Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Cannelloni, Part 3: Simple Tomato Sauce

Tomatoes are an essential part of most Italian cooking. Because it is a cuisine that relies upon savory flavors like meat and cheese, tomatoes are often the perfect tart balance. That is definitely true in this cannelloni; stuffed with mushrooms and spinach in a creamy white sauce, it cries out for a little acid. This tomato sauce is bright and simple with a rustic texture and lots of flavor. It goes perfectly with this dish, but it would also be excellent in a variety of recipes.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion diced
1 carrot diced finely
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 cup red wine
2 32 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup basil leaves chopped
2 bay leaves

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion, and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the red wine and bring to a boil. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, and bay leaves and return to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for about an hour, until the sauce has thickened somewhat. Once the sauce is cooked, you can purée it in a blender or food processor, although I chose to keep mine chunky.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Cannelloni, Part 2: Filling your Crêpes

Cannelloni is traditionally stuffed with ricotta cheese and herbs, and topped with tomato sauce. I have always enjoyed the addition of vegetables to my stuffed pasta dishes, and mushrooms and spinach are fairly common ingredients in Italian food. In this case, the spinach and mushrooms add volume as well as flavor, since this is a cheese-less cannelloni.

1/2 cup raw cashews
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup hot water
2 tablespoons non dairy butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
8 ounces cremini mushrooms sliced
3 cups spinach
2 small onions halved and sliced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the garlic and cashews in the bowl of a food processor. Process into crumbs. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and mix until it forms a paste. With the processor on, add the hot water until it is smooth and creamy.

Heat oven to 375º. Place the onions in a shallow dish. Drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until tender and golden.

In a small pot, melt the butter until it begins to simmer. Add the flour and stir into a paste, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the milk into a microwave safe dish and heat until it is warm. I use a glass measuring cup for this. Slowly add the warm milk to the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Once all the milk is added, whisk until it begins to thicken. Add the cashew cream and stir to incorporate. Add the cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.

Place the mushrooms in a sauté pan and cook until brown and  tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Place the spinach in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 1 and 1/2 minutes, until wilted. Add the mushrooms, spinach, and onions to the béchamel sauce. Stir until everything is coated.

Check back tomorrow for simple tomato sauce and putting your cannelloni together!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Cannelloni, Part 1: Whole Wheat Crêpes

I know that Christmas dinner means a lot of different things to people, but I have never been especially invested in what we eat on Christmas day. We’ve tended to mix it up over the years with turkey or ham, lamb, or cornish game hens. Sometimes we have potatoes, we always have vegetables, but I don’t have one distinctive memory of Christmas dinner. 

When it came time to plan our holiday feast, I was continually drawn to Italian food. This might seem strange to some people, but it feels traditional to me. My great grandmother Adele was a first generation immigrant from Italy. Although she died when I was very small, I’ve grown up with stories of Adele rolling out sheets of pasta for lasagna and ravioli, cooking sauce on the stove for hours, and making meatballs the size of my head. Italian food is both vegan friendly and festive.

This dish is closest to a cannelloni, whole wheat crêpes stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, and onions in a béchamel sauce, topped with a slow cooked tomato sauce. It was delicious, creamy, and special enough for Christmas dinner. It also opens the door to a lot of different interpretations including lasagna and manicotti. I’ll start with the crêpes, as a good crêpe recipe is very versatile, and can be used in a wide variety of dishes.

Whole Wheat Crêpes

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons water
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup whole wheat flour (you can also substitute whole wheat pastry flour or all purpose flour depending on your dish)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons non dairy butter melted

In a blender, whip the flaxseed and water until light and frothy. Add the milk, water, flour, salt, and butter and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight.

Heat a small skillet or crepe pan over medium high heat. Spray the pan lightly with a canola cooking spray. You will need to do this before every crêpe. Pour 2 to 3 tablespoons of batter into the pan and rotate the pan to evenly distribute the batter. Cook until the crêpe begins to loosen and the edges begin to brown. Flip the crêpe and cook for 15 more seconds. Transfer to a clean dish towel. Repeat.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blueberry Muffins with Almond Crumb Topping

Obviously, I am a person who cares a lot about food; otherwise, I would not write about every meal I eat on this blog. So, on special occasions, it is particularly important to me to eat really good food. For the past several years, we’ve started Christmas day with a coffee cake; blueberry lemon, cranberry orange, or cherry. So, this year I attempted to make a cherry coffee cake. Note the word “attempted.” I made it, baked it, got it out of the oven, and wrapped it up for the next morning. However, when I actually cut into it, it was a big soggy mess. But, sometimes things that look bad taste great, so I forked a bite and...threw the rest away. My coffee cake definitely needs work, but Christmas morning is not the time for food experimenting. Instead, I looked to my archive, and chose a simple muffin recipe. Instead of chocolate, this time I used blueberries, and finished it with an almond meal crumb topping. Served with freshly squeezed tangerine juice and an almond milk mocha for an elegant, yet simple holiday breakfast.

For the muffins, I used this recipe, simply replacing the chocolate chunks with 1 cup of frozen blueberries.

Crumb Topping

1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar 
2 tablespoons non dairy butter softened
3 tablespoons ground almond meal

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and mash together with a fork. After spooning the batter into the muffin cups, top with the crumb mixture.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mushroom Bourguignon for Christmas Eve

I don’t know how Christmas Eve is in your family, but in mine it is thick with tradition. We’ve eaten the same dinner since before I was born, cheese fondue with crusty bread and juicy ham, followed by a decadent chocolate fondue with fruit, pound cake, and designer marshmallows. This was the only day of the year that we ate cheese fondue, so the mere mention of the word meant Christmas Eve to me. As with many things, becoming vegan necessitates reassessing the food traditions in my life. I thought about the experience of fondue, and what it represents to me as a way of recreating a similar food memory. Fondue is savory, cozy, and wintry. It’s about good bread, and the perfect glass of wine. Most of all it’s about flavors that warm you from within.

For my first vegan Christmas Eve, I decided upon Mushroom Bourguignon atop a bed of smooth and creamy mashed potatoes. I first made this dish last March, in the very beginning of my vegan experiment, and I was immediately in heaven. I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen who claims that the best part of Boeuf Bourguignon is the sauce. I couldn’t agree more, and this dish is a testament to that fact. It has all the heartiness and balanced flavors of the original, but it takes a fraction of the time to prepare. It is also very flexible in its timing. While preparing dinner, some of my neighbors stopped by for a glass of wine, and I just left the stew bubbling on the stove, building flavor, while I spent time with my loved ones. Eating a plate of this Mushroom Bourguignon by the fire, with a glass of Prosecco, it could not have felt more like Christmas Eve.

I served my Bourguignon on mashed potatoes, but I’ve also served it on creamy polenta, or just with a side of bread to soak up the sauce, so feel free to get creative!

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon non dairy butter
1 pound portobello mushrooms, stems removed, slice in 1/4” strips
1 pound cremini mushrooms sliced
1/2 carrot diced finely
1 small onion diced
2 cloves garlic minced
2 cups red wine
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme minced
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup frozen pearl onions thawed*
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley for a garnish

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot on high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook briefly, about  3 minutes, until they begin to color but before they release their liquid. Place the mushrooms in a bowl, and set aside.

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in the same pan on medium high heat, and add the onions, carrots, thyme, garlic, and a good helping of salt and pepper. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine to the pot and scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Return the heat to high, and simmer until the wine has reduced by a third. Add the tomato paste and the vegetable stock, and stir until combined. Add the mushrooms along with any juices, and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until the mushrooms are very tender. Add the onions, and simmer for 5 more minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the butter and flour and mash together with a fork. Add this mixture to the pot and stir until incorporated. This should thicken the broth a bit. Simmer for 10 more minutes, or until the stew is thick and creamy. Taste for salt and pepper.

Spoon over mashed potatoes, top with a sprinkle of parsley, and enjoy immediately!

*The first time I made Bouef Bourguignon, I used fresh pearl onions. I could not, for the life of me, get them to cook. I simmered that dish for hours, and at the end of it, my pearl onions were still crisp. Now, I always go for frozen pearl onions, which cook perfectly every time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chocolate Toffee Bars

This may actually be my last Christmas cookie post, although not my last cookie post by  a long shot. I already have a queue of cookie posts waiting for after the holiday season. But this officially marks the last batch of cookies I baked and sent to the people I love. Everything else is for my own selfish enjoyment.

This is another recipe from Alice Medrich. For a few years now, my mom has made these fantastic blondie brownies with chunks of dark chocolate and toffee pieces. Unfortunately, pre-made toffee has cow’s milk and butter among its initial ingredients, and is therefore no longer a resident of my baking cabinet. But, I was longing for a similar flavor, and happened upon these Chocolate Toffee bars. These treats hit the perfect balance of chocolate, toffee, and almonds, three ingredients that seem destined for each other. And again, this recipe is a snap to put together, making it exceptionally appropriate for this busy time of year. Happy Holidays everyone!

8 tablespoons non dairy butter
1/2 cup brown sugar packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup almonds chopped and toasted

Heat oven to 350ºF. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and add the brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir until incorporated. Add the flour and mix until combined. Bake on a rack in the lower third of the oven, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the center is golden, and the edges are browned.

Remove the pan from the oven, and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the hot crust. Return to the oven if the chocolate is not melting. When the chocolate is melted, spread it smoothly over the top of the crust. Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the chocolate. Allow to cool thoroughly before cutting into squares.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chocolate Shortbread

One of my favorite indulgences is shortbread. I practically subsisted on it while traveling through Scotland; I said no thank you to haggis even before I was vegan. I even purchased a few packages of shortbread to give out as gifts and shamefully ate them myself. I have always had a predilection for sweet and salty together: chocolate covered pretzels, salt caramels, world peace cookies, and salted brown butter rice krispy treats. Shortbread is buttery, crumbly, and in this case dark chocolatey, with a perfect salty finish that lingers on your tongue. This recipe also happens to be incredibly easy, so I’ve made it three times already this Christmas season. Whip up a batch for your friends and family this week!

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa
12 tablespoons non dairy butter softened
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar for sprinkling

Line a 9” round pan, or an 8” square pan with foil, and grease with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, mix the flour and cocoa thoroughly.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt, and mix until combined. Add the flour and cocoa mixture, and beat until just combined. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 300ºF. Place the pan on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Bake for 65 minutes, or until firm. Sprinkle with sugar while it’s hot. Let cool for five minutes, then cut into pieces using a sharp knife. Enjoy!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

Are there people out there who only make one kind of Christmas cookie? Obviously I am not one of those people, what with the three and a half cookie recipes I’ve already shared and more to come. If you’re a one batch of cookies kind of household, then just consider this a plethora of choices for this festive season. One thing I should mention though; I haven’t eaten 13 batches of cookies. That’s something I do not recommend, and fortunately, cookies make the perfect holiday gift!

These cookies are fun because they are almost like candy, except they’re cookies! They are also full of rich chocolate flavor, and a little decadent. The chocolate provides a nice balance to all of the butter cookies I’ve written about so far, and cherries go very well with the season. These cookies also happen to be beautiful. Whomever you serve them to will be very impressed!

48 maraschino cherries with stems
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon reserved maraschino cherry liquid
1/2 cup non dairy butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons unsweetened non dairy milk

In a large bowl beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder, and beat until combined. In a blender, mix the water and ground flaxseed until thick and frothy. Add to the butter mixture with 1 teaspoon of the cherry liquid and combine. Add the flour and mix until combined.

Heat the oven to 350º. Form 1 teaspoon of dough around each maraschino cherry and place in a paper candy cup. Place the candy cups on a baking sheet. Bake for 14 minutes, or until the top of the balls is dry and slightly firm to the touch. Remove from the oven.

While the cookies are in the oven, melt the chocolate chips in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the cherry liquid, and 2 tablespoons of non dairy milk and stir. Spoon the chocolate mixture onto the warm cookies. Allow to cool before eating.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pasta e Fagiole Asciutta

Mmmm...Sunday night, cozy pasta, bottle of wine, crackling fire. Is there anything better at Christmastime? Allow me to get a little nerdy for a moment. This dish is traditionally called Pasta e Fagiole Asciutta. In Italy, every region of the country has a variation of the dish Pasta e Fagiole, or pasta and beans. In some places it is a soup, in others a rich stew, and in others a literal bowl of seasoned pasta and beans. It is one of the most distinctive geographical markers telling you in exactly what part of the country you are. In this case the word “asciutta” tells us that the beans are to be served as a sauce with the pasta, as opposed to a soup. Okay, enough with the linguistic lesson.

What gives this dish so much flavor are the tomatoes. I mentioned a few months ago that I baked a bunch of tomatoes and then put them in the freezer to punch up my winter food. These bright, juicy tomatoes infused with garlic and olive oil gave this dish an exquisite depth of flavor. The roundness of the white beans strikes the perfect balance for this pasta.

I had to take a picture of all these beautiful colors
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion diced
1 carrot diced
3 cups baked tomatoes (see recipe here)
1 can small white beans drained and rinsed
1 pound whole wheat penne
1/2 cup parsley chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the penne according to the directions. Drain the pasta, reserving 3 cups of pasta water. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add the carrot and onion and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes with juices and simmer for 10 minutes. Add half of the white beans. Mash the other half of the white beans into a paste and add to the sauce with 1 cup of the pasta water. Stir until the sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the pasta to the sauce, adding more of the reserved water if necessary. Stir until the pasta is coated. Sprinkle the parsley over the top. Serve immediately.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Top Chef All Stars: Plants vs. Animals

You know when you learn a new word, you start seeing and hearing that word everywhere? Well, becoming vegan is somewhat similar, in that you perceive subtle nods toward veganism in seemingly unrelated things. I have been accused of reaching in order to make these connections, but I happen to disagree. Veganism has pervaded our cultural consciousness!

The latest instance of this happened on last week’s Top Chef All Stars. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Top Chef is a to die for cooking competition; it is to food, what Project Runway is to fashion. Top Chef All Stars is an even more spectacular iteration that assembled 18 former competitors from the past 7 seasons, who came thisclose to winning the Top Chef title. As you can imagine, things get pretty intense.

The premise of last week’s challenge revolved around the group’s visit to the Museum of Natural History in New York. With what do you inevitably connect the Museum of Natural History? Dinosaurs, of course! The competitors were divided into 2 teams, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brontosaurus. Tiffani, the winner of this week’s Quickfire Challenge, was given the advantage of choosing whether she would like to cook breakfast for the carnivorous T-Rex, or the plant-loving Brontosaurus. She, of course, chose T-Rex, because chefs love their proteins. With shows like this, there’s always a twist, and in this case it was the definition of the word “carnivore.” As Tiffani explained, “I made an assumption that a carnivore was an omnivore. In order to make things delicious, you need acid, you need herbs.” So, while Team T-Rex found nothing but meat, poultry, fish, and dairy in their refrigerator, the Brontosauri were exulting in the bounty of their kitchen: mangoes, papayas, strawberries, oranges, whole grains, flours, artichokes, greens, legumes, blueberries, and more. 

What stood out to me most in this challenge was the question of variety. People always ask me if I get bored with the food I eat, because I’m so “limited.” The answer of course is no, and the competing menus are an excellent example of why. Team T-Rex made steak and eggs, limp pork belly topped with bland eggs, undercooked egg frittatas with cheese, and salmon with salty shrimp sauce. Judge Gail Simmons described the menu as “unoriginal.” Team Brontosaurus served tomato gazpacho, roasted banana parfait with fresh fruit, and gnocchi with mushrooms and spinach. Simmons described this menu as “beautiful, fresh, and bright.” Now, I can anticipate the naysayers who will cry that humans are not carnivores, they are omnivores. And this is true. However, what this episode brought to light is that plants elevate meat and dairy, but the opposite is not true. Team T-Rex’s dishes needed the addition of whole grain toast, lemon juice for the Hollandaise, and vegetables for the frittata. But, Team Brontosaurus’s dishes were complete in themselves. Gnocchi with mushrooms and spinach does not call out for bacon; it might taste good, but it is not essential. Caramelized bananas do not need cream to complete them. And tomato gazpacho would be entirely wrong with cheese on top. Fruits, vegetables, and grains make delicious, satisfying, and sustaining meals all by themselves. This is why I feel so nourished by a vegan diet, because I am giving my body everything it needs, in the most simple and natural way possible.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chocolate Dipped Cookies

I know I just wrote about the Orange Sablés a couple of days ago, but I have infinitely improved them, and I didn’t want anyone to make these cookies without the benefit of this amendment.

I had mentioned in my initial post that I thought these cookies would improve with the addition of a little dark chocolate, and I took the opportunity to drizzle some of the cookies with dark chocolate. This turned out so well, that when I made the next batch, I decided to dip them.

Dipping chocolate is more complicated than simply melting chocolate and dipping your cookies in it. However, don’t be intimidated, because it is altogether fairly simple. The important thing to remember is that working with chocolate is about science, and it is necessary to be precise.

When you buy a bar of chocolate in a store, what you are purchasing is tempered chocolate. When the chocolate is made, it is kept at a lower temperature causing a dense crystalline structure to form, resulting in a hard and shiny bar of chocolate. When you are creating chocolate for dipping, the end result should also be a hard and shiny layer. What this means is that you must melt the chocolate at a low temperature in order to maintain the same dense crystalline structure.

Enough theory, now practice. Chop 6 ounces of chocolate very finely. Place in a bowl, preferably a metal bowl which is more conducive to heat transfer. Fill a larger bowl half full with hot water, between 110º and 115º using an instant read thermometer. Place the metal bowl in the bowl of water and begin slowly stirring the chocolate, pressing it up against the sides of the bowl to enable melting. Be very careful not to get ANY water in the chocolate as this will cause seizing and entirely disrupt the crystal structure. If the water cools too much, and the melting slows, microwave the bowl of water until it is once again 110º to 115º. Once the chocolate has melted, begin dipping your cookies in the chocolate. Once dipped, place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Allow to set by placing the cookies in a cool, dry place. Setting should not take more than 30 minutes. Allow to set completely before packing the cookies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is Being Vegan Freaky?

I got an amusing email today that I thought I would share with you. The subject line reads: “TLC CASTING ADULTS WITH UNUSUAL EATING HABITS,” which certainly piqued my interest; what kind of show would be looking to follow vegans around? A show titled “Freaky Eaters” apparently. I know that recent studies report that only just over 1% of the American population follows a vegan diet, so technically, I am an adult with unusual eating habits, but I don’t think that makes me “freaky.”

The body of the email reads: “Are you addicted to one specific food? Do you over eat?  Do your friends and family think your eating habits aren’t “normal”??   If so, you may be just what we are looking for!” First of all, I am loving the enthusiasm conveyed with multiple questions marks!! I know that I’m not addicted to one food, unless that food is plants. I know that I don’t overeat, although that’s harder when you eat such low calorie foods. I tripped a little over the last one though. My friends and family don’t question my vegan lifestyle because they are themselves vegans, vegetarians, locavores, and generally progressive people. But, I know a large part of the world doesn’t even know what the word “vegan” means, and thinks I’m something of a crackpot, so maybe vegans are compelling entertainment material for the channel that numbers Sarah Palin among its “stars.”

I did a little research, and learned through Wikipedia that TLC’s “Freaky Eaters” is “[a] show [that] deals with people who have bizarre addictions to food and/or eating disorders.” At this point, I had to assume that they were not pursuing me because of my vegan status; it seems highly offensive to me to classify a plant-based diet as an eating disorder or addiction. But, the fact that this was not immediately apparent to me stems from the fact that choosing to be vegan does mean accepting a somewhat marginalized experience, whether that’s paying the so-called “vegan surcharge” or having to explain what vegan means to the girl making my burrito at Chipotle (yes, rice is vegan). Choosing to live in a way that reduces the suffering of animals and the planet, and nourishes me to the core is a good thing, and more people should do it. This is not a phase; it is a revelation. I look forward to the day when being vegan would never be classified as “freaky” or “unusual,” but rather, the standard.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Cookies Part 3: Orange Sablés

As I’ve said in my previous posts on Christmas cookies, we are always adding new baked goods to our yearly rotation. We tend to draw a lot from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies cookbook, as she has a wide array of delicious cookies and bars that lend themselves well to vegan substitutions. Another excellent resource for Christmas cookies is Martha Stewart. Say what you will about her, but anyone who publishes an entire issue of their magazine devoted to exquisitely beautiful and delicious Christmas cookies is fine with me. My particular copy comes from 2001, but I still haven’t run out of fantastic cookie recipes that I can’t wait to make.

When you’re making a variety of cookies to give to friends and family, it’s important to strike a good balance. I knew I wanted to make Russian Tea Cakes and Cut Out cookies. This pair calls out for chocolate. I have more than enough chocolate recipes to choose from, so that wouldn’t be a problem. I knew the final choice needed to be something a little different, citrus maybe, and after a thorough perusal of Martha’s Holiday Cookies, I settled upon these Orange Sablés. Orange is a classic holiday flavor, and combined with almonds and coarse sugar, it makes the perfect holiday treat.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies

1 1/4 cups whole raw almonds
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
12 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sanding or coarse sugar

Process the almonds and the confectioner’s sugar in a food processor until the almonds are finely ground. Set aside.

Place the butter in a mixing bowl and whip until smooth and fluffy. Add the orange zest and mix thoroughly. Add the almond and sugar mixture and beat until combined. In a blender, combine the flaxseed and water until it is thick and frothy. Add to the dough mixture along with the orange juice, and mix to combine. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated.

Place a large sheet of parchment paper on a clean surface. Mold half of the dough into a long, thin, roll, about the size of a paper towel roll. Wrap in the parchment paper and refrigerate overnight. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Heat the oven to 350º. Spread the sanding sugar on a rimmed baking sheet. Remove the dough rolls from the refrigerator. Roll one dough log in the sugar until it is evenly coated in sugar. Then, slice the roll in 1/4” to 1/2” inch pieces, and lay on a parchment lined baking sheet 1” apart. Repeat with the second dough log. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookie are golden brown.

*Feeling a little adventurous, I drizzled some of these cookies with tempered chocolate., however I think the pinnacle of deliciousness would be to dip these cookies in dark chocolate.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

Having just written a somewhat ambivalent love letter to cheese in my last post, I was craving something warm and comforting for dinner, like macaroni and cheese. Oh wait. That would negate everything I just said.

However, I have been kicking around a vegan macaroni and cheese idea for a few months. Ever since I made the perfectly creamy and delicious cauliflower and fennel gratin for Thanksgiving, I have been wanting to apply this to a baked macaroni and cheese. After I found whole wheat elbow macaroni at Whole Foods, it's just been a matter of when. Coating whole wheat macaroni in a hemp milk béchamel, and topping it with almond bread crumbs is the closest thing I can imagine to a non-dairy mac and cheese. I’m not going to tell you that this tastes just like macaroni and cheese. It doesn’t. Is it creamy on the inside, crunchy on the top, and hot and bubbly out of the oven? Yes! Sometimes, it’s not about making a perfect one-to-one substitution. Rather, it’s about creating a feeling, and a food experience. This macaroni and cheese satisfies my craving for a big bowl of creamy noodles. It recreates the experience of taking a big pot of mac and cheese goodness out of the oven and reveling in the homemade comfort. And for me, this is enough.

1 pound elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons non dairy butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups non dairy milk (I like hemp or almond milk)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup cashews
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup almonds processed into crumbs
2 cups bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 350º.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the macaroni until it is almost done. Drain and set aside.

Spread the bread crumbs and almond crumbs in a single layer on a sheet pan. Bake in the oven until golden and toasted. Remove and set aside.

In a food processor, blend the cashews and garlic into small crumbs. Add the olive oil and blend into a paste. With the processor on, add the hot water until it forms a smooth cream.

Heat the milk in a small sauce pan. In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook for two to three minutes. Gradually add the warm milk to the roux, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Stir until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Add the cashew cream and thoroughly incorporate. Add the cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Add the macaroni to the sauce and stir until the noodles are coated. Transfer to a greased oven proof dish, and top with bread crumbs. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Contemplating Cheese

Most people, when they hear that I am vegan, tell me that they could never be vegan, because they could never give up ______. Usually that blank is cheese. And so it is for me too. I could never be vegan because I could never give up cheese, except that I have, sort of.

I LOVE cheese; I mean, I really love it. It is a major component of all of my favorite foods. And yet, somehow, I became a vegan. In attempting to talk about the way I feel about cheese, as a vegan, I did a little research. I came across an article published in Vegetarian Times, a magazine I very much enjoy, called “Confessions of a Cheeseaholic.” The author, Hillari Dowdle talks about her struggle to get her “tastebuds to catch up with [her] ethics.” I often feel this way, cursing the people I meet who never really liked cheese in the first place, or metaphorically shaking my fist at casomorphins, the tiny molecules found in dairy products that impact my body in much the same way as heroin. But then the article takes a turn for the inane. Dowdle references Jo Stepaniak, author of The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, who offers this recipe to help you kick your cheese habit: “Simply spread warm toast with your favorite peanut butter, top it with steamed, bite-sized broccoli florets, and drizzle it with tamari. The combination of creamy peanut butter, pungent broccoli, and salty tamari is wonderful.” Dowdle even goes so far as to call this a “great substitute for a grilled cheese sandwich.” What! This is why people don’t like vegans. If you told me you were really craving a grilled cheese sandwich, and I handed you some peanut butter and broccoli toast, I would expect to be hit. The most useful advice I got about living as a vegan cheese lover is from Isa Chandra Moskovitz who explained, “you have to manage your expectations.” Great.

In the end, I have come to a few conclusions. First, I want to be a vegan for life, not for a few years. This might mean eating cheese occasionally if it helps me stick to my vegan convictions for the long haul. It is infinitely better to do something than nothing. Yet, having given myself this somewhat relaxed mandate, I still haven’t eaten cheese. I was a party last week, and even though platters of cheese were staring me in the face, I really didn’t want any. Looking at it, I thought, “I don’t eat that,” much the way omnivores feel when they look at their pets. The most important thing I have realized is that being human is about so much more than what I want. I’m not sure what this adds up to for the future, but right now, it means I’m not eating cheese.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mushroom Risotto

Sometimes I cook something, and I am astounded that it has taken me so long to make this. Ever since I was a sophomore in college, I have been planning to make mushroom risotto. I’ve even gone so far as to buy all the ingredients, and let me tell you, dried porcini mushrooms are not easy to find in Chicago. Instead, I would eat the mushrooms in a different dish, like spaghetti, or just abandon the whole pursuit allowing my precious  ingredients to go to waste. I don’t know why mushroom risotto became something I never make. Somehow whenever I decided to make risotto some newer, different risotto  dish would come along and distract me. But, six years later, prompted by a large quantity of mushroom stock sitting in the freezer from Thanksgiving, I managed to cook this dish. And it was magnificent!

This is no surprise. I love mushroom risotto, and I eat it even more now, since it has a higher likelihood of being vegan in an Italian restaurant than most other dishes. I didn’t really think I needed a recipe, being extensively familiar with the nuts and bolts of making risotto, but I perused my Williams Sonoma cookbook just in case I was neglecting some strange counterintuitive item that the respectability of my risotto depended upon. I wasn’t. In fact, their mushroom risotto was a sad, pale affair studded with a few teeny mushrooms. My risotto would clearly win in a fight. So don’t even bother looking at other recipes. This is as good as it gets.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot diced
2 cloves garlic minced
2 cups short grain brown rice
1 package white mushrooms sliced
1 package baby bella mushrooms sliced
1 oz. dried assorted mushrooms (I used porcini, crimini, oyster, chanterelle, shitake, and maitake)
1 1/2 cups red wine
4 cups mushroom stock (get the recipe here)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup parsley chopped

In a large bowl, cover the dried mushrooms with 3 cups boiling water. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.

Add the white and baby bella mushrooms to a large sauté pan. Cook on high until tender, abut 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside.

In a large pot heat the olive oil. Add the shallot and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice and coat with oil. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the rice turns transparent except for a small white dot in the center. Add 1 cup of the red wine and cook until the liquid is almost completely absorbed. Add the stock. I only had about 2 cups of mushroom stock which I augmented with the dried mushroom soaking liquid. You can also use vegetable stock if necessary. Because this is brown rice, I used my pressure cooker, simmering for 25 minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, I would recommend using arborio rice, and add the liquid gradually stirring constantly. When the rice is tender, add the last 1/2 cup of wine, and stir until absorbed. Add the previously dried and the sautéed mushrooms to the rice. Add the parsley. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with a small garnish of parsley.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Cookies Part 2: Russian Tea Cakes

My Christmas fever has been escalating slowly but surely. After attending a glowy holiday cocktail party, I have started listening to my Christmas music on a loop. There’s no turning back now. I’ve also been wondering how I ever lived without online shopping. In any case, back to more traditional seasonal concerns: more Christmas cookies!

These are not so much a typical holiday treat for everyone as they are in my family. Growing up, we made cut out cookies and Russian Tea Cakes, and that was it. Over the years, we’ve started incorporating chocolate truffles, fudge, toffee bars, chocolate cherry balls, and more. But, when it comes to Christmas those are the only two non-negotiables. Russian Tea Cakes are my favorite, especially fresh from the oven when they practically fall apart in your mouth, accompanied by a cold glass of egg nog (or soy nog as the present case may be - don’t hate; it’s delicious). Whereas our cut out cookies may get co-opted by Valentine’s Day, or even Halloween, we only make Russian Tea Cakes once a year, and they are so the better for it.

This dough is very similar to the butter cookie dough, except it has nuts in it. This recipe calls for walnuts which gives the perfect bitter edge to all that buttery goodness. You can substitute other kinds of nuts, but if you do, they will no longer be Russian. Pecans make them Mexican Wedding Cakes, almonds become Viennese crescents or Greek kourabiedes, and any other kind of nut veers entirely from tradition. I really do recommend using walnuts, but I will understand if you feel compelled otherwise.

This recipe also comes from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies. As I said before, she is the master.

1 1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons non dairy butter cut into chunks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until they are fairly finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, and wipe the food processor clean.

Blend the sugar in the food processor until it is superfine. Add the flour and salt and just combine. Add the butter and vanilla and pulse until the mixture forms a dough. Add the nuts and process until combined. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat the oven to 325º. Scoop about one heaping tablespoon of dough and shape into a ball. Place two inches apart on a cookie sheet. Bake for 23-25 minutes, rotating and exchanging racks halfway through. The balls should have a slight color on the top, and be golden brown on the bottom. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Sieve powdered sugar over the top of all the cookies. I have yet to find a way to do this without making a huge mess. Cool completely before storing, but they are at their best just out of the oven.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Vegan Pantry

My last post got me thinking a little bit about the vegan pantry. I frequently reference in my dishes, that these are meals you can throw together from things you always have on hand, but I realized this isn’t necessarily true for everyone. A friend of mine recently told me that she’d love to make something from my blog, but doesn’t have all the strange ingredients. I like to think that my food is not strange; that it is the highest example of real and whole food. But, if you are coming to this blog from a meat, starch, and one vegetable kind of place, my plate might look a little foreign to you. To that end, I thought it might be helpful to inventory the essentials of a vegan kitchen. If you can make even a few small changes, the menus I present will be that much more accessible to you.

In the Refrigerator:
Earth Balance; Stop buying butter! You absolutely cannot tell the difference.
Unsweetened Almond Milk
Vanilla Almond Milk
Orange Juice; One 8 oz. glass is equal to Two servings of fruit.
Spinach; Microwave a huge pile of spinach and add a little salt for a quick serving of greens.
Greens (Collards, Kale, Dandelion Greens, Bok Choy, etc.)

In the Freezer:
Frozen Blueberries; I put them in my oatmeal every morning.
Trader Joe’s Thai Vegetable Gyoza; My favorite quick lunch with a huge pile of spinach and arugula on the side

In the Cupboard:
Canned Beans (Kidney, Black, Pinto, White, Cannelini, Garbanzo)
Canned Diced Tomatoes
Canned Vegetable Stock
Brown Rice; I actually have about 12 different grains in my cupboard, but brown rice goes well with everything.
Thick Cut Rolled Oats
Whole Wheat Spaghetti
Soy Sauce
Rice Vinegar
Sesame Oil
Olive Oil
Canola Oil

On the Counter:

Obviously I have a LOT more than these items in my fridge, freezer, and cabinets, but when I say that you can whip up a meal without leaving your house, I anticipate people having these things at home. You can make a satisfying and healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner with just these ingredients. With the addition of a very few things, like bell peppers, ground cumin, whole wheat pastry flour, and tofu, you could double the amount of possible dishes. My point is that eating well does take some planning, and a little organization, but it does not mean opening a four star restaurant out of your kitchen. With a very little effort on your part you can make an enormous difference to the planet, the animals, and above all yourself.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Simple Weeknight Dinner

People are always telling me how they don’t have the time, or the energy to make themselves really good and healthy food. This is difficult for me to relate to in some ways, because food is such an important part of my life. Eating mediocre food is not reasonable to me. A great day for me is a day where I eat the best breakfast, lunch, and dinner possible. But, I can intellectually understand that not everyone cares about food, or enjoys cooking as much as I do. Which is why I try to incorporate as many simple and delicious dishes into my blog as possible. I relish spending an entire Saturday in the kitchen, making a fantastic dinner, but I don’t tend to devote as much time and energy to my food during the week. This is one of those delightful Wednesday night dinners.

What makes this dish so easy, is that it’s constructed entirely from ingredients found in the pantry. Especially in the winter, it can be a struggle to drag myself to the store and then come home to make dinner. But, rather than succumb to the effortlessness of takeout, I like to have a reserve of recipes that can be thrown together from simple and easily attainable ingredients, like rice, canned beans, canned tomatoes, and vegetables that last forever, like onions and carrots. You can make a ton of meals out of just these simple ingredients, and have a fantastic dinner without ever having to leave the house!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onions diced
1 carrot diced
2 cans cannelini beans drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can vegetable stock
2 cups spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add the carrot and onion. Sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the beans and tomatoes and stock. Bring to a boil and simmer until it has thickened, about 20 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the spinach and stir until wilted.

Meanwhile, combine the water and rice in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 50 minutes.

Spoon the bean mixture over the rice and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Trader Joe's Cinnamon Coffee Cake

I have already, on many occasions, sung the praises of Trader Joe’s grocery stores. Aside from being incredibly affordable, they have the greatest selection of prepared foods I have ever seen. They somehow manage to make food quick and delicious, never sacrificing flavor for efficiency. Another gift particular to the vegan community, they publish a frequently updated list of all their vegan products on their website, and many of their items have a V* symbol on the outside of the package to denote its vegan status. Considering how much time I’ve spent over the last 10 months wading through often indecipherable ingredient lists, and wondering if dextrose is vegan, this is an inestimable treasure.

While I have been enjoying Trader Joe’s products for years, I have discovered a new fun food activity with Trader Joe’s baking mixes. As with most baking mixes, these products call for milk, butter, and eggs. However, the mix itself contains no animal products, and lends itself very well to substitution. My current favorite is the Cinnamon Crumb coffee cake. I substituted 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed and 3 tablespoons water, blended until frothy, for the egg, non-dairy versions of the butter and milk, and added 1 cup of frozen blueberries because blueberry coffee cake is my personal favorites. Just follow the instructions on the box, and voilá! An easy, quick and delicious breakfast you can always have in your pantry!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Classic Christmas Cookie

I spent the past weekend doing some Christmas shopping, and I am not only feeling like an incredibly organized person, I am full of the holiday spirit. Embracing rampant consumerism to a soundtrack of Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald is my favorite winter activity, hands down. All jokes aside, they don’t call this the most wonderful time of the year for nothing. But more than presents and shopping, this holiday is defined for me by food. And Christmas cookies are the centerpiece of my holiday food traditions.

Ever since I was a little girl, my mom and I have been making cut-out cookies. Christmas and these cookies are inextricably entwined in my memory. We’ve been using the same cookie cutters for 20 years, and their precious, and occasionally indiscernible shapes (a bear with a top hat?) are like old friends.

The recipe itself comes from the original goddess of dessert, Alice Medrich. Medrich is responsible for bringing the chocolate truffle to America. Her Berkeley shop Cocolat is deservingly renowned. When the Joy of Cooking published their revised edition, they asked Medrich to be their baking expert. I had the immeasurable joy of getting to attend a cooking demonstration by Alice Medrich a couple of years ago, where she cooked, and we ate, several amazing desserts. Her recipes are the gold standard of classic cookies guaranteed to taste “as good as you remember them tasting.” Thin, crisp, and impossibly buttery, coated in a thin layer of sugary icing and sprinkles, these are the epitome of the Christmas cookie, and incredibly easy to adapt to a vegan diet.

Basic Butter Cookie

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies

16 tablespoons non-dairy butter softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour


1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons water
Food coloring

In a large mixing bowl, whip the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla until creamy and smooth. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Collect into a ball and knead a couple of times until smooth. flatten into 2 round patties, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Heat the oven to 350º. Remove one circle of dough from the refrigerator and allow to soften slightly. The dough will become softer as you work. If it becomes too sticky or difficult to work with, return to the refrigerator for a few minutes.

Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper until it is 1/4” thick. Peel the top sheet of wax paper from the dough. Replace and flip the dough over and peel the wax paper from the top of the dough. Cut out the cookies from the dough, using the space as efficiently as possible. Using a spatula, transfer the shapes to a cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the cookies are golden at the edges. Transfer to a cooling rack, and allow to cool thoroughly before icing. Repeat this process until you have used all the dough.

In a medium bowl, combine the water and confectioner’s sugar. Add more water or sugar as necessary, until the icing is thin enough to spread, but not drippy. Divide the icing evenly among a number of bowls. Add the food coloring and stir thoroughly. Decorate according to your whim!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Adzuki Beans and Roasted Vegetables with Brown Rice

I have been inexplicably excited to write about this dish for days now. I’m beginning to take for granted how often I eat incredibly delicious, nourishing food. So when I make something that compels me to audibly proclaim how good this food is, I appreciate anew the bliss of eating this well.

This dish was inspired by a recipe from Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet, but I completely revamped it the second time I made it. The original dish is an adzuki bean stew with kabocha squash, seasoned only with a touch of soy sauce and some parsley. When I first prepared this recipe, I liked it, but only because it made me feel virtuous for eating something so healthy, even if it didn’t taste amazing. Adzuki bean stew is a very traditional macrobiotic dish focusing on whole foods without a lot of seasoning.   As Alicia describes it, in the macrobiotic diet, “Herbs and spices are used in moderation: Spices like cayenne and curries are powerful and have a strong effect on the body. If we want our bodies to come to a centered, relaxed place, it’s important to use simple food - at least for a while. Many [macrobiotics] use herbs and spices here and there to create variety, but don’t get into a habit of putting them in every dish. To the [macrobiotic] tongue, simple food tastes fantastic.” I was skeptical when I read this, never having heard of any reputable study denigrating flavorful food; I was most definitely not converted after eating this dish.

Now for the good part. I rehabilitated this dish using good old fashioned aromatic flavorings, like onions and garlic, and a touch of salt and pepper. It was spectacular. Roasting the onion, carrot, garlic, and squash created a mellow warm flavor, beautifully grounded by the adzuki beans, and a fantastic brown rice medley. My first memory of this dish was one of uniform texture, and not a lot of flavor. But, now I remember it as warm, homey, and full of sweet, savory, and fresh goodness.

This dish also happens to be incredibly good for you. I don’t have to expound on the merits of whole grains any more to you readers, but adzuki beans are new to this blog. Ounce for ounce, adzuki beans are one of the best foods you can put in your mouth. Like all beans, they are a great source of fiber, low in fat, and chock full of nutrients. Adzuki beans are a prominent part of many Eastern diets and contain high quantities of magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc copper, manganese, and B vitamins. So, the next time your feeling culinarily adventurous, or just hungry, think of this dish!

1/2 cup dried adzuki beans
1 bay leaf
1 onion halved and sliced thinly
1 carrot halved and chopped roughly
2 cloves garlic peeled
1 acorn squash halved and sliced into 3/4” wide wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup brown rice*
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons cilantro chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Place dried beans in a shallow dish. Cover with water 1” or 2” above the beans. Let sit overnight.

Place beans  and the bay leaf in a small pot, and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until beans are tender. Remove bay leaf and set aside.

Heat oven to 375º. Place onions, carrot, garlic, and squash in a shallow dish. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender. Remove the squash from the peel, and cut into medium chunks. Add the squash, carrots, onions, and garlic to the beans.

Bring vegetable stock to a boil in a medium pot. Add the rice and simmer for 35 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Combine the rice, beans, and vegetables. Add the cilantro, and taste for salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

* I used Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley, with long grain brown rice, black barley, and daikon radish seeds. Yum!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Winter Renovation

Things look a little different around here, but don't worry, you're in the right place. As the seasons have changed, you may have noticed that my food has changed. As well it should; it's called eating "seasonally" for a reason. And suddenly, the earthy browns, reds, and deep greens of my plate seemed out of place next to my summery photo, and tasteful lime background. If you know me in real life, you'll know that my wardrobe shifts at this time of year as well, from vibrant blues, pinks, and yellows to chocolate brown, clean black, and gray with just a hint of ruby.

This time of year makes me relish earthy lentils, chewy grains, and greens boasting with all their color. While I couldn't get enough peaches and plums and cherries four months ago, I have almost eliminated fruit from my life, relying instead on slow roasted carrots and onions, cauliflower, and squash. In the winter, I long for richness, substance, and depth; flavors that take a long time to grow. The joy I derive from my food comes as much from its appearance as its taste; this is the reason that I started photographing my food to begin with. And as an aesthetically minded person, it seemed important to me that the appearance of my blog reflect this shift in my heart, and in my diet.

Bear with me as I tweak things over the next few days. I am also open to feedback; never fear, nothing is irreversible.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Vegetable Pot Pie

As you may know from following my blog this past month, I have been working hard on my vegan pie crust. The challenge with this particular recipe is not in making it vegan. That is actually quite easy, using Crisco instead of lard, butter, or a combination thereof. The texture is great, flaky and light, and the taste is delightful, perfect for a number of fillings. The challenge is in rolling and mostly, just getting it in the pan. So, I am taking every possible opportunity to improve my skills as a pie maker.

Pie is traditionally associated with dessert, and sweet filling, of which I am a devotee, but I am also enamored of a savory pie. Chicken, turkey, clam, and corn have all found their way into a delicious crust and light gravy in my oven over the years. But, I could never be a contented vegan if I had to forego the All-American pot pie. So I nixed the chicken (metaphorically speaking, of course) and loaded my pie with all manner of vegetables, and a light vegetable based gravy resulting in a warm, savory dinner (and subsequent lunch) that satisfied all my pot pie cravings.

For the crust, see my vegan pie crust recipe. I restrained myself, and only used a top crust. It gets the same point across and dramatically reduces the calorie count.

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion diced
2 carrots chopped roughly
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup broccoli chopped
1 cup cauliflower chopped
1 cup green beans chopped into 3” pieces
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup hemp milk
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook each vegetable, except the onion and peas, individually until it is slightly underdone. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 400º. In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the other vegetables and the peas, and coat with olive oil. Add the flour and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add the vegetable stock, stirring frequently to avoid lumps. Finally, add the hemp milk and cayenne pepper. Taste for salt and pepper. Transfer the contents of the pot to a pie pan.

Lay the crust over the filling. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is hot and bubbly. Enjoy!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tomato and Chickpea Spaghetti

One of the greatest pleasures in my life is food, and of that, my favorite meal is a great big bowl of pasta. There’s something so nourishing and comforting about hot and filling pasta with a wide variety of accompaniments. Pasta can often feel like an indulgence, because so many Italian restaurants rely on cream and meat based sauces. You can get half your day’s calories in lunch alone at say Pasta Pomodoro, or The Olive Garden. But, this needn’t be so. Pasta, particularly of the whole grain variety, can be a good source of fiber, and a willing foundation for slow simmered sauces full of delicious, and healthy ingredients.

This pasta dish was pulled from my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, who borrowed it from New York Magazine, who presented it as the ultimate carbo-load for New York City Marathon runners. Don’t let this deter you; this pasta may be loaded with carbs, which are incidentally good for you, but also lean sources of protein in the chickpeas, and plenty of flavor from the tomatoes and basil. The variety of textures provides a unique satisfaction that I could not get enough of. This was so good that I ate the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. The original recipe calls for pancetta and parmesan which I happily omitted, and my own substitution of whole grain spaghetti, shifting this dish from slightly decadent to wholly virtuous. So this weekend, if it’s cold and rainy (or snowy) where you are, give this dish a try. You’ll love it! 

2 onions sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 cup white wine
1 large can diced tomatoes
2 15 oz. cans chickpeas drained and rinsed
1 cup vegetable stock
1 bunch basil leaves sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and sauté until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sauté for 1 minute more. Add the wine and simmer until almost completely absorbed.

Set aside 2/3 cup of the chickpeas, and place the rest of the chickpeas in a food processor with the vegetable stock. Pulse until the chickpeas are chopped.

Add the chopped chickpeas, tomatoes, and basil to the skillet. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the directions. When the pasta is almost done, reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid, and then drain. Add the pasta to the sauce along with the remaining chickpeas. Toss, adding the pasta liquid if necessary. Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dessert for Breakfast: Chocolate Chunk Muffins

Over the summer, I got serious about getting healthy and losing weight. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. A few minor changes, and I’ve lost almost 20 pounds since June! Yet, slowly but surely, as the holidays creep up, I have abandoned some of my healthy habits. So, in an effort to stave off the negative effects of a month of festive bingeing, I’m doing a two week health kick between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Because I’m not going to have desserts for two weeks, I’ve been squeezing in sweets wherever possible; cookies with afternoon tea, good dark chocolate after dinner, and plenty of Thanksgiving pie. Breakfast is the easiest meal to turn into dessert, especially with vegan chocolate chunk muffins.

Muffins have always seemed a special occasion breakfast to me, but I am continually amazed at how quick and easy so many foods are. I whipped up these muffins in half an hour and what was an average Wednesday morning suddenly felt like a special occasion!

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1/3 cup oil
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
3/4 chopped semisweet chocolate

Heat oven to 400º. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Blend the ground flaxseed and water until frothy. Combine the flaxseed mixture, oil, and milk in a small bowl. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Add the chocolate chunks. Spoon into muffin tins that have been greased or lined with paper cups. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Curried Lentil Soup

Thanksgiving is over, Black Friday is over, Cyber Monday is gone, so we are officially in the throes of the Winter Holiday season! Summer is my favorite food season, but winter is a very close second. Winter in Northern California is crisp, cool, and rainy enough that you get to spend gray Sundays by the fire reading a good book.

The best winter food is cozy, warm, and filling, but not heavy; a gastronomical hug if you will. It’s a time for slow cooking, rich sauces, and deep, smooth, round flavors. I particularly love soups and stews with a big hunk of crusty whole grain bread, and a pile of greens on the side. As such, I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting flavor combinations for winter. Every month, I quickly peruse my Bon Appétit magazine and dog ear the reasonably vegan friendly recipes. The Christmas issue is understandably meat-centric, what with all the different animals you can roast on Christmas Day. Amidst all the birds and beasts was a humble lentil soup recipe with a brilliant twist.

Author Molly Wizenberg waxes poetic about the under appreciated lentil for two pages, recounting her numerous travails in developing the perfect creamy lentil soup. She ends with this fabulous recipe that uses puréed chickpeas as a thickener, cutting down on the heaviness of a traditional butter rich lentil soup. The flavor is great, the texture is sublime, and it is just the thing you want to come home to at the end of a cold and rainy day.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion diced
1 carrot diced finely
2 garlic cloves minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 cup French green lentils
4 1/4 cups water
1 can chickpeas drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 green onions sliced thinly

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion and carrot and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add 1 clove garlic and sauté for 5 more minutes. Add the curry powder and cook for 1 minute. Add the lentils and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

In a food processor, purée the chickpeas, lemon juice, 1/4 cup water, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 clove garlic until very smooth.

Add the chickpea purée to the lentils. Season with salt and pepper. If the soup is too thick, thin with water until it has reached the desired consistency. Spoon into bowls, and top with sliced green onions. I served mine with garlic pita toasts on the side. Enjoy immediately!

*The next day, I had not quite enough soup for lunch, so I made some brown basmati rice and spooned the lentils over it for a quick leftover lunch!