Friday, December 31, 2010

Southwestern Three-Bean Salad

It's been a long time since I've made a three-bean salad, and I always end up wondering why I wait so long between times.  The "Southwestern Three-Bean Salad" (page 78) is a delightful variation on a theme.  The three beans used are pinto, red kidney, and black, and to this you add corn, red bell pepper, green onions, and cilantro.  Already this has the makings for the Southwestern theme.  But the clincher is the blended dressing, made from fresh plum tomatoes, garlic, jalapeno, chili powder and cumin.  The recipe calls for olive oil, but instead I just added extra tomato, and in place of the apple cider vinegar, I used lime, as I felt this would be less tart, and more authentic for the Southwestern theme.  What a colorful and great tasting salad this is, and good for a crowd, it makes a lot!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sesame-Orange Dressing

I pretty much love anything with tahini, so I knew right away I would like the "Sesame-Orange Dressing" (page 101) when browsing through the salad dressing section looking for ideas.  Even though the recipe calls for a tablespoon of sesame oil, I figured it wouldn't be missed since the basis of the dressing was creamy tahini.  The orange part of the mix comes from fresh juice, and the rest of the ingredients are soy sauce, vinegar, and cayenne.  The directions say to whip it together in a bowl, but I found I wasn't getting the consistency I wanted, so I put everything in the blender and ended up with a very smooth dressing.  I used only half the amount of both the soy sauce and the vinegar.  It seemed salty enough with that amount of soy, and neither my husband nor I like things too vinegary.  I added about 1/8 teaspoon of guar gum to help thicken it up.  This is a very rich and delicious dressing, and a little drizzled over greens goes a long way.

Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts

Little did I know the last time I was in Whole Foods, which is 70 miles from where I live, that I should have picked up green lentils.  There were half a dozen varieties of lentils available in the bulk section, but not knowing what I would really use them all for, and having limited space in my 5th wheel, I just picked up regular old brown lentils.  I love brown lentils in just about everything, but the "Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts" (page 78) called for green lentils.  What to do!  I decided to be brave and use the brown lentils, being careful not to overcook them, and this worked out just fine. 

The cooked lentils are mixed with red bell pepper, toasted walnuts, red onion, and parsley, then drizzled with a blended dressing which called for vinegar, olive oil, shallot, garlic, and various spices.  I completely omitted the oil, substituting a rich dark vegetable broth in its place, which added a wonderful depth to the overall flavor.  I tasted the finished product when it was still warm, as intended, and it was luscious.  By the time we had it with dinner, it had cooled down to room temperature, and it was still very good.  The next day I had it cold with lunch, and I liked it that way, too!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cream of Artichoke Soup

The "Cream of Artichoke Soup" (page 176) is definitely a blue-ribbon soup.  Maybe because its winter, or maybe I just love soup, but I've yet to make a soup from this book I don't like.  This particular cream-of soup is rich, velvety, and complex without being complicated.  It's a snap to put together, calling for the frozen variety of artichoke hearts, a couple of shallots, a sprinkling of spices.  But the secret ingredient might just be the almond butter.  I've used tahini and peanut butter in soups, but this is the first time I used almond butter. Did I mention, this soup is heavenly?  I omitted the oil when sautéing the shallots, and that was the only change necessary to keep it McDougall friendly. The cooked and pureed soup is ladled into bowls and topped with toasted slivers of almonds and snipped chives.  I'm sorry I didn't make more!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tempeh-Pimiento Cheeze Ball

The "Tempeh-Pimiento Cheeze Ball" (page 19) is the perfect holiday appetizer, vegan or otherwise!  Meant to step in for the traditional cheese ball, this version stands on its own.  A mixture of tempeh, mayo, nutritional yeast, and pimientos is put through the food processor, shaped into a ball, and rolled in chopped pecans.  Be aware, you should start this recipe early in the day or even the day before, as there are a couple of points along the way where refrigeration is required.  The final result is well worth the wait!  As long as you use a vegan, oil free mayo, no changes to the recipe are necessary to keep this within the McDougall guidelines.  Set out with a variety of crackers and enjoy!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wild West Pasta Bake

As soon as I read the recipe for "Wild West Pasta Bake" (page 224), I thought it looked like so much fun!  It called for wagon wheel pasta!  Anything with wagon wheel pasta is bound to be fun, right?  Except...I couldn't find wagon wheel pasta.  I didn't let that stop me though; I just looked for different pasta that would come close to emulating wagon wheels, and after at least 15 minutes of staring at all the different pastas in the pasta aisle, I decided on the Radiatori.  Sometimes it is frustrating living somewhere with limited grocery options, but the challenge can also be fun. 

This dish combines the cooked pasta with a sauce, half of which was pureed, consisting of canned tomato products, pinto beans, and Mexican spices, topped with pumpkin seeds, and baked in the oven.  The only oil called for in this recipe was for sautéing the garlic, but I just bypassed the sauté step altogether and added fresh garlic to the sauce, since everything was going into the oven anyway.  As I mentioned before, I prefer the ratio of ingredients in my pasta dishes to be heavier on the sauce, lighter on the pasta, so I decreased the amount of pasta from one pound to 12 ounces.  I still could have used a little more sauce, but it worked out okay. 

This was a very tasty dish.  The pumpkin seeds added an interesting crunch, but I don't think I would have missed them - good news if you don't really want to add the extra fat and calories.  The total baking time was supposed to be 30 minutes covered, 10 minutes uncovered, but it was more than ready after the 30 minutes, so I stopped there.  I did not use whole grain pasta, so once again, I found this to be the hardest part of my challenge to overcome.  Plan to feed a crowd if you prepare this dish, it makes a lot!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cardamom Carrots with Orange

I have really come to appreciate the flavor of cooked vegetables without any added oil, butter, or margarine, maybe just using a sprinkle of salt or perhaps some garlic or other seasoning.  It took me a while to get accustomed to eating them this way, but it seems I have come to actually prefer cooked veggies in their most basic form.  On the other hand, I love to try new dishes, so I prepared the "Cardamom Carrots with Orange" (page 362) with an open mind. I'm fond of cardamom (the recipe warns that people seem to either love this spice or hate it), and I also like orange zest. The sprinkle of cayenne added a delightful burst of warmth as well. But somehow, I still found myself wondering why not just have plain steamed carrots?  The recipe did call for 2 tablespoons of margarine, which may have added a depth or richness that would have blended with and mellowed the overall flavors, but I omitted that and used a little broth instead.  Or, I may have zested my orange a little too close, causing a slight bitterness that can occur when that happens.  This dish was very easy to prepare, and fun to experiment with the different flavors, but I think I'm still not convinced that plain steamed veggies aren't best.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Green and Yellow Split Pea Soup

This is the time of year for soup, and I guess I'm on a roll with green soups!  But I just couldn't resist making the "Green and Yellow Split Pea Soup" (page 163) after buying some of the freshest split peas I've come across in a long while.  I have prepared many variations of split pea soup, and haven't come across one yet I don't like, but this is the first time I combined both yellow and green peas in the same pot.  The vibrant colors of the peas along with the orange from the carrot made this so bright and colorful, a pleasure to prepare.  I also added some chopped fresh parsley and garlic at the end of the cooking time (not part of the recipe) just because that sounded good to me.  The only change I made to make this McDougall friendly was to omit the oil when sautéing the onions.  The recipe gives the option of adding vegan kielbasa, which I did, a very nice touch, but the soup would still have been very delicious without it.   

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Zucchini and Butter Bean Bisque

There are lots of people who swear they don't like lima beans, but I bet they never tried the "Zucchini and Butter Bean Bisque" (page 174).  This is an elegant soup!  The recipe says you can use fresh or frozen butter beans or lima beans.  All that was available when I went shopping for ingredients were frozen baby lima beans.  And, they were the perfect choice!  This soup is so easy, beguilingly easy.  Zucchini, onions, limas, cooked until tender with some seasoning, blended until smooth, with a dash of soy milk, and voila, you've got the perfect soup to start off any meal.  The pale green color is nice to look at, too.  All I did to keep the preparation within my guidelines was to omit the oil for sautéing the onions.  Believe me, you'll never miss it, this soup is already smooth and creamy without any added oil.

Classic Tabbouleh

I'm a big fan of tabbouleh, so it was a given I would try the "Classic Tabbouleh" (page 87) sooner rather than later.  As the name would suggest, the ingredients list for this classic preparation include bulgur, parsley, tomato, cucumber, onion, and lemon.  I added minced garlic because I love the taste of fresh garlic in tabbouleh. I can easily eat several helpings of tabbouleh in a single sitting, there is just something about the combination of flavors and textures I can't seem to get enough of.  This dish is easy to put together, but benefits from sitting around for awhile to let the flavors meld.  I omitted the ¼ cup olive oil, and increased the lemon juice from 2 tablespoons to the juice of an entire lemon, about 4 tablespoons.  I can't imagine this could have tasted any better with the oil, it was so good without it!

My Kinda Meat Loaf

"My Kinda Meat Loaf" (page 294) looked like it might be another opportunity to find a replacement for one of my comfort foods from the past.  It did not disappoint!  As the recipe notes say, it looks remarkably like a meat loaf (on the inside - on the outside it sort of reminded me of a loaf of bread - must be the gluten flour and oats!), and it was especially good topped with the "Mushroom Sauce" (see review below).  The basis for this faux meat loaf is tofu, oats, and vital wheat gluten, with the addition of walnuts and tahini, and seasonings.  It sounds rich and is no doubt a bit on the high fat side, but spread out over 12 slices, this becomes manageable at less than 1 ½ teaspoons of walnuts and ½ teaspoon tahini per slice.  Of course, it might be hard to keep your serving to just one slice, that's how good this loaf is! 

The two changes I made were omitting the oil when sautéing the onions, and not oiling the baking pan (I used a non-stick loaf pan); the rest of the ingredients and instructions were McDougall Plan friendly.  The recipe called for a 9" loaf pan, but I think my 8" pan would have been a better choice, as the loaf wasn't really big enough to fill up the larger pan.  You also had the option of just shaping the loaf free form on a baking sheet.  The leftovers heated up well the next day (I used a microwave).  Good for sandwiches too, and don't forget a little horseradish!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mushroom Sauce

Mushroom Sauce
The "Mushroom Sauce" (page 546) is well worth the effort of buying, cleaning, and slicing fresh mushrooms.  Slightly thick, and long on flavor, this sauce was delicious served over My Kinda Meat Loaf (see review above) and roasted fingerling potatoes, and I can imagine it would add richness and flavor to anything it was spooned over.  I used Baby Bella mushrooms (baby portobellos) and even though they were already sliced, they were very thick, so I took a few minutes to slice them down even further. 

The recipe instructs you to sauté the shallots in oil for 5 minutes, and then add the mushrooms for 2 minutes more.  Instead, I put the shallots, mushrooms, and a tablespoon of broth in a small skillet, covered it over medium heat, and let the mushrooms "sweat" until cooked through and all the liquid had diminished. I chose to prepare the rest of the sauce in a separate sauce pan and add the sautéed veggies afterwards, as I have better luck achieving a smoother sauce if there is nothing but liquid to thicken up.  This worked out well, although it did introduce an additional pan into the equation.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cheezy Tomato Macaroni

Cheezy Tomato Macaroni
Traditional macaroni and cheese dishes are no longer part of my diet, but I haven't lost my fond memories of this comfort food, and always have an eye out for vegan versions of this timeless classic.  With this thought in mind, I prepared the "Cheezy Tomato Macaroni" (page 225).  The dish consists of preparing the Mornay-Style Cheeze Sauce and mixing that with canned crushed tomatoes, sautéed onions, and some seasoning to create a cheezy tomato-y sauce.  Cooked macaroni is then folded into the sauce, poured into a baking dish, topped with sliced fresh tomatoes and vegan parmesan cheeze, and baked in the oven. 

I really liked the combination of the Mornay with the tomato mixture.  The sauce provides a smooth base, and the tomatoes and onions add a bit of texture.  The oregano and basil added an Italian flavor.  This really filled the bill, and satisfied my craving for a pasta dish smothered in rich and creamy sauce.  The bonus was there was no added oil (I omitted the oil when sautéing the onions), and no nut butters or other high fat ingredients.  I will most definitely add this to my list of repeatable dishes.

My only complaint about this recipe is that is calls for 2 ½ cups of the Mornay sauce, but the recipe for the sauce only makes 2 cups.  Because I wanted to make sure I had enough sauce, but didn't want to double the recipe, or try to figure out how to increase it by just ½ cup, I reduced the amount of macaroni called for from 8 ounces to 6 to accommodate.  This worked out perfectly. 

I'm finding sticking to whole grain pastas the hardest part of meeting my challenge, and did end up using white flour macaroni!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mornay-Style Cheeze Sauce

Mornay-Style Cheeze Sauce
I was in the mood for a cheezy style pasta dish, and settled on the Cheezy Tomato Macaroni (see review above), which required first making the "Mornay-Style Cheeze Sauce" (page 552).  Like many cheeze sauces, the predominant ingredient used here to give it the sort-of-close-to-dairy-cheese flavor is nutritional yeast.  Quite a lot, actually, a full ½ cup, so if you are one of those people who really aren't fond of nutritional yeast, you probably wouldn't care for this recipe.  I, however, am very fond of this flavor, and always have a goodly supply on hand for making rich vegan sauces, dressings, and spreads without adding fat or extra calories.

Besides the nutritional yeast, the other ingredients are sautéed onion, broth, lemon, soymilk, and a little mustard. The bright yellow color comes from turmeric, and the sauce is thickened with cornstarch.  For some reason, the sauce did not thicken up for me.  Actually, it did initially, but as I progressed through the recipe, the thickening disappeared.  Not sure what was going on there, but I ended up blending 2 tablespoons of flour into the sauce which did the trick.  It thickened back up and stayed there.

At this point, I tasted the sauce, and was quite pleased with the smooth, slightly tangy result, and put it aside to add to the Cheezy Tomato Macaroni.  I could imagine this poured over steamed vegetables, as the recipe notes suggested, and stirred into any cooked pasta.  I omitted the oil when sautéing the onions to keep it McDougall friendly.

Lemony Lentil and Rice Soup

The title "Lemony Lentil and Rice Soup" (page 164) might lead you to believe that lemon is a predominant flavor in this soup, but in fact, in just about 4-quarts of soup, there is only one tablespoon of lemon juice, so it plays a supporting role, rather than starring center stage. A more apt name for this might be Tomato-y Lentil and Rice Soup, as the recipe calls for a can of crushed tomatoes, plus two cups of tomato juice.  I personally don't like predominately tomato based soups unless it is just tomato soup, so I used the crushed tomatoes, but substituted two cups of broth for the tomato juice.  The only McDougall type change I had to make was leaving out the oil for sautéing the vegetables.  I also opted to use just ½ cup uncooked rice instead of the ¾ cup called for, as I didn't want it quite as thick as the recipe said it would be.

This is a very good soup!  I'm not sure how different it would have been had I followed all the directions exactly, but Robin Robertson herself says we should follow our own likes and dislikes when preparing any recipe, and if we know ahead of time we like something, or don't like something, to adjust accordingly.  I think it wouldn't have been all that different, in any case.  Earthy lentils and rice, a spattering of onion, celery, and carrot, cooked into a delicious soup - how could you go wrong?  This made a big batch, perfect for reheating a couple of times over the next few days.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cran-Apple Muffins

The "Cran-Apple Muffins" (page 410) are a wonderfully delicious treat, and a perfect muffin to make during the winter holidays.  The inclusion of the cranberries, grated apple, and applesauce provide enough moistness that leaving out the two tablespoons of oil called for in the recipe doesn't make any difference.  (I increased the applesauce called for from ¼ cup to a generous 1/3 cup).  I also substituted whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose flour (white), and instead of oiling the muffin tin, I used muffin tin liners.  These were very easy changes to make, and by doing so, I succeeded in making a tasty and McDougall Plan-friendly muffin I can indulge in guilt free!

Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette

I confess, twice in the last year, I have purchased a $17 bottle of balsamic vinegar from Fustini's Oils & Vinegars located in Michigan.  I didn't set out to do this, but after stumbling into their shop on a tour of Traverse City, and being able to taste test any number of vinegars, from the basic unflavored, to ones as esoteric as chocolate, I became an instant balsamic vinegar snob.  The basic unflavored balsamic, which is aged for 18 years, is so sweet, so mellow, and so full of crisp flavor, that it is literally the only vinegar I've ever been able to put directly onto my salad undiluted and enjoy it like a salad dressing. 

So I have to say, in my opinion, adding additional ingredients to this superior vinegar as I did when I made the "Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette" (page 99) was actually a detriment to enjoying this vinegar on it's own.  Not that the vinaigrette wasn't good, it was!  But I found myself wondering why I would want to do anything to mask the outstanding taste of the Fustini's.  That being said, if you do have a vinegar that you have no problem adding other ingredients to, this makes a fine salad dressing.  The recipe calls for ¼ cup olive oil; I used 6 tablespoons of water instead, and added ¼ teaspoon guar gum at the end to thicken it up. The guar gum does a great job of adding thickness and body to fat free salad dressings such as this, so you never miss the oil.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes and Basil

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes and Basil

I'm always trying to find ways to get more veggies into my days.  With all the winter squash showing up in the markets, the timing was just right to make the "Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes and Basil" (page 383) and a great way to add to my veggie repertoire. The combination of fresh tomato, garlic, and basil gave this dish quite an Italian flair, and just bursting with vibrant flavors.  The recipe calls for cooking the spaghetti squash first (instructions say to cook whole in boiling water on the stove top - I chose to cut in half and bake in the oven), use a fork to pull out the spaghetti-like strands from the squash, then combine in a skillet with the rest of the ingredients.  The preparation time, once the squash has been cooked, is very quick, which helps preserve the flavor of each ingredient.  I did not use the oil called for in the recipe for sautéing the garlic, instead I used a couple tablespoons of vegetable broth.  I can't imagine how oil would have added any additional flavor to this dish. The squash all by itself tasted sweet and almost buttery.  I thought there would be a lot left over, but between me and my husband we almost polished off the entire skillet.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Corn and Potato Chowder

Corn and Potato Chowder
With another cold day comes another opportunity for warming soup.  Today's selection was "Corn and Potato Chowder" (page 165), and I imagine this will be showing up on my table quite often.  After simmering corn, potatoes, onion, and celery in broth or water until just done, half of the soup is blended up and returned to the pot, along with a little soy milk, and salt and pepper to taste.  The pureed portion of the soup is a pretty, pale yellow and provides a rich, smooth base for the remaining veggies.  Top individual bowlfuls with diced green onions or chives and dig in.  It's hard to eat just one bowl of this delicious soup.  If you make this the centerpiece of your meal, several bowls might be just the ticket!

The only change I had to make to keep in McDougall Plan friendly was to omit the oil for sautéing the onions.  I sautéed the onions without any added liquid in my cast iron soup pot.  When they started to brown, I splashed in a little broth to bring it all together, and proceeded with the rest of the recipe instructions from that point forward.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fettuccine with Chard and Red Lentil Tomato Sauce

Red lentils have become a regular part of my pantry in recent years, and I'm always looking for new ways to use them.  The "Fettuccine with Chard and Red Lentil Tomato Sauce" (page 199) sounded like a winning combination just from reading the title!  This recipe went together amazingly fast, using just a handful of ingredients.  Red lentils, crushed tomatoes, and chard, plus some seasoning, cooked up and served over prepared fettuccini, and you have dinner on the table in about 45 minutes.

I did not sauté the garlic in oil.  Instead, I added it to the sauce at the very end of the cooking time in order to retain more garlic flavor.  I also could not find chard in the grocery store, so I used fresh spinach instead, with good results.  I'm a little confused, as the recipe title specifies Fettuccine, but in the list of ingredients and instructions, this changes to Linguine.  Are these one and the same?  Since I had fettuccine in the house, that is what I used.  Any long thin pasta would have worked, from angel hair to spaghetti.

What a hearty and flavorful sauce, like a marinara, but more substantial.  The cooked red lentils sort of disappear into the crushed tomatoes, yet you know with every bite there is more here than just crushed tomatoes.  The chard (or spinach) mixed into the sauce is very pretty, and the red and green colors make it a perfect meal to serve during the Christmas season.  This is an easy and tasty sauce I will definitely make again.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Indonesian Tempeh in Coconut Gravy

Tonight was extra special as my husband decided he would like to prepare one of the dishes from this book.  Because he does all the stir "frying" in our house (he also only uses water for sautéing), plus almost always takes on any dish using tempeh, the "Indonesian Tempeh in Coconut Gravy", (page 301), was the perfect choice for him.  Although the recipe didn't specifically call for this dish to be stir fried, it was very easily adapted to my husband's favorite cooking utensil, the Wok. 

Why is it when someone else cooks, you seem to enjoy it so much more?  I certainly did enjoy this dish.  To be fair, it was hard not to like with all the rich foods - tempeh, coconut milk, peanuts.  Although all ingredients are technically allowed on the McDougall Plan, maybe not all at once, and certainly not very often.  Okay, done with my disclaimer.  The blend of flavors was outstanding, with just enough heat added from one jalapeño pepper, instead of the serrano pepper called for in the recipe.  There were also red and green bell peppers, plus onion and diced tomatoes, all cooked on top of the stove at a low simmer for several minutes in the coconut milk, just long enough to reduce down to a nice thick gravy.  The recipe suggested this be served over rice, but my husband preferred pasta, so we had it over noodles. 

I love it when my husband cooks! J

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tomato Orzo Soup

Even when nothing else will do, soup comes to the rescue.  Soup always seems to hit the spot, and the "Tomato Orzo Soup" (page 166) is no exception.  Growing up, I ate a lot of Campbell's Tomato Soup, and for the longest time it never occurred to me that one could make something at home that would be as good as what came out of that red and white can.  But in this recipe, Campbell's has met its match, and in my opinion, lost the contest.  The combination of fresh and canned tomatoes, tomato paste, onion, celery, broth, and garlic, simmered on the stove, and then pureed, is the basis of the soup.  Add soy milk to this to add a little creaminess, serve on top of cooked orzo, top with fresh basil, and you've got a bowl of delightful, warm, elemental Soup.

I did make a couple of changes to this recipe.  First of all, keeping with my goal to keep these recipes oil free, I sautéed the onion in a little broth.  I was unable to find whole wheat orzo, so I did end up using the white flour version.  I added the garlic to the blender as I was pureeing the soup so as to retain more of the garlic flavor (as opposed to cooking it in from the beginning).  And, because I could tell this was going to be somewhat thin, I added ¼ cup flour to the soup as I was blending in up, then stirred it over heat until it thickened up.  It was at this point that it started to remind me of the good old Campbell's Soup days. Good warming food for when it's cold outside.