Saturday, January 31, 2009

Winter Meals

I guess I've given up and accepted that it's really winter, but secretly, I also find hope in the fact that we are now one-third the way through this nasty season. Although this nasty season also gave me a snow day to catch up on reading and blogging and such, so I can't hate it too much. You don't have "too much sun" days off in July....

At any rate, I have been craving warm, filling and savory foods like there's no tomorrow. And a good thing, too, since I've been trying to keep relatively sugar-free (I still put agave nectar in my tea and god help me but I just can't help licking the batter bowl if I bake something!).

So, here is my first lasagna in a very long time, made for a couples potluck that we just started this past fall. This Spinach-Marinara Lasagna from Veganomicon was outstanding! The tofu ricotta was yummy and the "Almesan" (almond-Parmesan) topping was good, too! I'm not sure how the other couples liked it, as they didn't comment one way or another, but they all ate a good piece of it, alongside the meat version served by the hosts, and there were few leftovers!

My husband thought it was just as good as the meat one, if not better simply for the "sauciness." Good call by Isa to serve it with more marinara sauce! Three and a half stars ***1/2

But then there were these bananas, getting very ripe, very quickly on my counter, and there were too many to eat as-is! So, I tried out two new recipes: Banana Oatmeal Cookies from the Vegan Lunchbox Blog (but not in her book -hmmm!), and Banana Bread (rice version) from "You Won't Believe It's Gluten-Free!" - a cookbook I picked up from the library. Both were surprisingly good! I had to add about a cup more oats to the cookies, so they were a little tough, but otherwise I was pleased because they were sugar-free, oil-free and salt-free! Tasted like a healthy cookie and reminded me of Dreena's Banana Oat Bundles (but not nearly as good). I'll continue tweaking these for my diabetic friend at work.

The bread, however, was amazing! Fluffy, moist, and with a great taste, I really "didn't believe it was gluten-free!" Except it did have a slightly grainy texture due to the rice flour. This cookbook is great, because it gives a rice, potato, and corn version of nearly every baking recipe, with details as to the differences you will notice in each! I can't wait to make this for my celiac friends at the Veg Group next month (which starts tomorrow- ack!).

Here is a beautiful plate of Tofu and Vegetable Lo Mein, from Vegan Planet, by Robin Robertson. I fiddled with the recipe a tad, using soba noodles instead of Chinese ones (trying to use up my pantry items!), and adding red bell pepper and black sesame noodles. I accidentally shredded the cabbage too small, so it didn't turn out quite right, but I'm not a huge fan of cabbage anyway, so it was actually fine with me that it was "hidden!" This was a very quick, easy and three star recipe ***! I made it to go with the next item...

Egg-rolls! I've made these before, also from Vegan Planet, but this time, I used a recipe a friend had hand-written and given to me. It uses phyllo dough instead of egg roll wrappers (which, along with wonton wrappers, contain the unfortunate addition of eggs- blech!). These were also super easy to make. Just saute some cabbage (that one cabbage went a long way this week!) with some ginger, garlic, oil, salt, pepper, and soy sauce, then wrap up and bake! Because I had just made almost three pounds of seitan last weekend (and it's so easy! - see my post about it here), I decided to add some chopped seitan to the egg rolls, like the pieces of pork would be in traditional ones. Results? Fabulous! Four stars **** With a sesame-soy dipping sauce from Veg News, they were perfect! I ate them all week by reheating them in the toaster oven to keep them crispy.

Making your own seitan is really easy AND much cheaper than buying it store bought. It costs over $4 at my local store in the box (and I think it's only 8 oz, not even a pound), while a box of gluten that costs maybe $2 tops, makes almost three pounds!
Here it is, finely chopped and waiting for the phyllo dough and cabbage.

Here is our 2009 Chinese New Year dinner, complete with sauteed kale (which kicked ass when drizzled with the dipping sauce).

The night before, my husband had promised to make this Warming Winter Vegetable Soup from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook, but as he was busy putting together his new toolbox (the one I thought I had hidden so well from him before Christmas but he found anyway), I put this soup together. And actually is was way easier than his toolbox! I was thankful that he chooses pretty easy recipes to make - this was a cinch to put together and tasted great. With kidney beans, potatoes, carrots, spinach and parsnips, it was a party in my mouth with every bite. Three stars ***.

Later in the week, I was looking for a way to use up some leftover canned pumpkin and stumbled across a recipe I had copied from a borrowed book: Vegetarian Celebrations, by Nava Atlas. These Pumpkin Turnovers were supposed to be desserts, but after cutting the sugar in half and adding some ground cayenne pepper, they were good enough for dinner! I don't usually make carb-loaded meals such as these (there is only a scant tablespoon of filling in each), but they were good just the same. And, I used whole wheat pastry flour. I guess they were still a little too sweet for me for dinner, as they started up my sweet cravings again, so I froze them for a later indulgence or afternoon snack. Three solid stars! ***

Here is a pretty shot of their insides. Piping hot!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A New President and Lots of New Recipes

First with the food... I've been wanting to make a white pizza for a while. For vegans, this usually entails a tofu-white-sauce, and then the other ingredients. I followed a recipe from Vegan Express, by Nava Atlas, and added my own toppings: sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, sauteed mushrooms, and steamed spinach. This combination was OK, but the real bummer was the sauce. There just wasn't any flavor to it! Since I made this, I've seen other tofu white sauce recipes that call for lots of different spices to be added to the tofu, and I think I'll try those next time.

Still, it was definitely edible, and I enjoyed knowing that I wasn't ingesting any cholesterol or hormones! ;) The sauce was also a bit too thick, so next time I would use about half. Overall, two and a half stars **1/2. Very filling! This wasn't the cheapest meal so far, as I had to buy the crust, the silken tofu, and the other veggie toppings (except for the sun dried tomatoes - I've still got a huge jar in the cupboard from at least a year ago). Total cost? Probably $15.

My husband had more luck with this Mushroom Barley Soup, by Robin Robertson (from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook). It has leeks and mushrooms and barley and some other spices with veggie broth in it. We found it to be way too thick, but when we ate it as reheats throughout the week, adding some water to it perked it up just fine. We love leeks! Three stars overall *** Total cost? Well, I only had quick-cooking barley, so we had to buy the medium pearled kind, as well as the veggies. About $8. It made a huge amount, though!

I had some old whole wheat tortillas kicking around, and a sweet potato, so I whipped up these super easy Black Bean-Sweet Potato Quesadillas from Veganomicon, in no time at all for dinner one night this past week. I just microwaved the potato, scraped out the innards (and ate the skin!), then added black beans and cumin. Fold, cook and done! Maybe 15 minutes total. I didn't have any salsa, so it was a little dry, but overall, three stars ***! (That is some sauteed kale on the side with a sesame-ginger dressing. We found that lots of garlic really helps mask the bitterness of the kale!). Total cost? $2, or about $4 if you have to buy the tortillas. The beans are under a dollar a can, and the potato, too. Add in the kale, and it only rises to $5-$9, depending on your tortilla stash.

This potato only made about two meals, but then I had extra black beans. So guess what I did? I made up my own recipe! I had just one serving of penne pasta leftover, about a third cup of spaghetti sauce (my husband's) and some baby spinach kicking around. I sauteed some garlic, added the beans, spinach and sauce, and cooked that together while the penne boiled. I didn't take a photo because I didn't think it would be that great, but holy cow! It was good! I think it was the garlic, but yum-yum anyway! Three stars, maybe four ***. I rarely make up my own recipes, so I was really excited about this.

I'd been eying this Broccoli-Pepper Salad since I bought the book (Vegan Express, by Nava Atlas) and at last I got around to making it. Wicked easy. Just barely steam some fresh broccoli (I overdid it- oops), and then add chopped yellow bell pepper, toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries, and a super easy Sesame-Ginger dressing! Wow and yum. Fours stars for this one ****. So glad I finally made it! Cost? Not cheap, mostly because of the pine nuts. About $3 for the broccoli, $2.50 for the whole bag of cranberries (which I didn't use all of), pine nuts I buy in bulk, so I have no idea but maybe .50 cents worth?), and the pepper is about $2 I think. So, about $8 total. And I ate it as part of lunch all week.
Sparkle-Ginger Cookies (or are they Ginger Sparkle Cookies?) from Vegan with a Vengeance were easy to whip up for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day festivities in town. They are a tried and true recipe for me now! Our Veg Group provided some eats (alongside the fried chicken and people's fur coats - blech!). These, along with Isa's awesome Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies, were the talk of the night! Several people were so excited, they promised to come to our next meeting -yay! Cost was negligible, due to everything being from my pantry....;)

I tried another new recipe for the MLK event: Date-Nut Diamonds, also from Vegan with a Vengeance. This was another one that I'd been eying for a while, as I love dates, nuts, and coconut (the three main ingredients). Unfortunately, as you can see by the photo here, there wasn't enough crust to cover the bottom of the pan (and it was a slightly smaller pan than called for) so it just burned. However ...

...there is something to be said for experience. I made the crust again, doubling it this time, and it turned out great!

The topping, or main part of the bar, made barely enough (again) to cover the crust. I really was spreading it thin. It isn't burned, though, despite the photo. That's just the darkness of the dates.

Once again, I was disappointed in the crust. Although there was enough this time, it still didn't seem quite right. After I cut the bars out of the pan, this is what was left. The crust was just too...powdery. It never firmed up like I thought it should.

I wasn't sure if I was going to serve these at the MLK event. But I did and everyone kept commenting on them - positively! I guess they were a three or four star, based on their comments, and truth be told, the crumbly base didn't matter when compared to the chewy topping, but I still only give it two and a half stars **1/2. Again, all pantry items!

This strange looking pancake has totally won me over this week. The Chickpea Flour Pizza from The UnCheese Cookbook is one of the easiest recipes I've ever made. Just a half cup of garbanzo bean flour (very high in protein!) with some pizza-type spices and a half cup of water, and you're ready to go! It is thin, in between a crepe and a pancake, and completely delicious. Cooks in 10 minutes (5 on each side).

Cut into cute triangles, and served with some kalamata spread (tapenade), it was awesome! Four stars, for sure ****. I'm going to try it with some tomato sauce and other spreads in the coming weeks. I've been wanting to try this recipe and use up my chickpea flour for a long time! Cheap, cheap, cheap! And all pantry items.

Of course, all this food pales in comparison with the great event that occurred this past Tuesday! Need I say more??? Wish I had been there, but I'm not one for crowds or the cold...

A friend of mine got me this adorable cookie to celebrate. Not vegan but totally cool. Now, let's let him get to work and hope that good things will come. I'm not much into the celebrity side of all of this but have great hope that the environment and our international relations will improve over the next four years.

And last, happy almost Chinese New Year! The Year of the Ox starts tomorrow. We'll celebrate with some egg rolls and a noodle dish tomorrow night. But first, soup....

Friday, January 16, 2009

Winter Vittles

It's gotten pretty cold here in Virginia. It was a solid 11 degrees when I got up at 5:30 this morning for my usual trip to the gym. Brrrr.... I know that elsewhere in the country, our high of 22 today would be considered downright balmy, so I'll try not to complain too much but honestly, after living below the Mason-Dixon line for about 14 years, my blood has seriously thinned out. And it wasn't that thick to begin with.

But I digress. We're here to talk about food. Good, hearty, VEGAN food. Stuff that fills you and warms you up when temperatures are any kind of cold. Enter the Tuscan White Bean Bread Soup (or something like that) from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook (see picture above). You can guess that this was my husband's choice of meals last weekend (I'm not a potato or white flour person). You put a piece of bread on the bottom (white bread, of course) and ladle the soup over it. Well, I had some vegan white potato rolls in the freezer, so I played along. Even without the bread, this soup was STELLAR. It was spicy, but not overly so. It wasn't too salty or too watery or too thick. It was JUST RIGHT. And we ate it all up (bookworms out there - where did that come from?). It was so good, we're planning on serving it to our friends (non-vegan, of course) when we host the next monthly potluck. Kicked ass. Four stars ****.

To make up for my husband's choice, as good as it ended up being, I served up Thai Tofu with Pineapple and Veggies, a curried dish from Vegan Express by Nava Atlas. It has pineapple and coconut milk in it, two things my husband despises in a dinner dish. I ended up cubing the tofu instead of slabbing it, to spread out the deliciousness, but everything else I kept the same. It was really good! Not too spicy, not too soupy, lots of veggies and GREAT with brown rice....A strong three stars ***, maybe three and a half. Makes a ton!

Unfortunately, I still suck at making brown rice in the rice cooker. Somehow, it ends up underdone. Maybe I just need to add more water...Hubby nabbed a piece of baby corn (which he loves) and had just put it into his mouth when I mentioned that it had coconut milk on it. He almost spit it out, but finished it and then - lo and behold! - stated that it wasn't that bad! We're working on him, folks.

After two nights, I needed more whole grains to eat with it, so I whipped up this quick cooking barley. It only took about 15 minutes total. I just love the firm, round, nutty texture and flavor of barley! It's such a nice change. And, I had some already in my pantry. Score.

I also cooked up a second batch of Brussels sprouts, this time halving them before roasting, as the recipe calls for. MUCH better! Still not like "popcorn" as Isa suggests, but sooo good. Aforementioned man also found reason to nab some of these and was surprised at how much he liked them! I'm going to make them with cranberries next time :) (He also hates any kind of fruit - dried or otherwise - in his hot meals).

At the last post, I forgot that I promised to state the cost of each meal, to try to show how cheap vegan eating can be (or at least to cut down on my food spending). This wasn't the most frugal meal I've ever made. I had the rice, barley, baby carrots, veggie broth, coconut milk (leftover in the freezer - yay!), and frozen peas, but we had to purchase the tofu, bell pepper, canned baby corn, and cilantro (for the main meal). Total cost? About $7 bucks. Not bad for a week's worth of meals!

The other meal I made this week was from Vegan A Go-Go! I didn't post a pic because I couldn't get a good shot. It was Kathleen's Mom's Tortilla Chip Soup. I had all the ingredients on hand for this one, including some tomato paste, green chilies, and corn in the freezer, black beans, veggie stock, garlic, diced tomatoes, and of course all the spices in the cupboard. I even had tortilla chips leftover from a recent Sierra Club meeting to go on the bottom of each bowl (not necessary, but a neat twist!). The only thing I had to buy was one bell pepper. Total cost for this big pot o' soup? $1. Now tell me you can make some meat dish for less. Oh, I guess you could get McDonald's crap food for a buck a piece, but that's only one meal!! Not a week's worth of lunches :) However, the soup was a little disappointing. Kind of like black bean salsa, warmed up. Two and a half stars, maybe ** 1/2*.

Sort of food was so cold this morning, that the peel left from my morning banana (the one I eat on the way to the gym and leave on my car floor so I can bring it home to compost it) actually FROZE after only an hour and a half in the car, waiting for me. It was so cool. I could pick it up and it stuck straight out like a piece of cardboard. Once I got it back into the house, it immediately started to soften back up, but you get the idea. Wooh. This weekend's menu includes a Chickpea Spelt Soup (lots of pantry foods!), a White Pizza, and Sweet Potato-Black Bean Quesadillas! Stay warm, everyone!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Year's Resolutions Underway!

It is a New Year's tradition to eat black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes and greens on January 1st, here in the South (although we're just below the Mason-Dixon line). I've been doing this for several years now, and although I don't believe in "luck" per se, I do like traditions. This hearty soup from Vegetarian Times (Jan 09 issue), so originally named, Southern New Year's Day Soup, was very good. It had good spice, neat texture from all the different ingredients, and I used dried beans, which was one of my New Year's resolution foods! (something I've never really made - I usually use canned). Two and a half to three stars ***. The funny thing was, my husband thought it was "too watery," and perhaps I agree! We don't eat a ton of soups around here, and they usually tend to be more stew-like. Still, it was warming and filling and lasted a while.
I am trying to alternate my protein sources. In other words, if I eat tempeh for dinner all week, not to have another soy source for lunch. This week, I decided on this Chickpea Hijiki Salad, from Vegan with a Vengeance, for my lunch protein. It was great to use up the hijiki sitting around in my cupboard (another New Year's resolution - to use up what I already have) and it was a recipe that I've had tagged from Isa's book since I first bought it, years ago! The hijiki (a type of seaweed- follow the link to learn more) was very strong and kind of funny looking, but it lent the perfect "seafood" scent and flavor to the dish. I don't think this would fool a SOUL out there (doesn't remotely resemble tuna by sight or by texture) but if you close your eyes, it's like a really moist tuna spread. At any rate, I am not looking for dead-animal analogs, so I was completely happy with this, along with a huge amount of green leaf lettuce and some leftover pieces of raw cauliflower, wrapped up in a huge piece of lavash bread (only 100 calories and contains flax and all whole grains- and vegan! - from B.J.'s). I gave this three stars ***.

Here's a close-up of the salad. It has a bit of Veganaise, lots of shredded carrots, and some other things that are really simple pantry ingredients. I learned from this site that hijiki has an amazing 1,400 mg of calcium per serving, 4,400mg of potassium, more than 3,000mg of Vitamin A, and 10.6g of protein - woohoo!

To use up the tempeh sitting around in our fridge, my husband and I agreed upon this Tempeh Cacciatore, from Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes. It was hearty and savory, but a little too dry. I had to keep adding water. I had it over whole wheat fettuccine. Two and a half stars, maybe only two **. Oh well, you win some, you lose some!

Speaking of winning, this unexpected dish was a winner (all week)! Millet-Cauliflower "Mashed Potatoes" (also from Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook) is not something that you'd think I would pick out to make for myself. But it doesn't contain a bit of potato. Just cooked onion, veggie broth, cauliflower and millet. A great whole grain, the millet had been sitting around in my pantry, thus its appearance on my plate. Now, I'm also not a big mashed potatoes fan, but man! - these were good! I even made the author's (Robin Robertson) quick gravy, and it was good, too! It was my own invention to toast some pine nuts (you can see they were toasted a little too long) to go on top for some added protein. How yummy! Alongside some sauteed kale (which was also very good with the gravy), I had a pretty plate and a home style meal. As you can see, the green vegetable makes up a good portion of the plate - just the way it should be :) I have been attracted to cauliflower recently, after being reminded of the importance of cruciferous veggies in preventing cancer. Three stars for sure ***, maybe three and a half!
Here's a yummy close up....

Now, onto my true New Year's Resolutions....Brussels sprouts! I always hated these things, being as my British mum would always just steam them in the microwave, with no salt, pepper or other things to take away the intense bitterness. Yuck. They were one thing that even my dad couldn't stand.

But, according to my resolutions, they were on the top of my list for a second try (beets were last year's veggie). I roasted them according to Isa's (Vegan with a Vengeance) very easy recipe (except that I forgot to cut them in half, so they were a little underdone) with lots of garlic and some olive oil and pepper/salt. Wow!!! I can now say that I actually like ALL vegetables (OK, so I haven't eaten all the ones out there, but of the ones that I am familiar with)!! Even yucky Brussels sprouts (which, up until now I thought were "brussel sprouts") are OK in my book. I'm buying some more this week to try roasting again, cut in half this time :) I wouldn't say they taste like popcorn, which is what Isa claims, but the garlic and roasting definitely take the bitterness down a few notches. I felt so gosh darn grown-up eating these! :) By the way, one serving contains 2 grams of protein and 120% of your RDA of Vitamin C! Click here to learn more.

Here they are, alongside the Millet-Cauliflower mash, which has been topped with chives this time, as originally called for (I forgot the first time).

Well, I didn't announce it here on this blog (I don't think), but a more personal New Year's resolution was to give up sugar, or more accurately, break my sugar addiction. I've realized how powerless I am over the stuff. And, I realized how over the summer, when my Sierra Club and Veg Group meetings were on hiatus (and thus I didn't have to make desserts), I didn't have nearly as many cravings for sweets. So, I'm going to try to make fewer sweet things for these occasions, and indulge in dried fruit to quell my cravings.

Of course, I made this decision after I had bought these chocolate cups from B.J.'s and the following Joe-Joe's (candy cane flavor) cookies. So, I made Nori-Mu vanilla pudding (everyone was amazed that it was made from tofu!) and broke open the box, and shared them at my January meetings. Now, the temptation is gone and I can look forward to more healthy treats for my friends and myself!

Hope everyone's first two weeks (almost) of 2009 are going as successfully and if not, remember that it takes three weeks to make a new habit! (or something like that). Good night and good luck.