Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween! Recipe Update: Sweet Potato Soup


This was my first Halloween in my own home.  I have so many great memories from the holiday as a child that I was so excited about handing out candy that I passed on some activities that I would typically jump on.  The trick-or-treaters are few and far between but I had a great time.  It was so fun to see the costumes that people worked so hard on.

I have never given out candy before.  I never had a place that is was worth the time nor have I had the day off.  This was another big landmark for my life in the house.

While giving out candy, I made an appropriate autumn dinner.  It is another recipe reboot and one that was in dire need.  This was actually the first recipe I posted on my blog, several years ago.  How the years have flown by.

Sweet Potato Soup

2 sweet potatoes (cubed)
3 cups of water
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1  1/2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon of oregano
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into 1 inch cubes.  Bring the 3 cups of water and salt to a boil.  Add the sweet potato and boil for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Remove from the heat.  Mash the potatoes until slightly chunky but well mashed.  Use the water the potatoes were boiled in.  Add the cinnamon, syrup, oregano, and brown sugar.  The oregano helps to keep this dish earthy.  Mash and bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes.  Serve hot or cold.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day Five; mingo bryson elk

Day five was the final day of Ashley and my extended weekend vacation.  We got up early and it was raining.  We had planned to take a few hikes early in the day but given the rain and anticipated slippery mountain roads, we opted to simply drive to the North Carolina side and hope for improved weather.

Just as we crossed over the state line, the weather began to clear up some.  The rain let up and the sky began to start to clear.  A few hundred yards from the exit of the Smokies National Park we were stunned to find a large field filled with grazing elk.  Ashley had never seen elk in the wild and these were huge.  It was a fun time watching them wander.  To top it off, there were a small flock of wild turkeys behind them.

After the wildlife watching, we entered the Cherokee Reservation.  A drive through what in many places seemed like a 3rd world country, we ended up at the front of a short trail head.  Mingo Falls was only about a third of a mile into the mountains and was awesome.  It stood at around 150 feet tall and given the morning rain, the water was spilling over the rocks at lightning speed.

For lunch, we headed down to Bryson City to meet up with a family friend of Ashley's named Christine.  The three of us went to a cafe called Mountain Perk and explored their vegan options.  Ashley had a chocolate chip bagel with peanut butter and I had hummus veggie wrap.  They were also nice enough to give each of us a small cup of soy chai tea to keep us warm.

Once lunch was over, Ashley and I headed back into the National Park to get in our last hike of the trip.  This hike was about 2.5 miles round trip and had three waterfalls on the loop.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day Four; lions tigers and....

As we woke up on Sunday morning Ashley and I decided to stay an additional day.  This would have been our final day but staying the extra time afforded us another great day in the Smokies and a special sighting.

Once again, we beat the sun into the mountains.  Still a little sore from the Ramsey Cascades hike the previous day, we opted to start the morning off with the Motor Nature Trail.  It was a 9 mile driving loop that had several overlooks, a few trails that lead to falls, a few old buildings, and even Place of a Thousand Drips.

Our first stop of the day was at an old farm house.  We had driven past it but I wanted to get a few pictures so Ashley quickly turned around.  As we pulled into the parking lot a man was staring off into the woods.  We were curious and he whispered something about wildlife.  As quietly as we could, we rushed over and peered into the thick forest.  Seconds later, Ashley squealed in excitement as she pointed into the trees.  I jumped up with a huge grin on my face as I spotted the large bear she was pointing out.

The bear was only a few hundred feet away but we felt safe since there was a steep drop and thick woods.  We watched it for a few minutes and eventually lost it to the massive trunks and fog of the Smokies.  I saw a bear in Yellowstone last summer but it was just a cub.  This bear was massive.  It was exciting and made staying the extra day worth the slight expense.  The trees were too thick for me to get any pictures, sadly.

The rest of the motor trail was amazing.  Watching the sun chase away the morning fog became a theme on the trip and each time, it was unique and worth the effort of an early start.  At the end of the motor trail was a spot called Place of a Thousand Drips.  I can only imagine the sight in the early spring because even now, the view was impressive.  This was not a waterfall but a large rock formation covered with moss and water dripping over the sides.  At a closer glance, the drops looked almost like they were leaping all over the mossy rocks.  It was gorgeous.

After the motor trail we headed back to the little river drive to catch a few things we missed on our Cades Cove day.  We saw two new falls, one was Sinks.  Sinks is a small waterfall over a set of rocks that creates a tranquil pool of extremely clear water in front of it.

That night we found a Thai place and had a dinner that did not involve pizza.  The place was bizarre, it was Thai, Japanese, and Italian all in one building with each room having its own theme and menu.  It was good food for such a strange place and they were very willing to accommodate the vegans.  We split some fried tofu, Ashley had some Lad Na and I had Panang Curry.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day Three; ramsey cascades

Ashley and I awoke to another early alarm.  We had decided to take a long hike to view one of the largest waterfalls in the area.  This was another day when I regretted not even packing a long sleeve shirt.  We were in the woods just past dawn and it was about 40 degrees.  The higher in elevation we hiked, the colder we got.

We got to Ramsey Falls after a few hours of hiking and were taken back with the sight.  It was an outrageous amount of water flowing over the rocks.  The waterfall spray was so cold that we could not stay long, we needed to stay active to stay warm.

To our surprise, although the Ramsey Cascade waterfall was impressive, the best part of the hike was the massive old growth trees found about 2 and a half miles in.  We got our first glimpses of these tremendous trees as we hiked up a steep hill.  Once at the top, the path opened up slightly and on either side of us were trunks that created a gate like appearance.  These tree were at least 20 feet around.  As the hike continued, these ancient specimens of a time forgotten were speckled throughout the forest.

Much of the hike was along a rushing brook that was littered with rocks.  The rocks were covered in dead leaves which made for some more amazing images and slippery steps.

As we traveled back out of the 8-9 mile hike it was mid-day.  We were finally seeing other hikers and I was able to get a few more great foliage pictures.  This was a rugged hike and we were tired when we finished.

That evening we took it easy, resting our bodies.  We ate some more pizza at what seemed to be the only vegan friendly spot in town and played some games.  With intent to experience another early morning, we headed to bed early.

Day Two; smoky cades falls

This was speculated to be one of the busiest weekends of the year for tourism throughout the Smoky Mountains.  We knew that we wanted to do more things than we had time for and did not want ti sit in traffic any longer than necessary.  After a quick deliberation, we opted to a 5:30am wake up.  I think that alarm came earlier then either Ashley or I expected.  We still had well over 2 hours of darkness.

An hour drive through the darkness on mountain roads, we waited at a locked gate in front of Cades Cove.  This is the most popular spot in the park so we wanted to get in on Friday very early to avoid the masses.  Although it was still packed at dawn, we were both confident that we made the correct choice in going early.

The reason for the name Smoky Mountains, was clear as soon as the sun began to creep into the Cove.  The thick mountain fog give the appearance of smoke.  It was quite gorgeous and made for some great images.  However, it was a little chilly, about 35 to 40 degrees actually.  About halfway to Tennessee, Ashley and I realized that I had neglected to even pack a long sleeve shirt.  Needless to say, I was cold, very cold in fact.

After several hours driving the Cades Cove loop, with me running out in the cold to get pictures, we were exhausted.  We took a nice drive back toward town on Little Rover Road.  There were many great picture opportunities along the way.  I risked my safety and temperature to get to the water while Ashley dozed off on the car.

We got a quick lunch at the only natural food store / cafe in the Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge area, Whole Earth.  Interesting, we did not find the cafe to be very vegan friendly.  We both got the single hot vegan dish on the menu.  It was a frozen black bean burger on a store bought bun.  We did however get some decent sides.  Ashley got the vegan potato salad and after the long hours in the cold, I opted for the hot veggie soup.

After a quick nap we headed back into the park as many of the weekend visitors were leaving.  We walked the Laurel Falls hike which was only about a mile and a half round trip.  It was a good warm up to the park hikes and we saw some great foliage and a nice waterfall.

That night, after we found a pizza spot with a vegan pizza we played in a mirror maze.  It was crazy.  I thought it would be very cheesy and kind of lame but it was actually amazingly fun.  At times, it even seemed a little creepy.  We got separated and although we could see each other in the mirrors all around us, it took several minutes to find each other.  Fun times.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day One; diving infusion

My extended weekend vacation started early.  I left work on Wed around 6pm with several hours of overtime logged.  I was in it!  I ate a pint of ice cream that night.  I was on vacation.

The following day I took care of the packing and preparations for the weekend in the Smoky Mountain National Park.  After Ashley got out of her class, we were in route.  The Smokies were only a few ours from the Atlanta base so it was a nice evening drive.

The vegan options were extremely limited on this trip.  This area of the country, despite its tourism, is very much a pancakes and steaks area.  As we drove though Sylva North Carolina, we detoured for dinner.  Soul Infusion was in the bottom level on a two story house and serves many local produce and meat based dishes.  They advertised for some amazing "meaty" vegan chili.  I had to try it.  We also split a locally brewed root beer.

Ashley and I split an appetizer, we had some hummus.  Hummus was a life saver this weekend and it is one of Ashley's favorite so it worked out well.  For an entree, Ashley had a chili bean burrito with chips and salsa.  I had a hummus and veggie wrap.  This place was a great stop in a quaint little town near the mountains.

There was some guy setting up to play music but we did not stick around long enough.  We still had to drive over an hour.  The final hour was driven in the dark so we were unable to see the Smokies until the following day.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A new blog?

As I gear up for another short vacation I have been working many hours.  In fact, I am sneaking in few hours of overtime this week.  Sometimes I am not sure where I find the hours.  I am actually beginning another blog as well.  It is for my Real Estate career.  It is still in it's basic stages but it can already be viewed here.

Going to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this time of the year should yield some outstanding foliage photos.  In fact, I have been reading up on them and plan to try and get some great shots to share.  We will see.

With working long hours, getting ready for the last vacation of the year, and working on a new blog, I have not had much time to cook.  However, I did whip up some fries the other day!  I can never go wrong with a big plate of oily and salty french fries.  Great comfort food!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pumpkin Picking and Tofu Scrambler

I had another enjoyable Saturday.  Although the last few have been good, typically Saturday is spend laying around the house trying to rest between long shifts.  I, generally, do not have the energy to get out and do anything.

This Saturday, I got up early and made some breakfast.  Tofu Scrambler, tempeh bacon, and home fries.  I made the scrambler a little different then the recipe I posted.  Without using the vegan sausage (mainly because I did not have time to make them) I used some vegan cheese.  It turned out really well.  It was a nice way to start off the day, even if my guests drank all the oj and left me with water.

Then it was off to the pumpkin patch!  There were several things going on at the farm.  We saw many animals, did a pumpkin shoot, a corn maze and then picked out pumpkin.  It was a fun day.

Once I got home, I did a little house maintenance and went to bed early.  It felt good to get out and push myself despite being overly tired.  I may need to try to do this more often.  Sometimes I just need to force myself out of the house.  I do enjoy the autumn.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tempeh Corn Chowder

I grew up in Maine.  Honestly, I think if that was all I said about this dish, it should be enough.  New England is know for many foods, one of which is chowder.  I grew up eating clam chowder, fish chowder, potato chowder, and corn chowder, or as we called it in Maine, "chowduh".

Ironically, this dish is actually inspired in large part by a soup I ate in Flagstaff Arizona on my family trip in September.  It gave me some insight into how to make a vegan chowder as thick and creamy as I remember.  Coconut!

This turned out fantastic!  It was so quick and easy yet so elegant and delicious.  Several times, I have made a corn chowder with soy milk and it just did not have the same rich robust flavor that the New England chowders had as I grew up.  I got it.  This is it.  Try it.  It will impress.

Tempeh and Corn Chowder

10 oz of tempeh
15 oz of coconut milk
2 cups of corn
1/4 cup of vegetable broth
1 tablespoon of fennel seeds
1 tablespoon of oil
1 tablespoon of onion (chopped)
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 tablespoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke

In a pot, bring the oil to a low - med heat.  While the oil is heating, cut the tempeh into very small crumbles.  Add the onion, fennel, liquid smoke, and tempeh and cook until the onion starts to become translucent.  Once the onion is cooked, add the coconut milk (do not use low fat), corn, paprika, broth, turmeric, salt, and pepper.  Mix well.  Without increasing the heat, allow to simmer for 5 minutes stirring frequently.  Stirring will prevent a "film" from forming over the top and the bottom from scorching.  Serve, garnished with additional paprika.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stuffed Acorn Squash and my Nana's cellar

It is fall!  I am very excited for autumn foods!  All the soups and roasted veggies, I seem to have a dozen ideas zipping through my head.  Now I just need to find people to cook for.

Today was really the first day of fall cooking for me.  I was excited and went with something I am familiar with, squash.  When I visited my Nana as a young kid, I would always love to go into her cellar.  With the dirt floor, it always smelled slightly of mildew that I still associate with her.  I actually very much enjoy the smell and brings me good memories.  If you walked far enough into the cellar, you would find numerous winter squash that she harvested from her many gardens each year.  She used them all year and I have always been very fond of squash.  It is dishes like these that remind me of all the food times with her on the farm.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

1 acorn squash
4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
2 cups of orange juice
1 cup of cooked rice
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of  carrot (chopped)
2 tablespoons of cashews (crushed)
2 tablespoons of black pepper
1  1/2 oregano
1  1/2 tablespoons of onion (chopped)
1 tablespoon of cranberries
1 tablespoon of paprika

1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of thyme

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

With a large knife, cut the squash in half, lengthwise.  Remove the seeds.  Pour the orange juice into each half  of the squash.  Wrap in tin foil and bake for 40 minutes.

In the meantime, heat 2 tablespoons of oil on low heat.  Add the garlic, onion, oregano, thyme, and rice.  Allow the mixture to cook for 5-8 minutes.  The garlic should not begin to brown.  Add the cashews, salt, pepper, paprika, and carrots and let the mixture cook on low heat until the carrots and cashews begin to get soft.  Add the additional oil as needed, the mixture should not be permitted to dry out.  Add the cranberries in and mix well.

Do not turn the oven off.

The squash should be fully cooked.  If a fork can pierce the "meat" of the squash, it is done.  It should not be separating from the peel.  Pour the remaining orange juice out and fill the squash halves with the rice mixture.  Lightly drizzle the remaining olive oil over the tops of the squash and put back in the oven without foil.  Allow to bake for 5-8 minutes and serve.  Feel free to garnish with scallions.

I also made a fun Halloween cake!  As I have said before, I am not a baker.  I try because I have a sweet tooth.  I am also not an artist, in fact, I had to use the internet to find out what colors make orange!  It was still fun and tasted decent, even it is does not look as great as most of the treats I see in the blogworld.  I am almost ashamed to post the picture.  I tried.