polenta with braised squash and porcini

I was intensely craving creamy polenta and porcini mushrooms. I came up with this dish, Polenta with Braised Squash and Porcini, which incorporated both and butternut squash.

Polenta can be cooked so it has a crispy surface (after it has been cooked and cooled), or it can have a very creamy consistency, which is what I was going for here. This is intensely creamy and not at all thick - I used 5 cups of almond milk to 1 cup of polenta.

The squash is braised with porcini mushrooms and a little truffle oil. Truffle oil has a very distinct flavor so use it according to your taste, although using it is totally optional. What is not optional is to make sure your porcini is completely clean of grit after rehydration. There is not much less appealing than having a mouth full of dirt.

This turned out to be a surprisingly delicious meal. 


Cost Breakdown

butternut squash: $2
polenta: $.75
porcini: $2
onion, garlic, spices: $1
truffle oil: $.50
vegan milk: $2
Total to make 5 servings:
$8.25



baked mac and cheese

Someone asked me to try my hand at making a really good Macaroni and Cheese. Because there are so many ways to approach making a vegan mac and cheese, I decided to do it one kind of way at a time.  

The most obvious way - and the approach that I took here - was to use vegan cheeses that are available on the market.

While it is delightful to have access to Daiya, it is more important to use at least two different brands of vegan cheese. Why? One brand might have one flavor covered and another will have a different take on what makes a vegan cheese taste good. While vegan cheese has come a long way over the past decade, incorporating as many different kinds as you can (at least two) makes a huge difference in the overall flavor.

This recipe uses a simple bechamel (white) sauce to add body (and not just fat) to the cheese sauce. Then it is tossed with slightly undercooked pasta, topped with bread crumbs and baked.

Because the mac and cheese is baked, it does not have the overtly creaminess that the new Amy's vegan mac and cheese does (which thrilled my youngest daughter) but is still creamy and totally delicious. When baking, the pasta absorbs some of the sauce. If you want to keep it really creamy don't bake it (but make sure to use properly cooked pasta). If you still want the topping, add it and broil it for a few minutes until the bread crumbs are golden.

I used quinoa pasta and Follow Your Heart and Daiya brands of cheese.

This is like what your mom used to make (not from the box, though - that recipe will be coming in the future), just better since it is vegan.


Cost Breakdown

pasta: $3
vegan butter, flour, spices: $.75
nondairy milk: $.75
FYH, Daiya: $7
bread crumbs: $.50
Total to make 5 servings:
$12.00





vegan mcMuffin (January 29)

Brunch

It is the battle of the Benedicts vs. McMuffins at our house every time someone requests an egg-y dish, namely David wanting Benedict. The kids are getting a little tired of it and would rather have a McMuffin type of sandwich instead of the upscale version that is the Benedict. For me it is easier to make the sandwich than make Hollandaise sauce as well, but invariable I make both. What a push-over I am.

This time, I made a sausage-tofu-McMuffin. I like using the Gimme Lean version of sausage because it is good, it is lean (the name says so) and it fits on a sandwich perfectly. I just slice it, compress it a bit so it fits on the English Muffin even better and pan sear it until golden brown.

I make the tofu just as I do for the Benedict, then add some Daiya (or not), veganaise (or not) and a slice of tomato (or not). The kids get their sandwich and David gets his Benedict.

Cost Breakdown:

tofu: $2
English Muffin: $2
Gimme Lean: $3
veganaise, Daiya, tomato: $1.50
spices, nutritional yeast: $.50
Total to make 6 sandwiches:
 $9.00



baked eggplant over scampi pasta

Italian Night

Over the MoFo I made a Chick'n Scampi pasta dish from Olive Garden. This dish impressed Mikel so much he requested it again. I wanted to change it up somewhat, so I married Eggplant Parm and the Scampi dish and came up with this course: Baked Eggplant over Scampi Pasta.

As the name implies, Scampi includes lemon and garlic.

I baked the eggplant which turned out just as crunchy as frying it, but without the obvious oily texture. You can add some Daiya to it at the end to get the Parmesan effect.

The pasta sauce is soy free, using cashews as the base of the creamy sauce. Mikel's only complaint was the size of the peppers. Therefore, I have adjusted the recipe since the picture to reflect his concern; dice the peppers and not slice them.

I served these over rice pasta so if you are using gluten free pasta, make sure not to over cook it; it'll turn to mush.

Cost Breakdown:

eggplant, bread crumbs, spices: $4
cashew, nutritional yeast: $2.50
pasta, lemon: $3.50
garlic, pepper, onion: $3
Total to make 4 servings:
$13.00



lima bean bake (January 24)

Meatless Monday

I chose to make Lima Bean Bake for tonight's meatless Monday meal because it is easy to make and so rewarding.

You can use either dry large Lima beans (which need to soak first - no short cuts here) or canned Lima beans or butter beans. I few minutes on the stove and then into the oven for a few hours rewards you with an exceptional meal. I have taken this dish to many a potluck and never came home with a single bean. No culinary expertise is needed. Only the two hours to bake it.

To accompany the rich, buttery beans, some garlicky greens are ideal. Today I made a Swiss Chard dish. I had fought to make chard tasty for so long, but either the chard I received from my CSA has mellowed out, or I have figured out a way to cut the earthiness-taste down to size.

I have decide that chard needs something else cooked with it. Even adding the stems of the chard makes some difference. In  this case, I also added cauliflower. Just a simple pan searing with garlic is all that it needs as long as the cauliflower has been steamed. If not, just steam it after charring it a bit, but be careful to not burn the garlic. In fact, use large chunks of garlic to flavor the oil and then remove it.

Cost Breakdown

Lima beans: $4
tomato, carrot, onion: $2
spices, garlic: $.50
chard, cauliflower: $4
Total to make 5 servings:
$10.50





chili relleno burger

I am so behind on my blog posts that this post is going to throw everything topsy-turvy. It must be done, though, because it is that special time of month again when Tami Noyes at Vegan Appetite hosts her Food Network Friday makeover and she has a deadline to meet.

This month's reinvention is a Chili Relleno Burger, a creation by the Great Food Network Kitchen - in other words, the chef remains anonymous.

We, however, do not care because we are tackling a burger. I could not copy Tami's Incrediburger; that would have been taboo, so I was, for the first time ever, forced to create a vegan burger. 

I wanted to make one that would have a pink tint - mimic the look of a burger cooked to 'medium' - and used my beet trick again. This time I roasted the beets first and incorporated that into the recipe. I used pressed tofu (finding as many uses for my new Tofu Xpress that I possibly can), vegetables (including the beets and some of the poblano and roasted tomato that is for the topping) and vital gluten.

I kneaded the burger for 1 cycle in my bread machine (no need for the second knead), formed them and baked them on low in about a half cup of water. The liquid helps the burgers to get bigger and stay juicy. Having watched a few shows about the 'best' burger recipes, I am aware that burgers must stay juicy and moist. There is no seitan-after taste, the color is pale pink and the burger is juicy. 

Getting back to the actual FNF recipe, this burger has cheese (I used both kinds of Daiya, was going to make Muenster but ran out of time. Story of my life these days, it seems.) roasted tomatoes and onions (I pan sauteed both) and roasted poblano peppers (I charred them on my gas burner). Nothing really changed there except the execution (mine are easier). The challenge in this FNF was the burger itself.

Thanks for pushing my limits, Tami (and whoever chose this recipe!).

Cost Breakdown

buns: $3
gluten, tofu: (for 12 burgers): $3
beets, peppers, onion, garlic, tomato: $5
spices: $.25
Daiya: $2
Total to make 8 burgers:
$12.25




seitan and cheese enchiladas

Continental Night

On Saturday nights I like to make something from the Western Hemesphere, North American or South American.

Enchiladas are a wonderful way to present some of these dishes in a most delicious way. Another Enchilada dish I blogged about before had vegan cheese and spinach in a blue corn tortilla. This one has seitan, pan seared, and a combination of Daiya and Follow Your Heart. Melting the cheeses on the stove top first and then rolling them in the tortillas is the best way to make sure that your vegan cheese melts.

I made Red Rice for the enchiladas, using brown rice and baking the whole thing until the rice was tender. This took a little trial-and-error, having to add more water and then baking it some more, but I think I have the water to rice proportion correct now.

The refried beans are just pinto beans, with some sauted onions, garlic, cumin and water to thin the beans.
The enchilada sauce is just as simple using, chili powder, flour, water, tomatoes and onions.

This does not dissapoint. If you want to add sauted vegetables or tofu instead of seitan, it is all very workable and will taste great. Just make sure not to overfill the tortillas.

Cost Breakdown:

beans: $2
tortillas: $1
rice: $.50
tomato, onion, garlic, jalapeno, pepper: $3
seitan: $2
vegan cheeses: $5
herbs, spices: $1
Total to make 5 complete servings:
$14.50



hungarian layered potatoes

I have tried numerous times to successfully remake this very popular and absolutely delicious Hungarian meal. My parents made this on special occasions and as I have blogged before on a former attempt to make this, in its original form, it is full of fat. So much so, that it is considered well made if you can see the fat oozing out of the layers.

While my previous attempts were absolutely delicious, I still felt that it was missing something or something was just a tad off. Thinking what it could be, it became obvious that in its original state, cooking the potatoes and then slicing them relatively thick was acceptable since all of the fat would soak through the potato layers. However, without the stick of butter, pound of bacon and sausage, pint of full-fat sour cream and half-a-dozen-or-so eggs, this was not going to work. The potatoes needed to be thinner - more like that of an Au gratin dish.
This worked beautifully!

Also, after having been encouraged by Tami Noyes of American Vegan Kitchen, I went and bought a Tofu Express presser. As I have stated before, pressing your tofu between layers of paper towels and plates and whatever you need to weigh the whole contraption down with, does not work. Period. Wrapping the tofu in layers of a thin kitchen towel and setting it in the fridge overnight is your second best bet.
Your very best bet is this machine.
I cringed at spending $45 on a tofu press (a tofu press!!), and had been mulling it over for the past six months, but in the end it is totally worth it.
Thanks, Tami!

I made the 'eggs' in this layered dish using the Tofu Express and couldn't be happier with how it turned out. You can slice the tofu as this as you need to after pressing it in this thing and that is a key to making the 'eggs' successfully. In addition, the tofu does not crumble after pressing.

Cost Breakdown

potatoes: $3
tofu: $2
spices, herbs: $1
vegan sour cream: $2
vegan sausage: $4
vegan milk: $.50
 Total to make 6 servings:
$12.50




romanian potato patties

European/Potato Night

Romanian Potato Patties. These are similar to a knish or aloo tikki in the sense that all three are mashed potatoes. This version sautes veggies - cauliflower, carrots, onion, garlic - and green peas and mixes it into the mashed potatoes. The mixture is shaped into patties which are then pan sauteed and served with a very simple tomato sauce.

I like the idea of these patties because I used flax seed meal to bind the potatoes (which they probably did not need, but the addition of flax to anything is golden in my mind) and there are lots of vegetables incorporated into them. In fact, you don't have to use my combo of veggies, just use about 2 cups worth of any vegetables chopped fine. 

This made vegetable eating easier for my oldest daughter who actually picks out minced bell peppers from anything. However, she doesn't mind overtly much when vegetables are encased in her favorite vegetable, the potato. Or I might be deluding myself.

The tomato sauce in this recipe was ready in about 10 minutes and was needed to complete the dish, so don't omit it.

When using flax seeds, use golden flax seeds when making a dish that will be light in color (potatoes, cookie dough without chocolate, light smoothie). It makes the finished product look prettier than using the dark seeds.
If you care.

Cost Breakdown

potatoes: $1.50
flax: $.25
onion, garlic: $.75
tomato: $2
cauliflower, carrot, peas: $3
Total to make 25 patties:
$7.50



stir-fried beans with bitter greens

Asian Night

Stir-frying green beans is commonly done, but how often do you come across stir-frying legumes?

Another really easy and quick meal, this stir-fry of aduki beans and vegetables was wonderfully delicious. I used asparagus, yellow pepper, and a bunch of rapini. I love rapini's bitter flavor and it was complemented especially well with the sweetness of the beans and peppers. You, of course, can use whatever greens you personally love.

The whole stir-fry took at the maximum of ten minutes to cook, so, again, make sure you have all the components of the dish at hand. And start cooking your brown rice before you start prepping everything else so it can all come together at the same time.

Cost Breakdown

onion, garlic, chili pepper: $1
asparagus, yellow pepper: $2
aduki beans: $2
rapini, green onions: $3
tamari, sugar, sesame oil: $.50
rice: $1
Total to make 4 servings:
$9.50