Sunday, May 20, 2018

All Good Elfs Must Come to an End

You know, today we are celebrating FOUR years of blog posts from Your Elf. We began on May 21 2014 with “To V or Not to V” and launched our great blogging adventure. We started incorporating ‘Elf’ in our titles in January 2015 and have tried to think of clever (and some not so clever) titles from thence on.  Over the four years, we’ve published 168 blogs. We took a few months off in late 2014 to assess more clearly what we wanted to do; from then on, we’ve published pretty much every week. So, we shutting our little bloggery elf-fort down to focus on our Elf Facebook page and to learn more about blogging.
We have a couple of meals to share with you this week BOTH utilizing the awesome CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) from Two Dog Farms in Flora, MS. These folks KNOW how to put together a really great combination of vegetables! Here’s our most recent CSA. It’s so pretty we even use it for our Elf page cover. From left to right: Rainbow Swiss Chard, Mizuno mix (salad stuffs), broccoli, sweet peas, golden beets, fresh dill, torpedo onions, fennel bulb and fronds.
This is so pretty, it looks like a painting! So we jumped right in for a great Monday night supper with the Swiss chard and golden beets,
freekah (a great grain) and French lentils,
air-fried cauliflower pictured ready for the fryer
and vegan cornbread sticks.
Our final plating looked like this.
We also had some great slaw made with Just Mayo and apple cider vinegar. Believe us when we say this not last long!

Our next endeavor was to utilize the beautiful fennel bulb in one of our MOST favorite soups EVER!! Fennel and Tomato Soup. It’s not only absolutely delicious, it’s very very easy. Here’s the link fromI Vegetarian Times.
The VT site includes the nutritional values and here’s where it got a bit interesting. This recipe uses ‘store-bought’ Italian Sausages which have a much higher fat content than recipes you might be able to find online—specifically the Seitan Italian Sausages from the FatFree Vegan Kitchen
which have 5 grams of fat per sausage or The Gentle Chef Italian Sausages which tallied with 3 grams of fat per sausage (using the My Fitness Pal nutritional values calculator). So, if you are monitoring your fat intake, be aware of the differences in fat grams. In any event, this soup is delightfully delicious. We started out with our ‘mise en place’ of home grown Italian or Flat leaf parsley, the beautiful Fennel Bulb from Two Dog Farms CSA box, Dry Vermouth, Muir Glen crushed tomatoes, and EVOO.
Missing are the Sausages (you’ll see them shortly), a teaspoon of fennel seeds, and the plant-based chicken bouillon we always use. We sautéed the chopped fennel in the EVOO (for those of you watching fat, you may certainly opt to sauté in water or Olive Oil Spray).
The pan was deglazed with the vermouth (the alcohol burns off quickly) and the plant-based chicken bouillon and tomatoes were added.
Voila! Now, as we were tasting the cooked product, we wanted to ‘kick it up a notch’, so we added 1/2 teaspoon of Liquid Smoke and 1/8 teaspoon of EXTRA HOT cayenne from Patel’s Grocery. Believe us when we say that the EXTRA HOT moniker is ABSOLUTE TRUTH! With just that 1/8 teaspoon, we had all the heat we could handle. We ate this all week for lunch with toasted Spelt or Twice Fermented Rye Bread from Sunflower Oven in Jackson. If you’ve not tried any of Robert Raymond’s great breads at the local Farmer’s Market, by all means do! Here’s the link to some of the baked goods offered during the holidays.
He is currently working on additional baked vegan options as well!!
So, Elfin buddies, we bid you a farewell from this little blog. We’ve had a blast. There are so many wonderful Vegan Blogs out there to stay focused on plant-based eating and all the good food that you can make. Stay tuned to The Elf in the Kitchen’s Facebook page for our continuing Elfin antics. We may even see what we can do on a video!!
Until then and for always, remember to 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!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

An Elf for All Seasons

First and foremost, a very Happy Mother’s Day to all. Whether you still have your Mom or whether she’s watching you from another plane, celebrate her gift of life to you. Double down on your commitment to make that life a life well-intentioned and well-lived.
Our first recipe of the week is a tried and true recipe from Vegan Bowls and one of our favorites, Cajun Tofu and Artichoke Bowl. We first tried this a while back when we had our first (and last) encounter with Celeriac; remember the Root That Shall Not Be Named. We have since learned that we can substitute puréed cauliflower seasoned with celery salt, be just as happy, and a LOT less frustrated. So, with some tofu in the ‘fridge that needed to be used, we dove in. We had a can of artichoke hearts in the pantry but the jar of hearts in Kroger just looked so nice, we got them instead. Not a good idea...yes, they were water packed, so we cut down on the oil but the outer leaves were tough as whit leather (whatever that is). We wound up peeling most of the larger leaves away since they wouldn’t even cut with a knife. After pressing our tofu for about 10 minutes (we used Extra-firm), we sliced it into 8 ‘steaks’ and marinated in a concoction of paprika, chicken bouillon (Plant-based), garlic, olive oil, cayenne, oregano, thyme , and salt/pepper. As it typical of us, we let it marinate about 30 minutes instead of the 10 indicated in the recipe. We like our flavors strong! We actually steamed the cauliflower we’d cut into florets instead of cooking in water; that seemed to keep the cauliflower more ‘together’. Processor made short work of turning the not mushy but soft cauliflower into a nice firm purée with a wee bit of olive oil, about a tablespoon of cashew milk and a teaspoon of celery salt. The marinated tofu was sautéed in an iron skillet
so we could get a good sear; the artichoke hearts were sautéed in a separate skillet
...and VOILA!! We layered the purée first, then added the sautéed hearts and tofu. This is a simple recipe that shows that vegan can be easy, quick and delicious!!
Our Ornish-esque recipe for the week really comes from a Big Solid comment. He asked Your Elf when we were going to have a particular pasta dish that he liked. We realized that with our elf-forts to try new recipes, we often forget about the older ones that we REALLY like. So, we hearkened back to another one of Susan Voisin’s recipes...Pasta with Chard and Chickpeas.
AND...AND...we were able to harvest the Chard from our very own ElfinGarden!!
Well, we harvested our Swiss Chard and then we threw in some Lacinato and Red Kale as well.
We always keep chickpeas (either canned or home cooked) and a variety of pastas on hand, so that was no problem! With only three main ingredients, we were SET! So our ‘mise en place’ looked like this (in addition to the greens): Baby Bellas, Red Pepper flakes, drained and rinsed Chickpeas, Whole Wheat Pasta, Double Strength Tomato Paste, and thinly sliced White Onion.
We sautéed our sliced onion in water (in keeping with the no/low fat principles of Ornish and FatFree Vegan Kitchen),
added our Baby Bellas and Red Pepper flakes,
then the Tomato Paste,
and finally, the Chickpeas.
We let these flavors develop a bit and then added our cleaned, coarsely chopped and dried greens. OH!! We almost forgot…LOOK at another offering from the garden that we added—a fresh asparagus!
We planted several asparagus plants when we first moved here several years ago in hopes of having asparagus ‘out the garden’. Well, we do but it’s been a singular effort. We’ll get ONE asparagus to crop up on a weekly basis, so by the time we get enough to cook, the first one is all dried out!! So, we chopped this one up and added it to the greens! And SEE—here’s the asparagus for THIS week!
This time we WILL be able to harvest TWO instead of one! PROGRESS is being made! Anyway, our final plating looked like this.
And the nutritional values are pictured to note less than 3 grams of fat per serving.
NOW, you’ll notice we added a sautéed Italian Sausage to our plate. According the the My Fitness Pal recipe application, our plant-based Italian Sausage nutritional values look like this.
The original recipe is from The Gentle Chef’s cookbook, Seitan and Beyond and is proprietary so we can't share it without his permission. That being said, we will most certainly ask. He's been very receptive before, so keep your fingers crossed.  His recipes for meat analogs are amazing. Truthfully, Your Elf has tinkered with some of the spices as we tend toward more intense flavors (or our elderly palate is not as discriminating as it used to be). We have also asked Susan Voisin to run the ingredients and portions through her nutritional values application to validate the values shown here. We'll alert you to any significant differences (especially with respect to the fat grams).
Short but sweet for this week. Again, we wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day and include our favorite picture of Elf-Mama. With a name like Annie Oakley, you just knew a picture like this would evolve...this during her freshman year at (then) Memphis State in the late 1930's.
She’s been gone for several years but her spirit, creative bent, and sense of humor is very much alive. So, until next week, we wish you a good week ahead and always remember to 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!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, ELF!

Welcome to the Lusty Month of May (remember Camelot)! As we are writing this on Saturday, there is a gentle rain falling, kissing the ElfGarden with the gift of growth and sustenance. We are grateful. We will dive right into our elf-forts in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen this past week. Actually, we are only highlighting two recipes but BOY HOWDY, they are two good ones!!
First off, our Ornish-friendly recipe for this week comes from a tried and true site that we love...Susan Voisin’s FatFree Vegan Kitchen.
Susan’s commitment to developing and/or modifying recipes to minimize the fat grams is beyond awesome. Recently she posted this recipe on her site and in her blog: Red Lentil Soup with Cauliflower Rice (See the link above). Now, we pretty much realized when we saw the recipe that the Elf would be preparing it. Why? Because we’d picked up two bags of frozen Cauliflower Rice at the grocery last Sunday AND we always keep red lentils on hand from Patel’s Indian Grocery. To keep from being caught mid-cookery needing an ingredient we thought we had but didn’t, we perused the recipe to make sure we had everything on hand. Now, when you first see the recipe, you may be taken aback by the number of ingredients (15 total if you don’t count the water). BUT, do NOT be dismayed; the ingredients are, for the most part, easily found in a cook’s kitchen and if not, easy to find or add to a list. We got our ‘mise en place’, consisting of lentils, diced tomatoes with (top row) chilies, ground cumin, cayenne pepper (EXTRA HOT), turmeric, ground coriander, minced garlic, The Gentle Chef’s ‘chicken bouillon’ powder; (the rest) red/green bell peppers, ginger, lemon, and carrot.

Missing are diced onion and the riced cauliflower which you’ll see later on. The recipe is very easy to follow and make. First, we got our bouillon made (one teaspoon of the powder per cup of hot water) and added our grated ginger, minced garlic, and the lentils (washed and picked over for bad stuffs). Then we added the shredded carrot and diced peppers. This was covered and cooked on low until the lentils were done. Red lentils are tiny and do not take long to cook.

In a large skillet (non-stick), we sautéed the onions.
When they started to caramelize, we added the spices and the cauliflower rice. The frozen bag is just the ticket for this soup.
When the ‘rice’ was warmed and had taken on the flavor of the spices, we added it to the pot with the lentils along with the can of tomatoes/chilies. This cooked for about 10 minutes. Since we made this ahead of time, we waited until just before serving to add the final two ingredients, the lemon and garam masala (not pictured). There is also an option to sprinkle the soup with a bit of sumac, but we actually forgot to do that. Next time!! Anyway, here’s the final plated soup with a great Two Dog Farm Salad topped with FatFree Vegan Kitchen’s FatFree Balsamic vinegar dressing.
ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS!! This is now one of my favorite soups, EVER!! One does need to be cautious about over-cooking both the lentils and the cauliflower or you’ll wind up with still a good soup but mushy. Now, for those of you who track your fat grams, here is the nutritional information from the recipe page AND note the serving size! TWO CUPS! That’s a LOT of soup...we’ve been quite happy with a smaller amount, so consider that when looking at the fat grams.
In our picture, we had a cup of soup and the salad and were quite full!
Eggplant Tomato Pie!! Sooo, we’ve been ‘studyin’ on makin’ this recipe for a while now. The original recipe was noticed on social media a few weeks back.
Now, Your Elf loves Eggplant...Big Solid, not so much. Well, not AT ALL! Nevertheless we were not to be deterred, so with all the ingredients on hand after a last minute trip to Kroger for some pesto, we decided that Wednesday was the day! We got most of our ‘mise en place’ together breadcrumbs (we are partial to panko), eggplant, Vegan butter (leftover Earth Balance), pesto, tomatoes, CSA onion from Two Dog Farm, and the makin’s for a flax egg (1 Tablespoon of flax meal combined with 3 Tablespoons of warm water).
The recipe is a simple one (YAY) and is easily transformed into a full-on plant based product...or so we thought. All we had to do is substitute vegan options for the egg, cheese and butter...or so we thought. We commenced to turning our ‘mise en place’ into real food by peeling and cutting our eggplant into cubes, cooking in our ‘go-to’ chicken bouillon until soft and mashable. That did not take very long, so this recipe would be quickly completed...or so we thought. Well, we picked up the little bitty jar of pesto to get some idea of how much fat was in it when we read CONTAINS MILK PRODUCTS!! WHAT!!THE!!HECK!! You would have thought an Elf would be pesto savvy and KNOW it had cheese in it (Romano). We were not about to make another trip to Kroger, so we proceeded to think...Elf Devil on one shoulder “go ahead and use it, probably only a molecule of dairy in it”; Elf Angel on the other “blasphemy!” Finally, we looked up the recipe for vegan pesto to see what it would take to make our own. We DID have what we needed on hand, so we rushed out to the herb garden and got the fresh basil,
we substituted sunflower seeds for pine nuts, and had a grand ole time making fresh pesto.
WHEW! So, now with a clear and clean conscience, we forged on. We combined the mashed eggplant with the diced onion, garlic, melted butter, flax egg
and...then our next conundrum, breadcrumbs. OK, we revisited the original recipe to make damn sure we had not MISSED something about the breadcrumbs, such as the amount. Well, nope, there is NO AMOUNT listed. So, did we add a tablespoon, a half cup, a full cup, a quart?? There is not even guidance (that we could see or find) about what to add. So, we just closed our eyes and added a fourth cup, hoping that we were on the right breadcrumbs track. Once that milestone had been crossed, all we had left to do was finish it up and throw it in the oven. We sprayed the pie pan with olive oil spray and layered the bottom with sliced tomato.
We then poured the eggplant mixture, complete with the breadcrumb guesstimate, over the tomato base. Then we topped with a layer of sliced tomato.
We originally were going to use shredded Daiya block cheddar as the topping but found we had a block of Miyoko’s Creamery Mozzarella cheese on hand!!
So we shredded that and used it instead.
The oven was pre-heated to 350 degrees complete with a backup thermometer to assure the correct oven temp. And in went the PIE for the instructed 30 minutes. Well, when time had elapsed, it was hardly cooked. We FINALLY removed it, fully cooked and cheese melted, after FIFTY minutes. It was worth the wait and additional cooking time. It was beautiful.
We let it sit for 20 minutes before attempting to slice it. And, indeed, that was a good idea. Since there is no crust, one must be dependent on the substance of the filling to make it ‘pie-like’. We were somewhat pleased with the texture and consistency as it did slice but not very cleanly. The taste was very good...not WOW good but very good. We decided to see how the texture, consistency and taste would change after being refrigerated overnight. What a difference a chill makes! It certainly sliced better and cleaner
but did ‘mush up’ slightly when heated.
The taste again was lovely, delicate and good. Going
So, our sights are now set on making it again with some tinkerin’ and tweakin’ to improve on the consistency and flavors. The real surprise in this was the ho’made vegan pesto!! Thank goodness we have a LOT of basil in the garden so we can make it again. The sunflower seeds hit the spot; maybe we’ll look up a fat-free pesto to lighten it up some. Suffice it to say that, even though Big Solid is a NO EGGPLANT kinda guy, we’ll forge ahead and prepare it anyway. BUT!! Big Solid even liked it!! We did not even try to get him to taste it; he volunteered to try it! And said, “This is really good. It needs a crust to firm it up.” WHO-HOO!! And he was right! We have some ideas to try when we make it again!!
The first week of May has been a winner! Great weather, good food and a growing garden. What more could an Elf want!! Want to also give a shout out to Madison Nutrition and Smoothie Bar for being so supportive of your Elf!!
So, until next Sunday, which is Mother’s Day, we say adios, good cookin’stuffs and 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. DO EPIC! YOUR ELF!