On a Not-Quite Insalata Caprese

20170512_200259Buffalo mozzarella is an experience all its own.  It is unlike other cheeses.  It has a raw, creamy texture unmatched by the hard, crumbly, and soft cheeses.  All of this might explain why its so hard to find a good vegan alternative for the real thing.

While many pizza ready mozz shreds and blocks exist, none quite earns a spot worthy enough for the classic Italian tomato salad insalata caprese, which consists of sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices, and basil leaves.  Like a margherita pizza, it is adorned with the colors of the Italian flag – red, white, and green.

I’ve tried a number of vegan mozzarellas on a plant-based caprese.  20170512_200617The best I’ve found is Teese.  It’s been a while since I’ve found Teese, so I don’t recall exactly how well it melded with the tomato.  Because of its local scarcity, a while back I decided to try to make caprese without a faux cheese.

Tofu.  It’s one of the most enduring protein rich, meat alternatives around.  It’s also one of the most derided (by the carnivore crowd).  But for a fresh mozzarella substitute, it has two qualities that make it a great option.

The first quality is the often stated fact that tofu will take on the flavor of whatever it is seasoned with. The second quality is that it can be found in pretty much any firmness level.  Mozzarella has similar (though not exact) qualities.

20170512_200624For my tofu caprese, I like to go with a block from The Bridge, which hails from Middletown, Connecticut, USA.  Their tofu is perfect for stir fries, scrambles, jerky, salads, and of course, my caprese.  It’s firm, but crumbles, and slices nicely.  For a more easily (outside of New England) found option, Trader Joe’s has a good sprouted tofu.

The actual salad is pretty straightforward to put together.  Wash, and slice your tomatoes.  Nothing beats a big, red, heirloom tomato, but a beefsteak will work just as well. I prefer my tomatoes to be just barely ripe.  You want to be able to cut into the slices with a knife.20170512_200657

For the tofu, slice it to top a slice of tomato.  I like to maintain a thickness matching the tomato.  This is a salad with equality of ingredients.  Don’t drain the tofu too much.  If you get a firm, or extra firm tofu, there won’t be much liquid anyway.  Keeping the tofu a little moist helps keep the cheese texture.

20170512_200837A traditional caprese salad would have basil leaves, but most people don’t have fresh basil on hand.  I twist it a little more by adding chickpeas, marinated mushrooms,
and an olive medley.  You can’t go wrong with olives, and mushrooms.

Drizzle with olive oil, and generously with balsamic vinegar.  Make sure to cover enough of the tofu so it absorbs the flavors.  Salt a bit, and pepper liberally.  Let it sit to mix the flavors.  I like to make it before I make a main dish.

 

On a Crunchy Turk’y Club

20170510_193207I’m not sure I’ve ever had an actual turkey club sandwich.  I haven’t had red meat since I was 14, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the type of sandwich I’d have eaten when I was younger than that.  For whatever reason, I recently found the inspiration to give a try at a vegan alternative to this commonly found diner favorite.

Now, I didn’t want to go the traditional route.  I could have easily slapped some faux bacon on some Tofurky or LightLife slices.  However, it was Gardein’s Turk’y Cutlet that inspired me to make this sandwich.

I started out by baking the cutlets.  The directions suggest a prolonged baking20170510_194538 experience is necessary, but I’ve found that with Gardein products it’s possible to speed up the process by cooking them in a toaster at 425-450 degrees (Fahrenheit).

While cooking the cutlets, prep the lettuce, and tomato.  There’s not much prep there, but the bacon will cook quickly, so it’s best to have it all ready to assemble up front.  I also like my sandwiches with a pickle slice whenever I have tomato and lettuce.  Again, no real prep, but worth getting ready.

Though a bun might be more appropriate for a sandwich with Turk’y cutlets, I prefer a couple of slices of toasted whole wheat bread.  Vermont Bread Company makes some great, easy to find breads.  I enjoy their whole wheat sour dough.  A few of their breads include honey, so check for that if you try a different flavor.

20170510_194625For the bacon, I rely on my standard sandwich option which is Upton’s Naturals excellent seitan bacon.  Three slices make it into my sandwich.  These strips cook, and crisp quickly.  I put the heat up a bit, and get them crisp to the just-prior-to-burned stage.

During the final few minute of heating the turk’y, I toast the bread along with the cutlets. For dressing, I use Follow Your Heart’s reduced fat Veganeise.   Unless your really 20170510_194719slathering on the spread, any vegan mayo should do.  I also use Follow Your Heart’s American style cheese, which is among the best slices on the market today.

Finally, it’s time to stack.  I was a little adventurous, and put two cutlets into my sandwich.  There’s about 130 calories each, so it’s worth it to get the extra 11g of protein.  Put some bacon between the cutlets, and the rest on top of the top cutlet.  Top with the cheese, pickle, tomato, and lettuce.  It’s a messy sandwich, but it’s delicious.

 

 

 

On Stacked Cinco de Mayo Nachos

Nachos.  From chips and salsa, to a many layered plate of all things in the fridge, there are few foods as universally popular.  And this being Cinco de Mayo, it certainly seems appropriate to write about a vegan nachos option.

20170310_191612Vegan nachos aren’t hard to find.  Hold the cheese.  Hold the meat.  Hold the sour cream.  Assuming the beans and guac are vegan, you’re left with a pretty delicious plate of chips, beans, avocado, salsa, and peppers.  If you’re fortunate enough to live near vegetarian friendly restaurants, you can find even richer options.

Outside of Boston, in Watertown, MA is the excellent vegetarian restaurant Red Lentil.  They offer a stacked plate of vegan nachos that is one of my favorite plates anywhere.  Their nachos come with vegan sour cream, and vegan cheese.  They are topped with beans, salsa, and jalapeños.  So how to make them at home.

It all starts with the chips.  There are hundreds of options out there.  But rather than wp-1489240584157.jpgwaste my calories on corn, I prefer Beanfields incredible bean and rice nacho chips.  These chips are addictive.  Think Doritos without the fake food flavor.  Plus, they’re packed with protein and fiber.

There are also a number of options for vegan cheese.  I think Daiya’s pepperjack style shreds are the best option.  Go Veggie’s Mexican vegan shreds are a good alternative.  Just be sure to get Go Veggie’s vegan line – half of their products contain casein, which is derived from milk.

For the beans, I’m a fan of Pacific Foods refried pinto beans.  It might seem hard to go wrong with your choice of refried beans, but Pacific tends to have lower sodium than the alternatives.  And of course be sure to look for pork!

wp-1489240571656.jpgGuacamole is delicious, but fresh avocado slices have a little more flavor, I think.  Add some jalapeños, black olive slices, and onions.  Bake at 350.

Watch carefully, because Daiya melts more slowly than dairy cheese.  As a result, you have to watch the chips for burning.  I tend to bake for a few minutes, then throw on the broiler for the last few minutes.

Top with salsa, and vegan sour cream.  Follow Your Heart makes my favorite.  Tofutti makes a good vegan sour cream too, which is easier to find.  Finally, serve with a good margarita, and enjoy.

On a Pretty Good Plant Lover’s Pizza

As your average vegetarian, or even meat eater, what’s the one food you couldn’t live without if you went vegan, and you could probably expect a uniform response – pizza. Everyone’s favorite three ingredient food, pizza truly is the world’s common language.

wp-1490449893403.jpgFor many people, a vegan pizza pie is simply pizza senza formaggio.  Even American chains like Little Caesars, and California Pizza Kitchen list pizza without cheese as vegan option under their respective website FAQ sections.

While there have been niche restaurants that made their own tofu, or soy cheeses for vegan pies, it wasn’t until Daiya arrived that vegan cheese became a semi-mainstream option.  Around Boston, Daiya is an add-on at a wide range of pizzerias, and restaurants.

Making pizza at home means not having to gowp-1490449863418.jpg scout for a Daiya on Yelp.  Sure, there are a lot of frozen options, including those from Daiya, and Tofurky.  Tofutti even offers a more available French style pizza that reminds me of Friday elementary school lunches (in a good way).

Of course, rolling your own dough (or store bought dough) produces the best crust.  But lately, the pizza world has evolved beyond the Boboli (full disclosure, I used to love these).  Two great crust options are the whole wheat Engine 2 pizza crusts and the Whole Foods store brand.  The former is found in the frozen section.

For this post, the crusts I chose were the Whole Foods store brand.  You can find these crusts in the Italian foods section (near the pasta).  They’re thin, so you can eat a little more, but you can’t put too much on for toppings.  Whole Foods also makes a pretty tasty organic pizza sauce.

wp-1490449884314.jpgCrusts, and sauces only go so far.  It’s the toppings that make a vegan pie interesting.  For that, you’ll definitely want to start with a bag of Daiya’s mozzarella.  Though rumor has it, the hard-to-find in Boston Gourmet shreds from Follow Your Heart are supposed to be quite exceptional.

For toppings, there are a few regulars I prefer.  Yyves Veggie’s pepperoni slices taste like they were made for pizza.  Though, they’re also awesome with Daiya block cheese stacked on a cracker.

I think Field Roast’s Italian Sausage is best of breed for a plant based link, though they cost nearly twice that of Tofurky’s Italian option.  Both are delicious, so you can’t gowp-1490449822439.jpg wrong.

For veggies, obviously go with your own choice.  But for my tastes, it’s sliced shitake mushrooms, onion, and black olives.  Be sure to saute them for a bit first, so they’re cooked right with the pizza.

Once you’ve topped your pie, cook according to the crust’s directions.  Keep in mind that vegan cheese melts a little differently than dairy based cheese.  You might need to cook it a little longer.  I also like to throw the broiler on for a minute at the end to brown the cheese, and melt it a little more.

On a Quick and Easy Omelet

Perhaps the biggest advantage to living in the Boston, MA area is the abundance of vegan food options.  From restaurants, to grocery stores, eating plants is pretty easy in Beantown.

20170205_121453One of my favorite restaurants is Veggie Galaxy, which is a vegetarian diner right outside of Boston, in Cambridge.  Veggie Galaxy used to make a tofu omelet that was simply amazing.  Sadly, they changed the recipe and now use a rice-based recipe, which while good, is not as bold a flavor.

I’ve also made baked tofu omelets as designed by the Happy Herbivore in her excellent books.  Though those are quite good, there’s a bit of effort involved, and the convenience just isn’t the same as the most recent addition to the plant-based egg world.

Follow Your Heart’s VeganEgg is brilliant.  I’ve written about it once before.   While it’s certainly a simple, easy option for a scramble, I find an omelet to be a better use for this wonderful yellow powder.

There isn’t much to say in the way of preparation.   Mix cold water with the vegan egg.  Two tablespoons of the powder will yield one egg.  So for an omelet, you’ll definitely20170205_121936 want to double up – or even triple if you’re feeling hungry.  Though two gives a good yield.

You’ll want to make sure you have a good sized frying pan.  An 8″ round pan or so should do.  Heat the pan at medium with some oil spray.  When it’s warm, spread the VeganEgg mixture evenly across the pan.  The VeganEgg doesn’t burn easily.  So you don’t have to worry about charring your base – though maybe I just haven’t waited long enough.

For fillings, it’s a good practice to cook some of the insides in a separate pan, and have them about ready to go when you are ready.   I like mushrooms, a dark, leafy green, jalapeños, and some vegan cheese, usually Daiya.   Some Tofurky chorizo is also a great addition.

20170205_122009Not only does the VeganEgg not burn easily, but it also doesn’t have to be flipped the as does a standard egg omelet.  The VeganEgg heats through more like a cake, than eggs.  It cooks from the bottom, through the top.

When it’s solid, fill it and fold it.  I like a good hot sauce on my omelets, and I recommend that if you try one.  The VeganEgg isn’t a richly flavored egg substitute, so eating as an omelet, definitely season it for a bolder taste.

On Slow Roasted Chick’n Salad

When I was in pre-school, I went with friends to what must have been the University of Connecticut’s school of agriculture.  When I came home, I found my father preparing lunch, which was chicken salad.  At that moment, I made the connection that 20170409_170958my food had a face.

I asked my father where chicken salad came from, and I found out that the birds I’d just seen on the farm were of the sort that were in the mixing bowl.  At 4 years old, it was a profound realization.  For much of my early life, I ate no meat.

Over the years, as I slipped back to being omnivorous, I ate chicken salad as a staple of my diet – especially when I gave up red meat at 14.  As I transitioned back to being vegetarian, I found the occasional faux chicken salad, but often, they were made with eggs, and/or dairy.

For a while, a few of the Whole Foods around Boston were carrying some excellent store-made vegan chicken salad.  I have no idea why they stopped making it, but it was definitely a favorite for lunch.

Easier to find, but still not readily available is the excellent Power-Fu vegan chicken 20170409_170324salad.  A Brooklyn, NY company, I was able to find this item often when I worked in New York, NY.  Whenever I find it, I stock up.  At 60 calories per serving (enough for a sandwich), it’s a good buy.

Recently, I decided to take out my Ninja blender and try for some homemade vegan chick’n salad.  It’s a pretty straightforward effort, and I’m not sure why it took me so long to make my own, but here it goes.

My all around favorite Tofurky Slow Roasted Chick’n is perfect for this effort.  If you’ve read other posts of mine, you’ll see I’ve put these chunks in the blender before.  This time around, I kept the blender time short, and pulsed until the chunks were consistent with store bought, cruelty included chicken salad.  20170409_170042

I wanted to make enough for a week, so I chopped up two full boxes of the Tofurky.   To make the salad, I started with two large stalks of celery, chopped.  About half a small
onion, diced, made the cut as well.  Since I often put pickles in my sandwiches, I decided I’d just mix a couple of dill spears right into the mix.

20170409_171220For the dressing, I went with a couple of dollops of Follow Your Heart’s reduced fat vegenaise.  It’s half the fat per serving as most other vegan mayos, including Follow Your Heart’s other offerings.  I think the taste is the same, so why not save 5g of fat.

I added some Dijon mustard for good measure.  Maybe about 2 tablespoons.  I seasoned the mix with some Italian seasoning (oregano and the like), a bit of onion, and garlic powders, and some turmeric.  Hawaiian black salt, and pepper to taste, and it’s time to stuff a pita.

On a Healthier Baked Penne

When I was in my twenties, and could pretty much eat anything I wanted to.  So I often turned to pasta for dinner.  In my this carbohydrated rotation was baked ziti, plated with lots of ricotta, and topped with mozzarella.

20170402_193452Over the years, I’ve discovered many great recipes for tofu ricotta, which I’ve used to make stuffed shells, and other traditionally cheese-stuffed Italian meals.  While generally pretty easy to make, tofu ricotta still does require getting a blender out.  And that’s just too much work for a batch of lazy man’s lasagna.

Baked pasta dishes are usually a caloric nightmare.  Cheese stuffed meals, filled with unhealthy saturated fat, and loaded with calories.  Fortunately, there’s a vegan option that’s healthier, cruelty free, and delicious.

My local Whole Foods didn’t have whole wheat ziti in stock, so I opted instead for penne. I personally prefer the excellent biodynamic, whole wheat variety offered by DeLallo.  At 6g fiber, and 6g protein per serving, it beats your standard semolina varietal.

For the pasta, I prefer to cook it a little more al dente than usual.  It’s going to bake, so I20170402_193552 don’t want to overcook it before it goes in the oven.  Of course, that’s my preference.  I usually prefer my pasta a little less al dente to begin with.

I start by lining a baking pan with some pasta sauce.  I tend to treat pasta sauce like wine.  It’s worth splurging once in a while to get something special.  Living not too far from Providence, RI, USA, I have access to Federal Hill Foods’ marinara sauce.

If you don’t know Federal Hill, it’s an old-time Italian neighborhood in Providence.  This Little Italy is – in my opinion – the best I’ve been to in the States, and I’ve been to quite a few.  The Federal Hill Foods sauce is exceptional.

Rather than draining the pasta, I use a slotted spoon to scoop out the penne and add it to the pan.  My theory (and it’s just a theory) is that leaving a little moisturizer on the pasta would help prevent over-drying.  I haven’t thought that through too carefully, so prep your pasta your way.

Next, I a20170402_195246dd a layer of ricotta by way of Kite Hill’s almond milk artisan blend.  The almond flavor does ring through in this cheese, but it’s subtle.  Tofu-based ricottas is more bland (though still great) than Kite Hill’s soy free alternative.  At $7 a pop though, you’ll get more for your money going the tofu route.
Another layer of penne tops the ricotta, and some more sauce to cover the layers.  The final touch is to spread Daiya’s mozzarella shreds atop the pan.  No one does mozz better than Daiya.  It’s a hard cheese to get right.  I’m still searching for the perfect soft mozz for a caprese salad (I have a simple tofu based alternative that works well).

Finally, it’s time to bake the dish.  The pasta is already cooked, so heating the sauce, and ricotta is the next task.  Heating at 400 for about 20 minutes should give you a good even temperature.  Switching on the broiler for about 5-10 minutes gives the Daiya a chance to melt like dairy-based baked pasta dishes.  20170402_195344

This dish sticks together like lasagna, so you can dish out a cake-like serving.  Top with some more sauce – made bolognese with some Tofurky chorizo.  Serve with a Field Roast Italian sausage, and top with Follow Your Heat Parmesan.

On a Hearty One Bean Chili

Vegan chili.  It doesn’t have to be the same old three-bean variety that often fills the pots and bowls of restaurants and homes.  Not that there’s anything wrong with tres frijoles, it’s just that chili can be heartier than that, and still be plant based.

wp-1490665594026.jpgFor me, I usually start my chili with one of the many delicious chorizo substitutes from the likes of Tofurky, Lightlight, or Beyond Meat.  Though most recently, I decided I’d try something a little less faux.

Upton’s Naturals makes some of the healthiest, and tastiest flavored seitan around.  With less salt, and fewer calories than its TVP-based counterparts, Upton’s Chorizo Seitan is a great choice for a bolognese, or a good hearty vegan chili.

Your choice of bean or beans will of course vary, but for my taste, nothing goes better in chili than red kidney beans.  These unfortunately named beans have a soft, full texture that provides the perfect wp-1490665617434.jpgmouthfeel when combined with a meaty food such as seitan.  Whole Foods sells boxed kidney beans with no salt added.  Rinse, drain, and add to the pot.

Next comes the tomatoes.  Again, Whole Foods has an option.  Canned, diced, and no salt added keep the sodium in check.  I don’t drain the 14 oz can.  The juices are an important part of the mixture, keeping the overall chili moist.  While still juiced from the tomatoes, I add some chili powder, cumin, and a touch of tumeric.  I eyeball the spices, with a roughly two to one ratio of
chili powder to cumin.

Nothing compliments a good chili like an earthy mushroom.  Shitakes fill this role well.  I find the stems to be a particularly good match for chili, given the chewy texture, and that of-the-earth flavor.

wp-1490665634888.jpgOf course it just wouldn’t be chili without chili peppers.  So be sure to add some of those with your chosen heat.  Add some habenero sauce to taste.  I like my chili spicy.  I also find slightly cooked onions, and freshly chopped tomato to compliment the cooked flavors of a vegan chili quite well.  Though I add the onions and tomato to the cooked mix, I don’t let it stay in there long.  I want the onions to be mostly raw.

Finally, serve and top with some Daiya cheddar shreds, or your preferred shreds.  If you happen to have an avocado handy, the cool flavor from the fruit will play very nicely with the spicy, peppery flavors from the rest of the mix.

 

 

On Unboxing the Beyond Burger Part 2

My first time enjoying the Beyond Burger, I didn’t want to stack the space between the bun with much more than a slice of vegan cheese, and some ketchup.  I wanted to experience twp-1490450038199.jpghe taste as close to out of the box as I could.  With some rolls still in my fridge, I decided that I’d give the burgers another try with some more toppings.

My standard veggie burger setup usually involves at minimum, mushrooms, and vegan cheese.  For a fuller experience, I like to add pickles, onions, and some faux bacon.  For this meal, I decided to stack these burgers high.

There are a lot of options for the faux bacon out there.   Tempeh based options from Tofurky and Lightlife are quite good for mock BLTs, or even breakfast sides.  But for a burger, the thickness, and texture of tempeh just isn’t right.

That leaves two different options – Sweet Earth’s incredible Benevolant Bacon, or wp-1490450002569.jpgUpton’s Naturals seitan bacon.  Upton’s tends to be my preferred option for a good faux BLT.  Their smaller, lower calorie strips give you a little more flavor by offering more surface area for the same caloric footprint.

For burgers, I prefer the full taste of Sweet Earth’s benevolent bacon.  Couple that with some shitake mushrooms, and some onions, and success.  Second impressions live up to the first.

Throw in some pickles, onions, and ketchup, and near perfection.

 

On Not Quite the Whole Enchilada

Italian, and Mexican foods were a staple of my vegetarian diet.  I didn’t give much thought to the fact that most meals were delivery systems for dairy.  From cannoli to manicotti, and burritos to enchiladas, cheese in a blanket slept on my plate for many years.

Going vegan changes the equation a bit.  Off the menu Mexican options are obviously fewer thwp-1489240548407.jpgan they were as a vegetarian.  Unlike my former favorite tubular Italian favorites, Mexican tubes are easy to fill with beans, and veggies.

Still, there’s something quite flavorful I remember about cheese enchiladas.  In particular I have to admit to some seriously fond memories of the enchilada plate at Baja’s in Orange, CT, USA.  I don’t know how they did it, but that dish was perfection (save for the whole dairy part).

So I set out to recreate that flavor.  I missed the mark admittedly, but I did comwp-1489240486109.jpge up with something I enjoyed pretty thoroughly.  Though it might be more of a hybrid between a bean burrito, and a cheese enchilada.

I started out with a simple whole wheat tortilla.  I like the Whole Foods organic brand, but
of course any will do.  On top of that, I added some baked beans.  I prefer pinto beans, because I think they offer a sweeter flavor.  Of course, black beans are just as viable an option.

Some onion, a bit of Tofurky Chorizo, jalepenos, and red enchilada sauce fill out the mixture.  It’s the choice of vegan cheese that I think I got wrong.  Normally, Follow Your Heart is exceptional across the board.  Their blocks of cheese are good, but they aren’t quite as versatile as their other products.

In this case, I wenwp-1489240536818.jpgt with the Vegan Gourmet Cheddar.  While I’ve used this cheddar to make a decadent green bean casserole type of dish, it just was a little to processed a flavor for my enchilada.

After folding the wrap, I topped it with red enchilada sauce, and some Daiya cheddar shreds.  I then threw it in the oven on 350 for about 15-20 minutes.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t long enough to melt the cheese inside, which made it that much more of a mismatch for the recipe.

Next time around, I’ll likely try Daiya shreds inside the wrap.  Even if they don’t melt, those shreds are more consistent with their flavor.  Regardless of the cheese misstep, I will say that I did enjoy this experiment quite a bit.