Sunday, September 29, 2013

MoFo Day 28: Urban Paella

The Urban Vegan is yet another one of those books I bought, flagged 50% of the recipes in, and never opened again. I chose the Granada Paella for MoFo, mostly because I had some old Arborio rice I wanted to use up. Personally, I find some of the recipe intros in this book to be a bit annoying. She's always talking about how hip she is and all the places she's traveled. Ironically, the first (and only) time I had paella was at a Spanish restaurant in Paris. I was also excited to use my Iranian saffron I smuggled back from Turkey. So yeah, I'm just as snobby.

The recipe called for vegetarian chorizo, specifically Trader Joe's if possible. I've never been a big TJ's fan, but I live two miles away from one, so I figured it was worth a try. Of course, they didn't have soyrizo. I know I've seen the Yves brand lots of times, so I trekked to Kroger and then two health food stores. And none of them had it! I did find Mexican Chipotle Field Roast, which I kind of slice-shredded and it worked out fine.

Paella is much easier to make than I was expecting. You just saute garlic, red pepper and the sausage, then add rice, broth, chopped tomato and peas with seasonings and let simmer for 15 minutes. I don't have a lid for my giant skillet (or a paella pan), so I improvised with a cookie sheet. Don't judge, it worked!

This was delicious! I left the rice a bit al dente and it was the perfect combination of textures. The sausage added the right amount of spice. It was a great dinner for an Arrested Development marathon on a cool fall night.

The leftovers were great in the microwave and very portable. I'll definitely be adding this to my repotiore. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

MoFo Day 24: Requisite Green Smoothie post

You know those people who go on raw diets or juice cleanses and talk about how much energy they have and how clear their skin gets and how happy they are? Well, I’m not one of them. I ate entirely raw for three weeks last year and while I lost 10 pounds and learned some new recipes, I didn’t feel any better than usual. (Plus, I passed out giving blood, so I took that as a sign from my body that it wanted bread.) Then earlier this year, I went on a 3-day juice cleanse from Pure BDY. Again, I felt the same, except hungrier and whinier. While I’ve learned that neither of those diets are right for me, I know that I need to eat more raw foods. That’s why I’ve kept Raw Food Cleanse, despite swearing off juicing. I figured I would try "THE Green Smoothie", since they seem to be a hot topic for MoFo this year.

The drink is spinach (or kale), frozen berries, chia seeds, coconut oil and almond milk (or water). I used Silk Almond Milk which probably defeats the benefits of the smoothie with its carrageenan and whatever else, but before coffee I can barely operate the blender, let alone strain fresh nut milk. (The operating the blender thing is not a metaphor – this morning I truly moved my blender to three outlets trying to get it to turn on before I realized I was flipping the high/low switch not the power switch.)

After the technical difficulties were resolved, the Vitamix tore through this in no time and I didn’t even need the tamper. Man I love that thing! I poured it into a cup and was out the door.

Upon my first sip, my reaction was “tastes like spinach.” After a few more sips, though, I was used to it and it was fine. I guess it’s more efficient to drink it, but I’d rather eat blueberries and raw spinach with a glass of almond milk.

Monday, September 23, 2013

MoFo Day 23: V'con Challenge

When I turned 25, I had a minor quarter-life crisis. I made a list of 30 fun/interesting/epic things I wanted to do before I turned 30. I’m 67% of the way to my 30th birthday (from 25) and I’m right on pace, having done 20 things (including Tough Mudder, going to India, climbing Wheeler Peak, a 21 day raw cleanse, camping in the UP in January). In the next year, I’m planning a trip to China, walking across the Grand Canyon, the One Day [bike] Ride Across Michigan, a weekend in Montreal and hopefully a few other things. One thing I initially put on the list was to make every recipe in Veganomicon. I’ve made pretty good progress so far, making about 100 recipes to date. I’ve only disliked two of them, one due to flavor preference, and one because I deviated too far from the recipe. V'con truly lives up to its subtitle of “The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook.” It has recipes for every occasion and menu suggestions (a necessity for a great cookbook, IMO). For MoFo, I chose the Tofu Florentine from the brunch section. I love vegan benedicts, much more than omni versions because they don’t have slimy poached eggs.
(Not pictured: tofu and English muffins)

The recipe calls for broiled tofu, a cheesy (nutritional yeast) sauce, steamed spinach, fried potatoes and a tomato garnish. I used the alternate suggestion of English muffins instead of potatoes, mostly so I didn’t have to cook them, but also because I like having the bread in there. I also halved the recipe for the sauce because I was low on nutritional yeast (I know, vegan faux pas). Well, I attempted to halve it, but accidentally added the full amount of mustard. It didn't ruin it, but the mustard taste was a bit overpowering. That's my fault, though, not the recipe's.

I invariably run late every morning, so it’s too time consuming for me to put it all together for breakfast. Plus, it would be difficult to eat in the car (yep, I’m that person). I packed it all up to take to work and eat for lunch during the week.

Update: Here it is, lookin' fancy on a paper plate in front of my keyboard:

This was really good. Not quite as good as the Tofu Renedict at Bouldin Creek Cafe in Austin, but still solid. I'm sure it would have been even better with the full amount of correctly-made sauce.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

MoFo Day 22: Happy Birthday Buster!

Cupcakes might not be as trendy as they once were, but I still think they’re adorable. Since her birthday was Saturday, I had my sister go through Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and pick out which kind she wanted. She chose S’mores Cupcakes, which was great because I serendipitously had all the ingredients on hand. 

The cupcakes are made with brown sugar and molasses and have graham cracker crumbs mixed in. Then they're topped with vanilla buttercream frosting. Despite how desperately I wanted one, I rarely use my KitchenAid stand mixer. I hate having to always stop the mixer and reach around the attachment to scrape the bowl, plus the bowl is so deep that I have a hard time reaching the bottom (#firstworldproblems). I generally find it easier just to use a hand mixer, but I do love it for making bread and frosting. I wanted to make these at least partially resemble the adorable picture in the book, so I brought out my trusty Wilton frosting bags and 1M tip for decorating.

After piping the frosting and topping with graham cracker crumbs and shaved dark chocolate, they were actually looking pretty cute. I left one for my ever-patient roommate who never complains about me taking up 90% of the kitchen cupboard space or having boxes all over the dining room and office despite moving in over a month ago.

Pardon the phone pic, and the frosting which settled a bit on the 35 mile drive, but here they are ready for my sister:

These got rave reviews from my omni family. The cupcakes were very moist, and had a very 'fall' flavor of molasses and cinnamon. And my sister took the leftovers home, so I don't even have to eat 6 cupcakes in the next few days. Happy Birthday Buster!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

MoFo Update

I've been very delinquent in my MoFo postings this week. I've just been super-busy, both at work and outside of it, so I ate leftovers and didn't cook anything. That will be changing tomorrow, though. In the meantime, I bring you cat pics because the internet + vegan food = cats.

And a video of one of my favorite bands singing one of my favorite songs. I was fortunate enough to meet them at Wheatland Music Festival a few weeks ago and see them perform twice, both times from the edge of the stage. They are so great live and so much fun to see. I strongly recommend checking them out!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

MoFo Day 16: Blandest of the bland

[I accidentally deleted the pics of this dish from my camera.... oops!]

Years ago, I was milling around Borders (RIP) and found Appetizers, Finger Food, Buffets and Parties for $5. It's a huge book with pictures of every recipe and it's reasonably veg-friendly. Since it's the same price as a magazine, it was definitely worth the cost just to look at all the pretty plating. My sister made a few very simple recipes (salsamole and caprese sandwich skewers) that she liked, but in 5 years, I've never cooked out of it. Perhaps that's a good thing, because the Avocado Tabbouleh Wraps I made were so bland I didn't finish them, and I like bland food and hate wasting anything.

They're exactly what they sound like... very plain tabbouleh and some mashed avocado in a tortilla. My first clue that this wasn't tested/edited should have been that the recipe said it made 6 servings but only called for 4 tortillas. And they were served like wraps, not cut into cute slices or something. Even after sitting for 6 hours, the tabbouleh was still really bland. It only called for 2T each of parsley and mint, for 1 cup of uncooked bulgur. One great thing about metro Detroit is that there are as many falafel shops as McDonalds due to the large Middle Eastern population. I have a pretty good idea of how tabbouleh should look and taste, and this wasn't happening. I added a lot more herbs and lemon juice and it got a little better, but still not great. The "avocado" part was mashed up avocado with lemon juice and red onion. That can't NOT taste good, but it wasn't delicious enough to mask the wheat tortilla and wheat salad. I threw away half the tabbouleh because there was too much and it wasn't good enough to eat on its own. I ate wraps twice at work, but only because I was too busy to step away from my desk long enough to even go downstairs to grab something.

While they weren't inedible, they were definitely not enjoyable. Sad day for MoFo :(

Sunday, September 15, 2013

MoFo Day 15: Bars!

[I accidentally deleted the pics of this dish from my camera.... oops!]

The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur is one of those beautiful books that I immediately fell in love with and bought without considering whether I’d actually use it. I love the classic peanut butter cookies, and my sister got rave reviews on the biscotti she made last Christmas, but otherwise I never look at it. I guess I’m a cookie purist and most of the recipes are inventive. Also, I have no self-control and if I bake a batch of cookies, I will eat all of them immediately, so I try to avoid random baking.

I was looking for a dessert to take to my parents’ house for dinner and my MoFo cookbook options are dwindling. I had some butterscotch chips and coconut in my pantry and thought the Seven Layer Bars would be a good option. Keebler and Nabisco both make vegan graham crackers and I’ve never had a problem finding them. The universe conspired against me today, though, because I went to four grocery stores looking for them (Detroit Meijer, Hazel Park Kroger, Ferndale Foods, and finally Western Market in Ferndale). Western Market is the place I would least expect as it’s a small, gourmet market, but they had BOTH Keebler and Nabisco. When it rains, it pours, right?

The recipe has you make a graham cracker crust and top it with chocolate chips. Then you make a caramel to top the chocolate. I way overcooked my caramel. The recipe could have been more specific about cooking time and method, but I should have researched “soft ball” stage before my first candy-making attempt. By the time I took it off the stove, it had reduced a lot and didn’t spread in the pan. I poured the glob in the middle of the pan and tried spreading it, which melted the chocolate and made a mess. I soldiered on and added the coconut, butterscotch chips, and nuts and attempted to press them into the thick chocolate-caramel glob in the middle of the pan.

I served it for dessert with ice cream and it was good, but really sweet. There wasn’t much added sugar – just 3T of agave in the crust and 1/3 cup of brown sugar in the caramel. I would definitely omit the agave from the crust next time. About 50% of the coconut, butterscotch chips and nuts fell off between serving and consuming, but that was because of my caramel mistake, not the recipe. I prefer the Magical Coconut Bars in Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, but these are more like traditional 7 layer bars, if that's what you're going for.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

MoFo Day 14: Vegan Brunch Basics

Vegan Brunch is the only cookbook I've ever preordered. As soon as I heard it had recipes for tofu omelets and cinnamon rolls, I had to have it. I made both the first week and they were amazing. I've made a significant amount of the recipes in this book. I love that it has a ton of options - bagels for ambitious mornings, peanut butter waffles for gluttonous mornings, quiche for fancy mornings, polenta rancheros for cold mornings - and they are all delicious. I was having a difficult time choosing from so many great recipes, so I opted to go with the basics: Basic Scrambled Tofu and Tempeh Bacon Revamped. Those are two of my brunch staples and I haven't used a recipe for either in at least 5 years. I was curious to see how my versions would stack up against Isa's.

I took a few liberties with the tempeh bacon. I didn't read the recipe before going to the grocery store last night, so I had to use pizza sauce instead of tomato paste and vanilla-infused maple syrup instead of plain. I was also in a hurry, so it only marinated for 30 minutes instead of an hour.
A while back, I saw a link to 19 Signs You've Been Vegan Too Long on Buzzfeed. A lot of their lists are pure cliche, but this one was dead on. I do all of those things. See #9 below. After years of struggling with tempeh packages, I realized it would be much easier to cut through the center back.
While the tempeh was marinating, I got started on the tofu:
(I write the names on the top of my spices so they're easier to pick out of the cupboard. #winning). I usually put a ton of veggies in my scramble, so I was skeptical that I would like it with just garlic (not even an onion!), but I gave it a shot. In this recipe, you brown the tofu, then add spices mixed with water and then a ton of nutritional yeast. As with the tempeh, I didn't read the recipe before going to the store so I bought firm tofu instead of super firm. It took a little longer to brown but otherwise it was fine.

While the tofu was cooking, I pan-fried the tempeh. I rarely fry things, so I'm always astounded by the mess it makes all over my stove. I initially planned to make hashbrowns because I still have half a bag from my breakfast soup, but I didn't have enough large skillets.  
I portioned it out into four servings, poured a cup of coffee, and patted myself on the back for making one of the most delicious breakfasts I've ever had. Seriously, this tofu scramble is AMAZING. I'd serve it to omni's without hesitation. The spice blend is perfect and the nooch (vegan for 'nutritional yeast') adds the perfect amount of coating. The tempeh bacon is also fantastic. The maple syrup lends another flavor layer and helped get that caramelized edge that I love. I just want it to be tomorrow morning so I can eat this again!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

MoFo Day 12: Swiss cheese waffles

Vegan with a Vengeance was one of the original “cool” vegan cookbooks. It seems like a great new one is being published every week now, but back in 2005, there weren't so many options. A number of my standard recipes are in here - I’ve made the reuben and tempeh bacon so many times that I don’t need the recipe. The pizza crust and chocolate chip cookies are my go-to’s. And I’ve never tasted a better cake (bakery, restaurant, homemade, whatever) than the Raspberry Blackout Cake. Sadly, though, glossy new cookbooks tend to grab my attention and I rarely think of this one when I’m looking for recipes. 

In the spirit of using my neglected small appliances, I made Lemon Corn Waffles with Blueberry Sauce. I was skeptical about cornmeal in waffles, but the Cornmeal Waffles in Vegan Brunch blew my mind. It’s crunchy and savory and delicious and amazing. So with great expectations, I set off: 

The recipe is pretty standard vegan waffle/pancake fare: sift flours and baking powder, add milk/oil mixture and mix until just combined. The blueberry sauce was also pretty standard: cook fruit, thickener and sweetener until soft. Everything was going well until cooking time. No matter how long I cooked them, they were soggy. The batter was pretty thin, but I hadn’t used my waffle maker in a year (at least), so the issues were likely caused by operator error.  They turned into a very sad pile of swiss cheese: 

The blueberry sauce turned out fine, and the waffles taste good, they’re just more like lemon grits than waffles. Fortunately, though, lemon grits drowned in blueberry sauce isn’t a bad combination! I foresee lots of waffles in my future as I get reacquainted with my waffle maker.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

MoFo Day 11: Real Salad Daily

Club sandwiches have always been one of my favorite foods. Whenever I see a vegan club on a restaurant menu, I order it. Back in 2010, I was planning a trip to Los Angeles. While researching restaurants, I found quarrygirl had recently rated the club sandwich at Real Food Daily as the best in LA, so I had to make a stop there. During the four days I was in LA, I ate at RFD three times (I mandated the first, the next two were at my omni companion’s request – that’s how good it was). Fast forward to 2012 and I saw The Real Food Daily Cookbook on Amazon for a pretty low price. The book has a lot of tempting pictures, and one that has always stuck out is the Mexicali Chop Salad with Crispy Tortilla Strips and Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette. Since the past few days have been over 90 degrees, a citrusy salad sounded perfect.
I’ve been pretty good about following recipes exactly during MoFo, but I got lazy on this one. The recipe made six servings, so I halved it. I don’t mind eating the same thing all week, and I even kind of like soggy salad, but not after six days. I used canned beans (didn’t plan ahead to soak dry beans), and left out the cayenne pepper (I was out), celery (forgot to buy), and maple crystals (it was raining and I was hungry, so I didn’t want to go on a scavenger hunt). Aside from roasting the red pepper and baking the tortilla strips, this was really easy. I considered buying tortilla strips, but I’m glad I didn’t. These were fantastic. With a glass of wine, this was the perfect dinner for an Arrested Development marathon.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

MoFo Day 10: [bad seitan pun]

With MoFo one third complete, I'm making steady progress through my stack of cookbooks. I'm surprised I waited this long to use Chloe's Kitchen since it's my newest acquisition and every recipe sounds fantastic. I think I started salivating when I saw the picture of Mongolian BBQ Seitan, so that's what I went with. The recipe is posted here.
The book claims this is "almost effortless to make." I'd dispute that, but it wasn't difficult and would have been super fast, except I had to wait an hour for the brown rice to cook. Poor planning aside, it's stir-fried mushrooms, seitan and snow peas in a reduced hoisin-based sauce. The seasonings are fresh ginger, cinnamon and cloves. I couldn't get over it smelling like gingersnap cookies while I was making it, and that stuck with me while I was eating it. Next time I'll skip them entirely.
One funny thing about this book is that it has a bunch of pictures of the author in it, with a weird open-mouth smile staring back at me whenever I turn a page. Chloe came on the vegan scene when she won Cupcake Wars, and I always wonder how she stays so thin while developing all those dessert recipes. When I portioned out the four servings, I figured out why:
Portion control! I really like books that list calorie information with recipes - not because I'm counting, but it gives me an idea of whether I need to make sides. These are pretty small portions. It certainly won't hurt me to have a smaller lunch, but I'm training for the Free Press Marathon with morning runs, so I get really grumpy at work if I don't have a decent sized lunch. Or I go buy McClure's Garlic Dill Potato Chips, which are the most amazing thing on the planet, and inhale the entire bag before I even get back to my desk.

Monday, September 9, 2013

MoFo Day 9: Nostalgia Pancakes

Vegan Planet will forever hold a special place in my heart as my first cookbook. It was a Christmas gift shortly after I went vegan in 2004. As a college sophomore, my cooking skills were light and my knowledge of food beyond the SAD was nonexistent. I learned more from this book than any textbook that year. A few of the recipes were failures, but a lot of that was not knowing that the griddle had to be hot BEFORE putting the french toast on it or that you're not supposed to stir rice while it's cooking. I had some major wins, too: the Pan-Fried Tofu and Watercress with Lemon-Caper Sauce is my standard dish for introducing people to tofu and I make the Tempeh Simmered with Tomatoes and Sauerkraut every time I have an open jar of sauerkraut. It's a solid book of simple recipes that I overlook too often.

I've been trying to branch out and make the more challenging recipes I always skip over during MoFo, but laziness got the best of me and I chose Flax-Berry Pancakes because I already had all the ingredients. The recipe is posted here.

They're pretty standard vegan pancakes, using flax seed and water in place of eggs. The recipe specified to use a blender to mix the ground flax seed and water, whereas every other recipe ever says to mix with a fork. I used my immersion blender as a compromise, but a fork would have worked just as well.

I've never been good at making pancakes and these were no exception. As usual, I overmixed the dough and had the heat too low at first. The batter also didn't spread, so my first batch were sad, gummy, pale patties rather than pancakes.  With higher heat and manually spreading the batter, they were looking pretty decent by the end.
That's tomorrow's breakfast, complete with vanilla-infused maple syrup from my sister (thanks sister!). Judging from my QC, I'd say these were pretty good, and definitely healthier than my standard vegan pancakes since they use flax seed instead of oil for binding.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

MoFo Day 8: Peanut butter salad

Today’s cookbook: You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan! by Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty. I checked this book out from the library years ago and made the very first recipe (Apple Crumb Muffins), and they were phenomenal. Looking back, I’m surprised I made them because the recipe calls for 1½ cups of maple syrup. I’m all for whole foods and natural sweeteners, but that’s an expensive batch of muffins! Last year, I noticed the book was really cheap on Amazon and I had a gift card, so I bought it based on my memory of those muffins and a few other recipes I had added to my binder.

This was my first time cooking anything out of it since then. A lot of the recipes sounded good to me – clean, distinct flavors and reasonably healthy – but the ingredient lists always seemed too long. Now that I give the book a closer look, I think it’s mostly layout. The ingredient box is only an inch wide, so most items take up at least two lines, and they’re double-spaced. On one page, a vegetable bullion cube takes up five lines. I guess it’s a good little parable about not judging on first impressions.

Tonight’s choice was Gado Gado (the recipe is visible on Google Books), which the book says is an Indonesian classic. I’d say it’s salad with baked tofu and peanut sauce. The ingredient column spans the full length of the page, but I had all the non-produce items except tamarind paste and brown rice vinegar already. I’ll use any excuse for a trip to the Indian grocery store, and tamarind paste is something I’ll use again. I broke my MoFo rule by substituting regular rice vinegar for the brown rice vinegar. Because ohmigosh vegan cooking requires so many kinds of vinegar! I have an entire shelf of vinegar and I just couldn’t bring myself to add another that’s so similar.


The first step was to bake to the tofu. The recipe refers to a marinade, but it’s really just a coating of olive oil, tamari and liquid smoke you brush on before putting it in the oven. My tofu instincts told me to actually marinate it, but I followed the recipe. I was regretting that choice when I pulled this monstrosity out of the oven:
I don’t think this picture fully conveys what a greasy mess this was. Don’t get me wrong, I like greasy things; I’ve polished off more baskets of fries than I’d like to admit. But baked tofu swimming in pools of olive oil just doesn’t appeal to me. I wiped each one off and drained them on paper towels. I was disappointed that the marinade didn’t impart much of its smoky, salty deliciousness, but when mixed with everything else, I didn’t notice.

The dressing, which is basically peanut sauce, went more smoothly (pun intended). My immersion blender handled the full cup like a champ. While plating, I decided there was too much dressing for the salads, so I ate the leftovers with a spoon. And yes, that’s still an empty beer bottle propping up the window.

After chopping the salad ingredients (and using my salad spinner! 3 gadgets in one recipe!) and dividing the rest, I have lunch for the week.
Overall, this is a solid recipe. There’s no nutrition information in the book, but that’s probably for the best. I will go on blissfully eating peanut butter-coated lettuce and calling it “salad.”

Friday, September 6, 2013

MoFo Day 6: Cookies for Breakfast

As I said before, Appetite for Reduction is my absolute favorite cookbook. My second favorite is Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. The chocolate coconut bars, cream cheese brownies and peanut butter blondies are all in my top 5 desserts. I’ve made half the recipes in the book, and it’s probably not surprising that none of those have been from the “Wholesome Cookies” section. The recipes sound good, but when I want cookies, I want granulated sugar and melted chocolate, not brown rice syrup and carob. A challenge of using a different cookbook every day is working through my collection of dessert books without gaining 50 pounds. With a weekend camping trip approaching, I thought the Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies would be a good choice. The recipe is posted here.
These cookies were easy to throw together and used a lot of the random jars in my pantry from my last healthy eating spree. They’re sweetened with brown rice syrup and agave and use banana and flax seed as a binder. They come together like typical oatmeal cookies, with walnuts and dried cranberries mixed in last.
I followed the recipe’s instructions to spray a measuring cup with cooking spray and they were a breeze to portion out. I got lazy with the “scant” 1/4 cup and only got 18 cookies instead of the 24 the recipe called for, but since I was eating them all anyway, it didn’t matter.
These turned out great. I like a lot of stuff in my cookies, so I’ll probably add more cranberries and nuts next time, but they had a great flavor and texture. They traveled well and were perfect for a weekend of camping. I’m sure I ate more than necessary, but they kept me as full and energized as a bowl of oatmeal would have. And they were much easier and more fun to eat!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

MoFo Day 5: Gardein overload

You know how people say art is personal? Well one of my favorite works of art is The Conscious Cook. The photography and layout is beautiful. I just want to look at it all the time, and when I’m reading it, I feel like a beautiful, accomplished chef (even though I’m likely wearing dirty sweat pants and eating cereal). I have such high aspirations with this book that I felt lazy for choosing to make wraps with the California Gardein "Chicken" Salad. But I needed food to take camping this weekend and time and energy were at a premium. The recipe is posted here.
I halved the recipe to make four servings, but it still needed a pound of Gardein (which is a brand of meat substitutes). Meijer didn’t have the plain kind the recipe called for, so I bought two 10 ounce bags of teriyaki flavor and saved the sauce packs. The recipe also called for champagne grapes. After three stores, I gave up and used green grapes cut in half. I made the mistake of waiting to buy wraps at my last stop (Whole Foods). They only had three kinds and two of them had honey, so I was left with the gluten-free option. They tasted fine, but flaked a lot and had pretty much disintegrated after three days in a cooler.

Aside from the grape-hunt, the recipe was really easy to put together. I mixed Earth Balance vegan mayo (I normally use Veganaise, but the new EB kind was on sale so I figured I'd try it) with lime juice and agave, then mixed in chopped chicken, walnuts, grapes and celery. I tasted it and… yuck! I'd always assumed Gardein needed to be cooked to get the right texture and was surprised the recipe didn’t call for that, but I trusted it since I suspect they paid to be featured in the book. That trust was misplaced. I normally like Gardein, but the uncooked stuff was really mushy. The salad ratio had way too much chicken (even if it had been the right texture), so I added all the grapes and celery I had - twice as many grapes and four times as much celery as the recipe called for. At this point it was decent and ready for wraps.
With a ton more celery and grapes this was good, and with cooked Gardein, it would have been pretty solid. I’m surprised because the other recipes I’ve made from this book have been great. The wraps served their purpose of keeping me fed while camping, but I probably won't make them again. The only time I use meat analogs is when I'm craving the foods I grew up eating. In 19 years of being an omnivore, I never tried chicken salad, so I don't have any nostalgic interest in eating it now.

The one upside to my grape-hunt? The closest Whole Foods is in the same strip mall as the closest TCBY, so I got to try their new soy chocolate frozen yogurt. It tasted exactly like Silk chocolate soy milk (which I neither like nor dislike). I'm fortunate to have two places closer to me that serve vegan frozen yogurt (Easy Like Sundae in Ferndale and Sweet Earth in Royal Oak and Birmingham) AND have Oreo's, but it's nice to have a mainstream nation-wide option.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

MoFo Day 4: Appetite for Deliciousness

From the moment I first held it in my arms at a work Secret Santa exchange, I have loved Appetite For Reduction. I know, a DIET vegan cookbook?? That was my first reaction too. But I’ve made a quarter of the recipes in the book and they’ve all ranged from very good to outstanding. AFR is my most beloved and most used cookbook. I cannot say enough good things about it. It’s not just for vegans – I would recommend it to any omnivore looking for meal ideas with less fat and zero cholesterol. Nothing in here tastes like health food, the dishes will fill you up, and there are very few “weird” ingredients.

So after explaining how hearty the dishes are, I chose the most hippie recipe in the book: Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad with Grilled Tofu. My diet has been so bad lately that I’m actually craving vegetables, so this was an easy choice.
The salad is basically a spring roll and dipping sauce in a bowl. I was a little confused when the recipe called for string beans – are they green beans? Am I supposed to cook them? When I got to the grocery store, I noticed prepackaged beans that were much thinner than the bulk ones. And guess what – they’re delicious raw! Like snap peas, but not as sweet. I have a lot leftover, so I’ll be snacking on them instead of grapes (or potato chips) at work.

I used a mandolin to slice the cucumber and onion, and for the first time ever, did not cut the tip of my finger off! I love how fast and easy that thing makes slicing, but the time savings have always been negated by first aid. But surprise, using the finger guard actually prevents finger injuries! Who knew? 

This was pretty easy to throw together, but be warned – it uses a lot of dishes. First you mix the dressing (dish 1) and marinate the tofu in some of it (dish 2). The recipe didn’t call for it, but I pressed my tofu. Then you cook the rice noodles (dish 3), rinse them in a colander (dish 4), and mix the salad ingredients with the noodles and dressing (dish 5). I used a HUGE bowl for this (the normal sized ones were in the dishwasher), and it still spilled over the edges while mixing. Next you make a gremolata of mint, lime zest and peanuts (I used dish 1 again). Last step is to cook the tofu (dish 6). I don’t have a grill pan so I used my trusty IKEA cast iron skillet. I love seared tofu:

The recipe says it makes 6 servings at 260 calories each. I made it into four servings, thinking 400 calories is a pretty decent lunch.

In case you’re wondering, the bottom left container is the one the salad mix came in. It has a resealable lid, so why get another container dirty? Just like everything I’ve made from AFR, this did not disappoint. It made a great lunch, and even got compliments while in the office refrigerator. The recipe is posted here.
Bonus: Not cooking related, but I was in Birmingham and couldn't pass up (vegan) frozen yogurt at Sweet Earth. It's hard to tell in the picture, but it's chocolate and vanilla swirl, Oreos and Hershey's syrup. It's always hard NOT to fill up the entire 32 ounce cup.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

MoFo Day 3: Breakfast Soup

I bought a Crock Pot with high aspirations, but my dreams of coming home from work to a hot meal were destroyed when I realized I’d be too paranoid to function with a heat-producing appliance on when I wasn’t home. I know people leave them unattended all the time, but after a house fire in college, I’m probably more fire-averse than average. Even if hot meals won’t be waiting for me, I was still excited to get Kathy Hester’s The Vegan Slow Cooker for Christmas last year. A ton of recipes sound good, and with vague memories of the delicious cheesy hashbrowns at every childhood potluck, I chose the Weekend Tofu and Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole. 

Like most recipes in the book, this came together really easily. You just pour in frozen hashbrowns, some (vegan) cheese, then a blended mixture of silken tofu, soy creamer and spices. 
It needs to cook for two hours, and breakfast is the only reason I get out of bed on the weekends, so making it in the morning wasn’t realistic. Instead I cooked it Monday night, put the crock in the refrigerator, and reheated some for breakfast Tuesday. Behold:

This is a horrible picture, partly because I was in a hurry to get to work, but also because the dish is not photogenic AT ALL. It’s a half-congealed, half-watery white blob. But let me tell you, it is the most delicious half-congealed, half-watery white blob I have ever tasted! It’s like cheesy hashbrown soup. I was skeptical the ½ cup of cheese the recipe called for would even be noticeable (because more cheese = more better), but it was a perfect amount. The tofu was creamy and flavorful enough that the cheese accented it, rather than masked it. I will definitely be making this again. I’ll try using Mori-Nu tofu instead of the water-packed kind to make it a little less runny, and I might add some black salt to get a little more egg flavor, but it’s still delicious as is. You can view the recipe on the Amazon preview (link above - breakfast is the last chapter).

Monday, September 2, 2013

MoFo Day 2: Labor Day Fiesta

I know Labor Day is typically celebrated with BBQ, but I think salsa and margaritas make a much more fitting final meal of the summer season. I used Vegetarian Times Fast and Easy today for the first time since I bought it a year ago. When it first arrived I flagged a bunch of recipes, but haven’t bothered to open it since. To make up for lost time, I picked four recipes: Watermelon Margaritas, Tomato-Avocado Salsamole, Clementine Salsa, and Black Bean Soup with Roasted Red Pepper (links are to the Veg Times website). Fortunately my sister was on hand to help me consume it all.

Salsas and margaritas:

I love my Vitamix and I know it can make me delicious, nutritious juices and shakes and soups in mere seconds. It even came with a recipe book full of these things. Want to know the one recipe I use? Frozen margaritas. And I’ve made them enough times that I don’t even NEED the recipe. But they’re healthy, right? Anyway, I saw the recipe for Watermelon Margaritas and had to try them. It was just frozen watermelon, tequila, Triple Sec (I used Cointreau), a little sugar, lime juice, and ice. Tomato-Avocado Salsamole is exactly what it sounds like – salsa mixed with guacamole. I couldn’t find clementines for the Clementine Salsa so I used a navel orange.

With a minimal amount of blending and chopping, I had this table of deliciousness:

The margaritas were good, but next time I’ll add twice as much watermelon and a touch more sugar. The orange salsa was also really good. The last step of the recpie was to let it sit overnight. Oops, guess that’s why you’re supposed to read the whole thing first. I’m going to trust that it would have been great tomorrow, especially if I’d used clementines. Now the salsamole – OMG AMAZING. I’ve never had anything with avocado that I didn’t like, but this was outstanding. If I had been alone, I would have licked the bowl.

On to the soup:

Like the Vitamix, I know I also underutilize my pressure cooker. It’s hard to come by recipes that use it AND sound good, so I had to try this one. You sauté some onion, then add unsoaked (!) beans, water and spices and cook for 25 minutes. Cooking time with pressure cookers is misleading because it doesn’t include the time to reach full pressure (>5 minutes) or the time to release the pressure (>15 minutes). But 40 minutes from the time I open a bag of beans to when I can eat them is still pretty awesome.

While the soup is cooking, you roast the red pepper. I read the recipe wrong and put them skin side down on the baking sheet. (Note that I had finished two margaritas and moved on to beer at this point. Hey, it’s a holiday!) After the 15 minute cooking time, I realized my mistake. I flipped them over and put them closer to the broiler and OMG the coolest thing happened! Almost immediately the skin puffed up—like a giant blister from one side to the other. This obviously made it super easy to get the skin off once they were cool. I was worried they’d be dry, but they were still juicy. So there, I just invented a new method of roasting red peppers!

Half the peppers are chopped and added to the soup and the other half were made into a puree. As you can see below, the “puree” didn’t add much aesthetic value. When I finally got around to cleaning up two hours later, the puree had thickened a little, so it might actually swirl in the soup. Personally, I’d skip it next time.

The soup was pretty good. Not the best black bean soup I’ve ever had, but cheap and easy. The book does have a lot of good weeknight meals, though, so I’ll have to come back to it next month.

Bonus: assistant editor