Category Archives: appetizers

Sesame Sweet Marinated Tofu

(First  A Quick Note from Your Vegan Neighbor:  Hi everyone! Please forgive me for being away so long – unfortunately during the move I misplaced my camera! I know its around here somewhere & I am one box away from coming across it & I will fill this post with pictures asap! I’m glad t0 be back! As always, feel free to send me suggestions for future posts or Dinner & a Movie ideas!)

I wish I could’ve shared this gem earlier in the summer! I was gonna call this recipe “sweet sesame marinated tofu”, but my kids love this recipe so much, we decided that flipping the words to sesame-sweet made a better name – because now they tend to call it “sesame stweet tofu” 🙂

My daughter just started kindergarden… I really can’t believe it. The time I part-dreaded/part looked-forward-to has finally arrived! Sending off my girl into the big world… It’s a big step for her and a dose of reality for me. My baby is growing up and a new chapter in her life – and mine – is beginning. I’m getting the hang of waking up at 6 am and making her lunch, getting her dressed, fed, ready… Some mornings I feel like I am in school too!!

I struggled with the idea of homeschooling, which I find wonderful for many reasons, though I think my daughter is one who will thrive in the social environment of which modern day public school is… Plus she’ll have access to some things that aren’t as accessible to me daily (computer lab, science equiptment, my undivided attention for 8 hours).  Now that I’m working outside the home anyway, I’m not home as regularly to teach her as public school can!

(By the way, making a packed lunch that is healthy & exciting to eat is an art that I am trying to master! I’m intrigued by these bento boxed lunches, but haven’t ventured there yet. When I do, you’ll be the first to know! Right now, I’m just packing her favorites and keeping it healthy!)

I wanted to make this recipe because my daughter LOVES snacking on these straight from the fridge. They are an excellent quick go-to healthy snack for anytime, such as right after school or while dinner is cooking! They are also an excellent topping for salads… a great way to incorporate a little extra protein (and hey, maybe get your kid to try a salad)!  I strongly recommend using the firmest tofu you can find. I like to use bulk tofu, which is usually super firm!

Sesame Sweet Marinated Tofu

makes 16 squares

  • 1 block extra firm tofu
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp brown rice syrup
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 2 Tbsp tamari
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil (add last * see directions)

Turn the tofu on its side and slice the tofu in three slices lengthwise. (I cut down the middle first then cut each side in half carefully). Then lay the tofu flat and cut vertically and horizontally, turning it into 16 squares.

1) Using a large nonstick pan, lay out all 16 squares of tofu.

2) Add all of the other ingredients (except the sesame oil) right on top, drizzling the brown rice syrup and sprinking the ginger over the squares, then cook on med-high heat, jiggling your pan occasionally. Once you see the liquids cooking down some, flip your squares over carefully, then continue cooking until most liquid is gone.

3) Lower heat to low-medium and drizzle the 1 Tbsp sesame oil over the top. Cook until only slightly wet. Let cool on pan for several minutes after cooking, then refrigerate until ready to use. Store with any extra “sauce” and refrigerate.  Eat right from the fridge or on top of a salad! Before serving on salad, cut each square diagonally (making two triangles).

This tofu accompanies this Nori Sesame Dressing like a dream come true! Keep refrigerated & eat frequently!

Homemade Pita Bread

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As much as I love baking bread, I admit that I let my bread baking skills slack off majorly the last few years after my kids were born… I guess I felt that I didn’t have the time to bake fresh bread with a newborn… then I found another excuse when the toddler age stuck. But don’t fool yourself like I did. All you really need to make some kind of awesome homemade bread is a few minutes here and there.  The actual hands-on action (especially for loaves) is surprisingly minimal and you will find that fresh bread is worth the extra effort. Also, not only is homemade bread made to order & delicious, I personally feel a sense of real accomplishment serving and eating bread that I baked!  I am hereby swear I am going to bake more bread!!

I have a Kitchen-Aid mixer with a bread hook, which is totally worth investing in. I use mine often, mainly for making bread dough, pizza dough, cake batter and cookies. Mine was a gift from my husband (thank you, Steven!)… And no, I’m not one of those women who get offended getting kitchen items as gifts – in fact, they are among my favorite gifts to receive because I truly love to create things in the kitchen! If you don’t have a bread mixer, you will have to knead the dough by hand… but don’t frown just yet – and I speak from experience – this makes for some killer arm toning!!

Somehow, this was my first time making homemade pita pockets. I was so pleased at how simple and delicious these were! I think now that my family knows I can make these, I’m in real trouble! Next time, I’m definitely going to mix in some whole wheat flour to make them a little less white-bready tasting. We are usually whole wheat/mixed grain people over here… with occasional local sourdough 🙂

I mistakenly poked holes into the pitas with a fork before baking… Oops. I think I was remembering when we made pita-pizzas at a bakery where I used to work, not pita-pockets. My holes caused the dough to not poof out completely, so I ended up having to cut the insides of my pitas apart with a knife (which still worked fine… they all came apart easily). Anyway, you live and you learn, right?! So, unless you are trying to make pita-pizzas, don’t poke the dough with a fork!!

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Oh, and please don’t let the long instructions below deceive you! Sometimes I have a tendency to over-explain things! It’s really quite simple! I should mention that my kids were dying to help roll out the dough into pitas! If you don’t want little hands helping, you better set them up with some playdough and let them make their own “pitas” 😉

HOMEMADE PITA POCKETS

  •  2  1/4 tsp of jarred yeast – I used Fleishmans  (1 envelope of quick rising yeast should be the same amount)
  • 1  1/2 cup very warm water, plus extra for warming the mixing bowl*
  • > 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached bread flour, but next time I will be using whole wheat flour for half of this amount)
  • 1  1/4 tsp salt

* First warm up your bread bowl by letting it sit full of hot water. Now, pour 1 cup of very hot water into a large measuring cup and then add cold water to fill it up to the 1  1/2 cup mark. Sometimes I have to dump some water out to add more hot or cold water until the temperature is “just right”, which to me means you can stick your finger in it, it feels pretty hot, but it’s not going to burn you. If the water is too hot, the yeast will die. If it’s too cold, the yeast wont grow.

1) Dont forget to dump your bowl-warming water before you add your measured water!!  Now, pour in your measured water and sugar.  Stir.  Add yeast. Wait 2-3 minutes. Your yeast should start to look frothy/foamy. That means you did it right!! YAY!  (If nothing happens after several minutes, your water was either too hot or cold or your yeast is dead. Try again!)

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Foamy looking areas means you are good to go!

2) Add about half your flour and add the salt and turn on the mixer. Then gradually add the last half of the flour as it begins to mix. It may look sticky or dry, but just let it mix around a minute to come together. (At first, mine looked sticky but then it came together well and I didn’t have to add any more flour or water.) Let it mix 5- 6 minutes on medium speed. I like to turn up the speed a little faster at the end for about a minute. The dough should be smooth and elasticky… A good dough feels a little sticky but comes out of the bowl pretty cleanly. It shouldnt be acting like gum! It should feel more like soft warm slightly sticky play dough! 🙂

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Here is my finished dough ball. Nice and soft.

3) Put dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. (I did this right in my mixing bowl, pictured below.) Let rise in a warm draft free place until doubled in size. This took my dough about 45 minutes. The dough is ready when you poke it and the indention remains. If it bounces back out, give it a little more time. It may take an hour or more if your kitchen is cold!

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I picked up my dough, oiled the bowl and then put the dough back in there, covered, to rise.

4) Punch it down and roll it out like a rope so you can cut it into 10-12 pieces. I made 12 but my pitas were pretty small. Form balls with the dough. Sit the balls on a floured surface, cover with towel and let rise another 10 minutes. (Bakers tip: shaping the balls can be very quick if you take a dough ball in your dominant hand and roll it in circles against a wooden cutting board, pulling it tighter with your curved fingers as you go. Once you get good, you will be rolling dough balls in both hands at once!)

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Separating the dough and rolling it into balls…

5) Preheat oven to 500 and place your oven rack on the lowest setting. (It also helps to pre-heat your baking sheet). I hear you can also use a cast-iron skillet for this to add extra iron. I may try that next time.

6) Roll out each dough ball into circles about 5 – 6″ across and 1/4″ thick.

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Rolling the balls out into pitas…

7) Bake 4-5 minutes until they are puffy. Smash down with spatula. Flip and bake them 2 more minutes. Smash again if necessary. Repeat until all are baked.

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Ta-Da! The finished pitas!

Stuff them, use them for dipping… whatever you wish! These should freeze well (in a freezer bag) up to 1 month. They last about 1 week fresh.

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First we served these right from the oven with some baba ganoush and cucumber slices.

NOTE: They are AMAZING if you lightly brown them up on a cast iron skillet in a tiny bit of olive oil… We did that (pictured below) and cut them into triangles for dipping into baba ganoush with some shredded and sliced vegetables. You could also serve these pita triangles with hummus. Mmmm! I never knew pita making was so easy! I will probably be making these for my family several times a month!

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Homemade pitas make for a seriously impressive and scrumptious appetizer… or sandwich!

Vegan Jalapeno Poppers

I remember (years ago… before I was vegan) eating delicious jalapeno poppers at some local restaurant like Chili’s or somewhere.  I absolutely loved them.  When I went vegan, I sadly thought I was giving up these deliciously sinful cheese filled treats.  WRONG!!  I don’t know if it was being sick this last week (ironically from a COLD) or what it was exactly that gave me the desire to attempt to make these hot & spicy body cleansing (or clogging, depending on how you look at it) appetizers, but, boy am I glad I did!

I honestly usually look for the healthy way to eat something… you know, the “bake it instead of fry it” kinda thing, but I think these are one of those little treats that you just gotta fry up.  It’s part of what makes them so bad and so good at the same time! And let me tell ‘ya… these suckers were HOT… but hey… some like it hot. (By the way, I love that movie. If you haven’t seen it, rent it!).   I should also mention that I  did NOT allow my kids to have any of these! This was something my husband and I HAD to be greedy with, for the sake of the children! Heeheehee 😉

You know, now that I think of it, I probably didn’t need to plant 3 jalapeno plants in my garden at the same time.  I mean, WHO eats that many jalapenos!  The way I see it, you plant and you learn from your mistakes.  (Note to self: next year 1 jalapeno plant will be entirely sufficient for my family… and 2 if I feel like giving a bunch away!)

** You may seriously want to consider using gloves when handling the jalapenos.  I didn’t use any… I didn’t have any… I will say, I was pretty careful when cleaning out the jalapenos.  I washed my hands  immediately after and also rubbed them with a slice of lemon very thoroughly… I don’t know why but I feel like someone once told me that that helped…  Vinegar is also supposed to remove really strong smelling things, like onion or garlic… maybe rubbing some vinegar on your hands would be helpful.  (update:  I accidentally wiped the edge of my eye the day after making these, and… well, let me just say I strongly urge you to use gloves! There must’ve been a trace amount of jalapeno oil on my hands cause it got in my eye and burned like hell!)

I didn’t have panko bread crumbs on hand, so I actually tore up some extra bread we had lying around into little teeny tiny bits/crumbs.  A food processor would probably have done the job too.  I crushed a couple Ritz-style crackers in there as well. Voila.  Homemade bread crumbs.

Vegan Jalapeno Poppers

Please be advised that the filling could EASILY be halved.  I have an entire half batch of cream cheese yummy mix sitting in the refrigerator…  which would’ve been great if I was making 24 jalapeno poppers!  But hey.. now I have a flavored cream cheese spread for bagels!

YOU WILL NEED:

  • 12 jalapenos, prepared as desired (see directions below)
  • 1-2 cups bread crumbs

Filling:

  • 8 oz vegan cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded vegan gourmet cheddar cheese
  • 2 tsp Frontier brand “bacon bits” (optional, but recommended!)

Flour mixture:

  • 1/2 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch

The “egg”:

  • 1 cup milk whisked with 3 Tbsp ground flax seeds

*** READ THIS BEFORE FILLING THE JALAPENOS ***

I tried these 4 methods of filling the jalapenos to see what would be easiest:

Method 1 – slicing the peppers in half lengthwise.  This made for easy scraping and removal of seeds & veins.  Definitely the fastest way… seems to make more since every 1 jalapeno becomes 2.  Just a matter of preference. Do you want half peppers or whole?  May be easier for some people to eat them this way, since they don’t have to take such giant bites… ideal for parties. I was worried they wouldn’t cook well since the cheese was exposed but I was pleased with the surrounding breaded outcome.

Method 2 – Cutting off the tops, carving out the insides and after filling the pepper, cementing the top back on with the filling mixture. It was kinda hard to fill the pepper with the cheese unless you squirt it in with a baggie or frosting bag thingy. I didn’t use one and it felt I wasn’t filling it enough and taking forever. Plus, it was hard to roll these in the mixtures without the tops coming off 😦

Method 3 – Cutting a “T” shape into the jalapeno and then carving out the insides.  A little tricky to not crack it, but easy enough to make it one of my favorite methods. Easy to tell when they are nice and full!

Method 4 – Cutting a skinny triangle out of the jalapeno side, filling the pepper and sticking the triangle back in.  Fast. Efficient. Easy.

I suggest you experiment with each method and decide what YOU think is easiest.

Okay… here we go… Time to make the poppers!!

1) Dip the filled jalapeno into flour/cornstarch mixture.  Then dip in milk. Set aside to “dry” for a moment.

2) Dip again in flour, then milk, then cover entirely in breadcrumbs. Set aside and prepare remaining peppers. (This method makes a nice thick breaded covering surrounding your jalapeno. You could also simply dip the pepper in flour-to-milk-to-breading and then fry it, but the above mentioned extra dip made a more thorough coating.)

3) Fry 2-3 minutes in vegetable oil heated to 350 F, until nicely browned.  Let cool on paper towel for 3-4 minutes to avoid burning your tongue (you know, cause you don’t want to burn your tongue THAT way!) 🙂

Ready to eat!

If you cut me in half, I can be a pretty butterfly or a heart!

Some say “beat the heat”… I say “EAT the heat”… With a BIG glass of something cold on the side!

Golden Tofu

This recipe is one of my favorite ways to eat tofu EVER.  This happens to be how they cook the tofu at my favorite vegetarian restaurant, The Grit. (You can order their awesome cookbook here if you want to.  I highly recommend it! Please note it is not 100% vegan, though many recipes can be veganized.  You have GOT to try the yeast gravy!! Sometimes I just want to order a side of that with a spoon!)   We eat this tofu by itself, as a side, stir fried with veggies & rice, or sometimes we even toss it into a pot roast. It is really easy and oh so yummy!!  This fried tofu is one of those foods that you just gotta spoil yourself with and indulge in from time to time… It definitely makes it into my list of comfort foods.

All you need to make this is a non-stick skillet, a block of tofu, olive oil, soy sauce and nutritional yeast.  Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but we often find ourselves fighting like vultures over the last pieces! Hahahaha… seriously.

Golden Tofu

Gather ye ingredients: olive oil, a block of tofu, soy sauce, nutritional yeast. Vegetable oil also works just as well.

1) Cut tofu into cubes, about the size of dice. Lightly oil a non-stick skillet over high heat.  Add a small amount of oil and allow it to heat slightly then add tofu. Saute, tossing until evenly lightly browned. Sprinkle lightly with soy sauce, saute briefly again to further brown the tofu. Remove from skillet.

step 1 – before cooking

step 1- cooked tofu before adding soy sauce

2) Rinse and wipe skillet dry. Lightly oil skillet again and place over high heat. Allow the oil to become very hot then add the tofu. Saute, tossing constantly until very well browned. Sprinkle with soy sauce to taste, then sprinkle with nutritional yeast to coat the cubes. Saute several more seconds then remove from heat and serve!

step 2 – tofu being sauteed in soy sauce

The finished product. Fried tofu, served alongside veggies of choice (in this case, homemade cornbread, sauteed sesame-collards and mashed sweet potatoes).

Basil Walnut Pesto

If you ask me, one of the best things to plant in a garden is basil.  There are so many things you can do with basil… you can make bruchetta, pesto, serve atop pasta… add to fancy drinks, add to salads… or you can just dry it out and save it for later!  Not to mention, deer dislike basil, so having lots of basil plants around your garden may help keep the deer from eating your veggies before you do! I have a small boxed garden full of basil plus several basil growing in pots that I move around the garden wherever I feel necessary!

This is a simple recipe I threw together that turned out DELICIOUS! It probably made somewhere between 3/4 – 1 cup.  Mmmmm! Good thing I have about 15 basil plants outside because we devoured this batch in a day! I was REALLY surprised at how much my kids enjoyed eating this pesto! YAY! I love when my kids surprise me and really enjoy something I was hesitant to serve them! (Especially when its so healthy!) Next time I think we may even try it on spaghetti noodles instead of sauce!

(I found that you can really pack basil into a measuring cup, so it I think it depends on how much basil you have to how hard you pack it in.  My advice – just use your best judgement!)

Basil Walnut Pesto

Simply blend it all in the food processor, adding the oil in last. I kinda pulsed all my ingredients together but then I just let it blend when I added the oil!  I guess it depends on how you like your pesto! Feel free to sub pine nuts for the walnuts, but don’t forget that using walnuts adds all those yummy omega-3 oils!

  • 1/3 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 cup basil, packed, but not crammed
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • < 1 Tbsp lemon juice (preferably fresh)
  • crank/dash of pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (instead of Parmesan)

Here is our pesto on a french baguette with diced tomato… serve with balsamic vinegar on the side for ultimate yumminess!

Pesto makes a great pizza sauce instead of your traditional tomato sauce!

Edamame Hummus

Wow.  I usually don’t get so excited about dip, but I just whipped this up this morning with last night’s leftover steamed edamame, and I can’t believe how good it is!  My kids are practically the licking the bowl clean right now! Edamame is one of those super foods, jam-packed with protein and other nutrients.  It’s especially good for vegetarians/vegans.  I have a feeling I’m going to be making this hummus a lot!   Read more below about edamame below, or if you already know how amazing edamame is, scroll to the bottom for the recipe.

Here’s A Short Novel About Edamame…

(which I copied from this livestrong.com article)

Edamame has high nutritional value and health benefits.  These green soybeans are a natural source of antioxidants and isoflavones, which  has increased edamame’s popularity in the United States. Antioxidants are  beneficial because they can help prevent negative effects of free radicals in  the body. Eating antioxidant-rich foods has been associated strengthening your  immune system and with reducing your risk of cancer, hardening of the arteries  and neurodegenerative diseases. Isoflavones are phytohormones that may help  reduce prostate and breast cancer, diminish the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels and ease menopausal symptoms.  Women who are menopausal  and have low estrogen levels may benefit from snacking on a handful of edamame  daily because of the natural soybean’s phytochemical quality.
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The fresh vegetable soybeans called edamame contain  about 36 percent protein, which is 86 percent higher than mature soybeans.  Edamame’s low oil content, combined with its high protein content, makes this  vegetable very popular with health-conscious people who want a low-fat,  protein-rich snack. Vegetarians and vegans who want a high protein food will  find that edamame’s protein is complete, which means it contains all nine  essential amino acids the human body needs.
Protein helps your body’s tissues to  develop properly and helps your body resist diseases; it produces hormones,  enzymes and other substances your body uses; gives people energy and helps  prevent fatigue. Edamame has no cholesterol, very little saturated fat, and a  half-cup serving provides 11 g of protein toward an average adult’s daily  requirement of 46 to 63 g.
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Edamame is rich in vitamin C and B vitamins, and it is  one of the few natural sources of vitamin E. These soybeans also provide you  with minerals, such as calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and  copper. Nutrients in green soybeans that benefit heart health include vitamin K  and folate, which increases the production of red blood cells. Folic acid is  also essential for pregnant women because it helps with fetal  development.
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Adding edamame to your diet will help you increase your  fiber intake. Fiber is important for healthy digestion, and a half cup of  edamame contains 4 gr of fiber. Fiber also helps lower cholesterol, which may  reduce your risk of heart disease. Another reason edamame is a good snack food  is that the fiber keeps you feeling full for a longer period and this helps you  avoid unhealthy between-meal snacks.
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Edamame has anti-inflammatory qualities and can be a good  food to eat if you have arthritis or other inflammatory conditions, such as  rheumatoid arthritis. Fresh green soybeans, eaten as a snack or a side dish, may  help people with asthma, because this vegetable decreases inflammation in your  breathing passages, and this can reduce wheezing and coughing.
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Your Vegan Neighbor’s Edamame Hummus

  • 1  1/2 cups shelled edamame (I used leftover steamed edamame, but you can use thawed out frozen edamame or I’m sure drained and rinsed canned soybeans would work as well, though you may want to cook them first)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp tahini
  • 1 medium-large clove garlic minced
  • up to 1/2 cup water
  • sea salt to taste (I used about >1/2 tsp)
First blend the edamame in your food processor.  Then add the rest of the ingredients! Make sure to scrape the sides down occasionally. Refrigerate until cold! (If your edamame was already cold in your refrigerator, you can eat your hummus immediately!… And as with most hummus, this will probably thicken up a little bit in the fridge).  Mmmmm! Excuse me… but it’s my turn to DEVOUR some hummus!
Yum! I love this edamame hummus!

Vegan Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Who says you can’t make a delicious vegan spinach and artichoke dip?  Not me!  I love this dip because it is actually pretty healthy, considering it’s a chip dip… This is one of those recipes that my husband and I usually make by throwing things into the food processor until it tastes just right, without following an actual recipe. Well, I have to say, there is definitely something comforting about finally having this recipe written down 🙂

Vegan Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Blend all in food processor, then pour into a large dish and cook for 25-30 min at 375.  You can shred additional cheese on top and broil to melt, if desired.  Eat with mexican style chips (we like the Xochityl brand white chips, available at Publix)

  • 1 small onion, chopped & sautéed in oil
  • 10 oz box frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup grated soy cheese ( I recommend Vegan Gourmet Monterey Jack)
  • 1 cup soymilk
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 Tbsp Tofutti cream cheese (many recipes online contain 1/2 a tub of this stuff AND Veganaise… I tried to tone it down on the processed ingredients.)
  • 1 block extra-firm silken LITE tofu* (I recommend Mori Nu)
  • 1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, drained
  • salt and pepper

* I honestly cannot taste the difference between lite silken and regular silken tofu. This kind of tofu won’t be found in the cold section at the store… It will be on a shelf in the natural foods section, or maybe with asian foods. I really like the Mori Nu brand.  I happened to have a LITE silken tofu in the cabinet (which I usually use in my homemade quiche) and decided to use it for the dip.  What can I say?… Scrumptious!