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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cook Now, Study Later

  It feels like forever since I wrote my last post. This past week dragged on way too long. I had exams in two different classes yesterday, so I spent most of the weekend studying after working the 5am opening shifts at Starbucks. I don't know if I've mentioned before, but I'm working towards a Masters in Nutrition and Registered Dietitian certification. I applied to Hunter College in Manhattan, so I'm still waiting to hear if I've been accepted to the program. For the past year, I've been taking the pre-requisite science courses at my local community college. I was also busy playing homemaker this week, since my mom was visiting my grandpa in Florida for his 93rd birthday. I always cook my own meals, but this week I had to feed my dad as well. He was born and raised in Sicily, so he really only has a taste for dishes with familiar Mediterranean ingredients. In addition to Italian food, I can usually serve him Greek or Middle Eastern style dishes, but Asian is out of the question. I made the "French Lentil Soup with Tarragon and Thyme" and "Chestnut Lentil Pate" recipes from Veganomicon one night. The soup was nice, but next time I would add tiny pasta and give it a spicy kick with cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes. I used a bag of organic roasted chestnuts that I bought at a Korean market in the pate and substituted green lentils. I served the pate with melba crackers. It had a subtle sweetness from the chestnuts, but the nutmeg was a little overpowering for me. I also made a side of "tempeh bacon" from Vegan With a Vengeance, which is one of my favorite recipes. Another night I adapted a recipe for a chickpea, artichoke, and almond salad from Vegan Yum Yum by adding crushed tomatoes and serving it over whole wheat pasta. I had made this variation once before, and it was definitely better the first time. I think I overcooked the pasta a bit, because I usually prefer mine to be chewy "al dente" style.

On Friday night I picked an unassuming recipe from Vegan With a Vengeance, because it sounded healthy and I had most of the ingredients on hand. I made "beet, barley, and black soybean soup with pumpernickel croutons" (which is author Isa Chandra Moskowitz's interpretation of the classic Russian borscht). The soup had a beautiful magenta color, and interesting sweet, sour, and earthy flavor. I didn't have pumpernickel bread, but substituted some dense, chewy German dark rye bread for the croutons. These, as well as some fresh dill, rounded out the dish. My picky father actually ate two large bowls of this soup!

Tonight, Danny and I made a vegan version of "Addictive Sweet Potato Burritos" from, which we served with arugula salad and Trader Joe's sweet potato chips. We substituted black beans for the kidney beans and added some sweet plantain. They were good, but to make them really addictive I would add a lot more plantain, some brown rice, and corn. After dinner we baked up "Chocolate Chai Cupcakes" from VegWeb. They had a nice moist consistency, but the chai flavor was not strong enough (I even used three tea bags). I don't bake often, so I've never made frosting before. We attempted a recipe for "fluffy" frosting, but it turns out that coconut oil is not a good substitute for shortening. The frosting tasted good, but didn't really thicken, so we were unable to pipe it. If anyone has suggestions for making good frosting, let me know!

It seems as though I've tested a ton of recipes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's books this past week. Some were hit or miss, but overall her recipes are solid. I just remembered that I also tried the "chickpea cutlets" with "mustard sauce" from Veganomicon last weekend. I was actually really grossed out the first time I tasted the cutlets. I'm not a fan of vital wheat gluten, so the gumminess that it gave the cutlets turned me off. The mustard sauce was also overpowering, because I used a strong Dijon mustard and the capers were too vinegary. The next day I baked the leftover cutlets in the toaster oven, and they seemed to cook through more in the middle. I spread some tahini on them and then the mustard sauce and voila! the taste and texture had improved tenfold. Next time I make them I might try baking them instead of pan frying them and serving them with a different sauce. I had a gallon of this mustard sauce leftover, but found a great use for it! My new favorite salad is romaine lettuce, orange wedges, kalamata olives, chopped Medjool dates, and hemp seed with the mustard sauce as a dressing. If you don't want to whip up the mustard sauce, I've had this salad before with a simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Very Belated Vegan MoFo Survey

What is Vegan MoFo you ask? It was originally created on the Post Punk Kitchen in honor of National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write as much as you can about food (especially vegan food) in the month of November. Being that I didn't start this blog until after November 2010, I didn't get to participate last year. But I recently found this neat Vegan MoFo 2010 survey on a vegan blog, and I love taking surveys, so here are my responses:
What is one food you thought you’d miss when you went vegan, but don’t?

What is a food or dish you wouldn’t touch as a child, but enjoy now?
I was a ridiculously picky eater, so I probably wouldn't have eaten nearly 75% of the things I eat now

What vegan dish or food you feel like you “should” like, but don’t?
Tofu! It's too mushy and moist for me

What beverage do you consume the most of on any given day?
Lots of water and 2-3 cups of tea

What dish are you “famous” for making or bringing to gatherings?
I don't really have a famous dish, but I won an "honorable mention" for my Paradise Casserole at a Turkey-Free Thanksgiving Event

Do you have any self-imposed food rules (like no food touching on the plate or no nuts in sweets)?
I have a lot of rules involving foods with certain preservatives/additives (I absolutely won't touch anything with high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils)

What’s one food or dish you tend to eat too much of when you have it in your home?
Peanut butter - I've been known to finish off an entire jar in less than a week

What ingredient or food do you prefer to make yourself despite it being widely available prepackaged?
Hummus - it's hard to find organic hummus, and I don't like the preservatives added to most packaged versions

What ingredient or food is worth spending the extra money to get “the good stuff”?
Organic food is worth every penny in terms of health and nutrition in my opinion; also spices - I used to buy 99 cent spices on occasion and they can definitely ruin a dish

Are you much of a snacker? What are your favorite snacks?
I eat about once every 3 hours, so I definitely snack. I usually eat healthy things like fruit and nuts, and I rarely eat junk food or desserts.

What are your favorite vegan pizza toppings?
tomato sauce, cashew tofu ricotta, grilled eggplant, grilled portobello, broccoli rabe

What is your favorite vegetable? Fruit?
vegetable - kale, sweet potato, Sungold tomatoes
fruit - apple, mango, persimmon 

What is the best salad dressing?
I'm not a huge salad fan, and I have yet to come across a favorite dressing. I usually just mix some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, black pepper, and oregano

What is your favorite thing to put on toasted bread?
nut butter, hemp seeds, raspberry jam, and raisins

What kind of soup do you most often turn to on a chilly day or when you aren’t feeling your best?
curried split pea soup with a side of basmati rice

What is your favorite cupcake flavor? Frosting flavor?
carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

What is your favorite kind of cookie?
gingerbread cookies or peanut butter cookies

What is your most-loved “weeknight meal”?
tempeh and black bean "sausage" patties with tahini drizzle, roasted herbed carrots, kale chips

What is one dish or food you enjoy, but can’t get anyone else in your household to eat?
each person in my family has such different tastes - my mom will try most things I make (but won't eat anything with cilantro), my Dad will only eat anything with Mediterranean ingredients (he wouldn't dare touch anything Asian), and my sister is your typical meat and potatoes girl (and won't eat anything with whole tomatoes in it)

How long, in total, do you spend in the kitchen on an average day?
I cook a full meal 3-4 times a week and make enough so that I will have leftovers for a few days; each time I cook I spend close to 2 hours in the kitchen 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring is Just Around the Corner!

So maybe the groundhog was right this year....spring seems to making its way onto Long Island earlier than usual. Or maybe it just seems earlier after the brutal winter we had this year. Either way, I'm loving the milder temperature and sunshine we've been having. I know this blog is about food, but veganism and fitness go hand in hand. So I'll chat a bit about my favorite outdoor fitness activities. I was a competitive distance runner back in high school and college, but a chronic foot problem has kept me from running in the past two years. I keep looking for activities that give me the same satisfaction as running, namely the "runner's high." When I lived in South Korea, hiking was the most popular sport because of the mountainous terrain covering most of the country. Danny and I bought some gear and went hiking a few times and loved it. I will have to give it another shot this summer on New York's Appalachia Trail. This past winter we went ice skating, and it turns out I'm a natural on skates. Danny suggested we buy some rollerblades for the warmer weather, so we both bought a pair of K2 skates a few weeks ago. I tried them out this past week, and the "soft boot" technology makes them so comfortable. I'm super clumsy, so I bought the protective knee, elbow, and wrist padding set too. I enjoy biking as well, but I feel too constricted on a bike and my butt tends to hurt after sitting on a seat for too long. I prefer rollerblading, because it allows more freedom of movement, so it's closer in feeling to running. Aside from running, my favorite all-weather fitness activities are yoga and pilates. I have only taken classes two or three times, but I prefer to do yoga and pilates in my own home using an MTV dvd set. My absolute favorite is Power Yoga, which is the only activity that gives me the same lean and toned look as running. Since following the dvd 2-3 times a week, I have felt stronger, more flexible, and I rarely experience back or neck pain anymore. I used to use the Pilates for Dummies dvd in college to help tone my muscles and prevent injuries while I was a runner.

The weather was so nice yesterday that Danny and I had a picnic dinner in Huntington's Hecksher Park. We stopped at Live Island Cafe for the first time to pick up a gourmet sampler of raw vegan food. The owner, Chef Okima, has just opened the cafe, so it is currently take-out only and the menu changes from day to day. She walked us through everything included in our sampler trays: caprese salad, marinated stuffed mushrooms, falafel, sundried tomato pizza with cashew cheese and kale, zucchini pasta, nut and seed crackers, sauerkraut, and tabouli salad. Everything was incredibly flavorful and fresh. We also had chocolate chip cookies for dessert, which tasted just like raw cookie dough (but were made instead with nuts, coconut, cocoa powder, and probably dates)! Raw food involves too much preparation and expensive appliances, so I don't think I could do it. But I would like to take one of Chef Okima's raw cooking classes to see what it's all about! 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dry Frying Tofu

If you've read my earlier post ,"Tempeh vs. Tofu," you know that I'm not the biggest tofu fan. I decided to give it another shot with Lauren Ulm's dry-frying method from Vegan Yum Yum. What usually turns me off to tofu is the moisture and mushy texture. I've heard that pressing or freezing tofu can improve the texture, so those methods are next on my tofu to-do list. I tried to the "Sweet Chili Lime Tofu with Wok Steamed Collards and Quinoa" recipe from Vegan Yum Yum. The ingredient list and lengthy recipe seem intimidating, but it was super easy and took me less than an hour. Dry-frying essentially involves cooking the tofu without oil and pressing out the
water while cooking, then adding a sauce to the hot pan and allowing it to cook down to a glaze. The tofu came out so flavorful and chewy. For the greens, I used Trader Joe's massive bag of pre-washed and cut Southern greens (collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, and spinach). In the future I would add 3-4 cloves of minced garlic and a bit of oil to the greens for added flavor. The quinoa and greens were a little bland, so definitely double the sweet chili lime sauce and drizzle the rest on before serving. I drizzled some Soy Vay Hoison Garlic Marinade on my leftovers today and that  gave the dish the extra flavor boost it needed.

While I was already making a mess of my kitchen yesterday, I baked up a loaf of Irish soda bread. I followed the recipe exactly, and sifted a touch of flour onto the finished loaf for a more traditional look. Let's just say that the loaf won't be making it to St. Patrick's Day. My parents, Danny, and I devoured the entire thing last night, with some warm Earth Balance spread. The loaf had a light sweetness to it, and it was a little moister than most Irish soda bread I've had in the past.

I will leave you with this funny "Defensive Omnivore Bingo" post I found on I've gotten so many responses like these when I tell people I'm vegan!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Chew on This: Vegan Brunch!

I'm back in action! I've recovered from last week's wisdom tooth extraction for the most part, and I ate my first solid food meal on Saturday morning. For about seven days I stuck to a liquid and soft food diet, which forced me to get quite creative towards the end of the week:

  • I made mashed sweet potatoes by roasting 4-6 sweet potatoes until tender in a 450 degree oven, then removing the skins and blending them with 1 tbs. mellow white miso, 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, and 2 tsp. cinnamon. This mash makes up the top layer to NYC Candle Cafe's Paradise Casserole, but it is delicious on its own! I also sauteed ripened plantains in coconut oil and mashed those for another sweet, yet healthy sidedish.
  • I turned this black bean hummus recipe into a black bean mash by cutting the amount of lemon juice and cumin in half to make it less pungeant and more appropriate as a sidedish.
  • I adapted this recipe for So Healthy Chocolate Mousse by using 3 tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder, 3 tbs. agave nectar, omitting the orange zest, and including 2 soaked medjool dates and 1 tsp. raw coconut oil combined with about half of a dark chocolate bar, melted. I used Green & Black's Espresso dark chocolate, which gave the mousse a nice depth of flavor.
To celebrate my transition to solid foods on Saturday, I cooked up a vegan brunch with Danny. We attempted our first tofu scramble by following the recipe from Vegan With a Vengeance, adding spinach at the end. It was not nearly as delicious as the tofu scramble I tasted at 3 Brothers Pizza, but it was worth repeating. Next time I would add extra onion and reduce the amount of cumin and nutritional yeast (I have an aversion to cumin and cilantro, but I'm trying to develop a taste for both). I also baked skillet corn bread from Veganomicon in my cast-iron skillet. I added sweet corn kernels and used spelt flour in place of all-purpose flour. The corn bread had a subtle sweetness and held together nicely. (It's seriously adddictive...I ate most of the loaf myself in 2 days!) I served the cornbread with Earth Balance and a drizzle of pure maple syrup. Lastly, I prepared some sweet-and-sour aduki beans, which I had made once before by following this  recipe for black eyed peas. I considered including tempeh bacon and hash-brown potatoes in my brunch, but I didn't have the ingredients on hand and I try to avoid using too much soy in one meal.


A year or two ago, I would have spent most of my recovery glued to the Food Network. However, I recently discovered that vegan cooking is developing a strong representation in online videos. Since subscribing to Spork Online, I have found several other similar projects:
  • Vegucating Robin - chef Gavan Murphy, aka "Healthy Irishman," teaches Robin Quivers about vegan cooking in short online episodes
  • I'm Vegan - a series of short documentary profiles that feature vegans from all walks of life
  • The Post Punk Kitchen - Isa Chandra Moskowitz taped this cooking show in her small Brooklyn aparment prior to the release of her now-famous cookbooks
  • Heavy Metal Vegan Cooking - the male version of the Post-Punk Kitchen
  • Everyday Dish - I found these free vegan cooking videos on YouTube, but the website offers a subscription service similar to Spork Online.
  • Vegucated - "a guerrilla-style documentary that follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks and learn what it’s all about"; due to premiere in spring 2011...look for screenings near you!
  • You can find a ton of other vegan cooking shows by doing a Google or YouTube search!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Organizing My Ever-Expanding Cookbook Library

As soon as you go vegan, every family member and friend will shower you with vegan cookbooks and cooking equipment on holidays. Hey I'm not complaining! It was these books that have helped me understand vegan nutrition and cooking techniques. My mom works at a library, so she brings home even more vegan and vegetarian books that are donated or no longer in circulation. I have browsed through most of my cookbooks at least once, but when I'm looking for a particular recipe or ingredient, I have to search through the index of each book until I find the perfect recipe. This is the same dilemma that originally influenced me to launch this blog (in that case it was streamlining the online vegan recipe search). Thanks to Google Books, I have discovered a way to organize my personal cookbook library and search through all of them at once. Here is my small yet solid library of vegan cookbooks. If you type an ingredient or recipe name into the text box at left and click "search," you will get results from my cookbook library only. Of course there are limitations to this method. Google Books allows you to preview a large percentage of the pages in most books. So for some of your search results, you can view the complete recipe, but for others you might only be given the page number.

While I'm on the topic of kitchen essentials, I recently purchased a few items on Amazon. A few weeks ago I realized that my old blender couldn't even process a banana, so it was time to get a new one. If I had a lot of money to spend and more counter space in my kitchen, I would totally get a powerful and versatile Vitamix blender. However, I was looking for something smaller that was easy to clean and could also grind things like seeds and nuts. I settled on the Tribest Personal Blender, and I'm glad I made the choice. I haven't used it too much, but it's certainly easy to clean, BPA free, and comes with mix and match travel cups and lids. It has a blending blade, which is great for smoothies, and a grinding blade, which literally pulverized my cashews into a flour. Today I also ordered a Lodge Logic 5Qt. Dutch Oven, which has a lid that doubles as a skillet! I bought the Lodge Logic 10" Cast Iron Skillet a few months ago and absolutely love it. It comes pre-seasoned, so after each use you just scrub with hot water (no soap!) and a scouring pad and lightly oil it before storing it. Cast iron is naturally nonstick, adds a significant amount of iron to your food, and lasts a lifetime or more! I can't wait to get the dutch oven, because I want to try a recipe for "no-knead bread." The other item I purchased today was a Silpat, a naturally nonstick, nontoxic, baking mat that is always featured on Spork Foods.

I won't be posting any recipes too soon, because I had to get all four wisdom teeth removed yesterday. The nurse instructed my mom to feed me soft foods like "scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, soup, yogurt, pudding, ice cream, and Jello." Since I can't eat half of those things, my mom made a trip to the natural section of our local chain grocery store to pick up organic vegan items like applesauce, Imagine Foods potato and leek soup, So Delicious soy ice cream, and sweet potatoes (which she roasted and mashed in my favorite way with mellow white miso, apple cider vinegar, and cinnamon). I also made a quick orange-pineapple juice and banana smoothie in my blender this morning. As soon as I can eat whole foods again, I want to try this recipe for Irish Soda Bread, which calls for soft silken tofu (I've had a box in pantry that is nearing expiration, and I never knew what to do with the soft variety). I'm not Irish, but I do enjoy a good soda bread with a pat of Earth Balance spread around the St. Patrick's Day holiday.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Virtual Vegan Cooking Classes With "Spork"

I have been cooking for a few years now (well I guess only 4...I taught myself during my junior year of college by watching the Food Network). Since then, I've come a long way! I've only been cooking vegan for nine months though, and lately I've been looking to expand my vegan culinary skills. I still have an irrational fear of preparing tofu and seitan, and I'm not quite comfortable with vegan desserts yet. A recent Google search for vegan culinary classes in the New York area only came up with Manhattan's expensive Natural Gourmet Institute and a few other private companies I'd never heard of. However, one particular link caught my eye. Spork Foods is the
brainchild of two L.A. sisters who offer 100% vegan cooking classes in the L.A. area as well as subscription-based online cooking classes! Their site was a winner of the famous VegNews Veggie Awards of 2010. As a member, you can watch one hour-long episode each month, access archived episodes, view recipes, and ask the sisters questions about vegan cooking. You can watch one complimentary full length episode as a non-member, so I checked out the free brunch episode. Within the first ten minutes I was hooked: the sisters are super fun and enthusiastic, the video is shot in high-definition, so you can literally smell and taste the food, and they provide helpful culinary tips and the history or healing benefits behind certain foods. After watching the free episode, I subscribed to the site, and I've already watched four episodes in the past 48 hours! The sisters just make everything look so easy (and their recipes really are!), and they are able to complete four courses in the hour long episode. Today I made their "Ginger, Agave, and Mustard Glazed Tempeh," which was so easy and delicious! I didn't have all of the ingredients for their "chocolate orange mousse," so I made a healthy variation that used silken tofu, banana, avocado, cocoa powder, maple syrup, and orange zest. I can't wait to try some more of their recipes. The only downside to the virtual cooking classes is that I can't sample their food myself!