Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Basil & Chicken Pasta

A raid-the-fridge weeknight dinner

The herb:

I’m on a basil kick. Last week it was vegan pesto taste testing, and Monday night it was tomato and basil pizza – just some standard marina, thickly layered sliced tomatoes, and a generous sprinkling of fresh basil. Quick, delicious, and oh-so-summery.

Last night, with a bundle of basil leftover in the fridge, Basil Challenge III was upon me. Admittedly, my Summer Basil & Chik’n Pasta was born of a solemn swear to myself that I’d figure out a way to use the basil without making a special trip to the grocery store. If you cook as a vegan, I’m sure you’ve been there, too: the 7th consecutive day of swinging by the store for that one fresh ingredient that you cannot (will not! ought not!) do without.

Enough already! Basil Challenge III: raid the fridge and make it happen.

The innovation:

Employing the go-to formula for a simple, satisfying vegan dish, I reached for a grain, a protein and a veggie. Here’s what I had on hand and how I used it:
  • 2 cups pasta, cooked
  • 1 package chik’n, thinly sliced
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced into large chunks
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, quartered
  • 2-3 cups baby spinach
  • 7-10 large basil leaves, chiffonade(d??)*
  • Sea salt & pepper to taste

Heat the EVOO on medium low and add your onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 3-4 minutes and then add the chick’n strips. Increase heat to medium and stir frequently until chik’n begins to brown, 5-7 minutes. Next, incorporate your tomatoes and a generous sprinkling of sea salt. Keep the chick’n and tomato mixture moving, stirring frequently for 5 minutes.

The spinach and artichoke take only
a few minutes to cook. This meal
comes together quickly!
Once your tomatoes are softened and juicy, add the baby spinach and artichokes, cooking for an additional 3-4 minutes. Finally, toss in 75% of your beautiful basil ribbons, saving the rest for garnish. Combine, add salt & pepper to taste, and you’re good to go.

The alterations:

Now, I know I said I wasn’t going to go to the grocery store for this particular dish, but that doesn’t preclude me from thinking about what I’d do differently if I had!

Firstly, I’d use whole wheat pasta. The tri-colored shells were fun, but I think a nutty whole grain flavor would have really rounded out this dish. Additionally, I’d probably opt for a more flavorful chik’n than the Trader Joe’s Chickenless Strips I had on hand. Lightlife Smart Strips are among my favorite.

But as always, this dish is highly adaptable: don’t have artichokes? No prob, forget about them. Want more Vitamin A & C? Double your baby spinach. No fresh tomatoes on hand? Hell, grab a can.

Whatever it takes to save yourself that 8th consecutive trip to the store, amiright?

*I’ll cook dinner for whomever can explain to me how to conjugate chiffonade. Promise!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Vegan Burrito Bowl

Layers to live by

The Inspiration:

Flimsy-ass taco shells. 

Burrito Bowl: debunking the myth that vegans
eat like rabbits

That’s right, this bowl of vegan bliss was inspired by one too many taco shells crumbling in my hand before the first bite. I’ve yet to act on my fantasy of developing a sturdier shell – one durable enough to hold my homemade refried beans and vegan taco meat without buckling – so I’ve been using the next best thing: an easy-peasy already invented bowl.

So lazy, I know! Some over-achiever out there will beat me to it and invent the world’s most robust, crack-proof taco shell. Damn them and the assured fame that will follow.

But who knows, maybe there’s some fame in my own future once the world beholds my vegan burrito bowl. A girl can dream!

The Preparation:

First, assemble all your ingredients for easy-access – there are a few moving parts here and you’ll want them all within arm’s reach. Go ahead and grab:

  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked
  • 1 package Smart Ground Mexican by Litelife
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small bunch kale, coarsely chopped
  • 1-2 TBSP EVOO
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  •   tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 lime
  • ¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • Salsa

The kale comes first:

Sautéed kale: totally unexpected,
totally exceptional
Heat the EVOO on medium-low in a large skillet, then add the onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the yellow bell pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Next, incorporate the kale, adding a few splashes of water to help it cook down. Increase heat to medium and stir often for 4-5 minutes, or until kale is bright green.

Then the vegan meat:

In another skillet, add a few splashes of EVOO and heat your Smart Ground Mexican on medium. Stir often for about 7 minutes. If desired, add a dash or two of water or veggie stock for a moister consistency.

And the refried beans:

Empty your refried beans into a bowl and pop them in the microwave. (Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, go with my hot jalapeno refried beans.)

Then the fun:

Finally, build your bowl! Rice first, followed by a heaping layer of kale, with your Smart Ground Mexican and refried beans sharing the top floor of this towering Mexican mound. Top it all off with your sliced avocado, cilantro sprigs and cherry tomatoes. Add a few scoops of your favorite salsa and a squirt of lime.

…and welcome to your new life. This bowl is like being born again.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Peanut Butter Banana Panini

Five minutes of prep, a lifetime of pleasure

The night:

Returning from an evening with Taylor Swift, my little sis and I were in a state of bliss.

Inspired by Tay’s unending set list of hits, Carly Simon’s surprise on-stage appearance, and the thousands of super-fan tweens we spent the evening screaming alongside, we were in the mood for a seriously celebratory sammy.

The peanut butter banana panini - you'll want seconds!
Trekking back to Boston from Gillette Stadium, which (obvi) offers positively zero vegan fare, I secretly assembled my fantasy sammy: peanut butter, banana, and strawberry jam panini-pressed between thick slices of When Pig’s Fly cinnamon raisin bread.

And when we got home, I laid it on my unsuspecting sis: the hot, the gooey, the sweet, the chewy peanut butter banana panini.

The morning:

More than twelve hours later, we still haven’t recovered from the splendor that is this sandwich. In fact, I think I need to take a moment of silence. It’s all so overwhelming.


You’re gonna want to get on this ASAP. Go get:

  • 2 slices cinnamon raisin bread – crusty, thick bread works best
  • 2-3 TBSP honey-roasted peanut butter, all natural
  • ½ tsp strawberry jam, no HFCS
  • 1 ripe banana
  • ½ tsp Earth Balance vegan butter

Spread a thin coat of Earth Balance over one side of each piece of bread. Add the peanut butter, jam and banana to one piece. On the other piece, spread the remaining peanut butter and then press your sandwich together. Carefully place it on a panini-press and cook for 5-6 minutes on medium.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking: any vegan Nutella-like spread will push this epic sandwich experience over the edge of insanity. Do it if you dare. Try out this homemade chocolate hazelnut recipe by A House in the Hills and let me know how it goes!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hot Jalapeno Refried Beans

When canned won't cut it

The Game:

I like to play a game called “Has Anyone Ever…”

All you do is come up with a crazy scenario and ask a friend if anyone ever – just once in the history of the world – has experienced the scenario you’re describing. It’s a fun and often outrageous conversation starter.

And so I ask you: has anyone ever gotten giddy over canned refried beans?

I’d bet not.

Canned refried beans, aka meh, hardly get the heart pumping. But here’s what will: my homemade vegan Hot Jalapeno Refried Beans.

The Players:

If this is your first foray into homemade refried beans, fear not. More than easy, it’s intuitive. You’ll want:
  • 1 can beans, kidney or pinto, rinsed and drained
  • ½ jalapeno, minced, seeds intact
  • 1 lime
  • 1 TBSP garlic, minced
  • ½ sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp EVOO
  • Sea salt & pepper to taste

Onion, garlic and jalapeno pack
a lot of punch in these beans
Begin by heating the EVOO in a skillet on medium-low. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno and cook for 3-4 minutes, until onion softens and becomes translucent. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Next, stir in your beans and increase the heat to medium. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring often. Add the lime juice and cook for 1 more minute. 

Lastly, turn off the heat and smash up your bean mixture with a potato masher. How smooth or chunky you make it is up to you! Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the lime juice and mash em' up

The win:

So now: has anyone ever gotten giddy over a hot bowl of Hot Jalapeno Refried Beans?

Absolutely – and here’s why. Hot off the skillet, these babies are a perfect accompaniment to a chips and salsa snack. They’re a hot and spicy add-on to any burrito, taco or Mexican bowl. And, I dare say, if you’re looking for a quick and easy vegan meal, whip these up and throw a heaping spoonful over a bowl of brown rice – add your avocado, salsa and cilantro, and you’re done.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Brown Rice & Sesame Tofu Salad

A Heaping Plate of Vegan Grains and Greens

The Dilemma:

Me: “I would love a salad for dinner tonight!”

Fiancé: “………uh huh..”

Don’t get me wrong, my fiancé (aka Jeremy) loves him some vegan cooking. Lord knows he eats enough of it. But sometimes my veggie dreams don’t speak to him so seductively. An occasional meat and prolific cheese eater, my sigo is a sort of convenience vegan, enjoying the meals I prepare but by no means inclined to choose tofu over chicken when left to his own devices.

And his own devices are…ravenous. A salad, usually, will not suffice.

So last night, when I declared myself salad-ready, the silence set in. Nothing…nothing…no comment…and then a polite little “uh huh.”

Little did he know that my signature Brown Rice & Sesame Tofu Salad was in store. Uh huh. That’s right.

The Recipe:

Hello, gorgeous!
I invented this salad in my late college years, right around the time when my sister and I would frequent the Lady Killigrew Café and Bookmill in Montague, MA. It was there that I had my first taste of warm brown rice over crisp greens, a combination so compelling I had to replicate it in my own kitchen. Yes, you have to juggle a few moving parts to pull this salad together, but it’s oh-so-worth it!

For sanity’s sake, approach this recipe in three parts: the rice, the tofu and the veggies.

For the rice, you’ll need:
  • 1 cup sweet brown rice
  • 2 cups water
  • Dash of salt

Place the water, rice and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down as low as it will go and cover. Cook for approximately 40 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.

As the rice is cooking, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut your block of tofu into slices or squares and set pieces into a marinade of:
Flip the tofu slices about halfway through baking
to brown evenly on both sides.
  • 1/4 cup tamari
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 TBSP toasted sesame oil
  • 1 TSP freshly grated ginger
  • 1.5 TSP pressed garlic
  • ½ TSP red pepper flakes
  • 1 TSP sesame seeds

Allow the tofu to marinate for at least 30 minutes and then spread on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until browning occurs, flipping each piece at the 15 minute mark.

Now, onto the veggies. While there's tons of room for experimentation here, some of my staple veggies include:

  • ½ yellow bell pepper, sliced into long strips
  • 4 radishes, sliced
  • 1/3 red onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 1 carrot, coarsely grated
  • 5 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • ½ avocado, sliced
  • 4 cups arugula, loosely packed

The Finale:

Cindy's Kitchen vegan-
friendly dressing
Once your rice and tofu have cooked and your veggies are prepped, simply spread a bed of lettuce and go to town with your toppings.

And no Brown Rice & Sesame Tofu Salad is complete without my all-time favorite dressing: Deeply Roasted Sesame by Cindy’s Kitchen. Not only is Cindy’s Kitchen a local shop, hailing from Brockton, MA, they offer a huge selection of vegan dressings and marinades, all unbelievably fresh and flavorful. If my Brown Rice & Sesame Tofu Salad were on a dessert island, Cindy’s Roasted Sesame dressing would be its singular survival item.

It, like me, can’t do without.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Power Protein Potato Hash

Dressing up your favorite starchy friend

The Goods:

Potatoes – 8 roasted pounds of them, to be exact. 

Why? Because for my dad, convenience is the holy grail of all culinary pursuits. If a recipe involves too much chopping, prepping, or clean up – forget it. “I don’t care if Christ’s coming to dinner,” he’ll say. It’s just not gonna happen.

Some days, though, he’ll get on a roll: slicing and dicing everything in the fridge and packing it up into neat stacks of Tupperware. With most of the prep work done in advance, early morning omelets or afternoon salads come together in a matter of minutes. 

Short on ingredients? Sub in some zucchini, squash, broccoli, or pinto beans.
So I wasn’t surprised to find enough potatoes to feed an Irish army when I was trolling through the family fridge this past weekend. Roasted and lightly seasoned, they were mine for the taking/making. With an afternoon of swimming in 100 degree heat before me, I needed something filling yet bikini-friendly. 

And so, of course, I grabbed a can of beans (because let’s be real, a little bloating won’t hold me back) and my vegan Power Protein Potato Hash was born.

The Recipe:

Get started by dicing 3 large russet potatoes into small squares. Toss the diced potatoes with EVOO, sea salt, pepper and garlic power. Freshly pressed garlic and parsley would work wonderfully, as well. Spread your potatoes into a flat layer on a large baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees, flipping every 10-15 minutes for about 45 minutes total. 

As your potatoes are roasting, grab and prep:
  • ½ red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 can kidney beans (14.5 oz)
  • 1 ear corn, de-kernelled
  • 1 Portobello mushroom, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • ½ avocado, sliced
  • Salsa & cilantro for garnish

Remove the potatoes from the oven when they’re fork-soft. In a skillet over medium heat, heat the EVOO and add the onion. Let cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the mushroom and bell pepper and let cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring regularly. Incorporate ½ can kidney beans, corn, and cherry tomatoes, cooking for another 3 minutes. Finally, add in the potatoes, toss in your red pepper flakes and season with sea salt and pepper. 

Top it off with avocado slices, roughly chopped cilantro and a few scoops of your favorite salsa. If you want an even bigger protein boost, add in some sliced vegetarian sausage

Breakfast, my dears, is served!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Easy There Avocado Toast

Because an avocado a day is the way to stay sane

The Mood:

Working from home: the fantasy is a familiar, ya? Waking late, answering emails in your yoga pants and eating an inspired vegan breakfast on the back porch.


Avocado-hummus toast isn't only for frantic madwomen...
it's the light-lunch of champions.
After this morning’s frantic few hours in my home office (more accurate: kitchen table), lunchtime had come and gone. Around 1:30, when the current of emails calmed and I found myself on the verge of a hanger meltdown (hanger = hunger-anger, a dangerous condition, indeed) I needed something quick and clean. 

Because, I guess, there's no time for washing dishes when you're working from home. 

The Method:

This recipe is like the LBD of food: simple, streamlined and supremely adaptable. There’s nothing you can’t wear eat it with.

To get started, grab some:
  • Crusty whole grain bread
  • Hummus
  • Arugula or sprouts
  • Avocado
  • Tomato
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt & pepper
...and do your thang. Dice it, slice it, turn it into anything that makes sense in the moment. If you don’t have these exact ingredients on hand, try out any of these alternative toppings:
  • Cucumber                                                       
  • Shredded carrot                                             
  • Red onion                                                       
  • Cilantro   
  • Hot sauce
  • Guacamole
  • Bell pepper
  • Your favorite veggie deli meat 
Dig into the fridge and use your imagination. It’s nearly impossible to go wrong!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Spicy Summer Corn Salad

Heatwave Eats: Spicy Summer Corn Salad

The mindset: 

This summer in Boston seems to vacillate between periods of pouring rain (i.e. Memorial Day weekend) and even longer waves of scorching heat. We’re now entering day three of 90+ temps, and if you’re anything like me, you’re a sweaty mess and not in the mood to turn on the lights, let alone the oven or stovetop.

Yes, my kitchen has been a detoxifying 87 degrees, so it’s time to pull out the raw recipe reserves. With mid-summer corn piled high at every turn, I need little more convincing. Spicy Summer Corn Salad, here we go.

The method:

What greater joy is there than cutting sheets of corn fresh from the cob? The cool, crisp kernels are the perfect template for an endless variety of raw salads. But let’s start simple.  
For a 2-serving salad, you’ll need:

                3 ears fresh corn, shucked & de-kernelled
                10 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
                1/2 zucchini, thinly sliced and then quartered
                ½ jalapeno, with seeds intact if you like it hottt
                ¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
                ¼ cup EVOO
                2 limes for juicing
                2 dashes hot sauce
                Sea salt & pepper

Combine the corn, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, jalapeno and cilantro and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the EVOO, lime juice, hot sauce and 2-3 generous dashes of salt and pepper. Drizzle the EVOO mixture over your veggies and combine. Chill in the fridge or serve immediately.

The madness: 

Now, if you (like me) insist on eating at least one serving of avocado per day, here’s your opportunity.  Dice it up and mix it in. It’ll be amazing. Or, if you want to pack in some protein, toss in a can of black beans. In the mood for more herbs? Chiffonade some fresh basil for a garnish. If you’re not up for a spicy ride, simply skip the jalapenos and hot sauce.

Pair this salad with a veggie burger or a crusty, whole grain bread topped with hummus, sprouts and avocado for a simple summer dinner. And as always, digging in on your porch (lawn, driveway, roof…) will really make the flavors sing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: Sauces n' Love Vegan Pesto

Pesto Pasta Party, Vegan Style

Sauces n' Love Pesto, available at Boston-area Whole Foods Markets, $7

The craving:

For us vegans, years can pass between our opportunities to indulge in an authentic pesto-drenched pasta dish. Years, that is, of sorrow and privation. Cheese-free pesto is hardly a staple at most grocers, and for some (unjust, insane) reason, this summer staple seems relegated to second class status at many veggie-centric eateries.
Recipe options abound with Sauces n' Love
versatile vegan pesto.

With traditional pesto recipes calling for Parmesan or Romano cheese, we’re often left standing over our food processors, basil bush in hand. And while there’s nothing better than a homemade batch of pulverized basil, pine nuts, garlic and EVOO, sometimes you just don’t have it in you. On a lazy Sunday night, pesto making just isn't in the cards.

Enter Sauces n’ Love vegan pesto, 4.5 jarred ounces of garden-fresh flavor.

The solution:

Versatility is part of pesto’s many appeals. Toss it over capellini, fettuccine, fusilli – whatever you have on hand – and raid the fridge for forgotten produce. My asparagus and cherry tomatoes were a few days shy of giving up on life, so before I cracked open my inaugural jar of Sauces n’ Love pesto, I set a handful of asparagus spears into salted, boiling water. As the asparagus cooked, I pan-fried some Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips. Quick, healthy and novice-proof. Anyone with two pots and a frying pan can cook this meal.

Before tossing it all together, I mixed a heaping spoonful of pesto with 3 tablespoons water and a small slice of softened Earth Balance. This concoction covered about three large servings of fettuccine, which is a huge plus for those of us who live and die by leftovers. To top it off, I incorporated the chicken and asparagus, saving the halved cherry tomatoes (or quartered, go crazy) to complete each individual serving.

This simple fettuccine dish is highly adaptable. Dig into your
produce bin - it's hard to go wrong!
Damn, that was easy.

The verdict:

The verdict, the verdict…not necessarily the place to say “it depends.” But here’s the deal: if you want your meal infused with unobtrusive basil-y notes, Sauces n’ Love pesto is your jam. Fresh and aromatic, this product yields a delightful bowlful of quintessentially summer flavor.

And yet.

If you’re looking for a more extreme pesto experience – a mouthful so commanding you couldn't care less about the itty-bitty basil flecks bespeckling your smile – Sauces n’ Love may fall short. Deferential where it ought to be aggressive, this is a pesto built for those falling center-right on the flavor-seeker continuum. If this isn't you, here’s what to do: simply mix a supplementary scoop (or two…) into your dish. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Walnut Grille Restaurant Review

Staples and surprises at Walnut Grille

Walnut Grille 1203 Walnut Street Newton, MA

Walnut Grille, with its affordable, fully vegetation menu and sizeable drinks list, fits seamlessly into its upscale-indie Newton Highlands neighborhood. That’s not to say, however, that the bright, inviting space – and the fresh, local, and vegetarian concept – is characteristically suburban. On the contrary: since winter 2013, Walnut Grille has established an atmosphere of its own, one where meticulously plated meals emerging from the open kitchen create a collective experience of entrée envy and plenty of incentives to return.

The food:

Walnut Grille is the brainchild of five friends, two of which who honed their culinary craft in some of the world’s top hotel kitchens. The menu, both sophisticated and approachable, appears to reflect that training. Pizza, lasagna and a few staple salad selections will be familiar to all, where seitan, hijiki and tempeh dishes offer more adventurous options.

Gobi Manchurian, crisp and saucy
bite-sized flavor bombs
The Gobi Manchurian appetizer ($8) tops the roster of the Indo-Chinese inspired plates. Lightly fried cauliflower dressed in a sweet tomato sauce that was somewhat imbalanced – heavy on some pieces and much lighter on others – my date and I ended up splitting the last piece on the plate. It was too tasty for that “no, you have it” pretense.
A generous portion of the Daily Special,
which is announced daily on facebook

While most menu items are vegan-adaptable (gluten-free, too!), my date opted for the Daily Special ($17), an orzo base with butternut squash, goat cheese, seitan and a light arugula and crisped onion finish. In short, it smelled like Thanksgiving and I was cursing the goat cheese that prevented me from sampling.

My Seitan Marsala ($13), presented in an oversized dish allowing the marsala sauce to frame the softly mounded mashed potatoes, kale and seitan, was a treat to behold – one of those dishes that looks so good that you wish it were bigger, even before you’ve taken the first bite. Perfectly fluffed potatoes, finely sliced seitan and a salty sweet sauce – my first impression panned out; by the time I was finished, I was ready for more.

The scene & service:

From our table in the one-room dining area’s back corner, we had full view of the restaurant, including the lonely looking hightop bar. At 8:00pm, the lighting was quite bright, and a full collection of jeweled chandeliers, reminiscent of a teenage girl’s dream bedroom, competed with an otherwise modern motif of sage green and metallics.

Sky-high Seitan Marsala
Carrot cake, one of Walnut Grille's
many from-scratch sweets.
Service was quick and friendly. Despite a few of our questions stumping our server, she promptly quizzed the kitchen staff and provided helpful suggestions.  

The verdict:

Walnut Grille is a solid vegetarian option for a date night or quick bite alike. Casual with a touch of class (chandeliers notwithstanding), the beauty of this Newton eatery is in its flexibility and broad appeal. Your meat-eating friends will have pizza and you, perhaps, will have one of the many more imaginative options. With free parking and easy Green Line access, the trek to the burbs is well worth it.