Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mixed Vegetable Curry with Basmati Rice

I've been on a bit of a curry kick lately. There's just something so appealing about a big bowl of tender veggies, fragrant spices, coconut milk, and soft basmati rice. Curries highlight some of my favorite ingredients - fresh ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cumin, coconut - and they make the house smell so darn good when they are bubbling away on the stove. They are also endlessly adaptable, lending themselves easily to substitutions and personal preferences.

The Mixed Vegetable Curry from Party Vegan is a perfect example. The recipe calls for fresh green beans, cauliflower, and jalapeno (along with other veggies). I had none of these ingredients on hand, but I did have some fresh baby bella mushrooms, red bell pepper, and baby spinach. I also had some frozen green beans. I used the veggies I had on hand and otherwise followed the recipe as instructed. In just 30 minutes, I had a beautiful, comforting bowl of curry laden with tons of veggies and kidney beans.

This is a great way for kids (and adults!) to get a bunch of nutrition in one meal. In this one dish, there are a rainbow of different veggies (onions, carrots, garlic, ginger, green beans, mushrooms, bell pepper, spinach, and peas); protein and fiber from kidney beans; and whole grain brown rice. It's also a great way to expose young palates to a variety of different flavors and spices. Don't be afraid to get spicy! :)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Random Eats

Here's a random assortment of things we've eaten lately:

Quinoa, steamed broccoli & cauliflower, raw & steamed carrot, baked tofu, raw kale, and AFR Caesar Chavez Dressing:
Curried Chickpeas and Greens from Appetite for Reduction, along with some steamed cauliflower and Traditional Cranberry Sauce from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan:

One Wild Chick Soup from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan, along with some Fancy Biscuits from How It All Vegan:

A saute of fresh zucchini, yellow pepper, and red onion, seasoned with some basil, oregano, salt, and pepper:

Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits (subbed with canned pumpkin) from AFR:
A homemade, on-the-fly baked rotini casserole, with shredded carrots, zucchini, spinach, onions, garlic, tofu ricotta, and tomato sauce:

Mellow Lentil Sniffle Soup from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan:
Have a great weekend!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy 3rd Birthday to My Little Guy!

I really can't believe it, but my little guy just turned 3 years old!! He has been the greatest blessing to my husband and I, and we just praise the Lord for him. He is the light of our lives and we are just so thankful that God chose us to be his parents!!

To celebrate his birthday, we took a trip to the Mystic Aquarium in nearby Mystic, CT. We've been wanting to take J to the aquarium for a while now, so we thought his birthday would be the perfect occasion. The aquarium ended up being a great choice, because it's just the right size for a family with small children. They have both indoor and outdoor exhibits, which allowed us to get some fresh air as well as duck inside when we needed to warm up.

J is a huge fan of "Finding Nemo," so he was thrilled to get up close and personal with Nemo and Dory.

He especially loved the "black Nemos" they had in one tank!

Later, we enjoyed a special birthday dinner at home with J's grandparents. I made Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting from Peas and Thank You, since a) we love carrot cake and b) J is incredibly smitten with Gigi. All I had to do was tell him that this was Gigi's fifth-birthday cake, and he was sold. Mama Pea, J asks me at least once a week if we can come to Oregon for a playdate with Gigi. Do you think that could be arranged? :)

Anyway, the cake was AMAZING. Like, no joke, the best carrot cake AND best cream cheese frosting I've ever had. Seriously drool-worthy!

J was super-excited to eat his "Gigi-cake"and declared it "yummy in my tummy!" His grandparents also loved it and even had seconds....yay!! All in all, we had a wonderful day with our special little guy. But I don't think we're going to wait another year before eating that cake again! :)

Friday, February 17, 2012

White Bean Salad with Fennel and Avocado

I'm always on the lookout for a good main-dish salad recipe, so when I saw the recipe for White Bean Salad with Fennel and Avocado in 1,000 Vegan Recipes, my interest was piqued. The salad is composed of many of my favorite ingredients: cannellini beans, fresh fennel, grape tomatoes, fresh parsley, kalamata olives, fresh lemon juice, red onion, and avocado. These ingredients all bring something unique to the dish and combine to make one seriously creamy, tangy, salty, crunchy, and herbalicious salad. The author, Robin Robertson, suggests adding cold cooked brown rice to turn this into a one-dish meal, but I opted for (what else) some fresh baby arugula and a side of sauteed broccoli rabe.

Best of all? This salad came together in about 20 minutes. Now that's something else I can get excited about!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's Day Food: Quinoa Puttanesca, Salad & Raspberry Blackout Cake

I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for Valentine's Day. I like the idea of cards, chocolate, kisses, snuggles, and telling someone you love them. I enjoy preparing a special meal for my hubby and me, topped off with a delicious and decadent dessert, which MUST include chocolate. This is a requirement!

This year, I decided to cut myself a little slack and not devote hours and hours to preparing a romantic meal. Instead, I baked a cake the night before and then made a simple but elegant dinner. Rather than dining by candlelight alone, we ate off trays in the living room with our son, watching The Sound of Music. It might not have been romantic, but it was fun :)

Our first course was a salad of baby arugula, sliced dried figs, and pistachios with an agave-apple cider vinaigrette. It was inspired by Gena's Fig & Pistachio Salad from Choosing Raw:
We enjoyed our salad with a glass of Cupcake Winery Riesling. I served it in a champagne glass to make it more romantical :)
Our main course was the uber-flavorful Quinoa Puttanesca from Appetite for Reduction. This super-saucy dish is studded with kalamata olives and capers, two of my favorite ingredients. Quinoa is a great alternative to the traditional pasta because it soaks up the sauce and makes every bite really scrumptious.

And, of course, the most important part of any Valentine's Day meal is the dessert. I decided to make something I've been lusting after for ages and ages...the Raspberry Blackout Cake with Ganache-y Frosting from Vegan with a Vengeance. Rather than make the full recipe, I decided to halve it and make half of a two-layer cake. It could not have been easier to do: I halved all the ingredients, baked one 8-inch round cake pan (rather than two), and just cut the finished cake in half. I frosted it as directed and ended up with a beautiful half-moon-shaped cake. The crumb is chocolate and raspberry-flavored, with a raspberry-preserve-and-chocolate-ganache middle layer and frosting. It was.....amaaaaaazing. My picture is totally crappy, but I didn't want to waste any more time taking pictures when this cake wanted to jump into my mouth.

You can't even really see the middle layer, but it's there, trust me. This may have been one of the best cakes I've ever eaten in my life, and there will be much more of this cake in my future. It was the perfect ending to a great Valentine's Day meal!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quinoa, White Bean & Kale Stew

Another day, another fabulous stew from Appetite for Reduction. I think if I could only keep one cookbook for the rest of my life, it would probably be AFR. I just really enjoy what Isa enjoys - hearty, healthy, nutrition-packed meals filled with veggies, beans, whole grains, and spices. Isa, if you're out there and reading this, I just want to say: thank you. And, I'd love to test for your next cookbook. And, I like Throwing Muses, too. We could be BFFs, you know. Just sayin.'

So, this stew is pretty much the essence of AFR: it has grains (well, quinoa is technically a seed, but close enough), beans (cannellinis), veggies (leeks, garlic, carrots, parsnip, potatoes, kale), and spices (fennel seeds, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, S&P). It's loaded with flavor and everything goes into one pot, which makes clean-up a breeze. You gotta love that!

I've made this with and without the parsnip, and I actually prefer it without. I love parsnips, don't get me wrong, but I think they taste a bit out-of-place here. I've also used a head of broccoli rabe for the kale, and that works great, too. This recipe is very versatile and can be adapted to suit your veggie/bean/spice preferences. It's great on a chilly winter day when you need something warm in your belly.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chickpea Piccata and Mashed Potatoes

I have recently discovered the fabulousness that is Chickpea Piccata from Appetite for Reduction. I made chicken piccata once, back in 2001. I was a newlywed living in Germany with no job, no friends, and NO cooking skills whatsoever. Pretty much every meal I made came out of a can, a box, or the freezer, so I must have been feeling really industrious to tackle chicken piccata. Or maybe I was just embracing my inner domestic goddess. Who knows. I never made it again, by the way. I didn't want my new hubby to get used to real, from-scratch cooking when there was a whole pantry of boxed mashed potatoes and canned carrots waiting for him.

But anyway...I never forgot about that luscious, lemony, caper-studded sauce. The chicken I could totally do without. That's what chickpeas are for! Not to mention, hello, chickpeas are so much easier. Who wants to pound out chicken breasts, flour them, fry them, and all that jazz? Not me. No thank you. This piccata comes together in less than 30 minutes, and that includes making REAL mashed potatoes, FROM SCRATCH!! I'm proud to say that I've been boxed-potato-free since 2003.

The piccata is silky and delicious, flavored with shallots, white wine, and capers. My mashed potatoes are simply peeled, diced, and boiled yukon golds, mashed and flavored with just some salt, veggie broth, and a mere tablespoon of Earth Balance. They are so creamy and buttery, you'd swear they were loaded with butter and milk - but they're not!
The mashed potatoes are served on top of a pile of baby arugula, which wilts beautifully underneath. A pile of steamed broccoli finishes off the dish, because everything is better with steamed broccoli, n'est-ce pas?

Trust me - I'm not waiting another 11 years to make this!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Salad Daze

I love salad. Now, this may come as a shock to you, seeing as I'm vegan and all (wink wink), but I really, really love salad. Anytime I go out to eat at a restaurant, I usually want to order a salad. I get a gleam in my eye and say things like, "I can't wait to have a salad that someone else made for me!" Because, let's face it...making salads can be kind of time-consuming and tedious. I wish I had a never-ending salad bowl in my fridge (kind of like the Olive Garden's never-ending pasta bowl, but...not). But since I don't, I'm usually forced to make my own.

For years and years, I made pretty much the same simple salad to accompany my lunch and dinner: some organic greens (baby spinach or baby romaine), some sliced carrots, sliced cucumber, sliced celery, some fresh lemon juice, a squeeze of Bragg Liquid Aminos, and a drizzle of olive oil or flax oil. Sometimes I'd throw some pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds on there, but most of the time, that was my basic salad. And it was fine, if not a little boring. But lately, I've been wanting more and more main-dish-style salads. The problem I've been having is, even though I have a plethora of vegan cookbooks, I have a hard time finding the types of salad recipes I enjoy. I love salads that are greens-based, with plenty of fresh raw veggies, some protein (beans, tempeh), maybe some cooked grains (millet, quinoa) and a unique dressing to add some flavor. Sounds simple, right? And yet I struggle to find what I'm looking for. So, I've been taking matters into my own hands and experimenting with some new salad combinations.

Here's one that showed a lot of promise: baby arugula, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, cannellini beans, kalamata olives, nooch, and homemade white balsamic dressing. Pretty tasty.
However, I knew I could kick it up a notch. I tried again, this time using chickpeas instead of cannellini beans and adding some capers and dulse flakes. Better!
This one was a simple little side salad, but it was really easy to make and very delicious. This is baby arugula, chunks of tomato, cucumber, capers, and white balsamic vinaigrette. Yum!
This salad, which I had for dinner last night, could be really fantastic, but it still needs some work. This is baby arugula, chunks of tomato, roasted red pepper, cucumber, roasted mushrooms, cooked barley, marinated chickpeas, pine nuts, and white balsamic vinaigrette.
I actually thought the salad needed even more of a flavor punch. Marinating the mushrooms before roasting them would have helped immensely, I'm sure.

One thing I did really like, however, was marinating the chickpeas beforehand. It really boosted the flavor and it was easy as pie. Here's my technique:

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and patted dry+ 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar + 1 tablespoon regular balsamic vinegar + 1 mason jar = yummy marinated chickpeas. Give 'em a good shake every now and then and let them soak in the fridge. It only takes an hour to infuse them with some good flavor.

I'm always on the lookout for more good salad recipes/ideas, so if you have any, let me know!

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Super Bowl Spread

Did that just really happen....again?

I'm not sure I can believe it. I didn't sleep well last night, and I woke up once drenched in sweat. I take my sports seriously.

Oh, Patriots...not again. Not again!

We had all our Super Bowl snacky-food at the ready. We had a big plate of OMG Oven-Baked Onion Rings from Appetite for Reduction:

We had a big plate of Sweet Potato Fries and ketchup from Vegan with a Vengeance:

We had a plate of sweet 'n sticky tempeh buffalo wingz, using breading and buffalo sauce recipes from Party Vegan:

We had frosty cold beer:

We had some CCK Deep-Dish Cookie Pie for dessert:

And we had a fire crackling away in the fireplace. 

I mean, we couldn't have been any more ready to watch the Pats win. 

Sadly, it was not meant to be :(

At least we'll have those onion rings. And sweet potato fries. And wingz. And pie, and beer. Hmmph. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Feast of Veganomical Proportions

It's no secret I'm sort of infatuated with Appetite for Reduction - I've been cooking (and blogging) about it pretty consistently ever since I got the book last Christmas. But before AFR rolled on to the scene, I was fairly committed to one of Isa and Terry's other cookbooks, Veganomicon. Billed as "The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook,"it is a treasure-trove of great recipes for every food occasion: breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, desserts, snacks, appetizers, soups, salads, and everything in between. I've cooked a lot from this book during the last four years, but I realized there were some recipes I hadn't revisited in quite a while.

So, one night, I cracked open my copy of Veganomicon and made not one, not two, but three recipes from the epic tome!

First up: Escarole with Capers and White Beans.

This is a deceptively-simple-but-looks-rather-fancy dish that combines sauteed escarole, beans (I used cannellinis), garlic, capers, and red pepper flakes (which I omit). It takes just minutes and is pleasingly chewy and hearty. We love it topped with some nooch!

I also made some Tomato Couscous with Capers (but with millet instead of couscous) and some Marinated Italian Tofu. Millet is probably my favorite grain, and I substitute it all the time for the less-nutritious couscous. The couscous/millet is pretty aggressively flavored with ground cloves, which I found slightly off-putting. However, I think it would be really solid if one were to just omit the cloves.

The Marinated Italian Tofu is soaked in balsamic vinegar, white wine, broth, tamari, garlic, and Italian seasonings, then baked until the tofu gets firm and chewy. Isa has included her marinated tofu recipe   (Italian, Asian) in all of her savory cookbooks, and it's virtually fool-proof and guaranteed delicious!
It's fun revisiting an old friend like Veganomicon. I should really get back to making some old favorites!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mushroom Risotto for Lazies

Question: why do restaurants charge $15 for a plate of risotto, which is essentially just rice, wine/broth, spices, and some veggies?

Answer: because you have to stir...and stir...and stir....and stir...until your arm wants to fall off.

Been there, done that.

I've made risotto from scratch twice, and it was good...but not great. Definitely not as creamy as ones I've had in restaurants. So, I decided that rather than slaving away at the stove for mediocre results, or shelling out $15 for a plate of rice, I'd sacrifice quality and authenticity in exchange for almost no time at the stove. No stirring and very little attention required here, folks.

I give you: slow-cooker risotto.

This recipe for Mushroom Risotto relies on pantry-staples (rice, broth, dried mushrooms, wine, garlic, shallots, spices) and just two fresh ingredients (fresh mushrooms and parsley). After a quick saute of the shallots and garlic, and a 30-minute soak of the dried mushrooms, the whole kit and kaboodle gets dumped into the slow cooker for 2 hours. Voila, nearly-instant risotto. Sorry for the crappy lighting in the picture, but hey, if you're too lazy to make risotto, you're also too lazy to turn on the flash.

Yes, you sacrifice some texture and definitely the creaminess, but you also get a tasty, filling dish with almost no effort. With a side of spinach salad, it was the perfect, lazy meal for an imperfect, lazy cook.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Butternut Coconut Rice and Some Big Ole Salads

Let's take a break from soup posts, shall we? I have plenty more soups to share, but I also have lots of yummy salads, too. Like, for instance, exhibit A:

Baby arugula (my new obsession!), cucumbers, thinly sliced onions, grilled baby bellas, avocado, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and homemade white balsamic vinaigrette.

Not to be confused with my similar-looking, but slightly different, San Francisco Sourdough Salad (inspired by my earlier San Francisco post):

This is baby arugula, grape tomatoes, thinly sliced red onions, grilled baby bellas, avocado, chickpeas, cucumber, and homemade sourdough croutons, tossed with homemade white balsamic vinaigrette. Love. Love. LOVE this salad!!

Although the San Francisco Sourdough Salad is hearty enough for a main-dish, the other salad was a rather large side-dish to some Butternut Coconut Rice from Appetite for Reduction:

Roasted butternut squash, shallots, ginger, garlic, lime zest/juice, brown basmati rice, and coconut milk are mixed together and become super creamy and risotto-like. Mmmm. I'm thinking of experimenting with this recipe to make it more savory by substituting some white wine and sage for the lime juice, coconut milk, and ginger. It was definitely on the sweet side and I think it would be even better with a savory twist. We'll see!