Black & White Rice Pilaf

I like to bring a good plant-based dish or two when I go to a friend’s house for a dinner to guarantee that there will be something for me to eat. I never want my host or hostess to feel like I am a pain in the butt or high maintenance so I always pop a veggie appetizer and/or main course quietly on the table and then I can relax and enjoy a glass of wine and the good company.

This salad is light, refreshing and darn tasty (if I do say so myself) and tastes best at room temperature so it is perfect to tote along to a dinner party, picnic or potluck. I also like to make this dish for lunch or a light dinner at home although I have got some push back from my kids in the past because of the “black” rice. However, once they tasted it they had to admit that aside from the colour, it actually tastes pretty much the same as the white rice that they already enjoy.
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Swanky Dinner Party Part 3 – Gardein “Chicken” Scaloppini with Sake Gravy, Sauteed Pea Shoots and Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

I will admit that when it came time to prepare the main course for our vegan dinner party, I had enjoyed one…or perhaps two glasses of red wine and I become deeply engrossed in a conversation with my girlfriend (I think we were either discussing the trials and tribulations of parenthood or planning out our next trip to Vegas ; ) So big kudos to the men who stepped up to prepare the entrée that I had planned out. Thanks guys!

The topic of “meat-like” products is hotly debated in the vegetarian/vegan world and they are often considered “Franken-food” or too highly processed to be true plant-like fare. Although I don’t eat them too often they are great as transition foods for newbie vegetarians, they can be handy as convenience foods and they are perfect for serving to non-veg friends to simulate a meaty taste and texture.

Gardein was actually invented in Montreal by Yves Potvin who also created the very first veggie hot dog and is passionate about making meat-like foods that are healthy and convenient. It’s essentially a blend of veggies and grains that are combined together to have the texture and nutrition of lean meat and it is now carried by most major supermarkets and health stores. According to Yves, although people consider this meat-like product to be highly processed – it’s really not. He says “the secret is in how we blend the ingredients together. Gardein, meaning a combination of garden and protein, is slow-cooked in special ovens to give it a meaty mouth feel.”

gardein 1

You can decide for yourself how often you want to partake in these products, but I can definitely recommend Gardein for its reasonable nutritional value, for an amazingly similar taste and texture to meat and as a delicious treat.

I’d have to ask Sam and Mark exactly how hard it was to prepare this main course but it didn’t look too bad. They worked away with beer in hand and it seemed to come together quite quickly. My husband is famous for his horseradish mashed potatoes and they were the perfect accompaniment to this faux-chicken dish adorned with delicate pea shoots. It was pretty to look at and tasted really yummy. We all devoured it and the guys patted themselves on the back for their chef-like prowess.

This dish is sure to impress vegetarian and non-veg friends alike. Just try to keep your wine consumption down before you start to make it!

Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

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6-8 yukon gold potatoes, washed but not peeled
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp sea salt
Dash freshly cracked black pepper
1-2 tbsp horseradish (depending on how spicy you like it)

Wash potatoes, cut them into quarters and place them in a large pot of water (enough to cover). Bring them to a boil and reduce to simmer until they are easily pierced with a fork. Drain.

Add oil, salt, pepper and horseradish and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth. Cover until ready to serve.

Gardein “Chicken” Scaloppini with Sake Gravy and sautéed Pea Shoots
(adapted from The Conscious Cook, Tal Ronnen)
Serves 4

4 Gardein breasts
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly cracked black pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups of shitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut into ¼ inch slices
1 cup of dry sake
½ cup vegetable broth
½ cup Earth Balance vegan margarine (or organic butter)
1 tbsp minced fresh chives

Flatten the Gardein with your hands and then slice each breast into 3 pieces. Season with salt and pepper and then dredge in the flour.

Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook the Gardein breasts for approx 3 minutes per side until browned.  Remove from heat and place on a plate.

Add remaining 2 tbsp of oil to the pan and heat over medium. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the sake and cook for 3-4 minutes more. Add the stock and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Remove from heat and whisk in the Earth Balance. Stir in the chives. Add the Gardein back to the pan and toss to coat with gravy. Cover to keep warm while you sauté the pea shoots.

Pea Shoots:

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Pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp pure sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup vegetable stock
2 cups of packed  pea shoots

Place a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Sprinkle bottom of pan with sea salt and heat for 1 minute. Add oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add stock and pea shoots and cook for 3-4 minutes until wilted. Drain the excess liquid.

To serve:

Place a large scoop of mashed potatoes on a plate. Cover with sautéed pea shoots and 3 pieces of Gardein. Spoon a little of the additional gravy over top. Enjoy!

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Swanky Dinner Party Part 1 – Vegetarian Cold Spring Rolls

We had some old friends over for dinner recently. The kind of friends who have known us for years and have seen us at our very best and very worst and still love us just the same. The conversation (and the wine) always flows naturally and we usually come around to stories of when we were young and carefree and marvel over the fact that our kids are growing up so quickly while we still look so young and vibrant ; )

These particular friends are the perfect pair for experimenting on with new foods – they are confirmed foodies and very open to trying new dishes and they are also the type of people who would be honest enough to tell me if something was really awful and we could just chuck the whole thing and order pizza.

I cracked open some of my more intimidating cookbooks (Tal Ronnen, Great Chefs Cook Vegan and The Joy of Cooking) and I pulled together a menu of new and fancy-ish dishes. I have been wanting to prepare a 100% vegan dinner party for some time but I usually cave and throw in some cheese or fish just to appeal to a broader range of food preferences. But this time I went all the way and I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Every course from the appetizer to the salad through the main course and a final act featuring a cheater dessert from our local vegan bakery was a resounding hit! Whew! It was a bit of work but it was definitely worth it.  And don’t be put off by the ingredient list or the preparation steps – this meal is very achievable even for novice cooks.

I started with a Vegetarian Cold Spring Roll appetizer and my 9-year-old daughter was my lovely assistant in preparing these delicate and delicious h’or doerves. They are a bit fiddley but come together quickly and the final product was light, flavourful and fresh. Everyone loved them and I put out 3 different dipping sauces to experiment with tastes – Asian sesame sauce, spicy Thai sauce and a dish of tamari.

It’s easiest if you have an extra set of hands to prepare these rolls so get all of your veggies and noodles prepped and try to recruit a helper when it comes time to roll.

I will post the rest of our meal items in the coming weeks but why not try out these rolls first as an appetizer or for a light lunch and I’m willing to bet you’ll love them as much as we did. And remember that they are best served with good friends, good wine and good stories!

Vegetarian Cold Spring Rolls (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

spring rolls on plate

1 package of rice papers
1 package of rice vermicelli noodles
1 beet, grated
2-3 carrots, grated
1 small zucchini, grated
3-4 cups of bean sprouts, washed
1 head of boston lettuce, washed and seperated
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
Dipping sauces of choice

Break the vermicelli noodles in half and cook according to package directions. Rinse under cold water and set aside.

Grate carrots, zucchini and beets. Wash sprouts and lettuce and break leaves apart.

Gather the grated veggies, lettuce, noodles, sprouts and cilantro on your workspace.

Place a damp tea towel on your workspace and have another damp towel ready to put over top of the finished rolls to keep them moist (the rice papers harden quite quickly when exposed to the air). Fill a large bowl with hot water.

spring rolls rice paper 3

Take one rice paper and immerse it into the water until it softens – about a minute. Lay the paper in front of you and place a lettuce leaf in the middle of the paper. Down the middle line of the lettuce, place a row of noodles, veggies, cilantro and sprouts (approx 2 tbsp of fillings). Pull the bottom edge of the paper over the veggies and tug very gently to tighten. Fold in the sides and continue to roll until the wrap is snug. Use a bit of water on your fingers to seal the wrap in place. (I used this youtube video to help me with my first few wraps until I got the hang of it.) Some of my rice wraps tore while I was wrapping so I simply took another wrap and covered the first one to hide any imperfections.

Place the finished wraps on the damp towel and cover with the other damp towel. Repeat with remaining wraps.

spring rolls sauces

Just prior to serving, cut the rolls diagonally in the middle and place on a plate. Serve with dipping sauces of choice. Enjoy!