Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday! We had a really nice relaxed day with just my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and niece at our place. We watched Chevy Chase Christmas Vacation and dinner was a comfort food smorgasbord. It wasn't all vegan, but I did try a "beefy" version of my turkey roast.  I was pretty happy with how it came out but I think it still needs some work on technique. I completely forgot to take pictures before dinner (and I still haven't found my camera - grrrr). I did want to give you a recipe though, since it has been ages.

Cauliflower and Leek Gratin
We were having a comfort food dinner, so I added more margarine than was probably necessary. Feel free to reduce it. Either way it is still *wayyy* lower in fat than traditional gratin and everyone enjoyed it. This is adapted from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Serves 6-8, more if you have a lot of other dishes.

2 lbs cauliflower florets, as uniformly sized as possible (about 3 lbs whole cauliflower/2 medium)
2-4 tbsp earth balance or olive oil
2 large leeks, dark green tops removed, washed well, and thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp yellow miso
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups hemp milk
2 tsp minced fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs 
1-2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a 9x9 square pan or large gratin dish with non-stick spray.

Bring a big pot of water to a boil, salt generously and blanch cauliflower until almost tender, but still a bit crunchy on the inside, 3-5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Melt earth balance in a large sauce pot over medium heat. Add leeks, shallot, and a sprinkle of salt and saute until tender, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently.  While that's cooking mix up your miso and nutritional yeast in a small bowl with a little water until you have a smooth, loose paste.  Add flour to veggies and stir to coat completely. Slowly pour in white wine, stirring constantly. Work in hemp milk and miso paste. Bring back to a bubble and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and stir in thyme. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. 

Pour in cauliflower and stir to coat. Pour everything into prepared pan. Mix breadcrumbs with olive oil until moist and sprinkle evenly over cauliflower. Bake 20-30 minutes until bubbly and browned on top. 



While presents are, for me, a (mostly) fun but non-essential aspect to the holiday I am soooo excited because I got this from my parents (thanks to B for giving Mom the suggestion)!!!:
I'm so excited, we go though quite a bit of soymilk even though it is just the two of us; plus I've been wanting to try my hand at tofu and soy yogurt and this will make those experiments much more economical. I made my first batch of soymilk this morning and I have the okara and some miso in the dehydrator now to try a version of Bryanna Clark Grogan's okara parmesan sprinkle. I'll have a review of the product after I've used it a few more times. Hope you all have a fantastic weekend!

Monday, December 15, 2008


I apologize for the lack of posting recently. I've been focusing on getting my applications for graduate school completed (I hate writing about myself, selling myself is not my strong suit), working on a paper that I am presenting with two other graduate students at the fast approaching SPSA conference, and getting ready for Christmas. My to-do list is a full two column, 10 font page and I am already behind. To cap it off I have misplaced my camera.  Hopefully I locate it soon as I have lots to show you.  B did take a few pictures for me, so as soon as he uploads and sends them to me I'll have a post for you. In the meantime, if any of you have restaurant suggestions for New Orleans I would be much obliged, I'll be down there for the conference next month.

Upcoming recipes will include at least a couple that incorporate persimmons.  We have a tree and we just harvested pretty much the whole thing, and although I am keeping quite a few we are also giving a boatload away.  Ours are the more versatile Fuyu variety that can be eaten either firm or soft.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving: Part 2 - The Casseroles

Get yourself a cup of tea, we need to have a chat. Got it? Okay.

I don't know about you, but despite the fact that I ate precious little casserole growing up (thanks Mom), the word still brings to mind images of gloppy, grayish-brown conglomerations incorporating entirely too much canned condensed soup and insipid, canned vegetables. Say it ain't so! 

Okay, it ain't so. Or at least it does not have to be. Unfortunately, it seems a great many Americans still make certain popular casseroles (which will remained unnamed...) for the holidays in which every ingredient is derived from a can and/or bag. Yuck. Yes, making your own from fresh ingredients will take a little more time, but you will be rewarded with infinitely better flavor and nutrition. Both of these casseroles can be made in advance and then finished in the oven just before serving, meaning less stress on the day of. They are also both yummy leftover (I eat them straight out of the 'fridge). Both these recipes use the nut cream I posted yesterday so make that first. It is time for casserole overhaul!

Casserole Make-over 1
This sweet potato casserole seemed to be the favorite of most everyone in attendance on Thanksgiving. My dad even said it was the best sweet potato casserole he'd ever had (or something like that - thanks Daddy). 

Most sweet potato casseroles are tooth-achingly sweet, better suited to the dessert table than its rightful place on the dinner plate. This one is sweet without being cloying with a nice crunchy topping as a pleasant contrast to the smooth 'taters below.

Pralined Sweet Potato Casserole
How many this serves depends entirely on how many other dishes you are serving it with. It may seem like there is not enough liquid for the first step, but trust me there is. We are going to incorporate all the liquid into the final dish, to save all that yummy flavor from going down the drain, so we don't want too much or it will be runny.

For the Potatoes
7 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup water
1/4 cup earth balance
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup nut cream
up to 1/3 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 if baking immediately after assembly.

Place potatoes, water, e.b., brown sugar, and salt in a large pot. Place over medium heat and bring liquid to a bubble. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes fall apart when pierced with a fork, 30-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the topping (below).

When potatoes are tender remove pan from heat. Pass all the potatoes through a food mill or potato ricer, or mash with a masher until smooth. Stir in any liquid left in the pot along with the nut cream. Taste and decide if you'd like it sweeter. If so add up to 1/3 cup maple syrup and salt to taste.

Spray a 8x8 or 9x9 or 9 in cake pan (something with an 8+ cup volume) with non-stick spray. Smooth sweet potato mixture evenly into dish. Sprinkle evenly with topping. If you are making it in advance stop here, cover with foil, and stash in fridge.

Bake 30-45 minutes, until hot all the way through and turning golden at the edges. If you made it in advance take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes prior to baking to take the chill off (preheat the oven now if it is not already). Bake 45 minutes - 1 hour until hot all the way through and golden at the edges.

For the Praline Topping
1 cup pecans, toasted and cooled
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup earth balance

Pulse the pecans in a blender or food processor until finely chopped (take care not to take it too far or you'll have pecan butter). Using a fork, work earth balance into brown sugar until evenly incorporated and brown sugar looks like very wet sand. Mix in pecans. Resist the urge to eat with your fingers. Use.

Casserole Make-over 2
I did not grow up eating the popular green bean casserole (from cans...), and quite honestly, it grossed me out when I was first introduced to it. It is not that I had not consumed my fair share of both condensed cream of mushroom soup or canned green beans, but the combination topped with canned fried onions just was not the slightest bit appealing. However, I understood (kind of...) why it was so popular. 

Not long after (a few years ago) I was watching Food 911 with Tyler Florance and he made a green bean casserole that looked fabulous. Over the years I've tweaked the seasonings a bit. And this year I made it totally vegan and it came out fabulous. 

This is my favorite dish at Thanksgiving. I really should make it more often. I will happily eat a 1/2 pound of green beans at once if this is in front of me. Yum.

Herbed Green Bean Mushroom Casserole
Serves a lot. Unless I'm there. Then it serves me 3-6 times.

Small loaf or 3-4 rolls crusty bread (a good baguette is perfect), torn into small bite-size pieces
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme
3 tbsp chopped fresh chives
1/4 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (you can use more if you like it - I was feeding rosemary haters)
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp mild yellow miso
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
3 lbs green beans (I like haricot vertes)
2 lbs mixed mushrooms, sliced (I used 1 lb, 4 oz crimini, 4 oz shitaki, and 8 oz oyster)
2 to 3 large shallots, sliced fairly thin
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup nut cream
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Rub together miso, nooch, and 2 tbsp olive oil until thoroughly combined and crumbly. Toss together bread pieces, 1 tbsp each thyme and chives, rosemary, nooch mixture, 1 tbsp olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Spread on baking sheet and bake just until very lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. If making this in advance cool completely and then store in a plastic bag or container until just before baking.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously. Blanch the green beans until tender-crisp, 3-5 minutes. You may need to work in a couple of batches. You can shock them in ice water when they are done, but truthfully, I don't think it is essential. Place beans in a large bowl and set aside. 

Heat a large skillet over medium high. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and add mushrooms when it begins to smoke. Quickly toss mushrooms to coat in oil then leave them alone for a few minutes to develop some color. Cook, stirring every few minutes until mushrooms release their liquid, about 5 more minutes. Add shallots and cook 2-4 minutes more until they soften. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add wine. Scrape bottom of the pan for fond. Add in remaining thyme and chives and nut cream. Stir to coat and cook one more minute. Remove from heat and pour over green beans. Toss to coat.

Pour into a 13x9 in baking dish. If you are making this in advance stop here, cover with foil, and refrigerate. Remove from fridge 30 minutes prior to baking to take the chill off. 

Top with croutons. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until hot all the way through and croutons are deep golden brown. If the croutons are getting too dark cover with foil or move to lower rack until done.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving: Part 1

This was my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian. Even though I still consume some dairy, I wanted to make all the dishes I contributed to dinner vegan. Both because I am on a mission to prove that vegan food can be just as good as its non-vegan counterparts and because, frankly, I like the challenge... plus then I can blog about them later :o)

Anyway, as I was the only vegetarian in attendance I went ahead and made my own vegan roast... a recipe I pieced together from several others and which I'd never made before. I've tried Tofurky before, and while I didn't hate it, I also didn't love it. Plus, I always prefer to make things myself. But of course, I was stubborn and decided not to make a tried and true recipe from a trusted blogger or cookbook. Why, when I can make things more difficult for myself?! 

I did quite a bit of research the week of, reading various recipes, reviews, and tips. What I ended up with was a mix of Bryanna Clark Grogan's seitan turkey, Vegan Dad's seitan roast, and Brian McCarthy's vegan turkey roast shown on Everyday Dish. I found a tip very late Wednesday night, that said that the texture of Bryanna's roast was significantly better the next day. This turned out to be true for mine as well. The day of it was almost bready, but after it had cooled and chilled over night it tightened up nicely. I also need to work on the seasoning and polish the method.
Sliced poultry-like roast.

One of the other things I tried for Thanksgiving was nut cream. Whenever possible I prefer to use whole foods, rather than more processed options. Also, I can frequently taste soy creamer in recipes, and not in a good way. Cream substitutes are pretty expensive, and not always readily available. So since I needed a creamy substance for a couple of my recipes I made my own. This is super simple and really easy to scale to your needs. It is made from nuts, so it is not really a low-fat food but nuts, and the fats they contain, are good for you! Certainly much better for the bod than dairy cream. Have I sold you yet? On to the recipe, if we can even call it that.

Super Easy Nut Cream
I used two types of nuts because I did not want a specific nut flavor to come through. Cashews are particularly creamy, so if your not allergic I suggest using them for at least part of the nut quantity. For this one I used 50/50 cashews and whole almonds. It is not sweet, so you can use it in savory or sweet applications. This makes about 4 cups of cream.

2 cups raw nuts
3 cups fresh water

Place nuts and 2 cups of water in your blender. Blend on high until smooth. Add last cup of water and run blend a few seconds more. (If you are not using a high-powered blender you may want to pulse your nuts without water a bit first to break them up and achieve a creamier consistency). 

Strain cream through a fine mesh strainer. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to use. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Reprieve from the Gluttony

I can't believe it, I actually forgot my camera on Thanksgiving (we gathered at my parent's home). I made a seitan-tofu turkey roast thing that was a conglomeration of several recipes, however it needs some work before I post it. B did get some good pictures of it on his new iphone, so as soon as he sends me those I'll do a Thanksgiving recap post, including a couple recipes.

In the meantime, this is a yummy soup that is a great one-pot meal (for a nice change of pace after copious holiday dishes), healthy (high-fiber, low-fat), and will fill you up without weighing you down. It has pleasant flavor but the spice is fairly restrained, also a nice break from the usual holiday fare. 

C-Cubed Soup
Serves 4-6. I used homemade veg stock, home cooked chickpeas (so. much. better.), Swiss chard from the garden, and onions and potatoes from the CSA, making this very economical as well. Feel free to use canned stock and chickpeas if that is what you have. Also, you can swap out whatever green you have on hand for the Swiss chard.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 small or 1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minces/pressed
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander (fresh ground is best)
2 small or one large russet potato, peeled and diced small
3 medium red potatoes, diced (not peeled)
2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water (optional)
2-4 tbsp nut cream (optional, for richness, more on this tomorrow)
1/2 lb Swiss chard leaves, chopped (that's a guess. I used 3 huge leaves from my garden, probably more like one bunch for "normal" size)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until onions soften and some fond develops, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cumin and coriander and stir to coat. Add white wine and scrape fond off bottom of pot. 

Add veg stock and potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes. Add chickpeas and cook 5 minutes more. Add cornstarch slurry and/or nut cream, if using, and bring back to a bubble. Cook 1-2 minutes until soup has thickened slightly. Turn off the heat and stir in Swiss chard. Stir to fully incorporated chard, and give it a chance to wilt. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm.