Seitan Sausage & Vegan Carbonara

Just for the sake of clarification, I should tell you that I am not a tradititonalist when it comes to recipes. I will take something that looks interesting and try it once to decide how I like it, and then I will tweak it to fit my palate, ingredients and desires. But I will totally keep the name.

So when my partner requested “a type of carbonara” I knew exactly what he meant; give me some kind of creamy pasta dish.

And thus this vegan carbonara dish with seitan sausage was born.

If you don’t have access to any vegan sausage at your local market and you want to make it from scratch, you’ll need vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast or chickpea flour.

You will also need the following:

It’s a pretty simple vegan pasta dish if you’re ever in need of a quick weeknight dinner, or like me, those nights when you end up writing until ten at night and forget all about dinner.

This is a pretty easy vegan recipe to execute. Cook the pasta according to the box instructions, but I recommend that you cook it 1 or 2 minutes shy of the box recommendation because you’ll add it to the hot vegan carbonara sauce and it’ll cook a little more. But if you like very soft pasta, do you.

I like my mushrooms with a bit of a bite so I cook them until the moisture is gone and they start to crisp around the edges, and then I add the onion (cook 5 to 7 minutes) and the garlic (another 2 or 3 minutes, until fragrant). Slice the seitan sausage and add it with the garlic, cooking until the edges start to crisp.

That brings us to the carbonara sauce, which I know is nothing like the authentic Italian carbonara mostly because this is a vegan carbonara which means NO ANIMALS. Instead I used unsweetened almond milk, black pepper, garlic and nutritional yeast. The yeast will help the sauce thicken and give it depth of flavor, but you might want to try your hand at a thick and creamy vegan bechamel (get my recipe here) if you don’t possess enough patience to wait for the sauce to thicken, which it will.

When the pasta is done, add it straight from the water into the pot with the mushrooms, onion, garlic & sausage and pour the vegan carbonara sauce over it, tossing over low heat until combined.

Serve and garnish with fresh ground black pepper and vegan parmesan cheese. I use ParVeggio because it is literally my only option here in Romania, but it is tasty and creamy and salty, and it smells much better than the canned crap I used to eat.

The next time you need a quick and easy vegan pasta dish, consider this creamy, plant based carbonara.

Enjoy!

Garlicky Vegan Mac & Not Cheese

I LOVE mac & cheese…at least I used to love it.

Then I went vegan and stopped eating cheese and an odd thing happened; I stopped putting cheese on EVERYTHING. And what’s crazier is that I stopped adding a sprinkle of cheese here and there because I no longer craved it. So began a year of experimenting with pizza and mac without using cheese. I tried all the #veganhacks that included using sweet potatoes, Russet potatoes, carrots, cauliflower…all of it. They were okay but none of them made mac & cheese a crave-able dish for me anymore.

Oh, the dismay.

So I did a deep dive into it and there’s a good reason I stopped needing cheese on dishes when I got off animal cheese. In a word, casomorphin. It’s what makes cheese so addictive, but don’t just take my word for it. Wikipedia explains it here.  If you want the TLDR version, here ya go:

Source, Forbes 2017

Once I had that information, I didn’t feel like a bad vegan for disliking most vegan cheese options available to me in Germany and then Romania. So I decided to get creative about it.

Rather than using vegan cheese whenever I got a craving, I would go for other things like tapenade, pesto or romesco because they are flavorful, vegan and way more calorie friendly than any type of cheese, and my primary focus initially was weight loss, so calories mattered too.

Then I discovered a way to make a cheese-like sauce that was still vegan and calorie friendly, and it satisfied my need for mac & cheese, which let’s be honest was really a craving for carbs drenched in sauce…right?

All you need is: plant milk, turmeric (if you find it raw, grate it straight into the sauce), nutritional yeast, garlic granules, smoky paprika, mustard (optional), salt & pepper.

I employ the ‘low & slow’ method, which means it takes about 10 minutes (maybe longer if you’re using a lot of milk) to get the not cheese sauce nice and thick so it’ll stick to your pasta of choice.

Add the nutritional yeast one tablespoon at a time, letting it simmer and dissolve before adding more, and be sure to taste it in between just to make sure it doesn’t get too salty. Set a timer for 10 minutes and keep going until you get the thickness you prefer.

For this particular dish, I kept it pretty simple with pasta, 30 grams of sauteed garlic, and soy pieces. Add not-cheese and stir. If you’re feeling extra, pop it in the oven for 10 minutes to get a little bit of crust on top but it’s totally not necessary because this vegan mac stands on its own.

vegan alternative to mac & cheese

Just a quick note here: turmeric doesn’t just add the color of American cheese to this dish, it also comes with plenty of health benefits that include anti-oxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties, which is a nice change for cheese, don’tcha think?

Let me know if you decide to make your own version…what do you put in it?

Sometimes You Just Want A Vegan Welsh Rarebit Pasta Bake

Hey guys! Hope you don’t mind a Tuesday post, but I spent all weekend in my writing cave and suddenly Monday rolled up and there I was, with no post ready to go. So after spending the morning grocery shopping, here we are, ready to talk two of my favorite things: vegan food and pasta.

Pasta gets a bad rap from plenty of people but you will NEVER hear me say a bad word to the almighty carb. It is a necessary fuel for all of us, plus pasta is truly one of the best things in the world, at least according to this vegan. If you don’t ‘do’ pasta then this isn’t a dish you’ll enjoy, but it was a delicious, fun and indulgent meal that kind of reminded us both of childhood, except you know, vegan.

When it comes to a good pasta bake, I think you only need a few things: pasta, something cheesy and a good dose of aromatics.

Of course, that’s all up to you but here is one of my versions of a cheesy #vegan pasta bake!

Choose your favorite pasta first. I opted for a whole wheat rotini because I think whole wheat pasta adds a flavor and texture that you just don’t get with refined (white) pasta.

Next you have to decide what you want to put in the “sauce”. I like to make the sauce as one big entity but you can make a simple tomato sauce and add whatever variety of vegetables you choose. I opted for onion, bell pepper, garlic and kidney beans because, why not?

Saute the onions, garlic and bell pepper in as little oil as you need to make it how you like it, or you can add a water-soy sauce blend to cook them up. I try to keep my oil/fat to a minimum but sometimes you just want that nice char or carmelization that comes with using oil. Once the veggies are where you want them to be, it’s time to talk tomatoes.

Fresh or canned, that is the question, isn’t it?

For me, yes, that is absolutely the question. Some days I feel all creative and chef-y and I will chop up fresh tomatoes and reduce the hell out of it until I have a thick and chunky tomato sauce worthy of a pasta bake. Other days, I don’t have the energy and I’ll use canned stewed tomatoes that I first, squish with my fingers and reduce it until its palatable. BUT let’s be honest, when you choose canned tomatoes you have to add A LOT of seasoning to get rid of that super sweet taste that is kind of off-putting when it comes to red pasta sauce. Ultimately, the choice is yours, but try them both and see which you find tastier and more time effective.

If you choose beans as your protein, I recommend adding them after the sauce has reduced because you still have to pop this in the oven and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes and you don’t want mushy beans. At least I don’t want mushy beans.

Now the most time-consuming part of this vegan pasta bake is the “cheese” sauce. Since I have a well documented love hate relationship with vegan cheese, I opted for a béchamel style sauce, using unsweetened almond milk, flour, olive oil and nutritional yeast, not to mention salt, pepper, smoky paprika, turmeric, basil and oregano.

Add the oil and flour, stir until blended and kind of meal-y, then slowly add the almond milk. If you want to be creative, and who doesn’t, add some spicy mustard, hot sauce and soy sauce for a Welsh Rarebit style cheesy pasta bake, then add the milk. Slowly still, adding nutritional yeast as needed. I usually start with about 15 grams of nutritional yeast and work my way up from there after tasting it. Always, always taste it as you go. I used about 250-300 ml of almond milk total, adding it slowly, but depending on the size of your vegan pasta bake, you might need more or less than that.

Once everything is done, stir the pasta and veggie red sauce together and place in an oven safe baking dish. THEN it’s time to pour the cheesy vegan cheese-less sauce over the top.

Bake at 200°C/400°F for 20 to 30 minutes. If you want to get a bit of a crisp on top, use the broiler or if you have an electric oven, add the top heat and crank it up for an additional 5 minutes.

Cool for 5 to 10 minutes and then…get your grub on!

Poftă Bună!!!!

A Vegan Twist on Twice Baked Potatoes & Cheesy Broccoli

People always ask me if I feel like I’m missing on out something because I don’t eat or use any products derived from animals. It’s as if they think Beyond Burger doesn’t exist, or tofu or seitan or tempeh. Or vegetables and grains, beans…legumes.

I think I’ve made my point here, right?

The truth is that trying to lose weight can often be super restrictive, but not on a #vegan diet. You see, I can request that the Hubs whip up twice baked potatoes and feel confident that he can bring the meal in under 600 calories because there is no animal cheese, no bacon, no butter…no dairy to increase my inflammation and my butt size.

Now if you’re a particularly determined vegan, then yeah, you can make this as calorie crazy as the animal eaters. But why would you want to?

The best thing about a recipe like this is that it is incredibly easy to customize. Rather than going for vegan bacon, we opted for sauteed onions de-glazed with balsamic vinegar. Add a pinch of smoky paprika and you’ll get that smoky flavor you think you need with bacon, vegan or otherwise.

For the broccoli, just steam or boil for 3 to 5 minutes and then give an ice bath to keep it bright green and beautiful. The cheese is a simple almond milk, corn starch, mustard, nutritional yeast and vegan cheese sauce. It’s quick thanks to the cornstarch, which is also why you don’t need to had several fist fulls of cheese. I learned my lesson from this calorie bomb masquerading as #vegan mac & cheese.

As you can see, the plate was a lot lighter than it usually is which is how he managed to make it tasty and calorie friendly.

This is one of the key points we all need to remember when we enjoy indulgent meals like this, the best way to not go overboard is to make sure you adhere to serving sizes. I would have loved a bigger portion of this, but the medium dress I just bought reminds me why I skip it!

Here’s my tip for enjoying this cheesy vegan dish: eat it on your workout day!

Any vegan cheese recommendations? I’m always in search of something new so tell me, what’s new in your part of the vegan world?

Vegan Tuna Casserole

Full disclosure: there is no tuna, vegan or otherwise in this dish.

Think of it more as an essence of tuna casserole because that’s what it is, but this vegan dish contains all the things you miss about this dish without any of the things you could do without.

Instead of tuna or vegan tuna products, I went with simple brown mushrooms. Sauteed in a pan until crisp on the edges and yummy.

Choose a noodle, cheese sauce and bread crumb topping and you’re good to go!

I opted for a creamy cheese sauce that used unsweetened oat milk and half the amount of cheese as similar vegan recipes, some of which might recommend coconut milk. Choose what fits your palate and your diet.

Bake it for 20 to 35 minutes in the oven, until the top is crispy brown and some of the noodles have a crunch.

The only thing missing? An ice cold drink, fit for a grownup.

 

Cheesy Vegan Broccoli Mac

During these endless days when one calendar day turns into the next, sometimes you get the urge to enjoy some comfort food. But you’re also an adult which means you have to eat your greens and your veggies.

So, what do you do?

One of my personal favorites is mac & cheese. Now it’s true that I’m not a huge fan of the vegan cheese options currently available to me but I am a huge fan of vegan béchamel sauce with just a pinch of cheese, and it turns out it was just what my mac & cheese dishes were missing to satisfy that craving.

Just like the mac & cheese you used to eat as a child, this dish is easy and (relatively) quick to make.

This was my third or fourth attempt to perfect my béchamel sauce, alternating between Alpro almond and soya milks in search of a slightly higher fat content to get that thick creaminess I was in search of. The unsweetened soya is better than the almond in terms of fat but not necessarily taste, at least to me.

The ingredient list for this dish is pretty simple:

Pasta (I prefer whole wheat, choose what you like)

Broccoli

Mushrooms

Garlic

Soy milk

Nutritional Yeast

Vegan butter (I used olive oil)

Flour

Water

Make the pasta according to the instructions but if you prefer to bake your pasta before you serve it, cook it a minute or two shy if your preferred doneness. Steam the broccoli and set aside.

For the mushrooms you can saute them on a high heat on top of the stove or season them and bake’em until the moisture is gone. The choice is yours since it’s your time, after all.

The sauce is the most time consuming part and if you want it really thick and flavorful, take your time here. Add fat (vegan butter or oil) and flour. I added a few cloves of minced garlic to the oil and let it cook until fragrant before adding the flour. Once the flour and fat mix starts to brown you can go straight for the liquid (water or milk) or you can do like I did and get fancy with it!

Before adding the liquid, I added a teaspoon (or more) of the following: mustard, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste and Sriracha. It’ll get good and sizzle-y and then its time to add the liquid. Note: You can alternate water and milk if you need a bigger batch of sauce without all the calories, but if you take it easy on the vegan cheese you’ll find the soy milk is pretty calorie friendly.

Once the liquid is in, keep a steady stir over a low heat, adding vegan cheese and nutritional yeast in alternating spoonfuls. A little bubbling is good but if it’s too much, turn down the heat. Add turmeric for that yellow American cheese color and smoky paprika for that smoky, grown up cheesy flavor!

If you choose, pop it in the oven for about 15 minutes, then cool and serve.

With a blackberry & mint margarita!

Cheers and pofta buna and please, pretty please…stay safe!!!

Roasted Tomato & Vegan Ricotta Sandwich

I may or may not have shared with you my slight obsession with the TV show Dawson’s Creek. I don’t talk about it much here but if you’ve ever visited my Facebook or Author page, you’ll have seen it. Well I now have an extension to this obsession, which I realize may be too strong a word but if you knew how much I loved Pacey Witter then you’d understand how much Bon Appetit chef Brad Leone reminds me of a grownup Pacey Witter.

Why does any of that matter?

Because I had this conversation recently with a reader and then Brad did this delicious looking roasted tomato and ricotta sandwich which, for obvious reasons, I couldn’t recreate on its own.

So I thought it was a perfect time to share this recipe…and give another shout out to Dawson’s Creek.

So the key to this recipe is the tomatoes. I used vine tomatoes because they looked really good and because I found some really incredible organic rosemary and…well look at it. This is the easy but time-consuming part. Add a bit of oil to the skillet (yes, I know about my oilless stance but I needed to compromise here so I did) and drop the tomatoes and rosemary in as they are. You’ll have to cook them for quite a while, until they start to brown/char a little and maybe even explode.

See the difference? Just cook them until they reach a point you feel they’re tender enough to eat.

While the tomatoes did their thing, I added some garlic and half a yellow chili pepper because they are an important part of the vegan ricotta I tried to make.

So Brad’s original recipe used regular old animal ricotta so I knew I needed to replace it. Somehow. The Google Machine gave me tons of vegan ricotta recipes that used cashews. I LOVE cashews. I’d probably rank them as my second favorite nut behind pecans, but the truth is that I’m still trying to reach my weight loss goals and I just couldn’t do cashew ricotta.

So I got a little creative. Tofu in salty brine water (I used Inedit brand) mixed with vegan cream cheese (Simply V brand). Give them, along with the garlic, lemon juice and chili pepper, a quick run in the food processor until smooth. You might have to add a bit of almond milk or whatever non-dairy milk you prefer. I used roasted unsweetened almond milk so it wouldn’t change the flavor too much.

It didn’t photograph all that well but it was very delicious. I mixed it in a food processor until I got a consistency that satisfied me and that was slightly grainy and smooth.

It’s pretty easy even if it does take more time than a simple vegan sandwich should. It was tasty and well worth the effort, besides I got to share it with you!

Tip: If you need more flavor for the ricotta, add nutritional yeast or vegan Parmesan.

A slightly closer look so you can see all the herbs and green bits added to the ricotta.

And now…the sandwich!

I smashed the tomatoes a little and poured some balsamic vinegar on top and that was it.

Smear the ricotta on your favorite crispy, toasted bread and top with the tomato mix.

All that’s left is to enjoy it…with an ice cold beer, since we’re all still stuck inside and day drinking is totally appropriate.

Vegan Mac & Cheese Dinner

I have a well documented love-hate relationship with vegan cheese that, on most days, is more hate than anythings. It’s a variety of factors that include the smell which I know is both odd and hypocritical since I used to love nothing better than a wedge of Camembert (or Brie) in my pre-vegan days. But that’s what it is. The taste is usually pretty good and over the years the vegan cheese market as really stepped up its game. It all depends on what’s available in your area and those of you in places like Berlin, Los Angeles or London probably have a wealth of choices.

Here in Romania I have…three.

Anyway it turns out that I’m one of those people who, without the aide of casomorphin, isn’t a fan of cheese. But it was Tokyo Diner Night once again and the Hubs made a request: mac & cheese.

Oh…what’s a cheese disliking vegan to do?

Improvise, of course!

The rules of this fun game are always the same.

Number one: As long as we have the ingredients, we make it.

Number two: Make it your own.

And that’s just what I did, turned mac & cheese into a creamy vegan mac & cheese dinner with…

Spicy buffalo soy bites!

This part of the recipe is as easy as the Mac. Hydrate the soy in your favorite broth, I had leftover mushroom broth and I added a smashed clove of garlic while it simmered. Add the soy to a hot skillet and turn frequently until the edges start to crisp. Melt vegan butter and your favorite hot sauce, garlic & onion granules and a splash of vinegar and toss the soy. Put in an oven safe dish and set aside.

Just steam or blanch the broccoli for 3 to 5 minutes and set aside.

For the cheese, I consulted an old Welsh Rarebit recipe that I LOVE and used that as inspiration to keep with the spirit of mac & cheese without getting to cheesy about it.

Before we get to the roux, I cooked 30 grams of minced garlic in the skillet and then added the roux.

Start with a roux of vegan butter (in this instance the more fat it has and the less water, the better) and flour. Stir until brown and then add a teaspoon up to a tablespoon of tomato paste and dijon mustard, 1/2 tablespoon of vegan Worcestershire sauce and stir like you mean it. Slowly add a fatty-ish liquid of your choice, I used unsweetened roasted almond milk from Alpro. I love it because it is very low in calories and has a faintly almond taste that doesn’t overpower the dish. It sounds like a shameless plug but it’s not, I just like it best.

Whisk the liquid in slowly until the liquid starts to thicken. If you need to add more, you can alternate between the liquid and water like I did. Or if you’re feeling impatient, use a cornstarch-water mix to thicken it quickly.

Once the liquid starts to thicken, I added about 50 grams of vegan cheese. It was Mediterranean flavored and it had a parm/Romano taste that was really delicious. It was a vegan mac & cheese but…not. It was creamy and yummy and faintly cheesy but the hubs gave it two big thumbs up so…try it maybe?

If you have access to really good melty vegan cheese, use that. But if you want to have the cheesy flavor without the calories too, try this method and you won’t be disappointed.

Toss the pasta, cheese and broccoli together and pop it in a 400F/200C oven for 17-20 minutes and after a brief cooling period, you’re good to  chow down.

What’s your favorite vegan cheese brand? Drop links below…bonus points if they deliver in Europe!

Orzo Greek Salad with Vegan Feta

From the day I started this new journey to healthy, cruelty-free living, I have been trying to do a better job of adding fresh, raw vegetables to my diet. Before I turned vegan I always made sure I had plenty of vegetables to go along with my meat and dairy, but salad was something mostly reserved for the “soup or salad” option when eating out.

Now though, I am a full time writer and author which means I can take my time to make a proper salad for lunch. But…I am human. It came as a shock to me too, but there you have it. I am a human and some days I’m not in the mood for a raw salad, especially this time of year when the temperature drops. And now that I have a lot less fat covering my body, I feel that cold a heck of a lot more and I want something at least a little bit warm.

And then…I found Violife Greek White Block, which I just called vegan Feta!!!!! So of course, I had to make a Greek salad and I had to do it my way.

The one thing I think it’s important for everyone to remember is that you can make a salad any way you want it. Don’t let so-called rules about what a salad should and shouldn’t be, dictate how you eat them. Or don’t eat them. As long as it’s healthy and delicious, have fun with it.

I kept the ingredient list pretty simple: orzo, romaine lettuce, feta, tomatoes, cucumber, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, sauteed onions, bell pepper & sun chokes. Make a dressing if you want but if you saute the veggies, the remaining oil should help you toss it beautifully.

This doesn’t taste exactly like feta but it does have that tangy, salty flavor. It is WAY creamier than dairy feta cheese which I loved about it and in fact, I took a few pieces from my plate and put it on my husband’s plate because it was a bit too rich for me.

Make the orzo and sauteed vegetables first and once they’ve cooled down a bit put them in a bowl so you don’t completely wilt the lettuce or warm the fresh raw veggies like tomato & cucumber. Set it aside and get to chopping.

Add the rest to the big bowl and toss it thoroughly.

If you’re not sure, give it another toss.

Plate it up and enjoy!

Or wash it down with something cool and strong. I couldn’t find a Greek beer…my bad.

Nutrition Facts:

Mushroom & Pea Penne w/Chickpea Alfredo

So we’re going to round out bean week–mostly–with this final meal that actually inspired the theme this week. I’ve been looking for ways to use more beans (and less tofu) in more creative ways. You can only eat so many different bean stew type dishes before you’re ready to pull your hair out and wish for vegan fast food. Or even vegan junk food.

I love hummus. No, we love hummus so I figured if we take chickpeas and thin them out into a sauce, why not give it a go…right?

I looked forward to making this dish all week and when the day rolled around and it was time to decide, I chose to roast a full head of garlic to go into the alfredo sauce, because if you’re going to do this you might as well go all the way, no?

It might seem complicated but this dish was very easy to make. The garlic needs to roast for about 30-40 minutes so I just tossed in the portabello caps as well so I wouldn’t have to do it on top of the stove.

Next, I sauteed Japanese mushrooms with two medium shallots, a handful of yellow bell pepper and about half a cup of frozen green peas. When everything is close to done, toss in the already roasted portabello mushrooms, chopped once they’ve cooled.

Now it’s time for the alfredo sauce. Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas (or garbanzo beans depending on where you’re located in the world) and toss them in a food processor along with the peeled roasted garlic. Pulse and then blend until no chunks remain. You might find the texture a bit grainy but this can be easily fixed with water or plant based milk. I kept the grainy texture but not until the chickpeas reached the perfect consistency.

Remove the vegetables from the pot and dump the sauce in, over low heat. Slowly add milk. I used roasted unsweetened almond milk to minimize the flavor interference. Add milk or water as needed to thin out the sauce and then start to season. I used salt, pepper, smoky paprika and nutritional yeast and that seemed to do the trick. Keep tasting as you go and add whatever seasoning you wish.

Just in case you were wondering, the bowl with the drops of Sriracha on it belong to me. 😀

When the sauce is how you want it, add the mushrooms and vegetables to the sauce and stir, adding some vegan Parmesan cheese if desired. If not, drop the cooked pasta into the sauce and toss until coated. Then serve with any garnishments that will enhance the flavor or appearance of your dish.

This dish was easy and super delicious. I hadn’t had anything like this, it was kind of a stoner thought, but it turned out wonderful. Let me know if you decide to try it for yourself!

Tasty Vegan Carrot Mac

When it comes to food, I have no problem experimenting. And failing. And trying again.

Call it a quirk or a superpower, just don’t call me a quitter!

My most recent experiment came about because of my dislike of my vegan cheese that I’ve tried (except VioLife slices, those are super tasty) and my desire for something mac & cheesy. I’ve seen quite a few recipes that have carrots in them but they usually combine potatoes or cashews and we all know that I’m not willing to go there…yet. So I thought, why not use only carrots for the “cheese”?

And that’s how this version of Carrot Mac was born.

This was a fairly simple meal with about 6 carrots of varying sizes which I pan cooked but highly recommend that you bite the bullet and boil them because it will save you time and the frustration of having bits of crunchy carrot in your smooth, creamy sauce.

While the carrots are going, add in a sauteed or grilled onion and a whole head of roasted garlic. This is all going into the food processor to make the carrot cheese, just make sure you blend until smooth, adding that carrot water or plain tap water as needed. Just be sure to add it SLOWLY.

I added some tapioca starch and water just before adding the whole wheat spirals in the hopes of creating a thick, almost stringy sauce. It didn’t come out quite that well, but it was super creamy.

Before you start thinking this is in no way a meal, I roasted a small head of cauliflower until the edges were crispy & crunchy and then I stirred it into the carrot mac for heft and nutrients. Let me tell you, it was just what this dish needed.

That, and Sriracha.

You can add other vegan cheese to this if you want, but I opted to sprinkle a bit of ParVeggio on top in lieu of adding more salt.

This is another quick and easy vegan meal that’s perfect when you want something delicious but you don’t want to spend all day in the hot kitchen, especially while it’s 30 degrees Celsius outside!

And if you REALLY want, you can add an ice cold beer to the mix so it doesn’t feel quite so healthy.

Vegan Recipes That Didn’t Make The Cut

One of the things I’ve learned while blogging about my cooking adventures as a vegan, is that not all recipes are created equal.

Duh, right? That’s what I thought too.

But it turns out that for a home cook who specializes in taste, not sight, it’s not that simple.

So I thought today it’d be fun to go through some of the recipes that didn’t make the cut, mostly because they didn’t photograph well but sometimes we were too hungry to take photos before diving in and eating. Sometimes they didn’t turn out–photo wise–how I thought they would or wanted them to. So I scrapped them.

Until today.

This was my attempt at a vegan quiche, not to recreate the eggy flavor of quiche, but just the essence of quiche if you will. I used cornmeal and flour, a couple vegan eggs, almond milk and chopped veggies. It was very tasty but it needed to cook a bit longer and I think I need about 30 grams more of cornmeal.

I was a little liberal with the vegan cheese on top but as you can see it wasn’t very good about melting, but don’t worry I’ll spare you my gripes about the state of vegan cheese. This time.

Then I made a delicious and simple spaghetti dish. Fresh Roma tomatoes blended with sun dried tomatoes, garlic, basil, oregano, piri piri and whole wheat spaghetti. It was yummy. Turns out, not so photogenic.

Spaghetti always provides an excellent excuse to indulge in a little vegan parm.

Maybe there’s something about pasta dishes, because my husband made a sort of mac & cheese pie, using these “macheroni” that are long like spaghetti but they’re hollow so when they expand after cooking they are gigantic. He tried to tame them and with the help of cumin, turmeric, smoky paprika, tofu in salty water (called saramura in Romanian) it was pretty tasty.

But not too pretty to look at.

Then there’s my go to dish when I’m lazy and hungry: fresh veggies & Asian noodles.

Tastes good, but when you add the noodles the photos are weird so enjoy this photo of the oyster mushrooms, asparagus, bell pepper and onions before they were tossed onto a bed of noodles.

Simple vegan meals are always great because they take almost no time but taste like they took a long time!

…and sometimes the chili is a tad too water-y.

With avocado for him and without for me. 😀

And then there are the photos that just don’t do a meal justice, like this vegan gnocchi with green sauce.

Though I hope you enjoyed my missteps, I hope this teaches you a valuable lesson in that you don’t have to worry if a dish isn’t pretty. Unless you have kids, then I’m told that sometimes matters.

Make taste and nutrition, not photo-worthiness, a priority.

Vegan Lasagna…with Ricotta!!!

One of the few things I did miss about going vegan was lasagna without ricotta cheese which is strange because it is the ONLY time I like the stuff, and because I didn’t miss any other cheese products. Then I found a recipe for vegan ricotta. My first instinct was gross because personally, I don’t feel all the ‘cheese love’ for vegan cheese products and I’m okay without it in my diet.

But there is something about lasagna that just requires ricotta cheese and now that I’ve had it, I can pass along the knowledge to you.

Let’s get right into it, starting with the tofu ricotta!

What you’ll need:

Firm tofu (1 brick)
Nutritional yeast (2-3 tbsp. per brick)
Salt & black pepper
Vegan Parmesan

Pop those ingredients in a food processor until it is thick like ricotta, it will also have a slightly grainy texture, much like ricotta. Don’t over blend it. Once the tofu ricotta reached the perfect consistency, I tossed it with chopped spinach.

It was thick and creamy and I had to drop it by spoonfuls and spread it with the back of a spoon!

The rest of the vegan lasagna is a blend of crimini & button mushrooms, onions, bell pepper and garlic PLUS a homemade tomato sauce with fresh basil and oregano! Layer it up and pop it in the oven for 40-55 minutes depending on your oven and you are good to go.

This is another area where you can experiment with different vegetables and proteins to get plenty of different idea from a single recipe. I was in a traditional mood so I kept it simple here.

As you can see it turned out pretty well, staying in one piece during the cutting process.

If I could pick apart anything with this recipe it would be the cheese. I used it because this was a traditional vegan lasagna but I still am not a fan and I could have done without all of it, minus the vegan parm. It isn’t melty enough and I don’t like the taste of it but since the rest of the lasagna was so flavorful it didn’t bother me.

Much.

This was an amazing way to satisfy my desire for lasagna but it is time intensive if you make everything the way I did so I don’t imagine I’ll do it often but it was definitely worth the effort.

Cheesy Vegan Mac & Healthy Leftovers

One of the misconceptions that persists about vegans is that we are SUPER healthy since all we can eat are fruits and vegetables. First of all, I WISH!!! I have worked very hard to lose weight and get healthier but more importantly to stay healthy, but I am a human being with flaws, shortcomings and cravings.

Okay, since I cut out meat and dairy and most sugar I don’t have ‘cravings’ per se but there are times I want something that isn’t totally healthy. Or healthy…at all.

Enter mac & cheese.

Mac & cheese is something we can all relate to whether its memories of eating the crappy box variety as a kid or the fancy, multi-cheese versions served at nice restaurants. In my pre-vegan days I was a mac & cheese-a-holic, researching different types of cheese and their fat properties to see which combination would produce the gooey-est mac in town. Once I said au revoir to dairy, I learned–pretty easily–to live without cheese. Until my husband went all mad scientist in the kitchen this weekend.

This dish will turn the famous vegan stereotype on his head because even though it is still miles better on calories and fat than animal cheese versions, it ain’t pretty.

What he used:

Elbow Mac (white b/c we could find whole wheat)
Vegan pizza cheese (extra melty)
Vegan cream cheese (natural or herb works)
Nutritional yeast
Tofu in salty water (saramura is what they call it in Romania)
Plant butter
Almond milk (unsweetened)

Since I wasn’t in the kitchen but enjoying a cocktail as I finished writing another chapter in my upcoming romance novel, all I can say is that he started with a vegan bechamel sauce and slowly added the cheese and sour cream until it was thick and gooey and ready for the oven. Baked about 20-35 minutes until bubbly & crisp.

Side note: Vegan cheese doesn’t really do bubbly or crisp so do a feel test. If some of the pasta are crispy, it’s ready to come out.

This was a huge calorie bomb, about 800 calories per serving (8 servings total in a 9×13 baking dish) so we decided to let the Mac stand on its own for dinner.

The next day however, we took a few servings to my in-laws because we are on a never ending quest to add healthier food to their diets and of course, more plant based foods. They LOVED it and my mother-in-law refused to believe there wasn’t “real” cheese in it which I considered a total win.

But this brings me to the next topic. Leftovers.

I’m not one to turn my nose up at leftovers (mostly) but I’m not used to them since its just me and the husband, we usually make enough for each of us to have a serving and call it a day. It’s a tool we’ve developed to make sure we’re not constantly overeating and now that we’re both on plant based diets, it makes weight loss super easy.

I’ll bet you’re wondering how on earth could you do anything to improve this ooey-gooey cheesy vegan mac & cheese?

Easy, just add greens!

Kalettes are a cute little hybrid between Brussels sprouts (which I love) and kale (which I do not love).

They were DELICIOUS.

This was a quick & easy way to turn leftovers into a healthier lunch. I sauteed onion & garlic (no oil, just water) and then added the kalettes until they were soft and slightly wilted, then I added some lemon juice to reduce the dark bitterness of the kale. The lemon REALLY helps so if you’re not a fan of one or both of these dark leafy greens, trust me and add it.

It was delicious and easy, and did I mention delicious?

This is a perfect meal to make when you’re in the mood for something that isn’t totally healthy because you can justify it by promising to make something super healthy to go with it for tomorrow’s lunch.

Vegan Pesto Pasta with Veggies

You ever have those nights where you just don’t feel like cooking? You’ve bought all the ingredients for a few awesome meals you want to try out but when the time comes to start cooking you just want something else. Something simple.

Well that’s how this dish came about. That and the fact that the fridge had a bunch of leftover ingredients from the week since it was a day or two before shopping day. When I’m working, I get in the zone and forget all about important things like time and meals and on this particular day I’d finally made some headway on a particularly difficult scene and the next thing I know it’s eight-thirty, which meant if I wanted to make the meal on the menu dinner would have been at eleven.

Instead, like any good vegan I have a pantry with more than a sufficient amount of grains. Everything from whole wheat pasta to bulgur and half a dozen different types of Asian noodles. I reached in and pulled out the whole wheat penne and the idea slowly came together. Well it was mostly because of the penne but also because there were three packages of fresh basil in my veggie crisper just waiting to become pesto and I REALLY wanted pesto and thus…pesto pasta was born.

Before we get into the details of this recipe, I have to gush a little about my newest vegan find, Parveggio. I happened upon this ingredient by accident and if you’ve read this blog before you know all about my love-hate relationship with vegan cheese. But Parm is a different beast altogether and when I lived in Germany I also found a really great vegan parm.

I don’t know if it was the lack of palm oil or just the simple fact that there have been incredible advances with vegan food over the past few years, but this was incredible. It had the slightly salty, tangy flavor of Parm without the need for dairy products and all the drama that goes along with animal-based cheese products. I bought it mostly for the pesto so pesto pasta was a natural solution.

For the pesto, I roasted the garlic because I wanted a more intense and less raw garlic flavor and I didn’t use any oil other than what dripped from the 3 sun-dried tomatoes I added. I used: basil, mint (just a handful) garlic, lemon zest & juice, pistachios, sun-dried tomatoes, parm, a few drops of chipotle flavored Tabasco sauce and a teaspoon of capers. Toss it in the food processor and let it run until smooth.

Because I didn’t use oil, I added the lemon juice in batches to make sure everything got chopped up with the proper consistency. If you add oil, do so in a slow but steady stream until the consistency is just right.

The rest of the dish was super easy. I used a couple teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil to saute the onions and crimini mushrooms for about 5 to 7 minutes. Then I added a 1/4 cup of peas and tofu crumbles, seasoning with salt, pepper, oregano, thyme and a pinch of smoky paprika. When everything was done, I drained the pasta and tossed it with the onion & mushroom mixture before tossing with pesto in batches until every bite was coated.

Then I added a dollop on top with a sprinkling of parm and we LOVED it. It took about twenty minutes, most of which was prep time and I was able to serve a delicious and mostly healthy meal well before eleven at night!

 

If you’re curious about Parveggio, check out the page for GreenVie Foods.

Black Beans Vegan & Two Ways

Beans, I’ve learned, are a pretty controversial food when they don’t need to be. Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber, and beans are also incredibly inexpensive which means you get a lot of meal for your buck. We all (mostly??) have our favorite beans, mine include black beans and garbanzo beans because they’re so flavorful and versatile.

Why am I spouting the benefits of beans? The simple answer is that I’ve become quite a bean advocate over the years, looking at it as a cheap and healthy way to cook. These days I love that there are so many beans when I get the urge for a burger or a patty or some kind of meatless balls. But when I tell people I’m having a black bean & corn taco, I get wicked side eye like I said I was eating toenails and cola. They’re missing out and that’s fine by me.

More for me!

I picked up a half kilogram bag of black beans at the market, soaked them and popped them into the slow cooker for most of the day until they were soft enough to enjoy and I only added salt, herbs and vegetable stock for flavor.

Once the beans were done, I chopped: onions, celery (leaves and all), bell peppers, corn and garlic. Get a good crisp on the vegetables before you add the beans to the mix, this will enhance the flavor of Dish #1, black bean stew.

 

Along with the black beans I added cumin, smoky paprika, cayenne pepper, jalapeno, oregano and thyme. Oh, and I took a can of vegan chili beans, sauce and all, and put them in the blender until they were thick and creamy…and I added that to the broth/bean mixture for a thick stew-y texture that made my mouth water.

Scoop it in a bowl and garnish it as you wish and Dish #1 is complete.

Dish #2 is based on one of my favorite things back in my college days. Chili Mac from Steak n’ Shake. About fifteen minutes from campus there was an all night restaurant and chili mac was an amazing distraction, reward or way to commiserate about something I thought was life or death at the time. Ah, the stressful ol’ days.

But I saw this cute lasagna style noodles in the pantry and I knew what to do with the leftover bean stew. Chili Mac!

All you need is noodles, jalapenos (okay, more jalapenos) and cheese (optional) and you’re ready to go.

 

This particular cheese was a vegan Gouda that smelled a lot like Gouda and it wasn’t too bad on the taste buds either. I only added a little to my plate but the Hubs ate it up. Twice!

Grab y our favorite ice cold beverage and enjoy.

Sunday Sports 7 Layer Dip Recipe

Soccer may be a big deal here in Europe but this Sunday we had plenty of reasons to indulge in one of our favorite snacks. 7 layer dip.

When you have to two U.S. Open finals to watch and a UFC event, 7 layer dip is the way the go. But of course, we had to veganize it to suit our taste buds and diet, which was pretty easy given the increasing availability of vegan products.

Back in the day, about 2006 or 2007 I worked in film production in Los Angeles and on the days we had big shoots one of the production assistants would make a big old casserole dish of 7 layer dip which I—secretly—looked forward to…except the guacamole because I am not a fan of the avocado. And yes I do know all about the benefits of avocado, including potassium, fiber, heart healthy fats and:

 

Mini Frittatas & Smoked Salmon Pinwheels

mini frittata salmon pinwheelsLike most people, I absolutely love the weekends. I work for myself so it isn’t so much about what the weekend represents—time away from annoying coworkers and clueless bosses—but more about the relaxing culture that encompasses all weekends. I think I have a better appreciation for my weekends now that I’m living in Europe. I wake up and linger in bed for awhile before heading to the kitchen to prepare breakfast.

I admit that I’m not much of a breakfast person. Not that I don’t like breakfast, but rather I’m not all gung ho about it every morning. As long as I have a steaming cup of freshly ground coffee and a bagel…my morning is as good as mornings can get. But on the weekend we can be lazy and not rush to get him out the door to work, and that means I get to spend time with my honey and work on expanding my breakfast dishes.