Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cauliflower Bake

Hands down, my most useful, and one of my absolute favorite Christmas gifts: the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook by Lauren Ulm. There are soooooo many awesome recipes in this book! I HIGHLY recommend it. I've only had it for a few days and have already tried and loved 2 dishes. Here's one of them: the red and white cauliflower bake. This would make a perfect vegan/veggie Christmas main course.

I edited a few things - originally, I cut back a bit on the nutritional yeast, although the original recipe doesn't actually call for too much more (2 Tbsp), so I may either be on the same page as Ms. Ulm flavor-wise, or maybe I'm developing my vegan taste buds. Either way, this dish is exciting for a number of reasons; here are my 2 main happy surprises with it: 1- I loved the marinara sauce. Usually I don't really like marinara that much, but this one had amazing flavor and still wasn't too tomato-ey, if that makes sense. 2- The white sauce rocked! My husband and I both loved it. It was thick and creamy and actually kind of cheesey tasting. Based on this, I can't wait to try Lauren's version of vegan mac & cheese (another recipe in the book).

Without further ado....

Cauliflower Bake
Adapted from Vegan Yum Yum's Red & White Cauliflower Bake
Serves 6-8

  • 4 cups (1 head) cauliflower, chopped into small pieces
Marinara sauce:
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp dried Italian herbs
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes,* blended (If available in your area, I recommend Muir Glen Organic Stewed Tomatoes)
  • 1/2 veggie bouillon cube
    • 1 package of extra firm tofu
    • 2 tsp dried Italian herbs
    • 1 tsp fresh chopped basil
    • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
    • 1.5 Tbsp nutritional yeast
    • 1 Tbsp olive oil
    • Salt & pepper to taste
    • 2 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 Tbsp water
    White Sauce:
    • 1/4 cup Earth Balance margarine
    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 1 Tbsp tahini
    • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
    • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
    • 1.5-2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
    • 1 cup plain soy or almond milk
    • Salt & pepper to taste
    Garnish, etc
    • 3/4 cup bread crumbs (Italian for extra flavor - I used 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 Italian)
    • 1-2 Tbsp fresh chopped Italian parsley
    • 1-2 Tbsp fresh chopped basil
    • A few cups of fresh spinach or baby greens (if serving the bake on top of greens)
    1. Make the marinara sauce: heat the olive oil, and add in the herbs. Next add the minced garlic, and saute for a minute or two. Then add the blended stewed tomatoes (don't use other canned tomatoes - these have such a good flavor!) and the 1/2 veggie cube, making sure it mixes in well. Keep stirring the sauce occasionally, and let it thicken as you cook it over medium heat for about 10-12 minutes, and then turn off heat and set aside.
    2. While the sauce is still thickening, make the nota-ricota: prep the tofu by draining well (press with paper towels to remove excess water from the tofu). Crumble the tofu and place in a bowl. Mix in the rest of the nota-ricotta ingredients. Note- I didn't have individual dried herbs the recipe called for, so using an Italian herb mix here instead works very well. You can use dried basil, majoram, and rosemary instead though. Mix well and set aside.
    3. Chop the cauliflower into small pieces and steam until tender; set aside.
    4. Make the white sauce: melt the vegan butter in a small sauce pan over low heat, and then add the flour, whisking as you go. Add in the tahini, lemon juice, mustard, and yeast, whisking constantly. Next, add the soy or almond milk slowly, stirring constantly. Add salt & pepper to taste, and continue stirring and heating on medium-high until the sauce is pretty thick. 
    5. Assemble the bake! Spray a 1.5-2 quart pan with non-stick spray, and press the tofu-ricotta all along the bottom. Next, mix together the white sauce & steamed cauliflower, and layer this over the nota-ricotta layer. Add the marinara sauce on top (you might have a little extra if you used a full 2 cans of tomatoes, but letting a bit soak into the next layer wouldn't be a bad thing since it's so flavorful and delicious!). Then sprinkle with the bread crumbs to complete the final layer.
    6. Heat at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, until the bread crumbs are browned and the bake gets bubbly.
    7. Cool for ~5-10 minutes after baking, and then sprinkle with fresh basil & parsley (optional). Also optional: serve on top of a bed of fresh spinach or baby greens. 

    Yum Yum indeed! This was delicious and hearty without being too heavy. I could taste a little nutritional yeast flavor, but it wasn't overwhelming and actually went well with the other flavors here. I thought it was delicious, and so did 3 friends (2 of whom are full-on meat eaters)! If you are serving to a bunch of meat-eaters, you can always cut the nutritional yeast down to 1 Tbsp for each of the white sauce and tofu-ricotta steps.

    I really liked serving this on a bed of fresh greens (I used a baby spinach mix), since I think it balances it out well. Other good sides here include steamed asparagus or broccoli, Swiss chard or kale, or mushrooms. OR, you could layer some fresh baby spinach into the bake between the nota-riccota and cauliflower layers (which I did the second time I made this for some extra veg!)

    This meal was really easy to make, although it did take about an hour all in. I'm definitely using this recipe as a stand-by meal everyone can love!

    Sunday, December 18, 2011

    More new favorites

    Just a quick post on a few of my (new) favorite things...

    Until this year, I had never had a persimmon. I was missing out! I'm still not sure which variety I like best, but this sweet, hint-of-cinnamon fruit is so good!

    My other new favorite thing are these Suzie's crackers/flatbreads. They taste more wholesome and healthy than wheat thins, and go great with a little hummus and some avocado or tomato on them!

    Definitely recommend trying both!

    Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Recipes to try

    *Update: Currently I use Pinterest as a way to keep track of recipes I want to try. Check out my food board here!

    This is a recipe to-do list of sorts - some enticing recipes I've found online but haven't tried yet! Right now my go-to site for new recipe inspiration is Finding Vegan (I am vegetarian now but enjoy eating vegan frequently). In particular, I look for recipes that 1) look good (of course!) 2) don't look too complicated or time-consuming, and usually 3) those that don't require too many new ingredients to track down (while I do enjoy trying new ingredients, it can get expensive if something calls for lots of random oils & spices I'll never use again!) The best recipes are simple, fresh, healthy, and delicious. I can't wait to try out all of these to see if they are too. As I try them, I'll move their links to other pages (main courses, sides, etc).

    All of these are vegan:

    Saturday, November 26, 2011

    Green Bean Salad

    This crisp green bean salad is easy, delicious, and healthy. That's my triple threat for recipe favorites ;-)

    • ~1 lb fresh string green beans, ends trimmed 
    • ~1 tsp olive oil
    • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
    • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    • 1 avocado, sliced into bite-sized pieces
    • Sea salt to taste
    1. Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the green beans and ~ 1 Tbsp of water and cover. Steam for about 2-3 minutes. You want the beans to still be a little crisp.
    2. Allow green beans to cool. Add the walnuts, cranberries, and sea salt. Chill in fridge and just prior to serving add the avocado.

    For a warm version, you could sub the avocado for sauteed apple pieces. Or try adding pomegranete seeds or golden raisins instead of the cranberries. Easy-peasy!

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Chocolate Cherry Cookies

    These delicious chocolatey cookies are like digging into a pint of Cherry Garcia ice cream, but healthier, vegan, and better for sharing because you don't have to fight over the good stuff. They're perfect with a glass of red wine too! The chocolate cookie is like a fudge brownie, and the cherry center is... ummm... the cherry on top ;-)

    If you aren't a fan of cherries, these would also be good with a raspberry filling. See my notes at the end for more on that.

    Recipe from the Tolerant Vegan (altered slightly)
    • 1/2 cup Earth Balance buttery spread
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 3/4 small-medium banana, ripe and mashed
    • 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
    • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
    • 1/4 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp baking soda
    • 1/4 tsp baking powder
    • Dark morello cherries in syrup (you'll need about 24)
    • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
    • 1/2 cup non-dairy vanilla milk
    • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp of the syrup from cherry jar

    1. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl.
    2. Add in the mashed banana and vanilla.
    3. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and cocoa powder. 
    4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well; the batter will be fairly thick.
    5. Preheat the oven to 350 F. 
    6. Scoop out the batter into small balls and slightly flatten. Place on cookie sheet and press a small circle into the center of each cookie using your thumb or forefinger. Add a cherry to each center.
    7. In a small saucepan, place the chocolate chips and milk. Melt over low heat, constantly stirring with a whisk. Remove from heat and add 1-3 tsp of juice from cherry jar (amount depending on how sweet you want the sauce).
    8. Scoop about a tsp of the melted chocolate over the cherries in the center of each cookie.
    9. Bake for 10-12 minutes. After removing from the oven, add another tsp of melted chocolate to cover the top of each cookie and allow to cool.

    I'm actually not much of a chocolate person, but did really like these cookies. I did have about a 1/4 cup of the chocolate sauce leftover though, so if you don't want that hanging around your fridge, I'd cut back the sauce ingredients to 3/4 cup chocolate chips and a little over 1/4 cup milk. I also cut back the syrup used in the sauce from the original recipe since I thought it would be too sweet with any more, but feel free to add up to 3 tsp depending on your preference.

    If you can't find Morello cherries, try another tart dark cherry (the Morello ones taste better though!). The first time I made these I used organic, low sugar maraschino cherries, which worked fine, but might have been a tad sweet. Whatever you do, DON'T use those really fake sugary maraschinos that seem to be fluorescent pink-  they might be good in a cocktail, but you don't want that fake taste overwhelming the cookies.

    As mentioned, a good variation of these would be raspberry chocolate cookies. Simply add about a teaspoon of the raspberry sauce from this recipe to the center of each cookie instead of the cherry. Actually, there are plenty of options to fill the center of these: caramel, white chocolate, more chocolate (death by chocolate cookie?!)...

    These go really well with red wine ;-)

    Time for a girls night?!

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    Vegan Spinach Quiches

    I loved the look & idea of these mini-quiches I saw on Finding Vegan. These little quiches came out great- a delicious quinoa crust and a hearty filling. Yum all around. They are easy to make, and relatively quick - about 30 minutes of prep time and 30 minutes in the oven. These are also good for lunches or storing in the freezer for an easy meal later in the week.

    Adapted from this recipe from the Healthy Hipster.

    • 1 cup cooked quinoa
    • 2 Tbsp ground flax seeds (I used whole flax seeds and ground them in a food processor for a few minutes)
    • 2 Tbsp ground oats/oat flour, or flour
    • 1 tsp sea salt
    • 1/2 Tbsp Spike or other seasoning
    • 1 10 oz package of frozen spinach
    • 2 cloves minced garlic
    • 1/2 tsp tumeric
    • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
    • 1 heaping Tbsp Dijon mustard
    • Juice from 1 lemon
    • 1 package extra firm tofu
    For the crust:
    1. Cook the quinoa according to package instructions (will take about 10-15 minutes). Add the seasoning to the cooked quinoa, along with sea salt to taste.
    2. Add about 1/2 cup (enough to cover the flax seeds) of water to a small bowl with the ground flax seeds. Allow the seeds to soak in the water for 5-10 minutes to thicken. 
    3. Grind the oats in a food processor, or use whole wheat flour or ground oats instead, and add to the cooked quinoa. (I actually added about a spoonful of extra whole oats as well, just for a little additional texture, which I think came out well). After the flax seeds have soaked, add those as well and mix. 
    4. Grease a muffin pan well, and add a large spoonful of the quinoa mix to each of the 12 muffin spots. Press along the outside of the muffin mold to form a crust. (The quinoa mix will be a little sticky, so it's easiest to use a spoon).
    For the filling:
    1. Drain the tofu well, pressing out any excess water. Slice and put into food processor along with the spices and all other filling ingredients besides the spinach. Mix until smooth.
    2. Allow the spinach to thaw (or cook in microwave for a few minutes). Press out as much liquid as you can, making sure the spinach is not watery. Add the spinach to the food processor and briefly blend.
    3. Add about 1/4 cup of the filling to each crust.

    Cook at 350 F for about 30-35 minutes. Allow the mini-quiches to cool for about 5 minutes prior to removing from the pan. Serve warm & enjoy!

    Notes: Based on this recipe, I just might start adding flax seeds to my quinoa dishes now. Is it weird that I like the smell of flax seeds??! In any case, I really liked the resulting flavor of the crust. Speaking of flavor, as with most recipes calling for it, I cut down the nutritional yeast in these quite a bit (from 1/4 cup to 2 Tbsp) - and this worked perfectly for me, as someone who doesn't like overwhelming nutritional yeast taste. I think 2 Tbsp is my limit... any more, and it would have been too much for me. 

    A word on filling the quiches: make sure you press the filling into the crust- how you put it in is pretty much how it will come out, so you want the filling and the crust neatly pressed against the muffin mold. I didn't do this so well, which wasn't a big deal - it still tasted good! But if you are serving for others, you want to aim for a neat little pie. 

    Additions & substitutions: Next time, I'm definitely adding some thinly sliced mushrooms to these- I think they would be a perfect addition here. I also think broccoli would go really well in these - there are so many variations here that would work well - tomatoes, asparagus, peppers (if you like 'em), artichoke hearts.... vegify the quiches to your heart's desire!

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    The Smart Cookie Remake Attempt

    Recently I had a cookie made by The Cookie Department - "The Smart Cookie." It is made with sweet potato, cranberries, oatmeal, and molasses, and sprinkled with a little bit of sea salt. It's big, sort of flat, and soooo chewy. It is AMAZING. And they sell it at the coffee bar across the street from me. This could be trouble.

    Check it out here.

    Oh yeah, and it's vegan.

    I decided I had to attempt to make it myself. Anything that good, I wanted in my recipe arsenal.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Mac and Not-cheese

    Ok, so I had some issues with my last vegan "mac & cheese" dish. But I still wanted to attempt another. When my husband was out of town for work, I made my move on this recipe (recommended by a reader- thank you!) from the well-known and well-loved blog Oh She Glows. She said it was "husband approved," but as my husband takes serious offense to cheese substitutes, I thought I'd give it a go on my own.

    First, I have to say- I have yet to taste a vegan "cheese" pasta dish that tastes anything remotely like real cheese (let's be honest here). Furthermore, I don't really want something that makes you go, "Oh yeah, that pretty much tastes like cheese." Which leads me to the decision that these dishes should really not be called mac & cheese dishes. Or even cheez, cheeze, or "cheese." Please.

    I'm not saying they're bad. To the contrary. But I think they'd have more success with non-veggers if we all just gave up on trying to call them cheese. The sauce in these pasta dishes is something else entirely. This dish was very good, with a hearty, smooth sauce that definitely looked like mac & cheese cheese. But it didn't taste like it. Which is fine- because it tasted like a sort of creamy squash sauce, and I love squash. But I guess mac & squash sauce just doesn't sound the same...

    Cheesey looking...

    Here's the recipe, adapted from Oh She Glows:
    • 1 medium butternut squash
    • 1 Tbsp Earth Balance
    • 3/4 cup unsweetened unflavored almond milk
    • 1 Tbsp flour
    • 1.5 Tbsp nutritional yeast (I cut back from 6! - because I can't stand the flavor)
    • 2.5 tsp Dijon mustard
    • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
    • Salt & pepper to taste
    • Package vegan pasta (such as brown rice, quinoa, or kamut)
    • Optional mix-ins: peas, kale, spinach (any or all!) 
    1. Cook the squash - (I sliced in half and placed face down in pan with about an in of water in oven at ~ 425 for maybe 40 minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork; but you can also cut it and cook it as described here.)
    2. In a small saucepan, melt the Earth Balance over low heat. Meanwhile, mix the milk & flour in a small bowl and add them to the melted butter. Stir in the Dijon, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and salt & pepper and whisk over low heat for about 5-7 min, until thickened.
    3. When the squash is done, scoop out 1 cup of cooked squash and place in a blender. Add in the sauce from the saucepan and blend well.
    4. Cook pasta according to package instructions. If using, steam your mix ins.
    5. Mix it all together & enjoy!
    A nice warm meal!

    I really enjoyed this dish. It's easy to make, healthy, and totally satisfying. Like I said, it didn't taste at all like cheese, but it did taste good. Just like a tofu scramble doesn't taste like scrambled eggs, but is still a good breakfast. I know some people might say if I used all the nutritional yeast, it would taste like cheese, but trust me, I've done that, and nope, it doesn't. The taste of nutritional yeast is not the taste of tangy or nutty cheese. But some people like it, and it does have nutritional benefits, so I use it in moderation.

    Now, back to thinking of alternate names for vegan cheese-substitute sauces made from squash.... squeeze? squauce? Lookslikecheesebutisactuallymadefromsquash sauce? Might be a bit long.... ;-)

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Tofu Crunch Salad

    Delicious tofu salad

    This is a recipe that should be a standby for any vegetarian or vegan - and one that is certain to liked by non-vegans too. It's kind of like a vegan egg or chicken salad, and is awesome as a dip, in a sandwich, or on its own.

    I threw this together after a very long day, when the last thing I wanted to do was take a lot of time to prepare a meal. Usually, that means I either open a can of beans and throw a few things in a salad, or have the stand-by Mexican burrito. But, I remembered seeing this dish on Finding Vegan, and figured it couldn't be that time consuming. Just about 20 minutes later, I was enjoying a delicious, healthy dinner that was far more exciting than your average salad.

    Recipe inspired by Tofu Crunch Salad from Kathy on Healthy Happy Life.

    • 1 package extra firm tofu
    • 2-3 large pieces of celery
    • 1/2-3/4 medium-sized Gala apple
    • 1/8 cup chopped parsley 
    • Optional add ins: lightly steamed asparagus or peas, halved red grapes, golden raisins, or sunflower seeds.
    For the dressing/mayo:
    • 3.5 Tbsp Vegenaise (vegan mayo)
    • 2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
    • 1 Tbsp agave syrup
    • ~1 Tbsp garlic & dill seasoning powder (see notes below; can sub dried dill instead)
    • Shake of mustard powder
    • Shake of celery seed
    • Salt & pepper to taste
    1. Drain the water out of the tofu using a paper towel. As Kathy notes, the more water you drain out, the more flavor the tofu can soak in- that's good advice, so I'm passing it along here! Cut the tofu into bite-sized chunks after draining. I cooked my tofu in a pan with a little olive oil until lightly browned, though the original recipe calls for steaming; either way works! 
    2. Mix together the dressing ingredients.
    3. Chop up the desired amount of celery, apple, and parsley.
    4. Add all ingredients together in a bowl and toss to coat. 

    Notes: The dressing is so delicious in this salad, and the apple and celery add such a nice crunch! I also really like the asparagus in it, but I only added it in because I had some from the night before; it is also good with peas (especially if you are having it in a wrap), and I'm sure grapes would go really well in here also. For the dressing,  I didn't really measure the items out, other than the vegan mayo, and just kind of went by taste. I have this great garlic & dill dip seasoning that worked really well as a spice to add to this mix, though Kathy had some other seasoning suggestions. I just edited things to work for my palate, but I think it came out really well! Definitely light, flavorful, a tiny bit sweet & tangy, and just really good.

    This is my new stand-by tofu salad. Try it!

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Broccoli, Mushroom, and Tofu Salad

    Getting right back on the vegan wagon, I made another new vegan dish recently, and this one was a total keeper.
    Delicious healthy broccoli salad

    This recipe, did, though, include another "weird vegan" ingredient that was a first for me: Vegenaise. Yup, vegan mayonnaise. Now, I don't even like regular mayonnaise. In fact, I pretty much avoid it at all costs. So it was a real leap of faith for me to try this. BUT, the link on Finding Vegan said "the best broccoli salad EVER." Ok, fine- you've got me. I'll try it. (I did, however, take my own advice and decrease the amount of vegenaise used in the original recipe).

    Recipe adapted from/ inspired by 'Vegan Broccoli Salad' on Namely Marly.

    Ingredients: (serves 4)
    • 1 block extra firm tofu, drained and cut into bite-sized cubes (to drain tofu, not only remove all the package liquid, but also press with paper towels until excess water is removed)
    • 2 large heads of broccoli, cut into florets (about 4-5 cups worth)
    • 1 package of shittake mushrooms, sliced and washed
    • 1 Tbsp EVOO (for pan to cook tofu)
    • Sea salt to taste
    Dressing ingredients:
    • 1/2 cup vegan mayo (I used Follow Your Heart brand Vegenaise)
    • 1.5 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
    • scant 1/4 cup agave syrup (you could do 1/8 cup plus a Tbsp)
    • 1 Tbsp chia seeds
    1. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl; it's ok if it's runny, as within 15 minutes the chia seeds will start to form their gel and the dressing will thicken a little.
    2. Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add in the tofu cubes. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, and then stir & turn, evenly cooking each side until the cubes look lightly golden brown (this should take about 10-12 minutes). Add in the shittake mushrooms and cook about another 2-3 minutes, until mushrooms are tender.
    3. Steam the broccoli, making sure you DO NOT OVERCOOK. This is key. The last thing you want is mushy broccoli- it would completely ruin the salad. The broccoli should only steam for about 3 minutes, and when you stick a fork in it, you should be able to insert the fork but it shouldn't just slide through. It will change color slightly from that light raw green to just steamed darker (but not deep) green.
    4. Drain the broccoli and run under cold water in a colander to ensure it doesn't continue steaming. 
    5. Transfer to a large bowl and pour in some of the dressing - you may not need all of it, just enough to lightly coat the broccoli. (I only used about 1/2 of my dressing! But it's good to have on hand later for salads, wraps, sandwiches, or even for a little dip- it will thicken a bit over time bc of the chia seeds).

    I was definitely skeptical of the vegan mayo. But, once I found out it's made of natural ingredients - canola oil, brown rice syrup, soy protein, mustard flour and lemon juice, I figured it was worth trying. The dressing was a little tangy & sweet, and just a tiny bit creamy but still very light. This was a delicious, easy salad, and there is plenty of room for variation. I like the shittake mushrooms in it, but chick peas, regular peas, raisins, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds would all be good additions/substitutions. You could also sub tempeh for the tofu (as in the original recipe, which called for smoked tempeh 'bacon' - I avoided because I don't like smoky flavors), or probably even cannellini beans would work for protein too. This is also a good make-ahead dish, as it's meant to be served cold, and stores well for at least a few days. Hellooooo good lunch leftovers!

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Adventures in Veganizing...

    The past few months, I've been going a little nuts trying tons of vegan recipes. (I'm still vegetarian, but eat a lot more vegan). All the gorgeous food photos and innovative recipes on Finding Vegan keep inspiring me to try things I've never even thought of before.  But, before I go on with recipes, let's get to the title of the post. Remember the movie Adventures in Babysitting? Yeah. Basically, everything that could go wrong did. Now, the comparison isn't completely correct- it's not like everything with my recent vegan dishes has gone wrong. I've found a ton of great recipes, and posted some major successes (such as polenta stacks, a vegan tart, a kale wrap, maple tofu, and roasted Brussels sprouts). But, there have been a few problems recently.

    FIRST, I had huge hopes for the recipe in this post- an acorn squash vegan alfredo pasta- and what with all these amazing pictures, I was bustin' out of my little vegan booties with excitement to try it.

    After about 2 hours of cooking, plus the 45 minutes at the store to get everything, this is what I got. It looked awesome. It had white acorn squash in it, which is awesome. There was no way it couldn't taste awesome.

    It didn't taste awesome.

    It was incredibly much so, that it made me wonder if I had accidentally used 1 Tbsp instead of 1 tsp of red pepper flakes- and while I did have 1 glass (ok, 2) of wine while making this, I don't think I did. But it wasn't just that- the taste of the nutritional yeast flakes used in the sauce was very strong. HOWEVER, I don't think it was a total loss. It actually tasted a lot better the next day- the flavors had settled and cooled down a bit. And with a few tweaks, I think this could have been a lot better. Here are some lessons learned from my vegan alfredo adventure:
    • Don't be afraid to be a little afraid of new ingredients: Nutritional yeast flakes have a strong flavor (some call it "savory" - I call it a little bit of "nutty" with a whole lot of "yeasty"), so it's best to ease into it if you're not used to it. It's ok to use a little less of an ingredient you aren't familiar with (at least in cooking, anyway- not so true in baking). Recipes are often works-in-progress.
    • Taste as you go! If a recipe calls for a range of spices (ie, 2-3 Tbsp), start off with the lower range, taste, and add in as necessary.
    • Don't judge a book by it's cover: If it looks like cheese or cream sauce, and it photographs like cheese or cream sauce.... it must taste like cheese or cream sauce, right? NO. I have always been a little skeptical (and, ok, curious) of things like vegan mac and "cheese". How does that work, really? Well, the idea is usually to use some kind of starch- such as squash or potato, or sometimes flour + vegan butter, and add to it spices, Dijon mustard, and nutritional yeast (for flavor). But the resulting flavor is not identical to what it looks like or is attempting to replace, so be prepared for that. I had a similar experience trying vegan summer zucchini pasta- it looked creamy & rich, but instead was light & zesty. There is also, of course, a texture difference. 
    On the more positive side, I also learned:
    • Kamut pasta is good! It's a pasta made from a grain that is high in protein. Great way for veggers to get protein. Try it!
    • White acorn squash is delicious. I'd only ever had regular acorn squash, but I think this may have been even a little sweeter. It was heavenly on its own.
      Here is the link to the recipe updates I would make for this dish next time (assuming I haven't scared you off).

      SECOND, on to vegan pudding. Another curious item. How is such a thing made? What in the world would silken tofu with cocoa powder taste like??

      Answer: It would taste like crap.

      Ok, ok, that's not actually correct- it wasn't that bad. But, here are some lessons learned from my vegan chocolate pudding adventure:
      • Cocoa powder has a chalky and strong taste. Using a melted vegan chocolate, or less cocoa powder, might work better to achieve a smoother texture. 
      • Speaking of texture, vegan pudding is a little grainy. People first switching to non-dairy milks often comment about this - but like the non-dairy milk, I believe that not all vegan puddings are created equal. (Silk soy milk and T.Joe's almond milk, FYI, are not grainy at all). I just need to tweak my recipe a little bit more.
      Now, some of this may be I just need a better food processor- I can't rule that out. On the positive side:
      • Using avocado in the pudding (yes, avocado) is a good way to achieve creaminess. 
      • Pumpkin, chocolate, and maple pair well!
      Again, if I haven't scared you off, here is a link to the chocolate pumpkin pudding recipe, with suggested updates.

      THIRD, wax paper and parchment paper are not the same thing. When making this recipe for homemade oat and fruit bars, I just so happened to use wax paper instead of parchment paper. (I have them both, and grabbed the wrong one). This was totally fine when storing the bars in the fridge; not so fine when I placed them, on the wax paper-lined cookie sheet, in the oven at 325. Not a vegan-specific mishap, but an adventure I had while making a vegan item ;-)

      See that under the bar mix? Yep, WAX paper.
      After the pasta, my husband turned to me and said, "Are you done with this whole vegan thing now?"
      I scowled and didn’t answer. But, I wasn't ready to throw vegan cooking completely out the window. A few not-so great dishes don't cause me to give up. I’m a scientist, after all, and we like to experiment ;-). Furthermore, I don’t believe we can judge an entire cuisine off of one or two dishes.

      These mishaps (at least the first two, anyway) do bring up an overall theme though: in my opinion, the best vegan dishes are those that showcase fresh, natural ingredients; not those that mask them and try to be something they aren't. That's not to say that combinations of natural ingredients with vegan 'tricks' can't (and don't) work well, or that we shouldn't try them, though. How else would we stumble upon innovative new dishes? Somehow, mistakes in the kitchen, as opposed to mistakes in other arenas in life, seem more like adventures than anything else. And I'm all for adventures.

      And let's not forget, she gets the guy at the end of Adventures in Babysitting, and the kids get home safely. Somehow, it all works out. ;-)

      (*UPDATE: this post was written before I had much experience with vegan cooking- it has been a learning process but you CAN make delicious vegan cheese replacement sauces, and puddings...really!)

      Sunday, October 9, 2011

      Vegan Acorn Squash Alfredo Pasta

      I was completely excited by the gorgeous photos of acorn squash alfredo pasta on Healthy Happy Life, and had to try this recipe. It didn't turn out exactly as I'd hoped, so here's how I would edit the original recipe for next time:
      • First, consider this a do-ahead dish. Meaning, make it the day before you want to eat it, and let the flavors settle and mingle overnight in the fridge. Something about the yeast flakes just totally changes with time. When I ate the leftovers the next day, it almost a different dish- much milder and actually fairly tasty.
      • Second, rather than using 1/3 cup of the nutritional yeast flakes, I would down it quite a bit, especially if it is your first time trying them. The yeast flakes have a very strong flavor.
      • Third, I would halve the other spices as well. It was all just a little overwhelming. 
      • Fourth, I had waaaaaay too much sauce, even making a full box of pasta. You could probably get away with halving the sauce ingredients. 
      Accounting for notes above, I'm posting an edited ingredient list from the original- amounts here are reduced but not halved, but you can always store extra sauce for later. The original recipe called for 4 cups of squash.

      Ingredients: (should still make enough to serve 4-6)
      • 3 cups of roasted acorn squash (the majority of a medium-sized squash)
      • 1/2-3/4 cup parsley or fresh basil, chopped
      • 1/2 cup plain almond or soy milk
      • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
      • 1.5 Tbsp Dijon mustard
      • 1.5 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
      • 1.5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
      • 2 cloves roasted garlic
      • 1 Tbsp dried Italian herbs
      • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
      • 1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
      • 1 bag pasta (try: quinoa or kamut pasta)
      • 1 cup fresh crimini mushrooms
      The original recipe made TONS of sauce!

      1. Cut the squash in half, remove seeds, and place face down on baking sheet in an inch of water. Cook at 400 degrees for about an hour.
      2. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, milk, syrup, mustard, yeast flakes, dried Italian herbs and pepper flakes. 
      3. When squash is done cooking, spoon into food processor and add the parsley/basil, garlic, and the whisked sauce mix. (Note: if your food processor is not big enough to hold everything, add half the squash, half the parsley, 1 garlic clove, and half of the whisked mix. You want things to mix evenly). Process well, at least a few minutes, until creamy & completely smooth. 
      4. Cook the pasta. About 2 minutes before it's done, add in the mushrooms to cook them as well. Drain the pasta and mushrooms, and place in a large dish. Add the sauce and coat well. 
      5. To allow flavors to mingle, store in fridge overnight and re-heat the following day.

      See my comments in "Adventures in Veganizing" for additional notes on this dish. I'm looking forward to updating it and trying again, since I think it has potential.

      Saturday, October 8, 2011

      Vegan Chocolate Pumpkin Pudding

      Spotted this recipe for vegan pumpkin chocolate pudding, and the pumpkin was enough to push me over the edge and go for it. I had to try vegan pudding for the first time.

      Recipe adapted from Healthy Food for Living.

      • 3/4 block silken tofu
      • 1/2 small ripe avocado
      • 3/4 cup pumpkin
      • 1/4 cup maple syrup, or maple-flavored agave
      • 1 Tbsp agave syrup for added sweetness
      • Tbsp coconut butter (note: coconut oil=coconut butter if the temp is right, basically!)
      • 1 tsp vanilla
      • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
      • 2 and 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
      Blend all together well in a food processor and chill in the fridge. Optional: sprinkle with instant espresso powder, as in first picture.

      This came out a little grainy/chalky tasting, so see notes on potential edits to this recipe my "Adventures in Veganizing" post. In addition to being a dessert, given the tofu base, this could also be a breakfast or snack item- I actually enjoyed this more having a few spoonfuls in a bowl of strawberries.

      Thursday, October 6, 2011

      Homemade Oat & Fruit Bars

      I've been wanting to make my own 'larabars' for a while, and since I just got a new package of Medjool dates, I figured now was the time to do it! 

      Recipe inspired by the banana bread bars from Kabocha Fashionista
      • 3/4 cup Trader Joe's blueberry muesli (you can sub with plain oats)
      • 1/2 cup oats
      • 1 cup chopped, pitted dates (I used fresh Medjool) 
      • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
      • 1 Tbsp roasted flax seeds (optional, for added protein)
      • 1 medium, ripe banana 
      • 1/4 cup raisins
      • 1/8 tsp pumpkin pie spice (you can sub with cinnamon)
      • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
      • 1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (I used salted, store- bought, but you can always make your own)
      Ingredients for paste
      Fruit paste
      Oat & nut flour
      Pre-cut bars

      1. Add the muesli, oats, seeds, and nuts to a food processor and blend until they make a coarse 'flour.' Transfer into a bowl so you can use the processor for the other ingredients. Optional: Leave out about 1/4 cup of the muesli from processing here, for a little added texture to your bars. I recommend! 
      2. Add the dates, banana, raisins and spices to the food processor after removing the flour, and blend into a paste. You may need to scrape the sides during the process.
      3. Mix the paste & flour well. You may want to add extra muesli or oats here, depending on the paste:flour ratio (I did; the original recipe only called for 3/4 cup oats - I upped the ingredients above to a total of 1 and 1/4 cups oats +muesli, but you can always edit as you go by adding more dry ingredients at this stage).
      4. Line a baking sheet or flat pan with some wax or parchment paper, and form the dough into a large rectangle. Store overnight or 24 hours.
      5. Check the hardness of your bars- if too moist, you can try putting in the oven at 300 degrees for about 10-15min, and then putting back into the fridge for a few more hours. I'm not sure the baking actually helps to solidify them, so it may be best to just leave in the fridge longer. 
      6. Cut into bars & wrap in tin foil to save for later. I store mine in the fridge. I also cut mine into little bite-sized squares, rather than full-bar sized, so that I can grab them for a little snack whenever. 

        It's hard to go wrong with the flavors here. These are easy to make and delicious! I love the addition of the pumpkin seeds too. These could easily be altered to different flavor varieties- using figs, golden raisins, dried cherries, etc! I liked using the blueberry muesli here because it has dried blueberries in it, which go very nicely with the other fruits. If you are looking for something packed with even more nutrients, you could always add more flax seeds, or add bran, chia seeds, almonds... the options are endless!

        Wednesday, October 5, 2011

        Tea for the soul

        So true! 

        I've been enjoying Yogi brand's blueberry green tea recently- it has a great flavor and is really good hot or cold. I also love that the tea bags have inspirational little sayings on them.

        These were this morning's:

        Thanks to all the teachers out there, the real masters ;-)

        Tuesday, October 4, 2011

        My new favorite thing...

        This is my new favorite thing:

        Pumpkin Pie Spice. Mmmmm. I've been adding it to my oatmeal and coffee every morning. It smells AMAZING.

        I'm not much of a latte person - I like my coffee strong & black (insert joke about how I like my men) - and last year, after getting an espresso machine for Christmas, I've switched from coffee to espresso. But, sometimes I do add a tiny bit of steamed almond or soy milk to my double espresso, as in the pictures here.

        This past year I've re-discovered Trader Joe's. I used to go frequently when I lived in Cambridge, then less so when I moved into Boston and later San Francisco, when the closest store wasn't walking distance, and I got fed up with their produce not being the freshest. Now that we live walking distance to one again, I go more often, although not usually for fresh veg. I love finding new special things like this though!

        Sunday, October 2, 2011

        Nut Butter-Topped Baked Sweet Potato

        I like having stuffed baked potatoes as a filling, easy meal, but it never seems very original. I took a cue from a food blogger and tried a new swing on things: baked sweet potato. Topped with cashew nut butter!

        Nut butter ingredients:
        I used the base from the blueberry vegan tart I made a little while ago (recipe from Vegan Culinary Crusade), slightly edited.
        • 1 cup cashews, soaked 2 hours
        • 2 medjool dates, pitted & chopped
        • 1 fig, chopped
        • 1 TBSP agave syrup
        • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
        • pinch of salt
        After soaking the nuts (I use just enough water to cover them; don't drain off the water when mixing the nuts in), combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. You may need to add a few extra Tbsp of water, depending on desired thickness.

        Cook the sweet potato as you would a normal baked potato; wash the skin, and put in oven at 350 for about 45 min, or until a fork comes out easily. To cut baking time in half, pierce the potato with a knife and cook in the microwave on high for about 3-4 minutes, then place in oven until fully tender.

        The nut butter is also good as a dip- try with low-fat wheat thins or other nutty cracker. You can vary the sweetness by adding more or less of the figs, dates, and agave syrup.

        Saturday, October 1, 2011

        Chia smoothies

         Happy Vegan MoFo! (that's MOnth of FOod). To kick it off, here's a chia smoothie...

        Until a few months ago, I had never heard of Chia seeds. If you would have said "Chia..", I would have said, "pet." But, apparently, they are all the rage in the vegan blogging world. So, since everyone else was jumping off the bridge, I thought I would too.

        So here's my first try using Chia seeds, inspired by this recipe from HappierHealthierJeffie and a little bit from posts on Running with Spoons.

        • 1 scoop chocolate Spirutein
        • 1 cup vanilla unsweetened almond or other non-dairy milk (I like Trader Joe's almond milk best! or Silk lowfat vanilla soymilk)
        • 1 frozen banana 
        • 1 Tbsp chia seeds
          Blend to enjoy!

          So.... how did it taste? Pretty much just like it would without the seeds, but a little thicker. I also really liked using the frozen banana - it's a nice way to get added thickness and coldness, without using ice (which never blends fully in my not-so-great blender).

          It seemed like most of my chia seeds ended up on the side of the blender or my cup... after looking up some information online (ummm, AFTER making and drinking my smoothie), I realized that perhaps it's best to soak the chia seeds first. Since I was only using 1 Tbsp of the seeds, it's fine to do as above, but it seems it's recommended to drink water if you are having unsoaked chia seeds, since they can absorb water within your body, which could lead to dehydration (after reading this, I ran to my Brita). Next time, I think I will let the chia seeds sit in the milk for a little while, or else soak them in water for 15 minutes, whisk, and use the resulting "chia gel" - chia seeds soak up to 9 times their weight in water.

          An update: when I did this the next day, it worked much better! It's also just kind of cool to see the gel form and the tiny little seeds transform. Using the gel makes the consistency of the smoothie better as well. I put 1 Tbsp of chia seeds in a small bowl and added enough water to cover them. I stirred a little bit, and 15 minutes later, voilĂ ! Gel!

          Chia gel

          Alternate smoothie flavor versions:
          • Fig-a-licious: sub a few ice cubes and 1 chopped fig for the banana. This tatstes a little like a fig newton, and is slightly lower in calories than using the bannana. 
          • Fresh fruit: blueberries and strawberries also go well with the Spiru-tein powder.
          • Other Spiru-tein flavors: (Spiru-tein is just a protein powder) they have 20 different flavors, but the easiest to find are usually (in addition to the chocolate) vanilla, banana, tropical fruit, and strawberry. I've only tried vanilla, tropical fruit, and chocolate; I think using something fairly neutral is good bc it gives you more options for mix-ins with fresh fruit, but the cookies and cream and cookie dough flavors do sound a little enticing!
          Chia seed information:
          They call chia seeds the "Aztec superfood," and the nutritional benefits list of these seeds is long- they are high in fiber, omega-3s, protein, and calcium. They are also reported to control appetite and sugar levels, keep you hydrated (that is, when soaked), and aid endurance. That's one powerful little seed!

          In addition to smoothies, chia seeds can be added into oatmeal, or the chia gel could be used in baked goods. They seem to be a great way to get additional nutrients, especially if you are on a diet that prevents you from getting these things from other natural sources.

          Chia seeds soaked in water: chia gel