Monday, November 28, 2011

Vegan Holiday Heaven

I don't care if Santa comes or not this year . . . I've already gotten my presents. Two of my favorite cookbook authors came out with new books and I just couldn't ask for anything more.

About a month ago, I got Robin Robertson's new cookbook Quick-fix Vegan. I've been having such a great time trying out her delicious recipes (full review coming soon) and then 2 days before Thanksgiving, I got Nava Atlas's new cookbook Vegan Holiday Kitchen. I already had my Thanksgiving dinner planned and all my ingredients stocked, but as soon as I started paging through Nava's book . . . I knew I had to try them. So after a hurried trip to the store on Thanksgiving eve (which I do not recommend!), I was ready for the alterations.

The main dish was to be Robin Robertson's Seitan En Croute which is basically seitan and stuffing wrapped in puff pastry. I used the Slow Cooker Seitan I made the week before and substituted Nava's Walnut-Apple Stuffing (there was a lot left over so I cooked the rest of the stuffing on the side). My husband and I loved the Seitan En Croute, but my daughters were bigger fans of the stuffing plain.

I stuck to my original plan of Roasted Root Vegetables from the Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook, because I know it's always a sure hit--but instead of the roasted green beans I had planned, I made the Agave and Mustard Glazed Green Beans from Vegan Holiday Kitchen, which my daughters absolutely loved.

And finally, rather than the regular apple sauce requested by my apple sauce obsessed daughter, I made Nava's Cranberry-Apple Sauce (though I used double the apples and half the cranberries because I wasn't sure how it would go over)--and believe it or not, both of my daughters declared it their favorite dish of our Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, the next day as my younger daughter finished off the last bits, she told me she liked it better than regular applesauce. Lucky me--I still have half a bag of cranberries left so I'll get right on another batch!

The best thing is it's not even December yet so I'll have plenty of occasions to treat my family and friends to more of the wonderful dishes from both of this great cookbooks.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Slow Cooker Seitan

I've been experimenting with seitan lately . . . something I seem to do every couple of years. I really don't like the store-bought kind but never seem to get around to making my own. Until I read in Robin Robertson's Quick-fix Vegan that it can be made in a slow cooker. Well, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Of course! A slow cooker is the perfect place to make seitan. Long, slow cooking so the seitan can absorb the flavors and no need for me to have to be home (or awake) while it cooks. So I went searching through my cookbooks and on the Internet and added a couple of innovations of my own, and came up with this recipe. The whole house smelled amazing and the seitan was perfect--moist, flavorful--my daughters keep snitching pieces from the refrigerator so that tells you how much they like it.

Slow Cooker Seitan

Seitan ingredients:

2 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten flour
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil

Simmering broth ingredients:

1 onion, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Sprig of fresh thyme, rosemary, and/or sage (or a teaspoon of each dried) (optional)
1 quart (4 cups) vegetable broth

Place gluten flour, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl and whisk until combined. Stir in the water, soy sauce, and olive oil and stir until mixture is combined. Knead the dough for a minute or two. Let dough rest for five minutes while you set up the slow cooker and turn it to low, and get the simmering broth ingredients prepared. Cut the dough into 4 pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Arrange seitan dough balls in the bottom of the slow cooker. Sprinkle the onion, garlic, and herbs over the dough. Pour the broth over everything. Cover and cook on low for 6 - 8 hours. Cool in slow cooker for an hour at room temperature, or until the seitan is cool enough to handle.

Store in broth or removed from broth and tightly wrapped—in refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for 3 to 6 months.

Makes about 2 pounds

Next I want to try an Asian-flavored -- I'm thinking sliced ginger and maybe lemon grass instead of the herbs above . . .

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mushroom-Pistachio Phyllo Pinwheels

I was in a cooking mood yesterday so decided to try some recipes from a new cookbook I got when I went olive oil tasting in Los Olivos a few weeks ago. The book is by Theo Stephan, the owner of Global Gardens, and it features Caliterranean Food and uses lots of olive oil and vinegars.

I wanted to make her phyllo rolls but the filling was mostly olives and, as much as I love olive oil, I just do not care for olives. So I made up a mushroom filling to compliment the pistachios and feta cheese and it came out great.

Here's what I did, if you want to try it . . . or if you want the original recipe, you click here to find out more about her cookbook.

Also . . . if you have any leftover of the pistacio-parsley mixture, it is a great substitute for parmesan cheese on pasta . . . we sprinkled some on our salad too.

Mushroom Pistachio Phyllo Pinwheels

Olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms (baby bella, crimini, white, etc.), coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon medium sherry
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup shelled raw pistacios
1/4 cup parsley leaves
4 ounces vegan feta cheese (optional)
1 (1-pound) package phyllo sheets
1/4 cup blood orange balsamic vinegar

Place a skillet over medium-low heat. Coat bottom with olive oil. Add onion and sauté 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, mushrooms, sherry and salt.. Saute 10 more minutes, or until mushrooms are tender. Let cool slightly.

Place pistachios and parsley in food processor fitted with metal blade and mince until nuts are ground. Remove to a small bowl. Pour mushroom mixture into food processor and pulse to mince.

Set up work station. Line a board or tray with parchment paper. Place about 1/2 cup olive oil in a bowl with a pastry brush. (You may need to add more as you assemble the rolls.) Have pistachio mixture, mushroom mixture, and feta in easy reach. Also, divide the number of phyllo sheets that come in your package by 4. If it’s not an even number, some may have different number of sheets. For example, the phyllo I use contains 18 sheets, so I used 5 sheets for two rolls and 4 sheets for two rolls. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Assemble as follows: Place one sheet of phyllo on the parchment. Brush lightly with olive oil. Place the next sheet and repeat for remaining sheets for that roll. Then sprinkle 1/4 of the mushroom mixture over phyllo – leaving about an inch clear on one shorter end of the rectangle. Sprinkle 1/4 of the pistacio mixture over phyllo, again leaving the end clear. And then 1/4 of the feta. Roll the phyllo tightly ending with the clear inch space. Use extra olive oil to seal the roll. Repeat with remaining phyllo and filling until you have 4 rolls. Slice each roll into 1-inch slices and place on baking sheet.

Bake 25 minutes, or until top and sides are golden. Pour vinegar into a small pan. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes to reduce. Brush the vinegar over the tops of the pinwheels. Serve immediately.

Makes 40

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Victory for milk labeling

Companies like Monsanto and Eli Lilly don't want consumers to know if their milk and other dairy products come from cows treated with bovine growth hormones. They've tried to keep growth hormone-free products from being labeled as such by lobbying the FDA, suing dairy farmers, and urging governments to curtail farmers' freedom of speech.

Now I guess I can understand why these companies have a vested interest in keeping the information about the growth hormones a secret, given the public's aversion to it . . . but why in the world has the state of Ohio been trying to "rBGH-free" and "produced without artificial growth hormones" labels from dairy products. Yup, it's true -- they tried to make it illegal to tell consumers how their milk was produced.

Well, in 2010, a Sixth Circuit court decided that milk produced with synthetic hormones is different than milk produced without it. The court found:
- A compositional difference does exist between milk from untreated cows and conventional milk.
- The use of rBGH (rbST) in milk production has been shown to elevate the levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a naturally occurring hormone that in high levels is linked to several types of cancers, among other things.
- rBGH (rbST) use induces an unnatural period of milk production during a cow's "negative energy phase." Milk produced during this stage is considered to be low quality due to its increased fat content and its decreased level of proteins.
- Milk from rBGH-injected cows contains higher somatic cell counts, which makes the milk turn sour more quickly and is another indicator of poor milk quality.

But Ohio was still trying to get around the ruling and figure a way to keep labeling illegal . . . however, according to an Oct. 31st Sacramento Bee article, "The State of Ohio today agreed that it will no longer pursue regulations limiting labeling on organic dairy products."

This is a real victory toward consumers gaining the right to know what is in their food and how it's produced. Hopefully, this is a step toward getting all foods produced by genetically engineering to be labeled.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Sometimes you just have to take care of yourself

You know how you have those weeks when you just have too much going on and you're just trying to make it through? Well, I'm on my second one of those. It has been just nonstop at work, at home, with school, kids . . . you name it. I got home from a stressful day at work, completely exhausted, only to face two school assignments due, a mound of dirty dishes, a pile of books I need to review, a blog post I need to write, bills to pay, orders to fill . . . and something is wrong with my server so I'm not getting my emails. I was about ready to lose it . . . I'm sure you've been there too.

So I was just about resigned to another dinner of frozen veggie potstickers eaten at my desk while trying to get everything done when . . . I stopped myself.

I made a cup of green tea and sat in my chair for 45 minutes and read. I even dozed a little. Then I got up and made myself a nice, homemade dinner. I lit a candle, poured a glass of wine (just a half--I did still have to do my schoolwork), and had a wonderful meal.

Now, I feel so much better and more relaxed. I may have to stay up later to finish what I need to do but at least I feel like I took care of myself and everything is not so overwhelming.

Of course, the book I read is a novel I'm reviewing and the meal I cooked is from a cookbook I'm reviewing so I even got some work done on my 'to dos'--but in a good way.