Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions & Sage Crumb Topping

I loved Thanksgiving this year, despite having dreaded the turkey-centric day. My family hid the turkey on a side table around the corner from the table, so I was shielded from the sad view of a dead turkey. They made me vegan versions of mashed potatoes, stuffing, and veggies, so it was great having the comfort food I grew up with. But the highlight was the dish I brought: Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping from Veganomicon. I absolutely loved it and plan to make it for my in-laws for Christmas. I also made Roasted Brussels Sprouts, which everyone loves.

The base of this recipe is the Cashew Ricotta. I've made this ricotta before and love it. It's not only a great ricotta substitute, but it's also great dolloped onto veggie pizza, or even just slathered on crackers. I added pumpkin puree, brown sugar, and seasonings for the creamy, part-cheesy, part-pumpkiny filling.
When I asked on Twitter whether anyone had made this recipe, one person said she thought it was just okay. She said she thought it was missing something, but didn't know what. The recipe calls for two onions to be caramelized. I figured any dish will be better with more caramelized onions, so I added a third onion. Then I mixed the pumpkin filling, onions, and ziti together.

Last I made the Sage Crumb Topping from fresh baguette bread. Mmm. It looked so delicious out of the oven, I couldn't wait to eat it.

The final dish was creamy, rich, sweet, and cheesy, with the sage, pumpkin, and onion flavors perfectly complementing each other.

The only bad thing is this ziti is not a light dish. It's very rich and heavy, so save this dish for special occasions or when you have a lot of people to help eat it (or if you don't really care if a dish is light!). I haven't posted many recipes from Veganomicon, but I'll post this one because not only is it phenomenal, but it's a great advertisement for what a great cookbook Veganomicon is. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping from Veganomicon
Serves 6-8
  • 3/4 pound uncooked ziti or penne pasta
  • 3 onions, sliced very thinly (original recipe calls for 2)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 recipe Cashew Ricotta (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • white pepper and cayenne (the recipe didn't say how much; I used a dash of each)
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth

Sage Bread Crumbs
  • 2 1/2 cups bread crumbs, preferably fresh and homemade (made from about half a baguette or four dinner rolls)
  • 1/3 cup walnut pieces, chopped in a food processor until resembling course crumbs
  • 1/4 cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 2 teaspoons dried, rubbed sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
  • salt and pepper

Cashew Ricotta
  • 1/2 cup raw cashew pieces, soaked in water for at least an hour
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 pound firm tofu, drained and crumbled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

To make the Cashew Ricotta:
In a food processor, blend together the cashews, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic until a thick, creamy paste forms. Add the crumbled tofu in batches and process until the mixture is thick and well blended. Blend in the basil and salt. Taste before adding all the salt; I find that it needs a little less than the recipe calls for.
  1. Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a 9X11 baking pan. 
  2. Cook the ziti according to the package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
  3. Preheat a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Saute the onions in oil until onion is very brown and caramelized, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Place Cashew Ricotta in a large bowl and fold in the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, nutmeg, white paper, cayenne, veg broth, and mix. Add the cooked ziti and caramelized onions, stirring to coat the pasta. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and press lightly with a rubber spatula to level it.
  5. For the bread crumbs, melt the margarine in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Stir in the bread crumbs, walnuts, dried herbs, and paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Stir constantly until the mixture is lightly coated, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and sprinkle evenly over the ziti.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, until the top of the ziti is golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christmas Cookie Planning

I wish I could skip over Thanksgiving and get right to Christmas. Last year I baked holiday cookies for the first time ever and gave the 300+ delicious, vegan cookies to friends, family, and neighbors. I loved everything about it: spending all weekend in my cozy kitchen eating leftover cookie dough; giving something I was proud to have made myself as presents; and having beautiful vegan cookie trays at family holiday meals.

This year I've made the first draft of my cookie list and plan to start baking this weekend. But first...I need to get through Thanksgiving.

At least at Christmas holiday meals I have my vegan cookies to lift my spirits. But at Thanksgiving, I'm forced to watch my family tear into the carcass of a dead turkey. Yes, I can bring my own dishes and have some good ones planned. But I'm still disgusted and sad to have to be a part of a holiday that supports the cruel practices of factory farming. There's no getting around it, though. For my husband and my family, I will go to Thanksgiving dinner. I'll try to focus on how I'm living a compassionate lifestyle and not supporting factory farming, even if I'm the only one at the table doing so. After I get through the day, my reward will be baking cookies this weekend.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fond Memories of My Feral Cat

When we moved into our house on the Northside more than eight years ago, we inherited a dozen feral cats and kittens. I didn't even know what a feral cat was and was confused why the kittens didn't come to me. The next summer brought even more kittens. Out of these many ferals, one kitten stayed. Little Ma'am lived in my back yard, wintered in my basement, befriended my own cats, and adopted me as her human from 2004 until she died last Wednesday.

It took two years before I was able to successfully trap her to get her spayed. Until she was spayed, I cursed her and all the kittens she had in my back yard and basement. By then, I knew that if I didn't take the kittens from her before they were weaned, they had a slim chance of being socialized and becoming house cats. But she hid her kittens from me when she knew I would take them, making it very hard for me to socialize them. I caught many of her kittens, though, socialized them, and found them homes.

Little Ma'am made my back yard her territory and defended it viciously against other cats, except my own. She knew not to mess with my cats and tried to befriend all of them. (Grubble was her best friend.) But if any other cat dared to come into my back yard, she attacked it and chased it away.*

The picture at the top is an early shot of Little Ma'am with one of her kittens. This one is from this past summer.
She eventually let me pet her, and just this summer even started coming around people who came to visit, but she wouldn't let me handle her. So when I noticed that she had a problem with her eye in August, I had no way to get her to a vet. I spent a week making her eat food in a trap with the door tied open. I was finally able to trap her and took her to the emergency animal hospital, where they could sedate and treat her.

I gave her medicine (in her food), and she got better for about a month. She seemed very happy and enjoyed the rest of summer. When her eye started getting bad again, I gave her more medicine, but this time it didn't help. Her eye got worse and worse until it pained me to look at her. In the end, she had what looked like a big tumor on the outside of her eye, and it was bleeding. This time, there was no way she was getting back into that trap. I tried unsuccessfully for a week (and caught a raccoon in the process). Finally, I knew I would have to try to pick her up with my hands and try to get her into the trap that way.

I was armed with a coat, gloves, and a big blanket, but I didn't need them. She was so startled that I picked her up that it was easy to get her into the trap. I took her back to the emergency hospital where I learned there was nothing they could do. Even if they removed her eye (which would involve her having to wear a cone around her head for five days...which she would never have allowed), there was an abscess all behind her eye and in her mouth from an awful infection. And because she has feline AIDS and was mostly unhealthy, her chances of getting better were minimal.

So I decided to euthanize her, and she died in my arms at the hospital. Even though our back "yard" is mostly patio and we have little land, I brought her body home with me to bury. It's the only home she's ever known, and I felt it was the right thing to do (I cremated my other cats because of our lack of a yard).

Even though she was feral, she was my cat. She's always been there, part of our house for nearly as long as we've had our house. I miss her.

This weekend, my husband reminded me that she's still with us, in a way. One of her kittens, Orla, was one of the kittens born in my basement, and she's the only of Little Ma'am's kittens I kept. So Little Ma'am will live on through Orla.

Rest in peace, Little Ma'am.

*This was the Trap Neuter Release (TNR) program, advocated by homeless cat organizations, at work. These organizations say that ferals can live happy, long lives as long as they have a caretaker to provide them with food, water, and shelter. Ferals must be spayed and neutered to keep the homeless cat population down, but after they are, they should be released back into a colony that has a caretaker. These organizations report that if you trap and kill homeless cats, more will just take their place, but when you trap, neuter, and release, cats will find their own territories and will control their populations on their own. If it weren't for Little Ma'am, we would probably have had hundreds of ferals over the years. Learn more about feral cats from Alley Cat Allies and the Homeless Cat Management Team.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Roasted Chickpeas

This recipe is for omnivores because I'm pretty sure every vegan makes roasted chickpeas on lazy days when they want to get their protein on with minimal cooking. I eat these by the spoonful right out of the oven, on salads, or as a snack. Add different seasonings for infinite roasted chickpea possibilities!

Roasted Chickpeas
  • 1 cup cooked (or canned) chickpeas
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil (I've played with the olive oil balance, and 2 teaspoons per cup keeps the outside crispy and the inside chewy. If you want to go sans-oil and just coat them in cooking spray, they still taste good but will be dry inside.)
  • seasonings

  1. Heat oven to 400F.
  2. Coat chickpeas with the oil and spread on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on how crispy you want them. 
  4. Remove from the oven, season, and eat immediately. They're best hot out of the oven.
Suggested Seasonings (some come from Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Cook Book )
  • salt & pepper
  • garlic salt
  • cumin
  • cajun seasoning
  • toasted, crushed seeds (like sesame)
  • curry powder or garam masala
  • five-spice powder
  • lemon juice 
  • fellow vegans, any other good seasonings to try?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Creamy Tomato Barley Risotto

In my world of vegan eating, grains are the ho-hum part of my meals. Whole grains have a ton of health benefits (they lower the risk of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and also contribute to body weight management and gastrointestinal health), but I just don't get very excited about them. My go-to grains are oat bran and oatmeal, brown rice, and homemade whole-wheat bread (which is a stretch). Sometimes I decide to be super healthy and make quinoa, and sometimes I go crazy and have white rice.

In the spirit of needing to diversify my grain eating, I made the Creamy Tomato Barley Risotto from Vegan Yum Yum...and fell in love! If this is what whole-grain eating can be about, I'm totally in.

I've never had barley before and was so surprised by how chewy it was, I cooked it 10 minutes longer than the recipe called for. It was still chewy, but wonderfully so. The final dish was super creamy, tomato-y, and just plain yummy. This would be a great side dish to bring to a potluck, and omnivores will have no clue that the creaminess comes from soymilk and nutritional yeast instead of butter and milk.

Creamy Tomato Barley Risotto
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1.5 cups canned pureed/diced tomatoes (14.5-oz can), pureed a bit in a blender or mashed
  • 1 cup soymilk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 3 tbsp miso, mixed with 3 tbsp water
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp kosher salt, to taste
  1. Put the barley olive oil, basil, and oregano in a cold medium-sized pot that has a lid. Turn the heat to medium-high and stir well until barley is coated with oil. 
  2. Once the barley sizzles (about a minute), add the minced garlic and cook for another minute then add the tomatoes, milk, water, nutritional yeast, miso, and salt. Cover and reduce heat to low.
  3. Cook, covered, for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, stir well, re-cover, and cook for another 15 minutes, or until it's as chewy as you like.The mixture should be creamy, but not soupy, and the barley should be very chewy and not mushy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Creamy Broccoli Mushroom Bake

Yes, this Creamy Broccoli Mushroom Bake from Vegan Yum Yum is an ugly duckling recipe as promised, but it was good. I liked the technique of this casserole dish though: process broccoli and mushrooms, saute them with onions and olive oil, mix in an alfredo sauce and grains, top with breadcrumbs, and bake. I don't think I've ever processed my veggies like that before for a casserole.

It was very good, but not a winner in my book because
  1. The alfredo sauce, while really good, called for two tablespoons of Earth Balance margarine. Two tablespoons! Maybe I'm too much of a Happy Herbivore-ian now, but I just don't think you need so much (or any) margarine for something to taste good. 
  2. The alfredo recipe called for an optional two to four cloves of garlic. I love garlic so put in nearly four, and the final dish tasted overwhelmingly of garlic, I didn't mind it because I like garlic, but I'd have liked to taste the broc, shrooms, and sauce too. 
  3. It was not filling at all. I eat protein, whole grains, and veggies at every meal to keep me satisfied. I had to pair this with a lentil soup or baked tofu or a chickpea salad to make a complete meal, and by that time the calorie count for this meal was, I'm guessing, way higher than I need.

Still, if you don't mind pairing this dish with a protein, love strong garlic flavor or choose to omit, and don't care about the bad margarine, it was pretty good. I'd be interested in making another version with a Happy Herbivore alfredo sauce and some chickpeas added to the mix.

Creamy Broccoli and Mushroom Bake from Vegan Yum Yum
  • Alfredo sauce recipe is here (the recipe uses a slightly tweaked version)
  • 1 cup cooked orzo (I used brown rice)
  • 2 1/2 cups broccoli processed to a fine mixture
  • 1 cup mushrooms processed to a fine mixture
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil (I used 1)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used panko)
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and saute until softened and beginning to brown. Add the processed broccoli, shrooms, and salt. Saute until the mixture cooks down slightly and the veggies are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  2. Add the brown rice and alfredo sauce, and mix everything up.
  3. Lightly oil a medium casserole dish, pour the mixture in, top with bread crumbs, and spray with cooking spray then the smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. 
  4. Baked covered at 400F for 25 minutes; uncover and bake for 5 minutes more.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tofu Chili with Soy Sauce

This unconventional chili recipe from Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Cook Book surprises with asian flavors from ginger, cloves, soy sauce, and peanuts. It was different and I liked it, especially on these chilly fall days.

But...if a recipe title is Tofu Chili, I expect tofu to play a starring role. The recipe description lured me in with the promise of the tofu taking on "a tremendous amount of flavor." But I couldn't taste the tofu or barely even see it because it had been crumbled beyond recognition by all the required stirring. This is really a bean chili. And yes, it was a good bean chili, but damnit, I wanted a tofu chili. Still, consider this easy-to-prep chili if you're in the mood for something different.

Tofu (Bean!) Chili with Soy Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used 1)
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons five-spice powder or 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I used cloves)
  • 1 dried hot chili, or to taste
  • 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes including juice
  • 2 cups dried black, pinto, or soy beans, rinsed, picked over, and soaked if you like (I used pinto and soaked for about 4 hours)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce plus more for serving
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts, for garnish

  1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When it's hot, crumble in the tofu and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Add all but a handful of the scallions, the garlic, and the ginger and cook, stirring and scraping frequently, until the veggies soften, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in the five-spice powder, dried chile, tomatoes, and beans. Add water to cover, bring the pot to a boil, and adjust the heat so that the beans bubble gently. Cover and cook, stirring every now and then. Check the beans for doneness every 15 minutes or so and add more water if necessary a little at a time.
  3. When the beans begin to soften (30 to 60 minutes, depending on the type of bean and if you've soaked it), add the soy sauce. Cook, stirring and checking, until the beans are completely tender, another 15 to 30 minutes). Fish out the chile, taste, and add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with remaining scallions and peanuts and add more soy sauce to taste. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Veganomicon Sauteed Seitan with Mushrooms and Spinach

Sometimes it seems like the most delicious dishes translate to the most unappetizing photos. Case in point: the Sauteed Seitan with Mushrooms and Spinach above. This is a Veganomicon recipe, but I made the Surefire Seitan from Appetite for Reduction; I like it better than the Veganomicon version.

First, I cannot stop eating the seitan right out of the pot. I could easily eat an entire batch of this seitan if I let myself (but hello, vital wheat gluten overload, so I do not let myself). Second, I love it even more in this recipe. I could also easily eat all four servings of this recipe at once.

The recipe starts by sauteeing seitan in olive oil then adding thinly sliced onions. Then you add sliced mushrooms, minced garlic, thyme, and basil. Once the mushrooms are softened, you add some white wine and veg broth, add a bunch of spinach, and in five minutes you have a really delicious meal. That it's also so quick and easy to put together makes this another Veganomicon winner.