Sunday, April 23, 2017

To Elf or Not to Elf

Well, we sure have been out of pocket for the past couple of weeks. Your Elf has had Blogger’s Block…just could NOT get in the writing mood or rhythm. But, we are back and hopefully can catch us up on some of the more interesting and fun stuffs we’ve cooked lately. BUT FIRST, we had a MAJOR “Cleanin’ Out The Freezer” event to rid ours-elfs of things we meant to eat but never got to it. To paraphrase that old sayin’, “The Road to Food Poisoning is Paved with Good Intentions”. In our case, many of those good intentions have been in the freezer for a very long time. Even we can't handle 3 years of sitting in the freezer!

So, we managed to rid ours-elfs of a substantial amount of food in the refrigerators and freezers with also a substantial degree of guilt. It appears from the sacks of food we have thrown out as well as the multitude of frozen containers that are thawing out food that needs to go, we could have fed a small country.
Not so good. We will endeavor to do better.

We’ve typically held to our weekly schedule…Taco Night

Baked Potato Night saw us throw together some seitan we had thawed out, mushrooms,
peas, and onions
before piling it all on a baked 'tater with some vegan cheese
and Taco Salad Night (more discussion of this elf-fort later one) and at least one night of trying to prepare something from a very heavily stocked and under utilized pantry. But we’ve also had great fun trying out some of the recipes from the America’s Test Kitchen Vegan Cookbook or a recipe from the TV show “America’s Test Kitchen” on Create TV that wasn’t vegan but was easily veganized. In addition, we followed up on a recipe that was posted on FB from the NYTimes Cooking site because it looks SO good (if you love Mushrooms) and it was also very easy to convert to a totally plant-based meal. So, let’s take a look:

We really like easy for most of our meals though we do occasionally fall into a recipe that take more time and has way more ingredients than we usually manage. So, in the easy category, a couple of our easy elf-forts have been a Crock Pot conglomeration that used up several various beans we’ve had stored. We soaked all our remaining Cranberry beans, Black (turtle) beans, and Great Northern beans for about 36 hours and then threw them in the Crock Pot with some of The Gentle Chef’s Chick’n Bouillon, some cumin, some cayenne, some Boca Crumbles, and some ghost pepper salt. At supper time, all we had to do was dish it up, throw a little vegan grated cheese on it

and serve with toasted Savory Drop Biscuits from the ATK cookbook (and we are here to tell you these are FINE!!)

We had seen a recipe online via Facebook for Mushrooms over Toast from the NYTimes Cooking site
We LOVE mushrooms here in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen, so we immediately set out to make this and make it plant-based. We sautéed two kinds of mushrooms (although the original recipe calls for creminis, we used them plus shiitakes.

Instead of real butter, we sautéed our mushrooms in Miyoko’s Creamery Vegan Butter which is wonderful.
We threw in some minced garlic, chopped thyme, salt/pepper to taste and let cook down a bit before adding some Marsala wine and a vegan version of crème fraiche. We took the easy route and just diluted a small amount of store-bought vegan sour cream with some unsweetened cashew milk.
We served this over some thickly sliced toasted wheat bread and sprinkled with some fresh parsley from the yard. (Sorry, not pictured). This is such a great dish and we have some ideas of how to make it even better next time.

This past week, we made a dish we had seen on the ATK show (American’s Test Kitchen) that sounded really interesting. Pasta with Roasted Garlic Sauce, Arugula, and Walnuts. NOW!! When you see how MUCH GARLIC goes into this recipe, you may be leery of trying it BUT it works!! Trust your Elf! We had the same thoughts. But first, we pan roasted a cup of walnut pieces, carefully, because nuts can burn mighty quickly.

Next up, the GARLIC!! We bought garlic already peeled because who wants to peel FIFTY cloves of raw garlic! That garlic was placed in a saucepan with 3 Tablespoons of EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil).
We covered it and cooked over medium/low heat until the garlic was toasty brown (NEVER BURN GARLIC! It’s awful and you have to start over). We stirred it occasionally to make sure we got to the nice brown shade but not burned up.
When it was the right color, we added a cup of The Gentle Chef’s Chick’n Bouillon, let it come to a boil, reduced the heat and cooked until the garlic was fork tender.
This was placed in the VitaMix and blended until smooth and creamy.
As we were cooking the garlic, we got our pasta ready; we used whole wheat linguine and cooked until al denté, reserving about a half cup of the pasta water in case we needed it to thin the garlic sauce a bit. After the pasta was drained, we returned it to the pot and added the sauce, the roasted walnuts and the Elf’s version of Arugula, which is NOT. We are not fond of Arugula so we used a combination of bitter greens that worked beautifully.

No need to thin the sauce as it was just the right consistency to cling to the pasta and flavor it nicely. We plated it, sprinkled it with vegan Parm and dove in.
Big Solid and your Elf declare this to be a keeper extraordinaire! And so easy to do…only two ingredients needed to be changed to make this plant-based…the chicken broth and the Grated Romano were easily swapped out for plant-based options.

The last meal we want to talk about is more emotional than food oriented. Our Taco Salad Night. We have been accustomed to using Tostitos baked chips and even bought some blue corn chips to try. HOWSOMEVER, when your Elf’s little Mama used to make this dish 60+ years ago (and certainly not plant-based), she used Fritos. Those Fritos of old that were small and just as greasy as the day is long. Well, we purchased some Fritos scoops for old times’ sake and that’s what your Elf broke up and used on her Taco Salad.

You know what, your Elf damn near cried because that old Fritos taste brought back such memories of her little Mama. Hopefully, she was watchin’ and smilin’on us that night. Isn’t it interesting how sometimes a taste or a smell will kick you back into a bygone day and wrench feelings from your very soul? What are some of those taste or scent triggers for you?

So, that’s it for this week, y’all! 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, April 9, 2017

Beauty and The Elf

Wow! Here we are almost halfway through April already!! This is an abbreviated Blog today to just catch you up on a couple of things from the Kinky Elfery Kitchen. We'll get to our main recipe this week (and it was a GOOD one!) in just a bit BUT's a look at some of this week's eating stuffs.
You know that Monday is Veggie night. Well, we got a taste for some GOOD home made tomato soup, found a recipe that touted "the best ever", and decided to dive in for Monday night. The site is called Sprouted Routes and here's the recipe link.
Then we remembered that Big Solid is not that fond of tomato soup, so we threw in some other veggies as well. Not a particularly handsome meal, but we figured it would be healthy AND bring Big Solid around on the tomato soup. We found some nice tomatoes (well, as nice as you can find before the 'real' tomatoes come in), including some smaller heirloom tomatoes of varying colors...always fun. Our 'mise en place' was pretty small as the recipe had very few ingredients. Not pictured are the onions and tomato paste. Basically, we had tomatoes and avocado oil (which we LOVE).
The tomatoes were washed, dried and then coated with some of the avocado oil

and baked until the skins were browning and the tomatoes had released some of their yummy juices. Included in the baking was a head of garlic that had been cut off at the top to expose the heads and wrapped in foil. Your forgetful Elf did not remember to include the roasted tomatoes in a picture until after they had been blasted into soup. Roasting takes about 40 minutes to an hour.
As the tomatoes and garlic were cooling down a bit from the oven, we sautéed the onion until they began to brown and then added a wee bit of avocado oil and the tomato paste (you know, those 2T packs of tomato paste come in very handy). The roasted tomatoes AND roasted garlic were added and stirred to blend.
And speaking of blending, we gave the VitaMix a workout pureeing the entire batch of soup about half of it at a time. We had to deviate from the recipe here as our VM bowl would not hold the entirety of the soup. The bottom line is that it got pureed without a hitch.
We made the croutons out of pumpernickel bread instead of rye, as the recipe indicated as well. So..that was done.
Next up, the greens! We had been to Mr. Chen's (YAY!) and found some great mushrooms as well as some lovely baby bok choy.
We'd already gotten some nice Swiss Chard (rainbow and red), so we had our greens with mushrooms all set.
We started thinkin' about how to prepare the bok choy, especially since we were going to sauté the Swiss Chard with Mushrooms and Sherry Vinegar. 
We decided to try our elfin hand at baking it and sure enough, found several recipes toward that end. So, that's what we did. It was delicious although next time, we will up the seasoning a bit more. We washed and dried the bok choy and then tossed in a bit of grapeseed oil, minced garlic and fresh lemon juice. Baked in a 450º oven, turning once, until slightly brown on the leaves.The final plating looked like this.
Not sure we changed Big Solid's mind on the tomato soup, but we loved it. He did eat a LOT of vegetables with his one bowl of soup.

We also prepared a really nice Tofu Scramble this week with some fresh asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, yellow squash and zucchini.We sautéed the veggies,
added the pressed tofu and some turmeric and cayenne for flavor and color.
Then we added a spice called Kala Namak, otherwise known as Black Salt.
It has a sulfur-esque flavor that when added in SMALL quantities, helps the tofu taste eggy. And believe us when we say SMALL quantities...if you add too much, you might as well start over, so add sparingly and taste before adding more. Trust your Elf on this one. The final dish was wonderfully healthy, tasty and a good lunch or supper meal.

Now, for the 'featured' recipe of the week, Chickpea Curry. We LOVE curries, be they Thai, Indian or whatever. So, we thought we'd give a go at a recipe for one. We found this recipe at Jessica in the Kitchen,
thought is sounded reasonably doable and had at it. Here's the link to the recipe
We got out 'mise en place' and commenced this effort. Coconut flour, chickpeas, Garam Masala (more about that later), ground Cumin, Hot Madras Curry, Fire-roasted diced Tomatoes, minced Garlic, Coconut Milk, sliced red onion, and a lime. Whew!
We sauteed the onion and tomatoes,
stirred until they were nicely blended,
added the chickpeas and the spices,
and finally the coconut milk and the coconut flour. This was stirred until it was smooth and a nice consistency. When we tasted it, we were not quite happy with the flavors and here's where that Garam Masala (Penzey's) comes in. It's a Masala (it's their Punjabi Garam Masala) that has a strong taste of cardamom and coriander which seemed to overpower the other spices. So, we scrambled around to figure out how to offset the intensity and tone it down a bit. We wound up adding heat (Sambal and red pepper flakes) along with about another half can of coconut milk and more coconut flour. We finally achieved the flavor that we wanted and learned that we either use LESS of the Penzey's Masala OR make our own, which we usually have on hand but had used up! We use Susan Voisin's great garam masala recipe so you can bet we'll be putting that into place soon. The recipe and instructions for making the garam masala can be found at the end of the linked recipe for Black-eyed Pea Masala.
Or you can google recipes for variations on garam masalas to find one that includes other spice blends.

And, we have a new VEGAN cookbook from America's Test Kitchen and MAN O MAN, are we ever excited about this one. A quick perusal is enough to know there are not only dozens of great recipes to try but also the America's Test Kitchen methodology for making sure the recipe is good, including various brands to use for the best results. You see before you one HAPPY ELF!
Finally, we leave you this week with a photo of Big Solid and your Elf at Super Bulldog Weekend in Starkville MS. It's the annual gathering of alumni to watch the Spring football scrimmage. Big Solid played football a few years back and this band of brothers reunites yearly for a rousing weekend of tales and lies, embellished heroics on the field, and reliving the old Glory days. We wouldn't miss it for the world.
Well, gee, this wasn't as abbreviated as we anticipated! Until next week (we will post next Monday instead of Sunday), 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, April 2, 2017

The Velveteen Elf

Yes, we have been absent for a bit and we apologize. You know, sometimes life intervenes in the best laid plans of mice and Elfs with events planned and events not so planned. On the Events Planned side was last weekend's gathering of the Sweet Potato Queens, led by none other than Her Royal Highness Jill Conner Browne (Jill is the taller woman on the back row). She is pictured with her Queenly court and the Top Notch Security folk. We had so much fun and always look forward to a weekend of laughter and camaraderie.
Rather than try to backtrack y’all through the past, we’ll just pick up with this week (and even ITS been hectic). There area a few dishes we’ll share from the past but a daily accounting is long past it’s prime. So, let’s get on with it!!
Just a few ‘catchin’ up pictures and discussions of meals gone by. We realize that a lot of folks read this little bloggery to get ideas about plant-based meals, so we want to try to accommodate any ideas/thoughts/pictures we may have.
A couple of weeks ago, our good friends (Paul and Betty Matens) invited us to dinner at their home. It was Betty’s initial foray preparing a totally plant based meal. Betty prepared a delicious ratatouille and a fabulous pasta with roasted vegetables as well as a green salad with strawberries. Heck, your Elf could have made a meal off the salad. You can see what a lovely table Betty set.

She even put out real MATCHING china and real glass glasses! We almost didn’t know how to act. We contributed an appetizer and the dessert. The appetizer is one of Big Solid’s favorites…’plant-based’ sausage rolls. They are made from a mixture of walnuts, oats, silken tofu and seasonings rolled up in puff pastry and sliced for baking. Here's what they look like about to go into the oven.
These are absolutely delicious when served with dipping sauces such as a ‘agave’ mustard and/or BBQ.
We are attaching the link to the recipe but noting that we made these rolls to be smaller than the rolls in the recipe. They freeze very well so you can keep a log of them in your freezer and slice for a quick appetizer when needed. In fact, they slice better when still slightly frozen.
Dessert was an ice cream cookie sundae made with our famous GF (Gluten Free) Double Chocolate Chip Cookies and So Delicious' awesome Cashew Cream (Cappuccino). We made a date caramel sauce to put on top but left it in the ‘frig at home…so we pretended it was there. Here’s a pic of what it SHOULD have looked like.
Other fun stuffs we had during our time away was a great sautéed/roasted veggie meal. We had sautéed spinach, kale and mushrooms (pretty much a staple in this house),

roasted cauliflower in Sambal Olek Thai Chile Sauce (very spicy and very tasty),
our go-to Cumin Roasted Brussels sprouts and Sweet Potatoes.
So our plate looked something like this! OMG what a feast!
When we posted this picture on our Elf Facebook page, a friend and journalist of excellence, Susan Marquez, called us out for serving this meal on a paper plate! Said it was too pretty a dish to be relegated to bein' served on paper. And, you know what, she’s ABSOLUTELY right. We are going to make much more of an elf-fort to move away from the wasteful paper plate regimen and to ‘real’ dishes.

The MOST cookin’ fun we had this week was a re-tooling of a Cook’s Country recipe we watched prepared a few nights back. We are HUGE fans of that show even though they rarely IF EVER cook anything vegan. And, we’ve been subscribers to Cook’s Magazine for years. It’s a great cooking magazine and has managed to stay afloat quite nicely without advertising. ANYWAY…the recipe is Pasta in Mushroom Sauce and it aired on Episode 13 of Season 9.
The trick is, to access the Cook’s Country videos and recipes, you have to be a subscriber. We will provide the link with that caveat. There IS a free trial period so, if you aren’t already a subscriber, it’s an option. And, the show airs nightly on Create TV; we rarely miss it. In any event, this recipe caught our attention for two is a combination of two of our favorite foods (pasta and mushrooms) AND it looked to be fairly easy to re-make as vegan. We hit a few bumps along the way and learned some ways to better it for next time but, for a first go, we were more than pleased. We chopped 24 ounces of two types of mushrooms (cremini and white). The recipe calls for using shiitake mushrooms with cremini an acceptable substitute if shiitakes were not available (which they weren’t at a reasonable cost and we didn’t want to drive all the way into town to get them at Mr. Chen’s). Half of the ‘shrooms are quartered and half are chopped finer (not minced but a good coarse chop).
The unsalted butter used in the recipe is easily countered with Miyoko’s Creamery Vegan Butter, which we SWEAR you cannot tell the difference!

AND, Miyoko's Butter is sustainable unlike the environmentally dangerous Earth Balance which is made from palm oil and destroys the habitat of the orangutan. So, we sautéed the mushrooms in half of the butter (the remaining butter is used at the end).
The sauté continued until the mushrooms were a dark brown, this better to draw out the mushroom flavor.
Here you see our ‘mise en place’ for the remainder of the dish..left to right starting with two finely chopped shallots, dry white wine (in the cup above), 1/4 oz (7grams) chopped dried porcini mushrooms, 2 minced garlic cloves (above), and 4 cups of The Gentle Chef’s ‘Chicken Bouillon’.
After the mushrooms had cooked down to a nice dark brown, the shallots were added
then the sage (we did not have fresh so used about 1/2 tsp of dried. We are NOT big fans of sage anyway), chopped dried porcini, and garlic.
This was cooked for about a minute to get the flavors of the spices/herbs released. Then we added the dry white wine and let that cook until the wine had pretty much evaporated (oh, the aroma was awesome).
Next, we added the ‘chicken’ broth, pasta and some salt. The recommended pasta was Campanelle which we were actually able to find at Kroger!!
This was brought to a boil, the heat reduced, Dutch oven covered and allowed to cook with an occasional stir until the pasta was done.
The recipe suggested 12-15 minutes though we feel that checking your pasta texture is a good idea starting at 10 minutes. We let ours cook 12 minutes and removed from the heat. Then, more magic happens when the remaining butter is added along with 3/4 cup of vegan Parmesan cheese and a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. This was stirred vigorously for about a minute to allow the butter/cheese to melt incorporating the added flavors into a really delicious sauce.
Big Solid really wanted some plant-based chicken shreds to accompany the mushroom pasta, so we accommodated without a problem; we always keep a supply on hand.
This really is an easy and excellent dish that we will make even better next time…first by getting the shiitake mushrooms and maybe even a couple of more exotic mushrooms to play with the flavors. Second, we will increase the amount of the mushrooms by using a pound of exotic/shiitake and a pound of white instead of the 12 ounces of each that the recipe indicates. Mushrooms tend to cook down so much that we felt they got lost. Third is the cooking time on the pasta…we could have easily removed ours from the heat at 10 minutes and had a pasta with a little more ‘bite’ (al denté) to it. All in all, the dish turned out quite well and we are looking forward to another round of it soon.
Now, in the “NOTE TO S-ELF” department, here are a couple of things we have to acknowledge to you. Remember our last blog (way back when) walked us through the making of the Vegan Cuban Lentil Soup? Well, we loved it so much, we wanted to do it again. So, we started off prepping our lentils. In our (non)elfin wisdom, we anticipated making a double batch SO that meant a double portion of lentils to soak. We carefully measured out two cups of dried lentils and placed them in a quart glass jar, screwed on the lid and let them sit in the dining room (not in the sun, though). We came home from a nice Thai meal at Fusion to this!

WHAT A MESS!! In our elf-thusiasm, we did NOT remember that the top is not the usual lid but a breathable covering of cheese cloth. Consequently, the buildup of gas made the glass jar go GABLOOEY all over the dining room.

We are very thankful Annie (our dining room mannequin) was not on hand for this catastrophe; she would have indeed been traumatized. It took quite a while to clean this mess up but we are certainly the wiser for it.
And, does this happen to you? We LOVE cilantro and use it often..or at least try to. It seems we buy a beautiful bunch of fresh cilantro at the store
and 15 minutes later (only slight exaggeration) it looks like this. So, our NOTE TO S-ELF is to use this stuff right away or figure out SOME was to keep it from turning into cilantro goo.
The easy remedy for this to to grown your own, which we intend to do. In the meantime, does anyone out there a) understand this dilemma and or b) have a solution? Your Elf wants to know.
 We close with a picture of our little Rememberin’ Tree. This little Ginkgo is now fully clothed in the finest of greenery for the summer and stands at the nexus of our neighborhoods to remind us that seasons change, we change, and we abide (kinda like The Dude) through storms both physical and emotional. And we remember all that is important to us and do good stuffs whenever we can. Thank you, little Rememberin' Tree.

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