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!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Try not to be cheesy

My fiance and I were invited to attend the VIP welcome reception for Tofurky's 1st annual Tofurkyfest and new manufacturing center's dedication as part of a prize package he won. The advertised Lewis and Clark historical keynote worried me, but the free drink ticket and opportunity to meet the people who make my favorite vegan deli slices won out. Wow, am I glad it did!

The talk was actually really entertaining and informative. The host with the most, Tofurky founder Seth Tibbot, was extremely gracious and friendly. But seriously, have you ever seen the slow motion focus scene in high school movies when boy meets girl and all of a sudden they are the only two people in the universe? That was me and Miyoko Schinner's artisan vegan cheese platter. A ginormous platter of over a dozen fancy cheeses by the author of Artisan Vegan Cheese!

Bom Chicka Bom Bom.... Vegan Artisan Cheese Platter by Miyoko Schinner

I struggle with giving up cheese, not the processed pizza or sandwich cheese, but the complex nutty hard cheeses and lusciously creamy triple creams and bries. Here they were in their full glory and vegan! I have never tasted vegan cheese this good and dare someone to say they could tell the herbed double cream and smoked gouda wasn't "real" cheese.

You can't buy Miyoko's cheese in stores yet (at least not in Minnesota), so now that I knew just how good they are I needed to conquer my fear of fermentation and become a maker of vegan cheese. Thankfully, Miyoko was offering two classes the next day at Tofurkyfest where I could learn from and ask questions of the master herself.

Winner, Winner, Tofurky Dinner

This weekend, my fiance and I had a vegan adventure we won't soon (if ever) forget. He won an all expense paid trip to Tofurky's 1st annual Tofurkyfest and new manufacturing center dedication in Hood River, Oregon. I had enough frequent flier miles to make this a rare little cost weekend getaway, but that wasn't even the half of it...

When we landed at PDX, we made a bee line into Portland to soak in the vegan offerings. First up, lunch at Los Gorditos with a vegan menu chockful of options (good vegan Mexican food can be hard to find.) I got the empanadas rellenas - corn masa stuffed with vegan cream cheese and jalapenos and served with rice, beans and deliciously savory soy curls.

Stuffed, we went to SE 12th and Stark to visit a vegan mini-mall featuring Sweet Pea Baking Company, vegan bakery and cafe; Herbivore, clothing and accessory store; and Food Fight, vegan grocery where I always find something new to try. What I love about Sweet Pea, is they're not just vegan-friendly...they're vegan besties with everything in the case being vegan, including the bacun cheddar croissants!

Next, we headed to Hawthorne to check out some stores and build up an appetite for our next stop: happy hour at Blooming Lotus, a vegan fusion restaurant with both raw and cooked options using organic ingredients. I couldn't eat another bite despite my best effort at burning off the earlier meal with power shopping, so I ordered the "What's the dill?" cocktail with Ransom Gin, Cocchi Americano, cantaloupe white balsamic shrub, lemon and ginger juice, soda water. 

We felt like we'd won the vegan lottery, but our weekend was just getting started.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Time to chow, girls & boys

This Fall, my fiance and I are tying the knot after five years together. In planning the wedding, we both agreed good food was a priority. What is it about sharing good food with loved ones? We also knew we wanted to offer an all vegan menu that would appeal to all palates. No small feat, right?

Thankfully Chowgirls Catering in northeast Minneapolis offers lots of vegan options and was the go-to caterer for several of our friends' weddings. After a few consultations, we went in for the tasting to seal the deal. To make sure the food wasn't just appealing to our foodie/vegan appetites, we brought along my parents and maid of honor to confirm crowd-pleasing options. Chowgirls' tagline and reputation described perfectly what we were looking for: "extraordinary, approachable food." 

It turns out catering gets expensive fast, and we were on a tight budget. With vegan being a newish concept to some of our friends and family, it seemed like a big gamble to go with an entree style meal. What if they didn't like the eggplant torte or tofu steak? For that reason, we decided to go the route of  a myriad of "appetizer" options to make a light meal. In the end, we didn't really save on the budget, but it does mean more options.

Simple salad with creamy green goddess dressing and rye croutons
 I must have crossed the salad off the list two or three times not wanting people to equate vegan with rabbit food and thinking it was "too simple." Ultimately, we had one extra spot on the tasting menu, and like a cat with nine lives, the salad was back. It turned out to be one of my favorite dishes with the fresh crisp lettuce and Chowgirl's own creamy fresh herbed dressing that made me rethink my disdain for green goddess dressing (sorry, Annie's it's just too much tahini!)

Carrots, mushrooms, asparagus, red bell peppers and broccoli
roasted to perfection and served with a side of balsamic reduction.

 Veggies meet heat in oven until browned = simple elegance and crazy good. 

Trio of vegan pates: ginger-sesame edamame; Indian-flavored cauliflower; and earthy mushroom
There was no way I was going to have hummus, guacamole or salsa at the wedding (even though I love all of them.) They're the go-to "vegan" foods at most restaurants these days. Come on, people, we can do better. These are definitely more on the foodie side, but should be fun for people to try new flavors. I know I had fun at the tasting with them.

Not pictured: These dishes made the cut too: quinoa pilaf with fall vegetables and a brown "butter" sauce and polenta bites with roasted tomatoes and a fried sage leaf. Yum!


Mushroom and wild rice "meatballs" with marinara
You could tell these were meant to be vegetarian with cheese or something to hold them together. We had to cut something from the tasting, and this was a no-brainer. If you want a good vegan "meatball", I highly recommend Gardein's meatless meatballs. 

Bruschetta with sun-dried tomatoes, olives and pine nuts
Holy flavor explosion, batman! The flavors were bold and delightful, but the price per toast didn't work with our budget. Too bad because they were really tasty, but I'm happy with our final menu.

Vegan macaroni and cheese

 The macaroni and cheese was really good and super creamy, but ultimately we decided against foods people would expect to taste a certain way.

Hoppin John- black eyed peas, rice and vegetables
I've had really delightful versions of this dish at New Year's celebrations, but this one was a little too basic for our menu.

Chili lime macadamias; herbed almonds and pecans
Curses! The almonds had honey which spooked my fiance. Otherwise, these delightful little tidbits of fun flavors and protein would have made it on the menu budget be damned. 

Mmm...these photos (and the love of my life) are making me excited for my wedding day! 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Meals for New Moms and Dads

A lot of my friends and family are embarking on parenthood. Most recently, just a couple weeks ago, my co-worker and her partner had their first child. Babies are amazing little creatures and talk about a whirlwind of a change in your life. At our office, we've taken to partnering up to provide the new parents with homemade food once a week to give them more time to bond with and learn about their baby. From what I hear, you need all the time you can get especially in the early weeks.

At our office, we used a google spreadsheet to lay claim to a week and plot out our menus to give the new parents variety. Then we write on note cards the menus and delivery dates as a gift. There are fancier websites for coordinating the meals, but we use the google platform at work so it was easiest. This week was my turn, and I made a variation of swiss chard and potato enchilada casserole (recipe here) and a variation of my Asian jicama-mango salad (recipe here.)

 Jicama, mango, radish and red cabbage with a vinaigrette provides a
refreshing and quick alternative to standard coleslaw. 

For moms who are breastfeeding, you're supposed to go light on the spiciness for the wee one's sake, so I omitted the habaneros and cut back on the chilis. I wasn't sure what else was to be avoided for the benefit of the baby, but this was a helpful resource (not only vegan.) The casserole lends itself well to freezing to give the new parents options.

Swiss Chard and Potato Enchiladas with homemade sauce
and topped with Go Veggie Mexican Blend Dairy Free Cheese

After a busy weekend, it was nice to spend some quiet time cooking and thinking about sharing food with friends. The brightly colored veggies in the pan was a kaleidoscope of positive wishes for the new family and hopefully would be a welcome break from what I can only imagine is a stressful time of learning about life with a baby.

Onions, zucchini, red bell peppers, potatoes, swiss chard stems
(greens added later) make for a colorful filling