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!

Spiced Chickpea & Sprouts Salad ~ How Vegans REALLY Do Salad

If you’ve been a vegan or any amount of time, you’ve probably been accused of eating nothing but rabbit food. And if you’re not, then you’ve probably made some variation of this joke.

Ha-friggin’-ha!

The truth is that if you want to be healthy and regular, salads are kind of an essential part of life, at least for me. For us. But we’re not talking about your basic gross salad with iceberg lettuce and under ripe tomatoes, we’re talking about salad with a capital ‘S’.

Now let’s get down to business, starting with the lettuce. I prefer Romaine because it’s a light flavored green that goes with pretty much everything but here I mixed the Romaine with arugula because that spicy flavor was perfect with the spiced chickpeas. I’d recommend anything BUT iceberg because the nutrients are minimal just like the taste, but if you’re not a big salad eater, start with Romaine and work your way up to darker, greener leaves.

When it comes to building your salad, choose what you know you like but also add something you’ve never had before. Since we already know that I’m not an avocado fan, the photos with avocados are HIS salad. Look close at the bowl and you’ll see:

Vine tomatoes
Cucumber
Scallions
Sprouts (red and white)
Artichoke hearts
Avocado

For the spiced chickpeas I bought dry beans because they’re WAY cheaper and you can cook them however you want. Plus chickpeas are an excellent source of protein for those of you so very concerned about my protein intake. Then you make sure the beans are nice and dry before you toss them in the spice mixture. Ours included: yellow curry, cayenne pepper, black pepper, masala powder, garlic granules and a pinch of ground scotch bonnet peppers. Toss the chickpeas until well coated and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Now you’re ready for the oil-free vinaigrette. Let me preface this by saying that I don’t have a problem with oil, per se, but let’s just say that it isn’t really healthy for you. Sure it may have some benefits, but only good things can happen from limiting your oil intake.

Hence, the oil free vinaigrette. I like to use herbs, vinegar and mustard…all varieties of mustard to change up the flavors. Place it in a little jar and shake like crazy or break out your whisk and do it the old fashion way. Either way you’ll get a delicious dressing for your salad without the extra calories and fat.

If you look very closely you’ll see that I added a pinch of fried onions to the top because, well because being vegan doesn’t mean around the clock, nonstop healthy eating. Unfortunately. I’m still a work in progress but meals like this make me feel pretty good about that progress.

Guten Appetit!

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.

Vegan Bolognese…Plus an excuse to drink wine!

As you know, we recently made a trip to Würzburg, Germany and ate a tons of good vegan food. But what you may not know is that this place is a pretty respectable wine region, known for the cute little decanter-style bottles, called Bocksbeutel. And like any good tourist, I purchased more than one bottle.

I’m a pretty avid wine drinker but also kind of finicky so I got a big bottle of red and instantly I knew it would be served with a hearty pasta dish. And since there was a delicious bottle of Dorfprozeltener (dry) I knew I had to go with a Bolognese. I know what you’re thinking, great another tofu recipe and if that’s it, you’d be wrong.

Instead I opted for a couple giant Portobello cap mushrooms for the hint of earthy, meaty flavor this dish deserves. But you can also use tofu crumbles, other types of mushrooms and even beans if you’re feeling adventurous. Since we are a mushroom lovin’ household, the bellas won out. Now the really great thing about any Bolognese dish is that it is packed with vegetables. I’m sure a few purists will see this and cringe at some of my additions, but hey I had a vitamin-packed meal with carbs so…yeah.

Even though there was celery in my crisper, I totally forgot to add it to this dish, instead I used; onion (2), bell pepper (half green & half red), one diced carrot, four garlic cloves, capers, tomatoes and herbs.

Yes! I totally used fresh tomatoes for this and it was my very first time and totally inspired by my husband’s fresh tomato sauce for pizza, which will probably make an appearance on this blog soon. The fresh tomato-y flavor really added a depth to this dish that I can’t explain to you. It was sweet and tart but not over the top.

Sometimes when it comes to pasta, I like to experiment. I like to find weird shaped noodles that I’ve never heard of just to see how they work and most times…they don’t. I used a fat pasta–paccheri reali–that was tasty and hearty, but not great for this dish. I’d recommend you stick with a long pasta like spaghetti or choose something with some stick to it, like rigatoni.

With all of the ingredients assembled, because one of my constant goals is to be more efficient in the kitchen. Between blogging and writing novels and ghostwriting, I need every free moment I can find.

Now…into the kitchen.

The mushrooms are the first thing into the skillet to cook some of the water out of them and let the edges get nice and crispy to complete that earthy flavor. Then the onions, carrots and peppers along with a pinch of fresh rosemary, stirring for a few minutes.

Don’t forget to add salt and pepper as needed but don’t go overboard because this dish is so packed with flavor that you don’t want to have salty sauce.

Next was the garlic, Worcestershire sauce (this one is vegan which means minus the anchovies) and tomatoes, then a few glugs of wine to get all the sticky bits off the bottom of the pan. Let the tomatoes cook until they soften and the sauce becomes more sauce-y than chunky, and when I was happy with the consistency I added a handful of chopped black olives and a teaspoon or two of capers. Feel free to add more–or less–wine if you want a thinner sauce or if you’re cooking for the underage crowd, substitute a veg only broth for the wine.

I am well aware that my plating & photography skills need work!

paccheri reali vegan bolognese

…I’m working on it

 

The wine was good and the food was even better! I served a salad on the side to round out the meal and add a healthy dose of fiber to our day!

Let me know if you try this recipe and how it turned out.

Our Trip to Würzburg ~ A Day of Walking, a Fortress and Vegan Eats

We recently took a day trip to Würzburg, a small town of about 100,000 people in the Bavaria region of Germany. This place is what you think of when you think of idyllic small towns, except it is filled with some truly amazing architecture. Now full disclosure; I’m no art expert but I fall into the I like what I like school of thought, so take what I say with a grain of Himalaya sea salt. 😉

When we first started planning this trip I was pretty resigned to the fact that I’d be partaking in lots of wine–famous in the region–along with salad and pommes (fries). Imagine my surprise when a quick Google search of ‘Würzburg + vegan’ revealed not one, but two different eateries!! In the end we opted for the full-blown restaurant instead of the cafe that had mostly vegetarian options. Vrohstoff was our top choice and I’ll be honest, after looking up the menu online I was super excited about our options.

This place was AMAZING. And that’s coming from a woman who no one would ever describe as effusive. Everything about the place screamed fresh, natural food. One wall was filled with pots of fresh herbs and relaxing music greeted us when we made our first stop for a quick breakfast. It was relatively quiet because it was a Monday morning and most people in town were at work…I assume.

We sat down and even though I’d spent plenty of time browsing the menu in the days leading up to the trip, I took my time until I spotted the perfect breakfast drink. Fresh and natural ginger and mint tea. It was damn delicious!

vegan tea mint ginger

The little cup was so adorable with an outer plastic bubble to keep my hands nice and un-burned while I drank my weight in tea!

Now…back to breakfast!

 

The hubs had this dish which was a tofu “egg” scramble which was absolutely delicious and that’s coming from someone who only recently started to enjoy tofu! The salad had a light vinaigrette and the veggies on the side were grilled eggplant, onions. For him, the sesame seed dipped avocados were the highlight because…look how perfectly ripe they are!

For my über delicious vegan breakfast I chose a little bit of everything. The bread up top tasted like potato bread but I forgot to ask what it was made of, but it made a delicious sandwich with the vegan cheese slices and the cucumber, tomato & salad sandwich, also with a light vinaigrette. Bottom left is vegan butter with basil (the basil went on my sandwich!). But the real star of this breakfast was the lentil hummus which was buttery with a hint of smokiness that I’m pretty sure came from cumin. The extra bread was a bonus (mmmm, carbs) and I smeared the lentil hummus on it and ate it. Full disclosure: I slid that avocado slice on over to the hubs because, ewww, avocado. (I know it’s healthy and all that but it’s just not my thing.)

After such a healthy breakfast I was ready to get my tourist-ing on! We both commented on how light and energetic we felt which turned out to be perfect because the Marienberg Fortress was a MASSIVE CLIMB that I would not have been able to make with a greasy breakfast.

But, don’t get it twisted, I do love to eat a healthy plant based diet but I do have a weakness; booze. And we were in wine country so I did have a little bit of a boost to get me up the fortress.

The big castle over my shoulder is Marienberg and that’s a dry rose that was SO COLD and delicious as it went down. It kept me refreshed for the monster climb but the climb did kind of destroy my buzz!

(No, I don’t know the gentleman behind me he was an accidental photobomb.)

We spent quite a bit of time at the Fortress because there were amazing views of the entire town and I got some great panorama shots! After a day of sightseeing at least a half dozen cathedrals, vineyards, gardens and art galleries we made our way back to Vrohstoff. The dinner menu was so mouthwatering but we were both fatigued from all the walking around in the sun that we went for the easy-ish option.

He got soup. A potato and leek soup with a hint of tumeric. It was delicious and I might have had a spoonful. Or two.

I got salad with tomatoes, apples, 3 types of lettuce, carrot spirals, shaved nuts and orange slices.

And then we both got…burgers! They were amazing and the sweet potato fries were OUT OF THIS WORLD!

HE got the ‘Der Mexikaner’ or the Mexican burger, which included a black bean burger with: beets, vegan cheddar, corn, cucumber relish and corn chips. And that little red & white cup? homemade ketchup with vegan mayo that was made with a coconut cream base. It was tasty but a tad too sweet with the sweet potato fries. He ate every bite, though!

I got the ‘Der Greiche’ or The Greek burger that was complete with a bean & olive pattie tomatoes, cucumber, kalamata olives, mint pesto, vegan tzatziki and…parsnip chips. It was very filling or maybe it was all the wine I drank but either way I rolled myself out of there and made my way to the car.

Somehow.

We took a break after the fortress to rest our aching feet over a cocktail or two and this went rolling past!

 

Come back soon and I’ll share with you the loot of wine I picked up in Würzburg!

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:

 

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!

Spicy Tahini Rice Bowl

This recipe was inspired by The Stingy Vegan but because we live in Germany right now, where you can’t get every vegetable on the planet year-round, we had to improvise.

vegan rice bowl

The good thing about this dish is that it is much heartier than it looks. We used wild rice because it’s delicious, hearty and packed with vitamins and nutrients. And I quick-pickled the vegetables with lime juice, champagne vinegar, brown sugar and fresh lime juice. Bok Choy is something I learned to love right before we left the United States thanks to a family friend who introduced me to the wonders of Cambodian cuisine. In this recipe, it was cut into quarters and charred in a pan with minced garlic and ginger.