Butternut Alfredo, for Real This Time

Orange rectangle with the white fist-shaped Vegan MoFo logo and the text "Vegan Month of Food 2012."
Last night we finally made the Roasted Butternut Alfredo that we so wholly failed to make on Sunday night. However, our dinner was not void of forgetful failures – I totally forgot to roast the Brussels sprouts I’d intended to make as a side. D’oh. Ah well – the pasta was quite filling, so we didn’t really notice the absence of a side.

Top-down view of a white bowl filled with whole-wheat fusilli drenched in an orangey-yellow sauce and topped with black pepper and roasted pumpkin seeds.

Saucy!

Alas, my alfredo wasn’t nearly as pretty as Isa’s. Of course, that might’ve had more to do with my hasty attempt to capture the last remaining bit of sunlight as I shivered on the balcony while photographing my meal at 6:00 PM than any fault of the recipe! That said, while this sauce was quite tasty and rich, there was something about it that wasn’t quite right to me. I think that the inclusion of miso and nutritional yeast and lemon made the flavors a little crowded – they weren’t quite cohesive. Next time I’ll likely cut the nutritional yeast. And I’m pretty sure there will be a next time – I can imagine a dish like this fitting quite well into my winter meal rotation. It’s warming and rich and filling – everything you could want in a winter dinner.

So I just realized that this is my final VeganMoFo post because I’m writing it on the 30th and it’ll go up on the 31st, which is (obviously!) the last day of October. Egads! Happy Halloween and all that. And happy end of MoFo. It’s been a mostly successful month for me if my metric is quantity of posts. As far as quality… well, I wish I’d done another Recipe Showdown, and I’m disappointed in myself for not sharing more original recipes. But that’s okay. I mostly satisfied with my participation this month. And more importantly, I don’t feel burned out, which means I’ll have no trouble keeping up with steady posting in the busy months to come. Small victories! Anyway, thanks for reading this month, and I do hope you’ll stay around. I’ve got some exciting things coming your way! I’m testing for a fabulous new cookbook by a talented author, and I can’t wait to show you what I’ll be whipping up. :)

What, if anything, are you doing for Halloween?

Potluck Photo Phail + Brownie Success!

Orange rectangle with the white fist-shaped Vegan MoFo logo and the text

Well. Yesterday I said I’d have potluck pics to share today, but… well. I don’t. It was partially a failure of nerves on my part that prevented me from whipping out the camera and snapping away, but not totally. There were only eight or nine of us there, and our dishes were spread out on a counter and a side table. They just wouldn’t have made for very enticing photos. I suppose I could’ve photographed my plate, but… well. I didn’t.

I did, however, photograph my contribution before S and I left for the potluck.

Close-up of a blue plate piled high with three thick, fudgy brownies. They have noticeable bits of raspberry, and there are a few raspberries surrounding them on the plate.

Undeniably fudgy.

I made the Raspberry Truffle Brownies from the PPK. They were everything I’d hoped they would be, based on Isa’s enticing introduction and the heaps of praise in the comments. They’re incredibly thick and fudgy and oh-so-rich. And – somehow! – they’re at least somewhat healthier than your average brownie recipe. As written, the recipe contains no oil, just applesauce and raspberry fruit spread. I’ll admit that I replaced just a bit of the applesauce with vegetable oil because I often find oil-free baked goods to be a tad dry and crumbly, and I didn’t want my potluck contribution to disappoint. Next time, though, I’ll trust Isa and go oil-free.

The recipe also calls whole-wheat pastry flour. Another admission here – I replaced some of that flour with unbleached all-purpose. I know, I know. But I’m so wary of dry baked goods!

If you make these, please do take them out when they’re slightly undercooked! They’ll harden up if you don’t, and you don’t want them to be remotely dry. I took them out early, but the edges were still a bit crumbly and the slightest bit dry. No matter, because the middle pieces were perfectly moist and fudgy and soft. After cooling overnight and then spending an hour or two in the fridge, they were ready for me to slice ’em up.

So – we had brownies and S’s slaw at the potluck. Clearly that wasn’t all we ate! Other attendees brought lasagna, macaroni salad, Chickpea Cutlets (from Veganomicon), a creamy cashew-butternut squash soup, and veggies and ranch dip. For dessert, there were two cheesecakes, one plain and one with a blueberry topping. Between those cheesecakes and my brownies, we were all stuffed full of delicious food by the time we left.

Very similar picture to the first, except this one is taken from a slightly higher angle.

One more time.

These brownies are definitely going on my Impress People at Potlucks list! One attendee said that this is the kind of food that makes him want to eat until he’s sick. You and me both, pal.

What’s your go-to potluck contribution?

Friday Favorite: Tofu Balls!

Bright orange rectangle with the white VeganMoFo fist logo and the text "Friday Favorites: Tofu Balls."

Not six months ago, I shared a delightful discovery: tofu balls, despite their unappealing name, are really good. Like, really, really, really good. So good that when S reminded me of them a couple days ago, I couldn’t get them out of my head and just had to make up a batch last night. As usual, they didn’t disappoint.

Small white plate with a mound of spaghetti, bright red pasta sauce, and three small "meat"balls.

Balls!

This time around, I chopped the onion finer than ever, and I definitely noticed that the balls held their form much better than in the past. I also substituted panko for about 1/4 the amount of breadcrumbs and added lots of dried basil, oregano, and garlic powder. We ate them with spaghetti, a locally produced pasta sauce, and a very simple salad. And by “very simple salad” I really mean “romaine lettuce shredded and thrown in a bowl.”  The romaine was a fast-wilting holdout from our most recent CSA share, but it perked up after an ice water bath and a vigorous turn in the salad spinner. The only thing that would’ve improved this meal was some thick, crusty bread, but alas – we had none. No matter; it was still a quick, satisfying weeknight dinner.

What’s your favorite vegan meatball recipe?

Tofu Balls: A Delicious Surprise

Tofu balls are a game-changer.

…that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say, but I am now saying it with complete and utter confidence, along with a healthy dose of humility. For many years, I associated tofu-based “meat”  items as the sole purview of 70s hippies, vegetarians who wore giant bell-bottoms and flowers in their hair and cavorted in meadows. I didn’t think I needed to bother with them – it’s 2012! We have Daiya and Gardein and Smart Grounds and hoverboards! Sure, I love a good slab of marinated tofu (…and tofu scramble and tofu “egg” salad…) as much as the next vegan, but I never felt the need to work tofu into my more traditional meat analogues, like burgers or meatballs.

Oh, how stupid I was, because I was missing out on these:

Tofu balls – not just for 70s hippies.

These are Isa’s Tofu Balls, based on a recipe from a book called Tofu Cookery. They are, in a word, delicious. The super simple combination of tofu, onions, soy sauce, bread crumbs, herbs and peanut butter all pan-fried in olive oil somehow creates an addictively tasty ball that crumbles pleasantly with some pressure but doesn’t fall apart on its own. Perfection.

I decided to make them last night after being reminded of their existence via this post about tomato sauce over at It Ain’t Meat, Babe. Paired with a variation on the tomato sauce in that post, served over whole-wheat fettuccine, and rounded off with a slice of roasted garlic bread, this was comfort food heaven.

Consider me roundly chastened. Never again will I doubt tofu’s adaptability and versatility, and never again will I doubt my hippie forebears. (Well, maybe I will… I’m pretty over bell-bottoms.)

What recipe pleasantly surprised you? Have you tried these tofu meatballs?

Beet Burgers a la My New Food Processor

Y’all, I do not know how I’ve gone so long without a food processor! A whole new culinary world has opened up to me, one where I don’t have to force my blender into overdrive and curse at it for not performing the functions of a completely different small appliance. It’s a world where I no longer I risk the loss of a fingertip when I grate and shred everything by hand, and I love it. I’m enamored with this new device!

For my processor’s inaugural usage, I went with a hot-off-the-presses recipe from the PPK, the Quarter Pounder Beet Burger. My only other beet burger experience occurred at Northstar Café in Columbus, Ohio, when I was there on a work trip a little over a year ago. But I’d never made my own beet burgers, and it’s probably good that I waited until I had a food processor to help me out – even though I grated the beet by hand (old habits die hard!), my food processor pulsed the brown rice, lentils, and beets into a perfect consistency with no arm-straining efforts on my part. Ah, laziness.

Beety!

What I really love about these burgers is that, on the surface, they seem like the quintessential hippie vegan food: Brown rice? Check. Lentils? Check. Oft-maligned vegetable? Check. But they’re incredibly filling – even a meat eater would be satiated by just one of these patties. So much for vegans eating rabbit food!

I served my burgers with kaiser rolls, sliced cherry tomatoes (because, let’s get real, most winter tomatoes are a travesty not worth touching), arugula, and lots of ketchup and mustard. Delicious!

What’s your favorite vegan burger recipe? What’s the most delicious vegan burger you’ve ever eaten?

Beer & Cookies

A confession: I shunned beer for the first 21.5 years of my life. I didn’t drink at all for the first couple years of college, and then when I dipped my toes into the wild world of alcohol, my exposure to beer was limited to sipping cans of Milwaukee’s Best and then discreetly leaving them on a dresser in the middle of a packed room before slipping out of some awful party a friend had coerced me into attending. I wasn’t a partier by any means, but every so often I’d try to force myself into enjoying myself at such a gathering, only to be reminded that they just weren’t my thaaang. Whatevs, man. I made my own kind of fun, and it did not involve beer.

It wasn’t until I spent a summer studying abroad in Ireland and discovered the joys of Guinness that I discovered that beer could be downright tasty! Now that I’ve veeegan, I no longer partake of that Irish staple (sadface!), but I now consider myself a fan of [good] beer. I went from barely being able to stomach half a can of  Budweiser in the first week of my senior year of college to truly enjoying a pitcher of Smithwicks (also not vegan, lamepants!) or a bottle of Corona by the time I graduated. I appreciate the finer things in life, what can I say?

And by “the finer things,” I obviously mean baking chocolate chip cookies at 9:00 o’clock on a Friday night while drinking a locally-brewed beer and dancing around in my sports bra while listening to Lady Gaga. This is truth, folks. My roommate’s on a trip for work (I went on one last week too! More about that later.), so I have the apartment to myself. Clearly this means I need semi-nude solo dance parties.

So after my workout last night, I decided to try my hand at another chocolate chip cookie recipe. I tried one back during Vegan MoFo and was less than thrilled, so I thought maybe the PPK would come through for me. Isa’s like a vegan goddess or something, right? And this was an occasion where the vegan stars aligned and I had all the exact ingredients for this recipe. Usually I haphazardly substitute milks and starches liek whoa, but I recently picked up a bag of tapioca starch from Woodman’s, and almond milk is my alt-milk du jour, so I pretty much followed this recipe to a T (although I did cut down on the amount of oil, and the dough seemed perfect). So – results?

Me want coooookies!

These are better than the VegWeb variety (though, admittedly, it’s been 6 months since I tried them), but again, I don’t think they’re my chocolate chip cookie holy grail. They are pretty damn tasty, though, and the dough was a treat to scrape off the bowl. I’d definitely make these again, but I think I’m still in search of my end-all, be-all of vegan chocolate chip cookie recipes. Anybody have a suggestion?

As for the local beer that accompanied the baking of these cookies, well, I tried New Glarus’ Spotted Cow ale. Honestly, I was underwhelmed, but I think this is because I generally don’t enjoy beers that are light in color. And no, I am not a beer connoiseur, so “light in color” is the  most description you’ll get from me! I tried Capital Brewery’s Maibock recently, and it’s freakin’ delicious. It’s their seasonal brew, and I absolutely loved it. I think I prefer heartier, maltier beers with less of a foamy head than the Spotted Cow variety. New Glarus Brewery, however, is very vegan friendly, so I’ll have to give some of their other varieties a fair chance before I swear it off entirely.

Even though the beer and the cookies slightly underwhelmed me, I’m not gonna lie – my Friday night was a freakin’ awesome night. Tipsy one-person dance parties, Lady Gaga, and cookies? Hell to the YEAH.

WHOA UPDATE, DUDES. I wrote this post last night, but guess what? These cookies are FANFREAKINGTASTIC the next day! They’re chewy and sweet and generally AWESOME. Maybe they are my holy grail. Whoaaa.

Oh, and also? I tried some Thai iced bubble tea for the first time today at the Madison farmer’s market, only to discover just now that it contained milk. I guess it did seem a little cloudy, but I never thought that iced tea would have milk in it! I am super ignorant, apparently. And also super upset at myself. :( Sigh.

Yummy Things That I Have Made

Okay, that’s it – I’m officially retiring the whole “I just moved to a new city and started a new job and therefore have no time to blog!!1!111!” excuse. I mean, I’ve been here for a good two and a half months, for crying out loud!  Now that I’m all settled into my new life, I’ve been doing lots more baking and cooking than I was at first. So I hereby promise to post more regularly from this point forward.

…and now let me show you a few photos with minimal text. What? I’ve had a busy weekend, by which I mean I went ice skating for the first time in some fifteen years in a misguided attempt to replicate all the fantastic feats of athleticism seen in the Olympics. Yeah… fail. I ain’t no Apolo Anton Ohno. Anyway, these are some photos that’ve been hibernating in my iPhoto for a while now, so I’m going to show them a little bit o’ love. Totally less than they deserve, but c’est la vie.

Peanutty, eggplanty goodness.

A while back, I bought an eggplant and wanted to do something exciting and new with it. As any self-respecting vegan would do, I headed over to the PPK in search of inspiration. Inspiration came in the form of an intriguing recipe for Spicy Peanut Eggplant and Shallot Stew, a combination of ingredients too bizarre to pass up. Despite the fact that I had no shallots, peanut oil, roasted diced tomatoes, fresh ginger, chilis, green beans, or cilantro, the recipe was very forgiving – I replaced the green beans with peas and improvised for the other missing ingredient, and the results were surprisingly tasty. I still have a serving of this in the freezer, waiting to be brought to work for a yummy lunch one day soon. Two thumbs up!

Samosas... and beyond!

There’s a lot going on here. Let me draw your attention to the foreground – those are some damn tasty Potato-Edamame Samosas from VWaV. I whipped up those beauties for a Super Bowl party a co-worker held, and they were well-received by everyone except her two-year-old, who took one bite and immediately spat it into his hand before dumping the soggy samosa-bit onto a plate. I learned that he later developed a fondness for the samosas and actually enjoyed them – score! Anyway, this is a really excellent recipe. The samosa filling has a great blend of flavors, and I had so much of it left over that I ate it straight-up, as you can see in the photo. This huge dinner featured samosa filling, actual samosas, baby carrots, and roasted cauliflower with so-called Indian Barbecue Sauce. Nom to the zillionth power!

Check out those exposed apple bits! Shocking!

Last but not least, check out this amazing Apple Pie-Crumb Cake Muffin, also from VWaV. I don’t think you can tell from the photo, but this is one giant muffin – for Christmas I got one of those tins that makes 6 big ol’ muffins, and this was my first time using it. Oh my gosh, guys – these muffins are absolutely spectacular. They’re moist and amazingly flavorful, even though I used plain ol’ apple juice instead of apple cider. I also replaced some of the oil with applesauce to cut down a bit on the fat content. And even though I used some seriously old and mealy apples in these guys, they were seriously delicious.

Aaand that concludes my sad little return to srs blogging. Coming soon: a post filled with the fruits of rampant consumerism. Ooer.

In Which I Wax Nostalgic about Ancho Lentil Soup

Back in the dark ages when I was a college senior (by which I mean one year ago), I lived with my two best friends in an on-campus townhouse. It was pretty much the most ideal arrangement imaginable; we basically had our own apartment/house without all that pesky business of upkeep and monthly bills. My favorite aspect of the whole situation was that we had our own kitchen. After living in the dorms for three years – and therefore eating at the dining hall for three years – the fact that we could store our food without worrying about freshmen stealing it and then cook whatever we wanted seemed to open up new vistas of culinary freedom and possibility. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in the past, this was a turning point in my path to becoming vegan.

When I began college, I’d been vegetarian for about half a year, and I appreciated the dining hall’s constant availability of decent vegetarian food. I had choices for every meal, usually, and for the most part it was pretty decent, as far as cafeteria fare goes. My friends were accepting of my lifestyle and dietary choices – after all, I did attend the most awesome college on the planet – but even so, I occasionally felt the need to assure them that vegetarian was as far as I’d go. “No way I could go vegan,” I’d say, “I love cheese!”

Wince all you want at that; I’m just being honest here. At that point in my life, I hadn’t really been exposed to much vegan fare. Eighty percent of the vegetarian foods in the cafeteria were decidedly non-vegan, so I still held a bit of that pesky belief that vegans really must not eat much at all. Sure, the salad bar had lots of  tasty options, and there was always a crockpot of rice available, and pasta with tomato sauce is always solid… but what about breakfast?! All those pancakes and baked goods were out, and most of the Malt-O-Meal brand cereals probably contained dairy, and I’d never be able to use that fun waffle maker with the batter in a bottle! Being vegan and eating well in the dining hall just didn’t seem possible.

In retrospect, I bet I could’ve been creative enough to come up with some fun dishes of my own with the basic ingredients that were available. In fact, I unknowingly did – I used to mix rice with sundried tomato pesto and various beans occasionally, and hummus and veggie sandwiches were always a solid lunchtime option. But it wasn’t until I had my own kitchen, did all my own grocery shopping, and discovered the vegan blogworld that I suddenly realized that being vegan didn’t mean limiting one’s options and condemning oneself to a life of bland, boring foodstuffs. Suddenly I realized that it was quite the opposite, in fact.

One meal in particular helped spur this epiphany. My housemates and I alternated making weekly dinners, so that at least one night a week we’d sit down at the table together for an extra-special meal. I began cooking vegan meals for my friends, not advertising the fact but just experimenting and enjoying the way my meals were appreciated by omnivores despite their lack of animal products. Ironically, though, the meal in question wasn’t cooked by me. It was made by my wonderful friend from Texas, my friend from the land of beef brisket and chicken fried steak. Although my housemates generally didn’t make vegan meals for their house dinners – I was still occasionally eating dairy and eggs then, although I never cooked them for myself –  my Texan amiga labored to make Isa’s Ancho Lentil Soup with Grilled Pineapple for us one cold winter night. I say “labored” because it was truly not an easy process for her; there was a mishap with a blender’s not-so-tightly-screwed-on bottom, and she had to make sure the soup was sufficiently spicy without overwhelming the delicate taste buds of our Wisconsinite housemate… that sort of thing. But she conquered adversity and served up a beautiful soup, complete with delicious pineapple rings topping the bowls.

As we sat in the living/dining room and slowly sipped our soup, my friend told us that she’d first tried the soup when she spent winter break on campus, working at the library. She had to stay in another house over the break, and thus met a real live vegan (!) who made this soup for a house dinner one night. My friend enjoyed it enough that she sought out the recipe once classes resumed and it was her turn to make dinner for us. Everyone enjoyed it, although my poor Wisconsinite thought it was slightly too spicy, despite all efforts to keep it tame. If any mention was made of the fact that it was a vegan soup from a vegan website, I don’t recall it. Mostly we just enjoyed our food.

I do recall, however, my friend coming into my room a couple of days before she was scheduled to make the dinner and saying that she needed to find a vegan soup recipe. I Googled it for her, and when it popped up on the PPK, I felt a strange blush growing on my face. It was an odd feeling, like my little secret had been found out. The PPK and all those vegan sites were mine! Nobody knew I was seriously considering veganism, and the fact that my Texan friend was sharing a chair with me and perusing PPK recipes seemed surreal and strange. But after we’d all shared that meal and enjoyed it, things suddenly seemed less strange and much clearer to me. Vegan food was delicious. Omnivores could eat it, enjoy it, and not have to think about the fact that it was vegan. Going vegan might not be so difficult, after all.

Although it took me a while after eating that meal to make the “official” switch, I still think of that Ancho Lentil Soup with fondness. It represents some sort of a turning point in my thoughts about becoming vegan, and it tastes damn good. So I made it for dinner tonight, to share with my wonderfully vegan-friendly family, and to warm me up on a chilly autumn evening.

As ever, the soup didn’t disappoint on any count. I didn’t photograph it as I was too hungry to get the camera, but maybe I’ll add a photo tomorrow – there’s about one serving left, and you can bet I’m going to thoroughly enjoy it for lunch tomorrow.