Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Watched Elf Never Boils

It’s been quite the week here at the Elfin Haus! Last week, we talked about trying to get more organized and efficient by planning menus ahead and prepping everything to be done by Tuesday. Well, we are happy to report that we made great strides toward that reality! Sure enough, by supper time Tuesday, we had completed all the tasks and preparation necessary to have our weekly meals planned, cooked or otherwise decided. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t set foot in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen the rest of the week; it just means that we got everything done meal-wise for the rest of the week. WHAT A GREAT FEELIN’!!
OK, so our FFVK recipe for the week was Zuppa Vegana:  Italian Potato, Bean, and Kale Soup.
We did not find the bag of small potatoes that were multi-colored (red, white and gold) but we did spy a bag of small purple potatoes. The Elf’s MOST favorite color is purple, so we had to get them. This was a fun recipe to prepare, so let’s get to it! First, we got our mis en place. We were not able to locate the borlotti beans that Susan recommended but we did find cranberry beans. There are quite good. The beans you see in the mise en place have already been cooked. You also see the spices (dried oregano, dried basil, fennel seeds and dried rosemary), ‘chickin’ bouillon and minced garlic.
 We had the pound of purple potatoes in the colander after being washed (aren't they gorgeous!).
 We sautéed the onions in water
 then added the garlic for another quick minute. We then added the broth (bouillon), potatoes, fresh, and fresh chopped kale. (WE LOVE KALE!)  We did add the two optional ingredients of nutritional yeast and non-dairy milk (cashew milk was our choice) at the end after blending it until smooth and then adding to the soup. This gives is a richer flavor and creamier texture.
 The end result is quite lovely in appearance; actually made us think of Mardi Gras! Golden broth, green kale and purple potatoes!

 THEN, we added sautéed plant-based Italian Sausages (The Gentle Chef) for a little extra zip and substance and served with some toasted rye and pumpernickel bread.
 You know, we must confess that as we were plating this soup, we told Big Solid that we had some thoughts that it would not be one of our favorites. WELL, your Elf could NOT have been more wrong. In fact, we are going to make it again this week just to have on hand for lunch. We LOVED it!! Of course, we bumped up the red pepper flakes and added a bit of cayenne but that’s the joy of cooking with Susan’s recipes. She always tells you to taste and season, so we do! Thanks you Susan for such a delicious recipe…we will enjoy this one often. So, since we seem to be on a soup roll, we have selected another soup to prepare this week:  Ethiopian Red Lentil Soup.

Another recipe that is found in the FatFree Vegan Kitchen index comes from Dr. John McDougall’s book The Starch Solution (most recipes developed by his wife, Mary). Your Elf is a pancake lover; Big Solid is not. So, we decided to fix the McDougall fat and egg free recipe for Fluffy Pancakes for a weekend treat.
The recipe calls for a mix by the name of Sunsweet Lighter Bake, which is no longer available. However, Mrs. Dr. McDougall does give you a recipe to make it yourself; it’s basically pureed prunes to which we added a couple of Tablespoons of ground flax meal. It’s used in place of any oil or butter. Sparkling water is used to promote fluffiness. Well, as you can see…the pancakes look really nice. We served them with non-McDougall endorsed plant-based maple breakfast sausage patties and drizzled with dark maple syrup.

 We were SO excited to dive into these!! Only WAIT…they were totally flat. No fluffiness AT ALL. All we could taste was mashed banana as that was the end result consistency. NOW…we KNOW that this recipe is tried and true by hundreds of thousands of people…so this HAD to be an Elfic FAIL! We are DETERMINED to try it again, only this time, at half the recipe. We wound up throwing the unused batter out. 

Tonight is Taco Night but the filling is nothing new…a tried and true mixture of Boca crumbles and mashed extra firm tofu that has been pressed to remove as much water as possible.
We have still some great Salad Days lettuce from our Farm Pack and tomatoes. We’ll grate some Daiya cheese, chop some onion and enjoy immensely! These are the pictures from last week’s Taco Night…same thing tonight! 

Gosh, January has come and gone already!! We are working on some really cool vegan Mardi Gras recipes from a terrific little book that your Elf’s BFFs gave her for Christmas.

 It will be interesting to see how the great NOLA recipes translate into vegan cuisine!!

And, FINALLY, we introduce you to the NEWEST member of the Elfin family...Ed the 5 lb. Chihuahua.
 We've had our elfin eyes on Ed for a while, hoping he would find a forever home. Alas, senior dogs are very hard to place and when there is the complication of some health issues...damn near impossible. Ed is 10 years old, has NOT A TOOTH IN HIS HEAD (with a resulting malformation of his lower jaw), AND he's heart-worm positive. Yet he's full of life, love, and energy; we just couldn't stand the thought of him being a shelter dog for the rest of his life, so we picked him up Monday. He's undergoing heart-worm treatment (so far so good) and has not one bit of difficulty eating moistened food.  He's had no trouble fitting in and found a way to crawl in bed pretty quickly.

This is now an Elfin wrap for January! Until we meet the first Sunday in February, remember to always Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can. In other words, “DO EPIC”!

Your Elf

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Carry On My Wayward Elf

This past week has found your Elf in a mood to be more efficient and organized. It seems that since we retired a few years ago, we have less free time than ever before. It’s like we have to cram everything on earth into each day without regard to how much wasted energy we spend trying to do that. For instance, when we were working and traveling almost every week, we still managed to get Annie (the window mannequin) dressed monthly, read, cook, read, wash clothes, read, go to the grocery store, read, make jewelry, read, knit, read, watch a TON of TV, read, and work. Now that we NO LONGER WORK (paid, that is), we are so busy doin’ stuffs we hardly have time to sit down and enjoy a book. We don’t make jewelry or knit anymore…our little Elfin hands are too arthritic to sustain close work like that. We gave up watching TV after a year without cable taught us that there is indeed life after NCIS. So what in the hell do we do to NOT be able to sit still for a spell, as we say down here. We obviously cook but don’t do it in a very organized and efficient manner. So, we’ve decided to have all of our evening meals for the week planned and prepared by Tuesday. We eat out Friday (date night) and Saturday AND as you know, Sunday night is Taco night. Monday is typically a night we eat a baked potato (sweet or white) with assorted vegetables as toppings. That leaves only Tuesday through Thursday to have supper ‘fixed’. Breakfast and lunch at the Elfin Haus is easy…smoothies, cereal, plant-based sausage biscuits and oatmeal are always on hand. Lunch usually consists of the following selections:  lentils and brown rice with cooked greens from our Farm Pack, some kind of soup, roasted vegetables, or left-overs from previous evening meals, etc. Not a problem to fix. So, dinner/supper meals for 3 nights out of the week should be no problem to accomplish.
To accomplish our new organization strategy, we chose two FatFree Vegan Kitchen (FFVK) recipes for this week. It was a Susan-palooza! The first one we prepared was Cumin Infused Vegetables over Quinoa. 
We are here to tell you that we’ve really been on a roll with our FFVK recipes of late. This is no exception. We’ll state up front that it’s delicious and so very good for you. For a long time, Big Solid would not entertain eating quinoa…too calorie dense. This was back before he read The Starch Solution by John McDougall and began to move away from counting calories to eating selectively and with smarts. It seems that nearly everything that Dr. Mc says has resonated with Big Solid, so quinoa is now in and enjoyed. And this recipe is indeed one to be savored. It’s easy to prepare as well. In fact, as part of our newly evolving organizational elf-forts, we fixed this recipe on Monday to enjoy on Tuesday night. One cool thing that Susan Voisin, the genius behind FatFree Vegan Kitchen, did with this recipe is to offer two ‘sizes’. The initial recipe makes eight substantial servings. She also included a scaled down recipe that makes four servings which was so much better for us. We started with our ‘mise en place’ of cayenne, smoked paprika, cardamom, turmeric, Harissa, ground cumin, chopped onions, chopped eggplant, cauliflower florets, chopped zucchini, minced garlic, Fire-roasted tomatoes and chickpeas. Just a note, the Harissa is technically on board in the recipe after plating for additional flavor. We added it during cooking to spice it up a bit more rather than over do it with the cayenne, which is our usual bent.
We sautéed all the vegetables in the order and time Susan suggested, allowing them to absorb the wonderful spices and NOT become too soft.
The zucchini was the last to be added since it doesn’t take long to cook. We let it cool, tasted and seasoned a bit more and then stored for the night, letting the flavors develop (marry) even more. We prepared the quinoa using the ‘Golden Chicken Bouillon’ recipe from The Gentle Chef and served it up last night. We especially liked dry toasting the quinoa before adding the bouillon for an added flavor boost. It was delicious…echoed heartily by Big Solid.
Our second recipe was a ‘kinda’ spur of the moment decision that turned out to be both good and not so good. We’ll get to the good in a minute…the not-so-good was a learning experience. The recipe was the Asparagus and Chickpea Casserole. 
We selected it because we loved the ingredients and the ease of a one-dish meal (even though Big Solid is not a particular fan of casseroles). Again, we got our ‘mise en place’ for this dish on Tuesday to have it ready to serve on Wednesday. What you see is sliced mushrooms, chickpeas (which we drained and rinsed), celery, plant-based chicken bouillon, spices and herbs (nutritional yeast, dried basil and oregano), onion to be chopped and cashew milk. Not pictured is the minced garlic.
The seasoning vegetables (onion garlic, celery and mushrooms were sautéed
followed with the addition of the asparagus and a couple of tablespoons of the bouillon. The pan was covered and the ingredients cooked until the asparagus were nice and green.
We whisked a couple of tablespoons of flour to the remaining bouillon and added to the asparagus mixture
and lastly we added the chickpeas.
This simmered for about 5 minutes and then we poured it into a lightly sprayed (Pam Coconut Oil) casserole dish.  We’d grated about 9 ounces of raw potatoes and placed over the top, sprinkling them with some smoked paprika.
It looked delicious!! We baked it for about 30 minutes, checked on the potato status and baked a wee bit longer. THAT’S when we ran into some issues! When we pulled the finished casserole from the oven, the potatoes were NOT nicely browned…they were a dull gray and gooey. No picture wasn't pretty. WTF!! We thought of scraping them off and replaced with the frozen shredded hash browns but that would entail a trip to the store. After a day of thinking, we finally hit on a potential solution and messaged Susan what we were going to do. We know how careful she is about fats in her recipes, so we offered to just not discuss this elf-fort and issues at all. She answered with go right’s all part of learning how to make adjustments and still have a good meal. So, we grated a some Daiya vegan cheese (about a half a block) and cooked some Boca crumbles. After ridding ours-elf of those grey potatoes, we added first the cheese and then the crumbles and re-heated the casserole to have Wednesday night. IT WAS DELICIOUS!! We served it with that Brussels Sprouts/Sweet Potato Bake from last week’s blog and had quite the meal.
 We also thought this casserole would go nicely over piece of pumpernickel toast…kinda like a vegan ala king. We have a small amount left, so that just may be lunch today!

We’ll see what next week brings in terms of both staying organized AND our FFVK recipe of the week!!
Now as you know, Sunday is Taco Night and for this past Sunday night with the playoffs rolling at full blast, we were in quite the quandary. We had prepared plant-based Brats out of respect for the Green Bay Packers (see last week’s blog) with the intention of having them during the day. Well, we just COULD NOT bring ourselves to rush through the Brats in preparation for Taco Night, so we opted to have the Brats on Monday night. Let it be said that NOTHING interferes with Big Solid’s anticipation and enjoyment of Taco Night. So, we focused on ‘Chicken’ Tacos. We used our ‘Chicken’ Shreds (once again, compliments of The Gentle Chef)
and sautéed them up and added the taco flavorings/chopped chilies.
Now REALLY, doesn’t that look good! The final stuffed tacos were inhaled as always and we look forward to another Taco Night tonight!
 As for the Brats, we had not made these in a while, so we were a bit apprehensive. Oh ye Elf of little faith! We tried to prepare them in the typical Wisconsin fashion…pan seared (we gave up our grill a while back) in an iron skillet
 and then boiled/kept warm in beer. 
We enjoyed them with toasted pumpernickel, and Lauren Rhoades' Sweet and Sauer kraut and fermented mustard shown in last week’s blog. HOLY MOLY!! OUTSTANDING!! We really wanted the Cowboys to win (Dak OF COURSE) but we can’t but appreciate the terrific game it was and congratulate the Pack for a job well done.

Thursday night, we had a return to Burger night so we could use some of our great lettuce, tomatoes from a previous Farm Pack and try out the Gardein meatless patties.
We oven-fried some potatoes and had a pretty nice little night.
For weeks now, we have noticed that the Kroger brand of Simple Truth Meatless Patties and Crumbles have been absent from the freezer. After much inquiry over the past few weeks without an answer, we were told these products had been discontinued. However, today, we learned that they are simple out of stock! YAY! We do not eat much in the way of processed plant-based meats, such as Boca, Gardein and other brands. For the most part, they are far too calorie and fat-laden (for example, Field Roast). Usually we make our own plant-based meat analogues using ingredients we have on hand (vital wheat gluten, nutritional  yeast, tofu, grapeseed oil, spices and herbs) from FFVK or The Gentle Chef’s Seitan and Beyond. By the way, Boca Crumbles have 0 fat grams per serving which is great.
Our Farm Pack this week brought a bounty of good stuffs! Pictured are Cabbage, the GORGEOUS Oyster Mushrooms, Scuppernong jam (we eschewed the honey and yogurt), BEAUTIFUL carrots, GREAT Collard Greens, BEAUTIFUL Sweet Potatoes, and three heads of AWESOME Salad Days lettuces (Butter lettuce and Curly Red Leaf).
We always look forward to Thursday to see what will appear in our Farm Pack. Thanks go to the folks at UpInFarms for supporting locally grown organic produce.
So, another week has flown by in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen and we so appreciate your support and kind words. We don’t claim to be experts on much of anything and really hope to represent the joys and challenges of living a plant-based life, so until next week, remember to..... 
Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can. In other words, “DO EPIC”!
Your Elf

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Taming of the Elf

Last Sunday when we published our little Blogeriness, it was SO COLD and ICY and just plain AWFUL. This Sunday, the total reverse. Warm, nice, pleasant—not an icicle or snowflake or ice pellet to be found. And we are certainly happier for it. Even the Ant Highway is open for business while the weather holds. So, let’s get on with the Elf Stuffs for today!

Big Solid and your Elf LOVE LOVE LOVE Indian food (and Thai and Japanese and Ethiopian to name a few). So, this week we selected Susan Voisin/FFVK’s Vindaloo Vegetables.
You know, we’ve been very tempted to select this several times but got a bit intimidated with the long list of ingredients. Well, forget that! WE happened to have on hand MOST of the vegetable ingredients as well as the spices needed (which accounts for most of that long list) to make the Vindaloo. So, it was just a matter of makin’ up our Elfin mind to “git ‘er done”. Now we know that last week, we said that Big Solid liked simple meals without a lot of fuss and bangin’ around in the kitchen, messin’ up EVERY DISH and PAN there is to be found. Well, that really only applies to non-Indian recipes. When it comes to Indian cuisine, a complex recipe and the resulting plethora of used bowls, spoons, measuring stuffs, pans, and equipment is quite all right. Now we have a bit of a confession to make. In our spice drawer rests a bottle of Vindaloo curry spice from Whole Foods. See?
 Well, we looked at the recipe ingredients and instructions and we looked at the ONE BOTTLE of Vindaloo….more than once. Then, we shoved the ONE BOTTLE back in the spice drawer with grit and determination to ‘DO IT SUSAN’S WAY!’ and that’s just what we did. So, we got our ‘mise en place’, well mostly. So, here’s what you see starting at the top left. A green pepper, onion, tomato paste dry mustard,white wine vinegar, cayenne, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground cardamom, cauliflower, frozen peas, zucchini, Elephant garlic, carrots, a pitted Medjool date and fresh ginger.
 The majority of those ingredients were actually used to make a thick-ish liquid vindaloo base…namely the dry mustard, cayenne, coriander, cardamom, turmeric and then the white wine vinegar. After we blended the vindaloo sauce/paste, we set it aside and began cooking in earnest…sautéed the onions and carrots
   added the cauliflower and kidney beans
 then added the vindaloo sauce (to which tomato paste and water had been added) and let that cook for a bit. The other vegetables were added at intervals of about 5 minutes until it was all said and done.
 One thing we were worried about was making sure that our vegetable cooking time did not over do and our veggies be a pile of mushiness. Well, it worked beautifully!! The veggies were all crisp but cooked and the flavors were just OUTSTANDING!! We did cook up some Gentle Chef 'chickun' tenders which we added as a side as well as some MS Blue Brown Basmati Rice.
 Y’all, this is one of our favorites now!! It just goes to show you that, even though you can buy a lot of seasonings, sometimes it just pays to make it from scratch!! In fact, we’ve eaten on this all week. THIS IS A KEEPER!!

We have two recipes in the Elfin mind for next week but not sure which will be ‘fixed’. Both look really good, so it’s just a matter of what good produce is available! No matter, either will be supper worthy!
Our Sunday Night Taco Night was a repeat of an older filling…a combination of Simple Truth Crumbles and shredded tofu that had been pressed very dry. Nothing new but very good…nothing went wasted, let’s put it that way! Tonight will be a repeat of the Chicken Tacos made from The Gentle Chef’s plant-based ‘chicken’. For those of you who enjoy meat analogues, you cannot beat his Seitan and Beyond cookbook.

And, for those of you who were interested in the Brussels Sprouts/Sweet Potato Bake/Hash, here’s the link to the recipe on The Food Charlatan’s site. 
This is SO GOOD, we can hardly stand it. Even if you don’t THINK you like Brussels Sprouts, you gotta try this one. It’s delicious.  Here's what ours looked like ready to bake.
We adjusted the recipe to reduce the amount of oil used. If you want to go oil/fat free, you could probably get away with a brief spray of Coconut Oil Pam (or nothing) to see if that works out OK. She does include instructions at the end of the recipe on how to store/reheat the dish which includes omitting the red wine vinegar until you are ready to reheat.
From our Farm Pack this past week, we cooked up some great collard greens with mushrooms

 and a whole lot of beets. We were kinda wonderin’ how to ‘spruce up’ the beets a bit, so we pan sautéed them with a quick Pam Coconut Oil spray, turned the heat down fairly low, covered and let cook til al denté. Then, we got a wild hair and added 2 Tablespoons of Sambal and 1 T of light agave. Stirred all that up so everything was nicely coated and let sit and absorb those flavors for a bit. Very, very nice.
 And of course, you CANNOT have collard greens without corn-sticks.
 You know, we use EnerG egg replacement and have found a way to incorporate it into batter without all the lumpiness that we seem to get when we pre-mix (like you are supposed to). We just add the powder in to the dry ingredients and add 2T water to the wet ingredients when we get ready to add them…works great (well, so far, anyway). Our Farm Pack for this week was AWESOME with collard greens, great Salad Days lettuces, Pecan Pieces from Bass Pecans, Baby Beets, Bell Peppers, those wonderful Oyster Mushrooms, MS Blue Rice (Beulah Land Tan Brown Rice), and fresh Broccoli. Gosh..hardly a need at all to go to the grocery! We separated the PACK out so you could get a better sense of the great stuffs!!

Here's the bulk...beets, peppers, pecans, rice, and those wonderful 'shrooms!
And then the fabulous collards and Salad Days lettuces!
Just for comparison purposes, look at the oyster mushrooms we saw at the 'big' grocery in town this morning. Which would YOU prefer!?
Nature's Crest, grown locally...
 or store-bought 
For today’s NFL Playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, yours is an Elf divided. For years, we worked for the University of Wisconsin and the Long Term Care Institute, both in Madison WI. Our mentor and former boss, who is also now retired, is a die hard Packer fan (of course, bein’ from Green Bay) and then there's Mississippi’s own Bret Favre--a Packer legend. So, yes…we love the Packers. HOWSOMEVER, there’s a new KID on the Cowboy block by the name of DAK PRESCOTT who has captured the hearts of Mississippians with his stellar career at Mississippi State and even more rousing rookie year with the Dallas Cowboys. Most of you know that Big Solid went to MS State and we have followed Dak all along. Now, today we will be tested as will both these teams. Out of respect for the Packers, we have made (again from Seitan and Beyond) Brats!!

One word about the ‘mise en place’ picture. We realized AFTER we took all the pics that this recipe does NOT call for soy sauce. So scratch that from the pic! The dry ingredients
 are mixed with an emulsion of spices, oil and liquids to form a dough which is rolled in a foil packet and steamed.
 Today, we will prepare them in the tried and true WI way of boiling in beer and grilling (or sautéed). We have some GREAT sauerkraut compliments of Sweet and Sauer (Lauren Rhoades) in a recent Farm Pack.
 So if nothing else, we’ll enjoy a Wisconsin meal while we cheer on the Cowboys! Maybe some final cooked pics next week! We stuffed some of the Brats with Daiya cheese before we steamed them…so keep your fingers crossed.
Lastly, we leave you with our recent shot of the beautiful Oyster Mushrooms from Nature’s Crest Farm. These are frequently in our Farm Pack and we are always glad. Not only are the delicious, but also make a great jigsaw puzzle. WHAT? Well, we had a pretty nice picture of them which we were able to turn into an online jigsaw puzzle (see the application Free Hourly Jigsaw Puzzles).

What fun! And it was a nice challenge. So far, we’ve only worked up to a 180 piece puzzle and those pieces were so tiny, we almost had to get a magnifying glass to work it. For the ‘shrooms, we chose 100 pieces…that was plenty!
So that’s it for another week. As we approach these next few weeks of transition, let’s remember to always…

Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can. In other words, “DO EPIC”!
Your Elf