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Vegan Planet: June 2009

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Fresh Fruit “Cake”

Here’s a fun way to serve fresh fruit – turn it into a “cake.” It makes a pretty presentation, it’s easy to make, and makes a refreshing summertime dessert.

For the main part of the “cake,” I sliced off the top and bottom of a small round seedless watermelon. I then placed a plate on top of the watermelon about the same diameter as the pink part of the fruit and used the edge of the plate as a guide for my knife to cut away the rind. This left a pretty pink cylinder of delicious watermelon.

I then placed the watermelon “cake” on a plate and decorated it with blueberries, strawberries, and kiwi slices. I think it would also look pretty with sliced starfruit and blackberries – maybe next time!


Friday, June 26, 2009


Birthday Tradition

Once you’ve done something two years in a row, does that count as a tradition? On my birthday last year, I digressed from my usual food post to share some photos of my kitties. I thought I’d do the same this year, with a few extras, too. Here are the dynamic duo, Gary and his diminutive partner in crime, Mitski:

The photo below is our darling outdoor kitty, Jason, who “came with the house” (he looks a lot like Gary, doesn't he?). I’m still no closer to making him an indoor kitty, but he enjoys the little house Jon built for him on our deck, and of course, the three squares (actually, two) a day I feed him.

This next guy is not a kitty, of course, but I just had to share a photo of the cutest alpaca we met recently who was kind enough to strike this handsome pose:

And finally, I can’t seem to get by without talking at least a little about food. I was thinking about how great our blackberries were last year and anticipating a new crop this summer. Then I remembered the incredible variety of berries I had the pleasure of sampling a couple years ago in Italy while visiting the Mercato Centrale in Florence.

And they had some amazing olives too, as one would expect.

What I didn't expect was happening upon a restaurant called "Ristorante del Fagioli" -- Bean Restaurant? Sounds like a great place for a vegan to eat -- too bad the place was closed when we were there.

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Monday, June 22, 2009


Arugula Potato Salad

My vegetable garden continues to supply me with enough arugula to open an arugula restaurant. As you know from my previous post, I like to sauté it in garlic and olive oil — just add cooked beans and pasta (or rice) and dinner is served. I’ve also made some great arugula pesto, which, in addition to tossing with pasta, is also good slathered on grilled bruschetta or transformed into a salad dressing. But I think my favorite way to enjoy it is in the Arugula Potato Salad recipe from Vegan Fire and Spice.

In this recipe, cooked potatoes and roasted red bell peppers combine with chopped arugula and a snappy dressing made with garlic, capers, and a touch of cayenne. It’s easy to make, colorful, and loaded with flavor. It makes a great side dish for anything from veggie burgers to seitan “parmesan” — I actually served it with both, so I know from whence I speak. If you add a little extra arugula and a cup of cooked cannellini beans or chickpeas, it can even be enjoyed as a main-dish salad.

The cayenne in the dressing adds just the slightest nuance of heat. If you prefer a spicier salad, you can add some hot red pepper flakes or even add a minced hot chile. And as every garlic lover knows, you can always add more garlic to the dressing.

Some shortcut tips: In the original recipe, the potatoes are cooked on the stovetop and the bell peppers roasted over a flame. Since I had planned to make this salad the night before, and I already had the oven on for something else, I tossed some potatoes in the oven to bake for the salad. Instead of roasting my own bell peppers, I used the jarred kind. (You could also roast your own in advance.) With the potatoes already cooked from the night before, and the roasted peppers from a jar, the salad only took minutes to assemble.

Arugula Potato Salad
This recipe is adapted from Vegan Fire and Spice.

1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large or 2 small red bell peppers
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups lightly packed arugula, coarsely chopped

1. Cook the potatoes in a saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. (Alternately, you can steam the potatoes over boiling water or roast them on an oiled baking sheet. You can also bake the potatoes and dice them after baking.) Place the cooked potatoes in a large bowl and set aside.
2. Roast the red peppers over an open flame or broil about 4 inches from the heat, turning until the skins are completely blackened. Put the charred peppers into a paper bag and let steam for about 5 minutes to loosen the skins. Scrape off the blackened skin and remove the seeds and stems. Chop the peppers into 1/2-inch dice, and add them to the potatoes. (Alternately, to save time, you can use jarred roasted red bell peppers.)
3. Mince the garlic and capers in a food processor or blender. Add the lemon juice, cayenne, and salt, to taste, and process until well blended. Slowly add the olive oil to emulsify. Add the dressing to the potatoes along with the arugula and toss until coated.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009


Pasta with Arugula and Fava Beans

This year, my vegetable garden includes several arugula plants. I’m really excited about this since I love arugula and can’t buy it locally – and even if I could, it would be very expensive. As I’m observing how the plants spike upward it’s easy to guess why arugula is also called “rocket” lettuce.

A few years ago, while visiting Umbria, I enjoyed a fantastic pasta dish topped with arugula, fava beans, and tomatoes. I haven’t been able to find fava beans in my area, so I was nearly ecstatic when I discovered packages of steamed favas in the produce section of Trader Joe’s on my way home from D.C. recently.

With favas and arugula in hand, I was able to recreate the dish I had so much enjoyed in Italy. Although Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains have replaced the Italian Apennines for ambience, this rich and flavorful meal was still delicious. Here’s the recipe:

Pasta with Arugula and Fava Beans
For this recipe, I used fusilli because I had it on hand, but any bite-size pasta shape would be good with this sauce. Instead of using the steamed fava beans from Trader Joe’s, you can prepare your own fava beans or substitute cooked chickpeas or cannellini beans for a tasty alternative. Another variation would be to use spinach, chard, or other dark green in place of the arugula.

8 ounces fusilli or other small pasta shape
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups coarsely chopped arugula, well washed
1 (14.5-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 (12-ounce) package steamed fava beans (from Trader Joes)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water.
While the pasta water is coming to a boil. heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the arugula and cook, stirring, until wilted. Add the tomatoes, fava beans, red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer to blend the flavors and heat through, 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat to low and keep warm.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it well. To serve, divide the pasta among shallow bowls and top each with the sauce, or transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl, add the sauce, and toss gently to combine before serving.


Saturday, June 6, 2009


Sweets and Beets with “Diced” Spinach

I sometimes find myself pairing ingredients as much for the visual impact as for the flavors. Such was the case the other day when I roasted diced sweet potatoes and beets – they tasted as good as they looked.

I also wanted to include some greens on the plate, so I steamed some spinach. I thought it would be fun to give the spinach a similar appearance to the other cubed vegetables, so I shaped it into a narrow rectangle and used my chef’s knife to “dice” it. The resulting plate of vegetables looked almost too good to eat — so we had to snap a photo before digging in.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Short Trip – Great Food

After working practically non-stop for months on my upcoming cookbooks, I finally got away to DC last weekend for a little relaxation. The weather was perfect — sunny and warm with a slight breeze. Much better than summer’s oppressive heat and humidity that will settle in soon enough.

Living in a rural area with limited (make that closer to zero) dining-out options, I end up cooking at home all the time. Not a bad thing, of course, but I do enjoy the occasional break from routine. That’s why anytime we go into the city, one of the highlights is going out to eat. This trip we had some terrific veggie sushi and some great Thai food.

The best meal of the weekend, however, was one we enjoyed on the drive home at a little Vietnamese restaurant in Centreville, Virginia. It’s a cute place and the food was great. Best of all, they have an entire vegetarian menu page and are sensitive to using vegan ingredients — I was assured that they use an all-vegetable broth in their vegetarian pho and that they use no egg or dairy in their vegetarian menu items.

The most difficult part for us was restraining ourselves from ordering everything on the menu. As you can see in the photo, we came pretty close to doing just that. We shared an order of super-yummy spring rolls (which we inhaled before remembering to snap the photo!), a wonderful bowl of pho that contained thin slices of seitan, an addictive banh mi sandwich on fresh crisp French bread, and their “special rice dish” that included a slice of delicious shredded tofu loaf served with broken steamed rice. Everything was super-fresh and reasonably priced.

After our fabulous Vietnamese meal, we stopped at Trader Joe’s, which is just down the road from the restaurant, and loaded our car with all the ingredients that I can’t find in my local supermarket. Now that I’m back home and my kitchen is well stocked, it’s back to home cooking. But I’ll save that for another post.

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