Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pasta Alfredo

Like most people, I love pasta (what's not to love, right?). As an adult, I like a wide variety of sauces, for a wide variety of noodles: red sauces, white sauces, pesto sauces, coconut curry sauces, spicy peanut sauces, you name it. When I was a kid, however, my all-time favorite way to eat pasta was my father's linguine alfredo, which was about as rich, thick and creamy as you could get; in fact, it would not surprise me in the least if he used actual heavy cream for it (my parents were like that). He usually made it as a special treat when we were home together and everyone else was out, since there were a few years when my mother worked on Friday nights, and my older siblings were off doing their own things. Often my favorite uncle would come by as well, and they would hang out, drink a few beers and talk while I ate my noodles and watched "Little House on the Prairie," which was my prime-time viewing of choice in those days. Good times.

Anyway, there are a lot of vegan alfredo sauces out there, in cookbooks and on the web, but I had something very specific in mind when I set out to make mine, so the recipe below is the result of several different tries before I got it "right." The vegetables are not necessarily traditional, but A. I'm kind of a freak about squeezing in as many as possible, and B. we had some nice asparagus on hand that day. You could certainly add, subtract or change them up to suit your own taste, BUT. The peas are non-negotiable. Serve this pasta with crusty bread, cold white wine and a salad. Or forget all that and just fill a ginormous bowl, then eat them all yourself. Buon appetito!

Pasta Alfredo

The Veggies

~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1 cup diced onion
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ About a dozen asparagus stalks, cut into 1/2" pieces
~ 2 cups sliced mushrooms
~ 1 cup frozen peas
~ 2 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 tsp. each: thyme, basil, parsley, salt
~ Fresh black pepper

~ In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil and saute onion and garlic about 3 minutes on medium heat.
~ Add the mushrooms, asparagus, Worcestershire sauce and dry spices. Cook another 5-10 minutes, toss in the frozen peas, and remove from heat.

The Sauce

~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1 lb. lite silken tofu
~ 1 cup raw cashews
~ 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1 sweet potato, cooked and mashed (about 1 cup)
~ 1 tbsp. dried basil
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. nutmeg

~ 1 lb. drained, cooked pasta of your choice (follow package directions)
~ Chopped, fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

~ In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients except the Earth Balance and the flour. Process until completely smooth.
~ In a large pot, melt the Earth Balance over low heat and add the flour, stirring to make a roux. Cook for about 1 minute, adding a splash of water if it thickens too fast.
~ Add the mixture from the food processor and stir thoroughly to combine.
~ Raise the heat to medium and bring to almost boiling. Add the cooked vegetables and stir to combine.
~ Pour over cooked pasta (we used farfalle this time, but linguine or fettuccine would be optimal), toss thoroughly and sprinkle with fresh parsley: yummy!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Kale and Mashed Potato Bake

I think all civilized people can agree that mashed potatoes are a wonderful thing; nothing says home, happiness, security, and comfort more than a big pile of soft, fluffy potatoes. In my house, we would argue that kale is every bit as splendid, especially in combination with really good olive oil and a whole lot of garlic. Which is why this recipe is pretty much the greatest thing ever: it combines the two to create something even better than the sum of its already awesome parts. I guarantee that once you've mixed some greens with your taters, topped them with bread crumbs and baked the whole mess into beauteous crunchiness, you will agree that this combination is a marriage made in food heaven.

Kale and Mashed Potato Bake
~ ⅓  cup extra virgin olive oil (this is the time to use the good stuff)
~ 3 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 large leeks, cleaned and chopped
~ 1 lb. leafy greens (I used kale), rinsed and chopped small
~ 1-2 tsp. kosher salt (to taste)
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 6-8 good-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled and cubed
~ ¾-1 cup whole wheat panko or other bread crumbs
~ Paprika for garnish

~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 13" baking dish with cooking spray.
Put the chopped potatoes in a large, deep pot and cover with cold water. Add a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes. Reserve about a cup of the water, then drain the cooked potatoes and return them to the pot.
~ In a large skillet or wok, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil and sautee the garlic and leeks over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and, by handfuls, the chopped greens, stirring to incorporate. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the greens are wilted but still green.
~ Add the cooked greens and the additional 1/4 cup of olive oil to the cooked potatoes, and mash the whole lot together, adding the reserved potato water as needed to get the consistency you like.
~ Taste for seasoning, transfer to the prepared baking dish, and top with panko crumbs, another drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika.
~ Bake for 15-20 minutes at 425 degrees, then break up the crust with a fork to make a rough texture.
~ Return to the oven and bake another 15-20 minutes, until crunchy and beautiful. Serve as a side or in its own as main dish, maybe with a salad and/or crusty bread.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

(Almost) Empty Cupboard Thai Tempeh/Sweet Potato Curry

Sometimes (actually, fairly often) I find myself out of all sorts of basic foodstuffs, but deeply disinclined to make a trip to the market. In such situations, there's a certain appeal in rummaging around in the cupboards and refrigerator for things that might, if combined in a sufficiently creative way, pass for a meal: an appeal that grows stronger when it means not having to haul groceries from the car to the house and then put it all away. So it was that one damp and chilly night, some sweet potatoes, a little neglected tempeh and a few other kitchen staples became a delicious curry that I'll definitely make again, even when someone has done the shopping.

(Almost) Empty Cupboard Thai Tempeh/Sweet Potato Curry
~ 2 8 oz. pkgs. tempeh, cut into cubes
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tsp. hot chili oil (if you don't have this, just sub 1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne when you add the spices)
~ 1 onion, chopped
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 stalk celery, chopped
~ 2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2" (ish) cubes
~ 1 bell pepper
~ 1 tbsp. each: curry powder, dried basil
~ 2 tbsp. tamari
~ 1 tsp. Thai red curry paste
~ 1 tbsp. Thai green curry paste
~ 2 15. oz cans lite coconut milk
~ 1/3 cup cashew butter

~ Toss the tempeh cubes with some tamari and black pepper, then bake at 400 about 20 minutes (take care not to burn them).
~ Over medium heat, saute the onions, celery and garlic in the oils for about 3 minutes.
~ Add the bell pepper, sweet potatoes and seasonings; cook another 5 minutes or so.
~ Add the coconut milk and bring juust to a boil.
~ Add the baked tempeh, stir to combine, then lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the sweet potatoes are soft.
~ Add the cashew butter, stir thoroughly, remove from heat and serve over the grain or starch of your choice. (We had it on quinoa, but rice, millet or noodles would be equally good.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

No 'Count, Shiftless Sunday Brunch Casserole

We like Sundays, despite the unfortunate fact that they are invariably followed by Mondays. One of the best things about them is brunch, but when you're vegan, brunch is pretty much the worst possible meal to eat out. Think about it: nothing but eggs, bacon, ham, sausages and pancakes MADE with eggs as far as the eye can see. So the solution, at least until someone opens a rocking vegan diner in my town, is to make it ourselves. This actually suits me fine, because if we went out I'd have to take a shower and get dressed first, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of Sunday, to wit: shiftlessness.

Last week I made a huge batch of mashed potatoes to accompany a cottage pie and mushroom gravy. I used some of the leftovers for potato pancakes, but when Sunday came I found myself thinking about the sort of gut-bomb breakfast casserole/hash things you get in really great know what I'm talking about, just a big mess of every breakfast food imaginable tossed together on a griddle or baked up in a pan. I looked around for a vegan brunch casserole, but the only promising leads were some tester pics of the one in Isa Chandra Moskowitz's much-anticipated, upcoming book Vegan Brunch, for which the recipe is as yet unavailable. So I put on my thinking cap, headed into the kitchen, and came up with this: in the interest of full disclosure, I was literally rooting around in the refrigerator and throwing stuff in, so there are things like packaged Trader Joe's "meatballs," jarred salsa, etc. that you won't usually find in my recipes, but since the theme of the day is lazy, shiftless and maybe even a little trashy, we can make an exception this once, right?

No 'Count, Shiftless Sunday Brunch Casserole

The Filling

~ 1 tbsp.olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 cup each: diced onion, green bell pepper
~ 1/2 cup each: diced carrot, celery
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, dill, thyme, sage, smoked paprika
~ 1/4 tsp cayenne or a shot of hot sauce (optional)
~ 2 fresh, chopped tomatoes (or 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce)
~ 2 cups defrosted Trader Joe's meatless balls (!), chopped
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 2-3 cups mashed potatoes

~ Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a large skillet, saute the onion and garlic over medium heat about 3 minutes.
~ Add the carrots, celery and seasonings. Stir to combine and cook another 5 minutes, adding a splash of water if necessary to prevent sticking.
~ Add the chopped "meatballs" and the tomatoes or sauce. Stir thoroughly and continue cooking 5-7 minutes more, until it's thick and gloopy.
~ Spread into an oiled 9 x 13" casserole, and top with 2 cups mashed potatoes (I used leftovers cold out of the refrigerator for that extra-trashy "je ne sais quoi"). Spread the potato around but don't make it perfectly smooth; we're aiming for, um, "rustic" here!
~ Over the top, pour:

The Sauce

~ 1 tbsp. oil or vegan margarine
~ 1/4 flour
~ 1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes
~ 1.5 cups unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/3 cup salsa
~ 1/3 jarred spaghetti sauce
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, paprika

~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine or oil over low heat and stir in the flour and enough of the soy milk to make a roux.
~ Add the remaining ingredients a bit at a time, using a whisk to prevent any clumps from forming. Cook another 5 minutes or so, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened to about the consistency of a queso sauce.
~ Pour the sauce over the casserole, top with a sprinkle of paprika and bake at 425 degrees fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes.
~ Serve with toast, home-fries, grits or whatever else makes you feel like it's Sunday afternoon...the proper beverage to accompany so sophisticated a repast would be mimosas made with the cheapest possible "champagne," meaning it should cost substantially less than the orange juice!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cream of Broccoli and Potato Soup

I've spent the last week with a really miserable cold/flu-like virus that gave me a sore throat and a bunch of other weird symptoms with which I will refrain from boring the gentle reader. Anyway, this was a sad state of affairs for several reasons: 1. it sucks to be sick. 2. This was the first time in history that my partner's and my spring break coincided, and all the "fun" he's had is making me cups of tea and listening to me whine. And 3. I had grand plans to get a ton of work done, but since the medicine I've been taking basically puts me in a coma, that wasn't happening either. So it was pretty much a fail all the way around: blech.

Anyway, at times like these, there's only one thing to do: eat soup, right? But since there was no pre-existing soup in the house, it had to be made, and since there was no way I was going shopping (which would require the unthinkable, to wit: getting out of my pajamas), I had to use what was already in the pantry. Fortunately, I had a huge head of broccoli and some potatoes, which is all anyone needs to make a big pot of yummy, comforting green soup. True, there's a fair amount of chopping involved, but that's a mindless activity requiring minimal mental acuity, and after that it's easy peasy. This soup is loaded with nutritious veggies, and the end result is perfect for curling up on the sofa with your blanket, your dog, and the TV remote. *Sniff*

Cream of Broccoli and Potato Soup

~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped onions
~ 1/2 cup each: diced celery, carrots
~ 1 tsp. each: thyme, tarragon, parsley, dill, rosemary, paprika, kosher salt
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. mellow white miso
~ 2 cups vegetable broth
~ 4 cups yellow potatoes, cut into small dice
~ 1 head broccoli, chopped (about 5 cups)
~ 2 cups lite coconut milk
~ 1/2 cup chopped, fresh parsley
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 3 scallions, thinly sliced

~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil and saute the onions, garlic and celery over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the carrots, potatoes and dry seasonings; stir to coat and cook another 2-3 minutes.
~ Add the miso and vegetable broth, cover, raise heat and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer 15 minutes.
~ Add the chopped broccoli, fresh parsley and 1 cup of the coconut milk, stir to combine and return ever so briefly to boiling.
~ Turn the heat back to simmer and cook another 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.
~ Meanwhile, heat the 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a small pan and saute the scallions for 2-3 minutes.
~ Remove the soup from the heat, add the remaining cup of coconut milk, and use an immersion blender (or transfer by batches to a food processor) to blend until smooth.
~ Adjust the seasonings, stir in the sauteed scallions, return to almost boiling and serve with a big hunk of crusty bread for dunking.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Paella (Or: Adventures with Soy Curls)

As every good vegan knows, soy curls have been one of the major foodie crazes of the past year or so. Pretty much everyone who's tried them sings the praises of their healthiness, versatility and overall awesomeness. Of course, my curiosity was piqued, but since they're not available locally it was awhile before I got around to trying them by means of a little splurge on Food Fight. I also bought two flavors of Sheese and some really yummy snack crackers that tasted just like the Cheez Nips of my childhood, but that's another post. Based on the several dishes I've made with the soy curls (including a spicy, General Tsao-esque dish over rice and a "chicken" pie), we really like them: the texture is similar to seitan, and they absorb the flavor of whatever they're marinated in, so they'd work well in all kinds of recipes, and they're fast, which is always a plus.

Today we have paella, a beautiful, saffron-infused, Spanish dish with as many variations as cassoulet or bouillabaisse, meaning there will always be someone to say you're doing it wrong. (And how much more wrong can you get than making it vegan, right?) But we don't care, because this recipe is delicious, and suffers not a jot from the absence of lifeless flesh. There's a tapas restaurant near Harvard Square that played an important role in the budding romance between myself and my partner, so Spanish food has a special place in my heart; one of these days I'm going to make their green mojo sauce, fill the bathtub with it and wallow in its garlicky goodness (at which point my family will know that I have finally snapped).

I love the combination of saffron, cayenne, smoked paprika, and garlic in this style of cooking, and paella is the ultimate one-dish meal, which has a lot of currency around here. Please bear in mind that the soy curls are here for the simple reason that I wanted to play with them, but if you don't have any, you could easily substitute beans (kidney or black beans would be good) or seitan, or just eliminate that element entirely and use the "marinade" as the cooking liquid for the rice; I guarantee it will be every bit as delicious.

The Soy Curls
~ In a large bowl or 6 cup pyrex beaker, combine:
~ 4 cups vegetable broth
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 tsp. each: thyme, smoked paprika
~ 1 tsp. each: kosher salt, basil, dried parsley
~ 1/2-1 tsp. dried wakame or dulse, crumbled (optional)
~ 1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
~ 1/2 tsp. saffron threads
~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric
~ Black pepper to taste
~ 1.5 cups Butler soy curls

~ Stir to combine, then heat the mixture to almost boiling. Add 1.5 cups dried soy curls, cover and set aside. After 30 minutes to an hour (the longer the better), drain and set the soy curls aside, reserving marinade.

The Veggies and Rice
~ 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped yellow onions
~ 1 cup diced carrots
~ 1.5 cups diced yellow summer squash
~ 1 red bell pepper, diced
~ 1 28 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes, including liquid
~ 1 14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and sliced into 1/2" pieces
~ 1.5 cups arborio rice (basmati works too, but arborio is creamier)
~ 1 cup frozen baby peas

~ In a large, deep skillet or wok with a cover, heat the oil and saute the onions and garlic over medium heat 5 minutes.
~ Add the carrots, squash and bell pepper; cook another 5 minutes.
~ Add the artichoke hearts, tomatoes and rice. Raise heat to high and stir until the rice is thoroughly coated, about 3 minutes.
~ Pour in the reserved marinade, stir to combine, then cover and bring to a boil.
~ Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
~ Add the soy curls and frozen peas; cover the pan and cook another 10-15 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is no longer chewy.
~ Remove from heat and allow to stand for awhile so the flavors can blend. Serve with a nice red wine (or Sangria!), sauteed greens and maybe some crusty bread with olive oil for dipping.