Sunday, December 23, 2012

Vegan Holiday: Cornbread, Squash and Brussels Sprouts Stuffing with Tempeh Bacon

It's the countdown to a very ninja Christmas!  Here at the Fur Ninja house, we had a special early Christmas with Mike's kids since we won't see them on the 25th.  We opened presents, baked and decorated vegan Christmas cookies (and spilled lots of colored sugar on the floor!), went to see the Love Park Christmas Village, and even got a special phone call from Santa Claus!  Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and Mike and I will be dropping the kids off at their mom's, going to see my grandmother, attending a live nativity Christmas Eve service at the church I've been attending, and then lounging on the couch drinking spiked vegan nog and chocolate martinis while watching "Love Actually" and "Gremlins."  We've been so busy for the past few days and working on so very little sleep, that we may not get off that couch for quite a while!

But in case you've got more time and energy that I've had lately, or in case you need another dish to round out your Christmas dinner, here's a recipe for a very non-traditional stuffing made with lots of delicious veggies, yummy cornbread, and some smoky and sweet tempeh bacon.  Lots of fresh herbs round out the flavor and walnuts add a wonderful crunch.  This stuffing is pretty and delicious and would make a great addition to any dinner or family gathering.

Cornbread, Squash, and Brussels Sprouts Stuffing with Tempeh Bacon


A double recipe Ninja Skillet Cornbread cut into 1" cubes OR enough vegan cornbread cubed to make 12 cups
One recipe Smoky Tempeh Bacon cut into bite-sized pieces
1 - 3lb butternut squash
Olive oil for roasting the squash
4 Tablespoons non-dairy butter
1 large leek, cleaned and sliced 
2 cups diced celery
1 Tablespoon minced fresh sage
1 Tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup brussels sprouts, halved
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup walnut halves

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut the butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy bits, and rub the squash with oil.  Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, cut side down and roast for one hour.  The squash is done when easily pierced with a fork.  Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and remove the skin from the flesh but do not turn off the oven.  Dice the flesh into 1" pieces and place in a large bowl with the cubed cornbread.
Meanwhile, melt the non-dairy butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the sliced leeks, celery, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper and saute for 5 minutes until the vegetables soften.  Add the vegetable broth and simmer for another 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.  Add to the bowl with the cornbread and squash.
Heat a saucepan of water to boiling and add the brussels sprouts.  Boil for 4 minutes.  Drain and add to the bowl with cornbread and other ingredients along with the chopped parsley and walnuts.  Using salad tongs or two large spoons, gently toss everything in the bowl until the ingredients are evenly mixed.
Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking pan and add the stuffing mixture to the pan.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Tips and Tricks:

1. This recipe tastes best if your cornbread is slightly stale.  The best way to accomplish this is to cut the bread into cubes, place the cubes in a bowl, and just let them sit for a day either on the counter or in the fridge.  If you are using fresh cornbread, or if you want a crunchier texture, you can toast the cubes in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

2. Cleaning leeks - leeks tend to have a lot of grit, so make sure you clean them well before using them in this or any other recipe.  The easiest way to do this is to slice the leeks and add the slices to a large bowl of cold water.  Swish the leeks around a bit, then let them sit in the water for about 5 minutes.  The grit will sink to the bottom of the bowl.  Remove the leeks with a slotted spoon without disturbing the water too much and you're ready to go!

3. If you're making a big dinner and need to save time in the kitchen, you can assemble the whole recipe a day or two ahead of time into the baking pan, but don't bake.  Cover with foil and place in the fridge until you are ready to pop it in the oven.

So I hope this latest recipe finds all of you well and ready to spend some quality holiday time with loved ones.  I will have one more recipe to post before Christmas (chocolate dipped sugar cookies) and then I will be taking some well-deserved down time on the 25th.  Mike and I are going to spend a quiet Christmas at home with the kitties and just appreciate how thankful we are to have so much love and so many blessings in our lives.  I hope all of you are looking forward to a holiday filled with warmth and love as well.  Until next time!


The Fur Ninja <3

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Smoky Tempeh Bacon

Happy Saturday! Well, the world didn't end yesterday, so what better way to celebrate than to make a big ol' breakfast with some yummy vegan bacon? Now, I haven't tasted actual bacon on over 15 years, but Mike told me that the taste of this was "bacon-y" although the texture isn't fooling anyone. The sweet smoky flavor is far superior to store-bought veggie bacon though (and most of the veggie bacons I've seen aren't vegan anyway) so make some of this with some vegan pancakes and roasted potatoes for a big hot breakfast full of yum. What a great way to begin the day (and the next Mayan calendar cycle for that matter!)
The longer you can possibly marinate the tempeh, the better, so plan ahead. I'd recommend marinating it overnight, but you really need to let it sit in the marinade for at least an hour. The longer the tempeh soaks, the more delicious the flavor will be. This is great served as-is with breakfast, layered onto some sandwich bread with lettuce and tomato, or used in a recipe - I actually made my last batch of this to add to a cornbread stuffing recipe (that's getting posted next!) so get creative, and use this wherever you'd like some smoky, bacon-y flavor.

Tempeh Bacon
Sizzlin' in the pan....yum!

 8 ounces tempeh
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
a few grinds black pepper
4 Tablespoons peanut or canola oil for frying

Slice the block of tempeh long-way into strips about 1/4" thick.  You will get approximately 10 strips.  Combine the remaining ingredients except the oil in a large, shallow dish.  Place the tempeh in the dish with the marinade, and spoon some of the marinade over the top of the tempeh.  Marinate overnight if possible, or for the very least an hour, turning at least once.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat.  Add half the tempeh, being sure not to crowd the pan too much.  Cook for about 2 minutes or until browned on one side.  Flip, and add 1/2 of the marinade on top of the tempeh.  Continue to cook for another 2 minutes or until the other side is browned and most of the liquid is absorbed.  Drain on paper towels and repeat with the remainder of the oil, tempeh, and marinade.

Optional: for crispier tempeh, place the cooked tempeh on a lightly greased baking sheet and broil 3-5 minutes until crisp, checking often to avoid burning.


Tips and Tricks:

1. The tempeh strips are rather delicate until they crisp up, especially if they've been soaking in the marinade for a long time, so be careful flipping them and moving them around in the pan.  If they break a little though, don't sweat it.  They will still be delicious even in smaller pieces.

2. The broiling step isn't necessary, but if you want a crisper texture, go for it.  The broiling still won't get these as crisp as "real" bacon, or even the store-bought veggie stuff, but it will give a chewier texture that might be better for sandwiches and recipes.

That's all for now; we are going to see Santa today, I'm on a last-minute shopping mission for a tea ball as part of a gift (I can't seem to find one anywhere), and the kids are going to help me with some cut-out sugar cookies at some point this weekend as well.  Holiday recipes for cornbread stuffing and easy chocolate dipped sugar cookies coming soon!


The Fur Ninja <3

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Vegan Holiday: Ninja Skillet Cornbread

Oh dear; it's almost Christmas and I have so many holiday-worthy recipes to post!  We are very busy here in the Fur Ninja house - almost have all of our shopping done and presents wrapped, tree decorated and lots of homemade Christmas decorations up around the place.  I'm hopefully starting the cookie baking today.  Here is a recipe that I made as part of a cornbread stuffing recipe (that one soon to follow) but is also a delicious addition to your holiday table as-is.  I don't like to toot my own horn, but this is THE BEST cornbread I have ever eaten, vegan or otherwise.  You will need a cast-iron skillet in order to make this recipe turn out perfectly, and if you don't have one I recommend that you purchase one.  Cast iron is simply the best, not just for cornbread, but also for making other fried things nice and crispy without anything burning or sticking.  I got my cast iron skillet for about 10 bucks from Target, so they are very affordable too.  If you don't have a cast iron skillet, you can make this in a 9x9 square pan by mixing the melted butter in with the wet ingredients, and then putting the fully mixed batter into the pan and baking as directed.  However, the cast iron skillet gives a wonderful, browned crust to the outside of the cornbread while keeping the inside nice and moist.  This not-too-sweet and easy to make bread is perfect for any holiday or just an every day meal.

Ninja Skillet Cornbread


1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup non-dairy milk
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce 1/2 cup non-dairy butter

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.  Combine the non-dairy milk and vinegar in a measuring cup or small bowl and allow to sit for a minute to curdle.  Mix together the curdled non-dairy milk and applesauce in a small bowl.  Add wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  A few lumps are okay.
Melt the non-dairy butter in a 10 inch cast iron skillet over low heat.  Once the butter is melted, turn off the heat and pour the batter into the hot butter.  Use a spatula or wooden spoon to gently scrape at the batter until it is mostly incorporated with the melted butter.  A little bit of melted butter on top or around the sides is okay.
Place the whole skillet in the pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges.  A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean.

Serve this cornbread right away while it's still warm, or use it in my cornbread stuffing recipe (coming soon!)  I hope you love it as much as we did.  I will definitely be making more of this for our Christmas dinner!

More recipes very soon; until then, enjoy your holiday preparations and be sure to take some time out amid all the hustle and bustle for good food and those you love.


The Fur Ninja <3

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Not-Really Recipe: Broke as a Joke Hash

At the urging of one of my friends, I've decided to start posting some of my "in-between" meals.  You know, what the Fur Ninja makes in her kitchen when she doesn't have time/money to be cooking up a big meal from scratch.  Even ninjas need to cut corners sometimes, and I for one, think that's okay.  It's reality.  Hopefully me starting to post some shortcut meals doesn't make any of you think less of me!

I'll be calling these little in-between meals "Not-Really Recipes" and I hope you find them helpful and informative for those times when you need to cut some corners but still have a yummy and nutritious meal.  So here's my first: Broke as a Joke Hash.

Now, people who never have been broke (much less broke as a joke) might not know the ins and outs of hash.  The specifics of what's in your hash probably differs based on what country/region you're from, but basically a hash is a bunch of coarsely chopped food all mixed together, usually meat, potatoes, and some vegetables.  You can learn more about the "official" definition of hash here.  But here in the Fur Ninja house, hash is made when your fridge looks like this:

The hot dogs, butter, and mayo are Mike's :)

and you're still several days away from being financially able to buy food.  So you take a bunch of stuff from the fridge, a bunch of other stuff from your pantry, fry it all up in a  pot, and eat off of the leftovers for a few days, hoping it will carry you through until pay day.

There are three crucial elements to a successful hash: a starch, a protein, and a sauce. 

Starches can include rice, potatoes, pasta, couscous, polenta, stuffing, or anything similar.  Obviously, whole-grain "brown" starches are going to be far more nutritious than refined "white" starches, but since you're probably broke when making this, just go with what you have in the pantry.  You can even serve a hash over prepared instant mashed potatoes or biscuits if that's all you have at the moment. 

Protein - since we're talking vegan here - is not going to be meat.  You're most economical source of protein is probably going to be dried beans, prepared according to package directions, but you can also use canned beans, lentils, tofu (cubed, coated in flour, and fried until crispy is usually the best texture for hash), tempeh, seitan (it's rather inexpensive if you make it from scratch with wheat gluten, water, and spices), or you can even use some chopped "fake meat" (veggie burgers/dogs/lunchmeat/etc.) if you have them (I usually don't because I don't buy processed fake meats as a rule) or toss some nuts or seeds in.  Just make sure you have some sort of protein in there to fill you up.  The point of hash is to keep you full until you can do a grocery run, so if you're just eating empty carbs, it's not going to get the job done.

Sauce - pretty much anything can be made into a sauce, but here are some ideas: canned tomatoes/pasta sauce, veggie broth (thickened with a flour roux or cornstarch), peanut butter, tahini, refried beans, prepared sauce or spice packets (usually in Tex-Mex or Asian flavors - I love these due to the variety and cheapness but be careful of animal derived ingredients and MSG; a great place to get these is Asian markets), or even just a little bit of water/non-dairy milk and lots of spices if you don't have anything else.

The fourth good (but non-essential if you don't have any) addition to hash is vegetables - preferably fresh but frozen or canned is good too if it's all you've got.  You can put pretty much any veggie in hash, but especially good ones are tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms because they add a lot of flavor.

When making hash, just basically do a fridge/cabinet clean-out.  Heat some oil in a large pot, fry things like tofu, seitan, tempeh, garlic, onions, and fresh veggies first.  Then add your sauce and anything that doesn't need the fry in the oil (like beans).  You can either mix in your starch with the sauce (I do this with things like rice or pasta) or keep the starch separate and serve the mixture over it.  Keep tasting your concoction and add lots of spices, salt, and pepper until it tastes good.  Don't be afraid to experiment!  Just because you're hurting for money doesn't mean cooking can't still be fun :)

So by now you know that hash is different every time, but here's the ingredients/instructions for the hash I made last night for dinner.  Mike thought it was delicious, and I have to admit that it did turn out pretty well.  I have not included pictures because while hash can be delicious, it is almost never visually attractive.  All measurements are approximate.

December 2, 2012 Broke as a Joke Hash


2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 of a large onion, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 large tomato, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1-14 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1-14 ounce can large black olives, sliced
1-14 ounce can corn, drained
1-10 ounce can diced tomatoes with chiles, undrained (either mild or hot; I used hot)
2 cups cooked rice (white or brown; I used brown)
1 1/2 cups cooked beans or one can beans (any kind; I used white beans)
Half of a 14 ounce can of vegetarian refried beans
2/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper
crushed tortilla chips

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion, and cook 2-3 minutes until the onions soften.  Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until they are tender and starting to brown.  Add the tomato, cumin, and oregano, and cook for 1 minute.  Add the diced tomatoes, olives, corn, tomatoes with chiles, rice, and beans, and stir until everything is well-combined.  Add the refried beans, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper and continue to stir gently until everything is heated through and the refried beans liquefy to form a creamy sauce.  If things look dry, add water one tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is achieved.  Taste for spices and add additional if needed.  Serve with crushed tortilla chips on top.

That's it!

So hopefully that big ol' pot of food will hold us for a while.  All we've got left after that's gone is an Indonesian soup spice packet from the Asian market to add to some more beans, rice, and half an eggplant.  Hoping that some money comes through (I'm transitioning from disability to unemployment so my payments are sporadic and Mike is waiting for some partial unemployment due to missing work after Hurricane Sandy) soon!  Until then, we have love and lots of hash to keep us satisfied.  Hoping that you have full hearts and bellies as well.  More proper holiday recipes once I can afford a grocery run!


The Fur Ninja <3