Friday, February 24, 2012

Ten Minute Polenta

Please make your own polenta, it is SO much better than that premade roll-type thing at the store.

Ten Minute Polenta & Polenta Loaf

6 cups water (or water + broth, etc.)
2 tsps salt
1 1/4 cup Polenta, aka "Corn Grits" (I use Bob's Red Mill)

Bring the water to a boil in a high-ish sided pot (just don't use a shallow one! polenta "spits" a bit when simmering and it can shoot out of the pot!).  I use the bottom of my stainless steel steamer :-).

Add salt if you aren't using broth.

Add polenta in a slow stream, whisking as you go.  Let simmer about 10-12 minutes, whisking about every minute or so (it doesn't have to be constant whisking, but you do need to keep it moving).  That's it! 
You can put add-ins at the end, like garlic, herbs, cheese, etc. 

Use immediately for a spoonable, soft polenta (it will firm up right in the dish, so beware!) or pour into a non-stick or lightly oiled or buttered loaf pan and let cool to room temp on your counter.  I love this non-stick 10 inch loaf pan from Norpro.  Once cool, cover and refrigerate for many amazing uses, like Polenta Lasagna

That's it!  You can always make polenta ahead.  It keeps a while in the fridge.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Polenta Lasagna!

This was killer.  I never thought to do this before, but when I made that loaf of polenta from my birthday dinner, the idea slashed across my brain like a green light saber...

Slice this and layer it with sauce and fillings, you will! Bake it, you will!

Bake it I did.

And Polenta Lasagna was born.  Though many have come before, this One was made with The Force.

VF's Polenta Lasagna with Sauteed Artichokes, Toasted Pine Nuts, Roasted Peppers and Cashew Ricotta (oh, and giant capers!)

One Loaf Organic Polenta (homemade, please, it doesn't take long! Here's the recipe!)
One-half recipe Cashew Ricotta (again, freezer pantry score!)
One jarred organic, red pepper (mine are in water) or one fresh red pepper, peeled & sauteed

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

2, 6oz jars of marinated, quartered artichoke hearts, or a larger 14 oz jar if you want, or canned in water are also fine
1 tablespoon capers (the big ones are fun)

6 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon dried oregano, crushed in your fingers
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/8 tsp or more if you like ground red pepper flakes

28 oz Organic Crushed Tomatoes (I used Wegmans), this is one large can, usually (get BPA free if possible!)
3 cubes of frozen garden fresh basil or pesto (my freezer pantry came through big time on this one!)
OR, 1/4 cup packed fresh basil, chopped.
1 tablespoon (or more if you want) Nutritional Yeast
Olive oil for cooking the artichokes and sauce and for coating your baking pan
Salt & pepper to taste
About 1/2 cup Daiya Mozzarella (if you like)

Toast your pine nuts in a big, deep saute pan (and just use this pan for everything else, too) on low heat.   I use a non-stick pan which doesn't get as hot so it's insurance against burning stuff (especially pine nuts and garlic) badly, but it also takes longer to cook everything else (like the artichokes), a trade-off like any other in the kitchen!  Cook pine nuts about 4-6 minutes total, checking frequently.  Don't burn the pine nuts! You just want some of them to be light brown, once they are fragrant, they are done.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Drain your quartered artichoke hearts (or pick them out and save the marinade!).  Heat about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan on medium heat, and add all of the drained artichoke hearts and the capers.  Or, use some of the oil from the jar marinade to fry them up! Cook until light brown on at least two sides.  This takes a while, like 12-15 minutes total.  Set a timer to go off every 3-5 minutes so you can do other tasks and still check your artichoke hearts! This also ensures you will leave them to cook long enough on one side so they actually brown.  In my non-stick pan it takes forever.

While you are sauteeing your artichoke hearts, peel & chop your garlic and slice your jarred red pepper.  

When the artichokes and capers are done, remove them from the pan and set aside.  Add 1-2 tablespoons more olive oil to the pan and saute all your chopped garlic, one teaspoon of Kosher salt, one tablespoon of dried oregano crushed in your fingers, and a dash of ground red pepper flakes, and saute on medium heat for about 2 minutes. Don't burn the garlic!! Add the can of tomatoes, basil ice cubes (:-), and nutritional yeast and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring regularly until sauce is reduced, thicker and no longer raw and liquidy.  Add about 1-2 tsps of Kosher salt, but taste as you go to make sure not to over salt.  

While your sauce is cooking, oil a baking dish (I used a 9x13 Pyrex baking dish) and slice and arrange about half of your polenta in one layer on the bottom of the dish.  It will fit together perfectly like a puzzle if you invert the center pieces in the rows. Add the artichokes & capers, pine nuts, and roasted peppers (arrange however you like) and top with cashew ricotta.

Now, add your sauce:
 I put some Daiya mozzarella on top of this, too, but you don't have to.

Now, add your second layer of polenta.
 Look at the bottom row to see how the slices fit together magically when you invert the center slice (at least with my loaf pan, which has high, angled sides).

 Cover with sauce, more Daiya if you want, and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes (or at 375 for 30 minutes, or around there, you are heating it through and melting the cheeses, so the exact time & temp doesn't matter that much).

 All melty and delicious!
Slice and serve!


Ate almost half of it, we did! :-)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Birthday Bonanza 2012

So, here's what I made (and ate!) for my birthday!

 Old Fashioned Chelsea Waffles made with my Homemade Soy Milk (from the Tempeh making process).  The recipe is in Vegan Brunch.  

 The homemade soy milk gave them this gorgeous mottled look, especially around the edges, where it was most striking.  I've never seen it before when making these (I usually use Trader Joe's Original Soy Milk to make them).  These were particularly tender and tasty, and I really think it was the homemade soy milk that did it...

 For lunch, my Homemade Tempeh marinated in an Asian type marinade, then sauteed in my cast iron pan, served over Cilantro Scallion Basmati.

 For dinner, pressure cooker Cuban Black Beans over my Ten Minute Polenta (recipe post to come for that, it's SOOO easy).  
 Cuban Black Beans over Organic Polenta with cilantro, avocado, tomatoes, and pimento olives (traditional to serve with Cuban Black Beans :-)

For dessert, a gift from my sister: The Luscious Locavore Box from Lagusta's Luscious.  

 I love the Blueberry Black Pepper Currant one best!  The others are Apple Fennel, Coriander Beet, and Raspberry Balsamic.  All are fantastic!

I poured the rest of the polenta into my new 10 inch Nordic Ware non-stick loaf pan.  This is a teaser for tomorrow night's dinner (or at least that's what I'm thinking right now)...

And, now, for the presents.

From my husband, I got a REAL roasting pan, a gorgeous one from Cuisinart.  I have been using my jelly roll pan for a few years now.
 Behold! All that shiny stainless steel :-)

These are my gifts to myself!
 This burger press is so hokey and fun looking, I just had to have it!  I have no idea if it will work for veggie burgers, but it's going to be fun trying.  So hilarious.

Lastly, from Nordic Ware's "Platinum" line, the Garland Mini-Bundt Pan.  Gorgeous.  Can't wait to try it.  
I still have to make my birthday cake, maybe they will be belated bundt cakes!

We're gonna have a good time with all our new kitchen toys, aren't we?

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Beans, Grains & Greens Burger

Did you guys know you can pretty much make a veggie burger out of any combination of beans, grains & greens? Provided you get a consistency you can shape into a burger (even if it is delicate) you really have myriad options in the v-burger department.

Here's one I made recently:
Winter Risotto, Russian Kidney Beans, and Kale Burger!

I just took my leftover Winter Risotto, added my Russian Red Kidney Beans (was a pressure cooker recipe I had made recently), mashed those up with a fork, added more cooked carrots, whatever organic kale I had left in the fridge (I just chopped it up raw and put it in), added some roasted red peppers, organic raisins (I love raisins in balls & burgers!), fresh lemon juice, olive oil (jalapeno oil!), chopped raw organic walnuts, salt, pepper, and then mixed in some old fashioned oats to dry it up a bit.  You could also just use all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, chickpea flour, or any kind of flour, really, to dry up a very moist burger mix.  I like to use oats because they are tasty.

Here it is in the bowl:
I wish I had this right now!  I could totally go for these, they were awesome (esp. since all the work was already done, leftover grain dish + leftover bean dish= awesome burgers).

And here it is formed into patties and placed on a well-oiled, rimmed baking sheet:

 Bake at around 400 to 425 for like 15 minutes per side.  You want them nicely browned on each side. You'll know your oven better than I do as far as the specifics.

Delicious, crispy, totally flavorful burger.  I love the crispy kale parts, it's like having kale chips in your burger!

I had mine in a burrito, I get into burrito phases with everything!

And hubby had a more traditional burger, but still Mexican themed:

So, check your fridge.  Do you have leftover grains, beans or greens? If so, make a BGG (beans, grains & greens) burger. 
You won't be sorry!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

I had never made homemade peanut butter cups before, but really wanted some on Valentine's Day, so, I made a batch.

These are really tasty and not too much mess to make, so if you are having a craving for a  rich, delicious peanut butter cup made with whole ingredients, give these a go.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

4-6 tablespoons of Earth Balance butter or other vegan baking butter, see my note below
3/4 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs or cereal crumbs like Puffins
1/4 cup organic brown sugar
1 cup nondairy chocolate chips (or carob, but I hate carob and it's made with palm oil)
1/4 cup coconut milk (aseptic box or refrigerated kind, not canned) or other non-dairy milk

1. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. (If You Care makes unbleached liners made from recycled paper.) Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. I used Alicia's recipe's full 1/2 cup (1 stick) of EB and that was WAY too greasy and tasted too much like EB (which I only use in baked goods) so I had to keep adding cereal to it to make it a drier consistency.  I recommend using only 4-6 tablespoons (1/4 to 1/3 cup) of EB and keeping the rest of the ingredients the same. I don't really like EB, but the consistency works very well in baked goods and desserts, if you use the lesser amount (4-6 tablespoons) it should be fine and not taste like EB once you add all the other ingredients :-)  
3. Stir in the peanut butter, graham cracker or cereal crumbs, and sugar and mix well.  Note: I didn't have graham crackers (because we ate them all), so I just processed Original Puffins in the food processor until they were fine crumbs, and measured out 3/4 of a cup of the crumbs.  It was a fine substitution!
4. Remove the mixture from the heat. Evenly divide the mixture, approximately 2 tablespoons per cup, among the muffin cups. I used an Oxo medium scoop to do this task.
5. Combine the chocolate and milk in a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup. Heat in microwave, covered, a minute at a time, whisking each minute, until the chocolate has melted and is combined well with the milk.
6. Carefully pour the chocolate evenly over each cup of the peanut butter mixture. 
7. Place in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours before serving.

I couldn't resist using my Silverstone muffin tin!  These were just poured and had not yet set in the fridge.


This makes 12 large (!) cupcake sized peanut butter cups.  You can cut them into quarters and arrange prettily on a platter for smaller dessert "bites," or you can just go for it and eat a whole one per person.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Crispy Chipotle Seitan (Gorditas)

This recipe is amazing.  The crispy outside and juicy yet firm insides of the chipotle seitan will call to you in your sleep.  This seitan would be great in many recipes, but works especially well in a gordita style tortilla wrap because of the flavor and texture of it.  It would also be great over rice, veggies, or in any Mexican dish that calls for beef.  I cannot stop eating this.  If this weren't a vegan blog, you might be scared by some of these pictures.  The seitan really, really looks like beef in most of them.  

So, first make some homemade seitan, don't be afraid!  I used the seitan recipe in American Vegan Kitchen, which worked out extremely well.  Here are some pictures of the seitan making process, again, if you didn't know this was a vegan blog, you might be scared!

 Mix the dry and wet ingredients.  The wet ingredients are already in the bowl, I always just sift the dry into the wet like this, so easy, and saves a bowl!

 Knead the dough, let it rest, and shape it into steaks!

 Pan fry your steaks for about 4 minutes a side.  Scary, right??

Now, bake them with the broth.  These steaks are done!  Are you scared now??

I took the steaks out of the broth, patted them dry a bit and stored them in zip lock bags.  I froze half the batch (it makes eight large steaks like this, or about two pounds of seitan).

Now that you have your seitan steaks, get crackin' on Crispy Chipotle Seitan Gorditas!

Crispy Chipotle Seitan Gorditas

Homemade seitan steaks, dried a bit by wrapping them in paper towels or kitchen towels and pressing gently on them.  This is to remove excess moisture and get them really crispy when you fry them.  You are supposed to dry the outside of real steaks, too, when you saute them, so this is very similar.  

Premade or homemade gordita-style tortillas (these are nice and big, giving you enough room to make a great burrito, and very tasty).  Mine are from Wegmans, but my favorite are from Trader Joe's.  Keep them in the freezer and they last forever.

Chipotle Chili Powder (I used Penzeys) to taste

Fresh cilantro, chopped

Fresh tomatoes, chopped (I use Roma in the winter, they are pretty good)

Sliced avocado (if you like it)

Daiya Cheddar Cheese (shredded)

Tofutti Sour Cream (if you dig)

Hot sauce (whatever kind you like, for Mexican foods, I love Cholula and it can usually be found in any grocery store).

Chopped onions (if you want), whatever else you like in your gordita/burrito.

Salt, pepper, garlic powder (to season your tomatoes and avocado, I always preseason them before adding to the gordita for extra flavor!)

Olive oil for sauteeing your seitan. I used my jalapeno oil for this and it was amazing.

 Here are the key players.

See that little take out container? I just used it to shake up the sliced seitan with some chipotle powder so it wouldn't get too airborne.  

So, all you have to do is take your seitan steak that has been dried according to my note above, and slice it up.  Slice on a bias if you want to be fancy and really trick your omnivore friends.  Sprinkle a bunch of chipotle powder on your sliced seitan, you can do this in a closed container if you want to, and just shake it up a lot to evenly distribute the powder (and keep it from getting airborne, because you will cough a lot if you inhale it, it's pepper!).  Or, just mix it up with your hands. Preheat your cast iron skillet for two minutes on medium heat, then add about two teaspoons of olive oil (or jalapeno oil if you have it!).  Add your seitan to the pan and arrange it cut side down.

Fry the seitan on medium heat (about #5 on my gas stove) for three minutes.  I cover it with a lid to keep chipotle smoke from going all over the house :-).  Flip them over, and fry another three minutes to crisp the other side.  Seitan should look caramelly brown with nicely crisped edges.  Stir it all up and fry for another minute to get any parts you might have missed.  

In the meantime while your seitan is frying (set a timer!!) get your gordita ready.  I just microwave mine with some Daiya on it.  Just heat it enough so that the Daiya melts and the tortilla is nice and hot.  Then, when your steak is done, load up your gordita:

 Unadorned, but not for long!

 Loaded up.  I still added Tofutti sour cream and Cholula to it before rolling up!

Roll and go.  BEST GORDITA EVER!!!

I anticipate making this seitan a LOT and using it in a lot of recipes.  Horray for the homemade!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Tempehcubator!

So, to make tempeh, you need to keep it at 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 to 30 hours.  This can be done in a warm place in summer, in your oven with the pilot light on (if you have a gas oven), in a greenhouse, etc. But, if you live in cooler climes and/or want to know your temperature is being maintained properly, you definitely want an incubator.

For my incubator, I used a small fridge that I knew I no longer needed as a refrigerator.  It had been sitting around for about three years, and so, I was ready to upcycle it into something fantastic...

The Tempehcubator!

Here is the eerily lit Tempehcubator in it's temporary home.

You can also use a cheap, easily purchased, styrofoam cooler! Lay it down on its side, with the opening facing you, then the lid can become the "door" just like the fridge.  Cut a hole in the back just like you see here with the fridge, and proceed.  Or, come up with your own design, or hunt around for various designs that are around on the internet.

Most fridges apparently already have a hole (to release condensate) through which you can thread your thermostat wire without hassel, but alas, mine did not.  So, to reveal a hole in the back of the fridge, I needed to remove all the hardware from the refrigerator part of the refrigerator.  My dad helped with this!  We removed a TON of stuff, basically a plastic grocery bag full of screws, plates, wires, the fan, etc. etc.  I never got a picture of that bag of stuff (it's in my basement, I think), but here it is, the hole in back finally unadorned!

We were a little giddy when we finally got to look through the hole :-)

So, then we tried to wire a baseboard thermostat directly to the existing wiring of the refrigerator.  We had stripped wires, and were trying to decode the fridge vs. thermostat wiring situation, but were tired and didn't feel like being clever anymore.  Do you see ALL THOSE LITTLE HOLES in the back of the fridge? Well, each one had something attached to it and something attached to that, and we had removed all that stuff already :-)
Yeah, so, we gave up on wiring the baseboard heater and I ordered a plug-in thermostat on amazon.

Anyway, my dad, who can pretty much do anything, also quickly put together the lamp repair kit, which was awesome because I was tired.

Then, the holidays came, we went away, came back, and then I ordered my starter and had to wait for it.

Once I got my Powdered Tempeh Starter, I set to work at finishing the assembly of the incubator, so, back to work!

So, the wire that runs from the thermostat must fit out some kind of hole in the fridge. The hole in the back of my fridge was a pretty big square, so I had to make some adjustments to re-close the hole.

 I covered the rest of the hole up with a piece of a brown paper grocery bag.  I just used scotch tape on the inside of the fridge to tape it in there.  I also simply used scotch tape to secure the thermostat in it's place.  Easy.  I used a three prong converter with the thermostat so I could plug it into a regular two-prong extension cord.  The temperature probe (attached to the thermostat, sticks up from the top) should be on the inside of the fridge with the rest of the thermostat unit.

Anyway, so, here's the inside of the Tempehcubator again:
So, tape the paper bag over half the hole, stick thermostat on the other side and tape it (don't tape over the flap-door because you need to open that to set the temp).  Don't worry about those wires (yellow & blue) near the thermostat, those were to the fridge and I didn't cut them off, they aren't live.  Also, the fridge dial set to "4" isn't live, obviously, it was the fridge's.  So, set up your lamp kit, cover the base with a simple piece of tinfoil and smash the tinfoil into a lamp base :-).  I wanted to do that because it just fit a little better that way.  Don't lay down the light bulb on the floor of the fridge without aluminum foil under it, IT WILL MELT THE PLASTIC ON THE BOTTOM OF YOUR FRIDGE :-)  If you do want it to lie down, put some aluminum foil under and around  it so it doesn't melt the plastic of the fridge.  Anyway, so, I wanted it to stand up, so, that's what I did.  If you have a metal shelf, you can put it on that.  

I made removable shelves with chopsticks :-) I just measured the length I needed them to reach across into the shelving tracks, and then glued them together with a hot glue gun.  It took two chopsticks, overlapped by about two inches, to reach across.  You can also cut dowels to fit, but I didn't have any and I didn't feel like going to Home Depot.  I placed the removable shelves around the lamp, and I was done with the set up.  

Now, it's time to see if it works.  Plug the lamp into the thermostat, and make sure the thermostat is plugged into the wall.  Turn on the thermostat (switch for this one is on the right side) and turn on your lamp with its switch.  Set the thermostat dial to "heat" and the digital setting to 88 degrees (or anywhere between 85 and 90 that you like) just by using the up arrow.  Then, press the "hold" button.  This seems to override the default heat setting (which will go down to 62 degrees from 10 pm to 6am, I found that out the hard way!).  You can also fiddle with the time, and setting that if to correspond with the temp if you want, but I think pressing the "hold" button after setting the temp works to keep the temp at 88 for as long as you have the thing on.  If not, I'll learn again the hard way next round :-)

If the air temperature is lower than 88 degrees (your thermostat will give you the reading for air temperature in your unit right next to your set temperature) then your light bulb should turn on within a few seconds to heat things up for a while until the temp reaches 88 degrees.  Then the thermostat will tell your light bulb to turn off, it's hot enough.  When the temp starts to go back down again, the thermostat will tell your light bulb to turn back on, and so on and so on, as long as you have the system turned on (which will be 20-30 hours for tempeh).  After the first 12 hours, crack the door to allow some more air flow and to reduce the temp just a tiny bit (your tempeh will be producing its own heat at this point).  Check your tempeh pretty frequently to see if it is done, plus it's really fun to watch it develop!  My batch was done in 20 hours.

A styrofoam cooler would work nicely, and many people have used them successfully as tempeh incubators.  Turn it on it's side so the open side (which will be the "door") faces you, just like the fridge door, and it would be oriented the same way for set up.  You could just cut/push a hole in the back/side of it for the thermostat, and probably use a baking rack from a toaster oven or a baker's cooling rack or something else for a tray.  Heat source and thermometer could the the light bulb and thermostat set up (like here), or a heating pad, hot water bottle, or warm room, space heater even (?) aimed into the box, and you can use a plain old thermometer to check the temp.  Poke some holes in it to allow for air flow, or keep one side open, etc. Styrofoam is a great insulator, it's cheap, and it's easy to cut through/malleable, so perfect for the requirements of an incubator!  There are other designs out there on the internet for styrofoam incubators, just google "styrofoam tempeh incubator." Some just use a hot water bottle on the bottom of the box as the heat source, with a thermometer inside, and leave the lid cracked, etc.

Happy Tempeh Making!