Simple Sun Dried Tomato Pesto ~ A.K.A. Vegan Rosso Pesto!

As an author, blogger and ghostwriter I spend a lot of time at home. In front of my computer. Sometimes hours go by without a break of any kind and the next thing I know…BAM, it’s time for lunch. Of course I’ve planned for lunch but that was when I was young and had fantasies that I wouldn’t work through lunch again and again. Next thing I know it’s three o’clock in the afternoon.

Too late to make a proper lunch without spoiling my evening meal but too early to skip it since I only had a nectarine and coffee this morning.

Enter bread toppers.

Pesto, tapenade, hummus, bruschetta, smears, dips and spreads…I love them.

I crave them.

They save my life.

Today, I’m talking about sun dried tomato pesto.

 

The first thing you need is sun dried tomatoes. You can get the ones in oil or water, or be brave and re-hydrate the dry ones, but make sure you give them a thorough look. I prefer the ones packed in oil because I’m working hard to reduce the oil in my diet and this lets me get a little bit to make it easier in the food processor but not so much that I feel like I’m drinking oil.

This recipe is pretty simple, all you need is:

Sun dried tomatoes
Roasted garlic
Blanched almonds (slightly toasted)
Roasted red bell pepper
Vegan parmesan
Black olives
Balsamic vinegar
Rosemary

Pop the ingredients into a food processor or chopper until the consistency is thick and kind of crumbly. If you add oil it will be a bit smoother but either way works well.

If you want to extend the shelf life beyond a week, oil might help. Maybe.

Not that any of us needs an excuse to enjoy a warm loaf of bread, but a solid vegan pesto is a better reason than most.

But don’t limit yourself to bread, crackers work well as does fresh vegetables like bell pepper strips, celery or carrot sticks can be an excellent vehicle for the pesto.

Add a blend of olives, wine or beer and you’ve got enough for a quick get together after work.

Live healthy. Live vegan.

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.

Spicy Vegan Black Rice Curry

If you’ve learned anything about me and my family over the past few months, it’s how much we (specifically, I) love curry. It’s my go to meal when I’m hungry as a hippo with no idea what I want and that’s especially true on those days when I’ve put off grocery shopping. Grab some rice or noodles, a bunch of vegetables and the right blend of curry spices and you’ve got a quick vegan curry in no time at all.

Then there are the days when we’re feeling adventurous, or more accurately, the days when we find a good excuse to use or buy some new find from the grocery store. A few years ago we discovered black rice when we lived in Germany and ever since I’ve been a pretty big fan. It has a bit of a bite to it, more flavor and it has a great texture so you know you’re eating rice instead of some unknown, tasteless grain meant to just soak up all the flavors of the dish.

Then I found out that black rice is an excellent source of iron, antioxidants and Vitamin E and I decided to keep it in the meal rotation even though sometimes it can be a very temperamental grain.

If you decide to experiment with darker grains like black rice or even brown or wild rice, make sure to get that water boiling first to make sure you’re not waiting on it to finish cooking once your yummy curry is ready to be eaten. The cook time ranges from 15 minutes to 35, sometimes more depending on the length of the grain as well as how pre-processed it is.

Now…on to the curry!

This particular recipe is pretty easy and it was made by The Husband so you know it fits the man criteria of simple yet delicious.

The recipe seems…busy because there are plenty of tasty ingredients but trust me, it’s all simple to make. What you’ll need:

*Potatoes, scrubbed clean

*Wood ear mushrooms

*Onion

*Chickpeas, rinsed

*Garlic

*Ginger

*Tomatoes, rinsed & diced

*Tofu crumbles

*Coconut milk

Since The Husband was instrumental in helping me see the benefits of cooking without oil, you can guess that he made this meal totally oil-free but the dish didn’t suffer for it as you might imagine. The coconut milk gave everything a smooth, creamy flavor that blended beautifully with the al dente black rice. With the proper seasoning you can get a flavorful dish without all the oil.

Get a good saute on the veggies and then slowly add the broth and or coconut milk, letting it cook until the potatoes are done. The wood ear mushrooms go in last because they cook fairly quickly and if you’re feeling truly fancy, you can set up a nice plate the way The Husband did. His presentation skills far surpass my own, as you can see, and it made for a really great photo!

On top of all that, it was so good that I went back for seconds, of the curry but not the rice because that’s another way we fight temptation, make enough grains for 2 servings so if you want seconds, it’s all veggies. Eating such good food shouldn’t make you feel guilty and this way it doesn’t have to!

If you’re feeling thirsty, I always find an ice cold beer goes great with a spicy curry, especially when that spice is from the Sriracha I added to my plate because we have very different spice level preferences.

Eating Vegan in Bucharest

My husband has often joked over the years that the national vegetable of Romania is pork, a fun little quip backed up by his parents, family friends and the spread on the table for any given occasion. There is a maximum of mean–specifically pork–and cheese on the table, plus bread.

What is sadly lacking is vegetables and good vegetables are even harder to find because, who needs flavor when there’s so much in the meant, right?

Wrong.

But it’s made finding places to eat pretty much impossible. So when we visited friends in Bucharest recently, I felt a bit more hopeful since the population is larger and big cities tend to be more ahead of the curve when it comes to making changes for their clientele. Of course we did some research before we made the hour long drive to the city and found Aubergine, a restaurant that was not vegan but did offer a few vegan dishes.

This was as close to a win as we were gonna get and since it was cold and snowy and rainy, I was ready for a damn good meal at Aubergine.

The inside of this place was great, in the historical Old Town part of the city, which meant the layout was super old school with a small first floor bistro area and bar. If you want to see the real dining room, or rooms, then you’ll need to head up a gorgeous winding staircase to take you to the second floor where the walls are decked out in re-purposed doors and serving trays that serve as art. The atmosphere was chill and the waitstaff was nice. And if you’re an English speaking tourist you’ll be happy to find the servers all spoke at least a minimal amount of English and the menus are in Romanian and English.

So far, I was feeling hopeful so I ordered an unfiltered Zaganu and waited for something to take the chill off my bones.

The vegan appetizer platter had eggplant caviar, which my hubs LOVED because he loves eggplant and I do not. The hummus was delicious, flavorful and so buttery soft I moaned as I bit into it The falafel was crisp on the outside and soft and full of flavor inside, which just the right amount of cumin. The mushroom caviar was delicious but I prefer my mushrooms warm. As delicious as the whole appetizer was, the picked veggies at the bottom of the platter were the most memorable. I can’t pinpoint exactly what was in it, but I only left one piece of each for the hubs.

Our friends had a platter of falafel three ways which was pretty good, once you scraped off all the dairy-based creams smothering them.

The dish was vegetarian but I still say our vegan falafel was better!

Did I mention the bread? The delicious turmeric and whole grain bread that were the perfect vessel for the tasty appetizers!

The hubs ordered a mushroom quinoa sote which came out on this beautiful plate. The dish was hearty and satisfying but afterwards he didn’t feel sluggish or heavy. And I have to say that the mushrooms were cooked to perfection and the addition of the sprouts gave it an extra earthy flavor that made the dish memorable.

 

I ordered the vegan shwarma with a side of couscous. This was a good meal with a base of hummus, fresh greens, several types of mushrooms, onion and bell peppers. Honestly it didn’t need the couscous because it was satisfying on its own, but eating too much is still something I struggle with on occasion and finding a restaurant with actual vegan food and NOT side dishes is one such occasion.

Everyone was too stuffed to enjoy dessert and honestly I’m not a big sweets eater so it was no problem for me. After three coffees (for them) and a shot of Jameson (for me) we were ready to battle a freezing cold Bucharest!

Totally Plant Based Mushroom Bourguignon!!

I have always been a big fan of mushroom. Stuff them with a bunch of savory flavors, grill’em up with onions and put them on a burger and I couldn’t be happier or add them to an Asian style soup and let me at it. But since adopting a plant based diet mushrooms and I have become close. Very close.

Why?

Mushrooms are thick and hearty, versatile and easy to cook. Plus they have this wonderful gift of taking on the flavors their cooked with so even a picky person like me doesn’t feel like I’ve had mushrooms for three days in a row. One of the things I really missed when we lived in Germany was the distinct lack of portobello mushrooms. When I did find them–that one time–I stocked up and when shroom crazy for a few days.

In Romania there has been no portobello sightings but there are plenty of crimini and oyster mushrooms and if you look very carefully you’ll find delicious chanterelle mushrooms which have become my second favorite over the past couple years. And since going vegan has in no way dimmed my love for all things French, today we have mushroom bourguignon!

I’ve made no secret of my love of wine, traveling or potatoes so this dish shouldn’t surprise you at all. And if you’ve ever tried the traditional version of this meal, you might think it’s more difficult than it is.

It’s not, trust me. Follow the instructions and use your judgment and you’ll be fine.

Oh and do your prep work ahead of time. You don’t want to be peeling and chopping once you need to get that wine down in the pan, unless you secretly moonlight as a TV chef.

Okay so the first thing  I did was clean and cut my mushrooms. I sliced the oyster mushrooms the long way so, when cooked, they have a texture similar to shredded “meat” and I chopped the crimini mushrooms so they were bigger to give the dish a bit more substance. I had to cook them in batches and you should too because mushrooms release a tremendous amount of liquid and you want to cook them until there’s a bit of crispiness around the edges.

I used olive oil and vegan butter to cook the mushrooms and I know it’s a big decadent and not as fatty as I would normally go but this is bourguignon and if you’re gonna do it, you must do it right-ish.

When the mushrooms are done, it took me about 15-20 minutes, set them aside and add another splash of oil and a pad of vegan butter into the pan and then add the shallots, carrots, celery and thyme sprigs and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Toss in the garlic and I added chopped celery leaves because they are full of flavor and added a nice depth of flavor.

Now the hard parts are mostly done, I hope you’ve already peeled and chopped your potatoes because you’ll want everything finished at about the same time.

Once the garlic and celery leaves have cooked for a few minutes, it’s time to add tomato paste and red wine. I chose a local Romanian red wine, dry and full bodies, and it worked! Let the wine simmer until it reduces by about a third and then you can add the mushrooms and finish seasoning it to taste.

We paired this with the rest of the wine and of course, a neighbor contributed some cognac to the meal so we were all warm, toasty and totally full from a hearty meal with plenty of mashed potatoes. I would caution you to keep the mashed potatoes simple and let the bourguignon be the star of this show.

I should have let the carrots cook just a bit more, so make sure you give them enough time to cook before you add the wine. Luckily I don’t mind a few crunchy carrots in my food but it was a mistake on my part.

The wine made that mistake much easier to accept and it was the perfect buzz to help me get back to the writing cave!