Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quick Pasta Special

We all have them - those days when we are just so busy and fast food beckons to us. So convenient. So quick. So yucky. I don't know about you, but I get tired of going to a fast food restaurant and having to special order. And even then not being sure about how it was prepared. Ugh!

These times call for something quick and easy to prepare, that still tastes good!

Quick Pasta Special

12-14 oz. pasta of your choice
4 c. broccoli florets
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 c. chopped red or green onions (or a mixture of both!)
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
2 T. lemon or lime juice
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1-1/2 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t. curry powder
pinch of black pepper, cayenne pepper and salt
dash of Bragg's Aminos or soy sauce

Cook pasta, but before draining, add the broccoli. Let set together about 5 minutes, then drain together. Toss in the tomatoes, onions and walnuts. Mix remaining ingredients together, then add to the pasta. Serve. Enjoy!

What the heck is balsamic vinegar? I remember when I first started seeing it used in recipes and thought, wow, this is fancy stuff! I'd thought I was being upscale by using red wine or white wine vinegars! How does a lowly vinegar come to reap such praise?

The ancient art of making a sweet condiment from grape juice dates back centuries. Romans invented the art of making ’sapa,’ a mixture made from boiled down grape juice. As far back as 900 years ago, vintners in the Modena, Italy region were making balsamic vinegar which was taken as a tonic and bestowed as a mark of favor to those of importance. In earlier days, the families cared for the vinegar, perfected it over years and passed it on as a treasured heirloom. They presented small vials to their special friends and even bequeathed it to their daughters as a valuable part of her dowry.

Although it is considered a wine vinegar, it is not a wine vinegar at all. It is not made from wine, but from grape pressings that have never been permitted to ferment into wine.

Sweet white Trebbiano grape pressings are boiled down to a dark syrup and then aged under rigid restrictions. The syrup is placed into oaken kegs, along with a vinegar "mother," and begins the aging process. Over the years it graduates to smaller and smaller kegs made of chestnut, cherrywood, ash, mulberry, and juniper until it is ready for sale. All of these woods progressively add character to the vinegar. As it ages, moisture evaporates out, further thickening the vinegar and concentrating the flavor.

Some balsamic vinegars have been aged for over 100 years. It is this aging process that makes true balsamic vinegar from Modena in Northern Italy so expensive. Luckily, a little balsamic vinegar goes a long way.

In Medieval times, balsamic vinegar was valued for its healing properties. The word balsamico *(from Latin balsamum , from Greek balsamon*) means "balsam-like" in the sense of "restorative" or "curative". During the later part of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance era, the nobility enjoyed the different varieties of vinegar as a refined drink. They believed the vinegar was a natural remedy for the plague. Balsamico was stored in the family attic and tended to as meticulously as an other facet of the family estate, as it slowly matured into a liquid gold. Balsamico came to be a symbol of peace and an extension of the hand of friendship from one family to another, and from one friend to another.

All I know is I like using it in my dishes. Not sure how my daughter would feel if I were to give her a bottle on her wedding day. She'd probably look at me funny. Once I told her it was made from grapes, though, she would totally understand!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Southern Fried Tofu

I'm what's known as GRITS - a girl raised in the south. I've spent time up north, had my share of winter and July (lots of snow for those unfamiliar with seasons other than summer! LOL!), but the south is where I was born and have spent most of my life. It's familiar. Comfortable. And has some of the best food around.

My mom always made the best fried chicken. She didn't do anything special, just flour, salt and pepper, but for some reason, mine never tasted as good as hers. She doesn't make it anymore, and the animals and I thank her for that. But those flavors linger in the mind. And now I've found a way to have my fried chicken taste cruelty free!

Southern Fried Tofu

One package extra firm tofu, frozen in the package, boiled, pressed, cut into bite sized chunks
Seasoning Mix:
1-1/2 c. nutritional yeast
2 t. salt
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder
1 t. parsley
1/2 t. paprika
1/2 t. tarragon
1/2 t. dill
1/2 t. basil
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 t. curry
1/4 t. mustard
1/4 t. rosemary
1/4 t. celery seeds

Soy or any vegan milk, plain
Lemon juice
Olive or peanut oil

Mix the seasoning mix together. In a separate bowl, mix the milk with a little lemon juice. In a third bowl, add the flour. Heat oil in frying pan.
The process is simple - coat the tofu pieces in the flour, shake off excess. Dip the pieces in the milk, then in the seasoning mix. Fry in the oil until nicely browned on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve. Enjoy!

I served mine with vegan mac and cheese and green peas, but you could go all southern and serve it with mashed potatoes and make some gravy. This has a really nice flavor. Next I want to find a copycat recipe for Popeyes chicken and try making the tofu with those seasonings. Finger lickin' good! Okay, I'm mixing my commercials, but who cares? Good food is good food, and this is good food!

Vegan Paella

I never made paella before I became a vegan. I would see the recipes and think, ooh, that sounds good! But I never actually got around to making it. I'm glad now, because that's one less dish with meat that ever got made. It still amazes me at the wealth of recipes that can be made vegan. Kind of exciting, really!

Vegan Paella

Four cups uncooked rice, cooked in whatever fashion you prefer
One bag frozen cut green beans
One bag frozen petite green peas
Olive oil
2 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/3 c. raw cashews
One red bell pepper, diced
One green bell pepper, diced
One can diced tomatoes
One container vegan plain yogurt or sour cream
Salt to taste
A dash of: cumin, paprika, cinnamon, cayenne, ground cloves

Saute in the olive oil the onions, bell peppers, cashews and garlic. Add tomatoes and yogurt, stir to mix well. Add green beans and peas and two cups of water. Bring to a boil, add spices, reduce to simmer and cook until everything is well blended, about 20 minutes. Add the cooked rice and mix well. Serve. Enjoy!

Paella is actually a cooking utensil, similar to a flat frying pan with handles on both sides. Peasants of Valencia would use the pot to cook rice, and add in available ingredients. It evolved depending on the cook's inspiration. Rice originated in Asia and, along with pasta, was brought to the Mediterranean by the Moors. When the Moors invaded Spain, they brought both products with them. The Moorish casseroles of rice and fish established the custom of eating rice in Spain. By the 15th century, when Spanish Catholics expelled the Muslims from Spain, rice had become a national staple.

Paella traditionally is made with saffron. Saffron grows wild in Spain, and not only gives a rich and unique flavor to the rice, but a deep yellow color as well.

You will note I did not add saffron to my paella. Feel free to add it if you like. Saffron comes in threads (expensive) or powdered (cheaper). I do very much like saffron rice and may do that the next time I make this dish.

You can use fresh green beans and tomatoes in this dish if you like, but I'm about quick, easy and convenient. I also used spices common in garam masala. You can use that in place of the spices, too, if you'd like. So, play around with it and make it yours!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Taste of the Tropics Pasta Salad

What a beautiful day! After a blah winter, spring has arrived and it is welcome! Hubby and I spent the day doing a small amount of gardening and some yard cleanup - anything just to get outside and enjoy the lovely weather! A good way to end it is with a pasta salad studded with mangoes!

A Taste of the Tropics Pasta Salad

8 oz of your choice of twisty pasta
1 green pepper, chopped
2 T. peanut oil
1 T. rice vinegar
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
4 green onions, both white and green parts, sliced
1 mango, cut into chunks
8 oz. plum tomatoes
Small handful of chopped cilantro

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Before straining, chop the green pepper and place in the colander. Poor the hot pasta over the green pepper and rinse until pasta is cool.
In a large bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add pasta and remaining ingredients, stirring well to mix. Refrigerate.
Before serving, sprinkle on some dry roasted peanuts.
Think tropical thoughts!

The mango originated in Southeast Asia where it has been grown for over 4,000 years. Over the years mango groves have spread to many parts of the tropical and sub-tropical world, where the climate allows the mango to grow best. Mango trees are evergreens that will grow to 60 feet tall. The mango tree will fruit 4 to 6 years after planting. Mango trees require hot, dry periods to set and produce a good crop. Most of the mangos sold in the United States are imported from Mexico, Haiti, the Caribbean and South America. Today there are over 1,000 different varieties of mangos throughout the world.

Beyond being delicious and rich in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, mangos contain an enzyme with stomach soothing properties similar to papain found in papayas. These comforting enzymes act as a digestive aid.

Selecting the ripeness of mangos can be determined by either smelling or squeezing. A ripe mango will have a full, fruity aroma emitting from the stem end. Mangos can be considered ready to eat when slightly soft to the touch and yielding to gentle pressure, like a ripe peach. The best flavored fruit have a yellow tinge when ripe; however, color may be red, yellow, green, orange or any combination.

Cutting open a mango is a little tricky, but with practice, quite easy! You can learn how here.

They are a good source of fiber, so be sure to include some on your next grocery shopping trip!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Green Bean and Mushroom Stroganoff

We all have our comfort foods, usually associated with our childhood, something Mom would make that made us feel loved and all warm and fuzzy inside. I have several. Most were served over wide egg noodles.

Green Bean and Mushroom Stroganoff

1 pound of green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths
2 T. olive oil
One onion, chopped
One package of sliced mushrooms, rinsed, patted dry
1 T. paprika
2 T. flour
1 T. tomato paste
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. vegetablel broth
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Vegan sour cream

Steam the green beans and set aside. Or buy frozen cut green beans and skip this step.
Saute onion in olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Add paprika and flour and cook, stirring until flour is well mixed. Add tomato paste and wine and stir until smooth. Add the green beans and broth, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Blend about one cup of broth with the sour cream and add back into the stroganoff.
Serve over noodles of choice and enjoy!

Beef Stroganoff or Beef Stroganov is a Russian dish of sautéed pieces of beef served in a sauce with smetana or sour cream. From its origins in 19th-century Russia, it has become popular in much of Iran, Europe, North America, Australia, South Africa, Lebanon, Portugal and Brazil, with considerable variation from the original recipe.

The origin and history of Beef Stroganoff dates backs to 19th century. Elena Molokhovets' classic Russian cookbook (1861) gives the first known recipe for Govjadina po-strogonovski, s gorchitseju "Beef à la Stroganov, with mustard" which involves lightly floured beef cubes (not strips) sautéed, sauced with prepared mustard and bouillon, and finished with a small amount of sour cream: no onions, no mushrooms. Some have suggested it had probably been in the family of Count Pavel Stroganoff's for some years and had become well known through his love of entertaining. Count Pavel Stroganoff was a celebrity, a dignitary at the court of Alexander III, a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts, and a known gourmet. Given it's history, it is doubtful that Beef Stroganoff was his or his chef's invention.

An 1890 competition is sometimes mentioned in the dish's history, but both the recipe and the name existed before then. A 1912 recipe adds onions and tomato paste, and serves it with crisp potato straws, which are considered the traditional side dish in Russia. The version given in the 1938 Larousse Gastronomique includes beef strips, and onions, with either mustard or tomato paste optional.

Me? I like mine cruelty-free, thank you! No beef, just yummy plant foods! Feel free to play with it, adding or subtracting ingredients as you please.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Tempeh with Cabbage and Potatoes

When I was younger, my mom would make this dish she called skillet hash. It was ground beef with potatoes and some kind of gravy, but the concoction was quite tasty. I've gone the way of cruelty-free for awhile now, but this dish I made reminded me an awful lot of that skillet hash of my childhood.

Tempeh with Cabbage and Potatoes

Olive oil
One onion, chopped
Half a head of cabbage, shredded
3 potatoes, diced (I always leave the skin on)
1/2 c. water
salt and pepper to taste
Smoky tempeh (recipe follows)

Saute the onion on the olive oil until softened. Add cabbage, potatoes, water and seasonings, cover and cook about 12-15 minutes. Uncover, cook until vegetables are soft, and add the tempeh. Cook until flavors are nicely blended, about 10 minutes.

Smoky Tempeh

One package of plain tempeh
3 T. soy sauce
3 T. water
1-1/2 t. liquid smoke
1 T. olive oil

Cook tempeh in water over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Crumble the tempeh (I use my little food processor). Mix the soy sauce, water and liquid smoke together. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the tempeh and cook until browned, then add the liquid mixture. Stir to coat the tempeh well and continue cooking until the tempeh is evenly coated and the liquid is absorbed.

The smoky tempeh is good in any recipe that calls for crumbled bacon. I like mine in grits. Yes, I'm from the South.

Next time I make this dish, I'm going to chop the potato much finer, to more resemble the skillet hash my mom made.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Emerald Isle Pot Pie

I don't think there is anything easier to throw together for supper when you use premade pie crusts. Add the ingredients and pop it in the oven and voila! Supper!

Emerald Isle Pot Pie

Premade frozen double crust
Any vegetables you like, chopped
Vegetable broth
Olive oil

Saute the chopped vegetables in the olive oil until softened. Add a little vegetable broth to moisten. Add sauteed vegetables to the pie crust and top with second pie crust. Poke a few holes with a fork on the top crust. Place pot pie on a cookie sheet, and bake at 375 for about 30-40 minutes until the crust is golden. Enjoy!

 The veggies I used were onion, cabbage, potatoes, green pepper, green onions, collards. Throw in some herbs like dill, thyme, sage or any you love. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This is one of the most versatile dishes you can ever make! I made mine for with lots of greens to celebrate my Irish heritage.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spicy Fried Tofu

Some months back, my son and I decided to check out a local vegetarian Indian restaurant. We had no idea what we were eating, but it was all so good! We wrote down the names of some of the dishes labeled on the buffet tables so we could look them up when we got home. A few days later I checked out several Indian cookbooks from the library, hoping to find some of the dishes I could replicate. I'll let you know when I try some of them.

One of the dishes I did find, however, was for a spicy fried fish. Having had some pretty good luck with substituting tofu slices for fish in other recipes, I gave this one a go. It was so good I think I quite literally gobbled my food!

Spicy Fried Tofu

1 container of tofu, frozen, then boiled, pressed and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. salt
1 t. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. black pepper
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
2 t. lemon juice
Olive oil

Mix the garlic, salt, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cayenne pepper and lemon juice together to make a paste. Spread the paste over the tofu slices and let sit for about 20 minutes. Fry the slices in the olive oil until nicely browned. Drain on paper towels and serve!

I served mine with a basmati rice mix with cranberries and almonds and some frozen green beans. Like I said, it was so good I couldn't get enough!

This recipe fascinated me not only because it sounded delicious, but because of the ingredients. I had been doing some research on turmeric and how good it was for a number of reasons, but mostly because of its cholesterol lowering abilities. Doing the research, I learned that studies have indicated that curcumin (turmeric) has a poor bioavailability (absorption) when consumed orally due to its rapid metabolism in the liver and intestinal wall. However, piperine (black pepper) is a bioavailability enhancer that allows substances to remain in cells for longer periods of time. The studies found that by consuming turmeric with black pepper, the bioavailability was increased by 154%!  In Indian foods, the average dietary intake of turmeric in the Indian population ranges between 2 to 2.5 grams. Pepper was the one of the first crops that was cultivated in India and is consumed together with turmeric. They noted that the rates for colorectal, prostate, and lung cancers in India are one of the lowest in the world.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have found that the compounds curcumin and piperine could play an important role in preventing and even treating breast cancer. The research shows curcumin and piperine target stem cells (unspecialized cells that can give rise to any type of cell in an organ). This is of major significance because cancer stem cells comprise the small number of cells inside a tumor that fuel the growth of malignancies. More good news: the compounds had no effect on the normal process of cell development known as cell differentiation. That means the spice compounds are not toxic to normal breast tissue.

So, suffice it to say I'll be adding more Indian dishes to my cooking repertoire!

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