First glass of wine - a German riesling

My Foray into Wine

Maybe “foray” is a bit too strong a word here… but since moving to Virginia, I am surrounded by wine and wineries. Apparently, Virginia is in the Top 10 wine producing states in the US. The Shenandoah Valley’s growing season is friendly to nearly every varietal of grape. I like grapes. Is it possible that I like wine, too? I suppose I live in a good region to find out!

I’ve never liked wine in the past, just as I’ve never liked beer. Those facts are inconvenient, as sitting around drinking vodka-based cocktails all evening has a much different effect than sipping something “lighter,” let’s say.

And I’ve always been jealous of the people that could pair up wine with food. It seems there’s such an interesting combination of art and science that goes into the process.

One thing that concerns me is that I don’t eat most of the foods that wines are notably paired up with – red meat, poultry, seafood… ummm, yeah. What wine goes well with tofu? Green beans? What about kale?

Still, I’m curious enough to take on the adventure. So, here it is – my first attempt at learning to enjoy wine.

Like most investigative journeys, I started on Google, which led me to a quiz on the Wall Street Journal’s site that offered insights to my potential wine preferences, based on my likes/dislikes of salty foods, beer, coffee, tea, and other things. Try Budometer – scroll down about half way to the link to the quiz.

My Taste Budometer

My Taste Budometer

My taste buds are hyper-sensitive. This doesn’t surprise me. When I re-take the quiz with other acceptable answers, it puts me in the Sweet category. So, it appears that I will be a picky wine drinker.

Yesterday was my birthday, so I set out to test the results of the Budometer. My plan: buy a bottle of Chardonnay from Dave Matthews’ Virginia winery, Blenheim Vineyards (not because I will enjoy it – I probably won’t like it, according to my Budometer results – but because it’s from a winery owned by Dave Matthews! Squeee!), and buy a bottle of a German riesling wine.

Wandering the wine section of the store (I was at Whole Foods) felt a bit like being 21 all over again. (Let’s not count how many years ago that was… ahem…). I felt generally lost and clueless. I was armed with a few key words to look for on the labels, but that was it. Thankfully, WF has a very well organized wine section. First up, I hit the “Local” shelves for my Dave wine. Then, I moved to the German section to seek out a riesling. (My back-up keyword was Moscato, also a sweet variety). I discovered that there is also an “Organic” section (w00t!) and an “Eco-Friendly” section – both of which I plan to explore!

Very few of the wines indicated on the label how sweet they would be. Bummer. I did find one that indicated it was medium-sweet, which according to Budometer is the low-end of my sweetness tolerance. In the absence of any other well-defined options, I listened to the bottle (pick me! pick me!) and took home a Schmitt Sohne blue bottle riesling. $13.

Schmitt Sohne Riesling

Schmitt Sohne Riesling

I chilled it in the fridge for a little while before I got around to opening it. I surely don’t have a wine cellar, so the whole wine temperature thing will be a challenge for me. After dinner, I busted out a wine glass from my hometown and got to pouring.

First glass of wine - a German riesling

First glass of wine - a German riesling

Keep in mind – I have no clue what I’m doing. I just bought Wine for Dummies. Literally.

I swirled it around the glass, nearly spilling it all over myself.

I sniffed it. (Whew! Smelled like wine!)

I took a sip.

And…. not bad! Tasted like wine (I have a feeling the whole “dry” thing is the part I don’t like about the flavor of wine), but it had a mild finish. So maybe it’s not too dry?

All that stuff about apple aromas, and a firm and fruity palate… yeah, whatever. I smelled the stuff repeatedly over the course of 2 glasses and couldn’t smell anything but wine. Couldn’t taste apples (though by the end of the second glass, my brain thought maybe I was starting to taste something? Could’ve just been the buzz).

From this wine newbie, I’ve got a long way to go in developing my palate!

But I am intrigued that all of the different wines come from different kinds of grapes. There have to be a few out there I will enjoy!

As is, this riesling was not bad. I might even call it “good” for wine (considering my tendency to dislike wine). My next purchase will likely be something sweeter – but probably another riesling.

Stay tuned for more adventures in wine! If you’ve got any sweet wine suggestions for me, feel free to share!

Breakfast: Cereal!

When I’m Not Eating Oatmeal

You may have noticed that I eat a fair amount of oatmeal oatmeal oatmeal oatmeal oatmeal on this blog. (HA! That’s a ridiculous amount of oatmeal posts!) I eat even more in real life. When I’m not eating oatmeal, however, I tend to be eating cereal. Those are my breakfast staples. Sometimes they make repeat appearances for dinner, particularly when I’m uber-tired and have no good leftovers in the fridge.

The only cereal brand I eat anymore is Kashi. It’s not intentional, but… well, I like their cereals, and most are organic. All have respectable ingredient labels, and that’s all I need.

My favorites are the GoLean Honey Almond Flax (do I have to duck from flying objects hurled by the vegans that consider honey to be murder? I actually don’t eat honey, except when it’s in my Kashi cereal. I admit it. I’m not a purist, nor am I militant about my food choices… why do I instinctively start defending my choices here?) and the Cinnamon Harvest Whole Wheat Biscuits, followed closely by Heart to Heart Oat Flakes & Blueberry Clusters, and Good Friends Cinna-Raisin Crunch.

Atop my cereal goes vanilla soymilk or almond milk or occasionally coconut milk, and then I bury it all with fruit. Whenever possible, that includes 1 banana, 4 or 5 strawberries, a handful of blueberries, and a few raspberries. When I’m feeling frisky, I toss some raisins in there. I’ve been known to slice up a kiwi and layer it on there as well.

Breakfast: Cereal!

Breakfast: Cereal!

And that, my friends, is what happens when I’m not eating oatmeal.

Chopped Leeks

Promises, Promises

It’s Vegan MoFo Week 3!

Yes, I know. You missed me yesterday. I’m back this evening for your foodie enjoyment, and a little birdie told me there’s a morning edition on its way, too.

First up: pesto veggie sandwiches! Oh. You mean, you’ve seen those before here? Or here? Hey – I promised I’d try to make 20 posts about food in the month of October. I never promised it’d be different food every day!

What can I say? I eat a lot of pesto veggie sandwiches. To make this instance a tiny bit more palatable, I will show you one of my magic kitchen weapons. This little beast makes chopping veggies super easy:

Pampered Chef Food Chopper

Pampered Chef Food Chopper

It’s the Pampered Chef Food Chopper. I couldn’t really tell you if other choppers work as well. I’ve used this one for years and it still looks and works like the day I bought it. The thing can take a beating (I’m a clutz) – it just keeps chopping away.

Now, I didn’t use it to chop these leeks…

Chopped Leeks

Chopped Leeks

… but I did use it on the baby bellas (got a sweet deal on organics!) and the red peppers:

Leeks, Baby Bellas, and Red Peppers

Leeks, Baby Bellas, and Red Peppers

Sometimes I use onions instead of leeks. It just depends what’s in my fridge. These leeks were on their last legs, for sure. This mix is made of 1 carton of baby bella mushrooms (16 oz), 1 large sweet red pepper, 3 leeks, and 3 cloves of garlic. Saute and salt to taste… voila!

Pesto Veggie Sandwich and Green Bean Fries

Pesto Veggie Sandwich and Green Bean Fries

With my buddies the Green Bean Fries on the side (baked, not fried… 18 mins at 400F… salt and pepper… nom).

Cinnamon Sugared Tofu Sticks with Maple Syrup

Rise and Shine

That’s right. It’s tofu time! There’s got to be a way!

I’m not a “savory breakfast” kind of girl. Veggies in the a.m.? No can do. With the versatility of tofu, though, I couldn’t help thinking – why do we always turn tofu into something savory? Why not try turning it into something sweet?

Or, maybe I just had French toast sticks on my mind, and thought maybe tofu would make a good imposter.

Cinnamon Sugared Tofu Sticks

Cinnamon Sugared Tofu Sticks

Oh yeah, I went there. I tossed tofu in a tablespoon of melted Earth Balance, coated it in sugar and cinnamon, and baked it!

The result had breakfast written all over it.

Cinnamon Sugared Tofu Sticks with Maple Syrup

Cinnamon Sugared Tofu Sticks with Maple Syrup

A little pure maple syrup on the side? Don’t mind if I do!

Very yummy. Reminded me of French toast sticks, but more chewy. Next time I make this, I’m going to marinate the tofu in some sort of maple syrup marinade first. I didn’t do any marinating this time – just use a block of plain pressed tofu. I’d like even MORE of the sweet flavor to come through!

Dipped in Maple Syrup

Dipped in Maple Syrup

I suspect that these tofu sticks would make for a filling breakfast alongside some fruit. I should be able to prove that theory shortly!

Rise and shine – it’s tofu time!

The verdict: delicious!

Mmm… Jelly Donut…

What do you do when it’s 10pm during Vegan MoFo and you don’t have any food prepared to blog about the next day? You bake cupcakes, of course!

Jelly donut cupcakes from Veganomicon

12 Cupcakes Ready to Bake

12 Cupcakes Ready to Bake

The jelly was supposed to sink into the middle while the cupcakes baked. The cookbook assured me this would happen. I had my doubts.

Homemade Raspberry Jam on Top

Homemade Raspberry Jam on Top

Except mine turned out like jelly-topped cupcakes. Totally ruined the surprise jelly inside. Bummer.

Hmm... the jam didn't sink in like it was supposed to.

Hmm... the jam didn't sink in like it was supposed to.

Not to worry. Surprise or not, they sure looked tasty.

Still looks tasty!

Still looks tasty!

And in case you were worried, my friends – they were delicious!

The verdict: delicious!

The verdict: delicious!

Oatmeal starring Coach's Oats

Coach Knows Oats

You all know I’m an oatmeal fanatic, right? I construct my bowls of oatmeal with great ritual. I have a deep disdain for instant oatmeal, but love some slow-cooked whipped banana oatmeal (and by slow-cooked, I mean, it takes 6 minutes instead of 6 seconds).

I prefer good ol’ fashioned Quaker Oats. I’ve tried bargain brand oats. I’ve tried bulk bin oats. But I always end up back at Quaker.

When I read about Coach’s Oats over on Kath Eats, I was intrigued. These aren’t your typical rolled oats. They’re also not your typical steel cut oats (which are super delicious but tend to take too long for me to bother preparing them). Coach’s Oats are steel cut oats that have been cracked and toasted, which decreases the cooking time from 25 minutes to 5. That sounds right in my ballpark.

Coach's Oats

Coach's Oats

I rolled the dice and bought a box of 3 packages of Coach’s Oats from Kath’s Open Sky store. I decided to make pumpkin oatmeal with them (because, what else would I make, after a week of pumpkin-everything?!)

I resisted the urge to use my own tried and true oatmeal making rituals, and prepared the oats per the package instructions. I brought 2 cups of water to a boil. (OK, I lied – one modification: I should have boiled 3 cups of water, but I wanted to replace 1 cup of water with 1 cup of vanilla soymilk, so I just boiled the 2 cups of water). I added 1 cup of soymilk and 1 cup of oats, along with 2 sliced bananas, and cooked per the instructions.

Once done, I added my usual ground flaxseeds, and…

Organic Pumpkin

Organic Pumpkin

Pumpkin! (about half of a can). I stirred in a little cinnamon and a whole lot of pumpkin pie spice, and of course added my usual sliced strawberries and Justin’s Chocolate Almond Butter (a la Fancy Oatmeal).

Voila!

Oatmeal starring Coach's Oats

Oatmeal starring Coach's Oats

My friends, Coach knows his oats. This oatmeal had a great flavor and none of the mushy lack-of-texture that tends to happen with oatmeal. This is some great, great oatmeal! I have yet to find it in any of my local food stores (not even Whole Foods) – and it might be good enough to become the first item I actually request that a grocery store carry. We’ll see. For now, I have enough oatmeal to probably last me through the winter! You can get it online, though, straight from Coach’s Oats – and if you’re feeling noncommittal, a sample pack is only $1.75. (Two 48-oz bags are $9.50 at the time of this writing).

You see, while it’s good to have rituals, it’s also good to break out and try new things every once in a while. My oatmeal ritual got an unexpected upgrade!

Look at this tofu!!

Local Tofu and a New Wheat Meat

Yeah, I know – that title will turn away all but the most devout herbivores!

How about: Spaghetti with Italian Sausage and Garlic Toast. Better?

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Tomato Basil Sauce, Field Roast Italian Sausage (vegan), and Twin Oaks Tofu

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Tomato Basil Sauce, Field Roast Italian Sausage (vegan), and Twin Oaks Tofu

Let’s start Vegan MoFo Week 2, shall we?

Spaghetti is my comfort food. It reminds me of my dad, which is comforting. After last week’s sad news of the passing of Steve Jobs, I needed some comforting. Since my dad is now hanging out with Steve (asking how he ever managed to corrupt his daughter into drinking the Kool Aid), well, spaghetti it is.

I tried out two new products in this meal – both discovered via a couple of my favorite food bloggers. First up, Twin Oaks Tofu (which I discovered via Kath Eats). First of all, Twin Oaks is a cooperative, worker-owned farm. Second, they make local tofu – the farm is about 60 miles from where I live in Virginia. Third, it’s organic, non-GMO tofu, and it gets rave reviews from everybody I know that has tried it.

That makes plenty of reasons for me to take a stab at it! I grabbed a package of their Italian Herb tofu from the Friendly City Food Co-Op:

Twin Oaks Italian Herb Tofu

Twin Oaks Italian Herb Tofu

Now, word on the street was that this tofu didn’t have to be pressed. Now, it took me a LONG time to finally “figure out” tofu – and only now that I have a handy dandy Tofu XPress tofu press do I truly appreciate it as a meal option. So, a tofu that wouldn’t require a day sitting in a medieval torture device? Interesting.

I figured I would put it to the test of all tests, and try baking it, straight up – no pressing whatsoever. Sliced up, straight out of the package. (I did add a bit of garlic powder to get the garlic toast thing going on).

The other new product in this meal was Field Roast Italian Sausage – a “grain meat” that I discovered via Emily over at Daily Garnish. She had discovered Field Roast veggie dogs at her local market in Seattle, and they sounded better than most of the “fake” meats I’ve tried. I’m not much of a fan of fake meats – but I was never much of a meat fan even when I was eating meat, so it’s not surprising.

Grain or “wheat meats” are usually based on some form of a recipe for seitan, or wheat gluten. Seasoned properly, these “meats” – when prepared properly – can be nearly indistinguishable from “the real thing.” Texture is usually the hardest part to replicate, even if the flavors are spot-on.

I sliced up 2 links of the Italian sausage and sauteed it for just a few minutes until browned, then added a jar of organic tomato basil sauce and simmered for a bit.

I served the sauce and sausage over whole wheat noodles topped with a little ‘nooch Parmesan, and a few garlic tofu slabs on the side.

All I have to say is… look at this tofu!!

Look at this tofu!!

Look at this tofu!!

Seriously, people. Best tofu I’ve ever had. It baked up wonderfully chewy with a nice little crunch on the outside. So flavorful. So easy!

And with regard to the sausages, I have to agree with Emily. Field Roast is top notch in the vegan meats department. I even enjoyed a sausage plain on a giant roll the other day, and it had fantastic flavor and texture. I wish I could find more of their products locally here.

From my plate to yours, here’s to delicious food that makes you feel good!

Roasted Green Bean Fries

Roasted and Grilled

Vegan MoFo Week 1, wrapping up! Here goes…

It’s recommended that we eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily (which would translate roughly to 3-5 servings of veggies and 2-4 servings of fruits daily). Suffice it to say, most people don’t eat that much produce in a day. Me – well, I almost always hit 5 per day (though sometimes with 3 fruits and 2 veggies), and often hit 6 or 7 servings a day. It takes a little work, though!

Where do I sneak in the veggies? My staple 2-servings come in the form of a giant bowl of greens every day, often with some extras in there – carrots, red peppers, cucumber, etc. Beyond that, I’ve got to make a little extra effort. The easiest way for me to sneak in more veggies is via side dishes.

Enter: roasting and grilling.

This past year, I’ve added 2 devices to my kitchen arsenal that have become invaluable in my attempts to get more veggies on my plate. They are the Griddler grill/panini press, and the KitchenAid countertop convection oven. Let’s face it – when you have to fire up the giant oven just to roast a few broccoli stalks, it just rarely seems worth it. My countertop toaster/convection oven preheats nearly instantly and makes it super-easy to bake and roast things without waiting for preheating or heating up the whole house.

Of course, you can always throw some veggies in the microwave and steam them, but personally, I find the flavors from grilling and roasting to be so much more delicious and satisfying.

These days, I’ll grill or roast just about any veggie. Butternut squash, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, kale – you name it, and I’ve probably tried to roast or grill it. My go-to’s are asparagus, broccoli, and green beans. I have fresh produce of one of those 3 in my fridge at all times, and will grab one or two of them to fill half of my plate at dinnertime every day.

Asparagus!

Asparagus!

Asparagus works best on the grill. Break off the rough ends, spray with a little olive oil, sprinkle with your favorite seasoning (I either go bare with salt/pepper, or use some Perfect Pinch veggie seasoning), and grill on medium for 4 minutes or so – until the asparagus is bright green and just starting to get grill marks.

Asparagus on the Grill

Asparagus on the Grill

My other new favorite is roasted green beans. Trim the ends, spray with some olive oil, and toss with your favorite seasonings (again, salt and pepper work well – but I often throw in some garlic powder too), and roast at 425F for 12-15 minutes. I eat ’em like french fries!

Roasted Green Bean Fries

Roasted Green Bean Fries

The rules for grilling/roasting most veggies are about the same, but if you like more hard-and-fast guidelines, google is your friend for temps and times. Most good all-purpose cookbooks have roasting guidelines in the front too (like Veganomicon). I usually just throw stuff in at 400-425F and check it after 10 minutes or so, adjusting till it looks good!

So, no more excuses for why you can’t get all of your veggie servings in each day. Eat a big ol’ salad every day, and fill half of your plate with veggies at dinner and, you’re there!

Veggie Tofu Pesto Sandwich

Versatile Sandwich Guts

Who’s got time to play chef 7 days a week? Not me.

Who likes sandwiches? Me!

Enter: versatile sandwich guts that I can flavor to my liking with every batch, so as not to grow bored to tears with the ever-repeatable Sandwich.

The trick to loving sandwiches (besides having lots of pinch-hitters in the Sandwich Guts department) is the panini press. I would not tell a lie; I use my Griddler constantly – and not just as a panini press. I grill tofu and veggies on it all the time, too. I’ve got the “Jr” model – the smaller one – and it’s perfect. (A family of 4 might want the full size version).

This recipe was born from the Pesto Veggie sandwich I’ve raved about before (and is my favorite way to use this uber-delish pesto). I wanted something a little more substantial. Thus, the addition of tofu.

The great thing about this dish is that you can season it any way you like. I like to use my favorite Perfect Pinch veggie seasoning, but I’ve also gone the Italian route with great success. Seasonings are up to you! Go wherever your little heart desires. Let your imagination soar!

On the stove (cast iron FTW):

Versatile Sandwich Guts on the Stove

Versatile Sandwich Guts on the Stove

In a nutshell, this is one package of mushrooms (I’ve used baby ‘bellos, white button mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms in the past – all with great success. I prefer portabellos or shiitake), one onion (or one leek), 3 cloves of garlic, and a few pinches of salt, to taste. Saute until the onions begin to soften, then add a package of pressed, cubed tofu. Sometimes I marinate the tofu first… sometimes I don’t. The pre-marinated stuff would work well here too. Add the seasonings of your choice and saute until the tofu starts to brown and the onions caramelize.

Spoon the mixture onto a slice of crusty bread shmeared with pesto, add a little Daiya vegan mozz, top with another pesto-shmeared slice of that crusty bread, and press in the Griddler for 4 minutes on medium.

It makes a mighty tasty sandwich!

Veggie Tofu Pesto Sandwich

Veggie Tofu Pesto Sandwich

Classic Pesto a la Vegan With A Vengeance

The Magic of Pesto

I’ve gone on and on about pesto here on this blog. Ever since I discovered it earlier this year, I’ve been obsessed. It is the star of one of my favorite all-time sandwiches (the veggie pesto panini), and I’ve been known to blob it onto pasta and salads as well. I have even used it as pizza sauce. So good!

In honor of Vegan MoFo, I’ve decided to give my love – pesto – its due diligence. The recipe I use is from the world’s vegan punk rock sweetheart, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, in her cook book Vegan With A Vengeance. You can view the recipe on Google Books, page 132 – Classic Pesto.

Look at that gorgeous basil!

Look at that gorgeous basil!

I make a couple modifications to the recipe. First, I only use 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil instead of 1/2 cup; I use 1/4 cup water for the other part. Next, I mix up the nuts. Sometimes I use walnuts as recommended, but often, I’ll use cashews instead, or mix the two. I’ve also been known to throw some pepitas (pumpkin seeds) in there. Lastly, I always use the nutritional yeast (marked as optional in Isa’s recipe). Note that there aren’t any pine nuts in the recipe. It’s nice and easy on the wallet! I don’t miss them one bit.

Pesto in the Food Processor

Pesto in the Food Processor

I’ve never made a batch of this pesto that I didn’t love. It comes together super-quickly and the flavor is out of this world.

Classic Pesto a la Vegan With A Vengeance

Classic Pesto a la Vegan With A Vengeance