Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Millet Polenta and Spring Rolls

Another 2 meals in one post. First up, I took a cue from Don't Get Mad, Get Vegan! and tried the Millet and Spinach Polenta with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto from Vegan with a Vengeance. My polenta didn't get real firm (maybe I didn't cook enough water out of it) and though I was very careful frying it, many of the pieces still fell apart. No matter though because it still was delicious. Especially with the pesto. For the pesto I used oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes and a little less water than the recipe calls for so I had a firm pesto, but still... Yum-O! (Oh... sorry... slipped back into Rachael Ray mode for a second.) On the side we had a salad with fresh spinach, a few other mixed greens, carrots and pine nuts and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
Last night it was Vietnamese-style spring rolls, though these were a little unorthodox. It's interesting what you come up with based on a single ingredient. We had some cilantro in the fridge that was going south and Darlene found a recipe for spring rolls in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. We didn't have many of the ingredients for that recipe but we did have the rice paper spring roll wrappers (the kind that you soak in warm water to reconstitute) so we made up our own thing. We did a mashed tempeh mixture with vegenaise and chili oil (kind of like this), and added that to the rolls with soba noodles, cilantro, green onions and carrots. For a dipping sauce we tweaked Deborah Madison's recipe and put together red wine vinegar, minced garlic, chopped peanuts, agave, and probably one or two other things I can't remember. At any rate, these were really good for something that was a last minute idea based on old cilantro.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Pizza and Crepes

Though not at the same time. I don't know if there's any topping that last post but I'll press on. I've mentioned that often on weekends we spend more time cooking but that wasn't really the case this past weekend. On Saturday I made pizza (inspired by Amey) which I don't have time to do on weekdays since I started on the dough in the middle of the afternoon. Other than that though, there wasn't much to it. I made some soy sausage with TVP and tempeh using a slightly modified version of the recipe in Cooking with PETA. Then I just crumbled that mixture and fried it with some frozen spinach and that was the pizza topping, along with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast and a drizzle of olive oil. And though you should always make your own sauce, I used sauce from a jar. I made two pizzas we had one for dinner Saturday and one for Sunday dinner.

For breakfast Sunday we had crepes. I've had mixed success making crepes but these came out great. I used the recipe in Very Vegetarian, which has a tablespoon of gluten flour in it to make the batter a little more stretchy. It also calls for letting the batter sit in the fridge overnight, which I did, and it worked very well. These were filled with strawberry jam and lime zest and were most delectable.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ginger Tofu with Wasabi Mashed Cauliflower and Greens

Do you like meat and potatoes? No, I didn't think so. How about tofu and cauliflower? But not just any old tofu and cauliflower, how about mixing it up with a little international flair? Yum-O!

Hi there, I'm Chris and I veganize Rachael Ray's meals. Now that means that instead of cooking with all kinds of cruelty- and fat-laden animal products, I'll make a delicious and healthy vegan meal. Though I don't know if I'll do it in under 30 minutes since I don't have a crew of paid lackeys organizing things for me and cleaning up after me. When I say healthy I mean it too. I don't mean healthy compared to pound-o-butter Paula Deen. I mean no cholesterol, not a bit. No "lean" steak masquerading as something healthy, no sir. Tonight I'll be taking tofu to another level, marinating it with lots of fresh ginger and lime juice and grilling it just right. I'll smash some steamed cauliflower together with some spicy wasabi and round out the meal with sesame-soy kale and peppers. How good does that sound? You know, tofu is very figure-friendly too. It's packed with protein but it doesn't have all that saturated fat that you find in all those meat and dairy products. It's versatile too. You can marinate it and grill it or you can even get that silken tofu and make a chocolate pudding with it. And you know how much I like chocolate! But that's another show. (giggle....tee-hee)

So let's get started. Before I left for work this morning I pressed a block of tofu then cut it into 8 pieces. I took out the 'ol microplane grater and grated about a 1-inch piece of ginger then I also zested a lime on that baby. I set aside the lime zest for later then I juiced the lime into a small bowl, to which I also added the ginger. I eyeballed in about 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of peanut oil - no EVOO in this case since this is more of an Asian-style marinade. I thought I'd add some grill seasoning too but instead of paying 5 bucks for a bottle of seasoning mix that has hydrogenated oils in it, I just dumped in about half a teaspoon each of fresh ground black pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, ground corriander and crushed red pepper. Just measure everything in the palm of your hand - it doesn't have to be perfect (tee-hee). I mixed that all together and poured it over the tofu in a shallow container that I then covered and put in the fridge. Then I left for work.

OK, I'm home from work now and I've got my grill pan heating on the stove top and my tofu looks and smells D-lish. I've also got medium-sized fairly deep pot on one burner and a steamer set up on another. I want to get my kale going first because I want it to cook for a while and get nice and tender. I've got a small red bell pepper that I'll chop into small slices and I'll put a little drizzle of oil in my pot and start that cooking. I'll let that go for a few minutes while I rinse a bunch of kale and tear it into smaller pieces. Now if the stems on your kale are pretty thick you'll want to remove them. You can do that with a knife but I just like to tear the leaves right off of the stems. I'll just drop the stems into my GB (that's garbage bowl) and dump them into the compost pile later. Now I'll add the kale to my peppers and mix it around a bit. You might need to do this in two batches because you'll probably have a big 'ol pile of kale but it'll cook down pretty quickly. I'll eyeball in about 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and about 3 tablespoons of soy sauce then I'll turn the heat down and cover it and just let it simmer for a while. Now I'll chop up a big head of cauliflower and get that going in the steamer. And I'll also spray the grill pan good with oil and get the tofu going on there.

Mmmm.... the kitchen smells amazing already. Once the tofu has been grilling for a few minutes you can give each piece a quarter turn to get the nice grill marks on there. Then you'll want to turn each piece over and do the same thing on the other side. You can drizzle on a bit of the remaining marinade if you want. While all this stuff is cooking I'll get ready for the big ta-da. Take some cilantro and green onions (but maybe you call 'em scallions) and coarsely chop them together with the lime zest. That'll go on top of the tofu at the end. Oh man, I'm really getting hungry now.

Well it looks like the cauliflower is really tender now so I'll dump that out of the steamer and into a big bowl. I'll add a little salt, eyeball in a few tablespoons of soy milk and add about a tablespoon or so of Earth Balance margarine. And now I'll heat it up with some wasabi. How hot do ya like it? I like it spicy but be careful! A little goes a long way! Let's smash everything together with a potato masher then mound some on our plate. I'll put a few pieces of the grilled tofu around the side. Oh yeah... I almost forgot about our kale and peppers. Turn off the heat and stir in a small handful of sesame seeds then mound some of that on your plate too. And now for the big finish! I'll sprinkle some of that great cilantro-scallion-lime zest mixture on top. Man, how good does that look huh? I'm all out of time but remember a great meal doesn't have to be chock full of meat and dairy. Just get creative with your tofu and veggies!

Adapted from Rachael Ray's Meat and Potatoes, International Edition episode. With a nod to the urban vegan too.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Samosas and Indian Rice

Often on Sundays we take the time to cook something a little more involved. On this past Sunday in particular, it was snowing and sleeting most of the day so it was a fine time to be inside cooking. I must've run out of energy though since I'm just getting around to posting about it now. Both the samosas and rice were almost straight from Vegan with a Vengeance and it was the first time we had tried either recipe. Once again this book comes through as both were fabulous. We didn't have the ingredients on hand to make Isa's chutney but Darlene whipped up a tasty chutney-esque kind of thing with apricot jam, five-spice powder, rice vinegar and a pinch of cayenne. We had a lot of leftovers from this meal and the samosas in particular have garnered some oohs and aahs from my co-workers at lunch time the last two days.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


We're definitely liking Nava Atlas' Vegetarian Soups For All Seasons. This minestrone was relatively simple but very delicious, especially with some nice crusty baguette. It's got the traditional onion, carrot & celery base with a tomato-based broth and Italian seasonings. There's chickpeas, green peas and potatoes in her version too and I threw in some kale for good measure. I may not have even posted about it but it reminded me of a story. When we lived in Raleigh, North Carolina many years ago, it was about this time of year and we had a nasty ice storm. We lost power, along with much of the rest of the city, one morning and by noon the next day our power was still out and the temperature in our apartment was in the mid-50's. We decided we had to find some place warm and we started calling restaurants to see which ones had power. We checked on a couple local places to no avail then we finally called Olive Garden and they had power. So we drove on over for lunch and a warm place to sit for a while. We both had their minestrone soup and while typically this might not be anything special, on this day it was piping hot and it was the best soup we'd ever had. And when we got back home our power was back on and the heater was working overtime.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Cornbread Chili Pie

Another item in our Lightlife box was their Smart Ground, which as you might expect is sort of a ground beef substitute. I'm not sure if you could do burgers or meatballs or the like with this stuff but I figured it'd be good in a chili or bolognese sauce or something like that. In fact I may have used this product or something like it a long time ago to make a shepherd's pie. And I guess that's sort of what we ended up with tonight - but a Tex/Mex version. Winter is finally here with a vengeance (and it looks to be hanging around a while) so I figured chili and cornbread would make for a hearty, warming meal. Then I figured I could combine the two and off I went. We had a little bit of cauliflower that we needed to use up so I chopped that into small pieces and put it in a cast iron skillet with some canola oil and a diced onion and carrot. Then I added some garlic, then the smart ground and some chili powder and cumin. By this point things were starting to stick to the pan so I loosened everything up with a little veggie broth before finishing it off with a small can of diced tomatoes.

Meanwhile I had mixed up a cornbread batter using a slightly tweaked version of the recipe in Peter Berley's The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. I gently spread the batter on top of the mixture in my skillet and put the whole thing into a 350° oven for about 25 minutes. The result was very good indeed - a little like a chili and a bit like a shepherd's pie.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Product Review: Lightlife Foods

First, the disclosure says that the folks at Lightlife Foods sent us a box of some of their products and for that we said we'd post about them here. We're not receiving anything else from Lightlife nor are we affiliated with them in any way.

With that out of the way, let's check out what we got. I'll start with what may not be the best picture of the bunch but what was probably the best dish I made with the Lightlife products so far. In college when I was still learning how to cook, I used to make a chicken and rice dish with packaged saffron yellow rice, marinated chicken, salsa and jack cheese. I think I found the recipe in a booklet from a now-defunct hot sauce company. It's been many, many years since I last made it but somehow the recipe came into my mind when I was thinking about what to do with the Chick'n Strips. So I veganized it and made the rice from scratch - way better than the MSG-laden packaged mixes. One good thing about products like these is that those of us who are former meat-eaters can re-create recipes from our past while still remaining true to our vegan path. And I imagine they may be helpful for those who are just making the transition to veganism too. I don't fully remember what chicken tastes like but I think these strips were pretty close - especially after they'd been marinated. Which brings me to the recipe...

Kicked Up "Chicken" and Rice

1 package Lightlife Chick'n Strips
1/3 c. of your favorite salsa

For the marinade:
3 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. agave
1 Tbs. hot sauce (or to taste)
1 clove garlic, crushed

For the rice:
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 c. finely diced onion
1/4 c. finely diced carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. cumin
healthy pinch of saffron threads
2 c. vegetable broth
1 c. brown basmati rice

For the sauce (adapted from Very Vegetarian by Jannequin Bennett):
2 Tbs. nutritional yeast
3 Tbs. flour
3/4 c. + 2 Tbs. plain soy milk
1 tsp. miso
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1 Tbs. minced pickled jalapeños
small clove garlic, finely minced (if you have a garlic press this would be a good time to use it)
1 Tbs. margarine
1 tsp. prepared yellow mustard

First, mix together all the marinade ingredients and pour over the chick'n strips in a wide shallow dish. Marinate for at least 1 hour, preferably longer. For the rice, sauté the onion and carrot in olive oil for a few minutes, add the garlic and cumin and cook for another minute, then add the saffron and veg. broth. Bring to a boil, add rice, return to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Toast the nutritional yeast and flour in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the soy milk, making sure no lumps form, then add the miso, chili powder, jalapeños and garlic. Cook for several more minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened. Add margarine and mustard, stir to combine then turn off heat.

Remove the chick'n strips from the marinade and sauté them in a little olive oil until they're just starting to brown. When the rice is done, spread it in an 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Evenly distribute the chick'n strips on top, then spread the salsa on top of that. Finally, spoon the sauce on top of everything and bake at 350° for about 20 minutes until everything is heated through. It's a little involved, but so worth it.

Next up, how about some brunch. When we went to DC a couple weeks ago, we had brunch at a place called Asylum. Darlene got a vegan breakfast sandwich with scrambled tofu, soy sausage and soy cheese and I had a tofu scramble with veggie chili and soy cheese on top and home fries on the side. All our food was good and it was great to have this option when eating out but I knew I could make something similar - and better - at home. The scrambled tofu with chili was quite interesting and when I saw the Lightlife Smart Chili I knew that's what I'd make with it. The chili was good with just the right amount of spice and it went well with my homemade tofu scramble. This was actually a hearty dinner a few nights ago.

Also in our goodie box was some of the Gimme Lean Sausage. For brunch today I made breakfast sandwiches on whole wheat English muffins with the sausage, a little of the sauce from last night's "chicken" and rice, and Susan's most excellent mini tofu quiches.

We also had some of the sausage on its own with oatmeal-banana waffles for Darlene's birthday breakfast. Again, it's been a long time since either of us has had "real" sausage, but this stuff tastes pretty good. Especially with something like sausage I think the taste is all in the seasoning. It's just that these sausage patties are a lot less greasy.

Something else fun we did that's a knock-off (albeit a better one) from our meat-eating days was a club sandwich with the Fakin' Bacon and turkey-style deli slices. Also on the sandwich are lettuce, tomato, avocado and Vegenaise.

And finally to tonight's dinner. One surprise in the Lightlife box was their new tempeh variety with flax. It's always good to get more Omega 3's in your diet and this seems like one good way to do it. This stuff hasn't shown up at any of our local stores yet but we'll keep an eye out for it. Here I used it in the Lemon Grille Tempeh recipe that was in a little recipe booklet from Lightlife. The tempeh is marinated in a mixture of water (1/2 c.), lemon juice (3/4 c.), canola oil (1/2 c.), granulated garlic (1/4 c.), soy sauce (2 Tbs.), and onion powder (2 Tbs.), then fried in a skillet (first the tempeh block is cut in half, then cut in half again across the thickness so you end up with 4 pieces that are half as thin as the original block). We served it on English muffins with spinach leaves and shredded carrots and some homemade tartar sauce and it was quite good.
And now for some final words. Like many vegans, especially those who like to cook, we generally pride ourselves on cooking from scratch as much as possible and not relying so much on packaged meat substitutes. But we do use products like this from time to time and we're certainly not against the idea. (And tempeh is just plain good stuff.) First and foremost, many of the Lightlife (and similar) products offer convenience, and that can be a good thing when you're pressed for time. These products are processed, but in looking at the ingredient list for a lot of these items I noticed that there aren't many mystery ingredients in there that I've never heard of like there are in so many other processed foods. A lot of these items are fairly high in sodium but again, generally not as high as many other processed foods. Honestly for us, the main drawback to these foods is their cost. They're convenient, but you certainly pay for that convenience. Actually I think it's a shame that plant based foods like these are so much more expensive than similar animal flesh-based products but that's the world we're living in at the moment. Let's all keep doing our part to change that shall we?

Now if you've read this far here's your reward (if you want one), a coupon for $1 off any Lightlife product (you may need to install a very small app to print it but it worked OK for me).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Birthday Dinner

Darlene's birthday dinner last night was excellent, though nothing we haven't written about here before. I made probably our favorite recipe from La Dolce Vegan, Jay-Lo's Fried "Chicken", which we had with ketchup and hot sauce. On the side was some simple steamed cauliflower, topped with a little margarine, salt & pepper and bread crumbs. And to round it out, some yummy, good-for-you greens - collards and spinach in this case.

But the best part was dessert. When I was in Florida I found some very nice Key limes at a produce market and I just had to bring a few home. Now the natural thing to do with Key limes is to make their namesake pie, but then we happened upon the Margarita Cupcake recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and we were instantly sold on that idea. We weren't disappointed either, and I think the Key limes really made a difference, being slightly more tart than their more common counterpart. And who can resist a cupcake with tequila in it?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Curried Red Lentil Soup

It was back to Nava Atlas' Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons for this one. It's been a strange, warm winter so far here but the last few days finally feel like winter again. It was 25 degrees when I rode my bike to work this morning and only 40 or so when I came home. Good soup weather. This one came out pretty good though maybe not my favorite of the recipes we've tried from this book. It's good for you that's for sure, with red lentils, sweet potatoes and greens. I mostly followed the recipe but I used collards instead of the spinach or chard. Since collards take a lot longer to cook than the softer greens, I added them towards the beginning of the cooking time instead of near the end like you would if you were using something like spinach. I also went heavy on the ginger but I think that was warming for a cool night.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Greetings from sunny Florida

Hello from Florida where I'm visiting my parents for the weekend (at the green arrow in the picture). It's been over 2 years since I've been here so I was due for a visit, but also I've been helping them get set up with their first ever computer. It's a bold new world for them but so far it's going pretty well.

I've been eating very well too. My parents are far from vegan and that's likely where they'll stay but they do accept my choice of veganism and they're generally pretty accommodating with food when I visit. (There is the cigarette smoke but I won't go there...) My dad has been the primary cook in the family for almost as long as I can remember. I don't remember getting much formal instruction in cooking when I was growing up but certainly his passion for food rubbed off on me. I think he finds it to be an interesting challenge to come up with vegan meals when I visit and I appreciate that.

When I arrived last night he already had stuffed peppers prepared. Typically these would be made by filling green bell peppers with a ground beef and rice mixture, but instead these were chock full of vegetables - yellow squash, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, garlic and onions - along with the rice and some bread crumbs to bind the filling a bit. The sauce was tomato based with brown sugar and lemon juice. On the side he made what I suppose you would call a bruschetta - an english muffin topped with onion, zucchini and some canned sofrito that had also gone into the stuffed peppers.
The stuffed peppers were quite good, but tonight's meal got more raves from everyone and it was one of the first times my dad and I have ever cooked together. This one I'd call a ragout over angel hair pasta. It started with cooking a slew of vegetables in olive oil. It was the same veggie mixture as last night - yellow squash, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, garlic and onions - and amazingly enough I had found some tempeh in the local mainstream grocery store earlier in the day and my dad was amenable to crumbling that in with the vegetables. After all that cooked for a while we added a small can each of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and tomato paste. It was seasoned with about a tablespoon of fresh thyme along with a teaspoon each of dried basil and Italian seasoning and of course salt & pepper. Then it was covered and simmered over low heat for almost an hour and served over angel hair pasta. We don't often buy angel hair but it was most excellent with this chunky veggie-ful sauce.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tangerine Seitan

Here's something else to do with these nice Florida tangerines we got. I've been thinking about this for a while and though someone else stole my thunder a bit, I pressed on with it anyway. This is adapted from Mimi Clark, who taught a class we went to last year. In this version I've used homemade seitan and some of the cooking broth from said seitan but you could also use store-bought seitan and vegetable stock.

8 oz. beef-style seitan, torn into bite-sized chunks
3 1/2 Tbs. cornstarch, divided
3/4 c. seitan cooking broth
3 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. agave
2 tsp. sesame oil
juice and zest from 1 tangerine
1 Tbs. peanut oil, divided
1/2 lb. broccoli, chopped
1 Tbs. minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

Coat the seitan with 2 Tbs. cornstarch and set aside. Mix together the rest of the cornstarch, and the broth, soy sauce, agave, sesame oil and tangerine juice and set aside. Heat 1 tsp. peanut oil in a wok over medium-high heat and stir-fry the broccoli for a few minutes until tender-crisp. Remove the broccoli from the pan and add the remaining 2 tsp. peanut oil. Stir-fry the seitan for several minutes until crispy, then add the ginger, garlic, red pepper and tangerine zest and cook another minute or so. Add the broccoli back to the pan, then add the sauce and cook just until the sauce is thickened. Serve over brown rice. And if you've got some scallions on hand chop a few of them up and throw 'em on top.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Tangerine-Cinnamon Rolls

Those of you who have resolved to eat fewer sweets in this new year might want to stop right here. Although really, these aren't that bad for you. The idea started when we visited the big city yesterday (Washington DC). We did the cultural thing at the Hirshhorn Museum but we were also on a quest for good vegan food, which DC has in abundance (compared to our humble town anyway). One of the places we went was Sticky Fingers Bakery, and when they say they have the best buns in town they aren't kidding. We got a massive and delicious cinnamon bun there and no sooner had we walked out the door than we were already scheming about making our own variation of this sweet treat at home. We were both thinking about orange sticky buns that we've had in the past and it just so happens that my parents in Florida sent us a box of beautiful tangerines for Christmas. So this morning I set to work and came up with the following recipe. It's adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

For the dough:
3/4 c. warm water
2 tsp. agave
1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 c. soy milk
2 Tbs. canola oil
1 tsp. salt
2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour

For the filling:
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
zest of 1 tangerine
2 Tbs. margarine, melted

For the icing:
1 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tbs. tangerine juice (from the tangerine you zested for the filling)

Mix together warm water, yeast and agave and set aside for 5-10 minutes. Then add this mixture to a large bowl along with the soy milk, oil and salt. Work in the flours until you have a rough dough, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 6-8 minutes until the dough is smooth and resilient. Put into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, an hour or longer.

Next, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface again, punch it down and knead for a few seconds. Cover it with a towel and let it rest for a few minutes while you prepare the filling by mixing together the cinnamon, pecans, brown sugar and tangerine zest. Roll the dough out into a 12 x 16 inch rectangle, brush with the melted margarine and sprinkle the cinnamon/sugar mixture evenly on top. Tightly roll up across the length then use a serrated knife to cut the roll into pieces about 1 inch wide. Place the pieces flat on a lightly greased baking sheet about 2 inches apart and cover with a towel. (If you have any margarine left you can brush some on top.) Now would be a good time to preheat your oven to 375°. After about 30 minutes, remove the towel and place the rolls in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until they're just starting to brown. Then put them on a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely before you drizzle on the icing that you made by whisking together the powdered sugar and tangerine juice.

The sweet rolls were scrumptious, but just so you don't think that we're all about indulgences, we had a nice healthy spinach salad for dinner. It was topped with Tempeh Bacon, avocado, shredded carrots, chickpeas and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and boy was it good.

Happy New Year!