Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Vegan Fun in Atlanta

Right at the beginning of the month, Mr VE&T and I set off for a few days in Atlanta. We went for the wedding of Mr. VE&T's best friend from college - but we knew the groom-to-be would be busy with wedding prep... so we also had a lot of fun time to kick around and explore together.

Even though it was super cold and rainy pretty much the whole entire time, we had a great visit. We went for some hikes when we were feeling hearty and resorted to walking around a few indoor malls when we felt wimpy but still wanted to go for a walk. Ha ha. We explored many different neighborhoods in Atlanta, visited a few major attractions (Martin Luther King Jr. Museum!), and then just followed our nose and snooped around. It was great fun.

As far as vegan travel in Atlanta... well, I'd say it's a mixed bag. If you're a vegan alone, or travelling with other vegans, I think it would be pretty easy to use Happy Cow or this excellent site to seek out vegan options. But, in my case, Mr. VE&T isn't vegan and I didn't feel like leading him on a 100% Happy Cow tour of Atlanta. Many places we came upon had exactly zero vegan options on the menu, a few had one option that was veganizable, and a few others actually had the word "vegan" to indicate vegan options. Ahhh. Always a welcome sight! 

We ate at Chipotle the first night we were there. We were hungry. It was good.

One day we met up with a friend of mine who had just moved to Atlanta one week earlier (!), and we wanted a place that would be yummy for all dietary preferences. We ended up at a sweet little spot called Jerusalem Bakery and Grill -- they had a totally excellent and huge vegetarian platter (along with a vast array of non-vegan options). They had all sorts of non-vegan baked goods, but I wasn't sad, because they also had super-fresh flatbreads covered in za'atar... which is pretty much my idea of heaven. Between my flatbread, my enormous veggie platter, and the fresh pitas that came with it... I was a happy camper. They also had a little Middle Eastern market inside, with many tempting items. I got myself a few packages of Turkish Delight, because I love that stuff. I would definitely go back to this place. Also, the vibe in there was so sweet. It seemed like a family place with super friendly staff, and it was full of such a diverse and friendly clientele. 

In fact, the servings were so generous that I had quite a bit leftover. No worries -- that was the night of the wedding and I was guessing that there might not be much for me to eat at the wedding. That night I got myself all dressed up, nice clothes, necklace, etc etc. But instead of a classy little clutch bag like all the other ladies, I brought along a purse full of food! ha ha. I had a Vega all-in-one Chocolate Cherry bar (new favorite flavor, for sure!) and my leftover falafel/hummus/za'atar/pita stuff. Mmm. Lo and behold, there was approximately nothing for me to eat at the wedding, so I discretely busted out my leftovers and was happy as a clam! Yay! 

Quite a while ago, the folks from Smoothie King offered to send me a gift card to try out a sample of their new vegan smoothies. I hadn't heard of Smoothie King, because there isn't one near my house, so I told them I couldn't make use of the gift card. They offered to send me one anyway, on the off chance that I might have an opportunity to try one sometime.

Well! Guess what? There are Smoothie King locations located approximately every 10 feet in Atlanta! So convenient! Having rejected the unappealing buffet breakfast in our hotel lobby, we set out for a day of fun with empty tummies. When we passed our first Smoothie King of the day, we decided to do the deed! Smoothie King had two vegan options: Mango Kale and Dark Chocolate Banana. The man behind the counter suggested Mango Kale, so we maxed out our gift card and got a medium sized smoothie. Inside the shop they also sold many vegan snacks, vegan cookies, PB2, and a lot of other vegan friendly nibbles. Good to know! 

As you can see from the photos, the smoothie was huge! It was sweeter than my usual homemade smoothies, but that's no surprise since I never add sugar to my smoothies. I'm not sure how much kale was actually in there, because the smoothie was a very pale green color - and we all know that even a little bit of kale packs a lot of green power. Still, the smoothie was quite tasty and loaded with Sun Warrior vegan protein powder, which was really great. In a funny way, this gift card served me better far from home than it would have here at home! 

That very same day, we ended up stumbling upon the Atlanta Belt Line park, which is a long park full of people and dogs and kids. It was great fun and not even raining! We found a neat looking gentrified area full of artisinal small food businesses, but there was absolutely nothing vegan to be found. Further afield, my tummy rumbling with vegan desperation, I spotted a place called "Kale Me Crazy." Very promising indeed. 

Kale Me Crazy is a juice bar that also offers salads and wraps. I ordered a Hummus Kale Wrap, but then Mr VE&T ate half of it, so we ordered another one. Ha ha! It was super healthy tasting, not super filling - but quite yummy and I was content. We also struck up a conversation with a lovely gal sitting next to us who was a bodybuilder, dating a vegan, and reluctantly adding meat back into her diet to bulk up for competition. Girl! I told her all about Definition for Ladies Magazine, gave her my blog url, gave her some vegan weightlifting sites, and told her to email me if she had any questions! 

sub-standard iphone pic of delicious food.

  Later that night, after a long day of scooting around the city, we ended up stumbling upon a gem of a spot - True Food. The menu isn't all vegan, but they have many vegan (and gluten-free) options. Mr. VE&T decided to order something vegan, so that we could split two things - we shared the Tempeh Lettuce Tomato sandwich (with side of kale salad, and side of sweet potato hash) and some sort of Teriyaki Tofu Bowl. Everything we tried was totally delicious!

squash pie with coconut whipped cream

Can you believe that they even had a vegan dessert!!?? Be still my heart! You KNOW I ordered it! ha ha. It was a squash pie, like pumpkin pie basically, with totally delicious flavor, a wonderful crust that tasted nutty and graham-crackery, and the absolute best coconut whipped cream I've ever tasted. Soooo good.

Mr VE&T each ordered this
lovely salad with brussels, white beans, roasted squash, 
roasted cauliflower, mulberries, and pomegranate arils. Wowsers! 
(with added teriyaki tofu by request)

In fact, we liked it so much at True Food that we went back there for our last night. That night, we had Mr. VE&T's friend along with us and he is also a picky eater - in a very different way. He eats a gluten-free, no soy, no corn diet (with a few other restrictions). True Food was perfect because he could order delicious food that suited his needs and so could I! Huzzah! They even had a gluten-free (not vegan) chocolate cake for dessert, so he had that, and I had another piece of squash pie. 

The food here is all made from scratch, and organic ingredients are used "as much as possible." Even the coffee was fair trade!! That's pretty rad. Apparently it's a chain of some size, with locations in a handful of cities. You're lucky if you live near one, because I thought the food was most excellent!

Friday, January 09, 2015

The Dog Who Ate Christmas

Well, hellllllo, everyone! Can you stand to read about one more Christmas post? Right after Christmas, we took off for a wedding in Atlanta, so I'm only just catching up on my blogging. Happy new year to us all!

This year's Christmas and New Year's holidays were absolutely great for me. They were quiet and peaceful and full of love. Except for those 15 minutes on Christmas Eve when I came back into the house and saw that Snoopy had eaten the top off of my beautiful pie. But, uh, other than that, they were great! ha ha.

Here's the deal. Last year, you may recall, my dad was really sick and he got out of the hospital just in time for Christmas - but everything was still a bit uncertain and off-center. This year felt like a proper "do over" - a big family dinner at my parents' house with both of my aunts and my cousin and her new baby and my brother's family and so on. It was a really lovely "the gang's all here" feeling. 

Vegetarian Mince Pie, from Joy of Cooking
I even got to use my fancy little wavy roller tool

In my family, we  always have our big family dinner on Christmas Eve. So, on Christmas Eve day, I was feeling quite pleased with myself. I was really cooking up a storm in the kitchen and even made the most beautiful lattice-top pie I've ever made. In fact, I was so pleased with myself that I called my mom to boast about my amazing culinary prowess. *Note to self: Pride cometh before the fall!*

So beautiful, so alluring.
alas, I was not the only one tempted by its charms

While Mr VE&T was out walking the dogs, I put the pie on the table near the window to take some pictures. Isn't it beautiful? I wanted to make a mince pie this year because my cousin's husband is British and his mother and brother had also come from England, and I know mince pie is a British xmas standard. I had stayed up until almost 2 in the morning the previous night, preparing the pie dough and cooking down the filling, so that I would only have to assemble and bake it on the 24th.

When I took this pie out of the oven, I was totally thrilled! The crust was perfectly beautiful, it smelled amazing, and I was eager to present this glorious accomplishment to my beloved family. The filling is made with apples and nuts and raisins and sweetener and loads of spices and it's rich and delicious.

such innocence
happily wrapping our presents with hearts filled with Christmas cheer

Having photographed my America's Next Top Model Pie, as well as all my other culinary accomplishments, I saw that I actually had extra time before the dinner gathering. So, I headed back into my yoga studio room to get started on Christmas gift wrapping. I was feeling like such a happy little elf, bursting with holiday cheer... literally singing along to Christmas carols and feeling full of joy.

Mr. VE&T got home with the dogs from their walk and also disappeared into his workshop to do some Christmas wrapping. We were both so delighted and feeling quite on-top of this whole Christmas thing. 

Neither one of us even thought about the pie on the table.

meanwhile, in the dining room,
doggie hearts and tummies filled with Christmas cheer

But, someone inside the house was definitely thinking about that pie. 
We blame Snoopy because he is the only one we've ever actually seen jump up on the table, but truth be told, we may never know who was involved in this heinous crime against Christmas cheer.

hearts filled with holiday blackness 

All I know is that I came inside, gifts all wrapped!, ready to get dressed up and transport my pride-and-joy pie to the dinner. But wait! What's this??? AAAAAAAAH!

Gentle readers, this was not my finest moment. I was SO sad. I mean, really. Look at that. There was a moment of acceptance, followed by a period of anger and great agitation, distress, anger at myself for leaving my beloved pie just sitting there... so many feelings. All the stages of grieving. And yet, here it was. 

But here's the good thing about a super difficult year like the one my family had last year. It gives you some serious perspective. Within about 15 minutes or so, I got over the pie crime. At least my dad wasn't in the hospital. At least my whole family was together to celebrate Christmas. At least Snoopy is an excellently cute little dog. At least I had made two desserts. 

Also, at least he hadn't eaten the whole thing. Yes, I lack dignity enough to admit that I tried a piece of the pie anyway. See how there's a whole side of the pie that didn't get doggie-eaten? Well, I'm grateful for that, because I did try a piece of it and it was a really good pie! 

Seitan Stuffed Mushrooms from Vegan With a Vengeance

These are the beautiful stuffed mushrooms that were also on the table next to the pie. Looks like even in Doggie Land, pie crust wins out over just about everything else, as these were -- happily! -- left untouched. I'm not really a mushroom fan, but somehow, in the weeks leading up to Christmas I just couldn't stop thinking about making stuffed mushrooms. I wonder why!? I had made this recipe once years ago, and remembered that they were great. They came together really easily and were pretty and delicious. It was fun to make such a fancy and pretty finger food for our holiday party.

Christmas Lasagna!

I also made a vegan Christmas Lasagna! I saw this colorful idea from my Instagram friend bethcooksvegan and knew I wanted to make my own version! This year's lasagna was super rich. I made a triple batch of tofu ricotta, mixed it with 2 lbs of sauteed mushrooms (cooked with salt, pepper, white wine, and a dash of olive oil), and 2 lbs of steamed and drained spinach. That stuff was the filling between layers (along with more tomato sauce). It was so creamy and delicious! 

On top, I did alternating stripes of pine nut creme, pesto, and marinara sauce. 

all tricked up and ready for a night out on the town

Then, I used a butter knife in alternating directions to make a pretty design on top. Thanks for such a lovely idea, bethcooksvegan. As you can see from the far end of the lasagna, I kinda messed it up at first, but I got the hang of it near the end there. I was really delighted with how beautifully it came out! 

These pictures are - obviously - before I baked it, and I never got a good shot after the baking, but I was glad that the colors held up. Even though pine nut cream became more golden and the pesto darkened a bit, you could definitely appreciate the pattern even after the lasagna had been baked.

our savior! the Cranberry-Orange Tart from Voluptuous Vegan.

Happily, that doomed mince pie wasn't the only dessert I made. Thank goodness I made more than one pie, because this little beauty saved our holiday dessert! Before the holiday, I was looking through my old Christmas blog posts and saw this pie that I had made years ago and had raved about. It's the Cranberry Orange Tart from Voluptuous Vegan. Sakes alive, this is a true winner! 

The flour for the crust is baked and toasted in the oven first, and then made into a simple press-in crust. Toasting the flour first like that gave the crust such a delicious flavor! There is a layer of almond butter on the crust, and that is topped with a cranberry-orange-walnuts-agar filling. It's actually a very easy pie to make and the result is amazing: tart from the cranberries, sweet and acidic from the orange, bitterness from the orange zest, rich from the almond butter, a gentle crunch from the walnuts, and toasty from the crust. Highly recommended indeed!

The whole gang! Clean Plate Club!

As you can see it was quite a festive evening and there were smiles all around. 
Even Snoopy got his usual nightly snuggles, and all was forgiven.
All's well that ends well.
<3 p="">

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Apple-Pear-Quince Galette with Spiced Rum ~ & Cookbooklette Winners!

Are you wondering what to make for Christmas dessert this year? Look no further! A long time ago, I found a recipe in an issue of "San Francisco Magazine" that caught my eye for a Holiday Apple and Pear Tart. It was easy to veganize, so I gave it a go and it was so much more than I could have ever hoped! This galette is SO DARN GOOD. It is perfect and delicious and all you could ever want in an apple pie.

It's flavored with spiced rum and tangerine zest, and it is an absolute dream. In fact, I have even won a pie-baking contest with this beauty. Years ago, my friends used to host a huge pie-baking contest with at least 20 entries - savories and sweeties and the whole thing was blind tasted and judged and very "official." I was the only vegan there and mine was the only vegan pie - and I won the grand prize with this beauty!

I've made this galette so many times - for many different Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations and it is a perpetual hit. Over the years, I also started adding in some spiced quince. My cousin Eliza has a lovely quince tree, and (happily!) I'm the only family member that seems interested in the annual quince bounty. So, I started looking high and low for quince recipes. I found a great one for Spiced Quince in Simple Syrup in Deborah Madison's book "Local Flavors." I don't use this book often, but the quince recipes inside pretty much earn its keep on the shelf. That little rosy jar of fruit that you see in this picture is one of my jars of canned quince.

Adding in the Spiced Quince is totally optional, but it sure does add another element of flavor and complexity to this galette. The fruity, floral, spiced flavor of the quince goes perfectly with the other flavors in the original recipe. I usually replace one of the apples called for with an equivalent amount of spiced quince.

I can't recommend this recipe highly enough! 
It will transport you and everyone you share it with to astral planes of culinary delight.

Holiday Apple, Pear & Spiced Quince Tart
serves 10-12

For the Dough:
2 cups organic all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces cold Earth Balance or vegan butter
1/2 cup ice water

For the Filling:
1/3 cup currants
2 tablespoons rum
2 Bosc pears
4 baking apples
3/4 - 1 c spiced quince* (or 1 more apple)
[*see following recipe]
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon grated tangerine zest
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon melted vegan butter
1/3 cup sugar

First, Combine the currants and the rum and let soak overnight. 

Combine the flour and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the vegan butter into the flour mixture until the pieces of butter are the size of chickpeas. Sprinkle the water over the mixture in three additions, tossing to distribute evenly. The dough will be a shaggy mass, moist and cool but not sticky. Divide it in half and form into balls. Wrap each in plastic wrap and flatten with the heel of your hand. Refrigerate until chilled.

Peel and core the pears and apples. Cut the pears into cubes and slice the apples. Put the fruit in a large bowl, add in the spiced quince, if using (preserve the syrup for another use). In a separate small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and tangerine zest. Stir the vanilla into the currant-rum mixture.

Now, put it all together!

Heat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a generously floured work surface, roll one piece of the dough into a circle approximately 15 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons flour. Combine the sugar-and-spice mixture with the cut fruit and add the rum-soaked currants. Roughly arrange the fruit on top of the floured dough, leaving a 3-inch border around the edge. Gently fold this border over the fruit to make a strip about 2 inches wide around the circumference of the tart. Roll out the second piece of chilled dough, again about 15 inches in diameter. Using a small star-shaped cutter, stamp out shapes in the dough, not too close together. Moisten the edge of the tart with water and gently lay the second piece of dough on top, tucking the edges underneath the tart. Brush the melted Earth Balance generously on top and sprinkle with the sugar. Bake until the crust is brown, the juices begin to bubble, and the sugar on top is well caramelized, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Carefully slide the tart onto a cooling rack and cool at least 1 hour. Slice with a serrated-edge knife and serve warm with some vegan vanilla ice cream.

—veganized from Jojo Restaurant, via San Francisco Magazine, December 2002

Poached Quinces in Syrup
from Deborah Madison's "Local Flavors"

2 1/2 pounds ripe, yellow-gold quinces
3/4 cup sugar
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
5 cloves
2 wide strips orange zest (removed with a vegetable peeler)
1. Rub the fuzz, if any, off the quinces.  Using a good sharp knife, cut away the skin in long, clean strokes, just as you would an orange, saving the skins.  Remove the center with an apple corer (you may have to make the hole a bit wider than you would for an apple), saving the cores. Slice the quinces into wedges about 1/2 inch thick.
2.  Put the skins and cores into a saucepan with 2 quarts water, bring it to a boil, then simmer, covered for 30 minutes.  Strain. Return the liquid to the pot and add the sugar, spices, and orange zest.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, then add the fruit.  Place parchment paper or a heavy plate directly over the fruit to keep it submerged.  Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer until the quinces have turned pink and are slightly translucent, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.  If the syrup becomes too thick, add more water as needed.  When done, store the fruit in its syrup in the refrigerator.  The quinces should keep for 2 months.

Merry ChristmasHappy Holidays to You All!

Speaking of the holidays - it's time to announce the ten lucky winners of my annual homemade cookbooklette giveaway! I used random number generator to pick:

IrishEms, ShannonR, princess tofu, Nicolette Dailey, Saranoel,
Jennifer, Renard Moreau, Beth, Deborah K, and lakkalakka

Congrats to all the winners! Please email me your name and mailing address, and I'll put your book in the mail pronto! (my email: ameyfm at yahoo dot com)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fruitcake! For Realz

People are always making jokes about how no one wants a fruitcake, but - here's the thing - I really do want some fruitcake. The store-bought kind never seems to be vegan, unfortunately. In previous years, I've often made panforte - which is essentially a dense Italian version of fruitcake. But this year, I was determined to make a proper fruitcake! 

ready to go in the oven 

I turned to a classic recipe from The Joy of Cooking. The recipe was super easy to veganize, because it didn't have any eggs and I just replaced the butter with half Earth Balance and half coconut oil. The recipe called for a few things I didn't have: a big variety of candied fruit and a 10-inch tube pan. I used a combo of one container of brightly colored cheapo candied fruit from the grocery store and then I used a bunch of nice dried fruits instead of candied fruit. I looked up some conversion charts online and used two 9-inch cake pans instead of a 10-inch tube pan. The batter was thick and was essentially pressed into the pans - which were carefully greased and then lined with parchment paper on the bottoms and the sides.

out of the oven, ready for a stiff drink
look at all the nuts and raisins and goodies in there! 

The cakes baked for a few hours at a low temperature. The recipe said "it will look like it's done after two hours, but don't be fooled." In truth, I should have been fooled. I think maybe the cake pan conversion tip I followed wasn't spot on, because the edges of my cake got a bit overcooked. No worries, I was already planning to cut this up and divvy it up amongst people for prezzies - so I just carefully trimmed off the outer edges.

After the cake is fully cooled and removed from the pans, you poke the cake with a number of small holes and pour on one entire cup of hot brandy. Oh yes I did! I love me some boozy desserts. This was a fun process. I liked deliberately poking holes in my cake and I liked watching the warm brandy disappear and be absorbed into the cake. Exciting!

wrapped up and waiting for Christmas

After pouring on the brandy, the recipe suggests wrapping the cakes in saran wrap - for up to a few months! Wow! I made mine right before Thanksgiving, so they have been absorbing the brandy all this time, and I have been staring at them and smelling them through the saran wrap.

Of course, your keen eyes have noticed that one of those cakes in already cut in half. What a mystery!? We ate it. Ha ha. Mystery solved. I couldn't stand to wait so long to learn about this fun creation. The flavor of this cake is quite delicious - but I still feel like it's a bit rough around the edges (literally, in this case!) - and I need to continue my research on making a proper fruitcake. Do you have any favorite recipes or fruit cake tips? I am looking for a class fruitcake, nothing too nouveau or shi-shi-la-la, if you know what I mean. Bring me your fruitcake advice! 

ps. Sorry Mom and Dad, now you know what you are getting for Christmas. I love you! 

pps. Don't forget to enter my contest to win one of my annual hand-drawn Cookbooklettes! 
I'll be drawing a winner on Friday Dec 19th. Good luck!