What I Ate (These Past 3 Months) Wednesday

Throughout my 6 years of French lessons, in between insulting our jaded American attitudes and telling us that no one in France would ever actually be able to understand our terrible accents, my bitter instructor would pause daily to impart on us some examples of how Europeans exceed us in all areas of life.

If it wasn’t terrible enough that the French somehow manage to maintain the smallest waist-lines in the developed world on a steady diet of butter, cheese, and pastries, one tidbit that burrowed its way into my small American mind and made itself a bitter home was the knowledge that all French workers get 7 weeks paid summer vacation that they can take all at one time.

Yes, while most of us full-time workers here in the U.S. are sitting in our window-less cubicles, counting down the days to that 1-week vacay we begged our bosses for this year, most of France is gayly sunbathing their perfect, topless bodies on the beaches of the French Riviera while stuffing their faces full of soft cheese and macarons… and will be doing so for the next 5-11 weeks. What the eff? The world is a cruel, cruel place, mes amis.

Clearly my 1/4 french heritage has been having an affect on me, because summer hiatuses seem to have become a theme of this little blog. Last year I flat out took the summer off, this year I seem to have taken an early spring leave of just under 3 months…

And lot has happened in 3 months. Since I last posted, the weather has shot from a consistent 40 degrees straight up to 90, flowers have bloomed, pollen has infuriated my sinuses, the “S*** ______ Say” meme has died, and giffs have somehow become popular again through #whatshouldwecallme-type blogs. Yes, we’ve come a long way in 3 months.

When someone asks me what I’m making for my next blog post.

Expectation:

Reality:

But just as the French still manage to vacation and eat their hearts out at the same time, just because I haven’t been bloggin’ doesn’t mean I’ve been skipping out on making yummy meals (without the help of an iron, I might add)…

…And since I’m so back-logged, what better way to play catch-up than to join in the fun that is Peas and Crayon’s “What I Ate Wednesday”!

So without further ado, here’s what I cooked (and ate) while “en vacances” (as the French would say)…

Peas and Crayon’s own Quinoa Fried Rice

Skillet Penne With Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, Cannelloni Beans, and Mozzarella

Toasted Coconut Cake Pops (my own creation!)

Decorated Marshmallow Peeps

Cadbury Deviled Eggs

Real Deviled Eggs

“Slutty” Brownies

Vegetarian Paella (From a bargain aisle cookbook) ;)

Spinach, Tempeh, and Rice Pilaf (my own concoction!)

Lentil Gravy (or A Love Letter to Gravy)

If I were to pick my top three favorite foods in the whole wide world they would be: pasta in pesto sauce, baked potatoes with butter and cheddar cheese, and… gravy.

There are few things I find more irresistible at a dinner table than a creamy, simmering boat of fresh gravy. At Thanksgiving I cover my entire plate in it until the lower contents can no longer be seen. At family reunions my grandma makes poutine with extra gravy because she knows I won’t rest until each french fry is individually saturated in the stuff. I legit had a dream that I swam in a pool of gravy one time. No joke – I have a serious gravy problem.

As you can probably tell, when I can get it, I make exceptions for real MEATY gravy. But, like fish, it’s one of those things I’ll eat when I’m out, but won’t cook on my own. The thought of manhandling some poultry or beef parts to get a goopy, sloggy stew just disgusts me. I’d rather turn a blind eye to the process and just have the finished product served in heaping ladle-fulls across my plate. If it doesn’t look like meat, I can momentarily pretend it’s not, right?

Well, seeing as le boyfriend and I are addicted to vegetarian bangers and mash, we’ve been trying to find a vegetarian recipe we can make quickly at home that stacks up to the real stuff.

After many, many tries, we found one — an amazingly simple and flavorful mushroom gravy, but one day, le boyfriend started making it, only to realize we didn’t have mushrooms. Not wanting to give up on the prospect of bangers and mash for dinner, he improvised and subbed in lentils instead.

The finished product blew us away! It had a great texture, a smooth taste, not to mention an extra protein kick…who knew lentils packed that much flavor?! I’m calling in a solid 10 on the yum-o-meter.

So far as I can tell, this is the closest thing you can get to real deal meat gravy — perfecto for Thanksgiving, poutine, or (if you’re Two Veggies and eat ‘em weekly) bangers & mash.

Vegetarian Lentil Gravy

  • 3/4 cup lentils, rinsed
  • 1 small yellow or white onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp poultry seasoning (or 1/2 tsp each of sage, thyme and marjoram)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large skillet, melt the butter and add onion and lentils. Sautee for just a minute or two over high heat.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and add vegetable broth and soy sauce. Slowly add flour, stirring well to combine and prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a simmer or a low boil, then reduce heat.
  3. Add poultry seasoning, salt and pepper, stirring consistently. Allow to cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring regularly, until gravy thickens and lentils are cooked through, adding more broth if necessary to thin out the sauce.

Christmas Recipe Round-Up

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Only a tiny handful of days left on the advent calendar, friends! Yes sir, Christmas is almost here!!!

Some people are partial to summer, others to fall and spring. My favorite season?! Christmas season, of course! For me (and most department stores and retail establishments) this season begins roughly a week after Halloween, when I start makin’ my list and checkin’ it twice. Christmas music starts a little before Thanksgiving, just so that my playlists can be perfect by the time Black Friday rolls around. Then I try to do something full o’ Christmas cheer every day until the BIG DAY itself. Yep, there’s nothing I love more than Christmastime.

This Christmas season has been a whirlwind one! We got a dog (a big black lab we’re fostering for a rescue organization… his name is Paddy, short for Padfoot… you know, like Sirius Black? Yes, I named him). I picked out, purchased, and managed to schlep home my first real adult Christmas tree. I folded more paper crane ornaments than I can count to decorate said tree. I spent $200 at William Sonoma on Christmas cookie supplies so that I could bake sugar cookies with my brothers. We had visits from both mine and le boyfriend’s parents. I bought lots of gifts for people I love. It snowed!

As much as I adore Christmas, I wouldn’t call December 25th my favorite day of the whole year. Nope, that distinction is reserved for the day before, Christmas Eve – the night all the Christmas magic happens.

I grew up in an exceptionally Italian family and Christmas Eve was always the big event. I have few happier memories than those spent gathered around the table at my Nonna and Nonno’s house and eating course after course after course of traditional Italian fare. Well, maybe not all of it was traditional, but it was certainly traditional to us – I looked forward all year to my Nonna’s stuffed shells and my uncle’s pasta primavera.

After at least 6 whole hours of eating and game playing, we would open gifts at midnight while eating dessert (yep, we still had room). The highlight was always these giant trash bags my Nonna passed off as stockings that would be full to the brim with every sort of knick knack you could never want. We’d all laugh and compare our finds, trade with each other, and gawk at the “real” gifts. It was the way Christmas should be; bellies full, family abundant, gifts galore, a feeling of excitement and anticipation as your head hits the pillow – just perfect.

These days our Christmas Eve’s are only a shadow of what they were in their prime. My Nonna sold her house when my Nonno died and now we all cram into her 1 bedroom apartment. She no longer has the energy to put together our trash bag stockings. Many of my family members can’t make it each year. We’ve scaled down the menu to a few appetizers, one pasta dish, and one dessert.

I miss the days when the holiday was big, but the important things are still there: amazing family, fun games, copious gifts, a Christmas Story playing on repeat. There is still nothing better, that’s for sure.

I still hold out hope that sometime, someone will revive our traditional Christmas Eve, but in the meantime, I’ve rounded up some of my family’s favorite recipes that fill my heart (and tummy) with holiday cheer. Hope they fill you up too!

Antipasto Salad Spread
Stuffed Shells
Clams Casino
Manhattan Clam Chowder
Fried Calamari
Pasta Primavera 
Pasta Aglio e Olio Con Sarde
Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy Holidays! 

Thanksgiving Recipe Round-Up

Holidays can be hard for us vegetarians, even ones like me that have been known to sneak a few slices of turkey every now and then.

Thanksgiving is arguably the hardest of all holidays for us veggies. If your Thanksgiving day host is unprepared for a vegetarian at the holiday table, it can be particularly dismaying — no big centerpiece entree, no stuffing, no gravy…and if your family is like mine and puts bacon in everything, no mashed potatoes either. Sometimes we vegetarians need to bite the holiday bullet and take matters into our own hands…

As I mentioned last week, le boyfriend and I were fed up with being second class citizens on Big Thursday and decided to host a vegetarian Thanksgiving as an alternative to trekking home to one of our parents. It worked out well! We made the following:

Veggie Seitan Loaf
Vegan Mashed Potatoes
Mushroom Gravy
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Sautéed Green Beans
Stuffing with Veggie Sausage
Seasoned Corn
Roasted Squash

I’ve never cooked SO much at one time before, and with three cooks in a teeny tiny kitchen, it was quite a feat! I completely blanked on taking pictures, so you’re just going to have to trust me when I say that it was AMAZING. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I’d be more than happy to make it a yearly tradition.

Leading up to our party, I did a lot of research about vegetarian thanksgivings. I wanted to find the BEST of what was out there for our menu and leave a good impression in our guest’s heads…many of whom had never attended a vegetarian Thanksgiving before!

It took no time at all to come up with a handful of good lookin’ side dishes that were meatless — sub in some of the fake stuff and your favorite Thanksgiving dishes are instantly vegetarian. But one conundrum that kept popping up was the severe lack of a big, centerpiece entree akin to a Turkey or a ham. Sure, there were plenty of great suggestions out there for making what amounted to glorified side dishes, but I wanted something big, traditional, and equally as satisfying.

My criteria were as follows:

Traditional – as in, something that could easily be associated with Thanksgiving. A lot of recipes for Thanksgiving lasagna out there… no thank you!
Comparable – if non-vegetarians were to have this instead of turkey, it would be acceptable.
Takes time and effort to prepare – there’s something to be said for the dedication and time it takes to prepare a turkey. It’s part of what makes Thanksgiving special.

In the end, my friend made this seitan turkey loaf. It met ALL of criteria and far outclassed my original plan, which was to reheat some Gardein Turkey Loafs that I ordered from Whole Foods (which I had later … blehhhh).

Next year, my plan is to make the Seitan Turkey Loaf all by myself (like a grown-up cook!) and when I do, I promise a huge, full post with pictures and deliciousness. Until then, I hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving and a great start to the most wonderful time of the year!

Soon to Be Tofurkey Day!

OK, OK, it’s time to get my bloggin’ shoes on and make a REAL post that’s not modified pasta with butter or some variation on rice.

Think Lauren, think! What would be super culinary of yo’ lazy ass?

Well… Thanksgiving is right around the corner… perhaps it’s time for some pre-tofurkey day practice! I’m armed with a pound of fresh cranberries (word to the wise — they don’t taste like craisins when they’re raw :( ) and a shelf full of various squashes — time to get cookin’, Pilgrim style!

This year we’re planning on hosting our very own vegetarian Thanksgiving. Instead of turkey, or even tofurkey, we’re having a homemade seitan loaf prepared by a close vegan friend. Us veggies have always been left out of fun holiday-time events like carving the roast beast, so this was very exciting news…something substantial to sink our steak teeth into!

But sadly that meant one big letdown — no giant stuffed squash as our big time centerpiece…

Which left one burning question: WTF am I going to do with all these squashes!?!?

I have exactly six of them… they take up a whole shelf in our kitchen. Do squashes even go bad?! Am I going to be inundated with these things forever, without even an expiration date or a hint of mold to help me usher their way out of the house?!

No sir, not if I can help it.

That’s right… it’s squash stuffin’ time!

The beauty of stuffed squash is that it presents an entirely open palette. Even if you follow the traditional equation of squash + carbs + veggies + spices, there are still a multitude of questions to address; rice or bread? something more exotic and weird like pasta? ooo how about potatoes? or even squash stuffed squash (hey, I have a LOT of squash, ok?!)!

The door is pretty wide open to possibilities, and you don’t have to stick with the traditional Americanized version… how about Mexican stuffed squash (with rice, beans and tomatoes), Asian stuffed squash (a stir fry on a bed of squash), or just plain ol’ leftovers stuffed squash (am I crazy or would soup in a squash bowl be AWESOME?!). Ohhh how my hungry mind wanders!

Since I’ve never made stuffed squash before, I decided to stick with a nice, solid, traditional base. Like many ubiquitous and foods with a million variations, I couldn’t find a recipe that I loved AND had all the ingredients to, so I came up with my own using stale bread and veggies from the freezer:

Easy, Traditional Stuffed Squash

  • 1 squash of your choosing, cut in half and de-seeded (I’d go for acorn or butternut)
  • Enough olive oil to give your squash a nice, light basting + 2 tbs more for the stuffing
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped but not diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1/4 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 to 1.5 cups bread, cut into cubes or small pieces (If you have crusty or stale bread, go with that. Slices from a loaf of bread work, but you generally want something that holds up a little better. Whole wheat bread produces a nuttier flavor; since there’s already nuts in this recipe, I’d go with white, if you have it)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth (or less)
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
  • Liberal pinches of the following spices:
    • Rosemary
    • Parsley
    • Paprika
    • Chile powder
  • Salt and peppa’, to taste
  • Lots of freshly grated parmesan
  1. Preheat your oven to 400. Lightly baste the insides of the squash halves with olive oil and throw ‘em open side up on a baking pan. When the oven is preheated, stick the squash in and bake for 30 minutes.
  2. While the squash is baking, prepare the stuffing. Start by sauteing the garlic and onion in a large skillet over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Add the mushrooms, carrots, peas and two tablespoons of the vegetable broth. Saute for two minutes until combined.
  3. Add the bread to the pan and mix well. Little by little, pour in the vegetable broth until each piece of bread is coated and wet, but not soaking (this may require more or less vegetable broth than listed). Throw in the spices and heat until all the excess liquid is absorbed from the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat and throw in the nuts and a handful of parmesan cheese.
  4. Take the squash out of the oven and fill with the stuffing mixture. Consider covering the squash with tinfoil if you prefer a less crispy and more evenly cooked stuffing (I like the crispier stuff, so I didn’t). Stick the squash back in the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until squash is tender. About 5 minutes before the cooking ends, top the squash with more freshly grated parmesan and allow to melt in the oven.
  5. Take the squash out of the oven, let cool for 5 minutes and eat!
I had leftover stuffing, so I just stuck that at the bottom of the pan to bake on its own. The result was great and a perfect prelude to our upcoming Tofurkey Day! I especially enjoyed the cheesy goodness that came from the melted parmesan:
Woohoo! Happy cooking!