Week 34: Hold the Pasta

Not pasta…this was the main consideration in deciding this past week’s meals.  If you knew me you would be surprised to hear this as I love my pasta.  However, when I was traveling on business last week working lunches and dinners with colleagues meant pasta…penne with assorted steamed vegetables in a tomato based sauce, rigatoni and broccolini in a garlic sauce, vegan lasagna…you see how my week went.  I will admit the hotel did a good job of making a vegan lasagna with eggplant, zucchini and squash ribbons mixed in with noodles.  It seems omnivores are at a loss what to cook for vegetarians and the go-to is pasta with some kind of vegetable added.  You can see why not pasta was top priority in meal planning Week 34.
I was inspired by all the fresh, locally grown corn Wegman’s has had of late and skimmed my cookbooks for some recipes.  Forks Over Knives Corn Chowder seemed the perfect lunch choice as it called for a bounty of in-season ingredients including the corn, fresh tomatoes, bell peppers and basil.  Unlike the typical corn chowder, which is cream based, this is a broth based soup.  I was never a big fan of cream based soups when I was an omnivore so I cannot really compare this soup to the “real thing”. I can say that this was a delicious and fillng lunch that I will likely make again, and soon – while the ingredients are in such abundance.   I felt like spicing it up a bit so I added crushed red pepper in the beginning when sauteing the diced onions and peppers; I also added a dash of cumin.  The result was a lovely, light and fresh lunch with subtle spice and nice crisp corn.
Continuing on my corn theme, I made Mexican-Style Bean and Rice Casserole for dinner (also from Forks Over Knives).  This recipe called for a No-Cheese Sauce to make the casserole creamy in texture.  For most plant-based or vegan friends I’ve met cheese is the hardest thing to give up.  For me it was the easiest.  The only cheese I ever liked was the riccotta in canolies.  Given this, I’ve avoided most cheese substitutes since becoming plant based as I’ve been somewhat skeptical if I would like it.  This recipe takes fresh corn, zucchini, red peppers and onions mixed with brown rice and baked into a casserole and enticed me to give the cheese sauce a try.
The No-Cheese Sauce is made by blending red bell pepper, onion, nutritional yeast and cashews til creamy in texture. Nutritional yeast is not the yeast you bake bread with; it is a deactivated yeast commonly used as an ingredient in vegan food to add flavor.  Many describe the flavor as nutty or cheesy.  I’ve used nutritional yeast in other recipes and found it to be nutty in flavor and rather enjoyed.  This past experience made me less skeptical of the cheese sauce.
IMG_4674The Verdict….while I found this casserole to be quite good, it was also a very filling, heavy meal – too much so for my liking.  There was an option to turn the casserole into enchiladas using the casserole as filling and adding an enchilada sauce.  This was also quite good and a nice change from the casserole by itself but I preferred the Happy Herbivore enchiladas I have previously made as they were much lighter.  The Happy Herbivore enchiladas had a vegetable filling without any rice.  Forks Over Knives does have a similar veggieful enchilada recipe that I will probably try next time I feel like Mexican.   


New Recipes Made This Week: 4 [Corn Chowder, Casserole, Enchilada Sauce, No-Cheese Sauce]

New Recipe Tally 2013: 95


Week 33: The Perfect Plant Based Summer Meal

Last Friday, Lindsay Nixon (aka The Happy Herbivore) posted a picture on facebook of baked beans from The Happy Herbivore Cookbook with the caption exclaiming they were her parents favorite. This seemed the beginning of an excellent summer meal. As I was flipping through the cookbook for the baked beans recipe I passed a picture of onion rings and I decided to be indulgent this week. I was traveling on business most of the week, which would normally be an excuse to order takeout and not cook at all. Of course, my former self would then return from the trip and have to unpack, do laundry and catch up on things missed while traveling so it would be at least another week before I committed to plan meals and eat clean. Not this time! Last weekend I made the perfect summer meal full of new recipes: 1. Baked Beans (HHC), 2. Onion Rings (HHC) 3. Curry Ketchup (Happy Herbivore Abroad) 4. Pickled Onions (Isa Chandra) and Quick & Easy Black Bean Burgers (Everyday Happy Herbivore, this one I’ve made before).

Growing up my family only ate beans in the form of baked beans, from a can…Heinz to be specific. The Happy Herbivore baked beans are reminiscent of this childhood favorite but with recognizable ingredients and salt/sugar/oil content under your control. They look, taste and smell just liked those yummy canned baked beans and are very easy to prepare.  The recipe is also online!

The onion rings were a bit labor intensive but were a great treat as well. I added some cayenne to mine for a little spice. They bake up nice and crunchy and reheat well in the oven. As for the burgers, I like my burgers like I like my sandwiches – loaded with toppings. This burger is topped with curry ketchup, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, pickles and pickled red onions.


The curry ketchup is a nice change from boring plain ketchup. I rarely use ketchup as a condiment because I find it too sweet, but this recipe cuts down on that sweetness and adds a nice warm spice that really elevates the condiment.  I had actually made the pickled red onions for the first time a few weeks back and completely forgot to blog about them. As simple as they sound (and as they are to make) they are worth mentioning and I use them as a topping on sandwiches, burgers, salads and pizza all the time now that I’ve discovered them. I originally made them because the red onion in my much loved quinoa salad became too pungent when leftover and was overpowering all the other flavors. When I saw Isa post this recipe on her instagram I thought this would be a good way to tone down that pungency so gave it a try the next time I made my salad.  I was right and am so glad I made these!

So there you have it, an indulgent summer dinner that’s been revamped to be plant-based and healthier. I had this the weekend before I left on my business trip and plan on heating up the leftovers in the oven for dinner tonight.

005I didn’t stop there though. Since I was thinking of how to maintain my lifestyle while traveling I tried to come up with some snacks for the road and the hotel. I made Forks Over Knives Basic Baked Granola to take with me. I cut the recipe in half since eight cups of granola seemed a bit excessive for me. This was also a success. The flavors are a bit subtle but recognizable, orange, vanilla and I subbed pumpkin pie spice for cinnamon. I eat this on its own and have added it as a topping to oatmeal for some crunch.

New Recipes Made This Week: 5

New Recipe Tally 2013: 91

Week 32: Meals on the Go

This week I continued to try to revamp my lunch routine and decided to change up breakfast while I was at it. Working for a global company with colleagues six-seven hours ahead in time means that I have eight a.m. meetings more often than not. While I’m lucky to have an easy commute I still somehow ending up running out the door and grabbing a bagel to go most days. This week I decided to give overnight oats another try. I had tried a recipe last year at some point and recall I wasn’t a big fan but cannot exactly recall why so I went looking for a recipe to give it one more shot (and now I’ll have an archive for next year when I think this might be a good idea).

085I found a recipe on pinterest for peach and blueberry steel cut oatmeal in the crock-pot that sounded just right. The concept is great and it’s quite simple to add everything to the crock-pot and walk away. Even with spraying the crock-pot there was a lot stuck to the bottom and sides but it was not burnt and tasted fine. I now recall my issue with overnight oats – texture. If you’re not picky about texture this may work for you but it is a bit too mush for my liking. It seems I’m just going to have to force myself up earlier in the morning so I can make my oats fresh (I tend to go with old-fashioned oats as they have a better texture than quick oats but require less time and attention than steel cut oats).

089For lunches, I chose another wrap recipe from Forks Over Knives. Baba Ghanoush Wraps with Marinated Tomatoes were also really easy to prepare. Simply roast the eggplant and throw all ingredients in a food processor and voila lunch is served. The eggplant has a creamy, hummus-like texture that made for a good spread but I don’t know if this wrap would have been filling enough for me for a lunch (in fairness the book describes this section as ideal for picnics, parties and hot days when you may not be that hungry so I don’t think it was intended as a meal in itself). To make mine more filling, I used a whole wheat wrap instead of just lettuce and added some of left over beetballs. While I enjoyed this recipe, the garlic was overpowering and after the first day that was all you could taste. I’m not sure if it was the quantity (4 cloves in the eggplant plus one in the marinade for the tomatoes) or the pungency of the bulb I had; next time I will probably cut the garlic in half.

The star of the week was my sweet treat, Carrie’s Vanilla Chai Cupcakes from The Happy Herbivore Cookbook. This is also the best picture of the week (here I used my Cannon Rebel; the other two photos are iPhone photos taken in my office at work – I truly was on the go this week).  To make these cupcakes you brew a strong tea in milk as the wet ingredient in the batter (why didn’t I think of that?!). I often do this with water for oatmeal by the way. Brew a strong cup of chai tea and use that to make your oatmeal; add some pumpkin pie spice and some pecans and it’s absolutely delicious. But I digress. These cupcakes were perfectly spiced and delicious. I bet this would make a great cake as well. I didn’t have the ingredients to make the recommended Cream Cheese Icing so I made Maple Icing instead. This icing is more of a glaze but it paired nicely nonetheless. I chopped a few pecans on top for some crunch and decoration.


New Recipes Made This Week: 4

New Recipe Tally 2013: 86

Week 31: Hits and Misses in the Plant Strong Kitchen

More than halfway through this year’s new recipe challenge and I’ve only just realized that I am over eighty recipes in and have found most, almost all, to be rather enjoyable.  Some have become regulars in the rotation, others may need some tweaks or be occasional fare but there have only been a rare few I haven’t liked (and I assure you I am a rather picky eater!).  I thought of this after a rather disappointing lunch attempt.  I’ve become bored with lunch of late and have been going to the work salad bar (which isn’t even really a very good salad bar) for lack of anything better.  So it was time to get back on track and meal plan/ weekend prep again.  Forks Over Knives has  many options that would be great for lunches.  This week I decided on the Thai Portobello Wraps.

I018 wanted to like them.  The flavors were great.  There was a good balance of salt from soy sauce, with acid from lime and spice from red pepper flakes.  Cilantro added a nice freshness.  The main issue for me was that this was not dry or dense enough to make a good filling for a wrap.  As the portobello cook down they release their juices than adding the sauce left me with a watery mess.  I tried having them in whole wheat wraps instead of lettuce wraps but the overall result was meh.  Maybe I cooked them too long?

Lunch didn’t work out so great but dinner was delicious!  So good, that I will say that this recipe will become a regular in the rotation.  Since I was out most of last weekend, I had to *gasp* cook after work.  Given the novelty of this absurd concept, I was in search of something easy with minimal prep.  Forks Over Knives Penne with Broccoli Rabe seemed just right.  I’ve never prepared broccoli rabe myself but it cooks like a leafy green, with a quick saute.  The picture doesn’t do this dish justice.  Honestly, when it was finished I expected another failure since it appeared to be dry pasta with some greens.  However, I was happily surprised by the depth of flavors from the fresh lemon, garlic and red pepper flakes and basil.  Toasted pine nuts add a lovely texture.  This dish also re-heated well (always a bonus).  I made beetballs later in the week to add with the leftovers.  If you are looking for a whole food plant based “meatball” these are my absolute favorite, which I make often.


New Recipes Made This Week: 2

New Recipe Tally 2013: 82

Week 30: Lay Down Your Weary Tune

After a weekend of gallivanting I’m still playing catch up and am a bit late with writing up Week 30’s post.   Philadelphia member-supported radio WXPN hosted a the XPoNential music festival at Wiggins Park over the weekend.  Saturday was an absolutely beautiful day to walk about the waterfront and enjoy the music, which ended with dancing on the lawn to the Lumineers.  We weren’t so lucky on Sunday, but despite the downpours it was a lot of fun, and rather comical, to go sloshing through the floods and have sandals stuck in mud through Ryan Bingham and My Morning Jacket.  Lucky for us security gave us covered seats of the no-shows for Wilco and Bob Dylan [Lay Down Your Weary Tune is my favorite Dylan song, sadly never heard live].


All this excitement meant little time at home to prep for this week and write-up last week.  So, here we are at Wednesday.  Week 30 was actually quite successful as far as trying new recipes goes.  It finally cooled enough for me to consider turning on the oven, and I just happen to have an excessive amount of blueberries to inspire me so there were muffins in order.  Happy Herbivore’s single blueberry muffin is one of my favorites I’ve ever made but I wanted to try something new so I made the Happy Herbivore Abroad Blueberry Cornbread Muffins.  These won’t top the single blueberry muffin as a favorite but are still worthy of a place in the rotation.  The addition of cornmeal gives these muffins a denser texture, in addition to the subtle cornbread flavor.  These would be a good breakfast muffin, while I would consider the single serve blueberry muffin more of a sweet treat for dessert or with afternoon tea.

Continuing to feed my blueberry obsession, I finally bought spelt flour to make the Engine 2 Blueberry-Spelt Pancakes that I have been eyeing for weeks now.  I’ve never worked with spelt flour before and was a bit skeptical by the gumminess of the batter after waiting the 15 minutes as the recipe dictates.  They came out lovely though.  A bit crisp on the outside with a cakey texture inside, they are not as airy and light as my usual pancake recipe.  However, I still found them to be delicious.  I served mine with a sauce of fresh berries and banana cooked stove-top with just a bit of maple syrup.


Finally, I made Pesto Pasta from Straight Up Food’s Cathy Fisher.  I had seen the recipe on my facebook news food and just happen to have all ingredients needed.  I added asparagus to my pasta since that was what I have on hand.  Made fresh this was a very satisfying dinner pasta; however, it was not as good leftover as it lost some of it’s creaminess.  The pesto is definitely a keeper though!  Next time I think I will jar the pesto and make the pasta to serve.


New Recipes Made This Week: 3

New Recipe Tally 2013: 80