Meatless Monday: Spicy Eggplant Pasta

It’s been awhile since I posted something on vegan week! My vegan diet has lost a bit of momentum with all the distractions from my weekend trips, in which there were too many delicious meat and dairy options around me, and these habits carried over into the week. Furthermore, I kept noticing that my workouts were significantly better on the days when I had meat, so I’ve been incorporating meat more regularly into my work week diet.

But I still try to stick to mostly vegetables where I can. And this delicious spicy eggplant pasta dish, which is comforting, satisfying and filling, makes me look forward to the vegan work week. The original recipe calls for regular wheat linguine, but I actually swapped it for a brown rice pasta. I wanted to see if I could meet the challenge of vegan, gluten-free and delicious, and luckily this brown rice version passed the test!

Spicy Eggplant Pasta, adapted from Food52.com

Ingredients
1 large eggplant
1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
several tablespoons of olive oil
1 8 oz. package of brown rice pasta (I used Pastariso Rice Pasta), you can also use regular linguine!

Preparation

Cut the eggplant crosswise in 1 inch thick slices. Lay the slices on a baking sheet, and salt them well on both sides. Drizzle olive oil over the eggplant, and make sure both sides are coated.

step 1 - prep eggplant
prep the eggplants with salt and olive oil for roasting

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the oven is ready, roast the eggplant pieces for about 20 minutes.

While the eggplant roasts, heat some olive oil on a large saucepan. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic, and cook for about 8-10 minutes.

step 2 - sautee onion and garlic
sautee the onion and garlic in olive oil

Add the can of crushed tomatoes, dried oregano and red pepper flakes. The mixture will already be pretty thick. Set the heat very low and mix the sauce from time to time.

step 3 - add crushed tomatoes oregano and chili pepper
add the can of crushed tomatoes, as well as the oregano and red pepper flakes

Once the eggplant is ready, slice it into 1 inch pieces and incorporate into the sauce. Continue to simmer on low heat until the pasta noodles are ready.

step 4 - add diced eggplants
add the chopped eggplants

After adding the eggplant to the sauce mixture, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook for about 6-8 minutes. Stir from time-to-time so that the noodles don’t stick together, which tends to happen more frequently with brown rice pasta. Drain the pasta and fold into the sauce. If you’re using the brown rice pasta, be extra careful, as it is not as sturdy and tensile as its wheat counterpart. It is a delicious, slightly nutty substitute though!

step 5 - serve
spicy eggplant pasta for dinner – gluten free and meat free, but not free of taste!

Vegan Week: Quick Udon Noodle Soup

For some reason, my energy levels came crashing down from their record highs last week, which was really disappointing. Last week I felt like I could take on the world, and I was totally managing my inbox like a champ, but this week I was so tired and unproductive. I definitely needed coffee in addition to my green tea multiple times. On Thursday I was feeling really good again, but on Friday I felt like my blood sugars were dangerously low in the early evening. I’m not sure what I did differently to cause this shift–I did eat less quinoa this time around, but could that really be it? I’m hoping this is a one-off and I’ll have better luck in week 3.

Day 1 – Kind Bar (so hard to avoid honey!), sweet potato kale salad, orange, almonds, coconut milk curried tofu
Day 2 – 1/2 of a Clif bar, almonds, sweet potato kale salad, orange and fruit salad as snacks, leftover coconut milk curried tofu, an Emmy’s chai tea macaroon, an apple
Day 3 – 1/2 of a Clif bar, oatmeal with dried fruit, sweet potato kale salad (I clearly made these in bulk on a Sunday), orange and almonds for snacks, tofu udon noodle soup
Day 4 – Emmy’s chai tea macaroon and a banana, Hale & Hearty’s 10-vegetable soup, almonds, apple and a Kind Bar for snacks, Amy’s Kitchen Black Bean Enchilada
Day 5 – Kind Bar, a Moroccan vegetable soup from Frame, a bag of pretzels, almonds, carrots and hummus, salmon, broccoli crowns and quinoa to conclude vegan week

One of my highlights from this week’s vegan entry was a new quick udon noodle soup recipe that I tried from thekitchn.com. It had all the elements of a perfect weekday homemade dinner – quick, easy and tasty. The hardest part about it was trying to find some of the seasonings, specifically the star anise, which is a very intense licorice spice that is commonly used in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking. Needless to say, I couldn’t find it at Whole Foods, but luckily the awesome Dual Specialty Store just an avenue over sells every spice imaginable at extremely reasonable prices, including this novelty. As the recipe title suggest, this is a quick broth, so it won’t have as much depth and fullness as a restaurant one, but it certainly is flavorful, and you can add whatever vegetables you want to it.

dual specialty store - storefront
dual specialty store on 91 1st Ave
dual specialty store - spice rack
spices galore!
udon noodle - star anise and bay leaf
star anise and bay leaf

Quick Udon Noodle Soup, adapted from theKitchn.com

Ingredients
1 cup vegetable broth
5 cups water
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
handful of udon noodles
1/2 block of firm tofu, cubed
1-2 cups of kale or any other hearty green
2 scallions, chopped
soy sauce to taste

Preparation

Bring liquids, bay leaf, anise and salt to boil. Add the udon noodles. About 6 minutes in, add the kale, tofu and scallions. Cook until the udon and kale are tender.

udon noodle - step 3
one pot shop – bring everything to a boil

Remove the pot from the heat. Remove the bay leaf and star anise, and season with soy sauce (I used about 2 teaspoons). Serve in a bowl and enjoy!

IMG_3039

Vegan Week: Creamy Coconut Milk Tofu Curry

curry tofu - step 7

Week 2 of the vegan work week diet was surprisingly good! I definitely had a breakthrough in my energy levels. You know that feeling you get when you call it an early night and sleep in for a really long time? That’s sort of how I felt for most of last week. It was pretty awesome feeling refreshed and operating with more clarity than my usual out-of-it, blah self. I didn’t need a cup of coffee once and was totally fine with green tea. I could still finish my workouts at the same energy level as my non-vegan weeks, even my more intensive HIIT ones, which is something I’m always paranoid about because the last time I did the vegan diet, I collapsed after 10 minutes on the treadmill. I also felt like I could get full on less, and I never had any cravings for sweets or junk food (it probably helped that I had an arsenal of Emmy’s vegan macaroons with me). It’s getting psychologically easier to eat mostly vegetables, and I don’t find myself longing for a chicken or burger ever. Although to be honest, I do find myself thinking about almond croissants and cheese from time to time.

Below is a recap of week 2–onwards to week 3!

Day 1 – Raw Revolution Chocolate Coconut Bliss bar for breakfast, curried chickpeas (inspired by the amazing salad from Joan’s on Third in LA) and quinoa for lunch, an orange and almonds for snacks, Amy’s Black Bean Enchilada for dinner
Day 2 – Raw Revolution Spirulina bar for breakfast, curried chickpeas and quinoa for lunch, an orange and almonds for snacks, veggie sushi rolls from Alpha Fusion (pickled radish, mushrooms, seaweed and tofu)
Day 3 – oatmeal w/raisins for breakfast, roasted sweet potatoes with arugula salad for lunch, an orange and almonds for snacks, pan-fried brussels sprouts for dinner
Day 4 – White Chocolate Chip Clif Bar for early breakfast, oatmeal w/soy milk and cinnamon for late breakfast, roasted sweet potatoes with arugula salad for lunch, an apple for a snack, sauteed kale and garlic for dinner
Day 5 – a bit of a strange day here, but some fruit and an apple for breakfast, lots of lemon ginger tea, an Almond + Apricot Kind Bar for lunch (being flexible with the honey here), 1 cinnamon bagel from Murray’s that happens to be “accidentally” vegan, salmon and brussels sprouts for dinner (veganism comes to a close by 5 pm!)

For tonight’s vegan dinner, I really wanted to use up my coconut milk before it went bad, so I decided to make some curried tofu. This recipe is adapted from the Cheap Creamy Chicken Curry recipe on Food52.com, with a few modifications. Obviously I swapped in firm tofu for chicken to make it vegan friendly, and I didn’t have turmeric so I just used whatever I had in my spice rack–curry powder, cumin and red chili powder. I also threw in some chopped red pepper for a little color and texture. The vegan version of this recipe was very good, although I think the chicken absorbed the fragrant spices better than the tofu did. The warm, creamy sauce is the heart and soul of the dish, so you can’t really go wrong with whatever protein you end up using.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 14 oz. package of firm tofu
1 medium onion
1 red bell pepper
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1.5 teaspoons of tomato paste
1 cup coconut milk (I used So Delicious’ original unsweetened coconut milk)

Preparation

Prepare the onion, garlic and red pepper. Chop the red bell pepper into small pieces and remove the inner core and seeds. Mince the garlic cloves. Finely chop the onion.

curry tofu - step 4
seasoning the tofu cubes with curry powder

Take the entire block of tofu out of the packaging and remove the water. Slice the tofu into small 1 inch cubes. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of curry powder over the tofu cubes and distribute evenly. Set aside the tofu in a bowl or plate.

curry tofu - step 1
pan-frying the finely chopped onions

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cook the onions for about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.

curry tofu - step 3
a medley of onion, garlic, spices and tomato paste

Add 1 teaspoon of the curry powder, the cumin, the red chili powder and salt into the pan and cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste and mix everything together.

curry tofu - step 6
letting the coconut milk boil and thicken, and adding red peppers for some color and texture

Add the tofu to the pan and pan-fry for about 6 minutes. Add the cup of coconut milk and red peppers. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the coconut milk has assumed more of a thick, sauce-like consistency.

Ladle the tofu and curry sauce over some hot rice or quinoa. Dish must be served warm!

Yields about 2-3 individual servings.

Epic Cronut Making FAIL

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Cronut mania…we’re about 3 months into the trend now. You would think that cronuts would have jumped the shark at this point, but the fad shows no signs of dying down. Lines are still wrapping around the block and scalpers are still selling cronuts for $35 a piece.

I’ve already checked the cronut line off my list, but I was tempted to wait in line again when I heard that Dominique Ansel had introduced a new blackberry flavor. But all the endless rain and humidity deterred me from a second attempt. So I came up with a genius idea–I would skip the line and make cronuts at home instead!

Except…my homemade cronuts were a pretty big failure. Everything from making the filling, to rolling the dough, to shaping the cronut, to frying the thing, it was a disaster. And it tasted bad too. Like soggy, uncooked refrigerated dough. Sigh. I used this online recipe as a guide–let me know if you have better luck following it. One quick tip–when the pudding mix says to use cold cow’s milk, don’t use almond milk. Your pudding will turn out watery and sad.

Inspired by “How to Make a Cronut at Home!” 
From www.babble.com, courtesy of Pillsbury

Ingredients
2 cups vegetable oil (I used like 1/2 a cup)
1 can (8 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1 vanilla pudding from a Jell-O box mix
Almond milk

Make the pudding mix according to the Jell-O box instructions. Mine said to combine the mix with 2 cups of cold milk and whisk for 2 minutes. I didn’t have cow’s milk, so I used almond milk instead. This was a mistake, because my pudding never became firm and became a soupy mess.

1 cronut - pudding ingredients
Step 1 – gather ingredients for box pudding
2 cronut - mix pudding mix and 2 cups of almond milk
Step 2 – whisk everything for 2 minutes
3 cronut - whisk pudding mixture for 2 minutes
Step 3 – apparently after 5 minutes of whisking it solidifies…
4 cronut - chilled pudding
Step 4 – except it never did, even after being chilled for several hours

Set aside the finished pudding in the refrigerator. Now it’s time to make the cronuts. I recommend that you lightly flour your surface and use a rolling pin, as opposed to the ghetto chilled wine bottle I used as a substitute. The dough got a bit sticky and was hard to work with.

5 cronut - Pilsbury crescent rolls
Step 5 – take the package of Pillsbury crescent rolls out of the fridge
6 cronut - rectangles
Step 6 – unroll the dough. smooth out the serrated diagonal cutting across each of the four rectangles. Then separate the rectangles from each other, like so
7 cronut - stacked rectangles
Step 7 – stack two rectangles on top of each other, so that you are left with two thicker rectangles (originally you had four). fold the rectangles in half and roll them out. mine unfortunately kept getting stuck on the wine bottle I was rolling them out with
8 cronut - donut cutters
Step 8 – use a donut cutter to cut out the cronuts (you can buy these at a cooking supplies store like Williams-Sonoma)
9 cronut - uncooked cronut
Step 9 – wriggle out the dough from the donut cutter. mine managed to keep its shape
11 cronut - fry donuts
Step 10 – heat the oil in a pan over medium high heat. dip the cronuts in the oil and quickly cook each side for 90 seconds. i did not follow the 90 second rule and ended up burning them
10 cronut - cool the fried cronuts
Step 11 – let the fried cronuts cool for 5 minutes. yeah, these cronuts are looking a little tan…
12 - cut in half and decorate with puddings
Step 12 – cut the cronuts in half, lengthwise, with a serrated knife. spoon some of the vanilla pudding over the cut surface. place the two halves back together. spoon some of the leftover pudding on top of the cronut (mine was more of a drizzle)
13 cronut - finished product
Step 13 – voila, there you go! it doesn’t look so bad, but it tastes like crap

Curried Freekah with Cauliflower, Mango & Cashews

Here’s a term you can casually drop into the conversation at your next cocktail party–freekah. What is freekah and how would you use it in a sentence? Freekah is a wholegrain superfood that’s commonly used in the Middle East. It comes from the same grain as brown rice, but it’s harvested earlier in the lifecycle when the wheat is still young and green. The young wheat is roasted, which burns off any chaff and leaves behind a pale green freekah kernel. This process preserves many of freekah’s superfood qualities–high in fiber, great source of vegetarian protein and chock-full of vitamins such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. So the way you use it in a sentence would be to interject when some friend brags about eating quinoa. “Quinoa is so over, it’s all about freekah now. It’s this crazy Middle Eastern whole grain that has all these superfood powers. i made this amazing curried freekah recipe earlier this week. Let me send it to you.”

freekah grains
freekah grains

I discovered freekah when I was browsing Well+Good NYC’s feature on a new restaurant in Tribeca called Mulberry & Vine that specializes in “sexy spa cuisine”. The story came with an accompanying recipe for one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, the curried freekah with cauliflower, mango and cashews. I was immediately intrigued by the novelty of this exotic grain I’d never heard of and carefully planned my grocery shopping to try out the recipe. I thought sourcing the freekah would be difficult, but Whole Foods has it readily available alongside quinoa, bulgur and rice in its grains section. It was pretty easy to make, although there is a lot of prep involved. The recipe requires that you soak the freekah in water overnight, and there’s a lot of roasting going on with the separate dish components (you have to roast the cauliflower and then the cashews if you bought just regular raw ones). If you’re short on time, I’d advise that you substitute brown rice for the freekah to cut out the soaking in water bit, and roast the cauliflower and cashews separately ahead of time.

mix up the freekah, cauliflower and mangos
mix up the freekah, cauliflower and mangos
the finished product
the finished product

I thought the dish was flavorful yet healthy, sort of what you’d expect from sexy spa cuisine. I feel like Gwyneth Paltrow would approve of this dish and might feature it in GOOP one day. I’d definitely make it again because I’ll have whatever Gwyneth Paltrow is having–as annoying and out of touch as she is, she looks amazing. Below is the recipe that was posted on Well+Good NYC.

Mulberry & Vine’s Curried Freekah with Cauliflower, Mango & Cashews
From Well+Good NYC

Ingredients
2 cups uncooked freekah
1 tablespoon peanut oil (can substitute with vegetable oil)
1/2 head small head cauliflower, cut into small florets (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup toasted unsalted cashews, chopped
1 medium mango, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preparation
Soak the freekah overnight in plenty of water. Rinse and add to pot covered with plenty of water.

Bring to boil and cook, uncovered, until freekah is tender, about 45 minutes. Drain in large fine-mesh strainer or colander; spread on prep baking sheet. Cool while preparing salad ingredients.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss cauliflower with 1 tablespoon peanut oil, 1/2 tablespoon curry powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast for 20 minutes until tender and browned in places.

If you haven’t roasted the cashews already, roast the cashews on a baking sheet in the oven at 425 degrees for 7 minutes.

Transfer cauliflower to large bowl, add rice, cashews, mango, chives, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to bowl. Meanwhile saute other half of curry powder briefly in a bit of oil until fragrant (1 minute) and toss into bowl thoroughly to combine. Let stand 20 minutes to blend flavors and serve.

Yields about 6-8 small individual servings.