Monday, October 29, 2007

Kitchen Lessons

Though it was good, I may not have even posted about this Coconut Curry Red Lentil Soup from La Dolce Vegan. But dear reader, I'd like to share with you a couple of things I learned in the process of making it - one of them rather benign and the other quite serious (and more than a little bit embarrassing). OK... if now you're thinking fire... you got it. So read on.

We decided to make this soup for dinner last night because it sounded simple and delicious - essentially potatoes, yams and red lentils with a base of vegetable broth and coconut milk, and flavored with curry paste. You add a can of coconut milk at the end, so we got all the way through making the soup and opened the cabinet... no coconut milk. It's a pantry staple; I could've sworn we had a can in there but nope, all gone. You've heard it before but I'll say it again. Always make sure you have all your recipe ingredients on hand before you start cooking. Of course there's nothing that says you can't wing it and adapt, so if you're willing to do that maybe it'll be OK. We ended up using soy milk instead and sprinkling a little toasted coconut on top. A little steamed broccoli rounded it out. Not exactly the flavor we anticipated when we started but still pretty good.

But about that coconut. It's flammable. Seriously. I put some coconut flakes on a piece of foil in the toaster oven and promptly forgot about it for just a few minutes. Darlene was sitting on the couch and I was talking to her with my back to the toaster oven when all of a sudden she looks past me and says, "Fire!". I spun around and sure enough, there are real live flames inside the toaster oven. It's a small toaster oven, but still. I turned it off, opened the door and blew on the flames like you'd blow out a candle. Not effective. Meanwhile Darlene was grabbing a box of baking soda with which to throw on top of the fire. But since it was completely inside the toaster oven we weren't sure how to go about that particular task. So I grabbed the fire extinguisher from under the sink and pulled the pin. Now there was only a little bit of coconut to begin with so by this time the flames were dying down a little. I stood there with the fire extinguisher ready for what seemed like a long time but what was probably only 30 seconds, during which time the fire dissipated and burned out. I'm glad I didn't end up using the fire extinguisher but I'm glad we had it. And would you believe that after cleaning things up I attempted to toast more coconut in the same toaster oven? This time I stood there and watched it continuously and it only took about 90 seconds before it was nice and golden brown. So be careful toasting coconut. And keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen just in case.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vegan Baking

The Urban Vegan beat me to it but as promised here's a post about Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's excellent new book, The Joy of Vegan Baking. It's a book filled with recipes for "sinful sweets", but as you've seen, the first recipe we tried was the Mediterranean Olive Bread. Anything filled with olives and sun-dried tomatoes is just fine by me and this bread was no exception. Next we went to the sweet side for the Gingerbread Cookies, which turned out delicious with just the right amount of spice. And though we had to adjust the amount of sugar in the icing recipe to get the right consistency, it ultimately turned out perfect and set very well. As if iced gingerbread cookies aren't fun enough, we broke out the squirrel with nut and kitty cat cookie cutters for these to up the fun factor a little more.

Since it's apple season, another recipe that caught our eyes was the German Apple Cake. What's not to love about fresh apples doused with cinnamon sugar baked on top of a moist fluffy cake?

And just yesterday I made the Lemon Bars - a tangy and sweet filling over a shortbread crust. Both this recipe and the apple cake I had to bake longer than the time listed in the recipe, but in the end both came out great.

What a smoothie recipe is doing in a baking book I'm not sure, but we did make the Berry Smoothie recipe as well. I don't usually need a recipe to make a smoothie but I did appreciate the addition of almond butter in this recipe, which adds another interesting layer of flavor. Likewise, pancake recipes abound, but for breakfast yesterday morning I gave the pancake recipe in this book a try and they were simple, fluffy and delicious.

We already have several other recipes bookmarked so I'm sure you'll be seeing more from The Joy of Vegan Baking here in the future. I do think there may be a little too much reliance in this book on commercial egg-replacer powder and perhaps also on vegan margarine, but personally I don't really have a problem with that and it certainly won't stop me from recommending that you go buy yourself a copy right now. With such a dazzling array of recipes you're sure to find a lot to like.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blackened Tempeh

Most of what remains in our cookbook collection these days are vegan and vegetarian cookbooks. But I've kept around an old copy of the Better Homes New Cookbook from my college days and it still comes in handy on occasion. Sure, probably 90% of the recipes in there aren't vegan but maybe half of those can be veganized with a little creativity. Way back in the day, I remember making a blackened fish recipe from this cookbook and I said to myself, "Self... why not do the same thing with tempeh?"

I made it up as I went along so I don't have an exact recipe to share but I started by marinating the tempeh in a mixture of soy sauce, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. I also added a little hijiki for a taste of the sea but I don't think it was totally necessary. When I was ready to cook I made the spice mixture with 1/2 tsp. each, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, paprika and thyme, 1/4 tsp. salt and a pinch of cayenne. I coated the tempeh good with the marinade then rubbed the spice mixture into each side. Then I fried it in peanut oil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side. A little spritz of lemon on top and some collard greens on the side... mmm-mmm good. I think we'll be having this again soon.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Aloo Gobi

Last week I was back in North Carolina for a workshop. I learned a lot about landscape ecology and GIS, but perhaps the best tip I picked up was not work-related. Over lunch at an Indian restaurant one day a colleague told me about Manjula's Kitchen on YouTube, where you can learn all about making authentic vegetarian (often vegan) Indian food. So of course I had to come home and give it a try. These videos don't exactly have the highest production value, but still I suppose it's the next best thing to having an Indian friend come over to show you how to cook.

We had some potatoes we needed to use and we just picked up some cauliflower from the farmers market so we settled on the Aloo Gobi. We didn't have the soy yogurt I would've needed for making naan, but the roti sounded simple enough so I gave that a whirl as well. The Aloo Gobi came out more like something you'd get at an Indian restaurant than most other Indian recipes I've tried and the roti was pretty good too. One note about the roti video though (and apparently some of her other videos as well), is that what she says doesn't necessarily jive with what she's doing. She says 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water to make the dough, but that just doesn't do it. And if you watch closely you'll see that she's actually using a whole cup of flour. Oh, and if you watch the Aloo Gobi video and she puts a pinch of something you can't understand into the pot, she's saying "hing", which is also known as asafoetida and is available at Indian markets (as is mango powder, another ingredient used in this recipe that you may not find at your local mainstream grocery store).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Nice Day for a Picnic

It's a warm sunny Fall weekend here in Central Virginia and we decided that it was high time for a picnic. So I spent some time this morning gathering together our grub, then we packed the car and headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. A few hundred other people had the same idea but we found a nice patch of grass for ourselves at one of the many overlooks and spread out our blanket in front of this view.
On the menu was fried seitan, macaroni salad, green beans and apple slices. The seitan was mostly like the J-Lo Fried "Chicken" recipe in La Dolce Vegan, the only exception being that I added some almond meal to the breading. To the pasta salad I added red bell pepper, celery, diced pickles, mixed beans (chickpeas, pintos and kidney beans), vegan mayo, flax oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. The green beans were simple and delectable. When the pasta water came up to a boil I threw in a large handful of green beans. After a few minutes I scooped them out with a slotted spoon and put them into a bowl of cold water. Then I drained 'em and added a little sesame oil and a splash each of soy sauce and rice vinegar. And finally I topped them off with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

We walked off our lunch (or part of it anyway) with a nice hike at Humpback Rocks. There's a short steep trail that leads up to a spectacular view, but on a day like today I bet there are 100 people on the trail at any given time. So we decided to avoid the crowds and explore a trail that heads off in the opposite direction. No panoramic views, but we did see some nice color. And despite the fact that the parking lot at the trailhead was overflowing when we got there, we hiked for over an hour and only saw 2 other people (and 3 deer).

Friday, October 19, 2007

Warm Lentil Salad

I think I've mentioned before that we've started subscribing to Vegetarian Times again. It's not the most vegan-friendly publication but we've been finding that in any given issue, around half the recipes are vegan so we usually find something good to try. In particular, this lentil salad in the 'quick and easy' section of the latest issue looked promising. And indeed it turned out good. Simply cook some diced onion in olive oil, season with cumin, salt & pepper, add french lentils, basmati rice and water, and cook until the lentils and rice are done. The only small issue I ran into here was that the lentils came out just a bit firm. If I did this again I'd probably add a little more water and cook for a few minutes more.

Anyway, once the lentils and rice are done you just serve them on a bed of greens and drizzle a balsamic vinaigrette over the top. In the foreground of the picture, foreshadowing a future post, is a yummy olive bread from The Joy of Vegan Baking.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Noodles with Bok Choy and Tofu

Now here's one from Quick Fix Vegetarian. I've been looking through this book more lately for ideas that will help us get out of the kitchen faster, especially on weeknights. We always love noodle dishes and we're trying to eat more greens these days so this recipe sounded good. I made a few minor changes but mostly stuck to the recipe and it came out great. To start with I used udon noodles instead of soba because that's what we had in our pantry. I do like soba noodles though so next time we're at the Asian market we'll have to grab a package. But whatever your noodle fancy, you can start by cooking 'em in some boiling water, then draining and coating 'em with sesame oil. Then stir-fry bok choy, garlic, shredded carrot and tofu, add soy sauce and a splash of rice vinegar, and serve over the noodles. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on top if you like (black ones in our case).

Something different we tried with the tofu this time was freezing it first. I've always heard that freezing tofu will result in a chewier texture but I don't think I'd ever tried it before. I just put the whole package of tofu in the freezer after we brought it home, then a couple days later I put it in the fridge to defrost. You have to press it well because lots more water drains out of it this way, but we did like the different texture.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Black Bean and Avocado Pizza

I wasn't sure what to call this. Mexican Pizza? But maybe it's more California-Mexican. Or I could just call it fusion and make it sound more sophisticated than it actually is. Because really it was just a way to use up a couple of things in the fridge. Namely a package of whole wheat pizza dough and a couple of avocados from Trader Joe's. We also needed to use a few roma tomatoes (sadly some of the last holdouts from our garden). I started by cooking onion and garlic in a little oil, then smashing in a can of black beans along with a bit of salt, cumin and chili powder. Once that cooled a little I spread it on the rolled out pizza dough and topped it with the sliced fresh tomatoes, salsa and avocado.

Now here's a tip for you. If you ever want to put avocado on a pizza, wait until after the pizza is cooked. The pretty green avocado in the picture is there because I had an extra avocado that I only added after I realized that the nice soft green of the first avocado turned completely brown after being in the oven for 10 minutes. If you look closely at the picture you might see some of it on there but it came out to be about the color of the black beans. Live and learn.

Tofu Nuggets with Butternut Squash and Green Beans

We loved this quick and easy recipe I came across recently in The Vegetarian Family Cookbook. All you do is dice a block of tofu, then shake the pieces up in a container with a mixture of a couple tablespoons each flour and cornmeal, plus a little salt and nutritional yeast. Then bake those little nuggets at 425° for around 25 minutes, turning them once in the middle of that time. I cooked the butternut squash on the same sheet pan as the tofu and it was done perfectly in the same amount of time. And while that was going on I steamed a bunch of green beans. The tofu nuggets were great with a simple tartar sauce, also from Veg Family. Just mix together vegan mayo, minced pickles (or some pickle relish) and a little mustard. All that made for a nice fast meal on Friday night.

Update: I just edited this post to correct a glaring error. I was looking through Robin Robertson's Quick Fix Vegetarian before posting this and I mistakenly attributed the tofu nugget recipe to that book instead of Nava Atlas' Vegetarian Family Cookbook. Both are good books for quick meal ideas but the tofu nuggets and tartar sauce recipes are in fact from Nava.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

This was a bit of a clean-out-the-fridge sort of meal but it came out good and didn't take too long either. All our eating out over the weekend was great but it was probably just a little lacking in fresh veggies. I think we corrected that tonight. We had a head of cauliflower that we really needed to use, and also half a bunch of kale that would've been past its prime very soon. And there was that half a can of coconut milk too.

I cooked half a diced onion in a little oil, added garlic, curry powder, cumin and coriander, then stirred in the cauliflower and kale, along with the coconut milk and some veggie broth. That simmered until the cauliflower was tender, then I mixed in a can of chickpeas and seasoned with salt & pepper. I even salvaged some cilantro from a week-old bunch so we had a little garnish.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dining out in the Triangle

We're just back from spending the weekend in Cary, NC visiting Darlene's sister Kristen and her husband Ryan. They just moved there and it was great to go visit since we lived in Raleigh for several years. In fact we met and got married in Raleigh and Kristen and Ryan are now living in the same apartment complex that Darlene lived in when we first met. Déjà vu. Though we mostly stuck to places we've been before, we did have some great food there. Unfortunately I didn't take many food pics - only one in fact, which was from dinner at the Hard Times café. The Hard Times is a small chain with several other locations in Virginia and Maryland and there's not much for vegans as it's mostly bar food and chili, but they do have veggie chili and at the Raleigh location they offer veggie hot dogs. So it's becoming a tradition for us to go there whenever we're in Raleigh for some veggie junk food.

We also had lunch at Thai Villa, which has a few good veg. options. We've always liked this place and other folks must like it too because it's really in a lousy location but it's been there for at least 10 years. Every time we're back in the area we wonder if it'll still be there but as of this weekend it most certainly is. We ended up at Thai Villa after a disappointing first choice. We tried the Blue Moon Bakery in Cary first because their menu on-line lists several vegetarian wraps and sandwiches, at least a couple of which appear to be vegan or easily made vegan. But when we got there they only had three or four lunch options written on a white-board and the only vegetarian option was a veggie burger that wasn't vegan. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Another favorite for lunch is Udupi Café, which is an all vegetarian South Indian restaurant. We love the dosas, sambhar, idly, etc. but almost every time we go there's at least one item on the buffet that we haven't had before. This time it was the fried cauliflower in a spicy tomato-based sauce. I was already stuffed but I had to go back for seconds on that.

And on our second night there we had dinner at the Spotted Dog in Carrboro. It's nice to go to a place where they know what the word vegan means. We had decent veggie BBQ sandwiches there (with tabouleh on the side) and their veggie Buffalo wings were really fun and tasty. All told, I think we spent our dine-out budget for about the next 3 months but we did get lots of scrumptious food.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Sweet Potato and Seitan Stew

Rachael Ray be damned, I refuse to call this a "stoup" (it's thicker than a soup but thinner than a stew so I call it a stoup.... tee hee....) Ugh...

So you see, just because we don't have cable any more doesn't mean we can't still make fun of Food Network stars and veganize their recipes. This recipe from Rachael Ray was quite easy to veganize - instead of chicken stock I used water and veggie bouillon cubes, and instead of a dead bird... um I mean chicken, I used seitan and black beans. I used less liquid than she calls for too so I guess it's fair to call my version a stew. And it's easy to make your own tofu sour cream too. I have to admit though that with a few small adaptations this was good stuff. As much as I make fun of the Food Network I do miss it sometimes. I'd never cook like they do but it does give me ideas. Now I just need to remember to poke around on their web site every so often.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

2 Quick Meals

Last night I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of the chickpeas I cooked over the weekend when the Chickpea Pasta Sauce recipe in Vive le Vegan! caught my eye. The list of ingredients is rather long, but it's still quick and easy in that you basically just blend everything together in a food processor and then serve it over pasta. It was just a little hummus-y since the main ingredient is chickpeas but there's some fresh herbs in there and enough other ingredients (like turmeric, dry mustard, cider vinegar, soy milk and miso) to make it less like hummus and more like just what it is - a different sorta pasta sauce. I threw some chopped collards in with the whole wheat pasta, then when the pasta was done I drained everything and tossed in the sauce. Some fresh tomatoes complemented the meal nicely.

And if you really want quick, couscous is the way to go. Tonight I sautéed some chopped seitan and garlic in olive oil, added vegetable broth, brought it to a boil, then added couscous. Cover that and take if off the heat and in 10 minutes it's ready. Meanwhile I steamed some greens til they were tender then tossed in salt, pepper, lemon juice and agave. And as you can see we're trying to get our fill of fresh tomatoes now since they'll be gone before too long.