Monday, November 14, 2016

Decadent Food Dreams (MoFo Days 11, 12, 13)

Isa's Green Lasagna Rolls that I have made twice & are so so delicious & 100% worth the effort.

Prompts: 11) Where does your favorite food come from? 12) What would you eat on your dream holiday? 13) An alien lands on your doorstep. What are they going to eat?

Toasted almond & green tea biscotti I baked for a friend.

My favorite cuisine was difficult to pin down because I love so many different types of meals, but I think my preferred cuisine as of late is Italian-inspired. Espresso-soaked tiramisu with a perfect balance of tangy creaminess & deep chocolate bitterness. Biscotti, a cookie designed specifically with coffee in mind. The wonders of homemade pasta & gnocchi. The brilliance that is vegan piccata over mashed potatoes. Eggplant parmesan. Fresh pesto, hot crusty pizza, cold beautiful gelato. Vtopia's mozzarella, caprese. Minestrone. Focaccia. Risotto. Polenta. Pairing a gorgeous simmering dark red marinara with a robust red wine. The fantastically heavy casserole dish full of heartily rich & satisfying lasagne that could feed you & your whole family for at least two days. It's all just so absolutely inviting & fulfilling.

The tiramisu at local vegan restaurant Portobello, photo via Yelp.
Best tiramisu I've ever eaten, vegan or not.

Isa's seitan piccata. I really love her recipe for chickpea piccata in Isa Does It.

On my dream vacation, I would uncover buttery-decadent-delicate traditional French food done the vegan way. As a baker who is constantly thinking about pastries, I would love to be able to walk into a 'traditional' French eatery to discover that I could eat every-beautiful-thing without worrying about eggs and dairy. I found this top 10 list of vegan eats in Paris from which I found Gentle Gourmet Cafe, a 100% vegan restaurant that serves faux-gras & so many decadent-sounding menu items (check out their instagram for some stunning dishes). So, on my dream holiday, I would be in Paris drinking wine & coffee & eating croissants, faux gras, baguette, vegan cheese, French truffle, cream sauces, macarons, & all the locally grown fruits & vegetables. Then I would cry.

Photo via Gentle Gourmet on Facebook.

My partner & I are planning a trip to Europe next year, so I actually may be able to eat vegan in Paris! I have also discovered the helpful Paris Vegan & Paris by Vegan, so suddenly eating plant-based in France seems like such an easy & enjoyable thing to do.

If I had to feed an alien right at this moment, I would hope they would enjoy two of my favorite things, made their best when consumed alongside each other: coffee & pumpkin pie coffee cake.The coffee cake is beyond moist to the point that it almost tastes like pumpkin pie filling and is given crunch with a nutty streusel topping.

Bon appetit, alien!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Something Different, Something Fusion: Gumbo Spaghetti (Days 9 & 10)

Vegan Gumbo meets Cincinnati Chili! Okra Gumbo from Isa Does It over spaghetti
with diced onions & Miyoko's Kitchen artisan cheese in Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash.

Prompts: 9) Cook a cuisine you’ve never tried before. Or, one you don’t make often enough. 10) Take two cuisines and make them work together.

I have never prepared nor eaten gumbo before. I have been eyeing Isa's recipe since she originally posted it on her blog five years ago, but for some reason haven't made it...until today. I also recently learned about Cincinnati chili:
"[...] a Mediterranean-spiced meat sauce used as a topping for spaghetti (a 'two-way') or hot dogs ('coneys'), both dishes developed by Macedonian immigrant restaurateurs in the 1920s. Ingredients include ground beef, stock, tomato paste, cinnamon, other Mediterranean spices and sometimes chocolate in a soup-like consistency. Other toppings include cheese, onions, and beans" (Wikipedia).
Vegan Cincinnati Chili from Oh My Veggies,
a photo which happens to feature one of my favorite beers (Old Rasputin).

I have also never eaten Cincinnati Chili. Even though I am admittedly unfamiliar with how both dishes are 'supposed' to taste, I decided to 'fuse' them together & hope for the best. The result? I cleaned my plate! Unlikely combination, but definitely a work of genius.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Homefries & Bhindi Masala (MoFo Days 7 & 8)

Eat Your Feelings Election Day Cake I made at work today:
Red & blue velvet cake layers with a white cake layer in between, blueberry compote,
sliced fresh strawberries, vanilla buttercream, small amount of sprinkles, fresh berry garnish.

Prompts: 7) Make a food from your own country, state, or hometown. 8) If you dug straight down, where would you come out? Make something from that country!

Breakfast for Dinner: homefries,  homemade smokey ketchup, scrambled tofu with caramelized
onions + green chili + garlic + carrot + tomato + cilantro + spices. Homefries are the first thing I
ever remember cooking; I remember peeling & chopping potatoes on weekend mornings
as a kid with my Dad.

Breakfast is a meal
that inherently reminds me of American diners. I grew up eating hashbrowns or homefries nearly every week, my parents habitually cooking weekend breakfasts in cast-iron skillets in the early morning. In my hometown, if I was hanging out with friends late at night, we would often drive to Denny's since it was the only thing open & order cheap coffee & pancakes. To this day, I crave the veganized version of an All-American Breakfast: scrambled tofu, potatoes, toast with butter, & veggie sausage/bacon. Or buttery pancakes dripping with maple syrup & a side of salty fake meat. Or biscuits & mushroom gravy with potatoes. I love it all.

When I Google-searched 'what is on the other side of the world', this is the response I received:
"[...] if you dig straight down and through the exact center of the earth from anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States, you'd come out in the Indian Ocean."
The Indian Ocean. Not quite a country, but since 'Indian' is in the title, I decided to make the Bhindi Masala recipe from Isa Does It. I have only made Indian food a few times at home, dishes I could easily count on one hand: chana masala, kofta, & naan. I have also never cooked or eaten okra before, so I was excited to try out this recipe. The result was a rich & satisfying dish thickened with a chickpea flour roux & stirring with a subtle yet nuanced flavor profile. While I made the recipe, each step made me feel like I was purposefully building flavor notes on top of one another - & I was. Definitely something I will make again when fresh okra is in season.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

On Eating Out, Late Night Snacks, & Sunday Suppers (MoFo Days 4, 5, 6)

As @isachandra writes, "a taste of summer any time of year"🍑 Warm Peachy-Raspberry Cobbler
from #isadoesit with cinnamon sugar sprinkle & melty burnt sugar vanilla ice cream!

VeganMoFo Prompts: 4) Where do you eat when you want someone else to cook for you? 5
) Tell us what you’re midnight snacking on! 6) Something that always cheers you up.

Oh! You Pretty Thing pizza from Associated:
tomato sauce base, vegan sausage, curly endive, marinated peppers.

I am fortunate enough to currently live in a city that is extremely vegan-friendly so I have a seemingly unlimited amount of options. My personal favorite restaurants & dishes include:

As you can tell, these are very comfort-food-type meals. When I eat out, it's usually because I'm too tired to cook & I'm also very hungry & want satisfying food now. Most of these places are also very close to my apartment. Like, I could walk to most of them and arrive within 30 minutes or considerably less. My favorite places also often feel like a home away from home.

Let's be honest: I usually go to bed before 10pm since I wake up so early for work, so there isn't much 'midnight snacking' going on. When I do snack though, I most often grab Juanita's & Zuniga's from Food Fight Grocery across the street from my apartment. I also recently bought dried cranberries at Trader Joe's for the first time & they're damn tasty & addictive. Sometimes I also buy whatever nondairy ice cream they have at my local Grocery Outlet & nibble on it before bed.

I wrote about comfort food on the first day of MoFo, but what I failed to mention was the concept of a big Sunday night supper - something to soak up those last rays of weekend cheer & give you that belly full of pleasure that will help you to sleep well & supplement your motivation to go to work or school the next day with the rejuvenating satisfaction of a weekend well-spent. The meal that cheered me up this Sunday night: buttery Pumpkin Dinner Rolls (proofed for 26 hours! recipe via The Homemade Vegan Pantry by Miyoko Schinner), Red Lentil Thai Chili (recipe from Isa Does It), & Peachy-Raspberry Cobbler (also from Isa Does It) with burnt sugar vanilla ice cream for dessert. Every recipe was easy & incredibly delicious. The Thai Chili, however, was perfect & surprising with its nuanced flavors. Isa loads it up with onion, red bell pepper, red lentils, garlic, sweet potato, tomato, kidney beans, coconut milk, chili powder, & red curry paste - & the result is a beautifully rich stew. Highly reccommended!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

How to Easily Have Dinner in Front of You AKA I Don't Want to Leave My Apartment or Make a Mess AKA Just Throw a Bunch of Stuff in a Bowl (MoFo Day 3)

VeganMoFo Prompt: What’s your “easy cook” meal? That you make when you can’t be bothered to cook much?

Today has been day 9 of a 10 day work week. I am quite tired. My apartment needs to be swept & mopped & tidied. I'm running out of groceries (read: fresh produce) & I'm eagerly awaiting my next paycheck.

I have just a few options to consider to figure out what I will make for dinner. Usually, the first thing I do is take inventory of what 'proteins' I have at my disposal. Today I have: Brazil nuts, pine nuts, lentils, seitan, raw cashews, hummus, tahini. The second thing I do is figure out what grains or starches I have. Russet potatoes, rice, pasta, flour, cornmeal. Third, I consider the fruits & veggies I have available. Fresh garlic, onions, carrots, lemons, ginger, sun-dried tomatoes, a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, a can of artichoke hearts, a can of pumpkin puree, kalamata olives, good salsa, raisins, dried cranberries, frozen corn, blueberry preserves. Finally, I quickly piece together all of the meal possibilities in my head while also considering  1) my willingness to put forth whatever level of effort the meal will require & 2) what I'm in the mood to eat.

When I'm tired, I love one-pan endeavors with minimal prep & clean-up. I also love preparing foods that I don't really have to think about, meals that I've made so many times that I could do it without thinking. This usually cuts me down to 3 categories: breakfast for dinner, a bowl, & soup/stew.

Here are the current options that my mind jumps to when reviewing the above available ingredients:

  • Pasta with olive oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic, onions, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, & kalamata olives.
  • Rice bowl with cooked lentils, roasted carrots & onion, a dollop of hummus on top or a tahini-miso dressing.
  • Rice bowl with seitan & sauteed onion, toasted pine nuts, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, hummus/a garlicky tahini dressing.
  • Mashed potatoes with miso-lentil gravy, steamed carrots.
  • Mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes with lentil loaf, steamed carrots.
  • Hash with seitan, onion, garlic, & carrot, topped with salsa & hummus or a garlicky tahini dressing.
  • Lentil soup with potatoes, garlic, onion, carrot, corn, & pumpkin cornbread.
  • Pumpkin waffles or pancakes with Brazil nuts, fresh ginger, dried cranberries, & rice paper bacon.
  • Creamy pumpkin alfredo pasta with onions, garlic, ginger, & seitan.
  • Carrot cake pancakes with Brazil nuts, raisins, & rice paper bacon.
  • Seitan & waffles.
  • Puffy pillow pancakes & blueberry preserves, Brazil nuts, rice paper bacon.
  • Corn Johnnycakes with rice paper bacon.

...there's probably more I'm not coming up with, like some sort of lemony pasta dish, but like I said before - I'm tired. Looking at this list, what appeals to me? Let's cut it down: I'm not hungry for pasta, so those are out. I don't really want to take the effort to make lentil gravy or lentil loaf, so those are out. Not really into hash at the moment. A rice bowl, soup, or some sort of pancakes sound good. 

This is when I consult with Keith, since I'm cooking for the both of us. "What sounds good to you?" Rice bowl with seitan & veg it is.

Bowl set-up for four servings: two for dinner, two for tomorrow's lunch.

What I had to do: get the rice going on the stove, throw onion + seitan + garlic + salt & fresh cracked pepper in a skillet, prep the veggies, blend together the tahini-ladden hummus, then put it all into bowls & tupperware. BOOM. Took 40 minutes, but only because that's how long brown rice takes to cook.

The end result: Brown rice splashed with a little balsamic vinegar, seared seitan & onions, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, carrot ribbons, sun-dried tomatoes, the last of some garlic & herb hummus blended with tahini/miso/& water, toasted pine nuts. Now I can get some sleep!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How to Make Friends: All You Need is Pie (MoFo Day 2)

Pumpkin Pie with nondairy whip, a dusting of pumpkin spice, & pepitas.

VeganMoFo Prompt: What’s your go to “impress me” meal?

I don't really go about trying to impress people. I mostly just try to do my best & overall I choose to do what makes me happy, which just happens to be spending time in the kitchen creating new recipes. What makes me happiest, however, is baking a pie. You really know I care about you if I bake you a pie.

Ever since before I attended culinary school, pie has been my favorite thing. I loved pie because it always implied that something special was happening, that the next season's harvest had finally arrived, or it signified an edible gift for someone close to me. Nowadays, I also love pie because of its endless variations: fruit pie, custard pie, cream pie, lattice crust, crumb pie, cookie crust, graham crust, traditional, a contemporary twist on an old favorite, raw desserts - the flavor combinations and choices for adornment are seemingly limitless. What I also love about pie is its simplicity: crust, filling, then its topping & perhaps a garnish. There is something so beautiful about a dessert so transparent - yet it also requires a bit of skill.

Several times I've had people approach me about the woes of pie dough gone wrong. "I rolled it out & into a shape I couldn't even describe to you, but it wasn't a circle." "I tried to transfer the crust to the pie plate & it tore all over the place." "The dough kept melting when I was trying to roll it out!" "The dough kept cracking when I tried to roll it out!" "The apples weren't cooked enough but the crust was golden." "The crust was soggy on the bottom." "I wish my crust was flakier!" These are all reasons why, when you successfully bake a pie, you may in fact impress people.

For about a month, from mid-September to the end of October, I worked at a pie shop & learned more about pie & how to treat it better. I learned, once again, that gluten development is an important thing to keep in mind. I was told to "err on the side of darkness" when it came to taking a pie out of the oven, meaning: don't be afraid to let the crust become a darker shade of brown because if it is, it's less likely to become soggy later. I learned that a solid crimped edge takes practice. I also learned that, despite my devoted love of pie, I'm not meant to work in a pie shop.

When your life is saturated with something, that thing becomes a little less special. I didn't want to become sick of pie. I didn't want pie to loose its magic.

Moral of the story: bake pie for the people you love. Or hire me to make one for you. Whichever. #piemagic

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Comfort Food Classic: Cornflake Seitan (MoFo Day 1)

Quinoa, mushroom gravy, cornflake seitan, & roasted asparagus.

VeganMoFo Prompt: What is your favorite food? Make it and share!

Asking about a favorite meal is like asking about a favorite song, a favorite movie, or a favorite book: there's too many options to choose from & each choice is predicated upon several different factors, such as mood or the season or a fond memory. For example, today I might say my favorite movie is Psycho since it was just Halloween & I've been listening to a lot of murder podcasts recently, but next week I might say its Tangerine. Favorites are ever-changing.

As far as my current favorite food goes, one thing is pretty consistent: my favorite foods are those that comfort me in the moment. I think this makes a lot of sense considering my history with bulimia. When I was ill, to deal with anxiety and uneasy emotions I would turn to food in an unhealthy way for the prolonged yet also temporary comfort it afforded me. As a study cited in a post on the Science of Eating Disorders blog explains: 
"BN[bulimia nervosa]-events commonly occur on days with significantly 'worse' moods and, even at the moment when mood is best on BN-event days, moods are more negative than on days when no BN-events occur. [...]Mood significantly worsened [...] leading up to BN-events but improved (significantly more rapidly) following the event. [...]bingeing or purging behaviors are strongly negatively reinforcing as they allow escape/avoidance of a strongly negative affective state. This (local) reinforcing pattern provides support for the persistence (and resistance to change) of binge and purge behaviors, yet is also consistent with the view that such behaviors are not effective overall (global) coping efforts." 
While binging and purging behavior did not solve any lasting issues I may have had, it did offer temporary relief. I found myself primarily concerned with food & its taste & how to get rid of it, if only for a little while, instead of whatever 'real' uncomfortable or unsettling feelings that led up to the symptomatic episodes. I don't binge or purge any longer, but I am still guilty of turning to food to do more than satisfy my hunger - but the difference is that now I can harness the effects of comfort food in a positive manner.

My favorite meals vary greatly, from a pint of Ben & Jerry's nondairy PB & Cookies eaten straight  out of the carton to a juicy ripe peach handpicked from its tree to a homemade stuffed seitan roast with mashed potatoes prepared in my own kitchen in the dead of winter. A good plate of Mexican food feels like home, chile rellenos & salsa & fluffy rice & perfect refried pinto beans. Fruit pie reminds me of my Dad. I love the smells & sensations of a weekend breakfast, hot coffee & anticipation & sheer pleasure filling the air. A hot cheezy pizza delivered on a lazy Friday night & scarfed down while half-laying on the couch. When someone prepares a meal, any meal, for me that I didn't expect. A big pot of soup or stew that somehow could not be improved upon in any way because it tastes so damn good & warms your insides up in the exact way you've been craving all day. Fresh garlic naan, kofta. Veggie sausage & watermelon on the 4th of July. Summer evenings with big salads & beers. Creamy pesto lasagna. Food that takes me by surprise. Food that makes a mess, food that is quick & easy, food that takes all day to prepare. Just food that makes me feel good, like a favorite song or a line in a poem.

So tonight my comfort food is this: A bed of quinoa as a canvas. Roasted asparagus for greenery & depth. Cornflake seitan, because I have childhood memories of my mother preparing seasoned cornflake chicken for dinner & because I am 100% in love with Doomie's fried chick'n (if you know me, you know I dream of their fried chick'n) & its deep-fried crunch. Mushroom gravy, because biscuits & gravy was breakfast nearly every Sunday morning when I was growing up. A pinch of cayenne for color & spice.

The best foods are cared for, whether planned meals or impromptu treats. We love them for the sensory experience in the moment as well as what those sensations evoke. This reminds me of one of the first meals I made for just Keith & I, the Good Gravy Bowl from Isa Does It: a cooked grain or mashed potatoes, faux meat (I think I used Gardein Beefless Tips), broccoli, miso lentil gravy. It also reminds me of the fact that the first meal my mother ever made for my father was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, & gravy.

Cornflake Seitan
Yield :: 4 servings

Continue for the recipe!