Saturday, August 27, 2011

This Week's Menu

As we prepare for Connecticut's first hurricane in 26 years, the theme for the week has become comfort food.  Really though, you know I could use any excuse for this theme since it always amounts to my favorite foods.

But there's still time for a cookout!  So our first entree features outdoorsy Barbecue Tofu with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Chili Lime Corn on the Cob.  I love the way the spicy BBQ sauce and chili powder contrast with the sweet corn and mashed potatoes.

Our second entree is a simple standard I don't often feature:  Sesame Ginger Tofu Stirfry.  I sauteed some lovely broccoli, snow peas, and carrots in this mix, and the colors and flavors go together nicely.

The third entree uses a creamy vegan bechamel sauce to bathe savory chunks of seitan.  It's paired with quinoa and fresh asparagus.  This is a lovely meal any time of year.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

On the Menu

This has been a whirlwind of a week as I get ready to teach classes for the fall semester, so this post is more of a recap of meals prepared over the last couple of days.  Lots of good ones, nonetheless.  Whenever people ask me the secret to good vegan food I always say, "sauces."  Once you master 4 or 5 key combinations, immediately your repertoire expands exponentially.  Such is the case with three items on the menu this week.

One of my favorites is peanut sauce.  Whoever thought to combine peanut butter with soy sauce (or in my case, wheat-free tamari) and turn it into a savory, spicy, silken concoction was a genius.  I love it on noodles, on rice, in a stirfry, or even for dipping summer rolls.  This week I poured it over  Baked Tofu, Wilted Cabbage and Carrots, and Brown Rice. delish.

Sauce #2 features Dijon mustard.  I pan-fried some tempeh then drizzled a sweet and spicy mixture of Dijon, agave syrup, lemon juice and olive oil over the top for an added layer of flavor.  This was served with Mashed Garnet Yams and Pan-fried Zucchini.

The other entree I made this week I also did a variation on for dinner tonight:  Spinach and Chickpea Coconut Curry.  At home I substituted Cabbage, Yellow Squash, and Green Beans since this is what I picked from the garden.  Instead of Chickpeas, I found a can of chili beans in my pantry.  The color was a little, shall we say... bold, but they were nonetheless good.  I tossed this heavenly stew with some leftover rice noodles for myself, and in 15 minutes it was ready to enjoy.

Here's the final dish, in progress, in case you'd like to follow along at home:

Start by sauteeing some veggies in olive oil.  I used onion, yellow squash, cabbage, and green beans.

Once the veggies have softened, add your spices and fresh ginger.

Next, stir in a can of full fat coconut milk.  (yup, go for it!)

Simmer for a few minutes to reduce the sauce and blend the flavors.  Then add your chickpeas (or in my case, chili beans), rice, noodles, or whatever else you want to put in the bubbling cauldron.

And there you have it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Udupi Bhavan

If you're as much of a fan of dosas as I am, you will know how excited I was to discover Udupi Bhavan, a casual little vegetarian Indian restaurant tucked away in a shopping plaza off the main drag in Middletown, CT.  It's 100% vegetarian, and most items on the menu are vegan.  Word of caution, however: though dosas are traditionally made with a batter of rice and lentil flour, they also use wheat flour here, so they're not gluten-free.  (Nonetheless, I took one for the team.)

We shared a few appetizers, including a monstrous platter of Vegetable Pakoras.  These were nothing like the little greasey, sometimes gloppy, golfball-sized fried dough balls typical of Indian restaurants.  Instead, these were somewhat like heavy-battered tempura using whole florets of cauliflower, slices of onion rings, wedges of potatoes, and even an entire green chili pepper (which fortunately wasn't too hot).

We also had the Potato Bonda, which had a filling similar to a samosa, though this was battered in a lentil flour then fried.  The outside was crisp perfection while the inside stayed moist and fluffy.  The tamarind sauce and mint-cilantro chutney complimented the mild flavors nicely.

Typically when dosas are on the menu, I sample the Masala Dosa, a large crepe filled with spiced potatoes and onions.  But since I spied Palak Masala Dosa, a crepe made with rice and spinach and filled with the same mixture, I decided this would be the one to try.  Now, dosas are usually quite large, but I think I could've wrapped myself in this one and worn it like a Snuggie.  And it would've been as delicious as it was comfy.

The other item we sampled was the Aloo Palak, a spinach and potato curry.  This was made with fresh tomatoes cut into large chunks, and had different flavors from what is typically found in most Indian restaurants.  Maybe a little allspice?  Maybe even some fennel seed?  It reminded me of Vadouvan, which was savory and delicious.

This is a destination restaurant, and worth the trip from anywhere if you're in the mood for some homey southern Indian food.  Or, if you are unfamiliar with these regional treats, this is definitely a place you want to make your first time experience.  A friendly, informative staff will help guide you in making the best selections.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pesto Quinoa with Stringbeans and Heirloom Tomatoes

The other day I went strolling through my garden and picked a colander full of veggies that presented me with a challenge.  I felt like I was on an episode of the vegan version of Food Network's "Chopped" as I pondered what to create for lunch from the ingredients in my basket.

With stringbeans, basil, and a tomato, the logical solution would've been some kind of pasta primavera, and even though I would probably eat that every day if I could, I wanted something a little different.  I decided to make quinoa the centerpiece grain since it's high in protein and I didn't want to open a can of beans for one serving.  And I also decided I wanted something cool, so "quinoa salad" was the operative term for my lunch mission.

When I looked in my fridge I found a half of a lemon, fresh parsley, scallions, and some walnuts, so instantly I decided I'd turn the basil into a pesto.  Then it all came together almost as instantly as the quinoa cooked.  I blanched my stringbeans, cut up the tomato and scallions, and piled them on top of the quinoa.

Then I tossed everything together into a lovely red-green-white confetti-like concoction.  Not only were the colors complimentary, but so were the tastes.  The sweet, creamy tomato and the sharp garlicky pesto melded and mellowed nicely when tossed with the quinoa.

In about 20 minutes I had a perfectly delicious and satisfying lunch to enjoy while sitting in the hot sun out on my back deck.

And here's a closeup (cause we foodies adore our closeups):

This Week's Menu

I've always said the key to good vegan food (or food in general, frankly) is having a few really awesome sauces that can be paired with just about anything.  That way you have versatility with menu creation and can instantly create layers of flavor with the addition of just one simple little element.

One of my new creations this week was a decadent cannelini bean pate made with sundried tomatoes, tahini, and lots of garlic.  I did a test recipe myself and served it for my own lunch on top of some gluten-free toast with mesclun greens, but since that wouldn't hold up too well after being refrigerated and microwaved, for my clients I decided to serve it on top of baked polenta and a bed of sauteed kale.  A handful of Daiya cheese and a squiggle of Sriracha top off this yummy treat.

The second entree features crispy pan-fried tempeh with a sweet and spicy Dijon glaze.  To balance the flavors, I combined the protein with baked garnet yam and broccoli.  I also love the bright green and orange contrast.

The third entree this week uses some late season asparagus (of which I'll always be a fan) paired with baked tamari tofu and a shallot cream sauce.  The quinoa is a nice foil to soak up the pool of creamy goodness in the bottom of the dish.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Raw Butterscotch Pudding with Blueberries

I've been craving sugar a lot lately (chocolate, in particular), which is a sign to me that something's out of balance, and I've been really feeling it.  Lots of stress doesn't help either, and I think I've been overcompensating by reaching for a handful of chocolate chips (vegan, but still...) every two seconds to lift my mood.  All that came crashing down recently, so I decided it was time to do a little eliminating, so to speak.

No more sampling of gluten-free baked goods.  No more chocolate (even in smoothies).  No more gluten-free bread and cereal... for now anyway.  I'm still having fruit though (whole, not juice), and doing my best to manage those cravings.  Last night was a challenge.  I really really really wanted some kind of dessert, so I poked around in my fridge for something that could be transformed into a treat and found some chia seeds, which make a nice gelatinous pudding when soaked in liquid.  I must say, what I came up with was pure genius.

I pureed a handful of cashews and 3 dried figs in the Vita-Mix with enough water to make a thick cream.  Then I poured this into a bowl and stirred in about 1/4 cup of chia seeds.  I let this sit in the fridge for about an hour, and what resulted was a thick, creamy pudding with a taste reminiscent of butterscotch.  Seriously.  BUTTERscotch. And just as thick and creamy as instant Jell-O pudding.  mmmmm...

I topped this luscious mixture with some frozen blueberries and enjoyed my sweet treat while watching Jake Gyllenhaal chase down the Zodiac.  Afterward, Zinny licked the bowl clean.  Dewclaws up!

Raw Butterscotch Pudding (serves 1-2)
1/4 cup raw cashews
3 dried figs
1 1/4 cups water
1 Tbl coconut oil
1/4 tsp vanilla
pinch of sea salt
2 Tbl chia seeds

Place cashews, figs and about 1/2 cup of water in a high-speed blender, and puree on low to chop into small pieces.  Gradually add remaining water, coconut oil, vanilla and salt and puree until smooth.  Pour into a bowl and mix with chia seeds.  Refrigerate 1hour, stirring every 10-15 minutes to be sure chia seeds are evenly distributed.

This Week's Menu

There was a bit of a heat wave this week, so I decided to make some entrees that could be eaten and enjoyed as cold salads.  It's always nice not to have to heat up the kitchen when the weather gets sticky.

The first entree featured an "Eggless Egg Salad" made from tofu.  I've served this to non-vegans and the response is always amazement.  "How do you get it to taste like eggs?"  ahh... that's the magic of tofu, and a little creative cheffery.  This was accompanied by some mesclun greens and a beet and walnut salad.

The second entree featured heaping piles of fresh basil.  I did a twist on the traditional pesto by tossing Penne Pasta with a Sundried Tomato and Walnut Pesto, then topped it with pan-fried zucchini and yellow squash.  I call this dish "summer in a bowl."

The third entree was a year-round favorite, Baked Tofu with Peanut Sesame Sauce, Cabbage, and Carrots on Brown Rice.  Eaten hot or cold, those flavors always come together nicely.