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!