Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Howdy folks,

Since we've last spoke, Jason and I have bought several new cookbooks. We have also felt incredible after switching to a vegan diet. Morally and physically, we just feel awesome. It's been about a full month so far and I have definitely noticed I have much more energy, my skin is super clear and all my pants are too big. Jason also feels super energized and he said he rarely feels hungry after dinner anymore, he is full much quicker. He also said tonight that as of our new cooking habits he has been wishing dinner would rewind every night so he could have it again. Agreed.

 We made our first recipe from Vegan Sandwiches Save The Day this evening and it was so delicious that we ate our dinner in almost total silence due to full concentration on this meal of perfection. "Faux-lafel" is what it is lovingly referred to. Behold.

Every time I have come across a recipe for falafel I think "Oh, that sounds awesome and I should totally make this but it seems like it will take forever and I am lazy and just want to eat something." which then results in me making something bland and boring and usually unhealthy or ordering in, which is rarely good for us physically or financially. I decided it was time to just make some freakin' faux-lafel. It was actually very easy to make and I wish I wouldn't have been such a baby every time I saw a recipe for it or I could have realized this much sooner. This recipe reminded us of one of our favorite Squirrel Hill restaurants, Aladdins, and was a nice throwback to the area of Pittsburgh we miss very often. 

Jason wanted to be the one to mash the chickpeas and assorted spices together. 
From the mashed mixture, plus some flour and baking powder, you create "heaping tablespoon" patties onto a cookie sheet. 

While the patties were baking we assembled the rest of the recipe. It actually called for whole wheat pita pockets but I saw these at the grocery store and they looked really good and are only 90 calories a pop and vegan so I snatched them up and I am SUPER glad I did. They ruled. 

Tomatoes and cucumber to go inside the wrap. Also picked up some chipotle mustard and wasabi mustard for a little bit of kick. The recipe has you make tahini dressing for these but we aren't crazy about tahini sauce or dressing so we went our own way on that part. There was also shredded lettuce that is not pictured.

Time to flip these sweet thangs after 15 minutes of baking. Onto the other side for 8 minutes and then it's time to feast. 

My plate is to the left and Jason's is on the right. We had different wrapping styles.

This is Jason's finished wrap! Hooray! Isn't it gorgeous?
Here is my wrap, I somehow made it burrito style but whatevs, it was the shit. 
Jason had a salad with dinner and added some patties to that. Yum!

I am super stoked to see what other awesome recipes we find in the new cookbooks and we will definitely keep you updated as well, bloggy. 

Once upon a time, at our first apartment, a very young Max just wanted to help cook dinner. He was unaware at the time that he had the idea a little bit mixed up. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

What We Have Been Eating Lately.

Hi, this is Gina, reporting to the blogosphere from this much enjoyed day off brought to you by MLK Day and working for a financial institution.

We have recently been cooking a lot more as we made the decision to enter 2013 by finally 100% committing to a vegan diet. We have wanted to make this transition for awhile now and are happy to have finally done so. We had lunch with my grandfather today at Bob's Diner in Kennedy Twp and it was very obvious after our dining experience that eating out in Kennedy Twp is going to probably not occur very often, if at all. On the menu at Bob's it is noted that a veggie patty is available upon request. This turned out to be untrue. Our waitress also had a very hard time initially taking our order and grasping that I said "No cheese, no mayo, but yes to tomato, onion, and lettuce." It was a very awkward exchange back and forth as she could sincerely not understand that YES I did want the fixings of the burger but NO I did not want mayo or cheese. Only then to have her come back a couple minutes later and tell us that they did not have veggie pattys. So it was a side salad(which she of course put cheese on and we had to pick it off) and fries(which were offered with gravy or cheese sauce) for lunch. Great. We were not thrilled by anything about the visit or how she acted like we were insane people for making the requests. Which honestly were not really crazy requests because they had a veggie patty on the menu. Ok, I will move on now.

We have been making a lot of meals using the array of cookbooks we have by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the current fave being Appetite for Reduction.

This is the "Everyday Chickpea Quinoa Salad" which you can't tell from the picture but was packed with all kinds of good stuff like red onion, green peppers, romaine lettuce and the obvious chickpeas and quinoa. The quinoa gave the salad a really cool texture. The dressing you make with this dish is AMAZING. I am usually a oil and vinegar or Italian dressing sort of girl and Jason pretty much only uses Apple Cider Vinegar on his salads but we both deeply loved this dressing.  The recipe is as follows : 

Balsamic Vinaigrette
Adapted from Appetite for Reduction

1/4 cup raw cashews
1 small shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp salt
A few grinds of black pepper

Place the cashews, shallot and garlic in a food processor or blender and pulse to chop them. Add the rest of the ingredients. Blend for at least 5 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides often, until completely smooth. It's really important that you blend for the full time, otherwise your dressing may be grainy. Transfer the dressing to a container and chill until ready to serve.

We also made from Appetite for Reduction, Curried Chickpeas and Greens which was basically the Indian dish Saag. There was A LOT of kale involved. 2 pounds of that delicious green goodness. It really cooks down but we did have to transfer from a enormous heavy bottom pan to a pot. This was awesome and curbed our neverending want for Indian food that does not exist in Kennedy Twp. Next time we will attempt to tackle Naan along with this. 

By the way, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to place pictures the way I want on this blog, so I am sorry if they are spaced weird. 


Then from Vegan with a Vengeance I made chocolate chip cookies because for reals, who doesn't need some cookies in their lives? These were delicious and super easy to make since I now make everything possible with my Kitchenaid mixer while baking. I used Smart Balance Light which is vegan but FYI, regular Smart Balance is not. We prefer Earth Balance but the grocery stores near us don't always have it and in this recipe that was my only complaint. I don't like the taste of Smart Balance Light as much as Earth Balance so I thought at first I could taste too much of the Smart Balance. Next time I will make sure I have Earth Balance. 

Also from Vegan with a Vengeance we made Basil Tofu Ricotta and we had some amazing stuffed shells. We both agreed that you could hardly tell it was tofu inside the shells, it tasted so similar to ricotta. We did get kind of lazy and used store bought sauce which as Italians is a big no-no. The only improvement we would have made is to use homemade sauce. Hey, sometimes you just don't have enough time. Sorry Mom, Mom-In-Law and all grandmothers.

 Since the vegan transition happened I have been exploring the internet for awesome recipes as well. I found a website I really like called The "V" Word and after many hours spent staring at the amazing looking food and reading the recipes, I finally made something from it. Feast your eyes on Tofu Georgia . IT WAS SO GOOD. My first taste of it I said "This is the most unvegan tasting thing that is vegan!" What I meant is that it seriously tastes like meat and cheese. The tofu is coated in a mixture of flour and spices and pan fried and topped with mushrooms and cheese. The mushrooms create this amazing sauce at the bottom of the pan so when you pour it all over the tofu it just adds to the flavor. We used Daiya Mozzarella Shreds, we both agree that Daiya is the best vegan cheese we have had. It melts like regular cheese and it is not soy based. Behold the beauty.

As a quick meal last weekend I tried this vegan mac and cheese I had bought on Vegan Essentials. It was made by Leahey Foods and it was pretty decent. I used almond milk in the sauce mixture. I usually prefer almond milk to soy milk. Sometimes you just want something super easy and fast to make and this was all over those things and it was pretty good. 

So that is pretty much what has been happening in our food lives recently. We have been cooking so much and intend to continue doing so (basically because we have to) which means we will have a lot more to blog about! Hope everyone is staying warm as the cold moves back in! As always, here is a picture of one of our cats.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tofu Prep and Tofu Scramble - A beginners guide.

The very first time I tried to cook with tofu I was just throwing around the idea of going full on vegetarian.  I hadn't told anyone my ambition yet for fear of having to commit.  I was pretty much living on Srees in Squirrel Hill - this "fast food" Indian place where you could get enough food to feed a family of eight for like $5 bucks.  To this day I still find myself - mid-day - craving Srees.

Anyway, one day - in the midst of the hottest part of summer - I decided that I could make General Tso's Tofu and it would be every bit as good as the General Tso's Tofu at New Dumpling House (also in Squirrel Hill.  Sorry for all the S'quill shout-outs, I lived there for like 8 years and became a vegetarian there, and pretty much made all of my subsequent major life transitions there up to, and including marriage.) 

So anyhow - this really hot summers day I found this recipe online for General Tso's Tofu and I was all "This cant be that hard!" and I boldly walked myself up to Giant Eagle ('cause in the city you can walk everywhere) and spent the next 45 minutes wandering the aisles until I finally found the tofu.  I bought the extra firm kind because at New Dumpling House when you bite into that awesomeness its like taking a big meaty bite of chicken.  I then located all the other ingredients, I have no memory of what they were because - as you will discover - this project was a total failure and I never tried it again.

So I went home and started all my prep work.  When it came to the tofu I kind of pushed it to the back, letting it kind of hang out there in its pool of tofu water - sure, the recipe said to press it or whatever - but I'd get to that.

When I first gingerly removed the blubbery rectangle - I truly felt like I was holding something so fragile, like a new born or an injured animal - it could never become the meaty, manly morsel I so desired.  That's about the time my hopes began to dwindle.

I did what the instructions said - I tried to squeeze it.  Ever so cautiously did I squeeze - it just seemed like any amount of pressure would cause the thing to crumble into watery white bits.

All said and done - the meal was a mess.  The tofu remained blubbery and jelly-esque, the other flavors did not seem to really penetrate it beyond an outside coating.  I left my first tofu-making experience severely uncertain that it was something I could ever master.

A year or two later, I happened upon a blurb on a message board explaining a method of tofu preparation that saved my life (so to speak).

So - for anyone just starting out as a vegetarian who wants to make that firm tofu you can man handle with no fear of endangering its fragility - read on:


(There's a lot of pictures in this, bear with me...)

There are a billion ways of preparing tofu - this is just the method that has worked best for me.  If you are just starting out as a vegetarian, this is something you can try that might make the process of getting that firm, meaty tofu down without a ton of frustration.  It's not the hardest food to work with, but you definitely have to make it a few times to get it down.  Have fun!

Here's your tofu, dude (or dudette) - 

Peel that bad boy open and reveal the Tofu (yes, we'll give him a capital T) resting luxuriously in his pool of tofu-water - his veritable spa of soy bean liquid.  Behold:

He rests magnificent.

Now remove him - he is ready, fear not.  See him stand proud, dripping in your hands (I recommend you do this by the sink, BTW.)

Now, with no hesitation, take your sharpest blade - and SLICE him width wise!  Hear the whistle of your truly forged blade as the tofu who once stood defiant is hewn asunder!  (I have been reading a Song of Ice and Fire recently, by the way.  Your patience is greatly appreciated.)

Now cut him again, into quadrants - eight pieces now in all!

Encase him in your most versatile of casks (yeah, just kind of space the cut tofu into a tupperware container - the object here is to leave some room around the pieces, so kind of stagger them as shown.  This creates air around them and also will leave room for you to grab them later, once it's ((spoiler alert)) frozen.)

Place the cask hidden safely in your coldest chambers.  (put the tupperware in the freezer.)

(It's good to freeze it for more than a day.  What this does is - it creates large pockets of air in the tofu and makes the tofu really firm and easy to work with.)

Now behold!  Time!  It passes before your eyes!

Several days have passed!  The Tofu!  It is FROZEN!

(I find it weirdly fun to remove the frozen tofu from the tupperware - just a heads up - it's oddly satisfying.)

I think it's a pretty good time to leave behind the voice of the dramatic narrator.  Sorry bud, your purpose was served.  From here on out, there is no drama.  You know why?  Because now I'm going to show you this dude's method of preparing Tofu Scramble - and with breakfast, there can be no drama.


First, you want to get a pot of water boiling on the stove.  Your Tofu is frozen, and now we've got to reverse the process.

Once the pot is boiling, submerge the frozen Tofu into the boiling water and cover:

Boil for a while (I know - thats vague - just boil it till its - you know - not frozen)  as soon as you find the Tofu is thawed, pour it into a strainer, and run cold water over it:

The reason for the cold water shower is because in the next step you will be squeezing the crap out of this tofu, so its important to run cold water through it so you aren't burning your hands for the next few minutes.  Once the tofu is cool enough to handle, grab a piece of it and really give it a squeeze!

Remember in my story from the beginning about how fragile the tofu was when I tried to squeeze it?  Not the case now.  This is tough as nails Tofu!  The object now is to squeeze out as much moisture as you possibly can.  The more moisture you squeeze out of the Tofu, the firmer it will be when you cook it.

Whats kind of cool is, after you put the squeezed tofu aside, it will retain its original cube shape:

Now tear the water-free tofu cubes into smaller cubes (I will admit that I also find this part weirdly fun...  take from that what you will...)

Now, preheat some extra virgin olive oil in a pan:

Then add the tofu and toss until all the tofu is coated and simmering.

Turn down the heat to about medium heat.  Then add some Turmeric (for a yellow coloring, and also for the myriad of health benefits associated with turmeric), soy sauce (I use this instead of salt, but you can use salt instead if you want - I wouldn't recommend using both unless you like things ultra salty and enjoy dehydration), garlic powder (this is key), oregano, basil, parsley (I typically use the 1/4th teaspoon measuring spoon thing for all of these.  Give the garlic maybe two, or three teaspoons if you feel bold - I typically do.)  You can also use whatever else you happen to have i.e. cumin, curry powder, garam masala, etc...  It will turn a nice yellowy color from the turmeric, as shown below:

What is really important from here is that you press down on the tofu - HARD.  You will hear a hissing sound as still more of the liquid inside the tofu quickly evaporates from the heat.  Keep doing this for a few minutes, until you feel most of the moisture is out of them.

Not to be vulgar, but a friend once described this process by stating:  "You have to press the shit out of it."  And it's true.

After that, you are sort of free to add at will.  Below, I added a can of tomatoes, frozen broccoli, and frozen collard greens:

Once the veggies are cooked, you're good to go.  I like to add a ton of veggie to mine because - and this is my own thoughts entirely - idealy, I want to have the tofu in the meal as a protein - not the major player.  I like there to be more veggies to bulk the nutritional profile, and have the tofu there to supplement.

Again - this is just one dudes take.  Give it a shot!