Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Year of Living Elfishly

On July 1 of this year, your Elf will celebrate TWO YEARS of being totally plant-based! And, while we can ‘fess up to being challenged on occasion (e.g., those Duck Chips at City Grille look amazing and from the moans of gustatory delight from Big Solid, they ARE amazing), we can also truthfully say that staying true to the commitment of eating a vegan regimen has not been difficult at all.  Little did The Elf know that taking the 28 Day Vegan pledge at Dr. Neal Barnard’s presentation on June 30 2013 would result in such a solid resolution.
So now we look forward to year THREE with a renewed energy to explore more plant-based culinary excitements, be an example of how plant-based eating can impact one’s health and psyche and offer continuing support and encouragement to anyone wishing to go plant-based/eat vegan – even if it’s one day a week. Like Mikey says, “Try it, you’ll like it”. It’s not just weeds and seeds, as any follower of this (and the hundreds of other vegan blogs and Facebook pages) will note.
And also, after this week’s FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipe undertaking, we will be taking a hiatus from our THE EXPERT AND THE ELF’s version of Julie (The Elf) and Julia (The Expert aka Susan Voisin). Since we initiated this exploration of Susan’s expertise in early February 2015, we have made/cooked, baked or otherwise prepared 23 recipes. This week’s selection, Spinach and Artichoke Pie, will make 24 -- we think.
The recipe we prepared this week was quite lovely and we had a great time making it. Asparagus and Mushroom Quiche with a Brown Rice Crust
This was a tad labor intensive but so much fun, it hardly seemed like elf-fort. Who’da thunk that brown rice would make a worthy pie crust OR that you could put together a really decent quiche without eggs? Well, you can…see!
First, we got all our ingredients together to MAKE SURE we had everything we needed. The small amount of non-dairy milk is already in the VitaMix if you can see it.
Then we made the ‘egg’ filling using extra-firm silken tofu and some other good stuffs like turmeric and spicy things. This mixture also served as a binder for our brown rice crust.
The brown rice crust was prepared from pre-cooked brown rice that had cooled somewhat. We added some of the quiche mixture (3 Tablespoons) to it along with some Vegan Parmesan cheese and then mashed it all amongst the pie pan that had been sprayed with olive oil.
 It went into a 350° oven for about 8 minutes. Since we were using a glass pie plate, we kept a close eye on it. Turned out quite nicely!
 Next we sautéed our veggies like instructed and placed them in the bottom of the cooked crust spreading the remaining quiche sauce over it.
 We placed our asparagus spears in a sunburst and popped it back in the oven for about an hour. And THEN…VOILA! QUICHE!! And Big Solid, who is about as real a man as you’d want to find and The Elf plowed into it.

This would be a marvelous lunch, breakfast or supper dish. We enjoyed it for supper with some hash-brown potatoes and decided the elf-fort was worth it.
As we mentioned, we’ll be making the Spinach and Artichoke Pie for our FFVK recipe this week and then take a bit of a hiatus for a while to give Susan some breathing room. We anticipate returning to our THE EXPERT and THE ELF experience in the fall when we can start delving into seasonal fall vegetable recipes and the wonderful soups and stews that fall temperatures have us craving.
Now, amongst our other kinky cookery for the week, we made our customary oatmeal cookies for the great folks at ARF/MS (Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi) and then decided to try making them as a larger cookie. There will be a big event in August to help raise funds for this wonderful No-Kill shelter and The Elf will donate vegan cookies for sale. And who wants to buy a little bitty cookie…so here you go. These are COOKIES!! 3” in diameter and just as yummy as the smaller version. Oatmeal Walnut Raisin 
 And Oatmeal Chocolate Chip
 And lastly, our week wouldn’t be Elfin complete without making at least ONE batch of Bacun. This stuff is addictive! Here we have two views of the Bacun as it is oven ready.
Top view with freshly ground pepper and side view to see the 'layers'.
 Next is the finished product sliced but not yet pan fried.
 And the side view again showing the 'layers' or striations.  The cooked up version will be ready for a home grown tomato!
We hope that those of you who follow Susan and her wonderful blog FatFree Vegan Kitchen ( and have been entertained by The Elf in the Kitchen will continue to follow us until we rejoin our FFVK project in the fall.
 Now THIS week in the Elf Kitchen, we will be very busy plotting, preparing and pursuing vegan excellence with two big parties for this weekend. We’ll be preparing special vegan delights for our Vestal Vegan gathering on July 3rd AND the same for a carnivore extravaganza at the home of our BFFs at their traditional Fourth of July cookout. We always try to take something that is enticing to the non-plant-based palate both savory and sweet just to show that plant-based eating is delicious and beyond! Next week, you’ll see what The Elf dreamed up and did! Until then, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants and love life.
The Elf

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lars and the Real Elf

For those of you who ‘get’ the blog titles, you have to know that Lars and the Real Girl is one of the Elf’s MOST favorite movies EVER!! It’s nothing short of genius in the concept, writing, and acting (I mean it IS Ryan Gosling). We have our own ‘Real Girl’ who lives in our dining room window…her name is Mail Order Annie and she’s been with us since 2009. Here’s her June Bride get-up. We'll be working on her July reveal SOON!

Our EXPERT FATFREE VEGAN KITCHEN recipe for this past week was Cumin Infused Vegetables and Chickpeas over Quinoa
Well, we must be on some kind of roll because meal was DELICIOUS!! We were able to use our own home-grown zucchini along with the great seasonings that are called for in this recipe. The result, as you see, is a lovely mélange of vegetables that is a most filling and tasty meal. Here's the full view of a skillet full of goodness!

And here's a better close up of the same. GOSH this was SO GOOD!!

We HIGHLY recommend this one. In fact, after Big Solid finished his FIRST helping, he decided to become adventurous. He nabbed a bag baked tortilla chips and crumbled them over the top of a SECOND helping! Said it was wonderful…of course, that will add some calories to the end result, but it was worth the caloric intake!
Since we have been enjoying some breakfast dishes for supper, our recipe selection for the coming week will be Asparagus and Mushroom Quiche with Brown Rice Crust
You know it’s one thing to cook from a recipe but actually CREATING ONE is a whole ‘nuther level of expertise The Elf has yet to achieve. So, as always, many thanks to SUSAN VOISIN’s expertise, energy and bloglicious creations at FATFREE VEGAN KITCHEN
Last week, TE (The Elf) ran out of TURMERIC! And it’s an essential ingredient in a lot of vegan and/or ethnic cooking (it’s also VERY good for you). Well, we went to Patel’s Indian Grocery and Spice World and bought a 14 oz. bag of Turmeric powder for less than $4.00 <PIC>. When we were in Kroger, we priced their Turmeric selections in little bitty jars (1.8 – 2 oz.) of Turmeric

 And finally, the Patel Turmeric!

NOW, where do YOU think TE will buy her spices!! We LOVE Patel’s Grocery! You can find so many great flavors, spices, grains there!!
We really did not cook as much this past week as usual but did make some different cookies to take the ARF this past week…Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles They are nice little chocolate cookies with a bit of a bite with a touch of cayenne added.

This week’s cooking agenda does appear to be on the heavy side. We’ll be making some more ‘Bacun’ (see TEitK blog of 5/10/15 titled Gone With the Elf for a step by step preparation) and there is currently a family sized portion of The Gentle Chef’s Chikun Shreds in the oven as we write. The Gentle Chef is putting the finishing touches on a new cookbook that we can’t WAIT to get!
We will also be cookin’ up some of the oft requested variations of Vegan Oatmeal cookies for ARF and friends and most likely do Tofu scramble to clean out vegetables we need to cook up.
We'd also like to give a SHOUT-OUT to the blog "Here's What I'm Thinking" by Delia Duffy. We met at the Zippity-Do-Dah festivities this year and had a great time talking blogs...and she writes hers DAILY! Well, Delia tried out one of the Elf's favorite meals (the Roasted Cauliflower and Spicy Lentil Tacos). It's a must read! She sure tickled the Elf's funny bone and we are  most appreciative of her support!
And finally, even though we have great cooking plans ahead, we also will be tending to Marley the Wayward Poodle foster. He will be having surgery Tuesday to correct the luxating patella in one of his knees. We determined that a significant portion of his aggressive behavior is related to pain in his knees due to the patella issue. This has apparently been a problem for a while, with the misalignment creating a spinal displacement in his mid-back. He has frequent spasms which are extremely painful. He’s done quite nicely on chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture but the bottom line is that his knees (yep, both of them) just have to be fixed. The Veterinary people at Monroe Street Animal Clinic have been absolutely amazing to work with and we are so grateful for their concern for Marley.

So, until next Sunday, TE wishes everyone a great week, a Happy Father’s Day today. Always remember to breathe deep, eat freshly grown and local produce, laugh a lot and love life.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Elf on a Hot Tin Roof

Sorry for the delay. We spent the day yesterday driving up to Oxford MS (home of Ole Miss—‘hotty-toddy’!) to visit Big Solid’s sister, Genora. She’s in a nursing home there and we surprised her. She really appreciated the visit!!
 Before we get into OTHER STUFFS about foods, friends, and elfin cookery, we want to be SURE to talk about the FatFree Vegan Kitchen (aka THE EXPERT, Mississippi's own Susan  Voisin) recipe we selected and cooked this past week (June 7-13). See The Elf is all discombobulated with bein’ a day late!
Anywho!! We prepared The Monterey Frittata 
and we are here to tell you that this is a MOST MAGNIFICENT meal!!
We gathered our dry ingredients
 Then we squished up our tofu (we cut the tofu in blocks, threw it in a gallon freezer bag, sealed it and used our hands to mash or squish to the textures we like (beats mashing with a fork) and then added the seasoning mix, green onions and artichoke hearts.
 Then we cooked up some ‘shrooms, garlic, and peppers
When those were cooked per recipe directions, we halved it and put half in with the tofu mixture in our freezer bag. We put the tofu mixture in a large skillet and smoothed (or flattened) it down like a big tofu pancake
While that was cooking for about 10 minutes, we prepared the ‘Cheez sauce’ and it thickened up so nicely and was damned good to boot!!
 When the frittata had cooked up and the ‘Cheez’ sauce was ready, we placed our tomatoes and the other half of the mushroom mixture over the top and then poured or drizzled the ‘Cheez’ sauce over it. When that was done, we added the sliced black olives and let it cook until the tomatoes were done.
 And here’s what our skillet looked like when The Elf and Big Solid had gone for extra heppin’s…we call this picture “Frittata Gone Wild” because we went WILD for it.
 There’s really nothing else to add about this because it was so good. We MAY add some cayenne to it when we make it again OR even try a layer of baked tortilla chips before adding the ‘Cheez’ sauce…but the bottom line is this dish is absolutely awesome.
So, what’s up for this week (June 15-21)?  Well, we ran across this great looking recipe and will prepare it…Cumin Infused Vegetables and Chickpeas over Quinoa 
HOWEVER, we may consider another base besides Quinoa. Now I KNOW quinoa is a yummy and very nutritious grain BUT Big Solid is NOT a quinoa sort of guy—SO, it may be a wild or black rice grain that we go with. In any event, this looks quite lovely and very healthy.
You know how sometimes life hands you an unexpected gift? A serendipitous happening that has a long lasting impact on your life? Well, this week, that was evidenced by ‘spend the night company’…Tim and Kathy Benner. In 2010, Big Solid and I took our first cruise and it happened to be an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise. Joining us were my cousin and her husband from TN (Jerry and Sandra Vance). Well, Big Solid and I signed up for an excursion known as the Mendenhall Glacier hike when we docked in Juneau. That morning, as are many mornings in Juneau, it was raining. We were prepared with our ponchos and headed to the site to meet our guide. Well, our guide was Kathy Benner and she proceeded to take a group of about 9 of us on a most wonderful hike through the woods to see the Mendenhall Glacier. As we hiked, we talked and the more we talked the more the connection between Kathy and us solidified. When we parted company at the end of the hike and returned to the ship, we made vows to ‘stay in touch’ and thanks to Facebook, that has been easy to do. For lo these 5 years, the friendship has grown and lives shared. So, last week, Kathy said they were going to be in the south (they have since moved to PA for Tim’s work with IBM) and could swing by MS for a visit, if convenient for us. We were ecstatic!! We had only met Kathy on the hike and we eager to meet Tim. So they arrived on Thursday and we dined vegan. The Elf prepared tofu scallops and pasta as well as vegan Red Beans and Rice with plant-based Andouille sausage. Tim and Kathy are not vegan or vegetarian but were more than willing to give these dishes a try.
Red Beans and Rice (we did use brown rice)
And Tofu Scallops from The ‘V’ Word
This photograph is from The 'V' Word's site and not our actual preparation. Truth be told, we ate them up before I even THOUGHT about a picture!
We ate a lot, laughed a lot, talked a lot, cried some, ate some more (dessert was cookies and three sorbets), talked some more, laughed some more and vowed to meet again in Alaska. They long to return (as it seems anyone who has ever lived there does) and when they do, we will visit them. The Northern Lights are on The Elf’s bucket list so no excuses!
Our ‘family snapshot’—The Elf and MiniPearl, who is camera shy; Big Solid and Belle, who is giving us the evil eye, Kathy and Tim who are spontaneous, fun and solidly friends
So, there you have this week’s Elf…and it’s indeed heating up in Dixie. We are now in the 90’s daily and that will stay for a LONG time. Now you know why we go somewhere cool in August. We have some cool recipes to try this week in addition to our EXPERT (that’s Susan Voisin and her fabulous FatFree Vegan Kitchen) selection for the week. Thanks for hanging with us; so until we meet again…remember to breathe deep, eat freshly grown and local plants, laugh a lot and love life.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Me, My-Elf and I

Welcome JUNE!! The month when all sorts of fresh vegetables, fruits and juicy goodness hit farmer’s markets, street vendors, roadside stands and, here in the South, the back of pick- up trucks parked on the side of local highways. So get out there and enjoy the labors of those who grow food for us (local is always best) and look for organically grown produce.  As consumers become more and more savvy about what they put in their bodies, the demand for GMO free and organic foods has grown.  We usually try to find great produce that we can buy in bulk, blanch and freeze to enjoy in those dismal winter months when the blistering heat and suffocating humidity gives way to cloudy, damp and chilly days. Arguably, the QUEEN of summer produce is the TOMATO!! And in growing awareness and quantity, the HEIRLOOM TOMATO!! We had NO IDEA how many varieties of heirloom tomatoes there are in the WORLD!! But, there’s a great site to visit and peruse all the different types, sizes, colors and shapes of heirlooms…it’s called SeedSavers Exchange. From there you can expand your tomato horizons via other seed sites via Google, but this one is a blast.
ALLRIGHTY THEN!! Let’s commence with the IMPORTANT SUTFFS!! Our EXPERT RECIPE OF THE WEEK from Susan Voisin’s excellent site FatFree Vegan Kitchen
This week’s recipe was the exotic sounding Seitan Saltado (Peruvian Stir Fry with Potatoes)
One of the things we are really working hard to accomplish is organizational skills and preparatory work. For this recipe, Susan even recommends that the ingredients be prepared ahead of time so you won’t be runnin’ around the kitchen frantically trying to find that bell pepper you THOUGHT you had or slicing up your potatoes for the fries. So, we first made sure we had EVERYTHING we needed (man, you don’t know HOW many times we have so NOT done that only to be thwarted mid-recipe!) and sliced, chopped and diced. Susan also noted that she used her mandolin to assure evenly sliced potatoes which in turn assures evenly BAKED oven fries. We happen to HAVE a mandolin (not the musical instrument…that’d be so hard to slice stuffs on) and LOVED using it for the potatoes.
So, here you go…we had our stuffs prepared
 Then when the time for the actual cookery came, all we had to do was follow the cookery directions. First, we marinated the seitan. We LOVE seitan, which is a plant-based meat alternative utilizing Vital Wheat Gluten. That, of course, takes it out of play for those with gluten sensitivity but there are gluten-free alternatives that can be found on The V-Word
For this recipe and other uses, we made our own seitan using the recipe found on Bob’s Red Mill VWG with some minor adjustments to tweak our tastes (extra liquid smoke, Gravy Master for deeper color, etc.). We are actually showing two links here...the seitan recipe AND the link to Bob’s Red Mill home page. There are tons of great ideas, recipes and resources for those going plant-based as well as gluten free.
Pictured is our seitan marinating with the garlic, cumin and freshly ground black pepper. And since we love intense flavors, we marinated our seitan four hours.
We think the color that a red onion adds to a dish is just as important as the flavor; we sautéed our red onion
Then added the sliced bell pepper and the diced jalapeno pepper
 Next up was the chopped tomato
 And lastly, the oven fries which we JUST dandily crispy and the sauce made of soy and red wine vinegar!!
 You won’t see a picture of the plated dish because Your ELF is abysmal at taking pictures of plated dishes. In addition, we did not make any rice to serve it over and ate it with some toast instead. Now, for the verdict. As exotic sounding as this recipe is, we were left wishing it was even more. If we make it again, we will adjust the seasonings for more intensity and MAY even try it with The Gentle Chef’s Shredded Chikun. Understanding that when Susan creates a recipe, she does it with ALL potential users in mind and therefore can’t meet the taste buds of those who like fire when so many people don’t. That’s OUR responsibility. What’s fun about making Susan’s recipes is that we have the opportunity to try them as created and then explore ways to make them that take into consideration our preferences for heat and intensity of flavors.
Now, this coming week (June 8th), our FFVK recipe will be a ‘breakfast for dinner’ sorta elf-fort—the Monterey Frittata. Back when we were non-plant based eating, we loved egg frittatas. This will be most fun to make!! 
A couple of other dishes we had this week that we have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy. One of the things Big Solid has mentioned during our EXPERT and THE ELF cookapalooza is “you don’t have to cook something new every night; I’m happy with some of our old standards.” (whew!) So that’s what we had this week! First up, the tried and true tofu scramble. In this one, we used some lovely golden zucchini from our garden, kale, mushrooms, onion and LOTS of smoked paprika, turmeric and cayenne.
 Then, we had one of our new faves..Roasted Cauliflower and Spicy Lentil Tacos. As you can see, ONE OF US who shall remain nameless could not wait for the photograph to be taken and took a plug out of his/her taco!
OK Elfsters, that’s it for the first week of June. We cannot close out our blog this week without a picture of our favorite celebrity mannequin and her latest window reveal. Greet “She Said Yes to the Dress” Annie, currently residing in our dining room window.
 Til next week, remember to breathe deep, eat freshly grown and local plants, laugh a lot and love life.