Meatless Monday Rant

I am really tired of going to restaurants and having them look at me like I’m a freak when I ask for a vegetarian option.  It seems like it would be a no brainer to put one or two vegetarian selections on a menu or even have a meat dish with an advertised available meatless version.  My husband occasionally mentions that we never go to a steakhouse which he would enjoy.  As much as I’m opposed to the idea I would be glad to accommodate him if the restaurant was willing to accommodate me.  Having to order a couple of side dishes and a salad is not a nice dinner out to me.

With that said I would like to thank a few Tampa area establishments that do offer vegetarian selections and happily offer vegetarian options to their typical meat entrees.  The first is The Laughing Cat and is located in Ybor City, a favorite area of mine. Laughing Cat offers up rich, hearty Italian food with several great options.  On my last visit I ordered sweet potato gnocchi in a creamy wine sauce with a nice selection of vegetables.  I am not a huge fan of eggplant and they were very gracious in offering to substitute broccoli which I love.  The gnocchi were tender, the vegetables cooked perfectly and the sauce was somehow light and rich.  They served it covered in provolone cheese which I will skip in the future.  My first trip to Laughing Cat I ordered the Rigatoni ala Vodka minus the procuitto which was rivaled any version I’ve eaten in NY.  Which makes sense because the chef is from well known restaurant in Smithtown NY.  http://thelaughingcat.com/ http://thelaughingcat.com/

Another favorite is a Greek establishment with locations in Ybor City, Riverview and New Tampa called Acropolis.  They offer fabulous falafel, dolmades which are stuffed grape leaves, spanokopita, and a wonderful Greek salad.  Also, many of their appetizers are veg friendly.  I can easily go there and enjoy their stuffed mushrooms and a Greek salad although my favorite is the falafel which ends up with a crisp crunchy outer layer that is just delicious.  http://www.acropolistaverna.com/

Last I’m surprising myself by mentioning Chili’s a national chain.  Their regular menu has a spicy black bean burger which is actually very good.  They are very willing to work with me at any location I’ve been to and will accommodate salads with a grilled Portobello mushroom in place of the chicken.  Personally I enjoy the fajita explosion salad.  It would be nice if these options were listed on their menu but I give them credit for offering their veg selections on their website, even notating what has eggs, dairy or honey allowing people to make educated choices.  I think tonight will be a Chili’s night, if my husband ever wakes up!  http://www.chilis.com/EN/Vegetarian%20Menu/Chilis_Vegetarian_Menu_Generic.pdf

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Southwest Sweet Potato Latke’s

First Happy Hanukkah everyone!  I am not the greatest practicing Jew but I do love the food of my heritage.  I also enjoy trying to make different variations of traditional food.  Sometimes I try to lighten up the fat content, at times I try to take something traditional and make it vegetarian and at times like this I just enjoy giving a new twist to an old favorite.  I guess this variation has a slightly greater nutritional value because I used sweet potatoes in place of white ones and egg substitute instead of real eggs.

Hanukkah has many different spelling.  But ultimately it is the festival of lights.  In a nutshell we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees (led by Judah) over the Syrians in a revolt that took place around 165 BCE.  The victory in itself was considered a miracle. Once the Temple Mount in Jerusalem had been reclaimed, the Temple had to be rededicated. According to legend, only one jar of sacramental oil was found, enough for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, thus the eight days of Hanukkah.

Traditional latkes are made with white potatoes and served with either sour cream or apple sauce.  They are best served fresh from the pan but can be baked to reheat.  The variety I made today are a southwest version flavored with cumin, sage and chipotle sauce.  Make them as hot and mild as you like by adjusting the amounts of seasoning.  For a lighter meal I would just eat these with a salad.  Otherwise they will pair well with many vegetarian main courses.


Southwest Sweet Potato Latke’s

1 large sweet potato or 2 smaller ones

2 eggs or ½ cup egg substitute

¼ to ½ cup flour

1 small onion

A few shakes Tabasco Chipotle Sauce

Cumin to taste

A pinch of sage or poultry seasoning (thyme, sage, rosemary, & nutmeg)

Salt

Canola oil

Sour cream and/or apple sauce for dipping

If you have a food processor I highly recommend using it.  Grate the potatoes and onion in the food processor or by hand.  Place grated potatoes on some paper towels and remove excess moisture.  Mix with egg mixture and flour.  Since the weight of potato will vary use your best judgment.  The potatoes should be well coated by not too wet.  Add all the seasoning and mix well.

Add oil to a skillet and preheat to medium high.  Drop potato mixture in the pan and flatten somewhat so that the potato’s will cook through.  Once lightly browned flip over and cook on other side.  I personally don’t like a lot of oil in my pan so I just keep adding as needed so that the pan is always lightly coated in oil.  Once cooked place latke’s on paper towels and lightly salt.

Pasta with Tofu & Veggies in Pesto Sauce

Last night I cooked a family favorite.  Sautéed veggies and tofu mixed with pesto and wine tossed over bowtie pasta.  It’s easy to prepare and stays nicely in the fridge for several days.  This is a great recipe to make for the busy family that often eats at different times.  My son and I both pack up leftovers of this and take it to work for dinner.  It reheats well in the microwave or tastes yummy cold as a salad.  For my carnivorous husband I will grill a pork chop which will go very well with this.  Many of my favorite meals are ones that work as a vegetarian main course and an appealing side dish for meat eaters.

Pasta with Tofu & Veggies in Pesto Sauce

Ingredients

1lb package cubed tofu dried, (I layer a dishtowel with paper towels and the tofu and roll it up)

1 lb package pasta, bowties, penne, or pretty much any variety works fine

1 lb broccoli florets

8 oz baby bello mushrooms slice

1 1arge onion, Vidalia or red sliced think

2 crushed cloves of garlic

½ cup white wine or pasta water

1 12 oz jar of pesto either basil or sun dried tomato is fine

Olive oil

Salt, pepper, Italian seasonings (I like the McCormick Italian Herb grinder variety)

Parmesan cheese (optional)

Cook pasta according to directions and set aside.  Add olive oil to dutch oven and preheat to a medium/high temp.  Add onion and sauté until they start to brown.  Once lightly browned, add the tofu and some seasoning.  Allow this to cook until both somewhat browned but not burnt.  Add the wine and mushrooms and garlic, cook for 1 minute then add the broccoli turning the mixture until the broccoli is cooked to your likening.  Add oil and seasoning as needed.

In the meantime place pasta in a bowl and add about ½ the pesto.  Add the cooked vegetable mixture toss added the remaining pesto until well blended.  Season some more if needed and add parmesan cheese if desired.

Oatmeal Crunch Apple Pie

No singular food says “holiday” like a good apple pie.  Not only is it a holiday treat, it’s great anytime.  My mom makes a wonderful recipe but it has the typical double crust which I find too heavy and filling.  I have played around with a few recipes and mixed and matched and came up with this oatmeal crunch top recipe which is light, sweet and delicious!  There is an extra step compared to most recipes but don’t let that stop you!  The ingredients for the filling get warmed on the stove top first.  By doing this they don’t go into the shell all lumped together, instead they all incorporate and makes for an amazing flavor!  I am not one for rolling pie dough but if you have a dough recipe you like please use it.  Frozen pie shells taste good and are made with vegetable products while the refrigerated varieties are not veg friendly.

Apple Pie with Crunchy Oatmeal Topping

Ingredients

1 frozen pie crust

Filling

3 tablespoons butter

4 pounds Granny Smith apples, sliced 1/2-inch thick (or a combination of favorite baking apples)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 lemon, juiced

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pinch cardamom and nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

½ cup dried cranberries or raisins

1 cup pecan or walnut pieces

Topping

1 c. quick cooking oatmeal

1 1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. flour

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 c. butter cut in with pastry blender

Combine all the filling ingredients in a lightly buttered pan and sauté on medium heat for 5 minutes stirring frequently

In a separate bowl combine the oatmeal, sugar, flour and cinnamon.  Cut the butter into ½ inch cubes and add to mixture.  Using your hands work the butter into the mixture until it is incorporated and reaches a crumbly texture.  This can be done in advance and refrigerated.

Pour the apple mixture into the pie crust and spread evenly throughout the pan.  Sprinkle the topping over this until the pie is well covered.

Bake in a preheated oven for approximately 1 hour.  The top should be nicely browned but not burnt.  Also, you may want to place the pie pan on foil or a baking sheet since the pie mixture is likely to ooze over the sides of the pan.

This is delicious served with either vanilla ice cream or home made whipped cream!

Meatless Monday, oy!

I have been reading articles on Sir Paul McCartney’s please for Meat Free Mondays.  You would think he was asking for people to give up their right arm for a day.  It’s upsetting to see how misunderstood vegetarianism is.  From googling  just this subject I have found that he is trying to ban all household pets, soap, lipstick and other household products.  He also picked the wrong day of the week, it should be on Friday’s which I assume fits in better with some religious views.  The fact that people don’t understand that eating vegetarian is easy, delicious, and satisfying and can be done any day of the week is ridiculous.  Also, I was sort of surprised that people don’t realize that all these products (except maybe medications) are already available cruelty free.  Personally, I am not a vegan but try to purchase and eat animal products in limited quantities.  Perhaps one day I will take the leap but for now I am taking it slowly.  I am slowly switching the products I use to cruelty free brands and often go to this site to help with my choices.

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

The other day I watched a cooking show where Stuffed Mushrooms were made using sausage.  I watched it and thought how ridiculous to take a simple low fat item and ruin it with all that animal fat.  With that said, the recipe intrigued me and I wanted to figure out a way to make this recipe delicious and veg friendly.  2 days later my family all had leftover Italian food from a wonderful dinner out but needed something to accompany it.  I searched this recipe online and made it using both Portobello caps and Baby Bello mushrooms and both variety’s were great!  One works as a main course and the other as a lovely side dish or appetizer.  I love a versatile recipe!  I hope you enjoy it too.  In this I used fresh mozzarella but this recipe would work with a variety of cheeses.

Stuffed Grilled Portobello’s

4 large or 6 smaller Portobello mushrooms or 16 oz stuffing mushrooms

1 8 oz package sliced Baby Bello mushrooms

¾ to 1 cup bread crumbs

Olive oil as needed

4 oz cream cheese room temperature

4 sundried tomato’s in oil

4-6 oz cheese, I used fresh mozerella, feta or other cheeses will work as well

Parmesan to sprinkle on top

1 shallot

2-4 cloves of garlic depending on taste

Italian seasoning to taste

Salt/pepper to taste

Clean mushrooms with a brush and water and brush both sides with olive oil

Preheat grill to medium high heat and cook 4-5 minutes on each side

Place sliced mushrooms, garlic and shallot in food processor and pulse until rough chopped

Heat oil in a pan and sauté mushroom mixture adding seasoning as needed.  Cook until mushrooms are rich brown color.  Cool slightly

Add mushroom mixture to cream cheese and add bread crumbs to your likening, once stirred add in mozzarella or other cheese

Stuff mushroom accordingly and sprinkle with parmesan cheese

Bake 15 minutes in 350 degree oven or place in foil and heat on medium grill