Meatless Monday: Vegan Mac & Cheese

We’ve been doing the Meatless Monday thing pretty much for the entirety of our marriage so far. It’s been fun trying new recipes and realizing that you don’t need an animal protein to make a meal. Some of our favorite veg recipes are things like black bean burgers, tofu curry, eggplant parmesan, and this recipe for vegan mac & cheese. Admittedly, when I first made it I added a can of tuna and called it tuna casserole. Brett asked for seconds and couldn’t stop telling me how good it was. Even when I told him what was in it he didn’t change his mind. The flavors are great and really adaptable to any taste. It makes a great side dish with plenty of leftovers, or a main dish that will definitely fill you up.

Vegan Mac & Cheese
(adapted from the edible perspective)

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped (or about 1 cup of any mild vegetable such as carrots, cauliflower, etc.)
½ small onion, peeled and chopped (about ¼-1/3 cup)
1 1/2 cups raw cashews and/or almonds (in any ratio)
1 1/3 cup unsweetened, unflavored milk substitute
4 garlic cloves, chopped
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
black pepper
1 teaspoon mustard
12-16 ounces pasta (any type you would use for mac & cheese)
1 slice bread (or fresh breadcrumbs)
1 tablespoon Earth Balance (vegan margarine)
Paprika

Boil sweet potatoes and onion in a medium pot until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Drain and set aside. Add nuts and milk to blender. Process until smooth. Add the garlic, lemon juice, salt, nutritional yeast, pepper, and mustard and process until smooth. Add boiled and drained vegetables and process until all combined. Cook pasta in boiling water for 7 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Mix together cheese sauce and pasta. Pour into a greased casserole dish and sprinkle paprika over top. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, process slice of bread in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. Melt butter and combine with breadcrumbs. Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over baked casserole and place under the broiler for 3 minutes. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, if desired.

Serves approximately 4-6 as a main course

Nutritional yeast is probably the only ingredient that would be hard to find. I get it out of the bulk bins at Whole Foods, but I’ve also seen it in the natural section at grocery stores (Bob’s Red Mill is a national brand that might be easiest to find). You don’t want to leave it out because it’s what gives the casserole its cheesy flavor (Read more about it here).

Also, if the strict vegan thing doesn’t matter to you, regular cow’s milk and butter work just fine in this (probably better, especially the butter). Once you blend the sauce, give it a taste. You might want to add some fresh herbs, or some cayenne for a little heat. And it does make a great tuna casserole with just the addition of one can of tuna. Like Ashley says on her blog, I can’t imagine someone not liking this. Try it!

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Restaurant Review: JG Domestic

We love Jose Garces.

Before he became an Iron Chef, he was a well-known and popular Philadelphia restaurateur, known for his small plates-style and creative cuisine. Our first experience at a Garces restaurant was Distrito, which actually contributed some of the inspiration for our wedding.

Distrito,

Wedding.

Since we’re moving in three weeks(!!!), we put together a Philly restaurant bucket list with everywhere that we’ve wanted to go but haven’t yet. Last week we knocked two big ones off the list: Blackfish, which was recently declared the best restaurant in Philly (by Philadelphia Magazine), and JG Domestic, the subject of this review.

Of course on the bucket list we wanted to add the Garces restaurants we hadn’t been to yet (there are 7 in total). We’d conquered Distrito, enjoyed Amada, loved Garces Trading Company, and dined at Chifa twice in two weeks. We went to Tinto in January for Restaurant Week and Brett’s birthday, so we only had two left – JG Domestic and Village Whiskey. I knew I wanted to go to JG Domestic for my birthday. I just had a feeling I would love it (American style, all ingredients sourced in the USA, many local, all the farmers listed on the menu, and other trendy things that I love), and it actually exceeded my expectations.

Here is my Yelp review of the dinner:

I actually quite liked the decor and feeling of the restaurant. Where else can you dine so well in a train station under an escalator? It felt warm and comfortable, probably because of the wood and plants. And I couldn’t get over how much bigger our table was than at most other Garces restaurants. We had plenty of room to spread out our food (Even though we were at one of the long tables and not our own).

We came in thinking we would order the Chef’s Tasting, which is what we usually do at Garces restaurants because the menus are so vast and you don’t know what to choose. Once we really looked at the menu though, there were clear things that we wanted to try, and when we added up the cost it was far less than if we had both ordered the tasting.

Cocktails: My husband ordered the Empire Builder and seemed to enjoy it. I’m not a bourbon-drinker but I had a sip and it tasted good. I ordered the Keystone, which was sweet but not too much, and lasted me throughout dinner.

First course (All of these things came out at once, when we expected them to come out in two courses. It was almost overwhelming, but we handled it.):
Housemade Rolls: Simple, hot, and delicious. The apple jelly was extra great.
Slim JG: 4 sticks of housemade sausage, 4 crackers, mustard. It was a nice snack, can’t complain.
Maine Lobster Cappuccino: I heard many good things about this, but just couldn’t imagine how it could taste good. Wow, it was so good. One of the highlights of the night.
Keswick Creamery Fondue: Cast iron crock filled with creamy fondue, served with breadsticks, apples, and a fantastic onion jam. This was my husband’s favorite first course. There’s more cheese than dippers, but you can get creative with things to dip (rolls, spoons, etc.)
Hawaiian Opah Ceviche with Spiced Passion Fruit Sorbet: This was one of the specials of the night. It might have been the best ceviche I’ve ever had. Perfect acidity and sweetness, and I love the texture of opah. I’m a sucker for Jose’s sorbets.

After a small break, we got our second course plates:
Kabocha squash: There seems to be a lot of hate for this dish, and really we weren’t thinking about ordering it. But when we realized how few vegetables we were ordering, and we saw the people next to us get it, we decided to go for it. It was cooked perfectly (still with some bite, not mushy at all) and had a really nice vinaigrette. Its also two of my favorite veggies (kabocha and black kale), so I’m glad we listened to ourselves instead of the reviews on this one.
California Organic Maitakes: Two maitakes in polenta. The plate for this one was so big we each just grabbed a mushroom and put it on our plate to get the big bowl out of the way. These were very good, but kind of forgettable since we rushed through them.
Green Village Suckling Pig: This was the whole animal of the night. It was a last-minute decision to order this and I’m so glad we did. Every bite of the pork was moist and extremely flavorful. Every cut was better than the last. And the portion on this one was much bigger than we expected from the sound of the reviews. Definitely enough for us.

Dessert course: I always expect dessert to be my favorite, but I don’t think I could ever have expected this. My hubs ordered the Bourbon, which gives you three hot beignets covered in powdered sugar with a bourbon butterscotch sauce. These were excellent (recommended by our waiter, even though we would have ordered them anyway) and my husband’s favorite dish of the night. Then, my dessert came. I ordered the Maple, which is a Maple souffle that comes out hot from the oven. The server pokes a hole in the middle of the souffle, scoops in some ice cream, then pours a hot maple creme anglaise to melt the ice cream into a delicious creamy maple-y soup. I took my first bite and I almost died right there. It.was.so.good. Seriously, if you like maple or souffle or dessert at all, order this. It was the perfect dessert to end the meal.

The dinner ended with 2 petit fours each, one a blood orange and one a chocolate/marshmallow combo. Both were good, but I scraped one last taste of my souffle because I wanted to end with that taste in my mouth.

Our waiter was very nice and helpful, as we’ve come to expect from any GRG establishment.

Yes, the portion sizes can be small on some dishes, but some of that perception is because we’re all used to giant portion sizes. For people who love to have many tastes of different things, this is perfect. The amount of plates we ordered was perfect for us, and we left feeling extremely satisfied but not overly stuffed. It may not Jose’s best value for the volume of food, but for quality, its worth every penny.

I gave this place 5 big, puffy, maple souffle stars

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S’mores Cupcakes

So, I’ve always had this thing with marshmallows. When I was probably 7 or 8, my aunt bought me a GIANT bag of mini marshmallows from Sam’s Club. As in, 5 pounds of fluffy, airy, little marshmallows giant. I’m not sure if that was the start of it all, or my love of all things sugary just lead to an association with me and marshmallows, but it stuck. I mean, I’ve never proclaimed my love for marshmallows, but I’ve always been fond of them, and everyone seems to know it. I’m not sure how my sister-in-law became aware of my marshmallow association, but she believes that I loves them, and gave me three different kinds for my birthday a few years ago.

This Christmas, the same aunt that started it all gave me a bag of GIANT marshmallows. These were not your regular jumbo marshmallows. They are probably the size of two or three jumbo marshmallows. They’re huge! Like you’d only need 3 to make rice krispie treats huge. I needed to find something to do with these monsters.

I seem to have come across the idea a few times recently (although I forget everywhere I read it) of “frosting” cupcakes with marshmallows instead of buttercream. Of course I was drawn to this idea, and knew that was exactly what I wanted to do with my big guys.

 

S’mores Cupcakes
(adapted from bon appetit)

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (~11 sheets)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup whole milk
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup whipping cream
6 giant marshmallows, cut in half

For the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. Mix together graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions. Add vanilla. Add graham cracker mixture in three additions alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the graham cracker mixture. Spoon into muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

For the ganache: Place the chocolate in a medium heat-safe bowl. Bring the cream just to boil in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let stand one minute and then stir until smooth. Cool to lukewarm. Spoon into a pastry bag.

Putting everything together: Push an apple corer about one inch into the top of each cupcake (or use a small knife to carve out a small hole), remove the cake. Pipe ganache into the holes, then swirl on top of the cupcakes. Smooth out the ganache with a knife. Before serving, preheat the broiler. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Put the marshmallow halves on the baking sheet. Broil until the marshmallows are lightly charred, 1-2 minutes. Use a small metal spatula to place the marshmallow on top of each cupcake.

 

Seems like lots of white. Also, look at the size of those marshmallows!

Action shot of my mom chopping chocolate. I used Trader Joe’s dark chocolate because it recently won a taste test on SeriousEats. Next time I’d use a milk chocolate to get the classic “s’mores with a Hershey bar” taste.

You will have some leftover batter. Don’t worry about getting out another muffin tin – we’ll do something with it later!

Ganaching.

Cored. This is also good for quality control.

Ganached.

S’mored.

Chocolatey marshmallowey goodness.

And what to do with the leftover batter? I’m glad my mom was here to come up with the idea:

Pancakes! Just add a splash of milk to the batter and viola! These might have been even better than the cupcakes!

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Holiday Spiced Almond Butter

This Christmas, I wanted to make something for my friends and family that would be interesting and delicious. I did just that.

The first two jars are recipes I found on the edible perspective, the last (Honey Vanilla and Flax Almond Butter) was something I developed from a few of her recipes. I don’t think I could pick a favorite recipe of the three, they’re all so unique and delicious. We don’t use a lot of nut butters around here (Brett’s allergic to peanuts and addicted to Biscoff spread) but this was gone in days. We added it to oatmeal, spread it on English muffins and toast, ate it with a spoon… etc. And it’s so much cheaper than buying almond butter in the store (I may have payed $16 for a jar once) and you can control your ingredients and sugar levels. It also makes a great gift!

Holiday Spiced Almond Butter
(from the edible perspective)

2 cups raw almonds
3 tablespoons maple syrup, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses, divided
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil, or more according to desired consistency

Spread almonds on parchment on a baking sheet. Pour on 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and 1 tablespoon molasses. Stir with hands so that all nuts are covered. Roast for 30 minutes at 300 degrees, stirring once every 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for about 20 minutes. Pour into food processor and turn on. Process and scrape down bowl as needed, until it butterizes (10-15 minutes, past the stage where it turns into a ball of “dough”). Stop food processor and add remaining 1/2 tablespoon of molasses and 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and all of oil, spices, and salt. Process again until smooth consistency is met (another 5-8 minutes, past the second dough ball stage). You can add more oil if you want a smoother, more “drippy” almond butter. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

 

Almonds coated with goodness. I use Grade B maple syrup because it has more flavor and less sugar. Win-win.

All of the in-process additions.

Hot out of the oven. There may have been a few of these that didn’t make it to the food processor…

Warning about processing: the first 30 seconds is very LOUD! Hold your ears. About 8 minutes into processing, the mixture will turn into this ball of “dough” that just circles around and around the outside of the food processor. This means your close to your goal!

Final product: about 1 1/2 cups of yumminess. This lasted about a week.

Mmmmm

One word of advice: don’t double or half the recipe. This amount works great in a normal-sized food processor. I tried to double it and my (admittedly old. but great-working) food processor started smoking. If you cut in in half (which you would regret as soon as you immediately hit the bottom of the jar), I’m not sure there would be enough mass for the food processor to work with.

Happy butterizing!

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Black Beans and Caramelized Corn

There’s a little restaurant in Lexington that I wish I had discovered sooner:

One of my roommates in my last semester of college worked at Bourbon n’ Toulouse and we would all eat there for free every Monday. Everyone that went there for the first time always got the crawfish etouffée, because on first glance it’s the best thing on the menu. And in reality, its probably the worst. It’s really not bad, but there are other things that are just so good. Luckily, I was introduced to the best dish on the menu early on, and it’s one I crave anytime I think about Lexington.

I was nervous to try to recreate this dish, because I didn’t think there was any chance I could make it taste anything like the real thing. To my surprise, I got pretty close on my first try. It’s really about balancing the sweetness and the spice in the end. It’s probably not perfect, but it holds us over until we can get the real thing in Lexington.

Black Beans and Caramelized Corn

2 tablespoons butter
1 can or 1/2 bag frozen, or equal amount fresh sweet corn
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 red pepper, peeled and diced
1/4 cup half and half
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
A few splashes hot sauce of choice

Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add corn and saute for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly caramelized and sweet-smelling. Add brown sugar and saute for about 2 more minutes, stirring constantly. Add black beans and red pepper and saute until warmed through, about 2 more minutes. Add half and half, cayenne, salt and pepper, and hot sauce, and let simmer until sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately over rice with more hot sauce, and a big hunk of french bread on the side, buttered and sprinkled with cajun seasoning. Enjoy!

Yield: 2-3 servings

You probably have everything you need for this recipe in your kitchen already. I have a huge bag full of cut peppers in my freezer from my CSA which has saved me so much money this winter. I microwave the frozen peppers for 30 seconds covered in plastic wrap, let it cool, then peel and chop them. Peeling is so much easier this way!

Caramelizing corn in butter… imagine the smells!

Everything simmering together.

The finished meal. Spicy and sweet and hearty and simple. It’s so good!

Mmmm… Anyone want to go to Lexington?

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Homemade Bagels

Is there anything better than the smell of bread baking in the oven? Of course there is. But not much.

I fancy myself a baker more than a cook, but it isn’t until recently that I’ve been widening my baking horizon to include breads along with the typical muffins and cookies. I chose to try bagels, partially for the experience, but also because I haven’t found any here that I like that are less than $1 each. I figure if I could make at least decent bagels for something like 10 cents each then my expected complicated endeavor would be worthwhile.

I followed Matt’s directions and recipe from KathEats to a T (except I halved the recipe), taking into account his topping suggestion.

Homemade Bagels
(From KathEats)

3 1/2 cups (429 grams) bread flour
3 1/2 cups (429 grams) whole wheat flour
2 1/4 cups (515 grams) water
1 1/3 tablespoon (17 grams) kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) instant yeast

Mix all ingredients until mixture comes together, then mix on first speed for 3 minutes. It will be a very stiff dough. Mix on second speed for 3 more minutes. When kneading is complete the dough should be very strong with full gluten development (do the windowpane test).

Grease your mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put in a warm place to rise for 1-2 hours. Get all of your supplies ready – a damp tea towel, a food scale, a dough divider, and a sheet pan.

Divide dough into 14 equal portions of 3.5 ounces each, and place each dough ball under the damp towel to keep from developing a crust. Take out one ball at a time, and create a smooth surface before rolling out. Roll each dough ball with your hands to make a snake 6-8 inches in length. Then create a loop around your fingers with the dough snake, and pinch the two ends together to make the bagel. Roll together lightly, and place the finished bagel on the sheet pan. Repeat with all of the dough balls until you have 14 shaped bagels on your sheet pan(s) (spaced about 1 inch apart). Cover the pan(s) with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 6 hours, and up to overnight.

Next, set up your baking station. You will need: the oven preheating to 500 degrees, your pan(s) of bagels, a large pot of boiling water, a strainer with a handle, a bowl of ice water, and the pan(s) you will use for baking.

Add 2-3 bagels at a time to the boiling water. Boil for 1-2 minutes, flipping them halfway through and making sure they don’t stick together. Remove them from the boiling water with your strainer and drop them into the bowl of ice water. Let cool for 3 minutes, while waiting for the boiling water to come back to a full boil. Place them on the pans you will use to bake them, and don’t worry about excess water. Repeat with the rest of the bagels.

If you are topping your bagels, sprinkle toppings on the wet top of the bagel, and flip them over on the pan, so the top of the bagel is facing down. Put the tray in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, then quickly remove and flip with tongs (so the side with toppings is now facing up). Return to oven for 10-15 minutes, until the bagels show nice color and crispness. Cool on a cooling rack until completely cooled before slicing and enjoying.

Yield: 14 bagels

Don’t let the length of the instructions fool you. Surprisingly, it was not difficult or complicated at all to make bagels. The most difficult part was waiting to eat them. And putting the bagels into a 500 degree oven without my smoke detector going off (it usually goes off if my oven is set to 400 degrees or above).

Go over to Matt’s recipe for a very detailed and picture-filled explanation of making the bagels!

It’s important to weigh ingredients in baking, especially in bread-making! I weigh my cups of flour as I put them in the bowl and they’re always all over the place!

Here is my dough ball before rising. It’s really tight and not at all sticky. I let it rise for about 2 hours while I did other things around the house. Then I let the formed bagels hang out in the fridge overnight, because I started this around 2 in the afternoon and didn’t feel like boiling bagels at 10 o’ clock at night.

Apparently I didn’t take any pictures of the in-between steps. Here are my finished creations! 2 poppy seed, 3 everything (my fave), and 2 salt (Brett’s fave). The salt kind of dissolved in the moisture of the boiled bagel, and then flattened while it was baked upside down. Maybe next time I’ll wait to add the salt until the flip in the oven. They still tasted great though!

The sliced bagel. I smothered this one with pumpkin cream cheese (of course). The outside was perfectly crispy, and the inside still soft and chewy. After they were completely cooled (i.e. sitting out all day) I put them in a ziploc bag. The next day the crust wasn’t crispy, but chewy like bagels in a bag you buy at the grocery store. They toasted perfectly in the toaster. Such an easy breakfast!

Bagels will definitely be made again in this house, but first, I’d like to try my hand at English muffins!

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Happy Halloween!

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