Tips and Tricks

Top 10 Vegan Substitutes

From my fave, Chloe Coscarelli, comes this Top Ten List of Vegan Substitutions for meat and dairy ingredients in cooking. My favorites? Coconut Milk, Avocados and Almond Milk. The one I’m going to try out ASAP? Blending cashews and water into “cream” for Fettuccine Alfredo!

Vegan Chef Chloe Coscarelli // VegNews.com

Chloe Coscarelli’s Top Ten Vegan Cooking Substitutes

1. Vinegar Vinegar is a great egg replacement, especially for cakes. When combined with baking soda, vinegar acts as a binding agent and creates a moist texture.

2. Cashews Blending raw cashews with water is a perfect cream alternative for savory dishes like fettuccine Alfredo.

3. Coconut Milk Canned coconut milk is nature’s substitute for sweet heavy cream. Chocolate mousse, ganache, and whipped cream can all be made vegan with this simple replacement.

4. Mushrooms Crimini, shiitake, portabello, and oyster mushrooms all have a juicy hearty texture that is perfect for replacing meat. Ground into veggie burgers or charred on the grill, mushrooms are a succulent substitution for meat in any form.

5. Dark Chocolate Pure dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and a great milk chocolate replacement for non-dairy desserts.

6. Avocados This nutrient-dense fruit can add a creamy body and boost of flavor to almost anything. Avocados can be added to pesto sauce as a substitute for cheese or whipped up as a spread for sandwiches.

7. Nutritional Yeast Nutritional yeast is high in protein and B vitamins. Its natural flavor and yellow coloring make it a great substitute for cheese.

8. Tofu Tofu can be sliced, diced, or cubed to achieve a meaty consistency. For best results, freeze a package of tofu and then defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

9. Non-Dairy Milk Soy, almond, and rice milk are fabulous alternatives to dairy milk. They are lower in fat and can be used interchangeably in any recipe, from milkshakes to creamy soups.

10. Almond Butter Almond butter has a mild taste and is a great source of protein and fiber. It adds a thick, velvety texture to smoothies or shakes. For nut allergies, try hemp butter.

Source: VegNews

CSA 2011 · Recipes

Butternut Squash enchiladas

Enchiladas are fast becoming one of my top go-to meals when I’m out of inspiration. These are more of a fall dish, since they make use of butternut squash, which is fresh in season during October and November. But I actually think it’s easier to use pureed frozen squash here anyway, especially for a weeknight dinner. Next time I make it, I’m going to try pureed pumpkin since I preserved so much from my CSA this fall!

Ingredients

  • 1 package frozen butternut squash (about 12 ounces), or 2-3 cups fresh
  • 1 can of black beans
  • cream cheese (about 6 ounces), either plain or Philly Sante Fe Cooking Creme
  • 1 can of green chilis
  • 1 packet taco seasoning mix (2-3 teaspoons, to your taste)
  • 1 package flour tortillas (you’ll need about six)
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (I use cheddar or Mexican blend)
  • 1 can enchilada sauce
  • optional: cumin to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 and prepare a glass baking dish with your choice of cooking spray.

Meanwhile, mix together the butternut squash and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl. Once blended, add in the chilis, taco seasoning mix and beans, and stir.

To assemble the enchiladas, cup a flour tortilla in the palm of one hand, and scoop the squash mixture into the middle, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with shredded cheese.

Roll the tortilla up into a tube, and place face down (so the seam is on the bottom) in your glass pan. Repeat until you’ve fit all you can into the baking dish.

Spoon the enchilada sauce on top, taking care to get it down between the edges and all around the tortillas so they don’t burn while they’re cooking. Sprinkle some cheese on top before placing into the oven.

Bake for at least 30 minutes — it may take up to 40 depending on your oven — and remove when the cheese has browned.

This is a great vegetarian option for Mexican food. Serve with a salad, re-fried beans, spicy rice, a big dollop of extra sour cream, whatever!

 If you liked this recipe, check out my spinach ricotta enchiladas!

Recipes

Sweet Potato Soup

This creamy soup has a hint of heat and goes great with crunchy tortilla chips, fresh sliced avocado and a swirl of sour cream.

Ingredients

  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced (plus one for garnish)
  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1 jalapeno, fresh or from a jar, seeds removed and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons Cumin
  • 1 TBSP honey
  • juice of one lime
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a stockpot or Dutch oven on the stove top and heat to boiling, then simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until sweet potatoes are softened. Mash a bit by hand, then let cool. Transfer to a blender once it’s no longer steaming (or use a handheld immersion blender) to puree into a smooth soup. Serve plain, or top with sour cream, tortilla chips & fresh avocado slices. Delicious.

Grow Your Own Way

Urban Gardening, Part One

If you live in the Northeast, then you know this Sunday was unseasonably warm: 74 degrees at a time of year when we’re lucky to get out of the 50s. By some miracle of god (the theater god, I guess), Mark didn’t have to work on Sunday, so we took full advantage of that — plus a few leftover housewarming gift cards we had for Home Depot — to get our yard tidied up and the beginnings of a garden underway.

The tools of the trade.

One nice thing about working in the theater industry is that, for the most part, you work at night and your days (or at least mornings) are free to do errands and chores around the house. Unfortunately, Mark has been teaching high school during the day AND rehearsing for his next show every night, so household duties have been totally up to me…and I’m working nonstop these days, too. So our poor house has been a bit neglected. But today we turned that around!

Workin' it.

We have a postage-stamp sized yard, but that’s still 1000% more than we had at the old apartment in Somerville, where we were awash in pavement on all sides. We couldn’t even have a window box. Now, even though it almost certainly means we’re getting in way over our heads, we are actually planning a garden. I’m on team vegetable, Mark’s on team flower (no surprises there). To start, we are splitting the difference by planting herbs.

Coming soon: Rosemary. If this goes well, I'm hoping to graduate to green beans and lettuce. Maybe next year I'll brave zucchini and tomatoes. We also discovered scallions growing wild alongside the house!

We moved into our house just a few days before Thanksgiving, so we are only now learning how much sunlight hits what part of the yard, and what leftover plants are still eking out an existence since the previous owners were last able to care for them. I think we were able to tame some of the wildest bushes and revive some of the most weed-choked areas today.

My job was made a lot easier by the brand new pair of Titanium shears Mark bought me this weekend! I'm touting the titanium aspect to gloss over the fact that these are made for people with arthritis.

Next weekend, we are planting a raspberry bush and seeding the yard with some new grass. After that, Mark has to re-terrace the hilly part of the yard with lumber (or stone — haven’t decided yet). In the meantime, maybe the crocuses will finish poking their heads up, and we can see where there’s room to plant more flowers!

My first and probably last floral contribution: dark purple pansy in a planter.

After all this hard work, I think we will deserve a little treat — perhaps some patio furniture so we can eat dinner & grill out back?? I think so.

Need help starting your garden? It’s that time of year, so don’t waste any more time. As I’m learning, the best way to start is to simply dive in:

  • Check out Garden Planning 101, an all-purpose guide on Homegrown.org.
  • You may also find it useful to follow the Farmers Almanac online, which has a great customizable chart that lets you know the best dates for planting by your location.
  • This urban farming blog also has a fabulous series on planning your small-scale garden, including a primer on how much of each plant to grow based on your family size and tastes.
  • Finally, check out this drag-and-drop garden planner.

See? Even a die-hard city slicker like me can do it. Share your ideas and progress!

Booze & Beverages

Raspberry Beer Punch

Last weekend, Mark and I got invited to a beer-themed party. A cohort of our friends hosts beverage-theme parties from time to time; past events have focused on Champagne, rum, and even “warm drinks” just in time for Winter. This time around, we were encouraged to bring unique, local or craft beers, or to concoct a mixed drink that featured beer. I chose the latter.

putting it together

It was just our luck that Kappy’s in Medford was hosting a “drink local” beer tasting event the Saturday of our party. And, to prove it’s a small world, a new craft brewery started by friends of one of my coworkers was featured at the beer tasting. So naturally we knew where we would be getting our party offerings. We just didn’t know we’d find so many local, new beers that we loved.

If you don’t live in Boston, you’re probably out of luck when it comes to buying these, but I can’t say enough about Slumbrew and Night Shift Brewing. Both are just getting started, and both are worth getting to know better. Check them out.

Trifecta, a refreshing pale ale from Night Shift Brewing. This is the beer I used for my Raspberry Beer Cocktail — it was so refreshing.

Slumbrew’s “My Better Half,” a super-smooth Imperial Cream Ale. We drank this as-is.

Slumbrew’s “Porter Square Porter,” a tasty selection brewed with cocoa powder and cacao nibs. Delicious drinking.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup frozen raspberries
  • 3 1/2 bottles beer (12 oz. size), chilled
  • 1  container frozen raspberry lemonade concentrate (12 oz.), thawed
  • 1/2 cup vodka

Directions

Blend all the ingredients together in a large bowl; chill and serve as-is or over ice. Optional: garnish with lemons and/or limes. You can use fresh raspberries, but I actually liked frozen better. I also halved this recipe since you could only buy these beers in 750 ml containers, but I should have doubled it because this drink went fast at the party. I can’t wait to try this out at our first cookout in the new backyard.

Recipe inspiration from Southern Living.

Tips and Tricks

A few food photography tips …

… from the Boston Globe’s amateur photography page, Raw. These tips come from Montreal blogger Jennifer Bartoli, who writes the Chocolate Shavings blog.

Boston.com / Chocolate Shavings Blog

Her advice?

Some foods are inherently easier to photograph than others. It’s a simple fact that some foods are very aesthetically pleasing, colorful, and crisp, and some are not.

Think, for example, of taking the photograph of a perfectly frosted three-tiered strawberry cake as opposed to a chunky, hearty soup. Even with minimal effort, the cake will tend to look more palatable, and, the stew, no matter how delicious and aromatic, will most likely come across as messier and less appetizing.

I would suggest that beginners first start to photograph easy subjects like well-groomed desserts, savory tarts, and whole vegetables or fruit. Once you’ve mastered the easier shots, you can start taking the stews, sauces, pastas etc.

My advice for those shots is to find a visual interest point on which to focus your shot, such as a touch of sour cream and a parsley leaf to top a stew, or a piece of crusty bread to accompany a shapeless sauce.

Lighting

Lighting is the essential ingredient to most photography, and food photography is no different.

It’s hard to fool your audience with color: if a plate or an ingredient is meant to be crisp and white, your shot will look off if the slightest yellow tint emanates. Shooting in natural light is thus your best bet. This, obviously, is harder to do in the winter months (for all of us living on the East Coast) but it really makes or breaks a shot.

Of course, you can invest in expensive lighting equipment to mimic studio light used in professional photo labs, but I would suggest sticking to natural light first. Try setting up a small table by a window (or outside if you can) when the light is clear and diffuse, but not too direct.

Try taking shots at different angles around your subject until you find the side with the least shadows and the most sharpness. The use of reflectors can help to decrease shadows and bring out detail around the food. A simple, sturdy white posterboard works surprisingly well, and will help throw light back onto the plate.

boston.com / Chocolate Shavings Blog

Food Styling

Photographing food can really benefit from a little thought about what goes around the subject of your photo.

Playing around with a glass, a colorful napkin, or some visually interesting cutlery can help make your subject stand out and convey the ambiance of the meal. As when you walk into a restaurant or a bustling family kitchen, the ambiance of the locale can tell you a lot about the food you are going to be eating. An easy trick is often to plate a portion of the food (a slice of cake, a portion of pasta) and have the rest of the dish placed suggestively in the background.

boston.com / Chocolate Shavings Blog

Camera setting

Depth of field is an essential point when taking food photos. Often, a nice blur will make the actual emphasis of your shot stand out. This is not true for all shots, of course (some aerial shots of a dinner spread for example can look wonderful without the slightest blur), but most shots will instantaneously have more impact if part of the picture is blurry.

boston.com / Chocolate Shavings Blog

From my experience, 2/3 of the photograph in focus and 1/3 of the background blurry is a ratio that tends to work quite well. I usually set the depth of field on my camera from f/1.8 to f/2.8, depending on the amount of focus I am after. As for equipment, a surprisingly simple setup can generate impressive results. An entry-level SLR with a 50mm lens can cover most of the angles that food requires.