Monday, January 28, 2008

The Scent of Seitan

Well, my friends, I finally cooked with seitan. Actually, I shouldn't say 'finally' because I had done it before. I made some from scratch for a soup a while ago but it was in small chunks and very easy to cook. So I consider last night the actual first moment.

I made V-con's Seitan Cutlets, which, I guess, are supposed to be both for consuming after frying/grilling as well as using in other 'meaty' meals. I did 'em up burger style.


First, let me just say, that vital wheat gluten is impossible to work with! Maybe it's just me, but every time I would knead, press and stretch the dough, it always shrunk right back towards the center. Does anyone else have a problem with this? Isa and Terry do mention that it will be a little stubborn at first but to keep at it. Well, I kept at it for a while (so long, in fact, my hands turned red) and it was nearly impossible! I ended up making two different batches because the first ones looked nugget-sized. In the end, I mashed the two together and had chunky cutlets. You'd think this would be better, but it made them quite difficult to fry in the middle.

I baked them in boiled veggie broth for about an hour then let Mikey handle the rest. He's the master fryer, so while I was cooking up some soup, I let him take care of the rest. With suggestion from the book, he smothered them in flour and tossed them in a pan lined with canola oil.

They came out smelling and tasting pretty good. They were very meaty, but had a pork texture to them. I'm glad they didn't taste like pork because I've always found the meat pretty disgusting. They definitely had their own taste and were very reminiscent of the beefy gluten dish Mike loves to get at Grasshopper, but without the seasonings and sauce.

Next time I hope I can make them thinner so the inside cooks better. If anyone has any tips on how to tame wheat gluten, I'd be glad to hear 'em!

To go along with our dinner, I made a Swamp Soup. The dish is really called 'Spring Garden Soup', but it is filled with every green you can think of, so I'm gonna call it what I like! Seriously, this soup is probably the healthiest soup I've ever had. You boil 8 cups of water and toss in nettles, collards, kale, mustard greens, swiss chard, dandelion greens, a fennel sprig, green onions, carrots and firm tofu.


It looked like miso, but tasted nothing like it despite the fact that I actually did put 1/4 of a cup of miso in there. I have to say, the flavour left something to be desired. Firstly, there was no veggie broth. Just plain water. Secondly, other than a little bit of Braggs sauce, there was no seasoning. Thirdly, the tofu was not cooked. Fourthly, it was filled with green! Now, it wasn't disgusting in the least. It had some flavour and was easy to swallow down. I'm sure my body thanked me for the load of health I sent its way. But it's not something I would make if I was looking for a lot of flavour.

My stepfather teased me that I always have to do everything by the book, and he's right- the first time. I like to make things exactly as a recipe says to, no matter how odd it may sound, to see exactly what the chef is raving about. Once I've made it one time, then I can change it and spice it up the way I see fit. So maybe some day soon I'll make another swamp soup but switch the water for veggie broth and load it with spices.

Lunch time! For work lunch this week, I made a bulgar cannellini salad from V-con.


I love cannellini beans, so this definitely intrigued me right away. After cooking the beans and steaming the bulgar, you mix together the dressing: red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, paprika, salt, pepper and pressed garlic. After marinading the cremini mushrooms, beans and onions in there, you mix in the bulgar and some bite-sized arugula leaves. This can be eaten with a fork, but this week we're gonna eat it on some whole wheat wraps.

Before I take my leave, I've just gotta mention this. One of my pet peeves is having hands that smell like onions for a week straight. Well, today my hands do not smell like onions. They smell like seitan. Seitan smells good and yummy, but when it's on my hands, it drives me crazy. I scrubbed and scrubbed and even put pumpkin-scented lotion on, but it still sneaks up on me. How could flour smell so darn strong? It drives me nuts! Mikey's hands smell like seitan too. He got mad at me when I told him. Tee hee...

Guess we'll have to pull out the lemon juice!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Per Your Request

Some of you were asking about the butternut spinach lasagna and Kate graciously sent over the link to the recipe. She posted all the info on my cousin's and her foodie blog, which you can find here.

As for the recipe, check out this website.

If the macro shot on my previous post looks like just what you want, do read her blog because she made a few small changes to the original recipe and it came out delish!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Yummy Dinnertime

This past Saturday my cousin, Reenie, decided to have a little family get-together at her place to exchange very late Christmas prezzies and break bread. Of course us four vegans (me, Mike, Robyn and Kate) had to fend for ourselves, though Reenie did offer to make us something. Not wanting to put the burden on her (and of course because we love to cook), Kate and I took the liberty of bringing our own dishes to share. Unfortunately by the time we got there everyone else had already eaten. Eh, no matter. More yummies for us!

To start, Kate made a delicious butternut squash and spinach lasagna. It was very different from the usual tomato sauce and tofutti cream cheese ensamble I often make, but it was unbelievably creamy. The tofu cream sauce was so smoothe and yummy. I'm gonna have to snag the recipe.

I'll have to get some pictures of the whole yummy thing from Kate, but for now- Here is the money shot, right here:


Since Kate was making the entrée, I decided to make an appetizer (at the request of my cousin). I let Mike thumb through all my recipe books until he found something that looked interesting. Of course the winning cook book was Veganomicon. Mikey chose Acorn Squash and Black Bean Empañadas. It was under 'appetizers', and it makes 12, so I figured it'd be small enough as a side dish. Lo and behold- these babies could make a meal on their own. They are so thick and filling! They kinda remind me of calzones without the cheese.


This recipe had a lot of working with dough and dough measurements. I've made many meals with dough, but I always gotta cringe because it takes so much time and focus and even though I've succeeded many times (such as with my pizzas), I can't help but feel a tiny bit of trepidation stepping into these things. Dough can be finicky. So can my fingers.

But! In the end it really worked out. Terry's and Isa's instructions make pastry preparation so easy. A lot of cook book authors talk to the reader as if they're seasoned pros, but not these two ladies! They make you feel confident in what you're doing, with simple steps designed for the beginner and advanced chefs alike.

The dough was perfect! It held together beautifully and puffed out to just the right amount of billowy goodness. With the addition of cornmeal, the flavour had a resemblance to ritz crackers with a hint of butter (thanks to the veggie shortening).



The inside was filled with roasted acorn squash, nummy black beans, sauteéd onions, jalepeños, crushed coriander seeds, garlic, cumin, salt, fresh lime juice and maple syrup.


The smell of roasting acorn squash wafting throughout the house is amazing, I must say. I've only ever sauteéd and simmered squash before, so this was a new and pleasant experience for me. :)

Now, I had flip-flopped on the idea of making dessert for the get-together since I was trying my hardest to be healthy and Mike is trying to refrain from eating sugary foods until his work-out regime is under way. In the end, we flipped a coin and decided I was going to make brownies. V-con's Fudgey Wudgey Blueberry Brownies sounded quite intriguing, so I went ahead with them.


The point of this recipe was to taste an amazing fudge flavour mixed with a tart, blueberry flavour. However, all I tasted was chocolate. The chocolate was great. A brownie is a brownie, right? But I was so looking forward to that hint of blueberry throughout!

Before I go and blame the recipe, I believe it just may have been a fault of my own. 1. I didn't use as many blueberries as was suggested. 2. The blueberry spreadable fruit I used doesn't even taste like blueberry on it's own. I just kinda believed that the flavour would cook itself into existence once I placed it in the oven.

Well, I was wrong.

Regardless, the brownies did their job in satisfying my sweet tooth. I had been craving brownies for nearly two weeks and I finally got it out of my system (for now).

Sunday night dinner, however, wasn't nearly as tasty or sweet as Saturday's. Trying to be good, I went with How it All Vegan's 'Winter Sicky Soup'.


This soup called for collard greens, butternut squash, carrots, garlic, lemon slices, curry, cayenne, ginger, fresh rosemary, miso, green onions and burdock and dandelion roots. These last two I had never heard of as being edible. Heck, I had never even heard of a burdock, period. Luckily, Mike was able to find the burdock roots at Whole Foods, but they were fresh out of the dandelion variety. Not to be disheartened, I told Mike to go ahead and pick up some dandelion greens. I know they are two very different things, but it had 'dandelion' in the name and it was edible, so that was good enough. In the end it didn't really matter because I couldn't tell the difference between them and the collards.


The soup definitely had a 'healthy' flavour, but then that's probably why it's a good soup to eat when you're sick. Chock-full of healthy roots and greens and topped with spicey, nasal-clearing cayenne, this soup'll most likely have you feeling better in no time. For us non-ill people, it was tasty enough to dip in bread and leave us feeling satiated.

I'm not sure I would rush to make this again. The burdock root tasted a little like... well... dirt. But next time I or a loved one has the sniffles, I think I'll be pulling out the ol' burdock.

Lastly, for lunch this week, I made V-Con's Lentil Salad. As you know, I've made tons of lentil salads from other cook books, but this one has got to be the best. Instead of simmering in water, these babies are soaking in veggie broth, whole garlic cloves, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and dried tarragon.


I have to admit, I had a little trouble picking out the leaves, cloves and sprigs when it came time to strain the beans, as the steam was fogging up my glasses. :-/

After straining, I mixed in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, tons of dijon, lemon juice, minced garlic, chopped tomatoes, grated carrots, grated radishes and a pinch of black pepper.

The result?


Why, quite possibly the best darn lentil salad I ever did taste!

I'm having fun with this V-con. I already have so many plans (but without ignoring my other fabulous cook books). Next week? Seitan burgers!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chickpea Cutlets- the Final Thoughts

After having flubbed the original V-con chickpea cutlet recipe, I fired up my engines and tried, tried again. Luckily I had quite a bit of cooked chickpeas left over in my fridge that were, thankfully, still fresh and ready to be ingested.

For those of you new to the situation, last week I attempted to make these much-talked-about cutlets and ended up zesting a wee bit too much lemon in the recipe. This week, I followed the directions very closely. Actually, I followed them exactly. The result? Well, the over-whelming lemon flavour was gone, but sadly, the cutlet did not excite me.

I had added some bread crumbs to the outside and fried them up, which made it more interesting, but I just can't understand everyone's obsession with the recipe. I mean, they were very good, don't get me wrong, but there was no real flavour to them. There was nothing that stood out or especially pleased my taste buds in any way. They were good enough to swallow down after smothering in mustard and whatever other condiments please your taste buds, but they kinda tasted like a whole lotta nothin' otherwise. AND they were still really chewy from the wheat gluten.

But, alas, they satisfied my hungry belly.


Still having cooked chickpeas left over, Mike decided to try his hand at them. We put our heads together and made a much better cutlet. First, at my suggestion, he added a tsp of dijon mustard to the mix. Then, after having mashed and kneaded it long enough, Mike decided that the gluten was too gluteny and tossed in a bit more veggie broth. That really did the trick. No more nasty strings of gluten! Finally, he squished them out as thin as can be and generously layered whole wheat bread crumbs on either side. Once they were ready to fry, he put a nice helping of olive oil in the frying pan (not a recommended step for the weight-conscious) and did 'em up. When they were nice and brown and crispy, he padded each side of the cutlet with a paper towel, soaking up as much excess oil as possible (so we don't have heart attacks or, at the very least, have to roll out of the bed in the morning).

The result? Delicious! The right amount of crispyness and even that 'barbeque' flavour really hit the spot. Even the texture was just right. There was no chewy gluten consistency anymore!

Again, there was no real distinct flavour, which is disappointing because I LOVE chickpeas in most forms, but it was ten times better than before.

Here they are breaded and ready to go. (Mike is the master bread-crumber, I think.)


I would have gotten an 'after' picture, but I was just too hungry smelling these beauts to bother!

Conclusion? Personally, I wouldn't go out of my way to make this very often. They are tasty enough to hit the spot, but they just don't have a special or unique flavour to them. Even Isa and Terry suggest smothering them in mustard sauce. They must just be a form of substance rather than a decadent dish on their own.

In my opinion, black bean burgers and lentil burgers are far, far tastier. The beans give off enough flavour that one doesn't need anything beyond pepper and a little garlic powder. I'll have to make them again real soon and I would be more than happy to share recipes with any who might like to give them a try.

Mike loves 'em, though. I was craving brownies all night and he was craving another chickpea cutlet. That's just because he loves all things fried, I think. ;)

Now, of course I wasn't going to let this entry go by without a stew review! To go along with our cutlet dinner, I simmered up a vegetable medley stew.


Chock-full of potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, garlic, onions, green peppers and diced tomatoes, this stew was hearty and filling. I just mixed in balsamic vinegar, turmeric, cumin and chili powder. The chili powder brought the stew to a whole new level. What could have been a plain root veggie stew turned into a mouth watering delight. Mike said- and I quote- 'It's the best stew you've made so far'.

Lastly, being as obsessed with pasta salad as I am, I made yet another concotion for work lunch this week. It's the typical pasta salad with flax oil, red wine vinegar, oregano and garlic powder. The only difference is the minced vegan pepperoni I threw in. I'm sure I could find a homemade recipe, but I decided to be lazy and buy the pre-packaged pepperoni. It tasted much better than I thought it would and after whipping it around in my food processor and sprinkling it throughout, the salad became very reminiscent of the dish my mother used to make when I was a kid.


My mother didn't cook a lot of extravagant dishes. She was the 'buy it frozen or boxed and do the rest' kind of lady. But when she did cook, it was delicious. My favourite dish of hers was her pasta salad. She would use ziti, tomatoes, sharp cheese, peppers, onions and Italian dressing. But! There was always one ingredient that I am ashamed to say was my favourite: kielbasa. Looking back, it grosses me out to think I loved that stuff as much as I did, but since becoming vegetarian at the age of 12, I never got to experience that flavour again. My mother continued to make a vegetarian version for me, but it was always missing the meat!

Now, having come across a simple suggestion to throw vegan pepperoni in the batch, I can taste those smokey, spicey flavours without sacrificing my ethics or the life of an animal. I'd like to discover a homemade version because the pre-packaged ones are always low in nutrition and high in sodium. But for now, this is a great way to satisfy those cravings lost in time.

That's it for now! But before I go, I promised a few of you my recipe for hot cocoa. Sorry it took so long! I'm still working on perfecting it, but it's delicious enough for me to have the guts to post it. Give it a try and let me know your thoughts!

This recipe makes 2 cups, so divide or double accordingly.

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups milk (I use vanilla soy milk)
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp vanilla powder (optional)

Simmer water, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and salt in a pan over moderate heat, stirring until lumps are dissolved. Add milk to ingredients. Stir and bring slowly to a simmer. Ready to serve once fully blended and warm. For enhanced flavour (highly recommended), stir 1 tsp vanilla powder in each cup and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Finally, Veganomicon


So, after hearing all about how wonderful it is and reading reviews and experiments in all of your blogs, I finally started making recipes from the highly acclaimed Veganomicon. I had tried the yuca tortillas (which are really quesadillas) that Kate and Robyn made for my party and they were quite delicious, but I hadn't tried making anything myself.

The book had actually been sitting there for about a month before I finally picked it up. And what did I decided to make?

Yep, you guessed it. The famous chickpea cutlets! I really wanted to go against the grain and not make them for a long, long time since they seem to be the talk of the town going from blog to blog to blog. But how could I choose to be rebellious when I just might be missing the tastiest meal to come out of a vegan cook book?


So I made them, just like the book said, with one small exception. I kinda got lemon zest happy and peeled a wee bit too much. You see, I was using the zester my sister had gotten me for my birthday for the first time and I was like a little kid. I couldn't stop. So I think I may have doubled the required amount.

After frying up these babies, the house smelled so good, I was salivating down to my feet. I just couldn't wait to take a bite!

Then it happened. I sunk my teeth into it and I tasted... lemon.

Lemon really isn't bad and tastes quite fine in some things, but this wasn't one of them. The burger was still edible and tasted mighty fine with dijon mustard or vegetarian Worcestershire sauce so we ate them all over a period of a couple of days. Regardless, I've decided to remake them properly this coming weekend and give all of you my real review next week.

The only other complaint I do have, though, is that the wheat gluten made them a little too chewy. Not a great re-heat.

Next I made macaroni salad. I've made tons of these because I LOVE macaroni salad and it's very easy to bring to work. This is the first mac salad recipe that required very little ingredients for the dressing (there wasn't even dijon in it!) and let me just say- it was my absolute favourite mac salad I've tried thus far.


Oh, it may look plain and simple, but it will definitely tickle your taste buds with absolute delight and glee. Who cares if it's not summer time! I urge you- if you have Veganomicon (and we all know you do) make the Brooklyn Deli Macaroni Salad, pg 91. You won't regret it. Just make sure you let it chill over night because it tastes much better once it's been marinading for so long. Oh, and do be sure to use Vegenaise, the mayonnaise of champions. No other mayo brand will do.

So far, that's been all from the book, but I do plan on making much more from it. Right now I've been experimenting with La Dolce Vegan which, in my opinion, is a hit or miss book. Luckily, most of the recipes are excellent, even in their simplicity.

I made lentil quinoa stew to go with the cutlets and it was beyond delicious. I wasn't sure it would be. The beans were soaking up just about all of the broth, so I had to add more after it was finished cooking.


I know the picture looks like mush, but believe me when when I say the taste was utterly wonderful. I simmered together onions, celery, carrots, garlic, red lentils, quinoa, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and threw half in the blender for a few seconds. After returning it to the pot, I threw in cilantro, tomatoes and apple cider vinegar. The tomatoes and oregano are what really made the soup come together. They were bursting with flavour and complimented the lentils and quinoa so well.

For work lunch last week, I made up a batch of 'Sloppy Janes' and tossed it in a whole wheat wrap. While I, personally, don't mind eating it cold, most would probably prefer it warm, right off the stove. I mean, who doesn't remember Sloppy Joes, eh?


I just sautéed some white onions with green pepper and crumbled firm tofu. Add in tomato sauce, chili powder (the more, the merrier), salt, pepper, dijon, maple syrup, brown rice and Worcestershire sauce. Make sure this last ingredient has no anchovis. I like to use Annie's Vegetarian brand, which is actually vegan too. :)

As for the mushroom issue, thank you so much to everyone for their input and information. Elly Blue gave me a lot of useful info that I'll probably be posting about sometime in the near future. The short of it is, don't be scared of mushrooms! They're fungis. Get it? Fun guys? Okay.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

...and a Happy New Year!

It's finally over! All this holiday hubbub. I love the holidays because celebration is fun, eating desserts is fun and most importantly, spending times with family and friends is fun. However, it left very little time for my band to focus on recording (which we're supposed to be doing) and it exhausted me completely! Now I can finally relax and jump back into Acrasjia, full on.

I really don't like to take breaks from my band, actually. And it wasn't a real break. We still practiced and we've been working on a new song. But it's been sloooow. I knew we'd all be stressed to the max if we tried to juggle family gatherings, weddings and birthdays (which all seemed to fall right around Christmas) with recording.

So it is over, but band life has started a-new!

Now, to recap my New Years celebration:

I opted for a small gathering because I just couldn't deal with the pain of planning a huge menu, spending lots of money and inviting people that probably already had other plans. So I kept it to close friends, a couple of which couldn't make it, of course. But it didn't stop me from having a good time.

We ate yummy snacks, a hearty dinner, a sweet dessert while all the while Kate and Mike mixed up some drinky drinks. I don't know if I should say fortunately or UNfortunately when I say I didn't even get drunk. I had plans to because I rarely ever drink and I thought this would be a great yearly opportunity, but I was too darn tired! But the food and the company made everything worth while.

Again, I made my pizza recipe from Vegan Italiano and it came out divine. Of course, I didn't think to squeeze the tomatoes until my cousin told me to after the fact, so the middle was a little soggy again in some parts, but I AM making progress because most of the pizza was sturdy and able to be held just fine without dribbling onto the dish.


I really like to lay the goods on thick! I basted the dough with olive oil, spread on some organic, salt-free tom sauce, threw on some fresh tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus, onions, white mushrooms, vegan mozzarella (great stuff) fresh basil, oregano, pepper and a dash of salt.


The mozzarella didn't completely melt as the package promised it would at 500, so I am going to broil it next time. I figure if that doesn't work, nothing will.

Everyone thought the crust was the best part (I agree, it did bake very well). My cousin said it was the best pizza she's ever had. I think that's a little crazy to say, but she wouldn't lie about such things. She is very honest (she dissed a pie crust of mine once before) so I know she meant it. Then again, she was pretty tipsy at the time! It was very good, though, and I look forward to trying new toppings. All suggestions are welcome!

For dessert, cupcakes! And I finally got to use my much anticipated cupcake tower.


I can't think of any item on earth less ridiculous, but I LOVE it! I think it works for weddings, formal parties and birthdays if you don't want to make a cake. Other than that, it's pretty much unnecessary. But you know what? I don't care! I love it!


It really makes your cupcakes look more professional, even tastier, as it is quite the regal display. If you happen to have some extra cash burning a hole in your pocket, I recommend getting one of these and throwing a party just so you can use it.


I made the yummy chocolate cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World again, this time adding 1/2 tsp of peppermint extract. For some reason, New Years makes me think of mint. Maybe the confetti looks glitzy, which in turn looks sparkley, which in turn makes me think of mint. I don't know. But I made some butter cream frosting from the book as well and using my tips, piped a bunch out on top. I discovered that homemade frosting is very smoothe and needs to put in the fridge before throwing it in a pastry bag. Otherwise (like part of Kate and Robyn's wedding cake) the shapes will not be shapes at all, but liquidy blobs. So throwing the frosting in the fridge for ten minutes hardens it just enough to get the shapes from your tips.


To finish it off, I used some India Tree blue sugar crystals for sprinkling. The color blue also reminds me of New Years. I'm not sure where that association comes from.

indiatree-cds I was so pleased to find that these bottles are a lot cheaper and come in much bigger containers than their dye. 4 bucks for a decent sized bottle. Not bad!

Everyone crashed at my house and I was very happy about that because Kate and Robyn brought breakfast! They made jelly donut muffins- which I've been meaning to try forever- using a scrumptious blueberry filling.


Look at it oozing! :)


I saved the best for last:

Octopus coffee cake!


No, there's no squid in it, silly! But it IS shaped like an octopus. How awesome is that!? I love these girls. They never cease to please and amuse.

I took it at different angles because I couldn't believe how awesome it looked. I've got to get me a cake pan like this!


(Look at the eyes!)


The taste was just as awesome as the visual. It was a brown-sugary coffee cake. Not usually liking coffee cake, I actually enjoyed this one immensely. It had walnuts in it (as you can see in the eyes) and walnuts happen to be my favourite nut. A cup of chocolate soy milk went splendidly with it.

So I know I promised a couple of you that I would post my hot cocoa recipe, but I foolishly left the recipe at home. I remember most of it, but I don't want to screw things up. So I'll write myself a note to get it online for ya, next entry.

Now, I have a question for all of you. To your best knowledge, do raw mushrooms spread toxins in your stomach and eat away your stomach acid? I wouldn't think so because I never get stomach aches when I eat them, but a certain someone told me this and I'm having a hard time believing it. Or wanting to believe it, really. :-/

Anyway, I hope all of you had a very Happy New Year and may you be blessed with success, prosperity, good health and most importantly- happiness!