Using what you’ve got, Part 1 – Just throw stuff together

While we love thumbing through cookbooks for new recipes to try (or pulling out our old favorites), the reality is that we just don’t have the time to do that very often. We’ll certainly post here about cookbooks or recipes we’ve found that we really like but our day to day meals are often whipped up on the fly with whatever we have on hand. I’ll admit that I tend to be one to cook more from recipes but Darlene is a master of cobbling together whatever we have in the fridge and the pantry and making it into a great meal. She’s taught me that meals don’t have to be elaborate to be satisfying and nutritious. Let’s take a look at a couple of recent examples of what I’m talking about. First up, the bowl (or plate in this case), which generally consists of a grain, a vegetable and some beans or tofu (or both) with a sauce or dressing of some sort.

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Here’s what’s on the plate, along with some ideas for how you could change it up.

  • Brown rice. We often cook a big pot of brown rice on the weekends and use it for a couple of meals during the week but if you haven’t done that and you don’t have the time to cook brown rice, how about quinoa?
  • Black beans. Just plain ‘ol beans that we cooked in our Instant Pot. Don’t have a fancy schmancy pressure cooker? No worries, just open up a can of any beans you have on hand.
  • Tofu, diced and fried in a little olive oil. You could leave this out entirely but if was a nice addition here.
  • Roasted butternut squash. A baked sweet potato would make a fine substitution, or change it up entirely and use steamed broccoli or roasted brussels sprouts or sauteed kale or any other vegetable under the sun. If you’re really in a rush, microwave some frozen broccoli. We almost always keep a bag of frozen broccoli on hand to add to a quick meal and frozen vegetables are still very nutritious.
  • This was all tied together with a ranch style dressing from Terry Hope Romero that Darlene found on-line. We almost always make our own dressings and you should too, if for no other reason than you’ll save money. Dreena Burton has quite a few dressing recipes in her cookbooks, as does Isa. And if you don’t want to go to the trouble of looking for a recipe just whisk together some olive oil, cider vinegar or lemon juice (or both), a bit of prepared mustard and salt and pepper to taste.

Here’s another example of throwing stuff together for a quick, satisfying meal – burritos.

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We almost always have tortillas on hand because the kids love burritos and quesadillas. And while there’s no shortage of burrito recipes available, I don’t think I’ve ever followed a recipe for a burrito. Here we have the black beans and rice again, cooked beforehand and at the ready, along with avocado, mango salsa and cashew sour cream. You could certainly use salsa from a jar and we do so regularly (especially in winter with a dearth of fresh tomatoes), but here Darlene made a nice quick salsa with a small can of diced tomatoes (drained), some frozen diced mango, diced onion, plus a little oil, cider vinegar, oregano and salt. For the “sour cream” we used the Cashew Crema recipe from Viva Vegan! and it’s very similar to this one from Oh She Glows. (One tip on this front: if a recipe calls for soaked cashews but you don’t have any that have been soaking, you can boil them for a few minutes and get similar results.)

Hopefully this post has inspired you to move beyond cooking from a recipe and into whipping up a quick meal with whatever you have on hand! (Just remember to always keep rice in your pantry and you’ll be well on your way.)

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Mitch’s Vegetarian Chili

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Here’s a recipe that goes back a very long time but we still make it on occasion – vegetarian chili from Mitch’s Tavern in Raleigh, NC. Tonight I experimented with making it in the pressure cooker. Check out our post on our previous blog for the original recipe (or get it straight from the Mitch’s Tavern site). If you have a pressure cooker it’s even easier. Here’s the variation I made tonight. I just put all these ingredients into our Instant Pot and cooked on high pressure for 20 minutes.

1/4 c. split peas
1/4 c. brown lentils
1 1/2 c. dried red beans, soaked for several hours and drained
4 c. chopped green cabbage
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2″ dice
4 c. water
4 medium carrots, diced
5 stalks celery, diced
1 tsp. dried basil
1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes

The chili was fabulous and so was the appetizer. We just got a good deal on a big bunch of plantains and I made tostones for the first time. I’ve fried ripe plantains many times before but I’ve never used them green. They’re less sweet this way but equally delicious. I used the recipe from Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Eats World, but if you don’t have that one just Google tostones and you’ll find many recipes.

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Vanilla Extract

vanilla_extractOur quart jar of vanilla extract is getting low so I ordered some more vanilla beans so we can start another one. Wait… vanilla extract by the quart? Isn’t that stuff super expensive? Not if you make it yourself. We posted about this on our previous blog but that was long ago so I thought it would be useful to go through it again. The short story is this: we get vanilla beans for a good price on ebay and soak them in inexpensive vodka. Let that sit for a while (at least a few weeks), shake the jar occasionally and voila, vanilla extract. And for a fraction of what it costs to buy it two ounces at a time at the store. There are many online sources for vanilla beans but we got ours from the Vanilla Products USA store on ebay and they even have some instructions for making extract – just chop about 30 vanilla beans, put them in a quart jar and fill with vodka. I also add a couple teaspoons sugar to cut the alcohol a bit. Then I put the jar in a cabinet and shake it every so often. We pour it off a little at a time into a smaller bottle and use it for all our baking needs!


Banana apple whole grain pancakes

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I really love pancakes. Fluffy pillows of grainy goodness. I can eat them any time of the day. As a special treat my mom used to make pancakes sometimes on the weekends. When I was old enough to cook for myself I helped make them also. I really love passing on a love of food to the kids. Food is such a great social binder and nourishes the soul as well as the body. Corny I know but it really is all that and more. On that note, my ingredients have changed a little bit since my early cooking days. I am on a mission lately to add more whole grains and take out the refined sugar. So here is my version of whole grain pancakes sweetened with pureed apples and bananas. Sort of smoothie meets whole grains. Feel free to substitute any grains you have on hand. I used ground oats and white whole wheat flour.

Banana apple whole grain pancakes

1 cup rolled oats, ground

1 cup white whole wheat flour

1/2 cup sunflower seeds, ground

2 tablespoons chia seed or flax seed, ground

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups almond hemp milk or other nondairy milk

1 medium apple peeled, cored and cut into slices

1 medium banana

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Coconut oil for frying

Grind the oats, sunflower seeds and chia in a food processor or blender. Add the white whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine. Puree the almond hemp milk, apple slices, banana. apple cider vinegar and vanilla in a blender. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix to combine. Add quarter cups of the batter to a cast iron skillet coated with oil. Fry a few minutes on one side. Flip and fry until both sides are golden brown and the center is done. Layer the pancakes with banana slices and blackberries. Top with maple syrup or my favorite, apple sauce. Enjoy.

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Quesadillas

I’m surprised we haven’t posted about this until now because it’s certainly the meal most requested by the 6-year-old. Long ago we picked up a used copy of the original Uncheese Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak (which incidentally was way ahead of it’s time, having been published in 1994). Our go-to recipe from this book is the spread from her Grilled Cheeze Sandwiches. It’s pretty simple – just put all this stuff into a blender, whir it up until it’s smooth, then cook in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking frequently, until thickened:

1 1/3 c. water
1/2 c. pimiento pieces (see note below)
1/3 c. rolled oats
1/3 c. raw cashew pieces
1/4 c. nutritional yeast flakes
3 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. cornstarch
1 Tbs. tahini
2 tsp. onion granules
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic granules
1/4 tsp. dried dill
1/4 tsp. dried mustard
1/4 tsp. paprika

One note on the pimiento pieces – we usually use one whole roasted red pepper and that’s a fine substitution. We often buy a big jar of roasted red peppers and freeze them, though right now we’re still going through a stash of red peppers from our CSA. We got a bunch of them at the end of the season and roasted them. Then we laid them out on a cookie sheet and froze them, then put them in a freezer bag once they were frozen.

We use this spread on sandwiches or in burritos or even in baked pasta but most frequently it gets sandwiched between two tortillas and then fried in a pan in a scant bit of canola oil or Earth Balance. We’ve found that the kid will eat almost anything that’s included in one of these quesadillas. If we’re in a rush and/or don’t have anything else in the fridge, we might just add some frozen chopped spinach (just sprinkle it on frozen and it’ll thaw while cooking the quesadilla). What’s pictured below included some sauteed cabbage and leftover pureed sweet potatoes but anything we have handy and that’s nutritious is fair game: mashed beans, finely diced seitan, cooked greens, broccoli, avocado, etc. These can be part of a larger meal but often they’re a quick weeknight meal by themselves. If we’ve got a bit of salsa to put on the side so much the better.

quesadillas

 

I should also note that if you can find the time to make your own tortillas I highly recommend it. Since this is often a quick meal we usually use store-bought tortillas but we make our own on occasion. The trouble with most name-brand tortillas you find in mainstream grocery stores is that they’re filled with preservatives and other un-pronounceable ingredients. When we do buy ready-made tortillas we generally get them from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s and the store brand in either place has a much smaller ingredient list. But when you make them at home you can make them with nothing more than flour, water, salt and a little oil. We do like the recipe from Terry Hope Romero’s Viva Vegan, which includes the addition of chia seeds, a nice touch. Here’s a previous iteration with homemade tortillas.

quesadillas2


Happy New Year 2015

I don’t consider myself a Southerner but I’ve lived in Virginia long enough that I eat black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day. Last year was a nice twist on that tradition but this year was perhaps more straightforward. The black-eyed peas I cooked in our fancy schmancy new Instant Pot. They were cooked with onions, celery, carrots and garlic and seasoned with smoked paprika, cumin and oregano. I do like the pressure cooker because I put in dried black-eyed peas and they were done (a little over-done in fact) in 15 minutes of cooking time.

We didn’t do collard greens this year only because we had a big bunch of kale we needed to use up. That was simply cooked with garlic, salt, pepper and a little lemon juice. And we rounded out the meal with brown rice and cornbread. I just mentioned our go-to cornbread recipe and I experimented with this one a bit by using all whole spelt flour in place of the wheat flour (so it was wheat free though not necessarily gluten free since spelt has some gluten in it). It came out slightly more dense but still very good. We’ve been experimenting with using grains other than wheat and this was a nice change-up.

Happy New Year!

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Christmas Dinner

To those of you who celebrate Christmas, we hope it was a good one. We thought we’d share our Christmas menu to give you some ideas for future holidays.

  • Hazelnut crusted seitan
  • Apple-walnut stuffing
  • Mushroom gravy
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Roasted brussels sprouts
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Apple crumble

Speaking of ideas for the holidays, Alicia Simpson’s Vegan Celebrations is a good place to start and that’s where we found the Hazelnut Crusted Seitan recipe. It’s essentially just pan fried seitan with ground hazelnuts in the breading. And it was delicious. The newest cookbook in our collection is the Oh She Glows Cookbook and it was there we found the mushroom gravy and apple crumble recipes. We’re really looking forward to diving more into this book. For the stuffing, I usually make it up as I go but I should write down a formal recipe because it’s so good! The general process is described in our first ever Thanksgiving post. The sweet potatoes were just baked whole then whipped in a food processor with some Earth Balance, while the brussels sprouts were roasted with a little salt and olive oil.

Fresh cranberry sauce can’t even be remotely compared to what comes in a can and most of the time if you buy a bag of fresh cranberries there’s an acceptable recipe right on the bag. We’ve used other cranberry sauce recipes in the past but this year we used the recipe we found on the bag and it came out great. Finally, Angela’s “Mother Nature’s Apple Crumble” recipe is re-posted here. The main adjustment we made was using whole almonds that we finely chopped in the food processor because we didn’t have sliced almonds. I think I actually prefer it that way.

Happy Holidays!

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