Flavored Water is So Simple

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I know lots of folks find plain water boring.  Unfortunately, chronic dehydration is a huge problem in the U.S., and an aversion to water certainly won’t help alleviate this problem.

I actually do enjoy plain water, but I also like to shake things up every now and then by adding a little pop of fresh flavor to plain H2O.  At those times, I could pay out my nose for Hint water, OR I could just make my own concoctions at home with the greatest of ease!

Obviously there’s the standard lemon or lime slices.  But you can do even better!

All you need to do is simply add fruit and/or fresh herbs to any glass or bottle of water.  I find that the flavor comes through pretty quickly, but if you want to really infuse the water, let it steep in the refrigerator for a few minutes to overnight.

My absolute favorite combination is Strawberry-Mint Water.
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To make this, I add frozen strawberry slices and fresh mint leaves to a pitcher, pour in filtered water, and let it sit for an hour or so.  The flavor is sweet yet subtle, and you’ve gotta love that pink hue!  Hint: for stronger mint flavor, roll/lightly crush the leaves between your fingers before adding to the water.

After all the water is drained from the pitcher, you will be left with soggy strawberries and mint.
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Not terribly appetizing, but you don’t have to waste them–throw them into a smoothie!

Another fantastic and ultra-refreshing combination is cucumber and mint (or just plain cucumber). The leftovers from this are also great in a smoothie.

For citrus fruits (like grapefruit), I like to use the peels. They contain tons of flavorful oils but are obviously inedible on their own, so this gives you the flavor without wasting the fruit. (See? I’m all about the conservation here!)

H has gotten really on board with flavored water lately, and loves to put peeled clementine slices in his water.  A bonus with a juicy fruit like this is that it doesn’t get soggy and gross so you can eat the fruit after you’ve finished the water.

Here’s hoping you’ll never be dehydrated again 🙂

Vegan MoFo Red Week – Strawberries

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Today I’m having some fun with my favorite berry!

Few things are as beautiful in their simplicity as fresh strawberries. IMG_0801

I eat an exorbitant amount of strawberries during summer months, usually in their raw form. They make a perfect portable breakfast. For example:

Strawberries and pineapple
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Strawberries with coconut yogurt and hempseeds
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Strawberries and kiwi
Strawberry kiwi

They also make a gorgeous addition to grander breakfasts, such as pancakes with Warm Strawberry Sauce.

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A.Cook’s Warm Strawberry Sauce
(This recipe has been given the omnivore seal of approval by H.)
Total time: 15 minutes, including chopping and zesting

You need:
1 1/3 cups of chopped strawberries (medium to small dice depending on how chunky you want it)
1/3 cup orange juice (or you can use water in a pinch)
1/4 cup of strawberry jam
1/2 tsp. citrus zest (optional but highly recommended! I used lemon but orange or lime would be awesome too.)
optional: 1/2-1 tsp. liquid sweetener (such as agave nectar or maple syrup) or to taste

To make: Add all ingredients (except sweetener) to small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until it looks a little bubbly, then lower the heat and cook until the strawberries cook down and the mixture has thickened, stirring frequently. Taste and add sweetener as needed (sometimes your berries will be sweet enough on their own but sometimes they might need a little help! The sweetness of your jam and whether you use orange juice or water will also be a factor.). Use on top of your favorite vegan pancakes (mine are Perfect Pancakes from Vegan Brunch/Vegan With a Vengeance…the recipe is posted here) or as a topping for ice cream or Yonanas!

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This recipe makes enough sauce for one hearty pancake breakfast for two with some leftover, or for one moderate pancake breakfast for four. Try stirring any leftover sauce into yogurt or oatmeal, or incorporating it into a smoothie!

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Strawberries are wonderful for dessert (obviously!)
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Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting by Made Just Right (click for recipe). This recipe makes buttercream frosting by whipping Earth Balance together with fresh strawberries and confectioner’s sugar. The flavor is incredible!

In recent months I have actually become extremely fond of pairing strawberries with savory flavors and fresh herbs.

I make Strawberry Salsa by tossing chopped fresh berries with red onion, diced jicama and/or mango, chopped cilantro, and a splash of lime juice.

Strawberry and mint is another favorite combination. I love to have a simple salad with these ingredients (click for recipe):
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Or throw a bunch of each in to soak in filtered water. It’s such a simple thing but it feels so luxurious.
Strawberry Mint Water

I also think strawberry and basil is a beautiful pairing. Try my Basilberry Smoothie to use up some of the last of summer’s fruit and herbs!

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Yeah, it’s more purple than red, but the main ingredient is strawberries so I’m sticking with it! 🙂

You Need:
1 cup chia gel (this is made by combining 1 tbsp. chia seeds with 1 cup water and allowing to soak at least 10 minutes, but preferably overnight)
1 cup of frozen strawberries (a little more is okay…I find these are actually pretty hard to measure!)
3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (I used fresh)
4 basil leaves
(optional) 1/2 – 1 tsp. liquid sweetener such as stevia or agave

To Make:
Place all ingredients in blender in the order shown and blend until smooth. Taste and add liquid sweetener if necessary (end-of-summer basil tends to be a little more bitter and the berries less sweet, so sweeten as needed).

What is your favorite way to enjoy strawberries?

Crowd-Pleasers

Most people who read this blog probably already know this, but H and I first met while playing softball (on opposing teams) in our law school intramural league. For the past several years, we have continued to play together in the summer in an adult recreational league of greater Boston.  Dorn’s has become a staple of our summer schedule and a centerpiece of our social life as a couple.

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Dorn’s 2012

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H and me decked out in red

Since H is the captain and I am the captain’s wife, we hosted our team’s post-season barbecue at our home way out in the burbs this year.

I should first say that I really love hosting parties.  H and I have lived in our house for just under 2 years and we have now had 5 great get-togethers in it (2 holiday parties, 2 barbecues, and a Superbowl party).  But holy hell is it a lot of work.

This isn’t really anyone’s fault but my own.  You see, it really wouldn’t be that big of a faux pas to just buy a bunch of pre-made platters and stuff to serve to a crowd (and frankly I’d probably end up spending about the same amount of money).  But no, I have this compulsion to make everything myself.

So as soon as H and I set a date for this year’s Dorn’s barbecue, I started planning a menu.  Our team consists solely of wings-loving omnivores and me, plus one vegetarian (who unfortunately wasn’t going to make it).  I decided to do my traditional taco bar, with meat, yes, but also with the option of Ancho Lentils from Post Punk Kitchen (click for recipe).  This way I can have a taco (never mind that these lentils are a total crowd-pleaser, delicious to everyone, regardless of dietary preference).  Plus hamburgers and hot dogs (which I wouldn’t have to look at…grilling is H’s job).  Everything else I served, I decided, would be vegan.

I don’t have a picture of the Ancho Lentils from my taco bar, but here’s an old one of the same recipe that I ate on a sandwich with dijon mustard.  Yes, they are versatile!
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I was all freaked out because I realized we were going to have between 20 and 25 people and I’ve never made food for that many before.  So I pulled a bunch of recipes and then doubled or tripled them to make enough.  Let’s just say I overestimated.

But no matter.  For appetizers, I decided to make Olive-Rosemary Tapenade from this PureWow recipe (minus the anchovy) that had caught my eye a few months ago.  The recipe requires some intensive chopping (especially when using non-pitted olives…ugh).  I did most of it on Wednesday night and waited until Friday night (the night before the barbecue) to mix in the chopped parsley and orange zest.

Here are the prepped ingredients, packed up and ready to go on Wednesday night.
Olive Tapenade Prep
Kalamata and castelvetrano olives, red bell pepper, jalapeno, and garlic

Oh, and when I was chopping the red pepper, I found this devilish little piece inside…
Devil Tail
H: “That picture just proves that vegetables are evil.”

Here is the finished product, served with crostini that I made according to this method by Chloe Coscarelli:
Tapenade with crostiniI also made the Summer Orchard Bruschetta from Happy. Healthy. Life. (click for recipe):
Summer Orchard Bruschetta 1Also served with crostini:
Bruschetta with crostini
I love, love, LOVE this bruschetta and am going to make it again and again!

Appetizers not pictured: hummus platter (Cedar’s original with carrots and celery); Utz honey barbecue chips; tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole (thankfully I didn’t make these by hand…I used Whole Foods medium chunky salsa and Trader Joe’s spicy guacamole autentico [which is incredible btw]).  Oh, and loaded tater tots (which weren’t vegan, so I guess ALMOST everything else I made was vegan).

So that there would be stuff to drink besides beer, I made Stoli Dolis (2 pineapples, cored and cut into rings, with vodka poured over them, which sat for 5-6 days and was WAY too strong…in the future I would soak the pineapple at least 2 weeks before serving) and Strawberry-Mint Water:

Strawberry Mint Water

I got the idea back in May, when H and I went to a wedding on Nantucket.  In the hotel lobby, they had a water cooler with strawberries floating in it and it was so incredibly delicious.  My own version did not disappoint either.

Drink Station

For dishes to serve on the side of the entrees, I did my favorite Vegan Caesar Salad with Avocado and Chickpeas from Post Punk Kitchen (click for recipe).  I didn’t take a picture of the trough of salad that I served at this barbecue, but here is a pic from when I made the recipe once before:
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I also made Creamy Avocado Potato Salad from Post Punk Kitchen (click for recipe).  I like that blog, a little.

First of all, look at these stunning avocados:
Avocados

Next, here is a picture of the “dressing” all creamy and beautiful in the food processor:
Potato Salad Dressing

Finally, I forgot to take a picture of the finished product.  But it looked like fingerling potatoes with green stuff on them.

Also on the side, and not pictured (I suck) was a pesto pasta salad, which was just cooked elbow macaroni tossed with Classic Pesto from Vegan With a Vengeance and chopped cherry tomatoes.  And the corn and black bean salad that I talked about in my last post.  Oh, and corn on the cob.  I was going to also serve collard greens but there was too much food and so I didn’t.

Finally, dessert!  I served a fruit salad in a watermelon bowl, which I didn’t photograph because the watermelon shell looked kinda wonky, plus it was dark by the time we got to dessert.  The fruit salad contained watermelon (obviously), pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, and kiwi.  I was able to prep the fruit salad ingredients well in advance of the party.  Here are the latter three ingredients packed up in a very large container:
Fruit Salad prep

Because our team’s color is red, I wanted to make an appropriately colored dessert.  I chose Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting from Made Just Right by Earth Balance (click for recipe).  These came out great! I mean, they’re pink, but strawberries are red, so it works, right?  [One note: I noticed while making this that the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of baking powder and I was like…no.  That is most definitely a typo.  So I used 2 tsp. and the cupcakes turned out great, so if you make this recipe do NOT use 2 tbsp.!]

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They looked so pretty on my cupcake platter!

Cupcake Platter 1

Bonus: M (an honorary Dorn) came up to visit and hang out at the barbecue.

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Obligatory sisters shot

And late Sunday afternoon, after two softball games and lots of house cleanup, I used leftover watermelon (which I had frozen) and leftover Summer Orchard Bruschetta (which was already getting soggy) to make this incredible concoction for the three of us to enjoy.Watermelon Frosty 1

Watermelon Frosties for all!

All in all, the party was a ton of fun, everyone was completely stuffed and happy, and no one seemed to even notice or care that the usual cheese platter/mayo-heavy potato and pasta salad/creamy veggie dip were missing.  I think the key to this lies in choosing recipes that utilize “normal” things that everyone loves (like avocado and chickpeas).  I call these “crowd-pleasers.”

The other thing is not to broadcast that everything is vegan.  I know some would disagree with me, but I really do believe that it’s important to let the food speak for itself.  Most people think that it must be very difficult to be vegan.  Frankly, I used to be one of them.  That was before I learned how to be creative and think outside the box and really understand and appreciate all of the things that can be done with plant foods.

Obviously, if people ask me questions, I am happy to answer.  But actually, at this barbecue, the only dish I got questions about was the Caesar Salad, (i.e., “How is the dressing vegan?” Answer: “It’s made with tahini.”  I didn’t mention the nooch though.)  Usually it’d be the cupcakes (“How did you make the frosting?” “How can you bake cake without eggs?”), but not this time.

Well. Hopefully this post was long enough.