Crispy Polenta with Toasted Walnuts and Fresh Peaches

Sometimes I get into a rut making the same foods, especially when it comes to breakfast. I was perusing the grocery store shelves, pondering new breakfast ideas when I remembered a yummy breakfast my brother-in-law made one time while I was visiting. I decided to try making something similar. It’s really simple to make and is a tasty alternative to the usual breakfast foods.

This dish features polenta, a tasty porridge made of cornmeal. I bought pre-made Polenta at Trader Joes for this, but you can make it yourself at home pretty easily. I was aiming for a quick breakfast this morning, so that’s why I used premade. Making polenta yourself isn’t hard, but it does take a little time and a decent amount of stirring. The blog theKitchn has pretty good instructions and info about how to make your own polenta. She uses butter in hers, but you can easily veganize it by using vegan butter instead. If you make it yourself, try to make it on the firmer side or let it sit overnight to firm up in the fridge.

A quick note about the “recipe”. This isn’t really a set in stone recipe so much as an idea you can customize. If you don’t like walnuts, leave them out or use almonds, pecans, etc. instead. The same goes for the brown sugar…you could use maple syrup, agave, etc. And of course the peaches are optional too. You could also use berries, jam, apple butter, or any other topping you like! This dish is sweet, but if you’re looking for a more savory polenta breakfast dish I posted the recipe for a Polenta Breakfast Casserole about a year and a half ago. It’s really, really good, so check it out if you missed it!

Crispy Polenta With Toasted Walnuts and Fresh Peaches

Ingredients: (Makes enough for 2-3 people)

18 ounce package of Polenta (or a batch of homemade polenta)
vegan butter
about a 1/2 cup of walnuts
2 – 3 Tbsp of brown sugar (about 1 Tbsp per serving)
1 fresh peach

Directions:

  • Slice the polenta into 1/2 inch thick slices. Pan fry the slices in a little bit of vegan butter. Let them get crispy around the edges. Gently flip the polenta slices. They’ll fall apart if you’re too rough with them, but if you’re gentle they should hold together.
  • Toast the walnuts in a pan over medium heat, stirring them often so they don’t burn.
  • Wash and slice your peach.
  • Place the crispy polenta on a plate. Sprinkle the toasted walnuts on top, and then sprinkle on some brown sugar. Place the sliced peach on top and enjoy your simple, yummy breakfast!
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Vegan French Toast

I went to Eataly the other day, which is right around the corner from where I work. It’s an Italian Market that has all kinds of imported food from Italy as well as lots of places to eat within the market. I picked up a loaf of bread while I was there called Mais, which is made with corn. It turned out to be pretty dry, and after reading up on it, it’s intended to be eaten with soup, stew, etc. so you can sop up the liquid. This makes it a perfect bread for making French toast.

I’ve used bananas in the past to make vegan french toast, but I decided to try out apple sauce to replace the eggs this time. It turned out really well and the French toast ends up tasting like an apple cider donut. Perfect for fall!

Ingredients:

4-6 thick slices of bread (I used Mais)
1/2 cup apple sauce
1 cup soy milk
5 tablespoons of flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
vegan butter
maple syrup

Directions:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the apple sauce, soy milk, flour, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie spice. Whisk it until it’s fully combined without lumps.
  2. Slice your bread in thick slices. Soak the slices in the batter allowing it to absorb into the bread for a minute.
  3. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Melt some vegan butter in the skillet so the French toast won’t stick. Place the battered bread slices into the skillet. Keep an eye on it as it cooks and flip it with a spatula so both sides cook evenly. Vegan French toast will probably take a little longer to cook than non-vegan French toast, but it turns out best when you cook it slowly on medium heat. The French toast is ready when it’s crispy and golden brown on both sides.
  4. Drizzle with maple syrup and enjoy!

Vegan Adventures in Minneapolis

This month is shaping up to be quite busy, so I may be continuing on this one-post-per-week pace I seem to have gotten into. I chalk it up to having too many hobbies and too much to do! This past weekend I spent in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was my first time in Minnesota, and really my first time in the mid-west, besides a trip to Ohio years ago.

Whenever I travel I like to find a local vegan or vegetarian restaurant to try out. I wasn’t expecting tons of options in Minneapolis, but after a search on Happy Cow I found the Hard Times Cafe. The description on Happy Cow boasted vegan breakfast with pancakes, tofu scramble, seitan, and more. That definitely piqued my interest!

After reading the reviews  however, I was a bit wary. Reviewers warned about the dive bar/unkempt feel of the place, gross bathrooms, and disgruntled service, but mostly claimed that the food was good. After a bit of debating, my rumbling stomach and I decided to give it a try anyway. I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned of what I was getting into.

Let me preface this by saying that I really try to find the positives about a restaurant when I’m blogging about it. In general, I like to be supportive of any restaurant that is offering vegan options because I think it’s great that they exist. But this place was unlike any restaurant I’ve ever been to.

Let’s start at the beginning. The road in front of the restaurant was completely torn up, so it had the feel of a run down construction site from the beginning.

You walk in and there’s no menu posted on the wall. There’s just a big chalk board full of instructions about how to order your food. You have to find a menu, choose what you want, write it down on a slip of paper along with the price, and slide your slip of paper over to the cashier. The cashier wasn’t overly friendly, but not rude either. I placed my order and took a seat in a torn up booth. This place fit the description of being a dive pretty completely.

It was about 10am, and the music of choice was death metal… a little much for me before my morning caffeine. The way that they alert you to your order being ready is to have the rather disgruntled chef scream loudly, “HEY! (PERSON’S NAME)!” It was quite alarming the first time it happened, but by the time my order was ready I had gotten quite used to it. So I heard a “HEY! KATHRYN!” and I wandered up to pick up our food.

What we got was one giant pancake, two sausage patties, and a plate full of hash browns, tofu scramble, and biscuits and gravy.

It looked good, but as soon as I tasted it, the predominant flavor was grease. There was really no seasoning, and it was so heavy I couldn’t eat much of it. The tea we ordered had the taste of cigarette butts. I don’t want to know why. I was really disappointed because the food was the one upside people talked about in the Happy Cow reviews. We ate less than half the food before we gave up on it.

I tried to take a photo of their front ordering area, and the chef screamed at me from the back that I couldn’t take any photos. I’ve taken photos at many restaurants and have never had anyone say anything to me, nevermind scream at me from across the restaurant. A polite or at least quieter, “We don’t allow photography,” would have sufficed.

So, although I try to find the positives about the vegan restaurants I visit, I can’t say that I could find any positives about this place. Oh wait! It was incredibly cheap, so there you go. It did provide me with a unique experience and a story to tell, so I don’t regret checking it out. Would I ever go back? No, no I wouldn’t. But chances are I won’t find myself in Minneapolis again anytime soon anyway.

The rest of the trip was quite nice though, and I did manage to find plenty of vegan food at stores nearby. The Minneapolis airport even surprisingly had vegan eggplant parmesan.

I saw the giant spoon bridge in the sculpture garden, and I went to the Mill City Museum. This museum charts the history of flour mills in Minneapolis – the Gold Medal brand and then later General Mills. In general, people in Minneapolis were quite friendly, but sadly, the Minneapolis vegans were the least friendly bunch, at least the few that I encountered. If I’d had more time, I would have liked to explore some of the other vegan options in Minneapolis… like the Triple Rock Social Club a few blocks over from Hard Times. They also have vegan pancakes and tofu scramble, and maybe a better atmosphere. Maybe next time!

Rosemary Dill Bread

To continue on my bread baking resolution for 2012, I had to throw a loaf of bread into the breakfast recipe mix. There’s not much that’s better than homemade bread fresh out of the oven. It’s also nice to have as toast for breakfast the next morning.

I had some leftover fresh dill that I wanted to use up before it went bad, so I decided to try making an herb bread. It came out really well. This is a great way to use up herbs, especially since they always seem to come in huge bunches at the grocery store…way more than you need for most recipes. This recipe is based on one from King Arthur Flour that I modified. King Arthur is a good starting place for basic bread recipes that are well tested.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
2 cups warms water (not over 110°F) + extra if needed
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 – 6 cups unbleached all purpose flour
5 sprigs of fresh dill
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
coarse sea salt
olive oil
cornmeal

Directions:

  • In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, yeast, and warm water. Let it sit for a few minutes. Remove the stems from the dill sprigs and chop the leaves.
  • Slowly add the flour, salt, fresh dill, and rosemary to the yeast mixture. Mix until it forms a kneadable ball of dough. I had to add about 1/2 cup extra water to form the dough. My apartment is really dry from the heaters in the winter though, so it may depend on your environment.
  • Knead the dough on a floured surface for a few minutes until the dough is smooth.
  • Place the dough in a very lightly oiled bowl (use olive oil). Cover it with a towel and let it rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.
  • Gently deflate the dough and briefly knead it. Separate it into two even balls or loaves depending on which shape you prefer. Sprinkle cornmeal on a baking sheet and place the loaves on the cornmeal. Slash the tops a few times diagonally. Let the loaves rise for 45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 450°F. Put 2-3 cups of boiling water in a roasting pan on the bottom rack of the oven. The boiling water helps the bread be light and crusty.
  • Drizzle just a little bit of olive oil on top of the bread. Sprinkle a little coarse sea salt and rosemary on top.
  • Place the bread on the rack above the water and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Mine ended up needing between 25-30 minutes.

Scottish Girdle Scones aka Griddle Scones

This is a traditional Scottish recipe passed down through my Great Aunt. I can’t think of a better way to start the morning than with one of these scones and a cup of tea. My dad makes these occasionally and they always disappear almost as fast as he can make them. They come out a bit differently than scones you bake in the oven. They are somewhere in between a baked scone and a pancake as far as texture and taste are concerned. You can eat them on their own, because they’re that tasty, or you can add a little butter and jam if you like.

I decided to try to vegan-ize the recipe since I missed having these. It came out quite well and I don’t think this recipe is too far off from the original. I bet my Great Aunt never imagined there’d be a vegan version of her recipe, but I bet she’d be happy we were still making these! If you want to check out the original recipe handwritten by my Great Aunt, check out my Dad’s blog about his experiences growing up in Scotland and his book “Roses of Winter”. It’s neat to see a little piece of history.

I apologize for the less than amazing photos. I only had my camera phone with me, but I wanted you to get a sense of what they should look like.

Ingredients:

3 2/3 cups self-rising flour
1/2-teaspoon salt
1/4-teaspoon baking soda
1/4-teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup Earth Balance vegan butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp EnerG Egg Replacer Powder
4 Tbsp water
1 cup of soy milk

I converted all the measurements for you, but if you ever need help converting measurements using a British recipe and you don’t have a cooking scale, this is a helpful site.

Directions:

  • Mix the flour, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar.
  • Rub in the vegan butter. I use my hands to combine it with the flour mixture.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the egg replacer powder with the water until well combined. Then add the soy milk in. Add the liquids into the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until flour is absorbed and makes a firm dough. Mine came out a little sticky, but the scones still turned out well. Don’t over mix!
  • Place a large handful of the dough onto a well-floured surface, enough at a time to make a round. Roll out the dough to a thickness of about a 1/4-inch and cut into 4 quarters. I actually sprinkled a little flour on the dough and patted it down. That worked better than rolling since the dough was a little sticky.
  • Bake the scones on a griddle on medium heat. Finding the right temperature in your particular set up will take some practice. When the scones are brown on one side turn them over and brown the other side.

Important: Handle the dough as little as possible. As my Great Aunt notes, if you handle it too much “you could sole your shoes” with them! They should be light and fluffy with a slightly crispy outside.

Polenta Breakfast Casserole

This Polenta Breakfast Casserole in some ways is the vegan equivalent of a quiche without the crust. It takes a little bit of time to prepare, but is the perfect dish if you’re having guests for brunch or just to treat yourself on a lazy Sunday like I did today. This recipe is based on a recipe by Alicia Silverstone called Polenta Casserole with Seitan. I modified her recipe slightly, which is what I’m posting here.

 

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups polenta or cornmeal
5 cups of water
1 medium size head of cauliflower cut in large pieces
2 pinches of sea salt
1 package of Gimme Lean vegan breakfast sausage
1 shallot
1 small yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 cup of frozen corn
6 asparagus spears
1/3 cup of soy milk
1 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1/4 – 1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 green onions
olive oil

Directions:

  • Bring water, polenta, and salt to a boil in a large pot and then reduce heat. Simmer the polenta for 30 minutes stirring frequently. If you don’t stir it, it will stick and get lumpy. In a separate pot steam the cauliflower until soft. It will get mashed into the polenta later so it should be a mash-able consistency.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8×8 casserole dish with a little olive oil.
  • Prep your veggies. Chop the onion and shallots, asparagus, and parsley. Press or mince the garlic.
  • Saute the onion, shallots, and garlic. Then crumble up the sausage and saute it until the edges get a little crispy.
  • Layer the vegan sausage in the casserole dish. Then put the corn, asparagus, onions, garlic, and shallots in an even layer on top.
  • Remove the polenta mixture from the heat after the 30 minutes. Add soy milk, and soy sauce. Mash the cauliflower and polenta together until there are no large cauliflower chunks. Add the chopped parsley and shallots and mix well. Taste to see if you need more salt or want to add other seasonings. Next time I make this I may add in some garlic powder and other seasonings to spice up the polenta a little.
  • Spoon the polenta mixture into the casserole dish as the top layer. Smooth the top with a spatula, poke a few holes in the surface, and pour a little soy sauce on top.
  • Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, then let it cool 15 minutes before serving.

How to Make a Soy Latte with a Stovetop Espresso Maker

For me, breakfast isn’t complete without coffee or tea to wake me up. I have become a bit addicted to lattes in particular. They are so expensive to buy at a coffee shop though, so I decided to learn how to make them myself. I admit I was a bit intimidated. I’m certainly not an expert on lattes by any means, but there’s a pretty simple way to make a latte at home that is really affordable. I’m sure some latte/espresso connoisseurs would have much more advice on how to properly make a latte, but this is just an easy way to get started. It’s much cheaper than paying for one at a coffee shop, and they’re just as good or even better!

What You Need:

IMUSA Espresso Maker – They’re cheap. I got mine for $10 and it works really well.

A handheld milk frother – Here’s an example. I bought mine at IKEA for $2.99. It works just fine, but I will likely upgrade to one that is more sturdy soon. They’re still not all that expensive.

Espresso – I’ve been using Lavazza Caffe Espresso, which I like.

Soy milk or whichever kind of milk you prefer

Directions:

  • Directions on how to make espresso should be included with the stovetop maker that you buy. Here’s a video that shows visually how to use one. Follow the directions that come with your maker.
  • Here are the ones included with mine as an example:
  1. Unscrew the espresso maker and remove the funnel filter cup from the bottom half. Pour cold or room temperature water into the bottom half of the espresso maker up to the valve located on the inside.
  2. Place the funnel filter cup into the bottom half and fill with fine ground espresso without tamping or applying much pressure. Level off at the top.
  3. Check for the round metal filter and the silicone ring-like gasket on the bottom of the top piece. Screw the top and bottom pieces together.
  4. Place the espresso maker on the stove, making sure not to expose the handle to direct heat. Set your stove to medium heat and wait for the water to boil and for the espresso to begin percolating. It will make a gurgling sound.
  5. Once the top is 3/4 full, remove the espresso maker from the heat and wait 30 seconds for it to finish percolating. Do not lift the lid during this process. The top part should be nearly full of espresso when you’re done.
  • Heat your soy milk over medium heat in a sauce pot. Once you start to see some small bubbles rising up, but before it’s boiling, turn on the handheld milk frother and place it in the soy milk. The milk will start to froth up. It works best if you keep the frother near the surface of the soy milk.
  • Add the espresso and frothed milk together in a cup and you have a latte!