Saturday, March 30, 2013

Notes from Home: South Florida

Our weekend so far..

Kristyn and one of her scrumptious vegan cupcakes!
My daughter and her adoring daddy

Quiet doggies, a rare moment!

Spring flowers..lovely
Today we'll be hosting an early birthday celebration for Chip, looking forward to spending time with good friends.

Hope you're all having a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tales from the Road: St Augustine, Florida

Indian River Campground; St Augustine, FL

We arrived in St Augustine just before lunchtime yesterday, got ourselves hooked up and settled in to the campground and then ran out for a quick lunch.

Though the Black Molly Grill is described as a steak & seafood restaurant, I was pleased to find a Mediterranean salad that, sans cheese, was perfect for lunch!

We spent the afternoon with Chip working and me reading/relaxing/walking Loki. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner.

Several years ago Chip purchased several gift certificates for restaurants in St Augustine.  For one reason or another we haven't used them all, so this is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Deli/Bakery Counter at Bistro de Leon
 With my love of French food and culture (second only to Italian), I've been dying to visit Bistro de Leon. However, knowing that French fare is often laden with butter and cheese, not to mention meat, I had some concerns about finding a vegan option on the menu. 

Chip pouring his first French beer

The lesson I learned: when the server asks for your order, tell him/her immediately that you are vegan. Hopefully he/she will know what that is, at least enough to direct you around the menu.  I was fortunate to have a mostly-vegan waitress who went straight back to the chef and asked if he'd accommodate me, am pleased to report that he was more than happy to do so. At my suggestion, he created a lovely pasta dish, chock-full of grilled veggies, simmered in a light vegetable broth. Along with a gorgeous mixed green salad, it was a wonderful meal! I especially enjoyed the chef's visit to our table as I was able to thank him for his consideration and extra effort.

Today we plan to do some more exploring, so stay tuned!

Monday, March 25, 2013

On My Hearth: Quick Lasagna Rolls

Good morning, and Happy Monday! What a beautiful Spring day it is here in Florida; after the rainy weekend the day donned clear and bright with just a touch of chill in the air. Perfect!

As I mentioned, Chip and I are packing up the RV and headed north to St Augustine. He has a job project up there which should take most of the month to complete, so we'll be spending some time in a lovely campground. I'm looking forward to the peace & quiet as well as the cooking & dining opportunities of motorhome life!

Last night I two of my favorite Jazzy Vegetarian recipes, Quick Lasagna Rolls and Grandma's Garlic Bread. I've already shared the bread with you here, so I'll stick to the lasagna today.

 Quick Lasagna Rolls

Makes 4 to 6 servings

If you’re in the mood for lasagna but not in the mood to spend over an hour putting it together, try this simplified version. Because no saut√©ing is required, these fancy rolls are ready for the oven in less than thirty minutes.

8 whole-grain lasagna noodles
41⁄2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 jar (about 25 ounces) marinara sauce
14 to 16 ounces firm regular tofu, drained
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1⁄2 teaspoon reduced-sodium tamari
5 to 6 large green olives, preferably queen or sevillano, pitted and chopped (optional)
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons toasted wheat germ
2 cups shredded vegan cheese (optional, see note)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the noodles. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are almost tender. Drain and rinse under cool water, then drain well. Transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon of the oil and gently toss to coat. Allow the noodles to cool.

Meanwhile, stir 3 teaspoons of the oil into 1 cup of the marinara sauce. Spread the mixture in the bottom of an 11 x 7-inch glass or ceramic baking pan. Put the tofu, 1⁄2 cup of the basil, and the parsley, tamari, and remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon of oil in a medium bowl and mash with a potato masher until the mixture has the consistency of ricotta cheese. Add the optional olives and the garlic and stir until thoroughly combined.
Lay a noodle on a large cutting board. Spoon about 1⁄4 cup of the tofu mixture along the length of the noodle, spreading it evenly with the back of the spoon. Gently roll into a spiral shape. Set the roll in the baking pan seam-side down. Continue with the remaining noodles and filling, arranging them snugly in the pan.

Set aside 3⁄4 cup of the remaining marinara sauce. Spoon the remainder over the rolls, distributing it evenly. Sprinkle 1⁄4 cup of the basil over the top.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven but do not turn the oven off. Spoon the remaining marinara sauce over the rolls, then sprinkle with the wheat germ, vegan cheese (if using), and remaining 1⁄4 cup of basil. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the top is slightly browned.
Put the pan on a wire rack. Let cool for 15 minutes. Serve 1 to 2 rolls per person, spooning the sauce from the bottom of the pan over top of the rolls.

NOTE: If you do not want to use the vegan cheese, just add a bit more wheat germ to the top of the casserole.

The Verdict: This is the second time I've made these rolls and I adore them! However, I've tried two different types of vegan Mozzarella and don't care for the consistency of either. Next time I will leave it off and use the wheat germ as she suggests.  Otherwise, delicious!!

Better get packing, will check in later from lovely St Augustine, Florida!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Weekend Fun

Happy Sunday morning! Hope your weekend has been wonderful so far!

Mine started out with Happy Hour at one of our favorite local spots, Billy's Tap Room.  We often stop by there on Friday night for live music, cocktails, and sometimes I indulge in what I call "Fry Day." Once a week I allow myself an order of french the healthiest of snacks but at least they are vegan!

Saturday morning Chip and I enjoyed a leisurely cup of coffee on the patio and then headed out to the Spring Herb Faire hosted by our Seaside Herb Society

The faire was held in the Bailey Riverbridge Gardens, just outside the Pilgrim's Rest Primitive Baptist Church, the spot where the first Christian marriage was supposedly performed, back in 1566!


They had a lovely bake sale but unfortunately, no vegan goodies. Maybe I should join the herb society and assist with that next year?

I quickly filled my basket with parsley, lavender, mint, and rosemary, fortunately I had my handy dandy helper to carry them all for me!

We then made our way to the beach where Chip rode his bike while I walked.


The sky soon turned grey and dark so we returned home and quickly planted the herbs in my fledgling garden.  I can't wait to use them in my cooking tonight!

Jezebel enjoying some patio time
The rest the day was spent reading, watching movies and relaxing, a perfect rainy Spring day.  Dinner was a simple stir fry, nothing special or photo-worthy.

Off to do laundry and start packing; we are loading up the RV and making our way toward St Augustine tomorrow!

Friday, March 22, 2013

On my Hearth: Clean-out-the-Fridge Slow Cooker Soup

Mother Nature is playing a fast one on us, I think; she seems to be ignoring the fact that it is now Spring! A couple days ago it was so warm that we turned on the a/c, last night Chip actually flipped the thermostat over to heat! It's still a beautiful day in the Sunshine State, so I have nothing to complain about.  I already switched my wardrobe over so Spring-wear, though, so I'll be donning my white purse & sandals no matter what the thermometer says, ok? Please don't call the fashion police.

Anyway, the drop in temperature has me craving soups & stews again, so I threw together this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink veggie soup today.  Based upon this recipe, I pretty much used whatever vegetables I had on hand in the fridge & pantry.

                             Clean-out-the-Fridge Slow Cooker Soup

--------  ------------  --------------------------------
  8               Cups  water
  8          teaspoons Better than Bouillon No Chicken Base 

  1                can  chickpeas -- rinsed and drained
  2              large  carrots --sliced thin
  1             medium  onion -- diced
  1                can  corn -- rinsed and drained
  3             medium  potatoes -- chopped
  2             medium  zucchini -- chopped
  1                can  crushed or diced tomatoes, however much you want

  3              Tbsp.  Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
     1/2         Tbsp.  Liquid Smoke (gives an earthy, almost meaty flavor)
     1/2    tablespoon  dried parsley
  1               tsp.  dried oregano
  1               tsp.  dried sage
  1 1/2           tsp.  black pepper
                        Salt to taste

                                    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Throw everything except the salt into a large slow cooker (Crock-pot), turn onto High temp and forget about it! (Be sure you use a LARGE slow cooker; mine was filled to the brim, no way could I have used my smaller one.)

Check back after 4 hours or so, see if the carrots and potatoes are softening up. If so, turn down to Low temp for a couple more hours.  If not, keep it on High and peek at it on occasion.  

Ladle into a big soup bowl, season with salt to taste, sop up with a hunk of good bread.  Enjoy! 

This recipe is so forgiving; if you don't have bouillon, use vegetable broth in place of it and water.  If you have mushrooms, they'd be an awesome addition. Fresh herbs instead of dried? Go for it, just taste test and adjust measurements accordingly.  You can add brown rice for a heartier result, or cut down on the water/broth for a more stew-like consistency.

This makes a ton of soup so be prepared to freeze portions for another time; don't you love opening your freezer after a long day and having healthy, delicious meals at the ready? Absolutely no reason to rely on drive-thru (shudder) or other less desirable choices.

Last night we met a friend for happy hour at my favorite bistro, Caffeine.  Such a cool place, kinda retro spooky decor.

Marilyn, Inked

The devil made me drink it!
Their vegan menu options are limited, though, but they do offer a chicken/vegetable lettuce wrap which they were willing to modify for me.  Asian vegetables piled onto crisp Romaine lettuce with a assortment of dipping sauces, perfect!

Not a great picture, I promise it tasted better than I made it look! So good, in fact, that I made sure to send back special thanks to the chef with a request that he consider adding a few more veg-friendly items to the menu.  Hey, you never know until you ask, right?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Welcome, Spring!

Hydrangea on the front porch
As you know, March 20th is officially the first day of Spring, also known as the Spring Equinox and, in my belief system, Ostara.  In honor of the special day, I treated myself to a pretty burst of color for our front porch.I just love the bright pink of this hydrangea, stunning!

Because the weather was a bit dreary, I wasn't able to garden or take a nature walk as I'd hoped, but being cozied up in the house is the next best thing. I caught up on some desk work, spent some time reading, and then, headed for the kitchen.

My hunny is a Mechanical Engineer for a power company, right now his job requires him to supervise the installation of new power lines.  He has found that his crew is happier and more productive when they're given a steady stream of baked goods...grin....and believe me, you want to keep these big burly linemen happy!  So, that's where I come in. Every week or so I whip up something for the guys, cookies, brownies, etc, anything sweet.  Yesterday I decided on cupcakes. I used just a box mix, nothing fancy, but I insist on using from-scratch frosting, standard buttercream in this case. No scrimping in this area, the frosting makes the cupcake, don't you agree?

As a reward for all of this baking, Chip took me out to dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant! I always order some type of curry, this time I went for the Green version.  Remember, Thai food is quite veg-friendly but many of their dishes contain oyster or fish sauce, so be sure to tell your waiter that you're vegan! The chef should be happy to adjust the dish for you, they've never given me a bit of trouble over it.  At my favorite restaurant, they offer brown rice as well as Jasmine, a healthier and more tasty option, in my opinion.

Green Curry at Zen Bistro, Daytona Beach
On the way home we stopped for a nightcap at a local Irish pub; a nice glass of chardonnay was the the perfect ending to a lovely Ostara day!

I woke up this morning & discovered that I still had the baking bug, so while sipping my first cup of java, I whipped up a batch of Vegan Carrot Cake Cupcakes, courtesy of Happy Herbivore.

With whole wheat flour, applesauce & carrots, and no added fat, these are hardly an indulgence! Why, I daresay they're almost, healthy! Except for that sugary frosting, of course. *wink*

As I gathered up my ingredients and started to measure & mix, I realized I didn't have enough applesauce, was about 1/2 cup short. Uh-oh. Hmm...I happened to have a can of pureed pumpkin in the pantry, would that work? Well, let's give it a try and find out, shall we?

                           Carrot Cake Cupcakes

(inspired by the Happy Herbivore)

--------  ------------  --------------------------------
  1                     ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
  1                cup  raw sugar
  1                tsp  baking powder
  1                tsp  baking soda
  1                     ¼ tsp cinnamon
                        ¼ tsp salt
  1              whole  carrot -- shredded
  1              cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2             cup pure pumpkin (from a can)
  1                tsp  vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a muffin pan or spray paper liners to prevent sticking and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, soda, sugar, salt & cinnamon in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, mix applesauce, pumpkin, vanilla and carrots. Add dry mix to wet mix in 3-4 batches. Stir until just combined. Fill cups to the top bake 15-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


For cream cheese icing, use electric beaters to whip and combine 1 container Tofutti cream cheese, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 cup confectioners sugar at a time until the consistency is thick and sweet enough.


For maple icing, use electric beaters to whip and combine 1 cups confectioners sugar, 3 tbsp maple syrup and 1 tsp cinnamon, adding additional sugar as necessary to reach a thick and fluffy consistency.

Sprinkle chopped nuts and/or a little bit of shredded carrot on top as garnish.

                                    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Makes 12 servings

The verdict: Scrumptious! The pumpkin added a nice flavor to the carrot/spice mix, the consistency was a cross between cupcake and muffin. The cream cheese frosting is very sweet and a bit more runny than I like, but I dared not attempt to thicken it up with more powdered sugar. I found that placing the frosting in the refrigerator for a little while helped firm it up some and made it easier to spread.

Now, what the heck and I gonna do with all of these cupcakes? Tell you what, I'll put on a fresh pot of coffee, how soon can you be here?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Buon Appetito!

My love affair with all things Italian began early in life, with a certain Polish-Italian family who lived in our neighborhood. The Guarinos were a "typical" big Italian bunch - rowdy, boisterous, and a lot of fun.  I was friends with their middle daughter, Vicki; she enjoyed the quiet & orderly peace of my only-child home as much as I did the loud, messy energy of hers.  Something was always cooking in their kitchen, especially on Christmas Eve when the whole 'hood was invited over for a big feast.  Huge pots of soup, pasta and sauce simmered on the stove, wine and cocktails were passed around to the adults, and even the older kids were allowed a sip of or two.  After one such holiday dinner, I walked home, tipsy from my first ever Pina Colada, and made a phone call that would change my life forever.  You see, I had a little romance brewing with a cute Italian of my own, and that evening found us sharing a kiss under the mistletoe.  Little did I know, he'd eventually become my husband and the father of my first beautiful daughter.  I blame the Guarinos. *wink*

Prom, 1982

a baby Italian on the way!
Thus began my education and fascination with Italy - the food, the wine, the art, the men, the culture, the language, and oh, did I mention, the men? Yes, there have been other Italian romances in my life, perhaps some day over a glass of vino I'll be tempted to tell you about them.  For now, let's just stick to the food, family & friendship, ok? 
Two of my oldest, dearest friends. Both, you guessed it, Italian!
My "Sicilian Sister," Stephanie

Even after Glenn and I divorced and I remarried (to an Irishman, no less!), I cooked pasta, marinara sauce, etc. for my new family.  I began hosting Christmas Eve dinner like I'd learned from the Guarinos, inviting friends and family to dine on antipasta, stuffed shells, crispy fresh bread, canoli, and, of course, wine.  It's a tradition we still honor today.  The location and the guest list has sometimes changed over the years, but the menu and the atmosphere stay the same. Everyone is welcome, and everyone is expected to stay until their tummies are full and their hearts happy.

So, you'll see quite a few Italian dishes on this blog. Some authentically vegan, some "veganized," like the Spinach and Basil Conchiglioni I posted previously. Tonight, Chip asked me to repeat a recipe I made last week, a vegan "Chick'n Parmesan" using Gardein Crispy Fillets served over pasta, topped with marinara sauce and a sprinkling of vegan Parmesan.  I served it alongside a tossed green salad and last night's leftover dinner rolls, Italian-ized with a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh garlic & herbs.


 The verdict: Delizioso! 

Monday, March 18, 2013

On My Hearth: Shepherd's Pie

Lindsey, who's now an awesome cook and can make her own mashed potatoes!
My daughter Lindsey was a high-energy, high-spirited little girl. From the time she was born, she was in a constant state of go,go, go! We could barely keep up with her. (not much has changed) She required a minimal amount of sleep, and from the age of three we couldn't let her have naps or she'd never go to sleep at night. Once she finally crashed, though, she was done. Nothing nor nobody could wake that girl up! She was prone to talking in her sleep, though, and one of the funniest Lindsey stories involves such an event.  One evening I went in to check on her and as I tucked the blankets around her sweet little self, she said, clear as day, "I want somebody to make me some mashed potatoes." I could barely contain my laughter, tried to engage her in more conversation but that was it, just a request for spuds.  Did I mention that she's Irish? Twenty years later, I think of that story every time I make mashed taters, which is pretty often because I love them as much as little Lindsey did!

So, I told you that story, why? Well, we had leftover beef-less stew in the fridge, and a bag of spuds in the pantry that were begging to be used up.  I mixed the stew in with about 1/2 a package of Boca veggie crumbles, heated it through and added a tiny bit of flour to thicken it up nicely.  Then I made a batch of mashed potatoes (you all know how to do that, I'm sure. Use your own favorite method/recipe) using about 6 medium tubers, a couple splashes of non-dairy milk and a generous dollop of Earth Balance.  I set those aside and preceded to make some dinner rolls to round out the meal.

Now, I've haven't done much vegan baking, am honestly a little bit intimidated by the whole substitution thing.  I own a box of Egg Replacer but so far it's only been used for very simple recipes - boxed cakes & brownies, no-fail stuff.  Light and fluffy dinner rolls are another thing entirely! I found this recipe on Oh She Glows, though, and she made it look so easy, I figured I'd give it a go.

Vegan Pull-Apart Fluffy White Dinner Rolls

Adapted from Spark People.
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp sea salt (or regular)
  • 2 1/4 tsp Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 cup very warm water
  • 2 tbsp Earth Balance Buttery Stick
  • 1 egg replacer (1 tsp egg replacer + 2 tbsp warm water)
1) Proof your yeast! In a small bowl mix 2 1/4 tsp of Active Dry Yeast with 1/4 cup of very warm water (between 110 and 115 degrees F). Stir and let dissolve. Now add 1 tsp of sugar and stir. Let it sit for a good 5-10 minutes. You will know the yeast is active when it is slightly foamy and smells like bread.

2. In a stand mixer or by hand, add 1 and 1/4 cup of flour, remaining sugar (1 tbsp + 2 tsp), salt, and yeast mixture. Mix briefly for 10 seconds or so. Now, add the remaining very warm water (3/4 cup), slightly melted Earth balance, and egg replacer and mix until smooth. Slowly add in the rest of the flour (1 cup) and mix until smooth.

3. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. I put my bowl of dough in the oven with the light turned on (but not the oven itself!)

4. Grease a pie pan and set aside. After 30 minutes, remove the dough from the oven and knead with hands for a few seconds. Divide the dough into 12 balls with hands and place the balls into the pie pan (see image below). 

5. Cover pie pan with towel and place back into the oven with light on for another 30 minutes. The rolls will expand and fill the pie pan during this time.

6. After 25 minutes, remove from oven and preheat the oven to 400F. After 5 more minutes, it is time to bake the rolls for 15-18 minutes until golden and fluffy. Makes 12 pull apart rolls.

7. Serve with Earth Balance and enjoy!
I followed the recipe exactly, couldn't resist peeking at the dough every so often to make sure it was rising, and guess what? They were amazing! I am so surprised and relieved, whew!

But, wait, let's not get ahead of ourselves. While the dough was rising, I topped the Shepherds Pie with the mashed potatoes, added a handful of shredded vegan cheddar, and put it into the oven alongside the rolls.  When the bread was done, I took the pan out, lowered the heat to 350, and let the pie cook for a just a few more minutes until the cheese was completely melted and the gravy was bubbling over the side of the casserole. I served it up, put those luscious rolls in a basket and sat down to eat.  

The Verdict: Delicious! What a great way to use up some leftovers and try something new at the same time. I will definitely be making this one again! There's an awful lot left over, though, anybody hungry?