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!

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.

Sweet, Sweet, Vegetarian Passover (part 2)

Passover gets a bad rap for being a time of stale, dense, or tasteless desserts. With limited ingredients available to bake with and most home-chefs cooking with their ‘Passover dishes’ rather than their trusty year-round kitchen appliances, it can be difficult to make desserts that are tasty, (relatively) healthy, and satisfying. Perhaps the most well-known of Passover desserts is what’s affectionately known as ‘crack’– a toffee and chocolate encrusted piece of matzo sprinkled with nuts. But there’s so much more-don’t stop there!!! Luckily S grew up in a house where dessert was a major component to Passover and D is happily reaping the benefits of it! And with almost all family-favorite desserts being veggie-friendly, even the pickiest of eaters can have their cake and eat it too!

strawberry whip

2 egg whites turns into all of this deliciousness!

Strawberry ‘Ice Cream’ -pareve (aka dairy-free) and super easy to make

1 pint strawberries, diced and sugared (I don’t use much sugar for this part, just about a teaspoon over the top before you get started to pull out the sweetness of the berries)
3/4 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 T. lemon juice
dash of salt
2 T. Manischewitz or any sweet red wine
Beat egg whites until peaks form in a LARGE bowl (the biggest you have–trust me on this one). Add sugar slowly until mixed in. Add in strawberries, lemon juice, salt, and wine. Mix on high for 15 minutes–2 egg whites will turn into more whip than you’d expect so its important to beat for the full 15 minutes! Freeze until ready to serve, then serve like ice cream. Garnish with strawberries or fresh mint/basil.
Passover Brownies
4 squares baking chocolate
1/4 pound plus 1 TBSP butter or margarine
 4 eggs
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup matzo meal
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
*optional: add 1/2 cup nuts*
Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Let cool. In a separate bowl beat eggs with sugar. Add in cake meal, vanilla, and salt. Slowly add in cooled chocolate mixture and mix to combine completely. If desired, mix in nuts. Bake in a greased 13×9 pan at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
S’s notes: The top of these brownies tend to crack and get lighter brown than typical brownies, which were actually preferred in my house growing up! These are gooey and sticky but hold together without falling apart. I hope these bring your family as much happiness as they brought mine!
Lemon Cake (recipe from Marcy Goldman)
8 eggs
1/2 cup matzo meal
1/3 cup potato starch, plus a few tablespoons for ‘flouring’ the pan
2 TBSP lemon juice
3 TBSP melted, unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 TBSP lemon zest
1 TBSP orange zest
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and ‘flour’ (using potato starch) a 9×13 pan or a 9-10 inch round pan. Set aside.
Cover all 8 eggs with very hot water and let sit for 3-4 minutes– the water should not be so hot that the eggs crack. This is key to the texture of the cake–do not omit it! While the eggs are warming,  in a small bowl, combine the matzo meal and potato starch. In a separate small bowl, mix the lemon juice with the melted butter.
When warmed, break the eggs into a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer). Add the sugar, salt, vanilla, and zests. Beat on low until just combined, then bring the speed up to high for 12 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Reduce speed to medium and slowly alternate adding the matzo meal/potato starch mixture with the lemon juice/butter mixture. Go slowly, as adding too quickly will cause the eggs to deflate.
Pour batter gently into prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees then lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for 15 more minutes until cake is firm to the touch. Remove to cool, approximately 10 minutes, and serve with fresh fruit.
S’s notes: This is a new recipe in my family but a wide success in its first year! We made it exactly as the recipe calls for, but felt it could use more lemon flavor. Feel free to play with the amount of zest in the recipe, or even make a lemon juice simple syrup to drizzle over the cake immediately after it comes out of the oven.
Mandelbreit
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups cake meal
3 TBSP potato starch
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup nuts or chocolate chips (or mix of both)
cinnamon sugar
Beat eggs with an electric mixer- add in sugar and oil, then continue to beat until fully incorporated. In a small bowl, whisk cake meal and potato starch together then add into egg mixture. Add vanilla and nuts/chocolate until combined, but don’t overmix. Wet hands and form dough into 2 shallow loafs, approximately 6-7 inches wide and 1 inch thick (as long as needed after that!) Place loaves on a greased baking sheet and sprinkle entire loaf with cinnamon sugar. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Score rolls into 1 inch wide pieces (see photo below). Bake 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees until pieces are firm. Take trays out of oven and flip each loaf over (usually easiest to do a few pieces at a time) and re-score pieces if needed. Sprinkle again with cinnamon sugar and bake 15 more minutes. Cool…if you can wait that long…and serve with coffee, tea, or leave on the counter for snacking!
be sure to bake these standing 'up' rather than flipping them on their sides--it will keep them more moist!

be sure to bake these standing ‘up’ rather than flipping them on their sides–it keeps them  moist!

S’s notes: Best described as Jewish biscotti, mandelbreit are labor-intensive to make but perhaps the most ‘normal’ of Passover baked goods. Multiple times this year already I’ve heard “are you SURE these are ok for Passover?” from Jewish and non-Jewish friends alike…including D! When you try these you’ll see why- it will have you rethinking what you think you know about Passover dessert.