Monday, December 30, 2013

Betty Does: Meatloaf

UPDATE: Compassionate Action for Animals posted my review of Betty Goes Vegan.

For the holiday break, I have been set on completing my second cookbook review for Compassionate Action for Animals: Betty Goes Vegan by Annie and Dan Shannon. I got a boost in inspiration with the arrival of VegNews Best of edition which awarded Betty Goes Vegan Best New Cookbook for 2013! 

When I was a teenager, I decided to be a vegetarian which was not that easy of a thing in the 1990s in Northern Minnesota with the idea that you'd simply replace meat with faux meats. The options were meager: boca burgers or morningstar - neither of which were vegan. Twenty years later, I am impressed with the myriad of faux options available at the grocery stores and Target near my home. It is really becoming easier to make the transition from eating animals. That said, for some, there is still a dish that might weaken their resolve to make more compassionate food choices. When I was a teenager, it was my mom's meatloaf that ended my early stint as a vegetarian, so fitting that I sample one of the "meatloaf" recipes in Betty Goes Vegan.

The mexican meatloaf was pretty easy to make and fun to form and baste with the homemade bbq sauce. I really liked the look of the loaves out of the oven with the carmelized bbq glaze and the speckles of cilantro, onion and black beans. I used Gimme Lean ground beef style for the first time and was impressed at the flavor and consistency as a ground beef replacement. Even before I went vegan, I had started to add more vegetables and herbs to dishes like this which can be kind of heavy and bland otherwise (there is a reason we used to douse meatloaf in ketchup.) Adding the chili, cumin, garlic, cilantro, black beans, jalapenos, salsa and red onions definitely added some flavor, but the red onions didn't really cook down and were overpowering (maybe saute them in advance) and the spices weren't prominent enough for my liking. 

In addition to the mexican meatloaf, I made the vegan ranch dressing and while initially skeptical of all the ingredients, I was very impressed with the end result. The flavor popped and was reminiscent of the ranch I remember. This was great because with the exception of Native Foods (their ranch recipe is here) and Chicago Diner, I haven't really found a  vegan ranch dressing I like. As Annie and Dan warn though, I did find myself thinking about what else I could put the dressing on....thankfully in addition to the spinach salad I had a baked potato that was just begging to be a ranch baked potato!  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Betty Does: Cassoulet

UPDATE: Compassionate Action for Animals posted my review of Betty Goes Vegan.

Before my fiance went vegan our "go to" for celebrating special occasions was a french restaurant, Meritage. I loved to order the specials or the vegetable trio and revel in the symmetry of richness and delicacy that is french cuisine. He, on the other hand, was hooked on the cassoulet with its rich slow-cooked meld of beans and meats.

When I saw the cassoulet recipe in Betty Goes Vegan, I knew it has to be on my list for testing for my next cookbook review. If it came even close to the meal from Meritage, I knew what would be on my Valentine's Day menu as an homage to our special occasions of the past with a dollop of compassion in the vegan preparation. However, since cassoulet is really just a french name for casserole, hot dish or chili - a hearty one dish meal often filled with nostalgia for home cooking - there was a good chance this would be something different entirely. And it was.

First, I fell victim to the rush of not reading the recipe thoroughly. I saw the 20-30 minute prep time in the intro and thought I could make the dish after work; however, once I started I realized it was meant to cook in the slow cooker for 2-3 hours. Yikes! I also began to question how much richness the dish would have since the vegetables were added to the slow cooker raw rather than browning them first. I couldn't help myself later in the cooking process when I went off recipe to deglaze the pan that I browned the tofurky italian sausage and gardein scallopini in - the browned bits are the best part!!! 

The final deal breaker for this cassoulet being a substitute for the Meritage version was the consistency of the final product. Rather than a rich, almost creamy stew of beans this was a soup with abundant broth. Had we set out to make a bean soup we would have been satisfied with this outcome. With plenty of leftovers, I found the dish did develop in flavor on days 2 and 3, but it never broke down to that creamy rich goodness that comes when white beans melt away in to velvety sauce. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Betty Does: Beefless Stroganoff

UPDATE: Compassionate Action for Animals posted my review of Betty Goes Vegan.

I finished the Vegan Eats World review for Compassionate Action for Animals (you can read it here)! After exploring French, Korean and Latin American cuisines, I thought it best to return to my roots for my next cookbook review. Enter Annie and Dan Shannon's Betty Goes Vegan. My mom had the orange Betty Crocker Cookbook with the full color photos I would page through drooling over the various colorful beverages and desserts as a kid. I would imagine myself as an adult serving frothy colorful beverages in strange shaped glasses to wash down fancy appetizers like the spaceship-like cheese orbs. I was a very popular hostess in my young imagination.

In the introduction to Betty Goes Vegan, that popular hostess is revealed as the inspiration of author Annie Shannon. She talks about adoring the image of Betty Crocker as the woman who does it all "with a smile and faux pearls." Let's be honest, that's not me, but many of the recipes in Betty Goes Vegan harken back to my childhood family dinners (perhaps it is because Betty Crocker was "born" in Minnesota (Minneapolis at General Mills to be exact.))

Beefless Stroganoff p.244
The first recipe I tested was Beefless Stroganoff (page 244) because of fond memories of eating this dish at the table in the kitchen with my family as a kid. Stroganoff is a Russian dish, but popular in many nordic countries. With its rich sour "cream" based "meaty" sauce served over a bed of pasta or potatoes, its no wonder cold climates (including my hometown on Minnesota's Iron Range) gravitate toward this hearty dish. Growing up it was about as non-vegan as a dish could be featuring beef and gravy with sour cream over egg noodles. It was also one of the recipes my mom made from that big orange Betty Crocker Cookbook, so I was excited to see how Betty Goes Vegan's version compared.

Why hello, Stroganoff!
The Betty Goes Vegan recipe is more sophisticated than the stroganoff I remember as a kid with red wine and fresh parsley brightening up the hearty, creamy dish. Piling on the portobellos and sliced olives instead of beef, the Betty Goes Vegan recipe doesn't feature a mock meat like many of the other recipes in the book. Instead of salt and worcestershire sauce, Betty Goes Vegan subs in a generous amount of Bragg's liquid aminos making the hubby remark on the saltiness and  2 teaspoons of blacked pepper (I couldn't believe that was accurate and cut the amount in half.) The dish was better the next day when the sauce had a chance to thicken and the flavors develop even more. If I made it again, I might try adding the flour in the Betty Crocker original recipe which would thicken the sauce and add a little more sour cream. All in all, I appreciated the ease of making the dish and the accessibility of the ingredients, and could see myself tinkering around with the recipe again.    

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Simply Delicious

I'm reviewing Terry Hope Romero's Vegan Eats World cookbook for Compassionate Action for Animals, and today was the last day of making recipes from the book. I thought it only appropriate to make something with some Latin American flavors and a dessert since she's also the author of Viva Vegan! and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I also wanted to focus on easier dishes given the epic Korean feast I made from Vegan Eats World last weekend.

Chipotle Tofu Cemita Sandwich (p. 107)
The Chipotle Tofu Cemita recipe sounded great and we had most of the ingredients on hand. I highly recommend taking a couple minutes to make the pickled red onions (p. 62) which were simple and a perfect addition....oh, and super crave-worthy. If you don't have the cookbook, you could sub some soy chorizo for the tofu and make your own cemita. You just need: 1) bun (preferably with sesame seeds), 2) vegan mayo, 3) tomato and avocado slices; 4) cilantro, 5) soy chorizo or chipotle tofu; 6) pickled or fresh red onion; 7) romaine or cabbage; and 8) slather of refried beans. Assemble and enjoy.

Cemita toppings, including pickled red onions (p. 62)
What would be a cookbook review if I didn't sample one of the dessert recipes? Not to mention, dessert is pretty much my favorite meal. I was drawn to the gorgeous Tenacious Tart Tatin (French caramelized apple tart) because of the photo, but the ingredient list was also really appealing. I was shocked there were no spices in the recipe, but after tasting it I can attest it doesn't need them. The caramelized apples were super easy and kind of fun to make. I can guarantee I will be making this again, or may just make the apples and serve with non-dairy ice cream.

Tenacious Tart Tatin (French Caramelized Apple Tart) (p. 321)
Look for my review soon, but I can give this sneak peak: If you like to eat out to try new food adventures and wish you could recreate a few of them at home, you'll love Vegan Eats World. I know I have, so much so that despite having what I need for the review, I still can't wait to make the momo dumplings with spicy sesame tomato sambal and cabbage slaw (p. 184) and the steamed bbq seitan buns (char siu seitan bao) (p. 197)!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Holy Crepe!

I had the impression crepes were a difficult, finicky thing to make with a paper thin consistency that seemed destined to tear or end up in a jumbled mess. I also thought you had to have a crepe pan to make them which I do not have. So, as you may imagine, I've never made crepes ... before today. 

As part of the wrap up weekend of making recipes from Terry Hope Romero's Vegan Eats World for a review I am writing, I decided to try the International House of Crepes recipe because I had all the ingredients and she said I could make them in a cast iron skillet (which I have.) 

International House of Crepes (p. 203) 
 It turns out crepes are only moderately difficult to make. You really don't have a lot of wiggle room once you drop the thin batter onto the well-greased cast iron to swirl it into a thin perfect circle. I made 6 crepes and they will pass, but none of them were beautiful. The one in the photo above was the last one I made and so is a little thicker than the rest because I was finishing off the batter. I made so many because I like the tip Romero has to store them in the fridge under plastic wrap and use them as you wish.

Last week when I was sampling recipes from the cookbook, I made a Korean dish that had me using 8 recipes in the book. Today, I wanted to keep it simple, so even though Vegan Eats World had a number of delightful savory filling options, I elected to do a little earth balance buttery spread and bee-free honee with a dollop of blackberry preserve. I felt less guilty for taking this shortcut after attending a book reading this week by Isa Chandra Moskowitz for Isa Does It. In response to an audience question, she said whenever the dish involved a lot of steps and looked like it would take a lot of time it was probably her friend Terry Hope Romero's recipe. Unlike last weekend, I wasn't itching to get in the kitchen and cook for hours, and the nice thing is I didn't have to. Though I do wish the red wine braised leeks would magically appear in my kitchen to stuff into a crepe. :)

Earlier in the week, I did an adaptation of Vegan Eats World's Jigae stew (p.151)to use the leftovers from our Korean feast and I definitely will be making this again. It's a perfect winter stew of kimchi, tofu and eggplant with a bit of kick from chili powder....mmmm.

My advice after making a dozen new recipes from Vegan Eats World? If you haven't in awhile, take one of the cookbooks off the shelf and find a new recipe to try...and then actually make it. It's been fun to explore.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Part II: Feasting on Bulgogi and Bibimbap

This is part two on my Epic Korean Feast adventure. You can read part one which talks about prepping the individual ingredients used in Vegan Eats World's Sizzling rice with veggies and chili sauce (dolsot bibimbap) and Sweet Soy BBQ (bulgogi.) I made these dishes this weekend as part of a cookbook review project I'm excited to be doing for Compassionate Action for Animals

Sizzling rice and veggies with chili sauce (pg. 308) and sweet soy BBQ (pg. 249.)  
With the individual components of the dishes prepped last night, I woke up this morning ready to start assembly knowing what came next was...devouring! First things first was to finish the prep, so I cooked up a batch of sushi rice (pg. 299) and chopped scallions for the sesame scallions (pg. 309). Now on to assembly...
Fast lane kimchi (pg 56), gochuchang (pg. 308), seasoned spinach (pg. 309),
sesame bean sprouts (pg. 89), sesame scallions (pg. 309)
Dolsot Bibimbap (aka Sizzling Rice with veggies and chili sauce)

Bibimbap means "mixed rice" and dolsot "stone pot." In restaurants, this dish is served in a hot stone dish that continue to cook the sushi rice so it has a golden crust. Terry Hope Romero in Vegan Eats World suggests using a dutch oven or cast iron pan to create the crust that makes dolsot bibimbap so special. Following her instructions to the letter, the rice turned out perfectly and everyone loved the crunch and toast achieved on the golden crusted rice. 

Half way through browning the rice, you add the sprouts, spinach and bulgogi to the top of the rice to let the flavors start to meld. Then you stir together the rice and veggies, add nori seaweed slices and the sesame scallions and some dollops of a korean chili paste known as gochuchang.

OMG, get in my belly! Dolsot Bibimbap (pg. 308)
Korean Veggie Bulgogi (Sweet Soy BBQ)

Bulgogi means "fire meat", but when you're vegan it means "fire tastiness" that comes from marinading mushrooms, seitan, tofu, tempeh or the vegetables of your choice in the sweet soy barbecue sauce before grilling it over high heat to get a crisp char and savory, sweet juicy taste. You can use this in lettuce wraps or if you're feasting in bibimbap. 
Bulgogi (pg. 249) using grilled king trumpet mushrooms, garlic cloves and 5-spice seitan (pg. 51)
Each prepped element was delicious in its own part and you could imagine sipping beer and lazily munching on them all day long enjoying the unique flavors; however, prepare to make new best friends with your taste buds by piling it all into one bowl for an out of this world meal. One of our guests commented the dish was as good as they've had in a Korean restaurant and they were impressed at how tasty the bulgogi was sans meat. In Vegan Eats World, Terry Hope Romero remarks "Wherever it's eaten, meat remains basically the same. It's the plant foods that transport our senses." I couldn't agree more. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Part 1: Prepping for a Korean Feast

Exciting news and inspiration for the blog! Compassionate Action for Animals was looking for someone to review vegan cookbooks for their newsletter to supporters, and I was looking for some inspiration for this blog and a push to actually cook the recipes I like to wistfully page through. My first review is Terry Hope Romero's Vegan Eats World which features 300 recipes from literally all over the world.
Photo credit: Vegan Latina
 My first test of the cookbook was a "go-all-in" Korean feast which required making 8 recipes from the book (from 2 super recipes for Grilled Veggie Bulgogi and Sizzling Rice with Veggies and Chili Sauce (Dolsot Bibimbap).) I really like Korean food, but it can be hard to find really good restaurants especially if you're concerned about eating vegan (aka avoiding fish sauce, shrimp paste, and the like.) So, I was excited to see if I could make my own high quality Korean eats. Setting out on an epic journey, I found out....

If you're going to make international food, you're going to need international ingredients. Living in a bustling metro, that's not too hard for me (though I did need to go to two separate Asian supermarkets to get all the ingredients for this recipe.) If you like to shop and explore new venues, these recipes give you an excuse to try new things, but don't expect to find everything you need at your local grocery despite Romero's valiant effort to make the recipes accessible.
Some of the ingredients purchased for the Korean feast
Breaking a favorite dish down
Bibimbap is a one-dish wonder and I love it, but never realized all the work that went into the individual elements (seasoned spinach, sesame bean sprouts, sesame scallions, bulgogi marinaded mushrooms and seitan, sushi rice and heavenly kimchi.) It was a lot of fun to break the individual elements down and make them myself. While it's not realistic to whip up this epic feast often, some of the individual elements would be quick and delicious. I sense I will be eating a lot more napa cabbage (kimchi) and spinach in my future.
Homemade kimchi (pg. 56) - much easier than you'd expect!
One benefit of breaking dishes down when you make them yourself is learning more about what you're eating. I've eaten chinese 5-spice for years, but couldn't tell you what the five spices were...until now, star anise, clove, cinnamon, fennel seeds and sichuan peppers.
Homemade Chinese 5-Spice (pg. 41) ingredients (left to right: cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds and sichuan peppers)
Prepping for the feast

Working pretty steadily, I prepped for 3 1/2 hours the night before the feast. Toasting the 5-spice ingredients before grinding them to mix into the 5-spice seitan (pg. 51) and steamed 4 mini seitan loaves which I sliced to add to king trumpet mushrooms and garlic in the bulgogi (sweet soy bbq marinade) that involved grating ginger and an apple before adding it to a half dozen other ingredients. Prepping the kimchi, spinach and bean sprouts involved salting the napa cabbage and blanching the sprouts and spinach before mixing them with their unique flavorful dressings.
Night before prepped dishes (from top left to bottom right): mushroom and 5-spice seitan (pg. 51) in marinade (pg. 249), gochuchang sauce (pg. 308), seasoned spinach (pg. 309), fast lane kimchi (pg. 56) and sesame bean sprouts (pg. 89) 

You can read part two of this Epic Korean feast here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chicago: The Whole Package

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or, if your coworkers leave without you for dinner during an out-of-town conference, wander into a nearby supermarket and happen upon vegan dinner entrees from a local restaurant you wanted to try but was too far to go during a work trip.

Yeah, that's right... I stumbled on a great selection of items from Chicago's Soul Vegan at Bockwinkel's grocery. After missing the coworker meet up, I thought I was doomed to a dinner of salad bar and prepackaged hummus. Instead, I had BBQ and macaroni and "cheese" and a brownie (luck of the vegan be with me apparently.)

For the price of a really subpar veggie burger and the most basic of french fries (last night's hotel food), I got to sample two dishes from Soul Vegan and satisfy my sweet tooth with a raw mocha brownie. By far, my favorite was the macaroni and cheese. Sometimes vegan mac and cheese has an earthy or strong pungent taste from the nutritional yeast or mustard that is sometimes added. Not this stuff, I don't know how they took olive oil, soy milk, nutritional yeast and paprika and made this super light, creamy almost souffle like cheese for their mac and cheese. I ate it cold and it still was great.

The BBQ Delights were seitan based with a sweet barbecue sauce. The seitan was toothsome without being rubbery which was nice, but the sauce was too sweet. I like spicy, vinegary barbecue sauce where this sauce was based on pineapple juice and molasses. Don't get me wrong. It was good. Just not as good as the macaroni and cheese. Again, I imagine if you heated this up in the microwave or oven you'd get that sticky crunch that barbecue sauce gets when it cooks, but cold it was still a better option than most would find in a prepackaged foods grocery case.

Thanks Soul Vegan for selling your tasting vegan vittles around town, and kudos to you, Chicago, for having clearly marked vegan options during all my dining excursions during my makes eating vegan easy!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hot Dish or Chili Mac?

As you get older and exposed to more things, every once in awhile something that was just a given (a known thing) gets rattled. For me, it was the definition of hot dish. Growing up, when my parents said we were having hot dish I didn't need any more information to know exactly what I would be eating. Fast forward a decade or so and now I'm not so sure....what's the difference between hot dish and casserole? Or chili mac and my childhood hot dish?

If you're not from Minnesota or the Midwest, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about, but Minnesotans are serious about hot dish and casserole. We have maps of the various dishes sold on dish towels and pan holders.

Hotdish in my family is a version of what others know as chili mac. Macaroni noodles (starch), protein (parents - ground beef and kidney beans; me - soy chorizo and kidney beans), vegetables (parents - canned/frozen peas, carrots, corn; me - onions, peppers, carrots); tomato sauce (juice or crushed tomatoes), and chili spices (cumin, chili peppers, garlic, salt and pepper.) It follows the basic hot dish recipe - cook a starch, protein, canned/frozen vegetables with a can of soup or tomatoes. Other relatively famous hot dishes: tater tot hotdish, wild rice hot dish, etc. Now, I've seen the common mistake where people think Minnesotans call all casseroles hot dish (this mistake was encouraged by our Minnesota Congressional Delegation at their annual hot dish competition...yeah, we take this stuff pretty serious.) This is not true. We have casseroles too, so what's the difference?

The biggest difference is casseroles are always baked. A hot dish can be baked or it can be cooked on the stove top. There's other differences that are summed up well here. For the layperson, there definitely are more similiarities than differences, and it's not too big of a deal if you mix the two up As long as you don't go wild and abandon both and call a hot dish.... chili mac.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Can I have Smore?

The leaves are changing and the mornings are brisk. Fall is here, and if you're like me you're already getting nostalgic for the perfect summer and fall days that help us Minnesotans survive the long winters ahead. This summer went by way too fast between road trips, wedding planning and the like, and I didn't go camping at all! Thankfully, we did enjoy a few bike rides and hikes that allowed us to bask in the beauty that is Minnesota's Great Outdoors (this does not include the State Fair which is fun, but not at all natural.) What we did not get to do was make SMORES!

That's right, friends, vegan smores are not only possible, but also delicious! In fact, they may even leave you or your friends asking "Can I have Smore?"

With a vegan smore, you just need to watch out for the following:

  • No dairy (milk or butter) in the chocolate - You'll have the best luck with dark chocolates.
  • No honey in the graham crackers - Nabisco originals is the only one I could find locally without honey.
  • No animal-based gelatin in the marshmallows - Dandies or Sweet & Sara
Don't worry if you're not going to be out in the woods or near a campfire soon. If you're itching for some ooey, gooey sweet goodness make them at home. First, if you have a gas stove and a skewer, you can toast your marshmallow on the stove (if not, no problem just skip this step.) Second, put half a graham and a square of chocolate on a microwavable plate, top the chocolate with the marshmallow and microwave for 10-15 seconds. Third, top with the remaining half a graham cracker and press for maximum oozing and mingling of sweetness. Finally, enjoy!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rooting for Fall Flavors

Cool, crisp breezes, shorter days, it's Fall! Gone are the fresh, light and bright salads. In are the warm, robust flavors of slow oven cooking. I was feeling adventurous, and decided to forego my favorite stew for something new. Still buzzing on my inspiration from Miyoko Schinner's cheese classes, I decided to re-read the "Classic French Food" recipes she published in VegNews. Inspiration struck! The Boeuf Bourguignon recipe sounded amazing, but it was a Sunday and I didn't have a red wine and the recipe was a little too complicated for a lazy Fall day. Thus my variation....

First, what to serve it on? Potatoes? Noodles? Crusty baguette? Meh, none of that screams adventure. Instead, I opted for these gnarly little gems: Celeriac.

Celeriac is a root vegetable that has a slight celery and parsley-like brightness, and it can be mashed or pureed into a silky luscious base (think mashed potatoes.) It's also a great source of fiber with no fat and half the calories of a potato. Don't be afraid of what they look like on the outside. Using a knife to cut away the tough skin and root ends gives way to a vegetable that looks very similar to a raw potato.

My version of Bouef Bourguignon, which I'm sure will make anyone with any sense of french cooking scream "sacrebleu!" in disgrace, is a tasty dish I could make with food I already had in the kitchen and garden.

Faux Bouef Bourguignon (inspired by Gordon Ramsay's non-vegan version)

1 small onion
2 garlic cloves
1-2T baco bits (or vegan bacon bits of your choice)
4 T balsamic vinegar (or some actual red wine and skip the step below)
2 T rice wine (or another cooking wine)
2 T tomato paste
1/2 pkg mushrooms
2 sprigs each of rosemary, thyme and parsley (if possible, tie the sprigs together to make it easier to remove)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small cast iron pan, saute the onion diced with baco bits until it begins to carmelize. Add in sliced mushrooms and let them cook down for a few minutes while adding in the garlic (minced or pressed). Top with the vinegar, wine and tomato paste and stir until well-blended. Add in the steaks diced and the herb sprigs and water until it reaches the consistency in the photo above (less than 1/4 c). Top with tinfoil and place in the oven for 20-30 minutes. It's done when at least half the sauce has been reduced. You can cook it on the stove if you want to keep a closer eye on it, but I was feeling adventurous. :) Go light on the salt because the Viana cowgirl steaks have a fair amount of sodium.

Celeriac Puree
2 lg celeriac
1 T olive oil
1/4 c plain non-dairy milk
a couple sprigs of thyme and rosemary
1/8 t cardamom
salt and pepper to taste

Heat saute pan over medium heat with olive oil and add diced celeriac and let cook 5 minutes while the celeriac starts to become golden and slightly browned. Add in the spices (no need to cut up the rosemary and thyme) with enough water to just barely cover the celeriac, cover and let simmer for about 30 minutes until a fork can easily pierce through the celeriac. Remove the herb sprigs and drain any remaining water. Use a food processor to puree, adding in the milk (or olive oil or water) until it reaches the consistency you want. Serve in a bowl topped with the Bouef Bourguignon.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Battles of the "Ricottas"

It was time to go from taster to maker of vegan cheese. After watching Miyoko Schinner, author of Artisan Vegan Cheese, whip up three different cheese in less than an hour...twice...I finally got the courage to get in the cheese making game. I mean I wasn't brand new. I highly recommend making vegan parmesan for true beginners. It's super easy and stores really well.

I chose to conquer ricotta because it was simple ingredients and instant gratification (no need to wait for it to culture.) Prior to trying Schinner's ricotta, the only vegan ricotta I had tried was Pizza Luce rinotta which is a vegan crowd pleaser, but doesn't really have the airy subtlety of Schinner's ricotta. This rinotta recipe packs a flavorful punch. In the pictures below you can see the ricotta is a whiter hue (lasagna) while the rinotta is more golden (pizza). After trying both, I'd say simplicity in recipe and taste wins out and go with Schinner's recipe.

Garden Harvest Lasagna

1 pkg lasagna noodles
2 batches almond ricotta (Miyoko Schinner recipe that requires soaked almonds, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, salt, garlic and fresh basil)
2 jars marinara
1 large zucchini
1 onion
1 pkg mushrooms
1 bell pepper
2 cups greens (I mixed spinach and kale from the garden)
4 cloves of garlic
2 T fresh oregano
1 T crushed red pepper
1/2 T dried basil (or a small handful of fresh basil if you have some left after the ricotta)
1 T olive oil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Night before start soaking your almonds for the ricotta. If you don't have a vitamix (I don't), soak the for at least 12 hours and use a blender to mix up the ricotta. Preheat oven to 375 and put a stock or large pot of water on to boil for the lasagna noodles (no shame in using no boil and skipping this step.) In your biggest fry pan or saute pan, saute in olive oil diced onions until they begin to brown (~5 minutes.) Cut up each veggie and add it to the saute as you go to save time and allow the veggies to cook according to time needed. Add veggies in this order: after onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, garlic and let cook until the veggies give up some of their moisture, add in spices, salt and pepper and stir, add the greens and fold them in slowly (you'll have a very full pan, but the greens will cook way down.) Add a half a jar of the sauce to the veggies and put on low. If you're cooking noodles, I'd recommend cutting the time in half (usually down to 4-5 minutes from 8 minutes rec'd on the package) and cook in batches for each layer. In a 9x13 pan, spread a half cup sauce on the bottom. Add noodles, followed by half the pan of veggies and 1/3 the ricotta mixture, add the next layer of noodles and repeat, add the final layer of noodles and spread the ricotta mixture across the top of the noodles and add 1/3 to 1/2 jar of sauce based on how much you want. Cover with tinfoil and cook for 30 minutes, then uncover and cook 10 minutes. Let rest 10-15 mins before serving.

Leftover Garden Veggies Pizza

1 pkg pre-made pizza crust (We used Whole Foods organic whole wheat crusts)
1 batch "rinotta" (you could also use the the ricotta from the recipe above'll have enough leftover for a pizza)
1/2-3/4 c pizza sauce (or leftover marinara from the lasagna)
fresh veggie toppings of your choice (We used spinach, mushroom, onion, broccoli, bell peppers)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Assemble the pizza with a brush of olive oil on crust, smear of red sauce, generous coat of rinotta, and load it with toppings (or not depending on your liking). Cook on tinfoil on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes or until the pizza crust and toppings begin to brown. Let sit 5 minutes before cutting.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

From tempeh to tofurky and beyond

When we were in Oregon to visit my fiance's family this summer, I noticed the average grocery store carried more Tofurky deli slice options than I've seen anywhere here in Minnesota. I didn't even know tofurky offered "roast beef" and "italian" slices. That was just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out Turtle Island Foods was started as a tempeh operation by founder Seth Tibbott, and they have way more than the "smoky maple bacon" sliced tempeh I love. 

In fact, Turtle Island Foods (aka Tofurky) is expanding even more, so much so that they built a new super efficient and environmentally friendly LEED platinum manufacturing facility within sight of their original plant in Hood River, Oregon. My fiance and I were fortunate enough to get to tour the plant and partake in the festivities of the 1st annual Tofurkyfest this past weekend.

400 solar panels on the roof of Tofurky's LEED platinum manufacturing center. 

In addition to building a new manufacturing facility, Tofurky is expanding its product line to offer artisan sausages like cajun andouille, spinach pesto and my favorite chick'n & apple; as well as, quiche, pocket sandwiches and pot pies.

Tofurky Sausage and Veggie "quiche"
My favorite of the new offerings was the tofurky pot pie which was really flavorful with lots of veggies and a great sauce. The sausage and veggie quiche and the pepperoni and cheese pockets tied for second. While others raved, I've never really liked the cheddar/broccoli combo, so that was my least favorite of the new offerings. All in all, I really hope we start carrying more of Tofurky's products here in Minnesota soon!

Tofurky, Broccoli and Cheddar Pocket

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Better Than Grilled Cheese: Part 1

 I had to pinch myself to make sure I was still alive because I was pretty sure I died and went to heaven when I met Artisan Vegan Cheese author Miyoko Schinner and a dozen of her cheeses at Tofurkyfest's welcome reception last weekend. Indeed, I was not only alive, but I was in store for two "Better than grilled cheese" cooking classes with her as part of Turtle Island Foods' 1st Annual Tofurkyfest.

Amazing, delightful, "rock my world" vegan cheese!
Up first, was vegan gruyere fondue, almond ricotta in stuffed shells, and easy buffalo mozzarella (improved from the recipe in her book.) Oh hellz yeah! My single, biggest struggle with being vegan is my love for good cheese with its salty, nutty, or sometimes sharp creaminess. Vegan cheese alternatives have definitely approved, and my new favorite is Go Veggies' dairy free mexican shreds which melt REALLY well. While they've improved, I feel like most of the vegan cheese you can buy in the store just doesn't measure up. I can say definitively that Miyoko Schinner's cheese recipes do. 

Miyoko Schinner making mini vegan fresh mozzarella balls
She made all three cheese and demoed them to a crowd in less than an hour. I mean she is some sort of vegan cooking wizard, but I've got to be able to do this too (with more time and no crowd watching) right? We got Artisan Vegan Cheese as soon as it hit the shelves because I love fancy cheese, but I froze when I realized I needed to ferment things to make the cheese. Um, duh, right?...but the fear of me poisoning myself with mold was strong. The other challenge preventing me from diving into the cheese recipes was the time required...soak the nuts, pre-make a sprouted water mixture called rejuvelac over a few days. I'm a girl who likes instant gratification. Mold paranoia and time requirements were preventing me from what I now know is some pretty simple and insanely tasty recipes that will help me fight my urges for dairy cheese. For the ricotta and gruyere recipes, the ingredients are common stuff you can get at any store. For the buffalo mozzarella, you will need agar powder and tapioca flour. Don't be intimidated, you can find them at coops, vegan stores or asian groceries.

You will definitely see a blog on my experience making these cheese varieties soon. So good!

If it wasn't clear that Miyoko Schinner is a rockstar in my book, she is. In addition to her cheese recipes, you should check out her veganized classic french recipes featured in VegNews and her website. Where others saw roadblocks for vegans in terms of enjoying rich, often butter or dairy based foods, she saw a challenge and came up with some crazy delicious food.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cooking in a flash

As part of my fiance's prize package to Tofurkyfest, we signed up for several cooking classes. The first was Vegetarian Cooking 101 with Chef Alex Bury which was really a how to cook fast, satisfying vegan meals for beginners. You'd think after a few years of vegan eating, this class would seem like old news, but we learned something new with each recipe. Here's the take aways that were new to me.

Tofu Scramble

Tofu Scramble and Tofurky Breakfast Links Samples Plate

  • Mix a box of extra firm tofu with a tetrapak of soft tofu for a softer scramble texture. 
  • Make a batch of tofu scramble seasoning mix and store it in the cupboard to make prep even faster
  • Be patient with the stirring in the pan or better yet bake the scramble to let the tofu brown/carmelize for better flavor. 
  • Bonus: Tofurky breakfast links are really tasty. 

Less than 5 Minute Quick and Easy Tostada (recipe(no picture, sorry)

  • Take a container of refried beans and Tofurky soy chorizo, fresh salsa and corn tortillas to work for a quick lunch. Simply spread refried beans like peanut butter on the tortilla and add some chorizo before heating in the microwave for 30-45 seconds. Add salsa or other toppings and enjoy! 

  • Roll up a few for grab and go lunches during the week, or slice them and store in the fridge for grab and go snacks. 
Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Don't be afraid of the rice wrapper. You can do this!
  • Use a 9x13 cake pan with cool water to soak the rice papers. Gives you room and time to reduce stress of dealing with too soft, torn wrappers.
  • Make a head by a few hours to let the wrapper seal and flavors meld, but eat them the same day for freshness.
  • Add Tofurky coconut curry tempeh for a protein boost. 
  • Alex Bury's spring roll recipe (you can sub thai basil for mint for a anise, peppery fresh addition) and Humane Society of United States' peanut sauce recipe. 

Thanks to Humane Society of the United States and Alex Bury for teaching the class at Tofurkyfest. I know I learned some new things. For more recipe ideas (designed for people looking to eat less meat), check out their Guide to Meat-Free Meals. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Let them eat cake

Oh, how rough life is! Tastings for the wedding continues and up: cakes. We've decided on an appetizer reception for the food, but what's the sweet end note for our special day? I invited some friends and the fiance and let them eat cake in the name of discovering the perfect wedding cake.
Wedding Cake Tasting part II: Whole Foods and Seward Coop

Our first tasting was with Megan from Groundswell which is about as local as we can get unless we bake the cake ourselves. Despite only sampling one of her vegan cupcakes, chocolate sriracha, before, I loved the care she took to take a special cupcake and give it a little more to make it adding sriracha to chocolate. We contacted her and she was super friendly and took our suggestions and added to them to make four options to consider.

Crowd favorite: Champagne cake with cranberry compote filling and white frosting

Nothing says Fall, like pumpkin cupcakes with orange and almond frosting

The weather isn't yet frightful, but this spiced cupcake is oh so delightful

Mixed reaction to the espresso cupcakes with a dense chocolate ganache 

We also tried four options from Seward Coop, and they were tasty but not quite as special as the Groundswell cupcakes. They do have quite a few flavor combinations, and we tried chocolate mousse, chocolate peanut butter, vanilla with chocolate frosting and carrot cake with maple frosting.

Moist carrot cake with mapled frosting screams Fall!

In a "take it up a notch" move, I also picked up a slice of Chicago Diner's chocolate mousse cake available by slice or round cake at Whole Foods. It was extremely decadent, and as the fiance said "let's be real, this is frosting with a touch of cake." My mom would have loved it, but it was probably a bit much for a crisp Fall afternoon.

Chocolate Overload!
Not pictured, we also tried the Wedge Coop's cupcakes earlier this summer. They've got fun flavors like black forest cherry and curry (yes, with actual curry flavoring.) While I'm in love with their coconut based softserve ice cream, I have to say the cupcakes fell short. They had the consistency of a store bought/hostess brand cake. Their cupcakes were almost half the cost of the other cupcakes we tried.

In the end, we've decided on Groundswell and look forward to it and the big day!