Sweet Potato & Garnet Yam in Ginger and Peanut Sauce

World Food CafeThe other day, I was flipping through World Food Cafe by Chris & Carolyn Caldicott, which I acquired several years ago at a thrift store for a buck or two. It's a vegetarian cookbook with amazing photos and stories from their journeys around the world. The recipes in the book are neatly divided into geographic areas and represent the Caldicotts' favorites, many of which appear on the menu of their World Food Cafe in London. The eye candy in the book is what drew me to pick it up in the first place, but what keeps me coming back to it is the fresh, inspired eats from far away places.

Inspired by a Malinese dish featuring sweet potatoes, cabbage and tomatoes in a spicy peanut sauce, I whipped up my own version with a special autumnal twist.

If you can't stand the heat, cut the amount of cayenne in half or omit it altogether for a milder, creamier version of this West African-inspired meal.

Sweet Potato & Garnet Yam in Ginger & Peanut Sauce
Yield: 4 servings

2 Tbsp olive or sunflower oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1-inch piece of gingerroot, peeled and minced
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium garnet yam, peeled and cubed (or another sweet potato)
1 apple or pear, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 cup Trader Joe's Pear Cinnamon Cider or apple cider/juice or pineapple juice
1/4 cup natural creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp (or more) almond or other nondairy milk

In a large skillet, heat oil and sautee onion for 2-3 minutes until it begins to turn translucent. Add garlic and ginger and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Add sweet potatoes, yams and fruit. Stir to combine and cook, uncovered, for a few minutes until the veg matter just begins to soften.

Add paprika and cayenne; fold in so the spices coat the veggies and fruit. Add cider or juice, cover, and simmer 10-12 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are cooked through.

Stir in peanut butter until melted, then add first 2 Tbsp of almond milk to make a rich sauce. Add more liquid if needed.

Serve over brown rice or quinoa and top with a few raw peanuts or cashews.


Herbed Corn Bake (another vintage recipe)

Is everyone recovering from their T-day food comas yet? I've been loving all the photos of vegan holiday treats from around the great wide blogosphere. Although I didn't prepare a huge spread on the big day, I thought I'd share another veganized vintage recipe that makes a great holiday side dish or potluck contribution! I had so much fun sharing the first few recipes that I had to keep going, and this dish is from the same book. It's an Herbed Corn Bake, adapted from America's Best Vegetable Recipes: 666 Ways to Make Vegetables Irresistible. It's simple, tasty, and makes good use of fresh, frozen or canned corn!

Herbed Corn Bake
Yield: About 6 servings

3/4 cup plain almond milk
1/2 cup veg mayo
1 T ground flax + 3 T hot water (or your favorite replacer for 1 egg)
1 can whole kernel corn (drained) or 1 1/2 cups frozen (defrosted) or fresh corn
2 slices stale whole wheat bread, crumbled coarsely
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 T olive oil

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 1 1/2 qt casserole dish (or 8-inch round pie plate) with olive oil.

In a measuring cup, whisk together milk and mayo and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix ground flaxseed and hot water and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine corn, crumbled bread, herbs and salt. Toss with a fork to combine. Add flax egg and milk mixture and stir until just combined. Pour into casserole dish.

In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and olive oil until crumbly, then pour evenly over the top of the corn mixture.

Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

* The addition of vegan shredded cheese to the corn mixture would be a delightful twist! Also consider using half corn and half green beans, or some other combination of canned/frozen veggies.


Happy T(for Tofu) Day!

Wishing you all a happy, thankful T-Day this year! I'm taking the rest of the week off and will return on Monday with some more meatless wonders for your health and well-being! For now, consider some pot pie. I know I am!

Photo from Vegetarian Times
You're going to need the recipe for this Thanksgiving Pot Pie from Vegetarian Times. And for breakfast on Friday, how about these AMAZING vegan butterflake rolls (like croissants, but muffin-ized!) from Inspired Eats. And maybe a little Mediterranean Tofu and Olive Quiche (also from VT).

Happy Thanksgiving!


Banana-Oat-Nut Breakfast Bowl

Most mornings, I start the day with a decent breakfast. But it occurred to me that you guys have never seen what I usually eat in the mornings. So, it's time to share.

Dear readers, meet my semi-famous, super-easy, no-excuses Banana-Oat-Nut Breakfast Bowl.

This is less a recipe and more a method and it's all about choices, so bear with me.

The method is simple. Select one item from each category listed below. Layer in a bowl. Microwave for 90 seconds. Devour. Breakfast: mission accomplished.

1. 1 fruit, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • banana
  • apple
  • pear
  • peaches
  • nectarines
2. 1/2 cup oats
  • muesli
  • rolled oats
  • packaged oatmeal
  • granola
3. 1/4 cup nuts
  • walnuts
  • pecans
  • almonds
  • cashews
4. 1/2 cup liquid
  • almond or other non-dairy milk
  • fresh fruit juice
  • water (if you're really vanilla!)
Pile ingredients into a microwave-safe bowl in this order, do not stir, and zap for 90 seconds. You can also cook this on the stovetop in a couple of minutes, but just make sure that your oats and liquid are covering your fruit, so it cooks evenly.

For my usual morning meal, I'm going with banana, muesli, whatever nuts are on hand, and almond milk--and I usually top mine with a fat dollop of soy yogurt, as seen above (after the heating, of course). But with this method, you can repeat the same meal every day all week long and never actually have the same thing twice, if you change up your options. And, feel free to add additional fruit, like dried cherries or blueberries, and top with a drizzle of maple syrup or agave nectar if you're so inclined!


Sourdough 101: The first three days

The other day, I told you all about how to make your own sourdough starter. It's been three days now and your starter should be looking something like this:

If you remember from my first Sourdough 101 post, I told you that the starter needs to be stirred a couple times a day. Even with frequent stirring, it still separates and starts to look sort of gross, like the above picture. It also smells, well, sour! But that's how you know it's working. If your starter has turned white, blue, pink or green, that means something has gone wrong (i.e. bad bacteria! bad!) so you'll need to toss it out and start over. To help prevent problems like that, rinse your glass jar with boiling water and make sure all your utensils (and your hands!) are clean-clean-clean before you go messing about with your starter.

On Day Three, you're ready to make some sourdough if you like, using any sourdough recipe you have lying around. Or, you can procrastinate. Either way, transfer your starter to the fridge to stunt the growth process. I'll be back in a couple of days to show you my first sourdough loaf and to tell you more about what to do with your starter next!


Pappardelle Pasta with Olives, Thyme and Lemon

Somehow, I found myself perusing Martha Stewart's recipe collection the other day, and I came across this accidentally-vegan (assuming your pasta is egg-free) dish from chef George Germon of Al Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island.

It. Looks. Delicious. And? It comes together in no time. I plan to make it immediately.

Photo courtesy MarthaStewart.com

Pappardelle Pasta with Olives, Thyme and Lemon
by George Germon, from MarthaStewart.com
Yield: 2 servings

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for water
8 ounces dried pappardelle, or other long, flat pasta
16 Kalamata olives, pitted (I might use green Sicilian olives instead, just a preference)
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Zest of 1 lemon, coarsely chopped
One 3-inch piece orange zest, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

Cook pasta in salted water according to package instructions. Drain pasta and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water.

While pasta is cooking, combine olives, parsley, olive oil, thyme, lemon zest, orange zest, and red pepper flakes in a food processor and pulse until a chunky puree forms.

After draining pasta, transfer the olive puree to the pasta pot plus 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water. Add drained pasta to the olive mixture and toss to combine. Add more water if needed to create a light sauce. Serve ASAP!


Simple things: Spaghetti & Garlic Knots

Cooking your own healthy meals at home doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming. This dinner was so easy, in fact, that it doesn't even have a recipe!

Whole wheat spaghetti tossed with pre-made tomato-basil marinara, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a dollop of soy yogurt (tofu sour cream would work also). On the side, a couple of garlic knots made ahead of time from my standard pizza dough, with extra herbs and garlic added to the dough. Pre-made refrigerated pizza dough (like from Trader Joe's or your local bakery) can be substituted easily. Just roll a small bit of dough into a snake, tie in a knot, and bake at 425°F for 15 minutes.

Nom nom!


Sourdough 101: Getting your starter started

I love sourdough. Wait, scratch that, I'm IN love with sourdough. I can't get enough of the stuff. There's just something about that chewy, soft, sour bready stuff that gets me every time. I don't know where or when my addiction began, but that's the San Francisco treat with a strong hold on me.

Now, get this. I've never made my own sourdough. Not since I was a kid, anyway, and my mom's friends passed around jars of "Friendship Bread" starter. I've baked a ton of other types of breads, from long-rising, multiple knead yeasty boules to quick breads and sweet breads and rolls and muffins and biscuits galore. But I always thought sourdough was too much of a challenge since nobody was handing me a jar of sourdough starter and I couldn't justify the expensive of ordering it online.

And then something really funny happened. I was reading through a bread machine baking book (because there's a bread machine in my vicinity now! What what!) and came across their sourdough starter recipe. It even had a whole wheat sourdough option. It looked easy enough, so I tweaked it a bit and went for it. And now I'm convinced that you should too!

There are only 2 things you need to know about making this starter (well, aside from what's in it).
1. You have to be patient. You'll need to wait at least 3-4 days after mixing your starter before you can bake your first loaf of sourdough.
2. You can't go and forget about it. Like a houseplant that needs watering, a sourdough starter must be either used or "fed" every 7 to 10 days. I'll get into that more in my next sourdough post.

First things first, let's get this starter started!

That jar was WAY too small. Choose one at least 48oz in volume!
 Sourdough Starter

Glass jar at least twice the volume of your mix
Wooden or plastic spoon (not metal!)
Cheese cloth, wax paper or plastic wrap
2 Rubber bands

2 cups unbleached bread flour OR 2 cups whole wheat flour (I used whole wheat)
2 Tbsp agave nectar (or honey, if you're into it)
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
2 cups very warm (105-115°F) water

You'll want a wide mouth glass jar for your starter. It needs to be large enough for the starter to double in volume, so choose wisely. You may be able to recycle something from your kitchen, like an old tomato sauce jar, but look for something at least 48 ounces for this baby. If you need to buy a jar, check your local thrift store for large Mason jars.

Combine bread, agave and yeast in your glass jar. Pour in water a little at a time, mixing with non-metal spoon until just combined. Cover container with cheesecloth, wax paper or vented plastic wrap and secure with a rubber band. Find a nice warm (80-85°F), dark place for your starter to live and grow, like an unused corner of your kitchen that is not on an outside wall.

You may also want to place a second rubber band around the body of the jar, level with the top of the flour mixture. This will come in handy later, because this is what it'll look like in under an hour!

Once it looks like this, stir it down with a wooden spoon and then allow to rest. Stir 1-2 times per day for three days. I'll check back with you in three days to let you know how my starter is doing!


Vintage Recipes get a Vegan Facelift!

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with a pile of cookbooks from my friend Rachel's cupboard. You see, she's inherited a sweet collection of international cookbooks from her grandmother.

Here are just a few of them, along with one of (never home)maker's Burning Love smoothies (yum!).

One of the most interesting cookbooks I perused wasn't international at all, though. It was America's Best Vegetable Recipes: 666 Ways to Make Vegetables Irresistible from the food editors of Farm Journal. Published in 1970 and decidedly NOT a vegetarian handbook, this one contained plenty of flavor combinations to pique my interest and kickstart my imagination. So, I adapted a few recipes from the book to keep for myself. Here are a couple of dishes that work perfectly this time of the year!

Marmalade Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from America's Best Vegetable Recipes from Farm Journal, 1970
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup orange marmalade
1 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 17oz can sweet potatoes

In a medium skillet over medium heat, combine oil, salt, marmalade and lemon juice and stir until thickened. Add sweet potatoes and stir to coat. Cook on medium-low heat, turning periodically, until thoroughly glazed.

Tomato Orange Sauce
Adapted from America's Best Vegetable Recipes from Farm Journal, 1970
Yield: 2 cups

1/4 cup sweet onion, sliced
2 T olive oil
2 T all-purpose flour
1 cup canned diced or crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp agave nectar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp grated orange peel
pinch ground nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, heat oil and cook onion until translucent. Add flour and stir til no dry spots remain. Add tomatoes and water. Cook until thickened.

Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine, just until heated through. Drizzle sauce over steamed or roasted vegetables of your choice and serve alongside rice or pasta dishes. (This sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.)


Recipes are now easier to find!

Notice anything different about the site today, folks? Look up!

The top toolbar now features a nifty "Recipes" link that takes you straight to a complete collection of text links for all my original recipes. To further aid in your culinary navigation, I've categorized the recipes by main ingredient and meal type. I hope you'll find the list useful!


Kicking plastics out of your kitchen

Plastic has gotten a bad rap over the last few years. As we learn more about what happens to plastics over time and the way they degrade due to heat exposure, more and more of us are tempted to kick plastic out of our kitchen entirely.

Photo courtesy Tupperware

If you grew up dependent on plastic wrap and Tupperware, that might seem like a pretty radical idea. But it doesn't have to be scary, or expensive!

1. Use up what you have. Don't throw away a half-used box of plastic wrap because the fact of the matter is that continuing to use it until the package is empty won't kill you. This is all about finding a balance between your health and the environmental impact of your consumption.
2. Donate your plastic ware. Have a cupboard full of Tupperware and Rubbermaid leftover containers? Sort through them, recycle (if you can) the ones that are warped or have no lid, and donate the rest to your local shelter or community group.
3. Find other uses for your plastics. Use leftover containers to store beads, loose change, marbles, teabags or dry goods. I will even admit to using plastic containers in my pantry before I figured out that there were other solutions.

There are a few alternatives to plasticware.

Glass is the best choice both in function and in affordability. Yes, glass leftover containers often come paired with plastic lids, but most plastic lids on the market now are BPA-free. Pyrex offers a line of glass lids storage sets that contains both BPA-free plastic lids as well as oven & microwave safe glass lids. Many other brands such as Anchor Hocking offer glass containers with glass lids for baking and storage use.
Photo courtesy Anchor Hocking
Glass containers are also becoming more affordable. Check out this 12-bowl set from Crate & Barrel for $19.95. Healthy, affordable, and stylish, too!

You'll have to weigh the pros and cons before making the decision to switch your family fridge to glass. Glass does have one big benefit over plastic: it's easier to clean. Plastic stains and warps, but glass doesn't have this problem. Of course, there is one major down side to switching to glass. It breaks! Look for thicker-walled glass containers which are less prone to chipping and cracking. Also, use care when washing or when traveling with glass, like in your lunch bag. You may also want to think twice about making the switch if you have small children who like to help themselves to fridge containers.

Photo courtesy GoGreenStages.com
Another unbreakable option is stainless steel. Although these containers still have plastic lids, the body is made from recyclable stainless steel. Steel containers can be a bit pricey, but the upside is that they will last you a lifetime. You can find a 4-bowl set like this at GoGreenStages.com.
Photo courtesy Preserve Products
If you have to stick with plastic, go with an eco-friendly option like this affordable 6-container set from Preserve. Preserve products are made from 100% recycled plastic and are 100% recyclable. They also make cutting boards, colanders and mixing bowls from the same material and have a pretty nifty recycled toothbrush mail-in program if you're looking to spread your green living from the kitchen into the bathroom.


Featured Veggie: We're choppin' broccoli!

One of the new features I'm adding here on The Verdant Life is a monthly produce spotlight. Each month, I'll highlight a new veggie or fruit that is in peak season, and help you get the most out of it by offering up a few interesting recipes that may be new to your kitchen. My goal is to help you breathe a little new life into your old veggie routine AND to encourage you to eat produce when it's at its best! To help you remember, I've added a slot for the featured veg in the right-hand side bar.

I'll post the featured veg/fruit as close to the beginning of the month as I can, but harvest seasons aren't tied to our lunar calendar, you know, so I hope you'll remember that as you cruise your farmers markets and grocery stores. Please also remember that I'm just picking one item, but there are lots of produce options in every season. So, explore!

It's November, and broccoli is in season. Yes, yes, I know you can get it year-round at your local mega-mart. That's true. But this month, broccoli is in its prime so it's a good time to get reacquainted with your old green friend by trying some new recipes. Here are some great ones via VegWeb.com:

Delicious Broccoli Salad by Kat32
Soy Sausage and Broccoli Baked Ziti by Amy
Broccoli Stir-fry in Sesame Sauce with Apple by ZiziphusZizyphus
Ruben's Ragin' Rolls (spring rolls) by peacenik
Thai Broccoli Soup by Alutraiza

What's YOUR favorite way to prepare broccoli this season?


Cast Iron Love Affair

One piece of cookware sees more action than anything else in the kitchen: my cast iron skillet.

I'm pretty passionate about this chunk of metal. In fact, I've found myself on a bit of a mission lately to convince everyone I know that they, too, should jump on the cast iron bandwagon. And today I'm adding all of you to my audience. Cast iron has enormous benefits over other cook surfaces on the market.

Benefits of Cast Iron
Inexpensive - skillets start around $15
Durable - one skillet will last a lifetime
Nonstick - properly seasoned cast iron is a natural nonstick surface
Versatile - use it for stir fry, pancakes, tofu scramble, seared tomatoes, you name it
Easy to care for - clean with hot water and a stiff bristled-brush, no soap!
Healthy - no chemical coatings or treatments

Choosing the right piece of cast iron cookware for you and your family is pretty easy. You may opt to pick up a few different pieces, but one good skillet is a must for everyone! I'll confess: I own a 12-inch skillet and an enameled 6-qt Dutch oven and I can't imagine doing without either one of them.
Some things to consider when shopping for cast iron:
Since I'm typically cooking for just 1-2 people, I went with a smaller 12-inch skillet and it's definitely the right size for me. Cast iron skillets are available in a mind-blowing range of sizes these days, from 6-inch to 20-inch and more!

Dutch ovens are also available in a range of sizes. I bought mine primarily for baking bread in (a la Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day) so 6-qt is perfect, but you can find smaller and larger ones at affordable prices by Lodge.

My favorite skillet came pre-seasoned and I didn't pay more than $15 for it. My Dutch oven was around $45 and I spent about $2 at the hardware store on a stainless steel knob to replace the factory plastic knob to make it oven-proof. It stands to reason that larger skillets and other types of pans will cost you more, and if you're so inclined, you can easily find a way to spend a few hundred smackers on some cast iron pieces.

As I mentioned before, a cast iron skillet can become your new best friend in the kitchen. It can handle anything from fried tofu to pancakes to stir fry and even sauces.

I discovered the magical wonders of the Dutch oven while learning a new approach to bread making from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Baking bread inside a cast iron Dutch oven creates a fantastic crispy-chewy crust that is, I'm convinced, impossible to obtain through any other methods. Since there truly is nothing better in this world than homemade bread, I bought a Dutch oven to serve my bread-lust.

But, I'm also a member of the Alton Brown school of thought that dictates that there is no room in the kitchen (especially a tiny one like mine!) for unitaskers! All items must serve multiple purposes. In the case of the Dutch oven, that meant I had to learn what else it was good for. I've had it for a couple of years now and I'll admit, I'm still discovering new uses. But, in brief, Dutch ovens are great for: soups, stews, chili, tomato sauce, making seitan from scratch, making seitan roasts, rice dishes, upside down cake, and heck, you can even bake a pizza in it!

Cast iron gets HOT HOT HOT so take precautions. Be conservative when heating your stovetop, as cast iron is slow to heat up and slow to cool off. Once it's hot, it'll stay hot for a long time. Also, if the rest of your cookware has cool-touch handles, you may want to buy yourself a little insurance against burns by using a silicone handle like the Le Creuset Cool Tool Handle on your skillets.


Meatless Monday flashback: Classic Vegan Lasagna!

Nearly a year ago on my old blog, I posted a classic vegan lasagna recipe for Meatless Monday.

Pardon the poor image quality from my old camera!
I don't make lasagna very often--sometimes only two or three times a year--but this is definitely a recipe that gets pulled out and dusted off during the holiday season. It's always a hit at family get-togethers, company parties and other holiday potlucks. In fact, I typically find myself wishing I'd made up two pans of it, because it's not uncommon that the dish is so popular that everyone else scarfs it down before I have a chance to get a piece of my own!

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