Vegan Caramelized Onion Soup

Vegan French Onion Soup

Have slow cooker, will travel… or at least eat crazy-easy delicious stuff all the time!

Today, I sliced up some onions and let them sit with a little olive oil in the slow cooker on low for 8 hours. About 10 minutes of labor later (i.e., stir in some broth and seasoning, and make homemade croutons), I had the easiest and most awesome caramelized onion soup on the planet! Vegan, even (thanks to no-beef broth and Daiya).

The recipe came from my latest obsession, the cookbook Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker. Luckily for you, the recipe can be found online via Google Books here: Caramelized Onion Soup.

Soup simmering in the crockpot

Soup simmering in the crockpot

Homemade Croutons

Homemade Croutons

Vegan Caramelized Onion Soup

Vegan Caramelized Onion Soup

Now, all I have to do is figure out why the cookbook author didn’t call this “French” Onion Soup….

Avocado Spinach Sandwich and Asparagus

Lies of Omission

So, I’ve been keeping something from you.

It’s a sandwich – one that I’ve now eaten 3 days in a row.

I didn’t mean to. I thought about sharing. The first time, I was just too hungry to stop and grab the camera.

The second time, I started to prep the sammy for picture time, but it just wasn’t photogenic enough to bother.

Well, the sandwich still isn’t very photogenic, but it’s so darn tasty that I was overcome with guilt today as I made it for, yes, a third time.

So here you go – my current crush of a sandwich:

Avocado Spinach Sandwich and Asparagus

Avocado Spinach Panini and Asparagus

It’s the Avocado Spinach Panini [recipe], inspired by the recipe in the July/Aug 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times.

My version is a slight modification on the original. It’s essentially (for one sandwich):

  • half an avocado, mashed
  • 1/8 of an onion, diced
  • a generous smear of garlic hummus
  • a small handful of baby spinach
  • some sundried tomatoes
  • smashed between two slices of bread and pressed for 4 minutes on the panini press

I’m currently enjoying the High Five Fiber loaf from Great Harvest Bread Company in Palos Heights, IL. If you’ve never had Great Harvest bread, you MUST check to see if there’s a GH near you. Their breads use simple, real food ingredients and fresh whole grain flours – ground daily! The flavor is incredible, and I’m so glad that I found GH at my local farmer’s market. I’ve been looking forward to shopping at GH Charlottesville once I get to Virginia, but it has been so delicious enjoying it here in the meantime!

Of course, I still suck at cutting bread loaves, so my slices are WAY huge. So, people, do not take these photos as an example of how much in grains you should eat at a meal. Leave that to MyPlate! My slices probably end up being 2.5 servings, at least!

But just look at this hot, gooey mess…

Avocado Spinach Panini

Avocado Spinach Panini

Oh, it is so good.

Mashing the avocado is definitely key. I had trouble in my first two attempts with the avocado slices falling out on the panini press or when I tried to eat the sandwich. The mashing also adds to the gooey-factor.

Side note: I’m eating asparagus like french fries now. Loooooove asparagus!

Fave way to prep asparagus: trim off the rough stems. Spray with a little olive oil spray. Sprinkle with veggie seasoning (I’m currently in love with McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Vegetable Seasoning. Yeah, the ingredient list is less than whole-foods-stellar, but it is mighty tasty). Then grill for 3 minutes. (Ahh, this is where having the Griddler is awesome sauce!)

So, as we embark upon this holiday weekend, I urge you to enjoy a tasty sandwich, grill up some veggies, and share some good times with the ones you love. 🙂

double decker french toast

Double Decker French Toast

This, my friends, is a vegan recipe that I declare is better than the “original” – and this is no April Fool’s joke!

Double Decker French Toast Plate

Double Decker French Toast Plate

The Magic Brown Truck Fairy stopped by yesterday and dropped off a new cookbook – Vegan Yum Yum. I’m a fan of the blog, and finally decided to break down and get the book. As I poured through it last night before bed, I had visions of wonderful breakfasts dancing in my head.

I had some surprise good news on the scale this morning – I’ve officially lost 100 pounds since December 2009 – so I had even more reason to make a special breakfast today!

It was a bit of an adventure making this French toast; it was my first time cooking with a cast iron skillet. Needless to say, my first few pieces weren’t pretty! (That won’t stop me from eating them!) I got better at the timing and the flipping as I went along, but it’s still probably a good thing that the French toast is mostly hidden by fruit.

My only complaint about Vegan Yum Yum is that some of the recipes have a lot of things that I try to eat only in moderation – margarine (i.e. Earth Balance), all-purpose flour, etc. So I decided to try to health-up the Stuffed Banana Berry French Toast recipe, and dare I say, it turned out wonderfully!

My modifications from the original recipe were to use almond milk instead of soy milk, agave instead of sugar, half whole wheat flour/half all-purpose flour instead of all all-purpose flour, and to add some ground flax seed. I also used nonstick cooking spray instead of margarine to grease the skillet.

It rolls in around 427 calories (you could lay off the fruit some to drop that number, but this is pretty much my standard breakfast, in the 400-600 calorie range).

One last note: if you’re still soaking your pancakes, waffles, and French toast in fake maple syrup (I’m lookin’ at you, Aunt Jemima!), for the love of whatever you love, stop it! Get yourself a bottle of real, 100% pure maple syrup. It tastes ridiculously better, and is – must I say it – real food, instead of a bottle full of chemicals. And you won’t need to drown your poor breakfast to enjoy it. Just a drizzle will do, because it’s so naturally sweet!

Double Decker French Toast Nutrition

[recipe-show recipe=”double-decker-french-toast”]

Grilled Banana Sandwich

Oh, you sweet, decadent thing, you. You naughty, naughty thing… or maybe not so naughty! A naughty imposter.

Behold: the grilled banana sandwich.

grilled banana sandwichOr, the bottom half of the grilled banana sandwich.

Sweet, delicious goodness. This brunch sandwich was inspired by Caitlin’s Grilled Banana Sandwich over at Healthy Tipping Point. The only real difference is that I vegan-ized mine to avoid using eggs and dairy. This thing is like french toast and bananas all wrapped up in a sandwich!

I figured this would make a good post-run meal, as it’s got a good amount of carbs (and readily-available sugars via the bananas), and a little bit of protein. (I actually pumped mine up a little by adding a tablespoon of hemp protein powder to the liquid mixture, but didn’t add that to the recipe as it was pretty specific to my workout recovery goals – but for the record, it worked just fine!)

grilled banana sandwich

The whole thing clocks in around 300 calories, and makes for a pretty darn huge breakfast! You could even eat it like french toast – though I don’t think any syrup would be required, as the warm grilled bananas offer plenty of gooey delicious topping. I have visions of tossing warm blueberries on top next time. This one is definitely entering the regular rotation 🙂

[recipe-show recipe=grilled-banana-sandwich]

Soft Pretzel Bites

This gem comes to you courtesy of the No Nutritional Value Whatsoever department – it’s just a mouth-poppin’ bunch of YUM!

I stumbled across a recipe for these soft pretzel bites today over at Marcella’s when I was catching up on my blog reading. I love me some soft pretzels, and couldn’t resist the temptation of making an organic, vegan-friendly version at home. I mean, pretzels aren’t exactly healthy, but they’re not terrible, right?

Boy, was I in trouble. These things were easy to make, and GOOD. I made a garlic-y nutritional yeast based sauce to dip them in, and while I knew I was blowing a few hundred calories with my little snack of delicious goodness, I hadn’t yet input the recipe into my nutrition calculator. YIKES!! I ate about 2 servings’ worth and gobbled up 800 calories of nutritionally devoid carbo-bliss. Oh well. Good thing I’ve taken up running!

I have a feeling my memory card for my Canon G9 is going bad. (I do most of my food shooting with the G9, part out of being too lazy to go grab my real camera, and part out of not wanting to touch my real camera with sticky hands or spill something on it or drop it in a pot of boiling water). The last few image imports, half of my images have been completely garbled. At least, it had better be the memory card and not the actual camera! I guess the only way to find out is to try a new memory card.

But enough with the techno-babble and the woe-is-me calorie-count lamenting. Let’s get on with the pretzel making, shall we?!

To make this recipe vegan-friendly, I eliminated the egg wash (the part that makes pretzels turn all nice and brown) and swapped the butter for Earth Balance spread. I used all organic ingredients, so while this isn’t the most nutritious snack in the world, at least it is clean food! No crazy chemicals or preservatives or pesticides or other junk.

First up, I used my bread machine on its Dough setting to prepare the dough. The original recipe suggested a mixer with a dough hook, and while getting one of those is almost my #1 reason for wanting to get married, alas, I have not made it down the aisle and therefore have no mixer with a dough hook. (Well, not really “alas,” but that’s another story!)

Here’s my bread machine, after it did its magic. I let the dough rise for an hour.

Bread machine pretzel dough

Dough blobNext up, the dough was to be split into 8 sections of about 4.5 ounces each – about the size of a small fistful or a baseball. I used my food scale to be sure, but that was more of me just being a kitchen gadget geek than anything.

Weighing pretzel doughEach dough-ball was stretched and rolled out into a dough-rope. The original recipe called for 22″ ropes, but I could only get mine to be about a foot long. I’d have pretzel bites the size of 2 bites – no biggie!

Cutting pretzel doughThe next phase was to boil the bites for 30 seconds. I did this in batches. While one batch boiled, I quickly rolled and cut the next dough-rope. Lather, rinse, repeat until they’re all boiled.

The pretzel swimming pool:

Boiling bathSome pretzel bites, post-boiling:

Boiled pretzel bitesI’m not entirely sure what the point of boiling them is – I just follow directions. But it seemed like the boiling made them puff up a bit.

Once I had boiled all of the bites, I arranged them on 2 baking sheets so that they weren’t touching each other (all the while picturing my little brother waving his finger in front of my nose taunting, “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!”). Then, I sprinkled a bit of salt over them and some Garlic Gold garlic nuggets (a discovery I came across while reading Kath’s KERF blog – yummy!)

Pretzel bites ready to bakeI ended up baking them for about 16 minutes and they came out perfectly! They did not brown up like “regular” pretzels, because I eliminated the egg wash step (which makes them brown), but they tasted DIVINE and I ate way too many of them, warm and fresh from the oven!

Soft pretzel bitesI served mine with “cheast” sauce (yes, stealing the term from Emily @ The Front Burner) – a faux cheese sauce made with nutritional yeast (great for vegetarians for its abundance of B vitamins). Here’s Emily’s recipe for Cheast Sauce – I eliminated the ground mustard, and used ordinary organic all-purpose flour instead of millet flour, but otherwise followed her recipe. It was garlic-y and wonderfully delish!

So, while I think I will have to cut my serving size in half to make this a calorie-affordable snack, it totally hit the spot. I was thinking it would be a great snack for parties. Very easy to make and very yummy. I love finger foods! I’m sure my thoughts toward these soft pretzel bites will turn more aggressive and dark when I’m out on the trails running them off.

But until then… nom nom nom!

[recipe-show recipe=”soft-pretzel-bites”]

Tempeh Sausage, Gravy, & Biscuits

I get my taste buds from my father. He loved rich foods. He also wasn’t above having breakfast for dinner, and many a night I’d find myself having sausage, gravy, and biscuits at twilight. I have very fond memories of meals at the local Bob Evans restaurant, with their red and white checkered tablecloths, soaking up sausage gravy with big ol’ biscuits, just like my daddy did.

Eating is a very intimate process, and we tie it inextricably to our social customs as well. I have a lot of memories tied to certain foods – biscuits and gravy being one of them. Having grown up an omnivore, many of those foods include meat and dairy products. Giving up meat doesn’t mean I have to give up those memories, though. I’m realizing more and more that food is just a trigger for those memories, and similar foods bring me the comfort of my memories just the same.

That’s what I pondered as I ate this vegan version of sausage, biscuits, and gravy – all the while remembering those days of playing straw-wrapper hockey with silverware across the table from my dad.

This meal comes from one of my new cookbooks: You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan!: 200 Recipes for Simple and Delicious Animal-Free Cuisine. It’s a great little cookbook – I’m looking forward to trying out a bunch of the recipes in it. I just wish the font for the ingredient lists was a little bigger. I have to squint and stick my face right up to the book to read the fractions. (OK, you can all stop with the old-age jokes!)

First up: biscuits!

These biscuits were quick and easy to make, though I did discover that I don’t have anything in my kitchen to cut biscuits with. I really though I had cookie cutters or something, but I couldn’t find them. I ended up using a tiny little condiment bowl that I surely stole from some restaurant with my doggie bag. (Sorry!) It worked just fine!

Cutting biscuit doughI kept re-rolling the dough scraps and cutting more biscuits until the dough was all gone. The recipe said this would make 12 biscuits, but mine made exactly 24. I have a feeling I rolled the dough a little too thin, as the recipe said 1/2 inch thick. Well…. it seemed like it was 1/2 inch thick! I guess not.

Unfortunately, I ended up over-cooking my biscuits a little. The instructions said to bake them 8-12 minutes, or until golden brown – mine weren’t getting golden brown, so I tacked on 4 minutes or so to the 12. When they still weren’t brown, I got worried and took them out of the oven. Sure enough, they just weren’t going to get brown. (Note – I cooked them all in a single layer on 2 baking sheets – then threw them all together when done because I needed my other baking sheet for the tempeh sausage!)

BiscuitsI’m also afraid my baking soda and baking powder has lost its oomph. It’s several years old (I’m ashamed to say, probably more than 5 years old), and this isn’t the first recipe that hasn’t quite risen as expected. I think it’s time to get some fresh leavening agents!

Next up: the tempeh sausage.

This was my first time cooking with tempeh. Originally from Indonesia, tempeh is a soybean product like tofu, but unlike tofu, it’s made from the whole bean and has a higher protein, fiber, and nutrient count. It has a firm texture – much more firm than tofu.

The first step was to grate the tempeh. I’ve never used a box grater before (I’m not even sure what I have IS a box grater!), so it took me a few tries to get the hang of it. (The bowl kept sliding all over the darn counter, until I figured out a way to grip both the bowl and the grater at the same time).

Grating tempehAlways choose organic tempeh if you can. Most non-organic soy products are made from genetically modified soybeans (yuck! I prefer my food from the earth, not from a test tube, tyvm!)

After adding the rest of the ingredients (including lots of spices), I scooped up handfuls of the tempeh mixture and shaped them into patties. This stuff was really easy to work with!

After baking:

Vegan sausage pattiesLast step: the gravy.

This too was simple to whip up while the tempeh sausage cooked, but my photo of the gravy did not turn out. Boo!

When everything was done, I plated up 2 biscuits (since mine were half the size they were supposed to be), topped them with a tempeh sausage patty, and then slathered on some gravy. My plate looked a little empty, so I toasted an organic whole wheat muffin and topped it with some green garden puree that I made yesterday. Disregard how totally off-center I plated everything!

Vegan biscuits and sausage gravyTurns out, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I couldn’t finish the second slice of muffin. But the rest was fantastic!

Would this sausage fool a meat eater? No way. But, does it offer flavors similar to sausage? Absolutely. Did it provide the same memory triggers that its meat-based equivalent would? Oh yeah. (Did it fill me up? OMG, stuffed!)

I think next time I make this (and there will definitely be a next time!) I’m going to try crumbling the sausage into the gravy instead of having it as patties. I think this tempeh sausage would also make a great topping for vegan pizza!

I believe my dad would be proud.

[recipe-show recipe=vegan-biscuits]

[recipe-show recipe=tempeh-sausage-gravy]

First Batch of Sourdough Bread

I finally got around to baking some sourdough bread from the whole wheat sourdough starter I made in February during‘s Real Food Challenge. It was pretty much a 3 day process. The first day consisted of letting the starter warm to room temperature and feeding it.

Sourdough Starter

The second day, I made the dough from the starter and let it rise overnight. The third day I shaped it into a loaf and put it through its second rise, then baked it.

The result:

Finished Sourdough BreadDelish! It’s a hearty , dense bread that makes great sandwiches 🙂

I’m so proud of my sourdough starter! (I got mine from Cultures for Health).

Real Food Challenge: Soaking Grains

Part of this week’s Real Food Challenge (by Nourished Kitchen) was a lesson on the digestibility of whole grains and whole grain flours.

The problem:

Whole grains contain a naturally-occurring plant compound called phytic acid. Phytic acid acts as an anti-nutrient, binding up minerals such as zinc (which you need for immunity and reproductive health), iron and others in your digestive tract and preventing you from fully absorbing them. Source: Nourished Kitchen

The solution:

Prepare grains to mitigate the effects of phytic acid by fermenting, sprouting, or soaking them.

My foray into this art began with soaking some organic oat flour in buttermilk to make some buttermilk biscuits.

The recipe is simple. Last night, I mixed the oat flour and buttermilk, and left it on the counter overnight to soak.

Oat flour soaking in buttermilk

This morning, I added the remaining few ingredients and attempted to roll out the dough. There was just no way. The dough was so wet and sticky that I couldn’t even handle it with my hands, much less roll it out. :-/

Oat flour dough

I knew this problem was a possibility. A few people in the recipe comments mentioned it as a problem. The recipe was written for preparation at an elevation of 10,000 feet. I hardly grasp the logistics of my own lowly kitchen at an elevation of 650 feet – I’m certainly nowhere near the skill to understand what adjustments might need to be made to compensate for that 9,000+ foot difference! This is probably just an Experience Fail on my part. My house is dry as a bone, being the dead of winter (with no humidifier on my furnace), so humidity wasn’t the problem.

Instead of rolling out the dough, I dropped it on a baking sheet in heaping tablespoonfuls.

Dough ready to bake

I decreased the bake time as recommended by another lower-elevation cook, to 21 minutes at 350 degrees F. Here’s how they looked coming out of the oven:

Buttermilk oak flour biscuits

They reminded me of the cheddar bay biscuits I used to serve up in my waitressing days at Red Lobster.

I had a couple with some chili for lunch this afternoon, and they did taste wonderful. I’ll call the recipe a success, even if they don’t look like buttermilk biscuits!

My portioning made 20 small biscuits, so assuming 2 biscuits per serving, the recipe made 10 servings – approximately 300 calories per serving: 8g fat, 47g carbs (4g fiber, 3g sugars), 11g protein.

Grilled Cheese with Stealth Ninja Sweet Potatoes

Who doesn’t love a warm, gooey grilled cheese sandwich… the melty cheese oozing out after every bite… They’re easy to make, and with some Stealth Ninja vegetables, can even be a bit nutritious. Here’s my take on Jessica Seinfeld’s Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with sweet potato puree – from her Deceptively Delicious cook book.

I’ve got a wonderful old Toastmaster Snackster sandwich maker, which makes grilled cheese a snap – even easier than the old fashioned way. This recipe appeared to have real potential – I mean, how can you possibly screw up grilled cheese, right?

I tried out Rudi’s Organic bread, 7-grain with flax (delish!). Also featured: Organic Valley shredded cheddar (hoorah! No ridiculous chemicals or orange dyes!), and organic sweet potatoes.

The verdict: this sandwich wasn’t exactly the cheesy melty pillar of goodness that I’ve come to know as grilled cheese. The problem: there was either not enough cheese, or too much sweet potato puree. I suspected this would be the case, from the photos of the sandwiches in the cookbook.

The sandwich itself tasted delicious. It was plenty good. But the sweet potatoes weren’t exactly stealth – I could taste more potato than cheese. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, if the sandwich weren’t masquerading as grilled cheese. If you have kids that were to this point raised on “regular” grilled cheese, they’re going to know something’s amiss without some modifications.

So I tried it again with a little less sweet potato puree and a little more cheese. It came much closer to passing for grilled cheese.

Here’s the recipe with my modifications. I’ll definitely be making this one again, because – well, any grilled cheese is good grilled cheese.

[recipe-show recipe=grilled-cheese-sweet-potatoes]