Monthly Archives

February 2013

decadent treat food, dessert, recipes

(The Best) Vegan Lava Cake (Ever)

The wait is finally over, blog-friends!  For our final Valentine’s Day Dinner post, we present you with… The Best Vegan Lava Cake Ever!  It may sound a little arrogant, or maybe you think this might fall under the classification of “too-good-to-be-true”, but I assure you that cake has everything you want in a lava cake, vegan or not!  I mean, I spent days trying to find or create the perfect recipe, and by the end of it I still wanted more of this cake!

Vegan Lava Cake with Ice Cream and Grand Marnier Glaze!

Before I even began I knew it would be a tricky process, so I made a checklist containing all the important qualities I wanted this cake to have.  That way, I would know when I had found success!  My checklist went as follows:

  • 100% Vegan (duh)
  • No crazy science ingredients (nothing that could be found in a science lab is allowed in this cake)
  • Holds form when removed from ramekin (looks matter)
  • Oozes out when cut into (otherwise it’s just not “lava cake”)
  • No cheating (some people take the easy way out by slipping a square of chocolate into the middle of the batter, or adding some kind of gooey filling at the end; no dice)

We could probably subtitle this post “The Birth of a Recipe”, because I plan on taking you through a little tour of how the recipe came about, and the trials and tribulations of each iterative step (but don’t worry, there are pictures!).  Before that, though, I’ll give you the final, good-copy recipe.  I think the best way to enjoy this blog post would be to read the recipe, find the ingredients, make a few portions, and then enjoy the rest of the journey with lava cake in hand (and mouth!).

The liquidy center spills out of the cake when you cut into it.  Beautiful!

Vegan Lava Cake

Ingredients:
for one 8 oz ramekin cake (two servings)

1 1/2 tablespoons vegan margarine (DO NOT use Earth Balance, use a “regular” vegan margarine like Becel)
80 grams (3 oz) dark chocolate

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/8 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup non-dairy milk
2 tablespoons blended firm Silken tofu
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grand Marnier Glaze:


1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 small square dark chocolate (about 10 grams)
1 teaspoon confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Melt margarine in a small pot over medium heat.  Without letting the margarine get too hot, add the dark chocolate and stir until melted.

3. Combine the sugar, flour and cornstarch in a mixing bowl and set aside.

4. Stir the milk, blended tofu, and vanilla in with the melted chocolate.  Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until well combined.  You could use an electric mixer here if desired.  Make sure to mix very well – vigorously whisking it with a fork works well.

5. Pour cake batter into the greased ramekin and place in the oven.  Bake for 14 minutes. The cake should be soft and slightly “jello-y” (the goal here is to have a cake that is raw and pudding-like in the center), but it should definitely look like a chocolate cake.  Remove from oven and allow to sit in the ramekin for two minutes to set.

6. While cake is baking, prepare the glaze.  Heat the Grand Marnier in a small pot for a minute before adding the square of dark chocolate. Melt the chocolate, remove from heat and stir in the confectioner’s sugar.

7. Carefully run a butter knife around the edge of the ramekin to loosen the cake.  Cover ramekin with a small plate and invert quickly.  Remove the ramekin and top with Grand Marnier glaze and ice cream!

Note: The cake batter can be made and refrigerated for up to a day in advance.  Simply make as much batter as desired, pour into greased ramekins, and cover/refrigerate.  Remove them from the refrigerator just before baking, and add one minute to the cooking time.

And there you have it!  At long last, the perfect recipe for vegan lava cakes.  These are the kind of lava cakes I always loved.  I know some people consider regular cake batter with boiling water poured over top “lava cakes”, but they are most certainly not this awesome.  Nothing beats a delicious, moist cake with an ooey gooey molten center.

Nothing wrong with a little messy melty-ness!

Now that you have seen the final, successful recipe, allow me to take you on a journey down memory lane while we examine how this delectable desert came to be.  I had been wanting to make a vegan lava cake for a little while, and I decided Valentine’s day would be the perfect time to do it.  Keeping my checklist firmly in my mind, I began the experiments.

Trial 1: With my checklist in tow  I figured the best place to start would be to take a recipe from the internet and make it, seeing how much of my checklist I could achieve with someone else’ recipe.  I ruled out a few recipes right away for either being to complex (one recipe involved minute amounts of three different kinds of flour, three different egg replacers, a few seeds, and some fruit), using the so-called “science ingredients” (agar, xanthan gum, sodium-whatever-ate), or cheating.  Eventually I found one that stood out above the others.

A sea of scalding oil over top a bed of of rock candy

It did not turn out well.  This was a recipe taken directly from someone’s website, followed exactly, and it created the horrendous monstrosity you see above.  It certainly had a molten center, but the edges were equally lava-like.  The thing failed at even the most basics of being a cake.  To top it all off, it took a full two days of alternating soak/scrub cycles to get that ramekin clean.  Whatever wasn’t molten and scalding was crystallized and rock-like.  Moving on.

Trial 2: For my next trial, I decided to go off-book a little bit.  I increased the amount of flour and cornstarch by small amount, and decreased the amount of margarine.  At this point I was still using Earth Balance.  I also kicked up the amount of chocolate a little bit.  The results from this further experiment were… disappointing, but infinitely better than the pure trash that came from the first trial.  I was able to plate the cake, but it definitely did not hold up to the checklist. 

Oozes out all over the darn plate? Check.  Holds together when removed?  Not so much.

Trial 3: My next attempt contained the first of two major breakthroughs.  I was running out of Earth Balance, so I switched to using a “standard” vegan margarine (the vegan versions of standard supermarket brands like Becel and Smart Balance).  To help stop the crystallizing problem I was having I also cut down the amount of confectioner’s sugar and lowered the baking temperature a bit, increasing the time to ensure at least a little bit of done-ness.

At least this one looks like a cake.

Certainly the most successful looking attempt so far!  It held together, just like magic, but without any major changes.  Then it hit me: it must be the margarine.  Allysia has since told me that brands like Earth Balance tend to lack emulsifiers, which can sometimes lead to oily separation during baking.  I just call it magic and witchcraft.  Unfortunately my journey does not end here: the product is too much cake and not enough lava.

Trial 4:  A second breakthrough.  Up until this point I had been using semi-sweet chocolate chips, as that was what was called for in most of the recipes I looked at, but how would dark chocolate affect the cake?  I guessed that the lower sugar content would be a big help in fixing that stubborn crystallization issue.  After baking a and plating I had the best desert yet.  The outside was moist and delicious, rather than slightly crunchy with hardened sugar.  Now I just had to fix the inside.

Looking better and better…

Trials 5 and 6: It’s now down to fine touches and small adjustments.  First change: increase the cooking temperature back to the original and drop the cooking time.  Cook the outside before the inside can heat up too much.  Results?  Definitely not cooked in the middle, but not quite oozing out on it’s own.  The second try leads to similar results.  It is clear that cooking time alone is not going to solve this problem.

Smooth in the middle, and slightly jello-y!

Trial 7: I experience a zen moment.  My mind flashes back to my days of making non-vegan lava cakes.  I remember the batter being less viscous.  I know what I need to do.  Chop the amount of cornstarch in half, add some milk to thin the desert out and… voila!

Finally, a cake that exceeds expectations!

A vegan cake that fulfills every criteria on my checklist.  Fairly simple ingredient list, a nice shape, and the filling even oozes out on its own.  It has been a long, arduous journey, but eating this trial was worth every minute of baking and waiting and thinking and scrubbing.

If you’ve stuck with me through all that text then I know what you should do:  Find these ingredients, and make yourself a lava cake.  You’ve earned it!

mains, recipes

Marinated Seared Tofu Steak

Good morning, ladies and gents!  I’ll start off by letting you know that I (Mike) will be doing a little more blogging over the next day or two.  Today you get a recipe for the fourth course of our Valentine’s Day Dinner, a seared tofu steak with roasted vegetables and white root veggie puree.  To tell you the truth, I am especially glad that I get to blog most of this one because this was seriously one of the BEST tofu dishes I have had.  It was certainly the closest vegan comparison I’ve seen to having some huge hunk of meaty protein on a plate.   

 Just look at that delicious piece of  ‘fu!  There were a few important parts to the success of this dish.  The first was marinating the tofu for a long time.  We marinated ours overnight, but two or three days couldn’t hurt, either.  Searing the tofu on high heat was another important piece to the puzzle.  A nice sear gave the steak lots of color and caramelized some of the sweet marinade on the outside.  Finally, a little bit of sauce reduction poured over everything set off the dish perfectly.  But enough gushing, lets get to the recipe!

Seared Tofu Steak With Root Veggie Puree

Ingredients (for the puree, two servings):

2 cups turnip, rutabaga, or parsnip, cubed
1 cup potato, cubed
1/2 to 1 cup veggie broth
Pepper, to taste

Ingredients (for the tofu, four servings):


1 block firm or extra-firm tofu 
1/2 cup Marsala wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp cracked black peppercorns (or ground pepper)

Directions:

1. Start by cutting the tofu.  You can make them any size/shape you want, but try to keep them around 1 inch thick, or even slightly thicker.  You can probably get two good-sized steaks out of a block of tofu, with some trimmings left over for other use.

2. Combine all other ingredients in a Ziploc bag and shake to mix.  Add the two tofu pieces to the bag and squeeze most of the air out of the bag before sealing.  This seems to be a great way to keep the tofu submerged in the marinating liquid.  Let the tofu sit for 24 to 72 hours.

3. When ready to start making the meal, boil the peeled and cubed root veggies for around 25 minutes, or until they are very soft.  Drain and mash.

4. Either by hand or in a blender, vigorously mix in the veggie broth.  You may only need a small amount of broth or you may need a lot, depending on the specific veggies used.  Allysia’s turnip and potato puree needed far less broth than my parsnip puree.  Add a hefty amount of pepper.

5. While the veggies are being done, heat a large, heavy pan (cast iron is probably a good bet) to medium-high heat.  Remove the tofu from the Ziploc bag, saving the marinating liquid.  Sear the tofu in the hot pan, starting with the narrow sides.  Let the tofu sear for 3-4 minutes per side.

6.  Strain the marinating liquid and add to the pan.  Let the tofu continue to cook while the liquid reduces to a fairly thick sauce.

Allysia’s beautiful plate before adding sauce, complete with some citrus wedges and broccoli!

7.  When the liquid is reduced, remove the tofu and plate on top of a good-sized portion of the puree.  Serve a few roasted or grilled veggies on the side for some added color and flavor.  Just before serving, spoon some of the sauce from the pan over the plate.

My tofu steak, with some braised broccolini and carrot.

 When I said before that this was one of my favorite tofu dishes ever, I meant it.  Just look at the color and texture on that plate.  The sauce was slightly sticky from the reduction, and ridiculously flavorful.  It was really nice to use something other than potatoes in the puree.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my mashed potatoes, but changing it up is so easy, and the difference is definitely worth it. 

appetizers, recipes

Mushroom Crostini with Roasted Garlic

The second course of last week’s Valentine’s Day Dinner was a mushroom crostini with roasted garlic.  I loved this dish for a multitude of reasons – it was hella easy (that’s my most important criteria), it had lots of mushrooms and ample amounts of roasted garlic, and it’s called “crostini”.  Doesn’t that just make it sound super-fancy?  I could’ve called it “mushrooms on toast”, which is what it is, but it doesn’t sound nearly as awesome.  Ahh, language.

Roasting garlic does indeed take a little extra time, but it’s so low-maintenance and can be done in advance – it’s the second easiest way to fancy up a dish, aside from calling it “crostini”.

These ‘shrooms were my “intro to home wine cookery” class, because since I’m at food school eight hours a day, all food ends up being my lesson, whether I’m at school or not.  The lesson was this: Marsala wine is badass because it makes mushrooms taste great, and can be stored in the fridge for a long time, unlike other wines, which need to be consumed within a day or two of opening.  Don’t get me wrong, I love drinking a glass of wine while cooking, but not three quarters of a bottle.  That’s why wine cookery is best saved for romantic dates or food parties – not so great when you’re flying solo in the kitchen.

Mushroom Crostini with Roasted Garlic
Makes 4 crostini

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon olive oil or margarine
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced, preferably an exciting variety (shiitake, button, oyster, cremini, etc)
Splash of soy sauce
Splash of red wine vinegar
1/4 cup marsala wine
1/4 cup vegetable broth
4 fresh thyme sprigs
Salt and pepper, to taste

4 small slices of toasted bread (crusty bread, or use a circular cookie cutter on regular bread)
1 head of roasted garlic*

*To roast garlic, cut off the top of the head (to expose the tops of all the cloves), drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil and bake at 400 F for about 30 minutes, until the cloves are soft and can easily be squeezed out of the garlic head.

Directions:

In a medium saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sliced mushrooms and cook until they soften and start releasing moisture, 5-7 minutes.  Add a splash of soy sauce and red wine vinegar to add flavor and moisture, and to prevent the ‘shrooms from sticking.  Deglaze the pan with the marsala wine and vinegar, adding the thyme sprigs, and cook until most of the liquid has reduced, about 7 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and remove the thyme sprigs before serving.

Spread a thin layer of roasted garlic on your crostini, and then top with a big spoonful of the mushroom mixture, garnishing with more fresh thyme if you desire.  You could use a wide variety of bread vehicles, but try to keep the bread pieces small-ish, for the sake of eating ease.  Or just go all out and eat a giant serving on a big piece of bread, who am I to stop you – it would definitely be delicious.

Mike: Above is my version of the crostini.  Pretty much the same recipe, just a different variety of mushrooms.  It wasn’t that long ago that we first started experimenting with adding a lot of liquid to sauteed veggies before letting them cook down.  With something like this, the amount of liquid definitely doesn’t have to be exact.  Add more broth or more wine as you see fit, it just means more flavor in the end!  The only thing to watch out for is the added salt that comes with more broth, but if you happen to use homemade broth you could keep the sodium low and boil down an entire cup of flavor into each serving of mushrooms.  This is definitely a good recipe to play around with and modify.  Use it as a base and add your own flare to it, or do it just like we did for a delicious appetizer!

Stayed tuned over the next few days to see the rest of the recipes from our Valentine’s Day Dinner extravaganza!

Brunch, recipes

Mini Frittatas: Vegan Sunday Brunch, Episode 33

One of the items Michael mailed to me for the Lava Cake-making was a carton of firm silken tofu.  Before I received the ‘fu, I was all, “we should make mini frittatas in ramekins!”, to which he replied with a knowing “heh heh heh”.  That’s how the story goes in my head, anyway.  Because as us vegan-folk know, tofu is the preferred ingredient for eggy goodness, especially the silken kind – it has a perfectly smooth texture with none of that slight grittiness that regular-style tofu has.

I’ve made tofu frittatas before, but never in individually-sized ramekins.  Which is crazy, because little ramekins are friggin’ adorable and I love eating food contained in them.  Is that just me?  It’s the same thing with mini-muffins, or mini-anything, really.  Little food is cute food!

Mini Frittatas (In Ramekins!)
Makes two 8-oz ramekins

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 heaping cup assorted diced veggies (onion, garlic, bell pepper, mushrooms, zucchini, etc)
1 cup blended firm silken tofu, adding a splash of water to blend if needed (1 package)
2 tablespoons firm vegan cheese, diced or shredded (optional)
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
Pepper, taste
Fresh minced herbs, for garnish (parsley, cilantro, basil, whatever you want)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F and lightly oil two 8-ounce ramekins.  Heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan, and saute the veggies until tender, about 5 minutes.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cooked veggies, cheese, tofu, nutritional yeast, salt, turmeric and pepper and stir.  Divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins, and sprinkle fresh minced herbs on top, pressing into the tofu mixture a little to moisten them.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is set and golden.  Remove from the oven and let them cool for 10 minutes before eating.

Enjoy alongside a brunch platter – toast, roasted potatoes, fruit, muffins, brekkie sausages, anything a cute little eggy dish would be happily served with.  Feel free to top the frittatas with salsa, diced tomatoes, ketchup, or whatever you normally enjoy your tofu eggs with.

This recipe is deliberately created to be a template for your creative enjoyment – pretty much any veggies, seasonings or add-ins could be used.  I also think it would be fun to try adding a little bit of leavener to the batter (like baking powder) to see if it poofs up the tofu a bit.  Future experiments!

The use of firm or extra-firm silken tofu creates a creamy egg texture – if you opt to use crumbled regular tofu, the texture will be more stiff – it just depends on how you like your tofu eggs cooked.

Mike: I figured I could add my own two cents here.  The frittatas themselves were delicious, but one of the highlights of my plate was the grapefruit.  I know how weird that sounds, but it was seriously the best tasting grapefruit that has ever been created.  Specifically one small, unassuming segment of it.  In one juicy bite I got the perfect balance of sweet and bitter, with a big kick of sour to pucker my lips.  I feel like I could write some sort of grapefruit-centered erotica based on that one slice.  But seriously, the frittatas were awesome.  A little bit of Daiya in the mixture makes all the difference, and a future experiment with baking powder and black salt may just end up with the creation of the perfect vegan frittata.

Later days.

Menus

Five Course Vegan Valentine’s Day Dinner

Best. Valentines. Ever.

(This is 80% of the reason why.)

And that’s saying something, considering me and the Valentines guy in question are hundreds of miles apart.  But you know how it goes with the whole lemons to lemonade thing – though in reality, I do prefer lemons over lemonade.  Is that saying something about my personality?  Don’t read into it.  In fact, let’s just discard the whole metaphor and talk about awesome food.

Michael and I designed a five course dinner for Valentine’s day, with one caveat: I was not allowed to know what the dessert was until the dinner commenced.  He kept me shrouded in secrecy for days, assuring me that I would have all the ingredients when the time came.  I figured it must have been a super simple dessert, but the truth revealed itself in a package he mailed to me…

That’s right, baggies with all the portioned ingredients, complete with instructions on preparation.  How cool is that?

But let’s start from the beginning.

We wanted to create a meal that was elegant, interesting, and still very simple – we didn’t want to be slaving in the kitchen for hours, we wanted time to enjoy each other’s company.  Part of that was deliberately crafting simple recipes, and also doing a little bit of prep the evening before.  We also wanted to make sure that portions were kept modest, so that we wouldn’t end up having the dilemma of being full by the third course.  Few things are less sexy than being too full!

With all of that in mind, here was our menu:

1. Caprese Salad
2. Mushroom Crostini with Roasted Garlic
3. Baby Greens Salad with Pear and Lemon Vinaigrette
4. Seared and Glazed Tofu with White Vegetable Puree
5. Chocolate Lava Cake

1. Caprese Salad

This is the simplest salad on the planet, yet it’s always tasty and impressive.  Basil and tomato is a hard combo to beat, and a rich white cheese (usually mozza) completes the experience.  I really like Daiya’s sliceable Havarti, but any firm, high-quality white cheese would be wonderful.  We took an extra minute to add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a crack of black pepper, and some diced kalamata olives.

2. Mushroom Crostini

For how impressive this dish was, it was surprisingly easy.  We roasted a head of garlic the night before, and it was as simple as squeezing some on toasted bread and adding a portion of sauteed mushrooms on top.  We’ll be posting the recipe shortly, but it’s awesome to use a variety of random mushrooms like shiitake, cremini, oyster, or whatever else you find at the store for an extra high-class experience.

3. Baby Greens Salad with Pear and Lemon Vinaigrette


This took two minutes to assemble, especially since I had whipped up the vinaigrette and seasoned cashews the night before.  It really doesn’t take much to make an interesting salad – use a few different textures and colors and you’re good to go.  I like using pre-washed containers of baby greens since they’re beautiful and have a good variety of leafies.  Michael and I both had a different salad experience – I kept things simple with greens, seasoned cashews and sliced pear, while he topped his with toasted walnuts, pea shoots and sliced radish in addition to the greens and pear.  And make sure you’ve got a great dressing!

4. Seared and Glazed Tofu with White Vegetable Puree

This was some damn good tofu, just sayin’.  Michael was even more emphatic about it last night, exclaiming it was the best tofu he’d ever eaten.  A key for great tofu is to marinate it in something yummy for a good long while (ours marinated for about 24 hours), sear it ’til it’s a beautiful golden brown, and then cook down the marinating liquid to create a glaze to toss it in.  It’s so easy, and so effective.  We served atop a simple puree – mine was turnip and potato, his was parsnip and potato – and a little bit of sauteed or roasted veggies completed the experience.

5. Vegan Chocolate Lava Cake


Michael is a trooper, and a genius.  After seven tests, he managed to veganize a recipe that usually calls for a ton of eggs, and he didn’t use any weird ingredients, just standard stuff most of us have kicking around home.  Words cannot express how intensely glad I am that he went through the trouble of figuring out all the finnicky ratios to create a dessert that has chocolate cake goodness on the outside, gooey and warm chocolate goodness on the inside, all topped with a chocolate and Grand Marnier glaze (this is Michael we’re talking about, of course there was booze involved).  But I’ll let him share that experience (and recipe!) with you next week, where you’ll get to hear all about his trials and tribulations.

Dudes, if you’ve never treated yourself to an experience of a slow meal (ours stretched over three hours) with someone you care about, I highly recommend it.  It was relaxing and fun – even more so than going to a restaurant. Despite making all the food ourselves, no one was rushing us and there were no crowds to deal with – plus, we got some great food came out of the deal.

I’m excited to get into more details about this food with you (especially the lava cake!), and catch up on all your blogs this weekend.  Hope you had a great Valentine’s day!

recipes, salad

Kale and Quinoa Caesar Salad

Now that Allysia’s juicer has decided to self destruct, I can’t rely on fresh juice to fill my body with nutrients without also filling my belly.  Enter the salad.  A fresh, crisp salad is always a beautiful thing, but this time I wanted something a little jazzy, something with a familiar kick.  I wanted a Caesar salad, but without all the egg and anchovy.

Rather than just whip up a quick salad with some lettuce, dressing, and croutons I decided to make something a little more substantial. With my long work days and daily workouts I needed something with some heft.  I also wanted something with some carbs to keep me going and some protein to help build myself up.  I would have added an avocado for some healthy fat, but unfortunately there were no ripe avos to speak of at home.

I determined that my perfect post-workout salad was going to be served warm.  The green portion could come from some steamed kale, and the carbs and protein could come from some freshly cooked quinoa.  Tempeh bacon would top the salad off, adding the extra fat and heft that I was craving.

Warm Kale and Quinoa Salad with Caesar-Style Dressing
Serves 1

Ingredients:

Salad

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
4 or 5 large kale leaves, roughly chopped
1 small carrot, shredded
1 tomato, sliced
1/4 bell pepper, sliced (I used a green pepper)
1/2 cup sliced cucumber
2 green onions, sliced
4 strips tempeh bacon (if desired)
Frozen Daiya vegan cheese, if desired

Dressing:

2 tbsp Vegenaise (or other vegan mayonnaise)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed, to taste
2 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
Pinch salt
Ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Start by making the dressing.  Combine the Vegenaise, mustard, and olive oil in a small bowl and mix well.  Add the garlic, Worcestershire, salt and pepper and stir once more.  The dressing can be stored, covered in the fridge for a few days if required.  Make it a few hours ahead of time to let the flavors meld, if desired.

2.  Rinse the quinoa under cool running water for a few minutes, swishing them around to remove any leftover, bitter coating.  Place the quinoa in a small pot with twice as much water or vegetable broth (I use water with 1/2 of a bouillon cube).

3.  Cover and bring the water to a boil before reducing the heat.  Similar at low heat for about 20 minutes.  After the time is up, remove the pot from the heat and fluff with a fork.  Allow to sit for a few minutes.

4.  Steam the chopped kale by adding it to a large pan or wok with a little bit of water in the bottom.  Add salt and pepper, then cover the pan and boil the water for 6-8 minutes.

5.  Pan-fry the tempeh bacon for a few minutes each side with a small amount of olive oil.  The tempeh just needs to be heated through.

6.  When everything is ready, place the kale on the bottom of a small plate and mound the quinoa on top of it.  Pour the dressing over top of the quinoa and place the other veggies around it.  Top with the tempeh bacon

7.  Instead of some kind of vegan Parmesan cheese, I topped my salad with finely grated jalepeno-havarti Daiya, because that is what I had.  Freezing the Daiya beforehand allowed me to use my microplane to get a finely grated cloud of cheese on top of my salad.  Beautiful.

The salad dressing was really the closest to non-vegetarian caesar dressing that I have made yet, and easily one of the best that I’ve ever tried.  The mustard gives it a little kick while the Worcestershire sauce replaces the anchovy paste present in so many store-bought dressings.  Obviously, the vegan mayonnaise makes a good replacement for the raw egg always used in the really fancy stuff.  I always new that caesar dressings were not vegan, but I am just now realizing how ridiculously not vegan-friendly caesar salads are.  Eggs, fish, cheese.  What more could you not ask for?

I always like eating salads, and sometimes a simple salad is just what the doctor ordered, but every now and then you need something a little different.  This meal satisfied my salad cravings as well as my food-starved body’s desire for lots of hearty food.  See you next time, guys and gals.

food and product reviews

Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts – Week 3 & 4 In Review

Hey guys!

It’s hard to believe I’ve already been living in the wonderful city of Austin for a month – time flies!  It’s truly been a month of new experiences, like trying new foods, meeting new people, listening to new music, experiencing a warm winter without snow, adjusting to a long-distance relationship, in addition to learning a new language (Japanese!) and how to play guitar.  Oh yeah, and exercising regularly and eating well.  Sound like fun?  It’s been a ride so far!

But since the focus of this blog is food, I want to take you on a tour of some of the yummy eats we’ve been concocting at the Natural Epicurean.  We’ve been focusing on foundational veggie foods like tofu, tempeh, beans, grains, and veggies, which are all things I love to nom.

Tofu and tempeh, which I adore (especially ‘fu).

Working with grains, the superstars being dolmas (of course!) and the black bean, corn and avocado salad.  It was super bright and fresh with cilantro and lime juice.

Beany goodness.  Dudes, if you’re making baked beans (bottom left), I totally recommend throwing in some baked and cubed tofu – it’s such a wonderful addition.

Breakfast foods, like my savory grits concoction and some yummy cereals in the backdrop.

Plantain chips and fruit salsa?  Hell yeah.  Tortilla chips were surprisingly good with savory apple chutney, too.

All the vegetable classes made me so super happy, but I especially enjoy hearty roots and squashes.

Carmelizing onions is definitely a test of patience (which I apparently don’t have, since my batch was burnt and non-photogenic), and they were lovely atop a rutabaga, turnip and ‘tato puree.

Light and fresh veggies are fun too, like these yogurt and dill cukes (and some spiralized zucchini noodles in the back).

But greens are probably my favorite of all – this was a mix of kale, chard, mustard greens and escarole, steamed and then sauteed with paprika, cumin, and salt, and served with kalamata olives, tomato and lemon juice.  I feasted on this, let me tell you.

We also had an exam yesterday which included ingredient identification, knife skillz and making recipes.  Everything went smoothly for me, and I made this kick-ass risotto, but the stress of it all made me completely forget about photo-taking.  Next time!

Hope you’ve all been having a wonderful week, and I’ll catch up with you at brunch!