Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Five sinful vegan delights! (Vegan mofo)

Vegans, we can all commiserate.  When you first make the change to a plant-based diet you feel like you may never again gorge yourself on jalapeno poppers, milkshakes and mozza sticks.  And of course there is every non-vegan person who you know who says “damn, how will you ever live without cheese/butter/eggs/whatever other product that oozed from an animal’s hindquarters”, not making you feel any better about having made the less easy but more ethical choice.

Fear not.  You can have your fat and eat it too!  I laugh at the common misconception that everything vegan must be healthy.  We too can eat like complete and total shit and feast on fatty deliciousness every now and then.  What follows is a sample of some of the treats that can be veganized, but haven’t been made very much healthier… and that’s not bad at all.

I wanna stuff them all in my mouth at once!

Everybody loves a big ole plate of nachos!  With the fabulous innovation of so many delicious vegan cheeses, there is no reason why you can’t have delicious, flavourful, fat-tastic vegan nachos.  And of course there is no secret recipe for these, you just use whatever toppings float your boat.  For example, these nachos I made are topped with lovely Daiya mozza, black beans, peppers of several colours, jalapeno and tomato.  Other good toppings include olives and TVP which has been cooked with taco seasoning spices.  Serve with your favorite chunky salsa, or if you really want to amp up the fatty-good, some homemade guacamole or faux sour cream.

Don't be distracted by the healthy sides!  Eat the bad stuff!

This is one of my favorite recipes, but it’s also one that is really not all that super good for you.  But who cares?!  It’s cruelty-free fried chicken (stuff it in your gullet, Colonel Sanders)!  The recipe for the seitan, cooking broth, and breading can be found in Sarah Kramer’s La Dolce Vegan  cookbook (which is a good one, I recommend it!).  What comes out of this recipe is a beautifully flavoured, tender, yet crisp culinary delight.  Not the fastest recipe in the world for a weeknight, but I love this on a Saturday night when you’re just going to stay in and sit around.

Oh my glob.

Yes, my friends, cheesecake.  The ultimate decadence.  It can be all yours!  There are so many vegan cheesecake recipes out there, many of which call for ingredients which are quite expensive, such as vegan cream cheese, or coconut oil.  I love this particular cheesecake recipe from VegWeb because it is not only made with affordable ingredients (cashews and silken tofu), but it is also really delicious.  And I know that a tofu cheesecake sounds scary, but trust me when I tell you that this is one case where you really can’t tell that tofu is the main ingredient.  There is so much sugar in this puppy, you aren’t gonna taste it at all!  I love topping it off with a can of beautiful artificial-looking pie filling, and maybe a splotch of rice or soy spray can whip cream.

I'd like some taquitos.

I love this taquitos recipe from the always amazing Snarky Chickpea because it is so much better than all of the frozen, store-bought vegan taquitos.  It is also better than the meat-laden ones you used to buy at 7-11!  These taquitos are stuffed with yummy vegan cheese, cream cheese, rice, beans and veg.  They are savory indulgence at its best.  If you want to make these even more super raunchy bad for you, do as recommended in the recipe and try them with faux chicken pieces instead of beans.  They are practically a heart attack on a plate, so damn good.  Excellent with guacamole too (because we still needed more fat!)

Why wait for it to cool?  Just eat it!

Last but not least we have the cardinal culinary offering of the take out menu and favorite of college students everywhere, pizza.  A vegan pizza doesn’t need to be cheese-free and topped with zucchini, you can make it super hearty and mega bad for you with ease!  This is another one of those recipes that is not really a recipe.  I make a crust in my breadmaker, then top the pizza with vegan cheese, some Tofurky sausage (or Yves pepperoni or salami… or all of the above), and then pick the veggies of your choice.  Stuff the whole molten mess in your mouth and cackle with delight.

And of course, there are many more fatty vegan delights out there.  Feel free to share your favorite!
Vegan mofo continues its path of fantastical food finds!  Stay tuned…

Friday, 19 October 2012

Spicy Tempeh Naanwiches - a recipe mash-up (vegan mofo)

Apologies for the slow posting this week to all the vegan mofo readers.  I nearly went medieval on my neighbors (it's a long story, apartment living sucks) and had a bit of a meltdown for a few days where I just couldn't get up the energy to blog.  But now things are getting better and I'm back on track!


I'm one of those people who can't leave well enough alone.  You know the old saying "If it's not broke, don't fix it"?  I simply cannot abide by this cliche advice.  I'm a shitdisturber to the core, and sometimes this tendency to "fix" things that are already just fine slips over into my cooking.

In this case, I've not so much fixed a recipe as combined two already perfectly delicious recipes into one SUPER RECIPE!  I've combined the great spicy tempeh recipe from Veganomicon with Snarky Chickpea's vegan naan bread recipe to create Spicy Tempeh Naanwiches...


These two recipes go together absolutely beautifully.  I love the sloppy, hot deliciousness of the tempeh, and putting it into a sandwich helps to contain its sloppiness without detracting from the awesome flavor.  The naan bread (which by the way I cheat when I make it and use the breadmaker) is wonderfully garlicky, and makes the perfect bread to wrap up the tempeh.  Together these two make a wonderful hot sammich, perfect for an autumn day when you want a little spice in your belly.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Blankets = love

People do lots of things to show their love.  Some of these things are more outrageous than others. (baking cookies = normal.  cutting off an ear = less OK.)

For myself, if I am cooking for you that is a good sign I like you.  But another big sign is if I crochet things for you.  If you get one of my happy little amigurumi, or lumpy scarves, it means that I thought about you while I was toiling away on my crochet in front of the TV while watching the baseball playoffs or reality TV (but sadly no hockey yet, you greedy evil bastards).

Pink elephants, here they come...
Nevermind the fact that I'm ugly, I'm made with LOOOOOVE!

Anyway. For my nieces I always show how much I love them by making them a blanket.  And as any crochet or knitting enthusiast knows, if you are making a blanket for someone it must mean you like them a great deal because those stupid things take pretty much FOREVER to make.  Twenty hours for a full size afghan is pretty optimal, it could easily be a lot longer than that.  This is something that non-crafters don't seem to understand when they want to buy said afghan from you for like $50 (this is before you chase them while brandishing your hook/needles and screaming obscenities about their Scroogian shopping habits.)

So for my nieces last birthday, I made them each a "starghan", which is a star-shaped afghan.  Nevermind the fact that these were meant to be their Christmas presents for LAST YEAR...

The first one was green...
and the second was blue!

BUT!  Very soon, my two cute nieces are going to have a cute baby brother, so I found it necessary to make a blanket for him as well.  But I didn't want to copy the same pattern I did for the girls' blankets.  For one, even though the picture doesn't give it away, the starghans ended up pretty large, at least big enough for a kids bed or an adult lapghan.  So I wanted to do something that sort of fit with theirs, but was more appropriately sized for a baby.

Thus, the spiderman blanket was created!

In the chill of night, at the scene of the crime...
(humming the theme song from the old cartoon)

I owe Debbie21 on Ravelry a big thanks for this one, she created this blanket long before I did and furnished me with her notes on how she did it.  I thought that this one was a great fit with the girls' blankets because it is also a multi-pointed blanket, but at the same time it is baby sized and definitely more masculine.  That, and baby boy is already the most awesome and cool baby because his aunty made him a wicked cool blankie!  This one is worked centre-out, so you do the black zig-zag lines as you progress, and then the other black weblines are added after by chaining from the outside edge and attaching at each zig-zag point as you go along before finishing at the middle.  I was really pleased with how this turned out, but it is far too much work to make as a blanket to sell.  It is really a labour of love and one that you'd only make for a baby you really care about.

 And of course Christmas is coming too.  And while I'm not doing an entirely homemade Christmas (did that once and pretty much killed my hands with repetitive strain for a while), I am working on a few things... which I can't tell you about just in case you spilled the beans to the receiving parties!  In the meantime, keep your hooks going and stay tuned...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes (recipe review for Vegan Mofo)

I love to make recipes that are veganized versions of really trendy foods.  For my sister's recent birthday, I went out on a limb when it came to the cake, and tried out The Sweetest Vegan's Red Velvet Beet Cupcakes.  I think that this is a fantastic choice for a veganized recipe, because I don't know very many people who are fond of the nasty things (like bugs) which make up typical red food colouring, which is found in revolting quantities in typical red velvet cupcakes.

As I mentioned on my last recipe review, I have a policy of not screwing with the recipe the first time I make it.  So I plowed on as dictated, and found that my first test batch of these cupcakes came out distinctly brown instead of red (sorry no picture, ate them too fast!).  I blamed the cocoa for this, the cupcakes were more "secretly filled with beets" chocolate cupcakes than red velvet cupcakes.  I topped them with vegan cream cheese icing and ate them up anyway.  They were exceptionally good, I loved that no one could taste the healthy beets hidden within (especially my notoriously beet-hating DH!)

So, round 2.  I decided for the second batch (the batch for my sis' BD) that I would omit the cocoa in an attempt to really capture the colour of red velvet cupcakes.  I added a little extra vanilla to help mask the flavor of the beets, which I think was the purpose of the cocoa in my earlier attempt.

At any rate, they weren't so much red velvet as PINK velvet cupcakes, as you can see in this shot before I iced them:

Pink pink pink pink pink!

They came out really pink.  Like, hot pink.  They looked like they should taste like strawberries.  Anyway, aside from the fact that they were not really all that red (I think I needed even more beets), they were still good.  I'm glad I added the extra vanilla to hide the beet flavor.

Now because I was out of Tofutti, I iced these ones with regular vegan butter icing (which is basically just icing sugar and margarine with a dash of soy milk).  They ended up almost revoltingly sweet as a result.  My omni family and sister really liked them though, because their sugar tolerance is a lot higher than mine.  When The Sweet Vegan talks about the "mandatory cream cheese icing", she means it!  It is mandatory, otherwise they are just too sweet!

Iced and ready to go to birthday party!

So to conclude, The Sweet Vegan's Red Velvet Cupcake recipe is a really good one, and a great way to hide some nutritious beets in a sweet!  I think her original chocolate ones are just a bit yummier, so in this case, stick to the recipe and you're certain to be delighted!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why brown bag when you can bento? (review of Planet Box for Vegan Mofo)

About a year ago, after quite a thorough search of the interwebs, I decided to purchase a bento-style lunch container called a Planet Box.

Compartments!  YES!

Now there are a couple of reasons why I selected a Planet Box lunch box (this model is now called the Rover, they also have a larger model for bigger adult appetites called the Launch).  I was suffering from a problem common to many of the so-called "brown baggers".  I had far too many cheap plastic containers, for which I could never find a corresponding lid.  I would also cringe at the thought of what could be leeching into my food from these containers when they were frozen, heated, etc.  A second issue was that my reusable lunch bag was on it's last legs.  So I decided to upgrade.  I've always liked the idea of bento boxes because they keep the food in separate areas (no soggy crackers), and they (should) have fewer parts to lose/wash than your typical menagerie of plastic containers.

But which bento system to buy?  It is so hard to choose from the myriad of offerings available online! I really liked the Planet Box specifically for several reasons.  Firstly, it is metal, and getting away from plastic is usually a good thing in my books!  As a result, it is super durable and really quite dent-resistant.  Sometimes I feel like you could use it to whack someone over the head and it would survive the encounter!  Another reason is that this Rover model (which was the only version at the time) is built for kids, and I have a smaller appetite, so I found it packs just the right amount for me.  This would also be great for anyone who is trying to exercise portion control in their lunches.  For adults or bigger eaters, they now have the Launch which is a much larger bento tray.

So now that I've had the Planet Box for a year, I feel like I can finally make a qualified review of it!  I purchased the full system, which includes the box, the big and little dipper containers (for keeping wet foods in), decorative magnets, and carrying case.

In regards to the metal box itself, I've had very few issues.  Sometimes a little moisture does get between the compartments because they are not airtight.  But I've found that if you use a towel to take off excess moisture on recently washed veggies or really juicy fruits (like pineapple or peaches), then there doesn't seem to be much of an issue.  I'm able to pack crackers in with chopped veg and fruits and not have them get soggy.  The latch does its job perfectly, I've never had it open randomly.

The outside of the container, sans magnets.

While you can decorate the outside of the container with magnets that come with each box, I generally choose not to.  There's something very appealing about the industrial, spartan appearance of a blank Planet Box!

The big and little dipper containers have held up pretty good as well.  When placed in the box the lid holds them shut.  I use a rubber band to keep them shut if I'm carrying them separately in the carrying case pockets.

Speaking of the carrying case... this is probably the least essential bit of the Planet Box complete system.  If you wanted to save a few bucks, or are already carrying a messenger bag/backpack with you to work, you could probably skip this one.  I got it because I only carry a purse besides my lunch bag.  It is a good enough design on the case, I love that I can carry a beverage in the open topped pocket.  So far in the first year it doesn't have any rips or tears, so I'm pretty pleased with its performance.

The carrying case, one year in.

Obviously, the only reason why we all haven't dashed off to Planet Box's online store to get one is the price.  This is not a cheap lunchbox.  In fact, it is a pretty darn expensive lunchbox.  But it is also an amazingly durable, hygienic and fun lunchbox.  I'm not sure I would make the investment for a child who is prone to losing things, but for an adult this is a great product that I'd highly recommend.

And now, the fun part: what to pack in your Planet Box.  My coworkers have asked me if I run out of ideas or get bored with trying to find things to pack in my Planet Box.  I say, no more than I did with plastic containers.  There are always days where you can't figure out for the life of you what to take for lunch.  And while this may not solve this problem for you forever, here are some great vegan lunch ideas that can at least get you started!

A Week of Yummy Planet Box Lunches!
 The classic sammich:
Om nom nom.

The obvious thing to do with this bento box is, of course, to stick a sammich in that square part!  In this case, I've made a sandwich with Yves Bologna on wheat bread.  My sides are 2 storebought cookies, some Daiya havarti cheese, raspberries, grapes and celery sticks.  This is what I would consider to be a nostalgic school days lunch, remembering back to when this was the fare you'd find in the brown bag packed by mom or dad.

Or, here's another sammich option:
This blog post is making me hungry...

This one is a PB sammich, with the same cookies as before, along with a baby dill pickle, some apple slices and the only vegan doritos, Sweet Chili Heat.  Riding in the front pockets of the carrying case is an almond yogurt and a can of juice.  With the extra two side items, this is what I would consider a big lunch for me.

Pack a wrap:
And that's a wrap!  OMG I'm so not funny.

A wrap is another great lunch item because you can stuff them with pretty much anything you have on hand.  For this lunch, the whole wheat wrap is actually stuffed with burrito ingredients, some leftover black beans, peppers and guacamole.  Sides in this case are tortilla chips and salsa (which is in the little dipper container), a homemade carrot muffin, some dark chocolate, blueberries, raspberries and an apricot.  This example shows how you can pack multiple items into one compartment.  I personally don't like my food to touch too much, but for fruit I'm willing to make an exception.

A super kid-friendly lunch:
Finger foods rule!

This is an example of a really kid-friendly lunch.  Because not all kids like fancy wraps!  Here we have a "pup in a blanket", a recipe I love which comes from The Vegan Lunchbox cookbook.  There's some ketchup in the small container for dipping.  Alongside this main we have some homemade chocolate chip cookies (can you tell that I LOVE cookies a bit too much?), a baby dill, some grapes, some Veggie Straws and a banana.  The tiny, bite-sized finger foods in this lunch are a lot of fun for little people!

Build your own tacos:

This is a build your own taco lunch!  Stuff a crispy shell with TVP Taco "meat", a great recipe from the amazing Snarky Chickpea.  Add some diced bell peppers and Daiya cheese and you've got tacos at lunchtime!  Served with some doritos, carrot sticks and a gala apple.  Now you can't stick metal in the microwave, which means if you want to heat this one up you'd have to transfer your TVP into an appropriate container before you warmed it up.  This is one downside of metal containers.

And of course, leftovers:
Thanksgiving remnants. :)

Leftovers make great lunches, so the Planet Box can be used for these as well.  Ive packed some leftovers from the (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend.  My mains are Acorn Squash Empanadas, a fantastic recipe that you can find in the Veganomicon cookbook.  There is also a vegan cupcake, chopped fresh pineapple and some snap peas.  And I know what you're saying, "but Vegbrarian, how do you keep the icing on the cupcake from getting all smashed-up by the lid?"  This is a problem that dogs the lovers of cupcakes everywhere.  I find that you can keep icing from sticking to the lid of any container by putting a tiny sheet of parchment paper (the kind you cook with) over the icing before you put on the lid.  Because nothing sticks to parchment, your cupcake should emerge with icing intact (but possibly a little flatter).

And of course, the possibilities are endless!  So, I highly recommend the durable, stainless steel Planet Box system for both adults and (responsible) kids alike.  It makes packing a healthy lunch easy and fun!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Vegan Eggplant Parmesan (recipe review)

I love it when foods are just on the cusp of being vegan, and only need a wee adjustment to push them over the edge into the land of veg-happy delights.  This great Eggplant Parmesan dish from Clean Green Simple is one of those foods!

Now usually I live by the rule that one does not screw with the recipe when one is making it for the first time.  But I also usually have a jar of nutritional yeast in my cupboard, yet for some reason (most likely due to broth and gravy making), the jar was nearly empty when I went to make this recipe.  So I wound up with no cheese sauce and had to sub-in some Daiya.  Oh well.  I was also forced to skip the broiler step due to a lack of broiler-safe plates…

Anyway, enough of what I didn’t do.   I had a beautiful eggplant crying out for some love, and this recipe totally delivered.  The batter was just right, it wasn’t too heavy, and the eggplant was perfectly tender on the inside, with a nice crispness on the outside.  The only problem I had was residual breadcrumbs on the pan that of course burned up and made the smoke detector go off (but that’s how you know dinner is ready, right?!).  The pasta was a regular store bought whole wheat, cooked a little past al dente (I like my pasta MUUUUSHY).
As for the sauce, I also used Clean Green Simple’s Super Easy Marinara Sauce, which is truly worthy of its name!  Not having to dice up any veggies to make the sauce was great, and what was even more kick-ass was that it was completely delicious.  I let it simmer for probably about ½ hour total.

In the end, this was a fantastic, filling recipe, and I was really happy to feed such a good dinner to my mom and brother, who don’t eat at my house very often.  Because I am their estimation of what vegans cook and eat, it is important that the meals always be delicious when they are dining with us.

Gold star to Clean Green Simple for the great recipe! Clean Green Simple is also home to a ridiculously good vegan pulled pork recipe too, that I recommend to absolutely everyone.

Vegan Mofo continues!  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Fresh PB, a simple & wonderful thing (Vegan Mofo)

In the spirit of the blog/book 1000 Awesome Things, I like to occasionally note things which are simple, wonderful delights that sometimes come up in the course of day-to-day life.

Today, that amazing thing was taking the first knife fulls of peanut butter from a brand new, gigantic tub of the stuff.  The first dip in a new tub of PB is the reward for getting your hand all sticky while you fished around in the bottom of the old tub with a spatula, trying to get those last precious millilitres (grams?) of peanut butter.

Sure, you have to fight with the ridiculously well-applied and over-glued safety paper on the top, which sometimes causes you (me) to resort to using a knife and accidentally puncturing the perfect surface of the virgin PB, but once you've got that seal off it's all gravy (or rather, peanut butter) from there.  No more goopy-handed fishing.  That PB is all for you my friend, and you're the one who gets to wreck up the prettiness of that untouched surface.

The only thing that could possibly be better is if they still had the peanut on top.


Monday, 1 October 2012

An ode to Indian food (Vegan Mofo)


If you have come over from the Vegan Mofo website, then I heartily welcome you and thank you so much for choosing to read my blog during Vegan Mofo!  I hope you'll become one of my regulars!

For my regulars who may be uninitiated, Vegan Month of Food (more commonly known as Vegan Mofo) is an annual month-long blogging celebration of all vegan edibles.  Think like NaNoWriMo, except it's all about vegan food awesomeness!

So throughout this month, I'm going to be blogging about all of my favorite vegan delights.  Some posts will be recipe reviews, cookbook reviews, odes to vegan eating, cooking tips, or even my own recipes.  I'm writing these posts not just for the initiated vegan, but for all of my friends who are interested in mindful eating and finding out all about how easy, healthy and yummy it is to enjoy a plant-based diet!

Without further ado, we kick off Vegan Mofo with an ode to one of the best ethnic food types for vegans, Indian!

Good curry, let's hurry!

If you like Indian food, there is a good chance you've been eating a lot of vegan cuisine without even knowing it.  This is one of the hardest things I've found when it comes to overcoming prejudices against vegan food.  You've been eating it all along, and just haven't realized!  People assume that it's either all raw "rabbit food", or that it is somehow really difficult to make.  Nope.  It is as easy as pie (vegan pie!) to make a simple vegan recipe, like this absolutely beautiful and gut-bustingly filling curry that is pictured above.  Now I can't remember where I got the recipe for that particular curry, but if you search "potato curry" around the internet, I'm sure you'll find a good one.

Anyway, back to lauding Indian food.  Indian is one of the most amazing types of food for several reasons in addition to how much of it is vegan.  It is also incredibly affordable for the most part.  Simple ingredients like potatoes, peas, lentils, chickpeas, coconut milk, rice and spices make for a meal that is not only easy on the budget and rich in flavour, but also really easy to make.

Take for example one of my absolute favorite recipes, Red Lentil Dahl with basmati rice:
This is certainly one of the easiest recipes in my repetoire.  It doesn't even require the chopping of very many vegetables!  It is simply a stew of split red lentils, onions and spices, served on a bed of fragrant basmati rice.  The lentils are a great choice for both fibre and protein, making this a dish that really "sticks to your ribs".  You could serve some steamed greens as a side.  It's also really good with naan instead of rice.

And if that isn't easy enough, try another great lentil dish, simply called Tomato Lentils with Spinach:
Colourful and delicious.
This one is so easy it practically isn't even a recipe.  It is lentils, a can of diced tomatoes, a little lemon juice, olive oil and garlic and a handful of spinach, served on rice. The lentils in this recipe are whole green lentils, which as you can see produce a different result than the split red lentils used in the dahl.  Lentils that aren't split hold together and produce a much firmer texture.  There are literally dozens of varieties of lentils and I have no where near tried them all.  I stock the split red and green all the time in my cupboard, and buy other types as needed.

If you aren't into lentils, how about some chickpeas in the quintessential Indian recipe, Chana Masala?:
EVERYDAY. I would eat this!
You can't have Indian food without chana masala.  In fact, of the three recipes that my husband knows how to cook all by himself, chana masala is one of them.  We have it probably about once a week.  This spiced chickpea dish is probably the most economical meal that I can think of.  A can of chickpeas is really cheap (dried and rehydrated even cheaper), then just add spices, a bit of tomato and hot pepper and voila!  This is another dish where there are recipes literally all over the internet, pick your own favorite.

But Indian food is not all about the beans and lentils (well, it is a lot about beans and lentils, which you should love if you don't already because they are teeny superfoods)!  If you aren't into the beans, then try making some awesome Pakoras:
I want these right now.
Pakoras (or is it still pakora for plural?  The internet won't tell me...) are kind of like little Indian potato pancakes.  You make a chickpea flour batter (yes, it must be chickpea flour, ordinary flour won't do, get some at your organic grocer) and add grated potato, carrot, spinach and spices.  While these are traditionally fried, I prefer to bake them to save on fat.  They are a delightful bite sized treat which are perfect for dipping in chutney or your favorite dipping sauce (my favorite is to dip them in a vindaloo sauce!).  Despite the somewhat more exotic ingredients and a bit more labour time, I would still consider pakoras to be a great weeknight meal.

And, the coup d'grace in my Indian food repetoire, the Samosas!
Pockets of goodness
Now right off the bat you can see these aren't very traditional samosas.  Once again, this is a case of baking where you would traditionally fry (because we don't need any more sat fat!).  The recipe for these vegan samosas came courtesy of The Vegan Lunchbox cookbook.  A batch of whole wheat pie crust is stuffed with a lovely seasoned mix of boiled potatoes and peas.  Seal them up and bake, then eat with your favorite sauce (in this picture, it's plum).  I'm  not going to lie, these require effort (anytime I'm making a pie crust that pretty much seals it for me as an "effort" recipe), but the payoff is completely worth it.  I would make these to accompany one of the other Indian recipes for a Sunday night dinner.

And that is just a sample of some of the easy, amazing vegan foods that come naturally when you're making Indian food!  Happy noshing!