Vegan Chocolate Tart

This year, I made a beautiful chocolate tart for dessert for my Christmas Eve dinner – and that meant I had to make a vegan alternative for my vegan daughter. This recipe had great reviews, so I decided to make it for her. It took some doing, as the recipe called for Medjool dates and a specific brand/type of chocolate, which the recipe-maker insisted was just the best. Only after I’d searched for and found the chocolate (at Walgreen of all places) I realized that her post was actually sponsored by that chocolate brand. As it turned out, this chocolate was probably too dark for this cake. It would have probably worked best with 50-60% cocoa content chocolate. Just make sure you look at the ingredients to make sure it’s vegan.

Medjool dates are a particularly sweet type of dates that cannot be substituted by regular ones. Neither of my local supermarkets carried them but I was able to find them at Trader Joe’s (I think).

As other chocolate tart, this tart is beautiful when topped with fresh berries and mint leaves – which also provide a nice light tart contrast to the very rich chocolate.

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 8 pitted Medjool dates
  • 1 cup peeled almonds
  • 1 oz semisweet vegan chocolate, chopped and melted
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • pinch of salt

For the filling:

  • 3.5 oz semisweet vegan chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 8 pitted Medjool dates
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Put the dates and almonds in a food processor and process until the mixture is very fine. Add the melted chocolate, melted coconut oil and salt and process until they are fully incorporated.

Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a tart pan. Place in the refrigerator and cool until the crust has set.

Meanwhile, make the filling.

In a small saucepan, melt together the chocolate and coconut oil. Mix in coconut cream. Transfer to a clean food processor bowl. Add dates and vanilla extract. Process until all ingredients are combined and have a smooth, pudding-like consistency.

Add the filling to the crust. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

Top with berries, mint and whipped coconut cream, if desired.

Adapted from Regina’s recipe at Leelalicious


Mushroom Wellington (Vegan)

To my great amazement, several commercial puff pastries are vegan – so once I decided to make Beef Wellington as the main dish for my 2018 Christmas Eve Dinner, I knew it wouldn’t be hard to find a vegan version of Wellington. There were actually many different versions, with all sorts of fillings, but this recipe for mushroom Wellington looked and sounded amazing – and my vegan daughter is very fond of mushrooms. She was very, very happy with it and ate all the leftovers.

I followed the recipe closely, though I used a very small amount of baby spinach, given that she doesn’t like it. If you want to follow the recipe exactly, use 10 1/2 oz (though really, that’s way too much even if you like baby spinach).

Ingredients

  • 4 large portabello mushrooms
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a handful of baby spinach leaves
  • leaves from 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 sheet vegan puff pastry
  • 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1-2 Tbsp vegan egg wash

Instructions

Clean mushrooms and trim the stalks. Set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat 1/2 Tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion and reduce heat to low. Season with salt and pepper and saute until the onions are golden brown, around 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a slotted spoon remove onions from the pan and set aside.

Add the spinach to the hot pan and cook until wilted, a minute or two. Remove spinach from the pan and let cool.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and increase heat to medium-high. Add the mushrooms top-side down and cook until they start to brown, around 5 minutes. Remove mushroom caps and place, top side up, on a thick stack of paper towels to cool – they will release A LOT of liquid.

Refrigerate the onions, spinach and mushrooms until cool.

Flour a working surface and rolling pin and roll puff pastry sheet until it’s the desired thickness and length – long enough to accommodate the four mushroom caps. Spread half of the onions in the middle of the pastry sheet, leaving a 3/4″ border on the top and bottom. Place half of the wilted spinach on the onions. Spread dijon mustard over the mushroom caps and season with salt and pepper. Place mushrooms, tops down, on the spinach. Sprinkle thyme leaves on the mushrooms. Cover with the remaining spinach and onions. Carefully, roll the pastry on top of the mushroom mixture, forming a log. Press down on the edges to seal. Turn over and brush with the vegan egg wash. Envelope the log in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400F. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet. Unwrap the log and place it on the parchment paper. Place in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350F and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Adapted from Nicole’s recipe at Delicious Every Day.


Vegan Egg Wash

I made this vegan egg wash to brush on the mushroom Wellington I made for Christmas Eve Dinner. It worked beautifully. The aquafaba is the water from a can of chickpeas. You can use the chickpeas as a snack.

Ingredients

  • 1Tbsp aquafaba
  • 1 Tbsp unsweetened almond or cashew milk
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp maple syrup or brown rice syrup

Instructions

Whisk all ingredients together. Brush over pastry requiring an egg wash.


Adapted from Nicole’s recipe at Delicious Every Day.


Vegan Chestnut Soup

My daughter is vegan so, for my 2018 Christmas Eve dinner, I made both a regular chestnut soup and a vegan one. My daughter was rather pleased with this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp vegan butter or olive oil
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 rib celery , finely chopped
  • 1 onion , finely chopped
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 ounces cooked chestnuts
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened soy, almond or cashew milk
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat butter or oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the carrot, celery and onion, reduce heat, and saute over medium-low heat until very soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the vegetable broth and stir. Add the parsley, ground clove, bay leaves and chestnuts. Stir, raise heat to high and bring soup to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Remove and discard the bay leaves. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Alternatively, transfer to an electric blender and puree – you may need to do this in batches. Return soup to the pot and add the soy milk. Stir well and warm over medium-low heat.

Taste, season and serve.

Adapted from Jolinda Hackett’s recipe at The Spruce Eats.


Meal Kit Review: Gobble Thai Basil Tofu with Brown Rice

Rating: 7/10

I forgot to cancel or skip Gobble after my first week trial, so I found myself getting the default meals for this week.  Of course, I had to pay full price for them (minus the $15 credit I got because they had sent me the wrong meat last time).  Given my previous experience with Gobble, I wasn’t altogether upset at my error and I was happy to get a kit that I assume is vegan.

Gobble distinguishes itself from other meal kit companies by delivering kits that can be prepared in 15 minutes (maybe 20 for those of us who are slow in the kitchen).  They do this by pre-dicing and pre-cooking some ingredients and including prepared sauces/spice mixes (other meal kit companies do the latter).  In this case, the rice came pre-cooked and just needed to be heated up in the microwave, and the tofu came pre-cubed.  I still had to trim and cut the green beans, slice the garlic, remove the stems from the basil leaves and, had I used the chilies, I’d have had to slice them.

While I prepared the veggies, my teen daughter actually cooked the meal and she found it to be quite simple to put together. She doesn’t like peppers, so she didn’t use them in this dish.  She was quite happy with the results, and particularly loved the rice.  The tofu, alas, tasted like tofu, but she hasn’t encountered a recipe in which it tastes of anything else (e.g. where it actually absorbs the sauce).

The only concern we had about the meal is that it wasn’t a big enough portion for two people.  She ate more than half for dinner (the photo shows the leftovers which she had for after-school snack the next day).

From my perspective, the main issue with this kit is that it’s really expensive for what you get and not distinctive enough.  My daughter has been making herself stir fries with just as much ease for just a few dollars.  Also, while this meal might have been vegan, Gobble doesn’t offer enough vegan/vegetarian meals for vegan/vegetarians to have choices every week.

 


Meal Kit Review: Sun Basket Salt-and-pepper tofu stir-fry with glass noodles

Rating: 5/10

Cooking for my vegan daughter is always a challenge, so I was happy to see that Sun Basket offered several vegan meal kits.  Unfortunately, I have a picky vegan who doesn’t like felafel or chili – the two other vegan meals available this week.  She thus was left with salt-and-pepper tofu stir-fry with glass noodles as her only choice.  She makes a lot of stir fries for herself using tofu, so she wasn’t super excited about this recipe, but food is food and food that mommy makes is better than food that you have to make yourself.

All in all, she was “OK” with this meal kit.  She liked the noodles and the stir fry sauce, though she wished there had been a greater variety of vegetables.  To be fair, I omitted the red pepper that came with the kit because she doesn’t like red peppers.  She wasn’t too happy with the tofu itself – mostly because she’s sick of eating tofu.  Tofu, she says, always tastes like tofu, no matter what you do to it.  She’d like it if some of these kits came with other fake meats.

All the ingredients for this kit arrived fresh and were still usable a couple of days later when I actually made the meal – but I don’t think they’d have lasted much longer.

They were good quality ingredients, and the meal was rightly portioned.  She was full after eating half of the meal-for-two and is happy to have leftovers for today.

I paid a discounted price of $11 for this meal, and it might be worth that – but I don’t think it was worth the $24 regular price for the kit.  Of course, time is money so your millage may vary.


Meal Kit Hacks: HelloFresh Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce & Garlic Bok Choy + PB Sauce Recipe

Rating: 7.5/10

HelloFresh does not have many vegan meals, so I was happy to find this recipe for Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce & Garlic Bok Choy that I could hack for my vegan daughter.  While it wasn’t a complete dinner – we have yet to find a way to make tofu taste like anything but tofu, outside of deep frying it -, my daughter loved the peanut sauce and enjoyed the coconut rice, I’ll be making both of those again (see recipes below).   She hadn’t had bok choy before, and she won’t again – she found this vegetable utterly tasteless, even with the peanut sauce.  Fortunately, there was extra broccoli from our meal for her to eat.   Most importantly, she totally appreciated that I made her food.  Given that she’s the only vegan in the family, she often is on her own as far as cooking goes, so any time I cook for her it’s a treat.

Making this meal at home was rather cheap, as most of the ingredients are those you are likely to have in your pantry (peanut butter, rice, soy and hot sauce, sesame seeds), and those you don’t are cheap to buy.  In all, I spent under $6.50 in this meal for two people.  HelloFresh charges $20-$24 for the same food.

 

HelloFresh Ingredients My Ingredients Cost
1 block tofu 1 lb tofu $2
2 baby bok choy 2 baby bok choy $2.60
1 Tbsp sesame seeds 1 Tbsp sesame seeds pantry
2 Tbsp peanut butter 2 Tbsp peanut butter pantry
1 can Lite Coconut Milk 1 can Lite Coconut Milk $1.25
1 cup basmati rice 1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice pantry
2 cloves garlic 2 cloves garlic pantry
1 lime 1 lime $0.50
1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs 1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs $1 (for 8-cup ox)
1 tsp hot sauce 1 dash siracha pantry
2 Tbsp soy sauce 2 Tbsp soy sauce pantry

If you’d like to subscribe to HelloFresh use this link to save $40 off your first box, and I’ll get a $30 credit – which I probably won’t use as I’ll be unsubscribing form HelloFresh shortly to try a different company.

Coconut Jasmine Rice

  • 1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice
  • 1 1/4 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • dash of salt

Rinse rice.  Put coconut milk, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add rice, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.  Fluff with a fork before serving.

Peanut Butter Sauce

  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • squeeze of lime juice
  • a dash of hot sauce

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.


Meal Kit Review: HelloFresh Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Avocado Crema and Cilantro

Rating: 5/10

My oldest daughter is a vegan and I always find it challenging to know what to cook for her – or even to want to cook for her at all (fortunately, she’s learned her way around a wok).  So I was very curious to see how these meal kits would work for her.  Alas, while HelloFresh – the meal kit subscription I’m currently trying – seems to offer three vegetarian meals a week, they don’t really do vegan food.  No matter, some of the recipes can be easily made without the diary.  This recipe for  Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Avocado Crema and Cilantro, for example, only uses diary in the crema – a blend of avocado and sour cream with lime zest and juice -, and it was easily enough to just omit the sour cream altogether and turn the crema into  a simple guacamole.

As this kit did not contain any meat, all the items came inside a paper bag.  My first week with HelloFresh, I just put these paper bags in the fridge without bothering to open them.  But after reading about wilted and missing items in HelloFresh kits, I decided to check whether all the items were there and in the right condition.

That was a good idea, as I found out that part of the cilantro was wilted and that the avocado wasn’t ripe.  I was thus able to discard the spoiled cilantro, keeping the leaves that weren’t yet gone.   It turned out that the only item in the kit that needed to be refrigerated was the small sachet of sour cream (which I wasn’t planning to use anyway),  so  I was able to just keep the kit inside its paper bag in the pantry, which allowed the avocado to ripen quicker than it would have otherwise.

All in all this kit was “OK,” but not one that I would buy again

The overall flavor of the food was underwhelming.  My daughter liked it well enough, but wouldn’t be eager to have it again.  Note that as a vegan, she is not particularly picky.

There was too little food.  The kit has six tortilla, but enough filling for just 4 tacos – and this despite the fact that I used the whole box of black beans, and not just half as the instructions called for.  Two vegetarian tacos (and these are a little larger than those at your average taqueria) are just not enough food for dinner, without rice or something else to accompany them.  Fortunately, I had made the whole kit for my daughter thinking she’d have leftovers for the next day, so she was able to eat a third taco and not go hungry.  But had she had to share this whole meal with someone else, she would have been.

The avocado wasn’t ripe when the kit arrived.  Had I wanted to make this meal kit that day, I’d have had to go buy another avocado.  Fortunately, by the time I decided to make it, two days later, it had ripened enough to use it.

The avocado was too small. Really, it reminded me of the tiny avocados you can get in the California cost for 5-for-$1.  There just wasn’t enough to cover 4 tacos.

There wasn’t enough cilantro and part of it came wilted.  I threw those parts away, but it left very little left.  Fortunately, this was the only non-fresh item I’ve gotten from HelloFresh.

The meal is greatly overpriced, not just in comparison with what it would cost to make this meal at home, but in comparison to the cost of tacos at taquerias (not that sweet potato tacos are that common).  And those generally come with free chips & salsa.

In all, because I bought this kit with a discount (and you can find an ever greater one by following my referral link) and only paid $7.50 for it, I wasn’t too disappointed.  It was cheaper than what I’d spend at a taqueria.  However, I’d be horrified if I’d bought it at the regular price ($22-24).  For that amount of money, you can have something much better at a top gourmet Mexican restaurant.

 


Meal Kit Hack: Sun Basket’s Spanish paella with tofu, mushrooms, and peas

Last night, while making a hack of Sun Basket’s Spanish paella with tofu, mushrooms, and peas, I discovered why meal kits can be great for those home cooks among us that are not great at paying at attention at what we are doing.  I totally messed up this recipe because I did a hack job on it.  The results was a meal that lacked flavor. My vegan daughter ate it, but was not happy with it.  And believe me, as a vegan, her standards are not exactly high.

I had chosen this recipe to hack because my vegan daughter had eaten a vegan frozen paella that she liked before and because most of the ingredients were easy to get.  Alas, that did not mean I actually got them.

Mistake #1: First,  I went shopping for this at my neighborhood discount grocery store which didn’t have frozen peas!  I decided to skip them because peas are mostly filler, but still, they add a nice color to any dish plush some vitamins.

Mistake #2: I didn’t check my pantry before I shopped for this recipe, so it wasn’t until I started cooking that I realized that I didn’t actually have rice! How do you forget that?  True, I don’t cook much with rice because of its high glycemic index, but still that’s a pretty major thing to not realize I was out of.   And given that rice is the MAIN component of paella, you’d think the dish would have been doomed from that point on.  I did find barley while looking for the rice – something I’d bought ages ago and never did anything with it – so I decided to substitute with that.

Then, as I was making the paella, I realized I didn’t have the required paprika either!  OK, in this case, I did have a paprika jar with traces of paprika inside it, but not enough for even the teaspoon this recipe called for.  No matter, I decided to use whatever paprika I had in the jar and add oregano.  Indeed, the paella recipe I use (or used to use when I still cooked rice regularly) calls for both paprika and oregano, and the latter is stronger flavor.

Mistake #3: What makes meal kits great is that most of the ingredients are given to you in the exact amounts that you will use.  Now, for normal people who read recipes carefully, this is probably not a big deal – but I’m not a normal person.  So while I knew the recipe called for 3/4 cups of rice, and I wrote down that I needed 3/4 cups of rice, when it came time to actually adding the rice-cum-barley to the recipe, I doubled it in my mind and added 1 1/2 cups instead!  What this ultimately meant is that there weren’t enough flavor agents (mostly leek and garlic) to flavor this dish sufficiently.  Mind you, I tried to spice it up by adding extra salt, garlic powder and more oregano, but it never quite made it.

Mistake #4: My real mistake, however, was in choosing to make this particular recipe for paella.  Chances are, it was never going to work.  What makes paella great is the saffron flavoring, and this one didn’t call for it (probably because saffron is so expensive).  I didn’t have any at home either (I swear I used to have some but I can’t find it!).  Chances are, this recipe was never going to turn out.

Still, my out of pocket costs for this recipe were just $5.50, which is still less than half of what the meal kit would have cost  There are leftovers for at least 3 more meals – and while I think normally my vegan daughter might skip eating it given how unenthusiastic she was about it last night, we’re out of vegan food at home, so she’ll probably be forced to have it for dinner again tonight 🙂

 

KIT INGREDIENTS I BOUGHT COST
1 leek 2 leeks (used  1) $2.50
3 cloves garlic 3 cloves garlic pantry
4 oz cremini mushrroms 8 oz button mushrooms $2
3 oz grape tomatoes grape tomatoes $1
3 oz roasted red peppers Skipped  –
1/2 tsp turmeric 1/2 tsp turmeric pantry
1 tsp sweet paprika 1 tsp oregano pantry
3/4 cup rice 1 1/2 cups pearl barley pantry
1 cup vegetable broth 2 cups vegetable broth pantry
3/4 lb tofu 1 lb tofu $2
3-4 springs leafy herb 3 basil leaves pantry
1/2 cup peas Skipped

Pantry = an ingredient that I had at home already (whether in the pantry or the fridge).

Sun Basket is a Northern California based meal kit service started by a Slanted Door chef. They use organic produce – which I didn’t. They have vegan and vegetarian options as well as meals appropriate to other specific diet plans and seems to have the highest ratings among the services out there.  I signed up for it and will be trying it next week.  Use my referral link for $40 off your first delivery (I will also get a $40 credit for future deliveries).