Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Polenta with Sausage

This supper is easy as can be, since it starts with tube polenta. I recommend Food Merchants polenta, only because the company's FAQ specifies that the product is vegan. Almost all tube polenta has beta carotene added for color, and while beta carotene itself is vegan, it is often suspended in gelatin in order to isolate it. So check with any brand before you buy, if you're unsure.

  • 1 (16-ounce) tube polenta
  • Cooking spray
  • 3 (4-ounce) Field Roast Italian sausages
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) drained cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup shredded Daiya mozzarella
1. Cut the polenta into 1/4-inch thick slices, and arrange the slices in an 11x7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 450 degrees for 8 minutes, turning over halfway through.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Break the sausage into crumbles and add to the pan, along with the bell pepper and fennel seeds; cook for 5 minutes.

Note: I find it clever when vegan meat companies mimic their meat-based counterparts in more than just taste. Field roast sausages come in links similar to a chain of meat sausages, right down to the plastic "casings" that slip off. These types of products are great for mixed vegan/omnivore households, or if you're currently transitioning to vegan foods.

3. Add the Italian seasoning and tomatoes to the skillet; cook for a final 2 minutes.

4. Spoon the sausage mixture over the polenta, and sprinkle with the mozzarella.  Bake for a final 3 minutes.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (1 and 1/2 cups), Calories 327 

Tasting Notes:
A great savory sausage topping, very similar, in fact, to the topping from my Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Pizza, though the notable difference here was the wonderful anise flavor from the fennel seeds.  Unfortunately the polenta underneath was very plain, and so perhaps not the best base for the delicious sausage mixture. You might try tossing it with pasta instead.  But still, high marks for this dish since the topping was so good.


I made this again with one change that made all the difference: flavored polenta.  The basil and garlic tube polenta from Food Merchants gave the bottom layer of this dish enough flavor to stand up to the topping.

The second time around, I also opted to use 3 Tofurky Italian sausages instead. Just slightly milder than the Field Roast version, it tamed the spices and was more to my liking.

Finally, in place of assertive Daiya mozzarella, I grated the vegan mozzarella block from Vegan Gourmet. This cheese is creamy and very soft, and also helped the overall flavors in the dish blend together better.

It all added up to one yummy dinner, closer to a "5" than the original.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Crunchy Autumn Vegetable Salad

This vibrant salad takes advantage of several root vegetables of late fall and winter, including the adorably ugly celeriac (celery root). Ugly on the outside, I love the meaty, celery-like taste of the flesh hiding on the inside. Use the shredder attachment of a food processor to ease preparation of the celeriac and fennel bulb for this salad.

For the salad:
  • 1 pound beets
  • 8 ounces green beans
  • 3 cups peeled and shredded celeriac
  • 1 and 1/2 cups shredded fennel bulb
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
For the dressing:
  • 1/2 cup plain non-dairy yogurt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons bottled prepared horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1. To prepare the salad, trim the beets, leaving on the roots and 1-inch of the stems (doing so helps prevent bleeding while the beets cook).  Scrub with a brush and place in a saucepan.  Cover with water and bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 35 minutes, until the beets are tender.

2. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.  Let cool until you can handle the beets without burning your fingers.  Trim off the roots and rub off the skins, then cut the beets into 1/4-inch thick slices and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, trim the green beans on the tough end, leaving the pretty tapered end intact.  Cut the beans in half and cook in boiling water for 4 minutes, until crisp-tender.  Drain and rinse with cold water; drain again.

4. Combine the green beans in a bowl with the celeriac, fennel, and chopped chives.

5. To prepare the dressing, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, horseradish, agave, mustard, black pepper, and salt.

6. Drizzle the yogurt mixture over the green bean mixture and toss to coat.

7. Divide the beet slices evenly among 6 salad plates (about 1/3 cup per plate).  Top each serving with about 1 cup green bean mixture.

I loved this salad alongside Gardein's stuffed turkey (which I can't get enough of this time of year), and warm cornbread.

Or try pairing with a hearty bowl of vegetable soup for a light lunch: 

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (1/3 cup beets, 1 cup green bean mixture), Calories 99

Tasting Notes:
A great salad that would make even picky eaters eat their veggies. The dressing is rich and creamy, with great zip from the horseradish, and the beets and horseradish paired together perfectly.  You could use about half as much dressing if you want to keep the salad lighter; the celeriac and fennel are thickly coated as is. A nice crunch from the green beans, although that actually was the only veggie that merited the term "crunchy." Do make sure to plate the beets on the bottom, if you don't want the entire salad to turn pink.


I enjoyed this salad, but not necessarily the lengthy preparation.  Luckily, you can barely tell the difference when you make it with canned sliced beets instead.

Of course the canned slices don't compare in terms of fresh flavor, and you can see in my photo that the canned beets are smaller and thinner.  But because of the bold flavors in the green bean mixture, it's an easy substitute when you want to make this salad in a hurry.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin

This sweet potato side dish would be a lovely addition to your Thanksgiving table; it's not nearly as sugary as many sweet potato recipes, but gets an extra touch of sweetness from the roasted apple.

  • 3 cups thinly sliced and peeled Granny Smith apple
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 4 thinly sliced and peeled small sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon melted vegan butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 (1-ounce) slices white bread
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1. Combine the apple and lemon juice in a large bowl tossing to coat.

2. Add the sweet potatoes, maple syrup, butter, salt, and black pepper.

3. Spoon the sweet potato mixture into a 13x9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, stirring at the 25 minute mark.

4. Place the bread slices in a food processor and pulse about 10 times, until coarse crumbs equal 1 cup.  Combine the breadcrumbs in a bowl with the olive oil and nutmeg.

5. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the sweet potato mixture and bake for an additional 15 minutes - the top of the gratin should be golden.

6. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving, so the juices can thicken.

Round out the meal with the Thanksgiving works. Shortcuts here and there can't hurt, and I recommend the vegan stuffing mix from Whole Foods, and biscuits made from a mix:

I also enjoyed the gratin with Whole Foods canned whole berry cranberry sauce, and a simple braised lentil dish:

For the centerpiece of the meal, try my Mushroom and Caramelized-Shallot Strudel if you're up for cooking, or Gardein's stuffed turkey if you're not.

Finally, I highly recommend my Gingered Pumpkin Pie for dessert, but if you want a fun shortcut, try canned sweetened pumpkin spread onto gingersnap cookies:

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 portion), Calories 214 

Tasting Notes:
The sweet potatoes are definitely the star of the show here, with just a light hint of maple syrup. I would definitely increase the apple, so the gratin is closer to a 50/50 apple-to-sweet potato ratio. The top layer of the gratin dried out in the oven, so use more liquid, whether water or apple juice added at the same time as the maple syrup.  The breadcrumbs were, however, a fresh, crunchy alternative to a streusel topping. To make this one notch better, I would increase the nutmeg.


Vegan extra:
It's the right time of year to eat your orange and yellow veggies, but if you're not a sweet potato fan, there are plenty of others to choose from. For the easiest side dish ever, bake a spaghetti squash, scrape out the flesh with a fork to form long "spaghetti" strands, and top with olive oil and vegan Parmesan sprinkles:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Plantains in Temptation Sauce

I've had plantains sitting on my counter for two weeks now, turning from a slightly yellowish-green to inky black, and so soft to the touch they feel like they could burst with a slight squeeze. That means it was finally time to make this recipe.

With regards to temptation sauce, I couldn't dig up the origin of this sweet sauce online, but it looks to be a traditional Venezuelan recipe.  Armed with my soft black plantains, I was ready to give it try.

For the plantains:
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups (1-inch thick) sliced soft black plantains*
For the sauce:
  • 3/4 cup vegan sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lime rind, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter
1. To prepare the plantains, heat 1 teaspoon of the canola oil in a medium skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat.  Add half of the plantains; cook for 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  Remove from the pan and repeat the procedure with the remaining canola oil and plantains.  Set aside.

2. To prepare the sauce, place the sugar in a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 9 to 12 minutes, until the sugar dissolves; stir as needed so the sugar dissolves evenly.

Note: The trick is to keep the sugar in an even layer in the pan, and don't let the heat creep too high. You won't see much happen until the last few minutes, when the sugar will turn golden and dissolve into a thick syrup.

3. Combine the water and sherry vinegar; carefully add to the sugar, stirring constantly (the mixture will bubble).  Continue to cook for 2 minutes, until the sugar dissolves.

Note: Don't be alarmed if the sugar crystallizes for a moment. It likely will do so once the water and vinegar hit it, but then will dissolve into the liquid in the ensuing 2 minutes or so. Don't bother trying to stir; you'll just spill and slosh liquid about.

4. Add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons lime rind, the cinnamon, and the cloves.  Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 25 minutes, until reduced to 1 cup. Stir in the plantains and cook for a final 2 minutes, spooning the sauce over the plantains.  Stir in the butter, keeping over the burner long enough for the butter to melt.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon lime rind as garnish.

Because I like mixing and matching cuisines, I served the plantains with an edamame and shiitake mushroom saute (which, incidentally, was delicious in the temptation sauce that ran into it on the plate). 

*I won't walk you through all the steps of how best to ripen a plantain, because whoever wrote the text at this link does so perfectly (I laugh every time). But here are just a few quick visuals:

The plantains just after purchasing, about 2 weeks away from making the recipe:

The plantains after about 1 week.  Still a week away from making the recipe:

And finally, the black, ready-to-use plantains:

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1/2 cup), Calories 145

Tasting Notes:
This is the most patient I've ever been with plantains, and the wait is worth it; thick, sweet slices, like a sweeter and meatier banana, with a coating of cinnamon and lime.  The temptation sauce was - yes indeed - tempting. Very strong from the sherry vinegar, but also so good you'll eat it by the spoonful, with the vinegar tamed by the sugar, silkiness from the butter, and citrusy fresh lime.  I would definitely use more plantain next time though, for a higher plantain-to-sauce ratio.


I made this again using balsamic vinegar instead of sherry vinegar and oh my, it was instantly elevated to a "5." The balsamic was sweeter and thicker in flavor, with beautiful fig and grape notes, and actually made the plantains taste like thick banana French toast in maple syrup (I kid you not).

I also took the opportunity to slice more diagonal cuts of plantain, yielding in a larger surface area to brown in the skillet, and cooked them until more golden brown.

Fantastic changes.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gingered Pumpkin Pie

Last November, I went slightly non-traditional, with a sweet potato tart. This year, I'm craving good old-fashioned pumpkin pie - although I've added a streusel topping for a twist.

  • 1 (8-ounce) pie dough*
  • 10 gingersnap cookies (such as Mi-del)
  • 2 tablespoons vegan sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons vegan butter
  • 3/4 cup vegan sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin
  • 1 and 1/2 cups evaporated non-dairy milk**
  • 4 Ener-G eggs
1. Roll the dough into a 12-inch circle, and fit into a 10-inch deep-dish pie plate.  Fold the edges under and flute; freeze for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, combine the gingersnap cookies in a food processor with 2 tablespoons sugar and the flour; process until the cookies are ground.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the food processor; pulse until the mixture is crumbly; set aside.

3. Combine the remaining 3/4 cup sugar in a bowl with the cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, pumpkin, evaporated milk, and Ener-G eggs.  Pour the mixture into the prepared crust.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes; this is a good time to make sure your filling is baking okay - the edges should be set by now, but the center will still be liquid.  Sprinkle with the cookie mixture and bake for an additional 20 minutes; the center should be set (although wobbly is okay, as it will continue to set as it cools).

Cool to room temperature on a wire rack before slicing.

*You can use a store-bought dough such as Wholly Wholesome, but for best results, I recommend making your own.  It adds only about 15 minutes hands-on time to the recipe. Try this homemade pie dough recipe, with Earth Balance butter and shortening.

**Evaporated milk is just what it sounds like - a certain volume of milk that has been evaporated off until condensed to half the original amount. Although a little time consuming, it is very easy to make non-dairy evaporated milk at home. I recommend soy or rice milk, rather than almond, coconut, or other plant-based milks for this particular task.  Start with 3 cups of milk, and cook over medium-low heat until reduced to 1 and 1/2 cups, stirring constantly. It will take about 1 and 1/2 hours.

Before you throw up your hands and abandon this recipe, I urge you to reconsider! Although not something I'd want to do every day, I love taking the time on occasion to evaporate milk. For whatever reason, I find the process extremely meditative. Put on your favorite music, have a book or magazine on hand in case you get bored, and stand and stir while the fall light fades outside the kitchen window. See, it sounds better already, doesn't it? Don't be tempted to turn up the heat on the burner; you'll scorch the milk. Patience is a virtue in this case, and you'll be rewarded when you bite into your homemade pumpkin pie.

Here's an image of the milk about two-thirds of the way done; you can see the line on the pan from the 3 cup mark, and here it's been evaporated down to about 2 cups.

I recommend gently pressing plastic wrap onto the surface of the milk as soon as you're finished; this way, you won't lose any more to evaporation while it cools, and you'll prevent a skin from forming on top.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 wedge), Calories 338 

Tasting Notes:
A fantastically creamy pumpkin filling, with the best double-dose of ginger - ground ginger in the filling, plus the crunch of gingersnap cookies on top. I may never make pumpkin pie without streusel again. My crust was nicely flaky on the bottom, although the tiniest bit too browned at the edges, but that quibble didn't stop me from gobbling up every last little bit of pie.