29 May 2010

Quinoa, Quickly.


I've been eating quinoa salads all week, and I have to admit I feel better. Bringing a salad to work is the easiest way to guarantee I'm eating well, and it's a breeze. The secret weapon is dill - chopping up a bunch of it on top of the salad adds a ton more flavor. Shred some carrots, toss in some green onions, spray some Bragg's, and end with lemon juice and spices.

Just like that, you're done, and healthier for it.

26 May 2010

Tofu Challenge


I'm all about finding Vegan alternatives to traditional meat and dairy dishes. But I never expected to find a replacement for Insalata Caprese. Is there anything remotely close to the flavor and texture of traditional fresh mozzarella?

The answer is yes! I made Marinated Italian Tofu, determined to fool myself. It worked! The marinade was perfect to recreated marinated mozzarella, and quality olive oil drizzled overtop gave the rich flavor. I got to use the first leaves of basil from my garden, and served it with fresh a baguette and roma tomatoes. (I'd recommend skipping the healthy whole wheat baguettes. Go authentic with italian round or a sourdough loaf.)


I was expecting a balsamic based marinade, but the lemon/garlic/tamari additions were delicious. Baking the tofu lent some crispiness, and slicing it into small slivers gave the look I was going for. It'd make a great dish to pass, or appetizer for my next Italian dinner night.


This tofu challenge was inspired by Carmen's (non-Vegan) creation, below. She told me to try to use the concept for my blog, so I did. Now I have to share the credit with her, but it was so yummy that it is completely worth it.


25 May 2010

Inventory


I've confessed my love for bulk foods & spices, and how buying in bulk has saved me tons of money over the years. (And it's really allowed me to try some new things!) But sometimes you've gotta do inventory to keep all that craziness organized - my spice rack is only so big! I did some cleanup and what I got was 2 giant bags of a million spices... time to try out some new flavors!


22 May 2010

Summer Lovin'


I've had recipes turn out great, tons of times. Especially this year. But this, thus far, is perfection. I'm officially in love with Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango. Quinoa has been my favorite little grain for years, but this salad even beats my own specialty. The red bell pepper and green onions complemented the red wine vinegar perfectly. No added spices were needed, the cilantro was enough. It was sweet, spicy, crunchy, soft... every combination all in one bite.

Quinoa and black beans make an awesome salad, no matter how you alter it. My (old) favorite salad included them with red onions, cucumbers, lemon juice, and coriander. And the best part about quinoa is you can use the leftover all week on top of greens for a healthy (and quick) salad.

Flat Out


I used to eat quesadillas every day in college. They weren't healthy ones, but I was poor, and they were easy. But they don't have to just be tortillas and cheese; and these Black Bean Quesadillas are proof. Spicy refried black beans, soy cheese, spinach, green onions, corn tortillas. Avocados on the side, hot sauce on top. In less than 5 minutes!

21 May 2010

Girls Night


Impromptu girls nights are one of the best things in life. You don't know you're going to get moral support and good laughs, and then last minute you do. This time around the theme was yoga night, with my friend Nicole as our personal yoga instructor.

I should have used this healthy girls night as an excuse to experiment with some raw or Macrobiotic recipes. But I'd had a long day at work, so it was Chocolate Chip Brownie Waffles instead! I don't do sweet for breakfast, for for a pre-yoga appetizer, they hit the spot. Just sweet and crunchy enough, they were rich and chocolate-y (even with 2/3 c. short of chocolate chips)!

I couldn't just make breakfast (or dessert) for dinner, so I did whip up a Bulgar Pilaf as well. Bulgar still remains one of my favorite food discoveries, and it's amazingly easy to toss in whatever veggies and spices you have laying around. Just having to steam it for 30 minutes is a breeze, and it gives you time to chop up and cook veggies to stir in at the end. You can definitely tell my fridge was empty by how boring it looked... but luckily it didn't taste that way!


20 May 2010

Banana Split


I don't bake, so if I'm going to do it, I want to make at least two recipes. Especially when I have the same ingredient to use up, in this case bananas. The first step was Banana-Date Scones. A completely different taste and texture than my previous Vegan scone attempts, these were more like a cake or muffin. The dates were a challenge to dice up, but the sweet flavor was worth it. I upped the flax meal, and used all whole wheat flour, so they actually turned out pretty healthy. Not the best looking scones in the world, but they filled a craving for banana bread.

Next were Banana-Wheat Germ Muffins - healthy and delicious, take two. The flavor alone wasn't unique enough for me, so I added some cardamom in with the cinnamon. I still believe cardamom makes all baked goods better. I also omitted the sugar, and might not have used enough banana, so the result was tasty but not sweet. Once again, soy butter to the rescue.

At least now I have two options next time I have overly ripe bananas!


19 May 2010

Revision


Just when I think I've had the best breakfast ever, I made Tofu Hash with the leftover Scrambled Tofu and Chorizo Seitan. Combining two awesome foods with a bunch of fresh spinach resulted in the best Vegan breakfast I've ever had. Serving it with tortillas on the side made it look nicer, and of course Clancy's was the final touch.

If I ever open a Veg cafe, this is the first thing on the menu!

18 May 2010

Brotherly love


There is always one person you really strive to impress with cooking. Maybe it's your parents, or your boyfriend, or you best friend. For me, it's my fabulous little brother. Fabulous, but very picky and carnivorous. So you can imagine my surprise when he actually liked the Penne Vodka I made!

The sharp vodka sauce is definitely not for the timid (or the hung-over). The pureed almonds added a nutty flavor and texture that was reminiscent of parmesan, and I added some nutritional yeast just to add some cheesiness. It was clearly a winner: Brett even went back for seconds!


17 May 2010

Go Green


Summer produce is yet another reason I'd be happy without the winter. Fresh, local asparagus AND kale? I want to throw extra veggies into everything. This time around it was Green Tacos, and they were amazing. I used my favorite local corn tortillas, threw in some kale and asparagus, and topped it with Upton's Chorizo Style Seitan and Clancy's.

I'm pretty sure I could eat these every day and never complain. The Chorizo Seitan is without a doubt the best faux meat I've ever had. It's spicy with a good texture, and has a ton of protein in it. Enough of the boring Veg-friendly tacos with beans and rice: greens are the way to go from now on!

16 May 2010

Scrambled Up


You know by now that I'm a breakfast junkie. I love all things breakfast, and I'll admit, eggs are a hard thing for me to give up. I finally took the plunge and made Scrambled Tofu, and now I'm embarrassed I haven't been making it for years. It was so easy AND delicious, and made enough for 4 days of breakfast. It made a ton! Never again can I say I didn't have time to make a good healthy breakfast... and now that I'm back to reality and work, that is critical.

The spice blend was a little tame for me, but it's definitely something that can be experimented with. Cumin, thyme, paprika, and turmeric teamed up with nutritional yeast - it really did taste like an omelet. Crumbling the tofu with your fingers kept it chunky, and it was done and ready in minutes. I skipped the mushrooms and added red pepper, next round I'll add a variety of other veggies. This is one recipe that will certainly appear at my next Sunday brunch!



13 May 2010

Muffin Mania


Now that I've been on a roll since this morning with baked goods, I decided to make two more treats. This time it was regular and mini muffins... twice the fun. The first batch was Applesauce Oatbran Muffins, which I added cranberries to for the dried fruit. I made them gluten-free by using a ratio of 2/3 millet flour and 1/3 brown rice flour - a blend that was much higher in millet than any GF cookbook I have recommends. They were only a little dry because of the flour substitution. But with a bit of Soy Garden buttery spread, it was a great muffin.


The next recipe was the real winner. Carrot-Pineapple Sunshine Muffins were amazing! Perfect along with the delicious ripe pineapple I'd brought home, they were bite sized sweet treats full of surprises. (I used crushed in the recipe, per their recommendation.) More than sweet enough on their own, I'm going to omit the 1/2 c. of sugar next round. The soy yogurt and soy milk made them taste rich, and the pineapple left them extra moist. So now I'm left wondering why you wouldn't make all muffins Vegan when it can be this tasty (and easy).


Addendum: I froze a lot of these since I made so many, and the gluten-free muffins definitely did not hold up well. The sunshine muffins were great a few weeks later, so I'd make a double batch and enjoy them twice as much!

12 May 2010

Old Fashioned


Ooooh! Not only is it fun to try a recipe I've never made before, but this time I get to make it the "old fashioned way" in cast iron. More specifically, in my beloved (and underutilized) LeCreuset soup pot. The Whole Wheat Soda Bread with Millet and Currants was delicious.


The crunchy millet was a great contrast to the juicy currants in the whole grain bread. It was even a bit savory, with the caraway seeds, so it was the best of both worlds. I wasn't patient enough with the millet cooling down, which made the dough a bit hard to handle. But it ended up rising a good amount, and the result was 4 quarters of hearty, crusty breakfast bread.


How-To


I realize I'm not doing enough to help anyone recreate the recipes I've been making. And although this blog is about what I'm making, not about teaching, it's still fun to see what goes on with some of the technique. So here is a how-to for Fresh Mango Summer Rolls.


Start with peeling the mango. Yet again, something I'd never tried when cutting mangos in the past. Thanks to my best friend Lindsay for giving me my awesome Cutco peeler... It made this task a breeze. (If you don't have good quality knives, I definitely recommend starting there. It makes all the fruit & vegetable prep a million times easier. And safer.)


Then, cutting alongside the pit, make a wide slice. Then slice that into more little slices. (They call them matchsticks in the recipe. Mine sure didn't look like matchsticks. But guess what? Inside a spring roll, no one would know the difference.)

Work your way around the pit, until you're done! So much less mango is wasted this way.


Then get all your spring roll ingredients together. I should have pictured how you soak the rice papers in water, but all you do is get a shallow dish and plop them in. When they are soft, take them out, put them on a plate (gently), and all the ingredients.

This recipe was a light summery flavor combination of mango, bean sprouts, cilantro, rice noodles, and chopped peanuts. Then I added slivers of tofu to add some protein.



Layer all the ingredients on the start of the bottom third of the rice paper. Boost the cilantro and peanuts if you want some more excitement.


Then roll that bottom third up over the ingredients. Keep them about an inch from the sides, and make sure it's spread evenly. (When you use harder ingredients, like carrots, keep the sharper edges from breaking the rice paper by layering them on the top.)

Fold in the sides and roll up as tightly as you can. Just like that, you're done! With the first of 30 individual rolls!


This recipe was tasty, minus the Thai Dipping Sauce. It was way too thin and vinegar-based for my taste. Next time I'll make my favorite version, and this is how you do it:

Thai Peanut Dipping Sauce:
Add warm water to peanut butter to thin it out. Stir in a few spoons of turbinado sugar or agave until it dissolves. Then add soy sauce, lime juice, and garlic chili sauce (or hot sauce of choice) to taste. Refrigerate until serving to thicken up.

You can basically roll any vegetable you have in the house into a spring roll. Green onions make a nice touch, as do carrots, cucumbers, and spinach. Good luck!



10 May 2010

Snack for Popeye


I can't tell you how many Vegan potlucks (or dinners, or parties) I've hosted where most people bring chips and salsa. It's almost as if there aren't any other Vegan snack foods. It's easy to forget that party favorites often include dairy. (Cheesy dips are a crowd favorite.)

I was scrambling for a dinner idea when I found the recipe for Asparagus-Spinach Dip. The Vegan answer to Spinach Artichoke dip, this was a yummy, sharp spread. And healthy! A pound each of asparagus and spinach, the veggies were really crammed in. I actually liked it better while it was warm, because the capers seemed to be disguised better then. But if you love capers, this would be the perfect dip for you! It was tasty on whole wheat crackers, as well as on a Sami's Millet & Flax Bagel for a gluten-free breakfast.

The raw cashews gave the dip a "cheesy" creaminess, like they did for the cashew ricotta. I'm eager to try out that concept with spinach and artichokes, or maybe even a tex-mex "cheesy" dip. Toss in some nutritional yeast, and I might have found a winning idea.


09 May 2010

Carrots for Breakfast


Who doesn't love Carrot-Raisin Muffins? Apparently this recipe nailed the Vegan secret to good muffins... but there are a few adaptations I continue to make. Starting on baking Vegan "sweets" has made me realize there are two types of recipes. Recipes are über healthy; or recipes are designed to taste like full fat/non-Vegan/traditional recipes. There just isn't enough balance of both.

These muffins were scrumptious, but I made them a ton healthier by doing the following. I used whole-wheat flour for all-purpose, I added flax meal, and I omitted most of the sugar. The raisins were sweet enough for me. (And the recipe called for soaking them in hot water first, a trick I was convinced I'd created years ago!) I upped the spiciness by adding allspice and clove to the cinnamon and nutmeg, and it made them taste like a spice cake instead of just a carrot muffin. Next round will include walnuts, for an extra nutrient (and crunch) boost.

Either way, these muffins were a fabulous start to the day. If I'm going to bake, I'm a lot happier when I can sneak some fruits and vegetables in!


Cold & Flu


Of course, my first day off now that I'm back to work was spent "under the weather." I don't even have the energy to cook, so a big pot of Cold & Flu Soup was the answer. I kicked up the garlic for immune boosting, threw in some kale and carrots for nutrient value, and some udon noodles for the comfort food factor.

The other secret weapon for soup is always Vegeta. I got hooked on this seasoning a decade ago in Croatia, when I was cooking with my friend Krešo. Every visit to Varaždin since then, I pick some up. It's definitely not a "health" product, since it's super high in sodium. But it does add a unique flavor that reminds me of my favorite place in the world. And this time around, it cheered me up AND made me forget about feeling sick!



08 May 2010

Before and After



I've made Roasted Portobellos more times than I can count. After all, it is the Vegetarian version of grilling up a steak. This time was probably the best yet. I marinated them for 30 minutes with blush wine (it was what I had in the house), olive oil, soy sauce, balsamic, and minced garlic. I used the mini portobellos, partly because they are cuter, but also because they seem to have a more tender texture. Thirty minutes under foil at 400 degrees, then flipped for another ten... I can only imagine how good they'd be on a burger or sandwich.


Instead, I sliced them up and served them on top of Bulghur with Spinach. Yes, it's the same thing as bulgar. And once again, I was impressed with bulgar. It's so easy to make, and the nutty grain is hard to compete with. Yet another recipe I'll share the adaptation for!
  • Sauté 1 T. olive oil and 1 c. sliced scallions on medium, 2-3 minutes.
  • Add 1 c. bulgar, stir to coat grains with oil.
  • Pour in 1 1/4 c. boiling water, simmer for 10 minutes max.
  • Add 4 c. finely chopped spinach, salt to taste, and cook 8 more minutes or until spinach is cooked but still green.
  • Add 2 T. lemon juice and stir. Fluff with a fork and serve.


Just like the last bulgar salad, this dish was better the next day, and was just as good cold. I used a lemon pepper spice combination, and that balanced out the balsamic infused mushrooms perfectly. Another "leftover" success!

06 May 2010

Thai Takeout


I used to think it was super annoying when I'd cut recipes out of magazines that said things like, "$3.05 per serving." Maybe it was because the cost of feeding a family didn't really kick in, or because I thought cooking on a budget was impossible. Now I realize there is really something to it.

It's almost always cheaper to cook at home than dine out. However, it's not always easier or as delicious. The Moosewood Pad Thai that I adapted for this dinner was cheap, easy, and so tasty that I'm going to post my adapted recipe. Plus, it cost about $2.50 per serving - for virtually the same meal I've paid $9 for at Thai takeout spots. I'm also certain this version is significantly healthier.


Here's the ingredients you need:
8 oz. rice stick noodles (Trader Joe's sells these for $2.99)
2 T. rice vinegar
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. Sriracha, or chili paste, or garlic chili paste
2 T. lime juice
1/3 c. water
3 T. vegetable oil
8 oz. firm tofu (cut in 1/2" pieces)
1 c. diced red pepper
2 c. snow peas (remove strings)
chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts, mung bean sprouts, lime wedges for garnish

Here's what you do:
  • Cook the rice noodles as directed, then rinse in cold water and drain.
  • Make sauce with vinegar, soy, chili, lime, and water.
  • Heat and large skillet (or wok) and 1 T. oil on medium-high, add tofu and stir fry for 1 minute. Then add peppers and peas, stir fry for 2 minutes. Remove all from pan and set aside.
  • Add the sauce and the rest of the oil to the pan. Stir for a few seconds, and add the noodles, tofu, and vegetables. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce is absorbed. (The sauce absorbs, I promise.)
  • Transfer it to a plate and garnish with the cilantro, peanuts, bean sprouts, and lime wedges.


Save one of your old take out containers next time you dine out, and you can make it look really official when you share your leftovers. Or, like I was, you'll just be really proud of what a good duplicate of Pad Thai you made when you take it for lunch!

05 May 2010

Cardamom, Curry, Cumin...


I know Cinco de Mayo isn't a real Holiday for Mexico, but I'm still disappointed I didn't celebrate via Mexican cuisine. But I'm still just getting the hang of what day it is, as I've only been back to work 2 days. And somehow, Curried Tofu became the dish of day for the 5th of May.

I use curry a lot in the kitchen, but I've never used this much! The recipe called for 1/4 cup, which for me was too much without other spices to offset it. It may have been that I drenched the tofu in the curry marinade while it was cooking; maybe the hour of marinating was enough flavor. A lot of this cookbook project is basically just experimenting with consistency and flavors. The texture was still good, since the tofu was pressed and then baked.


I wanted to serve a decent amount of vegetables with the tofu, so I made Sautéed Spinach and Tomatoes. A basic concept that I've made 101 different ways, this particular recipe used ginger in addition to my standard garlic and onions. I improvised with canned diced tomatoes, and it turned out more than fine. Quick & easy, this would be a great partner to most any meal.


The last dish to finish was the first to be borrowed from Nancy's Moosewood Restaurant: New Classics book. As a rule, I love love love the Moosewood cookbooks. I dream of the day I can go to the restaurant, and own every book they've published, and cook every recipe. But the equal amount of Vegetarian and Seafood recipes vs. Vegan ones had made me avoid opening their books since this project started.

Their Orange Saffron Rice made me realize I missed out on a prime resource the last 4 months. A combination of orange zest, saffron, cardamom, and turmeric lend the perfect flavor in contrast to the strong curry. It also taught me a new technique, by sautéing the rice in oil and the spices before cooking the rice in water. It seemed to really bring out a nutty flavor in the basmati.

I might have missed the chance to have a Mexican luncheon, but this trio was a tasty alternative. Plus now I can put several more Moosewood cookbooks on my wish list. Trust me, you should too. You won't regret it!

04 May 2010

Homework


There is no way I could stop at just two cookbooks, so I spent my first week back to reality flipping through all these treasures. Two of them I borrowed from Nancy: one Moosewood and one all about polenta. I've got a whole "cooking itinerary" to tackle... starting with the produce I picked up this morning. Kale, red peppers, mushrooms, sprouts, asparagus!

Picking a recipe based on an ingredient you already have in the house is one of my favorite ways to cook. It keeps me from choosing the same type of dish over and over again, and forces me to leave my cooking comfort zone. Stay tuned for the results of the recipe search!