Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pesto Gnocchi with Sundried Tomatoes and Broccolini

After so many salads and light meals lately, I was ready to make something hearty and satisfying for our dinner a few days ago. Paired with some roasted garlic bread, this creation was absolute perfection!

I saw a package of whole wheat gnocchi in the store the other day and impulsively bought it. I have never even heard of whole wheat gnocchi, and I've definitely never prepared a gnocchi dish. I think I always thought gnocchi wasn't vegan...maybe it isn't always, who knows, but this one was. I set out to make my first gnocchi without a very clear idea of what I was going to do with it. This dish kind of just came together as I was making it and turned out to be a happy surprise. Let's start with the pesto.

A few weeks ago I bought one of those huge basil plants that they are selling everywhere these days. It was starting to die because of my famously black thumb (a trait I inherited from my mother). I can pretty much kill any plant I come in contact with. I figured I'd better use the rest of it before it withered, so why not pesto? I hadn't made pesto in quite a while but this time reminded me that I should make it much more often. It's sooooo good. My vegan pesto recipe is this:

1/6 cup toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp lemon juice
a whole bunch of fresh basil (two handfuls or so)
1 tsp lemon zest
salt and pepper to taste

Just blend the whole mess in a food processor and you are good to go. If you aren't familiar with nutritional yeast, you are missing out big time. It's this funky yellow powder that is supposedly really good for you. A lot of vegetarians eat it as a sort of supplement because it has all kinds of goodness and vitamins including B12 in it. Read more about it here. I love it because it adds a sort of cheesy flavor in recipes like this one. I also use it in my vegan lasagna recipe and others. Sprinkle it on steamed broccoli or on popcorn for something super-yum. You can buy it at any health food store or Whole Foods. Trust me, if you leave it out of any of my recipes on this site you are really missing an important flavor. Give it a try!

I prepared the gnocchi according to the package directions which included boiling it in salted water for about 8 minutes or so. Drain the gnocchi but don't rinse it as that will remove the starch which is what makes everything else stick to it in a good way. The other ingredients which made it into this dish are:

8-10 sun dried tomatoes, cut into slivers
1 small onion, quartered and sliced
1 bunch broccolini
1 15-oz can of chickpeas

First steam the broccolini for a few minutes until tender but not quite done. Next saute the onion until tender, then add the sun dried tomatoes, chickpeas, pesto, and steamed broccolini. Simmer until warmed through, then add the gnocchi and stir to incorporate.

I couldn't have asked for a more satisfying meal or a better was to use pesto. We loved the texture of the whole wheat gnocchi which was smooth but chewy with a little bit nutty flavor. The idea to add the chickpeas to this dish came from a Vegetarian Times recipe on which
this was roughly based. The original recipe sounded a little boring which is where the pesto etc. came in. I'm sure you could use all kinds of other vegetables in this instead, especially broccoli raab or regular broccoli. All in all, this was a delicious restaurant-quality meal if I may say so. And it hit the spot on another cold summer night in SF. In fact, I'm getting hungry just writing about it. I need to buy some more gnocchi!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More Love for the Baby-Q: Portobellos, Asparagus and Peaches

This post is not so much a new recipe, because all of these items were so easy that I feel the word recipe is an overstatement. It's more a chance for me to go on and on and on about the Baby-Q one more time and to try to convince all you city-dwellers that you too can enjoy backyard barbecues just like the people who have actual backyards. First of all, I have to say that J is finally home from tour!! It's been two and a half weeks since I've cooked a dinner for the two of us and I was very excited. The only issue was that San Francisco decided to make up for a whole "summer" of 50 degree weather by giving us two 95 degree days. San Franciscans...which I do not claim to be not handle hot weather well. I will admit that I tend to agree with them mainly because this city is not well equipped for heat. No one has air conditioners and our home, just like everyone else's, has umpteen windows which seem to let all of the heat in and none of it out. I consented last night and decided that I would grill a simple meal rather than cook something fancy because it made sense to spend time outside.

I decided on marinated portobellos, grilled asparagus
and sweet potato fries with grilled peaches and maple syrup for dessert. There couldn't be a simpler meal to create, or a more delicious summer feast. I marinated the mushrooms in the same fantastic mixture I used for the Vegetable Kabobs. Equal parts olive oil, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce with salt, pepper, oregano, garlic and hot pepper flakes. Be sure to marinate the mushrooms for a full 24 hours. It begins to break down the firm flesh and really infuse the flavor. I usually cut little slits in the tops of the mushrooms to let even more marinade in. The result is the most incredibly juicy grilled mushrooms you can imagine. You can eat these on a bun like a hamburger or on bread as a sandwich. Often times I just like to eat them alone with a knife and fork.

There is really no recipe for the grilled asparagus. Sometimes I put a little oil on the asparagus before I grill it, but this time I decided not to. It really doesn't make much of a difference. I sprinkled some spices on there, but I don't really remember which ones. Any good steak rub which includes some salt is great in a pinch; I like Montreal Seasoning from McCormick.

I thought it would be fun to make baked sweet potato fries to go along with this meal. I have to admit that I've never done this before, but assumed that it would be very easy. I wouldn't say the result was a failure because they were actually quite delicious. But it would a stretch to call them "fries" of any sort. More like yummy baked spears of sweet potato. All I did was to coat them in a little canola oil and bake them at about 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. What did I do wrong people? Has any one had success making baked sweet potato fries that actually turn out with any degree of crunchiness to them? I am open to all suggestions! In the mean time, we just ate these babies with our fork and knife and called it a day.

The perfect end to this meal was a plate of sweet grilled peaches. I cut the peaches into 4 slices each and wrestled the pits out of the center. I grilled them for a few minutes on each side, then drizzled with maple syrup. Simple, but delicious.

I know this post was pretty light on the actual recipes, but it just goes to show that a really good meal does not have to be complicated. When you have great fresh ingredients and a Baby-Q, the possibilities are endless. Happy Summer!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Not So Guilty Pleasure: Vegan Fried Chicken Caesar Salad

Say what? Yes I did, I said vegan fried chicken caesar salad. This is by far not a gourmet concoction, but it appeals to a certain hidden part of me that craves a fast food style meal from time to time. This is a waaaay healthier update to this classic and it never fails to completely satisfy whatever craving I might have.

I've always loved caesar salad (probably had something to do with the piles of salty cheese and gobs of creamy white dressing) and it's something that I started to really miss about a year ago. There are only so many mixed green salads with balsamic vinaigrette that I can handle and I wanted to try to recreate this yummy dish from my past. I looked around online for a while for vegan caesar salad dressing recipes and tried out about 3 or 4 of them. Here, I give you the very very very best one. PLUS it has like no calories. How do they do it?! To make the dressing, put the following in a blender:

2 Tbsp. ground almonds (you can grind your own or buy the almond meal at Trader Joe's)
3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes (buy in bulk at any health food store or Whole Foods)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. dijon mustard
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp. flax oil (or olive oil)

Blend thoroughly and store refrigerated in an old, washed out salad dressing bottle. I'm not really sure how long it keeps, but I usually use it up within a couple weeks. I'm not kidding about the no calories thing. 2 Tbsp. of this stuff is 38 calories. Insane!

Usually my caesar salad sticks to the basics:
1 whole head chopped romaine
2 Tbsp. homemade vegan caesar dressing
2 Tbsp. fat free croutons
3 or so breaded soy nuggets, toasted in the toaster oven
1 Tbsp. roughly ground pumpkin seeds

Sometimes I add a little shredded cabbage and most of the time I omit the pumpkin seeds because I'm lazy and pumpkin seeds aren't that healthy. If you do use them, you'll find that the texture simulates parmesan cheese perfectly, so it's kind of fun. You can use whatever croutons you want but Safeway has these awesome fat free garlic and onion ones that I adore. Now, I normally try not to promote too many fake meat products. I'd rather make most of my meals out of whole foods rather than over-processed nonsense BUT this is one of those occasions that I make an exception. The pleasure that I derive from this recreation of a classic fast food meal is out of this world and makes it totally worth it to eat some fake chicken every now and again. I prefer the whole wheat Soy Nuggets from Trader Joe's which are dairy free over the Chickenless Nuggets which aren't. The Chick'n Nuggets from Morningstar Farms are also not totally vegan but would work in a pinch. There are also non-vegan Chick'n Nuggets from Quorn-that is if you're not freaked out by the whole food made out of mold grown in a big factory thing (I am, but to each his own).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gourmet Eggless Salad

I've been making tofu salad for quite a while now. One of my favorite lunches is to take a quarter of a block of firm tofu and mash it raw with a fork while mixing it with 1 tsp. Vegenaise, 1 tsp. dijon mustard, 1 stalk of chopped celery, a bit of minced red onion, salt, pepper and curry powder. Sometimes I add a few halved grapes too. It's delicious as an open-faced sandwich and equally delicious on a bed of greens. My co-workers can tell you that I've eaten this lunch at least 100 times in the last year (Hey, what can I say? When I get on a lunch kick, I go all out). The best thing about that salad is that it takes about 5 minutes to prepare. No, the best thing about that salad is that it is packed full of protein and yet has surprisingly few calories (15 grams of protein and 168 calories to be exact). No, the best thing about that salad is how yummy it is. BUT this new eggless salad I recently made for the first time completely blew that lame old salad out of the water! Completely!! The only problem is that this salad takes considerably more time to prepare, but I guess that makes sense.

I got this new recipe from Vegetarian Times, who say they got it from the Red Lentil restaurant in Watertown, MA. Seeing how I grew up just several towns away from this place, I'm making a mental note to go there sometime when I'm visiting my parents (hear that mom and dad? I really want to try this place!) While this recipe has a much longer list of ingredients than my old standby, it's not any more difficult. First rinse, drain and dry a block of extra firm tofu, then cut the block in half the long way, and cut each of those in half so that you have four slabs.

Next whisk together the tofu marinade:
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 clove garlic, pressed

Pour the marinade over the tofu in a baking dish and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Flip the tofu over and bake for another 10 minutes on the other side. Cool the tofu overnight or for at least a couple hours.

To assemble the salad, crumble the tofu in a bowl and add the following ingredients:
1 cup chopped celery
3 Tbsp. Vegenaise
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 Tbsp. paprika
1/2 Tbsp. turmeric
1/2 Tbsp. cumin
1/2 Tbsp. ground coriander
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste.

Mix everything together and serve over salad or as a sandwich or wrap. The original recipe also calls for chopped cashews, which are incredibly delicious, but I think unnecessary here-plus they add a lot of fat. This recipe gives you 4 servings, so sometimes I bake all the tofu and just save two of the slabs in the fridge for a couple of days before making another 2 servings for us to eat. This salad blew my mind the first time I made it. As a major former egg salad lover (that is before I learned that my cholesterol was horrible...I wonder why?) this salad made me forget any past relationship I ever had with egg salad. Or chicken salad or seafood salad or any other kind of salad. I promise, if you make this salad you will be converted too. It's just soooo good.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Green Beans with Cashews and Vinegar Dressing

Alas I am still home alone for a few more days and so I'm still cooking for one frequently. I have to work this evening (it's Saturday) so I decided to make a hot meal for lunch while I have the time. I am only slightly embarrassed to say that I got this recipe from the back of the green bean package at Trader Joe's, but hey I'm being honest here! This is the best recent preparation of green beans that I've found in a very long time. This is in fact the third time I've made these beans in as many weeks and I can't wait to make them as a side dish for J when he gets back.

I have a big binder where I keep all of my favorite recipes that I make on a regular basis. This includes recipes that I've made up as well as ones I've found online or in cookbooks, but including various changes and alterations I've made over time. I have a whole section of the cookbook just of interesting ways to make vegetables. Sometimes I use those recipes as side dishes, and often I use them as the main dish along with some sort of grain or protein or something. My favorite vegetables tend to be kale, green beans and broccoli, and this recipe is now one of the big stars of the whole cookbook section. You are going to LOVE these.

Start with 1/2 lb of green beans, trimmed and broken in half. I made this portion for one, so double it if you are making for more people. You can use regular green beans or, as I did here, use those small French green beans. Steam the beans for 5-8 minutes until tender. I check (as in taste) these often while they are steaming because I like them at a very specific consistency. They should still be crunchy, but not raw. You can cook them how you like them.

Meanwhile, whisk together 1 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. white wine vinegar and 1 tsp. dijon mustard. The recipe called for a bit of chopped shallot, but since I didn't have that on hand, I used the white part of one scallion, minced. When the beans are done, toss with the dressing and season with black pepper. Since this was my whole lunch, I decided to also add a few toasted cashew nuts, which was delicious. The dressing is tangy with the vinegar and the onion flavor and the sweet buttery flavor of the cashew works perfectly to offset the tanginess. Delicious. I just had to share right away while the flavor is still in my mouth!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Vegan Pad Thai

I looooove Pad Thai. Every time J and I go to a Thai restaurant, I want to order the same 2 things: any curry, it doesn't matter what it is; and a dish that includes rice noodles, it doesn't matter what that is either. I just love the rice noodles. At some point, I'm going to have to come up with my own recipe for vegan Pad See Ew, but for now I will share this one. This is one recipe that I can truly say I have developed on my own over many many years. It's not difficult at all, but it does contain a long list of ingredients. I don't end up actually making it that often, which makes every time that I do a very special occasion. First gather up all of the ingredients:

1 package extra firm lite tofu (I like Azumaya)
12 oz. package of rice noodles
1 red bell pepper, cut into small slices
1 red onion, quartered and sliced
2 cups mung bean sprouts
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 Tbsp. canola oil
3 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter
1 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. turmeric
1 Tbsp. lime juice
Sriracha hot sauce to taste
1/3 cup chopped basil (thai basil if you can find it)
Bean sprouts, lime wedges, scallion tops, basil and chopped peanuts for garnish

Here we go with my tried and true way of cooking perfect tofu every time without a lot of oil and extra fat. I like my tofu crispy, brown and very chewy. This method brings the tofu as close as possible to the texture of fried tofu but without all the oil! Follow these instructions exactly and I promise you will have perfect tofu every time. First press and dry the tofu. (I explain this method in my Tofu Benedict post from a few weeks ago). Cut it into small cubes and add to a lightly oiled nonstick pan over medium heat. I use a canola oil spray (like Pam) to oil the pan even though it is nonstick. Cook the cubes over medium heat, flipping often. I just grab the pan and shake it a little rather than using a spatula. You don't want to manhandle the cubes so that they fall apart. If you turn the heat up too much or let the tofu sit in once place for too long, it will stick. Cooking the tofu this way will take a while, maybe about 30 minutes for best results. The goal is for each piece to cook on each side for a while, but not long enough to stick. This method takes some patience, but it will work perfectly, I promise!

While you are cooking the tofu, bring a pot of water to a boil and add the rice noodles. Check and stir the noodles often so they don't stick together and drain them as soon as they are al dente. Rinse immediately with cold water and set aside. Meanwhile, whisk together the soy sauce, peanut butter, hot sauce, brown sugar, turmeric, vinegar and lime juice.

Heat 1 Tbsp. canola oil in a large pan or wok and cook the red onions, bell pepper, garlic, ginger and the white part of the scallions until tender. *I want to pause to share a trick I only recently learned and which has changed my life in no small way. I love to use ginger in my cooking, but I hate to chop it. I've just never been that good and chopping the thick, sinewy fibers. My pieces always turn out too large and it's never good to get a big bite full of ginger. I've also tried to grate it on all sorts of graters including the so called "ginger grater" that they sell at the Asian restaurant supply near my house. I don't really know how that thing is supposed to work, but it definitely does not work for me. Then I read somewhere about freezing the ginger. Not only does this help those big ginger roots last much longer, but it makes them infinitely easier to deal with. Just peel the ginger and stick it in the freezer in a ziplock. Then when you need it, just grate it on a microplane or citrus zester. It's super simple and saves tons of time. Seriously, this was an incredibly exciting discovery for me.*

When the vegetables are tender, add the scallion tops, bean sprouts, basil, cooked noodles, cooked tofu and soy sauce mixture. Continue to cook until heated through, stirring constantly. Serve garnished with raw bean sprouts, lime wedges, chopped basil, chopped scallions and chopped peanuts. This Pad Thai tastes just as good as any I've had in restaurants and is infinitely more healthy, not to mention lacks the pork and eggs most Pad Thai dishes include. Enjoy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vegetable Kabobs

I have to admit that I made this dish over a week ago while J was still in town. I do eat a lot myself, but not this much! After all the salads, I figured it was time to get back to a dinner food again, and in keeping with my "If I eat as though it is summer maybe it will feel like it is summer " strategy, I thought something from the grill was fitting. This is one of my absolute favorite dishes to grill, particularly because you can really use anything in the world that you want on kabobs. The other great thing about these is that you can bring them anywhere. I've brought them to friends houses for barbecues and I've brought them in my pack backpacking. They are versatile, delicious and and excuse to use the Baby-Q!

I have to take a moment now to express my love for the Baby-Q. First of all, there's the name; Obviously I was destined to love this thing...but I won't dwell on my obsessions with all things baby-sized (that is except actual babies). Back before we got married, when we first moved to San Francisco, I saw the Baby-Q on Amazon, where we had our wedding registry, and I instantly decided that we needed it. I grew up eating grilled food all the time and ever since I'd left home I had wanted a grill. It was pretty much out of the question in New York, and I didn't really stay in Charleston long enough to set up a home; This was the perfect time! Nevermind that we didn't have a yard or a patio, we had a small area on the back steps of our apartment building that leads down to the trash cans and I thought that was sufficient for my needs so long as the grill was small- hence the Baby-Q. It's amazing! Small yet powerful, portable and easy to use. Unfortunately, J did not share my opinion and he adamantly argued that I should not add it to the registry. "What," he asked "would vegans need a grill for?" Needless to say, a few months after we got married, he broke down and I went ahead and bought the Baby-Q anyway. And of course, quite to my delight, he has had to eat his words (literally haha) over and over as I lovingly prepare one delicious grilled dish after another. It is not often in relationships that one person can truly declare victory in a disagreement, but this is one of those times. I was right!

For these kabobs, you can really use any vegetables you want which makes it a great way to clean out the fridge of random vegetables you have around. If I plan in advance, my mix usually includes mushrooms, red peppers, red onions, zucchini or yellow squash, snap peas and sometimes baked tofu and/or pre-boiled potatoes. I love using that baked tofu they sell in the stores now because it's easy, firm and soaks up the marinade just the right amount. Cut each block into 9 squares and simply add to the rest of the mix. When I use potatoes, I use small red, yukon gold, or purple potatoes. Chop them in half or quarters and boil until tender, but not done. They will cook the rest of the way on the grill. I omitted the potatoes this time because J requested a pilaf and I didn't think I needed both.

The obvious key to good veggie kabobs is the marinade. I have amassed a number of good marinades over the past couple of years, but this one is still my favorite. I have no idea where it came from, but it's so easy to remember that I never even wrote it down. It's the simplest recipe in the world and it works on anything. I dare you to find something (savory mind you) that doesn't taste good marinated in this sauce. Especially try it on portobello mushrooms for the best grilled portobellos on the planet. So, the night before you want to grill, cut up your vegetables and whisk together equal parts:
soy sauce
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
Then add:
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1-2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
black pepper to taste

Pour over the vegetables and refrigerate for as close to 24 hours as you can. Then thread onto wooden skewers, grill until done and enjoy! In a pinch, you can also cook the vegetables in the broiler of your oven (believe me I have done this when the propane runs out mid-grill). When we take these camping, we just pack the whole mess including the marinade in double ziplock bags, then wrap them in foil packets and throw them in the coals of the fire. There is nothing better in the world than a big plate of this stuff with couscous after hiking all day. A great side-benefit of eating vegan is that you don't have to worry about the dinner food spoiling while you hike! I've posted one picture here from a recent camping dinner. I hope you do try this recipe and experiment using this marinade on anything you can think of. My mother called me a few weeks ago asking what I thought she should do in order to grill a regular block of tofu and I recommended this marinade for that as well. All reports say that it was a runaway success. I'm telling you, it's impossible to go wrong with this recipe. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

5 Salads in 5 Days: Cucumber and Avocado Salad

I am so glad to end this week of salads on a high note! After yesterday's salad disaster, I decided to treat myself to a (pretty) sure success. It has avocado in it, how can it be bad? The simplicity of this salad is deceiving. I whipped it together at work in just a couple of minutes, but what resulted was truly a restaurant quality meal. I quickly gobbled up the entire portion in this photo and was left wishing I had an entire other bowl. I absolutely cannot wait for J to get home so I can make this as a side dish for vegan sushi rolls or thai spring rolls or basically any other light, fresh asian dish.

I literally cannot wait to share this with all of you because it is sooooo good!

Cucumber and Avocado Salad:
1/2 ripe avocado, cubed
1/2 english cucumber, cubed
1tsp. honey
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar

Toss and enjoy! My lovely friend at the New York Times (Mark Bittman I feel like I know you...) included this salad as #21 and suggested serving it with a little cold rice and calling it a california roll salad. I didn't do the rice thing, although I have no doubt that it would be good, but even so people, this dish really does taste like a california roll to me. Or at the very least a cucumber avocado roll which is one of my favorites in the world. It must just be flavor association, but it was a remarkable sensation.

I hope you enjoyed 5 salads in 5 days and that I was able to give you at least a couple of ideas for new and unusual salads that are delicious and healthy and vegan!

Friday, August 13, 2010

5 Salads in 5 Days: Sichuan Slaw

Fail. I guess I had to expect that it would come at some point this week. At first glance, when I was making my grocery list this week, this slaw looked like a sure thing. It resembles an asian slaw that I make frequently (with cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers, scallions, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and hot red pepper flakes in case you want to make a good slaw) so I figured I should try this version to jazz up my old favorite a little.

Upon second look, I started to doubt this recipe. My first issue was that mung bean sprouts were the main element. I love bean in pad thai and scattered on salads, but to think of a dish based around them worried me. As my sister eloquently put it when I spoke to her on the phone the next day, "sometimes bean sprouts taste like dirty dish water." And that they did. My other concern was with the intense trio of herbs suggester: basil, cilantro and mint. It sounded like too much and it was.

As soon as I got to work on Thursday I started regretting my choice of lunch. You have to understand that this time of year at work is a difficult one. We are less than one month away from the biggest, most stressful, complicated day of the season and everything is beginning to add up at an alarming rate. The room I work in not only has no windows, but has no immediate access to the outside world. Lunch time is the one time when I come up for air and find out what the weather that day actually is. I try to get in my vitamin D for the day as quickly as possible and I treasure the opportunity to breathe fresh air. But in addition to being the busiest time of the year inside the office, it is the most miserable time of year outside the office. Unlike the rest of the northern hemisphere, San Francisco chooses July and August for its own personal winter. The jokes and rumors you hear are absolutely true. These days I not only wear long pants, boots, sweaters and coats every day but I have resorted to layering thermals under my clothes on especially bad days. No kidding. Therefore, my lunchtimes are forced to be depressing indoor affairs. No walks, no sitting in the park, no fun excursions in the sunshine. Instead I just sit at my desk with my other sun-deprived colleagues and eat the food I brought from home. Now you might be beginning to understand how important actually liking that food is. My one singular sensory joy between the hours of 9 and 6 on a regular work day is the food I eat for lunch. And this lunch sucked. Waah.

As I sat eating it with my friends, I literally was forced to stop for a minute and stifle the urge to say "whoa!" after every single bite. Too. Much. Flavor. This dish had waaay too much going on. That plus the bean sprouts made this dish a watery problem. I will post the recipe below because I do think it has some potential. If I make this again though, I will go with my instincts and replace the bean sprouts with cabbage and take out 2 of the herbs.

Sichuan Slaw (thanks for nothing New York Times)
1 1/2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 shredded carrots
2 shredded stalks of celery
1 minced red thai chili
1 Tbsp. minced basil
1 Tbsp. minced mint
1 Tbsp. minced cilantro
soy sauce, sesame oil and a dash of sugar to taste

Oh well, better luck tomorrow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

5 Salads in 5 Days: Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Ok, back to the New York Times article today! I took a leap of faith and finally tried a salad I've been meaning to make for many many years. Literally, I've always been intrigued by watermelon and tomato salads, but in the end always decided that I probably wouldn't like it too much based on two basic principles: I don't like tomatoes that much and I don't like to mix fruit with savory food. The first reason is just a sad fact of life, regardless of how much I love tomato sauce, tomato juice and bits of tomatoes in lots of little things (does guacamole count?) I rarely eat a tomato in a salad unless it's a little grape tomato. It's sad, but true. I've made little strides in recent years in my quest to like tomatoes, but a whole bowl full of them for lunch sounds daunting. The second reason is also a lame preference of mine. I don't like really like fruit in my dinner foods. No pineapple on my pizza, no mango in my fried rice, etc. etc. Now I know yesterday's salad had apple in it, but for some reason that was different to me. The whole Waldorf salad thing must be ingrained in me so that one gets a pass. Needless to say, a watermelon and tomato salad doesn't sound like something I would really enjoy, but for some reason I just always want to try it. Sure enough, there it was #1 on the New York Times list of 101 salad recipes. It must have gotten top billing for a reason, right?

I think so. I have to say that after making this salad, I really enjoyed it. I might have even furthered my enjoyment of tomatoes at the same time! This recipe, like all of them, is extremely simple:

2 cups cubed watermelon
1-2 medium tomatoes, cut into chunks
1-2 Tbsp. basil, julienned
1 Tbps. basic balsamic vinaigrette
black pepper to taste

Toss and serve. The combination of watermelon and tomato is famous because it really works. The tomatoes tasted like candy and the watermelon especially fresh and light in contrast. The basil and vinaigrette assure that this doesn't end up tasting like a fruit salad and the entire combination is delightful. I can't believe I waited so long to make this!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

5 Salads in 5 Days: Broccoli and Apple Salad

Ok so I lied. I'm not going to do all 5 salads from the New York Times article. I will make more unusual salads this week from the Times article, I promise! But today it was really really cold and I wanted something a little more comforting than the slaw I was planning to make. I patterned this recipe after a salad I've loved for years. The way I used to make it (and they serve this at the Whole Foods salad bar as well) was with raw broccoli, red onions, raisins, bacon, mayonnaise and cashews. I decided to vegan-ize it and make it a little healthier. Welcome to 5 Salads in 5 Days Day 2! Broccoli and Apple Salad.

2-3 cups raw broccoli, cut into small florets
1 apple, cut into bite size pieces
2 Tbsp. raisins
1 Tbsp. red onion, diced
1-2 Tbsp. Veganaise or other vegan mayo
black pepper to taste

Mix everything together thoroughly and eat immediately. This was the perfect salad for today. It was creamy and filling and comforting. I didn't miss the bacon or the nuts at all, in fact I prefer it this way. Try it at home, you won't be disappointed.

5 Salads in 5 Days: Moroccan Carrot Salad

J is away on tour for the next couple of weeks, so I'm doing a lot of cooking for one. Sad face. But, I figured that now is the perfect opportunity to spend some extra time on me, to exercise every day and to eat lightly. It might be 55 degrees and cloudy outside (yes you read that correctly), but I'm going to act like I live in a city that gets a real summer.

My sister gave me an article about a year ago from the New York Times called "101 Simple Salads for the Season." I've been sitting on it all this time and now I'm finally going to try some of the unusual salads he suggests. So welcome to 5 Salads in 5 Days: Moroccan Carrot Salad. I'm going to bring a different salad to work every day this week and post the recipe. Enjoy!

This salad sounded unusual to me but the NY Times guys stated confidently that "there is no better use of raw carrots." The Times can't be wrong, can it? The recipe is extremely simple. I prepared the ingredients at home the night before and assembled the salad right at my desk.

3 medium carrots, shredded
1-2 Tbsp. raisins
1 1/2 tsp. toasted whole cumin seeds
1-2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
olive oil to taste
lemon juice to taste

This tasted amazing.

The most unexpected element of this dish to me was the cumin seeds. I use ground cumin on a very regular basis, but I don't often use the whole seeds. I'd never actually toasted them before, but I took the same approach I use with sesame and other seeds and cooked them in a small pan over medium heat, tossing them nearly constantly. When they bubble up slightly and crunch in your mouth, they are ready. The sweet carrots with the fresh cilantro and the smoky cumin makes an incredible combination. Even my skeptical work friends really liked this salad - highly recommended!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Beans and rice are a pretty obvious vegan staple. They are delicious, healthy and full of protein yet fat free. Beans and rice are virtually the perfect dish, and I'm always trying new ways to prepare them. This recipe is one that I found online quite a while ago and never got around to trying until this week. The recipe simply didn't sound that interesting and I was never inspired enough to make it. This week, I was looking for a quick weeknight meal after staying late at work one day and I figured it was the perfect opportunity for this recipe. We were very surprised! Even though this dish has very few ingredients and is a breeze to make, it has a whole lot of flavor that adds a freshness and zip to the regular rice and beans combo.

First cook 2 cups of brown rice. This will give you more than you need for this meal, but I find that I can always find ways to use leftover rice. (A lot of people think it's strange but I even like it for breakfast.) Bring 2 cups of brown rice and 3 1/2 cups of water to a boil over medium heat. Lower the head and simmer the rice until the liquid has evaporated down to the same level as the rice in the pan. Put the lid on the pan and cook the rice over very low heat until cooked and fluffy. This whole process should take about 45 minutes, so a lot of times I put the rice on as soon as I walk in the door. That way it will be ready whenever I need it.

Next, assemble and prepare the remaining ingredients:
1 large red onion, chopped
1 medium anaheim pepper, seeded and chopped
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
salt to taste
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges

You can probably substitute another kind of pepper for the anaheim. I like this one because it is easily available in my grocery store and it's kind of half way between a sweet bell pepper and a spicier chile. Saute the onion, pepper and garlic in a lightly sprayed pan until tender. Add cumin, oregano and beans and cook until warmed through and the flavors have combined. Mix in the salt, vinegar and cilantro and remove from heat. Serve the bean mixture over rice with a squeeze of lime juice. We couldn't believe how much flavor was in this dish. J requested that I make it again next week and I think it's going to become a staple in our house. It's extremely easy and the only ingredients in the whole dish that aren't always in my pantry already are the pepper and cilantro. Hooray! I love it when easy things turn out well!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Homemade Pumpernickle Rye Bread

We love bread. I like it for a snack with a little Earth Balance or for lunch in a veggie, tofu salad or fake BLTA sandwich. J mostly likes it with almond butter and jam for breakfast or a snack. When you think about it, we end up eating quite a bit of bread each week. When my mom was out visiting us a few months ago, she realized how much bread we were going through and she decided that we needed a bread maker. She had recently gone through a phase experimenting with different models and recipes and she made a hard sell for the Cuisinart Convection Bread Maker. I have to admit that I was kind of indifferent to the idea at first. She offered to buy it for me as a gift, so I agreed despite thinking that I might not really use it that often. I was wrong.

I LOVE this bread maker! Now as a point of reference, I must mention that as a rule, I do not bake. It's not to say that I can't bake at all; I have been known to make pretty good pies and a fantastic vegan cornbread, but I don't really like to bake. Part of it is that I'm not a huge sweets person on a normal day, and part of it is that baking is so boring. You mix it all and then stick it in the oven and hope for the best. You can't taste it to see how it's doing or if you should adjust something like you can with cooking. I've logged many more baking failures than cooking failures and I'm happy to leave baking so someone else entirely. So I didn't think this bread maker thing would necessarily work out for me. Little did I know how easy and fool proof these things are. You can't possibly mess up if you just follow the recipe. After making a pretty darn good whole wheat bread recipe for about a month, my mom figured out the perfect recipe for J and me: Pumpernickle Rye. I never need to make anything else again.

I've always liked pumpernickle bread, but I never really had any idea what was in it or why it was brown. This recipe includes a number of unexpected ingredients, but for whatever reason, they all work together to make a flavorful, hearty, nutty bread.

1.5 lb Pumpernickle Rye Bread:
1 1/8 cup lukewarm water
1 3/4 cup bread flour
1 cup rye flour
1/4 cup wheat bran
2 Tbsp. unsweeteed cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. vital wheat gluten
1 1/2 Tbsp. dark molasses
2 tsp. whole caraway seeds
1 1/2 tsp.instant espresso powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance
2 tsp. yeast

The beauty of the bread maker is that you just dump all the ingredients in and the bread makes itself. Add the warm water first. The water should be between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Next add all of the ingredients through the salt. Next add the Earth balance in 4 little lumps near each corner of the pan. Lastly, press a little hole into the dry ingredients and put the yeast in this little hole. Set the bread maker to 1.5 lb. loaf and light crust and press start! In about 3 hours, the loaf will be ready! The outside will be crusty and the inside will be warm and fluffy. I usually try to cut each loaf into 12 slices, but the ends taste the best when it's still fresh and warm.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Rotini with Basil, Spinach and Sun Dried Tomatoes

It's a little bit hard to call this next one a recipe, even though it's one of our favorite dishes. I've never even attempted to write down what's in it, so this will be challenging. This dish is extremely simple to make, and I originally created it because many of the main ingredients are things that I have in the pantry or fridge pretty much every week. Whenever I need a quick dinner that I didn't plan for, I can make this dish. Or something sorta like it. The best thing is that as long as you have a couple of the key ingredients, you can add a few other things you have on hand and it will probably work. I actually went shopping with this in mind this week, so I'll write this post with the ideal set of ingredients in mind, but don't hesitate to make your own adaptations.

Start by boiling a bag of whole wheat rotini in a pot of salted boiling water. I'm sure that it would be fine to use regular white pasta instead, but I truly think whole wheat tastes better. I started eating whole wheat pasta a few years ago because everyone says that it's much healthier. I believe that of course and I'm sure it's true, but I honestly just think whole wheat tastes better. It's the difference between Wonder Bread and a good pumpernickel or the difference between white rice and brown rice. It's one of those magical times when the healthier thing actually tastes better than the less healthy item. Yay.

The next step is to assemble the rest of the dish. Gather up all of the ingredients:
3 Tbsp. olive oil or more to taste
1 large red onion, halved and sliced
5-6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
crushed red pepper to taste
Mixed seasoning to taste
10 or so sundried tomato halves, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2/3 bag baby spinach
1/2 cup or more fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the onions and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and saute a few seconds more. Usually I'm obsessed with my garlic press, but this is one of those cases when I actually want the pieces of garlic to be pretty large. While the garlic is cooking add crushed red pepper. I like quite a bit, but it's up to you. I also like to add something called Bavarian Seasoning from Penzeys Spices. This particular mixture was a gift from my sister at some point. It says on the bottle that it should be used as a chicken or meat rub, so obviously I didn't really know what to do with it at first. Luckily, one time I was making this dish and had no fresh basil in the house (see above about making this dish regardless of how prepared you are) and I started shaking in all kinds of dried herbs. This one sounded pretty good (it includes crushed brown mustard, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and sage) so I threw it in the mix. It turned out to be a pretty amazing blend, so now I'm addicted and use it all the time. If you can get over the heresy that is using Bavarian seasoning in an Italian dish, I promise you won't be disappointed.

Next throw in the sun dried tomatoes and stir the whole mixture. There
should still be a little olive oil in the pan, so if it's dried out, add a little more. The goal is for the oil to be infused with all the ingredients so far. When the sun dried tomatoes are tender, add the cherry tomatoes and a minute or so later add the spinach and most of the basil. Stir until spinach is wilted, then add the cooked pasta and mix well. You want the pasta to be very al dente, because you will saute it for a minute or so now, incorporating all of the intense flavors. Serve garnished with the remaining fresh basil. I promise this dish is simple but delicious. It's the one J probably asks for more often than anything else. It includes a little more oil than I tend to prefer, but I end up making it a lot because he asks for it so much.

The best part about it? You can exchange pretty much all of the ingredients. Don't have rotini? Use any other kind of pasta. No red onions? Use white. Don't have sun dried tomatoes and fresh? Use either or. No fresh basil? Load up on dried herbs. Sometimes I add a bunch of other veggies other than spinach. Try broccolini, red bell peppers or mushrooms. A few times I've added vegan Italian sausages cut into chunks and it worked very well too. Try your own substitutions and let me know how it goes.