Monday, June 28, 2010

Brown Rice Pasta Primavera

Cooking with friends is always an enjoyable time and a great experience. I recommend it to anyone who is looking to pass a quiet night with good company and delicious food. The funny thing about cooking with friends is that sometimes you learn cooking techniques that stick with you forever. Whenever you use that technique, you naturally think of that person. Such is the case whenever I make pasta with broccoli. One night in college I made pasta with my friend Nathan, and he literally blew my mind when he told me that you could just drop broccoli into pasta during the last few minutes of cooking. Not only did it add a vegetable to the dish, it also saved a dirty pan. Lately I feel like my hands are a little dry, and I have attributed this to the number of dishes I have been doing. So, every time that I take the opportunity to save myself a pan and some trouble, I say a silent thank-you to Mr. Punwario(this is Nathan's college nickname that he would not want reprinted here).
Unlike most vegetables, there was never really a time when I hated broccoli. I attribute this to two things. First, my mom used to ply us with cheese-covered broccoli. Second, it was commonly used in pasta dishes. These two disguises allowed broccoli to slip undetected into my diet. The other day I found myself wanting something quick and delicious. It was nearing the end of the grocery week, but I had a bottle of Charles Shaw opened. Past the age of 22, Charles Shaw is never meant to be drank, and only acceptable as a cooking wine. So, I pieced together some things from my pantry with some things from my fridge and ended up with a magical little pasta dish that reminds me of cavatelli with broccoli. (Author's note: in New Jersey this would be pronounced Cah-vah-teal).

 Brown Rice Pasta with Broccoli
  • 2 c. broccoli florets
  • 2 c. mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 c. brown rice pasta (dry measure)
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, chop the broccoli florets into bite-sized pieces, quarter the mushrooms, and mince the garlic.
2. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add the broccolli to the boiling water.
3. In a saute pan over medium heat, cook the garlic for one minute in a small amount of oil (just enough to not burn the pan).
3. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes. Add 1/2 a cup of dry white wine and lemon juice. Stir and continue to simmer over medium heat.
4. Drain the pasta and broccoli, add to the mushroom/wine mixture and simmer until the wine reduces (about 3 minutes).
5. Serve hot. You can sprinkle this with Italian Daiya, vegan Parmesan, or sun-dried tomatoes. Go crazy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sesame Stir Fry

I'm sitting in bed on a Saturday morning, listening to the Hold Steady because I am that cool, and wondering what I have to say about this stir fry. Usually when I post a recipe, I have some thoughts on society or the universe or some sort of personal ramblings to relate to my readers. I think they make me seem more human, and as I understand it, writers who seem more relate-able tend to sell more books (coming soon to a kindle/i-pad near you).
When I get down to it, this recipe didn't remind me of anything or anyone. I didn't have some sort of lightbulb moment. I don't even have an awful date story to go with it, since it just served as a weeknight dinner. I just had a bunch of tahini and a lot of spare vegetables lying around my apartment.
Stir-fry is always a good dinner option, since its premise is a simple one. Any time three or more vegetables are gathered in its name, the stir fry god is there. I like to sass mine up with tofu.
The real differentiating factor in any stir fry is which kind of sauce you mix it all with. I like peanut/sesame-based sauces a lot, but I have also been known to mix soy sauce and corn-starch and call it a day. There are a number of commercially-packaged stir fry sauces you can try if you are so inclined. For this stir fry, I decided on a sesame theme with tahini and sesame seeds.
wine pairing: Sam Adam's Summer Ale

  • 6 oz. firm tofu, cubed
  • 2 TBSP. cornstarch
  • 3 TBSP. vegetable oil
Stir Fry
  • 1/4 a white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, mined or pressed
  • 1/2 a large carrot
  • 6 medium mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 c. broccolli florets cut into bite size pieces
  • 2 heads of baby bok choy
    • 2 tbsp. tahini
    • 2 tsp. soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp. unsweetened grain milk
    • 4 tbsp. water
    1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the grain milk with the tahini until it starts to thicken. Add the soy sauce and water, set to the lowest possible setting, and leave it to stay warm while you work on the stir fry.
    2. Toss the cubed tofu with cornstarch to coat (think Shake n. Bake) and heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the tofu and toss to coat, cooking until it turns a light brown. 
    3. Reduce heat to medium-high and add the onions, garlic, and carrots and cook until the onions are translucent. 
    4. Add the mushrooms and cook a 2 minutes, until they start to sweat. 
    5. Add the broccolli and cook for 2-3 minutes.
    6. Stir in the bok choy and cook everything together for an additional 3 minutes.
    7. Stir in the sauce and serve over rice or noodles and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Tex-Mex Night

    Let me take a few lines here to sing the many praises of the crockpot. The crock-pot slow cooker was first marketed in 1971 by Naxon. A crock pot is plugged into the wall and heats food by wattage, not temperature. As a result, liquid on the outside of the pot may lightly boil, but the food on the inside will be cooked slowly and deliciously. I love being able to throw a bunch of things into a crockpot in the morning and then come home to a delicious dinner. They are great for stews and sauces and chili.
    I have a small crockpot that makes enough for 4 people, which is the perfect size for dinner one night and leftovers the next day. The center of my crockpot even comes out for easy cleaning. I have been known to cook something in my crock-pot, let it cool, refrigerate it over night, let it come to room temperature, and heat it the next day. I'm not sure how this is from a food safety perspective, but as a vegan I don't exactly need to worry about salmonella from my raw chicken, now do I?
    Anyway, I threw together a recipe for vegetarian chili that came out quite good. I also made corn-bread muffins to go with it. My boyfriend doesn't like dry, crumbly corn-bread. In an effort to impress him, I set about making the moistest, sweetest cornbread I could come up with. Sometimes I have a tendency to overdo things, so the muffins came out tasting more like corn cupcakes. I will not be reprinting that recipe here, but I thought that inquiring minds would want to know about the muffins in the picture.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Oil-free Chocolate Pie

    Going into the Great McDougall experiment, I knew that I had to be prepared with some serious dessert. Despite trying to give it up many times, I have come to the very simple conclusion that dessert is what makes dinner worth eating. It's something to look forward to at the end of a long day (that and an over-sized glass of red wine). Luckily, I found a great recipe on the McDougall forums and tweaked it to better suit my tastes and aversion to sugar.
     As you can see in the picture, I artfully arranged sliced kiwi and cherries on top of the pie. If I were Oprah, cherries would be on my list of favorite things. The pigment in cherries may reduce swelling and inflammation, plus they look really cute on rockabilly dresses and accessories. In all seriousness, I don't think I had ever eaten a non-maraschino cherry until a few weeks ago. I don't know how I went 25 years without them. I also don't know what I'm going to do when all of these fruits and vegetables stop being new to me. Maybe I'll have to start shopping the produce aisles of ethnic grocery stores?

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Crab Cakes, Wut?

    There are two things that I never say. First, I've never said I was a nice person. This gives me free reign to be mean when I have to and not be apologetic about it.The second is that I've never said I was a good cook. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy cooking and am always on the lookout for new things to try. Since going vegan, cooking has become one of my main hobbies and something that I enjoy doing with others as well. However, like yoga, soccer, and gymnastics, just because I enjoy doing something does not mean I am good at it.
    Case in point. I had a real desire to make my own falafel. The Hungry Pocket, a falafel restaurant/juice bar in Santa Monica, has really amazing falafel. My co-workers grilled the owner about it and came back and reported that the falafel was indeed vegan, so I went down to try it out with them. They were delicious, that is for sure. On the other hand, I knew deep down that I was pigging out on a deep-fried ball of chickpeas. Since I am working on being more aware of fat in my diet, I wondered if I could make my own falafel in the oven, with just a little bit of oil brushed on top.
    At any given time, I have about 3 or 4 different culinary schemes brewing in my head, just waiting for the perfect excuse to execute them. I decided to try out my falafel recipe for a picnic. I stuffed them in pita bread with lettuce, roasted tomatoes, and tahini.The idea was great, but the falafel was a little off. I tried a root-cause analysis, but wasn't able to put my finger on it. Luckily, Short Round (the sidekick to my culinary Indiana Jones) was able to put his finger on it. The cumin in the falafel made it taste more like Old Bay seasoning, therefore giving the entire thing the flavor of a crab cake.
    So I am pleased to present my readers with my completely original, absolutely accidental recipe for vegan crab cakes.

    Saturday, June 19, 2010

    Why Aren't All Donuts Just Vegan?

    Recently, I went away to Vegas for the weekend, and I rounded out the trip with a stop at Ronald's Donuts, which is a Buddhist-run donut shop off of The Strip. While Vegas is not a great place to be a vegan, I wonder if most vegans who live there have thought of subsisting entirely off of these donuts. I almost surely would consider it if I were local. My favorite part of the entire experience was how much of an honest-to-goodness donut shop Ronald's was. There were no fancy pictures on the wall or bamboo napkins. They even used styrofoam cups (which I have a little bit of a problem with, but they were kitschy so I can get past that. If Ronald's were situated in LA, their bakery boxes would be emblazoned with their name and logo, there would be water features, and the display case would have been carefully lit and sparsely populated. Instead their case was teeming with donuts and the only decorative feature was an old man in the corner who just looked like he belonged in a donut shop.
    This post brings up an important point that I like to make. There's healthy food, and there's vegan food, but the two are not always the same. In this case, these donuts were nearly undiscernable from "regular" donuts. That means they were full of sugar and fat, but it also means that it was a great way to enjoy true junk food without comprimising my ethical status. There are certain occassions in one's life that call for donuts, and dissapointment is one of them. Don't get me wrong, I had a great time in Vegas, it just wasn't all that I hoped it would be when I went out. Since misery absolutely loves company, and mild-dissapointment craves it, I recruited a friend with no sorrows (but an amazing metabolism)to help me conduct a very, very scientific taste test of Ronald's donuts.

    The verdict:
    By far the most amazing pastry had to be the bear claw, but the cinnamon roll was probably a close second. Their jelly donut was very good, but I would have liked a: a higher jelly to donut ratio and b: a more natural jam instead of a sugarfied gel. I also have to give a special shout-out to the apple fritter which, while being completely greasy and so heavy that I felt it the entire next day, was probably better than any apple fritter I have ever had. Since it's the only vegan apple fritter I've ever had, I feel like the Buddhists deserve a real round of applause.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    3-Bean Tacos

    I feel a little cheap posting this as a recipe, so please think of it as more of an idea for a cool way to assemble some ingredients and turn it into a reliable meal. To round it out and alleviate some of my Catholic guilt, I will give you a tip that I love using. When you have leftover tortillas, it's very exciting to make your own tortilla chips. Just cut the tortilla into triangles and spray very lightly with cooking spray. Broil on medium for about 2 minutes and then toss with salt and a squeeze of lime juice. Not only are they delicious, but they're also lower in fat than those greasy fried ones you'll get at any Mexican restaurant.

    3-Bean Tacos
    1/2 cup each kidney, black, and pinto beans
    1 TBSP. chili powder
    1/4 tsp. cumin
    1/2 tsp. garlic salt
    cheese, cilantro, and salsa to suit your tastes.
    corn tortillas
    This is a really easy recipe because all you do is drain and rinse the beans then cook them for about 5 minutes over medium heat with the spices. Spoon them into warmed tortillas and enjoy.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Maple Icing

    OK so I have something to confess. I have been having "performance issues" when it comes to vegan cookies lately. Mostly I have been trying too hard when it comes to replacing the fat. I made some cookies 2 weeks ago and tried replacing all of the fat with applesauce, and it was kind of a disaster. I have never thrown out an entire batch of cookies before, but these particular ones were hard as rocks and left me with no choice. After the first disaster, I was actually able to piece together a decent oatmeal cookie recipe. The only problem is that I baked said cookies halfway into splitting a second bottle of wine. As it so happens, I did not write said recipe down, but I know that I replaced about half of the recommended oil with applesauce and that there were raisins and cinnamon involved. It really is a shame that I'm not a more responsible cook, because these cookies were some of the most delicious low fat cookies in the existence of humanity (*these claims represent the author's opinion as an amateur vegan baker). I will be trying very hard to re-create said recipe, but in the meantime what I do remember is how to make the maple glaze pictured above.

    Maple Glaze
    • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
    • 1 1/2 c. vegan powdered sugar
    • 2 TBSP earth balance
    • 1 TBSP maple syrup
    Begin by mixing together the earth balance, maple syrup, and vanilla until smooth and fully incorporated.
    Add the powdered sugar 1/4 a cup at a time, blending fully after each addition. If you are using this recipe as a glaze, stop adding sugar when the glaze will drip from the back of a spoon in a steady stream. If you are using it to ice a cake (which would be an excellent idea), add more powdered sugar until it is thick enough to spread.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Pirates Chai for Breakfast

    Due to a ridiculous language requirement at USC, I spent about twelve thousand dollars (that's three semesters worth) trying to cultivate an interest in the French language and culture. I know a few words "Je suis la jeune fille" for example, but for the most part all of that classroom time was wasted. I really wanted to learn French, but trying to do so while also working, taking a full courseload, and slogging through my Freshman year of college was not a good idea. I did, however, come away from the class with two things: 1: a new appreciation for The Cure's Killin an Arab and 2: a real love of crepes.
    It only makes sense that I would be into crepes, considering the fact that I am mad about pancakes. It's worth noting that lately I have been reserving pancakes for weekend mornings and getting by with tofu scramble during the week. I do, however, make a pretty impressive crepe. I think there are a few very key elements to a good crepe.
    1. Mixing the batter: I like to use my stand-up blender for this one. It gets the batter really smooth which is important.
    2. The flour: you want to use a fine-ground whole wheat pastry flour. It will be light and smooth enough to make your crepes delicate.
    3. A large spatula: for flipping.
    4. A kick-ass filling: for my crepes I used a filling very similiar to bananas foster, except that I made a mockery of it.
    5. Patience: you have to cook the first side of the crepe for a little bit longer than you think, because the top should be pretty much firm before you turn them over.

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    As If

    Who doesn't love a good Clueless reference? I've been excited for a few weeks now, because I bought Alicia Silverstone's book: The Kind Diet. The book is split into two parts. The first half contains great information about Alicia's diet, which she calls the kind diet. It is an all-vegan diet that relies heavily on macrobiotic principles such as daikon, umiboshi, green vegetables, sea vegetables, and whole grains. Alicia's diet is not for the faint of heart. An Alicia breakfast consists of brown rice and sea vegetables. I can make a lot of different kinds of pancakes, but pancakes from sea vegetables would be taking it a step too far, even for me. Still, there are a lot of health benefits to a macrobiotic diet, and it is always preferable to stick to locally-grown produce. While macrobiotics teaches us that the locally-grown produce is more likely to give our bodies the nutrients it needs to live within a certain climate, I prefer to look at it as supporting local growers and saving on the energy consumption required to import produce. It really makes me think twice before spooning tons of pineapple chunks over my vegan frozen yogurt.
    I'm always one for progress, so I have made a point of trying out one of Alicia's recipes every week. I particularly enjoyed her recipe for fried rice, although I made some adjustments on my second pass. It uses sticky brown rice, which is deliciously sweet and soft and sticks together like sushi rice, except all on its own. I picked mine up at the bulk section of Whole Foods. It takes awhile to cook up, but I have been using that as an excuse to make extra. Anyway, this dish makes a great and filling lunch or dinner for one person, or it could be served as a side dish for 2. I think that it would be good with grilled tempeh or fried tofu.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Ginger Tempeh

     For me, being a vegan is a constant journey of discovery. I don't see it as limiting the foods that I eat, I see it was opening up a whole new world of food I didn't even know existed. It took me this long to get around to experiencing tempeh, but I had read about how it was an amazing meat substitute, especially when you were looking for a hearty flavor. I picked up a package and I was not disappointed. Scratch that. I was far beyond not disappointed. I was actually extremely pleased and impressed. Tempeh has a nutty flavor and a consistency resembling crunchy grains of rice packed together into a loaf. Mine was about the same size and shape of a cut of London Broil, which got me to thinking about how to best prepare it. I decided to cut it into slices and marinate it in soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds, and a little lemon juice. Let me tell you, there is nothing like the salty/citrusy combination of soy sauce and lemon juice. I would also reccomend trying this recipe with orange juice if you have it on hand. I tend to have some issues with soy sauce,  just because I am perplexed by how salty it really is. If a recipe calls for any real amount of the liquid, your sodium levels are going to shoot through the roof. A solution that I learned a few years ago is to use a solution of 1/2 soy sauce 1/2 water when you need a good amount of moisture in your recipe. It keeps the sodium in check, but you really won't notice a difference in flavor.
    Now, I know that it is not generally safe food practice to use your marinade for cooking. This is because most marinades have been chilling out with raw meet for hours, which equals one nasty e-coli situation. Tempeh is a naturally fermented soybean cake. See how the two are different?

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    What Passes for Lunch Around Here

    Last week, I found the most delicious brown rice tortillas at Trader Joe's. For some reason, the brown rice made them seem so much more whimsical than regular tortillas. I used them to make my own baked tortilla chips, because most commercially-prepared tortilla chips are laden with fat. Take a handful of those chips and pair them with avocado (which is fatty even if it's a good fat), and you might as well brush up on your Oompa Loompa dance, because that is what you are going to look like if you eat too many. So, I bake my own with a hint of salt and lime and dip them in my guacamole with a smug grin on my face.
    Anyway, these tortillas were really delicious and had much more of a bite to them than boring flour tortillas. One morning I was running late for work and needed to throw together something for lunch very quickly. I had tortilla shells and daiya, and I looked around my fridge for odds and ends to turn that into lunch. I ended up throwing some vegetables into the quesadilla and I was quite pleased with the result. I suppose that this particular adventure qualifies as my first "fusion" dish, since fusion is just taking two different cuisines and merging them together. Enjoy.

    Friday, June 4, 2010


    As anyone who is a regular reader knows, I have been on a lot of dates lately. Most of these dates have not gone right, for one reason or the other. Emotionally, I've really been through the ringer. First dates are very, very draining, because you have to put in a good deal of effort to put your best foot forward. I feel a lot of pressure to put on the Nicole Williams Show, that is a version of myself who is charming, witty, and entertaining, even in the presence of near-strangers. I think that I do an ok job of this, although my call-back ratio would suggest otherwise (there aren't that many).
    After getting through the initial challenge of the first date, assuming that I have made someone like me enough, there is the second date. Over the past few months, the second date has marked the point at which I start evaluating the other person. I start to imagine what it would be like to really date them and I apply my critical thinking and logical reasoning skills to determine if there are any flags or deal-breakers. I've had a lot of trouble finding guys who have everything I am looking for. I need someone who is attractive, kind, intelligent, articulate, and confidant. It would be nice to have someone who is also health-conscious, considerate, and a hard-worker. There are some things that I just consider a bonus, for example being a vegan or living the music lifestyle.Yes, I stack-rank the things I am looking for, because I am just that good of a Project Manager.
    I've recently read some articles that call out girls my age for having too many requirements for men. One urged me to settle for Mr. Good Enough. Reading these articles, I wondered if I should just settle. I had a major problem though. My Mr. Right existed, and I knew it because I was lucky enough to be friends with him. 
    I know that a lot of my readers enjoy my bad date stories and that they are a constant source of entertainment for my friends and co-workers. That is why I hope that no one here is too disappointed that after going out on dates with 24 different men since the beginning of the year, I have ended up with the same one who was standing next to me on New Year's Eve.
     After the jump, please enjoy the reduced-fat vegan brownies that I brought along on what turned out to be our first date.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    In Pursuit of Perfection

     In March, I was able to perfectly harness the delicious flavors of Girl Scout Cookies, while reducing the fat and sugar to an acceptable level. After that experiment, I abandoned cookies for awhile to focus instead on cupcakes and muffins, and somewhere along the way I lost my touch. I made chocolate chip cookies a couple of weeks ago, and they were not my best work. I replaced most of the oil in the recipe with applesauce and reduced the sugar quite a bit. My friend and fellow vegan, Carl, was happy to suffer through them, and I have included a picture of the failed cookies just to illustrate what a great liar he is for having eaten them with a straight face. I tried another batch the following night, using vegetable oil, applesauce, and molasses. While these were a little better, they were still kind of chewy and a little greasy. I decided that it had to be time for a different approach.
    Instead of focusing on reducing the sugar and the oil, I would start with the basics: a full-fat, full-sugar vegan chocolate chip cookie. They were absolutely perfect. I brought a warm batch in to work and they were gone by 11 AM, which is a sign of a pretty damn good cookie. A few days later, I tried the same recipe, but replacing half of the oil with applesauce. Those also came out pretty good, although a little more scone-like, which is something that I am working on. They key to this cookie recipe is cinnamon, which gives it a nice hint of something special. The granola is optional, but another way to get pretty impressive. When I made them with applesauce, I substituted out some of the vegan chocolate chips for some Peruvian dark chocolate, which I bought in wafer-form and cut into thin slivers. They were probably the fanciest cookies I have ever made.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Hell Freezes Over

    One of my many quirks is an intense aversion to mayonnaise. I've never liked the stuff and I can't eat  anything that I know contains mayonnaise. This distaste has carried over to veganaise as well. I don't even know whay mayonnaise tastes like, because I've never been able to stomach the site of it, let alone put it to my lips. On the one hand, this is probably not a bad thing, because who wants to eat something that so closely resembles cellulite? On the other hand, my issue with this particular spread (plus my dislike of mustard and my refusal to eat lunch meat, even vegan lunch meat) has long kept me from entering into the world of sandwiches. I've never gotten behind them, which can make packing lunch for work a little bit more difficult than it has to be. I was screwing around the Apple store a few weekends ago, waiting for my new bff Collin to activate my new i-phone, and started playing with the Whole Foods application on a demo phone. I will say it was pretty cool, but it also had a great recipe for a vegan muffaletta sandwich. I didn't bother to write down the recipe or anything, but the idea of a sandwich with mushrooms and roasted red peppers haunted my thoughts all day. So, I gave in to the dark side and made a sandwich. After learning that my vegan jambalaya was a bastardization of all things cajun, I abandoned the idea of even calling my version of the sandwich a muffaletta, but it was very much inspired by the idea of one.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    Oil-free Vegan Pesto

    There are some word combinations that make anyone's ears pop up, and oil-free vegan pesto always seems to do the trick. Let me start out by talking about pesto. I love it. I love basil on its own, but when its diced into tiny pieces and mixed with pine nuts, my blood really gets pumping. I love pesto on my pasta, pesto on my pizza, pesto on a sandwich (it is the only condiment besides ketchup that I will allow on a sandwich or burger). However, a traditional pesto is really, really, really bad for you, especially in the amounts that I like to use. It's full of olive oil and most commercial pestos also contain Parmesan cheese (a big vegan no-no). This used to be a problem for me, until I realized that I could take a hint from Fat Free Vegan and replace all of that olive oil with vegetable broth. I further decided to include some spinach in my pesto, because I am a firm believer in the nutritional properties of that little superfood.
    The result is a pesto that you can feel good about. I use my food processor for this recipe, but if you do not have one, and your knife skills are up to par, you should do just fine. This pesto goes great on a pizza in place of tomato sauce, on a vegan caprese sandwich (use the daiya cheese and warm it ever so slightly), or over some whole wheat pasta. It keeps in the fridge for about a week, so it's a good make-ahead item for those of you who, like me, see the inside of our cubicles more than the inside of our kitchens.

    Easiest Pesto Ever
    • 2 cloves garlic, quartered but not chopped
    • 1 c. basil
    • 1/2 c. fresh or frozen spinach, if frozen, don't forget to drain and pat dry
    • 1/4 c. pine nuts
    • 1/3 c. vegetable broth
    1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse on high for about 10 seconds, or until smooth.