Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Very Vegan Easter Basket

For those of us who celebrate Easter with little ones, we have to prepare for the very important annual visit from the Easter Bunny. Easter baskets usually create visions of tons of candy and eggs - which, for a vegan, can be a daunting proposition! Fortunately, there are many great ways to put together a veg-friendly Easter basket for the little chick in your life.

This year, Baby M's Easter is pretty straightforward. We will be setting out her Easter basket (passed from Grandma to Daddy to her!) and leaving carrots for the Easter Bunny, naturally! Since she (thankfully) has no interest in things like candy, the Easter Bunny will be bringing her a book:

And these adorable eggs:

I have heard wonderful things about these eggs and that they are fun toy even beyond the holiday season because you can use them as a shape sorter, enjoy the squeaky "yolks," learn about colors, etc., so I was pretty excited about this find!

When Baby M is older, or if you have a toddler, you can add things like stickers, pencils, coloring books, or even a small stuffed animal to the basket if you would like to keep the candy at bay. 

Of course, when Baby M is older, she will likely want to decorate eggs and get candy from the Easter Bunny. The good news is I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve that I think will work when the time comes! I should preface this by saying I am NOT at all craftsy or talented with this type of thing, so chances are if even I can pull this off, you will likely do an even more amazing job. :)

For decorating eggs, there's no need to hard boil eggs. Instead, you can pick up a pack of ceramic or wooden eggs and decorate those instead. You can dye them, paint on them, use markers, stickers - wherever your imagination takes you! And the nice thing about those eggs is you can keep them for posterity (and they don't stink!). For an Easter egg hunt, you can use your new fancy decorated eggs or else buy plastic eggs and fill them with stickers or little candies.

But what about candy? The good news is that accidentally vegan Easter candy abounds. We have been a fan of decorating with Starburst jelly beans or Jolly Ranchers hard candies or jelly beans. Skittles are also vegan (something I've leaned on during many a road trip!), as are Justin's dark chocolate peanut butter cups.

Or, if you are looking for something extra special (or just want to the traditional chocolate rabbit), look no further than Farm Sanctuary for their vegan Easter bunny and basket. It's delicious AND you're supporting a great cause, all at once!

So don't despair! Easter doesn't mean leaving tradition at the curb. In fact, you can continue to celebrate and show compassion for the wonderful animals that come to mind this time of the year, too. :)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Easter/Spring Extravaganza Week! (or A Great Excuse to Make Crustless Vegan Quiche)

Hooray for Spring! Seriously, if you are in Chicago, then you know we got run through the ringer with weather. So bring on the sunshine, walks outside with Baby M and the puppies, and general glad tidings!

For some of us, this time of year means Easter is on its way. Vegans often find holidays can be a bit of a struggle, particularly for Easter with its hams, lamb cakes, and eggs, so this week's posts will focus on ways to have a vegan-friendly, delicious, celebratory Easter without feeling like you're making sacrifices. I'll have you covered with Easter basket ideas - and even dessert!

If Easter isn't your thing, chances are you are at least a fan of brunch. Brunch is an area that tends to be tricky for vegans. When people thing brunch, most dishes are very meat- or egg-based, which can make things tough. Chances are, though, if you tell your omnivorous friends that you will make them a big batch of scrambled tofu - though delicious, you will likely scare them off by the name alone.

So what to do if you are in charge of Easter breakfast or brunch this year, or if you want to have folks over for brunch just because, and you aren't sure what to make? Vegan crustless quiche is the order of the day, my friends.

I've played with this recipe for a few months and finally gotten it to place where it is all kinds of delicious without much effort. It has been a hit every time I've made it, and no one ever believes it's vegan (or accidentally gluten-free!). Plus, I've made a double batch ahead of time and eaten for breakfast each morning before work, which gives it major bonus points. You can also make the quiche ahead of time and pop it in the oven right before guests arrive, and you don't have to mess around with having a perfect crust. Basically, this recipe has it all.

If you want to entertain with this quiche, I would recommend pairing it with a simple salad, Tofurkey Tempeh Bacon, potatoes, fruit, and mimosas (for vegan sparkling wine, check out Barnivore.) If you feel that you need a second entree, I heartily recommend Chubby Vegan Mom's French Toast, which is delicious. (Hat  tip to Angela for the original inspiration for this creation.)

Soak 1/2-3/4 cup of cashews for at least one hour (or overnight in the fridge). Press 1/2 block of firm or extra firm refrigerated tofu. (You can do this by putting the tofu between two plates and putting a heavy can on top.)

Drain the cashews. In a food processor, pulverize the cashews until they become mealy.

 Discard the pressed tofu liquid and add the tofu to the food processor, processing until starting to become smooth. Then add one jar of sundried tomatoes in oil, onion powder, garlic powder, and 1/4 cup of non-dairy milk (I usually use unsweetened almond milk, but any will do), salt, and pepper. Process until smooth (some sun-dried tomatoes chunks are fine). [If you are making ahead of time, at this point you can put the tofu mixture in the fridge.]

 When you are ready to bake it, fold in 2.5-3 oz of spinach with the tofu mixture.

 Like so. Honestly, if you want to add a little more or a little less, feel free!

You can put this quiche in a greased traditional round or square pan. If you double the recipe, it fits well in a 9x13.

 Place in a preheated oven. It bakes at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or a 350 degree oven for 40-45, until the top and edges start to brown.

And voila! You have a very fancy looking yet substantial breakfast to wow your guests without much effort at all.

Sundried Tomato and Spinach Crustless Vegan Quiche
Serves: 3-4 (when doubled, serves 4-6)

1/2-3/4 c. raw cashews
1/2 block of refrigerated firm or extra-firm tofu
1 jar of sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1/4 c. non-dairy milk (I use unsweetened almond milk)
1-2 Tablespoons of onion powder
1-2 Tablespoons of garlic powder
Salt and pepper (to taste - I tend to use 1/2-1 tsp. of salt and 1/4 tsp. of pepper)
2/5-3 oz of spinach
Spray oil

1) Soak cashews in water for at least one hour (or overnight in the fridge)
2) Press the tofu for one hour. (I usually put it between two plates with a heavy can on top.)
3) Drain cashews and pulverize in a food processor until mealy. Discard pressed tofu liquid and add tofu to cashews, processing until somewhat smooth.
4) Add sundried tomatoes (with oil), non-dairy milk, and the spices. Process until smooth; some sun-dried tomatoes chunks are fine. (If you are preparing ahead of time, stick this mixture in the fridge until ready to bake.)
5) Fold spinach into mixture; feel free to add more or less spinach as desired.
6) Add to greased (with spray oil) round or square pan (or, if double, 9x13 pan).
7) Bake in preheated oven either at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, until the tops and edges are starting to brown.

Serve or enjoy as an easy breakfast throughout the week!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Feeding the New Family

Hello readers! I am back on the blog after having crossed the great divide from pregnancy into parenthood. Baby M arrived and she is wonderful and perfect in ways that Greg and I could have never imagined.

When Baby M was born, I learned a lesson that I intellectually understood pre-baby but felt viscerally as a new mom - BRING NEW PARENTS FOOD. Truly. I recently found this list of ways to be helpful to new parents. I had a friend who also recently become a new mother point out to me that the only problem with this list is that number 10 should repeat bring food, simply because it's that important. And she is correct.

You may feel that bringing food simply feels like a token or like you are going through the motions. Friend, I am here to tell you: FOOD IS EVERYTHING. Baby M was stubbornly breech, so I had a planned c-section, and frankly I was in no position to cook until 6-8 weeks postpartum. And really, even if I hadn't had surgery, given the effort and exhaustion that goes into caring for a newborn, plus the fairly constant stream of calories you need if you choose to breastfeed, I simply can't imagine I would have been ready to cook for that period of time anyway. Had we not had family and friends feed us, I'm pretty sure I would have starved to death. The number one tip I have given friends who have become new parents is that the price of admission to come visit the baby needs to be food of some kind, and I stand by that advice, 100%.

With that said, what kinds of food should you bring? The reality is that new parents probably don't have time to do any food preparation, so ideally the food you bring will work cold or can easily be pulled out in small portions and zapped in the microwave or warmed up on the stove. (As a note, ideally this food should be brought in containers you never need to see again, like Gladware, and remember to tell the new parents you don't want it back so they don't feel like they need to chase you down to return your storageware!)

So what should you bring? Many endless choices abound (and Greg and I benefited from the talent and creativity of others immensely), but one that I can't recommend enough is the wonderful classic: Soup!

Soup is really wonderful to bring for many reasons:
- It meets my criteria of being easy to reheat and eat.
- It's extremely delicious.
- It's super easy to make.
- It's great for vegans, adaptable for those with food sensitivities, and embraced by omnivores alike!

If you want to be really fancy, stop at Panera Bread and pick up a sliced loaf of sourdough bread, which is accidentally vegan - hooray!

My nephew was born a few months after Baby M, and feeling as strongly as I did about bringing food, I made batches of chili and froze it in my sister's freezer, and then everytime I went to visit, I made sure I had food, and that food was almost always soup and bread. Oftentimes I would make a variation on this soup and bring it along.

Another great option, which also happens to be a staple in my house, is a variation on Zesty Black Bean Soup, from the fine folks at Whole Foods. This soup is full of flavor - and seriously, so easy to make, it's almost embarrassing.

First, heat up approximately 1 Tablespoon of oil (olive, vegetable, canola - whatever you have on hand) in a stockpot over medium to medium high heat. Add the veggies of your choice. For us, this is usually frozen corn and bell peppers.

Once the veggies have some color on them (usually after 5-10 minutes, depending on if you started from frozen), add your spices. For us, it's onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, and, the secret of this recipe, a bit of cinnamon!

 Stir in your black beans and tomatoes (crushed or diced, whichever you have on hand - though we tend to go the fire roasted route for an extra bunch of flavor), add your veggie broth, and bring to a boil.

 Once the soup is boiling, bring to a simmer for ten minutes -and that's it, you're done!

Once the soup is cooled down, load it up in disposable storageware and head out to the lucky family who will receive your bounty! (Or double that recipe so you have dinner, too.)

And that's all there is to it! So go ahead, get cooking, and be a hero to a hungry new family who will only be too happy to eat up your efforts. :)

Black Bean Soup (as adapted from Whole Foods)
Serves: 4

1 Tbsp. plant-based oil (I usually use olive oil)
1 pound of the veggies of your choice (I usually use half frozen corn and half frozen bell peppers)
1 to 2 Tablespoons of onion powder
1 to 2 Tablespoons of garlic powder
1 Tablespoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 to 2-15 oz cans of black beans, rinsed and drained, 1 1/2-3 cups of cooked black beans
1 - 14.5 oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes
32-48 oz of vegetable broth (I usually use 48 for a brothier soup; you can always use a 32 oz container of broth and add water for the rest)

1) Heat oil in a stock pot on the stove over a medium-high flame.
2) Add veggies; saute for 5-10 minutes (depending on if you are using frozen) until the vegetables have some color on them.
3) Mix in the spices, beans, and tomatoes. Add the broth and bring to a boil.
4) When the soup is boiling, reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
5) Serve or package up for a lucky family!