Sunday, June 26, 2011

Asherah's Gourmet Gluten-free Vegan Burger

Even though I advocate eating fresh whole foods, there are times when this busy chef is in a hurry and doesn't feel like cooking an entire meal, so I'm always on the lookout for new convenience foods that are vegan and gluten-free.  I had heard about a frozen burger made by Asherah's Gourmet that was both, and when I saw it at Whole Foods after a soul-sucking day of running errands in the rain, I decided to pick up a package and give it a try.  

This was an expensive endeavor.  At $9.99, that came to $2.50 for each of the four frozen patties, so I was expecting greatness for the investment.  The burgers are made with all organic ingredients, with quinoa, sweet potato and coconut flour being at the top.  This sounded like a perfect savory-sweet combination, with a little bit of richness thrown in to make it feel substantial.  The box promised "A taste good enough to live for," which convinced me to take the pricey plunge.

So I microwaved a patty.  And then I tasted it after it heated for 3 minutes.  In retrospect, I should've taken a photo, because what came out of the microwave was pretty much a circular pile of quinoa mush. It seems the only thing holding it together were the ice crystals.  As for taste, it was pretty much like mushy quinoa.  Not what I wanted for dinner.

Somewhat disappointed and frustrated yet nonetheless undeterred, I set out to augment this lackluster patty into something edible.  I had a big bunch of basil in my fridge which made for a quick pesto.  And I had some mushrooms that I decided to saute.  I made a bed of a slice of gluten-free bread and dressed some fresh garden greens with a simple Dijon vinaigrette on the side.  This managed to come together into something quite elegant, and the final detail of a squeeze of Sriracha sauce actually transformed the meal from mundane to mmmm... good.

For future reference, I'd recommend saving your money and spending 15 minutes or so to cook some quinoa, then dress it with the accoutrements as I have done here.  All in all, it took about 30 minutes to pull this together, which was about 27 minutes longer than I had intended to take preparing dinner.  But as a challenge to spark my creativity, it was worth it.  

Snap Pea and Penne Pasta with Fresh Pesto

Garden fresh is the theme at Well on Wheels this week.  I have a bunch of peas vining up a trellis in my garden and I picked a handful the other day, so I decided they'd be the feature item on my lunch menu.  It also helped that my basil plant is bushy and ready to be trimmed and transformed into pesto.

Any time you're looking for a quick alternative to ubiquitous marinara on your pasta, pesto can't be beat.  It's light, bright, garlicky and good.  How can you possibly go wrong with that combination on a warm summer afternoon?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bavarian Spiced Portobello Mushroom Pasta

It was a dark and stormy night... and there wasn't much in my fridge except a lonely portobello cap and half a can of diced tomatoes.  So, I settled in to accepting the likelihood that there would be another pasta dinner on the horizon.  But tonight I decided to try something a little different.

I poked around my pantry for a box of spices a friend had gotten me for New Year's Day (thanks, Jessica!) and discovered this one marked "Bavarian Style Seasoning" which had me intrigued.  The label stated that this was a hand-mixed blend of crushed brown mustard, rosemary, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and sage. It sounded sausage-y to me, so I figured it would work well with the portobello.

I started by dicing the mushroom and sauteing it in olive oil until soft and lightly browned.  Then I threw in some sliced garlic and fresh basil. Once the garlic was golden and fragrant, I added about a teaspoon of the spice mix and some salt and pepper.  Instant aroma!  I deglazed with the tomatoes and let the sauce simmer until it thickened, about 10 minutes.

I tossed the penne pasta with the sauce, then topped it with some fresh thyme sprigs from my garden.  For a twist on the standard pasta sauce, this hearty, savory, and slightly tangy topping was a success.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rawsomely Garden Fresh

I'm so excited to see green stuff growing in my garden... and it's not just weeds!  Yesterday I trimmed my first batch of Mesclun Greens and made a big salad for lunch and a little side salad for tonight's dinner.

Nothing you buy in the grocery store, not even organic, comes close to how delicious and delicate these leaves are.  They're loaded with water and the sun's energy, and they're sweet, too.  Without sounding all new agey and mystical, they really do feel like a life force is entering your body.  In a good way.

I also made a creamy cashew dill dressing to drizzle on top.  The dill was also fresh from my garden, and the flavor was light and refreshing, unlike the dill you get at the grocery store which I often think has a flavor reminiscent of gasoline.  This was pure dill, and heavenly, too.

Yesterday's lunch was topped with an avocado.  There's nothing better than sitting outside on the deck in the sunshine, eating a meal made from produce that you pick with your own hands right out of your garden that you planted.  And as I sat munching away, I thanked the sun, the rain, the compost, the seeds, and the alchemy that brought it all together in the form of lettuce on my plate.

Tonight's salad had the same dressing, a few remaining greens, a handful of snap peas also from my garden, and some grilled tofu leftover from Father's Day.  Pretty nice way to start the summer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chillin' and Grillin'

It's the middle of June, which normally is the time of year for grilling.  But with the weather we've been having, it's become a challenge to fire up the grill between raindrops.  I was in luck this weekend when some friends managed to squeeze in a cookout just as the clouds broke.

While there isn't much local produce ready, we did enjoy some cute baby zucchini, radishes, orange bell pepper, red onion, oyster mushrooms, and bok choy marinated in teriyaki sauce.  This made for a tangy  sweet and spicy combo perfect with a little bit of charring.  I think my favorite was the bok choy with its green ends all crispy and sweet as a contrast to the slight bitterness of the stalk.  Plus, it made for a lovely presentation.

Because there was a slight chill to the evening air, I brought along some lemon lentil and jasmine rice soup to warm us up.  All in all, a perfect pre-summer dinner out on the deck.

Chickpea and Sundried Tomato Pate with Field Greens

The other day I was in a hurry for lunch (what else is new?), so I was thinking a quick sandwich would be the easiest solution for my hunger.  But then I looked in the fridge and didn't find any Daiya cheese, and I didn't feel like having peanut butter and jelly.  Again.  So I poked around my pantry and found some garbanzo beans which I thought I'd whip up into some hummus really quick and be out the door in 15 minutes.  Alas, I had no lemon, and you really need lemon when you make hummus.

What to do... what to do...  I set my mind to thinking what else might work well blended with garbanzo beans and had an epiphany:  sundried tomatoes!  Yes, definitely... they'd add a nice savory undertone and take the spread to a whole other level.  Since I still wanted a little lemony hint, I added some coriander to the puree.  I must say, this could easily become a regular sandwich filling in the Well on Wheels "quick and easy" repertoire.

I served mine all pretty as an open-faced sandwich on top of field greens fresh from my garden along with sliced cucumber topped with micro dill (also from my garden), and a few twists of Hawaiian Red Sea Salt and Grains of Paradise.

"Better Than Hummus" Chickpea and Sundried Tomato Pate

1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tbl tahini
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 tsp dried coriander
1-2 Tbl olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
squeeze of Sriracha sauce (optional... though I do think it added just the right kick)
enough water to get smooth consistency (a couple tablespoons should suffice)

Puree all of the above ingredients in a food processor.  Gradually add enough water at the end to get a smooth consistency.  I wanted mine thick and fairly dry for the sandwich filling, but if you were using this as a dip you could add more water to make it smooth and creamy like hummus.  Sooooo.... good!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This Week's Menu

Entrees this week were a mix of hot and cold, in keeping with the weather which ranged from scorching heat wave to rainy fall chill.  I hope everything meshed with the schedule.

For the early week heat wave:  A Mock Chicken Salad with Cool Cucumber, Tomato and Quinoa and Greens

For the midweek cooldown:  Baked Tofu on a Bed of Penne with Basil, Sundried Tomatoes, and Snow Peas

For the chilly rainy comfort food meal:  Baked Polenta with "Sausage" and Mushroom Ragout and Zucchini Spears

Broccoli Pancakes

Yes, you read it right.  Pancakes made with broccoli.  How on earth could that possibly be good, you ask?  Well, I know, broccoli doesn't exactly conjure up the idea of baked goods, unless it's in a quiche or a knish or maybe even a strudel, but believe it or not, this actually worked.

Reuters Health recently reported a study which concluded that broccoli will help you live longer, though the unscientific response was that people still struggle with getting enough fruits and vegetables in their diets, specifically those in the Brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens, etc.).  So a friend of mine challenged me with the idea of making a "choccoli" donut since we all know people love their chocolate and the donut might be a good vehicle for this often maligned veggie.  I have yet to master the Choccoli Donut.  Instead I thought I'd start with baby steps by making a broccoli pancake for breakfast this morning.

It's made with my standard gluten-free pancake recipe as a base, but then I pureed a few florets of broccoli with the rice milk for the wet ingredients.  I also added a diced Granny Smith apple, chopped pecans, and craisins to the mix.  The result was a fluffy pancake with enough substance to keep me satisfied all morning.  And you'd never know you were getting the longevity-boosting benefits of broccoli in every bite.  Yum!

Gluten-free Broccoli Pancakes
3/4 cup all purpose gluten-free flour

1/4 cup rice flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt 
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp xantham gum 
1 cup rice or soy milk pureed with 1/2 cup fresh broccoli florets 
2 Tbl agave syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbl coconut oil, melted

1 Granny Smith Apple, diced
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
2/4 cup dried cranberries

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients, then add to flour mix. Stir well to combine, then mix in apple, pecans and dried cranberries.  Let batter sit about 5 minutes while you heat your non-stick skillet on medium high heat. Melt about 1 Tbl coconut oil in hot skillet and drop about 1/4 cup of batter in the pan for each pancake. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until golden grown. Top with real maple syrup.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Father's Day roundup

Getting ready to fire up the grill for Father's Day?  Or maybe you've already warmed it up on Memorial Day and want to try something different this month.  Either way, there are some great menus to discover for the vegan dad who enjoys his food cooked in the good old outdoors.  Here are some sites to check out for inspiration:

Father's Day Vegan Barbecue - Vegetarians in Paradise put together this fabulous menu for dad that includes skewers of seitan and veggie kabobs which heat up nicely on the grill.

Dad's Day Afternoon - Great title, and great recipes from Vegetarian Times.

Eco-friendly Vegan Father's Day - A complete menu of appetizer, entree, beverage, and dessert recipes that are environmentally conscious and vegan.

"Cheesey" Tofu Scramble - Why not surprise dad with breakfast in bed?  This video shows you how to get dad's day off to a hearty and heart-healthy start.

Gifts for Dad - Vegan buying guide for dads who love to cook.... and brew beer!

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 3, 2011

What I eat

I'm often asked what I cook for myself for dinner, and while the standard answer is "something quick and easy," I do try to be creative.  Or at least use one ingredient that's fresh, seasonal, and a little different.  So this week I prepared a few entrees for myself using something from my garden in each one.

On Tuesday night it was a curried tofu scramble made with potatoes, mushrooms, and some collard greens from my garden.  I topped it all off with chive blossoms which were blooming in a pot on my sunny backyard deck.

On Thursday night it was even easier.  I thinly sliced a Russet potato, layered it in a baking dish with some chopped onion, drizzled some olive oil and sprinkled salt and pepper on top, then baked it in a hot oven until the edges started getting browned and crispy.  For the last 5 minutes I topped it with some Daiya mozzarella style "cheese" and let it get all melty.  Then I pulled it out of the oven and squeezed some Sriracha sauce on top, and garnished with fresh chopped parsley from my garden.  This was dinner divine.

Tonight I went for the old standby of pasta.  I decided to make a vegan bechamel sauce since I had a head of broccoli that needed to be used.  I made the sauce by pureeing tofu with mellow white miso, raw cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic, olive oil, soy milk, and sea salt.  I topped it all off with some fresh thyme sprigs, which added a lovely lemony flavor to the final dish.  Simple, yet oh so satisfying.  Welcome summer!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Vegan Memorial Day

Ahhh... I love a picnic.  It's the perfect way to kick off summer, and what better day than Memorial Day?   So we had a little feast which started with a spread of garlicky hummus and fruit salad.

The picnic continued indoors with a pile of potato salad with chive blossoms, grilled tofu topped with onions and mushrooms, salad with fresh corn salsa, and oven-roasted potatoes (hey, you can't have too many potatoes!).

For dessert I tried an impromptu shortcake recipe to accompany the blueberries and strawberries, which fit the color theme of the holiday quite nicely.  And... success!  My gluten-free modifications resulted in a light and fluffy cake that peeled perfectly from cupcake papers.  I think I'll be making a habit of this one.

Gluten-free Shortcake
1 1/2 cups soy milk mixed with 1 Tbl apple cider vinegar
2 cups all purpose GF flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2tsp sea salt
1 cup Florida Crystals sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare muffin tins with 24 paper liners.  Sift together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add soy milk mixture and oil and whisk until there are no lumps.  Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full.  Bake 15-20 minutes, or until light and springy and toothpick comes out clean.  Cool shortcakes and carefully remove from paper liner.  Slice in half and top with fresh berries.