Vegan Stuffed Peppers

Late summer / early fall bring the last of the seasons fresh tomatoes and peppers. As the weather starts to turn and the first cool days arrive I start craving soups, stews, and all the warm cozy dishes that seem best served on a cloudy autumn day. Stuffed peppers is a dish that my mother would make maybe once a year or so when I was growing up. It was certainly not in the regular rotation, but it was something I enjoyed once in awhile and found myself craving as the seasons changed this year. Mom’s version was stuffed with ground beef and rice and baked in a casserole with Campbell’s tomato soup. I couldn’t decide how I would recreate the dish to meet my current dietary lifestyle; after some research decided to just keep it simple and go with what I knew I loved…beet balls.

I made a batch of beet balls and cooked 1 cup of dry brown rice. To make the peppers a little softer, I decided to roast them in the oven briefly before stuffing. I removed the tops and seeds and roasted them at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping them once after 10 minutes. I’ve seen some recipes blanch the peppers in water instead of roasting but I thought roasting would bring out the flavor more. I did these steps in advance, and put everything in the refrigerator until I was ready to proceed the next day.

To prepare the stuffed peppers, crumble the beet balls by hand and mix with the brown rice. I added 1 teaspoon, granulated garlic, 1 teaspoon onion powder 1/2 teaspoon fennel, and 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper. Instead of tomato soup, I mixed in one jar of tomato sauce to finish off the stuffing. Finally, stuff the prepared peppers.
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Line a casserole dish with some tomato sauce, add the stuffed peppers and bake for one hour at 350 degrees. To finish, I topped with nut parm

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Making It Work

I’ve unintentionally continued last week’s theme of variations to not-so-old favorites with this dish of Millet and Spinach Stuffed Shells.  The plan had been to make the Forks Over Knives Eggplant Rollatini, which I’ve made a number of times now since first trying it last year for Week 2 of the 2013 Plant Strong Recipe Challenge.  However, laziness got the best of me and it just seemed easier to use up the shells leftover in the pantry from my whole food plant based stuffed shells recipe rather than process the eggplant for rollatini.

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Add some beet balls and dinner is served!

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The millet mixture is also wonderful and flavorful on it’s own if you’re looking for a new side dish to try.

Vegan BBQ – Jackfruit Edition

IMG_6135I became intrigued by jackfruit after seeing a post from Susan Voison at Fat Free Vegan awhile back.  I couldn’t believe how much jackfruit looked like shredded meat and made mental note to give it a try.  It was difficult to find but I finally made my way to the local Asian market and was able to get canned young green jackfruit in brine, and was ready to experiment.

 

Before transitioning to a whole foods plant based diet I would make BBQ pulled pork (the only way I ever liked pork) or chicken about once or twice a year.  It was one of those meals that signified the changing of seasons – around Memorial Day and Labor Day there had to be a pulled meat sandwich with coleslaw and fries to welcome and bid adieu to summer.  Since becoming plant based I’ve found most dishes are remarkably easy to reinvent for a meatless lifestyle, but pulled meat has a very specific texture that I had yet to try to recreate, until now.  With my newly obtained cans of jackfruit I decided the best way to give it a try would be to simply use my old favorite recipe and see how it worked.

 

My go-to recipe is an Emeril Pulled Pork recipe that can be found here.  The reinvented version starts with…well, opening the can and seeing what this stuff looks like (I feel like I’m on chopped).

IMG_6138Some time ago I had modified this recipe to make the dish in the crockpot by using the Wet Mop Basting Sauce as the liquid in the crockpot.  The basting sauce consists of vinegar with black and crushed red pepper, it adds a nice tang and some heat to the dish.  I added the jackfruit to the basting liquid and set the crockpot on low for about six hours.

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Simply remove the jackfruit with tongs or a slotted spoon and discard the liquid from the crockpot.  It seemed to keep its texture for the most part though some was already shredding a bit.

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I found that putting pressure on the jackfruit with a fork made it shred easier than trying to shred it with two forks.

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After rinsing the crockpot, I added the shredded jackfruit back to the crockpot and poured on homemade BBQ sauce (also part of the Emeril recipe) to taste.

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I left the crockpot on low for another hour or so until I was ready to eat.

IMG_6151To accompany my pulled jackfruit sandwich I went with my latest obsession, roasted broccoli.  I toss the broccoli in a bit of cooking spray, salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes at 425.  I also made baked cajun french fries prepared by tossing yukon gold potatoes with homemade seasoning (see the Emeril Essence recipe; I leave the salt out and salt to taste when serving) and baking 10-12 minutes on each side at 450 on a parchment lined cookie tray.  I typically make the broccoli first then turn up the oven temp and throw the potatoes in; most days the broccoli is gone before the meal starts, but there are worse things to snack on before dinner 😉 some actually made it to the plate tonight.

IMG_6148I also made coleslaw to top my sandwich; I did not follow the recipe that accompanies the Emeril Pulled Pork recipe as I prefer a tangy coleslaw to a creamy coleslaw and Emeril’s recipe did not have nearly enough vinegar.  I searched around and wasn’t seeing any recipes that really struck me so I decided to wing it and made a dressing of apple cider vinegar, yellow mustard, celery seed and a little sugar.  I ended up adding some Veganaise mayo to make it a tad bit creamy – just enough to help the dressing coat the slaw.

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I think I’ve conquered BBQ with great success!  The sandwich had all of the flavors and textures reminiscent of my old recipes.  The jackfruit soaked up the tangy, spicy goodness wonderfully and maintained a nice texture.  I think I’ll be making more trips to the Asian Market.

 

Engine 2 Challenge: The Finish Line

Today is the final day of the 28 Day Engine 2 Challenge.  During the Challenge my two year plant-iversary passed.  I don’t recall the exact date but it was February 2012 when I decided to give up meat for Lent.  I’m not a particularly religious person, but wanted to reclaim my diet and Lent seemed as good a time as any to focus on healthful eating.  I did not expect this would be a longer term decision.  I noticed during that time that I had more energy, slept better and generally felt better; that was what led to the decision to continue with this lifestyle change.  Given this was primarily a decision based on health benefits,  it has been important to me not to substitute standard junk food for vegan junk food.  Of course, it is easy to slip into convenience.

Immediately before starting the Challenge, I was 100% vegetarian, ~90% vegan, and I’d guess ~80% whole food plant based no oil.  The 90% vegan is due to my love of the fried egg on an everything bagel.  I wouldn’t have guessed this the vice that I could not seem to crack (pun intended) but apparently the egg and bagel sandwich is engrained in my NYC girl DNA.  This was a common weekend treat, so I would guess I probably had 1-2 eggs/week.  Cream cheese on bagels was the other non-vegan item that tended to find itself in my diet (as I write this I realize that I apparently need a bagel intervention).  Before starting the Challenge I may have graded my WFPB no oil  higher because I have been cooking and baking without oil for some time but now that I have been more cognizant of EVERYTHING I eat, ~80% is probably more accurate.

If I were to grade myself during the Challenge I’d pass 100% vegetarian, 98% vegan, 95% WFPB no oil.  I went from having a bagel from the office cafeteria 3-4 days a week and my weekend egg & bagel sandwich to one bagel a week at the office and steel cut oats or scrambled chickpeas on the other days.  I did succumb to one egg sandwich over the 28 days.  I went from inconsistent lunch prep resulting in buying office cafeteria lunches about 60-70% of the time to bringing lunch from home nearly every day (I think I had 1-2 days that I bought salad bar at work).  Dinners have always been well prepped for me but I did cut out my weekend Wegman’s Asian Food Bar (which I am quite certain would not qualify as oil free).  I only had that 1-2 times during the 28 days and found I’ve lost taste for it – Happy Herbivore Cheater Pad Thai is more flavorful by far.

The biggest improvement for me was snacking.  Pre-Challenge, I often found myself going to the coffee bar at work and getting a Philly pretzel and diet Coke in the afternoon.  In the evenings I would, out of habit, go for store bought hummus ( ~50% calories from fat) with Blue Corn Chips (~40% calories from fat) and veggies.  The Challenge has made me much better at conscientious eating and making better choices.  I pack fruit and some nuts to bring to work everyday and this has replaced my afternoon snack.  Hot green tea has replaced my Diet Coke.  I make my own hummus without the oil and I’ve made my own tortilla chips from oil-free tortillas.  Reading Rip’s post about Plant-Strong Snacking made me rethink what it means to snack.  At first glance, I was confused to see potatoes and ears of corn on the list.  Ultimately, anything is a snack – baked french fries with hot sauce, soup, cereal.  We’ve become so accustomed to the snack aisle that it is a habit we rarely reconsider.

It’s not all easy, but it’s not as hard as the typical omnivore might think either.  I easily cook and bake without oil (admitting that baked goods will not last as long without oil as they do with the added fat but do taste just as good fresh).  The most difficult for me during the Challenge was bread.  It was difficult to find oil-free breads and those that can be found are not quite the same.  I think eating out would also be difficult; given the snowtastic winter we’re having here in the East, there hasn’t been much opportunity to get out and I’ve made it a bit easier on myself by sticking to preparing all of my own foods.

What next?  I do consider an unprocessed life to be as good as it gets.  I enjoy cooking, have far more variety in my meals now than I ever did as an omnivore, love different flavor profiles and tastes that develop as you cut back on salt, fat and sugar, and it is cheaper.  Preparing my own food for this past month has not really increased my grocery bill but I saved a lot of money by not buying food at work or takeout from Wegman’s.

For me personally, I intend to continue this journey beyond the 28 days but am doubtful I will be 100% all the time.  I plan to continue to choose healthy snacks, and pack it rather than resort to  the office cafeteria (frankly my food tastes better than the cafe).   At the same time an indulgent, or even bad, choice does not mean giving up and going back to old habits, and I may enjoy a meal out without worrying about the oil now and again.  Diet has many meanings and too many people consider it as a temporary alteration in life rather than a lifestyle. A concept so wonderfully explained on Weighing In with Words.

Since it feels strange to have a post with no pictures I thought I’d post the final few days food diary and pretty this post up a bit.  Breakfast was a potato hash with kale, mushrooms, tomatoes, and roasted chickpeas.

IMG_5948Lunches over the weekend consisted of a Chopped Salad with Spicy Chipotle Dressing.  Fat Free Vegan was the source of this deliciousness.  My version was romaine lettuce, tomato, zucchini, radish, peppers, cucumber, avocado, cilantro, and scallion topped with a homemade creamy, spicy (and oil free) dressing.

IMG_5951Dinner found me going back to an Indian flavor profile mainly to finish up the cauliflower I’d bought to make pizza crust.  I made an Indian eggplant dish and  a dish inspired by another Fat Free Vegan delight, Vindaloo Vegetables, served over brown rice.

IMG_5956For a plant-based dessert worthy of a gloomy snowstorm (ugh) I made rice pudding.  I’ll post the recipe in my next post.

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Week 51: Jammin Around the Christmas Tree – Holiday Traditions

If someone were to ask what my signature dish is, what is the most requested, most associated with me foodstuff from my kitchen, the answer would be Jam Thumbprints.  I get more compliments and recipe requests for Jam Thumbprints than anything else I have ever made.  You may or may not associate these seemingly simple cookies with your holiday but in my family they always make an appearance on the Christmas Dessert Table.  I have a love/hate relationship with Jam Thumbprints.  I love that everyone loves them, and love the memories I have of my Pop-Pop stealing the tin and hiding it in his bedroom from the rest of the family.  I hate making them; perhaps hate is a strong word…they’re simple enough.   They only have four ingredients, but the process is tedious and when everyone loves something you have to make a LOT of them.

You can imagine my reservations in changing this recipe to consider a whole food plant based (or even vegetarian) alternative.  With only two weeks left in this year’s food challenge, it was time to test the Forks Over Knives Cookbook Jam Thumbprint.  First, let me tell you about my recipe.

I cannot recall the source of the recipe and am fairly certain that at one point in time it probably had baking soda and/or salt but in time it has been reduced to 1 cup butter, 2 cups flour, 1/3 cup sugar and jam.  The cookies are soft, flaky and, unlike most store bought versions, have a good jam to cookie ratio.  Perhaps the 2014 challenge will be a Test Kitchen challenge and I will work on modifications.  For now, it was the Forks Over Knives version to satisfy Week 51’s new recipe for the 2013 challenge.

IMG_5639The Forks Over Knives cookies use oat flour, oats and walnuts as the dry ingredients and applesauce and almond butter as the wet.  The cookies mixed up well but were wetter than my version.  These cookies are denser than the signature version, still chewy, definitely nutty.  They’re really a good cookie.  If you are looking for a healthy substitute for a holiday treat, these cookies will do, but I don’t think they’d be the signature dish my version has always been.

I figured I’d continue the cookies and festive drink theme and made Vegan Chia Nog to go with my cookies.  The concept of egg nog was always a bit odd to me and I don’t think I have ever tried the real thing so I have nothing to compare the vegan version to.  I love the flavors; nutmeg and a splash of rum (perhaps I used the real thing instead of extract) made for a yummy accompaniment to my cookies.  The chia seeds seemed an odd textural component and I think I’ll try the banana version next time (I had none on hand this time around).

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New Recipes Made This Week: 2

New Recipe Tally 2013: 148

PS I’ve discovered Titles are probably the most difficult part of blogging…

Week 48: Holidays, Visits and Plates to Share & Snack

Tuesday already?!  Am I the only one still getting back in the swing of things after a long holiday weekend??  I usually host Thanksgiving at my house but this year the family was dispersed a bit and I ended up enjoying a small Thanksgiving at my parents home instead.  I ate all the sides and decided on Fat Free Vegan, Susan Voisin’s Celebration Pot Pie with Pumpkin Biscuit Crust as my main.

The pot pie filling was delicious and everything you’d expect from a pot pie; the dish is loaded with celery, onion, carrots, mushrooms, peas and potatoes and seasoned with all the herbs that remind you of Thanksgiving – sage, thyme, bay leaves (and I added a little rosemary for good measure; I also used all fresh herbs instead of dried).  I do not generally use meat replacements or tofu, so seitan is something I am not very accustomed to.  I decided to give it a try since I did like the chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon and this seemed a similar concept using vital wheat gluten to create a meaty texture.  The seitan was quite simple to prepare from scratch albeit a bit messy and sticky to work with.  However, I didn’t love the texture of the seitan in the filling and next time will simply use chickpeas rather than a meat substitute. Finally, the pumpkin biscuit topping.  I made the pot pie filling and seitan the day before Thanksgiving and then made the biscuit topping in the morning and simply popped it in the oven to reheat at my parents.  I added some fresh herbs to the biscuits as well.  This topping was a nice light alternative to a typical heavy, oily pot pie crust.  They were also quite simple to put together and would go well as biscuits with any dish really.  All in all Thanksgiving success!  This recipe does make a LOT of food; I had two 8×8 dishes and still had more than enough to make my single serve bowl to take along (I’ll half it next time).

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IMG_5295Of course, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pie.  After perusing many mouth-watering contenders I settled on Dreena Burton’s Great Pumpkin Pie.  Instead of condensed milk this pie uses cashews, non-dairy milk and arrowroot powder to thicken the filling.  I could not find arrowroot powder so substituted cornstarch and that worked just fine.  The crust is made of oats, dates and nut butter pressed into the dish rather than rolled.  The pie was lovely, the filling had a nice consistency but I will add more spice to mine next time to boost the pumpkin spice flavors.  The crust overcooked a bit around the edges so I would suggest lining with foil until the last 10 minutes.   I completely forgot to take a picture of a sliced version so my picture doesn’t really do it justice.

IMG_5224Being home most of the week I was looking for a snack to have around and remembered that Oh She Glows had posted Matt Frazier’s Buffalo Hummus Recipe on her blog.  The recipe is from Matt’s first book, No Meat Athlete, which I do not have in my collection as of yet.  Hummus is very easy to make yourself with minimal ingredients and a food processor.  Making it at home also allows you to cut the fat content as store-bought versions can have quite a lot of oil and be 50% fat.  I really enjoyed this recipe though I will probably reduce the garlic and increase the hot sauce next time, by the second day I tasted the garlic more than the buffalo sauce (still good but not the buffalo hummus I was craving).

Holiday week’s are also a time to visit with friends.  I went to see some former colleagues and wanted to bring them a sweet treat since they were always my best taste-testers.  I’ve had my eye on the Tortuga Rum Cake from Everyday Happy Herbivore for awhile and finally remembered to buy a bottle of rum when I was picking up some holiday wine.  I loved this recipe.  It was sweet, spicy a little boozy…perfect for a holiday treat.  The glaze is a lovely rum sugar mix with a subtle citrus from orange zest.  When I make new recipes to share I usually make a mini-muffin or two so I can taste test in advance.  The recipe worked well as a muffin recipe as well.

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I actually missed not having Thanksgiving at my place and ended up cooking some stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce and green bean casserole to have with the leftovers this week.  I needed a gravy to go with my leftovers and Happy Herbivore Sage Gravy also from Everyday Happy Herbivore seemed perfect for Thanksgiving.  I substituted fresh herbs for dried and added some thyme and rosemary in addition to the sage so it was more of an herb gravy by the time I was done with it but it was just right to complete my meal.

New Recipes Made This Week: 5

New Recipe Tally 2013: 142

Blogroll & Vegan Thanksgiving Resources

All of social media is a buzz with Thanksgiving recipes and “special diet” holiday meal ideas.  Apparently, anyone who does not follow the Standard American Diet (SAD) is “special”.  I decided this would be a good time to throw in an extra post to highlight some of my favorite online resources for new recipes and meatless dish inspiration.  Whether you are a herbivore, omnivore or proud follower of SAD, these bloggers have some delicious recipes and are great (and free) resources to learn about and give whole food plant based (WFPB) living a try.

  1. Forks Over Knives: As noted in my Forks Over Knives Week post, Forks Over Knives does have a website with information about WFPB living and a whole recipe section.  Of the online recipes I’ve tried Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Rustic Parsnip Crust is my favorite.  The Forks Over Knives Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup is also up on their website.
  2. The Engine 2 Diet:  Created by Rip Esselstyn when he was a firefighter at the Austin (TX) Engine 2 Station, E2 has really been very successful and popular in the WFPB world.  There are lots of Engine 2 products available, including a food line at Whole Foods.  My favorite online recipe from Engine 2 available online is the Spelt-Blueberry Pancakes recipe.
  3. Happy Herbivore: Lindsay Nixon is the Happy Herbivore.  Her website is very comprehensive with recipes, cooking tips, cheat sheets for substitutions, and a blog that goes beyond WFBP cooking and adds posts on minimalist living, Q&As, and my favorite, Herbie of the Week with inspiring interviews with those who have seen great health benefits from living WFPB lifestyles.  My favorite recipe available online is of course Chickpea Tacos but the fan favorite Pad Thai was recently revealed online in a Happy Herbivore Ustream cooking show.  You can also check out Lindsay’s Thanksgiving menu and prep sheet.  Week 47 will be dedicated to Happy Herbivore so stay tuned.
  4. Post Punk Kitchen: Isa Chandra is one of the authors of Veganomicon.  The Post Punk Kitchen website is another great online resource packed with recipes, videos and a blog.  I haven’t tried it yet, but the Stuffed Thanksgiving Burger both terrifies me and intrigues me with it’s beautiful photos reminiscent of Thanksgiving leftovers.  Isa’s new cookbook, Isa Does It is on the top of my Christmas list.
  5. Fat Free Vegan: Susan Voison is the woman behind Fat Free Vegan.  Her website is all recipes with beautiful pictures and great stories to share.  My love of the beetball has resulted in a whole blog post being dedicated to them so you can guess this is my favorite Fat Free Vegan recipe.  There are countless others I love on this site and many more on my need to try list.  Susan has a countdown to Thanksgiving on her facebook page with daily recipe posts.
  6. Plant-Powered Kitchen: Plant-Powered Kitchen is Dreena Burton’s website.  There are a LOT of recipes on this site.  If I had to pick a favorite online recipe I think I’d choose the No-Fu Loaf, a great WFPB meatloaf-like entree.  The Plant-powered Thanksgiving post makes me want pie and reminds me that I do have apples left that should really be used…
  7. Healthy.Happy. Life: aka lunchboxbunch.com is the home of Kathy Patalsky.  In addition to WFPB recipes, Kathy stands out with a lot of unique smoothie recipes, exceptional pictures and a wonderful, personal blog.  My favorite online recipe from Kathy is Easy Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers, but the Spicy Peanut Ginger Kale Salad is a very close second.
  8. Chocolate Covered Katie: This one is fairly new to me having recently discovered the page through Pinterest.  My new favorite breakfast, Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal is sourced from Katie.  What makes this page stand out is that it is mostly desserts with some oatmeal and pancake recipes mixed in.
  9. Straight Up Food:  The website of WFPB chef Cathy Fisher is filled with great recipe options and her recipes are often re-posted by Forks Over Knives.
  10. Oh She Glows:  Angela Liddon is the woman behind Oh She Glows.  This website is another fairly new to me site but I imagine I will be spend more time and gaining more inspiration here.  My favorite recipe (thus far) from this site is Pecan Pumpkin Butter, which makes a great dip and also a great cinnamon roll!

Since Pinterest was mentioned, it is a good place to go perusing for recipes if you have something in mind.  I’ve created a few too many boards on Pinterest but justify it by making sure I actually go and try some of the recipes I’ve pinned.