Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Rucola Cream Sauce

Because of some little angels that I am friends with, and whom happen to admire my spaetzle, I have now acquired a potato rice/ spaetzle press! Accordingly, I have been dreaming of all the lovely european dishes I can now make with the greatest ease with this midaevil looking device... among them, of course, Italian gnocchi!

A potato ricer makes gnocchi-making easier because it keeps the potatoes from getting starchy like they might when mashed by hand. Instead, they stay juicy and fluffy, perfect for fluffy gnocchi pillows. (Or so I thought...)

I've seen gnocchi made before, but never made them myself. I must say, it was a bit complicated in my slightly-bigger-than-a-breadbox kitchen. I mean, its just two ingredients, potatoes and flour, and yet, its very easy to destroy. So, if you want to make them yourself, I would suggest looking elsewhere for a decent step-by-step recipe, because mine was characterized by constant freaking out, sticking dough back in the fridge, and overall paranoia and confusion. All the same, they turned out perfect, fluffy and fantastic, so maybe its not quite as complex as I was making it. :)

At any rate, the cream sauce was less traumatic: I caramelized some onions with some garlic in a large pan. When the gnocchi were formed, boiled, and drained, I added them in, along with maybe 1/2 cup soy creamer, and a couple handfuls of rucola. It was so freaking good, but next time I would take it over the top with a few cranberries or walnuts. Overall though, my testers more than enjoyed my first attempt at the moderately tricky gnocchi. (And I froze the rest to enjoy soon... love that about gnocchi.)

Also, I took The Bad Vegan's idea to use my maple ginger apples over oatmeal. (See, I totally read the comments!) And it was delicious. Thanks for the idea!

More pasta:
Pasta alla Norma
Carrot-Cashew Ginger Pasta

Song of the Day: Beach House- Walk in the Park


Why I Love Vegan Cooking!

Its no new observation that necessity spurs creativity. How many dishes were created in a situation of deprivation that are now considered haute cousine? Southern soul food, Italian pasta dishes, bangers and mash, pad thai- the dishes that are created to feed hungry families with a minimum of expensive ingredients have a way of making their way into our hearts and getting reinvented. Vegan and vegetarian dishes are also often spurred by necessity- but it is a self-imposed necessity.

Whether to avoid animal cruelty, for health reasons, or for mere distaste towards animal products, the vegetarian lifestyle is always a sort of self-imposed exile. The way that a herbivore views supermarkets, restaurants, the homes of our friends and families, not to mention special occasions and religious holidays, necessarily changes, and this shift can be extremely jarring at first.

More important is the change that happens in our own homes. There is no way to be vegan and to be complacent about what you put into your body. Instead, the ingredients of any given item must be examined for animal products, and the results are often surprising. Fish sauce in my favorite stir fry sauce? Chicken broth in vegetable soup? Lard in potato chips or canned beans? Who knew? And this realization is really the key- we don't always know what is in our favorite foods. Once we do, don't we need to create new favorites?

For me, my tastes have completely changed since I went vegetarian. The most important shift is that I vastly prefer food I prepare from basic ingredients to food that comes frozen, canned, or delivered. Not only because I can be sure of exactly what is in it, but also because I have discovered what a constant source of fun and even mental stimulation cooking vegan food can be.

Which takes me back to the creativity thing. The fact that, for a vegan, a craving for say, lasagna, usually can't be fulfilled with a trip to the supermarket or take-out from your favorite Italian place forces you to come up with something yourself. The first time I made lasagna with artichokes it I was amazed- not only that it tasted awesome, but that I had thought of it. And I think this sort of "a-ha!" that you can get when you figure out a perfect egg or cheese substitute, or whatever, is one of the reasons that vegan cooking is so exciting and undergoing such a renaissance. Combinations that people would never think of get tossed into every page of the new vegan cookbooks and on every vegan blog. Coconut milk on pizza? Sweet potato falafel? "Cheddar Cheese" made of almonds? Its like the futurist cookbook came to life. And the best part is that vegan cooking is not only the realm of vegans. The more people that try, say, cashew sour cream, vegan cupcakes, or banana "ice cream" the more they realize that it is easy to make healthier and way more interesting food, as part of a complete diet or as an accent to their omnivore lifestyle. And I firmly believe that people will look back on this era of food history, with heroes like Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Sarah Kramer, and Bryant Terry, as a time of amazing innovation that changed the way EVERYONE eats, not just vegans.

Ultimately, I think that a vegan diet almost always has the result of not limiting your choices, but of changing your entire perspective on what is normal and delicious. That's the remarkable side effect of going vegan: an irresistible expansion of ones tastes to allow for food that is more exciting, more strange, and above all, imbued with the lightness that comes from knowing that no one had to die for your dinner. And that's why I love, love, love vegan cooking in all its forms.


Why do YOU love vegan cooking?


Moroccan Dinner Party, Potato Soup

Oh winter, when will it end? The other day we were blessed with rare sunshine and warm weather and it was such a terrible teaser for Spring. Along my street, where all the luxury goods and luxury people usually taunt me, the pale peach and taupe cashmere sweaters seemed as harmless as sugar pills, and the rich bitches in fur coats, sunglasses and high heeled boots lowered their noses a bit and smiled at the peasant passersby. But the next day, it was gone, and I went back to glaring at the well-dressed mannequins and people on Avenue Louise. (But really, why wear bare legs and a fur coat when its freezing out? How about sparing an animal and just looking into pants?)

At any rate, to cheer ourselves up from the never-ending winter, a few friends and I have been having Friday night dinner parties lately. In general, our only requirements for a good menu is that it be inexpensive, vegetarian, and easy enough to cook for a group. So far we've had risottos, pasta, etc, but this week we went a little crazy with a theme and had everything Moroccan. We even decorated the table with batik prints and little lanterns.
The menu consisted of the following:
Appetizers: hummus, flatbread, olives, spiced olive oil and cheese cubes
Entree: Eggplant and Mushroom Tagine, Couscous with mint and almonds, red wine
Dessert: Baklava, fresh mint tea

The tagine, sort of a mix between my minimalist one and the more complex version was fantastic, and even though I make it all the time a couple people at the party had never had one before and were surprised at how good it was. The mint tea was also really simple and festive: just put some mint sprigs into glasses and pour green tea over it. It looks so nice too.

I have a weakness for themed dinner parties, and this one turned out so well that I'm already plotting the next one: maybe Russian, with buckwheat blini and mushroom caviar, and a beet salad? (And vodka!) That would go along with my recent Tolstoy obsession, although everyone in his books seem to eat "melt-in-your-mouth-pasties" all the time and I have no idea what they are. (Anybody know?)

At any rate, the dinner party set the tone for the rest of the amazing weekend: I went to Antwerp (above) for the day on Saturday, and spent Sunday roaming around the St. Gilles farmers market (but not buying anything, since Antwerp put me over the weekly budget.) Considering what to eat for dinner, instead of surrendering to the allure of pancakes, I decided to make a soup out of some sprouted potatoes, past-their-prime leeks, and a little leftover soy creamer. Happily, even with sub-par ingredients it turned out fabulously, and with some stale bread to complete the picture, it was fit for a queen.

Song of the Day: Belle and Sebastian- Fought in a War


Hungarian Chickpea Paprikash and Spaetzle

There are two things that I am completely obsessed with right now: cooking, and sunshine. The cooking is a possibility since I have a little cash and a ton of cheap recipes (thank you awesome new cookbooks) but the sunshine is a bit more of a problem, this being Brussels and all. So when there is a day like this saturday, when I get to cook for people AND the sun is out, I'm pretty much ecstatic.

I decided to walk down to Place Flagey to check out their market and take a few photos. I saw this little girl defending her self-made snowman from the sun's rays. Noting a few hungarian wax peppers on sale, I realized that I probably had all of the ingredients to make the Chickpea paprikash from The Urban Vegan cookbook, and to serve it up over some homemade spaetzle.

I love Budapest more than almost all other cities in Europe, and was so impressed by the dramatic city-scape, the warm people, and the tongue-twisting language. However, I was never too in love with the food, mostly because it seemed to consist of nothing more than various types of meat simmered in cream sauces. (And don't get me started on the vegetarian food: cherry soup, with frozen cherries floating in yogurt?) But I figured I would give Chickpea paprikash a try, out of respect, and also because I've been wanting to try spaetzle to impress my German boyfriend.

Paprikash is usually a dish where meat is simmered in a paprika-spiked sauce, then gets a creamy kick from sour cream and is served over rich noodles or anything else. Spaetzle are basically really simple noodles that are very soft and comfort food-esque- almost like dumplings. You have to make a simple dough and then drop little pieces into boiling water, a bit like gnocchi. Well, although I was skeptical about how both items would come out (especially since I have no spaetzle-press) they were both AMAZING. My friends came over and gobbled up the lot of it, leaving me with no leftovers, and a promise to buy me a spaetzle-press so I can make them all the time.

I was really excited by how good everything came out, because not only is Urban Vegan's version rich, warming and delicious, but its also extremely cheap. The most expensive thing on the menu is probably the soy yogurt or sour cream used at the end. And spaetzle is practically free, granted you have flour around. I will definitely be making this again. And the spaetzle has a million different topping ideas, though I'm captivated by the thought of a apple-cabbage cream sauce....

Another food-related development this weekend was a new topping for pancakes that I created on the fly when my friends were over: Maple ginger apples!

Its very simple and delicious: slice 1/2 or 1 apple thinly and place in a pan over medium heat with a good dollop of earth balance. Then grate some ginger (to taste, I used a 1/2" piece) directly over the pan using a microplane grater. Cook until lightly browned, then drizzle over a tablespoon or so of maple syrup. Cook 2-3 minutes longer, then serve over oatmeal pancakes! Soo amazing.

Song of the Day: ELO- MR. Blue Sky

More on Budapest: Budapest Inspired Strudel
More from Urban Vegan: Bangin' Havana Beans and Rice