Day 26 of vegan recipe challenge: cooking with friends

Perhaps “Cooking with Friends” could be the “Words with Friends” for the new year. Less wordy, less competitive, and the outcome literally puts food on the table.

Yesterday afternoon, my friend Jessi and I took on our own culinary friendship date. During the process, we touched on our own challenges when cooking with our partners: the improv chef versus the stick-to-the-recipe, the “this is how I do it” mindset [totally guilty of this one], so for a friend to be willing to chop, simmer, and saute along side you, I chalk that up to a pretty big deal.

We started with Angela Liddon’s Thai-Inspired Hydrating Cucumber Salad with Roasted Spiced Chickpeas.. I showed some self-restraint and allowed the chickpeas to cook longer than I had previously, giving them even more crunch (and subsequently keeping fewer on the baking sheet as I snuck a couple each time I walked by – oops!). Below, find the recipes from the Oh She Glows blog for both the salad and the roasted chickpeas.

Bowl2You will be quenched, my friends.

Thai-Inspired Cucumber Salad with Roasted Spiced Chickpeas

Yield: about 3 portions

Dressing:

  • 1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1.5-2 tablespoons natural cane sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

Salad:

  • 2 medium field cucumbers
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish
  • Roasted spiced chickpeas (recipe follows)

1. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and adjust to taste. Feel free to add more sweetener if you prefer. Set aside.

2. Peel cucumbers, slice off the ends, and slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a small spoon (see photo in post if necessary). Slice halves into 1/8-inch “half moons” and toss into a large bowl. If your cucumbers are really big you can slice the half-moons in half as well.

3. Dice the red pepper and red onion and add into bowl. Roughly chop cilantro and add into bowl. Pour in all the dressing and toss to combine. Let this salad sit for about 30 minutes in the fridge, tossing every 10 minutes or so to help the dressing soak in.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the roasted chickpeas (if desired). Recipe follows.

5. Portion into bowls and top with peanuts and roasted chickpeas (optional). Serve immediately.

Roasted Spiced Chickpeas

Yield: 1.5 cups chickpeas or 3 (1/2 cup) servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 (15-oz) can chickpeas (or 1.5 cups cooked)
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

1. Preheat oven to 400F and line a medium baking sheet with a couple pieces of paper towel.

2. Rinse and drain the chickpeas and place onto paper towel. Add a couple paper towels on top and roll the chickpeas around until completely dry. This helps them crisp up in the oven.

3. Add the chickpeas into a medium mixing bowl and stir in the oil until coated. Now stir in the rest of the seasonings.

4. Discard paper towel and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Add chickpeas back onto the baking sheet.

5. Roast at 400F for 20 minutes. Give the pan a gentle shake to stir the chickpeas and roast for another 15-20 minutes, until golden and lightly charred on the bottom. I roast for a full 40 minutes because I like them on the crispy side, but keep an eye on them as oven temps vary.

6. Cool for 5 minutes or so and then top on your salad. They will lose their crispness quickly so these are best enjoyed immediately. If need be, you can freeze them once fully cooled, reheat them in the oven for about 5 minutes or so to bring back the crispiness.

But, that’s not all!

That was just the starter set. We jumped over to Isa Does It for the Curried Peanut Sauce Bowl with Tofu & Kale. Recently, I reveled in my love for peanut butter. If you have the same lust in your heart, you will MELT over this sauce. After making it, I would put it on anything (even a bird):

No, not really a bird. But as pizza sauce? Yes. On salads? Yes. Over a bowl of quinoa and veggies? Yes. On ANYTHING? Almost yes.

Curried Peanut Sauce Bowl with Tofu & Kale
Serves 4
Total time: 25 minutes; active time: 25 minutes

For the tofu:
1 tablespoon olive oil (I used peanut)
14 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the sauce and kale:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (!!!)
2 teaspoons curry powder (see note)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari (can sub soy sauce)
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 bunch kale, stems removed, torn into pieces
Pinch of salt

For serving:
4 cups brown rice, quinoa, or rice noodles
Sriracha (optional)
Fresh cilantro (optional)

Note: Isa recommended S&B Oriental Curry Powder. I could not find it so I used a traditional curry powder. If you can find the S&B brand, the star anise in it supposedly really shines. It’s on my list!

Prepare the tofu:
You’ll need a cast-iron pan, or something nonstick that can take very high heat. Preheat the pan over high heat. Once the pan is good and hot, apply the oil in a thin layer. Add the cubed tofu and sprinkle with the salt. The tofu should immediately sizzle when it hits the hot pan; otherwise, turn up the heat. Cook for about 7 minutes, tossing often, until it’s nicely browned.

Prepare the sauce:
Preheat a 2-quart saucepan over medium-low heat and add the oil. Saute the ginger and garlic in the oil for about 30 seconds. Add the water and deglaze the pan, then turn up the heat a bit. Once the water is warm, add the peanut butter, curry powder, rice vinegar, tamari, agave, and sriracha. As the ingredients heat up, the peanut butter will blend smoothly into the water as you stir. It should take 5 minutes or so, stirring often. Taste for seasonings, especially to see if you like the level of curry, and add more if you like.

Prepare the kale:
Get your steaming apparatus ready. Place the kale in the steamer and sprinkle on a pinch of salt. Steam for about 5 minutes, until soft but still with a little spring to it.

To assemble:
Spoon the rice into bowls. Add the kale, then the tofu, and smother in the peanut sauce. Top with sriracha and cilantro, if you like.

How differently our three bowls turned out:

Bowl4Aaron

Bowl3Jessi

Bowl1Katie’s…and the worst photo (le sigh)

Have you cooked with any of your friends? Was it a success? Or is it still something we don’t talk about?

Recap: Denver, the Driest Place on Earth

Perhaps a slight exaggerations, but after leaving the humidity, I felt upon deplaning as if a vacuum had sucked all the moisture from every single pole. Granted, I know what it feels like to exist in a dry climate (hello first 20+ years of life), but as I was also still a bit on the mend from virus 2014, it hit me like a wall.

But, let’s talk Denver. My first time in Colorado, and I was pumped! I traveled with our team for our organization’s national conference. It was great timing since I had just over a month under my belt, so I didn’t have the same sense of feeling overwhelmed (outside of the reality that I knew no one outside of our staff). But, I was pumped to learn more about what other state leagues are doing to engage and mobilize environmental advocates and glean what our national partners are conducting on a large-scale. Overall: inspiring work but a lot more of it needs to happen.

During the playtime of Denver, my top priority involved beer. Thanks to knowledgeable friends and patrons, I had a robust list of places to visit. Many would be saved for a future visit both time and distance were challenges, not to mention that I was missing my partner-in-crime and wanted to experience those adventures with him.

Our first stop: foraging. We ended up at Ace just about a mile outside of our hotel, which boasted Asian-inspired cuisine with the allure of ping-pong tables. Several of them.

10256806_10102800789896492_1649004168312971096_nOur group split the intriguing crispy brussel sprouts, which I paired a Left Hand Weak Sauce (coffee Porter). Both the appetizer and beer were outstanding.

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Not so weak sauce for me.

10173815_10102800790754772_3137260249010518129_nSpicy goodness!

I went with the kale salad for my entree and topped it off with tofu. It was very good, especially after I topped it with the crisp chili oil available on the table – gave it some nice crunch and a little more heat:

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After filling our bellies, it was off to check-in, take a mini walking tour of downtown, and then prep for that evening’s reception. As the evening wound down, we realized we had not eaten dinner (one thing I quickly learned in Denver: dinner does not happen until after 9pm, which is typically my bedtime). We were mostly full from lunch, but needed a little something something (and time for another beer). We wandered over to Freshcraft for some pretzel bites, loads of house made mustard, the Antioxidant Mix salad, and – of course – a beer (the Trinity Seven Day Sour Gueze):

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Fast-forward to Friday night, I must share this with you:

1901284_10102800787052192_1095818479356175044_n18″ of glory

That is one big pizza. Again, after realizing at 9:30pm that dinner had not been add, I jumped on Yelp and found Marquis Pizza, which offers the “Sticks & Weeds” veggie pizza with vegan cheese as an option. It was right off a club where live music was pounding, and outside on the sidewalk, it was quite…grassy? Definitely potential for a contact high, if you catch my drift. Regardless, my friend Erik and I split this monster (his side was the non-vegan cheese), and I will be honest: I crushed two enormous slices while sitting outside, and then downed a third back at the hotel room, only to be filled with regret 5 minutes later. Regret only because I thought my stomach would explode because – dang – that was a freaking delicious pizza. I’m still not 100% on the vegan cheese bandwagon, but whatever brand this place used melted nicely. And the crust – which I argue is the most important aspect of this dish – was chewy, crunchy, and yeasty.

There was some other vegan/vegetarian joints on my hit list, but there was only so much time, so I’ll look forward to checking out more when we plan our return trip in May 2015. Until then, here’s to you, Mile High City, for some amazing views, great brews, and fascinating people.

10312671_10102800787346602_1525128801307798639_nPianos available to play in the street

10341424_10102800787142012_1490878289886819261_nA must-stop for all craft beer fans

1604864_10102800789467352_995676266768890141_nSome views from our reception patio

10300005_10102800789746792_5115627565665205073_nFun street art

10311197_10102808564740642_7507293340636683015_nNext time I’ll get to see a game

10246737_10102808562759612_2167804982916361751_nBeautiful trails along downtown creeks – this one had rapids!

10320348_10102808563448232_7017365066583510511_nNC representing!

10329161_10102808564186752_695698588065842274_nEnjoyed Sunday morning oatmeal & coffee at The Market at Larimer Square

10341766_10102808564855412_6034401543282922361_nLast stop before airport: more beer

10294349_10102808565299522_7109311219900716220_nSour paddle

As always, it’s great to get away, but it’s equally as wonderful to return home. Fortunately, I came back healthier than I left (at least germ wise – the food and beer took a bit of a toll). This helped me achieve one of my goals for this year: to visit a new state! I look forward to getting to spend time in the outdoors doing more than just walking to the next bar.

A Robin Robertson Fueled Week

While shortened work weeks typically drag out in long-winded fashioned, this past week flew by at racehorse speed. I did work the morning of MLK Day – perhaps this threw my psyche off just enough to make my inner workings believe it was a full week? Perhaps. Or, it may be more that I have more than enough to manage, develop, and review than humanly possible.

In the food world this week, I realized this morning our menu was brought exclusively by vegan cookbook author Robin Robertson after the newest purchase – One-Dish Vegan – arrived as a late Christmas present to me from…me (well, really generous gift cards. But, who can resist a new cookbook?!)

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The first three recipes are from One Dish Vegan. Out of the dishes, I would vote the Vegetable Lo Mein was the most outstanding, especially as leftovers the following day as the delicious, flavorful sauce soaked deeper into the vegetables and noodles.

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I also added an entire block of tofu rather than just 8 ounces the recipe called for (TOFU MONSTER!) and since we have housed a supply of pasta for more than six months, I used what we had on hand: consider it an Italian spin on Lo Mein.

The Vegetable Etouffee was the second favorite, but alas! I never succeeded in the search for file powder to give the dish its authentic gumbo flavor. Regardless, the rue (I used soy flour) and spices made it taste as close to Cajun as possible. Aaron suggested that when I make this in the future (noted: he liked it enough for it to be repeated!), to try adding another protein to “make it a bit chunkier” – he coined Vegetable Etofu – brilliant.

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You won’t find pictures of dish three: the Lemony Quinoa with Spinach and Chickpeas. Overall, it turned out: meh. The lemon flavor was lost in the dish (did I put in too much spinach?) and it just never popped for me.

But these:

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These Super Nachos ended the week on a High C note (not the artificial, flavorful drink of our childhoods – thinking more along the line of Soprano-esque pitch). The pinto bean spread on the bottom will now become a taco filling staple in the Todd household. So, so simple and utterly satisfying. It seemed like the perfect meal to eat before venturing to DPAC to see Once – nothing says romantic musical than vegan nachos…or something like that.

One additional food-related highlight for this post: a new take on a breakfast smoothie that I am wild about:

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That is my morning powerhouse trio of liquid splendor: coffee, smoothie, and water, brought to you by two of my favorite North Carolina organizations: WUNC and the Durham YMCA. Fusion! Now, my recipe is below, but it can be tweaked/edited for your palate pleasure and dietary needs. Cheers!

Breakfast Power Smoothie

1 banana

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1/2 tablespoon chia seeds

1/2 cup pumpkin purree

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons powdered peanut butter (I use PB2)

1 cup ice