Thursday, April 26, 2012

Artichokes with garlic and parsley

There are a few dishes that remind me of each of my grandparents and this is one of them. It reminds me of my mom's mom, Josephine. She was born in Italy and came over to the U.S. when she was 2 years old. She grew up eating real Italian food and a few of the recipes were passed down to her kids and grandkids. I remember her making artichokes like this all the time when I was little at big family dinners. My grandmother was crazy about feeding people and there was always a full house with food for 3 times the number of people who were there. The taste of this dish will always bring me back to big family dinners at my grandparents' house.

These artichokes are really fun to eat- they're messy and you have to work for it but they are so worth it. Be careful of the little prickly hairs as you get to the heart- scrape these off and do not try to eat them. You will most certainly get them stuck in your throat. How anyone ever decided to eat artichokes is beyond me. BUT when you get to the heart, after you scrape off all the little hairs, you get to the most delicious and meaty part of of the artichoke. It's wonderful.

artichokes, your choice on the number
parsley, chopped (amount depends on how many artichokes you're preparing)
garlic, minced- a ton of it
olive oil- a few Tbs per artichoke

How to prepare:

1. Cut sharp tips off with scissors and cut the bottom stem so it lays flat.

2. Stretch out the leaves as best as you can and rinse out gently with water.

3. Stuff in between the leaves with parsley and garlic and then drizzle with olive oil in between the leaves. Add a pinch of salt.

4. Now, place in the prepared pot (about an inch of water, or at least so the stem is in the water) and steam for about 30 minutes or until the leaves can pull off easily. 

How to eat:

1. Pull off the leaves and, holding the thinner end, put the larger end in your mouth and pull it out, scraping your teeth on the leaf to get the meat off of it. Discard the leaf on a plate. Repeat until you get to the center of the artichoke.

2. Once you get to the little hairs, scrap them off with a spoon and discard these. You DO NOT want to eat them. Trust me.

3. Eat your heart out with the heart!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chickpea of the sea salad

I've heard of this so many times and finally today I decided to try it: chickpea of the sea! It's supposed to be like tuna fish which of course it isn't exactly but it totally satisfies that tuna salady lunchtime craving. My mom loved it and she isn't a vegetarian so it passed the non-veg test. We sat outside and ate at our new table with the umbrella up and it was a perfect way to spend a relaxing lunchtime.

I got the recipe from this site after doing a lot of online searching for recipes for the salad. I just googled "chickpea of the sea" and this was the first one that came up. After looking at the others I thought this would be a good fit. I was right! Feel free to add or sub anything you prefer. I added some diced dill pickles to it- yum! I bet it would be really good with some diced apples or raisins.


1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup vegenaise
1 Tbs whole grain mustard
1 1/2 Tbs umebochi vinegar (gives it a sea-like taste but you can use regular vinegar instead)
2 tsp celery seeds
1/4 cup chopped celery (about one rib)
2 Tbs sliced scallions (about 2 scallions)
1 slice dill pickle, diced
cracked black pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

1. Place chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor and pulse two or three times to roughly chop. Alternatively, you can put the chickpeas in the bowl and mash them until they are mashed but with still pieces left. Add remaining ingredients and pulse two or three more times to incorporate.

2. Serve however you'd like! We had ours over a piece of Ezekiel bread, toasted with a side of tomato and lettuce. It would be excellent in a lettuce wrap- maybe next time!

Benefits of a weekly meal plan

There are so many benefits of making a weekly meal plan. You know ahead of time exactly what you're eating and when so you don't have to worry about running to the store at the last minute or stressing about what to make for dinner, you save a ton of money because you can plan multiple meals around specific ingredients and you don't buy unnecessary items at the store, you plan what you're eating so you can make healthy choices ahead of time. Michael and I have been really good about making a weekly meal plan and then going to the grocery store about once a week. In a perfect world I'd do it the French way and hit up the local bakery and veggie market on the way home from work but we just don't have that luxury where we live.

When making a weekly meal plan, try to think ahead to your crazy weekly schedule. For example, on Wednesdays I work late and don't have time to make anything too homemade unless I do it ahead of time. So, this Wednesday we're having lasagna that I'll assemble in the morning and then leave in the fridge during the day, ready to pop in the oven when I get home. Don't be afraid to make more complicated things- you can always chop veggies or do other prep the night before. Also- try dedicating one day a week to meal prep. Today, for example, (with the help of my mom who is visiting which of course makes it easier) we'll be baking bread, pita pockets and buns to stick in the freezer for later in the week. You can also do this with casseroles or other easy-to-freeze items.

So without further ado, here is our weekly dinner plan! (I also plan some lunches and breakfasts but here is the dinner part at least) I'll try to add the recipes to it on the blog if I have time! Some of them are already on there:)

Monday: crustless quiche, salad, bread
Tuesday: baked falafel, pita bread, cucumbers, tahini/lemon dressing, salad
Wednesday: Roasted broccoli tofu ricotta and spinach lasagna
Thursday: Veggie burgers, homemade buns, kale chips
Friday: Michael is on his own! My mom and I are going across the mountains:) But he'll probably have the staple.

I hope everyone has a wonderful week!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The vegan-friendly city of Chicago!

I was in Chicago this weekend for a friend's bachelorette party and it was the first time I've ever been (except for the airport to change planes and go somewhere else). If you haven't been to Chicago you must go! It's such a cool city with a beautiful skyline and quirky, interesting neighborhoods. I got to explore only the tip of the iceberg so Michael and I plan on going back at some point.

I'm doing a post on Chicago because I wanted to share how vegan-friendly this city is! Even the fancy shmancy places had separate vegan (and gluten free) menus which shocked me. So anyways, I had the chance to visit with my brother-in-law's lovely girlfriend Laura and she took me to a place called The Chicago Diner.

From the the blog Vegan For the People.
I'm still digesting the menu. So many choices. All of them wonderful. Laura suggested we order milkshakes and they were amazing!!! I chose the chocolate chip cookie dough and she chose the vanilla chai. Seriously, just go in there for the milkshakes if nothing else- this goes to non-vegans and vegans alike!

For food I chose the Pesto 'chicken' which includes: "fresh basil and arugula, roasted red peppers, panko breaded seitan "chicken" patty, pesto ranch sauce and melted cheeze (a vegan cheese) on a grilled artisan ciabatta". I also had a side of sweet potato fries. I'm drooling just thinking about it!
Laura, with our wonderful treats. These were seriously the best milkshakes I've ever tried!
We met up with Justin afterwards and went to Jamba Juice. You might know it. There were many other restaurants recommended during our conversations and I already can't wait to get back to see them but now my mouth is watering thinking about all the good food we will get to try! Michael and I will definitely be going to Chicago in the future. For those of you who live in the Denver airport area there are tickets to Chicago from Denver on Southwest for $70 each way. Great price and only a 2-hour flight!

So anyways, after my fun visit with Laura and Justin I met up with my girlfriends for the start of the bachelorette festivities. Nothing too crazy the first night:) We went out to eat at a Lebanese restaurant called "Kan Zaman" and we sat in a booth on a floor with pillows. So fun! There was even a belly dancer and Lebanese music. This place has a vegetarian/vegan friendly section on the menu and I ended up with the lentil soup, falafel and bulgur wheat. Yumm!

On Saturday we spent a lovely lunch at a French Vietnamese place called "Le Colonial". Did you know that Vietnam used to be a part of the French colony of Indochine? I did because I teach French *pushes up glasses*. Check out some of the photos of the interior of the restaurant here. The food was absolutely wonderful. They actually have a separate vegan menu they will give you if you ask. I'm so not used to this! I ended ordering the "Tau Hu Cari"which is: "Lightly fried tofu with eggplant, asparagus, mango, yams and cashew nuts in a yellow curry sauce". It was lovely. So nourishing and calming. I didn't take a picture of the food because this was a fancy place and I was already wearing sneakers with my outfit because I had hurt my foot (there's always something going on with me).

Photo from "Alex's Wonderland Kitchen" blog site
We wandered around and did some shopping and then went to have tea at The Peninsula, a very fancy Chicago hotel. There was a wedding reception going on that evening and we saw the bride leaving with her parents to go to the chapel (insert emotional sigh here) and we also were allowed into the ballroom to check it out as it was all decorated for the wedding. So beautiful. I did some internet searching and they actually post their vegan tea menu online! As at Le Colonial, they offered vegan/vegetarian/gluten free menus when they brought around the other menus. This really blew my mind. I guess Denver just isn't at that point yet but maybe Chicago just really is a city that caters to people with different food interests.

Photo from Hotels of the Rich and Famous site.
So I can't wait to explore more of Chicago and not just the food! You should go there too:)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lamb cake!

This time of year, the spring religious holiday season, reminds me of fond grad. school memories spent with friends over the holidays. I think I've only been home for one Easter in the past 8 years or so actually. One year my friend's mom came to visit and brought us an entire Easter dinner including... a lamb cake! I'm also missing my friend Jenny's feminist seders that she had every year. Those were quite the events! Anyways, this lamb cake just reminds me of this time of year and I was brought back to some fond memories of time spent with old friends. But now it's time to make fond memories with new friends!

The title deserves an exclamation point, by the way. This lamb cake was tricky business! Strangely, it was both harder and easier than I thought it would be. I jumped into making it without much prior knowledge of lamb cakes- I had eaten one once- that's it. Before setting out to make this I thought- this will be so easy. You just bake two halves and them smoosh them together with some frosting and then frost around it and voilà! Lamb cake! But, it's a bit more complicated than that... but not too complicated that you wouldn't want to make the cake. Trust me! I don't know what made me get a bee in my bonnet to make this cake this year but I woke up this week and decided that this was going to happen. Fasten your seat belts, people!

I've discovered that there are a few key elements to making a successful lamb cake:

1. Use a thick cake batter, like a pound cake (more on this later).
2. Grease the pan really well (vegetable shortening in all the nooks and crannies and then dusted with flour).
3. Be patient and follow the directions. (ughh)

First step- thickening the cake batter. You can always go to the store and get a pound cake mix or get a regular cake mix and thicken it with pudding, sour cream, eggs, etc. BUT the challenge was to make this vegan AND homemade. I wouldn't be spending all this time on a blog post if the cake hadn't been from scratch.

So I googled "vegan pound cake recipes", "vegan cake recipes", "how to thicken a cake" and I thumbed through all my cookbooks to get an idea for what I'd like to make. I landed on my Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World cookbook and remembered that I had had success with the almond cupcake recipe when I made that into cake for my cake decorating class. I browsed the recipe for hints that would make it a thicker batter- it calls for yogurt (check), almond meal (check). I decided to use my cooking skills and keep my fingers crossed that my own additions would work. First of all, I had to double the cupcake recipe (lamb cakes need about 5-6 cups of cake batter) and I ended up adding about 2 Tbs cornstarch and a tablespoon or two more of flour. Also- I used soy milk instead of almond milk because soy milk is creamier and a bit thicker (hey, I was looking for anything that would help!). The reason this cake needs to be thick is that it bakes as one big body (no two halves as I originally thought) and it needs to be strong enough to stand up on its own and not crumble apart.

Ingredients: (adapted from the "Apricot-glazed almond cupcakes" recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World)

2/3 c canola oil
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c soy yogurt (vanilla)
1 1/3 c soy milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tsp almond extract
2 cups plus 4 Tbs all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3 c almond meal
2 Tbs cornstarch

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease the lamb cake pan with shortening, then flour on top of that. Tap the excess flour out of the pan and if there are still any shiny spots grease and then put flour on them too. You want to make sure you have all the little nooks and crannies greased and floured.

2. In a large bowl, combine oil, sugar, yogurt, soy milk, vanilla and almond extract.

3. Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and cornstarch. Mix until the batter is smooth. Add the almond meal and mix to combine.

4. Fill the lamb cake pan bottom (the front of the head, facing down) with cake batter almost until it's overflowing and then snap the top part (the back of the head) on the bottom. Tie shut with kitchen string or improvise as I did, with twisted up aluminum foil. This holds the pan shut in case the batter starts popping out the pan. Place a cookie sheet covered in foil under the pan in the oven to catch any drips.

5. Carefully place pan in oven, again with the head facing down. Bake for 50-60 minutes. There should be a little hole in the back to stick a toothpick into to check to see if it's done. When the toothpick comes out clean it's done. Usually your house will all of a sudden start to smell like delicious cake right before it's done cooking. The best thing about vegan cakes is if they're a little undone in the middle they're still OK to eat! I still erred on the side of doneness though. We're having company over.

In the oven!
6. Here's where timing gets tricky. When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and place it on a cooling rack, again facing down. Let cool for 5 minutes and don't touch it. Then, carefully remove the string (foil) and the top half of the pan (back of the head), revealing the back of the lamb. Let cool like this for 5 minutes. Next, carefully place the back (top) back on the cake and flip over. Now take off the new top of the pan (the front of the sheep) and let cool like this for at least 4 hours. When you're ready to frost it gently pick up the pan and let the cake slide out onto your hand and then place on a plate.

Don't be discouraged by little imperfections in the cake- the frosting will cover it up and no one will know! (Unless they read your blog about the cake imperfections and then come to your house to eat it.)
7. Now it's time to frost the cake!! I took a cake decorating course (just for beginners, nothing fancy) and I have the wilton cake frosting tips and bags. You don't need these for the lamb cake. You can really decorate it however you'd like. The last time I had lamb cake the frosting was spread on with a knife and there was coconut sprinkled on top of that and it was super cute.

Next step- Frosting! ("Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting" from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World)

1/2 c nonhydrogenated shortening
1/2 c nonhydrogenated margarine (Earth Balance!)
3 1/2 c confectioner's sugar, sifted if clumpy
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 c plain soy milk

1. Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy.

2. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes.

3. Add the vanilla and soy milk and beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.

Before frosting. 
When you frost your cake, really do whatever you'd like. I googled a bunch of lamb cake images to see what was out there and I decided to go with a size 18 tip on a wilton bag and do a sort of a cross between a star and a rosette. That sounds really fancy but really, my hand was cramping up and I just wanted to get the cake frosted and I wasn't too careful. I think it makes the lamb look cuter. I frosted the face with a knife and then smoothed it out after it dried a bit. I mixed some pink coloring and did the nose and ears also with a knife. The little eyes I did with some cocoa powder mixed in the frosting as well as some brown coloring and I did this with a different wilton tip- I can't remember the size of it. You can use candies, or really whatever you'd like. For the final step, I sprinkled a bit of coconut all over the cake and then covered up the coconut on the plate with jelly beans. So easy! Let your imagination run wild!
After frosting. This is one triumphant looking little lamb! Sorry I don't have pictures of the frosting process- my hands were covered in it and I didn't want my phone to get all yucky.
From the top!
Lamb cake!

Bonus shot! Me as a baby on Easter at Grandmom and Grandpop's farm!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Chana masala

I've been on an Indian food kick lately. I recently made the Indian trio in Chloe Coscarelli's new cookbook and it was wonderful. Our house smelled amazing! This isn't the recipe I'm using here but if you check out her cookbook you can get the recipes for these amazing dishes.

Side note- yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day and I had the chance to go for a walk with a friend at Lake Loveland. I miss having a lake nearby and it was nice to be around the water- and to see the magnificent mountains!

I was craving Indian food again but wanted to try a different recipe so this time I made the Chana Masala recipe from Post Punk Kitchen. I love the twist with the jalapeños- they added just the right amount of spice. I served it with some jasmine rice and that was it!

Spice blend:
1 Tbs plus 1 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbs ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, chopped
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cayenne (optional, and more or less to taste)

For everything else:
3 Tbs coconut oil
1 large onion, sliced in medium pieces
2 jalapeños, deseeded and thinly sliced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 heaping Tbs minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 lbs tomatoes, diced
fresh black pepper
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or two cans, rinsed and drained)
1 tsp agave
juice of one lime, or 1 tsp tamarind concentrate (I used a lime)

1. Preheat a large pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, mix together the spice blend in a small bowl.

2. When the pan is hot, sauté the onion in the coconut oil for about 10 minutes, until nicely browned. While it's sautéing you can prep the rest of the veggies.

3. Add the jalapeño, garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cilantro and sauté until wilted. Add the spice blend and toss to coat the onions, letting the spices toast a bit (about a minute or so).

4. Add the tomatoes and mix well, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Add salt and pepper, chickpeas and agave. Cover the pan and bring heat up a bit. The tomatoes should take about 10 minutes to break down and get saucy. Remove the lid, and cook for about 20 more minutes on low heat, so that the flavors meld and the sauce thickens. It shouldn't be too thick (like a marinara) but it shouldn't be watery either.

5. Add lime juice or tamarind concentrate. Taste for seasoning, you might want to add a little of this or that. Let sit for 10 minutes or so off the heat before serving. Serve with rice and garnished with cilantro if you like!

Other exciting things going on- my friend Julia mailed me a bottle of delicious Oregon wine. I can't wait to crack it open!

Also- Michael and I are adopting a puppy! We are going to name her "Estes" and Michael wants to call her "Estes Bark" haha. She's a rescue pup and a black lab/german shepherd mix (we think). We get to take her home next Sunday, when she's 8 weeks old! We're busy preparing our house for a puppy- I have to get rid of all my little piles of stuff everywhere. Good thing we have a week!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Quick garlicky pasta with red pepper and spinach

Here it is- another version of the staple. We were down in Boulder this afternoon, visiting friends and playing Trivial Pursuit (one of our all-time favorite board games). I was tired when we got home and just wanted a quick and simple pasta dish with easy clean-up. For this recipe, feel free to use whatever veggies you have on hand. The olives and balsamic vinegar really do the trick- I didn't have to add any salt or parmesan to this dish to give it that kick I always crave.


16 oz of your favorite pasta shape
olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 onion, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, lazily minced
a few handfuls baby spinach
sprinkle of dried basil
balsamic vinegar
kalamata olives, chopped

1. Start the water for the pasta, adding salt. Add the pasta when the water is boiling and cook according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1-2 Tbs olive oil in a medium-large pan and add the onions and red peppers. Reserve the garlic. Sauté until they are soft. Add the garlic at the very end, sautéing for only a minute or two before removing the pan from the heat. This keeps the yummy garlic flavor potent enough so I can keep the title as "garlicky pasta".

3. With about 2 minutes left on the pasta, add the spinach into the water. Drain together when the pasta is done, give it a quick rinse with water and place back in the pan.

4. Mix the onion/red pepper/garlic mixture into the spinach/pasta. Add a splash of olive oil, a sprinkle of dried basil and a few splashes of vinegar. Stir to combine. Serve with kalamata olives sprinkled on top.

This dish would also be great as a cold pasta salad.

Michael and I have a busy week coming up! Our yard is going in, our grill is arriving and... we may or may not be getting a PUPPY!!! Of course, I'll blog about it if it happens, so all my loyal readers (mom and dad) will know what's up. Also- my mom is coming to visit! I hope everyone has a good week.