vodka sauce with heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, and mushrooms

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I’m pretty sure I broke just about every rule in Italian cooking tonight. I made vegan vodka sauce and I used heirloom tomatoes, almond milk, and nutritional yeast to do it. Not only that, I put eggplants and mushrooms in the sauce. I can just hear all the Italian grandmas rolling over in their graves! But since I’m not Italian (I’m American-Cypriot), I’m not going to worry about it, and I’ll just enjoy my pasta!

My kitchen counter was overflowing today with tomatoes from my garden. I have a few san marzanos, a ton of heirlooms, and even more little yellow pear tomatoes. I knew that I needed to do something about this situation pretty quickly before the tomatoes went bad. I’ve already given away so many that people run away from me when they see me coming… I initially decided to make a tomato sauce that I could freeze for later, but as I started looking up recipes, I started thinking about vodka sauce. I’m not a huge fan of tomato and marinara sauces, but I do love a good vodka sauce! If I order pasta with sauce at a restaurant, it is almost always vodka sauce. I love the creamy, tomato-y (is that a word?) taste and for whatever reason, it doesn’t give me heartburn the way any other tomato sauce does.

A lot of the vegan vodka sauce recipes I googled called for using a jar of spaghetti sauce (seriously?) or needed cashew cream, soy creamer, mashed beans, etc. , things I wasn’t interested in getting involved in tonight. I finally found a recipe that called for almond milk and nutritional yeast as a substitute for heavy cream. Did I mention that I already had the onions, eggplant, mushroom, and tomatoes cooking in the pan before I decided to switch to vodka sauce? Yeah, after spending all that time trying to find vegan vodka sauce, I decided to give up and make plain old tomato sauce. Then halfway through, I grabbed my bottle of vodka, dumped it into the sauce and then I didn’t have a choice! Shockingly, it turned out quite well. It was creamy and tomato-y and I loved it with the eggplant and mushrooms. I will definitely be making this again!

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vodka sauce with heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, and mushrooms

adapted from Tomato Vodka Sauce on about.com

ingredients

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 medium-sized eggplant (or two small ones), diced
  • 10 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 8-10 fresh heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 6 basil leaves, torn by hand
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil, and have an ice bath standing nearby. Score an X into the bottom of each tomato. Gently lower the tomatoes into the boiling water. Boil for 30-60 seconds until skin begins to peel away. Remove and place in ice bath. When tomatoes have cooled, peel off the skin — you can use a paring knife for the hard to remove bits. Dice and seed the tomatoes and set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the eggplant, mushrooms, and garlic and continue to sauté until lightly browned. Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
  3. Add the fresh tomatoes and torn basil and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes, until sauce begins to thicken. Add vodka and simmer for another 20-30 minutes. Sauce will continue to thicken. Stir in maple syrup and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Add almond milk and nutritional yeast and stir well to combine. Simmer for another 5 minutes until sauce thickens to your desired consistency, adjust salt and pepper as needed.
  5. Serve hot over pasta of choice and enjoy!

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baking with avocados

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I’ve come to the realization that in order for me to cook regularly, it needs to become a puzzle for me that I have to solve. In the case of vegan cooking and baking, it’s figuring out how to substitute for dairy, eggs, and other animal products in a way that is close enough to the original recipe, or turning it into something completely different and wonderful. Even though I’ve always loved to cook, I never really did so regularly for myself. My two main reasons are because it’s really not a whole lot of fun to cook for yourself, and when you’re done cooking, you’re the only person there to clean up after yourself, and I definitely don’t enjoy cleaning! But when it comes to vegan cooking, since I know I can’t run across the street to McDonald’s or Wendy’s from school for breakfast or lunch, I have to prepare food for myself in advance at home. This has forced me to spend a lot more time in my kitchen than I normally do, and I’m really enjoying being creative in trying and adapting new recipes. I still don’t enjoy cleaning up after myself, but if I’m going to keep cooking, I eventually have to wash the dirty dishes and clear off the counters!

Ever since I stumbled across the vegan muffin recipes in Forks Over Knives – The Cookbook, I’ve been obsessed with vegan baking. I’ve baked vegan ginger peach muffins and banana bread several times in the weeks since school’s started. They are both simple, tasty, and filling items for me to grab for a quick breakfast when I’m running out the door to work. (And are much better than the egg mcmuffin or sausage burrito I’d get from the drive-thru more mornings than I care to admit!) Several days ago, one of the blogs I follow posted a recipe for avocado, blueberry, and orange muffins. I’ll let you head over to Poppy’s Patisserie for the recipe. They were amazing. I had no idea that this funky looking green batter would turn into such delicious, orange-scented muffins. I’ve never cooked with avocado before. Sure, I’ve put it in a million salads and made guacamole hundreds of times, but I had no idea that it was such a versatile ingredient. This got me hooked — if it tasted this good in these muffins (and there was absolutely no hint of avocado flavor at all in there), what else could I bake with it? So the search began…

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I turned to my trusty recipe file (i.e. google) and began searching for baking recipes that used avocado. I eventually settled on making scones. I had trouble finding exactly the recipe I was looking for since most either used ingredients I didn’t have on hand, weren’t vegan, or were gluten-free. I’m not ready to dive head first into gluten-free baking yet — those require a little more science and accuracy than I care for at this point. Plus, I don’t have an issue with gluten, so whenever I make gluten-free stuff, it’s more a matter of wanting to experiment with alternative grains.

Anyway, I finally decided I wanted to make orange, cranberry, and ginger scones and would attempt to create my own recipe, adapting what seemed to be fairly standard ingredients and proportions in the scone recipes I found. The only thing I was really unsure of was how much butter or oil one avocado would replace. I couldn’t find anything specific online, but I decided to go for it anyway. The end result turned out pretty well. They looked amazing and the texture was definitely scone-like. The recipes I compared varied from 2 tablespoons to over a cup of sugar so I erred on the side of caution. Next time I’ll add more sugar or maple syrup or something–they just needed a little more sweetness. I also couldn’t really taste the ginger so I’ll either increase the amount of powdered ginger or add grated fresh ginger next time. I’m posting the recipe exactly as I made it, so be forewarned that it may not be sweet enough for your liking. Some recipes called for brushing the top with milk or sprinkling with sugar before baking, so those are some things I might try next time. This recipe could also be adapted to other flavors and mix-ins, so be sure to let me know if you come up with a great flavor combination!
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orange, cranberry, ginger, avocado scones

ingredients

  • 1 large, ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1 orange, juiced and zested
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup raw sugar
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup almond milk

directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Put the diced avocado in the freezer for approximately 20 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, and flax seed.
  4. Place the frozen avocado into the flour mixture and work it in using your fingertips or a pastry cutter until the mixture is in small granules.
  5. Stir in the orange juice, zest, and cranberries.
  6. Gradually add in the almond milk until everything is moistened.
  7. Spoon the batter onto your prepared baking sheets (approx. 1/4 cup per scones). They will spread a little as they bake so leave some space in between.
  8. Bake for 10-15 minutes until scones are golden brown and firm to the touch.
  9. Leave on baking sheet for 5 minutes before placing on a cooling rack. Enjoy!

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peach and ginger pie

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I’m not a baker. I rarely make desserts. The main reason for this is that most dessert/baking requires precision and measuring, things that I’m not really inclined to do when I cook. Many baked goods can go horribly wrong if you’re not exact with your measurements and it’s just not what I’m comfortable with. Tonight, my shepherding group at church was having a corn roast and everyone was asked to bring a fruit pie for an informal pie contest. (!!!!!!!) I was perturbed at first, then I thought maybe I would just buy a pie and not enter it in the contest, and finally decided I would attempt to make one. Continue reading