Archive forJuly, 2011

Blender Lasagna

Want to hear something I personally find completely crazy? Ten years ago today Mark and I went on our first date. It was an epic date, too: he picked me up at noon and I didn’t get home until well after midnight. We’ve been together nearly every day since. Anyway, like most of the country, Northern Virginia is laboring through 100-degree-plus days, with heat indexes as high as 115. Most people probably don’t think “lasagna!” when it’s 110 degrees out, but I do think “lasagna!” when it’s time to make a special meal for Mark. I’ve posted a few lasagna recipes before, but since I hardly ever make things the same way twice, here’s another one. I called it Blender Lasagna because I realized while I was assembling it that I had used the blender for every layer.

Blender Lasagna

no-boil lasagna noodles (I can only recommend Trader Joe’s brand), or regular lasagna noodles, cooked
1 1/2 cup vegan protein, chopped or shredded (like Italian sausage, etc. I used chick’n breasts because I had them to use up)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
vegan mozzarella, shredded

Tomato Sauce
1 14.5 oz can whole tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can tomato sauce
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
dried oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Garlic Stem Pesto
enough garlic stems (scapes), chopped, to make a cup (I’ve been looking all over for garlic scapes, and finally discovered the Asian grocery store has had garlic stems all along)
6 Tbsp olive oil
6 Tbsp water
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt

Cheezy Sauce
1 package silken tofu
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
dried basil, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt, to taste
fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, then fire up that blender or food processor! Place the tomatoes and tomato sauce in the blender and puree. Heat a little olive oil in a sauce pot, then add the rest of the sauce ingredients and cook for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes, stir, and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Rinse out the blender. Put all of the pesto ingredients in it and process until smooth, adding additional water if necessary. Set pesto aside. This makes way more pesto than you probably need for the lasagna. You can halve the recipe or freeze the extra. Or save it for another recipe later in the week.

Rinse out the blender. Put all of the cheezy sauce ingredients in it and process until smooth, adding the lemon juice last. I like mine fairly tangy so I didn’t give an amount for the lemon juice because some people may not like that much. I never measure stuff like this; just taste it and adjust the seasonings until you like it. Set cheezy sauce aside.

Chop onions and zucchini. If you’re using a food processor you could even use that to roughly chop the vegetables. Saute the onion and zucchini in a little olive oil with salt and pepper.

Place a thin layer of tomato sauce in an 8×8 pan and put down a layer of noodles. Smear with pesto. Top with the protein and add some tomato sauce. Put down another layer of noodles, add some tomato sauce, then top with the onion and zucchini mixture. Put down another layer of noodles and cover with the cheezy sauce. Put down the final layer of noodles and cover with the remaining tomato sauce. Cover pan with aluminum foil and place on a cookie sheet. Put in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, add the mozzarella, and return to the oven. Bake for 15 more minutes then remove from oven and let sit for another 15 minutes.

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Blueberry Lemonade

I don’t know when I became the beverage queen, but apparently that’s what I am. In fact, my first batch of homebrew is ready today! (I haven’t tasted it yet; it’s probably going to be terrible!) I don’t usually require fancy drinks: I like orange juice with my breakfast, have green tea as soon as I get to work, drink water with lunch at work, and always have wine with dinner. I also love water and drink it throughout the day. There really isn’t time for me to be drinking anything else. Nonetheless, I’ve become addicted to blueberry lemonade this summer.

I don’t know why I never made lemonade before this year, because I love lemons, and I’ll often order lemonade instead of tea or cola if I’m out. And I always love it when my aunt shows up at the parental homestead with her homemade lemonade. But the idea of juicing all those lemons at once left me daunted. Then a few weeks ago, the grocery store didn’t have any loose lemons for sale and I was forced to choose between buying a whole bag of lemons or not having any lemons at home, and I just can’t go without lemons. I add fresh lemon juice to everything. Basically I was forced into making lemonade. So I bought a contraption: the JUICE-O-MAT! I must confess I’d been looking for an excuse to buy one. It’s the greatest!

I started making lemonade regularly and it was awesome. Then one week I had a berry overload and thought, “what if I put blueberries IN the lemonade?” So I did and it was fabulous. I mean, lemonade is awesome to begin with, and blueberries are awesome, but somehow when you put them together they are even more awesome than the sum of their awesome parts. Blueberry lemonade is the summer drink! And considering it was 95 in the shade today, I’d say it’s pretty intensely summer right now. This stuff really helps.

Blueberry Lemonade
makes about 1 quart

enough lemons to make 1 cup of lemon juice (about 6)
1 cup blueberries
3/4 – 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet or tart you like your lemonade)*
about 1 quart of water, divided

* I’ve successfully substituted stevia for a portion of the sugar.

Make a simple syrup by putting the sugar in a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Heat, stirring, just until the sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat.

Meanwhile, put the blueberries into a blender or food processor and pulverize.

To help your lemons yield more juice, roll them back and forth on a surface, applying pressure with the palm of your hand. Cut each in half and juice them. This is particularly fun using a JUICE-O-MAT!

Stop when you have 1 cup of juice.

Add the blueberry pulp to the lemon juice.

Add enough cold water to make 2 cups. I just do this to thin it out, making it easier to strain.


Add the simple syrup to the juices and whisk.

Pour into a glass pitcher, straining a second time if you are picky, then add enough cold water to total about a quart (you can add more water to make a less intense drink) and stir or shake.

Chill for at least half an hour; an hour is better. Serve with ice, garnished with lemon slices.

This would probably be equally awesome made with raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, or any other berry, but I’ve been so enamored of the blueberry variety I haven’t even bothered to try any others. You can also simply omit the blueberries for plain lemonade – it’s also very delicious.

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Black Bean Soup with Avocado Cream

As a food blogger, I sometimes have to make decisions, which I’m not particularly good at doing. I must decide if I’m posting regularly enough, if I have something interesting enough to post, if I have something original enough to post…it’s a hard knock life. Okay, it’s not all that hard. But sometimes I think no one will possibly be interested in what I’ve made and I have to decide if it’s worth posting. There are a million black bean soup recipes on the internet and in every basic cookbook. Who needs another one? Especially one that has nothing original about it. It’s true I didn’t consult any recipes when I made black bean soup tonight – I just made it. But it’s also true there’s absolutely nothing special about it. However, it’s also true that after getting a second helping, Mark said it was “totally awesome” and I rather agreed, and in cases like that I err on the side of posting instead of not. For one thing, I do sometimes refer to my own blog to recall how I made something I want to repeat, or improve, so if nothing else I’m doing it for myself. But for another thing, I like reading other blogs even when they are about something I’ve made a bunch of times before. For one thing, I think it’s interesting to see how other people think and cook even basic things, and for another, even if I don’t learn anything, sometimes I’m simply reminded I haven’t had something in a while. So, I’m sorry, but tonight I haven’t made anything that will make you gasp in surprise, and I haven’t visited anywhere exotic or special, and my cats haven’t even done anything particularly photogenic. All that’s happened is I made a simple black bean soup and it was good. And that’s tonight’s post.

Black Bean Soup with Avocado Cream

10 oz dried beans, cooked (I quick-soaked mine for an hour in boiling water, then cooked in the pressure cooker for about 8 minutes) (this is probably about the equivalent of 2 cans)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 huge or 2 normal-sized carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 ear of corn, shucked and kernels cut off
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 tsp cumin
6 cups vegan broth, either vegetable or “chicken” flavored
1 cube frozen cilantro, or 3 Tbsp fresh, chopped
juice of one lemon, plus additional lemon wedges for serving

Avocado Cream
1 avocado
1/2 cup vegan sour cream
juice of 1/2 lime

Blend together the avocado cream ingredients and refrigerate.

Meanwhile, saute the onions, carrots, and celery in some hot oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven. When the vegetables are soft, add the garlic and saute another minute or two, then add the rest of the soup ingredients except the lemon. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for half an hour, then puree, making it as smooth or chunky as you prefer, using an immersion blender. (Or let cool slightly, then blend in batches in a regular blender.) Stir in the lemon juice. Serve topped with the avocado cream and with lemon wedges on the side for drizzling.

Another sign I shouldn’t be boring the internet with another black bean soup recipe is the fact it was IMPOSSIBLE to take a photo of it. I’m a pretty mediocre food photographer, but I was struggling even more than usual tonight. The problem is I have no patience when I’m hungry, which is why my blog will never be as beautiful as Hannah’s of Bittersweet or Ksenia’s of Tales of a Spoon, or a lot of other food bloggers out there. Moreover, the avocado cream was heavier than I thought and sank into the soup. What you’re seeing in the picture is just, as they say, the tip of the iceberg. Then I accidentally dropped the lemon wedge into the soup and it also sank. It is, however, supporting the second, visible lemon wedge. And then the lighting, which is the same lighting I take 95% of my final-dish pictures in, was just horrible today, more so than usual for an unknown reason. And black bean soup is really boring-looking to being with. IT WAS VERY HARD BEING A FOOD BLOGGER TONIGHT. But this is it! I’m keeping it real! This is my crappy picture of my delicious-but-not-innovative black bean soup! ENJOY!

It’s a good thing I have cats to fall back on. They are like a crutch for the uninspired food blogger. Look, it’s Gomez! He’s more interesting – and far more beautiful – than my food!

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A vegan B&B and other adventures

Mark and I were invited to an open house at The Wildlife Center of Virginia this Saturday and decided to make a weekend out of it. The Wildlife Center is in Waynesboro, which is not terribly far from Charlottesville, which I’ve always wanted to explore. We got to see their hospital facility and then meet their non-releasable, resident animals. We weren’t allowed to see any of the patients, of which they see between two and three thousand a year. But it was cool to see where my parents’ money goes (Mark requests a donation to this place from my parents in lieu of Christmas gifts each year).

I thought this kestrel was just adorable!

Many of the other people at the open house were eagle fans. In addition to several other eagle patients, the center is raising several eaglets from the Norfolk Botanical Garden that were orphaned when their mother was tragically killed by an airplane, and most of the visitors have been watching them grow on the center’s eagle cam. We weren’t able to see these eagles, but we did see a couple of non-releasable eagles, such as this guy.

They also have a lot of owls. You might as well know now that I am totally fascinated by owls.

After visiting the Wildlife Center, we drove about 40 minutes east to a town (if you can call it that) called Schuyler, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where out in the middle of nowhere (we had absolutely no cell phone coverage at all) there is a most exciting establishment: a completely vegan bed & breakfast! The White Pig is a B&B and animal sanctuary, specifically for potbellied pigs. It’s a beautiful restored farmhouse:

The innkeeper, Dina, and her husband raise pigs they have rescued. I wish we had stayed two nights instead of one because we did not manage to find time to explore the farm or even see the pigs: we’re definitely going to have to go back. We DID see numerous non-living pigs. My friend Pig was right at home!

It’s a very interesting – and very wonderful – feeling to be staying in a place, especially one so remote, where everything is vegan, including the toiletries. There is even a “no meat on the premises” policy! I don’t generally feel unwelcome when I stay in a “normal” hotel or inn, but let me tell you, I felt damn welcome here! The back of the house:

An old barn next to the house:

Smark being silly:

After settling into the White Pig, Mark and I drove about half an hour into Charlottesville, looking for dinner. We found Lemongrass, a cute little Vietnamese/Thai place near the University of Virginia that had vegan meals noted on the menu. I noticed that some of the things marked vegetarian but not vegan were almost definitely really vegan as well, and in fact, asked about the tofu summer rolls, which fell into that category. Our waitress said I was right that the menu was sometimes wrong about the vegan items and checked with the kitchen to verify the summer rolls were also vegan.

I had the Orange-Tamarind Tofu, which was really good.

Mark had the Cashew Seitan. Let me tell you how Mark felt about the cashew seitan. None of the meals marked vegan were also marked spicy (although as I said, I believe several, if not all, of the vegetarian dishes may really be vegan), so when we ordered I asked them to bring us the selection of “hot stuff” you usually find at Thai restaurants, so we could spice them up. They didn’t remember to bring the hot stuff out, but Mark – the boy who will literally pour an entire bottle of Tabasco sauce over just about anything I serve him, and I cook fairly spicy to begin with – informed me the cashew seitan was so delicious it didn’t need hot sauce. I couldn’t refrain from stealing half of it from him, either.

Later that night we stopped by Whole Foods (I can’t decide if the Charlottesville store is bigger than my local store in Fairfax, or vice versa, but it’s pretty huge) and picked up some Sheese and crackers, which we ate sitting on the porch of the White Pig, drinking the vegan red wine and eating the vegan chocolates we’d been left, and gaping at the stars, which we don’t ordinarily get to see unobstructed by city and suburban lights.

The next morning we went down for breakfast and found two yogurt granola parfaits waiting for us, which I forgot to take a picture of, but which were delicious. Then it was time for blueberry pancakes, which Mark informed me were better than my pancakes. They were. The only time I ever cook breakfast is when Fortinbras is over and demands that I make him pancakes (he can be a bit demanding). So starting what promised to be a long day with a perfectly cooked homemade breakfast was delicious and wonderful. It was also so weird to be able to eat breakfast food while out! So weird that at first Mark avoided buttering his pancakes because we’re so used to just assuming we can’t do that. I had to remind him we could eat everything!

I also ordered box lunches from the innkeeper for us, which I didn’t photograph. They included “chicken” salad sandwiches, which Mark didn’t love because he’s not a fan of mayonnaise, but which I thought were really good. We packed up the car, including the lunches, and were off to Monticello, home of our third president and a prominent founding father, Thomas Jefferson. I’ve always wanted to see Monticello and it lived up to my expectations. Although it was sweltering (95 degrees!), it was just lovely. We had some time before the tour, which I had booked earlier, and stopped into the cafe, where they serve food made with produce grown in Jefferson’s garden, and I was shocked to find a vegan wrap available, although I didn’t buy it since we had our box lunches. I tell you, I barely feel weird any more as a vegan! The world is beginning to find me normal!

Not much else really has to do with veganism or even animals in the rest of this post, but I’ll share a few photos because Monticello is simply breathtaking, and well, it is Independence Day!

The house itself:

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house, but the kitchen is not actually in the house (!), so I can show you that:

Part of Jefferson’s beloved garden – he was a huge fan of vegetables and in fact introduced several of them to our country:

I’m telling you, it is ridiculously pretty:

I had never seen a blooming artichoke before:

A random view from the grounds:


We had a really great weekend. I highly recommend that any of you in the DC metro area make a weekend trip to the White Pig, and if you haven’t seen it (and even if you have), Monticello. In fact, any of you who plan to visit DC from other areas may want to consider including this as a side trip. Charlottesville and Monticello are just over two hours from DC, as is the White Pig. After a few days battling crowds, traffic, and the general unpleasantness that is DC, believe me, you will cherish a night or two in a serene setting, especially one that’s all-vegan!

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