 16-ounce Corningware ramekin.  Microwave the mixture on High for 1 minute, then beat vigorously with a whisk or fork.  Microwave on high again for 1 minute, then beat again and quickly transfer to the prepared ramekin.  Use a rubber spatula to smooth out the top, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, or until firm.  I like to sear these off in a nonstick skillet before adding them to a sandwich, but they can be eaten as they are.

Rite of Spring 2013

Okay, so it's been a week since Easter, and I'm only getting around to posting this now.  Sorry!  I've been so stressed and busy lately.  I'm quite disgruntled to have to go into the office on Saturdays now.  Blah.  Anyway, being a godless philosopher, I do not normally celebrate Easter, per se, but I can see the allure of celebrating the arrival of spring.  Whatever your creed (or lack thereof), I hope you took the time to celebrate some variation on the rite of spring with loved ones and that you had a grand ol' time doing it.
As for me, my parents came to visit before going on vacation, so I thought I'd try to entertain with a spring-ish menu.  But therein lies a catch:  My dad has been trying to keep his diet gluten-free to help alleviate some joint inflammation he's been experiencing, and he's been told he is slightly allergic to soy (eep!), peanuts and eggs.  Both he and my mom avoid nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes -- staples of my diet!) for similar reasons.  So, combining all these factors, along with the fact that I refuse to cook with non-vegan ingredients in my kitchen, even for those I love most, it was a bit more challenging than usual coming up with a meal plan.  I didn't get to take pictures of everything I made, but I know you all have perfectly capable imaginations.  For starters, I made a white bean, roasted garlic, spinach and roasted artichoke dip, which I served with raw vegetables and rice crackers.  It consisted of basically all the ingredients I just listed, lemon juice, and a heft bit of nutritional yeast.  Everyone seemed to like it a lot, and I personally like it waaay better than spinach artichoke dip made with vegan analog products.  (I never liked cream cheese or sour cream in my omni days, so ersatz versions gross me out.)
For the main course, I wanted to keep it fairly light and vernal, if you will, so I whipped up an easy asparagus and pea bisque with cashew cream.  My dad absolutely loved this soup, which pleased me because I'm always glad to impress non-vegans with vegan food.  It was about the easiest thing in the world to make:  I simmered a chopped onion in a little water until it softened, then added vegetable stock and simmered a pound of diced asparagus stalks until they were just tender.  Then, I added the asparagus tips and 10 oz. of frozen peas and cooked for a hot minute.  Then I just gave it a good seasoning with salt and pepper, and a few squirts of lemon juice, then whizzed it all up with an immersion blender, strained it, and stirred in about a cup of cashew cream.  If you don't know how to make cashew cream, you can find recipes for it in just about every corner of the Internet.  I made this the night before, reheated it and served it with a little swirl of cashew cream.  I also made (ahead of time), a quinoa salad with roasted vegetables (beets, red onions, carrots and fennel), loads of parsley and a pretty standard lemon-thyme vinaigrette.  

Then, for dessert, came these little babies.  I love carrot cake, but the time of my self-imposed oven-baking moratorium is fast approaching.  I don't bake a lot, but when I do, I must admit I'm not well-versed in gluten-free baking.  Nor do I really super wish to be... no offense to my GF peeps.  And, of course, every gluten-free carrot cake recipe I stumbled across was not vegan and relied heavily on eggs.  So my next logical step was to approach raw desserts, of which I am rapidly becoming a fan.  I've only dabbled in the world of raw sweets, but I think I will be playing around with them more with the warmer summer months drawing near (and the fact that I now have a bunch of dried dates waiting to be used).  I suggest making these the night before, as I did, to allow them to take and hold their shape.  I was particularly proud of the icing, which I improvised using what I had on hand.  Most of the raw carrot cake recipes I reviewed made use of soaked cashews, but I found the color a bit unappealing and the runny texture too dissimilar from the iconic cream cheese frosting one would expect.  Want to know what I used?  Read on!

Raw Mini Carrot Cakes
For the cakes:  
½ c. pitted dried dates 
½ c. walnuts  
c. oat flour*  
½ tsp. grated fresh ginger  
½ tsp. ground cinnamon  
¼ tsp. grated fresh nutmeg  
⅛ tsp. fine salt
1½ c. grated carrots  
1 T. coconut cream, if needed

For the icing:  
1 can coconut cream** (I used Trader Joe's brand)  
Raw cane sugar, to taste

First, add some raw sugar to the bowl of a food processor, and process until it makes a fine powder.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.  (I added a tiny bit of cornstarch, which is not technically raw, but it's standard in confectioner's sugar to help thicken frosting.)

Add the walnuts to the food processor, and process until they form fine crumbs.  Do not over-process, or you'll get something like walnut butter.  Add the remaining ingredients, and process until the mixture make a thick paste.  If it seems too dry, add a little coconut cream.  Line a standard muffin pan with paper liners (don't use foil liners), and spoon the batter into them.  Refrigerate overnight (at least 8 hours).  Beat together the coconut cream and pulverized sugar (I added a splash of vanilla and lemon juice), and refrigerate.

The next day, remove and discard the paper cake liners; they should have absorbed any excess moisture.  The cakes should now be firm and easily hold their shape, and the icing should be thick and spreadable and no longer runny.  Spread the icing onto the cakes and top each cake with a walnut half.  Keep these cakes refrigerated until you are ready to serve.

* You can make your own oat flour by simply processing old-fashioned oats into a fine flour.  I keep it on hand for cooking and for making a great facial cleansing mask.

** Do not confuse coconut cream with highly-sweetened cream of coconut, which is often used in cocktails.  Pure coconut cream is like coconut milk but with a lower water content and, therefore, a thicker consistency.


27 March 2013

Saint Paddy's Day 2013

I've tried my hand at making veganized corned beef since my very first meat-free Saint Patrick's Day.  I've had varying degrees of success with making corned beef-style seitan from scratch, but not only is is time consuming, most of them turned out to be disappointing.  I've pretty much reached the conclusion that I despise seitan (sacrilege, I know).  I've tried it every way you can think of: simmered, baked, steamed, seared.  Nope. Do not want.  So this year, my quandary was this:  I'm not making seitan, but what should I do about the corned beef?  It was an annual tradition in my family for as long as I can remember.  My mom would whip out the vintage, original model Crock Pot (which I have since inheritied) and cook us up our usual Saint Paddy's Day meal.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  Couldn't I just make, like, a beef-less stew or something?  No.  You are wrong.  I make stew all winter.  Boring.  And cabbage rolls?  Not Irish, friend (unless you stuff them with corned beef, which brings us full circle).  Not that corned beef is even necessarily Irish.  No one eats it very often on the Emerald Isle, and certainly not on Saint Patrick's Day.  When I visited Ireland years ago, my home-stay family all had a good laugh when I asked them about it.  Traditional fare would be cál ceannann (colcannon), maybe, or some gammon (ham) with whiskey sauce.  No, it is a distinctly Irish-American tradition to eat corned beef (mairteoil shaillte) on Saint Patrick's Day.  Well, I am an Irish-American girl and proud of it.  America has come a long way from cursing its Irish immigrants with foul names like "white n*ggers."  And, much like Mexico's Cinco de Mayo, Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life have embraced the Irish holiday as their own... because it is another excuse to drink in excess.

But back to the beef.  I considered corning some tofu, as it seems others in the blogosphere have done, but it just didn't seem right to me.  Then I stumbled upon this recipe at I'm Not Vegan But They Are, where the blogger used pre-made Tofurky deli slices marinated in beet juice to mimic corned beef/pastrami.  She notes that she did not marinate the slices in any of the usual pickling ingredients, but that's just the direction where my mind was headed.  Genius!  No, it's not going to yield a nice, solid block of protein to bring to the table, as a loaf of seitan might.  And I know processed convenience foods – even meat-less ones – are not ideal, but this stuff tasted more like corned beef than anything I've eaten since eating actual corned beef.  The leftovers made an awesome sandwich (see below) and and even more awesome hash for breakfast with some fried onion and leftover boiled potatoes (photo below).  I think it even tops my previous version, which caused The Great Vegan Corned Beef Hash Debacle of 2012.  It's that good.

Here is a picture of the Tofurky slices marinating.  The cabbage, potatoes and carrots are in that Crock Pot over yonder cooking way with some pickling spices.  I brined these babies for 3 days, and they got better and better with every nibble I stole in secret.  Note the vibrant pink color from the beet juice.  (The pinkness in real corned beef is caused when saltpeter [sodium nitrite] reacts with proteins in the cow blood.)  Later on, I decided to stick them in the oven, hoping to make the texture a bit firmer and less flabby.  The texture did improve, but cooking them diminished a good bit of the marinade's flavor and muted the pink color as well.

I was really worried what W might make of the weird pink slices I presented to him.  But, to my surprise, he actually really liked it!  He even asked for seconds of everything.  Below is the spread we enjoyed.  The pink-ish/purple-ish blob at the top of the plate was a relish I made to use up the beets I'd bought for their juice: I just grated them and tossed them with some oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Sobhlasta! (Delicious!)  And, of course, we could not forget the sóid arán (soda bread).

Valentine's Day, 2013 Edition

I kind of hate Valentine's Day because it's so pointless.  I fully expect W to be super nice to me all year, not just on one random holiday designated for romance.  And yet, I find myself getting into it every year.  Here are pictures of this year's V-Day dinner.  Sorry it's so late... but it's not like anyone really cares!

Notice the iPad in the background, pumping out the awesome
tunes I selected for my V-Day playlist.

W's gift. It was whiskey.

Now for the grub.  I went for a classic steakhouse-style theme.  It got harder and harder to take pictures by candlelight as the night wore on...

Hearts For My Sweetheart
Artichoke hearts roasted until crisp on the outside 
and silky soft within.  Served with a creamy roasted garlic
 and lemon aïoli dipping sauce.

My Heart “Beets” For You Bisque
Lemon and balsamic-glazed beets and sweet red onions roasted 
to perfection, then puréed with almond milk until velvety smooth.

Classic Caesar Salad
(For the Conqueror of My Heart)
Crisp Romaine lettuce tossed in a creamy, piquant dressing. 
Topped with crusty garlic croutons and cracked black pepper.

I’ve Got A Crush on You Punch romaine
A palate-cleansing refreshment of sweetened, citrus-infused
sparkling white wine mixed with crushed ice. 

Gardein “Steak” Diane
(No Virgin Goddesses Here)
Tender filets seasoned with garlic and pepper, and pan-seared to 
perfection in vegan butter.  Served with a decadent pan sauce 
enriched with shallots, cognac and Dijon mustard, 
then finished with snipped fresh chives.

Perfect Pairings
Steamed Asparagus with Lemon
Cheezy Twice-Baked Potatoes

Happy Endings
Heart-Shaped Strawberry Shortcakes
Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Pennsylvania Dutch Chik'n and Waffles

If you're anything like me, the term "chicken and waffles" calls to mind a classic of the soul food tradition: crispy, fried bone-in chicken atop a tender-on-the-inside, crisp-on-the-outside waffle, all doused in sickly sweet maple syrup.  To be frank, I never understood the concoction.  I've eaten it in my pre-veg*n life.  In fact, I ate it at Sylvia's in Harlem, home to some of the most famously delicious soul food in the country.  And it just didn't do it for me.

Now, my mom sometimes made "breakfast for dinner" for my sister and me when we were little, particularly when my dad was away on business trips.  (He hated "brinner."  It was okay; more for us.)  It was a rare treat, and it the young Gothic Homemaker palpitate with great joy.  And, if I'm being truthful, the sight of a preheating waffle iron still incites in me lovely pangs of nostalgic bliss.  But the random mash-up of chicken (savory dinner fare) and waffles (sweet breakfast fare) never quite gelled for my palate, personally.

So, imagine this Jersey girl's surprise to find that there is ANOTHER KIND OF CHICKEN AND WAFFLES. As I am wont to do, I was futzing around on the Interwebs one evening – and on this particular evening, the cupboard was pretty bare – when I hit upon this Wikipedia article on chicken and waffles.  (Don't ask how.  My cyber wanderings are vast and mysterious.)  Pennsylvania Dutch chicken and waffles?  I think you'd have to be from Pennsylvania Dutch country to have ever heard of such a thing, but please tell me if I'm wrong.  I'd never heard of such a thing.  Even Wikipedia deemed it worthy of only a one-sentence mention.  This kind of thing is so up my alley.  I have a fascination with learning about (and veganizing) dishing from all around the globe.  You can imagine how I get when I learn that there are regional foods from my own native country which are foreign to me.  I love it!  It's like pondering the far reaches of deep space, then realizing there is a wealth of uncharted territory in the depths of the ocean on your own little planet.  So, long story short, I decided I was going to go make vegan Pennsylvania Dutch chicken and waffles.

Most recipes I Googled (and my "most" I mean the two I found) were pretty straight forward: stew a chicken, make a roux, then use the stock to make gravy and serve over a waffle.  I obviously bypassed the issue of making a stock from scratch, so it all came together in 20 minutes (not including the six millennia it takes for my waffle iron to preheat, or the time it takes to present it with pagan offerings to urge the "ready" light to come back on between waffles).  It was pretty scrummy.  Even W, who was more than dubious at first, thought it was pretty awesome.  The best thing to which I could potentially compare it might be chicken pot pie, only much less fussy to make.  And so, dear reader, I have learned that breakfast and dinner foods can coexist peacefully, and it was a valuable lesson to be had.

Pennsylvania Dutch Style "Chicken" and Waffles

For the “chicken”:
2 vegan chicken-style cutlets (I used Gardein)
2 T. vegan margarine
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 dried bay leaf
2 T. unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ c. no-chicken bouillon (I used 1 Edward & Sons cube)
¼ c. plain, unsweetened almond milk
½ c. baby carrots, sliced (not traditional, but I like carrots)
1 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce (optional)
2 tsp. nutritional yeast flakes
¼ tsp. poultry seasoning
¼ tsp. white pepper, or to taste (black pepper is okay, too)
2 tsp. dried parsley flakes
Salt, to taste

For the waffles:
1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ T. sugar
1½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. Ener-G powder
¼ tsp. salt
¾ c. soymilk
2 T. canola oil
1 T. water
¼ tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

Whisk together the dry ingredients for the waffles in a small bowl (flour through salt) and the wet ingredients (soymilk through vanilla) in a large bowl.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and whisk to combine.  Set aside to allow the batter to rest while you prepare the sauce.  If your waffle iron is like mine and take a century-and-a-half to heat up to readiness, go ahead and get that sucker going.

Spray a non-stick skillet with oil/cooking spray to coat, then heat over medium-high.  Season the “chicken” cutlets all over with salt and pepper, then on both sides until lightly browned; remove to a plate to cool.  Add the margarine to the skillet and heat until melted and starting to sizzle.  Add the onion and bay leaf, and sauté until the onion softens.  Stir in the flour, and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Whisk in the bouillon and almond milk.  Add the carrots, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, poultry seasoning and pepper.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and the carrots are tender.  Meanwhile, shred the cooled “chicken” into long strips, then stir them into the thickened sauce.

Re-stir the rested waffle batter briefly and use it to make two waffles.  (If your batter has gotten too thick, add a splash of very hot tap water.)  Spoon the “chicken” and sauce over the waffles and serve immediately to avoid your waffles getting all gross and soggy.

Serves 2.

She ain't much to look at, but dang she was delicious.