Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Warm White Bean Dip



I see the merits of having Thanksgiving in November. While I do prefer having it in October here in Canada, I think having Thanksgiving a little closer to Decmeber 25 could delay the inevitable Christmas chaos a little bit.

That being said, I'm definitely already in Christmas mode and our tree is definitely already up. And a quick glance at the calendar verifies that today marks exactly one month until the big man in red makes his rounds.

As such, I've been plotting food ideas for the various holiday parties and gatherings we have going on. Which is something I absolutely love because I really, really love apps and finger foods and the idea of grazing casually over a several-hour span, something that the waistline very rarely permits.

Vegan Christmas ideas are a bit tricky. You don't want to put out something too "freaky", because among some circles it may prompt a refusal to sample. Although it is kind of funny to see the panic on faces when you hint that tofu might be listed among the ingredients of whatever people are scarfing down. Back in the day, my face probably would be among those panic-stricken, don't get me wrong. It's just that now I find it kind of peculiar that a soy bean is considered weird and gross while something that was at one point squeezed out of a cow's nipple is considered quite normal and appetizing. One of the many items on my list of "Things that Make You Go Hmmm".

As a result of this peculiarity of our culture I generally try to avoid using tofu in party foods, because in my experience there is a lot of reluctance toward trying it. And generally I do try and eat minimal amounts of soy myself, so tofu-free dips and treats are a-ok with me.

This is a warm bean dip from Eat, Drink and Be Vegan. To me, it is reminiscent of the warm dips listed on menus of chain restaurants (in a good, comfort food kind of way). It goes great with fresh cut veggies and crackers, so it is perfect for the Christmas potlucks that are so popular this time of year. It also works great as a sandwich spread, if you're lucky enough to have any leftover.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Falafel



The first falafel I ever had was in Paris, France at a place called L'as du Falafel, located in Marais, a predominantly Jewish district of the city. It was the only place we ate at twice and I know I would have been glad to eat there every afternoon of our eight-day stay. To date, it is the best falafel I have ever had.

At L'as du Falafel the pita bread doubles as a bowl, which they then load up with the falafel, shredded cabbage and other fresh veggies, give you a fork and send you on your merry way (I was definitely covered in sauce after my attempt to make like the Parisians who surrounded me and eat it while walking around the Marais...fail!)

At this time I was vegetarian and not yet vegan, so I can't guarantee their falafel are vegan-friendly. If I remember correctly, they served them up with a tangy tzatziki sauce, which is not traditionally vegan however I remember the falafel balls being so flavourful that you could skip sauce altogether and not be devastated.

I've tried various pita-based establishments around here and nothing has even come close. I've also tried to make them at home but my attempts pretty much sucked in the taste department. I think I've figured out the problem, though - all previous falafel attempts were baked and not fried (in an effort to be a bit more health conscious, of course).

Now, I don't want this to be construed as me condoning frying. For the most part I think the frying method is used and abused in our North American culture and our arteries are suffering for it. However, when it comes to falafel - and I can't believe I'm going to say it - the flavour and authenticity come out of the frying pan.

I had decided to call in the "find me a great falafel on this side of the Atlantic" search party when I remembered seeing Isa's recipe for them in Vegan with a Vengeance. In the book she talks about singing songs about falafel at Jewish camp as a kid so I figured I better give her recipe a chance before assuming I would be falafel-less until once again finding myself wandering the streets of Paris.



[Falafel, pre-frying]


Ohhh. So good. So so so good and SO close to what I had at L'as du Falafel a year and a half ago. Paul also gave the meal a win, despite claiming to be not much of a falafel man.

Build your own falafel night is a super fun alternative to build your own taco night:



The sauce you see (very poorly) pictured on the right is a creamy tahini, also featured in Vegan with a Vengeance.

The only problem now is that I want to eat this every single day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Veggie Pizza



This pizza is pretty self-explanatory and thus I'm not sure it warrants its own blog entry, but it looked so pretty that I had to share.

Once an adamant supporter of the "pizza without cheese is not pizza" school of thought, hail the vegan gods, I am a convert.

I never realized how distracting the flavour of cheese was until I stopped eating it. So it's not surprising that the "pizza without cheese is not pizza" ideology exists, because it becomes (quite tragically, I think) the very essence of the meal in all its grease-high glory. It becomes how we define the actual thing we are talking about. So naturally when you suggest removing the "essence" it is often equated with blasphemy. Honestly, I wasn't sure how I felt about cheeseless pizza after going vegan so it took me awhile to even try it, assuming it would just "not be the same" and somehow disappoint me, or make me sad to be vegan, or what have you. I was wrong. I couldn't be more wrong.

I've always been somewhat okay with name-calling so call me what you will...I still suggest trying pizza without cheese.

Honestly. I never realized how overpowering it was and how it could take away from how good a spicy tomato sauce can be. And how amazing the fresh-cut vegetables always are. Instead, on traditional pizzas all of this variety gets suffocated under heaps of cheese that in turn sit like a huge lump in the gut area and cause you to curse yourself the next morning when you try and button your favourite jeans.

Now, I won't front like I didn't fancy me some cheese-on-everything back in the day. That overpowering, all consuming flavour almost becomes addictive, doesn't it? Even though I am now all but repulsed by it (seriously...everyone thinks I'm lying when I say that) I understand the difficulty people have with the thought of a life without cheese and quite honestly it was once upon a time my biggest obstacle in moving into la vida vegan. Especially when our culture seems to want to put it on absolutely everything with reckless abandon. I definitely get the apprehension.

However, when I finally determined that my interest in veganism and animal rights and solid nutritional health was stronger than my addiction to dairy products, I realized how much flavour I had been missing by hiding absolutely everything under a ridiculous amount of cheese. Especially in the case of pizza. Instead of the cheese it's now flavoured by the bright tomato sauce, the copious amounts of mushrooms, the fresh bell pepper, the artichokes and the garlic. For once I can actually taste all of it. It's almost refreshing, which is something I never thought pizza could be. Pizza was a meal for eating in sweatpants and sweatpants only, and feeling like a balloon post-ingestion. Now I have no problem having pizza for lunch and then going for a long walk after (I was going to say run......but who am I kidding), instead of groaning in agony on the couch (okay yes, I am starting to get ridiculous here and I do realize -at least hope- most people don't eat five slices of Little Caesar's PLUS crazy bread like I used to).

Further, when I went vegetarian I noticed some differences in how I felt but nothing compared to when I cut out all dairy. I can seriously cut my life in two...how I felt while I ate cheese and how I felt when I stopped and that feeling alone has curbed any sort of non-vegan craving. For real.

In summary: This picture is pretty. Cheese-less pizza is good. And I can't stay away from a good rant to save my life.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tempeh Hashbrown Casserole and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes



Despite not being much of a breakfast person, I get ambitious on the occasional lazy Sunday morning. Since we passed out on the couch at promptly 9pm last night (such partiers!) I was up fairly early this morning and decided we could use some hashbrowns.

Hashbrowns are the only exception to my "I Don't Like Breakfast" rule. I was also at the specialty grocer the other day and cleaned them out of Harry's tempeh so when I noticed the recipe for this casserole in Eat, Drink and Be Vegan I decided today was the day to give it a try.



It was really good. Even better sprinkled with a wee bit of hot sauce after it comes out of the oven...gives it the perfect bite.

After we finished eating, Paul declared: "If this meal were on Facebook, I'd fan it". So there you go. It's good.



I also have excessive amounts of canned pumpkin wasting away in the cupboard so I thought I'd make these pumpkin chocolate chip cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Isa says not to refer to these as muffins, but I don't think muffin is an insult and we thought them to be more muffin-like than cupcake-like, in a good way. There is a very slight cinnamon drizzle on the top to give them an almost sticky-bun kind of feel but they are not the same kind of traditional super-sweet-rot-your-teeth-in-a-good-way cupcake characteristic of the book. As such they make a better post-breakfast treat than traditional cupcakes. Unless, of course, you don't mind chocolate and buttercream at 8am (Truthfully, I'd be lying if I said I've never had a cupcake for breakfast).

Evidently we needed the hearty breakfast because afterwards we thought we were brave enough to start our holiday shopping at Toys'R'Us. On a Sunday. And we quickly realized we were over our heads when we watched a child punch her mother in protest of leaving the store. Yikes!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Buffalo Seitan Wingz



Holy Mother of All Things Vegan.

Not eating chicken wings is often equated with social suicide around these parts and admittedly, before veg we lived off them ourselves. We had them at least twice a week back then. It still baffles me that I couldn't figure out why I was gaining weight...I must have known deep down I just didn't want to know so Freud hooked me up with a little repression.

I don't miss them at all (even the term 'wing' now gives me the heebie jeebies), although I do miss the social interaction that often revolved around them, which won't necessarily be mediated by this vegan variety since it can be difficult to get omnis to try vegan foods. But it is always, ALWAYS cool when you can veganize something as non-vegan as a chicken wing. And, being the new veg that he is, the way Paul freaked out when he tasted them makes me think that maybe, just maybe they will pass the omni test (currently searching for test subjects - unlike traditional animal test subjects there will be no harm done to you, unless you consider awesomeness harm). Although it is often quite difficult to test these types of things on omnis because people expect things to taste exactly like their non-vegan alternatives and judge them based solely on that criteria alone and not whether or not they taste good of their own merit. It can be quite frustrating as a vegan cook and one of the reasons I very rarely try to mimic or make alternatives to things.

But this was all about my Paul, who never criticizes anything I cook even when it's really, really bad. And instead of the quiet "oh ya, it's good" meaning it's really not that good, his entire face lit up over these suckers. He pretty much took control of making them...which was fine by me because I had other side dishes to tend to. It was actually kind of cute, we were like a little gender-typed couple, him "manning" the "meat" and me making salad. (A little feminist-based humour as a nod to my gender relations past for your Thursday morning.)

The recipe for the wingz is here, on Vegan Dad. I couldn't find bamboo skewers, so we just didn't use them. As you can see Paul tried to shape a couple like traditional wings just to be cute, but it was too much work so we just ditched that idea and made them more like strips:



The one change I think I will make is baking them completely and then putting the sauce on because the wings we are used to around here are smothered in so much crap that it's all over your face (and in your hair...and on the ceiling) when you are finished with them. Obviously that much sauce is not good for anyone's insides, but I think we missed the stickiness a bit by doing them this way (although still very, very good). Vegan Dad actually made these a second time and they do look a bit stickier as well. There's a good chance we didn't use enough sauce either.

The side dish is garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes from How it all Vegan. And I also made a spinach and cucumber salad with Creamy Basil Dressing (from Eat, Drink and Be Vegan):



Oh, and for the best part...we used the leftovers for lunch the next day....BUFFALO SEITAN SANDWICHES! Hells ya we went there!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Miso-Butternut Squash Soup



I have come to the conclusion that there are several people out there who envision me as satan spawn because I have refused the H1N1 vaccination and have been quite vocal regarding my concerns with it. Now, don't get me wrong, your body is private property and because I firmly believe that I can't necessarily be anti-H1N1 vaccine. Although I am. For myself, anyway. Do what you will with your own body; I understand the complexity of scary issues like this. However I strongly urge you to do as much research as possible prior to committing to a side and do not let the criticism of others sway your decision. And as an FYI, this shot is not vegan and while I understand that for many people their veganism is a diet-only circumstance, I am first and foremost an animal rights advocate and environmentalist and this vaccination is neither vegan, nor green. For myself, I am avoiding this flu the same way I attempt to avoid every cold and flu, and that is by not panicking and doing what I can to take care of myself.

It's really very simple. Take care of your body so it can take care of itself. This means eating properly, resting properly, and exercising properly. It's funny to me how we will try absolutely everything to avoid diseases (big pharma is so high-fiving right now), to lose weight and get healthy (there was one time in my life that I paid money for an ab-tronic because I was so lazy. SERIOUSLY!). Our bodies suffer, our health suffers. Now, I don't think it's fair to completely knock the medical industry...there are folks out there with serious issues and I do not want to make light or victim blame, or claim that eating right and exercising will cure all disease. A girl can dream, but I am aware that this is not the case and there is real suffering going on out there that I cannot begin to fathom.

However, the hard, fast truth is that for the vast majority of us, eating properly and going for a walk every once in awhile will work wonders for boosting our immune systems and helping us naturally avoid the viruses so common at this time of year.

This means not only eating vegetables but eating a wide variety of vegetables (what many websites are so cutely referring to as "eating the rainbow"). Vegetables high in beta carotene are especially important for fighting viruses because they increase the number of naturally occurring infection-fighting and virus-fighting cells in your body. A good rule of thumb when looking for veggies high in beta carotene is consulting their colour - foods that are orange typically have significant amounts of beta carotene. Hence the butternut squash soup pictured above.

Miso is also believed to promote a healthy immune system and help the body bounce back from a run-in with a virus. Plus, on top of everything else, it tastes awesome.

This recipe is from Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons by Nava Atlas. I really do recommend this cookbook, especially for the chilly months ahead...a big pot of soup is good for the soul and good for the body too. Maybe there's something to be said about, when possible, letting your body do the work for itself prior to resorting to man-made concoctions.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spaghetti Squash Marinara



Before I even begin writing about this meal, I have to apologize for the hideous quality of this picture. Spaghetti squash is tricky to photograph on even the most patient of days, which Wednesday night was certainly not. We spent hours wandering around town in search of a new artificial xmas tree for this year and didn't get home until fairly late (oh, how I wish we could be environmentally friendly and get a real one, but alas, Paul is deathly allergic).

When we finally got home I decided to roast what turned out to be THE most stubborn and thick-skinned spaghetti squash I have ever come across in my life - the sucker took nearly an hour and a half to be done. By that point I was hungry and cranky and was not in the mood for fiddling with my camera. I took this one truly horrible photo and sat down to eat.

The funny thing is that I thought this meal was the most efficient selection for such a busy evening because I had a fridge full of leftover marinara from the polenta lasagna I made earlier in the week. It was really only a matter of roasting the squash and chopping/steaming some fresh vegetables.

Don't let the glorious unattractiveness of this photo deter you from thinking this a delicious idea, and a more nutrient-rich alternative to wheat-spaghetti marinara. It's really very simple to put this together: 1 spaghetti squash, 3/4-1 cup of marinara (homemade for the win, but canned will work too) and some of your favourite vegetables and top it off with freshly cracked black pepper and a generous helping of dried chives. Broccoli of course made the cut, because it always makes the cut at our house, as did sunchokes.

These are sunchokes:



Alright, so they are somewhat freaky and root-ish looking. That was my initial thought when our dear produce vendor pointed me in their direction and suggested I try them.

We buy our produce every Friday morning from a local supplier, which is owned by a father and son team. These two men are the greatest. Everytime I walk in there he greets us with a friendly "oh, my vegans are here!". He always has the traditional go-to produce items, but depending on the time of year and what's kicking around he also has some quirky things now and again. In the name of being adventurous and spontaneous, we rarely turn down his suggestions.

Last Friday it was the sunchoke he was suggesting (also called a jerusalem artichoke, which is kind of a misnomer because it is really nothing like an artichoke at all). When I got home I did a little googling to see what these little guys were all about.

And what they are all about is tons of potassium (with fewer calories and a lower glycemic index rating than potatoes). They are also believed to have prebiotic qualities relating to high inulin levels (love your colon!!!) AND these high inulin levels aid ease the body's absorption of calcium. They are also an iron powerhouse, with half a cup equaling 14% of your daily iron intake (compared to the 3-5% found in potatoes). This site provides more detailed information on the power of the sunchoke, articulated in a far better way than my pathetic attempts at sounding like a nutritionist.

All the websites suggest subbing in sunchokes for potatoes, but I didn't get much of a potato feel from them. To me, they were more reminiscent of waterchestnuts and so I threw them in both singapore curry and sweet and sour veggies on rice over the past week (as well as this squash marinara). The web suggests steaming/stirfrying them for 10 minutes or so, but I prefer them crunchy (which is probably why I associate them with waterchestnuts) and so I took them out of the steamer after just a couple minutes.

One thing you don't want to do is peel them before cooking. I know, they kind of look creepy with their skins on, but almost all of the nutrients are located just beneath the skin and you risk losing them when you toss the skin. Just scrub them really, really well - you won't taste the skins at all.

And, because I really do feel bad about how bad that picture is, vegan dad is far more skilled than I am with the camera and sensitive objects like squash.

Oh, and before I go...one more reason to be open-minded about a vegan diet.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Polenta Lasagna with Portobello and Kale



I have been trying to learn to love kale. You can't argue with this kind of nutritional gusto. Vitamins, A, C, and K, plus calcium, manganese and fiber. It packs such a nutritional punch in so few calories that we really can't afford to not like it. It's just not worth it.

Plus, kale is in season in the winter (which is quickly approaching around these parts) meaning it is typically less expensive than other greens between Christmas and Easter.

In a way it's kind of a cool leafy green in that, unlike spinach, it doesn't wilt quickly when exposed to heat and so in a way it's easier to work with in a lasagna. It goes soft after some time on the stove, but it's never mushy like spinach tends to get.

I'm not sure what exactly it is that I have an aversion to when it comes to kale. I think the texture bugs me a little bit and it can taste a bit bitter sometimes...but neither of those compare with how good it is for you. So, I've been trying to find ways that I do like it served.

I have been frequenting the Fat Free Vegan Blog for years now, and the recipe for this lasagna always seems to pop up on "current faves". Since polenta has been one of my favourite foods since I was old enough to eat solids I figured this might be a good recipe to bring me over to the kale-loving dark side.

I made a fresh batch of tomato-carrot marinara sauce, after searching through my freezer for an hour because I am sure I had some leftover from the last time I made lentilball subs, which I am sure to find tomorrow. I also couldn't find any premade polenta (and I prefer to make my own) so between making the polenta and the marinara sauce this lasagna turned into quite a project. I suppose I could have just used a canned sauce but homemade is so much better (plus every bit of extra betacarotene helps in these flu-ridden times). Because it was so much work I was kind of hoping we wouldn't like it...but it definitely lived up to its "favourite" status on Fat Free Vegan. And my freeze is now freshly stocked with marinara sauce, so the next time we have this it will not be a laborious task at all.

I'm really happy I went with the kale as opposed to the spinach (which Susan V offers as an alternative). The texture was perfect because the lasagna still had a bit of a crunch, which would be missing in a spinach-based sauce.

And finally, in honour of this nod to a Fat Free Vegan favourite, I would like to congratulate Susan V for being voted Favourite Vegan Blog in the 2009 VegNews Awards. Well deserved!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

This is Halloween!



We love Halloween. Evidenced by those two pumpkins up there, carved so intricately by Paul (who drew out the stencils himself), featuring Jack Skellington and my most favourite of the horror villains, Michael Myers. Which begs the question...if you have a favourite fictional sociopath does that make you a bit of sociopath?

We actually had four pumpkins this year. The two featured up there are permapumpkins that we bought at Michael's. Every year he works so hard on pumpkins and then has to throw them away on November 1 - permapumpkins are the solution to dilemmas of this sort. They last forever, so each year Paul is going to do a couple so that eventually we'll have a lawn full of them every Halloween. It's nice because you don't have to do any gutting, but they are more difficult to work with as the material is more flimsy than real pumpkins. Still, we did get two real ones as well, because it's just not halloween unless your picking out pumpkin guts from underneath your fingernails.

Our plans this year consisted of a little gathering with friends at our place and then venturing off to one of our favourite clubs, a place that goes all out every Halloween. Because people were coming over and because I was craving candy corn something fierce (and it most certainly is not vegan) I decided I was going to brave making my own. Via this recipe.

You may notice there is no picture featuring an enormous candy corn-themed success. All that happened was a whole lot of wasted Earth Balance and burnt hands from touching really hot sugary dough. I really don't know what I did wrong because I have never made candy before but the dough was rock hard and crystalized almost instantly. I couldn't even knead it. This was around 11pm on Friday night and I was exhausted and frustrated so I just tossed the whole thing and gave up on it. Maybe I'll try again next year, when I'm not so rushed. As such, the martini glasses I had set out and was planning to fill with candy corn were instead filled with extra trick or treat candy:



Speaking of which, is is freaking hard finding vegan friendly candy to give out on Halloween! Luckily, I found out all of Maynards staples (Sour Patch Kids, Fuzzy Peaches, Swedish Berries) are vegan-friendly:



I'm about a day too late, but for future reference if you're not wanting to spend an hour huffing and puffing in the supermarket trying to find vegan treats this is a pretty comprehensive list. Be sure to still read the labels though, a lot of the times companies change their ingredients/prep processes quicker than the list is updated.

And because this is me we are talking about, I baked pumpkin cupcakes!



They are the same golden vanilla w/buttercream frosting cupcakes I made for Paul's birthday last May, but I added pumpkin pie spice to make them feel a bit more Halloween-y and dyed the icing orange. I used pecans to make "stems"..they turned out pretty cute!

Because my niece and nephew come to our house for trick-or-treating I made up little grab bags (boxes?) for them featuring these cupcakes, with these adorable Halloween-themed Chinese takeout containers I found at Michael's:



And, because grownups like treats too, this is eyeball punch (vodka-seven dyed red - not very creative):



Our Dora even got in on the Halloween act!



Ooooh spooky.

And finally, although not at all vegan-related, here's Paul as BeetleJuice (I'm sure you have guessed by now that he's a huge Tim Burton fan):



And me, as Little Red Riding Hood with my big bad wolf!

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