Monday, April 29, 2013

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Pecan Butter

I've relied on my microwave several times lately, both for dessert and savory side dishes. Although not my first recommendation for cooking, a microwave is a blessing on a night you need time-savers. Two little sweet potatoes go from whole to mashed in less than 15 minutes in this quick dish.

  • 2 sweet potatoes (about 1 pound)
  • 3 tablespoons plain non-dairy milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegan brown sugar, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped toasted pecans*
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Prick the potatoes with a fork and place on paper towels in the microwave.  Microwave for 7 to 10 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave), turning over halfway through.

2. Wrap the potatoes in a towel and let stand for 5 minutes.  Scoop out the pulp and discard the skins.

3. Combine the pulp in a bowl with the milk, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and salt; mash.

4. Meanwhile, combine the remaining brown sugar in a small bowl with the butter, pecans, and cinnamon.

5. Mash together with a fork until combined:

6. Spoon 3/4 cup sweet potato mixture onto each of 2 plates, and top each serving with 1 tablespoon pecan mixture.

You'll have just enough to serve 2. If you want a sweet potato recipe that feeds a larger crowd, see my post for Chipotle-Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

Because this is a very sweet side dish (see my tasting notes below), I recommend pairing with a savory vegan meat, whether Gardein's chicken or their breaded turkey cutlets:

Or little sauteed Match pork cutlets:

*Toast the pecans while the sweet potatoes are in the microwave.  For an amount so small, the stovetop is easier than the oven; toast in a small skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan frequently to prevent burning.

Nutrition Info:
2 servings (3/4 cup sweet potato mixture, 1 tablespoon pecan mixture), Calories 299

Tasting Notes:
This pecan butter might just be my new favorite thing on earth, a buttery, sugary, toasted burst of flavor. Put it on anything and you'll be in heaven, but of course it pairs excellently with these sweet potatoes. The potatoes themselves are quite sweet since they are also mashed with a bit of brown sugar. Skip the sugar in the potatoes if you want them more savory.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Maple-Glazed Acorn Squash Rings

This will probably be my last post featuring winter squash until the seasons turn again, but I couldn't resist one more recipe when I saw the combination of maple syrup and bourbon in the ingredient list. Several bourbon companies, including Knob Creek and Maker's Mark, are vegan-friendly, and you can always get the latest updates on which to buy and which to avoid at Just like my post for Caramelized Onion Bruschetta, this recipe makes just enough for two.

  • 1 acorn squash (about 1 and 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • 2 teaspoons melted vegan butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1. Cut the squash crosswise into 4 (1-inch thick) slices.  Remove the seeds.

Note: The easiest method is just to run a spoon around the seeds and membranes in the center of each slice.

2. Place the squash slices on a microwave-safe plate and cover loosely with plastic wrap, creating a vent.  Microwave for 6 minutes - the squash should be tender.

3. Transfer the squash slices to a baking sheet.  In a bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, bourbon, salt, and nutmeg.

4. Brush the bourbon mixture over the squash slices and broil for 3 minutes, until bubbly.  Drizzle with any remaining syrup mixture.

Serve with vegan white wine and your favorite homey entree. I particularly enjoyed with the Thai sesame peanut tofu from Westsoy:

and with Gardein chicken:

Nutrition Info:
2 servings (2 squash rings), Calories 239

Tasting Notes:
Super yummy, but this recipe needed some crunch on top. Next time, I would sprinkle with either a pinch of turbinado or brown sugar, or perhaps some very finely crushed pecans or hazelnuts. The squash is wonderfully tender though, skins included. Something I didn't know until tonight: the skins of acorn squash are perfectly edible, and in fact loaded with vitamins. Eat them if you like, or cut the flesh away from the skin if you find it too bitter. The bourbon dominates the sauce, but not overwhelmingly. Between that and the nutmeg, I knew instantly that I should revisit this dish next holiday season, as it would be divine with other holiday fare and a glass of bourbon-spiked soy nog.  Either way, this sauce is fantastic, not only on the squash but also on whatever else it runs into on your plate.

Oh right, including leftover slices of Lightlife ham I might have used to dip into it:


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cheesy Polenta Casserole with Roasted Bell Pepper Sauce

There are nights when I want to make polenta from scratch from whole-grain cornmeal, roast bell peppers to perfection in the oven, or slowly simmer a tomato sauce on the stovetop. And then there are nights when you just want dinner fast. Enter the pantry, and some of my favorite staples, like tube polenta, bottled roasted bell peppers, and canned tomato sauce. Will it taste as fresh as the homemade version? No, but it will be tasty and satisfying, and sometimes that's what matters most.

  • 2 cups tomato-and-basil pasta sauce
  • 1/4 cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 (7-ounce) bottle roasted red bell peppers
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 (16-ounce) tube polenta
  • 3/4 cup shredded Daiya mozzarella
  • 2 tablespoons vegan Parmesan sprinkles (such as Galaxy Foods)
1. Drain the bell peppers and cut into slices.  Add to a saucepan, along with the pasta sauce, olives, balsamic, and black pepper.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and continue to cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Cut the polenta tube into 12 slices, and arrange evenly over the sauce.

3. Spread with the remaining sauce, and sprinkle with the mozzarella and Parmesan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes - your casserole should be nice and bubbly by the end.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (1 portion), Calories 221

Tasting Notes:
Excellent, big flavor - the simple addition of bottled olives and bell peppers to the tomato sauce makes it taste like something simmered carefully over the stove, instead of thrown together in minutes, and the splash of balsamic makes all the difference. The casserole itself is warm and filling with just the right amount of gooey cheese. My only complaint is the messy appearance from dividing the casserole into 4 servings. Next time I would bake in individual gratin dishes.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Strawberry-Kiwi Salad with Basil

Nothing says spring is here quite like a fresh fruit salad. Bring this one along on the next warm afternoon for a picnic.

  • 1/4 cup plain non-dairy creamer
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vegan sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 peeled kiwifruit
  • 2 cups quartered strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the creamer, vinegar, sugar, and salt.

2. Cut each kiwifruit into 6 wedges, and add to the dressing mixture, along with the strawberries; toss well.

3. Cover and chill for 1 hour, then stir in the basil just before serving.

Round out the meal with your favorite Gardein chicken, raw veggies (jicama sticks are a fun alternative to more-standard carrots or celery), and tortilla chips with salsa.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (3/4 cup), Calories 90

Tasting Notes:
The mixture of tangy vinegar and soy creamer tasted much like sour cream, minus the heaviness - in sum, a delightful sauce. You'll have leftovers in the bowl after ladling out the fruit, and I wish I'd thought to save some to drizzle over cake or non-dairy ice cream. The fruit was fresh and the basil was just delightful, so this salad is a winner all around.


Saturday, April 20, 2013


While I love a glass of (vegan) wine during the week, sangria just seems tailor-made for a Saturday night. Unlike some versions that are best made hours in advance, this one only needs about 30 minutes to chill.

  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1/3 cup vegan sugar
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle vegan Merlot*
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 (8 inch x 1 inch) orange rind strip
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 thinly sliced and seeded orange
  • 1 thinly sliced and seeded lemon
  • 2 cups club soda
1. In a pitcher or bowl, combine the orange juice, sugar, and wine, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

2. Press the cloves into the orange rind strip.

3. Add the strip to the wine mixture, along with the cinnamon sticks, sliced orange, and sliced lemon.  Chill at least 30 minutes.

3. Just before serving, stir in the club soda.

For the best presentation, serve in wine glasses filled with ice.

*Your options abound these days for vegan Merlot. One to try: the organic Merlot from Orleans Hill.

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (1 cup), Calories 160 

Tasting Notes:
This sangria goes down easy, and indeed is quite sweet. If you prefer more of a kick, I recommend adding brandy to the mix, or decreasing the orange juice (or both), but as is, this would be the perfect drink for a hot summer night. The hints of cinnamon and orange are lovely, and I liked the fizz from the club soda.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chocolate-Walnut Cake

Several surprising ingredients go into this cake, including fresh breadcrumbs with the dry ingredients, and pureed dates in place of vegan butter. You'll also get a double-dose of omega 3s, between the walnuts and canola oil.

For the cake:
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • 1 (1-ounce) slice white bread
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, divided*
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup vegan sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 Ener-G eggs, divided
For the glaze:
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (such as Chocolate Dream)
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup (such as Wholesome Sweeteners)
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup vegan powdered sugar
1. To prepare the cake, coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with wax paper.  Coat the wax paper with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, combine the dates, 1/2 cup cocoa, 1/2 cup boiling water, and 1 teaspoon instant coffee in a bowl; let stand for 20 minutes.

3. Place the bread slice in a food processor and pulse 10 to 11 times - coarse crumbs should measure 1/2 cup. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

4. Lightly spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup and level with a knife.  Place the flour in the food processor.  Set aside 10 of the walnuts for garnish.  Add the remaining walnuts to the flour, along with the salt; process until finely ground.  Add the flour mixture to the breadcrumbs.

5. Place the date mixture, 1/3 cup sugar, canola oil, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 Ener-G egg in the food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through.  Add the date mixture to the breadcrumb mixture, stirring well.

6. Make the remaining 3 Ener-G eggs in a large bowl (1 and 1/2 tablespoons powder whisked into 6 tablespoons warm water); beat with a hand mixer for 12 minutes.  At the 6 minute mark, gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. By the end, you should have "stiff peaks" like beaten egg whites.

Note: The eggs here are primarily for texture, not to make the cake rise high, as in the case of angel food cake or a souffle.  The Ener-G egg mixture should transform from this:

to this:

8. Gently stir one-fourth of the beaten Ener-G mixture into the batter, then fold in the remaining beaten Ener-G mixture.

7. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes - the cake should spring back when touched lightly.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and removing the wax paper; cool completely on a wire rack.

8. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: combine 1/3 cup cocoa, the chocolate chips, 1/4 cup boiling water, the corn syrup, and 1 teaspoon instant coffee, stirring until smooth.  Stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Cover and chill for 1 hour.

9. Gradually add the powdered sugar to the chilled cocoa mixture, beating with a hand mixer until smooth.

10. Place the cake on a plate and spread the glaze evenly over the top and sides.  Arrange the reserved 10 walnuts on top.

To round out the dessert, try serving with a scoop of your favorite vegan vanilla ice cream (I'm particularly into the coconut milk variety from So Delicious these days), and a sprinkling of fresh raspberries.

This sweet cake is also the perfect counterpart to a bitter cup of espresso or coffee.

*Toast the walnuts first in a small skillet over medium heat; cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring or shaking the pan often to prevent burning.

Nutrition Info:
10 servings (1 wedge), Calories 280

Tasting Notes:
The dates make this cake incredibly dense and rich - more like a cross between a cake and a date pudding than a cake proper. The glaze on top is thick and exactly chocolate-y enough, for an overall incredible dessert in terms of taste. You might consider adding a little baking powder, to help the cake rise and cut some of the density, if you want something closer to a traditional texture. A slight deduction in my overall rating for that reason, but this is borderline "5" in terms of taste. The little walnut garnish on top is the perfect bonus on each slice. Both the vanilla ice cream and fresh raspberries add a nice light counterpart to the heaviness of the cake itself, so are highly recommended. 


Monday, April 15, 2013

Caramelized Onion Bruschetta

If you want a bruschetta recipe tailor-made for 2 people, instead of feeding a crowd, look no further. Look for a demi-baguette (about 6 inches long, or 4 ounces in weight) at your local grocery store or bakery, and top with this quick onion topping.

  • 2 teaspoons vegan butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon vegan sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1(6-inch) French bread baguette
  • 2 tablespoons vegan Parmesan sprinkles (such as Galaxy Foods)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and sugar, and cook for 14 minutes, stirring frequently - the onion should be golden brown by the end.

2. Remove from heat and stir in the basil.

Note: If you don't have good fresh basil on hand, substitute 1 teaspoon dried.

3. Cut the baguette in half horizontally, and place the bread halves, cut sides up, on a baking sheet.  Broil for 2 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven and spread 1 tablespoon onion mixture over each bread half.  Sprinkle each half with 1 tablespoon Parmesan sprinkles and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper.  Return to the broiler for 1 minute.

This bruschetta is perfect alongside a bowl of soup or an entree salad for a light dinner:

Or serve with pasta for a heartier meal:

Nutrition Info:
2 servings (1 baguette half), Calories 236

Tasting Notes:
The onion is sweet and perfect, but unfortunately, it was the Parmesan that dominated in the topping. I recommend decreasing to only 1 teaspoon per baguette half, as well as doubling the onion and basil mixture. The bread becomes quite crisp and toasted under the broiler, so my preference was to serve the bruschetta with a bowl of soup and dunk right into the warm broth.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Asian Peanut Dip

This quick recipe is a great dip for crudites. It will keep for about 2 days in the fridge in an airtight container.

  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup lite firm silken tofu
  • 3 tablespoons vegan brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.  Transfer to a bowl (or airtight container, if making in advance).

Use as a dip for any crudites:

Or, for "grown up" peanut butter sandwiches, try it on fresh whole wheat bread with lettuce, sliced cucumbers, and grated carrots.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (2 tablespoons), Calories 122

Tasting Notes:
A very exciting blend of flavors, ranging from sweet to spicy to savory all in one bite. I worried the crushed red pepper would be too spicy, but actually think you could increase the amount a little. My only changes would be to decrease the soy sauce to 1 tablespoon, and add a splash more lime juice. The texture of this was perfect for spreading on sandwiches, as outlined above. For a veggie dip, I would thin it with just a touch of water. Great for dipping cucumbers and baby carrots.


The second time I made this, I went ahead and used 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, for even more kick, and loved the added spiciness.

I also took the opportunity to process longer, resulting in a smoother, creamier spread:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mediterranean Lasagna

Lasagna is a fantastic vegan entree, because though every version will contain layers of lasagna noodles, your options for fillings are pretty much endless. Give your lasagna a Hellenic spin by adding artichokes, spinach, and salty vegan feta.

  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups chopped leek*
  • 1 and 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 (14-ounce) drained can artichoke hearts
  • 1 (7-ounce) drained bottle roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 cup drained canned cannellini beans
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons vegan butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cups plain non-dairy milk
  • 4 ounces crumbled vegan feta (such as Veg Cuisine)
  • 3 tablespoons vegan Parmesan sprinkles, divided (such as Galaxy Foods)
  • 6 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed**
  • 3/4 cup shredded Daiya mozzarella, divided
1 Heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add the leek, onion, dried mint, fennel, and garlic cloves; saute for 5 minutes.

2. Coarsely chop the artichoke hearts and chop the red bell pepper.  Add to the pan and saute for 3 minutes.  Stir in the cannellini beans; remove from heat and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk.  Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk until blended, and continue to cook for about 4 to 6 minutes, until thick.  Remove from heat and add the feta and 2 tablespoons Parmesan sprinkles.

4. Spread 1/4 cup of this feta sauce into the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top with 2 lasagna noodles, half of the leek mixture, half of the spinach, 1/4 cup mozzarella, and 1/2 cup feta sauce.

5. Repeat the layers: 2 lasagna noodles, the remaining leek mixture, the remaining spinach, 1/4 cup mozzarella, and 1/2 cup feta sauce, topped by a final 2 lasagna noodles.

6. Pour the remaining feta sauce over the noodles.  Sprinkle with the final 1/4 cup mozzarella and 1 tablespoon Parmesan sprinkles.  Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.  Uncover and bake a final 15 minutes.  Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting into 6 portions.

*I recommend chopping leeks first, then rinsing in a colander, otherwise you'll never get the dirt and sand from between all the layers.

**To avoid a watery lasagna filling, drain the spinach once thawed, and squeeze dry over a colander before adding to the lasagna.

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (1 portion), Calories 341

Tasting Notes:
Every layer of this is wonderful - the noodles bake perfectly in the sauce, which is cheesy and creamy without being heavy. The vegetable mixture is great, although I would leave out the cannellini beans next time; even knowing they provide good protein, they were out of place here. I would also use less leek and more artichoke.  Chopped olives or sun-dried tomatoes would be great additions to the mix. The mint and fennel smelled fantastic while this was cooking, so I was a touch disappointed they didn't taste as strong as they had smelled. Overall, a filling and hearty entree; I especially loved the Parmesan sprinkles on top.