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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

Coco-grass Curry Soup with Tofu

There are times where you just can’t shake the craving for a certain flavor profile. In our house, it was the warm, spicy, and sinus-clearing taste of red curry– but we wanted to mellow it out a bit. Our lemongrass plant goes into winter-mode in the next week or so and we weren’t ready to part with the beautiful stalks, so we went for a Thai-inspired coconut curry soup with lemongrass, lime, and tofu.

delicious on a cool day- transports you to SE Asia!

delicious on a cool day- transports you to SE Asia!

Coco-grass Curry Soup with Tofu 

2 tablespoons coconut oil, or vegetable oil
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
5-6 stalks of lemongrass (4-5 inches each) plus (optional) lemongrass leaves — all washed
2 tsp red curry paste
1/2 pound washed and diced baby portobella mushrooms
3-4 cups of vegetable broth
1 tsp soy sauce or fish sauce (if you’re not being vegetarian)
1 15-oz can of light coconut milk
1 pound pressed and diced firm tofu
lime juice, to taste
salt to taste

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan (like a dutch oven) and saute ginger, lemongrass stalks (but not leaves), and curry paste just until flavors combine- make sure the curry doesn’t burn. Stir in mushrooms and stir to coat in the ginger/curry mixture, then add in the vegetable broth and soy sauce/fish sauce. Let the temperature of the broth come up to a simmer, add in the leaves of the lemongrass, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add in the coconut milk and stir, then gently add tofu. Cook another 10 minutes on low to let flavors combine. Remove lemongrass and add in lime juice. Serve over rice or rice noodles.

Smooth and spicy, this soup is everything you could want. It gets better with time, so save enough for leftovers- you’ll want it later! With the mushrooms and tofu, it’s hearty and filling, but the lemongrass keeps it light. The coconut adds sweetness and creaminess, but the lime gives a punch. We can’t wait to make this again, especially before we lose our lemongrass for the winter. With such a diverse group of flavors, I promise you won’t miss the meat! If you do eat seafood, replace the tofu with shrimp for an authentic version.

The newest fun addition to the Vegetarian For Two kitchen is a wedding gift from our friend Michelle. This beautiful wooden cutting board was personalized for us and since it’s too pretty to cut on, will be the new backdrop for many recipes to come. Thanks Michelle!

cutting board

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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!

Dinner by the seat of your pants

For as much as we all try to plan– whether that be our lives, our day, or simply our next meal- sometimes you just need to take a step back, take a breath, and let things happen. As the epitome of a Type-A personality, sometimes that’s easier said than done….no matter how many times it’s said 😉

Last week we had D’s sister visiting us in town and D was preparing to leave for an out of town wedding this weekend, and by no fault of either of us, planning dinner for the week just didn’t happen. D and his sister had a few great meals at veggie-friendly restaurants and we grabbed a quick dinner out before heading to see a movie one night, but otherwise we played the ever-unsettling “make do with what’s in the refrigerator right now” game….it was not only stress-free, but delicious and helped avoid any food going to waste!

This salad was a perfect summer dinner!

Look at all of that blueberry goodness!

Summer Spinach Salad with Blueberry Dressing

Blueberries
Balsamic
olive oil
Fresh basil
Salt and pepper

Spinach leaves
ripe peaches
goat cheese
toasted walnuts
thinly sliced tempeh, broiled (check out our earlier post for the technique)

Blend the first 5 ingredients in a blender or immersion blender until creamy and smooth. Adjust seasoning as desired– you don’t want the balsamic to overpower the blueberries, but do want it to cut the sweetness.

Toss a few handfuls of spinach per person with sliced peaches, pieces of your favorite goat cheese, toasted walnuts (or pinenuts would be good), and thinly sliced tempeh. Drizzle the dressing over to your desired coating—I drenched it because I couldn’t get enough of the dressing! Blueberries tend to get gelatinous when blended, so if that happens before you’re ready to serve, don’t panic.

Seriously–everything great about summer is in this salad. The spinach is a little peppery (but would be more so if you used arugula), the peaches are juicy and sweet, the nuts are crunchy and have a deep flavor from the toasting, and the goat cheese adds a creaminess and tart aspect. The dressing has tang, sweetness, and great texture from the blueberry seeds–just a fantastic combination, if we do say so ourselves! My favorite part was that it was all pulled out of the fridge not 20 minutes before we sat down to eat!

Later in the week we found ourselves with some pattypan squash (thanks to D’s impulsive grocery shopping), mushrooms, and leftover brown rice. One of last summer’s favorite dishes were squash ‘boats’ with zucchini (our garden this year fell victim to bugs, so I’ve ripped out my plants and re-planted–we will soon have more zucchini than we know what to do with!) so we  did a twist on that using pattypan.

So simple looking, but such fun flavors in that little squash

So simple looking, but such fun flavors in that little squash

Stuffed PattyPan Squash

1 pattypan squash per person
onion
mushroom
grated tempeh
vegetarian worcestershire (regular has anchovies in it)
dried thyme
balsamic dressing
cooked brown rice

Saute the onions, chopped mushrooms, and tempeh in a saucepan with some olive oil, worcestershire, thyme, and balsamic dressing until soft– you don’t want the mixture soggy, just flavored by the sauces and herbs. When cooked down, add brown rice to the pan so that you have about a 50:50 ratio of vegetables to rice. Turn off the heat and let it warm throughout.

Wash the pattypans and cut just about 1/4-1/2 of an inch off the top and bottom. You want the bottom cut off so that the squash sits flat, and want just a little bit of the top cut off so that you can scrape the inside. Take a spoon and hollow out the squash- you want to leave the walls and bottom about 1/4-1/2 inch thick so the filling doesn’t spill out; try to avoid putting holes in the squash 😉 If desired, you could chop up the squash innards and add them to the rice mixture for some extra veggies.

Fill the now-empty squash with the rice and vegetable mixture. We pushed a few pieces of goat cheese into the filling for a fun surprise inside- make sure it’s covered with rice so it doesn’t burn in the oven. Cook at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until the squash is soft and easily cut. Dig in with a sharp knife and a fork–enjoy!