Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beware the Ides of Elf

My goodness Spring Break week went by so quickly!! Mother Nature reminded us that just when we think we are out of the deep freeze, it returns. For all of you who spent a chilled week at the beach watching your kids plunge into cold waters (pool or otherwise), you’re a braver ‘mon than I am, Gunga Din'.
We have one main feature for you this week and that is the Cuban Lentil Soup we prepared for Anything Can Happen Wednesday. But, let’s recap the week with our other Elfin concoctions which you probably know by heart now.
Sunday March 12 (Grocery Palooza Day) Taco Night — we cooked up a couple of packets of Delight Soy chicken nuggets.

Monday March 13 (Seriously, Already! Day) — this is all veggie night and MAN OH MAN! Did we have some veggies for US! Actually we got kinda carried away but even so, we had veggies for lunch all week! AND the FUNNEST part was that your Elf got all carried away and prepped all the veggie (diced, chopped, cleaned and otherwise did stuff to) the DAY BEFORE!! So all we had to do on Monday was cook them! When we show you the pictures, we’ll show the prepped veggies and then the cookin’ part. We prepared Rainbow Swiss Chard with ‘Shrooms

a Tofu Scramble with peppers, Shiitake Mushrooms, Kalamata Olives, Zucchini, and Onion,

then we had Red and Golden Beets sautéed with a small pat of Miyoko’s vegan butter (and if you haven’t tried it GET SOME!) and finished with a tablespoon of GENUWINE maple surple!

and finally, one of our MOST favorite vegan dishes, the Cumin Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts. Sorry--all we have here is the prepped version...we ate them before we could get a decent picture. 

Tuesday March 14 (Spinnin’ Like a Top Day) — Baked Potato Night. Our baked potato tonight was topped with sautéed fresh Asparagus and Shiitake mushrooms, shredded Daiya Cheese, and Delight Soy Chicken Nuggets. If you’ve never tried these and like plant-based meats, these are damn near impossible to tell apart from the real deal. See the package pictured on Sunday night Taco Night. We find them at Whole Foods. Baked Potato Night is fun because it’s easy, quick and doesn’t require a lot of thinking or preparation. Mostly, you can take whatever you have in the ‘fridge and throw it on a baked potato and it’s good. And, you don’t need to pile on the butter and sour cream!
Wednesday March 15 (Anything Can Happen Day) — Well, this was the day we planned on the Cuban Lentil Soup we saw on Facebook/One Green Planet a few weeks back. We MOST certainly made this soup and will share it with you momentarily. Just want to round out the Elf week before doing so.
Thursday March 16 (A Week of Judge Judy is Enough Day) — Thursday is Taco Salad Night when we take the taco filling from Sunday night, heat it up and throw it on a big ole pile of lettuce, tomatoes and other salad stuffs along with some crumbled up Whole Grain Tostitos. No picture necessary. We will be experimenting with cashew cream as a sour cream replacement for next week’s elf-fort as well as some other ideas. We even talked Bid Solid into alternating Taco Salad Night with Burger Night!!

NOW!! for the pièce de rèsistance!! Cuban Lentil Soup. We LOVE Cuban food and when we came across this recipe on one of our most perused and used resource sites (One Green Planet), we KNEW we had to give it a go. It looked delicious!! So, we read through the recipe and were completely undaunted by the seemingly labor intensive elf-fort that it appeared to be. We had a few questions about some of the ingredients, so we contacted the author of the recipe, Karen Sheer. She was most responsive and helpful in clarifying things for us. She was also eager to hear how our soup turned out. The link to both the recipe on One Green Planet and to Karen’s fun blog site, A Zest for Life, can be found at the end of this ‘show and tell’.

The recipe is divided into five main parts/ingredients. The SOUP itself, chock full of seasoning, vegetables and vegan broth supplemented with orange and lemon juices. The lentils used for this soup are ‘sprouted’ lentils, which are easier on the digestive system. So, we began four days ahead by preparing our sprouted lentils.
We couldn’t find a large glass jar so we had to settle for two pint jars. No big. We changed the water every 12 hours and kept the cheesecloth top secure with the jar screwy top (no lid). That was easy.

The day prior to actually putting the soup together, we prepared the Lemon Crema. We did this JUST in case it went bad on us and we had to resort to store bought vegan sour cream (which we were TEMPTED to do in the first place but THAT would NOT be true to the recipe). In case you have not heard of or don’t know what Lemon Crema is (like us), here’s the definition, from Mother Earth News. “Crema is a zingier cousin of American sour cream. Coming to us from cuisines south of the border, it pairs well with rich, smoky and spicy flavors. A versatile addition to any meal, it shines brightly as a cooling garnish and lends a tangy backbone to simple sauces.” So there ya go. Well, we got our ‘mise en place’ with silken tofu that was lightly pressed to get out as much of the moisture as we could. The Silken Tofu
and in the tofu press.
The remaining ingredients are shown here; fine sea salt, apple cider vinegar, a lemon (which we used for both the zest and juice), ground flax and organic cane sugar.
All of the ingredients were blended/processed until the mixture looked like sour cream. We tasted it and added a bit more lemon juice (you know your Elf is a ‘take-it-to-the-limit’ spicer). Here’s the final product!
We also prepared the Salt-free Sazón seasoning which is a mixture of various spices and herbs for a zesty, salt-free powderlike seasoning. Sazón means ‘seasoning’ in Spanish and Karen’s version requires some extra spices and such to keep the salt out and the flavor in. It’s quite delicious but was the most labor intensive of the whole elf-fort. NOT because it was difficult but we ‘like to never’ found one of the ingredients…annatto seed or the powder of the annatto seed which is called anchiote powder. We spent at least two hours on the road looking for it and finally found the anchiote powder at a small Latino grocery tucked away in a little strip mall that we almost missed. THEN, of course, we found the whole annatto seeds at Whole Foods for a WHOLE LOT OF MONEY and, we would have had to grind them to powder anyway! On Wednesday, we prepared our Roasted Chickpeas. All we have is a picture of the chickpeas prior to baking/roasting.
We combined the Sazón with a bit of avocado oil (since it has a high temperature tolerance) and baked/roasted the chickpeas until they were crispy. 
We could have SWORN we took a picture of the finished chickepeas, but apparently not. Next up was to roast/bake the plantains. A plantain is a member of the banana family. You can eat plantains at several degrees of ripeness…the darker the plantain, the sweeter the flesh (oops, probably shouldn’t say about fruit?) This recipe calls for a ripe plantain but not totally dark. We sliced them, brushed with some coconut oil
and roasted until they were browned.
They were set aside as we FINALLY got to the soup makin’ part! We sauteed our veggies and garlic

added the liquids and lentils and let that come to a boil
Then we lowered the temperature to a simmer, covered and let cook for about 40 minutes until the lentils were really soft. Then we turned the heat off, let the soup cool slightly, took out the bay leaves, pureed about a third of the soup in the VitaMix and put it back in the pot with a good solid stir. We tasted it, added some cayenne and lemon juice for us heat lovin’ folks and dished it up. To serve, we put the soup in a bowl (of course) and then garnished with the roasted chickpeas/plantains and a dollop of the lemon crema.
Then the HOUR of TRUTH was at hand!! What would Big Solid say and would it measure up to the elf-fort? Well, we are here to tell you that this is a MAGNIFICENT soup and since we know what to do now, we will prepare it again. Once you get the nature of the seasonings, ingredients and how to plan it ahead, it is not labor intensive at all. OH…our lentils NEVER sprouted. Next time, we’ll start soaking them earlier. As it turned out, it didn’t really matter as the soup was so good. OK, we promised the links to both the ONE GREEN PLANET recipe (which is the vegan option) and Karen Sheer’s A Zest for Life. Here you go!
There you have it for the week and we hope you had a great St. Patrick’s Day! We did not prepare ANYTHING IRISH this week! Bad Elf! Next week, we have some things in mind to entertain as well as inform. So join us, won’t you. We’ll also be ‘Sweet Potato Queenin’ over the coming weekend, so you might see some very interesting pictures.

So until we meet again, always 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, March 5, 2017

The Squeaky Elf Gets the Grease

Y’ALL!! We are havin’ so much fun with the weekly plan!! We have the best of both worlds…organization and spontaneity. Organization in the sense that we KNOW what we are fixin’ each night of the week so we can plan our grocery shoppin' AND spontaneity in being able to let our creative juices flow with ideas for variations on our nightly themes. AND, we are trying out a new recipe from the mountain of plant-based/vegan cookbooks we have on our ‘Anything Can Happen Wednesdays’. All this bein’ said, we have to ‘fess up that this week didn’t go QUITE as anticipated, planned or even contemplated (operative syllable being ‘plated’). But in our commitment to be a transparent Elf, we will disclose the good, the bad and the deviations. And, as you can see, we’ve NAMED our weekdays keeping the spirit of the Mickey Mouse Club alive.  So let’s get on wit’ it!
SUNDAY…now known as GROCERY PALOOZA DAY.  We tried doing our grocery shoppin’ on Saturday last week as we finished the blog early. We won’t do that again…the store is MUCH too crowded, so we return completing our shoppin’ on Sunday. Contrary to your Elf’s innermost need to get the BLOG FINISHED before doing anything else…the world will not spin out of control if it’s published later in the day.
Sunday night is perhaps Big Solid’s MOST anticipated supper of the week as it’s TACO night. This week, we pulled a recipe from the Isa Does It cookbook. Ancho Lentil Tacos. They were delicious although we must admit as a nod to Big Solid, we did add a bag of Boca Crumbles. He loves their texture so between the lentils, the ancho powder spice mix and the Boca crumbles, we had it made in the Taco shade. We first made the Ancho chile spice mix
and sautéed it with some minced onion to ‘awaken’ the spiciness.
The lentils that we had cooked al denté in some of The Gentle Chef’s Chicken Bouillon with about a half teaspoon of liquid smoke were added. We let those soak up some of that good spiciness as well.
This mixture was joined by the Boca crumbles to a) bring a smile to Big Solid’s face and b) extend the quantity of this filling so we’d have plenty on had for Taco Salad Night on Thursday.
And finally, the stuffed Taco shells were topped with a slice of fresh avocado. It’s a great meal!!

MONDAY…now known as ‘SERIOUSLY, ALREADY! DAY” On Mondays, to kick the week off in the healthiest manner possible, we have a Roasted/Sautéed Vegetable day. This week we planned on our usual Kale and Mushroom sauté, mixing up the mushrooms from the previous week and throwing in a bunch of cleaned Red Swiss Chard. We also planned Buffalo Cauliflower bites complete with a bottle of Frank’s Hot Sauce. We have our several bunches of beautiful and some Red Swiss Chard.
HOWSOMEVER, in the middle of the day, we got a wild hair to make Leek and Potato Soup as we’d bought some beautiful leeks on Saturday. So we launched into that since we were certain that we had the main evening meal in hand. We sliced the leeks very thin and then washed thoroughly to get rid of all the sand and dirt. We then sautéed them in some Miyoko's Creamery vegan butter until they were soft.
Next we added some Chicken Bouillon and the potatoes and brought to a boil. They simmered until they were soft. We were able to use our hand held potato masher to smooth out the potatoes and added cashew milk (the 60 calorie carton), tasted it and declared it yummy!
OK, this is where the pictures of the soup stop. We got so caught up in finishing the soup and getting ready to prepare supper, we completely forgot to take a picture of the finished product. So, as supper time approached, we got the Kale, Mushrooms and Red Swiss Chard out of the frig. We also were getting the cauliflower ready to separate into florets for the Buffalo Cauliflower Bites. ONLY...where was the cauliflower? We looked in the outside ‘frig…nada. We revisited the kitchen ‘frig…nada. As it turned out. we never bought it. So, Buffalo Cauliflower Bites were out! What a stupidhead!! We wound up with the Kale sauté, Leek and Potato Soup and Cornsticks. While it wasn’t ‘zackly what we had planned, it was really good, filling and the soup/cornstick combo was delightful. Let’s just say, we did NOT go hungry.

TUESDAY (“SPINNING LIKE A TOP DAY”) is Baked Potato Day. We are always looking for unique and/or delicious toppings for our Tuesday Taters. We had some lovely fresh asparagus so we cut off the stalky ends and cut into 1 inch slices. We sautéed them in some coconut oil and added a bit of dark soy along with very thickly sliced shiitake mushrooms from Mr. Chen’s—gosh I love that place! Here are a couple of pics as the sauté just began
and as it cooked JEST RIGHT!
Combined with some plant-based chicken shreds and shredded vegan cheese (Daiya block cheese), it was a spectacular meal!

WEDNESDAY (“ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN DAY”). Well, here’s where we went really off the rails. Our original plan for Wednesday was to make it a Burger Night with the burgers made from another Isa Does It recipe…Olive Lentil Burgers. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT…once we read through the recipe again, it just didn’t have the same appeal. So we searched for an alternative  recipe that did not take several hours to prepare. Nothing tickled our Elfin fancy or was reasonably easy that we could find, so we went to Kroger to see if BY CHANCE they had Gardein meatless burgers. They are delicious. But, alas, Kroger did NOT have them, in fact MULTIPLE Krogers did not have them. We got sorta disheartened and finally settled on Sweet Earth Teriyaki patties
and Gardein Black Bean Burgers.
Now Black Beans do NOT sit well in Big Solid’s intestinal track which is why we got the Sweet Earth patties. We sliced some potatoes into fries for the oven and wished for the best. As it turned out, it was a less than spectacular meal. The Gardein Black Bean Burgers were quite good so your Elf actually had a good supper. The Sweet Earth Teriyaki Burger was not very appealing or tasty. We should have guessed when the two burgers in the package would NOT separate. The thin little paper thingie between burgers just sorta melted and we had to pry the burgers apart slowly so we wouldn’t squish them all up. We tasted one and the texture is mushy, almost like thick mashed potatoes. We will NOT be buying these agin. We just chalked this up to PLAN BETTER NEXT TIME!

THURSDAY (“A WEEK OF JUDGE JUDY IS ENOUGH DAY”) Thursday is Taco Salad Day when we make a great big ole salad and throw the remaining Taco Filling on it along with some Whole Grain Tostitos Scoops. We  held our little Elfin breath when we saw only ONE Romaine heart in the ‘frig but once it was all chopped up and the tomatoes, green onions, Tostitos Scoops (crumbled up) added, we had plenty. Topped with the taco filling, shredded cheese and avocado, it was delicious. Predictable but good. No need for a picture. You get the idea.
So a word or several about this week’s lessons that your Elf learned: 
When in doubt about the ingredients of a new recipe, READ IT AGAIN and don’t THINK you remember;
Don’t select a recipe that has more than 15 ingredients in it unless you are prepared to invest the time it takes to find them (which you probably can’t), complete all the prep work (dicing, shredding, slicing, grating, melting, cooling yada yada);
READ THE INSTRUCTIONS to make sure you understand all the time (and timing) needed;
And, perhaps the most important, have a back-up in case things don’t work out and time gets away from you. For example, everything that could go wrong on Wednesday time-wise, DID. We had multiple issues to arise during the day that HAD to be addressed and lost all kinds of preppin’ and cookin’ time. So, our plan now is to have at least two soups made that we can easily serve with a sandwich any of the nights that life intervenes to Elf Up the plans in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen.

This little bloggery is intended to share with you the ins/outs/ups and downs of a plant-based kitchen so if you are considering plant-based eating yourowns-elf, we want to share it all. We also want you to know that being plant-based is really NO DIFFERENT from any type of cooking when push comes to shove. You still have to shop for ingredients, you still have to do all the work involved in preparation, you still have to manage a food budget, you still have to prepare food that tastes good, and perhaps most challenging of all, you still have to FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO EAT/SERVE. That’s where most folks are stymied when trying out plant-based eating. What we are doing, hopefully, is share with you what WE eat with an occasional foray into more exotic/ethnic or challenging recipes. We also want to share with you how to make some of your most ‘go-to’ dishes plant-based. We will hold Big Solid up to you as the GOLD STANDARD for moving from carnivore to plant-based. From “I don’t think I can give up (insert…omelet, ‘real’ cheese, eggs, fish, chicken)” to reading the growing body of research supporting plant-based eating and announcing on his 73rd birthday that he was ready to go plant-based, he has never looked back (maybe sideways once or twice but never caving in). YAY to Big Solid! He is my HERO!
For those of you who think plant-based eating is too costly, we offer this link to help disabuse you of that notion. It certainly has been helpful to your Elf who has a tendency to over-shop and not think!
We have the germ of an interactive project to talk about in a week or two…stay tuned while we play it out in our Elfin mind.

So until next week and always, 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