Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Elf That Launched a Thousand Cookies

What a wonderful week this has been! We have cooked and cooked and cooked. Then we ate and ate and ate. Next we rested and rested and rested. This is your Elf’s favorite holiday because it’s a celebration of family, friendship and gratitude for the bounty that is the USA. We SO know of the work that is ahead of us but have committed to be a part of the solution. We have lots to share with you on this Sunday after Thanksgiving…so let’s get to it! We prepared TWO FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipes this week. The Creamy Vegan Broccoli and Rice Casserole was such a success last year, we saw no reason to change it. It’s a terrific casserole so we highly recommend.
In order to make this holiday cooking-palooza work in the most efficient way, we pledged to a ‘mise en place’ for each recipe. So, here’s our ‘mise en place’ for the broccoli casserole. Lightly steamed Broccoli, celery (and carrots underneath!), brown rice, thyme, chickpeas, onion (garlic not shown)
And for the sauce, which contains a lot of the flavor. Non-dairy milk, cayenne, tahini, nutritional yeast, onion powder, bittersweet smoked paprika, dry mustard, Meyer lemon, salt and Sherry (I doubled the amount!).
It’s a very easy sauce to make ‘cause all you do is throw all the stuff in a blender/VitaMix and whir it ’til it's smooth! Then, all that is needed is to sauté the onion, add the rice, chickpeas and pre-cooked broccoli, top with the sauce until it thickens nicely. Then add to the casserole pan and bake until there is a nice browning around the edges of the pan.
This casserole really is a meal in itself as you have a starch with the rice, a crucifierous vegetable in the broccoli, the wonderfully healthy chickpea and great flavor. We also made the FFVK’s 911 Gravy
which turned out quite nicely. As we were reading the ingredients and possible add-ons, we decided to sauté some mushrooms to include in the gravy as well. It worked beautifully. Here’s the ‘mise en place’, which should give you a nice idea of just how easy this recipe is. Chicken seasoning, a combination of 'Chikun broth' and non-dairy milk, freshly ground pepper, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, brown rice flour and a mushroom medley. Not pictured is poultry seasoning, which your Elf DETESTS. We only added a half teaspoon in hopes we could not taste it but others who like it could.
Now, as an aside, for the ‘vegetable broth’ needed, we used our old standby of The Gentle Chef’s wonderful Chickun Bouillon. This is a dry mix that we keep on hand ALL THE TIME to use for soups and other recipes that call for a vegetable broth.  The end result looks like this when served over the ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL Pecan/Mushroom Wellington we prepared as our Entrée Elf-fort.
More about that later. Looking ahead to next week’s recipe, we may just try to pull this one off tonight for Taco Night!! Lentil and Cauliflower Rice Tacos!
Always looking for new plant-based Taco ideas, so this sounds great. Just happened to have a great head of cauliflower in the ‘frig but am out of lentils. That can be remedied with a swing by Kroger after Spin class this afternoon! YAY! Oh, here are the Tacos fromlast Sunday’s Taco night using Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles.
So, we saw this great looking recipe on One Green Planet not long ago and decided we would HAVE to single it our for our Thanksgiving entrée. First of all, One Green Planetis one of our ABSOLUTE FAVORITE sites for great plant-based recipes as well as other terrific information.
The one slight tinge of trepidation was working with puff pastry but we threw caution to the winds and said, 'what the hell'. If you can’t screw up in front of your friends and family, then who can you screw up in front of! The recipe is Pecan and Mushroom Wellington.
The original site for this recipe is called Delightful Vegans
and the duo of Katie Culpin and Josh Bailey are just, well, delightful. Your Elf contacted them via their Facebook page (Delightful Vegans) to ask a few questions about using puff pastry (and Pepperidge Farm is vegan), specifically the lattice work that is shown on the recipe picture. Lord knows how  many sheets your Elf would screw up before getting the lattice to look like the picture. So, in true Elfery whininess, we asked “Do you HAVE to do the lattice?” They responded immediately with Not.At.All! We were smitten and decided then and there we’d hit on a great entrée. The second sorta smart thing we did was to look up Vegan Wellingtons on You Tube to see if there might be a similar dish that we would watch being put together. Indeed there was so we were able to learn a bit more about how to handle the sheets of puff pastry without making a complete mess of things. (Note: This is not the Delightful Vegan recipe being prepared but you do get some good visuals on how to work with the dough.
We decided to go with the typical Wellington roll instead of the lattice and just practice that for another time. Now, let me tell you something, this Pecan/Mushroom filling is delicious! We almost just left it alone without the pastry to serve as a side dish but, hey, it’s Thanksgiving and what’s Thanksgiving dinner without some kind of pretty entrée? AND, the filling is very easy to prepare—lightly toasted pecans, coarse chopped mushrooms, an onion diced, a cup of bread crumbs (we used Panko), some tamari, thyme and some red pepper flakes. This filling recipe makes enough to make two smaller Wellingtons. Then came the suspense. We’d gotten our pastry sheets out to thaw slightly to roll out. We joined the two pastry sheets into one large one to make a double sized Wellington. Working witih parchment paper and wax paper surely did save the day from any elf-forts we’d made previously. So much easier! We put a sheet of parchment on tope of the joined sheets of puff pastry (like in the video) and had NO PROBLEM rolling the dough out. We placed the cooled filling in the middle, leaving about 2” of dough at the top and bottom of the dough. Apparently, we folded it correctly and moved it to the cookie sheet and the waiting parchment paper there. Since we decided to make this dish a day ahead, we’d asked the Delightful Vegans if we could freeze it and bake it the next day. No problemo! So we wrapped it nice and tight and put it in the freezer. We wanted to make it ahead in case it turned into a elf-tastophy and we had to ‘fix’ something else! We took it out Thursday around 10a.m. and let it sit for about two hours.
The oven was pre-heated to 355º (a kinda odd temperature??) and we let it bake for a bit over 50 minutes since it was still pretty chilled. And, you can see for yo’self that it turned out beautifully (well, to us anyway!!). We were thrilled.
Next up, we took the Wellington and our FFVK recipes to our BFFs, Jesse and MaryEvelyn Dees. And what a feast we had! Just LOOK at all this food!
Squash and a artichoke heart/tomato salad (top)
Rice, Black Olive and Green Pea casserole
Mary Evelyn's Killer Salad
What was left of the Wellington
The always beautiful tablescape to go with the fabulous food and champagne punch!
You will not see the desserts as we gobbled them up like wild people. Blueberry Pie (not vegan but the moans of mouthgasms indicated how good it was) and The Elf's Gluten Free Double Choclate Chip cookies topped with non-dairy Cappucino Ice Cream.And, at the end of the day, our traditional ‘Friendsgiving’ picture. From l-r, Mary Evelyn, Jesse, Big Solid, your Elf and Emmi (Jesse and ME’s daughter). Not pictured are the Dees granddaughers (Riley and Zoey) and Emmi's husband who was taking the picture, David.
Friday night, we had our family gathering at Anjou Restaurant so no cooking was involved, on our part anyway. Left to right, Big Solid, David Taylor (son-in-law), Benton T. (grandson), SaraPowell T. (granddaughter), Your Elf, Lindsey T. (daughter), and Powell Swearengen (son). Kinda dark but you get it.
Delightful, stress free dining and delicious food to boot!
One funny story and it’s time to call it a day…as we were leaving for the restaurant Friday night, Big Solid’s car was noted to have a flat left front tire. Saturday morning, Powell, being an awesome son, changed the tire for the spare so we could take it in for a patch or whatever. When he pulled the flat time off, he noticed a big ole wad of pine straw, hay and assorted grasses all caught up in the wheel well. We could NOT figure out where we’d been to pick up all that stuff. When Big Solid got to the Honda place, they discovered a ‘possum’ and her/his nest!! After a while, they finally got it out and watched it take off for the nearby woods. Poor POGO!! Apparently, the creature had built the nest during the 4 days our garage door was broken, leaivng the Honda outside and the Elf-ement trapped inside.
AND FINALLY, LOOKEE what your Elf’s awesome cousin from TN sent!! Can’t wait to wear this to the Café tomorrow when we deliver cookies.

So, friends…as we make our way through this holiday season, remember to…
Look for the Good, be an example of the Good, and act for the Good as hard as you can as many ways as you can every day. In other words, “DO EPIC”!
Your Elf

Sunday, November 20, 2016

"Here's Lookin' at You, Elf"

WOW! It’s the Holiday Season already! Are we prepared? Gosh, we hope so. This is the time of year when plant-based eating can be really challenging and we mean that in two ways. First of all, with all the turkeys, roasts, butter-laden breads, cornbread dressin’s and gravy, and the world of decadent desserts, it’s often difficult to stick to one’s guns and not be tempted to ‘cheat’ a bit. The first year your Elf was totally plant-based, we actually thought we’d take a ‘vegan’ holiday on New Year’s so we could dive into the pork heavy black-eyed peas, butter heavy cornbread, bacon heavy collards and perennial holiday favorites EGG Nog and Boiled Custard laced with Bourbon and Whipped Cream! BUT, we decided that one ‘holiday’ would beget others and soon, we’d be right back into old habits, which is a nice segue into the SECOND way eating plant-based during the holidays can be challenging. We LOVE to challenge ours-elf with veganizing recipes that we love and also finding new recipes to try. This year will be no exception. Gosh, there are SO many great plant-based recipes out there now, it’s become a matter of recipe overload and figuring out just which ones are worth a try. We KNOW what we are preparing this year for our Thanksgiving day at our BFFs (Jesse and MaryEvelyn Dees) so stay tuned for next Sunday’s blog for a full report!!
And speaking of reports, it’s time to share our FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipe of the week with you. The title of the recipe is what caught the Elf’s little ole eyes. Potato “Gatto”.
When reading Susan’s description of the recipe, we learned that “Gatto” is an Italianized version of the French word ‘gâteau’ which means cake. And, though this casserole isn’t really a cake, it is layered and therefor looks like a cake. The only substitution we made was the mushrooms. We had some fresh oyster mushrooms on hand and needed to use, so we coarse chopped and sautéed them.
As always, we got our ‘mise en place’ with onions, peas, nutritional yeast, diced roasted red peppers, panko (Japanese bread crumbs), and non-dairy milk (we used cashew).

What you don’t see is the garlic and a big ole pot of potatoes that were cooking away. When they were done, we drained them after reserving some of the potato water just in case we needed to soften up the potatoes when we smashed them with one of the masher things that we can NEVER find until we are about to scream! As Susan suggests, we kept the skin on the potatoes. We sautéed the onion until it had some nice color to it
removed them from the pan to a bowl and then sprayed the pan with Coconut Oil Pam to sauté the garlic and panko crumbs. We started out slowly heating and stirring.
When a nice bown was achieved, we took the pan off the heat and let it sit until ready to top the ‘Gatto’.
We then commenced to smashing the potatoes and adding the diced peppers, mushrooms, and half of the peas.
It’s right pretty, isn’t it!
We then layered about half of the mixture into our prepared casserole, added the remaining peas and then the rest of the potato mixture. This was put in a 400º oven for about 25 minutes before pulling it out and topping with the crumb mixture which we sorta pressed into the potatoes. Back into the oven for about another 10 minutes and it was done. We let it sit for a few minutes before dishing it out.
Oh, we forgot…as you know, we almost always add cayenne pepper to everything we eat (except desserts) so we did sprinkle some cayenne over the top prior to adding the crumb mixture. This makes a very hearty casserole and one we will enjoy for lunch for a few more days.
Now, we mentioned that we’d give a full report of our Thanksgiving dishes next Sunday but we did want to share the FFVK recipe we will be preparing. We made this last year and it was such a hit, we didn’t want to disappoint—Creamy Vegan Broccoli and Rice Casserole. We have some really nice broccoli from our CSA box that we can use and will most definitely use our Mississippi Blue Basmati Rice that we love so much
AND the other FFVK recipe we will add this year is Susan’s 911 Vegan Gravy.
It should pair nicely with our entrée offering. Keeping our fingers crossed on that one! We are also taking a dessert, so next week’s blog will be a blast to write!

We have designated Sunday nights at the Elfin-haus as Taco Night and explore all kinds of plant-based options for tacos. Tonight, we are taking the easy way out and preparing the filling with Kroger’s Simple Truth Crumbles but stay tuned for some interesting fillings to come.

Last night we took some sautéed ‘chicken’ (The Gentle Chef’s recipe) to a restaurant.

Big Solid had his over a baked potato with some mushrooms and vegan cheese (that we also took) and your Elf had some over an entrée salad along with some cheese as well. We both had clean plates and full bellies when we left. Eating plant-based can be very simple and very good.

And our last food elf-fort this week was to make some granola that we had this morning.
We had a bit of a rough week as Larry’s sister, Genora, passed away on Wednesday. We had been to see her Tuesday to say goodbye and we are so glad we did. This was not an unexpected event but painful nevertheless. 

And finally, we wanted to share our favorite
mannequin’s Thanksgiving window. With all the mannequin craze currently, we have the real deal. Presenting VEGAN PILGRIM ANNIE!

It's a wrap for this week...make that a 'vegan wrap'. We wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving. And always remember to laugh a lot, breathe deep, love life, be kind and "DO EPIC"!

Your Elf

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Day The Elf Stood Still

We realize Veteran’s Day was Friday but we wanted to say from our little Elfin heart and soul how much we appreciate our veterans…those with us still, those whose sacrifice was the ultimate one and those who have been called home to finally rest. Pre-retirement and Elfinery, we had the honor of visiting many a veteran as part of our work. What a joy, privilege and delight it was to sit with and listen to the men and women who dug in when times were unimaginable, who gritted out conditions we could not fathom and whose power generated a beacon of freedom that no country has yet to equal. Once again, thank you.

Our FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipe for the week reached back into Susan’s older files and it was a lovely ‘early FFVK’ recipe.
(As a quick aside, one of the hallmarks of Susan Voisin’s site and recipes is the inclusion of nutritional values at the end of each recipe. While many food bloggers and recipe builders eschew adding the serving sizes and nutritional values, many folks follow the intake of specific things like sodium, fat, calories, sugar, carbohydrates and possibly others. This particular recipe did not include the values, so we KNOW it was an early one.). So, here we go with the Elfin version of Hasty Tasty Pasta with Broccoli, Olives and ‘Chicken’.

In a similar situation as Susan, we really needed to use up some whole wheat thin spaghetti, so that’s what we used rather than the rotini she recommends. Since the pasta cooks rather quickly, we watched it carefully and added the broccoli earlier so it would cook before the pasta cooked past the al dente stage. We love it when it’s that really bright green and not all mushy.
Since we knew the pasta would cook quickly, we sautéed our ‘chicken’ strips before starting the pasta.
Now y’all have been around the Kinky Elfery Kitchen long enough to know that we SWEAR by The Gentle Chef’s plant-based ‘Chikun strips’, so we keep a ‘batch’ of it on hand at all times. (We’ll share the link to his site at the end of the recipe description). Next up, we turned out attention to the flavorful sauce with pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. We sautéed the garlic and added the pine nuts
and then added some of the pasta water and then added the other spices/herbs (basil, red pepper flakes, freshly ground black pepper and a tiny bit of salt) stirring until slightly thickened.
This was poured over the pasta and broccoli, the ‘chicken’ strips were added along with the black olives, tossed around and served up.
We both had two servings with plenty to have for a couple of lunches during the week. We also think that this recipe would be just as good using small green olives as well…along with some fresh lemon juice. Might give it a touch more of a Mediterranean flavor.
So, our recipe for the coming week will be a potato dish called Potato ‘Gatto’
Looks like really good comfort food for the week of our probable first frost of the year.
As for The Gentle Chef (TGC), aka Skye Michael Conroy, the site will give you a taste of how he prepares plant-based meats such as the ‘chikun’ we discussed as well as plant-based cheeses that look delicious (we’ve not yet reached the level of expertise/patience to even TRY these, but we will!). Enjoy both his new website and his Facebook page.

Our other adventures this week have centered around baking cookies for the Crossroads Café, making at least two ‘family’ sized batches of the aforementioned TGC Chikun, vegan pimento cheese (goes great on baked potatoes), and a gargantuan ‘mess’ of the rice paper bacon. It’s great to take to restaurants for a salad topping or baked potato topping.  A bag o’Bacon!
We discovered some square rice paper at Mr. Chen’s Grocery (YAY!!) so we won’t waste so much using the round ones we found at Kroger.

WE LOVE MR. CHEN’S!! We also found some high quality soy sauce to try.
AND, we also found that using a paper cutter thingie to make quick work of the rice paper slices makes a semi-labor intensive elf-fort a lot less so. Last week, we’d said we would NOT use a cookie sheet to bake the ‘bacon’ and we didn’t. Turned out a LOT better and easier to cook when we just used parchment paper.

We also had an opportunity to enjoy another chopped salad at Subway as we ventured to visit Big Solid’s sister in north MS. We tucked away some shredded cheese and left over plant-based taco crumbles and enjoyed a great vegan lunch on the road.

Your Elf got a sweet, thoughtful and fun 'happy' kitchen towel from her friends Jody Donald and Kenneth Leggett, striving plant-based wannabes! It speaks for itself and we LOVE it! Thanks guys!
We leave you this week with a journey of sorts. The home and land adjacent to our house has been vacant for several years. We were recently able to purchase this lovely property by partnering with our neighbors. This week saw the demolition of the home that provided great memories for the family who grew up there in the 60’s. We hope to develop and maintain our portion of the lot as a green-space and bird sanctuary for the magnificent trees and birds that live in them. 
And After!
We’ll keep you updated on that progress as we are quite excited about it.

So, 'til next week, laugh a lot, do a kindness or many, eat plants and DO EPIC.

Your Elf.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

If The Elf Falls in the Forest, Does Anybody Hear Her?

Thankfully, this week’s blog will NOT be of epic proportions like last week. Yet, we do have a lot to share. So, let’s get all up in it! Our FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipe this week is indeed a winner!! We prepared Susan’s awesome Sōmen with Tofu and Asparagus in a Chinese Dressing. 
We hate to sound like a broken record, but this was outstanding in many ways. First, it’s delicious; anything with asparagus, sautéed tofu, and toasted sesame oil is ok the the Book of the Elf. Second, it’s EASY, so EASY to fix. As Susan says in her intro to the recipe, it almost takes longer to say the name of the recipe than it is to prepare (or as we say down here ‘fix’) it. In fact, we liked it SO much, we made it to take to our regular Veganistas gathering last night (more about that later). So, we got all of our ingredients together (our 'mise en place') after shopping a few places. We went to one of our local Asian grocery stores (Mr. Chen’s) to get the noodles as well as some good Tamari and Soy sauces. The recipe calls for Sōmen, which is a very thin Japanese noodle made of wheat flour. It’s usually less than 1.3 mm in width, so it cooks very quickly (yay!).

However, Susan gives you the option to replace the Sōmen with another Japanese noodle called Soba, which is made from buckwheat flour. Soba is slightly thicker and has a darker coloring than the Sōmen.
Now, your Elf has never been a huge fan of buckwheat flour but we decided to grab some Soba noodles anyway. We are SO glad we did!

We cubed our tofu and marinated it in an easy marinade of Tamari and Toasted Sesame Oil. And, seein’ as how we have a penchant for over-doing things, we let ours marinate a LONG time (like a few hours). We cut our asparagus up in about 1” long pieces and that’s really about all of the work there is to this recipe.

After the tofu bathed itself in the marinade to your satisfaction (or the directions of the recipe),
we heated a rather large skillet, sprayed it with some oil (we are partial to Pam’s Coconut Oil Spray). Using a slotted spoon, we removed the tofu from the marinade and sautéed it until was nicely browned on all sides. 
We returned it to the marinade. In the meantime,  brought a large pot of water to a boil and tossed in the asparagus. They cooked for about 2 - 3 minutes before they were removed with a slotted spoon and placed in the bowl with the tofu. The marinade was  ‘beefed’ up with some additional flavors such as Mirin (a sweet rice wine), red wine vinegar, minced garlic, and sugar (we used about a 1/2 tsp of dark agave). That combination was tossed a bit to let the heftier marinade coat the tofu and asparagus. Next up we brought the asparagus water to a boil and threw in the noodles. The thinner Sōmen noodles cooked very quickly—like 2-3 minutes. They were drained, placed back in the pan and tossed with some additional Tamari/Toasted Sesame oil, plated, topped with the asparagus and tofu! It was time to DIG IN!!
WE LOVED IT! Our FFVK dish for this coming week will be another pasta elf-fort Hasty Tasty Pasta with Broccoli, Olives, and 'Chicken'.
It's one of Susan's older recipes (2006) but looks to be a nice combination of our favorite foods, including our plant-based chicken from The Gentle Chef. 

So, when it dawned on your Elf that we needed a dish to take to our ‘partay’, we decided on this most recent recipe. ONLY, in true Elfin fashion, we decided to embellish it a bit and see what happened. We DID stick the to plan with all the original ingredients but added mushrooms (sliced white) and marinated Tempeh.

AND we decided to use the Soba noodles as well. It turned out beautifully, so you can actually have two options with this recipe…the former which is a nice light meal or luncheon OR a substantive meal with the addition of the mushrooms and tempeh.
Our other entrée was a lovely curry over jasmine rice.
Our appetizers were a vegan Mediterranean sampler and a hummus crudité platter.

We also had a kale salad as a side dish.
Our dessert, not pictured because we ate it so fast we forgot to take pictures was cookie sundaes with Oatmeal Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Walnut Cranberry cookies topped with a sampling of non-dairy ice creams (Ben and Jerry’s Funky Monkey, So Delicious Cashew Cream Salted Caramel and So Delicious Coconut Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter). So is it any wonder that we all looked FULL at the end of the event!! 

To keep our search for creative plant based options open, we found and tried our hand the other day at making Rice Paper Bacon!

It’s EASY, FUN, and DELICIOUS!! Here’s the link to the site that we feel has the best and easiest to follow recipe.
It IS a bit easier to cut two rice paper sheets at once rather than individually and then stick them together with water. We used a sharp pair of scissors which helped a LOT. And, it DOES cook better if you do not use a cookie sheet underneath and just place the parchment paper on the oven rack. Big Solid crumbled some up on his baked potato yesterday evening as he had to cook for hisownself AND your Elf crumbled some on her oatmeal this morning. 

And finally, this week found us with another TON of greens from our fall CSA. This time we had Mustard greens, which we have cleaned but have not cooked and some Alamo Turnip greens (2 HUGE bunches). We’d never heard of Alamo Turnip greens but they are some kind of good!

 We also got some Watermelon radishes that we just peeled and ate as is/was. 

Alas, your Elf's Tennessee cousin sent a message that she'd found a hat at a JoAnn's Fabric/Craft store in her area that said COOKIE ELF!! It would NOT do that we rushed to our OWN JoAnn's to GET ONE FOR US!! We were very disappointed that they had no hats and not a clue what we were talking about. Oh well. We'll live to Elf another day. But if you know where we can find a new Elf hat, let us KNOW!!

This is an important week for us as we go to the polls and exercise our right to vote. So just do it. Vote and be thankful that you can. Until next week, smile a lot, be kind, eat plants and DO EPIC!
Your Elf