November 24, 2013

Not all Ethiopian food is spicy

I'm still testing recipes for Kittee Berns' Ethiopian cookbook, and here is a selection of recent recipes I've cooked. The potato and beet allecha wot was pretty mild. Beets may not be on everyone's 'favorites' list, but they do add a festive, rosy glow to whatever dish they're in. I'm not a huge beet fan, but I don't hate them. I wasn't thrilled with the allecha the first night, but the second night it was so delicious. And I ate the remainder for breakfast on the third day, so you know it was growing on me. Beets first thing in the morning —  Ethiopian food definitely gets better as it ages.

Another mild recipe (assuming the jalapenos you use are mild!), white beans in garlic and ginger sauce is a creamy, saucy dish to warm up a chilly evening.

A cold butternut squash salad will add a vibrant splash of color to an Ethiopian spread, as well as a bright flavor.

My favorites are the spicy dishes, and the spicy red lentils with mushrooms was great. With a few less spicy salads or vegetable dishes to balance the heat, you'll have a nice selection of spicy and mild.

One more spicy wot of deliciousness was kind of a do-it-yourselfer. The recipe provided the basic sauce, and I chose my own add-ins. I picked carrots, potatoes, peas and marinated soy curls. Just looking at it is making me hungry.

Tofu, of course, isn't Ethiopian, but Kittee is including a selection of fusion recipes in her cookbook. One of the recipes is awaze tofu. And, yes, it tastes as good as it looks. I guess you're all just waiting for the book to hit the stores before you grab a copy for yourself. It will be good!

November 20, 2013

A horrible dessert might be cake balls in disguise

You might think the blueberry dessert pictured here looks pretty good. But you'd be wrong. The original dessert I was trying to make was blueberry flaugnarde from the Misfit Baker. I first saw Ketty's version of the flaugnarde on Luminous Vegans, and it looked so beautiful and intriguing I wanted to make it right away. I'm 100% sure the lovely creations that inspired me were fabulously delicious, but I wanted to make a gluten-free version, and that's where things went wrong, wrong, wrong. (If you're not GF, go immediately to Ketty's blog and make the dessert she made!)

The outer edges were very tasty.

I made the dessert to take to a dinner, breaking the golden cooking rule not to serve to others that which you haven't first served to yourself. I often ignore this rule with great results, but ignoring it while converting a recipe for a custard (did you read that: CUSTARD) to a gluten-free and vegan recipe is stupid. I was cobbling together two recipes — one that was vegan, and one that was GF but filled with eggs, and I guess I let a string of recent successes go to my head. The dessert didn't taste so bad, but it had the texture of a custard mixed with sand — worse, actually. (In my defense, the top edges were good. hahaha)

I brought it home, and the next day decided to turn it into a cake. (I'll spare you a photo of the result.) It was better than the original, but it was the sort of cake that would only be eaten by someone frantically desperate for a piece of cake. The sad cake made me immediately think of River from Wing It Vegan, not because she makes sad cakes, but because if one of her baked things fails, she springs into action. She never wastes anything, turning her failed cakes and whatnots into truffles and cake balls. You can read about one of her transformations here.

I've never made (or eaten) cake balls but if ever there was a need to make some, this was it. I did a search, and found some helpful advice, which led me to mush up my nasty cake. (Again, no photo because it was much too ghastly with the blueberries and all). I added almond butter and maple syrup, and mushed until I had a dough-like texture. Then I placed the mixture in the fridge for a half hour to firm up. Next I melted chocolate chips in the microwave (Two 30-second stints did the trick.) and rolled and coated the balls in chocolate. They are supposed to be perfectly smooth but that takes a bit of practice, at least according to the directions I read. If you roll them in coconut shreds after the chocolate, they look better, but I don't really mind the scruffy look.

A little rough, but oh so tasty!

I put them in the freezer, and you wouldn't believe how fabulous they taste! The coating cracks when it's bitten, just like an ice cream bar, and the insides are cool, creamy and smooth. I gave one to the very particular Miss E for dessert tonight, and her eyes opened wide at the first bite as she proclaimed them to be amazing. I agree. Who wudda thunk it?

(The cake balls were in the freezer for about one hour before being eaten. If stored in the freezer for a longer period, let them defrost about 15 minutes before eating.)

November 14, 2013

Vegan interrogated | Winner | Soup

The lovely Kylie from Fellowship of the Vegetable has dragged me out from my hiding place and interviewed me on her blog. If you haven't visited her blog yet, you should go see the wonderful food and photos she shares. Every week she interrogates a fellow blogger, and I've found interesting new blogs after reading the interviews.

She's also hosting a giveaway of one the Vegan Military hats she designs. Go see.

My tablet — not the prize.

Speaking of giveaways, Randi from Laughfrodisiac, won the Molskine Notebook giveaway I hosted last week. She was the first commenter on my giveaway post, assigning her the number "1" to enter into the random number generator. I was so surprised to see the number "1" pop up that I thought the generator wasn't working, and I hit it several more times to check. Each time revealed a different number so I knew that the first number to come up was the real deal. Now I'm wondering why I always assume the number 1 won't come up in a random selection. What a random idea.

Might as well continue to be random by including a couple of recent soups we have consumed. The soup pictured above is a pretty basic vegetable soup enhanced with Soy Curls. Unlike most soy protein products, Soy Curls are made with the whole soy bean, and nothing else. They are non-GMO, gluten-free and vegan. They are simple to use, pick up seasonings well and have a great chewy texture. Whenever I get an urge for something savory and chewy for dinner, soy curls comes to the rescue.

Another basic bean, grain and veggie soup, this one got upgraded with roasted brussels sprouts on its second night. Leftovers don't have to be boring or static — adding one new flavor or ingredient can make it seem like a whole new meal. Do you like to change up your leftovers, or do you prefer to just reheat and eat?

Full Disclosure: The tablet was sent to me for review. The Soy Curls were purchased by me. I was not paid to write about these products.

November 11, 2013

I (still) love Ethiopian food

Fasolia be Karot

Testing for Kittee's Ethiopian cookbook is still going strong at our house. Although I have to admit to a moment or two of Ethiopian food fatigue, we still love all the dishes we've been making. If you've eaten Ethiopian food, you've no doubt noticed that much of it is really spicy, but not all. A platter of food usually includes mild foods and salad to balance out the heat of the highly spiced dishes. The Fasolia be Karot, or green beans with carrot that you see in the photo above, was rich with garlic, ginger and onions, but mild and sweet in taste. We both loved the flavor of the tender green beans and carrots.

Ye'dubba Kai Wot

The roasted butternut squash in a spicy red sauce was spectacular — very spicy and delicious. It was wonderful wrapped up in bites of tangy injera.

Shehan Ful

The Shehan Ful, or mashed seasoned fava beans, is a breakfast food. Topped with tomato, onion and jalapeno, it's a fine way to get the morning started — or the afternoon. I enjoyed it spread on crackers for lunch, though that's not the traditional way to eat it.

You've seen pancakes like these many times on this blog and others. Chickpea flour flatbreads are popular in many countries (Italy, Spain, France, India ... to name a few) and I love them. The Ethiopian version you see here is filled with chopped tomato, onion, parsley and peas. Hot off the griddle they are thick, fluffy and delicious, but after a night in the fridge, they tend to compress a bit. I rejuvenated mine with a very thin coat of Niter Kibbeh and a short visit in the microwave. Still delicious!

Awaze is a pleasantly hot barbecue or dipping sauce, and it's hard not to put it on everything.

Not all the food in Kittee's book is traditional. There are a few renegade recipes like the burgers you see above that make use of leftover Ethiopian dishes partnered with old friends like tofu.

I was happy to use some of the leftover butternut squash and another vegetable dish to mix up the burgers when I couldn't stand the thought of eating the originals one more time. The burgers were wonderful, and reminded me of a terrific little tofu burger I used to buy ages ago — only these were better. The texture and the taste were very appealing. I ate them straight up — both hot, and cold the next day.

University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

We do other things besides eat around here. For example, we belong to a walking group that explores various locations around Seattle every Sunday morning. For about two hours, we walk different areas of town. Seattle is filled with great places to hike right in the city, and we've been to places we never knew existed, thanks to our very talented and knowledgeable leader. She not only knows the best places to explore, she can identify the plants and birds, and also is somewhat of a history buff, so she gives us background info on what we're seeing. And she doesn't get lost.

Yes, it was blooming. University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

Here are a few photos from a recent walk in the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. It's still hard for me to believe a few plants are in bloom in November.

A sassafras leaf in fall color. University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

We've been incredibly lucky so far in that it hasn't been raining on our walks. On the day the photos were taken, it was actually sunny. This past Sunday, we watched the salmon running in Carkeek Park, and hiked the trails in the chilly gloom — but no rain! Do you have great natural areas to hike where you live?

November 05, 2013

Testing Ethiopian recipes

Ye'atakilt Kai Wot

I've just started testing recipes for Kittee-Bee Berns' upcoming Ethiopian cookbook. You know if you've ever done it, that testing recipes is a lot harder than just waiting for the book to be published and buying it, but I have to tell you that testing the recipes for Kittee has been great so far. I love Ethiopian food, and I'm pretty sure I could eat it every night, though I might need a larger wardrobe.

Seriously, I think my natural ability to stop eating when full has taken a vacation from my brain. This morning I woke up still full, and only managed a cup of tea for breakfast. Maybe once the novelty wears off, I'll regain some control.

First up was a visit to an Ethiopian grocery store and injera bakery, where I purchased various spice blends and other assorted necessities. I had to have help from the kind proprietor to identify the items, and I wrote the names of the various herbs and spices on their labels so I'd remember what they were.

I had planned to buy gluten-free injera there, too, but they were sold out, and I was told I needed to order it in advance. Luckily there are three or four Ethiopian restaurants on every block where we were (both sides of the street, too!) and several had signs in the window for GF injera. We picked one and asked if they would sell us injera, and they said yes. We bought six pieces. It was the darkest, thickest, sourest, largest injera I've ever had. Perfect.

Homemade Niter kibbeh on the left. Dry berbere from the shop on the right.

The first thing I made was the fragrant cooking oil used for many of the dishes. In Ethiopian cooking, a spice infused clarified butter is used, but for vegan cooking, that needs to be altered. I minced, peeled, grated, measured and cooked my niter kibbeh, then put a jar into the sink to catch the liquid fat as I strained it. I was almost done with the straining when the jar tipped over and much of the oil mix dumped into the sink. I quickly set the jar upright, then, after staring in disbelief at the golden liquid in my sink, decided the sink was clean enough, grabbed a silicone spatula, and scooped up as much as I could. I lost about 1/2 cup but I suppose it could have been worse.

Ye'atakilt Kai Wot

We made three dishes the first night and one the second night. Plus, I made a seasoning mix and a salad dressing.

Ye'misir Allecha

There was a lot of food so our plan was to add something new each night to go with leftovers.

Ye'tikil Selata

This is working out well because the food actually tasted even better the second night. (And I'm counting on it being even better on night three. :D) I think it would be perfect party food that I could make ahead and reheat.

Ye'zelbo Gomen

Although we've loved everything I've made so far, I think our favorite dish was Ye'zelbo Gomen — a collard recipe. There were a lot of mmms and ooooohs as we ate it.

Because I've been photographing the food at night, it's been hard to get good images, but trust me, tasting the testing has been a real treat so far.

November 01, 2013

Google Nexus 7 tablet as it relates to vegan blogging | Happy World Vegan Day | Giveaway

Does anyone remember way back in 2009 when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) started cracking down on bloggers because of all the products and money they were 'raking in'? I did a post about a Nasoya product that I had received for free, and had incorporated into a banana cream pie. In my review I included a sarcastic riff about the FTC inquiries as they related to my meager freebie. I wrote:
"The June 22 edition of our local morning paper had a front page headline blaring, "Bloggers' Freebies are Under Scrutiny." Subhead: "The Federal Trade Commission is expected to issue guidelines for online consumer reviews, which can be tainted by perks." Gasp. The article goes on to describe how bloggers accept "free laptops, trips to Europe, $500 gift cards or even thousands of dollars for a 200-word post." Then it describes how a blogger from New Hartford, N.Y. who earns up to $800 per month as well as assorted gifts from her five blogs, now worries that even an innocent review of a product she purchased herself could bring an inquiry if the FTC gets involved in bloggers' lives. Does this free product thing sound familiar? I have to admit I didn't realize some bloggers were cashing in to this extent. Anyway, in anticipation of the proposed FTC scrutiny for every little review we bloggers do, I just want to come clean and say that although Nasoya gave me thousands of dollars, a free laptop, a free trip to Hawaii, a Vitamix and a new car, in addition to three coupons for their product, my review is totally honest and aboveboard. I'm stating only what I truly believe to be truly true. And that's the truth."

I don't know about you, but I 'rake in' a few cookbooks and a couple of product samples a year, and review them without compensation. So, when I was contacted by Staples representative, Britt, and offered a Google Nexus 7 tablet for me, and a Moleskine Evernote Notebook for one of my readers, I was stricken. This is a food blog. How would I explain this? My sarcastic youngest son suggested I should start a second blog called, 'Andrea's Easy Vegan Cooking Electronic Reviews.' Hahaha. Okay, so it's not a free cruise or thousands of dollars of free goods, or compensation for the review, but still. An electronic tablet is not exactly in the same category as a cookbook or a bag of chips.

Britt had suggested that the tablet would be handy for organizing recipes and reading blogs, and the more I thought about it, the more I started thinking how handy it would be to be able to take the tablet into the kitchen for reading blog recipes. And maybe I would finally start using the e-cookbooks I've been accumulating. I have a large iMac that sits on my desk. It's certainly not portable, and printing recipes has become so unwieldy, I don't want to do it anymore. I have thick stacks of recipes, and I can never find the one I want. I don't own a laptop, and had never used a tablet. Getting one to test was sounding more and more appealing. I said OK. I have to admit I was a little stoked that Staples had chosen a vegan blogger to test the Nexus 7. Seriously.

I've had it a week, and though I'm sure I've still got a lot to learn, in the short time I've owned it I've enjoyed using it immensely. I kind of love it. I uploaded all my e-cookbooks, and it's great to be able to look up recipes right in the kitchen. The tablet is approximately 4-1/2-inches by 8-inches, and the screen colors are bright and gorgeous. It's so easy to read, and the image size adjusts in a flash if I want it larger or smaller.

I love being able to read blogs — or facebook, e-mail, etc. — wherever I want — like in the living room in front of the fire, for instance. It's so much easier to read than my phone. (I never read blogs on the phone.) I can take it with me when I travel, and keep up to date. It's so easy to leave comments on blogs and fb, too. I've even left comments and sent e-mails using the voice feature. I speak, and the tablet types it out. (I wouldn't do this in public, of course.)

I can watch movies, listen to music, take photos, navigate, search the Internet. I'm about to start testing Ethiopian recipes for Kittee-Bee Berns' upcoming cookbook, so I asked Google where I could find gluten-free injera. It answered, "Here is a list of nearby places where you can find gluten-free injera." When I search for directions to a specific location, I love how big the map is compared to my phone, and how easy it is to read.

This is my first Android product after using only Apple computers and phones, and my first experience with a tablet. I've had a couple of learning curve incidents, but nothing too serious — it's pretty easy to figure out, though I must say that Google is not very helpful in the directions department. I've had to go on user forums to find the answers to my questions. I can't compare the nexus 7 to an iPad mini, because I haven't used an iPad, but I can tell you the Nexus is a lot less expensive. So far, the Nexus has been a real pleasure to use, and I'm very happy to have it.

Do you use a tablet? A Nexus 7? An iPad? How do you use it? I'm looking for more ideas for ways to make the tablet even more useful. And fun.

Along with my tablet, I received an offer to give away a Moleskine Evernote Notebook to one of my readers. I believe it works in conjunction with the Evernote app (which is a free organizer app for phone, tablet or computer) to turn hand-written notes and hand-drawn illustrations into electronic files. If you would like to have one, please write 'notebook' at the end of your comment. Notice, this is not an electronic tablet like mine. It is an Moleskine Evernote Notebook. And, as always, be sure your name links to an e-mail address so I can contact you if you win. I hate eliminating names because I can't reach you. The giveaway will end at midnight Nov. 9.

Happy World Vegan Day! Here's an article with lots of suggestions for how to celebrate World Vegan Day — and World Vegan Month.

Full disclosure: I received a free Google Nexus 7 tablet for review. I agreed to write about 600 words. I received no other personal compensation. All opinions are my own.