Sunday, February 25, 2018

'Twas Brillig and the Slythy Elf

You know, sometimes Your Elf feels a bit like Alice in the Wonderland of plant-based eating. There are always challenges and surprises and rewards. Like Alice, sometimes we feel very small and sometimes, very large. This week, we’ve been feelin’ pretty large because three people we know and love have made decisions leading them to healthier eating. It is understood that it takes twenty-one days to form a habit…we have our elfin fingers crossed!! So for the next few weeks, we will really be focusing on adapting to a plant-based eating life style and trying to offer support, tips, resources, recipes, and dishes we’ve cooked. Let us begin by saying, WE SO UNDERSTAND the challenge of moving away from animal products. Heck, it’s the way we grew up and here in the Deep South, our lives have been linked to fried chicken (especially livers and gizzards); pimento cheese (with Duke’s Mayonnaise); Pork ribs that fall off the bone; casseroles laden with cheese; a sackful of Krystals, Cheese filled omelets with a side of bacon, pecan, chicken and dumplin’s, lemon ice box, key lime and chess pies; blackberry name a few. AND, we absolutely CANNOT omit the food of New Orleans/South Louisiana, which is in a category all its own. Shrimp, oyster and roast beef po’boys (preferably from Mother’s), gumbo, etouffée, cheesy grits, and red Beans and rice with a big ole Andouille sausage parked right in the middle. No wonder we struggle with moving away from these dishes. Yet, we here in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen are living proof that it CAN be done. And yes, we also had moments of doubt, longing for the forbidden favorites, and that little shoulder dwelling ‘Debil’ that says,  “it’s ok, just this once”. Our first year of going plant-based, we even built in a ‘Vegan Holiday’ for January 1 so we could enjoy all those great dishes that New Year’s Day brings—wings, black-eyed peas cooked with fat back and hog jowl, bourbon laced (or laden) boiled custard, cabbage cooked in bacon grease, dips galore and hot buttered cornbread or sticks baked in cast iron. Well, you know what, by the time New Year’s Day rolled around, we’d been plant-based for six months, so what we decided to do was to HAVE as many of those dishes we could cook up plant-based. Nope, we did not manage the wings, though Gardein has a mighty good plant-based alternative. We did, however, have the cabbage cooked in some oil with a small amount of liquid smoke, black-eyed peas highly seasoned, veganized corn sticks in cast iron and vegan margarine,
boiled peanut hummus, Almond milk based eggnog (bourbon available), and vegan apple crisp. Believe us, we did not suffer one bit. Another time we had collards and black eyed peas with brown rice.
We are ‘splainin’ all this because y’all who are moving to plant-based eating have a HUGE supporter in us and we will do everything we can to help y’all! Fast forward almost five years where our plant-based habits are so established, we don’t give a second thought to eating any other way. Big Solid is coming up on his second anniversary and he could NOT be more committed to this way of life. He also likes to enjoy some of the meal analogs such as Burger and Fries Night, Tacos/Taco Salad, and Spaghetti and Meatballs with an Parmesan Cheese. SOOO, we had fun this week making some new stuff and enjoying some old. If we are lucky, some of the new stuff is good enough to keep on the rotation and add to our plant-based repertoire. Last Monday, we had Burger and Fries night. We had a Simple Truth Meatless Patty (and these are quite good), a slice of Ezekiel Bread toast, and a slice of tomato (heirloom from Salad Days). Big Solid whipped up some slaw with angel hair cabbage using reduced fat Vegenaise, and some plain (not seasoned) rice vinegar. We also used our new mandoline to whip out some potatoes to fry in our new air fryer and voila!! Supper!!

Tuesday, we tried our hand at making Kale Chips in the Air Fryer. So, we got our kale all clean, dry and torn in to fairly large pieces.

We spritzed with some EVOO and sprinkled some nutritional yeast over them along with an eighth teaspoon of salt. The recipe, such as it was, called for a fourth teaspoon of salt but we keep our salt intake low. The seasoned kale was ‘admitted’ to the AF a half batch at a time to make sure cooking was evenly done. And this cooks very quickly...5 min and then in minute intervals until they are crispy and not burned.

As for taste, they are good but way too salty for us. Next time, we will just leave the salt off altogether; the nutritional yeast adds a bit of a cheesy flavor. They also have a tendency to go ‘poof’ in your mouth and be gone. Big Solid had a hankerin’ for pasta, so we pulled out the fresh asparagus we’d found on sale at Kroger and a large box of mushrooms, also on sale. LOOK at your Elf’s new’s a mashup of Tie-Dye meets June Cleaver!!

Now, you can tell by the size of the asparagus that they are WAY TOO thick and big for anything other than as a part of a vegetable melange, so we cut them in bite-sided pieces sautéed in some EVOO until they greened up a bit and then added the whole mushrooms and left-over kale.
The only seasoning we used was fresh lemon. The pasta was red lentil fusilli which has significant protein per serving (26g per 3.5 oz serving).
You can find it at Walmart along with two other types of ‘bean flour’ pastas (black bean and chickpea).
Our preference is red lentil..the other two do not cook up as nicely and they hae a flour-y taste. The final dish looked like this with a piece of ‘buttered’ toast and some Vegan Parmesan which you can find at Whole Paycheck. The final plating looked like this.
Wednesday, we made a veggie stir-fry with Air Fried tofu. We LOVE baby bok choy and we found some really nice fresh ones.
We sliced some carrots,
pressed our tofu to get our the excess water then cubed it. It marinated a bit and then went into the Air Fryer.
We had prepared the Kathy Hester Stir Fry Sauce that we’d used in a previous recipe using AF Tofu. It’s easy and so delicious! So we sautéed the bok choy in a bit of soy sauce and EVOO along with the carrots. We added the AF tofu and stirred til the sauce thickened up a bit.
Served it over leftover pasta and chowed down.
Thursday, we had one of our go-to meals that never disappoints...baked potato, steamed broccoli, shredded vegan cheese (Daiya block, not the pre-shredded), vegan ‘butter’ and sautéed Soy Delight chicken nuggets that we buy by the case!! BTW, the next batch of tofu we air fry will be marinated only and not coated with the corn starch. We want to see how that cooks. Friday night is Thai night and we always go to our favorite Thai restaurant where they have developed several plant-based options for us and others. Saturday night was Taco night, so we busted out the Boca Crumbles, seasoned them highly with taco stuffs and pepper, grated yet another block of Daiya cheese and chowed down.
Before we say adios for the week, if you get a chance, check out Your Elf's new Facebook page called The Movie Elf to get the scoop on the latest movies.
This week’s review is ‘Annihilation’. And, Mail Order Annie has a new reveal for the month of March!! Irish Annie!
What we’ve endeavored to do this week is to show you simple things to cook that make for delicious plant-based meals. Before we say adios for the week, if you get a chance, check out Your Elf’s new Facebook page called The Movie Elf
So, we’ve come to the end of the little bloggery for this week and we leave you as we always do. 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.
Your Elf

Sunday, February 18, 2018

An Elf Between Two Thorns

Well, those well intentioned plans to write daily got side-tracked, so we are playin’ catch-up. Nevertheless, we have some good stuffs to share with you from this week. We prepared a terrific soup from Cook's Illustrated and some analog Bratwursts, courtesy of The Gentle Chef’s Seitan and Beyond cookbook. So, as my friend and world famous Sweet Potato Queen Jill Conner Browne would say, “Let’s git all up in it!”
Your Elf has subscribed to Cook’s Illustrated Magazine for years, long before becoming plant-based/vegan. So, the other day, Big Solid was browsing this month’s edition and asked why we still subscribed, since “there’s nothing really we can cook or eat” from it. Truth be told, plant-based recipes are few and far between. Yet, we enjoy the resources and ideas that are always fun as well as the recommendations. HOWEVER, this month’s CI actually did have a recipe that we ‘cottoned’ onto pretty quickly and found extremely easy to make totally plant-based. PLUS it’s one of our favorite cuisines. An added bonus was the fact that we had nearly evert ingredient on hand, including the spices and herbs. So, the recipe was Moroccan Lentil and Chickpea Soup, known as Harira in Morocco.  We did not see any instructions on reproducing content but did not want to chance it, so you are only seeing the partial recipe.
The ONLY thing we modified to make it a totally plant-based soup was to use our ‘chicken’ Bouillon instead of chicken stock or broth. Easy peasy. First we sautéed our onion in EVOO until translucent and beginning to brown a bit,
then we added our garlic and freshly grated ginger which we cooked for about a minute. You NEVER EVER want to burn garlic.
We were already getting that wonderful aroma of onion, garlic, and ginger. The next step was to add the plethora of wonderful spices—ground coriander, cinnamon, and cumin, smoked paprika (our favorite is the bittersweet), and red pepper flakes (as usual, we added a wee bit more than the recipe called for).
These awesome flavors were stirred into the onion/garlic/ginger mixture and sautéed for a little bit. Talk about AROMA!! My goodness.
A healthy portion of chopped fresh cilantro and parsley was then thrown in to complete the flavor bonanza.
Now, this was the ONLY part of the preparation of this soup that Your Elf did not enjoy...we DETEST chopping cilantro, though it’s one of our favorite herbs. If anyone can share an easy way to finely chop cilantro, please share with us. It seems to get stuck all over our hands and takes about twice the amount to chop than the recipe actually calls for. And, cilantro is not everyone’s cuppa. In fact, you either love it or cannot tolerate it. Did you know that there is actually a gene that determines that? People with the anti-cilantro gene unanimously say it tastes like soap! So, if you are one of the AC folks (Anti-Cilantro), don’t let this deter you from making this soup. Just use the parsley, which is a lot easier to chop and double the amount OR use Italian (flat leaf) parsley, which is the recommended cilantro substitute. So you’d be using two types of parsley...curly and flat leaf instead of curley parsley and cilantro. OK. Whew! We continue to sauté all the flavors for about a minute, stirring occasionally to keep things evenly coated.
We added the next ingredients in reverse order from the instructions. We added the lentils and chickpeas BEFORE the bouillon and let them get a quick stirring to coat them with the flavors.
We used the brown lentils called for in the recipe but next time we are going to try it with either the green or black lentils. Both the green and black are smaller lentils but a lot heartier and stand up to lengthy cooking better. The bouillon was added next. This was brought to a simmer and allowed to cook, partially covered for about 20 minutes. We went on to add a pasta called orzo (a small pasta that looks like a really big long grain rice) and a large can of crushed tomatoes. Sorry we forgot a picture of that BUT the next ingredient was the beautiful chopped Swiss chard.
This cooks fairly quickly but we let it cook down a bit more as sometimes Swiss chard has a tendency to be tough. Since we were sharing this soup with some friends, we didn’t want them put off by tough greens! When all wilted down and incorporated, it looked like this.
A final portion of the chopped herbs (cilantro and parsley) was added along with freshly squeezed lemon juice to spark the intensity of the flavors. 
The final serving looked like this.
, this is quite possibly one of the most flavorful and lovely soups Your Elf has made in a while. Another tweak we will try when we make this recipe again is to use puréed Preserved Lemons in place of the lemon juice. This recipe makes a fair amount of soup but since we were sharing, we did not have a chance to see how well it freezes. Next time, which will be soon, we will save a portion to freeze.
You’ve heard us talk a LOT about the meat analogs from The Gentle Chef.
We have prepared his recipes for Andouille and Italian Sausages over the past few weeks. We used the Andouille in our chicken and sausage gumbo
and the Italian in the lovely Italian Sausage and Grapes dish.
Well, since we bought some of Sweet and Sauer’s awesome sauerkraut at the local Farmer’s Market, we got a hankerin’ for some Bratwursts. We once worked for the University of Wisconsin/Madison and developed quite a taste for Brats. So, no reason to let our plant-based eating disrupt an enjoyment of Brats. We made the dough and rolled them in foil for steaming.

Like all of the meat analogs, they typically need a night in the ‘frig (once cooled, of course) to allow the texture to fully develop. Here’s what they look like getting ready to use for supper.
We just happened to have some nice dark beer to cook them in (I think it was Abita TurboDog).
We boiled them in the beer for a bit
and then sautéed them. It’s really better to grill them, but that wasn’t in the cards.
The final plating (sorry, Susan M.) included the brats, the sauerkraut, some of Sweet and Sauers FANTASTIC coarse mustard, half of a baked potato, and a piece of Ezekiel Flax toast.
MY GOODNESS, it was delicious. We’ll have to make these again really soon!! And, finally, we sliced the leftover Brats to add to a final bowl of the Moroccan soup. Talk about flavor overload! Quite tasty!
On Valentine’s Day, Your Elf returned to the Ornish Alumni gathering for a special showing of the documentary movie “What the Health?” It’s a provocative film about the importance of a plant-based eating regimen to both prevent and reverse illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and morbid obesity. It’s available on Netflix, so if you would like to view it, we highly recommend doing so. The Dean Ornish Cardiac Rehabilitation program (conducted locally at St. Dominic Hospital) adopts a plant-based eating regimen along with additional components of wellness such as breathing exercises, meditation to alleviate stress, exercise, yoga and recipes. We encourage the viewing of this movie to enhance understanding of the benefits of plant-based eating. We are always reluctant to call it a diet as it is not a diet, it is a way of healthy living.
So, we come to the end of yet another week in the Kitchen of the Elf. We cannot leave without our Elfism for this week. How many of y’all wear wrists sweat bands when you wash your face to prevent water from running down your arm and getting your sleeves all wet.
As we barrel toward spring, 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.

Your Elf

Sunday, February 11, 2018

All's Well That Ends Elf

This has been an interesting week at the Elf-haus, so let’s jump in with both feets! Our monthly Supper Club with our BFFs, Jesse and MaryEvelyn Dees, was held at Walker’s Drive Inn. Lest you be unaware of Walker’s, it’s a highly respected restaurant in Jackson’s Fondren area that is a Blue Plate Special by day and fine dining by night. We contacted the restaurant to see what vegan options they might concoct for us since the menu is absent any. And, indeed they did prepare a nice vegetable assembly.
The cheese and ‘chicken’ were provided by us since we understand restaurants in this area do not create entrées with meat analogs such as seitan (think Plant and/or Laughing Seed in Asheville NC). In any event, the meal was good but the price was not. And, as most restaurants are these days, it was loud and challenging to have a nice quiet visit. Yet, Walker’s does great business and offers first class entrées for seafood and steak/veal lovers. So, we have come up with an alternative Supper Club option that will meet the needs of us aging baby-boomers who are hearing-challenged as well as have specific food requests. We are going to alternate each other’s homes; we bring/provide OUR food and the Dees do likewise. Jesse thought of this option, so come March’s SC, we are meeting at the Kinky Elfery Kitchen. We will be able to serve our usual appetizer of French Fries from the new Air Fryer as well!!
After publishing last week’s blog, we dove into the KEK to ‘fix’ a variety of some meals for the week. We had our Elfin eye on a recipe shared on Facebook for a Slow Cooker/Crock Pot soup for Super Bowl Sunday evening. Now the recipe link is for the original version which includes hamburger.
We ‘veganized it’ by substituting ‘meatless crumbles’ and our usual Chicken Bouillon. First, we diced the vegetables,
adding the Fire-Roasted crushed tomatoes, (we LOVE Muir Glen Organics)
then added the herbs and bay leaf
and topped with a package of Boca Crumbles
along with the bouillon. Then, all we needed to do was put the top on the CP (Crock Pot), turn it on low and move on to the next dish. The finished product was delicious, though we did have to throw in some additional ‘heat’ and spice to kick up the flavors a bit along with some grated Daiya cheese.
Oh, one more thing, this recipe calls for the use of a six quart CP. Ours is a smaller version (three quarts) so we halved the recipe. One correction or change we will make the next time we prepare this recipe (aside from using a different ‘meat’ such as mushrooms or tempeh) is to not add quite to much pasta AND add about a cup more of the liquid.
Once we got that recipe going, we moved to prepare the PB (Plant-Based) Chicken and Sausage Gumbo to have during the week and to share with some friends. AND, we used the dry roux we talked about in last week’s blog.
It worked GREAT!! The color was a deep rich brown and thickened up nicely. We used our Andouille sausage (The Gentle Chef’s recipe), shown here being browned
and the Delight Soy Chicken Nuggets that we sautéed and shredded. The final version looks, well, looked like this and it was quite delicious!
Speaking of Shredded Chicken, remember our ‘elf-fort gone awry’ with the exploding chicken analog not long ago? We gave it another try this Sunday while Big Solid was at a Golf Tournament so, if it DID explode again, he’d be away and we could get it all cleaned up before he got home! The last batch we made did not explode but it also lacked the texture we want. So, we prepared the dough, processed it by thirds in the Cusinart and TRIPLE-WRAPPED in Heavy Duty foil. Once again, we watched that oven like a HAWK that last 30 minutes and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when the timer went off and the dough had remained within the confines of the foil. AND, it turned out to be the texture we desired. Here’s the cooked up version.
We use it on baked potatoes along with sautéed mushrooms, broccoli, and the Daiya grated block cheese. We also take it with us to various restaurants to put on salads. We LOVE the Delight Soy Chicken Nuggets as well but they are higher in fat and cost a LOT more (even though we buy at a case discount.)
Monday found us back in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen to prepare Forks Over Knives version of a Mushroom and Pea Risotto. We made this recently and it’s a great comfort food for chilly nights and stomachs that do not need a lot of spice or heat. We usually save out a couple of portions for us and share the rest. One of the things we LOVE about this recipe is that it does NOT require the constant stirring, adding liquid and stirring that the typical Risotto does. The key to this recipe’s creaminess is the use of cashews, soaked and blended. You DO have to stir but not quite as much. The mushroom and pea mixture
is ready to be added to the rice, bouillon, and cashew cream.
Your Elf was such a stupid head to NOT get a final picture. It’s a very soothing dish. That being said, we added some FireWalker Hot Sauce to ours!
We are introducing something a bit new to our little bloggery…'Elfisms'. Those little things that seem to validate that the Universe is really out to get you, or at least Your Elf. So, we present Elfism #1–The Cluster Sink. EVERY TIME we turn on the water in the kitchen sink, all the utensils, cups, bowls and other cookery paraphernalia rush to get under it so the water will be aimed directly at US! This torrent results in not just a little sprinkly bit of wet but an en masse soaking—face, hair, clothing, counters and the floor. Does this ever happen to you?
OK, this next 'reveal' is so embarrassing we almost refuse to publish but in the spirit of Elfin Transparency, we are sucking it up and going for it. Our Air Fryer recipe this week from Kathy Hester’s Vegan Air Fryer cookbook was Air-Fried Seitan and Veggies with Peanut Sauce. AND, we had all the ingredients. Home made Seitan, frozen veggies (the California Blend of carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower), soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger, garlic, and Sambal Oelek. In a slight deviation from the original peanut sauce part of the recipe, we used puréed fresh ginger in place of ground AND substituted the Sambal Oelek in place of Sriracha. We also used the powdered peanut butter to cut back on the fat. Well, listen up...the sauce is wonderful. We could lap it up with a spoon (fresh from the Cluster Sink). Our Seitan was cut into chunks, the AF pre-heated and veggies ready to go in. Well, the recipe called for 16 oz of the frozen veggies; our package was 12 oz. We figured that was fine, so tossed them in the AF. What we did NOT consider (but will most certainly in the future) was the cooking time. We cooked the suggested time of 10 minutes, shook the basket and added the Seitan and proceeded to cook another 10. Well, When we pulled the basket after the second cooking, we no longer had carrot slices nicely cooked, we had little carrot marbles AND instead of toasty broccoli, we had broCOALi. The Seitan was pretty toasty and ok. 
We forged ahead and served it over some brown rice with the PEANUT Sauce, which saved the day.
We learned a valuable lesson and will now check on our vegetables more frequently.
This brings us to the end of the week and this little blog. We hope we've brought a smile to your face while showing you that plant-based eating can be a lot of fun and certainly educational. Until next Sunday, remember always 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.
Your Elf