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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Creamy Almond Butter Noodles

So, there are days — more frequently, lately — where I have this nagging urge to just stop what I’m doing, throw my hands to the air and scream why can’t I just be normal?!?!?!?!?!?

Am I alone here?

Take, for example, today. Dishes piled high in the sink. Wedding thank you notes waiting to be written. A workout routine that’s been neglected for far too long. Friends whose calls have gone unreturned. Job applications waiting to be sent out. A doctors appointment that needs to be made. It would be a good idea to tackle one of these items on my to-do list, don’t you think? Yeah, I think so, too. So what do I do? I decide to bake a cake.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!?!

Aside from baking cakes at very inopportune moments, I have other traits that are really starting to get in the way of real life these days. Like my incessant need to tweak this site. If you haven’t noticed (and how could you not), the tweaking — of the logo, the setup, the sidebars, even the photos — has bordered on compulsive. This has made being normal quite the challenge. Weekend plans with Gennaro to catch a long-anticipated movie can be easily threatened by my sudden awareness of a glitch in the way this site appears in a certain browser. You know, because double- checking different browser shots is the kind of thing I do to pass the time before heading out to the movies. Hours later, I’ve re-vamped the entire look, only to discover, this time, that my pictures are ever-the-slightest bit bigger in this new design. And I don’t like it. By now, Gennaro is asleep on the couch, and I’m having one of those moments again.

What is wrong with me?!?

As you may have quessed, the compulsive tendencies carry over into my recipe-writing as well. I’ve even been known to make recipes after they’ve been posted and decide, this really would be better with less sweetener, and more nuts. And so I’ll change it, likely annoying several people in the process, none more so than myself. Can I pass this all off as “being a perfectionist” and call it a day? Well, luckily, I do recognize (sometimes) when enough is enough.

…Like with these noodles. I adapted the recipe for this sauce from a recipe in Delicious Meets Nutritious, the cookbook from the folks at Xagave (which is actually a pretty awesome cookbook, by the way). When I say adapt, I usually mean “overhaul,” since I am not always content to only play around with a recipe a little bit (surprise, surprise). But in this case, I made 3 very small changes. Tasted it. Loved it. Thought about it.

No, I wasn’t going to change anything else, thank-you-very-much.

It was the ultimate exercise in restraint, but the right choice. Sometimes, you have to quit while you’re ahead. This recipe was the perfect balance of creamy, spicy, sweet and salty. Over noodles, it was downright addictive. You can substitute peanut butter for the almond butter here (the original recipe calls for peanut butter). You can also use this as a dipping sauce, which is how it’s billed in the cookbook. Instead of heating this, you can also blend everything in a blender. But I like the way the flavors of the ginger and the garlic are sort of mellowed out when it’s heated through. This is such an easy, quick dinner, that it almost justifies a reckless foray into unecessary cake-baking for dessert.

Almost.  

One Year Ago Today: Turkish Shepherd’s Salad

Creamy Almond Butter Sauce:

Adapted from Delicious Meets Nutritious

1 tablespoon agave nectar

1/4 cup creamy almond butter

1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

1 clove garlic, grated or pressed

1/2 cup lite coconut milk

3 tablespoons wheat-free tamari soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, combine all ingredients except for lime juice. Whisk until almond butter is melted and the sauce is heated through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Set aside.

Toss with:

1/2 lb. cooked gluten-free linquine (eyeball it if using a 1 lb. package)

3 scallions, chopped

This recipe serves about 3-4 but can easily be doubled.

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Vegan Pad Thai

Lately I’ve been really enjoying shopping at the local Asian convenience store down the street. I sort of spend more time than one normally spends at grocery stores (even someone like me, who enjoys spending time at markets) perusing the aisles of bean pastes, chili oils, rice wrappers and seaweed. I’m sort of in awe at all the possible ingredients and flavors that can go into a particular dish. One ingredient I’ve always enjoyed in dishes when I’m eating out — but which hasn’t quite made its way into my pantry (until tonight, that is) — is tamarind. I would be happy with a spoon and a bowl of that brown, tamarind dipping sauce that comes with the pappadum at Indian restaurants. So I decided to bring some home with me the other day. This Pad Thai happened as a result.

To veganize: I used tofu to sort of mimic the texture of egg. No fish sauce? No problem. I didn’t find myself missing it at all. Also, I tend to like a lot of spice — so much so that I fear my taste buds might be impervious to heat these days. Alright, not really. I did almost rip my tongue out of my mouth a few weeks ago when I bit into a hot pepper, not knowing a large piece had fallen into my salad. But generally speaking, I like my meals (especially those of the Asian variety) to have some heat. If you don’t fall under that category, I would say omit the chili peppers before omitting the garlic chili paste, since the paste adds flavor and color as well as heat.

Serves: about 4

Vegan Pad Thai:

3 tbsp tamarind concentrate (found in Asian aisle or Asian grocery stores)

1/4 cup wheat-free tamari sauce

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon agave nectar

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Thai chili peppers, sliced (optional)

2 scallions, sliced

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon dried mustard powder

1 block firm or extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry

1 tablespoon olive oil

~ 8 oz. flat rice noodles, reconstituted in hot water (according to package directions), drained and chopped

1 1/2 cups mung bean sprouts

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Lan Chi garlic chili paste

salt to taste

fresh cilantro, chopped peanuts and lime wedges for serving

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, whisk together tamarind, tamari, lime juice, sesame oil, scallions, ginger, agave, garlic, chilis, coriander and mustard. Set aside.

2. Crumble tofu into a large skillet or wok. Add olive oil, heat skillet to high and toss. Let tofu cook until browned and not watery, about ten minutes, stirring pretty consistently. Reduce heat to low. Add perpared sauce and rice noodles. Toss until noodles are coated. If the noodles seem a bit dry, you can add a bit of water (maybe a few tablespoons) to loosen them up. Add chili garlic paste and bean sprouts. Stir until chili garlic paste has coated all the noodles. Taste to adjust salt.

3. To serve, top noodles with crushed or chopped peanuts, cilantro leaves. Squeeze with lime wedges before eating.

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Creamy, Vegan Mac and Cheese

vegan mac and cheese

If there were a Family Feud category for “comfort foods” (and I’m sure there was at some point), how many people would go with mac and cheese as their first pick? I don’t think I’m alone on this one; mac and cheese is the ultimate in comfort food. In this spirit, I created a mac and cheese that could be made in your slow cooker for those inevitable lazy nights. Only one pot needed — and you don’t even have to cook the pasta!

I know there are many nights that I get home from class and want to take Woodley for a run or run some errands, but looming in the back of my mind is making dinner when I get home. I dread working late into the night just to enjoy a home cooked meal (my college days of cereal and granola bars for dinner, I’m happy to say, are over). With this recipe, you can throw everything into the slow cooker, run some errands, and come back to a warm meal. I must warn, however, that some intermittent stirring is a must with this dish — so make the errands quick. Or even use the time to watch Oprah(ok, so not everyone is the fan I am, but you can feel free to sub in your favorite show here) or take a cat nap. This is supposed to be comfort food, after all. Why not make the rest of your evening comfortable and lazy as well?

Serves: 4-5

Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese:

1 8-oz. box gluten-free quinoa elbow pasta (uncooked)

florets from 1 head of broccoli, washed and chopped

2/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes, plus more for serving

2 tablespoons sesame tahini

1/2 cup Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet cream cheese

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

3 tablespoons Earth Balance buttery spread

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 1/2 cups plus 1/2 cup water, divided

Directions:

1. Add all above ingredients (only 1 1/2 cups water) to your slow cooker. Stir and cover. Set on a low setting for 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally.

2. After 1 hour has elapsed, add another 1/2 cup water. Stir. After 1 1/2 hours has elapsed, test macaroni for doneness before serving. If needed, you may add an additional 15 minutes to cooking time. Watch closely, though, to make sure pasta does not overcook.

3. If desired, to serve, toast 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes in a saute pan for a few minutes until lightly browned. Sprinkle over individual servings.

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