Manicotti (vegan)

I was really hesitant about going full vegan on this recipe for manicotti, which is a winter comfort food for us. Let’s face it, it’s hard to substitute something that has as its main ingredient ooey gooey goodness with “feeze”. (All substitutes in our house now begin with F, as in “fake”. Ficken. Feeb. Feeze. We haven’t figured out what to do with Fish, except to say it wrong: Feesh. This is my first try with Feggs too).

But gosh darnit, it’s Sunday and I feel like experimenting while listening to the same 12 Christmas carols on the radio. I mean just look at these ingredients, doesn’t that look like the makings of a fantastic Sunday supper?!

Many thanks to Cathryn’s Kitchen for her recipe inspiration. The main uniqueness of this version is the crepes, which make the entire dish a silky texture, and how I have typically made manicotti. The crepes are a bit tedious to make but open some wine while singing to classic Dean Martin carols and it’ll go fast.

I was more than pleasantly surprised by the creaminess of the “rinotta” filling that had a nice lightness to it.

I added some chopped sautéed vegan Italian sausage to about half and would experiment with other additions next time too. I am trying out recipes for our Italian Christmas Eve dinner and now that I have a good substitute for ricotta, a whole new repertoire opened up!

Feel free of course to use the real deals, but you too might be surprised by the vegan substitutes.

Manicotti (vegan)

Crepes

  • 1c flour
  • 2 “eggs”
  • 2/3c water (in addition to the water for the vegan eggs)

Blend all together and let sit for 30 min.

Filling

In the meantime, mix up the filling.

  • 16 oz medium firm tofu
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 6 oz “mozzarella” cheese
  • 2 oz grated “parmesan”
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • Dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Mix ingredients together (and add other fillings as desired, such as vegan sausage).
  • Make the crepes by heating 1 tsp olive oil over low heat. Add 3 tbsp of batter and spread using the back of the ladle. Cook about 1 min and flip to finish another minute or so until the entire crepe takes on a translucent quality.
  • Fill with 3 tbsp of filling and repeat (this made about 18 crepes).
  • I used jar spicy marinara for the sauce, putting just enough to cover the pan before layering crepes on top and covering with remaining sauce. Bake covered for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.
  • Finish with chopped fresh basil.
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    Rosemary roasted red pepper pasta (vegan)

    Thanksgiving is one of those days when people have their expectations–of the food and the rituals like football, drawing names for Xmas gifts, the favorite nap spot, etc.

    It’s best not to mess with tradition. But maybe add a new one?

    I thought about what we might make for vegan options to bring to my in-laws, who would be preparing the usual turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and cranberries. It would be mostly for Av and me, but I didn’t want it to feel like we were being rude by eating an entirely different meal.

    Hmmmm. Mac and cheese seemed like a good option. Many families have that as part of Thanksgiving but we never have. I liked not having a comparison to hold against it.

    If I have learned anything about cooking vegan it’s better to play to the strengths of the ingredients rather than making a “fake” version of the original. Cheese (“feeze”) is definitely one of our least favorite vegan options. The texture isn’t quite right.

    So I looked up some recipes and found a roasted red pepper pasta made with cashews. I made a few adjustments based on the butternut squash lasagna I make, including steeping rosemary in the almond milk, and toasting it in with the cashews to bring out some of the oils.

    I ended up adding lemon juice and some crushed red pepper flakes to brighten up the sauce. This was the first time I had used nutritional yeast powder and I like the depth it added. I baked this, but it could also be eaten immediately.

    Alec ended up eating a large bowl later Thanksgiving night…with Sriracha. He’s grateful for the break from college dorm food. 😊

    Rosemary roasted red pepper pasta

    • 2 lbs elbow macaroni
    • 3c unsweetened almond milk
    • 12oz whole raw cashews
    • 1 large onion diced
    • 6 cloves garlic chopped
    • 3 tbsp olive oil plus more for drizzling
    • 2 sprigs rosemary
    • 12 oz roasted red peppers (about 3 large if you roast them yourself)
    • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
    • Juice of half a lemon
    • 1 tsp Crushed red pepper
    • 2 tsp kosher salt
    • 1 tsp black pepper
    • Panko breadcrumbs

    Bring the almond milk to a simmer and add one rosemary sprig. Turn off heat and let steep for an hour. Remove as much of the rosemary as possible (it’s ok if a few leaves remain).

    Toast cashews in sauté pan with remaining rosemary sprig. Crush rosemary to bring out oils. Let sit while preparing pasta and sauce.

    Cook pasta, drain and drizzle with olive oil. Sauté onion in oil until soft, add garlic and cook another 2 min. Add roasted red peppers, continue cooking briefly until heated through. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and nutritional yeast.

    To bring sauce together, purée cashews in food processor (remove rosemary). Add red pepper mixture and process until smooth. Slowly add almond milk.

    Pour sauce over noodles. Drizzle with olive oil. Top with panko breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

    Tomato soup (vegan)

    Potpourri. Growing up that’s what mom called leftover night. I hated potpourri night. So now, beloved readers, I give you a potpourri post. A recipe, yes. But some other random food stuff since it’s been awhile.

    Let’s start with something cool. I am trying out a new Twin Cities startup, Local Crate. It’s a food delivery concept involving ingredients from local farms and artisans. It’s not dissimilar to why I originally started blogging–to inspire people to explore what’s grown near them. It’s been an interesting and time-saving experience to have a couple meals pretty much prepped. I made vegan tikka masala this week!!

    It doesn’t quite look like the picture but it tasted good. This is ideal for people who love to cook but hate planning and shopping.

    In other food news, Alec is discovering how good he had it eating at home. “Why don’t they make spaghetti and meatballs?” The thrill of a cafeteria offering perpetual ice cream sundaes has worn off. He says he’s losing weight especially now that swim season has kicked in. He has 5:30am practice 3x a week. We look forward to feeding him at Thanksgiving!

    Avery has really embraced the vegan diet. He’s even doing a biology research project on how plant protein impacts athlete performance. It’s the first time he’s gotten truly curious about molecular structure 😉

    He’s also learning how to make vegan snacks for late night studying (nachos being a favorite). Yea for adaptability and learning!

    Finally, here’s the recipe. This is so simple it shouldn’t really count, but sometimes simple is good for the soul. It snowed this week. Yes people. Snow. I am perpetually cold and it’s only October.

    Tomato soup

    • 4tbsp olive oil
    • 3 carrots, sliced into halfmoons
    • 3 stalks celery, sliced
    • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
    • 4 cloves garlic minced
    • Celery leaves, fresh oregano and thymes stalks
    • 4c vegetable stock
    • 28oz can whole tomatoes
    • Salt, pepper, basil

    Simmer onion in oil until soft. Add celery, carrots and garlic and sauté another 3-5 minutes until onions are golden. Add tomatoes and vegetable stock. I added a few end pieces of the celery with leaves attached and some fresh oregano and thyme still attached to the stalk. This gave the flavor a bit more depth. Simmer covered for about 30 minutes. Remove the celery leaves and herb stalks (if you used them). Purée until smooth with hand blender, season to taste with salt pepper and basil (1/2 tsp is an estimate).

    Watermelon jalapeño gazpacho

    People either love or hate cold soup. Ya know, the kinds that are supposed to be cold. I happen to love them, with gazpacho being top of the list. Especially right now as the tomatoes are just starting to come in.

    Sidenote: I have 2 perfect green tomatoes growing on my deck. I have invested a lot in these beauties and am protecting them fiercely from critters. Am relishing a perfect slice atop a veggie burger or all on its own. It’s just a few weeks now and they’ll bloom red. Please, Mr. Squirrel, please pass by my perfect tomatoes.

    Anyhow, this soup is nice because it’s not the same old but is both sweet and spicy. A good quality watermelon makes all the difference–seedless is the only way to go.

    Top it off with fruit salsa. Normally I like to use what’s in it so people know, but in this case I had some cantaloupe left to use up and needed a color contrast.

    An easy way to get your fruits and veggies in and low fat too, perfect on a hot summer day. Super easy and super fast!

    Watermelon gazpacho

    • 3cups cubed seeded watermelon
    • 3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
    • 1/4c red pepper slices
    • 3 inches of a seedless English cucumber, peeled and diced
    • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
    • 3 slices jalapeño (no seeds!)
    • 1/2 small yellow onion, cut in large chunks
    • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
    • 1 tbsp champagne vinegar (white or red wine or lime juice works too)
    • 1 tbsp mint finely chopped.

    Blend everything but mint together in blender or food processor until smooth. Season with salt and add mint. Top with fruit salsa or a drizzle of olive oil.

    Fruit salsa is simply diced watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber and finely chopped mint.

    I can’t believe it’s meatless Bolognese (vegan)

    So the thing about change is that it requires flexibility and curiosity. Changing how you eat after 20+ years is kind of a big deal. You really have to think and act differently. As in, be mindful about food rather than fall into autopilot. It’s hard.

    We started the boys early on trying new foods and basically expected them to eat like adults from very early on. If they didn’t like something, fine. But they had to try it. Multiple times.

    So the vegan thing is just taking that to another realm. Mostly it requires ME to change. I have to adjust favorite recipes, find new ones and shop differently. Mostly it’s fun and I am enjoying experimenting.

    We try some things and add them to the buy again list–like cashewyogurt–and others–like tempeh bacon–will need to grow on us. But every week I have tried something new, a new product or a new technique.

    There are an incredible number of fantastic plant-based products out there. Avery is never going back to regular milk from his barista smooth Almondmilk. (And no this isn’t paid product promo).

    This vegan bolognese was a wild success. “Mom, you can make this every week!” And the best part is that it doesn’t take 3 hours of simmering (plant protein doesn’t break down the same way animal protein does).

    There are a couple of secret ingredients in this–wine and cinnamon. Plus it’s important to cook the mirepoix before adding the meat, then garlic and herbs, then tomato paste. (If your sauce sometimes tastes bitter it’s probably from uncooked tomato paste. It only needs a minute or so but removes the sharp bite).

    Oh, and the only reason to make bolognese in July is a state swim meet: Go Aquajets, Power of the team!

    Bolognese sauce (vegan)

    • 1/2 diced onion
    • 1 carrot chopped
    • 1 celery stalk diced
    • 4 garlic cloves chopped
    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 1 package ground meatless crumbles
    • 14oz veggie sausage
    • 6 oz can tomato paste
    • 15oz can tomato sauce
    • 15 oz can diced tomatoes
    • 3 tbsp dried oregano
    • 2 tbsp dried basil
    • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
    • 1 cup red wine
    • 1 cup veggie broth
    • Salt and pepper

    Sauté veggies in olive oil until soft. Add “meats” and brown. Getting a nice crust adds depth of flavor. Add garlic sauté 1 min. Add tomato paste and herbs, cook 1 min. Add diced tomatoes, sauce, bay leaf, cinnamon, red wine and veggie broth. Season with salt as it simmers about 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Serve over pasta.

    Roasted chickpeas (vegan)

    Yum. I am simply in love with roasted chickpeas. They’re high in fiber and a good source of protein for a vegan diet.

    Aka garbanzo beans, most people have had these in the canned variety and may think of them as mushy or mealy, and literally beige boring in color. But when roasted, they take on a nice crunch and beautiful color.

    They’re common in middle eastern food, including serving as the base for hummus and falafel, another couple of my favorites.

    But they’re more versatile than that and we’ve had them recently at a nice Italian restaurant that serves them as an amuse bouche to start dinner, and on a vegan avocado breakfast toast at one of the fancy local bakeries, Rose Street/Patisserie 46.

    I plan to eat them as snacks, throw on salads and my morning avocado toast for a nice pop of texture.

    I foresee experiments with other seasoning combos too. Enjoy!

    Roasted chickpeas

    • 2 15 oz cans garbanzo beans
    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp chili powder
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp paprika
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne

    Rinse, drain and dry beans thoroughly on paper towels. Mix together seasonings and olive oil, toss to coat. Spread evenly on baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Storing them exposed to air vs in a container keeps them crunchier.

    Vegs for breakfast

    Sitting on the back patio with a cup of coffee early on summer mornings is one of my “recharge” rituals. I love the quiet of the world, with mostly only nature stirring about, and the 70 degrees is perfect.

    I have never been a big breakfast eater. In college I remember being weird in that cereal was not a default meal for me. Even before the vegan diet I didn’t enjoy sausage or other heavy rich foods first thing. Brunch time? Maybe. But just a cup of coffee wasn’t all that unusual for me to survive on til midday.

    But then you get older and just coffee kind of makes you feel yucko and jittery. So I have really been trying to eat in the morning and in the process expanding my foods.

    I have discovered that I like vegetables for breakfast! Typically that’s sautéed zucchini and cherry tomatoes, some bell peppers if I have them and fresh basil. If I need some starch, will put it over quinoa.

    Sometimes even a mixed green salad with sautéed sweet potatoes, tomatoes, avocado and nuts (pistachios in this case). It feels a bit odd to have salad in the morning but eh, I am used to being different by now 😉

    I also love toasts, with avocado or hummus and topped with radishes or more tomatoes, and dill. A side of fruit salad with mint rounds it out. I make cold press overnight so the coffee is always ready as soon as I am up.

    Maybe because it’s first thing in the morning, it’s easier to slow down and take my time to beautify my food too.

    There’s something about starting out the day with some solid self-care, both in the enjoyment of nature and healthy food, that is nourishment on many levels.