Flower

A Simple Sweet Potato

Roasted sweet potato

Never have I been subjected to sweet potatoes sullied by the addition of sugar and marshmallows. This is pure insanity to me. Kind of like taking a taste of soy sauce and saying, “Yeah, it’s salty, but you know what would make it better? Put some salt in it.” Sweet potatoes are sweet. It’s right in the name. Don’t mess with them.

The idea of a vegetable side dish that looks more like a super-rich dessert is disturbing enough, but the truth is, sweet potatoes are one of the most delicious, well-balanced foods in existence. Baked in a hot oven until they get all squishy, they are so hard to resist that I always get a blast of steam in my face when I plunge the knife in the crackly skin. Then I top it with small dabs of Earth Balance and flaky, crunchy Maldon sea salt for a comforting lunch that somehow seems indulgent—creamy, sweet, salty, buttery, utter perfection.

Penne with Roasted Delicata Squash and Vegan Mornay Sauce

Vegan Mornay Sauce

Until a few years ago I hadn’t ever cooked winter squash. Hell, I probably hadn’t even ever eaten winter squash outside of the canned pumpkin in a pie. They always seemed so daunting. The peeling, the cleaning of the seeds, the stained hands. And then there was the cutting. In my mind it was akin to opening a coconut, and one slip of the (very dull) knife in my (very clumsy) hand and I’d be down a finger. But maybe the acquisition of a couple of proper grown-up knives gave me courage.

I started with acorn squash. They’re so cute and curvy and ready for stuffing. So they became a Thanksgiving centerpiece. But the flesh came out stringy and dry and mushy, making for nothing more than a really pretty and seasonally appropriate bowl.

And then I found this. The simplest, most delicious butternut squash soup you could hope for, perfect for topping with cranberry compote for a really stunning color combination. And I haven’t looked back since.

Last year I fell in love with the delicata squash. It’s sometimes hard to find, and its smaller size and less flashy appearance make it easy to overlook. But here’s the thing: You can eat the skin. Meaning none of that annoying peeling. Just chop it up, toss it in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and throw it in the oven for a wonderfully comforting side dish that’s nicely crunchy on the outside, with a bite provided by the slightly waxy skin, and incredibly smooth on the inside. Or do as I did here and, after roasting, toss it with penne and a vegan mornay sauce for an indulgent, grown-up version of mac and cheese. And don’t forget to roast the seeds (delicata is a way better payoff here than stingy butternut) and sprinkle them on top.

The best part? Matilda, who had recently decried a loaf of pumpkin bread for being ” too pumpkiny,” said, without prodding, “I like this squash.” Success.

Vegan Mornay Sauce

adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child et al.

I used Teese vegan cheese in this sauce, as I prefer its flavor over other brands. And when I opened the pantry to grab the flour and realized the all-purpose canister was empty, I used whole-wheat pastry flour instead, which worked just fine. This is best served very hot, as it loses it’s silky texture as it cools.

1 Tbsp Earth Balance Margarine

1 1/2 Tbsp flour

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

Approximately 1/4 cup mozzarella-style vegan cheese, grated

salt and pepper to taste

Heat soy milk in small saucepan or in the microwave until warmed through. Melt margarine in small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and let the mixture bubble, stirring constantly, for about two minutes. Slowly pour in heated soy milk. Whisk until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon. This should only take a couple of minutes.

Raw Beet Salad

raw-beet-salad

I used to be terrified of beets. I was convinced that cooking them would be a horribly messy ordeal, with blood red blotches forever marring my kitchen counter, my baking dishes, my hands, the shirt I inevitably wouldn’t even think to change before tackling the juicy mess. But at some point I dove in. I bought a bunch of deep red beets, hauled out the aluminum foil, and fired up the oven. And when the roots came out of the oven and the foil, the skins slid right off, no vegetable peeler spewing tiny, staining pieces of skin all over the kitchen wall as I had feared. And the color on my hands? It rinsed right off. I hardly even needed soap. But none of that really matters for this salad, since working with raw beets is about as messy as working with raw carrots. I used Chiogga here, because they’re pretty and make for a nice pink salad—or because that’s what the farmer’s market had, whatever. And there isn’t really a recipe, just shred peeled raw beets in a food processor and toss with a simple vinaigrette. Mine was lemon juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt, and pepper, but garlic and parsley are also excellent additions. It’s a crunchy, refreshing side salad that goes great with a Mediterranean spread. It does tend to go all slimy the next day though, so eat immediately.

A New Beginning

apricot

Yesterday I ate an apricot. Now I know this may not sound very impressive, but it was a big deal. Growing up I loved fruit. I would’ve taken a strawberry over a handful of Nerds any day. And I loved it all. Any variety of fruit found in the produce section of a northern Indiana Kroger store, inevitably I thought it was delicious. With one exception, an exception that was often vocalized: the apricot. But you see, the thing is I can’t remember ever eating an apricot. I must have at some point, I assume, for such a strong aversion to have developed, but I can’t conjure up even the slightest memory of what this fruit could have tasted like. And what if I’d never even eaten a fresh apricot? Perhaps the only fruit of such a name to ever pass my lips was from a can? I had to know. Was my hatred founded? And if not, what other long-held beliefs might be challenged as a result of that discovery? What if, after twenty odd years, I found that I did indeed like every fruit I had ever encountered? Would that lead to other shocking self-discoveries? Would I become a fan of tattoos or animal prints or CBS sitcoms? Considering that as of last week I am now the owner of two string bikinis—one with sparkly silver skulls—I think anything could be possible.

As for the apricot, the flavor was OK, kind of like a more floral, perfumed peach. But the texture was all off, mushy, mealy, wholly unpleasant. At least I tried.

Thanksgiving, Part 2

Having a holiday completely devoted to food means that I can’t celebrate just once. So after our small Thursday meal, Dan and I joined friends at Megan and Jay’s for way too much food on Saturday. First up from me were mini empanadas, adapted from the Veganomicon recipe, with red kuri squash and black bean and seitan sausages. (I used this recipe, subbed black beans for the pintos, omitted the fennel seed—yuck—and paprika, and added a tsp of cumin. The leftovers were great on buns with avocado, pickled jalepenos, salsa, and a mustard/Veganaise sauce.) They were served with cranberry gaucamole, which sounded like a great idea at first, then I had a minor freakout thinking it was going to be really gross and completely inedible. But luckily I was wrong and everyone liked it. It was a nice balance for the super spicy empanadas.

Cranberry guacamole with pastry chips.

Some sort of stuffed mushroom. Not sure what it was or who made it. I was pretty jittery and starving by the time this made it to my mouth.

Again, not sure who made this or what exactly it was. Both were delicious though.

Mary’s pumpkin rolls. These were so much better than I expected. So full of pumpkin flavor and wonderfully soft. Truly amazing.

Jay’s fall classic. Very tasty. In involved squash and pasta and I have no idea what else. Maybe I should have been paying more attention.

Cas’s mac & cheese.

Jerk tofu with sweet potatoes and pineapple—Megan. A really good sweet/savory balance.

Everybody loved Keith’s wild mushroom gravy, obviously. I, however, hate wild mushrooms, so I passed.

Kandiss’s salad.

Megan’s seitan roulade. It held together beautifully.

I think this was ginger cranberry sauce—Steven.

The thing that made the car ride to Megan and Jay’s smell like farts, a.k.a Brussels sprouts poached in cider with apples and onions—me. Stinky but tasty.

Cas’s cornbread stuffing.

Steven’s green bean casserole. Possibly the first time in all my years such a concoction has ever been consumed by me. Cream of mushroom soup generally means run away. This was good though.

And the reason we eat large amounts of delicious food, so we can then eat large amounts of delicious dessert. I made little chocolate pumpkins following these instructions. I had a few problems, as the mixture warmed very quickly, making it stick to everything, but after a few minutes in the refrigerator it was wonderful. Maybe it was because I cheaped out and used chocolate chips instead of straight chocolate. But they came out cute and tasted like tootsie rolls, so I was happy.

And of course there was pie. I tried to veganize Cook’s Illustrated’s recent pumpkin pie recipe (transcribed here), and the result was delicious but didn’t set up too well. So I’ll just call it pumpkin/sweet potato pudding pie and no one will care. It’s pudding pie! It’s supposed to be wiggly! I’m genius, obviously. The flavors were perfectly balanced; none of that over-spiciness from too much cloves. Luckily the only crust issue this time was that the pretty, perfectly fluted edge shrunk and got all wonky when I pre-baked it. Next time I’ll just have to take a picture before I bake it and pretend it’s perfect.

Pumpkin Sweet Potato Pudding Pie

1 package firm silken Mori-Nu tofu
1/3 cup soy creamer
1 tsp vanilla
1 can pumpkin puree
1 cup sweet potato puree
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger

Since I obviously haven’t mastered pie dough, I’ll just say to use whatever works for you. Prepare dough and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, then line with foil, fill with pie weights or dried beans, and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove foil and weights and bake for 5 to 10 minutes (my crust puffed up at this point, but it deflated as it cooled a bit and was fine). Set aside and assemble filling. Mix tofu, soy creamer, and vanilla in a blender until very smooth. Combine pumplin, sweet potato, brown sugar, salt, and spices in saucepan and cook over medium heat 10 to 15 minutes. I may have cooked it less than this, but it needs to reduce and darken a bit and be warmed through. Remove from heat and add tofu mixture. Mix thoroughly then strain mixture through a fine-meshed seive (this will take some coaxing and patience, but it will help the texture). Pour strained mixture into prepared pie crust and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. At this point the top of the pie should look set and crack a bit, but the inside will still be jiggly.

Finished pie, with cinnamon Soyatoo and chocolate leaves.

After being smushed in the car, then devoured.

I didn’t get a picture of Megan’s gingerbread trifle before the wolves pounced on it, but it was incredible.

Thanksgiving, Part 1

I never liked Thanksgiving food all that much. Sure, pie is always good, and my grandma could make the hell out of some pie, and I always loved the sweet potatoes (but only because they were simply roasted with butter, none of that marshmallow crap, which sounds truly disgusting to me and I will never try), but nothing else was of much interest. But once I was able to cook the food for myself and realized that this was a holiday (two whole days off of work) completely devoted to food and shopping, I was in. Dan and I usually make Thanksgiving an opportunity to make food that is a bit more complicated than our everyday meals. And I always have to include as many seasonal foods as possible. Squash and cranberries? Yes, please! This year I set out to conquer pie dough once and for all with two pies, one sweet, one savory. But first up was a soup that I made once before a few years ago, Nigella Lawson’s Lentil Chestnut Soup. I was initially amazed that Nigella had any recipes that were even remotely veganizable, so I had to make it. And every year since, I’ve thought of it over and over. But since peeling fresh chestnuts could send me straight to a mental hospital in less than half an hour, it had to wait for a sale on canned chestnuts. But this soup might have made chestnut-peeling insanity worth it. It’s so velvety and packed with flavor, despite its sad, muddy appearance.
The main course was a butternut squash and caramelized onion galette. The original recipe had some sort of stinky cheese in it, but it was perfect without. And the dough turned out so flaky. Truly worth all the effort. The Brussles sprouts and golden beets up there, though, not too memorable.
Seeing that beautiful galette crust, you’d never know that earlier in the day I’d had a huge fight with some dough, throwing it against the wall and ripping it to pieces before finally sacrificing it to the trash can. Which is pretty much the experience I’ve had with pie dough for the past eight years or so. And amazingly, it’s because I tried to listen to Martha Stewart. While she’s given me invaluable advice on other things, girl just doesn’t do shortening. When I first learned how to make pie crust, it was from a recipe my mother had given me that came from my pie-making grandma. Years later I discovered that this might have actually come from the side of the Crisco can, but it made some damn flaky and easy to work with crust. But then I saw Martha. Her dough was so beautiful and thick and it never cracked. But of course using margarine did not work at all. So over the years I’ve tried more and more crust recipes, most of them with disastrous results. This time I went for Martha’s “alternate fat” recipe using shortening. And it was HORRIBLE. It didn’t stay together, it was impossible to roll out, it ended up in the trash. So then I went back to my grandma’s recipe. And everything was perfect. No sticking, no cracking, no banging my head against the countertop. The conclusion? A food processor is no place to make pie crust. It has never ever worked for me. And pastry blenders are just fun to use, so why use anything else?
For the filling I went with a Martha recipe that I knew was great: Autumn Havest Pie. I made it a few years ago and it was incredible. This time, not so much. The Granny Smith apples were just too tart, and combined with the cranberries it was a bit much. But the natural remedy for this tartness was a scoop of Temptation vanilla ice cream, which helped achieve a perfect sweet/tart balance.
But the highlight of the day was breakfast. Pumpkin cinnamon rolls. Holy crap are these things amazing. I never make cinnamon rolls because the idea of waiting for dough to rise in the morning when I could just make scones and by nibbling on breakfast and doing a crossword puzzle in half an hour is crazy to me. But I planned ahead and make these the night before, putting them in the refrigerator for the second rise and baking them in the morning. They were perfectly moist and just incredible. Dan said the only thing that could them better would be cream cheese frosting, but I’m sure that would have me keeled over with the sugar shakes halfway to lunch.

A Fresh Pasta Virgin No More


The other day I came to a somewhat embarrassing realization: Bridget Jones’s Diary is my favorite movie. Sure, if asked I’ll always says it’s Annie Hall, but it’s not. When it’s cold outside and I’m home alone and I want to spend an evening on the couch watching a movie, it’s usually Bridget Jones. So it was to her that I turned to keep me company as I embarked on my first attempt at homemade pasta. After all, no matter what happened to my noodles, I would never end up eating a dinner as disgusting as blue soup, omelet with green gunge, and marmalade.

With my nice new shint pasta machine clamped down to the counter, I started to play, using a recipe from Bryanna Clark Grogan that used chicpea flour as a binding protein. The dough looked great, very pliable, and I ran a few test pieces through to clean out the machine. Then I ran them through again. And again. And as it turned out, pretty much my whole batch of dough was used to clean out the machine, even though we still had to eat it. It was rather frustrating to see bits of grit in my otherwise wonderful looking pasta, and I spent the rest of night convinced that I had specks of chrome stuck in my throat, so hopefully the machine is good and clean by now.

The rolling process was not nearly as fun as I thought it would be. I imagined some sort of wonderful eadible version of the Play-Doh Fun Factory, but as my countertops got more and more full and the oven made my kitchen more and more unbearable and my stomach became more and more restless, the fun was kind of gone. But next time will be different, because I’ve learned a few things.

1) Start with an immacualately clean kitchen. Don’t have a rack of biscotti cooling on one counter, a stack of dishwasher ready dishes on the other, bits and pieces for a side dish on yet another. Make room, or you might go crazy.

2) Chickpea flour is temperamental and shouldn’t be kept in a cupboard for nearly a year. While the pasta had a wonderful texture in the end, it had a bit of an off taste. And while this could have been metal and grease and other disgustingness posioning me (or my imagination thinking that was the case), it was probably some past its prime besan. Next time it’s going in refrigerator.

3) When you’re making something for the very first time that’s somewhat complicated and will take a bit of learning to master, don’t make any other dishes that take more than five minutes (or one bowl/pan). The crostini with roasted onions and swiss chard was great (even though I forgot to toast the bread until everything else was cooked and got to impatient to actually get it crispy), but it was far too involved to make when all of my attention should have been on the pasta.

4) Drink wine while eating, not while cooking. Franticness and a near buzz are not good companions. Especially on an empty stomach.

5) If you’re too impatient to let the pasta dry a bit before cooking it, it will stick together. I knew this would happen, but after two hours in the kitchen I didn’t really care.

And now that I know these things, my next pasta-making excursion will by completely painless and will convince me that I’m a culinary genius and can whip up fresh pasta every single night, right? OK, maybe not. But it will be easier. And hopefully with at least 90% less “facotry grit and sediment.” Yum.

VeganMoFo #7: Love for Isa

I had the best intentions of blogging the hell out of VeganMoFo. But as always, complications arose. First off, my oven broke, making a recent trip to the farmer’s market a new kind of hell where everywhere I looked I saw beautiful fall vegetables just begging to be roasted. But today, thanks to $180 and a man named Ivan, I’ve got an oven again. After nearly three ovenless weeks, what’s a girl to bake? Cookies! I decided that in between making Matilda’s Halloween costume (my first very amateurish adventure in this kind of frightening arena) and finally getting up another blog post, I’d throw together one of my favorite easy cookie recipes, pumpkin oatmeal cookies from Vegan with a Vengence. They have flax seed, walnuts, molasses, and oats in them, so they’re practically health food, right? Well, except maybe for the white flour, sugar, oil, and chocolate chips. But that’s at least a balance of good and bad, so I’m going with it. I can’t wait to eat some tomorrow, as they are way better the next day, nice and chewy.

And while I’m proving that roughly 82% of my culinary repetoire relies on Ms. Isa Moskowitz, I might as well write about last night’s dinner, seitan chops smothered in apples and ginger. I had to saute the apples, since the oven was not yet fixed, but they turned out great. And even though I think I misread the seitan instructions just a bit (I formed the dough into four chops before boiling, meaning I had very thick chops in the end) and had a bit of trouble getting the breading to stick (that never quite works for me), they turned out great. The inside was so tender, a little like a super dense bread. Maybe due to the altered boiling technique, maybe due to the chickpea flour, but this seitan was very different from any other I’ve made, and I loved it. Spongy yet toothsome. It was a nice balance, as were all the flavors in the dish. I took it easy on the ginger, as I’m just getting over a long-held hatred of the stuff, but it came out totally mellow and warm and wonderful. And really, what’s better than getting to eat apples and cranberries for dinner? It was sort of like eating a totally sophisticated version of my oh-so-high-class childhood favorite, pork chops and applesauce.

VeganMoFo #6: Vegan Dad’s Tempeh Burgers

I read Vegan Dad every day. I love that his recipes usually quick and kid friendly yet still imaginative. I appreciate a good fancy dish with twelve different steps that I have to start the night before, but those recipes don’t help me on a Wednesday night when I got home late from work and just want to eat something tasty as soon as possible before watching Project Runway. That’s one of the reasons I am completely in love with these tempeh burgers—they take fifteen or twenty minutes to make, start to finish. And they freeze well for even faster meals. But the real reason this is going into regular rotation? They’re freaking incredible. I’m so sick of making veggie burgers that fall apart in the skillet or on the plate. These hold together wonderfully, even if you make them really thin. In fact, the thinner you go, the better they get. Nice and crispy, and there’s more room for toppings! I know from experience that it’s a little difficult to cram half an avocado on a typical veggie burger. And what’s a burger without half an avocado and a smear of Veganaise?
I’ve changed up the spices in these based on what I’ve had around (and also because fennel seed is the work of the devil) and they’ve always come out tasty. Vegan Dad has changed the recipe since publishing this version, but as it includes homemade sausages that I’m ulikely to have around, these will remain the winner. Oh, and another plus? With one package of tempeh, a bit of wheat gluten, bread crumbs from the heels of a loaf of bread, and a bunch of spices, I can get six burgers, enough for two family meals. With a cheap meal like that as part of my grocery list, I might not cry the next time I have to pay nine dollars for maple syrup.

VeganMoFo #5: Apple-Pear Crepes with Soyatoo and Toasted Hazelnuts


I haven’t done much cooking this week, partly because I’ve been sick for most of it, meaning all I want to eat is toast. If I were less culinarily inclined, I might eat toast twice a day. It’s good food. But also inhibiting my cooking projects this week was the fact that my oven broke. Which I discovered after spending half an hour assembling a Mexican lasagna that now sits in my freezer. But luckily only the oven is out of commission and the stovetop is unaffected. So to make up for the lack of delicious food this week, I spent a ridiculous amount of time making breakfast this morning. Well, that, and to celebrate my first wedding anniversary. OK, that’s probably the only reason I went overboard. It takes the oven being broken to realize that I rely on it heavily for breakfast. Scones, muffins, coffeecake; there’s not much else in my morning repetoire. So today I fancied it up with sweet crepes (from Veganomicon) with sauteed apples and pears, vanilla whipped Soyatoo, and toasted hazelnuts. There was also Chicago Diner style tofu scramble with sunflower and black sesame seeds, but it wasn’t very photogenic. And how can humble tofu stand up next to fancy ass crepes?

Oh, and hazelnuts are delicious and crunchy and all, but it’s much more fun to call them filberts. Especially if you say it in the voice of an eighty-year-old woman. Filberts.