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.