Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Party Bites

Infused liquors (and photo) by Bess
I finally finished cleaning up from the holiday party we threw last weekend. It's not that it was overly crazy, or messy, just that we were lazy and/or busy for the next several days.

As usual, I overdid it with the food spread a little. That's just how I roll, and everyone knows it. The menu I planned was larger than the menu I served. Also, the usual case. Start at 8:30am - 5pm rolls around, and I start to think "oh shit, it's getting late!" And then there's the opposite thought of "oh shit, this is more than enough food" - and I'm only 3/4 through my plan. Just wrap it up, no one will miss what they never knew to expect.

Here are the 12 dishes I served for 20 people - in order by popularity:

1. Fruit Guacamole with Tortilla Chips
Winner. "What's that crunchy stuff in the guacamole? It's good!"
-Kristine T

The idea of putting fruit in the guacamole to give it a special twist came from this cool restaurant in Manhattan called Toloache. I've been there a couple times for restaurant week or birthdays, and we always get this guacamole with seasonal fruit that everyone at the table devours as soon as it comes. I happened to find the recipe at Wine Enthusiast, which made it easy to recreate - except it's kind of easy to figure out on your own!

Fruit Guacamole
3 Haas Avocados, very ripe (an even dark-green color and gives just slightly to pressure)
1/4 C lime juice (about 3 limes)
1 jalepeño, finely diced
1 mango, 1/2" diced
1 C green Grannysmith apple, 1/4" diced (no peeling necessary)
*Strawberries or peaches work too, but I didn't use them
Salt & Pepper
2 T Cilantro, chopped

 Slice avocados in half lengthwise around pit. Twist apart and remove pit - I personally dislike the "hack the pit with a knife and twist it out" method, because of several close calls with the blade. A teaspoon or pushing it out from the back works too.

Halve the Mango by cutting each long, flat, side clean off the pit, which is usually about 3/4" wide at the center. Using a paring knife, cut the peel off the remaining 3/4" and cut the flesh off from the pit. For the halves, score them like a checker board just to the skin. Flip the half inside-out, into a "porcupine" of mango spikes, and remove pieces with a spoon or pairing knife. 

For the apple, cut two large halves off the core - again about 1/2"-3/4" wide. Cut off the short sides. Lay skin-side up, and cut each into thin long slices, and then across to create a quick pile of diced apple.

Slice the jalepeño in half lenghtwise.  Removing the seeds is a good idea for a party with various spice-tolerances. Rinsing the halves under cold water helps too. Cut into strips and then across to dice.

Rinse cilantro very very well, as it can be sandy. Roughly chop stem and leaves together.

Fresh lime juice is best. Roll the limes on a hard surface with pressure from your hand, to get the juices loose. You can squeeze directly into the guac to taste, or into a bowl to be more precise. Twisting the half around a fork helps get the juice out.

Put it together:
Spoon out the flesh of the avocado and mash it with a fork. Better yet: a potato masher. When smooth, add the remaining ingredients, stir and serve. Cover with plastic wrap if made ahead, with wrap touching the surface of the dip so there is no air.

2. Burrata & Tomatoes on Toast
"I didn't think I would like a creamy mushy cheese, but this is good!"
-Kristen K

Monday, November 14, 2011

Peanut Butter Everything Cookies

I've been so busy lately I have not had time to cook much, let alone write about it. But, I am getting excited for the holidays and food is definitely on my mind.

Last weekend was the first weekend off from work in a while for my husband and I. I made a point of going to the greenmarket to get inspired. Except, I didn't make anything grand with my findings, like I thought I would. Instead, I decided to make a batch of delicious everything cookies. Not only did I clean up my apartment finally, but also made a dent in the overstuffed pantry.

I came up with this cookie recipe a while back. You may even call it an un-recipe, because you can vary it up a bunch of ways and not screw it up.  I can't remember exactly, but I must have been trying to decide between making peanut butter cookies and oatmeal cookies.

Oatmeal cookies sometimes strike me as bland - so I usually add lots of filling goodies. Peanut butter cookies sometimes feel too oily or flat-tasting for me. So I combined both ideas, why not? Of course I put everything but the kitchen sink (or eggs) in them, because that's how I roll.

Peanut Butter Everything Cookies
approx. 3 dozen cookies

2 sticks margarine (or butter or Crisco)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ C sugar
¼ C Honey (optional, but very yummy)
1 cup peanut butter (or use 1/2 C almond + ½ C peanut)
1/2 C applesauce (or 2 eggs)
½ tsp vanilla extract

2  cups all-purpose flour (give or take – add more if mixture comes out too wet)
2 to 2-1/2 C old fashioned rolled oats (not the quick-cook)
1 tsp baking soda
 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon

1-1/2 C goodies: golden raisins, dried cherries, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, walnuts, peanuts, etc. 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).

2. In a large bowl, cream together first 7 ingredients (all wet ingredients) until smooth. 

3. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, oats, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. 

4. Add wet mixture to dry and stir until well combined. Mix in the goodies. 

5. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

6. Bake for 15-20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until just light brown. Cool at least 5 minutes before removing from cookie sheet (they might fall apart). Eat immediately. (Or cool on racks).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

48-Hour Cashew Cheese

Last weekend I experimented with cashew cheese. It looked so fresh and pretty in Tal Ronnen's cookbook, and I thought it sounded easy enough to make. However, it's not a process I'll attempt again, as it was a bit frustrating.

I tried to follow the recipe directions exactly, including wait times. The problem was, the whole process takes 2 days. I forgot to put the cashews in water to soak on Thursday night. So I put them in Friday at 10am when I remembered. But this meant that I had to wait 12-14 hours (that's 10pm or later) to grind them up and mix in the bacteria for culturing.

We finished up whatever dinner event we were involved in on Friday around 2am. OK, 5 minute project - blend the nights, mix the ingredients, wrap in cheesecloth.

Not so easy. I tried the blender, as the recipe instructed, to grind the nuts. Nothing worked - pulsing, chopping... just a spinning blade that refused to get the job done while the nuts stuck to the sides. So I tried the Bamix hand-blender.

It took some elbow grease and quite some time, but eventually the nuts were ground. I felt like the mixer was going to die drowning in the thick paste. 2am nut-grinding is not something I will do again, I was tired and kind of wanted to throw things and cry. It didn't even come out that smooth. I was following the instructions, so I mixed up the nuts and probiotics and set it aside to culture for the next 14-16 hours. I must admit I left the kitchen covered in nut-spatter and a sink full with nut-paste covered measuring and mixing tools.

Around 4pm on Saturday I mixed in the seasonings to the yeasty-smelling concoction. Nutritional yeast flakes, onion powder, white pepper, sea salt and nutmeg. Hmm. Interesting. I rolled it up in waxed paper and put it in the fridge to mingle for "several hours or overnight".

A couple hours later we decided to just try the cheese. Who wants cheese by the time it's ready on Sunday morning? We had it on a whole-wheat cracker and it tasted kind of wierd together. The cracker was a little sweet. The cheese tasted like vegan gravy. Alright, so this cheese is definitely boxed-in to being savory only.

The meaty flavor of the cheese reminded me of a classic party-platter combo: cheddar cheese, pepperoni and Ritz crackers. So I put the cashew cheese together with some vegan pepperoni slices on Ritz. The combo definitely worked. I don't think it replaces cheese, as it's more of a spread. And mine wasn't white and pretty like Tal's. And I might leave out the yeast flakes next time. But I did find out that vegan pepperoni is pretty darned good!

Have you had cashew cheese? What's your favorite way to make it or eat it?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Porcini and Shiitake Risotto

I've made risotto a handful of times, but recently I have been re-learning some recipes for a little self-improvement. In the case of re-learning basic risotto, here comes the Bittman books again, making things simple and unfailingly delicious.

I've had luck with squash risotto and barley risotto, but I was seeking a more flavorful main dish this time. The neighbors were coming for dinner and I intended to serve some non-vegetarians a veg meal they would feel satisfied with.

Mushrooms and risotto are a match made in heaven. It is earthy and flavorful with meaty chunks of protein-rich mushrooms.

Dried Fancy Porcini Mushrooms
I had avoided using dried mushrooms in the past because of a bad experience. Where I grew up, in Vermont, we picked our own chanterelles. Sometimes I would call several stores in NYC and ask their prices for my sweet little orange friends, usually around $30-45/lb. I'd grab a quarter pound to mix with less expensive mushrooms for a nice soup.  Once, I broke down and bought some dried chanterelles when I couldn't find them in the markets and followed directions to soak them before adding to soup. The package didn't say to rinse them, so I didn't. I assumed you wanted all the flavor possible, so why would I pour any down the drain? They were crunchy with dirt. Soup trashed. So disappointing.

I was afraid I'd gamble $10 on a small package of mushrooms that might be filled with dirt. This time I felt assured as I followed Bittman's directions which were clear about bathing them properly.

I added a twist, and some texture, by serving the risotto over roasted rings of delicata squash. Between the squash and mushrooms, the rice had enough flavor that you won't miss the cheese, if you want to leave it out to make it vegan.

Delicata is the "sweet potato" of squashes for it's sweet flavor and smooth (not stringy) texture.
Roast slices of delicata squash for an interesting side dish - use leftovers in salad.
On the side, I served a simple heirloom tomato salad and lemon-scented green beans. My meat-eating guests definitely felt satisfied, taking second and third helpings.

I'm glad I gave dried mushrooms a second chance. They now have a permanent spot in my pantry.

I never thought of Misty's coloring as mushroom... but I guess she's right!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Braised Kale and Onion Almondine

I offered my husband two dinner choices when he got home tonight. He seemed excited by both choices: squash pot pie or black bean enchiladas. And then I realized preparing the squash would take too long, and that I was missing ingredients for the enchiladas. Uh oh, disappointment. Should we order something?

Why can't I just be prepared lately? I'm always like 90 percent, realize I've forgotten something, with nowhere to go buy it nearby, and end up throwing out the ingredients I did buy when they go bad later in the week.

I ended up making a mish-mosh of things. It was one of those multi-ethnic prepared-food meals supplemented by a fresh cooked vegetable. I can't even imagine the concoction I've created in my belly right now. I started with warmed tortilla chips with salsa, as I set to prepare enchiladas. I finished some white wine from last night. I fried a few Macro Vegan Thai Dumplings we bought 2 weeks ago. I baked some Gardein tenders and Alexia red potato fries for a main course. And then, I managed to put the Kale to use, as well - also bought 2 weeks ago, yet still fine... miraculously.

The Kale was actually really good. It didn't seem like it was going to be. I made it up as I went, and in following the same "I didn't plan any of this" theme,  it refused to be cooked at the same time as the tenders and potatoes. At first it was stubbornly tough. So I gave in and added water and covered it on a simmer while we ate the rest of our dinner. When I uncovered it, what a doldrum-dark shade of green it was! Not attractive.

I brought it straight to the table for eating, bypassing my lamp-lit photo area, thinking it was not going to be what I'd hoped. Not worthy of sharing, or admitting. But, it was just tender enough, with slight bitterness. The onions added their sugars to give it a sweetness and textural contrast. Most importantly, toasted almond topping makes everything green taste better.

Braised Kale and Onion Almondine
4-6 servings
Approx. 40 minutes
1 bunch of Kale
2 T olive oil
1/4 C onions, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 C vegetable stock + water or stock as needed
2-3 T white wine
Salt & Pepper
Toasted almond slices

1. Rinse the kale and remove the rib of each leaf by folding in half and running a chef's knife down the inside of the rib. Chop the ribs finely, and set aside. Chop the leaves into manageable pieces.

2. Heat olive oil in a shallow pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until they start to get tender, about 8 minutes. Add the kale ribs and garlic, cooking 4 more minutes.

3. Add kale leaves a handful at a time, letting them wilt before adding more. When all leaves have been added, add the stock. Cook until stock evaporates, about 5 minutes, and season with salt and pepper. Add the wine. You can add a dab of vegan margarine or butter at this point to give more flavor.

4. When the wine cooks off in a few minutes, add a bit of water or stock, enough to stay a bit liquid in the pan - a couple tablespoons. Cover and lower heat to a simmer for 10-15 minutes until kale is tender. Season as needed and serve topped with almonds.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Midweek Meltdown: Daiya Pizza

It's been a while since I whipped up a homemade pizza dough. Upon returning from Vermont on Sunday I had just enough time before dinner to let a batch of dough rise. It really only takes 5 minutes to throw everything in the processor, knead it a couple times and set it and forget it for an hour and a half. I threw some tomatoes and garlic in a pan and let that simmer, too. Good time to put away the carload of bargains from Walmart in New Hampshire.

I feel the beginning of a pizza-obsessed phase coming on, so I saved half the dough for later in the week. Last night I decided to try out the Daiya cheese.

I tasted it out of the package and I thought it had an ok flavor. Kind of a hint of vinegar though. And something tasting like those nutritional yeast flakes that almost want to be chicken flavor. I kept the pizza simple and just topped it with basic sauce, oregano, onions and Daiya.

The cheese shreds looked like a good time coming as they melted and browned in the oven. It seemed to be doing what cheese is supposed to. When it came out, it was almost gooey like mozzarella. For the first two bites, I thought, ok... this could be ok. At least my (Mark Bittman recipe) pizza crust was crispy and delicious.

But just like the other cheese I tried, as it cools it becomes more creamy. A few bites later I felt like I was eating a pizza topped with cream cheese. Maybe you could melt this on your bagel, but I'm not 100% sold that it's the greatest pizza topping.

I think I will still opt for a chunkier tomato sauce and veggie toppings when attempting to veganify my pizza, instead of focusing on trying to fake the cheese. Hopefully I will find a use for the rest of the Daiya - maybe even a Mexican dip or spinach dip? I bet that would be good!

Friday, October 14, 2011

From Greenpoint to the Green Mountains with Mushroom & Sauerkraut Pierogis

Pierogis and onions at the end of a damp travel day

It was quite the trek up to Vermont today. What we thought was going to be an early start to a lightly trafficked route Northbound turned out to be an eye-squinting and nerve-racking 40 mile-per-hour crawl through heavy downpours.

We could hardly see and had to stop twice
Finally, almost home and it's clearing a bit
This is Misty’s first trip to “grammy and grampy’s” house. She has gone from nervous and shaking in the car to excited, since we usually take a quick trip to my in-laws in Queens, or to the dog park, for safely-fenced running fits. For her, car equals fun. Although this trip was closer to 6 hours, she handled it quite well. For the first 4 hours she sat daintily and watched the passing cars, trees and pounding rain. As usual, Amit channel-surfed through techno and hip-hop on the XM, and we all three enjoyed the excessive bass of our rental Caddy’s system.

Up on the mountain, the rain was not quite so hard, and there were some times it lightened. In either case, we were determined to persuade Misty to do her business before going in the house, to avoid her typical new-place anxiety pees. But she just wanted to run. And run, and run. She ran in circles, after Frisbees, chasing balls, tearing around trees and across the neighbor’s lawn. I’ve never seen her run so much – and I don’t think she’s ever had such a big expanse of grassy space to try it. We were nervous to let her off-leash for the first time without a fence, but she was happy to let us know her excitement and kept running back to us, as if to say “I love it here!”

At the end of the day we were all tired. Misty ran her energy out, drank plenty of fresh rainwater, sampled some cat food and did her business in the appropriate spot of her choosing. Amit and I were just feeling sleepy from the drive, the clouds and a bit damp from walking around in the rain so long.

This was a night for which pierogis were the perfect hearty dinner. 

Steaming bowl full of Mushroom and Sauerkraut Pierogis
I had bought and frozen a couple packages from the supermarket in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that our Polish neighbor had taken us to.  He was on a mission for special ketchup, but they had all sorts of Polish goodies. You can buy these packages of prepared pierogis in most grocery stores in New York in the dairy section, but this one in the predominantly Polish ‘hood had more to choose from, and at much lower prices.  I’ve never had sauerkraut & mushroom pierogis, so I was excited to try them. They happen to be vegan too – no eggs or cheese in this kind, and not at all needed!a

Crunchy kraut and yummy mushrooms made these my new favorite pierogis.
We always need vegetarian inspiration at my parent’s house, so I decided to schlep some ready-to-rot kale, spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes along with the frozen pierogis.  I quickly boiled-up the filled pasta-pillows after my nap and topped them with some sautéed onions. My mom made for us some delicious local sweet corn – the last of the season from a nearby farm.

It's so quiet up here. Even the normally anxious Mistinator has no worries. About an hour and a piece of homemade fudge later, everyone is starting to nod off, full and satisfied.

Shhh... don't tell Amit... stealth photography with laptop photo booth....  sweet dreams!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Macro Vegan Thai Chicken with Peanut Noodles

We're really liking this new Macro Vegan section of the grocery store. We picked up a package of Macro Vegan Thai Chicken and tossed it with peanut noodles that we made at home. It was sooo much better than any vegan Pad Thai you get from the regular Thai restaurants. It was about as quick to make as waiting for delivery, as well.

The flat pieces of chicken were like the kind you get in a good Asian Vegan restaurant, with that nice chewy texture. All we did was cook some bean noodles that were hiding in the way-back of the cupboard and toss them with cooked vegetables and peanut sauce mix. This was a really super-delicious meal!

Thai Peanut Noodles with Vegan Chicken
1 package Macro Vegan Thai Chicken1 packet of Taste of Thai peanut sauce mix
1 14oz can of coconut milk
2-4 servings worth of Ammoy flat bean noodles or flat rice noodles
1 T oil (olive or canola)
1/2 C carrots, chopped
1/2 C onion, slices
3 limes
Garnish: Chopped peanuts, scallions, chives, sprouts or cilantro

1.  Cook noodles to package directions, drain and set aside.

2. In a shallow pan, heat oil and add onions and carrots. Stir-fry until cooked to desired tenderness, about 8-10 minutes.

3. Add vegan chicken, stirring to heat through.

4. Combine packet contents with coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer 3 minutes.  Add to onion, carrot, chicken mixture.

5. Squeeze 1 lime into the mixture, or more to taste. Garnish with desired toppings.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Vegan Brownies from a Box Mix

Nothing better to compliment your Sunday morning coffee than a few spoonfuls of brownie crumbs from Saturday night's dessert!

I'm not good at baking, and that's definitely not something I'll be experimenting with. But seriously, anyone can make brownies from a box mix. And it's really easy to make them vegan, since there's no need for eggs in baking. You don't even need any fancy egg-replacement products, just a little apple sauce.

So maybe they will be a little more crumbly than the egg bound version. But they will still taste delicious, and are great topped with a little ice cream (try vegan Coconut Bliss).

*Update 5/19/12:
Here is the mix I used that did not have dairy products - it's easy to find in grocery stores:
Duncan Hines CHEWY FUDGE BROWNIE mix.  DOUBLE FUDGE and DARK CHOCOLATE should be ok too. Other varieties, such as "milk chocolate" may have dairy products included, so please check the ingredients.

Vegan Brownies from a Box Mix
1 box of brownie mix
1/3 C water
1/3 C oil
1/4 C applesauce
1 T arrowroot powder or cornstarch (optional, to add binding power)

In a large bowl, combine brownie mix contents, water, oil, applesauce and arrowroot. Mix about 50 strokes until well combined. Pour into a pan and follow baking directions on the box for your pan size.

You may need to bake them about 10 minutes longer than the box advises. They're done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mid-week Meltdown: So This Is Vegan Cheese?

It's fricken Wednesday, a fricken busy week, and I'm fricken tired. I dragged my fricken scaredy-cat doggy around the neighborhood and my fricken arms are tired. I can't think about cooking now. I just want some fricken pizza with some fricken gooey cheese!

Tortilla pizza with sauce, vegan mozzarella and herbs. The good news is it's low in cholesterol!
One of my goals this month is to find a vegan substitute for cheese. There is a rule of thumb in cooking that everything is better with bacon. Well, if you're cooking vegetarian, everything is better with cheese. But what about vegan? What's that magic ingredient?

A top contender for magic vegan ingredient might be Smart Dogs... at least they got the consistency right!
I really don't think it's vegan cheese. At least not the one I tried today, Follow Your Heart brand Vegan Gourmet Cheese Alternative Mozzarella. It honestly doesn't taste like anything. It crackles in the toaster and bubbles like real cheese. And then it turns back into plastic shreds when you take it out. Have these people ever eaten cheese? Because, by-the-way, it tastes much different than tofu. Or plastic.

I hope there is a good mozzarella alternative out there, because there's nothing easier when you're beat than resorting to pizza. But half the guilty, comforting joy of giving in to pizza is the cheese. Good thing the tomato sauce is my favorite part! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Oregano-Scented Roast Corn

It may be past the peak of corn season, but there's still some really sweet corn on the cob to be found at the farmer's markets. This has been a decent year for local corn here, I have yet to husk a deformed or wormy cob.

The easiest way to prepare corn on the cob is to simply husk and boil it,  and season it up. You can even microwave it. But if you're cooking dinner, and the oven is hot, roast corn is the best. The concentrated flavors from roasting intensify it's sweetness. It might be the easiest vegetable side dish ever.

I've been experimenting with roast corn for a while. Pre-cooked, sprinkled with cheese and broiled. Smeared with pesto or lime, cilantro and garlic. Sprinkled with curry powder or cayenne. You can pretty much add a dash of whatever feels right to tie in to the dinner theme.

My favorite simple roast corn recipe lately is to just wrap the corn tightly in an aluminum foil packet with a little butter or oil, sea salt, pepper and fresh oregano. The oregano seems to add another element to the sweetness, just giving it a fresh, green-tasting twist.

Oregano-Scented Roast Corn
corn on the cob, husked and cleaned
butter, vegan margarine or olive oil
coarse salt (Kosher or sea salt)
black pepper
fresh oregano (2 sprigs per cob)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Roasted Campari Tomatoes Over Baby Spinach

Sometimes the best salads are the simplest. I'm really into topping simple greens with warm ingredients lately.

There's no more classic salad topping than tomatoes, and their sweet flavor only gets sweeter roasting.  Tomatoes are also one of the easiest side dishes to prepare - halve 'em, drizzle 'em, set 'em in the oven and forget 'em.

Roasted Campari Tomatoes Over Baby Spinach

Campari, or other better-quality, sweet flavored tomatoes (heirloom, cherry, etc)

Olive oil
Sea Salt or Kosher Salt

Baby Spinach, rinsed and dried
Fresh basil, chiffonade

Balsamic Vinaigrette:
3 T olive oil
1 T aged balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard

1. Heat oven to 350F.

2. Remove stems and cut tomatoes in half from top to bottom vertically. Place on an aluminum foil lined sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 45-90 minutes, depending on how dry you like them.
At 45 minutes they will be bursting with juices – longer baking will concentrate the flavors more, but could give the skin some toughness.

3. Prepare balsamic vinegar by combining vinegar and mustard in a bowl or measuring cup. Add the olive oil slowly, whisking together. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

4. Place spinach leaves on plates and drizzle with dressing. Top with roasted tomatoes and a little fresh basil.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Macro Vegan Samosa Dumplings

New vegetarian & vegan products are constantly popping up in the grocery stores. I feel like they disappear just as quickly, too. As soon as you find something you love, it never fails, you might never see it again. It's a good idea to check the "soy" area of the produce section and freezer aisles regularly, and to stock up on the things you love.

I've noticed these Macro Vegetarian plastic containers of ready-made Asian foods at Fairway a few times. We finally decided to pick up a package because it sounded kind of interesting and different: Samosa Dumplings. Let's try it out!

They're like Chinese dumplings, or potstickers, filled with corn, peas, potatoes and curry spices - like an Indian samosa. We fried them up and dipped them in soy sauce, as you would any dumpling. They were actually pretty good!

Easy Vegan Potato Leek Soup with Dill Croutons

As the weather gets colder don't be sad... celebrate! It's soup season!

Soup is one of the easiest things to make vegan. You replace butter with olive oil, bacon fat with olive oil, chicken stock with vegetable stock, and milk with cashew cream. And even if you don't have the foresight to prepare cashew cream, or are allergic to nuts - you can blend in potatoes for a thick "creaminess". Soup is so easy to make, and so hard to fail at, that any number of substitutions and alterations will rarely produce bad results.

My main advice is keep it simple. I generally follow this formula for soup:
1. Star ingredient
2. 1-2 complementary ingredients
3. Oil, onion, water or stock, and possibly garlic.
4. Optional cashew cream or potatoes for creaminess.
5. 1 fresh herb to finish
6. Crunchy element - nuts, croutons or toast for dipping

This week I felt a yearning for the leeks from springtime, but also a desire for something hearty and warm. Time for potato-leek soup.

Being that it's Vegan Mofo, I am mindful not to throw cream in where it's not needed. You don't need dairy to make this soup tasty - it's full of potatoes, which when blended create a starchy cream-like consistency in any soup. The leeks give a very mild onion flavor, and the spicy croutons have a zippy crunch to balance out the smooth soup. Adding a bit of dill gives it a little pop of fresh flavor, a flashback to summer.

Easy Vegan Red Potato Leek Soup
6-8 servings, 30 minutes

3-4 C leeks (about 2 extra large or 4 large) cleaned and white parts chopped into 1/8” half-moons

2 T olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 T)
6 C good quality organic vegetable stock
4-5 C red potatoes, unpeeled (about 5 large), diced into ½” pieces

1 T lemon juice
salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper
fresh dill
Dill Croutons (recipe below)

1. Heat oil in a stock pot over medium-low heat. Add leeks and cook about 10 minutes until softened.  Add garlic and cook 2 minutes more.

2. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and simmer 15 minutes until tender.

3. Using an immersion blender, roughly puree the soup half-way. Or, transfer about half the soup to a blender to puree, and add back to the pot.

4. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne and lemon juice.

5. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh dill and croutons.

Dill Croutons

These make a great garnish for soup or salad, as well as a crunchy bar snack.

Baguette or day-old bread, cut into ½” cubes

Olive Oil




Garlic Powder


Heat oven to 350F. Place bread cubes on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil and season with spices. Sprinkle a pinch of dill on top. Bake until golden and crispy, 10-15 minutes.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Stock Up for Vegan MoFo

Always keep tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, and lemons on hand for vegetarian cooking

After getting married and moving in with my husband, my kitchen habits are probably what changed most. He never asked me to be vegetarian, or to keep meat out of the kitchen. But was I really going to cook separate meals for us? Nope. Vegetarian cooking takes a little bit more attention, and keeping things separate is too much work.

So I eat what he eats. And I stopped missing meat. OK, so every now and then I have a craving, but really I just miss the simplicity of the meat-centered meal when I’m feeling lazy. 

When people hear about my blog, they often ask, “well, what do you cook?” It’s actually a hard question to answer, especially for those used to eating meat at the center of every meal. The answer is “pretty much everything, mostly vegetarian stuff”. Response: “yeah, but what? Italian? Comfort Food?” And even though I categorize my blog, and technically I should be able to answer better, my gut reaction is still, “no, really, pretty much everything”.

The protein shelf in my fridge. Just add to your favorite recipe and done!
Our vegetarian kitchen looks a lot different than my single-girl omnivore kitchen did. There are so many substitutes out there for meats, that you really can vegetarianize almost anything. For example, in my fridge, instead of a drawer full of cold cuts and bacon, I have a shelf of seitan, tofu, and fake meats – even veggie turkey slices.

Two of my favorite smart dogs.
Nuts are an easy toss-in for extra protein
In my thaw drawer, instead of defrosting chicken breasts, you would find it permanently stuffed with nuts and dried fruits. 

Two drawers full of breads in the freezer
An entire drawer of easy to cook frozen Gardein proteins
The freezer is the same – there are two baskets full of breads and rolls, one dedicated to frozen Gardein products and a shelf of pierogi, ravioli and veggie patties.   

Bittman's Braised Tofu with Eggplant and Shiitakes

I've been hearing so many good things about Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything books, that I bought both the original and vegetarian versions. I decided to dive into them and re-learn some skills. His casual style makes me feel less like I'm using a text book, and more like I'm getting some pointers from a friend.

I've been creating my own recipes for years, but getting back to the basics has been good for me. I'm reminded that I don't need to over think things, and keeping it simple will usually work out best. If you know me well, you know I have a hard time following recipes. I can't help putting my own twist on something, and asking "what-if" constantly, and changing things as I go. It's the same reason I'm a fashion designer - I'll never be satisfied with anything straight out of the box. And probably, ultimately, never fully satisfied with anything at all! But I see I'm letting you a little too close into my psyche, so I'm gonna back off a little now.

There are so many great ideas in Bittman's books. Everything I would normally Google, I look up in How To Cook Everything, and it's there. Literally, everything. There are so many variations given for each recipe, that as I'm asking "what-if", it's immediately answered post-recipe (for example, if you add fennel, skip the vinegar). The downside is that I'm left feeling like my seemingly original ideas are not so original any more, because Bittman already cooked everything and covered that. I do wish his vegetarian book contained less duplicates from the regular book. But I guess in order to get two books truly encompassing everything on a topic, you're going to have some overlap.

For a while it seemed that I kept going back to the original book. Until I found myself looking to utilize a lonely package of tofu with whatever vegetables I had in the fridge. Tofu is not my star subject. It's just okay. So I looked it up in the HTCE Vegetarian book, and found a recipe for tofu that I happened to have all the important ingredients for.

Braised Tofu with Eggplant and Shiitakes was a hit. Not too saucy, not too dry. I had to skip the chili paste, but that was fine. I didn't have fresh ginger, which was optional anyways. And who keeps grape seed oil on hand? I don't. I used Canola. And everything turned out great! A good solid meal that opened up some fridge space. Thanks again, Mr. Bittman.

Friday, September 30, 2011

October is Vegan MoFo

It's Vegan MoFo time again. I'm a little excited for the challenge this time.

Last November, going mostly vegan was a little daunting. I discovered the difficulties of creating truly vegan meals. There really are eggs or dairy in so many foods that you would not suspect. On the other hand, it's really not that difficult to cook vegan, or at least be more "vegan-ish". There are so many resources out there for putting together a perfectly healthy and satisfying vegan diet, many more than there were just a few years ago. It's easier than ever, but it still requires a good deal of determination and will-power. Although I didn't stick to a vegan diet, I learned so much, and adopted plenty of good habits.

Since the last MoFo, I have become less dependent on fake meat products. They are still a staple in our home, but less so. I will tell you, however, that I've never had better finger nails than when I was chowing down on wheat-gluten, whey and soy protein regularly! I can't tell you that I've adopted the vegan diet. Or even a fully vegetarian diet. But each day that I eliminate meat or dairy from my meals, be it by choice or by chance, I know I have improved my health and longevity. If we could all just be a little more vegan-ish, a little more frequently, we might all live a little longer and happier.

I'm not going to preach to you about any animal rights. I have hunt-and-gather heritage, married into a vegetarian Hindu family, and love all animals very much, including my babycakes Mistypants. For me, it really comes down to the science of the body. Eating animal products is just not good for the body. The fats just do all sorts of nasty things to your cells, that in turn, do nasty things to your health.

Misty wonders what it would be like to go vegan. She doesn't even like vegetables!
Eating a vegan diet greatly reduces your chance of getting Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood-pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis and several forms of cancer. Don't we all know someone, probably close family, that takes medicine every day for one of these conditions? What if you could reduce your chances? Or even stop needing medication for one of these problems? And all you had to do was eliminate a few things from your diet?

If you're thinking about being a little bit more vegan, for whatever reason, check back here often this month. I have a ton of vegan recipes already in the index, and I'll be creating more all month. I try to keep it simple, satisfying and interesting. Fake meats like Gardein chick'n or Smart Dogs fill in when I don't have enough time to cook. Bigger meals might be more intense, but usually leave leftovers that are great for reheating later.

Here are some recipes to get you started:

 My new favorite salad to accompany pasta: Fennel and Apple Salad

 A hearty soup that makes great leftovers: Lentil Soup with Leeks and Carrots

Satisfying Protein and Pasta: Crispy Chik'n with Wild Mushrooms

If you want to invest in a cookbook to get you started, a great one is How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. It teaches you all the basic techniques and gives vegan variations. I started with The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen, and found it quite interesting to read through all the information he gives aside from recipes. The recipes tended to have too many fancy hard-to-find ingredients like pea shoots and dulse, but I did get some really great ideas from it. The Chick'n Piccata is my go-to recipe, totally vegan, and my husband requests it all the time.

Happy Vegan MoFo everyone!

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