Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Butternut Squash Lasanga

I had friends over for a Christmas dinner party on Saturday.  I was only planning a meal for 10-12 people, but I wanted to make sure everything could kind of be prepared ahead of time, so I didn't have a last minute freak out*.  I ended up making a spring mix salad with fennel, grapes, avocado, red onion, and sunflower seeds and a grapefruit/celery dressing, stuffed mushrooms, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts with almonds, curried carrots and apples, and a butternut squash lasagna- for dessert I made a cranberry cake with coconut icing.  I tried to pick things that I've either prepared before, or things that would be hard to mess up.  The only risk I took was on the lasagna- and overall it turned out pretty great, with the exception of the noodles... I used rice lasagna noodles and I think If I do this again I'll switch it up with thinly sliced zucchini instead.  This would make a great main dish anytime of year.  The richness of the cashew "alfredo sauce" and the creamy butternut squash will satisfy and fill you up- while getting a dose of green iron from the spinach.  

Butternut Squash Lasagna

1 butternut squash peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
1.5 cup of raw cashews
1.5 cup water
the juice/zest from one lemon
1 cup nutritional yeast
spinach (fresh or frozen... a lot or a little... your choice!)
1 package lasagna noodles (or 5 ish zucchinis mandolined)

Blend/process cashews, water, nutritional yeast, garlic, salt, and lemon stuffs until a smooth, creamy sauce is made.  Layer noodles, squash, spinach and sauce in a 9x13 pan until ingredients are used, or the pan is filled.  Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes.  Top with vegan parmesean or parsley!

*last minute freak out= I've been known to have them all of the time.  I like the last-minute-oh-crap adrenaline rush I get, but even though this method proved successful when writing research papers in college- its not the best process when food is involved.  Plan ahead, make lists, and if you're dying to try a new recipe for company, make it in advance, so you'll have a plan B if need be.  Also, the best asset in helping with last minute freak outs is an amazing friend/family member that can be your sous-chef/assistant.  For every great dinner party that I've had there has been a friend "behind the scenes" making me look great- whether it be icing my cakes, chopping veggies, stuffing mushrooms, helping catch up on dishes, or just making sure the ice is ready for drinks and the floor is swept.  Having a good friend do this for you is invaluable- thank them often and reward them with taste tests and food to take home.  My mom is usually my behind the scenes girl, but for this most recent party I have to thank Cote for making my last minute freak out a non-freak out.  

I hope everyone's holiday season is merry and bright!

Here are a few more photos from the dinner party...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Food is for more than just eating...

I'm always on the lookout for the latest vegan beauty stuffs.  I can confidently say that my makeup bag and bathtub are stocked with products that are cruelty free.  I love companies like Lush, Aveda, and Origins that are all veg based and clearly mark the products that do contain bee products.  However, these cruelty free products are not easy on the pocketbook.  As much as I love to shop for beauty products, I also like shopping for food (go grocery shopping with me and I'm nothing but big-eyed and smiles).  So, I've combined my love for food with my love for beauty products- and the need to keep on a budget and come up with a few products right in your kitchen (or at least the closest health food store).

Coconut Oil

I keep a large tub in my kitchen and a large tub in my bathroom.  In the kitchen I put it in hot cacao drinks, make popcorn with it, and as a butter replacement.  In my bathroom it is my must have essential.  Nothing makes a hot shower even better than getting out and covering yourself in coconut butter.  It is a super moisturizer along with being antimicrobial and antifungal.  Often I use coconut oil instead of deodorant.  I know some people who use it to shave their legs.   My mom's hooked on it for using it to moisturize her face and neck.  Give it a try! (And make sure you grab the unrefined, organic variety.) 

Aloe Vera

My friend Brandon turned me on to aloe one night when he made me a cherry aloe lemonade elixir.  After we filleted the aloe vera plant to use the insides in the drink, we smeared the aloe skins all over our faces and viola!- instant face lift!  I've been using aloe on my face now for a few weeks and its helping diminish my blemishes.  Aloe is known for helping on burns and cuts- so keep a leaf around in the fridge for any lacerations or a quick face lift that moisturizes while it tightens skin.  

Sea Salt

After spending all day at work on my feet- I can't wait to come home and take a hot bath with sea salt.  The sea salt baths are detoxifying and aid the lymph system in fluid reduction, making those ankles at the end of a long day look like new again.  I also like to mix sea salt with olive or coconut oil and lemon juice and use that as an exfoliator in the shower or bath.  In the kitchen I've gotten rid of that heated, de-mineralized iodized salt and switched to sea salts.  I save the nice celtic grey salts for my food- but still splurge on coarse, raw sea salts for bathtime.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Entertaining/Finger Foods

The holidays bring upon many opportunities for gathering with friends.  Whether or not the get-together is small or large- food is almost always involved.  I know that the food at social events can create a lot of temptation and desire, but this holiday season ask the host/hostess if you can bring a snack for everyone- so you'll have something to eat yourself and to share with others.  If you end up hosting a party- don't worry about pleasing others with ham sandwiches and deviled eggs- with a little creativity and time your guests will never miss the meat.

My favorite finger food item to take to a party is stuffed mushrooms.  I like baby cremini (portobella ) mushrooms, but button mushrooms can work as well.  These are stuffed with spinach, some of the mushroom stems, salt, garlic, and walnuts.  The cleaning of the mushrooms is the most time-intensive step, but the execution requires little culinary skill.  Even my mom who can barely boil water can pull off these mushrooms with no problem :)

Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

20 cremini mushrooms (1' to 1.5" in diameter)
1 cup raw walnuts
2 cloves garlic (pressed or minced)
2 cups of raw spinach
pinch sea salt

When cleaning mushrooms, don't submerge them in water, just get a damp paper towel and wipe them gently.  As you're wiping, pop off the stems and reserve about half.  Lay mushrooms out on a baking sheet.  In a food processor pulse walnuts, stems, garlic, spinach and salt.  Scoop into mushrooms and bake or dehydrate.  325 works in about 15-20 minutes.  You'll know they are ready when the mushrooms smell fragrant.  If you have any fresh parsley or nutritional yeast hanging around- either or both also are great with these.

Other great party foods include thai spring rolls, mini shiskabobs, hummus, olive tapenade, and cold salads- like a quinoa salad, or a soba noodle salad.

These pictures posted are from a baby shower I catered recently, and a clothes swap I had at my house this summer.  I served the stuffed mushrooms at both occasions.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pumpkin Ginger Ice Cream and Raw Pecan Pie

This summer I couldn't stop making berry based ice creams with my ice cream maker.  Now that its colder, I still crave ice cream but since I like to stay seasonal I knew that a pumpkin ice cream was in the works.  I used (organic) canned pumpkin for the ice cream.  If you'd like to channel your inner Martha Stewart and dissect and roast your own pumpkin, I encourage you to do so!  Also, if you accidentally grabbed a can of pumpkin pie filling, it will work- just omit the sweetener and the other spices except ginger and cinnamon.  
This ice cream pairs well with nuts- specifically a raw pecan pie!  Why raw?  Why not?!  Cooked pecan pie recipes are filled with refined sugar, wheat flour, and eggs or tofu- this one is just filled with love!

Pumpkin Ginger Ice Cream

1.5 cups of raw cashew pieces
1 cup water
1 cup pumpkin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 quarter sized knob of peeled ginger
1/2 tsp each of cloves, allspice, and nutmeg
3/4 cup maple syrup (or 1/2 cup agave nectar)

Raw Pecan Pie

1.5 cups raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw almonds
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tbs agave nectar

30 pitted and soaked dates
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup agave nectar or 1/2 cup maple syrup (not raw)
pinch salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon & nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Top with 25-35 pecans.

 To start I soaked raw cashew pieces in water.  Cashews, in my opinion make the best dairy free ice cream.  I find them in the bulk bins at the health food store or Whole Foods.  While the cashews are soaking, go ahead and pit some dates (about 30ish) and soak those too (in a separate container).  Fill your food processor with walnuts, almonds, salt, cinnamon, and agave nectar until a ball forms (if a ball doesn't form add more agave or maybe some water).  When the crust is in a ball, roll out flat and smush into a 9" pie pan and pop in the fridge.  Drain the cashews and add to the Vitamix with the rest of the ice cream ingredients and puree until smooth.  Scrape the ice cream ingredients into the ice cream maker and let the magic happen while you're making the filling for your pie.  In the food processor again (you kinda washed it out, right?) add the ingredients for the filling except the pecans.  Process until smooth then pulse in the chopped pecans.  Pour into the crust and top with the fancy pecan halves on top.  By this time the ice cream maker should have worked some magic...  Serve together or separate!  

If the ice cream, filling, or crust isnt the right consistency- don't be afraid to thin out with water or add more ingredients to make it thicker...  The beauty of vegan desserts is the flexibility!  These amounts are all approximations- change up the recipe if you'd like and let me know how it turned out :)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

I can't believe all of the positive press this year about alternative offerings at the Thanksgiving table!  US Weekly featured Kimberly Snyder and her Raw Pecan Love Pie in their recent issue, the local paper today had a cover story about gluten-free side dishes, and even Martha Stewart had an episode about having a vegetarian Thanksgiving!
When alternative eating goes mainstream I get super excited.  We all have our reasons for veering from the Standard American Diet- and the more veg press (or even GF press) there is, the better chance that us who choose alternative diets wont feel so ostracized or alone.  
This year my Thanksgivings were great! and I think everyone left the table full and happy.  I could have easily served this meal in courses, but I think everything served family style is essential for holiday dinners.  I had two Thanksgivings at my house this year, most dishes were overlapped, but some things were different.
For starters on Thanksgiving #1, I served olive hummus on sliced cucumbers out in the living room.  I had sparkling water, blackberry sage iced tea, and an iced yerba mate for drink options (as well as coffee just in case).  When we said our thanks at the dinner table we had creamy turnip soup, fennel salad, basil green beans and tomatoes, cranberry apple dressing, shitake and millet casserole, and curried sweet potato fries.  After dinner we got comfy back in the living room for pecan pie and pumpkin ginger ice cream.
Saturday morning I visited the farmers' market (for you Louisville locals- the Bardstown Road market is year round) and picked up some turnips, potatoes, baby tomatoes, apples, onions, and sweet potatoes.   The creamy turnip soup is actually a modified version of the potato and root vegetable soup I posted a few weeks ago- I just added more turnips and cashews and switched the yukons for russets- although I prefer the yukons for a soup potato- the russets made the soup very gelatinous.  
The fennel salad was inspired by my Aunt Lynn.  When I saw fennel bulbs at the market I knew I had to include them for Thanksgiving because she'd been raving about how wonderful fennel was for months.  I then found a recipe in my Raw Food Real World book that paired fennel with grapefruit and avocado- and knowing her signature Christmas salad includes citrus and avocado- I made the match and added some pomegranate seeds, coriander, lemon, mint, and black pepper.  
I couldn't believe that local fresh tomatoes would still be for sale in Kentucky in late November, but they were perfect to toss with some blanched green beans and a great pairing for the (super easy) shitake and millet casserole.  Thanksgiving wouldn't be thanksgiving without cranberries and sweet potatoes, so I jazzed up the cranberries with apples, walnuts, and an orange and tossed the sweet potato fries with some cayenne, cumin, maple syrup and garam masala. 
For Thanksgiving #2, I skipped the appetizer, but for drinks fixed a rooibos and fennel iced tea and popped opened a bottle of sparkling apple cider.  The meal included the same shitake and millet casserole, cranberry apple dressing, and sweet potato fries from the first meal, but I served the green beans with almonds, made some redskin and cauliflower mashed potatoes, and garlicky kale.  The pecan pie and pumpkin ginger ice cream were served again for dessert.
I hope everyone's holiday was wonderful.  I am so thankful for my family and friends and for my comfy home.  
If you'd like to get a recipe of something I mentioned above, please comment!  

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kale Chips

I think we all have cravings for crunchy things and sometimes celery doesn't satiate that craving.  I've been known to gorge myself on potato chips, but I'd prefer to avoid anything fried and super oily.  I think I've mentioned before that Kale has been my very favorite veggie of 2009.  I love buying bunches and bunches of it for my smoothies or to cook it down with some garlic, thai chile paste, lime, and sesame oil.  So, when I had a craving for a crunchy snack- my fridge was already stocked with the perfect ingredient.  
Kale chips have become very popular in the raw foods community.  Traditionally kale chips are made in a dehydrator with nutritional yeast and/or cashews.  If you don't own a dehydrator, there's always an option to purchase kale chips at your local health food store, but that's not always cost effective.  I don't have a dehydrator, and I don't have a ton of cash to shell out for a tiny bag of raw kale chips... so I looked to my oven.  And, although I appreciate the raw kale chips, my baked ones satisfy my cravings until Santa brings my Excalibur dehydrator this year. 
Kale chips can be as simple as a little olive oil and sea salt- this recipe calls for a sprinkle of nutritional yeast after coming out of the oven.  Sometimes I add cayenne pepper, lemon juice, braggs liquid aminos, liquid smoke, or agave nectar to the chips before baking.   Just make sure you rinse and de-stem the kale and tear into pieces- toss and shake with the oil, salt, or whatever else you'd like, and place on a cookie sheet.  

Oven Baked Kale Chips

1 bunch kale
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp of olive oil
1 tbsp nutritional yeast

Bake at 300 for 10-15 minutes until kale is bright green and crispy.  Space evenly on cookie sheet before baking to allow the kale to crisp up.  Remove from oven and lightly coat with nutritional yeast and enjoy!

Friday, November 13, 2009

What do I eat for breakfast?

Even as a kid I was always looking for ways to get out of eating cereal for breakfast.  The cereal got way too mushy, the milk too sugary and grainy from the cereal that most mornings I left for school disappointed in my breakfast choice.  Now, there are some decent brands of cereal out currently that are vegan- and there are a variety of dairy-free milks to pair, but I'd rather get my vitamins not from fortified cereals- but from greens and fresh fruit.  
Green smoothies are my favorite breakfast choice- and I try to wake up with one every day.  All you need is a decent blender, some raw spinach, kale, romaine,  beet greens, celery, or any other vitamin rich green and some fresh or frozen fruit.  Smoothies can be a great vehicle for vitamin or protein powders, so load up.  Your RDA of fruits and veggies can be achieved in one cup!
Now, you're probably thinking that this is gonna be gross.  Not at all!  You're making the smoothie, so you can balance the sweet fruits in proportion to the greens.  Start out light on the greens and heavy on the fruit, in a week or so, you'll be able to decrease the amount of fruit and add more greens.  
My basic recipe includes a banana, 1 cup of chopped fruit (frozen makes everything easier), 1 cup of liquid*, and as many greens as you can stand.  If you're not using frozen fruit- throw in a few ice cubes- and if it gets too bitter add some agave nectar or lemon juice.  
If you're not using a Vitamix or a Blendtec- you may want to first blend the greens, liquid, and banana first, before adding the frozen fruit, just to make sure the greens get super pureed.  
*liquid can just mean water, coconut water, cold tea (yerba mate is a great tea to start the day with), nut milk, or fruit juice.

Blueberry Banana Spinach Smoothie

1 banana
1 cup coconut water
1 cup blueberries
3-4 cups of raw baby spinach

Blend and enjoy!

Super Easy Lentil Soup, Greens and Leeks, and Caramelized Carrots

Mom came over for tea one afternoon and this ended up being our clean-out-the-fridge lunch.  I already had rice from a curry I had made, so I just scooped that on top of the super easy lentil soup.  Greens are my favorite side dish of 2009- whether kale, spinach, collards, or mustard greens- you can pair them with garlic, onions or any other member of the allium family (leeks!) and saute with a little hot sauce.  I usually add a dash of lemon juice, lime juice, or apple cider vinegar to my greens, and if I'm working with super bitter greens, agave nectar may find its way in as well.  To round out this lunch I had baby carrots in the fridge for snacking that were tossed with brown sugar, garam masala, cayenne pepper, and salt and baked at 450 until they caramelized.  I added sliced a granny smith on top of the carrots for a nice crunchy tangy contrast.  

Super Easy Lentil Soup

2 cups dried red lentils
2 cups veggie broth
2-4 cups of additional water
your choice of cumin, poultry seasoning, garlic, and/or curry powder

Cook lentils on medium/med high with 2 cups of broth (or check out a veg bouillon cube- I like Rapunzel's Sea Salt and Herbs), after about 10-15 minutes add one cup of water, then after 5 minutes more add any additional water, depending on desired consistency.  The soup will take about 30-35 minutes total.
Serve with rice!

Greens and Leeks

1 Leek
4-6 cups of fresh greens (kale is my favorite)
1 tsp of thai chili garlic sauce
dash of apple cider vinegar
pinch salt

Cut leek crosswise and lengthwise, discarding the end and the dark green tops.  Soak cut leek in water to ensure the dirt that gets in the leek does not get in your food.  In a skillet or wok (lightly coated with olive oil), toss leeks on medium high for about 3 minutes.  Add the hot sauce, then the greens, coarsely torn and stems removed.  Toss with vinegar (or lemon juice) and salt until bright green and ready to serve!

Caramelized Carrots

3-4 cups of chopped carrots or baby carrots
1 tbsp of coconut oil (or soy free earth balance)
1 tsp brown sugar
pinch cayenne
1 tsp garam masala
pinch salt

Toss carrots with seasonings and butter and bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes until brown and caramelized.  Top with sliced granny smith apples.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Potato and Root Vegetable Soup

The cold weather that fall brings makes me crave warm comfort foods.  Potatoes are my favorite feel-good food with warm soup coming in a close second on the favorite comfort food list.  So, here's a great potato soup recipe using potatoes and their other root veggie cousins- turnips and carrots.

Potato and Root Vegetable Soup

4 cups potatoes (I used yukon gold) chopped into 1 inch cubes
2 cups of carrots chopped 
4 medium sized turnips chopped
1 large onion chopped
1-2 cups of raw cashews
4 cups of veggie broth

In one pot boil potatoes, carrots, and turnips with veggie broth until tender.
In a skillet, toast cashews lightly and then add chopped onion until translucent.
When the root veggies are tender, drain veggie broth and reserve.  Add cashews and onions to the root veggies and with a hand blender puree while slowly incorporating the reserved veggie broth until you've reached the desired consistency.  Serve with plenty of cracked black pepper, fresh grated carrot, and maybe some nutritional yeast sprinkled on top.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

First Post- Roasted Red Pepper and Jalapeno Hummus

Hi, I'm Aura!  Welcome to my kitchen :)
Veganism has made such a positive impact on my life that I want to share my recipes and what I actually eat with others.  Being vegan means I do not consume any animal products including dairy and eggs.  Also, for health reasons- and just because I like to include as many veggies as possible into my diet I cook mostly gluten-free and soy-free.  All of the recipes I post will be vegan and if not already GF & SF- will be easily changed to accommodate anyone with allergies or anyone avoiding gluten or soy.  I'm not just vegan because I care about animals- I also am vegan for my health and the environment- so I choose organic when possible- and choose local produce in season from various farmers markets around the city.

My first recipe I want to share is a simple hummus recipe with a kick- that does not require you head out to find a jar of tahini.

Roasted Red Pepper and Jalapeno Hummus

1 red roasting pepper
1-3 jalapenos
1-2 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 cups cooked (or 1 can rinsed and drained) of chickpeas
1/2 lime- juiced
1 tsp cumin
salt to taste
optional- cilantro

Preheat oven to 450 and cut and seed the roasting pepper, cut off the tops of the jalapenos (seed them if you don't like spice), and peel the garlic.  Lightly coat in olive oil and bake until the skin of the pepper is slightly charred.  
In the food processor with the S blade- grind the sesame seeds until a paste forms, then add the chickpeas, lime juice, cumin, and salt.  When the peppers and garlic are cool enough to touch- peel off the charred skin of the peppers and add to the processor.  Pulse in cilantro if you'd like.

Serve with any crudites or chips.