Friday, October 31, 2008

Vegan MoFo #31: What Does Vegan MoFo Mean To Me?

So, what does Vegan MoFo mean to me? Well, it's certainly been an adventure, and I am not going to lie to you fine people: I am stunned, astonished and not a little impressed with myself that I managed to post (and, for the most part, cook!) something every single day while taking care of kids, animals, housework, classes, reading, writing, life, the universe and everything. On the one hand, I feel pretty bad ass; on the other, I'm totally exhausted and may spend the next month eating PB & J. Or not.

Most of all, though, I'm amazed at the wonderful variety of vegan blogs out there, and the beautiful food everyone is making and sharing the recipes for; we have cooking ideas stockpiled for at least another month! It's encouraging to see so many smart, interesting people participating in this purely positive project, and the whole exercise has been very inspiring. As I'm fond of saying, the simplest way to convince someone that being vegan is easy (and it is!) is to feed them lovely, delicious food; everyone likes to eat, and once they've got some distance from their old SAD---that's Standard America Diet, but you knew that---approach to food and realize how much better they feel, they're more open to considering the serious implications of eating and exploiting our fellow creatures (especially since they no longer have bits of them stuck in their teeth). In general, this is much more effective than guilt-mongering or shock tactics, and understandably so: most people are hard-wired to go on the defensive when they're attacked, at which point they can't "hear" you anymore. My feeling is that veganism is more about spreading light than heat, and Vegan MoFo has done more than its share towards that end. So three cheers for everyone who participated, and here's to the next one (I should have recovered by then)!

(And Happy Halloween, too...go cook something involving a pumpkin!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vegan MoFo #30: MacGyver Spaghetti

Giving the lie in the very throat of my previous post about the periodic paucity of pasta on my personal plate (how's that for alliteration?), I give you: last night's emergency dinner! Well, not an emergency in the sense of there being any actual danger, but in that of being hungry with few available ingredients and absolutely no ambition whatsoever. Such was the situation chez moi after a very long day that started way too early and encompassed way too much stuff; by 7pm I was too tired to go out or even decide on take-out. I addressed this parlous state of affairs in the usual way: grubbing around in the vegetable crisper until something suggested itself, and in this case that thing was spaghetti with what we'll call "MacGyver Sauce."

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that I have never actually seen a single episode of MacGyver, but the character's ability to make do with whatever lay at hand was the recurring and highly amusing joke of a former colleague, and I love the Simpsons episode where Patty and Selma kidnap him and devise increasingly difficult situations from which he's supposed to escape. I'm not sure when my partner started calling me "MacGyver in the Kitchen," but it makes me laugh, and I admit that there is a certain satisfaction in producing a meal--even a basic, workmanlike one--from an apparently empty larder. So here you have pretty much everything that was left in our refrigerator and cupboards, interpreted as spaghetti and "meat"balls; NB that we don't use a lot of meat analogues, but they were sitting there in the freezer, saying, "here we are, so eat us already," so in the spirit of the occasion, we did. I guess this means I have to go grocery shopping now!

MacGyver Spaghetti

~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped yellow onions
~ 1 cup chopped bell pepper
~ 2 cups sliced mushrooms
~ 1 tsp. each salt, oregano
~ 2 tsp. basil
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 2 15 oz. cans fire-roasted tomatoes, drained

~ 1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti, cooked according to package directions and drained
~ 1 package Trader Joe's meatless balls (this is totally optional, or use whatever brand you like/have on hand; I just really like typing "meatless balls!"), cooked in the oven according to directions and set aside.

~ In a big skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium and add the garlic.
~ Saute the garlic for a minute or two, then add the onions; continue cooking another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
~ Add the peppers, mushrooms and seasonings and continue cooking about 5 minutes more,
~ Pour in the drained tomatoes and stir throughly to combine. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes until slightly thickened.
~ Add the cooked meatless balls (there's that phrase again) if using, bring everything to just about a boil.
~ Serve over your cooked spaghetti with a salad and some bread; not bad for there being "nothing in the house!"

Vegan MoFo #29: Lemony-Basil Pasta Sauce

Pasta is one of those foods I tend to run hot and cold on; sometimes I really like it and want to eat it all the time, and then months will go by when it would never occur to me. In general, I prefer whole grains like rice, millet or quinoa, but there are times when noodles just hit the spot. Before I was vegan, I would almost invariably choose creamy sauces over the tomato-based varieties, but one of the funny things about "giving up" dairy products (and probably the single thing that non-vegans have the most trouble believing) is that the desire for them disappears almost's like you forget that you ever considered that stuff food at all. I won't bore you with the whole scientific explanation for this, although there is one; unsurprisingly, it involves breast milk, but that's all the information you're getting from me at this time. Suffice to say that what most people consider their "love affair" with cheese is actually a sick, unhealthy obsession they should put an end to immediately and leave it at that, shall we?

Anyway, I'm not interested in becoming the vegan Dr. Phil (for one thing, my store of corn-pone self-help aphorisms is woefully inadequate), so back to the pasta. It is a truth universally acknowledged that one of the greatest things to put on pasta is pesto, which is easily made or indeed purchased sans cheese. One cold and gloomy afternoon it occurred to me that something nice and "spring"-tasting would be just the ticket, and when I looked around my kitchen I came up with whole wheat rotini, lemons, pesto and some silken tofu...a short while later I had this sauce, which has a fresh, bright flavor that manages to be substantial and filling, too. It would be good over any pasta, or even rice, so go ahead and play around with it; I guarantee you will never miss the Parmesan!

Lemony –Basil Pasta Sauce

~ ½ cup vegetable broth
~ 2 heaping tbsps. chopped garlic
~ 2 tbsp. vegan pesto
~ ½ cup lemon juice
~ 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
~ 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
~ Zest from 1 lemon
~ 1 tsp. sea salt
~ 1 tsp nutmeg
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1 lb. soft silken tofu
~ 1/3 cup nutritional yeast

~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 large, chopped onions
~ 1 lb. sliced mushrooms
~ 1 cup frozen peas
~ 2 cups fresh, chopped basil

~ Saute garlic in the broth over medium heat until fragrant.
~ Add pesto, lemon juice and zest, vinegar, spices and soy milk, stirring constantly.
~ In a blender or food processor, combine the silken tofu and nutritional yeast; add the liquid ingredients in a slow stream until smooth.
~ In a saute pan or skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat, then add the onions and saute for 10 minutes until they begin to caramelize, adding a little water or broth to prevent sticking.
~ Add the mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes, until the vegetables are brown and fragrant.
~ Add the peas and fresh basil; stir till the basil is just wilted, then add the pureed mixture to the pan and stir until thoroughly combined.
~ Serve hot over any cooked pasta.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vegan MoFo #28: Perfect Roasted Potatoes

I love eating potatoes for breakfast, especially on the weekend (and who has time to cook anything on weekday mornings, anyway?). Over the years, I've discovered that roasting them in the oven is a million times better than frying them in a pan; not only are they not greasy at all, they get much crispier, which to my mind is a very important quality in breakfast potatoes. Of course, they are equally good at dinner or lunch, and you can even toss in some other veggies along with them: green beans, asparagus, thinly sliced onions, etc. For my money, though, roasted potatoes are the ideal accompaniment to scrambled tofu and crusty toast at 11am on a Saturday morning, along with some ketchup, hot sauce, and multiple cups of strong tea. I always make a lot because they're good leftovers in the unlikely event you don't snork them all down at once. Then you can go have a nap with your dog!

Perfect Roasted Potatoes
~ 6-8 large Yukon Gold potatoes (or other biggish variety, I just like YG best)
~ 1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ Kosher salt
~ Fresh black pepper
~ About 1 tsp. each thyme, rosemary, paprika (this is imprecise; obey your taste/instincts!)

~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Pierce the potatoes with a knife and microwave on high for about 5-7 minutes, until they are mostly cooked but not mushy.
~ Once the potatoes are cooled a bit, quarter them and cut into cubes.
~ Place the sliced potatoes on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Pour the oil and seasonings over them and make sure they are thoroughly coated.
~ Bake at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes, stirring them around at least once so they get nice and brown on all sides.
~ Remove from the oven, add more salt and/or pepper to taste and eat them up, yum!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vegan MoFo #27: Lentil, Split-Pea and Vegetable Soup

It wasn't until after I became a vegetarian that I got interested in learning to cook; once I did, however, I was very excited to experiment with all the various grains, beans, vegetables and other ingredients that were new to me. Among the earliest of these was lentils. When I was growing up, my mother always made soups and stews from scratch, but as a notoriously picky eater, I was deeply suspicious of any soup that didn't come out of a red and white can, usually with "cream of" featured prominently in its name. So it goes without saying that I considered both lentil and split pea soups disgusting (which may have also had something to do with the ginormous hunks of ham that were usually floating in them).

BUT. I vividly recall a day when I was about 17, hanging out at my friend Aldona Shumway's house and being completely blown away by the lentil soup she'd made, all by herself. Aldona was a vegetarian before me, and was already into reading cookbooks like The Vegetarian Epicure (there it is again!); she made this soup fairly often, but unfortunately I don't have a clear memory of what spices she used, or even the ingredients besides onions, celery, carrots and--of course--lentils. I do however recall that it had a fresh, simple and totally satisfying flavor that was a revelation to me, and I've been in love with legumes ever since. The following recipe is the way my lentil/split pea soup has evolved over many years of cooking it. Like many such recipes, it can be pretty flexible: sometimes I toss in some rice, barley or potatoes, sometimes I have different vegetables or only one variety of legume on hand, but in a perfect world, this is the way I like it best. Ideally with a big hunk of crusty bread and maybe a nice green salad. (Oh, and Aldona, if you're out there, thanks!)

Lentil, Split-Pea and Vegetable Soup

-2 tbsp. vegan bouillon mixed w/1 cup boiling water or broth
-1 tbsp. olive oil
-3 cups chopped onions
-2 tbsp. chopped garlic
-1 cup chopped celery
-1 cup diced carrots
-2 cup chopped mushrooms
-4 cups chopped spinach
-2 cups yellow split peas, rinsed
-1 cup red lentils, rinsed
-1 tsp each:
-sea salt
- ½ teaspoon each:
-1/4 cup chopped fresh dill (or an additional 2 tsp. if using dried)
-1 bay leaf, crumbled
-Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 6 cups stock or water

-Sautee onions and garlic in about ¼ cup of the bouillon mixture for about 5 minutes, adding more liquid as needed.
-Add celery, carrots, mushrooms and seasonings. Saute for about 10 minutes, adding the rest of the bouillon mixture to keep things nice and moist.
-Add the split peas, lentils, spinach and fresh dill. Stir to combine, then remove from heat and allow to sit at least a half hour, so the legumes will begin to absorb the seasonings.
-Add 6 cups of water, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the peas and lentils have broken down and the soup is very thick; Add more water if you want a thinner consistency, or to prevent it from sticking if it gets too dense.
~ Serve hot with crusty bread: delicious.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Vegan MoFo #26: No Knead Bread

Today's post features another kick-ass bread recipe from Joe, courtesy of the New York Times. This bread, hot out of the oven at about 10pm on a Saturday evening, provided the perfect accompaniment to the DVD of "Talking Heads," an astonishingly funny, moving and thought-provoking series of monologues written by Alan Bennett and performed by the likes of Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Bennett himself (check it out, it's well worth your time: With some Earth Balance, raspberry jam, and a nip of whisky, it was exactly what required!

No-Knead Bread (Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery)
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

~ 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
~ ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
~ 1¼ teaspoons salt
~ Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

~ In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
~ Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
~ Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
~ At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
~ Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Vegan MoFo #24: Nanny White's Centenary

Today would have been my grandmother's 100th birthday. Her name was Beatrice (née Kirby) White, and she died just a few weeks after her 90th birthday, on November 11th, 1998: an appropriate departure date for the daughter of a World War I veteran. My grandmother was born, raised and lived her entire life in and immediately around Birmingham, in the English West Midlands, but the Second World War brought the world to her; throughout my life, my mother's childhood memories of ration books, empty stomachs and nights spent in the bomb shelter have painted a vivid picture of an ordinary British working class family in extraordinary times. You might wonder what this has to do with veganism, and the answer would be: more than you might think. It just so happens that the word "vegan" was coined in England in 1944, the same year Donald Watson established the Vegan Society, remarking that, “We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals' bodies." 

Of course, even for committed omnivores, the rationing instituted by the Ministry of Food meant that a lot of wartime meals were vegan by default, since most things people couldn't grow themselves were hard to come by. It's no coincidence that many British kitchen staples like Bisto and Bird's Custard Powder were so popular during those years; products that could create gravy and custard in a meat-free, eggless environment must have had enormous appeal. So there's that. 

But now I bet you're wondering what the hell is up with Dr Carrot, and about the crazed, war-weary parent who would let him anywhere near their children, never mind allow him to be their "best friend." Well, when we were in London this summer, we spent an emotionally exhausting afternoon at the Imperial War Museum, which everyone should visit once; should you need any reminders that war is A Really Bad Idea, I guarantee that it will do the trick. Among their temporary exhibits was The Children's War, which focused on what the youngest members of the British public had to endure as a result of grown-ups' stupidity. Follow the link if you'd like to learn more, but suffice to say that halfway through I had to excuse myself and go cry in the Ladies' because I was overwhelmed at the reminiscences of these (now elderly) people whose childhoods were so like my mother's, to say nothing of the photos and artifacts representing those who didn't survive to remember the experience.

The flipside, however, was an astonishing and comprehensive collection of wartime propaganda, featuring posters with themes ranging from the need for scrap metal and the wisdom of evacuating your little ones ASAP to admonitions to "Eat Less Bread!" and "Save Kitchen Scraps to Feed the Hens and Pigs!" The food and nutrition-centered images were my favorites, and we came home with a sheaf of postcard-sized facsimiles, some of which are now hanging in our kitchen (albeit that they have had little to no effect on bread consumption, which basically puts us in league with the Hun). Among the most arresting - and frankly bizarre - was the hydrocephalic Dr Carrot, striding purposefully along with his medical bag, which is apparently chockful of Vitamin A. Carrots, like other root vegetables, are easily grown in the British climate, so they got a fair bit of press during the war years. The humble but versatile had its own mascot, Potato Pete, who not only had his own cookbook and song, but served both in uniform and at the dinner table

Together Pete and the good doctor made quite a team; it's tempting to picture them hoisting a few pints of bitter after tough day selling out their fellow roots and tubers. And while my peacetime reaction to seeing Dr Carrot on the doorstep would be to slide the bolt and call the authorities (for one thing, I have doubts about his credentials), things are different when there's a war on. With all the able-bodied humans at the front, sometimes you have to take what you can get, even if that means allowing a huge, anthropomorphized root vegetable to look at Trevor's sore throat. The fact that Dr Carrot is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to be "the children's best friend" is just one more testament to the courage and fundamental unselfishness of all products (and indeed produce) of that sceptr'd isle, that demi-paradise, that other Eden, my ancestral soil. 

So here's to Dr Carrot, Potato Pete, and all the other weird shit that helped everyday families like mine get through unimaginably strange and challenging times. Nanny White lived through two such times - first time as a child, and later as a parent - and I like to think that on her centenary she'd be proud that I'm giving Dr Carrot the credit he deserves lo, these many years later. Then again, she might just be deeply confused; but one way or another, it's been a full century since she entered this troubled, troubling, yet wonderful world, and that's pretty cool to think about.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vegan MoFo #23: Macaroni & Sleaze with Caramelized Carrots & Onions

Today was one of those raw October days when you're forcibly reminded that winter is right around the corner; to make matters worse, I think I'm getting a cold, and it was Wednesday. What, you ask, is so bad about Wednesday? Well, it's not so much "bad" as it is The Most Cluttered Day of the week, and today was no exception, even though the clutter was all composed of cool stuff (good class, interesting colloquium, tea party with fellow students, etc.). So when I crawled in the door at 5.30pm after nine hours of unrelenting intellectual stimulation, I was A. hungry, B. in need of comfort food, and C. not at all sure I felt like cooking anything. But I put on my thinking cap and managed to whip up something that turned out pretty well. With a side of roasted walnuts, sweet potatoes and salad greens with generous lashings of Annie's, I mean "Goddess"...Dressing, this made for a happy tummy and a positive attitude at the end of a long day. In a perfect world, your local liquor store will be having a sale on Folonari Pink Pinot Grigio (I am not making this up), featuring a label with a Legally Blonde cartoon girl walking a pink poodle (I tell you, I am NOT making this up) for $4.58 (see previous paranthetical comments in re: NOT MAKING THIS UP), which will provide a "fun, fruity and fabulous" complement to your meal, as well as a "pink twinkle in the glass and a tingle on the tongue" (I'm not telling you again). Add the entire series of Slings & Arrows on DVD and things are definitely looking up!

Macaroni & Sleaze with Caramelized Carrots & Onions

The Sauce

~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, sage
~ 1/2 tsp. each: paprika, hot sauce (or 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper)
~ Fresh black pepper

~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine; add the flour and stir for a minute or so to form a roux.
~ Add 1/2 cup of the soy milk ad stir to combine.
~ Add the seasonings and nutritional yeast, then gradually add the remaining soy milk, stirring constantly until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside.

The Carrots & Onions

~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 3 cups chopped onions
~ 1 cup diced carrots
~ Salt & pepper to taste

~ In a skillet or non-stick wok (my favorite cooking vessel), heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the carrots.
~ Cook for a minute or two before adding the onions, salt, and pepper. Stir thoroughly to combine, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are nice and brown.

The Pasta:

~ This is the easy part: cook 1/2 lb. pasta of your choice (I used whole wheat elbows) according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

The Garnish:

1/2 cup whole wheat panko crumbs, combined with 1 tbsp. melted Earth Balance and about 1 tsp. paprika.

The Assembly:

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Combine the cooked pasta, sauce and caramelized onion/carrot mixture and pour into a greased casserole dish or deep-dish pie plate.
~ Top with the panko mixture and bake uncovered for 20 minutes, until the topping is golden and the pasta is bubbling.
~ Allow to cool at least 15-20 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vegan MoFo #22: Baighan Bharta with Lentils and Saffron Rice

Maybe I shouldn't really call this baighan bharta, since the traditional recipe doesn't include lentils; then again, it does often include a shocking quantity of ghee, which I don't, so maybe it all balances out in the end. In any case, here is another Indian dish featuring eggplant in a rich, filling stew to be eaten with or over rice. Since I was making it for a main course, the lentils were tossed in for protein; I cooked them separately, then added them to the almost finished product so they'd retain some texture. This recipe is pretty mild in terms of seasonings, but we tend to eat a lot of hot pickle with our Indian food, which more than makes up for it; you could certainly throw in some cayenne or other heat source if you want it spicier, though. The saffron rice is a fairly basic rendition, to which any number of things can be added: raisins, slivered nuts, peas, finely chopped carrots, you name it. I kept it simple here because there was a lot of other stuff going on with the stew, and we had aloo gobi on the side as well, but go ahead and get as crazy with it as you like!

Baighan Bharta with Lentils
~ 1 tbsp. hot mustard oil
~ ½ tsp. each: cumin seeds, black mustard seeds
~ 1 tbsp. garlic
~ 1 tbsp. ginger
~ 3 cups chopped onion
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, garam masala, curry powder, fenugreek
~ ½ tsp. each: coriander, turmeric, chili powder
~ 3 cups roasted, mashed eggplant
~ 1 15 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes
~ ½ cup frozen green peas

~ 1 cup green or brown lentils, cooked for 30-40 minutes in 2.5 cups vegetable stock, until the liquid is completely absorbed.

~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil and cook the cumin and mustard seeds over medium-high heat, until they begin to sizzle and pop.
~ Add the onions, garlic and ginger, stir to combine, and cook another 5-10 minutes until the onions start to brown, adding a splash of water if necessary to prevent sticking.
~ Add the remaining seasonings, eggplant and drained tomato. Mix thoroughly, then lower the heat, cover, and cook about 10 minutes more.
~ Remove the cover, add the frozen peas and cooked lentils, stir to combine.
~ Raise the heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes or so, until the peas are bright green.
~ Serve hot over...

Saffron Rice
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance (or oil; I just like EB here)
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 4 scallions, thinly sliced
~ 1.5 cups jasmine or basmati rice
~ 3 cups vegetable broth
~ 5-6 saffron threads
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ ½ tsp. cardamom
~ 1 cinnamon stick
~ A few grinds of black pepper

~ Heat the broth to nearly boiling; add the saffron threads and cover for 10 minutes.
~ Melt the Earth Balance in a heavy-bottomed saucepan; add the garlic and scallions and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes.
~ Add the rice, salt, cardamom and cinnamon stick; cook for another minute or two, until the rice is completely coated.
~ Pour in the saffron/broth mixture and return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ Remove the cinnamon stick, fluff with a fork and serve.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vegan MoFo #21: Ginger, Pear and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ginger is one of the best tastes and smells in the world: simultaneously warm, spicy, light and fresh. I use it a lot, in all kinds of things, and there's really no substitute for fresh ginger in a recipe (besides which, grating it is another of those excellent jobs to delegate to the person or people hanging out in the kitchen while you cook). I originally conceived of what turned out to be these muffins as a veganized, pear-centric update of an apple "brownie" recipe that my sister gave me ages ago. When I looked up the recipe, however, I decided that my eggless, butterless adaptation would be better suited to muffins than something that needed to be sliced. I've sung the praises of muffins before, but one of the greatest things about them is their portability: if there's a basket of muffins sitting on the kitchen table, there's a good chance people will just grab one or two as they walk by, as opposed to something they need to--GASP!--take out, uncover, cut or otherwise meddle with. These muffins are sweet, but not too sweet, and made a nice snack with the mid-afternoon cup of tea I find so salutary these days!

Ginger, Pear and Chocolate Chip Muffins

~ 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. each: cinnamon, ground ginger
~ 1/2 tsp. each: nutmeg, allspice, salt
~ 3/4 cups (vegan) dark chocolate chips
~ 3 Bosc pears, diced (3 cups; any variety of pear would do)
~ 1/2 cup applesauce
~ 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 2 tbsp. freshly grated ginger root

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a mixing bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together, then add the chocolate chips and stir to coat them with the flour mixture.
~ In a separate bowl, combine all remaining ingredients (from the pears through the grated ginger root) and stir thoroughly.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Stir well to combine.
~ Coat a muffin tin with cooking spray, then spoon the batter into the cups; this is a pretty generous batch and should fill them all right to the top.
~ Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.
~ Allow to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes more before turning out and eating, ideally warm.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Vegan MoFo #20: Tofu Omelet

Again with the brunch food! I actually made this last weekend, but never got around to typing up the stained, scribbled notes I took while cooking, which is why you're getting a Sunday brunch post on a Monday. And what's wrong with that, I'd like to know? Anyway, when it comes to omelets, I was never as big a fan of the eggs as of the fillings, and I have particularly fond memories of the western omelets my dad would sometimes whip up when I came in late at night as a semi-debauched teenager. I've looked at lots of recipes, but never had the courage to try a tofu omelet myself until recently. One piece of advice I will offer is to be patient, because this could take awhile if you don't want it to fall apart on its way out of the pan (which you presumably don't, or you'd just make tofu scramble and be done with it), and a nonstick skillet is a Big Help. I used what was on hand in the crisper for the filling, but one of these times I am definitely going to saddle up my culinary steed and tilt at the quixotic windmill that is dad's Western Omelet; watch this space!

The Filling:(Make this first!)
~ 1 tbsp. oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1/2 cup chopped onion
~ 1/2 cup diced bell pepper
~ 1 cup sliced mushrooms
~ 1 ripe tomato, chopped
~ 1 tsp each: salt, tarragon, basil
~ Fresh black pepper

~ Saute the garlic and onions over medium heat about minutes, then add the bell pepper, mushrooms, tomato and seasonings.
~ Continue cooking until the vegetables are cooked but still have some texture, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

The Omelet:
~ 1 lb. extra-firm silken tofu
~ 1/4 cup plain soymilk
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ 2 tbsp. cornstarch
~ 2 tbsp. tahini
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, paprika
~ 1/2 tsp. turmeric

~ In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth; it should have a consistency similar to pancake batter.
~ Coat a large non-stick skillet with cooking spray and place over medium-high heat. When it's good and hot, pour the batter in and let it spread out across the pan.
~ Reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for 5-10 minutes, checking frequently. As the edges get firm, you can gently lift them with a spatula and tilt the pan ever so slightly, so the batter will run down the sides (remember doing this with eggs?).
~ When the omelet is set, spoon the filling onto one side, trying not to get it too close to the edges. Carefully loosen the omelet by sliding the spatula under it from each direction, and then fold one side over the other.
~ Remove from heat and carefully lift or slide it onto a serving platter.
~ This is pretty filling, and will serve 2-4 hungry people, depending on what you're having on the side. We had it with roasted potatoes, toast, ketchup and hot sauce, which meant we got two separate meals out of it, but that's just us.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Vegan MoF0 #19: Huevos-Free Rancheros

Avocados are good at any time of day or night, and this recipe came about because of a perfectly ripe one that I wanted to eat for breakfast this morning. So succulent and luscious was the pale green flesh of this beautiful fruit that it cried out for a fitting foil to showcase its loveliness. (Can you tell that I really love avocadoes? Because I do.) So I rooted around in the refrigerator and found the necessary components for what would be called huevos rancheros if it included huevos, which it most emphatically does not. What it does have is fresh, ripe tomatoes and peppers from the garden of my mother's friend, lots of yummy spices, refried black beans and Nature's Wonder Food, tofu. This is the kind of breakfast that could easily send you back to bed with the Sunday paper: so satisfying, delicious, and utterly worthy of a perfect avocado that it's hard to imagine ever being hungry again. In a good way!

~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 cup chopped onion
~ 1 cup diced green bell pepper
~ 2 cups sliced mushrooms
~ 2 cups diced fresh, ripe tomatoes
~ 3 thinly sliced scallions
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, cilantro, thyme, chili powder, smoked paprika
~ 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
~ 1/4 tsp. cayenne (more to taste)
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1 15 oz. can refried black beans
~ 1 lb, firm tofu, mashed
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ 4-5 large flour tortillas
~ Sliced ripe avocado, or guacamole if you prefer
~ Salsa
~ Vegan sour cream, if you're into that sort of thing

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit
~ Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange the flour tortillas on it. Lightly salt and pepper them, then bake for about 10 minutes, until slightly crisp but not too brown. Break into tortilla-chip size pieces and set aside.
~ In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onions and garlic over medium heat for about 3 minutes.
~ Add bell pepper, mushrooms and seasonings, and cook another few minutes, until the mushrooms start to soften.
~ Add the chopped tomatoes and refried beans, then raise the heat to high and cook about 5 minutes more, stirring constantly to prevent sticking.
~ Add the tofu, scallions and nutritional yeast. Stir to combine and cook another minute or two, until everything is heated through. Remove from heat.
~ Arrange tortilla pieces on plates, then spoon the bean & vegetable mixture on top. Serve with guacamole, salsa, vegan sour cream and hot sauce for a breakfast you won't soon forget, because you'll be full for hours. So go do the crossword puzzle or something!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Vegan MoFo #18: Let's Get Sconed Survey Challenge!

Okay, I think I have been very good about updating my blog for Vegan MoFo while keeping up with kids, animals, schoolwork and all the rest of it. That said, I have a big ol' paper and a presentation due on Tuesday, then more of the same the following week, so right now I need to prioritize those things. Since the "rules" are merely that one must strive to post something each day, I hereby give you my answers to the survey from Jess' fabulous blog, Let's Get Sconed. I hope to have some food for you over the weekend, but in the meantime, here's a little more about me, me, me (but enough about me; what do you think about me?)!

1. What was the most recent tea you drank?
Two Typhoo tea bags steeped a long time, with Lyon's Golden Syrup and Vitasoy unsweetened soymilk: it's how I start my day.

2. What vegan forms do you post/lurk on? If so, what is your username? Spill!
I'm Desdemona on the Post Punk Kitchen, and I occasionally leave comments on other blogs, especially when I see a recipe I admire, want to make, or am astonished by (Deenifying Myself comes to mind here!).

3. You have to have tofu for dinner, and it has be an Italian dish. What comes to mind first?
The lasagna I made last week was pretty amazing, so I'd probably choose that.

4. How many vegan blogs do you read on an average day?
In ordinary circumstances, I usually check the PPK, SuicideFood, and a few others (see my blogroll), but sinceVegan MoFo started it's been way more; it's a wonder I'm getting anything else done. Wait. Am I getting anything else done?

5. Besides your own, what is the most recent one you’ve read?
Jess' Get Sconed!, from whence came this survey.

5. If you could hang out with a vegan blogger that you haven’t met, who would it be, and what would you do?
Too hard, there are so many; let's just say that I'd love to get to next year's Vegan Gathering!

6. If you had to base your dinners for a week around one of the holy trinity – tofu, seitan or tempeh, which would it be?
Tofu – I can think of a million things right off the top of my head; it's Nature's Wonder Food.

7. If you had to use one in a fight, which would it be?
Frozen extra firm Nasoya, because that pointy plastic container could do some serious damage.

8. Name 3 meals you’d realistically make with that tough protein of choice!
~ Thai red curry stir fry with baked tofu, bell peppers, baby corn, water chestnuts, etc., over brown basmati rice.
~ Pumpkin baked ziti with tofu ricotta.
~ The tofu omelette I made last Sunday. Again.

9. What’s a recipe in vegan blogland that you’ve been eyeing?
The panko-crusted seitan smothered with ginger and apples that Isa blogged a week or so ago. Definitely one of these weekends.

10. Do you own any clothing with vegan messages/brands on them?
I don't tend to wear a lot of clothing with writing on it, but I do have a "Vegan Chick" tank top; do my "Eat More Kale" t-shirt and "Domestic Terrorist" apron count?

11. Have you made your pilgrimage to the 'vegan mecca' yet?
Alas, not yet, but we have a friend who teaches at Reed, and keep our eyes peeled for academic conferences out that way.

12. What is the worst vegan meal you’ve had? Who cooked it?

I suppose if we take the question to include occasions when you just have to make do or starve with the hunger, I'd have to say the medieval conference where my lunch was a "salad" of iceberg lettuce and hothouse tomatoes with no dressing, and a bottle of Diet Snapple Iced Tea. Boy howdy!

13. What made you decide to blog?
I like to write, I like to cook, and I enjoy other people's blogs, so I figured why not?

14. What are three of your favorite meals to make?
~ Chana dal with cucumbers and kale
~ Black bean and cornbread casserole
~ Lemony mushroom and asparagus risotto

15. What dish would you bring to a vegan Thanksgiving-themed potluck?
It's easiest to think of dishes I've made recently, so I'd say the butternut squash with pear and walnut stuffing, baked pasta with pumpkin and caramelized onions, or maybe a few different vegetable pies.

16. Where is your favorite vegan meal at a restaurant? How many times have you ordered it?
Well, based on overall experience (food, atmosphere, sense of occasion, etc.) a few that come to mind are the Warehouse Cafe in Birmingham (England), Grezzo (Boston), and the Eden Cafe (Bar Harbor). I won't bother listing what we actually ate because it would take too long, but I will say that each of those meals stands out in memory as particularly wonderful for a variety of reasons.

17. What do you think the best chain to dine as a vegan is?
Fortunately, I can't remember the last time I was in a chain restaurant, so I can't say.

18. My kitchen needs a………
"Need" is such a relative word, but I'd like more cupboard and counter space, and a new stove. Oh, and a totally pimped-out VitaMix!

19. This vegetable is not allowed in my kitchen:
Lima beans have been about the only member of the animal kingdom for which I have never been able to feel the love, but then I had some in a Jamaican stew and they were actually fine, so I dont know. Now, ask me about fruits, and I will answer without hesitation that just the thought of durian makes me want to throw up a little.

20. What's for dinner tonight?
No clue whatsoever. It's Friday and it's been a long week. Right now we're thinking take-out from our local vegan Chinese restaurant, The Buddha Hut...I'm thinking something in the way of spring rolls and Szechuan stir-fried tofu might be just the thing.

21. (In which I'm supposed to add my own question, so here goes) Why are you vegan?
Because it's the right thing to do. DUH!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Vegan MoFo #17: Yet Another Vegetable Pie

Maybe it's the English(wo)man in me, but I really love savory pies, especially if there's gravy involved, so when in doubt about what to cook, some sort of vegetable pie is one of my go-to options. This one came about because I wanted mashed potatoes but couldn't justify making an entire dinner of them. The filling is made from ingredients most people have in the vegetable crisper, and can be expanded or contracted easily to suit availability and personal taste: cauliflower, parsnips, even sweet potatoes could easily be incorporated into this pie with excellent results, so don't hesitate to experiment. This is a great comfort food dinner on a chilly evening, especially served with extra mashed potatoes and roasted carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts, or other wintry vegetables. Add your favorite gravy and some cranberry sauce and hey, presto: it's Thanksgiving!

~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups onions and/or leeks, washed and chopped
~ 1/2 cup diced celery
~ 1/2 cup diced carrots
~ 4 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
~ 1/2 cup frozen peas
~ 1/2 lb. firm tofu, mashed
~ 1/2 cup vegetable broth, mixed with 1 tbsp. corn starch
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, parsley, sage, marjoram
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ ½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
~ 1-2 tbsp. vegan margarine
~ Paprika for garnish

~ 1 prepared single pie crust
~ 1 big batch of your favorite mashed potato recipe

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and/or onions and garlic; sauté 2-3 minutes.
~ Add the celery, seasonings, carrots, and mushrooms. Cook another 10 minutes, adding a little water if necessary to prevent sticking.
~ Add the frozen peas, mashed tofu, fresh parsley and the stock/corn starch mixture. Stir thoroughly to combine, then continue cooking another 5-10 minutes.
~ Transfer into a prepared single piecrust and top with a thick layer of mashed potato.
~ Cover loosely with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (I usually place the pie plate on a baking sheet to catch any errant drips).
~ Remove from the oven and drizzle with 1-2 tbsp. melted Earth Balance or other vegan margarine over the potatoes, then sprinkle on some paprika and lightly drag the tines of a fork around to make pretty patterns.
~ Bake uncovered for another 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and lovely.
~ Allow to rest at least 15 minute before slicing and serving with your favorite autumnal veggies (and gravy!).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Eggplant, Spinach, and Chickpea Curry

I love leafing through cookbooks, but I view recipes less as culinary gospel than inspirational models, and today's recipe is a good example. This particular dish had its basis in a recipe from Lord Krishna's Cuisine, but has become so unrecognizable that I won't even bother listing my changes except to say that even if you don't object to dairy, putting 10 tablespoons of ghee in anything is just over the top.

What I will say is that you should make this curry as soon as possible, because it is seriously delicious, as in "company-meal-for-skeptical-omnivores" delicious. I should also add that this recipe makes a lot of food, but it also freezes well and makes particularly excellent leftovers; in fact, I often make it a day in advance because it just keeps getting better and better.

Eggplant, Spinach, and Chickpea Curry
~ 2 tbsp. canola (or other) oil
~ 1 tsp. each: mustard seeds; cumin seeds
~ 2 cups chopped onion
~ 1 tbsp. each: minced garlic, grated ginger
~ 1 tsp each: salt, coriander, fenugreek powder, cumin, curry powder, garam masala
~ ½ tsp. each: cinnamon, asafoetida, cayenne pepper
~ 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
~ 6 cups diced eggplant
~ 1 15 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes, including liquid
~ 1 15 oz. can coconut milk (I prefer the high test to the "lite" here)
~ 1 lb. frozen spinach
~ 1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 2 tsp. panch phoran

~ In a large, deep pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat; add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook, stirring constantly, until the seeds begin to sizzle and pop. You might want to be wearing an apron while you do this. And safety goggles. (Just kidding...well, sort of.)
~ Add the onions and cook 5 minutes, until they're just starting to brown, then add the garlic and ginger. Cook a few minutes longer, adding a little water as necessary to prevent sticking.
~ Add the eggplant and the remaining seasonings, stirring to make sure the the vegetables are coated. Cook 5 minutes, until the eggplant begins to soften.
~ Pour in the canned tomatoes and coconut milk, stirring well to combine.
~ Add the spinach and the chickpeas, then cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring every ten minutes or so to make sure it doesn’t stick or need more liquid. The eggplant should be completely broken down, and the liquid reduced to a thick stew.
~ In a small pot, heat the remaining 1 tbsp. canola oil, and fry the panch phoran for about a minute, just until the seeds begin to pop. Pour this mixture into the curry, and stir to combine.
~ Serve hot over basmati rice, with your favorite spicy pickle and/or chutney on the side.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Vegan MoFo #14: Butternut Squash with Pears and Walnuts

Behold: my first response to the Vegan MoFo Iron Chef Challenge! Last week's ingredients were pears and nuts, and since I had pears in the fruit bowl, walnuts in the cupboard and a humongous butternut squash just sitting there on my kitchen counter, thinking (I could tell), "So eat me, already!", I decided to make a stuffing featuring these perennial autumn favorites. I was originally thinking along traditional "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" lines, but my partner suggested taking a more Caribbean approach to the seasonings, which was definitely The Right Thing To Do. The hardest part of this recipe is cutting the damn squash in half in the first place (thanks again, Robert); this should be done lengthwise and with great care, because a whole squash can be a slippery devil when it's trying to escape, so watch out. Once it's been successfully cloven in twain, remove the seeds, smear it inside and out with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Baking at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes should ensure the flesh will scoop out easily, but leave the shells enough architectural integrity to stand up to re-stuffing. Since I literally invented it this afternoon, I had no idea how it would turn out, but it was so good that we've already decided to have it again for Thanksgiving, if not before. I call that a success!

Butternut Squash with Pears and Walnuts

~ 1 large butternut squash, cut in half and roasted at 400 degrees for 30 minutes
~ ½ cup lite coconut milk
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tbsp. grated ginger
~ 1 cup onions, chopped
~ ½ cup celery, diced
~ 1 large Bosc pear, diced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cinnamon, thyme
~ 1 tbsp. curry powder
~ ½ tsp. nutmeg, allspice
~ Pinch cayenne pepper
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 1 cup cooked bulghur wheat (you know how to cook bulghur, don’t you? Just put your lips together and…oh, wait, that’s whistling. Follow package directions.)
~ 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes
~ Extra walnuts for garnish
~ Paprika for dusting

~ Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
~ Scoop out the flesh from the squash halves and mash with the coconut milk, leaving about ½ inch of flesh around the inside of the shells.
~ In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil, adding the garlic, onions, celery and ginger.
~ Saute about 5-10 minutes over medium heat, adding a little water if necessary to prevent sticking.
~ Add the spices, maple syrup, chopped pear and cook another 5 minutes until the pear starts to soften.
~ Add the mashed squash, cooked bulghur and toasted walnuts; stir to combine and cook over low heat 5 minutes more.
~ Place the scooped out squash halves on an oiled baking sheet and fill each one with half of the stuffing.
~ Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then sprinkle the tops with the extra 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and dust with paprika.
~ Raise the heat to 450 and bake another 5-10 minutes until the topping is brown and beauteous.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to cool about 20 minutes before serving.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Vegan MoFo# 13: Baked German Apple Pancake

In several recent posts, I've made mention of Anna Thomas' The Vegetarian Epicure, a classic of the 1970s hippie cookbook genre. Inspired by happy memories, I was moved to drag Volumes I and II down from my kitchen shelf and revisit some old favorites, a somewhat quixotic enterprise, given the quantities of butter, milk, cheese, and eggs in so many of the recipes. Since it's October, and our fruit bowl is overflowing with apples, one of the first things that came to mind was the German Baked Apple Pancake, a family-sized affair meant to be served in slices. Back in the day I used to make this pretty often, usually for weekend breakfasts, so when I woke up hungry this Sunday morning I decided to give it a go.

Just as I remembered, the original calls for milk, three eggs, a fair amount of sugar, and nearly a stick of butter: you really have to love Anna Thomas, you know? She just didn't give a damn. Anyway, I subbed soy milk for the moo juice, 2 tbsp. canola oil for the butter, and a mere 2 tbsp. of maple syrup for the sugar; as it happened, the apples were so sweet once they cooked down that in the future I'll probably leave it out of the filling entirely, especially since I added raisins. I don't generally use egg replacer in my baking, but in this case I wasn't sure what would happen and made an exception (although I plan to try it with baking powder and see). Overall, I'd say the experiment was successful: I may substitute extra applesauce for part of the soy milk next time for a slightly moister pancake, but it definitely made for a great breakfast on a sunny autumn morning. Give it a try and let me know what you think; suggestions for future veganizations are also welcome!

German Baked Apple Pancake
(NB: Prepare your filling before starting on the pancake, so it will be ready to assemble and eat while everything is warm)

~ 4 cups thinly sliced apples
~ 2 tbsp. orange juice
~ 1 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
~ ½ tsp. each: cinnamon, nutmeg

~ Heat a nonstick skillet or wok over a medium flame; add all of the filling ingredients and stir to combine.
~ Continue cooking for about 10-15 minutes, until the apples are soft, then add the raisins and cook about 5 minutes more.
~ Turn off the heat and cover the pan with a lid to keep warm.


~ 3/4 cup plain soymilk
~ 3 tbsp. egg replacer, mixed with 9 tbsp. cold water
~ 1/2 cup applesauce
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, cinnamon, almond extract
~ ¼ tsp. nutmeg
~ ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour

~ Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a large, greased pie plate in the oven and allow to get hot while you mix the batter.
~ In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the flour and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Add the flour, whisk again, and pour into the heated pie plate.
~ Bake at 450 for about 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 375 and cook10 minutes longer.
~ Remove the pancake from the oven. Using oven mitts, place a large serving plate over the top of the pie plate and carefully flip it over (so the pancake is on the plate, you see).
~ Spoon the filling evenly over one half of the pancake, then fold the other half over so you have a sort of apple pancake omelet. If you’ve made too much filling, no worries--just serve it alongside.
~ Cut into slices while it’s still warm, and serve with Earth Balance and maple syrup. This would also be good with some vanilla soy yogurt on the side, or even with ice cream as a dessert.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Vegan MoFo #9: Peach & Walnut Pancakes, With Raisins!

How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.

We live in interesting times these days; between the economy, the state of the planet, and the stress of the upcoming presidential election, things can seem pretty overwhelming. Fortunately, even when things seem darkest, we still have pancakes! Pancakes are one of those things that renew one's faith in the inherent goodness of the human condition. Casting its beam of yumminess surprisingly far, a stack of sweet, syrupy pancakes has the power to change your entire outlook, for at least as long as it takes to eat breakfast. We usually only have them on the weekends, since there's never time for a cooked breakfast on schooldays, but in a way this is a good thing, because it keeps them feeling special. My approach to pancakes is similar to the one I take to muffins, to wit: once the basic formula is in place, I'll add pretty much anything to the batter and see what happens, with generally good results. In the summer, I love fresh berries; in the fall and winter, apples, pears and even pureed pumpkin are all nice.

This past Sunday, our Big Plan had been to go to the orchard and pick as many apples as we could cram into the trunk of the car, but alas, it was not to be: we woke up to a cold, gloomy sky that threatened rain when we wanted it fine. Experience has taught us that this type of disappointment is best addressed with a batch of pancakes and multiple slices of tempeh bacon; that being the case, I didn't hesitate to spring into action. We had some ripe peaches, which I decided to puree with the other liquid ingredients to achieve an overall peachiness in the batter, then added some raisins and chopped walnuts to provide texture. The finished product were some of the best pancakes I've ever made; try them and I promise you'll feel better about everything, even that whole Sarah Palin business. Just remember not to stint on the maple syrup: it's our best defense!

Peach & Walnut Pancakes, With Raisins

~ 1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. each salt, cinnamon
~ 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
~ 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
~ 1/2 cup raisins
~ 4 cups ripe, chopped peaches (ripe pears would work, too)
~ 1 cup soy milk
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 2 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger

~ Preheat the oven to 300 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Combine all the dry ingredients thoroughly in a mixing bowl; add the raisins and walnuts last, tossing them in the flour mixture until coated.
~ In a blender or food processor, combine the peaches, soy milk, oil, syrup and ginger. Blend until liquified.
~ Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir thoroughly to make a smooth batter.
~ Lightly coat a skillet with oil or cooking spray, and place over medium heat.
~ Add the batter by large spoonfuls (I usually cook only one or two at a time, to keep them from running together) and cook about 4 minutes before flipping and cooking another minute or two. Bear in mind that you may have to sacrifice the first pancake as a propitiatory offering to the Pancake God; this is okay, especially if you have a dog and/or a cat, who will happily eat your misshapen, under/over-cooked prototype.
~ As the pancakes are cooked, transfer them to a cookie sheet in the oven to keep warm.
~ Continue until all the batter is used up; serve with Earth Balance, maple syrup, some sliced fruit and tempeh bacon for a breakfast that should carry you through to (at least!) lunchtime with a smile on your face.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Vegan MoFo #8: Callaloo

As I've posted in the past, we love kale at my house. A lot. We also love Caribbean food, and are lucky enough to have a wonderful Jamaican restaurant, the One Love Cafe, within walking distance of my campus. One particular dish that sends us directly into blissful food orbit is callaloo, which is generally defined as a stew made from leafy greens, often including coconut milk. The thing itself, however, cannot be described in such prosaic terms, because it is about the most delicious thing in the world, combining sharpness, sweetness, spiciness and dark green earthiness in a way that makes you want to never, ever stop eating it. (Not ever.)

This past week, the very day after devouring a plate, I became possessed with the desire to replicate it at home; I already had a bunch of beautiful purple kale and a few cans of coconut milk on hand, so what the hell, right? Even if it didn't meet restaurant standards, I figured that the basic goodness of the ingredients would ensure that it would at least be edible. Accordingly, I did a Google search, which yielded an astonishing range of interpretations, the only common denominator being the presence of leafy greens. Not all of them used coconut, while some called for the addition of squash, or okra, or sweet potatoes, or even--GASP!--various fish and crustaceans. Ultimately, I conflated elements from a few of the more veg-friendly ones, then experimented pretty freely with the seasonings, quantities, etc. Fortunately, the results were delicious, and I'm glad I noted things down during the process, so that I'll be able to do it again!

~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
~ 1 cup chopped onions
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp.each: salt, thyme, curry powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 2-3 tsp. hot sauce
~ 2 cups cooked, mashed squash, pumpkin or sweet potato
~ 2 cans coconut milk
~ 1 cube vegetarian bouillon, dissolved in the coconut milk
~ 6 cups chopped kale, spinach, collards, or any combination of dark, leafy greens

~ In a large pot, warm the oil over a medium heat.
~ Add the scallions, garlic, onions and seasonings; saute 5-10 minutes, until the onions are soft.
~ Add the mashed squash and coconut milk/bouillon mixture; raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
~ Turn the heat to low and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly.
~ Raise the heat back to medium, and begin adding the greens by handfuls, stirring well to make sure they are thoroughly coated. As each handful wilts, add another, until all the greens are swimming in sauce.
~ Cook a few minutes more, until the greens are soft and wilted but not yet turning to mush.
~ Remove from heat and serve with rice, couscous, mashed potatoes, jerk tofu, roasted veggies, or whatever else you like. For my part, I can happily eat a bowlful of this stuff all by itself!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Vegan MoFo #7: Lemony Broccoli Risotto

I like making risotto because it's the perfect choice when you actually feel like standing at the stove for a solid half hour. At least. Add a nice glass of wine, someone to chat with, a dog, a cat and some music, and you've got the kind of cozy, domestic scenario that warms the cockles of my blackened, cynical heart, no matter how many times I have to chuck the cat off the kitchen counter. This recipe calls for a lot of lemon zest, because, well, we like it that way, but you could always decrease the amount if you don't share our citrus mania. On the other hand, the actual zesting of lemons is the perfect job to delegate to that person you're chatting with; they can also refill your wine glass and change the CD while you are just slaving away with that wooden spoon. With the addition of some beautiful, bright green broccoli (asparagus works well, too), this makes a lovely dinner served on a big bed of greens. And isn't everything better with pinenuts? Well, I think so, anyway!

Lemony Broccoli Risotto
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped onions
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 2 tsp. each: tarragon, basil
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/2 cup white wine
~ 1.5 cups arborio rice
~ 1/2 cup pine nuts
~ 6 cups vegetable broth
~ 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
~ Grated zest of 2 lemons (about 3 tbsp.)
~ 5 cups chopped broccoli florets (save the stalks for something else)

~ In the microwave, or a pan on the stovetop, heat the broth to almost boiling and set aside.
~ In a large pot, warm the oil over medium heat, then add the onions, garlic and seasonings.
~ Saute for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the onions are starting to brown a bit.
~ Add the wine and stir thoroughly to deglaze the pan.
~ Add the rice and the pine nuts; continue stirring 2-3 minutes until everything is coated with the wine and seasonings.
~ Now the fun starts! Add 1 cup of the hot vegetable broth and stir until the liquid is completely absorbed; this should take about 5 minutes.
~ As each cup of broth is absorbed by the rice, add another cup, stirring constantly.
~ With the last addition of broth, add the broccoli, lemon zest and lemon juice. Continue--you guessed it--stirring until all the broth is absorbed and the broccoli is bright green.
~ Serve on a bed of greens, with the merest drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Vegan MoFo # 6: Banana/Apple/Raisin/Walnut Muffins

I love muffins, so I make them pretty often; they're fast, easy, and you get a lot of bang for your buck in terms of yumminess accomplished vs. effort expended. Baking muffins is also another of those things associated with "feeling like a grown-up," because they were among the very first things I learned to make, specifically banana muffins.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter how green they are when you buy them, bananas have a diabolical habit of all turning brown at once, so when I was growing up there was usually a loaf of my mom's banana bread in the refrigerator. Her recipe, which she still uses, is really tasty, but loaded with eggs and butter (a whole stick!); as a teenager I ate more than my fair share of it for after school snacks, usually covered in peanut butter. One day, I decided that it would be even better interpreted as muffins, so I could take them along to snack on at school, dance class or wherever. Being a health-conscious vegetarian teenager, I lowered the butter, added nuts and raisins to up their earthy crunchy street cred, et voila! My banana bread muffins were born. Over the years, I've interpreted lots of things as muffins, which is an entirely different post. The following film, by the brilliant Amy Winfrey, expresses my feelings eloquently, despite being pretty much the ultimate in Suicide Food:

Hey, what's not to like about singing cartoon muffins, as long as they are cartoons, right?

But, to my point: after becoming vegan, one of the most interesting things was the wholesale reimagination of what it means to make things like muffins, cookies, etc. that you'd been making for years--often according to the same recipes--without the ingredients we're raised to believe we "can't" bake without. At first, I just didn't bake much, but over time I started looking at recipes and experimenting, with varying degrees of success, and nowadays it would never occur to me to put an egg in my muffin batter, or anything else. In fact, one of the major bonuses of vegan baking is the ability to eat as much raw batter as you want without fear of salmonella! Probably the most important thing I've learned through trial and error is that you can make very healthy baked goods that are low in both fat and sugar without falling victim to the dreaded "virtuous dessert syndrome" by remembering one simple fact: they're supposed to taste good.

For me this means good basic ingredients, a fairly generous approach to seasoning, and enough fat and/or sweetening to ensure that when the fruits of my labor emerge from the oven, people will actually want to eat them. That said, you can get away with surprisingly little of both, just don't try to cut them out entirely unless you believe that virtue is indeed its own reward (and you don't mind eating a dozen flourless, spirulina and wheatgrass scones all by yourself). The following recipe is not only easy and good, it's highly adaptable: you could sub any nut you like for the walnuts, other dried fruit for the raisins, pears for the apples, or whatever else your little heart desires. The applesauce and mashed banana keep the muffins nice and moist, despite the fact that there's only one measly tablespoon of canola oil in the whole dozen, and the whole wheat pastry flour is nutritious without tasting heavy or overtly (there's that word again) virtuous. I think they taste like everything nice about fall!

Banana/Apple/Walnut Muffins

~ 1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. cinnamon
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
~ 1/2 cup raisins
~ 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
~ 1 cup mashed, ripe banana
~ 6 oz. plain or vanilla soy yogurt
~ 1/2 cup applesauce
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 1 cup chopped apple
~ 1/2 cup raisins
~ 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

~ Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit
~ Place all the dry ingredients (except the apples) in a mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Toss the raisins around in the flour mixture to coat them; this will keep them from clumping together in the batter.
~ Mix the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl, adding the apples last.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid mixture. Stir until just combined.
~ Transfer by big spoonfuls into your greased muffin pan; there should be enough batter to fill all 12 cups to the top.
~ Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until the muffins are lightly browned and a knife comes out clean.
~ Allow to cool about 15 minutes before eating with Earth Balance, jam, peanut or almond butter, or all by themselves.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Vegan MoFo #4: Tofu Scramble with Noochy Sauce

Sometimes you just want brunch, you know? Brunch is awesome for several important reasons: you usually have it on a weekend, so it has that whole "I don't really have to do anything much today" association, and it generally consists of more time-consuming foods, which makes it feel like a special occasion (see above in re: not having to do anything), as opposed to that rushed cup of tea on an ordinary morning. Best of all, by the time it's cooked and we're sitting down to eat, I'm actually hungry! I've never been very interested in breakfast; the idea of food doesn't start to get appealing until I've been out of bed for a few hours, so brunch is pretty much the perfect meal. Plus, if it's gigantically substantial--which is sort of the whole point--you might not even need another meal that day. Unless there's a pie sitting around. For later, of course.

One of our favorite brunches is scrambled tofu, ideally with homefries and some nutritional yeasty sauce on top; a slice of whole grain toast doesn't hurt, either. I realize this sounds like the mother of all flaky hippie meals, which I suppose it sort of is, particularly when you factor in the Bragg's (which really is better than tamari here; it just gives it that certain something). Not that there's anything wrong with that, especially since I am unapologetically unreconstructed in that regard...ask me how many Dead shows I've seen; the answer is, if I could remember, I wouldn't have been doing it right. Be that as it may, scrambled tofu is not only completely delicious but good for you; even the dog and cat love it. So even if you've never listened to Donovan in your life, you can make this on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and be guaranteed a warm, peaceful--dare I say mellow?--feeling inside for the rest of the day. That sense of harmony with the universe is the nooch, working its magic...

Tofu Scramble
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 cup thinly sliced scallions
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 cup chopped bell pepper
~ 2 cups sliced mushrooms
~ 1 lb. firm tofu, mashed
~ 4 cups coarsely chopped baby spinach
~ 1 tbsp. Bragg’s liquid aminos
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, paprika, chipotle chili powder (or smoked paprika)
~ Fresh black pepper

~ In a large skillet, warm the oil over medium heat before adding the scallions and garlic.
~ Saute a minute or two, then add the chopped peppers, mushrooms and seasonings.
~ Continue cooking about 5 minutes until vegetables are starting to soften.
~ Add the mashed tofu and stir thoroughly to combine. Cook about 5 minutes more, stirring constantly; add a splash of water if necessary to prevent sticking
~ Add the baby spinach and cook another minute or two, until it is just wilted.
~ Remove from heat and serve with home fries, toast and Parsley Nooch Sauce.

Noochy Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 tbsp. whole wheat flour
~ 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 cup vegetable broth
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, turmeric, chili powder
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
~ ½ cup chopped fresh parsley

~ Combine the soymilk and vegetable broth in a beaker and heat to almost boiling in the microwave or a small pan; set aside.
~ In a saucepan, warm the olive oil over low heat; add the garlic and seasonings and sauté a minute or two.
~ Add the flour and stir well; add about ¼ cup of the soymilk and continue stirring to make a roux.
~ As the roux thickens, raise the heat to medium and add the remaining liquid very slowly, stirring constantly; after about 5 minutes of this it should be getting fairly thick.
~ Add the nutritional yeast and parsley. Stir to combine, lower the heat and cook another 5 minutes or so, continuing to stir it until you’ve got a gravyish consistency.
~ Remove from heat and ladle generously over vegetables, tofu scramble, mashed potatoes, or whatever you like. Yummy!

Friday, October 3, 2008

VeganMoFo #3: Fava Bean and Walnut Stew

We are lucky to have several excellent mediterranean grocery stores in our town; as the product of a Greek father and a British mother who cooks the greatest Greek food around (go figure), I love being surrounded by olives, grape leaves, interesting dried fruits--figs! apricots! dates!--and big, open barrels of every grain and legume you can think of. It's pretty much a vegan paradise, since aside from obvious stuff like, well, meat and cheese, most Middle Eastern food uses lots of vegetables, and is cooked with oil rather than butter. Plus, any cuisine that uses cinnamon in savory dishes in all right in my book.

My hands-down favorite local store is Ed Hyder's: not only is it an endlessly stimulating place to spend an hour just soaking up the atmosphere (and the aromas; they carry over 150 spices in bulk, all displayed in big jars right behind the counter!), it's located in an old redbrick fire station, brass pole and all, which only makes it cooler. The people there are always friendly and helpful, and they sell what is arguably the best hummus you can buy in a store, to say nothing of unusual and exciting wines, many of them organic. Okay, this is starting to sound like an ad, and I swear I'm not related to them or anything, but do check them out when or if you're ever in Worcester, MA., "the Paris of the 80s," okay?

Anyway, I stopped in one day last week looking for interesting flavored oils, of which they have about a million. I needed bulghur, too, and while gazing at all those bins, I spotted some dried, split fava beans. Now, I blush to admit to never having cooked favas before, but we are major consumers of dried beans in my house, so I figured what the hell and bought a pound. In what's becoming a familiar pattern, most of last Saturday was spent staring at my computer writing a paper, and by late afternoon I had the "okay, I want to go chop stuff now" feeling that always follows a worky day. Fortunately, I'd anticipated this and put the beans in to soak that morning, so they were nice and soft and ready to be cooked. But how?? I'd seen a recipe for a stew with beans, raisins, tomatoes and (yesss!) cinnamon somewhere on the web, and decided to wing it and experiment. The results, if I say so myself, were spectacular. No, seriously: really good, especially when ladled over the nice scalliony quinoa I made to go with it. My partner, a condiment-crazed, iconoclastic multiculturalist, ate it with several varieties of Indian pickle (as seen in the photo above), but you don't have to. Unless, of course, you want to, in which case, knock yourself out; a drizzle of tahini would be nice, too!

Fava Bean and Walnut Stew

~ 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 3 cups chopped onions
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 cup chopped carrots
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 2 tsp. each: cumin, cinnamon
~ 1 tbsp. dried parsley
~ ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 3 cups chopped fresh, ripe tomatoes
~ 4 cups soaked fava beans; about 1.5 cups dried (soaked overnight or while you’re at work)
~ 2 cups strong vegetable stock
~ 4 cups chopped kale
~ 1 cup mixed, dried fruit (soaked in boiling water for 20 minutes or so)
~ 1 cup toasted chopped walnuts (10 minutes on an oiled baking sheet in a 300 degree oven should do it)
~ ½ cup frozen peas

~ In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat; add the onions and sauté about 2 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, carrots, and spices; sauté another 3-5 minutes, adding a splash of water as needed to prevent sticking.
~ Add the tomatoes, broth and fava beans and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 25-30 minutes.
~ Add kale, walnuts, dried fruit and peas; stir to combine and cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Serve over bulghur (recipe follows).

Quinoa with Garlic and Scallions

~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 4 thinly sliced scallions
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1.5 cups quinoa
~ 3 cups vegetable stock
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ Fresh black pepper to taste

~ In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.
~ Add the scallions and garlic; saute for 2-3 minutes.
~ Add the quinoa, salt and pepper, and saute another few minutes, stirring constantly so the quinoa doesn't stick or burn.
~ Pour in the stock, cover and bring to a boil.
~ Turn the heat to low and cook 15 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ Fluff with a fork and serve.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

VeganMoFo # 2: Peachy Custard Pie

I have a confession to make: sometimes I buy too much fruit. It is very true: it's so pretty and so delicious, and at certain times of the year the sheer abundance of whatever's in season can make me a little unhinged. Now that fall is here, it will mostly be pears and apples for awhile, but this past week I indulged in a last hurrah of white peaches (which are not only sweet, juicy and beautiful but big). We've been happily eating them for breakfast with soy yogurt and granola, or on their own as snacks, but I still had four huge ones in the fruit bowl begging to be used before it was too late. October means pie season, and (since I found out that Bird's custard powder is---yes!---vegan) every month means custard season, so I figured I'd combine these two universal truths in a peach and custard pie. The last time we had a custard pie I was too lazy to make a topping for it, and the result was a yummy dessert that looked sort of, well, ugly. So this one has a nifty walnut/oatmeal topping similar to an apple crisp; it's fast, easy, looks nice and tastes really good, so when people come home and go, "Wow, you baked a pie?!" you can simply respond with a serene, Earth Motherly smile that says, "No effort is too great for you, my precious darlings," and serve it up!

Peachy Custard Pie
The Fruit
~ 4 cups chopped, ripe peaches (I never peel fruit, and you don't have to, either)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, cinnamon, nutmeg
~ 1 tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside. See how easy this is?

The Custard
~ 3 tbsp. Bird's custard powder
~ 2 cups vanilla soy milk
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 1/2 tsp. each almond and orange extracts

Prepare according to package directions and allow to cool while you make...

The Topping
~ 1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
~ 1/4 cup rolled oats
~ 1/4 tsp. each: cinnamon, ginger, salt
~ 1 tbsp. maple syrup

Mix everything together in a separate bowl and set aside.

The Assembly
~ Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit

~ Transfer the chopped peach mixture to a single pie crust of your choice. I used a frozen whole-wheat one from the market; it was fine, but home-made would obviously be better, especially if you're good at pie crust!
~ Pour the custard over the fruit and smooth it out a bit with a rubber spatula, to help it ooze down into the peachiness.
~ Distribute the topping evenly over the whole thing.
~ Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, until the crust is browned and the custard is firming up; this may take a bit longer depending on your oven.
~ Allow to cool at least an hour before slicing; now do you see why they say, "easy as pie?"