Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Sweet Vegan!

I spent the week baking, it seems, after receiving the newest addition to my cookbook collection: My Sweet Vegan, by Hannah Kaminsky. I was impressed by her beautiful photos and by her talent at such a young age (19!). It also made me feel a little old (for those who know me - don't laugh!).

At any rate, I tackled my first recipe from the book on Monday night, as I prepared to take a sweet treat to my former co-workers at the school where I used to teach. They began their work week on Monday, and the kids go back to school the day after Labor Day. Being back just solidified the knowledge that I had made the right decision to leave. But it was good seeing my friends again and nice to share some vegan treats! I had a little nibble of this Lemon-Lime Sunshine Bundt Cake, and I have to say it was pretty good! I thought it might have been a little underdone in the middle and the glaze was too runny (easily fixed next time by adding more sugar) and maybe I could add some lemon or lime juice to the glaze to give it more of a citrusy tang, as the bite I had didn't blow me away. I don't know what my friends thought of their slices, but I think it earns a three star rating. It was really easy to make, too!

Next up was this Plum-Good Crumb Cake. I have been eating plums and peaches out of hand for several weeks now, and thought I could take a break and put them to another culinary use. This required a few more steps than the above bundt cake, but came together quite beautifully in the pan. However, as you'll see in the photo below, it sunk quite a bit. I think that the cake was a little underdone near the plums, possibly because of the large amount of juice in these particular fruits. Next time, I think I'll use fewer plums and squeeze them out a bit - but they were damn good plums! The crumb topping also called for a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, which I thought made the whole topping (which I usually loooove) really taste salty - not sweet enough. I would leave it out next time or just add a pinch. Of course, I am overly critical of things, especially things I make, because our neighbors loved it (I sent two of them a quarter of the cake) and it was really moist and delish. I think that even if you don't care for plums, you would like this! Three solid stars....
Of course, not all things can be rescued by a second try...

These Black-Bottomed Brownies, also from My Sweet Vegan, are a perfect example. I have only once or twice thrown out an entire dessert, and this was one that ended up in the trash. I just couldn't bare to serve it to even random strangers. The bottom was edible (1 star) but not that great as far as brownies go. The top earned zero stars - not only did it NOT bake well, so it tasted doughy, but the flavor was just - blah. I have an oven thermometer, and I followed each step carefully, but all I can think is that maybe I over beat the mixture. At any rate, I will try all of the other recipes before I tackle this one again - if I do! Blech.
Here is one up close - yech!

Of course, I can't leave you with a bad taste in your mouth (pun intended), so here are a couple more yummy shots. This one of my own recipes - really nothing to it - that we whipped up last night after a big trip to the Farmer's Market. I picked up some red peppers, organic zucchini and yellow summer squash, and we grilled them with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper on our outdoor grill. Using regular linguine (I'm trying to let my husband "win" more when it comes to shared meals - I would have gone with whole wheat pasta!) and jarred Bertolli pasta sauce (the best!), it really hit the spot, especially with the nooch (nutritional yeast - a complete protein) and fresh basil (from my garden) that I added after this picture. The basil really made the whole dish! It was amazing and comforting and practically fat free :) I also added some raw cashews to bump up the protein (there's protein in veggies, pasta, and the nooch! - yay!). Three and a half stars!

My husband's dish was quite stunning, so I had to add a shot here - even though it has dairy cheese on top. I added a prayer for the cows (smile) (to learn more about why vegans don't eat dairy, go to the Vegan Outreach site).

Another spur-of-the-moment dish also came from the Farmer's Market, as I picked up a bunch of organic beets. You see, I grew up eating beets out of a can. With no other sauces or flavors added, they were quite nasty to my childhood palate. As my New Year's Resolution was to try new foods (cooking and eating), and as a co-worker had been reminiscing about how good roasted beets were, I thought I would give them a try. Following a recipe from the Fat Free Vegan site, I cooked up some lentils (great protein, once again!) and mixed up a fresh salad. Then I roasted the beets on a sheet in the oven, covered with foil, but only for about half the time Susan called for, as they were pretty small beets. I cut and peeled them later with my hands, which probably wasn't very smart, but I don't own plastic gloves and the juice washed off pretty well. I drizzled some balsamic vinegar and olive oil over the top. And the taste? Well, I'm a beet convert. Even on their own, roasted beets are great! Kind of like a water chestnut, which was my husband's first impression. Try them (you will like them, you will see! Thanks, Dr. Seuss)! I devoured this salad....Three stars.

And to end this post, a slightly blurry shot of my newest tattoo... I've been planning this one for a's similar to the Vegan Society symbol (if you can't tell, it's a V with two leaves at the top). I chose it to symbolize my decade of commitment to vegetarianism and now veganism, and to remind myself that the pain of this tattoo is nothing compared to the millions of animals that die every year in the food industry. Plus, I can see it every day (not like my others) and it is so elegant. It already feels like a part of me! I think I'll have it touched up with some green ink later on, as the pure black looks a little like I drew on myself with pen - ha, ha! It hurt a bit more than my last one, but it was so quick, it wasn't that bad at all! But the best part? My tattooist said that he was going to start using vegan ink! (I asked after we had begun.) Four million stars for this one ;)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Little Time on My Hands

Since I am no longer teaching, I don't spend the weekends doing newsletters! Instead, I can spend the time shopping for local produce at the farmer's market and then making delicious and often time-consuming meals like the ones that follow.
This first picture is from Veganomicon. It is the Corn and Summer Squash Bisque. It was completely delicious! With roasted yellow peppers, yellow summer squash and sweet corn, and coconut milk (blended with my handy-dandy immersion blender) it was heavenly. However, the TWO red chilies, three garlic and one onion also gave it a bit of a kick! I ended up scooping out as much of the red chilies as I could, but it still made me cough with the fumes as it cooked! I think that the peppers I picked up were too big. Next time, I'll just add a pinch of ground cayenne so that I can more fully taste the sweetness of this summer treat. A hint of maple syrup, lime juice and freshly ground nutmeg (that's what's on top in the photo, not pepper!) made the flavors sing. Three stars! (It would be four if it were less spicy). Oh, and it took about two hours to make, not the 1 hour and 20 minutes suggested.

Next up... sushi again! I was cleaning out my pantry (more on that later) and found an old can of inari sushi pockets. There are simply marinated and fried tofu pockets. I filled them with seasoned sushi rice pretty quickly. Yum! Four stars!

This is what the underside of the inari look like. It stays open and sets on the plate. Great finger food! I might make this for my next party.

The inari were a nice counterpart to the sweet and tangy Japanese eggplant, broiled with a miso-sake sauce (courtesy of FatFree Vegan), which I actually made for the first time last summer, as well as the Kung Pao Seitan, from Vegan Planet. We both just love this kung pao, and this time we used pre-made seitan (we can get it at a local store now- woohoo!), and it turned out great. Spicy, sweet, and mild - it was a yummy Asian night!

And, as I promised, more on why I was organizing my pantry.... A few weeks ago, my parents came down to help us work on the house. Well, I got the great idea to clean out a coat closet, add shelves, and turn it into this great storage closet for all our (my) appliances and extra cookware/bake ware that was cluttering up the rest of the kitchen and our poor pantry! So, here it is. It might look kind of cluttered itself from this photo, but it really is organized... I promise! I feel like I have a new kitchen now!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

AR 2008 and Melons

Let's start with the melons....Here are the first two melons, harvested from my little garden. These are the "surprise," that sprouted from my organic bean packet a month or so ago. They are definitely cantaloupes or musk melons, whatever you call them, although my husband read something that stated that cantaloupes are actually a tropical fruit, and what we grow here are musk melons. At any rate, I was eager to taste my home grown treats...

Though they were misshapen, they were beautiful and perfect inside (which goes to show you how non-perfect looking produce is really just fine!). However, I was disappointed in most of the bites I took. One melon was clearly not ripe, though it was the right color, and the one that fell off the vine was barely sweet. I have a third that is sitting on my counter, which I will let ripen longer before I dig into it.

Of course, I have twenty other melons to taste!! :)

My mother-in-law came into town to help us with some house projects (What a doll! Our front bedroom is now two lovely shades of green). We made this pizza from the Vegan Express cookbook for her, with no sauce or cheese, but lots of fresh tomatoes, basil, canned olives and artichokes, and vegan mozzarella. I was really disappointed in the way that the veggies didn't stick to the crust and in the blandness of it overall. But I think it was all because of the grocery store tomatoes! No flavor - blah. Everything else was good, except the Rustic Crust as usual was a little underdone.... One and a half stars and a good reason why local or homegrown is better!

I spent Saturday at my first animal rights conference. They switch years between the East and West Coast, and the short drive to D.C. was a breeze with a fellow AR pal. Here is the welcoming table, early in the morning. It was so cool how I felt "at home," right away. The t-shirts, cool tattoos, dogs (the hotel made an exception), posters, exhibits, and general attitude of excitement, passion and acceptance made it an amazing day.

I went to several workshops, one of which was this panel of speakers about campaigning. I was thrilled to sit down and see none other than Howard Lyman (the Mad Cowboy) at the front table as a speaker! I couldn't believe my eyes. I had to take a picture for this blog :)

Another panel discussion I went to included Karen Davis (far right in pink) of United Poultry Concerns. I saw her in the lobby beforehand, and had to introduce myself. I had just read her article about animal welfare versus rights, and how we should stop apologizing for our beliefs, so I was thrilled to see her in person. I've never been much of a celebrity gawker, but these people have actually made a positive difference in the world, and were not just born beautiful or rich, so I didn't mind feeling a little star-struck.
There was a really cool set of advertisement posters (by PETA, I think, but I'm not sure) of which this was one. Each set contained a typical photo of an animal abuse or factory farm (like the hens crammed into cages below), alongside a photo of humans demonstrating the same (the women above the hens are crammed into cages as well). The shot of the boy getting his nose cut off (not really, of course) pared with the familiar chick getting debeaked shot, was my favorite. Gory and raw, but sometimes that's what gets to people!

Here is the exhibit hall right as it opened. There were sooo many booths I wanted to see, it was overwhelming! As the crowds grew, it was harder and harder to get a good shot, but I visited every single one at least once and got into some good conversations!

I was excited to stumble upon Pangea, selling vegan chocolates, donuts, jerky and belts, among other things. I got chocolates for my husband and mother-in-law.

Here was a great booth by Herbivore, selling those familiar t-shirts. I got one of their newest designs (see next pic) and the cute guy at the table tried not to pose :)

Ragazzi vegan shoes! Need I say more? No peering into shoes to see if they are man-made or leather, just a plethora of great shoes and beautiful boots. All were soft and very nicely made. Too expensive for me, but a pair of their boots might make it onto my Christmas list!

Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe had the best selection of many things: tiffins (lunch containers) in cute cloth carrying cases, candy, jewelry, purses, wallets, and some cookbooks (we chatted about ED&BV!). I got a cool but delicate necklace (see next pic- hey -I was saving on shipping!).

Then, it was time for lunch and I knew what I wanted! I had a grilled cheese sandwich, hot of the press and dripping with creamy cheddar Chreese! I hadn't had a grilled cheese sandwich in years. Despite the fact that this vegan cheddar was missing a bit of tang and bite, I bought a pound of the powdered mix (you just add non-dairy milk or water) for just six bucks. My husband should be happy!
Of course, the day wasn't all about commercialism or materialism, but it really was so thrilling not to have to read labels or ask, "is this vegan?" I spent the majority of my time in the workshops and raps, connecting with other ARs and vegans, feeling utterly happy and not at all out of place! In fact, one speaker asked all vegans and vegetarians to stand up, and only one person did not! Now I'm energized to start leafleting for Vegan Outreach and to continue helping dismantle the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Vegan Sushi???

I can't tell you how many times I've told someone that I enjoy sushi, and heard the response, "But I thought you didn't eat fish!" The most common food misconception (besides the one that vegans don't get enough protein) probably has to be that sushi always contains raw fish or seafood. Not so! "Sushi" is actually a Japanese word that translates to something like "vinegared rice." That's it! Just rice and a bit of vinegar to give it flavor, wrapped up into bites with other yummy things. Good thing for us vegans, there are TONS of options when it comes to sushi. From inari (rice stuffed tofu pockets) to these beautiful nori maki, the possibilities are endless.

As you might recall, one of my New Year's resolutions was to try making sushi. Well, this past weekend I did just that. Using Veganomicon's Spicy Tempeh Nori Rolls recipe (which was soooo simple!) and following the instructions that came with my bamboo mat (and I think a Post Punk Kitchen episode), I quickly whipped up the rice in my rice cooker, steamed and mixed the tempeh with some spices, sliced the avacado and green onions, and I was ready to roll (pun intended)! Here is the nori (seaweed layer- not slimy at all, but like paper) arranged on the bamboo mat, with the rice covering 2/3rds of the seaweed and the fillings laid in a narrow line across the middle of that. Then, it's just a matter of rolling up the nori with the fillings inside, pressing on the bamboo mat to keep it all together and even.

And presto - my first sushi roll!

Then, you just slice it up into bite-sized pieces....

It makes quite a feast! I sprinkled them with black sesame seeds, as suggested and they look rather pretty! I ate them with some low-sodium tamari and of course, wasabi paste! (I'm not that big a fan of the ginger slices). Verdict? Well, my husband said that they were better than the kind made by the Japanese folks at our local store, because they held together much better when you bite into them! I'll take the compliment and give this recipe four stars...although I'll try a different filling next time!
To make up for last time's Cashew-Ginger Tofu (which I found out my mother also made but she and my tofu-phobic dad just loved it!), I decided to make some Cumin-Lime Tofu with pepitas from ED&BV, to top my salads this week. I can't help but eat great, big salads for weeks at a time throughout the summer! Everything is so fresh and beautiful!

I soaked some arame (another kind of seaweed - very, very good for you!) to add to the salad, along with a Cumin-Cinnamon salad dressing, also from ED&BV. Delish!!! I loved the tangy bite and smaller pieces (accidental) of this tofu recipe. Three and a half stars!

Of course, a girl can't be healthy all the time.... I made some Jam-Print cookies from ED&BV last weekend for a Sierra Club get together and man were they good!!! Four stars.... They were nutty and crunchy and soft and chewy and the blueberry jam was such a nice, different take on the traditional (my choice)! The only problem was that the indentations weren't deep enough, so the jam ran over a bit.

Time for your close-up, jam cookie!

Leslie's Bad But Good Bars were another treat I whipped up (no baking required) for a recent party. The bars as a whole were probably at 2 1/2 to three stars, but mostly I had difficulty with the bottom layer. I could have added more sweetener - and I think I will next time- to make it sweet enough and to help it be less crumbly. There were quite a few steps to this. Because I didn't know if these were the best I could do, I whipped up an even faster batch of peanut butter oatmeal cookies from Vegan with a Vengeance. They are soooo easy and soooo yummy! Definitely NOT healthy in any way, but everyone asked for this recipe, not the bar one. Oh well. The bars were all devoured, still. Next week, I plan on making either spanikopita (another on my New Year's List) or tackling ED&BV's vegetable phyllo roll (can't recall the exact recipe title). Have a good week, everyone!