Shepherds Pie (Vegan)

It’s day 6 of staying in. New habits are setting in. Things are slowing down; we’re eating more meals together. We’re trying new things—like using Zoom for Sunday family time. Highly entertaining! We’ll get better at it, but it’s nice to see everyone’s faces 😊

While we chatted with my sister and her family and our parents, I had this dinner in the oven. Now it could be that my standards have lowered, but I thought this turned out divinely! Flavor and texture were excellent. And an easy make ahead.

The key difference in this version is the mushroom/lentil combo. I thought I had too many creminis, but actually they cook down so much it was just right. I thought the lentils might get dry, but so long as you have a large can of tomato sauce, you’re good…just keep adding it if you need to as it simmers. They break down well into a texture very similar to the original.

This is also a dish where superior technique makes the difference on mashed potatoes. I stand by 2 things when it comes to potatoes: the heating of liquids (butter, creamer) and using a potato ricer. It makes for the lightest mashed potatoes! They look odd coming out, but create great consistency.

I wish I had tried veganizing this recipe earlier in winter!

Shepherds pie (vegan)

  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 8 oz vegan butter, divided
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 3/4 cup frozen mixed vegetables
  • 12 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 can lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 cup plant creamer
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper

Melt 1/2 tbsp of butter, sauté onion, celery, carrot for 5 minutes until just getting soft. Add garlic and mushrooms, stir and cook 1 minute. Add frozen vegetables and cook another 2 minutes. Add lentils. Add seasonings and tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Allow to cook slowly while making the mashed potatoes (you may even turn the heat off completely and just allow the herbs to do their thing).

Cook the potatoes. Heat remaining butter and creamer for 1 minute in microwave. Drain and Rice potatoes into hot liquids.

Remove bay leaves from base mixture and place into casserole dish. Top with potatoes. Dot with butter for a browner top. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Tofu Thai peanut bowls (vegan)

Despite toilet paper hysteria, we’re not adjusting our shopping routine. Once a week. Maybe that’ll change in the coming weeks, but right now we’re calm. We’d heard stories about empty grocery store shelves, but found everything in stock at our local coop. Thankfully no one made a run on fresh fennel (yet) 😉

Being socially distanced means I have time to play with my new toy: a sous vide machine. Burgers last night and marinated soy sesame chicken breasts tonight for a quick Asian bowl. I am keeping calm by investing energy in creative pursuits!! The boys are happy because it involves meat.

It’s easy to drop the protein in a bag and let the sous vide do it’s thing. Basically the water slowly cooks the ingredient to a desired temperature and then holds it there without overcooking it because it’s in a Ziplock. You do it all via an app!

You don’t have to take it off when it’s done. It can stay in the water until you’re ready, which makes it super easy. For proteins it’s definitely a win. I have done carrots too which locks in the flavor and nutrients. I feel like a chef scientist!

As we were shopping this week, there was definitely an aura of “stocking up”, like what happens before a holiday or a snowstorm. When I looked in our cupboards, I realized how much we just have on hand. Those are some of my favorite meals—figuring out what to make based on random ingredients. Rice, peanuts and thai peanut sauce inspired this meal. We’re certainly not going to go without. I am very grateful.

I will be even more grateful when Alec returns from college (expected his classes will finish online this year) and Avery has just one more day before they break, and likely also move to a distance learning model. I will feel better with both baby birds in the nest, hopefully by end of the week.

Our world is changing. Fear and scarcity are the mindset of the day. I am hopeful that we come out of this with perspective on what needs to change in our culture. We have enough.

Tofu Thai peanut bowls (vegan)

  • 1/2 napa cabbage, chopped
  • 3 cups cooked Basmati rice
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • Serrano pepper, diced
  • Pickled red onions
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Dry roasted peanuts
  • Grilled marinated sesame soy tofu, extra firm
  • (Or Sesame soy marinated chicken breasts)
  • Sesame seeds, black and white
  • Thai peanut sauce

Slice extra firm tofu into 1/2” slices. Cover with paper towels and place heavy pan on top to remove excess liquid, About 30 minutes.

Slice 1/2 red onion thinly. Add 1 tbsp sugar and 2 tsp salt to 500mL vinegar (red wine and champagne or white vinegar mixture). Heat vinegar until sugar dissolves about 30 seconds. Red onions will be edible in about 30 minutes but better the next day 😉

Make rice.

Marinate tofu with soy/sesame oil and Sriracha mixture for 30 minutes. Grill the tofu.

Assemble the bowls using rice, cabbage, vegetables and accessorize to taste. Top with Thai peanut sauce.

(Not Grandma’s) refrigerator pickles

Pickles are expensive. Good ones, that is. The boys in my house eat a lot of sandwiches. Requiring pickles.

So in my effort to not spend $12 a week on pickles, I decided to give pickling a whirl. But not real pickling that involves boiling jars and possibly giving loved ones botulism. The kind for modern moms: stick it in the fridge in a glass storage container.

Refrigerator pickles are a piece of cake! They’re more cost conscious too. I am semi-embarrassed to post this because it’s not really cooking. It’s easy enough for anyone to do. (My grandmother would be horrified at my lack of canning skills.)

There once was a dream of mine to win the pickle competition at the MN State Fair Pickle so I could get my picture as Pickle Queen on the Gedney jar. <sigh>

I should design a logo for these: Pittman’s perfectly petite pickles.

Refrigerator pickles (vegan)

  • 6 small cucumbers (Trader Joe’s is a good source)
  • 250 ml water
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 250 ml white vinegar
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • Crushed black pepper
  • 3-4 dashes hot sauce
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh dill

Heat up the water for about 30 seconds in the microwave. Add salt, stir until dissolved. Add vinegar, black pepper and hot sauce. Pour over the thinly sliced cucumbers, add crushed garlic, coriander and dill. Passable in 30 minutes but ideal around 3 days. I don’t know if they go funky after awhile. They never last that long.

Potatoes dauphinoise (vegan)

There are some recipes that are simply classic. This potato dish is from Julia Child and comes out of one of my favorite cookbooks, Julia and Jacques Cook At Home.

I greatly admire Julia’s no-nonsense style both in her cooking and her on camera personality. I wonder what she would say about her classic being made without butter or cream! No doubt an honest assessment. 😇

One of the reasons this recipe rocks is because it has so few ingredients. Other than peeling and slicing the potatoes, it’s a piece of cake. You can pretty much use whatever plant dairy you have on hand whether it’s a creamer or just milk. You also don’t have to measure but simply pour until it covers the potatoes.

I was skeptical plant butter would give it the browning on top that makes for the original recipe’s just slightly crunchy texture, but it was perfect! It was just the warmup for our first snowstorm (6-9″ on Thanksgiving Eve, 😆).

Potatoes dauphinoise (vegan)

  • 3 lbs Yukon gold or russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced using either a food processor or mandolin. Do not rinse the sliced potatoes! It adds to the creamy texture.
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 tsp+ salt
  • Nondairy creamer/milk (about 3 cups)
  • 3 tbsp nondairy butter

Butter the casserole dish. Place the smashed garlic in the bottom of the dish, season with salt. Place the potatoes in, and pour in enough creamer to cover. Chunk up the butter and place on top.

Put the casserole dish on the stove and bring liquid to a simmer. (Now’s a good time to carefully check seasoning. You may want to add salt. )

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes. Check for doneness by using a knife to poke the middle. It should be soft.

Original recipe from Julia:

Ambrosia tropical fruit salad (vegan)

It snowed this week. The battle begins.

I saw a whole coconut at the coop and got curious about how to use it. That seemed like a good distraction that would remind me of warmer days.

The recipe selection was easy–I love ambrosia salad with the mixture of bright citrus and tropical flavors. Pineapple, mango, valencia oranges, red grapefruit, pomegranate and the coconut. Perfect. Easy.

Well, it was easy. Except for the coconut. I now understand how it would feel to be trapped on a desert island surrounded by the things knowing full well they’re full of deliciousness and yet become fixated on getting the stupid shells cracked.

It started with using a skewer to puncture the soft spot to drain the water. It was delicious! Flavor wise this was definitely the highlight. A cup gets used in the recipe itself, but the remainder can be used as a post workout recovery aid.

If I didn’t want to mess with a fresh coconut in the future, I would at least buy the water, it made a huge difference and meant I didn’t need to use any sweetener (agave).

After draining, the whole coconut gets baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes or so. This is supposed to dry out the interior flesh.

This is where the fun began! Trying to crack the thing. I tried a chef’s knife first. No go. Then a rolling pin. Comical. Finally, I called in the muscle (Matt) to use a hammer. The blunt side didn’t work. The claw side was sharp enough to crack it and then get it split in half.

I admit being disappointed both by the amount of flesh inside, and that it was still moist. I pivoted and scraped the stuff out, which roughly had the texture of oysters, and chopped it up for the salad. Next time I will break it open first, then bake, to dry out the flesh (duh). All in all a worthwhile exploration with something new.

We also did a nondairy yogurt taste test to go with it. I concluded cashewgurt or coconutmilk are my favorites. It’s a texture thing.

This was a nice diversion and I am pleased that we’ll have fresh fruit ready to eat all week. The next time I am really frustrated a $5 coconut will come in handy too! 😉

Ambrosia salad (vegan)

  • One pineapple, chopped
  • 2 cups diced mango
  • 1 red grapefruit, cut into segments then chopped
  • 2 valencia oranges, cut into segments then chopped
  • Flesh of one fresh coconut
  • 1 cup fresh coconut water
  • Seeds from one pomegranate

Mix all together and allow to marinate overnight. Serve with yogurt and granola.

Roasted tomato sauce

Fresh tomatoes are one of summer’s best gifts. I just want to bottle it up and save it for January to remember warmth will eventually return! Now’s a great time to stock up at the Farmer’s Market.

Both boys have started asking for cooking lessons and before Alec left, we were focused on some of the basics that everyone should master. Obviously pasta is one of them!

It sounds easy enough, but there are a few techniques and tools that make for great pasta:

A spider for scooping pasta out of well-salted water. I prefer sea salt, and you should actually taste your water (before boiling 😉) to make sure it tastes like seawater. It takes more salt than you might think, but it results in more flavorful pasta. Remove pasta 2 minutes before “done” and finish cooking in the sauce that you’ve already started heating in a separate pan. This technique works even with store bought sauce.

This is the second tool you’ll need, a grabber to stir the pasta. Add 1 cup of the pasta water to finish the cooking and bind the sauce to the noodles. You can add as you go, more or less water until the texture is right. This works well with any non-cream based sauce.

This is the finished roasted tomato sauce, which is a beautiful color depending on the mix of tomatoes you use. There’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of noodles with homemade sauce!

Roasted tomato sauce (vegan)

    4 lbs fresh tomatoes, quartered
    6 cloves garlic
    6 tbsp olive oil
    Salt and pepper

Toss cut tomatoes and garlic cloves in olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Roast at 200 degrees for 6 hours. Purée in food processor or using hand blender.

Banh mi (vegan)

This is the vegan’s version of a barbecue sandwich. Layers upon layers of flavor and absolutely impossible to eat without making a mess. But you won’t care cuz it’s just that good.

I tried a different technique with the tofu–slicing into 1/2 inch, marinating and then baking it. It got a little texture on the outside but still plenty moist. It has the appearance of something other than tofu, which may be important to some folks.

I also used a readymade cabbage slaw for the pickled vegetables. That’s speeds things up too. I had black currant vinegar on hand which blended the tart/sweet punch perfectly!

You can pretty much accessorize with any crunchy vegetables you have though. I had radishes, daikon radish sprouts and a jalapeño. I thought about slicing a cucumber too but it was already too fat to fold 😉

Fresh herbs–mint and cilantro–and a Sriracha mayo finish it up. Round 2 was open-face sandwich style.

Creating this feels like creating art: between the colors and flavors it turns out differently each time, but always delicious! Easily my favorite sandwich and WAY better than barbecue.

Banh mi (vegan)

  • Baguette
  • 1 block extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/2″
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
    2 tbsp Sriracha, divided
    Juice of 1/2 lime
    1/2 cup vegan mayo
    1 cup coleslaw blend
    1/2 cup vinegar–apple cider or another fruit based cider works well
    2 tbsp sugar
    Sliced radishes
    Sliced jalapeño
    Sprouts or lettuce
    Cucumbers
    Mint and cilantro leaves

Drain and slice tofu. Mix tamari, sesame oil and 1 tbsp Sriracha. Coat tofu and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Microwave vinegar about 1 minute until just warm enough to dissolve sugar. Cool, then add coleslaw and allow to soften for about 30 minutes.

Bake tofu on tinfoil at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. An ambitious person would flip it halfway through.

Mix mayo with remaining Sriracha and lime juice. Adjust heat to your preferences.

Slice cucumbers, radishes and jalapeño. Prep mint and cilantro leaves.

Assemble sandwich by putting mayo, herbs, vegetables and tofu on one side, slaw on the other.