Meal Thirteen: Christine

For meal thirteen, I trekked to UM’s North Campus, enjoying a bit of the natural view as I got my game face on to cook for Christine.

Christine wielding my 14-inch saucepan. She's pretty tough. My saucepan. And Christine.

The Menu:

– Penne Pasta with the Bestest Pesto, from the Post Punk Kitchen

– Ratatouille from Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson (And suggestions for leftovers!)

– Pumpkin Cheesecake Reprise from last week’s meal with Will and Kim

The Bestest Pesto

The Post Punk Kitchen’s Bestest Pesto’s name is not misleading. It utilizes walnuts, pine nuts, and fresh basil to create a simply delicious pesto that would not leaving anyone craving a dairy-laden pesto. Check out the recipe here. I served mine over penne.

Pesto and Penne, the perfect pairing.

Don’t be afraid to make your own pesto! Fresh pesto, in my experience, is something that can not be replaced by a pre-made version. The only time consuming part of making the pesto is roasting the nuts which takes ten minutes and can be done while prepping the rest of the meal. Having a food processor or quality blender to blend everything is a must, though. I struggled with a cheap blender that just would not blend the basil leaves before I invested in a food processor. I use my VitaMix now, but there are less expensive blenders that are quality as well. Research your appliances before buying them!

Ratatouille served once, twice, three times.

Ratatouille joins the feast.

I thought I would give a classically vegan dish–ratatouille–a swing for this week’s Meal with MelRob. All was good and well..until I was faced with a daunting amount of leftover ratatouille which, after the third ratatouille dinner, got pretty old. So, I decided to reinvent the dish; first into a vaguely Southwestern dish and second into a minestrone soup. Reinventing the dish may have been my favorite part of this meal–it was easy, frugal, and left me feeling resourceful and creative. Read on for the recipe and my leftover suggestions!

Ratatoille Recipe:

From Vegan on the Cheap, p. 67, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Ingredients:

  • 1 large-size, globe eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or water
  • 2 medium-size or 1 large-size red onion, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes
  • 2 medium-size zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes
  • 2 red (or any color) bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) squares
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup vegetable stoc
  • 4 tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped or 2, 15-ounce cans of fire roasted tomatoes (I used the fire roasted tomatoes, canned)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram (or 1/2 dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram)
  • 2 bay leaves
  •  3 cups cooked white beans or 2, 15-ounce cans, drained and rinsed
  •  salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • Kalamata Olives, pitted and chopped for garnish (optional)

Directions:

1) Steam cubed eggplant for 10 minutes until soft–not mushy. In a very large sauté-pan, heat olive oil to medium and add onions. Cook onions until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring, then add zucchini and peppers for an additional 5 minutes. Add steamed eggplant for another 5 minutes.

2) Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add wine and stock, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-heat, stirring in herbs (with the exception of the fresh basil) and tomatoes. Reduce heat and cover, simmering gently for 15 minutes with the occasional stir.

3) Add beans to skillet, stirring, and cook uncovered until veggies are tender, but not mushy, and liquids have thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

4) Remove from heat and stir in basil. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with pepper and olives (optional).

A diverse array of veggies. Plants are pretty cool, huh?

Leftover Ideas: 

1) Bordering on Ratatouille (a dish with a Southwestern flare)

Additional ingredients:

– chili powder and any additional chili or fajita-esque seasonings like cumin, smoked paprika

– 1/2 frozen corn

– salsa

– rice or tortillas

Directions: Cook rice or have tortillas on hand to use as the serving base. Reheat around 4 cups of ratatouille in a skillet, adding around 1 tablespoon of chili powder and other seasonings to approximately 4 cups of ratatouille, as well as 1/2 cup or so of frozen corn. Cook on medium for around 10 minutes, making sure the corn is heated and the flavors have had some time to meld. Serve over rice or in a tortilla shell, and pour some salsa on top. Feel empowered.

2) MelRob’s Mish-Mosh Minestone


Fantastic colors, flavor--I liked this more than the original dish!

Additional Ingredients:

– A bit of pasta (I cooked about 1/3 of a standard box of rotini to add)

– Vegetable broth

– Either a couple of tablespoons tomato paste or crushed tomatoes (I used about a 1:3 ratio of crushed tomatoes to verge broth)

– a couple of carrots, chopped

– 1/2 quartered olives (kalamata olives preferred)

– A few teaspoons of additional Italian seasonings, paprika (Explore flavor, yourself, etc…)

– a handful of spinach

Directions: Take inventory of your fridge and consider adding any veggies or leftovers that you may want to throw into the soup. I grabbed a couple straggling carrots. Chop vegetables and cook in olive oil at medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes, in a large soup  pot. Add leftover ratatoulille to pot and fill with broth and tomatoes, crushed or paste, until the liquid covers the vegetable mix. Add seasonings, pasta, and olives and let simmer covered for around 30 minutes, giving the flavors time to mature.  Add handful of spinach in the final minutes. Pat yourself on the back for creating something out of “waste”. Enjoy with bread!

Pumpkin Cheesecake: Act Two

I'd eat this cheesecake any day, time, place.

A few times, I’ve frozen dessert from one week to serve it the next week. Because it can save me a couple of hours in the kitchen, and, if I don’t, I eat all of the leftovers alone in my room and feel bad about myself. Lez be real. The Cheesecake froze fantastically and I simply thawed in the morning of my meal in the refrigerator. Check out my last post here to get the recipe from the Joy of Vegan Baking.

Christine and charming roommate, Sarah--just another Meal with MelRob!

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Meal Twelve: Will and Kim

I was ecstatic to cook a belated birthday meal for my friend Will and to additionally dine Kim, Will’s significant other whom I have had the pleasure of meeting on more than one occasion. Mita from Meal Three came along to help–she worked with me and Will two summers ago at the Bird Center of Washtenaw County, a wonderful gem of a non-profit where I like to get my bird on. This was one of my best meals.

Some teasers include: my first stab at vegan cheesecake, mind-blowing salad dressing from just four ingredients, and to-die-for curry, a one-pot creation.

The Menu:

Spinach and Arugula Salad with ‘Honey’ Mustard Dressing from the Vegan Table (by Colleen PatrickGoudreau)

Coconut Rice Curry, with Chickpeas and Cauliflower adapted from Vegan on the Cheap, p.134

Pumpkin Cheesecake from the Joy of Vegan Baking, (by Colleen PatrickGoudreau)

Salads can be Mouthwatering: Photographic Proof

Spinach and Arugula Salad with "Honey" Mustard Dressing

I’m having a torrid love affair with this vegan “honey” mustard dressing which makes me crave huge salads. It tastes like standard honey mustard dressing and, with a mere four ingredients, takes only a few minutes to whip up. I try to whip up bit of homemade dressing  for the week ahead and store it in a tupperware container in the fridge. The texture of vegetables can really change the taste, particularly in salads where the raw veggies are utterly exposed. I prefer my carrots ribboned with a peeler (this is an easy feat!) and my papers cut into long and thin strips. And a few roasted nuts go a long way!

Salad ingredients:

– (around) 1 lb of spinach and arugula (I recommend a bit more spinach than arugula because arugula is a bit spicy for some)

– 1 pepper–red, yellow, orange OR a combination for aesthetic draw– cut into thin strips

– 1/2 onion (I used yellow) cut into thin rings

– 2 carrots, ribboned via peeler

-1/4 cup almonds, chopped and roasted

“Honey” Mustard Dressing Recipe: 

Compliments of the Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

– 3-5 tablespoons agave nectar (I used 3 tablespoons and it was plenty

– 3 tablespoons dijon mustard

– 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar

– (optional) 1 tablespoon of olive oil (I added this!)

Whisk or stir ingredients and drizzle over salad–a little goes a long way!

What happens when salad meets dressing. Magic.

Queen Curry, with Chickpeas, Coconut Milk, and Cauliflower:

I adapted this recipe from Vegan on the Cheap, adding a bag of frozen Cauliflower from my winter CSA for a little local flair and substituting a red curry paste for most of the curry powder, ultimately dubbing it “Queen Curry”. This one-pot meal was easy to throw together and the only real time constraint entailed waiting for the rice to fully cook while the delicious aroma of curry with undertones of coconut fills the air. Be patient!

SEMPER SIMMER FI.

Ingredients:

Adapted from Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson

– 1 tablespoon olive oil

– 1/2 minced onion

– 1 clove garlic, minced

– 1/2 vegetable stock

– 2-3 teaspoons mild or hot curry powder (I substituted curry paste here and added a bit of powder)

– 1 cup long-grain brown rice

– 1, 13-ounce can coconut milk, unsweetened

– 2 cups or 1, 15-ounce can of chickpeas

– 1, 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes (I prefer fire-roasted varieties)

– 12 ounces lightly steamed fresh cauliflower or a bag of frozen (I used locally grown and frozen from Locavorious!)

– 1/2 cup frozen peas

– 1/3 cup roasted cashews, unsalted (I omitted cashews to no detriment, figuring the salad already contained almonds, enough nuts for one sitting)

Directions:

1) In a medium to large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and curry power (or paste) and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2) Add rice, then stock and coconut milk, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat until medium and season with salt to taste. Here’s the part that requires patience: cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 40 minutes depending on rice used.

3) Stir in cauliflower, peas, tomatoes, and peas. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add any additional curry seasonings if needed. Cook uncovered until frozen veggies are warmed and flavors have blended, about 10 minutes. Serve hot to hungry guests and garnish with cashews if using.

After some patience, the plated final product!

MelRob’s First (un)Cheesecake:

I am generally uncomfortable using a lot of processed foods in my cooking, but knowing Will’s favorite dessert was cheesecake gave me the courage to push my comfort and purchase Tofutti Cream Cheese. I also don’t like to have this on hand because I tend to eat all of it. By the spoonful. The result was delicious, but I think I could have baked it a tad longer. I also used a pre-made graham cracker crust that was on-sale at the Ypsilanti food co-op. #lazybaker

Pumpkin Cheesecake:

Compliments of the Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (p. 92)

This picture disgraces the taste of this rich cheesecake!

Ingredients:

– 2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

– 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

– 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

– 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

– 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

– 1/4 teaspoon salt

– 4 1/2 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer (equivalent of 3 eggs)

– 6 tablespoons water

– 16 ounces nondairy cream cheese, at room temperature

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 1 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)

– 1 graham cracker crust (homemade or store-bought)

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, stir brown sugar, spices, and salt together. In food processor or blender, whip egg replacer with water for a minute, set aside.

2) In large bowl of food processor or gradually with a hand mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth, about two minutes.  Add the sugar mixture slowly and beat until creamy and smooth, another minute or two. Add egg replacer mixture and beat for another minutes. Be sure to scrape the sides of your food processor or bowl as needed. Finally, add pumpkin and vanilla and beat until mixed. You have created cheesecake filling! Get it.

3) Pour filling into the prepared pie crust, baking cheesecake for 30 minutes. Then reduce the temperature of the oven to 325 degrees F and bake for another 10 to 20 minutes, or “until the edges of the cheesecake are puffed but the center is still wet and jiggles when you gently shake the pan.” I want to take a moment here to complain about this description provided by the Joy of Vegan Baking, which usually provides fantastic directions. My cheesecake was a bit underdone, but I only had this weird and (I found) vague benchmark to go on. I would aim for a firm jiggle in the center next time, but that might not mean anything to you. This is an instance in which trial and error/experience with a recipe would come in handy, but the cheesecake was delicious regardless. Good luck!

Aren't Will and Kim cute?

Meal Eleven: MelRob Makes YOUR Day–a Baking Venture

For this, the eleventh meal with MelRob, I did not technically cook at all. Instead, I whipped out my mixing bowls and measure cups, turned up the oven, and got my bake ON. Because I was also dog-sitting during this week of unusually warm March weather, I thought Meals with MelRob should hit the streets and share some food and dog lovin’ with as many people as possible. So I baked around seventy cookies and a pan of blondies, letting people know my whereabouts for an afternoon. You may recognize some faces from previous Meals with MelRob.

What exactly did my oven and I create?

The Menu:

Chocolate Chip Mint Cookies from The Joy of Vegan Baking (the recipe can be found here, at Veggie Terrain as well)

Chocolate Chip (and almond) Cookies from the Post Punk Kitchen

– Brown Sugar Blondies from the Cheeky Kitchen

– Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies from the Vegan in Bellingham

COOKIES, COOKIES, COOKIES, AND SOME BLONDIES, TOO:

All of these recipes can be found at the links above! The Chocolate Chip Mint Cookies are nearly everyone’s favorite–they magically stay soft and melt-in-your-mouth delicious long after they have traveled forth from the oven. The PB Oatmeal Cookies were savory and more hearty, perfect for non-chocolate lovers! I prepped a batch of cookie dough every night during the week to make baking everything manageable. Then, I sat down Thursday night and spent an hour and half rotating batches of cookies through my unreliable oven, watching it like a small child who has a tendency to choke on things.

EVERYTHING IS FINALLY BAKED. Do I have the patience to let it all cool off?

All packed up and ready to share! Thank you, tupperware.

My only complaints: I have a tiny oven with a fiery temper, the Blondies came out a bit dry, and the Chocolate Chip Cookies were a bit boring.

Finally, on Friends:

It’s taken me some time to get comfortable with my own sentiment–I really love and appreciate the people in my life and sometimes it’s easier to give someone a cookie than to tell them that. (And, it turns out people can get pretty uncomfortable if you gush about how much you appreciate them…)

Here are some of the shining faces I was able to capture of some of the friends I encountered during MelRob makes YOUR Friday! A few strangers are in the mix, too.

First, I stopped by the SAPAC office to drop-off some goodies. Jen and Alex were my first official guests!

Raina, Anne, and Carley were in the office, too!

Anna was my first guest at the Diag--what a smile! I look forward to cooking her Meal with MelRob in April.

The infamous dog who accompanied me and graced many with her presence on this Friday! I love Lexie.

I was delighted to see Meredith's face Friday afternoon.

MelRob looking awkward with some charming strangers who asked to pet Lexie and enjoyed a cookie!

Kevin and Melissa sat down for some sun. Precious.

My other friend Anna stopped by for a post workout treat, offered a wide smile.

Patrick and Ryan are charm incarnate.

MelRob gets a little lovin'.

Some of my favorites--Lauren and Tara.

Oh hey, it's J'Shung! He came by and we chatted about makeup for a bit.

Ethan and Matt! Stop stealing the show, guys.

Melissa came back for more, with Zoe in tow! DELIGHT.

Iconic Ionut and MelRob shot--one of my oldest friends and Meals with MelRob's number one fan.

Marissa, one of my bros from the Bird Center, went on a little stroll around campus with me.

A walk-by eating by Taylor, roommate of Melissa and Zoe!

Jessica and friend were able to grab a cookie on there way out, sporting summer dresses!

I really did my best to ruin this picture, by the looks of it, but Alison held the ground. Another winning smile for this Friday adventure!

The night ended with dinner, a movie, and lots of cookies at Mita and Shelby's with friend Yunni. Trollhunter is a great movie, just sayin'.

Lexie was entirely exhausted after our big adventure.