Archive | 2012

Zesty, Tomatoey, Gooey Hot Dip Makes Even a Bacon Fanatic Smile

Mmmmm, The Goodness! Just look at this luscious, piping hot pan of joy! Can’t you just taste the zesty, sock-it-to-you rich blend of baked tomatoes perfumed with bay leaves and accented with sauteed onion, garlic and gooey mozzarella fresca (or vegan Daiya mozzarella) melting in your mouth? And can’t you just feel that satisfying crunch of crusty sourdough bread that’s been dipped in this divine sauce?  Once you try this dish, you’ll see why I’ve named it “The Goodness.” My meat-loving husband often requests The Goodness for dinner and it makes for a nice intimate meal, sitting shoulder to shoulder and hovering over the pan together like hyenas devouring a carcass. It’s also a fantastic and fun appetizer when you have friends over.

I get a lot of flack from our smart-ass carnivore friends who enjoy tormenting me over my efforts to convert my husband into a vegetarian (shhh, I’m actually hoping to turn him into a vegan eventually!) But I’ve noticed that whenever they come over and I tell them that I’m making them The Goodness, they shut the heck up. The Goodness has special powers over meat-lovers! It even recently inspired a die-hard bacon fanatic to declare: “Wow, this is actually reeeeeally good!” That’s high praise from a man who would sooner eat a bacon-wrapped piece of plywood than a cucumber.

So suck it, smart-ass carnivore friends! And please enjoy your foray into vegetarianism with The Goodness. 🙂

The Goodness

Serves: 2-3 as a main dish, or 6 as an appetizer

From fridge to table: about 30 minutes (but don’t worry – it’s super simple to make)

Ingredients:

1 14 oz can Muir Glen organic fire roasted diced tomatoes (if you want a kick, use the one with green chilies. Yowza!)

1 14 oz can Muir Glen organic tomato sauce

1 yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 bay leaves

1-2 tbsp olive oil

1 tub of tiny mozzarella fresca balls, OR to make it vegan, use Daiya* vegan mozzarella and sprinkle into little rounds on top

1 sourdough baguette, sliced

* Personally, almost all fake cheeses make me gag – literally, I gag, run for the bathroom and scrape my tongue.  But for this recipe, Daiya works incredibly well and is actually (dare I admit it) tasty! Unlike other fake cheeses, Daiya melts and stretches, which is necessary for this recipe. Given that mozzarella is a naturally mild-flavored cheese, this works well in Daiya’s vegan format. You can get Daiya at Whole Foods, natural food stores, and now it’s showing up in mainstream grocery stores, too.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In a high-sided, large oven-safe saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, garlic and bay leaves until onions are translucent. Turn heat down to medium. Add tomatoes. Simmer and stir for a few minutes to blend flavors. Turn off heat. Drop mozzarella or Daiya on top and then put the whole thing in the oven, uncovered. (After about 20 minutes, put the bread in the oven to heat it up and make the top crunchy.) Bake The Goodness for a total of 25 minutes or until golden on top and slightly bubbly. Serve with the hot bread. Enjoy!

 

All-Star Appetizer: Roasted Bombay Masala Potatoes with Vegan Lemon-Garlic Aioli

With the Superbowl coming up, it’s time to whip up some tasty crowd-pleasing appetizers, and my Roasted Bombay Masala Potatoes with Vegan Lemon-Garlic Aioli is on our “All-Stars of Appetizers” list. Every time I serve this, people hoover it up, and bonus: it’s a belly-filler. See, I’ve found that when carnivores have that full-belly feeling, they don’t feel like they “need” meat after they eat something satisfying like this appetizer. Friends beg me to make this and John craves it – I bet this will become a staple in your house as well.  The Indian-spiked potatoes are just slightly crispy on the outside and buttery-soft on the inside and they have just the right balance of spicy-heat and fragrant mouth-watering flavors. And the lemony, garlicy aioli is lick-the-bowl good and is the perfect marriage with these spectacular potatoes.

I’ve made the aioli with real mayonnaise and with Vegenaise, and no one can tell the difference. So since real mayo is disgusting and vile, I only make this with Vegenaise now (and no, I do not bother telling the carnivores that it’s vegan. They wouldn’t be able to hear me over their very loud groans of pleasure anyway. But I do derive secret joy in duping those who say they hate ‘vegan food.’ Hehehe.) (Yes, that was an evil laugh).  I mean, check out this photo of the aioli – you totally can’t tell that it’s made with Vegenaise, can you?

So kickoff your Superbowl festivities (or any other night of the week) with these awesome potatoes and dipping sauce. Please let me know what you think by posting a comment!

Roasted Bombay Masala Potatoes

Serves: 6

From fridge to table: about an hour

2 pounds small organic yukon gold “creamer” potatoes or fingerling potatoes, chopped into 2″ cubes with skin on (personally, I like the yukon gold creamers the best since they have such a creamy, buttery flavor)
3 tbsp olive oil
1-1.5 tbsp Bombay Masala seasoning – you can purchase the very best from http://www.DilKhush.com, or you can make your own by mixing:
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne

Vegan Lemon-Garlic Aioli:
1/3 cup Vegannaise (available at Whole Foods in the refrigerated aisle)
the juice of 1/2 of a fresh lemon (or more if you’re a lemon-freak like I am)
3 tbsp chopped fresh chives
5 garlic cloves, minced

Preheat oven to 425.
Mix the chopped potatoes with olive oil and Bombay Masala seasoning.  I’d recommend going easy on the seasoning for the first time you try this and adding more at the end if you like. Be sure that each potato is coated with oil. Put potatoes on a cookie sheet (a cookie sheet with sides) in a single layer and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for about an hour, and be sure to stir the potatoes every 15 minutes for even browning. You can tell when the potatoes are done – they’ll be slightly browned (like in the photo below) and are a bit crispy on the outside edges but still tender in the middle. (Careful when you bite into the potatoes to test them – it’s like napalm in your mouth when they’re right out of the oven).  When they’re ready, add more salt and Bombay Masala seasoning to taste.

Meanwhile, make the aioli by mixing all the ingredients together. In my opinion, there is no such thing as “too much lemon” but you may want to add 3 tbsp of lemon juice and add more to taste. I like letting it sit out at room temp for 30-60 minutes to allow it to get a little creamier as it warms up a bit.

Serve the potatoes while they’re hot and be sure to have lots of toothpicks out so people can dip the potatoes in the aioli. Then prepare yourself to be knocked over by a loud symphony of ooohs and ahhhs!

Kale Chip Fail

Damn. Today I pressed my luck and got The Face from John.

In retrospect, I should have recognized how risky it was to try to replace his beloved barbeque potato chips with homemade kale chips. John has eaten potato chips with his lunch pretty much every single day since he was old enough to chew, so I shouldn’t have underestimated his resistance to disrupting his lifelong routine, nor his undying love for Lays. But a lady I met in line at the Farmer’s Market went on and on about how much her picky, fast-food loving children love kale chips and beg her to make the chips for them, so figured it was worth a try.

I thought: “Hey, kale chips are crispy and salty too, so maybe he won’t notice!” Plus, they’re nutrient-rich and have a wonderfully unique flavor. He should love them, right? WRONG.

With a look of grave dismay, he started at the crispy dark green intruder on his plate, apparently trying to vaporize it with his intense glare. Caving to my pleas, he agreed to try one, or rather, a 1 square millimeter corner of crispy kale. ‘That is seriously disgusting,” he declared. “It’s worse than the dried seaweed strips that they always try to get me to eat when I’m in Japan.”

Oh well, I guess that means more kale chips for me! Since the vast majority of people who try kale chips love them, I’ll still include the recipe just in case you’d like to try it, too. If you try them, please post a comment to let me know how you like them. But if you’ve got a die-hard potato-chip lover like John who you’re trying to convert into being a kale chip fan, prepare yourself for a potential face-off with The Face!

Kale Chips

1 bunch kale, center rib removed and leaves torn into large chip-sized pieces (personally, I like using dinosaur kale for chips since the texture lends itself well to this recipe)

1-2 tbsp olive oil

Smoked sea salt*, to taste

Optional: lime, or brown sugar, or chili powder

* Smoked sea salt imparts an incredibly smoky flavor that is just simply delicious. I get mine from www.SpiceHound.com.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Completely dry the kale – this is essential or else it won’t turn out crispy. Toss kale with olive oil and spread out in single layer on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt. If using lime or chili powder, sprinkle it on sparingly. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until kale is crispy. If using brown sugar (which creates a lovely and subtle salty-sweet flavor), sprinkle it on after removing the kale chips from the oven.

Veggie Shock and Awe Stuns the Carnisaur

Full disclosure: in desperate times when John’s been on anti-vegetable benders and scurvy was imminent, I’ve resorted to subversive tactics such as hiding greens in his meals and snacks. Like a veggie mercenary, I’ve slipped spinach in a smoothy and told him that it was a shamrock shake. That’s great for a handful or two of veggies but I needed to get him to eat lots more vegetables, lest he start to look like a pirate. I knew I needed a bold new strategy, but what? Then it hit me like a scud missile: make the greens hide in plain sight!

This brave (and some might say suicidal) strategy is what I like to call The Veggie Shock and Awe. The premise is simple: confuse the carnivore’s senses with a riot of colors, textures and scents to utterly overwhelm him. If the whole damned thing is composed of vegetables, maybe he won’t notice them! And just in case he examines it more closely, I’ll toss in a ton of fresh yakisoba noodles and some fake chicken chunks to distract him.

This concoction is so simple and quick-to-make and it’s mouth-wateringly delicious! The spicy teriyaki sauce makes it irresistibly flavorful and zesty, the noodles make it filling, and the veggies make it incredibly healthy and filled with interesting flavors in every bite – from the subtle sweetness of sugar snap peas to the earthy richness of shitake mushrooms.

When the moment came to pull the trigger and serve the Veggie Shock and Awe to John, I held my breath, took cover in the kitchen and prayed that I wouldn’t hear him cry out in protest. But guess what I heard? “Mmm, good noodles! I like this one.” It worked! Mission accomplished.

Veggie Shock and Awe

From fridge to table: 15-25 minutes (depending on how fast you can chop)

Serves: 3-4 (depending on your appetites)

Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil for stir-frying (such as grapeseed oil)

1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into 2-3″ strips

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (optional – only if you like some heat!)

2 small zucchinis, sliced lengthwise then chopped into 1/2″ thick half-moons

2 baby bok choy, chopped into 2″ strips

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup asparagus, woody stems removed, cut into 2″ pieces

7 shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced

1 cup sugar snap peas, sliced

1 cup fake chicken chunks (a really great tasting one with a realistic texture is Vegetarian Plus’ Ginger Chicken – my carnivore gives this one a big thumbs up. It’s available at Whole Foods in the frozen food section)

1/2 cup fresh basil, sliced

2 packages of fresh yakisoba noodles (fresh ramen and udon noodles work well, too)

1/3 cup thick teriyaki sauce, such as Kikoman Spicy Miso Teriyaki

(If you’re feeling ambitious and want to make your own teriyaki, just blend these together for a quick and tasty sauce: 1/8 cup veggie broth; 1/8 cup dry sherry; 2 tbsp hoisen sauce; 1 tbsp sesame oil; 1 tbsp brown sugar; 3 tsp cornstarch; 2 tsp Thai chili sauce)

Boil water in a medium pot and keep it boiling on the side. Meanwhile, heat a large wok over high heat and drizzle in the oil. (Resist the urge to throw in all the veggies at once since that will make them soft and icky – instead follow the sequential additions listed here to insure that each veggie will be cooked to perfection.) When the wok is hot, carefully slide the red pepper down the side (sliding it in helps ease splattering) and stir. When it starts to turn orange, slide in the zucchini and jalapeno (if using). Stir for 1 minute, then slide in bok choy and garlic. Stir for 1 minute. Slide in the asparagus, mushrooms and sugar snap peas. Stir for 1 minute. Then add the faux chicken and basil. Cook for 1 minute.

Meanwhile, toss the noodles in the boiling water and turn off the heat. Stir for 30 seconds then drain well. Toss the noodles in with the veggies. Add the teriyaki sauce and toss thoroughly. Serve hot and enjoy!

Fiesta Bowl: Veg Football Food for Meat-Lovers

The playoffs are today, which means that my meatitarian is looking forward to watching the games while eating “football food.” In the 16 years that we’ve been together, I’ve been unable to definitively specify what exactly qualifies as “football food,” but at least I’ve successfully discovered some key attributes. According to John’s taste buds, appropriate game-time snacks and meals are:

–       Hot
–       Saucy and/or gooey
–       Chip-friendly, preferably using chips as edible spoons
–       Super flavorful
–       Filling enough to be labeled a “gut brick”
–       Perfectly accompanied by beer
–       Accented by meat

When brainstorming a perfect vegan football food that would meet all of John’s game-time food requirements and for which he wouldn’t miss the meat (and which would only take me 15 minutes or less to make), a key gridiron strategy came to mind: run it up the middle. Translated, that means that if a particular play is working, like sending a running back through the middle of the line, keep doing it. It dawned on me that the same holds true for Operation Carnivore Conversion. And thus the “Fiesta Bowl” was born: a Mexican-style sauté of all of John’s favorite ingredients, which he can eat with tortilla chips used like spoons. And bonus: it only takes 10-15 minutes to make, it’s packed with fiber and protein and I love it as much as John does. It’s so good that it’s going to make it in my line-up of go-to meals, even after football season.

With the Fiesta Bowl’s fragrant scent of cumin, coriander and salsa filling up the house, now John is really looking forward to watching the games, as am I since I get to eat this flavorful food while enjoying “football foot.” (Whenever I watch a game with him, I get a foot massage. Life and marriage is all about compromise!)

Fiesta Bowl

Serves: 4

From fridge to table: 10-15 minutes

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 very large yellow onion, finely chopped

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

½ tbsp ground coriander

2 cans black beans, drained (Trader Joe’s Cuban black beans are awesome in this dish)

Handful of freshly chopped tomatoes (optional)

½ cup white corn kernels (optional)

1 16 oz jar of a fruit-based salsa (like pineapple-peach, mango-lime or raspberry-chipotle)

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Cooked rice

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent and turning golden. Add the cumin and coriander and stir for 1 minute to release the fragrance of the spices. Add the tomato and corn (if using) and sauté for 1 minute. Add the black beans and salsa. Bring to a boil and stir well for 3 minutes to blend flavors. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro. Serve in a bowl adopt hot rice and serve with tortilla chips. Enjoy!

Carnivore-Tested Fake Chicken

Is this faux chicken or the real deal? New motto: if a carnivore can’t tell, then I’m not telling. (Well, of course I’ll tell you… 🙂 )

My sister-in-law, Trish, is my new hero! She’s been trying to incorporate a few vegetarian meals into her family’s weekly lineup, but according to Trish, her husband is “harder to please than John since he’s not very open-minded.” Faced with this dilemma, Trish resorted to an ingenious deception: without telling her family, she used Trader Joe’s “Beefless Beef” in their taco dinner. Much to our mutual shock, it escaped detection! Holy guacamole, these are Philly cheesesteak eaters! And they didn’t notice a thing!

That got me to wondering: do carnivores freak out about fake meat because of their preconceived notions about it? The only way to test this theory was to try it out on my carnisaur. So off I went to Trader Joe’s to pick up their “Chicken-less Strips” and sneak them into a saucy dish in which John normally has real chicken.

Since I’m still trying to ease him into this whole veg thing without freaking him out (or worse: risk him declaring an “all-meat diet”), every four days or so I make him a meal with chicken. Last night was his chicken night and he was really looking forward to it. So tricking him with he Chicken-less strips made me very nervous because if he figured out that I’d swapped in a fake, much bitching would ensue and he’d poke at every future meal and forevermore ask “are you trying to slip me some weird tofu thing?” That fate must be avoided at all costs, so yeah, my hands were shaking a bit.

But then a miracle happened: before I had a chance to put the “Chicken-less Strips” in the sauce, our cat Mango jumped up on the counter (bad kitty!) and started snacking on the fake chicken (good kitty!) I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right then and there I knew that this boded very well for my impending deception. I mean, c’mon, cats are genetically hardwired to be carnivorous and they have a sense of smell that’s infinitely more acute than humans, and Mango couldn’t tell that this was faux chicken! Well hallelujah! And so I tossed it in the sauce without a second thought and tossed out all my nervous concerns (well, except the one about whether or not I mistakenly tossed in the strip that Mango had just licked.) But I did double-check the package to make sure that it was indeed fake chicken, and yep, it is! It’s quite healthy too, with 20 grams of protein in just nine little strips and it’s made from real and recognizable ingredients.

The verdict: John didn’t realize he ate fake chicken! He even said: “Awesome dinner, baby.  Thanks for my chicken!”
Hee hee!

Thanks for the inspiration, Trish!

Crazy for Thai Red Curry (vegan-style!)

Is it unhealthy to be head-over-heals in love with a meal? Before you call for an emergency psych consult and fit me for a tight fitting jacket with extra long arms, let me explain my infatuation with Thai red curry. See, it’s the meal that has it all! First of all, it only takes *15 minutes* to prepare, start to finish! The silky smooth sauce has luscious savory-sweet flavors with just the right amount of spicy heat. It’s rich enough to satisfy the most hardened carnivore. The flavors of the sauce blossom in your mouth, and since it’s thick, it’s easy to hide lots of healthy vegetables in it. And the addition of pineapple also adds a surprising, sweet burst of flavor to keep your palate interested with every bite.

Thanks to jarred Thai red curry paste, this is my go-to dish when I’m feeling really lazy but we still want to eat a delectable, flavorful meal. When I want to mix it up a bit, I sub in Thai green curry paste for the red curry, which has a mellower, earthier and equally alluring flavor that’s a little less spicy. And yes, it’s carnivore tested and carnivore approved: John loves Thai curry! He likes it so much that sometimes I can sneak in a handful of tofu cubes without him noticing, which is cause for much rejoicing. So can you blame me for being crazy about Thai red curry?!

(Well, you might still want to have me committed when you read the story about my attempt to make red curry paste from scratch, which is below the recipe).

Cimeron’s Vegan Version of Thai Red Curry

From prep to plate: 15 minutes!

Serves: 3 big eaters, or 4 people who have had an appetizer

1 – 14 oz. can coconut milk (note: do NOT use light coconut milk as it’s too watery for this dish)
1/2 tbsp – 1 tbsp “Thai Kitchen” Thai red curry paste (which you can find at most Safeways, and even at some Targets – see photo at bottom of post. Adjust the amount of curry paste based on your taste and how much heat you want in the dish)
3/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable broth
7 shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped into 1-2″ pieces
1/2 cup pineapple, cubed
1/2 cup baby corn (if you think they’re freaky, feel free to sub in sugar snap peas or another veg)
1/2 cup asparagus, chopped into 2-3″ pieces
3/4 cup fresh basil, torn
small handful of tofu, cubed (optional)

Cooked rice (I prefer basmati since it’s so fragrant and has a lovely hint of nuttiness)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, blend the coconut milk and red curry paste until the paste is fully integrated and the coconut milk turns pinkish red. Once it’s heated through, add the salt, brown sugar and broth. Stir and bring to gentle boil. Add the mushrooms, red bell pepper, tofu and pineapple, stir well and cook for a few minutes. Test the mushrooms – when they’re soft, add the baby corn, asparagus and basil. Cook just until the asparagus is tender but still crisp in the middle. In a bowl, serve atop rice and prepare yourself for a loud chorus of “omm nom nom nom!”

Note: The pineapple and shitake mushrooms really add a lot of flavor, depth and a unique flavor to this dish, so I think those are pretty essential. However, you can swap out some of the other veggies for your favorites, like broccoli and sugar snap peas.  Get crazy!

When I was in Thailand a couple of years ago, I sampled Thai red curry at 16 different restaurants in all parts of the country and it tasted just a little different each time. At a tiny restaurant tucked behind a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, I asked an ancient, nearly toothless cook to teach me how to make her version of it. She grinned so wide that her two teeth sparkled in the light of her cooking fire as she gleefully handed me smoked chilis, fragrant galangal (a relative of ginger), lemongrass stalks, kaffir lime leaves, and a stone bowl in which to grind the ingredients for her curry paste. With a playful, friendly monkey watching over me from a nearby rain tree, I started off strong, but after 20 minutes, my arms felt like they’d caught fire. After 40 minutes, my hand was blistered and I’m pretty sure the monkey was laughing at me. After 60 minutes, the monkey was openly mocking me and I declared this to be an insane and potentially crippling endeavor. After 61 minutes, I decided that Thai red curry paste out of a jar is one of the best inventions of our time and I thanked my lucky stars that I could buy it at just about any Safeway in the U.S. And after you try this Thai red curry recipe and see how easy, delicious and fast it is, you’ll be doing the same!

Superhero Stir Fry Side Dish: Kale and Chard in a Spicy Teriyaki Disguise

Does anyone remember The Superfriends? It’s a vintage cartoon that features a dream-team alliance of seriously bitchin’ superheros. A couple nights ago I had a dream about The Superfriends, which went something like this: “Wonder Twin Powers, Activate! Form of: the healthiest, most cruciferous vegetable on the planet to protect against cancer and fight cholesterol!” (And then POOF!, he turns into kale). Then the female side of the daring duo says: “Shape of: a super-vegetable that contains 13 different kinds of antioxidants and betalain to fight aging, heart disease and inflammation!” (And then BANG!, she turns into Swiss chard).

(Yeah, that was a weird dream! But not as strange as the one in which my body was made of nougat – now that was seriously bizarre. Perhaps I should lay off the margaritas before bed).

Anyway, I woke up inspired to make a side dish with these fabulous superhero vegetables. But as spicy-sweet, nutty and flavorful as these thick-leafed veggies taste to me, I know they will intimidate my veg-shy carnisaurus. I mean, c’mon, the guy grew up eating something called “Scrapple,” a pressed-together mess of pig scraps. (Ew!)  Its tag line could be “From the Rooter to the Tooter!”  Let’s face it, kale and Swiss chard are pretty advanced veggies that can terrify people (like my husband) who don’t frequent the farmer’s market. So I decided to disguise these Superhero Veggies in a flavorful cape of spicy miso teriyaki. And guess what, John flipping LOVED THEM and asked for seconds! I knew he couldn’t resist the savory-sweet, hot teriyaki flavors. Woohoo, score one for Team Veg! Bonus for the cooks: this recipe takes all of 10 minutes to make, from fridge to plate.

Maybe my dream wasn’t so bizarre after all. These awesome SuperVeggies deserve to star in their own show…okay, maybe not as a crime-fighting duo, but perhaps as the stars of your next dinner!

Superhero Stir Fry: Kale and Chard in a Spicy Miso Teriyaki Disguise
Time to prepare: 10 minutes
Servings: makes enough for 4 side dishes
  • 1-2 tbsp oil that can take high heat (like grapeseed or peanut oil)
  • half bunch of kale, leaves torn in two or three parts (your choice of dinosaur kale, red, purple, etc. Get crazy, my friends!) (Lucky for me, my favorite farmer’s market vendor, Happy Boy Farms,  sells pre-mixed bags of kale and chard)
  • half bunch of Swiss chard, leaves torn in two or three parts (your choice of color)
  • 4 cloves garlic, either smashed or chopped
  • up to 1/4 cup of spicy teriyaki sauce (I used Kikoman’s spicy miso teriyaki and it was delish in this dish!)
In a big old wok, heat oil over high heat. Once heated, toss in the kale and chard. It should totally fill your wok to the rim (see photo above), but don’t worry, it cooks down to about 1/4 of the size (see photo below). Stir frequently for about 8 minutes until the leaves wilt and start to brown a bit, then add garlic and stir-fry for about a minute more, stirring constantly. Test the veggies to see if they’re wilted enough to eat – they should be slightly browned and soft. Then turn off the heat and immediately add teriyaki – do a little at a time, mix, taste, and add more as you like.

This makes an excellent side dish, but you can also make it a main dish by tossing in some super-firm tofu about half way through. The sauce cloaks the tofu too, which makes it appealing and edible for carnivores. Enjoy!

The Devious Vegetarian: “Drunken Soledad O’Brien” Stili (a stew/chili cross)

Behold: I am a devious vegetarian genius!

Continuing down the road to duping my meat-worshiping husband into becoming a vegetarian, I took a brilliant detour that led me to BoozeTown. As you may have figured out by now, I will gladly exploit John’s weaknesses in order to create a veg meal that suppresses his urge to make a face, is packed with protein and healthy ingredients, and that also helps him forget about his “meat deprivation.” That means that I have to chef up foods that are so delicious and satisfying that they blow his mind. With goals so lofty, can you blame me for playing dirty? I think not.

But I must admit, this stroke of culinary intelligence almost makes me feel like I’m cheating. The secret was to think of what John loves most in this world. The answer: beer. Not just any beer, but super strong IPA. I realized that if I could successfully combine beer with vegan ingredients, I might just create a masterpiece that he’ll not just love, but that he’ll actually ASK me to make him in the future. And thus, the “Drunken Soledad O’Brien Stili” was born.

Like it’s namesake, this Stili has a little bit of everything in it. Think of it as a cross between a chili, a stew and a pub. It’s got a spicy Cuban flair, hearty American microbrew beer, and some potatoes to satisfy John’s Irish stomach. By the way, what the heck ethnicity is Soledad O’Brien? Is she African American? Scottish? Hispanic? Lemurian? All of the above? My guess is that her beauty is in her funky blend, and the same holds true for this rich, delicious, beer-infused stili.

The carnivore verdict? One taste and John’s face lit up. With dancing eyebrows, he exclaimed: “Oh Mah Gawhd. This…is…awesome!” I hope you and your converting carnivore like it, too!

Time to table: about 45 minutes

Serves: 6 hungry people

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, chopped (with seeds)

1.5-2 lbs small, creamy-tasting potatoes, chopped into 1” cubes (such as Yukon Gold creamers or fingerling potatoes) (I used some misshapen Finn potatoes that I grew in our garden)

1 tsp smoked sea salt

freshly ground pepper

1 tbsp high quality chili powder

12 oz. microbrew dark beer (I used 21st Amendment’s “Back in Black IPA,” one of John’s’ faves.)

1 – 15 oz. can stewed tomatoes (I like Muir Glenn since it’s organic and has much more of an authentic tomatoey taste the other canned tomatoes)

3 – 15 oz. cans of beans (I used black beans, pinto and aduki, but really, you can use whichever are your favorites)

1 cup vegetable broth

1 tbsp chipotle sauce **

2-3 tbsp maple syrup

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

**(Chipotle sauce is super easy to make. Just buy a can of “chipotle peppers in adobo sauce” – in the Hispanic section of most grocery stores – and just blend the whole thing until it’s smooth. Wow, the flavor is smokey, deep, lush and delicious, and it adds so much to dishes like this. I like to freeze my leftover chipotle sauce in ice cube trays so that it’s easy to use in the future.)

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook for three minutes, stirring frequently. Add red pepper, garlic and jalapeño and stir/cook until the onion is translucent. Add the potatoes and stir/cook for 3 minutes. Add the smoked sea salt, pepper and chili powder and stir well to fully coat ingredients. If you don’t have smoked sea salt, seriously, buy some – it adds so much depth of flavor! I buy mine from SpiceHound.com – I like the alderwood smoked sea salt. Note: it’s important that you add the salt before the beans. Why? Because salt stops beans from cooking and keeps them intact. If you don’t add it, the beans will turn to mush -blahkkk.

Add the beer and stir for a couple of minutes to boil off some of the alcohol. Add the tomatoes, beans and broth. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for about 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent the beans from scorching on the bottom of your pot. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender, stirring often. Taste the chili as it cooks and you’ll see that the flavors deepen as it cooks. Once it’s almost ready to serve, add the chipotle and maple syrup, stirring well, and allow to cook for 5 minutes more. Then remove from heat, add cilantro. Serve with a couple of tortilla chips crumbled on top, and of course, beer or a margarita. Enjoy!

Hearty vegan meal = happy carnivore: Tomato and Bread Soup

My husband’s goal is to significantly cut back on his consumption of animal-based foods so that he’ll be healthier, and I’m all for it!  But the idea of being a vegetarian scares the hell out of him and the word “vegan” makes his eyes pop out. He doesn’t want to feel deprived or eat “hippie food,” which I think he imagines is a patchouli-scented mixture of twigs, couscous, gravel and hemp.  (Since I’ve eaten vegan “food” at yoga camps prepared by well intentioned but clearly stoned dreadlocked people, I can understand his fear).  So being the cook in our family who also really wants Operation Carnivore Conversion to work, I have to carefully pick and prepare particularly hearty and flavorful meals for John so that he’ll form a new impression of vegan food.

Last night, I made a perfect starter that’s filling enough to be a meal: tomato and bread soup. The recipe is pure genius – you use dried-out country bread to thicken up the soup, which makes it ultra filling. It can be made with fresh tomatoes (which I prefer since they’re so healthy and tasty) or if you’re feeling lazy or tomatoes are out of season, you can used canned as well. It’s quite delicious, flavorful and easy! If you’d like to try it, here’s the recipe, which I modified from one I found on epicurious.com.

Tomato and Bread Soup

Yield: about 6 cups (easily serves 4 as a first course, or 2 as an entree)

8  1-inch thick slices of a country-style bread (my favorite is a sourdough-walnut levain from the farmer’s market)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
14 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
1/2 bay leaf
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
a pinch of fresh oregano if you have it, chopped
1 3/4 pounds fresh tomatoes, diced – plum tomatoes and heirlooms work best (or use one 30 oz can of Muir Glenn Organic diced tomatoes)
4 cups vegetarian broth
2 tsp smoked sea salt (you can probably use any kind of salt here, I just like the flavor of smoked sea salt)
pinch of sugar
freshly ground pepper to taste
optional for non-vegans: sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 225 degrees. Place bread slices right on the rack in the middle of the oven and bake until the bread fully dries out (but be careful not to toast it) – about 25-30 minutes. Break three pieces of the bread into large pieces and set them aside along with the full pieces of bread.

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and bay leaf and stir for 5 minutes. Stir in the basil and other spices and cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cook at a low boil, uncovered for 15 minutes or until the the tomatoes fully break down, stirring frequently.

Stir in the broth, the torn pieces of bread, salt and pepper. Return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring and breaking up the bread with the back of a spoon for 15 minutes. The bread should break down to a mush. Remove from the heat, taste it and if it’s too sharp, add a pinch or two of sugar. Cover it and let it sit for 10 minutes so the flavors fully develop and open up.

Serve with a few grinds of fresh pepper, a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan (optional for non-vegans) and with a slice of the dried-out bread. Tear the bread into chunks and sprinkle it on top of the soup. Yummy!