Sunday, January 27, 2008

Redemption Time!

Once again, it seems that second chances are always the best way to go. After last week's disappointing reviews, I was eager but wary to venture into the depths of Veganomicon again. I am pleased to announce that the Pumpkin Ziti Bake with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping not only was worth the time (it requires several fairly simple, but altogether time consuming steps), but it was TOTALLY DELICIOUS! I mean this with every ounce of my body - this is not a suck-up repentant post! This dish is so fall-winter, creamy, hearty, yet not husband went back for a large plate of seconds and I tried to contain myself from eating it straight out of the pan! It doesn't even taste very pumpkin-y, so if you are wary of that flavor, not to worry! The fresh breadcrumbs, as suggested by Isa and Terry, are completely worth the little effort and do add such a yummy crunchy contrast to the creamy filling! The onions added another subtle richness to the dish. Oh my - make this today! I am so glad I gave Veganomicon another try.

Here is the whole dish, before it was put into the oven. The breadcrumbs look dark because I used whole wheat sandwich bread (my husband will never eat the heels!). Oh - and got a question about protein? This sucker has an entire block of firm tofu in it, which was part of the Cashew Ricotta (oh, I could eat that straight up - Jess was right!).
Not to mention the aforementioned cashews and the walnuts in the breadcrumbs.

And here is the dish, right out of the oven, a minute longer than it should have been in for, but it didn't taste burnt at all....Yummm......

Meanwhile, it was time to try another dessert from Veganomicon, which I knew wouldn't go wrong. These were the Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (or something like that). I used chocolate chips because they were for a bake sale at my school, and I figured lots of kids probably don't like raisins (there was even a time when I didn't - the intense lover of dried fruit that I now am!). They probably would have been better with raisins, but they were still damned good! You can see the dark, chewy center - oh, they were so perfect!

This Curry Chickpea Hummus, from ED&BV was my weekly foray into protein lunch dips. I loved the spice, plus the hint of sweetness from the raisins. Here are my little Tupperware cups, all ready for the week's lunches! I plan on eating this with organic veggie sticks, pappudums (check out this link for the exact brand that I bought - they are even made with lentils, which is a great protein!), and whole wheat pita bread. Last week, I made my first UnCheese CookBook recipe, which was a delicious cheezy chickpea spread, but forgot to take a photos!

When I was off Veganomicon last weekend, I tried two magazine recipes in an effort to use up some of my clementines. Here is a Citrus Salad from Cooking Light. Lovely grapefruit, orange and clementine slices with toasted almonds and a light, citrusy dressing over mixed greens. This went perfectly with....

Sweet Potato Bisque with Clementines and Sage! This included carrots, parsnips and clementine juice, but you'd never know. They just added a delightful, but subtle sweetness to the dish. I used my handy-dandy immersion blender to puree it up, right in the pot! No messy pouring into a blender for me!

And here is the bisque, steaming away in my bowl, waiting for me to dig in. I enjoyed this all week, and still had plenty to freeze for later! This Vegetarian Times recipe makes a ton. What a wonderful week of orange foods! I feel so healthy :) I can't help but feel energized and happy and excited about life when I have such yummy foods to look forward to!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Veganomicon is perhaps one of the most enticing, yet somehow disappointing cookbooks for me so far this year. I bought it with hopes that I would find amazing new recipes, alongside comforting basics with a twist, all with simple steps and quick directions. I read it with anticipation, laughing aloud at Terry and Isa's comments throughout, marking page after page of, "I must try that!" I have not given up yet, as I know several recipes have been making the rounds on vegblogs with great rejoycing, but I have been slightly disappointed. I have made two muffin recipes and several main dish ones, and all have either taken several steps, or have been unexciting to taste (or both). Here is a good example. After much chopping and prep work, and quite a bit of simmer and rest time, this Red Lentil-Cauliflower Curry came together pretty nicely. Yet even with the burner on lower than called for, it burned to the bottom. And, although the texture and smell were great, the flavor was rather bland! I know that the recipe states that all curry powders are not created equal, so that if I make this again (doubtful), I will add double the curry it calls for, but after the long time to prepare this dish, I was a little disappointed in the results.
A second dish made this past week from Veganomicon was this Pineapple Quinoa Curry. Again, fairly easy to come together, though required several prep steps. But the taste....didn't blow me away! I guess I am surprised because both of their earlier cookbooks (Vw/aV and Cupcakes), did and continue to wow me with every recipe. I know I have barely scratched the surface of this book, but I am beginning to get rather frustrated. I plan on making the Cashew-Ricotta for the Pumpkin Ziti Bake next weekend. And I haven't made any desserts yet, so perhaps those will be this book's savior. Anyone else having similar disappointments, or can suggest a recipe that will knock my socks off?

Meanwhile, here is an innocuous recipe I found online for apple cider muffins. The original called for eggs, so this wasn't even a vegan recipe. But I used Ener-G-Egg Replacer, left off the sweet streusel topping, and added some heart-healthy walnuts to the batter....and wow!! What delicious, flavorful muffins with a crunchy surprise inside!

Then, I moved on to make the final of three raw candy recipes from March/April 07 Veg News magazine. These Coconut Candies were ....well, I love coconut, but even if I didn't they are a tropical paradise dancing in your mouth. I used dried cranberries instead of apricots, and they still turned out incredible. They contain absolutely no refined sugar (well, except the sweetened dried cranberries) and the coconut is the unsweetened variety (but still high in fat). I can't get enough of them! I am trying to cut down my sugar intake, so these naturally sweetened treats are perfect-sized bites of decadence without guilt!
Here is a closeup of those babies. So, it goes to show you that sometimes 'unpublished' random recipes can be better than ones you shell out the big bucks for! Of course, what would this post be without a reference to one of the most famous peace-makers of our time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we are observing today. I just read an interesting article online about how, when he was assassinated, he wasn't nearly as popular as when he did his, "I have a dream," speech. In fact, he had been campaigning against war and poverty, not so much the segregation issue, at that time. The article's author was saying that Dr. King has been used a symbol without understanding his full message. Yet how ironic that so many of our peace makers (Ghandi as well) die from violence. I am so eager for a new (US) president - one who is strong and firm, but not aggressively so, and one who acknowledges that diplomacy and talking are not signs of weakness but of courage and maturity. A comment on my previous post suggested that even if Kucinich doesn't win, we still have a chance at a Department of Peace. In the spirit of this special day, I hope everyone has time to read a little about this proposal (check out the link above) and reflect on how they can be peacemakers even in their personal lives. Sometimes family members get the brunt of our frustrations, because we think they can take it (they love us so much!), while we bend over backwards to be kind to complete strangers. But don't our families, the ones we love beyond words, deserve to feel that love as well?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

New Year's Resolutions Underway!

The new year is already two weeks underway and I'm working hard to address my resolutions! With the cold weather struggling to stay around, I am still craving hot foods. I could never be completely "raw" for that reason (although I once said I could never be completely vegan! - ha, ha!).

One of my resolutions was to try new kinds of cooking, or at least ones I had been too "scared" to try before. Behold my first try at injera! An Ethiopian flatbread, used as a scooping-type utensil, it is made from teff flour, so it is gluten free and very high in protein and nutrients! This picture shows you how you should serve an Ethiopian meal with injera. First, you put one piece flat on the plate. Then you add the meal on top. This helps soak up some of the sauce (although this recipe wasn't very saucy!). Last, you roll up several injera pieces and slice across, serving this on the side of the plate to use in eating the meal. Gotta' love no silverware! This is a meal that children might enjoy! (except for the spiciness, which you could easily cut down). The recipe for the wat was from Veg News (Mar/April 2007, I believe), while the injera was from Fat Free Vegan's site.

Now, I never make pancakes, and when I do, they always split into two, but if I do say so myself, these injera came out darn good! They were intimidating at first, but after the first few, I was flipping them out like a pro! Here is the batter. It's pretty soupy, like crepe batter.

Following the recipe (see above link), I ended up with several changes. One example is shown here, as the recipe states to tilt the pan so that the batter covers the entire bottom. When I did this, the injera ended up too thin and burned. So, I just let it naturally spread. Also, I had to turn the heat down and didn't let it cook NEARLY one minute (more like 30 seconds). I could tell when it was done, by watching for the absence of any light spots on the top.

The last major change I did to the recipe was to not use a paper towel dipped in oil to grease the pan, but rather my lovely olive oil pump sprayer! It is so easy and mists the pan just perfectly! Here are the first few injera, steaming from the pan. They are not overcooked - the flour is already pretty dark.

Here is my half-done, big pile o' injera! I challenge you to try this out!

Part of my resolution to try new foods included raw foods. I tried these "Raw Energy Logs," from a recent Veg News issue, and was thrilled with the results! Well, the taste results, anyhow. They were tender and sweet and just the right size. With only dried fruit and nuts, there was zero guilt. The hint of cardamom made them so perfect. The only problem is, as you see by the photo, that they look rather like.... well, sorry, but giant cat turds, compete with kitty litter. I was grossed out until I tasted one. Soooo... next time I will roll these into balls, and call them Raw Energy Bites! Yum, yum, yum.
Now, as far as my peace resolution, I was thrilled (several months back) to find that presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich has been the only one to propose (even if he doesn't make it, he still is urging this) a (get this): National Department of Peace. We have a Department of War (oh, that's right, it's defense) but where the hell has that gotten us? I love this idea. Now, if only he was rich - then he'd make it ALL the debates and get more press time!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

When Good Cookies Go Bad

I should have known.... never, ok, well rarely, do I try recipes from the backs of boxes, the insides of lids, etc. But when I found this teff flour, which I intended on using to make injera tomorrow, I happened to see that there was a recipe for peanut butter cookies on the back!

At first, I was thrilled, since our vegetarian group meeting was upcoming and I knew there were several celiac members (gluten-free). Teff being gluten free, and this product being officially tested as safe for celiacs, I jumped in. A little warning voice in my head said, "But this recipe calls for no baking powder or baking soda, and this flour is damn expensive!" Hold the expense, I told the voice (I love to talk to myself, but it's even better when I talk back). These people are worth it, I said. Besides, I'll just add some baking soda.

Well, the results, as you can see, are picture perfect. They cooked nicely and didn't stick to the baking sheets. The flavor was peanut buttery and not too sweet. But the texture? Well, let's just say my husband called them, "sand cookies," and recommended that I not serve them to the general public. I scowled at the voice in my head but what was I to do? I could not, will not, throw them out. So I thought I would ask my dear readers, many of whom are excellent with the food experimenting thing, to give me some ideas. I have nearly two dozen sandy peanut butter cookies! What to do next? (I did have one idea - crumble them with some oil and bake them into pie crusts). Please leave a comment and help a poor vegan baker out!

Meanwhile, here is something that did turn out - very well indeed! This is Dreena's "Hempanola" (Eat, Drink and Be Vegan) Yup - it's got hemp seeds! I've used them before, but they're mighty hard to find. When visiting my parents, I saw that my mother (of all people! - she's never even smoked...I don't think) had a bag of hemp seeds in her fridge (for Dreena's Apple Hemp muffins - go figure!). She helped me procure some and now... I'm all smiles as I scarf down this excellent granola. Actually, I really can't stop eating it.... someone help me!.....Small note - I didn't find the barley flakes (after searching every possible store in two states) so I just used oat. And I used a tropical fruit mix for my add-ins. Yummy breakfast for the new year, but still I prefer muesli, as it doesn't make me crave sugar for the rest of the morning.
Speaking of good food (no mistakes here!) I also made Eat, Drink and Be Vegan's Chickpea Sensation Patties. I knew after tasting just the raw mix, I was going to flip for these! They were perfectly spicy, very flavorful, and not too much work. I had some leftover brown rice from New Year's, so that part of the recipe was already done! We enjoyed them in whole wheat pita pockets with balsamic-flax dressing, which could barely hold the lettuce, shredded carrot, and shredded cucumbers I had to pile in there! I'm a vegetarian for a reason, you know!

However, I did notice that I couldn't really taste the awesome flavor of the patties with all that veggie stuff in the way. My husband remarked, upon first bite, "They're ok." I thought - well, he hasn't really tasted them yet. I encouraged him to eat one without the toppings and he was really impressed! Impressed enough to eat four total patties that night (this coming from a man who sometimes "forgets" to eat lunch). The next night, I was eager to eat these again, but this time I served them with fresh kale (quickly stir-fried with olive oil and garlic), and topped them both with Everyday Vegan's Tahini-Tamari Sauce and a few shreds of carrot (just for effect). The best! Now, if you haven't read my blog in a while, you'll be interested to know why my blog name has changed. Just check out the post before this one. My peaceful thought for the day: I returned from my vegetarian group meeting so thankful for people that think the same way I do, and with whom I can talk openly about the horror of the meat industry and it's harm to the planet. It made my step and my heart lighter. Peace.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

I hope your New Year's Resolution isn't to lose a few pounds, because you might add a few just by looking at this picture! Actually, these Chocolate Mint Melties from Dreena's newest book, "Eat, Drink and Be Vegan," contain spelt flour (very healthy!) instead 0f plain ol' non-nutritious white. I used the crushed candy canes as a topping, as recommended in the book, and they were enjoyed by all on Christmas Eve! Like Dreena suggests, they really do taste like a Girl Scout Thin Mint!
Sadly enough, these were the only cookies I made this holiday season. I was so busy with school (my students and parent volunteers deserve the best!) and my mother's surprise birthday party, and then a last-minute job interview, I barely had time to get the basic gifts and wrap them! But with meetings and get-togethers already planned for January, I know I'll have plenty of opportunities to bake and cook in 2008!

During my Christmas travels, I enjoyed eating out several times and you know what? I was pleasantly surprised to have NO food problems! Usually, there is one place that I am disappointed in, but every time I explained that I, "couldn't have dairy or eggs," the server graciously spoke with the chef or took care of the dish to ensure my requests were granted. First off, for a pleasant treat, was Leah Mae's Tea Room in Haverhill, Massachusetts. We took my grandmother there for lunch one day, and I after realizing that I couldn't eat the meat pies (seriously!), the quiche, or even the soups (mushroom and butternut squash both with cream!), they graciously whipped up a salad with pecans, fresh mango and a mango dressing. I was so thrilled and it was so happily done - I hope everyone gets a chance to check out this quaint establishment! There is no website for it, but the link above leads you to its address.

The second eating out adventure was at Bertucci's, a pizza and Italian food chain known for its brick-oven pizzas (oh they are so good!). The waitress happily obliged me as I searched for a mixed drink and then created my cheeseless pizza. No mistakes there, either! A day later, we supped at Romaine's, in Northborough, Mass. As you can guess by the big slices of partially cooked meat at the top of their website, they do specialize in meatier fare. However, the server was once again on top of her game. Although I ordered the veggie-sounding Wood-Roasted Vegetables with Polenta (and 12 year-old balsamic!), she caught my goof - the polenta is cooked with butter and cheese! She quickly suggested some penne pasta with olive oil and I couldn't have been happier. In fact, I enjoyed my meal more than others in my group, who got the cream-sauce laden fish! I certainly felt light and yet filled afterwards.
Finally, on New Year's Eve, we ended up at Radhuni's, an Indian restaurant that has become our local favorite. The flavors, textures, and service are always wonderful. Best of all, since everyone is at Lone Star Steakhouse around the corner, we never have to wait - even on this busy night! The servers know their menu inside and out, and now so do I, and we have our favorites: bengan bharta (eggplant), lentil dal, vegetable curry, and aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower - oh, yum!).

Meanwhile, here is what we made for our New Year's Day dinner. I know that beans are considered lucky for New Year's in many cultures, especially black-eyed peas, so I made these Stewed Black-eyed Peas and Greens from Susan V. at Fat Free Vegan. They were so simple to make, I was worried that they wouldn't taste very good. Was I surprised! Despite substituting fresh collard greens for the frozen spinach, and having to add more salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce (my husband says that's the only hot sauce brand to buy!), we both enjoyed the meal over some brown rice. It was deliciously 'stewy.' I really loved the cooked okra (remember to buy it pre-cut when it's frozen!). I kept picking the okra out of the pot to nibble on!

Speaking of New Year's, every year I look back on the previous year's resolutions, to see how well I did. In 2007, I made a pact to eat more leafy greens - and I did it! I enjoyed lots of kale, some collard greens, fresh spinach and of course tons of different greens in salads. Of course, that wasn't my only goal. I wanted to get more involved in groups that are meaningful to me, and lo and behold I found and joined my local Veg Group and reinvigorated my membership with the Sierra Club! I also started composting and just last week I laid paper and mulch to ready the ground for my veggie garden (I usually just have potted plants on my deck). This year, I found that I need to continue my personal goals (reading and writing more - maybe finish that book?), as well as my spiritual ones, but I feel really good about my health! Still, I will challenge myself to try more complicated recipes in 2008. Top of my list? - Maki-sushi (I've only ever made inari style), spanikopita (got to get over my fear of phyllo dough!), and samosas (baked, of course!). So, dear readers, hold me to it!
On a side note..... I was desperately saddened by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto this past week. I was upset not just because she was a woman, nor because she was probably Pakistan's best hope for leadership, but because it seems that the world cannot climb out of the rut of killing and hatred. My one New Year's Resolution and hope for the world every year is love. People who scoff at the idea of peace and loving, saying, "People will always kill each other," are giving up before they have begun. As JFK once put it, "Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind." I have decided, then, to change the name of this blog to better reflect my mindset for the year and truly for life - for myself and all others. May peace reside in your heart always. Peace towards not just your family members, but towards your co-workers, clients, neighbors, and utter strangers. If there is no hope, there is no chance.