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Saturday, February 26, 2011

This is How We Roll [Sushi!]

I usually stick to simple recipes, but I was feeling a little adventurous lately. Danny and I used to enjoy going out for sushi when we could eat fish. Now the "vegetarian sushi" we order with a skimpy cucumber and carrot stick per roll just doesn't cut it. We decided to create or own Japanese dining experience, complete with wooden takeout chopsticks. The first recipe listed in Veganomicon is for "Spicy Tempeh Nori Rolls," which is a vegan take on the "spicy tuna roll." We chose this recipe as well as the "Yamroom" version, which is stuffed with mashed Korean sweet potato and shitake mushrooms. I prepped the spicy tempeh mixture and steamed the sweet potatoes and
mushrooms ahead of time, then brought the ingredients to Danny's house for the assembly. There we cautiously followed the instructions for making perfect sticky sushi rice, which was actually super easy (but you MUST use white rice that is labeled "sushi rice" on the package if you want it to stick nicely!) While the rice was cooking, we sliced carrots, cucumber, and avocado into long, thin sticks. After the rice cooled, we laid out our bamboo mat with a sheet of nori seaweed on top, spread on some rice, and piled on the fillings. Now it was time to roll: with a few flicks of the wrist Danny had created a perfect photo-worthy maki roll. Feeling competitive, I attempted an inside-out roll (the kind you usually see in Japanese restaurants, with the white rice on the outside). I rolled in the wrong direction the first time, so I couldn't get the roll to stick. The inside-out roll was definitely more time consuming, and our tummies were rumbling, so we stuck to the tried-and-true rolling method. In the end, we successfully created 9 maki sushi rolls, enough for dinner and leftovers. The "Spicy Tempeh Roll" was filled with the spicy tempeh mixture, carrot, cucumber, avocado, and sprouts. The "Yamroom Roll" was filled with mashed sweet potato, shitake mushrooms, and carrots. We included sesame seeds inside and outside the rolls for flavor and garnish, and we served them with pickled ginger, wasabi, and tamari soy sauce. We included small side dishes, like miso soup, cucumber and wakame seaweed salad, and a carrot salad. Overall, the process took awhile, but it was really fun and the sushi turned out so flavorful! What are you waiting for? Get rolling!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Starting the Day With Steel-Cut Oats

My favorite meal of the day is breakfast. Not your eggs-and-bacon kind of breakfast. Not even waffles or tofu scramble. I wake up each morning looking forward to a nice hot bowl of....oatmeal! In the past, I would stock my pantry with flavored instant oatmeal. I eventually moved on to rolled oats, which have slightly more fiber, but are still rolled, steamed, and toasted before they make it to supermarket shelves. A few months ago I switched to steel-cut oats, also known as "Scottish" or "Irish" oats. Steel-cut oats are less processed, and pack more nutrition, flavor, and texture than instant or rolled oats (they have a hint of nutty flavor and nice chewy texture). The only downside is that like rice, steel-cut oats must be cooked on the stovetop for about 20-30 minutes. I have solved this problem by cooking a big pot of steel-cut oats on the stove every Sunday morning. I make enough for 7 servings, and I store it in the fridge for the week. Each morning I place one serving in a bowl, cover it with some non-dairy milk, and pop it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes to warm it up. Afterwards, I top with fruit, nuts, spices, etc. My favorite combination is Banana Cocoa Walnut: 1 tsp. cocoa powder, 1 sliced banana, 1 tbs. chopped walnuts, 1 tsp. ground flax, 1 tsp. chia seeds, and 2 chopped prunes. I have been eating this breakfast for a few months now, and I have been feeling much better in the mornings. It is easy to digest, keeps me alert, and keeps me feeling fuller longer. I was inspired to write this post by a new blog I discovered. Healthy Slow Cooking catalogs dozens of vegetarian and vegan slow cooker recipes, but its main focus seems to be steel-cut oats. I can't wait to try out the different variations; I was thinking of making the "Carrot Cardamom Oatmeal" first!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Very Vegan Birthday

My birthday was this past weekend. I didn't plan on doing anything special, but some of my coworkers from Starbucks surprised me during my shift Friday night. Katie brought me some amazing oatmeal-banana-walnut-chocolate chip cookies from Sal's Meat Market (who knew an Italian deli could make such delicious vegan cookies?) Mary came for a visit and sneakily placed some of her famous cupcakes in the fridge. They were chocolate with green frosting, topped with yellow frosting piped Oreos that looked like sunflowers. And of course they were as delicious as they looked! Tabitha and Dan got me a Calico Dragon bag that boldly states "Vegan for Life" on one side and has cute cartoon animals labeled "Not for Human Consumption" on the other. I checked out the website and a portion of all proceeds go to animal charities, and the bags are made by a woman in China who is able to support herself and her son through her business. On Saturday morning, my mom and I set out to use up my big box of Hodgson's Mill Buckwheat  Pancake Mix to make a few batches of vegan waffles. In my house we probably make pancakes or waffles only once a year, so we had to dig deep in the garage to find the dusty waffle maker. For the most part, I followed the recipe on the box to a tee (replacing the dairy milk with coconut milk and the egg with 1/2 of a mashed banana). I don't like plain pancakes or waffles though, so I had to throw in some frozen blueberries, chopped walnuts, and a dash of cinnamon. The batter wasn't runny like I remember Bisquick batter to be, so we literally had to spread it on the oiled waffle maker with a spoon. The first set of waffles was so thick that they split when we opened the waffle maker, and we could have stuffed them to make a waffle sandwich. The next few came out a bit lighter and crispier. In the end, they were tasty and we topped them with Earth Balance, organic Vermont maple syrup, almond butter, and raw cinnamon honey. Yesterday was my real birthday, so my mom, Danny, and I went to 3 Brothers Pizza Cafe for dinner. Danny and I have been going there nearly once a week recently, and we wanted my mom to try it for the first time. We started with eggplant rollantini, which was stuffed with tofu-cashew ricotta and topped with Daiya mozzarella cheese and nut parmesan. The dish was so fresh and delicious, and my mom was really impressed with the resemblance to real cheese. We then shared our favorite custom pie: whole wheat crust, tomato sauce, tofu-cashew ricotta, broccoli rabe, grilled portobello, and grilled eggplant. We even brought a few slices home for my dad to try and he had no idea he was eating vegan ricotta cheese. Last night, my aunt, uncle, and cousins came over for birthday cake. I baked a Mocha Fudge Pudding Cake from Jae Steele's Get it Ripe cookbook. Danny and I baked it the day before: it was a really quick and easy recipe, but its ability to hold its shape was questionable. The cake batter consisted of spelt flour, cocoa powder, ground espresso, agave nectar, coconut oil, soy milk, and vanilla extract. Once the batter is transferred to a baking dish, you pour 2 cups of hot coffee over the batter. The batter was pure liquid, and even after baking for an hour the cake came out bubbling like molten lava. Once I refrigerated it overnight, the cake settled and formed a nice thick pudding on the bottom. I served it over vanilla soy ice cream, and it was a big hit.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Confessions of a [Food] Shopaholic

I love to shop. And I don't mean clothes shopping, I mean grocery shopping. I only make 2-3 trips to the grocery store a month, but I really stock up each time I go. I never really buy anything unnecessary though; I stick to the staple foods on my shopping list. Lately I've been trying to see how long I can go with just the staples in my pantry, fridge, and freezer. That means I have to search my cookbooks and recipe databases online to find recipes that will utilize what I have on hand. Last night I made an "Ethiopian-Inspired Red Lentil Soup" from Fat Free Vegan. It wasn't as flavorful as I expected, and the tiny red lentils nearly disintegrated into the stew. I also substituted peas for the string beans and added some bulgur wheat. I'm not a huge fan of potatoes or peas, so I think those ingredients turned me off. It definitely wasn't bad, but next time I would prefer it spicier and with some injeera bread to dip in the stew. I also had some fresh basil in the fridge, so I made the pesto recipe from Vegan With a Vengeance, replacing the nutritional yeast with hemp seeds. I made the pesto a little too salty and garlicky, but it was delicious nonetheless. Just when I thought I was done cooking, I had an urge to bake. Since I had work at 5am the next morning, I decided to make a quick and easy recipe. The recipe for"Vegan Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Cookies" was printed in my local newspaper recently, and despite the misleading title, it does not contain any artificial sweeteners! By "sugar-free" it just means without refined sugars. Instead, this recipe uses only 2 tbs. of pure maple syrup and bananas to naturally sweeten the cookie. I found the exact recipe online here, but don't be fooled by the horrible reviews! This cookie is chewy and moist, with just the perfect amount of sweetness. I added carob chips to some of them to give a chocolately flavor. I'm sure they are really versatile too--just maintain the same ratio of wet-to-dry ingredients. You could probably use almond butter, coconut flakes, dried fruit, nuts, etc.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reunited with "Vegan With a Vengeance"

When I first became vegan, my mom borrowed Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan With a Vengeance (VWAV) cookbook from the library that she works at. Having been so overwhelmed with new information about veganism at the time, I only made one or two recipes from the cookbook. I had been resisting purchasing any cookbooks over the past few months since my mom works in a library, but I finally caved recently and bought both Vegan With a Vengeance AND Veganomicon. I started the week with one of my favorite recipes of all time from VWAV, "Tempeh and White Bean Sausage Patties." These do not really resemble breakfast sausage patties, but they taste far superior!  I have gotten my family members to try this recipe, and I now have to hide the patties from them if I want to keep any for myself. I have made this recipe over half a dozen times and I've tweaked the recipe to perfection:

  • 8 oz. package tempeh, crumbled into bite-sized pieces (Lightlife Tempeh with Wild Rice is best)
  • 1 -3 tbs. soy sauce or teriyaki sauce (I use a blend of tamari soy sauce and Soy Vay Hoisin Garlic Marinade)
  • 2/3 can cooked black beans (sub white beans)
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced 
  • 1/2 tsp. fennel seed, crushed
  • 1/2 tbs. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh sage (about 5 leaves)
  • pinch cayenne pepper (sub paprika)
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbs. hummus (sub tomato paste)
  • 1/8 cup wheat germ (sub bread crumbs)
  • 1/8 cup nutritional yeast
  • dash salt/pepper
  1. Place tempeh into a saucepan and just barely cover with water (some tempeh can peek out); add 1 tbs. soy sauce, cover and bring to boil; simmer for 15 min or until most of water is absorbed; drain remaining water and transfer tempeh to a large bowl
  2. Add beans to the bowl of tempeh, give a quick stir, and set aside to allow the beans to heat up 
  3. Give the saucepan a quick rinse and dry; saute garlic and fennel seed in 1 tbs. olive oil over low heat, just until fragrant (about 1 min); add remaining spices and stir constantly for 30 seconds; add to the tempeh mixture along with hummus and remaining tbs. of soy sauce
  4. Mash everything together with a potato masher or fork, until it’s  just a bit chunky and there are no whole beans left (you don’t want it pureed, you should still see some beans); add wheat germ and nutritional yeast and combine well with fork; taste for salt and spices and adjust as needed; let sit for 15 min to allow flavors to meld
  5. Form into patties, using about 3 tbs. of mixture; heat remaining tbs. of olive oil over medium heat; cook the patties until brown, about 3 min each side; you may need to add a little more oil when you flip them over
  6. Serve with tahini or rolled in a wrap with hummus
The tahini drizzle is a must for this recipe! For those of you who have never heard of tahini, I'm sure you've had it in hummus and never realized! Tahini is a paste made of sesame seeds, and it is usually sold in a peanut butter-sized jar in the nut butter section of the grocery store. It's also the base for hummus that makes it creamy and a bit tangy.

I also tried a new recipe from VWAV: "Curried Split Pea Soup." If you're picturing your grandmother's green split pea soup with chunks of ham, think again! This split pea soup is pig-friendly and is flavored with a blend of Indian spices, onions, garlic, and fresh ginger. It is so easy to make--just throw the ingredients into a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for an hour! This recipe resembles one of my favorite Indian inspired recipes that I would make in college with yellow split peas. I used to serve it with brown basmati rice or pita bread for dipping. Don't be intimidated by the long list of spices and herbs that I used in both of the recipes listed above! If you will be cooking a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes, spices and herbs will give your dishes fantastic flavor, color, and health benefits. Most of the spices listed above can be found at your local grocery store. Buy the smallest containers that you can, and they will usually last you the whole year. Many of these spices can be purchased cheaper in bulk at health food stores and ethnic grocers. As for herbs, I grow most of my own outdoors in summer and dry them or freeze them for winter. You can do also dry or freeze fresh herbs purchased at the store to have on hand all year. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Dining Out As a Vegan

One question I always get as a vegan is "where do go to you eat out?" Back in high school and college, I usually frequented places like Applebees and TGIF's with my friends. Unfortunately, you're lucky if you could find a salad without meat and cheese in these kind of places. Nowadays, I stick to places that specialize in vegan or vegetarian food so that I don't have to annoy the staff with special requests. On Long Island, my favorite vegan-friendly places are:

  1. 3 Brothers Pizza Cafe, Rockville Centre (offers separate vegan and non-vegan menus with vegan brunch on Sundays)
  2. Tula Kitchen, Bay Shore (offers both vegan and non-vegan menu options)
  3. Dosa Diner, Hicksville (full vegetarian menu with vegan dishes)
  4. Taj Tandoor, Deer Park (offers both vegan and non-vegan menu options)
For a quick and inexpensive bite to eat, the following places can easily accommodate vegans:

  1. Chipotle (rice, beans, veggies, guacamole, and salsa make for a very filling burrito)
  2. Whole Foods/Fairway Market (load up your tray for dine-in or take-out; ingredients are listed above the prepared foods to help you scope out vegan dishes)
If you live near a big city, specialized vegan restaurants can be found in nearly every neighborhood. Most of them are clustered around college campuses. On Long Island we only have a half dozen or so restaurants that specialize in vegan/vegetarian cuisine. When I'm starving and my growling stomach can't make the drive to one of these establishments I stick to ethnic restaurants. Ethnic restaurants are generally cheap, family-owned, and veg-friendly. Indian, Mediterranean/Middle Eastern, Thai, Japanese, and Mexican restaurants usually have menu options that are naturally vegan or can be made vegan. At Indian restaurants, be sure that your dishes are not made with ghee (clarified butter) and order whole-wheat roti, which unlike naan is a naturally vegan bread. At Mediterranean restaurants, check that falafel is made without egg as a binder and be sure that soups are made without animal-based broths. At Japanese restaurants, the miso soup is usually made with a fish stock. Also ask for your veggie sushi without roe (fish eggs). The black beans at Mexican restaurants are usually vegetarian, but the pinto beans are generally cooked with pork. Burritos, tacos, and fajitas can be made vegan by omitting the cheese and sour cream. Ask to substitute these ingredients with guacamole, salsa, or pico de gallo. Another benefit of ethnic restaurants is that many are BYOB--more money in your pocket! 

So being vegan doesn't mean you have to stay home and cook every night! If you must eat at a very vegan-unfriendly place with friends or family, just explain your situation to the waiter, put on a smile and ask in your sweetest voice if the chef can accommodate you. I've been to Italian restaurants where the waiter was more than happy to offer a pasta and veggie dish that was not on the menu (just be sure to tip generously for the extra care)! 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pumpkin: Not Just For Pies!

It pangs me to see all of the pumpkins that go to waste after Halloween. Sure the best pumpkins for Jack O' Lanterns might not be the tastiest, but they are still food! Aside from pumpkin pie and other pumpkin-y desserts, pumpkins have other great culinary uses! I prefer to roast cheese pumpkins or sugar pumpkins until they are sweet like butternut squash. As mentioned in my last post, I used my giant Long Island Cheese Pumpkin to make roasted pumpkin, corn, and sweet onion served over wild rice with a lemon, mint, and sunflower seed dressing. This recipe was a fusion of two of my favorite recipes of all time: 101 Cookbooks' Roasted Pumpkin Salad and Bon Appetit's Wild Rice with Roasted Butternut Squash, Leeks, and Corn. The pumpkin roasted up with unbelievable sweetness, and I still had 3/4 of the pumpkin left afterwards (plus all of the seeds, which I plan to roast)! Yesterday I pulled the remaining pumpkin out of the fridge and roasted all of it. I used some of it towards Mark Bittman's Autumn Millet Bake, and the rest I intended to roast and puree (for future use in pies and other desserts). When you hear "millet" you're probably thinking bird food (and indeed I used to feed it to my parakeets). Millet is gluten-free, highly nutritious, and was once considered a sacred grain in ancient China. In the recipe above, I toasted the millet before baking, so it has a nice texture that is a little crunchy and soft at the same time. So back to the pumpkin--the portion that I intended to puree seemed too stringy and tough for pureeing, so I plan to test out Veganomicon's Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onion and Sage Crumb Topping later this week. So far everything I've tried from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's cookbooks has been amazing, so I'm crossing my fingers for this one! Can you tell that the winter weather has me on a comfort food kick? Tonight I even tried Vegetarian Times' recipe for ginger tea to warm my tummy. When I lived in South Korea, a coworker of mine was give a thermos of homemade ginger tea similar to this by one of her students. Koreans drink ginger tea to protect the immune system and ease digestion. The version I made was super-spicy, so I diluted it with more hot water and added raw honey (consuming an occasional tsp. of honey is the only thing that prevents me from being a "strict vegan"). I will leave you with one last recipe before I go...I recently purchased four bags of Arrowhead Mills puffed cereals for only $1.50 each at Big Lots and the only thing I could think of to do with them was make granola bars. I used VegWeb's Creative No Bake Chewy Granola Bars recipe as the base and tweaked it a bit. I used a mixture of puffed brown rice, millet, and kamut. I used cashews, flax seeds, and hemp seeds as the nut/seed portion and medjool dates and figs as the dried fruit portion. I used agave as the liquid sweetener, almond butter, and a pinch of cardamon to complement the cashews and dates. So far the half dozen or so people who have tried them couldn't stop eating them. The recipe seems pretty versatile, so next time I might try a peanut butter and chocolate chip combination.