Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sublime Simplicity - Vegan Pain au Chocolat

If my life depended on it, I'm still not sure I could tell you how many millions of times I have made these. Back in our Young Adult ministry days, we used to pack 20-30 people in our tiny little house, and feed them cargo ship quantities of these.  I believe the record eaten was 10 by one person.  Nate's favorite treat ever is a chocolate croissant, so as a new bride I wanted to find a suitable way to make it for him that didn't involve laboriously making croissant dough from scratch.  As I mentioned in a previous post, puff pastry is the perfect thing for a croissant fix. These little goodies are so affordable to make, and such a fun and easy thing to bring to a picnic or pot luck. The old recipe used eggs, so I was so excited that my vegan version of the recipe worked.  Score! You have to make these, seriously. Everyone, and I mean everyone loves them :)

Vegan Mini Pain au Chocolat

2 Vegan Puff Pastry Sheets, cut each sheet into 12 squares
5 oz. Vegan Bar Chocolate, cut into 24 rectangles
1/4 c. Vanilla Soy Milk
1/4 c. White Sugar
1/4 c. Raw Sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Make sure your oven is good and hot before putting the pan in. Brush puff pastry squares lightly with soy milk.  Take one piece of chocolate and roll one each in each puff pastry square. Brush again lightly with soy milk.  Generously sprinkle white and raw sugar over little rolls. Bake for 15-20 minutes until brown and flaky.  Let cool for a few minutes (I know it's hard), or you'll burn your tongue on hot gooey chocolate. Enjoy :)

Nate's Two Cents: I think the one who ate 10 was me, though I'm not sure of it.  I would never survive on the Atkins diet (actually, I'm surprised anyone does): I can turn down a steak if necessary, but put a plate of pain au chocolat (bread with chocolate) in front of me and I lose all self-control.  I blame the early-morning croissant runs my father took me on when I wasn't much bigger than a baguette roll myself.  So everything Tara says is true; these are irresistible.  By the way, if they're done right, the outside crust should sort of collapse at first bite, like a tent folding down, giving way to a soft, warm, and sweet center.  I don't know why I just said that, but it seemed important to say. Oh well...bon appetit, friends. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Vegan White Braised Onions

We scored these pretty little pearl onions on our last trip to the farmer's market. Nate was starting to stalk me on what I was going to do with them because they were so pretty. He even decided that they were worth popping in his mouth raw (not much kissing going on 'round here.)  I spent the much of last Christmas break snowed in, and with a brand new copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The best way to prepare pearl onions in my opinion is to brown braise them according to Julia's instructions, or I suppose it would be white braise since I no longer can use beef stock. Here I have made the instructions vegan friendly of course:

Braised Vegan Onions

20-24 Pearl Onions
1 1/2 T. Earth Balance
1 1/2 T. Olive Oil
1/2 C. Vegetable Stock
Bay Leaf
1/2 t. Thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste

Warm olive oil and earth balance to bubbling in heavy covered pot. Sauté onions over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Lower heat to very low, add bay leaf, thyme and stock. Simmer slowly for an additional 30-40 minutes, or until onions are glazed and tender.  

Tonight I also tried Gardein again. I dipped it in olive oil, coated it with bread crumbs, vegan parmesan, basil, salt and pepper and baked it at 425 for 20-25 minutes. It turned out great! I think I'll try it this way Piccata style next time :)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Abstract Tart - Vegan Mushroom Tart

There were a few things I was sure I was going to have to give up on a vegan diet. Certainly puff pastry isn't vegan right? Wrong! Or at least the last package I bought had no animal products listed in the ingredients whatsoever. Now I'm not saying puff pastry is health food because it most certainly isn't, but if you have a hankering for something croissant-like, this is the product you need. There are a few recipes I make a whole lot that require puff pastry, so I was elated to not have to give it up. Tonight I made this yummy mushroom tart with the Daiya cheese I mentioned in my last post. I have to say, I'm loving the Daiya even more. It was delicious especially on this tart!  Here's the recipe:

Vegan Mushroom Tart

1 Vegan Puff Pastry Sheet, thawed
1 Red Onion, thinly sliced
1 lb. Mushrooms, sliced
10 oz. Organic Fresh Baby Spinach
2 oz. Daiya Vegan Mozzarella (a little under 3/4 cup)
2 T. Olive Oil
1/2 t. Garlic Powder
Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll Puff pastry out to 15 by 10 inches. With a dull knife mark border around the puff pastry. Prick with a fork all over. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Make sure that the puff pastry is cooked sufficiently. I've made this before and taken the pastry out before thinking the additional cooking time would make the crust too brown. It doesn't :) In the meantime toss onion in 1 T. olive oil and salt, and cook on medium low heat in a covered pot for 15 minutes, stirring about every 5 minutes until caramelized. In another large covered pan, warm olive oil and cook mushrooms for about 10 minutes. Add spinach, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cook for an additional 5 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Drain mushrooms and spinach well, or it will make your pastry soggy. Spread mushroom and spinach mixture over pastry. Next add the cheese, and then evenly spread out the carmelized onions. Bake until the cheese is melted. Serve with a simple salad, and dinner is served :)

Nate's Two Cents: Puff pastry is comfort food for me. My folks were missionaries in Europe, so a lot of my memories seem to surface with flaky golden crusts over them. And I already loved sautéed mushrooms and onions before Tara busted out this recipe. At worst, three of my favorite ingredients were going to be present at the same time on my plate. Turns out, the three combine beautifully. It isn't guilt-free (puff pastry is not diet fare) but considering how delicious it was I'd never guess butter and eggs were absent. Tara stopped me after eating two pieces, but I fully plan to finish off what's left tomorrow.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Taking Daiya Vegan Cheese for a Spin

Being a former cheese snob, the thought of substituting non-dairy cheese on any of my former food favorites seemed a little depressing. I have tried a few other vegan brands. I won't mention any names, but please (you know who you are) stop trying to pass off products for cheese that are not even remotely close, and in fact are repulsively disgusting. Maybe that's a little strong, but I would like my food to at least smell good. Since the whole vegan diet thing became more than a temporary way to lose a few pounds, I started looking more seriously for some cheese alternatives. I've read many vegan forums, and apparently there is a Daiya cheese cult among budding vegans. For those living farther away from a Whole Foods in your backyard, Daiya is harder to find than other brands.  I've heard that you can only buy a limited quantity at Whole Foods.  So, being that it is apparently a popular choice, I wanted to try it ASAP. 

Pizza is great way to use up one's veggies that only have a few days left in them before going bad, so I am hoping to keep a few prepared crusts in the freezer to waste less.  So, back to the Daiya Cheese. I have to say I actually liked it, though not in the same sense as dairy cheese. I've found that many things that are replacements; i.e. non-animal based bacon, chicken, and beef really never taste like the real thing. Let's be honest. But, I've also found that you can learn to appreciate new non-cruelty foods just the same as long as you don't expect them to taste exactly the same as their animal counterparts. The Daiya was definitely cheesy, and while it pulls apart and is stringy like real cheese, it has more of an American Cheese flavor.  I enjoyed the pizza, and look forward to using Daiya in a more recipes to come :)

Nate's Two Cents: Tara said it well; vegan pizza is its own thing.  As you long as you appreciate it that way, and don't expect it to taste exactly like a deep-pan stuffed-crust supreme from Pizza Hut, you'll find the veggie flavors work really well together and that thanks to the absence of cheese, it really is possible to gorge on pizza without feeling guilty afterwards.  (Also, for what it's worth, I don't know if authentic "pizza" and Pizza Hut even belong in the same thought.)  So go for it; grab those leftover greens--and yellows and reds if you have them--and give yourself a chance to experience a less cheesy, non-greasy, and nicely balanced version of the junk food you wish you didn't love so much.

Friday, June 25, 2010

FÜD for Thought - Vegan Restaurants in Kansas City

Every Thursday night my parents kindly watch our 2 boys, so we can have a date night. We never take it for granted, and usually take the opportunity to traverse to new places in our little city.  Thanks Mom and Dad!  You're the best :) Anyway, last night Nate decided he wanted to try to make me a vegan dessert out of one of the five-thousand vegan cookbooks I have littering the house. I'm kind of used to seeing strange ingredients now since I have been reading them for a few months, but Nate, not so much. He was a little overwhelmed to see ingredients like silken tofu, spelt flour, and flax seed meal in the place of 2 large eggs and all-purpose flour. It's the thought that counts, right?  

Anyway, I remembered that there is a new vegan restaurant to try, so out we headed to the west side in Kansas City to visit FÜD (pronounced food.) We were greeted by a lovely couple, and another gentleman who explained a little more about their quaint little establishment. And as luck would have it, they had a few desserts to satisfy our sweet tooths. I visited the website prior to visiting, and was drooling over the Sweet Stack dessert; a vegan brownie topped with raw cashew ice cream and some mouth-watering sauces to boot. They didn't have the brownie last night, but let me tell ya, the cashew ice cream was to die for. The ice cream is sweetened with agave, and would trick any "real" ice cream addict. They topped it with cacao sauce and superfood caramel. I might be dreaming of it right now..........yeah, I definitely am, yum! We will be going back for dinner next time, and hopefully I'll remember to bring my camera, so I can share with you what we get.  Make sure to bring cash because they don't accept credit cards. We didn't have any, and had to drive around town before we found an ATM. Check it out! 

Nate's Two Cents: Proof again, veganism can be a lot more fun than anyone ever says it can be.  The cashew cream was incredible.  No, I don't know how you make a nut-based food taste convincingly like ice cream.  All I know is that it worked.  I'm not a huge fan of ice cream on its own--I like to dress it up in fudge and pecans, usually--but there was a delicate, almost rum-sweet quality to this stuff that really made the sauces drizzled all over it almost unnecessary.  Hey, if you can find a dairy-based ice cream that tastes this good, has no cholesterol, is low in saturated fat and doesn't give you the sugar blues later (and has no artificial ingredients), good for you.  If, on the other hand, you can't, this is an awfully nice, naturally guilt-free alternative.

Füd on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Field Roast Sausages - For Piggy sans the Pig

As you've read in previous posts, sausage was a big part of our lives prior to the whole vegan thing. We ate plenty of sausage and pasta, sausage pizza, sausage and peppers, etc. I'm kind of new to the whole world of meat analogs, and I'm not sure how I feel about most of them just yet. I do know for sure, however, that the choices have greatly improved since my being a non-meat eater 10 years ago. Last night, I tried Field Roast Grain Meat Sausages for the first time, and I have to say that I actually liked them. They are seasoned thoughtfully with eggplant, garlic, fennel and wine, but may be a bit heavy on the salt. I think my new palate is learning to really enjoy foods without the extra sodium. Regardless, the sausage was still very good. I think they would certainly make a great addition to a pizza. 

For those of you who don't want to overdose on protein, don't go crazy on these. They serve up a whopping 25 grams of protein per sausage, which is awesome only if you're trying to find a way of making sure to have enough protein. I know, I know. You worry about my lack of protein, being that I'm a vegan and all, but balance is the key. While plant protein, unlike animal protein, is generally safe even in high quantities, it is still always good to have a varied diet, and not too much of any one good thing. A person of my stature should have about 46-58 grams of protein per day, and that may even be a high estimate. But this has nothing to do with the tasty sausage I'm complimenting does it?  Maybe I'll save the topic of protein for another post :)

Nate's Two Cents: Actually, Tara, it's too late for you to backtrack on this one.  You've already taken the lid off the "protein debate" can, so we might as well talk about it a bit more.  The largest and most comprehensive study of human nutrition ever conducted--the so-called "China Study" (also the name of a book that should be required reading for everyone in America)--demonstrated some amazing correlations between high animal protein consumption and cancer (among other things). I have been a lifelong animal protein junkie, but after reading several books on the subject, I've come to question everything the Beef Council made sure our schools told us. In a future post I'll expand on that.  For now, the sausage--incredibly well-seasoned, albeit salty, for a fake meat.  The fennel did its job, packing punch in every bite. Even my meat-obsessed seven-year-old couldn't tell the difference, and this is a kid who could tell when I used rice milk instead of almond milk in his pancake batter!  My suggestion would be to put this almost-sausage on pizza or in a sweet tomato sauce.  And don't tell your guests--I can just about guarantee they won't know the difference.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Best Brown Rice Ever

Apparently those who are conscious of their health should forsake white rice for brown rice. It just so happens, that I grew up on rice, but have more recently developed a love affair with the brown variety. My mom's rice cooker is nearly 40 years old, and is still churning out rice by the boat load year after year. I'm not normally a fan of kitchen appliances. Especially in a kitchen that is lacking space in a major way, I'm partial to a few good pots and pans to get the job done. However, brown rice is a little tricky unless you want to stand next to the stove for an hour making sure it doesn't burn at the bottom of the pan, which incidentally makes for a very unpleasant dish washing experience. Do I have a point?  Oh yeah, brown rice. I remembered that buried out in the garage was my rice cooker, and I thought I should try the brown rice in it instead of a pot to see what happened.  And guess what?  Perfect brown rice without any fuss.  I've tried a few brands, but right now I'm settled on Lundberg Organic Brown Jasmine as my favorite.  I just followed the recipe on the package which made for the best brown rice ever; nutty, chewy (not sticky) and perfectly delicious.  Seriously, you have to try it!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

El Cheapo Burritos - Vegan Black Bean Veggie Burritos

I'm a huge fan of healthy convenience foods. Unfortunately, most of my favorite brands really put a dent in our budget. Many vegan burritos in the freezer section cost 2.50 - 3.50 a piece; quite the steep price for some beans, veggies and a tortilla. I've been having so much fun running around the city with my 2 handsome little guys this summer, so it's especially nice to have foods I can warm up easily for a quick lunch. And since Nate has jumped on my vegan bandwagon, many of my snacks have been disappearing mysteriously. I don't blame him. The hubs needs something he can grab on the way to work as well. He can eat at work in the cafeteria, but I'd rather him not unless I prefer him with high cholesterol. I whipped these up tonight, and yum! What a perfect way to make your tummy happy, and your dollar stretch. You can freeze these, and warm them up whenever your darling little heart desires.

El Cheapo Burritos

3 C. Black Beans
1 Can Organic Diced Tomatoes
2 T. Olive Oil
Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 Half Red Onion, diced
2 Bell Peppers, diced (any variety) 
1 t. Smoked Paprika
1 t. Cumin
2 C. Cooked Brown Rice
1/4 C. Chopped Cilantro
Salt and Pepper to taste
12 Whole Wheat Tortillas - Fajita size

In a food processor, process half of black beans and diced tomatoes until smooth.  Set aside. In large heavy skillet, warm olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper over medium heat until fragrant. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Add onion, and saute for 3-4 minutes. Next add the peppers, paprika and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until veggies are tender. Add processed bean mixture and whole beans.  Heat through, and add more salt and pepper to your taste.  Mix in brown rice and cilantro.  Heat tortillas on flat cast iron skillet, and add about 1/2 cup mixture to each tortilla. You can serve them now, or freeze them.  When reheating from frozen, wrap in tin foil and warm up for 1 hour at 350 degrees.  You can also microwave them, but I prefer the former method best.  Enjoy :)

Nate's Two Cents: Ay, caramba! I have NEVER enjoyed a bean burrito more.  Maybe it's my newly-vegan palate finally appreciating the explosion of flavors the veggie world has to offer, but really, between the beans and the peppers and the  I liked it enough to eat it cold. Not kidding.  For lunch at work I just pulled one of these out of the ziploc bag (oops, sorry, environmentally conscious readers) I had brought it in, and ate the whole thing without warming it up.  The flavors--sweet, tangy, spicy, hearty--might have even been enhanced by the non-nuke approach. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Berry Satisfying Treat

What's more American than a blueberry cobbler in the summer?  With blueberries showing up by the truckloads in my local markets, I decided this beautiful, sunshiny summer day needed to be celebrated with a delicious dessert. This last batch I bought wasn't as sweet as I like, so of course cobbler is the best spa treatment for tart berries. Top it off with a scoop of yummy rice cream, and you're in business!

Fresh Vegan Blueberry Cobbler

4 - 6 C. Fresh Blueberries
1/4 c. Sugar
1 T. Corn Starch
1 C. All Purpose Flour
1/2 C. Raw Sugar
1 t. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Cinnamon
Pinch of Nutmeg
Dash of Salt
1 T. Organic Canola Oil
1 t. Vanilla
1/2 C. Soy Milk + 1-2 T. more if needed.
2 t. Sugar
1/2 t. Cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350. Spray 8 inch baking pan with non-stick spray. Combine blueberries, 2 T. Sugar 1 t. and corn starch in baking pan. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, 1/2 t. cinnamon and salt in a bowl.  In another bowl, combine oil, vanilla and soy milk.  Stir briskly to combine. Make a well in the dry ingredient bowl, and add wet ingredients. Stir gently until just combined. Drop mixture using small cookie dough scoop. Sprinkle remaining cinnamon and 2 t. sugar over the dough. Bake for 30-35 minutes until dough is slightly brown and filling is bubbling happily. Serve warm and share with friends :)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Peanut Butta Makes Everything Betta

Oh, how I love peanut butter. Peanut butter cups, cookies, sauce, soup, whateva.  I just love it.  So, of course one who adores peanut butter needs a decent cookie recipe. These aren't the kind of cookie you indulge on however. A teeny slice will do just fine, or I'd be back up to piggy status in no time. I've made these several times since this whole vegan adventure, and they end up eaten before I even get a picture.  I rescued this last one from my 7 year old as he was lifting the cake plate lid to snatch it up.  

Vegan Peanut Butter Blondies

1 1/2 C. Natural Creamy Peanut Butter
2/3 C. Organic Canola Oil
4 t. Vanilla
1/2 C. Almond Milk
2 C. Brown Sugar
2 C. All Purpose Flour
1 t. Baking Powder
1 t. Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9 X 13 pan. Cream peanut butter, sugar, oil, vanilla and milk together until smooth. Combine in another bowl the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add dry ingredients to peanut butter mixture.  When combined, press dough into greased pan. Bake for 23-25 minutes until lightly browned.  Allow to cool in pan before serving.  I half this recipe and use an 8 inch cake pan when I don't have as much peanut butter to spare. You could also add chocolate chips or chopped nuts.  Either way is supper yummy. Enjoy :) 

This recipe is modified from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Simply The Pesto - Vegan Parsley and Walnut Pesto

I've been digging around in my old recipes, and found that most of my stand-byes are most certainly not vegan. What's so great about being a vegan in 2010 is that there are so many great options for substitutions. I've been having so much fun veganizing old favorites. I picked up my first bottle of vegan grated parmesan the other day at the store, and ran across an old recipe today for my favorite pesto. Of course the original has "real" parmesan, but I couldn't tell a difference. Pesto in it's many variations is such a wonderful sauce. You can put in on pasta, as a spread for a yummy sandwich, or it is fantastic as a sauce for a pizza.

Tonight I boiled up a box of whole wheat linguine, sautéed some mushrooms, added a few handfuls of spinach, and tossed it all together with about half of this recipe's pesto. Serious Yum!  I love using parsley here instead of basil for a change because it's just so stinkin' good for you. 1 cup has 20 % of your iron, and over 100 % of your daily vitamin A and C.  Major bonus!

Vegan Parley and Walnut Pesto

4 Cups Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley (or one large bunch)
1/2 C. Toasted Walnuts
1/2 C. Vegan Parmesan
2 Garlic Cloves, pressed
Juice of one Lemon
1-2 t. Lemon Zest
1/2 C. Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Ground Pepper to taste

Add parsley, walnuts, parmesan, garlic, lemon juice and zest to a food processor.  Puree until pasty. With the machine running, add oil in a slow stream.  Puree for another minute.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If using on pasta, reserve about 1/4 - 1/2 c. of pasta water to thin out the sauce.  Enjoy :)

Nate's Two Cents: It's not the first time I've pointed this out, but one benefit of making pasta without meat is that the delicate flavors of the pasta itself, not to mention the sauce, actually get a chance to star for once.  Think about it: How else would Tom Hanks have been discovered if not for "Bosom Buddies?"  But I digress.  I found this version milder and smoother than the traditional "fleshed-out" chicken pasta I used to eat.  And if texture is a big thing for you, don't worry too much about that.  The mushrooms make a capable stunt double for any meat you might have used otherwise.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Kind Diet - Black Eyed Pea Croquettes

I have been intrigued by the Black Eyed Pea Croquettes recipe in the The Kind Diet since I got my hands on it.  I'm a huge fan of falafel, so I wondered how an essentially gussied up falafel would taste with black eyed peas rather than garbanzos.  I have to say that it was quite good, though the recipe may have lacked some salt, or I lack salt discretion.  Probably the latter. The sauce is malt syrup and grainy dijon which was a fun new sauce to try. I think if I made these again, I might make a more savory sauce. Either way, it was a fun little project this afternoon :)

Nate's Two Cents: In my carnivorous days, I could always make room, no matter how full I might be, for something salty, fried, or sweet.  Some things never change.  I had just polished off a bowl of leftover lentil soup when (bam) Tara set these three lovely spherical fried things in front of me...and presto, the lentils were forgotten and I was good to go for a second lunch.  I have to say, if these aren't the best thing to happen to black eyed peas since Fergie, they're close.  Think hush-puppy consistency, falafel taste.  Filling and wonderful.  Don't worry if you've already eaten.  Your belly will make room.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One Day Till the Farmer's Market

Forgive the lack of posts for the past few days. My kind in-laws invited us over 2 nights in a row, which left my burners cold.  It was serendipitous that they did, because I was running low on anything fun to cook.  Tomorrow I get to go to my local market. I'm finding that I'm looking forward to my farmer's market days more an more. I love seeing what new crops are coming up.  We are still pretty fresh into the season here in the Midwest, so things are new every week.  In an attempt to be honest about what in the world I'm eating on said vegan diet, I'll share my not so gourmet meals as well for perspective. My fridge had very little to offer me tonight. Some spinach, a few lemons, a couple of pats of butter, so here is what I made:

Lemony Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach

1 lb. Whole Wheat Pasta of your choosing
3-4 Handfuls of Spinach
1/2 - 3/4 Cup Warm Vegetable Broth
3 Garlic Cloves
1 T. Olive Oil
3 T. Earth Balance Butter
2 t. Lemon Zest
2-3 T. Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper to taste

Boil pasta according to package directions. Drain. In the same pot heat olive oil and garlic until fragrant. Add pasta, vegetable broth, butter, lemon zest and juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss, and that's it :) A delicious, juicy red tomato diced would be lovely added to this, but I gobbled mine up before I had a chance to use it here. 

Nate's Two Cents: After being on a mostly-veggie diet these past few weeks I have come to appreciate small wonders like spinach. In this particular little "thrown together" dish of Tara's I found the spinach, with just a tiny bit of salt for taste, packed loads of flavor--deep, complex, earthy, mildly sweet flavor that lingers on the tongue. I agree with her that the dish is sort of a blank slate, too, upon which layers of other flavors could conceivably be added--tomatoes, pine nuts, whatever you might have on hand.  But even as is, it was satisfying and tasty.  And for what it's worth, I'm starting to miss meat a little less.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Soups up! - Vegan Black Bean Soup

I love finding ways to get in all the proper nutrition I need in my new diet.  Black beans are such a power packed food. One cup of black beans yields 15 g. of protein, 15 g. of fiber, 64% of daily folate, and 20% of your daily iron needs among other things. What's not to love about the black bean?  I've made this recipe a bunch of times, in a ton of different combinations. I love a versatile recipe that you can substitute and change to suit what is in season, or fits whatever it is I have in the pantry at the time.  I've used cannellini, kidney, and navy beans, and changed up the fresh herbs and spices. Bump up the chili powder, and add soy crumbles, and it makes a yummy vegan chili. It's super filling too, and won't leave you feeling hungry.  Have fun making this recipe your own.

Simple Black Bean Soup

4 Cans of Organic Black Beans
2 C. Vegetable Stock
1 Can Organic Diced Tomatoes
1 T. Olive Oil
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 Medium Red Onion, diced
2 Carrots, peeled and sliced
1/4 - 1/2 C. Fresh Herbs, chopped such as Cilantro or Parsley
1 t. Cumin
1 t. Chili Powder
1 t.  Smoked Paprika
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Place half of beans and tomatoes in food processor, and process until smooth. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and carrots. Sauté until tender, about 7 minutes. Add broth, spices, bean puree and the rest of the beans to the mix.  If you like a more brothy soup, add  1/2 - 1 cup more stock. If you like a thicker soup, reduce broth from 2 cups to 1 1/2 cup. Reduce to very low heat. Cover and simmer slowly about 20 minutes, stirring every once in a while to prevent the beans from burning at the bottom of the pan. This soup tastes great with a small scoop of brown rice. Serve with warm whole wheat tortillas and a salad for a completely satisfying meal.

Nate's Two Cents: Tara has made a lot of soups, and a lot of them have been black bean soups, but this was by far her BEST black bean soup ever.  I warmed it up three days in a row for my lunch at work, and each time people would walk by and comment on the delicious smell (just before looking down mournfully at the prepackaged lunches they were about to eat). There's just something about the aroma of homemade soup.  (Really, I don't know why they haven't made candles in the smell of sauteed onions and garlic yet.)  Next time I'll bring enough to share.  Maybe.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Golden Starches - Pan Crisped Polenta

I was running low on items in the pantry, but lo and behold, I had a jar full of polenta corn grits.  Normally I cook polenta as a hot cereal, but decided today to try it heated in olive oil until crispy. I topped it with fresh tomatoes and onions which was a fresh summery treat.  This would be especially yummy with sliced veggie sausage and marinara.  I'm going to try it that way the next time.  Yum!  

Pan Crisped Polenta

6 cups of vegetable stock (unsalted or low if you have it)
2 C. Polenta Corn Grits
2 T. Earth Balance Butter
1 t. Salt (only if your vegetable stock is unsalted.)
More Olive oil for pan.

Lighty oil a 9 X 13 pan.  Bring stock and water to boil.  Stir in polenta slowly.  Lower the heat, and stir regulary for 20 minutes until very thick.  Stir in butter.  Spoon polenta into pan, and let set for about 10 minutes.  You could serve it hot just like this, but if you want to warm it up and crisp it, follow the next step.  Set in the refridgerator for at least 2 hours.  Cut into squares.  Warm enough olive oil to cover bottom of cast iron or heavy skillet over med-high heat.  Sauté squares until lightly browned.  Top with any sauce of your choosing.  You could also half this recipe for a smaller family, and use instead an 8 X 8 pan. Enjoy :) 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Summer, Summer Time

We're big pasta people 'round here.  Since it's summer time, I thought it was the perfect time to make a summer pasta.  This is my go-to sauce when I want to make a quick dinner. It doesn't matter what pasta you choose, or what embellishment ingredients you decide on, it brightens any dish.  Another bonus is that it is so quick and easy that you don't have to fuss over it all day like many traditional Italian sauces. This is my father-in-law's sauce. He learned how to make it from his close Italian friends, so I'd like to think of it as semi-authentic. Tonight I chose to use whole wheat angel hair which I topped with sauteed broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms and onions.  This was a lovely light dish for a hot summer day.  Serve it with a simple salad and crusty bread, and you're all set for company.

Nate's Two Cents: Since this dish features a sauce I ate with Italian sausage about, oh, six thousand times growing up, I was intrigued by the idea of eating it sans meat.  Well, as it turns out, the sauce really shines when it doesn't have to compete with anything fleshy.  It comes off lighter, more vibrant and citrusy, and well-suited for the asparagus-broccoli bits that color the dish.  I'm not saying I'm totally rehabilitated yet from my addiction to Scimeca's, but slowly I'm gaining a new appreciation for dishes that come from the garden rather than the butcher's block. Who knew?

Simple Summer Sauce (Easiest Pasta Sauce in the Whole World)

3 Cans of Organic Diced or Whole Tomatoes
3 Garlic Cloves minced finely
1 T. Olive Oil
1 1/2 t. Dried Basil
2 Pinches of Crushed Red Pepper
Fresh Ground Pepper

In a cold pot, add olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper.  Turn up heat to medium.  As soon as the garlic is fragrant, add the tomatoes and the rest of the seasonings.  Garlic burns easily, so make sure it doesn't burn, or your sauce will be bitter.  Reduce heat, and cover.  Cook over very low heat for 20 minutes.  Use a stick blender to blend your sauce to your desired consistency.  I don't add salt, but you can if you want.  And that's it!  Easy, huh?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Vegan Cookie Dough Bon Bons

So, yeah. This is not health food. I had to whip up some treats to share, and I only had ingredients to prepare something not so guilt free. So I thought: Who doesn't love cookie dough?  Maybe my family is an anomaly when it comes to this, but there have been a few throw-downs at our house over who gets to lick the cookie dough spoon. What's great about this recipe is that you don't have to worry about salmonella because there are no eggs. Bonus! This is a bit of a variation of Cookie Dough Scoops from Vegan Cookies Take Over Your Cookie Jar. I doubled the recipe to be able to share more, and changed a few things to fit what I had in my pantry.  These taste much better when frozen, so if you're transporting them, make sure to take them out of the freezer just before you leave, or they'll be the consistency of cookie dough which is not necessarily a bad thing IMO. Make sure to make people eat them all, so you take home NONE :)

Vegan Cookie Dough Bon Bons

2 C. Brown Sugar (dark if you have it)
1/2 C. Almond Milk
1 C. Earth Balance Vegan Butter
1 T. Vanilla 
3 1/2 C. All Purpose Flour
1/2 t. Salt
2 C. Vegan Chocolate Chips

For the Drizzle
1 C. Vegan Chocolate Chips
2 T. Soy Creamer

Beat sugar and butter together. Add almond milk, and vanilla, and beat until combined.  Add the salt and flour, and beat until fluffy. Add chocolate chips. Using a large cookie sheet covered with parchment, scoop out tablespoon sized balls of dough onto parchment. Next add chocolate chips and creamer in a pan over very low heat.  Stir until melted.  Pour melted chocolate into a zip lock bag, and cut the tip off.  Drizzle over bon bons.  Place cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen, about an hour or longer. Enjoy :)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Smartly Dressed - Balsamic Vinaigrette

I'm so happy that farmer's market season is here again in the Midwest. While some of you West and East coasters enjoy fresh produce year round, we suffer here during the winter solstice.  With my new veg-dentity, I have located the best makets to visit. We have a large city farmer's market here in Kansas City, but I prefer to drive a bit farther to the Farmer's Community Market in Brookside. It's like they hand picked all the best farms, and omitted all the extra non-organic extra filler vendors that you may find at a larger market.  It's so fun talking to local farmer's about what they like to do with this or that.  I bought this lovely lettuce, some tomatoes, and the most beautiful new potatoes I'd ever seen. Did you know a new potato could be beautiful?  Well, it most certainly can!  My favorite vendor I met hooked me up with the part of the stem that grows out of the garlic to throw on the potatoes (I totally forgot what he called it. Do you know?) He almost tempted me to buy a turnip.  I might try one next week :) Anyway, I needed to whip up a dressing for my salad.  Here's one of my simple favorites:

Balsamic Vinaigrette

3 T. Balsamic Vinegar
1 T. Dijon Mustard
1 Garlic clove minced
1/3 to 1/2 cup of Olive Oil
Pinch of sugar (optional)
Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper to taste

In a bowl, combine vinegar, garlic and mustard.  Add the oil slowly while whisking briskly.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Sometimes I reduce the amount of olive oil for lower fat version, but if you like a richer dressing, go with all the olive oil.  Enjoy your veggies!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Kind Diet - Lentil Stew

Yes, it's true.  I might be obsessing about The Kind Diet recipes.  But truly, this is one recipe in particular that needs to be made, and by you (right now.)  Seriously!  This is Lentil Stew (page 171) in it's perfect form.  I don't know why; it just is.  I have made many lentil stews, but for some reason I'm lentil impaired.  My last few attempts have resulted in either too mushy lentils, and underdone veggies, or hard lentils and mushy veggies.  It's hard to get vegetables and lentils to meet right where they're supposed to be in the appropriate textures at the same time. The instructions in this particular recipe are thoughtful and precise, and result in a perfect bowl of stew. The only change I made was to add 1 T. of flour as I was sauteing the vegetables to thicken the broth a tad, and it paid of.  Perfecto!

Nate's Two Cents: Truthfully, I'm still not exactly sure what a lentil looks like in the wild.  But I do know that unlike most of the things I used to eat in my stews, it is treated humanely. And it definitely plays well with others: Is it a vegetable soup featuring lentils?  Or a lentil soup with vegetables?  Yes and yes.  Anyway, it's filling, it's delicious, and it's packed with protein so I can't make any excuses about it being a soup for weenies. Thumbs up.