Sunday, February 26, 2012

Penne Primavera

Tonight I decided to toss together a bunch of ingredients that were sitting in the fridge.  That seemed a lot easier than searching for recipes and ingredients.  It turned into a delicious penne primavera.  This lovely Italian dish usually includes a garlic and olive oil sauce, but I had a bit of marinara sauce in the fridge, so I added that, and it topped the meal off perfectly.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 white onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
A few shakes of oregano and basil
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cups fresh baby spinach
2 cups whole wheat penne pasta
1/4 cup marinara sauce

Steps

1.  Heat olive oil in large skillet.
2.  Saute onion until translucent.  Add garlic and saute another 2 minutes.
3.  Add oregano and basil
4.  Add diced bell peppers and saute for about 5 minutes.
5.  Add spinach and heat until wilted.
6.  Serve over whole wheat penne pasta.  Add marinara sauce (or whatever kind of sauce you have in the house)



I used my dicer again on this one. It sure makes things easier.  This is a very simple meal, and you will probably also have many of the ingredients in stock, too!  Italian and vegan... mmmm!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cilantro Hummus

Lately I have been very into hummus.  I keep ordering it as an appetizer each time I go out to eat, and then eating so much of it that I'm too full when the main course arrives.  I especially love it with pita bread or cucumbers. 

I'm very particular when it comes to hummus.  It must not be thin and runny.  I feel like everyone has their own preferences when it comes to hummus, which is why there are so many different flavors and consistencies.  This weekend I decided to make some of my own.  All I had to buy was the chickpeas and tahini, since I had everything else already in stock.  I had some cilantro in the fridge which was on it's way out, so I threw that in as well. 

Ingredients
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons water
1 handful of fresh cilantro
juice of 1/2 lemon
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt


You basically throw all of this in a food processor until it purees.  I discovered that having a larger food processor would make this recipe a lot easier!  I had to make it in three batches because mine is the smallest model.  It came out pretty well, just the consistency that I prefer.  I formed a well in the center and drizzled a bit of olive oil over it before serving.  My taste tester gave it the stamp of approval. 





 Chef's Soundtrack: Ray LaMontagne - "Hannah"




Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chef Chloe's Vegan Cookie Dough Truffles

This weekend things, namely life, turned out differently than I had planned.  It suffices to say that I needed some junk food and an activity to get through Saturday.  Thankfully, not everything vegan is actually healthy, and I found a recipe for "Vegan Cookie Dough Truffles" on Chef Chloe's site.  I had tried some of her recipes before, and they were pretty super.  I kind of want to be her.

The recipe was for 45 truffles, but I only came out with 25, so maybe mine were just larger.  Also, I only used 8 ounces of baker's bittersweet chocolate, rather than the suggested 12 ounces, and I had exactly enough. The recipe was fun and easy, and I would definitely recommend it if you have kids, because they will enjoy creating the truffles and eating them!  As my students would say, these truffles were "bomb."  This recipe is now added to my list of favorite vegan desserts. 



Chef's Soundtrack:  Florence + The Machine - "Shake It Out"


"And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It's a fine romance but its left me so undone
It's always darkest before the dawn"

Diced Vegetable "Tuscan" Dinner

Last night I decided to try a recipe I saw on Sometimes I "Veg" for a "Tuscan Skillet Supper," which was actually created by a guest contributor to the blog.  Therefore, this post is actually about a recipe three times removed.  I had planned on blogging about a fancy supper this weekend, but things changed and I was only up for throwing together a quick dish.  I modified the recipe a bit to suit my own tastes and the ingredients I had available.  Also, when I'm making a meal like this one, I don't really take the time to measure anything.  I just "eyeball" it and use my own judgement. 

Here's what my version included:

1/4 white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
a few shakes of oregano
1 zuccini squash, diced
1 small head broccoli
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 handful fresh baby spinach

I ended up using my handy dandy vegetable dicer on most of the ingredients.  I just didn't feel like chopping anything by hand!  I cooked the whole thing in a skillet using safflower oil, which I accidentally pulled out of the cabinet rather than olive oil.  Safflower oil is heart-healthy and can be cooked at high temperatures.  After reading the label, I did learn that it should be kept in the refrigerator (oops!).  I also came to find out that cannellini beans and navy beans are not the same; the latter are smaller white beans.  I omitted the marinated tofu or tempeh and vegan cheese from the recipe.  I was once chastised by a vegetarian because I don't like tofu, but it's just not my favorite!

This "Tuscan" concoction turned out to be quite good.  It cooked really quickly, since everything was diced.  The larger pieces of broccoli served a nice contrast to the diced vegetables.  As a main course, I had enough for two dinners. 


On a side note, I have decided to add a "soundtrack" segment to my blog entries, since music has always been a huge part of cooking in my household.  I grew up listening to the likes of Billy Joel and The Beatles while cooking with my mom, and I rarely work in the kitchen without iTunes playing in the background these days.  Enjoy! 

Chef's Soundtrack: The Black Keys - El Camino

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Vegan Pizza

Whenever people find out that I'm vegan, one of their first questions, without fail, is: "But how can you live without pizza?"  The answer is, I don't!  I'm from Long Island, for Pete's sake!  Vegan pizza can be fantastic and it's one of my favorite things to eat.  I really don't make a habit out of eating fake cheese, so the pizzas I create are loaded up with lots of fresh vegetables.  Vegan pizza is quite healthy, rather than greasy and fattening.

The best pizza recipe I have found is one from VegWeb, called Amazing Roast Veggie Pizza.  This recipe is a bit time consuming, but totally worth it.  It includes instructions for making your own crust, which comes out crunchy and flavorful, and so much better than the store-bought stuff.  My family has taken the vegetables from this recipe and used a store-bought pizza crust, and the results were still pretty good, but I definitely prefer the homemade crust.  Now that I have made this pizza several times, it takes me about two hours total.  Vegans and non-vegans alike who have tried this pizza agree that it really is "amazing."  Here is the recipe, copied directly from the site:

Ingredients:

    1 1/2 cups unbleached flour, sifted
    1 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
    2 teaspoon sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    2/3 cups water (more if needed)
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    olive oil for roasting
    1 red bell pepper
    1 medium zucchini
    1 medium yellow squash
    1/2 small onion
    4 cloves garlic (or more)
    1 cup pasta sauce
    2 handfuls spinach
    small jar artichoke hearts
    salt, oregano, basil, other herbs to taste

Directions:

This pizza dough takes a while to make, but isn't too hard, and is SOO worth it.  It makes two pizzas which is enough for 2 or 3 people (only 3 if you’re going to have side items).  If you’re cooking for just yourself, halving this recipe is very easy.

Mix the flour, sugar, and yeast.  Add the salt and incorporate.  Add water (make sure it is close to room temperature, or it may kill/retard the yeast).  Mix for about 30-60 seconds, but not too much, as it shouldn't be totally smooth.  If the dough doesn't feel sticky at all, add 1/2 teaspoons of water and mix very slightly until it does.

Move the dough into a clean bowl and pour the olive oil over it.  Flip the dough until it is covered in the oil. Put plastic wrap or a clean towel over the bowl and store it in a warm (not hot) place until it doubles in volume. This will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour 15.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Halve the bell pepper and remove the seeds and core.  Chop each half into three or four strips longwise and then in inch-long pieces from there.  Halve the zucchini and squash longwise and chop in inch-long pieces as well.  Arrange veggies in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil.  Add salt and herbs to taste (don't worry about adding too much herbs, they are super tasty).  Toss and place in oven.  Bake 10-15 minutes and then flip, then bake another 8-12 minutes until tender and brown on the edges.

After the dough has risen, using a sharp knife or dough scraper, cut it in half and work each piece lightly in your hands, shaping the dough into a flattened ball.  Place each on a separate pizza dish or sheet pan, drizzle remaining olive oil over both and cover with plastic wrap for 5 minutes.

Leave the plastic wrap on and press gently from the inside out to form a pizza crust.  If the dough doesn't work well, put it in a warm-hot place (above the oven works well) for about 5 minutes.  When the dough has been shaped (depending on how much the dough rose, each pizza should be about 9 - 11 inches), leave it in a warm place covered for 20 minutes or so (This time can be drastically reduced by placing it in a warmer spot).  Raise the oven temperature to 475 degrees.

In the meantime, dice the onions and mince the garlic.  Sautee both in oil over medium heat, until soft, then add chopped spinach stir until the leaves wilt.  Remove from heat.

Remove the plastic wrap from the pizza crusts and bake for five minutes (note that you can bake them one at a time if your oven is small like mine).  Spread some of the jarred pasta sauce (or you can used canned plain tomato sauce) over the crusts and spread for a thin layer.  Divide onion mixture in two and spread across pizza, and repeat with the roasted veggies.  Chop the artichoke hearts and place over the layers.  Bake the pizzas for 5 more minutes or until the crust is a dark golden brown.  Slice and serve.

If you want to speed up the process, when you let the dough rise put it in a warmer place.  The crust won’t have quite as much flavor, but it still beats Papa Johns any day.  Also, you can obviously customize what veggies you use, I just think this combination is great.  Be sure to roast any larger, firmer vegetables to make them taste that much better on the pizza.

Serves: 2 - 4

Preparation time: 1 - 2 1/2 hours






Vegan pizza: don't knock it until you've tried it!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Great Cupcake Fiasco

There's something about Valentine's Day that makes me want to bake!  I recently found a simple recipe for vanilla cupcakes in the latest edition of Vegetarian Times, and was pumped to try it out this weekend.  The recipe called for Ener-G Egg Replacer, which I was certain I would be available to pick up at Sprout's.  However, when I got to the store, the egg replacer was nowhere to be found.  I tried two other stores, and somehow, it was not available anywhere I went.  I had already picked up cute cupcake liners with hearts, heart-shaped sprinkles, and vegan frosting, so I decided to just find another recipe once I got home.

After perusing my go-to blogs, I ended up selecting a recipe from VegWeb called "Favorite White/Yellow Cake."  It was the only recipe for which I had all the ingredients readily available, and it worked out pretty perfectly, because I had exactly enough lemon juice and vanilla extract on hand. 

Ingredients:

    1 1/2 cups flour
    1 cup sugar
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 cup icy cold water (important)
    1/2 cup oil
    2 teaspoons vanilla (Madagascar vanilla gives a better vanilla flavor)
    2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease an 8" or 9" cake pan. In a bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt until very light and airy, about 3 times.

2. In a small bowl, combine cold water, oil, and vanilla. Add liquid ingredients (except lemon juice) to dry and combine. Once the batter is combined, add the lemon juice and stir quickly then pour into prepared pan.

3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until cake tests done with toothpick.  (it turned out to be 17 minutes for the cupcakes)

This recipe tastes like a typical omni vanilla cake. It rises extremely well and is light, fluffy, moist and rich at the same time.

Makes: 1 (8-9") cake



I did have a couple of issues with this recipe at first.  In general I have a lot of trouble scooping cupcake batter into the liners without making a huge mess, and this batter was dripping everywhere.  It was super runny.  Also, it only produced 17 cupcakes, which was kind of disappointing.  However, once the cupcakes cooled and I iced one up, the results were pretty good.  I thought that I could taste a bit of lemon in the cupcake, but my roommate didn't seem to notice.









It's easy to find vegan and gluten-free frosting these days.  I've seen it in the regular grocery store and even Target.  While I come from a long line of bakers, I am definitely not skilled in the finer aspects of crafting desserts.  For some reason, I find icing cupcakes to be a very challenging task, but these look pretty cute if I do say so myself!  Fiasco averted.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Vegan on the Run

Lately I have been scoping out the blogosphere for recipes that are cheap and quick.  I have been super busy and stressed, while also operating under self-imposed budget constraints.  I have never been a fan of recipes involving long lists of ingredients, and usually reserve those for special occasions.  These days I am sticking to what's easiest, and since the point of this blog is to prove that vegan meals can, in fact, be easy and delicious, I am including my newest discoveries in this post. 

There are so many great vegan and vegetarian blogs out there, if one has the time to peruse the web.  I recently started using Finding Vegan to "find" some terrific blogs and recipes.  This is what I typically do while watching New Girl on Tuesday nights (by the way, is Zooey Deschanel vegan?  If she's not, it seems like she should be).  Then I try out the recipes on Saturday nights and save the leftovers for the rest of the week.

On Monday night I tried a recipe for "Classic Black Beans and Rice."  I liked the recipe because it integrated a green pepper and frozen corn into the dish.  Green peppers are always cheap, and I happened to have lots of frozen vegetables stocked in the freezer.  I used Minute Rice to cut back on the prep time and was able to jump in the shower while it simmered. The results were great!


Tonight I tried "Chickpea Curry," also using brown Minute Rice.  I found this dish to be a bit spicy; it calls for two tablespoons of garam masala, which I had not used before.  The entire meal took about twenty minutes to prepare, just as promised.  It was super easy and required few ingredients.  I even recommended it to my guy, who bases his meal choices solely on the required prep time.


Being vegan doesn't have to be time consuming.  Especially since I've already done all the legwork for you!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Vegan Chocoholic

Valentine's Day is just one week away.  I have already reminded my junior high students that I will be accepting flowers, chocolate, cards, stuffed animals, and so on.  One astute student wondered if he could bring me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (my staple lunch).  Yes, sir, as long as it's prepared with whole wheat, dairy-free bread! 

Valentine's Day is not my favorite holiday, but it is the perfect excuse to eat chocolate.  Not that I need one.  I am almost certain that the chocolate addiction runs in my family.  My brother can routinely be found devouring a box of Toblerone. Mom sticks to Hershey's, while Dad is a Reese's fanatic.  I always have chocolate in the apartment.  However, most of those heart-shaped boxes do not contain vegan-friendly treats, so you will not find me stocking up on cutesy Valentine's Day candy. My eighth grade student did, in fact, have the right idea, when he realized that Valentine's Day might not be "normal" for his strange, "hippie" teacher.

I might not have the option of running to Walgreen's and buying a giant heart-shaped box of chocolates, but there are still some great brands of chocolate that are vegan and easy to find.  Here are my favorites:

1.  Endangered Species Chocolate
A variety of dark chocolate candy bars, certified gluten-free and vegan, and made with ethically traded, all-natural ingredients.  My favorite is the Dark Chocolate with Mint; reminds me of the Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies!  10% of your purchase is donated to support conservation efforts.  Environmentally conscious chocolate is definitely the way to my heart.

2.  Chocolove Chocolate Bars
The dark chocolate variety of this brand is vegan, and quite delicious.  I am partial to the Cherries & Almond bar.  There is also a love poem inside the wrapper of each bar; very romantic!

3.  Ghirardelli Midnight Reverie 
I have been teased before for mispronouncing Ghirardelli, but I think I have it down now.  Anyway, what matters is that Geer-ar-delly does carry a vegan-friendly chocolate bar.  Containing 86% cacao, this one is not for the faint of heart this Valentine's Day. 

4.  Enjoy Life Foods Boom CHOCO Boom Bars
I have tried the Crispy Rice Bar, and it was so delicious that I began passing it around at a professional development training I attended, just so my colleagues could see that vegan products can be amazing.  It's the dairy, nut, and soy-free version of the Nestle Crunch bar!  Enjoy Life also carries Dark Chocolate and Rice Milk chocolate bars.  Love it!

5.  Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
Perfect for dipping strawberries! 


There are clearly plenty of vegan options available for chocolate lovers this Valentine's Day.  Check your local health food store or larger health food market, like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Wild By Nature, or Trader Joe's... and enjoy!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Vegan Sushi Experience

Tonight I went to a sushi bar for the first time.  I must say that I have harbored a few preconceived notions about sushi, which is why I have not tried it before.  First of all, even though people have told me about the many vegetable options, I still believed that it was all about the raw fish.  Seafood has always disturbed me, and the concept of watching other people eat it raw was not on my list of top things to do.  I was also under the impression that it would not be very filling.  Those vegetable rolls always looked like more of an appetizer than an actual meal.  Tonight I put these ideas aside and I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by the sushi experience.

As it turns out, sushi is one of the most vegan-friendly restaurant options available.  You just have to know which questions to ask!  The manager came over to our table and was kind enough to answer all of our questions and figure out how to make the meal work for us.  Make sure you find out whether the tempura batter is made with eggs.  At this restaurant, they were able to whip up a different batter without the eggs.  You should also clarify whether bonito flakes (made with fish) are used to season anything that appears vegan.  At this place, the rice was seasoned with bonito flakes, so they made a different seasoning for me which omitted that ingredient.

I ended up trying steamed and salted edamame, vegetables tempura, and three types of rolls: cucumber, avocado, and vegetable.  Everything was delicious!  Every time I thought I was full, more food came to the table.  There was so much food that I ended up taking some home.  It was an extremely healthy, filling, and delicious meal.  I am officially convinced:  you don't have to eat raw fish at a sushi restaurant!