Sunday, November 28, 2010

Organic Tofu Turkey

I don't really miss turkey on Thanksgiving, so I'm not a huge fan of Tofurky or Field Roast and other faux meat alternatives on the market.  Nonetheless, I'm always curious to try out something new and different that I could potentially recommend to friends and clients. 

This year, I discovered the Organic Tofu Turkey, by Fresh Tofu Inc.  This Allentown, PA company has been making tofu-based faux meats since 1992, though this is the first time I've seen their individually hand-scored creations in the health food store.  The box comes with a 1 lb. tofu turkey and a little "savory herb gravy" packet, which is supposed to serve 9.  Because it was so fascinating - as well as gluten-free! - I had to take one home with me.

The little tofu bird cooks fairly quickly:  you simply place it in a baking dish with about 1/4 inch of water in the bottom, cover with foil, then heat for 40 minutes.  Remove the foil, then let it brown up uncovered for about 5 more minutes.

I know most vegans don't like to be reminded of eating a bird, but I thought this little guy was so cute.  Tastewise, it reminded me of any of those flavored tofu blocks from Soy Boy, and it had a similar firm, smooth texture.  But when it comes to tofu, my favorite will always be The Bridge

Still, as a gluten-free vegan alternative, this is a fun option.  Plus, it went well with gravy, mashed potatoes, and all the other flavors of the season.  Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dessert time

I was asked to make a few vegan desserts for a non-vegan Thanksgiving party this year, a challenge I'm always up for.  One was a creation of mine I haven't made in years, and the other two I've never made before, but I trusted that they'd all be hits since they came from Priscilla Feral's Friends of Animals cookbooks. 

The first was a tangy Mango Tango Flan which is sweetened with maple syrup and pineapple juice and topped with a lovely apricot glaze.  It evokes summer, yet it also looked bright and cheery on a chilly autumn afternoon.  This recipe can be found in FOA's cookbook, The Best of Vegan Cooking.

Next up was the Coconut Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese frosting.  If you're a fan of coconut, this cake will not disappoint.  The light and spongey cake was topped with a rich and decadent frosting so loaded with coconut that, following the mango pineapple flan, you'd think you woke up in a tropical paradise. (Note to self:  must come up with a gluten-free version!) 

Finally, there was the chocolate bomshell.  This Chocolate Decadence Cake was literally enrobed in an even more decadent frosting made from melted baker's chocolate and Earth Balance margarine whisked together with a pound of confectioner's sugar.  I'd highly recommend this recipe, though I think I'd do a double layer next time since there was sooo much frosting.  Both of these recipes can be found in FOA's cookbook, Dining with Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine.

The result?  Word from my client:

"The Mango Tango Flan and the cakes were a great success and everyone sends their best to you!!! Mom loved the coconut cake!" 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GF Pumpkin Muffins with Cranberry Pecan Streusel

I had half a can of pumpkin puree in the fridge and was also craving muffins today, so I decided to take this serendipitous moment to create a new recipe.  I'm pleased to report:  success!  The only problem is that I decided these were so good they'd be perfect for Thanksgiving morning, and now I have to hold off on eating them all.  And seriously, I think I'm gonna whine to myself like a 5-year-old for the entire next two days over my self-imposed prohibition.   

The muffin is spongy, yet light and crumbly, which to me is the perfect texture.  These bear no resemblance to the usual dense, grainy hockey pucks you sometimes get when you buy a gluten-free muffin from a bakery unskilled in the finer points of baking sans gluten. 

I seasoned these lightly with the traditional pumpkin pie spices of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves.  Not enough to overpower, yet just enough for a hint of autumn in each bite.  The secret ingredient in the batter was applesauce.  I like this as a substitue for oil not just because it makes the muffins lighter and healthier, but also because it adds a hint of sweetness, almost as if I had used apple cider in there. 

To top off the muffins, I decided to crumble a little streusel mixture made from pecans, dried cranberries, brown sugar, rice flour, and Earth Balance margarine.  The topping gets nicely caremelized in the oven, making the first bite a perfect combination of crunchy sweetness mixed with spongy cakiness.

This is gonna be a rough two days.  I may just have to make another batch. 

GF Pumpkin Muffins with Cranberry Pecan Streusel
(yield: 12 muffins )
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 Tbl ground flax seed mixed with 3 Tbl water
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup rice flour
1/3 cup GF flour
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg

In a food processor, pulse together until crumbly yet still chunky:
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbl brown sugar
1 Tbl rice flour
1 Tbl Earth Balance margarine
pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper muffin cups. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, flax seed mixture, sugars, molasses, vanilla and oil. In a separate bowl, sift together flours, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Combine the two and gradually add enough water (about ¼ cup) to make the batter pourable, yet still thick. Scoop batter with ¼ measuring cup into muffin cups, filling them ¾ of the way full. Sprinkle streusel on top of each. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until muffins are springy, yet firm. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan only a few minutes; remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

WWLP TV 22 Cooking Segment

In case you missed my cooking segment on vegan alternatives for Thanksgiving, here's a clip from the website:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Talking Tofurky on WWLP-TV 22

I was invited by WWLP-TV 22 to do a cooking segment on vegan turkey alternatives for Thanksgiving.  The actual request was for Tofurky, which I don't typically eat because it contains gluten, but I do think it makes for a fine stand-in for anyone who misses having a centerpiece on the table. Personally, I'm a fan of side dishes and all the beautiful colors, tastes, and textures of seasonal vegetables.

I decided to demonstrate how to make a Curried Butternut Squash Risotto because it features one of my seasonal vegetables, and it's a twist on a traditional favorite usually made with chicken stock, cream, and parmesan cheese.  My version uses soy milk (although rice milk could be substituted) and coconut cream.  It's rich and luscious, and you'll never miss the cheese.  I served it with Cornmeal Crusted Tofu Cutlets, Crimini Mushroom Gravy, and Brussels Sprouts Amandine, then topped the risotto with spiced pepitas.  It really felt like Thanksgiving in the Well on Wheels kitchen today.

Curried Butternut Squash Risotto (serves 4-6)

1-2 Tbl olive oil
2 shallots, diced
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
1 cup Arborio rice, rinsed
2 cups water
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp curry powder
½ cup Thai Kitchen organic coconut milk
1 cup Westsoy organic soy milk
1 tsp sea salt, to taste
2 Tbl fresh shopped parsley

In a large pot, sauté shallots in oil. Add the squash, turmeric, curry powder and Arborio rice and sauté for a minute. Add the water, cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 15 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Raise heat to medium and gradually stir in the coconut milk. When the rice has absorbed the liquid, add 1/2 cup of soy milk, stirring to incorporate. Keep up this process until no more liquid can be absorbed. Season with sea salt. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve immediately. (Risotto waits for no one!)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Vegan "ThanksLiving"

For a few years in a row, I've been happy to host a vegan Thanksgiving party at my house. While everyone else was devouring turkey, my animal-friendly friends and I savored Cornmeal Crusted Tofu Cutlets with Crimini Mushroom Gravy, Wild Rice Stuffing, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Acorn Squash with Pecan Praline, Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Fresh Cranberry Sauce, Gingered Winter Vegetable Bisque... and a delectable array of seasonal desserts.

If you're inspired to host a vegan feast of your own (or just want to come up with one darn good recipe to share with family and friends), I hope this post will help. Below are a few websites that offer creative ideas for the holidays. Why not let them be your inspiration for starting new compassionate holiday traditions this year?

A Feast by Robin Robertson - I always return to her book, Vegan Planet, for ideas. It never ceases to inspire me, as this Thanksgiving Menu surely will for you.

Host a Holiday - Some lovely gourmet recipes for hosting a vegan holiday from Taste for Life. 

Celebrate a Vegan Thanksgiving - is a great source for recipes, nutrition
information, environmental issues and tons of pretty pictures. Great ideas for the

A Bountiful Vegan Thanksgiving - Lovely website by Nava Atlas with a special
Thanksgiving Themed menu that you can browse for ideas or order as an e-book.

Gentle Thanksgiving - An entire website devoted to just that. Pretty cool!

Thanksgiving O'Rama - Here's a great Thanksgiving site from the people who publish VegNews magazine.

How to Host a Vegan Thanksgiving - It may take a little planning, but how cool would this be? You're in control! SO cool!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This Week's Menu

It wasn't intentional, but butternut squash became the theme for this week's menu.  How can you not feature it when winter squash is so abundant this time of year?  I love the variety of tastes and vibrant colors of the Hubbard, acorn, kabocha, butternut, delicata, and even spaghetti squash.  Pumpkins are also in this vining gourd family, though their flavor is less sweet.  Interestingly, the canned pumpkin you buy from the grocery store actually contains a mixture of many of those other squashes since pumpkin isn't as flavorful. 

Purely for ease of preparation, my default is butternut since I can use my vegetable peeler to remove the relatively thin skin and don't have to struggle with my knife to whack it open.  So I made a Penne Pasta with Butternut Sage Cream Sauce topped with Shallot, Shiitake, Snow Peas and Toasted Pistachios.

The other winter squash meal was one that I've done before:  Curried Butternut Squash Risotto served with Baked Tofu and Broccoli.  This risotto is rich and creamy without being heavy, and the unexpected Indian spices are a nice contrast with the sweet squash. 

The third meal featured another seasonal vegetable, cauliflower, as well as more Indian seasonings:  turmeric, ginger, coriander, and cumin.  These are the foods and flavors of the cold & flu season since all are natural antibiotics and immune system boosters.  I also learned recently that the spice combination of cumin-turmeric-coriander helps with digestion of protein, which is perfect since this meal also contained chickpeas.  It's always a bonus when something this yummy is also good for your health.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Psychedelic IONic Lunch

Today's lunch felt like a cross between a homecoming and a visit with a long-lost friend, in more ways than one.  I used to work at Wesleyan University and would walk to It's Only Natural (ION) restaurant on Main Street in Middletown at least once a week, either for lunch or just to grab one of their hefty and homey Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, which I would eat on the walk back to the office.  Then after I left that job, I decided I missed the place so much that I needed to work there.  That was about eight years ago.

I think it's been about a year since I've visited, so I was happy to go there for lunch today.  Some things have changed, some have stayed the same.  Most importantly, their famous sweet potato fries are still on the menu and are just as crispy and tender as ever, albeit in a less generous portion size.

(oh wait, I think a few disappeared before I could get my camera out)

Normally I order something from the Specials menu, but the Moroccan Chickpea Stew didn't tempt me today, so I opted for my standby of Cajun Tempeh with Brown Rice and Sauteed Greens.  It was a treat to be able to order tempeh at a restaurant since I rarely make it at home.  The two slices, looking kinda lonely on the platter, were surprisingly filling.

I took a bathroom break to contemplate dessert, and when I came back, this strange message appeared on the table.  Could it have been to cajole me into ordering a decadent baked good, or something more ominous? 

I pondered this mystery, and almost fell into the devious trap when I saw Coconut Cake on the menu, but decided that if I ate anything else I'd need to take a nap.  Next time... perhaps after a night of skating

After lunch I perused a couple of used book stores for old cookbooks.  I found a really cute little recipe pamphlet put out by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, copyright 1957. It was well worth the $1 pricetag. 

How can you go wrong with graphics like this?  Makes me want to brew a fresh pot of coffee and dig into a deep-dish pie with that cheeky illustrator (and I don't even drink coffee).

But the big find of the day was a 7" single by happy giant, the band I was in 20 years ago.  So yeah, that little 45RPM has been sitting in the dusty record bin of the Buttonwood Tree, a used book store/performance space where I've also played some shows, since 1993.  Freaky.  I'd buy that for a dollar. (and I did)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Spiced Pumpkin Seed Socca with Sauteed Spinach and Crimini Mushrooms

It's been awhile since I've had socca, a gluten-free flatbread made from Garbanzo bean flour.  Since I was in the mood for some kind of pizza-like treat, I decided to make it last night. 

The batter is a sifted mixture of 1 cup chickpea flour,1 tsp sea salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp pepper, whisked together with 1 cup warm water and 2 Tbl olive oil.  The batter is pretty watery and needs to rest in the bowl and thicken, covered with a towel, for at least 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, a cast iron skillet is heated in a 450 degree oven. 

When the batter is ready, take the skillet out of the oven, coat the bottom with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and throw in 1/2 cup of diced onion, and 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds tossed in chili powder, cinnamon, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned on sides and top. Let it sit for a few minutes before cutting into wedges. 

I served my wedge with some baby spinach I had sauteed in olive oil with crimini mushroom and onion.  The socca is more biscuity than bready, with a crisp crusty edge.  This was a nice, light dinner which satisfied my bread craving, yet because of the garbanzo bean flour it's low in carbohydrates and high in protein.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Today's Lunch: Grilled Cheese, Chili, Romaine Lettuce with Avocado

Even a gluten-free vegan can enjoy a grilled cheese, thanks to Daiya and Food for Life.  I was craving ooey gooey cheese the other day so I picked up a package of Daiya's shredded mozzarella and heaped a pile between two slices of Food for Life's brown rice bread.  The bread comes frozen, but once it's thawed in the microwave, it works really well spread with a little Earth Balance, then grilled in a frying pan. This cheese really does melt!

I completed the meal with a big bowl of chili and Romaine lettuce salad topped with fresh avocado.  This will keep me going for the next few hours while I grade papers.   

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This week's menu

I was so inspired by Chef Tal Ronnen's presentation at the Boston Vegetarian Society Food Festival this weekend that I bought his cookbook, The Conscious Cook.  Filled with "meatless recipes that will change your life," it too was inspiring.  And you can't beat the beautiful color photos, layout, and overall design, which will immediately send you to your kitchen eager to attempt recreating the recipes at home.  At least that's what it did to me. 

This week my clients were treated to two recipes featured in Chef Tal's cookbook.  I made some slight modifications based on my own personal tastes, and of course, my photos don't come near the artful presentations you'll see on those glossy pages.  Nonetheless, I think they were still pretty delicious.

The first entree was Roasted Eggplant on Baked Polenta with Smoked Paprika Cashew Cream, Sauteed Greens, Shallots and Shiitake Mushroom.  The cashew cream sauce recipe alone is worth buying the cookbook for, as it is the perfect balance of spicy sweet with a rich, velvety texture.  This whole recipe was pretty smooth and creamy, which makes me think I should've caramelized the shallots to get a crunchy contrast on top.  Still good, though.

The other Chef Tal inspired recipe was Agave Lime Tofu with Asian Slaw and Mashed Sweet Potatoes.  I love the citrus in this dish, and the crunch of the slaw is the perfect contrast to the creamy sweet potatoes, which I kicked up a notch by mashing together with apple sauce and a little coconut oil.  There were some great flavor combinations going on here as well.

For the last entree this week, I stuck with the Asian theme and made Indonesian Gado-Gado with Tempeh, Cauliflower, Stringbeans, Carrots and Brown Basmati Rice.  Gado-Gado is a peanut based sauce spiced with chili powder and fresh ginger.  I could eat this on just about anything, and if I died tomorrow, I'd have lived a full and satisfying life.