Thursday, October 15, 2009

World's Best Onion Rings

Since last posting, I've left my most recent job as the assistant editor of a medical journal, moved into my fiance's home in Philadelphia, started volunteering at Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (better known as PAWS), and, while there, fell in love with a Parson Russell Terrier (formerly Jack Russell)/Papillon/and maybe Spaniel mix, who Brian and I recently adopted and renamed Benji. In the midst of packing, moving, mulling over an idea for a new blog that may never come to fruition, and having some sort of pre-turning 30 depression, I haven't blogged. But I have eaten. A lot.

Here's something perfect to make and eat on a rainy day while holed up in a house with an adolescent dog suffering from kennel cough.

World's Best Onion Rings
Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson

Onion rings always sound like a delicious, decadent option at a restaurant until you actually eat them. Then they are almost always a mushy, underseasoned, greasy disappointment. When I was growing up in Manhattan, there were not nearly as many fast food restaurants as today. Going to Burger King was an exotic, rare trek uptown and I took this opportunity to order onion rings. They were stale and left an unsettling oily film on my mouth. As an adult, my ideals for onion rings--crisp and seasoned breading without and soft-crisp, sweet onion within--have yet to be met.

Therefore, I don't know exactly why I decided to tackle making homemade onion rings for perhaps the second time in my life (the first time must have been a floury failure I've mostly blocked from recall). But I had this bag of Trader Joe's onions sitting around and a hankering for fried. Surprisingly, none of the vegan cookbooks I own have onion ring recipes. I checked out
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman but, with it's call for cold beer, chilled sparkling water, and eggs, it was too fussy. I knew Nigella Lawson's Feast (handsdown my all-time favorite cookbook and one of my favorite pieces of writing ever) had an ultimate onion rings recipe but I wasn't sure how simple it would be to veganize.

Luckily, what follows is pretty much the original recipe, except for my own buttermilk concoction, tweaking the flour mixture to accommodate my pantry offerings, and swapping out the shortening for oil.
The key to the perfection of these onion rings is the soured milk mixture and letting the onions marinade in it for several hours. Serve with the usual burgers or over some baby greens dolloped with aioli.

1 large white onion
1 cup plain soy milk
1 tablespoon white vinegar (don't use balsamic or other strongly flavored vinegar)
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
canola oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tablespoon Creole seasoning (or 1/2 tablespoon paprika)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
generous pinch or two of sea salt

Chop off the root ends of the onion and peel. Starting from widest part of onion, slice ringed circles about 1/2 inch thick. Put aside smaller or broken rings for another use (I chopped and added them to a pot of black bean soup). You should have anywhere from 12 to 20 of the best looking onion circles.

In a large bowl, mix soy milk, vinegar, and arrowroot. Place onions in mixture and gently stir to coat the pieces. It's okay if not all of the rings are completely submerged but make sure they each get coated and sit in some of the milk mixture. Cover and put in the fridge for anywhere from 2 hours to overnight. Overnight is ideal.

Over medium heat, add about 2 inches of oil to a deep soup pan (don't use a skillet). Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, Creole seasoning, cayenne, and salt in a shallow bowl or plate. Take the marinated rings out of the fridge, shake off excess milk, dip each ring into the flour, and add to the well-heated pan. Only add 5 to 7 rings at a time, being careful not to crowd the pieces. It will take a few batches to complete the process and you may need to add more oil once it starts getting full of flour but be patient. After a few minutes, or until one side is golden brown, flip over each ring with tongs, being careful not to remove the delicate flour batter. Drain them on paper towels and eat as soon as possible. Not that you'll be able to resist doing that anyway.

More Nigella Lawson comes to the States in just a few weeks when she releases the US edition of Nigella Christmas.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Frankie Instead of Food

I am so thrilled that one of my favorite bloggers, Erica Bartle of the excellent magazine review site, Girl With A Satchel (GWAS), not only sent me a free copy of Australia's lovely Frankie magazine, she also let me contribute a guest review of it. She's just super nice like that. You can read my post by heading over to GWAS and finding the July 22, 2009 post, "Mags: Frankie (Guest Review)."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Go Candy, Go!

It is a myth that chocolate is not vegan. Chocolate comes from the seed of the cacao tree so its entirely plant-based. Since choosing to be vegan, I've not given up using yummy Ghirardelli semisweet chips when making baked goods or eating various dark chocolate bars that I easily find at my local Stop and Shop and elsewhere.

I have, however, not had the candy store milk chocolate bars full of sugar, fat, and deliciousness because they contain dairy and other animal ingredients. Well, I don't have to forgo the sweet candy bar fix anymore because Go Max Go Foods has come to the rescue and released four vegan candy bars that are as delicious as their nonvegan forbears. Jokerz is like that chocolate bar that starts with the letter "S" and is proven to satisfy. Twilight is much like the bar named after our fine galaxy. Buccaneer is as exciting to taste as the three rascally fellows its named in honor of. And Mahalo is as joyful as indulging in some chocolate, coconut, almond goodness on a Hawaiian beach.

After inquiring with the company about when their candy bars might be available in Philly and suggesting a couple of places that might be great to inquire with (Essene and The Rocket Cat Cafe), they were kind enough to send me all four flavors. For free. In return for their generosity, I promised to post about the candy bars here. I am so happy to report that Jokerz totally tasted like its nonvegan fraternal twin. My one regret is that I only indulged in half of the bar because I promised to share them all with Brian. This whole marriage and sharing thing will be hard when it comes to chocolate this sweet, chewy, nutty and delicious.

I confess, however, to eating Mahalo all on my lonesome. Brian said he wasn't crazy about that nonvegan candy bar anyway so I told myself I was doing him a favor. My grandmother used to hoard that joy of almond bar during Lent and then would eat them all up come Easter. In her later years, she complained that the candy didn't seem as juicy and delicious as it once was. Maybe it was her aging tastebuds or maybe the candy's recipe did change. All I know is that I wish my grandmother were still here to try Mahalo because its juicy coconut bits and chunks of almond made me swoon. She loved Hawaii and she would have loved this candy.

Go Max Go candy bars are available in many stores in the US and they soon will be even more widely available. Thanks so much to them for hooking me up with some delicious candy--I still have Twilight and Buccaneer waiting to be devoured by Brian and me--and for making a lot of vegans with a sweet-tooth very happy.

Picture and the products mentioned in this post courtesy of Go Max Go Foods.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Woodstock Trip, Part 1: Storm King Art Center

Last Friday, before Brian and I headed up to Woodstock, NY, we made a stop at Storm King Art Center. For years, Brian has wanted to visit Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall.

Although weather reports called for rain, it ended up being a gorgeously sunny day, with birds chirping and green mountains rolling on beside us. After checking out some of the sculptures and sitting on a bench made of nickels, Brian and I headed onto the art center’s tram and headed for the Wall.

We got off at Roy Lichtenstein’s Mermaid. We watched some turtles ducking in and out of the pond surrounding the sculpture.

Soon after that, he pulled a wrapped square box out of his pocket. The night before, he also surprised me with tickets to see Spring Awakening. It’s funny, although there was no holiday, anniversary, or other special occasion, I also gave him some gifts the night before: a printout promising to take him to Mama’s Vegetarian, site of our first date; a pin set from Herbivore that reads, “I’m vegan and I love you;” a bamboo cutlery set; and a card congratulating him on kicking ass during a very challenging term at school. I also told him I was ready to quit my job and move to Philly without other employment lined-up because the job search I’d been conducting while working full-time was not working and my shitty feelings about it were putting a serious strain on our relationship. We just need to be together. No more trains on the weekend and talking on the phone on weeknights even though we’re dead tired.

I opened the box Brian gave me to find a heart-shaped peridot charm on a silver chain. Simple and green-colored, my two favorite things. As I took the necklace out of the box, Brian got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

My initial reaction was disbelief. Not because I didn’t think I’d marry Brian. Who else would I ever want to spend my life with? And not because we hadn’t talked about this (he told me before our second date over two years ago that he wanted to marry me). But because I couldn’t actually believe I was being proposed to. Because a big part of me from long ago still finds it hard to believe someone could love me this much. After reassuring me that his proposal was indeed sincere, I just started crying. After a minute or so of just holding onto one another, Brian—still on one knee—asked, “So, is that a yes?” And I said yes.

Then he pulled out another small wrapped box and inside was a pair of peridot earrings. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry and never wear rings so Brian said he wasn’t sure what kind and size of ring to get me. But I didn’t care. He could have wrapped a blade of grass around my finger and I would have been just as ecstatic and surprised.

So, we’re getting married! And I’m quitting my job and moving in with Brian. I am really happy and a little scared but everything is less scary with Brian around.

Just in case you’re curious:

-- We don’t yet know when or where we’re getting married. We’d like to try living in the same state for a while before breaking out the wedding planner (although I did just purchase my first issue of Brides. Holy super ad pages!). I also really need to focus on finding another job so I should not indulge my bridal fantasies too much right now.

-- I don’t know what dress I’m going to wear. So far, I’m leaning towards a slinky, Grecian gown or a tea-length dress.

-- I think we will be one of the few people who say, “We want a small wedding,” who actually end up having a small wedding.

-- I’m not changing my last name and neither will Brian. And we won’t do a hybrid of names either (Kantorlacios? Ewww.). And I don’t like the idea of hyphenating any future children’s names (I was given a hyphenated name by my parents and it’s a pain in the ass).

-- Yes, the food will be vegan but don’t be scared if you end up coming to the wedding and aren’t vegan. I will take care of you. You will eat so well. Food is my top priority in life and in this wedding. You’ve eaten my cookies and muffins, right? They were good, right? Okay, don’t worry. Nothing weird—just simple, delicious, and amazing food.

-- Finally, at the wedding, I would like to acknowledge that if you’re not a heterosexual couple, you can’t get married and I do have mixed feelings about my choosing to get married in light of this. I like Jessica Valenti’s idea for her own upcoming wedding. I’d also like to acknowledge here that the idea of marriage is super-loaded, both socially and personally (Brian and I are children of divorce, after all). I’m incredibly happy, excited, and giddy but this is one of the most grown-up decisions I’ve ever had to make so I’d be remiss in not mentioning The Dark Side of Things. Why are online vegans so damn serious? Offline, I am usually so silly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Exclusive Recipe from Wheeler's Black Label Vegan Ice Cream

The kind folks over at Wheeler's Black Label Vegan Ice Cream contacted me a while back and offered to share a recipe on Mutual Menu to showcase the release of their new cookbook, The Vegan Scoop: 150 Recipes for Dairy-Free Ice Cream that Tastes Better Than the "Real" Thing by Wheeler del Torro. Wheeler also is the founder and owner of Wheeler's Frozen Desserts, a microcreamery based in Boston that produces vegan ice cream using soy, coconut, rice, and almond milks.

You can get a peak into the book on the official Vegan Scoop site, but for now, I'm very pleased to share this recipe for Madagascar Rooibus Ice Cream. Did I ever luck out in getting this one. I love tea and rooibus is one of my favorites. I'm in the process of making the ice cream now. It's my first time making homemade ice cream so I'm sure I'll learn a lot in the process but, so far, it's much simpler than I ever thought it would be. I will post pictures and details of the finished project this week but I wanted to share this recipe right away. If you don't have an ice cream maker, check out these tips from Wheeler's blog for making homemade ice cream without one. Enjoy!

Madagascar Rooibus Ice Cream

1 cup (235 ml) soymilk, divided

2 tablespoons (16 g) arrowroot powder

2 cups (470 ml) soy creamer

3/4 cup (150 g) sugar

8 bags Madagascar Rooibus tea

1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup (60 ml) soymilk with arrowroot and set aside.

Mix soy creamer, remaining 3/4 cup (175 ml) soymilk, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Place teabags in mixture and steep for 20 minutes.

Remove teabags, then heat mixture over medium-low heat. Once mixture begins to boil, remove from heat and immediately add arrowroot cream. This will cause the liquid to thicken noticeably.

Refrigerate mixture until chilled, approximately 2 to 3 hours. Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Yield: 1 quart (approximately 600 g)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Heading Up to Woodstock

Tomorrow, Brian and I are driving up to the Woodstock, NY-area for a long weekend getaway. The trip was spurred on so we could attend Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary's June Jamboree. The event includes food by vegan cookbook author, Isa Chandra Moskowitz (I am in love with Vegan Brunch) and raw gelato and ice cream by Organic Nectars. There also will be kid-friendly activities like face-painting and a moon bounce, live music, and, of course, farm tours to meet the rescued animals.

The last time Brian and I were up this way was when we went to Saugerties, NY to visit Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS) two years ago. I'm hoping we can visit CAS again, too, because Brian donated money for a memorial tile in Luckie's name at the farm and I'd love to see it in-person. We also plan on visiting Storm King Art Center, hiking, going on a scenic train ride, eating good food, and getting lots of sleep in our cozy cottage (no HoJo's this time). We'll see if we can pack it all in. I know Brian and I would both like this weekend to be about not packing anything but our bags. He has just completed a very challenging term at school and we've both been stressed out lately, so we need to rest.

Throughout the weekend, I'll post pictures of the animals and other happenings on my Twitpic page. I can't wait to go!

* Jamboree image courtesy of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Like a Vegan Consumer Reports

A bowl of oatmeal is how I start most work mornings (I usually start my total morning with tea and a banana with peanut butter as a pre-workout snack). What makes this bowl eventful is that I’m not eating it out of a Chinese takeout plastic container, the ones I typically use for leftovers and work meals. I am trying to phase out eating and drinking from plastic things, especially when coupled with microwave reheating.

The glass bowl is from a set I purchased at Crate and Barrel for a steal. Check out their outlet section for high-quality wares at more than a reasonable price.

A word about reheating a glass container in the microwave. Did you know that if you put it straight from the fridge and into the microwave, the glass will likely break? Maybe you do know this and are thinking, “Come on! Who doesn’t know this universal rule about glass and wavelengths?” But I didn’t know this. So, the first time I used one of my bowls, it cracked all the way around like the equator. Luckily, Crate and Barrel clued me into this glass tip and replaced the bowl for free, even though it was my fault for breaking it. I love Crate and Barrel. Buy stuff from them. They have nice things and good customer service. Do not, however, buy stuff from Birkenstock. They will charge you $10 just to return an item—even if you pay for your own shipping—and their customer service department sucks and does not answer emails. Besides, many of their shoes are ugly.

Back to my breakfast, the bamboo spoon is from a set by To-Go Ware, which also includes a fork, knife, and chopsticks. The container that holds the utensils is made from recycled plastic. I ordered it from Herbivore Clothing Company. For quite some time, I had my eye on a similar set recommended by Compassionate Cooks but I’m glad I held out for this one because it’s half the price of the one I originally saw.

I’ve recently come across three blogs I really enjoy. One is Quarrygirl, which focuses on vegan restaurants and food experiences in LA and beyond. Without this blog, I would not have been convinced to order Daiya cheese and dine on five or six grilled cheeses in a week.

The motto of Holy Cow! Recipes from a Vegan Kitchen says it all: “I love animals, and I love great food. But I don't care to mix the two.” The recipe for parottas with mushroom and peas korma says even more, like delicious. Thanks to for Brian finding this one and sending me the link. He was right when he said I’d love this site.

Finally, Vegan Nurse. I love vegans and I love nurses (my mom is one) so this was a no-brainer.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What Do Sad Vegans Eat?

I think about this blog a lot. I think about all the posts I want to write but never have time to. There's a full-time job, a long commute, a boyfriend in another city, and, truthfully, Facebook. All of which have conspired to make me neglect what has been such a lovely outlet to have.

I've been sad, y'all. Sad about being lost and overwhelmed. I know I'll get through this patch. I've been through worse and, yes, like my grandmother and your grandma used to say, there are people starving somewhere so get over yourself. But sometimes it is hard to get over yourself. Sometimes I just want to wallow. Most times I am scared.

That's when I eat grilled cheese.

Oh, how I loved to melt all sorts of cheeses on all sorts of breads in my pre-vegan days. Nothing cheered me up more than melted cheddar on white bread or ooey gooey pizza. I haven't had those in a while. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss them every once in a blue moon (but not that much, cheesecrackheads). Especially pizza. It's not often that you can buy something so cheap and yummy that you can eat with one hand. Other than frozen Amy's pizza and the divine pizza I had at Bella Faccia Pizzeria in Portland, I've not eaten much pizza since going vegan.

Then I found my new favorite blog, Quarrygirl. That blog makes me want to go back to LA because the last time I was there, I was still eating dead animals and, though I spent the trip with vegans and ate at many vegan restaurants, I did not fully appreciate the food at the time. I just really wanted In and Out Burger (I think the vegans held me hostage). But Quarrygirl has done more than make me long for the sunny west coast. It's brought grilled cheese back into my life. See, there's this new cheese called Daiya and it is the fucking bomb. Teese was supposed to be the bomb and I enjoyed the pizza I made with it but it did not rock my world. Daiya rocks my world, makes it yummy in my tummy. And there's no soy (although I am not averse to that much maligned bean; as an aside, no one freaks out over chickpeas the way they do over soybeans. I'm just saying) or weird stuff. There's some cassava and coconut oil and vegan enzymes and other magical wonders and what you do is sprinkle some on some Earth Balanced bread and you make yourself a grilled cheese. It's melty, salty, CHEESY. It tastes like cheese. When you cut your grilled cheese in half, you will have strings of melted cheese galore. And I am still close enough to not being vegan to assure you that it does really taste amazing.

I have no pictures because I'm too greedy and sad to take a picture of this grilled cheese sandwich. I just need to eat. And I'm not linking to where you can buy it. Not because I hate you. I love you. It's just that, well, it's not been officially released so the vegan store that is selling it is shredding it themselves direct from the company. And if you order one bag, they are going to ship it to you in tons of styrofoam because it needs to be in a cooler. And I'm just not down with that. So, wait. It'll be out in stores soon enough.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sunday Brunch at MiLah Vegetarian Restaurant

For Valentine’s Day this year, Brian treated me to a delicious brunch at MiLah Vegetarian Restaurant, a new-ish place in Philly that I’ve wanted to visit since at least around Christmastime 2008. My interest was reinvigorated after a fellow attendee at one of Christina Pirello’s boisterous vegan cooking demonstrations at Essene said I just had to try MiLah's Sunday brunch. She said something about scones and that’s all I needed to hear.

I’ve long bemoaned Philly’s lack of vegan brunch stops. Sure, there are plenty of places that will scare up some tofu scramble for you but a carb lover cannot subsist on this dish alone. Where’s the French toast, the waffles, the banana chocolate chip pancakes, the scones, the muffins? Okay, Memphis Taproom has a pumpkin-stuffed French toast that I have yet to try but that’s it.

MiLah has finally got us covered. Whether your craving errs on the hot and salty side or if you just want some sweet baked treats, Mi Lah's got it. And they give you plenty of it. Mi Lah’s prix fixe Sunday brunch includes a plate of fresh fruit, scones, muffin, and cake slices and that alone is worth the price of admission ($20). Brian and I knew we could fill up on just that plate so we behaved in an uncharacteristically moderate way by saving half for later.

In addition to your plate of fruit and baked goods, brunch comes with a pitcher of virgin Bloody Mary or an orange, grapefruit, and ginger Mimosa mix. MiLah is BYOB so tote along some booze if you please. You also get coffee or tea. I selected a hot pink grapefruit tea.

Then, if that isn’t enough for you, you get to pick an entrée. Like Tofu Benedict or chocolate banana pancakes. Or beer battered seitan with waffles. Or sausage and biscuits with gravy. Or a lot more where those all came from.

Brian selected the Lumberjack Special, which included two pancakes, tempeh bacon, red and sweet potato homefries, and tofu scramble.

I ordered up something I’ve never had as a vegan or otherwise—the Tofu Benedict. I so often regret my dining choices when Brian and I eat out. He always seems to pick the more enjoyable dish but this time I picked a winner. The Hollandaise sauce was silky, mustardy, and entirely lickable. Rather than vegan Canadian bacon (MiLah eschews so-called faux meats for the most whole, least-processed selections), my Benedict was topped with oven-roasted Roma tomatoes and avocado and it was perfect. I loved their salty and herby mixed potato hash. My entire entree was so amazing, even though I was more than full about halfway through, I had to eat it all.

MiLah’s upstairs dining area is sunny and bright, the music selection perfectly nondescript and atmospheric for better Sunday lazing, and the staff friendly and efficient. I can’t wait to go back and try their lunch and dinner menus. Go early and expect to a bit wait. The place was hot and poppin the entire time. Despite the restaurant’s name, their menus are entirely vegan except for one lunch item that contains optional feta cheese.

Pictures by Brian and Joselle

MiLah Vegetarian Restaurant
218 South 16th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 732-8888

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Win a Copy of Vegan Soul Kitchen

Want to win a copy of Bryant Terry's new cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine? Just head on over to Vegans of Color where I am giving away one copy to any U.S. resident who leaves a comment telling me what their favorite soul-warming dish is.

Even if you don’t win the copy, check out this book, which includes mouth-watering food and drink recipes like Cajun-Creole Spiced Tempeh Pieces with Creamy Grits, Frozen Memphis Mint Julep, Roasted Plantain Pieces with Roasted Garlic-Lime Dipping Sauce, Sweet Cornmeal-Coconut Butter Drop Biscuits, and many more.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cooking Tips for Delicious Success from Horizons Chef

One weekend in January, Brian and I went to see a cooking demonstration by Horizons chef and owner, Rich Landau, at Foster’s. If you are in the Philly-area and haven’t been to Horizons yet, please go. If you’re not in the area, it’s definitely worth making the pilgrimage for.

I first went to Horizons just a few weeks into my relationship with Brian to celebrate his birthday. I was a full-fledged meat-eater and had no intention of ever going vegetarian. I loved the food at Horizons, especially Brian’s meat and potatoes dish of savory seitan and potatoes. And the chocolate hazelnut dessert? Amazing. It’s safe to say that that early experience with delicious vegan cuisine (and delicious cuisine period) built a strong foundation for my later transition into and openness to veganism.

When Rich Landau came out to start the demonstration, he looked like a guy who drinks beer and watches the game while eating a plate of ribs. Not that he’s not fit (he is), just, well, he looked like a guy’s guy and not some delicate vegan flower (please don't be offended, delicate flowers; I love y'all). This is a good thing. He’s a great ambassador for the food because he loves to eat and, more importantly, he loved to eat meat. He didn’t stop eating it because he disliked the taste. He stopped because he realized that cows did not lay steaks the way chickens lay eggs. Once he found out the truth, he stopped eating meat. I liked that he said he can still pass a burger stand and wonder if anyone is watching because he is tempted. I can relate. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. This is where Horizons comes in. It’s a restaurant for people who love good food. The fact that it is vegan is a bonus.

The samples distributed during the demo were delicious; even though they were pretty cold by the time they were passed out. Just imagine how great a full-size, freshly cooked plate of these dishes would taste like at Horizons. I also purchased the restaurant's cookbook, Horizons: New Vegan Cuisine by Landau and his wife and Horizons pastry chef, Kate Jacoby (she’s doing a demo at Foster’s some time this spring). It’s contains helpful cooking hints, travel stories, and over 80 mostly Caribbean-inspired recipes. Brian and I talked about going to Horizons for Valentine’s Day but it’s even pricier than usual that day so we’re doing the recession special and recreating the dishes at home. Here are some helpful hints I garnered from the cooking demo.

General Cooking Hints
* Seitan and tofu aren’t “mock” meats. They are real, ancient foods packed with flavor, protein, and other nutrients.

* Enjoy seitan and tofu on their own merits. Don’t compare seitan to filet mignon and you won’t be disappointed. Just enjoy it for the hearty, delicious component it is.

* Just like you have to flavor chicken, you have to flavor seitan and tofu. Flavoring and cooking properly makes all the difference.

* Cook with a neutral (and less expensive) oil with a high smoke point, like canola. Finish your dish by drizzling it with flavorful, stronger oils, such as extra-virgin olive oil or toasted sesame oil. Don’t waste their flavors and risk burning them by using them to cook with.

* A word on herbs: Use fresh herbs to finish a dish and dried to start. Some herbs dry better than others. Rich Landau, for instance, loves dried thyme (so do I) but hates dried parsley. Experiment to see which herbs are enhanced or downgraded when dried.

Tofu Tips
* Favorite Horizons Brands include Fresh Tofu, which is made locally in Allentown, PA (available at Essene and Whole Foods) and Natural Pacific from Hawaii.

* Rather than pressing tofu, allow it to sit on a plate for 15 to 20 minutes. This allows some of the water to drain away but some of the water is retained to ensure juiciness after cooking.

* Use extra-firm to cook with (grilling, searing, roasting, etc) and other kinds for baking (soft silken, for example)

* To Sear Tofu:
--Cut tofu lengthwise into 3 or 4 slabs
--Combine spices (caraway and coriander seeds are good) in a coffee grinder.
You want them to be coarse and not too fine so that oil reaches tofu but not so chunky that only the spices sear.
--coat tofu with spice combination (more are available in the Horizons cookbook), coarse sea salt and a medley of coarsely ground peppers.
--Add enough oil to a stainless steel skillet to generously coat and place over high heat. When the oil starts to ripple, you’re ready to add the tofu.
--Place one piece of tofu and let it sit for several seconds before adding the next piece. If you add them all at once, you’ll cool down the pan and oil and the tofu won’t sear properly. Be patient.
--Cook until the sides of tofu start browning. Now you’re ready to flip to the other side. The side you’ve cooked should be very brown and crisp. If it’s not, you’ve flipped too soon.

* Mediterranean Sauce: Once you’ve seared your tofu, you can either eat it as is or prepare a sauce for it. To make this Mediterranean sauce, you’ll need:
--canola oil, enough to generously coat pan
--half a medium onion, chopped
--1 garlic clove, chopped
--medium tomato, chopped
--can of organic hearts of palm (Rich Landau recommended
Native Forest), cut into slices
--a spoonful or two of drained capers
--few sprigs of fresh time
--sea salt, to taste

--Cook canola oil over high heat in same, unwashed pan as you cooked the tofu in. You want all those brown bits for flavor. The oil is properly heated when ripples form.
--Add onions and ground pepper. Cook until onions soften and turn translucent.
--Add garlic, tomato, hearts and palm and capers and stir well, making sure to scrape the bottom of pan for brown bits to incorporate flavor. Cook for several minutes. Don’t overcook and thicken the sauce but cook it long enough so it’s not runny. Experiment with times to get it right.
--Sprinkle sauce with crumbled fresh thyme and sea salt to taste and pour finished sauce over seared tofu slices.

Seitan Tips
* Seitan is simply flavored wheat gluten. Gluten is the very high protein remnant of flour that has had its starch washed away. Seitan is a food that is thousands of years old and was originated either by Eastern European monks or in Asia.

* You can make your own seitan using recipes from such cookbooks as Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. Or purchase it readymade at the store. Horizons uses Philadelphia's own Ray’s Seitan, which is available in Philly at Essene and Whole Foods.

* When using prepackaged seitan, drain and rinse in a colander before using.

* To make Horizons’ delicious and tender, Barbeque Seitan, check out their cookbook, Horizons: New Vegan Cuisine. I didn't get the proportions but the sauce is made of ketchup, blackstrap or Barbados molasses, jerk spice, and grated ginger. I could have eaten platefuls of this.

Stay tuned because the next cooking demonstration I am attending is with Christina Pirello at Essene this Saturday.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vegan Cupcakes From New Jersey, with Love

Okay, I cannot vouch for the flavor of the baked goods by the etsy shop, The Cupcake Mint because I haven't ordered anything from them yet. But I could not resist sharing their link for two key reasons: (1) everything is vegan and (2) they are based in New Jersey. I must support my home state. If these treats are as delicious as they are gorgeous, I will not be disappointed.

Consider gifting your loved ones or yourself with some local baked goods this Valentine's Day. If you're in the New Jersey-area, contact the Cupcake Mint--they offer free delivery to New Jerseyans who are within a 25 mile-radius of them (although you can still order and pay for shipping through etsy if you're not). If you're in the Philly-area, try Cakekraft or Microbaked. Microbaked made the amazing cupcakes I had at last year's Trenton Avenue Arts Festival.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Random Fridays: New Favorite Blogs and Something for the Dogs

* Vegbrarian is the musings of a vegan librarian. I love "Activism in the Stacks," which gives tips on how to increase the number of veg-friendly listing your local library houses, including:

Even if you skim through books you don't want to check out, leave a few on
a nearby table, study carrel or shelf. Books that are left on these surfaces are
routinely collected and scanned for in-house use, which can impact collection
development. Pulling books out of the stacks may also attract passerby who
otherwise would not have gone to the stacks.

* I listed Vegan Guinea Pig in my roundup of vegan cookbooks coming out this year. Check out the extensive product reviews, including white chocolate chips, and recipes for Papa Chorizo Frittata, which just looks yum.

* My Tea Cups is one Philly blogger's take on everything tea. She's been kind enough to share with me some Philly tea spots I have yet to visit, like Remedy Tea Bar and TBar. She also makes and sells the most adorable haiku teacups on etsy that honors all that is great about tea and the city of Philadelphia. My favorite is:

listen to the sound
of the teapot as it sings
water leaps inside

* I found Me, Myself An Eye after Sister Toldja's post on why white people shouldn't attend Obama's inauguration was featured Jezebel . It was satire but many commenters on Jezebel just didn't get it. The blog's banner includes images of RuPaul, an "I heart tofu," t-shirt, and false eyelashes, which was more than enough reason for me to add her to my feed.

* Through Me, Myself An Eye, I discovered Bed-Stuy Banana, which hooked me right away with its astute, personal take on gentrification and more than a few pictures of provocative or downright mystifying neighborhood signs.

* Punk Rock Human Resources gives the real deal on the HR job selection process. She also loves cats, calls out irresponsible dog breeders (though I argued in the comments that responsible dog breeding is an oxymoron), and states why the First Lady should get paid.

* And won't you please consider donating a Kuranda bed to your local shelter?

* What Brian and I will be up to this weekend:
  • a massage for me at Juju (my neck is totally giving up on me), courtesy of a gift certificate from Brian
  • buffet lunch at Essene (I can't go to Juju without this)
  • a free cooking demonstration by Horizons chef and owner, Rich Landau, at Foster's
  • maybe Wendy and Lucy if Brian doesn't drown in school work
  • vegan chili at a friend's house
  • some damn sleep

Monday, January 19, 2009

Neko Case's New Song is Helping Animals

Everytime a blogger posts Neko Case's new song, "People Got A Lotta Nerve," $5 will be donated to the Best Friends Animal Society. Read more about Neko Case's recent visit to the Utah sanctuary and how you can help Best Friends raise money by posting this song on your blog or Facebook profile.

Here's the song.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New York City's Tiengarden, Babycakes, & More

On Friday, Brian and I took a vacation day to go into Manhattan and see Spring Awakening before it closed on Sunday the 18th. Of course, when we planned this trip, we had no idea it would be one of the coldest days of winter so far. Also, we hoped to get cheap student rush tickets with Brian's Drexel ID but these are not guaranteed without a very early start to the day. The idea of taking the train early in the morning only to have to hang around until 8 PM for the show did not seem like a vacation day to me so we slept in Friday morning and didn't get to New York until close to 2 PM.

By the time we arrived at the Spring Awakening box office, the student rush tickets were gone and the cheapest ones left were $87. Sorry but no. We passed some time until the TKTS booth at Times Square opened at 3 PM by grabbing a quick lunch at Food Emporium's salad and sandwich station. I got a simple salad of greens, grilled vegetables, black bean and corn salsa, red onions, and carrots. The menu said they had smoked tofu but all I saw laid out were some sad looking, unseasoned chunks. I love onions--raw, roasted, caramelized, every kind--but I had to give Brian about half of the onions in my salad because I was so overloaded with them, they were burning my mouth.

After standing on the TKTS line for maybe 10 minutes or so, my fingertips started to burn and sting. Even through my Isotoner supposedly nuclear thermal seal gloves, I felt like a mild case of frostbite on my hands was a very reasonable proposition. I did not want to get frostbite standing in line for $60 tickets to Spring Awakening all while putting up with crazysss Chicago promoters prancing around me in red tights and sticking fliers in my face. I told Brian that I could wait until his office got tickets to Spring Awakening for free when the tour arrives in Philly in June. We went with plan B instead.

The American Museum of Natural History is my favorite museum. More specifically, any planetarium is one of my favorite places in the world. I love this part of Manhattan, too. So often when I visit the city, I'm downtown where the streets are smaller, the buildings shorter, the space more compressed. Uptown is more like how I grew up when I lived in Manhattan (except without all the money and nannies)--more residential, a bit quieter, wider streets, kids coming home from school all bundled up with their friends, parents, or nanny. By the time Brian and I walked up to the museum and saw a lit up polar bear figure standing in the middle of an ice skating rink, I knew missing Spring Awakening was not a loss.

Still, it was late and we had less than 2 hours before the museum closed. Brian wanted to see dinosaur bones and I wanted outer space. It was such the perfect time and day to go because it wasn't crowded at all, mostly toddlers (many of them, for some reason, without shoes) and tourists. We were able to spend a lot of time admiring huge fossils and didn't have to scramble for seats at the planetarium. Halfway through the space show, "Cosmic Collisions," I felt the way I imagine the devoutly religious feel at a moving service: awe-struck, blissful, and humbled. Later on that night, right before Brian and I fell asleep I asked, "What is space? What would the end of space look like? What would nothingness be made out of? Doesn't that just freak you out!?" He answered, "Golden Girls is almost over. I'm going to bed."

After the museum, we headed downtown for food. I wanted to try Sacred Chow but Brian was craving Chinese food so we checked out the entirely vegan Tiengarden instead. We ordered soup--wonton for me and sweet and sour for Brian. The soup hit the spot on a cold night but it did not come close to being as wonderfully flavored as my favorite wonton soup at Philly's Golden Empress Garden. There wasn't much in the way of meat-like dishes other than veggie ham (barf for me, heaven for Brian). Just variations of tofu and wheat gluten with veggies. Brian loves his mock meats but this menu seemed a bit more wholesome to me. For my entree, I ordered soy nuggets in basil sauce with broccoli, zucchini, and red peppers. Brian ordered sliced wheat gluten in ginger sauce with carrots and broccoli. Although we were the only ones in the restaurant, our food took quite some time to arrive. There wasn't much in the way of portions and my vegetables were very crisp--just barely cooked--and lightly coated in sauce. Not a nice greasy takeout hit but a good thing now that I'm back on Weight Watchers. I liked the nutty rice mix and the crunchy veggies but I definitely could have done without the soy nuggets. They were off in a way I could not describe until we got home and Brian said, "Your nuggets tasted like feet." In fact, during dinner, Brian did something I have never seen him do: he gave me back the nuggets I shared with him. Brian said his gluten tasted like bread, which is basically what gluten is but the best seitan doesn't scream "soggy, salty bread."

We headed next door to Bluestockings Women's Bookstore, vowing to not visit Tiengarden again. I could have spent hours in New York's only feminist bookstore. Not because it's feminist but because it's a bookstore and I could basically live in any bookstore. I think I enjoy skimming countless books in a bookstore more than I actually enjoy just sitting down to read one book. Brian and I looked at a book called Body Drama for quite a while. It's the book I wish I'd had when I was 14. I'm pretty much over obsessing over my stretch marks and how I look in a clingy sweater but it's always nice to be reminded of what a world with sane body image can be like and it's nice to have a boyfriend who likes reading that kind of book with me.

Although Bluestockings had tea and a selection of pre-wrapped vegan desserts, since posting about the forthcoming Babycakes book, I had cupcake on the brain so I decided we should give Babycakes another try. I went for the gluten-free vanilla cupcake and a tiny agave brownie bite with Earl Grey tea. Brian ordered a sticky bun. By the time we sat in a corner by the window, the place was hot and popping. I tried the brownie and it was very moist with a hint of nutty caramel but not too sweet. Nice. I tried some of Brian's bun, which tasted more like a crumbly and dry biscuit. The second I dug into my cupcake, unfortunately, I knew my opinion of Babycakes would not improve. In fact, I had to downgrade it quite a bit. If I had ordered a corn muffin, this would have come closer to hitting the spot. But no, I ordered a vanilla cupcake. I know that Babycakes specializes in healthier, allergen-free fare and the place was not wanting for business but a cupcake should be moist, not dry. It should stay together and not crumble. And it should taste like sweetness and vanilla, not lemon and corn. A cupcake is a cupcake, not broccoli. If I do ever visit Babycakes again, I'll stick with the brownie bites.

We headed back to Penn Station in time to make the 10 PM express back to New Brunswick. Due to it being Alaska-cold, however, NJ Transit had its infamous signal problems and we waited on the track for over an hour and a half. Even though we missed Spring Awakening, didn't have a single great meal, and got home exhausted and freezing, our day of hooky was fun and relaxing. I also got an extra weekend day with Brian before he headed back to Philly on Sunday night and another chance to right the cupcake wrongs on Saturday when I made the Toasted Coconut Cupcakes with Pecan Fudge Frosting from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for my friend's birthday. They were a huge hit with all the Wii-playing adults although one seven year old passed on the cupcakes, instead requesting "normal" ones (meaning without nuts).

*I'm copying personal finance blog, The Simple Dollar, by bolding critical parts of this post, namely: vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants, meals, recipes, and things I find funny.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

2009 Vegan Cookbook Preview

There is an impressive roster of vegan cookbooks being released this year. I really don't need more cookbooks. It's a travesty how many recipes I don't end up making from each one. Still, I enjoy reading them while tucked into bed and derive pleasure from just the idea of a new recipe. I don't really buy shoes or clothes or fancy smart phones so I indulge in cookbooks. Here are the ones I am excited to check out over the next year.

Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine by Bryant Terry “Terry’s new recipes have been conceived through the prism of the African Diaspora—cutting, pasting, reworking, and remixing African, Caribbean, African-American, Native American, and European staples, cooking techniques, and distinctive dishes to create something familiar, comforting, and deliciously unique.” Check out some of the recipes: Cajun-Creole-Spiced Tempeh Pieces with Creamy Grits; Caramelized Grapefruit, Avocado, and Watercress Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette; Sweet Cornmeal-Coconut Butter Drop Biscuits; and Molasses-Vanilla Ice Cream with Candied Walnuts. I’m already sold. Thanks to Johanna at Vegans of Color for this tip. Publication date: March 2, 2009.

Ani’s Raw Food Dessert: 85 East, Delectable Sweets and Treats by Ani Phyo I’ve actually not done much in raw the foods way (other than, you know, eating raw vegetables) but what better way to investigate any new field than with dessert. Publication date: April 27, 2009.

BabyCakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York's Most Talked-About Bakery by Erin McKenna I’ve only been to Babycakes once and the cupcake I got there was pretty good but not the best (that honor goes to the coconut cupcakes at teany and the ones I indulged in at Sugar Sweet Sunshine in my pre-vegan days, both in NYC). That, however, might have been due to the fact the I unwittingly ordered a spelt cupcake and this was prior to me getting into all things spelt. I look forward to revisiting Babycakes in person and checking out their cookbook. Publication date: April 28. 2009.

Vegan Brunch: Homestyle Recipes Worth Waking Up For--From Asparagus Omelets to Strawberry Pancakes by Isa Chandra Moskowitz Philly needs a good spot to get a Sunday vegan brunch of more than just tofu scramble. This book will allow me to turn Brian’s kitchen into that spot. Publication date: May 25, 2009.

The Vegan Table: 200 Unforgettable Recipes for Entertaining Every Guest for Every Occassion by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau The Joy of Vegan Baking is one of my most frequently referred to cookbooks. I’m excited about being able to try Compassionate Cooks’ savory dishes as well. Publication date: June 1, 2009.

Two bloggers have forthcoming cookbooks sometime in 2009. One is The Urban Vegan: 250 Street-Smart, Animal-Free Recipes by Philly food blogger, Urban Vegan. After previewing pictures of such dishes as Crème Brulee, Booze-Infused Layer Cake, and Panko-Crusted Tofu with Raspberry-Tamarind Glaze, I’m definitely hooked. This blog is one of the ways Philly turned me vegan (one was the boy and two, the vegan greasy Chinese food restaurants). The other is by the blogger at Vegan Guinea Pig. I just discovered this blog after its creator, Alicia, posted a most excellent essay about lactose “intolerance” at Vegans of Color. Anyone who can share ideas on how to make vegan cupcakes out of a Duncan Hines mix is alright with me.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Vegans of Color on Animal Voices

In December, Johanna, founder of the blog Vegans of Color, and I did an interview with Animal Voices. It originally aired on the Toronto radio station, CIUT last month and is now up on the Animal Voices online archives. Thank you to Johanna for allowing me the opportunity to blog on VoC and sit in on this interview. It was nerve-wracking but the host and producer, Lauren Corman, and the technician and DJ, Karol Orzechowski, were incredibly warm and friendly and their kindness and preparedness definitely put me at ease (so did having Brian in the room while I did the interview). Overall, the experience was very fun and productive.

Please take a listen to the interview and check out the other Animal Voices shows. It is definitely one of my favorite radio shows and podcasts. Animal Voices was instrumental in my transition to a vegan life and it is crucial in keeping me informed and dedicated.