Weekending Up North: Italian Saturdays

Paul and I headed north for the weekend, and rather than take our usual Saturday night meal at Lulu's, we decided to stay in Saturday and Sunday nights.

My friend Gina is always raving about awesome "red sauce" that her husband Ryan makes. He was kind enough to freeze a little for me this fall when he put up just a few too many tomatoes for winter. It is nestled safely in my freezer currently, but while I wait to experience that awesomeness, I've been trying to cook up a little of my own.

Saturday was the second time I made my red sauce. I used Mario Batali's Basic Tomato Sauce as a starting point and just adjusted my ingredients a bit. For this batch, I used a can of peeled tomatoes (28z) and 1# of romas, copped, gutted and smushed. I supplemented the missing juices and sauce with about a cup of Malbec. The base of the sauce is a mirepoix, minus celery, plus garlic. I shredded the carrot this time (the first time it was a fine dice) and sauteed the veggies with some olive oil. Rather than Batali's heavily "thymed" recipe, I shook up my spices a bit. I used a heaping tablespoon of Herbs de Provence and then a shake or two of sea salt, and tons of freshly ground black pepper. What I FORGOT to do with this batch that made the last one so great was to thrown in a sprig of fresh rosemary while the sauce thickened. That extra spicing gives this simple sauce a really tasty kick.

I also pureed a little more than half of the sauce in the blender and mixed it back into the chunky portion. This is the texture I prefer in my tomato sauce...plus, it takes care of the extra skins from the fresh tomatoes.

Mine was not nearly this "chunky," but it's pretty!
Saturday this was served with linguini and pan fried eggplant-- sort of an eggplant parm pasta, I guess. The eggplant was a no brainer-- peel, chop into 1in. pieces, dip in soy milk, toss with magical breading from Refresh (nutritional yeast, wheat germ and garlic powder), and fry in just a smidge of oil until golden and crispy. A delicious meal, on the whole.

We used the sauce again for lunch on Monday, and it was (as could be expected) even better. I even had it Wednesday for lunch over cous cous. Am I the only person in this world who loves left overs? Sometimes I feel like it...

One trick I learned in making fresh tomato sauce in my few attempts so far...it gets this orange-ish color rather than maintaining the rich red of the fresh tomatoes. Solution? Roast a medium or small beet until tender and puree it with your sauce-- it brightens the color like magic!


Coco-nutty Tempeh Salad with Fresh Corn Chowder

Sometimes there is just nothing quite like crunchy, toasted coconut. It is nutty. It is coco-y. It is delicious with multi-grain tempeh! I realized this morning when I peeked in the fridge that I had at least 3 gallon size bags of greens that really need to be eaten. So, without compromising the heartiness that you just have to have for the day's main meal, I made soup and salad tonight with a side of sweet potato fries (okay, they were Yam fries). Here's what we had: 

Everything was delicious! Here's a little more detail...

The coconut tempeh was first marinated in water with salt, bay leaves and garlic for a couple hours. Then I rolled it in a spelt/soy/spice batter, rolled it in shredded (unsweetened) coconut and fried it up in a little safflower oil. The recipe is apparently a staple on the menu at Fresh in Toronto. Paul and I ate there on our anniversary this month while we were visiting. Delicious food, and who knew? They have a cookbook so I can recreate all their stuff at home. Hurrah! 

I put the coconut on top of a yummy collection of greens from our CSA. It was our LAST share this week, so it was bittersweet-- but mostly bitter and crunchy. The mix included mizuna greens and what I think might be Daikon greens. Whatever it was, it worked. I threw in some raisins, chopped apricots, sunflower seeds and toasted walnuts. The dressing was thrown together and focused around my delicious grapefruit white balsamic vinegar from Fustini's in Traverse City, MI. I mixed that with a little tahini (not logical, but pretty tasty), some apricot jelly and a bit of lime juice and zest. 

The corn chowder was straight out of the cookbook and had a carrot/potato base with a little onion. Add veggie bouillon, fresh cut corn and some adobe soaked chipotle for spice, and puree your little heart out. I poured it over additional fresh cut corn and mixed in a bunch of chopped basil and coarse black pepper. It was really filling, and while the ingredients were pretty summery, the soup was warming and offered cold comfort (except it was 68 today...what is up with this weather??). 

And with that nice summery weather in mind, I just couldn't get out of dinner without cooking up some sweet potato fries. I swear I've been having them 3-4 times a week. Not odd, I suppose, if you're a vegan. Who knows? I used Isa's recipe, but I make this stuff all the time. Cut them thin, toss them in olive oil and add spices to taste. Isa suggests cumin and coriander. I like it with my adobe spice blend from Penzey's plus a little sea salt. Bake 'em, flip 'em, and bake 'em a little more. 

I'd do it all over again...and I highly recommend the coconut tempeh. So yum! 


Thai Noodle Bowl from reFresh!

Usually Sunday nights roll around and all I want to do is order pizza or eat left overs. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I felt completely excited to make real food this week. I had just about all I needed to make this dish I've been meaning to try from my newest vegan cookbook, so I embarked upon creating delicious for Paul and I yet again.

I can't lie. This is one of the best things I've made since V-day. The recipe is from reFresh, by Ruth Tal, and it is probably the closest thing I've found to my old favorite, Pad Thai. It features a richly flavored, reddish-orange sauce tossed with rice noodles, marinated tofu, tomatoes, etc, and it gets topped with bean sprouts, peanuts and cilantro.

I forgot to take the pic before I dug in! 
The most interesting part of the sauce is that it has a carrot juice base. The key spices are paprika, chili powder, ginger and garlic. It also calls for lemon juice and a bit of lemon grass, something slightly harder to find. I got mine at Whole Foods, but they have it at local asian markets as well. There are a few other ingredients that help make the dish complete, but they seem relatively interchangeable, especially the stuff you're tossing in the wok at the end.

If you have the chance, pick this book up just to try this recipe-- it's divine and quite filling. I had leftovers for lunch the next day. :)


Smokin' Tofu Sammies

So I'm gradually working my way through the hi-nor-may stack of vegan cookbooks that I've purchased in the last 4 months. So far, so good, but there's a long way to go. 

Tonight's meal was completely delish: 
2701354559.jpgThese sandwiches were truly amazing. The tofu gets sliced pretty thin thin, briefly marinated with a thick sauce containing sugar, miso, tamari, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and liquid smoke, then baked. I smashed it onto some lightly grilled rye bread with spinach, green onions, Veganaise and avocado slices. The savory rye was a perfect compliment to the miso flavoring. The semi-mushy avocado kept the spinach in place and held the whole sammie together. It was definitely one of my greater successes thus far. I can't even tell you. Yum, yum, indeed!

The crispy sesame kale has become a standby in my home-- Paul and I sometimes share a bowl over Sunday afternoon football. For me, crispy kale is right for any occasion. Kale, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Perfection. 

We've also tried the polenta fries before, particularly for our Autumnal Equinox party as an appetizer. Something interesting I learned from Dreena Burton's recipe is that if you peel the outer layer of the polenta with a veggie peeler before you cut it into pieces, the oil and cornmeal are going to adhere better to the polenta. 

Polenta fries are just what they sound like-- take a roll of polenta, cut it up into fry-ish pieces and bake them. Dreena has you toss them with olive oil, cornmeal, rosemary and salt, and her book offers a couple other variations. You can imagine the versatility of that side dish. I like to serve these with spicy ketchup. I mix 3 T ketchup with about 1t. Siracha. It's great! 

I use my baking stone for extra crispiness on the fries...they get this nice crusty outside, but the inside is nice and soft, creamy, almost, but with a great texture. Dreena mentions that the longer they sit and cool the chewier the texture will be. They haven't been around long enough to find out at my house, but I imagine the flavor is still great. I love the salty rosemary...

Whipping everything together from start to finish (all three dishes) took about an hour. 

I'm going to have to get back into the habit of taking photos of my food if I'm going to be writing about it...I swear it was pretty, but sadly, these pics are "borrowed".  


What's going on here?!

So my friend Sarah suggested that I start a food blog. My initial thought was -- yes, that's a great idea! My secondary thought was-- I do NOT have time for a blog. But as the thought simmered for awhile, I recognized that I was in *deep* need of a creative outlet these days, and usually that creativity happens in the kitchen. This is just a way to share that with my friends...and a few strangers, I suppose.

We'll see. It's another one of those "I could eat a steak at any moment!" commitments...just testing the waters.

So the plan is to share what I'm cooking, for whom I'm cooking and what it's like at our table. Since veganization is new for me, most meals are still something fresh and interesting. I hope that I can share that freshness, new ideas and flavors with whoever is interested.

AND my husband still loves me...

I became a vegan in June, 2010. A youthful vegan-- I know. As I made the decision to change my eating style, I remembered a conversation I'd had with me soon-to-be husband while we were engaged:

Context: Just finished eating with a vegetarian friend at a yummy, expensive restaurant where there was virtually nothing she could eat.
Suz: So what would you do if I just stopped eating meat one day. Would that have been a deal breaker?
Paul: A deal breaker? Well, probably not if you had good reasons. It would be hard to eat together though, wouldn't it? We like to share food, so that would kinda suck.
Suz: Should we write that into the vows, then?
Paul: (slight smile and a chortle) Good idea.

That was about a year and a half ago. So eight months after Paul and I tied the proverbial knot, I did just what I never really imagined I'd do-- I stopped eating meat, all meat, and then I stopped eating dairy products and eggs too.

In the months shortly after my conversion, most people were supportive of my decision-- curious, but supportive. What was far more interesting, however, was their concern for Paul. "Wow, man-- how are you doing? Are you managing?" "So, you eating burgers for lunch every day? Heh heh..." "So are you dying yet, man?"  All of our friends were concerned that Paul was wasting away now that I wasn't stocking the fridge with animal products. In fact, Paul was and is just fine.

Granted, Paul never said that becoming a vegan would be a deal breaker, but I think it also has something to do withe the way it started out was as an "experiment." That was my sweet way of easing him into the idea-- "no promises, I might have a steak tomorrow!"-- and I think that is why we're still eating vegan at home now with no ruffles in the feathers of our fledgling partnership.

On top of that, Paul is pretty adventurous with food, so it's not surprising that he's come along fairly willingly on this ride. He's utterly convinced that what I make will always taste good, so that is another check in the "being a vegan is okay" column. We've both enjoyed trying all new types of foods and sharing them with each other. Interest in trying new things, in fact, has sometimes led Paul to eat vegan at lunch. He's not a convert, that's for sure, but eating at home is a joint adventure.

He was right in our long-ago conversation that eating out together can be a bit of a bummer, but that's only because he wants me to try his meaty food, and I just can't. When we both order vegan or veg when we go out, which sometimes happens, this is a non-issue. A larger issue for eating out is that some of our favorite places just don't have a thing on the menu for vegans. Even the salads are meaty and cheesy!

In any case, Paul and I survived (so far) the vegan conversion. While I still sigh a bit at a really nice meal out (like our anniversary meal at Lee in Toronto), most of the time we find something we can share and leave it at that.

Step one of becoming a vegan? Check.