Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cookbook Review: Appetite For Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz...

I’ve recently gotten into the habit of writing reviews on Amazon - try it and you’ll soon discover it can be addictive! Mostly I write reviews for cook books or other vegan-related items - you know, to rally support! And it recently occurred to me that I’ve never actually written a cook book review here. Since this blog is primarily about food and cooking that seemed absurd to me and so I thought it was high-time I rectify that.

Every Day Quinoa Chickpea Salad 

To start with I decided to pick “Appetite for Reduction” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz because this is seriously one of my favorite cook books ever. Along with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's "The Vegan Table,” "Appetite for Reduction was one of the very first vegan cook books I ever received. I was given it as a Christmas gift in 2010 near the very beginning of my vegan journey and so for me this book was an excellent primer, it taught me a lot of basic tools, and techniques for vegan cooking. Not to mention the new ingredients, flavor combinations and ideas it introduced me to.

Lentil Eggplant Chili Mole with Scallion Corn Bread

There is so much about this book I absolutely love and hold dear. The layout is fantastic the recipes are all laid out nicely in an easy to read font, and they’re mostly kept to one page. Instructions are minimal but precise and easy to follow. The ingredients lists - for the most part - are short, and most items are common pantry staples. I really love Isa’s conversational tone and style, her introduction and recipe headings are a joy to read, and add that extra something that every cook book should strive to have. She’s funny, witty, and has good stories about the creation of the dishes, which is something I really like because I’m always curious to know how an author happened upon a particular dish or flavor combination. I also like that she takes the trouble to suggest dishes to pair with each recipe. This works out really great because sometimes a dish sounds awesome, but you just can’t decide - or don’t know - what to pair it with. This was especially helpful in the early days of my veganism. I also love all the helpful hints, tips and tricks that pepper the book - again, invaluable information to a newbie!

Jerk Asparagus 

Now, some people have complained that the recipes are ‘too’ low-calorie, but that is exactly the intention of the book. If you’re not on a strict diet, or don’t care about being low-cal, you can still get benefit from this book, and it’s easy enough to amp up the calories if you like. For instance instead of using 1 tsp of olive oil as suggested use 1 tbsp - this is what I do more often then not. Despite the fact that this book is designed for weight-loss, and weight-management I think there’s something in it for everyone. I know it’s a book I come back to time and time again even though by now I own over 100 vegan cook books. There’s just something about this book, and the recipes that stole my heart. Oh - and speaking of calories, nutritional information is provided for each recipe for those of you who care about such things.

Cajun Beanballs and Spaghetti 

My only qualm with this book is it’s lack of photography. I'm a very visual person and I really hate it when a cook book has limited or no pictures. I love beautiful food photography and find that the pictures help inspire me to make the dishes. This book simply doesn't have enough pictures, and of the ones it does contain I feel they are not as beautiful as they could be.

Spicy Blue Potato and Corn Salad 

But, don’t let that get you down. The recipes will speak for themselves. Almost everything I’ve made from this book has been excellent, and I’ve made quite a few things. Such as the...

Trattoria Pasta Salad 

Everyday Chickpea Salad - LOVED IT - a `go-to' salad
Balsamic Vinaigrette - LOVED IT - a `go-to' dressing
Spicy Blue Potato and Corn Salad - Pretty good
Sushi Roll Edamame Salad - LOVED IT - a `go-to' salad
Green Onion Miso Vinaigrette - LOVED IT - a `go-to' dressing
Big Fat Taco Salad - pretty good
Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Toasted Cumin Seeds - pretty good
Cool Slaw - pretty good
Wild Rice Salad with Oranges and Roasted Beets - LOVED IT
Tinfoil Beets - Love it - a good method
Orange Sesame Vinaigrette - LOVED IT
Caesar Salad with Eggplant Bacon - LOVED IT
Caesar Chavez Dressing - LOVED IT - perhaps one of the best Caesar dressings ever.
Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad with Grilled Tofu - LOVED IT
Catalan Cous Cous Salad with Pears - Pretty good
Romesco Dressing - LOVED IT
Trattoria Pasta Salad with white beans - Pretty good
Sun Dried Tomato Walnut Dressing - LOVED IT
Strawberry Spinach Salad - pretty good.
Cauliflower Mashed potatoes - this was okay, but then as much as I love cauliflower I'm not all that fond of it mashed.
Silky Chickpea Gravy - LOVED IT
OMG Oven Baked Onion Rings - LOVED IT
Scallion Potato Pancakes - Loved it
Brussels Sprout-Potato Hash - LOVED IT
Bhutanese Pineapple Rice - Loved it
Polenta Stuffing - Pretty Good
Quinoa Puttanesca - Loved it
Soft Broccoli Polenta - this was okay, but at the time I made it I'd never eaten polenta before so maybe this needs a re-do.
Ethiopian Millet - Meh, not for me.
Butternut Coconut Rice - pretty good
Eggplant Kibbeh - I thought this was just okay, but my husband really liked it
Tamarind Quinoa - pretty good
Garlicky Mushrooms and Kale - loved it
Jerk Asparagus - loved it
Pineapple Collards - This was okay.
Mushroom tibs - pretty good
Orange Scented Broccoli - LOVED IT
Eggplant Dengaku - loved it
Herb Roasted Cauliflower with Breadcrumbs - pretty good
Ye'abesha Gomen - Pretty good
Curried Cabbage and peas - pretty good
Baked Falafel - LOVE IT this is my `go-to' falafel recipe
Chipotle Lentil Burgers - LOVED IT
Black Bean Zucchini and Olive Tacos - LOVED IT
Garlic Lemon Yogurt Sauce - pretty good
Mango BBQ Beans - pretty good
Black Beans in Red Velvet Mole - This was okay, but then I'm not the biggest fan of mole.
Curried Green Onion Hummus - loved it
Red Thai Tofu - pretty good
Lettuce Wraps with hoison-mustard tofu - LOVED IT
Curried Scrambled Tofu with Arugula - LOVED IT
Red Wine and Kalamata Tempeh - LOVED IT
Tamarind BBQ Tempeh with Sweet Potatoes - LOVED IT!
Buffalo Tempeh - LOVED IT
Fusilli Roasted Veggie Primavera - LOVED IT
Pasta con Broccoli - Loved it
Easy Breezy Cheezy Sauce - Pretty good
Spinach Linguine with edamame Pesto - LOVED IT
Edamame Pesto - LOVED IT
Ginger Bok Choy and Soba - LOVED IT
Pasta de los Angeles - LOVED IT
Spinach Lasagna with Roasted Cauliflower ricotta and Spinach - LOVED IT
Miso Udon Stir-fry with Greens and Beans - LOVED IT
Mac and Trees - Pretty good
Cajun Beanballs and Spaghetti - not a fan,
Black Eyed Pea and Tempeh Beanballs - I was not all that thrilled with this dish, but at the time I’d made it I’d never eaten tempeh before, nor black eyed peas. I think this would be a lot better upon a second try. I’ll let you know if I try it again.
Mom's Marinara - Loved it
Bistro Broccoli Chowder - pretty good
Arabian Lentil and rice Soup - LOVED IT
Manhattan Glam Chowder - Not for me, but then Mushrooms can be hit or miss for me.
Summer Loving Curried Corn and Veggie Chowder - LOVED IT
Red Lentil and Root Veggie Dal - pretty good
2nd Avenue Vegetable Korma - Loved it
Curried Chickpeas and Greens - LOVED IT
Potato-Spinach Curry - pretty good
Chipotle Chili with Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts - not for me
Lentil and Eggplant Chili Mole - pretty good
Fresh Corn and Scallion Cornbread - LOVED IT
Quinoa, Kale and White Bean Stew - Loved it
Portobello Pepper Steak Stew - LOVED IT
Moroccan Chickpeas and Zucchini - LOVED IT
Veggie Potpie Stew - LOVED IT
Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits - LOVED IT
Smokey Tempeh and Greens Stew - LOVED IT
Eggplant Provencal - Pretty good

Caesar Salad with Eggplant Bacon 

Overall this book is just amazing, really and truly. I’ve had such great success with it that I’d happily recommend it to any vegetarian, vegan, or omni. In fact I’ve made many dishes from this book for my omni friends and family and they’ve always been a hit. So if you haven’t got a copy of “Appetite for Reduction” yet, what are you waiting for? Go out there and grab a copy tout de suite! And if you do own a copy already, what do you think?

Bhutanese Pineapple Red Rice

You can learn more about Isa and get some delicious recipes too over at her website The Post Punk Kitchen

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Product Review: Endangered Species Creme Filled Chocolate...

Who doesn’t like chocolate? Okay, truth is I never liked chocolate - not really - until I went vegan. I mean, I thought it was alright, but nothing special. Sitting down and eating a chocolate bar never used to be my idea of a good time. These days I feel differently though. I love chocolate now, far more then I ever imagined I would, and Endangered Species Brand is one of my favorites!  I mean what’s not to like? Great tasting cacao, great flavor combinations, tons of vegan options, and not to mention they’re fair trade, Non-GMO certified, and Rainforest Alliance Certified. However my favorite part about them is that every time you buy one of their chocolate bars your money is going towards animal and wildlife conservation. At the end of each year Endangered Species donates 10% of their net profits to environmental non-profits focused on wildlife conservation and habitat preservation. The animals featured on each Endangered Species wrapper aren’t just there to be cute selling points, these are just some of the animals that benefit from your purchases. Right now Endangered Species is partnered with The African Wildlife Foundation , and The Xerces Society  - but past partners have included SEE Turtles , Chimp Haven, The Ocean Conservancy, and The National Wildlife Federation .

But enough about the company, lets talk about the chocolate - specifically their new line of creme filled chocolate bars all six flavors of which just so happen to be vegan, how awesome is that? I first heard about these magical bars a few months ago when they were debuted at an expo in California, and I’ve been patiently waiting for them to pop up in any of my local retailers. Just before Easter my husband and I discovered them in our local natural foods store and very excitedly bought one of each flavor to test out, all of which were to die for, but of course I had my favorites.

I think the Sea Salt and Lime flavor was probably our favorite. The flavor of this bar really exceeded expectation, and I loved that luscious bold lime flavor mixed in with the richness of the chocolate and the hint of sea salt. Flavor perfection.

Raspberry Orange is probably second for me because what goes better with creamy dark chocolate then sweet, tart, and citrusy fruits? This bar is a perfect marriage of all three flavors, they work in harmony together and do not overpower one another. You can a bit of each flavor in each bite.

The Almond Butter was perhaps the most surprising flavor. I love me some almond butter and I LOVE the combo of nut butter and chocolate - I’m a totally peanut butter/almond butter cup fiend - but I wasn’t expecting it to win me over as much as it did. The creme was so - well, creamy and it had a wonderful almond butter flavor, that was rich enough not to be drowned out by the dark chocolate.

The Coconut Creme and Lavender Mint were both wonderful too, only I didn’t think that the coconut creme had a strong enough coconut flavor. I was expecting something more in your face, and felt it was a bit muted alongside the strength of the chocolate. My husband disagreed however and thought the coconut flavor was fine. As for the Lavender Mint I was really expecting this one to be my favorite since I love the marriage of lavender and chocolate and Mint and Chocolate separately I thought they’d be brilliant together. While the bar was delicious overall I found that the mint flavor was somewhat overshadowed both by the chocolate and the lavender. Perhaps this is just me because I’m used to a very strong mint chocolate or maybe it just wasn’t the best idea to marry two very strong herbs together. I suppose one was bound to be over shadowed.

Lastly the Blueberry Vanilla which was also excellent. Few things in life go together better then dark chocolate and blueberries, or chocolate and vanilla for that matter and this bar is no exception. The berries lend a real sweetness to the bar that works well against the bitter chocolate. I did not however taste an overwhelming amount of vanilla.

So there you have it, the new Endangered Species Creme Filled Chocolate Bars are delicious! Keep your eyes open for them the next time you’re at your market or health food store and give them a try. If you love good quality chocolate you won’t be disappointed. Promise.

You can learn more about the company and their products here - Endangered Species Chocolate

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Happy Earth Day 2014...

Tuesday was Earth Day, and Earth Day is one of my favorite non-holiday-holiday’s! Each year I celebrate by making a tasty meal, and then my husband and I go and see the latest Disney Nature Earth Day film - proceeds of which go to benefit things like ocean conservation, the national parks, Chimpanzee’s etc... whatever the year’s film happens to be about.

This year my dinner was a little lower-key then dinners past because I’ve been so burned out on food lately, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have some delicious fun.

I started by making a delicious batch of Summer Strawberry and Mango Guacamole from Angela Liddon’s wonderful new book “The Oh She Glows Cookbook.” Now, you might not think that mangos and strawberries belong in a Guac recipe, and I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical at first, but this guac was so good! Seriously, all the flavors mingled so well, and I absolutely loved the combination of buttery avocados, with tart strawberries, and sweet mangos. A perfect marriage of the three - we ate this up like ravenous dogs, with a bag of Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips.

For our meal I decided to make Brian Patton’s Meatball Parmesan Burgers from the August 2013 Issue of VegNews Magazine. I remember being particularly excited about this issue because of the exquisite burger recipes, but as often happens I never actually got around to trying any of the recipes until now. These burgers were pretty easy to make, however they did require a few steps. First you need to make the patty which is a mixture of tempeh, walnuts, vegetables, spices and wheat gluten. Then you make the Garlicky Mozzarella Sauce which is a creamy cashew based cheese sauce, then you make a batch of the Basil Macadamia Pesto. I also decided to make my own burger buns since I didn’t have any buns on hand. I used the recipe for Rustica Buns in Joni Marie Newman’s wonderful book “The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet.” Since the buns have chopped up pieced of sun-dried tomatoes in them I thought they would be a perfect fit for a meatball burger and boy was I right. These buns were super awesome, and I would definitely make them again.

The only significant change to the recipe is that I decided to make them sliders instead of full burgers. I thought they would be cuter that way, and of course making a smaller burger - and a smaller bun - decreases cooking time. Honestly, in the end I wasn’t sure how I’d like the burgers but they ended up being one of the best home-made veggie burgers I’ve made - and I’ve made a lot. They weren’t overly gluten-tasting which I really appreciate, and they weren’t mushy either. I think they’d probably stand up well to a grill. They were particularly amazing when all the components were brought together, the bun, the burger, the sauce, the pesto, and the marinara. Both the cheese cause and pesto were excellent. I’ve made a lot of vegan pesto in my time but never one using macadamia nuts. It was a really nice surprise flavor wise.

To accompany our burgers I decided to go with another one of Brian Patton’s recipes. This time I chose The Green Bean Fries from his book “The Sexy Vegan’s Happy Hour At Home” These tasted a lot more like green bean tempura then french fries but they were delicious nonetheless. The beans were tossed in arrowroot powder, then bathed in a batter mix of flour, beer and spices then deep fried.  To serve you make a really delicious tahini dipping sauce that tasted so amazing with the beans.

Since we’re pretty burnt out on sweets I opted not to make dessert for once, but we didn’t miss it. We stuffed ourselves silly, and were quite happy there wasn’t anything else that needed eating. After filling our bellies and cleaning up we went for a nice walk. The weather was nice, sunny and mostly warm with a breeze. Then as stated earlier, we saw the new Earth Day film "Bears" which really tugs at the heartstrings. If you're as into Nature Films, Nature Documentaries, or Animal Documentaries as much as I am, you'll love it - for the amazing close-up footage alone.

Hope you all had a happy Earth Day.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Celebrating Easter 2014...

I realize this is coming a few days late but I hope everyone had a lovely Easter. Ours was quiet, and I preferred it that way. Normally I’m all about going ‘all-out’ for the holidays, and I particularly like Easter because of it’s association with Spring but lately I’ve been over-extending myself in the kitchen, - I’ve simultaneously been testing recipes for 3 different cook book authors! - and so I was content to keep things pretty low-key this year. Of course, low-key doesn’t mean lacking in flavor, or fun and there was no shortage of either this year.

We began the day with some delicious Cinnamon Zucchini Waffles - a tester recipe from Jessica over at Cupcakes and Kale - unfortunately I was in such a hurry to eat that I neglected to snap a photo! Sorry about that, but I can assure you they were quite delicious. Hearty, and yet somehow the perfect start to a lovely spring morning. Afterwards we went for a walk, to work off our meal and to soak up some very much needed Vitamin D - something that’s been severely lacking here in Chicagoland this winter.

Chocolate Orange Cake 

Later in the afternoon we gathered with my husband’s family to celebrate the holiday. Normally I make delicious vegan dishes to bring along but the past couple of years I haven’t felt much like doing that. Transporting an entire meal is kind of a hassle and so last year - as with this year - I opted to just make us a nice dinner upon our return home. We did snack on some chips and salsa, and raw veggies while hanging with the family though - and I did bring along this exquisite Chocolate Orange Cake which is Susan Voisin’s recipe from Nava Atlas’s cook book “Vegan Holiday Kitchen” It’s a pretty simple cake, very low-fat - using non-dairy yogurt instead of oil, and a half/half mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flour. It’s finished off with a chocolate glaze and an orange glaze and let me tell you, this thing went over like gangbusters. Really. Super delicious.

We arrived home around six in the evening and then I began working on our holiday dinner. Since I didn’t want to have a stack of books clogging up my kitchen space I decided to just pick a few dishes from “Vegan Holiday Kitchen” and have at it. The big feature - or our main dish - was the Citrus Roast Tofu which I’d left to marinate the entire time we were with the family. The marinade is a delicious mix of orange juice, orange marmalade, lemon juice, soy sauce, olive oil, mustard and tarragon. It’s topped with lightly sauteed carrot slices, almonds, garlic, curry and parsley. So good, and definitely one of my new favorite tofu dishes. To accompany I made the Roasted Baby Carrots which were cooked in a simple blend of maple syrup, lemon juice, parsley and cinnamon. Quite tasty - and carrots are one of my favorite vegetables so I didn’t mind the double helping.  I also made the Lemony Asparagus Risotto because... well - who doesn’t love risotto? No really, my husband is crazy for Risotto and I just love the combo of Asparagus and Lemon. This particular risotto is a little different in that it’s baked inside the oven rather then cooked on the stove top, but I kind of liked that. Less fuss you know? Overall though I’d say this risotto was a bit under seasoned for my taste, and so not my favorite risotto. There was definitely enough garlic but I think next time I would add more salt and more lemon, and maybe leave out the spinach and add more asparagus - but that’s me.

Citrus Roast Tofu
Roasted Baby Carrots 
Lemony Asparagus Risotto 

For dessert - yes we had a second dessert, so what? - I made the Classic Carrot Cupcakes, because what could be more appropriate then that? These were crazy good, and I mean that. In fact they just might be my favorite carrot cupcake recipe ever, and they were so simple. Made with Whole Wheat Pastry Flour instead of all purpose, Maple Syrup instead of sugar, and apple sauce to cut down on the amount of oil they’re practically guilt-free. The cream cheese frosting was also luscious and delicious without being too ‘cheesy’ or too sweet.

Citrus Roast Tofu - Close up
Lemony Asparagus Risotto - Close Up

Roasted Baby Carrots - Close Up 

In addition to a delicious meal my husband and I often by one another a little something special for the holiday but we were pretty low-key about that too this year. Instead we exchanged cards and bought one another 3 bars each of the new Endangered Spices Chocolate Bars - more on this in a review post to come.

Classic Carrot Cupcakes 

All in all it was a great day. A relaxing Sunday, a subdued holiday. Beautiful weather, great food, and wonderful company, what more can you ask for?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Parsley Is The Spice of Life...

Parsley is an herb that I use almost as frequently as Cilantro. I buy several bunches of it per week, and like with cilantro I throw it into everything. It’s got a beautiful color, a heavenly smell, and a wonderful taste - but really is it any wonder that I love it so much when Parsley and Cilantro are related? You might not think so but parsley and coriander (cilantro) actually belong to the same family. The Apiaceae family, other members of which include fennel, dill, cumin, celery, carrot, anise, hemlock and lovage. Though there are several varieties of parlay there are really only two types commonly used as herbs.  Curly parsley, and leaf - or Italian - parsley, which is my favorite. Curly parsley is more decorative in appearance, as it’s name suggests it’s rather curly, where as Leaf parsley, also called flat-leaf parsley is flat, and looks a lot like cilantro. The flat variety is said to have a stronger flavor then the curly type but different opinions on this subject abound. The reason I like flat-leaf parsley best is because it’s a lot easier to mince. There is a third type of parsley commonly grown throughout central and eastern Europe called root parsley which produces a much thicker root then the types of parsley cultivated for their leaves. These roots are often used in casseroles, or soups, or simply eaten raw, but they are not to be confused with the parsnip. Though the parsnip is actually the closest relative of parsley in the Apiaceae family, the two taste quite different. Now, I don’t know about you but I find that kind of stuff fascinating.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as parsley is, it is so often neglected in our cooking. Parsley is considered somewhat of a ‘bland’ herb - don’t ask me why, - and is more often then not relegated to the world of artistic plating where it is perpetually stuck playing the part of a mere garnish. A real travesty if I ever heard one. If you just so happen to be one of those people that doesn’t give parsley the time of day, then I hope that by the time you’ve reached the end of this post you’ve changed your mind.

History/cultivation -

Parsley is native to the Mediterranean (Southern Italy, Algeria, Tunisia.)  Though it’s been cultivated for more then 2000 years parsley was first used medicinally before it was consumed as a food. The ancient Greeks held parsley to be sacred and used it to adorn victors of athletic contests as well as for decorating the tombs of the dead. Interestingly enough using parsley as a garnish has a long history that can be traced back to the civilization of ancient Rome.

When  parsley made the shift from medicinal and sacrificial use to culinary use is unknown. However that change is thought to have occurred at sometime during the Middle Ages in Europe. Some historians even credit Charlemagne with it’s popularization since he had it grown on his estates.

Health Benefits -

Parsley contains two components that provide unique health benefits, volatile oil, and flavonoids. Parsley’s volatile oils - particularly myristicin - have been shown to inhibit tumor formation - particularly tumor formation in the lungs -  in animal studies. Myristicin has also shown an ability to activates the enzyme glutathione-S-transferase which helps attach the molecule glutathione to oxidized molecules that would otherwise do damage in the body. The activity of parsley’s volatile oils make it a ‘chemoprotective’ food, and a food that can help naturalize particular carcinogens - such as those found in cigarette smoke or charcoal grill smoke.

The Flavonoids in parsley - especially luteolin - have been shown to function as antioxidants that can help prevent oxygen based damage to cells. In addition parsley extracts have been used in animal-based studies to help increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood.

Parsley is also an excellent source of Vitamin C which is important since vitamin C is the body’s primary water-soluble antioxidant, capable of defeating otherwise dangerous free radicles in all water soluble parts of the body. Since high levels of free radicals contribute to both the development and progression of diseases like atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes and asthma, people who eat healthy amounts of Vitamin C rich foods may be at lower risk. Vitamin C is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and so it can be useful in conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Not to mention the importance of vitamin C to the immune system.

Parsley is also a great source of beta-carotene, another important antioxidant working in the fat soluble areas of the body. Diets rich in beta-carotene are also associated with a reduced risk of developing atherosclerosis, diabetes, and cancer. Beta-carotene may also help reduce the severity of asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Beta-carotene is also converted by the body into Vitamin A which is an essential nutrient for a strong immune system.

Parsley is also an excellent source of folic acid which plays a critical role in relation to cardiovascular health.  Folic acid plays a major role in the body’s process of converting homocysteine into benign molecules.  At high levels homocysteine can directly damage blood vessels and significantly increase one’s risk of heart attack or stroke especially in people who may already suffer from atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease. Folic acid is also a critical nutrient for proper cell division and is vitally important for cancer prevention in two areas of the body that contain rapidly dividing cells - the colon, and the cervix.

Preparation - 

I really do use parsley in just about everything. Typically I add it towards the end of cooking or sprinkle it on just before serving a dish, because it’s really best eaten raw. I love it in soups, or stews - anything with an Italian, North American or European feel. I like it sprinkled on salads, or used in certain Middle Eastern dishes like Tabbouleh. It’s great in tomato sauce, it’s great in alfredo sauce. It’s perfect in horseradish cream sauce to ladle over tofu. It makes a great pesto, it’s fantastic blended into salad dressings. It works fantastically with grilled or broiled cauliflower, and I love it paired with chickpeas. Really it’s hard to go wrong with parsley so the next time you’re at hte market pick up a bunch or two and don’t be afraid to use it. Experiment and enjoy, that’s what cooking’s all about!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Passover 2014 - Exploring Old Traditions...

My Delicious Seder Passover Feast!

My husband and I are not Jewish, not by a long shot, and we are not particularly religious. My husband was raised in a pretty lax house of mixed faith - Catholic/Christian - then grew up to be an Atheist. I grew up in a somewhat stricter Christian environment that included Biblical Stories, Sunday School, and regular visits to church. In high school I began to reconsider what it was I believed and found that I was more inclined to a Buddhist style of faith, and living. I still adhere to the principals of Buddhism today, although I would say I follow it more as a philosophy then a strict religion. I’d say I’m more spiritual then religious - and as a spiritual person I still from time to time feel sentimental about the traditions I grew up with. Easter for example is a holiday I always liked, because it meant the beginning of Spring, and time shared with family. Passover is a holiday I never celebrated, but I’ve always had an interest in Judaism, and thus an interest in Passover as well. Normally I work on Passover - at least that’s been the case these past 4 years - this year, however I found myself surprisingly free of any obligations and so I decided to take the opportunity to celebrate Passover for the first time, with a delicious Seder meal.

I know enough about Passover to know that it last eight days - and normally takes place in April, just before Easter. I know it’s celebrated as the commemoration of Jewish liberation by God from slavery in ancient Egypt, and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses.  It commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in The Bible. I’ve always preferred the Old Testament to the New - better stories if you ask me, - and the Exodus is certainly an interesting story. 10 Plagues, death of the first born, the struggle for freedom and then finally obtaining that freedom. It’s a good story, and freedom - no matter what your faith - is a pretty universal concept. Everyone desires freedom from something or someone. Freedom is something worth celebrating in my opinion, and what better way to do so then with a nice meal, and some old school traditions?

Simple Vegetable Matzo Ball Soup 

Since I have no understanding of what’s acceptable to cook/eat for Passover I looked to my copy of Nava Atlas’s “Vegan Holiday Kitchen” for some inspiration. From her lovely book I picked several dishes to make that sounded interesting to me, and I have to say I was quite happy with the results.

Since Matzo is a traditional food eaten at Passover, we decided to start our meal with the Simple Vegetable Soup with Vegan Matzo Balls. I really enjoyed making this soup, it was relatively quick and easy, and something about the process made me feel really good. I felt connected to a time and a place, and a tradition - so much so that I thought a lot about the Exodus as I worked to prepare the soup. Now, I’ve never eaten a Matzo anything in my life, so I wasn’t sure how I’d actually like the soup in the end - especially since I always hear that Matzo is somewhat bland - but I was really blown away by this soup. It was so flavorful. In fact it reminded me very much of the Chicken Noodle Soup my Oma used to make when I was a child - minus the Matzo of course. It’s a simple mix of carrot, celery, onion, dill, potato, and then of course the matzo balls.  The balls are made using matzo meal, and quinoa flakes, as well as water, oil and salt. I really loved the way the balls broke up into the soup, and the contrast of the flavorful broth with the soft squishy matzo.

In fact I loved this soup so much I can’t believe I’ve never eaten it before, and I know I’ll probably make this soup again and again, whether it’s Passover or not.

Spinach, Leek, and Potato Matzo Gratin 

Originally I was also going to serve a salad along with our meal but in the end I decided to skip it only because I was tired, and didn’t feel like going through the extra trouble of roasting beets - which were a component of the salad I’d planned to make.

An Inside Shot of the Gratin 

For our main course I made the Spinach, Leek, and Potato Matzo Gratin. Which I thought was very good, but honestly it was a pain in the ass to make. First you cook the potatoes and then peel them! Do you know how difficult that is? Ugh! Then you need to soak the matzo to make them pliable, you have to cook the leek and spinach. There’s a lot of steps and when I opened my box of Matzo a lot of them were broken. So you’ll have to excuse the poor picture, and bad presentation but given it’s my first time making anything of this sort I think I deserve a break, right?

Now, I didn’t end up using the optional vegan cheese or the pine nuts in this Gratin - simply because I didn’t have either, - and I thought it could have used more salt and pepper but like I said I enjoyed it. It might not have been my favorite meal in the world but there was something hearty and comforting about It that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. As my husband said “It’s like a Jewish lasagna!” and I suppose he’s right. FYI - we ate the leftovers today with extra salt, and pepper, and a drizzle of Sriracha and man oh man did that really kick this dish up a notch! I’ve no idea if Sriracha is aloud on Passover, but if you’re not strict then give it a try it’s delicious!

Sauteed Asparagus and Broccolini 

As a side to accompany the Gratin I made the Sauteed Asparagus and Broccolini which was a pretty simple mix. Asparagus, Broccolini, and Yellow Bell Pepper are sauteed in oil, then lemon juice, salt, pepper, and Olives are added for a really nice, simple touch.

Passover Fruit Crisp 

For dessert I decided to go with the Passover Fruit Crisp, because, well - I love a good fruit crisp, and this one was different. Thinly sliced apples and pears mixed with maple syrup and cinnamon and topped with quinoa flakes. Not my favorite crisp ever, but pretty darn good nonetheless. Of course I think it’s a travesty to eat a fruit crisp without ice cream and so I made a batch of homemade Sticky Date Ice Cream with Butterscotch Sauce from Hannah Kaminsky’s book “Vegan A La Mode” I don’t know if ice cream is aloud on Passover but it was mostly made with coconut milk and dates. Dates are pretty old world - and aloud as far as I understand - so maybe it wasn’t a terrible choice.

Passover Fruit Crisp with Sticky Date Ice Cream

And that about wraps it up. I have to say I really enjoyed our little celebration. I enjoyed the feeling of enacting long standing traditions, and enjoyed cooking, trying, and sharing new - to me - foods. We didn’t read from the Hebrew Bible or drink wine or bless the matzo, or any of that other stuff but who knows, maybe next year, because we’ll definitely do it all over again next year.

I hope everyone out there who celebrates Passover had a nice time!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Seitan Making 101...

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ve probably heard me talk about Seitan on a number of occasions. Or maybe you’ve scrolled through my posts and caught a glimpse of a rather ‘meaty’ looking dish and wondered to yourself “What’s that?” Maybe you’re new to the inventive world of seitan, or maybe you’re well acquainted with it, but didn’t know you could easily make seitan at home. Well, no matter where you fall on the spectrum, this post’s for you.

So lets start at the beginning shall we? Seitan - (Pronounced Say-Tahn) is a vegetarian meat made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. It’s said to have originated in ancient China as a meat substitute for adherents to Buddhism - but just who invented it and how is anyone’s guess. Some stories claim that seitan was born in a Buddhist monastery, made by monks who had originally been making bread. The dough became over-kneaded and tough and so they tired to salvage it somehow and ended up with what we know as seitan. Other stories insist that seitan was originally developed by the chefs who worked for the Chinese emperor who traditionally observed a week of vegetarianism each year. Personally I like the monk story best, but that’s me.

Even though seitan might be a new concept for you, it’s actually been used in a wide variety of ways for a very long time, and it’s still quite popular in many Asian cultures, in fact, you may be more familiar with it then you realize. Have you ever been into a Chinese restaurant and ordered something vegetarian? Mock duck, or mock chicken perhaps? Then you ate seitan. Have you ever been into a vegetarian Chinese restaurant and eaten anything that looked ‘meaty’? Then you were eating seitan, unless it was otherwise specified as being soy. The word might not have been in your vocabulary, but the product was on your plate.

Over the past decade as vegetarianism, and veganism have grown as a movement worldwide - and especially in the West, the word Seitan is popping up more and more. The product itself is popping up more and more, and sometimes in the most unlikely places. You can even buy prepared seitan in health food stores, and most other places that vegetarian meats are sold. This shift is really quite fantastic, and I think it’s great that seitan has become so easily available to the masses. However, I don’t personally like a lot of store-bought seitan. To me, it has a strange after taste that I dislike. In fact when I first went veg, and tried Seitan I found it so unpleasant that I avoided it for years until I discovered that making your own seitan was super easy, pretty fun, and way, way tastier! - Obviously this is not the case if you're Celiac, or have a gluten sensitivity or allergy, however I have heard of a few ingenious gluten-free vegans who've made gluten-free seitan. give it a Google, see what pops up!

Honestly, it might sound like a big hassle or a pain in the ass but it really isn’t, and the finished product is so rewarding. Typically I spend one morning every couple of months - maybe 4-5 hours - and make up huge batches of seitan to store in my freezer. This way I always have seitan handy when a recipe catches my interest, and this makes seitan a convenient food for me, it’s something I don’t need to buy, and something I don’t have to prepare on the spot. How often I do this is not set in stone basically whenever my seitan stores get low, I pick a day and have at it. How often I need to make seitan depends on how often I use it, and my use of it varies depending on the season or what recipes I’m currently interested in making. Sometimes I might not eat any home-made seitan for an entire month, and sometimes I might cook it once or twice a week. It’s never the same.

For the past month or so I’ve been telling myself I need to re-stock. The freezer’s been pretty empty, but I also haven’t really been eating seitan lately, and so I kept putting it off and putting it off. Since I knew I would have a lot of free time yesterday morning I decided to spend it making seitan, and I took pictures to show you just how easy it is!

Dry Mix for 'Moo-Free Seitan'

Firstly, there are a few different ways one can make seitan. The traditional way - the original way - is to use whole what flour mixed with water, and to knead and knead and then rinse the dough to remove the starch and then knead some more, and rinse again, and then simmer it for an hour or two. I’ve never made seitan that way, though I’m intrigued to give it a try even though the process is a little more time consuming.

'Moo-Free Seitan' once mixed

I typically use one of the three more common ‘streamline’ methods, which involve mixing Vital What Gluten with water/broth and other seasonings and then simmering on or in the stove, steaming, or baking. My personal favorite method of the three is steaming, that’s the one I use most often. I like it because it’s quick and easy and makes for really chewy firm seitan. The simmer method makes pretty flavorful seitan but I also find the end result rather soft, sometimes spongy. Finally the baking method I’ve only tried twice, both times resulted in really flavorful and extremely firm seitan.

'Moo-Free' Seitan' In it's broth and ready for the oven!

Yesterday I used two of the three methods. First, because I wanted to make the Monte Cristo Sandwiches from “Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day” by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes I had to first make the Moo-Free Seitan, which is a beef-flavored seitan used in several of the recipes in the book. This recipe called for vital wheat gluten, soy flour, nutritional yeast, and various other wet and dry seasonings like broth and soy Tamari. So, first things first. You combine your dry ingredients in a bowl, combine your wet in a separate bowl, and then mix the two together until a dough forms. Up to this point it’s very much like baking bread. Once your dough sticks together and isn’t sticking to your hands you knead it for 5-8 minutes, and then let it rest for 10 so that the gluten can develop. Then you roll the whole thing into a ball shape and place it in a casserole dish with vegetable broth, onions, garlic and a few other things. Then bake in the oven at 300'F for 3 hours. Though this particular seitan is being baked the finished product is more like what you get when you simmer on the stove for an hour. Soft and chewy - other baked seitan recipes require being baked in aluminum foil with no liquid.

The finished 'Moo-Free Seitan" with a few garlic slivers on top

Anyway, once that was in the oven it was time for me to move on. I set up two pots with water and steamer baskets on my stove and set about making a batch of Red Seitan and a batch of White Seitan both from Terry Hope Romero’s “Viva Vegan!” book. This is really my ‘go-to’ seitan recipe. It’s quick, easy, tastes great, and never fails. You can put it in anything. Now if you’re wondering what the difference is, red seitan is more like a ‘beef’ flavor, where as white seitan is more like a ‘chicken’ flavor. Different combinations of seasonings are used to alter the flavor while the same base recipe is used. While her recipes call for the use of vegetable broth or water I typically use a vegan beef bouillon cube and a vegan chicken bouillon cube to added flavor enhancement.

White Seitan on the left
Red Seitan on the right

So once you have your dough mixed together and properly kneaded your next task is to divide it. Divide each dough into four portions and roll those portions into a loaf shape. Once that is done you cut off a strip of aluminum foil place the seitan on top and wrap it up - tight but not too tight - like you would a Christmas parcel. Once that’s done you stick them seam side down in your steamer basket and steam for about 30-45 minutes, until the packages have expanded and they’re firm to the touch.

Seitan Loaf Ready to be rolled
Remember to roll it tight but not too tight. It will expand as it steams,
and if the parcel is too tight it will explode.

A perfect fit into the steamer

Once I had that going it was time for me to make some sausages. All I had left in the freezer were some curry apple sausages and some chorizo. So I pulled out my copy of Sky Michael Conroy’s book “The Gentle Chef” and proceeded to go crazy. I made the German Bratwurst, the Italian Sausages, the Bangers, and the Andouille Sausage. I’ve made both Italian and Andouille sausages before using different recipes - usually Isa Chandra Moskowitz's recipe from "Vegan Brunch"  for the Italian, and Alicia C. Simpson’s  recipe from "Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations" for the Andouille, - but since I haven’t tried many recipes from The Gentle Chef yet, I wanted to give them a try. Plus I was particularly excited to try some seitan brats, and bangers.  I have to say the dough is much wetter, and softer then other seitan dough I’ve previously worked with, in fact most of the dough’s didn’t stick together at all and I had to add a bit more flour. No big deal though. After the dough rested the next step was to roll it into sausage shapes. Since the sausage recipes called for the same steam technique that he red and white seitan use, the process is fairly similar.

Once you have a nice sausage shape you place it onto a sheet of aluminum foil and then roll it up and twist the ends like a Tootsie roll. Once that’s done you place them in your steamer and steam for about 40 minutes.

Bratwurst Sausage ready for the steamer

Still, even after all that I wasn’t quite finished. I really decided to go all out and once my Gentle Chef Sausages were done I made a batch of Bianca Phillips Creole Sausages from her book “Cookin’ Crunk” and then a batch of Taymer Mason’s Jamaican Jerk Sausages from “Caribbean Vegan” only by then I was running low on vital wheat gluten and so I decided to half the Jerk Recipes - which was huge it made 12 sausages as written! Anyway I’m not quite sure what happened, I don’t know if my calculations were off or what but I still ended up with more liquid ingredients then dry and the dough was more of a paste. In hopes of saving it I had my husband run to the store for some more gluten, and in the end was able to add enough to make a proper dough. It steamed up nice, and the sausages were very firm, but I still ended up with 10 even though I initially halved the recipe so I don’t know flavor wise how those ones are going to turn out. Hopefully they still taste great though.

Andouille Sausage ready for the steamer

Anyway, once everything comes out of the steamer it’s a good idea to set your seitan on a plate and let cool to room temperature. Leave the dough in it’s aluminum foil wrapping and then once it’s cool place it inside a zip-lock bag and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Then you can use them any little way your heart desires or pop ‘em all into the freezer for a later use. Personally I don’t always refrigerate for 8 hours sometimes I just throw ‘em all into the freezer right away, but I’ve read recently that refrigerating first helps develop the texture and flavor of the final product so I’ve been testing this out.

And that my friends is how you do it - seitan making 101. See how easy it is? I mean it may seem like a lot of steps but really the longest part of the process is either the steaming, baking or simmering and that’s all down time you know? Mixing the dough and kneading takes less then 10 minutes. Admittedly rolling the sausages can be a pain in the ass but once you do it a few times you’ll be a pro!

The Fruits of my labor.
Top, Left to Right - Red Seitan, Bratwurst, Andouille, & Creole Sausages
Bottom, Left to Right - White Seitan, Italian, Bangers, & Jerk Sausages

If you’ve never made seitan at home before because you were intimidated by it or simply didn’t know you could, I urge you to give it a try. There are a lot of great recipes out there, you can find plenty online or use one of the books I mentioned! Let me know how it goes! And if you’re an old hand at seitan making feel free to drop me a line with any helpful hints or tips for making the best seitan!

Lastly, the beautiful and delicious Moo-Free Seitan on the delicious
Monte Cristo Sandwich!