Never invite me over to cook for you. I will take over your kitchen.

I will bombard you with grocery bags full of dark, leafy greens:

And exotic whole grain breads (Mom hates Ezekiel, so I brought French Meadow hemp bread):

And bizarre appliances (that’s my Tribest blender in there, get your minds out of the gutter):

I will spill nutritional yeast on your countertops, I will banish your Splenda, and I will replace your Smart Balance with Earth Balance. All in a days work.

My mother, on the other hand, greeted me with nothing but gentle kindness. Check out the kitchen spread that I arrived “home” to:

I love you, Mom.

I won’t lie: staycation hasn’t been all that restful. I worked later than planned yesterday, and I had to pop into the office today. It’s also hot as heck, which makes Mom’s and my enthusiasm for touristy stuff a little low. The solution, of course, has been to lie on the sofa all evening watching bad movies. And that is precisely what we’ve done.

Thank you for all of your wonderful dinner suggestions yesterday! I may not get to all or even some of these in the next day or so, but you can bet they’re all going into my vault of “must make soon” vegan food. I was also amused at how my readers and I seem to love so many of the same foods: hummus, tempeh, whole grain pasta, nooch, roast veggies, curries, etc. No wonder we all like to hang out virtually.

So what did I end up making for dinner #1? An old tried and true: stuffed peppers. What I wanted to do with this recipe was make it a little “cheesy”; Mom has cut down dramatically on dairy, and eats almost no cheese at all these days (go Mom!) but I sense that she still misses it. Since all raw vegans have made at least one “cheesy” sauce that involved nooch and red peppers, I thought I’d transfer that principle to a rice and bean medly, and then bake it in two bell peppers. It worked out well. Here’s the crowd pleasing recipe:

Cheesy Vegan Stuffed Peppers (serves 2)

2 yellow or red bell peppers
1 tsp coconut oil (substitute olive oil if that’s what you have)
1 cup brown rice, cooked
1/2 cup black or aduki beans, cooked
2 roasted and chopped red pepper halves (fresh is best, canned and organic is fine)
3 heaping tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp tomato paste (organic, por favor! I like Muir Glen)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp Bragg’s (or 1/4 tsp sea salt)
Black pepper to taste

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Chop the tops off of your two peppers, and then remove the seeds and any white pith. Spray a baking pan and put the peppers on it. Stick them in the oven so that they can begin to cook.

2) Heat coconut oil in a skillet and add the brown rice, beans, and peppers, stirring rapidly until they’re warmed through.

3) Add 3-4 tbsp water to the skillet, along with the nooch, the tomato paste, the cumin, the Bragg’s (or salt), and pepper to taste.

4) When everything is well mixed, it ought to look something like this.

As soon as it’s thoroughly warmed through, remove it from the heat. Stuff the mixture into the peppers and return them to the oven. Cook for another 15-25 minutes, or until the peppers are starting to look soft and a little brown at the edges.

The resulting dish is flavorful and comforting. It’s also filling and loaded with protein, which means that moms who are used to eating omnivorously will probably feel satisfied with the dish! I know my Mom was.

I put hummus on top of mine. Why? Because I put hummus on everything.

For our sides, we decided on a summery and slightly Southern theme, alliteration not intended. First, Mom boiled some corn, which we served plain with a touch of Earth Balance.

And to get our greens in, I decided to make my “cheater’s” braised collards. These are collard greens that taste sweet enough to have been cooked for a good long time, but actually take no more than a few minutes. The trick is to flash steam the collards before you give them a sautee — this allows you to retain some texture and brightness while imparting plenty of flavor (there is nothing that creeps me out more than dark green/brownish collards–ICK).

Cheater’s Braised Collards (serves 2 people who really like dark leafies)

Begin with a small head of collard greens. Wash them all, remove the toughest and thickest stems, and then slice them into ribbons, like so:

Next, steam the collards in a colander or simply a sieve that’s been placed over boiling water until they’re still bright green, but still a little crunchy.

Heat a teaspoon or two of coconut or olive oil in a large pan. Swirl it around to coat, and add your collards. Once they’re coated with oil, you want to add a generous tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, a very generous tablespoon of agave nectar (or maple syrup) and tamari or sea salt to taste (I actually used about 4-5 squirts of Bragg’s). Continue to swirl them around till they’re well coated and taste salty/sour/sweet. Yum.

All together, it was a perfect summertime dinner. And Mom even loved her collards. (If I can get her to love kale next time, I’ll really celebrate.)

The next morning, I awoke to the cozy and welcoming sight of my Mom’s lovely, light-filled kitchen. I love my little kitchen, and I’d never trade it in, but I have forgotten how nice it is to cook in the light of day (my kitchen window looks out onto a stuffy air shaft).

I had also forgotten (since I’m a French press snob) how nice it is to make coffee by flipping a switch.

And I had forgotten — but was grateful to remember — that Mom also likes coffee that’s strong enough to burn a hole in your stomach wake you up quickly.

After a brief gym gaunt, I got to making some blueberry vegan pancakes. I am not a baker or pancake maker by nature — I usually mess up — but these basic vegan pancakes have always given me a pretty generous margin of error.

Vegan Blueberry Pancakes (yields 6 large pancakes, or 2 servings)

2/3 cup spelt OR whole wheat pastry flour OR Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free all purpose flour mix
2 tsps baking powder
1 tbsp flax seed dissolved in 1 1/2 tbsp water (this is what vegan bakers call a “flax egg”)
dash salt
2 tsps agave nectar
2 tsps coconut or olive oil
3/4 cup rice, soy, or almond milk (I like rice milk in this recipe)
1/4 cup blueberries

Mix all ingredients but the blueberries together till wet and incorporated, but not over mixed.

If you’re a perfectionist, you might want to add the blueberries to the tops of your pancakes as soon as they hit the griddle. If you’re not (I’m not, at least not with pancakes), add them once the mix is mixed.

Heat a griddle over a medium flame and spray with coconut oil or olive oil cooking spray. Drop the batter in 1/4 cup blobs onto the griddle.

The key to making perfect pancakes — or at least, pancakes that aren’t a giant mess — is to really try hard not to touch them for a bit once they hit the griddle. As soon as you see lots of air bubbles rising to the tops of the side that’s facing you, you can test the edges. If they feel solid, carefully pry your spatula underneath the pancake, and flip!

Leave it on side #2 till the pancake is obviously cooked through, and continue till batter is used up. You should have six large pancakes.

Serve with earth balance (if desired) and agave (Mom’s plate).

Or, if you’re me, smother them in banana and a touch of real maple syrup (yum).

My opinion was that the pancakes were pretty great. Mom liked them, but thought they had too many blueberries. I sort of agree, but then…the blueberries are my favorite part 🙂

Coffee, vegan pancakes, and a heated discussion about French literature. It was a standard morning in my Mom’s house.

After our chat, my Mom paused and said, “you made food you thought I’d really like last night. I appreciate that.” For a moment I wondered what she meant–don’t I always try to make her stuff she’ll like?–and then it was obvious: as much as I love to cook for my Mom, I do have the habit of infiltrating her apartment with heaps of raw kale, raw soups, and raw zucchini slices filled with cashew cheese. She’s pretty open minded, but some of my more “out there” uncooking–though dear to my heart–is a little hardcore for her. These crowd pleasers are better offerings to make, and Mom, I’ll be happy to make many more.

But you’re still getting massaged kale salad every Christmas eve, Mom. Sorry.

Stay tuned for more staycation 2010, and have a great Friday!


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