Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I had such a good time at the potluck Sunday!

I first discovered potlucks when I was in college.  I was a vegetarian back then, and I hung out at the food co-op a lot, so the potlucks were all with kind of a hippie crowd.  Everything was always vegetarian, and pretty much on the crunchy granola side of things.  I think I assumed all potlucks were like that.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Lunch

I have a bunch of cookbook reviews on deck, but until then, here for your delectation is today's lunch:  chipotle baked tofu from Vegan Eats World, yellow garlic rice from Viva Vegan, and  "kaleidoscope chard" from Trader Joe's, cooked according to the directions on the package.  All the colors made me so happy.


Recipe of the day: Greek bean salad

I'm going to a potluck dinner tonight and was asked to bring "protein," so I invented the following salad.  I'm calling it Greek because I'm using Greek dressing, and because of the kalamata olives.

Greek Bean Salad


1 cup dry black beans
1 cup dry chick peas
1 cup dry red kidney beans
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 green bell peppers, finely diced
About 4 oz pitted kalamata olives, sliced in rings

Dressing (very slightly adapted from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook):

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
Soak the beans overnight, then drain, add fresh water to cover, and simmer until cooked to your liking.  For best results, cook each type of bean in a separate pot.  Or you can do what I did, and cook the kidney beans and chick peas in one pot, and the black beans in a second pot.  Your chick peas will turn pink, but at least everything won't be stained purple from the black beans.  Drain the cooked beans, rinse them in cold water, and combine in a big bowl in the refrigerator to cool off.  If you don't want to cook your own beans, you could substitute two 15-ounce cans of each type of bean, drained and rinsed.

Once the beans have cooled off, add the other salad ingredients to the bowl and stir.  Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar, shake it up, pour it over the salad, and stir until salad is evenly coated with dressing.  Keep this at room temperature until ready to serve, so the olive oil doesn't solidify and get yucky.  Om nom nom.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Vegan. Girl. Scout. Cookies.

You heard me.

File this one under "information I wish I didn't have."  One of the two manufacturers of Girl Scout cookies makes vegan Thin Mints and something called Thanks-a-lot, which did not exist when I was a Girl Scout but are also vegan.  They also make a version of Tagalongs that are not labelled "vegan", but I didn't see anything non-vegan on the label (maybe it's in the natural or artificial flavors?).  Thanks to The Laziest Vegans in the World, I now have this dangerous information.  And our secretary sells Girl Scout Cookies for her granddaughter's troop every year.

At least they aren't making vegan Samoas -- yet.  That would just be too much to bear.

Fuel for the engine

I've been going to the gym every day for over a month now, and I'm hungry.  Want.  Food.  The problem is, I am really bad at discerning whether my body actually needs food or something else is going on that my brain is translating into "hunger" because eating is my default coping mechanism.  I'm even worse at discerning when I've had "enough."  There is no such thing as enough -- there's not enough, and then there's too much, but there's never enough.  So I rely on my food plan to assure me that I am not going to starve to death and can get on with my day until it's time for another meal.  I am losing weight -- have lost about 10 pounds since New Year's Eve -- but it doesn't seem excessive and I'm now at the top end of "normal" (whatever that means), so theoretically either staying the same or losing more would be OK.  But I'm hungry.  And when I'm hungry, I make regrettable decisions, like treating leftover coconut cream (hardened in the refrigerator) as an hors d'oeuvre.    

So I emailed my nutritionist this morning and asked her what she thought I should do. I asked for help from someone who knows more than I do (and in the process, acknowledged the existence of people who know more than I do, which is not always easy for me).  And while I'm waiting to hear from her, I'll keep doing what I'm doing and remind myself that I'm not starving to death.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Improvised slow cooker posole

Posole (or if you prefer, pozole) is one of the foods I discovered when we visited the Southwest last fall.  It's a soup made with chile, hominy, and, traditionally, something dead.  According to Wikipedia, the original posole was made by the Aztecs and included meat from human sacrifices.  Ew.  After the Conquistadors arrived there were no more human sacrifices, so people used pork, the other white meat.  Still ew.  I make mine with beans -- in this most recent instance, cute little Sangre de Toro beans.

The hardest thing about making posole on the east coast is finding dried hominy.  Canned hominy is easy to find, but canned hominy is gross.  The first posole I made was with blue corn hominy I found at Whole Foods in  Santa Fe.  I haven't been able to find that here.  The closest I've come is at our local mercado latino, where I found Goya brand white and golden hominy, which according to the people at Wegman's (where I searched in vain) is positively loaded with iron.  Who knew?  Goya hominy is not whole kernels, it's cracked, so it's not nearly as dramatic looking, but unless I'm going to nixtamalize my own corn it appears to be the best I can do.

One thing about making posole -- even after you soak it overnight, the hominy takes forever to cook.  Hours.  Longer than beans.   So this time, I decided to try making it in the slow cooker.  I soaked a pound of hominy and a pound of beans overnight, then the next morning I put them in my biggest slow cooker crock with an onion, a bunch of ancho chile powder, some Mexican oregano, a little cumin, and water to fill the crock.  Lots of water.  Plenty of water.  Or so I thought. 

When I got home from work, the corn and beans had slurped up all the water.  Instead of soup, I had a big pot of stew thick enough to stand a spoon up in.  Fortunately, it didn't stick to the crock.

I suppose I could have added some broth and tried to soupify it, but I decided just to eat it as is: 

That's garnished with raw cabbage, a raw bell pepper, guacamole, and a lime wedge.  It was kind of bland the first day, so I added some of my new favorite commercial spice blend, Trader Joe's South African Smoke.  Over the next day or two, the flavors developed, and it was perfect as is.

My girlfriend doesn't like posole -- I think she had a bad experience with canned hominy as a child -- so I ended up eating the whole pot myself, mostly for breakfast.  I didn't intend to make a stew rather than a soup, but I might actually prefer it this way.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Greek salad with tofeta

After the success of the cheezy broccoli soup, I was leafing through The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook to see if there was anything else I wanted to try.  I've had that book for a while, but I tend to make the same couple of recipes.  We came across the recipe for "betta feta" made with tofu, which to me has always just sounded way too weird, but feta is one of the things my girlfriend misses from pregan days, so she decided to make a batch.  It sat in the refrigerator in its brine (made from salt, water, miso, and vinegar) for a week, and we faithfully shook it up every day.  On Saturday I mixed up some Greek diner-style vinaigrette, and we had Greek salad for lunch:

The tofu even crumbles like feta.  It kind of freaked me out a little bit:

Does it taste like feta?  Not quite, but to someone who hasn't eaten feta for years it seemed pretty darn close, especially when I ate it combined with the vegetables and vinaigrette.  I added some cold brown rice for starch, and this made a complete meal.

We have enough left over for a few more salads, and will probably make this again, maybe in the summer when we can get real tomatoes at the farmer's market.

Monday, February 11, 2013

International spice blend extravaganza

I've said before that I like to make my own spice blends.  The quality is so much better, and when you buy your whole spices at your local Indian grocery store, you save a ton of money.  I've made several different blends from my favorite 660 Curries,   and I recently decided to have a spice blend party and make some from Vegan Eats World, too.  Once you've got a good supply of whole spices in the house, all you need are a frying pan and a coffee grinder to make just about any spice blend you can think of.  And the toasting spices make the house smell great.

This is my all-time favorite, Punjabi garam masala (what most people just call "garam masala," but I learned from my boyfriend Raghavan Iyer that there are many different garam masalas), from 660 Curries:

before toasting . . . .

. . . . and after.

My masala-making got kicked up a notch when I finally discovered black cardamom pods, or as I like to call them, rat turds:

I wanted to try some recipes from Vegan Eats World, so I made two more spice blends.  This is baharat, a seven-spice Persian blend that bears some resemblance to garam masala, but is heavier on the peppercorns:

And this is the Ethiopian classic, berbere.  First you toast some whole spices:

And then after you grind those up, you add a bunch more pre-ground ones:

Here are the three spice blends, ready to be used:

 I haven't used the berbere yet, but I made  some baked tofu with the Persian blend and it was really great.

My only criticism of the spice blends in Vegan Eats World is that there is no instruction to spread the spices out and let them cool between toasting and grinding.  This is an important step, because if the spices are too hot when you grind them, you'll trap moisture in your powdered blend and it will cake up and I imagine not keep well.  As soon as the spices are toasted, pour them out of the frying pan and onto a dinner plate.  Spread them out in a single layer.  It only takes a few minutes for them to be cool to the touch, and then you can grind to your heart's content.  

I know not to expect much from the American Heart Association, but this is really over the top

Check this out -- "Midwestern corn-fed beef," certified by the American Heart Association.  Certified to do what, cause heart attacks?  That's all I've got.  I'm speechless.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How I learned to stop worrying and love tempeh

Since I first encountered it as a college student, tempeh has been one of those foods I've wanted to like more than I do.  It's high in protein and fiber!  It's made from whole foods!  It's fermented!  But I've always thought it tasted kind of nasty, and I've avoided it for years.  My girlfriend disliked it too, so I had no reason to try cooking it.

I'm not sure how it happened, but lately we've been talking about giving tempeh another try.  Maybe it's because I decided seitan is a trigger food for me, and stopped making it.  We both felt like it would be nice to add a little more variety to our protein options.  I was looking through my copy of Vegan Eats World and found a recipe for tempeh chorizo that sounded easy and tasty (except for the tempeh part).  We figured that might be a good gateway recipe since the seasoning would help disguise the tempeh. So we bought a package of tempeh and it was hanging out in the fridge, waiting for the weekend, when I do most of my kitchen experiments.

Then we went out to dinner to celebrate a friend's birthday.  I have to say that with the exception of sushi, I'm not really a big fan of eating out these days.  Most restaurant food has crack in it (read David Kessler's brilliant The End of Overeating to learn about how this is done deliberately), and when I find some that doesn't, I usually think I could make something tastier at home.  So these days I eat out almost entirely for social reasons, and do what I have to do to make the food work.

We ate at One World Cafe, which is sort of the tempeh of restaurants.   It has a lot of vegan options on the menu, and the kitchen uses organic produce when they can.  It's wheelchair accessible.  It's in a convenient location, although the parking is less than ideal.  We want to love it.  But the food just isn't that great.   I know I can get brown rice, veggies, and tofu, though, so at least I don't have to carry a protein option in my purse.

My girlfriend decided to order curried veggies and tempeh over rice noodles.  The dish looked beautiful, and the flavors were good, but the salt and oil in the dish were just overwhelming.  I expect restaurant food to be saltier than what I cook at home, but this was really over the top.  She couldn't finish it, and neither of us was tempted to take the leftovers home.  I thought to myself, "I can do better than this," and on Friday night I decided to try.

I used this recipe as a guide, and came up with this:

That's tempeh with carrots, Shanghai bok choy, and fresh basil, in a sauce made with onion, garlic, curry powder, Bragg's, and coconut milk.  I am not a fan of packaged curry powder, but I had some homemade Madras curry powder from a recipe in 660 Curries, and it worked well. I used an 8-oz package of tempeh and enough veggies to make two generous dinner servings.  And we broke the tempeh barrier.  We loved it. What can I say?  Pan frying plus coconut milk makes everything better.

I did make a huge mess, though, and even working in shifts we were not able to get the pan completely clean. Next time we are going to try baking the tempeh in the oven to get it brown, and then adding it back to the veggies when we add the coconut milk.  I think that will work a lot better and will also reduce the fat in the dish (although nothing can make this low-fat, because soybeans and coconut milk).  We'll try out different veggies, too.  This dish is a keeper.

That was Friday dinner.  You know it really broke the tempeh barrier, because I made the tempeh chorizo for breakfast the next morning:

I followed the recipe in Vegan Eats World pretty much to the letter, except I used a lot less oil.  I've never had "real" chorizo so I have no idea whether this tastes anything like it, but it's yummy so who cares.  This is a great weekend breakfast dish that I will definitely make again.

Breakfast of champions:  temprizo, reheated baked potato, and a very ripe banana.  Om nom nom.

And that, my friends, is how I learned to stop worrying and love tempeh.  Watch for more tempeh recipes, and much more from Vegan Eats World, in future posts.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

If you eat chocolate, please consider this

If you're reading this blog, you probably know that ethical sourcing of chocolate is a big issue.  Child labor, and even slavery, have been widespread on West African cocoa farms.  You may be thinking, "But I only eat organic chocolate."  But an organic label, or even a Fair Trade label, is no guarantee that the chocolate was not produced with child labor or slave labor.  And many chocolate companies are very secretive about their sources, so it's impossible for outsiders to judge whether they are following ethical practices or not.

If you eat chocolate, please take a look at this list of companies that are are recommended and companies that are not.  There are many, many choices on the "recommend" list.  I am not suggesting you stop eating chocolate.  I'm suggesting you stick to the "recommend" list.  I'm also suggesting that if you currently use a product from a non-recommended company, you write to them and tell them your concerns.  Tell them you can't eat this product until they show they are at least trying to source their chocolate ethically.  I was disturbed to see that several companies loved by vegans -- Clif Bar!  Q.bel!  Trader Joe's! -- were unwilling to disclose their chocolate sources to activists.  What are they afraid of?  And then there are the companies that failed to respond at all -- including the Alternative Baking Company, which was a favorite of mine back in the days when I ate cookies, and Green and Black's, which I used to think of as "ethical" because they make organic products.  If you use products from companies that failed to respond, write to them and ask them to respond -- and stop using their chocolate products until they do.

Despite how you may feel when you're about to get your period, no one needs chocolate -- or cookies, or  convenience food, for that matter.  If you're vegan (and if you're not, why aren't you?), there's already a list of products you avoid for ethical reasons.  Is eating "vegan" chocolate produced with slave labor really more ethical than eating chocolate made with dairy?  Humans are animals too.  Children in particular are vulnerable animals who need our protection and care.

If you want to think more about these issues, you might want to participate in this webinar.  

These suggestions are relatively easy for me to take because I don't eat sweets any more.  Those Alternative Baking Company cookies were crack to me, and they had to go, along with all the other vegan goodies.   I don't want to sound smug, though.  I am able to do this because I'm in recovery, and I get a lot of help.  When I was in the midst of my eating disorder -- something that could happen again at any time, if I'm not careful -- I didn't give a shit about ethics.  Fair trade, shmair trade.  I'd certainly binge on vegan stuff -- vegan does not mean healthy -- but when I needed a fix I would eat anything sweet, whether it was vegan or not.  I wasn't able to live according to my ethics, and for me that is one of the worst things about this disease.

If you need help with an eating disorder, I suggest you go here.  To learn more about what it means to be vegan, go here and here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

tortilla-free enchiladas, here I come!

I already commented on the original post on "That Was Vegan?" but I just want to take up a little bit of my own real estate to say that this is brilliant.  Enchilada.  Stuffed.  Peppers.  I don't eat tortillas any more (because they are crack), and with my recent interest in Latin cooking I've been feeling sad about not being able to make enchiladas.  No more.  Give me an enchilada recipe, and I will convert it into stuffed pepper goodness.  The linked recipe doesn't include sauce, but I see no reason why you couldn't pour enchilada sauce over the tops of the peppers before putting them in the oven.  And it just occurred to me -- stuffed cabbage is basically burritos with cabbage instead of tortillas.  Cabbageitos, anyone?

I'm going to look over some enchilada recipes, and try this over the weekend.  Pictures to follow.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A bounty of beans

I went to my neighborhood mercado latino on Saturday in search of cranberry beans.  I didn't find cranberry beans, but I did buy a big bag of Roman beans, because I love them and they were the best price I've ever seen.  Now Wikipedia is telling me that Roman beans are a variety of cranberry beans.  But in Viva Vegan, Terry Hope Romero talks as if they are completely different.  I don't  know who to believe!

This morning I am eating some posole I made with Sangre de Toro beans.  Gross name ("bull's blood"), but the beans are cute, very small and dark, glossy red.

I really like exploring different kinds of beans.  I've been into Indian dals for a long time, and now I am getting more into the Latin American beans.  In addition to Roman beans, on Saturday I bought Dominican reds (dark red with lighter spots, like pinto beans in reverse), and pigeon peas.  Pigeon peas have been hard to find -- I think maybe we have a dearth of Puerto Ricans here in Baltimore.  We've apparently got a critical mass of Peruvians, though -- the mercado has tons of Peruvian products, many of which I have no idea how to use (giant kernels of blue corn still on the cob, anyone?)

I've been making recipes from Viva Vegan and Vegan Eats World over the past couple weeks.  Pictures and recipe reviews to follow.

What is your favorite bean?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Broccoli cheezy soup -- a decadent meal in a bowl

It all started with the squasheeta.

I came across this recipe for "butternut squasheeta" and had to try it, partly because I'd never made a squash-based cheez recipe before, but mostly because I loved the name.  I mostly followed the recipe -- I included a generous tablespoon of the optional miso, and only used one teaspoon of olive oil to roast the squash, which turned out to be plenty -- and it was great.  I made this ahead of time and didn't use any water.  It was velvety and thick and beautifully orange (and like an idiot, I didn't take a picture).  When it was time to actually eat it, I heated up the portion we were going to use with some plain unsweetened soy milk to take it from a spread to more of a sauce consistency.

The only problem with this orange goodness is I was having trouble fitting it into my meal planning.  See, a standard dinner at my house is starch, legume, vegetable.  Butternut squash is a starch, but squasheeta cries out to be eaten with more starch -- over pasta if you eat pasta, or rice, or a baked potato.  The first night we had it, I ate it with rice, broccoli, and a side of baked tofu.  That was good, but after that I was having trouble figuring out how else to eat it.

Yesterday it occurred to me to make it into soup.  I had about half the squasheeta left at that point, and I knew I wanted to add protein so the soup could be a complete meal.  Silken tofu to the rescue!  Here's what I did:

Broccoli Squasheeta Soup

Makes 2 meal-sized servings

About 1/2 recipe butternut squasheeta
12-oz package silken tofu (I used extra firm)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 T lemon juice
1 generous T white miso
unsweetened, plain nondairy milk of choice (I used almond, because that's what was available)
1 lb broccoli florets

First, put some nutritional yeast in your cat's food dish, so he doesn't drive you nuts while you're cooking.  Actually, lock the more rambunctious cat in the bedroom, and give the more well-behaved one (who also knows how to open doors) some nooch in his food dish.

Puree the silken tofu until it is very smooth.  I was feeling lazy so I just dumped it in the cooking pot and used my immersion blender.

Add the squasheeta and stir to combine.  Now you have a  yellow mass of creamy goodness that tastes kind of bland.

Add the nooch, lemon juice, and miso, and use the immersion blender again to combine and make very smooth.  Turn on the stove

Slowly heat up the soup mixture, stirring in milk of choice until you get to the consistency you want.  At some point you will want to cover the pot because it'll start blorping and spitting all over the stove.

Add your broccoli florets.  I used frozen broccoli and dumped it directly in the soup.  You could also use either fresh or frozen and cook it separately.  When the soup and broccoli are hot all the way through, it's done!

Tell the cat he'll get his when you're finished.

My girlfriend pronounced this the best cheezy soup I've ever made.  I'm thinking it's the super smoothness of the squash and tofu.  In the future, if I didn't already have squasheeta on hand, I think I would just use some plain baked squash, processed until it was super smooth, and add additional miso, lemon, nooch, and maybe some garlic powder.  If you're allergic to soy, you could follow Jo Stepaniak's suggestion and use pureed white beans instead of tofu, but it won't be as rich and decadent tasting.

It was really good with some of this sprinkled on top:

 My latest Trader Joe's purchase.  Smoked paprika, garlic, and salt in a cute little grinder.  Essentially, it's calorie-free vegan Bac-os.  Om nom nom.