One of the hardest parts of being a new vegan (or even an old seasoned vegan) is trying to keep up with all the new products out there. I must have spent over $50 looking for the "right" vegan cheese my first year being a vegan and I have over 50 vegan/vegetarian cookbooks in my arsenal but not all the recipes are the greatest. I’m the first born so I’m used to being a Guinea Pig and now I’m your Vegan Guinea Pig. So here are my recommendations and critiques. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Soy Free & Gluten Free Vegan Mac & Cheese

For over a year now people have been raving over Allison Rivers Samson’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese recipe featured in VegNews magazine and now featured on VegNews website. It has been hailed by VegNews as the best mac ‘n’ cheese on the planet, and while I wouldn’t go that far I have to say that it is one amazing vegan mac & cheese recipe and one that I come back to time and time again.

What most people don’t know is that the recipe is actually an adaption of the Unprocessed Cheez Sauce in the Ultimate UnCheese Cookbook by Jo Stepaniak which I used as a template for the mac and cheeze recipe in my upcoming book Vegan Comfort Food. So hats off to Jo for inspiring so many great mac and cheese recipes!

Although I really enjoy Samson’s recipe I still wanted something a bit more creamier and to be soy free and gluten free. I also wanted to take down the number of ingredients and steps that Samson used in the original recipe to make it an even more user friendly recipe. So here’s my twist on this now famous vegan mac & cheese recipe.

8 ounces brown rice macaroni or spirals
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup peeled Yukon gold potatoes, chopped
¼ cup carrots, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup white or yellow onion, chopped
1 cup water
1/3 cup raw cashews
1-2 teaspoons sea salt
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoon breadcrumbs, optional

Prepare brown rice pasta according to package directions (minus one minute of cooking time). Drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking combine potatoes, carrots, onion and water in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. The smaller you cut the vegetables to less time it will take to cook them.

In a blender add cashews, garlic, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, cayenne pepper and cooked vegetables with their water. Process until completely smooth.

In a large bowl toss cooked pasta with blended cheese sauce until completely coated. Spread mixture into a lightly oiled 8x8 inch casserole dish, sprinkle with bread crumbs if using. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese sauce is bubbling.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Brown Rice Pasta (Gluten Free Pasta)

I’m always looking for new ways to inject more whole grains into my diet and since I have a love for seitan that knows no bounds I try to keep my gluten intake low in every other part of my diet to make sure that I am getting a varied diet. Two years ago I started seeing brown rice pasta pop up at my coop, Whole Foods and Trader Joes. I thought I’d give the spaghetti a try and was amazed that it tasted exactly like traditional pasta but was made entirely out of brown rice making it gluten free. I quickly went back and bought ever single shape and type of brown rice pasta you can imagine. From that point on I have never looked back and haven’t used traditional pasta in my home for anything.

My favorite brand, and the one I see most often is Tinkyada. It comes in every style you could possibly imagine: spaghetti, fettuccini, spirals, fusilli, shells, jumbo/grand shells, elbow macaroni, dreams (fun shapes for kids), lasagna, penne, spinach brown rice spaghetti and even vegetable brown rice spirals.

Trader Joe’s does carry it’s own brand of brown rice pasta and although it is good the taste pales in comparison to Tinkyada brand. Not only is Tinkyada brown rice pasta gluten free but they also have an extensive organic line.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cherrybrook Kitchen Original Pancake Mix & Pumpkin Pancake Recipe

Making homemade pancakes isn’t exactly rocket science but having a premade mix around that you only have to add soymilk and oil to turns easy into effortless. My new favorite pancake mix is Cherrybrook Kitchen’s. With just unbleached flour, evaporated cane juice, baking powder, vanilla and salt it’s a simple yet delicious mix.

I went a little overboard this past fall and bought at least ½ dozen cans of pumpkin puree. I’ve been staring these cans downs for months making pies, biscuits, pumpkin cakies, casseroles, soups, you name it I’ve been making it. So what’s the next logical step? Pumpkin Pancakes. Here’s my recipe for pumpkin pancakes using Cherrybrook Kitchen’s pancake mix:

1 cup oat or soymilk
½ cup pumpkin puree
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup pancake mix

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients with an electric mixer on medium speed until thoroughly combined and smooth.

Prepare a griddle or large skillet with canola oil to coat over medium heat. Spoon out batter onto griddle or skillet and cook until lightly brown, about 2 minutes then flip pancakes and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Serve with grade B maple syrup.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Restaurant Review: Pizza Fusion

After my review of Village Pizza Company everyone suggested that I try the new pizza spot in town Pizza Fusion. Finally I decided to make a trip down there to see what all the hype has been about. Pizza Fusion touts itself as being an earth-friendly, fresh and organic pizzeria and it definitely does not disappoint. Pizza Fusion manages to get all three of these things done while coming off more hip than hippie (even though I like the hippie places too).

The pizza, sandwiches and desserts were all delicious. I loved the texture and taste of the crust and even though the cheese was just your normal run of the mill Follow Your Heart Brand it tasted better than any package of follow your heart I’ve ever eaten. There was only one problem. Well, we had a couple problems that night but there was really only one problem when it came to the food. The pizza only comes in one size, unless you come at lunch and then you can get a personal sized pizza. Even though my date was no stranger to vegan pizza and didn’t mind eating it, it was a bit of a nuisance that the only way we could get exactly the kind of pizza we wanted was to order two separate pizzas. With just one pizza, one sandwich, a couple beers and a free dessert our bill ended up being double of what we’re used to when we go out and get pizza and beer (usually at Village Pizza Co.)

As much as I enjoyed the pizza at Pizza Fusion I doubt I’ll go back there unless it’s during lunch time, otherwise it’s just an overpriced hassle for me. I’d rather just go to Village Pizza Co., spend $3 on a generously portioned slice of pizza that has everything I want on it and call it a day.
Unlike most of the restaurants I review Pizza Fusion is actually a chain which has locations all over the U.S. so check out their website at to see if there is one near you.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Yellow Cake Cookies with Chocolate Icing

Today I was craving cookies but I only had half the ingredients for all the recipes I loved. I wanted snickerdoodles but didn’t have enough cinnamon, wanted sugar cookies but didn’t have enough sugar, wanted oatmeal cookies but didn’t have enough oatmeal or raisins. So what’s a poor little guinea pig to do when she’s in need of come quality cookies? Get out a box of cake mix!

I had one box of Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Classic Yellow Cake Mix in the pantry and just wasn’t in the mood for cupcakes but with a little imagination you can go from cupcakes to cookies in 2 minutes.

Here’s how you do it:

1 box Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Classic Yellow Cake Mix
¼ cup Earth Balance
¼ cup pureed soft silken tofu
2 tablespoons oat or soy milk
1 tablespoon potato starch, arrowroot or cornstarch
Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Chocolate Fudge Frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients at low speed until dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 for 11-13 minutes. Cool two minutes on cookie sheets, then transfer cookies to wax paper or wire racks. Yields 18 cookies.

Allow cookies to completely cool and ice with chocolate frosting.

This recipe can also be used for almost any cake mix so use whatever you have in your pantry or whatever is on sale. For me, this cake mix was only 54 cents so it doesn’t get much better than that!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Restaurant Review – Au Lac Café Fresno, CA

When you think of Fresno, CA the last thing you think of is great vegan food. But if you take one glance at my Fresno Guide you’ll see that Fresno actually has quite a bit to offer the central valley vegan. I’ve heard of Au Lac Café (1495 N Van Ness Ave, Fresno, CA 93728) for years now but for some reason just decided to give it a try this last Christmas. It is literally a block away from Charlotte’s Bakery so you can have a great meal and then walk over to have an incredible dessert.

Au Lac Café has a simple menu with amazing flavors. Here’s a sneak peak of what their menu has to offer:

Happy Burger – chicken patty, tomato, lettuce, sprouts, onions, vegannaise, mustard (optional teriyaki sauce)
Teriyaki Burger – chicken patty with sautéed mushrooms and teriyaki sauce
Veggie Sandwich – loaded with every type of vegetable you can imagine
Fried Rice
Curry Fried Rice
Lemongrass Chicken
Garlic Chicken
BBQ Drumsticks
Au Lac Fish
Tofu Delight
Chow Mein
Avocado Delight Salad
Eggplant tofu with rice
Chow Fun
Vegan Chicken Stir Fry

My personal favorites are the happy burger, the teriyaki burger, garlic chicken (tons of garlic!) and the vegan chicken stir fry. I could have their happy burger every single day for the rest of my life and be a happy little guinea pig.

They also sell faux meats out of a big freezer in the corner of the restaurant. They have a vast assortment of vegan and vegetarian chicken, vegan pork, vegan fish, vegan bacon and even vegan lamb. Everything at Au Lac’s is reasonably priced with the average menu item priced at $6.50. A pound of vegan chicken ran us about $4.50 and is definitely enough to make a couple great dinners out of. The only downside to it is that I can’t get that same faux chicken in Atlanta. If you are trying to decide where to eat in Fresno I highly highly highly recommend you head to Au Lac first then work your way down the list. And remember to bring cash, they don’t take credit cards.

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