Monday, January 28, 2013

Hot Chocolate with Ginger

It's a beautiful snowy day outside my window, ergo the perfect day for a mug of hot chocolate. Ginger adds an extra dose of warm spice to this version.  I made the following recipe with soy milk, but any non-dairy milk will work, according to your preference. If coffee is more your hot beverage of choice, check out my post for Tahitian Coffee.

  • 1/3 cup peeled and chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons vegan sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 4 cups plain non-dairy milk
  • 1/2 cup chocolate sundae syrup (such as Santa Cruz)
1. Combine the ginger, sugar, and water in a saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and turns golden, stirring frequently.

2. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then add the milk and chocolate syrup. Return to the burner and heat over medium-low heat, stirring with a whisk.

3. Continue to cook until bubbles form around the edges, but do not boil - a candy thermometer should read about 180 degrees.  This step took quite a bit longer than I anticipated, since you are using low heat; plan on about 30 minutes.  Strain through a sieve over a bowl and discard the solids.

Serve plain, or add vegan marshmallows (I especially like the mini ones from Sweet & Sara). A dusting of cocoa powder makes a nice garnish.

This cocoa is great for a snack when you come in from the cold, but I also liked it at brunch with open-faced vegan ham-and-asparagus sandwiches on baguette.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (3/4 cup), Calories 190

Tasting Notes:
A great cup of cocoa; the ginger infused every sip, without being overpowering. Under the ginger, this is smooth and chocolatey and will warm you right up.  Definitely delicious with marshmallows, but I actually preferred it without, to savor the cocoa to the max. 


Vegan extra:
Although cocoa is a nice indulgence, primarily I'm a coffee drinker. Coffee, of course, is vegan, but I prefer to support companies that take into account their environmental impact (including on the habitat of animals), so I always look for rainforest alliance certified brands. My favorite these days is the Espresso Sierra from Allegro, which is not only organic and fair trade, but also shade grown (helping to prevent deforestation and soil erosion).

Another great brand to check out is Thanksgiving Coffee Company. Try their "Save the Wolves" roast, another shade-grown organic option, whose name says it all.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Caramelized Onion, Green Bean, and Cherry Tomato Tian

A tian is a Provencal version of a vegetable gratin. Although normally prepared in a dish of the same name, you can prepare a tian in your American kitchen using any baking dish.  Choose an easily grateable cheese like the vegan mozzarella block from Galaxy Foods, to get a nice gratin-style browned topping.

  • 5 cups (1-inch) cut green beans
  • Cooking spray
  • 3 cups thinly sliced onion
  • 6 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons vegan sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup grated vegan cheese
1. Cook the green beans in boiling water for 3 minutes.  Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat a skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, garlic, sugar, salt, and black pepper; saute for 8 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the balsamic, basil, and oregano, and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

3. Arrange the green beans in the bottom of an 11x7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Top with the onion mixture, then arrange the tomatoes on top of the onion mixture and sprinkle with the cheese.

4. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.

Pair with a French entree (like a vegan sausage quiche) for a fun Gallic evening at home.  

I had fun veganizing this recipe, using a blend of silken tofu, cornstarch, and turmeric for the eggs.

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (1 cup), Calories 75

Tasting Notes:
This is exactly how I want vegetables to be - warm, tender, and wonderfully, naturally sweet just from caramelizing and roasting, without adding artificial sweeteners.  The vegetables release so much liquid as they bake that guests might be surprised to hear there is no added sauce.  The balsamic vinegar gave just the right touch of acidity.  This dish gets high marks without any changes, but if you want to kick it up a notch, consider tossing the cheese with an equal amount of breadcrumbs before sprinkling on top.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Grilled Fennel-Couscous Salad

It's freezing outside, but don't let that stop you from grilling veggies - just grill them on a stovetop grill pan instead.  The unexpected addition of fennel is a nice way to perk up couscous.

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 (8-ounce) fennel bulb
  • 1/4 cup chopped dry-roasted cashews
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 navel orange
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 and 1/2 cups uncooked couscous
1. Heat a grill pan coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Cut the fennel bulb in half and add to the pan; cook for 3 minutes on each side, until just crisp-tender.

2. Let cool for 5 minutes, then cut the fennel into 1/2-inch cubes.  Peel the orange and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.  Combine the fennel and orange in a bowl with the cashews, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, cumin, and black pepper.

Your kitchen will smell like Morocco as soon as you stir!

3. Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil in a saucepan, and gradually add the couscous.  Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes; fluff with a fork.

4. Combine the couscous and the fennel mixture, tossing well. Let cool to room temperature before serving, or make in advance and serve chilled.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (1 cup), Calories 360 

Tasting Notes:
Simple and understated but just lovely - a bit like something you'd eat at a spa, with just-tender-enough fennel, juicy oranges, and a hint of olive oil. The roasted cashews were the best part, and this salad would no doubt be good with pistachios too. To play up that factor, consider using a nut oil instead of the olive oil. My preference was for the salad at room temperature, rather than chilled.


Vegan extra:
Speaking of oranges, I have finally found a company that makes vegan perfume, neither containing any animal products nor tested on animals: Pacifica. My favorite of their scents is the Tuscan blood orange, but their perfumes (and lotions and candles) come in other beguiling choices like Mediterranean Fig and Persian Rose.

Perhaps the best part about this roll-on perfume is that it slips easily into your purse or handbag, making it the perfect perfume for on-the-go application:

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chicken-Mushroom-Rice Toss

This homey little dinner comes together in minutes thanks to nice shortcuts like boil-in-bag rice, and bottled ginger and garlic. Use Gardein's Tuscan chicken breast, but omit the sauce. You can cook and chop the chicken ahead according to package directions, then just toss with the remaining ingredients in the last step of the recipe.

  • 28 ounces vegan chicken broth (such as Imagine)
  • 1 (3.5-ounce) bag boil-in-bag long-grain brown rice
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon bottled ground fresh ginger
  • 2 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps
  • 1 and 1/2 cups chopped and cooked Gardein Tuscan chicken breast (without sauce)
1. Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan.  Add the rice and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.  Drain the rice in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4 cup broth.  Discard the remaining broth.  Set the rice and reserved broth aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat the sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the green onions, rice vinegar, garlic, and ginger; saute for 1 minute.  Add the mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes.

3. Stir in the rice, reserved broth, and chicken.  Cook for a final 3 minutes, until the liquid is almost all evaporated, stirring frequently.

Pair this main dish with steamed snow peas, or broccoli tossed with soy sauce and sesame seeds.  Or why not both?

Nutrition Info:
3 servings (1 and 1/2 cups), Calories 395

Tasting Notes:
This is a simple dish, nothing special, but a good mid-week meal. The three ingredients in the title take center stage, but I would increase the ginger and garlic, and add a touch of soy sauce, as otherwise it is a little bland. Baked, seasoned tofu in place of the Gardein chicken might also make for a more flavorful dinner.  I would have liked larger pieces of mushroom, so might try chopped button mushrooms next time, instead of the thin slivers of shiitake. 


I took my own advice and made this again with thinly sliced button mushroom caps instead. It made the meal feel heartier, and is my preference over the shiitake version.

I also used the opportunity to cook the rice out of the bag, which I believe helped it soak up a bit more of the broth while cooking, and resulted in a more flavorful meal all around.

Here's the final result:

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Caramel Cloud Bars

One of the yummiest recipes I ever made was my Crispy Phyllo Napoleons with Blue Cheese, Nectarines, and Pears, thanks in no small part to the vegan caramel sauce drizzled on top. I wanted another chance to put this fantastic ingredient to use, so decided to try this dessert. Not quite a cake, not quite a brownie, "cloud" really does seem an accurate description of the decadent final product, since one bite is sure to put you on cloud nine.

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cups vegan sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted vegan butter
  • 1/4 cup evaporated non-dairy milk*
  • 4 Ener-G eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup vegan white chocolate chips (such as Paskesz)
  • 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
  • 1/2 cup caramel sundae syrup (such as Fun Fresh Foods)
1. Coat a 13x9-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray, and dust with 1 tablespoon flour; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, butter, evaporated milk, and Ener-G eggs; beat at medium speed for 1 minute.

3. Lightly spoon 2 cups flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.  Combine the flour in a bowl with the salt and baking soda.  Add the flour mixture gradually to the sugar mixture, beating at low speed until just combined.  Stir in the white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts.

4.  Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Note: The batter is a touch thick, so spread to the edges as needed with a spatula. You'll have only a fairly thin layer, as shown:

5. Microwave the caramel syrup for 45 seconds, until warm, and stir to smooth out.  Drizzle across the batter in a diagonal pattern.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes - a wooden pick inserted in the center should come out clean.

7. Cool completely before cutting into 24 bars.

I recommend serving as a sweet mid-afternoon snack, either alone or with a creamy fruit smoothie.

*For a full run-down on how to make evaporated non-dairy milk, see my posts for Gingered Pumpkin Pie or Indian Bread Pudding with Cardamom Sauce.

Nutrition Info:
24 servings (1 bar), Calories 164 

Tasting Notes:
Reminiscent in many ways of a butterscotch blondie, but even yummier. The edges were crisp, and the interior managed to be light and chewy at the same time. The chunks of white chocolate chips were delicious.  I would not chop the macadamia nuts so finely next time, so that I could enjoy bigger crunch and macadamia flavor. The caramel on top essentially melts into the batter as this cooks, infusing every bite. Minus one point since I was anticipating these to be fluffier, and the final product didn't quite live up to expectations.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Spicy Apple-Glazed Chick 'n' Blue Cheese Grits

Chicken and grits are a classic Southern combination, and one that still gets a place in the vegan kitchen thanks to Gardein. This version goes haute cuisine with an apple butter glaze on the chicken, and vegan blue cheese in the grits.

For the Blue Cheese Grits:
  • 28 ounces vegan chicken broth (such as Imagine)
  • 3/4 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits
  • 1 cup crumbled vegan blue cheese (such as Veg Cuisine)
  • 1/3 cup lite vegan sour cream (such as We Can't Say It's Sour Cream)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1. Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan and gradually add the grits, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 5 to 12 minutes, until thick, stirring occasionally. 

2. Remove from heat and stir in the blue cheese, sour cream, nutmeg, and black pepper.

Note: The grits mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (1 cup), Calories 182

Stop reading here if only the grits intrigue you, but for the chicken, read on.

  • 4 Gardein Tuscan chicken breasts (without sauce)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup apple butter*
  • 1/4 cup spicy brown mustard**
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 1 recipe Blue Cheese Grits
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1. Place the chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and flatten slightly with a meat mallet.  Don't pound too hard, or you risk the Gardein pulling apart; you just want to make sure that each piece is of even thickness, as shown in the photo below (the piece on the left has been flattened).  Place the chicken in a metal baking pan coated with cooking spray.

2. Combine the apple butter, mustard, salt, ground red pepper, and black pepper.

3. Brush the apple butter mixture evenly over the chicken, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Cut the chicken into 1/2-inch thick slices.

4. Spoon 1 cup grits onto each of 4 plates, and top evenly with the chicken and green onions.

*Apple butter is one of those items - like coconut milk - that sounds as though it shouldn't be vegan, but is. The "butter" is from mashed apples, and high-quality versions shouldn't contain any other ingredients, including sugar.

**Be careful when purchasing spicy brown mustard: A few brands, including French's and Grey Poupon, list "natural flavors" in the ingredients.  Rumor on the internet has it this flavor may be beef- or chicken-derived. Although there's no way to be sure without contacting the company, a few other brands have an all-vegan ingredient list, including Gulden and Kosciusko, so opt for those.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (1 cup grits, 1 chicken breast, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons green onions), Calories 371 

Tasting Notes:
I'll start with the grits, because those were awesome. Of course, I would probably find vegan ice cream topped with Veg Cuisine's soy bleu to be awesome, because as far as I'm concerned, you can't go wrong with this vegan cheese.  The grits are savory and creamy, and will warm you from the inside-out on a cold winter night.  The glaze on the chicken lives up to its name: spicy.  A little too much so for me, with the mustard and ground red pepper drowning out that lovely apple butter.  Next time, I would use twice as much apple butter, and half as much mustard and red pepper.  The grits did a great job of taming the fieriness of the glaze, but also drowned out the complexity of the flavors. Instead, I recommend making these grits for dinner one night, and the chicken another night, since together they aren't as good as apart.  I'd also leave off the green onions next time. A "5" for the grits, a lower rating for the combined effect.

Update: As an interesting note, the flavors of the grits and apple-glazed chicken pair better if you don't serve the dish immediately. Let stand for about 20 minutes before serving or enjoy leftovers for lunch.


Vegan extra:
In the same way this recipe warms you up from the inside on a cold winter night, make sure to give dry, cracked winter skin warming TLC on the outside this winter. I recently discovered a handy trick, for softening skin that even lotion can't seem to handle. Rub a medicated chest rub onto scaly heels and soles just before bed, slip on a pair of cotton socks, and remove in the morning.

This trick is made possible thanks to Gaia Kids 100% vegan warming chest rub.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Curried Crab Cakes

Of all the Match meats, their crab is the one I work with the least. Too intense and, well, fishy tasting for me on its own, I like Match crab best when combined with other strong ingredients, such as the curry powder in this recipe. For more fun with vegan crab, check out my post for Curried Crab Salad with Coriander-Dusted Flatbread.

  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 1 and 1/4 cups dry breadcrumbs, divided
  • 1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 12 ounces Match crab, thawed
  • 1 Ener-G egg
  • 2 tablespoons vegan butter, divided
  • Parsley sprigs (optional for garnish)
1. Combine the curry powder, salt, mustard, black pepper, and ground red pepper in a small bowl; set aside.

2. Heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the curry powder mixture, ginger, and garlic; cook uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Spoon the mixture into a large bowl and let cool.  Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel.

3. Stir 3/4 cup breadcrumbs, the mayonnaise, lemon rind, crab, and Ener-G egg into the onion mixture.  Divide the mixture into 24 portions, shaping each into a 1/2-inch thick patty.

4. Place the remaining breadcrumbs in a shallow dish, and dredge the crab cakes in the crumbs.

5. Melt 2 teaspoons butter in the pan over medium heat.  Add 8 patties, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.  Remove from the pan and repeat the procedure twice with the remaining butter and patties.  Parsley sprigs add a lovely fresh pop of color for garnish.

Try making these patties part of an appetizer spread.  Alongside the usual noshes like pretzels, add unexpected tidbits like sesame rice crackers and roasted chickpeas:

The crab cakes are great with cocktails, or try with hot cider for a non-alcoholic treat.

Nutrition Info:
12 servings (2 crab cakes), Calories 124

Tasting Notes:
As mentioned in the intro, there was lots of flavor going on here, all of which helped offset the eerily-accurate Match crab in a nice way. The chopped vegetables kept things fresh, and the heat and spice were just right from the curry mixture. There was too much breadcrumb flavor to the patties themselves, so I would decrease the amount to 1/2 cup. I also would cook the patties differently next time, over higher heat, and for longer, until quite crisp and browned on the outside.

Update: Leftovers reheat well, but not in the microwave. Re-crisp them on the outside in a skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes to a side. In fact, the browner and crispier these were on the outside, the better.