Vegan beer-glazed sausage and apples (4 servings)

As my sister pointed out the other day, one problem with moving away from from your childhood home is that you forget that people around you don't understand your nostalgic references. For example, when the weather turns cool and crisp and the leaves begin to dry and change color, one fabulously fun but ludicrously simple attraction always comes to mind: Pumpkinland at Green Valley Nursery.

Sadly, no one around here knows about Pumpkinland, and as far as I know, there is no Triangle equivalent. Yes, we have local hay rides or corn mazes, but nothing tops Pumpkinland, with its hay bale and cornstalk-festooned obstacle course and giant field of pick-your-own pumpkins. Oh, and it had a petting zoo! (Nothing says Halloween like baby goats and fuzzy rabbits, right?) I can still remember the odd fragrance the place gave off: dried straw mixed with livestock droppings. Ahh, it was Heaven.

Oh, I'm sorry -- did you come here for a recipe this week? 

One of the oddest parts of Pumpkinland was Harry's Hay Toss, which was, as far as I remember, a cordoned-off outdoor area filled with knee-deep hay where children were invited to -- you guessed it -- launch handfuls of hay at their unsuspecting younger siblings. My sister and I were never allowed to visit this attraction, and when I asked Bryan (a fellow Sinking Spring native) about it, he shook his head and said, "My parents hated  that thing. My brother and I used to get so filthy."

But, by far, the most popular attraction at Pumpkinland was Dizzy's Darkroom, the nursery's best interpretation of a G-rated haunted house. They tried to make it scary, and honestly, for anyone under the age of eight, it was pretty spooky. In my mind now, it was huge and rambling, but in actuality, I think it was just a corridor between two rooms of the plant nursery, so it couldn't have been longer than a couple yards. I remember being freaked out by the hanging polyester spider webbing and the flashing strobe lights. (It was a simpler time.) Bryan and his brother used to pay their quarters to get in, wend their way through the haunted house, and then walk backwards to the start to do it again. (I like to imagine that my sister and I emerged from the exit and ran to my parents, whining, "Two boys in there are cheating! ")

So yes, in my mind, autumn equals nostalgia. Some of my happiest childhood memories occurred in the fall, from meandering family car rides to Lititz to "nose poke" in the shops along East Main Street to crunching through the leaves in the playground near my Mom-Mom's house. It's a season that involves change, but moving forward always requires some looking back, in my mind.

 So happy fall, everyone! And happy Vegan Mofo

This month's premier vegan offering is a remix from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe that originally featured regular sausage. However, by subbing oil for the butter and using Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage sausage (Expensive but well worth it, it's available at Whole Foods), I easily veganized this hearty, autumnal dish.

You will need: 

  • 12 oz bottle of Belgium-style vegan wheat beer, such as Blue Moon Belgian White (Find vegan beer here!)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 12-14 oz vegan smoked sausage, sliced into 2-inch rounds
  • 1/2 lb fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large firm apple, such as Honeycrisp, unpeeled but cut into small chunks
  • 2 Tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • zest from half an orange
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage

(A quick note: The only obnoxious thing about this recipe is the way the ingredients repeatedly go in and out of the pan like a terrier in heat through a dog door.  I kept a big serving bowl nearby to store the ingredients in between steps.)

Steps: 

  1. Start by adding half the beer and the red pepper to a wide, rimmed skillet; turn the heat to medium-high and allow the beer to come to a boil. Then add the sausage and green beans and turn the heat down to medium-low. Let the sausage and beans simmer for 5-8 minutes, or until the beans are just tender. Pour the mixture into the serving bowl and set aside.
  2. Next, wipe out the skillet with a damp paper towel. Add 1 Tbsp of oil to the skillet and turn the heat to medium. Cook the apples int he oil for a few minutes until they're golden brown. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and place them on the serving platter.
  3. There should still be a tiny bit of oil left in the pan, so pick out the sausage from the serving platter (I warned you this gets annoying!) and add it to the skillet. Brown the sausage on all sides and then return it to the serving platter.
  4. With the heat still on medium, add the remaining beer to the skillet and then pour in the remaining oil, the brown sugar, the vinegar, and the orange zest. Whisk the mixture for a few minutes, allowing it to simmer, until it's slightly thickened. Return the sausage, green beans, and apples to the skillet to coat them in the glaze. Sprinkle the mixture with the dried sage and serve.

 

If this dish doesn't remind you of fall, then you've never actually experienced the season. The smoked sausage recalls woodsmoke on blanket-wrapped evenings, the sage evokes late-season family dinners, and the sweet-tart apples call to mind long walks through scattered orange and red leaves. 

 

Pineapple fried rice and beans (4-5 servings)

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Like avocados, pineapples are a guilty pleasure for me. Each time I eat pineapple, I think about how it was grown thousands and thousands of miles away, probably harvested under sub-par working conditions, and brought to me using lots of non-renewable fuel. (That being said, this recipe should be served with a heaping side of food-guilt.)

This delicious vegan recipe comes from a surprising source: Better Homes and Gardens (to whom I'm not linking because I hate that they demand your email address and name just to let you look at the damn recipe). This recipe was a natural successor to the rosemary lentil soup I'd made the night before, since it helped me use up the carrots and celery I'd bought for the soup. 

You will need:

  • 1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored, and sliced into chunks
  • 3 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (you can mince it if garlic slices are too much for you)
  • 2-3 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2-3 cups cooked brown rice
  • 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 Tbsp orange marmalade
  • 3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

Steps:

  1. Heat 2 tsp of the vegetable oil in a large rimmed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pineapple and cook, stirring often, until caramelized and golden brown in spots. (I was too impatient.) Remove from skillet and set aside.
  2. Pour the remaining 1 tsp of oil into the hot skillet. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft (~3 minutes for mine). Add the garlic and ginger; cook and stir for 30 seconds.
  3. Stir in the rice, chickpeas, peas, marmalade, and soy sauce. Cook and stir for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture is heated through. Add the pineapple back in and sprinkle in some chopped cilantro, if you have it and like it (I didn't and don't). Serve immediately.

The original recipe didn't call for celery, but I like the crunch and background flavor it added. I also upped the ginger and the rice, and I used marmalade in the sauce instead of stirring in lime juice at the end, as the original suggested. The result was a sweet sauce that was balanced out by the savory quality of the soy sauce. Next time, I might toast the chickpeas before I add them in to keep them a little firmer. I loved the colors of this dish!

Greek spinach veggie burgers (4 servings)

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Since my teenaged years, I've had an unusually strong love of feta cheese, especially for a Polish girl. I'll eat it plain. I'll throw it into just about any pasta dish. I'll melt it on crackers or chips. I'll add it to my salads. Yes, the salty tang of feta makes my heartbeat quicken. I could probably write a poem in dedication to feta if I had a few more minutes to spare.

Spinach and feta were made for each other, just as basil was made for tomatoes and rosemary was made for potatoes. This recipe (filed under "beef" in the URL, for some reason), from Better Homes and Gardens, pairs spinach and feta with other classic Greek flavorings: olive oil, dill, and oregano. Not only are these burgers delicious, but they come together really quickly. Counting prep, this recipe takes only about 20 minutes to make. If you can, set the frozen spinach out on the counter and hour or two before cooking; otherwise, thaw it in the microwave.

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup dry herb-seasoned stuffing mix (make sure you use one without chicken flavoring, such as Arrowhead Mills)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed and thoroughly drained (I used a colander and my hands to squeeze out the water)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • burger buns or pitas
  • topics of your choice: tzatziki sauce, tomato slices, roasted red pepper slices, more feta, etc.

Steps:

  1. Combine 1/4 cup of the oil with the garlic, oregano, dill, and black pepper in a medium bowl. Add in the dry stuffing mix and stir to coat with oil and seasonings. (I used a spoonula.) Stir in the eggs, spinach, and feta; mix well.
  2. Shape the mixture into four 1/2-inch thick patties. If they're not sticking together, you might need to add a little more stuffing mix. (If they fall apart, it's probably because the spinach isn't dry enough, but you can still make it work!)
  3. Heat a large rimmed skillet over medium heat; add remaining 1 Tbsp oil. Add the patties to the hot skillet. Cook for 3-5 minutes per side, or until browned (the cheesy bits will get crispy!) and heated through. Serve on choice of bread with preferred toppings.

I love, love, love these burgers. The stuffing mix makes them buttery and full of herb flavor. I served them for dinner on buns with tzatziki sauce and had a leftover burger for lunch on a pita. Mmm. I could make and eat these at least once a week. If I ever open a cafe (don't hold your breath), this will be one of the items on the menu with the little symbol beside it that tells you it's a house speciality. And the symbol will be a little heart exploding with passion for feta cheese.

Mushroom stroganoff (4 servings)

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As Bryan and I were preparing a pre-snowstorm grocery list earlier this week, I asked him what he was craving for dinner in the days to come.  "Something with egg noodles," was his reply, and thus began a quest for the perfect mushroom stroganoff recipe.  I started with a Better Homes & Gardens recipe, remembering I had made it once before.  Like most BH&G recipes, it provided a good starting point but lacked "punch."  I used some suggestions from Epicurious' version, and came up with the hybrid recipe that follows.

You will need:

  • 8 oz dry egg noodles
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into thin half-moons (my mandoline slicer is my friend)
  • 8 oz mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • dash of soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 8 oz low-fat sour cream

Steps:

  1. Start the pasta water boiling in a large stockpot.
  2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large rimmed skillet.  When the butter is totally melted, add in the onions.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes, or until they're soft.  (I waited to start this step until the pasta water was starting to think about boiling.)
  3. Add in the garlic and mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for another 5-6 minutes.  Season with the thyme, salt, and pepper.
  4. By now, the water in the stockpot should be boiling, so add in the egg noodles and cook until al dente (6 min for the type I bought).  Drain and keep warm.
  5. Slowly pour in the wine and then the vegetable broth and soy sauce, stirring to incorporate.  Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir for about a minute until it's blended in well.  Mix in the sour cream and stir to an even consistency.
  6. Pour the egg noodles on top of the sauce and toss to coat.  Check for seasoning and then serve immediately.

Basically, I used the BH&G ingredients (plus white wine) and the Epicurious technique.  The BH&G recipe called for fettuccine instead of egg noodles, and it also called for two onions instead of one.  That seemed too intense for my taste and my touchy stomach.  The only thing I'd change next time is to increase the mushrooms.  I might use a mix of types, too, as I think portobello mushrooms would be lovely here.  This wasn't as heavy as other stroganoffs I've eaten, but the sauce was still well-distributed and flavorful.  It was a great way to end another snowy day here in Lancaster!

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