Thursday, June 30, 2011

Trader Joe's Meal #2: Italian Wedding Soup

As much as I love soups, and as delicious as this soup was, I think it's officially non-soup season.  It's been so chilly and "June Gloomy" here, I've just kept right on souping it up.  The other night, it was finally hot and felt like summer.  However, I had already been intent on making this soup, so I went for it.

It was really good!  I had always wanted to try Italian Wedding Soup, but since it's full of meatballs, I could never eat it!  I found a healthy-looking recipe and veganized by using the Meatless Meat balls from Trader Joes.  I modified the rest of the recipe too, so I'll just go ahead and tell you how I did it!  And remember, this is a mostly Trader Joe's recipe.  Just saying. 

8 frozen Meatless Meatballs from Trader Joe's
4 cups vegan chicken broth
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/8 cup chopped red onion
1 cup fresh spinach
salt, pepper, and lemon pepper to taste

7 oz acine de pepe, or tiny pasta

Combine all the ingredients except the pasta and let it simmer over medium heat for at least one hour.

Around the one hour time mark, start the pasta in a separate pot.  When the pasta is al dente, drain it and keep it in the separate pot.

To serve, ladle the soup into a deep bowl, and add a serving of pasta on top of the soup.  It will settle quickly and mix with the rest of the soup, which is the desired reaction.

W was the one to comment on it being past soup season, and I had to agree.  I was sweating while eating this hot soup!  However, this fact did not stop us from eating the entire pot of soup, so it must have been good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trader Joe's Meal #1: Pasta and Salad

No fancy recipe here... This is just a great, easy meal to put together.  It's one of our favorites, and most of the ingredients are from Trader Joe's!  I've always loved Trader Joe's, but haven't been going there much lately.  This week, I decided to do all my grocery shopping and TJ's and so this is Trader Joe's week.

The first meal W made for me when we first started dating was a version of this; pasta from Trader Joe's.  We had gone to the store together and picked out all the items.  He then prepared it all for me at his home.  However, at that time it was not vegan.  Now, I've replaced those non-vegan items and used artichokes instead!  It is just as tasty and good for you too!

This is what you need:  some Brown Rice pasta, the Traditional Marinara Sauce, frozen artichokes, and one garlic clove (not pictured here).   

First, I start making the sauce by sauteeing the crushed garlic in about 1 teaspoon of olive oil.  If you want, you can add some chopped onions.  This time I used red onions.  Very tasty.  Only sautee for about a minute, making sure not to burn the garlic.  Next, pour the jar of sauce into the same pot as the garlic and onions.  Stir in 3/4 cup of the frozen artichokes.  Let it simmer over low heat until the rest of the meal is ready!

Once the sauce is simmering, I start the pasta and salad, and side dish of sauteed chard.  Pretty straight forward there.  However, the exciting news in this case is that half of the salad and all of the Swiss chard came right out of our little patio garden!

I just went outside and snip-snipped my dinner!  Well, part of it at least.  The rest of the salad was composed of veggies from Trader Joes, including beets, which I know might sound odd, but it is really good!  Look at all this veggie-goodness:  romaine lettuce, garden lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, red peppers, baby spinach, artichoke hearts and beets!

Finally, I sauteed the Swiss chard until it was dark green and slightly soft in 1 tablespoon of oil, 2 tablespoons of water, garlic, and red onions.  Mmmm, it was so yummy...

At last it is time to eat this delicious feast:  Rice pasta! Artichoke marinara sauce! Fresh salad from the garden!  Swiss chard from the garden!  Everything just went together so well, and it was so healthy and refreshing.  It's finally warm enough in the evenings to eat on our patio, so to make the dinner even better that's what we did!  We enjoyed it all outside, with a nice view of the San Elijo Hills, and of course our garden.

Sojouner Cafe in Santa Barbara

Last Friday, I was happy to find a very vegan-friendly restaurant in Santa Barbara.  The friends I was with were very obliging in accommodating my eating preferences, and they even found this place for me!  Thanks S!

Ever since I had tempeh stir-fry at Stone awhile back, I have been craving it again.  In case you're wondering what tempeh is, I always tell people it's "very grainy and nutty, but very good and spicey!"  Sojourner Cafe had tempeh tacos, which I spotted on the menu right away and was pretty much convinced that's what I was going to get.  However, as with all vegetarian/vegan restaurants, I want to try everything!  I wavered between those tacos and the Mediterranean Torta ("a tower of eggplant, hummus, pesto, balsamic-marinated onion, roasted bell pepper, tabbouleh and sprouts, served with pita points and tahini dressing"), but finally stuck with my first instinct and went with the Tempeh Tacos.  This is how the menu describe them:

CHILI TEMPEH TACOS one taco   8 | two tacos  11
Our spicy tempeh blend in warm corn tortillas, with rice, black beans and guacamole and veggies, with a side of horseradish sour cream.

I asked if it was vegan without the sour cream, and yes it was, so I ordered it up asap. 

It was amazing and delicious.  I'm so glad I went with my first choice.  I really have to start using this tempeh stuff at home!  It has a more hearty texture and taste than soy or tofu products, and it's naturally spicy, so it was great in these tacos.  Everything was very fresh and light, and I felt perfectly satisfied after the meal -- not stuffed and overfed like you feel sometimes after eating Mexican food. 

For dessert I ordered a vegan carob-mint cookie.  I was expecting it to taste a lot more like carob, but was disappointed with the overwhelming mint flavor instead.  However, a cookie is a cookie, and it was still delicious.

I definitely recommend Sojourner Cafe to anyone looking for a light, healthy meal.  You will not be disappointed.  There is something for everyone here, and I wish I lived closer to Santa Barbara so I could go back and try all the other vegan dishes!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Amazing Food Cooked by G

I'm visiting my close friend of almost fifteen years this weekend and she has made the most amazing vegan food for me! G is the one that introduced me to Korean food way back when we were roommates in boarding school even before college!  In our tiny little dorm room, we had a rice cooker and hot pot so we could make raman and rice and eat it all with seaweed.  Mmm, seaweed...  We roomed together again in college and continued our tradition of rice, ramen and seaweed in the dorm.  It was a nice break from cafeteria food, and a fun thing to do together when we were in desperate need of a study break.

Many years later, we are still cooking food together, but this time in her and her husband's new home!  Actually, it was more like G cooking food, while I just followed instructions as her sous chef.

She made fried tofu with Thai basil, Korean vegetarian meat, peppers, and snow peas all sauteed in a mushroom sauce with garlic and basil.
G's amazing stir-fry

Korean Vegemeat

For the side dishes, G served steamed yellow string beans and Chinese broccoli; along with vegetable dumplings. 

Of course there was rice and seaweed as well.

It was all so good, I literally could not stop eating!  I felt myself getting very full, but I wanted to eat more and more!  I practically demolished the entire tofu/vegetable stir-fry dish it was so amazing and delicious.

Thank you G for the wonderful dinner!

Make-Your-Own-Burrito Night

This is how we make our own burritos in our house:

1. Make a pot of beans.
Depending on how far ahead I've planned this meal depends on whether or not I use dry beans or canned beans. This time, I thought of it only on my way home from work, so canned beans it was. I added some soy-beef-bits, onion, chili powder and cayenne to spice it all up a little bit.

2. Chop of a bunch of burrito-worthy veggies.
Here, you see I have provided lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapenos, and onions. Oh, and some green olives still in the jar. Some people in our house like to make two burritos at a time (it's not me) so they mix and match from all the toppings to make two uniquely different "little burros." (They also like to make the burritos "wet" style and smother them with salsa and Daiya cheese, but that's another story.)

3. Pile everything -- bean, veggies, salsa, Daiya cheese, etc. -- onto a flour tortilla. Try to roll tortilla into a burrito.

I tend to get excited with the filling, which makes actually rolling it into a burrito a little difficult. The fun part is just digging in and eating it as fast as possible before it unrolls and drips out the bottom of the burrito!

Mm, Mm, Good!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A New Recipe for Vegan Stuffed Shells

Back in January, I wrote about my own vegan stuffed shells that I've been making since college. That recipe has been pretty fail-proof and seems to get better every time I make it.

Well, I decided to switch things up a bit and actually follow someone else's recipe for vegan stuffed shells (gasp!) I saw that the recipe in Skinny B called for tofu ricotta (for which they also include a recipe) and this intrigued me. I love their tofu feta, and tofu egg salad recipes, so why not try this?

Their stuffed shells recipe, including the tofu ricotta, was very similar to my own, but I wanted to see how different it would actually taste. For instance, the Skinny B recipe doesn't call for vegan cheese shreds like I use, but only the tofu ricotta and a couple tablespoons of vegan parmesan. (See recipe below.) I didn't follow it exactly because I didn't have vegan parmesan, but this is what I did:

Tofu Ricotta


* 14 ounce extra firm tofu, crumbled
* 3 clove garlic, minced
* 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano

I added some fresh basil from my garden because it's extremely abundant right now and I need to use it!

1. To crumble the tofu: cut the tofu into squares and press each square between your hands over a sink to drain excess liquid. Then, crumble it into a large bowl.
2. Add the garlic, olive oil, oregano, and salt. Puree in a food processor or mix until nearly smooth with a fork.

Stuffed Shells

* 2 teaspoons sea salt
* 8 ounce jumbo pasta shells (22 to 24 shells)
* 1 tablespoon refined coconut oil or other cooking oil
* 1/2 whole onion, finely diced
* 1 package frozen chopped spinach (10 oz), thawed & drained
* 2 tablespoons grated vegan parmesan cheese
* 2 tablespoons whole wheat bread crumbs
* 1/4 teaspoon pepper
* 2 clove garlic, minced
* 2 cups of your favorite pasta sauce

I just used two tablespoons of Daiya mozzarella shreds instead of the vegan parmesan, and I left out the bread crumbs.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a 4-6 quart pot, bring 3 quarts of water and 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt to a boil.
3. Add the shells and cook according to the package instructions (about 12 minutes).
4. While the shells are cooking, heat the coconut oil in an 8-10 inch skillet over medium heat.
5. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender (4-6 minutes).
6. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute.
7. Remove from heat. Add this mixture to the tofu ricotta mixture.
8. To the tofu ricotta, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, spinach, vegan cheese, bread crumbs, and pepper.
9. Coat the bottom of a 13×19″ pan with pasta sauce.
10. Drain the cooked pasta shells and rinse until the shells are cool enough to handle.
11. Stuff each shell with about 2 tablespoons of the tofu ricotta mixture.
12. Place each shell seam side down into the pan.
13. Cover the shells with the remaining sauce.
14. Cover the pan with foil and bake 30 minutes at 350F.

Okay, so they looked exactly the same as the ones I make, but there was a subtle difference in the taste. Not necessarily bad, but different. I actually loved them, but W said he likes my recipe better, and to never change it (ahhhhhhh!!) However, that didn't stop him from scarfing down an entire row of shells, going back for seconds, and claiming that I'd better get some while they last because he's going to eat them for lunch tomorrow too.

I give the Skinny B recipe an A, but as my husband requested, I will go back to my own cherished recipe from now on.

Totally Vegan Quesadillas

The other night, I felt too lazy to put together the type of grand feast I usually do, so I assessed what was in the fridge.

"We're having quesadillas for dinner!" I announced to W, who was also rummaging around the pantry for ideas. I had spotted a half-full bag of Daiya cheddar shreds and a brand new package of tortillas. W found a can of vegetarian refried beans from Trader Joes and with some homemade salsa, we could have a pretty decent last-minute meal on our hands!

While W sauteed some onions and peppers, I buttered the tortillas, one at a time, with Earth Balance and put them on the skillet at medium-high heat. While the tortilla warmed up, I quickly layered it with the Daiya cheese and some salsa. Folded one side of the tortilla on top of the other and let it sizzle. Flipped it a couple times to get both sides brown and to make sure the cheese melted.

Is your mouth watering yet, because by this point in the process mine was!

To go with these melty, cheesey quesadillas, we made a little bean dip and added the sauteed veggies on the side. Total preparation time? 20 minutes max.

From idea conception to first drool-worthy bite. Just when you think there's nothing to eat, a little teamwork and cooperative brainstorming can result in a simple but wonderful mealtime experience! Every once in awhile it's just plain necessary to have some comfort food with your loved one a cozy Friday night anyway.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A lot of people have been asking me what Daiya is, or what I use as my cheese substitute. I know I make a lot of recipes that might look like they're full of cheese, but of course they're not! (This is a totally vegan blog after all.) There is this amazing new product out there called Daiya, and it is truly wonderful! Even before I was vegan, I have always been lactose intolerant. Therefore, my dairy intake was already very minimal.

Now, I have found Daiya, and it is the greatest thing since... well, since not being able to eat real cheese.

As their website says, "It shreds, melts, stretches, and tastes delicious." This is very true. I have been able to make any recipe with Daiya that calls for traditionally melty cheese. It actually melts and gets all nice and gooey, like how you want cheese to get on Pizza for instance.

And it's completely vegan!! Not to mention it's also soy-free and gluten-free for anyone who has those limitations as well. It comes in three flavors: cheddar, mozzarella and pepperjack; so you're pretty much covered in any kind of recipe that calls for cheese. My favorite is using it for pizza and macaroni and cheese. Click on the links below for my versions of the two:

Vegan Cheesy Pizza!

Vegan Mac and Cheese!

Even those are my favorite Daiya meals, I've also used it to make other amazingly delicious cheesey meals like:

jalapeno poppers,

stuffed shells,


AND burritos, and quesadillas!

It's a super healthy, vegan option if you still want something to be "cheesey."
Look! Here's the list of ingredients for the cheddar flavor:

Filtered water, tapioca and /or arrowroot flours, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and /or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, coconut oil, pea protein, salt, inactive yeast, vegan natural flavors, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, citric acid (for flavor), annatto, titanium dioxide (a naturally occurring mineral).

Not too scary right? I know it's a lot of ingredients, but they are mostly all natural ingredients, and in my opinion, I'd rather eat some tapioca powder and coconut oil than cultured cow enzymes. I'm just saying. And as with all processed food, moderation is the key! Obviously, you wouldn't eat the stuff for every single meal, but if you're jonesing for some cheesey pizza than by all means, get some Daiya and have some pizza!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Spaghetti with "Meat" Sauce

It was supposed to be spaghetti with meatballs, but after my meatless balls refused to stick together in the frying pan, it turned out to just be spaghetti with meat sauce. My loving husband assured me that even real meatballs are incredibly difficult to master (gee thanks), so why not just make it into a "meat" sauce? Way to salvage the situation!

This mid-production modification to our meal turned out to be actually be more amazing than I think meatballs would have been. The "meat" was dehydrated soy protein bits (beef flavor) from the health food store. This is what it looks like, and it is sold in bulk.

I covered 1 cup of the soy protein bits with boiling water and let it sit for 10 minutes.

To make the "meat" mixture, I added the following ingredients to the soy protein after it had absorbed all the water:

1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp Braggs liquid amino acids
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp flour.

Mix it all together.

Now, what I tried to do was make them into little balls and fry them on the electric skillet. This only somewhat worked. The outside of the balls got nice and crispy, while the inside remained mushy.

W came to the rescue with his meat sauce suggestion, so we just smashed the balls and fried up the whole mixture to make it all crispy. (We kept a couple of the balls for aesthetic purposes. Even though they were mushy on the inside, it's not like we were eating raw meat or anything! It's just soy, and it still tasted good!)

We then added the "meat" to the marinara sauce, and it was wonderful! I should have just thought of this in the first place!

Voila! Spaghetti and homemade vegan meat sauce!

Pig in a Blanket

I'm in the middle of reading a book that takes place in the 1960's. Apparently Pigs in a Blanket were trendy hors d'oeuvres for dinner parties or "Ladies League meetings" during that decade. I remember loving when my college cafeteria served a vegetarian version of the Pigs in a Blanket, and all of a sudden I had a craving for the biscuit-wrapped hot dog snack.

Mission: Pig in Blanket

I bought some good ole vegan Big Franks, by Worthington Foods...

...and made some vegan biscuit dough...


* 2 cups flour
* 1 tbsp baking powder
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 4 tbsp margarine
* 3/4 cup soy milk

...wrapped the dogs in the dough, baked for 18 minutes at 450, and there we had it -- 3rd grade lunch!(Since we didn't use cocktail weiners and stick the "pigs" on the end of toothpicks, it felt more like elementary school than a classy 1960's party.)

They were everything I imagined them to be: doughy and soy-proteiny goodness. We dipped them in ketchup and mustard and even ate some pickles, carrot and celery sticks to make the school lunch experience all the more authentic.

It wasn't a 60's party here; but a filling, delicious mid-week dinner will suffice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Artichokes for Dinner

The best, most simple dinner is artichokes. I picked up two gigantic chokes at Sprouts the other day, and there we go -- dinner!

Enough said.

A huge artichoke like this is very filling and delicious. I made a yummy, hollandaise-type sauce to dip my artichoke leaves in:

1 tbsp vegenaise
1 tsp spicy mustard
1 tsp lemon juice

Whisked it all together and happily dipped my leaves!

W made a garlic butter sauce for his, and we shared.

Artichokes are my favorite. I love them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Homemade Gnocchi and Basil Soup with Beans

I'm so excited! I just made my own gnocchi from scratch!

Gnocchi is one of my favorite Italian dishes, but I'm not always certain that it's vegan if I see it on a menu somewhere. Problem solved: make it myself! I saw this recipe for a soup that called for gnocchi, and I thought -- why not make my own? I had made gnocchi one time before and I remembered it was a sticky, gooey mess. This time I found a recipe for it on It was so easy to make! I didn't get a chance to take a picture because I was so eager to throw it in my soup and taste it!
Here's the recipe and pictures from vegan yum-yum's site, and that's pretty much how mine looked too! (I only made the gnocchi part of this recipe.)

As I just mentioned, I was planning to make a soup that called for gnocchi. The recipe is from the website of Post Punk Kitchen. (Recommended by fellow veggie-lover LMG.) Post Punk Kitchen calls it "Pesto Soup with Gnocchi, Greens and Beans." I followed the recipe exactly, with of course my homemade gnocchi, and it was so delicious. Nothing is better than soup and pasta made from scratch, you know what I mean? I think The Husband heartily agrees. He said it was the perfect flavor and would make a great winter stew. Ironically enough, even though it's June, it feels a little bit like winter here in So-Cal. (Which means it's cloudy, misty, and 60's.) Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the recipe calls for fresh basil and Swiss chard, which I was pleased to be able to simply snip from my little patio garden! Homemade AND home-grown! Seriously, this is an exciting day.

Click here for the recipe from Post Punk Kitchen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Southwestern Breakfast Hash

The birds woke me up at a very inappropriate hour for a Sunday this morning, so what was I supposed to do? Catch up on my magazines of course! In the April issue of Whole Living I found this amazing recipe for breakfast and couldn't wait for it to be breakfast time so I could make it for us. (That's how early I was up -- way too early.)

As soon as I heard W rustling around and getting into the shower I headed to the kitchen. By the time he came out, I was up to my elbows in breakfast preparations.

"What are you making me!?" He asked just as excitedly as I was making it. Then he saw the magazine on the counter and said in even more amazement, "You're following a recipe?" Recipes for breakfast are a big deal around here, since we usually toast a bagel and put some tomatoes and avocado on it or just eat a bowl of Multigrain O's from Trader Joes.

Surely, I was following this recipe from Whole Living Magazine and it turned out to be delicious and everything we were expecting it to be. I also added my own version of scrambled tofu so it was more like a scramble-hash or something. I made a few modifications so I'll just write how I made it. Here you go:

Southwestern Breakfast Hash

2 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 Tbsp safflower oil
1/2 tsp ground tumeric
2 jalapenos, finely chopped
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved and quartered
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp nutritional yeast seasoning
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Bring potatoes to a boil in a pot of salted water. Cook about 6 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil in a skillet (I used an electric) over medium heat. Add tumeric and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally about 5-7 minutes. Transfer to bowl; set aside.
3. Heat remaining oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add jalapeno, onions, tomatoes, beans, and yeast, stirring until tomatoes begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes and cook until everything is nice and mixed together and heated through.

We put the potatoes and tofu scramble side-by-side on our plates, but ended up just mixing it all together to create our scramble-hash and it was delicious.

While I was making the hash, W made fresh juice from a grapefruit, mango, apple and kiwi. We enjoyed it with our healthy, vegan recipe-breakfast, and life is good.

A Mediterranean Feast!

(Isreali Cous Cous with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, roasted yellow peppers, capers, and tofu feta)

Last night Grandma K, Aunt D and Uncle P, and Cousin B came over for a visit and dinner. Grandma had offered to make gluten-free, vegan falafels, so I put together the rest of the Mediterranean-themed meal, and Aunt D provided a smorgasbord of fruit for dessert. It all was so amazing and delicious!

For the falafels, I had two different kinds of hummus and a tahini sauce from Trader Joes. I chopped up some tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers for filling; and we piled it all on to whole-wheat flat breads.

It was seriously the best falafel sandwich I had ever had. B said they were better than the Pita Pit in his college town and went back for a second one. (The last of the flat bread, by the way. Oops, should have bought two packs of those. The rest of us just made falafel salads on top of pita chips.) The falafel balls were definitely the best part -- thanks to Grandma. She gave me the recipe so I can make them again, which I will for sure be doing in the near future.

Grandma's Falafel Nuggets

2 Cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 egg replacer
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup minced onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 400. Coat baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine chickpeas, rice flour, parsley, egg replacer, lemon juice, minced onion, garlic, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt and red pepper in food processor or blender; process until well blended. Shape mixture into 1-inch balls.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Fry falafel in batches until browned. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheets; bake 8 to 10 minutes.

Thanks Grandma! I can't wait to try these again!