Thursday, November 29, 2018

Plant-based Pepper Steak

Growing up, one of my mom's specialties was pepper steak. I was craving some nostalgia this week, so made this plant-based version. It's really tasty.

Pepper Steak
Serves 2-4


1 pkg.    Gardein beefless tips
2 med.   green peppers chopped
1 med.   onion chopped
3-4.        garlic cloves minced
1 pkg.    frozen sliced mushrooms (I used Trader Joe's mushroom medley)
2 med.   fresh tomatoes cut in wedges
8 oz.      mushroom broth
3-4 Tbls soy sauce
1 Tbls    chili garlic sauce
2-3Tbls. cornstarch
Lots of   black pepper
1 Tbls.   oil (I used peanut oil)
1/2 pkg  green onions for garnish
1.5 c.      brown rice


Cook rice per instructions.

Heat a pan or wok on medium high. Open the bag of Gardein and dump in the cornstarch and use the bag to coat the frozen beefless tips. Sautés onions for 1-2 minutes in a little oil. Add green peppers and garlic and saute 2-3 minutes. Add in the frozen mushrooms and if you can cover the pan for 2-3 minutes. Cook vegetables until done and reserve vegetables and liquid in a bowl. Add oil and dump the coated beefless tips in the pan/wok to brown. Use up to half the mushroom broth to deglaze the pan as necessary. Cook 4-5 minutes before adding back in the veggies and their liquid and tomato wedges. Mix the remaining half of broth with soy sauce and chili garlic sauce and add to the pan. Cook another 3 minutes or so. The cornstarch from the beefless tips should thicken the sauce to a light gravy consistency. If needed, sprinkle a small amount of extra cornstarch to achieve the consistency you desire (do not add in scoops or it will get clumps!) Add a lot of black pepper (to taste.) Serve over rice and garnish with sliced green onions. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Lemony Kale and Sausage Pasta

This dish packs flavor by coating the pasta and greens in the caramelized bits from browning the onions, garlic and sausage and deglazing the pan. The lemon zest and juice and nutritional yeast balance the caramelized sweetness and elevate the dish to next level yum. Don't forget to give the pasta a few minutes in the pan with this goodness to absorb all the flavor. I hope you enjoy!


1 pkg   Beyond Meat sausage sliced in rounds (I used bratwurst. Sub your favorite veg. sausage)
1          medium onion diced

3-4       garlic cloves minced
4 c.       kale chopped
1/2 box whole wheat rotini (Sub your favorite pasta)
1           lemon zested and juice
1 Tbls   olive oil
2 tsp     crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 tsp     garlic powder
2 Tbls   nutritional yeast
             salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c     broth or water to deglaze the pan (I used leftover mushroom broth)


Put pasta water on to boil and cook pasta according to box.

Heat large pan (I like cast iron) to medium high and add olive oil. Sauté diced onions for 1-2 mins until start to brown. Add minced garlic, sausage slices, spices and brown for 2-3 minutes. Deglaze pan with 1/4c of liquid. Add chopped kale and let wilt for 2 minutes. Zest whole lemon and slice and juice into pan (optional: slice thin slices of lemon from the middle to garnish.) Add nutritional yeast and remaining liquid to deglaze pan. Toss cooked pasta in kale and sausage and allow pasta to absorb flavors (~2 minutes). Salt and pepper to taste. If needed, add more liquid for final deglaze. Enjoy!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Where's the Beef in an Instant (Pot)

Visiting my mom for Thanksgiving, she surprised me with an early Christmas present (and Black Friday find): an Instant Pot! I had been obsessing for a month about whether or not my cooking life would be revolutionized with a gadget that was a pressure cooker, yogurt maker, slow cooker, and more. Scroll to the bottom of this blog entry for my Beefless stew Instant Pot recipe.

That weekend, I set about experimenting with these solid, plant-based recipes (highly recommend keeping a pinterest list of instant pot recipes you find online):

1) Steel Cut Oats
The slight chewiness with the creamy texture, bright sweet pops of plumped up dried cranberries. What's not to love about steel cut oats except the time and attention they take? Worry no more with this set it and forget it you can make your oats while in the shower and make enough to last the week while you're at it.

2) Kabocha Squash
Rinse squash, cut it in half, and scoop out seeds. Place 1 cup water in instant pot pot, place trivet in the pot (handles up) and add squash halves. Add lid, set pressure cooker on high for 5 minutes, let pressure release naturally (~20-25 mins, jiggle the lid a little or use manual release if it's not done yet.) Squash will be fall out of skin, moist with no need to add salt, sugar or "butter."

I love this almost dessert like squash and this recipe did not disappoint. In fact, as a result, I now have 3 more squash varieties on hand to make in the instant pot. None could live up to the Kabocha though, it's sooooo good.

3) Lasagna Soup
I subbed whole wheat penne for the noodles, and used Gardein beefless crumbles. I also mixed up a quick cashew cream with nutritional yeast and a splash of lemon juice to add at the end and allowed it to thicken for a few minutes with the pot on "keep warm." Definitely will make this one again!

4) Tomatillo Poblano White Beans
Do you love the bright flavor of tomatillo and creamy great northern beans? Are you ready to have your mind blown at how fast you can go from dry, non-soaked beans to dinner? This is a great recipe to try.

Now, the piece de resistance. This was the best beefless stew I've ever made, and I've made quite a few.

Beefless Stew in an Instant Pot

The vegetables:
1/2 onion diced
2-3 carrots diced
2-3 celery stalks diced
3 garlic cloves minced
1/2 pkg frozen mixed mushroom blend (or a 10oz carton of mushrooms your choice, sliced)
1-2 potatoes (I prefer yukon gold, skin on) diced
1Tblspn olive oil (optional)

The broth:
4c water
2 cubes Not Beef bouillon cubes
1 bay leaf
1-2 tsp thyme
black pepper (optional)
1 Tblspn red wine vinegar (or red wine)
2 tsp shoyu (or low sodium soy sauce)

The umami flavor bomb:
1 pkg gardien beefless tips
1/2 pkg frozen mixed mushroom blend
1/4c cornstarch
2 Tblspn olive oil
2c water
2tsp roasted garlic better than bouillon

Turn your Instant Pot on saute for 5-7 mins and add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. If you're not adding the roasted garlic better than bouillon in your flavor bomb, I recommend more time sauteing and cooking just the onions first until they brown/caramelize a little for that roasted goodness. Add in half the mushrooms, diced potato and the broth ingredients. Put the lid on with vent closed and set pressure cooker to high for 10 minutes. Vent manually or naturally.

Have your roasted garlic (or other broth/water) on hand. Open your bag of gardien and add the cornstarch directly into the bag and coat the frozen beefless tips. If possible, use a cast iron pan to heat your oil and add in the gardien tips to begin browning, when the tips and starch begin to brown add in the mushrooms and if necessary a little broth to deglaze. You want the pan mostly dry though so the tips brown well on all sides, as needed to avoid burning add broth and using a wood spoon scrape the tasty brown bits off the pan (deglaze).  The broth will thicken quickly because of the cornstarch. Toward the end of cooking (5-7 minutes), add the remaining broth to finish deglazing the pan. Set aside off heat until the pressure cooker is done.

When you have the lid off your instant pot, add the beefless tips and mushrooms with the gravy/glaze. Scoop a few ladles of broth from the pot into the pan to get as much of that tasty goodness out of the pan and into the pot! If you want to thicken up the broth some more, add cornstarch very sparingly and stir to avoid clumping.


Sunday, October 29, 2017


The moment I felt a cool breeze in September I was struck with the excitement and anticipation of one of my favorite aspects of Fall: pumpkin spice. Two years ago on a drive to my parents' house, I listened as a guest on public radio claimed the death of pumpkin and the rise of the other gourds. I found myself banging my hand on the steering wheel and condemning this sacrilege. True story. Maybe you're not that kind of fan (or maybe you are), but if you like pumpkin spice you'll like this post (don't worry, there's love for the other gourds too.)

My guide to hosting a #PumpkinSpiceEverything brunch:

1) Invite a crowd of pumpkin spice enthusiasts

I put out the 30 day notice to a group of friends: #PumpkinSpiceEverything brunch was happening. I reminded them how serious I was by sharing this, and suggesting the non-enthusiasts may want to sit this one out:

Also, make sure you accommodate your guests' dietary needs. Seems like this might be obvious for plant-based eaters with their own dietary restrictions, but I have friends who are gluten-free and soy-free so my menu reflects that. I find the easiest way to do this is by serving choose-your-own-adventure menus (ex. baked potato bar, make your own pizza, or for this brunch a crostini and waffle bar.

2) Gather Pumpkin Spice products EARLY

I started to gather the amenities the moment I saw them (they saturate the market in September, but the best options may be gone by mid-October.) I purchased Daiya's seasonal pumpkin spice cheesecake and Almond Dream pumpkin spice almond milk. I missed out on Califia Farm's pumpkin spice latte this season (buy it early, folks!)

3) Prep what you can in advance

I'd add to that: decide what you'll make and what you'll buy pre-made. Case in point: I had the pumpkin in my cart at Trader Joe's trying to rationalize how I could make time in my busy week to prep it because I love pumpkin seeds in the shell, and then there on an aisle cap was a big bag of pumpkin seeds in the shell ready to hour's work and mess avoided. On the other hand, a specialty shop had a $8 jar of spicy pumpkin butter, and you can make your own in 20 minutes with a can of pumpkin puree and spices (recipe below.) For the menu below, I started prepping 3 days in advance.

4) Have fun and enlist help

If you want to make all these dishes for one party, you're going to need at least 2 extra set of hands (or an award for being super human.) Also, cut the menu back, turn it into a special meal for your household. Just have fun, or what's the point?

Now, the piece de resistance: the #PumpkinSpiceEverything Brunch waffles:

Pumpkin Spice Waffles with Savory or Sweet Toppings

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is my vegan recipe guru, and the waffle recipe is hers. I made it gluten-free by using Arrowhead Mills gluten-free all purpose flour blend (I needed to use more of the gluten free flour to achieve the right consistency.)

Savory Topping: Spicy Pumpkin Butter with Kale, Mushroom, Sausage, and Squash Hash

Spicy Pumpkin Butter
adapted from this Minimalist Baker recipe. This is the first thing I made, and I used it in the pumpkin spice nice cream recipe below.

30 oz Pumpkin puree (2 - 15 oz cans)
1 T lemon juice
1/4 c maple syrup
2 T pumpkin spice
2 t ancho chili powder
1/2 t cayenne powder
crushed red pepper (as you see fit .5 - 1t)

In a small pot over medium heat, add all ingredients (I added the chili half way through the cooking.) Cook at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and reduce heat to keep it at a simmering bubble. Stores in the fridge for 2 weeks.

makes 4 servings as a meal (or 10-12 toppings for waffles)

1 large onion
1 pkg cremini mushrooms (8 oz)
1 large bunch kale (I used lacinato/dinosaur)
1 pkg Gimme Lean sausage (contains soy)
1 1/2 c squash (small dice, I used red kuri)
3 cloves of  garlic
black pepper
olive oil
dash of chili powder or crushed red pepper (I used ancho)

Dice all your vegetables and keep them separate. Keep a medium size mixing bowl nearby. Heat your pan to medium-high (cast iron is best) with a little olive oil. Add the onions. When they get translucent (1-2 mins), add in the mushrooms and garlic with a pinch of salt and brown. The trick to the tasty carmelization is to not crowd the pan and cook off the liquid the onions and mushrooms release (salt helps draw it out.) Empty the mixture into the mixing bowl.  Apply more oil and grind some black pepper into the oil and give it 15-30 seconds to "bloom" before crumbling in the gimme lean sausage. While the sausage browns, keep breaking down the crumbles so the size is consistent with your veggies. When cooked, add to the mixing bowl. Apply more oil to the pan and add the squash and chili powder (after 2 mins), add in the kale and let it cook down for 5 or so minutes, make sure to stir and you can add some water and cover to steam if you like it well-cooked. Add in the contents of the mixing bowl and combine.

1/4 c pepitas (pumpkin seed without the shell)
1 fruit - pomegranate arils (seeds)

Cook waffles* per Isa's recipe. Slather on some spicy pumpkin butter, a heaping helping of hash, and sprinkle toppings on as you see fit. Enjoy!

* I had to borrow a waffle maker from a friend. If you don't have one, turn it into a pancake party!

Sweet Topping: Pumpkin Spice Nice Cream, Coconut Whip Cream and Toasted Pecans (my favorite!)

Pumpkin Spice Nice Cream
adapted from the Feasting on Fruit recipe

1-1.5 c spicy pumpkin butter (see above, about half of the recipe)
4-6 frozen bananas broken into chunks
1/4 c vanilla unsweetened non-dairy milk

Blend all of the above in a food processor or vitamix blender until smooth like soft serve. Serve immediately or store in the freezer for up to a week. Must thaw 5-15 minutes before being scoopable out of the freezer.

1 pkg So Delicious coconut whip cream (I used lite)
1/4 c pecans (Toast in a dry cast iron pan on low-medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring. They'll smell amazing when done.)

Stay tuned for the rest of the brunch menu! Here's a teaser:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Boozy Cocktails

"If it wasn't for the olives in his martini, he'd starve to death." - Milton Berle

Today's theme is boozy foods; but let's be honest: the best way to enjoy liquor is in a cocktail. So, that's what we'll do here. Beer, wine, they're just fine; but cocktails, they're divine!

I like cocktails; specifically, gin cocktails. Hang with me even if you think gin tastes like pine needles. I purchased my home a few years ago, and noticed its 100th birthday would be in 2016. Inspiration hit! Why not host a cocktail party in honor of the birthday, and focus on 100 year old recipes (when gin was celebrated in all its glory.) Imagine my utter joy when I discovered an online scanned copy of Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks from 1916.

First, extremely important step, is to a host a pre-party cocktail recipe sampling party with a friend or two. You need to have quality control (and another excuse to make fancy cocktails at home.) We perused the recipes and made a list of what sounded good and doable with some of our on hand alcohol. Notably, vodka really was not a thing in American cocktails 100 years ago which is just fine by me. There was also at least three types of gins used in the recipes (my kind of recipe book!)  Interestingly, there was a series of cocktails that allowed you to choose the alcohol base: gin, brandy, or whiskey. The series of cocktails included: Smashes; Slings, Fizz and Daisies.

Smash: playfully flavorful muddled mint, orange slice and a real maraschino cherry.
Sling: enjoyably light lemon, orange and soda. (Note: Slings in bars can be very different featuring grenadine.)
Fizz: simply refreshing lemon juice and peel, soda water, powdered sugar (note: some gin fizzes use egg white, so be careful ordering at a bar.)
Daisy: fancy, fruity maraschino syrup, orgeat (almond) syrup, lemon and seltzer.

We decided on three signature cocktails: Fisherman's Prayer, Gin Daisy, and the Night Cap shot (as the farewell drink, of course.) We chose Night Cap mostly because it featured alcohol that I had not tried before (Benedictine) and for the story from the recipe book: "take off at a single draught, after which say 'good night.'"

Before the party you want to prep the cocktail mixers, adornments and signature drink by the pitcher. This will ensure you get to enjoy the party; rather than, serving as an amateur on-call bartender all night. Truthfully, most of our guests chose to just enjoy the three course signature cocktails we arranged. Though a few brave souls used the tablet version of the 1916 recipe book to choose their own cocktail adventure. Note: some vegans do not eat sugar that is made using bone char. You can make your own powdered sugar if you're worried about that by using a food processor on raw sugar (cover the top tightly or you will have dust everywhere), or use a vegan sugar-based simple syrup.

I knew I would have a few guests who would want a non-alcoholic option, and wanted them to experience the century throwback too. Lucky for me, Pepsi released a 1893 recipe version of cola and ginger cola in 2016. The 1916 recipe book also includes non-alcoholic options like almond (orgeat) lemonade and soda.

What party is complete without some snacks? Sticking to the century old theme and staying vegan, the food spread included: ghiradelli dark chocolates, twizzlers, pretzels, potato chips and dum dum suckers.

For entertainment, we set up a projector showing silent Charlie Chaplin movies and old-time cartoons (beware, some are pretty racist and sexist.) We also had a playlist of music from that era. The piece de resistance for entertainment? Blow Football (straws and a cotton ball or ping pong ball if you're fancy.)

There were some gin converts at the party (success!), and we had a blast sipping on some truly remarkable cocktails (success!) The theme was just enough reason to make a get together a "special occasion." What's your tip to make an occasion special? 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes and Plant-Based Options

Today's VeganMofo theme is "Sell Yourself." Oh my, as a Minnesotan, that makes me uncomfortable... we're all above average and, somehow also, no better than anyone else (at least in Minnesota, don't get me started on state rivalries.) So rather than sell myself, let me sell Minnesota. Really, this is my love letter to my home and my invitation for you to visit Minnesota and enjoy some of its splendor. Or, if you already live here, maybe discover a new reason to love to call Minnesota home.

1) Vegan Food
Herbivorous Butcher, the first vegan "butcher shop", in Minneapolis is a must-see for plant-based enthusiasts. With nearly a dozen deli meats and various sausages, steaks, ribs, cheeses and the like, there are tons of options. As they say, #AllVeganEverything. My personal favorite is their monster Italian cold cut sub featuring pastrami, capicola ham, pepperoni and mozzarella.

Lots of local restaurants incorporate HB's products, so you can make nearly every Pizza Nea menu item vegan or check out the fan-favorite J.Selby's, a plant-based eatery in St. Paul (um, they also carry amazing buffalo cauliflower "wings" and "soyclone" ice cream shakes with options like brownies or cookies and cream.)

Pizza Luce (try their vegan rinotta on a pizza) and Seward Cafe (great breakfasts) have been rocking the vegan offerings for years. The Dogg Haus (Roseville and St. Paul skyway) offers a ton of vegan hot dog options; including the quintessential chicago dog (I'm so Minnesotan I add ketchup, sorry.)

Minnesota also is home to a vibrant food scene featuring the cuisines of some of the immigrant cultures that consider Minnesota home today. Some of my favorites are Unideli and Tori Ramen's ramen soup; Quang or Jasmine's vietnamese rice noodle salads (buns), sandwiches (bahn mi) and soup (Hu Tieu Chay);  Fasika's ethiopian platters (especially, greens (gomen) and spicy lentils (misir key wot); and Himalayan's momos. I guess what I'm trying to say is you won't go hungry.

From top left: Himalayan's chili momos, Herbivorous Butcher's italian cold cut sub, Seward's red green bean earth, Unideli's tantanamen ramen soup, J.Selby's cauliflower buffalo wings, and Fasika's vegetarian platter. 

My husband and I are foodies through and through, and love to check out grocery stores to see the different offerings. If that's your kind of thing, I highly recommend checking out the myriad of food coops (Seward and the Wedge are my favorite and have lots of vegan options in their deli/desserts.) and the Whole Foods Selby Diner which now features the Beyond Meat Burger and fries ($6/Friday!).

2) Nature and Arts
I'm guilty of getting a little too excited about all the new food I get to try on a vacation and needing to build in some activities to build up an appetite. Don't worry, Minnesota has you covered. Of course, we have the Mall of America, but we also have amazing arts and natural areas to enjoy. Minnesotans value the arts and it shows with theatersmuseums and concert venues galore. Minnesotans also love the Great Outdoors A LOT, especially water (not surprising for a state with 10,000+ lakes.) Minnesota has dozens of state parks and recreational areas that offer outdoor programming, camping, trails and more.

You can try the paddle share (or other rental programs) and explore the Mississippi river or Minneapolis's chain of lakes or check out the Sax Zim Bog, a birder's paradise and home to many owls, in Northern Minnesota. In the winter (and really every season), I love going to Como Conservatory (free/donation encouraged) and enjoying the humid, earthy smells of tropical ferns to cure the winter chills (and the sunken garden is a must see/photograph that changes seasonally.) Minnesota is also home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River located in Itasca State Park. I've got to stop, I could go on about the wonderful places to visit forever.

From top left: Como Conservatory Sunken Garden, Headwaters of the Mississippi and fungi at Itasca State Park, lily pads at Como Conservatory, and sunset at Gull Lake near Brainerd. 

My recommendations on the arts: Guthrie, Jungle Theater, Heart of the Beast Theater (or May Day Parade), Midway Murals project, First Ave,  Science MuseumMinneapolis Institute of Arts (especially during Art in Bloom)

From Left: Midway Murals' Story of the Coffee Tree, First Ave, Heart of the Beast Puppet at May Day Parade, and Art in Bloom at MIA. 

3) Breweries and Distilleries

If you like beer, Minnesota should be on your destination vacation list (check out what Minnesota has to offer.) Come during one of the festivals and sample the latest on tap from 50+ breweries across the state, or come any time and hit up a few tap rooms (conveniently, there is an evenings worth accessible by light rail, so you don't have to worry about drinking and driving.) Not a beer fan? Don't worry, I'm not really either...give me gin over beer any day (not every day, don't worry, mom.) There are a growing number of distilleries offering gin, vodka and other liquors to sample.

My recommendations: Schell's (New Ulm), Surly (Minneapolis), DuNord (Minneapolis), Norseman (Minneapolis.)

From Left: Schell's Beer Tour Tasting in New Ulm, Surly Brew Hall in Minneapolis.

Monday, October 9, 2017

My Secret Ingredient: Nooch-ing

I bet money my "secret" ingredient is the number one mention by VeganMOFO bloggers. It's in most stores, but if you're new to plant-based eating you probably have never given it a second thought. What is it?

It's nooch to the aficionados, and nutritional yeast on the label. This unassuming yellow flaky substance will rock your world. But, no, really, what is it?!

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast (not the stuff you use to make bread or beer) that you can usually find in the bulk or spice section (weirdly, sometimes also in the health and wellness section.) It's got a great cheesy, nutty flavor. And, it's often fortified with B12 (one of 7 vitamin that you cannot get from non-fortified plant foods.

Some easy noochy recipes:
  • Popcorn. Make popcorn, add nooch, a little salt and earth balance margarine, coconut oil, or go oil-free. Ask anyone who knows my cat, he literally cannot help but stick his head in the bowl to lick up the cheesy goodness...after I'm done of course.
  • "Parmesan" topping. If you're lazy like me, sprinkle the nooch straight on the pasta dish. You can make it more creamy and substantial with this simple recipe.
  • Soups. The trick to minestrone is the parmesan rind with its salty, umami quality. Substitute in nooch and a little salt and voila! I add nooch to chili and any soup I want to have savory, mouthwatering depth.  
Have you ever tried nooch? What's your favorite recipe?