Vegciting News!

The backyard garden is brimming with peppers, tomatoes, and herbs and summer produce is a staple of our diet– fresh corn, peaches, and blueberries seem to appear on our plates in some form daily. Despite this veritable bounty of fresh goodness, we’ve been eating out a little more than usual. Why, you may ask?

VegetarianForTwo is moving! Just down the street a few miles, but moving nonetheless. What began on a whim as a search for a new ‘dream home’ resulted in a house we couldn’t let slip away. Realizing we can’t live in 2 places at once, we quickly put our starter house on the market and within a few days had an offer from a newlywed couple who loves to garden too– perhaps a new couple friend for us!? This excitement and stress of having our house showing-ready at all times means that our ability to cook at our usual level has been stunted, since we never know how much time we’ll have to clean up and get the house ready to show. However, now that we’ve got a contract signed, life will return to semi-normal! You’ll see a few different kitchen counters in the coming months as we transition (temporarily) to S’s mom’s house and then to our new, beautiful kitchen by October.

We figured we’d try some new places in town while we are displaced and I’m excited to have found what may be a new favorite! Park Cafe is located off-the-beaten path of normal Charleston restaurants in a very historic and family-friendly neighborhood. I’ve driven by it a dozen times but never stopped in until a (vegetarian) friend suggested it for girls night. She had first heard about it from a vegan mutual friend, so we figured it was definitely worth a try!

IMAG0227

I started with the Roasted Cauliflower– a huge serving topped with hazelnuts, a mustard vinaigrette  and fresh herbs. It was incredibly filling but also a fantastic combination of texture, flavor, and aromas. I would eat this by itself as a meal and plan to return very soon to do so!

IMAG0228

My dining partner started with the shredded kale salad– a light combination of dates, almonds, and a citrus vinaigrette. We both kept “mmmmm” ing, dipping our fork to capture more bites of this amazing salad, and I’m quite sure if we hadn’t been in public, she would have licked the bowl clean!

IMAG0229

We both ordered the mushroom and walnut pate with pickled onions, arugula, and dijon on sourdough as our main entree. The sandwich comes with Park Cafe’s homemade pickles, which on this day were made from cauliflower, onions, okra, and green beans. They were perfectly spiced and pickled and provided the perfect balance to the richness of the pate. The pate itself was smoother than anything I’ve ever tasted (that didn’t come processed from a jar!) and the combination of the crunch of the bread with the soft pate made for a perfect sandwich. I took my leftovers home with me but found myself snacking on the rest of the sandwich immediately upon walking in the door!

 

My friend and I are both of the opinion that dining out can be overshadowed and thus, less enjoyable, by the fact that you can make an item at home better. We often compare meals we had out at a restaurant and finish our story with “but I could have done it healthier at home” or “I can make that at home and would add _____”. It makes dining out difficult, but it also means we appreciate those really good meals even more so. Park Cafe hit the nail on the head for both of us- neither of us schemed about how we could recreate these dishes at home, because we were too busy enjoying them in the moment!

Overall we were really impressed not only with the quality and creativity of the food, intimate yet casual ambiance, and service at Park Cafe, but also by the fact that unlike most restaurants, we didn’t have to ‘customize’ anything to suit a vegetarian lifestyle. We ordered all 3 items exactly as they’re listed on the menu and that’s an amazing feeling for someone who usually has to double check  that “there’s no meat in this, right?”.

Park Cafe checked all the ‘must-have’ boxes on my requirements for a favorite restaurant and we look forward to returning–even when we do have a beautiful new kitchen in our new house!

Advertisements

Blueberry Pizza!?

Despite intuition that blueberries grow in cool climates (think Maine!) we’re right in the midst of blueberry season here in the Lowcountry. Last week I took a day off work and played hooky, heading out to our favorite family owned, organic farm in the area. D and I spent about an hour in the field and came out with about 10 POUNDS of fresh blueberries– many are safely stored in the freezer to be enjoyed throughout the year, but we’ve enjoyed our fair share (if not more!) this year with yogurt, in smoothies, and just popped in our mouths straight out of the bowl. Needless to say, we’ve got blueberries on the brain!

While we haven’t yet tackled canning and pickling of our own fresh veggies to keep them year round, my aunt in New York has perfected jams and compotes, and we are lucky to get to share in her bounty and creativity! She recently gave us a blueberry compote with flavors reminiscent of BBQ sauce (regrettably I don’t know the recipe) and when we found ourselves with an opened log of goat cheese, we knew the tart and sweet combination of the blueberries with the vinegar in the compote, and the smooth creamy taste of the goat cheese would be great on a pizza!

Blueberry compote, goat cheese, tempeh and kale pizza

Blueberry compote, goat cheese, tempeh and kale pizza

Blueberry Compote and Goat Cheese Pizza

1 package whole wheat pizza dough (or be 100% authentic and make your own!)

enough compote to cover the pizza dough–about 4 tablespoons

4 oz goat cheese

1 oz tempeh per person

3-4 large leaves kale, destemmed, washed, and thinly sliced

garlic powder

 

Pull pizza dough out of fridge to come to room temperature about 30 minutes before starting to assemble. About 10 minutes before ready, turn the oven to 400 degrees and put a cookie sheet or pizza stone in the oven to preheat.

Grate tempeh into a skillet with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cook about 5 minutes until golden brown and crunchy. Set aside to cool.

On a pizza peel or large cutting board, lightly sprinkle cornmeal (or flour, if you don’t have cornmeal) to coat the surface. Stretch out the dough to your desired size and lay on the board, ensuring that the bottom of the dough gets sufficiently coated–you’ll need this to get the dough OFF the board and onto the cookie sheet/pizza stone. (Note: the dog will likely come visit during the stretching step– they have no faith that you won’t drop the whole thing on the ground!)

Spread the compote on the dough like you would with tomato sauce, topping with dollops of goat cheese. Sprinkle the tempeh over the goat cheese. Once the oven is fully heated and the cookie sheet/pizza stone have gotten at least 10 minutes to come up to temperature, remove the sheet/stone from the oven and spray or brush with oil. Quickly transfer the formed pizza to the HOT sheet/stone and as needed, adjust the shape and toppings.

Cook at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. When the crust begins turning golden and the cheese begins melting, top the pizza with the chopped kale and cook for another 3-4 minutes until it begins to crisp up. Remove the pizza from the oven and if you can, wait for it to cool before slicing.

everything you could want in a pizza and MORE!

everything you could want in a pizza and MORE!

HOLY PIZZA! Whether it’s considered a pizza or a flatbread I don’t know, and honestly don’t care. The sweet, the tangy, the crunch, the slight char of the kale, and the soft, chewy dough– this was a great culinary risk considering we had no idea how the compote would fare in the oven. My sole regret is that I can’t share the full recipe, since I don’t have the compote recipe and only have a few more ounces left for ourselves!

We loved this combination and look forward to integrating our fresh blueberries with goat cheese as well. Thanks Aunt Jane for the inspiration and creative use of your own local produce!

Stuffed and Smothered Roll-Ups

Life is busy. Despite our best intentions, there are weeks where we are just ‘off’ our game and we eat leftovers more than we’d like, we succumb to edamame mac, or we put together some mismatched items to get a meal on the table. The low point of this week was veggie hot dogs with kale salad, which was for all intentions uninspiring, but the salad was too good to keep secret. We put my favorite ginger salad dressing from Japanese restaurants on kale! This dressing is my guilty indulgence but I always feel horribly eating it on wilted iceberg, so this was the perfect way to feel good about eating tablespoons of the tangy, gingery, and tart stuff. We replaced the miso paste with soy sauce, but I’m sure it would be just as good with the miso. Before serving, massage the dressing into the kale to help wilt the kale and make it a little easier to eat.

IMAG1296The REAL gem from this week, however, was a complete experimentation. We had a few eggplant in the fridge and were craving some good Italian, but didn’t want anything too pasta-heavy. This take on manicotti is not only fun to make, but healthy and a fantastic make-ahead meal for those busy weeknight dinners! Plus, if done the way we did, it’s actually completely vegan!

Stuffed and Smothered Roll-Ups

1/2 package firm tofu, pressed to remove as much liquid as possible
2 small eggplants
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup fresh basil
2 cups marinara sauce (either jarred or fresh)
1 box lasagna noodles, boiled 6-8 minutes until al dente, not completely cooked

Cut eggplants in half length-wise and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place cut-side down on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 until the flesh is soft and pulls away from the purple skin, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool, then scrape eggplant flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Add in tofu, garlic, parsley, and basil, plus salt and pepper. Pulse until combined into a paste, then taste– adjust and add any dried oregano, Italian seasoning, or other flavors to taste.

Take 3-4 pre-cooked lasagna noodles and lay them flat on a cutting board. Cut them in half to create pieces approximately 1.5 inches by 4 inches. Scoop out a teaspoon of the filling and place on one end, then roll the noodle over the filling and towards the other end, creating a tunnel of the noodle wrapped around the filling (see photos below). Lay each roll-up in a baking dish that has a few spoonfuls of marinara on the bottom. When the dish is full, ladle marinara over the top. Either bake immediately or cover with plastic wrap and foil- will keep for 2 days in the fridge or up to a few weeks in the freezer. When ready to bake, cook at 350 degrees until bubbling.
IMAG1293

20140103_204120

20140103_205508
These roll-ups are absolutely amazing. They’re everything you love about Italian food, but with the protein of the tofu and the eggplant hidden inside. And while you could add in some Parmesan to the filling or on top of the baking dish, these really don’t need it! They’re creamy from the pureed eggplant and tofu, savory, and sweet from the marinara. You don’t miss the ricotta, I promise – just taste the fresh vegetables and herbs. Plus, the noodles give them some carbs without the overload of typical Italian food. Try these next weekend and save a batch in the freezer for later in the winter– you won’t be disappointed!

Coming Up Next: Review of Lettuce Turnip the Beet vegan pop-up dinner at Butcher & Bee in Charleston, SC

Grown Up Grilled Cheese

Admittedly, I’m way too susceptible to food advertising and recipe teasers. If I read the littlest mention of something, it’s all I can think about for days, whether it’s in a cookbook, a novel, or on a non-food oriented TV show! In the latest Vegetarian Times, there was a whole spread on grilled cheese, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get it out of my head! A late night run to the grocery store got us stocked up on all of the essentials to mix and match, and I highly encourage you to do the same with your favorite fillings–grilled cheese isn’t just for kids anymore, and when paired with the right fillings and sides, can fill you up just as well as any other meal!

I apologize for the blurry photo, I was just so excited to eat this!

I apologize for the blurry photo, I was just so excited to eat this!

Grilled Cheese with Mushrooms and Tempeh

slices of your favorite bread, sliced 1/4 inch thick (we went with a multigrain loaf from the bakery)

-brie and gouda cheese (we also added some fresh mozzarella, which melts really well!) –shredding is best for grilled cheese, but thin slices of soft cheese are good too!

-baby Portobella mushrooms, sliced

-tempeh, cut into thin slices on the diagonal (see cheesesteak post for description)

-kale, de-veined and washed

-raw, unsalted almonds

-sesame seeds (we used black)

-vegan Worcestershire sauce

-balsamic vinegar

-fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

-soy sauce

-rice wine vinegar

-butter

 

Start by marinating your tempeh and mushrooms in equal parts balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire, with some fresh basil thrown in. You want them to both really absorb the flavors and colors, so let it sit for at least 30 minutes. After marinated, cook in an oven or toaster oven at 350 degrees for about 7-9 minutes until the tempeh is crispy (like jerky) and the mushrooms are softened.

Meanwhile, mix up a vinaigrette of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce, then massage it into the kale leaves to let them soften. Roughly chop the almonds and set aside with sesame seeds to toss with the kale right before serving.

When the tempeh and mushrooms are marinated and cooked, heat a skillet or griddle pan to medium -high heat (no oil needed at this time!). [If you are comfortable with the basic architecture of a grilled cheese, feel free to skip ahead] Butter one side of a slice of bread and place the buttered side down in the pan. Top with a few pieces of cheese and some of the tempeh pieces and mushrooms, then place a second piece of bread on top. Place a heavy object on top of the sandwich to encourage maximum surface contact with the pan– a brick wrapped in foil works, but so does a smaller pan with something heavy in it, like a can of beans (still IN the can, just for weight!) Press the sandwich for about 2 minutes, then check the bottom of the bread–it should be golden and crispy with the cheese beginning to melt. Butter the top of the bread (facing you) so that when you flip it, it’s already buttered and won’t stick. Flip in the pan and cover with a large pot lid–this traps the steam in the pan and encourages cheese meltiness. After another 30 seconds to a minute, remove from pan, let cool for a few moments, and cut and serve with the kale, almonds, and sesame seeds.

YUMMMM. We did one with brie and one with gouda (but otherwise identical), and both were fantastic. The saltiness of the cheese works well with the soft bread and meaty mushrooms, and the tempeh adds protein and crunch and the mushrooms are savory and add depth. You could combine the cheeses together or experiment with others–I think Gruyere would be awesome too! Cheese like this are really the major barrier between me going vegan completely– dairy-free cheeses that you buy in stores may replace shredded Sargento/Kraft cheese, but show me a vegan brie that’s comparable to the real deal! If you’re ever in Charleston, check out goat.sheep.cow for a fantastic selection of unique and fun cheeses. They have a great wine selection too and charcuterie for those meat-eaters out there. For our next grilled cheese adventure, we’ll try a goat.sheep.cow recommendation and their suggested pairings!

Rainy Day Soup

Charleston is going through an early monsoon season, and this week’s rain came with a 15 degree temperature drop. After my big work event on Sunday I felt myself getting sick, so this week has been full of juice, tea, and advil. That wasn’t quite enough to do the trick, so after seeing a recipe for white bean stew on such a cold, rainy week, I spontaneously stopped by the grocery store on the way home from work and grabbed some ingredients to make GET WELL SOUP!

Get well soup!

Get well soup!

Garlicy White Bean Soup, Based on Sarah Britton’s recipe

We rarely follow a recipe to the T but this one sounded so good I had to trust Sarah. We spiced it up in the following ways, but I believe it would be just as good as is!

-add a dash of curry powder and a dash of cumin when you saute the onions

-add an additional 1-2 teaspoons of smoked paprika in Step 2 (smoked paprika is NOT the same as paprika and will be the best investment to your pantry you can make when you’re vegetarian!)

-add slices of okra in Step 2

-add fresh spinach leaves in Step 2

-instead of serving drizzled with olive oil, top with grated Parmesan

OH MY. The combination of the coconut oil and smoked paprika right from the start gave off the aroma typically associated with rendering down bacon or beef fat (I literally looked at D and asked if he smelled bacon) and those flavors carried through the rest of the soup. The broth is smoky and sweet, and the vegetables throughout are refreshing and add some depth to the soup. We threw in some local okra and spinach from our CSA bag, and I love the extra texture and nutrition it added. The beans are soft and absorb the broth and each bite offers new flavors and textures.

Smoky, sweet, and healthy-- perfect solution for a cold week

Smoky, sweet, and healthy– perfect solution for a cold week

Next week is our first ‘normal’ week in months and on Sunday I’ll share our weekly menu plan for the coming days. What would you like to see VegetarianForTwo cover next week?

Sweet summer eating and vegetarian karma

Summer in coastal SC means great produce and HOT weather. As a result, our meals get just a little bit lighter and I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid turning the oven on after a hot day!

We got some great local corn from our CSA bag last week and found a fantastic pineapple at the grocery store. One of my favorite meals growing up was steak and fresh grilled veggies, and I would be content now to just eat corn and pineapple for dinner, but D is a stickler for balance and protein 😉 We pressed some tofu last weekend and put together a dry rub for a fantastic, easy mid-week dinner.

grill-centric dinner!

grill-centric dinner!

Southwestern Tofu with Grilled Corn and Pineapple

tofu rub (or your favorite taco seasoning packet)

  • smoked paprika
  • chili powder
  • garlic powder
  • cumin

1 block of pressed tofu

1/2 a pineapple- cut into rounds

1 ear of corn per person

1 lime, cut into quarters

Mix the dry rub together and spread on the pressed tofu. Let sit for 6 hours or as long as needed–we had ours sitting for 2-3 days. Heat up a grill (or grill pan, if you’re grilling indoors) and add your tofu, pineapple, and corn. I like grilling corn husk-free because of the char you get on the kernels, but some people prefer grilling in the husk and stripping it off after–it’s a personal preference! We don’t add anything to our corn or pineapple—you just don’t need to if they’re fresh!

Flip the tofu and pineapple once to get a good char on both sides. Roll/rotate the corn until all sides are toasted. Pull off all items when fully cooked — serve with a lime wedge. I love summer corn with some fresh cilantro and lime juice (but our cilantro plant died while we were out of town for July 4!) and the lime really adds a fresh kick to the tofu.

Dry-rubbing tofu like this gives it a lot of depth to the flavor profile, and since you can marinade it as long as needed, it’s a great fall-back dinner option to have in the fridge for last minute meals. Your only prep time for dinner is cutting the pineapple, potentially shucking the corn, and the grilling time– it’s a quick, healthy, and summer-friendly meal for busy nights.

Kale Salad with broiled tempeh

When it’s truly too hot to cook, this is my new favorite meal. Most vegetarians have a reduced iron intake due to the lack of red meat in their diets, I too find it difficult to maintain my iron level-The American Red Cross is probably getting exasperated with my continued attempts to donate blood or platelets, only to find that my levels are just barely too low to be eligible. This salad is a light dinner at the end of a hot day, and when topped with tempeh, gives a great combination of vitamins and protein. It takes no more than 15 minutes to pull together and is filling and satisfying!

Crispy tempeh bites on a crisp and fresh kale bed

Crispy tempeh bites on a crisp and fresh kale bed

Kale dressing:

  • sesame oil
  • soy sauce
  • mirin
  • rice wine vinegar
  • black and white sesame seeds

kale, washed and de-veined

tempeh, cut into thin strips

tempeh ‘sauce’:

  • hoisin
  • lime juice

Rib the kale to remove the tough stems and wash thoroughly. Rip or cut into small pieces, then leave to dry. Mix together the kale dressing and pour over kale– you’ll need to sort of massage the dressing onto the kale in order for the dressing to begin to break down the fibers of the kale and soften it a bit. It feels weird at first, but spend a few minutes working your (clean) fingers around the leaves in the bowl and you’ll start to notice the volume of the kale shrinking down.

Then (or meanwhile, if you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen helper) take your mixture of hoisin and lime juice and brush it on one side of the tempeh slices- see our prior post about these tempeh ‘jerky’ pieces. Broil for a few minutes *we used the toaster oven instead of heating up the real oven) until crispy, then flip, brush the opposite side, and broil again.

Top your lightly-wilted kale with these sweet and slightly crispy tempeh pieces for an easy, light dinner. You could add nuts to the kale, some dried berries, or some sprouts, shredded carrots, or anything else to doctor it up a bit but I like the flavors of these together without anything else. A local favorite, Butcher and Bee, does a fantastic kale salad with benne seeds that was the inspiration for this dish– if you’re anywhere near Charleston definitely check them out! Their menu changes daily and can be found on their Facebook page minutes before they open!

and finally, vegetarian karma: While attending a friend’s wedding this weekend, D and I were a bit nervous- this was the first time we’d attended such a function while vegetarian and didn’t know what to expect. We marked ‘vegetarian’ on our response card, but know that everyone’s version of vegetarian is different–I wasn’t thrilled about the potential of a big bowl of pasta with marinara! We were pleasantly surprised at the cocktail hour and were able to eat everything but 1 item– we feasted on mini bruschetta, stuffed baby portobella caps, lavish cheese plates, fresh fruit, and crustinis. When it came for the dinner, we were greeted by a great green salad with pecans, nectarines, and (what we think were) mangos, served with a balsamic dressing. By dinner things had already surpassed my expectations for my-first-wedding-as-a-vegetarian, but we happened to be seated with a vegan couple (the wonderful Sarah of WhatIVegan) and 2 couples who ordered the steak/fish options for dinner and found that even our meat-eaters at the table preferred the vegetarian option! It was a tower of a portobello mushroom, grilled red pepper, grilled yellow squash, and grilled eggplant over grits and with a side of asparagus–yum! Just goes to show that eating vegetarian doesn’t always mean sacrificing flavor, quality, or a pleasant dining experience— vegetarians have more fun! (can I get a t-shirt made with that?)

D is  out of town this coming week, so let’s see how strong my willpower is to keep creating (and posting) what I’m eating while on bachelorette mode. I have a reputation for living on various iterations of potatoes while single (even before my vegetarian days…I just love potatoes!) so if nothing else, I’ll get ONE post up to prove to D that I can cook for one and that he’s missing out while gone!