Thursday, April 29, 2010

Raw Wednesdays: More Cupcakes!

For Raw Wednesday this week I decided to attack a chocolate craving and try another recipe from The Little Rawdorable Cupcake Book That Could. Since I had the ingredients on hand, I decided to tackle the Cocoa Avocado Cupcakes and Pudding-Style Frosting.

Earlier this week, I discovered the cutest silicone cupcake molds at Ross and figured that, though I treasure my ramekins, these would make for a more festive and photogenic cupcake presentation.

I started by checking the recipe and upon seeing "cocoa" listed as an ingredient, began to wonder if that was the same as the "cacao" I usually see on raw food blogs. As it turns out, for our purposes, they do mean the same thing, but there is a matter of raw to be aware of in this case. So for these I used this.

For those of you interested, I learned some new things on Chocolate Linguistics.

The cupcakes and frosting went together easily and I had a bowl of frosting left over that made for a wonderful post-yoga pudding snack. The cupcakes look so adorable and taste amazing. They are the perfect post-work snack - not too sweet, but rich and chocolatey.

I don't have a functioning color printer at the moment, so I might need some help to participate in the Ellen Quest for Raw Cupcake Domination.

Also I caved today and bought all three e-books from Sweetly Raw. The last thing I need is one more dessert book, so apparently buying three makes it OK. And it does, especially if having them helps me to cut out refined sugars and flours and to try new things.

And here's a bonus kale salad with raw dressing:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Trying New Things

Subtitle: Something You Should Do

Sometimes I brag that, thanks to my veganism, I try so many great new foods. That's a bit of an oversimplification though. Sometimes I have to remind myself that my transformation to master chef happened less than a year ago. I spent the first couple years as a vegan lazily grazing on packaged and pre-prepared foods. So why am I now so involved in cooking and eating?

The real credit goes to effects of my diet on my health. I was healthy in that I had no diseases or medically diagnosed problems, but I began to suspect that my diet was the culprit in some specific problems I was having, so I decided to cut out some soy.

Soy is unfairly demonized, but it is also in everything. I cut soy as an ingredient in things I purchased, meaning that the Chik Patties and soy milk were out, but tofu and tempeh could stay. That meant that my options for standby meals were greatly diminished and that's when I decided it was time to start cooking.

So theoretically, I could have gotten really involved in cooking without being a vegan, but could I have stayed that way?

I don't know. What I do know is that as a vegan, food is about active and meaningful choice making and my cooking is encouraged by a community. I am extremely conscious of what I eat; fair-trade, organic, non-GMO, compostable and sustainable are all labels that mean something to me because compassion and justice for all are what my veganism is about. I read about food, I familiarize myself with the facts and numbers, and I select the best I can. It's not a difficult process, but it's one that involves me and draws me further into the eating experience. Rather than simply eating food at meals, I now feed myself.

And many of the ideas and information I read comes from the vegan community. I'm stuck online all day at work and between deadlines, I kill time reading a number of vegan blogs and threads on the Post Punk Kitchen. The more I see pictures of and read about other people's kitchen experiences, the more I want to have and share my own. It's like a delicious cult.

This past month has been full of new experiences; I've blogged about some, but in the past few days I tried the following new foods: Chia, Dulse, Arame, Soba Noodles, Millet, Bok Choy, and Dandelion Leaves. All but the dandelion leaves were because of Get It Ripe, which is fast becoming a favorite after less than a week of ownership.

For the record, the totally amazing dishes I made from it were: Sesame Kale Soba Noodles, White Bean Bowl with Pesto, and Barbecue Baked Tofu with Mushrooms and Bell Peppers. I used the Cilantro Pesto from the book and it is a keeper. Extra points for using pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

I also used Corona in a marinade and agar powder to botch a pudding (still delicious, but kind of oddly solid).

I also bought a cast iron pan. Viva Vegan showed up on my doorstep last week as well, and I figured it was about time to go cast iron. I also found this Have Cake entry and so I think it's time to dust off the bread machine and actually use it.

On the horizon, my sister is going to teach me to do some macro-inspired cooking and my journey with raw foods continues.

So while I can't let veganism take all of the credit, it deserves a good bit of it. It's a lifestyle that requires innovation and an open mind. I feel so fortunate that I almost never make the same thing for dinner twice and that my kitchen is cruelty free in the process. I'm a better and more interesting person and I'm also more satisfied. Eating is never a mere necessity, but a statement, an experience, and a joy.

What new things have you tried leately?

As for more new things to come, I am excited to whip up a batch of raw cupcakes for Raw Wednesday in my adorable new silicone cupcake moulds! Stay tuned!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bring Your Dog to Brunch!

I've lost this entry three times now, so be assured that it was a labor of love.

This month has been a good one for DC-area vegans. Thanks to our friends at Compassion Over Killing, there are loads of events and promotions going on for VegWeek. Between this, Earth Day, and the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, we're well set with treats and celebrations.

In this spirit, I loaded my own vegan buddy, Mr. Darcy, into the car and we traveled to Arlington VA for Bring Your Dog to Brunch at Toscana. Toscana has a generous vegan offering all of the time and during the month of April, they are entirely vegan on the weekends.

The food was really great. Due to a website error, I was too late for brunch food, but the Sinatra Pizza made up for it. I'm not much for analogues these days, but the Daiya "Cheese" and Gardein "Chicken" was super good. I can't say it's the same as the real stuff, but taste and texture are stellar, and no one had to die or give up their young for me to eat, so it's an all around win.

Dessert stole the show though (though I feel I should disclose that's usually the case in my view). I ordered a vegan tiramisu and was presented with fluffy, chocolatey bliss. The picture doesn't do it justice - this thing was massive. The decaf coffee was super excellent too!

I didn't want to give my dining companion any chocolate or pizza, but luckily Max & Ruffy's was on the scene to share their human-grade, organic, vegan dog treats! Mr. Darcy is a junk food dog though and turned up his nose at the hippie treats, much to my embarrassment, but hopefully I can coax him to give up his poor eating habits over time.

I will definitely be going back for actual brunch in the future.

No Chia Pet Puns Here

Last week I tried chia seed pudding for the first time ever. It's one of those rare foods that falls nicely into the delicious, but kind of gross category. Texture is usually the make or break quality for me and chia seeds came dangerously close to the breaking point. Chia seeds absorb a ridiculous amount (I've heard between 9 and 30 times their weight/volume) of liquid when soaked. They then become a gel. It's kind of strange/awful looking. I immediately thought of frog's eggs.

But don't let that put you off. I really enjoyed the pudding I made, even though there was so much of it, it took me a good 3 hours to eat. The texture was a lot like tapioca, something I detest, but it was still tasty enough to enjoy. It left me satiated, but not full-feeling. It's probably ace as far as pre-workout snacks go.

I saw a lot of recipes out there, but I just followed the basic formula (1 cup liquid + 1/4 cup chia seeds) and added what I thought might taste good. I guess this is a good stepping stone to recipe creation. Chia pudding made for a light and refreshing breakfast and it has endless possibilities in terms of fruit, liquid, and flavors to try. I think it will be a nice option to alternate with my green smoothie breakfasts.

Here are a variations I came up with:

Basic Chia Pudding
1 cup Almond Milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Banana, chopped
2 Dates, chopped
1 pinch Salt
1/4 cup Chia Seeds

Throw the milk, vanilla, banana, dates, and salt into the food processor and mix until smooth.

Add the chia seeds, stir, let sit 30 minutes. Stir again and enjoy, or stick it in the fridge over night (which is what I did). Garnish with fruit, cinnamon, other spices, whatever.

This made for an excellent breakfast that took me the better part of the morning to eat. I felt satiated, but never full. This is probably a good option if you don't like to eat first thing in the morning, but need the energy.

Strawberry Banana Chia Pudding
1 cup Almond Milk
2 tablespoons Vanilla Coconut Creamer
1-1/2 cups Strawberries, chopped
1 Banana, chopped
2 Dates, chopped
1 pinch Salt
1/4 cup Chia Seeds

Throw the milk, creamer, fruit, dates, and salt into the food processor and mix until smooth. Add the chia seeds, stir, let sit 30 minutes. Stir again and enjoy.

This was fantastic and probably my favorite. All of the fruit did a lot to lessen the gelly texture of the chia.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chia Pudding
1 cup Almond Milk
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 teaspoon Chocolate Extract
1 table spoon Cacao Powder
2 tablespoons Natural Peanut Butter
1 Banana, chopped
2 Dates, chopped
1 pinch Salt
1/4 cup Chia Seeds

Throw the milk, extracts, cacao, peanut butter, banana, dates, and salt into the food processor and mix until smooth. Add the chia seeds, stir, let sit 30 minutes. Stir again and enjoy

This would be a fantastic dessert.

A few general notes:
I like dates for sweetening purposes. A lot of the recipes I looked at suggested agave and stevia, but dates are the way to go. I chopped the dates until they were nearly a paste, and then soaked them in the almond milk for about half an hour before blending. In the future, I'd like to soak them even longer. They become super soft and it's easier on my little processor.

The recipes above make enough for two big servings, especially when you're adding in a lot of extras. I ate chia pudding up until lunch on the first day. I don't know how well it keeps, so half everything if there's no one around to eat half.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Who has the time?

You do, for one. People are busy, I get that. I'm a busy person myself. I have full- and part-time jobs, I'm in grad school, and I take three non-academic classes a week. Some of my days begin at 5 a.m. and don't end until the next day around 2 or 3 a.m. (This isn't a who's busier contest, it's just a statement of fact).

And yet, somehow, every day, my coworkers peer over at my desk and ask what's for lunch as I unveil my home cooked vegan offerings. I don't hit up the fast food joints and I don't bring frozen or microwave meals and I sure as hell don't eat the pathetic pizza management orders every Thursday. I load up my little purple bag with my Pyrex containers and pull from it three to five times a day.

Today, breakfast was Chia Pudding, lunch was a Southwestern Bowl from Get it Ripe and Cornbread from The Joy of Vegan Baking, and my afternoon snack was a slice of Peanut Butter Cup Cake from Sweet Utopia (I usually follow a fruit-only policy for workday desserts, but I need to finish that cake before it goes).

Every day people tell me they want to cook or eat healthier, but that they don't have the time. These people are wrong. What you really don't have the time for is anything that distracts you from caring for yourself. And I say this as a person who pulls that line all the time. Even now, my teeth are bothering me thanks to a rogue blackberry seed, but like some kind of jerk, I'm very insistent that I haven't the time to go to a dentist this week.

Well I had the time to watch NCIS and Southland Tuesday night. Sure the dentist isn't open that late, but had I gone to the dentist early, then done my cooking and working out later in the evening, then my teeth wouldn't hurt today.

The point is this: we're busy, and yet we find the time for FaceBook, YouTube, TV and that BBC America Dr. Who marathon.

So when you say you don't have the time to cook, chances are that what you really mean is that you'd rather do something else. And that's fine. There's a lot of fun stuff out there. But I'm telling you to make the time.

Make the time to cook (or prepare raw foods) for yourself. It's not as hard as you think. The more you do it, the faster you'll get. You'll learn to multitask and work intuitively. You'll also learn to love it.

I do have some advantages in this. I love to cook, so I never think of it as a chore. Also, my intense need to get my money's worth out of anything I buy means that if I don't make every recipe from every cookbook I have, I'll feel that I've been wasteful. I have a lot of cookbooks, and a long wish list, so it's no time to procrastinate.

Finally, it's easy for me to combine my biggest time drain and cooking. I love the TV and I know that's dangerously unhip to admit to these days, but I have a group of shows I can't get enough of. I don't have a television in my kitchen, but I have a laptop and Hulu. Rather than watch my shows when they air, I watch them when I cook.

However, as much as I'd like to agree with USA, no one needs six hours of NCIS in one night (forgive me Special Agent Gibbs!). So if I can't watch and cook, I remind myself that TV will wait for me, my body will not. I need to care for it now. So be mindful about your time. If you love the internet, set a reasonable limit, and then take some of that time and make yourself a sandwich.

If your schedule keeps you from your kitchen, as mine often does, then deal with it. Start meal planning. I very often cook a bunch of dishes on Sunday and eat them throughout the week. It's a very small time investment and if you're making one dish, you may as well make two. Sometimes I just prep; I soak beans or nuts, I chop veggies, or measure out spices. Then when it's time to make the dish, it's half done.

I'll make you a deal: you make yourself a splendid dinner one night next week and I'll make my dentist appointment.

Besides, you can't very well self-righteously declare that your vegan dinner is better than any restaurant meal if it came out of a box.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Inspiration, Raw and Otherwise

I had an amazing five-course raw dinner last night at a local restaurant. Visiting the restaurant meant visiting the next-door organic market and coming away with some fun stuff. My dining companions had excellent ideas about food as well. I feel inspired and so there are four creative challenges I hope to overcome as a result of my night out.

Chili-Lime Vinaigrette
The standout of the evening was definitely the Kale Salad with English Peas and Chili-Lime Vinaigrette. I eat kale pretty much everyday as part of my Green Smoothie, and I occasionally enjoy it steamed when I'm looking for a quick side dish, but this leafy green deserves more time as the main event.

Raw Wednesday is creeping up on me, so I may as well give it a go. I'm going to make some changes to the salad itself, but some of the ideas I have (golden raisins) aren't exactly raw. Maybe I'll do two versions.

The real item of interest though was the Chili-Lime Vinaigrette dressing. It reminded me of the Sesame Dressing from The Garden of Vegan. But it had a little kick and was limier (seems so obvious).

So my first challenge is to make my own version of this perfect dressing.

Chia Seeds
I've read all about them, I've eaten them, now I need to do something with them. They were on sale at the market and I've never been able to find them near me, so I seized the opportunity and the green bag and brought home some chia seeds. I'll have to figure out what to do with them and then do it tomorrow. Sounds easy enough.

Chocolate Chili
As we shopped, my mom told me about this chocolate chili recipe she veganized, and then we happened to stumble upon some Taza Chocolate Mexicano. In their latest issue, VegNews raved about it, so it was clearly fate for me to find it that evening. I bought the Vanilla and Chile varieties (all they had) and am looking forward to getting creative, but I think that I will first tackle this chocolate chili thing. It sounds totally revolting. But my palette has come to accept culinary adventures. This might have to wait a bit. I just ordered Viva Vegan!, so I'll have plenty of Latin side dishes to accompany the chili.

Chocolate/Cacao Smoothie
This challenge isn't a direct result of my night out, but it is a result of my growing awareness and knowledge of raw foods. So while I've made many chocolate shakes and smoothies in my life, I want to make one that I'll call raw-inspired. I want to use cacao nibs in it. I'll figure out the other ingredients later, but my focus is to get friendly with cacao. For some reason, it's a bit intimidating, possibly due to some failed attempts at Chocolate Avocado pudding, but I am confident that I can master this ingredient!

In my less immediate future, I'd like to do something cool with kelp noodles too. They were part of the dinner and weird, but good. I also need to use the mochi I bought.

I'll report back on how it all goes!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Raw Cupcakes

As I mentioned yesterday, I attempted my first batch of raw cupcakes from the recently released Rawdorable cupcake ebook. It wasn't my first experience making raw desserts, but as a die-hard cake lover, I was wondered if I would love them like I do cake.

Luckily for me, I have years of veganism to keep me from acting like a child about analogues. I don't eat a lot of fake meats or cheeses, but when I do, I know better than to expect it to be exactly the same as its animal-based counterpart. It is, afterall, a different substance. One time I did have Vegan General Tso's Chicken from Whole Foods and it was so chicken-like that it freaked me out.

But people often smugly tell me, through mouthfuls of food, that the vegan dish is delicious, but that they can tell the difference. So you're telling me after however many years eating a Standard American Diet, you can actually tell the difference between ricotta cheese and cashew ricotta? You don't get a medal for that.

Again, it's a different substance - different and better. It is better for you, better for the animals, and better for the planet. See, I can also tell the difference. And you love it. And I have learned to love things for what they are, not for what they're supposed to be similar to or what they replace.

And I love raw cupcakes. I wasn't dissapointed b/c I knew they weren't going to taste like flour, sugar, and fats baked in an oven. The texture of the cake portion was different but sweet and satisfying and frosting is frosting. Even after halving the recipe, I have way more than I needed, so it's happily waiting in the freezer for the next batch.

I don't have a lot to say about the actual making process. My food processor got a work out. But I do have some terrible pictures taken on my phone!

Here is the "batter." It was pretty delicious on its own and I would have had no problem eating all of it sans frosting, but then when is that ever actually a good idea?

Here are my cupcakes pressed into ramekins, awaiting frosting. I need to get some of those cute silicone cups for future endeavors.

And here is the frosting that's so worth waiting for. I wish I could tell you why I didn't think to take pictures of it chilling, beautifully smooth, in pyrex.

And finally here are my finished cupcakes! I was blown away by how well they turned out. The frosting is decadent and the cakes are sweet with a dliehgtful texture. I'm already looking forward to making more.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The First Raw Wednesday

First off, I can't find batteries for my camera, so pictures are courtesy of my phone. So sad. But I will make sure I have some batteries next time so that my terrible photography is not blamed on the electronics.

Here is the first Raw Wednesday menu!

Green Smoothie: kale, banana, mango, raspberries, blueberries, flax oil, cashew butter.
I've been drinking Green Smoothies (fruit smoothies with spinach or kale in them) for the past year every morning for breakfast. This morning was no different, except that I totally botched it. I didn't blend long enough, so it was not as smooth as I normally like. Oh well, it was still good enough to consume.

Salad: spinach, walnuts, apple, strawberries, red pepper, broccoli, carrots, sprouts, cucumber
That seems a little anti-climactic. I'm not normally big on salads, but I was pressed for time last night and thought, what's more classically raw than a salad? Besides I wanted to try out Gena's Zucchini Dressing (scroll down). Awesome. I wolfed down my salad and felt content all day.

Chocolate Pudding
It turns out that avocado + cacao powder + sweetener = pudding! I've seen a lot of recipes for this, but I just sort of improvised. I used both dates and agave as sweetener, because I'm low on dates and need them for later. I soaked the dates first for a little to soften them, then used the soaking water in the pudding. Here's my recipe, but it'll probably need some tweaking:

Chocolate Pudding
2 Avocados
3 Tbsp Cacao Powder
3 Medjool Dates, soaked 1 hour
1/4 cup soaking water
1 Tbsp Agave

Blend in the food processor until smooth.

It's not terribly sweet, so add more sweetener if you like. I topped it with strawberries, but remembering that I needed coconut milk for my cupcakes, I decided to use up the excess. After measuring and setting aside the cupcake quantity, I took what remained and added a little vanilla, then whipped it up and poured it over the pudding and strawberries. Most definitely a winning combination. Too bad I started eating before I got any good pictures. You'll have to cope with what I did get on my phone.

What's For Dinner Loaf
This is from The Complete Book of Raw Food. Super easy to put together and really flavorful! I used a shallot and some green onions because both the organic market and I were out of red onions. Oh well, delicious and very filling nonetheless. I had more salad to go with it.

Vanilla Cookie Cupcakes
I bought Shannon Marie's cupcake e-book last week, but this was my first attempt at using it. I went for the classic Vanilla Cookie Cupcakes and I Am Grateful Frosting. They were easy to put together and taste amazing! I won't go so far as to call them healthy, but if you're trying to cut out the refined flours and sugars and have a serious sweet-tooth, these could be a lifesaver.

I don't have the adorable silicone cups, so mine had to go into ramekins. They look a lot less sweet and fresh, but they have lids, so I can take one for lunch at work tomorrow. Besides, they're smaller and I was able to form four cupcakes instead of two. I halved the frosting amount, and still have plenty of extra, so it'll hang out in the freezer until next time.

I was afraid I wouldn't be full enough today eating raw, but I was fine. I brought carrots, broccoli, and celery to munch on throughout the day, but didn't need all I brought. Overall I'm really happy with the way it went and already have a long list of recipes for upcoming weeks.

Raw Wednesdays

Raw Wednesdays is not an original idea and some of my favorite bloggers have been doing it for quite awhile (What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyway ... on a Raw Wednesday). And some of my favorite bloggers do it all the time (Rawdorable, Choosing Raw).

It's a pretty simple concept: eat raw foods.

If you want to know all the whys behind eating raw, you're on your own. There's a lot of information out there and I'm not really qualified to discuss it all. The reasons people have for eating raw are as varied as the people who do it. My reasons have to do with loving food, but I'll take any health benefits that come along with it.

I've had, and even made, some killer raw dishes and I'm challenging myself to one raw day a week to broaden my horizons. Raw foodies have some brilliant ideas. The classic Green Smoothie has been a workday breakfast staple of mine for over a year now and I want to learn more from their creativity.

If you look into raw eating online, you'll see a lot of expensive, fancy kitchen equipment. I don't have a juicer, spiralizer, dehydrator or expensive blender, but I do have a food processor and I ordered a mandoline today. All that stuff is great, but not necessary to dip your toes in raw waters.

Today was the first of many Raw Wednesdays and it went really well. The next post will detail the menu and methods I used and I'll try to be faithful about chronicling my future raw adventures.

Why a Showdown?

Being vegan isn't difficult. I converted instantly one day and lived on a steady diet of Amy's meals, Boca Chik Patties, improvised green Thai curry, and Oreos. Easy.

But not healthy. I realized eventually that I had a stack of untouched vegan cookbooks and a crazy unhealthy diet. And I was feeling the effects of it. I set out to become a new kind of vegan and it started with a cookbook challenge.

The goal was to cook 3-4 recipes from a chosen cookbook per week. (I joined the Post Punk Kitchen forums as they were wrapping up theirs, so mine was a direct rip off). I successfully completed all howevermany weeks of the challenge and made 3-4 recipes from each of the books I owned and even some from some library books. Since then, I've been cooking that way. Each week, I choose and prepare recipes from books and blogs.

I won't say don't eat prepackaged food anymore; I do love the occasional Sweet & Sara 'Smore or Amy's burrito, but the bulk of my diet comes from fresh foods prepared in my own kitchen. I've learned a lot about food and cooking and I'm a lot more invested in my diet and health now.

Vegan living is full of challenges. Everyone knows about the family holidays, or eating while traveling, or your cousin's wedding where vegan fare means iceberg lettuce, but there are so many challenges to embrace. I have a dozen chocolate chip cookie recipes, but which is the best? Can I successfully integrate Raw Wednesdays into my life? Can I convert the 350 secret restaurant recipes I was given? Can I learn to stop relying so heavily on cookbooks and start creating my own dishes to share?

These are the things I am challenging myself to do or learn.