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