Baked Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

grilledcheeseYou guys. I discovered a tip for making grilled cheese that will blow your mind.

Are you ready?

You can bake it in the oven. And … it turns out better than cooking it in a skillet!

A week or so ago, I had whipped up a pot of tomato soup and wanted grilled cheese sandwiches to go with it. I typically use my cast iron skillet to make each sandwich one by one, but I was looking for a way to make multiple sandwiches at once (we have a big appetite). Apparently, other people have wondered the same thing and I found a recipe online for baked grilled cheese sandwiches.

All you have to do is preheat your oven to 450 degrees. From there, butter one side of your bread (I use Earth Balance), throw your cheese in the middle (Daiya slices work perfectly), and bake on one side for 6 minutes, then flip to the other side and bake for 4 to 6 minutes. And, voila! You can make as many as your sheet pan will hold at one time.

It’s the little things …

Meal Plan Experiment

For those of you who have been patient enough to follow this blog since its inception, you know my goal has been to create budget-friendly meal plans. As you all know, working full time has a way of interfering with the fun stuff, so it kind of got put on the back burner. I also have been kind of paralyzed with too many details of how, exactly, I wanted to present a meal plan to serve you all.

Well, I woke up this morning and decided to create one based on my recent grocery trip and to just put it out there, warts and all. It’s not perfect, but it’ll give me something to work with for future posts. And I really hope that you all will offer me feedback in terms of what works and what doesn’t. I fully anticipate that the format will change several times in the weeks and months ahead, but I want to get it right. Eventually, I’d love to have a printable and downloadable version so that you can easily bring it with you to the store. (Who knows, maybe one day I’ll have my own app!)

Please keep in mind that I am not a nutritionist; I am just a regular person who is trying to do her best to adhere to a vegan diet in a fairly healthy and budget-friendly way. And if I can help a few readers do the same, then I’ll be a very happy camper.

A few notes: You’ll notice that my meal plan is expected to cover 6 to 7 days. I make my meals with the expectation that we will have leftovers to eat off of for a few days. Also, my meal plans will always be for two people, so you’ll have to adjust according to your household. And, obviously, your total will be different from mine based on where you live, where you buy your food and what you have on hand, but I’m including it to give you a rough estimate. Finally, you’ll notice a list of items that I already have on hand. I cannot stress the importance of keeping your pantry stocked. This will save you money in the long run because I like to create lists based on items that I already have in the pantry/fridge.

So, without further ado, here is my very first meal plan:

Budget: $70
Money spent:
$79.29
Time:
6-7 days

Menu

Breakfast
bagels and cream cheese
cereal
Blackberry East Coast Coffee Cake (from “Vegan Brunch”)

Lunch
Classic Broccoli Quiche ( from “Vegan Brunch”) with kale salad
soup and crackers

Dinner
Tofu, mushroom, carrot and edamame stir-fry and gyoza
Italian sausages with sautéed onions and peppers over polenta
Split Pea and Lentil Soup (from “The Vegan Slow Cooker”) and cornbread

Snacks
popcorn
almonds
apples and peanut butter
yogurt and granola
carrots, cucumber and hummus

List
Silk vanilla soy yogurt (large container)
almond milk
Tofutti cream cheese
(2 packages) extra-firm tofu
(1 package) Field Roast Italian Sausage
(1 bunch) kale
sprouted cinnamon-raisin bagels
(2) broccoli crowns
(3) Fuji apples
2lb bag of carrots
baby spinach
almonds
(4) prepackaged soups
wheat crackers
(1 lb) popcorn
(1/2 lb) granola
(1 lb) split peas
(1) yellow onion
(1) bulb garlic
Dijon mustard
(2) red bell peppers
(1 package) frozen vegetable gyoza
raisin bran cereal
shelled edamame
(1 package) sliced white mushrooms
(1) cucumber

Items already on-hand:
frozen blackberries
all-purpose flour
sugar
apple-cider vinegar
vanilla extract
cinnamon
nutmeg
canola oil
baking powder
sea salt
pepper
olive oil
green lentils
chicken-flavored bouillon
bay leaves
tarragon
thyme
turmeric
marjoram
rosemary
(2) yellow onions
tahini
(2) lemons
(1 can) chickpeas
raw cashews
Earth Balance
cornmeal
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
Sriracha

Books used:
“Vegan Brunch”
“The Vegan Slow Cooker”

Vegan Thanksgiving 2.0

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, everyone!

Well, we pulled off our second all-vegan Thanksgiving and, I have to say, I’m pleased with the results. A few weeks back, I had mentioned that I was going to make a spread featured in an issue of Vegetarian Times, but, true to form, I ended up changing my mind. It was mostly because it was going to be really expensive to make.

So, this year, we decided to veganize very traditional dishes, some of which I made last year, but I was able to improve upon this year. Here’s a breakdown of the dishes you see on the table:

Cumin-Cayenne Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions

These mashed potatoes were taken from the Vegetarian Times spread I originally wanted to make. They aren’t the prettiest mashed potatoes (they look a lot different than the picture in the magazine), but they were tasty. The cumin and cayenne added a nice kick to the buttery Yukon Gold potatoes.

Green Bean Casserole

This is my take on the traditional green bean casserole. I first sautéd the onions and garlic in olive oil and a little Earth Balance. I then added the mushrooms and a little vegetable stock to deglaze the pan. After everything was browned and caramelized, I removed them from the pan so that I could create the cream base. I started by making a roux. To do this, I melted more Earth Balance in the pan and added flour. I then added the cream.

This year, I thought I’d try a new (to me) product, Unsweetened MimicCreme. My only complaint was that, out of the container, it had a very sweet, almost marshmallow-like smell despite being unsweetened. It made me a little nervous, but once I incorporated it into the roux and the sautéd onions and mushrooms, it took on a much more savory aroma. I’ll definitely be using this again for anything that calls for heavy cream.

Once I had the mushroom cream base, I added frozen haricot verts and warmed them a bit in the pan. I then added some of the fried onions to the green beans and then transferred the entire mixture to a casserole dish. I baked uncovered for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees and then topped it with the rest of the fried onions. I put it back into the oven to bake for another 10 minutes.

Sage and Apple Stuffing

My stuffing last year wasn’t all that great, so I wanted to make up for it this year — and I think I succeeded. I used a little help by picking up a couple of packages of vegan stuffing from Whole Foods that already contained some seasoning.

I started by sautéing onions, celery and carrots in olive oil. I then added a clove of garlic and cooked the mixture a bit longer. After that, I added two Honeycrisp apples, chopped into small cubes. After sautéing a little longer, I added the stuffing mix, a couple of teaspoons of sage, and salt and pepper. From there, I started ladling in the vegetable stock until it was at the desired consistency. I then scooped it all into a buttered casserole dish and baked it alongside the Greenbean Casserole.

Sweet Potato Balls with Caramel Sauce (sauce not shown)

It would not be Thanksgiving in my family without this decadent sweet potato dish. My mom makes these every year. My husband doesn’t quite understand my family’s obsession with them, but he’s just weird. How can you not like mashed sweet potatoes wrapped around a marshmallow, rolled in crushed corn flakes, then baked until the marshmallow melts and topped with a rich caramel sauce? It’s like dessert for dinner. Does it get any better than that?

But, needless to say, the original version of these little beauties is not vegan. So, for a Thanksgiving potluck with friends last year, I set out to make them my own. Last year’s effort turned out well, but I made a few tweaks to make them even better this year. For example, I opted to make them a little smaller and I made sure to stick with Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, instead of the Whole Food’s brand I used last year. The Kellogg’s Corn Flakes are lighter and make for a crispier coating.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

3 lbs sweet potatoes
3 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer
4 tbsp water
1 tbsp almond or soy milk
3 cups crushed Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
Dandies Vegan Marshmallows
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup Unsweetened MimicCreme
1 tsp flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Peel and chop sweet potatoes into even cubes. Boil until soft. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the egg replacer and water until frothy. Mash the cooked sweet potatoes with a potato masher and then add the egg replacer/water mixture and the milk to the potatoes.

Take two marshmallows and mash them together so that they stick together. Form the mashed sweet potatoes around the marshmallows, then roll in the crushed corn flakes. Place into a lightly greased pan. Repeat until all the mashed sweet potatoes are gone. I made my balls a little larger than a golf ball and I was able to get exactly 15 of them out of the recipe. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until you see the marshmallow oozing out.

To make the sauce, simply combine the brown sugar, MimicCreme, flour and vanilla into a saucepan and whisk over medium heat until combined and the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Spoon the sauce over the sweet potato balls. Try not to eat too many in one sitting. I dare you.

In addition to the recipes above, we included a Field Roast Celebration Roast. I also made a delicious brown gravy recipe that I got from “Vegan Diner.”

And what Thanksgiving feast would be complete without the cranberry sauce? I like my cranberry sauce the old-school way: out of a can. I’m not sure if the canned kind normally contains gelatin, but the Whole Foods brand does not.

And now for the best part: dessert.

Pumpkin Cheesecake With Pecan Crunch Topping

This is the second recipe I’ve made from “Vegan Pie In The Sky” and it did not disappoint. The cheesecake was really, really easy to make and turned out beautifully. Oh, and it was delicious! Each bite brought hints of pumpkin, banana and a touch of orange from the extract. The pecan crunch topping added the perfect flavor and texture to the cheesecake. I cannot recommend this dessert enough.

So, that wraps up our vegan Thanksgiving. It turned out really well and we have tons of leftovers, which is my favorite part.

If I can offer any tips, it would be to make the cheesecake the night before. Thanksgiving day, make the greenbean casserole, stuffing and sweet potato balls first and don’t bake them until close to the end. Make the gravy and caramel sauce next. Finally, while the potatoes are boiling for the mashed potatoes, go ahead and put the greenbean casserole and stuffing into the oven. After about 20 minutes, put the sweet potato balls into the oven too. And, if you can fit them, throw in the Celebration Roast (I put mine in a dish with vegetable stock to keep it moist) and the rolls last.

Enjoy!

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

I know what you’re thinking: “Cheese? I thought this was a vegan blog.” Don’t worry! The meal you see above is 100 percent vegan. If you haven’t discovered Daiya, I highly recommend that you do so, and soon! It’s pretty incredible as a cheese substitute; it melts easily and tastes like the real deal. And as you can see, it works perfectly for a grilled cheese.

Tomato soup and grilled cheese are a comfort food staple. This version is actually pretty healthy and very quick to make. For the soup, I modified Vegan Yum Yum’s Spicy Tomato Chickpea Soup. As its name suggests, the original recipe is more of a spicy tomato soup rather than a sweet one, so I added some roasted red peppers that I had leftover from my Roasted Red Pepper and Hummus Wraps to mellow out some of the acidity. And like most soups, this soup tastes better the next day; I recommend making it the day before you plan on serving it (though it’s still good the same day).

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

Serves 2 + leftovers

Ingredients:

5 tbsp olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 15oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large roasted red pepper, coarsely chopped
2 28oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 cups hot water
black pepper to taste

4 slices sprouted wheat bread (I used Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Sprouted Whole Grain Bread)
1 package Daiya cheddar
Earth Balance margarine

Directions:

Heat the oil in deep soup pot on medium-high heat and sauté the onions for a 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, red chili flakes, mustard powder, turmeric, chickpeas, and roasted red pepper to the pot and sauté for about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and salt and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then add in the nutritional yeast and hot water and blend. I used my immersion blender to blend the mixture into a smooth pureé, but a blender or food processor works well, too.

To make the grilled cheese, butter one side of each slice of bread and lay two of the four slices, butter-side-down, onto a skillet set to medium-high. Add the shredded cheese and the other two slices of bread, butter-side-up. Cook each side until golden brown and the cheese is melted.

Enjoy!