Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ketchup: King of condiments!

I went out to dinner a month or two ago to a local vegan-friendly restaurant in Providence, Julians. This has long been one of my favorite places to eat even before I went vegan. The menu and specials have always been very creative and out of the ordinary (Vegan Gingerbread Pancakes with red raisins, whiskey sugar, & cinnamon maple syrup....uhhh...YUM!). Not to mention the quirky atmosphere which includes Star Wars action figures on display in the bathroom and pictures of rock band KISS on the dessert menus!

The last time I was there for dinner, I ordered something with fries, and of course, when the plates came out, so did the usual assortment of condiments, two of which included ketchup and "house catsup."

As an aside, the only difference between "ketchup" and "catsup" is the spelling. My guess is that if you wanna sound Avant-garde these days, you should use the latter.

Anyway, I always go for the house catsup because unlike store bought, it's usually a little sweeter, has less sodium and is generally a cool thing I don't always get to have. I mean, when I get to go to a restaurant that makes their food in house as opposed to buying it mass produced, I'm always in for a treat. For my money, I think it's worth it to pay to eat something that you can't really get anywhere else. Plus, I like that when something is truly homemade, there's less to no crap in it (preservatives, artificial flavorings, colors, etc.)

On this particular night, I got to thinking " hard could it possibly be to make your own ketchup at home? It's really only just tomatoes and spices, right?"

So, I did a little research and I found out that it really is not that hard at all! Some recipes call for cooking down fresh tomatoes, if they're in season, but that process is too lengthy and time consuming for me because I'll be honest, I'm lazy. I've always been from the "Rachael Ray 30 Minute Meals" school of thought. I like it homemade and healthy, but I also like it done today.

Lucky for me, I found a fantastic (and just as good) alternative that uses tomato purée as the base. It was very simple to make takes about an hour, mostly due to the fact that you have to simmer your ingredients on the stove top for about 45 minutes. Now, as much as I like my ketchup sweet, I love it spicy too. A few years ago, I found what I considered a breakthrough product on the shelf when shopping for something to put on my fries: Heinz Kick'rs Hot & Spicy Ketchup, which was basically just regular Heinz ketchup with Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce added to it. I bought it all the time until one day, it seemed to have disappeared from the shelves of my local supermarket. Oh well, I guess the supply/demand ratio was a tad off and they did away with it. Since then, I've had to relive those glory days by mixing hot sauce in my regular ketchup. Not anymore, my friends! The following recipe has just enough kick to it to satisfy my spicy tooth as well as my sweet tooth! And let me say, it was out of this world with my homemade french fries and vegan "meatloaf." And as with almost everything else that I make, I can confirm, it all tasted even better on the second day as leftovers! From here on out, no more store bought for me!

Homemade Spicy Ketchup

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 60 mins
Total time: 1 hour 5 mins
Serves: 16
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 28-oz can tomato purée
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  1. Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Saute the onion until for 5 to 8 minutes until translucent. Add in the garlic and stir together. Add the tomato purée, brown sugar, vinegar, tomato paste, salt, mustard, cloves, allspice, red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper and stir to combine. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 to 60 minutes until it is thick like ketchup.
  2. Using a food processor or blender, puree the mixture until smooth.
  3. Adjust seasonings if needed and pour ketchup into a container and seal. Can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ultimate Vegan Lasagna

My mother is the queen of improv. When I'm coming over for the time honored tradition of Sunday dinner, she'll scour the internet or the dozens of vegan cookbooks she bought since I went vegan trying to find something wonderful and creative to make me for dinner. It's obvious that my mom rules. Unfortunately, part of her charm is her complete and utter lack of planning.
I met her at Whole Foods to do shopping for this particular dinner and she told me that she had found two great recipes for a vegan lasagna and she wanted to make it that night. The first part of her craziness was that for no particular reason, she wanted to combine the best of the two recipes and make what I guess she thought would be a "super lasagna." I put a stop to that shit right away.

"Ma, you don't need to do that, just find one good recipe and stick with that." I asserted.

"Oh, okay" she replied, "Good idea!"

"Okay, so give me the recipe so I can make sure we get all the ingredients."

My mother proceeded to make that face little kids make when they know they screwed up and are gonna get punished for it.

"I left it at home." she said, lowering her head.

"Of course" I sighed to myself, furrowing my brow. "Do you remember what website you got it from?"

"No" she continued, sheepishly.

"Ehhh" I thought to myself.

I wasn't mad with mom, though. She always means well and after all, it's impossible to get pissed at someone who bends over backwards to make you happy.
Luckily, I know how I like my lasagna, so I did some guessing as we did our shopping.
When we got home and I finally did get my hands on the recipes, I saw that one was clearly superior to the other, and wouldn't you know it, I bought all of the correct ingredients! Told ya I know good food :-)
What followed was a lasagna that even my non-vegan relatives tried and remarked at how great it was. One of my uncles even said it was the best lasagna he's ever tasted! I agree.
A couple of weeks later, I wanted this masterpiece again, so I made it myself at home and it came out just as good! And like most other dishes such as this, which is made in a casserole or baking dish, it was even better the next day.
The keys to this recipe being so good:

  • The addition of the vegan cream cheese in the filling. The tofu gives it that "ricotta" texture and the other spices all work together to give flavor but the cream cheese is what I feel gives it that rich, creamy taste that most people expect when they're eating a good lasagna. 

  • The crumbled vegan sausage. It gives it the texture and flavor of meat without there being any animal products in the dish. The Field Roast Italian sausage is the best, seasoned with fresh eggplant, red wine, garlic and fennel. It's a bit more expensive than a few other brands, but 100% worth it. 

  • The Daiya Mozzarella shreds on top. This is the best cheese substitute out there, and I think it's as gooey, melty and delicious as real cheese. If you're gonna put one cup on top, may as well make it two cups, that's what I did and I did not regret it!

Ultimate Vegan Lasagna

Vegetarian Times Issue: February 1, 2009   p.54

This recipe eliminates the messy, time-consuming process of preboiling the noodles—use any whole-wheat, brown rice, or regular lasagna noodles right out of the box. They'll cook in the sauce.
ingredient list
Serves 8
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (2 cups)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
  • 10-oz. bag fresh baby spinach
  • 2 12-oz. pkgs. firm tofu, drained
  • 1 8-oz. pkg. vegan cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 5 1/2 cups red sauce
  • 12 uncooked lasagna noodles
  • 12 oz. Field Roast Grain Meat Co. Italian Sausage, crumbled
  • 1 cup Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds


1. To make Filling: Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and garlic in oil 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden. Add spinach, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until wilted. Transfer spinach mixture to bowl of food processor. Add tofu, cream cheese, basil, and nutritional yeast, and purée until mixture is thick and smooth. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
2. Spread one-quarter of the red sauce on bottom of 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Cover with one-third of noodles (4 or 5 noodles), then half of Filling, and ladle on another one-quarter of sauce. Repeat layer of noodles and remaining Filling. Spread sausage evenly over top, and top with one-quarter of sauce. Finish with final layer of noodles and remaining sauce. Sprinkle with shredded cheese.
3. Cover lasagna with foil, and bake 30 minutes, or until bubbling hot. Uncover, and bake 15 to 20 minutes more, or until noodles are tender and topping is melted. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information

Per 2-x-3-inch slice:
Calories 508
Protein 33g
Total Fat 19g
Saturated Fat 3g
Carbs 60g
Sodium 817mg
Fiber 13g
Sugar 10g

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The New "Dirty Dozen"

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American non-profit environmental organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability.
Back in June, the EWG released their "Dirty Dozen" list. The "Dirty Dozen" are the fruits and vegetable that are most pesticide laden, while the "Clean 15" on the other hand, contain the lowest pesticide residue. This list is an extremely handy guide when you want to know which produce you should buy organic when you're doing your grocery shopping

"So why should I go by this list?" you ask? First of all, EWG's analysis found that consumers could cut their exposure to pesticides by almost 90 percent by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead. Even if there wasn't growing scientific evidence suggesting that pesticides have a negative effect on our health, think about it for a second...Given the choice, don't you think it's healthier to consume less of a chemical compound that is used to kill insects and pests? I think it is!

Also, when you're on a budget, narrowing down the list to buying only what you need to buy organic can save you some $$$, especially when a lot of stores are still charging more for organic produce.

For my own health, I always try to eat a varied diet, wash my produce and buy organic when at all possible. Treat your body right and give it a try! What's the worst that could happen? You'll take a step to improving your overall health and well-being? Hey, sounds good to me :-)

Dirty Dozen
Buy these organic
Nectarines– imported
Grapes– imported
Red Pepper
Sweet bell peppers
Blueberries– domestic
Kale/collard greens

Clean 15
Lowest in Pesticide
Sweet Corn
Sweet Corn
Sweet peas
Cantaloupe- domestic
Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My herb garden!

So a few days ago, I decided that I wanted to plant my own herb garden. It sounds fun and easy, plus what's not to love about having fresh herbs to pick from your own garden when you're making dinner? The idea of it seems so "homey" and I love being in touch with my food and the ingredients I cook with. Yea, I've always been a total country boy and that's how I'm gonna stay!
So anyway, I've had past mishaps with herb gardens, mainly because I've had no clue as to how to plant one. Plus, I don't have a backyard per say...I live in a second floor condo, so I have a deck, which is perfectly acceptable, but still, I've managed to kill several herb gardens, a cactus, and somehow, some fake houseplants.
All that notwithstanding, I decided to do a little homework and take one more crack at it, because I want fresh herbs growing on my deck so badly!
After some internet research, here's what I did:

I got three 25 pound buckets from the supermarket (you know, the big white ones the frostings and glazes come in they use in the bakery
Then I went to Lowe's and got: 
A Big Bag of Miracle Gro Potting Mix- this stuff is supposed to be good because it comes with the plant food already in the mix and feeds plants for up to six months!
I started with just a few basics that I knew I'd use a lot: Rosemary, Basil, Oregano, Thyme and Mint.

So when I got all this stuff home, I drilled several holes in the bottoms of all the buckets for drainage (something I previously didn't know to do) then I filled em up with the potting mix, dug little holes for my herbs, loosened the root balls on the bottom of the herbs, plopped them in, covered em up and fed em some water :-)
Now, supposedly this is supposed to give me herbs for the rest of the summer. We'll see. I have a bit of an issue with getting a lot of direct sunlight on my deck, but I read that west facing late afternoon sun is good for herbs (which is what my deck gets) as well as watering them every 5-10 days, depending on how dry the soil gets. I might actually re-pot my Oregano because the bucket I got for it was too big and I didn't have enough soil to put in there, so it's kind of trapped halfway in there :-/
I'll let you know how they wind up doing, but so far, I'm on the right track and hopefully my little garden will thrive!
 Come on, guys! Grow!! :-)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

buffalo tempeh chunk pizza

i love pizza! and i love buffalo chicken strips! and when i first found out that the two could join together to make an awesome pizza, i was even more excited! so, it became my mission to find a vegan pizza recipe that would do the original justice.
luckily, i have, which is pretty much the vegan equivalent of i love my cookbooks, but i also love the sites devoted to collections of user-created and reviewed recipes, because you can look up anything and chances are, someone else probably thought of it. the trick with these sites is checking out the other user's reviews before you actually make the recipe. let's face it, any hack with a computer can throw a bunch of ingredients and cooking instructions together on a free website, but that doesn't mean it'll taste any good!
so, when i found this pizza recipe, i was happy to see that it got rave reviews and i was even happier when there was a party in my mouth while i was eating it.
now, before everyone starts going "ehhh, what's tempeh? that cheese-stuff probably tastes gross. tofu on a pizza? ewww!" i'll admit that nothing is as scary as the unknown, so i'll familiarize you "normals" with some of the lesser known ingredients:

earth balance margarine:

this THE choice when it comes to vegan margarine. it is all purpose, so you can achieve great results with it while you are cooking OR baking and it's also pretty rock n roll when you just wanna spread it on a piece of bread or toast. i think the taste and consistency stacks up against any other margarine or butter out there. there's absolutely no whey or lactose, it's gluten free, non-GMO, has no hydrogenated oils and is naturally cholesterol-free. um, how can you beat that? ya can't.

tempeh (tem-pay):

tempeh is a traditional soy product originally from indonesia. it's made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form, similar to a very firm veggie burger. unfortunately, it looks more like a puke burger, which can be offputting, but believe me, it tastes better than it looks and it makes an awesome substitute for meat. although tempeh is made from soy, it has more of a textured and nutty flavor and doesn't taste anything like tofu, which pretty much tastes like nothing. it's also very high in protein an calcium. so take that, meat eaters!

daiya mozzarella style shreds: 



daiya has pretty much cornered the market when it comes to making THE BEST cheese substitute out there. for the first several months that i was vegan, i figured i could kiss the "good tasting cheese substitute" dream goodbye. for whatever reason, most vegan cheeses don't really melt, stretch or taste very good. this cheese does! it comes in the only three flavors i'll ever need (mozzarella, cheddar, and pepper jack). this is not a soy-based product, it's main ingredients are tapioca and/or arrowroot flours and non-GMO expeller pressed oils. and of course, being totally plant based, it's free of cholesterol, preservatives, hormones and antibiotics. can you say that about your cheese? didn't think so!


tofu is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks. it's high in protein and calcium and it's known for its ability to absorb new flavors through spices and marinades.
i've heard from a lot of people that they think tofu is gross, because it looks like a big sponge and doesn't have any flavor...i'm appetizing does anyone think raw chicken breasts or porterhouse steaks are before they get seasoned and cooked? not very? right? k, so can you people shut up about tofu now?

silken tofu (used in the following recipe), is undrained tofu that contains the highest moisture content of all tofu. salad dressings, sauces and desserts usually use silken tofu for a thick and creamy texture, whereas regular tofu is used in stir fries and other recipes where you want it to retain it's shape.

i will throw in this once only disclaimer that while i didn't "create" this recipe, (or any recipe that i'll post in the future) i didn't just cut and paste it from another website. i have taken it and perfected it to the way that i think it comes out best, so that is the version you will see...anyway, no one really has a truly "original" idea. everyone copies everyone. remember the whole lady gaga/madonna "born this way"/"express yourself" debate?

Buffalo Tempeh Chunk Pizza

    1/3 cup earth balance margarine, melted
    1/2 cup hot sauce
    8 ounce package tempeh, cut into small cubes
    2 teaspoons olive oil
    16 oz fresh pizza dough
    1 1/2 cups daiya mozzarella style shreds
bleu-soy dressing:
    1 (12 ounce) box silken tofu
    1 small clove garlic, finely minced
    dried or fresh dill (finely chopped if fresh), to taste
    apple cider vinegar, to taste
    tahini, to taste
    salt, to taste


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the earth balance and hot sauce. Place tempeh in a small pan and add water until almost covered. bring this to a boil over medium high heat, and cook until most of the water is absorbed/evaporated, about 10-15 minutes. Drain the tempeh, then return it to the pan with the olive oil over medium heat.

2. Fry the tempeh, stirring only occasionally, until it browns nicely. When done, turn off the heat and add a few tablespoons of the hot sauce mixture and stir to evenly coat everything. Set aside.

3. For the bleu-soy dressing, place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Roll out your pizza dough onto a pizza stone and brush the edges with a little olive oil. Brush the interior of the dough with a thin layer of the hot sauce mixture. sprinkle the mozzarella style shreds on top of this, followed by the tempeh.

3. Drizzle the rest of the hot sauce over the top and then dot the pie with dabs of the bleu-soy dressing.  Bake for about 10-15 minutes.

Makes: 1 pie (about 8 servings), Preparation time: 25 minutes, Cooking time: 10-15 minutes

Sunday, May 15, 2011

chicken-free nuggets: better than "chicken" nuggets

one of the things that i knew i would miss when i went vegan was chicken. i would have it a lot of my meals and like many other foods, it's tough to avoid when you're vegan, especially when dining out. like, 90% of the menus at most of these places is chicken! however, now that i cook and eat at home a lot more, i've become very good at sniffing out how to make and buy good "substitute" foods.
i'm convinced there's three kinds of vegans: the ones who totally embrace vegetables, the ones who embrace the "substitution" foods and those of us who are kinda in the middle. i lean more toward the last one. not that i don't like veggies in their true form, but i think it's very interesting and actually very challenging to find ways to create and find foods that mimic the things i've always loved to eat while still fitting the vegan profile.
one product that i think hits it out of the park is Health is Wealth's Vegan Chicken-Free Nuggets.

i had them for dinner tonight and i'm still amazed at how good they are. it's not just the taste either, because a product also has to have a good texture and consistency (which it does), otherwise it can actually be kinda gross and tofu hot dogs. still haven't found a good one of those, but that's a topic for another day!

i like the fact that the small list of ingredients are mostly organic (which is why they taste so good) and the main ingredients are protein based. one serving is 14 grams, which isn't bad, considering you need anywhere from 40-70 grams a day.

and now that i pay closer attention to where my food comes from, i was pretty shocked to learn about where my chicken nuggets came from before. it was when i was watching the first season of jamie oliver's food revolution that i discovered this interesting tidbit of info. he did an experiment that, for some reason, didn't deter a group of hungry kids from eating what was basically garbage:


i'll take my nuggets any day over a bunch of skin, cartilage and preservatives shaped into a cute little patty. there's hardly any chicken in them! just because it may look and taste pleasant doesn't mean it's any good for you. seriously, who the hell would ever want to eat another fast food or processed chicken nugget after knowing that it's just leftover shit? gross.