Jennifer McCann is the innovator behind a blog called the Vegan Lunch Box. Four years ago, she posted “The Magical Loaf Studio,” which asks users to design their own “Adventist-Style Vegan Dinner Loaf.” Basically, the “program” follows the mathematical code for compiling a cohesive, meatless, savory dinner loaf. You choose a protein, carbohydrate, a nut/seed, vegetables, liquid, herbs and seasonings, binder, salt, and oil. Put them all together and you get…dinner! This is a recipe concept with a lot of delicious potential. See the recipe I designed for my meal, below.

Camille’s Vegan Loaf
(design your own loaf at www.veganlunchbox.com/loaf_studio.html)

1/2 cup cashews
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
2 celery ribs, diced
1 cup mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
2 cups cooked lentils
1 cup uncooked oat bran
1/2 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup uncooked polenta
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan or 8x8 square baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside (an 8x8 pan makes a crisper loaf).

Grind the cashews into a coarse meal using a food processor or spice/coffee grinder. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Sauté any vegetables you’ve chosen in the olive oil until soft. Add to the large mixing bowl along with all the remaining ingredients. Mix and mash together well, adding only as much liquid as needed to create a soft, moist loaf that holds together and is not runny (you may not need to add any liquid if the grains and protein are very moist). Add more binder/carbohydrate as needed if the loaf seems too wet.

Press mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until cooked through.

Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a plate or platter and slice. Serve with potatoes, vegetables, and vegetarian gravy, if desired.

Cold leftover slices of Camille’s Vegan Loaf make a great sandwich filling.

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I cooked a combination of French and red lentils for 40 minutes. I sauteed my onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and mushrooms for 12 minutes, with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. My final baked loaf was fully flavored by the vegetables, lentils, and polenta that I used. It was a bit dry (sauceless, remember), but my young child enjoyed it with ketchup(!). The final line of the recipe exults the “cold leftover slices,” and this claim is very true. I enjoyed my loaf better as cold slices, with a self-indulgent condiment where I combined a bit of mayonnaise with dab of fiery hot sambal oelek. This was fun stuff. Do design your own loaf and tell me what happens.

To accompany my loaf, I also cooked the “Cheese Grits and Greens,” from the February 2005 issue of Vegetarian Times. This was a great combination of ingredients: greens with a bitter edge, matched with wonderfully sharp, cheesy grits. A warm and creamy wonder. I steamed my greens (collards and mustard greens) for 5 minutes, enjoying the simple technique of throwing the just-washed leaves into the pot. I cooked my garlic in olive oil. For the grits -- and this is the same “polenta” that I used in my loaf recipe, above -- I combined 1/2 cup with 1 1/2 cups water and 1/4 tsp. salt, boiled, then lowered the heat, cooked and stirred for about 3 minutes, then added the shredded cheese. Savor your greens.

PRICES
Onion (1) = .69¢
Carrot (1) = .40¢
Collards (1/2 lb.) = $1.87
Mustard Greens (1/2 lb.) = $1.47
Cheddar Cheese (6 oz.) = $3.36

RECIPES: unleash your recipe powers by designing your own dinner loaf, and do pleasure in greens doused with cheesy polenta
PREP TIMES:
you’ll need two hours to assemble and cook your loaf; the grits and greens need less than 30 minutes
TASTES: it’s your loaf! You make it, you dress it. Cheese grits coat bitter greens with their warm sharpness.

Next time, I want to cook “Corn Cakes with Goat Cheese,” with a side of “Crisp Breakfast Ham,” from the May 2010 issue of Everyday Food, along with “Creamy Walnut-Mushroom Soup with Thyme,” from the July 2009 issue of Vegetarian Times (a raw recipe). Sound interesting? Return to my site on Saturday, June 26, to see what happens.