Sunday, February 25, 2018

Vegan Lasagna... for Omnivores?

I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks now, but with the house renovation still going on and getting more complicated by the day, it's been hard to find the time.  I'm stealing a few minutes now as I wait for a batch of Sunday breakfast muffins to come out of the oven (I whipped up another variation of the Gluten Free Banana Nut Muffins I posted after the New Year), and I want to share with you a topic I find myself considering often these days: what on earth do you cook for an omnivore? I'm not talking about a flexible, Meatless-Monday's type of omnivore, I'm talking about the Steak-It's-What's-For-Dinner type of omnivore. And for lunch, and for breakfast. People like my Dad, my brother, pretty much my entire clan of relatives, and many of our friends. 

On this particular Saturday evening a few weeks ago, we had invited two new friends over for dinner. We hadn't really spent much time together before, but the fact that my husband and I are both vegan had come up and we offered to cook dinner for them.  Oh boy. What had seemed like a great idea at the time quickly ballooned into frenzied panic on Saturday morning -- not only was this our first date with our hopefully new Couple Friends, we had to feed them vegan food.  This was a couple whose idea of a good Valentine's dinner was to stay home and craft some Beef Wellington together. The bar was high. 

They assured us that they were excited and curious to try something a little different, but as Saturday evening approached, we began to question everything about our plan. What do you make for people whose expectation of anything with the word "vegan" in it conjures up images of salad leaves and piles of broccoli? We knew this was an opportunity to feed them otherwise, to show them how filling and delicious plant-based food can be, and to forever raise their expectations.  But what if they didn't like it? What if they found it on par with their expectations? What if they left hungry, and had to pick up a backup dinner on the way home? 

With the pressure mounting, we talked through our options. Do we go with something inherently vegan, like lentils or quinoa salad? Do we roast a big pile of vegetables from the day's trip to the farmer's market? Do we make our go-to Chickpea Masala, a vegan version of a classic Indian favorite? With all these thoughts, we shot them down just as quickly. We feared they would feel that something was missing -- The Meat. We didn't want to focus the dinner on meat replacements either, lest tastefully prepared tofu call attention to itself as an apologetic stand-in for what their taste buds really desired. 

Our goal was ultimately to just have dinner, with friends. We wanted the food to do what good food always does: to provide a warm, satisfying backdrop to the shared ritual of eating a meal and getting to know each other over hours of good wine and conversation. We weren't aiming for the food to take center stage in the discussions either, we just wanted to feed our friends and have them leave us full and happy. 

Ultimately, we settled on a familiar favorite we felt we all could relate to: lasagna, made vegan. We would dress it up with the usual accoutrements -- bread, cheese, a green salad, and copious amounts of red wine -- and everyone would feel right at home. 

We had recently discovered some amazing, cultured cashew milk cheese from Treeline at our local grocery store, which is nearly indistinguishable from an herbed chevre and plays just as nicely with warm, toasted slices of baguette.  We held them over with bread and cheese as the lasagna finished cooking and I worked on the salad, plying them with what I thought were very exciting samples of various radish varieties we had found at the market that morning. Whether they found them equally exciting will soon be found out when they read this... 

Finally, the lasagna was coming out of the oven and our vegan-Italian experiment was coming to fruition. With a little help from the Simple Veganista's Cashew Ricotta and a few layers of the morning's market vegetables, we had ourselves a lasagna we could be proud of. Matt and Jess, I hope you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed your company.  


And now, The Menu.

To start -

. sliced baguette, hot from the oven
. olive oil + pomegranate balsamic vinegar
. Treeline Treenut Cheese, Herb-Garlic flavor

The Salad -

. spring mix
. chopped fresh rainbow chard
. sunflower sprouts
. mix of market radishes: spicy Black Spanish, Watermelon, White Beauty

The Salad Dressing -

(my own lemon honey mustard dressing)

. 1/4 c olive oil
. 1 Tbsp honey or maple syrup
. 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
. 1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard
. 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
. juice from half a lemon
. cracked black pepper

The Lasagna -

(Layers are described in order from the bottom to the top, baked at 375 for 45-55 minutes, depending on how thinly you slice the sweet potatoes)

. tomato sauce on the bottom, just enough to coat the dish and keep the noodles from sticking
. first layer of noodles, cooked according to package directions
. cashew ricotta
. raw kale, chopped into small pieces
. thinly sliced rounds of sweet potatoes, placed in a single layer
. tomato sauce over the whole thing
. second layer of noodles
. more cashew ricotta
. topping layer: green peas and finely chopped sweet potatoes, crispy when baked

The Wine - 

(huge thanks to our lovely guests for bringing the wine and introducing us to a new local vineyard!)

. Unionville Vineyards, The Big O, 2013. (Red blend)
. Unionville Vineyards, Cool Foxy Lady, 2016. (Icewine style, dessert white)

If you cook vegan, what do you make for your meat-loving friends and family? If you're an omnivore, has anyone ever made you a vegan meal? I would love to hear about your own experiences with this! 

Monday, February 5, 2018

A "Super Bowl" so fast you won't miss the real one

A "Super Bowl", or what was supposed to have been a chickpea pot pie...

There are times when I enjoy really taking the time to cook. I prepare a glass of wine or sparkling water with sliced fresh limes, I turn on my favorite jazz or electroswing playlist (any Parov Stelar fans out there?), and I flip to a new recipe I've had my eye on for weeks. The ritual of preparing a meal is as relaxing to me as anything else I might do in the evening (I'm certain my husband does NOT feel this way, which is why I do most of the cooking around here ;) 

There are other times, like last night, when the goal is simply to convert whatever remaining raw ingredients we have in our refrigerator into a meal as quickly as possible, preferably with leftovers for the following days. I'm sure most of us are often in the latter boat.  

This Sunday evening in particular, we had just arrived back in town from a weekend away in New York, had not had the luxury of our usual Saturday market routine, and the Eagles were about to kickoff what would become one of the most historic Super Bowls in NFL history (that in-zone throw to Nick Foles? Amazing.) I was tackling laundry and dinner while Chris took care of our pup, and the minutes were ticking down to the coin toss.  It had to be fast enough that I could pop it into the oven and pop myself onto the couch, and it had to come together exclusively with the less-than-fresh ingredients we already had on hand leftover from last week.  What on earth to cook??

Super bowl aside, we've all been in this situation more often than we'd like to admit. To be totally honest, I had zero intention of writing a post about this one when I made it -- but then I realized that it is exactly situations like these that make we want to share what I make in the first place. The reason I write this blog is so that I can share, teach, and hopefully inspire others to feel confident in the kitchen with whatever ingredients they happen to have on hand.  How many times have you found an awesome-looking recipe only to realize that you're missing half the ingredients?  You don't have time to run to the grocery store, and takeout starts to look really tempting when your Plan A for Dinner falls through.

My goal is to show you how to think creatively with the ingredients in front of you, whether you're browsing a winter market looking for staples or browsing your refrigerator looking for anything that still might be edible. You don't have to rely on precise recipes to craft healthy, delicious, and resourceful meals for your family -- in fact, I have almost never strictly stuck to a recipe in my life (this is why I am usually NOT the baker in our family). Rather, I'm always adapting and subbing ingredients to use whatever we have, and sometimes I'll up the amount of veggies called for just to use something up, add nutrients, or make more leftovers. 

So what did I make last night for the big game? I knew it had to be quick to prepare, and it had to be something I could bake in the oven rather than prepare on the stove so I could throw it in and walk away. I checked the fridge and found the following items on hand:

  • thinly sliced sweet potato rounds I had used in a lasagna the weekend before
  • the last of the chickpeas I had cooked the weekend before
  • some very wilted spinach
  • 4 very sad carrots
  • 1 still intact parsley root (similar to celery root or parsnip)
  • the last of a carton of mixed mushrooms
If you think old vegetables are out of the question, think again. Anything that may have lost it's raw appeal can still be perfect for a stew or a bake. In this case, I decided to make a chickpea pot pie. To my raw ingredients, I added the following items from the pantry:
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic (feel free to use as much or as little garlic as you like, in any recipe. It's your dinner after all.)
  • a can of diced tomatoes
  • dried basil and thyme, and salt and pepper
  • about 3 T of spelt flour that I had remaining in the freezer (this could be any type of flour, I just happened to have the end of a bag in the freezer to use up)
  • some extra water to add moisture to the sauce
And that's it. I sauteed all my vegetables in some coconut oil while the oven preheated to 375, added the spices and water, and then added the flour to thicken it all at the end. From there, I dumped the entire pan into my pie dish and arranged the sweet potato slices around the edges and on top. I set the timer for 35 minutes, and took my seat on the couch just in time for the first touchdown. 

Fly Eagles, Fly. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Fit for the New Year: Vegan, Gluten Free Banana Nut Muffins

Having just returned from our annual Christmas Pilgrimage to North Carolina -- an eight-day road trip adventure all the way from Philadelphia to Clemson, SC and back again, with our game-for-anything pup in the back seat -- our pantry wasn't exactly stocked when we walked in the door on New Year's Eve.  What to make for brunch the next day? Having just spent a week trying to stick to a vegan diet in the midst of my avid meat-and-dairy-loving family, I wanted to bring something to share that would be accessible to everyone.  After a little browsing, I found this vegan, gluten-free recipe for Banana Nut Muffins from the Minimalist Baker that aligned closely enough with the limited resources in our depleted pantry.  Though not gluten-free myself, I decided to make these without it to keep them diet friendly for all. Evidently it worked out beautifully -- all twelve of these were gone in fifteen minutes flat.  Moist and hearty, with the added decadence of dark chocolate chips and toasted walnuts on top, these made for a perfect New Year's Day treat that would be healthy and filling enough for any day of the week.  With my own substitutions, here's what I used....

1 Tbsp ground flaxseed (throw some whole flaxseed in a high speed blender, voila: ground flaxseed)
2 1/2 tbsp water
2 ripe bananas (original calls for 3, but we only had 2)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda 
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (we keep a few vanilla beans soaking in a bottle of vodka for this purpose)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 c brown sugar (I halved the amount of sugar in the original recipe, because I tend to prefer things less sweet)
2 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
3/4 tsp sea salt
3/4 c coconut milk (we hadn't made almond milk, so I opened up a can of coconut milk I had on hand. This worked out beautifully)
1/2 c dark chocolate chips, 70% or greater and dairy free (because who doesn't love melted chocolate in things?!)

For the flour: original calls for a mix of almond meal/flour, a gluten-free flour blend, and rolled oats.  Not having any of the gluten free blend on hand, I mixed my own to add up to the same quantity. Here's what I used --

1 1/4 c almond flour
3/4 c almond meal (coarser than flour)
1/2 c coconut flour 
1 1/4 c rolled oats

I also pressed some walnuts into the top of 8 of the muffins before baking, so they came out nice and toasted by the end.


Preheat oven to 375
Line a standard muffin tin with muffin cups, makes 12 muffins

1. Prepare a "flax egg" by mixing the ground flaxseed and water together and giving it 5 minutes to gel.
2. Mash up your bananas to a liquid but slightly chunky consistency, then mix with the flax egg, baking powder, and baking soda.
3. Add vanilla, oil, salt, sugar, and syrup and whisk to combine. Then whisk in coconut milk. (Set aside leftover coconut milk to use later, or blend it up right away with some frozen fruit for a smoothie to tie you over until these come out of the oven...)
4. Add all flour ingredients and oats, stirring with a wooden spoon until just combined, and then fold in chocolate chips at the end. 
5. Divide evenly into your muffin cups, and then press in walnut topping (or add hemp seed, or shredded coconut, or chia seeds -- whatever suits your fancy).

Bake for 28-32 minutes or until golden brown.  Enjoy :)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pan Fried Tempeh and Market Stir Fry

Day 1. Pan Fried Tempeh and Farmer's Market Stir Fry
Monday, 25 September 2017

Farmer's Market stir fry.

  • Mushrooms. These were something fancy from the farmer's market mushroom stand, but I don't remember what. I do know they were delicious, and they stood up really well in the stir fry. Wash them really well, and cut into bite size pieces.
  • Red onion. How could you make a stir fry without one? Once these and the mushrooms are ready to go, get them all going in your saute pan with 3 Tbsp coconut oil and 3 Tbsp water.
  • Garlic. Mince 3-4 cloves and throw them in with your onions and mushrooms.
  • Bell peppers. Add 1-2 of these depending on size, the brighter the better. Add a bit more water to the pan if it starts to dry out too much here.
  • Purple cabbage. This holds up really well in the stir fry and adds amazing color.
  • Spinach. Add this right at the very end, splash it all with water and cover for about 2 minutes. This will steam the spinach just enough, and then you're done!
Fried tempeh.
  • Tempeh. If you're not familiar, tempeh is a fermented soy cake originating in Indonesia, and it has probiotic properties similar to yogurt but without the dairy. I used one package and just followed the instructions. Super simple. Slice in 1/4" thin slices, and marinate (or douse, if you're in a hurry like I was) in a bowl while you heat up your skillet with about 3 Tbsp coconut oil on medium heat. Lay out the pieces and let them brown on one side for about 4-5 minutes, then flip them over and repeat. 
  • Marinade. Probably best to mix this up ahead of time, but I literally spooned it over the tempeh three minutes before it went in the pan, and it turned out just fine.
    • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
    • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds

It was vegan, and it was delicious. I had forgotten how amazing tempeh can taste, and the combination of tempeh, mushrooms, and a pile of colorful veggies was completely satisfying.  The best part? It all came together in about half an hour, so I had time to make that and write this too :) 

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Best Damn Vegan Pancakes

Vegan Pancakes. The Gold Standard Cafe, West Philadelphia.
Sunday, 24 September 2017.

I don't usually write about pancakes. Sometimes, however, I happen upon some food thing so profound that I am compelled to whip out my camera in the middle of the restaurant to capture the sheer delight in front of me.  These were no ordinary pancakes.  These were vegan pancakes, and they tasted like heaven. 

I should probably explain why I was ordering vegan pancakes. I recently met a girl who happened to mention that she was a vegan, and having been a long-time 80/20 vegetarian myself I inquired about what had prompted her to make the Full On Commitment.  Her reasoning was rooted in ethics and it pretty much made sense to me, so I decided to give it a try for a few days.  You know, just to see if I could, since I wasn't really ready to commit to no eggs and no cheese forever.

I've been trying it for a few weeks now, and in the meantime I've been doing some pretty intense research. What am I going to eat for breakfast? How does it feel to totally turn your back on the concept of wine and cheese? (My soul absolutely yearns for Paris when I think of wine and cheese...) What are the positives, and what can I expect from my body if I do this?  What is my why? This photo journalism project really rocked me to my core. 

Long story short, I've been more or less successfully eating about 90% vegan for the past two weeks, and it has turned out to be far easier than I expected.  My body feels great, my mind feels clear, and I'm still really happy with the food that I AM eating.  I'm enjoying the challenge of cooking at home (though many of the meals I usually make are actually vegan anyway), and restaurant menus are actually making it pretty easy.  Chris and I love eating out just as much as we love cooking at home, and I'm not really willing to give that up. I need days off from the dishes just as much as the next girl. 

Thank goodness for vegan pancakes. I think I'll just go ahead and give this thing a try for good. 


I haven't posted in a while, and this is largely because the last five months have been consumed with finding, buying, and designing the restorations for our new (old) house... possibly with a dishwasher?!  More to come on that later. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Spring Looks Good on You, Salad

As April very nearly gives way to May, it's becoming my favorite time of year again: the farmer's market stands multiply from the few winter standbys to the rows and rows of newcomers, their tables overflowing with the first real fruits of the new season.  The farms showcase leafy spinach, flourishing in the cool and rainy weather of the Northeast spring, alongside the first few weeks of asparagus as the sleeping roots begin to shoot up their tender stalks.  The fall harvest of sweet root vegetables hasn't quite been exhausted, and sweet heirloom squash varieties and beets -- greens removed for storage -- are still out in the baskets next to their early season cousins, carrots and turnips.  

Having missed the market one Saturday, my husband even scored some fresh strawberries and fiddleheads at the grocery co-op coming in from farms a bit further south -- no doubt thanks to our unseasonably warm spring.  Strawberries favor the cool season before the onslaught of real summer heat, so take advantage of their abundance and flavor while you can.

Whatever your region, keep your eye out for newcomers to your local market or items coming from your area at the grocery store.  These are clues that these varieties are in season right now in your area, and will most likely have been picked recently at or very close to ripeness.  This is where you'll find the most color, flavor, and nutrients -- not to mention enough variety to consistently spice up your dinner rotation. It's the perfect storm for salad creation: abundance, simplicity, and freshness, easily thrown together on any night of the week. 

Spring market salad:

Curly leaf spinach

Yellow carrots

Fiddleheads (furled fronds of a young fern)


Butternut squash, roasted in coconut oil 

Beets, roasted in coconut oil 

Local blue cheese crumbles (easily omitted if you're doing it vegan or paleo)

For protein: edamame (or eggs, paleo)

For fat: olive oil + avocado

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Happiness is a Portuguese Pastry

Pasteis de Nata and Port. Saturday, 08 April 2017

Exactly six months ago I married my husband, in a hurricane, in Virginia.  Two days later, we packed our bags, said goodbye to our dog, and boarded a plane -- Lisbon bound.  The city was a dream; we spent our days walking miles of marble-tiled narrow streets, winding up and down hills and in and out of stone-walled cafes, drinking port and sangria and dreaming about our future as the sun set and the sounds of melancholy voices singing fado echoed off alley walls.  

One morning, we stopped by a bakery, Manteigaria Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata, selling nothing but espresso and what seemed to be the national pastry of Portugal, an egg custard tart.  We watched in rapt fascination as the white-clad bakers behind the glass deftly rolled, pressed, and poured the contents of the tarts into long rows of pastry cups.  They had it down to a science -- the assembly line as art.  Five minutes later, we were biting into fragrant layers of hot and crispy pastel de nata -- properly enjoyed with powdered sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top just after coming out of the oven.  Custard tart devoured only moments after its creation, we finished our espresso and set off into the early morning bustle of downtown Lisbon.  

Fast forward to Friday, the day before my birthday.  I get home to find my husband intently focused on spreading out his pastry dough carefully into a muffin tin, a bowl of egg custard standing at the ready, the aroma of the first batch already wafting from the oven, flour covering everything.  A bottle of port wine waits patiently on top of the fridge.  

Happiness is a homemade Portuguese pastry -- best enjoyed with friends.