Monday, October 31, 2011

Frankenmint Brownies

I fell in love with these cute monster-inspired brownies from the October 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times. But I didn't quite trust their brownie recipe. Instead, I turned to the queens of vegan baked goods--Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero--and used their Deluxe Cocoa Brownies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar as the base. I used the Veg Times recipe for the frosting because it was similar to what Isa and Terry usually do. (Recipes for both below.)

On my first try, the frosting was too thick, and the faces weren't smooth.

I added a bit more soymilk to get a smoother frosting.
It was a bit of a pain to draw on the faces, but it's Halloween, which is always worth the effort. And they tasted absolutely awesome. The brownies were moist and just wonderful on their own, but the mint frosting added an "oh my god these are amazing" factor.

Frankenmint Brownies
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Makes 12

Brownies (from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar)
  • 3 ounces firm silken tofu, like Moi-Nu (1/4 of the package)
  • 1/4 cup nondairy milk
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Frosting & Decoration
  • 2 Tbs. vegan margarine, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. soymilk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. mint extract
  • 1–2 drops green food coloring
  • Tube of black gel frosting

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8X8 brownie pan with parchment paper; it should cover the bottom and curve up and cover the sides.
  2. Puree the tofu, nondairy milk, and oil in a blender of food processor until smooth and fluffy. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides to make sure you get everything.
  3. Transfer the tofu mixture to a mixing bowl. Use a fork to vigorously mix in the sugar. Add vanilla.
  4. Sift in the flower, cocoa powder, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Use a spatula to fold and mix batter until smooth. Transfer the batter to a the pan and smooth out the top. 
  5. Bake for 30 to 32 minutes, remove the pan from the oven, and let cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing. 
  6. Once cool, trim edges and cut into 12 rectangles. Trim corners off 1 short side of each rectangle to create chins.
  7. To make frosting: Beat margarine and 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar in bowl. Stir in soymilk, mint extract, and food coloring. Beat in remaining confectioners’ sugar.
  8. To make decoration: Mix some of the frosting with black tube frosting. If you can find pre-made black frosting in a thin enough tube, go for it. Mine wasn't thin enough to draw small lines, so I mixed it with the regular frosting, filled a pastry bag, and piped it on using the smallest decorating tip I had.
  9. Spread green frosting on cooled brownies. Draw faces with black frosting.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

This Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe has transformed self-declared Brussels sprouts haters into lovers. It's become the dish my family asks me to bring for holiday dinners. And it's so simple to make!

I made it this week because I couldn't pass up the Brussels sprout stalks at Trader Joe's. I'm sure I'll be making it again for the holidays.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Recipe from Vegetarian Times

  • 2 lb. Brussels sprouts, large sprouts halved, small sprouts left whole
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil (I used less; just make sure the sprouts are nicely coated)
  • 2 Tbs. maple syrup
  • 2 Tbs. vegan margarine (Earth Balance), optional
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss Brussels sprouts with oil in large baking dish or on baking sheet, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Roast 45 minutes, or until tender, loosening sprouts from baking dish or sheet with spatula every 15 minutes, and making sure they brown nicely. 
  2. Transfer to serving bowl and toss with maple syrup and butter, if using. 
Note: Serve immediately, but these taste just as good at room temperature.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

French Onion Soup

Break out your slow cooker! It perfectly browns onions for this meat- and dairy-free French Onion Soup.

The soup was good enough on its own. But I just can't pass up the excuse to eat white bread (because it is my weakness, I rarely buy it), and then it didn't seem right to have the bread without some cheesy topping. While I haven't been too impressed with Daiya cheese in the past and usually rather make my own or go cheese-ish-less, I used the Daiya mozzarella style shreds on this. It was actually fantastic. The cheese-ish-nish went perfectly with the sweet, tangy soup. 

It was even better the next day!

French Onion Soup
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes.
  • 3 lbs sliced onions (about 6 medium onions)
  • 2 tbsp melted vegan margarine (Earth Balance)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
  • 8 cups vegetable stock (it calls for this stock you also make in the slow cooker, but because I didn't have any made, I bought organic veg stock; I also added about a half-cup of Happy Herbivore's no-beef broth from the cookbook)
  • 2 tbsp brandy or cognac (optional) (I couldn't see buying brandy to use 2 tbsp for this recipe, so I omitted)
  • sliced baguette (optional)
  • Daiya or DIY cheese shreds (optional)

  1. In slow cooker stoneware, combine onions and margarine. Stir to coat onions thoroughly. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour until onions are softened.
  2. Add sugar, salt, and peppercorns and stir well. Place two clean tea towels, each folded in half so you have four layers, over top of stoneware to absorb the moisture. Cover and cook on high for 2 to 4 hours (depends on slow cooker; mine only took 2 hours), stirring 2 or 3 times to ensure that onions are browning evenly, replacing towels each time.
  3. Add vegetable stock and brandy, if using. Remove towels, cover, and cook on high for 1 to 2 hours (only took me 1 hour).
  4. If adding bread and cheese, preheat broiler. Ladle soup into ovenproof bowls. Place two slices baguette in each bowl. Sprinkle liberally with cheese and broil 2 to 3 minutes until cheese shreds are melted. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies & Pumpkin Bread

I wanted to use up the can of pumpkin puree I used for the Pumpkin and Shiitake Risotto with Crispy Sage so I made two treats this past weekend, both Happy Herbivore recipes.

The first was Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies (recipe here; I omitted the raisins). I've made these before and love them. They have a great pumpkin spice taste and are moist and, with more than 2.5 grams of protein in a cookie, are also filling. Most of the batch is in my freezer to tide me over this fall until I start my holiday cookie baking.

I also made the Pumpkin Bread (recipe here), which I hadn't made before. It was also super quick to mix, and the bread turned out really moist and delicious. I've been eating it for breakfast spread with peanut butter.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Project Food Budget on TV

A few weeks ago, WTAE, a Pittsburgh-based news channel, did a great story on the Project: Food Budget I participated in earlier this year. Thanks to Emily (pictured above, being interviewed by Michelle Wright) for inviting me to be a part of it! The story focused on how to save money by setting a food budget and sticking to it through strategies like meal planning, buying ingredients only on your grocery list, and buying only in season. I've been waiting to write about this until they posted the video, but unfortunately, it doesn't look like that will happen. Also unfortunately, I was on vacation when it aired and never got to see it. But so many people saw it and said they learned a lot from it.

I participated in the project for 25 weeks, learned a lot, and ended up going from a weekly grocery bill of about $150 to about $80. I posted everything I learned here and continue to use the strategies and tips from that project. Emily is starting the project again for the next 52 weeks (!), so sign up if you're interested. Details are here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pumpkin and Shiitake Risotto with Crispy Sage

My lame photo doesn't do this dish justice (with the gray, rainy days of fall comes the end of good lighting). It was delicious! This creamy risotto has a very light pumpkin flavor, perfectly complemented by the sage.

Pumpkin and Shiitake Risotto with Crispy Sage
Recipe adapted from the October 2011 issue of Women's Health Magazine

4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup olive oil
10 sage leaves, plus 2 tsp minced fresh sage
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup sliced shiitake mushroom cups (I rehydrated dried ones)
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  1. Heat broth in a saucepan until boiling then keep at a simmer on the stove top.
  2. Heat olive oil in a saute pan until hot but not smoking. Add sage leaves and fry until crispy, about 10 to 15 seconds. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate
  3. Transfer 1 tablespoon of the sage oil to a 4-quart saucepan and save the remaining oil for another use. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, until translucent but not browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the minced sage and cook for 30 seconds. Add rice and cook, stirring, until rice is glistening and coated with oil, about 1 minute. Add mushrooms and wine; cook, stirring, until most of the liquid is evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 cup broth and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid is evaporated. Continue to add broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring, until liquid is evaporated after each addition and rice swells but is still ad dente, 17 to 20 minutes.
  4. Add pumpkin puree, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring, until incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with fried sage leaves.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Seitan Pot Roast & Truffled Mashed Potatoes

Nothing says fall comfort food like pot roast, gravy, and mashed potatoes!

First I made the Seitan Pot Roast from The Happy Herbivore Cookbook. It called for No-Beef Broth and Vegan Worcestershire Sauce, also recipes in the cookbook. They were so quick and easy to make, I didn't mind the recipes within recipes. The seitan is quick and easy to put together, then you simmer it in the no-beef broth with veggies for an hour, then bake it for another 25 minutes until it's firm and the outside is crispy.

I topped it with No-Beef Gravy, which was also simple to make because I'd already made the No-Beef Broth.

Yum! The pot roast was meaty without being, well, meaty. It was tasty, filling, and a true comfort food with the gravy on top.

I made Truffled Mashed Potatoes, a new recipe from Vegetarian Times, as a side. Recipe below. Confession: I've never made mashed potatoes before! The version from my childhood is full of butter and sour cream. It looms so large and perfect in my memory that I've never wanted to make another version...and I haven't tried a vegan version.

The Truffled Mashed Potatoes didn't disappoint. It was definitely different, but the truffle elevated it to a level of fanciness not normally found in this gold ole' dish. It was also very quick and easy to make, which is always a plus in my book.

Truffled Mashed Potatoes from November 2011 Vegetarian Times
  • 2 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 2-3 Tbsp truffle oil (I used 2)
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley (I used dried)
  1. Bring potatoes, garlic, and enough water to cover all by 1 inch to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.
  2. Transfer drained potatoes and garlic to a mixing bowl and mash or mix with hand mixer (what I did) with enough cooking liquid until everything is smooth and creamy. I didn't use much cooking liquid--probably 1/4 cup. 
  3. Stir in truffle oil and parsley and season with salt and pepper if desired. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Special Kittens Need Special Home

When I trapped a feral mom and her kittens to get mom spayed, I misjudged the kittens' ages and kept them to socialize them and get them adopted. The older kittens are, the harder they are to socialize (that is, get them used to people), and if they're not socialized, they will never be able to be handled. They were about 12 weeks when I brought them in at the beginning of August, and they were tough cookies. It was five weeks--five long weeks of them hiding from them, hissing at me, and running when I tried to touch them--before the first one warmed up to me (he has already found a home). After that, it was the kitten domino effect: each of them warmed up to me slowly, and now they are finally ready to be adopted! They both love to be petted and brushed...and play, of course!

These kittens need an owner who will be very loving and patient with them until they adjust to their new home. They are normal kittens in every way except that they are very shy at first with new people...remember that they were born on the streets, and their mom taught them to be fearful of people to ensure their survival. It will probably take a few weeks to a month, but once they have adjusted to their new home and bonded with their new owner, they will be great companions! I have a formal feral that I socialized for an animal shelter, and he bonded with me so strongly that I just had to keep him. Usually formal ferals bond strongly with their owners, so they are perfect for someone who wants total love and devotion from their feline friend. They are about four months old and have been spayed, neutered, and vaccinated, so they are ready to go to their forever home! Please contact me if you know anyone who is interested. And if someone has room in their hearts and home, they are great friends and would love to be adopted together.

This handsome, buff-colored boy is laidback and gentle. He loves to fall onto his back for belly rubs and is very affectionate. He likes to play, but he is just as happy watching his crazier sister play. He loves to pick rubber balls and anything else he can find in his mouth and put them in his water bowl...he loves to play in water! My family watched both kittens at their house for a week, and Max let them pet him within just a few days. He's very sweet.


My husband called this kitten "the one that looks like a hyena," so she became Hester Hyena. She is a beautiful medium-haired calico with a big puffy tail and an even bigger personality. She's one of the smartest cats I've ever met, and as such, gets bored easily, so she will do best in a home where someone can play, play, play with her. She goes nuts over a feather wand and plays fetch. She is a bossy little girl--she was the leader of the litter--and would do best either in a home by herself or with other submissive cats (or with her brother Max!) She constantly chirps and talks and is constantly looking for a new adventure. She will need the most time to adjust, though...perhaps because she is so smart, she is also very wary of new situations, but her new owner will be able to win her over by playing with her lots.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Last Hurrah: Smoky Baby Portobello Sliders

We took advantage of the gorgeous, sunny, 80-degree day yesterday by grilling out. In my last hurrah before grilling season ended, I decided to make Smoky Baby Portobello Sliders, a favorite summer recipe from Vegetarian Times. Baby bellos are seasoned with BBQ spice, grilled in BBQ sauce, and topped with onions caramelized in olive oil and herbes de provence. I've made these fabulous little sliders for friends, and they've been a big hit. Find the recipe here (vegans, omit the cheese; I promise you won't miss it).

To go with the sliders, I grilled some seasoned tofu slices and avocado. It was a perfect meal for a perfect day--a perfect way to say a final goodbye to summer.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Braised Cabbage with Seitan

I like cabbage and I like seitan, so this Braised Cabbage with Seitan recipe from Appetite for Reduction seemed like a great fall dish.

First I made the Surefire Seitan also from Appetite for Reduction. I've made it before and loved it, but this time it didn't turn out! My dough never became elastic like it should. I used a different type of vital wheat gluten, so maybe that's why. It tasted good but wasn't as firm and chewy as it should have been.

The Braised Cabbage recipe is pretty basic. I started by sauteing sliced seitan in olive oil...but I hesitated when it called for adding two teaspoons of thyme to the seitan. I'm not a huge thyme fan so added only a half teaspoon and then some red pepper flakes. Then it was just a matter of adding vegetable broth and sliced cabbage and simmering until the cabbage was tender.

The final dish was pretty bland. All I really tasted was the thyme (damn that thyme!). I loaded my bowl up with salt and pepper, but it wasn't much better. Unfortunately, this recipe was a waste of seitan...and because my seitan was a flop, a waste of eight cups of vegetable broth!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Falling Back to Cooking

Even though I've refused to put my sleeveless dresses and short skirts away, I have to admit that summer has ended. My summer was filled with laid-back meals I cobbled together from fresh-from-the-farmers'-markets produce. A typical meal would be sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, cannellini beans tossed with olive oil, and watermelon for dessert...or grilled veggie and tofu skewers. They were simple and delicious, and I rarely cooked.

It's hard to say good-bye to summer, but I've welcomed fall (my favorite season) by getting back into cooking. This week I made some oldies but goodies:
I nearly forgot how much I love cooking and how delicious a healthy, nutritious, homemade meal can be. I'll wear cardigans over my summer dresses and tights under my skirts because I can't bear to part with my summer clothes just yet, but I'm happy to get back into cooking and experimenting with some new recipes using seasonal produce (Vegetarian Times has had some great ones I want to try.)

Anyone have a great fall recipe they want to share?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Eating Vegan on a South Dakota Road Trip

One of the first things I did when my husband and I decided to go to South Dakota for vacation was look up vegan and vegetarian restaurants on Happy Cow. Of the five results listed, three were natural food stores; only two restaurants were veg-friendly. We rented vacation homes for most of the trip so I could cook at home, but we planned to be on the road a lot. I wondered if I would have to give up veganism for this trip. While I gave up dairy for ethical reasons, it now makes me physically sick...but I knew I would be starving and unhappy with just salads. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to eat eggs and dairy if there was no other choice, so I was happy that it wasn't too hard to eat vegan, even in bison-burger country.

After flying into Rapid City (I found a vegan garden lentil salad in the Chicago airport!), we drove to Badlands National Park. Of course we had to stop at Wall Drug, where they had veggie burgers on the menu. This was the only time on the trip where I did have to stray from veganism, because I knew the veggie burgers were Morningstar and thus had cheese and egg in them. Luckily I didn't get sick from eating it.

We stayed at an inn in the park. Our sole source of food was the restaurant at Cedar Pass Lodge. They also had veggie burgers on the menu. Instead, I got a salad, fries, and Indian fry bread--a sweet, puffy, fried bread reminiscent of funnel cakes. I knew this wasn't very healthy, but it truly was the only option (besides the non-vegan veggie burger). At breakfast at the lodge's restaurant, I wondered if I'd have to eat eggs for protein. I was so excited to see they had oatmeal, fruit, and soymilk ! I was able to get my protein from the soymilk and oatmeal, so I didn't have to eat eggs.

After Badlands we drove west to the Black Hills. For lunch we ate at a Mexican restaurant, where I got a bean burrito. Hot Springs had a natural food store, Earth Goods, and I got other basics at a grocery store before we went to our vacation home near Crazy Horse Memorial. I bought whole-wheat bread, peanut butter, jelly, fruit, veggies, and soymilk. We stayed at a privately owned miners' ghost town in the renovated boarding house--definitely one of the most interesting places we've stayed at!

We saw Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park and did a lot of scenic driving in that area. We ate out at another Mexican restaurant, a regular restaurant that had a southwestern black bean burger, and ate at home the rest of the time.

We then drove north and stayed in a vacation home in Spearfish Canyon and from there explored Deadwood, Sturgis, and Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Again we ate Mexican food or ate at home.

Because the area has so many tourist attractions, nearly every restaurant had at least one veg option besides a salad. My fallback was Mexican food or peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, which I was completely happy with.

It was a great trip. Badlands was so gorgeous--the most spectacular landscape I've ever seen after New Zealand and Alaska. It had interesting rock formations surrounded by rolling prairie, with cacti and desert-like vegetation mixed in, and buffalo roaming and prairie dogs chattering. And the grazing horses and cows throughout all of western South Dakota was really picturesque.
We flew back through Denver, where I had a brown rice, veggie, and tofu bowl with thai dressing. Perfect way to end our vacation!

To see more South Dakota pictures, check out the rest of mine or my husband's (which are way better). Oh, and on this vacation we celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary on September 20!