Monday, April 26, 2010

Asparagus Season

Unless you haven't been to the grocery store in the past few weeks or you live under a rock, you must have noticed the abundance of fresh and inexpensive asparagus available lately. It's just in season now, being an early spring crop. I used to really hate asparagus. Maybe I didn't like the distinctive flavor, maybe I was weirded out by the way it made my pee smell. I don't know. But I am happy to report in the past few years I have come around to asparagus, weird pee smell and all. It's worth it when you get a bunch of really tender shoots and cook them simply. This dish served as a vehicle for basic roasted asparagus. The vehicle itself, polenta and mushrooms, wasn't too shabby either. This is a fast and easy meal if you use quick cooking polenta. It will work fine with regular, though, it will just take a little longer.

Soft Polenta with Mushroom Sauce and Roasted Asparagus
-1 1/3 cups quick cooking polenta
-olive oil
-1 small onion, diced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-10 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
-1 heaping tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
-1/2 cup white wine
-1/2 cup vegetable stock
-1 tbsp Earth Balance
-1 tsp cornstarch
-1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
-salt and pepper
-3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
-In a large pan, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook 4-5 minutes until softened.
-Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes.
-Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook, stirring often, for 7-8 minutes until the mushrooms are softened.
-Add the wine and vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquid reduces a bit.
-Meanwhile, arrange the asparagus on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, until fork tender.
-Once the asparagus goes in, prepare the quick cooking polenta according to package directions. It should only take 5-10 minutes. Keep warm until you're ready to eat.
-Add the Earth Balance and cornstarch to the mushroom sauce and stir to thicken. Test the seasoning and adjust as needed.
-On your plate, scoop a serving of polenta. Top with the mushroom sauce, and arrange the roasted asparagus on top. Top with fresh parsley and serve.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Waffles and (One of) My Favorite Recovery Smoothies

First of all, I apologize for my silence this week! It has been a little crazy with lots going on. But here I am, and I promise to try to not neglect Runs on Plants going forward! Anyway, things finally slowed down this weekend. I took the opportunity to make a tasty Saturday morning breakfast for Mark and I. Since I'm still cooking out of Veganomicon like crazy, I decided to make the Banana-Nut Waffles. Bananas and walnuts are delicious paired in muffins and breads, so why not waffles? As you could probably guess, these did not disappoint. They were so tasty, it was like eating crispy, fluffy banana nut bread. If you don't have a Belgian waffle iron, I suggest getting married so you can put it on your registry. I would never have bought one for myself, but I can't tell you how nice it is to have one. I don't use it all that often, maybe every month or two, but it is so great to be able to enjoy a restaurant quality waffle at home in sweats. I served these delicious waffles with some sliced strawberries and real Vermont maple syrup. I also had two leftover waffles, so I halved them and froze them. These are perfect for throwing in the toaster for a quick weekday breakfast. If this waffle recipe was this good, I can only imagine how awesome the Chocolate Chip Brownie Waffle recipe in the book is...
This morning I went to the gym to get in a strength workout. After any kind of workout, it's really important to recover with the right kinds of foods and nutrients. To put it really simply, you need carbohydrates to replenish your energy stores, and you need protein to help your muscles heal. In all my recovery smoothies, these two elements are the stars. This morning, I made one of my favorites, a green protein smoothie.

Green Protein Smoothie
-8 oz almond milk
-1 serving vanilla protein powder of your choice (today I used Spiru-Tein, which is a rice, pea, and soy protein blend)
-1 tsp maca powder
-1 tsp spirulina
-1/2 ripe banana
-1/4 cup frozen blueberries
-5-6 frozen strawberries

-Combine all ingredients in a blender.
-Blend until all ingredients are smooth. If needed for easier blending, add additional almond milk by the tablespoon.
-Serve immediately.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Veganomicon Mania

I hope everyone has had an enjoyable and relaxing weekend. I was definitely happy to have some good stuff going on and good food to eat after this past Thursday. When I was out for a run, just half a mile from my house, I tripped on I don't know what and fell flat on the ground. I managed to get a pretty nasty series of cuts on my knee and my hand. So needless to say, thanks to the bruising/stiffness/healing cuts, my half marathon training has been kind of disrupted. The good news is, the bulk of my training is done, and I got myself on the bike, elliptical, and treadmill this morning at the gym. I think I will be back in action early next week, and I don't think this little setback will have much negative effect on the half marathon in 2 weeks.

On to the food! Since my mom got me a copy of Veganomicon, I have been busy picking out which dishes to make first. This weekend, I made two. My parents hosted visitors from out of state yesterday, my dad's best friend from college and his wife. My mom made a chicken stew for dinner, so I brought along a dish to eat and share - BBQ Black-Eyed Pea Collard Rolls. This was a simple recipe that was easy to put together and that looked really pretty on the plate. They also tasted great! Everyone who tried them enjoyed them. I can tell I will be making the BBQ sauce recipe many times this summer, so yummy. Another great thing about this recipe is that I got to eat it twice. There were a couple rolls and a bit of sauce leftover, so I repurposed them tonight for dinner. I cooked up a serving of brown rice, and added the filling from the leftover rolls (the collard leaves had gotten a little slimy so I tossed them) to a skillet with the extra sauce. The filling was chopped collards, mushrooms, black-eyed peas, and BBQ sauce. Once heated through, I served it with the rice for a delicious meal the second time around.
I tried another recipe from the book today, the Carrot Pineapple Sunshine Muffins. I figured these would make a great snack for Mark and I to take along to work this week. The muffins are chock full of delicious ingredients - pineapple, raisins, orange zest, carrots. It smelled like a tropical paradise in my kitchen while these baked. These came out wonderfully. They are nice and moist, thanks to soy yogurt and the fruit in the recipe, and they are fluffy like a classic muffin. I can't wait to enjoy these at work this week, it will certainly be a bright spot in the day! I think I will store them in the refrigerator though, even though they are so tasty fresh. I don't want them to get soggy. Any advice on storing muffins?
Anyway, have a great week everyone! Hopefully I will have a few new recipes for you this week.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Enchiladas Even a Carnivore Can Love

One of my favorite kinds of Mexican food, or any food for that matter, is a big plate of enchiladas. There is just something about warm, filling goodness wrapped in a chewy tortilla and smothered in a delicious sauce. What's not to love? In the past, I've always filled these up with rice, beans, and a mix of vegetables. But this past week, I had a coupon for any Lightlife product, so I picked up a package of veggie protein crumbles. I decided to use them in these enchiladas. It really gave the meal some filling "meatiness", and added great texture and flavor. Besides the sauce, I topped these with a simple guacamole to give them some creaminess. I fed these enchiladas to Mark and my dad, who both really enjoyed them. My dad was, however, pretty bummed that there were no leftovers!

-canola oil
-1 12 oz package veggie protein crumbles
-1 packet taco seasoning
-1 onion, diced
-5 cloves garlic, minced, with 1 cloves worth set aside
-1 red bell pepper, diced
-1 4 oz can diced green chilies
-1 15 oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
-1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
-2 tbsp chili powder
-2 tbsp cumin
-hot sauce to taste
-3 tbsp prepared salsa
-1 bunch cilantro, chopped, with 1 tbsp set aside
-salt and pepper
-6 flour tortillas
-1 15 oz can enchilada sauce
-2 avocados
-juice of 1 lime

-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
-Heat canola oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the veggie crumbles and break up with a spoon.
-Prepare about 3/4 of the taco seasoning packet as directed (usually you just add water). Add the seasoning mixture to the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the crumbles from the pan and set aside.
-In the same pan, add the onion, 4 cloves worth of the garlic, and bell pepper. Cook for 7-8 minutes, until vegetables are tender and fragrant.
-Add the green chilies, beans, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, hot sauce, and salsa. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine, and cook for another 7-8 minutes until everything is heated through and combined.
-Turn off the heat and add the cilantro, leaving 1 tbsp of it aside. Stir to combine.
-Grease one or two baking dishes, depending on their size. Heat the tortillas in the microwave for a few seconds to soften them up.
-Lay a tortilla flat on a cutting board. Spread veggie crumbles in a line in the middle of the tortilla. Spread some bean and veggie mixture on top of that. Roll the tortilla closed, and place in the baking dish. Repeat until you've filled all the tortillas.
-Pour the enchilada sauce evenly over all the enchiladas. Put them in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.
-While the enchiladas bake, prepare the guacamole. Remove the flesh from the avocados and mash with a fork. Add one clove of minced garlic, a tbsp of chopped cilantro, and the juice of one lime. Stir to combine.
-Serve the enchiladas topped with the guacamole.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cupcakes, Tea, and a Gift

What an eventful weekend! I have lots of fun and delicious things to share with you all on this lazy Sunday evening. Earlier this past week, my good friend Greg told me about a new vegan bakery a few towns away from me. Needless to say, I got right to work figuring out the details on this place. Turns out it's called Papa Ganache (you can find them on Facebook here), and I took a trip there yesterday. Their treats are all vegan, mostly organic, and they have gluten-free items too. The goodies include cupcakes (regular and mini sized!), cookies, cinnamon buns, muffins, and breads. They have coffee and tea, too. The storefront is small but very cute, with a little seating area that looks out through huge windows to the nearby bay. I decided to get a few different items to try, mostly because everything looked so good I was having a hard time with decisions. For me, I brought home a mini strawberries n' cream cupcake, a mini chocolate peanut butter cupcake, and a regular size "Mostess", a twist on the classic cream filled Hostess cake (how cute is the play on the white curlicue icing?). I apologize for eating the mini chocolate peanut butter cupcake prior to the photo, I was so excited I just kind of inhaled it in the parking lot. I also got a chocolate chip cookie for Mark. Let me just say, all of the cupcakes were ridiculously good. Like, really, really delicious. It is a good thing this place is a bit of a ride from my house or I'd be in trouble. I had a nibble of Mark's cookie, and that was very tasty too. The texture was a bit of a surprise, kind of crispy on the outside and chewy inside, but overall it was very good. I give this place a big A+. Delicious treats, cute little storefront, friendly people working. I'll be back!

Another place I visited on Saturday was a new tea house in town. It's called NovelTeas. My mom had seen the place a few weeks ago and suggested we check it out. Upon walking in, it was like you were transported. Beautifully decorated, plenty of cozy seating, and a gorgeous backyard garden with more seating greeted us. Off to the side was the register and a wall of loose leaf teas available for purchase. Since we didn't have a lot of time, I just picked up some lemon herbal loose tea to bring home, but I can assure you I will be back to laze about for a few hours with some tea and a book. What a wonderful find in town!
Finally, my wonderful mom got a me gift today! She picked up a copy of Veganomicon for me. I was so excited; I've wanted this cookbook for a long time! I've used it at friends' houses and heard many a person rave about it, so I am really glad to finally have my own copy. I can't wait to get cooking!That's it for my busy weekend. The half marathon is 3 weeks from today! I'm getting really deep into my training, and I'm starting to get excited. Almost there.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wild Rice Salad and Ice Cream!

I have been craving rice for a few days now, but I didn't feel like making a risotto. I decided on making a wild rice salad. When I started looking for recipes online, I quickly became overwhelmed. So many variations, so many complicated recipes. After a little while of this, I said forget it! I decided to just kind of wing it, using orange as the main flavor since I saw so many recipes incorporating it. This recipe is nice and simple, and was really comforting without being heavy.

Orange Infused Wild Rice Salad
-2 cups wild rice or wild/brown rice blend
-4 cups cooking liquid (I used the juice of one orange and water; vegetable stock works too)
-zest of 2 oranges
-3 scallions, chopped
-1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
-3/4 cup dried cranberries
-juice of 1 orange
-1 shallot, minced
-1 tsp mustard
-1 tsp agave nectar
-2 tbsp red wine vinegar
-3 tbsp olive oil
-salt and pepper

-Cook the rice per the package directions. Add the zest of 1 orange to the cooking liquid. Mine took about 50 minutes on the stove. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before proceeding.
-Combine the scallions, pecans, and dried cranberries. Set aside.
-Combine the juice of the orange, zest of 1 orange, shallot, mustard, agave, vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper.
-In a large bowl, combine cooked rice, scallion mixture, and orange dressing. Stir to combine. Serve, or chill in the refrigerator for a few hours if you want a cold dish.
On a dessert-y note, I have been loving the So Delicious Banana Split Minis. They are made with coconut milk ice cream and they are just delicious. They're the perfect little sweet treat, and at only 100 calories, they are practically guilt-free. Nothing like an ice cream sandwich on these 80 degree days we've been having the past couple days!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Race Recap and a Delicious Dessert

Hi all! First off, I hope everyone had a happy Easter/Passover/spring weekend. I had a busy and fun weekend for sure. Saturday morning was my first race of the spring season, the Sgt. Pat's 5k in Long Branch. This is a great race that is run in remembrance of a Long Branch police officer that was killed in the line of duty. It also supports a scholarship fund and a non-profit that assists those with mental illness, both in Sgt. Pat King's name. It's nice to know your entry fee is going to such good causes. Anyway, it was a little foggy and chilly in the morning, but by 11:00am when the race started it had warmed up a little bit. It was a big field, over 600 people in total, and the race went out and back on the promenade along the beach. I'm happy to report that I set a new PR! I ran the 3.1 miles in 24 minutes and 26 seconds, good enough for 3rd place in my age group. I felt good the whole way through and was really pleasantly surprised at my time; I'm really psyched on acheiving a sub-8 minute mile pace. It was definitely a confidence booster for the half marathon, now less than 4 weeks away. Here's me (#338) just before the final turn around.
For a little Easter and post-run treat, I made a batch of Lemon Bars. The folks at No Meat Athlete posted the recipe, care of Veganomicon. This is a cookbook I really need to get myself next time I get a Borders coupon in my email. Anyway, these came out awesome. I love lemony desserts, and sadly, vegan lemon curd or custard is pretty much non-existant. Using a few alternative ingredients (agar flakes, arrowroot), these came together perfectly. A must try dessert recipe in my opinion, especially for lemon lovers!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pizza Fusion

Just last week, a Pizza Fusion franchise opened in my town. When I saw the "coming soon" signs, I googled the place to see what it was all about. Happily, I learned that Pizza Fusion is vegan friendly and gluten-free friendly, which opens up pizza to a few pizza-challenged groups. They are also big on the eco-friendly thing; counters made of recycled soda bottles, tables made of reclaimed wood, lots of organic ingredients. All good stuff. To put the food to the test, Mark and I ate there tonight.

There is more than pizza at Pizza Fusion. They offer salads, sandwiches, and desserts too. For the purpose of my review, I'll stick to what I ate; pizza and dessert. In terms of vegan pizza options, you can do one of two things; go with the "Very Vegan" pizza (mushrooms, roasted garlic, tomato sauce, soy cheese) or do a "Build Your Own". You also get to choose your crust, either traditional white or multigrain. I went with the Very Vegan on multigrain, in the personal size (you can also do large and extra large if you have a few people eating the same thing). Overall, this was a tasty pizza. The crust was thinner than I expected, which is a good thing since I like crispy pizza. The sauce was very good and well seasoned and the soy cheese (they use Follow Your Heart) melted well and tasted good. My main gripe is that they were pretty skimpy on the toppings. I could have definitely used a little more roasted garlic, since I only tasted it in maybe 2 or 3 bites of the whole pizza. Another quibble is the price. My personal pizza was $9. That seemed a bit steep for a pizza this size. Overall though, the pizza was tasty and satisfying. When it comes to dessert, the menu is limited, and the only vegan option (which also happens to be gluten-free) is a brownie. I felt like having dessert, so I ordered one to go. I have to say I was pretty disappointed. The brownie looked and smelled really appetizing, but it just fell short in the flavor and texture departments. The brownie was too cakey and almost fluffy, which was weird. It also had a sort of chalky aftertaste/texture which wasn't too pleasant. Too round it out, it just didn't taste that good.

The verdict? Pretty good pizza, not so great dessert. This is a place I probably wouldn't have another sit down meal in, but I can see myself getting takeout once in a while for a treat. In any case, it's really nice to have a vegan option just a short walk from my house.