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:

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.

Roasted Shishito peppers (vegan)

We first had these little gems–Shishito peppers–in Phoenix. Wow. Who knew I could eat an entire bowl of peppers!

That answers your first question: No, they’re not spicy. Well they say 1 in 10 is actually spicy and that’s consistent with my experience too. But not jalapeño spicy even. Just enough to keep eating for the random wildcard surprise.

They’re super easy to prepare and make a great app or side to anything from southwest cuisine to burgers. The long stems are ideal for snack ready eating–many places serve them with dips, but honestly I find that unnecessary.

The skins are very thin so it’s not even like a red pepper, you barely notice it, which is also a win for a roasted/blackened technique so you don’t end up with that giant mess of exterior to cleanup.

They can be difficult to find so if you run across them as I recently did in the coop or your farmer’s market, by all means buy them!!!

Roasted Shishito peppers (vegan)

  • Shishito peppers (8 oz is a good amount)
  • Olive oil
  • Juice of a lime
  • Salt

Toss in olive oil, cook on a vegetable grate on the grill over medium heat, about 5 minutes until slightly blackened. Remove from heat. Squeeze lime juice over and sprinkle generously in salt.

Coconut tomato soup (vegan)

It snowed another foot this week. Which is why I am still making soup practically every week. (Well technically this one is so easy Matt made it!) I seriously considered buying a blow torch to melt the lawn. <<Sigh>>

Back to the soup… it’s creamy” without being creamy and just different enough from the typical tomato soup recipe to pique interest.

I keep the fresh pastes in a tube–ginger and lemongrass in this recipe–in the fridge because they make it fast and easy to bump up flavors in Asian dishes like stir fry or ramen noodle bowls. They last a long time too!

This soup comes together quickly, so very doable for weeknight meals or make ahead to put into school lunches.

Sidenote: Avery’s lunchbox is a bit different than his classmates’. Apparently salads, vegs/hummus and coconut tomato soup are “low trade value” to 17 year old boys. 😉

I am planning the summer herb garden and look forward to just a few weeks from now when I get to plant them…just popping out to the back deck to get a few sprigs of whatever to brighten our meals seems like such a small luxury. Think Spring!!

Coconut Tomato soup (vegan)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger paste
  • 1 tsp fresh lemongrass paste
  • 28oz whole tomatoes
  • 13.5oz can coconut milk
  • 4cups vegetable broth
  • Salt, pepper and sweetener to taste

Sauté onion in olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ginger and lemongrass, stir briefly before adding tomatoes and broth. Break tomatoes apart, simmer 20 minutes. Add coconut milk and seasonings. Purée with hand blender.

Harissa roasted cauliflower (vegan)

As a child, I frequently set off the smoke detector when making toast. No, this is not a reflection of my early cooking failures. It’s about how much I love burnt toast. Burnt anything really.

It goes along with loving deep tannins in red wine like a Cabernet, or dark dark chocolate. It’s that back of mouth pucker.

So combined with a spicy hot pepper harissa paste, I am quite pleased. I love this spread mixed in for a punchy vegan mayo over a bean burger or with other veggies like roasted sweet potatoes and carrots in a Buddha bowl. Easy.

Deep fried or hot oil roasted cauliflower are becoming more common on restaurant menus. While I love the attempt at getting a vegetarian item on the apps list (usually served with cheese or a ranch type dipping sauce), it’s not healthy. All the nooks and crannies of cauliflower really soaks up the oil. It can be really greasy.

This recipe uses just enough to distribute the harissa, and obviously you don’t have to roast it until burnt like I prefer. Yes, I ate an entire head of cauliflower! And yes, the smoke detector goes off at least once a week in our house. 😊

Harissa roasted cauliflower

  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into medium size chunks
  • 1/4cup harissa paste
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Mix harissa and oil until combined. Toss cauliflower until coated. Season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or desired degree of not burnt.

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).

Home cooking vegetarian meatloaf

It’s week 2 with one less bird in the nest. We’re still getting used to it and I somehow expect Alec to walk through the door at any moment. Alas, he’s already enjoying college life, including the thrill of having so many food choices at any given moment.

I am saving about $100 a week in groceries and figure Lake Forest is losing money on his meal plan 😉

Avery is enjoying being an “only” child and not having to share the car with anyone.

We look forward to seeing him at Thanksgiving and hearing all about he’s learning (History of Global Capitalism, anyone?)

I figure the thrill of dorm food will have worn off by then and he’ll be grateful for anything cooked by Mom, including this vegetarian meatloaf. Maybe I will FedEx him some. I am sure his roommate would love it.

Vegetarian meatloaf

  • 14oz vegetarian sausage
  • 10 oz vegetarian meat crumbles
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1/4c fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2c panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp tomato sauce or ketchup
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper

Sauté onion in 1 tsp olive oil until soft, 3-5 min. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook another 3-5 min. Add Worcestershire sauce, herbs, salt and pepper. Mix in meats, eggs, breadcrumbs and combine gently. Put into loaf pan. Combine tomato sauce and brown sugar, cover meat in glaze. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour.