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January 25, 2010

Broccoli Salad / Family Favorites Healthy Cooking Challenge

Are there crickets chirping around here or what? Despite my silence, I have actually been much busier in the kitchen than usual, but I decided to leave the camera and commentary out of it. Today is day 8 of the 10 day cleanse that I am participating in, hosted by Spark! Wellness and Choosing Raw. It has been a great experience and I am feeling great. During the cleanse I have been eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and have eliminated all caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar, processed foods, along with common allergens such as dairy, gluten, soy, corn, and more. To give you a general idea of the meals, most days go like this: I start the day with a green smoothie, for lunch I have a great big salad, and dinner is a cup of whole grains with lots of steamed vegetables. I have noticed increased energy, elimination of bloating (i.e. a flat belly), and decreased cravings for junk. This is also my longest stretch yet without dairy, which has been very exciting for me.

The cleanse packet came with loads of delicious recipes, but I have also come up with some of my own that are acceptable for the cleanse. One thing that I made is this Broccoli Salad. I was inspired to make this salad as part of the Healthy Cooking Challenge hosted by Alicia at Vegan Epicurean. The theme is family favorites -- and the challenge is to adapt a family favorite into a healthy vegan version. Before we get into family favorites, I thought it only appropriate to introduce you to my family. This is a picture of me with my dad and brother circa 1991.

Cute crowd,
aren't we? :-)

To say that my dad was a super-dad would be an understatement -- he did it all. We lost my mother soon after my brother was born, and as a single dad, my father had a very full plate! He always made sure to keep our plates full too, figuratively and literally. He cooked dinner every night, always consisting of meat, potatoes, and vegetables. Looking back now, it was pretty much exactly what you would expect from a man in charge of dinner, with main courses such as bbq chicken, hamburgers, meatloaf, and the like. You never heard any complaints from us though.. well, except for the nights that he served the frozen vegetable mix that included lima beans.

While my average childhood dinner did not spark any ideas for this family favorites cooking challenge, a broccoli salad recipe that my father often made for potlucks and picnics did come to mind. I had forgotten about this recipe until a few years back when I encountered it at a salad bar. All of the ingredients appeared to be the same as I remembered: broccoli, raisins, sunflower seeds, red onion, bacon, and a creamy mayonnaise based dressing. I could not enjoy a serving because of the bacon, but it really brought back happy memories seeing it.

This dish is obviously quite easy to make vegetarian, but making it vegan is a bit more of a challenge. Traditionally the dressing includes mayo and buttermilk. I have never bought vegan mayo before, and I figured why start now when I can make my own. I turned to the Vegan Epicurean archives where I found several options, but opted for the pine nut version. While the consistency and appearance are very similar to mayonnaise, the flavor doesn't match--however it is delightful! The recipe utilizes apple cider vinegar, lemon, and lemon zest to give it some zip, so I'm deeming this the Miracle Whip of vegan mayonnaise (never mind not having other vegan mayo experiences to compare it to). At any rate, it was perfect for this recipe, with almond milk, agave, and some additional apple cider vinegar rounding out the dressing.

I obviously left out the bacon, and I did not bother coming up with a substitute because the salad shines without it. The last tweak that I made was to drop the raisins and sub in pomegranate seeds. This salad is quite different from the one by my dear father, but I believe it is a worthy tribute to the original.

Broccoli Salad
Makes 4 large side dish servings
(apprx 1-1/2 cups per serving)

4 c broccoli florets and stems, chopped into small bite sized pieces
1/3 c red onion, finely diced
3/4 c pomegranate seeds
1/2 c raw sunflower seeds

1/2 c Alicia's pine nut mayo
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp agave
1/4 c almond milk


Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine all other ingredients in a medium bowl and toss with dressing. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes prior to serving.

I love you dad!

January 14, 2010

Alicia's Vegan Queso Dip

You may have noticed that quite a few of the recipes around here lately have been vegan. It is no coincidence, I have been focusing a lot on dairy-free cooking, and so far I have really enjoyed it. I have been able to use numerous great substitutes for milk, eggs, and butter in my non-dairy adventures. Cheese was the last of my dairy friends left to be substituted. Prior to making this queso dip, I had zero experience with vegan cheese, homemade or otherwise. I was very skeptical about cheese substitutes (how could they possibly be good??), but I was excited to try this recipe because it came from a very trusty source. Alicia of Vegan Epicurean is an amazing resource of healthy vegan recipes, and as I suspected, her queso dip turned me from my vegan-cheese-skeptic ways.

I had a great excuse to make this other than just my selfish cheesy desires. My roommate's mom stayed with us over New Years, and she is lactose intolerant. I thought it would be a really special treat to make this for her to try. I whipped up a batch of this dip, plus some guac, refried beans, and sauteed veggies for a deluxe nacho plate. And a special treat, it was! We couldn't stop gushing about it the entire dinner.

Alicia's Vegan Queso Dip

Makes approximately 7 ½ – ½ cup servings
½ cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 1 hour and drained
½ cup oatmeal, ground into flour
1 ½ cups water
2 teaspoon onion flakes, dried
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 clove garlic, peeled
14 ounces diced tomatoes (or substitute an equal amount of salsa if you like heat)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon hot crushed peppers (wet hots, finely minced pickled peppers), or to taste
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 dash cayenne, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the cashews, oatmeal, water, onion flakes, turmeric, and garlic in your blender. Puree until the mixture is smooth. (Note: it will be pretty thin at this point, but trust it, it will thicken up!) Pour the mixture into a heavy bottom saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring often to keep it from sticking. Add the canned diced tomatoes with their liquid (or salsa if using), paprika hot crushed peppers, chili powder and cayenne and stir to combine. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper, as you desire. Cook the mixture (continuing to stir) until it is hot and the texture you want. You can add more liquid if it gets too thick.

Bonus, it is only 65 calories per 1/2 cup serving! I checked out those queso dip jars at the store and it would cost you 320 calories to eat 1/2 cup of that stuff. Seeing that we saved ourselves all of those calories, we didn't feel too terrible eating one of these dairy-free Black Bottom Blondies from My Sweet Vegan.

January 9, 2010

Spicy Collard and Black-Eyed Pea Soup, and Happy New Year!

I realized this morning that it is already January 9, and I haven't wished you a Happy New Year yet! Punctuality was never my strong point. In fact, I did not get around to making a black-eyed pea dish until January 5, which I might add, is the same night that I packed up the Christmas decor. So naturally this blog post would come a few days after that, that is just how things operate around here. It's a good thing that you are a very forgiving crowd!

I was very spoiled this Christmas, and my kitchen is a much better place for it. I finally got a replacement hand mixer for the one that broke back in October. I also received several cookbooks, a digital kitchen scale, new cookie sheets and muffin pans, and my favorite gift of all, my first pressure cooker! I was inspired to get one by the amazing archive of pressure cooker recipes on FatFree Vegan Kitchen.

First I tried the Yellow Split-Pea Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Kale. After sauteeing the onion and spices you mix in all of the rest of the ingredients (less the kale) and cook under high pressure for 8 minutes. Just 8 minutes! Without a pressure cooker this recipe calls for an hour of simmering to break down the yellow peas. I am already in love with this rapid cooking method.

While the yellow split-pea soup was great, Susan really struck gold with the Spicy Collard and Black-Eyed Pea Soup. There are also traditional stove top instructions included, so if you do not own a pressure cooker, don't let that stop you from trying this!

Spicy Collard and Black-Eyed Pea Soup
(from FatFree Vegan Kitchen)

2 onions, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 cup diced green bell pepper
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dried black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
6 cups water
1 pound collard greens, tough stems removed and greens chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme (divided)
1 teaspoon oregano (divided)
1 16-ounce can tomatoes (fire-roasted preferred)
2 cups water (or vegetable broth)
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper -- (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 -2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
1 tablespoon double strength tomato paste (or 2 tbsp. regular)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Spray a pressure cooker or large pot with a light coating of olive oil or non-stick spray. (If your pot is non-stick, just add a little water instead.) Heat it and add the onions. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until they begin to brown. Add the celery, green pepper, and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 3 more minutes.

Add the black-eyed peas, water, 1 teaspoon of the thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon of oregano.

If using a pressure cooker, seal the cooker and cook for 10 minutes after it reaches high pressure; use a quick-release method to bring down the pressure.

If cooking in a regular pot, cook until peas are tender, about 45-55 minutes.
Once the peas are tender, add all remaining ingredients and cook for at least 25 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Serve with brown rice with additional hot sauce. (Garnishing with fresh oregano is optional.)

I have so enjoyed reading your recaps on 2009 over the past week, so I thought I would include one of my own. When I look back at the last twelve months what comes to mind first is traveling. I was fortunate enough to take three amazing trips this year. I have mentioned my two most recent trips which were to New York City and Las Vegas, but I never had the opportunity to share about my trip to China, because that was before I started the blog. In late March my good friend Becca and I went to China for 2 weeks. We started in the north and worked our way south, from Beijing, to Shanghai, and ending in Hong Kong. This was easily my most memorable experience of 2009, so I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favorite pictures with you.



Hong Kong



2009 was a great year, but what I could have never predicted was that joining the food blogging community would be one of the highlights. I started this blog in May, and looking through those first few months it is staggering how far I have come in my culinary experience. I am so pleased with everything that I have learned from you by reading your blogs, and I thank you so much for reading mine and taking this journey with me.

I'll leave you with a list of some of my absolute favorite recipes of 2009, because it wouldn't be a proper recap without it!
Fiery Tofu Marinade, Ginger-Miso Yam Wraps, Chunky Carrot and Squash Soup, Vegan Huevos Rancheros, Spicy Mexi-Meatlessball Soup, Posole Stew, Pumpkin Cupcakes, Matar Paneer.

Happy 2010 friends!