Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Birthday Meals!

Happy belated birthday to me! My birthday was yesterday, and to celebrate, I decided last-minute to take the day off from work. That's because my wonderful husband Mark decided to take me to New York City for the day! We met up with two of our good friends and visited the Museum of Modern Art for a few hours. But before that, we went out to lunch. We went up to Candle Cafe. This place is the older, more casual sister of the famed Candle 79. The restaurant is relatively small and sparsely decorated, but the food more than made up for it. We started lunch off by sharing a bowl of chili and a green goddess. The chili was hearty and warming after being out the cold, and it was served with a generous hunk of tasty cornbread. A nice start to lunch indeed. The juice had apple, lemon, ginger and greens, and was good as well, although I would have liked it over ice. For lunch, we each ordered a sandwich. I got the BBQ tempeh and sweet potato sandwich. This sandwich was humongous. The sweet potato slices and flavorful tempeh strips were topped with steamed kale and caramelized onions, and the sandwich served on rustic bread with a tangy aioli on the side. And on top of that, a small salad with balsamic dressing was on the plate too. The sandwich was delicious and filling (obviously!), and had a really nice mix of flavors. I made it just about all the way through before I had to put down the last couple of bites. We skipped dessert because I was stuffed. I would absolutely come back here next time I end up in the area. The service was friendly, albeit a tad on the slow side, and the prices were typical (a little higher than a regular lunch place) for a vegan eatery. I highly recommend Candle Cafe for a healthy and satisfying lunch, and now I REALLY want to eat at Candle 79.

And that was only meal number one of the day. If you can believe it, by dinnertime, I was hungry again. My parents, my sister, my grandfather, my mother-in-law, Mark and I ate at Kaya's Kitchen in Belmar. This place has been around for a while, and is one of the few vegetarian/very vegan friendly eateries in my local area. I was a little nervous about taking the whole family there, but I am happy to report that everyone enjoyed their meals. Kaya's has an earthy vibe to it, and is very laid back and low key. This translates into service that is usually a little slow, but I have to say, last night the service was really good despite our large party. We started off with homemade chips, salsa and guacamole and tempeh hot wings for the table. The chips were freshly fried and the salsa was really delicious. The wings were SPICY, in a great way. They came with a tasty cucumber sauce that at least tried to cool them off a bit. For my meal, I ordered the jambalaya. Again, spicy spicy! This mixture of tempeh, tofu, carrots, peppers, and more was served in a spicy tomato base and over brown rice. I would not recommend this dish if you aren't pretty tolerate of spice, but if you are, go for it. The flavors were awesome and the heat was serious. I also helped myself to some samples of everyone's meals, which included Jamaican jerk tofu, potatoes and gravy, hummus, and seitan stroganoff. Every bite I had was good. To top off the meal, I enjoyed a home baked chocolate mint cupcake. Decadent! Kaya's Kitchen is always a hit, in my opinion, and the large menu has something for everyone.

As you can see, I ate like a queen on my birthday. On top of that, I received some really thoughtful gifts. My parents bought me a juicer! I am so excited. I'm sure there will be lots of pictures and juice recipes to come! My sister got me a book on all kinds of home preserving. A very cool topic that I have been meaning to get more into. Thank you so much to Mark and my family, you guys really made my day special!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Treats

I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas! I know I did. As I mentioned a couple weeks earlier, I have been very busy with lots of Christmas treat making. This year I decided to do homemade gifts for my extended family. After many hours in the kitchen, I put together some tasty gift bags with a mix of goodies, and I even had enough extras to bring to Christmas festivities for sharing.
I started out with a delicious sugar cookie recipe from You Won't Believe It's Vegan. These were simple to make, and tasted surprisingly similar to a classic sugar cookie. I rolled them out, used some festive cookie cutters, and decorated them with assorted colored sugars.I also made 3 big batches of my granola. I used raisins and dried cranberries for a Christmas-y touch, and I packaged it up in mason jars for gifting.Finally, I made hand-dipped chocolate pretzels. For some reason, there is just no better combination that salty pretzels and sweet chocolate. I melted a bag of vegan chocolate chips using a double boiler, dipped the pretzels, and then topped them with sprinkles and peppermint pieces. I put a handful of pretzels in little bags and included them in the gift bag with tins of my sugar cookies and the jars of granola.Much to my very happy surprise, I got a wonderful chocolate treat in my Christmas stocking from my husband. He got me three Sweetriot treats. They are cacao nibs dipped in three different kinds of dark chocolate. I broke into these today, and they are HEAVENLY. I'm kind of concerned they might become an obsession.A sweet and delicious Christmas indeed! I hope you all had a wonderful day, and have a happy and healthy new year. I'm off to Vermont on new year's eve, but hopefully I'll be back here before then. If not, get ready for some reviews and pictures of my favorite places to eat in Vermont!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Soup

What does this picture of my house covered in snow make you want to eat? Soup!

This weekend we got a pretty intense snowstorm. We ended up with almost two feet of snow! I love snow and winter so needless to say I was thrilled. It's so nice to have snow on the ground, considering today is winter solstice! Luckily I had gone grocery shopping on Friday and missed most of the crowds (whenever it snows around here people seem to feel the need to stock up like the apocalypse is coming) and got plenty of stuff to cook and bake with. Tonight I was in the mood for a thick, creamy soup. You might remember the the soup recipe I posted a little while back that was going to be carrot soup but turned into carrot and butternut squash soup. Tonight, I went for the carrot soup that I originally intended. This soup is so thick and rich that you will never miss the cream. Serve it with a big slice of crusty bread for dipping.

Carrot Ginger Soup
-olive oil
-1 onion, diced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
-1 tbsp cumin
-1 tbsp coriander
-1 tbsp turmeric
-1 tbsp paprika
-salt and pepper
-2 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
-5 cups vegetable stock
-1 15 oz can coconut milk

-Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and heat on medium.
-Add the onion and cook for 5-6 minutes, until translucent.
-Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.
-Add all the spices and carrots and stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper.
-Add the vegetable stock to the pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the carrots are fork tender.
-Remove the soup from the heat. Using an immersion blender (or regular blender, taking care not to overfill or seal the lid while blending), puree the soup until very smooth. Add the coconut milk as you puree. If the soup is too thick, you can add a bit of water as needed.
-Put the soup back over low heat to warm back through, and serve.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hearty Pasta from your Pantry

Ever notice how it feels like there is just not enough time in the day during the holiday season? I know I do. I am happy to report that I am just about done with shopping, but I have grocery shopping to do, TONS of baking to do, a holiday party, and some family get-togethers from now through this weekend. Anyway, it's times like this when a stocked pantry comes in really handy. Pasta of a few different shapes and sizes is always in my house.
Combined with other pantry staples like canned tomatoes, dried herbs, and beans (and served with a crunchy salad, of course) you have a meal. It's important to be nourished when you are super busy, and there isn't a much more comforting thing than a big pot of marinara sauce on the stove.

Rigatoni with Marinara and Cannellini Beans
-1 lb rigatoni
-olive oil
-1 onion, small diced
-6 cloves garlic, minced
-2 tsp crushed red pepper
-1 tbsp tomato paste
-1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (I'm loving the Jersey Fresh brand! These come from 6 New Jersey farms and are processed in NJ as well)
-1 8 oz can tomato sauce
-salt and pepper
-1 tsp dried thyme
-1 tbsp dried basil
-1/2 tsp dried oregano
-1 15 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
-2 tbsp parsley, chopped

-Put a large pot over medium heat and coat with olive oil. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until it starts getting tender.
-Add the garlic and crushed red pepper to the pot. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the garlic is fragrant.
-Add the tomato paste to the pot and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and the tomato sauce and stir to combine.
-Season the sauce with salt and pepper and add the dried herbs.
-Cook over medium-low for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. About halfway through the cooking, add the beans to the sauce.
-While the sauce cooks, cook the pasta in well salted water until al dente.
-Drain the pasta and add to the sauce, along with the parsley. Stir gently to coat completely, then serve with a salad.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dumplings, Minus the Take-Out

In the past whenever Chinese take-out was the dinner plan, I would always order vegetable dumplings. Fried. I know, so bad. But between that and vegetable spring rolls, they are my favorite. So the other night I was in the mood for dumplings, but I decided rather than take-out, why not make my own? I knew it would be a bit of a process, but I'd rather spend the extra time and know exactly what I was eating and be able to fry them myself. I used a recipe from You Won't Believe It's Vegan! and it came out great. Rather than go through the recipe, I'll review the process. Like I said, this is a bit time consuming, but it isn't hard. And it is totally worth it.

Start with your dumpling filling. I used a recipe, but really, you can put anything in you like. Put a small spoonful of filling in the center of a wonton wrapper.

Fold it closed and seal the edges closed with a little arrowroot and water mixture (see the white paste in the little bowl). You can crimp the edges really closed with a fork.

Look at all those dumplings. And I wasn't even done putting them all together yet. Yum.

Next, get some canola oil heated to medium high in a pan. Add a few dumplings at a time, not crowding the pan.

Cook them for about a minute, until browned. Keep your eye on them, because they cook fast. Flip the dumplings.

Cook for another minute until the other side is browned, then remove the dumplings and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all the dumplings are cooked.

I served these wonderful dumplings with a peanut dipping sauce and sriracha. Crispy on the outside, warm and chewy on the inside, and even more flavorful than any take-out. You will not be interested in getting dumplings anywhere outside of your own kitchen once you make them yourself!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hearty Soup and a Christmas Cookie Preview

I know what you're thinking - another soup? Does she eat anything else? Well yes, of course I do, but in the wintertime by favorite dinner food is a big bowl of hot soup. Luckily for me, the options for tasty soup recipes are pretty much endless. Tonight I made a recipe out of The Candle Cafe Cookbook, Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup.
I had half a package of wild rice leftover from Thanksgiving that I'd been meaning to use, and the rest of the ingredients are pretty standard items on my grocery list. And who doesn't love a dish where mushroom and thyme are the main flavor profile? A match made in heaven, in my opinion. This soup was just what I wanted this evening, and it was complemented by some toasted bread and a salad of romaine, arugula, carrot, and green apple with some basil vinaigrette.

Another wonderful thing about this season is the prospect of delicious holiday treats. I will preface this with the fact that I am a far more confident cook than I am baker. That said, I don't shy away from baking, and I really want to get better at it. Tonight I tried out a cookie recipe to see if it was up to snuff for holiday sharing. Sure enough, these cookies turned out to be just divine. I'll save the recipe and pictures for closer to when I make a bigger batch for gifting and sharing, but I'll leave you with the main flavors: banana, oat, nut, chocolate. All in one place!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Trip to the Market and a Tasty Re-Creation

Ah, grocery shopping weekend! I might be a weirdo, but I genuinely look forward to going grocery shopping every 2 weeks. Since we were planning to be out of town on Sunday, I shopped on Saturday. I hit up Whole Foods as per usual, but before heading home, I made a stop at my local Asian market. If you haven't visited an Asian market in your area, you really should. It is a treasure trove of both unusual and tasty ingredients, as well as everyday ingredients at WAY cheaper prices than any grocery store. My good friend Jimbo introduced me to this particular market, and I can't thank him enough. Here are the goods from my trip this past weekend:

I got rice noodles, white miso paste, a couple tins of red curry paste, a green papaya, long beans, fresh lemongrass, wonton wrappers, and extraordinarily spicy chilies. I was so excited about these fun ingredients that I used a few of them Saturday night. I used the green papaya, a few long beans, and a couple chilies to make up a Thai salad. I also added carrot and tomato, along with a soy sauce based dressing with garlic, lime, peanuts, and lemongrass. My friend Jimbo whipped up a red curry with coconut milk, garlic, more long beans, potatoes, peppers, and onions, and we served it with jasmine rice. All in all, a great meal based around authentic ingredients you just won't find at your regular old grocery store.

And now to completely switch gears, I wanted to share this evening's dinner. In case you haven't heard about it (although you probably have), VeganYumYum is one of the best (and prettiest!) vegan blogs out there. There is even a VeganYumYum cookbook that can be yours with just a few clicks through Amazon, and would make a great holiday gift for any vegan in your life. Anyway, tonight I made my take on Asparagus and White Bean Pesto Tart. I was totally surprised to hear that Pepperidge Farm, of all brands, happens to make puff pastry that is vegan. Not something I would eat everyday, but it's nice to know it is there for me to use. I see it coming in especially handy in party situations; puff pastry is a great vehicle for all kinds of little hors d'ouvres. Anyway, this tart was absolutely delicious. It was simple to make and used basic, tasty ingredients. I loved the richness the cashews gave the white bean pesto, and despite the fact that I used dried basil in place of the suggested pesto paste, it came out great. Roasted asparagus is always yummy, and it was even better resting on the puff pastry and white bean tart. You can share this tart with another person and serve it alongside a raw salad for dinner (like I did), or cut it into smaller pieces for an appetizer or finger food. Either way, this recipe is a perfect way to use puff pastry and definitely worth trying in your own kitchen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Spicy Soup to Warm Up With

Last night I left work to find ridiculous wind gusts and a sprinkling of rain. All I wanted when I got home was to put on some sweats and eat something warm. I reached for an old standby: Moroccan chickpea soup. This is based on a recipe I found years ago on the Food Network website. I changed the spice profile a little bit, but other than that, I mostly follow the recipe. This recipe is great because besides being really flavorful (and quite spicy), it has only a few ingredients and keeps and reheats really well for leftovers. I served this soup with some oven toasted bread with olive oil, salt and pepper, along with a really tasty salad. I used romaine, carrots, green apples, and pecans, and made a lemon shallot dressing to top it with.

Moroccan Chickpea Soup
-olive oil
-1 yellow onion, diced
-6 cloves garlic, minced
-2 tsp cumin
-2 tsp coriander
-1 tsp turmeric
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1 tsp paprika
-1 tsp cayenne pepper
-1/4 tsp nutmeg
-1 tsp salt
-1 tsp pepper
-1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
-3 15 oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed
-4 cups vegetable broth
-5 oz. spinach leaves

-Coat the bottom of a soup pot with olive oil, and heat to medium.
-Add onion to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes, until tender. Add the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
-Add all the spices and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. It will be smelling amazing in your kitchen at this point.
-Add the tomatoes and juice, chickpeas, and vegetable broth. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 30 minutes so the chickpeas get tender and absorb the flavors.
-Add the spinach to the soup and stir to combine. Cook for just a minute or two until the spinach is wilted and vibrant green. Serve with toasty bread and salad.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dinner, Dessert, and Fitness

While Thanksgiving was great and full of tasty food, I have to say I'm pretty happy to be back to the regular routine. It's nice to come home from work and unwind by cooking a good weeknight meal. Good doesn't mean it takes loads of work and prep to make, though. Last night I made this recipe from the New York Times, with a few tweaks.
Nothing better than roasted sweet potatoes, in my opinion, and this is one of the best ways I've found to showcase them.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Beans and Chili Lime Dressing
-3 large sweet potatoes, cut into bite sized cubes
-1 red onion, diced
-3 tbsp olive oil
-1 red bell pepper, diced
-2 15 oz. cans black beans, drained
-1 bunch cilantro, chopped
-2/3 cup olive oil
-2 garlic cloves
-juice of 2 limes
-2 jalapenos, chopped
-salt and pepper

-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
-Toss the sweet potatoes and onion with 3 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper in a large baking pan. Roast for 30 minutes, until fork tender.
-In the meantime, combine the beans, bell pepper, and cilantro in a bowl.

-In your blender, combine the 2/3 cup olive oil, garlic, lime juice, jalapenos, and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.
-When the sweet potatoes and onions are done in the oven, add them to the bean mixture. Toss everything with the dressing, and serve warm.

I served this with some Near East Spanish rice, always a staple in my pantry. This salad was super flavorful, and filling too. And just looking at the colors, you know you're getting a big dose of vitamins here.

Now, I love to eat healthy, but I also have a nearly insatiable sweet tooth. I don't fight it though, I just eat dessert that I love in small quantities. This way I can enjoy something sweet and delicious most nights without the guilt.
My friend Lauren recommended this to me a few weeks ago, and I am so happy I finally took her suggestion! Luna and Larry's Coconut Bliss just might be my new dessert obsession. I got the Mint Galactica flavor, and it is so tasty and rich. Just a few spoonfuls is enough to satisfy even my crazy sweet tooth. Check out the company website if you have time, there is lots of really interesting information there about coconuts and nutrition.

Finally, I wanted to talk about fitness. Considering I planned this blog to not only cover healthy vegan food, but also things like running, hiking, and general fitness, I figured I was long overdue to address these things. This past year I really picked up my running. At my high point, I was running about 25 miles a week. Over the course of the summer, I ran a handful of 5 mile and 5k races, and I concluded my running season in October with my first half marathon (run in a nor'easter no less). Since then, I've been on a bit of a break. The week after the half marathon I went on a 9 mile trail run, and came home with a very sore foot. Since then, I've been running about once a week, but always having some serious pain afterwards. So, I've decided to take a bit of real time off. Not run for a couple of weeks. I decided to post about this today because I picked out my comeback race. It's a 2 miler in the dead of winter on the boardwalk. I can only hope it isn't 3 degrees out. I'm not sure where my fitness level will be by then, considering my time off and the fact that I only really run one or two days a week when it isn't daylight savings time. So, we'll see! I'm just excited to heal and get back to running and racing.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Review!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving that was spent with family, friends, and delicious vegan meals and treats! As promised, I'm here with a review of my Thanksgiving eats.

I'll start with my favorite part of any meal: dessert. I prepared two desserts to bring to my two Thanksgiving meals. I made peanut butter and jam cookies and a pumpkin cheesecake. Both of these recipes are from You Won't Believe It's Vegan!.
The cookies came out awesome. I love how few ingredients are in the recipe, and even better, the fact that all the sweetness comes from maple syrup. These cookies were pretty hefty and very filling, thanks to all the peanuts in them. A winner of a recipe, for sure. A not as awesome dessert was the cheesecake. It looked really pretty when it came out of the springform pan, but I think I might have undercooked this a bit. It was a little mushy in the middle. On the positive side, the flavor of the cheesecake (the pecan and maple crust especially) was really good. I may give this another shot in the future, and add some additional cooking time. So, this was kind of a success.

Now for my entree, wild rice stuffed acorn squash. This started out a bit rough on Thanksgiving morning, thanks to one of my squashes being rotted! Thankfully, Whole Foods is all of 7 minutes away from my house, so I zipped over and got a new one while my lovely husband was helpful enough to tend to the rice while I was gone. Anyway, at the end of the day, this dish came out really well. The squash was nice and tender and the rice, with mushrooms, shallots, and parsley, tasted rich. It looked pretty out of the oven, too. Now, you might remember me mentioning a mushroom gravy to accompany this... well, it didn't exactly make it out of the kitchen. Too make a long story short, I ended up with seriously sandy gravy. I am not exactly sure where I went wrong, but I think I either didn't cook the roux long enough, or boil the roux and the liquid long enough. Either way, there was no way this gravy was edible (which is sad, because the flavor was good), so it ended up in the backyard somewhere. I suppose I will have to take another stab at mushroom gravy sometime when I have more time and no one but myself to feed. To finish off on a happy note, I also made cranberry citrus sauce, which was delicious! Cranberries, orange, lemon, and maple syrup were all this recipe needed to be sweet, tart, and delicious on pretty much everything.

So I attended two Thanksgiving dinners, but I ate so much at the first one at my sister-in-law's house that I only managed dessert later on at my parents house. I know my mom had some side dishes that were vegan, like smashed turnips and carrots and green beans with almonds, so I will have to enjoy them as leftovers.
My sister-in-law had some fantastic vegan fare that I enjoyed thoroughly. The photo of my plate was taken, sadly, after I had scarfed half of it down and only then remembered that I should really have something to post here. Along with the cranberries and stuffed squash that I brought, there were green beans, mashed potatoes, roasted shallots, and sweet potatoes with marshmallows! These sweet potatoes blew everything out of the water. They were ridiculously delicious. She used marshmallows from Sweet & Sara, and she even gave me the leftover marshmallows to take home (full disclosure, they are already gone). I will be stealing her recipe and making this for Christmas, that is for sure!

Overall, I had a great Thanksgiving, surrounded by tasty food and all sides of my family. I am so thankful for them, my wonderful husband, my friends, and really, everything in my life; my list is far too long to try to type out here. I hope your holiday was just as good.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving Preview

The holiday season, the most potentially trying time of the year for those of us with different kinds of diets, is upon us. I say potentially for a reason; with a little planning and a bit of communication, the holidays can be totally stress-free and delicious for everyone. The number one rule in my book - cook for yourself, but make enough to share. This takes the stress off the host (unless, or course, that host is you) and ensures that you will be happy at the dinner table. Let the host know in advance what you plan to bring and share, and let them know that you eat vegan (or whatever your diet might be). You might be pleasantly surprised by your host offering to have Earth Balance or soy milk on hand. With nothing more than some time in your kitchen and a conversation, your Thanksgiving meal can be a wonderful event with your family and friends. I'm lucky enough to be sharing my Thanksgiving holiday with both my husband's and my sides of the family, all of whom are super accommodating. Besides the tasty vegan offerings they are being kind enough to provide, I plan on whipping up some dishes to share.

As promised in my previous cookbook post, I will be making some recipes from You Won't Believe It's Vegan! and The Candle Cafe Cookbook. Today I made a grocery store run and got everything I need for Thursday. I'm hoping I can get most of my cooking and baking done Wednesday, but we'll see what happens. For a side dish that goes well with just about everything, I'm making cranberry orange sauce. For my main dish, I'm making wild rice stuffed acorn squash with mushroom gravy. Sounds complicated, but after reading through the recipe, it sounds like it couldn't be easier. Plus, it's easy to prepare everything in advance and then do the final heat through once I get to my host's house. Now for the best part of the meal - dessert! I'll be making "peanut butter and jelly" cookies (sweetened only with maple syrup, extra bonus) and a pumpkin "cheesecake". Exciting! I'll be back this weekend with full reviews and photos. Until then, I wish you all a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cookbooks New and Old

Readers, I want to share a couple of cookbooks with you. For as much as it may not always be easy to find a vegan meal in a pinch, there certainly is no shortage of vegan cookbooks at your local bookstore. This is really encouraging for a few reasons. For the most part, it is both cheaper and healthier to cook at home rather than going out. You control the ingredients and their quality. It's also a nice gesture to cook for others, since you're using time, energy, and love to prepare nourishing meals to share.

You Won't Believe It's Vegan! is something of a local legend. It's written by Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty, former owners of the now closed Down to Earth restaurant.
This place had great vegan food, amazing juices and desserts, and has a special place in my heart since it's where my husband and I had our first real date way back when. As sad as I was when the restaurant closed, I'm happy to have a little piece of it with this cookbook. The recipes included were served at the restaurant. Besides the great recipes, this cookbook also includes some good reference points including a handy glossary (the different kinds of seaweed and natural thickeners were finally explained clearly!), ideas for home blended spice mixtures, and guidelines for cooking simple basics like grains and greens. This is a great addition to your cookbook collection that you will not get bored with any time soon.

A new addition to my bookshelf is The Candle Cafe Cookbook by Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza.
As you can guess from the title, this cookbook comes to us from the co-owners of the famed Candle Cafe in New York City. I haven't had much of a chance to really dig into this yet, but I am absolutely chomping at the bit based on the table of contents and the little bit of flipping through I've done so far. I'll be sure to include pictures and updates when I try some of these really elegant and delicious looking recipes. This is also motivation to finally get myself to the city and try this place! If the cookbook is this appealing, I can only imagine how great the food is when it's prepared by real chefs!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Soup

After making the Asian hot pot over the weekend, I started craving a thick, creamy, blended soup. So tonight, I planned on making carrot ginger soup. Then I remembered I not only had carrots on hand, but I had about half a butternut squash already chopped up (extra from another meal a few days ago). I figured I ought to use it, so I decided to add that to the soup too. I also had about a third of a loaf of (what was) fresh whole wheat bread. It was a little too far gone for slicing and toasting for dipping so instead I made some croutons. It added a nice crunch to the smooth soup.

Coconut Ginger Carrot Squash Soup
(If anyone can think of a shorter name for this, it would be appreciated!)

-olive oil
-1 medium onion, chopped
-4 garlic cloves, minced
-half a large butternut squash, cubed
-10 large carrots, chopped
-2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
-4 cups vegetable stock
-salt and pepper
-1 15 oz. can coconut milk

-Heat some olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until they are getting tender.
-Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, until fragrant.
-Add the squash, carrots, and ginger. Stir to combine and distribute the ginger, and season with salt and pepper.

-Add the vegetable stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the vegetables are fork tender. Turn off the heat.
-Using an immersion blender*, blend the soup until smooth. As you blend, add the coconut milk.
-Put the soup back over the heat until it's hot. Serve topped with croutons.

*The immersion blender might be my favorite kitchen tool. It is a must-have if you make a lot of soups. If you don't have one of these wonderful devices, you can blend the soup in a blender. Just be sure to work in batches, don't fill the blender more than half full, and never form a tight seal with the lid over hot blender contents. It could explode, I am not kidding.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Quick Hot Meal for a Rainy Night

For the past few days we've had some rainy and cold weather here. Whenever it's like this outside I crave soup. But last night, I didn't have a ton of time, so I needed to make a soup that didn't require a long simmer. I ended up making an Asian hot pot. In reality, it really wasn't a true hot pot since I didn't cook the ingredients in the broth at the table. But hey, I was close enough since this whole cooking process happened pretty fast.
When I started making this recipe, I anticipated getting a rather brothy soup. But once I had everything in the pot, I was happy to find that this was heartier than I guessed it would be. Mark affirmed that this was great "cold, rainy night food". You don't need many ingredients here, and the leftovers are great too (I had them for lunch today). The recipe below is what I came up with after poking around various recipe sites and picking out my favorite Asian flavors. The only thing I felt that was missing here was heat. Next time I make this dish, I plan to stir some sriracha directly into the broth. This time, we just topped our bowls with it and stirred it in then.

Tofu and Vegetable Hot Pot
-4 cups vegetable broth
-1 1/2 cups water
-4 garlic cloves, smashed
-1 inch of peeled ginger, sliced
-canola or vegetable oil
-1/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, sliced
-3 heads baby bok choy, stems and leaves separated, chopped
-3 oz. rice noodles (about half a package)
-1 package firm tofu, drained and cubed
-2 carrots, grated
-3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
-3 tbsp soy sauce
-1 tbsp sesame oil
-2 scallions, sliced

-Put the broth, water, garlic, and ginger in a large pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the garlic and ginger to infuse the liquid. Remove the garlic and ginger slices. *NOTE* It's a good idea to remember how many garlic cloves and ginger slices you put in, so you can ensure that you got them all out.
-While the broth is simmering, prepare the vegetables. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the oil, mushrooms, and bok choy stems. Saute for about 5 minutes, until tender.
-Add the mushrooms, bok choy stems, and rice noodles to the broth, and simmer for 2 minutes.
-Add the bok choy greens and tofu to the broth, simmer for 2 minutes.
-Add the carrots, vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Stir to combine everything well, and serve topped with scallions.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Crunchy Hippie Food

I am a granola lover. As cliche as it may sound, I started eating it when I was at college up in Vermont. Back then I would eat pretty much any granola put in front of me, but over time, I guess you could say I refined my granola tastes. One thing that drives me bonkers is when granola is too sweet. I find this to be the case with most store bought brands. There are a few places locally I can get granola made in house but typically it is pretty pricey. The solution to my granola conundrum? Make my own, of course! I mix this granola into soy yogurt, I eat it with soy or almond milk, and I even sprinkle it over fruity sorbets for dessert. It is versatile and delicious. There's also no reason you can't get creative with your flavors. Sometimes I stick with a classic recipe with cinnamon, raisins, and dried cranberries. But sometimes I go a little crazy in the bulk foods section at the grocery store and add things like dried pineapple, dried papaya, dried apricots, and ground ginger to make a tropically inspired granola (check out the picture below)!

Basic Crunchy Granola
-5 cups rolled oats
-1 cup sliced almonds
-3/4 cup sunflower seeds
-2 tsp ground cinnamon
-pinch nutmeg
-1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
-1/3 cup real maple syrup (I'm obviously biased, but Vermont syrup is the best)
-2 tbsp agave syrup or honey, depending on your personal leanings
-1 1/2 cups dried fruit of your choice, chopped

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
-In a large bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
-Mix in the oil, maple syrup, and agave syrup or honey. Make sure everything is evenly coated with the liquids.
-Spread the oat mixture out on a foil lined baking sheet and smooth out so you have a nice even layer.
-Bake for 25 minutes. Be sure to thoroughly stir the oat mixture once in the middle of baking to prevent uneven cooking and sticking.
-Remove the granola from the oven and put on a wire rack. Stir in your dried fruit while the granola is still hot.
-While the granola cools for the next 20 minutes or so, give it a stir every few minutes to make sure it doesn't stick. This will also help it cool faster.
-Store the granola in an airtight container. It will keep for about 2 weeks, although it never lasts that long in my house.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Follow Up and a Tasty Side Dish

As promised in my last post, I wanted to share my thoughts about Nutiva HempShake. I whipped up a smoothie using my sample packet of Berry Pomegranate yesterday around mid-morning. I used 4 ounces soy milk (I wanted to use almond milk, but it wasn't cold), 4 ounces water, 1 sample packet of HempShake, and about half a cup of frozen strawberries. The HempShake mix by itself looks kind of unappetizing; it's an ugly brown color. But once I blended everything up, the shake turned a nice mauvish-purple color. This blended up really nicely; there were no chunks of powder or anything. As for taste, this mix was very good. I could really taste the pomegranate flavor, which pared nicely with the frozen strawberries. I'm sure using mixed berries of pretty much any kind would work well. The one thing I saw as a negative was the thickness. Even though I used a full cup of liquid, half of which was just water, the shake came out a little thick and gummy. I think next time I would add another half cup of liquid. Final verdict? I would buy this again, and switch it up with my soy protein shakes occasionally.

Last night, I finally got around to making a side dish I've been meaning to make for a while - cauliflower puree. I don't know why I waited so long because this might be the most simple thing to ever be produced in my kitchen. This puree was light, fluffy, and tasted like cauliflower and only cauliflower (which is a wonderful thing if you ask me). I served this alongside a green risotto that I made with leeks, peas, zucchini and herbs. In the future, I'd save the puree for an entree that had a texture that was not soft and creamy. Don't get me wrong, I love soft creamy food; but maybe not an entire plate of it (full disclosure - I wanted to make risotto cakes, but for some reason they didn't so much stay cakes... I'm thinking it might had been that big glass of wine I had before dinner, oops). The recipe below was inspired by this one.

Simple Cauliflower Puree
-1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
-salt and pepper

-Set up a steamer basket in a pot above about half an inch of water. Heat the pot over medium high heat.
-Put the florets in the pot and steam them for about 8-10 minutes. Stir once or twice to ensure everything cooks evenly. The cauliflower is done when it is tender but not mushy.
-Put the steamed florets into your food processor and season with salt and pepper. Add a splash of the steaming liquid and puree. Repeat this process until you have a nice smooth consistency, making sure not to add too much water. You don't want a runny puree, you want a light fluffy one.
-Serve this puree right away so it's still hot, preferably with an entree with crunchy elements.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hemp - Not Just for College Students

I am an alum of the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont. When people hear this, they often gravitate to one of a few topics; commonly, it's hemp. Obviously, a student or two was known to use a variety of the plant for its, shall we call them, recreational purposes. There was also a store stocked full of clothing and other goods made of hemp (The Hempest). This was new to me, coming from New Jersey where I'd never seen the plant used in its fiber form. I may be living 300 miles away from Burlington today, but my hemp discoveries have not ended. In the past week, I've come across a couple of interesting hemp products that I wanted to share.

First, we have Tempt Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert. I was really excited to find this at my local Whole Foods.
I've had a few different soy based non-dairy desserts and I've always been underwhelmed. They almost tasted icy, if not a little freezer burned. Anyway, when I saw this frozen hempmilk dessert, I decided to give it a try. I picked up the Coffee Biscotti flavor. I will say, this little pint of wonderfulness blew me away. It was so creamy; I attribute this to the good fat that hempseeds are a great source of. Hempmilk has more than double the Omega-3's and Omega-6's than soy milk. Besides the healthy fats, this product is a good source of both protein and essential amino acids. Go ahead and try to find me another dessert that has all this AND tastes delicious, smooth, and creamy!

Another hemp product I just stumbled upon today is Nutiva HempShake. I haven't had a chance to actually try this yet, but I was intrigued enough to pick up a sample packet to try tomorrow. We've all heard the saying "everything in moderation". I like to make sure I take this to heart, especially with my soy intake. I enjoy soy yogurt, soy milk, soy protein powders, and tofu as much as the next guy. However, I'm trying to branch out to include other kinds of products to add variety to my diet.
The HempShake mix seems like a good choice because it contains about the same amount of protein as my soy protein mix and it also has blueberries, acai, and goji berries, which are all jammed packed with antioxidants. In addition, this mix is a good source of fiber. I promise to report back with a review of the taste and texture; I'm planning on blending this mix up with some almond milk and frozen strawberries.

Hopefully this inspired you to venture in the world of (legal) hemp products! If you feel so inclined, it's worth the time to do some reading on the state of hemp farming today; despite the fact that the industrial hemp used to produce food and fiber products can't be used as a drug thanks to low THC levels, it's still illegal to farm here in the United States.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Rice and Beans with a Twist

I can't take credit for tonight's dinner theme. One of my husband's (his name is Mark, by the way) favorite home cooked meals is black bean cakes and rice. He would eat rice and beans in any way, shape, or form, I'm pretty sure, but the cakes are a nice change of pace. Anyway, he suggested these pretty early on in the day and luckily I had just about all the ingredients on hand at home. Mark wasn't too upset about needing to run out to the store and grab a tomato and some cilantro, though! I served the cakes over chopped romaine for some crunchy freshness and I mixed up a quick pico de gallo with a tomato, half an onion, and some cilantro. I like to set out all the fixings for the bean cakes and rice and let everyone put their own plate together. Besides the salad and pico, I pulled out a few different kinds of salsas and hot sauces to top the meal with. This is a hearty meal that's full of protein and fiber. The recipe below serves two.

Black Bean Cakes and Spanish Rice
-1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
-half a red bell pepper, minced
-1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-3 scallions, minced
-1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
-1/4 cup bread crumbs
-1 tbsp chili powder
-1 tbsp cumin
-salt and pepper
-2 tbsp of your favorite salsa
-2 tbsp vegetable oil
-3 tbsp cornmeal
-2 servings of cooked Spanish rice (I used the Near East brand, but if you feel so inclined and have a bit of extra time, go ahead and make your own!)

-Mash about 3/4 of the beans in a shallow bowl. Leave some beans whole for texture.
-Add the peppers, garlic, scallions, and cilantro to the mashed beans. Mix well.
-Add the bread crumbs, chili powder, cumin, and salsa. Mix to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
-Form the bean mixture into 6 cakes that are about 3/4" thick. Place the cakes on a tray and refrigerate for 10 minutes. This will allow them to firm up a bit and make them easier to handle.
-Remove the cakes from the refrigerator and heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Put the cornmeal in a shallow bowl. Dredge the cakes in the cornmeal, shaking off any excess, then place them in the hot skillet.
-Cook the cakes about 4 minutes on each side, until golden and crispy on the outside and heated through.
-Remove the cakes from the heat. Serve them with Spanish rice any fixings and toppings you like. A salad, pico de gallo, salsa, hot sauce, or guacamole would all be great options.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tomato Soup... in November!

I know that we all know and love our Jersey tomatoes. They are one of the finer points of summer and a staple at every farmer's market around. But once autumn rolls around, I usually find myself reaching for canned tomatoes. After a comment from my husband about the metallic taste of my last batch of tomato soup (which sadly, I had to agree with), I decided my next attempt would be made with fresh tomatoes. Happily, even in November, I'm still finding some! At my local grocery store I found some plump field tomatoes from New York state that I picked up. I supplemented these with a pint of cherry tomatoes; I figured these would be a good choice in case the field tomatoes weren't as sweet as they tend to be in summer. I don't think I had to worry. This soup came out delicious and silky! It's low on ingredients and easy on the wallet, and full of nutrients. Tomatoes are full of vitamin C and lycopene. I served this meal to my parents and my husband, and I had about half a serving of soup left over; if you're feeding a crowd, I would double this recipe. I served this soup with freshly baked sweet potato fries, a green salad, and sliced whole wheat bread.

Roasted Tomato Soup
-2 1/2 pounds of fresh tomatoes (a mix of whatever kind you like), quartered and cored
-1 large sweet onion, sliced
-4 cloves garlic, peeled
-4 springs thyme
-1/3 cup olive oil
-3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
-1/2 cup tightly backed basil leaves, torn
-salt and pepper

-Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
-Place the onions and garlic in the bottom of a large baking dish. Place the tomatoes on top of the onions and garlic, and place the thyme sprigs over the top of the tomatoes. Pour the olive oil over the vegetables. Bake for 30 minutes.
-After removing and discarding the thyme sprigs, transfer the contents of the baking dish, along with all the juices, into a soup pot.
-Add the vegetable stock to the pot, and bring the soup to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the soup condenses and thickens a bit. Add the basil in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking time.
-Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it's as smooth as you can get it.
-Prepare another soup pot with a fine-mesh strainer over the top of it. Ladle the pureed soup into the strainer and use the ladle to work the soup through. This will remove any bits of basil and tomato seeds or membranes that didn't puree well.
-Heat the soup back up over medium heat. Ladle into bowls and serve.


Welcome to Runs on Plants! You may remember me from my recipe-based blog, The Hungry Pescetarian. I started this blog to accommodate changes I've made recently; I've adopted a vegan diet. My previous blog was mainly a place for me to share recipes. I plan to continue to do that here, and on top of that, include thoughts on food and fitness in general. If you were a reader of my old blog, I hope you'll continue to follow me here. And if you're a new reader, welcome! I'd love to hear your feedback on anything you feel like sharing, so please, leave comments! Happy eating and exercising!