Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This Week's Menu

Seasonal veggies, creamy goodness, comfy comfort food... that was the theme this week.

I think my favorite on the menu would be the Mac 'n' Cheese 'n' Stuff, which is kinda like if Mac 'n Cheese hooked up with Cauliflower Au Gratin and created this love child.  Then it's topped off with a crunchy topping of toasted walnuts and breadcrumbs.  I could eat it every snow-stormy day this winter.

Next up is the Baked Tofu with Warm Savoy Cabbage and Carrot Slaw and Quinoa.  I always forget to cook with cabbage, but this week I remembered!  It's so sweet and delicious.

Finally, the Panfried Tempeh with Mushroom Gravy, Mashed Potato and Rutabaga and Steamed Broccoli.  I love throwing a mix of starches together and mashing them up.  This week it's the slightly bitter, slightly sweet rutabaga (purple turnip) which makes its appearance on the menu.  Yum!

Tofu, Cauliflower, Carrot and Kale with Indonesian Peanut Sauce

A client recently requested a cooking lesson to learn how to make Tempeh and Broccoli with Indonesian Peanut Sauce.  Since it was nearing lunchtime and I was in a peanutty mood, I decided to make some for myself with veggies I had on hand.  I think the cauliflower was the perfect vehicle for absorbing that sauce, and the flavors and colors worked really well together.  I'd also consider swapping the tofu for the tempeh in the future since I discovered it microwaved pretty well after marinating in tamari and toasted sesame oil for just a few minutes.  Quick, easy, and oh, so satisfying.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Faux Farmer's Cheese and Caramelized Onion in Phyllo Cups

I saw this hors d'oueuvre listed in a VegNews article about perfect vegan wedding menus and thought I'd try creating the recipe myself since I couldn't find one on short notice.  The original called for puff pastry, but when I went shopping in the frozen foods section of my local independent grocer, all I found was the Fillo Factory phyllo dough, so I decided to make phyllo cups instead.  I figured I've made vegan spanikopita many times before, so how tough could this be?  I think the results went far beyond expectations.

Faux Farmers Cheese and Caremelized Onion in Phyllo Cups
(makes 1 dozen)
8 sheets of phyllo
¼ cup melted Earth Balance

8 oz. extra firm tofu
4 oz. Tofutti cream cheese
4 oz. Daiya mozzarella
1 Tbl nutritional yeast
¼ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp sea salt
fresh black pepper
1 cup caramelized onion
olive oil

Start by laying 4 sheets of phyllo on a cloth towel that's on top of a wet paper towel.  Since the sheets are long, cut them in half, then make a stack of 8.  With a pastry brush, spread melted Earth Balance margarine evenly over the first sheet.  Lay a second sheet on top and brush with margarine, then repeat this process until all 8 sheets have been "buttered."  Cut the stack into 6 even squares and tuck them into the cups of a nonstick muffin pan.  You will need to do this process again in order to make a dozen phyllo cups.

Once the phyllo is in the muffin cups, get out your food processor to make the faux farmer's cheese filling.  Pulse together tofu, cream cheese, Daiya mozzarella, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, oregano, sea salt and pepper until it resembles the consistency of dry ricotta or goat's cheese.  Place about 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each phyllo cup, then bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, caramelize an onion in a nonstick skillet.  When phyllo cups are done, remove from oven and top with onion, then return to oven to heat another 2-3 minutes, or until filling begins to bubble and phyllo has browned.

These are best served warm straight from the oven, but if you cook them ahead of time, they can be reheated covered for 10 minutes, then uncovered for 3-5 more minutes to get them crispy again.

Christmas Dinner

While Christmas was a day off for Well on Wheels, it certainly didn't stop me from cooking.  The theme was Italian comfort food, which is a favorite any time of year, but with family around and a great big gollywhomper of a snowstorm brewing outside, this year it was particularly comforting.

Christmas Eve dinner was a potluck and I brought a family favorite:  Ratatouille.  While I must confess this is much more delicious in the summer with fresh produce from my garden, no one complained.  In fact, everyone loved it.

For Christmas, I brought some Faux Farmer's Cheese with Caramelized Onion in Phyllo Cups to my parents' house.  I can't rave enough about these little gems.  They're flakey, buttery, creamy and tasty and are the perfect little hors d'oueuvre to get the appetite going.  You'd never know they were vegan.  By popular request, the recipe can be found here.

My mom made some fabulous baked ziti with tofu ricotta and spinach for me - yum (thanks, mom!!).  There was also a heaping pile of kale, zucchini and yellow squash to accompany it.

For dessert I brought along some Gluten-free Gingersnap Cookies.  These came out particularly crisp and spicy, and I discovered they're pretty delicious dunked in chocolate peppermint stick soy milk.  Who'd have known?

One good thing about the timing of this snowstorm is that I'll have plenty of provisions to keep me well-fed and happy while digging out.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mac 'n' Cheese 'n' Stuff

Tonight's dinner was inspired by a client's request for Cauliflower Au Gratin, which I made earlier in the day for a holiday party.  Since it was so good and there was a bunch of cauliflower that didn't make it into the baking pan, I decided to make some for myself for dinner.  Once the cheesey sauce was bubbling away courtesy of a combination of Daiya mozzarella, Tofutti cream cheese, and WestSoy soy milk, I changed my direction to mac 'n' cheese, so I boiled some gluten-free Tinkyada pasta shells.  At the last minute I threw in some green beans for color.  Once it was cooked up nicely, I sprinkled a crunchy topping I had made earlier with toasted walnuts and vegan bread crumbs.  Mmmm... creamy, crispy goodness.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Japanese Eggplant and Tofu Saute

A friend of mine had a surplus of Japanese eggplant and offered me half a dozen (thanks, Harry!).  I took 3, which I thought would be plenty for me, and decided to make a saute for dinner the other night.  Right now, I wish I had some more (maybe I should have taken those other 3). Japanese eggplant, when sauteed to perfection, has a luscious quality in taste and texture that makes me think of cotton candy:   it's light, sweet, and melts in your mouth.   Served with basmati rice, this was another quick and easy dinner that left me satisfied.

Cafe Romeo

I was tipped off a few months ago that this little hole in the wall in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven had vegan pizza on their menu.  With actual vegan cheese.  And since then, a friend of mine had heard the same thing, along with rumors about vegan desserts as well.  This was enough to get me in the door for a visit this week.

Cafe Romeo is a sweet little cafe which features a fiery brick oven for pizza, a decent selection of paninis and sandwiches, a cozy seating area inside plus outdoor sidewalk patio, free wifi, and plenty of hot and cold beverages.  Their grilled tempeh with apple and butternut squash panini was what caught my eye, and when I saw that they also offer gluten-free wraps, I knew that's what I would order.  I was all set to rave about my selection until the young gentleman at the counter announced there were no more gluten-free wraps.  Then I asked about gluten-free bread.  Nope.  Same thing.  So I suggested, why not make it as a salad with some arugula, to which my server obliged.

I also ordered a cup of the escarole and white bean soup which together made a nice light lunch.  The bread went home wrapped in a napkin for Zinny.  At around $11, this was slightly more costly than the average lunch, though I'm always willing to pay a little extra to be able to order tempeh at a restaurant.

My vegan friend ordered a personal vegan pizza which came with spinach and olives, along with a soy latte.  The vegan cheese was by Follow Your Heart, which melts up nice and ooey gooey in those hot ovens.  Again, she was just happy to not have to drive 2 hours to Peace 'O Pie in Boston and be able to order vegan pizza at a restaurant in New Haven (Sally's and Pepe's take note!).  We also agreed that we're kinda happy it wasn't over the top amazing like Peace O' Pie.

Cafe Romeo is just a 5 minute drive from my house, and in the warmer weather it will be less than a 10 minute bike ride, so I can see myself having a weekly business meeting here.  Anyone care to join me, just ask!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Vegan Holiday Cooking Demonstration

On Sunday I gave a holiday cooking demonstration for the Northern Connecticut Vegetarian Society  featuring quick and easy hors d'ouevres made from polenta.  The recipes are gluten-free, vegan, and delicious.

Sliced polenta can be grilled or baked in the oven, then used as a base for canapes.  Alternatively, you can spread the polenta in a pizza pan for a gluten-free crust and bake it in the oven topped with sauce and Daiya cheese.  You can also use it layered in place of noodles for your favorite lasagna recipe.

I used it three ways topping the polenta wedges with Pumpkin Seed Pesto and Roasted Red Pepper Coulis and diced red pepper, as a tart with pumpkin seed pesto and grape tomato halves, and in a pesto lasagna.  Perfectly festive for Christmas.  Dig in!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Last Night's Dinner

I'm so fortunate to have clients who rave about my food and tell others how much they enjoy it.  A frequent comment I often receive is "it must be amazing for you to eat like this all the time."  well... umm... I shouldn't admit this, but... when it comes to my clients it's nothing but the best.  Yet, when I cook for myself... I just want super quick and easy, I work with whatever's on hand, and I don't often fuss over what the final product looks like.  Still, it's hard to go wrong with tasty vegetables.

So, last night I was working with half a zucchini, half a can of crushed tomatoes, and half a can of pinto beans left over from cooking for a client earlier in the day.  I also had a really, really ripe avocado and a small head of red lettuce that were on the verge of turning to compost in my fridge.  I decided on a salad topped with a Mexican style veggie sautee and sliced avocado.  I sweated an onion in olive oil, added the half moons of zucchini, then stirred in some aromatic cumin and chili powder.  Then I deglazed with the crushed tomatoes and a little water, and seasoned with salt and a few twists of fresh black pepper.  In 15 minutes I had a delicious and satisfying meal.

Spiced Hot Chocolate

There is no better remedy for the cold than hot chocolate.  And by that I mean "cold weather," not cold as in fever, sore throat, and stuffy nose. Although hot chocolate does make you forget how miserable you are when you're sick, at least temporarily.  So hey, go for it!

I'm just getting over my first cold of the year (yes, even us vegans get sick once in awhile); in fact, it's one of the first colds I can remember having in years.  I think it was the stress of the last week of the semester, combined with a hectic cooking schedule, and planning menus for several upcoming holiday events... which equated to:  no sleep.  Oh, yeah, and this crazy single-digit winter weather.  Brrrr... Which brings me back to my reason for this post.   Hot chocolate.  It warms you up.

I felt I needed an extra kick to mine, so I stirred in a bunch of spices which are not only warming, but healing:  ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves.  I even added a pinch of cayenne pepper to get the circulation going.  The end result?  ahhh... soothing as a soak in a hot tub.

Spiced Hot Chocolate
2 Tbl cocoa powder
2 Tbl Sucanat
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch sea salt
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pot and whisk together on medium heat until bubbles begin to form.  Bring pot to a low simmer for several minutes or until heated thoroughly, continuing to stir to remove any lumps (personally, I don't mind a few chunks of cocoa powder here and there).    

Monday, December 6, 2010


Normally when I do restaurant reviews they're of a vegan/vegetarian restaurant, or one which is at least veg-friendly.  Neither was the case when I sat down to eat at TGIFriday's (yep, that's right, the chain that features ads with patrons getting loaded after a hard day at work).  I'm not really sure what possessed me to walk through the doors, other than it was cold out, I was delirious from the cold, hungry because I had forgotten to eat lunch, and it was the only restaurant within walking distance of Town Fair Tire where I was getting new tires put on my car and had a couple hours to kill.  Plus, it was Friday.

I'd like to report that a vegan can happily find a decent meal here, but I'd be lying.  I think I scoured the menu three times in a vain attempt to flush out just one entree made without meat, and came up empty handed every time.  I contemplated ordering one of the salads but decided that for $12.99, after removing the chicken and cheese, I'd be left with ingredients that cost only about 35 cents, and I had organic lettuce sitting in my fridge at home.

Instead, I opted for the Fridays Fry Trio:  "an irresistible medley of thick cut Steak Fries, Sweet Potato Fries, and our legendary Crispy Green Bean Fries."  I'm a sucker for fried potatoes, so yeah, I couldn't resist trying this combo.  Plus, I had to find out what was so "legendary" about those green beans.  My server had no qualms about swapping out some guacamole and pico de gallo for the creamy bleu cheese and cucumber wasabi ranch dressings, so I was willing to give it a shot.

The Sweet Potato Fries were decent, but ION still wins in this competition (not that it's a competition).

The Steak Fries were a little less ordinary - more like hefty potato wedges that had been tossed in a significant amount of salt and a few extra shakes of the pepper shaker that were crisp and golden on the outside and creamy smooth on the inside.   I'm not complaining.

And then there's those legendary Crispy Green Bean Fries.  Inside the thick coating of breadcrumbs, you'd never know there was an innocent green bean.  I suppose that's why people like them so much.  I wish I had requested green beans au natural to counteract all the grease.  Alas, this was an appetizer, whose goal it was to make me want to indulge in more greasy goodness from the rest of the menu.  Or  wash it all down with a radioactive Appletini or two.  At least I have 4 new tires and my car doesn't shake any more when I drive it over 25 MPH.

This Week's Menu

I love the way all the veggies look just after being cut up and awaiting their turn in the pan.  Winter vegetables are particularly colorful since they're loaded with antioxidants and other immune-boosting vitamins and minerals to help protect us against colds and flu.  They just inspire me to get creative with orange-green color combinations.  As an added bonus:  the more colorful the vegetable, the more nutritious it is.

Warm, creamy, and spicy was the theme for this week's menu.  It's the kind of food I crave when the weather gets chilly and the snow starts to fall.  So beware clients:  you'll be seeing a lot of this theme during the next couple of months!  (fortunately, I've heard these are also customer favorites!)

First up was the Baked Tofu with Agave Dijon Glaze, Cinnamon Spiced Butternut Squash and Candied Pecans, and Fresh Steamed Broccoli.  I love the contrast of spicy mustard with the sweetness of the squash, plus the hint of cinnamon really makes it feel like a holiday for the tastebuds.

The second entree this week was a spicy and creamy Chickpea and Pumpkin Coconut Curry with Baby Spinach on Brown Basmati Rice.  These are my favorite flavors any time of year, but the richness of the coconut milk makes this a particularly hearty and satisfying meal on a cold evening after a long day at work.

Lastly is an entree comprised of several components satisfying on their own, but together I think they're over the top delicious:  Baked Sundried Tomato Polenta with Portobello Ragout, Escarole and White Beans, Topped with Toasted Pine Nuts.  Although it sounds like peasant food, there's quite a flair to the subtle flavors and textures that makes this an elegant dinner perfect paired with a glass of red wine.  Bon appetit!