Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Special Vegan with a Vengeance Dessert

Last night, a couple we like but with whom we have rarely connected, invited us over for an impromptu dinner. They asked if I would mind bringing dessert. Would I mind? I spend half my waking hours thinking about dessert, so I was thrilled!

I had just one evening to decide what to make and seriously considered picking up something at my favorite local bakery, Sugar, Butter, Flour. But then I picked up Vegan with a Vengeance. This is a terrific book written by the reigning queen of vegan punk-dom, Isa Chandra Moskowitz. It's filled with easy, appealing recipes and, so far, I haven't found a dud among them.

When I saw the recipe for no-bake black bottom peanut butter silk pie, I knew I had to make it. There's no dairy -- no cream, no eggs, no butter -- and you'll never miss it. It's a heady mix of peanut butter creme, chocolate wafer cookies, and semi-sweet chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger) that will send your taste buds soaring.

Here I am, the proud mommie...

And the Oscar goes to...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Gracias Madre

There's nothing like a new restaurant to perk up my day and I recently got treated to one of the best!

Gracias Madre is a brand, spanking-new vegan restaurant in the Mission District of San Francisco. Located on Mission St. near 18th, Gracias Madre is at the center of the Mission's hustle and bustle. But from the iron security grating to its spare but warm dining room, the place is an island of calm. At least, that's what we found when we arrived for an early lunch on the restaurant's second day.

The menu, which is the same at both lunch at dinner, offers Mexican food's greatest hits done up with the best ingredients and a vegan flair.

To start, we shared a plate of roasted cauliflower drizzled with a vegan nut-based cheeze and topped with crisp bread crumbs. Halfway through it, I was overcome by the desire to suck my thumb and curl up in a corner. Such comfort.

To go with it, we each had a mandarin orange aqua fresca. Gracias Madre's version was like drinking a ray of sunshine. Really. I was running very low blood sugar when we got there and this drink was exactly what I needed. Be forewarned: this kind of refreshment comes at a price, $7 dollars to be exact. If the world really, truly wants organic produce, then get used to things like a $7 dollar glass of juice. (Besides, it's no more expensive than a margarita -- something we definitely don't need in greater supply.)

My dish was a Mexican Christmastime favorite, a tamale. Gracias Madre's version was a handmade treat, filled with smooth butternut squash filling. Its mild flavor played well with the tasty pickled veggie salad, a Mexican restaurant staple that I usually avoid, but found irresistible here.

My husband, Mr. Veg, ordered his personal favorite, Chiles Rellenos. His take was two beautiful poblano peppers stuffed with a medley of fresh veggies and topped with a light-colored sauce. The mixture was delicious and mild in my mouth but left a spicy aftertaste.

I'd love to show you pictures of the meal, but -- nightmare of food bloggers' nightmares -- I was so caught up in the meal that I forgot to take pictures. 'Guess you just have to go there yourself to fully appreciate the attractive, unpretentious presentation (and the hand-pressed blue corn tortillas).

By the time we left, business had picked up considerably. Even when they're busy, Gracias Madre retains a sense of sanity -- something that's so often missing. The proprietors also own Cafe Gratitude, a terrific local raw-foods place with multiple Bay Area locations. Cafe Gratitude's positive vibe buzzes here, too, so on many levels, you'll be happy you came.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Waffles for Christmas Brunch

Christmas at our house is not generally a big affair. Aar and I exchange presents on Christmas Eve night and celebrate both Christmas and the day before with special meals. This year, that meant gingerbread waffles and winter fruit salad when we got home from the gym.

This is the first recipe I've tried from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's book, Vegan Brunch. If you've read the front matter in her other books, you know that she considers herself something of a legend for serving outstanding brunches to her friends when she lived in New York City. If these waffles are any example, her claims are true.

I'm no food photographer or stylist and even my best waffles look as though I studied at the Salvador Dali culinary school, but still, they're delicious.

The waffles are redolent of cinnamon, cloves, fresh ginger, and molasses. They're not quite as crispy as waffles made with eggs, but I can assure you that the texture did not deter me from inhaling more than four of them (that's where lost count). Aar made a spectacular winter fruit salad containing apples, persimmons, pomegranate arils, clemintines, and banana and of course, the whole thing was doused in maple syrup. On the side, Lightlife's Smart Links. Every bit as good as their porky counterpart without laying a finger on a single pig. No cholesterol either! The whole thing adds up to a very merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Wonderful World of Soy Crumbles

If you'd like to reduce the amount of meat in your diet, but aren't quite sure what to start with, try making a casserole using soy crumbles. As you might know, soy can take a lot of forms, including tofu, milk, burgers, and tempeh. Crumbles are just another permutation of this flexible, protein-rich bean.

Resembling ground beef in look and texture with a somewhat meaty taste, crumbles are a pre-cooked, no-cholesterol swap for the real thing that you can use in burritos, spaghetti sauce -- even shepherd's pie -- with absolutely no risk of E.-coli contamination.

One of my favorite ways to use soy crumbles is in Hungry Girl's Hot Tamale Pie. (Scroll a bit; it's the third recipe down.) It uses several convenience foods to their best advantage, delivering a delicious, quick casserole.

These days, most grocery stores, including Trader Joe's, sell soy crumbles. Among the makers are Morningstar Farms, Boca, Yves, and LightLife.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Health Magazine's Easy Granola

Making holiday sweets for my friends is something of a tradition for me, but one close friend, A., is diabetic. I don't want to interfere with her regimen by presenting her with sugary treats, so this year, I'm making her some granola. The oats, nuts, and seeds metabolize more slowly than straight white sugar and flour, so even though it is sweet (mine contains maple syrup, dark agave syrup, and dried fruit), it won't cause her blood sugar to spike.

I am a rabid recipe clipper and I found this granola recipe in Health magazine's October 2009 issue. It was contributed by British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and you can get it here.

The beauty of granola is that no two batches are alike. This time, I put in walnuts, chopped almonds, and pecans. I also added sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds to the mix and a couple bags of mixed dried fruit. But you can use any fruits, nuts, and seeds you like. Pine nuts, hazelnuts, poppy seeds, raisins, dried apricots -- the sky is the limit and Jamie's recipe allows for improvising.

Granola isn't the only healthy sweet you can make for your loved ones. Bran muffins and banana bread made with whole wheat flour have also been a hit with my friends. And who wouldn't enjoy a gift card to Jamba Juice or Whole Foods? Have an oatmeal lover in your life? Make them a gift basket with a couple different kinds of oats (for example, steel cut and thick cut), a variety of sweeteners such as agave syrup and apple butter, and a sampling of exotic dried fruits. 'Healthy' and 'treat' don't have to be mutually exclusive terms!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Roasting Brussels Sprouts

If you don't like Brussels sprouts, you haven't tried them roasted. On the West Coast, they're a real taste of the season. Here's how to roast 'em:

1. Preheat your oven to 425F.

2. Select the best Brussels sprouts you can find. We found this beautiful stalk -- about three pounds worth of perfect, tight-leaved, deep green mini-cabbages -- at the farmers' market. To remove them, just pop them off the stalk. No sweat.

3. Prep them. To do this, first I slice off 1/16" off the bottom stem. Be careful, though. You don't want to completely slice off that stem because it holds all the leaves together. Having trimmed the stem, cut an X into the bottom. Two reasons for doing this: first, it allows you to clean the inner leaves. Second, by exposing the inside, it helps the sprouts to cook faster.

Once you've trimmed and X-ed the sprouts, wash them. Usually, I'm pretty lax about washing my fruit and vegetables; just a quick rinse and I'm done. Recently, however, I found Environne fruit and vegetable wash and now I swear by it. Environne can coax out the finest grit and the tiniest bugs without leaving any residue, taste, or smell.

So put a small squeeze of Environne into a large bowl. Fill with water and drop in the sprouts. Let them soak for around 15 minutes, then rinse well.

 4. Oil and season them. This step is simple and even fun! Put a tablespoon or so of olive oil into a large Ziploc bag. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill bag with roughly a dozen sprouts, close the zipper, then mush it around to coat those precious little globes of green.

5. Place the sprouts on a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat. Put them into your preheated oven.

6. Bake for about half an hour, til the outer leaves have browned. Don't fuss over them. Just let them roast in peace. You'll be richly rewarded.

If you don't love 'em roasted, then you're incapable of appreciating this humble but delicious vegetable. Fortunately, you can use this method on any cruciferous vegetable. On Friday night, I'll be roasting some broccoli and cauliflower.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hey Butterfly - You Won!

Congratulations to Butterfly, who won the Moosewood Restaurant Farm Fresh Meals recipe deck. The deck has 50 recipes organized by season. Here's the dish, cranberry bulgur pilaf, I made to accompany the stuffed squash I made for Thanksgiving. It's tasty, high in fiber, and has a lower glycemic index than most starchy holiday side dishes.

Cranberry Bulgur Pilaf
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 c chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
dash of salt
1 orange, plus juice to make 1/2 c
1/2 tsp. crumbled dried rosemary (1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh)
1 1/2 c medium to light bulgur
1 1/2 c water or vegetable broth
1/2 c dried cranberries, currants, or raisins, chopped
1 T soy sauce, more to taste
1 T lemon juice, more to taste
2/3 c chopped toasted pecans, walnuts, or almonds (optional)

In a saucepan on medium heat, warm the oil, add the onions and garlic, sprinkle with salt, and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. While the onions cook, grate the orange peel and juice the orange.

Add the rosemary, orange zest, and bulgur to the onions and cook for a minute, stirring. Add the orange juice, water or broth, and dried cranberries, cover, and cook on low heat until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. If the bulgur is still crunchy, add 1/4 c of hot water and cook a few minutes longer. Remove from heat. Stir in the soy sauce and lemon juice. Add the nuts if you like, and more soy sauce and/or lemon juice to taste.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Quorn and Moosewood Giveaways

I like to keep the holiday spirit alive throughout the winter holidays, not just on the big eating days. Because I don't eat animal flesh or drink milk and limit how much yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and eggs I eat, I can party-up my meals without gaining a lot of weight. Sort of. (OK, so I'm dangerous around candy, ice cream, and baked goods.)

Anyhow, you'll find that going meatless during the holidays -- even at just one meal each week between Thanksgiving and New Year's -- offers infinite variety as well as a tasty, humane change of pace. Here's a 'chik'n' dinner I made recently that celebrates the season without going overboard on fat and calories.

Chik'n Nuggets by Quorn. I don't actually know what McNuggets taste like, but Quorn nuggets are simply delicious. The taste and texture is remarkably like chicken and the breading belies the fact that they're baked in the oven rather than fried. At 180 calories for 4 nuggets, this delightful little finger food is a calorie-watcher's pal. As to the dipping sauce, we ditched the ranch dressing, substituting jalapeno chutney for a more grown-up taste.

Cranberry bulgur pilaf. Bulgur (aka cracked wheat -- the stuff you use to make tabouli) plays an unexpected but welcome supporting role in this meal. The dish is seasoned with orange, rosemary, and dried cranberries. The rosemary is aromatic and a good foil for the sweetness of the berries. Note, though, that if you're making the dish ahead of time or serving it cold, you should add the rosemary immediately before serving. The flavor doesn't stand up to reheating or refrigerating.

You can have them both! I'm thrilled to offer one lucky reader an assortment from Quorn that includes a sample of every product they make! On the blog, I've reviewed their chik'n tenders, turk'y burgers, and now the chik'n nuggets and my taste buds stand behind every one. One lucky person will receive a sample each of their 12 products, shipped in coolers with ice packs to keep them cold. (BTW, Quorn products are meat free and soy free, but not vegan.)

I'm also happy to be giving away Moosewood Restaurant Farm Fresh Meals recipe deck, a package containing 50 of the Moosewood collective's newest recipes for every season. This is where I found the bulgur recipe. You'll also find dishes like sweet potato-stuffed eggplant, mediterranean orange and olive salad, and brussels sprouts with chestnut beurre blanc.

To have a chance at winning one of the prizes, simply register as one of Ms. Veggie's followers, then post a comment indicating so (don't forget your name, too). I'll choose two random numbers using and the writers of the corresponding comments will share in the loot! I'll take entries until Saturday, December 5 at noon Pacific time.