Favourite Recipes: Vegan Mac and Cheese

Image

This recipe from Fine Tune Pilates is touted as the best ever, and I have to agree.  I tried four or five different vegan mac and cheese recipes before finding this one, and it is by far the best I’ve had.  Plus it’s easy to make, and uses sweet potato as the sauce base, allowing you to sneak an extra veggie into this yummy pasta dish.  I make this dish regularly; R and I both love it.

I do make a couple of modifications from the original recipe.  First, I do not add whole sunflower seeds (though I do use them in the sauce).  Also, I use more kale than the recipe calls for; about twice as much.

More significantly, after preparing the recipe as written, I pour the whole thing into a casserole dish, top it with panko or breadcrumbs, top the crumbs with lots of tiny dots of vegan margarine, and bake it for about 25 minutes.  The crumbs add nice texture to the finished dish.  I like to eat it with ketchup (much to R’s chagrin), but it’s also great with just some fresh ground pepper, or even hot sauce.  Delicious!

Advertisements

My Dog is Famous! (Sort Of)

Upfront disclosure: This post is about neither food nor games. However, I could not resist posting about the fact that a video I took of my dog, Bieber, is having a mini-viral moment.

While the video has not exactly reached a stratospheric number of views, it has been picked up by RightThisMinute.com, who recorded a segment on the video which has been aired on tv (mostly as late-night filler, I suspect). R and I are so proud of our wonderful doggie boy!

(Before you ask: Yes, we got the idea for the name from a certain pop star. That was 4 years ago before this person was a total idiot. No, we were never fans of his. We just like the name!)

Dr. Mario Wii: My Occasional Addiction

Image

I recently started playing Dr. Mario again.  Every couple of years, I have a little stint of Dr. Mario and gorge myself, playing in half-hour increments, sometimes a few times a day.  Not on my NES; my cartridge is sadly unreliable.  On the Wii.  It’s an updated, downloadable game, and it’s amazing.  The gameplay is the same as in the original: drop bicoloured pills onto “viruses” to eliminate them, in a sort of amalgam of Tetris and Connect Four.  Perform combos to drop extraneous pieces onto your opponent’s game board.  The difference in the Wii version is that you now have the option of playing online against randomly-selected opponents.  The online arena is where shit gets real.

Well, sort of.  You certainly don’t get much information about your opponent.  Everyone is represented by their Mii (a custom, Wii-specific avatar), and their username.  I find it kind of fun to guess if people’s Miis are meant to be real likenesses (mine is) and to judge their username (“Lucy”; yeah I’m boring like that).  I’ve always been amused by the high frequencies of the names “Mom” and “Dad.”  Mostly Mom; if Miis are any indication, Dr. Mario seems to be played more by women than men.

Image

The only available communication between players occurs before and between games, and is limited to ten canned statements: “Hah!” “Ouch…” “You got me!” and so on.  The most contentious, to me, is “Good game!”  There are some players who say “Good game!” after every single match.  I know that there is some kind of sportsmanship thing going on here, but seriously.  We did not just play a sweaty, grunting, hour-long game of soccer on opposing teams; we spent 45 seconds pushing buttons without even laying eyes on each other.  I always feel obligated to echo the sentiment, lest I be seen as a poor sport.  (Why I do even care, in such an anonymous environment?  Human nature is fascinating.)  I don’t mind a “Good game!” after a particularly close or drawn-out game, but generally, I prefer to be the strong silent type.  However, and it’s kind of embarrassing to admit, I feel a tinge of genuine delight on the occasions when I decide to randomly throw in my favourite of the available statements: “Neener neener!”

You might think you’ve played games that are fast-paced, but have you played online Dr. Mario?  High-level players drop pills so fast that it’s almost impossible to imagine that a human being is on the other end of the connection.  I consider one of my special skills in life to be the ability to maintain a solid game of Call of Duty Zombies while simultaneously playing indoor fetch with my dog.  When I play Dr. Mario, dog toys pile up on my lap as I am forced to ignore Bieber’s hopeful prodding.

Image

The level of precision required to rotate, align, and drop a pill in fractions of a second, using muscle memory rather than conscious planning, is astronomical.  I used to think I had two perfectly functioning Wiimotes, but it only took one minute of Dr. Mario to realize that one of them is ever so slightly off, as it occasionally jumps my pills an extra space to the left.  I honestly believe that no other game would have revealed this minute misfunction.

I’m reasonably skilled (though this time around, after a few years away, pretty rusty), but some of these players are jaw-dropping.  I’m always intimidated when I see someone whose number of wins (one of two stats available, the other being a weirdly uninformative “rating”) has maxed out the four digits available at 9999.  (These players are often named Mom.)  I won’t reveal my win count, because I don’t even like to acknowledge to myself how many minute-long games of Dr. Mario I’ve played, but I will say it’s a four-digit number.

I’ve been playing for about a week, and I can already feel myself become sated.  It’s for the best.  Dr. Mario makes a good little snack between proper, full-length games, but the pace burns you out quickly.  I’m glad to say I won’t reach 9999 wins… at least not anytime soon.

What have been your experiences with Dr. Mario?

Mushroom Risotto

Image

Before I had ever tried making risotto, I had an idea that it was very challenging and only for experienced cooks.  I don’t know where I got that idea, but it was wrong.  Making rich, flavourful risotto is actually very easy; all it takes is some patience and a willingness to babysit the pan for a while.  It’s a great dish to prepare while working on something on the counter, like making a big salad.  You stir the risotto, you chop some veggies, stir, chop, stir, chop, etc.

If you haven’t made risotto before, try this recipe.  It’s easy and so delicious, you’ll be hooked.  I can practically guarantee you’ll start making it (and trying variations) regularly.

Important:  You need to get Arborio rice in order to make risotto.  Don’t bother trying it with any other type of rice; it’ll end in heartache!

Yield: About 4-5 cups of risotto; 4-6 servings

  • 4 cups vegetable stock (you’ll end up using between 3 and 4 cups)
  • 5 large portobello mushrooms, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1.5 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup Arborio rice (it won’t work with other types of rice!)
  • ½ cup red wine (or you can use white)
  • 1 tablespoon vegan parmesan (optional)

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add mushrooms.  While the mushrooms are cooking, put the vegetable stock in a pot over high heat.  Just before it boils, turn off the heat but leave the pot on the hot burner to keep the stock very warm.  Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until they are done: tender and juicy.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the pan if necessary and then add the onions.  Stir and cook until they are translucent.  Reduce heat to just below medium and add the dry rice.  Brown the rice a bit, being sure to keep scraping the pan to prevent it from sticking.  Add the wine, and stir the rice until the wine is absorbed (this will happen pretty quickly).

Begin adding the warm broth to the rice, one ladle at a time.  Stir frequently, and as soon as the rice starts to stick, add another ladle of broth.  Continue this process until the rice is cooked al dente.  (Probably between 15 and 25 minutes).

Add the mushrooms to the rice and mix well to incorporate.  If you have any vegan parmesan on hand, add some of that too.  Serve warm with a salad for a hearty and delicious dinner.

Note: You could substitute lots of other veggies for the mushrooms.  Try asparagus! Gently steam it until just done, and add it back to the risotto at the end.

Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3) – Quick Review

Image

My first impression of this game was a little shaky.  I thought the menu graphics looked dated, I hated the meathead look of Bruce Wayne, and I felt like Batman’s body was so broad and close to the camera that it was blocking my view of my surroundings.  A few minutes in, I was feeling pessimistic.

I didn’t feel that way for very long.  As I played into the first couple of missions, I was relieved and happy that Warner Brothers Games Montreal, having taken over the series from Rocksteady Studios, did not significantly change the gameplay or fight mechanics from previous installment Arkham City.  Gotham looked as moody and menacing as ever.  The game felt like a continuation of Arkham City, which was exactly what I had been hoping for.

I love the battle system in these games.  It’s wonderfully fluid, with Batman using a wide variety of cool-looking hand-to-hand moves to deal with large groups of baddies.   Although you can button-mash your way through the early fights, the game rewards precision using the combo meter.  Extra button presses will result in nontargeted strikes and a reset meter, and later on you need to be able to build that meter in order to use special moves.  The ability to quickfire various gadgets in battle, including batarangs to stun, glue grenades to immobilize, explosive gel to (surprise!) explode, and the grapnel hook to execute a Scorpion’s-“Get-Over-Here!”-style move, among others, provides Batman with a varied arsenal of combat moves.   It’s particularly satisfying to deploy a double-hooked cable, affixing one end to an enemy and the other to a propane tank, and watch as the cable contracts and smashes the two together.

Image

However, on many occasions you’ll want or need to avoid direct confrontation using Batman’s stealth takedowns, which often make use of the environment: dangle enemies from ledges, smash them through weak walls, spring out of underground hidey holes, or just creep up behind them and choke them out.  Not that Batman would ever actually kill any of his adversaries; he is preternaturally skilled at using brutal attacks to render enemies peacefully unconscious.

Image

The story is reasonably engaging, though I would say that I was more invested in the storyline of previous game Arkham City.  In the current installment I especially enjoyed Alfred’s subplot, as he appears a more complex character than in some other film and game incarnations.  It was difficult to decide if I was pleased or disappointed to see the Joker return as the antagonist.  On one hand, it seems a bit lazy, considering that he was the villain and true star of Arkham City.  On the other, this joker is amazingly well-executed: gruesome, flailing, dangerous, mad, occasionally sympathetic.  In a particularly interesting segment, we get to delve into the Joker’s psyche and gain some appreciation of his perceived relationship with Batman.  Of the various other baddies who make appearances, my favourite was Copperhead, whose combat contortions are both painful and fascinating to watch.

In sum, Arkham Origins functions as a true continuation (if not chronologically) of Arkham City.  If you enjoyed that previous game, I suggest that you pick this one up for more cape-gliding, ass-kicking, brooding, Batman-style vigilantism.

A Vegan-Friendly Birthday party

About six weeks ago, I was about four weeks away from turning thirty.  My mom floated the idea of having a party for me; in addition to her desire to celebrate the big 3-0 birthday, she was keen to host a party in her new home.  Despite feeling like my wedding was so recent that it was a bit ridiculous to have another event with my name on the header, I liked the idea of getting my friends and family together in my home town of Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The first challenge was determining if we could actually get anyone to attend a December party that hadn’t been booked months in advance (we could); the second challenge was deciding what kind of food to serve.

My fun-loving and close-knit family has all sorts of diets: lots of traditional omni, some gluten-free, some working-toward-vegetarian, and me.  With a guest list of about 35 people and several family members offering to bring dishes, we felt that an all-vegan menu might not be the best approach.  Ultimately, we ended up with a mostly-vegan spread, accompanied by a small number of dishes that included fish or dairy.  My thinking was that this way, I could demonstrate that the delicious vegan stuff holds its own alongside the traditional food, and maybe help a few people take some baby steps toward interest in a vegan diet without making them feel forced.

My mom did a wonderful job planning the menu, sourcing dishes from a variety of caterers, and choosing a few to prepare at home.  I flew home the day before the party and the house was already decorated, the bar set up, and the dining room table covered with all the good servingware, all shined up.

EnVie is Halifax’s newest vegan restaurant.  Their artichoke and spinach dip was a huge hit at the party, and a great example of an I-can’t-believe-it’s-vegan dish.  (We had some leftover and I pretty much lived off of it for the next couple of days.)  They also made me a beautiful and really delicious birthday cake that got rave reviews from everyone who tried it.

Tarek’s Cafe is a vegetarian/vegan-friendly and constantly bustling Middle Eastern restaurant that I always make a point of visiting when I’m in Halifax.  The falafels we got from them were huge and greasily decadent; cut into quarters and served with Tarek’s tahini sauce, they didn’t last long on the table.

Halifax catering stalwart Scanway provided cold salad rolls with mint dipping sauce (superb presentation, and delicious – we only wished we’d ordered more of them!), tasty mushroom phyllo pockets, and tofu kebabs that were rather petite but very yummy.  The standout from Scanway was the huge tray of vegan chocolate cupcakes.  The icing was so thick you could have sculpted with it, and the edible glitter made them sparkle so prettily… they tasted as good as they looked.

The vegan offerings also included homemade hummus and guacamole, and a tray of beautiful canapés I whipped up featuring pomegranate seeds and garlicky baba ganoush on cucumber slices.  We rounded out the vegan menu with lots of tortilla chips, pita, olives, nuts, and fruit.

The party was fantastic.  The food was delicious.  A good time was had by all.  I really felt the love from my family friends on my birthday, and I’m excited about starting my thirties.

Have you hosted any vegan or mostly-vegan parties for an omni crowd?  How did it go?