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Bringing Pizza Back

28 Nov

No doubt you my have heard countless vegans name pizza as one of their most missed foods from B.V. (Before Veganism).  Pizza and probably Macaroni and Cheese, the latter being my most missed.

In B.V. times, I would order just extra cheese — no toppings — on my pizzas, but all that changed when I gave up cheese.  Along with the peace of mind that goes with the cessation of stealing calves’ milk, I also changed my pizza habit — tons of veggies toppings, and no cheese — if and when I had pizza at all.

At home, I would do the same on my pizzas, complete with veggies on tomato sauce and a whole wheat crust.  Then one day I discovered Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet cheeses.  These cheeses satisfied my husband’s craving for cheese, but were still a bit of a pain for me to grate by hand — at this point I had gone without cheese pizza for so long that it didn’t seem worth the trouble of all that grating.  Furthermore, the taste was just OK, and the melting was one step up from competing vegan cheese makers.

And then there was Daiya.  I first discovered it at the Vegetarian Summerfest I attended this past July in Johnstown, PA, where in addition to other ridiculously delicious foods three times per day, we were provided with pizza — lots of pizza — at both lunch and dinner.  I had a slice at every meal — probably to make up for lost time!

Daiya melts — it melts — it really melts!!  Daiya really tastes more like mozzarella, or cheddar, more so than other brands.  Daiya is already grated when you buy it in a small package.  Yes!  Daiya has brought pizza back to many of us now, and the beauty of it is that it mostly tapioca starch — it’s actually soy- and gluten-free, which means it can be embraced by people with allergies too.

I have had to travel far to get my Daiya, since my nearest Whole Foods is 45 minutes away, and no one else by me sells it. But I have good news:  I went to my local health food store and was speaking to the owner, and I asked him directly if he had heard of it.  He actually had not heard of Daiya but immediately offered to order it for me.  Within three days, he had a box of it!  No more traveling for Daiya!

One bag will yield me enough cheese to satisfactorily cover two pizzas, each with an approximately 12 inch diameter.

So this weekend I made four pizzas for a party at my house:  a grilled zucchini and eggplant, a onion and mushroom, a “meaty” one with Tofurky Kielbasa and Yves Pepperoni slices, and a just plain cheese mix of both cheddar and mozzarella Daiya cheese.

Of course, I wouldn’t eat pizza every day, but it is great to have an alternative that I can confidently recommend to other vegans, and most importantly the uninitiated veg-curious.  Truly, now there is nothing missing from the vegan world!

Below are some pictures — unfortunately with a house full of people, I did not get a chance to take the pictures until after they had already had slices pulled from them:

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Orange You Glad For Black Beans?

22 Nov

Don’t get me wrong — I love hummus, and believe chick peas (garbanzo beans) are the world’s most perfect bean.  However, every now and then I like to try something else for my veggie dip or spread.  Lo and behold, I had the opportunity to test a new recipe for a black bean dip by vegan cookbook author Robin Robertson.  As a tester, my job is to prepare a recipe exactly as directed by the author, and write feedback on its taste, practicality, portion size, and directions.  While I have permission to photograph and blog the recipes, I cannot reveal the exact recipe — you’ll just have to wait for Ms. Robertson to publish her next book!

The recipe I tested was called Spicy Black Bean Hummus with Orange — intriguing.  Spicy and citrusy?  I had to sign up to try it!

I gathered all my ingredients, which basically would include black beans, tahini, jalapenos, salt, cumin, garlic, and cilantro.

The beauty of this recipe is that it was remarkably quick using the food processor.  First, I put in the garlic, jalapenos, and salt.

The orange flavoring would come from the zest of an orange.  I love using a microplane in order to zest.  I usually do it over a small bowl or plate, so I do not lose any of the zest.  I did not zest it directly over the other ingredients, because I needed to measure a precise amount for this recipe.

With the zest ready and the garlic and jalapenos already chopped, I added the remaining ingredients and whirled it around in the food processor.

The bean dip was meant to be garnished with cilantro, which I cut on a board with a chef’s knife instead of using a food processor.  Years ago, I used to get lazy and use the food processor for both my parsley and cilantro, much to my mother’s chagrin.  She insisted that it ruined the herbs, and I wouldn’t listen until I finally tried cutting them instead and tasted the difference.  Yes, indeed, the food processor cilantro or parsley ended up pulpy and watery, while the hand-minced herbs retained a better texture and flavor.  When chopping cilantro, I always include the stems too, because they are just as tasty!

A final garnish around the black bean dip.

Delicious!  I can’t wait to read what the final version of this recipe will be, and try it again in the future.

Persephone’s Folly — how the heck do you open a pomegranate?

17 Nov


Pomegranate.  Lately, it’s all the rage, with its flavor added to teas, juices, and even vodkas.  Tiny bottles of pure pomegranate juice can be purchased at a high cost, but are credited with providing high amounts of antioxidants and even fighting prostate problems in men.

There are plenty of products offering pomegranate juice or its flavoring, but what if you want the real thing?  A real pomegranate.  Its juicy little seeds tricked the Greek goddess Persephone into staying in the underworld, but I’m sure that if she had had to cut up the fruit herself, she would have told Hades to forget it.  So what do we mortals do when we want pomegranate seeds?

First, soak the pomegranate in a bowl of water for about an hour or so, to soften it up and make it easier to work with.  But if you don’t have time to soak it first, it’s still possible to continue.

Next, put the pomegranate on a cutting board and use a large knife to cut around the fruit into four pieces.  Cut first around its equator, then through it’s stem.  The juice is dark red, so don’t let it bleed all over the counters.

Put the pomegranate pieces back into the bowl of water, and use your fingers to peel back the white pith away from the seeds underwater.  If you don’t do this underwater (or at least right above the water), the seeds will pop out and fly all over the place, or break and stain you, your clothes, everything.  Underwater, they will simply float, intact.

Work your fingers into the fruit until all the seeds are out and in the bowl.

Discard the white pith.

Once you have all the outer skin parts of the pomegranate gone, your seeds should have all sunken to the bottom of the bowl.  If there are any more traces of the pith, they will float to the top of the water, where you can skim them off the top.

Gently rinse the seeds in a colander, and you are finished.

Now what do you do with pomegranate seeds?

You can eat them as they are, because they make a great tarty-sweet snack.  Otherwise, add them into fruit salad, a greens salad, a smoothie, on top of a dessert, the bottom of a martini glass, or make a relish or sauce.

For tonight, I just threw them into a salad of baby greens, tomato, balsamic vinaigrette, and Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders, which I tried for the first time.  I was pleased to see them carried at BJ’s Wholesale Club, of all places, and was eager to try them.  Typically, BJ’s does not carry any vegan meat substitutes (they have veggie burgers, but all have egg in them).  But I do shop there for a good price on 5 lb. bags of organic carrots, organic baby greens and spinach, tofu, Sabra hummus, and Clif bars and two-packs of the Arnold’s Whole Wheat Soft bread my husband likes.

As the instructions indicated, I cooked ten pieces at 400 degrees in the toaster oven for 15 minutes.

Then, on my cutting board, I cut them each into three chunks to be divided among two salad bowls.

A warm and yummy addition to a fresh salad with pomegranate seeds.  These two ingredients certainly made my salad a lot more interesting tonight!  The Gardein Crispy Tenders were definitely delicious — to the point where my husband put four more in the toaster oven just for himself!

Dunk WHAT in chocolate milk?

16 Nov

Yesterday, I blogged about the veganized Shepherd’s pie I made for my husband so that he could enjoy a childhood favorite — even if he was one of the only kids in his school that actually liked it.  Most of his friends hated it!

In thinking of what gross food combinations I enjoyed as a child, one in particular stood out:  ham and cheese sandwich dipped in chocolate milk.  If you are like most people with whom I’ve confessed this oddity, you are probably thinking, “Gross!” and not just for the obvious fact that there was pig’s ham and cow’s cheese in it.

I’m not sure how it started, but I do remember I was six years old and in first grade in Florida.  The school bus would drop me off at the intersection down the road from my house, and I’d walk what seemed to me to be a mile long trek.  Now, with the advent of Google Maps, I was able to confirm that my home at the time was in fact only four houses down from the bus stop — not such a big deal — but after a long day at school, walking the length of four houses in the Florida sun could be a lot for a six-year-old.

So when I arrived, there was always my ham and cheese sandwich to look forward to, complete with chocolate milk.  I do remember my mom making these sandwiches for me most of the time, but I actually have a faint scar on my hand from when I attempted to do it myself.  It was simple enough to prepare, but when I reached in to the toaster oven, the sandwich was very hot.  My reflexes pulled my hand away by snapping up and right into the toaster oven’s upper element, leaving a 2 inch burn that still exists on the back of my hand as a soft mark slightly darker than the rest of my skin — but it wasn’t pretty when it happened!

What was so good about this after school snack that would have me coming back for more even after burning myself?  It was simple:  white bread, a slice of ham, and a slice of individually wrapped cheese.  Once toasted, my mom would cut off the crusts, resulting in a perfect rectangle of toasty bread, warm ham, and melting cheese.  I was a huge fan of Nestle Quik, and managed to prepare my own chocolate milk with no injury.  Sometimes I would drink it cold, and sometimes warm in the microwave.

Of course, I would be horrified to eat a ham sandwich now, and I probably would have been at age six if I really understood where that ham came from.  Nevertheless, the comfort of happy memories can make one long for a similar experience.  And so today I attempted to make a vegan version of my ham and cheese in chocolate milk creation.

Although I would have preferred wheat today for the bread, all I had was some of Food For Life’s gluten-free rice flour-based sliced bread on hand that actually resembles white bread (which I haven’t bought in my last 12 years of adulthood).  I also have Galaxy Nutritional Foods Rice Vegan American Cheese and Lightlife’s Smart Deli Baked Ham veggie protein slices.  And although I don’t make a habit of buying it, I couldn’t resist a coupon last week for Silk’s Light Chocolate soy milk.  Everything was there… how could I not take this opportunity to recreate that childhood experience?

There really is not a lot of cooking to be done here.  I simply put a slice of the “ham” on one side of the bread, and a slice of the “cheese” on the other.  Given the fact that vegan cheese doesn’t melt the same way (if at all) as cow’s cheese would, I first put the breads in the toaster oven separately so that more of the cheese’s surface area would be exposed to heat.  I set the toaster oven’s timer for 5 minutes, then flopped the “ham” bread onto the “cheese” bread and left it in the toaster oven for 1 more minute.

Using my wooden tongs to safely remove my sandwich (yes, I am still traumatized!), I was ready to enjoy it with my glass of chocolate soy milk.

Cutting the sandwich into two triangles, I happily dunked each bite into the chocolate soy milk.  Yummy (to me)!!!!!!!

I’m fairly convinced that there is nothing that can’t be veganized — even the weird, quirky, and sometimes gross stuff we do as kids.

The Shepherd Has Freed The Flock

15 Nov

Sometimes, children like the most unusual foods.  I think almost everyone has a food they loved as a child, that perhaps seems gross now as an adult.  Perhaps it’s an unusual combination of ingredients, or possibly something too sugary to withstand as an adult.  It could also be associated with certain childhood memories.

For my husband, it was the dreaded Shepherd’s pie in his Catholic school cafeteria.  Most students hated it, but apparently he and only one friend loved it.  Usually it was only offered once per month, but sometimes to their delight, it would suddenly appear every week on the menu.  The boys cheered while others groaned when they heard the morning announcements proclaiming Shepherd’s pie on the menu.  My husband and his friend ran to their seats in the cafeteria, then sat quietly with their hands folded, waiting for one of the nuns to approvingly send them to the lunch line.  With glee, they dug into the mess of meat and instant mashed potato flakes, while other kids just pushed it around into alien formations on their plates.

Well over twenty years later, my husband sometimes asks fellow alumni if they remember the Shepherd’s pie and if they too liked it.  He hasn’t had any luck finding more fans —  most people either don’t remember it or hated it.

What could have possibly been so delicious about this Shepherd’s pie to these two elementary school students?  What was in it?  Apparently, just ground beef, corn, and mashed potatoes.  Nothing else — and that does mean nothing! I learned that the hard way the first time I attempted to replicate it.  I decided to get fancy and add carrots, edamame, and chopped broccoli to the corn layer, much to my husband’s disappointment.  Actually, he does like carrots, broccoli and edamame, but not in his Shepherd’s pie!

This time I promised to stay true to the recipe of his childhood school cafeteria favorite.

So I started by immediately cheating and reaching for an onion!  How could I not put an onion in it?  The flavor of a sauteed onion is too much to give up!  Thus, I began by dicing and sauteing a large onion.

My favorite ground meat substitute is Lightlife Smart Ground.  I use it for shepard’s pie, sloppy joes, pizza, lasagna, and chili (in which it has totally fooled meat-eaters at parties, and even a chili contest!)  Sometimes my grocery store runs out of it, so very often I buy several at a time because they do keep in the freezer well.

Whether you store it in the freezer or refrigerator, it is a good idea to crumble it completely into a bowl first, so that you do not have clumps.

Sometimes, I do the mise en place thing and put my herbs and spices into a bowl first.  Today I used dry parsley, oregano, basil, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper (more cheating!).  I did not measure it, but I can say the dried herbs were about 1 tablespoon and the spices were about 1 teaspoon each.

Once the onions were sauteed to the point in which they began to appear translucent, I added the Smart Ground, herbs, and spices.

After blending everything together and sauteing for a minute, I added Annie’s Worcestershire Sauce, which is vegan (many other brands are not!)

I stirred some more, until everything was incorporated.  I find that keeping a cup of water nearby and occasionally adding water prevents sticking, if necessary.

Once I was satisfied with a taste-test of the Smart Ground, I layered it thickly along the bottom of a glass casserole dish.

My next layer was frozen corn.

My final layer was a thick layer of mashed potatoes (Click here for the recipe).

I baked it in the oven at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes.  Then I turned the broiler on for about 3 minutes, but unfortunately it browned unevenly, as you can see here.  Maybe it’s my oven, but I am just not a fan of the broiler.  However, my  husband wanted it brown on top, just like when he was a kid.

After letting it cool a bit, we served large portions of it.  My husband enjoyed two hearty servings and never noticed the other ingredients outside of the corn, mashed potatoes, and Smart Ground!

Truly a mess, but ultimately a good comfort food, which brought some happy blissfulness and nostalgia for my husband.  I liked it too, although I can’t say I would have liked the original school cafeteria version.

In thinking about this meal and the story behind it, I’m going to provide a sneak peek at tomorrow’s blog:  I’m going to write about my favorite gross childhood food.  It involves chocolate, bread, “cheese,” and “ham.”  You’ll have to stay tuned!!

Vegan Thanksgiving Potluck

14 Nov

Thanksgiving… rich and decadent foods, full tummies, great laughs, and good company.  For most vegans, however, we may not get to indulge in all the foods when with our families.  Thus, our local vegetarian/vegan group had a 100% vegan meal with traditional foods.  We were a total of 10 people and all brought different foods, which we planned earlier this week.

My contribution:  a Tofurky roast with potatoes, carrots, onions, and fennel with a basting of soy sauce, agave nectar, maple syrup, walnut and sesame oil, as well as rosemary, sage, cumin, salt and pepper.

“Three sisters” salad:  corn, lima beans, and zucchini with tomatoes, dill, cilantro, salt, pepper, olive oil, apple cider and red wine vinegars.

Roasted red pepper hummus and chips.

Butternut Squash soup.

Pasta salad with broccoli, olives, beans, corn, and tomatoes.

Creamy mashed sweet potatoes

Cranberry relish with crystallized ginger and orange zest.

Stuffing with three different mushrooms.

Homemade vegan gravy

Vegan cheesecake with apples and pecans.

My plated butternut squash soup.

The beautiful and satisfying entree!

Desserts!  Cheesecake, chocolate cake, and sweet potato pie.

The Vegan Ilk of Milk

12 Nov

Vegans have the glorious choice of not one, but at least six milks most dairy-drinkers often don’t even know about.  Most people have heard of soy milk, and in fact many coffee shops including Starbucks now carry it as an alternative to dairy.  However, there are also additional delicious choices such as almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, oat milk, and coconut milk.  Each has a distinct flavor and consistency.  Some are sweeter than others, and thus serve some purposes better than others.

Typically, coconut and rice are the sweetest choices, which are excellent for desserts, but not uncommon in entrees such as curries.  Neither one, in my opinion,  is particularly good to drink straight from a glass, if not mixed with coffee or in a smoothie.  Soy milk and almond milk are more flexible, and are good for use in baking recipes, or to simply drink plainly.  My only experience with oat milk so far is in baking and using for cereal.  As for hemp milk, it is more expensive than the others, so usually I just enjoy it by drinking it with cocoa powder.  Either way, they are all enjoyable and worth trying.

The question for today, however, is which one would be most delicious and effective in making  creamy mashed potatoes?  I decided to try all of them (except coconut — that one I know would be way too sweet).

To prepare the potatoes, start with scrubbing the skins with a vegetable brush. I never peel my potatoes — it’s a waste of time!  But if you want your mashed potatoes to be completely white, then go for it.  I prefer mine “dirty” and less time consuming.  While you’re at it, be sure to put water in a large pot to boil.

Cut the potatoes by first steadying it on its side and cutting it lengthwise in half.  Then take the two halves and set them flat side down. Depending on the size of the potato, cut it lengthwise into two, three, or four slices. Then cut perpendicular into 1.5″ chunks.

Once the water is at a rolling boil (not just sputtering bubbles), put the potatoes in.  The rolling boil will stop, but the potatoes will be cooking.   When they return to a rolling boil, check them after 15 minutes.  The timing may vary depending on the amount of water and potatoes, so keep checking.  If you can poke right through them easily with a toothpick and they break apart, then they are pretty much done. If you taste one, it should fall apart in your mouth.

Once the potatoes are finished, let them drain in a colander for a few minutes so that all the water is out. Then put them back in the pot and mash them.

Once they are broken up, you can use an immersion blender.  Mine is a Proctor Silex. I love using it for pureeing soups, without the bneed to transfer messy hot liquids to my blender.

Add Earth Balance (about 4 tablespoons) to the potatoes, as well as salt and pepper, to the taste.

Now it is time for the milk taste tests.  I put five dollops of potatoes each in its own bowl and added 1 tablespoon each of the test milks.  I used a small whisk to incorporate the milk into the potatoes.

After trying all the samples twice, I resorted to using process of elimination to narrow down my choices.  I quickly took out both hemp milk and soy milk out of the running, as their flavors were too strong and interfered with that of the mashed potatoes.  Next I eliminated the oat milk because it also had a noticeable taste.  Finally, I really couldn’t make up my mind between the almond milk and rice milk.  Rice milk seemed like the most neutral taste, but also appeared thin and runny.  Therefore, I decided to mix equal parts rice and almond milks in this particular batch of mashed potatoes.  Thus, I added 1/2 cup of each and used the immersion blender once again to mix everything.  The result was smooth and creamy!