Spaghetti and {Vegan} Meatballs! | With Spicy Tomato Sauce

I’ve admitted here before that for most of my life I’ve had a rather self-righteous disdain for the suburbs. When I lived downtown, before I had a baby, an unflattering stereotype of the suburbs existed in my brain: subdivision upon sprawling subdivision, bumper to bumper mini vans, Lulu Lemon-clad soccer moms with the carefully cultivated Kate Gosselin hairdos. It was the Big Box stores that bothered me the most, you know the ones – the Home Depots, the Bed Bath and Beyonds, the Best Buys, the chain restaurants. All suburbs seem homogenous in this regard – compare one around where I live to one in Ontario or to one in the American Midwest and you’ll likely see a nearly identical cross section of venues to spend your money.

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Despite the anti-suburbanite rancour of my pre-baby self, I’m now a suburban dweller – albeit a reluctant one. Now that I live here, most like for the long run, I’m trying to adopt what could be described in a when in Rome attitude toward the Big Box attractions in my neighbourhood. I’m not going anywhere, and neither are they, so we might as well try to get along, right? To this end, we dined at Olive Garden – the only one in BC, quite the distinction – last weekend. It’s situated in a strip mall, of course!

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When you eat at Olive Garden you don’t just get a meal – you get an experience. I’m talking hovering hordes of psychotically charismatic servers, basketfuls of free bread sticks, free wine samples, and bottomless soup and salad. Crazy! There was so much food, drink and general mirth being thrust in our direction as soon that I could hardly focus on making a selection from the menu. And the place was fully bumping –  we had to wait 45 minutes for a table; every inch of the restaurant’s thousands of square feet was packed with diners munching their way to Tuscan-style chain restaurant heaven. I ended up ordering a porcini mushroom ravioli, which was surprisingly delicious and far from the bland, coagulated muck I expected it to be. For dessert, a large slab of Tiramisu – also tasty!

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The food did have a mass-produced air about it, but as far as chain restaurants go – and apart from the boring bottomless salad, which was 90% iceberg lettuce – it was decent. I never thought a place like the Olive Garden would prompt me to break out of my pasta comfort zone and start experimenting in the kitchen, but it did. Not that I went home and started churning out my own fresh pasta noodles like an Italian nona, but I did whip up these vegan meatballs in an attempt to jazz up my spaghetti. I started with mashed cannellini beans and multigrain bread crumbs, and added in sauteed leeks, garlic, mushrooms, green onions and a flax egg. I then rolled them into balls and browned them in a skillet, then tossed them with spaghetti and a spicy tomato sauce. They turned out great! I don’t think you’ll see anything like this on the menu at Olive Garden any time soon, but it did get an enthusiastic thumbs-up from the household omnivore 🙂

Hey, Virtual Vegan Potluck is coming up on May 11! Are any of you participating? If so, what type of dish are you bringing? I’m bringing a dessert and am VERY excited about my recipe!

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Recipe: Spaghetti and {Vegan} Meatballs | With Spicy Tomato Sauce

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • About 200g spaghetti pasta (use gluten free pasta if you’re gluten sensitive)

Meatballs

  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium leek (white and light green parts only), minced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 8 white or brown mushrooms, chopped into pea-sized pieces
  • 3 green onions (dark and light green parts only), minced
  • 2 pieces of whole grain bread, processed into crumbs (use gluten free bread if you’re gluten sensitive)
  • 398ml can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 flax egg (I used Bonzai Aphrodite’s flax egg recipe)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large gloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground dried oregano
  • 796ml can of good quality diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 tablespoon of good quality balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare vegan meatballs

Makes 25-30 meatballs

  1. Prepare flax egg according to this recipe – this needs to be done 1 hour in advance.
  2. Place drained cannellini beans in a large bowl and mash using a fork or potato masher. Set aside until needed.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add leeks and saute until tender.
  5. Add garlic and saute just until golden brown.
  6. Add red pepper flakes, paprika and coriander and stir until spices coat other ingredients.
  7. Add mushrooms. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  8. Cover skillet and let mushrooms reduce, stirring periodically.
  9. Fold in green onions.
  10. Remove from heat and transfer contents of skillet to your bowl with mashed cannellini beans.
  11. Add flax egg and bread crumbs and season lightly with salt and pepper.
  12. Stir until everything is well combined. I started with a wooden spoon then used my hands once mixture was cool enough.
  13. Using a 1 tablespoon scoop, roll mixture into balls and place on a plate. Tip: Keep your hands damp to prevent mixture from sticking.
  14. Place in fridge for 45-60 minutes to chill.
  15. Next you’ll brown your meatballs (do this in two batches to make it more manageable). Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.
  16. Once oil is hot, add half of meatballs to skillet.
  17. Using a wooden spoon, keep meatballs moving until each side is golden brown.
  18. Repeat steps 13-15 with second half of meatballs.
  19. Keep meatballs warm in oven until ready to serve.

Prepare Spicy Tomato Sauce (this can be done while meatballs are firming in the fridge)

  1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic and saute just until golden brown.
  3. Add red pepper flakes, oregano and thyme and stir until spices coat garlic.
  4. Add diced tomatos and bring to a gentle boil.
  5. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Using an immersion blender, puree sauce until mostly smooth (I like to leave a few tomato chunks). You can also use a conventional blender, then return sauce to skillet.
  7. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Keep simmering sauce on low until ready to serve. Add a little water if sauce becomes too thick.

Prepare Pasta

  1. Cook pasta according to package instructions, or until al dente.
  2. Drain and rinse under cold water.

Finish

  1. Transfer cooked pasta to skillet containing tomato sauce and toss to combine.
  2. Serve, topping each portion with meatballs and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Eat!

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{Vegan} Asparagus and Sweet Pea Fettuccine Alfredo | With White Wine and Lemon

Our new house is proving to be the gift that gives on giving in the faulty appliance department. It started with the archaic beast of a cathode ray tube TV we dragged in from the shed when we first moved in; our initial plan was to put this relic to use until we could retrieve our flat screen from the storage locker. Evidently the years it spent mouldering out back proved to be too much for this already obsolete goggle box, for upon plugging it into the wall it began scrolling itself (!?) through various static-y channels before going completely dark, presumably forever. As we aren’t avid enough fans of TV to attempt to trouble shoot and repair such an ancient piece of technology, the next day it was dispatched to the local waste disposal station along with the teal wall-to-wall carpet ripped up from the bedroom floor.

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I won’t reiterate the problems we were having with our screwy toilet and besides, a toilet doesn’t really count as an appliance. I will mention briefly that those issues seemed to have resolved themselves, something which has had a surprisingly significant impact on my personal quality of life index; being able to flush and be done with the matter is pretty awesome! The next piece of appliance drama came in the form of a humongous ball of fluff – possibly years worth (seriously, I could have made a throw pillow out of it ) – extracted from the lint trap in the dryer. That’s it. The real drama played itself out in my brain, where the fluff ball caught ablaze and burned the whole house down while we slept. Morbid thoughts! My inner neurotic always has a field day with potential hazards.

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The most recent appliance debacle occurred just a couple days ago and nearly toppled my plans to make this moreish pasta dish. In the midst of reheating some food in the oven I noticed a few wisps of smoke rising from behind the stove. This wasn’t merely ‘burning food’ smoke (which would have freaked me out enough), but the far more menacing, hot and plastically, ‘electrical component failure’ variety. I switched off the oven and started panicking a little – not like the time flames leapt into the air when I threw a bunch of kale into a skillet containing overheated olive oil, that was out-and-out hysterics – but panicking enough. Mike (an electrician by trade, hallelujah) was summoned from the front lawn and was able to quickly ID the problem (something with one of the connections in the wiring) and fix it – and in so doing put an end to sinister thoughts of preparing this dish in the microwave.

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Alas, I’m back with yet another cashew cream sauce recipe. I can’t help it – the stuff is just so versatile and delish I want to throw it into everything these days! There’s a fun little game I’ve been playing with Mike – I call it ‘vegan bombing’ and it involves feeding him vegan dishes and seeing if he’s able to discern the absence of eggs and dairy products. My cashew cream recipes, I’m proud to report, ALWAYS pass the test! What’s more, they don’t leave you with that depressing ‘I just consumed my weight in butter and cream’ feeling with which conventional cream sauces probably leave you. I don’t know about you, but white wine alfredo sauce totally makes me think of the 80s – you know, yuppies yucking it up on yachts, Hall and Oates, gigantic shoulder pads, stuff along those lines of cocaine – but I love it all the same! Combined with fresh asparagus, sweet green peas and lemon, it’s like a mouthful o’ Spring 🙂

What is your favourite way to cook asparagus? I’m always looking for new ideas!

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Recipe: Asparagus and Sweet Pea Fettuccine Alfredo | With White Wine and Lemon

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain cashews (+ water for soaking)
  • 225g fettuccine pasta (or your choice of gluten free pasta)
  • 3 cups vegetable broth (I used low sodium broth)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup sweet green peas (thawed if using frozen)
  • 12 thin asparagus stalks, tough ends removed
  • 1/3 cup white wine (I used Pinot Blanc)
  • Zest of 1 medium lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Place cashews in a small bowl and cover with water. Let soak for an hour. Drain and rinse.

2. Place soaked cashews and vegetable broth in a blender or food processor. Blend for two minutes or until cashews and broth form a smooth liquid. Set aside.

3. Fill a medium skillet with cold water and bring to a gentle boil. Add asparagus and reduce to a simmer. Let asparagus cook just until bright green and tender crisp (this should only take a minute or two). Immediately drain asparagus and transfer to a bowl of ice water (this will ensure asparagus doesn’t over cook).

4. Once asparagus is cold, remove from water and cut into 1″ pieces. Set aside until needed.

5. Cook fettuccine according to package instructions, or until al dente. Drain and rinse. Set aside until needed.

6. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and saute just until garlic is golden brown.

7. Reduce heat slightly. Sprinkle flour into skillet and whisk continuously until a smooth paste forms.

8. Slowly pour cashew and broth mixture into skillet, whisking continuously until everything is incorporated and a smooth, creamy sauce forms.

9. Stir in wine and lemon zest. Taste sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.

10. Fold in pasta, peas and asparagus.

11. Serve immediately, topping each portion with freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

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Portobello and Goat Cheese Penne | With Meyer Lemon and Thyme

While there are few risks that come with living in an RV – apart from the very real threat of the water pipes freezing in the Winter – hauling one’s 30 ft. travel trailer, as we did last weekend, is risky business through and through. I can’t speak to the experience of being in the driver’s seat with the RV attached to the truck’s hitch – that’s my SO’s domain – but even as a passenger I was white-knuckling it the whole way, especially as we drove the Coquihalla Highway – portions of which are so treacherous there’s a frigging reality TV show about it! The sketchy road conditions and 18-wheelers zooming by every few minutes made the trip extra fun… NOT.

Portobello and Goat Cheese Penne | With Meyer Lemon and Thyme

Portobello and Goat Cheese Penne | With Meyer Lemon and Thyme

We arrived in Vancouver without incident – apart from incurring 2 nicks in the windshield from gravel sprayed from the tires of a passing vehicle, and getting honked at once (we may or may not have swerved into the adjacent lane for a second; it was hard to say for sure with ice obscuring the lines on the road). A bit of a shocker awaited me inside the RV upon our arrival, however: when I stepped into the trailer, plates and bowls were EVERYWHERE. Evidently the latch on one of the cupboards failed at some point during the journey – or maybe yours truly someone neglected to ensure the cupboard was firmly shut before we left. Fortunately we’d purchased chip-resistent cups, plates and mugs for use in the RV so the only real casualty was a ceramic plate that also happened to be in the cupboard. It was smashed to bits.

Portobello and Goat Cheese Penne | With Meyer Lemon and Thyme

Portobello and Goat Cheese Penne | With Meyer Lemon and Thyme

I’m pretty excited about this recipe for a couple reasons. First of all, it gave me another opportunity to cook with Meyer lemons. Previously I’d only used them to make lemon meringue pie, and I was interested to find out how their tart-yet-sweet flavour would hold up in a savoury dish. I thought it did a fantastic job of subtly brightening up the flavour of the Portobellos, and along with the goat cheese and thyme formed an amazing triple-threat of flavour. Secondly, my SO has finally overcoming his aversion to mushrooms (thanks in large part to a segment on PBS touting their health benefits) – so I included Portobellos in this recipe with impunity! Their rich, earthy flavour and meaty texture can’t be beat.

Portobello and Goat Cheese Penne | With Meyer Lemon and Thyme

Portobello and Goat Cheese Penne | With Meyer Lemon and Thyme

There must be something in the air or water over here in Western Canada, because my fellow British Columbian blogger, Veggie Bento Love, posted a very similar pasta recipe on her blog over the weekend! Her version uses something I’ve never cooked with or even heard of – quinoa noodles – so head over to her blog and check it out (there are tons of great bento ideas there, too).

Portobello and Goat Cheese Penne | With Meyer Lemon and Thyme

Portobello and Goat Cheese Penne | With Meyer Lemon and Thyme

Recipe: Portobello and Goat Cheese Penne | With Meyer Lemon and Thyme

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups penne pasta (or your choice of gluten free pasta)
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil (plus more to serve)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or less if you don’t like spiciness)
  • 2 Portobello mushrooms, diced into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, minced
  • Juice and zest of 1 Meyer lemon (or 1 small conventional lemon)
  • 1/4 cup goat cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare penne: Cook penne according to package instructions, or until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside until needed.

Finish pasta: Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over low-medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and saute just until garlic is fragrant and golden brown. Add diced mushrooms and thyme and season lightly with salt. Cover skillet and let mushrooms reduce, stirring periodically – about 5 minutes. Once mushrooms are tender, fold in cooked pasta, then lemon juice and zest. Crumble goat cheese into skillet and gently fold to combine. Remove from heat.

Serve, topping each portion with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

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