Thursday, July 30, 2009

Grilled BBQ Pizza



After finding out that I'm vegan, people first call me crazy and then drop their jaws and ask, "Oh my God, how do you live without pizza?!"

My question to them is, "Who is living without?!"

I guess they probably mean the standard issue North American cheese and grease pie and I can't turn my nose up at it too much, because once upon a time I lived on deep dishes from Pizza Hut. Now the thought of one makes me want to puke my crazy vegan brains out.

Okay, I'm being a bit ridiculous. I have to admit that at least half the people I come across are inquisitive and intrigued more than they are defensive. I've just happened to have several run-ins with the other kind over the last couple days. Truth be told, however, the majority of people may crack jokes but I genuinely believe they are not trying to be snarky. Although they usually do follow it up with a, "That's really great but I could never live without _____________"

I used to always start sentences that way. "Omg I could NEVER live without my digital camera"...."I could NEVER live without air conditioning"..."I could NEVER live without cheese". When you stop and repeat these sentences to yourself a couple times it finally registers how ridiculous they are. I refuse to believe we are that dependent and that controlled by things. We are not as addicted to things as we seem to think we are, and we really sell ourselves short as a species...aside from a handful of necessities (I'm talking water and air), we really can live without the majority of things we've become dependent on. In fact, we thrive without a lot of them.

So, these days I make a conscious effort to own my words a bit more. I try not to say "I can't eat _______", and instead say "I choose not to eat ________". I'm a sociologist, I like agency...humans are active beings with the capacity to reflect and evaluate and make choices. I like sentences that own that agency. So yes, it's not that I can't eat cheese pizza...it's that I choose not to eat cheese pizza. And look at that, I'm still alive and kicking...and much more feverishly than I was when I had all that cheese weighing me down.

This is a vegan pizza that uses no soy product and no fake cheese.

The other night I was making a ton of homemade Memphis bbq sauce to marinade and freeze tofu in, for "oh my god there is nothing to EAT in this house" nights. I remembered my pre-vegan love of Domino's bbq pizzas, where barbeque sauce is used instead of tomato sauce, and the veggies have char marks all over them. I decided to create a vegan version.

The Domino's version obviously has some sort of meat so I could have used fake chicken strips or even tofu to make it a bit more "authentic", but I'm not into the fake stuff and we try to limit our soy intake. Instead, we grilled portobello mushrooms, which have an almost-creepy meatlike consistency when charred a little bit. We also grilled eggplant, bell pepper, onion and zucchini. We smothered everything in bbq sauce and threw it on a homemade whole grain pizza crust and then into the oven for about 20 minutes.

It turned out really, really well. The only change I would make is the style of bbq sauce. I was already in the throes of making memphis bbq sauce when I decided to make the pizza, so that is what ended up on the pizza, but I think a hickory style bbq sauce would suit the portobellos more.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Zucchini Boats w/ Herbed Basmati Rice and Pinenuts



It's summer, so we've been trying to do two things 1) eat lighter and 2) not cook in the house. Of course there's a lot of BBQ options, but the weather around here has been really rainy and miserable for the majority of the summer. Funny, I don't recall moving to Seattle, but that is sure what it feels like.

However, I'm trying to cut Mama Nature a little slack, being that we've been abusing her quite some time now...I'm sure my weekend patio plans are the least of her concerns.

Last week on a day that was *finally* a bit sunny, I found myself with an abundance of fresh Ontario "summer squash" (zucchini)



and my most favourite way to eat said zucchini is fresh off the grill. I was clicking through Susan's blog and saw her recipe for stuffed zucchini. I don't have an apple corer and I am not patient enough to carve out the centers as neatly as she did, so we opted for the less classy zucchini "boats". The stuffing is made up of basmati rice with fresh parsley, basil and oregano from my garden. I normally buy brown basmati rice, but it was nowhere to be found in our under-construction supermarket. I reluctantly took a bag of white. It's okay, but I much prefer the brown...it takes longer to cook and it's firmer than the white version, but it is less starchy and I find it to be much easier on the system than the white. Hopefully I will find some california brown basmati again sometime soon. Either way, the zucchini boats cooked up great on the grill



and we ate them with spicy garlic hummus and fresh cut pitas. It was a nice light meal and they turned out great, but we are compulsive face-stuffers and so were starving about an hour later. Sigh... the effort was at least there, right?

Eat Your Zucchini!
The traditional nutrients provided by summer squash are equally impressive. Our food ranking system qualified summer squash as an excellent source of manganese and vitamin C and a very good source of magnesium, vitamin A (notably through its concentration of carotenoids, including beta-carotene), fiber, potassium, folate, copper, riboflavin, and phosphorus.

Many of these nutrients have been shown in studies to be helpful for the prevention of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Summer squash's magnesium has been shown to be helpful for reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Together with the potassium in summer squash, magnesium is also helpful for reducing high blood pressure. The vitamin C and beta-carotene found in summer squash can help to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol.

In research studies, extracts from squash have also been found to help reduce symptoms of a condition occurring in men called benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH. In this condition, the prostate gland becomes problematically enlarged, which can cause difficulty with urinary and sexual function. Particularly in combination with other phytonutrient-containing foods, squash may be helpful in reducing BPH symptoms.

[excerpt from whfoods.com]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lentilball Subs



I have always had a weird aversion to leftovers. I think it's because I am kind of a germaphobe and somewhere along the line a Discovery show drew my attention to the bacteria that grows in last night's dinner as it sits away in the fridge. It is ridiculous and wasteful both in terms of throwing out perfectly good food AND in terms of the time spent in the kitchen.

With things as busy as they are these days, I've jumped on the meal planning bandwagon. Not only do I map out our meals for the week (so that we don't go to the supermarket and spend $100 on nothing and then starve for the week), but in an effort to save time and money I've been plotting meals that incorporate the same staples so that I don't overbuy. I know, this is like "Life Basics 101"...but being that as little as two years ago I didn't cook at all (toast was considered an extravagance), this is kind of new territory for me.

One of our favourite meals is spaghetti and lentilballs. Making the lentilballs isn't that difficult, but it is a bit time consuming because you have to cook the rice and lentils first, then put all the ingredients together and then bake them for a half hour or so. This week I thought I would try doubling the recipe and using the leftovers for lentilball subs (a vegan version of the classic deli meatball sub). Look at those cute lentilballs!



This all happened to coincide with my discovery of the Grainharvest Bakery and their assortment of vegan-friendly bread products (after sensing my utter euphoria at the plethora of fresh baked dairy-free and sugar-free breadstuffs the lady even offered us each a FREE soft pretzel...do you know how long it's been since I've had a soft pretzel?!!!). The only downside was that she didn't have any fresh baked whole grain buns available when we were in there, but told me to call ahead next time and she would whip some up. Awesome.

I followed Isa's recipe for Brooklyn-style "red" (marinara) sauce:



We stuffed the buns with lots of baby spinach, red onion and green pepper. It turned into quite possibly the messiest meal ever eaten in our kitchen (as evidenced by the picture above), but also one of the most delicious.

Leftovers, for the win!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Garlic-Broccoli-Corn Burritos w/ Smoky Avocado Sauce



I haven't been in much of a blogging mood lately. When you spend all day in front of a computer screen working on the same project you've been working on for the last three years (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) the last thing you want to do during downtime is to further stare at that screen. Plus, we've been really, REALLY busy and constantly on the go..so I haven't been too adventurous in the kitchen lately.

We did go to an engagement party at The Flying Dog on Saturday night, where I had some really delicious thai rolls and a tortilla salad (arugula, avocado, tomatoes and chipotle-lime dressing..YUM!). They were very accommodating and even allowed Paul to have tofu instead of chicken in his pasta dish. I (of course) took pictures of all these things and then accidentally deleted them! Boo. :( You will just have to go there and check it out for yourself.

Anyway, the above burritos are the most interesting thing I've cooked lately that you haven't already seen. I followed the recipe in Eat, Drink & Be Vegan and once again Dreena Burton has outdone herself. Seriously. Being burritos, they undeniably have a Mexican flavour, but the curry used to flavour the beans gives the whole thing an unexpected kick. She recommends sprinkling vegan cheese on the top for the last 5 minutes of baking but I'm not at all into fake cheeses. For one they are full of chemicals and soy proteins and for another, they just don't taste all that great. I don't really miss real cheese so there is no need for me to learn to like them...I just leave them out of recipes or try subbing in something else.

Thinking that the burritos might be a little dry if I didn't have any sort of topping, I served them with a generous helping of smoky avocado sauce (also from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan) on top. The verdict is a double-win, with both me and the mister agreeing to add it to our recipe roster.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pinto Bean Vegan Hot Dogs



We're going camping in a few weeks with a very large group. I've been trying to determine what to take because like many vegans, I compulsively overpack for everything and then end up eating less than half of what I bring along. The excess foodstuff ends up soggy and gross from being in the cooler for several days and it ultimately finds its final resting place in the trash. Wastefulness resulting from the anxiety that I'm going to be trapped in the wilderness with nothing to eat.

When it comes to vegan camping you can generally duplicate any omni treat you remember from growing up. There are vegan marshmallows (which I haven't tried, but Paul is obsessed with so I'm assuming they are good) and dark chocolate (or vegan milk chocolate...or carob..) for s'mores. There's veggie burgers and dogs for roasting on the fire. I don't feel left out in the slightest when it comes to camping.

While tofurky sausages are delicious and easy to prepare in the middle of the woods, I saw Vegan Dad's attempt at Isa's from-scratch vegan sausages. Obviously, I had to try it and see how it would hold up to the authenticity test.

The first step calls for mashing the pinto beans and it is so weird but mashed pinto beans have that 'hot dog' smell. Who knows..it could be that along with all the mystery meat and random parts there are pinto beans in regular hot dogs.

Maybe not. Maybe I don't want to know what makes up a regular hot dog and have a right to not know since I don't eat them anyway.

So, the pinto beans give them the hot dog smell (and taste) and the wheat gluten gives them their texture. The spices are just for fun and I put an ungodly amount of red pepper flake but avoided the fennel because we're not its biggest fans.

I don't think I mashed the beans enough before putting in the gluten because the mixture was sticky and a bit difficult to work with. I had the same problem making Isa's chickpea cutlets that was easily corrected by not mixing in the gluten until all other ingredients were combined. I'll try that the next time I do these dogs.

Shaping them was also an epic fail on my behalf...I didn't roll them tight enough in the tin foil and so while they were steaming they took on interesting shapes. They still tasted awesome...just didn't look as pretty and hot dog-like as they could have. Next time!

I love these things because there is virtually nothing in them...none of the chemicals or isolated soy compounds that are in the packaged brands. And I don't know if I just forget what hot dogs taste like, but these tasted pretty damn authentic to me. They were great just coming out of the steamer, but we threw them on the BBQ for a few minutes to get that real summer hot dog taste.

Paired up with peppered green beans and fresh corn on the cob from the farmer's market, they made for quite the summery meal the other night. And I think they will package up quite nicely for our camping trip (and taste awesome grilled over the fire!)

Also, I have to note...that ridiculous amount of condiment above (hindering you from actually seeing the damn dogs I am talking about) is the result of me pound on near-empty mustard and ketchup bottles, only to have them make a huge mess. I do not normally consume that much, I promise. I really should have started over with a different dog to take a classier picture but they smelled so good and I just wanted to eat them instead of fuss with my camera.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Chipotle-style Guacamole



Saturday night marked the highly anticipated UFC 100. Being that I'm not all that into UFC I don't think I fully grasp the epic-ness that was this event, but it is something Paul has been going on about for months now. We typically gather with friends to watch the UFC pay-per-view events throughout the year, but since this was one for the history books I thought I'd make a snack. While I started out with some ambitious ideas about what to contribute, in my infinite laziness I took the easy way out and threw together a zippy little guacamole.

While I like cilantro just fine, Paul can't stand it and so I strayed from traditional guacamole and used dried cumin instead. Red onions, tons of tomato, garlic, lemon juice (because I was all out of lime), red onion, and of course avocado. And chipotles in adobo to make it a little fancier for such a big event.

Chipotles (or chipotle chili peppers) are just jalapeno peppers that are smoke-dried. Adobo is the marinade, made from garlic, tomatoes, vinegar, salt and spices, within which the chipotles are stewed... making a deliriously delicious concoction that tastes like barbeque, no matter what you put it on.

Finding chipotles in adobo has been a real pain around these parts lately. Our supermarket used to always carry them in the "Mexican" section. Then they only had chipotle adobo salsa which seemed to work fine. Now they have absolutely nothing that even resembles chipotles in adobo. I managed to find one lonely can at a specialty grocer last week and it cost me four freaking dollars. Which sucks, because I put them pretty much everything...chilis, tacos, enchiladas, burger patties, sandwiches, even pasta sauces now and again. It is such an easy way to add crazy flavour. Why oh why does the supermarket have to be difficult just when I've become addicted to the stuff? I have dried chipotle chili powder and liquid smoke, but it's just not the same.

Anyway, a little bit goes a long way when it comes to chipotle peppers. If it were up to me I'd probably have thrown half the can in, but I didn't want to make it too spicy in case the others weren't keen on breathing fire for the night. And this way I have some left over, because heaven knows when I will be able to find another can that doesn't cost me my unborn first child (okay, I'm probably exaggerating, but I am extremely cheap and $4 for a tiny can of anything makes me crazy).

Friday, July 10, 2009

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler



It's been a stressful couple of days in our house, relating to some seriously heavy life choices on my part. I know you're not supposed to turn to food for comfort but really, it can be a pretty cheap source of therapy if you're responsible about it. Sometimes, a little extra sugar and the joy of eating something really and truly delicious (and treasuring every calorie) can clear your mind and mellow your soul.

I'm such an enabler - what a meagre attempt at me justifying the stray from my low-sugar diet. Did you buy it?

The truth is I had an abundance of strawberries and rhubarb and needed something occupy my hands other than the impending doom that is my thesis. I just needed to be distracted for a little while.

I guess it did mellow my soul a bit. There is something about the bright colours of summer that make it hard to feel sorry for yourself:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Late-Night SUPER Pancake!



We typically get groceries on Tuesdays. I plan out a week's worth of meals and then make a grocery list accordingly, otherwise I end up with a cart full of nonsense (hello, oreos!) and the constant "there is nothing to eat in this house" plaguing me for a week. By Tuesday, the cupboards are usually bare, save for a staple here and there and a whole lotta spices. This week, however, we had a ton of random leftovers kicking around on Tuesday so I thought hmmm maybe I'll just go on Wednesday this week. When Wednesday rolled around I thought hmmmm I wonder if I can delay this just one more day so that I can go to the farmer's market tomorrow, rather than the supermarket today.

So, for dinner last night I managed to scrape together a bunch of not quite bad foodstuffs and made a quinoa casserole. The problem was that we didn't really have lunch (because we were busy, and also because a couple flakes of cereal weren't quite doing the trick) so we had a really early dinner. Meaning that we were starving by 9pm and our kitchen was not only out of food, it appeared to be out of the basic elements of food.

Please note that I do not condone this type of grocery russian-roulette (okay, maybe that expression is a tad excessive) because it can almost guarantee that you will eat like crap and subsequently feel like crap. But I really, really wanted to go to the market and get everything absolutely fresh -- it is summer after all, and the luxury of local freshness is fleeting in these parts... pretty soon I will be living on winter squash again.

So, last night before bed we macgyvered our way through pancake making...we laugh in the face of depleting kitchen resources! [Note - I also do not condone sugar highs before bed]

We had flour...a TINY bit of rice milk...baking powder and, could it be...enjoy life chocolate chips which we NEVER have, but I bought because they were 50% off when my beloved Green Door closed its doors.

We put together the monstrosity pictured above, split it in half, smothered in agave, et voila - a late-night super pancake that we enjoyed on the floor of our living room because that is the only way we can see what is happening on the tiny tv screen that we currently have down there..yes, Stevie the TV is still in the hospital! :(

And yes, we did go to the farmer's market this morning and now have a kitchen full of fresh broccoli, peppers, onions, potatoes, garlic, avocado, arugula, carrots, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries and rhubarb (you know what that means -- summer pie time!).

Monday, July 6, 2009

Colourful Quinoa Summer Salad



Our TV broke about two weeks ago and it is taking forever for the guy to fix it. I'm not going to lie and pretend that I am somehow above TV and that we don't watch it while eating. Stevie the TV (copyright Joey Tribiani) is much missed in our household (being that we are going three weeks without him!) but it has gotten us actually speaking to each other while shoveling food down our throats. And with weather as beautiful as it's been over the last few days, we've taken to spending hours on our back patio, feeding time included.

Saturday night we had a Mexican theme. I made enchiladas and we had margaritas...until we ran out of lime juice and switched to rye and ginger. Meaning Sunday was a bit rough.

Last night we barbequed some tempeh burgers and I made this bright and refreshing quinoa salad. It's basically a cup and a half of cooked quinoa, a can of organic chickpeas and fresh veggies (cucumber, bell pepper, green onion, tomato and a ton of fresh parsley from my garden) tossed with lemon juice, Frank's Red Hot and a couple tablespoons of agave nectar. Oh, and a bit of the red garlic sansel that I got at an epicure party. The meal was ridiculously high in protein (chickpeas, tempeh and let's all have a round of applause for the wonder that is QUINOA!).

It was so good. Really light and refreshing; perfect for a summer night.

And before I go, I have to once again praise all that is veganism because I went dress shopping today and purchased a size SMALL dress for a wedding we have coming up! SMALL! I have not fit into such little fabric properly since I was in high school. And since I am the world's laziest blogger (and human, probably) I can only credit veganism for the drop in poundage, as it takes a lot to get me to break any kind of sweat. I am going to be high off that purchase for days!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

3-Way Sesame Tofu, Spicy Broccoli & Rice



I should know better than to test the karma gods by making meals in an effort to tease someone.

Paul has mentioned a few times how he is concerned about calcium and not knowing if he is getting enough. Which is fair, I mean, how well does anyone (vegan or not) know about the actual nutrients that are being absorbed by their bodies? Obviously, we can guess...we can assume, but the vast majority of us have no clue. And it doesn't help that the dairy industry has been running a monopoly on calcium, convincing us that dairy products are the only way to get adequate amounts of the stuff.

The truth is that there are many excellent means of getting calcium that have nothing to do with yanking on a cow's udder. Most basically, a lot of vegan products are fortified (i.e. a cup of our rice milk provides 30% of the daily recommended calcium intake) but there are even more natural ways to get calcium. For example, a cup of broccoli approximately equals a cup of milk with regard to calcium content. All of this information is further complicated by discussions on animal protein and Vitamin D and how these all impact calcium absorption by the body (because really, who cares how much is in the food, how the body responds to it is more important) and the millions of dollars invested in the dairy industry. All of this is way above this little picture blog, but fascinating to those ambitious enough to look into it.

I will leave you with one final tidbit - isn't it ironic how countries with the highest reports of dairy intake are also countries with the highest rates of osteoperosis? Correlations are interesting. Especially when advertisers threaten vegans with osteoperosis based on the calcium factor, but avoid acknowleding how calcium absorbotion by the body is hindered by the animal proteins found in milk. Click here for an interesting article and a quick google will bring up rebuttles from non-vegan sources. Put your thinking caps on and get ready for a great debate!

Anyway.

Broccoli, tofu, okra, spinach, arugla (basically any veggie dark green in colour) provide an excellent source of calcium to a vegan diet.

Anyway, flipping through Vegan Planet I saw this recipe and decided to try it out in an effort to please the calcium gods. As I've mentioned, broccoli and tofu are excellent sources of calcium. Sesame seeds are also high in calcium and this recipe uses both whole seeds and tahini (sesame seed paste), although be advised that some argue that the calcium present in sesame seeds is jeopardized when pulvarized. Regardless, that is a lot of calcium on that plate up there.

But it was just..meh. I don't know. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't that great. I've found that to be my overall experience with Vegan Planet...the recipes are okay (and for $20 you get a ton of them), but none of them have really blown us out of the water just yet. And this one is really messy to make, and it also involves pan frying the tofu which I am not all that keen on either. It's frustrating, because I don't want to knock this cookbook. Again, it's not bad and everything we've made from it is decent enough; it just doesn't have that Wow Factor that makes you want to make it again. Everything we've tried is just kind of..boring? And there are so many foods and so little time that I find myself not wanting to waste an evening on something that is just "meh".

So, the moral of the story is, don't do things as a means of teasing someone because karma is a bugger, and you'll find yourself making a mess of your kitchen for no good reason.

P.S. I again want to stress that I don't want to knock this cookbook and I don't at all regret the purchase. I would further like to note that I recommend this book to new vegans, or those looking to transition, as the recipes are explicit and involve easily accessible ingredients.
I am about as far from a seasoned chef as I could possibly be. Quite honestly, a year ago I could barely make toast without rendering it inedible and I think it is well above my pay grade (which is $0 - lol) to criticize authors of ANY cookbooks as it is so evident that I would not be capable of doing such a thing. In fact, a quick search on Amazon shows many sparkling reviews for this book. Perhaps it is just not the right fit for me...perhaps I haven't managed to find what I'm looking for. So, dear readers, please don't take my opinion to be anything other than the ramblings of a humble vegan that will forever be learning the ropes and making messes and burning the bottoms of her pans - and in the meantime I will continue to explore Vegan Planet and will hopefully find something that I can rave to you all about.

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