Friday, February 27, 2015

Creamy Carob Banana Dream Smoothie...

This has seriously been my favorite breakfast smoothie of late. I came up with it a few weeks ago when I was craving a creamy, chocolate flavor but wasn’t really in the mood for my usual chocolate smoothie. For whatever reason I found myself really craving carob - which I do like, but don’t normally get that crazy about. - Since I had some carob powder on hand I decided to give it a try. The carob, coconut, date, banana, cashew combo works so well! You’ll be amazed, and become totally addicted to it like I did. Plus it’s so simple you can’t not try it, and it’s naturally sweetened, no sugar or artificial sweetener here.

Creamy Carob Banana Dream Smoothie

1 ½ Frozen Bananas
1 C Unsweetened Vanilla Coconut Milk
3 Medjool Dates Pitted
1 ½ Tbsp Carob Powder
1 Tbsp Cacao Nibs
*** 1 heaping Tbsp Cashew Butter

- Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend for 60-90 seconds until completely smooth and creamy.

*** Note - For a different but equally amazing flavor swap out the Cashew Butter with Hazelnut Butter. SO GOOD!*** 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Celebrating The Lunar New Year 2015...

Thursday was Lunar New Year, if you celebrate it I hope you had a good time. I typically don’t celebrate Lunar New Year, not because I don’t enjoy it, but because since moving to Illinois I often forget when the holiday is upon us. Living in Vancouver it’s hard not to know when the Lunar New Year is beginning. The signs are all over, the minute you enter Chinatown, and I used to spend a lot of time in Chinatown. I’m sure the Lunar New Year is a popular event in Chicago’s Chinatown but outside of that, not too many people around these parts seem to care. Then of course in many years previous I have actually been on vacation during the Lunar New Year, so it’s hard to celebrate when you’re in the jungle, or hiking a mountain. This year however our vacation is coming a month later then usual, and so I was free to celebrate.

Honestly, I was really tired from a long night at work, but I didn’t want to let that stop me from making and then eating something delicious. The meal I ended up whipping together is in no way ‘traditional’ but it’s Asian - or at least Asian fusion - and I think it did a pretty decent job of putting together a rather impromptu feast using mostly what I had on hand already.

One of the first things I decided to make was the Mongolia Beef from Lane Gold’s book “Vegan Junk Food” man this book never lets me down! I chose this because the recipe was simple, fast, I had everything on hand - including a bag of beefless tips in the freezer - and it’s been an oh-so-long time since I had Mongolia beef. I have to say this dish really exceeded my expectations. It was so full of flavor considering it had a short ingredient list. The sauce was rich, sweet and salty and thick. Absolutely perfect, like the kind of dish you’d order in a Chinese restaurant. Without doubt I will make this again and again.

Also from “Vegan Junk Food” I made the Takeout Orange Tofu. Again I chose this because it was simple, relatively quick, and had a relatively short ingredient list. Also I love orange tofu, - used to love Orange Chicken - haven’t had it in ages, and I remember years ago Bianca from “Vegan Crunk” made this and said it was delicious and I’ve always meant to give it a try. Well, I’m pleased to report that she wasn’t wrong, and this dish did not in any way disappoint.  Again it had a thick, rich, sweet sauce, that was reminiscent of every Asian restaurant I’ve ever been too. Perfect, I’ll be making this again and again for sure. The only thing I did differently is I added some diced green bell pepper to the mix only because the sauce made more then I needed for the tofu, and I didn’t want it all to go to waste.

Lastly also from “Vegan Junk Food” I made the Takeout Fried Rice. This was a no brainer. You HAVE to have rice, and I love fried rice, and my husband loves rice in any incarnation, period. So even though I’ve made a million fried rice recipes in my time I chose Lane’s because 1) I already had the book out and 2) It was quick and easy and called for very few ingredients. I thought this version was really good, though I’ll admit I added some green onion to it. I probably would have used a bit more liquid, because the rice came out a bit drier then I like but otherwise this was great.

Now, once I got started on this Lunar New Year’s Feast I Couldn’t stop there, because what’s an Asian celebration without some noodles? I dug out my copy of Donna Klein’s book “The Chinese Vegan Kitchen” flipped to the Noodle chapter and promptly made the Sichuan Style Lo Mein with Sesame and Garlic. Now I love a good Lo Mein, and any noodle dish that includes a peanut or sesame style sauce is okay in my book, but DAMN these were some amazing noodles! No lie, I could have eaten the entire pan myself. This ingredients list is a bit longer then others I’ve seen - mostly stuff needed to make the sauce - but it comes together almost as quickly as it takes you to boil the noodles so no worries.  I did add ½ a red onion, ½ a green bell pepper, and a ½ cup of sliced mushrooms to the dish just because I had these things laying around and I am trying to clean out the fridge as best I can before we leave for Europe. I would probably add that amount of veg again in the future because I think it worked really well, and also next time I think I’ll use the full amount of chili paste. I aired on the side of caution this time around and didn’t go with a full 2 tsp but felt for a dish called Sichuan it could have been spicier. That was my bad.

Now, no feast can be just protein and carbs, you need a little veg in your life, the greener the better. So using “The Chinese Vegan Kitchen” still I made Klein’s Chinese Broccoli with Vegetarian Oyster Sauce. This is a super simple side, you basically just saute Chinese Broccoli - or Gai Lan - then simmer it in a quick sauce of Vegetarian Oyster Sauce, rice wine, ginger, cornstarch, soy sauce and peanut oil. So good! I love Gai Lan!

Lastly I also made Klein’s Spicy Hoisin Glazed Green Beans. I chose this because I love green beans, I love hoisin sauce and this reminded me of a green bean dish I used to order all the time at restaurants around Vancouver. This type of green bean, or Sichuan style green beans have always been one of my favorite side dishes in any Chinese restaurant so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make them. Again it’s basically simply sauteed green beans that are simmered in a sauce of hoisin, garlic, peanut oil, soy sauce, chili paste, and sesame oil. So good!

I really wanted to make an appetizer and dessert as well, but I’ll say it, I was lazy. I wanted to make tapioca pudding, and Spring Rolls but I didn’t have the proper ingredients for either. I did however remember that the last time I was at Super H Market - the Korean Market in Niles, IL - I bought a pack of Vegetarian Spring Rolls. So I dug those out of the freezer and baked half the package. Really you’re suppose to fry them but my burners were all being used up at the time. Baking Spring Rolls is definitely healthier but doesn’t get the crispy. Oh well, still delicious for a store-bought roll.

So that was our Lunar New Year. I hope you had a good time celebrating, and I wish you Peace, Love and Prosperity for the New Year!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

9 Days of Valentine's: Part 9....

Sadly our 9 days of celebration have come to an end. Part of me is really sad about it because we were having so much fun and eating so much delicious food. But, the other half of me is really happy to finally go back to eating salad, like... just salad... till like.... the end of time. Ha.

Our last hurrah was quite the meal indeed. It had everything you could ask for in a grand dinner. A salad, a hearty main course, a decadent dessert, and a bottle of good wine.

We started with the Italian Chopped Salad from Chloe Coscarelli’s book “Chloe’s Italian Vegan Kitchen.” Now, if I’m being honest I wasn’t expecting much from this salad. I made it because it had a nice picture and it was super easy and I had everything called for on hand. I figured after a week of vegan meat and decadence we could use a little veg. But man, oh man was this salad fantastic! Seriously, it was about 1000 times better then any Italian Salad I’ve had in any Olive Garden type restaurant.

The salad contains romaine, tomatoes, green onion, kalamata olives, basil, chickpeas, salt, pepper and crumbled tofu. The dressing is a simple mixture of olive oil, red wine vinegar, agave, salt, Dijon mustard, and garlic. It sounds so easy but you wouldn’t believe the flavor. Normally I don’t like raw tofu in my salads but I liked this a lot because it was just 7oz and it was just enough to give the salad a texture of cheese. If I didn’t have a main course that needed digging into I would have eaten this entire salad myself it was that good.

But speaking of main courses, for our final celebratory meal I chose another dish from Alicia C. Simpson’s book “Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations.” Truly the Fusilli in Cabernet Sauce with Portobello Brisket sounded too good to pass up. There are a few steps involved in making this meal and I ended up not evening getting started until after 8:30pm but surprisingly the whole thing came together really quick.

First things first, make your portobello brisket. Lucky for me sometime in the afternoon I went over the recipe and saw that while you could get away with only marinated the shrooms for 20 minutes it was best to do it longer. So I think I ended up letting these marinate on the counter top for about five hours. Turning them over occasionally. The marinade is made with olive oil, red wine, garlic, shallot, Dijon Mustard and tarragon. Once you’re done marinating you roast these guys in the oven for 20 minutes then slice them up when they cool down a bit. The smell is heavenly.

While your shrooms are roasted make your sauce. It’s fairly simple, shallots, garlic, Cabernet Sauvignon, agave, basil, red pepper flakes, rosemary, salt, stock, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Combine all that in a pot, then let it simmer.

That’s the hard part, once all that’s done you plate your pasta, drench it in some sauce, scatter some sliced shrooms on top and serve. I actually decided to drizzle a little of the extra mushroom cooking liquid over top of my pasta. The marinade sauce was too good to go to waste and when combines with that meaty, earthy mushroom liquid that seeps out during cooking - OH MY!  My husband and I really had to control ourselves and not go back for seconds because we knew a great dessert was in store for us.

For dessert I went back to “Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen” and made her Tiramisu. This was actually a super last minute decision that kind of hit me for no reason. I was just flipping through the book and the picture looked so good, and I thought it might be a nice finish to our celebratory week and I just happened to have everything on hand - except the ingredients to make the coconut whip cream but I did have a tub of So Delicious Coco Whip in the freezer! - The thing is, it’s strange that I would want to make a Tiramisu in the first place because it’s never been a dessert I was crazy about. Sure I’ve had plenty of non-vegan versions in the past and thought they were so-so. I’ve made a couple of vegan versions myself and thought they were better then their non-vegan counterparts but still kind of hum-drum. Chloe’s Tiramisu though, is out of this freaking world! No lie. Probably, hands down the best tiramisu I’ve ever made and ever eaten anywhere! My husband who’s also never been a huge fan of Tiramisu agreed completely and had we not already been so full from dinner we might just have finished off the entire bowl.

I love how ridiculously easy Chloe’s version is. You make a vanilla cake, cut it in cubes soak it in coffee and rum, layer some whip cream over top, dust it with chocolate and repeat. She says to leave it in the fridge overnight - which we did. - and then it’s ready to eat. Of course I used store-bought whip so it might taste different with home-made, but I’ve been using Chloe’s book for a while now, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a recipe fail from her. She is amazing, and she is especially amazing at dessert. Seriously, this girl should be right up there with Vegan Cook Book Goddess’s such as Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Terry Hope Romero, and Joni Marie Newman.

So that’s it, I hope y’all have had as much fun following our celebration as we did creating it.  I’m definitely sad it’s over, but don’t worry, I have a few more cool posts planned in next week and a half before I leave for Europe.

PS: And incase anyone was curious though we loved every meal of the past 9 days our favorites were. Coq Au Vin. Osso Bucco. Seitan Parmesan with Garlic Green Beans, Potatoes with Germolatta and Red Velvet Cupcakes and Italian Chopped Salad, Fusilli in Cabernet Sauce with Portobello Brisket and Tiramisu. In no particular order, they were all fan-freaking-tastic!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

9 Days of Valentine's: Part 8...

And on the eighth day we broke from our French/Italian inspired menu and went Spanish with Paella. I can’t say I ever ate paella before. As I’ve mentioned I wasn’t a big fan of seafood growing up, and my exposure to Spanish food was limited to mostly Tex-Mex creations. Even when I grew up and started cooking for myself I never found the idea of Paella all that exciting. But a vegan paella? Well, why the heck not?

I used the recipe from Annie and Dan Shannon’s book “Betty Goes Vegan” It was simple and thought there were a few separate steps the recipe actually came together relatively quickly and without much fuss. I liked that. I’ve seen other vegan paella recipes that are either ultra simple - to the point of not needing a recipe - or way too complicated. The Shannon’s recipe seemed to have just the right level of down-home comfort, mixed with fancy-complication.

Now, in case you didn’t know outside of Spain paella is considered the national dish of Spain, though most Spaniards consider paella to be a regional Valencia dish. Paella has a long history in the country with ancient roots, and many variations and stories or origin - considered by food historians to be a union of two important cultures Roman, and Arab. There are three common types of paella - and variations on each. One is the traditional Valencia Paella, containing meat, greens, and beans. Seafood Paella which contains seafood, and vegetables. Then Mixed Paella which is more of a ‘free-style’ dish that can include anything from meat and seafood to greens other vegetables and beans.

I would classify the Shannon’s recipe as Paella Mixto, since it used Vegan Shrimp, Vegan Italian Sausage, Rice, Artichoke, Faux Chicken and Wine Broth, Red Bell Pepper, Garlic, Green Beans, tomatoes and spices. One of the classic features of paella is also that when cooked over an open flame the rice on the bottom of the pan gets crispy and this is the most prized part of any good paella. Of course when you bake a paella - as the Shannon’s recipe does’ a crispy rice crust is harder to come by, but the paella was still delicious, and I’m a bit grateful for the non-crispy rice. I have too many old fillings I’d be afraid of cracking on rock-hard kernels of rice.

So, this was my first experience both cooking and eating a paella. I fond the experience of cooking it really enjoyable. I loved every minute in my kitchen preparing the vegetables and vegan meats, layering everything together and smelling it as it baked. There was something really satisfying about creating and eating this ancient dish for the first time, like I was inspiring some Roman-Moorish alchemy in my kitchen. However despite the fun I had cooking, I did not find the dish to be as delicious as I’d hoped. I don’t think this is the fault of paella in particular or the Shannon’s recipe specifically, I think this has more to do with the fact that I don’t think I’m really all that fond of Vegan Shrimp. They’re too realistic for me, they’re too much like actual shrimp that it kind of creeps me out. Since I was never big on seafood to begin with, the fact that they’re so real isn’t really a selling point for me.

That being said I would most definitely make paella again, and I would even use the Shannon’s recipe again but next time I’ll leave out the vegan shrimp and replace it with more sausage or some vegan chicken instead.

Check back tomorrow to see what we had on Day 9 our final day of celebration. I’ll give you a hint, it’s Italian!

Monday, February 16, 2015

9 Days of Valentine's: Part 7, The Big Day...

So, this is it, what we finally ended up having on the big day. We started off with a bang - did you expect anything less? - I got home form work Saturday morning to find my husband had decked-out my desk in all sorts of Valentine’s Day love. A bouquet of flowers, a Valentine’s Day balloon, a stuffed skunk holding a heart, some heart-shaped decorations strung up across the desk and the bookshelf and a card. I really did marry the most amazing, thoughtful man in the world. After I marveled at his little surprise I set about making breakfast.

Crepes were on the menu, Chocolate Hazelnut crepes to be exact.  The recipe comes from the French chapter of Mark Reinfeld’s book “The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe.” I am not a skilled crepe maker. I love to eat them, but they always fall apart on me. I like to say it’s because I don’t have a proper crepe pan, but that’s just an excuse. In the end though some of my crepes fell apart I at least got enough good ones out of the deal for a halfway decent picture, and broken or not they were all freaking-delicious! Also, much easier then one might expect crepes to be. The batter comes together quickly and because they’re so thin they cook up fast too. The chocolate hazelnut filling is simply made with hazelnut butter, cocoa powder, soy milk, and sweetener. I thought these might be too nutty for my picky husband but he loved them. They were just perfect. Really the recipe should have been served with strawberries, but I was fresh out and so I used blueberries instead and I think it worked just as well.

So that was it until dinner. We went French for breakfast and decided on Italian for dinner. For our feast I used Alicia C. Simpson’s book “Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations” which I’ve come to realize I don’t use often enough! And I made the Seitan Parmesan as well as the Garlic Green Beans from her chapter on Valentine’s Day. I chose the seitan Parmesan because it sounded sexy, and Valentine’s Dayish, also because there was a time when my husband loved Chicken Parm. Personally I have never really liked Chicken Parm, I’d never eaten it until I moved to Chicago and I wasn’t particularly impressed. I made the non-vegan version a couple of times on my husband’s behalf but I was never crazy about it. Holidays though - at least for me - are about making things you don’t normally make, and about finding something special to cook for your loved one. This seemed to fit the bill on both counts and so I was curious to try the recipe out.

First you need to make a seitan ‘chicken’ which Alicia provides a very quick and simple recipe for making. Actually this is probably one of the simplest ‘boil’ version seitan’s I’ve made, and probably one of the most delicious too. Seriously, the broth SMELLED like chicken. I also loved that her recipe only called for water and seasonings unlike so many other boil recipes that call for 6 cups of broth. Honestly, I don’t have the money to waste on using 6 cups of broth to make a few chunks of seitan. This is probably one of the most economical recipes I’ve made.

So, once that’s done you bread your seitan, bake it, then cover it in sauce and vegan mozzarella, bake some more and voila! Amazing! Seriously, dish wins second place in my favorite for the week, and actually, might even tie for first place. It was incredible! Trust me when I say the price of the book is worth this recipe alone!

Of course the green beans were damn good too, but then I have a soft spot for sauntered green beans. She uses garlic, oil, shallots and almonds in the recipe as well, only I left out the almonds since my husband is not a fan. I have to say these were super flavorful and a good accompaniment to the seitan.

I also decided to make the Roasted Potatoes with Germolata from Chloe Coscarelli’s book “Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen” these were super simple and yet super delicious. It’s just potatoes roasted in olive oil, salt and pepper, then once cooked they’re tossed with a mixture of minced garlic, parsley, oil, grated lemon peel, and more salt and pepper. It sounds simple, but these were some of the best potatoes I’ve ever had.

For dessert we had the Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting also from Alicia’s book “Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations” I can’t tell you how good these were, the cakes were super moist and so full of flavor I loved every bite. However I had a bit of a problem, actually I had several problems all day. 1) I didn’t have enough gluten to make a full recipe of Chicken Seitan, so it’s a good thing I always keep seitan on hand in the freezer. I used a chub of Mediterranean Seitan from Terry Hope Romero’sVegan Eats World” for the Parm. In the picture the Big cutlet is Alicia’s and the two small cutlets are the chub from the freezer cut in half. 2) I didn’t have any lemon so my husband had to go to the store on the way home. 3) I ran out of powdered sugar. I thought I had enough but I was wrong. So instead of cream cheese frosting I had a cream cheese glaze - still delicious though. 4) I also ran out of cream cheese! I thought I had enough and I might have only when I opened the container it had got moldy! So instead of cream cheese I used vegan sour cream, it may not be exactly the same but similar enough that an unsuspecting pallet may not notice. In any case it turned out and none of these problems are any fault of the authors.

To wash everything down I made the Ginger Champagne Cocktails form Alicia’s New Years Eve chapter. These were super good. Loved the ginger bite!

And that was our Valentine’s Day. Of course Valentine’s should have been the last hurrah but I started cooking my 9 days a little late, so I have 2 post Valentine’s meals to talk about. Check back tomorrow to see Day 8.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

9 Days of Valentine's: Part 6...

On day 6 of our Valentine’s Celebration we went Italian again - are you sensing a theme? French, Italian, French, Italian, French, Italian..... what’s more romantic then that?

For our sixth day I decided to try another dish I’ve never had before either in vegan or non-vegan form, and that’s Ossobuco. Like Foie Gras, Ossobuco has got to rank amongst some of the worlds most controversial dishes. Everyone has an opinion about it, some people love it and defend it fearlessly, others hate it and demonize the people who eat it. The reason? Traditional Ossobuco is made with veal, and veal is undoubtably one of the cruelest meats you can eat. Even when I was a meat-eater I never ate veal for moral reasons. I have no idea what it tastes like, because the flesh of malnourished-crated-baby-cows has never touched my tongue - but, that doesn’t meant I can’t heartily enjoy a vegan version of the famed dish.

The dish as it happens originated in Milan, and there are two versions. One made with tomatoes, and one without, this is the kind without tomatoes. Typically Ossobuco in Milan is served with risotto, but is also sometimes served with polenta or mashed potatoes. Annie and Dan Shannon who penned “Betty Goes Vegan” chose to go the mashed potato route, and really, I think that was truly wise.

The Shannon’s recipe is fairly simple. Bread some vegan beef, fry it up, and then simmer it in apple juice, garlic, vegan beef stock, tamari, white wine, bay leaves, lemon peel, parsley and salt. This dish makes a rich thick gravy that’s so freaking good you’ll want to lick it right off the spoon and scrape it out of your cast-iron skillet. They keep their mashed taters simple too, red skinned potatoes, non-dairy milk - I used coconut - pepper, and Earth Balance. So once everything is done cooking you scoop some potato onto your plate, top it with the Ossobuco and make sure you give yourself a generous dollop of that delicious, mind-blowing gravy.

I have to say, I’m having a lot of fun cooking this week. Every dish I’ve made has been great. The Coq Au Vin is still my favorite but the Shannon’s Ossobuco comes a close second. Say what you will about “Betty Goes Vegan” and as a health-conscious person and a holistic health practitioner I totally understand the criticisms, but damn if their recipes aren’t fan-freaking-tastic! And really, we could all use a break once in a while, sometimes it’s just nice to eat something naughty, so get down off your high-horse for a while and enjoy life! That’s my philosophy anyway.

Check back tomorrow to find out what we ended up eating on Valentine’s Day itself. I promise, it’ll be delicious!