The Holidays are Here – A Quick, Easy, Vegan Appetizer

November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s that time of year – party season is upon us. Lots of holiday parties to attend which means time with loved ones, reconnecting with old friends, and most importantly – you need to think about what you’re going to bring!

I used to think the holidays were a time to relax and slow down. Ha! That’s when I didn’t have a job! The past few years the holidays seem to come and go with a blink of the eye. There’s never enough time to do all I want to do – if I get my tree up, I’m lucky. So when it comes to entertaining or bringing food to parties – simple is best.

Enter your lifesaver – a completely store-bought vegan antipasto platter. Antipasto platters are usually loaded with meats, cheeses, and olives. I’ve kept the olives and replaced the non-vegan items with equally delicious and scrumptious alternatives. Oh, and best part, this is a no-cook appetizer. Allow yourself time to run to the store and arrange the items on a nice platter and that’s it – it seriously doesn’t get easier than this.

Your local grocery store has everything you need to put together a great vegan appetizer: some olives, crackers, dips, veggies, nuts and you are good to go. If you’ve got multiple parties to attend, consider buying your items at Costco for some serious savings!

A sprinkle of paprika dresses up store-bought hummus. My personal favorite brand is Publix Roasted Red Pepper – it is simply the best I’ve ever tried.

I opted for a sun-dried tomato tapenade for something different. Regular olive tapenade is always a sure winner.

I used my favorite antipasto platter from Crate & Barrel which comes with the little square dishes perfect for separating certain items. Adding small ramekins to the plate allowed for more separation and extra items on the plate. This also makes it easy to wrap everything up individually so it doesn’t move around in transport – ensuring your dish arrives as beautifully as it was when it left.

Happy Entertaining :)

What Do You Cook for a Vegan Thanksgiving?

November 23, 2011 § 4 Comments

Vegan or not, if you’re like me, you’re still going through the cookbooks figuring out what to cook for tomorrow. Luckily we are going to my mom and dad’s house for Thanksgiving – so I only need to narrow it down to one item to bring. My mom has promised me that all items on the menu will be vegan – except for the turkey of course.

My family has jumped on the healthy bandwagon and have come along way…it’s crazy for me to think back and realize I’ve been on this journey for five months now. Since my 30 day vegan challenge, I’ve stayed vegan, my husband eats mostly vegan, my mom has given up all dairy (her joints thank her) and meat and has just been eating the occasional piece of fish, my dad has cut out all dairy, and my sister who thinks life doesn’t exist without cheese has decided to start with red meat. You know what, I’ll take it! Friends have even jumped onboard much to the chagrin of their husbands.

So, with all these recent changes the question of what to cook for Thanksgiving was bound to come up. The debate started some several weeks ago when I made my stand for a turkeyless thanksgiving. I might as well have said I was wanted everyone to stop eating good food altogether and eat cardboard the rest of their lives. I was met with sad eyes, I’m pretty sure a few tears, and exclamations of “No turkey? On thanksgiving? What?!?!?!?”

I lost that battle, and a pretty bird will be sitting on our table whether I like it or not. It really got me thinking about food and emotions. It’s not that my family loves turkey – sure they like it – but I think it is more the emotion and representation of what the turkey means. Turkey was only served in my house on Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mom would spend about 6 hours total in prep and cook time – it was a big deal – and always a big turkey to ensure plenty of leftovers. That juicy bird adorned with fruit and plumped up with butter meant celebration. It’s hard to change those traditions – or dare even mess with them.

I will not be eating the turkey, and my mom I’m pretty sure is a bit sad at that thought. To be fair, I never loved the turkey. I just ate it to be kind. So I’m not a turkey fanatic like some of you. But, in my quest to search for the perfect side item to bring – I came across so many delicious recipes that the turkey still seems unnecessary. Who needs turkey when you can have items like these?

Here’s some of the recipes I’ve found as well as some of my own that stand out and look worthy enough to take center stage. Note that these don’t include tofu options like tofurkey as I’m not a big tofu fan – but there are plenty of good options out there if that’s your thing. Whether you’re looking fore recipes for tomorrow, or possibly considering adding more veggies at your table next year, I hope these will inspire you as well.

Note that some blogs are more lenient than others in allowing re-posting of pictures which is why only a few are shown here. I strongly encourage you to link through to all of them because they all look amazing!

Itty Bitty Garlic Pumpkin Knots from Oh She Glows
Garlicky, buttery, pumpkiny bread. Need I say more?

Stuffed Shells with Butternut Squash and Toasted Walnuts
Some additional options include switching out sweet potato for the squash, pecans instead of walnuts, adding sauteed or roasted mushrooms, and topping with a drizzle of truffle oil.

Carrot Osso Bucco by Richard Blais, found on Food & Wine
I love Richard Blais and was just giddy when I stumbled across this recipe. Carrots are simmered in dark red wine and an earthy mushroom broth. Can be served over celery root puree as suggested or what I’ll likely do – mashed potatoes.

Photo Credit: Lucy Schaeffer

Hazelnut & Chard Ravioli Salad from 101 Cookbooks
This dish looks hearty and fresh – bursting with flavor. The crunch of toasted hazelnuts against delicate squash, pasta, and vibrant greens sounds amazing. Heidi offers tips on how to make this vegan in her post.

Root Vegetable Tagine with Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Turnips, and Spice-Roasted Chickpeas from Bon Appetit
This slightly spicy vegetable medley could also be served over wild rice.

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Quinoa Risotto
Again, a drizzle of truffle oil further dresses up this dish. Consider using arborio rice for a truly rich and decadent risotto.
You won’t even believe you’re not eating pasta – such a healthy dish full of flavor!

Maple Glazed Brussel Sprouts
There are many tasty options on this post but the maple glazed brussel sprouts stood out to me.

Chocolate-Pumpkin Bread Pudding from Chef Chloe
This chocolate-pumpkin bread pudding sounds amazing! I’d add a little liqueur to give it a kick – perhaps bourbon?

No-Bake Chocolate Pumpkin Pie from Sweet Beet and Green Bean
No-bake, chocolate, and pumpkin. Those three sound pretty good to me! Looks all creamy and delicious too. This is my first visit to this blog and with a recipe like this, will not be my last.

Photo Credit: Sweet Beet & Green Bean

Update: See what we ate for our Vegan Thanksgiving Dinner and Vegan Christmas Dinner.

Stuffed Shells with Butternut Squash and Toasted Walnuts

November 19, 2011 § 2 Comments

I love butternut squash ravioli and had been thinking about it for several weeks. One Sunday night, we were at the grocery store picking up items for the week, and with half a cooked squash in the fridge ready to roll, I thought it was as good a time as any to whip up some ravioli. I had made some sweet potato ravioli last Christmas using the wonton wrappers in the refrigerated section of the grocery story. They were pretty easy despite assembly and thought they’d be perfect for this. However, I forgot wontons have egg, so that was out. But then I thought, why not make stuffed shells? Traditionally stuffed shells are full of cheese and the like but why not stuff with sweet butternut squash?

So that’s just what I did and it really couldn’t have been easier. I took the squash I already had prepared, mashed it up, and heated it on the stove. I added a bit more salt, pepper, and nutmeg as it was heating it up just to make sure it had tons of flavor.

Meanwhile as my shells cooked in boiling salted water, I toasted the walnuts for a few minutes on the stove and set aside. Once the shells are cooked al dente, I added them to a pan with some olive oil, dried sage, pepper, and a little vegan butter to create a sauce. This takes just a few minutes and creates a little “sauce” and balances out the sweetness of the squash.

To assemble, simply remove the shells and place in a serving dish or plate. Open them and fill with the squash mixture, top with some walnuts and voila! This was so easy to make and would even serve as a fantastic appetizer for the holidays. I don’t think I’ll be messing with the hassle of ravioli again after this!

Stuffed Shells with Butternut Squash and Toasted Walnuts
Yields 12 stuffed shells

Ingredients

  • 12 jumbo pasta shells
  • Half a butternut squash, roasted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter
  • 1/4 tsp dried sage
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
Directions
  1. Boil shells in salted water until al dente.
  2. Mash up cooked squash and re-heat over medium heat. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg as needed.
  3. Heat oil and vegan butter in pan with sage and pepper. Add cooked shells and toss.
  4. To assemble shells, remove from pan, stuff with squash, and top with walnuts.

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Quinoa Risotto

November 19, 2011 § 2 Comments

Fall is slowly arriving in Orlando. We’re always late to the fall game with our widely varying temperatures. The first signs of the season are usually the warm smell of cinnamon “brooms” and the autumn display of squash and pumpkins in the grocery store. When I think of fall, my mind jumps to squash, pumpkin, and sweet potato – ravioli, gnocchi, soup, and of course, risotto are must haves.

I picked up two types of squash on my last grocery run. The first was spaghetti squash which I’d never prepared and boy was it good – a little sun-dried tomato, spinach, and pine nuts and that’s as good as anything. The other was a butternut squash. While in New York, Luis had ordered butternut squash risotto at Candle 79 and I really wanted to try and re-create it. I picked up some mushrooms too to give it some more volume and decided to top it with fried shallots.

 

Risotto is traditionally made with arborio rice. This particular variety has tons of starch lending to the creaminess of risotto. So why did I make mine with quinoa? Well, I wish I could say it’s my newfound healthiness but it wasn’t. The night I chose to make it, I opened the pantry and realized the bag I was sure I had was long gone. I did have quinoa though and have heard of it being used in place of rice in risotto or paella so figured I might as well give it a try. This won’t give you a creamy risotto, but it did work and created a much healthier dish.

Many recipes call for sautéing the squash stovetop but I decided to go ahead and just roast it to make it easier. Cutting it is a bit tricky. Best thing to do is cut both ends and then in half. Next, cut the peel off and then scoop out the interior.

Cut into cubes, toss with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, a few dashes of nutmeg and into the oven for about 40 minutes until it’s nice and tender. This recipe only needs half the squash, I used the other half to make these stuffed shells.

To make the fried shallots, heat up some oil in a small pan and fry up the thinly sliced shallots. Watch them closely and turn frequently to avoid burning. A few of mine got too much heat but most of them turned out fine.

When the squash is almost done, saute the mushrooms with some oil, onion, garlic, and thyme and set aside. I used shitake which worked very nicely in this dish but you can use any mushroom you have on hand. The mushrooms cook up in no time and lend a beautiful earthiness to the dish. Meanwhile, heat up some vegetable stock to for the risotto.

Once the squash and mushrooms are done, rinse and toast the quinoa. Toasting the quinoa enhances its nutty flavor. Once toasted, add the wine. This is a traditional step for risotto. The grain picks up all the wine flavoring before adding any stock. Once the wine is absorbed, add almost all the stock the quinoa calls for, stirring the pan. Then, begin to add a little more, one ladle at a time until the quinoa reaches a risotto like consistency – your looking for a little liquid, not a soupy dish. Lastly, you may add in a tablespoon or two of vegan butter to give it a silky finish.

Add in the mushrooms and squash and serve warm with the fried shallots on top.

If you’ve never tried quinoa, this is a nice way to try it for the first time. The vegetable stock lends a nice flavor and still showcases the quinoa’s slight nutty flavor which works nicely with the squash and mushrooms.

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Quinoa Risotto
Serves 4 bowls

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • Small package shitake mushrooms sliced (or any other kind)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash nutmeg (optional)
  • dash thyme
  • 1 tbsp Earth Balance vegan buttery spread
Directions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the ends off the squash and cut in half. Peel by cutting the outside layer off. On the bottom half cut in half lengthwise and clean out the seeds. Cut squash into cubes and put in a large baking dish. Toss with 2 tbsp oil, salt, pepper, and a few dashes of nutmeg (optional). Roast covered for 30-40 minutes until squash is tender.  Note: You only need half the squash for this recipe. You can cook it all together and have leftover squash for another dish or just cook half.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in small pan over medium heat and fry shallots, turning frequently. Set fried shallots aside.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in large saute pan over medium heat and saute onions and garlic until soft. Add mushrooms, a few dashes of thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Once mushrooms are cooked and soft, transfer to dish and set aside.
  4. Heat vegetable stock in small pan and leave warm on the stove for risotto.
  5. Rinse quinoa and toast in pan over medium to medium-low heat. Once toasted, add wine and stir to allow quinoa to absorb all liquid. Add 2 cups stock and allow quinoa to absorb. Adjust heat as needed. Continue adding stock as quinoa absorbs liquid until you reach a risotto like consistency. Lastly add in 1 tbsp vegan butter.
  6. Mix quinoa with squash and mushrooms. Top with fried shallots and serve warm.

Cafe Frida – Delicious Mexican Food in New York City

November 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

I have found that some of the best vegan meals I’ve had are at ethnic restaurants – specifically Central/South American, Asian, and Mediterranean. I love the many spices and layers of flavor they create in their dishes – always proving to be truly satisfying. While in NYC, we had gone to the Museum of Natural History  on the Upper West Side and after a morning of whales and dinosaurs were completely ravished. I quickly scanned Foursquare to see what was nearby but nothing was looking very promising. We decided to just walk and see what we could find – one of the many joys of New York.

Just a few blocks away we could see Cafe Frida in the distance. It’s bright interior colors and the name itself called my attention. As a former artist, anything mentioning Frida is good by me. Upon entering I knew we were in for a treat. Mexican music bellowed through the speakers as the diners enjoyed their flavorful plates.

The vibrant orange and pink walls coupled with mis-matched chairs and tables created a warm, welcoming environment. We scored a table by the window and got to enjoy watching the New Yorkers pass us by.

Several items on the menu were vegetarian. They had a nice variety to choose from. If you are vegetarian, there were lots of choices. We started with a trio of salsas, but it was almost too hard to just pick three. We landed on the aguacate, pico de gallo, and mestiza. The aguacate was my favorite. It was a smooth creamy avocado salsa with a nice kick from the chile serrano. The chips too cannot be overlooked – slightly thick and golden, they were delicious and I’m afraid to say we finished the whole bucket – well mostly I finished it exclaiming with every bite, Oh my god these chips are so good, as Luis watched the bucket slowly disappear.

Luis ordered a vegetarian meal of chilaquiles. Chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican dish of tortilla chips baked with tomatillo salsa, a green sauce, and topped with cheese and sour cream. On the side was a fried egg and black beans. I was a bit nervous as he ate it since he hadn’t had cheese or eggs in over a month, but he was OK and said it was one of the best meals he has had. That meal may have pushed him to want to be vegetarian instead of vegan but I can say, since returning home he’s had neither cheese nor eggs so he is still trying to be vegan :)

I had the vegetable fajita lunch. The lunch was a $12.95 combo (seriously, you can’t beat that in NYC!) for a salad and your entree. The salad was very nice and I think it had some kind of avocado dressing. I’ve seen recipes for this but never thought it sounded good but after trying this, I’ll definitely give it a try at home.

The fajitas were simply delish. An array of vegetables thickly coated in a nice spicy red sauce which gave them tons of flavor. Traditional Mexican rice on the side finished the dish. Needless to say I cleared my plate, even with the aforementioned empty bucket of chips :)


If you’re looking for a vegan restaurant in New York City or just good ‘ol Mexican, definitely check out Cafe Frida. If we lived there, I can tell you we’d spend every Friday night there no doubt – I didn’t try the margaritas, but I’m sure they’d go down easy with that amazing food!

Five Easy Ways to Reduce Dairy Consumption

November 3, 2011 § 11 Comments

As coincidence would have it, three people I recently spoke to about why I became vegan said they wanted to cut out dairy. Sounds like a good enough reason for a post to me!

Dairy not only is strongly linked to causing cancer but it also produces inflammation in the body. If you’re suffering from arthritis or joint pain, giving it up is worth a try.

Trying to lose weight? I dare you to give up dairy for two weeks and see what happens. I bet you will see the pounds melt right off! Since I went fully vegan, I never knew what exactly cutting out dairy meant for me. But, my husband lost about 10 pounds and my mom 7 pounds the first week they gave up dairy. No extra exercise. No trying to diet. That was just getting rid of dairy! And for my mom – all that meant was cutting out the one yogurt in the morning. Not only did she lose weight, she says the arthritis she’d been feeling in her leg is completing gone. All from that little yogurt. Crazy huh?

So, how can you go about cutting out some dairy from your diet? It’s much easier than you think. You don’t even need to go to Whole Foods for all these, standard grocery stores are starting to carry more of these items on their shelves as well.

  1. Try almond, soy, or rice milk in your cereal or milk glass. We are partial to the Whole Foods 365 Almond Milk –  Vanilla flavor. Keep in mind all varieties taste different so if you don’t love the one you pick up, try another brand.
  2. Swap your dairy creamer for coconut milk creamer and enjoy a delicious cup of joe – silky and flavorful – and you won’t be left with that heavy feeling in your belly that dairy creamer leaves. We like So Delicious Coconut Creamer – Hazelnut flavor.
  3. Need a sweet fix? Before you reach for the dairy ice cream at the grocery store give coconut milk ice cream a try. I usually get ours at Whole Foods as they have so many options but even our standard grocery store has started carrying a few. I like Coconut Bliss the best but So Delicious is less expensive and very good as well. Regardless of brand I’ve found the chocolate base flavors are the best.
  4. Need butter? There’s vegan butterEarth Balance Vegan Buttery Stick is a great option. You can use it for vegan baking or savory dishes like risotto or this squash I made recently.
  5. Can’t live without pizza? Well don’t! Try a delicious veggie pizza and ex the cheese. Pizza crust usually doesn’t have any dairy in it and a pizza with a medley of roasted vegetables and a savory red sauce leaves nothing to be desired! There’s also of course vegan cheeses. I find I like my pizza without it but if the thought is too hard to bare, you could try Daiya and they also serve it at Mellow Mushroom.

This is just a small list to start off with and doesn’t include super easy ways to reduce dairy intake such as leaving that little sprinkling of parmesan off your pasta or ordering a delicious salad or vegetable sandwich minus the cheese. Some common foods containing dairy that you may not realize include Caesar Salad dressing, any kind of pesto, aioli, and some chips and crackers.

Start small and see how you feel. I challenge you to remove dairy for a week or two. I bet you will feel great. Let me know how it goes :-)
Also, see my 10 tips for undertaking a vegan 30 day challenge.

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