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, November 30, 2010

Final Day of VeganMofo: Turning Housing Projects into Community Gardens (Truly Living Well Urban Farms)

On this last day of VeganMofo I could think of no better way than to round out this incredible month of food than to share a bit of outstanding news about my CSA Truly Living Well Urban Farms. The Press Release below says it all and I couldn't be more thrilled for Rashid and all the great hard working folks over at TLW.

Ground Breaking Ceremony, Sunday, December 5, 2:00 p.m.
Corner of Hilliard Street and Old Wheat Street NE, Atlanta GA 30312

The site will be called The Truly Living Well Wheat Street Garden. We are creating an urban farm that we trust will be embraced by the greater Atlanta community as a source of quality food, a learning center and an essential element in building community. The site was formerly a housing project. We will grow in regenerated soil, raised beds, greenhouses and hoop houses. The black and white picture below is of a site in Vine City circa 1893 that contains elements similar to what we intend to create.

Mayor Reed recently released a plan that, among other things, seeks to bring "local food within 10 minutes of 75 percent" of Atlanta residents. Truly Living Well will assist him in reaching this goal.

The work is being funded by generous investment from the Arthur M.Blank Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

So many of you have been very supportive of Truly Living Well over the past five years. We would really appreciate your presence at the ground breaking event. Here is a link to the press release being distributed.

Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture to open in Old Historic Fourth Ward

Ground Breaking Ceremony, Sunday, December 5, 2:00 p.m.
Corner of Hilliard Street and Old Wheat Street NE, Atlanta GA 30312

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gardein's Savory Stuffed Turk'y with Gravy

Everything has been so hectic around here that I didn't get my thanksgiving menu together until just yesterday. Thankfully, I wrote a book with an entire Thanksgiving section so it was as easy as turning to page 171 and picking out what I wanted to make. I decided to test out a couple new recipes for my main dish on Thanksgiving but wanted to have a quick and easy back up plan that I only needed to heat and serve just in case. I spotted Gardein Savory Stuffed Turk'y with Gravy in the Whole Foods refrigerated section and decided to give it a go. The turk'y was a little pricey coming in at around $7.50 for two but when I looked on the back and saw that one little stuffed turk'y was only 270 calories and had 22 grams of protein I was sold.

It's been pretty touch and go with me on gardein's stuffed products so I decided to try one of the stuffed turk'ys today just in case they weren't very appetizing. I popped it in the convection oven for 30 minutes while I baked candied yams in the conventional oven and put a started making a little cranberry sauce on the stovetop. 25 minute later the yams were cooked to perfection, the cranberry sauce was cooling and I was pulling the savory stuffed turk'y out the oven. I wish I could capture how delicious it looked straight out the oven as I drizzled the gravy over it but my camera is broken and my phone doesn't take the best pictures in the world. This turk'y is indescribably good! I could kick myself for not buying more of these while I was at the store and there's no way I'm going to brave the Thanksgiving crowd's to go back to Whole Foods and get another package. However, this item is seasonal so as soon as the crowd's die down I'm heading back out and grabbing up at least 4 packs of these before they're gone. From looking on the back of the package apparently these turk'ys are supposed to be frozen but my Whole Foods had them in the refrigerated section so look for them in both places.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Smokey Maple BBQ Beans (made with Jones Soda Co. Bacon Flavored Soda)

This afternoon I came home to a box little rectangle box filled with 4 clanging bottles of Jones Soda Co.'s new Bacon Flavored Soda. This new bacon flavored soda is 100% vegan but the moment I opened the box I knew in my heart I would never be able to drink it. But there has to be some redeeming value to a big box of bacony soda so I put on my thinking cap and started thinking about ways to incorporate the soda into delicious recipes. After mulling over it all afternoon I looked in my fridge and spotted the huge bowl of navy beans I just cooked up last night that had no particular culinary destination in mind. Right then and there I knew I had to make BBQ beans. I adapted my Smokey Maple BBQ Sauce recipe from Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations into the base for the beans. I was really worried about how the bacon would effect the taste of the beans, I haven't cooked with or eaten food with pork in it since the early 80s, so I stirred the soda into the pot 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting it after every stir. Before I knew it there was 3/4 cup of bacon flavored soda in the beans! This is my new favorite BBQ beans recipe and I'm glad it turned out well because the recipe makes a really big batch of beans so I'll be eating these throughout the Thanksgiving holiday season and freezing them for Christmas and New Years.

Smokey Maple BBQ Beans
Makes 8 Servings

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup diced white onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup Grade A maple syrup
3/4 cup Jones Soda Co. Bacon Flavored Soda
1 to 2 tablespoons vegan Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 cups cooked navy beans

Warm canola oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Stir in the ketchup, maple syrup, soda, Worcestershire sauce and red pepper flakes. Then slowly stir in navy beans. Stir until navy beans are completely covered with sauce. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cookbook Review: The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur by Kelly Peloza

Right now I am nibbling on the most perfect little wafer of soft eggnog cookie with just the right amount of rum glaze and a cold glass of almond milk. I don't even like eggnog but these cookies make my heart smile. I made my first batch of Eggnog cookies about 3 weeks ago and have since made over 5 batches. I've brought them to classes, meetings and eaten more than I feel comfortable saying. These cookies are so amazing I wish I came up with the recipe myself but I didn't. All the credit goes to the author of the new book The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur Kelly Peloza.

Kelly has created what will now and forever be known as the gold standard in cookie books. The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur  contains over 140 cookie recipes is divided into 11 sections: Cookies inspired by drinks, totally nuts and seeds!, blissfully chocolate cookies, no bakes, DIY Version of Mass-Produced Cookies, Fruity Cookies, Bar Cookies, A Take on Tradition, Healthier Cookies and Baking for Specific Needs, Nostalgia: Everyone's Favorite Cookies, and Cookies You Would Find at a Tea Party.

The most used section of the book for me is the Cookies Inspired by Drinks section. Obviously the eggnog cookies are my favorite (although I've renamed them rum glazed sugar cookies for those who hate eggnog like me and wouldn't try them unless i renamed them) and the entire section is filled with one mouthwatering treat after another. The glazed rum raisin cookies are superb as are the fiesta margarita cookies. I had a little misstep when making the chai spiced cookies and they ended up coming out as hard as rocks but I know that they would have been phenomenal otherwise. To avoid the same mistake I made flatten these cookies out almost level to the thickness you want the end product. I kept looking into the oven waiting for the chai cookies to flatten out on their own and they never did which led to me over-baking them. And trust me, if you over bake these cookies by even a minute they will be as hard as a rock once they cool so keep an eye on the timer.

The Nuts and Seeds section had a couple notable treats like peanut butter cups and almond cloud kisses. My kisses didn't come out as pretty as the one's in the book but I find that the uglier a cookie looks the better it taste, and these cookies were damn good. I also highly recommend the Glazed Lime Cookies, Mexican Wedding Cookies and the Carrot Cake Cookies which I used to fool myself into believing I was eating something healthy. My dogs even got to get in on the tasting action and promptly devoured the Peanut Butter Dog Treats (and 1/2 a carrot cake cookie while I wasn't looking).

The only miss I found in the whole book was Kelly's version of a Rice Crispy Treats. I'm just not a fan of the corn syrup sugar mix that I've seen used a couple times to make these childhood favorites. I'd much rather just buy a big bag of dandies, some crispy rice and make the traditional recipe.

The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur  is a must have in every kitchen (vegan, omni or otherwise). Even though testing from this book made me gain 5 pounds and lose the ability to fit into most of my pants I don't regret one moment of it. My top 5 favorite recipes for this book are:

Eggnog Cookies
Chai Cookies
Carrot Cake Cookies
Peanut Butter Dog Treats
Glazed Lime Cookies

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Most Important Day of Vegan Mofo is Today...My Birthday!

This day has been three decades in the making and it's finally here! The best day of VeganMofo is, of course, my birthday. To ensure that I don't infringe on the rules of VeganMofo (which are to post about food and not just go on and on about how happy I am to have another birthday), I'll share with you a picture of my birthday breakfast of persimmons.

These are sweet Georgia grown persimmons and I had 4 for breakfast! I decided not to go to heavy on my breakfast this morning since I already know my lunch with consist of the biggest slice of carrot cake you've ever seen from Cafe Sunflower and my dinner from Cafe Circa will be too decadent for words (Geesh, I'm spending a lot of time at Cafe's today) .

Happy Birthday To Me!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Goody Good Stuff Gummy Candy

Goody Good Stuff Sour Fruit Salad, 3.53-Ounce Bags (Pack of 12)Last month one of my classmates turned to me in the middle of a discussion about food taboo's and, with sorrow in her eyes, said "wait a second, I just realized you can't eat gummy bears because of the gelatin." To be honest I'd never really given eating gummy bears or any other type of gummy candy a second thought. I was never really a candy person so the fact that I couldn't eat gummy candy anymore didn't bother me at all.

Right before Halloween I was contacted by the folks at Goody Good Stuff who have a line of gummy candies that are 100% vegan, gluten free, nut free, soy free, use no artifical colors (that means no red dye made out of bug juice), and all natural flavors. Thinking back to the conversation I had with my classmate over a month ago I just had to try these new gummy's. Once they arrived in the mail I realized that since I'm not a candy person the best person to tell me if these gummy's were a hit or not was kids. I teach cooking classes at an afterschool program and for dessert everyone got a few little Sour Fruit Salad candies. All the kids loved them, in fact they loved them so much a there was a bit of a revolt when I ran out. One kid said that they had a bit of an aftertaste but, after trying one myself, I think that was more from the sour flavoring on the candy. 

Goody Good Stuff Cola Breeze, 3.53-Ounce Bags (Pack of 12)Goody Good Stuff candies and gummy's are a fun and tasty treat to have around and, for once, the ingredient list on a bag of candy doesn't have "#" signs, hyphenated words and words no child could ever pronounce. One word of caution, not all the Goody Good Stuff line of candy and gummy's are vegan the Cola Breeze, Sour Fruit Salad, Sour Mix and Match, and Summer Peaches are currently there only vegan products, the remaining 4 flavors are vegetarian. The line is new to the U.S. (but available widely throughout the UK), it is currently available at Stop and Shops, Giant Grocery Stores and but they will no doubt be in stores all around the country very soon.

Cookbook Review: Caribbean Vegan by Taymer Mason

Although I've never met Taymer, I still consider her a friend as we are part of the same publishing house and have been exchanging emails at a rapid pace since she embarked on her first book Caribbean Vegan: Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy Free Authentic Island Cuisine for Every Occasion. Although I've been corresponding with Taymer for months the one thing we never talked about was, surprisingly, food! So I had no idea what to expect when I Caribbean Vegan arrived in the mail.

I'm pretty short on time these days, most days in fact, so I tried to go for recipes that looked fairly quick to make in the book. My eyes immediately went to Plantain Balls as an excellent way to use the two plantains I had ripening on my countertop. The recipe said it served six which I thought was highly unlikely due to the fact that it only calls for one plantain and a pretty short list of ingredients so I doubled it, since I had two plantains on hand anyway. Before I could make the Plantain Balls I had to make the Everyday Vegan "Ham" that went into the plantain balls. I wasn't too thrilled about this, outside of my all time favorite (and very processed) "ham tube" I don't really go for pork substitutes as pork was one of the first animals I stopped eating decades ago. However, the list of ingredients sounded intriguing and I couldn't think of anything else to subsitute for the ham in the plantain balls so I gave it a whirl. The Vegan Ham was exceptional. The addition of pineapple and clove make it sweet and give it that authentic island taste. I did add about 1/4 cup soy flour to the gluten mix to change up the texture of the ham just a little.

Now that my ham was made it was time to move on to the plantain balls. Mixing all the ingredients together was a sinch and within minutes my plantains balls were in the oven baking up. These were a little treat for my senses. But, even though I doubled the recipe, it still barely made enough for 2 to 3 people to eat let alone 6 like the recipe says. Also, they don't keep well as leftovers so make sure you eat them the day you make them.

I had a little pineapple juice left so I decided to be adventerous and make the Jerk "Sausages". The extensive list of ingredients should have prepared me for the long night I had in store but for some reason I didn't read the directions all the way through to see how long it would take to cook these sausaes so I started putting them together around 11:30pm on a Saturday night (yes, my life is just that boring that I'm at home cooking on a Saturday night). As it turns out, this was one of the longest saturday night's of my life. It took me about 30 minutes to get all the ingredients together and in the bowl (with the pureeing of the beans, tofu and roundin up all the items on the ingredient list) and the sausages take over 1 1/2 hours to cook! I was up until nearly 3 am, when everything was all said and done. The sausages were definitely delicious but not spicy at all which was surprising considering the long list of spices that went into makeing them. I read the "Island Tip" too late which suggested putting a scotch bonnet pepper into the mix. This is more than just a suggestion this is mandatory to the recipe. Without the scotch bonnet pepper the sausae just reminds me of a slightly heavier spiced version of the Vegan Ham recipe. I also wish there was more direction on how to use the sausages. I never really cooked with sausage as an omni, outside of breakfast, and have never eaten or cooked with jerk sausages before so I still have no clue of what to do with the dozen sausage links that are sitting in my freezer right now.

While the jerk sausages were cooking I thought I'd kill some time by cooking whatever else I could find in the book that had ingredients that were readily available in my kitchen. The Curried Potato Salad fit the bill perfectly. This is hands down one of my new favorite potato salads. It is bursting with flavor, a snap to put together and super filling. I had it along some pan-seared jerk sausage (the only way I could think ot cook it), and of course the plantain balls.

Lastly, and most importantly, I took a quick tour through the drinks and cocktails section of the book to find a dynamic recipe for Rum Punch. This time I read the Isalnd Tip first and made sure to go out and get some Angostura bitters. I didn't use Mount Gay Rum (because I couldn't find it) but found another great jamaican rum to use instead. This was an amazing and authentic rum punch recipe that will have you feeling like you're sitting on the beaches on Barbados. Overall I think this book is really fantastic and when I get a little more downtime I will venture out to some of the more time consuming recipes as everything looks amazing. My top 5 recipes from Caribbean Vegan are:

Everyday Vegan "Ham"
Rum Punch
Curried Potato Salad
Plantain Balls
Caribbean Green Split Pea Soup

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mushroom Fries

Day 11 of VeganMofo and I've already fallen behind but hopefully the taste of these mushroom fries will offer some redemption. I wish I could take credit for this recipe but it adapted from one of my twitter followers Stephen Davis (who also took the great photo). If you've read any of my books then you know that I have a love/hate relationship with mushrooms that is slowly but surely growing into pure love and I think these mushroom fries have sealed the deal. Just called me Mrs. Portobello (kinda lie Mrs. Potato Head but with less accessories).

Scrapping out the gills of the portobello changes the texture of the meaty mushroom and makes these thin strips of bello look just like little earthy fries. These fries will now and forever be my alternative to french fries and now my only problem is trying to figure out my favorite sauce to dip these treats in.

Mushroom Fries

1/3 cup cornmeal
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons parsley or cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg equivalent Ener-G egg replacer, prepared or 1/4 cup soy yogurt
3 Portobello mushroom cap, gills scraped out, cut into strips

Preheat a deep fryer to 350oF or add about ½ inch of oil to a large frying pan and warm over medium heat. To test the heat, sprinkle a small drop of water into the oil. Once the water begins to pop, the oil is ready.

Combine cornmeal, flour, nutritional yeast, parsley/cilantro, salt and pepper in a shallow dish until combined.

Dredge mushroom strips through the prepared egg replacer or yogurt, then through flour mixture and fry in canola oil until golden and crispy. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce or just plain ole ketchup.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Many Adventures of Vegan Guinea Pig and The Park Grounds Thief

Just 8 days into Vegan Mofo and my dreams of blogging for 30 straight days have been thwarted. I had the best intentions of blogging this weekend but with less than 6 weeks left in the semester school has taken over my life even more completely than usual. In fact, at this very moment I'm sitting in my research class pretending to type notes furiously while I write this blog - now that's mulit-tasking.

This weekend I had one of the most interesting experiences I've ever had when doing a restaurant review. In fact, I must warn you, this review is not so much about the food but the atmosphere on my latest voyage to discover what's new and wonderful in the kingdom of vegan. My latest trip took me to Park Grounds in the Cabbage Town neighborhood of Atlanta. My classmates and I agreed on it as the perfect place to get some work done, enjoy good food, a little caffeine and even bring our dogs (they have a great little dog park). As usual, I checked out their menu online before hand and was thrilled to see they had an extensive list of vegan breakfast, lunch and desserts items. A vegan breakfast sandwich with tofu, greens, lettuce and guacamole, a vegan breakfast burrito (which i was dying to try!) that is stuffed with tofu, hashbrowns, lettuce, tomato, onion, guacamole and pico de gallo, vegan pancakes, PG-VG Sandwich made with tofu, lettuce, onion, cucumbers and sriarcha on marble rye, a hummus veggie wrap, and of course a big veggie salad.

When I arrived at Park Grounds I was thrilled to see that the two speciality items of the day were vegan as well including vegan chocolate chip pancakes. I was too excited for words. Until I gave my order and they informed me the kitchen was closed. I tried to hide my disappointment but it was difficult, I came ready to eat and at only 2pm the kitchen was already closed for the day. I don't drink coffee on an empty stomach so I was stuck sipping on a grapefruit Izze, which was great, but doesn't compare to chocolate chip pancakes and hashbrowns.

Unfortunately, I will never get a chance to try the food at Park Grounds. I'm sure it's amazing but within an hour of sitting down with my classmates, with very empty belly's, trying to concentrate on our work a man came into the cafe and tried to rob a man of his laptop, while the man was still holding and using his laptop. It was such a jarring experience that everyone was pretty much speechless, well everyone except the barista running down the street chasing after the would-be robber. It's really a shame because I've been meaning to take my dogs down to Park Grounds and grab a little something to eat while studying there for over a year now. Unfortunately, after watching someone being robbed right in front of me in broad daylight I won't be able to go back there without constantly looking over my shoulder in fear and I definitely wouldn't bring anything I hold valuable there. I'm sure that Park Grounds is a wonderful place, and I hate to judge it based on the actions of others but for me it's not a place I would be able to go again. If you've ever tried the food please feel free to chime in with a comment and let me know how it is, and also, if you know what the hours of their kitchen are since they clearly aren't the same hours that are printed on their menus or online.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Quick & Easy Vegan Celebrations Booksigning (Atlanta, GA)

Saturday, November 6th at 3pm

Borders Buckhead in Atlanta (3637 Peachtree Rd. NE, Ste. C Atlanta, GA 30319)

Hope to see you there! 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

MorningStar Farms Sweet & Sour Chik’n

MorningStar Farms and I don’t exactly see eye to eye all the time. It seems like nearly everything except their chik’n strips have egg in it and frankly when I’m going for a meat analogue boca and Gardein come to mind first. On my way to pick up some Gardein chicken scaloppini I saw that Morningstar Farms has put out a new line of frozen meals. Some had cheese but the Sweet and Sour chik’n caught my eye and at only $3.99 for an entire meal I couldn’t turn it down. As I was doing my usual ingredient scan (which I had to do 3 times because the list of ingredients on the back is soooooo long) I noticed that the chik’n was made by Gardein! Once I saw that I knew I couldn’t go wrong and nabbed two boxes for good measure.

Within minutes it was in my microwave, cooked, and the first piece of chik’n and pineapple were on my fork. I was so eager to eat it that I neglected to let it cool and managed to burn the entire right side of my mouth on the first bite. But the chik’n was so good I didn’t mind! I just kept on eating, burnt mouth and all and before I knew it only 2 minutes had passed and the entire meal was gone. There wasn’t even a stray piece of rice or sauce left in the serving dish. I HIGHLY recommend these new Morningstar meals. They definitely did the right thing this go around by partnering with Gardein to create, what I think, is their best product line yet. Just make sure to do a thorough ingredient search on all other varieties as Morningstar loves to sneak eggs into their products. 

I would also be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the great nutrition information! One meal is only 340 calories with 14 grams of protein and only 350mg of sodium. You really can’t go wrong with this one. As soon as I press send on this blog post I’m heading back to Kroger to stock up on more of these for those rainy days when I’m in no mood to cook.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kroger’s Vegantastic Oasis

I’m always on the hunt for great new vegan products (it’s kinda the whole purpose for this blog!) Although I love health food and specialty markets like Whole Foods my new favorite store for vegan finds is Kroger. All my east coast people probably know Kroger fairly well and if you do then you know that Kroger isn’t necessarily the first place that would come to mind when it comes to great vegan foods however, in the last couple of years Kroger has gone through a dramatic change converting part of every one of their stores into a little vegan paradise filled with every type of milk, meat-analogue, frozen dessert and specialty product you can think of. 

If you aren’t already in a state of shock and awe then prepare yourself for another doozy. Unlike most conventional grocery stores, who’s vegan specialty products tend to be a little bit more expensive than Whole Foods or other health food stores, Kroger’s prices are actually the cheapest I have seen on just about everything except tofu. Just recently I was browsing through their veg*n frozen food section only to find all Gardein products on sale for only $2.99 with a regular price of $4.19. 

It is important to note that Kroger’s entire specialty section isn’t vegan there are some organic milks, yogurts and other vegetarian items sprinkled throughout the mix so if you’re not sure about the veganess (yep, that's a word) of something, as always, turn that package over and scrutinize the label. Happy Shopping!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Almond Hot Toddy

The weather here in Georgia made a dramatic shift from sunny and breezy 80 degree days to cloudy and cold 50 degree ones. Normally this would inspire me to whine about the weather all day but one sip of this Almond Hot Toddy and I'm praising the autumn skies! If you happen to have a little vegan whipped cream around it makes a great topping for this hot toddy.

2 cups Almond Breeze® Vanilla
2 ounces spiced rum
1 ounce brandy
¼ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, plus more for garnish

Over low heat, combine Almond Breeze® Vanilla, rum, brandy, almond extract, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium saucepan, stirring constantly with a whisk until very warm.  Pour into large mugs, leaving an inch of room to the top. Top with vegan whipped cream (if using),  and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

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