Friday, October 31, 2008

VeganMoFo: A Wrap Up

I just wanted to thank all the bloggers who participated in MoFo. I found your posts inspiring and motivating. I wanted to end with a recipe, but work has stolen me away again. This was an excellent exercise for me and a great way to get into the habit of blogging. This might be the end of VeganMoFo for this year, but it is just the beginning of the holiday season! I'll have a recipe for you by the end of the weekend and I have a whole bunch more rolling around in my head that I need to get to in the next month. 

Hope everyone had a safe and fun Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

VeganMoFo: Ice Cream Review

B and I don't go to Whole Foods very often, since it is not very convenient to us. But they do carry a number of items are not available in any stores in our area, so we usually pick up something new to try when we (or just I...) make a trip. Last time we picked up two of the new coconut milk ice creams by Purely Decadent: Mint Chip and Cookie Dough. 

The verdict? They have great mouth feel, very smooth and creamy, but they taste just okay. We could both taste the coconut, which in these flavors is not a positive attribute. It is less pronounced in the mint chip, but still present. The coconut flavor is more obvious in the cookie dough, and I'm not very fond of the cookie dough itself, it is grainy and not very flavorful. B's primary complaint about that one was the lack of cookie dough chunks. Additionally, we both would have liked a lot more chocolate in the mint chip. Of the two I would buy the mint chip again, however, next time I'll try a flavor that better complements the coconut.

So, in summary, we'll finish these ones (sacrifices must be made!), but try different flavors next time. And I'm going to have to work on homemade versions of these flavors. Hey, someone has to do it :o)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

VeganMoFo: Freeze(r) Tag

Bethany - I'm finally doing the tag! See I didn't forget! :) And I combined it with my goal of taking a picture and posting ::pats self on back:: So many people have been tagged or already posted that I can't remember who hasn't, so consider yourself tagged (lame? yes, but effective!).

What's in Your (Vegan) Freezer Tag
We'll start with the door. This is the top shelf. We have a couple small ice packs, a herbal eye mask (for my migraines), and a bottle of limoncello (mmmmm).

2nd shelf on door.  Frozen concentrates of apple juice and orange juice, which I keep on hand for baking/cooking. Usually such applications don't actually require fresh juice. Also reusable "ice cubes" which we never really use... 

3rd shelf on the door. A couple ice sleeves for keeping wine bottles chilled and frozen treats: chocolate covered bananas and a couple flavors of Fruit Floe's from TJ's (they make the best lime popsicles ever).

4th door shelf. Nuts. Due to their very high oil content nuts tend to go rancid very quickly. Storing them in the freezer greatly extends their shelf life. This may not be an issue for you if you go through your nuts very quickly, but I like to keep a variety on hand, and I buy in larger quantities of those I use the most frequently from Costco, so I freeze all mine (extras are in the outside freezer).

Bottom shelf. Coffee, also for freshness since we drink it very infrequently and a bag of pine nuts (from Costco!)

And we're on to the freezer itself. Above this shelf is the ice cube maker/dispenser. This top shelf holds frozen fruit (we go through a lot in smoothies), ice cream, phyllo dough, and puff pastry (hidden). We usually do not have this much ice cream on hand, but we went to Whole Foods and they had the new Purely Decadent coconut milk ice creams, so we bought a couple. I'll post my review of the two we tried tomorrow.

Shelf 2. This shelf mostly holds my homemade, pre-made "convenience foods" (pesto, roasted garlic, the caramelized onions, fresh lime juice cubes, a loaf of banana bread) and a few whole grains. I keep most of my grains in the pantry, but when I have more than will fit in the container I throw the extras in the freezer due to the high oil content. I also keep all my whole grain cornmeal in the freezer (but it still taste's off to me. I think because I grew up with the degermed kind. Weirdly, it is only the yellow cornmeal that tastes off, the whole grain blue cornmeal smells and tastes fine. And yes, I've tried several brands).

4th shelf. Frozen veggies, steins, and Candy Cane Joe Joe's (mmmmm).

And finally the bottom shelf. More nuts, sesame seeds, homemade beans, and faux meat. I keep a few commercially made faux meats around, but mostly there is homemade seitan and sausages in there and usually a couple blocks of tofu.

Monday, October 27, 2008

VeganMoFo: Ugg

Work is officially getting in the way of my to-do list. So annoying :) My mini-goal of the day: take a picture of something reasonably interesting and post about it tonight.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

VeganMoFo: Cook Now for Later

I'm a big fan of making my own connivance foods. A little time invested when I am not crazy busy makes my life easier when I'm pressed for time without having to sacrifice flavor or nutrition. PLUS I can still claim homemade, even if it's pulled out of the freezer or cupboard. I've mentioned that I'm working on a homemade biscuit mix; there are a number of recipes out there, but most are not vegan. I accidentally made a larger batch than I intended last time, so I'm working my way through that before I test a different variation (it is a hard job, but I do it for you! ha). There are a lot of things you can do in advance with very little effort, just double or triple what you need for tonight and freeze the extra. This works great for pesto, seitan, pie crust, bread, beans... the list is extensive. I'll be posting more about make-ahead foods in the near future.

Caramelized Onions
This weekend I tried my hand at caramelized onions. I used 3 large onions, which you can see filled the 3 quart saute pan in the beginning (this was after about 10 minutes of cooking). The key is *low* and *slow*. This took an hour and a half, but it was well worth it. And only the last 15-20 minutes really requires your almost constant attention (by which I mean I read a book while stirring). 

Just throw all the onions in a large pan over low (did I mention low) heat and toss with tongs every 5 minutes or so. The low heat allows the onions to give up all their water before getting any color so the sugars can fully caramelize without burning. When you notice them starting to stick to the bottom of the pan stir a little more frequently. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt if you wish, I found it allowed me to cook them a little longer which meant better flavor. Watch them closely at the end, stirring frequently, to prevent burning; they will get sticky. Allow to cool and then freeze for later use (if you can restrain yourself from eating the entire batch straight out of the pan...)
This is what they looked like at the end. See how much they shrunk? *Low and Slow* You now have slow-cooked flavor ready to go in your freezer. Yum!

And some content completely unrelated to caramelize onions:
BooBoo came over with my parents the other night and had a bath while she was at our house. Isn't she the cutest (that is obviously a completely objective evaluation). I just love her. She likes to help me in the kitchen too; that's fun, and a great opportunity to teach colors, math, self-control, patience, and good eating habits. Get you kids (or borrow one!) in the kitchen. You'll both learn a lot.

Friday, October 24, 2008

VeganMoFo: Don't Hate on Simmered Seitan

I know there has been a lot of hate toward "boiled seitan" by some veg*ns. While I like the steamed/baked seitan just as much as the next guy I think simmered seitan should not be banned from our tables. Part of the problem is probably that seitan should not be boiled - it makes the texture weird and spongy. But simmered seitan is my preference for soups and stew. It also freezes well, so make a whole batch even if you are not going to use it right away. Just freeze the remainder covered with simmering liquid. 

Beefy Seitan
The key to good simmered seitan is to flavor the dough itself and the simmering liquid. Too many recipes just mix vital wheat gluten and water and then plop it in barely flavored water. No wonder so many people don't like it. This one is simmered just an hour, which results in a more chewy, dense seitan. I do this on purpose, since typically it gets cooked again in an actual dish. In the stew recipe I posted yesterday it becomes very tender, which is exactly what I wanted. 

If you have a large enough pot you can definitely double this recipe so you will have plenty of leftovers. In all honesty, large hunks of simmered seitan are not very attractive, so I'm sparing you pictures.

1 cup vital wheat gluten
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chicken flavor broth mix
3/4 cup water 

Mix all the ingredients well and knead 5 minutes. Cover and let rest 20 minutes. Use this time to get the simmering liquid ready.

Simmering Liquid
6 cups water
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp "no beef" bouillon
2 bay leaves
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1 tbsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp black tea leaves (loose tea is best as the tea leaves are much larger than in tea bags)

Place all ingredients in a large saute pan or stockpot with a tight fitting lid.

This part is very flexible, you can shape the dough into two larger logs (they won't stay well rounded however), or cutlets, or even big chunks, just keep an eye on them and adjust the cooking time accordingly. I usually divide the dough in four and stretch each piece into cutlets. 

Set all the pieces in the simmering liquid and bring to a boil. Immediately lower the heat so that the liquid is gently bubbling and cover pan.

Simmer 1 hour, turning two or three times. It will get all puffy when it is cooking and then shrink back down after it has cooled. 

Once it has cooled, strain the simmering liquid before putting away the seitan. The liquid is very flavorful and can be used in place of veggie broth.

I also have a chickeny version, but it is not as good as I would like, so I will post that one once it is perfected.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

VeganMoFo: I'm Stewing

If you are opposed to meals that strongly resemble ones that omni's eat (sans actual meat of course) then you can skip this. I am not one of those veg*ns who gave up meat because I dislike it. In fact I really like it, except of course for the environmental, societal, and ethical issues involved. I typically don't crave just a piece of meat, but rather dishes based on them. When the weather starts getting cool I start craving soups and stews even more than normal. This is my veganized version of the beef stew I grew up with.

Beefy Seitan Stew
This is a hearty stew, so all the vegetables should be in nice big chunks. The seitan should be in a smaller cube. Seitan typically has very little fat, so the single tablespoon of olive oil here is essential to help minimize sticking. It is still going to happen, especially if you avoid non-stick as I do. I'll post my recipe for simmered seitan tomorrow (yes, I realize I probably should have switched the order of the posts...), the simmering liquid is so good you'll find yourself stealing tastes frequently!

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lb beef style seitan, diced (homemade is best)
1 med onion, diced
1/2 lb carrots, diced
1 inner heart of celery, including leaves, or 2 lg ribs, diced
1 tbsp Montreal steak seasoning
1 bay leaf
1 cup red wine (I used pino noir, but use whatever you have on hand)
1/4 lb green beans, chopped
1 lb red potatoes, diced 
1 1/2 cup seitan simmering liquid, or "no beef" broth
1 sm russet potato, peeled and chopped fine (this acts as a thickener, hence the fine dice)
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3-5 roasted garlic cloves, mashed (or go crazy and use a whole head of roasted garlic)
Salt and fresh pepper to taste.

Preheat your oven to 300 and adjust the rack to the lower 1/3 of oven.

Place an oven-proof stock pot with a tight fitting lid over medium heat (lid off, obviously). Add olive oil then seitan. Don't try to stir it right away, it's going to stick.  Cook a minute or so, then stir it, scrapping the bottom as necessary. Add onions, carrots and celery. Cook three minutes, stirring a couple times. Add seasonings and stir to coat. Pour in half of the red wine and stir, scrapping the fond off the bottom of the pan. Simmer several minutes, or until the wine has reduced to almost dry. Add the green beans, potatoes, seitan simmering liquid, and tomatoes. Bring to a bubble, put on the lid, and place the whole thing into the oven. 

Bake an hour and a half, checking it about half way through, just to make sure there is still sufficient liquid in the pot. 

Remove pan from oven, place on a heat-proof surface, and remove lid. Mix a few tablespoons of the stew liquid into the roasted garlic paste to thin it out. Stir in garlic, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper. Replace lid and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. (This is a great time to crank up the oven to 425 and bake a quick batch of drop biscuits or toast up some buttery sourdough!)

Serve with fresh bread. Be comforted. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

VeganMoFo: Another Survey

I was tagged for "What's in Your (Vegan) Freezer?" by Bethany and I was also planning on participating in the Iron Chef Challenge this past weekend. Unfortuantely, I had to work overtime, and as as a result had absolutely no time to do either, or even cook much. But I've put the freezer tag post on my to-do list for this week, so look for that post forthcoming.

Because you really come here for food I give you a picture: Pineapple Right Side Up cupcake (or something like that) from VCTOTW. These are really yummy. I made this a while back, and I think I stuck pretty close to the recipe for once. Let it be known that I loath marchiano cherries, but B loves them. And I'll admit, they look pretty on this in all their artificial redness. On to the survey, this one comes from Jess.

1.      What was the most recent tea you drank?

   - English Breakfast Tea. I almost always have a cup at work, later I switch to decaf green tea or herbal tea (but, except for citrus flavors, never fruit teas! yuck)

2.      What vegan forms do you post/lurk on?  If so, what is your username?  Spill!

   - I just joined (finally!) the PPK. My username is LilyGirl. 

3.      You have to have tofu for dinner, and it has be an Italian dish.  What comes to mind first?

   - Lasagna or stuffed shells with tofu ricotta.

4.      How many vegan blogs do you read on an average day?

   - I can use the internet at work, so the days I work... a lot. Probably 30. On my days off, maybe 5, if any.

5.      Besides your own, what is the most recent one you’ve read?

   - Liz's Food Snobbery is My Hobbery

6.      If you could hang out with a vegan blogger that you haven’t met, who would it be, and what would you do??

   - I haven't yet met any vegan bloggers, so this is an unfair question, since I would love to meet pretty much all of you! And of course we would eat.

7.      If you had to base your dinners for a week around one of the holy trilogy – tofu, seitan or tempeh, which would it be?

   - Tofu, just because it is so flexible. Especially since I've "discovered" frozen, thawed tofu. I actually enjoy eating that.

8.      If you had to use one in a fight, which would it be?

   - Seitan, because you could make a massive chunk of it, or several. But violence doesn't solve anything, so let's just eat our food items, yes?

9.      Name 3 meals you’d realistically make with that tough protein of choice!

   - Beefy Stew (on my to make list for later this week, so I'll post a recipe soon), Italian sausage and pasta, seitan pot pie.

10.  What’s a recipe in vegan blogland that you’ve been eyeing?

   - VeganDad's stuffed setain roast. I'm going to test a modified version of it soon in preparation for the holidays.

11.  Do you own any clothing with vegan messages/brands on them?

   - Nothing specifically vegan, but several "hippie" ones, as B refers to them.

12.  Have you made your pilgrimage to the ‘vegan mecca’ yet?  (Portland, duh)

   - No, I've been to OR a couple times. Next time I hope we can schedule a day to Portland.

13.  What age did you first go vegan?  Did it stick?

   - 23 and no, as explained here. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not currently vegan, although I eat mostly vegan and everything on this blog is vegan as well.

14.  What is the worst vegan meal you’ve had?  Who cooked it?

   - It wasn't a meal it was a cake. It was made by a bakery. There is no excuse...

15.  What made you decide to blog?

   - I love to cook and wanted a place to share and connect with other veg*ns, as I am the only one I know (well, we do have a couple friends we see very infrequently who are veggies as well. I love getting to cook for them).

16.  What are three of your favorite meals to make? 

   - Tacos (easy, yummy, extremely omni-friendly), Indian food (flavorful, "exotic", extremely veg friendly), soup (warm, comforting, infinitely flexible).

17.  What dish would you bring to a vegan Thanksgiving-themed potluck?

   - My green bean and mushroom casserole and my cranberry sauce. Yum. I love the holidays (or rather, the holiday food).

18.  Where is your favorite vegan meal at a restaurant? How many times have you ordered it?

   - I've not been to a specifically vegan resturant, but I love Rutabegorz. Their vegetarian chef salad, hold the egg and cheese, is fantastic and ginormous. No idea how many times I've had it. Both of their chilis are really good too, and they always have a daily vegetarian soup offering. Much of their menu can be made vegan simply by holding the cheese.

19.  What do you think the best chain to dine as a vegan is?

   - For "fast food", Chipotle. For "sit-down", I'll have to go with Jess on this, P.F. Chang's.

20.  My kitchen needs a………

   - Need is realitive. I am very blessed and have a well-stocked kitchen. I would very much like a pressure cooker and a soy milk maker. I would also like a food dryer, a pressure canner, and eventually a larger water boiling canner for my food preservation endevors. 

21.  This vegetable is not allowed in my kitchen…..!

   - I'm an adventerous eater and not very picky so I try not to ban anything. But I'm not a fan of lima beans.

22.  What’s for dinner tonight?

   - Department meeting tonight, so that means pizza and salad. The answer for Wednesday night is more interesting - beefy seitan stew!

23.  What's the one food you don't like, but wish you did?

   - Eggplant. But I'm going to give it another shot. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

VeganMoFo: Scones

This is a really easy recipe that you can make in advance of serving. I made them the night before. It is based on the orange scone recipe from VWaV, but I made it healthier and punched up the flavor.

Cranberry-Orange Scones
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp baking power
1/2 tbsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup dried cranberries
zest from one large orange
juice from same orange (about a 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup hemp milk + enough to make 1 1/4 cup liquid total
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
2 tbsp light oil
1 tsp orange extract

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Combine flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cranberries in a large bowl and set aside. 

Juice orange and add hemp milk to equal 1 1/4 cups liquid. Add remaining ingredients and whisk to combine. Pour into dry ingredients and mix just until dry is incorporated, a few streaks of flour are okay.

To make triangles: divide dough in half. Pat out one half into a thick circle on a lightly floured surface. Cut into six or eight wedges (a pizza wheel is great for this). Place on baking sheet 2 inches apart and repeat with second half of dough. 

To make rough circles: drop by 1/3 or 1/2 cup portions onto baking sheet 2 inches apart. 

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until sides no longer look doughy. They will not get very brown. 

Cool completely. Glaze if desired (below). Eat. Be happy.

This is not essential, but is very yummy, especially if you are serving these by themselves.

zest of 1 small orange
3 tbsp orange juice
about 1 cup powdered sugar

Whisk all ingredients together. You want a thick, but pourable glaze. Drizzle over scones. Allow to dry before you eat unless you want sticky fingers.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

VeganMoFo: Anatomy of a CSA Basket & a Simple Salad

I dream of one day providing all, or at least the vast majority, of my family's fresh produce from a huge garden. Until then I have to find alternatives. I have been making more of an effort to eat in season and as locally as possible. My "rule" is that if a product is grown in CA then I avoid buying it unless it is from CA, if it is grown in the US then I don't buy it if it is from another country. So no oranges from South Africa (does that baffle anyone else?), or apples from New Zealand. We do still buy bananas and a couple other tropical fruits occasionally. Additionally, most of the tea I drink is not local, and for obvious reasons, neither are a lot of my spices. I try to buy organic and fair trade as much as practical, especially organic for the dirty dozen and crops that are heavily GM (corn, soy, and, most recently, sugar beets) and fair trade for those crops which are known to be exploitative (chocolate, tea, coffee, etc). And for everything I prefer to support small farmers and co-ops over large corporations. Does that seem too complicated? See why I just want to grow my own?!

As part of this endeavor I joined a CSA this past January, as soon as a drop off point was established in our area. We get a basket every other week, so I thought I would show you what we got this Wednesday. B was very pleased with this one, he has whined in the past about all the "greens" (heaven forbid!) we get. The winter baskets do contain a fair amount of dark greens such as kale and chard, which I love. He is a total fruit fiend (I think he would be almost a fruititarian if left to his own devices). In this basket, starting from the left: purple and yellow green beans, eating pumpkin, purple basil, scallions, red chard, carrots, romaine lettuce, celery, corn, Valencia oranges, red bell peppers,  a large yellow tomato, plum tomatoes, russet potatoes, green apples, cucumber, red apples, pears, yellow onion, and zucchini. This was the very first basket that I didn't trade anything (our CSA always offers a "trade basket" if there are items you aren't fond of). I don't remember all the specific varieties they gave us, but most of them are not "commercial" strains.

We've been getting a bunch of purple basil pretty much every basket this summer and I wasn't really sure what to do with all of it. One of my experiments was basil vinegar, which you can see below in the glass bottle. The purple basil turns the vinegar a beautiful red color after it seeps a couple weeks. You just need one large bunch purple basil, a sterilized quart canning jar, and enough white wine vinegar to cover (about 2 cups). Just wash the basil (no need to stem), stuff in jar and cover with vinegar. Leave in a cool, dry place for a couple weeks then strain into a clean jar and stash in the fridge. It is fantastic for making a quick and flavorful salad dressing, which is what I use it for below.

Christmas-in-Summer Salad
This serves 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as half of a meal. It's yummy paired with a light soup and is a great way to use up some of that garden bounty which may be coming out of your ears. This keeps well in the fridge for a day or two if you like.

1 lb tomatoes
1 small red bell pepper
1 med cucumber, partially peeled if desired
1 med zucchini
1 small leek or one large shallot
1-2 tsp chopped thyme
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp flax oil
2-3 tbsp basil vinegar (alternately you can use white wine vinegar and add 1 tbsp chopped basil to the salad)
salt and pepper to taste
betta feta or diced avocado, optional

Dice tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, and zucchini and place in a medium bowl. Thinly slice leek and add to bowl. Sprinkle on herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Wisk oils and vinegar in a small bowl until pretty well emuslified then pour in to bowl. Toss to combine. Add feta or avocado, if using and toss gently. I like this best after it has hung out a few hours and the flavors have had time to marry and mellow.

You can see why I call this Christmas-in-Summer, the colors are beautiful and it celebrates the gifts of the harvest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

VeganMoFo: Sweet Balls

Just in time for Halloween parties: popcorn balls. I worked loosely off a recipe from Paula Deen (yes the queen of butter and mayonnaise). 

Be forewarned, the popcorn does not stay very crunchy. I was disappointed with that part, but everyone I served them too enjoyed them, especially the kids. And perhaps it does not need to be said, but this is not health food!

This recipe makes enough for a party, but it is easily cut in half. If you want to increase the amount you'll probably need to work in two batches unless you have a super ginormous bowl to work in.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls
This makes about 20 softball sized balls.

1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 tsp salt
22 cups fresh popcorn
margarine or oil for greasing hands

Line a baking sheet with wax paper. 

Place popcorn in a extra large bowl - it should fit all the popcorn with some room for stirring and tossing.

Place the first five ingredients in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil one minute, still stirring, then remove from heat. Stirring is critical, this will burn very quickly if you walk away.

Pour sauce over popcorn. Working quickly, stir sauce into popcorn with a large spoon as best you can, you won't get it totally uniform and that's okay. This is the tricky part. The balls are easier to shape when the sauce is still very warm, but it's hot so you need to be careful not to burn yourself. Grease up your hands liberally. Grab a big handful of popcorn and shape into a ball, squeezing it together gently as you shape it. This is when you can distribute the sauce more evenly, by putting both lightly covered and heavily covered popcorn in the same ball. Place finished ball on wax paper and repeat until all the popcorn is shaped. You will need to re-grease your hands every ball or two. 

Allow balls to cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

VeganMoFo: Birthday Dinner

My birthday was last week so on the actual day my mom, B, and I went to dinner (Dad was out of town for work). I chose sushi since it had been ages since we'd gone. The last time we had sushi we tried a new place that actually had a vegan sushi platter on the menu. However, it was the most uninspiring veg sushi I'd ever had. It was basically plate of several different veggies on rice, but only one type of vegetable was on each bite of rice (carrot on rice, cucumber on rice, etc) and there were no interesting sauces or anything along side. Boring. So we went back to our favorite sushi place for this dinner. I drove Mom and B nuts taking pictures - I told them I had to have something to post for VeganMoFo! 

This is pronounced aw-ga-da-shee. I drooled over the post Julie did recently, so when I saw it on the menu I just had to try it. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. The tofu was fried in large blocks, instead of easy-to-eat cubes, and was oily and barely crispy. I actually sent it back it was so yucky. But I'm going to try it Julie's recipe soon, because I just know that I'll love it if it is prepared right.

Tempura is the dish that makes B squirm like a little kid with excitement whenever we eat Japanese food. We shared this veggie tempura plate. Yum.

Veggie Roll
The place we went to did not have one on the menu, but when I asked the sushi chef was happy to make me a veggie roll. It was delicious, with practically every veggie they had available inside. Just goes to show, if you ask nicely restaurants are usually happy to accommodate you.

Seaweed Salad
I love seaweed salad. A lot. 'Nuf said.

It was a nice night and a yummy dinner. This was a pretty low key birthday all around, which is fine with me, I'm a low key kind of girl. Check back tomorrow, I'll have a recipe for you!

Monday, October 13, 2008

VeganMoFo: Drumroll Please...

We have a winner! Jeni of Heathen Vegan guessed correctly, I made grenadine! 

As a general rule I avoid artificial colors and high fructose corn syrup as much as possible (aside: have you seen the new ads by the Corn Refiners Association that claim high fructose corn syrup is just like sugar. They are clearly an impartial source of valid information, wouldn't you agree?). I decided to try my hand at homemade grenadine because everything available in stores was basically nothing more than high fructose corn syrup and artificial food coloring. I don't recall ever seeing one that included actual fruit or juice at all. 

I used the recipe from Linda J. Amendt's Blue Ribbon Recipes, so I'm not going to post it here. If you want to make it check your local library, they should stock the book or something similar. And always follow safe canning procedures.

Grenadine is typically used to color and sweeten cocktails, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Mine did come out very red, but as you can see from the Shirley Temple pictured below, the color dilutes when added to other liquid, much more so than an artificially colored syrup would. And, even though I had to use $6 worth of pomegranates, it was still cheaper than buying a commercial version - I got about three and a half cups of syrup out of it.
Jeni, will you please email me at lilygirl83 (at) gmail (dot) com? If you are still in Spain I just want to make sure it's okay for me to ship home canned items to you. Also, I obviously need your address.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

VeganMoFo: Juice and a Product Review

I am admittedly an orange snob. But I come by this problem entirely honestly. When I was young my grandparents owned a small farm just north of Porterville, CA, an area rich in citrus groves. They had orange trees on their property, and grew a great deal of other crops as well. Many of my earliest memories are from time spent on "the farm", helping Grandpa pull carrots and making mud pies with my sister and cousins (I can still remember the very specific smell of the dirt). 

As a result of all this time spent spoiled by fresh, seasonal produce there are still a few things that I just don't bother with unless they are homegrown, or ripe straight off the farm. Tomatoes are one. If they are not in season I don't eat them raw. I just don't see the point, they are absolutely insipid nine months out of the year, and always if purchased at a grocery store. The other fruit I don't bother to eat much out of season are oranges. It is difficult to convey the qualitative difference between that which is sold in most mega-marts and that which is ripened on the tree. It is an absolute revelation if you've never had one. My dad has actually talked my boss, who has a ranch in the area, into bringing us boxes of oranges and tangerines from our favorite farm in Porterville a couple times during the season because they are just incomparable to anything we can get in our area. I look forward to them every year, eat three a day when we have them, and am always sad to see the end of the season. I know that living in California affords me the opportunity to be extra picky about my citrus and for that I am thankful.

I equally picky about orange juice. If it is not fresh I'd rather not drink it. Trader Joe's in my area carries an orange juice that is not pasteurized which is the only store-bought orange juice I like; it tastes nearly fresh-squeezed. But it is a treat, since it is not inexpensive. That is why I was so excited to find locally grown Valencia oranges at my farmer's market at $5 for 10 pounds. B juiced it for me yesterday and we got well over a quart of juice, making it cheaper and even yummier than what we can get at TJ's. 

10 pounds of oranges peeled and ready to be put through the juicer.

We use a macerating juicer which we love for a couple of reasons. If you want to juice "dry" vegetables like carrots or wheat grass this is what you have to use. It also works slowly and as a result does not heat up, keeping the juice raw. It can also preform a number of other tasks, including making nut butters, shaping pasta, and instant fresh sorbet. There is nothing wrong with a regular old citrus juicer, which is probably what most people have. However, we put this in a head-to-head competition with the citrus juicer that attaches to my KitchenAid and the Omega produced twice the amount of juice as the citrus juicer from the same number of oranges. We also like very pulpy orange juice, but I don't necessarily want to chew it. The Omega puts out a generous amount of very fine pulp that is just delicious. It also comes with a filter if you prefer less pulp. 

We are coming in to citrus season. If you can get your hands on a big bag of oranges from your farmer's market or a local farmer, seize the opportunity. If they are not particularly good out of hand, juice them. As a general rule, Valencia oranges are for juicing and navels are for eating, but if you can get them in-season they are a yummy and healthy way to get another serving of fruit regardless of what type you find available.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

VeganMoFo: Iron Chef Challenge

I learned about last week's VeganMoFo Iron Chef Challenge to late to participate. Happily, Katie at Don't Eat Off The Sidewalk handled it again this week and the first thing I did this morning was check the secret ingredient list (aside: I clearly need to join the PPK already... okay I just did!). 

This week's challenge is Pears and Nuts. Hurray! I just bought pears, and I stock my freezer with a variety of nuts, so I was able to get started right away. I'd like to develop another recipe that is more savory, but I thought I'd get this up just to ensure that I get at least one in before the deadline.

This sauce can be used as a topping anywhere you like. I served it over pancakes, but it would be equally delicious over ice cream. It is very rich, so if you decide to eat it for breakfast I'd recommend serving something savory along side. Even B liked this, and he's not particularly fond of pears.

Pear-Cashew Carmel Sauce
This serves 4-8, depending on how saucy you like whatever it is you are serving it with.

1/2 cup roasted, unsalted cashews, chopped well
2 pears, cored and diced (less ripe, still firm pears are actually preferable)
1 tbsp vegan margarine
1 tsp neutral oil, like canola
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup hemp milk, 1/4 cup reserved
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cornstarch
pinch kosher salt

Preheat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add margarine and oil and allow to melt and then sizzle about 15 seconds. Turn up heat to medium-high and add pears. Stir to coat and then leave it alone. You want them to caramelize a bit and it's going to take a little time. Just stir every minute or so for 3-5 minutes, or until you see most of the pieces are starting to show color.

Add brown sugar and stir constantly with a long handled spoon (this is not the time to use a teaspoon!) until all the sugar is melted. It will start to stick to the bottom, this is okay as long as it is not burning. Add cashew pieces, stir to incorporate, then immediately pour in about a 1/2 cup of the hemp milk. Mixture will bubble vigorously. Continue stirring until it returns to a normal simmer and allow to cook about 2 minutes until sauce darkens a bit.

Dissolve cornstarch in reserved 1/4 cup hemp milk and add to sauce along with remaining hemp milk, vanilla extract, and salt. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally about 5 minutes. Mixture should darken a bit more and thicken slightly. 

Serve warm over whatever you fancy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

VeganMoFo: A Yummy Meal & a Contest, to Spice Things Up

Last night I had some time on my hands and sweet potatoes and mushrooms that were getting a little long in the tooth, so I decided to try my hand at gnocchi and sauce (and a salad). This was my first time making gnocchi (actually I think it was my first time eating it too).  It ended up being easier than an internet search would lead one to believe, although I definitely need some practice on shaping them.

I based my recipe on Mark Bittman's from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but I made it vegan and healthier. Directions for how to shape and cook gnocchi are pretty standard.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Mushroom Thyme Cream Sauce
This recipe serves four but is easily halved or doubled; I cut it in half for us. The sauce makes a lot, so if you don't like it too saucy you will want to scale it to your tastes.

For the Gnocchi
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, plus up to 1/2 cup more
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbsp yellow miso
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the potatoes however you like (boil, roast, even microwave) until tender. I roasted mine; if you boil them make sure to drain well. Once cooked mash in a large bowl. If you have a potato ricer, now would be the time to use it. I do not (yet...) so I just used a fork. They need to be as smooth as possible. 

Add in the nutritional yeast, miso, and salt and pepper to your liking and work in to the sweet potatoes until evenly distributed. Starting with 1 cup flour, mix into potatoes and stir until a dough starts to form. You may want to switch to using your clean hands at this point, it's easier to handle the dough. Knead lightly to incorporate the flour and bring the dough together. 

Your goal is to add as little flour as necessary and knead the dough as little as possible. I actually did not need even all the initial flour, but if you boil you potatoes I imagine they will require more flour to come together properly. Work in flour as necessary until the dough is tacky but not overly sticky. It should not be dry to the touch, but it should not stick to everything else more than itself either. It is preferable to work on a floured surface rather than incorporate more flour into the dough.  

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously.

Test your gnocchi by taking a small piece of dough and dropping it into the boiling water. If it holds together the dough is where it should be. If it falls apart work in a bit more flour and test again.

Divide dough in fourths and work with one section at a time. Line a baking sheet with wax paper and have next to where you are working your dough. Take one section and roll it out into a snake 1/2 inch thick, like you did with play-doh when you were little. Cut the snake into 1 inch sections (perfection is not necessary - these are homemade). Take each piece and gently roll it on the tines of a fork using your thumb. One side should have fork impressions and the other should slightly curl around your thumb. This will help it hold the sauce. This takes some practice, but again, perfection is not necessary. Place each shaped piece on the wax paper as you go, taking care to not let them touch. Repeat with remaining sections of dough.

At this point to can set them aside to make the sauce if you haven't already done so. You want to serve them as soon as they are done cooking, so you need everything else ready to go when you drop them in the water as they only take a couple minutes to cook.

When you are ready, drop them a few at a time into the boiling water, stirring gently to prevent sticking. I put all of mine in together, but if your pan is very small you may need to work in a couple batches. Let cook for one minute more after they float to the top then remove from water with a slotted spoon. If you are going to use a butter sauce drain them well before adding, otherwise you can drop them right into your serving sauce.

Stir gently to coat with sauce and serve immediately.

For the Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound stemmed cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 large onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbsp yellow miso
4 cups (one whole container) plain hemp milk
1/4 cup roughly chopped thyme
2-3 tbsp cornstarch
salt and fresh pepper to taste

Preheat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add oil and mushrooms. Do not try to stir, mushrooms will stick unless you are using a nonstick pan. Just let them cook a few minutes and they will release enough liquid to free themselves. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and stir. Allow mushrooms to cook, stirring occasionally, until they are almost dry. 

Add onions, stir to incorporate, and lower heat to medium. Scrape up fond in pan and then allow to cook, again stirring occasionally, until onions soften and the pan is dry (take care to not let it burn!). Add garlic and wine. Scrape fond off bottom of pan, and cook until pan is nearly dry again. 

Work in nutritional yeast and miso until mushrooms and onions are evenly coated then pour in 3 3/4 cup hemp milk and thyme. Stir to combine and simmer for a couple minutes to allow flavors to come together. Reduce heat to low. Dissolve cornstarch into remaining 1/4 cup milk and add to pan. Stir to incorporate and return to a gentle bubble to thicken. The sauce should be the consistency of a reduced cream sauce - thick enough to easily coat the back of a spoon, but not gloppy. That is also why I used cornstarch as opposed to flour, for a silkier texture. 

Hold over low heat while you cook the gnocchi. Follow directions above for cooking and saucing gnocchi. 

B's Favorite Salad
Serves 4

4-6 handfuls baby spinach, picked over, washed and dried
12-16 strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
1 cup pecan halves, toasted or lightly candied
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar reduction (if you don't have this lying around you can approximate it by doubling the balsamic vinegar and adding a couple tablespoons brown sugar)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar 
salt and pepper

Divide spinach, strawberries, and pecans between four plates. Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. In a small sauce pan combine oil, reduction, vinegar and shallot. Place over low heat and bring to a simmer, add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and whisk vigorously until dressing emulsifies. Quickly divide among salads and serve. 

If you make, or have access to, a vegan cheese that you enjoy eating out of hand this is the place to use it. You want something creamy and either mild, like chevre, or strong, like Stilton. Just crumble over salad and enjoy. Diced avocado would also be yummy and provide a nice, creamy texture.

A Contest
Guess what I'm making. If more than one person gets it right I'll put your names in a hat and draw one. The winner will get some of whatever this is sent to them! You have until Sunday at midnight, PST, to enter. Good luck!