07 July 2011

Oatmeal Cookie.






I rarely made pancakes OR baked cookies before this cooking blog... But this round, I had the chance to make both with a new breakfast recipe. Oatmeal-Raisin Pancakes turned out to be the breakfast "cookie" I always wanted (but never knew existed).

I adapted the Oatmeal-Banana-Raisin Waffles in Vegan With a Vengeance to make these super hearty pancakes, and saved breaking out the waffle iron. I'm over the "banana" element in so many Vegan baked goods, and I don't think they were missing it. The only sweetness was from maple syrup and raisins, turning out just the perfect amount. I used whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose (like most recipes I make), but I think it just made the pancakes taste healthier. These pancakes were delicious - just crispy enough on the outside - but so heavy it was a struggle to eat more than one.

Here's the basic (adapted) recipe.
1 c. + 2 Tbs. ww flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. rolled oats
1 1/2+ c. soy or almond milk
3 Tbs. maple syrup
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
3/4 c. raisins

Combine dry and wet separately, then combine both together. Cook in a lightly oiled medium-high pan.

Quick and easy breakfast, with very few ingredients - perfect for mornings you want to start your day off with comfort food!

01 July 2011

¡Pura Vida!


Once again, this blog has been neglected for way, way, way, too long. It'd been a crazy few months, in the best and worst way, but I'm finally catching up. In one super long mini-slideshow.

The biggest time lapse was due to a month in beautiful Costa Rica. Travel books and blogs claimed it'd be boring eats... but we found endless culinary inspiration with the unique, fresh, and cheap produce. If only we had produce trucks driving down our road daily in Ann Arbor (selling produce for small change)... it'd be so much easier to eat fresh and healthy.

The majority of our trip was spent in Puerto Viejo - a chill "hippie" town with a lot of expatriates and international food. And endless Vegetarian/Vegan options. I've never travelled internationally and had so many choices!


We rented a cabina for the month south of town ; so we cooked at least a meal a day in our small, simple, outdoor kitchen. I couldn't have been happier: cooking, in the tropics, with fresh air (with palm trees and sunshine) everywhere. It's amazing how much you can make with just two burners, two pans, and one knife. I have a new appreciation for my "apartment size" stove! The coolest part was the "back to nature" philosophy of kitchen waste: it's easy to compost when you throw scraps right over the edge.


The first two weeks I travelled with Molly - one of my closest friends, who's Vegan and a blast to cook with. We both live by the "wing it" strategy, love hot sauce (especially the spicy green Jalapeno sauce we found there), and are willing to try most anything. It's so fun to cook with someone who isn't even a little picky. Our first experiment? Plantain Tacos - which turned out to be delicious comfort food. Plantains are a huge staple in CR, and I pretty much LOVE them. Plantain chips were a favorite snack, and we even encountered a Plantain Empanada (even if it was bright red with artificial coloring).

Within our first few hours in town, we met some new friends from PA (below) - Marta, Greg, and Katie. They were "Foodies" like us, so we had a few fun meals (and lots of inspired cooking conversation) while they were around.


The first new thing I learned to cook in CR was Twice Fried Plantanos, which our new friends seemed to be pros at. I guess everyone cooks plantains in the states but me! The trick is to use soft, ripe plantains - cutting them into almost 1" slices. You fry them once until they are crispy and soften up, then fry the other half of the batch. You then return the first batch to the frying pan to "smash them" flatter to fry the sides. YUM! (See also: having only one pan reaffirmed my love for cast iron.)


The produce in CR was amazing, and the fruit was the freshest I've EVER tasted. Our dreams of eating fruit and doing yoga all day didn't quite happen, but we did manage to knock out at least 20 Philosopher's Notes our first two weeks. And it was the perfect relaxing sanctuary to do it! (Especially with 50 cent, just-picked pineapple.)


All our produce wasn't right off the truck. There was a large amount of time spent harvesting fresh coconuts as well! This isn't the mature brown coconuts you find in the states, this is (huge) green young coconuts, filled with sweet refreshing (and electrolyte rich) coconut water. And the "meat" was in between the ripeness of green (soft, clear jelly) and brown (hard, sweet solid) - a surprisingly delicious treat.


Molly learned her technique from a local, and made it her mission to harvest as many fresh coconuts as physically possible.


I watched, and helped to carry all these goodies. Wikipedia is definitely wrong about mature coconuts weighing 3 lbs - these guys were much heavier than that. Even if I am a wimp. And it turns out up to 150 people a year die from falling coconuts (surpassing shark attacks)!


My little brother joined the trip for the last two weeks of the travels, and turned out to be a good sport with the new foods we experienced. Brett quickly joined the coconut challenge, and got the best tasting coconut we had all month.


There were a lot of mystery fruits and vegetables in Costa Rica - like this Superfruit cousin of the Mangosteen that tasted JUST like peanut butter and jelly. Seriously.


Our our first roadside purchase - that was like a apple/pear hybrid. Much less sweet and a bit watery, but refreshing in the hot hot heat.


Juicing and fruit smoothies are HUGE in Costa Rica - especially in the health food restaurants in Puerto Viejo. Known as Batidos (just like in Cuba), every spot in town had them. They were available with your choice of fresh fruit, and water or milk - and always fantastic.


Our first experience with these were at Veronica's, a Vegan restaurant with fantastic fresh juices. My constant favorite was Cucumber Juice: not too sweet and totally hydrating.


Their food was equally impressive - like this Vegan Casado (the Costa Rican staple meal of salad, rice and beans, plantains, and "meat" of choice). They served it with Coconut Rice & Beans and Carrot Tarts. I have no idea what delicious ingredients went into these, but they were unlike anything I've had. Shredded carrot and local root vegetables were shaped into a patty with Caribbean spices!)


On a future visit, Brett had the best Mango Batido. I'm rarely a fan of juice or sweet drinks (unless they are cocktails), but Costa Rica's Batidos won me over. At the cute cafe next door to our place, they made a Hibiscus Batido with fresh ginger that might have been the best juice I've ever, ever tasted. Add a juicer (and a Hibiscus tree) to my wish list - Hibiscus is now my favorite tea AND juice.

There was another fabulous Vegetarian spot we discovered near our place, La Botanica Organica. This place was basically my dream come true: a health food cafe AND small store. They had a great variety of local and Organic body care products, plus an awesome (and inspirational) holistic book collection.

And their food was also delicious and fresh (and also all local/Organic). We had an amazing brunch there, along with a Rice Milk Batido. It felt like being in Ann Arbor. (Puerto Viejo may have had even more Vegan options than back home, which was really cool!)


Our other staple food item were pitas from a local restaurant, Pita Bonita. We first sampled them with an amazing veggie/pesto pita sandwich from Om Cafe - and these were hands down the best pitas I've ever eaten. Ever.


For days and days, we found ways to make cute pita sandwiches with local veggies and our assortment of spices. Fresh basil, caramelized onions, homemade veggie burgers. Yes, we even made veggie burgers. (Not-so-secret ingredients: Plantain chips, Yucca chips, TVP, onions, hot sauce.)


Did I mention Pita Bonita's amazing food? Probably the best meal I had during my month there, their Middle Eastern specialties were mouth watering. I'm dying to learn how to make their Moroccan Eggplant.


Last but not least of the Latin favorites was Mango Salad. Made with julienned Mangoes that weren't quite ripe - they added salt, pepper, vinegar, hot sauce, and lime for an awesome summer-ready twist. (One of the only veg-friendly finds in the Capital of San José!) Now I have some inspiration next time Mangoes are on sale and I over buy!


There were a lot of other wonderful things going on in Costa Rica, besides cooking and eating. But the beach in our backyard, rainforest hikes, volcano-watching, bike riding, and Caribbean Sea swimming daily life there just didn't fit this blog as well!

"Pura Vida" is the motto for Costa Rica, and who doesn't want to live the "good life"? Here's to a wonderful last few weeks of summer. Hoping it's nothing but "good" for all of you!

27 April 2011

Triple Threat


I've been all about using tahini in everything the last few weeks - I bought fresh packaged tahini (versus the regular jars) and it's completely different! It's so yummy! On sandwiches, as a dip, in recipes... anywhere. The other ingredient I love but I never use enough is edamame - unlike it's processed soy relatives, this is the high protein vegetable that is much easier on your body.

Adding those with soba noodles, sesame oil, and black sesame seeds made for Triple Sesame Soba Noodles with Edamame. These sesame noodles were delicious warm (or cold the next day), high in protein, and a nice comfort food on a cold rainy afternoon!

21 April 2011

When in France...



Cooking for me is all about the challenge and variety... so with giant artichokes on sale, I couldn't help but venture out and make them for the first time. (Turns out even picky eaters know how to cook artichokes, it just never occurred to me. If I needed them, I aways used marinated artichoke hearts!)

My produce guys told me how to steam them, but that didn't seem exciting enough. So I made Perfect Steamed Artichokes à la Française. Wow! How have I been missing out on making these for so many years? It's a lot of cooking time (with only moderate effort) for a very light appetizer... but they were delicious! The lemon, garlic, and bay leaves in the cooking water added just enough flavor to the artichoke petals. (Are they petals? Leaves?)

If I was making fancy vegetables, they needed a fancy sauce, so I served them with Tarragon Mayonnaise. Tarragon is another favorite spice - it countered the tanginess of the Vegenaise and the lemon juice. It was definitely a perfect, light accompaniment for my new favorite vegetable recipe!


14 April 2011

6 Nights, 7 Days.



So this "detox diet" sucks. Royally. But I made it a week, and I definitely felt GREAT. It turns out you can make a pretty tasty soup with pretty much any vegetables you have around - especially once you blend it up. A little reminiscent of baby food, but super easy on your digestive system, and a smooth cohesive flavor. (Anything to make yourself enjoy it, right?) The last batch I made was asparagus and squash, with a ton of spinach... topped with a generous amount of Sriracha. It sure beats green juices all day!

The smart way to break a detox is with a lot of fruits and vegetables, and basic foods. So I made miso! (For once, instead of binging on something prohibited like fries or beer.) I used a gourmet mushroom blend (shitake, baby 'bella, and some others) along with lots and lots of bok choy, plus added in some tahini for creaminess. This trick I found on the package of miso paste - and it's delicious! Definitely made the soup taste heartier, and I'm realizing I pretty much love tahini in anything.

Obviously I didn't make it "21 days" like I was hoping... but every bit helps, and now it's on to a spring/summer season of cooking!




11 April 2011

Whew.



I've been super behind on cooking (and subsequently blogging) the last few months. If I cook, I put off blogging. So finally, I'm catching up. In the midst of a hardcore detox. Whew. The last few hours (since I've clearly rambled on THAT much) have been rough for someone not eating solid foods!

Anyhow, I've finally caught up, and now I'm hungrier than I thought. And if you're curious, I've lost 5 pounds thus far. I'm doing the Martha's Vineyard Detox Diet - attempting for 21 days, but starting with 7. I've definitely cheated, but overall, feel great. (I'd be lying if I didn't say I spend a good chunk of each day wanting bread and beer. It's always those two. And every minute spent at work is a challenge!)

The catch with this detox is no solid food. Super greens all day, like Green Vibrance... then a pureed soup for dinner. Pureed, like babyfood. But it starts out super fresh and full of awesome veggies, so it could be worse.

Anyhow, there will be yet another hiatus, so please be patient. But once I'm back in the kitchen, I promise I'll make up for the lack of excitement!

07 April 2011

Chicago Dining



I've traveled a lot, and been to Vegetarian restaurants across the world. But there is a reason Chicago Diner is famous. It's A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I was a skeptic that it'd beat my beloved Seva, but it's a completely different (and even for an almost 17-year Vegetarian, shockingly delicious) experience.


I'd been surviving on Black Bean ("Georgia") Reubens for years - I never liked real-meat Reubens when I was a kid anyhow. But The Radical Reuben is definitely their acclaimed sandwich for a reason. How they get their seitan to look so realistic is beyond me. I had to force myself not to eat it all at once. (And since I often hear Vegan's complain about "realistic looking" faux meat, I was left wondering what those types would do if encountered with this sandwich.) But what meat eater would need the real thing if you can replicate it so accurately?

And yes, that's Macaroni & Cheeze on the side. (Not nearly as impressive or as tasty, unfortunately.)


Heidi's choice were the Gyros - complete with Vegan tzatziki sauce. Once again - shockingly impressive. How they got such a creamy Vegan sauce, or as Heidi said "seitan that tastes JUST like lamb" is beyond me. I'm super grossed out by the concept of "lamb" anyhow, but Heidi is a new Vegan and she was totally stoked to have a cruelty-free replacement of an old favorite. Combine that was some of the best Sweet Potato Fries I've ever had. Wow.


Oh - and how could I forget the guilty-pleasure part? We started our Chicago Diner experience with one of their famous Vegan shakes: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Peanut Butter Shake. Ohmigod. Blizzard meet Vegan indulgence. I would weigh 300 pounds if I had access to these treats on a daily basis... and was so grateful I had Heidi to share it with before I devoured it alone. (Look how excited she was!)


My week in Chicago was filed with great food and drinks - even before I made it to Chicago Diner. I had a midnight run for authentic Mexican with Meghan, then amazing gourmet (and BYOB, the one thing Ann Arbor lacks) brunch at Jam with Kim. Plus I got to eat delicious homemade Indian food at Kim's apartment, thanks to her mother-in-law. And we all know that I could eat Indian food (or Mexican for that matter) three times a day. Add in some Chicagoland Whole Foods Market treats, Thai curries with my cousin Anna, and 3am post-bar "breakfast" at Pick-Me-Up Cafe with Kim, Juergen & friends. (Why is it every city but Ann Arbor has amazing Vegetarian-friendly brunch? All I'm asking for is tofu or tempeh in with the eggs and potatoes on the menu!)


It wouldn't have been a successful vacation without some culinary inspiration, some late-night trouble, and some great laughter with old friends!

30 March 2011

VegFest Success



There is no way I could leave VegMichigan's VegFest without being inspired to get into the kitchen more. Combine that with a shopping spree at Joe Randazzo's and dinner with my VegAnnArbor partner-in-crime Daniel, and I was back to my old cooking-crazed self.

I got an entire shopping cart full of produce for $30. It made me realize how much I miss the amazing produce markets in Florida. So no excuses - cheap produce, in abundance, is only 25 minutes away. Not Organic, sadly... But for those of us budget-driven shoppers, you can't go wrong.

I made two versions of stuffed peppers. Poblanos Stuffed with Spicy Polenta and TexMex Tofu. Add in Daiya, the latest and greatest Vegan cheese. (It melts, tastes like butter, and is soy-free!) Serve with roasted asparagus. Daniel is about as adventurous in the kitchen as I am, which means he'll try anything I whip up, but dinner was a success regardless.

Can't wait to see what I will find during the next produce trip to Westland!


26 March 2011

Patience, or lack of.


As if I could get any less proficient at baking, I tried my hand at bread. I can't say it was a complete fail: the end result was hearty and yummy. But the hours of effort involved (including some serious lack of patience on my part) were certainly not worth it.

I saw the recipe for the Super-Flax Whole-Wheat Boule in Everything Vegan and thought I'd be proactive for the day before. (It required soaking the flaxseeds for 24 hours.) Just when I thought that this might be the most clear of all my Vegan cookbooks, it failed me. (Or I failed myself.) Here's where a "total cooking/prep time" is handy.

Just 4+ hours later, I took out a crispy on the outside (yet still too doughy on the inside) hearty loaf of bread. Lesson #1: read the entire recipe, twice, before beginning. Lesson #2: my tiny apartment-size oven is no good for baking, especially bread.


As if the time involved wasn't bad enough, my "loaf" definitely didn't rise the way it was supposed to. That was probably the sign to stop! By the end, the only thing that redeemed each slice of bread was several minutes in the toaster oven. Only after then was it a success - a hearty and super filing one - and another reason I love my toaster oven!

24 March 2011

Roll on through.



This super delicious Scallion Flatbread from Veganomicon was one of many lessons in patience this week. Leftover scallions? Craving some comfort food? Perfect! (Sans the process. On days I'm in the mood to spend an hour making an appetizer, or need some mindless activity to zone out, this would be perfect. But when I'm starving? Wrong choice!)

It's the same process as making roti: knead into balls, roll out, fold, roll out, fold, roll out. Here's the bigger challenge: I don't have a rolling pin. This is one of many times that has caused a challenge with dough-based recipes.

Anyhow, there's no denying these savory little pancakes were worth the effort. They were super yummy and totally hit the spot. It was a good reason to break out the cast iron, and given the right reason, will definitely be made again.

In case you're wondering what goes into such a simple (and yummy) food, here's the process in pictures. Enjoy!







15 March 2011

This is why I bake.



For how much I love to cook, baking is another story. It's so much easier (and quicker), but I was never a big enough fan of sweets to make it worth it. Until I had these two to bake for the last few years.

Pamela and Heidi love their healthy Vegan sweet treats, and they are both willing to try anything, so it's impossible not to want to bake for them. These girls are the sisters I never had, and amazing employees. (They make every day at work easier - and more enjoyable. Truly!) The least I can do is bring them goodies! Maybe I'm an enabler, and they are certainly far too nice with feedback on my "experiments", but it's 100 times more fulfilling than baking for myself.


The first batch this time was Spicy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from How It All Vegan. A spicy cookie? How could I not love it?

Even making them gluten-free (I used brown rice flour instead of all-purpose flour), these cookies were delish. Just spicy enough with the cayenne, cardamom, cumin, ginger, and cinnamon - and just sweet enough with the rolled oats, banana, and raisins. (One lesson: the 1/2 tsp of pepper needs to be finely ground, NOT from a pepper mill. The one time going gourmet does not pay off.)

These little nuggets got better each day - the flavors melded and they were less crumbly. I was glad I kept some for myself for once! Definitely a win, especially with a few tweaks for next time.


Cookie batch #2 was Chocolate Chip Bars, also from HIAV. I've been loving the Vegan dark chocolate chips lately - even just a few satisfy the chocolate cravings. However, this was one time my healthy substitutions didn't pay off. I used 2/3 whole wheat flour instead of only all-purpose. (Although, the author always lists "flour" without a specific recommendation. I just assume the average person uses all-purpose for baking, since it's generally tastier despite it's lack of nutrients.) Just a little too bland with all the whole wheat (for a such a "cake-y" and dry cookie).

Then I wanted to try out my stevia baking mix by NuNaturals. I had to guesstimate on the stevia measurement, since the container had some cryptic equivalency chart. I guessed too low, since these were definitely not sweet enough. (Even for me.) And generally, I'm a fan of stevia's earthy sweetness.

Here's why these girls are worth baking for: they loved these treasures, despite any hiccups there might have been. (Or they did a great job convincing me, because they were too nice not to.) Regardless, one lesson I've never mastered is to never apologize for your cooking. And I guess this showed me, once again, that most of what you'll make is better than you'll give it credit for.