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.

12 March 2011

No Regrets.

The way cookbook authors creatively name recipes is impressive - like the way crayons and paint colors always have bubbly names. And even if I'm less than impressed with LDV sometimes, the recipes at least sound witty!

I'm not generally a sweet breakfast fan, but there's one compromise that is always a favorite: oatmeal. It might be boring for some, for me it's starting the day out with a treat. Especially when it's "loaded" oatmeal like the Baked Aporridgy. (Who the hell knows what apologies have to do with oatmeal. But there's no regrets for a day-off breakfast treat like this.)

In the past, I've been a traditionalist about my steel-cut oats/oat bran combo. But this used rolled oats and flax meal (plus a bit of steal-cuts I added in), and is baked instead of cooked on the stovetop. Generally I don't have the patience, but once in awhile it's definitely worth it. Add spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger; plus cardamom for my version); dried fruit (raisins and cranberries); walnuts and sunflower seeds. (Sunflower seeds were my last-minute add: I wouldn't use them again.) Almond milk worked great to keep it creamy and moist.

The best part of making a bunch of oatmeal when you live alone is that you've got breakfast all set to go for days. (Every day it sits, the flavors marinate even more, and somehow it gets better and better.) And for saving time on healthy breakfasts with hour-long oatmeal? I have no regrets for that, either.

11 March 2011

Brainstorm Brunch.

There are lots of big changes happening in my life right now! (This is a good test for how who is really paying attention to my blog chatter...) So brunch with my lovely aunt, Monique, was the perfect time to brainstorm. She's especially good at this, plus she's always willing to try out my latest food experiments. It's a win-win!

I saw the Tofu Frittata with Zucchini and Onion recipe a few weeks ago, and was eager to try another frittata variation. Plus there were tips on making it the night before, making it ideal for our brunch-before-work timeline. I had a hard time finding zucchini, so I used baby portabellos instead. Yum!

The mushrooms, onions, and carrots were a good mix of textures... and this was definitely a recipe lacking in the spice department. (Can't these cookbooks come to a happy medium?) But once you added hot sauce, it hit the spot. Frittatas are the perfect way to have a savory, egg-like breakfast (and use up any surplus veggies you have), and not feel like you're missing anything. (Also: I substituted nutritional yeast for the "vegan mozzarella" it called for.... except on rare occasion, I'm not a huge fan of "fake" cheese. Daiya has proved me wrong, a LITTLE, but not enough to convert! Here's the part where my Vegan friends will hate on me for still eating dairy every so often.)

Next time I'll make this into muffin tins for "individual size" frittatas. And add more spice! In the meantime, I'm full (and have breakfast for tomorrow) - and full of brand new ideas!

10 March 2011

Fall Harvest... in Spring.

One of the only local produce items you can still get are squash... so the recipe for Sweet Potato, Squash & Apple Soup was the perfect use of my lonely butternut squash. A very "Fall" dish, but perfect for the last few chilly days of Spring.

This was an example where my love for spiciness got the best of me. I followed the recipe exactly... until I got to the spices. Only 1/4 tsp of cayenne? That couldn't be right! Lesson learned: try it as spicy as they call for, THEN add more. The result? So spicy even I couldn't handle it.

I tried the most logical solution to fix it: doubled the squash, potatoes, and added more apples; added 2 c. more soy milk. Even then it was still too spicy! (I could stomach it, but my friends couldn't. Ooops!)

I made Maple-Nut Soup Muffins to serve with it - they were perfect to dunk in the soup. I used flax meal as the egg replacer, which seems to be the best bet for anything hearty. And it was still delicious (even with the heartburn), with the perfect blend of creaminess and chewy bits of veggies. Next time I just have to lay off the cayenne...

More Chocolate?

You'd think I was having a breakdown with all the chocolate the last week. In reality, I got fixated on the delicious Vegan dark chocolate chips I picked up... and want to keep putting then in everything! That, and I like to keep my work girls happy with Vegan treats. (See how much better it sounds when it's for someone else?)

I decided to give SK another chance, and made Maple Walnut Brownies. As per usual, I used whole wheat flour and added fiber for a healthier treat. I added chocolate chips (because the cocoa powder couldn't possiblly be enough) and substituted coconut for the walnuts. The result was a light brownie that was moist without being overly rich.

I've noticed the majority of HIAV's recipes use maple syrup as a sweetener... and not only is it crazy expensive, but I'm not fully convinced it's the best with chocolate. Agave has really taken off in the last 10 years since it was published, so I'm pretty sure I'll stick with my gut and substitute that next time.

09 March 2011

Bargain Lunch

# 1 Reason why I need to cook more? To pack my lunches for work! And not because there aren't 2,000 delicious (and healthy) options at Whole Foods, but because it saves a TON of money. Money I can use to cook new, awesome recipes with not-so-cheap ingredients!

This is where basic staple items, random veggies, and a rice cooker come in. Throw together some short brown rice, a can of kidney beans, diced red peppers, cilantro (tons), cumin, and garlic... 30 minutes later you have lunch for days for less than a couple bucks.

06 March 2011


Just under a year ago, I wrote about my love for crepes - and my favorite memories of indulging with my college bestie Tina. So naturally, we had to make some during our latest reunion. Tina is the crepe pro, making them at home since she was a kid... so I couldn't help but watch in amazement.

Don't be fooled. Vegan crepes are nothing that would pass as the original... but they are pretty darn good as a healthier option! We made the Savory Whole Wheat Crepes with my new crepe pan - definitely a worthy purchase once you get the hang of it. I'm pretty sure using WW flour and not WW pastry flour made these tougher than ideal... but Tina picked up the slack for my substitutions with her awesome crepe cooking skills.

The must-have for us was, of course, the Nutella. Not Vegan, sadly, but the traditionalist way to go! If you're a fan of the chocolate-hazelnut love connection, I have an even better new favorite product. Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter is AMAZING. All the things I loved about Nutella, but natural with 1/3 less sugar. You can eat it and not feel yourself slipping into a sugar coma. It's now something I wish I hadn't allowed myself to buy! Whichever you choose, a crepe night isn't complete without it.

While I was making the crepe batter ahead of time, I made a separate gluten-free batch of Buckwheat Crepes the next day. A much harder flour to work with, they still turned out pretty decent. And the heavier consistency made it harder to eat too many!

If you're a fan of crepes, buy yourself a French steel crepe pan like the one I got. It requires some practice (more than I gave it), and some TLC, but is well worth the money!

03 March 2011

Lentils: Part 3.

All the Sarah Kramer loyalists out there will probably send me a lot of hate mail after this post. But this recipe - for Big Ben's Lentil Burgers - is the reason why I'M a loyalist to Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero. It's not that I haven't had delicious recipes from How It All Vegan! or La Dolce Vegan! But the instruction, chatter, and reliability of the recipes is nothing compared to Veganomicon and Vegan With A Vengeance.

Anyhow, no one is here to read about which Vegan chef I love more, so here's what happened with these burgers. I followed the recipe closely - even making my own breadcrumbs with some dried sourdough. I used the cooked lentils from the day before, mixed it all up as instructed, and attempted to shape it into patties... only to have a crumbly and dry disaster. There is no way they'd stay enough to be cooked or served this way. (Maybe the recipe was missing something... but don't they pay people to try out recipes before cookbooks are published?)

Recipe experience to the rescue! I added in 1/2 c. vital wheat gluten (as used in Black Bean Burgers a few weeks ago) and 1/2 c. water... then spiced them up with cumin, garlic and chili powder. Voila! Super super delicious lentil burgers, with a bite!

This is why you'll see a lot of scribbles throughout any cookbook you might borrow. If only there was someone to do it in the books BEFORE you buy them!

Pause. With Chocolate.

So before I know it, my jump back into cooking (and baking, and blogging...) has taken a giant pause. And not because I haven't been in the kitchen... 11 recipes in 3 weeks, I'm doing a moderate job of keeping it going. I just can't manage to get it to completion! Please be patient and trust that one of these days I'll get it together.

The health-coach in me might think all the baking and sugar (even if healthier than some types) could be influencing my attention-to-detail. But that's why I made these Double Chocolate Muffins with a healthy twist. I used brown rice flour for half the flour, stevia baking blend for the sugar, and added chia seeds. (If you haven't been watching Dr. Oz like all the Moms out there, it's the new hottest thing. They are, in fact, packed with omegas and fiber... worth sprinkling onto salads and other treats!)

I'm always happier with semi-sweet muffins, and these turned out pretty decent with all the substitutions. Not too sweet for breakfast, but so filling you couldn't eat more than one. And like a lot of the baked goods with other flours than wheat, they are better the next day after the flavors combine.

I apologize for the post-dating... stay tuned for a lot of yummy spring foods! (And in no time, local produce galore!)

02 March 2011

Love for Lentils

Since I missed the 28 Day Challenge for work because of my Florida vacation, I'm continuing the healthy challenge for the month of March. I'm continuing to stay as Vegan as possible, not drinking, eating more whole foods. Lots more fruits and veggies, more legumes, less wheat and processed carbs. Mostly!

I'm going to try to buy less canned beans, and start buying in bulk... and this week's legume is lentils. They don't have to be soaked overnight, are super quick to cook, and digest easily. Plus they go with EVERYTHING.

First I made a Lentil Salad - a favorite go-to combination. I always wing it with this, but this time I combined lentils, garbanzos, lemon juice, spinach, and spices. Which "spices" you use is always the key. My favorite all-time combination is the following: sea salt, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, whole coriander, dried onion, dried, garlic, paprika, and red pepper flakes. (Put all this in an old pepper grinder - it's amazing on basically everything.)

Next was the Rustic Tomato Lentil Soup from How it all Vegan! I'm hating this cold weather, so a hearty soup was a great choice. There was nothing super exciting about this soup, but it hit the spot. The rice pasta substituted fine for the "short pasta" it called for, and tomatoes and carrots added that traditional vegetable soup flavor. I spiced it up (surprise!) with crushed red pepper and tarragon - and it served well the next few days.

I'm noticing a big difference with the thoroughness of Sarah's cookbooks... but it's all about learning, so sometimes I just override the parts that seem off to me. (i.e. I added the lentils after simmering the soup for 10+ minutes, because I know they'd overcook otherwise.) Either way, soup is always a great choice to warm you up in the winter... and to fill you up with healthy goodness!