Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mexican Quesadilla

So this was somewhat a leftovers-directed creation but it was really really good. After having made a burrito for lunch that day, which I made in the morning and hence did not have time to take a picture, I was so excited by how delicious it was, I kind of wanted another one for dinner. But I wanted it to be a bit different, so naturally, I thought, quesadillas! I spread Tofutti cream cheese on one tortilla, and leftover refried black beans on the other. Then I sandwiched sauteed kale and just a bit of salsa in between the two and grilled it on my grill pan. I sliced it into 6 pieces and served it with the last of the tofu cream and Whole Foods pico de gallo.

Verdict? This was amazing. Even better than the burrito I was raving over. The crispy golden-ness of the tortillas, and the sauteed kale and creaminess of the cream cheese and mashed black beans was just perfect. And dipped in the tofu cream and pico was absolutely heaven. Soooo good. I wouldn't change a thing. I didn't miss the gooeyness of the cheese in classic quesadillas one bit, which was a big surprise to me. I think all quesadillas should have some greens in them. It's just so dang delicious.

Crispy Mushroom Pizza

So this was I think the most classically vegan meal I've made thus far. I think. But who am I to know? I've only been vegan for 3 weeks. Basically, I sauteed mushrooms, onion and garlic until nice and soft and browned and set aside. The "cheese" is actually the tofu cream recipe from The Kind Life: firm tofu, steamed, then blended with umeboshi plum paste, lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of veganaise. Then I lightly broiled a whole wheat tortilla, topped with the cream and then the mushroom mixture and boiled until the toppings were warmed and just beginning to dry out a bit. Topped with some parsley and served.

This was also really really good. The tofu cream imparts just that bit of acidity and creaminess that pizza needs, but it's more like sour cream than cheese. And it contrasted nicely with the crispness of the tortilla. And mushrooms and onions are always delicious. When I made a second pizza with the leftovers the next day, I put some sauteed bok choy greens under the mushroom mixture and that was even more delicious. Also, it's crucial to poke holes in the tortilla before broiling to prevent it swelling like a balloon, which I repeatedly forgot. I also used the tofu cream in a burrito a few days later, along with homemade refried black beans, sauteed kale and fresh salsa...which was possibly the best burrito I've ever had. Ever. And I ate it 4 hours after making it, for lunch. And I used the tofu cream in a dish tonight that I will post shortly. Basically, the tofu cream and the basic method for making tortilla pizza were the takeaway lessons here. Although the basic recipe is good, there are a million things you can do differently to customize it to your own tastes. Yum. Being vegan is fun...and very educational.

Bubble and Squeak Cakes with Sauteed Bok Choy

So, this basic recipe is from Vegan Yum Yum, which as far as I can tell does not have a real website anymore. Or my computer just doesn't like their website. But I got this recipe off their iPhone app. It's basically mashed potatoes mixed with shredded boiled brussels sprouts and flour, then fried up as cakes. And the bok choy is just sliced up and steamed, then topped with a basic ume plum vinaigrette (olive oil, ume plum vinegar, salt and pepper) and shoyu-toasted sunflower seeds.

Overall? Delicious. Wonderful. Filling. However, there are definitely things i would change. First of all, I think the cakes needed some help staying together. I didn't follow the recipe exactly however since I only had one potato, so I can't blame the recipe. I think however that it needed some binding ingredient or maybe just more flour. But I thought the addition of the brussels sprouts was game-changing. It just made such a difference in flavor and texture. And it'd probably be even better with fresh brussels sprouts. As for the bok choy, I really want to find BABY bok choy and steam that. And I want a real steamer basket as opposed to the colander-pot contraption I'm using now. Also, I did not chop the bok choy stems into small enough piece and I got impatient waiting for it to steam, so it was a bit too tough. The vinaigrette and the sunflower seeds however were delicious and worked really well together as the vinaigrette is a bit sweet and the sunflower seeds were smoky and salty. This was also an appealingly light meal, with no heavy protein, but still substantial enough to be filling. Yum. I would definitely make the cakes again!!


So this was my first encounter with meatless ground, aka textured vegetable protein (TVP), aka fake ground beef. It was pretty tasty. And it really does have a texture just like meat, it's just virtually greaseless, so you have to add your own oil. For these calzones (there were 3), I made the same basic pizza dough, but with only 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups unbleached AP flour. And I made it in the food processor to minimize the amount of flour I usually get on everything in my kitchen. I sauteed garlic and onion, added the TVP and browned it with some red pepper flakes and black pepper. The kale was sauteed separately in some olive oil and garlic. I meant to throw some mushrooms in there, but I forgot, so the second two calzones, I topped with sauteed mushrooms. Shrug. I put a piece of vegan cheeze on the bottom of each calzone before topping with kale and "meat."

This was actually quite tasty. The dough was much better and I always like dipping. The kale mixed well with the spicy TVP and the cheeze added just a bit of creaminess. However, next time I don't think the cheeze was really necessary. For me, vegan cheeze has not had much success. It just doesn't taste the same, and I'm really starting to just not miss cheese. I am still intending to try a few vegan tweaks of classics like mac and cheese. But for the most part, I think I'm slowly getting over my addiction to cheese. I also want to try a calzone that doesn't rely on a "fake" product. Maybe just lots of vegetables, like kale, mushrooms, onions, peppers, and maybe some chickpeas or hummus for protein. It's a thought. I've got so many recipes I want to try now....

Spaghetti and Meatless Balls with peas

So I love peas. I tend to throw them in all kinds of dishes, even foods that no one else would put peas in. But they are so easy to keep on hand and they cook up so quickly and they are just so sweet and yummy. Anyway, I wanted to make a classic: spaghetti and meatballs, and it was late when I went to the store. So I grabbed some Quorn meatless balls and a jar of OrganicVille mushroom tomato sauce and headed home. I already had some sliced mushrooms, so I quickly sauteed some garlic and onion, then added the balls and browned them, then the mushrooms and after about a minute, dumped about half the jar of sauce in. I boiled some whole wheat spaghetti to just before al dente. I dumped about half a cup of peas in the sauce, then added the noodles and stirred around for about 2 minutes and served.

This was tasty and very similar to the classic. The meatless balls were actually delicious. They had great texture and flavor. And the sauce was good, although I would probably make my own next time, with fresh basil. Despite my love of peas, I would probably leave them out next time and just make a green salad on the side...maybe throw the peas in there! I thought it kind of interfered with the basic combination of spaghetti and meatballs. And it's pretty evident I had a bit too much sauce. Regardless, this was a quick and simple meal that was actually quite good. Vegan spaghetti and meatballs. Who would've thought?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rice with Caramelized Onions, Zucchini and Walnuts

So the basic components of the vegan (or perhaps any meal) are: whole grain (50%), vegetable (25%), protein (25%). This time, I kept these three parts separated. The rice is whole grain mixed with orzo and wild rice. The caramelized onions took about 30 minutes over low heat, but were totally worth it. Then carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, garlic and ginger were sauteed together. Finally, walnuts and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) were dry roasted in a skillet just until they were brown. Apparently I was starving by the time I finished all of this, hence the enormous portion I've given myself here. I didn't quite finish it, but I definitely gave it an honest effort.

The rice was Uncle Ben's, but I only used a sprinkling of the seasoning packet but having exact directions helped me not fail at cooking rice again of all things. In the future, I would probably slice up more onion if I'm going to caramelize them, since they shrink a good bit, and if I'm going to put that much time into it, I'd rather have a lot more to show for it. The vegetables were easy enough, and the ginger really makes all the difference. I'm going to start putting that in everything. I just love the combination with a bit of shoyu and garlic. And I LOVE using nuts as the protein. The texture and fantastic aroma of roasted nuts really added to the dish.

Overall, this was delectable. I gobbled up the leftovers the following day at lunch. I will definitely have to make this again, with maybe some different vegetables and/or nuts, or maybe even try it with some quinoa or pasta.

Black Eyed Pea, Potato and Red Kale Stew

I was mostly trying to use up some leftovers I had in the fridge, but I somehow ended up making an enormous pot of stew in the process. Enough to feed probably eight people. Oops.

Inside that pot: carrots, celery, onion, garlic, one sliced potato, half a bunch of gorgeous red kale from Whole Foods, stems included, black eyed peas, about half a cup of green split peas, and 3 plum tomatoes, diced. Pretty basic method: Sauteed garlic, onions, carrot, and celery until softened, added a splash of white wine, then about 6 cups of water, a bay leaf and some salt and pepper. I then threw in the black eyed peas (which had soaked overnight in water to cover), the potato and the kale stems. After about 10 minutes, I added the split peas. Then about 15 minutes after that, the kale and tomatoes went in, along with some red pepper flakes. About 10 minutes later, it looked like the picture.

This was delicious of course, but just way too busy. I guess clean-out-the-fridge stew is just not my favorite. If I would make this again, I would probably cut out the celery, maybe the carrots, definitely the split peas (they practically disappeared in the jumble), and probably the kale stems, for while they were a beautiful purple color when fresh, they turned...kind of...gray in the stew. I would also add more tomatoes and dice the carrot smaller if I did keep it in the recipe. The broth was savory and sweet and just felt healthy it was so fragrant with vegetables.

Overall, this definitely needs some tweaking. I had enough to store in four different serving size freezer containers, so I won't be making anything similar for a while regardless. Ha.

Brown Rice with Sweet Potato, Kale, and Baked Tofu

So this was delicious. It's only downfalls related to texture, not flavor. I diced up one whole sweet potato, with the skin on, and roasted it until it was brown and fragrant. The rice was cooked very basically in vegetable broth, although I think I undercooked it a bit in fear of mushy rice. The tofu is a modification of a recipe in The Kind Life, Alicia Silverstone's vegan bible. It was marinated for an hour in a mixture of shoyu (soy sauce), ume vinegar, minced ginger and garlic, crushed red pepper, and a bit of olive oil. I then dumped all of this into an 8x8 pan, marinade included and baked it for about 25 minutes. Then, lightly sauteed kale and mushrooms, the sweet potatoes, and the rice were just stirred together.

Verdict: I need to practice my rice-cooking skills. I'd invest in a rice cooker (apparently a crucial part of the vegan kitchen), but I have no room in my 475 square foot apartment as it is. And the tofu and marinade were definitely delicious, but I think that I should have baked the tofu a bit drier because it was kind of mushy, particularly when stirred in with the rice. The sweet thing about marinating something like tofu and seitan is the ability to reuse the marinate later as a sauce with no worries about raw meat contamination. But the combination overall was pretty delicious. I would probably leave all the parts separated next time, for appearance and for ease of leftover storage. It started looking pretty disgusting on the third day, and it might've been nice to be able to just add the rice to something else of just eat the roasted sweet potatoes like candy.

I'm starting to like this vegan's not easy, but I do feel better and I'm having a lot of fun experimenting with different proteins, grains and vegetables. I'm also really enjoying reading all of the interesting facts about veganism and all of the substitutes and interesting copycat recipes vegans have created. This really should be a lifelong commitment. And if more people hopped on board, it would negate the hardest part of this lifestyle: eating out. :)

BBQ Seitan Pizza with Leeks and Cilantro

So, this was pizza attempt number two. The crust is the same, as the recipe made two crusts worth. However, this time there was no problem with sticking thanks to some tin foil and a generous dusting with corn meal (another Chicago pizza trick). I made the barbecue sauce by tweaking an Emeril recipe. It consisted of a can of tomato puree, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, onion, cayenne and dry mustard. The seitan was just quickly sauteed in a skillet, then tossed with sauce. The sauce was also spread over the crust, then topped with a few slices of soy cheeze, the seitan, and a whole sliced, washed raw leek. Once it came out of the oven, I topped it with chopped fresh cilantro.

The verdict? The sauce was delicious when it was fresh, but upon baking it on the pizza, it became decidedly too vinegar-y. And it was not saucy enough for my taste, so maybe it could have been mixed some with a tomato sauce or some kind of vinaigrette? Also, there were way too many slices of leek on the pizza, and they were too thickly sliced. It was a bit overwhelming. However, this time the cheese melted beautifully and imparted some of that creamy texture that was missing in my first pizza.

Next time, I would definitely alter the sauce choice...I wonder if there is some kind of vegan white sauce. I mean, I guess it would be as simple as using Earth Balance butter and regular flour with unflavored soy milk and some seasoning. Hmm. I'll have to do some more research. Also, I think a very quick saute of the leeks would have made all the or two minutes at the most. And again, the crust was super-dense, but decidedly more crunchy this time which was delicious.

I think this was a good idea, it just suffered from some execution issues. I'll definitely be trying this a few more times in various forms.

Traditional Pizza, with Seitan

So, for my first vegan dinner, I wanted to stick relatively close to what I'm used to. My favorite pizza toppings have traditionally been: sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, and extra sauce. So this vegan version is sauteed seitan (wheat gluten protein, pronounced say-tan), with mushrooms, kale, and an organic tomato sauce I found in Return to Eden. The crust is pretty basic, with whole wheat flour, olive oil, and yeast (woken up in some warm water). The cheese is rice cheese, I think by Rice Dream.

As for the actual execution, the seitan was delicious. And the crust was okay, but it stuck very badly to the pan despite a generous coating with oil, and it was really too dense with all whole wheat flour (I was out of AP flour). The cheese was the bigger problem though, because it doesn't really have any fat in it, it melts pretty pitifully and mostly just browned and became kind of crunchy. I also might not have sauteed the kale at all before adding it to the pizza; the mushrooms were raw when I threw them on, and they were perfect.

So, in the future, I'd stick to at least 50% all purpose, unbleached flour, and raw vegetables. Perhaps if using a heartier root veggie, it could be sliced very thin or par-roasted. Also, I'm going to try some other kind of cheese, and probably put it under the sauce they way they construct Chicago pizza. That should keep it moist and maybe a bit more melt-y.

Overall, however, this was not bad at all, and for all the problems I encountered, I didn't miss the meat at all, just the texture of the cheese. :)

The Beginning

OK so I've never blogged before, but I thought it'd be interesting to visually represent my foray into veganism. I'm already on Day 15, but I've taken pictures of a few of the meals I've made in the last two weeks, so the first couple of blogs will be a bit historical in nature.

This blog is mostly for my own benefit, but to the other vegans out there, any help would be appreciated! And to the omnivores, hopefully you'll see some delicious food!

And away we go...