Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksliving 2011

This year for Thanksgiving I've apparently made a controversial choice by choosing to skip the meal and the festivities to fast, be mindful, and reflect instead. While the idea was not initially mine, and I will admit, I was reticent at first (Mostly because of skipping the pie baking), I feel really confident in the decision to spend the day, and the surrounding days, being present in a different way. Over the last couple of years I've managed to squelch my previous frustrations with the holiday by making it my own-- a Celebration of Life and Love and Graciousness, with pie. But, after the "Arab Spring" and being in the midst of the "American Fall," this year seems like an appropriate time to reevaluate the mythology around Thanksgiving that allowed me to ensconce it in my own language, "re-message" it, and celebrate it for my own reasons. This isn't to say that I'll never make another Thanksgiving meal, just that the history of this day and this country has me thinking that we could all use a little clarity in place of a food coma whether we chose to celebrate the day in the traditional way or not.

Instead of the big meal, T and I are planning to fast for 7- 10 days starting Sunday. We'll be drinking about 20 ounces of juice everyday, so it's not a total fast, just some abstinence from the preoccupation with food that frequently dominates my mind. Instead, I hope the clear air space will offer up a little time to think about my motivations as a writer, in the arts, as a human being. While T is thinking of this as a "boycott" of Thanksgiving, I'm thinking of it as an opportunity to give thanks in a new way, and also as an opportunity to"boycott" Black Friday by not consuming anything on that day except the contents of our minds and hearts and the beautiful atmosphere of this incredible city that we live in. I feel like the last week of November is a week in which we, as a country, glut ourselves with food, with shopping, with excessive ingestion in general, and it is this insatiable craving for excess that acts like a parasite, gnawing at our collective ability to move our country forward, to envision a better way of living, to really live our lives. So, what better time to try something else?

When I made the shift from "excusitarian" to vegan (Thanks for the vocab Colleen Patrick-Goudreau! Actually thanks for a lot CPG, you inspire me!) it was part of a decision to live a more intentional life-- To live everyday with an intention, with compassion, with openness, with an optimistic vision of the future, and with the courage to speak my truth and listen to others who may or may not agree with me with an always open heart. It was also a decision to critically evaluate my own complacent participation in the academic world, American capitalism and democracy, consumption of goods and services, interpersonal relationships...everything. And these evaluations have led me to do a little restructuring, face my addictions, recognize my hypocrisies, and do my best to do my best everyday to buy less, want less, and think more. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Delicata Squash and Kale Enchiladas with Poblano Cream Sauce

Being back in California means that I am eating massive amounts of Mexican food, what with all of the vegan-friendly taco stands and restaurants, there is a real glut of cumin-flavored rice and beans and chips and salsa in my belly. But, as vegan-friendly as many Mexican places are, they still have mixed kitchens, and as this year progresses, I become less and less comfortable eating in restaurants with mixed kitchens for a variety of reasons. So, I'm trying to make more of my own delicious Mexican treats at home...More on that in a minute.

There are so many exclusively vegan/vegetarian restaurants here that I would prefer to spend my minimal discretionary income in businesses that support and spread compassionate living and eating in this beautiful city with year-round maximal produce. Also, having worked (and continuing to work) in the restaurant business, I see and have seen first hand that even the BEST restaurants sometimes slip non-vegan things into vegan food, or don't wipe knives between meat and veggies, or any number of other little things. And whether or not we get the tell-tale belly aches, we never really know how vegan our food is when we don't make it ourselves. And, as much as I love restaurants, I'm starting to feel like I'd rather know exactly where my food comes from, that it is indeed all organic, and verifiably animal part and excretion free.* So, I've resolved to only eat in vegan/vegetarian restaurants unless I'm eating out with someone, who for various reasons can't/won't eat vegan meals, or travelling in places where it's not possible to find vegan/vegetarian restaurants. So, I'll be eating my way through Los Angeles' many vegan/vegetarian restaurants when the boyfriend and I have the money and the hankering for a date night, and skipping the non-veg establishments. (Except my favorite and well vetted Mexican treats. I'm not ready to totally abandon them yet!)

But, I'd like to minimize the number of times that I eat chips fried in the same oil as pork, vegan beans cooked in proximity to non-vegan ones, eat sauces that I am told are vegan, but may well have had a drizzle of chicken broth added that day. I know I am starting to sound a little paranoid, maybe like I'm moving into psychotic purism, but is it really so bad if I'm learning to become a Mexican cooking genius?! And, I haven't forgotten that going to restaurants and asking about the veganness of food, getting excited when there are options, and showing businesses that there is a demand for vegan food so that there will be more of it, more readily available, and in a whole range of flavors, textures, ingredients, price brackets, etc. I just feel like, at this point in my life, my money is better spent elsewhere.

So, with that said, let me share my newest experiment turned brilliant success! I am still without a camera, so I apologize for the lack of pictures. It was too dark to make do with my iPhone! And, with this recipe in particular, the spice ratios are approximate as I've started just using a baby spoon to spice my recipes. It holds about 1 tsp, so that's what I've used as a base to guide this recipe, but use your gut to get this spiced to your liking.

Delicata Squash and Kale Enchiladas with Poblano Cream Sauce

For the sauce
1 cup raw cashews
1 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw pepitas

3 large poblano peppers
3 medium anaheim chiles
1 serrano chile

3 large cloves garlic

1 large teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice (I subbed this in because we were out of nutmeg)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 T shoyu
1/2 dark beer
1 cup chopped cilantro

3 T olive oil
2 cups filtered water
1 salt-free vegan bouillon cube (I like the Rapunzel brand.)

Soak the cashews and walnuts for at least 6 hours.

Roast all of the chiles over the open flame on your stove and place them in a paper bag to cool. When they are cool, rub the skins off and pull the seeds out. Be careful, you may want to wear gloves for this step to avoid burning hands. Chop the chiles, but keep them separated by type.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small cast iron pot and sauté the garlic. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add the chopped poblanos and cover with 2 cups of water and add the bouillon cube. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. While the broth is simmering, toast the pepitas, cumin seeds, and other spices in a cast iron pan.

Place the spices and pepitas into your food processor and chop for one minute. Drain the soaked nuts and add them to your food processor. Ladle off most of the broth from the poblanos and purée the nuts in the now fragrant broth. Once the nut mixture is smooth add in the cilantro, poblanos, anaheims, and serrano along with any broth that may remain in the pot. Pulse the food processor until the sauce is as smooth as you can get it. Transfer the sauce back into the cast iron pot and simmer on low to combine the flavor elements. Stir in the shoyu and beer until well mixed. Taste the sauce and adjust the sauces as necessary.

For the enchiladas

2 small delicata squash, skin on, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 onion sliced in thin half moons
1 pound lacinato kale shredded

1 package of ezekiel tortillas (I used the big ones and one package filled a large lasagna dish.)

(for the squash)
1- 2 t ancho chile powder

1/2- 1 t coriander
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t smoked paprika
1- 2 T agave nectar
1 T shoyu

(for the kale)
juice from one lime
1 T shoyu
1 t cumin

1/2 cup raw pepitas

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the squash in the spice mixture above and roast it for 20 minutes, or until soft. Meanwhile, heat 2 T olive oil in large cast iron skillet, turn the heat down to low and sauté the onions until soft, add the cumin to the skillet and toss the onions once before adding the kale, lime, and shoyu. Wilt the kale only briefly to avoid over cooking. It just needs to be soft enough to fit into the enchiladas.

Leave the oven on and prepare a large casserole dish by spooning a layer of the poblano sauce into the bottom. Using tongs, put 1/6 of the kale and 1/6 of the squash in your tortilla, roll it up and place it seam side down in the prepared dish. Repeat until you've used all the filling and tortillas and then top the enchiladas with the rest of the sauce. Squeeze the other lime over the top of the enchiladas.

Bake the enchiladas at 400 for 15- 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and a little crisp around the edges. Toast the pepitas and sprinkle them on the enchiladas before serving.  Let the enchiladas cool for 5 minutes before serving.

These are super rich, so a light salad is as good an accompaniment as black beans and rice.

* I currently work in a café that will remain un-named that claims it's food is organic when it is not, I pour the not-organic juice into containers marked organic and sell it for crazy, marked up, organic-gourmet prices... It gives me the sads, but not as much as the fact that they serve a "vegan" sandwich on bread that contains milk and eggs. And, while I have spoken to my boss about it, I need my job, so what more can I do...? Keep looking for my next opportunity!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


When I was living in New York I developed an outright addiction to both Maoz Vegetarian and the Hummus place. Both serve a version of Zhug, a middle eastern chile sauce with cilantro, garlic, and I think mint?!

Having moved back to Los Angeles this past August, I have been culinarily disheartened by only one thing by my return to the West Coast, the lack of this delicious green paste to smear liberally over the equally absent, super-rich Israeli style hummus. If we're being honest, I'm also a little disappointed in the falafel. Tell me, where is the best falafel in Los Angeles?

After spending nearly a month painting and getting settled in our palace of tininess, nestled in a cactus forrest in Echo Park, another month eating out in total jubilation between our birthdays and excitement over the sheer variety of AMAZING vegan restaurants in our 'hood and beyond, I'm ready to get back on the frugal bus and start cooking more regularly. So, I thought I'd get started with an old standard, and a chile sauce experiment to stir into it.

And, I have to say...I was ZHUGSESSFUL! Though it's missing a small dimension of flavor that the Hummus Place zhug has, I think I'm on the right track, and it is definitely delicious even without that final dimension of rootedness. I looked at a lot of recipes, but none of them included mint or cinnamon, both of which I am positive are in the hummus place zhug, so you'll see those additions here.

Make this. Stir it into simple soups, slather it on veggie burgers and falafel, use it in a wrap with some chickpea salad, through it on some quinoa and lentil salad...just go for it!

10- 12 green chiles (I used 4 jalepenos, 4 serranos, 1 red freson chile, and a big ass poblano.)
6- 8 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon whole cumin
1 teaspoon whole caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (I think I would use whole cardamom and grind it fresh next time.)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup fresh parsely
1 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh mint
juice from one lemon
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 tablespoon olive oil + more for roasting

Preheat the oven to 375. Rub half of the chiles with oil and roast them for 20 minutes, seeds in. De-seed and chop the other half.

Place the whole spices in a food processor and grind them until they are fine. Add in the garlic and pulse until it is well chopped. Next, add the raw peppers and blend until fine, then add the roasted peppers and blend until the mixture starts to become a paste. Then add in the fresh green herbs, lemon juice, and olive oil and blend the mixture until it forms a paste. You will have to scrape it down and blend repeatedly. Add the salt and agave nectar and blend to combine. Taste for salt and lemon.

This recipe makes about one cup. Store the zhug in the refrigerator, but remember it will probably only last for about one week.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super healthy whole wheat muffins

So, I love big, cupcake like muffins with the perfectly crusty puffy tops. But, they're nutritional disasters and send me off into crazy sugar land resulting in feeling great for an hour, a horrific crash, and several subsequent days of cravings. For some of us, sugar acts on our body like crack or some other highly addictive drug, and so I'm always trying to find a muffin recipe that helps with the craving for some carb-y goodness without sending me into a sugar spiral. I've been working on these whole wheat muffins for a while. They are a great base from which you can go either sweet or savory and they're nice plain with soups and salads. I use standard whole wheat flour, so be sure to mix as minimally as possible to avoid making tough pucks! For portion control and storage, I recommend making a batch, letting them cool, and then freezing them individually in little freezer bags. You can stash them in your lunch and they will thaw by the time you want to eat them. I just threw together a blueberry batch because I needed an excuse to turn the oven on. And, I'm eating one right now with a little unsweetened jam! So, so good.

1 1/3 c whole wheat flour
1/2 t each baking soda and baking powder
1/2 t salt

3/4 c unsweetened plain soy milk
1 T olive oil
3 T agave nectar (if you're going for sweet muffins) OR 3 more T of soy milk or veggie broth for savory muffins
1 t vanilla for sweet muffins

Optional mix- ins:
1/2 c frozen berries, 1/2 c finely chopped fruit, 1/2 c caramelized onions and shallots, 1/2 c chopped herbs, nuts and seeds, raisins, etc.

Preheat the oven to 350. Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the wet ingredients until thoroughly combined. Toss the mix ins in with the dry ingredients and mix well. Pour the wet ingredients into the large mixing bowl and fold gently with a spatula. I'd say to make five folds and then stop! It is better to have lumpy batter than tough muffins. Portion the batter out into a muffin tin (This recipe makes about 8 muffins in my standard muffin tin.) and bake for 13- 15 minutes. Allow to cool a bit before eating and cool completely before storing or freezing. These puff up pretty good, but if you want that big top, fill the spaces in your tin to about 1/8" below the top. When I make 8, they puff, but there isn't enough batter in each muffin to make a big top...Perhaps its time for a smaller muffin tin!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Vegan Quiche + A Pear Tart

Today, after a languid Sunday morning complete with Stumptown coffee, a bagel and a long walk in the snow I came home to tackle my produce box. After a long afternoon in the kitchen I now have a beautiful quiche cooling on my stove and batches of potato leek and lentil soup in my freezer. I used the second crust for the quiche, which kept the recipe simple. This is a veggie-loaded recipe that is SO much lower in fat than traditional quiche and perfect for all three meals.

Spiced Pear Tart with Cashew Custard
1 unsweetened spelt crust, 9"
3 firm, but ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/4" pieces
2 t brandy
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/8 cup granulated sugar
2 T lemon juice, divided
1 c raw cashew pieces, soaked in water for one hour
1/4 c maple syrup
1/3 c filtered water
1 vanilla bean

Preheat the oven to 350. Toss the pears with the spices, brandy, sugar, and 1 T lemon juice. Drain the cashews and blend them into a smooth paste with the water, syrup and the scraped out inside of the vanilla bean. Spread the cashew custard evenly in the crust and then top with the pear slices. Take about one spoonful of the liquid from the pears and drizzle it over the top of the tart and bake for 30 minutes, or until the pears are soft. Serve warm.

Vegan Quiche with Leeks, Shallots, Mushrooms, Chard and Fresh Herbs
1 9" spelt tart crust
1 12 oz container of Firm Silken Tofu
4 oz Extra Firm Tofu
1/4 c nutritional yeast
1/8  c corn starch
1/4 t turmeric
1/4 t smoked paprika
sea salt and pepper to taste
1 leek, sliced into thin half moons
2 shallots sliced in thin half moons
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
1 bunch chard, stalks rinsed and diced, leaves chopped into bite-sized pieces and well washed
1/2 c fresh parsley well chopped
5- 6 large basil leaves, well chopped
1- 2 T white wine
Olive oil

In a large skillet, heat about 2 T of olive oil and sauté the shallots and leek until lightly caramelized, set them aside in a large bowl. Sauté the mushrooms until browned and set them aside with the leeks and shallots. De-glaze the pan with a splash of white wine and sauté the diced stalks of the chard until soft, add the chard and allow it to wilt. Drain the chard in a colander and squeeze all of the extra liquid out. Add the chard to the other veggies and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a food processor or blender, purée the tofu, nutritional yeast, corn starch and turmeric until totally smooth. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the tofu mixture to the bowl of veggies, add the chopped herbs and lemon juice and stir until the ingredients are well-combined and evenly distributed. Spread the mixture evenly in the crust and bake for 40 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Warm-up Cream of Carrot with Ginger Soup

Oh, Chicago you are a cold, cold place to live and your winters make me eat like a champion to survive the cold, to stay awake in the face of never-ending darkness and lately to compensate for my "I can't write my thesis" guilt. Despite only making it a week on my no-drinking plan, and only 10 days on my no sugar plan, I'm doing my best to keep the winter munchies healthy...And trying to make a jar of almond butter last longer than 7 days. Almond butter is like crack to me, it's a sick, sick addiction. Today when my produce box arrived, I discovered about 2.5 pounds of big winter carrots in the bottom. I'm not a fan of eating the big ones raw because they lack the intensity of flavor that I value in a summer carrot, but I have been craving ginger flavored soups. So, I threw together a quick carrot-ginger soup to keep those carrots from languishing in my produce drawer. In the summer, I like to make carrot ginger soup without anything creamy and enjoy it on lazy evenings with a big salad dressed up with orange slices and avocado. But, look, I'm cold all the time, I'm strapped to my space heater, and I'm up to my eyeballs in my own mediocre writing so I thought it might be nice to take my summer recipe and winterize it with the addition of a little cashew cream and a hint of toasted sesame oil. What results is still a fresh, light bowl of soup...But, with a little more commitment and depth. This soup is emotionally available. And, when garnished with a quick chop of fresh mint and cilantro and set up next to a simple spinach salad it makes a simple, warming lunch or dinner.

(Serves 6)
1 T olive oil
1/2 T toasted sesame oil

1 sweet onion roughly chopped
2.5" piece of ginger, peeled and chopped into rounds
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

About 2.5 pounds of carrots, peeled and chopped. Don't worry about dicing them too fine, I find 1/4" rounds to be about the right size.
1 large apple, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2- 1 t red pepper flakes
4 cups water
1 vegan bouillon cube (alternately, use a favorite veggie stock in place of the water + cube)
1/2 cup cashew cream (equal parts soaked cashews and water, puréed until smooth)
Sea salt, shoyu or Bragg's to taste (I like Braggs)
1/2- 1 t rice wine vinegar or lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped mint and cilantro for garnish

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Sauté the onion until translucent and then add the ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook for one minute and then add the carrots and apple stir to coat in the oil and let sauté for about five minutes. Add the water and bouillon cube and bring the soup to a boil for 5 minutes. Add the cashew cream. Reduce to a simmer and cook with the lid on for 30 minutes. The carrots should be soft, but not mushy. Remove the soup from the heat and purée with an immersion blender until totally smooth. Taste for salt/salty substance and add the vinegar or lemon juice. Serve garnished with chopped mint and cilantro.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Perfect Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Pictures coming soon...I ate all the ones I baked off before I could take a photo :)

These are the perfect little bites of oats and raisins, a little crunch on the outside and soft in the middle...Try them with tea while snuggled up with someone sweet.

1 T ground flax
3 T water
1/2 c unrefined coconut oil
3/4 c brown sugar
1/8 c granulated sugar
1 t vanilla
1 1/4 c whole wheat flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
3/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t mace
zest of one orange
1/2 c raisins
1 1/2 cups rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 375. Blend the flax and water in a small food processor until thick and creamy. Cream the solid coconut oil, sugars, vanilla, orange zest and flax mixture until thoroughly blended. In another bowl sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and mace together. Mix the flour and sugar/oil mixture thoroughly. Add the oats and raisins and stir to mix. You may need to knead the dough with your hands to get it to come together. Use a 2t scoop to measure the cookies out onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and press them lightly with a fork because they will not spread. Bake for 12 minutes and then cool on a rack, if you can somehow avoid eating them all as they come out of the oven...Makes about 36 small cookies.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Black Eyed Peas, Greens + Biscuits...Mmmm, biscuits.

Despite only having lived in Dallas for the first and least remembered five years of my life, I retain a strong attachment to the rituals involved in celebrating the new year. So, every January 1, for as long as I can remember, I have eaten spicy black eyed peas and a pile of greens, regardless of how harrowing a hangover I might have and without thought of whatever disappointments or excitements happened the night before. Despite a few small complaints, I've led a rather charmed life until this point, so I'm not one to mess with fate by skipping out on the meal that at least 20% of me believes might have some small part in preserving my quality of life and persistently Pollyanna-ish nature.

Yesterday afternoon a small, comfy clothes clad, pack of my nearest and dearest sat on my living room floor, reading cookbooks, playing with the cat and munching our way through a delicious first real meal of 2011. I'm not one to sit around and share resolutions...yet...maybe when I get a real table and some chairs?!  But, I really can't think of any better way to spend the first frigid day of any year.

My first serving...

Hoppin' John 
I've never quite figured out exactly what spices are supposed to go in Hoppin' John...I make it up every time and my version tends to be a little more Southwestern than Creole. But, I've yet to receive any complaints on that front.

3 cups cooked black eyed peas
1 cup long grain brown rice, soaked over night
1 large red onion, diced
2 shallots, diced
5 stalks celery, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 fresh red chile, diced (pick your heat level)
1 package of Tempeh bacon, crumbled
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t smoked paprika
1 t dried thyme
1 t cumin
1 t coriander
1 bay leaf
1 T brown sugar
3 cloves of garlic, roasted
~3 cups vegan stock
3 T olive oil + 1 T earth balance buttery spread

Heat the oil and earth balance in a large stock pot. Keeping the heat at medium-low, add the onion and shallot and sautée until translucent. Then add the chopped chile pepper, bell pepper and celery. Stir to coat and then cover the pot and let the veggies sweat for about 10 minutes. Add the spices, bay leaf, and sugar and stir for about 1 minute until fragrant. Then add the rice, and stir int he oil for about 2 minutes. Add the beans, tempeh and stock and cover the pot. Let the Hoppin' John simmer for about 30 minutes before removing the lid to reduce the liquid over low heat. When the rice is done cooking, taste for salt and pepper and season to your taste.

Rosemary Cashew Gravy
1 cup raw cashews
3 cups veggie stock, divided
1/4 c earth balance butter spread
2 heaping T all purpose flour
2 large shallots, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
2 sprigs worth of rosemary leaves, minced
1.5 t nutritional yeast flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the cashews in enough veggie stock to cover them for at least an hour. Drain the cashews (I drain the stock into a measuring cup so I can keep using it in the gravy.) and place them in the blender with 1 cup stock. Purée until totally smooth.

In a medium soup pan, heat the earth balance over low heat until melted. Whisk in the flour and keep whisking for one minute. Add the shallots and garlic and then slowly pour in the cashew cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking regularly to avoid clumps. Reduce the heat to low and keep whisking as the gravy thickens. Add veggie stock until the gravy reaches your desired consistency. When the gravy is where you want i, add the rosemary, nutritional yeast, and salt and pepper. Whisk well and add another small glug of veggie stock. Serve as immediately as possible.

Southern Style Flaky Biscuits
2 c all purpose flour
3 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 t nutritional yeast
1 stick earth balance
1/2 cup plain unsweetened soy milk

Sift the flour, baking soda, nutritional yeast and salt into a large bowl. Cut in the margarine until the mixture resembles the texture of small peas. Do not over mix and be sure to use cold margarine. Stir in the soy milk and form the dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic and chill for one hour. When the dough is chilled roll it out to about 1/2" thick on a heavily floured counter. Using a water glass or a biscuit cutter with a 2" diameter, cut out your biscuits and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Stick the whole sheet in the freezer while you preheat the oven to 450 and then bake the biscuits for 10 minutes. Serve as immediately as possible.