Vegetarian Passover (part 1)

It’s been quite a spring, and between being wildly over scheduled (my fault) and having log-in issues to WordPress (I’ll blame someone else for that) my blogging took a Spring Break. That’s not to say we haven’t been eating some fabulous and ethically-friendly meals (my lentil ‘meatballs’ served double duty when we broke them up into marina sauce and had ‘meat sauce’ over pasta) but it was admittedly nice to take a breather from writing for a few weeks.

But we’re back now and with a topic so big it could fill 8 posts! Passover is the 8 day Jewish spring festival that commemorates the Jewish people’s escape from slavery in Egypt. If you’ve seen Prince of Egypt, you get the gist.

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What that means for us is 8 days without leavened items…although in 2014 quite a few steps have been taken through chemicals, food engineering, and creativity to allow for recipes that attempt to satisfy Jewish American’s standards while adhering to the religious rules and restrictions of the holiday. You can now find Kosher for Passover brownie mixes, cake mix, boxes of cereal, and pretty much anything you’d want to ‘survive’ the 8 days. While that’s all well and good for those who wish to spend hundreds on a week’s worth of groceries, have food labels with a font impossibly small to accommodate all of the unusual ingredients, and pump their bodies with unnecessary chemicals, we use this as a week to eat cleanly and kick start our bodies for the warmer months.

We first decided to become vegetarian during Passover 3 years ago. As such, this is only our 2nd year being vegetarian during Passover, and we love the challenge. The sum of it is that as an Ashkenazic Jew, you’re not able to eat any wheat, barley, corn, rice, beans, soy, or any products derived from those products. For a CliffNotes version, check out this BuzzFeed article for everything that’s prohibited and most typically craved! In recent years quinoa has been approved by even the most strict of rabbis, so quinoa and eggs are our primary source of protein for the week with potatoes fulfilling my starch cravings! In the coming days I’ll go into more depth about what we eat, including snacks and dessert (yes, you CAN eat dessert on Passover and it doesn’t have to taste like sawdust!)

The seder is the traditional festival meal that occurs on the first 2 nights of the holiday. It involves the telling of the story of the Exodus, the eating of certain foods that are reflective of our history (parsley dipped in salt water to remind us of the tears of slavery, haroset (a mixture of chopped apples and nuts) to remind us of the mortar used to build pyramids, and horseradish indicative of the way the Israelites’ lives were embittered by the Egyptians, to name a few), and a festive meal celebrated between family and friends. While we couldn’t take pictures due to the religious nature of the meal, here’s what we had on our table:

  • Thai Butternut Squash soup (we increased the amount of curry paste just a bit to give it more of a kick!)
  • Matzo Balls (S’s mom was nice enough to keep a few separate from the chicken soup so we could have them!)
  • Sweet Potato Casserole
    Combine 5 cooked sweet potatoes with 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 3 TBSP orange juice. Put in a baking dish and top with whole pecans, then place a few thin butter pats on top and lightly sprinkle with brown sugar. Cook until warmed throughout and browned on top-the butter should be melted.
  • Kale and Quinoa Salad
    Mix the juice of 1 orange with 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle in approximately 1/4 cup of olive oil and either whisk to combine or shake in a tight-fitting lidded container until emulsified. In a large bowl, combine kale (destemmed, washed, and cut into small pieces) with 1 cup of cooked quinoa. Add in a handful of dried blueberries and a handful of pine nuts. Top with vinaigrette and toss to coat– let sit for at least 30 minutes to absorb all flavors.
  • Criss Cross Potatoes
    Cut baking potatoes in half lengthwise so that you have two shallow ‘boat’ shaped pieces per potato. Slice 1/4 inch deep into the flesh of the potato making 4-5 parallel slits going in the same direction, then make 4-5 more slits in the opposite direction so that you create a diamond pattern. In a small bowl, mix garlic powder and paprika into melted margarine/butter–amounts will vary depending on how many potatoes you’re making. Brush or spoon butter mixture onto cross-hatched potatoes and bake cut-side DOWN at 350 degrees until potatoes are cooked throughout.
  • Green Beans Almondine
    Saute slivered almonds in margarine (or butter, if you’re not keeping kosher) until toasted and set aside in a serving bowl. Steam green beans (preferably haricot verte) until tender but still crisp, then add to same serving bowl as almonds. Toss to coat and serve
  • Zippy Zucchini (we used the recipe from this page)
  • Mushroom Farfalle Kugel (made by a family friend, recipe unknown but DELICIOUS!)

There was chicken soup, turkey, brisket, and fish as well (for those who haven’t gone completely veggie yet), but otherwise the entire meal was vegetarian/vegan and everyone was full and happy. Dessert will come in another post (you won’t want to miss that!) but even before we moved on to sweets, the consensus around the table was one of extreme satisfaction. The best way to truly experience Passover is to enjoy what you’re eating and putting in your body- not feel like you’re suffering though the holiday. Once our people were slaves, but now we are free and most importantly, have the freedom of choice regarding our diets.

Chag Sameach and Shavua Tov!

Note: Due to our geographical limitations and personal religious/dietary priorities, we keep strictly Kosher for Passover in terms of the ingredients we eat and cook with. We do not require a Kosher for Passover hecsure on each product during Passover, only require that the ingredients themselves are kosher to eat during Passover. We did have seder at S’s mom’s house, and she keeps completely Kosher, so for the purposes of these recipes everything was pareve.

Lentil ‘Meatballs’ and Molten Salted Caramel Chocolate Cakes

It only took 50+ days, but I achieved part of my new years resolution—the bulk of a meal made completely by following a new recipe! It started with an absolutely tempting dessert recipe that I stowed away for our first Valentines Day as a married couple. I was excited to surprise D, who may love salted caramel more than me, and stocked up on the ingredients subtly. And like the best laid plans, life got in the way and I got hit with the flu just before February 14th.

We decided to postpone V-Day until I was feeling better, which means this weekend was both Valentines Day and our 4-month wedding anniversary. Time has flown by, so I wanted to really take a night to celebrate us, celebrate the milestone of 1/3 of our newlywed year, and do something a little bit challenging to symbolize taking risks and growing together. What resulted was far better than I ever could have imagined.

We paired our 'meatballs' with a kale salad and garlic bread

We paired our ‘meatballs’ with a kale salad and garlic bread

Lentil ‘Meatballs’ with Homemade Marinara

Meatballs were never a huge appeal for me growing up–while they were always homemade, they just weren’t my favorite meal. Regardless, I have always loved Italian food, especially in the cooler months when comfort food is anything warm! Pasta has never been a big component in our diets, but I would honestly put D’s marinara on a flip flop, so these ‘meatballs’ seemed like a great way to satisfy all of our priorities while also trying something new. I am so proud to say that I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of substituting fresh basil for the parsley that the recipe called for. We didn’t make the pesto that the recipe called for, but I preferred these with marinara because the texture and color actually makes them seem like turkey/chicken meatballs, which traditionally would be served with a red sauce. They were fun to make- we actually smashed everything together with a potato masher instead of the food processor! 

We invited some friends over to dinner and I was honestly nervous. Our friend E is as rough-and-rugged as it gets. He lives in the woods, stocks his freezer with freshly killed venison, and is a true man’s man. His wife R was vegetarian in college, so we knew she would give us honest feedback about how well these compared to the real deal.

OH.MY.GOODNESS. The herbs and the ricotta keep these rich and flavorful, the lentils give them great texture, and there’s nothing better than knowing these are honestly healthy! I also like that they’re ‘clean’ eating, not a ton of processed soy, which often people associate as the only alternative to meat. Drenched in some amazing marinara, all 4 of us were completely satiated. I took the leftovers for lunch today and put them over quinoa– what a fantastic pairing. Try these on a sub with melted mozzarella, atop your favorite pasta, or toss with pesto for a different iteration. I can’t wait to make a double batch and freeze them to have as needed for weeknight dinners- they are very versatile and so delicious!

Absolutely decadent!

Absolutely decadent!

Molten Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel
The recipe that started it all…I love the meticulous nature of baking and knowing that as long as you follow steps A, B, and C that the end result will be what you expect. Life doesn’t always work out that way, nor do relationships, but you’ve got to take the risks to see if the end result is worthwhile.  While this recipe may be intimidating, just take it step by step and you’ll be fine. At the end, you’ll have an oozing chocolate and caramel reward. My only suggestion from the initial recipe is to add the caramel to the ramekins before you refrigerate them, because once the cake portion sets in the fridge, it’s hard to push the caramel into the cake and cover it back up with cake batter (you want it to be completely enclosed with the chocolate batter). We also made them in muffin tins because we didn’t plan well and the ramekins were in the dishwasher…so don’t make the same mistake we made. They were still amazing, but more difficult to get out of the pan due to the slight slope of the sides. No one seemed to mind the gooey mess that resulted because we were too busy licking our forks and trying to hold back from eating the leftover cakes.

If you’re too intimidated by the full recipe, here’s my suggestion for a way to adapt this to suit your level of comfort with baking. Make a double batch of the caramel and pour it atop your favorite brownie recipe (even if that’s a boxed mix!) Just bake the brownies completely and pour the caramel over while they’re still warm so that the chocolate and caramel get a chance to melt together a bit and cool together. This caramel is absolutely fantastic. It takes quite a while for the sugar to get to the golden level you need it to get to, but patience is a virtue and I promise you’ll find it worth the wait. The only downside of this recipe is now I’ve revealed my trump card and D expects salted caramel everything for every special occasion moving forward. We’ll see….

Sometimes taking a risk pays off. And this weekend, despite the delay in our special meal, every minute in the kitchen created one of the most amazing meals we’ve had in a while.

Finger Foods

As much as it may be frowned upon, I love snacking and finger foods. I enjoy the meticulous nature of arranging bite-sized pieces, but also putting together a big bowl of something I know people will come together around, sharing stories, experiences, and their love of  good food. And while most chefs broke out their favorite snacks for the SuperBowl, my sporting event of choice is the Olympics, particularly the winter Olympics. Something about the combination of speed, skill, and snow, plus national pride, makes me want to make something special to celebrate!

These very different recipes can bring together even the most diverse people over your amazing (meat-free) kitchen skills, but won’t also keep you in the kitchen all day. Make them for a crowd of friends or share with someone special on the couch – you’ll be a game day hero!

soft pretzels surrounding a pool of cheese- what could be better?

soft pretzels surrounding a pool of cheese- what could be better?

Soft Pretzels with homemade cheese sauce

-1.5 cups warm water
-1 TBSP sugar
-2 tsp salt
-1 package dry yeast
-4.5 cups all purpose flour
-2 oz unsalted butter, melted
-vegetable oil or oil spray
-10 cups water
-2/3 cups baking soda
-1 large egg yolk, beaten together with 1 TBSP water
-2 TBSP large-grain salt, such as Kosher salt or sea salt (not table salt)

Set oven to warm setting, or if not available, the lowest possible temperature setting. Combine water, sugar, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and sprinkle yeast on top. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes until the mixture foams and starts to smell ‘yeasty’. Turn mixer on and slowly add flour and butter, mixing on low until the dough is combined. Increase speed to medium then mix 4-5 minutes until dough forms a ball and pulls away from the bowl.

Transfer dough to a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the warm oven and let it sit for 50 minutes–it should double or triple in size. While the dough is rising, heat 10 cups of water and the baking soda in a large stock pot until boiling. Remove dough from oven and increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.

Pull off a piece of dough about half the size of an adult fist and roll into a long snake. With the dough horizontally in front of you, pull the ends away from you, making a U-shape. Bring the ends back down to the bottom of the U, crossing them into an X to make a pretzel shape. Continue to make pretzels until the water is boiling rapidly, or make all at once and turn on the water to boil once you get to the end of the pretzel forming.

Drop the pretzels into the boiling water one at a time for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, gently remove them from the water (a slotted spoon or spider work well) and put them on a cooling rack to drain. You should have enough time to roll and form each pretzel while the prior one is cooking. When all of the pretzels are formed and boiled, set them on a greased cookie sheet (allow some space in between each, but they won’t rise much) and brush with the egg yolk mixture, sprinkling with salt. Bake for 12-14 minutes until the pretzels develop a crust.

Cheese Sauce
-2 TBSP butter
-2 TBSP flour
-1/2 cup milk (we used Almond Milk, which works just as well as dairy milk)
-1 cup of cheese, preferably mostly cheddar (we added some Gruyere in too)
-pinch of cayenne
-1 tsp of dried mustard

Make a roux by melting the butter on medium-low heat in a small pot and whisking in the flour, allowing to brown slightly (this will get rid of the raw flour taste).  Add in the milk, whisking to combine with the roux– the milk creates the volume of the sauce, so feel free to adjust depending on how much sauce you want. Add the cayenne and mustard, stirring to incorporate in. Slowly add in the cheese in about 3-4 installments, incorporating it fully into the warmed milk before adding in the next bit of cheese.

These are better than any soft pretzel I’ve ever gotten in a bar or arena and since you know exactly what goes into them, I promise they’ll even be better! They’re a fun, interactive project to do as a date or with friends but also easy enough to do alone. No one will miss the buffalo wings, chicken fingers, or ribs when these are on the table, and they freeze well so you can break them out anytime you’re in need of a snack. If there’s any cheese left (it’s SOOOOOO good) store it in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or so. We use leftover cheese on nachos, with black beans, and anywhere else you’d otherwise buy one of those pre-made cheese dips in a jar.

tangy, sweet, and creamy-- the best combination for a healthy finger food

tangy, sweet, and creamy– the best combination for a healthy finger food

Marinated Mushrooms with Herbed Goat Cheese
-6 to 10 baby portobello mushrooms per person, cleaned and de-stemmed
-balsalmic vinegar
-Worchestershire sauce
-minced garlic
-2 oz goat cheese per person
-zest of 1 lemon
-minced parsley
-slices of your favorite baguette

Mix together a 50:50 ratio of balsalmic vinegar and Worchestershire sauce, then add in minced garlic and salt/pepper to taste. Pour over the mushrooms and marinate for at least 30-40 minutes, tossing periodically. Meanwhile, mix together the goat cheese with lemon zest and parsley and set aside-season with salt and pepper if desired.

When the mushrooms are soft and are easily punctured with a fork, remove from the oven and let cool. Serve with crustini and goat cheese– either spread the cheese on the bread and top with mushrooms and the residual sauce, or pipe goat cheese into the center of the mushrooms and sop up the leftover sauce with the bread. Either way, it’s a fun activity that’ll have you eating with your fingers, enjoying a great meal, and thinking of mushrooms in a whole new way.

Whoever said finger food has to be greasy, fried, and messy clearly hasn’t eaten in our house! Whether it’s a quiet dinner for two mid-week or a night with friends to watch your favorite Olympic event, these snacks are sure to please and will have you out of the kitchen before the food is gone!

Bacon-less Brunch

One of the most frequent exclamations we hear in the South about being vegetarian is “oh, I could NEVER give up bacon!” or “don’t you miss bacon?”  While there is a tendency to add bacon to just about….everything…in southern cuisine, I think we’ve figured out enough techniques to get the same smoky, meaty, and complex flavors that most dishes with ham or bacon contain– without the meat. But how do you replace bacon, the actual ‘entree’, without turning to over-processed soy products?

You don’t! Who says brunch has to contain meat in any form?  Since many of our friends work in education, we did a fun Monday morning brunch this week to celebrate winter break, bringing together good friends, good food, and plenty of holiday-inspired drinks! We made a brunch so filling, so varied, and full of so many flavors that no one missed the meat!

Baked Oatmeal Casserole
Blueberries and banana come together with a touch of honey and cinnamon to make a delicious and EASY oatmeal! No stirring, no mess- just pure goodness that’s healthy but also sweet enough to satisfy the taste buds of your biggest sweet tooth!

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Whole Wheat Waffles and Mini Quiches

This is my absolute favorite waffle recipe- with coconut oil, whole wheat flour, and a touch of honey, they’re healthy but don’t taste like ‘health food’. You could easily add wheat germ or flax seed to the batter for some additional health benefits, but I like them the way they are- and no one even knows they are whole wheat! The quiches we made with onions, baby portobellos and broccoli, which we roasted then added to a mini-muffin pan with Monterrey jack cheese and  a sprinkle of cheddar. Yum!

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Banana Bread with chocolate chips and Andes mint chips

Two of our friends experimented with the normal banana bread recipe, and our favorite by far was the one with Andes chips. The combination of banana and mint (plus chocolate!) was a fun twist, especially around the holidays, and this decadent bread was a great brunch dessert!

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White Chocolate and Raspberry Scones
A rare item in our house is a box or pre-packaged mix, but D found this at World Market and we figured we’d give it a try. These were tart, sweet, and surprisingly moist– they were also really easy to make, which makes them perfect for any morning!

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We capped off our brunch with a bar stocked with cold brewed coffee (we love our Toddy!), hot apple cider, lemongrass tea, and cinnamon spice Kahlua and Irish cream. There’s nothing better than brunch with good friends on a beautiful, sunny, winter day, celebrating not being at work! Happy holidays to all!

<3 Officially Vegetarian for Two–Vegged Bliss <3

Soon after D and I got engaged, we set having a vegetarian wedding as one of our top priorities. Despite the many variations of our wedding that emerged in the 9 months between engagement and our wedding (I think we are ALL glad that my ‘paper plates and plastic glasses’ phases was short lived), our insistence on vegetarian food never wavered. When we found a local non-veggie restaurant with a vegan chef, we immediately headed over for dinner with my mom and D’s dad and step-mom to check out their menu, and were treated to a mini-impromptu tasting right there in the middle of our dinner! D and I looked at one another and said “this is it!”

The most rewarding thing about our vegetarian wedding, other than it was true to us as a couple, was how many people came up to us at the reception (and afterwards) and honestly said “if more food was like this, I would eat vegetarian every day!” We were so proud to be able to offer our guests- family, friends, and loved ones- this unique opportunity and only regret that it’s not done justice in photos!

On that note, here’s a walk through our wedding menu. Thanks to Jennifer Bearden Photography for the appetizer photos! (I apologize for the later pictures, they’re from our tasting and we were too excited to eat to take quality photos!) and to Mosiac Edibles and Luke Wilson for making our wedding absolutely fantastic!

Stationary Display of Appetizers

Vegan Spring Rolls
with cabbage, julienne carrots, zucchini and squash with a hoisin-peanut dipping sauce

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Brie in Mini Phyllo Cups
with strawberry-rhubarb jam

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Marinated Stuffed Mushrooms
balsamic marinated button mushrooms stuffed with herbed goat, feta, and cream cheese, then roasted

(sadly, these were our favorites but we didn’t capture any photos of them!)

Mini Spanakopita
greek pastry of spinach and cheese in layers of phyllo dough

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Cream of Cauliflower Soup
with grated Parmesan cheese and basil-chive oil

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Dinner Buffet

Butter Thyme Green Beans
with butter and fresh herbs

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Farro Medley
with spinach, artichokes, and red peppers

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Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
oven roasted with cavatappi pasta, light gorgonzola cream sauce & a pretzel Parmesan crust

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Eggplant Rollatini
with feta, artichokes, & spinach with tomato cream sauce

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Fall Kale+Spinach Salad
with grilled bosc pears, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, cranberries, and topped with a balsamic vinaigrette

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Trio of:

Spinach & Sundried Tomato Quiche
with shaved Parmesan & local micro greens

Gruyere & Parmesan Quiche
with local micro greens

Roasted Broccoli Quiche
with aged cheddar & local micro greens

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