Vegan Double Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Gluten-Free, Vegan Double Chocolate Chip PancakesI learned many things in college. As is the case with many a college grad, the biggest lessons were learned outside of the classroom (though not to fear, Mom and Dad, your tuition money was well-spent).

I learned that pulling all-nighters will not make you do better on a test or write a better paper. A little sleep, when it’s needed most, can go a long way. I learned how important it was to eat breakfast, and especially to eat breakfast before downing a triple espresso latte to compensate for those aforementioned all-nighters. And finally, in one of the most jarring revelations of my time in college, I learned that not everyone calls the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday Paczki day (pronounced POONCH-KEY), nor do they eat Paczkis on this day or even know what a Paczki is. With that revelation,  my little metro Detroit bubble had burst, and I realized I was no longer in Kansas Grosse Pointe anymore.

vegan, gluten-free double chocolate chip pancakesAt first, people thought I was making this weird jelly doughnut holiday up, or that it was a family tradition that I had somehow deluded myself into thinking was a national holiday. It was before the days of the iPhone, so I went home to Google the holiday only to discover that it was, in fact, a holiday confined to the Midwest. And since most of my friends were from the East or West Coasts, I suddenly felt so small in this great big world that had never unitarily celebrated a day with Paczkis.

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My Favorite Vegan Mac and Cheese

my favorite mac and cheeseI know I have, like, a bagillion mac and cheese recipes or variations of mac and cheese on this site. Actually, I only have 3 others. But in the food blogging world, that sort of seems to me like a bagillion.

At any rate, despite the fact that I don’t need to post yet another mac and cheese recipe here, it would feel disingenuous to go on with life knowing that there’s a go-to mac and cheese that I pretty much make exclusively these days that I haven’t shared here. It’s quickly become one of my favorite meals, and one that I make at least once every few weeks — especially during this cold winter, when I’ve been craving warm comfort food and carbs.

I know the internet, as well, has no shortage of vegan mac and cheese recipes using cashews as a base. That’s fine. What I like about this particular recipe is that there are very few ingredients, it’s very creamy, and the miso and smoked paprika are secret ingredients that sort of make this a perfect blend of delicious, umami, smoky and decadent goodness — without any oil or processed fat. I am willing to go out on a limb and say that, despite its lack of processed ingredients, this recipe will wow even the most ardent omnivore or self-proclaimed “cheese addict” you may be feeding.

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Indian-Spiced Pressure Cooker Black Lentils

Indian-Spiced black lentilsI seem to have a tendency to make things harder on myself than they need to be. When I was a kid, I remember school teachers telling me I was “thinking too hard” about math or, well, more math problems that were giving me trouble. They could see it in the way I furrowed my brow — a sure sign I was hyper-analyzing each and every problem, thinking just a bit too hard about something that was probably, to them, quite simple.

In yoga classes, I’m often told by instructors that I make poses harder on myself than they need to be. While everyone else is doing a simple downward dog, I’m stressing over where each hand and foot is placed on the mat, how high my arch is, or where my shoulder blades are placed. And while it’s good to think about these things, somehow I manage to make them consume my practice. It can be problematic when you’re looking to yoga as a means of de-stressing and relaxation.

I do it in the kitchen, too. Countless times I’ve taken the hard way to get dinner on the table, ending up with loads of pots and pans — many of which were probably unnecessary — in the sink when it’s all over.

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Lentil Tacos

lentil tacosThere are joys and frustrations that come with being one among many vegan food bloggers. The joy, of course, is witnessing a virtual food revolution — one in which so many amazing vegan home cooks have found a venue for sharing delicious and beautiful vegan recipes with the world — for free! As an advocate for animal welfare and for health, it has been wonderful to witness the explosion of vegan food blogging in recent years. I love that those curious about meatless meals, meat alternatives and healthy eating have such a rich array of options to choose from, and that they don’t have to buy loads of books or do tons of research to find answers.

The downside to this explosion is that at times I think I’ve come up with a killer and unique recipe, only to find that a quick Google search reveals dozens of other versions of the idea — an idea that seemingly every other food blogger already thought of before I did.

Such was the case with these tacos. For too long, I’d been dreaming of creating a lentil taco filling that was both hearty and healthy. I also wanted something that could serve a crowd and that was above all relatively easy to prepare. I Googled lentil tacos to see what sort of ideas were already swarming out there. There were quite a few, so I decided to lay off my idea for the time being.

But curiosity got the best of me, as I was still interested in how a lentil taco filling would compare to its more meaty counterparts. And I figured, if I’m going to make a recipe, I’d rather have it be something with my own twist. Lucky for me, whatever twists I added turned out to be delicious.

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Cranberry-Oatmeal Cookies

cranberry-oatmeal cookiesWell, just a few weeks after I proudly bragged about not getting sick in several years (and I was not including getting Lyme disease in that proclamation, just for the record), I’m stuck at home this weekend with a pounding headache, body aches and chills. That’s what I get for bragging, I guess.

Last night was the first time in my life that I walked out of a movie I actually liked. It was a girls night out. Dinner and a movie. Dinner was fine, though I was feeling pretty tired. And then there was the movie. Captain Phillips. I was excited to see what was supposed to be Tom Hanks’ best performance since Forrest Gump. But I didn’t get very far into the movie before my head began to pound and  I started to feel dizzy, sweaty, nauseous and just plain sick. So that was why I was forced to walk out of what seemed to be a decent movie, and one I think I would have been enjoying had the room not seemed like it was spinning as I watched.

Now that I’ve got enough medications in me to actually look at a screen without seeing double, I thought I’d take advantage of my day as a shut-in and actually post this cookie recipe I’ve been holding onto for too long. I made these cookies a few weeks ago and had to fight Gennaro off from eating all of them before I could take a picture. These are classical oatmeal cookies with a twist of tartness from the cranberries, which replace the more traditional raisins.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Because now, I go back to putting my head down and not thinking for awhile.

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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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Raw Avocado-Citrus Bars with Strawberries

Raw Citrus-Avocado Bars with strawberriesI’ve been thinking for awhile about creating a healthy(ish) holiday dessert option that would still evoke some of the spirit of the holiday season. Ideally, I wanted to create something using traditional Christmas colors, but without resorting to any artificial coloring or non-edibles to get the job done. I have also been thinking of creating an all-raw variation of my Avocado-Lime Tart. As the filling of that tart was raw to begin with, I figured it would make sense to make an entirely raw version for those who prefer to eat that way.

And so, these all-raw Avocado-Citrus bars were born. They marry the idea of a Christmas-themed treat with an all-raw tart. The light, minty green coloring of the filling combined with the strawberries on top makes a lovely pairing. And even though I used the same filling as in my avocado-lime tart, I changed the name to Avocado-“citrus” bars — because it’s my blog, and I can do stuff like that.

I tested these bars on Gennaro and a friend of his who was over the night I made them — both of whom gave their approval and urged me to post these. Sometimes I can be such a perfectionist when it comes to my recipes that I’m not sure when to stop tweaking things. So it’s sometimes nice to be told something is really good as-is, so I don’t have to think about it too much.

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Low-Fat Lentil-Quinoa Chili

Lentil-Quinoa chiliI feel like I’ve just recently discovered lentils. Not that I didn’t know what they were. Of course I did. It’s just that, until recently, I’ve had a bag of bulk lentils sitting in my pantry for what seems like forever, almost quite literally collecting dust. In my mind, they were probably destined to one day become part of some boring lentil soup. And I could always think of something just a little bit more exciting than lentil soup to make for dinner on any given night. So they sat there. Unused. Unwanted.

That all changed when I decided, once again, to try and tackle an old nemesis and vegan classic: The Lentil Loaf. After a few tries and a successful Thanksgiving entree on my hands, the bag of lentils that sat reliably in my pantry for months on end was gone. And I suddenly felt an emptiness without them there. So I bought some more, this time purchasing a few varieties. And just to give them the respect they deserve, I reorganized my pantry so that now my lentils — and all grains, nuts and legumes, for that matter — are proudly displayed in clear cannisters, beckoning me to put them to use.

Then, my purchase of Isa Does It solidified lentil’s place in my long-term dinner plans. Like, for life. Dear Lentil, I will never forget about your possibilities again. Isa uses lentils in tacos, pasta sauces and even blended into a gravy. Not to mention in the lentil-quinoa stew which inspired this dish. Isa’s stew is sort of a take on traditional lentil soup, except with the addition of quinoa (plus lots of kale), which I found ingenious.

My take on Isa’s stew became a chili, because the only person who loves bold flavors, spice and heat more than myself is my husband. And I think the two of us would agree that chili-spiked anything trumps non-chili-spiked anything ten out of ten times in our house. And so, this chili was born.

I did not add any other beans in this dish. I wanted to lentil and quinoa to be the stars. But that doesn’t mean that other items couldn’t easily be added into the mix. I think corn and black beans would be particularly good in this, as would other veggies such as zucchini, carrot or celery. Of course, a thick slice of cornbread or gluten-free toast is a must, while a nice big salad would round out the meal nicely. I used small brown lentils for this dish (they’re called different things depending on where you find them). Aside from some initial chopping and sporadic stovetop monitoring, this chili requires surprisingly little effort.

Update: I entered this Chili into Ricki Heller’s Wellness Weekend, where you can find other amazing vegan, sugar-free and whole foods recipes.

Lentil-Quinoa Chili:

Yield: 4-6 servings, depending on size

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups yellow onion, diced (about 1 small to medium onion)

5 3/4 cups vegetable broth (divided)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well (I used red quinoa for this recipe and like the texture it provides)

1 cup small brown lentils (uncooked)

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more to taste)

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice

1 4-0z. can fire-roasted green chilis

salt to taste

hot sauce for serving (optional)

Directions:

1. Add onions and 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth to a large soup pot or Dutch Oven and saute over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions start to become translucent. Add garlic and saute another minute.

2. Add lentils, quinoa, red pepper, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper and 3 cups of the vegetable broth to pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed.

3. Add remaining ingredients, including remaining 2 cups vegetable broth to pot. Stir well. Return to a simmer and simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Add salt or more cayenne pepper to taste. Serve with hot sauce if desired.

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