Soul Searching Twenty-Something Seeks Food Love: Settles For Food Like Most Days

Soul Searching Twenty-Something Seeks Food Love: Settles For Food Like Most Days

Friday, April 29, 2011

Fresh Spices Make All the Difference

I know. . .

We've all heard that using fresh herbs and grinding your own spices makes a huge difference in cooking.  We can add that to the list of advice that tells you organic makes a difference or fresh is always better than frozen or canned.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On to the Easter Entree

So while families everywhere were enjoying their lambs and hams in celebration of eternal life (because somehow we, as a culture, have equated slaughter with celebrations of life), I was at home debating what to make for dinner.

I'm a big fan of pasta, which has served me well in my new ethical walk of life, but I've grown tired of reading the sides of pasta boxes and trying to avoid eggs.  And, if we're being honest, one might be sustained by boxed pasta and red sauce, but one will never be nourished (physically or emotionally).

Enter Sweet Potato-Parsnip Ravioli with Shiitake Cream sauce!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Happy Ethical Easter!

I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday celebrations (or lack thereof).  I wound up on the latter end, as Michael and I are far from religious (at least not organized) and he spent most of the day studying for his final exams.

So I spent most of the day home alone in my kitchen.  Please, send me no pity, for I am much happier on these alone in my kitchen days than I generally am at large gatherings.  And, besides, if I did not have the day alone in my kitchen, I wouldn't have such a delicious offering to share with you!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mocha Ice Cream Tart

No, really, I believe the phrase "addict" has been applied to me in conversations about ice cream.
Last summer, I discovered a little ice cream shop with amazing peanut butter cup sundaes the size of my head.  Literally, huge scoops of ice cream smothered in peanut butter and chocolate sauce and crushed peanut butter cups, topped with a big ol' dollop of whipped cream.  Addictive.  Orgasmic.
I love ice cream so much that one of the most used gifts from my bridal shower was the ice cream maker attachment to my KitchenAid mixer.  I made all sorts of ice creams with that thing.

I have to admit, I was a little bit worried about getting through the summer without my ice cream fixes.  I like the mini ice cream sandwiches from So Delicious, but they definitely aren't a head-sized sundae of oozing goodness.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Making Insta-Food Hospitable

What a busy vegan I have been!  Not a day off from work in two weeks!

Of course, this has killed a little bit of the drive to tackle four hour baking adventures or start every meal from scratch endeavors, but have faith, Food-Romance, like real romance, wanes and grows.  It's a phase.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Burgers are a Special Gift

Who doesn't like a burger?

It is estimated that the average American eats anywhere from 1-3 burgers a week.  So, even conservatively, Americans are eating over fifty burgers a year.  The burgers we're talking about here are the meaty, greasy, fatty burgers, whether grilled with care at the neighborhood barbeque or fast food scarfed down in from the driver's seat. 

Burgers are an food archetype for Americans.  With a big ol' side of french fries and a slice of goopy apple pie, you have a cholesterol- and saturated fat-laden image of why the American Heart Association anticipates that by 2020, three quarters of the world's deaths will result from chronic disease, with coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease leading the way to hell (or heaven, if you can look this results in the eye and be an optimist).

And to make matters worse, the carbon footprint of our burger addiction is equally disturbing.  In the analysis of The Cheeseburger Footprint, Swiss research on the energy required to produce a hamburger is converted to the annual carbon footprint of a Hummer.  If Americans are eating an average of 3 hamburgers a week, we're consuming energy at a rate that would equal double the number of SUVs on the road IF every SUV on the road were the excessive gas-guzzling nightmare of a Hummer.

Still hungry for burgers?

I am.  Because, my tasty Hazelnut Mushroom burgers, don't require meat (a great improvement for carbon footprint).  I could eat three of these every week with out feeling guilty or gross!  And the best part:  my whole kitchen and house smell a-f-ing-mazing.  From the toasting of hazelnuts, the sauting of mushrooms, to the baking of the patties (with yummy pressed garlic and chives in them), my tummy has been rumbling away every time I inhale!

The orivinal recipe comes from Vegan Diner: Classic Comfort Food for the Body & Soul.  It's a fun little cookbook that I picked up, mostly because I crave me some macaroni and cheese once in a while.  (But I get by on macaroni and cheeze).  I'm most excited about the recipes for soy ice creams and shakes (since I have and love my ice cream maker), but decided to give homemade "veggie" burgers a try. 

I'm not going to act like I don't throw frozen veggie burgers from the grocery store in the toaster oven and eat them (on a moderately regular basis).  I do.  And, to be honest, between the packaging and the mass farmed ingredients, I'm sure these aren't the world's greenest burgers.  In their defence, I guarantee you that the veggies involved do not fart, so all the cow methane is at least out of the picture (saving approximately .73 Hummers a year. . .j/k).

But I found that the variety that I can enjoy in textures and flavors of homemade burgers, whether soft, chewy, bean-y, or veggie-y, is enjoyable in and of itself.

Anyone who knows me knows that i have a mushroom problem.  I'm a big sucker.  If a menu has anything that is "in a mushroom sauce" or "over mushrooms," I can't  help but order it.  I'm also the kind of person who compulsively eats nuts until the bowl is empty.  I just love them.  I love walnuts, cashews, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, you-name-it-nuts, I'll dig in.  So when I found mushroom hazelnut burgers, I knew where to begin.

I did a few things differently that the recipe called for.  I used wheat berries instead of flour for filler, to add some chewy to the burger.  I used shitake and baby bellas instead of crimini (because they were here in my house.  I didn't have an onion on hand, but I had fresh chives just begging to be chopped up and tossed into something.  Cooking isn't about fitting the mold of a recipe, but being able to flow freely in your kitchen and enjoying the outcome.

The Ingredients:

1 c TVP, rehydrated
8 oz mushrooms, sauted (they wanted crimini, but like I said, shitake and baby bella are what you see here)
1/2 c onion, sauted (replaced with a handful of diced chives)
3 cloves of garlic, pressed and sauted (YUM!!!!)
1 c. cooked brown rice (I used wild and brown rices, mixed)
3/4 coarsely chopped hazelnuts, skinned and toasted
1/4 c. vital wheat gluten
1/4 c. wheat flour (I replaced it with tasty wheat berries)
salt & pepper to taste

Start by chopping the mushrooms, garlic, and onion/chives in a food processor using the pulse function (don't make them mushy, make them chopped!). 
Add in the rice and tvp.  Chop (not mush) a bit more!
Finally throw in those hazelnuts and give everything one more good chop (still no mush). . .
Mix the chopped mixture into the flour & grain mixture.

Then, SMUSH UP SOME BURGERS!  Take off your jewelry and get your hands into your food.  Cooking is a visceral experience and the more connected with your food that you are, the more authentic (think Heidegger) your experience can be!
Bake your patties for 15 minutes.  Flip them.  Bake them again for 10 minutes.  Don't bake them too long, or you will end up with dried out crunchy burgers.  I made that mistake once and will never make it again.  Plate them up and enjoy a beautiful burger, that is not only nourishing with great whole grains and protein, but also tastes great (earthy and roasty with garlic and chive accents). 
I enjoyed mine on fresh ciabatta with cherry tomatoes, spring greens, and a smear of Vegenaise.  When homemade burgers are so tasty and filled with such simple ingredients, why bother with Boca?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Vegan Brunch: Take 2 or How I became Food-Addicted. . .

What makes for a better brunch than stacks of dense, rich stuffed french toast, oozing cream cheese, apples, walnuts, and REAL maple syrup, lightly dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar???

Stacks of dense, rich stuffed french toast, oozing cream cheese, apples, walnuts, and REAL maple syrup, lightly dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar that just happen to be vegan!

And if there is something that screams "HEAVENLY BRUNCH" more than this, I'm not sure that I've discovered it yet.

As a child, I was used to french toast meaning white bread, dipped in eggs and vanilla, fried and doused in Mrs. Butterworth.  I'm sure that while my eight year old self sat pouring high fructose corn syrup over my WonderBread and talking to the syrup bottle, I didn't believe that life got any better than this.

But it did!

I would venture to say that I did not go into the kitchen until I was in college, or, if I went into the kitchen before than, it was to pour a bowl of cereal or maybe toast a Pop-tart.  I was not food-obsessed from birth.  I was raised in an average suburb of a very small city, where throwing stuff in a pot and calling it casserole was dinner three nights a week (and let me say, to this day, sometimes dinner consists of Hodge-Podge in a Pot meals).

When I went away to school, I desparately needed a job my sophomore year of college.  My experience around food consisted of working over the summer in a soft serve ice cream shop for one year and waiting tables at a Friendly's (and if anything is the opposite of gourmet. . .). . .

I applied to be a bar cook at the red-neck-iest of dive bars.  I got the job and learned how to operate a fryer very quickly.  But I also was responsible for cooking the weekend specials, which included things like crab cakes (from scratch) and prime rib.  I would spend slower nights peeling potatoes for mashed potatoes and preparing pizza dough.  I learned alot of kitchen basics in the little bar, from food prep safety to how to work a meat grinder to mixing up a lovely barbeque sauce.

My aunt encouraged me to apply to wait tables at a lovely little BYOB in Chambersburg for a little bit of extra money.  I found out in the interview that there was a little barrier.  The catch was, no one was allowed to work the dining room until they had become familiar with the kitchen and menu, by working as a prep cook in the kitchen on Sunday.  My meager bar experience, although quickly developing my cooking skills, was not quite on par with the menu challenges and pace of a real restaurant kitchen. 

The chef/proprieter Deb had faith in me, for some reason, and I was there, the next Sunday, making tray after tray of stuffed french toast, grilling huge salmon filets, and whipping up hollandaise for eggs benedict, en masse.  I learned to make crepes, perfect lemon pancakes with fresh fruit, and whip up tasty omelettes.  Before too long, I had sharpened my teeth on the basics of cooking and had earned a spot working the front of house, where I really came into my stride.  It was the mentorship of Chef Deb, the faith that she had in me, and the patience that she provided for my learning curve that helped to expose me to the love of food that was innate in me. 

Recently, the restaurant has closed down.  When I found out, I cried.  It was a pivotal place for me.  And to think no one would be eating Deb's stuffed french toast on Sunday mornings--it was a tragedy!

For some reason, I have had a hankering for french toast lately.  Fortunately, a big excuse to make it has come up.  My "day" job consists of managing a Starbucks (come visit me in West Chester, PA), where I am a district coffee specialist, with a real passion for pairing food and coffee together to create lovely taste combinations.  I was invited to provide a coffee tasting for several of the upper management for our division (which covers the whole northeastern quadrant of our country) this morning. 

My parameters:  use Komodo Dragon, and earthy, herbaly, spicy, intense blend with complex and subtle flavors and a hint of acidity.  What does it say on the bag?  Enjoy with cinnamon dusted french toast!

FINALLY, I thought!  Deb, I will ressurrect the flavors of your stuffed french toast (to the best of my memory) in a vegan treat that is simple to make and impressive to even the meatiest of eaters.

Feeling adventurous?  Make your own loaf of bread!  I love baking bread, and guarantee that sooner or later, you will have some great breads on this site to try.  Unfortunately, It was nine o'clock last night when I got started and I needed to be in professional dress at the regional office at 7 o'clock this morning--not a recipe for baking homemade bread.

Always use the best ingredients that you can, but know when and how you can substitute.  This recipe is trained-monkey-easy as I'm about to present it to you, but if time and resources aren't an issue for you, step it up a notch ;)  I'm throwing in parenthesis some upgrades for you to try!

When I bake, I measure.  The truth is, when i cook, I tend to chuck things in a pot and see how it goes.  Forgive my flubby measurements.

You'll need:
1 Stick of Earth Balance
1/2 c (ish) of Soy Milk
(Vanilla or regular will work)
1 Tbsp (ish) of GOOD QUALITY Vanilla Extract
Generous sprinklings of Cinnamon
Blops of Nutmeg and Cloves
Some crushed Walnuts
(for a real treat, melt a little Earth Balance, whisk in some flavorful dark rum, toss walnuts in the "buttah" mixture, then toss them in a brown sugar and cinnamon mixture & toast--YUM!!!)
An Apple, diced (hours to prep?  try a vanilla poached pear instead:  Peel & Half an organic pear, sprinkle it with cinnamon, place it in a saucepan with  1/2 cup apple juice & 2 tsp Vanilla extract.  Simmer it for 20-25 minutes until tender--what an upgrade!)
1/2 c (ish) confectioner's sugar
1 small tub of Vegan Cream Cheese
(I like Tofutti best)
A loaf of long skinny bread (got time, make your own!)
REAL maple syrup
1. Slice your bread into approx. 1 inch pieces, with a deep cut through the middle (almost sliced entirely in half, but no quite, almost like a little tiny slider bun)
2. Whisk the confectioner's sugar into the cream cheese.  Fold in apple bits and walnuts, leaving behind enough nuts for a lovely garnish.
3.  Melt down your Earth Balance and whisk in soy milk and vanilla extract.  Pour in a bit of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.  Place mixture in a shallow bowl.
4. Mist (lightly) a non-stick skillet with a cooking oil and heat it on medium heat.
5. Stuff each bread bit with a spoonful of the cream cheese mixture, dip both sides in the "buttah" mixture, and place it in the skillet until the first side in a nice medium brown.  Flip it and brown the other side.
6. Present each piece (or two) on a plate with a fan of thin apple (or pear) slices, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and a light drizzle of REAL maple syrup.  Garnish with a few walnuts. 
7. ENJOY!!!!!! 


Oh, and my coffee presentation today. . . it was a big hit!  One of the Regional Vice Presidents actually went for seconds of my french toast.  And the cincher. . . I NEVER once mentioned that it was VEGAN. . . None of them knew any better that they had just had a tasty, ETHICAL breakfast. 

Let's add one point to the Guerilla Veganist!

If you are lucky, you have a great Indonesian coffee and a drizzly morning to pair perfectly with your french toast.  I can't wait to make the proper homemade bread, poached pears, and candied walnuts version of this recipe on my next lazy day off.  The cheater's version was so good, I am sure the "proper" verson of stuffed french toast a la chef Deb will be an astronomical improvement.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lazy Saturday Brunch


This Saturday is particularly special to me, because I don't have to be at work at six o'clock in the morning (which is the unfortunate norm).  So what does a perky little puppy like me do on a Saturday morning?

Well, I start off by ignoring my alarm clock and dozing for an extra half an hour.  And then, I realize that I'm super hungry.  I'm normally super hungry, this is my usual state of mind.  Next, I realize that I have time for a nice mellow breakfast/brunch, rather than scarfing down some cheerios, then eating a banana in the car, if I'm lucky.

And, lastly, I realize that I still have two little yams (sweet potatoes) left in my pantry from our last delivery from suburban organics.  They are nutritionally dense little nuggets, that most of us would recognize from our grandmother's  marshmallow and cranberry-laden Thanksgiving sides.  If you are lucky, you have a few great pubs or burger joints that will let you upgrade to sweet potato fries (also tasty, and potentially slightly more nutritious than their white potato equivalent).

But you are luckiest if you are enjoying sweet potatoes in a delightful hash like I was this morning.  It is just about the easiest and tastiest warm breakfast you can prepare for yourself.  And what a nutritional boost it gives you!  Check out the stats from World's Healthiest Foods.
If you are using organically grown sweet potatoes, PLEASE leave the skin on when you make this recipe!  Just give them a quick little scrub.  It will add even more goodies to your breakfast, as well as a delightful texture and flavor.  However, if your potatoes are not organic, I recommend peeling and washing them.  No amount of creepy wax or pesticide residue is worth a few exta nutrients.  And that is one more excuse to buy organic!

So you start off with beautiful, (hopefully) organic yam/sweetpotatoes and you chop them up.  My husband prefers little round disks whie I prefer little cubes.  I think the cubes stay crunchier, he says the disks cook faster.  Turn them into little shoestring fries, if you prefer. . . Size, shape, they don't matter.  At least not in the world of Potato Hash.  Other instances, it might matter.

All you need is a medium sized skillet and a touch of oil (you can get away with canola or olive oil, but I say, go for a nice tasty, high-quality EVOO). Throw in your little potato bits and fri them up on med-high heat until they are your desired texture.  I like them a bit on the crunchy side, so I tend to cook them up for just about 7-8 minutes, using the skillet-toss technique of rotating. 

Not feeling like throwing food in the air and hoping it lands back in your well-placed skillet?  Then just push them around with a wooden spoon.  But sooner or later, the excitement and allure of throwing your food will call you and you should answer.  Worst case scenario: a few tasty bits will wind up on the floor.  Sweep them up and move on.

Sweet Potatoes have a lovely flavor all on their own, but feel free to season as you like.  I use just a light sprinkle of coarse ground sea salt and a generous pinch of cumin.  I think cumin is just about the tastiest thing you can put on your potatoes.  Feeling a little autumny?  Tost a sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into the mix.  Dying for a sweet treat?  Try tossing your hash in a little bit (now, don't go overboard) of brown sugar or maple syrup (REAL maple syrup, please leave the fake butter-flavored, food-colored, sugar goop to the masses). 

The best part of this Breakfast Hash (other than its ease) is it's flexibility.  You can spice it as you like, or eat it as is.  You can make your potatoes into any shape that you like.  You can eat it for breakfast, but we enjoy it for dinner at least once a week, too. 

Sometimes, we will chop up other veggies (peppers, mushrooms, onions, and carrots have been all popular choices) and add some ground not-meat to it.  (We like SmartGround, but I've had it with Boca crumbles, too)  Hell, you can toss in ground beef, turkey, or lamb, as well, if those things fly in your house.  Add a bit of brown rice or other grain to add some bulk to the dish and create a great one pot wonder for a very filling meal.  This morning, I just browned a pair of Morningstar Veggie Sausages to add a bit of extra protein to my brunch.  I paired it with a glass of orange juice (which I FOOD-LOVE) mixed 1:1 with mandarin seltzer (I love the bubbles, but don't need champagne at 10:30 in the morning) for a great breakfast spritzer.
So in ten minutes time, this morning I was able to enjoy an awesome breakfast with fresh organic produce and yummy little sausages, absolutely NO meat, eggs, or dairy, and very little fat.  Don't feel tempted to just cut out the oil though, because a little bit of fat does a lot.  Without it, your body will be unable to fully process all the beautiful nutrients that you are feeding it.  There is a reason why we add a light touch of vinaigrette to our lovely salads (although there is a such thing as TOO much of a good thing.)