November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

This year's tofu turkey was a little weird, I thought, and not as good as last year's. It neither looked nor tasted the way I expected, and the texture was off. The only thing I can think of was that last year I used very fresh, just-made tofu from a local Vietnamese tofu shop, and this year I purchased super-firm packaged Wildwood tofu. The Wildwood tofu works great when used for usual preparations like stir-fries, baked or sautéed slices, and I thought the extra-firm texture would be good for the tofu turkey, where pressing out excess water is an overnight process. I wanted it to be great, but it wasn't. It was stuffed with a tasty "meaty" wild rice stuffing made with cauliflower and walnuts, and served with mushroom gravy. I think I'm going to abandon the tofu turkey next year and choose a different centerpiece.

I wasn't good about photographing the food — partly because it's so hard to get good photos at night, and partly because I got caught up in the party — but I did get a few shots, notably the fresh and delicious kale salad brought by one of our sons. Behind the salad you can (barely) see the pan of yummy potato stuffing brought by another son. The potato stuffing, or kugel, is a traditional holiday food in our family.

Of course there was cranberry sauce — this year's version contained cranberries, apples and pineapple.

Not pictured is a glorious appetizer platter made by our daughter-in-law, a cheese spread made from smoked provalone from Artisan Vegan Cheese, a platter of roasted vegetables, and probably other things I'm forgetting.

The pumpkin pie filling was from a recipe by Gena Hamshaw of the blog, Choosing Raw. I made it with butternut squash instead of pumpkin, because I prefer the texture, and the extra sweet flavor of the squash means I can use less sugar. I like to add a chocolate chip garnish during the last few minutes of baking. The plan was to make whipped coconut cream to garnish the pie but I completely forgot! The crust I made was  gluten-free — not the crust from the recipe. We also had oatmeal-almond chocolate chip cookies. And fruit salad.

The day after Thanksgiving, my son took me on a tour of the building where he works. I was surprised and pleased to see this poster on the wall outside the cafeteria.

Here you see two of our sons "posing" in one of the conversation areas.

A view of the Space Needle through a rain decorated window.

Hope everyone who celebrates had a pleasant Thanksgiving and made good use of the leftovers — the subject of my next post.

November 21, 2012

Oatmeal almond chocolate chip cookies

I don't know how many times I've been to Richa's blog and decided on the spot to make whatever she had just made because it looked so good — but somehow I never do.

For example, did you happen to see the month of pizzas she created for veganmofo? Or the Diwali treats she's been featuring. Everything looks so wonderful that it drives me a little crazy. When I saw her oatmeal almond chocolate chunk cookies, I decided I needed to make some right away to have on hand when my Thanksgiving company starts arriving Thursday morning.

You never know when someone might need a cookie, so I made a batch, and tucked them in the freezer. They will be perfect to have around on a day when lots of food will be consumed because they are satisfying without being overly sweet or rich.

Of course, I meddled just a little with the recipe. I didn't have chocolate chunks (much to my dismay) so I used chips — extra chips, actually, 3/4 of a cup. And I used two tablespoons of melted coconut oil (instead of no oil), 1/4 cup of sugar and added 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom and some vanilla extract. Crispy, lightly coconut-scented cookies with a LOT of chocolate chips were my (and my guests) reward. I made 18 cookies. Richa's basic cookie recipe is especially great because it seems so wonderfully adaptable — a little more or less oil or sweetener, extra chocolate chips, spice — it's all good. Very good!

Get Richa's recipe here. And see how she made a beautiful and clever gift-jar of cookie mix.


Thanksgiving is about sharing

In other news, our cat friend, Lucy, was relatively unfazed by the new addition to our household, and Callie (her name, we think) was perfectly willing to share her meal. This unexpected sight had me running for the camera!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

November 18, 2012

I just adopted a sweet dog

One more thing to be thankful for — we just adopted this sweet girl from Puget Sound Rescue. She's a lovely, quiet, gentle soul who is settling into her new home with grace and calm.

She was a stray in a high-kill shelter and was in the "back room" waiting to be euthanized before the rescue team stepped in.

I'm a little concerned that she hasn't made a sound yet — no barking, no crying. It's a little odd. She's been through a lot in the past week what with being transported to Seattle from California, getting groomed, spayed, etc. She's got a veterinary  appointment on Wednesday, and I'm curious what the vet will say about her silence.

Now we just have to name her, but my husband and I can't agree on a name. So far we have Callie (Calliope), Fiona, Olivia, and a couple of others. Please help by suggesting names! I need to teach her what "come" means and it would be a lot easier if I could teach her her name first!

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 14, 2012

Dinner for eight ...

I'm always looking for ways to make cooking for a crowd pleasant and stress-free, so I can enjoy the festivities without being in a bad mood. Using the slow cooker is a great way to have the main dish cook itself so I can whip up a few side dishes at my "leisure." Ever since I tested recipes for Robin Robertson's Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker (review here), I've been trying recipes that I didn't test, and so far, so good. Sunday night I made Black Bean Chili and Sweet Potato Casserole. Above, you can see it bubbling in the cooker just before I served it. The layers of sweet potato and chili were also layered with vegan cheese, and I made a recipe of Low-Fat Chipotle Cheese Sauce from Miyoko Schinner's Artisan Vegan Cheese to use for that purpose. That's what you see all gooey and melty on the top. I started preparing the casserole at one o'clock, and by one-thirty it was in the slow cooker ready to go. The cheese sauce had butternut squash as a main ingredient, and I already had that measured out from the previous night's leftovers, but still, that's a pretty fast prep time for a main dish. When heated, the cheese melts!

The chili isn't juicy here because I photographed it the next day, cold, when there
was a little more light. I heated it before we ate it later for dinner.Same for the
cheese, which gets melt-y when heated.

We served the chili over rice, and I'd have to say it was delicious — spicy, creamy, rich and warming. The rice was a last minute decision when I realized how saucy the chili was, because I had planned to serve polenta fries, but could see they wouldn't be very useful to sop up the gravy. I suppose we could have served the chili in bowls with spoons. I still made the polenta fries, and no one complained about the two starches — the guests loved the fries! They may even have been the most popular dish of the night, so I'm glad they were included in the menu. I should mention that the original recipe made for some very salty fries. (When my husband complains about too much salt, I know the dish must really be salty.) I used less than 1/4 teaspoon this time, and it seemed about right, even though the recipe says 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Also, I used a tube of plain polenta from TJ's and a seasoned tube from Whole Foods, and the texture and taste of the TJ's polenta was everyone's preference.

We also served steamed brussels sprouts, and marinated cucumber and red onion. The cucumber served as a refreshing counterpoint to the heavier parts of the meal. I used my mandoline to slice the vegetables into very thin slices and marinated them in a mixture of olive oil, champagne vinegar and balsamic vinegar. The balsamic vinegar gave the cukes a slight brown tinge, so I might choose a different vinegar next time.

I think the main reason we had the dinner was to lure people to the house to eat a dessert recipe I was testing for Laurie Sadowski's pie book. I don't want to be alone in the house with any of the pies — no way. This one was  a peach and berry crisp, and it was excellent. I'm not really a dessert person, especially a sweet and rich dessert person, but I'd be lying if I said I haven't been enjoying my dessert extravaganza. I feel lots of guilt as I work sticks of Earth Balance into flour and sugar, but what the hell. I can go back to my old ways soon enough.

Your reward for reading the post is a video of Miyoko Schinner making the cheese sauce I used in the chili recipe. I had quite a bit left over by the way, and we made nachos for dinner the next night. I still have some cheese sauce left ... but not for long.


Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!
Here are some tips from Environmental Working Group for a healthy and environmentally friendly Thanksgiving.

November 09, 2012

I Heart Trader Joe's Vegetarian Cookbook review

People often think of Trader Joe's as a place to find well-priced, interesting, specialty items — and it is — but you can also get nearly everything you need to maintain a vegetarian or vegan diet, if you know where to look. We used to live two blocks from a Trader Joe's, and stopped in often for our favorite items. We liked to get their hummus and peanut butter, and I was especially fond of the frozen mangoes, and tomatoes with green chilies. I also used to buy large bags of cashews, bags of avocados, and I admit that we often have a couple packs of frozen, cooked brown rice in the freezer for "emergencies". When I was offered a copy of Kris Holechek Peters' new cookbook, The I Heart Trader Joe's Vegetarian Cookbook, I was really curious to see the range of recipes Kris assembled that could be created with food from Trader Joe's.

The cookbook is vegetarian with a vegan version of every recipe, though a great many of the 150 recipes are already vegan. There are also many clearly marked gluten-free recipes.

We decided to try two recipes for this review. Though there were a lot of appealing possibilities like Thai Lentil Simmer, Tahini Broccolini, and BBQ Bowl, my husband was craving tomato soup, and I was fixated on the polenta fries, so we chose our test recipes accordingly.

The Tuscan Tomato Soup was easy to prepare and very satisfying with its rich flavor and creamy consistency. The simple ingredients, which included tomatoes, onions, potatoes, beans, and lots of crunchy celery, added up to a pleasant meal on a chilly evening.

To accompany the soup we opted for polenta fries. I have always made my own polenta, and I don't recall ever buying a tube of prepared polenta, but to make the recipe I picked up one of Trader Joe's shelf-stable tubes of organic polenta. I have to admit that we enjoyed the (oven) fries so much, and they were so easy to prepare, that I recently bought another tube of TJ's polenta to keep on hand in case the urge to have polenta fries pops up unexpectedly in the near future.

The cookbook relies on combinations of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, packaged grains and beans, and convenient prepared foods, to create quick and tasty meals that are both economical and healthy. I think fans of Trader Joe's will find the cookbook handy. The recipes are fairly simple and straight forward — perfect for new cooks or those looking to change their diets to vegetarian or vegan.

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of the cookbook and no one has attempted to influence my review. I wasn't paid for my review, and I purchased all the ingredients myself. Bummer.

November 05, 2012

Have you ever made a pandowdy? | Vegan bacon cheeseburger video

Have you ever made a pandowdy? I guess I may have made similar desserts but this was my first "official" pandowdy.

Crisps, Betties, crumbles, cobblers, and pandowdies are all various baked combinations of fruit, crusts and crumb toppings. A pandowdy is a deep dish baked pie-like dessert with a top crust that is broken up and pushed under the filling in places.

This one happened to be a cardamom-pear pandowdy that I tested for Laurie Sadowski's upcoming pie book.

So I guess you're wondering if it was good? Oh yeah!

You can find reviews of Laurie's bread book here and here, and more pie photos, here. All her recipes are vegan, gluten-free, and allergy-free.


The Sweetest Vegan makes bacon cheeseburgers

The Sweetest Vegan, a vegan video blogger on Youtube, asked me to share her latest video with you. You can watch her make a vegan Bacon Double Cheeseburger. She says, "It's actually healthier than it sounds. I want as many vegans and non-vegans as possible to see this video so that people can see the hearty potential of a couple of plants."

If you find yourself craving an unhealthy sandwich, try the Sweetest Vegan's delicious-looking version instead. (If you click on "show more" below the video on youtube, you'll find the recipes for her bacon, burgers and cheese sauce.) So far the SV has 391 videos so you're sure to find one you like. I think she's pretty great. What do you think?


Don't forget to vote! Your voice is more important than ever.

California voters are voting to require labeling for genetically altered foods. For your information, here's a chart showing on which side familiar side natural foods companies are putting their support. Read more here.