Sunday, March 22, 2015

Expertery and Elfinery -- The Good, The Not So Good and The Delicious!

This has been a most interesting, busy, and delightful week for The Elf. We seem to be sorta caught up on our ‘cooking up a storm and freezing stuffs’ so we can have quality time when Jud (Elf Brother) and Suzanne (Elf Brother Girlfriend) arrive later this week.

Before we dive into The Expert’s dish of the week, Vegan Cabbage Rolls, we wanted to share another fun interaction we had with Brooke Foster at a local restaurant called City Grille. Brooke is the fiancee of owner/chef Zack Athearn and is vitally involved in the operations side, along with Zack’s Mom, Kim Kroeze. Anyway, Brooke sat with us not long ago for a bit when she had some breathin' room and asked The Elf about being vegan. What led us to move from being vegetarian to vegan? What do we eat? How soon a vegan entrée will be a part of the City Grille menu. How has eating plant-based made a difference in our lives?

Brooke and The Elf at City Grille in Madison MS
It was another great opportunity to talk about all of the aspects of being a vegan or plant-based ‘eater’…the good, the challenges, the cooking, the misconceptions, the ‘humor’ and the stereotyping.

So many people say, “I just couldn’t be a vegan. I can’t give up eggs, cheese and meat.”  My response to that is “You don’t HAVE to make the leap in toto (and I don’t mean THAT Toto). Just go vegan for a day a week…challenge yourself to go one day without an egg, dairy, cheese or meat.” It CAN be done and The Elf will be handy for support, encouragement, recipes and other assorted stuffs. It took us 64 years to make the decision to become vegetarian and another 3 to become vegan.  Two earlier blog posts speak to this in more depth:
To V or Not To V posted 5/21 as our inaugural post
It’s Not As Hard As You Think posted 7/9

Perhaps the most exciting part of this, though, is the upswing in people asking about being plant-based with genuine interest and not derision.
The Expert’s recipe of the week…FatFree Vegan Kitchen’s Vegan Cabbage Rolls
OK—here we go. We undertook this recipe for a couple of reasons. First, it was the week of St. Patrick’s Day so we were compelled to do something with cabbage; second, we had never attempted cabbage rolls before so figure it was about damn time we did. We read over the recipe a couple of times and were fully cognizant of the need for preparation ahead of time. No surprise there. So, we cooked the lentils and brown rice on Monday; Tuesday we made the filling (and I thought I was going to have to throttle Big Solid because he kept sticking a spoon in for a bite or several). Wednesday was THE DAY. As you can see by the pictures, it IS a labor intensive effort and I told Big Solid about half-way through pulling leaves off a large head of boiling/simmering cabbage, "I’M NEVER DOIN’ THIS AGAIN".

So, how’d it turn out? Well there’s good news and there’s less good news. The good news is that the filling is outstanding; the less good news is that the cabbage leaves we pulled delicately off the boiling cabbage head were incredibly tough—even after over an hour of simmering in an enamel cast iron Dutch Oven.  Susan Voisin, THE EXPERT, and The Elf have communicated extensively about this and figured it was just one of those cabbages from hell that refused to soften up. And, we have decided that the recipe is most certainly worth another go. Perhaps we will try a different means of softening the leaves by the freezing method that Susan mentioned in the recipe (and will be trying herownself soon) OR pulling leaves from a simmering head AND then parboiling them a bit longer to assure a tender roll.  We are happy to entertain your comments on how you’ve obtained your cabbage leaves. Here's the progression of the recipe, the finished meal and the rest of the story!

We pre-cooked our lentils

and brown rice;
 The filling is finished a day ahead;
 Cabbage leaves gently taken from a boiling head of cabbage;
 Stuffed leaves ready for rollin'
Rolled and ready for the 'sauce'
"Roll 'em up, roll 'em up and THROW 'em in the pan"
Ready for a nice long simmer! ANTICIPATION!!

The finished plate...rolls, a bit of sauce and mashed potatoes (with skin)
The story doesn’t end here.  When you get lemons (or tough cabbage leaves) you made lemonade..or in this case CABBAGE ROLL SOUP! So here's what we did!

We had some leftover cabbage, shredded and sauteed it.

We 'unrolled' the remaining rolls, tossed the tough leaves and kept the luscious fillin'
We combined the filling and the sauteed cabbage;

We pureed half of the remaining sauce and added it with two cups of fatfree vegetable stock. We then added the non-pureed sauce with another two cups of veggie stock, some additional seasonings (you can pretty much add what you like). We added some liquid smoke, cayenne and harissa for some punch. All we need now is some cornsticks and a bowl. It's very very tasty and there's not a tough cabbage leaf to be found!

Now—the moment you’ve all been waiting for!!! TA-DA!! Next week’s recipe! Well, since Big Solid will be out of town, we will prepare a dish using a vegetable he doesn’t particularly care for…eggplant. This one sounds awesome and very low calorie, which means The Elf can eat ALL OF IT!! Tofu and Vegetable Cacciatore!!
Other dishes we prepared during the week were a luscious asparagus tofu scramble, the FFVK recipe for Colcannon Puffs and a veganized Fruit Cocktail cake. We used cabbage in the colcannon where as FFVK used kale. We also made our ‘puffs’ a bit smaller…in fact, they came out so light, we called them Colcannon Bluffs because they bluffed you into thinking you were eating a lot!
We ate these by the handfuls!!

For our ARF peeps this week, we made a veganized version of that old favorite Fruit Cocktail Cake. Our main concern was how to create a dairy free evaporated milk for the topping. There are several options but we wound up using a double portion of powdered soy milk. We were apprehensive about how it would taste. If you'll notice in the upper corner of the cake, a small piece is missing...we HAD to try it, dontcha know?? Well, we were NOT disappointed A'TALL!! It was delicious.

And finally, we love a tofu scramble and this week's was no exception. A nice asparagus tofu scramble with mushrooms, onions, 'shredded chikun' and home baked pumpernickel toast. It served us for a couple of meals which is fine by us!

So, there you have another week with the Elf. We hope you'll return to us next week and enjoy another recipe and other Elfin adventures. In the meantime, that’s the vegan wrap for this week.  Til next week, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants and love life.
The Elf



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