Recipe: Easy Refried Bean Filling

Ever have one of those nights when you just HAVE to have a burrito?  When I first went veg, I ate a ton of burritos and quesadillas.  They’re versatile and relatively quick to prepare, and pretty darn good as far as nutrition goes.  Sometimes when I’m feeling lazy I even use canned vegan refried beans, but since those tend to be full of salt I try to avoid them for the most part.

I don’t remember where I first learned to make my own refried beans.  It might have been from The Clueless Vegetarian by Evelyn Raab, which was what got me started on my veg journey when I wasn’t sure what to cook and is still a good book for a quick recipe now and then.  This refried bean filling is similar to those first forays into the world of vegetarian Mexican food.  Again, it’s hugely versatile.  Pinto beans would work just as well, and you could add chopped jalapenos or chiles instead of the chili powder.  (Incidentally, if you come up with a version you like better, let me know so I can try it.  I love new burrito recipes!)

Easy Refried Bean Filling
serves 2

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed or minced
1/3 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup bell pepper, chopped
1 15oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained (reserve the liquid)
1-2 tbsp. chili powder, depending on preference
1 tsp. ground cumin
pinch oregano
salt & pepper to taste

1) Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic, onion, and bell pepper; cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

refried bean filling 01
2) Add the beans and a bit of the reserved liquid.  Mash the beans with the back of the spoon until the desired consistency is reached, adding more liquid as needed.  (A wooden spoon works well for this.)

refried bean filling 02
3) Add the seasonings, stir, and heat through.

This makes a great filling for burritos or quesadillas.  You could probably also make it a bit thinner and serve it as a dip if you so desired.  I like to spread it on tortillas, fold them in half, and bake them at 350°F for about 10 minutes before loading them up with tomatoes, shredded lettuce, salsa, and “cheese” sauce!

baking quesadillas
quesadilla with cheese sauce and salsa
Question for the comments: What food(s) did you eat the most of when you first went vegetarian or vegan?  Are they still favorites?

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

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

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
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
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
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

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

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!

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

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)

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

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

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:

pasta sauce ingredients

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?

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

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)

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

Recipe: Vegan Peanut Blossoms!

Raise your hand if you love peanut blossom cookies!  These little bits of peanut-butter-and-chocolate goodness have been the quintessential Christmas cookie in my family for as long as I can remember.  As a kid I devoured tons of these, saving the Hershey’s kiss in the middle for last.  Then I went vegan and discovered that there’s no such thing as a vegan Hershey’s kiss.  How, I lamented, do you have peanut blossoms without a Hershey’s kiss?

I didn’t work out the answer to that question last year, but this year, thanks to discovering that Baker’s semi-sweet baking chocolate is dairy-free, I’ve finally found a viable solution.  The flavor is a little different because the chocolate is semi-sweet instead of milk, but other than that these are just like I remember!

Vegan Peanut Blossoms
makes 24 cookies

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated nondairy butter, softened
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp ground flax seed, mixed with 2 1/2 tbsp water until thickened
2 tbsp nondairy milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
6 1oz. squares Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate, cut into quarters

sugar for rolling

1) Preheat the oven to 375°F.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and brown sugar.  Mix until smooth and creamy.

peanut blossoms 01

2) Add the flax seed mixture, nondairy milk, baking soda, and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.

3) Add the flour and mix until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl and form a ball.  If the dough is too crumbly, add a little water or more nondairy milk.

peanut blossoms 02

4) Pour some sugar into a shallow bowl.  Using your hands, roll the dough into 24 balls of approximately equal size.  Roll these in the sugar and place 1-2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

peanut blossoms 03

5) Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the bottom edges of the cookes are golden brown and the tops begin to crack.

6) Remove from the oven and immediately top each cookie with a chunk of chocolate.  Let cool on the cookie sheet before removing to wire racks to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

peanut blossoms done

Question for the comments: What’s your favorite Christmas cookie to bake every year?

Recipe Post: Updated Pinwheel Cookies — a Quantum Vegan Thanksgiving Tradition

My family have been the proud owners of one of those orange-covered, binder-type Betty Crocker cookbooks for as long as I can remember.  Before I went vegan, it was the go-to cookbook for everything from Christmas cookies to birthday cakes.

One of my favorite recipes was for pinwheel cookies, a sort of shortbread cookie involving plain and chocolate dough rolled up together to form an attractive, tasty swirl pattern.  I tried them out around Thanksgiving one year on a whim, and they quickly became a household tradition for the holiday.  After going vegan, though, I didn’t really give them much thought.  The fact that they’re held together mostly by butter weirded me out for various reasons, so the tradition lapsed for a couple of years.

But no more!  This year I decided to take a crack at making these delicious, totally-not-good-for-you cookies vegan.  They’re a little crisp around the edges, a little soft in the middle, and amazing topped with vegan whipped cream.  I decided to call them “Chocolate Swirl Shortbread,” since it describes the groovy swirl you get when you slice them before baking.

Chocolate Swirl Shortbread
makes about 5 dozen cookies

1/2 cup + 2tbsp. non-hydrogenated vegan margarine, softened (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 cup + 2tbsp. non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, softened
1tbsp. ground flax seed, dissolved in 2 1/2tbsp. water
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup baking cocoa

1) In a large bowl, mix together the margarine, shortening, flax seed mixture, and confectioner’s sugar until smooth.

pinwheel cookies step 1

2) Add the flour, mixing until well-combined.  This is a stiff dough, so you may have to stick your hands in it to work in all the flour.

pinwheel cookies step 2

3) Divide the dough in half and place one half in a small bowl.  Add the baking cocoa and mix well.  (Again, you might have to use your hands.)

Take a look at your dough at this point.  If it looks dry like this:

pinwheel cookies dry dough

or seems too crumbly, add a little water and knead it in with your hands.  You want a dough that holds together when you squeeze it and feels a little greasy on the outside, like this:

pinwheel cookie correct dough

If that’s what you have, you’re good to go.  You can place both the plain and chocolate dough back in the large bowl if you wish.

4) Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm enough to roll out.

5) On a lightly-floured surface, roll the plain dough out into a rectangle, somewhere between 1/8th and 1/4 inch thick.  Do the same with the chocolate dough.  Place the chocolate dough on top of the plain dough and take a moment to pinch together any dough that fell apart when you moved it.

pinwheel cookie rollout

6) Carefully roll the dough up into a log and fold or tuck the ends in.  Even out the resulting “cookie log” until you’re satisfied with the shape.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 8 hours or overnight.

pinwheel cookie log

7) Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Unwrap the cookie log and slice into cookies about 1/8th inch thick.  A good, sharp knife is your friend for this step!  If the dough is crumbly, let it warm up a bit before slicing.

pinwheel cookies step 7
pinwheel cookies sliced

8 ) Place the sliced cookies on ungreased cookie sheets.  These don’t spread a lot so it’s not necessary to separate them too much.  If a cookie falls apart in transport, it should be greasy enough that you can stick it back together.

9) Bake for 8 minutes, until the edges are golden.  Transfer immediately to wire racks and cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

pinwheel cookies done

Recipe Post: Maple-Mustard-Glazed Rutabaga

What do vegans do when they find themselves with an unexpectedly relaxed day?

bluberry brownies baking

Why, they bake blueberry chocolate brownies, of course!

I’ve had my eye on this recipe out of Veganomicon for a while now, mostly because the title promises “fudgy wudgy” brownies, but also for the unique inclusion of blueberry fruit spread.  My personal favorite fruit spread is Crofter’s, which just so happened to be on sale at the local co-op when I was there this past week.  Having already tried the blueberry flavor on bagels, I knew it was awesome.

blueberry brownies

The verdict?  Yes, blueberry and chocolate are awesome together.  The only ingredient I didn’t have was fresh blueberries, and I think having them would add an extra dimension of deliciousness to the finished product.  But even without them, these brownies are moist and tasty with just a hint of fruit.

I also used my much-needed free time to get a little elaborate with dinner.

glazed rutabaga

Rutabagas were on sale recently and I decided to buy one, as I am often wont to do with sale vegetables.  Of course, once I had it on hand I had no idea what to do with it, and for once my cookbooks didn’t have many suggestions.  But it’s the beauty of today’s social media world that you can put out a call for rutabaga recipes on twitter and have half a dozen responses before lunch time.  Thanks to cookinvegan, I settled on a maple mustard glaze that sounded amazing.

Maple-Mustard-Glazed Rutabaga
serves 2 as a side

1lb. rutabaga, peeled and cut into chunks

1/2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. maple syrup
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. mustard seed
1 tbsp. olive oil

1) Preheat the oven to 400°F.  In a bowl big enough to hold the rutabaga, mix all the glaze ingredients together until well blended.

2) Add the rutabaga pieces and mix until well coated.

3) Spread the rutabaga on a baking sheet, drizzling with any remaining glaze.  Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring once, until the glaze darkens and the rutabaga is tender.

I wound up making two separate batches of glaze and turning one into a marinade for tempeh a la Veganomicon.  I added about 6tbsp. of water to the glaze to make it a marinade and marinated 1/2 block of tempeh for an hour before panfrying it for about ten minutes.  The flavor took really well and some green beans were all we needed to complete the meal!

tempeh marinating
maple glazed meal

So now that I know how tasty rutabaga is, I’ll be using it more in the future!

Question for the comments: What new foods have you tried recently, and which was your favorite?

Recipe Post: Easy Zucchini Pickles

I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post.  Truth be told, I thought about taking some several times and never got around to it.  Although really, how exciting can you make a jar of pickles look?

The idea to make zucchini pickles came when our garden was spitting out zucchini at a record rate.  We ate some, gave some away, and froze some, but there was still more left over.  Finally this past weekend, my mom and I had to harvest what was left due to the coming chill.  There were still some quite sizable zucchini, but many of the plants only had tiny ones, a few inches long at the most.  They were adorable and already looked a bit pickle-like, so the plan was cemented in my mind!

Never having pickled anything, and being the huge Internet geek that I am, I of course turned to Google for zucchini pickle advice.  There were some good suggestions, but none of the recipes I came across were exactly what I was looking for.  Most of them had an astonishing amount of sugar, for one, and I didn’t want sweet pickles.  After sifting through several different recipes for both traditional and refrigerator pickles, I stumbled upon the awesome Pick Your Own, which I already used for reference in my quest to can tomatoes.  I wound up using one of their pickling pages to get the ratios and processing times for my recipe.

This is by no means exact.  In fact, I think I could have used a bit more pickling spice.  Ultimately it’s up to you how much spice or flavor you want in your pickles…have fun with it!  These came out crisp and tangy with just a hint of spiciness.

Zucchini Pickles a la Quantum Vegan
makes 1 pint jar; multiply ingredients for more

pint canning jar with lid
water bath canner
jar tongs

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
2/3 cup water
1/2-1 tsp pickling spice
2tsp salt, or to taste
1 large garlic clove, sliced
enough zucchini to pack the jar, cut into slices or spears

1) Thoroughly wash your jar and lid.  Fill it with the zucchini slices or spears, making sure not to pack too tightly.  Add the garlic and set aside.

2) In a non-metal pan, combine the water, vinegar, pickling spice, and salt.  Stir until the salt is dissolved.  Bring just to a boil and remove from heat. (Doing this in a metal pot apparently makes your pickle mixture cloudy, so better safe than sorry!)

3) Pour the mixture over the zucchini, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Put the lid on the jar, tightening just until your fingers meet resistance.

4) Process in a water bath canner for 10-15 minutes.  Use jar tongs to carefully remove the jar to a space where it won’t be disturbed, and leave to cool for at least 12 hours.

5) Refrigerate and enjoy!  These don’t need to sit and cure like some pickles, so you can eat them the next day if you wish.

Seasoned Rice Recipe & The Joy of Roasted Beets

A few days ago, I went on a bit on Twitter about how much I love beets.  This strikes me as kind of funny now, because I never ate beets as a kid.  They just weren’t something we had around the house.  I have vague recollections of trying them at one point, but they definitely weren’t a fixture of the family diet.

A family friend gave my brother some beet greens a while back, which I decided I liked, and there are shredded beets in one of the awesome salads the local co-op makes, but I never considered cooking beets myself until I came across some lovely ones at the Harvest Festival.


I only got a small bunch, but it was enough for a side.  All I did to cook them was wrap them up in aluminum foil and bake them in the oven at 400°F for an hour.  No seasonings, no sweeteners, just beets.

Usually if I make a veggie as a side, it’s the last thing I decide on.  But this time all I knew was that I wanted to try those beets!  So it took a little poking around Veganomicon to find something to make as the “main course”.

Italian marinated tofu

I settled on the Italian marinated tofu and set that soaking while the beets were cooking.  But I still wanted a grain to go with it all, and the meal seemed like it would be lacking without a green, so I added a third component to the meal. (I know, right?  The queen of the one-pot meal, cooking three separate dishes?)

Thus this recipe was born.  It’s pretty simple and modeled after one of the variations on Coco Rice from 30-Minute Vegan.

Seasoned Rice & Greens
serves 2 as a side


1/2 cup long-grain brown rice
1 cup vegetable broth
2 cups kale, chopped
pinch basil
pinch thyme
pinch marjoram


1) Bring the broth to a boil.  Stir in the rice, lower the heat, and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 45 minutes.

2) In the last 10 or so minutes of cooking, dump in the kale.  Sprinkle with basil, thyme, and marjoram to taste and give the whole thing a quick stir before replacing the lid.

3) When the rice is done, remove from the heat and give it another stir.  Serve hot.

tofu beets and rice

All together, it made a very delicious–and very pretty–meal.  The most important thing I learned?  Buy bigger bunches of beets.

Also…Happy World Vegetarian Day! How is everyone celebrating?

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