Creativity in the Kitchen

Last week, some weird things ended up in my kitchen.

Purple is my favorite color, but purple peppers are not my favorite peppers. I’ve found them before at farmers markets back in NY, but never down here. I ended up picking these two up at Whole Foods the other day and had no idea what I was going to use them for. Tonight I got a little restless and started to chop one up in hopes that inspiration would come my way. I ended up taking a bite and was not happy. The purple peppers are pretty flavorless compared to other peppers. They are not sweet and have a slightly bitter, pale taste. I ended up putting them into an omelette with some provolone and my favorite, Newman’s Own Black Bean and Corn Chili. (This is one of the best salsas you will ever have. I promise.)
I did have a little bit of random kitchen success last week. Earlier in the week we made cake rolls and ended up having a ton left over. I had been reading The Flavor Bible and was inspired to try something with the leftover cakes.
I took them home and dried them in a low heat oven for about 2 hours. Leaving them out to become stale would have yielded the same result. After they were dry and slightly hard, I processed them until they became a fine powder, or a flour…
I knew that the flour was a little too rough to become another cake or bread, so my first thought was to make cookies. I also thought that the flour was automatically going to be fluffy and spongy, like the original cake, but I was very wrong.
 I went with chocolate chip cookies and this is how they turned out…
They certainly aren’t the prettiest cookies you will ever see, but they tasted pretty damn good. You could definitely taste the raspberry from the cake roll and they were a little mushy from the “flour” itself. I still have some of my homemade flour, so I plan to try this again really soon and have a much better looking final product.

Blueberry Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Here is the story of the almost best vegan baked good I’ve ever made.

I was putting the ingredients together for this cake (adapted by the Recipe Hall of Fame Dessert Cookbook) and saw that I had the vegan substitutes in my fridge. I pulled out my almond milk and vegan butter sticks and went to work. This was going to be amazing.

It wasn’t until right as I was flipping the cake over that I realized the cake was not at all vegan, it had two eggs! Oops. So here is the recipe for another almost-vegan baked good.

Blueberry Pineapple Upside-Down Cake


Ingredients
1 8 oz. can chopped pineapple
1/2 cup blueberries
1/3 cup butter (or Smart Balance sticks)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I only had unsalted peanuts, so that’s what I used)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

1. Melt 1/3 cup butter in an iron skillet.
2. Sprinkle the brown sugar and the nuts over the butter.
3. Lay pineapple chunks and blueberries over the sugar mixture.
4. Cream 1/2 cup butter and sugar together.
5. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.
6. Add the flour and milk, a little at a time.
7. Add vanilla and baking powder.
8. Pour the batter into the skillet and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
9. Let cake stand for 10 minutes and flip on to serving platter.

The cake was amazing. It doesn’t surprise me with the amount of butter and sugar in it, but we can all splurge sometimes. Maybe next time I’ll try with an egg replacement to make it 100% vegan.

Learning to Love New Foods

A few weeks ago one of my friends asked for me to write a post about liking new foods. I am not a very picky eater at all. Growing up I was always ready (ok, forced) to try new things. I can’t thank my parents enough for forcing us to try different foods when we went on vacation. It was a great idea and something I highly recommend to avoid picky eaters in the future.
For those of you who are not open to eating everything you may be looking for a few ways to get some new flavors into your meals. But first, why do you not like these certain foods?
If you don’t like something is it because…
…you haven’t tried it?
…you tried it and didn’t like it?
…it made you sick?
…you just think it looks gross and looks like it tastes gross to?
 
If you haven’t tried it, try it! Seriously, what do you have to lose? If it’s a little scary for you, try it with something that you like already, but not one of your favorites. Sometimes if I mix a food with something that I love and it doesn’t turn out so great, it taints my favorite forever. I don’t want you to be adding more foods to your “do not eat” list, I want it to grow! Some simple things to try foods with are sauces: ketchup, ranch dressing, tomato sauce, mayonnaise, sour cream, plain yogurt etc. They have enough flavor that your new food won’t shock your taste buds but are simple enough to let enough flavor come through.
If you tried it, and didn’t like it, give it another shot. Was it too mushy? Was the flavor completely off? I think every food deserves at least two chances. If the food was baked before, try grilling it or (god forbid) frying it. If it doesn’t work the second time around, it is what it is.
If it made you sick, make your peace. For the longest time I couldn’t eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because one made me sick while taking medicine while I had the flu. It was awful. After a little practice, I slowly made peace with peanut butter and jelly because honestly, who wants to live without that? At this point, it’s mostly a mental thing. Is it weird to say to eat that food in a “happy place”? It makes sense to me. It really sucks when food makes us sick, but it’s usually a one time thing (if it’s food poisoning, allergies/intolerances are a different story) and we can go back to those foods.
If you think it looks gross…it might be, but that’s ok. In the office on Friday we bad a bag of melted chocolate toffee to share. Once broken up you can imagine what it might looked like…but it was still amazing. Some foods are just not pretty. Some consistencies suck (and so do their adjectives: mushy, moist, etc.). Polenta isn’t the most beautiful food in the world, and is usually a big yellow slab of mush, but it’s delicious. Throw some veggies and a good sauce on top and you won’t even know it’s down there. Cover up what you think is gross. Make it a sandwich or a wrap or even toss in some pasta or lettuce. The options are endless.
I hope you find these tips a little helpful. I completely understand though that there are some foods out there that are just not for you. For me it was olives, until I literally forced myself to like them and lemon jelly beans.
Challenge me! Tell me a food that you absolutely hate and see if I can come up with a solution. I need the practice! I have a success story to share with you on Monday!

Tips for Vegetarian-Friendly Dining

Is it just me or are most restaurants lacking vegetarian-friendly options?
I know that I am pretty late and probably not even “qualified” to make such a plea, but this is for the lifetime vegetarians, experimenting vegans and debating flexitarians…please restaurants, have some more vegetarian options.
Since making the decision to not eat meat in January, I’ve been out to eat plenty of times. Some restaurants were very catering to vegans/vegetarians (Ohana Cafe) and some weren’t. While eating out last month, I was given a menu that was enormous in size and had over one hundred things to choose from. How many dishes were deemed “vegetarian”? Just one.
Now, the menu did have mozzarella sticks, nachos and french bread, but that doesn’t really constitute a meal to me. The vegetarian dish was a sub and it looked pretty similar to Subway’s Veggie Delight sub. I was looking for a real meal, something with a little substance. I browsed through the sandwich list and found an Italian style sub with meats, cheese and homemade tomato sauce. When I ordered, I asked if I could substitute the meat for mushrooms and got a response with a “are you sure?” kind of attitude. “No meat at all?” Nope, I replied, just the mushrooms please.
I got the sub and it was very tasty and the waitress checked in a few times to make sure they got it right. It was obvious that they didn’t get vegetarian requests often.
In my eyes, it doesn’t seem like a lot to ask, but then again, I haven’t worked in the food industry…yet. So if anyone out there ever gets their hands on creating a menu for a restaurant before I do, keep these things in mind:
  • Offering vegetarian options brings a healthy element to your menu. Marketing gold right there. Healthy living is huge right now.
  • Some people want to experiment with vegetarian dishes and aren’t really able to in their own kitchens. They might look to you to offer them something new that they might not buy for their own kitchen.
  • Substitutions are just as important. List veg-friendly substitutions for sandwiches, pasta dishes, etc.
  • People might be to cook tofu or other meat substitutes at home, but will give it a shot in a restaurant. It’s fairly inexpensive and super easy to offer as another protein source in your menu.
  • It’s all about the sides. Often times at restaurants if there aren’t a lot of vegetarian meals, I’ll just order a handful of sides. When I do this I’m looking for more than just mashed potatoes, french fries and macaroni and cheese. Keep fresh, seasonal veggies on hand or other healthy sides like sweet potatoes, brown rice or whole wheat pasta. I think vegetarians can get really creative and make an awesome meal out of side dishes.
What do you wish restaurants would do to be more vegetarian-friendly?

Baked Caprese Pie

Over the holidays I adapted Emily’s tomato pie and everyone fell in love. I loved her idea of using rice for a crust and filling the pie with cheese and tomatoes. Honestly, what is better than cheese and tomatoes? The first pie was such a hit, that my dad requested I make it again before I headed back to D.C. It was a great excuse to use the new rice cooker I bought him for Christmas! Since then, I’ve adapted my own version of the tomato pie and I tried it out this past weekend during our girls night. Be sure to check out  Emily’s recipe and try mine, better yet, make your own alternations to create your own tomato pie. The possibilities are endless!
Baked Caprese Pie 
Ingredients:
2 cups prepared quinoa, cooled
2-3 tablespoons of chopped parsley
chopped basil and/or pesto
1/2 Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
2 large tomatoes, sliced and dried out
2 balls of mozzarella cheese, sliced
1 cup spinach leaves
olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the quinoa, parsley, cheese and eggs. Spread like a pie crust in a pie pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.
3. Once the crust is done, start layering the tomatoes, cheese, spinach and then sprinkle with the basil/pesto. Repeat layers until you’ve used all the slices and spinach. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with some salt and pepper (if you desire) and baked for another 20-25 minutes.
It’s SO easy, and so delicious. There are a ton of different things you could do with this recipe like adding eggs to the pie, onions, black beans, etc.
Let me know if you try it! I’d love to know how it turns out.

Beauty and the Meat (Eater)

Here is a really easy recipe that I made Sunday night for dinner. When Megan and I went to dinner at Coal Fire last week I ordered the roasted veggies with penne and a balsamic sauce. It was delicious! Not only was it delicious to eat that night, but the leftovers were amazing (and I am usually not a huge fan of leftovers). I wanted to recreate this dish and make it as MJW-friendly as possible. I want to start a series of recipes that please both meat-eaters and vegetarians. It hasn’t been too difficult to please both of our pallets, but I definitely think the recipes could get a little more creative. Plus, we hit a huge milestone – MJW cleaned his plate and ate all of the vegetables. I cannot even remember a meal in the past where this has happened. I felt so accomplished!
Roasted Veggie Pasta with Balsamic Sauce
Ingredients:
1 box penne pasta
3 carrots, sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
10-15 roma cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
olive oil
Italian seasoning
1 carton of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons margarine (I used Smart Balance)
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
2-4 Italian sausages
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Scatter the carrots, celery and tomatoes on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle desired amount of seasoning. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes.
3. With about ten minutes left of roasting, add the sausages to the side of the pan to cook.
4. Boil water in a sauce pan and cook the pasta.
5. Preheat a large frying pan on medium heat.
6. Remove the veggies from the oven and let them sit and cool on the cookie sheet.
7. Put the walnuts in the frying pan and toast them gently for about 2 minutes.
8. Add the vegetables, mushrooms, white wine, garlic and butter. Mix everything around so all the veggies are coated. Cover and let cook while you drain the pasta.
9. Add the pasta first and then the parsley and balsamic vinegar. Toss the pasta until it’s coated with the balsamic and then serve. Don’t forget to add the sausages to the meat eater’s plate!

Almost Vegan Cookie Dough Pie

I have a weakness for chocolate chip cookies.

The truth is, I have a weakness for chocolate chip cookie dough. If I get the idea in my head, I’m in the kitchen within minutes putting the Kitchen Aid to work.
Tonight was one of those nights that I was craving cookie dough, so I decided to whip up a cookie cake (but it ended up being more like a pie).
Ingredients:
1/2 cup vegan margarine/butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 flax eggs (or regular eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup buttermilk (still working on a vegan replacement, any suggestions?)
1/4 cup coffee liqueur (or your other favorite liquor like irish creme, butterscotch schnapps, etc.)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream together the butter, sugars and vanilla.
3. Add the eggs one at a time and continue to cream together.
4. Combine the buttermilk and liqueur. Alternate adding the buttermilk and flour on low speed.
5. Once combined, stir in the chocolate chips.
6. Pour into a greased pie pan and bake for 30 minutes.
Pretty easy, huh? I try to keep it simple for my immediate cookie dough needs.
I love the way the flax seeds look in batter for some (weird) reason.
This is the liqueur I used, leftover from Thanksgiving when our friend brought us a plethora of liquor that has gone un-touched.

That’s the only after picture you get folks. My camera died and I just couldn’t wait to find batteries and take more pictures. Trust me, it looked and tasted delicious.

Chickpea Trio

This week has been all about the chickpeas.

Earlier this week, I whipped up a quick stir fry for dinner. Mine had tofu and MJW’s had chicken. They both had chickpeas, yellow peppers, soy sauce and a drizzle of honey. Super quick, really yummy.
Wednesday night, we were snowed in and I wanted something simple and sweet for dinner. There was some chatter on Twitter and among other blogs about this Snickerdoodle Dessert Hummus from The Wannabe Chef. I recently stocked up on my chickpea stash, so I had to try it out. I didn’t have any almond butter so I used the next best thing in my pantry…Nutella. I ended up with a chocolaty hummus and it was awesome! I thought it tasted better after chilling for awhile, so I had it today for lunch with some apple slices.
Thursday night, I was in the mood to bake, but I still wanted it to be somewhat healthy so I whipped out Deceptively Delicious. She had a recipe for chocolate chip cookies with chickpeas. Baking with chickpeas? Why not.
Jessica Seinfield’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (with Chickpeas) and a little twist from Amanda
Ingredients:
Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar 
¾ cup trans fat free soft tub margarine spread (I used Smart Balance)
2 large eggs 
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips 
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 tsp baking soda 
1/4 t salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat cookie sheet with cooking spray.
2. In a standing mixer, combine margarine spread and brown sugar until creamy.
3. Add the eggs and vanilla, mix again until combined.
4. Add the chips and chickpeas, beat on low speed to combine. (Be careful, the chickpeas might fly out!)
5. Add flour, oats, baking soda and salt. Beat on medium speed until thick dough forms.
6. Scoop by tablespoons on to cookie sheet.
7. Bake 11-13 minutes, or until edges start to brown. Don’t over bake!
Here is my trick when scooping cookies – spray the scooper every few cookies and they slide right out, rather than having to dig in there with your finger and scoop it out.
These cookies were really good. I’m not sure if it was the chickpeas that gave them their fluffiness, but it worked. You can’t really tell there are chickpeas in them at all. I thought they might be a little dense because of them, but it’s the exact opposite. They came out nice and fluffy, kind of like a molasses cookie.
They are still cookies. They still have sugar and butter. But they have some added fiber. So give them to your kids (or fiancee) in my case and keep your mouth shut about the secret ingredient!

Taking on Vegan Baking

What is better than a condo filled with the aroma of something sweet, sugary and cinnamon-y baking in the oven? Not much. Maybe the smell of brownies baking in the oven…
I love kitchen challenges. I also love baking. Baking challenges are extremely hard, though. It really is true, baking is a science. It’s pretty difficult to come up with recipes from scratch when you are baking. If you have made enough sugar cookie doughs and cake batters in your life, you can usually guess the base ingredients. I used to just throw however much of whatever I thought was right and nine times of out ten it was a huge failure. Since reading other blogs, I’ve gotten more cofident in my experimenting and am being a little bit more cautious and careful with my measurements and ingredients.
I could be in my kitchen for hours baking brownies, cookies, cakes, breads and anything else that will satisfy my sweet tooth. Lets get real though. If I did that all of the time I would be a plump little girl with a big tummy ache. So I’ve decided to incorporate more vegan baking into my kitchen activity. I’ve told you all how I am not eating meat, and really, eating no animal products is the pretty ideal. Plus, finding different replacement for eggs, milk and cheese is kind of fun. Yep, I said it was fun to make a flax egg and use almond milk.
I’ve made a bunch of vegan baked goods before and I think I made one of my must successful treats the other day – Vegan Graham Crackers (from Oh She Glows). I saw this recipe on Angela’s page before the holidays and immediately knew I wanted to try them. I love graham crackers. I’ve been known to eat a whole package in an afternoon. Plus, I love smores. Love, love, love smores. I think they are the perfect dessert.
Here is the recipe that I used – Vegan Graham Crackers
I made a few substitutions (and they still turned out amazing!):
I used all white whole wheat flour because I didn’t have any whole wheat on hand.
I omitted nutmeg.
I used brown sugar, not Sucanat.
I used honey instead of molasses. (May or may not de-veganize this recipe. Depends on your views.)
Thanks Angela for such a fun recipe! I can’t wait to play around with different flavors. They taste incredible on their own, but I have to recommend spreading some frosting between two and making a sandwich. Amazing.