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!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Summer BBQ in the Winter featuring Smart Dogs (Vegan Hot dogs)

With winter in full swing I can’t help but yearn for those days of summer. Summer BBQ's, grilled corn, homemade ice's so cruel to look outside at a beautiful sunny day only to realize it's 30 degrees outside. Thanks to an indoor grill (and most likely corn imported from Chile) I can turn on the space heater, throw on some shorts and pretend its summer for a day. The hallmark of any indoor winter BBQ is a good hot dog. But instead of the classic combination of animal lips and butts I turn to Lightlife’s Smart Dogs & Jumbo Dogs. They taste amazingly like the real thing except they are cruelty free, nitrite free, MSG Free and most importantly lips and butt free. 1 smart dog hot dog has only 45 calories and a generous 7 grams of protein per dog ( 13 grams of protein and 80 calories for the jumbo dogs). Not only are they low in calories and high in protein but they are the ultimate convenience food. You can wrap them in Pillsbury Crescent Rolls to make pups in a blanket, or even make homemade vegan corn dogs. But my all time favorite way is the classic grilled hot dog. Because these little dogs don’t have any fat and cook up fast I lightly oil my cast iron griddle or indoor grill and cook for about 30 seconds on all sides or until I have those great grill marks. Put it on a whole wheat hot dog bun with a little grilled corn on the side and you have yourself a summer treat in the winter. If you’re trying to stay a bit more seasonal try making sweet potato fries instead.

Note: to prepare these dogs completely fat free you can boil them for about 1-2 minutes or until warmed through or heat them in a toaster oven at 350-400 degrees for about 2 minutes.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Trader Joe's Spanish White Beans with Vegetables

It’s so hard to eat good when you’re on the road, but as long as there’s a microwave out there I know I’ll be ok. One of my new favorites in the world of heat and serve meals is Trader Joe’s Spanish White Beans with Vegetables. The ingredients are simple: White beans, water, onion, red pepper, tomato, green pepper, sunflower oil, carrot, salt, garlic and paprika. No scary words that you can’t pronounce and no preservatives. Although I was sad that there wasn’t rice to go along with this that can be easily remedied - if you don't have time to make a batch of brown rice Trader Joe's also has precooked brown rice available. To jazz up the flavor just a touch I recommend adding a little freshly ground pepper, cayenne or even a little Tabasco sauce.

To make it to my list of favorites a dish has got to be more than good, it has to be good for you as well. And this dish does not disappoint. Each bowl contains two 1 cup servings. It is super low in calories at just 190 calories a serving, fills you up with fiber at 7 grams of fiber per serving and gives you a protein boost with 10 grams of protein per serving. Not only that it has 20% of the RDA for Vitamin A and the all important Iron as well as 40% of the RDA for Vitamin C and 10% of the RDA of calcium. Wholesome ingredients, low in calories and high in nutrients. Who could ask for more?! And it’s all ready in less than 3 minutes.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Best Gingerbread Cookie Recipe Ever!

As you might have read in my pervious review of Arrowhead Mills Organic Gingerbread Cookie Mix, I haven’t had too much luck when it comes to finding that perfect Gingerbread cookie recipe. For me, the ideal gingerbread cookie sings with a hint of molasses, has the perfect amount of ginger and a chewy, but not soft, texture. It is a fact that when it comes to making the perfect gingerbread man I am a bit picky, probably pickier than most. However, a ray of sunshine has found it’s way down to my little kitchen in Atlanta.

A month ago Isa posted her and Terry’s recipe for Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies on her blog. They looked amazing and the comments on the blog gave promising reviews, so I thought I’d give it a try. As always, I made them a bit thicker than the recipe suggest so that I could get the chewiness I desired. Nothing in the world can describe my joy at tasting these cookies for the first time. They are perfect. 100% gingerbread cookie perfection. They are just like the classic gingerbread men that I adored from my days in Philly. I’m ashamed to say that within 3 days I devoured all 18 cookies myself, complete with cream cheese icing. It is impossible to be disappointed by this recipe.

Here’s the recipe straight from the PPK blog:

Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies
Makes about 16 cookies (depending on the size of your cutters)
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup plain soymilk (I used oat milk)
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour (or a mix of both)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

spice blend:1/2 teaspoon each ground nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger


In a large bowl whisk together oil and sugar for about 3 minutes. Add molasses and soymilk. The molasses and soymilk won’t really blend with the oil but that’s ok.

Sift in all of the other dry ingredients, mixing about half way through. When all of the dry ingredients are added, mix until a stiff dough is formed. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour or up to 3 days in advance. If you chill longer than an hour you may want to let it sit for 10 minutes to warm up a bit before proceeding.Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease your cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out to a little less than 1/4 inch thick. Cut out your shapes with your cookie cutters and use a thin spatula to gently place on cookie sheets. If you are using them to decorate a tree or something, remember to punch a hole in their heads (!) before baking. Bake for 8 minutes.

Remove from oven and let them cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet then move to a cooling rack. Wait until they are completely cool before icing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Arrowhead Mills Organic Gingerbread Cookie Mix

A million years ago when I lived in Philly and worked in Jersey we used to get these amazing gingerbread men delivered to the office once a month. They were soft, had just the right amount of ginger, just the right amount of sweetness and perfect icing – incidentally his clothes would also change based on the season. Since then I have been unable to find a gingerbread cookie that is as satisfying as those jersey gingerbread men. I saw Arrowhead Mills Organic Gingerbread Cookie Mix on sale at Whole Foods and I thought I would give it a try.

Instead of butter I used 1/3 cup Earth Balance and 1/3 cup vegetable shortening and instead of eggs I used 1 egg equivalent Ener-G egg replacer. I cut them out to be approximately ¼ inch thick so they would be nice and soft just the way I like them. There’s a free gingerbread man cookie cutter that comes with the cookie mix but it is rather minuscule so I only used it on the scraps of dough while using my own larger cutters for the main cookies. The back of the box says it yields approximately 3 ½ dozen cookies. This can only be achieved if you are using the super tiny cookie cutter that comes with the mix. If you’re using a standard size cookie cutter then you’ll probably yield 1 ½ dozen.

While the cookies were baking I whipped up a little cream cheese frosting (vegan of course) to ice the cookies with once they cooled. Thankfully the cookies cooled rather quickly so I was icing them in now time. I was so excited to have my first taste of a gingerbread cookie in years that I didn’t even bother to ice them up all pretty with elaborate designs and such I just slathered the icing on and went for it. Boy was I disappointed! Now don’t get me wrong, they weren’t bad cookies but they just aren’t that good either. I tried them with and without the frosting just to make sure that it wasn’t my frosting that was throwing the taste off, but both times I was disappointed. I can’t quite pinpoint where the failure lies in these cookies. It might be a mix between the lack of ginger, lack of sweetness and an overwhelming taste of saltiness that becomes stronger with every bite. But I still feel like even if those things were rectified it wouldn’t be perfect. On second thought, maybe if that the salty taste could be wrangled under control it would be on the right track to being a bit more pleasing to the palate. Although not on my list of favorites they are definitely edible and with the cream cheese frosting can be salvaged a bit so I won’t be throwing these out just yet. But don't get me wrong out of the 18 cookies that I made only about 6 of them are going to make it into my mouth. The rest will probably be donated to my trash can.

I think if you like super thin, crispy gingerbread men then this might be the mix for you. You can hide a bit more of the taste when you have thinner, crispier cookies with lots of frosting. So, the moral of this story is, if you like crispy gingerbread men go ahead and give this a try. If worst comes to worst you'll be out of $4 and there will probably be about 30-45 minutes of your life spent making these cookies that you'll never get back. But, on the brightside, these little men do contain whole grain flour and sucanat instead of your typical refined sugars so it’s not all bad for you.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Restaurant Review: Charlotte’s Bakery Fresno, CA

I have to tip my hat to Charlotte’s Bakery (1292 N. Wishon Fresno, CA) for being the only bakery in Fresno to carry vegan goodies. Not even the local Whole Foods stocks vegan cupcakes and cookies in their bakery (a luxury I am used to in Atlanta). The line-up rotates but typically they always have some form of chocolate cupcake (Mexican chocolate or traditional chocolate) and 1-2 additional flavors. On my last visit they had fresh baked mouthwatering lemon cupcakes with cream cheese frosting topped with chopped macadamia nuts. In addition they also bake vegan cakes, cupcakes and cookies to order if you call your order in 24 hours in advance.

Charlotte’s Bakery also offers deli sandwiches, panini’s and salads. They have a vegan Panini which has Portobello mushrooms, eggplants, roasted red peppers, basil pesto and mixed greens; a veggie deli sandwich with avocado, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts and hummus or the peanut butter & jelly with banana sandwich that you can have served cold or grilled as a Panini. And of course like all good bakeries they have an assortment of freshly baked breads available daily. I highly recommend a trip to Charlotte’s bakery if you ever find yourself in Fresno.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Clam-Free Chowder (New England Style)

The January-February issue of VegNews features a New England Style Clam-Free Chowder in it’s “Veganize It” column. I was never one for seafood but back in undergrad when I used to work at a Red Lobster I learned to tolerate some things and Clam Chowder was one of them (although I usually tried picking out all the clams).

The VegNews recipe contains very simple ingredients that can be found at most grocery stores (although oyster mushrooms are usually found at specialty stores or Whole Foods). I was able to get my hands on some dried oyster mushrooms for only $2.99 so in total this was a pretty economical meal for me. Also if you use canola or olive oil instead of Earth Balance you have a soy free and gluten free dish (but don't quote me on that, please double check for yourself if you have allergies). I changed the recipe just slightly to fit my taste by reducing the oyster mushrooms, salt, bay leaf and cooking time. I also slightly upped the amount of garlic. As written the instructions didn’t give you a place to add the water that is listed in the ingredients so I took the liberty of adding that in as well. Here’s the recipe I used to make this delicious chowder.

2 tablespoons Earth Balance, divided
½ cup oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped*
½ cup raw cashews
2 cups vegetable broth, divided
2 cups water
½ cup yellow onion, diced
1 ½ cups cauliflower, cut into florets
1 clove garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ cup Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
¼ teaspoon hickory liquid smoke

In a skillet over medium heat, sauté 1 tablespoon Earth Balance and oyster mushrooms for 5 minutes and the set aside.(If using rehydrated oyster mushrooms then omit this step).

In a blender, grind cashews to a fine powder, then add 1 cup vegetable north. Blend until completely smooth.

In a medium stockpot over medium heat add 1 tablespoon Earth Balance, onion, cauliflower and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add bay leaves, thyme, white pepper, remaining vegetable broth, cashew mixture and salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low heat and cook for 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

Using an immersion blender or regular blender, blend until completely smooth. If using a traditional blender add soup back to pot over medium heat. Stir in water until completely combined. Add potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes become tender stirring occasionally. Stir in liquid smoke and oyster mushrooms. Serve hot.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Restaurant Review: New Star Vegetarian Restaurant Fresno, CA

While back home in California for the Christmas break I just had to try more of Fresno’s emerging vegan cuisine. I heard great things about New Star Vegetarian Restaurant (1134 E. Champlain Dr. Suite 108, Fresno, CA) and so I decided to give it a whirl. I was more than a bit skeptical when I checked out their website only to see a picture of a dead crab on a plate. I wondered was this a pescetarian restaurant trying to be cool and hip by calling themselves a vegetarian restaurant. After glancing through the menu it was clear that New Star is an extremely vegan friendly restaurant with no animal products on the menu. But I will be emailing them about that crab picture.

But strange pictures aside, the food at New Star is fabulous. I went there with my two omni parents and between the 3 of us I think we got a pretty good sampling of the menu. I got the Fried Won Tons as an appetizer (good but not great), and the fried BBQ Chicken which was unbelievable. My mother couldn’t stop raving about how good my dish was. The sauce was a smoky garlic BBQ sauce that was light and sweet and went perfect over a bed of rice with asparagus. The vegan version doesn’t come with mashed potatoes but you don’t miss it. My dad had the New Star’s Crispy Orange Chicken (which can also be made with tofu), and he loved it. This is saying a lot coming from a traditional meat and potatoes guy. My mom went for the Cashew chicken and once again couldn’t stop raving out it. She even proclaimed that if she could eat food this great everyday she would be a vegetarian. We finished the night off with a slice of carrot cake. Although it was good, I can’t say it was the best carrot cake I’ve ever had (I prefer a moister texture to my cake) but it was certainly a good cake that I would order again.

Overall our experience at New Star Vegetarian was an excellent one. The servings were generous and we all had plenty of food to take home for another meal the next day. And I have to say a special note about our hardworking server. There was only one server in the whole restaurant and it was a very busy Friday night. However, she worked her way through each table like I have never seen! We didn’t have to wait for a thing, not one thing. She was attentive, didn’t forget a thing we asked for and was so inviting and sweet. For her alone I would come back. I can’t recall the last time I had such great service, especially from such a busy server.

Dinner Menu:
Lunch Menu:
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