Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer Fresh Treat

There is little that can rival a ripe, warm peach or apricot fresh of the tree at the peak of ripeness. The sweet floral aroma invades your nostrils and the juice runs down your arm and chin no matter how you try to catch it all. If you are lucky enough to have a tree or can get good fruit at a farmer's market and find yourself with several on hand which all needed to be used yesterday this is a great way to use them up. It tastes like a treat, but it's a sight healthier than anything you are going to find at the ice cream parlor.

Fresh Peach Shake
4 or 5 fresh peaches (or nectarines), pitted and cut into quarters (not peeled)
1/2 box silken tofu
1-4 tbsp agave nectar (to taste, depending on your fruit)
2-3 cups ice
soy milk or water to desired consistency

Place peaches in blender and give it a whirl until the big chunks are gone. Add tofu and agave nectar. Blend until smooth, 15-30 seconds. Taste to determine if you want more agave, and add if desired. Add ice and blend until smooth. If you want it thinner add soy milk or water, if you like it thicker add more ice. Serves 2(ish).

This is fantastic on a hot afternoon when you want a nice cold snack that won't weight you down.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

As BooBoo says: Dee-wishish!

Plum Upside-Down Cake
Do you have plums coming out of your ears? Or some that are not quite great enough to eat out of hand? Make this. I used the Plum-Rosemary Upside-Down Cake recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. This in one of the recipes in the book that is not vegan but it is easy enough to "fix". I omitted the rosemary (didn't sound good that night), made "buttermilk" with 1 cup of soymilk and 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, substituted margarine and applesauce for the butter, and used egg substitute for the 2 eggs. I thew it together one night when a couple friends were over and everyone enjoyed it. The juices from the plums mix with the brown sugar and make this yummy sauce that soaks into the cake when you invert it on to a plate. Dust it with confectioners sugar just before serving for a pretty contrast.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Feel-Good Banana Bread

Banana bread was one of the first things I learned to bake, was one of the first recipes I veganized, and remains one of my favorite comfort foods. However, it is not perfect... until now. As much as I love it, and despite the fact that it contains a substantial amount of fruit, it is usually not health food. Most recipes call for quite a bit of butter/margarine, white flour, and sugar. I've been playing with my recipe in an effort to make something that is both tasty and does not make me feel gross and I think I've got it, finally. I named it thusly because it makes your mouth and your body happy.

Feel-Good Banana Bread
This recipe makes two loaves. You can half it, but I always just make a double batch and either freeze one until we are ready for it, or gift it.

2 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup toasted oat bran
1/3 cup raw wheat germ
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp fine sea salt
6-7 medium, very ripe bananas, mashed well
6 oz plain soy yogurt
1/4 cup light oil (I used 2 tbsp each of plain and toasted walnut oil) or melted earth balance
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup ground flax
1/2 cup water

Adjust the rack of your oven to the lower middle position and preheat to 350. Grease and flour two loaf pans (I use Baker's Joy).

Mix together all your dry ingredients, flour through salt, in a large bowl and set aside.

Mix the ground flax and water in a small bowl and set aside while you mix the rest of the wet ingredients. Mix yogurt into mashed bananas in a medium bowl (if you do this immediately after mashing the bananas they won't oxidize). Mix in oil, applesauce, and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined. Beat flax and water mixture with a whisk for a minute or so to build up the viscosity then add to banana mixture and mix until fairly uniform (you will still have small chunks of banana).

Pour the wet mixture into the dry and fold together just until combined; a few streaks of flour are okay, it's more important to not over mix. Divide evenly between the two loaf pans (since my loaf pans are identical I use my kitchen scale for this so I am really sure it is as even as possible).

Bake about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out nearly clean, a few moist crumbs are ideal. This bread browns very easily so keep and eye on it and cover lightly with a foil tent when it looks good, I did this about half way though the baking time.

Cool in pan 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or let cool completely and then store in refrigerator if you are going to eat it quickly or well-wrapped in the freezer for longer storage.

This is yummy with a shmear of Earth Balance, which is B's preferred way of consuming it, but it is so moist on it's own that it is really just gilding the lily.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Easy Enchilada Stir-Fry

As I've mentioned before, I love Mexican food. I especially love enchiladas, in particular enchilada sauce. It is super easy to make at home and you can control the ingredients. I used to cook mine and then strain out the solids, but now I just saute the veggies then throw everything in my Blendtec and run it until it is totally smooth and delicious. There are three benefits to this. One - you don't lose the fiber that you would otherwise be straining out. Two - you end up with a greater volume of sauce. Three - it is wayyy less time consuming. I like the recipe from Cook's Illustrated Family Cookbook, and if I remember correctly it is vegan with out having to substitute anything. Actually, I really like all their cookbooks even though they are pretty much the furthest thing from vegetarian because they include detailed discussions on why they choose the ingredients and cooking method they employ for each recipe. I find it pretty easy to substitute vegan alternatives, especially when I know what function a product serves in a particular recipe. But I digress.

This recipe came about because I was craving enchiladas but I didn't want the calories and fat usually included between the oil, tortillas, and fillings. It is totally delicious and you can feel good about eating it (my favorite kind of food!). You could make "regular" enchiladas and use this as a filling, but I served it over lightly sauteed kale for a low calorie, (mostly) low fat, very filling meal. It keeps well as leftovers too.

Easy Enchilada Stir-Fry with Guacamole

1 lb butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 med onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp chili pepper
2 medium zucchini, diced
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 29oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups home made enchilada sauce
1/2 cup chopped cilantro for serving

Preheat a 12" saute pan over medium heat. Lightly oil or spray with non-stick spray and add butternut squash. Cook, stirring every few minutes until squash is fork tender and beginning to brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Remove to a plate and return pan to heat.
Turn up heat to medium-high, spray with non-stick spray and add onions, red and poblano peppers. Cook, stirring frequently until veggies start to soften and get some spotty color, 3-5 minutes. Move them to the edges of pan, spray middle, and add mushrooms. Cook a couple of minutes, stirring once or twice, until mushrooms start to take on some color. Stir in veggies on the edge and continue cooking 3-5 minutes longer stirring frequently, until mushrooms have released water. Add in jalapeno and garlic, stir to combine and cook 1 minute more. Add in chili powder and stir to coat everything in pan. Add reserved butternut squash, zucchini, corn and beans and stir to incorporate. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour in enchilada sauce, stir to coat, back heat down to low and simmer about 5 minutes. The zucchini should be cooked but still slightly crunchy.

Serve with guacamole and cilantro.

Makes 6 big servings.

Perfect Guacamole
I love this recipe because it really lets the avocado shine.

2 avocados
1 sm shallot, minced or grated
1/8th tsp granulated garlic (or to taste)
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
juice of 1 small lime
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

Place one peeled and pitted avocado in a medium bowl and mash with a fork until creamy and the large chunks have disappeared. Add the shallot, granulated garlic, salt, lime juice and cilantro and mix to thoroughly combine. Cut the second avocado into a small dice (I find this is easiest to do while it is still in the skin and then scoop out the cubes with a spoon) and place in bowl. Mix gently to incorporate, taking care not to break up the chunks too much. Serve immediately or cover directly with plastic wrap to prevent browning.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

An Ode to Books and a Recommendation

Reading is probably my favorite year-round past time of all time. I admit - I did not major in English because I suck at creative writing. If you want my opinion on something I've read we're good to go, but if I have to come up with my own story line - forget it. I am so glad there are people out there with all these amazing stories that they can articulate so well. I love being transported to another place, getting lost in the minutia of a tale and along those lines I enjoy the occasional beach read by Jane Green or Jennifer Weiner as well as a lot of fantasy.

I am very fact-oriented, so my other favorite book types are health and history books. I am currently reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and so far would recommend it highly. I'll add a list of the books I've read that I would recommend to the side bar soon, so keep an eye out for that, I'll be sure to update it regularly.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I also love cookbooks. I have an entire bookcase full - and that is after I gave away a few that I truly never used. For my high school graduation my mom gave me five different, unrelated cookbooks and that was my favorite gift. As such I've been collecting them since I was seventeen and consequently most are not vegetarian; but I have found many of my favorite recipes easy enough to adapt, and the animal-based recipes to often be great idea-starters, so if you're a new veg don't pitch your old cookbooks just yet.

One of my new favorite cookbooks is How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. It is vegetarian, not vegan, but all the recipes are clearly marked and he frequently provides variations which are vegan. Even if he doesn't if you know a few standard substitutions or just omit an ingredient the recipe will usually work anyway. One of the best things about his book is the variety of condiments or base recipes which he makes veg
(such as dashi - a Japanese broth traditionally made with bonito, a dried fish), which makes adapting your favorite recipe a cinch. He also groups all the vegetables and fruits into one section, alphabetically, and provides an excellent description of each, as well as the best application(s) for cooking (or not), substitutions, and usually at least one recipe. If you are looking to expand your veggie knowledge or palate this section is reason enough to get this book. I recommend this cookbook for both vegetarians and omni's alike, it is unassuming and very thorough but not unnecessarily complex. Remember, forgoing animal products even just two days a week has a substantial impact (for the better) on the environment and your body and gives you a chance to stretch your culinary creativity!