cracker barrel's - chicken'n dumplins

Cracker Barrel is the place that dots America's highway landscape, featuring tons of rocking chairs on their front porch...and practically nothing that a vegan can eat on their menu - even their vegetables sided are cooked with meat.

I worked at Cracker Barrel for about a whole week in the early 90's. The place was nothing to write home about - my parents lived a thousand miles away - and so probably never knew about my forage into the land of the Country Store. After all, what more could you want after filling up on Hashbrown Casserole and some Homemade Fried Chicken Livers than to mosey on out to the Country Store to pick you up some Kenny Rogers CD and some Black Licorice Bites. So good.

How do we go from rocking chairs to Chicken n' Dumplins? Kate asked for it. Not necessarily Cracker Barrel's version, but you need to mix up your repertoire of recipes once in a while.

Cracker Barrel's dumplings are a little different from mine. I mix the batter into a loose consistency and drop them onto the simmering broth. They end up light and fluffy. Cracker Barrel's is a rolled dough that is cut into small (1/2 inch) rectangles and then dropped into the broth. They are stirred while they cook. Theirs is more of a European dumpling rather than the American-Bisquik-mix-dumpling.

While Cracker Barrel does have a great Chicken n' Dumplin recipe, I prefer my chicken with less chicken , so I used  Tender Seitan. Also, we like more vegetables in our dish - C.B. has little - like carrots, celery and onion. So, by all means, make this dish since it is very tasty, but feel free to add some veggies into the mix.

Cost Breakdown

dough: $1
seitan: $3
broth: $1
spices: $.25
onion, garlic: $.75
Total to make 5 servings:
$6.00





VEG-Aside: My heart goes out to the victims of the tornadoes that ripped across the South recently. However, my heart is not limited to the human victims, but extends to the victims of the factory farms who were just as hurt by the storms themselves, but more directly, by their confinement.

 While the people were caught in homes of their own, the thousands of chickens that are still trapped by homes not of their own making is different. When you are trapped, not just during the tornadoes, but afterwards, bound by man-made-walls, where food, but more importantly, lack of water, is concerned, life and death seem closer than the suffering that is all too close.

The government is actively seeking to help the human victims of this crisis, but the victims hidden by our labels of 'food' are ignored and not even acknowledged as the living, feeling beings that  they are ... currently without food and water. Right now. Without water. Try that - no water for two days...three days...five days...a week....

Little we can do about the current conditions right now; but, right now we can ...
Let the truth be know...Leaflet for the Future.

meat pies

Our family's most favorite musical is "Sweeney Todd" with Johnny Depp and Helena-Bonham Carter. Although Kate, 11, hasn't seen it, yet, we all love listening to the CD in the car and at home. For those unfamiliar with this classic (having been a musical on stage for decades), it is about a barber who is after vengeance against the man who destroyed his family, to put it mildly. Having gone a bit mental, he begins to kill his customers and baking them into meat pies. Yum. The song, 'Try the Priest,' is magical.

Every time I make pocket pies with veggie-meat, it reminds me of Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pies and I want to burst out it dance and song whilst baking.

The recipe uses the Flaky Biscuit dough for the crust, with added parsley (very easy), and a wonderful mixture of Boca burgers, minced, and broccoli in a thick, creamy gravy. If you use burgers, please remember to saute them before you use them - otherwise they gets a little mushy. The broccoli needs to be minced fine, as well, so you don't have huge chunks sticking out at all angles.

I've made these many times, and while not a low-fat food because of the Earth Balance in the dough, it sure is flaky, crispy and tasty!

Cost Breakdown

flour, Earth Balance, milk: $3
Boca, broccoli: $5
onion, garlic, mustard: $1
spices: $1
Total to make 14 pies:
$10.00




cowboy bean casserole

Food Network Friday

That's right! It is that time of month again - Food Network Friday with Tami Noyes of American Vegan Kitchen.

This time around, my cohorts chose an Emeril dish to replicate: Cowboy Chicken Casserole.    It is abundantly clear that as daring as some of those Celebrity Chefs are by concocting some of these creations, we are even more so because we choose to make them. Hats down to Liz for giving this one a go. It would have slipped right under my radar.

This amazing collection of ingredients features poached chicken over tortilla chips covered by a homemade-style cream of mushroom soup, accented with a pound of cheese. Oh, and let's not ignore the six tablespoons of Paula-inspired butter. All that and some onions, peppers and tomatoes.

Wow.

Where ever shall I begin? 

The chicken was the most thought-provoking. I didn't want to use seitan, but I wanted to keep the integrity of the dish so I used what all cowboys use: pinto beans. I thought of using tortillas instead of the chips, but when I noticed that the recipe calls for an entire bag of chips, I thought better of it; maybe there was a method to the madness here.

Good call on that one; the chips were appropriate. 

Result: Odd. However, as odd as it was, it was also strangely addictive.
 Is that odder still?

Cost Breakdown

tortilla chips: $3 
beans: $4
Daiya: $4.50
onion, pepper, tomato: $3
mushrooms: $2 
Total to make 8 servings:
$16.50



caramelized onion quiche

Brunch

Brunch can be a tough meal to plan because half the family wants something sweet and the other half, savory. Unless you wind up making both, the tendency is to disappoint someone. Unless you make Caramelized Onion Quiche. The sweetness from the long caramelization of the onions can satisfy some sweet tooth.

This recipe is out of Vegan Brunch by Isa Moskowitz.

The long (longer than the author sites) cooking time for the onions is the most time consuming affair for this recipe, but one that shouldn't be shirked. It is what gives this dish the body.

We really liked this meal, but as with all vegan quiches, something was missing. The egg-y flavor. Without it, the dish falls a little out of tune and, let's face it, you are eating a tofu pie.

That used to be the case, but once you actually realize that the original dish is egg based, it becomes crystal clear that some black salt at the table can add the missing piece in a snap. Cooking with black salt tends to diminish the flavor considerably, but adding it at the table as you would regular table salt will fulfill the flavor profile. ANY Indian market carries black salt since it is used throughout the cuisine. And it is around $1 a bag.

Also, don't be afraid to add some vegan milk to the blender to help the tofu turn over easier - it'll evaporate in the oven and help to make your batter as smooth as possible.


Cost Breakdown:

tofu: $2
onions: $4
cashews: $1
dough: $1
Total to make 6 servings:
$8.00



smoky buffalo tofu sandwich

Tester

Another tester recipe from Tami Noyes' new cookbook, Smoky Buffalo Tofu Sandwich. When I tell you this woman has some fabulous ideas, I really mean it. This recipe is made using a homemade smoke sauce that is out of this world. I can't divulge the intricacies, but it is unusual and wonderful, all uniquely at the same time.

The Sandwich uses either store-bought smoked tofu or pressed tofu, so get your Tofu Xpress ready. Along with this sandwich, the press is used for many of her recipes, so if you've bought one, it won't be unused in this book.  After pressing, she even had a recipe for smoking our own tofu.

The sandwich itself is creamy and dreamy and a little spicy. Slather this into a wrap, a pita or, like I did, between bread. No matter where you put it, it'll be great.


gyro

European

Having lived in Chicago fifteen years ago and having worked in almost a dozen Greek restaurants, I am very familiar with the Gyro. Interestingly, having been back here for over a year now, I've yet to rediscover those familiar Greek  joints - not that I could eat at them anymore, but still, where have they gone?

Gyro is basically a bunch of meat skewered onto a vertical spit and roasted as it turns. The meat is sliced off in pieces, put on a pita with tomatoes, onions and tzaziki sauce. And please do not pronounce it as the orientation-stabilizing device, for it is not. It is not a hero, either.
It is: year-o.   

For the meat I used the Firm Seitan, but I have had delicious luck with using Tender Seitan. The seitan is cooked as a roast, is then sliced thin and marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, oregano and rosemary. Before you throw it into a pita, saute the pieces until some of it gets a little crisp.

The tzaziki sauce is soy yogurt with shredded and drained cucumbers (so your sauce isn't too thin), garlic, lemon juice, oregano and a little olive oil.

This is so worth making every time! My family loves it and if any of my old Greek bosses could taste it, they'd love it, too.

Cost Breakdown

seitan: $4
pita: $3
olive oil, lemon, herbs: $2
yogurt: $1
tomato, onion: $1.50
Total to make 7 servings:
$11.50 





mexican-inspired black bean and kale soup

It is when I have to come up with a name for a recipe that I find how much I lack in creativity! It's a shame. I'll ask the kids next time, but for now, this soup is a Mexican-inspired Black Bean and Kale Soup. Since we are trying to incorporate as much greens into our diet as we can, the kale seemed an ideal choice in this recipe. Sweet potatoes and black beans are a natural with some smoky cumin and green chilies.

This soup got better with age; David took it for lunch the next day and raved about it. It's also a very easy one to pull together and is packed with protein and calcium. Kale and black beans are both high in both. Add some vegan sour cream, avocado, cilantro and/or tortilla chips and you have the making of a delicious soup.

Use either an excellent vegetable broth or a vegetable concentrate for the soup base. 
  
Cost Breakdown

celery, carrot, garlic, onion: $1.50
sweet potato, red pepper: $2
can green chilies, tomato paste, veg broth: $2
black beans: $2
spices, lime: $.50
kale: $2
Total to make 6 servings:
$10.00




tunisian skewers with harissa sauce

Tester

Now that Tami Noyes of American Vegan Kitchen has finally come clean and announced her new cookbook, I can finally reveal that I have been a recipe tester for her for the past half year or so.

Her concept is a grilling cookbook and I have had the pleasure to be a part of making sure that the recipes that you all will indulge in soon will be as good as she intends them to be.

While I cannot divulge ingredients or recipes, I can let you in on the name of the dish and let you know how lucky you will be to own this book.

First off, I have to say that there is not a vegan/vegetarian grilling cookbook on the market of this caliber. I own the few odd vegetarian books that try their hand at grilling, but not like this. This IS the definitive grilling cookbook for vegans and vegetarians.

I am not going to blog about the other 50 recipes I've tested so far; I'll just jump in on the recipes I make as I go. I made this dish, Tunisian Skewers with Harissa Sauce and Lemon-Kissed Couscous, the other day and I could hardly keep myself from licking the plate. Not only are the recipes I've tried great, they are for the grill AND they are easy and quick.

This dish was no exception.



tamale pie

Continental Night

Tamales are a beautiful thing!
But, they are not quick and easy to make!
You need to make the batter and spread it onto some kind of cooking pouch: corn husks, banana leaves or even just parchment paper. Then each one has to have a filling, each needs to be wrapped and cooked. This takes time. And while the whole endeavour is worth all the work - especially for a special occasion - for everyday eating a Tamale Pie makes more practical sense.

The dough is masa harina with seasoning and non-dairy milk. It is then spread into a pie plate and baked until it is a little dry. Do not over bake it, since it won't have that wonderful tender texture - it'll be dry and crispy. Add some filling - in this case a black bean and tomato mixture - and a bit of Daiya or other vegan cheese, bake for a few more minutes and enjoy with guacamole, vegan sour cream or salsa.

Cost Breakdown

masa harina, spices: $1.50
milk, Daiya: $4
black beans, tomatoes: $3
onion, garlic, pepper: $1
Total to make 8 servings (2 pie plates):
$9.50





sweet and sour soup

Asian Night

Kate requested Hot and Sour Soup, but I wanted a spin on the stand-by favorite. I guess we were playing with words, but during menu making, someone must have said 'sweet and sour' instead of 'hot and sour.' Thinking, why not?, I made a 'Sweet and Sour Soup.' All the elements that make a great Hot and Sour Soup are in this dish, and so is the sweetness that makes a Sweet and Sour dish unique.

Instead of using vinegar to sour it, I used lime juice and tamarind. If you've ever had one of those big jars of tamarind in your fridge, I'm sure you have wondered what else besides Indian it can be used for. And although a little extra sugar at the end is fine in case the sweetness is not enough, I used crushed pineapples for the bulk of the sugar.

As for the heat, I used one Thai chili, just sliced in half not all the way through the stem, but not much else. My family, especially the kids, aren't as into spicy as I am. You may add as many Thai peppers as you like, however.

I used a well-pressed tofu (Tofu Xpress) so it doesn't fall to mush during cooking, mushrooms, broccolette, diced green beans and scallions.


Cost Breakdown

onion, garlic, lemongrass: $.75
mushroom, broccolletes: $3
tofu: $2
tamarind, tamari, lime: $.50
green beans, chili: $1
crushed pineapple: $1
Total to make 5 servings:
$8.25



reuben

Late in the posting, but this was an after-St. Patrick Day Reuben. I decided to follow Tami's lead from American Vegan Kitchen and make Reubens after I made Corned Seitan.
(Incidentally, she has announced that she is writing her new cookbook!)

Not really much to say about Reubens...except that they are divine! In fact, I made this for the Vegetarian (Vegan) Workshops I conducted at my homeschooling conference a few weeks ago. It was well received and I was excited to have presented to a few chefs, a few vegans and others in various stages toward vegetarianism. Attending the workshop hopefully fueled their fire, sparked their interest and added to their arsenal of nutritional knowledge.

 A healthy, informed vegan is one that stays vegan!

There are four sandwiches in the picture below and not a single one was left over. If you haven't made a Reuben yet, you are missing out. Make your seitan a few days before or a few weeks before (and freeze it). That way you just need to assemble the sandwich. Make The Radical Reuben and skip the peppers and onions if you want.

Cost Breakdown

bread: $2
seitan: $3
Daiya: $2
1,000 Island sauce (homemade): $1
sauerkraut: $1
Total to make 4 sandwiches:
$9.00