Vegetarian by Choice, Accidentally Vegan??

Going vegetarian was a very conscious and very intentional decision. We wanted to cut out meat from our diet, for not only ethical reasons but also health purposes, and after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals it just seemed difficult to wrap our heads, and mouths, around eating meat. But now, 2 years later, it seems our diets have changed in ways we didn’t expect. Often we find that the delicious meal we’re eating is actually vegan– quite accidentally! About 18 months ago we switched from dairy milk to almond milk– honestly because neither D nor I drink milk fast enough to justify buying even a 1/2 gallon at a time. We found we’d throw out milk almost every time we bought a bottle, and after tasting almond milk (we like Blue Diamond’s unsweetened original best) we figured…why not?! We now use almond milk for cereal, smoothies, coffee, oatmeal, baking, and everywhere else you’d add milk. I also switched over to using flax eggs in most of my baking, just because I find it an easy replacement (we dedicated our old coffee grinder to the task of grinding our seeds each time we need them) and flax seeds are much easier to store than dozens of eggs! As a result, we really only eat eggs when we’re making something…eggy… fried eggs over hash browns, quiche, fried rice, etc! These replacements were conscious, but in all honesty, by no means were they a concerted effort to be vegan…they were just replacements that made sense in our lives. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t think I could ever go 100% vegan simply because I’d miss really good quality, small batch cheeses!

But it seems, week after week, that we end up cooking vegan! Last night’s meal was the perfect example of summer eating in our house– taking the backyard ‘crops’ and turning them into a delicious meal. Our garden is flourishing and in the past 5 days, we’ve harvested 2 eggplants, a spaghetti squash, a yellow squash, 5 bell peppers, 6 jalapenos, 2 beefsteak tomatoes, dozens of heirloom and cherry tomatoes, and handfuls of herbs. We did a bunch of work in the yard after work yesterday (a 2 day project–removing a huge shrub and the remaining root ball from the yard!) and it was just too hot to eat a heavy meal. Last night’s dinner was 99% home-grown (everything except the condiments and salt/pepper came from our yard) and accidentally vegan-  a win-win! Keep reading to see what other ‘accidentally vegan’ meals we’ve been cooking up!

With 'crops' in our own yard, it's easy to skip the grocery store produce section in the summer!

With ‘crops’ in our own yard, it’s easy to skip the grocery store produce section in the summer!

Spaghetti Squash with Balsamic Tomatoes 

1 cup spaghetti squash, cooked and flesh removed from skin

handful of tomatoes, any variety

fresh basil, torn or chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1 clove garlic

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

Put the tomatoes and fresh basil in a small bowl and drizzle with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper– let them sit and marinate. Coat a saute pan with olive oil and cook the garlic on medium-high heat just until it starts to release aroma. Add in the cooked spaghetti squash and coat with the garlic oil, then gently stir in the tomato mixture. Cook all ingredients together about 3-4 minutes, until the tomatoes soften. You could top it with fresh mozzarella cheese, but it’s fantastic as is, and very light!

Note: Our spaghetti squash was huge, so we cooked it up this weekend, pulled out the flesh, and will store it in the fridge for the week, pulling it out as needed. As a result, this meal took only as long to prepare as the saute pan took to heat up- if you’re cooking the spaghetti squash in the same night, it’ll be about an hour for cook time plus the time to assemble the dish.

Replace spaghetti squash for pasta in most recipes for a low-carb version!

Replace spaghetti squash for pasta in most recipes for a low-carb version!

 Morning Breakfast Smoothie

1 banana

1/4 cup almond milk

1 tsp flax seeds (whole is fine, the blender will chop them up)

heaping spoonful of almond or peanut butter

6-8 ice cubes

Mix all ingredients in a blender for a thick, creamy, and very filling morning smoothie!

 

Adapted from Bon Appetite's June 2014 version

Adapted from Bon Appetite’s June 2014 version

Barley and Fennel Salad

We modified Bon Appetite’s recipe from the June edition, removing the beets and red onion completely. Our vinaigrette was made with mostly freshly squeezed grapefruit juice instead of the vinegar, then just a dash of apple cider vinegar made up the remainder of the liquid in the dressing. This was tasty, filling, and had great texture between the crunch of the fennel and almonds compared to the soft barley. The mint came from our yard and we added some of the fennel fronds into the salad for some extra green and fennel flavor!

 

Our philosophy about a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle  is that reducing your animal product intake, even once a day or once a week, is better than nothing. Can you make that commitment? Can you acknowledge that not every meal needs a serving of meat, egg, cheese, or dairy? Try some of these recipes, or many of the other ones on the blog, to kick start a new kind of dining experience. Or better yet, take your favorite recipe and make it vegetarian/vegan- it’s a fun challenge and incredibly rewarding. And when it happens accidentally, it’s even more amazing! At the end of the day, adhering to a vegetarian lifestyle isn’t a sacrifice, it’s an opportunity to flip what you think about food 180 degrees. And when your ingredients happen to be as local as your backyard, or even a local family farm, you’ve got no reason not to.

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Snow Day Experiments

SC is undergoing a rare snow-week — when a friend mentioned last week that temperatures were going to drop this week, I figured we were in for another brutally cold week with wind. Admittedly, the Lowcountry’s definition of ‘brutal’ is anything below 35 for more than a few days, but after living down here for 8 years, my blood has most certainly thinned to the point that 50’s still feels cool. On Monday afternoon they made the decision to cancel work/school for Tuesday, and before noon on Tuesday they had closed for Wednesday. After sub-32 temperatures for 3 nights, there are delays and cancellations for Thursday too. While we were safe at home with plenty of food, there’s a certain cabin-fever that sets in and I was itching to doing something besides clean and lazy on the couch. Below is what caused this mass chaos:

This little dusting wreaked so much havoc in the Lowcountry!

This little dusting wreaked so much havoc in the Lowcountry!

As I said earlier this year, my new years resolution is to try more new recipes– to take a risk, learn something new, and let someone guide me in the kitchen who has made the end result before. (Perhaps I should have added in there to keep up with the blog more often?) This 2.5 day midweek break seemed like a good time to use up some ingredients from around the house, keep myself sane, and fulfill any cravings we got in the ‘storm’ when we couldn’t leave. Southerners just aren’t able to handle icy roads – they’re not usually taught how to drive on them and even if they were (as I was), most cities don’t have the infrastructure to dispatch salt trucks and plows to all public roads. As such, we’ve essentially been on lockdown since noon on Tuesday! Luckily, as my husband put it, “We have provisions for weeks!” My retort was that we always have provisions and it just happens to be poor weather, but regardless, here’s how we kept ourselves busy and full:

4-Bean Chili with Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
1/2 cup EACH of your favorite beans- we used black eyed peas, black beans, kidney beans, and Navy beans
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 small onion, diced
2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes (you can also use any canned tomatoes you have, we just like the flavor of fire-roasted)
4 ounces of finely diced tempeh
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 tsp chili powder or chipotle powder, your choice
1 tsp allspice (optional)
1 cup vegetable broth, as needed

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and cover with enough vegetable broth to reach about 1/2 inch above the beans. Cook on high for 2 hours, then reduce to low for at least 4 hours. Check periodically to make sure there’s enough liquid– add more broth if not. The end result and consistency will be your choice.

Serve with jalapeno cheddar cornbread for a filling and warm meal on a cold day. We cooked the cornbread in a cast iron skillet, which was not only a fun presentation, but gave the perfect crusty exterior and soft, fluffy inside. Note: we used dried jalapenos that we re-hydrated in warm water. We found the heat mellows in the drying process, so we used 4-5 dried jalapenos and probably could have used 2-3 more. Adjust to your taste preference. The chili freezes really well for leftovers later in the winter!

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Instead of our usual eggs/potatoes breakfast, I made D hold off one morning while I made biscuits. After a recent girls trip to Savannah, I was craving fluffy and buttery buttermilk biscuits. I also knew we were stuck at home for a few days and thus couldn’t work out. My compromise was almond flour biscuits instead of white AP flour, and they were AWESOME with some blackberry/raspberry jam. We did them as drop biscuits instead of formed, and the little crunchy parts on top were my favorite part! Brings back memories of my dad making biscuits on snowy winter days and all of us trying to eat them off the baking sheet before they’d even cooled! (no photos, sorry! Ours looked very much like the one on the website with the recipe)

The biggest challenge was my sudden craving for Thai food (I fear pregnancy cravings if I have such drastic ones now without being pregnant!) We don’t have a truly authentic place in SC on a normal day, and I certainly wasn’t going to get anything decent in the midst of a ‘storm.’ As such, I took to the internet and did the best I could with what we had in the house, and honestly, I’m pretty proud of what resulted.

Despite my intentions to cook off of a recipe, for certain logistical reasons (aka not wanting to leave the house when there’s 1/4 inch of solid ice on the roads) I just couldn’t on this one. I did follow this Thai Basil Eggplant recipe closely, with the following modifications:

-I used 1 large white onion instead of red onion
-I added 1 sliced green pepper when sauteing the onions -it gave more volume to the recipe and I really like peppers in my Thai
-I skipped the red chilis but did add in a dash of Sambal to the sauce
-I used regular/Italian eggplants that you find at the grocery store — wasn’t running out to the store for Chinese/Japanese eggplants!
-we served over rice noodles, not rice

The biggest thing I learned from this recipe was the addition of cornstarch- without sounding like I have the culinary tastes of a college student, it gave this dish the ‘gloppy’ feeling typically associated with take-out food. However, since it was made from scratch with a ton of veggies, I knew it was good for us! There was a really good balance of spice, freshness from the basil, and creaminess of the sauce. Plus, over the rice noodles, it had a more elegant feel than typical take-out– I honestly don’t have a problem with take-out entrees, but when it’s put over dry white rice, it tends to put a damper on what would otherwise be a good meal. Another great alternative is bean thread noodles, which can be found at your local grocery store or Asian store. We’re lucky enough to have one here in Charleston and their noodle aisle is mesmerizing. If you’ve never tried rice/bean noodles before, pick up a pack and try them in lieu of rice – they’re quick to cook, less dense than rice, and give many dishes a more authentic feel.

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What recipe have you always had trouble getting just right? What’s the recipe you’re most scared to try? Let’s make 2014 the year that we conquer new challenges and add more recipes to our repertoire! Up next I have mujadara and shakshuka!

What We’ve Been Eating

Sincerest apologizes for the delayed absence, but we tied the knot last week and have been busy with wedding bliss (and reality–newlyweds still have to do laundry, much to my dismay!) Our wedding featured a completely vegetarian menu that we were quite proud of, and which had many friends and attendees exclaiming that “I could be vegetarian if it means eating like this!” This is what it’s all about–spreading awareness and sharing the tasty delights of vegetarian cooking, and reminding people that it’s about savoring what you CAN eat and why it is delicious and better for you, instead of harping on what you cannot have. A full write-up of our vegetarian menu is in the works, but until then, here’s what has been keeping us full in the VegetarianForTwo kitchen the past few weeks:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

We added roasted squash and pumpkin seeds to the top for some texture and as a fun garnish– wash seeds well after removing from your squash of choice. Let sit on a towel for at least an hour, or in a colander for 3-4 hours, to remove the water. Spray a baking sheet with oil, spread seeds evenly, then top with salt and curry powder. Top with a light coat of oil, then bake at 200-250 degrees for about an hour until light brown and crisp. Makes a great snack!

butternut squash soup

Palak Tofu (also called Saag Tofu)

There are a million recipes out there for Palak Tofu (a seasoned Indian dish of slow cooked spinach with either tofu or paneer cheese), but regardless of your favorite, we just HAVE to share this new favorite technique for cooking tofu in dishes where you want it to hold its texture but don’t want to deep fry it!

Cut a piece of PRESSED tofu into the desired shape and size for the recipe at hand. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a cookie sheet with oil or PAM. While its preheating, add a few tablespoons of cornstarch to a medium bowl. Add seasonings that reflect the recipe you’re making (for Palak Tofu, we used curry powder and garam masala) and stir throughout–you should have about a 4:1 ratio of cornstarch to spices. Dredge the tofu pieces in the cornstarch and shake off the excess before laying on the baking sheet. Spray with a final mist of oil to ensure browning. Cook for about 25-35 minutes (depending on the size of the tofu) or until the edges of the tofu are crispy and brown– the tofu should LOOK deep fried. When tasting, it should range from mushy in the middle to crunchy like a crouton, depending on your preference. Voila– “Deep Fried” tofu without any of the oil, calories, or mess! We served our Palak Tofu atop a bed of quinoa and with some naan on the side to sop up the extra sauce!

palak tofu

Zucchini Peanut Noodles with Tofu and Mushrooms

We wanted a pre-wedding dinner that was light on the carbohydrates, so we made ‘noodles’ out of a zucchini (we used a mandolin, but by hand is fine as long as they’re thinly sliced) and let them sit for about 30 minutes over a towel to release some of their natural water. We then marinated tofu and mushrooms in a mixture of soy/hoisin/rice wine vinegar and a little bit of vegan Worcestershire (seasonings to taste). We mixed up a sauce of peanut butter, soy sauce, and other favorite Asian flavors, then tossed the ‘noodles’ in the sauce to let sit while quickly stirfrying the tofu and mushrooms. Mixed all together, it was a great hot meal and we definitely didn’t miss the pasta!

peanut zucchini noodles

Tri-Pesto Pizza

We got a pizza stone and wooden pizza peel for the wedding and were very excited to try out pizza at home with the proper equipment! With summer weather coming to an end, we wanted to savor one of our favorite summer flavors–basil! This tri-pesto pizza has a pesto base, pesto marinated tofu, and a deconstructed pesto topping–pine nuts and parmesean cheese! Topped with some goat cheese and fresh basil, this was perfect for an indulgent carb-fest after the wedding! Next time, we would recommend cooking the tofu separately from the pizza, then adding the pre-cooked tofu atop the pizza to ensure sufficient crunch. Yummmmmmmm basil!

Pesto Pizza

Vegetarian Chili over Spaghetti Squash

One of the best go-to meals in the cooler months is a hearty vegetarian chili– you can make it with your favorite combinations of beans, protein sources (we like crumbled tempeh and soy crumbles to act as ground beef), and whatever veggies you fancy. Stick it in a CrockPot or in a large soup pot for a few hours and freeze for easy weeknight dining when you don’t have time to cook! To cut the carbs, wash a spaghetti squash, cut lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, then bake (cut side down) for about 30-40 minutes. Pull apart the flesh with a fork-it will look like long strands of spaghetti (thus the name!) and top with chili and your favorite toppings. A quick weeknight dinner that’s hearty, healthy, and carb-conscious without missing any of the meat!

spaghetti squash with chili

Tempeh Philly Wrap

Tonight’s dinner was all set to be stuffed bell peppers, courtesy of the plentiful little gems that are everywhere right now–in our garden, in our CSA bag, in D’s classroom as a “farewell summer” gift from a fellow teacher… until D called while I was on the way home and told me I took the last of the (cooked) quinoa for lunch today. I’m not sorry– it was FANTASTIC with some leftover roasted broccoli and onions and pared with BBQ tempeh! 😉

I didn’t want D to go through the hassle of making a batch of quinoa, so I spent the drive brainstorming about what was in the house and came up with …

D said I couldn't call it a Philly Cheese'steak' because it was too misleading, but I think it does it justice...

D said I couldn’t call it a Philly Cheese’steak’ because it was too misleading, but I think it does it justice…

I’m holding the recipe hostage until this weekend (because I promised D a date night before the school year starts) but if you’re reading this and like what you see, or just like the antics of what happens in our house on a weekly basis, please follow us we’re fun people to be with, I promise!

Just click on the “follow” button in the bottom right corner of your screen (for you WordPress users it’s on the top admin bar) and enter in your email address–you’ll automatically be updated when we post a new recipe! 

I promise to return this weekend with the step by step directions of how to make this non-Philly cheesesteak for yourself; I promise it’s still a quick, healthy, and easy dinner for those busy nights!

When life gives you peppers…

With the end of summer comes long days, hot nights, and the normal back to school chaos. In our household, it also means the beginning of the end– our wedding is in just 75 days!! In addition to pre-marital events (aka D’s bachelor party this past weekend at the largest and most lavish rental home EVER and my upcoming bachelorette party and bridal shower) in addition to general wedding planning stress, we have D heading back to school in just a week and a huge work event for me this weekend. After working 12 hour days most of the past few weeks, dinner has been even more difficult than usual to get together.

Luckily, we always have quinoa on hand, and yesterday I came home to a great dinner surprise. One of our favorite Tex-Mex restaurants serves a brown rice bowl with sauteed mushrooms, and my wonderful fiance was savvy enough to adapt it with what we had on hand. One of his coworkers brought us a HUGE bag of local bell peppers last week as a part of the end-of-season harvest, and we wanted to take advantage of such an amazing bounty.

how gorgeous are these!? Our favorite were the white/purple and the yellow/green

how gorgeous are these!? Our favorite were the white/purple and the yellow/green

They are almost too pretty to do anything with–I would have been content to munch on them whole– but what D came up with was totally worth the pepper massacre. I DID save the seeds so that we can plant our own heirloom peppers next year!

Fajita and Quinoa Bowl

-julienned bell peppers, various colors (approximately 1/2 per person–ours were tiny so we used 4-5)

-1 can black beans, drained

-julienned onion

-chik’n strips or meat substitute (tempeh or seitan work)

-cooked quinoa

-cumin

-chili powder

-oregano

-paprika

-smoked paprika

-fresh lime wedges

-plain Greek yogurt or sour cream (optional)

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add peppers/onions and spices to taste, in addition to salt and pepper. Saute until softened and beginning to take on color. Add meat substitute and black beans and additional spices– cook until warmed thoroughly. [D’s note: be generous with the spices–they will coat and add crust to your ingredients so you’ll want plenty. Don’t be afraid!] Deglaze pan with juice of 1/2 a fresh lime. Serve over warm quinoa and top with additional lime wedges and greek yogurt (if desired).

mmmmmmm-the lime really adds a punch of acid to the spicy fajita ingredients

mmmmmmm-the lime really adds a punch of acid to the spicy fajita ingredients

Healthy, filling, and incredibly satisfying– this meal has it all. You don’t miss any of the wheat or carbs that you normally get from rice or tortillas and yet the meal is light enough to not be too heavy. The acid gives a great punch and the Greek yogurt acts just like sour cream to cool the spices down. If you haven’t tried Greek yogurt (the plain stuff, NOT the vanilla!) for cooking, you’re missing out. We’ve been using it for at least a year or so (even pre-veggie!) as a replacement- the protein content is much higher than sour cream and it tastes exactly the same. Quesadillas, chili, even baking– try subbing greek yogurt. If you don’t believe me, take Michael Symon‘s word for it!

Pan-fried Tofu over Quinoa

Thursday was my favorite kind of night– I got home ON TIME from work and was able to spend time with D in the kitchen making dinner. While not as elaborate or time-consuming as some of our meals, Thursday was the perfect example of when menu-planning comes in handy for a busy lifestyle.

On Sunday afternoon we had friends over for dinner and made some amazing roasted potatoes with a balsamic dipping sauce. With the leftover sauce, we marinated our tofu to sit until Thursday’s dinner–by pressing tofu properly (I don’t want to remember life before my tofu press!) and giving it ample time to marinate, you can achieve tofu flavors that most people don’t believe are possible. Tofu has the wonderful ability to take on any flavors you pair with it, and doesn’t just have to be blandly flash fried like in Chinese restaurants!

We paired our tofu with quinoa and a green salad, using our scallion pesto as a salad dressing. From start to finish, dinner took about 30 minutes to make (including the quinoa, which you CAN make in advance and store in the fridge throughout the week to use as needed).

Pan-fried Tofu over Quinoa

-Balsamic marinade

  • balsamic vinegar
  • yellow mustard
  • honey
  • rosemary (fresh is best, but dried is fine)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

-firm tofu, pressed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

-quinoa (we like Nature’s Earthly Choice)

-lettuce and veggies of your choice

-scallion pesto

Combine all marinade ingredients in a small bowl, making about 1/2 cup of marinade for every package of tofu you’re making. Toss your tofu with the marinade, reserving about 1/3 of the marinade for serving. Let it sit in a container in the fridge for at least 6 hours, but the longer the better (we had it sitting for about 4 days which is admittedly longer than needed).

When ready to make dinner, cook quinoa according to package directions. Use a large saucepan and heat a very small amount of vegetable oil (or PAM) in it—you’ll want to use a pan larger than you’d think to give the tofu space to cook. When the pan is hot, drop in your tofu and let one side crisp up. Continue moving the tofu around your pan until all the sides are toasted and brown.

Top your cooked quinoa with the tofu and drizzle over some of the extra marinade. Serve with a dressed green salad for a tasty, healthy, and quick dinner.

tofuinpan

the desired crispness on the tofu– lightly brown and a definite ‘skin’ when you cut through

balsamic tofu

Bon Appetite!