Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Very Casual New Year's Eve Plan

Holiday Party '09
One of my girlfriend's called me up a few weeks ago to stress the importance of getting together for New Year's Eve. Now, my schedule for the past and future months is somewhat up-in-the-air due to several factors beyond my control. My husband and I were itching to throw a holiday party, but have been unable to commit. So when my friend called, she had a very specific plan in mind that could take place anywhere really. It was something along the lines of "Can we just hang out and wear sweat pants or whatever?". Then she offered to provide the Carrie Bradshaw-esque Cup O'Noodles for sustenance. And how could I refuse?

My friend Cathy's NYE pants

At first I worried she would be unable to tow the oodles of noodles to Brooklyn which would be required by the hungry masses willing to sweat-pant it out for NYE. But we soon discovered that many of our cohorts have made other commitments, such as: falling down on ice in a fancy dress, hanging out with fabulous new lovers, spectating 1/1/11 nuptuals, and watching snow fall with in Western Massachussetts.

We are now 2 days away from the big little event, and are expecting just a few guests. The prospect at having a party started the menu-planning wheels turning, which reminded me of last year's cooking extravaganza which served dinner for 30 promptly at 11:30 at night (4 hours late). So I promised myself to take it down a couple notches this year in order to socialize more.

Bruschetta and Squash Skewers at Bunny Chow on NYE '09
I've actually spent more time figuring out what to make for this party than any of the larger ones I've thrown. The thing is I have about 5 or so confirmed guests, some "maybe's", and a few passing through during the evening. Dinner for 6 or so is easy, but this isn't really dinner, it's New Year's - typically a snacky spread type holiday. With some help from Fresh Direct and my husband, I began to put together a limited-work-required menu - until I realized that every single dish was centered around a dairy product like cheese or sour cream! My husband fails to see the problem with this.

Baked Poppers (recipe HERE)
I tried to find a balance between "This is way too much, you outdid yourself!" and "Where's the Beef?". I did try to minimize on meat products (and absolutely NO evil nitrates allowed), hence the cheese products. I hope it's not too unhealthy - but c'mon it's the holidays! After re-working my grocery order time and time again, and making sure to include my husband's requests, here is what I've come up with:

Fat-Free Ranch Dip w/ Carrots, Green Beans and Potato Chips (mix from a box)
Eggplant Caponata with Pita Chips (both store-bought)
Baked Jalapeno Poppers w/ Fakin' Bacon (fresh made)
Crostini with Onion-Rosemary Marmalade & Goat Cheese (catered/reheat)
Baked Ravioli with San Marzano Tomato Sauce: 
     with and without Organic Chicken/Turkey Sweet Italian Sausage slices  
     (frozen ravioli / packaged sausage / fresh made sauce)
Chilled Pineapple-Mandarin Vanilla Pie (assembled from store-bought items)

...and possibly the appearance of additional baked goods, such as sour-cherry brownies or sugar cookies.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 10 Posts of 2010

2010 flew by before I knew it. This has been an insanely busy, but freedom intensive, year. I somehow found time to shop the green markets, concoct new dishes, and travel to Switzerland, France, UK, Germany and even China. I dove into the world of Gardein (meat-like vegetable proteins) head first, opening a whole new world of cuisine for my husband, and reducing my own meat consumption significantly. So much in fact, that I decided to participate in Vegan MoFo and write only about vegan foods all November.

There's definitely a demand for delicious healthy food, and I hope I've shared at least some inspiration here. All all of my top ranking posts were vegetarian related. These were the top 10:

Vegetable and Sausage Wrap

I only wish I had time to attend more fun food events like that BBQ festival and Giada demo. The Red Hook ball field vendors are still on my to-eat list, as well as the hip food trucks cruising the city (see which ones I've been stalking on Twitter). I'd love to take an informal cooking class or two just for fun, and get more involved with the local farms and City Winery events.

Hopefully those resolutions work out next year. In the meantime, I'm already dreaming up new topics for 2011. You'll see more quick and easy meals here, focus on "superfoods" you'll actually want to eat, and an organized recipe index.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Crispy Chik'n with Wild Mushroom Sauce

OK, I know I haven't been posting much lately, but c'mon -just today I had a quick holiday party at work, did 45 minutes at the gym and then came home to make dinner. It's now 9:30pm on a Monday, I'm tired, full, and I really need a cookie.

This post is about my latest Gardein Chik'n creation, which was awesome awesome (yes I meant to write that twice), but the real news is I GOT MY HUSBAND TO EAT BROCCOLI. And like it! The trick was using broccolini - the hybrid relative of the larger, thicker, more bitter variety. All I did was trim, blanch and then roast it with a little olive oil and seasoning salt. It tasted like a cross between broccoli and asparagus, but sweeter.

For the Chik'n I made a sauce from wild mushrooms, which we ate with my favorite Barilla Plus spaghetti. We still can't get on the wagon with whole wheat pasta, but I consider this the best compromise since it has Omega-3's.

Crispy Chik'n with Wild Mushroom Sauce
4 oz wild mushrooms (shiitake, cremini, oyster), sliced
1/4 C flour
2 T bread crumbs
dash of dried Oregano & Thyme
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 C yellow onion, diced (1/2 small onion)
1-2 T margarine (*omit or substitute w/ oil for vegan)
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C white wine
1 C Vegetable Stock
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Combine flour, bread crumbs, oregano and thyme in a bowl and dredge each filet to coat.

2. Heat butter and oil in a skillet and sauté the filets over medium heat until browned on each side, and remove.

3. Add a bit more margarine if needed, and the garlic and onions. Cook 1 minute. 

4. Add mushrooms and a splash of the wine. Stir and cook about 5 minutes until softened.

5. Add the remaining wine and vegetable stock and cook about 2 minutes until it starts to thicken. Add salt & pepper if needed.

6. Nestle the filets onto the sauce, so the top stays crispy. Simmer another 2 or 3 minutes to heat them through.

7. Serve with pasta or noodles. Add red pepper flakes for heat if desired.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Seitan Tikka Masala

Tonight's experiment was using seitan in place of chicken in tikka masala. I found the recipe at Eating Well, and I stuck to it despite what seemed like massive amounts of onions, garlic and ginger.

The sauce turned out pretty good - our only complaint was that it should be blended together before adding the cream and protein, so it is not so chunky. As one reviewer had suggeted, I tried using fire roasted tomatoes, but I think it just made the flavor a bit more complex than it needed to be. I also had to substitute milk for cream, since I could not find any. I think vegan cashew cream would make this sauce really nice.

As for the seitan, it's certainly no replacement for chicken. Tofu might work ok, since it would soak up the sauce, but I'm not really a fan of eating piles of tofu. I think that potatoes would make the best vegetarian substitute for the chicken, so I guess that would be Aloo Tikka Masala.

The verdict? It's still easier to find a good tikka masala at a restaurant, at least here in NYC. I think I'm still jonesing for my favorite creamy tomato sauce, which means we have to head uptown to our old 'hood to get the paneer makhanwala from Bawarchi. It's the best - last we checked, they actually got a chef straight from India to do the cooking - so I don't have to feel at all guilty for my inability to recreate the dishes at home.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Effortless Vegan Butternut Squash Apple Soup

The main reason I don't make butternut squash soup more often is the prep work. I hate hacking it open, and peeling the stubborn skin around all the curves. And just when you think you're done, you have to peel apples too. Pre-cut squash is much more expensive, but saves a lot of time and frustration. And you know what else? The apples are basically turning into applesauce anyways, once boiled and puréed, so you might as well just cut to the chase and use pre-made applesauce too.

There are several ways to make butternut squash soup. You could do a sweeter soup with pumpkin-pie type spices. You could use garlic, ginger or curry spices for a more savory soup. But my favorite is just in between - a little bit savory and a litte tart-sweet from apples. It highlights the flavor of good squash better. Adding a bit of cream is also an option, but not necessary. I compromised this week by using up some vegan cashew-cream I had frozen long ago. It adds a nice creaminess, and protein, without the dairy fat.

Effortless Vegan Butternut Squash Apple Soup
*allow about 1 hour**approx. 6 servings*

5 Cups cut Butternut Squash (2 - 20oz packages)
Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper
*optional for non-vegan: 2T margarine (omit for vegan)
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
4-6 Cups Vegetable Stock (Organic, comes in a box)
1 Cup plain Applesauce (2 "snack pack" containers)
3/4 Cup Cashew Cream (or 1/2 C heavy cream or whole milk)

If using cashew cream:
Add about 2 Cups of raw cashews to a container, and add cool water to just cover them. Soak several hours, preferably overnight, in the refrigerator. Puree in a blender until smooth and creamy like milk. Any extra can be reserved and used a few days later, or frozen for about a month or so.

1. Heat oven to 400F. 

2. Arrange squash chunks on a large baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Toss with your hands to coat. Season with salt & pepper and bake about 30 minutes until softened and starting to brown. Set aside when done.

3. In a large stockpot, heat 1T of olive oil (more if vegan) and 2T margarine. Sauté onions until translucent.
*The idea is that a little bit of fat enhances soup's flavor - so it is preferable to use margarine. I wouldn't use Earth Balance, it has a strange flavor that I'd hate to see overtake this soup.

4. Add squash and enough vegetable stock to cover it. Simmer, covered, 15 minutes, and remove from heat.

5. Using an immersion hand blender or regular blender, puree the soup until smooth. Stir in the applesauce and season with salt & pepper as needed. 

6. Return to low heat and add cashew cream. Cover to avoid getting splattered with eruptions - it happens fast! Serve when heated through.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Persimmon Pudding Cake with Sour Cherries, Chocolate and Pecans

Delicious, moist, loaded persimmon cake
Just because I haven't been posting, doesn't mean I haven't been trying. It's just that the results of my experiments lately have been less than note-worthy.

I must say, though, that the husband was glad to see vegan month end (even though he himself is vegetarian). He threw half a tub of Earth Balance in the trash and said he never wanted to see that oily disgusting flavored crap in our house again. He has a point. It really isn't that good. Dear food powers that be, please try again, as you have not yet succeeded in providing us proper vegan butter products.

The recent unwritten posts, in order of Olympic standing are as follows:
Pretty red quinoa. Just pretty, nothing more.
The Bronze medal, by default as there were only 3 contestants, was tonight's Butternut Squash Quinoa. I added roasted butternut squash, green beans, pine nuts, ginger, garlic, onion and lemon zest to red quinoa. This was my first time cooking quinoa and my husband hated it. I didn't find it so repulsive, but according to him, it doesn't really matter what you do with it, because he feels he's chewing on mustard seeds and they're getting all stuck in his teeth. Superfood, schmuperfood - you probably won't be seeing much more quinoa from me once this box is gone.
Burrito? Quesadilla? Burritadilla?
Taking the Silver, we have the BBQ Chicken-less Burrito-Quesadilla. I meant to make burritos, but once I piled the Gardein shreds, brown rice, black beans (cooked with adobo, garlic, ginger and onions), tomatoes and sour cream on tortillas, I realized they were too small to fold closed. Oops! So I just folded them in half and browned them on both sides in a skillet. They were alright. Although, again, my husband really has something against healthy grains and didn't care for the rice. When I made a burrito-bowl out of the leftovers the next day and microwaved it for lunch, it was awesome. The burritadilla was just trying to hard.

The Gold winner of recent trials was the persimmon pudding cake. I really didn't know what to expect when I finally decided on a persimmon pudding cake recipe to use the two Hachiya Persimmons I had bought without realizing they are used in baking. I just thought they would be another pretty salad topping, but found out that if you eat them before they are mushy, they give you cottonmouth. No, not first hand. I always google before I bite.

I froze the pulp from the 2 persimmons, since they decided to get mushy immediately before we left for our Thanksgiving trip. With all that waiting and scooping and freezing I invested in this new fruit, I was not about to mess it up with a major experiment. Especially because as I've said, I'm no baker, I'm a cook.

The persimmon pudding cake kept popping up in my googles, so I suppose this would be the most classic way to enjoy baked Hachiyas. So I started with that in mind, trusting a recipe at Simply Recipes, and made a bunch of changes to incorporate ingredients I had on hand for an ever-so-slightly healthier version of the gooey cake.

If I hadn't researched, I might have thought I needed to bake the cake more - it was very moist and almost raw-like in the middle. But the cherries I added were warm and juicy, and the chocolate chips were like mini molten pockets of sweetness. If you like underbaked chocolate chip cookies (you know who you are), you will like this cake!

Here's how my version goes:

Persimmon Pudding Cake with Sour Cherries, Chocolate and Pecans
1-1/2 cups of Hachiya persimmon pulp (puree with immersion or regular blender)
2 eggs
1/2 cup apple sauce
1/3 cup butter (3/4 stick), melted
1/2 cup fat free sour cream
1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon all spice
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped dried sour cherries
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 400F. 
Prepare a 7"x11" glass baking dish with non-stick spray.

1. Mix together all the wet ingredients from pulp to vanilla.
2. Mix together all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, from flour through spices.
3. Combine wet and dry and mix until moist. Add the nuts, cherries and chocolate and stir together.
4. Pour into baking dish and bake about 50-60 minutes. Serve warm. 
Add whipped cream or ice cream if desired, but not necessary.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Simple Thanksgiving Side Dishes (That Won't Keep You In The Kitchen All Day)

Here in the city, there are three types of Thanksgiving scenarios.
Type 1 (most typical in my circles): travel far and long to gather with family. Type 2 (I know very few of these people): family lives close by, and this meal is just a bigger version of a typical family dinner.
Type 3: those who are not able to travel to their families for some reason or another. Friends and acquaintances gathering for a meal.

I can't tell you much about type 2 - the only type 2 Thanksgiving I've been involved with is my husband's family in Long Island. They're from India. They don't really get the whole Thanksgiving thing. As with any other holiday except Diwali, they pretty much eat the same thing as any other day. It's quite anti-climactic and I don't care to spend my special food superbowl that way again. I'll admit it's kind of about group-gorging... and turkey.

Thanksgiving types 1 & 3 are what I know (and the same system applies to Easter, in my experience). With type 1 you will gorge yourself among family, while catching up with cousins/aunts/uncles/grandparents who you have not seen in possibly a year (like, if they're not on facebook...). Type 3's are bringing together multiple traditions and expectations, all while getting acquainted with some new friends.

These are recipes for the latter types. You don't want to miss out on the conversation, but you also want something besides mashed potatoes and cranberry log. Maybe it's your first time cooking a big meal, or your oven is very small and filled with a bird. Maybe your friends or family are helping you in the kitchen, but you don't have time to give them complex instruction. But you still need to bring interestingness to the table - and new foods are a good conversation starter too. So here are some simple, chop-chop, sprinkle-drizzle, roast-or-boil side dish ideas to fill up that table.

If you have space in your oven, a big baking dish filled with vegetables is easy. Simple is better - stick to one star vegetable and add one or two herbs or seasonings and a bit of oil. Just set it and forget it. Remember a single layer of veg will probably take 30-40 minutes to roast at 425F. But the more you cook at once, they longer they will take. If the oven is already set lower for other things, allow extra time also. Give yourself a good 1 to 1-1/2 hours for roasting time. You can always remove and reheat if it browns too soon.

Roasted Cauliflower
Drizzle with oil, salt & pepper. A pinch of fresh nutmeg or some orange zest will give it fresh flavor. Sprinkle on some nuts like almonds or walnuts for the last 10 minutes.

Try an unusual variety of cauliflower to make things interesting. Romesco has alien-like points, or try purple or yellow varieties.

Roasted Tomatoes
Toss in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and a little sugar before roasting. A few tomatoes only take about 10 minutes in a 425 oven - so keep an eye on them and remove when they start to pop. Garnish with fresh basil or oregano to pump up the color and aromas.

Whole Roasted Carrots
We're quite used to throwing whole potatoes in the oven to bake, but how about other whole vegetables, like carrots? You could do the same with large wedges of winter squash or eggplant. Vegetables are more appetizing when you can still see what it is after it's cooked, instead of cut into unidentifiable cubes. Allow plenty of time for roasting large vegetables.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Thanksgiving is a good time to get people to try new things. People tend to think of brussels sprouts as an evil green enemy with a bitter flavor. Roast them to a crisp with garlic and lemon juice, optional rosemary and thyme, and maybe even a drizzle of balsamic vinegar before serving. Everything tastes better crispy and brown.

If the oven is full, and you've got some burner space to spare, cook up a big pot of something. As soon as your guests figure out you've got more cooking than just some potatoes, watch them sneak into the kitchen, lift the lid and say "oh wow, what's this?".

Start by sautéing something flavorful in olive oil in a soup pot. Add a bunch of cabbage and simmer away for an hour or more. It's pretty resilient.

Try toasting cumin and mustard seeds in oil, add some red pepper flakes and toss in a chopped up head of cabbage. Season with salt and pepper and add a little stock. Simmer away. This could work for broccoli, also.

Or, for a more colorful dish, use purple cabbage. Heat oil, add the cabbage, some mustard seeds, paprika, coriander, salt and pepper. Add 1/2 C Apple Cider, 2T white wine or cider vinegar and simmer. Toss in some diced apple for the last 10 minutes, or some golden raisins, for added texture.

Unconventional Mashed Potatoes
Instead of plain old mashed potatoes, try stirring in some fat-free sour cream instead of fatty butter. If you want to take it up a notch, try mashing sweet potatoes together with russet. You won't even miss the  butter in these, especially if you add a touch of maple syrup, brown sugar or applesauce. You could do the same by boiling cubed butternut squash.

Green Beans with a Twist
If you don't have room for that green bean casserole in the oven, just boil 'em and add something. Try wax beans or flat beans for something different.

Green Beans Almondine is about as satisfying as the creamy casserole, but much healthier. Just stir in a dab of margarine to the cooked beans, and some toasted almond slices (which you can toast in the oven if it's on, on some tinfoil).

If you don't have nuts on hand, just season the beans up with a little lemon zest, dry mustard powder or fresh herbs like basil or mint.

You can make salad ahead of time, and it takes no space on the stove. Buying ready-to-eat greens cuts down on the work. For green salads, focus on one star ingredient like a fruit or vegetable, plus a crunchy surprise. For chopped salads, stick to no more than 3 vegetables to keep it simple.

Pear Cashew Salad
Top mixed greens with sliced pears and honey-sesame cashews (found at Trader Joe's). Dress with a vinaigrette, mix in a little maple or honey.
Indian Summer Salad
Fuyu Persimmons are in season, and look really cool and interesting sliced onto a salad. A little grapefruit, toasted almonds and mixed greens and you've got an impressive salad.

recipe via Fresh Direct, from "Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook" by Nicole Routhier. 
For the Grapefruit Vinaigrette
1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 cup walnut oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Salad
1 large bunch watercress, tough stems removed
4 ripe persimmons, peeled and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick*
2 pink grapefruits, peeled and sectioned
Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

Beet, Pistachio, Baby Spinach
Roasted beets can be found pre-cooked in the produce section of grocery stores. Slice them up and toss over spinach for a colorful salad. Toasted pistachios are an unexpected texture. Dress with balsamic vinaigrette.

Have a fun and festive Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tal Ronnen's Vegetarian Thanksgiving Recipes

Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and if you're anything like me, you've been thinking about nothing else for the past week. The menu is pretty much out of my hands on this one, since we go up to Vermont to eat with my fam. If it were at our place, I'm sure I'd be spending a lot of time dreaming up ways to spice things up.

Whether you're having turkey, Turk'y or Tofurky (does anyone really eat that?), you might be looking for a few new ideas for veg-friendly side dishes. The following recipes, created by Vegan chef Tal Ronnen, were sent to me by Gardein to share here. I haven't tried any of them yet for one reason or another (such as: I'm sick of red beet juice getting on everything, and I can't find pumpkin seeds without hacking open a pumpkin, and I'm not sure where to get the best "non-dairy cream cheese"), but they sound pretty good if you're up for it.
Chef Tal Ronnen  (*all photos courtesy Gardein) 

Recipes by Chef Tal Ronnen, author of The Conscious Cook  

Beet and Orange Autumn Salad
Sage and Pumpkin Seed Encrusted Gardein with Cranberry Cabernet Sauce
Green Beans with Fresh Cranberries
Creamy Mashed Potatoes with Chives
Sweet Potato Biscuits
Oven Roasted Banana Rum Cheesecake with Spiced Pecan Crust and Maple Rum Sauce

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Simple & Healthy: Roasted Cauliflower with Almonds

Yellow Cauliflower with Almonds
Earlier this week I made some roasted cauliflower to go with some Gardein Crispy Tenders and some vermicelli with olive oil and herbs. The meal wasn't all that visually appealing, since it was quite yellow, but it was fairly healthy and satisfying.

I like roasting vegetables because #1, it's easy, and #2 it's healthier. It's better than boiling because you don't have to watch a pot on the burner or drain it. It's healthier because you don't lose the vitamins into the water, and roasting gives the vegetables a nice caramelization also, so there's no need to add any butter, like I would if it were boiled. This time I threw in some almond slices for added crunchiness.

Roasted Cauliflower with Almonds
1 head of Cauliflower (any variety), cut / broken into small florets
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea Salt
Garlic Powder 
Lemon Juice
Sliced Almonds

Heat oven to 425F. Place florets in a baking dish and drizzle lightly with oil, and just a pinch or two of salt and pepper (you can always add more at the table). Sprinkle with garlic powder, and juice from about 1/4 of a lemon. Toss to coat evenly.

Bake, tossing from time to time for even browning. After about 30 minutes, add the almond slices and bake another 10-15 minutes. Test for doneness by poking with a fork - some like it mushy and some like it crunchy - it's up to you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Roasted Grape Tomatoes, Brussels Sprouts and Seedy Cabbage

Roasted Grape Tomatoes
 I'll admit tonight's meal was not entirely vegan, since it was based around storebought pierogis, but most of it was. You could totally make vegan pierogis from scratch using soy milk & cheese with the wonton wrapper method (like this), if you have enough time on your hands!

Pierogi Meal
Seedy Cabbage
I surrounded our pierogis with every veg in the fridge that was on the verge of becoming past it's prime. The half-head of napa cabbage I sauteed with some spices before I used the same pan to fry the onions. The sprouts I roasted with oil, pink salt, and what became garlic chips, in a cast iron pan. The tomatoes were relieved of their brown spots (and taste tested to make sure they had not become bitter, since they were a bit wrinkly), and sugared, salted and oiled to roast.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts


Preheat oven to 425-450F.  
Rinse grape or cherry tomatoes and place on a baking pan. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and a pinch of sugar. Roast until they start to pop - about 5-10 minutes.

Heat oven to 450F.
Place a cast iron skillet inside the oven to preheat. Trim and halve brussels sprouts and slice garlic cloves. Toss in a bowl with a dash of olive oil and some fresh lemon juice. Season with red pepper flakes, black pepper and your favorite salt, such as sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. Remove skillet from oven and pour the sprouts mix in and stir around - it should be sizzling. Place back in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, stirring to evenly brown.

Napa Cabbage, chopped
Earth Balance
Olive Oil
Cumin seeds
Mustard seeds
Dried Dill
Cider Vinegar
Red Pepper Flakes
Black Pepper
In a skillet over medium heat, melt a pat of earth balance with a splash of olive oil, and a little salt. When it starts to bubble, add a teaspoon or so of cumin and mustard seeds and cook 2 minutes until they begin to pop. Add the cabbage and stir in. Continue to cook and stir until cabbage begins to wilt and stem parts become more transparent than white. Add a splash of vinegar, a pinch of dill, and season with salt, red pepper, and black pepper to taste.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Operation Vegan Tapas: Mission Failed!

Oh, man, did I not achieve balance today. You'd think cooking vegan would just automatically make everything so healthy, but that is not so.

For some reason, I decided to make tapas for dinner. The common veggie tapas are mostly fried - croquettes, fried goat cheese, patatas bravas, etc. I think I got the idea from the brussels sprouts I had planned to make based on a dish at Poco in the East Village. They have these deep fried brussels sprouts that are crispy, spicy, lemony and minty. So I found a few more tapas-worthy ideas in the crazytown inside my head and ended up creating one heck of a mess in the kitchen and a seriously greasy meal.

The plan was this:
Roasted Chili-Lemon Brussels Sprouts
Butter Bean Croquettes
Roasted Patatas Bravas with Vegan Sauce
Fried Eggplant with Chili-Maple-Orange Sauce

The brussels sprouts were actually pretty good. I roasted them in a cast-iron pan so they were only crispy at the cut side, but delicious and not at all bitter. I tossed the halved sprouts with red onions, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, olive oil and lemon juice. Then I preheated the pan in the 450F oven and added the mix. I probably roasted it about 30 minutes, moving it around a few times to get even crispness.

For the blended bean croquette experiment,  I made a paste from butter beans, tomato paste, crackers, cumin, oregano, lemon and onion. I should have just left out the crackers and used the paste as a dip - because the flavor was pretty good. As a croquette rolled in breadcrumbs and dropped in hot oil, it kind of lost shape and disintegrated into the oil causing a crapload of crumbs to just turn black and smoke in the oil. My husband tried rolling the rest into balls, but they still seemed to just absorb oil.

3 sauces
For some reason the patatas took about an hour to crisp up. I used a chicken-wing trick and coated them with canola and corn starch. They kept sticking to the baking sheet, yet were surrounded by excess oil. I think the potatoes were too aged and had too high of a water content. I tried two different sauces - one using ketchup, vegan mayo and paprika. Gross. I tried one heavier on the mayo with a little ketchup, paprika, cumin and vinegar. Better but still gross. It was my first use of egg-less mayo and it just tasted like italian dressing to me. I'm a Hellmann's-only girl, so this was just too far from the real mayo I am used to.

I actually followed a recipe for the eggplant, soaking it in soy milk before dredging. I used chickpea flour instead of regular - although I'm not sure that's what killed it. With the croquette failure, I tried melting Earth Balance with Canola first, yet it turned brown as soon as I started cooking the eggplant. So the next batch I just used a little canola, but it still became full of fine chickpea powder which turned black and smoked. The slices just drank up the oil and became soggy. The chili-maple-orange sauce with tomato paste and cider vinegar was actually my favorite thing I made tonight. My husband thought it too sweet, but I kind of liked it since it helped with the heat from the little indian chilis I used.

My poor husband was a good sport, and tried everything but was right to eat only a little bit. He said he couldn't eat any more, and was feeling so mentally wrong about eating all the oily and fried stuff that he'd make sure to get to that Bikram class tomorrow to make up for it. Too bad I skipped mine today to play in the kitchen! I'm prescribing myself a good 2 hours of cardio plus a pilates and bikram class as my punishment for this meal.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Vegetable Pot Pie with Dill-Mustard Sauce

It's been hard to keep up with the vegan meals this month without resorting to fake meat - which is fine, but I know not everyone is interested in that. But, I've been tight on time and just haven't had the energy to use too many new ingredients or make stuff from scratch. Trying to eat just a few vegan meals has seemed so difficult to plan. Coming from a background of meat-starch-veg meals, I used to think vegetarian took a lot of thought and energy to make it interesting, but now it seems easy as pie compared to vegan!

Speaking of pie....

Last night I outdid myself with a home-made vegan vegetable pot pie. I have made some good vegetarian pot pies at home, like a butternut squash pie, using shortcuts like canned soups - but for a vegan pie I made the sauce from scratch using soy milk. I was worried that the sauce was not going to thicken, since it was still a little thin when I poured it into the shell, but it came out perfectly - not too liquid-y and not too dry.

Most of the ingredients I used are things I tend to keep in stock all the time. The box of unsweetened soy milk and yeast flakes are a new addition due to Vegan MoFo. The yeast flakes add a nice, almost chicken-like, flavor to sauces and soy milk is much healthier than regular anyways. I'll quickly admit I am no baker and have tried many times to make pie crust and failed. So the pie crust I made from a Pillsbury box-mix (just add water), but the refrigerated version would have been less work. I suppose you could make the crust from scratch as well, if you're handy with those types of things.

Just the 2 of us ate half this pie in one sitting.
 You could use really any vegetables you like in this pie, or even add tofu or soybeans. I used sweet potato for a more flavorful (and vitamin-rich) starch, and mushrooms for protein. The idea of dill popped into my head as I reached for the thyme in the spice basket and remembered that my husband has developed an aversion to it lately. He hates rosemary outright, but I have noticed he doesn't touch the leftovers if I've used thyme. He says he likes it but I don't think he does. So I tossed some dried dill in the sauce instead, hoping for a bright fresh flavor. It really worked with the mustard and the vegetables.

Vegetable Pot Pie with Dill-Mustard Sauce

2 C Sweet Potato cut into 1" chunks (about 1 Medium potato)
3/4 C Carrot, sliced (about 4 small carrots)
1/4 C Celery, sliced (about 1 large rib)
1/2 C Shallots, sliced (about 2 large shallots)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 C sliced Mushrooms (canned or fresh)
1 C peas (fresh or frozen)
3/4 C corn (fresh or frozen)
2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 T Flour

1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 C "No-Chicken" broth (or vegetable stock)
1 tsp Arrowroot powder
1 tsp Mustard powder (use dijon mustard if powder is not available)
2 tsp Nutritional Yeast Flakes 
1 C Unsweetened Soy Milk
1 tsp Dried Dill
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper

2 pie crusts & a pie plate

Heat oven to 425F.
1. Bring potatoes and water to a boil and cook about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Add 2T oil to a skillet over medium heat and add the carrot, celery, shallots and garlic. Cook and stir about 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook another 4-5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and set aside.

3. Microwave the peas and corn in water for about 1-2 minutes to heat through. Drain.

4. Combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl and toss together.

5. In a small saucepan over low-medium heat, add 1 T oil and stock. Bring to a simmer and add arrowroot, mustard and yeast flakes - whisk to combine. Add soy milk, dill, salt and pepper and simmer until reduced, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.You should end up with about 1-1/2C of liquid.

6. Prepare the pie crust if needed, and lay one into a 9" pie plate. Pour the vegetables into the crust, being sure to evenly distribute the peas and corn (they tend to want to hang out in the bottom of the bowl and fall in one spot). Sprinkle 1-2 Tbsp of flour over the vegetables.

7. Transfer the sauce to a measuring cup (or ladle) and pour around over the top of the pie filling. Gently shake the plate side to side to distribute the sauce - it should come about 1/4" below the edges of your crust or pie plate edge. 

8. Apply the top pie crust and seal the edges by pinching together. Poke holes for ventilation.

9. Cover the edge of the crust with a ring of tinfoil and bake at 425F for 40-45 minutes. Place a sheet pan or tinfoil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch overflow. Remove the tinfoil for the last 15-20 minutes. Pie is done when the top is golden brown and the insides are just starting to bubble up through the holes.

10. Cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hearty Vegan Meatloaf Dinner

The chill in the air is getting stronger here in New York. It hailed, randomly, again this morning. I guess that's a good thing.  In my business, we have a love-hate relationship with inclement weather. People don't really buy what they need until they need it these days, and it takes a nice storm to get people out there to buy their kids some coats.

The cold weather makes me desire shopping too, but it's not really about need. It just starts to feel like the holidays and I naturally gravitate towards buying things. It also switches our brains into full-on comfort food mode. Tonight was the perfect night to break out that vegan meatloaf I picked up and smother a plate of food in delicious gravy.

Although I spent most of my life in meat & potatoes land, I can honestly say I've never fancied meat loaf. Ground meat in general just turned me off with it's loose texture, and yeah, well, I won't go into all of it. But the vegan version is just fine by me, and totally healthy. The Field Roast version has chunks of carrots, celery, tomatoes and mushrooms amidst it's signature grainy wheat-gluten "meat". I spread on a layer of ketchup and baked it 30 minutes, as per the instructions, and whipped up a big pot of "no-chicken" gravy. A side of simple boiled, mashed, yellow potatoes and green-beans almondine with Earth Balance completed the plate.

The loaf was another new experience for my husband, who's certainly never eaten meatloaf. Both of us will be having a nice container of leftovers to look forward to at lunch tomorrow!

Vegan Gravy
2 C "No Chicken" Broth ("no chicken" tastes better than vegetable stock, if you can find it)
1 T Dijon Mustard (such as Grey Poupon Dijon with White Wine)
1 T Nutritional Yeast Flakes (or more to taste)
1 T Earth Balance margarine
2 T Flour
1/8 tsp Garlic Powder
Salt & Pepper

Bring broth to a simmer over medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredients, seasoning to taste. Whisk the flour and butter in to make a smooth consistency, be careful not to let it burn down. Continue to simmer until thickened, adding more flour if needed.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Finding Vegetarian (or Vegan) Thai in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Vegan Noodles - pretty good but needs some veg like peas & corn.
Not much time to post this weekend. We're spending most of it in Queens at the in-laws for Diwali, but we took a break to come home and do Bikram class. We're just about to dig into some vegan noodle-cups I got at Whole Foods.

Last night before we headed out to LI, we headed out for some Thai food with the sister in-laws. My husband wanted to take them to Joya on Court Street, a very popular spot for delicious & cheap Thai food. He's been there a bunch of times and loved it. So we waited 20 minutes for a table, sat down and picked out some appetizers: veg spring rolls, fried tofu and papaya salad.

Seeing an entire section of the menu dedicated to vegetables, we thought we'd be fine. But when we asked what had fish sauce in it, the waitress said everything has fish sauce - it's a very important flavor ingredient and everything is made ahead of time. Except there are 3 dishes that can be made in the wok without it - instead of oyster sauce on some tofu/broccoli - just soy sauce - boring! Mixed vegetables in garlic sauce - boring!! Tofu pad khing vegetables in ginger sauce - still pretty lame. Why would you even put oyster sauce on tofu? I don't know anyone who orders tofu unless they're vegetarian.

So you know what? We politely explained that there was just nothing appealing, the apps would be it for us,  and the waitress was understanding - she thought it better to tell us the truth. So we went to just the next block and found Ghang. I asked the waiter and he was very quick to say that no fish sauce would be used. So quick that I doubted the truthfulness of the statement and asked the bartender who concurred, vegetarian curry could be made fresh to order. Bingo! A little more expensive, a little longer wait for the food, but very very good, well spiced food. Pad Thai - no problem, Drunken Noodles, Penang Curry and Cashew Vegetables. All great.

Now only if they would delivery all the way up to Tillary we'd be set!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gardein Savory Stuffed Turkey

The lovely people at Gardein wrote to me sharing news of their award for "Product of the Year" from VegNews Magazine. In response to these accolades, they have released a special limited edition product called gardein™ savory stuffed turk’y. According to Gardein, it "is made with vegetables, ancient grains and plant-proteins (soy, wheat, and pea) and is a delicious meat-free main course with 22 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat and 270 calories per serving. The turk’y is breaded with toasted crumbs and is stuffed with celery, onions, cranberries, and bread crumbs."

As I zigzagged the crowded dairy section of Whole Foods tonight with my cumbersome cart, I found the turk'y in the back of the bottom vegetarian freezer shelf. I may not have noticed it if I wasn't specifically looking for it. It was a very good find.

It might be the lack of daylight, my busy workdays, or that I need more exercise, but I'm feeling quite tired lately. Today is the first Vegan MoFo attempt at a completely vegan dinner. I spent my extra time today shopping for vegan products to experiment with, which means I had little time to actually concoct something by the time I got home. So tonight's vegan adventure entailed resisting the urge to "cheese" my potatoes, and "buttering" my carrots with Earth Balance. Baby steps, I guess.

The turk'y was pretty awesome. It was crunchy outside (despite me par-cooking it in the microwave before baking), and the gravy topping was enough to top some mashed potato if needed. My husband asked if I didn't already know it was fake meat, would I think it was real turkey? I suppose someone could possibly be convinced it was processed turkey, but it doesn't chew like the real thing. My only complaint was that the filling was a little gooey-slash-gelatanous - but tasted good.

I sliced some yukon gold potatoes and tossed them with olive oil, sea salt and pepper and baked them on a sheet next to the turk'y for 20 minutes. I tried out the Earth Balance on some boiled carrots with salt and pepper. At first taste, there's some slight flavor of something, maybe the soy, that's a little wierd. Once it melted and mixed with the salt, it actually tasted alright.

So today I introduced my husband to turkey-stuffing-gravy, and both of us to Earth Balance. Let's see what happens next in the Vegan MoFo.
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