Some serious thinking on a vegan, gluten-free Menu Plan Monday

What a week it’s been. I started writing again (fiction, as opposed to chatty food epics) for the first time since June. That was on Monday and I thought it would be the most dramatic part of my week. Then I found out a good friend’s brother is very, very sick so I went into cancer crisis mode to do what I could to help support her and her family. Then another good friend got hit by a car (he’s going to be okay) and I spent the day in the emergency room with him, holding his hand and talking about Roman military formations while he lay on a gurney in a hospital hallway.

This is a food blog so I won’t go into more detail about any of this stuff, but suffice to say I didn’t get a lot of cooking done last week. I didn’t have a menu plan either, though, so it all kind of worked out.

Bean Salad with Harissa (from last week)

The day before my friend got hit by the car was his birthday (I know, how much does that suck?), and I joined him and his friends for a birthday feast that I’m still drooling over. His roommate makes the most incredible Indian food. There was this tofu tikka masala… It was positively dreamy. I’m a little jealous of this particular chef. It’s not often that I meet people (in my daily life as opposed to the blog world) who are both better cooks than I am and cook food I actually want to/can eat (i.e., stuff that is both vegan and gluten-free).

I requested that this chef of dreaminess write a guest post for me about that tofu tikka masala, so hopefully that will appear here soon! I asked him if he uses cookbooks or cooks from his head (because I try to be responsible about how many cookbook recipes I post here) and he said “I’ve been cooking Indian food for ten years, I can just do it now.” And yes, of course that makes sense. And thinking about his answer made me suddenly remember my pre-ME days, when I almost never cooked from recipes. Everything I cooked was either improvised or something I’d made a hundred times and knew by heart. I cooked Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Californian, a little Southern, plenty of old-fashioned hippie-food, and riffs and fusions of all those cuisines and more.

Pasta with Spicy Vodka Sauce and Cherry Tomatoes, Rainbow Chard with Pine Nuts and Raisins, Green Salad with Sesame-Citrus Vinaigrette (from last week)

It made me sad to realize how much things have changed for me. I almost always rely on directions now, especially when I’m tired. I’m teaching a friend to cook, and that certainly helps me to see how many things I still can do on instinct – stuff like knife skills and knowing how long to cook a certain vegetable or how much of a seasoning to add seem to be the kinds of things that stick. But that complex processing, envisioning your desired outcome and then laying out the whole process in a series of steps in your head, is not accessible to me right now. However, that does make me a perfect audience for the blog community. Even when you guys improvise you almost always turn that into a recipe, with a list of ingredients and directions that I can follow, because that’s how we roll here in blogville. And then I can just wander around your blogs checking out all the deliciousness, and count on the cognitive processing abilities of my fellow bloggers to carry me onward to dinnertime.

For a giant round-up of menus, check out the Menu Plan Monday round-up over at OrgJunkie!

Middle Eastern eggplant, zucchini, and chickpea stew (manazilet badhinjan)
Tomato salad with marinated shallots
Gluten-free pita bread (we can all take bets on whether this will actually happen)

Sloppy sushi with brown sushi rice, avocado, cucumber, and shitake mushrooms

Roasted fennel
Mushroom-leek ragout over polenta

Creamy chickpea curry
Roasted cauliflower with Indian spices
Brown rice

Arepas filled with refried beans topped with roasted tomato salsa
Spicy slaw
Taverna zucchini

Friday (defrost peanut sauce, marinate tofu ahead!)
Soba noodles with peanut sauce, broccoli, carrot, and cucumber
Malaysian tofu satay (save 1/2 block tofu for jap chae)

Jap Chae

Stuff I want to make, not necessarily this week but hopefully soonish:
Cashew “chevre”

Shopping list: Masa harina, cabbage, green onion, jalapeno, zucchini, cucumber, broccoli, spinach, (napa cabbage, daikon, ginger)


Omigod, you guys!

My friend Mike loves musicals. I’m fairly anti on the subject myself, however I do love my friend Mike. So when he and some other friends were over the other day for a five-hour session of Arkham Horror and I asked him to DJ, I didn’t say a single word as we sat through the greatest musical hits of the last 30 years. One of the catchy, annoying songs we listened to (made more annoying by its catchiness) was the song “Omigod You Guys” from the musical Legally Blonde. (Didn’t know that was a musical? Me neither. Thanks for making me a more cultured person, Mike!) The chorus of the song goes “Ohmigod, ohmigod, you guys!” over and over again. At some point I wrested back control of the speakers and we went back to the depressing, complicated, indie rock no one but me wants to listen to.

A few days later I made some pasta, inspired by two gorgeous heads of radicchio I’d picked up at the farmer’s market. The heads were huge, so I’d ended up searing one and roasting the other. They both came out amazing, but that was a lot of radicchio to eat straight. Plus that day I’d had a sweet potato for lunch so by dinnertime I was starving and wanted something super hearty. I ended up with Tinkyada rice spiral pasta with butternut squash, walnuts, tempeh bacon, a tiny bit of vegan cream cheese, and some of both the roasted and seared radicchio. It looked like it might be kind of plain, not really saucy enough. But when I took my first bite, all I could think was, “Ohmigod, ohmigod, you guys!”

Because ohmigod, you guys! It was like, the best thing ever. Like, my mouth was in serious ecstasy. This was a pasta that shall go down in the annals of history as some of the best pasta ever devoured in my home.

Then about a week later I was making one final summer menu from Fresh Food Fast before returning it to the library. The meal I was making was Fresh Corn Polenta with Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes accompanied by a Green Bean, Wax Bean, and Chick Pea salad with Harissa. One of the things I like about FFF is that I can be kind of a robot chef with it – the author details the exact order in which to do the steps for making the two dishes together. So I was just mindlessly following along, prepping veggies, taking corn kernels off the cob, blanching green beans, not really thinking much at all about what I was making or how it would taste when I was through. Just following directions. When everything was finished, I sat down with a bowl of polenta that I’d cooked in the rice cooker with butter and salt and two ears of fresh corn, topped with sauteed cherry tomatoes. I took my first bite of the polenta.

Boom. Ohmigod. Ohmigod, you guys.

Where has fresh corn polenta been all my life? It’s like… it’s like pudding, like corn pudding. It’s dessert and breakfast rolled into one, plus you can put cherry tomatoes on top and then it’s dinner, too! The smell alone had me dancing around like a cat in catnip. Why have I never done this before? I do tend to make fun of dishes that are like “carbs with carb sauce and a side of carbs” so “corn with corn added” is just the kind of combo I would have been dismissive of. At least, I would have dismissed it before. Before the Great Fresh Corn Polenta Conversion. The day upon which all members of this household (that would be me) swore that never again shall a summer of fresh corn go by without making many, many batches of our new overlord and master, Fresh Corn Polenta.

It’s been a while since food has made me sit up and take notice like these guys did. I know I’m always raving that this vegetable is the best thing ever, and that recipe is the yummiest concoction, etc., but these were dialed way up. All the way up to Ohmigod levels.

Ohmigod Pasta with Radicchio, Butternut Squash, Walnuts, and Tempeh Bacon
This pasta requires several steps to assemble, so it’s not a quick meal. It is totally worth it, however. I started out this recipe with already cooked radicchio and I also used frozen butternut squash (which is the awesomest thing ever – no peeling or thwacking or roasting required!). But I’m going to assume you are starting from square one.

1 lb hearty pasta, like spirals or a wide fettucini
1 large head raddichio
1 small butternut squash, about 1 lb (or one bag of frozen butternut squash cubes)
2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2-3 strips tempeh bacon
2 T. vegan cream cheese (optional)

If you are using fresh (not frozen) butternut squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and cube the butternut squash into half-inch cubes. (If you need help with this often-confounding step, here is a great tutorial.) Cut out the base of the radicchio and pull apart the leaves. Toss the squash with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and arrange the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until quite tender. Meanwhile layer the radicchio leaves in an ovenproof casserole dish, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes or until tender and wilted.

If you are using frozen butternut squash: Thaw the squash. You can either roast the radicchio in a 400 degree oven as above, or pan-sear it. Either way will be delicious.

Coarsely chop the radicchio into large pieces. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Toast the walnuts, either in a pan on the stove or in the toaster oven (my preferred method!). Cook the pasta and drain it, reserving a cup of the pasta water. (I always forget to do this until it’s too late!)

Heat a large pan with a small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat. Fry the tempeh bacon until it is darker brown and a bit crisp. Use a spatula to break up the bacon into small pieces. Turn the heat down to medium and add in the squash and radicchio, sauteeing for a few minutes.

Combine the pasta, bacon, squash, radicchio, walnuts and vegan cream cheese if you are using it. If it seems too dry, add a little of the reserved pasta water. Eat and enjoy!

Fresh Corn Polenta
Inspired by Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley, but improved upon due to the awesomeness of making polenta in a rice cooker. NO stirring and NO lumps! Just pop it in and let it cook itself!

2 ears fresh, sweet corn, husked
1 cup dry polenta
3 cups water
2 T. vegan butter
1 t. salt

Strip the corn kernels off the corn cobs. To do this, hold the corn vertically, braced on the bottom of a bowl large enough to catch any errant flyaway kernels. Or you could use this awesome technique involving a bundt pan!

In a rice cooker, combine the polenta, water, salt, butter, and corn kernels. Stir to combine. Set rice cooker on “white rice” setting (or the one setting you have if your rice cooker only has one setting). When the rice cooker indicates it is done, stir again to combine. There may be a semi-opaque film on top, but don’t be alarmed! Just stir that back into the polenta.

Eat and enjoy!!! I’ve made this twice in two weeks and all my test eaters (aka guests) have raved about it!

Fennel and pears ~ Week of August 25th

Fennel and pears? What is this, fall? Or do I just have a messed-up notion of when it’s pear season? OR is it the end of August and I’m still vainly clinging to summer (maybe because we’ve had exactly THREE days in the last three months where the weather could be described as “nice”) while the rest of the world and the growing season have moved on?

Well, mine is not to question why. Mine is just to get the goodies in the box and try to cook and eat them all before they turn to disgusting babyfood-like sacks of mush. (Sorry, pears from the last box! I just wasn’t ready to eat pears yet!)

Here’s what came in my box this week:
Peaches (3)
Lemon cucumbers (3)
Lettuce (2 heads – I think one was to sub for bell peppers, which are on my veto list)
Fennel (massive)
Apples (2)
Pears (2)
Broccoli (2 stems)
Heirloom tomatoes (a bazillion)

I (heart) courgettes on a vegan, gluten-free Menu Plan Monday

Unbelievably, I haven’t gotten sick of zucchini and summer squash yet this summer. I think I’ve eaten more than usual, but I’ve managed to keep the recipes rolling. Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast has been especially helpful for this as many of the seasonal summer recipes call for squash. But I’m kind of nearing the end of my creativity with summer squash, so I am leveraging my position as organizer of this week’s Gluten Free Menu Swap to try to get all my fellow GF bloggers to feed me their favorite recipes.

Pan-Seared Summer Squash with Garlic and Mint

For those who are unfamiliar, the Gluten Free Menu Swap is a wonderful weekly event organized by Cheryl of Gluten Free Goodness. Gluten-free bloggers from all over the net (and the world!) get together to share our menu plans and our inspiration for the week.

This week I have a ton of tomatoes left from my box, four cucumbers (!) and of course a good amount of summer squash as well. I also have a bunch of lettuce I really, really should use up! The rest is kind of up to me as it is a farmer’s market week, rather than a CSA box week. Other considerations are a ton of plans (I hope I even have time to cook!) and a houseguest coming later in the week. I don’t know his tastes (we haven’t seen each other in almost ten years!) so I’ll likely end up switching things around.

Salad rolls with kitchari and tomato relish

For summer squash this week, I’ve got my new favorite summer recipe, Pan-seared summer squash with garlic and mint, plus an eggplant stew with zucchini and chick peas, and Korean noodles with zucchini and kale. I’m eager to see what other squash delights are on the menu this week in the gluten-free blogging world!

And of course don’t forget to check out OrgJunkie for a ginormous round-up of Menu Plan Mondays from all over the world!

Kitchari (red lentil and quinoa mixture) with tomato-basil relish (I’ll try to post the recipes later this week)
Cucumber salad made with lemon cucumbers and red onion (Fresh Food Fast, 89)

Chana masala (Vegan Express, 99)
Pan-seared summer squash with garlic and mint
Salad of chopped tomato, basil, and cucumber with Annie’s Goddess dressing

Spicy summer bean and chickpea salad with harissa vinaigrette (FFF, 125)
Fresh corn polenta with sauteed cherry tomatoes (FFF, 126)

Middle Eastern eggplant, zucchini, and chickpea stew (manazilet badhinjan)
Tomato salad with marinated shallots
Gluten-free pita bread (this is totally overambitious, but I made hot pockets last week, so it could happen…)

Pasta with spicy vodka sauce, cherry tomatoes, and seasonal veggies
Green salad with citrus dressing


Jap Chae (shiritaki noodles with carrot, zucchini, and kale)
Brown rice
Kim chee

Shopping list: 1 large/2 med ears of corn, 3 pint cherry tomatoes, 1/2 lb green beans, 1/2 lb wax beans, small red onion, med eggplant, 2 med zucchini, other veggies for pasta (whatever looks good), 1 bunch kale

As for my fellow GF menu planners? What tantalizing treats will they be concocting for themselves and their loved ones this week?

Renee of Beyond Rice and Tofu and I wish we were neighbors because we always want to gobble up what the other has planned! This week Renee solves the “what do I do with too many summer squashes” dilemma by just foregoing them entirely, and turning her attention instead to a weeklong feast of spicy tofu, red beans and rice, and two different cucumber salads that sound like summer personified! Renee is headed out of town this week – Bon Voyage!

Wendy at Celiacs in the House gives us some gorgeous farmer’s market eye candy and has frozen a brilliant assortment of summer bounty to keep her going through the winter (jealous! I totally want to do that but I never manage to…). She gets zucchini into a yummy quinoa salad and makes it into ribbons to accompany homemade gnocchi! Pasta salad and kale pizzas also have me salivating and planning a little “neighborly visit” in her direction. Wendy is also headed out of town – Bon Voyage to you as well!

Heather of Celiac Family makes a decadent-sounding chocolate chip zucchini bread (wow!) and likes her zucchini cooked simply, grilled or sauteed. Sounds good to me! Heather takes a trip around the world this week with chicken enchiladas, beef and broccoli stir fry, and a new recipe for lamb chops with garlic mashed potatoes. She also has sweet potato fries planned, which are one of my very favorite foods. I haven’t had them in ages – looks like Tuesday I’ll be popping by Heather’s house just to see how her week is going (and snag a few fries…).

Review of Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley

Recently I went on a research spree to find “quick and easy” vegan cookbooks, in an attempt to have at least some of my meals not take 2 hours to prepare. I’ve been slowly trying to review them here and post the results of my research. Somehow in my explorations I came across Peter Berley’s cookbook, Fresh Food Fast. It’s vegetarian, not vegan, but when I read the description I knew I needed to check it out from the library. FFF is arranged by season, and then within each season by menu. Each menu contains two dishes that are meant to be made together, and is preceded by a shopping list, pantry list, equipment list, and “game plan” for how to time the steps in order to prepare the two dishes in the most efficient way possible. Each menu is meant to take under an hour. At the end of the seasonal section there are additional recipes for desserts.

Three Sisters Stew with Arepa stuffed with vegan cream cheese

Out of the twelve summer menus, there were eight that I could easily prepare, some using substitutes, as both vegan and gluten-free. That’s a pretty good ratio for a vegetarian cookbook and way better than I usually get with an omnivore cookbook. Eight out of ten summer desserts could also be made vegan and gluten-free. The five menus I’ve prepared so far have each taken over an hour, but just barely in most cases. And having the shopping list and game plan truly were helpful in taking some of stress off of meal preparation, which can be every bit as flustering as the time things take.

Pizza with Olives, Cheezly, and Chopped Salad, with Pan-Seared Zucchini (and Impressionist Cauliflower)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the menus are impeccably seasonal. Every single produce item called for has been available at the farmer’s market. This means a LOT of recipes featuring corn, zucchini, and tomatoes. Which did get a little boring. But I do like eating seasonally, and that’s what’s in season right now. Of the ten dishes I made (in five menus plus one dessert), seven were excellent and two were definitely not keepers and not worth the time and energy it took to make them. But again, that seems like a pretty good ratio to me.

Thai-Style Tofu and Veggies in Spicy Coconut Broth

The menus I’ve made so far are: Black Bean and Zucchini Quesadillas with Chipotle Salsa + Chilled Cucumber Mint Soup; Warm Green Beans with New Potatoes and Grilled Onions (to which I added lemon-pepper tofu to sub for the hard boiled eggs); Three Sisters Stew with Okra and Leeks + Arepas: Pan-grilled Colombian Corn Cakes; Asian Cucumber Salad + Thai-Style Tofu and Vegetables in Spicy Coconut Broth with Jasmine Rice; Pita Pizza with Olives, Monterey Jack, and Chopped Salad + Pan-Seared Summer Squash with Garlic and Mint.

Asian Cucumber Salad

The arepas were absolutely incredible and have now become a staple. They are so easy and quick and really provide that “hot and satisfying” feeling that can be difficult to find with ease from vegan, gluten-free food. The three sisters stew was delicious, as was the Thai tofu and the cucumber salad. The pizza topped with chopped salad sounded so odd, but was incredible! It was a bit less convenient for me because I couldn’t make it on a pita base, but luckily I had a prebaked GF pizza crust on hand. I don’t really care much for dessert, but I wanted to check out at least one, so I also made roasted nectarines with cinnamon labneh which I made from soy yogurt and that was truly divine. On the other hand, the zucchini quesadillas were really bland, and the green beans and new potatoes were kind of a boring mush that took an inordinately long time to make. The cucumber soup was tasty but I’m not that into cold soups so I don’t think I would make it again.

Warm Green Beans, New Potatoes, and Grilled Red Onions (with corn and lemon-pepper tempeh croutons)

Overall, I think this is a very solid cookbook. For a vegetarian I think it would be even more of a treasure-trove. The layout is beautiful and the pictures are lovely and the way the cookbook is arranged is very functional. I like the “don’t think, I’m guiding you through this” aspect of the book as well. However, not every recipe was a solid winner, and not every recipe could be made vegan, so that does cut down on the awesomeness-factor somewhat for me.

Pan-Seared Summer Squash with Garlic and Mint

Here’s a tasty preview of the book – one of my very favorite recipes and one I’m sure I’ll be making again and again.

Pan-seared Summer Squash With Garlic and Mint
(recipe directly from Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley)
Yields: 4 servings
2 lbs summer squash, sliced 1/2 inch thick (he means lengthwise – if I had grokked this it would have save a lot of time!)
2 T. freshly squeeze lemon juice
2 T. fresh mint, torn into pieces
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 t. coarse sea salt or kosher salt, plus add’l to taste
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly milled black pepper

1. Warm a large heavy skillet, griddle, or grill pan over medium heat. Arrange the squash in a single layer and sear until speckled with brown and beginning to blacken, about 5 minutes more. (You don’t need any oil for this process, at least I didn’t in my seasoned cast iron pan.) Flip the squash and cook for 4-5 minutes more. Repeat with remaining squash.

2. In a serving bowl, combine the lemon juice, mint, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes and let marinate for 5 minutes. Whisk in the oil. (I actually did this in a small bowl so I could pour it over the squash rather than adding the squash to the sauce. Just personal preference.)

3. Transfer the seared squash to the bowl, toss to coat with the dressing, and let rest for about 5 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper and serve.

This is delicious hot or cold!

Pluots and lemon cucumbers ~ Week of August 11th

Another nice summery box, with pears thrown in, which totally make me think of fall. It has been a tremendously busy week so far, but having a menu plan really does help. Having homemade hot pockets tucked away in my freezer was awfully helpful, too. And having the easiest, best cauliflower recipe in the world on hand doesn’t hurt either – I made it twice in three days!

Here’s what came in my box this week:
Watermelon (1 small)
Pluots (1 lb)
Mixed summer squash (1 lb)
Cauliflower (1)
Mixed heirloom tomatoes (1 lb)
Slicing tomatoes (1 lb)
Mixed cherry tomatoes (1 basket)
Mixed cucumbers (1.5 lb)
Basil (1 bunch)

I think I got extra pluots and cucumbers. I am guessing the pluots were to substitute for the sweet peppers other people got (I love that FFTY has a veto list!) and the cucumbers were to make up for the cucumber missing from my box last week.

An impeccably seasonal vegan, gluten-free menu plan Monday

This week and last I’ve been trying out menus from the cookbook Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley. (Review to come!) The cookbook is organized into four chapters of seasonal menus, and each menu has two different dishes meant to complement each other. I’ve flipped through seasonally-organized cookbooks before, and even cooked from a few, but this cookbook is truly impeccably seasonal. at least as far as the summer menus are concerned. When I take my produce list to the farmer’s market, every single item on there is available. Even when I think something won’t be there (“Oh, I haven’t seen yellow wax beans. Maybe none of the farmers at my market are growing them.”), I have inevitably found someone selling it. It’s pretty amazing!

On the other hand, I did get kind of sick of corn, tomatoes, and zucchini at some point last week. But hey, it’s what is actually in season. Fancy that! I know I’ve mentioned this before, but this market is really making me feel connected to the seasonality of my food. Getting to taste twelve different kinds of peaches, nectarines, and plums every week and pick out which ones are tastiest right then is like my idea of heaven. This week it was Arctic Jay nectarines and some kind of nectaplum (!!) that I can’t recall the name of.

This week’s Gluten Free Menu Swap is hosted by Heather of Celiac Family with the theme of tomatoes. Speaking of seasonal… This is a perfect theme for me this week as my box preview tells me I’ll be getting a pound of heirloom tomatoes, a pound of slicing tomatoes, and a basket of cherry tomatoes. So I’ll be excited to see what my fellow GF swappers are doing with their tomatoes this week! My plans are pretty simple – three different tomato salads, one of them topping a pizza! – but I’ll also hopefully try something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time – Roasted Tomatoes! I’ve always been both intrigued and intimidated, but the glut of tomatoes I’ll be getting this week has inspired me to just go for it. A few other delicious things I’ve done with tomatoes in the past are a Cook’s Illustrated Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil, Summer Bounty Gratin with tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, and basil (best way to use up summertime CSA boxes!), and my favorite Raw Kale Salad with Avocado and Cherry Tomatoes (ooh, that’s what I should use my cherry tomatoes for!).

As always, there’s a big ol’ roundup of menu plans today over at OrgJunkie, so be sure to check that out as well!

Pizza with kalamata olives, vegan mozarella, and chopped salad (FFF, 130)
Assorted summer squashes pan-seared with garlic and mint (FFF, 131)
Impressionist cauliflower

Tuesday (cook 1 C. brown long-grain rice ahead of time)
Golden tofu triangles with rich peanut sauce (Vegan Express, 46)
Steamed broccoli
Nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) with homemade kecap manis

Szechuan-style tofu with eggplant (Vegan Express, 56)
Fatiguer’s-style gai lan

Roasted cauliflower and zucchini
Green salad with citrus vinaigrette
Baked sweet potato

Tomato salad with marinated shallots

Chana masala (Vegan Express, 99)
Curried cashew quinoa (Vegan Express, 93)
Salad of chopped tomato and cucumber with Annie’s Goddess dressing

Roasted tomatoes