Mexican Taste is….BUENO!

All That's Bueno_Movie Review_BuenoLife’s gotten busy.  I mean, really, REALLY busy this fall.  Amidst the frenetic jerking to and fro that comes with organizational changes at work, the bleating of panicked graduate students immersing themselves in the world of research for the first time, the ominous drumbeat of my own doctoral research project, the drama-filled evenings of parental existence, the past several months have certainly not been boring!  But I have managed my fair share of quiet evenings, whether the occasional evening of unusual teenage tranquility or the always calming presence of JoDee’s company, surrounded by pets and topped by blankets, books in hands.  Yes, the autumn of 2013, has been an interesting one, to be sure.

Nor has the past few months been ones of tremendous experimentation on the culinary front.  Life’s requisite juggling act prompted a retreat to the dozen or so most favorite (or most expedient) recipes I have mastered over the past year of my Vegan Slide.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you, for the menus I’ve experienced and grown to love this year have been fantastic.  And I’ve grown fond of the dishes that have become regular staples in my home. (And I’ve had JoDee’s fabulous experimentation to fill the void, as well….let’s be honest!)

excitedThat said, there’s that occasional moment where you are desperately searching for a quick and easy meal, that serendipitous moment when you stumble upon something so easy, yet so incredibly delicious that all feels simply perfect.  Well, it happened to me several weeks ago.  Out of the blue.  Unannounced, and totally unexpected.  In the end, the girls absolutely loved it.  I was astounded by the simplicity, combined with the powerful taste.  And JoDee’s first comment was, “You’ve GOT to blog about this!”

So, here it is…Quick.  Easy.  To die for!

Vegan Comfort FoodAdapted from Alicia Simpson’s Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food, an early Christmas present from JoDee’s brother and his family, I present to you……Chick’n Enchiladas. (Did I say, “To die for?”)

¼ cup diced white onion

24 oz canned Old El Paso enchilada sauce

1 pkg Beyond Meat Chick’n strips

2 cups shredded Daiya Pepper jack cheese

2 cups shredded Daiya Cheddar cheese

1 tbsp canned diced green chilies

5-inch corn tortillas (this makes a difference, so don’t use flour tortillas)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the chick’n strips into your food processor and pulse several times, which slightly shreds the strips.  In a mixing bowl, combine the onion, 1 cups of each type of cheese, the (now) shredded chick’n, and the green chilies.  Using your microwave, heat approximately five tortillas at a time for about 30 seconds (this makes them a bit softer and easier to roll without tearing).  Lightly oil the bottom of a 2 ½ quart casserole dish and coat slightly with enchilada sauce.  Time to begin rolling!

The smaller tortillas can’t hold a lot of filling, but don’t despair.  Within each, spoon about 2-3 tablespoons of your mixed filling, then rolling from one side of the tortilla.  Place the rolled tortillas seam down into the bottom of your casserole dish.  Continue until you have no more room in your dish.  Them pour the remainder of the enchilada sauce onto your rolled tortillas.  With the remaining cheese-chicken mixture, sprinkle atop the dish, and top that evenly with the rest of your pepper jack and cheddar cheese.

Cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Bake for 15 minutes, before removing the foil.  Then, bake for an additional 10 minutes (the cheese should be melted at this point).  Remove from oven…and serve.

images (17)Trust me on this one.  If you’re even enjoyed Mexican food, you are going to instantly fall in love with this one.  Your kids will love it.  Your significant other will love it.  And you’ll have one more simply and quick recipe to add to your arsenal of possibilities for those times when, well, life just gets a bit hectic!

Yep, just a little bit of Zen….Mexican style!

Sometimes You’re Not In the Mood….

photo….for what everyone else is having!

So, I’ve been keeping my eyes open recently for good ideas for quick breakfasts.  My normal breakfast looks something like this….a bagel with Daiya Strawberry cream cheese or an English muffin with apple butter, a banana, a glass of orange juice, and a large cup of coffee (black).  And it’s a great breakfast, but it can get a bit boring and predictable.  Well, this morning I found it….EUREKA!  The perfect power smoothie to supplement my otherwise “stale” breakfast options.

I should also point out that I’m not one who most mornings wants to spend a lot of time cooking things for breakfast.  Pancakes, waffles, and the occasional tofu scramble are good weekend options, but during the week, I like to grab my food, head to my home office and start plugging away on the day’s tasks.  So, five minutes prep time is a maximum limit I’ve set.

In your blender combine the following ingredients:

1 cup frozen blueberries (megafruit!)

1/2 cup plain almond yogurt (protein)

1 cup mango juice

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids)

1 tablespoon spirulina powder (protein, chlorophyll, vitamins A and the illusive B12)

1 tablespoon raw agave nector

I made a glass not only for me, but also for both of the girls.  They DEVOURED it, despite Chelsea noting, “I discovered it’s much more appetizing to have this the first time in the dark.”  Okay, so the color is a little weird (probably improved by my use of blueberries to offset the dark green spirulina).  Just wait until I make it again tomorrow with…..CHERRIES!

It’s Almost Here!!!!

World-Vegan-Month-earth-96dpi-200pxWorld Vegan Day!  Well, the day was November 1st, but the celebration a la JoDee’s Place is this Saturday!  It’s that annual ritual of vegan decadence and deliciousness!

Thinking back on last year’s dinner, I’d been Sliding Vegan for about a month and was just beginning to regain my energy after my “spa visit” to St. Mary’s Hospital.  I was just beginning to feel like a new, improved “Me,” when I got invited over for this annual event.  JoDee hosts.  Friends come in from neighboring states.  Her family drives in.  And everyone brings phenomenal vegan food.  Last year, I didn’t bring any food…only  two reluctant, teenage eaters, one a full-blown carnivore and the other a strong vegetarian with no desire to try vegan food.

Kaitlyn had to drive us over (I was a month into my 3-month driving-abstinence period), so she was obligated to attend.  And Chelsea was….well, she was hungry (or knew she would be, if she didn’t go).  So, off we went.

The food was indeed exquisite, even the girls hesitantly admitted it later.  Stuffed mushrooms.  Roasted veggies.  BBQ seitan pulled pork sandwiches. “Chick’n” Pot Pies.  The list could go on and on….Everything was fantastic!

Bread PuddingWell, this year the girls and I are once again gearing up for the party.  But this year, we’ll be bringing more than just our appetites.  Our contributions?  Blueberry Wild Rice Salad and Bread Pudding!  I’ll let you know how it goes…after I awaken from the food coma!

My only concern?  The half-marathon I am running early Sunday morning…

Lebanese Freekeh and Fig Salad – Freekehing Fabulous

While this recipe is not presented as vegan, it could easily be “veganized” by simply avoiding the feta/goat cheese ingredient. I’m definitely going to try it!

food to glow

freekeh-fig-salad-imageMove over quinoa, there’s a ‘new’ ‘grain’ in town.

Well, actually it’s not new, and quinoa is not a grain. But you know what I mean. Of course I’m talking about freekeh. And just to confuse us further freekeh is not  a grain, but a process. Actually it sounds to me more like a dance from the 70s, but never mind. 

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Halloween Sleepover…My Revenge!

halloween-pictureIt’s almost Halloween!  Trick-or-treat time.  Evil and the undead rule, right?

I’ve gone back and forth with this holiday for years.  For many years, I really hated Halloween.  I’d gone through a divorce many years back, and the girls’ mom really played the holiday up for the girls.  There was no way I could compete with her rabid fervor for all things haunted (perhaps there’s a message in there somewhere…but I digress….).  So, I simply didn’t DO Halloween.  I avoided it.  The girls spent the costumed evening traipsing the neighborhoods near their mom’s place, and I spent it in a darkened house, watching movies or doing anything to appear not to be home.  Yep, I was THAT guy, the Halloween Grinch.

Then, several years ago, I underwent some sort of transformation…I began to love Halloween.  I insisted on having the girls (who were by then beginning to be a bit old for trick-or-treating).  We all had costumes.  We decorated the house, and even bought a smoke machine for the front porch.  We handed out candy.  Yep, I became THAT guy, the Halloween Fanatic!

Well, this year will be a bit different still.  The girls are scheduled to be with me, but as a high school senior and sophomore, respectively, they are definitely too old now for trick-or-treating.  On top of that, their mom now has a 3-month-old baby, their new half-brother, so the girls are eager to take him door-to-door in what seems to me to be little more than a veiled scam to get candy for themselves! In any case, I’ve said it is fine for them to spend the evening over there….if they want to exploit a newborn for their own sweet-tooth tendencies, so be it (See, how benevolent a father I can be?).

So, I’ve been thinking about what this year will mean for me.  Will I again turn down the lights and pretend not to be home?  It seems silly (and more than a little creepy…in a bad way) for the single dad to decorate the porch and hand out candy, don’t you think?

Slumber PartyOne thing I am doing, however, even scarier than all past years, is hosting a pre-Halloween sleepover for the girls’ entire 23-member cheerleading team.  I know, I know….I’ve lost my mind!  No worries, though…for all the peril to which I am about to subject myself, I’ve hatched an evil, Halloween plan….

No endless orders of pizza for this band of merry cheermeisters!  Oh no…..Definitely not.  Instead, I will serve them all VEGAN. Yep, that’s right.  I won’t say a word, but in the end, they’ll be “Veganized” with the chili and cornbread I’ll stir up in my cauldron of vegan doom!  They’ll eat it.  They’ll love it.  And not until later will I mention it was all vegan.

800px-Happy_HalloweenMwoooahh Ha Ha Ha!!!

(A little lame, perhaps, but give me credit for trying my best to keep the Halloween spirit alive this year!)

P.S. – For those wanting to hand out vegan candy this year, good choices include Jolly Ranchers, Charms Blow Pops, Airheads, Mary Janes, Now & Laters, Skittles, Swedish Fish, and Twizzlers….just to name a few! 🙂

Pumpkin Pie! Delectable, yet….Oops

Pumpkin_PieAutumn.  Cooler temperatures.  Leaves glowing with their brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows.  Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Oh, yes, and PUMPKIN PIE!

There’s little I love more than pumpkin pie.  In fact, I can say that I don’t think I’ve ever had a pumpkin pie I didn’t find truly delicious.  It’s just a fact of all pumpkin pies….they are inherently tasty treats!

So, when I picked up JoDee’s farm share on Thursday and saw the orange orb amongst the other veggies, I instantly knew what to do!  A pumpkin-pie makin’ I would go!  It would be a first for me…no pumpkin pie filling, no store-bought pumpkin puree.  Nope, I would make this vegan pumpkin pie from scratch!

Other than the pie crust, I had every ingredient necessary.  And even more surprising, amidst my crushing workload in the past several weeks, I had the time on Friday afternoon to bake a pie.  JoDee was on her way home from a week in Phoenix, and what a welcome I’d provide!

5216054332_2ef7440833_oSo, I sliced open the pumpkin and set about scooping out the seeds.  I sliced the gourd into large chunks, and along with a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan, I slide it into the oven.  Thirty minutes later, I scraped the soft pulp into the blender, added some silken tofu and lots of fabulous spices.  Poured it into the ready pie crust, and back into the oven it went!  Timer set…it was just time to sit and wait, as the smells of pumpkin wafted through the house!

You have no idea how difficult it was to wait an additional six hours to try a bite, but wait I did….until finally JoDee arrived.  She was barely in the door five minutes before I was slicing the first piece of golden brown goodness out of the pie.  One slice, a BIG one, for me….and (per her request) a smaller one for her.

Before tasting it, I took a long smell of the pie on my fork.  MMmmmmmmm…..

I opened my mouth wide, and took the first bite of autumn’s culinary delight!

VomitingRETCH!

Seriously, it was awful….horrible….nasty!  This couldn’t be?  It looked so good!  It smelled even better!  But the taste!?!?!  The taste was absolutely disgusting!  Once I choked down the bite, I nearly cried.  All my excitement and anticipation…and this creation was truly FOUL!

13089399-brown-sugar-in-glass-jarWell, long story short, as it turns out, pumpkin pie IS still wonderful.  But should you ever forget one little ingredient, it may just ruin your image of this delectable dessert.  Don’t ever, ever, ever….forget the brown sugar.  It makes ALL the difference…

Sigh…..maybe we’ll get another pumpkin in this week’s farm share…

Russia…Revisited!

2013-04-st-petersburgSo, in a past life, I was a military linguist, flying hours upon hours over the Sea of Japan, the South China Sea, Overland Korea, or up toward the Bering Straights.  It was a pretty cool job, never at a loss for new things to do or see.  And while there were certainly things about the experience about which I wasn’t too crazy, it was just the way I wanted to live out my 20s.

One of the things I loved most about my decade of service was the trips to Russia.  Once as the lone trained interpreter during a joint six-day humanitarian assistance exercise off the coast of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, and once for an extended stay in St. Petersburg.  There, I spent my mornings in refresher language lessons at a local university and my afternoons exploring palaces and pubs in this city on the Baltic.  The Winter Palace, the Church of Savior on the Spilled Blood, Peterhof and the Hermitage.

Now, for those whose cultural knowledge of Russian is limited to Cold War stereotypes or your past Friday night’s adventures with Raspberry Stoli, let me just say that Russian culture is both fascinating and delicious!

1290910_originalDuring my stay in St. Petersburg, I was lucky enough to be housed in a rather dilapidated one bedroom apartment smack in the middle of Vasilyevsky Island, a historic center location in this grand city.  My host, an 81 year-old widow and survivor of the Seige of Leningrad, slept on the couch in the living room, while I was given the only bedroom.  What an incredible experience it was to practice my Russian fluency and to learn about the rich history of this place from someone who had literally lived through much of it herself!

She also cooked for me…A LOT!  In fact, she cooked for me gigantic breakfasts and multi-course dinners daily, stuffing me to the gills with underprepared chicken breasts and over-boiled sausages that would become so engorged with water that they would split the second they touched my plate.  Quite honestly, her cooking was awful, and I quickly concluded it was much preferable to test out the many restaurants and pubs around the city than to return home too early each evening.

borscht-by-Muffet-viaflickrBut there is one culinary delight she had mastered.  And thankfully, I was served it every single night, no matter when I got home.  Her borscht was TO DIE FOR!

Beets, potato, cabbage, and broth.  Those are the primary ingredients, along with some delectable spices.  Topped with a healthy dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of parsley, I could quite literally eat it for every meal and be a happy man.

Well, it’s been years since I found a borscht that satisfied my palate the way Vera’s did back in St. Petersburg.  But, this past week, I did it.  I found a simply recipe, and despite knowing the girls dislike for beets, I made it anyway.

Statue of Peter Great (Saint-Petersburg)Now, the farm share beets I used for this recipe were, in fact, striped beets, so the borscht lacked its signature purple coloring.  But the flavor was there in all its glory.  And best thing about it…Kaitlyn loved it, and has returned for seconds and thirds nearly each day since!  So, while I may never know what it was Vera put into her traditional borscht that sat in the stockpot on her stove day in and day out (she would add to the stock every other day, so it never fully ran out), I’ve found a version that reminds me of that trip.  And that makes me very happy…until my next trip to the city that Peter the Great built!

“Surprisingly”…On Multiple Levels!

funny_i_moustache_you_a_question“What do you think?” I asked the girls. “Is it good?”

Chelsea nodded. “Surprisingly…”

Ahhh, the sounds of adolescent approval.  There was no way she was going to give me more confirmation than that!  Nope, no conceivable way at all.  I know my youngest better than she might like, and definitely more than she’d admit.

I just had to laugh.  What child (or adult, for that matter) wouldn’t enjoy a calzone?  In a society raised with mock Italian palettes, with carb-centric festivals multiple times a week, I’m willing to bet most people would enjoy this.  And Chelsea?  Yep, I knew she’d enjoy it.  The only real question was whether she’d articulate her “approval.”

Turning to Kaitlyn, I repeated the question.

Now, Kaitlyn’s a bit more tricky.  At 17, she’s certainly started to move beyond the rebellious, “I’m going to disagree just because you can’t make me agree” tendency of the middle teen years.  And surprisingly, over the past six months or so, I’ve witnessed her growing willingness to try new things.  What a difference two seasons can make! “I know, right?” she would answer to that question.

yuck-iStock_000012950973XSm_540x405But to the question about the calzone, I wasn’t so sure.  You see, Kaitlyn simply despises mushrooms.  She won’t touch ‘em.  She doesn’t like the smell of them.  I’m willing to bet she avoids even looking at them at the grocery store.  On more than one occasion, she’s implied a faux allergy toward our little fungal friends.

So, why did I choose to make Tempeh “Sausage” and Mushroom Calzones, then?  Quite simply, as I’ve expressed before….I’m selfish, evil, and just plain mean.

Oh wait, that’s how the girls would answer the question….

In reality, the recipe simply looked fantastic, and my carbo-cravings were in high-gear.  So, a quick jaunt to the store to secure some tempeh and a couple Portobello mushrooms, and I was back in the kitchen, stirring my cauldron of evil-intent.

Quite honestly, I don’t think Kaitlyn even now knows there were mushrooms in the calzones.  Thanks to a much of fine chopping, and mixing of the tiny bits of sautéed shrooms with onion, pulsed tempeh and spices, one would have been hard pressed to figure out exactly what was in the calzones!  Hee hee….

"Sausage" and Mushroom CalzoneSo, yes, I served them “Sausage” and Mushroom Calzones.  And Kaitlyn’s answer to the original question?

“It’s really good, Dad!”

Well, well, well….Chalk up another culinary victory to ol’ Dad!  And in the end, I’m glad Kaitlyn’s “allergy” to mushrooms appears to be more in her head than anywhere….then again, she’s a teenager girl, and that’s where most of her perspectives seem to originate anyway, but that’s a topic for another blog altogether….

Eureka! The Key to Teenage Dinnertime Complaints

1950s-familyMy mom had it right. That’s right, I’m admitting it. But I’m not entirely sure how she did it.

Growing up in the Nagle household, my mom did nearly all the cooking (not unlike most homes of the ’70s and ’80s, I suppose). We got home from school, my siblings likely did homework, while I raced outside for the latest neighborhood game of baseball, basketball, or pick-up football, and when dinner was ready, we were all summoned (I still remember that ultra whistle she used to blow that could be heard several blocks away!).

We settled into our chairs around the kitchen table (the dining room was reserved for holidays and formal occasions). And my mom served us. Often dinner consisted of casseroles, a veggie, and either bread or dinner rolls, if memory serves. She provided a fairly good mix of tastes and textures with every meal, and to this day, I think she’s one of the best cooks I know.

American-Goulash-0842-1024x703But that’s not where she went right. Nope, more important than that was how she instilled a genuine appreciation for the provided meals in each of her four kids. Oh sure, I know we grumbled from time to time, but it was mainly under our breaths. Overwhelmingly, we simply ate what was cooked for us. We tried it all, didn’t complain, and at the end of dinner, we cleared our places habitually.  And you know something, for the most part, it was really good!

How many households can say all that in this day and age? Unfortunately, mine cannot, something about which I’m reminded at least weekly as I cook for the girls. Yes, I’m vegan, and yes, in the past year, I’ve gotten much more adventurous with my cooking (introducing many new tastes and textures). But I sure wish I was more like my mom, in however she did it. How I’d love to simply have the girls eat what was provided to them, grateful for the sustenance and the very fact that I had spent my valuable time putting it together for them.

Deerfield-AcademyAlas, perhaps it’s just teenagers being teenagers, and perhaps that’s where my parents went most right…at that very age when perhaps we would have complained the most about the dinner choices, my parents provided one more opportunity to us kids that I have not for my own…Boarding school!

Northwoods Vegan

1233412_10151827665701421_1202404984_nTo awaken to the gentle sound of waves lapping at the shoreline.  The distinctive cries of the seagulls on the slightly northerly wind.  The chatter of the arrogant, offended grey squirrels bounding through the treetops of cedar and red pine.

Ahhh…now this is the life!  The northwoods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have always held a particularly dear place in my heart.  This is where, as a family of six, we spent weeks each summer, and often a weekend eat month for most of my childhood years.  Days spent exploring acre after acre of wooded wilderness, swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking along the sandy shores, lined with grassy lowlands.  Nights spent reading and playing board games as a family.  Yes, this place is truly special.

1006350_10151829414486421_1971233624_nThis Labor Day Weekend has been no exception, although it’s been a little shorter than I would have liked.  But it’s been very pleasant, wonderfully relaxing, and yes, a little bit productive.  For the girls, unplugged from their internet, forced into literary worlds after too long an adolescent absence, it’s a last-ditch bubble of summer before school starts this week.  For JoDee and me, it’s just been a quiet weekend of books, writing, and enjoying our surroundings…we even got a nice run along the forested banks of the nearby river!  And the dogs (two Pugs and my Golden Retriever) frolicked endlessly in the waters and woods, racing at full-speed until their legs collapsed beneath them.  And then they slept….for hours on end.

It’s been months since we last visited the cabin.  Our wintery retreat entailed nearly continuous vegan experimentation and “fancy” culinary delights.  This trip was more low-key, in part because the girls were here, their appetite for adventurous eating not yet fully developed.  So, we planned for vegan burgers, brats, pancakes, and BLT sandwiches, among other things.

Last night was about as adventurous as we got…Vegan Hummus and Sauteed Veggie Pizza.  A hit!  And a miss!  Yep, the vegans in the bunch loved it.  The not-yet-vegans….well, they opted out on this one.  Their loss!

1004523_10151829865401421_1167791227_nVegan Hummus and Sauteed Veggie Pizza

 

Ingredients

Pillsbury Pizza Crust

Hummus (enough to cover a 14” pizza)

Zucchini

Summer Squash

Eggplant

Broccoli

Directions

Easy as pie….pizza pie!  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Chop all veggies to desired size (we opted for quite small pieces).  Spread the Pillsbury Pizza Crust out on a 12-14” pizza pan.  Cover the crust with hummus, up to about an inch from the outer edge.  Sprinkle veggies over entire hummus layer.  Bake for 13 minutes.  Enjoy with a nice glass of beer (Blue Moon worked for us….).

1237732_10151827475796421_1397335013_n (1)I’d say it was a pretty successful Labor Day Weekend.  In fact, I may just head back up north again next weekend.  Cooper, are you up for more swimming???