March 24, 2013

Transforming Leftovers: Quinoa with Chermoula-Roasted Cauliflower and Tofu

Leftovers; why do some people cringe at that word? It's actually a great problem to have, you know. Some of my most incredible creations have come from leftovers. And when I'm too lazy to cook? Yep, it's leftovers to the rescue there, too. 

I used to buy something like celeriac or a bunch of dill for a recipe and wouldn't know what do with what I had left. Good food would sit in the fridge until it went bad, or parts of the food that I didn't know were edible were thrown away. It's funny that I buy so much more produce than I ever used to, and seldom do I have to throw any of it out. I've gotten good at minimizing food waste, but it didn't happen overnight. I've learned a lot from watching cooking shows and reading about different foods online. When food in my kitchen spoils, I know that either I got produce-happy and bought too much (less likely), or (more likely) that I'm not eating as well as I should be. My former self would have likely let some of today's ingredients go to waste for sure. Lucky for you all, I've gotten more crafty over the years. I came up with this recipe, a warming grain dish with plenty of tang and a sweet finish from the golden raisins.

Recently, I made chermoula for the first time. Even though I made it along with another dip for kohlrabi fries, I kind of mostly (ok, completely) made it because it looked like such a dynamite recipe. It yielded two cups–way more than I needed, so I was trying to think of something fun to do with it. Since I was spending the weekend away from home and wanted the sauce to stay as fresh as possible, I froze most of the chermoula in ice cube trays. 

Cooking Tip:

Freeze leftover sauces (like chermoula or pesto) in ice cube trays to maintain optimum freshness and portion them into convenient individual serving sizes. Once frozen, store them in a baggie or container. Other ideas of things to freeze in ice cube trays include vegetable stock for soup or sauteed vegetables and coconut water or pureed fruit for smoothies.

Since chermoula is a North African sauce, I used my limited (albeit growing!) knowledge of this region's cuisine to make this quinoa bowl for J. This is a leftovers bowl through-and-through: the chermoula and kohlrabi leaves are leftover from the fries, the quinoa from my mom's quinoa and ratatouille dish, and a ½ block of tofu from a meal that J had made earlier. To complete the recipe I'd concocted, I only needed to buy a head of cauliflower, and I would be ready to roll.

As for what I did with the remaining cauliflower, I later used it to try a lemon pudding recipe that was intriguing me. In case you're wondering, there were definitely distinct cauliflower undertones but it was still a satisfying, light snack with some frozen raspberries mixed into it. Or, as I told my mom (who is always looking for healthier options but still has the veggies-are-yucky taste buds ), "It's a win for me but might not be for you." 

Since winter has decided to stick around the East Coast for awhile (why is everyone complaining when we had spring/summer weather well into mid-winter?!), this is a marvelous dish to make for your sweetie on a chilly evening. 


Quinoa Bowl with Chermoula-Roasted Cauliflower and Tofu 
serves 2

1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp of your favorite chermoula sauce (I made the one from this book.)
½ block of organic tofu, pressed and sliced into 4 pieces
2 large carrots, oblique cut
2 heaping cups cauliflower florets
1½ Tbsp golden raisins
1 cup leftover cooked quinoa
kohlrabi greens from 2 bulbs of kohlrabi (about 2 cups), chopped
¼ cup low-sodium vegetable broth

-Divide the chermoula in half. One half is for the vegetables, one half for the tofu.

-Press the tofu and then cut into 4 pieces. Arrange on a small baking sheet and cover the tofu with the chermoula. Flip the tofu to coat the other side in sauce as well.

-In a baking dish, toss carrots, cauliflower, and raisins in the other half of the chermoula.

-Let the vegetables and tofu marinate for 2 hours. (If pressed for time, you can skip this step.)

-Preheat the oven to 350.

-Cook vegetables at 350 for 35 minutes or until soft but still a bit firm.

-Cook tofu at 350 for 20 minutes on one side, flip and cook for 15 minutes more.

-While the vegetables are roasting, combine quinoa, greens, and broth in a saucepan. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes on low-medium heat until greens are wilted and quinoa is heated through.

-To plate, scoop a generous mound of quinoa onto the plate and top with the roasted vegetables and tofu. Garnish with parsley or cilantro.

March 16, 2013

Eat Your Greens on St. Patrick's Day: Double Dose o' Kale Salad

Considering all of the indulgences associated with St. Patrick's Day, I thought I'd offer up some lighter fare; a dish that is every bit as celebratory without the dehydration and crash associated with excess alcohol and sugar. This hearty salad is made of a wealth of green foods including nutritional powerhouses like kale, avocado, and parsley.

As I was making my green juice the other morning, I became curious about blending the juice with avocado. I know this is a thing that people do, but I always thought that if I'm going to add fat and fiber, I may as well just make a smoothie instead of a juice. When I blended it up though, it was so creamy and smooth. It was very light, too. I totally get why avocado is a popular add-in at juice bars. I was going to drink it, but because of its thickness I thought it would work well as a salad dressing. It worked beautifully! And because my juice had kale in it, you're getting an extra dose of kale in the salad!

Double Dose 'o Kale Salad
makes 4 servings (or 2 large meal-sized salads)

For the salad:

1 bunch of lacinato kale (dinosaur kale), chopped
2 small carrots, shredded
1 medium zucchini, shredded
½ red bell pepper, julienned
½ orange bell pepper, julienned

For the dressing:

½ cucumber
3 stalks of celery
1 small granny smith apple
small handful of parsley, about 10 sprigs
1 inch piece of ginger
1 lemon
½ bunch of lacinato kale
4 leaves of romaine

1 medium avocado

-Chop the kale and place in a bowl.

-Shred the zucchini and carrot, julienne the bell peppers, and add all to the bowl of kale. Toss.

-Juice all dressing ingredients except the avocado. Reserve 16 oz (2 cups) of the juice.*

-Combine 16 oz of green juice with 1 avocado in a blender and blend until it's creamy.

-Pour the dressing over the kale salad and toss to combine. **

*If you have more than 16 oz of juice, drink the rest! It's delicious.

**You don't need to massage the kale as lacinato kale is not as tough or bitter as green and red kale are. However, if you want to massage the kale, you will want to toss in the chopped and shredded vegetables after you've massaged the kale.

March 15, 2013

Vegan Activism in the Everyday

Two weeks ago, my cousin's wedding shower was held in a gorgeous banquet hall in an historic hotel. It was a really peaceful space to be in, and I was thankful that I was well enough to attend. Look at the beautiful bride-to-be in her emerald dress. She is a classy gal, and I love her to death!

In the last post, I shared my tips on how to get a nice vegan and/or allergen-friendly meal at catered parties. Below, I'll discuss how to handle an event in which you are unable (for one reason or another) to order a catered meal and instead need to bring your own food.

I decided to bring my own food to my cousins shower for one reason: I was unsure of what I'd be able to stomach. I fell out of my groove with my diet, and I couldn't accurately guess what foods my body would agree with in enough time for the caterer to prepare. I told the bride that because of my unpredictable health, it would be no problem for me to prepare my own food.

The day before the shower, I took only 20 minutes out of the day to make pesto, chop tomatoes, and spiralize zucchini noodles. Easy! On the day of the shower, I packed them into a lunch cooler lined with ice packs and tucked the cooler away in my fancy vegan handbag.

My food preferences tend to be a boring conversation piece that invite the most unoriginal stereotypes – that is, until the food comes out of the bag and onto the plate. When the wait staff at the shower began delivering food, I told them I brought my own food because I didn't want to be a pain with my multiple allergies. I asked kindly that they provide me with an empty plate for my food. When I fixed my plate, everyone was once again turning to admire the food, commenting that they wished my food were on their plates. I like to get that kind of attention for my food because I show that it is possible to have a vibrant, varied, decadent, delicious meal even when you are a vegan with multiple “restrictions”. I don't like to call them restrictions though because I don't feel restricted by them in the least. As Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is wont to say, I'm a joyful vegan!

Aside from showing off my fabulous plate of food, I also didn't miss the chance to show off my new Susan Nichole handbag. It was a gift and the first time I'd used it. When someone would exclaim, “I love your bag!” I'd quickly respond, “Thanks! Isn't it great? It's vegan, too. And, doesn't it feel good? Who needs leather?!” Being present at the shower had created an opportunity for people to see that vegans can and do eat amazing food, and hey, they carry fashionable bags, too. We live no life of deprivation! Remember, friends, small bits of vegan activism can make a difference!

March 11, 2013

“No Cheese, Please!”: A Guide to Attending Catered Events as a Vegan with Food Sensitivities

I've been vegan for a long time, and though some family and friends have yet to fully understand what veganism is – I'm always offered cake and ice cream at birthday parties – they are always concerned that I'll have enough to eat at special events. They are Italian, after all ;) It is very sweet of them, but I do my best to be responsible for my own eats so that they have one less thing to think about.

When I attended parties before I got sick, they'd ask me if I could eat anything there, and I'd tell them not to worry. If I didn't bring a veggie burger to throw on the grill (in foil!), there was always lettuce, fruit, and pretzels, and sometimes I'd even make a sandwich with a mountain of vegetables and a squirt of mustard. It wasn't ideal, but I could always eat later.

Post-sickness, I've had to be more diligent about eating well and not skipping meals. I abstain from more foods than I used to, and I need to have a balanced meal in order to feel like a sane person. I can't survive on bread anymore – my intake of gluten and yeast would be in the “rarely” category – nor can I survive on a tiny iceberg salad or roasted potatoes – neither will satiate nor give me enough energy, and the latter is usually covered in hydrogenated vegetable oils.

If I am going to a casual get-together, it's easy to call the host up beforehand to discuss options. Most often I'll offer to bring a dish that I can share with people. Getting proper food accommodations is more tricky when the event is formal and the food is catered. When I am invited to a catered event, I have 2 choices: Ask the caterer to accommodate my dietary needs or bring food for myself. I've done both. Here's the low-down on the former.

How to Ask for Accommodations:

1. Make 2 lists: "What I don't eat" and "What I do eat".

Write down foods and ingredients that you don't eat like meat, seafood, soy, gluten, sugar, MSG, food coloring, etc. Include foods that the chef or caterer may not realize have animal products or your offending allergens in them. For example, soup broth can be made from animal stock, pasta sauce can have cheese in it, and salad dressings are often made with egg yolks.
Jot down “safe” foods to show what a suitable meal for you may look like. Try not to get too fancy here. The more basic, the better. 

2. If it is being held at a restaurant, check to see if the menu is available online. 

Take note of what they normally offer and what foods are likely to be regularly stocked in their kitchens. For example, if you see that they have portobello mushrooms in a dish, they may be able to prepare an entree for you with marinated portobello caps.

3. Call the catering company/restaurant and explain your dietary needs, giving suggestions of foods that are acceptable for your diet.

For example, if you are a gluten-free vegan you can say, “I am a vegan and am sensitive to gluten products. Would it be possible to substitute a sweet potato for the pasta in the vegetarian option of penne pasta with roasted vegetables?”

Call well in advance. For a larger event, you may want to call a couple months ahead of time, and then check in with them again two weeks before the event.

4. When you arrive at the event, be sure that the catering staff is aware of your dietary needs.

This is last minute insurance in case there was a break in the lines of communication within the company (it happens). If so, it gives them time to whip something up before the meals are served.

5. No matter what happens with your meal, be gracious to the host.

Hosting an event is hard work, and the host is often buzzing around from corner to corner to insure that everything is just as it should be. If the caterer messes up your meal, take it in stride. It's one meal and you will survive! Take this moment to remind yourself that there are many enjoyable things about the event that aren't food related. If yours is a scenario in which you must have an acceptable meal because of a medical condition, pay attention to the second example below where I'll give you some ideas of how you can turn around a meal experience gone bad.

My Personal Experience, The Good and Bad:

The Wedding Shower at a Quaint Italian Restaurant

Eating at Italian restaurants, with their glutenous dishes smothered in pounds of cheese and chunks of processed meats, can be a challenge for vegans with gluten sensitivities. The chef was open to suggestions but skeptical we could put together a meal that fit my criteria. This is when the trusty list comes in handy!

When I had scanned the online menu, I noticed that they had a pasta dish with white beans and escarole. I also noted that many of their salads were vegan. After some discussion, we came up with a balanced, filling meal for me. Since gluten-free noodles weren't available (I knew it was a long shot), I asked if I could get a plate of vegetables – a variety of any he had in the kitchen – with the beans and escarole. I told him a toss in olive oil, salt and pepper would suffice, but he did me one better. He told me he could fix up a marinara sauce that would meet my needs (their house marinara had cheese in it).

On the day of the shower, I arrived and let them know I was the gluten-free vegan. My salad was really fresh, not dried out and flavorless like premixed bags of salad so often served in restaurants. It came with a side of their house dressing, but because the it tasted so great already, a spritz of lemon was all the dressing I wanted! When the main came out, my jaw dropped. The super-sized vegetable saute made two large meals for me. He added zucchini, bell peppers, and onion to the beans and greens. The garlicky, sweet fire-roasted tomato sauce was incredible and the beans made the dish especially filling. I was the garlic princess that day ;) Everyone else at the shower kept saying, “Wow, that looks delicious. I should've ordered that!”

Potato Patch-to-Table: A Wedding Meal Gone Wrong

Last spring, I called the contact for the company that was catering a wedding I was to attend in the summer. There was no menu available online, so I relied solely on my food list. When I spoke to the owner, he did the whole “uh-huh....uh-huh” thing; that passive-aggressive habit people have when they think they're too busy to listen to you but won't tell you so. It was pretty rude, but I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. I know food service and catering can be really overwhelming. (Not that it's an excuse to be rude, but maybe he was having a rough day.) I gave him a few options that I'd be able to eat like vegetable stir-fry with brown rice, gluten-free pasta, and fruit salad. Keeping it short, he said, "Okay,"and hung up. 

A few weeks later when bride asked if I had spoken with the caterer, I told her that it was all sorted out. She said she'd once more remind him about my food when they had a final meeting before the wedding.

The wedding day came, and I had a funny feeling that I may not get a meal I could eat. Before I left the house, I made a collard wrap with a sunshine burger and vegetables and packed some snacks like granola and fruit. The dinner was buffet-style, so I let the waitstaff know which table the special meal was to be delivered to. Blank stare. They had no idea what I was talking about. They sent the manager out who told me that my request (and the bride's reiteration of my request) was never relayed to her. She said that they had ready-made meals for gluten-free (chicken) and vegetarian (cheese lasagna) people. Umm.....I was not pleased. Thankfully, she was extremely nice about it, and as I explained my health issues, she told me she'd try to put something together for me. A few minutes later, a server presented my plate. The entire plate was full of roasted white potatoes (at the time, I was having problems balancing my blood sugar if I ate high glycemic carbs, and eating a whole plate of them was out of the question) cooked in vegetable oil (they said olive oil, but my taste buds begged to differ) and a couple shriveled, raw baby carrots. Thanks to my collard wrap and snacks, I didn't go hungry that night.

It's important to trust your gut, pun intended, when you're requesting a special plate. If it sounds like they aren't listening, they probably aren't. Sometimes you deal with crappy people who don't care about an unhappy customer or two. There's no need to be paranoid that in every social situation you'll get ignored, but it's a good idea to come prepared after odd exchanges like the one I had. I have friends with low blood sugar problems and diabetes that always have a snack with them no matter where they go. It's a habit that pays off when you end up in a situation like this.

Lastly, I must reiterate again how important it is to be gracious to your hosts and to remember that the experience is not all about food. When the bride and mother of the bride asked me about my meal, I told them it was fine. There was no need to trouble them with such trivial problems. I wasn't there to gorge myself on food. I was there to celebrate with the bride and groom and to visit with people I hardly ever see. I was there to kick off my heels, treat myself to a glass of wine, and dance with abandon, and that's exactly what I did.

March 06, 2013

Kitchen Fun

I was crazy busy last weekend, and my adrenals are not letting me forget it! I woke up on Monday and felt like I needed a rest day for sure. Even though my adrenals can't distinguish one form of over-exertion from another, it's always nice when I need a rest day because I exhausted myself from enjoyment and not stress.

Saturday was spent in the kitchen having a blast whilst cooking, singing and dancing up a storm. Fresh produce makes me happy, and music speaks to my soul. I wouldn't have wanted to spend the day any other way.

Sunday was family day. I attended my cousin's wedding shower and hung out with my parents afterwards. I ended up in the kitchen again (yay!) because my dad and I made an awesome new snack together. While we ate, we watched this amazing documentary on PBS called Echo: An Elephant to Remember. I am in endless awe of these magnificent beings. I would love to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary someday and get to know some of these creatures one on one.

I made good use of all of those hours in the kitchen. Among the things I made were...

Pine nut and hemp seed pesto. I was jonesing for this herbaceous spread after I saw fresh basil in the store last week. Note to self: Make and freeze pesto in bulk this summer so I can have this deliciousness year-round.

I also wanted to make 2 different sauces for a snack on Sunday (which I'll get to in a minute). First, I made a creamy lime cilantro dip which tasted a lot like traditional chip dip:

And I made chermoula which is more of a marinade than a dip, but I've never had it and all the spices and fresh herbs in it were too enticing to pass up!

While I was busy with the sauces, I cooked a pot of quinoa and made Ricki Heller's onion crisps.

Time-Saving Cooking Tip: 

Anytime you are in the kitchen doing extensive prep, think of foods you can also make that are not as hands-on. While you are making dinner, you can easily throw on a pot of grains or beans or roast some root vegetables in the oven. Store them in the fridge for quick and easy meal additions for the coming days.

The onion crisps were so sweet and crunchy. I love dehydrated onion rings, and these are a great alternative for those who don't have a dehydrator. J and I dipped them into the lime cilantro dip for a satisfying end-of-the-day treat.

I made the chermoula and lime cilantro dip for the snack my dad and I made Sunday: kohlrabi fries! Before making these, I had never had kohlrabi before. My dad told me that as a kid he used to eat kohlrabi out of my grandpap's garden, but hadn't had it in a long time. I could tell by the expression on his face that this recollection was still very fresh in his mind. Since he was eager for a trip down memory lane, and I never turn down a chance to try new foods, I picked up some kohlrabi at the store so we could have a fun project to do after I got back from the shower. 

We cut it into sticks and ate a few raw – just the way he remembers doing it. It was mildly sweet and crunchy like an apple, but it also reminded me of broccoli stalks. I see why it's commonly used in slaw.

We roasted them in the oven until they got brown and crispy. I was amazed at how much they resembled french fries in both taste and texture. The ones that were less cooked and still retaining some firmness tasted like roasted turnips, but the softest ones were starchy on the inside and crisp on the outside just like potato fries!

Since I had no idea what kohlrabi tasted like, I wasn't sure what kind of dipping sauces to make. Tomatoes and my dad don't always get along, so I didn't want to make ketchup or any other tomato-based sauce. The chermoula, while delicious, was not right for the fries. The lime cilantro dip, however, was perfect with them. I think they'd also be awesome with barbecue sauce or topped with chili and vegan cheese shreds. Anything that a french fry is good with, really.

I've got other plans for the chermoula later this week, and I can't wait to see how it turns out.

In my next post, I'll tell you what I made the pesto for, and talk a little bit about attending events as a vegan with multiple food sensitivities.