Thursday, December 30, 2010

Last Post of 2010!

I don't know about you, but we're still working on finishing off Christmas leftovers, which means that our meals have been sort of a free-for-all.  Last night I threw some green beans in to cook with a pot of spaghetti, then tossed it with equal amounts basil pesto and Tofutti cream cheese. Creamy pesto pasta with green beans, anyone?

I'll get back into "real" cooking soon.  After all, I've got to try out my Christmas presents.

I'm so excited to try it out...not only for pressing tofu, but it can also be used on thawed, frozen spinach. I hate pressing the water out of frozen spinach, but it is so much cheaper than fresh spinach. And of course it will be great not to waste paper towels or get my dish towels all wet and yucky, every time I press a block of tofu.

And I also received not one but two cookbooks...American Vegan Kitchen and The 30 Minute Vegan's Taste of the East!

I've already bookmarked so many recipes to try in both of these cookbooks.

I also got some non-cooking-related presents, including a Kindle and a gift card to download some books.  I wasn't sure if I really wanted one, but I love it so far!  It's so easy to pick it up and read a few pages when I have a spare minute or two. (So is a book, but the Kindle seems simpler, somehow!) Right now I'm reading  Just Kids, and I also downloaded An Object of Beauty, Room, One Day, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Have you read anything good lately that I should check out?

Moving on...tomorrow is New Year's Eve!  Are you doing anything to celebrate? Tony and I will just be hanging out at home with the little ones. I'm thinking we will let Jackson stay up to do the countdown and watch the ball drop. He's a night owl, but we'll see if he makes it until midnight. 

Do you make New Years resolutions? I don't make any specific ones. I do reflect on things and set some general intentions.  (This is gonna be kinda personal and kinda hippie, and has nothing to do with vegan food, so scroll back up to the top and look at the pasta bowl again if that's more your thing, I won't be mad!)  This time around, I've been thinking about love -- our capacity to love vs. our willingness to.  What I want to remember in 2011 is this: love doesn't run out, it doesn't exist in limited amounts, it is infinite.  Love withers when we are stingy with it, it thrives when we give it generously so it can be multiplied over and over. This applies to my everyday life through the following lessons: Don't be detached when you can make a connection.  Don't be proud when you can be kind.  Don't be critical when you can be supportive.  Don't make a big deal when you can let it go. These are not lessons I grew up with; this is something I have had to learn as an adult, and am still learning.

2010 was such a busy, eventful year. We got settled into our new home in New York, and my sweet Olivia was born!  And this blog was also born, since 2010 was the year I became vegan, woohoo!  There have been some years which I am sad to see end because they were so much fun, and other years when I thought "Next year has to be better than this!"  This year was mostly good, and now I am curious to see what 2011 has in store for me.

I wish YOU endless health, peace and happiness in the coming year! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Urban Vegan Tester #5 - Pumpkin-Maple Muffins

I still have several cans of pumpkin in my cupboards, leftover from holiday baking. These Pumpkin-Maple Muffins, from the Urban Vegan's upcoming cookbook, were a perfect way to use up some of my supply.  I added bits of dried cranberries for texture and tartness. These muffins are super moist and cake-like, a little spicy, and not overly sweet -- which is good, since my sweet tooth reached its quota for the year on Christmas and I can't even stand to look at anything sweet right now.

I made them with whole wheat and spelt flours, so I'm happy to let Jackson chomp away on them, knowing that he's getting his whole grains. He definitely needs healthy treats in order to refuel after running around in all the snow we got -- nearly 2 feet!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Christmas Recap

I was the first one up on Christmas morning.  It was nice to be able to drink my tea and enjoy the peaceful silence...

Then the tiny tornadoes woke up and Christmas morning got very loud, very fast...

But I wouldn't have it any other way...

Jackson couldn't decide which present was his favorite.  The shaving kit...

Or the bowling set...

It was Olivia's very first Christmas, but it didn't take her long to get into the spirit...

Although it was me who was coveting the little pink cords she got...

After the living room was demolished, we headed into the kitchen to start cooking.  We kept it very simple this year: ham, mashed potatoes, a ton of roasted veggies, rolls and pie.

I was surprised that one of my sweet potatoes seemed to be an albino. Which one of these things is not like the other?

Tasted just as delicious, though...

It was all delicious...

I made Blessed Vegan Mama's Gorgeous Round Rolls -- so pretty, so easy, so tasty!...

The first plate...

Later, pie from 1000 Vegan Recipes...

Much love from my family to yours, hope you all had a wonderful holiday!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Urban Vegan Tester # 4 - Pan-Seared Tofu with Basil-Balsamic Glaze

I'm feeling under the weather, so I was extremely tempted to just eat a plate of nachos for dinner -- my theory being that jalapenos clear the sinuses.  But then I remembered I had these tofu steaks marinating in the fridge.  I microwaved some "baked" potatoes, sauteed the tofu a few minutes on each side, and had a much healthier dinner on the table without expending too much energy (which I don't have.)

I've always shied away from serving tofu all on its own, without a sauce or anything.  But the Urban Vegan's steaks are pretty darn flavorful and have no need for a sauce. The sweetly acidic balsamic glaze and a sprinkling of fresh basil gives them all the flavor you could want. These are classy enough to serve for a vegan dinner with friends. Yet they're also fast enough to make on a busy weeknight, provided you press the tofu and get it in the marinade that morning, or the night before.

I've been writing a lot lately, since I've started doing these tester recipes as well as some personal cooking posts. But at this point I think I'm going to take it easy until after Christmas.  I'll still be reading your blogs, just not posting anything of my own.  Hope you'll come back and visit me after the holidays!

Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, Happy Holidays to you!

P.S. One more thing, Averie at Love Veggies and Yoga is giving away a $50 iHerb shopping spree! Hurry up and enter because it ends Wednesday!

Urban Vegan Tester #3 - Old Bay Cakes

These Old Bay Cakes, from the Urban Vegan's upcoming cookbook, are a vegan version of crab cakes. I've never had crab cakes, but apparently the ideal crab cake is light and flaky.  That's exactly how I would describe these patties. They are made of tofu which, when combined with the other ingredients and pan-fried, really does take on a tender, flaky texture.  We ate the cakes on their own with a squirt of lemon juice, but they'd probably also be good on a roll or burger bun.

Shahi Paneer - Tofu in Tomato Cream Sauce

This one's from 30 Minute Taste of the East, which I don't own yet (it's on my Christmas wish list), but Aimee at theglobalvegan posted the recipe.  

I love the first 30 Minute Vegan cookbook, so I was excited to try the authors' take on Indian cuisine.  I marinated the tofu overnight so it would really soak up the "paneer" (Indian cheese) flavor, then baked it. I was really pleased with how it turned out.  If you miss eating paneer on the Indian buffet since becoming vegan, this is probably as close to that flavor and texture as you can get! And the spice mixture is just right, adding a ton of flavor to the creamy tomato sauce (the cream is from ground cashews) without being overpowering. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Peanut Flour Failure

Last night I wanted to use up the last of my Trader Joe's peanut flour...

which I had been happily adding to my oats for the past couple of months to give them a luscious creamy texture.

Did you ever mess with a good thing and wish you hadn't?

I decided to switch it up and make something savory...a variation of my tofu and broccoli with peanut sauce that I typically make with peanut butter.

It wasn't good.  I'm not sure what happened.  And now I'm out of peanut flour.

Perhaps Santa will swing by Trader Joe's and leave something good in my stocking.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Urban Vegan Tester #2 - Gussied-Up Tabbouleh

My second tester recipe for the Urban Vegan's new cookbook was Gussied-Up Tabbouleh. I love the chewy texture of bulgur in a tabbouleh. There was tons of flavor from lemon juice and chopped mint. I also love its appearance, with all the little flecks of different colored veggies and herbs.  I served this with hummus and pita for a light, satisfying dinner.

So Much Jerky

During Vegan MoFo, I was the winner of Celyn's giveaway for Primal Spirit meatless vegan jerky . To enter the contest I had to comment which flavor I liked best, so I thought I'd just be receiving that flavor -- I didn't realize I'd get to try all SIX flavors, wow! I was excited to try all of them.  Which one would I eat first?

The only way to do this was a scientific taste test.  I cut pieces off each strip and called in Tony, the jerky eater in our household, to help out and give his opinion.

As soon as I cut open the packages, Monster assumed his begging position (huge pleading eyes, tongue of sadness) and didn't move until the testing was over.  Clearly, he thought this jerky was the real thing.

The verdict: we liked the Hot & Spicy and Thai Peanut flavors best.  The Hot & Spicy tasted like pepperoni, with a good amount of fennel.  It's not hot while you're eating it, but you feel the heat afterwards.  The Thai Peanut tastes exactly like its name, peanutty and exotic.  It also had my favorite texture -- very tough and leathery. I can see myself snacking on both of these in the future.

Tony also enjoyed the Hickory Smoked and Texas BBQ flavors.  Both had strong sweet and smoky notes. They were a little strong for me.  He said that the Hickory Smoked had the most realistic "meat" flavor and texture, and he would be happy if I bought more of that kind. 

The Mesquite Lime was our least favorite. It was pretty sour.  We didn't really dig the Teriyaki either, but Monster made it disappear.

I was afraid of the amount of sodium I would be ingesting during this taste test, but really, these vegan strips have a lot less sodium than regular beef jerky -- about 15% of your daily RDA per strip.  They also contain between 6-11 grams of protein (depending on flavor) and are free of preservatives and artificial colors. So, overall, not a bad snack!  I also thought it was interesting that they are made from different things -- seitan, soy, or in the case of the Hot & Spicy flavor, shiitake mushrooms.  So if you have a soy or wheat allergy, there are still flavors you can enjoy.

Thanks, Celyn, for this great giveaway -- I'm glad I got the chance to try vegan jerky!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Urban Vegan Tester #1 - Humble and Hearty Vegetable Soup

This Humble and Hearty Vegetable Soup is the very first recipe I tested for the Urban Vegan's new cookbook.  I'd only eaten barley soup from a can before. I was very pleasantly surprised by the nice bite that the barley retained in this homemade soup. Great texture.

We loved the flavor of this soup and it made the house smell fantastic.  Tony and I both went back for seconds, and Jackson could not get enough of it.  Barley, chickpeas and potatoes make it super hearty and perfect for a cold almost-winter evening.

All Shopped Out at Red Robin

Last night we got all our Christmas shopping done. Today, we wrap.  Time to get some prezzies under this little tree!

After two hours at the mall, cooking at home did not sound appealing, so we stopped by Red Robin.  After the Shenandoah Vegan's Red Robin pics made me hungry, I thought it was time to give it another try.  Last time we ate there was when Jackson was a little over a year old.  As we were digging into our meal, the giant red bird mascot came out and started doing laps around the dining room. Jackson freaked out and cowered on my lap. This time, the menacing robin was nowhere in sight, and the food hit the spot.  For a burger place, I like how they clearly point out on the menu what is vegan/vegetarian.

Is this a really popular time of year for birthdays or what?  My birthday was a few days ago, and I've known lots of people whose birthday is right around mine.  But tonight was crazy -- we counted FIVE kids having their birthdays at Red Robin while we were there.  Each time, the servers all gathered around and clapped and sang, so it was hard to miss.  Pretty random on a Friday night.

Fried jalapeno coins, fries, and veggie burger. 
It's all so...brown.  But good!  Shake that Red Robin spice all over it and dig in.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Panera Salad and Hurry Up Alfredo

Today for lunch I found a use for my blue Sheese that I impulse-bought at Whole Foods recently.  I was inspired by a salad I used to order at Panera.  It only has a few components and is easily recreated, thanks to the wonders of vegan blue cheese.

"Panera" Salad
Toss one bunch of chopped red leaf lettuce, half a wheel of crumbled blue Sheese (be sure it is very cold or it will smush instead of crumble), 1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts, and a can of mandarin orange slices, with Annie's lite raspberry vinaigrette.

Love the different textures -- crunchy toasted walnuts, creamy blue cheese and sweet, juicy orange bits.

For dinner, we had spaghetti with Hurry Up Alfredo sauce  from Vegan Yum Yum.  I substituted Tofutti cream cheese for the cashews in the sauce, and it turned out just lovely, very creamy and comfort food-y.  I also added some kale because, well, what isn't improved by the addition of kale.

This weekend I've got to get the rest of my Christmas shopping done and straighten up the house before my parents get in town.  Hope you all have a fun weekend!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lentils and Tarragon to the Rescue

Last night, after Tony got home from work, we planned to go out to dinner to celebrate my birthday.  Sadly, my first choice restaurant is closed on Wednesdays.  So we drove 45 minutes to a vegetarian restaurant up near Bard College, only to find that they, too, are now closed on Wednesdays (update your website, guys!) By now we were starving, which is why we ended up at some kind of jazz cafe where the beer taps were broken and the server forgot our appetizer even though we were the only people there. 

Sometimes you just have to laugh.  If there's one benefit of living in the sticks, it's that I've been more and more inspired to cook at home because a lot of restaurants around here are not worth it!  I was just happy to have Tony and the babies to celebrate with. I know it's cheesy but they are my real presents. 

I made up for last night's wild goose chase by cooking up a nice pot of lentil soup today.  Most lentil soup recipes that I come across are Indian-inspired, with a curry flavor.  That's cool, but this French Lentil Soup with Tarragon and Thyme from Veganomicon is a little different. The tarragon gives it a licoricey, almost minty flavor that is so unique and always makes me go back for seconds.

And I didn't have to leave the house.

Fun news -- I'm going to start testing recipes for Dynise the Urban Vegan's new cookbook. I hope to start posting some pics in the next week or so.  I've never done recipe testing before, so I'm pretty pumped.  I love her first cookbook and I know these new recipes will be awesome.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vietnamese Seitan Baguette with Savory Broth Dip

As a lifelong vegetarian-turned-vegan, I was only vaguely familiar with the "French dip," a roast beef sandwich served on a baguette and dipped in broth.  Yet, when I came across the recipe for Vietnamese seitan baguettes with broth in Veganomicon, I immediately wanted to try it.  I enjoyed my Vietnamese po'boys so much a couple weeks ago, and this sandwich has similar flavors going on.

First I made baked Seitan Cutlets (recipe also from Veganomicon.) This was my first experience baking seitan.  It seemed more time-consuming than the boiling or steaming methods, but this was my first time and it'll probably go faster next time when I know what I'm doing.

The cutlets looked so freakish soaking in their broth bath, like alien babies or something.

They looked much more appetizing once they had been thinly sliced and sauteed. At this point, they were ready to be stuffed into baguettes along with Veganaise, shredded cucumber, and cilantro.

As if the sandwiches alone didn't have enough flavors and textures happening, the broth was amazing. The crushed red pepper and 5-spice powder gave it just the right amount of heat and spice. 

I gotta say, it's meals like this that cause me to get pissed off when I go to a restaurant and the best they can do for a vegan is an iceberg lettuce salad.  I'm not a chef, yet I was able to make this by following a recipe, and I'm not exaggerating to say it's one of the best things I've ever tasted.  My omnivore husband agreed -- he loved the "meaty," chewy texture of this seitan.  I don't understand why it is so hard for trained restaurant chefs to look through some recipes and offer something like this on their menu!

That's enough ranting for now -- it's my birthday, time to party! (And by party, I mean get Jacksona and Olivia dressed and make myself some oatmeal, since Jackson ate mine while I was writing.)

Have a great day!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Whole Foods Run and Is Kombucha Going To Kill Me?

Our nearest Whole Foods is over an hour away, so we only go every few months. On our last trip, I thought I would snap a picture of our haul.  Let's see...we have tofu, Gnu bars, Sheese, tortillas, organic teething biscuits for Olivia, three things of ketchup (Tony will not let me buy any other ketchup), kombucha, soy crisps, nutritional yeast, and three different kinds of salsa. 

This was my first experience with Sheese. Whole Foods had two kinds: blue, and smoked cheddar. I went with the blue style. I've just been eating it on crackers. It has a very strong blue cheese flavor, true to the real thing.  I wish it wasn't quite so strong. I'm going to try putting it in a salad, but I'm a little nervous that it will overwhelm the other flavors.

And then we have the kombucha. Here's the thing...a couple years ago, I got a meal from the Whole Foods hot bar and I quickly grabbed a bottle of kombucha to go with it, thinking it was an iced tea.  I took a drink and almost started crying. It felt like I had drunk from bottle of warm, fermented vinegar that someone had backwashed in repeatedly.  How could anyone voluntarily drink this? The extreme fizziness, the sour taste and smell, the slimy strands of...something...floating in it? 

And yet I gave it a second chance. It's so popular right now and they have all these different flavors. And the label says it is full of enzymes, probiotics, antioxidants.  Maybe it has improved greatly in the past couple years?

I drank it ice cold, which was a good decision. The addition of cranberry juice in this particular bottle helped cut the vinegar taste somewhat, although it still smelled awful.  It wasn't good, but it was ok.

But then, I noticed that I seemed to be getting a buzz. Kombucha supposedly contains .5% alcohol. Now, I am kind of a lightweight, but I don't think I am that much of a lightweight. I mean, I only drank half a bottle, 8 oz. 

20 minutes later, my buzz had worn off and I had a dry mouth, slight headache, and felt blah and irritable. It was like an instant hangover. Thanks a lot, kombucha.

So now I don't know if I'll drink the rest. It took me two weeks to get around to opening the bottle, so obviously I was not too excited about it to begin with. The flavor didn't bother me so much as the weird effects.

A long time ago when I was a smoker, I would often buy a smoothie on my way to work, and occasionally I would get a wheatgrass shot along with it. I always felt sick right after drinking the wheatgrass shot. Someone told me that this was because I smoked, and the wheatgrass was fighting the toxins in my body. I always felt great later in the day, and I would think to myself, "The wheatgrass has won!" So, anyway, I know "health" foods can have these unusual effects on the body. But these days, I definitely don't smoke, so why would the kombucha make me feel drunk, then blah?

Do you like kombucha? Do you get weird effects from drinking it?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Buddha Bodai

We were in the city over the weekend. We met up with a friend in Nolita, walked around enjoying the warm (for December) weather, had coffee, saw Santas all over the place, and ended up wandering in Chinatown.

I considered buying some lotion...

We had dinner at Buddha Bodai.  I'm usually wary of Chinese food because it often has meat in it even when it's a veggie or tofu dish.  So I was psyched to eat at a Chinese restaurant that proudly advertises "no meat at all!"

We started with fried spring rolls filled with mushrooms, water chestnuts and other assorted veggie bits. They were so hot! We had to let them sit for awhile so we didn't burn our mouths. But they were good when they cooled down.

Jackson found it hard to wait.

Tony had the "chicken" with black pepper sauce, served over a type of Chinese greens called choy sum.  The greens had a strong sesame oil flavor.  Tony really enjoyed it.

I had a hard time deciding what to order.  Almost every dish featured a meat substitute.  Since I'm not familiar with actual lobster, prawn, lamb, abalone or duck (to name just a few of the faux meats on the menu), I wasn't sure what the veggie form would taste like. 

I ended up playing it safe and ordering the orange chicken with broccoli.  This is the same dish I had when I dined at Grasshopper in Boston earlier this year, and that was one of the best meals I've eaten in my entire life.  While the Grasshopper version was made with tofu, Buddha Bodai's features a chicken substitute that's chewy and mildly seasoned. The chicken pieces are breaded and fried, then doused in a sweet, citrusy sauce. It's by no means health food, but it is addictively delicious.

I also got a piece of tofu cheesecake to take home for dessert. It came with a little container of berry sauce to pour on top. I'm thinking of making a tofu cheesecake for Christmas and I wanted to see how the pros do it. Oh my goodness. It was amazing. Not too sweet, a little bit lemony, and super dense and creamy the way cheesecake should be. 

"If strength were all, tiger would not fear scorpion."  We had just been talking about strength, about certain experiences that make you stronger, so it was one of those plate of shrimp moments when I opened my fortune cookie.

It was a great experience. The restaurant is spacious, so we didn't feel conspicuous walking in with two strollers, like we would in some tiny NYC cafes.  The waitstaff were super nice and fawned over the kids and didn't bat an eyelash when a teacup got broken. I'd love to eat there again some time and be a little more adventurous -- I'm looking at you, veggie jellyfish!