Monday, November 28, 2011

Skillet-Baked Panko Cutlets (with Rotini)

I love seitan. But as time goes by, it seems to love me less and less. I'm not gluten intolerant and for the most part I feel fine after big bowls of pasta or my beloved slices of peanut butter toast.

But I've recently noticed that my stomach is not quite so happy with me after a big bowl of seitan. I've come to the conclusion that while I may not be gluten intolerant I do clearly have some gluten sensitivity when it is consumed in large quantities. Since seitan is a big bowl of gluten and very little else, it makes sense that I would feel less well after it than I would after a few slices of pizza.

A little Seitan 101 for those of you who don't know what the hell I'm talking about:

Seitan is a vegan protein that also goes by the name of "wheat meat" and it is made from the gluten component of wheat flour. It is often used in place of meat in vegan recipes because it so closely mimics the texture. It is also very easily infused with differing flavours making it versatile in many dishes and it can be prepared any number of ways. Stove-top, oven, grill. Sliced, shredded or in sausage-form. You can do almost anything with it.

It is also insanely delicious and my favourite of the vegan meat alternatives. Except that it kills my gut and a lot of other guts out there.

While seitan and all of the gluten "others" (pastas, breads, etc.) are all derived of the same source (wheat), the main difference between them is the quanity of gluten present in them.

They all get their start in wheat flour. While traditional breads, pastas, etc. use all components of wheat flour, seitan is made from gluten exclusively. To get at the gluten, wheat flour is hydrated, activating the gluten. All other starches and components are then removed. It is then once again dried and ground back into a powder and sold under the title "vital wheat gluten" or "gluten flour". We vegans then buy it in vast quanities and make everything from roasts to bratwurst to wingz with it.

Gluten helps dough to rise and because it is insoluble in water, it's also what gives dough structure and elasticity. When you take away all the other parts of the wheat flour and leave only the gluten it becomes really elastic, which is how seitan is able to mimic the texture of meat.

Gluten is a hot issue in 2011. It's role in dozens of ailments and diseases from ADHD to lymphoma is continually debated. Truthfully I don't know all that much about it except that it sometimes has the tendency to make me feel like crap and I feel a lot better when I don't eat a ton of it. Same with chocolate and coffee and wine and not getting enough sleep and worrying about things I can't change.

I should probably eliminate all of these things completely but instead they're given "sometimes" status in my life. These days, if I know seitan is on the menu for dinner I try to make sure all other meals that day are completely gluten-free. It helps.

Eliminating meat and dairy was so easy because it had nothing to do with food and everything to do with the animals. Gluten is a much sneakier bugger because the only one it's hurting is me.

Anyway. The whole purpose of this tangent is to show you the most recent pain-via-deliciousness that I inflicted upon myself. Damn you, Vegan Diner why did this dish have to be so amazing and why can I only have it, like, twice a year?!

I'm pretty sure all of Vegan Diner is amazing. Everything we've tried so far has been. If you are into comfort food at all, you need to get this book!

For this gluten gluttony you start by making a batch of Italian Sausage Cutlets (also from Vegan Diner).

Once they are steamed into shape they're breaded in panko breadcrumbs and pan-fried until brown and crispy.

Sadly, I don't have an oven-proof skillet (unbelievable, I know!) so I had to use a frying pan for the stove-top and then transfer the cutlets and sauce to a casserole dish for a few minutes in the oven, under the broiler (just long enough to melt the mozzarella Daiya). Which I of course forgot to take a picture of.

Once the Daiya is melted it's ready to go - serve on top of your favourite pasta. It would also make for a delicious sub sandwich or wrap!

You can find the full recipe for this dish here on Google Books. It is so good - kind of a vegan chicken parm alternative, if you happen to be looking for one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Banana-Chocolate-Kahlua Cheesecake

I have finally, finally had the chance to try a recipe out of Vegan Pie in the Sky.

I carried on about this book for months. Then it finally came out and it took me a month to get around to making something from it. After Thanksgiving and Halloween and a month straight of cramming junk down my gullet, I needed to take a break from the sweets.

Now that we're entering the season of baked goods I'm sure the next few weeks will provide ample opportunity to sample more of Isa and Terry's pie and cake recipes. And I will (hopefully) also have holiday company to help me eat it all. Which was sadly not the circumstance involving this particular cake. We basically just cut it in half and ate the entire thing between the two of us.

Pre-vegan, cheesecake was my thing. When ordering dessert at a restaurant, there was no contest. Not a close one, anyway. It was always cheesecake. Fruit, chocolate, plain. It didn't matter. As long as it was cheesecake.

When I first went vegan I figured my cheesecake days were over, and I accepted it as a part of this greater life philosophy that I had adopted. How wrong I was!

There are many, many ways to make a vegan cheesecake. They typically involve pre-packaged vegan cream cheeses. These types of vegan cheesecakes are the most authentic, I think, but they are also heavy on highly processed ingredients and are usually more costly to put together. In Vegan Pie in the Sky, Isa and Terry aschew the premade vegan cream cheeses and instead opt for silken tofu and the do-it-yourself route.

The main difficulty I ran into with this cheesecake was the lack of vegan graham crackers being mass marketed here in KW. Damn you, honey!!!! I've heard rumour of some of the specialty stores carrying the Sweet & Sara brand, but I didn't feeling like driving around looking for them. Graham crackers are relatively easy to make at home and I had the luxury of time this past weekend. I made them from scratch this summer for a camping trip that didn't happen and liked the recipe so much that I decided it would be great as a cheesecake crust too.

The nice thing about making graham crackers for the sole purpose of using them as a crust for a cheesecake is that you don't have to fuss too much with making perfect squares. I just cut the dough up haphazardly and tossed it into the oven on a baking sheet. I also baked them 16 minutes as opposed to the 12-14 recommended, because I wanted them to be crispy and easily ground up in my food processor. Worked like a charm!

As we approach the holidays, the option of adding a quarter cup of Kahlua to the batter isn't really an option at all. What's Christmas without a little Kahlua?

So. It goes like this. You've got your from-scratch graham cracker crust. Then you've got your banana-flavoured cheesecake batter. Then some melted chocolate. Then some Kahlua. Then you swirl it all around all fancy and put it in the oven...

...and you get this!

It's so rich and decadent, perfectly sophisticated for a fancy, grown-up Christmas gathering.

If all the recipes in Vegan Pie in the Sky are like this one, I think we're in for a beautiful relationship. Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, the queens of vegan baking, have clearly done it again.

I wish I had a digital recipe to share with you, but the cookbook is so new that we bloggers haven't had a chance to rip through it yet. Stay tuned to Google, I'm sure there will be one up soon. Otherwise just buy the book and have all 75 recipes at your fingertips. I highly doubt you will be disappointed - they are the queens, after all.

{{EDIT}} Scratch the above - looks like the recipe is available on Google Books! Check it out here (scroll up for ingredients list).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Raw Fettucine Alfredo

Hello! I'm back (again). Turns out that this month our house has been selected as the place where technology goes to die. First my Blackberry gave out (hence my continued Twitter silence). Then my camera developed some lens issues (mainly that it wouldn't open) and then my laptop developed an attitude and refused to let me load the pictures that I did manage to take with said defective camera, hindering my ability to blog. On top of all that I haven't been feeling a hundred percent and have had little motivation to remedy any of these technological glitches.

I think I've got it sorted out now. Until the next meltdown.

Today's recipe is another one from Ani's Raw Kitchen uncookbook.

I'm still trying really hard to up my intake of living foods. I strive for one completely raw meal a day. Sure, it's usually just a kale smoothie of some sort, but it still counts (I think?). It helps. Any day I skip my smoothie I feel a noticeable change in energy levels and attitude and that motivates me to keep up with it even though truthfully I would much rather be eating some sort of tempeh-daiya-cheese scramble with a side of hazelnut mocha latte for breakfast.

When I'm feeling particularly adventurous and have a little time to kill I reach for Ani's book for my daily raw meal.

The thing is, it's cold here now. Really cold.

And we're cheap. Really cheap.

As in keeping our thermostat at an oppressively low temperature and using the money we save to buy wine. Piping hot soups and pastas and casseroles are what keep us from turning blue in the winter months. And I just can't seem to get the same effect from a raw meal.

I know that it's good for us, though. So I drink my smoothies while wearing mittens and make a break for the blankets after raw dinners.

I didn't mind this dish at all but I think I'll be more responsive to it in the summer months.

I had fun making fettucine out of zucchini with my beloved Titan peeler!

The alfredo sauce is Ani's garlic aioli and it is made from cashews, celery, onion, garlic and lemon.

One thing I've noticed with Ani's book is that her sauce recipes yield an alarming amount. I would imagine it's because these kinds of things are good to make in batches and use in different meals over the course of a week. If you don't want to do that you can totally half the recipe and still have an incredibly saucy raw fettucine alfredo.

Recipe for the dish is here and you can find the garlic aioli recipe here. Make sure you sprinkle the finished product with tons of freshly cracked black pepper. What's alfredo without black pepper?!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Butternut Squash Stuffed with Whole Wheat, Rice and Onion Stuffing; Agave-Mustard Brussels Sprouts

Hello Everyone! After a little bit of a computer vacation following Vegan Mofo 2011, I have officially returned to the blogosphere. Did you miss me? If you didn't, my feelings won't be hurt - I was kind of constantly in your face for a little while there. Honestly? I was even getting a little sick of myself and the sound of my own typing. Hopefully you're ready to hear from me again, because here I am!

While in the throes of Mofo I was contacted by vegan cookbook author Nava Atlas who so kindly offered to send me an advanced copy of her newest cookbook, Vegan Holiday Kitchen. I was elated! I had already bookmarked it for purchase on November 1st and having it in my greedy little paws a week early was such a treat. Nava has been such a great supporter of This is Vegan for a long time and I want to thank her so much for this wonderful gift!

In case you couldn't tell by my Thanksgiving/Oktoberfest/Halloween posts during Vegan Mofo, Paul and I are holiday fanatics. It doesn't even matter what the holiday is. We kind of love them all. We want to finish our basement but we can't bring ourselves to sacrifice the storage space - we need it for all the holiday-themed decorations we've accumulated over the years.

It can be a bit overwhelming to some people, but it's just one of the many quirky things about our relationship.

Being this holiday crazy means that a few months ago when I first heard about a new holiday cookbook put together by two of my favourite vegans (Nava Atlas of Vegan Express and Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for all Seasons fame, and vegan blogger extraordinarie Susan Voisin of Fat Free Vegan) I started chomping at the bit for its November 1st release date.

Sadly, while my American friends are starting to prepare for Thanksgiving, we here in Canada are currently between holidays. We are, however, still experiencing a beautiful southern Ontario fall and even though it's not Thanksgiving proper, Sunday night dinners present the perfect opportunity for trying some of Nava's autumn-themed recipes.

So, this past weekend after a copious amount of ball and sunshine in the backyard with our little dog, I made this autumn feast.

Butternut squashes are my favourite of all the squashes. It's really weird that I'd never served them stuffed until this past weekend. Such a shame! Sadly, I didn't have any of the wild rice needed for the recipe (which is weird because on any given day my cupboard is home to 3940389043 different kinds of rice). I was forced to sub-in plain old brown long-grain rice. Since I was losing some of the visual appeal by not using wild rice, I chopped up half a red bell pepper and tossed it into the mix, just to add a little colour.

It turns out that I suck at scooping the pulp out of roasted squashes in such a way that preserves little bowls fit for stuffing. Instead, I seem to hack the crap out of them until they are riddled with holes. I started to get the hang of it after awhile and managed to salvage four halves. For the others, I just chopped up the squash and tossed it with the rice, whole wheat bread chunks and the remaining stuffing ingredients and put what couldn't be stuffed into the remaining squashes into a casserole dish for baking. Butternut squash bowls are ideal, but we're not above eating stuffing straight out of a casserole dish if necessary.

I'm on a bit of a Brussels sprouts kick lately. I just can't get enough of them! And this might be my new favourite way to serve them. The recipe for the agave-mustard (a wonderful, cruelty-free alternative to honey-mustard!) sauce is reminiscent of the Oktoberfest mustard I love so much during the festival.

Both recipes are amazing and I encourage you to pick up your own copy of Vegan Holiday Kitchen, now available! I'm already eyeballing the Christmas section although I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself. Especially since Paul gets ahead of himself enough for the both of us (he proposed decorating the tree while we were taking down the Halloween decorations).

In the meantime, you can find the recipe for the stuffed squashes here on Nava's website.

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