Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Expert and The Elf – The Winter of Our Discontent

Even in the South, this has been a tough winter. Seeing pictures of fallen electrical lines, unprecedented cold, and more snow than we usually get in several years has made even the toughest of us cry “ENOUGH ALREADY!”  So far, we have been lucky in mid-Mississippi, though we have had bone-chilling cold. Thus, you can imagine when The Elf selected this week’s recipe from FatFree Vegan Kitchen, it was done with a bent toward something warm and substantial and we were NOT disappointed.  The French Lentil and Portabella Stew was easy to prepare and delicious to consume. Not only that, it’s one of those dishes that seems to get better as it ages a bit (well, not a LONG time but a day or so), when the flavors have had time to marry and develop. And for those of you who track your nutritional status on My Fitness Pal (the program we utilize), almost all of the FFVK recipes are part of the My Fitness Pal database.

For the past week, we followed our regimen as outlined in the blog last Sunday. AND we only went to the grocery ONCE! That in itself has been one of the best parts of this whole idea of cooking from FFVK and planning a menu. At the end of next week, I plan on assessing how (or if) this once weekly grocery experience has made a financial impact.  Now, I have to back-track just a bit and say that there are some items that I CANNOT find at a regular grocery store (such as Kroger, which seems to have a near monopoly in this area) so I HAVE to go to Rainbow Co-op (our locally owned health food grocery and all ‘round great store) or Whole Foods (commonly known as ‘Whole Paycheck’). The trick THEN is to JUST get those few items I need and NOT go hog-wild and buy stuffs I don’t.

So, here’s the report out on the three days of the Elf and the FFVK day on Wednesday:

Sunday (2/15) we had a Mediterranean Tofu Scramble. I just took some of the things that we needed to use and made up the scramble rather than follow a recipe.  The Elf always uses Wildwood SuperFirm Tofu for scrambles as it has such substance and no need for pressing. So here's what I put together: 

  • In the ‘frig, we found large white mushrooms (thickly sliced), some of those pretty baby bell peppers in assorted colors (which were charred and halved), some Sicilian olives (also halved), and sweet onion (thickly sliced and then quartered).
  • Using about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, I sauteed the onion and mushrooms, then added the charred peppers.
  • I crumbled the tofu by placing it in a large plastic zip-loc bag and just squishing the heck out of it until it was the consistency that I wanted, leaving some larger chunks of tofu in with the smaller ones.
  • After the veggies were tender, I added the tofu to the large saute/fry pan and then started building the spices/seasonings.
  • The usual suspects of turmeric (always adds such great color), oregano, freshly squeezed Meyer lemon and about a teaspoon of zest, and some cayenne were added along with about ½ cup of water (or you could use veggie broth if wish), stirred well and let simmer until most of the water was absorbed. Cilantro would have been nice but I did not have and and was NOT going to the store!
  • The olives were the last to be added and allowed to heat thoroughly and Voila! It was ready to eat. I guess we made it an international event by toasting some of the freshly baked pumpernickel and it was a most enjoyable supper.  And, since we had a fair amount left over (it’s just The Elf and Big Solid), we were able to have the remaining scramble for  a couple of lunches.

Mediterranean Tofu Scramble
Monday (2/16) was a leftover night.  Before I started this endeavor, I felt like we had to have something ‘new’ every night, which is one of the reasons I would be at the grocery store nearly every day…well, let me amend that…EVERY day.  Now that I’ve given myself permission to be less compulsive about that, I've have found that leftovers can be spruced up and/or a side added to keep things interesting. So, Monday, we had left over soups (Big Solid had left over “10 Spice Soup” and I had left over Crazy Sexy Chili) with a grilled ‘cheese’ (Daiya slices on home-baked White Whole Wheat bread). It may become a staple Monday night meal—easy and enjoyable.

Tuesday (2/17) found us with another meal that has also become one we look forward to and that is also very easy to prepare.  First I select a fairly large potato (9-10 oz) and bake it. While the potato is baking, I lightly steam some broccoli flowerets and then sauté in a wee bit of EVOO and a squeeze of Meyer lemon. Next, I rough chop a serving (3 oz) of The Gentle Chef’s Shredded Chikun and sauté those in a ½ teaspoon of EVOO (or if you wanted a different flavor, you could use toasted sesame oil) and finally, warm some of the leftover ‘no cheese’ sauce.  I halve the potato when it’s done, pile the broccoli and Shredded Chikun on the half and pour about ¼ c of the ‘no cheese’ sauce over it. It’s delicious and filling meal. FFVK has a great 'cheese' sauce recipe using cauliflower:

Shredded Chikun from The Gentle Chef
A quick shout out to The Gentle Chef, who has a FaceBook page by the same name as well as a website worth visiting.  He has some excellent recipes for plant based meat substitutes as well as non-dairy ‘dairy’ dishes such as cheese, sauces and creams.  I don’t know your ‘take’ on plant based meat alternatives, but The Elf household enjoys them.

FATFREE VEGAN KITCHEN WEDNESDAY!! (2/18) is the day The Elf anticipates with eagerness every week. Well, this recipe was no exception as I had chosen the lovely looking (I mean the picture just makes you feel warm on a cold winter day) French Lentil and Portabella Stew (<INSERT LINK>). Well, I thought I would freak totally out when I did my ONE grocery shopping trip (Sunday to begin the week with all ingredients needed for the menu—big woo!) and KROGER did NOT HAVE Portabella caps. NONE, ZIP, NADA—WTF!! However, they had ONE box of Baby Bellas left and I practically snatched it out of someone’s hands (not really, but I might have been tempted). So instead of those luscious looking cap slices that are shown on the FFVK version of this stew; I wound up with quartered Baby Bellas. This recipe is easy and serves up a deliciously warm, tasty and filling stew, is practically fat free, lower sodium (depending on the type of vegetable broth used. I make my own, so very low sodium). Susan’s recipe calls for the optional addition of red wine which I highly recommend AND will second her admonition of choosing a real wine instead of the dreadful cooking wines that are an abomination. I served ours with spicy baked Brussels sprouts and vegan cornsticks. A most satisfying FFVK meal and one that will definitely stay on the rotation! Thanks, Susan!

Just getting started - no lentils yet!

Stew (YUM!) cornsticks and spicy Brussels sprouts

Thursday (2/19) is always ‘burger night’ so I won’t go into great detail. I mean really—Simple Truth meatless patties (not too bad), white whole wheat bread and baked fries. Bi Solid’s favorite!

So-there you have this week’s culinary recitation and blow by blow. Now onward and upward for the coming week. It’s Sunday, we have a freezing rain advisory out so who knows what will head our way. I DO know my one grocery trip is looming so I’d best get going. But NOT without sharing the FFVK recipe for this coming Wednesday.  I selected a recipe that I liked the looks of called Skillet Gardern’s Pie…I mean, anything right now with mashed potatoes on it, in it or around it looks yummy and WARM.
Big Solid will be out of town (unless the roads are impassable), so I’ll snack from leftovers Mon-Tues. He’ll be home for Burger night.

Doing this blog is one of my 5Greats! If you are not familiar with this phrase or concept, please check out the Facebook page 5Greats. It’s been a joy to be a part of as well as complete daily.  When you spend some time every evening (or whenever) thinking of things that have been positives for the day, your mood brightens and things look less dim. And it’s fun. Try it, you’ll like it. 
And that’s a wrap for this week…make that a vegan wrap. Til next week, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants and love life.

The Elf

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Expert and The Elf--Week Three Havin' a BALL!!

No sooner had the digital ink dried on our blog of Sunday 2/8 than we were barreling into our commitment to stick to the menu we’d developed and make good on our pledge to minimize grocery store visits.

Sunday evening’s fare was determined to be the Tempeh Salad from Kittee Berns FABULOUS new Vegan Ethiopian cookbook with the great title TEFF LOVE. That salad was AMAZING!! We made a slight change when the Elf forgot to take the soup out of the freezer in time to thaw. So, we had grilled cheese sandwiches made with home-baked white wheat bread and Daiya Cheddar. I think it’d been a LONG TIME since we’d had a grilled cheese and it just hit the spot. PLUS…as Justin Wilson used to say “I’m here to tole you” that TEMPEH Salad was the BOMB (even though I left out one of the primary ingredients!) You can find Kittee Berns on FaceBook under Cake Maker to the Stars!

Monday evening, we had a bit of drama when it dawned on me that we MIGHT NOT have enough fresh cilantro to make that second batch of Tempeh Salad. However, as it turned out, we barely eked out the ¾ cup that was called for and we breathed a big Elfin sigh of relief. We also made a SLIGHT adjustment to the menu of cabbage, sausage and potatoes since Big Solid had a sausage for breakfast. (When we refer to sausage, we are talking the plant-based sausages developed by Chef Skye Michael in his excellent cookbook The Gentle Chef.) And, I’d seen this really cool recipe online for a nut/fat free cheese sauce that looked really good. So, I made the sauce and it’s not bad. I must admit that I did add some olive oil and a bit more salt for flavor but not a substantial amount by any means (1 Tablespoon of EVOO to about 3 cups of sauce and ½ teaspoon of salt). Made all the difference in the world. If you are on a fat/nut restricted diet, of course you would not want to do that. So, we wound up with the Tempeh Salad, sautéed cabbage, baked potato topped with sautéed Chickun Shreds and the No Cheese Sauce. A damn fine meal, said Big
Tempeh Salad from TEFF LOVE
Sauteed Cabbage
Baked potato with chickun shreds and no 'cheese' sauce
Tuesday evening, we had a FFVK recipe that sounded so good called Spicy Collards and Black-eyed Pea soup. It was a definite keeper and we LOVED it! We even made some vegan cornsticks to go along with the soup and those turned out quite nicely as well. 
You know, one of the cool things about Susan’s recipes is that she gives you the space within the recipe to add/lessen seasonings. We like our food very spicy so we found ourselves tasting and adding as we went along. We added extra cayenne to the soup and then added a tablespoon of liquid smoke.  It worked perfectly for us…not everyone likes their food highly seasoned so it’s nice to be able to adjust for our own tastes. And, as Susan mentions, the flavors of a soup like this marry over time and the second day for lunch, it was even better.
Spicy Collards and Black-eyed Pea Soup with Vegan cornsticks
Wednesday is our DAY for The Expert and The Elf’s FFVK elf-fort and this week we selected Chickpea and Broccoli Bowl with Tahini Sauce. Well, I can tell you that Susan’s picture LOOKS a whole LOT better than ours (we cooked the broccoli a wee bit too long, so it was not really a great green) and for some reason our Tahini Sauce never thickened up, even with the addition of the chia seeds. We used brown rice as our base as Big Solid is not a big fan of quinoa (or rice either, for that matter). In an effort to assist Big Solid’s thinking that he was getting a bigger meal than the original picture indicates, I served it in a much larger bowl (and increased the portion size). The result is that the food looks pretty lost and you can’t really see the sauce. The taste of the sauce was quite nice and it will be used again. However, this recipe will go down as an ok but probably not again for us. But, that’s the whole part of doing this…finding those recipes that we adore and will eat over and over. Like Woody Allen said in “Annie Hall”, ‘if you’re going to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs’. 
Chickpea and Broccoli Bowl with Tahini Sauce
For the coming week's Wednesday recipe from The Expert, we have selected The Puy Lentil and Portabello Stew . We both LOVE lentils and Portabellos, so this was a no-brainer.  The rest of the week looks like this:

Sunday 2/15 (tonight) We will have a Mediterranean Tofu Scramble with olives, mushrooms, onion, grilled miniature peppers and whatever else we can think of to throw in. We will also have fresh pumpernickel bread and Tempeh Salad.

Monday 2/16 Big Solid LOVES the 10 Spice Soup that we fix in a HUGE batch and freeze. So, we are having that and grilled Daiya cheese sandwiches.  Last week, as we were  working on various new menu dishes, he asked "Are we going to have something new every night?" I think he likes a little less variety and some of the same tried and true dishes, so we'll go with that this week.

Tuesday 2/17 (Mardi Gras!!) Gonna go back to the baked potato, chickun shreds, broccoli and no cheese cheese sauce that was so popular last week. No one ever said we weren't consistent.

Wednesday 2/18 (Ash Wednesday) The FatFree Vegan Kitchen's Puy Lentil and Portabello Stew

Thursday 2/19 -- 'Burger night"

Friday is Date Night

Saturday is also a night out.

My Vegetarian Times came this week with some really good vegan recipes that I want to try the week of 2/22, so get ready. AND, a dear friend of The Elf gave her a gift certificate at a great gourmet kitchen store here in Jackson MS (The Everyday Gourmet). I got a couple of great gadgets there this week that will be most fun to try--a bread scoring knife and a spiralizer for making zucchini noodles. 
My new gadgets...compliments of Gigi Carter and Everyday Gourmet
And last, we made up a double batch of vegan biscuits to freeze and have ready for breakfast on some of these chillier mornings. We made some of The Gentle Chef's Maple Breakfast Sausage that can be sliced so we can have 'sausage biscuits'.
Bag O'Biscuits
So there you have our third thrilling week of The Expert and the Elf, along with some other equally fascinating and entertaining stuffs. We'll see you next Sunday with Week Four, so in the meantime, enjoy FatFree Vegan Kitchen for yourownself.  So with that, we will sign off and say "y’all, breathe deep, eat plants and love life".

The Elf

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Expert and the Elf – WE BEGIN!!

OK!! We are off on our Elf-cellent adventure with our very first FatFree Vegan Kitchen meal…Eggplant and Chickpea Curry And we have even made our own garam masala, as the recipe suggests. It’s not like we don’t have several variations of garam masala in our spice drawers but we figured we’d jump into the whole routine by making it fresh as Susan suggests in the recipe. We were pretty shocked to have all the ingredients for the masala on hand, so all that we needed to do was MAKE IT! Several years ago, my brother sent me a small grinder for coffee, which I have never used. After scurrying through several cabinets, it was found and engaged…what a joy. We put in 1 tablespoon of black cardamom seeds, a cinnamon stick (approximately 2-2 ½ inches long), 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon whole cloves, and 1 teaspoon black peppercorns and fired up that little grinder. 
Dry ingredients and grinder thingie

As directed, we ground to a powder and placed in a small sauté pan to toast until fragrant. I’m always leery of letting it cook too long so as soon as that SUPERB fragrance wafted up, it was done. Took it off the stove and brushed it into a small bowl to cool. It’s now sitting in a labeled jar waiting for this evening. And BOY! did the Elf’s kitchen smell great.
Toasting CAREFULLY!!
Cooling down the toasted spices
Finished product!

Making sure that things are timed right so that everything is ready for the table at the same time is a big deal for me…as I’m sure it is for most of y’all. I have a REALLY strong tendency to wait too late to start stuff and then everything is late. So today, I got the eggplant baked in plenty of time to cool off, get skinned/chopped as well as the other ingredients ready to assure that I wasn’t searching the cabinets/refrigerator or wherever else at the last minute trying to find something. The ONE thing I had to alter a bit was to sub green pepper in lieu of red pepper. I swore that I would ONLY go to the store once to get this recipe done and that once had come and gone…with no red pepper. Tough stuff but we resisted the urge and used the green. 
Baked and cooled Eggplant

Sauteing peppers and onions

All the stuffs are simmering
I DID stop at a local Indian grocery to get some naan (Big Solid, my husband is not a rice aficionado) only I could NOT find vegan naan. Wound up toasting some home baked pumpernickel bread for him and brown rice for me. Made NO difference at all since the overall success of the Eggplant/Chickpea Curry was a YAY!!  Actually, a friend of mine in TN recently tried this recipe and wrote me how good it was...THANKS ANNA!!
Curry with Brown Rice

The Elf's plate
So, now it’s time to select the FFVK (that’s FatFree Vegan Kitchen) recipe for the coming Wednesday (Feb 11). Initially, I’d selected another ethnic cuisine but then opted for a more traditional meal. We love all ethnic cuisines but will alternate ethnic with ‘home-grown’.  The dish featured this week is Chickpea and Broccoli Bowl with Tahini Sauce.

Also, in keeping with my elf-fort to be more organized and holding down my trips to the grocery store, I decided to develop a MENU!! I only need to prepare for 4 days (Sun-Wed) since we always have “burger night” on Thursday night, Friday night is Date Night (we have cozied up to some great vegan meals at local restaurants), Saturday night we usually eat out as well (gotta keep those restaurants on their toes), leaving only Sunday – Wednesday to actually cook and now that Wednesday is ‘spoken for’, it’s really only Sunday, Monday and Tuesday that need to be ‘designed’.  So, a menu it is—gives me a chance to try out some recipes from other resources as well as more of FFVK! I have debated whether or not to share this week’s menu plan with you but if I don’t, I’ll be less likely to STICK TO IT and go off track, so to speak. In addition, going off track means, probably, a rush to the grocery at the last minute—NOT in keeping with the PLAN. So here goes…and I’ll report out again next Sunday on how it went (as well as the Wednesday The Elf and The Expert meal). I do, however, reserve the right to switch up days. So here goes:

Sunday 2/8 (today) – Tempeh Salad. This recipe is from a new cookbook I just got called TEFF LOVE by Kittee Berns.  It’s a Vegan Ethiopian cook book; one of my most favorite cuisines.

Monday 2/9 – Crazy Sexy Chili from Kris Carr’s website

Tuesday 2/10 – Black-eyed Pea and Collard Soup (FFVK) with Vegan Corn sticks (The

Wednesday 2/11 –  Chickpea and Broccoli Bowl with Tahini Sauce (FFVK as The Elf and The Expert Day)

So there you have it…NOW, it’s up to the Elf to, with apologies to Captain Jean Luc Picard, make it so.

New V List Restaurant
We are very happy to add Lou’s Full-Serve restaurant in the historic Belhaven area of Jackson MS to our growing list of restaurants that will go above and beyond to prepare a really good, creative vegan entrée.  We dined there Friday night with friends and had a lovely, lovely dinner. I had contacted them ahead of time to see what vegan options they might provide and we decided on a vegetable risotto (The Elf is a risotto aficionado). Well, not only did Lou (that’s the chef Louis LaRose) prepare the risotto but he also marinated and grilled a fabulous Portabello cap. You can see for yours-elf how nice the presentation was. Big Solid (my husband of 30 years) had salmon. I don’t remember what our tablemates had but they had dined there previously and highly recommended it.  So, if you are from the Jackson area and want a really nice meal (vegan or otherwise), try it. I’m sure if given a head’s up, Lou will knock himself out to ‘fix’ you a vegan dish.
Grilled Portabello Cap over Mushroom Risotto

Louis LaRose (another Expert) and The Elf

A couple of thoughts as well on the comments (THANKS SO MUCH) from last week. I have added a follow on Facebook button/gadget or whatever you call it. I am still trying to figure out how to enable folks to subscribe...if any of you have smarts to guide me through it, please let me know.

And that’s a wrap for this week…make that a vegan wrap. Til next week, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants and love life.
The Elf
In loving memory of Stella “Beaux-dog” Swearengen
Stella...Run Free and Healthy