Shepherd’s Pie

Once again finding myself with leftover mashed potatoes, I was trying to find a use for them. Shepherd’s Pie fit the bill!

Shepherd’s Pie

1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cups vegan “beef” broth
8 oz tomato sauce
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 14.5 oz can your choice of beans (I used pinto)
1 cup frozen peas
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
TVP, optional
3-4 cups mashed potatoes
vegan cheddar “cheese”, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the carrots, onions, celery, broth, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme in a Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are just tender, about 5-8 minutes. Add the beans and frozen peas.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan then whisk in the flour, forming a roux.

Cook for a couple of minutes, then transfer to the Dutch oven and whisk until it thickens to a gravy. I seemed to have a higher gravy-to-veggie ratio than I wanted, so I added in some TVP to soak up some of the liquid, which ended up being good because pinto beans are so creamy, the TVP gave the final dish some needed texture.

Spread the mashed potatoes on top.

I had an open package of Daiya cheddar, so I sprinkled that on top. That’s totally optional, though.

Bake for half an hour. The gravy bubbled up around my mashed potatoes. It’s definitely not the prettiest dish.

Although it’s impossible to make this shepherd’s pie look attractive in photographs, it was really tasty. I don’t think food gets more comforting than this. Mark literally licked his bowl clean. I will be making this again.

In craft news, after a particularly mighty battle with my sewing machine while making my fabric gift bags this year, I finally broke down and bought a new one. I’d resisted for a while because I didn’t want to spend money on a sewing machine when I hate sewing. Nonetheless, I do actually sew from time to time and I decided my sanity when doing so was worth $159 (which was the price I paid a few weeks ago). So far I’m really liking the new machine, although I haven’t done much more than make the gift bags so far. My dream sewing machine has long been an antique Singer, converted for electricity (honestly, I wasn’t even sure about the electricity) – I just assume they don’t make them like they used to – but I must say, this one seems pretty good and although I always thought it was silly for sewing machines to do all kinds of crazy stitches I’ll never need, some of these ARE pretty neat:

Anyway, does anyone have any favorite sewing projects for relative beginners? Since I’ve forked over the money for the machine, I might as well put it to use. I’ve already decided to make a rag quilt, but my ultimate goal is to be able to make my own clothes. If there are any sewers out there with suggestions for things to keep my interest without frustrating me too much right off the bat, let’s hear them!

And speaking of sewing, although I suck at it, my mother does not. She recently made the kittens a kitty bed. It contains a heating element, and with all this blustery, cold weather we’ve been having, the warm kitten bed is getting a lot of use. Often both kittens are snuggled up on it together. You can’t see much of Mom’s handiwork in this picture (just the blue edges sticking up from the cat tree I’ve set it in), but here is how you’ll usually find the kittens these days:

And with that, I wish everyone a very happy Hogmanay. (I just finished reading a Scottish book that takes place during this time of year, so New Year’s Eve is Hogmanay to me right now. Bring on the vegan haggis!) (The Crow Road, Zoa – don’t want you burning with curiosity!)

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Strawberry Spinach Salad

I don’t know if I have mentioned before that the company I work for was founded by an Indian American and although we are very diverse, many employees are Indian and consequently a pretty high percentage of us are vegetarian (although I’m the only vegan I know of). What this means is I can generally eat a surprisingly high number of dishes at potlucks and other gatherings.

Today was our annual Thanksgiving potluck and once again I was instructed to bring a salad. When I found my week packed with extracurricular activities, though, including a late night the day before the potluck, I was alarmed. How was I going to put together something stunning – it’s important to me to take any chance I can get to make vegan food that appeals to omnivores and lacto-ovo vegetarians – that either required no time to prepare or would keep for a couple of days?

So earlier this week, I entered some panicky search terms into google and one of the first things that came back was this Strawberry Spinach Salad, which seemed quite promising. There was little prep work and I could do it all in advance except the final assembly. Tuesday night when I had a little extra time, I went shopping and bought the ingredients, then sliced the strawberries, candied the pecans, and pre-measured the dry ingredients for the dressing. Wednesday night I made the dressing in all of a minute, found a serving bowl, and set everything aside to remember in the morning. And this morning, I packed everything up in reusable grocery bag, stuck the strawberries in the fridge at work, and 5 minutes before I needed to, tossed the salad.

So here it is: my take on Strawberry Spinach Salad: a pretty, crowd-pleasing side dish that can be almost completely made in advance and in minimal time. I was told to scale this for 10 people, however, you could cut this in half for a single family.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

1 lb baby spinach
2 lbs strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 cups candied pecans (recipe follows)

Dressing:
1/4 cup red onion, minced
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 1/2 Tbsp poppy seeds
1 – 2 Tbsp white sugar (depending on the type of vinegar you use; use less for sweet balsamics)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar – I used a fig balsamic, but regular balsamic would be fantastic, as would any wine vinegar. This is the salad for those fancy vinegars you never know what to do with!

For the candied pecans:
3 cups pecans
1/2 cup white sugar
oil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch of salt

First candy the pecans: Heat some oil in a cast iron skillet over medium low heat, then add the rest of the ingredients and push them around for a while, until the sugar has caramelized and the nuts are crunchy and delicious. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. You may want to make extra of these because they are addictive. I made a ton and almost didn’t have enough to take to work because someone – whose name rhymes with “Mark” – ate them all.

To make the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together until emulsified. Let the flavors blend for at least an hour; store in the refrigerator if it will be longer than that.

Lastly, to assemble the salad, just toss everything together. Most of the commenters on the original recipe said it will get soggy, so don’t add the dressing until the very last minute. I served the dressing on the side.

All my advanced preparation nearly backfired when our power was out for 15 hours on Wednesday, but fortunately my refrigerated items all seem to have survived. Try mandarin orange slices if strawberries are out of season. I’m horrible locavore in the winter, and was lucky to find pretty delicious strawberries at Wegmans.

This got rave reviews from my co-workers, including from the CEO. Everyone was calling it “Renae’s Special Salad”, but really it’s just something I found on the internet and copied. Yes, I’m one of those crazy cooks who makes untested recipes for dinner parties and potlucks. But come on, how could I possibly go wrong with this recipe? It’s spinach, strawberries, candied pecans, and a balsamic vinaigrette – how is that not a perfect salad? Mark said he usually hates fruit in salads but he really liked this.

I’m incredibly shy, even though I’ve worked at the same place for 6 years and everyone is super friendly, but I can be lured from the safety of my cubicle for Indian food, of which there is always an abundance at our potlucks, much of it vegetarian. I raved so much about the rasam – one of my all-time favorite soups – a co-worker brought in that he gave me all the leftovers! Yay!! Even the Indian food-wary Smark loves rasam! It’s delicious!

Torticia liked it too!

And finally, we’re heading to LA on Thanksgiving. I know there are a gazillion vegan options there, but what should I definitely not miss? What bookstores do I need to go to? Thrift stores? Any other attractions?! It’ll be my first time there and although I’m going to miss these kittens something terrible, I can’t wait. Did I mention I’m seeing both Grinderman AND Einst├╝rzende Neubauten while I’m there? Oh, and my dear Fortinbras. And the vibrant V. I’m so excited I can barely contain myself!

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Cabbage Thing

Ugh, still really busy! Tonight’s meal was yet another “throw a bunch of stuff together and hope for the best” meal. When Mark asked what it was, I answered, “some cabbage thing” and he glommed onto that, jabbering and even singing about his favorite meal “cabbage thing”. So here is Cabbage Thing in all its glory:

Cabbage Thing

1/2 large or 1 small onion, sliced
1/2 tsp caraway seeds, if you like them
12 oz tempeh, chopped
2 small or 1 medium potato, chopped
4 cups vegan stock or broth (I used “beef” flavored)
8 oz tomato sauce
1/2 green cabbage, shredded
2 cups cooked rice
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
paprika

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven or large pot, then add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the tempeh and the caraway seeds (if you’re a fan) and saute a few more minutes, then add the potato, broth, tomato sauce, and cabbage. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are soft, 20-30 minutes. Stir in the rice and season with salt, pepper, and paprika.

The ambitious can add a lesser amount of uncooked rice and cook it in the pot with the potatoes and cabbage.

It ain’t pretty to photograph, but it’s tasty to eat.

Mark said he especially loved Cabbage Thing with cabbage on the side, which I thought was a great idea, so I ate mine with a side of sauerkraut.

This has been a super quick post, and I’m sorry – maybe one day soon I’ll have time for a proper post – but I only have time for a single quick kitten photo. Guess who loves nutritional yeast just like his predecessor?!

It’s Gomezian! Torticia, on the other hand, doesn’t understand the appeal.

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