Rotini Alla Puttanesca…Vegan Style

In addition to my love of potatoes, which are seriously MY jam, I have a deep and abiding love for pasta dishes. When my husband and I made the decision individually to make the switch to a plant based diet, the only thing I wasn’t concerned about was how to veganize my favorite pasta recipes. And then the hubs, Cos, created a spectacular puttanesca dish that made my toes curl.

No lie y’all…my toes legit curled.

He decided to recreate the dish for his parents who are ride or die meat lovers in an effort to help them live healthier, longer lives. And since I’ve been knee deep in deadlines, book covers and marketing strategies, I was stoked when he sat this dish on the table. For those of you purists who claim it isn’t a proper puttanesca because there are no anchovies, I dare you to try this version and not ooh and aah until you have to roll yourself to bed.

Vegan Family Style Meals

So, here we are at my first Friday as a resident of Romania–officially–and my belly is full. Not stuffed, mind you, just that I have been indulging a little more than I should on some fine Romanian food that my mother-in-law has graciously made while we get our place set up, our fridge filled with food and as we shake off the final dregs of moving.

Have I mentioned how much I loath moving? Not the whole adventure of going to a new place and learning about their culture, their customs and of course, their cuisine. But just the packing and cleaning, even more cleaning and then unpacking and rearranging. All of that I could totally do without. But it is a necessary evil and now that it’s in my past I am determined to forget it.

Until the next move.

Over the past few days despite the warmer than usual for October weather outside, we have been eating soup. A lot of soup. Part of it is due to the fact that Romanian cuisine, much like American cuisine (And German, and Hungarian…just sayin’) is wholly based around animals. Meat and cheese reign supreme here, which means that even my well-meaning MIL has trouble coming up with meals that don’t include meat.

Or a side of meat.

Or a side of brânză (cheese).

Happy October…from Romania!!!

Hello! Ce Faci! And HAPPY HALLOWEEN MONTH!!!!

As you probably noticed, I missed yesterday’s post and the reason is because I have been incredibly busy moving from Germany to Romania. Moving always sucks but driving across four countries in the span of 48 hours is more than a task, it is a complete and total THING! I thought packing and hauling boxes would be the hardest part but endless hours in the car behind the movers was a bit of an ordeal.

On the upside, there were some really beautiful sights along the way. Once we made it out of  Germany, Austria was next and that place is magnificent. Back in 2015 I spent a week in Stubai skiing with friends and it was gorgeous but winter so a wholly different type of beauty. This time there was endless seas of greenery. Trees of all stripes growing together, some in that transformative state indicating autumn is well on her way with leaves gold and green and red, not to mention my favorite orange leaves.

We stopped at a little roadside rest area and the sight was magnificent. After hours and hours of trees, which were beautiful, I came upon the most delightful little scene…

Yep, four cows just chilling on the hillside and totally ignoring the view of the mountains and lake beside them. Apparently they were so jaded they didn’t feel the need to enjoy it the way I did. Though maybe the sun had something to do with it. 😀

As you can see I had no problem at all with the view. After snapping a few photos with the hubs, we went for a long walk enjoying the sun glinting off the water.

And that…was Austria. A few hours of it.

Then we spent about 8 hours in Hungary but most of it was spent asleep in a funky little place called Hotel Paprika.

It was as you might guess, a rustic style hotel but it was way snazzier than I was expecting. The rooms were big and spacious and even though it was my first time in Hungary AND my first time in a European hotel where I couldn’t find an episode of Law & Order on the hotel TV, it was pretty cool. What I did find was the movie Hitman: Agent 47 in Hungarian which was…odd. Unlike most languages I’ve encountered so far there was no way possible to pick up a word here or there, even while watching something I’d seen before. Let’s just say it’s a language I’m glad I don’t have to learn because I’m pretty sure I never would.

Even thought we didn’t spend much time in Hungary we did go down to the hotel restaurant, Csarda Paprika. Unfortunately they had less than zero options for the vegan eater. There was page after page of meat and when there was no meat, there was cheese. So other than a really good beer, Sopoka Demon, we ate steamed vegetables, croquettes and mushroom rice. The mushrooms were canned so yuck but the highlight was Hungarian paprika. Spicy and smoky and delicious.

There was this weird toy for kids and it was so creepy I had to capture it for posterity!

Three hundred and fifty kilometers later and we were in Romania.

Finally.

Our first stop was at a nice restaurant that was all old school Romanian, complete with old school music which was pretty enjoyable. But again there were no vegan options beyond salad and fries. Not even a vegetable Ciorbă (soup) to speak of. But there was beer. It was–allegedly–a dark beer. It wasn’t but it also wasn’t all that bad.

 

My husband told me a fun story about the guy on the glass. Apparently he’s a literary figure from his hometown but I haven’t verified the story so if and when I do, I’ll happily share it with you!

After all the trouble finding places to eat, you can imagine how happy I was that I had the foresight to pack some vegan deli sandwiches for the long drive, which totally came in handy. But then my mother-in-law said the two words I never thought I’d hear from her lips or anyone else’s: vegan sarmale.

If you’re not familiar with Romanian food then you’re missing out. Sarmale is a cabbage wrapped meat and rice dish filled with herbs and spices. It’s similar to dolma but with a very different flavor profile. But my mama in law made them vegan, using mushrooms instead of meat and with Mămăligă on the side. For the uninitiated, Mămăligă is polenta. Delicious, hearty polenta. And it was so tasty I didn’t even think twice about eating it before photographing it so you’ll have to take my word for it.

And instead enjoy the photo of vegan borscht with potatoes and yep, you guessed it…more Mămăligă!

I ate two bowls of it…as did my hubs and we ate nearly ALL of the Mămăligă! The highlight was the fresh dill, which somehow transformed the dish into something hearty and delicious and the perfect respite from a day of unpacking and setting up.

Oh, and learning Romanian!

And now…back to unpacking.

 

 

A Final Vegan Feast in Germany

We’re leaving Germany. There’s no great drama but it was just time to move on and since our anniversary was just a few short days ago, I decided to use this post to give you a glimpse of what vegan options are like in Germany.

We chose a place, Grüner Michel, located in the small town of Leonburg, because it had more than one or two vegan options and they all sounded pretty damn amazing. If any new-ish vegans are reading this, you can sympathize with the hassle of trying to enjoy a night out with more options than salad and fries as your dinner, so you can understand just how excited I was to enjoy some high quality vegan food with the hubs.

We started with an appetizer/tapas platter that included herbed chickpeas, a vegan bite of sushi that included beets, an all vegetable frikadellen which was delicious. Underneath there was a coconut cream based sauce that had the texture of mayo but definitely NOT the taste, thank goodness! The three little sauces included an onion chutney, an eggplant-style hummus which was pretty delicious and some kind of beet relish that was actually tastier than it sounded. The plate was rounded out with fresh tomatoes and basil, slices of nectarine, kalamata olives and barley.

We both ordered a beer with it–of course–a dark me for me and a weizen for him. It was the perfect choice for a warmer than usual late September evening.

One of the problems you have when you’re used to limited food options is that when you finally get options, the choice can be daunting. But since we went burger crazy in Würzburg, we both chose something different this time.

The hubs chose Sayur Campur, a Malaysian flavored dish that included ginger, bok choi, lemongrass, carrots and tomatoes served on a bed of basmati rice and some kind of leave, I think might have been a banana leaf. Oh! And black sesame seeds with a Japanese soy sauce (shoyu) glaze that was spicy and aromatic and totally delicious.

sayur campur lemongra

Then came time for me to choose and I have to tell you that ever since I saw an episode of Carnival Eats where a Mexican cuisine food truck used Jackfruit to make a spicy fake chicken taco was created, I’ve been obsessed with Jackfruit. When I saw the Brazilian style dish made with “feuerkartoffel” or fire potatoes, I was ALL IN. It came with shredded/pulled jackfruit, chimichurri and potatoes with more salad on the side and I have to tell you that we ate up every single bite!

 

Everything was so tasty and there was this sweet & spicy glaze on the potatoes that made them even yummier, if that’s even possible. Did I mention that potatoes (including vodka) are one of my all-time favorite foods? So yeah, this meal was out of this world with flavor and how light it was…later. Because, yes, it was very satisfying but thanks to the tapas platter it was so filling that we didn’t even have room for dessert.

All in all, Grüner Michel was an amazing and memorable night filled with good food and great company. It was the perfect meal to say Auf Wiedersehen to Deutschland!

When we meet again, I will be some place else with (hopefully) more adventures to share!

Sesame Pineapple Cauliflower & Rice

One of the first things any new vegan must learn is the beauty of food substitutions. If you love tacos, which I do, then you have to get on board the bean or tofu train to replace that meat. If you love burgers which, again, I DO, then beans and lentils will become staples in your pantry. The same is true for all kinds of dishes that include animal products.

But thanks to the pervasiveness of Facebook, I’ve found another great substitute in certain meat dishes. Cauliflower.

Now before you scrunch your face up and making gagging puke noises, hear me out. Cauliflower is a sturdy beast. It is super filling for how few calories it has (25 calories per 100 grams or 150 calories for a medium sized head), but it is also an amazing source of vitamins C, K and B6. Oh, and did I mention how it’s mild flavor makes it perfect in all kinds of dishes. In fact, don’t be surprised to see our cauliflower buffalo “wings” or the cauliflower and chickpea curry that’s in constant rotation in our house when the weather turns cold…which it now has.

So I came across a Sticky Pineapple Cauliflower recipe on Chocolate Covered Katie and I wanted to try it out so bad but before I had the chance, the hubs beat me to it! I was (not so secretly) pleased about it because he’s much better at adhering to set recipes than I am, and he’s much better at the whole presentation aspect which makes for better pictures.

Since he followed her recipe to the letter, minus serving it inside the pineapple because she must have wicked knife skills to achieve that, there’s no point rehashing the recipe here. Check out Katie’s link above.

Banana Blueberry Oatmeal Squares ~ A Plant Based Sweet Treat!

One of the things you should know about me is that I’m not that big into sweets. Once in a while I’ll make a pan of chocolate-y brownies to satisfy a craving for something sweet, but mostly I make them for the hubs. He has a sweet tooth the size of Alaska and he isn’t ashamed of it, so you can imagine that when we gave up animal products, there was an adjustment period.

Let’s just say that those early days helped break me of my sugar addiction, if I had one in the first place. Applesauce is not my friend. Sure it has its benefits, especially if you want to enjoy baking without the help of eggs, but for me it just made the cakes too dense and they were no good at all for cookies. Then I tried those strange combinations but many of those ingredients weren’t easy to find.

Until Arche VegEgg. A nice little egg substitute that works beautifully in cakes, breads and cookies. But if you can’t find that in your neck of the woods, there are plenty of options for you non-dairy pastry lovers!

There is no big story with this dish, honestly. I was in the mood for a rare sweet treat and there was nothing but a couple mandarin oranges and and a pineapple my hubs had reserved for a delicious cauliflower dish that I’ll be sure to tell you about later. The blueberries I used were frozen because this time of year in Germany, they are less than desirable but they were delicious.

What I used:

Bananas, mashed

Brandy (to mash with the bananas)

Plant butter

Brown sugar

Whole wheat flour

Oatmeal

Blueberries

VegEgg

Pecans

Vanilla extract

Almond milk (plus some for drinking!)

Making the squares is easy, just mix the butter and sugar, add the eggs and then the bananas before adding the extract. Mix the dry ingredients and slowly add them to the wet mixture until combined. Don’t worry if it’s lumpy, that just means it’ll be nice and moist when it’s all done.

vegan banana blueberry bread

I used a 9×13 pan but if you want thicker squares, use a smaller pan or readjust the recipe.

The almond milk–with no sugar added, thank you very much–was mostly for the photo but since the hubs has a much steadier hand, he was tasked with taking the photos and thus, chugging the milk when it was done. I like the almond milk for cooking and sometimes for coffee, but before I switched to a plant based diet, I absolutely loathed milk. I haven’t had cow’s milk since I was 7 or 8 years old thanks to an incident where the milk tasted/smelled spoiled. Ever since then, that’s how all milk tastes/smells to me. And unfortunately that has mostly carried over to being vegan.

Luckily I get my calcium from many other sources so I won’t get into the calcium absorption rates of cow’s milk but I will tell you that dry beans and dark leafy greens are a great non-dairy source, and if you suspect you’re not getting enough of it, add a supplement to help!

vegan banana blueberry oatmeal squares

Here’s a tip when cooking with blueberries: toss them in flour or cornstarch to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the dish during baking.

Good Vegan Eats

I’ve been awhile…a long while but now that I’m (we’re?) back, here’s a visual history of some of the healthy plant based dishes we’ve experimented with over the past few months…or when one of us remembers to snap a photo of our tasty treats!

Sticky tofu with sauteed vegetables & couscous

 

This was my first time cooking tofu, something I previously loathed, and it came out delicious. I marinated the tofu in soy sauce, ginger and Sriracha and then pan seared it for about 1-2 minutes on each side.

 

Cauliflower & chickpea curry

 

Hi, my name is Natasha and I am a curry-a-holic. The hubs knows this so he frequently adds a curry to the nights he cooks and this one was so good I went back for seconds…thank goodness it’s calorie friendly!

 

Buddha Bowl #019 (aka: my newest addiction)

 

Shaved raw carrots (yum!), diced and roasted tofu, steamed broccoli with delicious tahini dressing made this meal healthy and satisfying, but the crimini mushrooms and onions added a heartiness and earthiness that made this dish close to perfect!

Thanksgiving Light

Even though I’m not living in America right now and even if I were, I’ve kind of shunned Thanksgiving, this year I’ve had a craving for some delicious Thanksgiving Dressing and I thought why not do a Turkey Day light?!

I’m sure you’re wondering what Thanksgiving has ever done to me to make me shun it. The truth is that I do enjoy the whole family aspect of the holiday. Some of my favorite memories are getting up early and trekking from the Chicago suburbs into the city to my Granny’s house, where she inevitably had a stove, table and countertop full of food waiting for us. I got to see my cousins, and eventually their children, and just have a nice day of family.

turkey dressing 1But as I got older it just began to ring false to me. Not the family time, that’s always incredible. But the rest of it; celebrating a time right before an entire culture was basically eradicated. It just didn’t sit right with me and you combine that with the doses of unhealthy food served and I began to wonder if this holiday was doing the nation as a whole, more harm than good. I mean, with a growing obesity epidemic it hardly seems right to ply ourselves and children with tons of simple carbs that are consumed throughout the day with no regard for health or nutrition.

So for the last few years we have kind of skipped over it. Sure we’ll cook some good food and give thanks, but usually I try out some different world cuisine like Greek (spanakopita or moussaka), Korean (kimchi), or even Moroccan (pigeon pie). This way we are celebrating other types of culture and still enjoying time together. Honestly I wish I had spent some time when I was still in America learning more about Native American cuisine because growing up in Illinois there is no shortage of the culture but very little of the food culture.

Besides I think we should be giving thanks to one another for what we do and what we have on a daily basis instead of treating one another like crap 364 days and being kind on one. But hey…that’s just me.

This year I went the simple route: no big ass turkey with all the trimmings. Just a few turkey breasts without the skin and a nice dish of dressing. I decided to skip over the cranberry sauce, partly because I couldn’t find fresh cranberries this week and partly because I had an idea that an apple compote might be perfect for the type of dressing I was thinking of making.

I easily found the ingredients I needed and got to work.

Ingredients

  • 2 turkey breasts (one for today and one for tomorrow)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 bag of dressing (bread cubes)
  • 1 egg
  • 2.5 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 ½ tsp. each: basil & sage
  • Sea salt & Pepper to taste
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled & chopped
  • 2 Pink Lady apples, peeled & chopped
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 3 celery ribs, rinsed & rough chopped
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • ¼ cup each; raisins & cranberries
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • ½ long red pepper
  • ½ tbsp. each: oregano, basil, thyme and marjoram
  • 1 tbsp. Irish butter (I use Kerry Gold)

Since this meal has 3 different components we’ll just take them one by one. But I recommend you prep everything and then just start cooking; it’ll make the process quicker and more enjoyable. But don’t forget the tunes because you can’t really cook without music…can you?

turkey wine

You’ll need to preheat the oven, I used 375 so I could cook the turkey and dressing at the same time, but they have different cook times so you’ll need 2 timers. I just relied on my mobile phone. Yay technology!

For The Turkey

  1. Poke small holes on both sides of the breasts with a fork then slather with 1 tbsp. of olive oil.
  2. Season with salt, pepper, basil and sage on both sides.
  3. Place breasts on aluminum foil and cover, creating a bubble so the foil isn’t touching the breasts. Leave 2 sides open so it kind of bake/steams them.
  4. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until internal temperature is 155-160.

For The Apples

  1. Add butter and half the brown sugar to a sauce pan over medium-high heat until butter melts.
  2. Add apples and sprinkle cinnamon and remaining sugar on top.
  3. Stir frequently until apples begin to caramelize, about 10-12 minutes.
  4. When the apples begin to soften and a sauce forms, reduce to simmer for 5 to 7 minutes then remove from heat.

100_5173

For The Dressing

  1. Heat remaining olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Warm broth in a small pot over medium heat.
  3. Add onions, celery and red pepper to skillet then season with salt and pepper.
  4. Cook for about 10 minutes or until vegetables soften, then add cranberries and raisins.
  5.  Cook 5 more minutes or until cranberries and raisins begin to plump.
  6. Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl, pour in bread cubes and remaining herbs. Slowly 2 or 3 ladles of broth into bread in until it begins to soften, stirring frequently.
  7. Add cooked vegetables and berries to the bowl and add more broth until it starts to resemble a thick batter.
  8. Beat egg and then pour over mixture, stirring with wooden spoon or your hands.
  9. Add more broth as needed then stir in pecans and transfer to oven safe baking dish.
  10. Cook covered for 45 minutes and then uncover and cook 5 to 10 additional minutes.
  11. Serve dressing with apple compote on top.

Enjoy!

I’m a red wine fan when I’m not drinking Whiskey of the Irish variety so I enjoyed a dry Italian red with my meal.

Welsh Rarebit Mac & Cheese

I don’t really eat macaroni and cheese often, mostly because of all that fatty stuff that goes into and makes it so darned tasty! But when I do get a craving it is definitely NOT for that boxed crap filled with nutrition-less noodles and orange powder…what animal does powdered cheese come from?? Anyway when I get a craving I like to take a page from one of my favorite TV chefs; Alton Brown.welsh rarebit mac

On one show, a million years ago he made this Welsh rarebit (or rabbit) cheese sauce and my mouth watered like crazy. I knew that I would be adding this recipe to my repertoire and tweaking it several times over. And guess what? I did.

Spicy Paella

Paella featured I It has been awhile since I’ve enjoyed any culinary treats from Spain. The last time I hit up a Spanish restaurant it was in the birthplace of Einstein and unfortunately the food was not as great as its most famous citizen!

I didn’t get the paella but my husband did and boy was he disappointed. The bite I had only whetted my appetite for the real thing. So the next time I hit up the Kaufland I decided to pick up what I needed for some truly fantastic paella.

Full disclosure: this was my first time making paella and after consulting a few chefs I mixed together what sounded best and this is what I came up with. I have to say though that the fruit di mare mix I found was superb! It has the world’s tiniest shrimp, octopus, calamari rings, mussels and chunks of white fish. Basically it is a seafood lover’s delight.

One ingredient that I did add but not at the suggestion of any of the recipes I found was turmeric. I use it when I make Spanish or Mexican style rice because it gives it that vibrant yellow color along with the smoky taste for authenticity. You can generally find this bright yellow powder in the spicy aisle of any big supermarket or in the ethnic aisle alongside various curries and cardamom. If you can’t find it, no big deal just go with the natural color and flavor.

If you’re making this for a gathering I suggest you slice and dice your fruit first so the sangria has time to chill before dinner.

Ingredients:

  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 bag (about 500g) mixed seafood
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 ½ cup brown rice
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • Sea salt & Pepper to taste
  • 3 cups broth/water (I used ½ fish broth and ½ water)
  • ½ cup sun dried tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 tsp. each: oregano, basil and thyme
  • 1 tbsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper

spicy paella

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large, deep skillet.
  2. Add in onion, season with salt and pepper, then cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until onions are translucent and starting to brown.
  3. Stir in garlic and cook another 3 minutes.
  4. Add cherry & sun dried tomatoes, and stir.
  5. Add herbs, spices, bay leaves and rice, stir until blended.
  6. Add in water & broth combo, then bring mixture to a boil.
  7. Stir and reduce heat to a simmer for 20 minutes.
  8. Add in seafood mix and cook another 10 minutes or until water has been absorbed.
  9. Enjoy with Spanish wine, sangria or just pick your poison!

I have to say that while this wasn’t the best paella I’d ever eaten in my entire life; it was incredibly flavorful and delicious. I will add it into my meal rotation until I have perfected it. I’m thinking next time that a bit of cumin will enhance the smoky flavor and fresh seafood will take this dish to the next level.

How do you make your paella?

Sweet & Savory Bulgur Salad

I am not one of those people who hate salad. Whether it is the lettuce and dressing variety or the pasta variety, I love a good salad. In fact I am such a salad lover that I don’t need lettuce or pasta, and often I forego both when I’m feeling adventurous or simply tired of them.

I don’t look at a bowl of arugula and tomatoes and see some restrictive diet food…unless of course you try to feed me iceberg lettuce. Contrary to what some of my dear friends believe, iceberg lettuce is crap. Sure it has almost no calories, but it also has almost no nutrients and if I’m gonna nosh on salad then I’d like some nutrients to go with my leafy greens.

Dirty Rice & Beans

When I was younger I guess I was like most kids and teens, equating good food with, what I now know is unhealthy crap. As such whenever there was a dish that contained both beans and rice—and no meat—I looked at it as Third World food. I would turn my nose up at it and once I got my first job at White Castle I’d use my own money to buy food I found more palatable.

These days as meat makes a more infrequent appearance in my meals, not to mention time spent in Louisiana and Los Angeles, I’ve learned to appreciate the subtle nuances of rice and bean dishes. Whether it’s dirty rice or Mexican style rice & beans I’ve discovered how delicious and healthy beans can be.

Mediterranean Sardines & Herbed Bulgur

In my recently rediscovered love of all things whole fish I decided to give sardines a try. I mean, I’ve had sardines before but usually of the canned and packed in oil variety, but I’ve never had the actual fish in all its bony glory. So when I spotted these babies in the frozen section—not fresh but since I’ve no experience with them I figured it was good enough—I snatched’em right up.

Wild Shitake Risotto

Whenever I’m in the mood for something that is quick to make but tastes like it took hours, I turn to risotto. Ever since I watched Rachel Ray make it on 30-Minute Meals years ago and saw how easy it was to make, I’ve been hooked.

The best thing about risotto is that you can make it with tons of different things—for herbivores and carnivores—for meal variety. Add shrimp or chicken for meat eaters, or cheese and herbs or even peas for an easy vegetarian meal.

mushroom risotto

I got a good deal on a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano and my plan was to just make some creamy risotto until I spotted a nice batch of shitake mushrooms. It would’ve been nice to find Portobello mushrooms or even crimini, but I do love shitake and I was happy to snap up a few hundred grams.

Feta & Spinach Bulgur w/Salmon

Growing up I wasn’t really introduced to many cuisines around the world. In my town there was Mexican-tons of Mexican—and there were plenty of Chinese restaurants. Not Thai or Vietnamese or Japanese, just plain egg rolls and fried rice Chinese food. But a few months ago I ate bulgur for the first time as part of a yummy Middle Eastern dish.

I was hooked.

how to cook bulgur
When you need a simple & healthy meal, this is IT!

The bulgur was fluffy with the perfect amount of salt and it was made with just a little bit of turmeric to give it a nice smoky flavor. Served with some succulent chicken and beef soaked with coconut milk and seasoned with cumin and curry and a variety of spices. Needless to say I have spent the last few months trying to perfect the taste of the bulgur to no avail. Although bulgur requires the same 2 to 1 ratio as rice, it requires much less time to become too soggy to eat.