March Madness Indeed

I was getting myself all ready to write about how I’d been having a tough week–yet more snow on Monday, kids driving me crazy with their bad eating, fights about this awesome dinner (I thought) I made, feeling like there was no way this was going to work because my kids pretty much just want to eat meat–when I realized that this had actually been a pretty good week!  I probably have about five posts that I could do based just on this week alone 🙂

First, there was the awesome Big Ten Championship basketball game–Michigan State v. Michigan.  I wouldn’t say I exactly bleed green, but I am every bit a Spartan.  Not only was it a great game, but the boys and I had a great time watching together.  We don’t watch a ton of tv, we watch even fewer sports on tv, and you don’t get a ton of MSU games living in Philly, so I don’t think they’ve ever seen it before.  It was so cute to see the little one mimicking my reactions to everything, and the big one just got into it in his own way.  He’d say, “Oh man!” every time Michigan even touched the ball.  Eventually he came up with, “Oh, barnacles!”  What?!  All three of us had a huge laugh over that one.

The game ran into our normal dinner time and my husband, not being the sports fan, was not-so-subtly showing that he was more concerned about dinner than he was about the outcome of the game.  I had been planning to make a gnocchi soup and he was quite sure that would not be happening so he started to wonder what he could make.  The recipe I’d planned seemed way more complicated than I wanted it to be, let alone what I had time for.  But, not being one to admit I’d made a mistake, I asked him to start some vegetable stock and I’d figure it out from there.  By the time the game (and our celebration) was over, the stock was boiling.  I added a package of vegan gnocchi, let it cook for a few, added some vegan scape pesto we had in the freezer, then a few handfuls of kale.  I let the kale wilt a little, and voila!  Totally delish.  The recipe is at the end of this veeeeeerrrry long post.

Thursday night is noodle night in our house, generally, so I had planned to make Pasta Italiano from Chloe Coscarelli’s cookbook.  Her header says that it’s so good, Italians use it as a barometer of friendship, as in whether the person is a good enough friend to eat pasta and beans with.  I figured it would be a fine dinner, nothing special.  Oh my gosh was I wrong!!  It’s this creamy pasta with asparagus, white beans, and cherry tomatoes.  The cream sauce is out of this world.  I was actually a little disappointed that I wasn’t home this afternoon to have the leftovers for lunch.

But there wasn’t much room for disappointment about lunch.  The boys and I took a trip into the city to visit my parents and see their new apartment.  The last time I’d been to the city, last fall, my son and I had ended up at HipCityVeg.  It’s right near Rittenhouse Square, and it’s good that it opened after I stopped working because I probably would have wanted to go there every day.  The first time I went, I had this Crispy HipCityVeg  Ranch, and the big guy had Chick’n Nuggets.  They were so good and the texture was so like meat, I really started to wonder if I’d made a mistake.  But no mistake, it’s fake and it’s fabulous!  I told my parents about it and, now that they work and live near that area, they were curious to try it so we planned to head over there for some take out before checking out their new place.

As I said, I was feeling like I was in sort of a bad mood this week, so I have been craving a burger like it’s nobody’s business.  I can’t say exactly why, because it’s not like I was even a huge burger person when I did eat meat, but I was just imagining all of that juicy goodness.  Wanting it made me feel bad, but the though of not having it made me feel almost as bad.  The visit to HipCityVeg was definitely well timed!  I had the classic burger and it satisfied every single burger craving I had.  The patty isn’t quite crumbly the way a burger is, and I didn’t have any juice (we all know what that is…yuck!) running down my arms, but it’s probably better that way anyway.  The bun was delish, lovely lettuce and tomatoes, some red onion, a few pickle slices, ketchup and mustard…what more do you need?

My dad had the Buffalo Bella–portabella with slaw, tomato, and buffalo sauce.  I tried a bite and it had a really nice spice to it.  Usually when you order those types of things, they’re never all that spicy.  But this sandwich had a nice heat.  Not enough to knock you over or anything, but it was a nice surprise.  My mom had the Bistro Bella–portbella with Dijon, tapenade, lettuce, tomato.  I didn’t try hers but she really liked it.  We all agreed that it’s nice to have a place where you can satisfy some of those junk food cravings without that, “ugh, I feel sick, why did I do that,” feeling at the end.  I’m not saying this is health food, but it’s nice to satisfy a craving in a lighter, kinder way.  It’s probably not a tourist destination-type place, not like Vedge or anything, but it’s a great little vegan joint.  And if you find yourself visiting the City of Brotherly Love and are overwhelmed by all of the cheesesteak joints, this place is definitely a port in a storm.

The only bummer, for me at least, is that they only have sweet potato fries.  I’m not a sweet potato fan and I thought they were kind of mushy when I had them on my first visit.  They come with a delicious black bean dipping sauce, but even that wasn’t enough for me to get over the sweet potato.  I decided to skip them on this trip.

This isn’t even all of the goodness of the week, but the rest is for another time.  Until then, Go Green!!

Pesto Soup with Gnocchi and Kale

Ingredients

4 c. vegetable stock

8 oz. vegan gnocchi

1/2 c. prepared vegan pesto (I used a scape pesto I had in the freezer but I have no idea what my recipe was!)

4 c. chopped kale (about 1 bunch)

Instructions

1.  Bring the stock to a boil in a large pot over high heat.

2.  Add the gnocchi and cook according to package directions.

3. When the gnocchi are approximately 4-5 minutes from being done, add the pesto and stir to combine, then add the kale.  Stir the kale into the soup, allowing it to wilt to desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a big chunk of crusty bread.

 

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Baked Chorizo Tacos

After a long and frigid winter, we finally had a bit of a warm up here in Philly for a few days.  It was real spring weather, which, after the winter we had, felt like summer weather.  We didn’t need coats, the kids were playing outside, the sun was up late.  Aaaah, it was wonderful.

Warm weather makes me think of TexMex for dinner, or as they call it in San Diego, Fresh Mex.  When I lived in SD (in my omnivore life), I loved sitting outside on a the balcony of some bar, drinking in the warm sun and a Pacifico, munching on some chips and salsa and fish tacos.  THe memories…

For this inaugural warm-weather dinner, I was going to make chorizo tacos from The Kind Diet, which is just cooking up some vegan chorizo, then putting taco stuff on top, but that seemed so blah. I had made black bean tacos just last week so I wanted something a little more exciting for this week. That’s when I came up with the brilliant idea of baked tacos–chorizo with some veggies all wrapped up and smothered in salsa, some melty vegan cheese and pickled jalapeños on top, and finished off with fresh tomatoes and scallions. Yum, yum, extra yum!

I started by browning up some sliced onions and peppers. I like to use frozen peppers in things like this. They start out softer, so it’s easier to eat them later, but you could certainly use fresh if you prefer the crunch. It’s probably sacrilege to say I like frozen veggies, but I’ll just pray for forgiveness on Sunday.

I then added the chorizo. I used a packaged chorizo, but Kristy Turner of Keepin’ It Kind is coming out with a cookbook that will have a homemade chorizo recipe that I can’t wait to try.  I got the chorizo nice and brown, then added in some leftover cooked rice and two chopped chipotles in adobo.  As the saying goes, “some like it hot,” and we are definitely part of the some.  Chipotles in adobo add a wonderful smoky heat, but you could add fewer (or more!) or leave them out altogether if that’s too much heat.

At this point, the pan was definitely in need of some deglazing, but what could I use that would work well here?  White wine just wasn’t right, and I’m not a fan of deglazing with stock, so what could I use, what could I use?  Aha, beer!  Yes, this was my most fabulous inspiration of the dish.  Beer is fabulous with TexMex dishes, and it’s even more fabulous in TexMex dishes.  And for the ultimate in awesomeness (at least for me) we just started brewing our own beer so I had a lovely IPA of our own making in the fridge.  If I didn’t have our beer in the fridge and I made this again, I would probably use an amber Mexican beer, like Pacifico (one of my favorites).

Once all of the yummy brown bits had been picked up by the beer, and the beer had mostly evaporated, it was time to fill the tacos.  I was using large, whole wheat tortillas and thought I would only get four out of it.  I filled the first one and it seemed huge, but then I did smaller amounts for the other ones and they seemed too small.  I ended up with five, which is an awkward number and I think I could have gotten at least six.

About how much filling you want for a large tortilla

About how much filling you want for a large tortilla

Of course, after eating one, I think you could probably go on the smaller side and everyone would be satisfied.  Because I was using the larger tortillas, I was able to fold the sides as well, so it formed a nice little package.  If you use smaller tortillas, you could just roll them up, leaving the ends open.  If you’re just rolling them, you can use corn or flour tortillas.  If you want to fold them up into packages, definitely go for flour.  Corn tends to rip, at least it does for me.

I put the rolled tacos into a greased baking pan, then covered them with jarred salsa.  I used Trader Joe’s Chipotle Salsa for more heat, but you can use any jarred salsa you want.  You could even use a tomatillo salsa, but this is not the place for fresh salsa.  The tomatoes in fresh salsa would cook, and the water would be too runny but not get the tacos quite juicy and soft enough.  You want the thickness of what comes out of a jar.

I covered it all with some vegan cheese and a few pickled jalapeños, then baked it at 425º for about 20 minutes.

Fresh out of the oven

Fresh out of the oven

Once it was done, I added some chopped tomatoes and scallions, and we added avocado at the table.

Topped with goodness

Topped with goodness

I asked my husband if he had any suggestions/changes/improvements. The response, “No, it was fabulous.” I think I might try a squeeze of lime next time, and I would have liked some cilantro to go on top but ours wasn’t ready for the compost bin when I checked on it 😦  I might also try an avocado cream or guacamole instead of just chunked avocado.  Admittedly, the vegan cheese was the weak point.  I just haven’t really found a good one yet, but I’ll keep trying.

This is a really versatile dish and you can add/substitute whatever you want.  Enjoy!

Baked Chorizo Tacos

Ingredients

  • 1 T cooking oil of choice
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 cups sliced bell peppers
  • 8 oz. vegan chorizo, crumbled
  • 1-2 chipotles in adobo, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 4-6 oz. amber beer, about half a bottle
  • 4-6 large tortillas (more if you are using small tortillas)
  • 1 1/2-2 cups jarred salsa
  • 1 cup shredded vegan cheese, Cheddar or Monterey Jack, or a combination of the two, would work best
  • 1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapeño (optional)
  • 1 small tomato, chopped
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
  • 1/4-1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  1. Preheat oven to 425º.
  2. Grease 9×13 baking pan.  Set aside.
  3. In a large sauté pan (not non-stick), heat oil over medium-high heat.  Once oil is hot, add onion and pepper.  Cook 3-4 minutes until soft and translucent, but not brown.
  4. Add chorizo, and cook until starting to brown and brown bits are starting to form on the bottom of the pot.
  5. Add chipotles and brown rice, stirring to combine.
  6. Add beer, stirring to pick up all of the yummy brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan until liquid has evaporated.  Remove from heat.
  7. Warm your tortillas in a microwave until they are soft and pliable.  You do not want them to get crisp or crunchy.
  8. Add filling to your tortillas and roll them, either forming a package by folding in the ends, or just a simple roll.  Place the filled tortillas, seam-side down, in the greased baking pan.
  9. Once all tortillas are in the baking pan, cover with the salsa and cheese.  If using, scatter pickled jalapeños on top.  Place in the oven until heated through and cheese is melted, about 20 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven and top with chopped tomato, scallions, and cilantro.
  11. Serve with avocado, sour cream, or any other toppings of your choice

Waxing Philosophical

I’ve recently started going to church again.  I was raised Catholic, and after going to Catholic high school as a liberal female in the early ’90s, I pretty much couldn’t stand it anymore.  The abuse scandals did nothing to improve my opinion of the Church.  But then Pope Francis came along and he made me feel hopeful again, and I’m just ready to let go of the anger I’ve felt for so long, so I started back.

That’s a preface to a few things that have happened recently.  The first is:  I heard a great homily at the church I tried on Sunday.  The priest talked about the three pillars of Lent–prayer, self-sacrifice, and alms giving.  The prayer part was interesting, but doesn’t relate here.  But in the self-sacrifice part, he talked about how he tries to give up Milky Way bars.  He said, “It won’t change the world, but it might change me.”  And he said the same thing about fasting/not eating meat on Fridays.  He said that by denying himself these things, he may not change the world, but he can be reminded of how fortunate he is that there are so many food options for us, and it reminds him to think of the people who don’t have those same options.  He thinks of how there are so many poor people who don’t have any food, let alone who can choose what type of food they eat. 

Sometimes I wonder if I am being ridiculous in being vegan(ish).  I mean, there are so many people who would be so happy to have food that I refuse to eat.  There are starving people out there!  Who am I to turn my nose up at food that is available to me?  But his comments made me think of it a different way.  I am doing this, partly, because I am so fortunate to have so many options and I should be focusing on how lucky I am.  Plus, I do think that cutting back on meat and dairy can save the world–by reducing the amount of grain that gets used for livestock instead of human consumption; by reducing the amount of land that gets taken up by the animals; and by showing that this lifestyle leads to better health and a longer life.

Second, even before that homily, I had decided to really re-commit myself to being vegan for Lent.  Strangely, it makes it sort of easier to not have certain things when I remind myself that I’m doing this for Lent.  I guess it’s the self-sacrifice pillar–you are doing it not only for yourself, but for something bigger than yourself.  What I really need to work on remembering during Lent is that the “something bigger” isn’t just God, but that it’s humanity as a whole.

Letting go of all of that anger that I’ve held for 20+ years and living in a way that does something great for the other beings we share this Earth with has really changed me for the better.  I feel so much lighter, and happier in a way that I haven’t felt since I was a kid.

Adventure Aquarium

I sometimes wonder why they named it Adventure Aquarium…it’s in Camden, isn’t the adventure implied?! I mean, it’s an adventure just getting there!

But honestly, my boys love the aquarium and so do I. The shark tunnel is always so cool, and the big one was finally brave enough to touch the sting rays! The little one touched one of the babies and kind of freaked out, but I was so proud of both of them. There’s a new frog exhibit, at which the little one announced, “I happy Mommy, I happy!”

As something of an animal rights activist, I do wonder if I should be against the aquarium. I mean, they’re keeping animals in small areas, when they would normally swim miles and hunt naturally. On the other hand, it’s informative for my kids and gives them a chance to see sea life close up in a way they never would otherwise. They also don’t exhibit signs of unhappiness the way other animals do in captivity. So, I like to go. It’s fun and I love seeing sea life. Many people wish humans could fly…I’ve always wished we could breathe underwater.

Anyway, we decided not to bring lunch, so there was another adventure. My boys aren’t totally off meat and dairy yet, so I ended up just getting them some pizza and they were happy. For me–a tougher time. I ended up with a container of pretzel chips and red pepper hummus. I should have gotten some veggie sticks to go along with it, but I didn’t realize how much hummus I would have. The only other vegan option was this tiny house salad for $7.79, and it was just lettuce, carrots, onions, and tomatoes. Slim pickings, for sure. A vegan contemplating the Adventure Aquarium, especially with a family, do yourself a favor and bring your lunch!

Chickpea “Tu-nah”

I was always a huge tuna fish lover.  I loved fresh tuna too, but there were periods in my life where I would live on tuna fish.  And I’ve always liked it very simple.  When I was a little girl, I just used mayo…hold the celery, hold the onions.  Sometime after college, a friend suggested Dijon mustard.  My world was forever changed!  I’ve come to accept the celery and onion in my old age, but I don’t often bother with it.  My recipe is still totally simple—tuna, Dijon, mayo.

In going plant-based, I thought tuna fish was one of those things that I’d end up having every once in a while when I was really dying for it and it was the only viable option.  Aside from it being delicious, it’s so easy—open the can, add stuff, so simple!  I really didn’t think I could find something that would be a good substitute in terms of flavor AND ease.

Enter the chickpea.  The chickpea really is the most amazing food ever, and it turns out, it’s a great substitute for tuna fish!  Open the can, mash it up, add Dijon and Vegennaise, et voila!  I added some scallions just to be a little fancy, but it really didn’t need it.  No recipe; it’s really just however you like your tuna, use chickpeas instead.  It’s definitely mushier/moister than tuna, but having mush instead of death in my mouth is a welcome trade-off!  So next time you think “tuna?”, you can say “tu-nah!”

                
                    
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