Monday, January 31, 2011

Mac and Cheese, Please

I've been doing so awesome with my new year's goal of trying a few new recipes each week. You just haven't seen much of it, because not everything has been exactly photo or blog-worthy. (Curried sweet potatoes and Banana Cream Pie, I'm looking at you.)
But this mac and cheese is different. This is a "stop-whatever-you're-doing-and-make-this-now" kind of dish. And I don't even really like mac and cheese, vegan or not. But seriously, this stuff is addictive. And I was totally amazed at how CREAMY the sauce was with with no milk of any kind (not cow, soy, almond or rice). And you probably have most of these ingredients already in your pantry. There's nothing stopping you, really.
The ingredient list is long, and it makes a lot of dishes, but it's totally worth it. It's the perfect comfort food on a cold day when it feels like the snow is never going to end and spring will never come. Which has been most of this week in Philly. So I've spent my snow days eating this mac and cheese, crocheting a baby blanket and watching hour after hour of Ken Burns' The War. Just call me Grandma. I'm ok with it.
Vegan Mac and Cheese
from the VegNews Go Veg Guide

4 quarts water
1 tbsp sea salt
8 oz macaroni

Bread Crumbs:
4 slices bread, torn into large pieces
2 tbsp vegan margarine

"Cheese" Sauce:
2 tbsp (about 1 medium) shallots, peeled and chopped
1 cup red or yellow potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup water
1/4 cup raw cashews
2 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup vegan margarine
1/4 tsp garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp paprika

Start by cooking the macaroni to al dente (or follow instructions on box). Once cooked, drain and rinse with cold water, then set aside.

To make bread crumbs, place torn bread slices and margarine into food processor, and pulse until medium-fine in texture. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sauce pan, bring shallots, potatoes, carrots, onion and water to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until vegetables are very soft.

Meanwhile, in a blender, combine cashews, salt, margarine, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, pepper and cayenne. (Mine didn't process very smoothly, but I don't have an awesome blender. Don't worry if it's not smooth, just start to get things combined.) When vegetables are done, add to blender and process until smooth and creamy.

In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the cheese sauce until completely coated. Spread into a 9x13 pan, sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and dust with paprika. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and bread crumbs are lightly browned. Eat it up, yum!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Miss Rachel's Lunch Club

I heard about Miss Rachel's Pantry awhile ago. Early last spring, a friend of a friend told me about some amazing soup lady, and slipped me a number on a piece of paper. But I lost the paper.

Then when I started chilling with Marina and helping her make the Better Butter, she mentioned a girl named Rachel and her soups. The plot thickened.

Then I saw a sign in Grindcore House for Thanksgiving Dinner Orders from Miss Rachel's Pantry, with an adorable retro sign to match. This had to be the same mysterious soup lady!

So I checked out her website, and realized I'd been missing out. It's more than soup. There's casseroles  and sides, and full catering and personal chef-ing. And it all looks and sounds delicious. And it's all vegan and homemade. YES PLEASE.

So when I saw on Twitter the other day that Rachel was staring a Friday lunch delivery service, I knew I had to get in on it. And I did. And let me tell you, it was the best part of my day. No lie.

 What did I get? A "chicken" salad sandwich, veggie noodle soup, an apple, and a chocolate chip cookie. A great healthy lunch delivered to my door!
The veggie noodle soup was perfect. I want a whole gallon of it next time I've got the sniffles. Carrots, celery, mushrooms and bow-tie noodles in a perfectly light veggie broth. So nice on a chilly afternoon.
The "chicken" salad sandwich was different than I'm used to, but a real winner. Cubed tofu (with excellent texture, BTW), in a dijon mustard sauce with lettuce on a hoagie bun. Tangy and delicious! But those of you who know your hoagies know it's all about the bun, and this was the perfect hoagie bun. Not too soft that it soaked up too much sauce, but not so tough that it was impossible to tear into. It was that magical combination of crunchy, chewy and soft that makes you want to crawl inside and stay forever. And not so huge it was overwhelming, but not so small I needed more when it was done. Obviously, I was a big fan of this sandwich.
The local apple was sweet and crisp and the NorthPortFishington chocolate chip cookie rounded out the lunch bag. I'll definitely be ordering again soon, because the menus change every week. And there's even a gluten-free option. This lady thinks of everything...

If you live or work in Center City Philadelphia, add this to your lunch roster. Just make sure you order by at least Thursday. It gives a whole new reason to look forward to Friday! For ordering info, check out Miss Rachel's website. Here's this week's menu:

The Jim - Tofu “chicken” salad sandwich - creamy with a zippy dijon mayo and crisp romaine on a local roll, a cup of tomato-tortilla soup, a local apple and a peanut butter sandwich cookie 

The Barb - Barbecue seitan piled high with cool slaw, avocado and crisp lettuce on a roll, a cup of tomato-tortilla soup, a local apple and a peanut butter sandwich cookie 

The Oprah Wheatfree - (gluten-free option, nothing to do with Oprah) - smokey, textured tofu, crisp lettuce and avocado on two homemade cornbread biscuits with spicy aioli, a cup of tomato-tortilla soup, a local apple and a peanut butter crispie square 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Banana Split Cupcakes

I made these beauties awhile ago to take to a friend's New Year's Day party. Which also happened to be one of the craziest parties I've been to in awhile. People wasted at 3 in the afternoon, a girl walking around with a bottle of whiskey in her overalls calling it her "whiskey baby", an old man with a light-saber inside a traffic cone as a hat, and Elvis double dipping in the black-eyed peas. You can't make this stuff up people.
Oh yeah, and these cupcakes added to the debauchery. They've got a little of everything in them. It's a vegan banana cupcake with pineapple and chocolate swirled inside, topped with a vegan vanilla buttercream, chocolate ganache drizzle, homemade vegan caramel sauce, chopped walnuts, rainbow sprinkles, and of course a cherry on top. YOWZA. I didn't even get to try one of these they went so quickly, but everyone seemed to enjoy them. I could tell because on 3 separate occasions someone said, "Oh, YOU made the cupcakes!", then hugged me. And I don't think that was just the whiskey babies talking.

Did I ever tell you I grew up across the street from an ice cream shop? Nothing fancy, just a little shack next to a gas station that was only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. My favorite treats from there were mint chocolate chip ice cream in a cup, soft-serve vanilla chocolate twist in a cone with rainbow sprinkles, blue-raspberry slushies, strawberry milkshakes, CMP (chocolate, marshmallow, peanut) sundaes, and of course (on special occasions only) their banana splits. Which were always served in a little plastic boat. 3 mounds of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate and swirl), with a half a banana on either side of the boat. The vanilla was covered in pineapple preserves, the chocolate was covered in strawberries, and the whole thing was smothered in hot fudge and topped with walnuts, sprinkles, whipped cream and a cherry on top. And I always had to share it with my mom. I think I did a pretty awesome job recreating those banana splits in cupcake form. And you don't have to share these with anyone else.
These cupcakes are, of course, from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Honestly, if you like to bake and don't have this book yet, I don't know what's wrong with you. GET ON IT, PEOPLE.

And now I'm also thinking about a banana split layer cake. And what kind of layers it should have. And since everyone seems to have their own opinion on what a banana split should have in it, I'm asking you: What would be in your banana split?

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life

I've been meaning to do a mini book review of Melisser Elliott's The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life. Because it's amazing. And if you're newly vegan, thinking about going vegan or a vegan warrior who just wants to confirm your beliefs and learn about other women all over the globe who share your ideals, this book has something for you.
As someone who's played around with a veg lifestyle for most of my adult life, I know the basics of going veg. But Melisser really breaks it down for you. She not only covers the food stuff (including pantry must-haves, foods to avoid, nutrition, and recipes), but all the other lifestyle issues a vegan needs to know: activism, clothes, shoes, beauty products, and even cleaning supplies. She lists the ingredients you need to look out for, as well as the companies that are 100% cruelty free. She even goes the extra step of telling you what products she loves the most. This girl is thorough. It's everything a lady needs to know to successfully navigate a vegan lifestyle.

My favorite part of the book are the interviews she does with vegan ladies, and vegan business owners from all over the world. It's wonderful to read about other gals who follow the vegan lifestyle, how they got there, and what they love about it. And the layout and design of the whole book is just adorable. And did I mention there's a section in the back with vegan and eco-friendly crafts? Seriously, I'm in love with this book. Well done, Melisser.
Following my goal of trying new recipes every week, I've been working my way through the recipes in the back of the Guide. Some are Melissers, and some were submitted by her many talented friends. So far, all are delicious. Last week I tried the Two Bean Confetti Hash. It was pretty yummy.
But the best I've tried so far? The Moroccan Chickpea and Kale Tagine with Quinoa. This dish is probably the most delicious thing I've ever made. I know that's not saying much considering my dinner track record, but seriously. I had to pat myself on the back for this one. It's so flavor and full of spice without heat, and with chickpeas, kale and quinoa, it's a nutritional powerhouse. Best of all, it's comes together really quickly. You prep the veggies, add ingredients, and let it stew and do its thing. My kind of dish!
I'll definitely be adding this dish to my repertoire, and probably bring it to my next potluck. And you should definitely add The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life to your "to buy" list. It's totally worth it. And if you've already got your copy, you should head over to the VegNews Book Club. The Guide is the book they're discussing this month!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Coconut Sorbet

Well hello there! Happy January! It's been awhile. I hope your holiday shuffle wasn't too stressful. And I hope Santa brought you what you really wanted. I found some shiny new things under the tree I'm pretty excited about. And now I'm ready to take charge of this whole new year.

I'm not a fan of New Year's resolutions. I think most people set themselves up for failure by making lofty resolutions year after year, then beat themselves up when they inevitably fail a month or less in. January is the worst time to go on a diet, when it's cold and your body wants to store up fat for warmth.

I do think the new year is a fine time to assess yourself and your current situation, and create goals for the coming year. Especially using positive language, like "I will (action to take)" instead of "I will not (smoke, eat junk food, etc etc)." I set lots of goals at the beginning of each year, and do my best to develop long-term plans for success for each one. Some succeed, some fail. But I never beat myself up if they don't work out. I find someone else to blame, then beat them up. (I kid, I kid...)

For 2011, I've decided one of those goals is to maintain a healthy vegan diet. I decided on my birthday last year that I wanted to slowly transition back to a plant-based diet. I've been reading lots of websites, magazines, and books on the vegan lifestyle, and I really feel like I'm educating myself on the subject in a way my 20-year-old junk-food vegan-self never did. My diet is almost completely vegan, with only a few slip-ups during the holidays with my Grandma's stuffing and cookies. And I feel much better than I did when I was still sneaking cheese and eating the occasional egg. But there's definitely room for improvement.
A secondary, but complementary, goal is to eat less pre-packaged foods and eat more whole foods: grains, beans and vegetables. That means more cooking. And we all know how I feel about cooking. So my plan is simple: try 2 new vegan recipes every week. One savory, and one sweet. I'll pull recipes from cookbooks on my shelf, from other blogs in my reader, and of course, I'll gladly take suggestions from you, my lovely readers. I'll keep them mostly simple, quick dishes that I can add to my weekly repertoire, and once a month I'll tackle a more difficult or time-consuming recipe.

But you came here for the sorbet, right? Let's get on with it. I love coconut sorbet. I had a slight obsession with it last year. It's carried over into 2011, and I don't see it ending anytime soon. But it's a slightly expensive habit. Thankfully Santa brought me just what I needed to start making my own.
Despite the snow and ice on the ground in Philly, I decided to break in my new ice cream maker with some coconut sorbet. This recipe is ridiculously simple, and ridiculously delicious. My kind of treat! The hard part will be keeping myself from eating a whole batch every day...

Coconut Sorbet

2 14oz cans of Coconut Milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally. Once boils, remove from heat and allow to chill completely. This will take a few hours, possibly overnight. To speed up the process, you can transfer the mixture to another container and place in the fridge. Once the mixture is chilled completely, freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

If you have a 1.5 quart or smaller ice cream maker, you'll want to make half this recipe. In my 1.5 quart ice cream maker, the mix almost overflowed. If you have a 2 quart model, you'll be fine.