29 April 2010

Three's a Crowd

Why make one variety of knishes, when you can make three? It is my last Wednesday of "break", so Stacy joined in the cooking fun. The dinner event was Knish Madness - knishes made with sweet potato, potato, and spinach-potato. Stacy came to the rescue with the potato-mashing and dough-rolling, both things I am still to handicapped to do. It was definitely worth making the three varieties while going through the rest of the effort. We spiced them up, luckily, because I can't imagine how boring the flavors would have been otherwise. The potato knishes got garam masala, my favorite spice combination. (If you don't have this in your kitchen, go buy some. It is great on basically everything.) The sweet potato knishes got an increase of nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. And the spinach-potato knishes got a kick with garlic and red onions.

They all turned out pretty good, but I guess I don't get what the craze for knishes is all about. They are just potato-filled dough. Maybe we didn't have the right condiments, or the carb overload was better suited for a side dish instead of an entree. But at least I can say I've tried them...

What fun would a girls dinner be without a fancy dessert? So we also made up these little cuties: Coconut-Lime Bundt Cakes. They were so adorable in the mini-bundt shape that I don't know why anyone would ever use a regular pan!

I'm certain coconut and lime will make anything delicious, and these were more proof of that. The recipe called for lemon juice and zest, but we had limes and they filled in perfect. The coconut milk gave them richness, and this was definitely something suitable for non-Vegan dessert crowds.

28 April 2010

Hot Tamale

Yet another amazing dinner I can't take the credit for. But, it's inspiration at the least. This is the delicious Vegan spread that Tios made for our monthly VegAnnArbor dinner there. YUM!
Empanadas with mushrooms and zucchini, Tamales, and Potato Taquitos... all three things you don't find without meat. Now I have 3 brand-new ideas for the next Tex-Mex potluck!

Salad Bowl

On warm spring days, there is nothing better for lunch than salad. Or a few salads! Pasta salad is something that I rarely mix up... I've been making the same "recipe" for years, and I'm convinced there is nothing better. But the point of this cooking adventure is to try new things, so that's what I did with Brooklyn Deli Macaroni Salad. I realize mayonnaise is something non-Vegans take for granted. Thankfully there is Vegenaise! I use the Grapeseed Oil variety, and it's delicious.

The verdict on this salad? Pretty darn good! Creamy dressing with a little sweet (from sugar) and a little tangy (from white vinegar). It was still a little basic for my taste, so I spiced it up a bit with a "everyday seasoning" peppery mix. I never grew up on traditional macaroni salad, so I was at a loss for what to add to it... next time I'll experiment with other veggies and a more exciting spice variety.

Then there was the Lentil Salad fail. See that blob above? That's what happens when you cook lentils too long, or in this case, use the wrong variety of lentils for a salad. I had red lentils, so I thought I was being clever substituting them for the French variety the recipe called for. What I got instead was a lentil mash. I threw the recipe together anyhow, because I refuse to throw out a whole dish unless it's entirely trashed. Luckily the flavor was still delicious with the red onions, tarragon, thyme, and bay leaves.

This will be one recipe I'll have to try again... And I can guarantee it will be a win that time around!

25 April 2010

Dixie Grilling

The veg-friendly scene in Wilmington was a little less prevalent, but there were still some tasty finds at the Dixie Grill. It was my 4th trip to see Meaghan and we finally made it there, and loved it. Breakfast is still my favorite meal out, and they didn't fail me. Plus they gave
me some new ideas for classing up traditional dishes. (Cajun homefries, lemon infused spinach for greek breakfasts, pesto added to sandwiches.)

Even with the tasty veg-friendly options in NC, I was dying for something healthy. Lovey's Market has a salad bar that gave Whole Foods some competition. Sesame/chili marinated tofu, tofu egg salad, tempeh "chicken" salad, mirin infused greens... All a little different than anything I'd ever had before. And they had an awesome deli that had Veggie Burgers, Tofu Melts, and Veggie Grinders.

And then there was the final impressing eatery - Slice of Life Pizzeria & Pub. A pizza joint that serves tequila AND has a delivery car fueled by vegetable oil? I guess the South is more liberal than I'd thought after all...

23 April 2010

Southern Comfort

Ok, so I didn't make any of this deliciousness. Nor is it all Vegan, or healthy. But I just returned from a visit to North Carolina, and can't help but share some of these amazing finds (and ideas)!

Turns out Charlotte has an amazing amount of Vegan options! The first (and resulting favorite) stop was the Flying Biscuit Cafe - I would eat breakfast there every day for eternity if I could. I'm kind of a breakfast snob (or at least a breakfast junkie), so you can imagine my excitement that they had TONS of Vegetarian and Vegan items (including Tofu Scramble) on the menu! The Egg-Ceptional Eggs (above), were obviously not Vegan, but left me eager to try a Vegan spin on the Huevos Rancheros theme. They used a tasty black bean patty instead of the traditional refried variety.

The next great discovery was The Penguin. It was shown on "Diners, Drive-ins, and Drives" on the Food Network, and for good reason. This place was awesome - and the Jumbo Soy Dog was the best idea ever! How does the South come up with these treasures? Vegetarian chili, mustard, slaw, and onions on a veggie dog. I can't believe I've been missing this combo all my life. Deep Fried Dill Pickles on the side - so unhealthy, but probably the best guilty pleasure around.

The last Charlotte treasure was The Common Market. Why can't there be a place like this in my neighborhood? Beer, wine, groceries, AND a veg-friendly deli? I was so disappointed I couldn't try one of their many Vegan sandwiches... but now I have a place to start (and drag Chad to) the next visit down!

16 April 2010

Scottish Breakfast

The last batch of scones turned out so fabulous, I had to try another variety. Or two. The good thing about making more than one recipe is that it increases your odds for a success. In this case, the Glazed Orange Scones were the winner. Even with whole wheat all-purpose flour for a healthier twist, they were super delicious orange infused breakfast cookies. I couldn't wait for them to cool, so the glaze melted before it could harden... but they were more than sweet enough without it. Plus the little triangle shapes were much cuter than the traditional round scones.

The less successful scones were the gluten-free ones. I adapted the recipe for the Chocolate Chip Scones to use a brown rice flour mix for the all-purpose. The trick is definitely not using a baking mix when a recipe calls for baking powder - it was definitely too much. I've had good luck with brown rice flour in the past, as with millet, so next round we'll attempt those! There has to be a way to master the Vegan/gf baked goods...

Channeling Julia

Oh, theme dinners. How I love you.

Luckily Veganomicon has a plethora of suggested menus. This time around it was "The Vegan Ghost of Julia Child" - and introduced me to all sorts of new ideas. The first round was Bulgar, Arugula, and Cannellini Salad. One result: amazing. I made it a few hours ahead, which was a critical step for the flavors to marinate. I substituted garbanzos for cannellini beans, which worked fine. It was my first time using bulgar, and it was a snap, resulting in a crunchy nutty grain perfect for salads. The spicy arugula and strong red onions gave the salad a kick, and were perfect counterparts to the basic bulgar and mushrooms. I doubled it, shared it with friends and family, and immediately wanted to make it again.

Who knew you could make Vegan scalloped potatoes? Definitely not Julia Child! Once again, nutritional yeast to the rescue. The Herb-Scalloped Potatoes were decent, but would definitely require a little tweaking to appeal to the "average" eater. I'm all for healthy eating, and revising old-school recipes to make them healthier. But scalloped potatoes need some richness, just like mac'n'cheese. Maybe Vegan margarine, soy creamer, or more nutritional yeast will do the trick next time. It was also a great dish to make ahead of time, since I had lots of idle time to prep the salad and potatoes during my seitan prep.

The final dish was Sautéed Seitan with Mushrooms and Spinach. It was a quick & easy main dish, and was a great way to use the seitan I had made earlier in the day. Even for those of us who don't LOVE mushrooms, it was a delicious take on stir fry.

I never thought I had a desire to cook like Julia Child, or in any French/Traditional method. But since I was going to try it, at least I can feel good about doing it Vegan!

15 April 2010

Making friends with Seitan

I've been cooking Vegetarian for 15 years, and I decided I had to bite the bullet. I had to make friends with seitan. Sure, I've eaten it over the years, generally picking up a package that is ready to cook. But I had no idea what went into making it!

The first step for Simple Seitan was to make the ball of "dough" - which was so elastic I almost couldn't knead it.

Then the 3 pieces of "dough" are cooked in broth. For an HOUR. Good thing I had other things to make during this process! The Vegan bouillon and soy sauce added flavor to the "fake meat" and I started on my other dishes. Before I knew it, it was done, 3 squishy patties of meat substitute.

It sure didn't look delicious, but once sliced into manageable pieces, was a success! It made enough for 2 recipes, but for all the waiting it took, I'll double it next time around. Seitan is surely something that will get better with practice, but after my first experiment, I think we're friends.

14 April 2010

You say Fagioli...

I'm still determined to plow through every recipe in these books, so I tried their take on the classic Pasta e Fagioli. It's one of those dishes that every Vegetarian has thrown together dozens of times, and every time it's a little different. Some combination of pasta, white beans, tomatoes, garlic, spices. This version was equally delicious, and was a great way to use up the tomatoes I had sitting around. I'll be adding white wine to my Fagioli dinners in the future!

This might be a dish that was created centuries ago for peasants, and is definitely inexpensive to make. But it remains a great fallback recipe when you need a hearty, protein-rich Vegan meal!

Roll it

This week was all about the "complete theme" menus, so I went for Asian Fusion again. The main dish was Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Seed Rice Paper Rolls. Once again, spring rolls for the win. They really are good with everything, especially something crunchy like pumpkin seeds. Thankfully Drew helped me roll dozens of these little guys. They are really fun to roll up and make, but I realized the novelty wears off when you're making several other dishes.

The butternut squash was surprisingly good in these, but I don't know that it was worth all the extra time. Cutting and roasting the squash ahead of time added depth, but also took close to an hour, and then they still needed to be rolled up. The thing with spring rolls is that they are almost always neutral flavors, and the kick is the dipping sauce. So next round I'll stick with tofu, cucumbers, anything that doesn't have to be cooked first! The Cranberry-Chili Dipping Sauce was a tasty complement to the rolls, the serrano chilies spicing up the cranberry sweetness. Even so, I'd definitely try something less sweet if I make these again.

The only other warning? Ask your guests how they feel about cilantro before going crazy with it like we did. I love love love cilantro, in anything, and a lot of it. But it's a "love it or hate it" item, and an easy way to ruin an awesome meal for someone who is not a fan!

The next dish was Udon with Shitake Mushrooms and Kale in Miso Broth. I probably got a little overzealous by adding this recipe in, but I've been a neurotic cooking machine and can't help but do it all in 3's. Regardless, this dish was delicious! I didn't anticipate it being as thick and hearty as it turned out, and in reality, this could have been a dinner on its own. The fresh kale was the perfect balance to the doughy udon noodles. I've never used shitake mushrooms in a soup or stew, and they were great. Plus, they are full of beta-glucans which help boost your immune system! It's like a two-in-one.

The final touch was the Corn and Edamame-Sesame Salad. I used the suggestion to serve them in radicchio cups, which was critical for appearance. The salad marinated about an hour, which was just enough to absorb the sesame flavor. I will definitely make this salad again with fresh corn, and with something with more color (like red peppers) to add to the excitement.

Turned out to be a pretty great Asian-inpired dinner party... even with way more food than any of us could eat!

13 April 2010

Cookie Adventures

I got to spend this morning with my friend Liz's son, Jace. He's 4, cute as a button, and officially my youngest cooking helper yet. He was a good sport to help me make Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies, and even though they turned out less-than-perfect, we had fun making them!

The biggest problem was forming them into little balls... they pretty much flattened out before we could put our "thumbprints" in them. And they were a little crumbly. But the peanut oil gave them a nice flavor, and the raspberry jam was a bit of excitement in a pretty basic cookie. Some turned out good (see below) and some turned out bad (see above), but ultimately it was an activity to keep us busy on a rainy Tuesday morning!

The consistency issue could be from using turbinado in a recipe that just called for sugar. Turbinado is larger crystals than white cane sugar, but it's marginally better for you, so when I'm required to use sugar I try to always use it instead. Sometimes the healthier replacement works better than others!

12 April 2010

Tangy Tahini

I'm convinced tahini is the best ingredient ever. I've never had something made with it that isn't nutty and delicious, but I guess ground up sesame seeds are bound to be that tasty. Plus, it's a critical component of hummus, which might just be the most important food for this Vegetarian's happiness.

My favorite salad dressing is tahini, maple syrup, lemon juice, vinegar, and garlic. It's a crowd pleaser, easy to make, and a unique flavor that can't be replicated with store-bought dressings. I was equally impressed with this Dill-Tahini Sauce. Much thicker than my usual, it made a great dip for tomatoes and veggies... plus sandwiches, crackers, and whatever else I could find.

The verdict? Tahini + garlic + lemon = heaven.

From Europe, With Love.

Ask any of my family in Croatia, and they'll tell you one of my favorite foods EVER is palačinka. Within hours of my first visit there years ago, my Aunt made them for me. Every visit back to Europe, they were a familiar tradition and comfort food. Fast forward to college years, and my best friend Tina and I would take study breaks to whip up a batch with our favorite guilty pleasure, Nutella. I was hooked.

Of course palačinka is just the Croatian version of crepes. So I was excited to revisit this favorite in a Vegan version. I'd never imagined crepes being possible without eggs, milk, or butter... but the Savory Crepes proved me wrong. Even without a crepe pan (that I still want), I managed to get perfectly thin pancakes. It is indeed something that practice makes perfect with, but with the right amount of oil and the right pan, is pretty easy.

I had some fresh dill to experiment with, so I made the recipe for Horseradish-Dill Sour Cream to go with. It turned out rich and creamy like a faux cream cheese, and had a great tangy flavor to balance out the simple crepes. My food processor is just a little too small for recipes this large, but it blended the tofu, garlic, dill, and horseradish into the perfect filling. I'm not even a huge fan of horseradish and still enjoyed it.

The best part about crepes is that you can pretty much fill them with ANYTHING you have around. Sweet or savory, fancy or simple. And the next time I whip up a batch, I'll try out another brand new combination!

11 April 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Another Sunday Brunch success! Molly once again was my breakfast-making partner-in-crime. As usual, we couldn't stop at just one new recipe. We brought out the retro waffle iron, and made Lemon Corn Waffles with a Blueberry Sauce. These turned out far superior to the pumpkin variety, and the cornmeal really helped them to crisp up. We left out the soy yogurt, but the soy milk/arrowroot substitution seemed to work out alright. (Why pay $1.99 to use 1/4 cup?) They just crunchy enough, and not overly sweet, so the blueberry topping was a perfect match.

The next round was Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Pancakes. Another Vegan pancake gold. I'm starting to wonder why people put milk and eggs in pancakes, because these were awesome. Just the right amount of sweetness with the chocolate chips, so you didn't feel like you were eating dessert instead of breakfast. The recipe was a little runny, so we added some extra flour to thicken it up. Otherwise, it was a breeze!

Add in Mango Mimosas and 20 lovely guests, plus another giant spread of deliciousness... and it was a wonderful Sunday afternoon. And it left everyone wanting to know when our next brunch would be!

Mac & Cheesiest

Who doesn't love mac & cheese? Because I still have a weakness for REAL cheese, I was convinced I'd never find a suitable replacement. Well, I was only partly right. This recipe for Mac Daddy was surprisingly good, and when I'm looking for a rich creamy and Vegan comfort food, I'll surely revisit it.

The different ways to use nutritional yeast are still impressive. I changed the preparation for this recipe a bit (to accommodate my arm injury), so I pureed the tofu and Cheezy Sauce instead of mashing it up. I'm not really sure why this wasn't the directions in the first place, because it was definitely easier than hand mashing 1 pound of tofu. But it still turned out really good, and the kale I added (for "Mac and Greens") was a nice contrast to the richness of the "cheese".

Just like when I used this sauce a few months ago, I think it may be something worth adding some fat to for certain meals. Like mac & cheese. Some Vegan margarine would probably do a lot for the dish to really pass as cheese. Or maybe even a bread crumb topping like my Grandma puts on her old school mac & cheese....

Will this mac & cheese fool someone less Veg-friendly? Probably not. But if you call it a "macaroni casserole", it might just be something they'll enjoy.

10 April 2010

Left. Over.

Speaking of leftovers again, the Tomato and Roasted Eggplant Stew from a few days ago wins for "better with time" meal. The flavors blended, the spice deepened, the already-mashed appearance wasn't affected. It was good hot and cold. Molly and I even had it for breakfast today.

When you are cooking for one (or two, or even four), it's super helpful to have meals you can eat the next few days! I've been splitting a lot of recipes into two or three, sending one to my parents or friends. Even so, it's been leftover mania around the house. I've been pawning them off on everyone who comes by, and my roommate is probably ready to go crazy with what a foodie I've become.

This was one leftover that was even better than the first day, and would make a good dish to cook up a few days in advance. Leftovers to the rescue, once again!

09 April 2010

California Dreaming

I still had avocados and broccoli to use, so the recipe for Pasta Della California looked perfect. I've never had avocados in pasta, and was a little intimidated to try it... but the combination was in fact delicious. Lime juice and zest, crushed red pepper and white wine joined the fresh green broccoli and spinach for a light and summery dish.

I used the spinach instead of arugula because it's what I had in the house, and the flavor of the dish was milder than I'd normally prefer because of it. I love love love arugula, and have been hooked even more after my last few trips to Europe. They call it "rocket" in the UK, and I'll definitely be growing it in my garden again this year.

The avocado wasn't as strange as I expected, but wasn't what stood out in the dish. I'll kick up the red pepper in future preparation for a spicy/garlicky/citrus infused summer meal. In the meantime, it was the perfect lunch for a sunny April day!

Rise & Shine

It's Friday morning, and Heidi came over for an impromptu breakfast date. She's always willing to try new things, so I knew I could experiment. I rolled out of bed bright & early and chose two breakfast treats to make. The first was Almond & Currant Scones - my first time baking scones, let alone Vegan and using whole wheat flour. (The recipe called for all-purpose, but why not try to add some whole grain goodness?) Super easy to throw together, even sleep-deprived. And so tasty!

The next dish was a Broccoli and Olive Frittata... and it was also amazing! Another experiment in tofu as an egg substitute, and I couldn't believe how convincing this frittata was. Plus, I got to use the LeCreuset cast iron skillet I finally bought over Christmas. I'd been coveting it for over a year, and can honestly say it was worth saving for. I added in a bunch more veggies than the recipe called for, and it still turned out well, which makes me wonder why cookbooks often skimp on the produce. I always try to cram in as much fresh veggie goodness as I can.

Molly & Amy joined in the breakfast fun, and everyone was impressed with the Vegan breakfast fare. Even better than cooking for friends is cooking for friends who are genuinely appreciative of your efforts. And my amazing friends do so many nice things for me that I'm glad to do the same for them.

Family Affair

I love having my family in town. It's the biggest and best reason to be back in the Mitten. And right now, it's been great to cook for them. My Aunt Monique calls this cooking project "Nicole on Wheels" - and she's been a huge help in the kitchen when we have dinner together. Now she and my Mom are "donating" to the cause. I'm so grateful! Not only is it much more enjoyable cooking for others, but it's a huge help with ingredients. (This unemployment for 12 weeks makes cooking an expensive hobby!) If you want me to cook for YOU, let's talk.

I was lucky to have Monique's help again, especially now that I realized I've been using my injured wrist way more than I'm supposed to. The healing process is so frustrating!

This Thursday dinner started with a Moosewood favorite, Spinach Avocado Grapefruit Salad. It was a surprisingly simple combination - using only a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper for the dressing. The result was surprisingly delicious.

The next course was Broccoli-Potato Herb Soup with Fresh Herbs. I don't make a lot of soups, but not for any reason. I always enjoy soup, especially when the weather is less than warm. This soup was another winner... Pureeing part of it gave it a creaminess, and the potato and broccoli chunks were extra filling. I didn't have the fresh mint it called for, so I used extra fresh dill, and it worked well. A very mellow potato chowder style soup, yet very tasty.

The final part of the meal was an experiment with "meat substitutes". Much less time consuming than traditional seitan, the Chickpea Cutlets were filling savory patties. Crunchy on the outside, chewy and "meaty" on the inside, and no weird fake meat flavor. They'd be good all sorts of ways, and I'll definitely make them again. The Mustard Sauce was less of a success... a bit too mustard-y, and it turns out I'm not a huge fan of capers after all.

I said I'd try every recipe once, and I'm on my way. Like everything in life, you win some, you lose some.

08 April 2010


I couldn't just stop at 2 recipes today. The next attempt was Panko-Stuffed Mushrooms. I have a love/hate relationship with mushrooms, but I figured the tasty stuffing in these would be a little more exciting. I substituted baby portobellos for the stuffing mushrooms, just using less of them since they were larger. I also forgot to buy mirin, but since I've never used it, I didn't know what I was missing. I used a little rice vinegar and white cooking wine instead.

Dicing daikon was a breeze with my Froggy mezzaluna. One of those tools you don't realize you need until you have it, it's been one of the best gifts I've received. The double blades chop up vegetables, nuts, and herbs much much much quicker than just a knife can. Especially in this case, when I'm cutting with my left hand!

This was the first time I used daikon, and it was surprisingly tasty despite being a radish. (I'm not a big radish fan.) Combine it all with light and fluffy panko bread crumbs, then bake, and the result was a cute little stuffed mushroom appetizer!

07 April 2010

Play By Play

I've had a few people ask me about the steps that go into the recipes I've been making... so I thought I'd snap some photos for today's meal as I went along. I really like roasted vegetables, and haven't made them in a long time, which was why Tomato and Roasted Eggplant Stew sounded so good. The first step was to roast the eggplant, red peppers, and garlic. Roasting is a pretty easy technique, but I learned two important things this time around. 1) Roasting is not practical in a tiny apartment oven. I set the smoke detector off about 8 times. 2) Parchment paper is critical for the pans. I wish I'd used it in the past to avoid trashing my baking sheets.

The red peppers were roasted for about half the time of the eggplant, and then were put in a plastic bag so the skins could be peeled off. Just like the fancy roasted peppers you can pay $5 a jar for!

The red peppers were added to the "stew" with the eggplant and tomatoes, and then each clove of garlic was squeezed in. Roasting the garlic brings out the nutty flavor - it's a really good appetizer just by itself. Since I was making the stew ahead of time, I let the flavors marinate for a few hours. The smoky roasted vegetables balanced each other out exceptionally.

While the stew was simmering, I made the Poppy-Seed Polenta. I've never formed my own polenta patties, and they turned out really cute in the muffin tin. They needed to "set" for 2 hours in the refrigerator, another good reason I cooked earlier in the day. Before I served them, I pan fried them. (It suggested not to in the recipe, but I did it anyhow and it turned out fine.) Polenta by itself is really boring, so the spicy stew was a perfect way to accompany it.

Overall, this was one of the best flavor combinations I've had. I loved the spicy smokiness. It was, however, ridiculously time consuming. I'd double the roasted veggies next time around, just to make the roasting time more useful. For now, I've got nothing but time on my hands, so a few hours cooking a delicious dinner was well worth it.