Monday, August 2, 2010

We've Moved!

(Mis)Adventures in Vegan Cooking is now live at its own url.

www.whalebot.com

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chickpea Cutlets

There is nothing sexier than when a man knows his way around the kitchen. Historically, young girls were encouraged to learn how to cook assuming that one day they would find themselves in the position of a housewife. We were encouraged with old adages such as "the way to his heart is through his stomach". The signals were clear: cooking is a womanly art and one we must master if we ever want to find true domestic bliss.
Those girls had it easy.
Nowadays, young women have to be everything. We're expected to be good at our jobs and follow our killer instincts at work. We're expected to know how to do all of the traditional "girl stuff". We're also expected to be impossibly thin and are constantly bombarded with images of women who are unrealistically beautiful. You can't stand in line at the grocery store without being confronted by seven different images of women whose job it is to be beautiful and who are  buffed, waxed, polished, and airbrushed within an inch of their lives, all to bring you the latest edition of Cosmo or Marie Claire.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love cooking. I find something incredibly soothing about starting with the most basic building blocks of a meal(vegetables, grains, and spices) and crafting them into something bigger, better, and more delicious than the sum of their parts. I take comfort in knowing that if I follow the correct steps, I'm going to end up with something wonderful. I love setting the table and watching people dig in to meals I have prepared. I live for the look on their faces as they savor something really delicious.
On the other hand, life can get pretty tough.  Day in and day out, I go to work, I deal with people, I manage things, I dot my i's and cross my t's. Then I go to the gym where I sweat needlessly (which I hate) so that I can make up for the time that I spent sitting at my desk, because humans weren't designed to sit at desks anyway. At the end of a long day, there is nothing better than sitting down to a meal that someone else has prepared. The only thing that makes it better is if the chef of said meal happens to also be funny and sweet and incredibly amazing. Needless to say, I was very excited when my boyfriend put together chickpea cutlets in a lemon-caper sauce.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Karyn's Kitchen in Chicago

Dear readers, I hope that none of you are under the impression that my Mis-Adventures are in any way limited to the kitchen. On the contrary, I find disasters happy accidents at every turn. Case in point: my boyfriend and I were on a trip when our plane was grounded for 2 hours outside of Chicago. The official reason given to us by United Airlines was that there were weather delays and flights were delayed in and out of Chicago. Wrong. Flights were delayed by fifteen minutes and our plane didn't have enough fuel to circle. As if being stranded on a runway for 2 hours wasn't enough, United was unable to put us on another flight that day. A very rude and unhelpful customer service agent did get us seats on a plane the next morning. but that left the two of us in Chicago for the night.
Always ready to make lemons out of lemonade, we got a room in downtown Chicago and I set about the business of happy cow'ing a dinner venue. I happened upon a chain of restaurants in Chicago: Karyn's On Green, Karyn's Cooked, and Karyn's Raw. We were staying walking distance from Karyn's Cooked and more than happy to make the trek in eight-thousand degree Chicago weather (with 99% humidity). OK, maybe I wasn't thrilled to make the trek, but when we got to the hippest, trendiest vegan restaurant I have ever been in, my mood instantly lightened.
Here is my theory: Chicago is a big foodie town, and to compete, Karyn and her staff have to maintain a certain level of service, excellence, and delicious food. The restaurant was entirely vegan and the service was warm and friendly (unlike some places in Los Angeles where the wait staff is stiff and not a little bit rude)
After salivating over the menu (remember we had been stuck on a plane all day),  we started off our meal with delicious "buffalo" wings. They were so delicious that we had made it halfway through the plate before it occurred to me that I might want to take a picture.
I followed this course with one of the most amazing bowls of pasta I have ever had in my entire life. While I'm sure that my hunger had something to do with it, it really was exceptional. Pasta was tossed with spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, and a healthy dose of olive oil. Sitting here writing about it is making me hungry. I will say that the bread was not the best of my life, but I didn't really expect it to be. While we were eating, Karyn herself made a stop in and dropped off some flyers at our table. She was awesome, super-skinny, and tanned within an inch of her life. Not many women can pull it off like Karyn can.
After dinner, and even though I wasn't really THAT hungry, we splurged and ordered some chocolate cake with vegan ice cream on the side. My boyfriend wisely reasoned that we weren't going to have another opportunity for vegan cake for the next couple of days, and I decided to accept his premise and his conclusion. The cake was great, but nothing compared to that amazing pasta. I really should try to recreate it on my own.
Anyway, thank you Karyn and company, for making two out of place vegans feel welcome in the windy city. 

http://www.karynraw.com/

Friday, July 23, 2010

Spring Rolls

I really was super-excited to make spring rolls with a peanut dipping sauce. The main reason why I was so excited was that I got to make a trip to Mitsuwa, Mitsuwa is none other than the largest Japanese supermarket in the West, and it is also right down the street from my new house. Walking into Mitsuwa, I imagined finding tons of hidden vegan jewels and walking out with a full cart. Instead, I left shell-shocked, bewildered, and generally shaken, but with spring roll wrappers.
It was very, very strange to be in a store where I literally could not read the labels. Most of them had english on the back, but it was so tiny and indecipherabl, that I was not really sure of what went in anything. I perused the produce section, which had so many umeboshi products that a macrobiotatian would have thought they had died and gone to heaven. On the other hand, I do not much care for umeboshi after a particularly nasty incident with a weight-loss tea consisting of umeboshi, daikon, carrot, and (wait for it) soy sauce. Surprisingly, it was not as good as it sounds.
Back to my trip. I wandered shell-shocked up and down the aisles, occasionally picking up funny-looking boxes and straining to read the ingredients. Definitely NOT vegan-friendly. Even the breads seemed to all have either milk or butter in them. I'm sure I would have had more luck if I had gone with someone more familiar with the cuisine or the language. Fortunately, I did make it out in one piece and with my spring roll wrappers. I got home and was very excited to make my peanut dipping sauce with fresh peanut butter from the Whole Foods. Unfortunately, the peanut butter had some hard, grainy substance in it. Now, I was never emo enough to eat broken glass (I just walk on it), but if I had, this is what I imagine it would have been like.  I was very much into these spring rolls when we had them for dinner, and very much not into them the next day. So the lesson there is that they do not keep well. The other lesson is that Whole Foods puts plastic or something in their fresh-ground peanut butter, or at least they did that day.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Granola Bars

Only 2 days through my now-infamous McDougall week, I caved. My stomach was demanding a mid-afternoon snack, and I got caught at work without access to suitable food. The next thing I knew my legs had carried me to the vending machine. I don't remember buying it, but somehow 85 cents ended up in the machine and a granola bar ended up in my hand. It was like magic, I swear. I was probably possessed.
I didn't actually feel bad about caving, but it was not something I wanted to repeat. Thus, it became critical to find an oil-free granola bar. I know that a l'arabar would have been acceptable, but they charge a buck sixty for those things, and they are pretty much mashed up dates. They are delicious and good in a pinch, but they are not what I would consider a granola bar.
A granola bar should have, well,  granola in it. However, granola is chock full of fat, so I had to go to the source: the oat. Oats are just as good as granola; they just haven't been toasted with a lot of oil and sugar. In a way, it's granola in it's natural habitat. I perused the McDougall forums and found a recipe that looked promising, except it was missing a very key ingredient: carob chips. I understand that I probably screwed up the entire "no-oil" guideline by the addition of these sweet little darlings, but they made my granola bars something like ten thousand times as delicious. Plus, even with a couple of carob chips, these were much better for me than anything that ever came out of a vending machine.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Meetup Group

I am conducting a little social experiment with the folks over at meetup.com. In my social experiment, I have created a meetup group for people who are looking for friends. Let's face it, people are busy with work and school and families, and it doesn't leave much time for making friends. Most of my friends from college have abandoned me moved to NYC.
It's not that I'm friendless, persay. I have lots of friends on the east side (I'm huge in Silverlake, I promise). I have friends from work, I attend regular meetups. I just think it would be fun to crowd-source friend-making and see what turns up. Maybe it will be a bunch of weirdos. Maybe it won't.
Anyway, if you would like to join, here is the link: Super Best Friends Club

Alternative Pizza

Sometimes I get to share my great successes with my readers, and sometimes I feel the need to own up to my mistakes. The following is an account of a pizza gone wrong:
During the week that I stuck to the McDougall plan, I decided to play around with their concept of replacing the cheese on pizza with hummus. It seemingly makes sense, hummus is delicious, oil-free, and easily spreadable. My pesto recipe is also oil-free, delicious, and easily spreadable. Throw either one of them on top of a pizza crust, top with vegetables, and you're in business. Or so I thought.
My first mistake was in the cornerstone of any good pizza: the dough. A good pizza dough is made of yeast, flour, and water. It only uses olive oil to coat the bowl it rises in and prevent sticking. This adds a negligible amount of oil to the recipe, and I should have just accepted it and moved on with my pizza making. Instead, I allowed myself to be seduced by the novel idea of crafting a pizza crust out of whole wheat pastry flour and beer. Yes that's right, beer-crust pizza. It sounds like a great idea, because the two usually make for an excellent pairing. On this particular occasion though, the two did NOT go together. The crust was hard without being cooked through and lacked any flavor whatsoever. Fail.
The second shortcoming of said pizza was in the lack of cheese. The hummus and pesto would have been ok, if I hadn't cooked them within an inch of their life while waiting for the beer dough to solidify and the vegetable toppings to cook. In the future, I would probably pre-cook my veggies and crust, so that I didn't inadvertently suck all the moisture out of the sauce.
The final shortcoming of these pizzas came in the form of the Most Cursed Vegetable. I'm talking about the artichoke. I did my internet research. I trimmed the leaves. I steamed it with lemon. I ended up with a purple-tinged artichoke heart. Now I've never worked with fresh artichoke before, but purple food is just weird. I learned a very important lesson, however. That lesson is to never try to cook fresh artichokes, because I will end up with a mess of purple leaves and very weird pizza.
We ate it anyway.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Proof is in the Pudding

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were at Urth Cafe in Santa Monica, waiting in an extremely long line for the privilege of paying $6 for a cup of coffee (which we gladly do, because it's worth it). The line takes you past a very full and very delicious looking pastry case full of non-vegan baked goods. Now don't get me wrong, Urth does a decent job of having some vegan options. However, their vegan cookies taste like cardboard ground into dust and then stuck back together with glue. Even though I know they don't taste good, I sometimes end up with one of these cookies to quell the cravings brought on by that hellish pastry case. If I thought that I could get away with it, I would certainly bring my own delicious dessert to accompany what has to be the most perfect latte in the universe.
That particular time, I happened to notice a bread pudding. OK, I was probably staring at that bread pudding the way a Manhatten Socialite eyes the jewelry counter at Harry Winston's. Logically, I recognized that that bread pudding was full of butter and cream which were produced at the expense of baby animals everywhere. On the other hand, my mouth was telling me I was hungry. I decided to do what I always do, which is put together my own vegan version of said bread pudding.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

OK I guess that I have to live up to it. After a very successful first week on the McDougall plan, I fell of the wagon. In spite of my McDougallings, my body started retaining water like crazy(more on that personal issue later, I promise). I quickly grew frustrated with my body. It was a lot of work to avoid ALL oils, and going through that trouble without seeing any results was a disheartening experience. I just had to give up the McDougall plan for the time being, with the intention of returning to it.
Of course there is one major exception, and that is that I continue to cut back on oil when I cook at home. By eliminating some of the empty calories that were coming from oils, I've been able to work in more whole grains. They're full of fiber and really do help control your appetite. Last week, I made some delicious oatmeal for breakfast. The recipe serves two, so you can either find a breakfast partner or save half for the following day. It tastes just as good re-heated, so I give this recipe a D for delicious.

 Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 1.25 cups oats
  • 1 apple, cubed
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1tbsp cinnamon 

Bring the apple juice and cinnamon to a boil over medium heat. Add the oats and cook for 5 minutes, or until the liquid disappears. Add the cubed apples and stir. Sprinkle with raisins and brown sugar.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Little Help from My Friend Amy

So yes, it is always good to make your own chocolate cake with applesauce and cocoa powder, and the end result is always something deliciously low in fat and almost good for you. On the other hand, sometimes you are willing to take a break from your diet and are looking for something delicious to round out a low-fat dinner. Last night, I had a failed attempt at gnocchi. I'm not sure what really went wrong, but the end result was a lumpy, sticky potato-mush on the counter. The upside was that I was ready with brown rice pasta as a backup, which ended up going very well with my oil-free vegan pesto. Since we started the meal with a tomato bruschetta (which used a very teensy teaspoon of olive oil), I felt more than justified in taking a major shortcut with dessert.
Cue Amy's. for those of you not in the know, Amy's is a brand that produces natural, organic packaged foods, which are largely available in the frozen section of grocery stores. Even Ralph's carries Amy's products. Yesterday, I was at Whole Foods trying to improvise a dessert. We were in the frozen section, checking out a selection of raw gelato and ice cream. After checking the ingredients on the raw ice cream, I realized that it had just as much oil as any other dessert. and I reasoned that if I was going to break the McDougall plan, I was going to do it for something I knew would be delicious. Cue the improvisation. I debated the idea of baking a lemon-poppy seed cake and wrestled with the notion of baklava. I was considering a lemon tart when, like a shining beacon of hope, Amy's frozen cakes jumped out at me. I originally went for the lemon poppy seed, but it was not vegan. Our choices were limited to orange or chocolate, and the boyfriend made the right choice with the chocolate. I also snagged a bag of Whole Food's frozen berry medley, making this quite possibly the easiest dessert ever created. As a bonus, it was also delicious.

Wine pairing: an entire bottle of Almond Creek Champagne :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Breakfast Bran Muffins

One of the many diet books that I have consulted over the years was the Fat Smash Diet. Yes, that's right, it's written by Dr. Ian from VH1's Celebrity Fit Club. He actually has a degree from Harvard, so I felt comfortable listening to his advice. Unfortunately, that diet was hard to maintain and I came upon it before I really discovered willpower. However, the one thing that always stuck with me was how much Dr. Ian loathed muffins. He would have taken every muffin from every coffee shop and bakery in America, rounded them up, and marched them to their deaths. Why?
Because muffins are totally bad for you. Starbuck's Apple Bran muffin has 470 calories. It's a bran muffin! It's supposed to be healthy, or so one would think. Wash that sucker down with a frappuccino, and your breakfast has 800 calories in it. To give you some perspective, my caloric intake is somewhere around 1800 a day to maintain my weight. So, I could have that "healthy" muffin and some sugary syrupy goodness, but what would I do about the rest of my day?
Now, I wouldn't actually ever eat a Starbuck's bran muffin, because it has little baby animals in it, and I do not eat little baby animals. That whole rant was just a hypothetical exercise. Anyway, since regular muffins are so unhealthy, and since I decided to try out the McDougall plan for a week, here is a decent recipe for oil-free bran muffins. They're very dense and chewy, and it is my experience that one is more than enough for a filling breakfast.
Disclaimer: It's not the most delicious muffin ever, but If you are looking for non-fat recipes, than this is the way to go.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Oil-Free French Toast


Wow, or as the French would say, Oo-la-la. I am a girl who loves sweet foods for breakfast. However, when I think of French Toast I can't help but feel a little guilty thinking about all of the fat involved in cooking. Veganism took care of eliminating the cholesterol, Dr. McDougall took care of eliminating the fat. I, however, will take credit for my brilliant elimination of processed syrup by replacing it with a date compote.
Last month, I made my first-ever trip to Farmer's Choice, a brand new produce store on Pico in Santa Monica. It is in the same shopping center as the Trader Joe's and it is absolutely amazing. The produce looks, feels, and tastes as fresh as a farmer's market, but it's also incredibly cheap. On my second visit, I managed to buy 90% of the weekly produce for 2 people, and it only ran me $17. From talking to the checkout girl, I learned that they get most of their produce shipped in daily and use local sources whenever possible.
I ran in there to pick up some raspberries, but ended up taking a "quick look" around. My quick look turned into an excuse to fill my basket with fresh fruits and vegetables, including some of the sweetest, softest dates I've had in a long time. I previously have sworn by the date lady at the Virginia Avenue Park farmer's market. However, I am switching my allegiance over to Farmer's Choice.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tex-Mex Breakfast!

OK, so I probably talked a lot of shit about tex-mex breakfast when I found the recipe on the McDougall website. I probably continued to poke fun at it as I reworked the recipe. I continued to be a smart-ass even as we sat down and ate tex-mex breakfast. However, I was eating my words once I realized 1: it's delicious and 2: it's really, really good for you.
I made this breakfast a few weeks ago and substituted tofu for the brown rice recommended by the officiall McDougall recipe. Some members of my household can't really get behind the entire "rice for breakfast" idea.
On the day I took the picture, I may have undermined the entire "oil-free" concept by adding some crumbled vegan sausage. The reason behind the addition was pretty straightforward. I had the vegan sausage patties on hand from before I went on my McDougall bender, and didn't want to let it go to waste. I'm big on not letting things go to waste.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Brown Rice Pasta Primavera

Cooking with friends is always an enjoyable time and a great experience. I recommend it to anyone who is looking to pass a quiet night with good company and delicious food. The funny thing about cooking with friends is that sometimes you learn cooking techniques that stick with you forever. Whenever you use that technique, you naturally think of that person. Such is the case whenever I make pasta with broccoli. One night in college I made pasta with my friend Nathan, and he literally blew my mind when he told me that you could just drop broccoli into pasta during the last few minutes of cooking. Not only did it add a vegetable to the dish, it also saved a dirty pan. Lately I feel like my hands are a little dry, and I have attributed this to the number of dishes I have been doing. So, every time that I take the opportunity to save myself a pan and some trouble, I say a silent thank-you to Mr. Punwario(this is Nathan's college nickname that he would not want reprinted here).
Unlike most vegetables, there was never really a time when I hated broccoli. I attribute this to two things. First, my mom used to ply us with cheese-covered broccoli. Second, it was commonly used in pasta dishes. These two disguises allowed broccoli to slip undetected into my diet. The other day I found myself wanting something quick and delicious. It was nearing the end of the grocery week, but I had a bottle of Charles Shaw opened. Past the age of 22, Charles Shaw is never meant to be drank, and only acceptable as a cooking wine. So, I pieced together some things from my pantry with some things from my fridge and ended up with a magical little pasta dish that reminds me of cavatelli with broccoli. (Author's note: in New Jersey this would be pronounced Cah-vah-teal).

 Brown Rice Pasta with Broccoli
  • 2 c. broccoli florets
  • 2 c. mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 c. brown rice pasta (dry measure)
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, chop the broccoli florets into bite-sized pieces, quarter the mushrooms, and mince the garlic.
2. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add the broccolli to the boiling water.
3. In a saute pan over medium heat, cook the garlic for one minute in a small amount of oil (just enough to not burn the pan).
3. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes. Add 1/2 a cup of dry white wine and lemon juice. Stir and continue to simmer over medium heat.
4. Drain the pasta and broccoli, add to the mushroom/wine mixture and simmer until the wine reduces (about 3 minutes).
5. Serve hot. You can sprinkle this with Italian Daiya, vegan Parmesan, or sun-dried tomatoes. Go crazy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sesame Stir Fry

I'm sitting in bed on a Saturday morning, listening to the Hold Steady because I am that cool, and wondering what I have to say about this stir fry. Usually when I post a recipe, I have some thoughts on society or the universe or some sort of personal ramblings to relate to my readers. I think they make me seem more human, and as I understand it, writers who seem more relate-able tend to sell more books (coming soon to a kindle/i-pad near you).
When I get down to it, this recipe didn't remind me of anything or anyone. I didn't have some sort of lightbulb moment. I don't even have an awful date story to go with it, since it just served as a weeknight dinner. I just had a bunch of tahini and a lot of spare vegetables lying around my apartment.
Stir-fry is always a good dinner option, since its premise is a simple one. Any time three or more vegetables are gathered in its name, the stir fry god is there. I like to sass mine up with tofu.
The real differentiating factor in any stir fry is which kind of sauce you mix it all with. I like peanut/sesame-based sauces a lot, but I have also been known to mix soy sauce and corn-starch and call it a day. There are a number of commercially-packaged stir fry sauces you can try if you are so inclined. For this stir fry, I decided on a sesame theme with tahini and sesame seeds.
wine pairing: Sam Adam's Summer Ale

Tofu
  • 6 oz. firm tofu, cubed
  • 2 TBSP. cornstarch
  • 3 TBSP. vegetable oil
Stir Fry
  • 1/4 a white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, mined or pressed
  • 1/2 a large carrot
  • 6 medium mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 c. broccolli florets cut into bite size pieces
  • 2 heads of baby bok choy
    Sauce
    • 2 tbsp. tahini
    • 2 tsp. soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp. unsweetened grain milk
    • 4 tbsp. water
    1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the grain milk with the tahini until it starts to thicken. Add the soy sauce and water, set to the lowest possible setting, and leave it to stay warm while you work on the stir fry.
    2. Toss the cubed tofu with cornstarch to coat (think Shake n. Bake) and heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the tofu and toss to coat, cooking until it turns a light brown. 
    3. Reduce heat to medium-high and add the onions, garlic, and carrots and cook until the onions are translucent. 
    4. Add the mushrooms and cook a 2 minutes, until they start to sweat. 
    5. Add the broccolli and cook for 2-3 minutes.
    6. Stir in the bok choy and cook everything together for an additional 3 minutes.
    7. Stir in the sauce and serve over rice or noodles and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Tex-Mex Night

    Let me take a few lines here to sing the many praises of the crockpot. The crock-pot slow cooker was first marketed in 1971 by Naxon. A crock pot is plugged into the wall and heats food by wattage, not temperature. As a result, liquid on the outside of the pot may lightly boil, but the food on the inside will be cooked slowly and deliciously. I love being able to throw a bunch of things into a crockpot in the morning and then come home to a delicious dinner. They are great for stews and sauces and chili.
    I have a small crockpot that makes enough for 4 people, which is the perfect size for dinner one night and leftovers the next day. The center of my crockpot even comes out for easy cleaning. I have been known to cook something in my crock-pot, let it cool, refrigerate it over night, let it come to room temperature, and heat it the next day. I'm not sure how this is from a food safety perspective, but as a vegan I don't exactly need to worry about salmonella from my raw chicken, now do I?
    Anyway, I threw together a recipe for vegetarian chili that came out quite good. I also made corn-bread muffins to go with it. My boyfriend doesn't like dry, crumbly corn-bread. In an effort to impress him, I set about making the moistest, sweetest cornbread I could come up with. Sometimes I have a tendency to overdo things, so the muffins came out tasting more like corn cupcakes. I will not be reprinting that recipe here, but I thought that inquiring minds would want to know about the muffins in the picture.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Oil-free Chocolate Pie

    Going into the Great McDougall experiment, I knew that I had to be prepared with some serious dessert. Despite trying to give it up many times, I have come to the very simple conclusion that dessert is what makes dinner worth eating. It's something to look forward to at the end of a long day (that and an over-sized glass of red wine). Luckily, I found a great recipe on the McDougall forums and tweaked it to better suit my tastes and aversion to sugar.
     As you can see in the picture, I artfully arranged sliced kiwi and cherries on top of the pie. If I were Oprah, cherries would be on my list of favorite things. The pigment in cherries may reduce swelling and inflammation, plus they look really cute on rockabilly dresses and accessories. In all seriousness, I don't think I had ever eaten a non-maraschino cherry until a few weeks ago. I don't know how I went 25 years without them. I also don't know what I'm going to do when all of these fruits and vegetables stop being new to me. Maybe I'll have to start shopping the produce aisles of ethnic grocery stores?



    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Crab Cakes, Wut?

    There are two things that I never say. First, I've never said I was a nice person. This gives me free reign to be mean when I have to and not be apologetic about it.The second is that I've never said I was a good cook. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy cooking and am always on the lookout for new things to try. Since going vegan, cooking has become one of my main hobbies and something that I enjoy doing with others as well. However, like yoga, soccer, and gymnastics, just because I enjoy doing something does not mean I am good at it.
    Case in point. I had a real desire to make my own falafel. The Hungry Pocket, a falafel restaurant/juice bar in Santa Monica, has really amazing falafel. My co-workers grilled the owner about it and came back and reported that the falafel was indeed vegan, so I went down to try it out with them. They were delicious, that is for sure. On the other hand, I knew deep down that I was pigging out on a deep-fried ball of chickpeas. Since I am working on being more aware of fat in my diet, I wondered if I could make my own falafel in the oven, with just a little bit of oil brushed on top.
    At any given time, I have about 3 or 4 different culinary schemes brewing in my head, just waiting for the perfect excuse to execute them. I decided to try out my falafel recipe for a picnic. I stuffed them in pita bread with lettuce, roasted tomatoes, and tahini.The idea was great, but the falafel was a little off. I tried a root-cause analysis, but wasn't able to put my finger on it. Luckily, Short Round (the sidekick to my culinary Indiana Jones) was able to put his finger on it. The cumin in the falafel made it taste more like Old Bay seasoning, therefore giving the entire thing the flavor of a crab cake.
    So I am pleased to present my readers with my completely original, absolutely accidental recipe for vegan crab cakes.

    Saturday, June 19, 2010

    Why Aren't All Donuts Just Vegan?

    Recently, I went away to Vegas for the weekend, and I rounded out the trip with a stop at Ronald's Donuts, which is a Buddhist-run donut shop off of The Strip. While Vegas is not a great place to be a vegan, I wonder if most vegans who live there have thought of subsisting entirely off of these donuts. I almost surely would consider it if I were local. My favorite part of the entire experience was how much of an honest-to-goodness donut shop Ronald's was. There were no fancy pictures on the wall or bamboo napkins. They even used styrofoam cups (which I have a little bit of a problem with, but they were kitschy so I can get past that. If Ronald's were situated in LA, their bakery boxes would be emblazoned with their name and logo, there would be water features, and the display case would have been carefully lit and sparsely populated. Instead their case was teeming with donuts and the only decorative feature was an old man in the corner who just looked like he belonged in a donut shop.
    This post brings up an important point that I like to make. There's healthy food, and there's vegan food, but the two are not always the same. In this case, these donuts were nearly undiscernable from "regular" donuts. That means they were full of sugar and fat, but it also means that it was a great way to enjoy true junk food without comprimising my ethical status. There are certain occassions in one's life that call for donuts, and dissapointment is one of them. Don't get me wrong, I had a great time in Vegas, it just wasn't all that I hoped it would be when I went out. Since misery absolutely loves company, and mild-dissapointment craves it, I recruited a friend with no sorrows (but an amazing metabolism)to help me conduct a very, very scientific taste test of Ronald's donuts.


    The verdict:
    By far the most amazing pastry had to be the bear claw, but the cinnamon roll was probably a close second. Their jelly donut was very good, but I would have liked a: a higher jelly to donut ratio and b: a more natural jam instead of a sugarfied gel. I also have to give a special shout-out to the apple fritter which, while being completely greasy and so heavy that I felt it the entire next day, was probably better than any apple fritter I have ever had. Since it's the only vegan apple fritter I've ever had, I feel like the Buddhists deserve a real round of applause.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    3-Bean Tacos

    I feel a little cheap posting this as a recipe, so please think of it as more of an idea for a cool way to assemble some ingredients and turn it into a reliable meal. To round it out and alleviate some of my Catholic guilt, I will give you a tip that I love using. When you have leftover tortillas, it's very exciting to make your own tortilla chips. Just cut the tortilla into triangles and spray very lightly with cooking spray. Broil on medium for about 2 minutes and then toss with salt and a squeeze of lime juice. Not only are they delicious, but they're also lower in fat than those greasy fried ones you'll get at any Mexican restaurant.



    3-Bean Tacos
    1/2 cup each kidney, black, and pinto beans
    1 TBSP. chili powder
    1/4 tsp. cumin
    1/2 tsp. garlic salt
    cheese, cilantro, and salsa to suit your tastes.
    corn tortillas
    This is a really easy recipe because all you do is drain and rinse the beans then cook them for about 5 minutes over medium heat with the spices. Spoon them into warmed tortillas and enjoy.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Maple Icing

    OK so I have something to confess. I have been having "performance issues" when it comes to vegan cookies lately. Mostly I have been trying too hard when it comes to replacing the fat. I made some cookies 2 weeks ago and tried replacing all of the fat with applesauce, and it was kind of a disaster. I have never thrown out an entire batch of cookies before, but these particular ones were hard as rocks and left me with no choice. After the first disaster, I was actually able to piece together a decent oatmeal cookie recipe. The only problem is that I baked said cookies halfway into splitting a second bottle of wine. As it so happens, I did not write said recipe down, but I know that I replaced about half of the recommended oil with applesauce and that there were raisins and cinnamon involved. It really is a shame that I'm not a more responsible cook, because these cookies were some of the most delicious low fat cookies in the existence of humanity (*these claims represent the author's opinion as an amateur vegan baker). I will be trying very hard to re-create said recipe, but in the meantime what I do remember is how to make the maple glaze pictured above.

    Maple Glaze
    • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
    • 1 1/2 c. vegan powdered sugar
    • 2 TBSP earth balance
    • 1 TBSP maple syrup
    Begin by mixing together the earth balance, maple syrup, and vanilla until smooth and fully incorporated.
    Add the powdered sugar 1/4 a cup at a time, blending fully after each addition. If you are using this recipe as a glaze, stop adding sugar when the glaze will drip from the back of a spoon in a steady stream. If you are using it to ice a cake (which would be an excellent idea), add more powdered sugar until it is thick enough to spread.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Pirates Chai for Breakfast

    Due to a ridiculous language requirement at USC, I spent about twelve thousand dollars (that's three semesters worth) trying to cultivate an interest in the French language and culture. I know a few words "Je suis la jeune fille" for example, but for the most part all of that classroom time was wasted. I really wanted to learn French, but trying to do so while also working, taking a full courseload, and slogging through my Freshman year of college was not a good idea. I did, however, come away from the class with two things: 1: a new appreciation for The Cure's Killin an Arab and 2: a real love of crepes.
    It only makes sense that I would be into crepes, considering the fact that I am mad about pancakes. It's worth noting that lately I have been reserving pancakes for weekend mornings and getting by with tofu scramble during the week. I do, however, make a pretty impressive crepe. I think there are a few very key elements to a good crepe.
    1. Mixing the batter: I like to use my stand-up blender for this one. It gets the batter really smooth which is important.
    2. The flour: you want to use a fine-ground whole wheat pastry flour. It will be light and smooth enough to make your crepes delicate.
    3. A large spatula: for flipping.
    4. A kick-ass filling: for my crepes I used a filling very similiar to bananas foster, except that I made a mockery of it.
    5. Patience: you have to cook the first side of the crepe for a little bit longer than you think, because the top should be pretty much firm before you turn them over.

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    As If

    Who doesn't love a good Clueless reference? I've been excited for a few weeks now, because I bought Alicia Silverstone's book: The Kind Diet. The book is split into two parts. The first half contains great information about Alicia's diet, which she calls the kind diet. It is an all-vegan diet that relies heavily on macrobiotic principles such as daikon, umiboshi, green vegetables, sea vegetables, and whole grains. Alicia's diet is not for the faint of heart. An Alicia breakfast consists of brown rice and sea vegetables. I can make a lot of different kinds of pancakes, but pancakes from sea vegetables would be taking it a step too far, even for me. Still, there are a lot of health benefits to a macrobiotic diet, and it is always preferable to stick to locally-grown produce. While macrobiotics teaches us that the locally-grown produce is more likely to give our bodies the nutrients it needs to live within a certain climate, I prefer to look at it as supporting local growers and saving on the energy consumption required to import produce. It really makes me think twice before spooning tons of pineapple chunks over my vegan frozen yogurt.
    I'm always one for progress, so I have made a point of trying out one of Alicia's recipes every week. I particularly enjoyed her recipe for fried rice, although I made some adjustments on my second pass. It uses sticky brown rice, which is deliciously sweet and soft and sticks together like sushi rice, except all on its own. I picked mine up at the bulk section of Whole Foods. It takes awhile to cook up, but I have been using that as an excuse to make extra. Anyway, this dish makes a great and filling lunch or dinner for one person, or it could be served as a side dish for 2. I think that it would be good with grilled tempeh or fried tofu.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Ginger Tempeh

     For me, being a vegan is a constant journey of discovery. I don't see it as limiting the foods that I eat, I see it was opening up a whole new world of food I didn't even know existed. It took me this long to get around to experiencing tempeh, but I had read about how it was an amazing meat substitute, especially when you were looking for a hearty flavor. I picked up a package and I was not disappointed. Scratch that. I was far beyond not disappointed. I was actually extremely pleased and impressed. Tempeh has a nutty flavor and a consistency resembling crunchy grains of rice packed together into a loaf. Mine was about the same size and shape of a cut of London Broil, which got me to thinking about how to best prepare it. I decided to cut it into slices and marinate it in soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds, and a little lemon juice. Let me tell you, there is nothing like the salty/citrusy combination of soy sauce and lemon juice. I would also reccomend trying this recipe with orange juice if you have it on hand. I tend to have some issues with soy sauce,  just because I am perplexed by how salty it really is. If a recipe calls for any real amount of the liquid, your sodium levels are going to shoot through the roof. A solution that I learned a few years ago is to use a solution of 1/2 soy sauce 1/2 water when you need a good amount of moisture in your recipe. It keeps the sodium in check, but you really won't notice a difference in flavor.
    Now, I know that it is not generally safe food practice to use your marinade for cooking. This is because most marinades have been chilling out with raw meet for hours, which equals one nasty e-coli situation. Tempeh is a naturally fermented soybean cake. See how the two are different?

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    What Passes for Lunch Around Here

    Last week, I found the most delicious brown rice tortillas at Trader Joe's. For some reason, the brown rice made them seem so much more whimsical than regular tortillas. I used them to make my own baked tortilla chips, because most commercially-prepared tortilla chips are laden with fat. Take a handful of those chips and pair them with avocado (which is fatty even if it's a good fat), and you might as well brush up on your Oompa Loompa dance, because that is what you are going to look like if you eat too many. So, I bake my own with a hint of salt and lime and dip them in my guacamole with a smug grin on my face.
    Anyway, these tortillas were really delicious and had much more of a bite to them than boring flour tortillas. One morning I was running late for work and needed to throw together something for lunch very quickly. I had tortilla shells and daiya, and I looked around my fridge for odds and ends to turn that into lunch. I ended up throwing some vegetables into the quesadilla and I was quite pleased with the result. I suppose that this particular adventure qualifies as my first "fusion" dish, since fusion is just taking two different cuisines and merging them together. Enjoy.

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    Brownies

    As anyone who is a regular reader knows, I have been on a lot of dates lately. Most of these dates have not gone right, for one reason or the other. Emotionally, I've really been through the ringer. First dates are very, very draining, because you have to put in a good deal of effort to put your best foot forward. I feel a lot of pressure to put on the Nicole Williams Show, that is a version of myself who is charming, witty, and entertaining, even in the presence of near-strangers. I think that I do an ok job of this, although my call-back ratio would suggest otherwise (there aren't that many).
    After getting through the initial challenge of the first date, assuming that I have made someone like me enough, there is the second date. Over the past few months, the second date has marked the point at which I start evaluating the other person. I start to imagine what it would be like to really date them and I apply my critical thinking and logical reasoning skills to determine if there are any flags or deal-breakers. I've had a lot of trouble finding guys who have everything I am looking for. I need someone who is attractive, kind, intelligent, articulate, and confidant. It would be nice to have someone who is also health-conscious, considerate, and a hard-worker. There are some things that I just consider a bonus, for example being a vegan or living the music lifestyle.Yes, I stack-rank the things I am looking for, because I am just that good of a Project Manager.
    I've recently read some articles that call out girls my age for having too many requirements for men. One urged me to settle for Mr. Good Enough. Reading these articles, I wondered if I should just settle. I had a major problem though. My Mr. Right existed, and I knew it because I was lucky enough to be friends with him. 
    I know that a lot of my readers enjoy my bad date stories and that they are a constant source of entertainment for my friends and co-workers. That is why I hope that no one here is too disappointed that after going out on dates with 24 different men since the beginning of the year, I have ended up with the same one who was standing next to me on New Year's Eve.
     After the jump, please enjoy the reduced-fat vegan brownies that I brought along on what turned out to be our first date.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    In Pursuit of Perfection

     In March, I was able to perfectly harness the delicious flavors of Girl Scout Cookies, while reducing the fat and sugar to an acceptable level. After that experiment, I abandoned cookies for awhile to focus instead on cupcakes and muffins, and somewhere along the way I lost my touch. I made chocolate chip cookies a couple of weeks ago, and they were not my best work. I replaced most of the oil in the recipe with applesauce and reduced the sugar quite a bit. My friend and fellow vegan, Carl, was happy to suffer through them, and I have included a picture of the failed cookies just to illustrate what a great liar he is for having eaten them with a straight face. I tried another batch the following night, using vegetable oil, applesauce, and molasses. While these were a little better, they were still kind of chewy and a little greasy. I decided that it had to be time for a different approach.
    Instead of focusing on reducing the sugar and the oil, I would start with the basics: a full-fat, full-sugar vegan chocolate chip cookie. They were absolutely perfect. I brought a warm batch in to work and they were gone by 11 AM, which is a sign of a pretty damn good cookie. A few days later, I tried the same recipe, but replacing half of the oil with applesauce. Those also came out pretty good, although a little more scone-like, which is something that I am working on. They key to this cookie recipe is cinnamon, which gives it a nice hint of something special. The granola is optional, but another way to get pretty impressive. When I made them with applesauce, I substituted out some of the vegan chocolate chips for some Peruvian dark chocolate, which I bought in wafer-form and cut into thin slivers. They were probably the fanciest cookies I have ever made.


    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Hell Freezes Over

    One of my many quirks is an intense aversion to mayonnaise. I've never liked the stuff and I can't eat  anything that I know contains mayonnaise. This distaste has carried over to veganaise as well. I don't even know whay mayonnaise tastes like, because I've never been able to stomach the site of it, let alone put it to my lips. On the one hand, this is probably not a bad thing, because who wants to eat something that so closely resembles cellulite? On the other hand, my issue with this particular spread (plus my dislike of mustard and my refusal to eat lunch meat, even vegan lunch meat) has long kept me from entering into the world of sandwiches. I've never gotten behind them, which can make packing lunch for work a little bit more difficult than it has to be. I was screwing around the Apple store a few weekends ago, waiting for my new bff Collin to activate my new i-phone, and started playing with the Whole Foods application on a demo phone. I will say it was pretty cool, but it also had a great recipe for a vegan muffaletta sandwich. I didn't bother to write down the recipe or anything, but the idea of a sandwich with mushrooms and roasted red peppers haunted my thoughts all day. So, I gave in to the dark side and made a sandwich. After learning that my vegan jambalaya was a bastardization of all things cajun, I abandoned the idea of even calling my version of the sandwich a muffaletta, but it was very much inspired by the idea of one.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    Oil-free Vegan Pesto

    There are some word combinations that make anyone's ears pop up, and oil-free vegan pesto always seems to do the trick. Let me start out by talking about pesto. I love it. I love basil on its own, but when its diced into tiny pieces and mixed with pine nuts, my blood really gets pumping. I love pesto on my pasta, pesto on my pizza, pesto on a sandwich (it is the only condiment besides ketchup that I will allow on a sandwich or burger). However, a traditional pesto is really, really, really bad for you, especially in the amounts that I like to use. It's full of olive oil and most commercial pestos also contain Parmesan cheese (a big vegan no-no). This used to be a problem for me, until I realized that I could take a hint from Fat Free Vegan and replace all of that olive oil with vegetable broth. I further decided to include some spinach in my pesto, because I am a firm believer in the nutritional properties of that little superfood.
    The result is a pesto that you can feel good about. I use my food processor for this recipe, but if you do not have one, and your knife skills are up to par, you should do just fine. This pesto goes great on a pizza in place of tomato sauce, on a vegan caprese sandwich (use the daiya cheese and warm it ever so slightly), or over some whole wheat pasta. It keeps in the fridge for about a week, so it's a good make-ahead item for those of you who, like me, see the inside of our cubicles more than the inside of our kitchens.


    Easiest Pesto Ever
    • 2 cloves garlic, quartered but not chopped
    • 1 c. basil
    • 1/2 c. fresh or frozen spinach, if frozen, don't forget to drain and pat dry
    • 1/4 c. pine nuts
    • 1/3 c. vegetable broth
    1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse on high for about 10 seconds, or until smooth.

    Monday, May 31, 2010

    Tofu n' Broccoli

    I, Nicole Williams, love tofu. These are 5 words that I could never have imagined typing a year ago. I was the girl who wanted nothing to do with that white, mushy, weird health food. I had no idea what it was even made out of, but I was pretty sure that I didn't want to know. Then, I took the time to actually learn how to cook tofu, and I realized just how delicious it can be when done correctly. I also did some research on its many health benefits including being low fat and high in protein. Studies have shown that this magical bean curd can lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides. Soy isoflavones in tofu have even been shown to reduce breast, uterine, and prostate cancer. Did I mention that it's a good source of iron?
    Tofu is one of the cornerstones of any good vegan diet. Whenever I get "the protein lecture", I am quick to inform the lecturer that I eat tofu once or twice a week and get all the protein that I need. Tofu is great in all different kinds of recipes, because its nuetral flavor will easily take on whatever spices or marinade you use. So, gentle readers, please stick with me over the next few days as I present my own personal salute to tofu.

    The Basics
    When cooking with tofu, it's important to know exactly what kind of prep work you're looking at. Tofu comes packaged in water, so the first thing that you want to do is rinse it under cool running water. Then, I give it a gentle squeeze and lay it on a cutting board between two paper towels, pressing gently but firmly until most of the moisture comes out. It should feel like you are making love to the tofu, I promise. I'm not sure why you are supossed to do all of these things, I think that it's either to prep it to absorb flavors or maybe just so that it doesn't get mushy. The next thing I do is roll the tofu in a little cornstarch before cooking. It helps it get a nice crispy coating.

    Tofu n' Broccoli
    • 6 ounces of non-silken tofu, drained, pressed, cut into squares, and rolled in cornstarch
    • 1/4 c. water
    • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp. corn starch
    • 2 c. fresh broccoli
    Mix 2 tbsp. water, soy sauce, and cornstarch in a bowl.
    Coat a pan with nonstick cooking spray and drop the tofu into it. Let it cook a few minutes until it is golden brown and then flip and brown the other side.
    Add 1 1/2 tsp. of the soy sauce mixture to the pan along with the broccoli and the rest of the water.
    Stir-fry for 2 minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute.
    Add the remaining soy sauce mixture back into the pan, stir well to coat, and serve over rice, noodles, or by itself.

    Friday, May 28, 2010

    The Best Vegan Brunch Buffet in LA

    OK, to be fair, this is the only vegan brunch buffet that I have ever heard of in Los Angeles. However, if you haven't been out to Silverlake to try the Meet Market, I highly suggest going one Saturday or Sunday morning. They have pancakes, french toast, tempeh bacon, tofu scramble, breakfast potatoes, fruit, and unlimited coffee and orange juice. This is all for the ridiculously low price of $10 (that's less than 2 soy lattes at Urth Cafe for anyone who was counting).
    A few weeks ago, I convinced my friend to make the brave trek to Silverlake for brunch. I am slowly becoming one of those "west side people" who never makes it to the other side of the 405, but I had read about this brunch and knew that I had to try it.

    Thursday, May 27, 2010

    Quinoa Stuffed peppers

     Stuffed peppers are one of those Italian dishes that I always remember having around when I was a kid. Unfortunately, I refused to eat anything green, so I really missed out. Now that I'm older, I feel bad for my mom, because I was probably such a pain in the ass to feed. I'll try to do better with my kids, which I am not having for awhile, despite my sister passing on my mom's message to get to work on some grandkids. 
    So, I grew up in New Jersey, and while my personal affiliations lean more towards Irish, sometimes I feel like I should get some sort of honorary "guidette" award. This is probably a good time to make some comments on MTV's Jersey Shore. I watched a few episodes, mostly because everyone I know kept asking me if New Jersey was really that bad. I will say this: I grew up at the Jersey Shore and 90% of the wintertime population was completely normal. However, in the summer a lot of tourists from Northern Jersey and New York come down to live in the summer rentals. They turn our quiet, classy town into Ed Hardy central and their bars start pumping house music at 180dB. It would be easy for me to rag on them, but I am grateful to the Italians for bringing such good food over to America. So, I salute you and your forefathers with my recipe for quinoa-stuffed peppers. This dish is a great way to use up vegetables that you might have on hand near the end of your grocery cycle, or to use some things that have been hanging out in the freezer. It's also a nifty use of quinoa, which is probably one of my favorite superfoods.

    Wednesday, May 26, 2010

    Doctor, Doctor

    I am currently on my third day of the McDougall program. It’s a 12-day program focusing on starches, with fruits and vegetables playing important supporting roles. There are no meat or dairy products on the McDougall plan, so it’s very similar to veganism. However, the McDougall plan challenges us to make one major change in our lives: eliminating all oil.

    Why do we hate on oil? Well for starters oil is fat. Pure fat. Your body loves to store fat. Personally, my body prefers my abdominal region, but maybe your body favors the derrier or thighs. Maybe you just have a fat face. We are all different in this regard. According to Dr. McDougall, fat deprives cells of oxygen and produces free radicals. Basically fat is causing damage to your body.

    You may not buy into this, so let me spell it out very rationally. There are 120 calories in a tablespoon of oil. For 120 calories you could instead be eating:  17 cups of spinach, a small baked potato, over a cup of cornflakes, or 21 extra large strawberries. Out of these things, what is going to keep you full longer? What is going to be nutritionally dense enough to get your body the nutrition it needs? What is going to keep you from over-eating?

    I’m 3 days into the plan, and I have been amazed at how full I have felt. I feel like I’ve been gorging myself on whole wheat pasta, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and fruit. The amazing thing is that I am losing weight again, and I have been on a pretty solid plateau for over a month. I’m still 9 pounds away from my ultimate goal, and I’m planning on McDougalling my way there.

    The McDougall website has a lot of recipes on it, which I appreciate. My only gripe is that most of the recipes in the meal plan are pretty awful. It’s not that you can’t have delicious oil-free food, because you can. The cooking techniques, spices, and ingredient measures have been pretty off. Luckily, I’ve been able to catch most of them before or during cooking. Others I have had to suffer through. Check back often to see some of the things I’ve managed to come up with.



    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Strawberry Banana Pancakes

    I think that it's really commendable that I am so good at beating a dead horse re-inventing this vegan pancake recipe. At this point in the game, I'm doing it just to challenge myself and see just how versatile of a little recipe this is. Future implementations will include granola, chocolate (not chocolate chip, actual chocolate), and coconut macadamia. Maybe I should open up my own vegan pancake restaurant. I suppose that I would need some savory pancakes to round out my menu. I would also need capital: lots of capital. I've been toying lately with the idea of writing my own book. The concept would be a guide to healthy living, a way of turning your life around, through improving your diet, exercise, and lots of delicious and nutritious recipes. I worry that no one would want to buy it, so feel free to post reassuring comments about how you would buy two if you had the chance.
    The other day I ended up with a banana on the edge. You know what I'm talking about. The skin is starting to develop some brown splotches and you know that a matter of hours stand between you and a wasted quarter. I knew that I had to act fast. I really love bananas. The potassium in them is great for light-headedness, which I sometimes have a problem with. Some people argue that 100 calories for a piece of fruit is excessive. Those people are stupid, bananas are great, and here's a new recipe.

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Friendship Cookies...Oops

    So we took to the mean trails of Alta Dena with the LA Veggie Hikers. Always one to cause trouble, my boyfriend got into an minor altercation over a parking space. I will not comment on who was right or who was wrong.He pulled a U-turn to get into a parking space and someone in the car behind him pulled a U-turn to get into the same parking space. Looks were exchanged.
    Obviously someone in this relationship didn't get a check next to "plays well with others".Luckily for the both of us,  I got a check mark next to "seeks validation."
    Today I decided to bring along something delicious my favorite Los-Angeles based vegetarian hikers. I decided that cookies are hands down the best snack for the middle of a hike. Not only were they a great pick-me-up, they were also easy to carry in the rockin' backpack I got from work.
    I got to thinking about what went in to a good trail mix. I knew that I needed dried fruit and nuts, and I almost used chocolate chips. However, at the last minute I decided on carob chips instead. I'm big on the carob chips lately, because they are lower in fat and calories than chocolate. They also pack in more nutrition, and in a cookie the taste is indiscernible. <tangent> Whole Foods sometimes carries carob chips in the bulk section, but I found out the other day that they usually only have them during the holidays. It wasn't a big loss, though, because I did end up with a perfect excuse to visit the co-op. They not only had carob chips, but I also went home with some cinnamon bread made from wheat berries. This is going to be very important, as I am planning on going on the McDougall plan this week </tangent>. More on that later.
    I did not commit to a fruit/nut combination before going to the bulk section. Sometimes locking yourself in to a cookie filling can really backfire. So, I allowed the availability to be my guide and came up with some of the most delicious, moist, chewy vegan cookies I've ever had.

    Saturday, May 22, 2010

    Healthy Fried Ice Cream?!?

    I know what you're thinking right now: "What kind of drugs is she taking, or more importantly what kinds of drugs should she be taking?". I know it sounds crazy, because the term deep fried ice cream calls up visions of fatty frozen balls of ice cream rolled in a crunchy cinnamon mixture and deep fried in oil. I used to love me some deep fried ice cream, as you can see in this picture. You can also see my flabby arms and chubby little face. To channel my favorite vegan authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin would say: that is not the way to a sweet ass. Not only is that dessert as big as my head and following several margaritas, it's also a perfect storm of fat, milk (the intended purpose of which is to fatten baby cows), and tons and tons of sugar. However, it also tastes like heaven on earth, so I was in quite the conundrum the other day when I started craving it.
     Sometimes, part of being vegan is using a little ingenuity. I found a great recipe in a cookbook called College Vegetarian Cooking, which I picked up hoping to find some quick, easy, and tasty meal ideas. I was not disappointed, and they had a great recipe for what is essentially an ice cream cake with cornflakes on top of it. It was delicious, but their recipe still called for a bit more sugar than I would use and of course ice cream, so I made a few adjustments of my own and ended up with a delicious frozen treat.


    Friday, May 21, 2010

    Vamping on French Toast

    Being vegan doesn't always have to mean being healthy. In fact, I have seen a number of people who are vegan, but continue to eat shitty diets full of carbs and oils. So, this conception that all vegans are rail thin with perfect skin is not something that is always true. Although, it is something that this particular vegan aspires to, and 95% of the time, I eat meals that further this goal. On the other hand, sometimes it's the morning of my birthday and I feel entitled so something just a little more special.
    Before moving to West LA and becoming one of those people who needs to work up the motivation to journey east of La Cienega, I used to reside in uber-hip Los Feliz. Out of habit, I still go to the doctor over there every couple of months. I used to always round out the trip with a little visit to Fred 62, which used to be my favorite kitschy diner until I discovered Swingers' and her vegan pancakes.
    Fred's is a great place, if you are willing to look past a less than stellar wait-staff and the fact that sometimes you have to wait an hour for a table. The food is absolutely delicious, and one of my favorites was always the Bearded Mr. Frenchy, a french toast coated in corn flakes and then deep fried. Even before I went vegan, I felt that the dish was a little heavy, which means that to someone with normal taste buds, it probably tasted like a lard parade. Anyway,I made this special occasion-only breakfast in April when I wanted something absolutely bananas for my birthday.

    A joke I heard the other day.
    How many vegans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

    Answer: Two. One to change the lightbulb and one to read the ingredients. Ba-dum-ba. Here's the recipe.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    Good Date, Good Risotto

     I was really hoping to put together a bitter, man-hating cookbook full of vegan recipes and bad date stories. To further that goal, I had a friend over to cook risotto, play scrabble, and drink a bunch of red wine. Secretly, I think I was hoping for some fantastic story about burning down my apartment or him spilling red wine all over my carpet. It would have been great if he got belligerently drunk and had to be forcibly removed from my apartment. Unfortunately, all that happened was that we made a killer risotto and I got my ass kicked in Scrabble. I suppose I could always do a chapter on good dates and good recipes, but I'm not sure how many of the 23 dates I went on between January and May would make it into that category.
    So, it looks like it's back to the drawing board on the whole cook-book concept, but there's more than one reason behind that. I can save all that for another post, in the meantime, let's get down to the risotto.
    A risotto is created by gently pan-frying grains of aborrio rice and then slowly adding liquid to the rice as it cooks. The secret to risotto is that you have to stand there and stir the rice almost constantly for about 20 minutes. That's what makes risotto the perfect date meal, because you can do all of the exciting work and then make your date stand at the stove and stir it for you. I actually busied myself about the task of making vegan brownies, but it is entirely possible to make up a task on the far side of the kitchen, and as long as it is more interesting than stirring, you would be coming out ahead. Now, this can probably blow up in your face if your date doesn't know what they are doing. It's amazing sometimes how people manage to screw up the simplest things. I was lucky enough to leave my risotto in competent hands and we were rewarded with a risotto so rich and creamy that it's hard to believe it's actually vegan. The mushrooms and peas in this recipe pack in a solid serving of vegetables and the spices that we ended up using were delicious, if a little unconventional. I paired the risotto with a salad, although I suppose you could use it as a side dish. However, it's so delicious that you won't want to touch anything else on your plate and so filling that you don't need anything else for a perfect meal, except maybe some witty banter and a nice glass of pinot noir?

    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    My First Time

    The other day I was sifting through my desk at work, and somehow a recipe had gotten trapped in a folder full of very project management important documents. It was a hand-written copy of my very first vegan recipe. My younger sister went vegan when I was in college. I believe that she ran into some "vegangelists " at a concert and was quickly converted over to a plant-based diet. I am not proud of the fact that I was not as understanding as I should have been. It just seemed so foreign to me that she would choose to avoid all animal products. Plus, she's always been thin and gorgeous, so the benefits to her appearance were not as evident as they were on someone like me. Now I realize that she had it right back then. One Christmas I went home and, as a show of good faith, baked vegan pumpkin muffins for breakfast. Even though I wasn't sold on the whole "vegan thing" at the time, I do remember very distinctly that these muffins were more delicious than I thought they would have been.
    I've tweaked the recipe just a little bit, because it did include a fair bit of sugar and fat. I left out some of the sugar, which leads to a spicier muffin, and replaced most of the fat with applesauce. Applesauce is hands-down the best fat replacer when it comes to breakfast breads. It keeps them moist and delicious without adding unnecessary inches to your waistline. These muffins are really delicious and perfect for a chilly morning, or, if you live in Southern California like me, just any time that you get a craving for some pumpkin awesomeness.

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    Potato Pancakes

    One of my favorite Easter memories dates back to my senior year in highschool, when my friends Phil, Siobhan, and I made potato pancakes over Easter break. We used Phil's mom's recipe and ended up with what I remember to be about 3 million potato pancakes. They were delicious, but we deep fried them in oil, which is fine when you have a 17 year old metabolism, but not now. I have also been known to frequent the Red Lion in Silverlake, an open-air beer garden where the hefeweizen is cold and the potato pancakes are delicious (but so not vegan and so not low-fat).
    After having some success with the idea of baked eggplant Parmesan, I wanted to try something similar with potato pancakes. Taking the eggs out of the mix created a binding issue, so I used a batter-like mixture to hold it all together. By broiling the pancakes and brushing oil on top, I got the crunch that comes from a good potato pancake with a very small amount of the fat. Also, I pre-cooked my onions, because I hate the taste of raw onions, which you can easily get stuck with if your pancakes aren't well-cooked all the way through.


    Friday, May 14, 2010

    Pumpkin Pancakes

    On Easter, I left my comfortable sanctum of the west side and made the drive over to Silverlake to try  out the Meet Market's much-buzzed about vegan brunch buffet. I was particularly impressed by the  pancakes, which were spicy and sweet and had the distinct hint of cinnamon. I spent most of the ride back pondering what might have made those particular pancakes so special. It wasn't until I got back home that it hit me. A little light bulb went off over my head, and if I were a comic book character, my thought bubble would have been flashing "pumpkin" in some sort of comic sans font. On my next Whole Foods trip, I picked up a can of organic pumpkin puree. I like that Whole Foods stocks pumpkin puree all year long, whereas Trader Joes will usually on carry it seasonally. Libby's makes an organic 100% pure pumpkin puree, but to buy that I would have to go to a Ralphs or Albertsons. Similar to my failed experiment with adult education classes, I do not do well when I venture out into the general populace. More on that particular quirk of mine later.
    I was very pleased with how these pancakes turned out. They are slightly denser and thicker than "the pancakes", which would make them perfect for a hearty fall breakfast. I know it's a bit early to plan for these things, but I will probably whip these babies up for Thanksgiving.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Light and Refreshing Fruit Salad

    Is this really a recipe? I guess that I'm not sure. I think that on a very technical level, any time you put together more than 3 or 4 ingredients, it can be considered some kind of a recipe. Also, my fruit salad is more than just a couple of pieces of fruit cut up and thrown in a bowl. It has a very secret, very special dressing that is chock full of cinnamon. When I make it in the afternoon, I use champagne, but when I make it for breakfast, I use orange or pomegranate juice or whatever juice I have laying around. Obviously, such a fancy dressing gives this fruit salad a wow factor that makes me look brilliant and the people around me look very satiated.

    Fruit Salad "Recipe"
    4 cups of assorted fruit. I like apples, strawberries, and bananas. You can get exotic and use kiwis or even throw in some berries, it's up to you.
    1/4 c. fruit juice or champagne
    1 tbsp. cinnamon
    1 tbsp. agave
    I'm not going to belittle you with instructions, just be sure to mix the dressing before you toss it with the fruit.

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    Tofu Curry

    I've said it before and I will say it again. I have recently become obsessed with Indian food, and it's not just because I'm trying to use the huge jar of curry powder I bought. Since so many Indian recipes are already vegetarian, it's really easy to adapt them to be completely vegan. Plus, the spice and strong flavors are a nice break from my staple convenience foods like salads, veggie burgers and "quesadaiyas".
    Tangent: I think it's important for everyone to have a couple of go-to dishes that require little to no cooking and can be put together in a matter of minutes. It's what keeps me from breaking down and running to the nearest drive-thru. However, any really healthy lifestyle does require commitment to the kitchen. It's not easy to come up with new, nutritionally balanced meals every week. I feel like I dedicate a lot of time to researching and building recipes, and that's before I even set foot in the kitchen.
    I just felt like I had to vent my semi-frustration with everyone out there, because I don't want to come off as some sort of preacher. The next time that you are stressing out about meal planning, or feel like you spend too much time in the kitchen, just know that I have been there too. The bottom line, though, is that we spent a lot of time doing a lot of things: working, hanging out with friends, running errands, etc., and it's just as important to spend time nourishing and strengthening our bodies. So, here's a recipe that I came up with so you wouldn't have to.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010

    Vegan Cinco de Mayo

    I was never a huge fan of Mexican food, and would eat it every once in a while, despite living at the epicenter of Americanized-Mexican food. Most Mexican restaurants put chicken stock and/or cheese in just about everything, and I had no problem giving them up when I went vegan. However, sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder. As a result, when Cinco de Mayo started looming closer, I started thinking about a taco night. I was planning on being at work pretty late tonight, so I celebrated Cinco de Mayo eve last night. Please note that in some regions, it is referred to as Quatro de Mayo, and some may just know it by it's more commonly occurring instance: Taco Tuesday. I enlisted the help of a talented and capable sous chef to help bring my vision into being.
    Trader Joe's has great fat-free vegan refried beans, and we jazzed them up by heating them and then mixing in about a quarter cup of cheddar daiya. They may look a little weird coming out of the can, and fresh beans would always be preferable, but as a quick side dish, they cannot be topped. Unless of course, you are also making Spanish rice. Usually I will cook brown rice in vegetable stock, but last night I also cheated and used pre-cooked brown rice, which I mixed with some sauteed onions, garlic, vegetable broth, and half a can of crushed tomatoes. We just set that on medium heat and let the liquid cook off. We took quite a few shortcuts last night, but I feel like we illustrated a very important point: it is possible to cook a quick and healthy dinner on a week night. Plus, it was delicious.
    I rounded out the menu with mushroom tacos, home-made pico de gallo, and guacamole. My guacamole recipe is very simple. Take an avocado and mash it with a tablespoon of lime juice and a touch of garlic salt. That's all you need. Avocado is delicious on it's own, and if you think you need to muck it up with a bunch of other things, you are sadly mistaken. If you need to be fancy, you can garnish it with a sprig of cilantro. Otherwise, you can find an outlet for your fancy cooking by referring to the recipe that follows.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    Mixing the Mean Trails of Runyon Canyon

    Way back in March, I went on my first hike with my new veggie hiking group. They were a great bunch and we took sort of an urban hike through the streets of Beachwood Canyon where we saw some great architecture.  I have a tendency to get really "into" things, and my hiking excursion was no different. In addition to packing a hat, extra water, and a first aid kit, I also brought along a brown paper bag filled with delicious vegan trail mix. A hike isn't the same without trail mix. I was so into the whole Saturday hiking idea and it was so beautiful outside, that I followed up the hike with a second hike in Runyon Canyon Park. A few years ago, my friends and I got hopelessly lost trying to find Runyon Canyon Park. In retrospect, it wasn't nearly as cool as we thought it was going to be. There were a lot of dogs and a lot of trail runners. I have nothing against dogs on trails, but trail runners drive me nuts. I'm like a spooked horse every time one of them whizzes by. Also, I have a problem when dog owners don't pick up after their pets and the entire park starts to smell like a giant horse stall. On the up side though, there were some great views of the city.
    More relevant to my readers than the views, I made a really exciting trail mix for this hike. For me, a good trail mix has 3-4 main components. The compulsory components are granola, fruit, and nuts. You should include one thing from each category. The fourth component is more optional, and it varies from trail mix to trail mix. For our purposes, we can call it the "yum factor". It's usually something along the lines of chocolate or carob bits, and its job is to bring the outfit all together. In this trail mix, I used a hint of bourbon vanilla extract and plenty of cinnamon. The cinnamon and vanilla take this particular trail mix to a whole new level. You could probably use regular vanilla extract, but I would only do it if you were looking for an excuse to chase the trail mix with bourbon.


    Monday, May 3, 2010

    Does Your Mother Know What You're Up To?

    Follow me here: Abba Reference -> Mamma Mia Reference -> Greek Recipe
    Gyros are something that I never liked as a non-vegan. I had never even tried one, so it was puzzling when I found myself craving them a few weeks ago. I've also been making it a point to expand my main dish repertoire. Sure, I give good breakfast, but a girl has to diversify. Also, I've been bringing my lunch to work every day, so I'm always looking for something that I can bring in and assemble quickly. I suppose you could assemble these at home without the soy-yogurt sauce, but even then I would worry about my pita getting soggy. As it was, I toasted the pita lightly and packed everything separately. The picture to the right is from when I made them at home for dinner. I don't want anyone accusing me of doctoring blog photos.
    Originally I wanted to use seitan for this recipe, but Trader Joes was fresh out and I did not feel like making a trip to Whole Foods, so I ended up with beef strips. After relaying the recipe to a friend, I was informed that TJ's beef strips are actually Morning Star beef strips. Morning Star discontinued them, but Trader Joe's sells them under different packaging. It's funny to me how elusive some vegan food can be. These beef strips are shrouded in mystery. It really goes to show how far we vegans are willing to go in pursuit of a good meal.

    Saturday, May 1, 2010

    Pumpkin Pie Wontons

    Sure, every good food blogger has a pumpkin recipe that they save and publish in the fall, when pumpkin is a staple on American dinner tables. Not me. I'm a loner Dottie, a rebel, and that means posting my pumpkin pie wonton recipe in May. It also means making my pumpkin pie wontons whenever I want, and just because I love pumpkin. I first used this recipe to bring to a New Years Eve party, and the filling was a hit, but the actual wontons tasted like crap. This is because I tried to make my own wonton wrappers, which was a mistake because I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't really have a choice at the time, because both Trader Joes and Whole Foods were sans-wonton wrappers. Literally 2 days after I couldn't find them anywhere, I saw an entire display of asian wrappers at Ralphs of all places. So, you don't have to go to any kind of a fancy store to find your wonton wrappers, you just have to carefully check the label to make sure that there aren't any little baby animals or baby animal derivatives in them.
    These wontons are super easy to make, except the assembly which can be a little tedious. If you can, I would reccomend engaging a qualified sous chef to assist.

    Pumpkin Pie Wontons
    1 c. canned pumpkin
    2 tbsp. maple syrup
    3 tbsp. brown sugar
    1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
    16 wonton wrappers
    cinnamon sugar for dusting (you can make your own with 2 parts cinnamon and 1 part raw sugar)
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
    Mix pumpkin, maple syrup, sugar, and pie spice.
    Spoon 1 tsp. into the center of each wonton wrapper. Fold in half an moisten the edges to seal.
    Arrange on an ungreased cookie sheet and spray with cooking spray.
    Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over each wonton.
    Bake for 16 minutes, or until wontons are a golden brown.
    Flip them over and bake for 2 more minutes, then let cool completely.

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    Sausage Fest: How Many Sexual Innuendos Can I Fit in One Post

    OK so maybe my life is about the farthest thing from a sausage fest, in the sense that I can't seem to keep  a man around long enough to make it to dessert.  On the other hand, if platonic male friends count, then call me Jodi Maroni and welcome to my sausage kingdom. I suppose that this is all material I should be saving for the book I'm working on. It's going to be a collection of recipes and the bad date stories that accompany them. Currently up for inclusion: bad date stir fry, let's just be friends lasagna, and breakup pancakes. Don't worry boys, all the names and faces will be changed to protect the innocent.
    I'm a big fan of Tofurkey's Tomato Basil Sausage, and I am trying to be better about buying local produce. The Venice Whole Foods is really good about having a separate "locally grown" produce section. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the produce in that section was cheaper than it would regularly be, and it was very refreshing to go into a Whole Foods and not feel like I was being asked to drop trou and bend over. So, even though I was originally looking for green bell peppers, I ended up with a lovely (and affordable) carton of sweet yellow and red peppers. This recipe is for one, but could easily be stretched into two meals by addition of some pasta or vegan sandwich rolls.

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    Whole Foods Bulk Section

    The Venice Whole Foods is a carnival of wonder and magic, or at least I like to think so. They have a wine-tasting bar, a salad bar with tons of vegan options, vegan pizza, vegan chocolate truffles, grind-your-own coffee, cool cosmetics, daiya cheese, and more. Sometimes, I will invent something that I "need" from the store just to have an excuse to wander the aisles. Currently, my favorite part of my favorite grocery store is the bulk foods section. There are containers upon containers of dried fruits, nuts, flour, and grains. I love being able to sample a little or something, or to get just what I need for a recipe. It's much cheaper when cooking for one, and less food goes to waste. I hate having to throw out food because it spoiled while waiting for me to cook with it.
    The flour selection in the bulk foods aisle is a baker's wet dream. I can buy just enough of a new flour for a recipe and get to experiment without committing to an entire bag of something that might not work out. Also, since I transfer my dry goods into jars as soon as I get them home anyway, I'm saving money, trees, and landfill space by buying these things in a little plastic bag instead of some elaborate packaging. Whole Foods is nice enough to provide twist-tie labels and pens, and I love any excuse to use my Catholic-school handwriting. So far I have tried whole wheat pastry flour and white spelt flour. I'm looking forward to trying the blue corn flour and making blue corn pancakes, or maybe even my own tortillas. I also love being able to buy just enough nuts for a recipe, like when I made my almond crumble for blueberry muffins. I don't really eat nuts on their own, so it's good to just get what I need right at that moment.
    There is one more really amazing thing about the bulk foods aisle, and that is the fact that you can press your own peanut butter! Yes, that's right, 100% natural peanut butter that you grind yourself. The ingredient list is simple: peanuts, and it's really fresh and delicious. I personally went for the chocolate peanut butter machine, and enjoyed it spread on rice cakes for a week.