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.