whiteteeBy contributor Matt Lara The Cooking Bug

When people tell me it’s too hard to cook, or they don’t have time, I tend to shoot them a perplexed look. If I can do it, you can do it. Contrary to popular belief, cooking at home can be easy and a helluva' lot cheaper than ordering or eating out. I’m a far cry from a classically-trained chef, yet I do it every day and enjoy it. I’ve had the cooking bug for quite a while now, but with inspiration from my fellow writers, and maybe just a little bit of competitiveness (Chef Matteo, somehow I don’t think I’ll ever catch up to you!), I’ve decided to share some of my more recent meals. I had to think a little outside my own culinary breadbox, but I'll let you decide if it was simply my pride that I swallowed, or something delicious.

Pan Handling

Confession of a Carb-King: I love pancakes. I don’t have time to sort out mystery ingredients in those pancake mixes. I can do far better, and use fewer ingredients, with these two recipes:

From The Joy of Vegan Baking (by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau). It’s is a staple in my kitchen. These babies came out thick but light, and buttery. Plus, my maple syrup days are over now that I’m topping pancakes with Silk Soy Yogurt and wild blueberries. How long have I been missing out on that?

Vegan Yum Yum has a great recipe for Easy Weekend Pancakes. You can make the batter ahead of time in the blender, pop it in the fridge, and have it ready for your sunrise. These are made with spelt flower, and pour into beautifully thin silver dollars. Perfect for nursing a hangover, or impressing a hot date.

Tip: A dash of cinnamon in the pancake batter makes the world just a little bit yummier.

Gardein of Earthly Delights

I just realized now that the name gardein is a contraction of “garden” and “protein” . . . anyhow, these products, the hero of Tal Ronnen’s world, were on sale recently at my local supermarket. The best thing about them is the ease in which you can prepare them—stove-top, oven, or that cube thing you zap food in (not in my house). Much of the guesswork is taken out of flavoring, although I did add more seasonings from my own cupboard. They’re great if you’re still stumped by a plain block of Tofu. I prepared the Tuscan Breasts and the Santa Fe Good Stuff with items like rice medley, beans, baby spinach, and sprinkling of nutritional yeast on top.

Santa Fe Good Stuff was quite nice. The center of the meaty outside is stuffed with a corn and black bean compote, and works really well on top of the leftover rice medley from above. Having visited Santa Fe, I expected a little bit more of a kick. You might want to put on a touch of the hot sauce for these ones. Still, it made for a lovely and satisfying portion for two, which was eaten by one—moi.

Which Sandwich?

Admittedly, I have been avoiding the cliché of eating Tofurky for the longest time, so I decided to try out these Tofurky Deli Slices in a sandwich. I started with Trader Joe’s flourless wheat berry bread, and spread one slice with grainy Dijon mustard and the other with roasted red pepper hummus (made from scratch). Along with the slices of Tofurky, I added avocado and fresh baby spinach. The result? The sandwich was light and full-bodied with all the wonderful whole ingredients I craved. I also got a zing from the Dijon, which was a surprise. It was a random assortment of ingredients, but I just might have to go for this sandwich again soon.


My greatest downfall is that pesky sweet tooth, and I've recently felt particularly inspired by Elvis’ favorite sandwich. According to legend, The King used to eat 12-15 of these in one sitting. Of course, I opted to leave out the life-ending options (the bacon, dairy butter, and animal fat) along with the hefty quantity. I know it’s not necessarily health food, but it makes for a mindful midday dessert. It’s also fun and messy.

This is What You Need:

  • • Two whole-wheat tortillas
  • • One banana sliced
  • • 1-2 TBSP organic creamy peanut butter
  • • 1 TBSP Earth Balance Buttery Spread
  • • A sprinkling of brown sugar

Now Do This!

Melt the Earth Balance in a frying pan. Spread the peanut butter on one tortilla and place in the pan, non-peanut http://www.virginmedia.com/images/elvis430x300.jpgbutter side down. Space out the banana slices evenly on top of the layer of peanut butter and sprinkle the brown sugar. This should be heating up quickly so place the other tortilla on top and flip over carefully. As the other side heats up the bananas should caramelize a bit and the peanut butter will get a little gooier. Remove from heat and cut into quarters. Work quickly on this one. If the tortillas are slightly burnt, it gives the whole sandwich a smoky note, which isn’t bad.

Uh, thank you…thank you very much.

Smoothy Operator

http://karatetraining.org/weblog/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/green_smoothie.jpgI basically stole this smoothie idea from a certain NYC restaurant that shall remain nameless, but I’ll just say it’s less a felony and more of a misdemeanor because I don’t know any of the exact ingredients or their amounts. I’m always adding different things to it. I like it because it helps me get a good full serving of fresh greens halfway through the day. So here’s my best attempt at the green smoothie that is homage to a make-believe restaurant that I'll just call "Gobo in the West Village":

  • • 1 handful of baby spinach
  • • 1 banana
  • • 1-2 cups of Vanilla flavored Almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • • 1 tsp of Agave syrup
  • • One half of a small avocado, peeled and sliced (learn how here)
  • • ½ cup ice

Blend in a blender until smooth and green. I like to double-check that all my greens have been thoroughly blended. You can add a tablespoon or so of nutritional yeast, as well as some ground flax seeds although it may affect the flavor and/or the consistency. Some frozen wild blueberries also boost up the antioxidants, but they will change the pretty green color to something nameless.

If you’re not yet used to the goodness of one green drink per day, this is a sweeter place to start.

Stir Crazy

Okay, this one is a winner in my house, but you have to work with me people. This is technically a dump-and-stir-and-bake. And - don't run— this is not a vegan recipe, but it's a great lesson in veganizing non-veg recipes! Just switch out that dairy stuff for something wonderful that melts, like Follow Your Heart or Daiya. This is a casserole-style take on a traditional Mexican dish known as Chilaquiles. I have served this one to my non-vegan parents and they have requested it again several times. It’s packed with a variety of whole foods like roasted corn, zucchini, black beans, and corn tortillas. The preparation is super easy, so give Chilaquiles Casserole a try, and make sure to top with avocado or guacamole.

That’s plenty to eat for now. But believe me, my cooking bug is still going strong! I'd love to hear from you if you try any of these or have any suggestions or questions!

- Matt