Vegetarian Flavor

When I first thought about taking the plunge into a vegetarian lifestyle, I reasoned with myself that I couldn’t do it because of all the things I’d be missing. Of course if you approach anything with the mindset of what you’re losing and not what you’re gaining, struggles are bound to happen. Thankfully when I finally decided to officially make the vegetarian plunge (almost 3 months strong now!), I approached it much differently. While I still have a pang for a cheeseburger once in a blue moon, I’ve discovered so much more in the food world, and have been able to make some pretty simple substitutions.

I abide by the rule that almost anything can be turned vegetarian. Obviously a steak can’t, but there are ways to approach meals and make them just as flavorful, if not more. So, when this week’s Fresh Box included radicchio, I went on the hunt for recipe inspiration  and like most recipes I find, there was a meat component. I found a recipe from Saveur that included pancetta, and immediately decided I could easily swap that out.

For the recipe, I went with Morningstar Farm’s vegetarian styled bacon. This could easily work well with smoked tempeh, and of course, bacon or pancetta. I went with the suggested pappardelle, but if you don’t have any on hand, a fettuccine or other egg styled pasta would work well.

Smoky Pappardelle with Radicchio inspired by Sauver 
– Serves 4 –  

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 tsp sage
4 slices veggie styled bacon or tempeh*
1 lb. pappardelle or other egg styled flat pasta
1 head radicchio, sliced
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste 

1. Heat oil in a skillet and add onion, sage, salt and pepper over medium heat. Constantly stir for about 20-30 minutes until golden brown (it’s a pain, but I promise worth it!). Add in the veggie bacon and sauté for an additional 5 minutes. Add the radicchio to the pan and cook until wilted, about 5 more minutes. 
2. Meanwhile, boil 3-4 quarts of salted water, add the pasta and cook for about 8 minutes, drain (save about 1/4 cup of water).
3. Combine the pasta with the veggie bacon, onion, and radicchio with the 1/4 cup of pasta water; mix well.  
4. Finish off with the balsamic vinegar and top with grated or shredded parmesan cheese.  

*Note: You can buy “fakin’ bacon” that is already flavored tempeh, or you can buy regular tempeh and mix it with some liquid smoke for the same effect.

Veggie Loaded Burgers and Fries

It’s no secret that I love veggie burgers. I know that for a lot of people that eat meat, they think they’re a sad comparisons to the real deal, and are less than flavorful. Since I very rarely eat meat these days, veggie burgers are a quick and easy addition to my weekday lunches, and sometimes dinner. But before I was conscious about my meat intake, I enjoyed veggie burgers. My favorites are Morningstar Farm’s Spicy Black Bean, and Dr. Praeger’s California. However, I’ve always been willing to try and make my own.

Over the summer I tried my hand at some, and they were more like sloppy joes, which was okay but somewhat frustrating. So, when I received the Taste of Home Cookbook from a coworker for Christmas, I was excited to see a few different veggie burger recipes inside. It’s a really easy recipe, that would probably be even easier if I had  a food processor to mash the beans. But even still, the process of mashing the beans and combining everything only took about 5 to 10 minutes. After trying to cook them according to the recipe, I resolved to just throwing them in the oven, which proved to be very successful.

I served the burgers alongside some parsnip fries. Confession: up until this meal, I had never, ever, eaten a parsnip. I was a little nervous when I decided to make them just because it was a new taste for both me, and my fiancé. But since we’re both always up for trying new things, and I’ve seen them on plenty of blogs that I consider to have good taste, I gave them a shot. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. I’d prefer sweet potato fries over these, but they were a nice change of pace! I just peeled and sliced them, tossed them with some Adobo and roasted them at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Black Bean Cakes – adapted from The Taste of Home Cookbook
– Serves 4 –

2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
4 teaspoons canola oil
1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed (I used canned)
1/2 cup chunky salsa
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream (I used plain Chobani Greek yogurt)

1. In a large bowl, mash beans with a fork. Stir in the egg white, onions, 1/4 cup of cilantro, chili powder, oregano, and cumin. Shape into eight 2 1/2 inch patties.
2. In a small nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, cook patties in batches in the oil for 2-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown*
3. In a small bowl, combine the corn, salsa, and remaining cilantro; spoon over cakes, and garnish with sour cream (or in my case, Greek yogurt).

*Like I said, I had trouble with this. So I threw them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes till they were heated throughout and had a firm crisp (but not to crispy) top.

Product Review: Veggie Style

Gardein Santa Fe Chicken

Most tried and true vegetarians would probably shudder at the thought of pre-packed and processed vegetarian options, but when it comes to lunch, I need something quick and easy. And while I’m only a part-time veghead (I’ve graduated from halfetarian to threequarteraterian), I really do enjoy vegetarian food. I can’t pass up a box of Morningstar Farms’ Black Bean Burgers, or Amy’s Organic Breakfast Burritos. So, while in Wegmans this past weekend, I decided to pick up two things for my lunch this week; Gardein’s Chick’n Santa Fe and also Light Life Smart Deli’s Bologna Style veggie meat. A mouth full, I know.

So let’s start with the Gardein Chick’n Santa Fe. The package comes with two chik’n patties, which are considered to be two separate servings. At just 140 calories each, I figured I could probably have two. However, in order to stretch my dollar, I decided to just bring one for lunch on Tuesday, and I paired it with the leftover mango cous cous I had. It actually turned out to be impressively filling, and I was glad I saved the other patty for later in the week. As someone that does still eat meat, I was shocked at how meat-like the chicken really was. Even my fiancé was impressed with it’s look in terms of color and texture. The patty was stuffed with corn and black beans, and came with a spicy(ish) tomato sauce to pour on top. It only took 2 minutes to microwave, and was perfectly cooked. Needless to say I was really impressed with it, and am looking forward to trying more Gardein selections!

Onto the veggie bologna. Growing up my go-to sandwich was Boars Head bologna with yellow American cheese, cut into quarters. I am salvating just thinking about it. But let’s be honest, for both the meat eaters and non-meat eaters, bologna is pretty gross. So, I decided to give the veggie (and hopefully more healthy) option a try, as my vegetarian friend loves it. I was a bit wary, considering I’ve had real bologna and it was one of my favorite deli meats growing up. I made my sandwich Tuesday night, paired it with some American cheese, and while I was tempted to have a taste, anxiously awaited until 12pm Wednesday to give it a try. While it isn’t real bologna, it definitely does a pretty good job imitating. If I hadn’t known it was veggie bologna, I probably would have assumed it to be legit.

It’s important to keep in mind when having vegetarian substitutes, they aren’t going to taste exactly like that meat you’re swapping out (in most cases). I think if you go into trying something with the idea that it’ll taste exactly like your favorite piece of chicken, hamburger, etc. you’ll be disappointed. However, if you’re willing to try some new flavors and expand your eating palate, veggie substitutes will be nice additions (or swaps)!

Summertime Nomz

Man, I have been seriously lacking in the blogosphere lately, haven’t I? My sincerest apologies! This whole going back to school while still working full time and simultaneously trying to plan a wedding and somehow still have a life is quite time consuming.

I have to admit, I haven’t done much exciting cooking recently. My time has been spent at a LOT of BBQ’s, and it isn’t even officially summer yet! So, I figured this post could be about two of my favorite things: summer and eating. These are two very broad topics, but I’m referring to their relationship to one another. I mean BBQ’s, ice cream, iced coffee, eating outside and all that other goodness.

In the past two weeks I’ve devoured enough BBQ-style food to last me a lifetime. Hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers, grilled chicken, grilled veggies, ribs, and more. There’s just something so wonderful about the smell of a grill, no matter what’s on it cooking. I relish the days where you’re driving with the windows down, and you can smell someone’s grill off in the distance. I think I’ve been craving BBQ food more and more simply because my fiancé and I don’t have a grill. We’re in the process of procuring one from my parents (they’re getting a new one), but we haven’t gotten it yet and are chomping at the bit to use it. I suppose we better pick something phenomenal to grill first!

In addition to summertime food, there’s also summertime drinks. This means lots of iced coffees, teas, lemonades, frozen concoctions, and everyone’s favorite, booze! I myself am a big fan of mojito’s, Patron and pineapple, and margaritas! Other than that, you can probably find me sucking down iced coffee throughout the day. Now, I’m going to have to agree with Shelby from eat, drink, run that iced coffees are a waste of money; how can some frozen water jack up the price nearly a dollar?! Because of that I find myself making iced coffee on most occasions, which is actually pretty easy. I just double brew (so if I need three scoops for hot coffee, I’ll do six instead), and if I have the time, I throw it in the refrigerator for a bit. That way, I don’t need to use as much ice. Delicious!

While I haven’t explored the veggie BBQing world too much, I think I’m going to try it a little more this summer. I’m a big fan of Morningstar Farm’s spicy black bean burgers, and Dr. Praeger’s california burgers, but I think I want to branch out some more. I know Morningstar makes a mean “grillers” version that is apparently pretty close to an actual burger. I’m a little “meh” about veggie hot dogs, mainly because I’m not a huge fan of regular hot dogs either. I’m also looking forward to just grilling a ton of veggies; eggplant, zucchini, squash, corn… yum! Oh, and I’m totally grilling a pizza and getting my salad on. I’m not talking about boring lettuce thrown together. I mean bean salads, pasta salads, and crispy veggie salads. I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon some really good side and main dish salad recipes that are pretty easy and straight forward, so I’m definitely looking forward to those, too.

As you can tell, I have big plans for myself in terms of cooking this summer. There’s just something so wonderful about sitting outside (sans bugs, of course) enjoying some good food and drink. Sure, living in New Jersey means probably a lot of bugs, and serious humidity. But every once in awhile we get ourselves the perfect day, and I can’t wait to make good use of it. So feel free to send any good grilling recipes my way, I’m going to be a grill master by the end of the summer – you just wait and see!