Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spicy Peanut Noodles

Yep, you read it right, I said peanut. As many of you know, nuts are a no-no at our house. We do keep peanut butter here, and Mairin is allowed to eat PB sandwiches under very close supervision. Also, you may know from my earlier posts, we are having an "out of the pantry" kind of week, due to my hesitation to spend more money at the grocery following our Easter weekend.

So, the pantry is getting very bare, and we are running out of options. When I was reading Jenny's blog the other night, she had me craving something Thai. What could I make with no coconut milk, no tofu, and very few vegetable options in the house? Peanut sauce. We had spaghetti and jarred sauce last night, and had some pasta left over. I also had a few scallions left and some sugar snap peas, so I whipped up the sauce, then threw in the noodles and veg to heat them through.

Of course, their was a bit of logistical planning involved in this meal with regards to keeping it away from Stella. Pasta is her absolute favorite, and if she saw it she'd for sure want to eat it. So, we started by giving the girls some plain pasta drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a dash of black pepper. While they were eating I made the peanut sauce. By the time our meal was cooked the girls had finished eating and were ready to leave the table. So, we put on a movie (yes, I know all about using the tv as a babysitter.....shame, shame), put the girls in the living room and ate our dinner at the bar. After dinner we washed up real good, and washed all of the peanut-y dishes in scalding hot water. Then we cleaned the sink, changed dish cloths and washed up the rest of the dishes.

Oh man, this sauce was good. We only had a small amount of pasta left, so I was afraid we wouldn't have enough, but it was perfect. The sauce was very rich and very filling.

Spicy Peanut Noodles
1/4 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
2 Tbs Tamari Soy Sauce
1 Tbs Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tbs Seasoned Rice Vinegar
1 Tbs Brown Rice Syrup
1/2 Tbs Chili Paste

Combine all ingredients over medium heat. Stir until peanut butter has melted and sauce is heated through. Add noodles and veggies of your choosing to heat. Serve hot, garnished with green ends of scallions.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Black Bean Burgers

With all of the money spent for the Easter weekend cooking extravaganza, I hesitate to go back to the store for groceries for this week. I spent nearly a weeks worth of grocery money just buying food for the weekend. With the exception of going to the store to buy some fresh fruit and veg, this week's meals are coming from whatever I have on hand, so don't expect anything too exciting.

Last night we had black bean burgers. I had gotten the recipe from V-con a few weeks ago, and this recipe is loosely based on that. I had some mashed potatoes left from Saturday night's dinner so I chopped up some scallions, red pepper and garlic and turned those into hash browns to accompany the burgers. And of course, our ever present side of broccoli (it's the only thing green, aside from avocado, that my kids will eat).

Rob and I both concurred that the burgers were good, but slightly lacking in flavor. However, these burgers were devoured by the kids (and Mairin despises beans), so I hesitate to spice up the recipe any. I've decided that my kids just don't like "big" flavors. I hope it's just a phase, as "big" flavors are served quite frequently here. I'll share the recipe below, but you'll likely want to spice it up a bit to suit your tastes. A little chili powder and possibly some lime juice would do nicely.

Black Bean Burgers
2 cups black beans, mashed
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, kneading until wheat gluten is incorporated and a stringy texture forms. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Form burger mixture into 6 patties. Brown patties on both side. Patties will be firm to the touch when finished.

I served our patties topped with salsa and avocado slices. They would also be good stuffed inside pita bread with lettuce, tomato, avocado and salsa. Really I think the possibilities are endless with this recipe.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stir Fry

Last nights dinner was Tofu Stir-fry with Orange Chili Sauce served over a bed of quinoa. Stir-fry is soooo good, and so easy.......why don't I think to make it more often? Rob proclaimed that this was the best stir-fry he'd ever had. It was pretty darn good!! Quinoa makes a great base for stir-fry, as it really takes on and heightens the flavor of the sauce.

Our stir-fry was a combo of diced tofu, sliced carrots, sliced red peppers, sliced onions and sliced zucchini,some broccoli florets, and about 4 oz of sliced button mushrooms. I fried the tofu cubes in a bit of olive oil then removed them from the pan, adding the veggies starting with the slowest to cook to the fastest. When the veggies were cooked I added back the tofu and stirred in the sauce. This was heated through and served over the quinoa, garnished with chopped cilantro leaves.

I've made an Orange Chili sauce before, but this one was much better, so I'll post it too! This recipe makes a hot sauce, so if you prefer a milder flavor reduce the amount of chili paste.

Orange Chili Stir-fry Sauce
Juice from 2 medium oranges (I used Cara-Cara oranges)
1 Tbs brown sugar
1 inch piece of ginger peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs Olive Oil
1/3 cup tamari
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. Pour over stir-fry and heat through. This would also be a great marinade for tofu before baking!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chocolate Chip Oat Bars

As promised, version 2 of Dreena's Easy Pleasin' Oat Bars. This time I added 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips to the original recipe. Oh.My.God. These things are out of this world!! I can't imagine that the 10 bars I made are going to last through today. They are that good.

These have actually become both breakfast bars and snack bars at our house. They are a really quick and easy breakfast for those rushed school mornings. And really, they are just oats, syrup and rice milk.....pretty much what my kids would be eating anyway, only condensed in a less messy bar instead of a bowl!!

I'm thinking version 3.0 will be Coconut-Chocolate Chip. However, Mairin asked today if I could put apples in them, so I guess I'll have to get to work on version 4.0 as well!! I can see all manner of oat bars in our distant future. If you have any suggestions throw them my way, I'll be sure to try them out.

I urge you to try them out for yourself very soon. The original recipe is fantastic, so be sure to start there. After that, the possibilities are endless, really!!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sesame Noodles and Fried Tofu with Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce

Tonight we had an Asian inspired dinner of Sesame Noodles and Fried Tofu with a Soy-Ginger dipping sauce. This meal came together so quickly, and it was so beautiful and delicious. The flavor of the noodles was just fabulous. And, to my surprise, the tofu turned out perfect. Slightly crispy on the outside, yet still soft and moist on the inside. I love tofu, and unfortunately because of Stella's possible soy allergy we haven't been able to eat it very often (news about that to follow the recipes).

Asian Sesame Noodles
1 lb angel hair pasta
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
2 Tbs tahini
1 Tbs toasted sesame oil
2 cloves garlic minced
1 Tbs fresh ginger, peeled and minced
one handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
a few dashes of cayenne pepper
one bunch of scallions, sliced on a diagonal (white and light green parts only)
1 large carrot shredded

Start water to boil, and cook pasta. While pasta is cooking, in a large bowl combine all ingredients except scallions and carrot. Whisk together until smooth. When pasta is cooked, drain and rinse in cold water. Drain cold pasta well, toss with scallions and carrot, pour dressing over and combine until noodles are well coated.

For the tofu, I used one block of extra firm tofu that had been pressed and drained. I sliced it in 3 slices, horizontally, then cut each into a diagonal. I fried it in a hot, non-stick skillet, coated with just a touch of sesame oil. Fry each side until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Do not mess with tofu while it is frying, just put it in the skillet, and leave it until it is time to turn. For the sauce, I just combined a little chopped fresh ginger, some crushed chili pepper flakes, a little chopped cilantro, and some tamari.

And finally, we have some *cross our fingers* hopefully good news on the allergy front. We did a food challenge with Stella for soy this weekend. She didn't seem to have any adverse reactions to drinking a whole cup of soy milk. That's a very good sign that there is no soy allergy. However, we will need to reintroduce soy back into her diet slowly, and watch her for reactions. With any luck we will be able to eat soy without caution. It sounds crazy, but I feel like there is a whole world of recipes out there that I'll finally be able to utilize. Please keep your fingers crossed that she continues not to react. Our next test will be some Follow Your Heart Mozzarella on a pizza later this week.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sauteed Polenta with Beans and Greens

Last night was a little creation of my own, "Sauteed polenta with beans and greens". I don't use polenta often, and haven't found too many recipes that really catch my eye, so I thought I'd just come up with something of my own. It turned out really good. What I liked about it was that it was really simple, and that the flavor of each ingredient was recognizable. I like when you can really taste what's in a dish.......especially when it's beans and greens, two of my favorite!! Along with the polenta dish we had some simple garlic bread with roma tomatoes. Every time I make this garlic bread it's a big hit. It really is so much better than pre-made, frozen, garlic breads.

Sauteed Polenta with Beans and Greens
2 - 3 Tbs olive oil
1 tube of refrigerated, prepared polenta, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked white beans
3/4 cup vegetable stock
1 bag pre-washed baby spinach
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add polenta and saute until beginning to brown. Season with salt and pepper and remove from skillet and set aside. Add additional oil to skillet if necessary, then add onion, pepper and garlic. Saute until vegetables are beginning to soften. Then, add beans and saute for a few more minutes. Add vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add spinach. Once spinach has started wilt add polenta back to skillet, stir gently to combine, and finish wilting spinach. Remove from heat, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why Vegan??

Last weekend when talking to a friend she says to me, "I understand why you don't want to eat meat, but what's the reason for not eating eggs and cheese and milk?". Then I realized, there are probably a lot of you reading this blog (mostly my family and IRL friends) who are probably wondering the same thing, but just haven't asked. So, I thought it seemed appropriate to answer that question for you.

To really get to the answer of that we're going to have to go back a bit, and revisit why I stopped eating meat in the first place. I decided, as a personal challenge, to stop eating meat. Initially there were no health, environmental, or ethical reasons for not eating meat. It was simply a test, can I do it or not? So, a few weeks passed, I hadn't eaten any meat, and it really didn't seem like something that was going to be too terribly hard to do. OK, so I can do this vegetarian thing, now I need to find out why people are vegetarian, and in particular, why I should remain meat free. So, lets start doing some research.

That research leadsme to some very compelling health reasons for not eating meat. According to numerous studies (which you can find all over the internet), vegetarians have lower rates of almost all chronic diseases, and in particular diseases of the heart. Now, there isn't any heart disease in my family, but, it seems to be less and less a hereditary thing, and more and more directly related to our diets, and in particular the Standard American Diet, ironically abbreviated SAD. Vegetarians also have lower BMI's and lower waist to hip ratios than their meat eating counterparts. Sounds like a good reason to stop eating meat doesn't it? By just doing an internet search you can come up with many more health benefits to not eating a meat based diet.

In researching health and vegetarianism, the link between factory farming and the environment kept coming up time and again. The most prominent of these issues seems to be the pollution that factory farming causes to our water, via run-off. Another major issue I learned about was the vast areas of land that are required for factory farming, not necessarily for the animals themselves, but for the massive amounts of corn and soy that are grown to feed these animals (the same amounts of food which could be grown to feed a lot more people than the animals feed). It also takes lots of water, lots of energy and lots of dangerous chemicals to grow the crops meant for these animals. Factory farms also produce some of the highest amounts of greenhouse gasses.

So, given the fact that we had been putting a lot of energy into reducing our impact on the Earth, it only seemed logical that we become vegetarian. How could we make all of these changes that we'd previously made for the Earth, yet continue to contribute to what may be the largest source of pollution out there?

Obviously, the decision had been made, I wasn't going to eat meat, and I was never going to look back. So, I started buying vegetarian cookbooks, finding recipes on the internet, and cruising the vegetarian and vegan blogs. One of those blogs that I frequented was/is Eat Air-A Vegan Food Log. While looking through the blogs one day I came across a post on Eat Air about the Vegetarian Food For Thought podcast. Out of sheer curiosity I decided to listen. After listening to just one episode I knew that I had to make the change.

I am ashamed and embarrassed to admit that I really had no idea how horrific the animal slaughter industry is. I mean, I knew that the animals had to die, and I knew that there were reports of animal cruelty, but I also knew that cruelty wasn't the norm. Wow! Was I ever wrong. The animals that are used for our food are treated absolutely horribly. Honestly, I'm not a huge animal lover, but even so, I can not contribute to such horrendous suffering and abuse (both to the animals and the workers).

So, that still doesn't explain the whole no eggs, no dairy, no animal by-products thing, now does it? Well, it does. Even the animals that are used for eggs and dairy are eventually slaughtered, and therefore have to suffer the same horrible fate as those that are used for direct consumption. Not only that, but the reproductive systems of the hens and cows that are used for egg and dairy production are egregiously exploited. The male offspring of these animals, which are obviously of no use to the egg or dairy industry, are either slaughtered or used as veal. The conditions that these egg and dairy producers live in are unbelievably bad. Really, the list goes on and on. The long and short of it is this....I just can't be a part of the abuse and suffering.

Becoming vegetarian was easy, I did it cold-turkey and I've never looked back. Becoming vegan is not as easy, it is a process, a process that I am slowly conquering. A process that we are all still working through. Mairin for instance isn't quite ready to give up cow's milk, cheese, and eggs. I'm ok with that. I've made it quite clear to her several times that I'm ok with whatever choice she makes, vegetarian or not. I will provide her with the information she needs as it becomes age appropriate, and what she decides to do with it is hers. Of course, I hope she chooses not to participate in the needless suffering, but forcing my ethics on her, or anyone else for that matter just doesn't seem right.

This was a very long answer to the question, but I felt that it was necessary for those who truly want to know.....I don't eat meat, dairy and eggs because I don't need to. I don't want to contribute to a systen that produces so much unnecessary waste and suffering.

Powerhouse Pancakes

In my last post I said I would be absent for awhile, because we are having a lot of repeats for dinner this week. Jenny sweetly commented that she'd miss Jenny, this one's for you!!

This morning it was cold and rainy, and it just seemed like a good morning for pancakes. There really isn't anything too special about these pancakes, no fancy fillings or flavors, just your run of the mill pancakes. So, what makes these pancakes powerhouses you ask........the addition of wheat germ. Wheat germ really gives these pancakes a nutritional boost. And, best of all, they've finally broken me from my usual pre-mixed pancake mix that includes milk powder (it was really the last thing holding me back from having a diet completely free of animals and animal by-products). These were so simple to make, I'm not sure what took me so long to break free from that pre mixed stuff. The kids all loved them (I have my extra kid today, so I was feeding 3), and they are the true test of whether a recipe is a success or not!!

Powerhouse Pancakes

1 cup plain rice milk

1 tsp white vinegar

1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup wheat germ

1 Tbs sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 Tbs canola oil

1 Tbs organic unsweetened applesauce

Combine rice milk and vinegar and set aside. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the milk mixture, vanilla, oil and applesauce and mix until smooth. Spoon or pour batter onto griddle. Cook until edges are cooked and bubbles appear in the center, then flip gently. Cook a few minutes more, then remove gently from griddle. Serve with warm maple syrup, and enjoy.

I was able to get nine pancakes from this recipe, but I make them fairly small for the kids. You may need to double the recipe if you are feeding bigger eaters. Or, make extras and freeze them for quick weekday breakfasts. I freeze extra pancakes between layers of paper towel in a quart sized freezer bag, then just pop them in the toaster on the lightest setting until they have thawed.