Dan’s Birthday Dinner

Last week was my lovely husband Dan’s birthday. But since we had just returned from our Seattle/Portland vacation (where we ate roughly 80,000 calories, I’m estimating) two days before, there wasn’t much time to plan much of a celebration. On the cab ride home from the airport (at 11:30 on a Tuesday. ugh), Dan declared that he wanted cheesy mac and garlic bread for a birthday dinner. Now, due to those roughly 80,000 calories, I wasn’t too stoked on this idea, as what he wanted was one of the first recipes I mastered when I was in college. I have no idea where the original recipe came from, as I think I received a stained print-out from someone along the way. It was incredibly creamy and velvety and delicious but called for loads and loads of both oil and margarine. Add super greasy garlic bread to that, and my vacation-stuffed stomach wasn’t thrilled. So I decided it was finally time to de-fat (at least partially) the recipe and see how it turned out. It still needs some tweaking (I think the tempeh needs to be grated for a more “sausage” like texture, and it could maybe be a bit moister), but overall it was a (much-healthier) success. And it gets even better the next day. The tempeh sausage crumbles are straight from Vegan with a Vengeance (minus the spices I had unexpectedly run out of), but the rest is straight from my head.

Tempeh Cheesy Mac

1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 – 1 3/4 cup water
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp turmeric
3 Tbsp margarine
1 1/2 cups macaroni, slightly undercooked
1 recipe tempeh sausage crumbles

Mix nutritional yeast, flour, water, soy sauce, garlice powder, and turmeric together in a small saucepan and heat over medium until thickened. Melt in margarine. In an 8×8 casserole dish, mix together sauce, macaroni, and tempeh and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

And to totally mess up the “healthiness” of the cheesy mac, Dan made his “world famous” garlic bread. Whenever he cooks something, he calls it world famous, even (or maybe especially) when it’s the first time he’s ever made it. I think the only time I’ve disputed this title was when he found a cucumber in the fridge, thought it was a zucchini (not sure how one makes that mistake), and put it in chili! Then again, maybe that is world famous, just not in a good way.

And dessert. Strawberry shortcake, with biscuits from Martha, with WAY less sugar on the berries, and whipped Soyatoo. Oh my God, Soyatoo is the best thing ever. Seriously. I whipped it up with half a vanilla bean and a few spoonfuls of sugar, and it reminded me of being a kid and eating spoonful and spoonful of Cool-Whip straight out of the package. I loved that stuff. But knowing that it’s 99% chemicals, 1% whey freaks me out now. So thank you, Soyatoo, for actually resembling whipped cream (or whipped-cream-like product) without being icky. The whole thing was incredible, and such an improvement over those weird little sponge cakes at the grocery store.

Almond Crusted Tofu

The moment I saw the pistachio crusted tofu on Fat Free Vegan, I immediately wanted it. But of course when I went to Whole Foods that night, they were all out of shelled pistachios. So almond crusted tofu it was! Sure, it’s not as pretty as the original, being so beige and all, but it’s still crunchy and delicious. And I learned that the combination of Veganaise, German mustard, maple syrup, and soy sauce actually tastes good. So all in all a success, and a good way to use up the ridiculous amount of almonds lingering in my freezer, hiding behind leftover chickpea cutlets and half-used flours.

Mexican Pizza, or: What Happens When I Have to Shop at Jewel

Dan and I were on our way home from work and I had nothing planned for dinner. Completely out of character, we decided to go to Jewel. I’ll admit that I have an aversion to normal (i.e., not Whole Foods) grocery stores–something about the two aisles containing nothing but chips and soda–but I’m really against Jewel. It always smells funny. It probably comes from years of living in Wicker Park, home to Junkyard Jewel, which is a truly disgusting place. Plus, the lines are always super long. But at the Jewel I ended up, on a search for something to use as a pizza crust. I knew there wouldn’t likely be anything actually pizza-crust-like to be had, but I thought I’d at least find pita bread. Nope. No pita bread in the whole store. After walking up and down the “natural foods” aisle (gee, that’s a lot of cereal and soy milk) six or seven times, I spied some refried black beans (thank you, Amy), and the Mexican pizza was born. Another search turned up some flour tortillas with fewer than twenty ingredients–as well as a pile of super moldy tortillas. Yum. After an incredibly long wait in line, it was home to assemble the suckers. And you might look at this creation and say, “That looks like a tostada.” Yes, it does look like a tostada, but we wanted pizza, so it’s pizza. Refried black beans between two flour tortillas, topped with melted Teese, olives, red and yellow peppers, avocado, mango, and a lot of Cholula and baked until crispy and melty. Sure, it didn’t quite satisfy the pizza craving, but it was still pretty incredible. How can anything topped with avocado and mango be anything less?

Cook’s Illustrated Recipes

Last weekend I got the new issue of Cook’s Illustrated in the mail. The few issues I’ve received so far haven’t much excited me; lots of tips on searing roasts and other useless things, plus a lot of stuff I already know. But this latest issue was actually pretty good. So good in fact, that I made two of the recipes soon after reading through them for the first time. The first was lemon artichoke hummus. I’ve made hummus countless times, and I’ve always loved it that way it was, which was somewhat on the chunky side. But this turned out super smooth, like restaurant hummus, only with tons more flavor. The complexities were lost when I put it on a sandwich the next day, but it was the perfect dipping hummus, especially with baked pita chips.

The next day I made spring vegetable risotto, which was also fantastic. (Unfortunately the pictures didn’t turn out as well.) It had leeks, peas, asparagus, and lemon juice and was topped with gremolata with parsley, mint, and lemon zest, which added so much flavor to the dish. This may be my favorite risotto, but I think I just love risotto in general. Something about all that stirring makes it seem very special.

Chocolate-dipped Hazelnut Biscotti

Friday was my co-worker Chris’s last day, and since I was losing my vegan ally, I made biscotti. I used the recipe from Veganomicon quite a few times already, but this was a new combination (I still think the orange chocolate chip is my favorite, especially with a cup of Earl Grey tea). I used the basic recipe, subbed hazelnuts for almonds, and omitted the anise (I despise anything that tastes like licorice, and a lot of things taste like licorice. Yuck). I’ve tried the chocolate hazelnut biscotti recipe in the past, but they turned out too soft, so cocoa powder doesn’t seem to mix with biscotti too well. I never think the cookies are going to get crispy enough when they’re still warm; they always seem rather soft and gooey. But they work every time, turning out perfectly crisp. When these were baked and cooled, I melted chocolate chips with a bit of soy milk and one end of the biscotti in it. I had to put them in refrigerator for the chocolate to set, and the cold biscotti in a wamr cup of coffee was a great combination. And they were a hit at the office. Score one for veganism!

Before baking

After first baking

After second baking

Teese Vegan Cheese

I’ve been lucky enough to be a guinea pig for Teese Vegan Cheese, and I think I’ve probably blown through at least five pounds already. Of course, I’ve had help eating it, but I have been more full of cheese lately than even in my life. It’s super melty (just look at that cheese toast above!), doesn’t mold in the refrigerator after two days like some other vegan cheeses (in fact, I’ve had some in the fridge for weeks now that’s still good), and tastes great (even though my cheese memories are about thirteen years old now, it tastes like what I think cheese should taste like). But the best part? It holds all the toppings on a pizza! The one thing that has always irritated me about vegan pizza is when you bite in and half the toppings slide off onto your plate (maybe my love of way too much sauce has a little bit to do with that too). So far pizza has been my main Teese use, but I’m still working on a gooey mac & cheese that I’ll post about soon.

The first Teese pizzas

I made the pizza-dough recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance, which is basically the same as every other pizza-dough recipe I consulted but with extra sugar and olive oil. The crust was perfect, and the pizzas were delicious, with peppers, mushrooms, and olives.

The weeknight Teese pizza

We picked up some dough from Whole Foods, which they keep in the refrigerator. This isn’t so great for when you want pizza NOW, as the dough is impossible to stretch. Plus, it turned out too chewy for my liking, but Dan loved it. Still tasty though. Peppers, mushrooms, onions, olives, and store-bought veggie pepperoni (which I usually pick off).

Pizza party

When in the possession of large quantities of melty cheese, it’s definitely time for a pizza party. I made the VwaV dough again, only this time I made it too early and let it rise for over an hour too long, which made the dough too soft and resulted in holes (there were also some oven sticking disasters, which are best never mentioned again). For one batch of dough, I replaced half of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour and added some agave nectar, and that batch turned out wonderfully, light and crispy and wheaty. The first pizza was my favorite: blanched red-skinned potatoes, roasted garlice, roasted asparagus, rosemary, and Teese. The combination was spectacular. I wish I’d made three more of the same.

This one was sort of hodgepodge (and not the prettiest pizza in its class). VwaV pizza sauce (DO NOT use canned tomatoes with added salt. It so super, super salty, and I even halved the salt called for), roasted garlic, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, olives, Teese.

This one has my homemade seitan pepperoni (adapted form the seitan o’ greatness recipe), which turned out pretty awesome. Everyone was snacking on it while we waited for the pizzas to bake.

Baked Seitan Pepperoni

1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper

3/4 cup water
4 Tbsp tomato paste
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, grated

Combine wet ingredients in one bowl and dry another, then add wet to dry and knead for a few minutes until elastic and somewhat tight. Divide into two logs and wrap tightly in foil (be careful not to rip the foil, but try to get the logs as tight as possible). Bake for 90 minutes at 350.

The pesto pizza seemed to be the hit of the night. Homemade pesto, roasted garlice, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, Teese. Tomato sauce is so over done. Pesto!

Leftover pizza

We had tons left over from the pizza party, so Dan and I had pizza again a few nights later. I used Whole Foods dough again, but after it warmed up a bit it was (slightly) easier to work with. But I think the non-stretchiness worked well, because this was the absolute anti-minimalist pizza. It turned out thicker than deep dish, with the bottom of the dough nice and crispy and the inside super doughy. We piled everything on here. Pesto, roasted garlice, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, mushrooms olives, seitan pepperoni. It was pretty incredible.

Two of My Favorite Quick Meals

Sometimes I get jealous when I hear people say that everything they know about cooking they learned from their mother. I sure didn’t. Everything I know about cooking–and pretty much everything else–I learned from Martha Stewart. It infuriates me to watch her current show, because she just kisses minor celebrity ass while throwing a few things in a pot, and it’s impossible to actually learn anything. But once upon a time Martha took me from Minute Rice to risotto. And half of the recipes I turn to again and again come from Martha, one of my favorites being soy-glazed tofu and carrots. It’s simple, it’s sweet and salty and crunchy and mushy, and it always makes my husband, Dan, happy. Sometimes I add other vegetables (like the asparagus here) or serve it over rice, but most of the time the tofu and carrots are enough to totally satisfy. If only I could keep the broiler from turning the cookie sheets all burnt and nasty.

The open-faced seitan sandwiches from Table for Two by Joanne Stepaniak is another winner. I must make this once a week. It takes maybe twenty minutes and is super comforting, especially when it’s cold outside. And the saltiness goes perfectly with mashed sweet potatoes (which I love so much, I’ve been known to eat nothing but for dinner when I’m home alone).

And because the tofu and carrots pics turned out so well, here are a couple more.

Vegan Madeleines

I’ve been thinking about starting this blog–and taking a lot of pictures–for a long time, so it may seem a little odd that my first post is something that didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked it to. But failure is often a big part of vegan cooking. So this is a learning a post. I tried to veganize something I never even tried in a non-vegan state, which is odd, and although the results weren’t as pretty as those perfect little packages at the Starbucks counter, they were tasty. And who can resist those tiny little flecks of vanilla seeds?

Vegan Vanilla Bean Madeleines–first trial

2 Tbsp ground flax seed
6 Tbsp water
6 Tbsp margarine, melted
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean

Preheat oven to 400. Blend flax seed and water in blender until gelatinous. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt, then flax mixture, margarine, and vanilla and mix until combined. Grease madeleine pan and fill each mold 3/4 full. Bake for ten minutes.

I used a mini madeleine pan, because mini=cute, so maybe a larger pan would have resulted in a less crispy cookie. And if you fill the molds too much, the cookies get a strange rim around the edge. This batch came out a little oily and cupcake-like, with an odd, faint taste of popcorn, probably from the spray oil. Next time I’ll definitely take the time to melt some extra marge. But the edges did come out nicely crispy. And despite the popcorny-ness, they were tasty.