Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Zgance with Red Sauce & Seitan

Alright readers, I've been holding out on you. When I did my Christmas round-up I left out the best part - the part where my mom veganized my favourite childhood meal for Christmas Day lunch!

I was born and raised here in Canada, but my parents came from Croatia in the 1960s. As a result, I was raised somewhere in between the old country and the new. Nike shoes and Rainbow Brite and Mr. Rogers spliced together with never believing in Santa Claus and Croatian school on Saturday mornings.

It also meant eating some meals that my non-immigrant schoolmates found rather questionable. Although, I should note, that I was a spoiled brat and got away with eating far less of the old school meals and far more of North American takeout variety than the majority of my Croatian school counterparts.

There was one Croatian meal, however, that I never turned my nose up at. One meal that in all my attempts to Canadianize myself, always gave me away as a not-quite-from-here citizen.

This meal is what the fancier folks call polenta, but we called it zgance. And my grandma's was the best. The zgance itself is nothing more than cornmeal, salt and water, but what made my grandma's so good was the fact that she baked it.

And doused it in her red sauce.

Ohhh buddy, that sauce.

When I was a kid the sauce was made with chicken (although even back then I refused to eat the chicken - proof that I was a vegetarian in the making long before I stopped eating meat). My mom so cleverly subbed in seitan instead!

In previous blog posts, I've touched on the concept of nostalgic eating as one of the more difficult obstacles encountered as a vegan, particularly around the holidays. It is often difficult for those of us who went vegan as adults to use food as a means of reminding us of long forgotten traditions and much simpler times, something so many people do at Christmastime. The longer we are vegan the more new vegan food associations we make, of course, but there's something special about triggering childhood memories via food.

Having a veganized version of Zgance and Red Sauce took me back to side-ponytails, New Kids on the Block cassette tapes and fighting over the blue plastic cup at my grandma's house. I know that it won't do the same for you, but it is such a delicious and hearty meal in and of itself that I urge you put a little Old Country flair into your modern diet.

Now, let me preface this recipe with a disclaimer: my mom and grandma are kind of rebels in the kitchen in that they don't use recipes. If you ask them for a recipe they will first be reluctant and second provide you with something that is nowhere near an exact science. I suppose spontaneity and flying by the seat of your pants add to the cooking experience, but for those of you who are anxiety-prone like myself, here is my mom's best attempt at quantifying my grandma's Zgance with Red Sauce:

Zgance with Red Sauce & Seitan

For the Red Sauce:

1 tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 heaping tablespoon paprika
4 cups of roma tomatoes skins removed & diced (my mom used about 1 1/2 of the 28oz cans of whole roma tomatoes which she put through a food processor)
salt & pepper to taste
4 cups of seitan diced into 1" cubes & pan seared for a few minutes*

1) Put 1 tbsp of canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or pan at medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft & translucent.

2) Add the celery and cook until soft.

3) Add paprika & stir.

4) Add tomatoes & salt & pepper.

5) Simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours. If you find the sauce too thick for your liking, add 1/4 cup of warmed vegetable broth at a time until it reaches your desired consistency (I like it thicker, but still runny).

6) Add seitan the last 5-10 minutes, just enough to warm through.

For the Zgance:

2 cups of cornmeal
5 cups of water
Salt to taste

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Boil the water in an oven-safe pot. Pour the polenta in at one side of the pot. Let simmer gently, for about 15 minutes, without stirring.

2) After it has simmered for the 15 minutes, remove about 1/3 of the water in the pot. Place it in a measuring cup because you will be needing it shortly.

3) Start mixing the zgance with a firm wood spoon, slowly adding back the water until the mixture is smooth but thick. While most of the fancy polenta recipes you might find in the blogosphere call for a really smooth, almost thin polenta (the consistency of mashed potatoes, usually), zgance is meant to be lumpy so don't worry about getting too fancy schmacy with it (this is, after all, what peasants ate - or so google tells me!).

4) Remove pot from the stovetop. Cover, and place in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

5) Spoon seitan and sauce over polenta and enjoy!

* My mom used this recipe for seitan, but included poultry seasoning in the mix. Further, she left the soy sauce and ginger out, and instead boiled it in vegetable broth with some sliced garlic, celery and onion added in. Go for the pre-packaged variety if you have it available to you and convenience is your thing.

This makes a motherload of zgance and red sauce. I don't know how big a serving size technically is (although I'm fairly certain that it is far less than what Paul and I seem to think it is). In terms of measurement the best I can do for you is tell you that we had enough for lunch, dinner and breakfast the next morning. How's that for some spontaneity in the kitchen?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tofu Pot Pie (and the Christmas Round-Up)

I hope everyone had a great Christmas! I took this beautiful photo of one of the delicious dishes my mom put together on Christmas. It was even better warmed up as leftovers the next day. The recipe for this tofu pot pie is found here.

We had a chaotic but wonderful Christmas this year. I was spoiled rotten! Here are a couple of the vegan-minded gifts I received:

A pizza set, complete with a hand-made wooden rolling pin. I currently have a really crappy stainless steel rolling pin that we registered for before our wedding and four short years later is already falling apart to the point where I've used a wine bottle the last few times I've baked cookies. I'm so excited to give this one a workout!

Paul got me a CherryBerry bag!!!

I have always been a handbag girl. Shoes I could always give and take, but in my pregan days, purses were my thing.

These days, while I spend a lot of time googling and subsequently ogling eco-minded purse options, I can never bring myself to spend money on fancy handbags. I currently have two Matt & Nat bags that I love, but they are getting old and starting to fall apart. I was in desperate need for a large, black bag and here it is! It was so nice to be surprised with an indulgence that I rarely ever afford myself.

After hearing the difficulty Paul went through to get this bag to me, I just want to comment on how impressed we are with both the quality of the vegan leather and the considerate customer service Paul dealt with in having it shipped here. Ethical fashion has never been so great, let me tell you. I already have my eye on a matching wallet!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Caramelized Onion, Butternut Squash & Chestnut Casserole

It's Christmas Eve Eve, and if you are still struggling with your Holiday menu for this year, might I suggest another delicious gem from Veganomicon?

This festive little casserole is hearty and filling, so it's enough as a main dish (which is how we ate it on Sunday night). However, if you are looking for something to accompany that Christmas seitan roast it makes a great side dish too. Although it takes some time to get from ingredients to finished casserole, most of this time is hands-off baking time.

Prior to making this meal, I'd never worked with chestnuts before and I'm not too vain to admit that I cheated and bought the pre-peeled, pre-roasted kind, like these.

I was a little bit concerned about roasting already roasted chestnuts, but it was unwarranted. Because I've never cooked with raw chestnuts, I don't know any better with regards to the texture of the finished product. And while they were mushy (I think chestnuts are supposed to be mushy anyway?), it gave an earthy, meaty quality to the casserole.

For those of you who don't have a copy of Veganomicon, here is a link to the recipe.

Finally, I'd just like to take a minute to wish all of you the very best of the season - health and happiness to you and yours from all of us here at This is Vegan!

Mary - The Blogger
Paul - The Taste Tester
Dora - The Floor-Scrap Sampler


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Festive Spicy Nuts (and the 3rd Annual M&P Ugly Xmas)

Every December, we host an Ugly Xmas celebration - a chance for our nearest and dearest friends to gather in our basement and celebrate the season in their most festive attire. It's hard to believe another Ugly Xmas has come and gone - it feels like I just finished cleaning up after Ugly 2009.

This Christmas marks my first as a full-time member of the workforce. Last year at this time I was still in graduate school, shedding tears over a thesis that I never thought would be finished. This means that this holiday season I have found myself with far less time to prepare for events (you would think it would be the other way around, but let's me honest - "working on my thesis" often meant sitting in my pajamas, eating sugar cookies and watching episodes of The View in order to determine the actual melting point of brain).

So, instead of going super crazy with snacks for this year's Ugly, I wanted items that were festive and tasty but simple.

I found the recipe for softly spiced nuts in my copy of Eat, Drink and Be Vegan. It showcases some of my favourite spices of the season: cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. It comes together quite quickly but a word to the frugal: nuts are expensive. It cost me $12.00 to get the mere two cups of mixed nuts required for this recipe.

I normally make cupcakes of some sort for all our events, but I went with Ugly sugar cookies instead! They are the same sugar cookies I made for Halloween this year, from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. My icing-piping ability leaves something to be desired so it's a good thing the night's theme was Ugly.

I suffer from delusions of grandeur when it comes to icing baked goods. I always envision these adorable, perfectly decorated cookies and cakes and somehow convince myself that I am capable of doing them. Instead, they turn into the hot mess you see above - at least they are recognizable as Christmas trees, though! I must be making progress in that department. And those are my most favourite of all the Christmas treats, Peppermint Patties (from How it All Vegan) on top.

Enough about the food though, let's get to the OUTFITS! I love that our friends get as into this event as we do - we really appreciate all their effort. Here are just some of samples!

Your favourite vegan blogger (I hope!)

Me, Paul and Dora

This one hurts the eyes a little, doesn't it

Richard Nixon even made a special appearance!

Awesome details on these two

Every year the guests of the party get to vote for who they think embodies the spirit of Ugly Xmas the most. This year's winner......

Samcha, for her amazingly accurate nod to Ralphie from A Christmas Story!!

A big thank you to all those who came and spread the Ugly Xmas spirit!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Raw Ranch Dressing

My New Year's resolution for 2010 was to start including more raw components to my diet. Like all resolutions before it (joining and actually using the gym, saving more money than usual, eliminating swear words from my vocabulary) I have not even begun to fulfill this promise to myself.

I love raw food - when someone else makes it for me. To be honest, I am strangely intimidated by the preparation process and often find myself confused by raw recipes that cross my path. This is hardly an excuse, though, because five short years ago I was also intimidated by the instructions on a box of macaroni and cheese and yet somehow I have managed to be a (mostly) self-sustaining vegetarian for almost four years now. I was intimidated by vegan cooking once upon a time and I somehow managed to get a hang of that (not that it's hard - I was just that awful of a cook), so I think it's about time I suck it up and give raw cooking a more ambitious try.

Ever the procrastinator, I figure that now that we are in the final days of 2010, it's appropriate to begin fulfilling this year's resolution. Also, I just remembered about this cool raw cooking website that I found a few months back, Choosing Raw.

I have decided to start small. We'll save the raw pizzas and raw burgers for days when I laugh in the face of my dehydrator, and perhaps have become more accustomed to reading entire recipes through sooner than 20 minutes before I need to have dinner served.

Which is something I didn't do when making this raw dressing. And in that intense half-hour period before dinner is done I noticed that I was supposed to have been soaking the cashews for several hours prior to making the dressing. Whoops.

I skipped this step, which is why the dressing looks more lumpy than creamy - but it still tasted fabulous, so who cares.

The dressing was intended to be used as an afternoon veggies-and-dip snack, but it went really well with the buffalo seitan wingz and garlic roasted potatoes I made the other night. The ranch dressing was perfect for putting out the fire that comes from eating hot wingz. It was almost like we were at a sports bar, right in our own living room!

Digital copy of the recipe found here. Quick and easy. The California sandwich they use it on looks amazing!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Starry Fudge Shortbread Cookies

I need more cookies like I need a hole in the head, but something about Christmas makes me want to spend all my spare time baking (although my favourite pair of jeans severely, severely disagrees). And nothing welcomes the jolly fat man quite like shortbread, does it?

On Saturday I decided to try a new recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, a cookbook that sure has getting a workout in my house as of late.

This was my first attempt at a recipe from the "Fancy Cookie" section of the book. Up until now I have pretty much stayed safely in the confines of the "Drop Cookie" category, but on Saturday I decided that it was time for a challenge. Actually, it was less about a challenge and more about a blinding desire for shortbread cookies and something to blog about. (Hey, at least I'm being honest here).

To make the shortbread into the cool textured shapes you see above, you pipe the dough onto the baking sheet (as opposed to rolling and cutting it). So I made the dough, got out my pastry bag and attempted to squeeze out perfect little star shapes.

Nothing that came out of that pastry bag even remotely resembled a star.

I nearly broke my hands trying to squeeze the thick dough through a very old star-shaped nozzle that I'm fairly certain was not large enough (but was the largest that I had on hand). I know I am kind of whimpy and have a fairly low threshold for pain, but doing this seriously hurt my hands. It hurt my brain, too, as it was a very tedious and unrewarding process (my hands killed and STILL the shapes looked more like crumpled up newspaper than they did elegant, abstract stars).

Once the piping part is over, it is smooth sailing - they are baked for a short period of time and then topped off with a dollop of freshly made chocolate ganache and cooled for an hour or so.

I definitely nursed my wounds by sampling quite a few of these cookies over the course of the weekend. Further, I fed them to a group of friends that came over to watch UFC 124 on Saturday night and so these cookies have been given the omni seal of approval as well. (Speaking of UFC, it's always exciting to celebrate wins with vegan athletes!).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review: The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life

A few weeks ago, the folks over at Thomas Allen & Son publicity so kindly offered to send me a copy of the newest Vegan lifestyle guide to hit the market, The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life, available through Skyhorse Publishing.

Put together by Melisser Elliot (of The Urban Housewife fame), this is a cool little "How to be Vegan" manual that covers not only ethical food choices but also assists both new and veteran vegans alike in navigating the often overwhelming world of cruelty-free fashion, beauty, hobbies and relationships.

I've said it once and I'll say it a million times again: the food aspect of going vegan was insanely easy - most food products are clearly labeled and even if they are not, most of us can pull out the pots and pans and veganize any kind of omnivorous delicassies that tempt our palette.

Clothing and household items, however, pose more of a challenge - at least they did for me. There aren't the same kinds of laws regulating the disclosure of ingredient/content lists on clothing and cosmetics as there are on foodstuffs. Furthermore, while there has been a recent surge of vegan diets in the mainstream, mostly due to celebrities and talk shows and the focus on the health aspect of herbivorous diets as opposed to the animal rights component (love it or hate it, it is the reality for now), the notion of the cruelty-free lifestyle is still a relative outsider in mainstream media. As such, while there are a million vegan cookbooks, frozen dinners and restaurants popping up in even the most remote of neighbourhoods, the availability of cruelty-free clothing, makeup, cleaning products and the like is still quite limited.

Furthermore, as we vegans learn to be vegan and abstain from animal product and byproduct to the most of our ability, we often stumble - there are dozens of hidden "unveganisms" that enter into our daily lives without our awareness and sometimes, within our awareness, but out of desparation and lack of alternatives.

The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life helps combat the confusion that arises while being vegan in an omnivorous world. Not only does it provide tips and tricks to living la vida vegan, it literally puts you in contact with dozens of cruelty-free companies specializing in everything from food to clothing to body modification to crafts and to personal and intimate products. I'm not just talking mentioning these various companies in passing - Melisser provides website addresses and store locations and interviews with the creators and innovators so that you can put a face to dollar bills you hand over, and be certain that you are supporting an independent, ethically-minded entrepreneur.

This book is ideal for the newbie vegan, just learning about the plight of animals, as it not only debunks the many of the myths about veganism currently running rampid in our society, but it also provides some slick and informed responses ready to be employed the next time someone asks you why humans have canine teeth if they weren't meant to eat meat (and believe me, somebody will ask you that - again and again and again).

While it is perfect for newer vegans, there is something in it for us old timers too. I know I learned a thing or two, as it served as a quick Vegan 101 refresher, providing quick and concise blurbs on things like hidden animal ingredients, how to cook the best tofu on the block and which drugstore lip balm is vegan. While you will come in contact with this information throughout your vegan life, it's nice to have the information easily accessible and all in one place for the next time someone puts you on the spot as to how sheep are harmed in the production of wool. Further, I learned about a ton of independent vegan companies and their fearless female creators. I look forward to trying their many varied products in the new year.

As such, I'm giving The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life the TIV: Seal of Approval. If you're still looking for something for that hard-to-buy-for vegan in your life, this small but mighty book makes a great stocking stuffer!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

African Sweet Potato & Peanut Stew

I'm really happy that I didn't give up on the Vegan Planet cookbook, because this recipe is a serious gem. Sweet and spicy all at the same time, this is a real stick-to-your-ribs dinner (perfect to combat the frigidness that is southern Ontario at present).

It is so filling that second helpings are not even an option. I experienced quite the mental dilemma when, after the first plate was about half done, I was so full that my breathing actually, in all seriousness, became laboured - yet my brain simply refused to put the freaking fork down.

It makes one heck of a hearty morning-after breakfast, though! (Come on, I can't be the only one out there who loves dinner food for breakfast?!)

I served it over whole wheat couscous but it would go really well with quiona or just plain old brown rice.

Can I just put two tablespoons of peanut butter in absolutely everything and call it a day? Mmmmmm.

Digital copy of the recipe found here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles

Why, hello there!

It appears that I have once again unintentionally disappeared off of the interwebs (with the exception of my incessant twitterbugging - if you ever start to miss me you can always check up on me over there).

The holiday season is upon us and this is a particularly joyful one for us and many of the wonderful people we surround ourselves with. Needless to say, we are very much looking forward to all of the exciting things 2011 will have in store for us and are taking the holidays as an opportunity to celebrate with good food, good drink and great family and friends.

As such, I figured I should once again start sharing that which has been coming out of my kitchen, even if I have nothing particularly useful to say about it - it's all about the pictures anyway, isn't it?!

So here are some Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles, the first of our Christmas baked goods and what we worked on last night after a particularly freezing walk around the neighbourhood checking out this year's Christmas light selection. What makes them Mexican? The cayenne pepper you add to the batter - which we may or may not have gotten a little bit carried away with.

These are spicy little buggers and go wonderfully with a glass of ice cold rice milk (or a kahlua milkshake, perhaps?!).

The recipe is found in Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, but I've also located a digital copy for you here. If spiciness scares you, go easy on the cayenne - but don't leave it out altogether (it seriously does wonders for bringing out the cocoa flavour of anything - who knew?!).

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