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!

A Lost Weekend in Cluj-Napoca

Those of you who have started reading and following this blog–thank all of you for encouraging me to keep doing this!–know that one of my biggest passions is traveling. That’s right, in addition to being a romance author, ghostwriter, political junkie and vegan foodie, I love to get away.

Anytime.

Anyplace.

And it turns out that Romania is full of hidden gems. Okay maybe they’re not all that hidden but this is my first time here so it’s all brand new to me and therefore feels a little hidden. But some friends that we met in Germany are now living back in their homeland and invited us for a visit to their town, Cluj-Napoca.

cluj napoca romanian

If you’re like me you’ve already paused to Google this city and you’ll find out like I did that it is a BIG city. I mean it’s not my hometown of Chicago or my adopted hometown of Los Angeles but at 400k people, it is way bigger than I expected. So big that instead of heading to the town’s website or Wikipedia, I immediately Googled “vegan cluj napoca” because I was jonesing for a night out with some good, chef made, vegan food.

Lo and behold, there was an option.

Samsara

 

The restaurant was minimalist but nice and sophisticated, none of which I really cared about. The food however, was pretty darn good. We ate there twice and I enjoyed a delicious Thai curry soup, lentil soup the next day, Asian style noodles and a curry dish. Before you ask, no it was a pretty eclectic restaurant with plenty of options, not all of which were vegan which I thought was nice since there was a meat lover dining with us.

The soup was delicious but the noodle dish was a tad salty. All in all it was a mixed bag of treats but if we lived in Cluj it would likely be our lazy night option.

Luckily food was a small part of this weekend. I got a chance to visit a section of the Carpathian Mountains, a mountain range called Apuseni Mountains that was beautiful. And cold.

It was a simple sightseeing trip meant to kill a few hours between catching up and talking business but when you come upon this view, staying in the car is not an option. So dressed in my red Converse All-Stars, I got out–and got wet–just to capture some gorgeous scenery up close and personal.

But like I said, it was cold. Very cold and we didn’t stay in one part of the range for very long but the climb up took us from autumn weather to deeply winter in just a few hundred meters.

And what is a tired and hungry vegan to do after a day in the mountains? Eat, of course.

Toulouse was an adorable little bistro style cafe with a long, dark pine bar and an impressive liquor selection. And oddly enjoy, for some reason American Top 40 was playing…from the nineties. I loved it!

The food was…okay. I was able to get fajitas which made me smile because Mexican is my second favorite cuisine to eat. The vegetables were hot and seasoned well but the tomatoes in the salsa were canned. It probably sounds horribly snobby of me but I never eat salsa that isn’t fresh, not since I learned how to make salsa in college. It’s just a quirk of mine and I don’t mind it because canned tomatoes are entirely too sweet for salsa. Plus the way salsa and lime juice tastes together with parsley and fresh garlic? Anyway so that kind of ruined it for me–a little–but I did eat up every bit of the mushroom, onion and pepper mix. I would have liked more than tortilla triangles because I can guarantee that when it comes to tacos or fajitas, I can be guaranteed to overeat. #truth

That other sauce is guac and I’ll tell you now that I gave it to my husband because there are three vegetables I do not like: avocados, beets and eggplant. I can be pretty fair with everything else, even kale, but those are on my ‘never ever’ list which is probably why the salsa bummed me out so much.

But rest easy, I had my all-time favorite vegetable to cheer me up. Potatoes.

The hubs got a chickpea curry dish that was tasty with just enjoy coconut cream to rub off some of the heat. I love the heat but he doesn’t so I only had a bite to taste. Okay, two bites. Three bites. I had three bites.

The fresh tomatoes added a nice hint of acid and freshness. If we had another day I probably would have come back to try it out.

You’re wondering where the drink is, right?

Well in this oddly international lunch, I decided why not keep up the tradition and ordered a Paloma.

A simple grapefruit soda & tequila drink, this cocktail went perfectly with the fajitas.

Peles Castle, Sinaia & Onion Soup ~ A Plant Based Conundrum

Castles. I love them. Wherever I find myself in Europe there is always a castle nearby and you can count on me to want to hit up. But not in the “I want a White Knight and King’ kind of way. No, more in the way that the halls are so filled with history and the many lives and struggles that took place amongst the beauty and finery. Walking through the halls of a castle is like literally walking back in time even if you don’t know the history you can pretty much guess.

I wanted to it up Dracula’s castle first but since this was just a quick day trip, we opted to go to Sinaia to check out Peles Castle. It was gorgeous and let me tell you that much like Marionberg in Wurzburg, Germany, getting to Peles was an ordeal. Though unlike that gigantic fortress this one was kind of a hidden gem. I mean, not too hidden since it is a pretty famous landmark, but unlike almost every other castle I’ve visited in the past 5 or 6 years, this one doesn’t stand like a beacon on the mountain top.

Instead, you walk up this winding road after going through a really beautiful park, but then abruptly, you start to wind down in an entirely new direction. Quite the misdirect if you’re a King or Queen worried about invaders.

Once we got to the castle though, it was totally worth the walk! The weather was nice and sunny and with nothing more than a light sweater, I barely broke a sweat. But I may have heaved up a lung or two before we got to the gorgeousness!

After a long tour of the inside, which was gorgeous with the highlighting being the arms room, filled with swords, guns and the like from all over the world, reflecting just how intertwined this particular kingdom was with other parts of Europe. If you want to know the details…you’ll have to visit Peles Castle yourself!

With the tour complete, it was time for some refreshments!

A double shot of Jim Beam and a Bergenbier was the perfect thing to hold me over until lunch…

We had lunch at a hotel in town because internet research indicated they had vegan options on the menu.

*Eyeroll*

Anyone who has traveled or tried to eat out while vegan knows this trap well. As a blogger I totally understand SEO and metadata and tags and all that so I should have known, but I was in a beer and booze haze, feeling all good from an afternoon of history and castles and weapons, and I left my cynicism somewhere in the Bucegi Mountains. Because when they said ‘vegan’ they meant what most non-vegans think that vegans eat. Salad.

Yep, salad.

But there was a delicious onion soup that was–so they rosy cheeked waiter said–no butter or other animal products so I thought…why not.

The waiter was nice enough to take some whole grain bread and get the chef to crouton-ify it for us since the croutons that came with the soup were coated in Parm. The soup was just how I like it: hot, onion-y and delicious!

My husband always jokes that the national vegetable in Romania is meat and boy was he NOT joking. While he and I ate this soup to start with and we moved to this…

Roasted veg, braised red cabbage, potatoes & asparagus for us! Say ‘ce face’ to my Mother in Law, Maria!

…this is what the rest of the table got:

Pork covered in a cheesy cream sauce and mushrooms…covered with cheese. As you can see, they prioritize animal products over vegetables and grains so any hopes we had of even one vegan meal were quickly dashed. Once again, it was a side dish bonanza.

Aside from the meal which, for us, was mediocre at best, the day in Sinaia was amazing. Peles Castle was a treat and a great way to start out traveling in Romania.

Who knew there was so much German & Austrian influences in Romania? Biggest surprise of the day!

Now, enjoy a few images from Bucegi Mountains!

 

Me trying to get a good selfie when the hubs decided to photo-bomb me!

 

Vegan Cottage Pie ~ A Shepherd’s Pie Without A Shepherd

One of my favorite cold weather dishes is shepherd’s pie, has been ever since I discovered this bit of deliciousness thanks to a friend who had a fetish for all things English. My very first pie was made with lamb, onions and peas and it was incredible. Since then I’ve made it with pretty much every variation you can think of from, including all of your average proteins and sure, some not so normal ones.

Then I went vegan and since then I have experimented with every mushroom I had access to in Germany and now Romania in an effort to keep my taste buds interested. My favorite is portobello mushrooms because they are gigantic and satisfying as hell but I also like crimini and even white button, oyster and chanterelle mushrooms. They are a perfectly suitable and delicious meat replacement in a cottage pie or as I informed my father in law, a meatless meat pie.

For this shepherd’s pie, I decided to do a blend of chanterelle mushrooms and tofu crumbles because my husband and I are working very hard to get his parents to improve their diets and the tofu crumbles look enough like ground beef to trick their carnivorous brains into thinking it’s meat. I also added onions, garlic, carrots and peas with tomato paste and vegan Worcestershire, which is pretty damn hard to find so if anyone has a preferred brand, drop the brand or link in the comments section.

I started with the mushrooms first because they take awhile to cook and because I like to get them a bit crispy around the edges by heating them in a non-stick pan with no oil. You know how I feel about it, but if you want/need/gotta have oil, then do your thing. Just know that my chanterelle mushrooms are wickedly crispy!

As you can see, I made sure we were all good little grown ups by making a salad to go with the pie.

And the other perfect thing about cottage pie? Mashed potatoes. My potato love is well documented and anytime I get to have mashed potatoes is a good time for me. These particular potatoes included plant butter, sea salt, fresh black pepper and fresh parsley because that’s my favorite way to have them and because I didn’t want to go too ‘exotic’ because this was the first time the in-laws have had this dish.

I used the large 9×13 casserole dish because I’m used to cooking for two people with maybe one extra serving left over for us to split. Not because we’re constant dieters but because both of us are more aware of what we eat and how much, so I make sure to never make that much food for us because, look at the cottage pie, we will eat it just because it’s yummy and we can.

I was so proud of myself with this particular shepherd’s pie because it finally came out like a friggin’ Shepherd’s Pie!! Usually I make too much sauce for the veggie mixture and it never quite comes out like this. One time I made it so dry that basically crumbled when my hubs, Cos, served it up. He’s much better at that part than I am so when he was able to get it out in one piece like this, I cheered.

I literally cheered, y’all.

Of course we enjoyed it with a shot (or two) of Tuica, you know, just in case we didn’t warm up enough from the cottage pie!

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!

how to make potato skins

Game Day ‘Tato Skins

I’ll admit that my days of watching football or basketball are far, far behind me. And honestly when I’m in the throes of a tennis match the only thing in my hand is a cocktail. But since everyone around me is a soccer (or football) fanatic, sometimes it’s important to have a few game day recipes to tide the hungry mouths over. Just between you and me, these recipes are more to keep the screaming at the television to a minimum.

Since it’s a poorly kept secret just how much I love potatoes I usually take any opportunity I can to whip them up in any form. For the recent German on German soccer match I decided to go with good old-fashioned potato skins.

Buttery Whipped Rosemary Potatoes

If I were marooned on an island with Brad Pitt, okay the Brad Pitt part isn’t necessary but it’s my island fantasy and why not have my childhood (fine! adult crush too) crush there with me?

Anyway…alone on an island with Brad Pitt. The only thing I’d need other than his masculine goodness is…potatoes. It doesn’t really matter the form: hashbrowns, home fries, mashed, chips (with malt vinegar), wedges (with ketchup), baked or twice baked. I love them and I could eat them every day if they weren’t so starchy.

potato recipes

So it was that time again, for me to get my potato fix and I decided to go with some delicious whipped potatoes. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE mashed potatoes but there’s something about adding butter and lactose free milk to potatoes and whipping them up with a mixer. They get so fluffy and creamy that when I’m done I feel like my father-in-law who’s compliment after a good meal is “there’s not enough!”