Sunday, November 29, 2009

Vegan Mashed Potatoes, or Cashew Milk

I think I'll save the details of my Thanksgiving dishes for next year, assuming I'm still keeping up my little blog. If you're just dying to hear about something in particular, let me know, but as most of these dishes are the kinds of things I make once a year, I'm going to save it.

The exception? Mashed potatoes. I love me some potato in pretty much any form. Of course we eat mashed potatoes even when it's not Thanksgiving.

One of the (only) things I learned in my recent cooking class was how to make cashew milk or other nut milks and what they can be used for. Clearly, it seems easy enough to turn mashed potatoes vegan; typically I'll just smash them with a little margarine and not and any milk product or whip them at all, but rather leave little chunks of potato and enjoy the texture. Other times I'll buy a small container of cow's milk to use, a product I don't typically keep in the house. I've tried the soy milk we use on cereal, but it's too sweet. In my class, though, I learned a trick and it was a success!

Take 1 part raw cashews to 4 parts water and blend until it's smooth. Voila!

You can make this better by soaking the cashews overnight, but that's not necessary. This has the texture of whole milk and was frothy and slightly sweet, but it still went really well with the potatoes. I used it just like milk and whipped my potatoes with some cashew milk, Earth Balance, salt and pepper.

For the record, raw cashews aren't really raw. Cashews are seeds that have a double shell surrounding them, which has urushiol, similar to poison ivy. So "raw" cashews are typically steamed to remove the toxic casing. These are called raw because they are not roasted.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving, a day late

I cooked for Thanksgiving today. Yesterday, I got my fill on the road: breakfast at Dunkin Donuts (bagel and cream cheese); lunch at Chili's Too (black bean burger); snack at McDonalds (fruit & walnut salad); supper at home - Bertolli ravioli and leftover pasta sauce.

Today's meal, however, was the highlight of my Thanksgiving cooking on my own. With the exception of the gravy, everything was really good. I'll work on that before I serve it to anyone else.

Menu (from 1 o'clock going clockwise): green bean casserole with mushrooms; mashed pototoes and gravy; tofu cutlets with the same gravy and mushrooms; apple cider cranberries; cornbread dressing; corn casserole; maple roasted sweet potatoes with pecans.

The opposite side of my plate, to highlight my personal favorite -- the sweet potatoes. I've normally eaten them creamed with a topping made from pecans and brown sugar, but these sticky sweet roasted potatoes were delicious.

I didn't make a dessert, but I did get a store-bought chess pie to share with Alex as he's never had (or heard of) chess pie. This morning we were just about the only shoppers in the grocery store, go figure.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I will be spending this week out of town and may not be able to post. I'll be back later, with some updates on yummy restaurants I intend to visit and other food-related news, but in the meantime I'd like to wish you all Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy some tasty treats and some time with your loved ones.

I love, love, love Thanksgiving. This holiday -- I guess like all holidays -- exacerbate family differences. It's been quite a while since I've had the family Thanksgiving fantasy I hold so dear. I have fond memories of being a child and seeing my mother organize the menu so carefully, timing out the dishes on a white-erase board on the refrigerator. We'd even make homemade potato rolls.

I love Thanksgiving food, even all the recipes using condensed cream of mushroom soup, as well as seeing family and friends. As soon as you spend a holiday with another family, though, you realize that not everyone does everything the same way. Even having a vegetarian Thanksgiving can't replace those fond family memories. Last Saturday, I went to a cooking class, A Traditional Vegan Thanksgiving. I was super-excited to take a vegan cooking class, and I dreamed of learning how to cook kale or Swiss chard, figuring out what to do with flaxseed and quinoa. Instead, I wasted my $36 going over everyday substitutions, like how to make vegan mashed potatoes and stuffing. Really. I did learn how to use nutritional yeast (for gravy and broth), and although I fully intend to use that in the near future, my entire plate was yellowish-white-and-gray at the end of the class when we sat down to eat.

Even before that class, though, my Thanksgiving has been more of a fond memory, as the actual day hasn't brought me those family favorites. Last Thanksgiving Alex and I were vacationing out west and ate two meals at Jack in the Box -- the only restaurant we could find open. Another year was the first Thanksgiving I spent with his family, eating pink mashed potatoes, avoiding the turkey, and missing all my favorite dishes. I wish I'd brought one my family favorites-turned-vegetarian to share, even at my now mother in law's insistence that I should just be their guest. Before that, I remember a Thanksgiving dinner with a variety of "holiday orphaned" and international graduate students, drinking wine and eating a wilted spinach salad with pomegranate seeds. I think that was the year I realized that dressing and stuffing weren't two names for the same thing.

This year, I'll be spending Thanksgiving on the road, driving back home. Sometime this weekend, we'll make a festive dinner will all the fixin's. I'll be sure to tell you about it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Homemade Snack: Sesame Sticks

Last weekend we bought some sesame sticks at the local market, and after reading the ingredient list I figured that I had everything it called for and could make this myself. I still can't believe they don't admit to adding any fat or frying them. If a food is fried, like potato chips, do they have to list oil as an ingredient?

Is Walnut Creek Foods exempt from admitting its sesame sticks have oil or butter in them?

After searching the web for a recipe, I decided to wing it. I didn't measure anything. More than half the dry mix was wheat flour, and I threw in some sesame seeds and bulgur. For seasoning, I used some sea salt, garlic powder, and a sprinkle of chile powder.

I mixed all that with a few teaspoons of melted margarine and water. I added the water slowly so that the dough was stiff and not too wet.

Then I pressed it out and cut it into sticks with a butter knife. I baked at 325F for 10 minutes, then flipped and baked another 5 minutes. These sticks aren't really anything like the store bought ones, but they're pretty good. I think next time I'll have to use less sesame or less bulgur; they seeds make it pretty tough to chew. I wouldn't call this a complete failure, though -- I'm keeping them ,after all, and I fully intend to eat them.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Semi-Homemade, or a Product Review: Pacific Onion Soup

I have some definite favorite ready-made, pre-packaged foods. Most of my favorites come from Trader Joe's. Other things I've bought have been real flops -- including some things from TJ's! I had no idea how this was going to turn out, but Alex loved it. He has a greater love for French Onion Soup than I do. I thought it was pretty good, and certainly easy.

I picked up this Pacific Natural Foods Organic French Onion Soup when I saw that it was beef-free. The carton had been waiting in the cabinet for the perfect moment for soup, and the time had finally come. With the leftover Gruyere from the mushroom tart and the leftover bread from the briami, I could make a crouton and have cheesy French Onion Soup.

This is the never-ending bag of cheese, which I find fitting since it was so expensive!

I dolled this up by caramelizing some thinly sliced onions in the soup pot, then warming the pre-made soup in the same pot.

I had already left two slices of bread in the oven after it was turned off from something else I'd been cooking, so the bread was toasted. Alex piled cheese on the toast slices and broiled them. We popped the toast on top of the soup and enjoyed an easy tweaked soup supper.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another Attempt at Homemade Seitan

I made a second batch of homemade seitan, this time following the recipe I found in The Ethnic Vegetarian, which I've previously mentioned is becoming one of my favorite cookbooks. I know my aunt who gave me the book reads the blog -- so thanks!

This recipe has you mix the gluten with flavoring and water, and then it stops. There's no boiling or baking as part of the seitan recipe like in my first attempt. Instead, you cook it in whatever recipe you choose. I made this a week or so ago and kept it in the freezer waiting for the perfect time to use it.

Seitan recipe:
2 cups whole wheat gluten flour
1 teaspoon each: salt, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper
1 cup water
1 cup soymilk

Combine the dry ingredients, then add the water and soymilk to form a thick dough. Knead 10-15 times by hand, then let rest 5 minutes. Knead again 6-8 times, then place in a bowl, cover with a towel, and let rest in a warm spot for 15 minutes. The seitan is now ready to be cooked. At this point, I put it in the freezer in a zipper bag.

When I thawed it, it was still doughy and springy. I pounded it out, then sliced it into thin pieces. I fried them in a small amount of canola oil and crisped each side.

Then I placed the whole skillet in the oven and turned it off. (The oven had been on, baking my cauliflower -- I served these dishes together along with some Amy's Mac and Cheeze.) When I went to retrieve the seitan, it was all puffed up.

I returned the skillet to the stovetop and placed a potholder over the handle so as not to burn myself on it, after I made that mistake once. Then I poured on this sauce, the recipe for which I found in the Horizons cookbook. I was initially worried that I wouldn't have enough sauce, but these little pieces soaked up the sauce and it was really good. This reminded me of the fake chicken found in Chinese restuarants.

1/4 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon molasses
2 tablespoons agave syrup
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons Caribbean or Jerk seasoning (I used a storebought mix)
freshly grated ginger

I mixed all that together and tasted it, then I decided to add a little sriracha, which almost surprises me because I typically don't like heat. I added a very, very little of this. Then I put it directly over the seitan in the skillet. It doesn't take long to cook this with the seitan because all the sugar will burn, you're basically just heating it against the seitan.

I think this is a recipe is a winner, at least for the texture of the seitan. I'm still working on how to properly flavor it, but I have some new ideas I'd like to try next time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vegetable Highligt: Cauliflower

One of things I want to do more as I cook more at home is to try new ingredients. So far, I've been doing that to an extent, but there's so much farther to go. I've never used bulgur before, or really done tofu well, or even attempted any stir-fry at all. I want to learn how to use more grains, greens, and other ingredients I haven't typically included in my diet.

I have been familiar with cauliflower in two forms: first, raw on a veggie and dip tray; second, pickled in giardiniera. Recently I had a cauliflower cheese dish, and I decided to try oven roasting it without cheese to eat as a healthy side dish. From what I can tell with quick web search, cauliflower is high in fiber, has Vitamin C and some compounds that are thought to be anti-cancer. Way to go!

I just cut a whole head into florets, tossed in my casserole dish with a little olive oil, salt, and garlic powder, and baked at 375F for about 15 minutes. The florets became tender and slightly browned. Yum, yum, yum.

I ate this as a side with barbecue seitan and frozen Mac and Cheez. What a good lunch, and a healthy take on some comfort food.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Briami, My Way

Briami is a Greek dish of roasted vegetables. I start some on the stove, bake it all up with some garlic, and then add some crushed tomatoes near the end. Serve with feta and bread.

I've made briami a few times and I think it's one of those things like lasagne, or chili, or anything else that you can adapt to your taste within a certain framework. So I'm not saying this is authentic briami, but it sure is good. Especially in the cooler months, I love a dish you can put together and then relax while it bakes. I have a hard time eating a dish immediately after I've cooked it if I haven't had a few minutes to sit down first.

The only tough part of this dish is cutting all the veggies. First, I cut the potatoes pretty small and cook in a skillet with canola oil. The other veggies can go right into the oven: zucchini, eggplant, carrots, onion, mushrooms, and smashed garlic. My carrots were still a little firm, but I like them that way. If you prefer them tender, you can skillet them as well.

I baked at 350F for an hour, stirring partway through and with about 20 minutes left I added some salt and the canned tomatoes. I think I mistakenly bought crushed tomatoes when I should have bought diced tomatoes, but this was delicious nonetheless. My tomatoes had some seasoning in them already; otherwise I would have added some oregano.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Biocompostable Dinnerware

A cellphone photo from the lunchroom at a site visit. But there are only trash bins to dispose of these guys... I did enjoy some pretty tasty vegetarian vegetable soup, though!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm not sure I can call this pad thai, but it's a stir fry dish with spicy peanut sauce (jarred), rice noodles, and lots of veggies. I was looking for a way to cook some tofu and decided to make this mess. Besides preparing the tofu a day or more in advance and chopping the veggies, this goes in the easy column.

When we order pad thai out, it's been sickeningly sweet. Alex likes it that way. We also have to choose between veggies and tofu. Sure enough, by putting in our favorite veggies, we have a huge batch of this stuff. Plus, we have leftover veggies for other uses and I feel like it's decently healthy.

Ingredients: frozen, thawed, and pressed tofu, cooked first and set aside. Freezing tofu is one of the best things I've ever done. I can't imagine cooking so much without this tasty addition in my toolbox.

Veggies: onion, carrot, baby corn, mushrooms, red bell pepper, green beans, water chestnuts. I added those I wanted most cooked first, then put in the rest. Finally, I added the rehydrated rice noodles and tofu and a generous measure of the sauce.

After the stir fry: a squeeze of lime, some bean sprouts, and sprinkle of chopped peanuts. If I'd thought about it while I was shopping, some cilantro would have made a nice addition too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Spaghetti and Wheat Balls

I actually started with a recipe I found online for bulgur patties, but this is far removed from that. I realized during the cooking that it was a really poorly written recipe. It called for two cups of cooked bulgur wheat. Is that two cups, cooked? Or two cooked cups? I started with two dry cups, which expanded greatly in cooking. I also changed the spices and omitted the egg.

Here's what I did: First, cook the bulgur. Use two parts cold water for one part bulgur, bring to a boil and simmer 15-20 minutes until the water is absorbed or evaporated. If it's too wet when it's done (tender), drain the excess water.

Season. Use some salt for sure and whatever else you like. For these Italian meat-style balls, I used basil, oregano, pepper, and garlic. The original recipe called for sage and poultry seasoning. Stir in whole wheat flour until the mix is less wet and sticky and can be formed into balls. I used more than 1/2 cup flour for my two cups of dry bulgur.

Roll the mixture into balls and roll in wheat flour. I made about 20 balls and realized I had way too much bulgur mix, so I saved most of it for later. The balls really held their shape, which was impressive. I fried them in a shallow skillet of canola oil. Since everything in them was cooked, I didn't worry about how long they fried and instead tried to just get a good color on them. Unlike other things I've fried, these didn't absorb much oil -- that made me feel pretty good about this being a moderately healthy recipe.

Now, these what balls don't taste like meatballs; the bulgur is nutty and slightly sweet. I might try them again and experiment with the recipe. I'll probably consult some meatball recipes and decide what to try next. I served them with a green salad, some grilled eggplant, and chunky tomato sauce so the meal wasn't entirely grain-based.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Rustic" Mushroom and Onion Tart

I'm giggling calling this "rustic" because it's made with a Pilsbury refrigerated pie crust. The idea for this dish came from The Peppertree, and she called it a rustic mushroom tart, once removed from Southern Living's vidalia onion tart. She substituted mushrooms for onions. I decided to use both! I had bookmarked this recipe and was waiting on the right time to make this rich dish. This was really, really good comfort food, something we both needed during a pretty tough week. We indulged in other guilty pleasures as well: a lunch at Penn Station (artichoke sub and fries!); a dinner and pitcher of margaritas at our favorite Mexican place. While we were there, we saw the guy from Salt of the Earth, though, so it didn't feel quite so bad.

Start by cooking thinly sliced mushrooms and onions in butter and olive oil until they are very tender. Salt lightly and season with rosemary and pepper.

Roll out a pre-made refrigerated pie crust. Place shredded Gruyere in the center, then top with the onions and mushrooms, leaving a two-inch border. I strained my veggies because I was worried that they would be too wet. This turned out to be a good idea, as the piecrust did break in one place and it leaked a bit. Oh well. Put more cheese on top, then fold the crust around. Brush with egg if you want to encourage browning.

Bake at 425F for 17-20 minutes. I served with no-cream creamed spinach. This was really good -- one of those recipes I can't wait to try again. I just wish the cheese wasn't so expensive and it didn't feel so unhealthy. But this is a serious yum!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Faux Pho

Along with the tofu lettuce wraps, I tried to make some pho. It turned out pretty well. I've never actually had pho -- even my favorite Vietnamese restaurant doesn't offer vegetarian pho. I might try some pro-pho from Loving Cafe, though, at some point.

This recipe I found was kind of fun because it was unlike anything I'd made before. I made a broth with onion, garlic, shallots, ginger, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and soy sauce. I couldn't find star anise in my grocery store and didn't make a special trip to find some. I only peeled these ingredients enough to remove the layer that was exposed in the store. I simmered all this for about half an hour, then strained it leaving only the broth. The cinnamon sticks and ginger smelled so good while all this was cooking.

Once that was done, I added some seitan and simmered that to warm it through. I also rehydrated some rice noodles with boiling water.

Then, the build-it-yourself spread. We had cilantro, scallions, bean sprouts, lime, hoisin, and sriracha. A little sriracha goes a long way, we found, but this was a really good and simple enough soup.

Tofu Lettuce Wraps

Ever since bypassing the Viet Now tofu at Mango's, I'd been craving some Vietnamese flavors. I made lettuce wraps and Faux Pho, two things I'd never tried myself. I was very, very pleased with the results. The lettuce wraps pretty easy to make.

The recipe I used claimed that you should have 1/4 cup of the marinade left to use as sauce, but my thirsty tofu soaked up every last bit of it. That was fine, though, because they were so chock full of sauce that it would have been overkill to add any more to them.

I started with frozen and thawed firm tofu, pressed the water from it, and made the marinade almost as directed. You need lime juice, honey (I used agave syrup), lemongrass, soy sauce, chili paste, and garlic. Slice the tofu before marinating in, and turn the tofu slices as they soak up the sauce. Alex cooked the tofu slices in our wok because he has the patience to turn each piece individually and brown each side.

For the wraps, I used iceberg lettuce and laid out the toppings for both the pho and wraps in one, so some did double duty. We had bean sprouts, carrots, and cilantro. Alex threw in some scallions and hoisin, too. I forgot the chopped peanuts mentioned in the recipe, but that might have been a nice touch. These were great! One of my favorite recipe finds by far and a dish we love to eat out was a success at home.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mm-Mm Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin bread from this recipe with half whole-wheat flour, half white flour, and no chocolate. I used pecans instead. Not quite like the dense, moist bread I'm used to, but very good and lighter, although probably not healthier.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Restaurant: Loving Cafe

When I mentioned that I wished I could find a place like Mango's back at home, I was reminded of Loving Cafe in Pleasant Ridge. I'll let you know right now that I will be putting Loving Cafe into the rotation, I liked it that much, but it's no Mango's.

I'd been wanting to try Loving Cafe for some time and finally went for a late lunch on Saturday. We got there around 2 and the place was packed; we actually claimed the last available table inside. We sat in the front window, which was nice, although in back there is a larger dining room and a television. When I saw that all those tables were full, I didn't bother looking at what was on television, but evidently the programming is Supreme Master Ching Hai's satellite television channel. Kinda cool, kinda weird. I think I'd want to watch some before I comment further.

Before I get to the food, I'll admit that there were a few things I knew about Loving Cafe since I first heard of it this spring that made me hesitant to go there. I'd heard that they have information on going vegan and might be a little preachy. I'd also heard that they rely on fake meats. However, since I first made my own seitan, I have a better understanding of what goes into all those fake meats and it doesn't bother me. I can now understand how to turn a plant (grains, or flour, or gluten) into something you can call a veggie dog or soysage.

I'm glad we finally went. I had a really good experience there. The food was incredible, and as Alex sits next to me watching me upload these photos, he's already talking about how he wants that sandwich again. I mentioned they were really crowded when we came in, but once things settled down a friendly worker came over to make sure we were enjoying the food and see if we had any questions.

We got a summer roll and a spring roll as starters and they were both really good. We wanted to try one of each, and the summer roll was fresh and our favorite. It had rice noodles, carrots, avocado, and lettuces and came with an almond hoisin dipping sauce. The spring roll is baked and contains shredded veggies and veggie ham and comes with sweet and sour sauce. It was okay, and pretty good considering it was our least favorite.

This is the American panini. Alex ordered this sandwich; as much as I like panini, I'm not such a big fan of really vinegary things like pickles, mustard, or banana peppers. This sandwich has all that, plus cole slaw, tofurkey, vegan cheeze, and vegenaise. Yum, yum, yum. The sandwich came with a few organic corn chips on the side.

The American panini is on the regular menu, but they also have a small chalkboard with daily specials. I chose the barbecue hot wing wrap. The wrap was small, inexpensive ($4) and very filling. Like the sauces that came with the rolls, the barbecue sauce was incredible and was served on the side. The wheat tortilla wrapped up veggie chick'n, tender baby lettuces, and tomatoes. I couldn't get enough of this.

After this pleasantly surprising experience, I'm eager to go back and try something a little more daring. Loving Cafe is entirely vegan, and they also boast a few raw dishes, including a raw pizza and I've heard they sometimes offer raw pasta dishes as a special. The dessert case looked incredible, and their smoothie selection was pretty impressive as well. On the down side, my table was a little dirty and there was a little bickering behind the food counter. I think they were a little overwhelmed having such a crowd for a late lunch. None of that took away from the food, and I can't wait to go back.

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