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!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cookbook Review: Ani's Raw Food Desserts by Ani Phyo

The heat-index is heading well into the 100s not only in Georgia but all up and down the East and West Coasts. When it’s this hot outside turning on the oven to make a batch of cookies, a big cake or a few brownies seems more like punishment than reward. This is why I love raw desserts. They usually don’t require a dehydrator, are quick and easy to make and use fresh produce and natural sugars to bring sweet treats to the table.

Ani’s Raw Food Desserts by Ani Phyo couldn’t have showed up on my doorstep at a better time. I was in the middle of a huge sugar craving that fruit just wouldn’t cure and had just jumped head-first into a bowl of cookie dough – unashamed. Looking through Ani’s Raw food Desserts made me feel guilty about my cookie dough indulgence with desserts like Bonbons and mango sorbet which would have surely curbed my sugar craving without the use of refined sugar and large quantities of Earth Balance.

Ani Phyo makes raw foods approachable and simple in this book. All it took to make her Key Lime Kream Bars (which I’ve been slowly eating for the past 2 weeks) was a blender and a casserole dish. I didn’t even have to go out and buy any super fancy specialty items from Whole Foods. Her Key Lime Kream Bars can be converted into Bonbons as well. I wasn’t sure about the taste to creamy key lime with chocolate but the two worked perfectly together. Her liquid chocolate recipe called for cacao power but I cheated and used unsweetened cocoa powder and everything still turned out amazing. The liquid chocolate recipe is also my new go to chocolate sauce recipe. It’s perfect for dipping strawberries in or even making bon bons out of store bought ice cream like So Delicious Coconut Ice Cream. Next up was Ani’s Vanilla Cacao Crunch Ice Mylk, which kind of reminded me of a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Once again, she used easy to find ingredients that I already had around the house so I not only made the classic version but the mint chip variation by adding a couple drops of peppermint oil and a little cocoa powder. Four recipes in I realized that I was in love with everything frozen in her book and had to move on or my review for you fine folks would be a little one-sided.

I decided cupcakes were the next logical step in my raw desserts odyssey. I made Ani’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Kream Cheeze Frosting. This recipe does require a juicer to get carrot pulp. However, many moons ago before I had a juicer I used to get carrot pulp by grating carrots with the food processor grating blade then pulsing them in the food processor with the S-blade until they resembled a pulp. I’m pretty sure there’s a typo in this recipe because it calls for mixing whole medjool dates into the cupcakes which isn’t very pleasant so I ground in my dates with almond meal in a food processor and it came out perfectly. They were naturally sweet, and chocked full of veggies and nuts. My CSA also still has an abundance of lavender so I had to make the Lavender Chocolate Bars which were to die for! The great thing about the majority of the recipes in this book is that you can freeze a lot of them for up to a month. So I went on a dessert making spree for two days and then just stacked all my pre-made desserts in the freezer. I take them out about 3-5 minutes before I’m ready to enjoy and voila! Instant, amazing, healthy desserts. Just to recap. My top 5 recipe from Ani’s Raw Food Desserts are:

Key Lime Kream Bars
Bon Bons
Vanilla Cacao Crunch Ice Mylk (and mint chip variation)
Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Kream Cheeze Frosting
Lavender Chocolate Bars

Some honorable mentions are the Mango Sorbet, Coconut Ice Kream, Chocolate-Covered Bananas, and the Almond-Goji Cacao Chip Cookies. Ani’s Raw Food Desserts is actually pretty reasonably priced at only $17.95 ($12.21 on Amazon) and has full color photography throughout with tons of pictures to let you know if you’re creation is on the right track or not, or just to drool over from time to time. I’d also say about 95% of the recipes in the book require no dehydrator so they’re friendly to the lay-person who hasn’t shelled out $400 on a dehydrator just yet.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chocolate Pecan Zucchini Muffins

If you follow me on twitter or facebook then you know that I've been attempting to work my way through pounds and pounds of zucchini from my CSA for the last month or so. One night I set out to use all the zucchini in the house which led to a marathon of muffin, fritter, cake, pancake, and cookie making. One of the recipes from that night was Chocolate Pecan Zucchini Muffins. They are sweet, moist, and even though they taste more like a dessert i found myself eating them with tofu scramble in the morning for breakfast.

Chocolate Pecan Zucchini Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

¼ cup plain rice or almond milk
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup Earth Balance margarine, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup grated zucchini
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325oF and line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Cream rice or almond milk, applesauce, margarine, sugar, agave nectar and cocoa powder together in a medium bowl or with a standing mixer. Beat in baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, allspice and vanilla until combined. Slowly beat in flour until combined, then grated zucchini until combined. Lastly fold in chocolate chips and pecans.

Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each cup with approximately ¼ cup of batter. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before serving.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Raw Lemon (or Lime) Ginger Cheesecakes

Sweetly Raw by Heather Pace is one of my favorite Raw Food Blogs out there. Her blog is dedicated to my new addiction, raw desserts. I'm completely and totally addicted to eating desserts made out of fresh fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. How many times can you eat a cupcake or a big slice of carrot cake and actually feel good about it? Last night I had a carrot cake packed with Omega 3's, that was sugar free, gluten free, soy free and bursting with flavor. But my raw dessert of the day is Heather's Lemon Ginger Cheesecakes. First I made it exactly as stated in the recipe (which was divine) then I remixed it a little adding pecans to the crust and using lime instead of lemon. Click here for Heather's original recipe. And here's my remixed version.

1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw pecans
2/3 cup pitted, packed dates

Grind nuts nuts and dates  together in a food processor. Add 1 teaspoon of water if the mixture is too crumbly. Press the crust into mini silicone or paper muffin cups or into a small pan to make on cheesecake. Set aside.

2 cups raw cashews
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon, minced ginger
Pinch of himalayan salt or fine sea salt
6 tablespoons melted coconut oil

In a blender, combine all but the oil until completely smooth and creamy. Add the oil and blend again briefly, to incorporate. Pour the mixture over the crust. Freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

Photo by Heather Pace

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cookbook Review: RAWvolution by Matt Amsden

I’m celebrating the bounty of fresh seasonal vegetables available at my CSA this summer by eating raw foods whenever possible. The spring and summer months are the best times to start dabbling in raw foods as a lot of the foods used commonly in raw preparation are in season this time of year. So for the next two months expect loads of reviews on great Raw “Cook”books, blogs, and recipes.

My main issue with raw food preparation is the time it takes to prepare dishes and the materials that it takes to create the dishes. I don’t have a dehydrator and a lot of raw food chef’s use one so this cuts out a good majority of recipes for me. I’ve also noticed that raw food books, although beautiful and full of food photos, tend to be on the more expensive side. So for each raw food book I review I’ll be sure to give you the price and whether or not you’ll need a dehydrator to make it through the book.

First up is RAWvolution by Matt Amsden. RAWvolution is a pretty sizeable investment at $32.50 but a lot of the recipes can be made without a dehydrator so that’s a promising step and I was able to make some substitutions here and there when something did call for a raw “bread”.

My CSA has Zucchini’s the size of a small dog right now so I had to make the No-bean Hummus from RAWvolution. It’s made with zucchini, tahini, lemon juice, oil, garlic and a little salt and cumin. It took just minutes to put together and tasted amazing. I served it up with some fresh carrots and Jicama strips. Next up I decided to put my mandoline to work and make Cheese Pierogies made of cashew cheese with a Jicama shell. It was easy as putting the cheese ingredients into my Vita-Mix, and slicing thin rounds of Jicama with my mandoline. I was surprised that no dehydrator was needed for this recipe but it was just perfect without being warmed. I just left it out at room temperature for about 15 minutes and it was perfect! The filling is rich and creamy and the shell is just slightly sweet. Dishes like Cheese Pierogies are what I love about raw foods – I would have never, in a million years, thought to put this combination of foods together and yet it works so perfectly and is incredibly filling. My hands down favorite recipe from this book is the Mock Tuna Salad. Once the sunflower seeds, which are used as the “tuna," were soaked it only took me a few minutes to put the dish together. I had a tuna sandwich on Ezekiel Bread (not raw but close enough for a girl with no dehydrator), and I also made a lettuce wrap out of it. There’s also a variation to make a mock chicken salad that is equally scrumptious. The Asian Vegetable Nori Rolls were a good standard raw roll recipe. Whenever I go to a raw foods restaurant this seems to be a staple item. Likely because it’s relatively easy to make, you can pack a lot of vegetables into a small package and the rolls are portable. When the semester starts back this is definitely going to be packed in my lunch. Finally, to round out my top 5 recipes in RAWvolution I absolutely loved loved loved the Zucchini Pasta Alfredo. I did have to go on Amazon and find a Spirooli slicer that makes noodles out of all sorts of fruits and veggies as well as a variety of different shapes that any normal kitchen tool could never tackle. It was well worth the investment, I think the slicer only cost me $20, and the taste of the Alfredo sauce was richer than Bill Gates and if you have the time to allow the pasta to sit at room temperature for a couple hours the noodles take on the texture of traditional cooked pasta and the sauce warms a bit. Some honorable mentions were the Soft Taco with Fresh Tomato Salsa, Pineapple Heart, Creamy Cabbage Coleslaw and Apple-Ginger Dressing.

Matt Amsden does like to use Thai coconut meat and Thai coconut water a lot in his recipes which can be hard to find in some areas, definitely a skill to open, and very expensive (especially in the quantities he prefers to use). That, for me, was the main drawback of this book. Thankfully there were a bevy of great recipes that didn’t call for Thai Coconut and for some that just called for the Coconut Water I either bought coconut water or just substituted purified water in its place.

My Top 5 favorite recipes from RAWvolution:
No-Bean Hummus
Cheese Pierogies
Mock Tuna Salad
Asian Vegetable Nori Rolls
Zucchini Pasta Alfredo

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Truly Living Well Urban Farms East Point, GA

I grew up in the fertile San Joaquin valley where it’s commonplace to have fruit bearing trees in your front yard and gardens bursting with fresh herbs and vegetables in your back yard. Outside my bedroom window was a grapevine, a nectarine tree, a plum tree and a peach tree. Our kitchen overlooked the garden that bustled with seasonal produce year round and friends and neighbors were always willing to share their produce with one another. This is probably one of the biggest reasons why I was never a kid who you had to beg to eat their vegetables. I loved vegetables, there was a sense of pride and community in eating them.

I grew up, moved away, bustled from state to state and now I’ve found myself in Georgia. The new trend in food is the old trend that nearly every generation of my family grew up with, including myself, eating locally preferably out of your own garden or a community garden. For years I’ve had a small container garden of my own but once Curry and Queso, my goats, moved in I pretty much had to dash my dreams of any real garden let alone a flimsy container garden. My old co-op used to boast local foods from Truly Living Well Urban Farms and with a little investigation I found the farm and realized that it was only about 10 minutes from my house. When I drove up the first time it was a little intimidating, everyone seemed to know each other and they were chatting away. There were coolers upon coolers of fresh greens just picked and brought over from their other locations around the city, and a table spilling over with fresh vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. But soon enough I got into the rhythm of things, bought ½ a CSA share for $250 and was off to pick out what would be this week’s menu items.

There is truly nothing that compares to fresh picked organic produce planted with love. As I picked out the bounty of fresh produce I wanted Rashid Nuri, the founder of Truly Living Well, reminded me to cook it fresh, no freezing. This statement inspired me to utilize every bit of produce I bought. Everything from the greens of carrot tops (which I juice, put in salads and/or feed to my rabbit or dogs), to the large bounty of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers which ended up making a phenomenal gazpacho soup. If you live in the Atlanta or East Point, GA area I highly recommend making a stop by TLW Urban Farms. Produce pick up is on Wednesday’s from 3-6pm (currently 3-7pm for summer hours) and Rashid also hold natural/organic gardening classes. Most importantly, to me at least, they can help you get your own garden started in your backyard just like I had growing up. As soon as I build up the infrastructure in my backyard to keep the goats out of my fresh produce I now I’ll be calling TLW first to help me get my garden in shape.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lavender Pancakes

A couple weeks ago one of the volunteer’s at my CSA insisted that we go pick some fresh lavender and experiment with it. It smelled so beautiful and you can’t beat the freshness of picking the flower’s yourself so I said, why not. Since then I’ve been putting lavender in everything you can imagine from pancakes and muffins to cookies and cupcakes. These lavender cupcakes have become my new breakfast and brunch favorites. I usually do a double or even triple batch and freeze them in pairs so there’s always some on hand. I’ve noticed fresh lavender in the fresh herbs section of some Whole Food’s and Farmer’s Market’s as well. If you come across a bunch, I highly recommend you try these pancakes.

Lavender Pancakes
Makes 12 Pancakes

1 ¼ cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lavender flowers
¼ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup soy yogurt or vegan sour cream
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup plain almond or rice milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup canola oil

Warm a large griddle over medium heat and grease with canola oil or canola oil spray.

Combine flour, sugar, lavender, salt, and baking powder together in a medium bowl. With an electric mixer, or a strong arm, beat in yogurt or sour cream, applesauce, milk, vanilla and canola oil until batter is smooth and there are no lumps.

Ladle pancake batter onto the griddle, the batter will spread quite a bit so start out in small batches to test for your desired size. When bubbles start to appear on the pancake surface check to see if they are golden brown in color on the other side. If they are, flip and cook until both sides are golden brown, about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from the griddle and serve with maple syrup.
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