Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pumpkin Baked Ziti

Just in time for Halloween (assuming it's not cancelled or rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy!), here is an extra-hearty, pumpkin-filled recipe.  I have fond memories of making various pumpkin-themed dishes with my family over the years--curried pumpkin soup served right in the pumpkin, for one--so here's one to add to that list.  Enjoy!     

Warm and creamy baked ziti with a sage crumb topping.

Pumpkin Baked Ziti
  • 1 pound ziti or penne pasta
  • 3 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 onions, sliced very thinly
  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound firm tofu, pressed and crumbled
  • 1.5 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup vegan butter
  • 2.5 cups bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup walnut pieces, blended in a food processor to create coarse crumbs
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 - 15 ounce can pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • a few shakes of black pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking pan and set aside.  Prepare the pasta according to the package directions and set aside.   
Meanwhile, begin caramelizing the onions.  Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil a large skillet over medium heat and then add the onions.  Allow the onions to cook, stirring occasionally, until they become very brown and caramelized; they will reduce down, too.  This will take some time (at least 25 minutes, most likely), so be patient.  Once they are ready, set aside.

While the onions are caramelizing, prepare the tofu-cashew ricotta.  Blend together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, cashews, lemon juice, and garlic in a food processor. Add the tofu and blend until the mixture is thick and well combined.  Then mix in the basil and salt. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
Next, make the sage bread crumb topping.  Melt the butter in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat.  Then stir in the bread crumbs, walnuts, sage, oregano, and paprika, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir until the mixture is lightly coated, and then remove from the heat.  Set aside. 

Now it's time to assemble the pasta mixture.  Mix the pumpkin, brown sugar, nutmeg, peppers, and vegetable broth into the tofu-cashew ricotta.  Then add in the cooked pasta and caramelized onions and stir until the pasta is coated.  Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula or spoon.  Then sprinkle the bread crumbs over top.  

Bake for about 28 minutes or until the breadcrumbs look golden brown.  Allow the pasta to sit for several minutes before serving. 
Yields about 8 servings.
This pasta dish is incredibly rich (almost heavy) and smooth, thanks in no small part to the great tofu-cashew ricotta.  Far from overpowering, the pumpkin flavor is actually quite mild.  Simon and Rachel both enjoyed the subtle pumpkin flavor and we all appreciated the creaminess that it added to the dish.  The caramelized onions may have been my favorite part: they add a nice sweetness to each bite.  Unfortunately, we all agreed that there were too many bread crumbs, so I might cut them down a bit next time. 
This recipe has an extensive list of ingredients!  If you don't have some of the ingredients (especially in the bread crumbs), you can always consider leaving them out.  
Aside from the cashews, everything is pretty inexpensive.  (Why are nuts so expensive?  It must have something to do with the difficulty in shelling them.)  We didn't have trouble finding the ingredients. 
 Ease of Preparation:          
This recipe isn't too difficult to pull off, but it does take some time and attention.  I wrote the recipe to involve a fair amount of multitasking to save time, but it still took at least an hour to make. 
Non-vegan friendliness:         
Anyone who enjoys a creamy, rich pasta bake would enjoy this seasonal dish.  It's amazing how similar the tofu-cashew ricotta is to non-vegan ricotta.    

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Chickpea-Squash Stew served over Quinoa

Did you know that 2013 has been declared Year of the QuinoaAs wonderful as quinoa is, it's a bit underrepresented on this blog.  Here's a recipe to change that. 

So colorful and healthy!

Chickpea-Squash Stew served over Quinoa

  • 4 cups cubed (1/2 inch) and peeled butternut squash 
  • 1 1/3 cup quinoa
  • 2 2/3 cup water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup lite coconut milk
  • 2 - 14 ounce cans petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 - 14 ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 green onions, chopped

First, boil the squash in a medium/large saucepan until just tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain, rinse, and set aside.  
Meanwhile, cook the quinoa.  Combine the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed.  Then remove the quinoa from the heat, fluff with a fork, and cover to keep warm.
While the squash and quinoa are cooking, begin to cook the stew.  Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and salt and cook until the onions begin to brown, about seven or eight minutes. Add the ginger and jalapeno and cook for two more minutes, stirring constantly. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Then add the coconut milk, tomatoes, chickpeas, and cooked squash and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the squash is tender, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes.

Ladle the stew over the quinoa and garnish with green onions before serving hot.  Yields 8 servings.

We all enjoyed this colorful, flavorful dish.  The nuttiness of the quinoa and the heartiness of the squash and chickpeas make this a solid, everyday dish.  Plus, the coconut milk and jalapeno balance each other nicely. 
We didn't have trouble finding any of these ingredients at our standard grocery store. 
 Ease of Preparation:          
As long as you're sure to multitask by cooking the quinoa and squash at once, this dish doesn't take too long.  I find that it's easiest to dice the hard squash using a heavy chopping knife. 
Non-vegan friendliness:         
Simon noted that there's nothing missing from this dish; at the same time, he considers it more of a hearty side dish than a main dish.  I really like the aesthetics of this dish, and I'd be confident serving it to non-vegans, especially during fall!       

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Meaty Chili

We've made the same chili recipe several times over the past year and a half; so, when Simon's dad passed along a new one, we were happy to give it a try.  The recipe from Cook's Illustrated was called "BEST VEGETARIAN CHILI," so it had to be good--almost as good as this.

Don't forget to garnish with cilantro, like I did!

I made a few changes to the original recipe, reflected below.

Meaty Chili
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1 - 28 ounce can petite diced tomatoes, drained (but save the juice in a bowl)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 8 ounces canned green chiles, drained
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, stems removed and coarsely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons oregano
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 pounds onions, finely diced
  • 1.25 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 4 - 15 ounce cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups water (plus more as needed)
  • 2/3 cup bulgur 
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

First, process three separate batches of ingredients.  There's no need to clean out the food processor between each batch--it's all going in the same pot in the end! 
  • Process the walnuts for about 30 seconds or until a coarse powder forms.  Remove from food processor and set aside.  
  • Then, process the drained tomatoes, tomato paste, jalapeno, garlic, and soy sauce until the tomatoes are finely chopped, about 45 seconds.  Pour the mixture into a bowl and set aside.
  • Finally, blend the chiles, mushrooms, and oregano until finely ground.  Pour the mixture into a bowl and set aside. 
Next, heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until onions begin to brown.  Lower the heat to medium, add the mushroom mixture and cumin, and cook for another minute.  Then add the beans, water, bulgur, walnuts, tomato mixture, and reserved tomato juice.  Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30-45 minutes until the chili is thick and flavorful.  If you need to add more water during this time, feel free to do so.*
Once the chili is cooked, garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

Yields 6-8 servings.

This chili has a truly meaty taste--not in the sense that it tastes like meat, but rather that it has a full, deep flavor and a substantive texture.  The mushrooms, walnuts, and other ground up ingredients really come together to create a nice, thick chili base, and the beans add a bit of textural variety.  Even Simon--the carrot-rating deflator that he is--thought this recipe deserves four carrots.  If I were to improve the recipe, I'd add another jalapeno to the mix because the chili wasn't very spicy. 
There are a bunch of ingredients in this recipe, but we were able to find them all at our usual grocery store.  We had the most trouble finding bulgur, and for some reason the box of bulgur we did find had soy bits in it, too; but, it ended up working out fine. 
 Ease of Preparation:          
Thanks to our food processor, there's not a whole lot of chopping involved in this recipe.  It does take a while to cook. 
Non-vegan friendliness:         
This recipe yields a really tasty dish that would satisfy any appetite.  Plus, chili is pretty customizable: Simon and Rachel topped theirs with cheese and sour cream.    

* Note: we used too much water when we made the chili (I didn't properly account for the fact that the beans were already cooked), so I ended up bailing water out of the pot.  The recipe above reflects the amount of water that I left in the pot, but feel free to adjust as you see fit. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookies

Q: What's better than peanut butter cookies?
A: Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.

Q: What's better than peanut butter chocolate chip cookies?
A: Peanut butter chocolate chip pretzel cookies! 

The last two cookies.  It was sad to see them go.
While the classic combination of chocolate and peanut butter will always have a special place in my heart, I must say that the salty crunch in these pretzel-filled cookies adds a nice twist.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookies
  • 1.25 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg equivalent (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer Powder)
  • 1 tablespoon soymilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1.5 cups Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1.25 cups chopped (not crushed) pretzels
  • Salt, for sprinkling (optional)

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside. 

Next, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Then, in a large bowl, beat the butter, peanut butter, and sugars until smooth.  Add the egg equivalent, soymilk, and vanilla and beat again until well incorporated.  Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.  Then, using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and pretzels.

Drop the dough by heaping spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets and lightly sprinkle each cookie with salt, if desired.  Bake for 10-11 minutes, or until the cookies are slightly brown on the edges. Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheets for a couple minutes before transferring them to a wire rack or paper towel.

Yields approximately 3 dozen cookies.

These cookies are soft, crunchy, sweet, and salty, all at the same time.  The chocolate, peanut butter, and pretzel flavors balance each other quite well, with no single flavor taking over.  The only flaw I can find with the cookies is that they were a bit fragile, but that didn't stop us from devouring them.  
Aside from the egg replacer powder, everything should be easy to find at the grocery store.  The good thing about egg replacer powder is that it can sit in the pantry for a long time without going bad.
 Ease of Preparation:         
There's nothing out of the ordinary in this cookie recipe: mix, bake, cool, and serve. 
Non-vegan friendliness:         
I look forward to serving these to non-vegan friends and family! 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Butterscotch Blondie Bars with Peanut-Pretzel Caramel

Butterscotch Blondie Bars with Peanut-Pretzel Caramel: sounds delicious, right??  Not the way I made them, unfortunately.

Looks can be deceiving!
I tried out this recipe from Epicurious with the intent of serving the bars at Rachel's birthday party, but things did not go according to plan.  I substituted a combination of unsweetened apple sauce and egg-replacer powder for the eggs, and I used coconut cream (the thick layer that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk) in place of heavy cream.

Even though the bars had a solid consistency and looked great, they didn't taste great.  The blondie bottoms were neither very sweet nor very flavorful (yet they were probably the best part of the bar).  Meanwhile, the caramel tasted slightly burnt.  Caramel is difficult to make, so I may have cooked it for too long or made some other mistake.  But, many Epicurious recipe reviewers also had trouble, so the recipe might need some tweaking, too.  I'm not going to write out the recipe here, but feel free to view the original.

In the end, I whipped up a batch of fudgy brownies instead of serving these blondie bars at the party.  If you do make these bars and you're successful, please let me know how you do it!  I believe they have the potential to be incredible.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dumpling Soup

With temperatures dipping into the 40s at night, I think it's safe to say that fall has officially arrived in the D.C. area.  And what could be better than putting on sweatpants, getting an extra blanket out of the closet, and bundling up with a bowl of warm soup? 

A bowl of warm soup.
We decided to try out a recipe from good old Martha Stewart for Dumpling Soup.  The recipe calls for pre-made dumplings, so it's pretty easy to manage. 

Dumpling Soup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 - 2 inch chunk fresh ginger, slivered
  • 43.5 ounces low sodium vegetable broth
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
  • 18 vegetable dumplings (frozen or fresh)
  • 2 cups frozen corn (or baby corn)
  • 6 cups lightly packed arugula

First, heat the oil and garlic in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes or until the onion begins to soften.  Then add the ginger and three cups of water to the pot; stir, cover, and bring to a boil.  Cook for 10 minutes.
Next, add the broth and mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms begin to soften (about three minutes).  Add the dumplings and corn, and boil until the dumplings are tender (three or four minutes; the dumpling package may also have a more precise cooking time estimate).  Finally, add the arugula and stir for 30 seconds. 

Serve hot.  Yields 6 servings.

It turns out that we may have preferred a little more control over what went into the soup when it came to the dumplings.  The refrigerated dumplings from the sushi section of the grocery store ended up tasting fairly bland (a splash of soy sauce helped out, here).  Even so, the soup did have a pleasantly fresh taste and I especially liked the arugula in it.  We all enjoyed the dish a bit more the second day, so keep in mind that it improves with age.
I was planning to buy frozen rather than fresh dumplings to save on cost, but the only vegan dumplings carried by our usual grocery store were fresh.  They ended up being pretty expensive. 
 Ease of Preparation:         
While this dish was a bit lacking on taste and accessibility, it was definitely easy to make.  There's a bit of chopping prep work to take care of, but then it all just goes into the pot. 
Non-vegan friendliness:         
I wouldn't want a skeptical non-vegan to judge vegan food by this dish.  That said, the soup was very filling and it was pretty exciting to have dumplings for dinner (even if they weren't the greatest), so I'd say this was a pretty non-vegan friendly dish.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chocolate Oreo Cake

Happy belated birthday, Rachel!  My roommate turned 21+2 last week, so I made her a birthday cake that combines some of her favorite things: chocolate and Oreos.  The result was one scrumptious cake.
A slice of cake.

It's scary how quickly a whole cake can disappear...

Chocolate Oreo Cake

Chocolate Layer Cake
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
  • 2 cups water

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly oil two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside.

Next, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix with a whisk until thoroughly combined.  Create a well in the center of the bowl and add the wet ingredients.  Whisk until just combined and then pour the batter evenly into the two cake pans.

Bake for 28-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each pan comes out clean.  Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack before frosting.  Once the cake is nearly cool, begin making the frosting. 

Chocolate Oreo Frosting
  • 1 cup vegan butter (at room temperature)
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup soymilk, plus more as needed
  • 2/3 package double-stuffed Oreos, crushed
In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter until smooth.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the powdered sugar and beat for two minutes.  Then add the cocoa powder, vanilla, and soymilk and beat on high until combined.  Continue to beat, slowly adding more soymilk as needed, until the frosting becomes very smooth and fluffy (since you'll be adding Oreos, you want the frosting to be less stiff at this point than you'd like it to be at the end).  Finally, mix in the Oreos by hand.  

Once the cake is cool, you're ready to frost and assemble the layer cake.  Run a knife around the inside of each pan to loosen the cake.  Then turn one of the cake pans upside-down onto your cake plate or platter and tap the pan until the cake releases.  Remove the pan and frost the top of this layer of cake.  Then invert the second cake pan on another plate and tap the pan until the cake releases.  Re-invert this cake layer on top of the frosted cake layer and frost the top and sides of the cake. 

Yields one 9-inch layer cake.

We all loved this cake.  It's incredibly rich and chocolatey, and the Oreos add a really nice, subtle crunch to the frosting.  Simon described the frosting as almost fudge-like.  The cake was a little bit crumbly, but I think that's because I left it in the oven just a minute or two too long.    
No fancy ingredients here! 
 Ease of Preparation:         
Making a cake takes a bit of time, but there's no way around that.  The only place I ran into trouble was when I was frosting the cake: my frosting was a bit too thick to spread easily once I added in the Oreos (that's why I stressed making the frosting a bit thinner before adding the Oreos). 
Non-vegan friendliness:         
Seeing as I made this birthday cake for my non-vegan roommate, I'd say it's quite non-vegan friendly.  Plus, it's customizable!  You could use peanut butter Oreos, or birthday cake Oreos, or mint Oreos, or......

Monday, October 8, 2012

Moo Shu Vegetable Wraps

The other night we made Moo Shu Vegetable Wraps, a veganized version of the traditional northern Chinese pork-filled dish.  The moo shu filling is sort of like a hearty, warm Asian slaw that's chock full of vegetables.

Just before wrapping.  Don't the snow peas look inviting?
Moo Shu Vegetable Wraps
  • 1 package tortillas or rice paper wrappers
  • Hoisin sauce
Moo Shu Sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar (or lime juice)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon honey (or agave syrup)
Vegetable Filling
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup sliced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, shredded or cut into thin strips
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1.5 cups fresh snow peas, sliced lengthwise
  • 1.5 cups shredded carrots
  • 4 scallions, chopped

    First, make the sauce.  Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. Set aside.

    Next, make the filling.  Heat the canola oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.  Add the onion and ginger and sauté for four minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook for five more minutes.  Then add the cabbage, snow peas, carrots, and green onions, and cook for another two minutes.  Finally, rewhisk the sauce and stir it into the filling mixture.  Simmer for about two minutes, or until sauce thickens.

    Meanwhile, microwave the tortillas for 30 seconds to warm them.  Top the warm wrappers with hoisin sauce and vegetable filling and serve immediately.

    Yields 6 wraps.

    Rachel and Simon enjoyed these wraps a bit more than I did (though I think my main issue was with the hoisin sauce rather than with the moo shu vegetables).  Simon thought the dish tasted just like moo shu is supposed to taste, but he thought the filling mixture came out out a bit mushy.  The snow peas did add a bit of crunch, which was my favorite part.  I might also add some fresh, raw bean sprouts on top to brighten things up.   
    We opted to go with tortillas for the wrapper, even though Mexican Asian, because we had troubling finding rice wrappers.  That said, I thought the tortillas worked well.  The rest of the ingredients should be pretty easy to find--either fresh or frozen.
     Ease of Preparation:          
    Thank you, Pierre Verdon, for inventing the food processor.  If you have a food processor, the shredding attachment makes this dish a cinch.  You'll spend more time on shredding without one, but it's still doable!   
    Non-vegan friendliness:         
    In the future, to avoid mushiness and to add some protein in place of egg or pork, I might add some baked or sautéd tofu strips to the mix. 

    Saturday, October 6, 2012

    Avocado, Spinach, and Sun-dried Tomato Panini

    Every once in a while I browse Vegetarian Times' website for recipes.  They have a pretty decent selection of vegan recipes, though, as I've said before, most recipes contain dairy products.  The other day I found an intriguing panini recipe: what I like most about it is that it doesn't assume I have a panini maker (I don't).  Plus, anything with sun-dried tomatoes and avocado catches my eye.     

    The perfect summer sandwich--even in October.
    Here's the Vegetarian Times recipe with a few of my own adjustments.

    Avocado, Spinach, and Sun-dried Tomato Paninis
    • 1 - 8.5 ounce jar julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil
    • 3 avocados, halved and thinly sliced
    • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly
    • 3 cups lightly packed baby spinach
    • 6 ciabatta rolls, cut in half

    First, use a fork to remove the sun-dried tomatoes from the oil; set aside.  Next, layer each roll with  avocado, sun-dried tomato, onion, and 1/2  cup spinach.  Then lightly spray the exterior of each roll with cooking spray.  

    Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Place one or two paninis in the pan and weight them down with a smaller-diameter saucepan weighted with one or two cans.  Cook for about two minutes, remove the weight, carefully flip the paninis using a spatula, replace the weight, and cook for another two minutes.

    (If you do have a panini maker, cook for four minutes using the panini maker.)

    Cut in half and serve.  Yields 6 paninis.


    Our paninis struggled a bit because our rolls were pretty small (they were square-shaped and maybe four inches wide).  It was difficult to keep all of the ingredients in the panini, let alone get all of the ingredients together in one bite.  As a result, I recommend using medium or large ciabatta rolls to ensure the structural soundness of each panini. 
    When all of the ingredients did come together, it was a delicious bite.  The firm, toasty bread contrasted nicely with the smooth avocado, and the sun-dried tomatoes added a smoky, sweet flavor.  
    We had trouble finding appropriately-sized ciabatta rolls at our regular grocery store (it doesn't have the greatest bakery section).  Everything else was easy to find, though the ingredients are a bit expensive as far as sandwiches go. 
     Ease of Preparation:         
    While assembling the sandwich is quick and easy, it was a little difficult to flip the paninis in the pan without spilling some ingredients.  Again, I think larger rolls would help solve this problem. 
    Non-vegan friendliness:         
    I could see this panini on the menu of any café or sandwich shop.