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Here’s My Heart Chocolate Cherry Truffles

If you have a small heart-shaped cookie cutter, you can transform your favorite truffle recipe into a special Valentine treat.  To make these, I adapted the Chocolate Cherry Truffle recipe from Quick-Fix Vegetarian to include bits of toasted almond and some cherry preserves. The truffles on each end in the photo are uncoated; the one in the center is coated with finely shredded unsweetened coconut.  I’ve included my recipe adaptation below, with instructions for making both heart-shaped and round truffles. The recipe is very flexible — as are most truffle recipes — use more or less of any of the ingredients to get the texture and flavor you prefer.
I plan to post a couple more Valentine’s Day ideas between now and Tuesday, but in the meantime, check out my heart-shaped Red Quinoa Loaf on One Green Planet  — (you can also see it on the Huffington Post).  And if you’re in a location where watermelon is available, you can make some watermelon hearts with sweet mint pesto from a previous post.
 
Here’s My Heart Chocolate Cherry Truffles
If dried cherries are unavailable, use dried cranberries.  Adapted from Quick-Fix Vegetarian by Robin Robertson (c) 2007, published by Andrews McMeel.
1/2 cup dried cherries 
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
2 tablespoons cherry preserves
1 tablespoon almond butter 
1/2 cup high-quality unsweetened cocoa 
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Coating of choice: cocoa, crushed toasted almonds, toasted coconut, or melted vegan chocolate

Combine the cherries and almonds in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the cherry preserves and almond butter and process until smooth.  Add the cocoa and confectioners’ sugar and process until well combined.

For heart-shaped truffles: Transfer the mixture to a sheet of waxed paper, film wrap, or parchment on a flat work surface and flatten evenly to about 1/2-inch thick. Top with another sheet of waxed paper, film wrap, or parchment and use a rolling pin to flatten evenly to about 1/3 inch thick.  Remove the top paper and refrigerate or freeze until firm. 
Use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut the truffle mixture into heart shapes and arrange on a plate. Refrigerate to firm up again, if needed.  Roll the remaining scraps from the cut-outs into balls (for a few round truffles) and refrigerate.
For round truffles: Shape a small amount of the mixture into a ball, rolling with your hands into a 1-inch ball.  Repeat until the mixture is used up.   
To coat truffles: Place the truffles on a shallow plate containing cocoa, coconut,  almonds, or melted chocolate.  Roll the truffles in the coating to cover completely. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate until firm.

 
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Oscar Party? Pastry-Wrapped Stuffed Olives!

If you need an award-winning appetizer to serve at your Oscar party, try these pastry-wrapped olives stuffed with walnuts and raisins. This combination of flaky pastry, piquant olives, crunchy walnuts, and golden raisins adds up to one delicious appetizer. Easy to make, they also provide an off-the-chart “wow” factor that can come in handy when you want to make something special for guests — or even yourself on Oscar night (or anytime).

I’ve adapted this recipe from an even easier version in Quick-Fix Vegetarian, where I use large green olives that are sold already stuffed with either almonds or jalapeños. The pre-stuffed olives are then wrapped in little squares of pie crust pastry and baked. These tasty bites look fussier to make than they are, and the texture and flavor combination is out-of-this-world delicious.

For my latest version, I use puff pastry instead of pie crust pastry for added richness and flaky goodness. The puff pastry is also easier to work with. I stuff the olives myself with various ingredients. Some of my favorite stuffing combinations are: sweetened dried cranberries with pecan pieces; jalapeño with smoked tofu; roasted garlic with sun-dried tomato; and (this time) golden raisins with walnut pieces. I’ve tried it with different kinds of olives, including kalamata, but the ones I like best for this are the large pitted green olives from the olive bar at the supermarket.

If you like the idea of stuffed olives and flaky pastry all in one bite, give these a try. And if you come up with more stuffing ideas for them, I’d love to hear about it.

Pastry-Wrapped Stuffed Olives
To save time, use bottled green olives that are already stuffed with almonds or jalapeños. Adapted from Quick-Fix Vegetarian.

25 to 30 large pitted green olives
25 to 30 golden raisins or sweetened dried cranberries
25 to 30 small walnut or pecan pieces (small enough to fit inside the olives)
1 sheet vegan puff pastry, thawed

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Stuff each olive with 1 raisin and 1 walnut piece (or your stuffing of choice). Set aside.
2. Roll out the thawed pastry. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to divide the pastry into 25 to 30 (2-inch) squares.
3. Press one square of pastry around each olive to enclose completely, pinching to seal, and rolling between your palms to shape into smooth spheres. Place on a baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or until ready to use. (You can cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, if you want to make them ahead.)
4. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, turning once, about halfway through. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mmmm…Minestrone

Sometimes when I’m too busy to cook, I think minestrone! Last week was one of those weeks when I didn’t even have time to eat, much less cook, so I was glad I had a pot of minestrone simmering on the stove. A good vegetable soup makes a quick and easy meal that can get you through a few days. The bonus is that the soup gets better with each reheat.

Like any good minestrone, I include a wide variety of vegetables, typically whatever I have on hand. It’s usually a combination of the usual fresh soup-starters: onion, carrot, and celery, along with some zucchini and spinach, if I’ve got them, or some frozen veggies, if I don’t. I also add beans — this time it was Great Northerns — and a can of diced tomatoes. Near the end of cooking time, I toss in some frozen green peas.

For this batch, I added some brown rice to cook right in the soup, but you could also add some cooked pasta, rice, or orzo when ready to serve. A spoonful of pesto swirled in at the end adds a wonderful flavor note.

Minestrone
This recipe is adapted from my book, Quick-Fix Vegetarian. As noted in the recipe headnote, this recipe is more of a guide than a gospel — add whatever vegetables you prefer, season it the way you like, and if you have time, it’s best to cook it a bit longer, the flavor only gets better.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup frozen lima beans
2 cups chopped fresh zucchini (or frozen Italian vegetables)
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (16-ounce) can white beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
5 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (the amount of salt needed depends on the saltiness of your broth)
3 cups baby spinach
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (or pesto)
Cooked rice or soup pasta (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cover and cook until softened, 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, then add the limas, frozen vegetables (or zucchini), tomatoes and their juices, beans, and broth. Add the basil, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 30 minutes to an hour. A few minutes before serving time, stir in the spinach and parsley (or pesto). Taste to adjust seasonings. Stir in the rice or pasta if using.

Spicy Coconut Noodles

A busy day with no time to cook prompted me to make a recipe from Quick-Fix Vegetarian even quicker. I adapted the recipe for coconut rice noodles, using leftover cooked linguine instead of preparing rice noodles and added extra coconut milk to make it more saucy and help the noodles heat up more quickly. I tossed in some thawed frozen peas, although the addition of some leftover cooked veggies such as broccoli would have been nice as well, or if you have time, you can sauté other veggies of choice, such as red bell pepper.

A generous sprinkling of cilantro (or parsley, if you’re out of cilantro like I was) and a squeeze of lime added sparkle, with some cashews on top to add a bit of crunch. Well, I had planned to use cashews, but at the last minute I noticed some fried rice noodles in the cupboard, so I used them instead for a nice change. I thought the dish might need some extra heat, so I brought the Sriracha sauce to the table, but it turned out the red pepper flakes provided just the right amount, more as a background of heat rather than being in the forefront. (of course, if you don’t like heat, you can leave it out or use less.) Start to finish, this easy and versatile dinner was ready in about 15 minutes. Now that’s a quick fix!

Spicy Coconut Noodles

Adapted from Quick-Fix Vegetarian.
1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil
8 ounces extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces cooked rice noodles or linguine
1/2 cup thawed frozen peas
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
Lime wedges, for garnish
Crushed cashews, for garnish

Heat the oil in a skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add the tofu and stir-fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the green onions and ginger and stir-fry another 30 seconds. Reduce heat to low and stir in the coconut milk, soy sauce, sugar, and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked noodles and peas and toss gently to combine until heated through, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more soy sauce or sugar if needed, to balance the flavors. Serve sprinkled with the cilantro and garnished with lime wedges and cashews.

Black Bean Chili with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Just in time for Halloween! I adapted the Five-Minute Slow-Cooker Chili from Quick Fix Vegetarian. The original recipe calls for black and red beans, but I went with “all black” for Halloween and instead of topping with corn kernels or avocado, I swapped in a dice of delicious roasted sweet potatoes. As you can see in the photo, the colors are perfect for Halloween. Best of all, the recipe couldn’t be easier, which is great since everyone is busy making costumes, right?

The secret ingredient in this chili is: chunky salsa! Because salsa already contains bits of onions and peppers, using it eliminates the need for chopping veggies which keeps prep time down to a minimum. You can literally put this chili together in five minutes. (For this special Halloween version, you’ll need to add the time it takes to peel and roast the sweet potatoes.)

If you don’t have Quick-Fix Vegetarian(100% vegan), you may be surprised to learn that it contains an entire chapter of slow-cooker recipes. That’s because I think slow-cooker recipes are actually among the “quickest” recipes you can make. All it takes is a few minutes of prep time and then you can turn on your slow cooker and let it do all the work. (I use mine all the time.)

Black Bean Chili with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
The chili itself takes only minutes to assemble. The sweet potatoes will take additional time, but you can do that while the chili is simmering in the slow cooker. This recipe is an adaptation of Five Minute Slow Cooker Chili from Quick Fix Vegetarian.

1 (24-ounce) jar chunky tomato salsa
2 tablespoons chili powder, or more to taste
1/3 cup barbecue sauce or tomato ketchup
3 (16-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup water, or more if needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups roasted sweet potatoes (see below)

1. Pour the salsa into a 4-quart slow cooker. Stir in the chili powder and ketchup. Add the black beans, water, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
2. Cover and slow-cook on HIGH for 3 hours or on LOW for 4 to 6 hours.
3. To serve, spoon the chili into shallow bowls and top each bowl with some of the roasted sweet potatoes. Alternately, you can add the roasted sweet potatoes to the entire pot of chili and stir gently to combine.

Serve 4 to 6

NOTE: To roast sweet potatoes: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking pan. Peel two medium sweet potatoes and cut them into 1/4-inch dice. Toss lightly with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking pan. Roast until tender inside and a little browned around the edges, about 20 minutes, turning once about halfway through.

Variation: For added texture, you can add some ground veggie burger crumbles, tempeh, or seitan when you add the beans.

Versatile Quick Red Bean Dal

I thought I’d share a recipe from my Summerfest demo – the Quick Red Bean Dal from Vegan Fire & Spice.

To show the versatility of the Quick Red Bean Dal, I first prepared it as a main dish over rice (see photo). I then spread some onto tortillas with some curried mashed potatoes made from any leftover potatoes (see photo of a potato dosadilla from Quick-Fix Vegetarian in my February 21 post. The combination is heavenly comfort food with an Indian twist.

The tortilla is then folded in half and toasted on both sides in a skillet. You can then serve the “dosadilla” on a plate with a knife and fork for a lunch or light supper, or you can cut it into wedges and enjoy them as fun snacks or appetizer “pick-up” food.

Here is the dal recipe and the dosadilla variation:

Quick Red Bean Dal
2 (15.5-ounce) cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons organic canola oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Salt
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves

Place the kidney beans in a bowl and mash with a potato ricer or stick blender. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cover and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the ginger, tomatoes, curry powder, coriander, cayenne, and salt to taste. Mix well.
Add the reserved beans and water and simmer until the mixture is hot and the flavors are well blended, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve sprinkled with chopped cilantro.
Serves 4

Dal-Potato “Dosadillas”
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced scallions or onion
2 cups cooked mashed potatoes
2 teaspoons curry powder (or to taste)
4 whole wheat tortillas
Quick Red Bean Dal (recipe above)

Heat the oil in a small skillet. Add the scallions and cook until softened. Add the potatoes, and curry powder and cook until well mixed and hot.
Spread the potato mixture evenly over each of the tortillas. Spread a thin layer of dal over the potato mixture. Fold the tortillas over and place them in a large non-stick skillet or griddle over medium-heat. Cook until lightly browned on both sides, turning once.
Keep them warm while you cook the remaining dosadillas. Serve them whole to be cut with a knife and fork, or cut them into wedges to eat out of hand.
Serves 4

Oprah’s Vegan Challenge

I’m so happy to see that Oprah is going vegan—for 21 days, at least — in what she’s calling a “21-day cleanse as a way to jump-start an inner makeover.” In this plan, she has eliminated animal products from her diet and has invited her fans to join her. How cool is that?

Helping her to do this (by cooking amazing vegan meals for her) is my good friend, vegan chef extraordinaire, Tal Ronnen (in photo). Way to go, Tal! (See his bio on Oprah’s blog.)

Best of all, it actually seems like Oprah “gets” the reason why many of us are vegan. In her blog, she writes: “How can you say you’re trying to spiritually evolve, without even a thought about what happens to the animals whose lives are sacrificed in the name of gluttony?”

I also think it’s great that Erik Marcus at Vegan.com is pitching in to help those who are taking Oprah’s vegan challenge and are new to veganism. During the next three weeks, his VegTalk podcast is going to offer daily guidance and support to new vegans. On the May 21st podcast, Erik recommends his three favorite cookbooks for new vegans and I’m honored to report that two of them were my own Quick-Fix Vegetarian and Vegan Planet, along with that other bastion of vegan recipes, Veganomicon.

Here’s hoping that Oprah’s 21-day vegan challenge is a catalyst for getting more and more people to go vegan and the beginning of a new era for veganism and all that it represents. What do you think?