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!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Convenience Food Alert! Harmony Valley Foods Hamburger & Sausage Mix

I love quick and easy vegan products that don't require refrigeration. I have the bad habit of over-shopping and my fridge is constantly packed with food that often ends up going to the rabbit, dog or compost bin to ensure it doesn't go completely to waste. So shelf-stable products are always a plus to have around. Harmony Valley foods makes a line of shelf-stable vegan hamburger and sausage mix that make approximately a pound of hamburger or sausage style crumbles by just adding water. Not only are they convenient from a storage stand point but they are great to travel with if you're not sure that there will be vegan options when traveling to visit friends or family. All you have to do is add water and wait 15 minutes then season as you'd like.

I was addicited to the sausage mix for a long time and then one day, I just stopped liking the flavor. I don't know what happened. It just started tasting tangy in an off sort of way. I don't know if it was just flavor overload or if the product loses some of it's flavor over time. But I would recommend that if you try this product to eat it all at once just in case. Another quick note, Harmony Valley also happens to be the name of a beef factory farm so be specific when you google this stuff. Until then, happy cooking!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cookbook Review: The Sexy Vegan Cookbook by Brian L. Patton (with a bonus recipe)

Every once in a while people will comment that I'm too harsh in my cookbook reviews. I must beg to disagree. I am exceedingly passionate about great, innovative vegan food. There are so many authors out there who create masterpieces in the kitchen with simple ingredients that you don't have to break out your 1980's edition of Encyclopedia Britannica to decipher. I am in the unique position that I get to read and cook from the majority of the new vegan cookbooks on the market so I get the opportunity to see and eat some amazing recipes and so not so amazing recipes. The Sexy Vegan Cookbook: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Dude by Brian L. Patton is one of those innovative, outstanding cookbooks.

I've been knee deep in a world of babies, book writing and school so I'm out of the loop on who the new hot young vegan talents are so I have to admit I've never heard of Brian Patton before. I don't know if he's a blogger, tv personality, or just (as the title of the book says) and ordinary dude who woke up one day cooking his heart out. One thing I can tell you for sure is he is an artist in the kitchen and, I have to say, I like his personality. Anybody who starts their book off with cocktails and calls them the most important meal of the day is a friend of mine. Patton's onion dip is so sweet and tangy I want it on everything, his balls are nutty yet filling (no really, he has a recipe called my balls that is made of walnuts and they have a great earthy walnutty flavor). His recipe for Curried Fried Tofu Salad makes me unnaturally happy and his Cauliflower and Roasted Fennel soup was not only a hit with me but my 6 month old daughter loves it as well. We used purple cauliflower to make it even more fun. But my all time favorite recipe from this book, that makes this book a must have is the Pretend Canadian Bacon. It is brilliant! Just brilliant! I've used the marinade on super firm tofu as well as tempeh, both baked and fried variations and they were a party in my mouth every time. The publishers were kind enough to let me share the recipe with you. So without further ado - Pretend Canadian Bacon!

Pretend Canadian Bacon
Makes 12 slices

One 16-ounce block super-firm tofu (or one 14-ounce block very-well-drained extra-firm tofu; see Tip below and Tip on next page)
1/2 cup low-sodium tamari or soy sauce  
1 teaspoon liquid smoke  
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Cut the block of tofu into 2-by-3-inch pieces. Then cut the pieces into 1/8-inch-thick slices. (If you want to
get fancy, you can use a round cookie cutter or pint glass to cut circular slices, but that will leave excess that will go to waste.)
In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari, liquid smoke, maple syrup, paprika, garlic powder, and pepper. Pour the mixture into a large zip-top bag, add the tofu slices, gently slosh them around so they get coated, squeeze the bag to suck out as much of the air as possible, and place the bag in the fridge to let the tofu marinate for at least 3 hours but no more than 5 hours.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Place as many slices as you wish (without overcrowding) into the hot pan, and fry until browned on one side (3 to 4 minutes), then flip and repeat. Cook the bacon in batches if you need to. If you would like to freeze the uncooked slices, use the same freezing method as with the Tempeh Bacon (see recipe, page 32) to preserve these for up to a month.

Super-firm tofu has the least amount of water of all the tofus. This allows it to hold together very well for grilling or broiling. When very well drained, some extra-firm tofu can get pretty close to the texture of the super-firm tofu, so it’s a manageable substitute.

Drain that tofu!!
There’s a ton of water in that block, and we have no use for it. Take the block out of the water it’s packed in, and place it on a plate. Then put another plate on top of it and add something heavy on top of that plate, like a couple of cans of beans. Let it drain for 30 to 60 minutes — the longer, the better. Discard the water and proceed with your preparations.

Excerpted with permission from The Sexy Vegan Cookbook: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Dude ©2012 by Brian Patton.  Published with permission of New World Library

Monday, June 11, 2012

Snack On This! The New Blueberry Hemp Power Snack

A couple months ago I got an email asking if I would like to try the latest "superfood" by Navitas Naturals. It had all the buzzwords of the moment - blueberry, hemp, superfood, gluten free, no refined sugars the whole nine. The word "superfood" is a huge turn off to me but I thought "what they hey, why not" and I decided to give it a try. The official name of the product is Blueberry Hemp Superood Power Snack (now that's a mouthful). They are bite size snacks (about the size of one of those fun size Snickers bars) and if anything were to ever look like what non-vegans think vegans eat this would be it. They are brownish-purplish little bars dotted with all sorts of seeds. The ingredients on the back just sound like it should be good for you - organic camu camu powder, organic lucuma powder, organic maca powder, organic chia seeds, the list goes on! I have no clue what most of that stuff is but I assume they're supposed to be...well...superfoods. I could go on and on describing these things but let's just say this, think of every buzzword for every healthy thing you could imagine and it's in this stuff.

I carried them around in my purse for a week then one day, while sitting in my pediatric nutrition class, I decided to give them a try. Everyone around me was slightly intrigued and slightly horrified by their appearance but, after one bite I had to admit, these things are darn delicious. I mean, really really good. They are super sweet without being high in sugar (sweetened by dates), have a great blueberry flavor and a little crunch thanks to the sesame seeds. As far as all the other fancy ingredients on the label, it's nice they are there but the flavors that really come through are the dates, sunflowers and blueberries. I have to say, these are one of the best on the go snacks I've tasted in awhile and they are also incredibly filling so a little goes a long way. I highly recommend these little snacks.
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