Hearty Vegetable Marinara

hearty vegetable marinaraSimple need not be boring. That’s the slogan I would use if I were to bottle this stuff and sell it.

I’ve long had a visceral aversion to boring foods. And by boring, I’m thinking those measly garden salads that are on every average restaurant menu in America. I’m thinking plain white bread. I’m thinking marinara sauce — not every marinara sauce, but the ubiquitous kind that’s plopped out of a jar and poured over spaghetti and called dinner. As long as I’ve been cooking, and as many short-cuts as I like to take at times, I’ve never brought myself to accept a jar of sauce and some noodles as dinner. This may explain why, even when faced with little time and a jar of sauce, I do my best to jazz it up, like I did with this spicy chorizo sauce from a few years ago.

It’s not that I am being a food snob (OK, maybe I am), but that I really just LOVE food so much that I can’t imagine wasting a meal on something that doesn’t really excite me. I guess that’s the difference between someone like me and someone who “forgets” to eat lunch (we all know those people, and no, I don’t understand them one bit).

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Single-Serving Banana-Omega-Chia Pudding

banana-omega-chia puddingI am approaching this first post of the new year with a bit of trepidation, as this would normally be the obligatory resolutions and reflections post, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that 2013 went by so fast. Resolutions? I’m not there yet. I’m still wondering where all the time went. This has me thinking. By the time I’ve figured out my resolutions for this year, it will probably be 2015.

Time passes quickly. I learn that more and more each year. As my dad says, it’s because the older we become, each year is a smaller proportion of our lives thus far.

What I have learned is that, the older I become, the more keenly aware I am of the importance of caring for my body. I marvel at the things I seemingly got away with doing to my body while in college. All-nighters cramming for tests or writing papers, diet sodas, beer at tailgates and 2 a.m. pizza delivery were not uncommon occurrences in my college days. And judging from the number of people still in the school computer lab at 4 a.m. or by the crowds at tailgates and bars over the weekends (and sometimes during the week), I am pretty sure I was not alone.

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Chickpea Paprikash over Penne

vegan chickpea paprikash over penneIf you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a pretty huge fan of The Voice. In fact, I’m actually a Voice expert. I know, for example, that getting assigned a Whitney Houston song is widely considered the kiss of death for many artists. And even though the coaches know this, they will still assign Whitney songs season in and season out — probably because the producers know it makes for interesting television — which predictably fall short of the original.

This season, it was Tessanne Chin who had the dubious honor of being tasked with a Whitney classic: I Have Nothing. Now, Tessanne is an amazing singer. She is one of the best on the show. Still, as we’ve learned after 5 seasons of this show, as good as anyone is, there is only one Whitney (Voice fans know that the same can be said of Adele). But Tessanne was smart. Before taking the stage, she strategically noted that she was not trying to emulate the original. She was not going to try to be Whitney. She was going to be Tessanne, and she was going to make her version a tribute, rather than a knock-off. And with that in mind, I think everyone (including myself), enjoyed the performance for what it was — not “Whitney”, but something unique and amazing in its own right (and for the record, I did think Tessanne was amazing).

If Whitney is the standard for vocal greatness, my great-grandmother was like the Whitney Houston of home cooking. After immigrating from Hungary as a teenager, she worked hard all of her life in the auto factories of Detroit. She carried her hard-working, blue collar mentality into the kitchen, where she was often sweating over the stove for hours on weekends to serve authentic Hungarian meals to grateful family members — something that brought her much joy. It was at her home that I saw my first whole chicken foot poking out of a boiling pot of water (something that would scar me for years to come), where I learned that lard was probably the most important cooking ingredient, and that cooking directions were as easy as telling someone “just thing it” (duh?).

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Butternut Squash Coconut Curry Noodles

butternut squash coconut curry noodles

Today, I am going to tell you a little story about the power of denial. And the power of really good Thai food.

It all started when I was nearing the end of my vegan transition, which basically meant that I was starting to actually tell people that I was “vegan” (but still had a lot to learn). I had also just moved back to Michigan and was starting a new job in Ferndale, a city in Michigan with a small but fun and eclectic downtown that seemed to me to be bursting with amazing food options. One of those options was a small hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant that charged only $6 for a lunch special that was not only generously portioned but exceedingly delicious. And, to my delight, it was (or so I thought it was) “vegan”. Coconut-Vegetable Curry, as I assumed at the time, was of course made strictly of coconut milk, vegetables, tofu (non-GMO, of course) and secret Thai spices that made it so delicious that I would eat the entire aforementioned generous portion in one sitting, inducing an afternoon food coma that was not the most conducive to productivity in my new job.

I was obsessed with this curry dish. I would crave it. My co-workers soon became obsessed with their respective favorites from this small place as well. Eventually, we were all sheepishly suggesting office carry-outs 2, 3, 4 times per week. After all, it was cheap, quick and delicious. So delicious, in fact, that I tried to ignore the splitting headaches I would get after each meal, the bloating, or the fact that my mouth was so parched that I would go through 4 bottles of water within an hour after eating. 

But it was one day that I went in to this restaurant for my weekly office pick-up duties that I noticed that behind the checkout counter, there was a glass refrigerator filled with cartons of heavy cream. Yes, as in dairy cream. I started glancing around the small restaurant, searching for the coffee pot. Surely, that’s what the cream was for. But there was no coffee. Then I remembered. Ah, yes. They serve Thai iced tea here. That’s what the cream is for. But there was a lot of cream. I mean, loads of it. And slowly, I started realizing that all of that cream wasn’t just for iced tea. It was for something else: our food. A few questions with the manager confirmed my suspicions. Devastation crept in.

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A Few of my Favorite Things: Holiday Gift Guide

holiday gift guide collageIn the photo: TOP ROW (left to right): Green Daffodil grapefruit mangosteen tea lights, Jenna Kator Collection Lexington Handbag, Fustinis Holiday gift set; MIDDLE ROW (left to right): Himalayan Salt Lamps, Dirty Girl Farm logo; Ugandan Paper Beads; BOTTOM ROW (left to right): Rouge eyeshadow selection from Eve Organics; Ida Does It book cover; Vegan necklace by Solstice LTD. 

I know the blogosphere has no shortage of holiday gift guides this time of year, so I certainly wouldn’t be publishing my own guide if I didn’t think I could provide something new and different to this realm. Why different? Well, mostly because some (not all) of my favorite places to buy organic, vegan and unique products are from local shops and artists. I love repping Michigan-made products when buying gifts for out-of-state family and friends, and I think we have some pretty amazing stuff here in “the Mitten”. The list below represents a lot of the gifts I will personally be giving this holiday season, along with several favorite local and non-local places that have become my go-to spots for gifts, and not just for the holidays (all of which have online shopping and shipping for those not in the area).

I hope this list will provide some last-minute inspiration and perhaps some unique gift ideas for my readers. Whether you’re vegan or just want to purchase more holistic, organic, natural and sustainable products, I’ve got some ideas here for everyone. And if you’re in the metro Detroit area, be sure to visit some of these local shops in person! There’s nothing like personally trying some of the many amazing flavor infusions at Fustini’s oils and vinegars in Ann Arbor, sniffing tons of amazing scents at Green Daffodil in Ferndale, or getting your makeup matched to your skin with the wonderful ladies at Rouge.

This gift guide is geared toward food, health, wellness, a vegan lifestyle and eco-sustainability. Many of these items are being included in my own holiday gifts to family and friends!

1. Green Daffodil Soy Candleworks: Anyone who knows me knows that THIS place, over any other, is my ultimate go-to for gifts. These are also the candles I exclusively use in my home, as I tend to have a problem with strong or artificial scents. Their products are sold throughout stores in metro Detroit, but their flagship store is located near my office in Ferndale, MI, making them the perfect place for me to do any last-minute shopping. My favorite candle scents are probably Blackberry Sage and Patchouli Lavender. I also use their Patchouli Lavender lotion and body spray and always get compliments on how I smell (even from people who “hate patchouli”) without overpowering everyone! They sell candles, lotions, room sprays, chapstick and soaps through their Etsy store — all of which would make perfect stocking stuffers or wonderful additions to any gift basket. All candles are soy-based, vegan, and made with Phthalate-free fragrance oils. 

2. Jenna Kator CollectionThese reasonably priced, classy and all vegan handbags are my favorite! I own four bags (one for every occasion) and get compliments on them all the time. Jenna Kator is a Michigan-based company and yes, Jenna is the designer. All of the handbags are named after Michigan cities or places. I love and appreciate a hometown girl! Jenna’s bags can be found in a few stores in the metro Detroit area, but if you’re not from around here, online ordering is a breeze. I’ve purchased these handbags for several friends and family members as gifts. My personal favorite is my Greektown shoulder bag, which is a Farmer’s Market must-have! I HIGHLY recommend these bags for any fashionistas in your life. In fact, Jenna has a huge following of fans from across the country who probably don’t even realize that they’re also helping the planet by purchasing vegan bags (you’d never know they’re not leather).

3. Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars: Not just for foodies! This gift is for anyone who loves cooking or eating good food (and who doesn’t?). I’ve gifted friends and family with Fustini’s ever since I discovered them a few years ago (oddly enough, it wasn’t when I was actually living and going to school in Ann Arbor). They have two locations in Michigan, and sell delicious oils and vinegars that are infused with flavor and NOT artificially flavored. Their Holiday Sampler is only $49 and comes in three sampler varieties. They also have a monthly oil and vinegar club for any true foodie out there. They ship across the country. My personal favorite flavor combination is the blood orange oil and chocolate balsamic vinegar as a salad dressing. Heaven!

4. Himalayan Salt Lamps: My mom got these for me for my birthday this year. I have one on my office desk and one at home. Said to be a natural air purifier, Himalayan salt lamps may prevent stuffiness and combat common allergens such as pet dander, smoke and common air pollutants. I personally just love the sense of peace and calm it brings to me when I’m working. Recommended as a gift for anyone into natural health, healing or meditation.

5. Dirty Girl Farm: I love Dirty Girl Farm for natural skin care and gift options! While I get my lotions and bar soaps from Green Daffodil, I love Dirty Girl Farm kitchen soaps (the Pumpkin Ale smells magnificent), shampoos, conditioners, scrubs and body washes. Being the hippie that I am, my favorite shampoo is their Patchouli. But since we’re talking gifts here, I’m guessing you’re not wondering about shampoos. As far as online gifts go, they have a couple of gift wrapping options for only $2 extra. They also have holiday soap designs, including these super cool Frosty The Snowman soaps. They also sell some men’s products, including this “Dirty Guy” body spray and body wash. If you’re in the area, check them out at the Royal Oak Farmer’s Market on weekends.

6. Ugandan Paper Beads: I learned about the “Army of Six” when visiting a local craft fair with my mom recently. Their story is touching! Through their website, this family sells jewelry made by women in Uganda made from recycled magazine paper. It’s the coolest thing! Each purchase helps provide these Ugandan women with income for food, medical care, housing and school fees. I bought a recycled paper bead bracelet for myself recently, as well as a necklace that can be wrapped around and makes a great statement piece as a gift. These are really inexpensive, fashionable, sustainable (hello, recycled paper!), and a gift you can feel good about giving (and receiving).

7. Eve Organic Makeup, also sold at Rouge Makeup and Nail Studio: I use Eve Organic Makeup exclusively ever since I discovered them at Rouge, a very cool makeup and nail studio in Ferndale, Michigan. I buy my makeup in-person at Rouge, and it struck me while there that their makeup and skincare products would make wonderful gifts for all the girly girls in your life. Their makeup is all vegan, made from minerals and has no fillers. They have a cool selection of colors for all occasions. Their products are made from mostly organic ingredients. You can purchase their makeups directly from their website, or from the Rouge site (I gave both options). But if you’re in the Michigan area, I highly recommend Rouge if you’re looking for a gift certificate for manis or pedis that are organic and healthy. The ladies at Rouge are THE BEST and will make you (or your gift recipient) feel totally welcome and at home.

8. Isa Does It: Given that I did an entire post on how much I love this book, does it really need any explaining? This is a beautiful cookbook that is definitely money well spent for any foodie in your life. I love gifting vegan cookbooks to non-vegans as well — especially those who are looking for  new recipe ideas or who are just looking to find ways to get more vegetables (and less meat or dairy) into their diets.

9. “Vegan” Necklaces: My cousin gave me a “vegan” cursive necklace a few years ago for my birthday and I love it. For those proud vegans who want to wear their heart on their sleeve (or neck, rather). I can’t remember the name of the place my cousin bought mine (pictured below), but a quick Etsy search brought me to the pretty necklace pictured above from Solstice LTD. For those true last-minute shoppers, Amazon has a number of options as well, including this one which has the letters etched on a sterling silver heart.

I posted this picture of me sporting my "vegan" necklace on Instagram a few weeks ago. I love it!

I posted this picture of me sporting my “vegan” necklace on Instagram a few weeks ago. I love it!

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Isa Does It Cookbook Review & Giveaway

Isa Does It

Update: congrats to our winner, Kayci! Thank you to everyone who entered and shared your comments. I loved reading all of them!

Scroll down for giveaway details!!!

Before I get started, I should mention that I never really do reviews on this blog. This is mostly because I want my site to be a place where my readers are not inundated with propaganda. Further, I no longer accept free products to review for companies, because I really don’t want to be unduly influenced by the promise of free stuff. So this review comes to you simply because I really do like the book THAT much. If you click the link to Amazon and purchase a product from here, literally a couple cents will go to this blog. I always honestly appreciate the support so that I can keep things running here (site hosting and domain purchases can get expensive…not to mention all the food for recipe testing). But I digress. That’s not the reason I’m doing this. This is truly just a book I really wanted to share with my readers, who probably are more on the ball than myself and know all about it! But if not, read on…

There comes a time in every food blogger’s life when they come across another person’s recipe that is so ingenious and fantastic that they think Gosh, why didn’t I think of that???? So when I received my copy of Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Dishes for Every Day of the Week last weekend, I knew I was looking at a pretty stellar piece of work when I literally had that thought with each turn of the page.

Isa Does It is destined to become a classic vegan cookbook that no foodie (vegan or not) should ever live without. My first perusal of the book yielded several audible (seriously, ask my husband) “ooohs” and “ahhhs”. I am also pretty sure I uttered the following phrases at least once while looking through it:

  • Oh my gosh I want to make everything!
  • This is the best purchase I have ever made in my life!
  • No, Seriously, Gennaro, this is the best thing I have ever spent my money on!
  • This is my favorite cookbook of all time!

Better yet, all of the recipe’s I’ve tried from the book so far — and I’ve still got a looong way to go — have been awesome. A household favorite was probably the Down Home Curry — a splendid blend of hearty vegetables and Indian spices, which turned out to be a perfect winter stew.

down home curry

Down Home Curry. I substituted green beans and cauliflower for the broccoli.

I also made the Lentil A-Roni, which I totally messed up by not soaking the cashews and forgetting to change my Vitamix from a super low setting to blend the cashews for a cream. So my cashew cream was a little, uh, chunky. But like Isa says in the book, it still worked for this dish because it added sort of a Parmesan-esque essence to the dish which I liked. And even with messing it up, I still loved the recipe.

lentil a-roni

Lentil A-Roni, which I messed up but still thoroughly enjoyed.

I should also mention that both of the above recipes, including others I’ve made from the book, stretched enough to feed the two of us for multiple meals. In fact, I didn’t even bother to heat up my Lentil A-Roni for lunch the next day and it was still good.

There are many other stellar recipes I am excited to try. From soups and stews to a whole section on all-encompassing bowls (a vegan favorite — think, tofu-kale bowl with curried peanut sauce, for example), there are so many superb recipes and ideas in the book. A few notes regarding specific questions some of you might have about this book:

  • Gluten-free/soy-free/whatever-free? I know that before I spend money on a cookbook, I am always wondering if there is going to be anything in it I can actually eat. But I’m sure you can guess that if I love the cookbook so much, I must be able to make something in there. Yes, there are plenty of recipes for those, like me, who are also gluten-free. Isa also gives substitutions in the beginning of the book for things like breadcrumbs (i.e. ground-up gluten-free pretzels — who knew??) Also, it’s pretty easy to adapt pretty much all of the pasta recipes to be gluten-free (duh!). I’ve never had a problem with it. While my Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Fusilli (above) may not have held up quite as well as the gluten-filled kind, it still worked perfectly fine in the Lentil A-Roni. Isa also has a lot of recipes in the book that don’t rely on soy or tofu, and gives substitutions whenever possible. There are plenty of recipes based around beans, legumes and hearty grains. And yes, the dessert recipes are made mostly with sugar, but what else is new? It’s hard to find sugar-free and vegan dessert recipes many places. That’s what I’m here for!
  • Complicated? Nope. Title doesn’t lie. These recipes are pretty simple for the average cook and so far nothing I’ve made from it has been at all complex.
  • Hard-to-find vegan specialty items? Again, nope. For an all-vegan cookbook, this one goes easy on the nutritional yeast, which is absent from several recipes (and doesn’t seem to suffer for it). Sure, there may be a few “different” ingredients here or there, but I love this book because the majority of items can probably be purchased from Trader Joe’s.

OK, HERE’S THE SCOOP ON THE GIVEAWAY: In the spirit of the holidays, I am giving away a copy of Isa Does It to one lucky reader. I seriously looove this book and really wanted to share it with all of you. If I were Oprah, I would give a copy to everyone. But alas, I am just a small-timer so one copy it will have to be. To Enter, simply leave a comment below. While I would certainly love to hear what your favorite cookbook is, you do not need to leave any specific type of comment to win. Just say hi! The giveaway will close at 11 p.m. EST next Friday, December 13th. Because we all know it’s fun to close a giveaway on Friday the 13th. A winner will be chosen at random, probably with the help of some sort of internet calculator thingy.  UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed! Thanks to all who entered!

And if you already have the book, enter anyways! It would be a great holiday gift for someone else in your life. I’m giving a copy to my mom (so Mom — don’t enter the giveaway, unless you want to give your copy to someone else!)

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Cran-Apple Lentil Loaf

lentil loaf

Lentil loaf is one of those ubiquitous vegan dishes that seems to pop up on every blog and website around the holidays. I’m joining in the lentil loaf fun. For years, I’ve wanted to create a decent lentil loaf to post on this site. I’d tried my hand at it a few times and wasn’t too happy with the results. So I gave up. But I figured, what better time than “Thanksgiving season” (if you’re a blogger, you know that Thanksgiving is, indeed, a full “season”) than to tackle this dish once again?

Thankfully, I came up with not one but two versions of lentil loaf that I liked. I could not decide which I liked better, though, so I left that to my chief taste-tester, Gennaro. Truth be told, Gennaro is a pretty horrible taste-tester, as he is very reluctant to give me criticism (great husband, not great taste-tester). But over the years, I’ve developed enough insight into his body language to know when he really loves something, and when he’s just telling me what he thinks I want to hear. In this case, his body language pointed clearly to loaf #1. So that’s the one I’m sharing here.

lentil loaf

This lentil loaf is texturally not exactly like meatloaf, so don’t think you’ll be getting a perfect replica. But it’s a delicious centerpiece to a meal nonetheless, and will definitely go well with all of the typical meatloaf accompaniments. In fact, it works best when surrounded by a supporting cast of mashed potatoes and gravy. The topping is also essential, as it adds a sweetness and flavor to the dish. This is also delicious cold the next day (in my opinion). I ate three slices straight out of the refrigerator for breakfast and lunch and not only did it still taste great but it kept me full throughout the day!

I adapted my recipe from this one at Oh She Glows. I loved the idea of using grated apple in the loaf (I personally think it keeps the filling from becoming too dry). I also liked the idea of processing the lentils (I processed 1/2 instead of 75%) in order to keep the loaf from falling apart. This one holds together remarkably well. The cranberries rounded everything out with a tart-sweetness that added flavor and festiveness to the dish.

I will be bringing this for our vegan family Thanksgiving feast. This is the first year that our entire extended family dinner will be meat-free! It’s funny because in years past, as more and more of us were giving up meat, the family turkey got smaller and smaller as more vegan dishes began to spring up in our lineup. I’m so exited that this year, there will be no turkey at all! This dish will fill in just perfectly.

Note: this recipe is somewhat more labor intensive than what I usually like to make for a weeknight meal. Altogether, it took me about 40 minutes of active prep and then about 45 minutes of baking (during which I cleaned my dirty kitchen!). It’s definitely not the most labor intensive meal I’ve ever made, but I thought I’d give fair warning to those looking to tackle this one in a hurry, as there are a few different cooking components at play here. Also note that for best results, you should have parchment paper on hand to line your loaf dish for easy removal. 

Cran-Apple Lentil Loaf:

Adapted from Oh She Glows’ Ultimate Vegan Lentil Walnut Loaf; Yield: about 8 thick slices

Loaf Ingredients: 

1 cup uncooked green/brown lentils

3 cups water

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup raw walnuts

1 cup onion, very finely chopped

1 cup celery, very finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup vegetable broth

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds

1/2 cup grated apple, tightly packed

2 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (use coconut aminos to make this soy free)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberries

Glaze:

2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 1/2 tablespoons coconut nectar (can also substitute agave or maple syrup)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

Directions:

1. Add lentils to a small pot with 3 cups water and a pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer and simmer lentils, covered, for about 35 minutes, or until most of the liquid is gone but lentils remain firm. Drain remainder of the liquid. Set aside.

2. In a food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade, process oats together with walnuts for about 30 seconds, until a coarse flour forms (almost like a coarsely ground cornmeal). Pour processed walnuts and oats unto a large mixing bowl and set aside.

3. Add 1 cup of lentils to food processor with same steel blade (no need to wash first) and process until mixture begins to clump together. Set aside.

4. In a non-stick saute pan, saute onion, garlic and celery in vegetable broth over medium-high heat until soft and vegetable broth is gone, about 5 minutes. Add cooked onion, celery and garlic to mixing bowl with the oats and walnuts. Add pureed lentils and roughly mix. Add another cup of the whole lentils, then remaining loaf ingredients and mix well. I actually like to use my hands to mix everything together and make sure all of the ingredients are well-distributed. I don’t bother much to add things in a certain order, as using your hands will kind of help to distribute things well.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While oven preheats, pour lentil loaf mixture into a 9x5x2″ (or similar-sized) loaf pan and press firmly into pan, using hands. Top should be smooth. Then mix together topping ingredients in a small bowl and pour over top, spreading evenly with a spoon or spatula until well-distributed.

6. Bake loaf in preheated oven, uncovered, for about 45 minutes on a middle rack. Remove from oven and let cool for a couple minutes before lifting loaf out of pan with the sides of the parchment. For easy transfer to a serving platter, I gently lifted the bottom of the loaf from the parchment with a long spatula and then pulled the parchment out from underneath. Slice and serve with desired accompaniments.

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Tempeh Shepherd’s Pot Pie

tempeh shepherd's pieI adapted this Shepherd’s pie recipe from one of my favorite all-time cookbooks, Veganomicon. Last year I made the Veganomicon Moussaka for our family’s vegan Thanksgiving main dish. It was a huge hit with everyone. This year, I’m tackling our family’s main dish again. I am contemplating making this, as it’s quite delicious. Though I would love to hear suggestions from everyone else as to your favorite gluten-free, vegan main courses for the holidays.

Of course, this dish need not be limited to just holiday meals. It’s wonderful comfort food that can be served throughout the winter. In fact, the filling actually reminds me more of a pot pie (also a comfort food favorite for many), which is why I am calling this a Shepherd’s Pot Pie. It’s comfort food fusion!

tempeh shepherd's pie

I made several changes to the original Veganomicon recipe. Not because the original is not delicious — I’m sure it is — but because I’m a food creativity junkie and have trouble sticking to exact recipes. I decided to make the topping with a mixture of cauliflower and potatoes rather than just potatoes in order to lighten it up a bit. I’m also a fan of sneaking as many healthy veggies into dishes as I can. I used coconut oil in the topping (instead of grapeseed oil, which was called for in the original), which I feel is a nice substitute for butter, and reduced the amount of oil overall. As far as the filling goes, I omitted the use of oil entirely, didn’t use any corn (mostly because I didn’t have any, so I doubled the amount of peas used) and used some white wine in the cooking process. Instead of flour, I thickened the filling with arrowroot powder. And I used Bragg’s Liquid Aminos instead of Tamari, though Tamari could certainly be used here as well. Finally, I reduced the amount of liquid in the filling, as I wanted the filling a bit on the thicker side.

While my pictures here probably don’t do this dish justice (I was photographing on a super rainy and dreary day), I hope that doesn’t deter everyone from giving this dish a try. I really think it would be a wonderful addition to anyone’s vegan comfort food repertoire.

Tip: The topping can be served alone as a delicious “whipped potato” side dish. Simply follow directions for prepping it and serve after pureeing in food processor (don’t bake). The potatoes turn out light and fluffy and totally amazing — I was licking my spatula!

Tempeh Shepherd’s Pot Pie:

Adapted from the Tempeh Shepherdess Pie recipe in Veganomicon

Serves: 6-8

Filling Ingredients:

2 8-oz. packages tempeh

2 cups water

3 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, divided

1 1/4 cup onions (about 1 large onion), diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/3 cups vegetable broth, divided

1/3 cup white wine

10 oz. cremini mushrooms (about 1 pkg.), sliced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 cups frozen peas

2 tablespoons arrowroot starch

Topping Ingredients:

1 pound russet potatoes (about 8 small potatoes), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

4 cups chopped cauliflower florets (about 1 small head cauliflower)

3 tablespoons coconut oil

3 tablespooons unsweetened soy or almond milk

1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

1. In a large skillet, crumble tempeh into small pieces. Add water and 1 tablespooon liquid aminos. Cover and let boil for 10 minutes (start on step 2 while tempeh cooks). After 10 minutes, remove lid and cook tempeh until remaining liquid has evaporated.

2. Add potatoes to a large soup pot and cover with water. Add cauliflower to a separate steamer basket and steam until fork tender, or boil in a separate small pot until fork tender. Drain cauliflower and set aside. Meanwhile, bring potatoes to a boil and boil for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are also fork tender. Add potatoes, cauliflower and remaining topping ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth. You may need to stir contents a few times to ensure proper distribution. Set aside.

3. Once tempeh liquid has evaporated, remove tempeh to a plate. You do not need to clean skillet. Add onion, garlic and 1/3 cup vegetable broth to skillet and saute over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add tempeh, mushrooms, thyme, coriander, 2 tablespoons liquid aminos and white wine to skillet and saute for another 10 minutes, or until mushrooms are softened and juicy.

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

5. Add peas to filling mixture and saute for another minute. Meanwhile, whisk together 1 cup vegetable broth and arrowroot in a separate bowl and add to filling ingredients. Heat through, for about another minute.

6. Add filling ingredients to a large, 9×13″ casserole dish (for the picture, I separated my ingredients into smaller dishes). Top with whipped potatoes and cauliflower and spread evenly over filling. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for about 20 minutes. The Veganomicon girls recommend that if your topping isn’t getting browned by then, simply place under broiler for a couple minutes to brown. Serve warm.

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Chocolate-Pumpkin Mousse Pie

pumpkin chocolate mousse piePumpkin season may have started awhile ago, but I was sort of blanking out when it came to anything new I wanted to tackle in the pumpkin department. But then I got inspired by a vegan pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake I saw at Whole Foods and was immediately determined to make one of my own without any processed sugars or gluten.

When I first made this, I thought it was good. But it didn’t taste much like cheesecake. So I decided I would have to tweak it. But I liked it. And Gennaro liked it. “But it doesn’t taste much like cheesecake” I argued, explaining why I couldn’t post it on the blog. “No. It’s more like a chocolate mousse” Gennaro said. “I like chocolate mousse”, he added.

Who doesn’t?

And so it was confirmed, a fact I’ve long suspected: taste is in large part dictated by expectation. Ever taken a sip of, let’s say, orange juice, thinking for some reason you were drinking apple juice? Your brain will immediately alert you that something’s wrong, and you’re lucky if you don’t end up spitting it out. Because you weren’t expecting it!

While I didn’t spit this out at first, I took my first few bites disappointed that it didn’t taste like cheesecake as I’d hoped. But the more bites I took the more I decided I was liking this non-cheesecake concoction. And when Gennaro mentioned that it was like a chocolate mousse, I nodded in agreement. This was a description I could wrap my brain around. And suddenly, realizing that I was eating a chocolate mousse, I was loving this concoction and wanting more. Funny how the brain works, huh?

As I mentioned in my last post, my diet has shifted from more processed and higher-fat foods such as fake meats and cheeses to lower fat, whole foods. This pie definitely reflects that shift. While I did use tofu in this dish — which is technically a processed soy food — I tend to use soy overall in moderation, and always opt for organic, non-GMO soy. Even though I use soy in moderation (meaning I don’t have it daily, let alone for 3 meals a day!), I find that tofu is incomparable to other products when it comes to getting a really creamy texture without adding a lot of fat. Keeping the fat content of the filling relatively low was especially important to me considering that I used walnuts in the crust. Sure, walnuts are a very healthy monounsaturated fat sources that are high in omega-3s, but they’re still a high-fat food. And whenever using a high fat food in one part of a dish, I make an effort to keep the remainder of the dish lighter to balance things out. If nothing else, it’s for the simple purpose of keeping me from having a massive stomach ache after eating.

The pumpkin adds more to this dish texturally than it does flavor-wise. It’s certainly not the star of the dish, but I do taste it in a subtle way. Plus, it’s always nice hiding good sources of Vitamin A into delicious food (which seems to be a theme for me in these last few posts).

Note: For this photo, I took some extra crust that stuck to the bottom of the pan and used it to top the pie for serving. Feel free to make extra crust to use for topping if desired. 

Below are a few more of my pumpkin-based recipes you may wish to try:

Chocolate-Pumpkin Mousse Pie:

Crust:

1 1/2 cups raw walnuts

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

9 medjool dates, pitted

Filling:

14 oz. extra firm tofu, drained of excess liquid

1 15 oz. can organic pumpkin

2/3 cup coconut nectar

2 tablespoons arrowroot powder

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon coconut oil

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add all crust ingredients to a food processor fitted with sharp steel (S) blade. Process until ingredients begin to clump together in small clumps.

3. Pour crust ingredients into a 9″ springform pie pan or regular pie dish and distribute evenly. Press down until evenly covering bottom of dish.

4. Bake crust in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

5. While crust cools, add filling ingredients to a high-powered blender (such as Vitamix) and blend on medium to high until extremely smooth, like the texture of a thin mousse. Once crust has cooled, pour filling ingredients into crust and bake again at 350 for 30-35 minutes, until edges darken and begin to crack.

6. Let pie cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight before serving. Filling will firm up as it cools.

 

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Basil-Miso-Walnut Pesto & Panini

basil-miso-walnut pesto (oil-free)I know it’s been some time since I last posted. I’ve really been making an effort to not push myself too much, since every time I do, I seem to suffer some sort of health setback. I was feeling pretty good, though, until I started a new medication to hopefully wipe out what’s left of my Lyme. I was told by many people that this med (Flagyl), when used for Lyme, is no joke and that I would definitely be feeling its effects. So I was pleasantly surprised when I started taking it and felt fine for a few weeks. I guess that was the honeymoon period, though, because ever since then I’ve been noticing a huge increase in my symptoms — constant stiff necks, night sweats, fatigue and word retrieval problems, to name a few.  Supposedly, this is all good, as it means the medicine is doing its job. But it’s not good for me in terms of living an active life, let alone keeping up the pace of this blog while trying not to be a deadbeat employee at work! Eek.

For the above reasons, this recipe has been sitting in my archives, patiently awaiting some sort of post to go along with it. I swear, when I first made this, basil was actually in season and abundant. But if you live near a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, you should be able to still find fresh basil to make this recipe. This pesto has been a staple in my diet recently. Something about the nuts, miso and nutritional yeast combo make this taste so — dare I say? — cheesy that my mind at one point was wondering whether I’d somehow accidentally added Parmesan to my Vitamix. Of course, that would be highly unlikely given that I haven’t bought cheese in several years and never have any in the house. But who knows with these new meds I’m taking….crazy things could happen.

I like to make this pesto thick — almost like the consistency of a chunky hummus– so that I can use it as a dip, spread it on sandwiches, or, of course, serve it on pasta. I find that it sticks much better to pasta, too, the thicker it is. In my experience, it will “melt” a bit into a warm pasta enough to coat everything.

roasted vegetable and pesto panini

Here’s a non-recipe recipe for the roasted veggie and pesto panini I’ve been making with this pesto, followed by the actual pesto recipe, which can be used in so many different ways:

Non-Recipe Pesto Paninis:

You’ll need:

  • Two slices gluten-free bread per sandwich
  • Miso-Basil-Walnut-pesto (recipe below)
  • Eggplant, zucchini and red peppers plus some veggie broth for cooking
  • Vegan cheese (I used Trader Joe’s vegan shreds)
  • A tiny bit of oil to spray on non-stick skillet
  • Another skillet to weigh down the sandwich, or a panini press

What to do:

  • First, you will need to roast the veggies. Since I tried to minimize the added oils in this dish, I roasted the veggies in vegetable broth. I sliced one zucchini and one smaller eggplant very thin and julienned a bell pepper. I tossed it in about 1/3 cup of veggie broth in a large baking dish (so veggies could lay flat) and baked at 350 until the veggies were soft (about 30-40 min). I know this is not technically “roasted”, but the veggies got soft enough to use as a nice panini filling.
  • Spread some pesto onto one side of both bread slices (I am pretty liberal in my pesto usage for these)
  • Top each pesto side with a bit of vegan cheese and then a thin layer of veggies.
  • Carefully put both sides together and place on a nice and hot (pre-heated) skillet that’s been sprayed with a little oil.
  • To make these more “panini”-like, I placed a clean, cast-iron skillet on top of the sandwich and pressed down firmly. I let the cast iron sit on the panini while it cooked on one side for about 4-5 minutes over medium to high heat. Then I flipped the sandwich and did the same with the other side, or until it was golden brown on both sides (or slightly browner than golden-brown, as you can see from the picture…)

Basil-Miso-Walnut Pesto:

Ingredients:

1 bunch basil

2 tablespoons chickpea miso

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1/2 cup raw walnuts

about 1 tablespoon water (plus more as needed)

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender (such as Vitamix) and blend on low-medium intensity until pesto is smooth but still has some green specks.

2. Add more water if necessary until desired consistency is reached (I like mine to be thicker). You can keep this in the refrigerator for a couple days if it’s well covered (I like to use cling wrap and press into the pesto so that it keeps its nice green color).

 

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