Monday, April 25, 2011

Eggplant Rollatini

Spring has been pretty slow to start around here. Instead of showers we had snowstorms and golf ball-esque hail. Following a dreary winter with an equally gloomy April is about as depressing as it gets in Canada. We survived winter and we deserve better than this, dammit.

I guess my pledge to not complain about weather since the Japan earthquake/tsunami can be deemed a failure. My pessimism always seems to shine through. Seriously though, I know in the World of Weather it gets much, much worse than hail and there are bigger problems than my inability to wear flipflops most days.

All the same, the only thing about winter that I find even slightly tolerable is the social acceptability of gluttony. Of eating pasta and garlic bread four nights a week and hiding its remnants under parkas. There is nothing else redeemable about those God forsaken months between Christmas and Easter. So, some good can inevitably come from a lengthy winter - the prolonging of the dinnertime carby goodness!

So today, I present to you the latest favourite in a series of favourites - the Eggplant Rollatini from Veganomicon!

Although a bit of a labour intensive project, this recipe absolutely does not fall into the "too much trouble" category. Just make sure you don't try and make it on some random Monday night during the short interval between Work and BookClub. This is, however, a pretty fantastic Sunday night dinner.

You start by making the three recipes within-a-recipe. The first is marinara sauce, which I always make from scratch on some idle Saturday afternoon and then freeze for future use. I won't tell if you cheat and use a store-bought jar.

The second is the Almesan, a vegan parmesan-ish concoction made of almonds, lemon zest and toasted sesame seeds.

The third is tofu ricotta, which I've made before and quite thoroughly disliked.

This recipe for tofu ricotta yielded quite different results for me though, and despite my apprehension I ended up loving it. I'm not sure if it was the ingredients or if it was the fact that I was more diligent about squeezing as much water out of the tofu as humanly possible before combining the ingredients. Either way, quite delicious and perfect for this recipe.

Once those three things are ready to go, you move onto the eggplant, slicing each piece about 1/8" thick. The authors suggest throwing out the end pieces because they aren't uniform and have too much skin, but I used everything (here at the TIV house we can tolerate a lack of aesthetic appeal but we have trouble getting on board with wasting perfectly good food).

Each slice is dipped in a milk and corn starch concoction...

...then submerged into a breadcrumb mixture...

...and then lightly brushed with some olive oil (bonus points if you have a spray bottle).

Even though fried eggplant is one of the greatest things on Planet Earth, I opted for baking the slices instead - both in the interest of convenience and my own personal safety.

Once they are done baking and are cool enough to handle, it's time to make the rollatini!

Starting with a bright green piece of spinach for each eggplant slice...

...topped with the tofu ricotta, almesan and a sprinke of pinenuts (I can't believe I had pinenuts and saffron on the same grocery bill - apparently I think I am a Rockefeller).

Once the filling is in place, the eggplant slice is rolled up all cute and tidy and then given ample opportunity to swim in some marinara sauce in an oven-safe casserole dish.

Ready to be topped with the rest of the marinara and baked for another 20 minutes or so!



The house smelled so good all day.

And to end off, my attempt at a pretty crappy photo of the inside of each rollatini. Who cares what the picture looks like, try this out yourself the next time you want to impress an omni with just how delicious veganism is.

Recipe found here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Saffron-Infused Spring Vegetables with Basmati Rice

I used to be into handbags.

I used to think nothing of spending several hundred dollars on a tiny little purse in which I could only fit my ID and a couple twenty dollar bills for the club.

It's hard to believe it now. Now that I live in a world of utter disdain for the excess of designer fashion. But, there was a time when I didn't bat and eyelash about the various forms of exploitation at work in the designer subculture.

Sometimes, I still yearn for a little decadence in my life. Cruelty-free decadence, that is. Not often, because the high I used to get from hanging expensive animal carcass off my shoulder has been replaced by the high I get from living like a cheapskate. A compassionate cheapskate. Really, I couldn't be more different than the person I was seven or eight years ago. And I suppose as a vegan blogger I should pretend that I was always interested in the rights of animals - human or otherwise.

But the truth is, I wasn't. Not at all, actually.

I don't really like who I was back then.

But the nice thing about not liking yourself is the fact that it falls into that coveted realm of Things You Can Change. Any second of any day is an opportunity for change. There are so many things that happen to us and around us every single day that we are powerless to control. Who we are and what we stand for is not one of those things.

As for me, nowadays I get excited when it is socially appropriate to wear trackpants somewhere and I tend to groan a little too much when an event calls for heels. I have one purse that I use everyday. It's not made of animal.

All the same, the yearning for the Fancy is not all gone. There is still a little fancy in my life, now and again.

Usually in my food.

Oh, yes. The enthusiasm I once reserved for designer handbags is now channeled into expensive spices and speciality vegan products that I spot in and around town. The girl I was in 2005 would not believe that the girl I am today gasped as she clutched a Tofurky pizza with all her strength at Full Circle Foods in downtown Kitchener. But that's me. Now.

I have wanted a bottle of saffron strands for a very, very long time. So fancy, so expensive, so hardcore that they not only come in a bottle, they come in an envelope-within-a-bottle.

Actually, they come in an envelope-within-an-envelope-within-a-bottle.

That tiny amount you see in that envelope there? $11.00. ELEVEN FREAKING DOLLARS.

I may have had a tiny aneurysm in the spice aisle of my neighbourhood supermarket. A tiny one. I'm still fully functional, but since I handed the cashier those eleven dollars something has felt a bit off.

You bet your tiny little vegan butt that I used the most miniscule pinch possible in this dish. These strands are going to have to last me until my unborn children graduate college because I am never going to pay that much for so little again.

Saffron is pretty cool though. You put it in water and it immediately gives it this funky yellow/orange hue.

I made sure that there was pretty much nothing else in the dish but the saffron because if I am paying that much for something I better damn well taste it.

Just vegetables, mostly. On a bed of basmati rice.

I'm pretty sure that I'm the last food blogger on earth that hasn't tried saffron. Especially since I make paella all the time, leaving the saffron out. Meaning that it isn't really paella at all, just a paella-like essence created out of a desire to be able to pay the gas and water bill each month. I'm excited to make it now that I did splurge on a bottle, though, knowing it will completely change the taste.

The recipe for this comes from Fresh and Fast Vegan, the newest edition to my cookbook shelf. It's not one of the big vegan cookbooks on the market so it will be difficult to find digital copies of recipes. But for this one, what you see is what you get. Yellow "summer" squash, leeks, grape tomatoes, carrots, and green onions for the vegetables. Parsley for garnish. Two servings of basmati rice. A pinch of saffron disolved in a couple tablespoons of warm water. Vegetable stock. And parsley for garnish. A nice light meal for spring!

P.S. As a follow-up to my last post's rant, this makes me very happy! We here at TIV are all about offering second chances, as long as someone is sincere about wanting to make things right. VegNews made a huge, offensive monstrosity of a mistake. Part of the rage that arose out of the vegan community revolved not around the use of non-vegan photos but the fact that the magazine first lied about it, then tried to silence the community by deleting Facebook posts and then issued a statement that was not only not an apology, but was an attempt at justifying misleading thousands of readers and subscribers. However, earlier this week they owned up to this error and promised better for the future. I'm so over divisiveness in the animal advocacy community and I think this circumstance presents an opportunity for us to not only come together but move forward together too. Also, the nice thing about controversy is what rises up from the ashes of it - in this case, vegan food porn all in one place!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Snowy Bean Mashed Potatoes

This is so clever and basic and I'm kind of embarrassed that I needed a cookbook to tell me to do it.

I've never really been much of a mashed potatoes girl. It's always hard to get them just right. In my infinite fussiness, I can't stand when they are lumpy, but when they are too smooth I think they should be reserved for the next time I get my wisdom teeth pulled (not any time soon, I might add, unless the ones I got pulled seven years ago start growing back). Traditional mashed taters of the milk-butter-nothing else variety have eluded me and so when I have made them in the past it's only been with the inclusion of garlic and kale or swiss chard or something else that is equally colourful and crunchy to break up the monotony of the white goo that we here in North America seem to thrive upon.

Adding these foreign elements is sure to outrage the Mashed Potato Purists of the world. But how about a little something that breaks up the monotony and adds protein, fibre, iron and calcium, while ever-so-sneakily looking just like the mashed potatoes we grew up eating on Sundays after church?

Something like white kidney beans, perhaps.

I don't have any children, but if I did - and if they were anything at all like I was when I was a kid - I'm fairly certain the food processor would be my best friend. Pureeing two cups of white beans and then mixing them in with the typically kid-approved dish of mashed potatoes is a surefire way to get some nutrients into the bloodstreams of many a wee one. Because honestly, you really can't taste them at all - and if I hadn't doused the entire thing in copious amounts of hot sauce like I do everything I make (you can see they take on a bit of an orange hue in the first picture), you can't even tell that there is an outsider in the midst. They are white, they are fluffy and if you puree the beans long enough, they are without lumps.

Paired up with some Seitan roast you've got yourself a fine take on the traditional North American Sunday Night Meal - albeit a far healthier and more compassionate version. Might be something to consider when whipping up side dishes for next Sunday's Easter dinner!

The idea comes from the CalciYum cookbook and you can find a version of it here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ice Cream Sundae

The chocolate ganache from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World makes for a positively lovely hot fudge-esque topping for your favourite vegan ice cream (I used Organic Rice Divine Very Vanilla). I honestly can't believe I haven't tried this before!

Make the ganache, let it cool a minute or two (but not completely) and pour it over the ice cream. Top it with some fresh cut strawberries and walnut pieces and it makes for a pretty darn amazing spring/summer dessert.

Eating this sundae after an afternoon of patio-laying has given me a cute idea for summertime entertaining. The quintessential buffet dessert of our youth...the SUNDAE BAR! Dairy-free vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, fresh fruit, various chopped nuts, sprinkles - the options are endless.

By the way.

This here is an ice cream sundae. A vegan ice cream sundae. Both in theory and in actual actuality. And I wasn't sure I was even going to do a post on it because, after all, it's just an ice cream sundae - something any of us could make in all of five minutes. But I wanted to post today. Because I think the world needs vegan food pictures today. In all their actually-vegan glory.

(If you have no idea what I am talking about, click here for the latest, possibly biggest, controversy to hit the vegan blogosphere).

Don't get me wrong, I understand fiscal demands. I understand that using stock photos is quite often an industry staple for most magazines. But using something that your readership is so strongly opposed to on an ethical and moral level is not only unacceptable it is downright insulting. This is not simple false advertising - this is VegNews disregarding the basic tenets of the magazine's philiosophy and the principles of its target readership. This is taking something that we vegans believe and that we structure our entire existences around, that we thought YOU, VegNews, also believed and that YOU structured YOUR existence around, and not only ignoring it but exploiting it in order to sell us more of your magazines.

Although VegNews claims to have used these stock photos because it was a financial necessity, it is what is implied by their use that I find particularly disturbing. Using non-vegan photos implies vegan food is somehow unattractive, somehow unattainable, somehow not as good as a plate full of mutilated animal. So, I don't really care that the "reason" they photoshopped bones out of ribs and claimed they were vegan is because they couldn't afford to hire a photographer. Regardless of their actual (or fabricated - who really knows at this point?) intent, it comes across as a statement that veganism is somehow less than the Standard American Diet. Exactly the kind of ridiculous and false stereotype that many of us vegans are working to abolish is reinforced for the mainstream, once again. This time by someone we thought was our ally.

And let's be real, the monetary excuse is not an excuse at all. Tell me that there aren't dozens of vegan bloggers out there willing to be volunteer recipe beta testers, competing for a chance to take the best photo and have their name and blog published in a national magazine?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Carolina-Style Barbeque Sandwiches with Garlicky Brussels Sprouts

We miss L.A.

Like, a lot.

Our "Completely-Unrealistic-Lottery-Fantasy" involves selling all our wordly possessions, packing up our beloved mutt and driving west until we see blue. I miss the deep-fried Oreos. I miss the "VEGAN" signs in the windows. I miss the creativity and accuracy involved in making vegan food that appeals to the masses, not just at one or two vegan restaurants but at all the vegetarian restaurants. I am devastated over the fact that we barely even got a chance to scratch the surface of California Vegan Foodie-ism.

But, I digress. Southern Ontario is home and probably always will be home and we have a budding vegan scene to be thankful for here, too.

All the same, I have been kind of consumed with recreating some of the Los Angeles magic here at home and it started when I found a recipe for Carolina BBQ Sandwiches courtesy of Vegeterian Times.

I had the Carolina sandwich at M Cafe de Chaya on Melrose and it was so wonderful that this seemed like a logical place to start what I will officially refer to as the "Meal Cloning Process" (finally, a type of cloning I can get on board with!).

Like the M Cafe sandwich, the "meat" base is seitan. The saucy goodness comes from ketchup, vinegar, hot sauce, sugar and quite a bit of mustard (Fun fact: what distinguishes Carolina BBQ Sauce from others is a tangy goodness courtesy of your favourite mustard).

The verdict: Obviously, not as good as the M Cafe restaurant version (why is it that things always taste better when you're not the one who has to make it?) but really tasty nontheless and a great addition to your summer patio meal repertoire.

I've been trying to resist the urge to combine sandwiches with french fries. We tend to eat a lot of burgers and sandwiches during the spring and summer months and so I've been trying out some healthier side dish options. What's more synonymous with "healthy" than the brussels sprouts we all stuck our noses up at when we were kids?

Honestly? Other than hidden amongst many other vegetables and mashed into a casserole that actually turned out quite horribly, I'd never eaten a brussels sprout, on its own, until this night. They sketched me out even into adulthood.

I'm trying to be a bit more mature about things, though, so regardless of the fact that they look like my arch nemesis cabbage I decided to go for it. Thankfully, they didn't smell like cabbage while cooking (which is where my real cabbage phobia comes from - as you can see from the sandwich topping I am totally fine with eating it raw).

It turns out that I actually love, love, love brussels sprouts. Hm. Who knew?

Makes me wonder what else I think I hate that I actually love.

Recipe for the Carolina BBQ Sandwiches found here and the Garlicky Brussel Sprouts are here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Jamaican Patties and Carrot-Cayenne Coleslaw

A million years ago, I lived in a tiny one bedroom basement apartment in the university district of Waterloo. Those were the days when the life sustaining acts of sleeping and eating were a nuissance - nothing more than an obstacle in the daily quest for party time. Back then we drank a lot of Red Bull and ate nothing that couldn't be defrosted or cooked by someone else.

Sometimes, I lie awake at night wondering how many years I shaved off my life during my stint as a university student.

While the produce portion of the refrigerator was shockingly empty for four solid years, the freezer compartment was loaded full of industrial-sized trans fats, refined sugars, mystery meat and a shocking number of things labeled "Atkins-friendly" that I vehemently believed were going to one day make me skinny.

I've come to learn that 99% of things that are meant to be stored in North American freezers will actually have the opposite effect on your waistline. And it only took me four years of university to realize this.

Regardless, next to frozen pizzas and microwaveable dinners, one of our freezer staples in those days was a 30-pack of Jamaican patties, purchased in the "club" section of the supermarket. And while I had no quams digesting some highly questionable crap in those days, the Jamaican patties that Paul used to buy were even too sketchy for me. He loved them though, and when he stopped eating meat he stopped eating those too.

The latest edition to my cookbook army is Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen and out of the dozens of recipes in it that I bookmarked during my first glimpse through, something about the Jamaican patties seemed inevitable as the first thing to try.

I am generally terrible at making dishes that require a homemade crust or dough. I don't understand what it is that I do wrong, because I am certainly not brave enough to attempt creating a dough recipe on my own and instead use a recipe that has been published and printed and is assumed to be tried, tested and true. Regardless, it never works out for me! I'm going to go ahead and blame the oven I use or the flour manufacturers or the humidity in my kitchen or the way the moon aligns the sun every single time that I attempt it.

Because dough/crust-making can be both a tedious and meticulous process, whenever I fail at one of these projects I usually just scrap the recipe in an a declaration of defeat rather than try to tweak it at a later date.

So, I approached these Jamaican patties with a lot of apprehension and a little bit of caution and before I even began measuring flour I told Paul to prepare for disaster.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled the dough out of the fridge (after letting it sit an hour and a half or so) and it not only held together but also rolled out with minimal resistance and looked the gorgeous yellow-ish colour it was supposed to (thanks turmeric!).

Using a bowl to cut the dough into 6" circles is a very useful tip from Mr. Terry, although next time I think I'll make four really big patties rather than six medium-sized ones. However, the 6" circles are great if serving the patties as an appetizer or starter - they would make a great party food, fanned out on a plate with a bowl of hot sauce in the middle.

For the filling: Potatoes, carrots, cabbage, corn, and peas tossed with spices and made thick and creamy with coconut milk.

Ready for the oven!

The shell is flaky and savoury, the filling spicy and slightly sweet from the coconut milk - what a combo! Topped off with an additional few drops of cayenne hot sauce and you are ready to go.

To go with the patties I made a coleslaw, also from Vegan Soul Kitchen. I will note, however, that I am a huge cheater when it comes to cabbage and I buy those terrifying "prepackaged" coleslaw bags of the sort that always seem to end up on the news because of E. Coli concerns. I just can't be bothered to mess with shredding a massive head of cabbage and so I tend to take my chances with the E. Coli - don't judge! In making this salad I just used Bryant's dressing (which is delicious, by the way) and tossed it with a bag of shredded cabbage, let it marinate for a couple hours and then tossed in sesame seeds and a little extra hot sauce.

Find the recipe for the Jamaican patties here.

I think Bryant Terry and I are going to be great friends.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rustic White Beans with Leeks and Mushrooms and Cheese Grits with Corn

I thought I might do an "I gave up veganism because seriously, you can't get enough protein without teh meatz!!!!" April Fool's post but this morning I had trouble contacting the pre-vegan portion of my brain that most likely once upon a time adhered to a similar and ridiculous miseducation.

Instead, one more time for the cheap seats in the back, I thought I'd elaborate on my favourite vegan-friendly protein - a big pot of beans slowly simmered (never canned) with a light seasoning, some mushrooms (oh my GOD, more protein!?) and leeks.

Leeks are an often neglected produce aisle delicacy but are a fairly convenient alternative to the traditional onion. Provided they are stored properly, they can last up to a couple months in your refrigerator.

Combined with the simmered beans, some cremini mushrooms, thyme and tarragon this becomes a hearty but light bean dish. The recipe is from Veganomicon and you can find a digitial copy by clicking here.

Now, vega(wo)man cannot live on beans alone, and Nava Atlas' recipe for Cheese Grits with Corn from Vegan Express (sorry, no digital copy - buy the book!) makes a wonderful accompaniment. Although I am fairly certain that I used the wrong kind of grits.

Here in the Great White North, we aren't all that up to the happenings of southern cooking. I searched high and low for standard issue grits and found nothing (and by high and low I mean I went to two stores, got frustrated, and gave up). Instead, I used "corn grits" which are always in abundance in Kitchener stores and, as an avid polenta enthusiast, my kitchen cupboard.

If you haven't tried mixing Daiya into your polenta/grits/heaven in a bowl yet, you are missing out!

While they may have been the wrong kind of grits, I think that for those of us living in northern towns, corn grits are a fine substitution, especially since you are mixing corn kernals into the final product anyway.

So, there you have it. Beans are where I get my protein, and grits/polenta are where I get my joy.

And if you're still looking for a prank to pull today, might I suggest some Gardein, some Daiya, telling your favourite omnivore that they are eating meat and cheese and then surprising them with how EASY and AMAZING and FULFILLING la vida vegan is?!

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