Wednesday, March 21, 2012

cheesy as pie

Two things have happened recently leaving me feeling pretty great.

One: My "limbo state" that sort of prompted this silly blog has started to wind down a bit. I see a light at the end of the tunnel! Although its dim it still feels pretty fab.

Two: I stuck to this vegan thing pretty hardcore (without breaking for several weeks). Before that I tended to do it for a few days or a week or so and then sneak in a piece of meat or some cheese. So I got super strict and stuck to it (I'll admit it was broken this weekend when my boyfriend insisted on a celebratory steak, see point one above). Anyway, sticking to that vegan-ism, too, felt fab. I even turned down some free ice cream at work (free ice cream?? ...that NEVER happens). It was even carried over to me and pushed upon me and I still said no. I had to try to explain why, but my co-workers who are primarily from a largely carnivorous culture, did not get it at all. ...awkward.

Anyway, after sticking for it for just a few weeks, I feel great. I have a lot of energy and definitely look and feel a bit trimmer. Can't complain!

One of the ways I was so able to stick to it so well was indulging a bit. Aka if I craved something, I found a way to have it. ...easier said than done, right? sometimes

So, one night I decided to make something out of a vegan cookbook. A big, hearty, vegan meal cooked in a crockpot. I was SO excited. I chopped everything up the night before, tons of fresh veggies and tofu, threw it all in the crockpot before work, and all day was super excited to come home to the glorious smells of the crockpot and dig my fork in. I thought I had stumbled upon a vegan's paradise.

Thought...I came home, opened the door of my apartment and inhaled. And inhaled again. Not much to smell. I stuck a fork in. I believe my exact words were "meh". Not bad at all, just so not great. I stirred it up, spiced it up, but couldn't quite whip up the vegan paradise I had been dreaming of all day. When aforementioned terrible vegan boyfriend came home, he was super excited (he has a thing for crockpots). He smiled and ate with my but we were both less than enthused.

I remember saying " least its super healthy!" ...truth. We ate it for dinner, but still had an ENTIRE crockpot full of it. I absolutely hate wasting food but knew we wouldn't eat it again as is.

The next day, as I went about my day I knew that there was a giant pot of farmer's market that really should be eaten, but ugh, I so just did not want to. I decided I could not throw it out, so would need to change it into something else.



I decided to take a hefty portion of the leftover crockpot mess and turn it into the filling for a vegan burrito. I added some extra tofu, some extra veggies, salsa and a wholeee lot of seasonings and turned my sad crockpot extravaganza into some burrito filling. That's the glory of something like a burrito, with the right seasonings and a few tweaks, you can wrap nearly anything in a tortilla and call it a burrito.

However, I still wasn't satisfied. When you crave mexican food, part of that craving it cheese. Cheesy delicious goodness. **insert vegan wah here*

But! Having successfully made a vegan ricotta substitute, I wondered if I could make a vegan mexican-ish cheese-ish substitute. I started googling to see if it had ever been done before (duh, of course) and came up with TONS of results. I read so many different recipes, most with cashews, of course, but some with insanely ridiculous main ingredients, such as carrots. I don't love the taste of cooked carrots and couldn't imagine that pureed cooked carrots (aka baby food) could EVER taste like cheese, but I also loved the idea of bulking up the cashew cheese while cutting down on the calories and I knew I had to tweak it and try it!

I played around for A LONG TIME and came up with the following recipe, that I smeared all over my burrito, some blue chips, a spoon...and maybe even my finger.

Here ya go:

Vegan Mexican Cheese Sauce
  • 1/2 cup cashews - soaked for a few hours
  • 3 carrots, boiled until soft
  • 1/2 cup - 1 cup water
  • about 3-4 oz of pimento (I had bought a 6.5 oz jar, which held one GIANT pimento, and I used about half of it) --> don't get too hung up on the amount here - half of a 6-7 oz jar, or a whole 3-4 oz jar -- don't use the oil, juice, water, whatever that the pimento is swimming in!
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 can of chopped green chillis
-Boil your carrots until soft and easily pierced with a fork
-Drain your soaked cashews and add them to a food process, process until crumbly and pastelike. Add about 1/2 cup of the water to help smooth the mixture out
-Chop up and add the cooked carrots and pimento -- puree into the cashew paste

-Add the nutritional yeast and puree. Add the cornstarch and puree. (I like to pulse my food processor as I go so I don't end up in a cloud of powder by adding all the dry ingredients at once)
-Add the garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika and pulse pulse pulse.
-Add the lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Add more of the water to reach your desired consistency.
-Transfer the sloppy orange mixture to a nonstick saucepan and heat over low flame, stirring constantly to prevent burning
-Taste and adjust the seasonings as you see fit.
-Add the whole can of chilis (more or less to taste) and cook until heated through

Serve as a dip or as a sauce for burritos, tacos, or rice!

This stores well for a few days in a sealed container in the fridge (not that it'll last that long). I re-heated in the microwave, stirring in a few tablespoons of water before heating to thin out a bit.

So so delicious and the all natural carrot/cashew base makes it a healthy way to indulge and curb those cheesy cravings! Success!

Monday, March 12, 2012

as easy as AAB!

I remember the first time I ever had basil pesto. I was in the city for a high school "field trip", and we went to some not-so swanky italian restaurant. I swear thought I had stumbled upon some new culinary nirvana. From then on, every time I stepped into a restaurant that served the green pasta, I would order it without even looking at the rest of the menu.

Now that I've attempted to cut a bit of the grease and cheese off my plate, I can't whip up this culinary dream as much as I'd like. Cue the improvising.

I saw this recipe by Giada De Laurentis - perhaps the most frustrating cook on the food network -- who can eat globs of pasta, cheese, and fried food and look THAT good!? No one, I reckon, hence why she seems to take a bite of what she cooks and moves on to cooking the next meal that I gain 4 pounds just by watching her cook.

Anyway, that recipe looked FANTASTIC, so I altered it just a tinyyy bit and came up with my own little bit of paradise that I don't feel as guilty eating as I do when I eat pesto in a restaurant, served in a nice pool of its own grease.

Using the avocado instead of olive oil, spares you from using a processed oil and gives you a good, natural source of omega 3s!

AAB Pesto (Avocado-Arugula-Basil Pesto)
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1-2 cups arugula
  • approximately 1 cup fresh basil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • whole wheat pasta
  • tomatoes for garnish
  • almonds/pine nuts/walnuts for garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste

-Boil the pasta in a pot of salted water until cooked to your liking

-Cut open and pit the avocados. Add to a food processor and puree until smooth

-Blend in the lime juice, this is more to keep the avocado from turning brown than for flavor -- although I think the acidity adds a bit of something

-Slowly add in the arugula, basil, and garlic, pureeing as you add.

-Add salt and pepper to taste

-Alter the amount of arugula, basil, and garlic to your liking.
When I made it last, I used a TON of arugula. This results in more pesto, with less calories per bite!

-Once all the ingredients are pureed, and your pasta is cooked, remove your pasta from the water with a slotted spoon. I find this works better than draining with a strainer in this case, because the extra water on the pasta helps the pesto to spread and coat the pasta. Mix the pasta with the pesto and smile.

-Garnish with chopped tomatoes and nuts of your choice.
 Store any remaining pesto in the smallest airtight container you can fit it in to avoid browning and use in the next 2-3 days. I used the remaining pesto on everything for the next few days. My favorite was on a wrap with some (more) arugula, tomatoes and roasted red peppers!