23 August 2012

Asian Greens Stir Fry

Today was my first day of classes for the semester (classes officially started yesterday, but none of my met until today). In addition, Shana has some Unit Plans due tomorrow, so she stayed a bit late at work and then had more work to do when she got home. We had planned to have a different dinner tonight, but I just wasn't able to get around to making some of the ingredients, so we switched up the dinner plan.

Tonight's dinner was Asian Greens Stir Fry. I used to make a mixed veggie stir fry regularly, but somewhere along the way I got tired of that meal even though I still wanted stir fry. That was when Asian Greens Stir Fry was born. Let me say that this is in no way authentic Asian cuisine so much as a stereotypically Asian cooking method (high heat, a wok, and frequent stirring) and some Asian-inspired flavors. However, it's easy, delicious, and good for you.

20 August 2012

Veggie-full Vegan Red Sauce

Tonight was "advisee dinner" night here at school. All new students (first-years and transfers) were supposed to go to dinner with their faculty advisors. Advisors can choose to take their students out to dinner, bring in a catered meal (think Stouffer's Lasagna), or cook. In addition, advisors are encouraged to team up with other faculty members and their new students. I decided to team up with two of my colleagues in the psych department and we brought all of our first-year students over to Shana's and my house for dinner, socializing, and games.

In trying to decide what to feed such a large crowd (not to mention a crowd we'd not ever met when we were doing the planning), we decided pasta and red sauce, salad, and garlic bread were the way to go. I think of this meal as one of those American stand-by dinners when you're just not sure what anyone will enjoy. Thus, I think it's also a meal that can be uninspiring and over-used.

When most people think pasta with a red sauce, they usually envision something that has meat in it. Or, the few times they've had pasta with marinara sauce, it's almost flavorless. Luckily, that doesn't have to be the case at all! Vegan red sauces can be filled with all sorts of flavorful ingredients! The recipe below is one I made up when I made dinner for my in-laws one night and I tried to sneak some extra veggies past the kids. They ate this up, so apparently it worked. Tonight, the kids ate this up as well (plus some meat sauce, salad, bread, cupcakes, and cookies); so much so that there was barely enough for Shana's lunch tomorrow.

See that bread? My friends made that!

Veggie-full Vegan Red Sauce
Ingredients
1, 29 oz. can of tomato sauce (pick a general one, no added spices needed)
1, 15 oz. can of tomato puree
2 T. tomato paste
3 small onions, diced finely
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, diced finely
2 small carrots, diced finely
2 1/2 T. Italian seasoning
1 T. basil
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. white sugar, optional

Directions
1. In a bit of olive oil, saute the onions until they start to get soft.
2. Add the garlic, carrot, and pepper, saute another 3-5 minutes.
3. Add all other ingredients, stir to combine.
4. Simmer over low or med-low heat (depending on your cook top) for at least 20 minutes, but see Helpful Hints.

5. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Helpful Hints
  • As with all red sauces, this one tastes better the longer you let it cook. The longer you give it, the more time the flavors have to meld together. I actually made this the day before our dinner, then put it in my crockpot insert in the fridge. A couple of hours on high before the party and it's at the perfect temperature and the flavors have melded wonderfully. I have also sauteed the veggies and then dumped everything into a crockpot, cooking for 8 hours on low. 
  • Because of the chunks of veggies, I prefer to use a pasta other than spaghetti, like a rotini. 
  • Tomato sauce and puree can both be used in the recipe. Canned tomato sauce (with the diced tomatoes and such) often has added salt, so use all puree if salt is an issue for you.
  • This is a soy-free dish and can be gluten-free if you use gluten-free pasta.
  • You can certainly use three 15 ounce cans of tomato sauce/puree for this recipe and it will still work out fine. 
  • After you make it, you can freeze smaller batches of this sauce to reheat later. 
  • This sauce is pretty mild (as I made it first with kids in mind). Thus, the sweetness of the tomatoes and carrots really shine through on the palate. If you like spicier things, up the red pepper flakes, add some diced hot peppers, or any other thing you'd like!
  • Another fun thing to do is keep the bay leaf in the sauce. Then, whoever gets it (no fair fishing for it!) is king/queen for a day! 

17 August 2012

Throw-together Vegan Meals

Although I'm sure most of you have thought about this, but just in case you haven't, vegan dinners do not need to rely on vegan recipes. Instead, they can come together really easily. Shana and I call these dinners "throw-together meals" because, well, we throw things together on a plate and call it dinner. I think vegan throw-together meals are as easy, if not easier than, non-vegan throw-together meals. Plus, throw-together meals are quick and can rely on pantry staples.

The trick to a throw-together meal is having a decently (not even amazingly) stocked kitchen. If you have a few quickly-prepared items at home, then you are protected against going out to eat if you have a kitchen failure (which happens!), if someone gets sick and your planned-for dinner doesn't sound appealing, when you just don't feel like cooking but still have to eat, or when you have to cancel plans that included dinner.

15 August 2012

Maggie's Vegan Spaghettios

I'll be honest. I never really ate Spaghettios much as a kid. I remember having a love-affair with Chicken and Rice soup, or maybe it was Chicken and Stars, but Spaghettios (meatballed or not) just weren't my thing. I think I ate them occasionally, but they weren't a staple.

However, when I started cooking for Shana as well as me, I had to contend with an additional set of favored-flavors, food idiosyncrasies, and some definite food neophobia. As I started looking around for foods that would be amenable to both of us, I decided one day that spaghettios would do the trick. I don't know why I decided that, but the idea stuck and started looking for recipes. Most of what I found was really really simple, along the lines of "boil pasta, add condensed soup/water, and stir." Easy? Absolutely! Delicious? Meh. Clearly I needed to do my own thing.


The other element that I wanted to add to my vegan spaghettios was some kind of "meatball." I've never been a fan of hot dogs in things, so those were out, and I tried a couple of other things that didn't work very well (I should have figured that breakfast sausages wouldn't work...). However, a couple of years ago I saw a new variety of frozen vegan meatballs in the freezer case at Wegmans, took them home to try, and was a convert. Nate's vegan meatballs are amazing! We use the "Zesty Italian" flavor, but they are all good.

Now, an aside (then for the recipe). As a general rule, I do not use a ton of faux meat products in my cooking because I do not like that they are so processed. But, I use these meatballs in this recipe, fake burger crumbles when we make tacos or sloppy joes, and faux deli meats when Shana is craving a "turkey" club sandwich. It is unusual for faux meats to appear more than once a week; 2-3 times a month is more common. HOWEVER, these products have come a loooooooooooong way since I went vegan more than a decade ago and if they help you make meatless meals that you enjoy, run with that. Alright, without more blabbering on my part, on to the recipe.

13 August 2012

Hearty Wild Rice Soup

It's been cooler in Indiana the past few days (Saturday it only got to about 74 degrees - I love it!) and we are supposed to have high temperatures of around 80 for most of the rest of the week. Plus, today is grey and overcast. For Shana and me, that means soup. Soup is infinitely versatile and warms you from the inside out; it is absolutely one of my favorite foods. During fall and winter months, we eat soup at least two nights a week and commented during our meal planning this week that we can't wait to eat soup all the time again.

Tonight I'm making a vegan version of one of the first recipes I ever created. As a pre-teen and teenager (and good Minnesotan!), I LOVED wild rice soup. When I would meet my mom downtown for lunch, we would walk through the skyways to a soup/salad/bread place and I would always get the wild rice soup with bread. I can still remember what it tastes like. In addition, Byerly's (a grocery store) sells delicious pre-made wild rice soup, so I could easily purchase and eat that any time. Thus, when I started getting in to cooking, I decided I wanted to make wild rice soup on my own. My dad pulled down a recipe that his mom used and suggested that I start with her recipe. However, since I was new to cooking, I made a big mistake. The recipe called for 1.5-2 cups of wild rice, but it meant already cooked rice. I put in 1.5-2 cups of uncooked rice and ended up with a thick, but delicious, stew. I loved that recipe and named my creation "Wild Maggie's Rice Soup." After going vegan, I wanted to see if I could make something as delicious, but without the chicken stock, ham, bacon, and velveeta cheese from the original recipe.

This version of Wild Maggie's Rice Soup (which I now call "Hearty Wild Rice Soup") is healthier than the original, but makes a TON of thick, creamy soup.  So, you might want to have people over for dinner, plan to eat this a few days in a row, or cut the recipe in half. I also think this soup pairs nicely with a simple, crisp salad. Oh, and if you're outside Minnesota, wild rice is expensive! It's worth it in this dish, as the mildly nutty flavor and chewy texture of the wild rice are the star of the soup.

08 August 2012

Vegan Risotto

We're back from Philly, Shana's school has started, and mine is getting so much closer (with the appropriate "Itotallydidn'tgetenoughdonethissummerohdearthesemesteriscoming!" feelings of panic and anticipation). However, since school hasn't officially started for me and Shana's in her first week of craziness and commuting, I took the opportunity to make vegan risotto.


Risotto is an awesome hearty comfort food that is infinitely customize-able. It's easy, delicious, impressive, and fairly cheap, it just takes a long time and a lot of stirring. Thus, this might be a great meal to serve to dinner guests (every omnivore I've fed it to has loved it!). Most people are impressed by homemade risotto because they don't know how easy it is to make. Honestly, I think the only reason people don't make it often is because it takes a while (about 45 minutes) and most of that is spent stirring.

Finally, if you're at all into the science on why risotto works the way it does, Alton Brown devoted an episode of Good Eats to rice, much of which was about risotto. All you really need to watch is from 1:20 through 5:06, when he explains about different lengths of rice grains. The whole episode is interesting, if you've got 20 minutes. 

02 August 2012

Grilled Foil Packets

Tomorrow morning I'm leaving to drive to Philly for a long weekend because one of Shana's best friends is getting married on Sunday. Because Shana's working tomorrow and her first day with students is on Monday, she's flying from Indy to Philly and back. Since I'm going to be in the car for 10 hours tomorrow, then busy with family and wedding stuff, then driving 10 hours on Monday, I won't have much time to post. Besides, if I post something every day, I'm going to run out of recipes! However, I don't want to leave my (approximately 10?) loyal readers without a new idea to try over the weekend, so below is one of our all-time favorites: grilled foil packets of veggies (which we insensitively call "Hobo Packets" due to their resemblance (when wrapped) to the cloth packages hanging off sticks in historical cartoon versions of those who were homeless and/or setting out to claim their fortune).


If you've ever been camping, you've likely had these before, but you can make foil packets really easily using your grill at home. In addition, foil packets are infinitely customize-able, which makes them fun for groups of people with varied tastes or kids (mini-munchers) who like to choose their own foods. What's more, foil packets have won over every vegetable-hater we've met. Our nephew even gave an impromptu speech about the virtues of these after eating his first one. Then he eyed Shana's broccoli, since he'd been certain he wouldn't like it and didn't put enough in his own packet. Shana shared. Finally, foil packets are a great way to get a ton of veggies into your diet, and we're supposed to eat a lot of them!