Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mushroom Stacks and Cheesecake Strawberries

We tried out this mushroom stack recipe for dinner tonight and it was fantastic. We could not get the porcinis that the recipe called for but we found some mid sized portobellos that worked out nicely. We had to buy scotch just for this dish. It certainly made things tasty but scotch is awfully expensive and neither of us drinks it so now we need more recipes that involve cooking with it.

For dessert I worked up a new creation, cheesecake strawberries. No not stawberry cheesecakes but cheesecake strawberries. This recipe is quick, easy, looks nice and doesn't involve one bit of baking. It also allows the berries to take center stage, instead of just the accent role they usually get with cheesecake.

For this recipe you need:
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
8 oz cream cheese (I used vegan cream cheese, I am sure the regular variety will also work just as well)
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
About 20 medium strawberries, washed and cored (If you can get the luxurious, giant, long-stemmed variety those would be nice, but they are not necessary. If you go that route you probably will need fewer berries)

First create your filling by combining the sugar and cream cheese in a medium bowl. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer. Stir in the cookie crumbs. Allow your filling to cool in the fridge for a bit while you gather your cake decorating gear. You will want to use a pastry bag with a star tip. (If you do not have this you can probably spoon your filling into your berries but it will not look as nice.) Fill your pastry bag with chilled filling and pipe some filling into the hollowed out center of your berries. Chill the berries until you are ready to serve them.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Late Night Cook In

Matt and I did not get around to making dinner last night until about 1am. It was too late for a cook out, we didn't want to disturb the neighbors. We had been meaning to try this recipe, so instead we had a cook in with our beloved grill rack. The "ribz" came out very well.

We served them with this deliciously refreshing cucumber mojito salad.

The grill rack has been getting tons of use. Last week we grilled portobellos and red peppers and put them into a toasted sandwich with some miso and tahini. We also grilled some tofu for tofu, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. If you do not have a grill rack yet, you must get one. I do not know how we lived without this delightful kitchen essential for so long.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Junk Food'ish

As much as we like to try to stay healthy, we do enjoy junk food. Last week we made two junk food'ish dishes a little bit healthier. First up, we made a taco salad. It's pretty much just a taco minus the shell. I like this meal because it's quick and easy to make and tasty. In our salad we included:
- baby spinach
- cucumbers
- shredded carrots
- diced celery
- diced avocado
- taco seasoned veggie ground beef (Smart brand)
- homemade salsa (store bought is fine, we just had some herbs, hot peppers and tomatoes in the garden that we needed to put to work)
- vegan sour cream
- a dash of tobasco

Matt and I also made some sweet potato (un)fries. I mostly followed this recipe, except that I put my fries under a broiler for a few minutes before serving, this improved the crispiness of the fries.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Coconut Lime Tofu with Tomatoes and Spinach

You have a bit of a dilemma often with Asian cooking. Thai style dishes can be overly creamy and heavy while a lot of other Asian style cuisine can be too light to satisfy. I like this dish because it's the perfect compromise between light and satisfying.

1/3 cup light coconut milk
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 cup tomato, seeded and diced
1 package baby spinach
1 lb tofu, cut into 1/2" thick 1"x2" rectangles

Cook the tofu in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat with some cooking spray until it turns golden brown on all sides.

In a large bowl, combine coconut milk, chiles, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, lime juice and brown sugar. Add the cooked tofu and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour, tossing every 15 minutes.

Drain the marinade from the tofu and set it aside.

In a large skillet or wok, heat some cooking spray and add the tofu. Cook the tofu until it is heated through and then add the tomato and spinach, cooking until the spinach begins to wilt.

Stir in the marinade and simmer until thickened and then serve immediately.

Also, I am sharing this tip because I know a lot of you who read this blog are critter lovers and have companion animals. We recently discovered that our cats also have very strong feelings about their food and we figured out that they both really love it when we serve their canned food lukewarm. Dogs may also appreciate that but I have no dog to try this out with. Any way, I just thought I'd share this discovery since I'd never heard of this from any one else with companion animals.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Corned Beef

Matt and I really adore Asian food so we tend to make a lot of it and every once in a while I get a hankering for something completely different. This Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe really hit the spot. It was rich, robust, heavy and filling. Although the recipe author describes it as an Irish dish, it reminded me of something a little more Eastern European.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Pizza Minus The Dough

We made these miniature portobello mushroom "pizzas" for dinner. We just replaced the mozzarella with vegan mozzarella. It's a perfect mid-week meal since it's quick to make and just the right amount of food for two if you're serving it as a main course. I also liked this recipe because it gave me a reason to use my new grill rack which I am now madly in love with. I now want to emblazon all of my food with those fancy grill marks. Tofu, look out, here I come.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mediocrity Rules

If given the choice to cook or eat out, I will almost always say cook. Not only do I enjoy cooking, I know what I am going to get if I cook and I know it's going to be great. I find going to restaurants is like gambling. Do I want to bet an average of 20 to 50 bucks that Mr or Ms supposedly-professional-cook won't ruin my evening? Well, the answer is usually that I do not.

Today Matt and I had long days and when he came home after 8pm I was famished and we had nothing in the fridge. "Let's go out!" we said. As I've mentioned, Matt's obsessed with veggie burgers and this brunch place, One World Cafe, usually has a veggie burger of the day that he never gets to order because we are always in there for breakfast foods on weekends. We've had dinner at OWC before but not in quite a while, either we were a lot more tolerant of mediocrity last time we ate there or things have really gone down hill.

With our menus we received a list of specials, the page boasted about Indian spiced vegetables, including fresh green beans and bell peppers, served with a baked marinated ginger tofu over a bed of rice in a coconut sauce. The page also informed us that the veggie burger of the day was a tofu vegetable burger with honey mustard and "the works". The day's special appetizer was baba ganoush. Sounds good doesn't it?

We placed our orders and disaster ensued. The baba ganoush had the flavor of a kindergartener's tub of paste and 8 skimpy strips of pita bread with which to scoop up a heaping mound of the stuff. Not that how we'd finish this slop was a concern since our main courses arrived about 6 bites into our appetizer.

Matt's "burger", although displaying a few grill marks for show, was soft and soggy, quickly falling apart and giving us reason to believe the main ingredient was not tofu, but in fact, mashed potatoes. Actually I think you could coax more solid texture out of mashed potatoes, so I am still at a loss as to how this "burger" was concocted. Speaking of mashed potatoes, Matt ordered a side of them, which he informed me had the blandness of sand. Although the potatoes supposedly were made with garlic, nary a hint of it was to be tasted.

As for my meal, it was about 2 lbs of rice topped with what I imagine was some sort of store-bought sauce mixed with frozen or canned green beans and red peppers that had been revived in a microwave. No tofu was present whatsoever. The lifeless, soft, soggy veggies came with no tofu and "spiced" for the palate of a 90 year old with high blood pressure and diabetes. I pushed my food around on my plate and got progressively more vocal about my green beans which were not "fresh green beans" but that sickly, muddy, boiled for days green of Gerber strained peas.

After about 20 minutes our server finally came to ask me if I wanted my mostly untouched meal to go. I told her I did not. I really dislike to complain in restaurants. It seems almost pointless since the person you are complaining to didn't cook the meal and probably doesn't know all that much about cooking any way. I imagine the average restaurant server subsists on a diet of day old coffee and cigarettes. In spite of all of this, I tried to calmly and politely explain that I was disappointed with my meal. The server replied "well, next time let us know earlier and we can bring you something else." LET YOU KNOW EARLIER?! Are you kidding? You just came by to fill our water glasses 20 minutes after our food was served. Do I want you to bring me something else at this point? No I do not, my dining companion has already choked down his meal and wants to get out of here and from what I've seen of the evenings offerings so far, I can't imagine something else is going to hit the spot any way. I will just take my atrociously overpriced bill and get the fuck out of here and go home and make myself something to eat.

I wanted to leave no tip. I couldn't really do it since I am always imagining restaurant servers are harried, struggling students without health care or something and I'd feel like a fascist for stiffing them. Fifteen percent was all I could muster. I normally leave over twenty and tend to be tolerant if the server is busy and not take bad cuisine out on them. It was this business of telling me I should have asked for something else that got to me. Maybe I would have if I'd been asked about that in a reasonable amount of time.

As we were leaving I saw a girl picking at her plate and overheard her say to her server (who did come to see how they were doing at her table) "Wasn't this supposed to come with tofu?"

Where's my chef's knife...

Monday, July 9, 2007


Matt and I spent most of the week in Montreal. I am sorry to say but I was a little unimpressed with it overall. The people were not that friendly and EVERYONE smokes nonstop so even though the bars were smoke-free, walking down the street was a hazard to the lungs and made for poor air quality and left me with a sore throat and itchy eyes. The music shops had a poor selection so even a search of Canadian albums was pretty fruitless. Many of the restaurants had really slow service and one was even closed for the summer! Why would you close your restaurant for the summer in Montreal?! Montreal's subway only runs until midnight but bars are open until 3 and things are a bit spread out so you really get your walking in whether you want to or not. (We also found that you have to buy subway tickets from a cashier instead of a machine so you can end up waiting in a long line to buy a train ticket!) Generally I feel like I spent my trip choking on the air and waiting for things whether it was subway lines, getting around the city, waiting for restaurant service, waiting for bartender attention, etc.

If you are headed to Montreal, the good news is that it is an extremely vegetarian and somewhat vegan friendly city. Our first meal was at La Paryse -- mostly a burgers and fries place with a very good tofu burger (ask for it without mayo if you are a vegan). Matt is a huge veggie burger fan so he enjoyed this restaurant quite a bit.

The next day we got lunch at Commensal -- a vegetarian buffet style restaurant. I like this idea in theory. My trouble with veg eateries is that I always want to try a bite of everything but I can't eat everything on the menu myself. The problem with Commensal was the execution. All of the food was similar in taste and consistency. The sort of edible and not bad but nothing to write home about fare you'd expect at the home of a friend who's been vegetarian for about 6 months and just learned to cook with curry powder or something. The buffet consisted of salad, soup, chili, curries, baked tofu, etc. It is nice that the place is there and die hard vegetarians might even sort of like it but I wouldn't go out of my way to eat there again. It was the kind of food I'd be happy to find at a rest stop on a road trip if that gives you some idea.

We got dinner at ChuChai, a vegan Thai restaurant. The food was outstanding. The menu was extensive and we liked everything we ordered. We got fresh rolls which were light and cool and refreshing. We got two spicy entrees, mine was "chicken" with basil and eggplant. Matt had something with mock duck. The entrees were the perfect degree of spicy and satisfying without making us feel overly stuffed. Although this was a pricey eatery, the food was definitely worth it.

We got drinks at Jello Bar. This bar was obscenely expensive ($10/drink!) but by far the most enjoyable that we found. They had a really good DJ and the drinks were excellent. If you are going to try just one we really loved their "Key West" martini which consisted of melon liquer, vodka and lime juice. All of the drinks were pretty tasty and buzz inducing though. This bar also had the friendliest bartender (even bartenders in Montreal were not all that friendly).

We also ate at a restaurant called Aux Vivres twice. The service left a lot to be desired. We waited over an hour for our meal and they rarely filled our glasses of water. The food was pretty good though and the entire restaurant was vegan. They had a very good smoothie that had celery in it and a decent selection of sandwiches including a coconut BLT. You can get any sandwich on Chapati bread which is fresh made at the restaurant. I think this works for some sandwiches more than others.

The chili was pretty good but I wasn't crazy about the sweet potato fries since they were kind of soggy. Matt didn't seem to mind though.

If you eat here skip dessert! The truffles were too rich to be enjoyable and the cheesecake was very tofu'ish. Overall the desserts were extremely vegan tasting (this is not a good thing), clearly they need a copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

We went to another bar that was decent called Else's. They have vegan food and Hoegaarden (my favorite beer). They also had some indie rock CDs in rotation which we always appreciate.

We also checked out Le Cagibi, a cozy cafe with tasty coffee/tea drinks and vegan/vegetarian food and Le Divan Orange, a rock bar with vegan/vegetarian food.

One thing Montreal does have going for it is that you can get food and coffee (with soy milk even) 24 hours a day. There are many places to choose from and even vegetarian food is available at all hours. We really liked Sara on the corner of Mont Royal and St Laurant. This 24 hour Lebanaese fast food joint had all the standard Lebanese fare in a ready-in-a-jiffy format. The food was inexpensive, the staff was friendly and the potatoes were really outstanding -- salty and soft on the inside and slightly crisp at the edges. For under $10 we got a plate of grape leaves, potatoes, hummus, bread, grilled eggplant and and falafel.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Fridge Cleaning

Matt and I are going away for the week so the fridge had to be emptied of all produce. We made:

Raw Veggies with Hummus (The hummus had chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and lots of fresh chives since they are growing like wild in our yard. the tomatoes were from the plant in our yard and they were delicious!)

Vegan with a Vengeance Balsamic Glazed Portabellos (a favorite around here)

Farmer's Market Honey Mushrooms Sauteed in oil and tossed with salt, pepper and a dash of honey

Farmer's Market Kale sauteed in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper

Farmer's Market tomatoes caramelized with olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper underneath a broiler set on high, these were so fantastic that I wish I had some right now.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Farmers Market

Since Matt and I are insomniacs, we rarely we up early enough on weekends to hit the farmers market. This past weekend however we stayed up late enough to check it out. We stocked up on exotic goodies we do not see every day including:
- Squash Blossoms
- Honey Mushrooms
- Purple Bell Peppers
- Sweet Beets
- Garlic Scapes
- Gooseberries

Our Loot:

We peeled and sliced the beets (which were beautiful inside) and roasted them at 400 degrees with olive oil, salt and pepper until they were tender. They were so good I wish we'd bought more. This is what they looked like when sliced open:

We got our mushrooms from this crazy mushroom stand that had every mushroom under the sun. We considered getting some Morels but they were $15!

To prepare our squash blossoms we stuffed them with a mixture of vegan cream cheese, chopped fresh basil and shredded vegan mozarella, dipped them in a mixture of flour and soy milk (about 3 T flour and 1/2 cup soy milk) and fried them. They were tasty but fried food is not really our thing and they were a little too heavy for us to eat them all on our own. If we get squash blossoms again I will have to find another way to prepare them, but I certainly enjoyed the novelty of a new veggie.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Dinner Party

We like to throw fancy dinner parties because it's an excuse to use our fancy entertaining gear and cook up elaborate meals. We also get to use our beautiful giant dining room table that seats up to ten.

For our first course we served roasted tomatoes over a bed of baby greens with home made croutons, fresh basil and braised garlic in a Zinfandel vinaigrette. The salad looked beautiful and had a refreshing, crisp, slightly tart flavor.

For the salad I got to use my new "ring mold." You will notice that in upscale eateries food is often arranged in a perfect cylindrical mound. They accomplish this with the use of a mold. You probably need a specialty cooking store to get one so I sort of made my own by cutting the top and bottom off of a clean empty water bottle. It worked out very nicely.

For our main course we served a rich and robust Chianti "Beef". I used this recipe but replaced the mutton with Morningstar Farms veggie steak strips. All of my omnivore dinner guests raved about the meal so I guess that is an endorsement for the substitution from an unbiased source.

For dessert I served white chocolate brownies with green tea cheesecake swirls. To make the brownies vegan I made my own white chocolate and used earth balance margarine instead of butter. I replaced the eggs with 2 Tbs cornstarch and 2 Tbs soy milk for every 1 egg. I also used vegan cream cheese. My white chocolate loving company really enjoyed these.

I also made Napoleons which were delicious and beautiful. Recipe follows...

3/4 c sifted white flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbs cornstarch
1/4 c soy margarine
1/2 c sugar
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c soy milk + 2 Tbs

Preheat oven to 400 F. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cornstarch. beat in butter using an electric mixer on low speed. Then beat in the sugar, vanilla and soy milk. Lightly oil a muffin pan and fill each muffin cup about 1/3 of the way with batter. (You will get about 12 cups filled) Bake your cakes for about 12 minutes or until inserting a toothpick in the center comes out dry. Once they come out of the oven allow them to cool.

While your cakes bake and cool prepare your chocolate ganache frosting and strawberry sauce. For strawberry sauce combine 1 cup fresh strawberries with 2 1/2 Tbs sugar and 1/2 tsp lemon juice in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. For the chocolate combine 2 Tbs soy margarine, 3/4 cup vegan dark chocolate, 1/4 cup + 2 Tbs vegan heavy cream (I use Alpro Soya Creamer), 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar and 1 tsp vanilla. Place all ingredients except vanilla in a sauce pan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla.

Turn cooled cupcakes out onto a cutting board. Slice the rounded tops off of each cake. Take 1 cake a spread strawberry sauce on top of it, top that cake with another cake and then cover the whole thing with the chocolate ganache frosting. Garnish with crushed hazelnuts, sliced strawberries and small dark chocolate wedges. You should end up with 6 mini layer cakes. I serve mine with a swirl of strawberry sauce.