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, August 24, 2010

Pomegranate Lemonade

A few months ago the folks over a POM Wonderful sent me a case of 100% Pomegranate Juice. The trouble is, outside of my morning glass of Calcium Fortified OJ, I don’t drink juice. I prefer to reserve my calories for cocktails, good food, and the occasional cookie or cupcake. So the juice just sat in my fridge, day after day, waiting for me to drink it. When I had guest over I offered them pomegranate juice but it seemed that no one was particularly interested. So I put on my culinary thinking cap and decided to switch things up a bit and make an all purpose Sweet and Spicy Pomegranate Sauce and Pomegranate Lemonade (with and without liquor).

The summer is coming to a close but the weather just seems to be heating up around here so it’s definitely still fresh squeezed lemonade season and this recipe for Pomegranate Lemonade couldn’t be simpler.

Pomegranate Lemonade:
Makes 5 cups

4 cups fresh squeezed lemonade
1 cup POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice

Stir the two together and you had a refreshing summer treat. To add a little fizz to your lemonade you can also add 1 cup club soda and to make it an adult beverage you can add 1 shot of vodka to each cup of lemonade.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sticky Fingers Bakery Washington, DC

I became a vegan in 2006 and in that same year I had the pleasure of eating at my first vegan bakery, Sticky Fingers Bakery (1370 Park Road NW, Washington DC 20010). My first memories of Sticky Fingers were that of awe and amazement. I devoured 3 cupcakes and 2 cookies before I headed out the door and even got a hot dog to go (along with a 1/2 dozen cinnamon rolls of course). As a "baby vegan" I was in heaven. 4 years, and literally thousands of vegan cupcakes, cookies, and cinnamon rolls later I returned to Sticky Fingers. Unfortunately now that my vegan palate had a little more time to explore the world of vegan confections it no longer adored Sticky Fingers the way I did when I had never tasted a vegan cupcake before.

I took two of my omni friends with me on my latest trip to Sticky Fingers, ready to impress them with all the wonders of vegan food. I got a red velvet cupcake, strawberry crème cupcake, a sinfully delicious looking sugar cookie and a breakfast sandwich to go, for me to eat at the airport on my flight back home.

I barely made it half way around the block before I couldn’t resist taking a bit out of the sugar cookie. It was good, but not great. Nothing like I remembered it to be. It almost tasted store-bought. It had a slight lemony taste that I wasn’t expecting but the sweet pink frosting was its saving grace. One of my omni friends asked to try it and I reluctantly passed her a piece of the cookie. The look on her face said it all, not the worst cookie she ever had but definitely not the best.

I decided that the cookie was a fluke and later that afternoon decided to try the Strawberry Crème Cupcake. This was actually fantastic. Although I was a bit sad that the cupcake was more frosting than cake. I selfishly devoured it before giving my friends a chance to taste it, which I later regretted when the red velvet cake was all there was left to eat. That night was my friend’s 30th birthday celebration. She got a bid red velvet cake and I took my little red velvet cupcake as my vegan treat for the evening. I had been anticipating this little cupcake all day. The sweet taste of the strawberry crème cupcake was still in my mind and I knew the red velvet cupcake wouldn’t disappoint. When I took my cupcake out at the party everyone was jealous – they all wanted their own little personal red velvet cupcake. I beamed with vegan victory at making all the omni’s swoon and then I took a bite out of the cupcake. IT WAS AWFUL! I mean horrible. Horrific. It took everything in me not to spit it out. Not only was the cake itself not very good but the frosting was a lemon buttercream rather than the classic cream cheese that goes on ALL red velvet cakes. If there’s one thing you don’t mess with, it’s the classic taste of a red velvet cake. I tried to put on a brave face but my friends could see I was not a happy camper. When I revealed that there was lemon frosting on a red velvet cake faux pearls all around America were clutched in horror.

So far one out of three items I picked up from Sticky Fingers was good. I had a 7:30am flight out of DC, warmed my little breakfast sandwich up, tucked it in my backpack and was off to the airport before sunrise. Exhausted, I sat on the airplane and unwrapped my still warm breakfast sandwich from Sticky Fingers. Bleh! If they would have just left it as sausage and an English muffin it would have been fine but the nutritional yeast based cheese sauce and flimsy, almost sour, egg they put on it were so off putting that I handed the half-eaten sandwich to the flight attendant to throw away before we took off. Needless to say, Sticky Fingers Bakery is not the bakery I remember it being 4 years ago. Either my taste buds evolved or their food devolved but either way it goes on my next trip to DC I’ll be steering clear.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Cookbook Review: Raw Food Real World by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis

I’ve been working my way through Raw Food Real World by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis for 3 years now and I have to say, although it’s a beautiful book it has led me to more frustration than any other book I own. Not because the recipes are ultra-difficult but because the authors LOVE to use fresh Thai coconut. This is very expensive, and took me weeks to learn how to open. After finally mastering the art of opening a Thai coconut, and buying a big fancy new clever to do so, the amount of meat than each coconut yielded was hardly enough to make ¼ of most recipes – hence this was a very expensive option. A lot of the most scrumptious looking recipes involve the use of the now dreaded Thai coconut. But I’ve been able to make some adjustments here and there by using canned coconut milk (I know it’s not raw but it’s better than spending hours cutting open coconuts).

I hate to be cliché by making a salad one of my favorite raw recipes from this book but I’m in love with their Greenmarket Salad with macadamia nuts and creamy citrus dressing. This is hands down the best salad I have ever had! With just greens, sprouts, nuts and radishes I found myself miserably full (in a good way) within minutes. Pages 173 through 175 of my copy of Raw Food Real World are stained with remnants of flax oil, fresh herbs and tomato seeds. These are, without a doubt, the most used pages in this book for me. The recipe within these pages is for Zucchini and Green Zebra Tomato Lasagne with basil-pistachio pesto, tomato sauce, and pignoli ricotta. This recipe takes days to put together (when you count the soaking time) and lots of man power but it is well worth it. Zucchini and Green Zebra Tomato Lasagne is as expensive to make as it is good. Just the 2 cups of pine nuts required to make the pignoli ricotta will break the bank. Still I love it, and have substituted cashews in the place of pine nuts when necessary to make the dish more economical. The Soft Corn Tortillas with spicy “beans”, avocado-corn guacamole and tomato-lime salsa looks amazing but unfortunately I’ve never had the pleasure of eating it in its entirety. It requires a dehydrator (another expensive gadget I do not possess) so I haven’t been able to make the soft corn tortillas yet. Instead I use red cabbage leaves or large collard green leaves as my taco shell and stuff it with the spicy beans made from soaked sunflower seeds, tomato sauce, tomato-lime salsa and avocado-corn guacamole.

Sarma makes the chocolate pudding look too good to pass up but unfortunately it requires 2 cups of the dreaded Thai coconut meat. So instead I made a few substitutions and ended up with a less raw but equally tasty version of the pudding that doesn’t require hours of back-breaking work. You can find the recipe here.

Lastly, I had to give props to the entire cocktails section of this book. I am not one to shy away from an adult beverage and every single one of the cocktails in Raw Food Real World is phenomenal (and I say this from experience with each and every one of them). Some honorable mentions are the Pure Mojito, Pink Spice Martini, and Pineapple Lemongrass-Tini. All in all my Top 5 recipes are:

Greenmarket Salad with macadamia nuts and creamy citrus dressing
Zucchini and Green Zebra Tomato Lasagne with basil-pistachio pesto, tomato sauce & pignoli ricotta
Soft Corn Tortillas with spicy “beans”, avocado-corn guacamole and tomato-lime salsa
The Entire Cocktails Section

Raw Food Real World is one of the most visually stunning cookbooks you will come across with pictures of nearly every recipe but, the price of beauty is steep at $37.50. It is an incredibly thorough introduction to the world of raw foods but for the price tag and the amount of money that you will have to spend on the food I’m not quite sure if it’s worth the price, no matter how great the food. If you happen to have a coupon to your favorite bookstore, or catch it on sale then I highly recommend picking it up. Otherwise, check your local public library.

Chocolate Pudding

This chocolate pudding was adapted from the raw version in Raw Food Real World that required tons of fresh Thai coconut and coconut water. Here’s my cheaper, easier, and less raw version.

2 cups canned coconut milk (do not substitute low-fat)
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup agave nectar
½ cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Whisk all ingredients together or add to a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to 4 serving bowls and chill for about an hour. For a slightly firmer texture feel free to add about 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon xanthun gum.
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