Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chili Fried Rice

What do you do when you have a pot of leftover rice and beans in the fridge and a big bunch of fresh snow peas from the garden?  In my case, I fused a couple of Mexican and Chinese classics to create Chili Fried Rice.  It was the perfect quick and easy dinner.

First I sauteed some carrots, onion and mushrooms, then threw in the snow peas.  Once everything was fork tender, I added the rice and beans, cumin, chili powder, and a few tablespoons of salsa.  Simple as that.  As an added bonus, it cooked so quickly that my kitchen didn't even heat up.

I'm also fortunate to have a small patch of cilantro in the herb garden so I pulled a handful of leaves for the garnish.  Delish!

Basil Sautee

It already feels like the middle of the summer, not just because of the heat wave, but because of all the basil in my garden.  And that means it's officially pesto season!  Even though I love pesto and could eat it every day, I must confess that I often don't feel like going through the trouble of making it.  On those days, I just grab a generous handful and sautee the leaves just like any greens.

The other day for lunch I tossed a big bunch in with some zucchini, crushed tomatoes, olive oil and garlic.  I stirred the basil leaves in at the end and cooked until they just wilted.

Then I melted a handful of Daiya mozzarella on top of some sliced polenta, and buried it all with the saucy mixture, creating a creamy, gooey center.  A chiffonade of a few reserved basil leaves garnished the plate and added a nice cinnamony kick to the whole dish.  Quick, easy, and delicious!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Happy Vegan Birthday

My mom really outdid herself this year for my birthday (thank you, moms!!).  She took a recipe for vegan chocolate cake I gave her many, many years ago and made it gluten-free, then added some strawberry preserves between layers, slathered it with a chocolate tofu icing, and topped it all off with fresh strawberries and raspberries.  Even non-vegans would approve.

It's rare that I bake desserts these days (and even rarer that I eat them), so it was nice to indulge in some chocolate decadence for a change.  This cake was rich, moist, dense, and as delicious as it looks.  I can't believe she managed to slice those thin little cakes into 4 layers - amazing!

From now on I know who to recruit when I get requests for vegan cake!  When's the next celebration?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vegan Father's Day

This Sunday, June 20, is Father's Day, and for many dads that means time to fire up the grill for some burgers and dogs.  But what to do if you're a vegan?  Or even a vegan dad??  Fortunately, there are many options these days due to the array of faux meats available in grocery stores.
Fantastic Foods Nature's Burger, 10-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 12)
Veggie Burgers - Amy's Texas Burger, Gardenburger, or Boca Burger are just a few of the many popular choices.  The Blog, Chez Bettay has a lovely post on "An American Burger Vegan Style" which illustrates how to make the perfect burger sans meat.  Thinking of making your own?  You can choose one from the Top 11 Veggie Burger Recipes list which includes some tasty looking burgers made from such ingredients as black beans, portabella mushrooms, potatoes, and TVP.

Hot Dogs - So your dad's not into burgers and prefers a dog in a bun?  Again, there are many vegan options, some of which work really well on the grill.  Lightlife's Tofu Pups and Smart Dogs have been the longtime standards, but now you can also try their Smart Dogs Jumbo and Smart Sausage.  Yves makes vegan hot dogs for the grill, along with Jumbo Dogs and Veggie Brats that taste just like bratwurst but without the meat.  Turtle Island also has their take on hotdogs, with Tofurky Franks which they claim "have a firm texture like the gourmet kosher hot dogs sold on the streets of New York City."  If you like things with a spicy kick, you can try their Chipotle Franks.  

Sausage - Speaking of spicy, probably the best vegan sausage product around are Tofurky's gourmet sausages available as Beer Brats, Kielbasa, and Sweet Italian with Tomato and Basil (my personal favorite).  These could fool anyone who enjoys a good sausage and pepper grinder.  Others swear by Field Roast Sausage which are available Italian style, Mexican Chipotle, and Smoked Apple Sage.

Chicken - If you're used to grilled chicken and BBQ hot wings, why not try the same marinade on Gardein's Chick'n products?  They have Buffalo Wings, Crispy Tenders, and even Barbecue Wings which all taste like the real thing, but with no bones to pick! 

Kabobs - To diverge a bit from the faux meat thing, why not load skewers with some tasty marinated tempeh or tofu alternated with onion, pepper, and other veggies?  These are easy to make ahead on the grill (just remember to soak the bamboo skewers in water beforehand), then serve up warm with a dipping sauce when guests arrive. 

In all these cases, when it really comes down to it, it's the flavors that make all the difference.  You put the same seasonings in a soy and wheat based veggie product and you'll get something just as delicious as the traditional meat product it is based on.  Get a good roll, add the appropriate fixings, pile on some delicious sides, and you have the makings of a perfect Vegan Father's Day.  No need to feel deprived!

Monday, June 14, 2010

El Sombrero

I've been on a quest for good Mexican food in the New Haven area ever since moving here four years ago.  For awhile I found C.O. Jones on State Street to be a good option because they have a fairly decent selection of vegetarian offerings on their menu which can easily be made vegan by eliminating the cheese.  Their Spinach Burrito is particularly good, and quite filling.  But unless you're up for a screaming match during dinner, it's better to choose somewhere with less of a party atmosphere, or go there during the summer break.

A couple blocks away on Mechanic Street, another decent option is Mezcal.  Based on the reviews at Yelp, most people either love it or hate it.  I tend to fall somewhere in between.  This feels more like a traditional Mexican restaurant with homey, unpretentious fare, which I like.  It's tough for a vegan, however, since most everything on the menu contains meat of some kind.  So if I'm in the mood for veggie fajitas, fresh quacamole, and a creamy pina colada, this is where I go.  If I want something else, I usually just stay home for the night.

I'd really like to find a Mexican restaurant in New Haven with decent enchiladas that can be made to order without cheese, hearty vegan Mole sauce, fresh pico de gallo and guacamole, and margaritas made with fresh lime juice.  And if there was ever a vegan flan on the menu, I'd be there every night. 

A surprising discover this weekend was a Mexican restaurant called El Sombrero, tucked into a strip mall on Queen Street, the main drag in Southington.  I have to admit, I was exepcting to get a taco salad or something similar sans cheese, but was pleasantly surprised to find an extensive vegetarian menu that included mixed veggies as a filling for burritos instead of the usual rice and beans.  Plus, all the sauces were vegan.

I chose the La Bandera Enchiladas, a row of 3 veggie enchiladas with Mole sauce, Red Enchilada Sauce and Tomatillo Sauce accompanied by rice and beans.  I devoured all three, unable to decide which tasted the best and should be saved for last.  While the refried beans were probably straight from a can, I enjoyed an accompaniment that I don't often indulge in.  Reviews at Yelp are almost entirely positive, with many raving about the Salsa (which I thought was good, but nothing special since salsa is so easy to make).  The evening was topped off by a Mariachi serenade which would've been nice to enjoy over a glass of Prickly Pear Margarita.  Next time, perhaps.

Curbing Childhood Obesity

Want your kids to eat healthier?  Give them a little nudge.  That's the advice of behavioral researchers of several studies recently reported on in the Washington Post article, "Small changes steer kids toward smarter school lunch choices."

Brian Wansink of Cornell's Food and Brand Lab conducted a little experiment at elementary school cafeterias and found food placement and presentation made all the difference.

"In the school cafeterias Wansink surveyed, whole fruits were displayed in steel bins in dimly lighted areas of the lunch line. Wansink went to discount store T.J. Maxx and bought a cheap wire fruit rack. He found an extra desk lamp, which he used to shine on the fruit. "Sales of fruit in one school went up 54 percent. Not in a semester: by the end of the second week," Wansink said. "It would have gone up faster, but they kept running out of fruit." 

The takeaway here is that these simple changes can also be easily incorporated at home.  Moms and dads, make sure you display fresh fruit in a pretty bowl, center stage on a well-lit countertop, and leave the cookies in a dark corner!  Verbal prompts also have been found to be effective when it comes to influencing children's eating habits.

In 2007, Marlene Schwartz, the deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, created a study in which cafeteria workers at one school asked each student whether they would like to add fruit or fruit juice to their lunch. Ninety percent of students took the fruit or juice, and 70 percent consumed it. In the school with no verbal prompting, 60 percent of students took fruit or juice, and 40 percent consumed it."  

Yes, no matter how may times you have to do it, keep offering fruits as snacks.  Chances are a hungry kid will say "yes" to that apple or orange more often than if you don't make the suggestion.  To find out more creative ways schools, teachers, and parents can help get kids to eat more fruits and veggies, keep reading the article here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

From the garden

This year's garden is growing strong with several clumps of collard greens, Swiss chard, kale and mustard greens already primed for picking.

The snap peas bolted into profusion about a week ago and have now slowed to about a handful a day.  These have been yummy sauteed in stirfrys, cut into thin strips for salads, and simply eaten as a fresh raw snack.

I also have an array of herbs in pots:  oregano, thyme, chives, parsley, and sage.  In one corner of my shady bed there is a clump of mint growing.  I've already made a few batches of mint sun tea to cool off on those sultry pre-summer heat waves we've had.

Yesterday, I was excited to see a little green visitor making a home on my parsley.  This is a Black Swallowtail caterpillar.  I wonder if I'll be fortunate enough to witness the transformation!  Enjoy your dinner, hungry little caterpillar dude.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tonight's Dinner

I picked a huge pile of greens from the garden and decided to do a simple sautee with shallots and mushrooms for tonight's dinner.  That's kale, collard, Swiss chard, mustard greens, arugula and even a few pea shoots all wilty and nice in there.  I baked some tofu with a Dijon mustard marinade and accompanied everything with a big heaping pile of mashed potatoes.  Simple, yet delicious.