Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cream of Celery Soup & Garlic Crisps

The weather is getting more crisp and Autumn-like already, and nothing is more comforting than a delicious, creamy soup.  Several years ago I started perfecting my recipe for a classic favorite that my mom used to make for me:  Cream of Celery soup.  It's easy, too--the hardest part is chopping the celery because you have to watch your fingers LOL.

The great thing about this soup is that it is great as itself, and also as an ingredient in many casseroles.  You'll never have to eat those nasty canned soups again!  I don't even consider those food.  I always triple this recipe and freeze multiple portions for casseroles.

Cindy's Cream of Celery Soup
8 stalks of celery, chopped
Vegan margarine (Smart Balance Light is great)
8 c water
8 c vegan stock
1 TB dried minced onion or fresh equivalent
3 c soy or almond milk
Salt & pepper to taste

1.  Rinse & chop celery into small cubes. 

2.  Saute celery and onion in 3-4 TB and a few splashes of stock margarine until soft.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside. 

3.  Add water & remainder of stock to a seperate stock pot.

4.  In batches, blend celery mixture in blender with enough of the soymilk to cream the celery.  Add to pot.

5.  Bring soup to a low boil and whisk in flour 2 TB at a time until you reach the desired thickness.  Taste it often and season accordingly.  Reduce heat to a simmer and serve.

Garlic Crisps

I served this soup with basil garlic crisps.  These take 5 minutes to make and 10 to bake.  They are the perfect crunchy accompaniment to any soup (if you can keep your significant other from eating them ALL before soup is served.  Yes, Jeff I am talking about YOU!).

1.  Slice a vegan sub roll.  
2.  Slathered it with vegan margarine & place on cookie sheet. 
3.  Sprinkled it with granulated garlic and basil. 
4.  Baked at 375 until golden (about 12  minutes).

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Sauce That Will CHANGE Your Life!

Ok, so maybe not, but this one comes pretty close for me! I'm such a pastaholic with a penchant for yummy alternatives to traditional marinara, so this sauce has been a hit that leaves no family or friend going hungry:

Cappellini in Fresh Tomato Cream:

Ingredients28 ounces of quartered tomatoes (you can also use a 28 oz can, I use Nature's Promise Organic or Muir Glen Organic). If you wanna be really lazy you can just use a jarred ready-made sauce; hey, we all have those days!
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Oregano (I add more to taste, and fresh is best, if using fresh double your amount. I love LOTS of it!)
6TB cream cheese (I like Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese)
2 TB margarine or butter
2 TB nutritional yeast (depending on where you live you may need to buy this from a health food store)
3-4 cloves of garlic

1. Heat salted water for your pasta. I like capellini or linguine fini.
2. In blender, blend tomatoes smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and reblend until combined. It will be a beautiful blush color.
3. Add sauce to large skillet that will accomodate pasta too & simmer for about 10-12 mins. on medium low until bubbling. 
4. Cook pasta while sauce cooks, then toss it into sauce.

This is so simple and you won't believe how yummy it is! It works great as a bread dipper too. Trust me--enjoy this while you can because you won't have any leftovers!

Buon Appetito!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Casserole Time

Because Fall is the best time to make comforting casseroles, I made the classic Campbell’s Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole (except I used the chicken style Boca patties, Daiya cheddar in the interest of making the casserole vegan, & I used my own homemade cream of celery soup as a base since I really don’t care for canned soup--but hey in a pinch use what you’ve got). I had to make this since Jeff loves casserole. Any casserole. In fact, he calls everything I make Cindy's Kickasserole :-)

I wanted to try out my new baking dishes made by Temptations Presentable Ovenware. I bought them because you can do everything with them--prep, bake, and freeze food—and they are microwave and dishwasher safe. You gotta love that! You don't have to worry about dirtying so many dishes just to get a meal on the table. ONE dish. That's it. They're really a time saver and make clean-up easy (even the baked on cheese came off with ease). They are also quite pretty so you feel good sitting them right on the table after baking. I know I’ll get a lot of use out of these.

I would recommend them highly to anyone in the market for anything like this. Here's where I bought 'em:

And this is what they look like with my casserole in it:

Caramel Hot Fudge Cheesecake. What could be better? Mmmmm!

So I cheated and used a store-bought grahm crust, but the rest is from scratch. Use your favorite cheesecake recipe and make the sauces (which you will find infinite yummy uses for other than to drizzle over your cake).

I got the recipe from one of my favorite websites:

Tofu Kabobs & Vegan Hot Fudge Sundae

 I made a light dinner tonight: Marinated Tofu & Veggie Shishkabobs.   I served them with a side of mixed greens and my own balsamic vinaigrette.

Here's how I marinated the tofu cubes:
In a dish I mixed 1 c chicken style broth, 2 TB Braggs Liquid Aminos, a few dashes of regular soy sauce, 3-4 dashes of hot sauce, sprinkling of garlic, oregano, and pepper. You really can't mess this marinade up--just add flavors until it tastes good to you. I let the tofu soak up the flavor for a few hours and then threaded them on skewers with veggies. I like cherry tomatoes and colored peppers.

It's good to eat light when you have a heavy dessert. There's nothing better than a banana split with homemade hot fudge & caramel sauces.
Yeah, it was better than it looks. The ice cream got all melty under that rich layer of hot fudge.

Sesame Infused Tofu & Snow Peas

Ok, for those of you who are anti-tofu, try this. I know, I know. It's tofu. Most people haven't tried it before and those who have often don't like it. This is why: I never used to eat tofu because it sounded... well, gross. Then I tried to cook it. I hated it--but that's because it wasn't prepared properly. When properly seasoned and prepared, it is the most healthy and versatile protein that is quick-cooking too. I made this dish in about 15 minutes.

Tofu novices: tofu is a block of soybean that has a neutral taste that absorbs whatever seaonings you add. By itself it tastes like potato/egg combined. I like to use marinades to flavor it. I made this yesterday and even my tofu-hatin' sis remarked at how delicious it smelled while cooking. If you've never cooked with toasted sesame oil, please try it. It is absolutely delicious!

Block of firm tofu
1 TB toasted sesame oil
1/4 c soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Aminos
1 TB Mirin (rice vinegar)
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp sesame toasted seeds (optional, but they add so much flavor)
Ginger (fresh is best, but ground will work in a pinch)
1 clove garlic (powdered is ok)
1 c snow peas
1 c shredded carrots
1-2 TB vegetable oil (I like canola)
2 TB water

1. Drain tofu and cube. Marinate in soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin, & sugar for at least 45 minutes. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until all nice and crispy golden brown on the edges.

2. While tofu is baking, toast sesame seeds in a pan until golden over low-med heat. When they start to smell all nutty and yummy they are probably done (about 10 minutes, but stir so they don't burn). You can cook your rice now too.

3. Toss garlic, ginger, water, and snow peas into a large pan. Saute for 2 minutes until snow peas are tender-crisp. I like to add a Tb or two of the marinade to the pan.

4. Add tofu to pan and combine. Top with toasted sesames. You can also create an interesting plating for this like I did in the photo using a rice mold. Use a ramekin or a teacup--whatever you've got. Sometimes it's fun to be fancy!

A Silly Tradition :-)

Every family has certain things they do that make life sweet. I've always said that life is in those little moments. One silly tradition I have in my family involves soup.

Soup in my house usually contains carrots, and I always cut one carrot coin into the shape of a heart and toss that into the pot for someone to find. The person who finds the carrot heart in their soup gets the good luck. My family and friends kinda laugh at me for this tradition, but I know they secretly love it; they are always on the lookout in their bowls for their little symbol of love. Here is a picture of a carrot heart swimming in a hot bowl of hearty wild rice & seitan soup:

Silly, yes. But if it makes people feel special when they come to eat with us, I am all for it!

Vegan Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was really different for me this year because it was a scaled-down celebration with just the two of us instead of family. I missed family very badly, but we decided to make the most of it. We took a walk in the woods with Comet and gathered bittersweet vine together. I made a few bouquets that I delivered to Mom and Jeff's Mom. I kept one for me and left one at my dad'd grave. They turned out really cute!
We had a relaxing meal of Tofurkey roast and mashed potatoes.
Oh, and I made a homemade pumpkin pie too. Pie Squared LOL (ok, there's the nerd coming out in me). I broke my last pie plate and forgot to get a new one, so I was stuck using a casserole dish baking late at night. It turned out a little weird looking, but it was still tasty.

Green Mango Spinach Curry. Yum:-)

I'm telling ya--healthy eating and happy cooking doesn't get any better than this! My culinarily gifted friend Mariam taught me how to make this curry last year, and ever since I have been trying to get mine to taste exactly the way she prepares it. I think I finally got it. It is bursting with flavor and aromas and colors that really tempt the chef and partakers alike. Here's how I made it:
1. Make rice (or noodles) and keep warm.  Any kind of rice will do.  Brown rice is, of course, a healthier choice.
2. Grind fresh fennel seeds in a mortar & pestle like this marble one I have:
Bought this at Kitchen & Company, one of my favorite places to shop.
3. Heat up toasted sesame oil in a large pan. Add fennel and toast fennel golden brown. This really amps up the flavor, and it smells amazing!
4. Add 1/2 tsp. turmeric, a pinch of cayenne pepper (more if you like a lot of heat), 1tsp onion flakes, a clover or two of minced garlic, a vegan chicken style boullion cube, and 2 tsp green curry paste (I like Thai Kitchen brand). Add a few splashes of water to keep things moist.
5. Toss in whatever protein & veggies you are using. I used frozen organic peas and spinach, fresh mango slices, and slices of Morningstar Farm Chicken Style Patties. I added some chopped cilantro to add more flavor at this point.
6. Add 10 oz. coconut milk, stir, remove from heat.
7. Splash 1-2 TB fresh squeezed lime juice over top.
8. Sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro. Serve over rice or noodles & enjoy!

Garden Lasagna

Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE Italian food. Sometimes I like to break away from my family's very old traditional tomato lasagna recipe and try something new. Being a vegan lasagna is something I never get to eat unless I make it myself. After much trial and error I have come up with this tasty alternative to the regular fat and cholesterol ridden recipe. It still has carbs, though...

1. Pasta. Boil lasagna noodles, drain, & set aside to cool. (I prefer Barilla or Giant Food brand which is cheaper and just as good. Love saving money!)

2. Make Tofu Ricotta: In medium bowl mix 1/2 tsp minced garlic, TB oregano, 8 TB sugar, 2 TB lemon juice, 1 tsp sea salt. Add 3-4 blocks of firm tofu & mash with a fork to get the consistency of ricotta cheese. Mix in a handful of vegan cheese (Daiya mozarella is the absolute best vegan cheese!). Shake some vegan parmesan in as well to taste. Set aside.

3. Make the Cheesy Sauce:
Fill a saucepan halfway with milk (I use Silk soymilk).
Add 1/2 c margarine (I use Smart Balance Light with Flax Seed), 2 tsp. salt, 3 heaping TB nutritional yeast (from the health food store). 
Shake in some parmesan (We use the vegan Galaxy Parmesan.)
Add 1/2 tsp turmeric for color and a super antioxidant boost.
Whisk in 6 TB flour to thicken a bit.
When sauce is getting thicker turn off heat & add a little less than 1/2 c lemon juice. 

Set aside & prepare veggies. This sauce is also great over veggies, as a sauce for macaroni and cheese, over baked potatoes, nachos...

4. Prep Veggies:
Chop carrot and sautee in olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt just until tender (not mushy!). 

Add fresh or frozen spinach and stire until spinach is wilted. Set aside.

Now here is the fun part where you get to play with your food!

5. Layer ingredients in lasagna pan. Start with a light layer of sauce. Layer noodles on top. 


Top with ricotta mixture. Add another layer of noodles and top with sauce and a layer of veggies. Keep repeating until ingredients are used. Top with a layer of mozarella and a sprinkling of oregano. I like to put extra cheese in the corners because the edges get all crispy and yummy in the oven.

6. Bake. Cover dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Uncover. Bake an additional 7-10 minutes or until cheese is nice and melty.

Serve with a salad. Open a bottle of wine (I suggest Pinot Grigio) & share it with someone you love (or someone you want to love you). Buon Appetito!

This freezes well, too--for those "What's for dinner?" nights when you don't feel like cooking or have unexpected guests, so it's nice to double the recipe to have a spare to pop into the oven :-) Work once, eat twice. That's what I do on Sundays so I can stock my freezer.

Easy As Pie? Ha!

I think whoever coined the casual phrase "Easy as pie" never made one. I don't know what made me think I could make a successful pie when I have always had trouble with them, and this weekend was no exception. Yet somehow I had the moxy to try, and discovered that whoever coined "All is well that ends well" may have been onto something.

Jeff bought about 10 pounds of perfectly ripe peaches from the farmer's market that were so juicy and sweet that they begged to be nestled in the center of a delicious pie; and since I've been craving my mom's peach pie I thought I would try to make a few and share them with the family. Jeff's parents and my mom and Ron have been so generous with their time and effort lately that I wanted to do something nice in return for them--and what better way than to bake them a fresh pie. A good idea in theory, but knowing my history of failed crusts I should have been prepared for pie failure. Always the optimist however, I gathered my ingredients and dug out mom's recipe from my tome of recipes. Then I enjoyed a sweet-smelling kitchen as I peeled the juicy sweet fruit as I recalled that odd song by The Presidents of The United States: "Movin' to the country gonna eat a lotta peach-es..." But, I digress.

Then came time to make the crust. When it comes to pie, simple is always best; better to stick with the tried and true recipe. I made the filling with no trouble whatsoever. It's the crust I always mess up, and I get way too frustrated. I love pie. I hate pie crust. Not the flavor, but the making of it. I cook successful meals all the time--very complicated meals that I either invent myself or find on The Food Network. I can hold my own in a kitchen, and I'm confident in my culinary abilities. Why the heck can't I make a dang 4 ingredient crust? Martha Stewart makes it look so easy.

Inevitably my crusts fall apart. Every. Single. Time. No matter what I do. I've tried all sorts of things to change my pie fail destiny. I adjust ingredients, change how I handle it, but nothing works. I roll out the dough and it either sticks to the rolling pin or comes apart. And if I do manage to roll out some form of misshapen wanna-be-circular pie-shaped crust, getting it into the pie plate is a feat David Copperfield couldn't pull off. Well, he probably could. But me? Nope.

It takes me multiple attempts to make anything worth putting into my preheated 425 degree oven, which pleases Comet because he gets the dough that I crumple into a sad heap to the tune of curse words and utensils hurled angrily on the counter. Yeah. I take my pie seriously. I'm a sweet thing until pie crust pisses me off.

Anyway, after much ado and the annoyance of dough still caked under my fingernails and a kitchen antiqued by haphazard flour and cinnamon, I made 3 pies. Ugly pies, but very tasty. Never as yummy as mom's, but nothing ever is. Moms across the world have this secret that makes any and all food taste better than anyone else makes, and they're not sharin' it.

The pies? I delivered them and they were enjoyed by all. These may be the tastiest pies I've ever made. Even the crust was delicious and flakey. It just goes to show you that it's what's on the inside that counts. Jeff and I enjoyed ours fresh from the oven--and even better--we enjoyed it a la mode.

Vegan Food Ideas

Tofu Steak Over Savory Quinoa with Mushroom Sauce

 1. Marinate a thawed frozen block of sliced tofu in vegetarian beef style boullion for at least an hour. Add whatever spices you like.
2. Sautee in a skillet while the quinoa boils in the same boullion.

3. In a seperate skillet saute mushrooms in vegan margarine or olive oil until golden on the edges. Season with sea salt and cracked pepper. Add some of the boullion to the pan and thicken with corn starch. Add oregano. Liquid Smoke is also good for the marinate and the sauce.

4. Plate the quinoa and stack the tofu steaks on top. Drizzle sauce over the plate. The steak above is pictured with a simple herbed carrot saute. 

Chickpea Salad In Tomato Cup

1. Mash 2 cans of chickpeas in a bowl or a food processor.

2. Add 4 TB vegan mayo (I like Vegenaise), 4 tsp Dijon mustard (Grey Poupon is my favorite), 1-2 TB pickle relish, sea salt, pepper.

3. Mix all together. Serve on bread, by itself, or stuffed into a freshly picked tomato. The one in the picture is from my Mom's garden:-)

Wild Rice & Chicken Vegetable Soup

1. In Lg pot add 8 c vegetarian chicken-style broth, 4 c water, 12 oz of whatever chicken style protein you like (seitan is my favorite!), 3 carrots & celery stalks chopped. Meanwhile in a seperate pot cook 1 c wild rice.

2. Add seasonings: 1-2 TB Olive oil, 1-2 cloves garlic, 1/2 minced onion (2 tsp flakes), 1 tsp thyme, sea salt, pepper.

3. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer until veggies are tender.

4. Toss in the rice, 1 c frozen peas & 1/2 c chopped fresh parsley.

This soup is good without the protein as well.   Make a double batch and freeze some for later--perhaps for a rainy day when a hearty soup is in order, but your motivation isn't.

Vegan Pizza with Daiya Cheese and Yves Veggie Pepperoni

Vegan Deep Dish Chicago Style Pizza
This crust recipe is one that is staying a secret for now. The crust is so delicious it's insane!

Homemade Herbed Breadsticks

These are delicious served with a small bowl of high quality extra virgin olive oil. You can infuse the oil in advance with a little garlic and herbs. They are also great served with a hearty soup on a rainy day, or slathered in vegan margarine straight out of the oven, all warm and yummy.

1. Make whatever yeast dough bread recipe you like. Allow it to rise.

2. Fold in any combination of herbs that you like. (For the sticks pictured I bought whole fennel seeds and crushed them in my mortar and pestle to release their aromatic oils. That's my favorite part because the scent makes baking these fun. I also crushed some red pepper into the dough.)

3. Roll dough out into a rectangle. Cut off 1" strips. Twist each strip and lay it on a cookie sheet.

4. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. Your kitchen will smell divine!

Spicy Tofu Bento Bowl

When I'm looking for healthy and flavorful meals to make, I enjoy searching ethnic cuisines to find new and exciting flavors to explore and bring the flavor of different countries to my table. Tonight, it was Japan.

I found this recipe gem in The Vegetarian Times October 2006 edition. I took some culinary liberties and changed their recipe a bit by baking instead of frying the tofu to save on calories and time, and I switched yogurt out for vegan sour cream to make the recipe vegan. I also omitted the avocado because I didn't have one. This recipe is so easy that even Chef Boy Ardee couldn't screw it up. Here's the adaptation that I made:

If you like a little heat with your veggies you really should make this. Here's how:

Start with the garnish: Toasted Sesame Seeds. These are, of course, optional, but this extra step is totally worth it because the nuttiness adds to the flavor profile, and the crunch offers texture. I do this first because I might forget to do them later, and they really make the dish!

1. Preheat a small skillet (medium low). Add 1 TB raw sesame seeds.

Toast them until they are golden brown. You can tell they are almost done when you their aroma is released, about 6-7 minutes. Flip them around to toast them evenly. I always like to try my fancy pan-flipping chef moves here ;-) Set aside. They will look like this when they're ready:

2. Spicy Tofu: Drain & press a block of tofu. Cut into cubes & set aside. In a medium bowl whisk together 1/4 c low sodium soy sauce (regular soy sauce will be too salty for this), 1/8 c or more of sriracha sauce (a.k.a chili-garlic sauce, I love Huy Fong because they have a chicken on the front of the bottle. Nah, just kidding. It tastes like sriracha should taste, but I do love that chicken picture, ha!).

Try adding this sauce little by little until you reach the heat you like. I added the full amount and it was a bit too spicy--almost burned my tongue!), and 2 TB dark toasted sesame oil. 

Toss in your tofu cubes & stir gently with a wide spoon to coat evenly. Let it marinate while you move onto the next step.

3. In a small bowl whisk 1/4 c sour cream & 2 TB fresh lemon juice to set aside.

4. Bake tofu for 15 minutes at 350 degrees until golden brown on edges. Keep marinade--you'll need it in the next step. While your tofu is baking cook some rice for a base.

5. Pour lemon juice/sour cream mixture into the original marinade. Add cooled tofu & toss to coat. Set aside.

6. Prep your veggies. Rinse a few handfuls of greens (I used a healthy organic hodgepodge of tat soi, spinach, tango, lolla rosa, red & green romain, red & green oak, red & green chard, mizuna, radicchio, frisee, beet greens, arugula, red mustard, collards, and kale). You can just use lettuce and whatever other leafy things you like. If you don't have a Salad Spinner I highly recommend that you get one. They are fantastic!

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Photo from
I the Salad Spinner I bought before we got married for this; it's a tool I could not live without even on a deserted island. Hey--deserted islands have veggies! Anyway, it dries your salad greens completely--just be sure to lock the lid tight. Once I forgot to and had a gingantic vegetable tornado! What a mess that was, but I digress...

Slice up a small cucumber into thin slices, and shave a carrot.

6. In your serving bowl add a layer of your rice. Then, rest a thick layer of your greens on top of the rice. Next, pile on some of that spicy tofu, and a layer of carrot and cucumbers. This is kind of like making a Japanese lasagna (sans pasta carbs!). Add whatever veggies you really like.
7. Sprinkle toasted sesames on the top and serve with a side of the marinade. Another wonderful thing about vegan cooking is that you don't have to discard & waste the marinade you worked so hard on! Sit down at the table and beru o kabutta! or "voila!" in Japanese.

Leftovers are great, too!