Trying Soups to Fight the Chill

Nothing says soup like winter in upstate NY.  It’s been a sort of subconscious goal of mine this season to try as many new, warming recipes as possible, and soup definitely fits the bill!

Over the last week or so, I cooked up two soups from 1,000 Vegan Recipes.  (In case you haven’t noticed, I adore that book!)  The first came about in one of my infamous quests to find something to do with veggies I bought on sale–in this case, collard greens.  I’ve been wanting to try them for a while and wound up grabbing a big bunch for all of nine cents.  Yep, you read that right, nine whole cents.

collard & rice soup cooking
Of course it turned out to be a great deal and made a spectacular soup.  This particular recipe called for collards, rice, and black-eyed peas.  Lacking the latter, I used a mixture of black beans and white beans, which tasted quite good!  My mom and I added a little bit of hot sauce to our servings as suggested by the recipe.  It was an amazing soup experience.

collard & rice soup meal
The second recipe was a bit more unusual, but I’m glad I got adventurous and tried it.  The title, Peanutty Two-Potato Soup, piqued my interest.  And since we had both white potatoes from our garden and sweet potatoes from (yet another) recent produce sale, I decided to give it a shot.

two potato peanut soup boil
Who knew that peanut butter in soup could be so delicious?  The soup itself was very basic; just onions, a little celery, broth, and the two kinds of potatoes.  But the clincher was a half-cup of peanut butter added at the end after blending the soup.  (Of course I was quite excited about that bit, since it meant getting to play with the immersion blender again.)

two potato peanut soup blended
This was obviously a very rich soup, so I wouldn’t make it all the time.  But it was just what my family needed after a long, snowy day!

two potato peanut soup meal
Speaking of snow, who else got slammed on Monday?  I think we got over a foot…

Two Christmas Recipes: Lasagna Pinwheels & Candy Cane Mocha

What great holiday is complete without great food and treats?  As I’ve mentioned, I love holiday cooking and baking, and Christmas is my favorite holiday of all.

My mom’s side of the family is Italian, and so it’s a long-standing tradition that we have pasta of some kind for Christmas dinner.  Usually it’s lasagna, and this year was no exception.  While my mom put together a traditional lasagna for herself and my brother (using the sauce I made), I decided to play around with the lasagna pinwheel recipe from 1,000 Vegan Recipes.  For filling, I made some tofu ricotta using the recipe from Veganomicon and invested in a little bag of mozzarella-style Daiya.

tofu ricotta

Armed with that and some whole wheat lasagna noodles, I took a crack at adapting the original recipe.  It’s extremely versatile, so if there’s something you like in your lasagna and you can fit it into the rolled-up noodles, go for it!  Vegan sausage, cooked spinach, or even shredded zucchini would make great additions.

Lasagna Pinwheels
inspired by 1,000 Vegan Recipes
serves 4

Ingredients
10-12 lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions
2 cups of your favorite vegan ricotta
2 cups pasta sauce, homemade or store bought
1 cup shredded vegan mozzarella

Directions
1) Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Lay the lasagna noodles out on a flat surface.

lasagna noodles layout

2) Spread about 3tbsp. of vegan ricotta out on each noodle.  Top with some of the shredded mozzarella.

lasagna noodles filled
3)
In a large baking dish, spread a thin layer of sauce. (I used an aluminum pie pan since I was only making these for myself.)  Carefully roll each noodle up and place it in the dish, seam side down.

lasagna noodles rolled
4)
Top the rolls with the remaining sauce and the rest of the mozzarella.  Cover with foil and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes.

lasagna pinwheels
5)
Remove foil and bake for a couple minutes longer to finish melting the cheese, if desired.  Serve hot with your choice of sides.

vegan christmas dinner 01
vegan christmas dinner 02
Even my guinea pigs got in on the Christmas food action!  I usually stick to small stuff or raw veggies when I give them treats, but this year I splurged and got them a “Snak Shak”…100% edible and a heck of a place for them to hide when they’re feeling antisocial.

abbey snak shak

Abbey checks out the Snak Shak

mcgee snak shak

McGee gives the Shak a look

Speaking of treats, I’ve been trying to put together a vegan peppermint mocha for a few weeks now, and on Christmas Day I think I finally got it!  This is more of a cobbling together of flavors than a recipe, but I thought I’d share because it was so darn good.  I used to be kind of addicted to coffeehouse-style drinks, and this came very close to the taste of some of my old favorites without having to use funky flavor syrups.

Candy Cane Mocha
serves 1

Ingredients
2-4 oz. freshly-brewed espresso, depending on how much coffee flavor you want
6 oz. Creamy, Rich Hot Cocoa (from VegWeb)
1 organic candy cane (I like Pure Fun brand)
vegan whipped topping

Directions
Combine the espresso and hot chocolate in a large mug.  (If you prefer sweeter coffee, you may want to add a bit of your favorite sweetener to the espresso first.)  Top with the desired amount of vegan whipped topping and hang the candy cane over the edge.  Wait a bit for the candy cane to melt into the mocha, or enjoy right away!

I hope everyone had a very merry and blessed Christmas.  I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to a new year of vegan adventures!

A Vegan Christmas Eve!

For as long as I can remember, my family has eaten fried food on Christmas Eve.  I don’t know how the tradition started, but every year it was always mushrooms, shrimp, and fish of some kind, breaded and fried and served with dipping sauce.  Since we didn’t eat that much fried food the rest of the year, this was a great treat when I was younger.  Now, though, not only do I not eat fish, but fried food and I have also ceased to get along.

This year, I was in charge of Christmas Eve dinner.  I wanted to do something a little different, so I popped up the VegNews Holiday Cookbook and got together everything I needed to make Seitan Roulade with Oyster Mushroom Stuffing.  It just so happens to be a Robin Robertson recipe, so I was expecting good results.  For sides, I planned rutabaga puree from Veganomicon and plain steamed asparagus.

seitan roast 01

The seitan roll was easy to prepare.  I made it the day before and stored it in the refrigerator.  We spent a good chunk of Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house and I wanted to be sure there’d be enough time to cook it.  This was my first time using oyster mushrooms for anything, and let me tell you, the stuffing smelled amazing.  It also had whole wheat bread, onions, parsley, and thyme.  Talk about yum!

seitan roast 02

I learned a few things from this meal.  One, seitan is hard to roll out!  Two, when the top of a seitan roast is slightly browned, it’s done.  I wound up overcooking the roll slightly which made it a bit chewy, but the flavor was still excellent so I counted it a success.  I made half a recipe since it serves eight and I was only feeding three people.

seitan roast 03

The third thing I learned is…never put lime juice in your rutabaga.  Ever.  The rutabaga puree recipe called for coconut milk, agave nectar, and lime juice, and I’m the kind of person who follows a recipe exactly the first time and makes adjustments in the future.  This time I definitely should have listened to my gut when it said to leave the lime juice out.  The coconut milk was great, as it helped make the whole thing creamy as it pureed, but the lime juice had too much of a zip to be paired with relatively mild rutabaga.  If I puree or mash rutabaga again, I think I would do so with maple syrup and perhaps a little cinnamon.

vegan christmas eve meal 01

Overall, though, the meal was a hit.  Between my mom, brother, and I, we ate the entire roast, all of the asparagus, and most of the rutabaga (even despite the lime juice)!  I think the seitan roll may become a new go-to dish for holidays at my house, though given the price of oyster mushrooms I may use regular white ones in the future.

vegan christmas eve meal 02

Question for the comments: What, if any, new vegan dishes did you try this holiday season?  What did you and your family think of them?

Homemade Bread — A Labor of Love

‘Tis the season for baking!  As I’ve mentioned, I love cooking and baking all year ’round, but Christmastime really puts me in overdrive.  Christmas has always meant a flurry of special cookies, snacks, and dinner dishes in my house.  This year has been a little lighter in the cookie department (though no less delicious), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy baking other things!

Yesterday I was struck with the need–yes, need!–to make a loaf of bread from scratch.  A tweet from cookinvegan caught my eye on Monday night, and I was reminded of how darn good homemade bread is.  My mom used to make an amazing crusty Italian bread that I would inhale straight out of the oven when I was younger.

bread dough rising
This time, I wanted something more sandwich-friendly.  I knew there was a recipe for whole wheat bread in The Joy of Vegan Baking, and once I found that, I was off and running.

bread loaf rising
The recipe itself is very, very easy.  Just flour, water, yeast, and a little agave nectar and viola!  You have yourself some bread dough.  Like all bread, though, it’s a labor of love.  After ten minutes of kneading by hand, an endeavor which was well worth it, this stuff needed a little over four hours of total rising time.  I put a fire in our wood stove to give it a nice warm place to rise and, as you can see, that worked out very well!

whole wheat bread loaf
The recipe called for between 55 and 70 total minutes of baking, and my loaf took about 65 to come out crusty with that telltale hollow sound when you knock on the bottom.  By that point, the entire house smelled amazing, and it was all I could do not to sit down with the loaf and dig in Medieval -style!

whole wheat bread sliced
I was surprised by how light this bread is on the inside.  It’s the perfect texture and density for sandwich bread, and it slices like a dream.  The flavor is wheat-y without being overwhelming and has just a hint of sweetness.  I wish I had time to make it more often; I wouldn’t bother to buy bread any more!

Question for the comments: What’s your favorite non-cookie treat to bake during the Christmas season?

Recipe: Spelt Pizza Crust (Great for Calzones, Too!)

Just a quick recipe post since I finally got spelt crust to work the way I wanted last night!  The result was a rather epic pizza.

vegan pizza with spelt crust

Faux sausage, three colors of bell pepper, red onion, white mushrooms, broccoli, and mozzarella-style Daiya…on spelt crust.  I’ve been a fan of spelt ever since making Homey Vegetable Stew with Dumplings from The 30-Minute Vegan, which uses spelt flour for the dumplings.  I like the texture and I think it lends itself well to biscuits and crusts.

Spelt Pizza Crust & Calzone Dough
adapted from Robin Robertson’s Basic Pizza Dough in 1,000 Vegan Recipes
makes 1 large 8-cut pizza or 4 calzones

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups spelt flour
3/4 cup + 2 tsp. warm water
1 3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
pinch sugar or natural sweetener
pinch salt
olive oil (for the bowl)

Directions
1) In a large mixing bowl, stir together water and yeast until the yeast is dissolved.

2) Add the sugar and salt, then stir in the flour to form a dough.  Add more water if the dough is too dry or more flour if it’s too sticky.  It should be slightly tacky to the touch, but shouldn’t stick to your fingers.

3) Knead the dough in the bowl until it’s smooth and springs back a bit when you press your fingers into it.  Form the dough into a ball and take it out of the bowl.

4) Lightly oil the bowl with some olive oil and replace the dough.  Cover with a cloth or dish towel and place in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

5) When you’re ready to use it, punch the dough down and proceed with whatever recipe you like!

This dough can be used wherever regular pizza dough is called for.

spelt crust pizza slices

Snobby Joes — Vegan Sloppy Joe Bliss!

The last time I had a sloppy joe, I was about four years old.  They weren’t something that was very common in my house, so I never really had a craving for them.  Nonetheless, “Snobby Joes” from Veganomicon was one of the recipes that I’ve had my eye on for ages but only just got around to making.

It beats me as to why I waited so long!  I don’t know if my subconscious aversion to ground beef made me biased or what, but I can’t believe I didn’t pounce on this recipe the instant I obtained a copy of Veganomicon.

snobby joe filling

Even though it takes about 45 minutes total to put together, this is a really easy recipe.  The only things that need chopping are peppers and onions.  Once the lentils are cooked, it’s mostly a matter of stirring everything together to incorporate the flavors.  The most interesting part, to me, was adding maple syrup and mustard at the end.  Along with the zing from the chili powder, it gave the whole mixture a unique twist.

snobby joes 01

I couldn’t find any decent hamburger buns, but there were some whole wheat Ezekiel hot dog rolls in the freezer.  They worked out rather well…it was much less “sloppy” than it might otherwise have been!  Plus it looked pretty neat.

snobby joes 02

The Snobby Joes were hearty enough that all the meal needed to be complete was a veggie, so I pulled some of our garden-grown green beans out of the freezer and dusted them with a little garlic powder and Italian seasoning.

So.  Good.  This is the sort of thing that I could eat pretty much constantly and not get sick of.

Recipe: Christmas Tomato Sauce

I love cooking all year, but there’s something extra special about whipping up stuff for Christmas.  The mix of tradition, comforting smells, and time with family is the perfect combination for the holiday season.

One of the things that my family has done for many, many years is to have some kind of pasta dish for Christmas dinner.  This year it’ll be lasagna, though in past years we’ve made homemade ravioli when we had time.  (Hmm, I wonder if I should veganize that?)  And nothing says “comfort food” in an Italian household like a big dish of baked pasta smothered in homemade pasta sauce.

This recipe uses canned tomato products, but of course if you have the equivalent amount from your own home-grown tomatoes, by all means use that instead!  And just warning you…you’ll wind up with a lot of sauce to use for Christmas or whenever you’re in the mood for pasta.

Christmas Tomato Sauce
makes 10-12 cups

Ingredients
2 tbsp. olive oil
4-5 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1 medium onion, chopped
6oz. baby bella or white mushrooms, sliced
1 28oz. can tomato puree
1 28oz. can crushed tomatoes
3-4 8oz. cans tomato sauce
1 6oz. can tomato paste

Fresh or Dried, to taste:
basil
oregano
parsley

pasta sauce ingredients

Directions:
1) In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

2) Add the mushrooms, cover, and cook until reduced in size, 3-5 minutes.

onions mushrooms satuee

3) Add the puree and crushed tomatoes, stirring well.  Add a small amount of herbs to your liking and stir again.

4) Cover partially so that steam can escape, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for a while, stirring occasionally.  This is largely a matter of preference; this sauce can be cooked all day if you have time.

pasta sauce 01

5) When the sauce has reduced a bit, add 2 cans of tomato sauce.  Stir and replace the cover.  (Side note: if you or anyone in your family has problems with the acidity of tomato sauce, you can sprinkle a little baking soda in at this point.  It will neutralize some of the acid without affecting the flavor.)

6) When you’re ready, add the rest of the tomato sauce, the tomato paste, and more herbs to taste.  Stir well until the tomato sauce is incorporated.  Replace the cover and simmer until ready to serve.

pasta sauce 02

7) Just before serving, taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

This sauce freezes well or can be canned if you wish.  We’ve been making it in my family for as long as I can remember, and it’s delicious in lasagna and baked ziti or over any pasta of your choice.

Question for the comments: Is there a traditional Christmas dish in your family that you’ve either already veganized or are planning to make vegan?

The Joy of Vegan Latkes

Ever since the VegNews Holiday Cookbook came out, I’ve had a craving for vegan latkes.  There’s a bit of back story to this.  When I was a kid, I had a Jewish friend whose family celebrated a fairly traditional Hanukkah.  Every year, her mom would come to our elementary school and share some of the things they did for the holiday.  We played with dreidels, listened to Hanukkah stories and, of course, ate latkes!

It’s been fifteen years since the last time I had the pleasure of enjoying that celebration.  I’ve thought about latkes on and off ever since but never made any of my own.  Last night, I decided to finally cook up some of these crispy potato treats.

The recipe was easy and came together fast with the aid of the food processor to shred the potatoes and onions.  Before long six little latkes were frying away.

latkes frying 01
I probably could have stood to use more oil, but I still have some hangups with fried food and was afraid of using too much.  As a result, these turned out a little on the soft side, more like a hash brown than a latke, but the flavor was still good.  Next time, more oil at a bit of a higher temperature to achieve that latke crunch!

latkes frying 02
I waffled for a while on what to make to go along with these.  Having never made latkes before, I wasn’t really sure what would taste good.  Vegan Yum Yum came to my rescue with a unique little chickpea and artichoke heart salad.

chickpea artichoke heart salad
Chickpeas and artichoke hearts sauteed until golden, then mixed with ground almonds, a little lemon juice, and parsley?  Yes please.  It was awesome over kale.  Between the chickpeas and the almonds, it had a nice crunchy texture.  The overall flavor was a good compliment to the latkes.

latkes and salad 01
So, lesson learned: if you’re going to fry something, don’t be afraid to really fry it to get the right texture and flavor!  Other than that, this was a successful meal that’s definitely worth repeating.

latkes and salad 02

Random Food & Gingerbread Cookies

It’s been pretty random around here for the last week or so as far as food goes.  I had tasty curried spinach and potatoes from Shalimar:

curried spinach & potatoes

I made my very favorite vegan chili, “Put The Tex In Your Mex” chili from The 30-Minute Vegan (garnished with a little avocado, which was delicious!):

tex in your mex chili

And I used a bit more of the avocado to make chocolate avocado fudge from 1,000 Vegan Recipes:

avocado fudge

Today I gave in to my craving for gingerbread cookies.  I’ve been eying the recipe in the VegNews Holiday Cookie Collection ever since I bought it, and after a busy week I finally had some time to whip up a batch!

gingerbread cookies cutout

I got a little overzealous with the rolling pin and therefore they came out a bit thinner and more crispy than I was expecting, but the overall finished product was awesome.

gingerbread cookies baked

The entire house smelled like warm ginger and cloves.  It was especially nice since we’ve been using our small wood stove as an extra heat source.  The effect was quite cozy.

gingerbread cookies iced

I piped just a bit of the “Royal Icing” from The Joy of Vegan Baking around the edges of the cookies to give them a decorative look.  I managed to outline all but six of them before running out of icing.  I’m not sure if it was because I rolled the dough out too thin or because the cookie shapes were small, but I wound up getting 32 cookies out of half a batch of dough.

I would definitely make these thicker in the future for a chewier cookie.  It’s a great recipe that invokes feelings of warmth from mixing to baking to eating!  We haven’t had gingerbread cookies in ages, so it’s a nice treat to have around for the holidays.

Recipe: Potato Leek Soup with Coconut Milk

Before I went vegan, one of my favorite soups was potato leek from the Amy’s Kitchen brand.  It was one of the few things I was willing to risk a lactose intolerance reaction in order to eat.  But butter and cream pretty much became dangerous after a while, so even before going vegan this soup was a big no-no.

That didn’t stop me from loving it and missing it, so last week I picked up a huge leek at the store and decided to try my hand at making my own.  At first I thought I’d just follow a recipe from one of my cookbooks, but this was one of those instances where I turned up plenty of potato soup recipes, but no potato leek soup.  Thus, it was time to start inventing.

This recipe is pretty easy and comes together fast if you cut the potato into small enough pieces.  An immersion blender helps a lot, too.  (I can’t express how happy I am that my mom and I finally bought one!)  I used olive oil in place of the butter in the original soup, and coconut milk instead of cream.  I like the light kind, but you can use full-fat if you prefer.

Potato Leek Soup (with Coconut Milk)
serves 4

Ingredients
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 large or 2 medium leeks, white parts only, sliced
1 1/2 lbs. white or russet potatoes, peeled & cut into small dice
4 cups vegetable broth
1 can unsweetened light coconut milk
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. pepper
pinch of sea salt
pinch of cayenne (optional)

Directions
1) Heat the oil in a large soup pan or stock pot over medium heat.  Add the garlic and leeks, cover and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

leeks sauteeing

2) Add the potatoes and stir to coat.  Add the broth and spices.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the potatoes are soft, 15-20 minutes.

potato leek soup chunky

3) Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.  Add the coconut milk and simmer 10 minutes more to blend the flavors.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve hot.

potato leek soup smooth

potato leek soup with kale and bread 01

Incidentally, the soup is also gluten-free and soy-free!  It serves up well with a dark green veggie and bread on the side.

potato leek soup with kale and bread 02

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