Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ready-to-Go Guac

Ready-to-Go Guac

I love me some guacamole.  But I like my guacamole full of cilantro, red onion, jalapeno, salt, and lime, and as I am not what you would call a neat cook, I do not like what the involved process of mincing, squeezing and mashing does to my kitchen:


So I'm left with the choice of making a large batch and fighting against it all turning brown, or cleaning this mess up every time I get a hankering.

No more.  I decided to try prepping a big batch of all the mix-ins, but keeping it separate from the avocado and just mashing a spoonful into a ripe avocado whenever I want some fresh guac.  It worked surprisingly well for my first try - the proportions still need a little tweaking, but I love the idea and it seems like the mix will keep and freeze well.

You could easily do this with whatever flavors you like in your guac - tomatoes, chiles, spices, go nuts.  You'll have to play with the amounts to get the proportions just right, but it's much less work than chopping everything up each time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Baked Mac un-Cheese

Baked Mac un-Cheese

Pretty much every vegan cook is convinced they make the best vegan mac and cheese - I think it's a rite of passage, sort of like buying your first pair of faux-leather stiletto boots.  (Maybe that one's just me.)  It's also very personal: some like theirs full of gooey Daiya or FYH cheddar, while some prefer the creamier nutritional yeast sauces.

So I'm not going to call this dish "Seriously For-Real Ultimate Best Mac & Cheeze EVER!!!"  I'm also not going to claim that it tastes just like "real" mac and cheese, because let's be honest - nothing tastes like cheese except cheese.  What this does taste like is a fabulously rich, creamy, cheesy mess, with all the homestylin' goodness I crave and without the icky dairy.

Oh, and mine has tempeh bacon in it.  So that means it wins automatically, right?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Roasted Tomato Soup

Life outside the Campbell's can is good, people.  Homemade tomato soup is pretty damn easy and so, so much better, it's well worth the extra effort.  Plus, I pretty much don't believe that anything from a can is real food.  This soup is made sweet and creamy with the addition of an acorn squash in lieu of any dairy-type product, which worked beautifully.  Probably any sweet, creamy squash would work, such as butternut.

Know what else is super easy and makes everything way better?  Roasting vegetables.  It brings out sweetness and flavor, even in those not-so-super winter roma tomatoes.  If you're going to make a vegetable soup of some kind, roast the vegetables beforehand to really make it out of this world.

This soup was, quote, "the best tomato soup ever."  I even snuck up to have a late-night snack, cold and straight from the tupperware.  'Nuff said?

Roasted Tomato Soup

  • 3 lbs tomatoes, cored and halved
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into wedges
  • 3 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 acorn squash
  • 4 C vegetable broth
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 T fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • agave nectar (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 425° F.
  2. Place tomatoes (cut side down), garlic, and onion on a big ol' baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for 45-60 minutes, until everything is browning and delicious-smelling.
  3. At the same time, roast the squash.  I cut it in half, seeded it, and put it right on top of my veggies. You could also leave it whole and pop the whole thing in the oven.  The squash is done when a fork will easily pierce the skin.  Don't worry about over-cooking it; everything's getting pureed later.
  4. Toss all the roasted veggies into a soup pot.  Scoop out the flesh from the squash and toss it in, too.  If bits have stuck to the pan, use the veggie broth to deglaze and/or scrape them off.
  5. Add the broth, herbs and spices to the soup pot.  Heat until boiling, then simmer covered over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or so to combine flavors.
  6. Use an immersion blender to puree everything to a smooth and creamy texture.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and if it's not as sweet as you like, a little agave nectar.
Serves about 8.  Serve hot, with a yummy crusty bread.

Roasted Fennel Salad with Asparagus, Carrots and Pear

This is the fanciest salad I've ever made, and probably also the best - it received rave reviews from my Dorothy-Lynch-loving family, including The Boy who likes neither asparagus nor fennel.  So there you go.

Roasted vegetables are awesome.  Fresh fennel bulb is awesome.  Fresh green herbs are awesome.  Salads comprising all of the above are triple-awesome.  I challenge any naysayers to a fight to the death.  I will win, because I'm all hopped up on nutrient-rich vegetables, so I recommend that you just eat the salad and shut up about it.

Roasted Fennel Salad with Asparagus, Carrots and Pear and Basil Vinaigrette

Roasted Vegetables
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced into 1/4"-thick wedges
  • 1 bunch asparagus, tough ends snapped off
  • 8 small carrots, sliced lengthwise 1 or 2 times (you want the slices about the same width as the asparagus stalks)
  • 3 firm pears, each cored and cut into 8 wedges
  • 1/4 C balsamic vinegar
  • 3 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 425° F.
  2. Toss all ingredients together in a really big bowl until everything is evenly coated.
  3. Spread out over a low-walled baking sheet - unless your sheet is huge, you may need 2.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, until asparagus and carrots are crunchy-tender.
  5. Allow to cool to just warm before topping the salad.

Basil Vinaigrette
  • 1 bunch basil, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1 T dijon mustard
  • 3 T white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 C olive oil
  1. Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a blender or food processor.  Pulse until chopped and combined.
  2. With blade running, stream in olive oil until emulsified.

  • 6 oz flavorful greens, such as mixed herbs, baby greens, arugula
  • fennel-roasted vegetables
  • basil vinaigrette
  • fresh lime wedges
  1. Plate the salad by laying down  a handful of greens, then stack a few asparagus and carrot spears on top.  Top with a few fennel and pear wedges, and drizzle with vinaigrette.
  2. Just before eating, squeeze a fresh lime wedge on top.
Makes about 8 servings, or fewer if your family keeps stealing the roasted vegetables out of the pan before you can plate the salads.  You could also chill the vegetables before serving.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chickpea Salsa

This non-winter winter we're having here in Colorado is really messing with my taste buds.  Rather than craving nice winter stews or vegetable pot pies like I usually do, I'm hankering for citrus and tang and fresh, summery salsas.

This chickpea salsa (so called because you eat it with a chip, not because it contains tomatoes - it doesn't - or is a sauce - it isn't) is so pretty and hits the spot on top of some fresh-baked pita chips.  I served this at both a summer barbecue and a winter party, and it was a hit both times.  Best of all, it's easy as pie - actually, no, it's way easier than pie.

Chickpea Salsa

  • 2 cans (or 3 C cooked) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (or 1-1/2 C cooked) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 large mango, peeled and diced
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper (or 3-4 sweet mini peppers - I love those things!)
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • 1 tbsp parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 large limes (for juice and zest)
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 avocado, diced
  1. Rinse the beans and combine in a large mixing bowl.  Mix in the rest of the ingredients through the herbs.
  2. Zest one of the limes, then squeeze in juice from both.  Add olive oil and salt, and mix well.
  3. Gently fold in the avocado.
  4. Chill at least 30 minutes for flavors to rest.
Makes 24 1/4-cup servings (90 Calories, 3 WW points).  Serve chilled with toasted pita chips.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Green Chocolate Smoothie

Ok, so.  I've been M.I.A because my camera broke, and no one wants a recipe without pictures, and yes, that is really all it takes to shatter my resolve.  Good news is I'm getting an iPhone in August, so I'll soon be able to shoot and post away once again

Anyway!  I've started drinking green smoothies, and I'm officially on the wagon.  Seriously, they're amazing.  I drink them for breakfast and they give me tons of energy.  I'm also not a huge fan of cooked greens, with the notable exceptions of braised kale and garlicky collards, so this is an awesome way for me to get super-healthy greens.

Some general green smoothie tips for beginners like me:
  • They're not always green.  Sometimes they're red or purple or brown.  This is a-ok.
  • The general proportion is 1 cup greens, 2 cups fruit, and enough water to make it a drinkable consistency, per serving.  Generally, this makes about a 12- to 16-oz smoothie.
  • Rotate the greens you use.  You can actually get mild poisoning from eating too many of the same specific alkaloids and other substances in each type of leafy green, so switch it up every couple of days.
  • If you buy a bunch of veggies and they have leafy tops that you'd normally throw away, look them up - if they're not toxic, toss 'em in a smoothie.
  • Unless you're going for a specific therapeutic smoothie (like a liver detox or something), don't be limited by recipes.  Just toss things in a blender and go with it.  I try to think about the way that fruits will complement the greens.  These are some of my general experiences with different fruits & veggies:
    • Spinach is pretty bland, chard has a real earthy taste, kale has a distinct tartness, parsley has a strong and bright flavor, lettuces taste exactly like you'd expect.  Beet greens, carrot tops and turnip greens have a stronger flavor, so I like to use stronger flavored fruits with them.
    • Apples and dates provide sweetness without overpowering flavor.
    • Pitted fruits like cherries, peaches, and mangoes are your flavor powerhouses.
    • Berries are wonderfully delicious, but don't go overboard on them or you'll get a mouthful of seeds at the end.
    • Add cucumbers, celery, canteloupe, and grapes if you need more liquid.
    • Avocados and bananas create a rich, creamy texture like a milkshake.
  • You can keep smoothies in the fridge for a day or two, and you can freeze and thaw them.  The textures and flavors do change when they sit.  If you can, toss them in a blender again right before drinking.

I'll post when I stumble upon a really fantastic combination, like I did with this Green Chocolate Smoothie.  This is not a traditional green smoothie, and is really a special treat for me more than a daily drink.

Green Chocolate Smoothie (makes 2 servings)
  • 2 cups spinach (de-stemmed and packed)
  • 2 apples (cored, but don't peel 'em)
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 banana
  • 2-4 pitted dates (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder (to taste; use raw cacao instead if you have it)
  • 1 cup water
  1. Blend the water and fruits together.
  2. Toss in the spinach and puree until smooth.
  3. Then blend in the cocoa powder.
Enjoy!  This tastes like a creamy chocolate milkshake.  Adjust the dates and cocoa powder as needed to get appropriate sweetness and deliciousness.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vegan Bake Sale

On April 21-22, we hosted a vegan bake sale in the Auraria Campus Spring Fling as part of the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale week.  The sale was funded by VegFund, and donations benefitted Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary for rescued farm animals.  We received donated baked goods from Beet Box Bakery and WaterCourse Bakery, and about 15 volunteers donated homamade baked goodies as well.  We had volunteers from the Auraria Students for the Humane Treatment of Animals, Vegan Outreach, Plants & Animals Denver, VegFund, and the Denver and Boulder vegan meetup groups.

Everyone who helped with the same deserves HUGE props and thanks.  It was an enormous success - we gave out a ton of vegan baked goods and vegan literature.  We talked to around 500 people over both days, including some seasoned vegans, some vegetarians turning toward veganism, some open-minded omnivores, and some people who had no idea what being vegan meant before they came to our table.  We sent a lot of people on their way with vegan starter kits and food for thought.  Despite the hurricane-like weather we endured Thursday (we stuck it out, because vegans are hardcore like that), the sale was a ton of fun, and hugely successful.  Thanks to everyone involved!  I really enjoyed meeting all of you.

Without further ado, photos of the event!  All pictures are © Alexis DeCook 2010.  If you're not in any of the photos, it's because you weren't there when Alexis was taking pictures.  Nothing personal - we like your face, promise.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Veg*n Nutrition

Really, Vitamin Cottage?  Why's it gotta be like that?

I recently got some information about veg*n nutrition from a nutritionist at my local Vitamin Cottage.  Yeah, I know - nutritionists aren't doctors, might not even have any medical training, don't necessarily know anything about physiology, etc.  But the existing health literature surrounding veg*anism is unfortunately very enmeshed in ideological controversey, and thus extremely contradictory, so I always assume the best bet is to get information from as many different sources as possible, and take everything with a grain of salt.  It is very important to me to eat a vegan diet, so I want to make sure I am able to maintain it in good health for my entire life.

Initially, I was seriously put off by the literature they distribute.  The primary source of their medical information is an article called "The Myths of Vegetarianism" by Stephen Byrnes, PhD, RNCP.  There are many, many problems with using Byrnes as a medical authority, the first of which being that he is not an MD.  Additionally, the article is published in the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, which is not a peer-reviewed medical journal, meaning his claims have not been substantiated by a group of peers, unlike the published research articles he criticizes.  The article was published in 2000 - it's not totally antiquated, but it's by no means the most cutting-edge information available.  He does not publish references but states they're available upon request, however I discovered that the website he lists (the only contact information published) does not exists.  Upon further investigation, I've discovered that Byrnes died from a stroke in 2004 (not diet-related), so I have no idea how to find these references.

And if you can't tell from the title, the letter has a pretty obvious anti-veg*n bias, illustrated right off the bat by this tragic anecdote of a woman who had a miscarriage due to... gasp! ... her vegetarian diet!  (As a side note, this woman wasn't actually vegetarian: she ate milk, eggs, and for some reason, liver.)  As a scientist myself, the presence of an emotional anecdote in a supposedly scientific piece of literature is a travesty: anecdotes are NOT science, folks, and their sole purpose is to detract from objective scientific inquiry by "poisoning the well" of human opinion from the start.  Byrnes uses many other fallacies throughout the work, including a repeated confusion of causation and correlation (admittedly a drawback of much pro-veg literature, too), and use of the same rationale to both discredit pro-veg studies and credit anti-veg ones.

Byrnes identifies 15 "myths" about vegetarianism, including issues of health impact, environmental impact, humanity toward animals, and spirituality.  Right off the bat, I can say with certainty that he is simply wrong about issues of the environment and humane treatment: he ignores the pollutive impact of livestock entirely, uses faulty reasoning and incomplete facts to conclude that raising meat is more efficient than growing plants, displays unbelievable arrogance in questioning people's spiritual beliefs, and wrongly states that no animals are killed in the process of dairy and egg production.  I am not familiar enough with the biochemistry and physiology of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in the body to immediately discount his claims about the deficiencies present in a veg*n diet; however, I can say that it directly contradicts a lot of the information I've read from other scientists and doctors, and I have no reason to believe Byrnes over the others.

Lastly, the only other medical authority they cite is Dr. Joseph Mercola.  Indeed, Byrnes has been often quoted and promoted on Dr. Mercola's website.  I can't say for sure that we should assume that Byrnes is a crackpot of Mercola's ilk, but it's a possibility that certainly warrants consideration.  These gentlemen are best described as naturopaths gone astray.  They both uphold a completely unreasonable idea that the mainstream media is part of some vegetarian-controlled conspiracy to smear the image of noble meat-based agriculture, despite the fact that vegetarians make up somewhere between 2% and 10% of the population depending on who's being polled, and vegans comprise about a fourth of that - we are nowhere near a majority of anything, and if we had control of the media, you can bet your ass that we wouldn't be seeing KFC commercials any more.  Besides, the vast majority of agricultural income currently comes from animal flesh farming and crops (corn and soybeans, mostly) grown for animal feed, so there really isn't a financial incentive for the media to promote vegetarianism, either.

Ok, so by this point, I'm seriously pissed off.  I come to these people for health advice, and they give me propaganda - and only one side of it, mind you.  (For an intelligent refutation of some of Byrnes' points in this article, see - it's not written by doctors, and doesn't cite very many references - so in other words, it's on even footing with Byrnes' article.)  I'm definitely rethinking my loyalty to Vitamin Cottage/Natural Grocers.

The Actual Information, Finally

Eventually, I got to the actual information.  There are a lot of important things to consider when restricting all animal products from our diets.  It is a scientific fact that humans have evolved to be omnivores (though I do NOT believe that includes dairy, one of the most unnatural foods humans eat).  So when we choose to exclude animal products from our diets - which, don't get me wrong, is the right thing to do for many reasons - we need to plan it well in order to be able to sustain it over time without any adverse health effects.  None of us wants to be the sad case who just has to eat meat because we became anemic or something.

Like most vegans, I get plenty of vegetables (duh) and complex carbohydrates in my diet.  Like most Americans, I eat way too much sugar.  I need to eat a little more protein and fat.  But I came up with some more specific changes I need to make to my diet, and I think they're pretty universal, at least for a lot of the veg*ns I know.
  • Supplement B12 and L-carnitine.  It's extremely difficult to eat enough plant sources of these nutrients.  L-carnitine is not found in plants at all; it can be manufactured by the body, but requires high levels of vitamins C and B6, niacin, iron, and L-lysine, and is pretty inefficient.  It's good to hedge your bets with a supplement of each of these.
  • Supplement calcium and Vitamin D.  This is not unique to veg*ns: due to depletion of nutrients in our soil, and destruction of our ozone layer which requires us to block the sun's UV-B rays so our bodies can't produce enough Vitamin D on their own, all Americans should supplement these two nutrients, in addition to consuming products fortified with them, like orange juice.  Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, so you should supplement both.
  • Increase intake of protein and low-carbohydrate vegetables.  Especially in the winter, we tend to eat a lot of starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, and squashes.  Low-carb vegetables tend to have more nutrients, but can get neglected in favor of the starches.  Americans don't need as much protein as most people believe, but most of us could stand to raise our intake of a balanced variety of whole grain and legume proteins a bit.
  • Lower consumption of grains.  This is also a common pitfall of veg*n diets: it's really easy for us to eat a lot of cereal grains like wheat, rice, and corn.  These are not great sources of nutrients, so our calories are better obtained from vegetables than grains.  Additionally, too many grains in the diet, even whole grains, can contribute to glucose (blood sugar) swings that can mess with our hunger cycles, energy levels, and insulin responsiveness.
  • Increase consumption of fats, especially essential fatty acids.  The low-fat diet craze has been pretty solidly debunked, and most of us veggies need more fat in our diets.  We are not at the same risk for diet-related cardiovascular disease as meat-eaters, so we can afford to eat more fatty foods rich in LNAs (an essential fatty acid), like flax oil, walnuts, grains, and green veggies.  I will start snacking on nuts, and adding flax to pretty much everything I bake or cook.  Additionally, I am going to supplement a marine algae-derived source of DHA, a non-essential fatty acid that is made from LNAs but has an inefficient conversion from plant sources of LNA in our bodies.
  • Soak and/or sprout grains, legumes, and nuts before consumption.  Anything that grows as a seed contains phytic acid in the hull.  Phytic acid is called an anti-nutrient because it binds with nutrients - specifically, calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc - in the digestive tract, making it impossible for our bodies to absorb them.  So even if we're taking in adequate calcium and iron, we can still suffer from deficiencies if we're also eating foods containing phytic acid.  Luckily, it can be neutralized by soaking and sprouting grains and legumes before eating them.  Sprouting also turns those little grains into tiny nutrient bombs: they are a whole food, a complete protein, and contain a wide variety of nutrients.  So I'll buy only sprouted-grain breads and tortillas (Ezekiel 4:9 is the only brand available in stores that I know of), and sprout my own grains and legumes before making hummus, lentil, rice, quinoa, etc.  (BTW, if you want to eat raw, sprouting is a great alternative to cooking: to make raw hummus, for example, just soak and sprout dry chickpeas before grinding the little buggers up.)
So that pretty much covers it.  If anyone has any other advice or input, I'd love to hear it!  Good luck staying healthy, folks.

Friday, April 9, 2010

True Protein

Today, I am a happy girl.  It is one of those rare occasions that I get everything I want, and moreover, it's easy to do and doesn't cost me my firstborn child.

I recently began a pretty intense workout regimen (P90X, for those of you who enjoy late-night infomercials), and as most programs like this do, it recommends drinking a recovery drink afterward - both to make the workout as effective and possible, and to prevent some of the ow ow ow the following day.  Problem is, most recovery drinks have amino acids and extracts and supplements that are pretty much taken willy-nilly from whatever source they feel like, and so in no way can they be trusted to be vegan.

At first, I had sort of given up on the recovery drink idea, and was looking online for good balanced vegan protein shake mixes to use instead.  I stumbled upon, and discovered their "Build a Custom Blend" feature.  I played with it for probably close to 2 hours.  True Protein is a new company out of California, and they have a completely genius method for letting athletes control their own nutrition.

Not only can you choose a custom blend of vegan protein sources - they have non-GMO soy, gemma pea, rice, and hemp to choose from - you can also add in supplements, electrolytes, carbohydrates, antioxidants, etc.  You can choose from an enormous variety of flavors, and you can select either to leave them unsweetened or to sweeten them with stevia, to avoid that nasty artificial sweetener taste (say NO to aspartame, people!).

But best of all, in the description of each product, it clearly states whether the product is vegan safe, and they'll even specify whether there are animal products used in the processing of the product.  I called customer service to verify, and these people actually understand what it means to be vegan, recognize its importance to us, are knowledgeable about their own products, and are happy to help figure out the best options for vegans.  You get none of the unhelpful judgmental-ness you encounter at most supplement stores.  Plus, for my custom mix including 3 kinds of vegan proteins, creatine, dextrose, and electrolytes, I paid about half of what I have paid for a jug of plain soy protein mix at certain name-brand health stores, and that includes shipping.  Yowza.

I ordered four different flavors to try: chocolate, tropical blend, fruit punch, and mixed berry.  I'll let you know how well I like each one.  But for now, I am one happy customer.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Butternut Squash Spinach Ravioli

Just in time for St. Patrick's day, I give you green ravioli!

This turned out really, really well.  My (non-vegan) mom shushed me while she tried it so that she could enjoy it in peace.  The pasta dough is made with silken tofu and puréed spinach, adding some nutritional value and turning it a lovely shade of green.  The filling is a lovely combination of creamy, crunchy, and nutty.  The sauce, though, is la pièce de résistance, a delicious combination of leeks, mushrooms, green apples, and white wine.

This is all made by hand and from scratch, so it takes a bit of time.  You could save time at any point by substituting store-bought pasta dough (good luck finding vegan ravioli dough, though), or by using a pasta roller or ravioli press.  But what fun is that?

Butternut Squash Spinach Ravioli
Adapted from both Lola's Vegan Blog and Savory Seattle

  • 1 small bunch spinach, de-stemmed
  • 4 oz. silken tofu (about a third of a package of Mori-Nu)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash
  • olive oil, for sautéing
  • 1 c. onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. chopped cashews
  • 1 tbsp. dried sage
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 c. Earth Balance
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 green apple, cut into eighths and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  2. Wash the spinach and shake it to get most, but not all, of the water off.  Steam it by cooking, covered, over medium-low heat in a nonstick pan.  Stir occasionally, until all the spinach is very soft.
  3. Lightly purée the cooked spinach in a blender or food processor.  Add the tofu, olive oil, water, and salt, and blend until perfectly smooth and creamy, scraping the sides often.
  4. Sift the flour evenly over a clean countertop.  Pour the tofu-spinach mixture over the flour, and use a rubber spatula to fold it together.  When it's mostly mixed, use your hands to knead a few times until you have a firm, elastic, homogenous dough.  If it's sticky, add a pinch more flour; if it's too stiff, add a few drops of water.  Let the dough rest at room temperature for about an hour, covered with plastic wrap or wax paper.
  5. While the dough is resting, roast the butternut squash.  Cut it in half, scrape out the seeds and pulp, and place the halves cut-side down on a lightly oiled pan.  Roast the squash for 45-50 minutes, until it's very tender and easily pierced with a fork.
  6. While the squash is roasting, chop all the veggies needed for the filling and sauce.
  7. After the squash is done, let it cool for a few minutes, then scrape out the pulp with a spoon and mash it with a fork.  Set it aside until needed.
  8. Heat a little oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Cook the onions until soft, then add the garlic and cashews and cook a few minutes more.  Add the sage, and cook until fragrant.  Mix in the mashed squash.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove the filling from the heat, and set it aside.
  9. After the pasta dough has rested, roll it out onto a lightly floured countertop.  You want it to be no more than 1/8" thick.  Use a cookie cutter or a glass to cut circles, about 3-4" diameter, out of the dough.  Pull up the rest of the dough and ball up to roll out again later.  If the dough circles have bunched up, use the rolling pin to flatten them again.
  10. Get a small glass of water.  Place about a tablespoon of filling in the center of each dough circle.  Dip your finger in the water and wet the edge of half of the dough circle; then fold the dough over, and press the edges with your fingertip.  You should have a nice scalloped half-moon, with a tight seal.
  11. Roll out the rest of the dough, and repeat until you've used all the dough and all the filling.
  12. Heat a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick pan.  Briefly fry each ravioli on both sides to get a bit of texture to the dough.  Set the fried ravioli aside.
  13. Now make the sauce.  In the same pan, melt the Earth Balance and olive oil over medium heat.  Add the chopped leeks, and sauté until just soft.  Add the mushrooms; cook until both the mushrooms and leeks are very tender, about 8 minutes.  Turn up the heat to medium-high.  Add the apple slices and the white wine, and cook for a minute or two, until the alcohol has evaporated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  14. Toss the ravioli in the sauce, making sure to top each ravioli in lots of yummy veggies.  Serve immediately, and enjoy!
    Makes about 6 servings.

    This is best served fresh, but it will keep in the fridge and reheat just fine.

    Happy eating.

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Leek and Potato Cassoulet

    I don't usually cook things with unfamiliar words in the name - I'm just not a confit or crudité kind of girl - but I made an exception because this cassoulet sounded so, so yummy.  A cassoulet, for those not in the know, is traditionally a meat and bean stew.  This one, from Veganomicon, is made with potatoes, leeks, kale, white beans, and seitan, with a homemade biscuit crust baked right on top.  It's like a supercomfort food: a stew and pot pie all in one.

    This is one of the very few dishes I make that really needs to be made fresh and eaten immediately.  You can eat it a day or two after, but the biscuitty top does get a bit soggy and it's not quite as outrageously tasty.

    I made mine in these adorable little single-serving casserole dishes from Le Creuset, but if you don't feel like dropping $20 a piece for your cookware, you can make this in an oven-safe cast iron pan or a regular casserole dish.

    Also, this recipe calls for boiling the potatoes.  That works fine and is probably the quickest method, but for extra flavor, try roasting them.

    Leek and Potato Cassoulet
    Adapted from Leek and Bean Cassoulet with Biscuits, in Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

    For the stew:
    • 2 potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2" pieces
    • olive oil, for sautéing
    • 2 leeks, thinly sliced
    • 1 small onion, diced
    • 2-3 carrots, diced
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 c. finely chopped kale (stems removed)
    • 1 heaping tbsp. fresh thyme (or substitute 1 tsp. dried)
    • 6 c. vegetable broth
    • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
    • 1-1/2 c. chopped seitan (bite-sized pieces)
    • 1-1/2 c. white beans
    • salt and pepper, to taste
    For the biscuits:
    • 3/4 c. plain nondairy milk
    • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
    • 2 c. all-purpose flour
    • 2 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp. salt
    • 1/4 c. chilled vegetable shortening (do your body a solid and get non-hydrogenated)
    1. Boil the diced potatoes in salted water, until just tender enough to be pierced with a fork.  Don't overcook them, and drain them immediately.
    2. While your potatoes are cooking, chop the remaining veggies.  In a large soup pot (or a really big cast-iron one if you have one and want to bake the stew in that), heat some olive oil over medium-high heat, and sauté the leeks, onions, and carrots until just browned.  Be careful not to burn them.
    3. Add the garlic, kale, thyme, and a bit of salt and pepper, and sauté a minute more.
    4. By this point, your potatoes should be done.  Add them to the pot.
    5. Mix the cornstarch into a cup or two of the vegetable broth.  Pour it into the pot, along with the remaining vegetable broth.
    6. Bring the stew to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.  Turn on your oven now, and preheat to 425°F.
    7. While the stew is simmering, heat oil over high heat in a sauté pan, and sauté the chopped seitan until nice and browned.  Add the browned seitan and the white beans to the stew toward the end of its simmering time.
    8. Also while the stew is simmering, mix together your biscuits.  Stir the apple cider vinegar into your nondairy milk, and set it aside to curdle for about 5 minutes.
    9. In a mixing bowl, mix 1-1/2 c. of the flour with the baking powder and salt.
    10. Add the chilled shortening to the flour mixture in slivers, and crumble it in with your fingers.  Don't worry about getting it perfectly smooth; it should be clumpy.
    11. Drizzle in the milk mixture, and stir the dough together with a fork.  Don't overmix it.  Wash your hands, then lightly flour them and knead the dough a few times in the bowl.  Add more flour a little at a time until it's not quite so sticky.
    12. The stew should definitely be done simmering by now, so transfer it into your baking dish(es) - either the big cast iron skillet, a casserole dish, or individual casseroles.  Pull off palm-sized balls of dough, roll them into balls, then flatten them and place them on top of the stew.  You don't need to cover the whole thing.
    13. If the stew nearly fills your baking dish, put the dish on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any spillover.  Bake the stew at 425°F for 15 minutes or so, until the biscuit topping is cooked through and browned on top.  Try not to drool as you watch this bake.
    Serve hot out of the oven.  Serves about 8.

    If this doesn't just make your tummy ridiculously happy, there's something wrong with you.

    Happy eating.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Required Reading: Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

    Whenever books like Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, are released, they're always accompanied by the same carnivore vs. herbivore debates.  We've heard all the arguments before: you need to eat meat to be healthy; animals exist for people to eat them; animals don't have feelings like people do; conditions for animals aren't really that bad; I buy free range cows/chickens so my meat is fine; I don't care that animals suffer because I love bacon.

    Now, I've come up with my own educated opinions on the points above, as have all vegans: we've decided that none of the reasons for eating meat justify the sacrifices made by animals, the environment, and our bodies in order to make eating meat possible in today's world.  However, I think I'm fairly unique in the vegan community because I have no problem with people who make an educated decision that eating meat IS worth it, despite the negative consequences.  Animals are not the same as people, and you are under no obligation to care for them as such.  You have every right to decide that animal suffering is okay as long as it produces food.  That does not make you a bad person, it just means you place a different value on animal life than I do.  And that's okay.

    What I can't abide, though, is the "don't preach at me" argument, also known as the "your diet choice is your own, so leave me alone about mine" argument.  Let me be clear: being vegan is NOT a diet choice.  It is an ethical choice.  Yes, there certainly are health components to the choice, and the primary venue through which the choice is enacted is in our diets.  But it is not the same as eating gluten-free, or low-carb, or raw.  It is a choice made based on moral principles, because we believe eating animals violates some non-negotiable ethical standards.

    So we have a choice, as vegans.  We can keep our mouths shut, be quietly vegan, and try not to cause too much inconvenience to those around us.  But let's pretend that instead of animal rights, we're talking about a direct violation of human rights.  If you knew for a fact that an activity everyone around you participates in every day was the direct cause of the torture, suffering, and death of thousands of human beings, wouldn't you want to do something about it?  Wouldn't you want to tell your friends about this connection, because you're sure that if they knew the consequences of their actions, they wouldn't want to continue to be the cause of such suffering?

    Now, walking around and screaming at everyone that they're murderers isn't respectful of your fellow humans, and more importantly, it isn't going to accomplish anything.  So what would you do?  You would try to educate people.  You would provide information, start discussions, make suggestions, about this horrible situation.  You would try to show people the face of this unpleasant reality, and you would hope that their consciences would lead them to the same decision yours has.

    This is what vegans do.  Almost none of us were born into veganism; we made this choice for ourselves after someone else showed us the reality to which we had previously been ignorant.  Books like Foer's elucidate the truths of the meat industry, and beg you to align your actions with your conscience.  They eliminate the ignorance that allows people to chomp a hamburger without a second thought, and they demand that we reconcile our personal values with our choices.  If you can read or watch information about the meat industry, or even better, visit a real slaughterhouse or factory farm, and still have the stomach to eat meat, then I respect your decision to do so.  All I ask is that you understand what goes in to the choices you make, and take responsibility for their consequences.

    But the willful ignorance that most people cling to when it comes to issues of animal welfare is entirely unacceptable.  Failing to educate yourself about the ethical choices you make in life is lazy, selfish, and downright immoral.  So when we try to make it really, really easy for you to understand this choice by providing books, pamphlets, videos, and discussions about what it means to eat animals, don't you dare accuse us of preaching.

    You have a responsibility as a self-aware, cognizant human being to understand the consequences of your actions, and to align your choices with your principles.  Whatever decision you make is perfectly acceptable, as long as you understand it.  The greatest ethical crime you can commit is to remain ignorant of the effects of your behavior, especially when that information is made so readily available to you.  Educate yourself, and make your own decision.  Ignorance is not an option.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Vindaloo Curry

    Vindaloo was my next foray into the Savory Spice curry sets I got for Christmas.  It's quite spicy, tangy, a little sweet, and totally awesome.  It's the kind of dish that tastes a little weird in the first bite, and then suddenly you're licking the bowl clean.

    This is a really hearty curry, chock full of potatoes, butternut squash, and carrots.  These sweeter winter veggies help temper the spice a bit, and make this warm you right up on these bitter cold nights.  Feel free to use whatever veggies you like: I expect sweet potatoes and other types of winter squash would be delicious in this as well, and I'd even try cauliflower, garbanzo beans, or plantains if you're feeling really crazy.  Mine was a little too chunky for my tastes with all those veggies, so I added more tomatoes and a little vegetable broth, shown in the recipe below.  I also added a splash of almond milk (any nondairy milk or cream would work - try coconut for extra sweetness) although that's not traditional for vindaloo, as I understand it.  I served this with naan (a traditional Indian bread) and spooned it over some brown rice, which adds a lovely texture and mellows out the heat a bit.

    This is adapted from Isa's Vegan with a Vengeance (you need to buy this book, for reals), and she lists all the spices and seeds you need to make a vindaloo curry from scratch.  I was lazy and wanted to use my vindaloo mix.  I'm not a curry expert, and I have no idea how "authentic" Savory's vindaloo is, but this sure was tasty.

    Vindaloo Curry with Butternut Squash, Potatoes, and Carrots
    Adapted from Butternut Vindaloo in Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
    • olive oil, for sautéing
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 4 tbsp. vindaloo curry spice
    • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
    • 1/2 c. red wine
    • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I used fire roasted)
    • 1/2 c. vegetable broth
    • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
    • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
    • 2 medium carrots, chopped into bite-size chunks
    • 3 tbsp. plain nondairy milk
    • 2 tsp. agave nectar or other sweetener
    • 1 tsp. lemon juice
    • salt, to taste
    1. Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a large pot over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onions until soft.  Add the garlic, and sauté a few minutes more.
    2. Stir in the curry spice, and fry for a minute or so, until the spices become fragrant.
    3. Mix in the red wine vinegar, red wine, crushed tomatoes, and veggie broth.
    4. Add the potatoes, squash, and carrots.  Stir everything really well.
    5. Bring everything to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low.  Simmer until veggies are tender, about 25-30 mintues, stirring frequently.  Be careful to not burn the curry on the bottom of the pan.
    6. Uncover and stir in the nondairy milk, agave nectar, and lemon juice.  Taste, and add salt as needed - don't be shy with the salt.  Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until the curry has your desired thickness.
    Makes about 6 servings.  Serve with naan or over rice.

    Eat this on a cold winter night, and blow a big ol' raspberry at the stupid weather.  Yum.

    Happy eating.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    Spanish-Style Quinoa Stuffed Peppers, with Refried Black Beans

    If you're anything like me, the thought of a giant ceramic plate at your local family-owned Mexican restaurant heaped with Spanish rice and refried beans makes you go into a drooling coma of tasty daydreaming.  But, if you're like me, actually eating said giant plate of food usually puts you into a much less pleasant food-induced coma, the kind where you're holding your tummy and groaning, "Why did I eat that 4th serving?  Why???"  Plus, almost all refried beans you can order in a restaurant are not vegan.  Sad face.

    So this is a revamping of the classic delicious combo, using healthy quinoa instead of rice, and sneaking some actual vegetables in there, too.  If you haven't yet discovered the wonders of quinoa, go eat some.  Right now.  It's gluten-free, high fiber, high iron, super high protein, and a complete protein (meaning it has a balanced set of all essential amino acids).  It's the food that you point to when arguing with folks who say vegans can't eat enough/the right kind of protein.  Plus, it's tasty as hell, fluffy and soft and just mmmm.  It takes almost no time to cook, especially if you get the pre-soaked kind that you don't have to rinse.  Quinoa comes in a couple different varieties, and I used the Inca Red kind from Ancient Harvest for this because the color is so pretty against the yellow peppers I got in my produce box.

    This is another of those "make a bunch of individual things, then stick it all together at the very end" recipes.  I made the Spanish-style quinoa, then the enchilada sauce, then the refried beans, and then finally stuffed it all in a couple yellow bell peppers and roasted the whole thing, topping with fresh avocado slices.

    You'll notice that all these recipes call for chili powder.  If you have or can find ancho chili powder, it will give everything a little extra oomph, so you should use it if you can.  But I didn't have any, so I used regular, which still worked fine.

    Spanish-Style Quinoa
    Adapted from this Authentic Mexican Rice recipe on
    • 1 c. uncooked (pre-rinsed) Inca Red or traditional quinoa
    • olive oil for sautéing
    • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • 1/2 onion, chopped
    • 1 tomato, chopped
    • 1 hot pepper of your choice, chopped finely (I actually used some canned hot green chilis leftover from the enchilada sauce)
    • 1 tsp. cumin
    • salt, to taste
    • 2 c. no-chicken broth
    • 1/4 c. ketchup
    1. Heat oil in a large pot (with a lid) or pressure cooker over medium-high heat.  Toss in chopped onion, and sauté until soft.  Add the garlic, and sauté just 30 seconds more or so.
    2. Add the dry quinoa to the pot.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the quinoa, onions, and garlic are all nicely browned.  If using red quinoa, you won't be able to see when it's browned, so you're going to go by smell.  The whole thing should have a lovely toasty-carmelized aroma when ready.
    3. Mix in the chopped tomato and pepper, cumin, and a few shakes of salt.  Let everything sizzle for a minute.
    4. Deglaze the pan with 2 cups of water or vegan chicken broth.  Stir in the ketchup, and bring everything to a boil.
    5. Seal the pot or pressure cooker with a lid, and then follow the directions on the quinoa package or your pressure cooker instructions to cook the quinoa.  This depends on the type of quinoa you're using, and the cooking method.
    6. Finished quinoa should have absorbed all the water, and be fluffy, moist, soft, and delightful.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
    This is a good base for a lot of meals - it's not too spicy, not too flavorful, just a great canvass to work with, if you will.  I'd recommend stirring in some beans, veggie ground crumbles, tempeh chorizo, and/or fresh chopped cilantro.

    Refried Black Beans
    Adapted from Refried Black Beans from Vegetarian Times
    • 3 c. cooked black beans
    • olive oil, for sautéing
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 can hot roasted green chilis, chopped
    • 2 tsp. chili powder
    • 1 tsp. cumin
    • 1 cup vegetable broth
    • fresh lime juice, about 2 tbsp. or to taste
    • salt, to taste
    1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onion until soft.  Then add the garlic and the green chilis, and cook until lightly browned.
    2. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, and cooked beans.  Cook for a minute, just enough to get the beans all mixed in with the spices.
    3. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
    4. Using a good potato masher, start smooshing the beans right in the pan.  Once you get them moderately mashed, add the vegetable broth.  Continue mashing over medium-low heat.  This way, you get the beans smoother as the liquid mixes in and then cooks off, saving time.
    5. Once the consistency is the way you want it, remove the pan from the heat.  Don't overcook the beans, or they'll get gluey.  If, once they're just thick enough, they're still too chunky for your tastes, use a hand blender to break them down more, or toss the whole thing in a food processor for a few seconds.
    6. Stir in lime juice and salt to taste, adding more cumin or chili powder if necessary.  Be generous with the salt and seasonings: they're what gives this dish pop.
    Serve these with or in any Mexican-style meal - burritos, tacos, fajitas, tostadas, enchiladas, or just by themselves.  They're super versatile.

    Enchilada Sauce
    Adapted from Enchilada Chile Sauce from Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero
    • olive oil, for sautéing
    • 1 small onion, diced
    • 2 small cans hot roasted green chilis
    • 3 tsp. chili powder
    • 1-1/2 tsp. cumin
    • 1 tsp. marjoram
    • 28-oz. can diced roasted tomatoes
    • 1 tsp. sugar
    • salt, to taste
    1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onions until soft.
    2. Mix in all the remaining ingredients, stirring well.  Bring to a simmer, cook for a couple minutes, then remove from heat.
    3. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes, then toss it in a blender or food processor, and purée until smooth.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.
    This is a great, versatile enchilada sauce that's tasty and tangy, without any of that canned-enchilada-sauce bitterness we all hate.  Pour it over... well, pretty much anything.

    Stuffed Peppers

    • 4 large yellow or orange bell peppers, washed, halved, and seeded
    • one batch Spanish-style Quinoa (above)
    • whole black beans, veggie ground crumbles or tempeh chorizo, and/or fresh, chopped cilantro (or whatever other fillings your little heart desires)
    • one batch Enchilada Sauce (above)
    • one batch Refried Black Beans
    • one ripe avocado
    1. Place the peppers cut-side down on a baking sheet.  Place them under the broiler in your oven, and broil until just soft, and the skin just starts to brown.  This could take anywhere from just a few minutes, to around 10, depending on your broiler.  WATCH CAREFULLY to avoid burning the crap out of your peppers.
    2. Mix the whole black beans, veggie meat, fresh chopped cilantro, or any other desired fillings into the Spanish-style quinoa.
    3. Place the broiled pepper halves face up on a the baking sheet.  Fill evenly with the quinoa mixture.  Stick the quinoa-filled peppers back under the broiler, just until the quinoa starts to brown on top.  Transfer the peppers to a serving plate.
    4. Cut the avocado into slices, and layer them on top of the quinoa-filled peppers.
    5. Pour enchilada sauce over the whole shebang.
    6. Serve along with refried beans and a good Mexican beer.
    This makes 8 servings (or 4 servings for very hungry people).  It saves and reheats beautifully, too.

    When I made these, I didn't do the initial pepper-broiling step, but I wish I had.  I'll also kick up the spice of the whole thing next time with some Cholula.  But overall, this was super tasty, and I didn't feel like a fatty fat after eating it.  The fresh cilantro and cool, ripe avocado were the little extras that kicked it over the top for me.  Be adventurous with your mix-ins, and use fresh herbs if you got 'em.

    Happy eating.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Chipotle BBQ Seitan Nuggets

    When I first became vegetarian, I missed barbecue flavor more than almost anything.  (And hot dogs... but that's a different story.)  We love to buy those Morningstar BBQ Riblets, but they're, like, crazy expensive on a student budget.  Plus, they're full of processed soy, and I'm not a big fan of that sort of thing.

    These BBQ nuggets are made with my homemade seitan, which is bar none the best seitan I have ever eaten - if I do say so myself.  I'll post the recipe sometime soon.  You can also use storebought seitan, but frankly, it's totally bland and the texture is just blah.  Making your own seitan is a little time-consuming, but totally worth it for the extra yumminess.  And it's about a third the price to make your own.

    The barbecue sauce is a tasty smoky-sweet sauce, based on a honey chipotle barbecue and veganized to substitute agave nectar.  It's a great way to use up those extra chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

    Chipotle BBQ Seitan Nuggets
    Adapted from Honey Chipotle Barbecue Sauce at
    • about 16 oz seitan, cut into nuggets
    • 1/2 c. flour
    • salt and pepper
    for sauce:
    • 1/2 c. ketchup
    • 1/4 c. brown sugar
    • 3 tbsp. agave nectar
    • 2 tbsp. chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped finely
    • 1 tsp. adobo sauce from the peppers
    • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
    • 2 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
    • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
    • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
    • salt and pepper, to taste
    1. Mix ingredients for sauce together in a mixing bowl.  If you desire a perfectly smooth sauce, purée with a hand blender or in a food processor, but I like the small chunks.  Refrigerate the sauce to blend the flavors.
    2. Squeeze as much of the water out of the seitan nuggets as you can get without damaging them.
    3. Put the flour and a little salt and pepper into a medium mixing bowl.  Toss the seitan in the flour to get a light coating, and shake off the excess.
    4. Heat oil to 350° in a deep fryer, or heat an inch or so of frying oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan.  Fry the seitan nuggets until golden brown and slightly crispy.  Cook in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the oil.  Drain the nuggets briefly on a paper towel.
    5. Empty the remaining flour out of the mixing bowl.  Put the cooked nuggets back in the bowl and toss with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the BBQ sauce.  You should still have sauce leftover for dipping, if desired.
    For best results, serve immediately.

    This is a great recipe to make when you're stuck inside on a chilly winter day.  You can serve it with coleslaw and fruit salad, and pretend like it's summer.

    Happy eating.

    Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

    Yes, you read that right.  No, I'm not using creative license.  I made sweet potato fries, and they were legitimately crispy.

    Thank you, thank you... please hold your applause.

    So here's the deal.  The reason sweet potato fries usually get soggy in about the time it takes you to get them on your dining table is that they have a higher moisture content than regular potatoes.  So this method removes some of that moisture by boiling them in very salty water.  This is when your high school chemistry class comes in handy - we're putting the potatoes in a hypertonic solution, so the water molecules want to leave the potato and go into the saltwater in the pot.  Boiling them also cooks them briefly, so that when we fry them later, we can cook them to perfect crispy brownness without worrying about the doneness of the potato inside.

    The upside to this is that you get delicious, crispy, golden sweet potato fries.  The downside is that it's a whole lot of work, and it's also quite high in fat.  But seriously - they're fries.  Come on.

    You vegetable purists will insist that there's a difference between sweet potatoes and yams; and you're right, they are technically different plants.  But, with the varieties of each that are generally available here in the US, they are completely interchangeable in any recipe.  Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion that most grocery stores are selling the very same crop as both "sweet potatoes" and "yams."  So for most cooking purposes, sweet potato = yam and I don't want to hear about it.

    Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

    • 3 medium-sized sweet potatoes or yams
    • 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
    • 1 tbsp. white sugar
    • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
    • 1-2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • about 1/4 c. salt for the water
    • dipping sauce, like sweet-chili sauce
    1. Peel the sweet potatoes, and chop them into fry shapes.  Go for 1/4" thickness on all sides, and cut them into manageable lengths if necessary.
    2. Heat a large pot of water to boiling.  Add about 1/4 cup of salt to the water.  Taste it to make sure it's salty enough; it should taste like the ocean.
    3. Start heating your cooking method.  I used a deep fryer; you can also use about an inch of frying oil in a good heavy-bottomed pan.  If you don't want to fry, you can try baking them at a very high temperature, like 450°, instead - if you do, let me know how it works!
    4. Toss your fries into the boiling, salted water and cook for a few minutes, until a fork goes through them with just a little resistance.  (Don't cook them so much that they get mushy.)  If you have one, use a pasta strainer or even a metal mesh colander immersed in the water, and then you can just lift the fries out of the water all at once.  Otherwise, you'll have to fish for 'em with a slotted spoon.
    5. Spread the fries out over a paper towel to cool and dry briefly.
    6. Mix the flour and spices together in a small bowl.
    7. In a different mixing bowl, toss a handful of the partially cooked fries.  Only grab as many fries as will fit in whatever you're using to cook them without overcrowding: if it's a small fryer, maybe just a small handful; if it's a large pan or baking sheet, maybe all of them at once will work.  Use your judgment and don't overcrowd.
    8. Sprinkle some of the flour-spice mixture onto the fries, enough to do just a very light coating.  Again, this depends on the size of your batches, so use judgment.  Toss the fries to coat evenly.  The residual moisture from the fries will make the flour sort of clump up - this is a good thing.
    9. If you're frying the fries, shake the excess flour mixture from the batch, and then toss them in the oil.  It's a good idea to have a lid available in case they hiss and sputter.  Fry them until they're browned and crispy.
    10. Remove the fries from the oil and cool them on paper towels.
    11. If you're doing multiple smaller batches, repeat steps 7-10 for the remaining fries.
    This makes a large plateful of fries.  Serve with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce, like a Thai sweet chili sauce, or just a kicked-up ketchup.

    Try to not feel too guilty as you enjoy this fabulous snack.

    Happy eating.

    Banana Bread

    This is a variation from my grandmother's banana bread recipe, which means it can't help but be anything other than delicious.  My grandma is the queen of comfort food.  I've veganized the recipe and made it just a bit healthier, so this is my version.

    This recipe uses agave nectar instead of white sugar.  Agave nectar is the ingenue of the health food world, and we vegans use it instead of honey.  (Yes, honey is an animal product, you nay-sayers out there.)  But agave can also be used instead of regular white sugar, with some definite health benefits.  It's sweeter than sugar per calorie, so you use much less; it also is low in the glycemic index, making it good for diabetics and people on low-carb diets.  I also use half white and half whole-wheat flour, to up the fiber and general wholesomeness a bit.

    The result is a banana bread you can feel a little better about eating, but it's still moist, tender, fluffy, and tastes like you're being very, very bad.

    Banana Bread

    • 1 tbsp. egg replacer (like EnerG), plus 4 tbsp. water
    • 1/2 c. melted vegan margarine (I like Earth Balance sticks)
    • 1/2 c. (+ a tbsp. or two) light agave nectar
    • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
    • 3 overripe bananas
    • 1 c. all-purpose flour
    • 1 c. whole-wheat flour
    • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
    • chopped walnut (optional)
    1. Lightly grease or spray 2 loaf pans.  Preheat oven to 350° if you're using glass or light metal loaf pans, 325° for dark metal loaf pans.
    2. Whisk the egg replacer with the water in the bottom of a large mixing bowl.
    3. Melt the margarine by microwaving an unwrapped stick for 30-40 seconds.  Whisk into the egg replacer mixture in the mixing bowl.
    4. Add in 1/2 c. agave nectar and the vanilla and mix in completely.
    5. Peel the bananas (they should be very squishy) and toss them into the bowl.  I prefer to mix them in by hand using a potato masher and, when they're mostly mashed, using the whisk to purée them just a little.  This leaves little bits of banana in the bread.  If you prefer a perfectly uniform bread with no banana bits, use a hand mixer.
    6. Add the flours and baking soda, and mix in by hand.  Stir as little as possible, just until all the flour is mixed in.  Overmixing will make the bread less tender.
    7. Taste and adjust the batter.  If you prefer it to be sweeter, add a tablespoon or two more agave.  The consistency should be similar to a thick cake batter.  If the batter is too thick to pour, add a tablespoon more water until it's thick but pourable.  If the batter is too thin and watery, add more all-purpose flour a tablespoon at a time until it thickens up a bit.
    8. Pour the batter evenly into each greased loaf pan.  Spread out the batter into an even layer.  If desired, sprinkle walnuts on top of the batter.
    9. Bake for 30 minutes, then check for doneness.  Loaf should be evenly brown, and toothpick inserted into center should come out clean.  The bread should be soft, but not doughy.
    10. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack.
    Bread is delicious hot out of the oven, or it can be stored for up to a week in a sealed container.  Warm up in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, and slather with EB or vegan cream cheese.  Just like grandma's house.

    Happy eating.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Kale and Roasted Vegetable Soup

    This soup is ridiculous.  So delicious, and so healthy... such a combination should be illegal.  You could eat your fill of this tastiness, and not feel a bit of guilt.  Except maybe that there's none left for anyone else in your family to eat.

    This is also a great way to eat kale, if you're the type to be a little weary of dark, leafy greens.  In case you're new to the nutrition train, dark green vegetables are some of the most nutritionally-dense foods you can consume.  They have tons of vitamins A and C, lots of iron, and more calcium per serving than cow's milk (without all the nasty lactose, hormones, antibiotics, pus, and cruelty!).  I think the only reason "Got Greens?" never caught on is the fact that they make a far less attractive mustache.

    But I digress!  My point is that kale is incredibly healthful, but can be a little bitter and tough compared to other greens like spinach, so it tends to scare people off.  Soup is the solution.  Not only does simmering get the kale nice and tender, and all those savory roasted veggies mellow out the flavor oh-so-nice, but since the broth is part of the meal, all the nutrients that would leach out during cooking still get eaten in the soup!  It's win-win.  Or win-win-win.  Whatever - it's kale ftw, peeps.

    Roasting the veggies is key here, folks.  It caramelizes and sweetens, and is absolutely necessary for the flavor of this soup.  I didn't roast the garlic because I use that already-prepared kind in a jar, and out of the peel, it would burn in the oven; but if you have a bulb of fresh garlic cloves, you should roast it by cutting off the top of the whole bulb, drizzling it in a little olive oil, and setting it upright on the pan with the rest of the veggies.  Check it each time you stir the pan of vegetables, because you may need to remove it from the oven before the rest of the vegetables to avoid burning.  Then you squeeze out the meaty parts, finely mince them, and use as directed.

    Kale and Roasted Vegetable Soup
    Adapted from 
    • 3 medium carrots, quartered lengthwise
    • 2 large tomatoes, quartered
    • 1 large onion, cut into 8 wedges
    • 1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut lengthwise into 1/2" thick slices (I have used sweet potatoes instead of the squash with good results; pretty much any sweet vegetable would work)
    • 6 cloves of garlic
    • 8 cups vegan chicken broth (or 4 bouillon cubes, like No-Chicken)
    • 1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and chopped
    • 1-1/2 c. or 1 can white beans (like Great Northern or cannellini)
    • 1 tbsp. ground thyme (or use fresh if you have it, about 3 large sprigs)
    • 1 bay leaf
    • couple tbsp. olive oil
    1. Preheat oven to 400°.  Lightly oil a baking sheet, and place the carrots, squash, tomatoes, and onion in a single layer on the pan, and drizzle with a little more olive oil.  Lightly season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
    2. Roast vegetables until they are browned and tender, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes.
    3. Chop the roasted squash and carrot strips into bite-sized pieces, and set aside.
    4. Toss the tomatoes and onions into a food processor or blender, and add the garlic.  Purée until almost smooth.
    5. If using bouillon, dissolve in 8 cups of water.  Pour a little of the broth onto the roasting pan, and scrape off any caramelized brown bits.  Pour all the broth into a large soup pot.
    6. Add the kale, thyme, and bay leaf to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 30 minutes, until kale is tender.
    7. Add carrots, squash, and beans to the pot.  Simmer for 5-10 minutes to blend the flavors.  I usually add a little more broth or water at this point if the soup is too chunky.
    8. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.
    Makes 6-8 servings of soup.  Delicious when served right away, but tastes even better after it's been in the fridge for a day.

    I love to serve this soup with a hearty bread or roll.  It keeps beautifully in the fridge for up to a week.

    Happy eating.