Wednesday, April 28, 2010

vegan fruit + nut bars: sticky bun

homemade snacks inspired by lärabar

I don't want Lära to get mad at me, but I might stop buying her bars as frequently. Influenced by Katie's collection of fudge babies, I've created my first batch of raw fruit and nut bars, dubbed Sticky Bun. They are naturally-sweetened, and free of gluten, grain, soy, and dairy, making them a great snack or dessert choice for people for many different diet persuasions.  Those to want to eat strictly organic foods will also enjoy making these from organically-grown ingredients.  Just be sure to avoid them if you have a nut allergy.

While the ingredients and method are straightforward, making these bars will require some special kitchen equipment.  The raw nuts and dried fruit must be chopped into a sticky mixture, which I accomplished using the food grinder attachment on my KitchenAid mixer.  A food processor should be up for the task, as well, but I would not recommend using a blender.  Is it possible that a workable texture could be produced using a knife and cutting board?  Perhaps for someone training for a food prep marathon!

Believe it or not, this recipe is on the higher end of the range for number of ingredients used (only six!).  Similar bars can be created with as few as two ingredients, dates and one variety of nut.  From that simple base, the flavor of the bars can be changed drastically with the addition of your choice of ingredients.  In addition to dried fruit, experiment with flavorful ingredients such as cocoa and chocolate, coffee, and even natural flavor extracts.

Sticky Bun Fruit + Nut Bars
makes 10 bars, about 1.4 oz each

  • 1 cup/ 8 oz dried dates
  • 1/3 cup/ 1.5 oz raisins
  • 1/2 cup/ 2 oz raw walnuts
  • 1/3 cup/1.5 oz raw pecans
  • 1/4 cup/ 1 oz raw cashews
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Special equipment: food grinder or food processor
  1. Combine first five ingredients in a bowl. Process in food grinder or food processor according to manufacturer's instructions.
  2. Collect fruit and nut mixture in a bowl. Sprinkle the cinnamon onto the mixture and mix thoroughly with hands, squeezing to form the mixture into a ball.
  3. On a clean surface, form mixture into a flat log. Using a thin knife, cut log into ten slices. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

vegan avocado and grapefruit salad

with dijon cumin dressing

Avocados are one of my favorite things to eat and, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy it is to cut one in half, sprinkle it with salt, and eat it out of the shell with a spoon. To me, this simple act is one of the most pleasurable things in the world. I wish I could do eat them every day (damn all those calories and fat!).

Sometimes though you just want something different. I had an abundance of both avocados and grapefruits as well as organic baby greens so I googled those ingredients for some inspiration and found many salads. Rather than follow a recipe, I just threw a bunch of stuff together and was rather pleased with myself when the results turned out delicious.

I used to hate all varieties of mustard and refused to eat anything with honey mustard dressing. However, over the past few years my tastes have changed and I've really grown to love all mustard varieties, the spicier the better. Now, my favorite type of dressing is a balsamic vinaigrette with a lot of Dijon in it! This Dijon dressing, flavored with cumin and cinnamon, really enhances the avocado and grapefruit.
Avocado and Grapefruit Salad
makes 4 big salads
  • 8 cups of baby lettuce greens
  • 2 avocados
  • 2 sweet red grapefruit
  • a small handful of sliced almonds
  1. Throw lettuce into a huge bowl.
  2. Dice avocados and add to bowl.
  3. Peel grapefruit, segment, remove membranes and add to bowl.
Dijon and Cumin Salad Dressing
makes enough for 4 salads
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons agave
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Blend all ingredients together or whisk furiously to emulsify.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

vegan bircher müesli

oatmeal for warm weather

During the gray months, I like to start the day with a bowl of thick, steamy, steel-cut oats.  You'll have to wait until fall for a post on steel-cut oats, though, because they're out of season in my house (gotta give them a chance to breed and raise their young). It's time to move on to breakfast options that are best enjoyed chilled, and a bowl of cold, cooked oatmeal seems depressingly Dickensian. We're going to tuck into something cheerful and healthy, an inspired dish from the Swiss Alps.

This is a Bircher (say "beer-cher") -style müesli, consisting of rolled grains, dried fruit, and chopped nuts. Its name honors the Swiss physician who promoted a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains, though the traditional version also includes dairy.  The amount of salt, fat, and sugar in müesli is highly variable. It can be prepared simply, exhibiting the sweetness of the dried fruit and the richness of the nuts; or, it can be a dessert-as-breakfast dish, garnished with compote and creamy accoutrements. I prefer the moderate approach, and developed this tasty, filling, sensible version.

Müesli can be purchased in the cereal aisle of many grocery stores, but it's wicked simple to throw together your own, personal blend.  I like to use a multigrain rolled cereal for the base: rye, barley and wheat add richness and complexity to the customary oats.  If you have issues with gluten, just stick with gluten-free, rolled oats.

Toasting the grain enhances its flavor and provides a crisp texture.  It gives you the option of serving crunchy müesli with milk, perhaps adding it to commercial cereal or granola to cut down on their fat and sugar.  Soaked overnight, its texture becomes moist and tender, a soothing breakfast food that is ready when you rise.

The flavor of your müesli is largely determined by the nuts and dried fruit that you add.  My favorite combination includes a variety of rolled grains, dried apples and apricots, hazelnuts and almonds, producing a mildly sweet, toasty flavor.  For more sweetness, go with raisins and chopped dates, or even dried pineapple and shredded coconut. Hazelnuts can be substituted with your favorite nut or seed.  However, I strongly urge you not to tinker with the sliced almonds-- their flaky texture is perfect in this dish.

I like to store the grain and topping components separately, mixing them by the bowl to ensure fair distribution of the goodies. For me, soaking is not optional; müesli might be the only dish for which "soggy" is a flattering descriptor.  This dish led me to finally try soy yogurt, which I didn't even consider in my former life as a dairy addict. I used Silk Live! vanilla yogurt, and was surprised by its smooth texture and clean flavor.  One tub provides a week's worth of dollops, and it's become an essential topping for my müesli. A bit of grated apple provides additional sweetness and acidity, and a sprinkling of chia seeds ups the nutritional quotient of this light, nourishing breakfast.

Vegan Müesli
makes a batch for 6 servings

Notes: Rolled oats may be substituted for multigrain cereal. Try to find dried fruit that does not contain added sugar or preservatives, such as sulfur dioxide or potassium sorbate.

To make a batch of muesli:

  • 2 cups rolled multigrain cereal (such as Country Choice Organic Multigrain cereal)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apples
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Spread rolled cereal evenly in a sheet pan. Bake for 10 minutes, or until cereal smells toasty.
  3. While cereal is toasting, combine nuts and dried fruit and store in an airtight container.
  4. Remove pan from oven and allow cereal to cool on the pan.
  5. Once cooled, store cereal in an airtight container.
To prepare one serving of müesli:
  • 1/3 cup toasted cereal
  • 1 heaping tablespoon nut and dried fruit mixture
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup grated, unpeeled apple
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla soy yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon chia seeds
  1. Combine cereal, nut and fruit mixture, non-dairy milk, and apple in a cereal bowl. Stir, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Remove bowl from refrigerator and stir müesli. Top with yogurt and chia seeds and serve.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

vegan grilled polenta with spring vegetables

a great weeknight dinner

Usually I make my own polenta because it is so simple but a while back I purchased a tube of pre-made polenta from Trader Joe's to have on hand when I wanted something quick to make for dinner. The other night was one of those nights.

I threw this entire meal together, from taking my ingredients out of the fridge to sitting down at the table, in less than 30 minutes. I appreciate it for being quick and easy, however, if you have extra time on your hands, you can make your own polenta and/or marinara sauce.

Grilled Polenta with Spring Vegetables
serves four
  • 1 tube of polenta
  • 20 stalks of asparagus
  • 10 baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 leek, white part only
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • generous sprinkle of no-salt seasoning (I use Kirkland's organic no-salt seasoning)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups of jarred marinara sauce
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup vegan sour cream
  1. Heat up grill (I use my little George Foreman).  Meanwhile, slice polenta into 8 even rounds.  Brush each slice with a little olive oil, sprinkle with some no-salt seasoning or dried herbs of your choice and put on grill to start cooking.
  2. Cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces and steam.  
  3. Heat marinara sauce.
  4. While asparagus is steaming and marinara sauce is heating, chop the mushrooms, slice the leek and mince the garlic.
  5. When asparagus is tender, remove from pan.  Drain out water and add a drizzle of olive oil.  Once oil is heated, add mushrooms and leek and saute.
  6. When the mushrooms have lost most of their liquid and the leek is soft, add the asparagus, garlic, salt, pepper and no-salt seasoning.  Continue cooking for another minute or two.
  7. By now, your polenta should be fully grilled.  
  8. On each plate, pour 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce.  On top of the sauce add two rounds of polenta.  On top of the polenta add 1/4 of the vegetable mixture.  On top of the vegetables add 1-2 tablespoons vegan sour cream.
This would also probably be really delicious with the addition of some spinach or other greens and/or chickpeas.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

vegan green slushie

refreshing and nourishing

Did you have a Snoopy Sno-Cone  Maker when you were growing up? Did you add super-syrupy blends of Kool-Aid to the chunky ice?  I did. There were also a lot of cola Icees, purple Slush Puppies, and orange snow balls in my childhood. Now, I haven't succumbed to a filling-station freezie for some time, but I have been known to brake for a "fresh fruit" slush during Sonic's happy hour. Though these drinks technically are vegan, they may contain artificial colors and flavors, copious amounts of corn syrup, and no nutritional value. And they usually come in Styrofoam cups, which I try to avoid.

Possessing a kitchen equipped with a blender, an ice-maker, and a well-stocked produce drawer, I decided that my next frosty beverage would be a DIY job. The sweet-and-sour flavor components would be fresh pineapple, agave nectar and fresh lime juice. Mint's already up in the backyard, thanks to our balmy spell of June-like heat, so that goes into the mix. And because you can never have enough greens, in goes a handful of watercress, as well.

Wait a second... how did watercress sneak into my sweet treat? Well, it turns out that the blended bevvie is a delicious way to mitigate the bitterness and toughness of raw greens, making it easer to include more of them in your daily intake (or your family's).  Start with a handful and see if anyone notices a difference in flavor (if they wonder about the hue, tell them it's from kiwifruit).  If you've never tried adding greens to your smoothies, you may be shocked at how easy it is to add a nutritional bonus to your diet.

Since I don't have (nor want) a dedicated home slushie machine, I chucked it all into my blender with a lot of ice and a splash of water.  The goal was a drinkable, icy consistency rather than a thick smoothie, so the bananas stayed in the freezer.  Puréed for a few moments and voilà: a zippy green drink that's capable of giving you a brainfreeze.  And, if you add alcohol, a hangover.  I recommend sipping this slush through a fat straw, such as the bubble tea straws found at Asian grocery stores or the borosilicate straws that have taken blogosphere by storm.  Google it.

Call it a slushie, a mocktail, or a frozen libation, I prefer to think of it as the beginning.  Other combinations in my head include lemon-strawberry-basil, lime-mango-cilantro, and lemon-blueberry-thyme.  So grab your blender and chill.

Green Slushie
makes 32 ounces
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
  • 1/2 cup squeezed lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 1 handful watercress with stems
  • 6 mint leaves
  • 2 cups ice
  • 6 ounces cold water
  • mint sprigs to garnish
Special equipment
  • blender with ice-crushing ability
  • fat drinking straws
  1. Add all ingredients to blender. Process according to manufacturer's directions.
  2. Divide among two large glasses or four small ones.  Garnish with mint sprigs and serve with fat drinking straws.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

vegan sour cream

a tangy, versatile cream

This vegan sour cream doesn't taste exactly like sour cream but it has a thick and creamy texture and a wonderfully tangy flavor. I've used it everywhere I would have used sour cream (except for baking) and it's been a terrific alternative. In the photo above, I put a dollop of it on top of this delicious Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Red Lentil Stew instead of the yogurt the recipe originally called for.

After hanging out in the refrigerator it does thicken up a little bit, so if you add some herbs and seasonings, it'll make a killer dip or sandwich spread.

Vegan Sour Cream
  • 1/4 cup cashews
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 8 ounces Mori-Nu silken, firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  1. Soak cashews in the water for at least 1/2 hour.
  2. Drain water.
  3. Add cashews to food processor and process until it's as smooth as you can get it, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary.
  4. Add the tofu, lemon juice, rice vinegar and salt and process until smooth.
  5. Slowly drizzle in canola oil.
  6. Refrigerate until you're ready to use it.
[modified from this recipe]

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

vegan whole grain waffles

with millet, oats, and coconut

There is a fantastic cookbook that you really must pick up: The Splendid Grain, by Rebecca Wood.  The author explores sweet and savory applications of grains from around the world, many of which can be purchased in bulk from a well-stocked, natural foods store.  Organized by continent of their provenance, grains from amaranth to tef are introduced and described in sumptuous detail. Though the recipes are not necessarily vegan, many of them can be nudged into animal-free territory with a few simple modifications.

The recipe at the top of my "must-try" stack was Overnight Buckwheat and Millet Waffles.  I love waffles, always claiming at least two when my mom made a batch on a laid-back weekend morning.  Unlike Mom's, though, this recipe includes no flour.  Instead, the duo of whole grains is soaked overnight and then blended with the other ingredients into a smooth batter.  It sounded delicious enough to make me disregard the memory of the last buckwheat dish I'd made (a steamed kasha salad that tasted like dust).  Alas, there were no buckwheat groats to be found at my local Whole Foods.  What a convenient excuse to use oats instead!

In addition to the oat substitution, I replaced the milk and egg of the original recipe with vegan baking ingredients.  Any non-dairy milk should work, and I used Blue Diamond Almond Breeze in the chilled Original variety.  This was my first time to try the product, which was tasty on its own, in addition to performing well in the waffle batter.    In place of the prescribed single egg, I opted for Ener-G Egg Replacer.  While it doesn't bring any additional nutrition or flavor to the party, I've found that Ener-G works really well in loose batters like this one.  I may try using ground flaxseed in the future, but there seems to be a trick to using it: changing the proportion of flax to water will give it more leavening or binding properties.  Ener-G is a safe choice for this application, and it delivers predictably egg-like results!

Since shredded coconut is among the ingredients, I used unrefined coconut oil in place of the butter. The spice trio of orange zest, cinnamon, and coriander were a refreshing match to the mildly-sweet coconut. There is no sugar in the recipe, which is appropriate, since the only thing to do with a waffle is to drown drizzle it with maple syrup (and perhaps a dab of Earth Balance). For a special occasion like Mother's Day (May 9, 2010) or Husband's Day (every day), serving with orange-infused maple syrup would add a special touch.

You should make these waffles. They will motivate you to dig out the waffle iron more often. Or, in my case, to buy a waffle iron, since Mom's probably going to want hers back to make a batch of her own. Enjoy!

Overnight Millet, Oat, and Coconut Waffles
adapted from The Splendid Grain by Rebecca Wood
makes 4 waffles

  • 1 cup millet, lightly toasted and crushed
  • 1 cup steel cut oats, lightly toasted
  • 2 1/4 cups almond milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons virgin unrefined coconut oil, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, add millet, oats, and almond milk.  Stir to combine and refrigerate for three to eight hours.
  2. >When ready to make waffles, preheat the waffle iron according to manufacturer's instructions.
  3. Remove soaked grains from refrigerator and pour with all liquid into a blender.
  4. Prepare Ener-G mixture in a small bowl by vigorously whisking powder in 2 T water until dissolved.
  5. Add Ener-G mixture and all remaining ingredients to blender.  Blend until grain is combined into a loose batter.
  6. Pour batter onto waffle iron and bake according to manufacturers instructions.
  7. Serve hot.
Notes: Your choice of non-dairy milk may be substituted for almond milk. If not using Ener-G Egg Replacer, use substitute of your choice to equal one egg. This batter may take longer to cook than flour-based batter; waffles are ready when surface is light golden brown in color.  Suggested additions: one tablespoon of poppy seeds sprinkled in waffle iron before pouring in batter; up to 1/4 cup of chopped pecans added to batter.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

ramsi's cafe on the world - louisville, ky

1293 Bardstown Road

During a visit to Louisville, KY Marty and I had the pleasure of dining at Ramsi's Cafe on the World for Sunday brunch.  It was such a beautiful day we sat outside on their patio, across from this beautiful fountain.

Before we went, we checked out restaurants in Louisville on Happy Cow and Ramsi's received so many rave reviews we decided to give them a try (Ramsi's only has 4 out of 5 happy cows but I'm guessing that is mostly due to Happy Cow's unfortunate policy of only allowing 100% vegetarian restaurants to be rated with 5 cows).

When we told our waiter we were vegan he explained to us that there were both vegan and non-vegan items on the buffet but all of the vegan items would be labeled as such.

We walked down the hallway of the restaurant and turned right, into what looked like someone's dining room with buffet tables set up. The home-style atmosphere made us feel like we were walking into the middle of a potluck and, for a moment, I kind of felt like we should have brought along a dish to share!

On our first trip to the buffet, we filled our plates with (clockwise from top) home-style potatoes with tofu scramble, Punjabi samosa stuffed with potatoes and peas, black bean quesadilla (the cheese is hiding under there somewhere) topped with a little tofu scramble and some pico de gallo, sausage patty, and our favorite...a black bean cake topped with hummus and guacamole. Those black bean cakes were so delicious I could have eaten them alone and been one happy vegan!

On our second trip, we got (again, clockwise from top) biscuits with gravy (just so-so), spinach salad with strawberries, sliced apples and some kind of fruity vinaigrette, and a little sampling of their nachos.

Our third trip was a sweet medley of fruit. Marty also tried some vegan pudding they had but I didn't care for it.

We arrived with empty bellies and left very full and happy. Because we were there during Sunday brunch we didn't order off of their enormous menu but we look forward to trying that the next time we're in Louisville. Ramsi's Cafe on the World is a delightful place and we would highly recommend it to vegans as well as non-vegans.

Ramsi's Cafe on the World on Urbanspoon