Irish Breakfast

I woke up feeling not-so-hot today so I decided to take the morning off. After sleeping in a bit, I felt much better, but I found myself craving a simple comfort food breakfast to help ease me into the rest of my day. Oatmeal is an easy go-to comfort food for many of us, but I wasn't interested in plain ol' rolled oats this morning, no siree. Instead, I decided to invest a little bit of time for a super comforting bowl of Irish oats.

Irish oats are a super comfort food. Also known as steel-cut oats, they are whole grain groats (the inner part of the oat kernel) that have been cut into two or three pieces. The result is a chunkier oatmeal with a creamy consistency and a great nutty flavor.

Irish (steel-cut) Oats

1 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan margarine
1/2 cup Irish oats
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup non-dairy milk (soy, almond, hemp, your choice)

Step 1: Melt the margarine over medium heat and stir in oats. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until toasted.



Step 2: Add boiling water. (I use an electric kettle. The microwave is another great option.) Stir to combine and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 25 minutes, stirring just once or twice to make sure the oats are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.


Step 3: Add non-dairy milk and stir to combine. Continue cooking 8-10 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.


Step 4: Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. The oats will continue to absorb liquid the longer they sit. Dish up portions and top with chopped nuts and dried fruit. Today, I chose almonds and raisins but any combination of your favorites is perfect!


Wait, what about a beverage?!

Usually, I'm a strict coffee girl. But with my Irish oats, what could be a better pairing than a piping hot mug of Irish breakfast tea? A full-bodied black tea, Irish breakfast is among my tea favorites and I'm partial to the Trader Joe's brand. Just pour 6-8oz of off-boil water over 1 teabag in your favorite mug. I like to add just a teaspoon or so of raw sugar, but this tea is also delicious with a bit of lemon juice. Now that my tea is brewed, I'm ready to dig in to my Irish breakfast!


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I don't want a pickle...

One of the greatest things about summer is saving it for later! Canning and pickling are old traditions that allow summer foods to be preserved until winter. Recently, my friend Sarah inspired me to do a little "quick" pickling -- that is, to make a few cans of pickled items that should be consumed within 7-10 days. She made some basic cucumber pickles using two methods, and that got me thinking about the other things I could pickle now and enjoy later!

Today, I pickled 3 items in a "quick pickling" method. The most wonderful thing about this method if that it allows you to work in small batches. For instance, I canned one 8oz jar and two 16oz (pint) jars today. They will all need to be consumed within about 10 days, but that will be easy to accomplish considering the yummy factor of these condiments. Here's a run down of what I canned and how I pulled it off.


Pickled Shallots
This method was adapted from the Foodista Blog's Quick Pickled Shallots found here.

2 shallots, thinly sliced (or 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups shallots)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
2 Tbsp water

Stuff shallots into an 8oz glass jar. Combine remaining ingredients in a measuring cup, stir, and pour into the jar. You may have a little liquid left over that can be discarded. Screw on lid tightly and store in refrigerator. Shallots can be used after 1 hour, but are best if allowed to pickle overnight. Use within 7-10 days. Great on salads and sandwiches or as a soup garnish.


Cucumber Pickles
This is a take on your "everyday" pickle, but I upped the garlic for a flavor that meets my standards.

1-1/2 cups thinly sliced cucumbers (I used seedless English cucumbers - 1 medium sized cuke)
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried minced garlic
1 tsp dried garlic chips
1 tsp dried peppercorns (all black or a mix)

Toss cucumber slices, minced garlic, garlic chips and peppercorns in a small bowl. Stuff mixture into a 16 oz jar. You may need to scrape up the garlic and peppercorns and add as you go.

In a small saucepan on medium heat, dissolve salt and sugar in vinegar. Gently boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and allow to settle, then pour into jar over cucumber and spices. Lid and refrigerate for 7-10 days.


Pickled Prunes
Yep, prunes. This is a recipe straight from Molly Wizenberg. I barely changed a thing, aside from the yield.

1/2 lb dried pitted prunes
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
Zest of 1/4 orange, cut into matchstick shapes
1 small bay leaf
1/2 Tbsp pickling spice (I used a "hot and spicy" mix)

Chuck everything in a small saucepan and boil over medium heat for 15 minutes. Reduce and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally, but don't muck about with the prunes too much, lest they fall apart. Reduce to low heat and cook until syrup becomes thick (coats the back of a spoon). Remove from heat, allow to cool to near room temp, and place in 16oz (pint) jar. Lid and refrigerate 7-10 days.

Enjoy your new pickling recipes and do experiment with other pickled items! Almost any type of produce can be treated with these quick picking methods - you only need to try a few to find your favorite!

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Vegan Mac-n-Cheeze

Macaroni and cheese is an American staple and it's no wonder that vegan mac-n-cheeze is the most coveted and sought after dish in the veg culture. This recipe is one among thousands, but it's my favorite so far. It even contains nutritional yeast flakes, which I typically do not care for. In this recipe, their flavor blends rather than being overwhelming and helps provide the smooth, creamy texture that makes mac-n-cheeze such a favorite.

This dish is easy to prepare, tastes rather yummy, and even carries the carnivore seal of approval.


Vegan Mac-n-Cheeze

8oz cooked pasta (elbow macaroni, penne, farfalle - your choice)
2 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan margarine (spread or sticks)
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup soy milk (plain, unsweetened)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan margarine (spread or sticks)
1/2 c water
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1-1/2 tsp flour
1/2 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp granulated garlic or 1-2 cloves minced
1/2 tsp salt
Optional additions: oven roasted or sun-dried tomatoes (chopped small), dried herbs, olives, mushrooms
1/3-1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat your oven to 375°F and set aside a 9x7 pan (you could also do this in a pie pan).

In a small sauce pan, melt first 2 Tbsp of EB and then whisk in flour. Whisk 2-3 minutes until it starts to smell a bit nutty.

Add milk, paprika, cayenne and salt. Whisk 2-3 minutes until thoroughly combined, then cook on low heat 3 more minutes.

In a second larger sauce pan, melt 1 Tbsp of EB. Add water, yeast flakes, cornstarch, flour, mustard, garlic, salt and any optional herbs. Whisk til combined, and then add the white sauce to this mix, and whisk thoroughly.

Add cooked pasta and any other optional ingredients to the sauce pan. Stir thoroughly until the sauce coats all of the pasta. Pour into the baking pan, making sure to scrape out all the sauce from the sauce pan. Cover top with a thin layer of breadcrumbs and (if you like), drizzle with olive oil.

Bake 30-40 minutes. Let cool before slicing into 4 portions and serving alongside a green salad with a mustard vinaigrette.

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Quick meal: Tofu Ricotta Ravioli with Fried Tempeh and Basil

Remember my dried ravioli from the other day? Just home from a long weekend of traveling, I decided to use those same ravioli in a different preparation. Because I had stored my "leftover" prepared ravioli in individual freezer bags, it was easy to toss together a nice meal with no fuss. This is one of my favorite techniques for a quick pasta meal and can be adapted to use with any style of pasta.


Tofu Ricotta Ravioli with Fried Tempeh and Basil
(Amounts listed are for 1 serving)

5-6 pieces frozen ravioli
1/3-1/2 package tempeh (I like Organic Five Grain from Turtle Island Foods)
4-6 Tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
3-4 large fresh basil leaves

Cut tempeh into uniformly sized pieces of your choosing. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet and fry small pieces of tempeh until golden brown on both sides. Remove tempeh pieces to paper towel and salt lightly.

In a medium saucepan, boil 6 cups of water and add salt. Cook ravioli for 3-4 minutes.
Strain gently, so as not to break your ravioli!

Serve ravioli steaming hot, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, basil chiffonade and fried tempeh. To finish, splatter with a few drops of lemon juice and some cracked black pepper.


Notes:
No ravioli? Swap it out for any filled or plain pasta you have on hand.
Looking for a little umph? Add a splash of balsamic vinegar after the olive oil when ready to serve.
Out of basil? Substitute other green leafy herbs for a different flavor. Thyme and cilantro are two of my favorite alternatives.

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Ricotta Ravioli

Many of the dishes I prepare are elusive vegan version of omni favorites. Stuffed or filled pasta is certainly no stranger to the vegan diet, as fillings can be constructed easily from mushrooms, greens, breadcrumbs and other veg-friendly ingredients. This dish is different, though. It's a vegan take on ricotta filled ravioli. Many have tried, some have merely succeeded and others have wildly triumphed. I like to think I belong in the third category. I use this ricotta filling to make ravioli, which is pictured below in my favorite preparation: fried and served with cold marinara.



Ricotta Ravioli
(slightly adapted from Vegan Dad who slightly adapted it from Isa)

1/2 pound firm tofu, pressed
1 tsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried oregano

fresh black pepper
1/4 cup cashews pureed with just enough water to become cream
1-1/2 tsp miso paste
1 Tbsp AP flour
30-35 wonton wrappers

In a medium bowl, use your best utensil (your hands!) to break up the tofu and mix together with the lemon juice, garlic and herbs. Once sufficiently smooshed, add cashew cream, miso and flour. Continue smooshing with hands or switch to a fork and continue until the tofu is crumbled into tiny bits and smithereens.

To fill the ravioli:
You can make your own pasta, or you can be a big fat cheater like me and use wonton wrappers. Yes, it can be difficult to find vegan versions, but they do exist! Check the refrigerators of the produce section of your local supermarket or Asian grocer. I use 2x2 inch wrappers, and this recipe will fill 30-35 squares, depending on your generosity. Here's how it's done:

Lay wrappers out flat on counter, cookie sheet, cutting board, etc.
Spoon 1 tsp (or so) of filling on the center of each square.
Using a pastry brush, wet the edges with a bit of water.
(Here's where you can get creative.) Fold! I like to fold them diagonally for triangular pieces, but you can play with different shapes, fold multiple times, or simple gather the corners and smoosh them together to make dumplings.
After folding, I like to use a fork to seal the deal, and press along the edges to ensure solidity.

For cooking as "regular" ravioli or adding to soups: Add to boiling water or broth and cook 3-4 minutes.
For frying (a la my favorite method): Heat vegetable oil to 375
°F and fry 4-5 pieces at a time for 1-2 minutes on each side. Remove to a drying rack or paper towel and let cool a moment before serving. Best served with a cold bowl of your favorite tomato sauce (mine is Muir Glen's Garlic Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce) or other sauce of your choosing!



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Vegan Alfredo Sauce

In my travels over the years, I've met a lot of vegans and asked them what they miss about their former non-veg diets. An overwhelming number of them have told me that alfredo sauce tops the list of coveted taboo dishes. Alfredo is an Italian sauce built on cream, butter and Parmesan cheese and is most often eaten in pasta dishes, accompanied by chicken or seafood. It's easy to see why anyone of vegan persuasion would long for this rich garlicky sauce, but the time for suffering is over! I've devised a super quick and yummy vegan version of this Italian staple.



I like to serve this sauce tossed with farfalle (bowties), spring peas and fresh Italian parsley as shown above. However, you can use any style of pasta and any veggie you choose. This sauce also works great in lasagna or over vegan meats!


Vegan Alfredo Sauce


1 pkg (12oz) soft silken tofu (I prefer Mori-Nu brand)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp chopped, minced or ground garlic
2 tsp white miso paste
1 Tbsp sun-dried tomato paste (or regular tomato paste)
2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbsp cold water
Salt to taste (more than you think)
Ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until uber smooth. Warm in a saucepan on low until just heated through. Toss with 1/2 lb cooked pasta of your choice.

Notes & Substitutions:
If you don't have miso paste, nutritional yeast flakes can be substituted. Use the same or slightly smaller quantity.
For a creamier sauce, add 1 Tbsp vegan margarine like Earth Balance when blending and increase cornstarch to 2-1/2 tsp.
For a kick, add a few drops of a chili sauce like Sriracha to the blender.
Always feel free to add veggies, herbs, mushrooms, or whatever you like!

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Introduction

My name is Cat and I've been cooking for as long as I can remember--literally. As soon as I was old enough to grab the lettuce from the crisper, the kitchen has been my favorite room in the house, my sanctuary, and the battleground of my most proud accomplishments. I come from a long line of food lovers and fervid eaters, and the purpose of this blog is not only to share my love of food with you, dear readers, but also to encourage you to get in that kitchen and create rustic masterpieces of your own!

But first, let me tell you a little about me and my philosophy of eating. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my darling omnivore and several furry creatures. I'm more of a cook than a chef or a baker, although I'm always trying to learn new things. Nothing excites me more than experimenting with a new ingredient-- a semi exotic vegetable, a new kind of pasta, what have you-- and I always, always, always seek out fresh, organic, and if possible local ingredients whenever I can. I'll tell you up front that 99.99% of the recipes you see on my blog will be vegan, but even if you're not vegan or vegetarian, please don't be afraid! Even my most hardcore vegan recipes are absolutely 100% omnivore tested and approved!

I'll be sharing recipes of all kinds here, ranging from quick dinners to weekend brunches to desserts and even some travel/trail food. Please feel free to ask questions about my methods, my ingredients, my inspirations, and whatever else crosses your mind. I'm happy to share my knowledge, my opinion, and my trials and errors.

Happy eating!

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