Archive for the ‘Recipes’ category

Chana Masala (Yowza!)

January 26, 2012

Indian food feels comforting.  The aromatic spices seem warm, alluring.  And, Indian food offers quite a few vegan options.  So, as I shuffled through some recipe options online, this recipe for Chana Masala popped out at me.  I had most of the ingredients on hand, and the recipe seemed easy enough for a week night.  Yeah, my algorithm for dinner selection isn’t too complicated…

I breezed through the recipe.  After mincing onions and garlic and grating the ginger (which is by far the hardest part), the recipe comes together in about 15 minutes.  Rad.

But… YOWZA!  This Chana Masala really packs some heat!  I like spicy.  Really, I do.  But dang this was hot!  What’s more, I felt like it was hot without the heat really enriching the flavors.  Maybe my cayenne is too hot (I put 1/4 teaspoon instead of 1/2, and it was still way too hot).  AND, I left out the green chili because I couldn’t figure out exactly which pepper I needed at Publix.  Yeah, I also have no qualms about dropping seemingly superfluous ingredients out of recipes… don’t ask me how that usually works out for me.  But still… so hot.

Amy didn’t eat it at all.  Jane (our almost one year old) ate quite a few bites before she opted for the palate cooling pear & mango baby food instead.  I ate a whole bowl, but I had to have two pieces of buttered bread to help me along.  I was bummed this was so hot; I really liked the flavors.  Unfortunately, Amy didn’t like the flavors either, so this is the last time Chana Masala will make an appearance in this house.  (Sad trombone)

I say totally give this recipe a try… but start out with a pinch of cayenne.   Otherwise… FIRE! FIRE!



January 3, 2012

I made Harvest-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms for dinner.  The mushrooms are billed on at least one site as a Thanksgiving entree.  I can totally see that.  They tasted earthy (in a good way) and would ground an entire meal well.  My only change to the recipe might be adding a cream base to the stuffing.  It would take a little trial and error, but I think the end result could be worth the effort.

This post, though, is less about this lovely little recipe and more about some dinner time struggles going on at my house.  Here is the long and short of the situation:  about 3 months ago, I suggested to Amy that we do the 21-day Vegan Kickstart.  Honestly, I had no intention of becoming a full-time vegan.  I just thought I could take 21 days to rethink my diet and emerge a healthier eater.  Then I watched Forks Over Knives.  And I was sold on the idea that I could be healthier, more energetic if I cut out animal products.  And for me, there was no looking back.

Amy, on the other hand, still walks around a little stunned that I decided on veganism.  I truly think she rues the day she ever mentioned Forks Over Knives to me.

Please don’t misunderstand; Amy is really supportive.  But this decision impacts her, too.  I cook all the food in the house.  And I don’t cook meals I can’t eat.  Of course, we still have cheese in the house.  I even make her pizza with cheese every Friday night.  But most of our dinners are completely different than they used to be.  I relish this because I enjoy cooking, and I like to try new things.  Amy doesn’t like change.  The vegan dinners that were warmly embraced at the beginning are now finding a much colder reception.  And who could blame her, really?  The poor thing just wants to eat something she recognizes.

So, tonight’s meal went the way of most recent meals:  I liked it; Amy wanted to know when we were going to eat something normal.  I know she wants to just eat something familiar (preferably with cheese).  And she knows it hurts my feelings when I put a lot of effort into a dinner that she can’t stand.  But neither of us can help how we feel.

Tomorrow night, I will be making pasta (per Amy’s request).  I am going to try to keep it as normal as possible.  Cross your fingers.


Thank Goodness for the Ham…

December 20, 2011

Until Sunday, I was a dinner party virgin.  I had never cooked for more than 3-4 people without assistance from someone with more culinary skills than I possess.  But, on Sunday, we invited some of our dearest friends (plus their 3 kids) and Amy’s parents over for dinner.  Was I nervous?  No.  Well, okay… a little.  But mainly because 1) kids can be finicky eaters, 2) I have never cooked for Amy’s mom, who happens to cook for friends and extended family all the time, and 3) I am the only vegan in the group, but I was determined to only cook vegan food–I wanted to be able to eat everything on the table for a change.

Saturday night, I scrolled through endless recipes online.  I had decided to go with a vegan meatloaf as the main dish (which, in retrospect, seems really crazy to serve to omnivores).  I was going to do mac & cheeze, but decided against it; mac & cheese is like a religious experience to a kid.  There is no faster way to get them to turn on you than to tell them that they are having one of their favorite foods, then serve them something they barely recognize because  OOPS! YOU DON’T EAT CHEESE.  So, I opted for mashed potatoes, instead.  I make a mean mashed potato.  The potatoes were also the only thing on the menu (besides the salad) that I had made before.  And, finally, I decided on Polenta with Balsamic Kale & White Beans as my green side.  Whew!

How did it go?  You are so kind to ask.

In total, I spent 3 hours in the kitchen.  When I look back on the experience, I really have no idea why it took so long.  But I got everything on the table at the same time, all of it was still warm, and most of it had all the ingredients… most.

The meatloaf should have been called something else.  Maybe a harvest loaf?  There was nothing meaty about it.  There were pieces of carrots in it, for Pete’s sake.  The main ingredients were tempeh, brown rice and bread crumbs.  Mmmm…. grainy.  Look, I know where I went wrong:  meatloaf was my favorite food as a kid.  I just wanted to try to replicate that.  And the recipe came from a reputable chef.  Apparently, a chef that has a mad love affair with carrots.  And grains.  I should have bought Boca crumbles (vegan!) and used an approximation of my mom’s recipe for meatloaf.  It has ketchup, a piece of bread… and a conspicuous lack of carrots.  Plenty of vegetarians & vegans would have loved the meatloaf that I made on Sunday.  But it wasn’t for me.  What did the omnivores think?  They ate it.  But they are nice like that.  I think some  of them may have pushed it under their mashed potatoes.  I wouldn’t blame them.  And they ate the ham that my mother-in-law mercifully brought over.  I have never been so delighted to see a ham in my life.  For real.

The biggest hit was the polenta and kale dish.  None of my guests had ever even tried kale.  In fact, they looked at it as if it were highly exotic and kept repeating “kale” (yes, like aliens).  And every person at the table asked me at least once what polenta was.  But they loved it.  Loved.  They even asked for the recipe.  Win!  The polenta makes it a really kid friendly dish.  And, since the balsamic is drizzled on at the end, you can control how much goes on each serving.  I did leave out the white beans, completely on accident.  The recipe works fine without them, but I will add them in next time.  In fact, next time I make this, it will serve as the main dish.  It really is that good.

What nuggets of wisdom did I take away from this experience?  1) Try out recipes before serving them to unsuspecting people.  2) Mashed potatoes are a crowd pleaser.  3) Kale is apparently very fun to say.  4) Sometimes it is okay to let your mother-in-law go ahead and bring that ham over.  Just saying.


Grab You Some of Those Green Beans…

December 8, 2011

Is it green bean season?  Or did Publix over-buy, miscalculating Tampa’s exuberance for the green bean?  What is really going on?  Why was an entire bag of fresh green beans 65 cents?!?  I think they gave me the green beans for free and just charged me for the packaging and the pricing sticker.  65 cents?!?  So, yeah, yay for green beans!  We had them with Gardein Crispy Tenders (don’t even get me started on that deliciousness!) and sweet potatoes.  Hurray for easy, nutritious dinners when I am trying to meet an editing deadline.  Will I ever learn not to procrastinate?  The short answer to that is no.  No, I will not.  But green beans … yay!

After meeting my deadline, I promptly got sick.  Like I had been hit by a truck.  But I was only incapacitated for about 24 hours.  Today, I felt much better.  Better enough to make something quick for dinner (last night was take out for Ames & soup for me… sad trombone.)

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Mexican food?  (This seems like an non-sequitur, doesn’t it?) I love it so much that Amy once had to put a moratorium on Mexican food, because I asked for it every time we went out to eat.  Every time.  When I decided to become vegan (thanks, Forks Over Knives!), I thought Mexican food would be a complete loss.  I mean, wasn’t the cheese and sour cream the point?  Turns out… no.  I am still just as passionate about Mexican food as ever, but now I am a bit more adventuresome with my choices in hot sauces and salsas.  Sweet!  (Sometimes literally)

Tonight, we had black bean refried beans on corn/wheat tortillas topped with mushrooms & zucchini sauteed in olive oil and cumin.  I tossed some black olives and jalepenos on.  And then… then… the salsa.  Newman’s Own Peach Salsa.  Oh. my. stars.  The spicy sweetness of the peach salsa really pushed this meal into one of my new favorites.

That is all I have for you today… green beans and salsa.  But not together, okay?  We do have standards here at the Pensive Pea.

Parenting, Running & Pizza–This Post Has It ALL!

December 2, 2011

Three tidbits for your reading pleasure:

1) In a lame parenting moment, I told Amy to mix some brown rice from the refrigerator into Jane’s tomato & carrot baby food.  Neither one of us could figure out Jane’s lackluster response to dinner, even though she usually practically makes out with the tomato & carrot combo.  As I was cleaning up after dinner, I realized that the rice was hard as a rock.  Seems as though you have to actually warm up cold rice for it to be edible.  Poor monkey.  She got a consolation dinner of plain yogurt.  This development pleased her.

2) Jane and I did some speed work on our run today.  Earlier in the week, I had to deal with some frustration in trying to get a midfoot strike going.  After watching a couple videos, I could finally visualize what I needed to do.  So, armed with my new knowledge (and with a much more successful run on Wednesday buoying my confidence), I decided to work on my speed.  I have never done speed work before.  My running has always been about making sure I could cover the distance.  My time just naturally improved with practice.  But, since I want to be more serious about my training, speed work seemed in order.  I did the first 2K at a very easy pace.  I went all out for 1K.  Went to an easy run for 1K, and finished out with an all out for the last 1K.  Then I took my time with the last two miles.  All in all, pretty successful.  Jane slept through the whole thing.

3) Our new favorite pizza:  wheat crust from Whole Foods, pizza sauce from Publix, Gimme Lean veggie sausage, mushrooms and green olives.  Amy’s half is missing the sausage but has cheese.  This pizza is for real good.  Every time we make it, I find that my half just doesn’t seem like enough.  It is that delicious.  Good thing for Ames her half has cheese; otherwise, I couldn’t make any promises….

Lentil Burger Shmerger (and a bonus recipe for a quick curry dish)

November 30, 2011

I enjoy cooking.  I particularly love finding recipes and trying them out on poor, unsuspecting Ames.  I do not enjoy the time crunch that often surrounds dinner preparation.

If you are thinking, “But you are a stay at home mom.  Why is it a struggle to get dinner ready?,” then either a) you don’t have children or b) you need a swift kick in the face.  Maybe both.

Jane hits her fussiest point of the day around 4:00 p.m.  From that time until Amy gets home, at about 5:15 or so, I am either serving as her personal jungle gym, swinging her in her swing in the front yard, or staring out the window, with Jane in my arm, trying to will Amy to get home faster.  Clearly, no dinner prep is happening then.

Amy comes in, and I begin the mad dash to get dinner done.  What is the rush?  Jane goes to bed at 6:30.  And, of course, there are baths to be had and books to be read before bedtime.  So, essentially I need to have dinner on the table no later than 6:10.

But… I am a slow cooker.  Not a crock pot.  But I chop slowly.  I read the recipe about 20 times (I am also a perfectionist).  I do not economize my movements about the kitchen.  Slow.  And that would be fine, except for the bedtime looming over my head.

Why don’t we just eat after Jane goes to bed?  Well, several night out of the week, Amy has obligations outside the house that require her to leave by 7:30 (at the latest).  See the problem here?

Perhaps all of this will help you understand my frustration with the Lentil Chipotle Burgers I made last night. Cilantro, zucchini, and onion all had to be chopped.  So did the super hot chipotles in adobo.  And they had to be deseeded.  The veggies had to be sauteed.  Then everything had to be put in the food processor.  But we have an itty bitty food processor (I swear, it is for elves), so I had to do two different batches, then mix it together.  When I type it out, it doesn’t sound too horrific.  But I swear, it took me over an hour to make those burgers. Oh, and they were impossible to flip.

Okay, I have to be honest here.  The burgers I made were too soft.  And they folded over the spatula, instead of  holding together to be flipped.  Here is the problem:  during my whirlwind trip to Publix, during which I was wearing a 10 month old who wanted to do backflips out of the Ergo, I couldn’t find canned lentils and went with pinto beans instead.  Look, I know they are not nearly the same thing.  Turns out, the lentils (like everything else good) are probably in the “ethnic” isle.  I didn’t know that yesterday.  So I grabbed a can of pinto beans and called it a day.  And there is the unvarnished truth about why my burgers were mushy.

But, even if they hadn’t been mushy, I thought I put in too much time making burgers that were just okay.  I will definitely eat the leftovers, but I won’t make them again.

For listening to my sad tale about so-so burgers, I offer you this:  Mustard Greens & Kidney Bean Curry.  The name may lack imagination, but the final product tastes amazing.  The recipe is quick and easy.  Definitely one of our staple recipes.  To make it vegan, I used vegan margarine instead of ghee and soy creamer instead of half & half.  Enjoy!

Vegan Thanksgiving (Take 1)

November 24, 2011

Vegan Thanksgiving success!

No, really.  I know, I can hardly believe it either.  But everything I made was delicious!  And, I escaped with little to no ridicule about my vegan choices from my family members.  Okay, so I did basically have to cook my own Thanksgiving dinner, while my sister cooked for the rest of the family.  But, that isn’t really important.  Because the important part?  Delicious.  All of it.

The biggest question for me this Thanksgiving was what to use in place of turkey.  I haven’t eaten turkey in years, but each year it is a challenge to come up with the anchor dish for the Thanksgiving meal. This year, I treated the turkey substitute as less of an anchor and as more an equal player with the other dishes.  I chose Gardein Savory Stuffed Turk’y.  I have had a few of their products and really enjoyed them, so I bet the farm on their ability to make a meat substitute that wouldn’t disappoint.  The finished product may have looked more like a breaded potato than a piece of turkey, but it sure was tasty!  Crispy on the outside.  Juicy on the inside (with its own stuffing and cranberry built right in!).  And it came with gravy, creamy and spicy (I wish I could identify the spice… may have been rosemary, but could have been thyme or sage).  I loved it.

I had never made stuffing before, and I was a bit intimidated by the whole process.  But the recipe I chose from Savvy Vegetarian cooked up pretty darn easy.  I know for a fact that it had both sage and thyme in it, which gave it a rich, earthy taste.  In fact, it tasted like Thanksgiving to me.  After baking it, I found the stuffing moist but not really cohesive.  I could still see the individual bread cubes, as a matter of fact.  I think the gravy is what really made it come together.  The thick gravy, with little pieces of mushroom, coated the stuffing and the flavors played off each other perfectly.  Another win!

My family makes Sweet Potato Souffle every Thanksgiving.  You know the one:  candied sweet potatoes cooked in butter, mashed with marshmallows on top.  I totally dug it as a kid.  But even before the vegan bit came up, I thought that Sweet Potato Souffle might be a bit sweet for me.  Just a bit.  So, I seized the opportunity to go with a squash dish instead of the usual sweet potato.  I found a recipe for Acorn Squash with Fig, and it was divine!  I loved that the squash wasn’t sweet, but the candied fig & pecan filling was.  The only drawback was attempting to hack through an acorn squash at 6:30 a.m.  But, WAY after the fact, my sister mentioned that their are easier methods to getting into an acorn squash than just hacking away at it with the biggest knife you can find.  And, apparently, they do not involve a chainsaw, which was my next option.

String beans with toasted almond slivers made up the healthiest portion of the meal.  I can’t for the life of me figure out where I found the recipe.  But all it involves is fresh green beans, lightly steamed, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of olive oil and some toasted almond slivers.  Light and refreshing.  I think this is my new favorite way to consume a green bean.  Okay, no, I didn’t really have a favorite way before.  But now I might actually choose to eat more green beans… Another win!

My dessert arrived courtesy of my sister and her boyfriend, who live in Orlando.  They brought me a vegan pumpkin pie from Ethos Vegan Kitchen.  If you are ever in Orlando, please go check them out (Ethos, not my sister and her boyfriend).  I have only eaten there once, but from that experience, I expected pie excellence.  And they totally delivered.  The final win!

This was the best Vegan Thanksgiving ever!  I think this might be the best Thanksgiving I have had in years.  Such good food and a wonderful time with my family.   I am so grateful for all I have.  Happy Thanksgiving y’all!