Monday, November 24, 2008

Cold Days, Hot Eats

On a cold day, there is nothing that warms you up better than hot oatmeal. Since it's been in the low 20s these past couple of weeks, I've really needed it! We're having an early taste of winter, I guess.

Most people say, "Oh, I don't have time for oatmeal," and then go on to say they just have toast. I have to laugh! First, you have to locate and open the bread bag. Toast takes a couple of minutes to toast, then you have to spread your topping, and then cut it and put it on a plate. That's pretty easy, I guess, but take hot oatmeal: Throw a scoop of oats in a bowl. Top with water or vegan milk (your judge how much, but I like it to be just barely covering the oats) and heat for 1 minute and 30 seconds in the microwave. Done. Way less time than cooking it on the stove top, which I never do.

I guess my way is about the same amount of time as toast in the end, but consider the nutrition factor! Oats lower cholesterol (even wheat bread isn't as good!) plus there are ZERO added sugars and shelf stabilizers (check out the list of most breads - it's crazy how many ingredients are in there! - by the way, Wonder bread is NOT vegan, contrary to Veg News' report). I like to cook up my muesli mix from the summer, but even easier is mixing up some cinnamon and wheat germ with it (all in a big container in the fridge, so I don't have to mix it every day). As you can see by the picture above, I like to dress mine with some hemp seeds or ground flax, fresh fruit (or dried fruit - yum! in the microwave!) and a drizzle of iron-healthy blackstrap molasses, which adds a touch of sweetness to it. I don't add extra almond milk on top afterwards, because I find it cools it down too much (plus I like it realllllly thick!). So, good-bye muesli and hello oatmeal! Four stars! **** Oh, and oats are much cheaper and longer lasting than bread!

Speaking of warm weather foods, to welcome my husband back after a trip to the snowy north (early snow even for them!), I made Robin Robertson's Perfect Hominy White Bean Chili, from her slow cooker book. It was a little beany at first, but after a day in the fridge - incredible! The flavors were spot on (even though I subbed extra chili powder for the jalapeno - I forgot to get one) and I just love hominy!! It was pretty and yummy and cozy - perfect indeed! Also, simple and cheap! Maybe 4-5 dollars for the whole pot. (That'll make you reconsider going out to Hard Times for chili, huh?(they have the best vegetarian/vegan chili!). Three stars for sure! ***
Since I'm on a "how much money can I save" kick, I discovered that it's cheaper to buy the larger can of crushed tomatoes for this recipe (it usually is more economical to buy the large containers of food, etc, but not always!). So I just used the 14 ounces I needed and saved the rest in my freezer for a rainy (or snowy!) day.

Be sure to label everything! I reuse my bags a lot, so I had a hard time finding room for the description on this baby!

No, green slime wasn't on sale at the store this week, and really, neither were the avocados. Nor were they local. But Vegan A Go-Go had me craving this Avacado Sunflower Seed Dip, and I had all the other ingredients in my pantry (tahini, vegan milk, sunflower seeds, spices). It was really, really good! And fatty - think of the avocado, seeds and tahini - it really packs a wallop - but a healthy fat one! Great, creamy flavor. Only unfortunate part? The weird color it turned in the days after, as the avocado combined with the oxygen more.... Three stars altogether! *** Only 1 dollar and change for the whole recipe (the avocado was all I had to buy).

Unfortunately, I end this post on a rather blah note....I've been wanting to make these Cranberry Pumpkin Cookies from La Dolce Vegan for years. They sounded so - yum! However, the batter was really soft and the cookies didn't really harden up enough. They smelled amazing, but tasted like cookie batter! Not bad, if you're going to eat them in front of the TV by yourself while watching The O.C. on DVD, but not something you're going to want to serve company...or friends...or co-workers. Two stars ** only because they smell really, really good - and I see potential! Didn't cost me a cent, because I had all the ingredients, but a pretty expensive recipe if you don't have pecans, dried cranberries, canned pumpkin and margarine laying around like I did....

That's it for this week (I laughed when Vegan Dad said he was sorry he would only be able to post 4 times a week now!) but I'm sure I'll nip back on to do a post-Thanksgiving entry! Happy Early Thanksgiving everyone! And, if the thought of all those poor, suffering turkeys gets you down, just remember that when Lincoln first decreed this holiday, it was really about giving thanks to god, not to slaughtering defenseless animals....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fall Flavors


Not many photos to post this week, but the few that I do....what doozies they are!! I have for you, two of the most amazing fall recipes I have ever had (or made).

First up, Pumpkin Crumb Cake with Pecan Streusal, from Veganomicon. Similar to her Blueberry Crumb Cake in Vegan with a Vengeance, this was fluffy, sweet but not overly so, moist and delectable! I served this for our monthly Sierra Club meeting. Thankfully, it made quite a bit, so the middle parts (which didn't cook all the way through - not sure why) could be discarded (gasp! Yes, they ended up in the trash - better luck next time!). I think that turning the oven down and bit and letting it cook a bit longer could be the answer next time. Other than that, four stars****!

In keeping with my "Vegan Chef on a Shoestring" budget, this didn't require anything not already in my pantry (I always have a can of pumpkin on hand - don't you?). Keep reading - the best is yet to come!...

I had this butternut squash (in the funniest shape - forgot to take a pic, but I'll just say it would have fit right in, in the Kama Sutra) from our local Farmer's Market a couple of weeks ago, and I was just dying to do something different with it.

The recipe for Caramelized Onion-Butternut Roast with Chestnuts from Veganomicon caught my eye. It looked pretty simple, inexpensive and very fall-ish. Well, the expensive part was immediately shattered when I found out the price of jarred chestnuts - almost $14!!! And that was only for a 7.4 ounce jar. Screw that - I bought fresh ones for $3.99 a pound (and I only needed one pound - yay!) and roasted them myself. This was a first for me (and not even one on my New Year's Resolutions list!), but it was soooo simple! I first had fresh roasted chestnuts about a year ago at my neighbors' house, and remembered how sweet and buttery and delicious they were. Following Veganomicon's directions, I scored the nuts (I made two cuts, like an X, which my neighbor had also done) and roasted them for about 20 minutes in my oven. One of the nuts apparently wasn't scored deep enough and BOOM! it exploded in my oven. No mess, just a loud sound and I laughed, because I knew that that's what it had to be.

When they came out of the oven, I wrapped them in a towel as suggested, and scrunched them around to loosen the skins. Peeling them wasn't that hard, and the few that were no good were easy to tell . Look how beautiful they are! The quintessential roasted yellow-brown of fall nuts.

Along with olive oil roasted onions, the diced butternut squash, a can of white beans, some veggie broth, and quite a few spices, the chestnuts roasted in the oven for a half hour, then were topped with a sprinkling of fresh breadcrumbs, other seasonings and a tad more olive oil. After roasting 15 more minutes, my mouth was watering. Want to know what it tasted like? Only the BEST RECIPE ALL YEAR!!! Five stars for this baby *****. It was sweet and savory and nutty and hearty and I just ummmed and yummed with every mouthful. If you make no other recipe this fall or winter, this should be one that you make. It is soooo easy and well, you know how good it tastes! What a great way to hit my 500th new recipe since I started keeping track, just three years ago. That's 500 different recipes. Isn't it awesome to be vegan?
But in keeping with my new frugality, I fished my Sweet Potato Bisque out of the freezer this week for nearly instant dinners. I made this months ago, and it tasted like I just made it yesterday! Four stars, even as a reheat! **** Creamy and sweet and savory and filling.

Here it is, fresh from the freezer bag.....Looks kind of like a turkey head!

My husband wasn't in the mood to try my butternut squash dish (he's cautious of anything remotely sweet for a dinner meal), but he was already cooking up a storm (literally - there was smoke from the oil in the kitchen!) with this Vegetarian Gumbo, straight from a recent Vegetarian Times issue. I threw the brown rice in the rice cooker for him and there was his meal! He actually didn't like it that much. I tasted some and agreed that there was just something missing! There were no legumes or other meat-like food in the dish, and it was spicy, but lacking flavor, if that is possible. We added more salt, but it still was unremarkable. Oh well -you win some, you lose some! (and he used up some of the okra in the freezer - yay!).

And, as stated at the very beginning of this post, my mother informed me just a couple of days ago that she has decided to go vegan!!! This is amazing and exciting news not just for me, but for all vegans, because she is a doctor and because The China Study, by Colin T. Campbell, and its scientific-strength was what pushed her over the edge.

Here's to one week until Thanksgiving, which we'll be celebrating with both sets of parents and NO real turkey! (Unless you count Serendipity from Farm Sanctuary!).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Vegan Chef on a Shoestring

The other day, I went to the grocery store to get the basics, and really did get the basics, and walked out with a nearly $70 bill. That's for two people for about a week. I was outraged. Not just at the prices, but at myself. "I have a pantry full of food," I said (as the cashier looked at me funny), Why don't I use what I already have at home?"

Well, part of the reason is that I love fresh fruits and vegetables, but honestly, being a D.I.N.K. (double-income no kids), we have been used to buying what we want, when we want, when it comes to food at least. So, I have decided to make the rest of the calendar year (with the exception of Thanksgiving, of course!), "Meals on a Shoestring." This also involves using up items in my pantry, so I can still make more expensive meals, except the money has already been spent. With the economy the way it's going, this'll last into the New Year, I'm sure, but what's so wrong with saving money?

First, we have these cutie-pie mini muffins, made from bananas that were definitely overripe on our kitchen table. I NEVER throw out bananas, and since I had never used my mini muffin tins before, I thought this would also be a great way to finish up my New Year's resolution to try new things in the kitchen. Aren't they adorable?? I used the Delightful Banana Nut Muffin recipe from my new (also mini) cookbook, Vegan A Go-Go, by Sarah Kramer, seen here in my last post. They were sweet and nutty and fluffy and just perfect! One of the best muffins I have ever made. I substituted applesauce for the oil, and whole wheat pastry flour for the regular white kind, so they were even healthier. Regular muffins seem like monsters now, in comparison. I may never go back. Four stars!****

Next up, Pumpkin-Cranberry Soup, from New Vegetarian Basics. This had caught my eye a while back (like, three years) and I figured why not? I had a can of pumpkin in my pantry and a small container of soy yogurt in my fridge, about to expire. The only thing I had to buy was the dried cranberries, and I bought the smaller bag because it cost less (the bigger bags usually are cheaper per ounce, but I'm looking at immediate savings).

The yogurt and dried cranberries on top were a great, tart way to balance out the relative sweetness of the soup (it had apples and cranberries cooked into it) but overall it was too bland. I had to add quite a bit of salt and pepper to give it a savory flavor. Two and a half stars. I won't make this again, probably. I think I like squash soup better. It's just my preference - it wasn't that bad of a soup, really! And isn't it so pretty?

Normally, when a recipe like that soup calls for half a can, the other half sits in a Tupperware container in my fridge (yes, I know I should use glass, but I'm waiting until all my plastic wears out!), until it grows feet and walks away. This time, I used this recipe (minus the whipping cream, powdered sugar and orange - this was lunch, not dessert for goodness sake) to make a Pumpkin Smoothie. It was pretty good! I had to add some molasses and agave nectar to sweeten it up, because I had left out those other hideous ingredients. Great way to use up leftover pumpkin! Three stars ***

Back to the cupboard, I found I hadn't used red lentils in a while (and they are so good for you!), and I was craving something spicy, so Vegan A Go-Go came to my rescue with this super quick and cheap Cauliflower and Red Lentil Soup! It was really more like a stew, but no complaints here! The only thing I had to buy was the cauliflower (which is super cheap at B.J.s, compared to regular grocery stores!). I used canned tomatoes and vegetable broth cubes and I already had all of the spices. Oh yeah, and I had to buy some cilantro but that's wicked cheap.
My husband ate some too, and kept commenting on how good it was! The glare of the flash kind of makes it look freaky, but I agree - it was definitely Four Stars ****

At the last wedding we attended, my husband and I worked up the idea to start a Supper Club. We're not calling it anything like that, but that's essentially what it is. Three other D.I.N.K. (see above) couples are joining us for a monthly potluck at each other's houses. This month, the main food was chili, and our hosts graciously created a beautiful veggie chili that kicked the meat chili's ass. Four stars **** We brought along my first vegan cheesecake! It was the Birthday Cheesecake from Food Snobbery is My Hobbery, and man oh man, did it ROCK!!! It had a pretzel/peanut butter crust, then a layer of melted chocolate, then the peanut butter flavored cheesecake. It didn't have the exact texture of a real cheesecake, but everyone raved about it, and my husband hunted it down in the fridge for more helpings when we got home. Easy, beautiful, creamy, rich - like taking a bite of a peanut butter cup! I was so proud of myself for making this (almost as proud as I was when I unclogged the sink this weekend). I think this counts towards my New Year's resolutions, too. Best of all, I had all the ingredients in my pantry and fridge! (I've had the Tofuti Cream Cheese kicking around for months, but I was too afraid to try a cheesecake). Four Stars! ****

Of course, I never make a new recipe for a gathering without a backup. These Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies from Vegan with a Vengeance have to be the most delicious, chewy, fragrant, sweet cookies on the face of the vegan planet. I kid you not. These are my all-time favs. I make them all the time. They use a whole can of pumpkin, so no leftovers and the recipe makes a ton. Four stars, as usual ****
Well, that's it for this cheap vegan chef! I am PSYCHED beyond belief about the elections, but I don't have the energy now to post about it. I'll just leave you with this:
Pandora left Hope...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fast and Delicious

After a busy, busy weekend (catching up after our trip the weekend before!) I not only had little time to plan meals, but little time to cook them. So, I thought this would be a great opportunity to try some quick recipes. As you can see from the first photo, I was getting some "fast meal" ideas from Sarah Kramer's adorable little book, Vegan A Go-Go!, which has a lot of older recipes in it but is really perfect for taking with me when I travel to the in-laws with meal ideas!

First off, I reverted back to college days, when all I could afford was beans and rice and this amazing Bayou Magic Cajun Seasoning that I bought while living in Tennessee. I could never find it after I left, but the miracles of the WWW brought me to their site and their seasoning to my pantry! Unfortunately, I forgot over time just how spicy this is! With the cilantro added (next pic) it was much more manageable. Phew! I was sweating. But, cheap and very fast. Just cook the rice (brown, of course!) in your rice cooker, add the beans from a can (the heat of the rice warms them up just fine) and then season to taste! Two and a half stars (way too spicy).

Later in the week, I had a little more time, but still, Tara's Pad Thai from Vegan Fusion World Cuisine was wicked quick. Just press the tofu while you open the mail and feed the cats, then chop up a couple things and start cooking! The rice noodles take no time at all (3 minutes, to be exact) and I added canned baby corn and canned bamboo shoots (on the sale table - only a dollar each, if that!) along with chopped peanuts and cilantro. Great spice to this meal, but a little dry due to too many noodles and not enough sauce. This was a great way to break into my tamarind paste, which I found at a local (but hidden) Asian market! Three stars ***.

Just last night, my husband requested this Kale and Cannellini Stew, from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook. Another pretty quick meal, with only some peeling and chopping to do. Very few ingredients but great spicy taste! We added extra kale and it could have used fewer beans. Also, I exchanged a sweet potato for one of the regular potatoes, and it added a nice sweet balance (very light!) to the spiciness of the stew. The only problem was that the sweet potato cooked much more quickly so it was a bit over-cooked by the end. Overall, three and a half stars! Almost perfect!
So, here are some other meals from the past that are great ideas for when you have little time and want something good and vegan!

Olive-Oregano Wine-Baked Tofu...
(click for the recipe!)

Any kind of smoothie is almost instant! Great for lunch.

Don't forget that mac and cheese made with nutritional yeast or Chreese!

Tempeh Salad (made with grapes and agave nectar) is a delicious, quick lunch idea, and especially nutritious served over baby spinach!

Cumin-Lime Tofu can marinate while you're at work and then bake while you prepare a grain and veggie!

And of course, "eggstra" quick Eggless Salad sandwiches made with firm tofu always hit the spot.

Next week, we'll be at a Supper Club, so I'll spend the week picking out my yummiest desserts to make- any suggestions??