Magical Creamy Basil Sauce | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Twelve

A short and sweet (well, savory) post today, because… Monday.

Vegan Richa posted a shot of this amazing creamy basil sauce on her Instagram a few days ago, and I’ve been waiting for a chance to make it! It’s super simple and quick (especially if you have a high-speed blender), and it was absolutely delicious drizzled over roasted veggies (Brussels sprouts and broccoli) and brown rice.

Yes, this photo is crap. Sorry; I was irritated and hungry and not in the mood to find a better spot to snap a quick pic with my phone. Trust me when I say that the sauce tastes much better than it looks! The recipe made a respectable batch, and I think the leftovers will be great thinned out a bit and served as a salad dressing.

I’ve really been feeling the love for summer produce today! In addition to the broccoli and Brussels sprouts that made this dinner so satisfying, I enjoyed a perfectly ripe white nectarine and a criminally crisp Sansa apple earlier today. That apple almost — almost — made me feel OK about the inevitable end of summer and return of cooler weather.

For now, though, I’ll take 90˚ days and an abundance of produce, please and thank you!

Garlic Naan Pizza Calzones! | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Nine

I had half a bag of Violife mozzarella left over from last week’s pizza night, but I didn’t really want pizza again. What to do?

Channel Ben Wyatt and make calzones, of course. But not just any calzones: GARLIC NAAN PIZZA CALZONES.

I asked Steven to prepare the dough for Vegan Richa’s naan recipe while I was at work so it’d be risen and ready to go when I got home. We had a ripe avocado, so we opted for the mashed avocado variation. (It replaces vegan yogurt and seemed to work well, although the dough didn’t get very soft or pillowy.) I stuffed my naanzones (!) with mozz, basil, spicy banana peppers, and halved cherry tomatoes from the garden, then brushed them with garlic butter. After about 10 minutes in the oven on a pizza stone and a quick broil, they came out piping hot, melty, and delicious (if not terribly pretty). We dipped ’em in pizza sauce and had pan-friend okra on the side, just because they’d spent a little too long in the crisper and needed to be eaten. Yum. We got six naanzones out of the recipe and each ate two, so we’ve got leftovers. Steven will probably eat his cold in the morning and I will probably make a face and tell him how much I dislike cold pizza, which apparently makes me a monster.

Naanzones, pre-cooked. Look at the garlic bowl — my Mom made it for me!

Fair warning: I’m about to switch topics to something a bit heavy for a Friday night. Feel free to just enjoy (?) this photo of my naanzones, pre-baking, instead.
So. The catbird fledgling didn’t make it. :( I heard back from the rehab center after checking in again, and  here’s what they said:

“Sadly, the catbird had to be put down. Despite several days of care and treatment, the catbird continued to struggle with balance and coordination, and soon began to get worse. With no signs of improvement, we felt it was best not to prolong the inevitable, and so we had the catbird euthanized. We do not know if the catbird simply failed to fend for itself or if it was suffering from some sort of infection, but in the end this was the most humane option. We did everything we could. Thank you for your kindness and concern.”
Sigh. I had a feeling this would be the end result, but I held out hope that he’d rally eventually. I’m glad he had attention and food and care and a peaceful end, and that he didn’t suffer in the wild, where he would’ve been unable to fly and probably would’ve made a meal for someone higher on the food chain. But I still feel so sad for his mama, who doesn’t know what happened.

Well. That’s nature, I guess.

Aaand on that mildly depressing note, I’ll leave you. Happy weekend, all.

Nut-Free Vegan Cheese | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Thirteen

Week Two: Dietary & Lifestyle Restrictions
We love eating all the vegan food we can, but it’s good to learn how to cook for those who may have allergies or intolerances — and challenge ourselves in the process.

It’s become a bit of a tradition: At our annual holiday party, the dinner table threatens to buckle under the weight of a massive spread. All vegan, all delicious, all devoured by the end of the night. And each year, I have to put together a vegan cheese platter for my expectant guests. Because one of our friends is allergic to nuts, I always make sure to include at least one nut-free cheese, and usually another made with almonds (like my sister, my friend is also allergic to all nuts except almonds!).

Last year, though, something tasted off with my cheeses. Though none of my guests commented on it, I detected a strange, almost chemical aftertaste in the varieties that used agar. Since then, I’ve been wary of cooking with it, even though I know in all likelihood it was a bad batch or had maybe been sitting in the cupboard too long. I’ll invest in a new supply of agar  closer to the holiday season, but for now, I’ve been avoiding any agar-based cheese recipes.

Happily, Vegan Richa just happens to have an agar-free nacho cheese slice recipe that’s also nut-free! She uses chickpea flour as a base; this magical ingredients provides both bulk and the ability to firm up when cool. Genius! (I buy my chickpea flour (aka besan) at the local Asian market, and I love that it comes in a paper bag like other flours. You can find various brands online, though most are packaged in plastic.)

Richa uses lots of savory ingredients to pack her cheese full of flavor: pickled jalapeños, chipotle peppers, smoked paprika, roasted red pepper, and chili flakes, plus various spices. As you can imagine, this creates quite a spicy cheese! I forgot how powerful a kick this recipe packs when I made it this weekend; next time, I’ll cut down on some of the ingredients so it’s not quite as overpowering.

This recipe is a great one to keep in your repertoire! It’s relatively simple, and after refrigerating the mixture for a couple hours, you’ll have a cheese block that should withstand slicing and grating. No, the slices won’t be as firm as you’ll get with an agar-based cheese, but it’s a small price to pay! And if it doesn’t solidify as much as you’d like (which has happened to me before), you can just call it a spread and nobody will be the wiser. ;) Alternatively, stick it in the freezer for a couple minutes before slicing into it.

If you’re looking for additional nut-free vegan cheese recipes, here are a few!

  • Easy vegan queso. This isn’t fancy or gourmet, but it’s actually my go-to quick queso recipe! It’s so simple and requires only the most basic ingredients. (Yes, I count nutritional yeast as a basic ingredient.) I definitely recommend mixing in some salsa or Ro-Tel at the end for a kick, and don’t omit the 2 tablespoons of vegan butter — it makes a difference.
  • Potato- and carrot-based cheese sauce. Variations on this recipe have been floating around for years; I haven’t tried this exact iteration, but the other ones I’ve made have all been really tasty… and healthy!
  • Eggplant and caramelized onion cheese sauce. Mmm, caramelized onions. I made this a while back and enjoyed it.
  • Smoked coconut gouda. This sliceable, grate-able cheese uses a coconut milk base and pectin rather than agar. I’ve made it a few times and it’s good, if a little too smoky for my tastes. It would be a really nice, mild creamy cheese if you omitted the liquid smoke.
  • Coconut mozzarella. Similar to the above recipe, this one uses coconut milk for a mozzarella that’s just crying out to be sliced onto pizza.
  • Cheddar cheese ball. Like the slices I’m posting about here, this recipe also uses chickpea flour. I made this cheese ball for my last Christmas party and it was a hit.
  • Paprika cheese made with sweet potatoes and oats. I made this recipe (sans agar) and was going to post about it, but it was not photogenic. But it’s good! And it uses oats, my ingredient du semaine.

What’s your go-to vegan cheese recipe?!

Vegan Semiya Payasam, or Vermicelli Pudding | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Five

Week One: Inspiration Week
This week is all about using different things as your inspiration for great food.

It was the penultimate night of our trip to India, and we were dining in the sky. Our group was in Munnar, a cool, rainy, cloudy town-on-a-hill surrounded by tea plantations. The drive up to Munnar in our 17-person van had been intense, with hairpin turns, sheer drops off cliffs, and rubble-strewn, broken roads that seemed impassable* to me, yet were somehow navigable thanks to our stalwart driver. We’d barely found our hotel — the Parakkat Nature Hotel — in the dark, but find it we did. By 8:00 we were gathered in the restaurant, the open plate-glass windows revealing nothing but inky black and admitting the chill night air. In the morning we’d gather there gain for breakfast, this time surrounded by fog and clouds, marveling at the sudden breaks that let through bright sunlight and painted the surrounding tea plantations a dappled gold.

Munnar by day.

Now it was dinnertime, though, and we’d stuffed our faces on chapati and parathas and gravies and noodles and a tandoori cauliflower dish that was perfection on a plate. Over at the other end of the table, I saw our dear, thoughtful hostess Jamuna conversing with a waiter. Then she turned to us.

“The chef can make payasam with coconut milk!” she announced. “The restaurant is closing soon but they can deliver it to your rooms. Who wants some?”

I was full, but Steven ordered a bowl, as did a few others. Pragathi explained that payasam was a milky pudding, often made with vermicelli noodles. This version, however, would be made with rice. A rice pudding was easy enough for me to visualize, but a noodle-based pudding? Not so much. I filed it away in my head as something to try later.

And so, back in the States, I turned to Vaishali and Richa for inspiration, using a mix of their two vegan semiya payasam recipes to try it for myself.  I used rice vermicelli noodles since I had them in the pantry and forewent the golden raisins (Because, ugh. Sorry, authenticity.). Flavored with cardamom, cloves, and vanilla and lightly sweetened, the payasam was a pleasant surprise.  Richa has you toast cashews in a little vegan butter first, reserving some of them for a yummy, rich topping. The noodles were a bit slippery and difficult to grasp with a spoon, but we didn’t mind. Steven ate his warm, but I chilled mine a bit first. Both options served us just fine.  This simple recipe is going on my dessert rotation for sure. My only modification? Adding a little cornstarch dissolved in cold water so that the pudding would thicken up a little more.

*A few weeks after we left, Munnar was absolutely ravaged by the horrific flooding in Kerala, with hundreds of people requiring rescue from the mountain after the roads became truly unsafe and literally impassable. Scary stuff.

Recreating an Indian Meal | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Two

Week One: Inspiration Week
This week is all about using different things as your inspiration for great food.

I don’t think I tried Indian food until college. Not that my parents were unadventurous eaters, but we didn’t splurge on meals out much during my childhood, and for the most part we were pretty unaware of Rhode Island’s Indian restaurants during that time. But during college in small-town Minnesota, of all places, I would occasionally splash out for dinner at Chapati, the local Indian joint. The flavors were new to me and utterly delightful; I quickly fell in love with paneer-based dishes in particular. (I was a vegetarian at that point. Isn’t paneer always the gateway ingredient?!) Sure, I wouldn’t have been able to point out any differences between North and South Indian dishes — much less regional or state-based variations — but I was game to try just about anything veg.

Since then, I’ve broadened my affinity for Indian food, and our trip to South India this summer deepened it further. What surprised me most about the dishes we enjoyed was how few of them included rice. Sure, the lunchtime thalis featured a big scoop of rice, and we had some delicious fluffy local rice during a traditional meal in Kerala, but for dinner? Not so much. Instead we’d order platters full of bread: pillowy garlic naan, flaky paratha, simple chapati. It would arrive, piping hot, alongside small tureens of rich gravies, three or four or five to share. We’d tear into the breads, using them to scoop up the gravies, everyone sharing everything. For a lighter dinner, I sometimes ordered a dosa, the crispy, thin crepe-like bread served either stuffed or plain, with chutney and sambar for dipping.

It was all very different from the typical Americanized Indian food experience, where you order a bowl of rice and a curry and eat it for yourself. So, after being back in the States for a few weeks, I wanted to recreate — on a small scale! — a more authentic Indian-inspired meal. I knew just where to turn: to my two favorite vegan Indian bloggers, Richa and Vaishali.

Dal is one of my all-time favorite dishes of any cuisine, so Richa’s dal fry recipe was a no-brainer. Yellow lentils are tempered to create a creamy, flavorful, rich dish that’s perfectly scoopable. I paired the dal with Richa’s okra and onion stir fry. I’ve been buying okra just about every week at the farmers market, and my go-to preparation is to halve it and roast it with olive oil, salt, and pepper. This time, I sautéed it with lots of onions, turmeric, and a little chili powder. Delicious! On the side? Kachumbar, a simple tomato, cucumber, and onion salad, also featuring veggies from the farmers market. Finally, I turned to Vaishali for the bread: Her flaky oil-based parotta came together easily (and quite tastily).

Although this meal was smaller in scale than some of the epic spreads we enjoyed in India, the experience — sitting at the table with Steven, using our hands to tear the bread and scoop up portions of dal — was just reminiscent enough of our trip to satisfy me. And the tastes? They were pretty close, too. 

I’m calling this India-inspired dinner a win.

Small-Bite Sundays: September 17, 2017

Small-Bite Sundays

Friends, apologies for the radio silence! VeganMoFo begins in October (!), and I’ve been prepping for that. Steven and I will be out of the country during the first few days, so I’ve been getting my mock ducks in a row before we leave. (That aphorism doesn’t quite hold up to veganization, does it?) I’ve also gotten back into freelancing after the summer lull, leaving me less time for blogging. Expect a little more quiet on the blog front until October, when I’ll be posting every darn day, just as I have done for the past eight MoFos. Yeehaw.

In the meantime, I’ve had a frustrating weekend. I’m 0.5 for 2 with the recipes I’ve been working on for VeganMoFo, leaving me frustrated and disappointed. Oh well. Onward!

Small bites: to read

Wow. I was unfamiliar with the Michelle Jones story until a college acquaintance shared this article on Facebook. (If you are equally unfamiliar, I really suggest reading the story — any summary I could give wouldn’t do it justice.) There’s so much to unpack here, and the question of where we as a society draw the line when it comes to redemption is something I haven’t thought much about.

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A poignant read from the perspective of a physician who has to share heartbreaking, devastating news with the families of patients who pass away. What stood out to me here was how incredibly important empathy is in situations like this. It’s a core principle of my own life (or at least, I aspire for it to be), and it serves this doctor well.

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As someone who grew up with Deaf family members, I really enjoyed this piece about how the sign language used by black Americans differs from that used by white Americans. In my experience, folks tend to think of “sign language” as a monolith, but it’s so very not. American Sign Language and Signed English are very different, and as this article points out, Black American Sign Language is another dialect entirely — one that’s historically been ignored and downplayed. It’s fascinating but not surprising that people who are deaf code-switch just like their hearing counterparts.

Small bites: to watch

Profanity ahead, but holy smokes — this video of an Irish family dealing with a bat in the kitchen is pure gold. Stuff like this usually doesn’t appeal to me, but I could not handle this video! And I’m glad the batty got out safe. :)

Small bites: to eat

Thes berbere-spiced jackfruit tacos feature finely chopped jackfruit, which is… an embarrassingly obvious preparation method that I somehow haven’t used! Leave it to Vegan Richa to come up with this fantastic idea.

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Garden tomato haulTOMATOES FOREVER. Here is my haul from a single day this week. My cherry tomatoes just won’t stop producing, and my larger slicers are finally ripening. I think those are Mikados on the right, but I’m not entirely sure… my labeling fell by the wayside at some point this summer. Last year I had tomatoes well into October; I’m crossing my fingers for that to happen again!

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Speaking of tomatoes… I saw a recipe for roasted tomato pasta recently and it has been a weeknight staple ever since (and a great way to use up my massive supply of cherry tomatoes!). You simply halve a bunch of cherry tomatoes, drizzle them with olive oil, add salt/pepper/vegan parm/nooch/whatever, and roast in a high-walled pan or casserole dish for about 20 minutes at 425˚F, until they’re juicy and falling apart and a saucy mess. In the meantime, boil pasta. When it’s done, just mix the drained pasta into the dish with the roasted tomatoes. Add more spices/nooch/vegan parm to taste and enjoy!

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If you’ve got a little cash to spare, here are two crowd-funded projects that look neat. The first is a Spain-based startup that’s creating vegan “leather” bags out of biodegradable cork bark. They’re committed to sustainability, ethical production, and vegan products… the trifecta of conscious consumerism, perhaps?

The second is closer to home (for me, at least): a vegan burger joint in Baltimore. Maybe it’s just because I’m hungry for dinner right now, but their food looks great.

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Let me know if you’ve read/watched/eaten anything noteworthy this week!

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Small-Bite Sundays: June 18, 2017

Small-Bite Sundays

Hello, all — I hope you’re well. Today I’m introducing a new feature on the blog, one that will let me share things that don’t merit a full blog post, but that I’d like to pass along anyway. (And, #realtalk, one that will hopefully encourage me to post a little more often.) I’m calling them “small bites” — small bites to read, to watch, to eat. Some of my favorite bloggers have a similar sort of weekly link-sharing post, and I always enjoy seeing what caught their eyes that week. Let me know what you think and whether there’s anything else you’d like to see.

But first, thank you all from the bottom of my sore heart for your kind words about Luna. It’s been two and a half weeks and, while we’ve certainly had time to take it in and grow a little more accustomed to her absence, I still have not-uncommon unthinking moments when I expect to see or hear her. When I pull into the driveway after work and head indoors to greet Steven, sometimes I briefly wonder, “Is she on the couch, or will she be waiting for me at the sliding door? Will I find any mukes on the floor?” before reality hits again. Reality has gotten a little less crushing, but still painful, and still a bit teary.

Luna lying in her cousin's bed

How could you not love this tiny face?

That said, we’ve been so touched by the memories shared by friends and family. One of the (major) perks of working at an animal-welfare organization is that nearly everybody understands the deep bond that exists between us and our beloved pets. On my first day back in the office (I worked from home for three days after Luna died and then was on vacation), I walked in to find three condolence cards jam-packed with messages from coworkers, a photo book with dozens of shots of sweet Tunie, and a note saying that they’d donated $250 to our local shelter’s senior dog fund in Luna’s honor. More tears.

Phew. Not all my Sunday posts will be quite so heavy, I promise. :) On to the small bites. I hope you enjoy.

Small bites: to read

This list of tips for solo travel, from one of my favorite travel bloggers. Have you ever traveled 100% alone? I just got back from my first wholly solo trip: nine days in Holland and Belgium (more on that soon). I took off for the trip just two days after losing Luna, and I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself. But the chance to grieve in private, on my own terms and in my own way, was so worthwhile, and I loved being accountable to nobody but myself for how I spent my time. If you’re considering solo travel, I really recommend it. Amanda’s article is a great introduction to the concept, with some practical suggestions for how to plan your first solo jaunt.

This article about the tension between what tourists want when they visit Cuba and what actual Cubans want in their home country is a poignant reminder that enjoying a place because it’s rustic or gritty often comes at the expense of those who live there. Although tourists might lament the loss of classic cars and other markers of “authenticity” in Havana, actual Habaneros welcome and want change.

Small bites: to watch

This Daily Show interview with author Roxane Gay about her just-released memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. Trevor Noah approaches the writer (and the book’s loaded and painful subject matter) with compassion, thoughtfulness, and not a trace of condescension. That’s a far cry from other outlets, including one that thought it was OK to reveal behind-the-scenes requests Gay made for her appearance on their podcast, and to talk about them in oddly precise detail. Anyway, I’m so looking forward to this book.

Small bites: to eat

This flavor-packed creamy garlic pasta with roasted cauliflower from Vegan Richa. I haven’t been very inspired to cook lately, but this recipe actually tempted me into the kitchen — and I’m so glad it did. The creamy, garlicky sauce sets off the spicy cauliflower to perfection. I didn’t have time to roast a whole head of garlic, so I just sautéed a few extra cloves and threw in a few shakes of Penzeys Roasted Garlic. I also used a pre-made Creole spice blend. Don’t neglect the lemon and parsley at the end, though! This recipe is going on my regular rotation for sure. I didn’t even mind blasting the oven on a 90˚ day for this one.

This blueprint for a killer bean salad from Hannah Kaminsky is just the thing to help you avoid a limp, watery, bland salad during your next cookout or picnic. Although Hannah also includes a few themed mixes (Mideast Feast; Spicy Southwestern), her basic version sounds like a no-fail option to please any palate.

This tofu fried egg sandwich (see photo below) served on carbolicious buttery Texas toast from Glory Doughnuts, a wonderful vegan doughnut and all-day-breakfast shop in quaint Frederick, Maryland. This small business often sells out of doughnuts by 11:00 AM on weekends, so when I woke up early this morning and felt like getting out of the house, we high-tailed it up to Frederick for brekkie. We also snagged three doughnuts (see below, again!) to munch later today: maple bourbon, the coconutty Chewbacca, and key lime pie.

Finally, happy Father’s Day to my wonderful and supportive dad — I know you’re reading! Love you.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through my links, it costs nothing extra for you. I’m not looking to make a fortune, just to cover hosting costs. :)

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