Sunday, August 28, 2016

“You’re Going to Need A Bigger Elf”

Remember that great line from “Jaws” when Roy Scheider sees the shark for the first time, up close and personal. Well, that’s how your Elf feels this mornin’! We have much ground to cover; we're gonna need a bigger mind.
First and foremost, though, we want to share our FFVK recipe of the week with you. We chose a vegan option on Tacos, of which there are MANY!! Howsomever, this one looked particularly appealing so we nabbed it:  Lentil and Cauliflower Rice Tacos!
Now, we LOVE everything about this recipe. TACOS, LENTILS, CAULIFLOWER and SPICE! Plus, it’s a really easy recipe to prepare as there is not an overabundance of ingredients and you have a lot of spice wriggle room! So, here we go! We cooked our lentils in the Chikun Bouillon that we’ve mentioned so many times. It’s so good and adds a nice nuance of flavor; once cooked al dente, we drained and set aside. Next up was to ‘rice’ the cauliflower in the food processor. There’s always a fine line about knowing when to STOP PROCESSING before you turn the cauliflower ricing into cauliflower icing. We’d much rather have a few large hunks of cauliflower than a bowl of mush. As it turned out, we did pretty good. 

Then we sautéed our onions and then added our cauliflower ‘rice’ and garlic.

  After a introducing some chili powder and letting that infuse, we then added the lentils and all the remaining spices/seasoning.
 And, knowing your Elf, we kicked up the spice a bit by more cayenne and an EIGHTH TEASPOON of ‘Scorpion Pepper Salt’.

And, just like Susan says, this recipe makes a LOT of taco filling but we didn’t care…we’ll eat on it for a while and even make Taco Salad out of it. We opted for the Blue Corn Tacos because they are just too pretty and add such a lovely color to the already beautiful taco stuffs!

Now, y’all, this recipe is a great supper recipe, party recipe, salad recipe…and it is so much fun to prepare. This is a keeper for sure. We cannot tell you how much fun it has been to prepare Susan’s recipes and share them with you. As for next week, we will again surprise you!
We will be traveling to Raleigh NC to visit my brother and his girlfriend, Suzanne. We are going to ProgDay in Chapel Hill over the Labor Day weekend…a rock music festival featuring bands who play progressive rock. LOTS OF FUN and it’s been a long time since your Elf has been to PD! We are excited. Here's the link--just in case.

Yesterday we attended a Plant-Based Immersion Day event sponsored by Magnolia Healthy Living. It was a day long seminar on the power of eating a plant-based diet. We are going to share several pictures from the event because it was SPECTAULAR!! The Elf got her picture made with Alyssa Sikora, founder of Magnolia Healthy Living.

The day started early with a 7:00 a.m. yoga practice (we didn’t make that) followed by a fabulous plant-based breakfast. Breakfast consisted of a delicious Tofu Scramble
 Blueberry Pancakes with Maple Syrup
and Gluten Free Oatmeal with Walnuts, blueberries, and assorted other stuffs.
Johnny was on top of the kitchen and his game for this event!
So you can see we all got off to a great start. Hell, it was worth attending just for the breakfast but WAIT!! There’s MORE! We got the event rolling with a Skype visit from Dr. John McDougall, a leader in promoting plant-based eating. Dr. McDougall's book, The Starch Solution, is a powerful validation of the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Following Dr. McDougall was JoAnn Farb, a microbiologist, committed vegan and advocate of gluten free eating.

Alyssa Sikora, provided a cool demonstration of how to prepare some delicious plant based, oil and fat free (processed, that is) dishes that we all got to sample. Pictured are the Collard Wraps, Chocolate Mousse (and you won’t BELIEVE what the secret ingredient for this delicious dish was) and a nice Cashew/Date Cream as a topping for the Mousse.

 There was also a Quinoa salad that was outstanding, topped with a FatFree Dressing! Then, golly, it was time for lunch! Once again, the group outdid themselves with lunch. We had Mac/Cheese with Peas, Roasted Potatoes, a delicious Lentil Loaf, and Braised Kale. Dessert included some delicious Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookies as well as the Chocolate Mousse/Cashew Cream topping. OK..the secret ingredient for the Mousse was avocado! 
After lunch, we had two terrific speakers who shared their personal journey of adopting a Plant-based lifestyle. Gigi Carter shared her ‘from couch potato to vegan/plant-powered athlete’. In two years, Gigi has made a name for herself in the cycling community and has established a team (the Nunchuck Bunnies, sponsored by Indian Cycle). She also shared information on other Plant-based athletes. On a personal note, Gigi is one of the FOUR VEGANAMIGOS, which includes your Elf.

Shane Martin, MS native who now resides in Charlotte NC, also shared his story of ‘athlete to couch potato’ who added 100 pounds and a whole lot of health issues as a result (Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure). His journey included not only becoming plant-based but also how to manage being a plant-based family with five growing kids. Pictures include Shane before becoming plant based and Shane following.

 He has also reversed the diabetes and high blood pressure. Here is a link to Shane’s Facebook page
Our final speaker, Libby Spence, brought us a message of mindfulness and meditation; she then guided us through a 5 minute meditation that helped us all focus on our breathing and ease into the remainder of the day.
What a fun day this was! And so informative. Please visit the Magnolia Healthy Living Facebook page for many many more pictures. Plans are already in the works for next year’s event, no doubt! So thanks for Matthew and Alyssa Sikora and a host of others who made this possible!
Since we mentioned the 4 VEGANAMIGOS, your Elf is in full prep mode for our own event tonight at Gigi’s beautiful home (as in Gigi Carter, cyclist extraordinaire). Leslie Dunbar (cyclist herownself) and Misty Waldrop (beautiful veganista) round out ‘us four’. We will have pictures to share next week as well as a rundown of all the fabulous dishes, but we’ll give you a sneak peek at one of the dishes the Elf will be taking.


And there you have the last full week of August. Goodness, we just seem to be hurtling through another year. Well, at least there’s football on the horizon and since Big Solid was a football player, we anticipate the SEC season with great glee. And, Dallas DAK! So, have a great week, eat plants, laugh a lot, love deeply, read (or listen to) a book, and above all, DO EPIC!

Your Elf

Sunday, August 21, 2016

“Here’s Lookin’ At You, Elf”

You know, every week your Little Ole Elf thinks to hers-elf, “Gosh this week has gone by fast. Seems like we just DID a blog yesterday and here it is…time to do it again.” Well, last Sunday we were out of town and therefore did not blog. We could not WAIT to get back to y’all and to preparing ‘something from Susan’. Of course, Susan being Susan Voisin and her awesome recipes from FatFree Vegan Kitchen.
We’ll get to that in just a bit, but we wanted to share a bit about our trip to Wisconsin last weekend.
We surprised my mentor and former boss, David Zimmerman, on his 70th birthday. Many thanks to his family for including us in the festivities and keeping our visit on the downlow until we walked into the living room at the Hester home in Oconomowoc Friday afternoon. So, to Kate and Shaun Hester, Annie and Jesse Lauchner, and Jeanette Zimmerman, it was a weekend to remember. Pictured are Jeanette, your Elf, and the Birthday Boy hisownself, David.
We have worked together in some capacity since 1990 and full time since your Elf joined Dr. Z at the Center for Health Systems Research and Analysis at the University of Wisconsin/Madison in 1995 and later the Long Term Care Institute also in Madison WI. We have remained in touch since your Elf retired in 2011. And, even though we had not visited since then ('ceptin' by phone), after about 5 minutes of being all together again, those years completely fell away. It was a most wonderful trip! AND, Big Solid and I had lunch at our MOST FAVORITE RESTAURANT, Himal Chuli in downtown Madison. It’s a Nepalese restaurant that is just terrific. It’s been there for YEARS as quality never goes out of style.
OK…now let’s get on with the foodie stuffs! This week, after spending so much time eating and drinking for the WI trip, we needed to get back to a less pound-producing regimen. Actually, Kate and Shaun Hester did an awesome job of making sure the vegan options were available for all appetizers at their home Friday and both Friday and Saturday dinners which was SO APPRECIATED!! In any event, we went carefully through the recipe index on the FatFree Vegan Kitchen website (see link above) and decided on North African Chickpea and Kale Soup.

As we perused the ingredients to make sure of what we had and did not have, we were amazed to find that we had everything BUT the fresh kale and one can of chickpeas. We even had the SAFFRON!! After reviewing the spices, it became apparent that we were in for a treat and that the Moroccan themed soup would be delicious; cumin, paprika (we used smoked Spanish paprika), cayenne, allspice, ground ginger, saffron, bay leaves and a cinnamon stick. Can’t you just smell all those spices in a great vegan broth? Whew! So, we sautéed the onion and carrots, added the garlic for a quick minute. THEN the fun began, we added all those delectable flavors (along with the cinnamon stick and bay leaves) and stirred for a minute to get them all infused with the onions, carrots and garlic. Oh the aroma! We added the chickpeas that we had drained and rinsed thoroughly and stirred them until they were also coated with the spices. Here you have a long shot as well as a close-up. You can almost SMELL the goodness from here! 

In her recipe directions, Susan says that instead of a vegetable broth or stock (as listed in the recipe ingredients) she used a ‘no-chicken’ broth. Well, so did we. Y’all KNOW how much we LOVE The Gentle Chef’s Chikun Bouillon mix from his 'Seitan and Beyond' cookbook…so that’s what we used. It’s a dry mix that you can keep on hand for just such a treat as this soup. After letting the chickpeas simmer in that yummy broth, we added the kale and let it cook down until the soup was ready. Again, we have full and close shots of the soup shortly after the kale was added.
Now, here’s where we kicked it up a notch by adding 1/16th of a teaspoon of Scorpion Pepper salt. The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper is considered the SECOND hottest pepper of 2016!
 The Carolina Reaper is still the #1 hottest pepper and we haven’t been able to find it in a salt…YET! We are here to tell you that just that tiny amount IN THE WHOLE PAN OF SOUP made an impact! AND, since we’d just made a double batch of plant-based Andouille Sausage (again The Gentle Chef), we pan seared a couple of those and threw them in with the soup as it was served.
We lapped this stuff up like it was the first time we’d ever had food. So, we HIGHLY recommend this recipe! Thanks, Susan for once again paving the way for us to enjoy healthy and delicious stuffs!!

As for next week’s recipe, we are not sure yet. How ‘bout we surprise you and Susan! We are eagerly waiting for cooler weather when we can return to the more substantial stews/soups and casseroles that will warm you on a chilly day.
On Saturday, August 27, we will be attending an event called Plant-Based Food Immersion Day. Ramrodded by Alyssa and Matthew Sikora, the day long informational seminar will feature guest speakers from all over the country who will address the benefits of a plant-based eating lifestyle. We are looking forward to this as Gigi Carter (one of the four Veganamigos) will be speaking on being a vegan athlete—and GOODNESS, is she ever!! We will most certainly bring you highlights of that event. AND, Sunday, the Veganamigos will gather to celebrate once again how FUN it is to be plant-based/vegan and enjoy some of the best food EVER! Here is a link to more information from Magnolia Healthy Living (Alyssa Sikora)
So, until we meet again next Sunday, remember to laugh a lot, eat plants, practice kindness, and “DO EPIC”! OH..and we may have a little surprise for you :)

Your Elf

Sunday, August 7, 2016

While The Elf's Away, Who Will Play?

When you live in Mississippi, you know that August is a month to be endured and sweated through. The air is thick, damp and suffocating. H.E.A.V.Y! The heat is ever present and relentless, day after day and night after night. The gardens, trees, flowers, and shrubs that were so effervescently green in April and May are now limp, wilted, and faded by the incessant heat. Even people who say “I love the heat” get testy and gnarly. Those of us who are heat aversive only long to get away to somewhere cooler, like The North Pole or Antarctica. So, as of next week, we will be seeking solace on a mountain top where the air is clear, cool, crisp and breathable. So, just sayin’ The Elf and Big Solid will be basking in rarefied air instead of baking in a humid jungle next week.
This past week, we had ever so much fun in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen. There were no major foodie mishaps (whew!) and we just kinda enjoyed the heck out of our week. If y’all recall, we had two options for our FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipe for the week. The Creamy Curried Kale and Chickpeas or the Cabbage and Chickpea Soup. We had every intention of actually ‘fixin’ both of them; but time waits for no cook and we wound up selecting The Creamy Curried Kale and Chickpeas.
Now, this recipe calls for the mixture to be served over basmati rice (and remember that your Elf now uses MS Blue Basmati Rice EXCLUSIVELY) which is as it should be. Curries and basmati are like peanut butter and jelly. HOWSOMEVER, Big Solid is not a big rice eater…he LIKES it but he does not like the calories. So, we decided we’d cut the amount of rice and use a pan-seared portobello mushroom as a ‘container’ for about a 1/4 cup rice and the curry. Problem solved! So, here we go!
We got our ‘mis en place’ for the creamy saucy stuffs. We had (left to right, pretty much) nutritional yeast, red pepper flakes, cashew milk, onion, garlic, ginger root, ground coriander, cumin seed, tomato paste, garbanzo beans, turmeric and Susan’s garam masala (the recipe is also included in the overall recipe for this dish).
What you don’t see is the raw cashews but we did have them! For the vegetable broth, we used our Gentle Chef’s dry mix for ‘Chikun' Bouillon. This stuff is so good we use it in place of almost all recipes that call for a vegetable broth.
Then we washed, tore, and salad spun the fresh kale (Kroger had the organic kale on sale) and squoze it dry in a clean towel.

After we got everything all set, we commenced to cookin’. We sautéed our onion, garlic, ginger, cumin seeds according to directions and then added the rest of the spices.

Then we added our lovely luscious kale (damn that stuff is so good), and let it cook down.

As the kale was cooking, we put the cashew milk, nutritional yeast and tomato paste in the VitaMix and blended it to a really smooth consistency.  After the kale cooked down, we let it cool off a bit and then added it to our creamy mixture in the blender and blasted into a really pretty and smooth sauce. Then we poured it back into the skillet where we’d sautéed everything, added the chickpeas that we’d drained and rinsed to get shed of a lot of the salt and let it simmer for the suggested 10 minutes. We tasted along the way and added a bit of freshly ground black pepper and about a pinch of cayenne. You know we like it spicy!!
In the meantime, we cooked our rice and pan-seared the portabello mushroom caps to an ‘al dente’ texture. Sorry, we dropped the camera ball here.
We plated the mushroom cap, placed our rice in as a kinda filling (sorry the picture is so blurry)

and then topped with the curry mixture. This was such a good dish we gobbled it right up and had enough left over to have for lunch the next day. We do realize that not everyone likes curried dishes, but if you do, this is a keeper. We will most definitely do this again! Not only that it’s a very healthy combination that is very low in fat, calories and sodium, has a reasonable protein count. We you add the rice and mushroom, you not only get additional protein but a well-rounded meal with substance and terrific flavor.
We also mentioned last week that we were going to try a couple of the recipes that we see on Facebook in those speeded up videos. And we did…well, we tried ONE of them. AND, we got the ingredients for the other but had a change of heart and we’ll share that with you ‘directly’ (that’s southern for ‘soon’ or ‘anon’).
The recipe we DID put together is the Cauliflower Nacho recipe by Delight that has made the Facebook rounds.
We veganized it by using vegan cheese and MAN OH MAN, it was very very good! We had a couple of issues that we want to try to remedy next time but for a first elf-fort, we thought it damn good. First, we sliced up our REALLY big head of cauliflower and drizzled some good EVOO over it. Then we sprinkled it with some bittersweet smoked paprika, chipotle chili powder, ground cumin, garlic powder and some Himalayan salt.
We baked it at 425º for about 40 minutes, until it browned nicely. And here’s where we had our first issue…nothing major but just throwin’ it out there. The recipe states that the baked cauliflower should be crispy and golden. Well, we did get some nice color, but the crispiness was hit and miss. The edges of the cauliflower got crispy but that was about it. We were afraid that if we cooked it longer, it would become all mushy and that would just not DO! So, suggestions would be helpful. (REMEMBER to e-mail or message The Elf in the Kitchen oh her FB page…we are still trying to work out the commenting kinks). Then we added our vegan cheese that we had shredded…we used the block Daiya cheese.
Not everybody’s favorite but in the vegan poor stores around here, it’s the only affordable option. In fact, the packaged shredded Daiya is not very good at all, but the block that you can shred is not awful. Anywho, here’s where we had our second issue..the original recipe calls for 1 cup of the cheese. We shredded the whole block, which was way more than a cup and it still wasn’t enough to get that cheesy look that is in the video. We added some guacamole and salsa and dove in. It was really really good and did satisfy that nacho craving in a healthy and lower calorie way!!

The next video recipe we wanted to try, and we actually got all the ingredients, was a summer salad of zucchini noodles, red cabbage, corn, and a bunch of other stuff. It looked delicious.
BUT, as we pondered more and more, we decided the heck with it…we wanted to turn that lovely fresh corn from the Farmer’s Market into that traditional southern ‘fried’ corn. We also had some fresh okra to use up. So, here’s what we did. We fried up that corn in some vegan margarine and coconut oil (about a half tablespoon each) and added a teeny bit of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Made me think of eating around my Grandmother’s table in TN a billion years ago. We’re not talking creamed corn, y’all, this is good ole FRIED in a skillet corn. Mouthgasmly delicious!

We also had some Brussels sprouts that needed to be cooked, so we roasted them with a sriracha/maple glaze.
Next up, roasted okra…nothing spectacular, just washed and dried, placed in a baking pan with some parchment paper, sprayed it with coconut oil Pam and roasted until brown. Nothing slimy about this okra at all…roasted okra is a treat.

Busted open a pack of the Gardein meatless meatballs and cooked them adding some spiralized zucchini noodles to quick cook with a bit of olive oil and lemon. It wasn’t a salad but it was a DANDY meal.
Your Elf has had a TREMENDOUS week of cookie bakin’. It seems like we take cookies in one day and get a call the next that they are all gone. And that’s a GOOD thing for the Crossroads Café; for the Elf, it’s a lot of bakin’! But, we'd much rather bake more often and offer fresher cookies than load up the cookie case with 'way many' that sit for two or three days. That’s fine by us, we enjoy making stuffs that people like!
And finally, we leave you with a picture of the Four Veganamigos! Left to Right, Misty Waldrop, Leslie Dunbar, The Elf and Gigi Carter.

We have been sharing an evening of vegan delights with each other each month for a few years now. This was taken at a Cycling Event last Sunday bringing the return of professional cycling to MS. Gigi was the moving force behind the event (Race at the Renaissance) as one of the Nunchuck Bunnies powered by Indian Cycle (a local racing team). We went to watch and help out a bit at the tent..first time event for The Elf and it was something to see. The last race was the men’s Pro 1-2-3 criterium that lasted for 60 minutes. It was amazing to watch these guys bust it around a closed course for an HOUR in the MS HEAT!

So, there you have another week in the life of your Elf. We’ll be out of pocket next week but back with you with some on the road vegan adventures, no doubt. And then, it will be back to bakin’ and cookin’ and bloggin’ and eatin’ and drinkin'. Until then, DO EPIC, be kind, eat plants and laugh with someone and not at someone.
Your Elf