Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Pumpkin Dumplings with Balsamic Sauce, Kale, and Rice

These dumplings are sort of like orange gnocchi, only way easier to prepare. I got the idea from this recipe over at, but I simplified the ingredients a bit:

• 1/2 c canned pumpkin
• 1/2 c flour
• egg replacer equivalent to 1 egg
• salt and pepper to taste
• margarine for sauteéing

The omissions were basically personal preference: I'm not a huge fan of nutmeg in savoury foods and the first time I made these I found the baking powder was unnecessary (since there's already egg replacer as a leavening), and made the dumplings taste baking powder-y.

The balsamic sauce is what really made the dish though: it added richness and depth to the dumplings. The trick is to use good balsamic vinegar. A lot of the stuff in grocery stores is actually just white vinegar mixed with balsamic flavouring; real balsamic vinegar (I've read that if it says "of Modena" on the label, it is the real thing) has a more delicate, sweet, wine-like flavour. And it is remarkably better.

Anyway, the sauce is just a mixture of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, say, three tablespoons of vinegar and one tablespoon of soy sauce, simmered in a small saucepan until it's reduced and thickened a bit. It doesn't make much, but you don't need much.

Side dishes were kale (hey, why not!) and rice pilaf from a box. The pumpkin dumplings would easily go with something more elegant, but I didn't have a lot of time and they're not picky. A yummy and relatively quick dish that I will definitely make again.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Vegan Alfredo

This might be easier to make than real alfredo. Note that I've never actually had real alfredo, so it might be better to think of it as just a cream sauce -- but either way, it's pretty good.

(all measurements very approximate, this is one I usually eyeball too)

• 1/4 tsp miso paste (a little more if you're using mild) dissolved in about 2 tsp water
• 3-4 tbsp nutritional yeast
• 1/4 c water
• 1 clove garlic, minced (more or less according to taste - it's somewhat garlicky with one clove)
• 3 shakes soy sauce
• 1 pkg firm or extra firm silken tofu, drained
• 3-4 tbsp margarine
• salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, stir the miso and the 2 tsp water to dilute (this will make it combine easier). Add the nutritional yeast, water, garlic, and soy sauce and stir. Add the tofu, breaking into chunks as you do, and the margarine; stir to combine. Spoon mixture into blender and blend until smooth (if it won't blend smooth, add a little more water). Add salt and pepper to taste. When it's a thick, alfredo-y consistency, return to the bowl and stick it in the fridge for about fifteen minutes so the flavours can combine.

That's the hard part. With that done, I set the water for the pasta on to boil, and chopped some broccoli florets and shiitake mushrooms. While the pasta was cooking, I sauteed the mushrooms in a little bit of olive oil and soy sauce, and just stuck the broccoli in the microwave for a minute and a half. When that was done, I just heated up the sauce in the microwave for a couple minutes, stirring every thirty seconds or so.

Put some pasta on a plate, followed by some veggies, top with some sauce, and enjoy.

This is really easy to make, and although it's not particularly healthy, it's nowhere near as bad as real alfredo, and it's quite good.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Today's Lunch: Subs

Dinner tonight is more pizza and wings, so I'll post today's lunch. We also do these for dinner, maybe with some sweet potato oven fries.

Basically, we toast some whole wheat sub rolls, load on some veggies (some combination of lettuce, tomato, sweet onion, cucumber, olives, brown mushrooms, bell pepper, etc.), maybe some Tofurky, sub sauce, and guacamole. The variety of veggies, plus the good sub sauce (not too vinegar-y) and guacamole really make it - although if guacamole is hard to come by some avocado slices with a little salt and pepper would be good too.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Vegan Treat: Sponge Candy

Today was a girls' day out with my mom, and after having some awesome Indian food at Tandoori's we decided to try making some sponge candy. It was surprisingly easy (with the help of a good candy thermometer) and turned out delicous. So delicious, in fact, that there's none left to photograph. (Sorry.)

You need:

• 1 c sugar
• 1 c corn syrup
• 1 tbsp white vinegar
• 1 tbsp baking soda (measure ahead of time and smoosh out the lumps)

Grease a jelly roll pan really well with vegetable shortening. Set it aside. In a heavy-bottomed five-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and vinegar and heat without stirring until hard crack stage (300 F). This is where the good candy thermometer comes in - we used a digital one, as we found our old analog one didn't measure the temparature fast enough. If it gets too hot, it won't turn out.

As soon as it's up to temparature, remove the mixture from heat and stir in the baking soda. The candy will foam right up. Pour it into the prepared jelly roll pan -- it will spread on its own, so you don't need to worry about spreading it -- and set it aside to cool.

When the sponge candy is cool (it will be hard), break it into pieces and melt some chocolate chips or dark melting chocolate. Dip the sponge candy pieces in, coat them, and set them on some wax paper or parchment to cool. Enjoy!

This is really easy to clean up, too -- the sponge candy dissolves in warm water just like it melts in your mouth.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Tofu Pad Thai

To make this you need:

• 1 block firm or extra-firm tofu
• optional: 1 c thai culinary stock
• peanut oil for frying
• broccoli spears (1 head's woth)
• 2-3 ribs celery, chopped diagonally (I think this is to make the pieces similar in size to the other veggies for even cooking)
• 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
• 1/3 small onion, chopped
• 2-3 tbsp ground dry roasted unsalted peanuts
• fresh bean sprouts
• 1 scallion, chopped
A Taste of Thai Pad Thai sauce
• rice noodles

Drain and press the liquid from the tofu. It helps, if you have enough time, to cut the tofu into bite-sized pieces and soak it in water, changing when it gets cloudy, to get rid of the tofu taste -- but you don't have to.

I fried the tofu pieces in peanut oil until crispy, and then as an experiment I braised them in some Thai Culinary Stock from Wegmans (gotta love Wegmans) to infuse them with some flavour. It turned out very well, but I've made pad thai without doing this and it's still good.

While the tofu's braising (or draining, if you're just frying it) chop the veggies and cook the rice noodles according to the directions on the package. Stir-fry the veggies, except for the sprouts, in just a little peanut oil and add the noodles, sauce, and tofu. Cook together until heated through. Serve, garnishing with bean spouts, peanuts, and scallions.

You'll note that the sprouts here are conspicuously absent -- though they are a big part of the dish, I like them fresh and I didn't have time to run to the store before dinner. Oh well - it was still pretty good, and relatively easy to make.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Tofu Pot Pie

Total comfort food night. This tastes scarily close to how I remember those Banquet frozen pot pies tasting (albeit with a whole wheat crust and less salty).

For the filling you need:

• 1 pkg extra-firm tofu
• 1 cup (or so) frozen mixed vegetables
• 1-2 squirts lemon juice
• salt
• water

For the crust you need:

• 2 c whole wheat flour
• 3/4 tsp salt
• 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 c vegetable shortening
• 1/4 c margarine (or just use another 1/4 c of shortening)
• 2 tbsp + 2 tsp cold water
• 1 tsp white vinegar

For the gravy you need: (measurements here are very approximate - I usually eyeball it)

• 3-4 mushrooms, finely chopped (I use a mix of shiitake and crimini)
• 1/4 tsp each onion and garlic powder
• 1 good shake soy sauce
• 1 3/4 c water
• 2 tbsp powdered vegetable buillion/veggie soup base
• 1/4 c flour
• 3 tbsp olive oil

This seems really involved, but it's not. First, drain and press the tofu. Then, chop it up into little pieces and place it in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Squirt on some lemon juice and sprinkle in some salt (just a little more than you'd use if you were cooking pasta, maybe 1 tsp). Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes or so. This will give the tofu a neutral, chicken-y flavour, although if you're in a rush and you don't mind the taste of plain tofu you can skip this step.

While the tofu's simmering, make the crust. (You can also use a vegan frozen pre-made crust if they're available near you, or a pie crust mix - a lot of the ones in the regular baking aisle are vegan.) Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl and mix well. Cut in the margarine and shortening until pea-sized crumbs form. Combine the water and vinegar in a separate dish and add, together, to the flour mix. Mix until a dough forms; separate into 2 equally sized lumps and refrigerate until you're ready to use it. (The point of all this cold water/refrigeration business is to make the crust flaky - if the fats remain solid, i.e. cold, before they're baked, they'll melt and form flaky little layers when the crust is baking. This is also why you don't want to over-work the dough.)

Now, make the gravy: (this also might be a good time to heat the oven to 350F) combine the mushrooms, water, soy sauce, garlic and onion powder, and vegetable buillion in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes to allow the flavours to combine. Make a roux by combining the flour and olive oil in a frying pan and heating until bubbling and slightly golden (it should be thick and creamy, not pasty or liquidy so adjust accordingly). Add the flour mixture to the mushroom broth, stirring. The gravy should thicken almost immediately -- if not, you might need some more roux.

Set that aside and roll out the crust dough; one round for the bottom crust and one for the top. Fit the bottom crust into an 8 or 9" pie plate (I think mine is 8" but I forget). Drain the tofu and place it in a bowl with the frozen veggies and gravy; stir to combine. Pour the tofu-veggie-gravy mixture into the pie plate with the bottom crust and fit the second crust on top, sealing the edges. Poke a couple holes in the top to vent steam, and pop that bad boy in the oven.

Bake for about 20-30 minutes, until crust is golden.

This took a little longer than I thought it would, but you can cut down the time considerably by using a pre-made crust and/or skipping simmering the tofu first. Still yummy, and though not particularly healthy, not nearly as bad as frozen meat pot pies.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Lasagna

This one is easy to do. I make it in an 8x8" baking dish, which is plenty for two of us for dinner with leftovers.

You need:

• approximately 9 lasagna noodles (maybe 1 or 2 more to account for breaking)
• 1 23 oz. can (that's 680 mL for you Canadians) of pasta sauce
• 1 block firm tofu (medium works too)
• 2 small cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons or so olive oil
• 1 tbsp packed fresh parsley, finely chopped
• 1-2 good squirts of lemon juice
• 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 pkg vegan ground beef
• optional: mushrooms, or whatever veggies you'd like to add (I skip this if I don't feel like it)
• also optional: vegan mozzarella or parmesan to sprinkle on top

Begin by draining and pressing liquid out of the tofu. While the tofu is pressing, cook the lasagna noodles, chop the parsley and mince the garlic. When the tofu is done pressing (about 15 minutes ought to be enough), place it in a bowl with the garlic and parsley. Mix well with a fork until tofu is mashed and garlic and parsley are evenly distributed. Add a couple of squirts of lemon juice (to cut the "tofu" flavour), the olive oil, and some salt. Mix until a ricotta-y consistency. Add more olive oil if it's too dry or clumpy, more lemon juice if it's too tofu-y, and more salt if it's too bland. By this time the lasagna noodles should be ready, so drain them if you haven't already. Spread some sauce in the bottom of the baking dish, layer 3 noodles, spread on the ground beef (and whatever veggies you want to add), spread on more sauce, 3 more noodles, the tofu ricotta mixture, more sauce, 3 more noodles, more sauce, and cheese if you want it. Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes (until heated through).

I'm pretty proud of the way this turns out -- it wasn't my idea to use tofu in place of ricotta, but I did come up with this method and it's quite surprising how much it tastes like the real thing.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Belated Valentine's Dinner: Mushroom Wellington With Patty-Pan Squash and Potatoes

The mushroom wellington is a variation on this recipe from The major difference is that I used phyllo dough brushed with olive oil (5 sheets per wellington roll thingy) instead of puff pastry, since I couldn't find a vegan puff pastry. Also, I substituted olive oil for margarine, sweet onions for shallots, soy sauce for salt, and a mixture of crimini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms for button mushrooms in the mushroom mixture. I also chopped up the fake beef strips and cooked them with the mushroom mixture so they'd take on the flavour (instead of adding them afterwards). I did the sauce a little differently too: I made a mushroom stock out of about a half cup of mushroom mixture boiled in about 1 1/2 cups of water with a little soy sauce and a good splash of wine, then thickened with a roux of flour and olive oil. The trick when using a roux is to have it at about the same temperature as the stock you're adding it to, and to stir while you're adding it. It comes out nice and smooth that way.

Side dishes were patty-pans, which I sliced and fried in some margarine and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and a little fresh lemon juice; and mini red potatoes, which I boiled in a little salted water and then tossed with margarine and chopped fresh parsley.

It was a delicious dinner, if a bit involved to make. The mushrooms take on a rich meaty flavour when combined with the onions and soy sauce, so they really are a good substitute for beef in this dish.

I also made a special dessert:

...vegan truffles.

Alas, they were kind of an experiment, and somewhere among the alchemy I lost track of how much of what I put in when. Next time I'll write things down.

I made two kinds: the ones rolled in ground macadamia nuts are plain, made with dark melting chocolate, non-dairy "cream" (like Rich Whip), and margarine; and the ones rolled in powdered sugar and cocoa powder are dark melting chocolate and peanut butter.

They were tasty, and if you're feeling intrepid, I highly recommend googling up a truffle recipe and having at it with whatever vegan substitutes you can find.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Another Quick Dinner: Chana Masala, Sort-Of

I haven't felt much like cooking the past couple of days, so this is another quick one. Unfortunately, it relies pretty heavily on a canned store-bought sauce. It seems pretty widely available from what I can tell; my apologies if you can't get it where you live. (As an aside, this recipe looks pretty good if you can get your hands on some garam masala and tamarind -- I haven't tried it yet, though.)

It's not really Chana Masala since I added potatoes, but it was yummy and quick, so here goes:

• 1 can of Patak's Balti Curry sauce (or other vegan curry sauce)
• 1 can chick peas, drained (or equivalent amount of the dried kind, soaked and cooked ahead of time)
• 3 small potatoes, peeled, diced, and boiled
• 1/2 c or so basmati rice, steamed (with cardamom pods if you can find them)
• optional: lemon juice, cumin

Stir the chick peas, potatoes, and curry sauce together in a pan on medium heat. Add cumin and a squirt or two of lemon juice if you like (I found the sauce a bit sweet, and the cumin and lemon helped, but they're not necessary). Heat through. Serve over basmati rice.

We also made some of these pappadums to go with dinner: you can make them in the microwave by brushing them with a little oil first, and they turn out pretty well.

I didn't time myself, but I would guess this was done in about a half an hour. We've been spoiled by the excellent Indian restaurants around here, but this still was a pretty good meal, especially given the time it took to make.

Bonus Heloise Tip:

Generally, cooking curry will only make your house smell strongly of curry if you make it from scratch, which involves heating the spices in oil first. But if you'd still rather not smell dinner after you've eaten it, try sprinking some cinnamon over a cup or so of water in a small saucepan and simmering it on your stove. Your house will smell like cinnamon, which complements curry rather than competes with it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Quick Dinner: Fajitas

This dinner was done in under half an hour. I rushed a bit, but it's still very quick and seems like it would take more effort. (Sorry about the lack of pictures -- like I said, it was kind of rushed.)

The basic components are seasoned rice (from a mix), canned refried beans, sautéed veggies, and fresh lettuce and tomato.

You'll probably want to get the rice going first. I used Spanish-style quick rice mix that takes about ten minutes to cook; I can't find it online but something like this would do just fine. Just cook that up according to the instructions on the package.

With the rice cooking, it's time to do the veggies. You need:

• 1 small-medium green bell pepper, chopped
• 1/2 small sweet onion, chopped
• 8 or so mushrooms (I used crimini), sliced
• olive oil
• cumin*
• chili powder*
• salt*

*or substitute a pre-mixed fajita seasoning for these

Shake some olive oil into a heated pan and swirl it around for a couple of seconds. When the oil looks hot, add the veggies and sauté for a minute or so. Add the seasonings start with maybe 1/4 teaspoon of cumin and a shake of chili powder and work up from there according to taste (or smell). Add salt to taste and continue to sauté until cooked through.

Chop up some lettuce and tomato and set aside.

Open a can of refried beans (most are vegan, but check to be sure) and scoop them into a dish. If you like them soft like I do, stir in a tablespoon of water or so. Microwave until heated through.

Okay, so now you've got cooked rice, sautéed veggies, chopped fresh veggies, and refried beans. Just set them all out on the table with the warmed tortillas and whatever toppings you like (we used Tofutti sour cream, Ortega sauce, and Guaca-Salsa, which I can't recommend enough if you can find it), then make up your fajitas and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Braised Seitan, Broccoli, Squash, and Rice Pilaf

Quick dinner, kind of a grab bag.

For the seitan, you need:

• 1 box seitan, drained
• 1 small rib celery, chopped
• 1 tablespoon (approximately -- 1 slice from a small) onion, chopped
• 2 tablespoons oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped (can substitute shiitakes or criminis)
• soy sauce
• olive oil
• water

Start by frying up the seitan in a little olive oil until just browned. You can skip this step if you're in a hurry or feeling lazy. In a shallow saucepan or deep frying pan, place the celery, onion, mushrooms, and seitan. Add about 1 1/2 cups water and a couple of shakes of soy sauce. Simmer for about twenty minutes.

While the seitan was going, I started the rice pilaf -- just plain old boxed stuff.

The squash was fresh butternut (though frozen would have worked too), which I boiled, mashed and then added salt, pepper and a splash of unsweetened soy milk (in lieu of margarine -- tomorrow night's going to be a big meal so we're being good tonight).

The broccoli was fresh, and I just microwaved it in a covered container for two minutes. It turns out surprisingly well that way.

The seitan turned out well and I think I'm going to try braising tofu next -- that mushroom stock was good. Dinner was ready in about half an hour, maybe a bit more, and it was pretty healthy to boot.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Lunch: Tofurky Sandwiches

I really have to start posting lunches more often.

Like most other people, we frequently have sandwiches for lunch. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where you can get Tofurky deli slices (really any deli-style fake meat will do, we just like Tofurky the best), you can make some seriously tasty sandwiches with them.

Lately, we've been doing tofurky on whole wheat with Annie's goddess dressing spread on the bread, and if I have time, lettuce and tomato slices. The goddess dressing is creamy and tangy -- you don't need a lot -- and goes very well with the tofurky.

TLTs (that's Tofurky, lettuce and tomato) are also great, with salt and pepper and a little vegenaise spread on the bread. If you have them, you can also sprinkle Bac-Os (they're vegan! who knew?) on the sandwich and make it a vegan club.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Pasta Primavera

Okay, I am pretty pleased with myself. This turned out great; but then again I just love pasta primavera so take my raving with a grain of salt.

The stuff on the pasta is actually more of a pesto than a primavera sauce -- in fact, I used a vegan pesto base (Nutrimax brand -- it's available in health food stores in Canada -- I found an online shop that carries it here). If you can't find a vegan pesto, try a mix of dried parsley, basil, garlic powder and Italian seasoning. To the pesto, I added about 2 teaspoons of powdered vegetable buillon and about the same amount of water, and mixed until the buillon was dissolved. Then I added about a tablespoon of olive oil and set it aside so the flavours could blend a bit. I should mention that it should be a paste-y consistency -- in the past when I've tried to make primavera I've made the mistake of making the sauce (or whatever you call it) too liquid-y; if it's like that it won't stick to the pasta or the veggies.

Next, I heated the water for the pasta. While that was going, I chopped up the veggies. You can use what you like, but here's what I used:

• 1/2 of a large carrot, chopped
• about 4 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
• 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
• 1/2 of a medium zucchini, chopped
• 1/4 of a small green pepper, chopped into strips
• 1/4 of a small red pepper, chopped into strips
• 4-5 brown mushrooms, chopped

I stir-fried the veggies in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, and by the time those were going the water was boiling. I poured in the pasta (I used whole wheat spaghettini) and finished stir-frying the veggies.

The pasta didn't take long to cook, and when it and the veggies were done I tossed everything -- the pasta, the veggies, and the pesto -- into a big bowl and stirred it up well. It was looking a little dry so I added just a little shake of olive oil, stirred it up again, and it was ready to go.

We had it with homemade (well, in the bread machine) whole wheat bread, on which we spread margarine that I had mixed with a little minced garlic.

This did not take long to cook at all -- the vegetable chopping was the hardest part, and it's always faster than I think it will be. Honestly, I don't know why I don't make this more often, it was easy and delicious.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Pizza and Wings, Vegan Style

(The pizza looks so dry and sparse in the picture! It looked better in person.)

First, the pizza:

For the dough I used this recipe, although a store-bought dough or pre-baked crust would do fine too.

Once the dough was risen, I shaped it on a pizza stone and baked it at 425F for just a few minutes to firm it up a bit. Then, I spread a coulple teaspoons of this awesome white pizza sauce (we use the oregano kind) on the dough and topped it with baby spinach (pre-cooked with a bit of olive oil in a non-stick pan), sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, brown mushrooms, and olives. Back in the oven for about ten minutes, done.

For the wings (all measurements are approximate):

• 1 block extra-firm tofu
• 1 cup bread crumbs
• 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
• dash salt
• 1/2 cup plain unsweetened soy milk or water
• 2 tsp corn starch
• vegetable oil for frying

If you can, prep the tofu ahead of time by 'rinsing' it: drain it and press out the liquid and soak it in water for an hour or so, changing the water when it gets cloudy. This will help get rid of that kind of plastic-y taste tofu sometimes has. When that's done, cut the tofu into finger-sized strips.

Heat enough oil in a small, deep-sided skillet or saucepan (not non-stick, it will ruin your pan) to cover the tofu strips. Unfortunately I don't know what temperature it is (maybe 350F?); I just set it on medium and let it heat for about ten minutes. It shouldn't be bubbling or smoking.

While that's heating, prepare the coating: in a bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, flour, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the soy milk or water and corn starch. Dip the tofu strips first in the soy milk/water, then in the bread crumbs and repeat once or twice til they've got a good coating on them. Fry in the heated oil until golden; drain on a wire rack with some paper towels under it.

Now, for the sauce:

• 3 tbsp melted margarine
• 3 tbsp Frank's Red Hot

Just for the heck of it I poked around on the internet for some wing sauce recipes and I cannot believe how many misguided folks there are out there. Stuff calling for paprika and white wine vinegar and black pepper -- no. These things are wayyy too upscale for authentic Buffalo cuisine. It's just a 1:1 mix of Frank's Red Hot and melted margarine. That's it. Maybe a little more Frank's if you like 'em spicy.

Anyway, just before you serve the wings, mix up the sauce and pour it over them -- if you do it too soon, they'll get soggy. The wings turned out even better than I had expected, although in retrospect it makes sense. Chicken wings aren't exactly prime cuts of meat, and the point of frying them and coating them in sauce is mostly to make up for their lack of flavour. Since tofu is pretty flavourless itself, as long as you get a good crispy breading on them and mix up the sauce right they taste surprisingly close to the real thing -- without the gross bones, too.

My husband declared this his favourite meal tonight, so I'd say it went over well. The wings were surprisingly filling (I barely finished mine) and there's enough pizza left over for lunch tomorrow.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Butternut Squash Soup, Stuffed Portabellas, and Yes, Kale

Tonight's dinner took an hour to cook from start to finish.

First, the soup (as usual, all measurements are approximate):

• 1 lb butternut squash (1 small squash), peeled and cubed
• 2 tbsp onion, diced (note - I cooked more than this to have extra to add to the stuffing, below)
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1/2 c vegetable broth
• 1 tbsp soy sauce
• 1/4 tsp curry powder
• salt and pepper to taste

Place the squash in a saucepan and fill with water to cover. Boil until soft. While the squash is cooking, sauté the onion in the olive oil. When the squash is done cooking, drain it and put it in a blender. Add the vegetable stock, soy sauce, onions and oil, and fill with water to the top of the squash. Blend until smooth. Pour mixture in saucepan and add curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. If too thick, add some more water. Heat through and serve.

So while that was going, did the mushrooms:

• 4 portabella caps
• 1 tbsp onion, diced
• olive oil
• 1 rib celery, chopped
• 2 slices wheat bread, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
• 3-5 brown (crimini) mushrooms, diced
• soy sauce
• basil
• oregano

I brushed some olive oil on the mushroom caps and stuck them in the oven on 375F. (In retrospect, I probably should have just broiled them -- oh well, next time.) In the meantime, sauté the onion in some olive oil (I just did this with the onion for the soup and removed the amount I needed for the soup when they were translucent), and add the chopped celery, the diced mushrooms, and a little shake of soy sauce. Saute for a minute or two, then add the bread cubes. Add a little more olive oil if you like and sauté until reduced a bit. Add a little basil and oregano, cook for another minute or so and set aside. When the portabellas come out of the oven, spoon the stuffing onto the mushroom caps. I also made a quick sauce with some vegetable broth (maybe 1/4 cup?) and red wine (about 2 tbsp) thickened with corn starch to pour over the mushrooms.

While the soup was simmering and the mushrooms were cooking I whipped up the kale (I really can cook other vegetables! really).

So it was a pretty impressive-looking dinner, if a bit labour-intensive, for the time it took to cook, and it went over pretty well. I think in the future I'll do at least another portabella cap; I always forget just how much they shrink down when they cook. The soup is one of my favourites and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Faux Chicken Strips, Sweet Potatoes and Mixed Veggies

Tonight was a quick dinner. I had planned on veggie burgers with sweet potato oven fries, but the store was out of both veggie burgers and buns, so I had to improvise. What I did stumble upon were some chicken strips that were basically the Yves ones re-packaged with the grocery's store brand.

So we had those, sauteed in a bit of olive oil; sweet potatoes tossed with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and then roasted; and some mixed vegetables with a little powdered veggie broth sprinkled on them for flavour.

The chicken strips were okay; I don't think I would have liked them very much without the olive oil to make them crispy though. Sweet potatoes and veggies always go over well.

All in all it took about forty minutes to make, most of which was taken up by the potatoes roasting. Decent enough meal with minimal effort.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Breaded Seitan Nuggets

Okay, I forgot to take the picture before it was all eaten. Sorry 'bout that.

Thanks to a trip to the States this weekend, I had some seitan to play around with. I can't believe how hard it is to find seitan around here, I always thought it was a staple like tofu. I guess not. Oh well, thank goodness for Wegmans.

Anyway. I marinated the seitan pieces for an hour in a mix of the following:

• 1/4 c soy sauce
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tbsp mustard
• 1 tbsp minced garlic

Then I coated them, shake'n'bake style, in some breadcrumbs (from the batch I made Sunday), brushed the nuggets with olive oil, and baked at 375F for about 15 minutes (more or less - I wasn't watching the clock so much as whether they were turning golden or not).

They reminded me quite a bit of chicken nuggets, but not as processed. My husband liked them a lot, too. (Believe it or not, the Husband is quite picky, so his approval actually means something. I've just had a good streak lately.)

Rounding out the meal were:

• potatoes, tossed with olive oil, paprika and seasoned salt before roasting at 400F (I put them in the oven 20 minutes before the seitan nuggets, and then left them in when I baked the nuggets); and

• kale, which I am quickly becoming addicted to, cooked as I did on Friday.

So it was a bit of a repeat, but still filling and tasty and all that. Easy enough to make and clean up after, too.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Eggplant Croquettes and Herb Roasted Potatoes

Tonight's dinner is kind of light, because we filled up on Superbowl snacks.

The eggplant croquettes are another one from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen. I really do use other cookbooks; this recipe just caught my eye when I was flipping through for the pasta e fagioli recipe.

It's basically baked eggplant pureed with garlic and breadcrumbs, rolled in herbed breadcrumbs, brushed with olive oil, baked, and topped with tomato sauce.

The herb roasted potatoes are pretty easy to do: dice some potatoes (I used 3 small and that was more than enough), and in a bowl toss them with with a couple teaspoons of olive oil, a little salt, garlic powder, and italian seasoning until evenly coated. Place them in a baking dish and roast them at 400F for about 20-30 minutes or until golden.

The croquettes came out really well; they took a little while because I had to make the breadcrumbs myself (see below) and they need to be refrigerated before you form them into balls, but other than that they were pretty easy. In the future, I'll probably let them cook a bit longer at a lower temperature because they were a bit mushy in the center -- but still tasty.

Making Breadcrumbs

I know I can't be the only vegan who has trouble finding breadcrumbs -- for some reason even the "unseasoned" varities all have cheese in them. Fortunately, making your own is really easy.

Just take a couple slices of bread and bake them in the oven or the toaster oven at the lowest temperature -- usually around 200F -- for about twenty minutes, or until the bread feels hard and dried out. Then, break the bread into big chunks, put it in the food processor, and pulse until you have breadcrumbs.

I actually like doing it this way, because I can use whole wheat and they taste a lot fresher than store-bought breadcrumbs.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Pasta e Fagioli

(You've probably heard of it... it's usually pronounced 'pasta fazool')

I used the recipe in The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, but since pasta e fagioli is usually vegan on its own (some recipes call for chicken broth, but veggie broth works just as well) pretty much any recipe will do.

Basically, it's onions, garlic, crushed or diced tomatoes, white beans, ditalini pasta, vegetable broth and a bit of olive oil simmered into a hearty soup. I used crushed tomatoes, so ours turned out more like a stew, but it was delicious nonetheless.

It's nearly blasphemy to serve pasta e fagioli without fresh crusty italian bread, but I didn't feel like making bread and it's too nasty out to go to the store, I made some ersatz garlic bread while the pasta e fagioli was cooking: mix some garlic powder and italian seasoning with margarine, spread it on bread (we use whole wheat) and toast it in the toaster oven.

From start to finish, this took me about 45 minutes to make, and the leftovers that don't get eaten for lunch tomorrow can get frozen and reheated some other time. Another recipe I'm sure we'll have again.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Tonight's Dinner: Marinated Baked Tofu, Kale and Rice Pilaf

This one's easy to make, and it's a bit time consuming in that you have to drain and marinate the tofu ahead of time, but aside from that it doesn't take very long at all.

The tofu is my recipe, and I used a whole block today although I don't usually. Usually 2/3 of a block is more than enough for the two of us; the leftovers from tonight will give us each a decent lunch tomorrow. Anyway, here's how to do the tofu:

Take a block of extra-firm tofu and drain it by setting it on a plate, with another plate on top and something heavy on the top plate (I used a sack of flour). Leave it for at least 15 minutes; when you're done, pour off the drained liquid.

To make the marinade, you need the following:

(all measurements are approximate, don't be afraid to play around with the recipe)

• 1/4 c soy sauce
• 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
• 3 tbsp red wine
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 garlic clove-sized pieces fresh ginger, peeled and minced (you can use a cheese grater or better, a garlic press for this)
• 3 tbsp water (more or less depending on how much marinade you need to cover the tofu)
• a pinch of brown sugar or a drop of molasses

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl (or you could be lazy like me and mix them in the container you intend to marinate the tofu in). Pour into a dish, zip bag or ziploc/gladware container (that's what I use - there's one size that's slightly bigger than a brick of tofu that's perfect for this). Slice the tofu into pieces approximately 1" x 2" x 1/4" thick (or whatever size you like) and arrange in the dish/bag/container and cover/close. Marinate for at least an hour, stirring/flipping occasionally.

Arrange the tofu slices in a baking dish and pour the marinade over them. Bake at 375 for 20-40 minutes (depending on how baked you like your tofu), turning once.

Okay, I swear it's less work than it sounds!

For the rest of dinner, I made some rice pilaf while the tofu was baking, and while that was simmering, I made some sautéed kale. The recipe I used is here (although I made half of what it called for), and I was really impressed with how it turned out: even though I don't usually like "bitter" greens, it didn't taste bitter at all, and the lemon juice was a great touch. It cooked up fast too.

The last thing I did, once the tofu came out of the oven, was to pour off the remaining marinade from the baking dish, mix it with a little corn starch and water, and heat it in a little dish in the microwave to make some sauce -- but I will totally admit I did that mostly because I knew I'd be taking a picture and the tofu looks way better with sauce drizzled over it than it does sitting in a puddle of marinade. If I wasn't taking a picture I probably wouldn't have wasted the time.

Anyhow, dinner was cooked and eaten in an hour, excluding the time it took to drain and marinate the tofu. The tofu was great as usual, and I was pleasantly surprised by the kale -- I'll be making it again for sure.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Today's Lunch: Chickpea Salad

To be honest, I like this more than the tuna salad it's supposed to emulate -- and a number of omnivores who've tried the recipe agree -- but then again, tuna's one of those things you either like or you don't, and I think many people find chickpeas more palatable to begin with. Anyway. You can make a batch of this salad at the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge for a few days to spread on a sandwich or scoop into a tupperware container later in the week when you're short on time.

This was one of the first vegan meals I made for myself, and while I'm pretty sure I got the recipe from PETA originally, I can't seem to find it on their website now. There are other mock-tuna recipes, but this one's more simple and I like it better.

All of the ingredient quantities are approximate; adjust the amounts to taste. As with most salads like this, the recipe is very forgiving. You need:

• a can of chick peas or the equivalent amount of the dried-and-cooked kind, drained
• 2-3 ribs of celery, chopped
• a stalk of green onion, finely chopped
• any other vegetables you might put in tuna salad, chopped: I do green pepper or cucumber if we have 'em
• 2-3 heaping tablespoons of vegan mayonnaise (see note about vegan mayonnaises, below, if you're unfamiliar)
• a splash or two of soy sauce
• a couple squirts from a slice of lemon (or a little shake of lemon juice if you use the bottled kind)
• salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl, mash the chick peas with a potato masher or a sturdy fork until they get to a tuna-like consistency. Then toss in the veggies and stir to combine. Add the mayonnaise, soy sauce, and lemon juice and mix well; add salt (just a bit, since there's already soy sauce in there) and pepper. It tastes best if you chill it before serving, but it's not necessary.

This recipe works well for a couple reasons: the lemon and soy sauce give the chickpeas just enough of that tangy umami flavour to be reminiscent of tuna without the overpowering tuna smell, and vegan mayonnaises generally taste very close to the traditional kind, so it doesn't require a re-orienting of tastes to enjoy. And hey, veggies are veggies.

So for today's lunch, my husband got chickpea salad sandwiches on whole wheat bread, apple slices, some tortilla chips I made by cutting up a whole wheat tortilla and toasting it in the toaster oven, some guacamole to dip the chips in, and some peanuts to snack on. I can generally throw all this together in about half an hour, much less if the salad's already made.

And now, here's that Note About Vegan Mayonniase:

The Hellmann's and Miracle Whip of the vegan world are Vegenaise and Nayonnaise, respectively. Vegenaise is a little tangier (like traditional mayonnaise) and Nayonnaise is a little creamier (like Miracle Whip). They both have their pros and cons: Vegenaise has the better texture, but it has to be refrigerated, which means it's generally harder to come by and a bit more expensive. Nayonnaise has a bit of a gloppy texture (which goes away after you stir it or spread it on anything) but doesn't need to be refrigerated before you open it, which means it's easier for stores to carry. To wit: we can get Nayonnaise in the natural foods section of our local grocery store, but I have make a separate trip to the health food store to get Vegenaise. Also: neither are much healthier than traditional mayo in the fat-and-calories sense, so that's still something to watch out for.

If you happen to live in an area where neither Vegenaise nor Nayonnaise are available, you can order Vegenaise direct from the company here and the Nayonnaise online here (disclaimer: I have no experience ordering from shopnatural, they were just the first shop that google returned). If you've been cutting out egg products for whatever reason and you miss mayonnaise, these are definitely good to try -- they're some of the best vegan substitutions out there.