Raise a Glass of Bubbly, with Extra Fruit, for New Years!

26 12 2011

Fruit and Bubbly, Meant for Each Other

I think it’s no secret, I love a Nice Glass of Wine. In fact, at one point I noticed that almost all of the photos of me on Facebook depicted me holding a glass, and I promise that it is because the snaps are taken at festive moments, not because I always have a glass of wine in my hand. Honestly.  But this time of year, we all have parties and dinners to attend, and to be honest, alcohol has its downsides. In moderation, it can be a healthy thing, and the current science shows that a little drinking prolongs life. Maybe it’s because we relax and loosen up a little, and bond with the people around us.

It’s that moderation thing that seems to get people in trouble.

So, you have a few options, when it comes to drinking in a healthy way. Because it’s so easy to quaff a tasty drink quickly, I like to make mine weak. A personal favorite is to mix my wines, which are relatively low alcohol to begin with, with fruit. It’s a healthy way to have each glass contain less alcohol, as well as keep you busy eating the wine-soaked fruit. Have a few bites of cracker or some nuts in between, and you will keep the consumption down.

A great side benefit of this kind of mixing is that you can start with a relatively inexpensive wine, too. No need to go to that $50 bottle of champagne when you are making a sparkling cocktail. A $10 bottle of Prosecco will be fine.

A classic combo like the bellini is a common theme at my house. You can make a fruit puree, like the peach puree of the original bellini recipe. It’s easy, and I have made bellinis with everything from rhubarb to mango, whatever is in season. Just peel it and chunk it and put it in a pan with some sweetener, organic sugar is easiest, agave, works, too. Frozen fruit will do in a pinch. Boil and stir until the fruit is soft, then puree. Adjust with a squeeze of lemon or more sweet, if needed, and there you go. I’ve also made purees of raw fruit, when its really good.

Not up for that? Put a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds, raspberries, halved grapes, or sweet pitted fresh cherries in each glass and top with prosecco or cava. Add some juice to make it sweeter and more fruity-Apple cider and minced apples make a great spritzer, topped with sparkling wine. The bonus with small berries and pomegranate seeds is that the bubbles from the sparkling wine make them float up and then drop, making your drink lively and pretty.

For a great red wine version of the same idea, go for sangria, or mulled cider and wine. Sangria is basically red or white wine, with lots of chopped oranges, lemons and whatever else suits your fancy, cut with some ginger ale or club soda. Most recipes call for some liquor, but just leave that out. I know it’s kind of a summer drink, but why not? Add pears and apples for a wintry feel. Mulled cider and wine is perfect for the season, with spices, hot cider and just enough red wine to give it a little character. Leave it on the stove long enough, and the alcohol may well evaporate, anyway!

All of these drinks have official recipes somewhere, just google. Just ignore that part where you are supposed to add some liqueur to the mix. It not only adds alcohol and sugar, but usually tastes unnatural. These fresh drinks taste like wine and real fruit, no fake flavors. Stay away from adding shots of strong spirits, when you make something tasty and fruity, or people may not realize that they are guzzling hard liquor until it is too late.

Of course, you can use sparkling cider or de-alcoholized wines, too. Sober people deserve interesting cocktails, and you may just want to alternate non-alcohlic drnks with your occasional alcoholic one. I like to set this up with some flexibility, It’s easy to have sparkling cider right next too the prosecco, and just have your pitcher of fruit puree to add to the glass.

Bellinis all Around!

 

Bellini for Lightweights

Puree ripe mango, kiwi, or raspberries with sweetener, or cook some frozen fruit with sweetener and puree.

Mix 1/3 of a glass of fruit and 2/3 prosecco or cava. If you are a real lightweight, go for half and half.

Stir carefully, it will foam up and out of the glass. I often find it is best to use a large-bowl glass, like a cabernet glass, so you have room to stir and bubble. You will get more aroma that way, too.

For a crowd, you can also mix it in a pitcher.

Basic Sangria with Variations

If citrus isn’t your thing, try it with Pears and apples floating in the wine, or those expensive imported bing cherries at the market, with cherry juice instead of orange.

Serves about 4

1 Bottle of red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rioja reds, Zinfandel, Shiraz)

2 Oranges, juiced

1 Lemon cut into wedges

1 Orange cut into wedges

2 Tbsp sugar or agave, to taste

2 Cups ginger ale or club soda

Choose your Fruit, Add Red Wine





Robin Robertson’s Quick-Fix Vegan Cookbook Makes Speedy Easy

19 12 2011

Super Nachos

 

 

 

 

When you get down to it, most people find that the biggest barrier to eating well is time. Planning, shopping, cooking, all take time, and it’s way easier to just grab some fast food. Well, if you are using that as your excuse to not eat balanced, whole foods vegan meals, your excuse is now officially crumbling before your eyes. Robin Robertson, one of the most prolific cookbook authors I know of, has now conquered the time-crunch-and done it deliciously.

You can’t stand in the cookbook aisle and not know Robin Robertson’s name. She is the author of 19 cookbooks so far, and seems to have an amazing ability to just keep cranking out useful, creative books.

In her latest, Quick-Fix Vegan Healthy Homestyle Meals in 30 Minutes or Less (Andrews McMeel $16.99), Robertson cuts to the chase and puts together good food simply. If you were thinking of slapping together a sandwich, you may as well make on of hers, full of vibrant veggies and flavors, instead of the same old pb and j. It doesn’t really take much more time.

The book is filled with global flavors, making the most of the exciting tastes of far-flung places, like Morocco, Vietnam,Mexico and more. Vegan food is an adventure when you search the world for the dishes with great tastes that can do plant-based.

The very first chapter is an introduction to the mind-set of a fast cook, called quick-fix vegan basics. Right away, she says to be flexible- if you don’t have an ingredient, substitute. Arrange your space and tools for easy access, and set up your pantry are just a few of the things she urges you to do to get fast meals on the table. She also gives you a run-down on which whole grains cook fastest, and which ingredient short-cuts are worth trying. It’s a great intro to the fast and furious way of getting real food on the table.

With chapters on Starters and Snacks, Stovetop Suppers, Pasta, Soup, Sandwiches, Salads and Make Ahead Bakes, Robertson displays a skill for cutting out unnecessary steps and ingredients. A quick chop, a fast cook, and you are eating dinner, and it’s vegan. She also has chapters on condiments and desserts, essential add-ons for the hurried cook.

It was a real pleasure making dishes from the book. Like everyone else, I don’t have a ton of time, so quick is always good. Reading and cooking from Robertson’s recipes, I admire the way her mind works. As a fellow recipe developer, I can appreciate a well-crafted recipe. These recipes are simplified, but still interesting, and follow the shortest path from point A to point B. Simple looks easy, but it takes skill to make it that way.

I also appreciate the use of whole foods, like beans, nuts and seeds, and the near absence of mock meats. Just because you are in a hurry, doesn’t mean you have to go in for vegan bologna or burgers every night, in Robertson’s kitchen.

Another useful and practical book, from Robin Robertson. I’m sure there will be more to come.

That Nacho Sauce Was Fast

Super Nachos

Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans or one 15 oz can, drained and rinsed)

1 cup tomato salsa (divided)

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder, divided

salt and pepper

1 ripe avocado

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon mellow white miso

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 cup non-dairy milk

6 cups tortilla chips

GARNISHES: 1/2 cup vegan sour cream, 1/3 cup sliced black olives, 1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapenos, 2 tablespoons scallions

Pereheat the oven to 400F. Grease a -inch baking dish. In a small saucepan, heat the beans with half of the salsa, 1 tsp chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, mashing and stirring, until hot, about 4 minutes. Spread in the dish.

Halve, pit and chop the avocado and reserve.

In a small skillet, mix the nutritional yeast, flour, miso, lemon, mustard, onion powder, cumin, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon chili powder and the non-dairy milk. Whisk until smooth and season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk over medium heat until it boils and thickens.

Spread the chips over the beans, then drizzle the sauce over the chips. Bake until hot, about 5 minutes. Serve topped with remaining salsa and all the garnishes.

I used fresh red fresnos instead of pickled jalapenos, and I didn’t have the vegan sour cream.

Vietnamese Tofu Wraps, mmmmm

Vietnamese Tofu Wraps

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound extra firm tofu, cut in 1/4 inch wide strips

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce, plus more for serving

4 10 -inch flour tortillas

vegan mayo

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced

1 carrot, shredded

1 cup cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons bottled jalapenos

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu and cook until golden brown, turning frequently, 7-10 minutes. Add the hoisin, soy sauce, and 1 tsp sriracha, stirring to coat the tofu. Take off the heat to cool. To assemble the wraps, spread the tortillas with vegan mayo and drizzle with srirach to taste. Arrange 1/ of te tofu in the center, then top with cucumber, carrot, cilantro and jalapenos. Wrap and serve.

Goodies, Ready to Roll





The Latest Numbers on Meatless Eating-Yes, It Is Growing

12 12 2011

Chopped Salad with Thousand Island, Big Vegan Style

For much of my life, I liked believing that there were lots of vegetarians out there. I wanted to believe that our numbers were swelling exponentially, every day. Even when I was the only vegetarian I knew, I held out hope that if I got in a car and drove far enough, I would get to some veggie nirvana. Back then, we didn’t really have any numbers, and anyone you talked to was stuck with their own experiences. If you worked in a Coop or a vegetarian restaurant, you might think half the world were vegetarians. If you lived in a small town in the Midwest, you might not know a single one.

Well, thanks to the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) we have numbers. If you have been feeling like vegans are getting some attention lately, well, their numbers have doubled since 2009. Extrapolating from the results, 7.5 million people call themselves vegans. There are 15 million people who call themselves vegetarians, and still eat dairy and eggs .

In the latest poll, done by Harris Interactive for VRG over the phone, between March 30 and April 3 2011, it becomes clear that even as the numbers for dedicated vegetarians and vegans grow slowly, the numbers for people who eat vegetarian often are growing much more quickly.

These numbers show a real mainstreaming of the idea that you can enjoy meatless meals, even if you love meat. Basically, 17% of Americans don’t eat meat, fish poultry at many meals but less than half, 16% more than half. That adds up to about a third of the American population opting for meatless some of the time.

The number that said that they eat meat at every meal was 48%, which is still a little scary, since that is a lot of animal foods for anyone to consume. I didn’t think anybody was still eating it at every single meal, which shows how much I know.

Other interesting results confirm a few things that you may have suspected. There are more vegetarians out West (think California) than down South (think Texas,) and more women than men are vegetarians, but not by much. A hopeful number is that equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats are veg-heads, possibly the only thing the two parties can share, these days.

So, after all these years in the vegetarian movement, it’s nice to hear that our numbers are growing. Every little bit helps, and we have to give credit to everyone who has done her part to build awareness and make veg look appealing and do-able. From the animal rights activists, to the chefs and authors, to the hot celebrities who endorse a plant-based diet as they look great on the red carpet, everybody has a role to play. Powerful books and films have been getting the word out, and people like Bill Clinton have put a face on the miraculous cure of a good diet. Campaigns like Meatless Mondays have helped put the veggie option in front of millions of people, and many of them are choosing to go that way, at least some of the time.

So, be of good cheer, in this season of giving, since we give the world a present every time we don’t eat meat. Our message is getting out, my friends, and that is something to celebrate.





The Secret Ingredient for Satisfying Vegan Food Is….

4 12 2011

jar of magic

Today I wanted to touch on a secret weapon in the vegan and veg cooking arsenal. And that is smoke. In my book and classes, I often talk about using umami to give meatless foods a sensation of meatiness. Umami is abundant in animal proteins, but it can also be found in mushrooms, fermented soy, eggplant, ripe tomatoes, wine, and a host of plant based foods. Well, one of the most intriguing ways to get umami is through the flavor of smoke. It’s not really a food, but the taste and smell of woodsmoke send signals to your brain that it is enjoying something meaty and satisfying.

So, now that it’s wintertime, and your grill is probably either stored away or covered in snow, how do we get smoke into our plant’ based delights?

Easy, with a few smoky ingredients, you can add instant smoky complexity. In fact, you may want to make a few of these simple tastings just to see what smoke does to food. I started with my smoky ingredients. For smoke with no chile heat, I have some fabulous smoked salt from Spain. There are smoky salts from all over the world, and all are unique, so taste what you buy. Most are artisanal salts, which start with a distinctive, regional salt, then smoke it over a flavorful wood, so you may find applewood, mesquite, cherry, or whatever the creatives had to work with. For pure and intense smoke, I have liquid smoke, which is super concentrated, so just use a drop if you give that a try.

Another tasty source of smoke is the chipotle pepper, available in cans in adobe sauce, dried whole chiles, or ground powder. Of course, they add chile heat as well as smoke. You can also get smoked paprika from Spain. If you are not so into hot stuff, the paprika may be for you, as it is milder and sweeter.

For my tasting, I slowly caramelized some onions in coconut spread and served them on a whole wheat roll with a sprinkle of smoked salt. The simple sweet earthiness of the onions, one of my favorite flavors anyway, was instantly enlivened by the smoke and salt. As soon as I took the picture, I ate it all.

simple goes spectacular

I also boiled some potatoes and beets, and cut up cauliflower and baby carrots, and served them with a simple vegan may with chipotle powder stirred in. Addictive. This is an old trick of mine, adding chipotle to creamy dressings is always a hit, whether its a mayo, a sour cream style dip, or a creamy white sauce.

Chipotle Dip to the Rescue

I boiled some lacinato kale until just tender, then stirred some canned chipotle and adobo with olive oil and tossed it with the kale. It was amazing.I knew there was a reason they always cooked kale with a hunk of smoky pork-the smokiness brings out the sweetness of the greens, and adds depth.

Smoky Spicy Kale

For more sweet and smoke, I cubed a sweet potato and roasted it with whole garlic cloves and olive oil, covered, for about half an hour, then served it sprinkled with smoked salt. This could be a great bruschetta topping, tossed with pasta, or just served like this. I loved it.

Sweet Potatoes and Smoked Salt

Any simple salad will come alive with smoked salt, just sprinkle the crunchy grains on just before serving. Any pot of beans will seem heartier with a few chipotles-or you can keep going until it’s chili.

So give smoke a try, and see if it gives you a more satisfying dish. I think you will love it, and its so EASY.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers