Sunday, March 25, 2018

Carry On My Wayward Elf

We welcome this penultimate week of March with energy and excitement galore! We do have some really fun news to share with you later in this bloggery but first, it’s ORNISH time! Yep, Tuesday, we prepared another recipe from Dr. Ornish’s book; Pasta with Red Pepper and Lentil Sauce (that's the recipe and not the book title!). We aren’t even sure how we selected this except to say that it sounded different, had a sensible number of ingredients and was REALLY easy to prepare. We understand it’s a challenge to completely change the way you eat when you are an ‘Ornisher’, so it behooves us to try to find recipes that not only adhere to the guidelines of very low fat but also offer ease in preparation and excellence in taste. Well, this recipe did NOT disappoint. Just look at this ‘mise en place’ wine (Merlot), lentils, dried basil, bay leaves, chopped red bell pepper, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and chopped onion (the bag of tortillas seen on the far left was only involved to the extent of holding the little bitty book open to the recipe).
We did not take a picture of the box of whole wheat rotini. Seriously, three vegetable ingredients and seasonings made up this recipe's sauce. While the recipe does not specify a type of lentil, we chose a combo of the black and French lentils since they have more substance and retain their shape better than, say, the red or brown lentils. So, we cooked the lentils in boiling water with a couple of bay leaves (EASY PEASY), drained and set aside. The onions and garlic were braised in the Merlot (no fat but great flavor) until tender; then we added the red pepper.
This cooked with the addition of dried basil until the onions and peppers were very tender, placed in the Cusinart and processed. The processed peppers and onions were returned to the skillet, and the cooked lentils added along with the balsamic vinegar . VOILA! Pasta Sauce! The ‘sauce’ looked more like tapenade than a smooth sauce, and we had a moment of ‘oh-my-we-hope-this-works’ along with a palpitation or two. The pasta was plated, sauced and sprinkled with a vegan Parmesan cheese.
Now, the Vegan Parmesan is very Ornish friendly with 1g of fat per 2 teaspoons; if we used a teaspoon, we’d still be exaggerating! The total fat for a cup of pasta and 1/2 cup of sauce turned out to be a paltry .9g of fat! We found this Vegan Parmesan at Whole Paycheck.
We indulged in a slice of Ezekiel bread toast with a vegan margarine. The sauce needed a bit of salt to enhance the flavors of the peppers, onions, garlic, basil, and wine but that's really all. It was quite a lovely dinner! Now, Ornish folks, close your eyes because we are going to show you how we ‘added’ a little somethin’, somethin’ to this dinner. Yep, we included Gardein’s Meatless Meatballs (7g of fat per 3 meatballs OR you can cut them in half and have 3 halves and still be very close to your per meal fat gram intake…do the math and see what works best for you).
Or, you could add some fat-free Boca Crumbles for a little more substance, if you wish.
Now, we have some really REALLY fun news of yet another Elfin adventure. There is an awesome business in the Jackson Metropolitan area known as Feast! Specialty Foods owned and operated by Camille Peeples. According to the web-site “FEAST Specialty Foods prepares and delivers complete Dinners-for-Two to your door Wednesdays and Thursdays that are delicious, convenient, and first-rate.” Frozen selections are also available. It’s a GREAT idea for folks who are busy and need a DAY when they can relax and not worry about ‘what are we having for supper?’ Here’s the link to the website.
Examples of possible entrees are Beef Steak Tacos, Smoked Salmon Salad, Chicken Kofta Meatballs, or Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup. SSOOOO, Camille has been interested for a while now in expanding her plant-based meals options to offer her customers. Your Elf was delighted to be involved with Camille in the preparation of two plant-based test meals earlier this week, using Gena Hamshaw’s Power Plates cookbook (since we both have copies of it and, as we learned last Sunday, the recipes are SO GOOD!!). Two recipes were selected…Spanish Quinoa with Tempeh Chorizo and Home-Style Stuffed Shells. So, we hunkered down in Camille’s great commercial kitchen and cooked ours-elves silly! Camille is shown in full preparation mode and in full cookery mode!.
Here is Your Elf at this REALLY BIG STOVE, sautéing some onions, peppers, and garlic.
We really had to watch ours-elfs on that big stove! Talk about BTU power…and not burning the garlic!
And, here we are with the finished meals, already parceled out.
We shared with ourowns-elves as well a couple of selected folks who would give an honest opinion. We are happy to say that the additional samplers were very enthusiastic about the meals. So, please stay tuned as we adventure forth again next week in preparation of two new recipes!! Will have a complete report next Sunday! In the meantime, we served up our ‘helpin’ of these two dishes for supper on Monday night.
We aren’t sure which we liked the better…the Stuffed Shells or the Quinoa. We were a bit apprehensive about Big Solid’s response to both but he was most complimentary…he REALLY liked the Quinoa, so that will be on our rotation!! Plus, it was not a very labor intensive preparation, which is always good!
We have a couple of sweets to share with you…one we made and one made by Mitchell Moore, pastry chef extraordinaire at our local Campbell’s Bakery. The brownie (topped with fresh Louisiana strawberries and vegan cool whip-ish) comes from the following site. We have already made this twice!!
It’s that good but be advised that the cooking time (for us anyway) was double the suggested time in the recipe.
AND, the wonderfully not-too-sweet vegan Apple Fritter was such a delight, Big Solid and Your Elf had to split a second one last night!
Thanks, Mitchell!!
Well, gosh...we are celebrating spring here in the Deep South with a real chill down! Monday, it was very warm (in the 80’s) and very humid. Tuesday, the high barely reach the lower 50’s and it was a blustery cloudy and gloomy day. So, we found something to assure us that it was truly spring in Mississippi...that most southern of blooms, wisteria.
Yes, azaleas are in abundance but to Your Elf, nothing says SOUTHERN like the grape-like clusters of purple wisteria. There is white wisteria, but that purple is just so beautiful. We do understand that the wisteria is an invasive vine but gosh darn, it's pretty! There is always a climatological tug-of-war this time of year, so in spite of the fact that we are all DYING to plant tomatoes and squash and more tomatoes, it’s just not quite time yet.
Thus, we end our little cookery adventure for the week! We SO look forward to next week with another Ornish-esque meal to share as well as the continuing Feast Specialty Foods adventure. And as we say every blog, 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. DO EPIC!
Your Elf.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Day the Elf Stood Still

You know, Your Elf LOVES writin’ this little blog, mostly because we hope y’all enjoy it and benefit a bit from it. Howsomever, we also enjoy bein’ real and this blog is so full of the realities of cookin’, it’s kinda scary. We do not claim to have all the answers to a plant-based way of eating nor do we make believe everything we prepare is done perfectly. Well, this week’s elf-fort will most certainly assure that we present our kitchen antics, warts and all. We have two dishes to share with you this week, so we’ll just jump right in.
You all know we’ve promised to prepare a dish from a Dean Ornish recipe and that we’ve been challenged actually FINDIN’ a Dean Ornish cookbook (which we finally did). In fact, we ordered not ONE but TWO Ornish ‘cookbooks’ that turned out to be not such good resources and were returned to Amazon. So to make sure we didn’t fail this week, we went back to his original BOOK with an incredibly long title: Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease published in 1990 and found a recipe we thought would be fun to make and eat. The recipe was Enchiladas and Tomatillo Sauce. Now, we’ve never cooked with Tomatillos before though we’ve wanted to…so what better opportunity. For the uninitiated, tomatillos are those little round green things in the grocery store that look like they are covered in green crepe paper. So, after we got all our ingredients (FOR SURE!), we commenced with the recipe. This recipe calls for a tomatillo sauce, so we got our ‘mise en place’ to prepare that first and have it ready.
From left to right chopped tomatoes, minced garlic, chopped onions, The Gentle Chef’s Plant-based Golden Chicken Bouillon (we always use that instead of vegetable broth), chopped cilantro, a pound and a quarter of tomatillos with the paper skin removed (aren’t they pretty?), and rice vinegar. The tomatillos are boiled in water for about 5 minutes, drained, pureed, and set aside.
After braising the onions in water,
the remaining ingredients are added and cooked down. The pureed tomatillos are added and VIOLA, tomatillo sauce. We can tell you one thing for CERTAIN…this may be the first time we’ve ever cooked with tomatillos but it won’t be the last. OK, onward and enchilada-ward…following the tomatillo sauce, we got our remaining ‘mise en place’, again left to right.
Of course, THE BOOK!, a passel of mushrooms, chopped zucchini and red bell pepper, Merlot, ground cumin, oregano, and Ancho chile paste (soaked a dried Ancho chile til soft and pureed with a wee bit of soaking water). We braised the onions in the Merlot along with garlic and spices until the mixture was tender
then added the mushrooms (these were shiitakes from Mr. Chen’s Grocery),
followed by the coarsely chopped red bell pepper
and finally the zucchini. We wanted the pepper and zucchini to retain some crispness, so the cooking order was important.
Now, we got so caught up in the next ‘mess’, we completely forgot to take a picture of the final vegetable cook-down for the enchilada filling but here’s a later photo. You can see how yummy this looks after we’d added the chile paste and additional seasonings.
OK folks, here’s where we went off the rails. The recipe calls for fat free soft corn tortillas. Four stores later, our elf-forts proved futile until FINALLY, we found ONE pack of soft corn tortillas (1g of fat). They were 6” rather than 10” but we were desperate, so snatched them up. We also had purchased whole wheat tortillas (10”) but the fat grams were too high, so we thought we’d use them for ourowns-elf’s. We got two glass pans ready and commenced to fill our enchiladas after steaming them for added pliability. We filled the first one and began to wrap them when the tortilla just BROKE APART. Profanity escaped our lips, especially when it occurred on the second one. THEN we notice that, emblazoned across the front of the tortilla package were the words (and you can most likely guess) “GLUTEN FREE”. Oh hell. Well, we filled five as best we could
and readied for the oven. You can SEE how crumbly and fragile these are. We were SO upset but covered with foil anyway, determined to follow it through. The second set of tortillas were very easy to fill and tuck into a pan. No problem!! In the meantime, we decided to cook some Boca crumbles to add to the filling and were delightfully reminded that these are fat-free!!
The enchiladas baked for about 20 minutes to heat through and through. The final Ornish Enchilada looked like this, with tomatillo sauce! The total fat per two enchiladas, according to the nutritional values listed in the book, was 3.7 grams. And remember that's with the low or fat-free 10" corn tortillas and not these dreadful gluten free ones!
Certainly not very appealing! The wheat tortilla enchilada serving looked like this (with a sprinkling of grated Daiya vegan cheese)...much better.
Now, there is no doubt in our little Elfin mind that, had we been able to find the soft corn tortillas the recipe called for, it would have been wonderful!! And, with the Boca crumbles being fat free, adding a small amount to the filling would certainly be acceptable. So, the lesson is to NOT substitute gluten free tortillas and to be sure to find the right ones!! The dish is really good, even though Big Solid was less than enthusiastic about it. He prefers a crispier offering, such as hard tacos. Another option, rather than the enchiladas, would be a wrap (again, using the correct tortilla) like this one we had for lunch yesterday
The second recipe we tried this week was the Moroccan Tagine
from the new Power Plates Cookbook by Gena Hamshaw. Not only is this cookbook chock full of really great recipes, it is GORGEOUS! We will no doubt be using this quite often!
A Tagine really gets its name from the earthenware pot in which this delicious stew is cooked.  Pretty cute! Want one!
Once again, we had the ingredients on hand (even the 'dreaded' eggplant), we LOVE Moroccan cuisine, AND we even had Preserved Lemons (a staple in Moroccan cooking) from Lauren Rhoades’ Sweet and Sauer.
So, while this looks to be a bit labor intensive, once we got everything chopped, diced, sliced, and went quickly. We got our ‘mise en place’; minced garlic, red wine vinegar, fire-roasted diced tomatoes, ground coriander, ground cumin, chickpeas, allspice, red pepper flakes, EVOO, tempeh, zucchini, red onion, and the ‘dreaded’ eggplant.
We sautéed the onion in a teaspoon of EVOO until tender and added our garlic and freshly grated ginger (which we forgot to add to our overall ingredient picture).Then we added the cubed zucchini and tomatoes followed by the drained and rinsed chickpeas,
the spices (cinnamon, allspice, coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, and some salt) which we stirred a bit to let the flavors soak in.
Next came the raisins and chicken bouillon (our plant-based recipe from The Gentle Chef). This was brought to a boil, heat reduced, covered and allowed to simmer for about 20 minutes. Then, as we say in the South, ‘we got to thinkin’, when do we add the ‘dreaded’ eggplant that we’d cubed, salted and rinsed BECAUSE the next instructions told us to uncover after 20 minutes and stir until the eggplant was very tender. Well, we went back and re-read the instructions about three times and NOWHERE is there mention of adding the ‘dreaded’ eggplant. So, we decided to go to the source herowns-elf and ask. Sure enough, not only did Ms. Hamshaw respond quickly, she also concluded that there was indeed a typo that will be corrected AND the 'dreaded' eggplant is added with the zucchini!
When the tagine was nice and thick, we added our tempeh that we’d cubed and browned earlier and the red wine vinegar and we were ready to plate and eat. The aromas of Moroccan cooking are spectacular and had our little elfin mouth just-a waterin’. We also had peeled a Preserved Lemon, putting the pulp in the VitaMix with the bouillon to add a kick to the liquids, and slivered the peel to use as a flavorful garnish. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the slivered lemon peel in the left corner. We also pan-grilled a home-made Bratwurst (The Gentle Chef’s wonderful sausage analogs) just in case Big Solid discovered that there was the ‘dreaded’ eggplant in the recipe and balked. The Tagine was served over farro
and we dove in.
Listen up—this was so good we could hardly stand it! AND, though the recipe did not call for Preserved Lemons we were darn glad to have had them on hand!! They added just the right tartness that brought out the wonderful flavors. We are big fans of tempeh, so this was just a great dish. And, if Big Solid had issues with the 'dreaded' eggplant, he sure didn’t say anything.
We continue to enjoy our Air Fryer…A LOT! If you are considering one, here’s a link to a review that you might find helpful.
And we leave you with a bit of a teaser…the coming week will see Your Elf on a new adventure!! We hope to fill you in a bit more next Sunday!! So, 'til then 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. Your Elf.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

When You Wish Upon an Elf

What a difference a week makes! We are both feelin’ pretty spiffy and back on track with some energy. We have a lot to talk about and some new dishes to share, so we’ll jump right in. Y’all know we have made some recipes from the book Vegan Bowls,

well, we decided to try out a new recipe. We’d settled on one (Seitan Ossobucco) but decided at the last minute to pick a different one. In addition to including one recipe each week from the Dean Ornish Reversal Program (more about that later), we also wanted to include more vegetables and grains in our meals. So, we pulled out the Forks Over Knives cookbook to add to the mix. Big Solid would not be a happy camper if we didn’t have our baked potato meal at least one night, but he’s a very willing participant in some new recipes (as long as they don’t include eggplant). So, Monday night, we had the Lentil Picadillo from the Vegan Bowls cookbook pictured above. Another plus for deciding to try this recipe was the fact that we had all the ingredients on hand (or so we thought...yet again). Now, this is a bit of a labor intensive recipe but once you settle down and put things in an organized time frame, it wasn’t really too demanding. In an elf-fort to get ahead of the game, and not be frantically trying to throw everything together in a rush, we prepared the Spice mix early in the day, following obtaining Annato seeds from Whole Paycheck. The Spice Mix is a combination of 6 spices (mostly whole seeds) that are ground into a coarse powder. The only spice that was not in seed form was paprika...and as usual, we used the Bittersweet Smoked Paprika that we love. The Oregano and Basil were dried herbs. The mix was made much easier by the use of our little mini-processor. We put the powder in a small glass jar—step one was done and done! As we were gathering the rest of the ingredients to set up our ‘mise en place’, we then realized that we had no red wine! Big Solid to the rescue and within 20 minutes, we had some! So, here you go. From left to right, we have a bunch of Lacinato Kale, fresh Cilantro, Pepitas (in the measuring cup), EVOO, Merlot, Black and Green Lentils, Tomato Paste, Farro, coarse chopped onion and red pepper, sliced Green Olives, Golden Raisins, and the Spice Mix ingredients (Oregano, Cumin Seed, Coriander Seed, Annato Seed, Black Peppercorn, Paprika) and the ‘fresh Spice Mix’ in a jar.
We processed the coarsely chopped onion, red pepper, cilantro, and garlic to a fine mix
and sautéed in some heated EVOO (if you want to eliminate added fat or oil, sauté in water).
Oh, while we were preparing the vegetables, we were also cooking the lentils and farro. The recipe called for two kinds of and brown. However, since both of those cook differently (green taking longer to cook than the brown) we decided to use black lentils instead. That way both types of lentils would be the same level of doneness rather than one al dente and the other mush. We also toasted the Pepitas (Pumpkin seeds). Before toasting
and after.
OK, after the onions, pepper, cilantro and garlic mixture was sautéed, we stirred in the tomato paste for about 30 seconds;
then the Merlot was added.
This cooked for about 3 minutes to let the wine flavor absorb.
Next was everything else, starting with the remaining spice mix and kale.
We had washed, dried, and torn the Lacinato kale into pieces. We actually used this type of kale because sometimes, Curly kale can be tough and/or bitter. This Lacinato worked beautifully. We followed with the sliced olives, raisins, and some of our Gentle Chef Chicken Broth.
This cooked down a bit and we were ready for our final addition, the lentils. We stirred them in and let simmer for about 10 minutes to once again, let all those marvelous flavors bloom.
We plated (well, bowled) it up as close to the picture in the cookbook as we could get, topped with some of those toasted Pepitas
and dove in!! Holy Taste Bud Explosion!! This dish is OUTSTANDING!! Even Big Solid was raving about it.
So, we will add this to the rotation on a regular basis. We also think the substitutions we made (the black lentils and the Lacinato kale) made the dish’s textures absolutely work! Dare we say--WE WERE BOWLED OVER!!
Tuesday night, we prepared the Mushroom Stroganoff from the Forks Over Knives cookbook. We also sliced some seitan to sauté to give Big Solid the option of a meat analogue and added some steamed broccoli to the cooked seitan.
Frankly, your Elf LOVED this dish. We even made the FOK recipe for vegan sour cream, which was not only easy (extra firm silken tofu, lemon juice and red wine vinegar) but worked superbly in this recipe. Fortunately, we keep dried Porcini mushrooms on hand, so we soaked them a goodly while in boiled water to add to the thickly sliced portabellos we had sautéed with water and garlic. Remember the FOK cookbook eschews fat, so be forewarned. Most of your sautéing is done in water to avoid the inclusion of any added fat. We drained the porcinis and kept a cup of the porcini liquid to add later. Here’s the full meal deal of the mushrooms as they cooked.
The sour cream and white wine is added at the last minute and allowed to coat the fettuccine (cooked and kept warm until added to the mushroom/sour cream mixture). The plating looked good and the dish, from your Elf’s perspective, was delicious.
It’s amazing the flavor impact the porcini ‘water’ had on the overall taste. Big Solid was not as impressed and I don’t think he would put it on the rotation. He prefers a more substantive texture. That actually worked great because Your Elf was able to enjoy it all week for lunch!
A couple of other Elf-ventures for the week were preparing Boiled Peanut Hummus…a family favorite. There are dozens of recipes for Boiled Peanut Hummus out there, so Google it and find one that works best for you. While most hummus recipes call for the addition of oil (olive oil), we have found that you can cut the oil in half and thin the hummus with water OR cut it out all together, again thinning the hummus with water. Just be careful to not OVER-THIN with the water and wind up with hummus soup.
Now, boiled peanuts are a Southern staple and most people can’t imagine sucha thing. Yet, even the most hardened of BP-haters regard this hummus in the highest esteem. And finally, here’s a quick pic of our Turmeric Tonic, made fresh this morning.
This will last about 4 days.
Now, we know that last week, we promised our Ornish followers we would prepare and post a dish from the Ornish cookbook. Well, we went by Barnes & Noble to purchase it but…they were not in stock (y’all have NO idea how much this pisses us off). So, we ordered the Reversal Diet cookbook from Amazon after typing in a search for Ornish cookbook. We received the Reversal Diet cookbook on Thursday. Well, LO AND BEHOLD, it was NOT an Ornish cookbook at all but one prepared by the Esselstyn’s (Engine 2 Diet); good but not what we were looking for. We looked through the recipes and found that there were NO nutritional values included with the recipes…SERIOUSLY?? How can Ornish folks KNOW the fat grams per serving IF these values are not present? So, we packed the Reversal Diet cookbook up and sent it back. We went back to Amazon and downloaded the Kindle edition of the REAL DEAL. It looks like we’ll be working on an Ornish meal this coming week!!
We leave you with our weekly Elfism: Placing your glasses on the other side of the sink or the room when you wash your face makes no difference at all; there WILL be a drop of water on the lens.
With this in mind, we wish you a healthy week ahead, stay plant-based 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.

Your Elf