Friday, November 11, 2011

Paella with Seitan Spanish Chorizo

Hello, my dear ninjas!  I realize it's been a while since my last post, so here's one that came out extra-specially good for you to sink your teeth into.  Basically, I veganized a paella recipe to the best of my with all of my "ethnic" recipes, I must preface this post with the disclaimer that I am not Spanish, that I have never eaten paella in my life until I veganized it, and that this recipe is likely incredibly inauthentic.  It is, however, completely delicious, so I hope that you will love it as much as I do and not be offended if I'm totally trampling on any of your culinary cultural traditions.

After reading a bunch of paella recipes on the web, I realized that many of them included Spanish chorizo as an ingredient.  Apparently Spanish and Mexican chorizo are quite different (I already have a recipe for tempeh chorizo flavored with Mexican spices that is quite tasty), and I figured that the crumbly texture of tempeh probably wouldn't work well here, so I decided to try my hand at making a Spanish chorizo out of seitan.  Again, not sure as to the authenticity of the taste, but damn did this stuff ever kick ass.  The mellow spiciness of the paprika and cayenne pepper plays off the sweetness of the brown sugar and makes a freakin' fiesta of awesome nomz in your mouth.  Feel free to use just the seitan chorizo recipe in sandwiches, pasta, for breakfast, or anywhere you think some yummy, spicy-sweet sausage would be delicious.  Now....onto the recipes!

Paella with Seitan Spanish Chorizo


2 1/4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, cut into thin half moons
2 red bell peppers, sliced into strips
6 cloves garlic
28 ounce can diced tomatoes (fire roasted if you can find them)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 Tablespoons paprika
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 recipe seitan Spanish chorizo (recipe follows), cut into bite-sized pieces
2 - 15 ounce cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen peas
2 Tablespoons roasted red peppers, chopped finely
1 cup kalamata olives
1 1/4 cup rice
parsley for garnish

First, make your saffron broth.  Bring your vegetable broth to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the saffron threads and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove the threads by skimming the top of the broth with a wire strainer or a slotted spoon.  Set the broth aside.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic, and cook until the onion is translucent - about 10 minutes.  Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, paprika, salt, and bay leaf and cook for another 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the seitan until browned, about 5 minutes.  Add the seitan and beans to the tomato mixture along with the peas, minced roasted red peppers, olives, and rice.  Cook for 2 minutes and then add the saffron-infused vegetable broth.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stir, lower the heat to low, and cover the pot.  Cook for 35-45 minutes or until all the moisture is absorbed. 
Turn off the heat and allow the paella to rest for 10 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf and fluff the rice with a fork and serve.  Garnish individual servings with chopped parsley.

Tips and Tricks:

1. Holy @#$%, saffron is expensive!  True.  Saffron is the most expensive spice in existence.  The container I bought ran me around $16.00 and I used all of it for this recipe.  The saffron is pretty integral to this being "paella," although - let's be serious - this is far from "authentic" paella, so if you can't afford it, just leave it out and use regular old vegetable broth to cook your rice in.  If you do this, obviously you can skip the first part of the recipe where you simmer the broth and just start with cooking the onion, pepper, and garlic.

2. I believe most "actual" paella requires one to make their own vegetable broth from scratch.  However, anyone who is even a semi-regular reader of this blog knows that I am way too damn lazy to deal with stuff like making my own broth.  If you'd like to make your own - go for it.  Just add the saffron in the last 15 minutes of simmering all the other stuff you put in there.

3. There are actual specific types of rice for making paella.  I couldn't find any "paella rice" so I just used brown rice and it was fine.  Use brown or white if you can't find any rice specific to paella but I'd stay away from jasmine or sushi rice which might get too mushy.

4. Some of the paella recipes I looked at called for "piquillo peppers," which I have never heard of before.  I was able to find them after a hard and frustrating search of the grocery store, and discovered upon opening the jar that appear to be really nothing more than roasted red bell peppers.  If I'd known that I would have just bought some jarred roasted red peppers and saved myself the annoyance.  So that's why I have "roasted red peppers" on the ingredients list instead of "piquillo peppers."  If you're a purist though, or you just have easy access to them, feel free to use the real thing.  And if you're someone who actually knows what the difference is, please feel free to enlighten me.

Seitan Spanish Chorizo


1 1/4 cups vital wheat gluten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed slightly
3/4 cup vegetable broth + enough to cover the seitan in the pot (about 6 cups)
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic

Mix the gluten, spices, and brown sugar in a large bowl.  Mix the 3/4 cup vegetable broth, vinegar, olive oil, and garlic in a smaller bowl.  Mix wet into dry and knead with your hands until a stiff, stretchy dough forms, about 5 minutes.  If the dough is too wet, add more gluten, if it is too dry, add more vegetable broth.  Your end result should be a very firm dough that stretches when pulled.  Split the dough into 3-4 roughly equal pieces.  Each piece should be a little smaller than your fist.  Flatten the pices out a bit - this will help them to cook evenly.  Place them in a pot with enough vegetable broth to cover them (you can use water too if you don't have enough broth) and bring to a boil.  Once the pot is boiling, lower the heat to a low simmer and cover the pot.  Simmer for 1 hour.  Remove from the broth, allow to cool, and slice/cook as desired.  If you want to store unused seitan, either refrigerate in the cooking broth or freeze it.

Tips and Tricks:

1. It might take a few tries to get the texture of seitan right.  Too wet, and the pieces will fall apart when you try to simmer them in the broth, too dry, and your finished product will be hard and yucky in places, or the dough might not hold together at all.  Keep trying and you'll figure it out.  I've been making seitan for years and sometimes mine still doesn't turn out quite right for completely unknown reasons (actually when I made this recipe it turned out rather soft) but don't give up - seitan is so tasty and versatile, it is worth making the effort to master, and is a food that every vegan should know how to make.

2. This recipe makes relatively spicy seitan.  If your palate is very sensitive to spicy foods, you may want to halve the amounts of cayenne and paprika.

3. Make sure you cook your seitan at a low simmer - turn the heat down on your stove as low as it will go.  If you boil it too hard it will develop a spongy texture.  If this happens, it is still ok to eat, it just won't have as much of a "meaty" feel.

Well ninjas, that's it for now!  I realize that Thanksgiving is coming up, and I also realize I majorly failed at giving you any Thanksgiving recipes last year.  However, this year I have been invited to possibly spend Thanksgiving with my mom, and Mamma-Ninja is super awesome when it comes to eating all of my culinary creations.  Plus, her oven works, whereas mine has been broken for 6 months.  My tentative Thanksgiving fare:

Garlic mashed potatoes with homemade gravy
Mushroom and roasted fennel stuffing with toasted walnuts
Vegan green bean casserole
Homemade cranberry sauce (with a "ninja" twist - this means alcohol in the recipe, folks)
Roasted brussels sprouts with dried cranberries
Pie - not sure what kind yet; I have tons of recipes I've been wanting to try out but haven't had an oven for so long....I may get slightly "pie-happy" if I get to use Mamma-Ninja's oven.

So hopefully all that works out and I'll have a ridiculously long Thanksgiving-feast post coming soon.  If you can't wait that long, please check out last year's Thanksgiving recipe: Rum-spiked pumpkin pie with candied pecans and drink some extra rum for me!  See you all again soon!

<3 The Fur Ninja

Monday, September 19, 2011

Creamy Bean and Vegetable Soup

So it appears that fall is upon us - the weather is cooling, the days are getting noticeably shorter, and a warm bowl of soup seems like a better idea now than it did even a few weeks ago.  Here's a recipe for a creamy, high-protien and nutrient-dense soup that will keep ninja bellies warm and full against the early fall chill.  Coconut milk, garlic, and jalapenos create the perfect backdrop to lots of mushrooms, potatoes, butternut squash and pretty little pink beans.  Serve with fresh-baked, crusty bread and you'll find yourself actually looking forward to the long, dreary winter months ahead.

Creamy Bean and Vegetable Soup


3 cloves garlic
2 jalapenos, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil
6 scallions, thinly sliced
8 oz sliced white or cremini mushrooms
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1.5 lbs yukon gold potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
14 oz can coconut milk
15 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 of a 16 oz block of silken tofu
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tablespoons lime juice
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ginger
freshly ground black pepper

Place the garlic and jalapenos into a small blender or food processor with the olive oil.  Puree until there are no large chunks of pepper remaining and the mixture resembles a paste.  Heat a large saucepan or stockpot over medium heat.  Add the garlic and jalapeno paste and mushrooms and cook for 4 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to brown.  Add the corn, potatoes, butternut squash, salt, pepper, cumin, and ginger and cook for 5 minutes.  If the mixture starts to look dry, add splashes of water or vegetable broth to keep everything from sticking.
Meanwhile, puree the coconut milk and tofu in a blender until smooth and creamy.  When your vegetables have been cooking for 5 minutes, add the vegetable broth and coconut milk/tofu mixture to the pot.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes and squash and tender.  Add the pinto beans and scallions and cook for 1-2 minutes until heated through.  Turn off the heat and add the lime juice and maple syrup.  Allow the soup to cool for a few minutes and then put about 2 cups of the soup into a blender and puree until creamy.  Add the puree back into the pot with the rest of the soup and stir well.  Add the cilantro and taste for spices and adjust if necessary.  Allow the soup to sit for 5 minutes before eating.

Tips and Tricks:

1. The half-block of tofu problem - as I mentioned in my last post for Pan-Fried Vegetable Fritters, you can save partial blocks of tofu by freezing them, or you can use them up by pureeing them with pasta sauce, soup, or smoothies.  Pureed tofu can also be used as a substitute for eggs in baked goods with 1/4 cup pureed tofu equalling one egg, so maybe make some brownies for dessert (and then invite me over so I can help eat them).

2. This soup is relatively spicy; if you think it might be too much, halve the spices and taste it and add more if necessary.  You can also use only one jalapeno instead of two if you'd like your soup less spicy.

Well I hope making this soup starts off everyone's fall season in the most ninja-esque way possible.  As the leaves start to drop, be sure to keep fingers, toes, hearts, and tummies warm and full and happy by sharing food and snuggling with those you love.  Lucy, Skye and I plan to do just that.  Until next time!

<3 The Fur Ninja

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pan-Fried Vegetable Fritters

Good day, lovely ninja readers!  Today's recipe is for vegetable fritters.  A "fritter" is basically anything that is batter-coated and deep fried, so be forewarned that this recipe is not going to be at the pinnacle of ninja-healthiness.  However, you can also be assured that these little crunchy veggie discs are DELICIOUS!  I mean, hey, what isn't delicious when it's dipped in batter and fried?  Feel free to try this recipe with other types of veggies (I think root vegetables like shredded carrots and parsnips would be great!) although stick to vegetables that have some "substance" to them and will hold up to the frying.  Leafy greens and veggies with a very high water content like tomatoes or cucumbers are probably not going to work here.  Most anything else is probably fair game though, so go nuts, get creative and fry up a storm!  These little fritters are best if eaten right away (well....let them cool off first!) so invite over some ninja friends to help you.  They have a tendency to get mushy if you keep them as leftovers.  If you don't have any hungry ninjas to help you eat them, you may want to halve the recipe, or just mix the batter and only fry up what you need while keeping the rest of the batter refrigerated in a tightly-lidded container; it should keep for a day or two in the fridge this way.

Pan-Fried Vegetable Fritters


2 small zucchini, grated
1 cup frozen corn, rinsed under warm water to thaw
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 of a 16oz package water-packed silken tofu
1 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
Several grinds black pepper
vegetable oil for frying

Place the grated zucchini in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt.  Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes.
Mix the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, oregano, cayenne pepper, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper in a large bowl.
Take your 1/2 block of tofu (to divide the block just eyeball it and cut it in half with a knife; it doesn't have to be perfect) and put it in a small blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Add the pureed tofu to the dry ingredients in the bowl. 
Go back to your zucchini, squeeze as much water out of it as possible, and add it to the bowl with the corn.  Mix everything very well.
Coat the bottom of a large cast iron or non-stick skillet with a 1/8" layer of vegetable oil, and heat over medium-high heat.  Test to see if the oil is ready by dropping a small amount of the batter into the pan.  The oil is ready when bubbles form around the edge of the batter and it starts to sizzle.
Drop about 3 Tablespoon-sized scoops (a scant 1/4 cup) into the oil and flatten them out slightly with a spatula.  Fry until golden brown on each side, about 5 minutes.
Drain the fritters on paper towels and allow them to cool for a few minutes before eating.  These are great with ketchup and hot sauce!

Tips and Tricks:

1. Don't make your fritters too large, or they will fall apart when you try to flip them, and make sure you squash them down a bit while cooking both sides so the middles get cooked evenly as well as the outside.  Also be sure not to under-cook them or they will fall apart as well.  You want them a deep, golden-brown color.

2. Please flip carefully!  Burning yourself with hot oil or setting your kitchen on fire would be bad!  To flip without splashing, try using two spatulas - one slid underneath and the other on top so you can flip and set the fritters back down into the oil gently.

3. What to do with your leftover 1/2 box of tofu - you have a few options here.  My favorite is to blend leftover tofu into pasta sauce, which gives you added protein and also turns red sauce into a nice, creamy pink sauce.  Just take about a cup of your sauce and put it into a blender with the tofu and blend until smooth, then mix it back into the rest of the sauce and stir until blended and heated through.  You can also freeze leftover tofu (although this works better for firm rather than silken); it will turn a weird yellowish color, but it's still okay for eating.  Just thaw and use however you normally would.

4. Thawing your frozen corn - it doesn't need to be totally thawed, but you want to make sure there aren't lots of ice crystals that will melt and make your batter too runny.  Just run the frozen corn under some warm water until most of the ice is melted.

So that's all for today....more recipes to come!  Creamy avocado dip and 3-bean vegetable chowder recipes soon to come!

<3 The Fur Ninja

Friday, September 2, 2011

Pesto Chickpea Orzo with Lemon Fennel Potatoes - 2 recipe special post!

Happy Labor Day weekend!  I know that I haven't been posting much lately, but it's because my crazy work schedule has been zapping all of my ninja skills and I haven't been cooking.  For the last few weeks I've been existing mostly on peanut butter and jelly, salads, cereal, and mass amounts of coffee.  However, last night I finally took some time to cook a real meal, and let me tell you - these recipes are weak-in-the-knees good!  The chickpea orzo is just a little bit spicy and perfectly flavored with cilantro and lemon pesto, and the creamy potatoes literally melt in your mouth with every bite.  I rounded out last night's meal with some kale sauteed with garlic in olive oil and a splash of vegetable broth.  Delicious!

Pesto Chickpea Orzo with Lemon Fennel Potatoes

Pesto Chickpea Orzo


1 cup uncooked orzo (I used whole wheat but any kind is fine)
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
6 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 scallions, chopped (green parts only)
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup grated carrots
1 large bunch cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2  teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
zest from 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
3 Tablespoons water

First, start cooking the orzo.  Place the orzo in a medium saucepan with the vegetable broth, 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a boil and cook until orzo is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, make the pesto.  Place the cilantro, 4 Tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor or blender.  Process until smooth.  The pesto will be relatively thin, so don't worry!
Once your orzo is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the chickpeas, carrots, scallions, and pesto.  Stir to incorporate all ingredients.  Add the mint and lemon zest and stir again.  Taste for salt and spices and adjust if necessary.  Allow the orzo to rest for about 5-10 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.

Lemon Fennel Potatoes
*Note: this recipe was inspired by something I found in a cooking magazine.  I have tweaked it slightly, but just wanted to give credit where credit was due!


1 1/2 lbs unpeeled red potatoes (about 6 average-sized potatoes), cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed slightly
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh italian parsley
several grinds of black pepper

Put the potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover.  Boil 20 minutes until tender.  Drain the potatoes and return to the pot.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to incorporate everything and to break up the potatoes.  You're not trying to get a mashed-potato consistency, but you want them smashed and creamy.  Use the back of your spoon to kind of smush things around until all the large pieces of potato are broken up.  Enjoy!

Tips and Tricks:

1. Leave the skins on your potatoes; it adds lovely color to the dish and the skin of the potato is where most of its nutrients are.

2. Make sure you crush your fennel seeds slightly or you won't get their full flavor in this dish.  Don't pulverize them in a spice grinder or anything, but just gently crush them a bit with either a mortar and pestle or just do what I do - put them in a coffee cup and smush them a bunch of times with the bottom of a sea salt grinder.

And just in case anyone was wondering how I cook my kale, it's not really a "recipe" (because I just eyeball everything) but just take a big stockpot and drizzle a bunch of olive oil in the bottom.  Sautee a bunch of minced garlic (I use jarred minced garlic and I literally just take a big ol' spoonful of it and plop it in my pot) in the oil over medium heat for a minute or two.  Add your kale - make sure your kale is washed and the leaves are torn off the tough stems; I get around this by paying a bit extra for pre-washed and de-stemmed bagged kale - to the pot with a little splash of vegetable broth (if you have any; if not you can use a splash of water or even white wine) and stir your kale around until it's wilted and bright green.  If your kale doesn't start to wilt in a minute or two, turn up your heat.  That's it!

So I hope you enjoy my latest ninja recipes; have a wonderful and safe holiday weekend!  Summer is coming to a close, but that just means more excuses to cook - nothing like hiding inside and cooking up a storm when it's snowy and frigid outside.  This ninja is looking forward to it!  Well, that's it for now, love as always from myself, Lucy, and Skye.

<3 The Fur Ninja

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cheezy Pesto Hummus...because it's been too damn hot to cook

Holy heat wave, ninjas!  Pretty much the whole U.S. (and apparently much of Canada) was trapped in a heat wave for what seemed like forever.  The heat broke today with some rain (finally!) but it appears we're going to be back up into the nineties by tomorrow, although compared to the triple-digit temps we've been dealing with even that is probably going to feel like a relief.  So here's a recipe for hummus, which is a great fill-you-up, high-protein food that doesn't require you to stand sweating over a hot stove.  Hummus is one of those always-been-vegan foods that is just so damn wonderful I'm not sure what I'd do without it.  It's right up there with avocados, dark chocolate, and beer on my list of foods that I like better than most people I know.  Hummus is endlessly versatile - if you walk into the grocery store you can find seemingly unlimited varieties - roasted garlic hummus, red pepper hummus, spicy hummus, etc. etc. and for those of us who aren't being duped into paying astronomical prices for a product we could make easily in about 10 minutes at home for a small fraction of the price, we can play around even more with ingredients.  I am currently attempting to grow a small windowsill garden that includes parsley, thyme, oregano, pinto beans, hot peppers, and a basil plant.  Tossing some fresh basil into homemade hummus to make a sort of pesto/hummus hybrid turned out wonderfully tasty, so of course I wanted to share the recipe with my fellow ninjas!

Eat this hummus as a dip for fresh veggies, bread, or chips, or in a pita/wrap with veggies and/or falafel.  This ninja's preferred vehicles for transporting hummus from bowl to mouth are baby carrots, celery sticks, sliced cucumber, and whole wheat pita bread.  Perfect food to fill you up when it's hot as hell outside and you can't fathom turning on your stove.

Cheezy Pesto Hummus


6 cloves garlic
1 1/4 cups tightly packed fresh basil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 a yellow onion, peeled
1 15oz can chickpeas
3/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
paprika and extra basil for garnish

Place the garlic, basil, olive oil, and onion in a food processor or powerful blender.  Process until relatively smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides a couple of times.  Add the rest of the ingredients and process until smooth and fluffy.  Taste and adjust salt and lemon juice if needed.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of paprika, and chopped basil if you wish.  Enjoy!

Tips and Tricks:

1. Blender vs. food processor - I use a food processor for this and pretty much all other non-liquid blending/grinding/processing tasks.  I've blown far too many blender motors in the past trying to make dips, that I really only use a blender for things like soups that are actually liquid.  If you're going to be doing a lot of cooking, or really, even occasional cooking, I highly recommend you get yourself a food processor.  Nothing beats one for making dips, and it's pretty freaking awesome for shredding vegetables as well if it comes with a shredding blade.  Now, go to a store and look at the kitchen appliances and you'll find lots of food processors with hefty price tags, but it doesn't need to be that way.  I got mine for free through Freecycle - if you don't already know, Freecycle is an online group where people give crap away for free to other people in an attempt to help others and keep our junk out of landfills (think "one man's trash is another man's treasure" kind of thing) and most areas have an active group so check it out!  Also try looking at thrift stores that sell small appliances on the cheap.  My processor is a totally huge, kick ass thing that appears to be from the late 1970s.  I call her The Beast.  Allow me to introduce you:

The Beast in all her glory

I've been using this thing for almost 3 years now on a regular basis and it can pulverize thick, beany sauces/dips and shred multiple pounds of potatoes for latkes like a champ with no signs of slowing down.  Not bad for zero dollars, eh?  I probably could have bought a brand new one and not had it work so well.  The phrase "they don't make 'em like they used to" is most definitely applicable here.  If the thought of using something for your food that belonged to someone else once skeeves you, just wash it really well in hot water and dish soap with a little bit of diluted bleach.  Mine smelled vaguely of mothballs when I got it (the woman who gave it to me said it had been in the back of a closet for years) and it was nothing a good cleaning couldn't remedy.  Also, get over it!  Buying second-hand is an awesome way to save money and it's good for the environment too.  I buy nearly all of my clothing second-hand and kitchen appliances too when I can find them and I'm not dead yet.  It's my theory that we mostly all have the same germs anyhow.

2. Tahini - in case you aren't familiar with tahini, it's sesame seed butter.  It's made in the same way that peanut butter or any other nut butter is, and like natural peanut butter the oil separates and floats on top so you need to give it a good stir before you measure it out.  You can find tahini in most grocery stores in the same aisle as the peanut butter.

3. "I think nutritional yeast is revolting...what should I do?"  Just leave it out.  You'll have pesto hummus but it will no longer be "cheezy."  Still a "win" in my book.  I just happen to like nutritional yeast and I put it in probably an excessive amount of food items.  What can I say, I still miss cheese and I strive to get that flavor back as much as I can.

4. This makes a TON of hummus so invite some friends over to help you eat it.  Hummus will keep in the fridge in a tightly lidded container for about a week.  Keep a layer of plastic wrap pressed down right onto the top of the hummus to keep it from drying out.

Well, that's all for now, my lovely ninjas.  I'll be whipping out the grill pan again tomorrow for some spicy chili burgers, and I've got recipes for a coconut chickpea stir fry with quinoa and braised vegetables and tofu in a fresh herb sauce forthcoming.  Until then, enjoy your hummus and stay cool!

<3 The Fur Ninja

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tequila Marinated Grilled Tofu and Margarita Vinaigrette

Hey ninjas - let's all cook with tequila!

I made this recipe because I recently bought myself a grill pan and wanted to try it out.  It's actually a double-sided thing with the grill ridges on one side and a flat griddle on the other and it fits over two stove burners.  I LOVE this thing.  I encourage everyone to get a grill pan, especially if you're like me and live in the city where there's no yard or patio to speak of where you could put a grill.  If you don't have/don't want a grill pan, you could also make this recipe on an outdoor grill, a George-Foreman-esque countertop grill contraption, or bake it in the oven.  Baking instructions follow the recipe.

Now let it be said that I'm not one that's big on eating slabs of tofu, no matter how they are prepared.  I tend to prefer my tofu as part of a greater whole, but the combination of the delicious, tequila-spiked marinde and the "yum" and firm texture imparted by grilling made this stuff downright amazing if I do say so myself.  Marinated grilled tofu is endlessly versatile - eat it on it's own, on top of a salad, layered in a sandwich, tucked into a pita/wrap with veggies and dressing, eat atop rice cooked in vegetable broth or pasta with olive oil....just remember that whatever you eat it with should be lightly flavored so you don't overpower the flavor of the marinade.  I ate mine rolled into a whole-wheat wrap with spinach, strawberries, avocado, cilantro, and topped with a margarita vinaigrette dressing, the recipe for which I have also included in this post since that's just how much I love my ninja readers.  Onto the recipe!

Tequila Marinated Grilled Tofu


1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup tequila
3 Tablespoons olive oil
zest of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt
several grinds black pepper
1 lb extra firm tofu, drained

*Note: you may want to freeze and thaw your tofu before using it in this recipe.  Freezing tofu before cooking gives it a firmer, chewier, and more meat-like texture.  Just throw the whole package in the freezer, freeze until solid, and then thaw completely in the refrigerator.  Proceed normally with the recipe.  If you don't want to freeze your tofu or don't have time, it will still be delicious, but the texture will be slightly softer.

First press your tofu.  Wrap it in a clean dish towel and place it on a cutting board or flat plate.  Put another cutting board/plate on top of it and weight it down with something - I use a can or two of tomatoes or a large container of oatmeal.  You're not trying to flatten/smush it; just weight it with something heavy enough to press it down slightly - you're just trying to squeeze out some of the excess water so it absorbs the marinade better.  Make sure the weight is evenly distributed so your tofu doesn't press unevenly or tilt the top plate and topple off your weight.  Leave the tofu for 30-60 minutes.  Slice width-wise into eighths, which will give you about 1/2" slices.  Set aside.

In a wide, shallow dish, whisk all remaining ingredients together.  Place the tofu in the dish and spoon some of the marinade on top.  Marinate for at least one hour, but up to overnight; turning at least once.

To grill:  make sure your grill or grill pan is well-oiled with olive oil or cooking spray and pre-heat on medium-high.  Place tofu slices on grill pan and grill each side for 7-10 minutes until browned and char-marks appear, spooning additional marinade over tofu as it cooks.

To bake in the oven:  pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place marinated tofu onto well-oiled baking sheet.  Bake 15 minutes.  Flip tofu and spoon some more of the marinade over it and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. 


Margarita Vinaigrette


2 Tablespoons lime juice
1.5 teaspoons orange juice
1.5 teaspoons tequila
1 shallot, minced finely
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
several grinds black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Whisk all ingredients until well combined.  Chill at least 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

I ate my tofu in whole wheat wraps with baby spinach, fresh sliced strawberries, avocado, cilantro, and all of it doused in the margarita vinaigrette.  Yum!

I suggest making yourself a refreshing margarita with the leftover tequila to accompany your tasty tofu, but hey, that's just me.

And now I leave you with this, because I haven't been able to get the song out of my head since starting this post, and I think you should all have to suffer with me:


Oh, childhood memories :)

As always, comments welcome and thanks to all my faithful ninja readers!

<3 The Fur Ninja

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pictures of my cute kitties for absolutely no reason whatsoever....

Title of post is self-explanatory:

Lucy with her "grub" toy - she takes care of it like it's her baby.

Skye napping with her "Ratta" toy that daddy Andy got her from Ikea (thanks, daddy!)

Two of a kind....

My friend Joe says her whiskers make her look like Jamie from Mythbusters.


That's all the gratuitous cuteness for now...maybe.  A girl at work just rescued a stray that had kittens and she's giving the little ones away.  Hmmm...this could spell trouble for the Fur Ninja household.  There's nothing I'm more of a sucker for than a furry kitten.

New recipe in the next couple of days - tried out my grill pan tonight with some tequila-marinated grilled tofu and it was truly bangin' if I do say so myself.  I'm just too tired, and (let's be honest) tipsy on some leftover tequila to get into a long recipe post right now.

Much love and happy furry kitty-ness to everyone!

<3 The Fur Ninja

Monday, July 4, 2011

Back from hiatus, happy July 4th, and ice cream cupcakes!

Helloooooooooo, ninjas!  It is SO good to be back and cooking again after couch-surfing and not having my own kitchen for so long!  I finally moved myself to Philadelphia, have lovely new ninja-kitchen headquarters, and Lucy, Skye and I are loving our new home.  I hope all of you are ready for some delicous new recipes because I've been itching to post some!

So today is July 4th, so happy Independence Day to all of my American ninjas, and happy random-monday-in-July to all of my lovely ninjas abroad.  Whether you're watching fireworks and happily BBQing today, or just schlepping through a day at work, here's a recipe for some easy, chilly ice cream treats to chase away the sweltering summer heat.

This recipe would be great to make with little ninjas, as it requires no baking, limited measuring (most things you can "eyeball") and lots of sticky, messy working with your hands.  This recipe is actually adapted from a recipe that was designed for kids, with some ingredients changed for the sake of vegan-ness, health, and making the final product more appealing to both little and grown-up ninja palates.  These are great little treats, especially if you are like me and tend to eat your ice cream straight from the pint (while watching reruns of girly tv dramas and drooling over hot men if you're me - something about chocolate ice cream and Patrick Dempsey is so very "yum" *hangs head in shame*), as they kind of force you into having some portion control.  Just don't eat the whole pan of them in one sitting....or, fuckit do it anyway!  No judgement here.  We've all done it.  Anyway, regardless of how you eat them, I hope you enjoy these cute little treats!

Easy Ice-Cream "Cupcakes"


1/2 cup raw agave nectar
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon creamy natural peanut butter
3 cups flake cereal
1 quart vanilla or chocolate vegan ice cream
3 Tablespoons chopped pecans or hazlenuts
1/2 teaspoon non-dairy butter, melted
3 oz premium dark chocolate
cooking spray or non-dairy butter for the pan

Spray a 12 muffin/cupcake pan with cooking spray or lightly butter the cups with a little non-dairy butter on a paper towel.  In a medium bowl, mix together the agave nectar and 1/4 cup of the peanut butter until combined.  Mix in the cereal, crushing the flakes as you mix until all the flakes are evenly coated.  Press the cereal firmly into the bottoms of the muffin cups with the back of a spoon or your fingers.
Spoon about 2 Tablespoons of the ice cream on top of the flake mixture in each of the muffin cups, pressing down with a spoon as you go.  Place about 1/2 teaspoon of peanut butter on top of the ice cream in each cup, and top with 2 more Tablespoons of ice cream, smoothing to cover the peanut butter.  Sprinkle with the chopped nuts.  Place in freezer while you make the chocolate glaze.
Break up your chocolate bar and place in a small bowl with the non-dairy butter and remaining 1 Tablespoon peanut butter.  Microwave for 30 seconds and stir.  Continue microwaving in 10 second increments until chocolate is mostly melted with some lumps, being careful not to burn the chocolate.  Stir the mixture until the remaining lumps are melted and the mixture is smooth.
Remove the muffin pan from the freezer and drizzle the chocolate mixture over each cup.  Freeze overnight until firm.
To serve, run a knife or spoon gently around each cup to loosen the cereal.  Enjoy with lots of wet paper towels handy for sticky fingers!

Tips and Tricks:

1. Your chocolate: use premium dark chocolate for the best taste - the slight bitterness of the very dark chocolate contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the ice cream.  I used a dark chocolate bar that was 85% cocoa:

but you are welcome to use whatever sort of dark, vegan-friendly chocolate you like.  Just remember to read labels - REAL dark chocolate does NOT contain milk or milk-products, but many chocolate manufacturers put milk into "dark" chocolate nowadays in an effort to pander to watered-down American palates.  You're going to have to fork out the dough for a premium chocolate bar if you want to avoid milk, most likely.  It's worth it though; trust me. 

2. Raw agave nectar?  Wtf??? - This is just what I used as a sweetener/sticky-fier because the original recipe called for corn syrup (dude....ew) and agave is far healthier, as it is a minimally processed and low-glycemic sweetener option.  You could also use pure maple syrup or possibly brown rice syrup here, but I chose agave over maple to avoid imparting a maple flavor to the finished product.  Agave is pretty innocuous flavor-wise and it melds with most ingredients well.  I'd like to try this with brown rice syrup, and that was honestly my original intention, but the store where I was shopping didn't have it and I didn't feel like going all the way to Whole Foods.  So yeah, agave was used partly due to laziness as well.  Feel free to use whatever sweetener you like!

3. Chocolate?  Or vanilla?  Frankly I'd go with vanilla ice cream if you have the choice here, because I used chocolate and felt that it was too overpowering, but again, the store didn't have vanilla in quart size and I was too lazy to go somewhere that did.  I used So Delicious brand ice cream, by the way, which is hands-down the BEST vegan ice cream I've ever eaten.  You can't tell the difference at all from regular ice cream, and this is coming from a true ice cream my pre-vegan, 20 lbs overweight phase I was basically a slave to Ben and Jerry.  So Delicious isn't much more expensive than non-vegan premium dairy ice cream is, and they donate a portion of their proceeds to saving sea turtles.  Win.  If you can make your own vegan ice cream, go for it (I would have made my own but the ice cream maker I used to use belonged to Andy and so still lives in NJ *tear*) but if you've gotta buy some, So Delicious is the way to go.  By the way, 1 quart of ice cream will leave you with some extra for eating *puts on Grey's Anatomy and pulls out spoon* so enjoy that as well :)

4. Aw, nuts....I used hazlenuts here, but you can use any kind of chopped nut you like - peanuts, pecans, walnuts, macadamias....whatever, go nuts (hehe).  Honestly, I think the dark chocolate overpowers most of the actual flavor of the nuts, so anything that goes *crunch* would work brilliantly.

5. Cereal - you can use any flake cereal here, but in the interest of attempting to offset the sugar-laden calorie-fest that is So Delicious ice cream, I used a whole grain, organic flax flake.  Again, the actual flavor of the flakes is going to be overpowered by everything else, so you're just looking for a pleasant crunch.  I figure, why not slip in some omega-3s and whole grains if I can?  Just try to get a cereal that doesn't have a lot of sugar added to the flakes because it could make the finished product too sweet.  Agave is low-glycemic but it is very sweet (not to mention the ice cream you've got going on there) so you don't really need any more sugar.

6. Peanut butter - for fuck's sake (sorry for the f-bomb but I'm pretty adamant about this) use natural peanut butter.  Natural PB is readily available in every major grocery store nowadays - most stores even have their own generic "store brand" of natural peanut butter - so there's no excuse for getting trans-fat, sugar, and chemical-laden "peanut spread" anymore.  Peanuts are absolutely delicious on their own and they don't need any of that other crap mixed in.  If you're really too lazy to deal with the oil-separation that occurs in natural PB, there are some brands that make a "no-stir" natural option (I believe JIF makes one), although I generally don't recommend these because they have added palm oil (which has some negative health and environmental impact, although not nearly has bad as hydrogenated oils) and sugar.  A great trick to avoid the oil goo on top of natural PB is to store the jar upside down.  The oil will rise to the top - which is really the bottom - so stirring it in is so much easier.  You can even make your own "reduced fat" peanut butter by skimming the oil off the top when you first open the jar, which solves your oil problem as well.  Basically, do what you gotta do as far as peanut butter, but in this ninja's opinion, the better taste and health benefits of the natural stuff far outweigh the annoyance of stirring some oil once in a while.

So that's that...hope you enjoyed the first Fur Ninja recipe in almost five months!  I'd like to try this recipe again with home-made, stevia-sweetened fruit ice cream with omega-3 and protein-rich walnuts and inflammation-reducing berries to make a low-sugar, high-protein, and nutrient-rich version to use as a post-workout snack, so look for that in the future once I can afford to buy my own ice cream maker!  I've also got lots more recipes coming - including tequila-marinated grilled tofu (to try out my new grill pan!) and much, much more.  Also, hope you're loving the new, less-crappy pictures, courtesy of my spiffy new digital camera.

Until next time, much love from me, Lucy, and Skye!

<3 The Fur Ninja

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gluten-Free Chocolate Orange Pancakes (For Smurf!) and Tempeh Chorizo Crumbles

Breakfast time again!  I wanted to develop a recipe for chocolate orange pancakes a few weeks ago, and a friend of mine commented that she couldn't eat pancakes due to a possible wheat sensitivity.  Now, not being able to eat pancakes is just terribly unfortunate - bordering on criminal, so I decided to try my hand at developing a gluten-free recipe.  This is my first serious foray into gluten-free cooking, and I'm pretty pleased with the results.  I might continue to mess around with different types of flour and tweak things a bit (the texture of the pancakes wasn't bad, but you could definitely tell the difference from regular pancakes), but all-in-all I'd say these were a success.  They were scarfed down here at the Fur Ninja house quite readily, anyway. 
I also made tempeh chorizo to go with the pancakes.  The chorizo crumbles are great not just for breakfast, but also for pasta, pizza, or pretty much anywhere you think spicy sausage would be delicious.  I have a recipe for southwest lasagne that I'll be posting soon that includes the tempeh chorizo as well.  It's easy to make, and (according to Andy, the Fur Ninja's primary omnivore taste-tester) is pretty close to the real thing in both taste and texture.  The tempeh doesn't need long to marinate (you can mix it up and cook it immediately if you wish) but if you're making it in conjunction with other dishes, make the chorizo mix first so the flavors have some time to meld before you throw it in the pan to cook.  If you're making it with the pancake recipe, make the chorizo mix first and let it sit while you make the pancake batter.  Then fry up the chorizo while you cook the pancakes.  I made breakfast with both of these recipes and some roasted red potatoes as well.  Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Dark Chocolate Orange Pancakes with Tempeh Chorizo Crumbles

Tempeh Chorizo Crumbles


8 ounce package tempeh
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon oregano
dash cloves
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed (see instructions)
several grinds of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon canola or olive oil for frying

Crumble the tempeh into a medium bowl using your hands, or you can use the large-hole side of a box grater.  Add all of the remaining ingredients except the fennel seeds and mix well.  You need to slightly crush the fennel seeds before you add them to the mixture.  If you happen to have a mortar and pestle, now is the time to use it, or you can just put the fennel seeds in a small bowl and crush them with something hard and flat like the back of a strong-handled spoon.  Personally, I used the bottom of my sea salt grinder because I do not have a mortal and pestle myself (although I really do need to get one; they are definitely ninja!) and it worked fine.  You're not trying to totally pulverize the seeds, just gently crush them a little so the flavor gets released a bit.  Add the crushed seeds into the tempeh mixture with everything else and mix well.
Once you're ready to cook your chorizo, heat the 1 Tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the chorizo mixture and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chorizo is lightly browned.  Enjoy with lots of ketchup and hot sauce!

Gluten-Free Dark Chocolate Orange Pancakes


3/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup chickpea flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons flax seed
3/4 cup soy milk
1 ounce square baking chocolate, melted
1/3 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon orange or vanilla extract
zest of one orange

Mix together the flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix together the melted chocolate, orange juice, extract, and orange zest.  Place the flax seeds and soy milk in a blender and blend until creamy.  Add to the rest of the wet ingredients and mix well.  Add wet ingredients into dry and mix just until combined - if you over-mix, your pancakes will be tough.  Allow the batter to sit for 5-10 minutes before cooking the pancakes.  If the batter seems too thicken too much, add more soy milk or orange juice, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until the consistency is right.
Coat a large skillet or electric griddle with cooking spray or canola oil and heat on medium-high.  Cook the pancakes until lightly browned on both sides.  The pancakes are ready to flip when the edges are slightly dry and the bubbles that form on the top start to pop.  Cook the second side until browned and slightly firm.  Continue with the rest of the pancake batter, re-oiling your pan/griddle as needed.  Serve with lots of real maple syrup or top with poached oranges (recipe found HERE); enjoy!

Tips and Tricks:

1. The nuances of gluten-free pancake batter - These pancakes are slightly more delicate than ordinary wheat-flour pancakes.  The trick seems to be to make them no bigger than 4-5" in diameter, and make sure that they are cooked enough on the first side to hold their shape before flipping.  Lift up the edge of your un-flipped pancake to check and see if it's browned at all; if not, be patient!

2. Not into gluten-free?  This recipe would probably also work wonderfully with regular wheat flour.  Just replace both the rice and chickpea flours with regular all-purpose or white whole-wheat flour.

Enjoy your hearty breakfast!  Coming soon - southwest lasagne using the chorizo recipe above, and "Andy's Curry of Doom!"  Also, wonderful news on the Fur Ninja front - my car will be fixed, inspected, and finally legal tomorrow....which means I can now drive to job interviews, and my move back to Philadelphia will hopefully be occurring soon!  Once I'm back in the city I may start doing some restaurant reviews on the blog to rate where is and is not veg-friendly in the city.  Hey, any excuse to go out and eat awesome food, right?  Until then, ninja headquarters will continue to be in Jersey, and I will continue to develop new and tasty recipes for all of my readers :)  Thanks to everyone who reads!

<3, The Fur Ninja

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Creamy Butternut Squash and Barley Soup's COLD outside!  I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm getting pretty sick of this snow-all-the-time business.  For anyone not in the Northeast, count your lucky stars because it is getting truly ridiculous here, and it's only February.  On the upside, nothing beats the cold like a hot bowl of soup and some crusty bread, so here's a recipe to keep your little ninja fingers and toes (and tastebuds!) toasty when it's freezing outside.

***Note: you will need to use dried beans for this recipe which require soaking for several hours, so plan ahead!  The best thing to do is put them in water to soak the night before and just leave them there while you snooze.  Or put them in water in the morning and let them soak while you're at work all day.  Just stick your beans in a bowl, add enough water to cover, and leave 'em for at least 6 hours.

Butternut Squash and Barley Soup


1/2 lb dried pinto beans, soaked for at least 6 hours
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 teaspoons minced fresh sage leaves
4 cloves garlic, minced
14 oz cabbage, shredded
1 lb butternut squash, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
8 cups vegetable broth
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with liquid
1/2 cup plain soy milk
1/2 cup cooked barley
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
1.5 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Cook the onion until slightly softened, 3 minutes.  Add carrot, celery, sage, garlic, thyme, and rosemary and cook another 5 minutes, stirring often.  Add the cabbage, butternut squash, and salt and cook until the cabbage is limp, about 10 minutes.  Add the soaked beans and vegetable broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until beans are tender.  Add the can of diced tomatoes, sprinkle with some black pepper, and cook another 15 minutes until the soup thickens slightly.  Place 2 cups of the soup into a blender with the 1/2 cup soy milk and puree.  Add the puree mixture back into the pot with the rest of the soup and stir to incorporate.  Add the cooked barley and parsley and cook another 5 minutes until everything is heated through.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust spices if necessary.  Garnish each bowl with a bit more parsley and enjoy!

Tips and Tricks:

1. Shredding cabbage - don't!  To make things easier on yourself, just buy a bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix in the section of the grocery store where the bagged salads are.  There will be some carrots mixed in there most likely, but there's carrots in the soup anyway, so no harm done and you'll make your life much easier and your kitchen less messy.

2. Black pepper - why no measurements?  I don't put measurements for how much black pepper to put in most of my recipes, because you really should be using freshly ground black pepper from a grinder, and let's face it - measuring that would be a royal pain in the ass.  If you're not grinding your peppercorns, you truly should be because the flavor is by far superior to pre-ground pepper.  When you grind it yourself, you're getting all the oils from the peppercorns that you lose when it's pre-ground and packaged.  Start with a couple of grinds, taste, and repeat as necessary.  You'll learn pretty quickly how much pepper suits your taste.  Remember - you can always add more but it's much more difficult to take away once there's too much so go slowly!

3. For an even more warm and toasty experience, put a few drops of hot sauce in your soup before eating!

Well that's it for now, ninjas!  Spring must be just around the corner, but until then, keep those fingers and toes warm and those bellies full! 

<3, The Fur Ninja

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Crunchy Coconut French Toast

Breakfast time!  I actually made this recipe while spending the weekend with my lovely brother and sister-in-law.  As a "thank you" for their wonderful (and often frequent) hospitality, I whipped up some delicious, vegan french toast one Saturday morning.  Unlike most vegan french toast recipes, there's no mashed banana or other nonsense in here, so the batter actually tastes pretty authentic.  The battered pieces are then coated in a mixture of coconut and crushed cereal, and pan-fried until golden brown.  This stuff is GOOD.  No, seriously.  Even if you've never actually tried one of my recipes before, I urge you to try this one because everything came together literally perfectly.  The french toast is so good that it doesn't even need maple syrup (although syrup couldn't hurt either!) and we were even eating cold pieces of it as finger food for the rest of the day and into the evening.  Roast some potatoes and onions while you're cooking the french toast and you have yourself one amazing breakfast.  Onto the recipe!

Crunchy Coconut French Toast

 Special "thank-you" to Michelle for FINALLY sending me this pic!


1 12oz box of firm silken-type tofu (the shelf-stable boxed kind, not the water packed kind)
6 teaspoons cornstarch
2/3 cup non-dairy milk
4 teaspoons pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups flake cereal, crushed 
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut
non-dairy butter and canola oil for pan-frying
1 baguette, cut into 1" slices

Heat oven to 300 degrees F.  Put the tofu and the cornstarch in a blender, and blend until smooth.  Add non-dairy milk, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne, and blend again until everything is incorporated.  Pour batter from blender into a medium bowl.  Mix crushed cereal and coconut in a small bowl.
Heat 2 Tablespoons of the non-dairy butter and 1/2 Tablespoon of canola oil in a large skillet or griddle over medium-high heat until the butter is melted.   Dip slices of bread into the batter, making sure bread is coated on both sides and fairly saturated.  Dip battered bread in coconut mixture to coat.  Cook in skillet/griddle for 4-6 minutes, or until golden brown, turning once.  Place cooked slices in an oven-proof dish and place in warm oven until all bread is cooked and ready to serve.  Continue battering and pan-frying remaining bread, adding non-dairy butter/oil to the pan in the same ratio as needed.

Tips and Tricks:

1. Silken tofu - make sure you're buying the right kind.  You do NOT want the water-packed tofu that you find in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  You need the non-refrigerated kind that is usually found wherever they keep the Asian foods.  The only brand I've ever seen around here is Mori-Nu, but I'm sure there are others.  It's confusing, because the water-packed type comes in different styles (x-tra firm, firm, soft, etc.) and one of those styles is "silken," and silken can also refer to the boxed type of tofu in general.  You want the boxed type of tofu here; firm is what I usually buy, although any type would likely work.  Yes, I know tofu is confusing, scary, and downright weird to people not used to working with it, and most people who are skeeved by any recipe containing tofu usually had a bad experience of being forced to choke down some slimy, tasteless jiggly white stuff by some well-meaning veg-head without an ounce of cooking know-how.  DON'T BE SCARED BY TOFU.  It can be an integral ingredient in many recipes (in this one it's replacing the eggs that would be traditionally found in a french toast batter, and also adds to the golden-brown color of the finished product) and can be delicious in many dishes if it's handled correctly.  It's unfortunate that this misunderstood food has been so mistreated as to make people turn up their noses at its very mention.  Please try my recipes with tofu, despite its inclusion.  I promise, no jiggly white goo here.  Please feel free to contact me with any tofu (or any other) questions :)

2. I've already berated you in other blog posts with the fact that real ninjas don't eat sweetened coconut or fake "maple syrup," so I won't get into that again here.  But don't forget.  Fur Ninja is watching you.

3. Flake cereal - I used flax (the cereal is called Flax Plus to be exact) because it's natural and tasty and flax flakes have a nutty flavor that was delicious here.  Plain ol' corn flakes would probably work as well, although I'd stay away from bran flakes because they might not be as crunchy.  Rice flakes might also work.  Basically any cereal that you think would be tasty here and would stay crunchy when put on top of french toast batter and fried would be great.  Don't go blaming me though if you try some weird cereal and it turns out awful.  Definitely stay away from anything that's not just plain flakes/cereal; I don't think your Crunchberries will work here; although heck, if you've tried it, I'd love to hear how it worked out....

4. Frying mixture - non-dairy butter AND oil???  I found this ratio in a cooking magazine and I've gotta say, it's perfect.  The non-dairy butter adds flavor to the finished product, and the touch of oil mixed in keeps the french toast from sticking better than the butter alone could.  I had zero problems with bread sticking to the pan, overcooking, batter falling off, etc.  Every single piece came out as a heavenly slice of crunchy golden-brown perfection.  If you'd prefer though, you can use just non-dairy butter, or just oil, but I'd recommend against plain cooking spray, because you wouldn't get everything browned well enough.  The butter/oil combo is great though, so if you have both ingredients, go for it.

5. Cooking to perfection - I used a large skillet here due to being at my little bro's place, but if I was making this at home I would have used my electric griddle.  I also used a non-stick pan, despite my abhorrence for the stuff, but most of my brother's cookware is non-stick.  I hate to say it, but I think the non-stick surface is part of the reason that the french toast came out so well.  When I started cooking, I was half-expecting the cereal/coconut mixture to be falling off all over the pan, but it really wasn't an issue.  If you're going to be cooking on stainless steel cookware, make sure that you have plenty of oil/non-dairy butter to avoid sticking, and flip your pieces carefully.  Better yet, use an electric griddle (mine isn't Teflon, but it's some type of anodized dark metal that resists sticking but won't flake off into your food) or a well-seasoned cast iron pan.  Whatever your cookware, I'd recommend flipping your pieces with tongs rather than a spatula.  It's just easier and will keep you from accidentally scraping off your batter when flipping.

6. Bread - The bread works best if it's day-old or slightly stale.  Notice I said slightly; if you've got hockey-puck slices, no amount of french toast batter or ninja skill is going to magically turn them into tender, yummy french toast.  Check your grocery store to see if they sell day-old breads at a discount.  Mine has a "f-ed up food shelf" and it's my favorite part of the store.  Dented cans, smushed cereal boxes, and yep - day old baked goods for super, super cheap.  Most of the bread they have there is around $1.00 a loaf.  You need a baguette for this recipe, but pretty much any chewy-crusted bakery-style bread will work; your slices might just be different sizes.  The baguette will give you little palm-sized pieces, while an Italian bread might give you bigger ones.  I prefer the baguette for texture and also sheer cute-ness of the little pieces, but whatever bread you can find will most likely work.  If your bread isn't day-old, you can either wait a day, or fresh will work almost as well too.  Don't use sliced sandwich bread here.  It's not thick and chewy enough to stand up to a hard battering/frying.

Well that's all the advice for today - go out and make this stuff!  Serve the french toast with roasted potatoes and vegan sausage (recipe coming soon) with lots of real maple syrup, ketchup and hot sauce (for the potatoes, silly!) and hot coffee, and I guarantee your ninja skills will be in tip-top shape all day long.

More recipes soon; I've got apple-butter cinnamon swirl bread cooling on the counter as I type this!

<3, The Fur Ninja

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Coconut Rice Pudding with Poached Oranges

Happy Saturday!  Here's a recipe I whipped up the other day because I was trying to figure out what to do with this enormous bowl of oranges that my mom gave to me.  I went diving into the backs of my cupboards and also found a can of cream of coconut.  That with some rice, soymilk, and other basic ingredients, and this recipe was born!
There's likely quite a bit of fat in it because of the coconut, and definitely a good amount of sugar, but really everything is relative.  This pudding is sweet, creamy, and decadent to the point where it's as satisfying as ice cream, but definitely healthier (or at least less-unhealthy) than your average dessert.  It's also easy to make, so whip this up some night when you're craving a sweet treat.  If you're pressed for time, you don't have to make the orange topping.  The pairing of oranges and sweet coconut is a perfect tropical treat to help you forget how damn frigid it is outside.

Coconut Rice Pudding with Poached Oranges


5 navel or other variety of seedless oranges
2 Tablespoons orange juice or orange liqueur 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water

3/4 cup uncooked white rice (I used Jasmine)
1 1/2 cups water
1 15oz. can cream of coconut (not coconut milk)
1/2 cup soy milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

First, make the poached oranges.  Peel the oranges and make sure that all of the white pith is removed.  I found that the easiest way to do this is to cut off the top and bottom of each orange with a sharp knife, so that it can sit on a cutting board without rolling.  Then, using a very sharp knife, start removing the skin and pith in about 1" strips, moving the knife from the top of the orange to the bottom.  Continue working your way around the orange until most of the peel is removed, then use your knife to go back and cut off any spots that you missed.  You will lose a little bit of the fruit this way, but it is much faster and far less messy than trying to peel with your hands.  Once the oranges are peeled, cut them into segments.  Mix the 1 cup water and 1 1/2 cups sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the orange juice/liqueur, vanilla, and oranges, and simmer for 15 minutes.  The oranges should be starting to fall apart into the syrup, but there should still be some whole pieces left.  Remove from heat and chill in the syrup until ready to use.

While the poached oranges are chilling, begin the rice pudding.  Boil the 1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan.  Once the water is boiling, add the rice, stir, and immediately turn the heat down to low.  Cover and simmer 20 minutes.  Once the rice is cooked, add the cream of coconut, soy milk, sugar, and salt.  Raise the heat to medium and cook 20 minutes or until thick and creamy.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Serve either warm or cold. 

For a fancy-schmancy presentation, spoon some of the syrup from the poached oranges into the bottom of a small bowl or glass.  Fill glass with rice pudding and then top the pudding with some of the poached oranges and another drizzle of syrup.  Garnish with mint to make it super pretty!

Note: you will most likely have a ton of extra oranges/syrup after all the pudding is gone.  If you don't feel like making more pudding, the poached orange mixture is also great as a pancake/waffle topping.  I'll probably be whipping up some kind of delicious orange breakfast treat myself this weekend to use up the extra - possibly another recipe using the poached oranges is on the way!

Hope you enjoyed that little tropical escape!  This fur ninja will be cooking up a storm this weekend so more recipes will be posted soon.  Everyone keep warm and happy cooking!

<3, The Fur Ninja

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Special Post - Middle Eastern Feast!

Hello, lovely ninjas :)  Today is a very special multi-recipe Vegan Fur Ninja post.  Last week, when the weather man was calling for an epic snowstorm, I decided to whip up a Middle Eastern feast, because my favorite thing to do when there's a blizzard outside is to cook up a far more pleasant and tasty storm inside.  Nothing like wind howling and blowing snow to make the warming oven and delicious smells filling the house even more amazing.  I'd never tried making Middle Eastern food before, with the exception of hummus, but it all turned out so delectable I just had to share it with you all.

Before we get on with the recipes, let me first preface this by saying that I can in no way vouch for the cultural authenticity of any of this food.  I found recipes for some Middle Eastern dishes on the internet, veganized them, and tweaked them to my own tastes as well, so if you're from a Middle Eastern country and are annoyed at me because I'm getting it all wrong, please forgive me!  I think you'll find these dishes to be wonderfully tasty in their own right, no matter how inauthentic they may be.  Now, on to the recipes!

First, the menu:

Muhammara (hot pepper dip)
Yogurt with Roasted Eggplant
Pita Bread
Middle Eastern Rice with Black Beans and Chickpeas
Mahshi Bassal (stuffed onion rolls)
Sweet Egyptian Couscous (dessert)

First, the dips:

From left to right: hummus, muhammara, yogurt with roasted eggplant.  The muhammara and yogurt were my own recipes, but the hummus was made with the recipe from Veganomicon by Isa Moskowitz.  I won't re-print the recipe here, since A. it's not mine and B. you should go out and buy this cookbook.  Seriously.  It's hands-down the best vegan cookbook I've ever used.  Until I started making my own recipes, it was the bible of my kitchen, and I still return to it often.  It's actually the book that inspired me to start experimenting with my own vegan recipes, and I can only hope that mine reach as wide an audience as Isa's delicious genius does someday.  But I digress....if you don't have a copy of Veganomicon and aren't going to go pick one up, there's a billion and one hummus recipes online.  Google is your friend.  I do encourage you to make your own hummus rather than buying it in the store though, because it's ridiculously easy, much cheaper, and the homemade stuff tastes worlds better.  Now, onto some delicious dips!

Muhammara (Hot Pepper Dip)

3 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 whole dried red chili peppers
1/2 cup boiling water
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1/2 - 1 teaspoon chili powder, depending on tastes (see below)  
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon pine nuts

Place the chili peppers in a shallow bowl and cover with the 1/2 cup boiling water.  Place a plate on top of the bowl and allow the peppers to soak for at least 10 minutes to soften.  Place peppers with the soaking water in a food processor and add the bread crumbs.  Process until the mixture resembles a smooth paste, adding more water if necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time.
Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the 1/2 cup olive oil and chopped onions.  Saute until onions are tender and slightly golden, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the walnuts, cumin, chili powder and salt, and saute 5 more minutes.  Add everything to the pepper/breadcrumb mixture in the food processor, and process until smooth.  Taste for salt and spices and adjust if necessary.  Garnish with pine nuts.

Depending on the size of your chili peppers and the amount of chili powder you use, your muhammara can get VERY spicy.  Start off with just 1/2 teaspoon of the chili powder, and add more into the final product in the food processor if necessary.

Serve the muhammara either warm or cold.  It is excellent as a dip for pita or other bread, as a condiment for vegetables, or as a wrap/sandwich spread.  Great anywhere that you'd use hummus.

Yogurt with Roasted Eggplant

1 medium-sized eggplant, about 3/4 lb
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 16oz block of firm tofu  
3 cloves garlic
5 T minced fresh mint leaves with extra for garnish
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
3 teaspoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon coriander

***Note: roasting the eggplant can also be done on a grill, and would probably yield even more delicious results.  However, there's a ridiculous amount of snow outside and it's positively frigid out, so there's no way I was venturing onto the deck to mess with the grill.  If any of you readers tries the grill method though, let me know how it turns out!

Preheat your oven on broil.  Prick the eggplant in several places with a fork and place on an oven-safe cooking tray sprayed with a little cooking spray or olive oil.  Place the whole eggplant on the top rack of the oven and roast under the broiler until the outer skin is charred and the eggplant is very limp.  You will need to check the eggplant every 5-10 minutes for charred skin - when one side gets charred, turn the eggplant using tongs so that all sides cook evenly.  The whole roasting process should take 30-45 minutes, depending on your oven and the size of the eggplant.  The eggplant is done when all sides of the skin are charred and the eggplant is very limp and squishy.  Once done, remove the eggplant from the oven and place in a colander in the sink.  Run cool water over the eggplant until it is cool enough to handle.  The skin should peel away from the flesh easily.  Discard the skin and allow the flesh to drain while you blend the tofu.
Drain tofu and crumble into a food processor.  Process until smooth and creamy.  Add the eggplant flesh and process again to combine.  Add garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices.  Process until very smooth, scraping down the sides to make sure everything is incorporated.  Remove from processor bowl into a medium-sized bowl with lid.  Stir in chopped onion and mint.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours until ready to serve.  If moisture starts to separate during storage, just give the yogurt a stir before serving.

The yogurt is great as a dip for flatbread, as well as a cooling condiment for spicy dishes.  It's especially good with the Middle Eastern rice and beans recipe that follows.

Next, the main course dishes:

Counter-clockwise from top: Mahshi Bassal, extra filling from the Mahshi Bassal, Middle Eastern Rice with Black Beans and Chickpeas.

Mahshi Bassal (Stuffed Onion Rolls)

3 very large sweet onions
2 Tablespoons tamarind paste  
3 Tablespoons sugar, divided
3 Tablespoons canola oil

1 lb brown lentils
5 cups vegetable broth
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
large bunch of parsley, chopped

Put a large pot of lightly salter water on to boil.  Cut the tops and bottoms of onions off so they sit flat on a cutting board.  Peel the onions, and then taking a sharp knife, make a vertical cut from the top of the onion to the bottom on one side to the center of the onion only, but no further.  Place the onions in the pot of boiling water and boil for 15-20 minutes, until the onions are very soft and the layers separate easily.  Drain the onions in a colander and run cool water over them to stop the cooking process.
While the onions are cooling, make the stuffing.  Bring 5 cups vegetable broth to a boil and add the 1 lb. lentils.  Cover and boil for 30 minutes until tender.  Put the lentils in a large bowl and add all the other stuffing ingredients and mix well.
Separate the layers of the cooled onions.  Put any small or torn pieces in the bottom of a large stock pot.  Take a walnut-sized lump of the stuffing mixture and place at one end of one of the separated onion layers and roll up tightly.  Repeat for the remaining onion layers (you will have extra stuffing).  Pack the onions tightly in the stockpot with the smaller onion pieces.
Dissolve the tamarind paste in a small bowl in 1 1/2 cups boiling water.  Add 1 Tablespoon of the sugar and canola oil and mix well.  Pour over the onions in the stockpot.  Add more water to cover the onions, if necessary.  Weigh them down with a plate and simmer gently over medium-low heat for 30 minutes until the onions are very tender and most of the water is absorbed.  If the onions start to look dry during the cooking process, add a little more water.
Pre-heat your oven to broil.  Place the cooked onions on a large, oven-proof dish that is lightly oiled.  Sprinkle with the remaining sugar, and broil for 5-10 minutes, or until the onions are golden brown and slightly carmelized.  Check them frequently to avoid burning!

Onions can be served either hot or cold, with any extra filling eaten on the side.

Middle Eastern Rice with Black Beans and Chickpeas

***This makes a very spicy rice; if you are sensitive to spicy dishes, you may want to halve the spices and add more to taste if necessary.

2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked jasmine or basmati rice
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups vegetable broth
1 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
6 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 tightly-packed cup cilantro, chopped
1 tightly-packed cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
several dashes freshly ground black pepper

Put one Tablespoon of the olive oil in a large pot and preheat over medium heat.  Sautee the garlic in the 1 Tablespoon olive oil for 1 minute.  Stir in the rice and spices.  Cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes.  Pour in the vegetable broth and bring to a boil.  As soon as the mixture is boiling, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, add the remaining Tablespoon olive oil to a large skillet.  Cook cherry tomatoes in the oil over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the spinach by handfuls, waiting until the previous handful wilts slightly to allow room for the rest.  Once all of the spinach is added to the skillet, cook until bright green and wilted, moving the spinach around with tongs.  If you cook your spinach for a few minutes and it hasn't started to wilt yet, up your heat.
Once the rice is done, fluff the rice with a fork and then add black beans, chickpeas, spinach, tomatoes, parsley, cilantro, and pine nuts to the rice.  Season with salt and pepper and mix well.  Serve hot.

And finally, cool down the fire in your mouth from all those spicy dishes with something cooling and sweet for dessert.  This recipe requires you to steam your couscous rather than boiling it, which is the traditional method of cooking it in Middle Eastern countries.

Sweet Egyptian Couscous Dessert

1 cup uncooked couscous (NOT instant)
1/2 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups mango nectar or other fruit juice, divided
2 Tablespoons rose water (available at gourmet markets and health food stores), divided
7 Tablespoons non-dairy butter, divided
5 teaspoons sugar, divided
1/4 cup ground pistachios
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

You have a few different options when it comes to steaming couscous.  The easiest is if you have a contraption made specifically for the task - it's called a couscoussier.  I'm going to assume that pretty much no one has one of these (if you do, I envy you your well-stocked kitchen and advise you to simply follow the instructions that came with the device), so let's discuss other methods.  You're going to be steaming the couscous using a method similar to steaming vegetables, so if you have a vegetable steamer, a steamer basket that fits over a pot on the stove, or a rice cooker with a vegetable steamer that fits on top (this is what I used), you shouldn't have any difficulty.  In a real pinch, you can use a colander rigged over a pot of boiling water on the stove, but this creates some difficulties because the colander will not fit snugly over the pot.  Basically, no matter what apparatus you are using as your steamer, you need the steam from the boiling water below to rise up through the couscous and not escape through any cracks or openings anywhere else.  So if you're trying to do this with a colander rigged over top of a pot of boiling water, make sure that the pot is small enough that the colander can rest on the rim pretty snugly.  No matter what setup you're using, be on the lookout for steam escaping out the sides.  You should ONLY see the steam rising from the top of the couscous, nowhere else.  If there is steam escaping in a space between the container of boiling water and the basket holding your couscous, long strips of material tied around where the two containers meet can help this problem.  I personally recommend using a steamer that is made for vegetables; the steamer attachment with my rice cooker worked brilliantly.
So once you have your setup figured out, onto the recipe.  This recipe is time-consuming and you have to watch the couscous, but it's ridiculously easy, so don't be scared.  First pour your dry couscous in a wide, shallow bowl.  Add 1/2 Tablespoon vegetable oil and toss with the dry couscous using your hands until it is well distributed.  Add 2/3 cup of your mango nectar or whatever juice you are using and 2 teaspoons of the rose water to the couscous.  Toss again until the moisture is evenly distributed.  Now, line your steamer basket with several layers of cheesecloth - enough so that the small grains of couscous won't fall through.  I used 4 layers.  Overlap the cheesecloth with the sides of the basket and have them spill out the top.  This will allow you to use the cheesecloth to lift the whole mound of couscous out of the steamer and transfer it all at once.  This isn't totally necessary, but it makes things faster, easier, and less messy.  Once you've got your cheesecloth liner ready to go, add the mixed couscous to the basket and start your steamer.  Watch the couscous carefully for steam.  Once you see steam rising from the top of the couscous, set a timer for 15 minutes, and then you can pretty much leave it unattended.  
After the couscous has been steaming for 15 minutes, remove from the steamer basket by picking up the four corners of the cheesecloth to form a kind of pouch and transferring the whole thing to a bowl.  Add to the couscous another 2/3 cup of the fruit juice, 2 teaspoons of rose water, 3 Tablespoons of melted non-dairy butter and 2 teaspoons of sugar and mix well with your hands.  Pick up the couscous using the cheesecloth again and transfer the whole thing back to the steamer.  Once you see steam rising from the couscous, steam for another 15 minutes.
Transfer the couscous to a bowl using the cheesecloth, as before.  Add the remaining fruit juice and rose water, 4 Tablespoons melted non-dairy butter, and 3 teaspoons sugar.  Transfer the couscous in the cheesecloth back to the steamer basket for the final steam.  Again, once you see steam rising from the top of the couscous, steam for 15 minutes without disturbing it.
After completing the third steam, transfer the couscous into a bowl (you can throw away the cheesecloth now) and mix in the ground almonds and pistachios.  Before serving, sprinkle with the confectioners sugar and cinnamon.
This is excellent both warm and cold, and tastes better the next day.  I was eating it for breakfast moistened with a touch of vanilla almond milk.  Delish!  This recipe sounds like a lot of work, especially if your only experience with couscous is throwing it in some boiling water and waiting 5 minutes, but the lightly sweet, creamy-textured couscous with the richess of the nuts is totally worth it.  Once you get the hang of it, it's really not terribly hard, so show your true ninja skills and try it out!

So I hope you enjoyed my Middle Eastern feast!  It makes a LOT of food, so if you're planning on having a few guests over there will be more than enough to go around.  If you're pressed for time, you may want to leave out the Mahshi Bassal (stuffed onions) and couscous, because those are the most labor-intensive, but the rest of it actually comes together rather quickly.  You can even make the dips the night before, as the flavors actually improve as they have time to meld.  For a quick dinner, make one or both of the dips, the rice and beans, and serve with store-bought flatbread.  You can have a great dinner on the table in about 40 minutes with enough leftovers to last for days.  The dips especially are great to keep around for dipping raw veggies into, or just packing into a wrap or pita with some greens and fresh, sliced tomato.

As always, feedback is welcomed!  More recipes to come soon - be on the lookout for crunchy coconut french toast, coconut rice pudding with poached oranges, Andy's "Curry of Doom," and a hearty and satisfying butternut squash and barley soup bursting with fresh vegetables.  Until then, much love and good eats!

<3, The Fur Ninja