Vegan Tofu Ricotta

IMG_2081     If you have a block of tofu and a jar of capers in the house, you’re all set for this easy, delicious vegan ricotta spread.  We recently had dinner at Charlie was a sinner. restaurant in Philadelphia and loved it.  Our favorite dish was a chargrilled Caesar salad, but we also really liked their house-made “ricotta with agave, black peppercorn and olive oil”  served with grilled bread.  The waitperson said it was made of “whipped tofu.”  My version below is adapted from Tofu Ricotta Crostini by Ayinde Howell and Zoe Eisenberg.  It’s good, easy and  versatile, and would be great for an appetizer.  Alongside a salad, it would also be good for lunch or dinner.  If you’re looking for other starter ideas, check out the appetizer category on this site.

TOFU RICOTTA

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS
14 oz. block of firm organic tofu, drained well  (not pressed)
2 Tablespoons capers
1 teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper, or some fancy pepper
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, pressed, or crushed and minced
1 to 2  teaspoons fresh lemon juice
baguette to grill, or crackers

DIRECTIONS
In a medium mixing bowl, break up tofu with a fork until it’s the consistency of ricotta cheese.  Scrape 3/4 of this mixture into a food processor, along with the nutritional yeast, salt and pepper.  Pulse until smooth and then scrape the processed tofu back into the crumbled tofu in the mixing bowl, add capers and stir to blend.  In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat for a couple of minutes and then sauté garlic for a minute or two, just until golden.  Add tofu mixture to pan, stir and cook for another 2 minutes.  Remove from heat, add lemon juice and stir to mix.  Top with a drizzle of good olive oil, and a sprinkle of your best salt (I used homemade basil salt).

Notes:  Some changes I made were to use the entire block of tofu, and to whip part of it for the creamier consistency of the restaurant dish I had.  I also reduced the initial oil and salt and then added a little more at the end to finish.  This recipe can be flavored any which way.  You could add a teaspoon of agave syrup when processing, and then top with thin slices of grilled fig or dried date,  or candied pecans, or toasted pistachio nuts.  Or use preserved lemon when you process, for a deeper lemon flavor.   On canapés, you could top it with slices of pear, or fruit compote, with shards of coconut bacon, etc.  It could even be used to enhance avocado toast.
IMG_2048  One photo from Charlie was a sinner.

Anti-Aging Smoothie with Red Grapes and White Mulberries

IMG_1653     Right now, organic grapes are plentiful and so I bought a bunch on sale.  Froze half of them and this resveratrol-bomb smoothie was born.  It has the summery grape flavor I loved as a kid, when I would eat grape popsicles and grape slushies.  This is natural, bright grape flavor in a delicious treat that makes a healthy breakfast too.  Red grape skins contain resveratrol, and so do the white mulberries.  Maqui powder is made from berries that have the most antioxidants of any fruit ever tested to date.  The grapes are naturally sweet, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth, I threw in an optional Medjool date.

ANTI-AGING SMOOTHIE WITH RED GRAPES AND WHITE MULBERRIES

Makes 1 medium smoothie or two small smoothies

INGREDIENTS
1 Cup frozen red grapes
1/4 Cup dried white mulberries
1 teaspoon freeze-dried maqui powder
1 Medjool date, pit removed (optional)
1/2 Cup coconut water
2 two-inch pieces frozen banana
1 Cup ice

DIRECTIONS
Blend everything but the ice.  Add ice and blend again until smooth.

Notes:  This is also good with granola sprinkled on top. If you don’t have a high-speed blender, you can put the coconut water, mulberries and date in the blender and let it sit for 5 minutes, to soften the ingredients.  Don’t let it sit longer than 5 minutes, or the mulberries will thicken too much.  As with chia seeds, smoothies that contain mulberries should be consumed within an hour for the best texture.  Grapes are part of the Dirty Dozen and can have up to 50 pesticides, so organic is best.  Wash and dry your grapes and freeze them on a dinner plate before putting them in container(s).

Superfood Smoothies by Julie Morris

IMG_0281    If you can’t tell by my Instagram, I’m currently a bit obsessed with Superfood Smoothies  by  Julie Morris.  To date, I’ve made eleven of the smoothies from this book and am crazy about some of them.  My favorite so far is the Pistachio Cherry,  with the Lucuma Macadamia coming in at a close second.  Sometimes we want a lighter, fruity smoothie for breakfast, and then a creamy rich smoothie for an afternoon snack.  Some of these smoothies are on the level of luscious desserts but are actually good for you, body and soul.  Superfood Smoothies has opened my eyes to a whole new world of true superfood ingredients, such as Maca, Maqui, White Mulberries, Goji Berries, Hemp Protein Powder, etc.  I started out buying one superfood per week, and found them to be cost effective in that most of them had long expiration dates–some up to two years.  And a little goes a long way on most of them.  For example, even 1/4 teaspoon of camu berry powder is effective.  Each superfood is profiled in the front, with tips on what form to buy it in, how to store it and the exact benefits.  Each recipe has a row of simple graphic symbols above it, to indicate its bonus benefits (such as a little red heart for cardiovascular health).  There’s a Smoothies by Benefit Index in the back so you can tailor the smoothies to your needs, like Bone Strength, Low Calorie, Protein, etc., and all the smoothies have multiple benefits.   Julie Morris is a firm believer that smoothies must taste good, even when incorporating vegetables like beets or broccoli.   Although I juice a couple of times a week, this gorgeous book has me excited to try new smoothies.  To see more from Julie Morris, check out her other superfood cookbooks on amazon, or check out her Youtube channel.
IMG_0285  Grapefruit Pomegranate
IMG_0329  Cacao Mocha with Soyatoo Rice Whip on top
IMG_0275Orange Goji

Vegan Honeydew Matcha Bubble Tea

IMG_2593     This vegan Honeydew Matcha Bubble Tea or Boba is delicious, and much healthier than anything you can buy in a mall, where they generally use fruit powders and sugar syrup.  Matcha green tea is an acquired taste for some, so if you’re not sure about it, omit it from the recipe, and then just add a pinch or two to your own individual drink.

Makes approximately 2.5 Cups,  or 2 to 3 servings

VEGAN HONEYDEW MATCHA BUBBLE TEA

INGREDIENTS
2 Cups raw honeydew melon chunks (bite-size pieces)
3/4 Cup black tapioca pearls  (boba)
1 Cup almond milk
1/2 Cup So Delicious Creamer
1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder
2 teaspoons light agave syrup  (not dark)

for Simple Syrup to store tapioca pearls in:
1/2 Cup water
1/2 Cup sugar

DIRECTIONS
For the Simple Syrup:  In smallest saucepan, bring the 1/2 Cup water just to a boil.  Add the sugar and stir to dissolve any visible sugar.  Reduce heat to a simmer and let simmer a few minutes (less than 5 minutes).  Turn off heat and set aside.

In a large pot, bring 8 Cups of water to boil.  Stir the water and slowly swirl in the tapioca pearls and stir gently to keep pearls from sinking to bottom of pot.  Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 15 more minutes.  Rinse a pearl under cool water and chew to test for softness.  In a colander, drain and rinse pearls under cold water.  Put pearls into a glass jar.  Pour the Simple Syrup over the pearls and let cool uncovered and unrefrigerated.

In a blender, puree Matcha, almond milk, creamer, melon and agave syrup, making sure to put the matcha into the blender first, so it doesn’t poof powder all over the top of the blender.  If you do not have a blender, use a food processor to puree the melon and then mix it with everything else.  Chill in refrigerator.  When ready to serve, add 2 Tablespoons cooked tapioca pearls (drained of syrup) to each glass, and top with honeydew milk tea.  A straw is nice.  I like paper straws so I serve with a long, skinny ice-tea spoon to scoop up those chewy, chewy pearls.  In Mandarin, this perfect, toothsome chewiness is called QQ.

Notes:  The tapioca pearls can tend to harden a bit in the refrigerator.  To soften, drain the pearls, cover them with water and microwave for 1 to 2 minutes, testing after one minute.   You can stretch the batch of tea a bit by adding an extra 1/2 Cup of vegan creamer.  You can freeze any leftover melon chunks for future use, if you want.  For inspiration, I visited Kitchen Simplicity.  To make it cruelty-free, I specify almond milk and agave syrup.  Upon reading the ingredients of several large boba chains, I noticed they use non-dairy creamer as a base in their bubble teas, so I have done the same.  Never heating the matcha helps minimize its natural bitterness.  I found the boba (tapioca pearls) at an oriental grocery in Salisbury, MD, but there are good sources online, and boba pearls come in various colors.

Nutrition values for the entire batch, not including boba:  Calories 328.  Fat 3.  Saturated fat 0.  Trans fat 0.  Cholesterol 0.  Sodium 214.  Potassium 150.  Carbs 64.  Fiber 2.  Sugars 59.  Protein 3.  Vitamin A 14.  Vitamin C 106.  Calcium 4.  Iron 6.  Nutrition values for 2 Tablespoons of boba:  Calories 41.  Fat 0.  Cholesterol 0.  Sodium 23.  Potassium 3.  Carbs 10.
IMG_2584IMG_2582
IMG_2587  I was able to find this locally.

Avocado Toast

IMG_1825    Yes, Avocado Toast is a thing.  If you’ve already had Avocado Toast, you know how good it is.  If you haven’t, get thee to a kitchen pronto.  Lots of people claim they invented Avocado Toast, it’s all over the internet and in foodie magazines, and famously on the menu at Café Gitaine in New York City.  There’s something rustically beautiful about this dish, and it’s so delicious that I’ve eaten it for lunch three days in a row.  Don’t forget the lemon–it makes it sing!

AVOCADO TOAST

INGREDIENTS
whole grain bread
avocados  (approx. one small-to-medium avocado per person)
extra-virgin olive oil
fine sea salt
black pepper
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice  (lemon is a must, in my opinion)

DIRECTIONS
Toast whole-grain bread.  Cover toast with slices of fresh avocado.  Drizzle lightly with extra-virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with fine sea salt and black pepper.  Squeeze fresh lemon over the whole thing and eat while toast is still crunchy and before avocado goes brown.

NOTES:  This somehow tastes even better with whole-grain bread.  I used Fleur de sel for salt and Shallot-Pepper from Penzey’s Spices, but it still tastes fabulous with plain salt and pepper.  I would avoid kosher salt (too chemical tasting) and I wouldn’t think of mashing my avo because I prefer the almost-toothsome texture of just-ripe slices.  That being said, make sure your avocado is not overly ripe, not mushy.

Chickpea Zucchini Fries with Sumac and Lemon

IMG_1104    Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, this is my riff on Mario Batali’s Chickpea Fries.  We found his version too bland, so these have been spiced up a bit, and this recipe below is halved.  I didn’t bother wringing out the zucchini, just left it to drain longer instead.  Packed with fiber and protein, these golden fries are addictive when served with wedges of fresh lemon and sea salt.

CHICKPEA FRIES

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
1 large zucchini, partially peeled and grated  (approx. 3 cups of grated zucchini)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 Cups water
1.5 Cups chickpea flour  (also called garbanzo flour)
1.5 teaspoon ground sumac
1 teaspoon Shallot-Pepper  or any other spice(s)
1/4 Cup all-purpose flour for dredging (optional)
1/2 Cup peanut oil
2 lemons, cut into wedges
sea salt or other finishing salt

DIRECTIONS
Place grated zucchini in a bowl and sprinkle with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and stir to mix well.  Transfer grated zucchini to a colander set over a bowl, and set aside to drain for 30 minutes or so.  Occasionally, gently stir and press it with the back of a spoon.

Grease a baking dish and line the bottom with waxed paper or parchment paper.  I used waxed paper and a Pyrex dish of approx. 11×7 inches.  Set this prepared baking dish in the refrigerator while you work.

In a medium mixing bowl, dry whisk the sumac and shallot-pepper (or other seasonings) into the chickpea flour.  In a medium saucepan, simmer the water over medium heat.  Pour in the seasoned chickpea flour and stir constantly for one minute, making sure heat is not too high.  Add zucchini, stir well and remove from heat.  Pour zucchini mixture into prepared baking dish, and gently press and smooth it out with the back of a spoon.  Chill for at least one hour, or overnight.

Onto a large floured cutting board, turn out the set chickpea mixture.  Peel off and discard the waxed paper.  Cut into fries approx. 3″ x 1/2″.   In a heavy-bottom pot, heat the oil.  Dredge fries lightly in all-purpose flour (this step is optional but it’s the only way I’ve ever done it).  Working in batches, cook the chickpea fries until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes.  You’re going for golden brown here, not too dark.  Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with plenty of lemon wedges,  and sea salt for sprinkling.

Notes:  You can find ground sumac in any Middle-Eastern grocery.  These are worth getting out your best salt for.  Feel free to change up the spices.  I’ll try using black pepper and rosemary next time, to go with the lemon and sea salt.  These are called panisses in France, and panelle in Italy.  Here’s a video of Mario Batali making these.  More photos below.

IMG_1098 Zucchini draining into a bowl.
IMG_1100  Water drained from the zucchini.

Salted Caramel Popcorn

I saw this recipe on Pinterest and it hails from My Vegan CookbookI have to give Josh credit for creating a recipe that is much lower in fat than the standard caramel popcorn (he uses an air popper and eliminates the oil).  Also, the recipe is dead simple and does not require a candy thermometer.  I did change a few minor things and added some nuts, but you don’t have to.  When I was trick-or-treating as a kid, if we were lucky, we’d come to a house where we’d receive large, homemade, gooey popcorn balls wrapped in waxed paper, and this brings back those memories just in time for Halloween.  This is my 18th post for Vegan Mofo 2012, phew.  For the last two days, I did not post because we’ve been getting ready for Hurricane Sandy here in the coastal areas of Maryland.
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Salted Caramel Popcorn

INGREDIENTS
1/2 Cup un-popped, organic popcorn kernels
1/2 Cup light brown sugar, packed
1 Tablespoon agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 Tablespoon Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1/4 Cup Unsweetened/First Pressing, canned Coconut Milk
        (I used Thai Kitchen brand)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 Cup of cocktail peanuts or dried fruit  (optional)
1/4 Cup of sliced almonds  (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pop the popcorn in an air popcorn popper into a very large mixing bowl, like the largest one you have.
Mix any nuts and/or fruit into the popcorn and set aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Josh says oiling the pan is not enough; the caramel will still stick to the pan if you only use oil.

In a medium saucepan combine all other ingredients except vanilla.
Place on heat that is one-click-below-medium and stir constantly for 5 minutes.  Caramel should be bubbling well.
Remove from heat and carefully add vanilla while stirring, just in case it splutters a bit.

Drizzle caramel by the spoonful over the popcorn and stir well after each spoonful.
Spread caramel popcorn onto the prepared baking sheet and bake 15 minutes.
Remove from oven, mix popcorn gently with a spatula and return to oven for 10 more minutes.
Remove from oven.
Caramel will be soft but it will become crispy as it cools.

Notes:  You should link to the original recipe, because I have changed a few things.  This recipe is not quite sweet enough for me, so next time, I’ll probably make 50% more sauce and try rolling the popcorn into balls (after oiling my hands).  I’ll also add some dried cherries or some other extra goodies.  However, Lars likes a lighter, less-sugary popcorn and was really pleased with how light this is.  And so it’s his, all his, bwa ha ha.

Ambrosial Vegan Granola

This is a decadent vegan granola; sweet, fragrant, and rich with fruits and nuts.  Store-bought granola pales in comparison.  I have two other granola recipes, but this one’s my favorite.  I make this for company, and give it for gifts.  This recipe fills two one-quart canning jars, so you could give one away and keep one.  I also throw this in my suitcase when I travel.   p.s. We like to raid the dried fruits and nuts section at Trader Joe’s when we’re near one.  As an aside, this granola can also be used to make these wonderful granola bars.
AMBROSIAL GRANOLA

Makes about 8 cups, or 16 servings

INGREDIENTS
2 Tablespoons vegan butter (Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
1/3 Cup brown sugar
1/3 Cup brown rice syrup
1/3 Cup pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fine sea salt  (if using regular salt, use only 3/4 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 Cups rolled oats
1/4 Cup flax seed meal
1/2 Cup chopped raw pecans
1/2 Cup sliced raw almonds
1/4 Cup raw sesame seeds (optional)

1/3 Cup dried blueberries
1/3 Cup dried cherries, chopped
1/3 Cup golden raisins  (or regular raisins)
1/3 Cup shredded unsweetened coconut (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat.
Measure out and set fruits aside, as you will NOT be cooking them.
Into a large bowl, put oats, flaxseed meal and nuts, stir and set aside.

In a stock pot, melt vegan butter over low heat.   Add sugar, rice syrup, maple syrup, vanilla, salt and cinnamon.   Stir until well mixed and sugar is melted, do not overheat.
Add oats, flaxseed meal and nuts,  and stir until well mixed.   Spread granola mixture onto rimmed baking sheet.   Bake one hour, stirring after 30 minutes and again after 60.  It will harden more as it cools, don’t worry.   Let cool on baking sheet.  Transfer to a very large bowl, add all fruits and stir well.   Granola can be stored in airtight containers for about 3 weeks.

Nutritional Info:  Serving 1/2 Cup.  Calories 232.  Carbs 37.  Fat 8,  Protein 4.  Sodium 165.  Sugar 19.  This is with sesame seeds but without dried coconut.

Flapjacks – British Oat Cakes

In America, the word Flapjack is most often synonymous with Pancake.  However, it is something different in Europe.  No matter which country you’re in, these particular flapjacks are chewy and sweet and uber satisfying.  When I took my Mom to England in 2004, we stayed in South Kensington, but hopping the Tube and various trains, we went everywhere for eleven days.  I noticed these little packages of individual oat cakes in every convenience store.  The exchange rate then was so bad for us, that I ate a “flapjack” almost every day.  We were walking at least 8 hours a day and were spending sometimes $30 U.S. on lunch (including tip) per person, so these curious flapjack thingies were a great snack that kept me from hunger until dinnertime.  I’ve tried several recipes for flapjacks over the years and this one tastes the most like the ones I had in London, and Leeds, and the Cotswolds.  Sort of brings me back there, like Paddington Bear.
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Vegan Flapjacks – British Oat Cakes

INGREDIENTS
1/2 Cup vegan butter, or one Earth Balance Buttery Stick
1/2 Cup packed brown sugar or Sucanat
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 Tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup
3 Cups old-fashioned rolled oats (I use organic)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
In a small saucepan, over low heat, combine vegan butter, sugar, salt, and Golden Syrup.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until butter and sugar have melted.
Add vanilla.
Immediately stir in oats until coated.
Pour into 8 or 9 inch square baking pan.  Mixture should be somewhere about an inch thick, maybe a bit less.
Oil your wooden spoon and press the oats down into the pan.
If using an 8-inch square pan, bake for about 20 minutes.
If using a 9-inch square pan, bake for about 18-20 minutes.
Remove from oven and cut into squares or rectangles, but leave them in the pan until they cool completely.
They will harden more as they sit.

Notes;  Once again, I love my inexpensive Wilton9-inch square pan with cover.  A narrow offset spatula is helpful to extract slim rectangles or “bars” of the oat cakes from the pan, or you can just use a fork.  From what I’ve read, some Brits put raisins and/or nuts in their homemade flapjacks.  Lars likes them with chocolate chips.  If you’re adding anything like that, just add 1/4 Cup.  The store-bought ones I had in England, however, were just plain.

Vegan Granola Bars – Cherry Almond with Cashew Butter

Here’s my rendition of this recipe from the New York Times, and it took just minutes to make.  I just used what I had in the pantry; dried Bing cherries and cashew butter, and I have to say, they are the best granola bars I’ve ever tasted.  In fact, they put store-bought granola bars to shame.  I did not want to use honey, so I used Just Like Honey instead, and made them vegan.  I also added the salt to the warm nut-butter and nectar mixture, so it would melt and incorporate more evenly (as opposed to mixing it with the dry ingredients).  And I skipped the plastic wrap and vegetable oil, because there is no need to waste either as long as you have some wax paper or parchment paper (much healthier and greener alternatives).  This would be great for kids, especially since it’s versatile and you can change this up to use whatever fruits or nut butters the kids like.  For special occasions, you could even add some vegan chocolate chips and sub in some peanut butter.  You could substitute some oats for some of the brown puffed rice.  I love this cherry/blanched almond combo, but now I’m thinking of trying dried strawberries with agave syrup.  Or for adults, maybe black walnuts and good maple syrup.  I don’t know how other sweeteners would work, however.  p.s.  The tiny bit of sea salt is a key element, the perfect foil to the sweet fruit.
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Simple Vegan Granola Bars

Yield:  approx. 12 to 16 bars

INGREDIENTS
1/2 Cup of cashew butter (or any other nut butter)
1/2 Cup of Suzanne’s Just Like Honey
1 Cup crispy brown rice cereal (puffed)
1 Cup granola
1/2 Cup slivered almonds (or any other nuts)
1/2 Cup dried cherries (cut cherries in half) (or any other dried fruit)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (or other salt)
parchment paper,  or wax paper

DIRECTIONS
-Cut parchment paper or wax paper into two long strips the width of your 8″x8″ pan, and line the pan with one strip going one way and the 2nd strip going the other way (see photo below).  You will lift the granola bars out of the pan using these paper strips.
-Put nut butter and nectar (or syrup), and the salt in a small saucepan over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes until they melt together, stir to combine.
Put the crispy rice cereal, granola, nuts and dried fruit in a large bowl and stir.  Add the warm nut butter/syrup/nectar mixture and stir well to combine.
-Spread granola mixture evenly into the double-lined pan, and then fold down each of the four flaps of paper, and press down somewhat hard to compress the granola bar mixture.
-Refrigerate until set, approximately one hour or overnight.
-Once granola bar mixture has hardened in the pan, remove from pan in one piece, by lifting the edges of the paper out of the pan.
-Open the paper and cut the bars to any size you like.
Postcript:  My friend Piliki tried this recipe using brown rice syrup and said the bars were too sticky.  If you use agave or maple syrup or some other sweetener, please let me know the results.