Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pesto Pasta, Garlic Bread and Colorful Salad

My sister-in-law and her sister joined my husband and I for dinner tonight, and I wanted to put together a healthy vegetarian meal that would be quick and easy to prepare on a weeknight.

For the main dish, I decided to do a pesto pasta with grape tomatoes and bocconcini (tiny little fresh mozzarella balls).  In case you are unfamiliar with pesto, it's a green sauce made with olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.  If you have specific nut sensitivities, be aware that sometimes pesto is prepared with walnuts instead of pine nuts.  (I learned this the hard way, since walnuts are my most intense allergy.) 

Pesto was originally made with a mortar and pestle (which explains the name, which refers to, as Wikipedia says, "anything made by pounding").  However, I find that a food processor makes pesto incredibly easy.  This recipe gets the proportions pretty right, but taste as you go to add and subtract ingredients as you see fit.  It's also helpful to scrape down the bowl as you go so that the ingredients combine effectively.
I haven't tried to make vegan pesto, mostly because all of the vegan parmesan substitutes I've come across have either soy or walnuts.  However, I did use Whole Foods' vegetarian parmesan, which is not made with rennet or derived from cows treated with rGBh.  But, if someone would like to give it a shot, let me know how it turns out.

For the pasta, I used Barilla Plus Angel Hair.  Plus pasta is made with golden semolina and flaxseed, spelt, oats, barley, and legumes.  It is also made with egg whites, so it's not suitable for vegans.  However, if you're a lacto-ovo vegetarian, this pasta has some positives.  One serving has 17 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, as well as 15% of the DV for iron, 28% of the DV for ALA Omega-3 and 40% of the DC for folate.

The one thing that drove me slightly batty about tonight's pasta is that when I stirred in the tomatoes and mozzarella, they immediately sank to the bottom of the bowl, which killed my presentation.  The pesto combined just fine, however.

The garlic bread I made was suitable for vegans.  During my lunch hour, I went to the Foggy Bottom Whole Foods and grabbed a whole wheat french bread.  When I got home, I made a garlic "butter" using soy-free earth balance, freshly minced garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes.  I spread the "butter" on the bread and let it toast in the oven at 350 for ten minutes.  It came out crusty and gooey, just like traditional garlic bread.

Whenever I do a big pasta dinner, I like to serve a green salad on the side.  I got a pre-washed bag of spring mix, which I topped with pre-shreeded carrots, julienned Asian pear and slivered almonds.  If you're not familiar with Asian pears, it's a round fruit native to China, Japan and Korea.  Since they have a high water content, they are typically eaten raw, rather than in baked goods.

I normally don't eat salad dressing, since it's often laden with soybean oil, but I decided to try my hand at making a vinaigrette tonight.  I used this Epicurious recipe, omitting the sugar and using Grey Poupon horseradish mustard (aka, what we have in the house).  It paired better than I expected with the salad, and we put the leftover dressing in a cruet so I can use it throughout the week.  I've learned to appreciate dry salad, but it's sure nice to have a dressing option when I want it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vegetarian Options for Carnivores

Awhile back, when I was asking for suggestions for future blog posts, my friend Stefanie suggested I do a post on, as she put it, "vegetarian options for carnivores like me."  Well, Stefanie, I finally got around to writing it.

This is not going to be a post on the ethics of vegetarianism, as important a discussion as I think that is.  Rather, this is a post about how to happily feed someone who is used to, for whatever reason, a meal containing meat and have them be satisfied with a vegetarian meal.  To that end, I thought about some of the dining archetypes that might initially be resistant to vegetarian dining and how I would approach each of them.

The Picky Eater - We have all met the picky eater in multiple forms.  The picky eater may refuse to eat unfamiliar foods.  They may want their food to be a starch and a protein, not touching, and refuse any vegetable but iceberg lettuce.  They may look upon my cooking . . . erm  . . .I mean "hypothetical cooking"  . . . and say "Gosh, that's a lot of green stuff!"

The key to dealing with the picky eater is to understand the root of their pickiness.  Chances are, it's one of two forms - they haven't been exposed to the food in question, or they've had it, and it was prepared in some sort of awful fashion.

For those with limited exposure to food in general, the best way to expose them to vegetarian meals is not to hit them all at once with things that scare them, like tofu.  Heck, tofu scares me for a variety of reasons.  Rather, it's best to have them try a vegetarian version of a staple that's typically prepared as a meat dish.  Chili is a great example.  Chances are, the picky carnivore in question has had chili at some point in their lives.  Heck, it may have even been vegetarian!

Some other good items for the limited exposure picky eater include lasagna and other pasta dishes; enchiladas, burritos or fajitas and hearty soups like minestrone.

By gradually exposing the limited exposure picky eater to these types of foods, they will learn that vegetarian cuisine isn't as scary as it seems, and be willing to try new things.  Case in point - when I mentioned to my husband (who will admit he is not the most adventurous of eaters) what blog I was writing tonight, he asked if I was going to tell everyone about the time I made us Seitan Hot Wings.  Ask me if he would have been talking about seitan in a positive light, or even knew what seitan was (admittedly, I had no idea before I went veg!), five or so years ago?  But, since I've gradually been introducing various vegetarian items into our meals and made food he's recognized, he's been willing to taste some of my more off the wall experiments.

Another thing to contend with when it comes to picky eaters is undoing years of vegetable mistreatment.  By this, I specifically mean boiling vegetables into a tasteless mush.  Yeah, I wouldn't want to eat that either!  Chances are, if someone doesn't "like" broccoli, it's because they ate it after it was boiled for an extended period of time, which is a terrible thing to do to a vegetable.

In the case of dealing with Post Traumatic Boiled Vegetable Syndrome, gently expose your picky eater to preparations like steaming (particularly good with broccoli and cauliflower), sauteing (mushrooms, peppers) and roasting (potatoes, brussels sprouts, beets) help bring out the best in vegetables.  One of our family members said to me at Thanksgiving this year, "It's a miracle.  You made brussels sprouts edible."  The secret?  DON'T BOIL THEM.  And, get them fresh and season them well!

Some of my vegetarian cooking experiments I recommend for the picky eater:

Vegetable Enchiladas
Black Bean Burgers
Roasted Vegetables

The Food Snob - If there is such a thing as a vegetarian food snob, it's yours truly.  I watch a ridiculous amount of Food Network.  A happy day for me is hanging out in the Whole Foods produce section.  I love going out to eat at restaurants that serve things that involve the word "emulsion."  I have eaten a mangosteen overseas, before they started showing up here in the states.

But, there are food snobs out there that believe you aren't really a foodie unless you are enjoying some sort of meat.  I remember meat, and, yes, it did taste good and there are some chefs who do amazing things with it.  But, there are also vegetarian dishes that can have the same wow factor.

Food snobs like me appreciate two things - fancy ingredients and awesome presentation.  Like the high school classmates of mine who were proud to have seen Live before they went national and liked Nine Inch Nails before Trent Reznor was a household name, we all like to think we're the first people to discover an ingredient.  So, plan your meals around something schmancy & restauranty- polenta, porcini mushrooms, celery root, farro, etc.  Make a delicious sauce by deglazing your pan with vegetable broth or wine. 

Awesome presentation also goes a long way.  To me, nothing is more boring than slab of meat, plop of starch, sad pile of veg.  I like it when food is art, and so do most carnivore foodies.  So, use the natural color and vibrancy of fruits and vegetables to create a visual dining experience.  Vegetable napoleons are a great example of a vegetarian dish that  presents well.

Some of my cooking experiments that I recommend for the food snob:

Mushroom & Celery Root Lasagna
Polenta Crusted Eggplant Parmesan
Quinoa Cakes with "Meat" Sauce
Kabocha Squash, Farro and Kale
Lasagna Cupcakes

When it comes down to it, the key to having a carnivore enjoy a vegetarian meal, really all it comes down to is to cook them something that looks great, tastes great and is full of love.   By gradually exposing the "carnivore" to delicious tasting vegetarian meals, you open folks' eyes to the worlds of possibilities in vegetarian dining.

Vegetarians - what are the most common objections you hear when you suggest a vegetarian dish?  "Carnivores," what am I missing?  What other questions do you have?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Night Dinner: Stuffed Peppers

Awhile back, I mentioned that I was looking forward to making stuffed peppers, and I finally got around to it this evening.  After researching a few recipes, I decided to wing it.

There's a number of variations you can do with stuffed peppers.  You can serve them cut in half, with each side of the pepper forming a little bowl, or you can take the top off and stuff the entire pepper.  Either way, you will want to make sure you scrape out the seeds and the inner white parts.  For this recipe, I elected to cut the peppers in half, figuring that it would be easier to store and transport the leftovers for lunch.  I seasoned the insides of the peppers with salt & pepper and put them in a baking dish coated with cooking spray.

For the stuffing, I sauteed red onions and mushrooms, seasoning them with salt and pepper, and let it go until the onions were translucent and the mushrooms were soft.  I then added sliced grape tomatoes, a can of cannellini beans, and four cloves of minced garlic.  When the garlic was fragrant, I stirred in some leftover bulgur and some rough chopped arugula, and seasoned everything with Italian seasoning.  I then took the filling off the heat and stirred in some mozzarella daiya.  Once the daiya melted into the filling, I stuffed the six pepper halves and then topped them with more daiya.

I covered the dish with foil and put it in the oven at 375 for 45 minutes.  When there were 10 minutes to go, I removed the foil to let the tops get a little crispy.

Peppers, mid-assembly proces
I can see many variations on this dish, using the formula of something with a meaty texture, a grain, beans, something to add creaminess, additional veg, and a green veg.  Here are some ingredients you can use in various combinations for your own stuffed peppers:

Meaty Texture: mushrooms, vegan sausage, vegetarian grounds
Grain: bulgur, quinoa, brown rice, couscous
Beans: black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, kidney beans
Creaminess: daiya or other cheese alternative (vegan), boccatini, cotija, feta (lacto-ovo)
Additional Veg: zucchini, corn, onions, garlic, tomatoes
Green Veg: spinach, arugula, kale, swiss chard

My peppers tonight have more of a Mediterranean vibe  I can see a delicious Mexican version with onions, vegan chorizo sausage, quinoa, black beans, cheddar daiya or cotija, corn and spinach, seasoned with cumin, garlic and cilantro, perhaps drizzled with some tomatillo salsa.  You don't necessarily need to use a meat substitute or beans or a cheesy element - feel free to add or subtract any ingredients that you'd like!

Restaurant Review: Founding Farmers Potomac

The original Founding Farmers is located right by my office, so I've been there a few times.  The second outpost of this restaurant recently opened in the Park Potomac development, which is near our home in Maryland.  My parents and I decided to check it out on Friday.

The menu is very similar to the DC location, with a focus on fresh, seasonal and regional foods.  According to one of our servers, the vegan menu that is available in DC is not yet available in MD, but there are a number of vegetarian friendly options available at the MD location.

We started with an apple, brie and onion jam flatbread that was delicious, but immediately tripped my allergies - my own fault for not asking more about how it might have been prepared.  (Side note - This past weekend has been a bit brutal food allergy wise).

For lunch, I opted for the veggie burger.  The server asked me how I wanted it cooked, which flummoxed me a bit.  But, they may have just been used to doing that when they heard "burger."  The flavor was good, but it was a bit overwhelmed by the big bun, and I ended up eating it with a knife and fork.  The accompanying fries were very good - you could taste the potato.

In addition to the veggie burger, some veg friendly entrees on the current menu include a number of the flatbreads, a roasted vegetable and avocado sandwich, a melted squash on ciabatta, the Many Vegetable Salad, and a number of pastas.  Items containing tree nuts and peanuts are noted on the menu, but no other allergens are specified, so ask your server for more details if you have any allergy sensitivities.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Blueberry Rhubarb Pie and Vegan Mashed Potatoes

My final two cooking projects for Thanksgiving were dessert and another side, both vegan!

I did an informal poll of my friends on Facebook to see what pie I should make for Thanksgiving.  My friend Matt suggested blueberry rhubarb, and I thought that sounded great.  I found this recipe to serve as my guide.

For the crust, I used the vegan Buttery Double Crust recipe from the November 2011 issue of Yoga Journal, which comes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero's Vegan Pie in the Sky.  The recipe isn't currently online, but it calls for flour, salt, sugar, vegan margarine, vegan shortening and cider vinegar.  I used Earth Balance buttery sticks and vegetable shortening.  Both of them contain soy, but I'm hoping that the small amount of pie I'll have won't knock me over allergy wise.  I used my food processor to make the dough for the crust, rather than cutting in the "butter" and shortening by hand.  I did cut the "butter" & shortening into small cubes first, and then put those cubes in the freezer for a bit to firm them back up.

For the filling, I essentially followed the recipe above, except I used the converted amount of truvia, rather than sugar.  I used fresh blueberries, but rhubarb is completely out of season, so I used frozen rhubarb from Stahlbush Island Farms.  I've used their frozen rhubarb before and it turns out quite well.  I also omitted the butter dotting on the filling - I was planning to use Earth Balance, but I completely forgot to add it in before I put the crust on top.

As usual, I had issues getting the crust to roll out properly.  I used the pastry board my parents  got me, and put waxed paper over the dough, but it still took me two tries to get it not to stick.  I'm sure someone has a suggestion they would be happy to share with me (hint hint!).  And, as also usual, I had to piece together the bottom and top crusts after the dough broke.  Thus, I refer to this pie as "Franken-Pie," due to the repair job I did on the top.

I did manage to do cut outs on top of the crust.  I have some small leaf cookie cutters that work well for this purpose.  I then used a knife to score the dough pieces to make them more leaf like.  Finally, I brushed the pie with almond milk to help the pie brown.  I used  my pie shield for the first 35 minutes of baking, and then removed it for the final 15 minutes.

Fluffier than they look - they're crammed in this bowl!
For the vegan mashed potatoes, I took 3.7 pounds (yes, a weird number  - that just happens to be what they weighed out to) of red potatoes, quartered them, and boiled them in our giant seven quart pot for 25 minutes.  In the past, when I've made a huge amount of mashed potatoes, I had to use multiple pots, so it was nice to only have to do them in one.  Once the potatoes were done, I used my yoga cultivated upper body strength to drain the potatoes, and then I mashed them with soy-free Earth Balance, plain almond milk and generous shakes of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Mom tasted them and said the almond milk added a touch of sweetness that she liked, and that they weren't as heavy as mashed potatoes made with a ton of dairy products.  I think I may need to re-season them when I reheat them tomorrow, but I'll play it by ear.

So, that's all of my Thanksgiving cooking!  We'll see what the verdict is when our family gets to taste everything tomorrow.  Until then, have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!!!

Homemade Cranberry Sauce and Roasted Vegetables

I decided to attempt homemade cranberry sauce this year.  The canned stuff scares me a little bit, frankly, and fresh cranberries are everywhere, so it seemed like a good time to give it a try.

Since I had never made it before, I did some googling, and saw a number of recipes, such as this one, that included pears and ginger.  I also saw a number that included cardamom and orange zest, so I decided to incorporate both of those flavors as well.

Orange zest and I go way back - I love to include it in both savory and sweet dishes.  But, I wasn't as familiar with ginger (beyond the fact that my grandfather loved candied ginger and always kept a container next to his other favorite treat, scotch, as well as knowing that ginger ale helps with an upset stomach) or cardamom.

So, in case you too are unfamiliar with these flavors, here's a quick background.  Ginger is the root of a plant that has roots (ha - unintentional pun) in Southeast Asia.  It's purported to have medical purposes, from helping with arthritis to curing nausea (hence ginger ale).  It can lend a little spicy zing to baked goods like gingersnaps and ginger bread, and it's also found in savory soups and dishes.

Cardamom is a member of the ginger family, and is native to India and Bhutan.  You can get it in the spice section in pod form or ground.  It's most commonly found in Indian cooking, but some Scandinavian dishes also incorporate it.

Most of the cranberry sauce recipes called for sugar, which makes sense given that cranberries have a natural tartness.  I decided this might be a great time to try Truvia, which is a sweetener made from the Stevia plant.  It's naturally sweeter than sugar, but doesn't have the caloric impact.  Also, you can use it in cooking and baking.  I'm a big Splenda user, but a friend who had consulted with an Ayurveda practictioner had great things to stay about stevia, so I'm working on making the switch.   If you are swapping Truvia for sugar, you need substantially less than the recipe calls for.  Truvia provides a handy conversion chart on their website.

Anyhow, here's the resulting recipe for my cranberry sauce:

Two packages of fresh cranberries, rinsed
Four pears, peeled and diced (I used bartletts, but other recipes suggest bosc or anjou - take your pick!)
Four tablespoons of grated fresh ginger root (a microplane is helpful here)
Zest of one large orange
2/3 cup of Truvia
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
2 cups of water

Mix all ingredients in a large saucepan.  Heat on medium until cranberries pop and mixture looks sauce-like (I was just over the 20 minute mark).  Set aside until cooled and chill overnight.

I've also made my roasted squash with corn and cranberries, as well as roasted brussels sprouts with shallots.  Since I've made both of these dishes before, I won't provide extensive details, but you do get to see a picture before they went in the oven:

Brussels sprouts weren't on my original list of things to make today, but I remembered that I have missed having a green vegetable at Thanksgiving these past few years, so I took matters into my own hands.  ;)  I did omit the parmesan cheese I usually stir in as I'm making everything vegan this year.

What I'll Be Making for Thanksgiving

I love our family's Thanksgiving.   About four years or so, when my husband and I had been dating for a year, my parents and I were first included in my husband's family's Thanksgiving celebration, which includes both his side of the family and our sister-in-law's family.  It's 20 people, lots of kids, and all of our family culinary traditions coming together pot luck style - the traditional American Thanksgiving fare,  Jewish dishes and Vietnamese dishes.

Since I'm the lone vegetarian among omnivores, I am all about the sides.  So, my contributions this year will be as follows:

I always make everything from scratch.  This year, I am going to attempt to make everything vegan, including the mashed potatoes and the pie crust.  I'll post throughout the day with pictures and photos of progress!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Product Review: Amy's Kitchen Vegan Macaroni & Cheeze

With all the cooking I'll be doing over the next few days, I decided to give myself a break from cooking (and my husband a break from dishes), and try out some vegan macaroni and cheese.  I definitely still plan to try and make some from scratch, but, tonight, I decided to try a pre-made version.

Amy's makes a variety of vegetarian and vegan macaroni and cheese dishes.  The one that is vegan, but also soy-free and thus allergy friendly for me, is the Rice Macaroni with Dairy Free Cheeze.  The "cheese" in this product comes from daiya, as well as nutritional yeast and mustard powder.  It takes five minutes in the microwave and it's done.

While this may scare off folks who haven't tried any of these ingredients, fear not.  This tastes like packaged mac and cheese to me, and given how packaged mac and cheese is my ultimate comfort food, that's a strong endorsement. I'll be having this in lieu of traditional boxed mac and cheese (which is a massive allergy bomb for me anyway) when the craving strikes.

For those who follow a gluten-free diet, this is also a good alternative for you if you have a hankering for mac and cheese.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Farm Sanctuary's Adopt a Turkey Campaign and the Spirit of Thanks and Giving

Meet our turkey, Antoinette!

Happy almost Thanksgiving, everyone!  I have been making lists of all the ingredients I need for vegetarian delectables I plan to make for this year's family Thanksgiving extravaganza, and will be posting blogs about each dish.

I obviously won't be eating turkey this Thanksgiving, but I decided to celebrate Thanks and Giving by sponsoring a rescued turkey at Farm Sanctuary. The funds I donated will help with care for 25 sick and injured baby turkeys that were dropped off at the Southern California shelter on November 4.

My husband and I perused all the turkeys, and decided to sponsor Antoinette, whose tagline is "Let them eat squash!"  This is appropriate, as we love a good squash dish.

Farm Santcuary is a terrific organization.  I was lucky enough to hear Gene Baur speak a few months ago, as well as read his book.  This organization works so hard to make sure animals found in the most dire of circumstances are able to receive medical treatment, recover and live out the rest of their time as nature intended.

Me on the left, rocking the hairnet at Everything But the Turkey!

I'll also be celebrating the spirit of Thanks and Giving by volunteering at the Washington DC JCC's Everything But the Turkey event on Monday, November 21.  Monday's volunteer slots are all filled, but you can sign up for Wednesday, make a donation or purchase kitchen tools for the J to use for their Hunger Action Program.   Any way you can support the program will help DC Central Kitchen provide hundreds of meals for over 100 social service agencies in the Washington area.

I'm especially thankful for the DCJCC's community service programs, because, as many of you know, that's how my husband and I met more than four and a half years ago!

What are you thankful for this season?  How do you plan to engage in the spirit of giving?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bulgur, Bulgur Everywhere

On my ongoing quest to try more whole grains, I decided to cook with bulgur tonight.  Bulgur is a form of whole-wheat that has been parboiled and dried while maintaining most of its wheat bran.  From a nutrition standpoint, bulgur is high in fiber and protein, and is also an excellent source of iron.  If you've had tabouleh, you've had bulgur likely without realizing it.  If you're looking for some other ways to use bulger, the New York Times did a nice article on it awhile back.

Since bulgur has been pre-cooked, it has a much shorter prep time than grains like wheatberries, freekeh or farro.  So, it's an ideal option if you don't have a lot of time.  My bulgur took about 15 minutes to cook.

While I was making the bulgur, I crumbled and browned Field Roast Grain Meat Company Smoked Apple Sage Sausage (vegan and soy-free) in some olive oil.  I then stirred in some chopped brussels sprouts and minced shallots and seasoned the mix with salt and pepper.  I then added some minced garlic, chopped grape tomatoes and a few shakes of red pepper flakes.  Since the sausage created a lot of brown bits in my pan, I deglazed it with some white wine.

I was worried that it was going to be a bit too spicy, but the mildness of the bulgur helped mellow the flavors our a bit.  Next time, I'd add more tomatoes, perhaps both red and yellow, for more color contrast.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Can't Wait to Make This and That

Since I'm working through leftovers, I'm not cooking tonight.  But, that does give me some time to browse through some recipes I would like to make sometime soon.

Sweet Potato Torte from Vegetarian Times.  I'll figure out if I want to use actual dairy for this one or find a good sub.  But, regardless, the mandoline will make slicing the sweet potatoes ridiculously easy, and I do love swiss chard.  I'll play with it.

Vegetarian Times also has a video on how to make your own seitan, which is now on my list after my amazing pan-seared seitan meal at Blossom in New York City.

Chocolate Mousse Pie from Science of Spirituality Vegetarian Life.  I don't see myself jumping on the raw bandwagon anytime soon, but I am curious about this vegan dessert, which gets its creaminess from avocado and almond milk.

The Whole Foods website has oodles of holiday recipes, including both vegan and vegetarian options.  The two that caught my eye were Harvest Stuffed Acorn Squash and Celebration Lentil Loaf.  The stuffed squash dish has walnuts,which are a big allergy no-no for me, but pecans would be an easy sub.

Awhile back, at a work function, the vegetarian option was a quinoa stuffed bell pepper.  This recipe from Chef In You looks quite similar and tasty.  Since I'm not a frozen pea fan (and they also are technically an  allergy issue for me, which likely contributes to my lack enjoying them), I'll tinker with this a bit.

Husband and I have been discussing Shepherd's Pie, and I've been searching for a recipe that will satisfy his desire for a more traditional preparation and my vegetarian adventurousness.  This recipe from Clean Eating Magazine looks like it has the potential to make us both happy.

Of course, with winter fast approaching, soup sounds like a great idea.  Healthy Bitch Daily recently sent out a vegan autumn minestrone that looks like it will hit the spot.  And, if I want to give my immersion blender a workout, I can make a vegetarian version of this butternut squash soup.

Lastly, we all know of my great love for macaroni and cheese.  Since I am eschewing packaged foods and dairy, I will be staying away from the kraft deluxe and the velveeta shells and cheese (I may need help from a sponsor here - any volunteers?).  Fortunately, I came across a great looking Fancy Mac & Cheese recipe on Daiya's Facebook page, courtesy of Natalia Eats.

Well, that's enough food to last for weeks now, isn't it?  Now, must find the time to try all these out!

What vegetarian and vegan recipes are you looking forward to trying?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake

Before I decided to swear off large amounts of dairy for awhile, I signed up to make a pumpkin cheesecake for the office potluck.  In the future, I may experiment with making some soy-free, dairy-free "cheesecake," but in the sake of making sure I had something I knew was tried and true to feed my co-workers, I went with this AllRecipes marbled pumpkin cheesecake, which I've made a few times to positive reviews.

The crust is made of gingersnaps, pecans and melted butter, and is pre-baked for 10 minutes and cooled prior to filling.  The recipe calls for canned pumpkin - not pumpkin pie mix - so read labels carefully.  The marbling effect is achieved by removing 1 cup of the plain batter before adding the pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Corn & Cranberries

A few years ago, when I was still eating meat, I used to go to Nando's Peri Peri, which specializes in Portguese roast chicken.  They also have a number of sides, including a roasted butternut squash dish I enjoyed so much that I learned to replicate it myself.  While I no longer eat chicken, I still love this squash combo.  I now make it regularly for Thanksgiving and fall family meals, as well as for my office's annual Thanksgiving Potluck, which will take place this Tuesday.

The health benefits of butternut squash are numerous.  It's a great source of fiber, Vitamin A, B-complex vitamins and minerals like iron and zinc.  Now that it's fall, you'll likely see whole butternut squash everywhere.  If you do decide to go with whole squash, make sure you have a very, very good knife, as I once wrecked an entire set of cheap knives trying to deconstruct one.  Here's a handy tutorial on how to peel and chop the butternut.

I, however, opt to use fresh-cut squash chunks, which saves me a lot of prep time (and sanity).  The chunks are still fairly large, so I do chop them in smaller pieces.  For a large crowd like my 20+ person office potluck, I used two packages.

Corn zipper in action.
I also prefer to use fresh corn - my local market still has ears available.  If you don't have access to fresh corn, frozen is an ok substitute, but defrost it first. Try to avoid using canned - the texture will be too soft.  If you're using fresh corn, using a corn-zipper is a safe and quick way to get the kernels off.  As I've mentioned before, it's a great investment for your kitchen!  For this amount, I used two ears.

I then finely chopped a medium red onion and added it in, along with a generous handful or two of dried sweetened cranberries and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro.  Make sure to use the fresh herbs here - dried won't work.

I then combine everything in a large mixing bowl and stir in a generous amount of olive oil, and season it with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Put it in glass baking dishes on a single layer (making enough for 20 meant two dishes) and let it roast for 30 minutes at 400, stirring occasionally.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vegan Eggplant Rollatini with Daiya Cheese

I can't recall exactly what brought about my craving for eggplant rollatini this week, but I decided to indulge myself and give making it a shot.  I also decided I'd try and do a vegan version.

Eggplant rollatini involves taking thinly sliced eggplant, frying it, stuffing it and baking it in sauce.  Since I've never made it myself before I consulted two recipes to get a sense of the techniques involved.

I used my mandoline to slice the eggplant.  The advantage of using the mandoline is that you get uniform pieces and the slicing goes very quickly.  I then salted the slices and let them drain on paper towels.

I then set out to make my sauce.  I chopped a medium size yellow onion and a large handful of sliced cremini mushrooms, seasoned them with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and sauteed them in olive oil.  I then added five cloves of minced garlic.  Since there were some brown bits on the bottom of my saucepan, I deglazed it with a bit of wine.  I then chopped up 10 roma tomatoes and added them to the pot, along with some very generous sprinkles of Italian seasoning.  When it came to a vigorous bubble, I turned the heat down and let it simmer.

I then dried off my eggplant and prepared to fry it.  Sometimes, eggplant rotini is breaded, but I didn't like how my test breaded piece came out.  So, instead, I just pan fried the eggplant plain.  I used some olive oil in the pan, but also spritzed the eggplant pieces with olive oil cooking spray.

Once the eggplant pieces were done frying, I set them aside and began work on my filling.  I had some leftover kale from earlier this week, so I sauteed that with some garlic.  Once that was done cooking, I used tongs to put a small heap on the edge of the eggplant, and topped the heap with daiya mozzarella and fresh thyme and parsley.  

I then rolled the eggplant into tight little packages and put them in a square glass baking dish.  I had a little kale & garlic left over, so I sprinkled that, along with the leftover herbs, on top.  Then, I covered the eggplant rolls with sauce and a generous sprinkle of daiya.  

I let the whole thing bake for just under 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven, the point at which the cheese had melted and the sauce was bubbling.  It was a little hard to get out of the pan - in hindsight, I probably should have used toothpicks and let it sit longer, or perhaps made a chunkier sauce or let it cook longer so it was less wet.  But, the flavors were nice and it was a filling dinner, so I am counting this experiment as a success.


Vegetarian Deli at Home - Mushroom Lunch Meat and Almond Cheese

As I've noted before, as a good Northeastern Jewish girl, I've spent a lot of time eating deli food.  Clearly, as a vegetarian, I'm not eating corned beef, BLTs or tuna melts any more.  But, I did have a curiosity about vegetarian lunch meats and if they would be a passable substitute in a deli style sandwich.  To that end, I decided to make myself a vegetarian melt.

Some of the more popular vegan and vegetarian items, like Tofurky Deli Slices or Light Life's Smart Deli brand are off limits to me because of the soy.  But, Field Roast Grain Meat Company makes vegan deli slices that are soy free.  Varieties include lentil sage, wild mushroom and smoked tomato.  The only version I saw available at Whole Foods was the wild mushroom variety, so I grabbed that.

I had been eating regular cheese on occasion, but it's been upsetting my stomach more and more, so I'm cutting back.  Daiya has been a terrific option for me (in fact, I'll be using it in tonight's vegan cooking experiment - stay tuned), but I was curious to try a "nut cheese."  The raw food and vegan communities have embraced this type of "cheese," which has a similar texture to dairy, but healthier fats and no animal products.

At Whole Foods, I was able to pick up a shredded almond cheddar style cheese by Lisanatti Foods.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that the cheese contains casein, which is milk protein.  So, this cheese is not appropriate for those who are strictly vegan, those with milk allergies or those avoiding casein for dietary reasons.  So, you may, ask - why bother?  Well, like I mentioned earlier, I've been having stomach trouble with dairy-based cheese, but I was curious as to whether I can even tolerate casein.  Also, if you do a side by side comparison of one serving (1oz or 28 grams) of almond style cheese versus regular full-fat cheddar cheese, it looks something like this:

Traditional Cheddar Cheese
Saturated Fat
25% DV

So, there are some nutritional advantages here, especially if you're looking to avoid saturated fat and cholesterol.

With all that background, back to my deli melt experiment.  Our local market has excellent fresh pumpernickel bread, so we picked up a loaf of that.  I fired up our toaster oven and put in two slices of the  pumpernickel, topping them each with a wild mushroom deli slice and a generous sprinkle of almond cheese.  I let it go in the toaster oven at 400 until the almond cheese melted to my satisfaction.  Like daiya and other soy cheeses, it didn't get as gooey as traditional cheese, but it did achieve a decent meltiness.

I topped my open faced sandwich with spinach leaves and sliced grape tomatoes.  The taste evaluation?  Fell solidly in the "decent" level.  I wasn't swooning over it, but it wasn't awful either.  The texture was good, and the cheese especially had a good mouthfeel to it.  The biggest bonus?  No allergic reaction whatsoever, which, after a week where I've been particularly soy sensitive, was a welcome relief.

I think the deli slices will be a good addition to my convenience product staples - sometimes, I may not have time to make a proper lunch, so it will be nice to have these handy if I want to make a quick sandwich. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Adventures in Kabocha Squash

Now that we are in the midst of Fall, all the local markets have an abundance of squash to choose from.  There's the familiar butternut and acorn, but also carnival, hubbard, turban and other lesser known varieties.

This means, of course, that I finally was able to procure kabocha squash.  I wrote in a previous blog that I had a delicious preparation of kabocha squash at SEI back in March and that I've been stalking it ever since.  Now that squash is available in abundance, I was able to procure one.  Granted, once I bought it, I didn't have the foggiest idea what to do with it.

So, I did some research.  Kabocha is also known as Japanese Pumpkin, likely because of it's pumpkin-like shape and the fact that it is primarily grown in Japan.  It is also a popular component of vegetable tempura, which means many of us have probably had it without realizing it.  Kabocha, like many bright orange vegetables, is rich in beta carotene, and also a nice source of iron, vitamin C and potassium. 

I did some googling to see how kabocha is often prepared.  I saw a lot of soups with thyme, and I figured I could get the same flavors by cubing and roasting the kabocha and seasoning it with fresh herbs.  This was an excellent plan, but I didn't take one thing into consideration.  The kabocha is the Fort Knox of vegetables.  I even had trouble hacking through it with my trusty Wusthoff.  So, after I finally got it in half, I scraped out the seeds, put it face down on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray and roasted the kabocha halves in the oven at 400 for 40 minutes.

I took the kabocha out of the oven to cool.  In the meantime, I minced a shallot, prepped the fresh thyme and shredded some kale.  When the kabocha was cool enough to handle, I began cutting chunks of it from the shells.  It had an almost crumbly texture - possibly, I let it cook for too long, but it had a nice flavor.

I then put the shallots to work in a gob of soy-free Earth Balance, and then added the kabocha chunks, thyme, salt and pepper, kale and fresh parsley.  I then added in some leftover freekeh from last night.  It looked a little dry, so I added a splash of wine to moisten things up. 

The result was a nice, filling cold-weather meal.  The kabocha was similar to butternut squash, but nuttier and creamier (the latter creaminess may have come from the large hunk of faux butter I cooked it in).  I put just the right amount of salt in to enhance the flavor of the whole shebang as well.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What the Freek is Freekeh?

Yes, I finally cooked something!  I had a yen for farro this week, but when I was in the grains section at whole foods this week, I stumbled upon freekeh and decided to give it a try.

"What is Freekeh?" you may ask.  It's roasted green wheat that can be served like rice or pasta.  According to Greenwheat Freekeh, the nutritional advantages of Freekeh include its high percentage of fiber, protein, calcium, potassium, iron and zinc, but low place on the glycemic index scale.  Thus, it's an excellent option for vegetarians and vegans.

Like farro, non-instant rice and other whole grains, there's some cooking time involved.  I brought the freekeh to a boil and let it simmer for 45 minutes.  While the freekeh was cooking, I reconstituted some sun-dried tomatoes in hot water.  Normally, I use fresh tomatoes, but I wanted the bite and texture of sun-dried for this dish.

I then minced shallots and sliced up some fresh brussels sprouts and, when the freekeh had about 15 minutes to go, sauteed them in soy-free earth balance.  I then added some garlic, freshly ground black pepper, the sliced sun-dried tomatoes, salt, some of the poaching liquid from the tomatoes, and a splash of white wine.  I finished the sauce off with red pepper flakes and italian seasoning, and then stirred in some vegetarian friendly parmesan cheese (no rennet was used, and the cows were not given rGBH - check your labels if you want to learn more!).  Vegans can easily omit the parmesan to make this a dairy-free meal.

I am happy with the result - the freekeh was chewy and nutty, and the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and red pepper flakes added a nice tang.  The sliced brussels sprouts were a cool contrast, and I liked the aged creaminess the parmesan added to the dish as well.  I have leftovers, so we'll see how it re-heats for lunch tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vegetarian on the Road - East Coast City Edition

Well, so much for my editorial structure I promised to stick to last week.  One of the things about traveling often for work (I've been on two trips so far this month) is that it's hard to stick to any kind of schedule, much less an editorial one.

But, one benefit of a crazy travel schedule is the opportunity to sample vegetarian fare beyond my home base of DC.  To that end, here's a round-up of some of my recent dining adventures:

New York City
Let's start with an amazing fine dining vegetarian experience I had tonight at Blossom, a cozy restaurant in Chelsea.  All of the menu items are organic and vegan.  I spoke to the server about my soy allergy, and she noted that a number of the dishes were finished with a soy butter, but she made some recommendations that she thought I would enjoy.  I ended up having a black-eyed pea cake, a "crispy cake of yukon gold potatoes, black eyed peas and chipotle aioli."  The seasoning on the pea cake was impeccable, and I loved the smooth texture of the veganaise aioli.  I followed the starter with the evening's special, pan-seared seitan cutlets with a rosemary tomato sauce, yukon gold potatoes and hairicot verts that was so good I kept taking smaller and smaller bites so it would last longer.  I've never had handmade seitan before and I am not sure I can go back to the boxed stuff from Whole Foods now, which means you can look forward to a blog about my attempts to make seitan from scratch in the future.   But anyway, Washington, DC NEEDS a fine dining vegan restaurant like this.  Or maybe it doesn't, because I could eat at Blossom every day if I lived near enough!

I was in my hometown for a quick conference last week, which meant I got to take a side trip to one of my favorite places, Reading Terminal Market, a historic building with a variety of food stalls - produce, candy, pastries, you name it.  There are a number of places vegetarians can happily dine at Reading Terminal.  For nostalgia's sake, I hit Spataros, which makes a mean vegetarian hoagie.  Some other good vegetarian options include Kamal's, Mezze and Basic Four Vegetarian Snack Bar.

I also had the chance to experiment with the salad bar at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian style steakhouse with locations around the US.  Some fellow conference attendees who I enjoy catching up with every year really wanted to go there, so I decided to give it a shot as a vegetarian.  In my meat eating days, I had happily eaten the unlimited meat and I remembered that Fogo has a wonderful salad bar.  So, while my colleagues enjoyed their meat meals, I feasted on marinated mushrooms, hearts of palm, tomatoes and bufala mozzarella, yellow peppers and more.  It is a little off-putting to be around so much meat, but it's good to know that if I have to attend a work function at Fogo, I'll have plenty of options.

My life hasn't been all work and no play this month - my husband and I spent Saturday evening in Baltimore, where we took in a Buddy Guy concert in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.  We originally planned to go to Little Italy, which has some amazing restaurants, but since we were running late, we instead opted to try a restaurant in Power Plant Live, which is the complex that housed our concert venue.  We decided to try Joe Squared, which had a sign outside that said they were "Named the Best Pizza in Maryland."  I tried the veggie pizza, which had "pink sauce, arugula, zucchini, eggplant, fennel, mozzarella and Boursin cheeses."  I was actually a little disappointed with it - the crust was meh and the veggies would have benefited from either being roasted at a higher temp or being sauteed first.  Overall, the whole thing was very bland.  However, my husband enjoyed his sandwich, they had a mushroom "cheesesteak" that looked good, and the servers were super nice, so I would be willing to give them another shot.

Washington, DC
It was my birthday recently, and my husband took me out to dinner at Poste, which is located in the Hotel Monaco in Gallery Place.  There isn't a wealth of veggie options, but the ones that are available are exceptionally good.  I started with an arugula salad with basil, mint, figs and sherry vinaigrette.  For my entree, I had the Autumn Vegetable Crepes, which included four individual crepes - one with beets & goat cheese, one with cauliflower, one with farro and chanterelle mushrooms and one with polenta and roasted red pepper sauce.  The presentation was gorgeous and the results were super tasty.   Via, twitter, I confirmed that there are different seasonal versions of the crepes available throughout the year, which means I have an excuse to pop in every few months or so to sample them anew.