Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gingersnap-Mango-Coconut Icebox Cake

Hi all! Back again from yet another hiatus. But I have a good excuse this time! In addition to the chaos and craziness that is raising two small children, my 10 year old laptop died. Yep, 10 years old. That's like, a million years in computer age. It was so old and crappy it would have made a dial-up modem look fast. The "g" key didn't work so I had to cut and paste a "g" every time I typed one. That is a serious pain in the ass for someone with a vegan blog. But I'm back up and running now! My wonderful husband got me a new computer for my birthday with a great big beautiful screen and now I am doing a happy dance and so inspired and motivated to get back to blogging with regularity. Look at all those g's I just typed! Without cutting and pasting a single one! You have no idea how happy it makes me.

So, something else that starts with G (I am watching way too much Sesame Street these days) is Gingersnap! 'Tis the season for gingersnap cookies, one of my favorites among all the cookies. I found this recipe for a Gingersnap-Mango Icebox Cake in Food Network Magazine, which yes, I do buy occasionally, so don't judge. It captured my attention with the combination of tropical coconut and mango, which of course pair wonderfully with spicy ginger, and I immediately wanted to veganize it. It seemed like a perfect holiday dessert, with a fresh tropical twist. The original recipe make a long, log-shaped "cake," but I thought it would be just as easy and even prettier to make these parfait-style, which is what I did.

This recipe also caught my attention because it gave me a perfect use for one of the best new vegan products I've tried in a long time, which is So Delicious' new CocoWhip Coconut Whipped Topping. This stuff is amazing! I have a really, really hard time not just eating it out of the container with a spoon. It's like Cool Whip except a million, trillion times better. It definitely does have a light coconut flavor though, which I love, but if you're not a coconut fan, or if coconut somehow doesn't go with the other flavors in your recipe, then consider yourself warned. And yes, there are a million recipes out there to make your own coconut whipped topping, like this one, and while it is great to make your own, sometimes you forget to put a can in the refrigerator to chill overnight or sometimes you don't have time to whip up your own because your toddler is busy destroying something/trying to strangle his baby sister, and you just want to open up a giant tub of the stuff and eat all the stress away have it ready, without any more work.

So back to icebox cakes. If you are not familiar, icebox cakes are generally made with alternating layers of cookies and whipped cream, then refrigerated overnight (i.e. put in the icebox) so that the cookies soften and become cake-like. Generally these are perfect summer desserts when it's too hot to turn on the oven, but this particular recipe includes gingersnaps, which are more ubiquitous around the winter holidays. It couldn't be any easier to make, so easy in fact that it barely warrants a recipe, but the only hard part is waiting several hours before you can eat it. Trust me, it is so worth the wait. These were so easy and so delicious (ha, see what I did there?) that this will definitely be one of my go-to desserts now. A very good thing.

So this recipe is just a general guideline, how I made my version. Obviously, the amounts will vary if you use different sized cookies, or different sized serving glasses, etc. Basically, just layer the whipped cream topping and the cookies, then top with the toasted coconut and mango, per instructions below. Easy peasy.

Gingersnap-Mango-Coconut Icebox Cake
adapted from this recipe

Serves 5-6

1 9-oz container So Delicious CocoWhip Coconut Whipped Topping
1 9-oz box of Back to Nature Triple Ginger Cookies*
1/2 cup unsweetened large coconut flakes
1 ripe mango
juice from 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp. sugar
pinch of salt

1. Spread about 1 Tbsp. of CocoWhip on the bottom of each serving glass. Make a layer of cookies, then spread a layer of CocoWhip, and repeat, until your glass is nearly full, leaving room at the top for the coconut and mango topping (I used about 6-8 cookies per glass). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 350°. Spread the coconut flakes in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake about 5 minutes, until just barely golden. Let cool completely.

3. Peel, pit and dice the mango. Toss with lime juice, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle the toasted coconut on top of each serving glass, then top with mango. Enjoy. 

*Obviously, use whatever brand of vegan gingersnap cookie you prefer, or that you can find, but I really love these cookies because of the extra-gingery kick and the chunks of crystallized ginger in them.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sneak Peek at Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking!

A few posts back I promised you a preview of some recipes I've been testing for Annie Shannons' next cookbook, which is titled Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking, and is due out next summer. This will be the follow up to their bestseller Betty Goes Vegan, and it promises over 200 budget-friendly, home-made, seriously delicious recipes. Whereas Betty taught its readers how to use many of those delightful vegan products on the market, Mastering the Art will teach you how to make many of those ingredients yourself, as affordably and efficiently as possible. I'm definitely excited for it. 

It's not available yet for pre-order and I can't share any recipes with you just yet, so here's just a sneak peek of what you can expect: 

Yankee Pot Roast Dinner

This homemade seitan "pot roast" with vegetables brought me right back to my parents' Sunday pot roast dinners. It was a seriously nostalgic experience for me. The "roast" is incredibly flavorful and juicy, is perfect with the potatoes and carrots, but also makes enough for you to slice up the leftovers for sandwiches, or you could also cut it into cubes for a pasta sauce, or stirfry, or anything else you could think of. Really delicious and most of all, surprisingly easy to make. I was kind of dreading the work of preparing a "Sunday dinner" but this took very little effort for astoundingly good results. 

Roasted Red Flannel Hash

This recipe should be called Magic Flannel Hash, because it made a beet lover out of me. I've mentioned before on this blog that I'm not a big fan of beets, yet I keep trying to eat them because beets are good for you, yadda yadda yadda. But I loved this recipe! Apparently roasting and seasoning them well is the secret. Together with the roasted new potatoes and kale, this combination was a winner. I served this up for brunch with a tofu scramble and it was perfect. 

Chocolate Chip and Banana Brownie Cookies

I don't think my photo does these cookies justice. You can't really see the chocolate chips or the amazing banana-ness in these beauties. Let me just tell you that these are perfectly chewy, chocolatey, banana-y, sinfully good cookies. Trust me. 

Vegan Cheese Party Pizza

This recipe was the sleeper hit for me. Yeah, it's basically a cheese platter (cheese, dried fruit, nuts, olives, etc) on pizza dough, but this is one of those things where the final product is so much more than the sum of its parts. It includes three kinds of "cheese" - a homemade cashew-based cheese (just a small amount, because cashews are pricey), and a smattering of store-bought mozzarella and gouda. But just a smattering because those cheeses are, again, pricey, and you don't want to use an entire package for just one recipe. In addition to the cheeses the pizza is topped with sliced pear, dried apricots, Kalamata olives, sliced almonds, and red grapes. I used an herb focaccia crust from Trader Joe's. The combinations of savory and sweet, crunchy and chewy was divine. I really loved this pizza and would definitely make it again. 

So like I said, I am really excited with what I've seen so far from this book. Those of you who loved Betty will love this book, and those of you who thought that Betty included too many processed ingredients and wished for more home-made ones, well you will love this book too. Promise. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Highlights from The Seed: A Vegan Experience

This past weekend I made it out to The Seed, an event for "vegan exploration," featuring a myriad of food vendors, live speakers and cooking demos, screenings, animal activist groups, natural living and cruelty-free vendors, and more. It was fantastic to see so many vegans and vegan-curious people gathered in one space, and naturally, there were plenty of delicious bites to be had. I didn't take photos of all the tables, because that would have been exhausting (plus I was carrying one infant + one large diaper bag), but I did capture my favorite eats of the day. Because we all know I was just there for the food.

The mind-blowingly delicious Beyond Sushi was on site, with both sample bites and full rolls available for purchase. I contemplated returning to their table in multiple disguises so I could just keep getting free samples, but I figured they'd still recognize the baby. Just look at all those rolls on display, that they cruelly tell you not to eat. I could massacre that mountain of sushi, but I'm vegan, and I don't believe in violence.

These sushi rolls are works of art. A must-eat when in NYC!

Another favorite of mine is the Regal Vegan, maker of the famous Faux Gras and Basilicotta. They had a selection of sandwiches (Kale Au Jus, Bahn Mi, and the "Deluxe" - Faux Gras, brussels sprouts, and fresh figs), a raw zucchini pasta with their new Superfood Pesto, and a Mediterranean-style Vegetable Pie. Yum.

You can count on The Regal Vegan for a good spread.

I was excited to see Vegan Divas there. I am rarely in the Upper East Side, so I have not yet made it to their storefront, but I recently got their cookbook and I LOVE it. Very inspiring, decadent, yet fairly easy to make recipes, mostly sweets but some nice light lunch ideas as well. They were giving out samples of their incredibly rich and moist brownies and mini donuts. 

These divas know what they are doing.

Truth be told, I didn't discover a whole lot of new things at The Seed, and I was starting to feel a little "been there, done that," about the event. One vendor that I did discover, though, was this Nicobella organic chocolate company. They had a selection of truffles with interesting flavors like pumpkin chai, blueberry almond, and sunflower butter banana. 

And they also had these Lime Basil Truffles, which were so good I had to take a package home. The basil is fairly assertive at first bite, then mellows out and allows the subtle lime tang to come through. I never had this flavor combination in a chocolate before, and I liked it a lot.

I didn't try these Marty's Vegan Fast Food burgers, but they looked really good and were a huge hit with others I heard from. I am hoping to see these again soon, maybe at another event, because I definitely want to try them. 

I had to make a choice, you see, between burgers and dogs, and I went with the very buzzed-about Yeah Dawgs, a vegan (duh) pop-up hot dog cart. I've been hearing so much about these vegan dogs and I was excited to finally get to try one. It's kind of a thing, being a New Yorker, and never getting to enjoy that quintessential New York experience of buying a hot dog from a cart. Now vegans can do that too, and as usual, we do it WAY fucking better than regular people eating "real" hot dogs. (Sorry, somehow talking about New York and hot dogs brings out the trash mouth in me. I hope my mom isn't reading this.)

Hell yeah, dawg.
These hand-made hot dogs are soy- and gluten-free, made with "a blend of root vegetables, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, gluten-free flours, herbs and spices." Now, I have to be completely honest here and say that while the flavor of the hot dog itself was good, I wish that it had a bit more "bite" to it, texturally speaking. It was a little too soft and I wanted it to have that hot dog "snap," more like the Tofurky or Field Roast sausages, but that can be tough because both of those brands are soy/gluten-based. But where Yeah Dawgs rock my world are with the toppings. I have NEVER had a better-dressed dog, that is for sure. I got a "Classic" with the works, which comes with TWO homemade sauerkrauts (classic and ruby red), plus TWO homemade pickles (cucumber and pineapple!), plus I threw some spicy mustard, pickled jalapenos, and a sprinkle of coconut bacon on there, for extra good measure. All I can say is, fuck yeah, that was a good dawg. (Note to self: pickled pineapple might be the greatest topping ever created. Why have I never had this before?!) 

I ended my day with a stop by the DF Mavens table. I'm a huge fan of their rich, creamy ice cream so, prepared to buy myself a scoop, I was delighted to discover that they were giving it out for free. Free ice cream is the greatest thing in the world, except for my two gorgeous children and maybe my gorgeous husband. 

I got a scoop of their Mint Cookie and a scoop of their Key Lime. The Key Lime is my favorite, I love the contrast of the cool creaminess with the refreshing lime tang, but their Mint Cookie totally rocked my world too. I actually thought I was getting a scoop of mint chip, you know, the regular kind with chocolate chips or flakes in it, but this was SO MUCH better. It's a very refreshing mint flavor with big hunks of Oreo-type cookies in it. Now they are both my favorite flavors and will have to compete for my affections.

And they are both Dahlia-approved.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

BALLS! Lots of balls.

I didn't really mean to frame the above picture the way I did, I was just trying to capture the name of the dish so I would remember it. But there it is, in a nutshell (haha). Balls. I went to a vegan "Best Balls" cook off competition. If anybody ever tells you that vegans have no sense of humor, then they haven't been to a competition where a bar full of vegans are munching on a bunch of balls. 

This was the third NYC Vegan Cook-Off and I was told by a good source that the competitors in this round were much stronger. Most of the balls were good. Starting with the sweet balls:

Pistachio Rose Balls. Many people liked these, but I hate flowers in my food. It makes me feel like I'm eating soap. Please don't put flower flavors in my food.

Slightly spicy chai date balls
Rich, fudgey truffles...
These were by far the best of the sweet ones, although I felt so bad that they didn't look as good as they could have, if the room hadn't been so warm. These had a limoncello creme filling inside, chocolate on the outside. Absolutely delicious, but sadly melty and misshapen. They were so good though, I would gladly buy these if they were sold somewhere.  

And from the savory selections:

These were Nacho Mac & Cheese balls. If you know me, you know how much I love my mac & cheese. Sadly, although these looked really appetizing, they were pretty much on the bland side. I suspect that this was a dish that would have tasted much better while still warm. Or perhaps they just weren't that good to begin with, I don't know.

 These were vegan cheese balls. They were extremely sharp with an overwhelming smoky flavor. Like, way too heavy on the liquid smoke or whatever they used. I really liked the bit of crunch on the outside though, I think it was toasted quinoa? I'm not sure. They were made by a really sweet, super friendly couple so I really wanted to like these more than I did. Ease up a bit on the smokiness and you've got yourself a winner here. 

 This was a really good bite. "Breakfast balls" included a bite of homemade sausage, a biscuit, and a strawberry-rhubarb-jalapeno sauce. My only complaint was that I didn't get any heat from the jalapeno sauce, but it was all really tasty and I was impressed with their fluffy biscuits.

 These were good. 

These were ok. Some kind of meatball with an avocado cilantro dipping sauce. Not one of my favorites.

 Now these just made me mad. I don't want to be negative and diss people, but these were so bad that they kind of warranted a public scolding. These were beet balls that basically just tasted like plain beets, scooped into a ball shape, with no seasoning that I could taste. At all. Shame on you. 

But back to the good stuff. These were amazing, one of my absolute favorites, and winners of the Audience Choice award. Light, not too dense, "wheatballs" filled with cashew cheese and topped with a spicy arrabiata sauce. Really delicious. I would order these in a restaurant.

 Another one of my top 3 favorites. Sushi rice balls. These were so simple, and yet so perfect. They were just plain sushi rice with a nori topping, but they were done so perfectly - the balance of seasonings, the texture, everything. Sushi rice is very difficult to do, when you do it the right way. They were light and refreshing compared to some of these other heavy flavors. A friend of mine agreed with me that if these had just a hit of flavor in the middle, like maybe a dot of ume plum, or a marinated mushroom or something, these might have won the whole damn contest. 

But the winner was... Bobby's Big Balls. I must say I 100% agreed with the judges on their choice. These cheddar cheese balls had just the right hint of smokiness, a perfect balance of flavor, and a rich, smooth, creamy texture. Honestly one of the best vegan cheeses I've EVER tasted. Another item I would happily buy if I could find it in stores. Totally a winner. 

It was fun to get out with the baby and see a lot of new vegan faces in the crowd at this event that even made the local news! Next weekend is The Seed, which I also plan to attend and report on. Stay tuned to see what new vegan eats I discover there!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Strange Thing Happened at Trader Joe's...

Photo Source: Food Hacks
A strange thing happened to me recently while I was at the register checking out at my local Trader Joe's. The woman who was scanning and bagging my groceries remarked about mid-way through, "So, I take it you're vegetarian, right?" I guess it was the week's worth of tofu, veggie burgers, chicken-less strips, dairy-free ice cream and the like that tipped her off. "Yes, actually, we're all vegan," I replied, nodding towards my toddler who was still sitting in the cart, and my infant daughter strapped to my chest in the carrier. "But... how did you do that?" she asked me. Somewhat puzzled and not clear on what exactly she was asking me about, I asked her, "What do you mean? Do you mean how was I vegan while pregnant?" She nodded. I told her that I had no problems at all while I was pregnant. Well, no problems related to being vegan, at least. I indulged my cravings for sweets (especially ice cream), and pizza, I took my prenatal vitamin every day, I didn't have any of those non-vegan cravings I had heard so often about. You know, like your long-time veg friend or friend-of-a-friend who suddenly started craving steaks as soon as she got pregnant and just had to eat meat. Both of my babies were born and continue to be perfectly healthy, so there is no reason to think a vegan pregnancy is difficult or ill-advised. 

This exchange was all pretty normal. It doesn't really happen to me that often, so when a stranger asks about being vegan I am more than happy to share my experiences. But what she said next really surprised me: "I've been vegan about 15 years but I just don't think my diet know... sustain a baby!" Whaaaat???!!!

Her revelation totally surprised me in the moment but later when I was still thinking about it, made me really sad. There are many reasons to go vegan and I assume that she probably does it for the animals rather than for health reasons, so it's certainly not a given that any vegan (including this one) would necessarily be an expert on health or nutrition. But one would think that somewhere over the course of 15 years one might have learned a thing or two about how vegan food tends to be healthier than, you know, the average meat-eater's diet. Something about a long-time vegan doubting herself to the point of thinking that she couldn't sustain a vegan pregnancy made me feel incredibly discouraged. Just when you think that veganism is becoming more mainstream, with countless studies touting the health benefits of a vegan diet, you mean to tell me that there are vegans who themselves don't trust that it's the healthiest possible option? How are we going to convince non-vegans if can't even convince actual vegans?! 

So maybe this woman was just unusually clueless and I'm overreacting, or maybe this particular vegan lives on a diet of Oreo cookies and tequila, in which case she might be justified in wondering if she could nutritionally sustain a pregnancy. But I'm still completely befuddled that a vegan - a vegan who works at Trader Joe's for crying out loud, with plenty of healthy vegan food options literally staring her in the face all day - would find it surprising that another vegan managed to survive two pregnancies without, you know, needing more protein or something

I'd be happy to hear what anyone else thinks about this exchange, as it is entirely possible that I'm reading too much into it or making a big deal out of nothing. Am I? Was this conversation as strange as I think it was? 

Anyway, just to make sure I'm not going crazy in my thinking that Trader Joe's is a treasure trove of vegan delights, here is an actual list of TJ's vegan options, here is a 10 Best Vegan Items list, Vegansaurus's TJ's Pinterest page, and even a vegan TJ's Tumblr. Myself, I'm a big fan of their Soy Chorizo, the Vegetable Masala Burgers, the Speculoos Cookie Butter (duh), and their coconut milk yogurts are fantastic. My son especially loves the Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels (stir fry with some broccoli - delish), and the Japanese Style Fried Rice. Oh, and we just tried their Chili Pepper Sauce and their Sriracha Sauce, and both are awesome! I don't know what took me so long to discover those!

Please stay tuned for the next post in which I preview for you some good things I tested for Annie Shannon's next cookbook. Now there's a vegan mama for you who knows what's what. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Doughnut. Ice Cream. Sundaes. Need I say more?

What is this thing of beauty, you ask? Well let me tell you! This, my dears, is a Dunwell Doughnut ice cream sundae! I'm sure you've all have heard by now of the award-winning vegan doughnuts from this super cute shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But you may or may not know that you can also get a doughnut topped with vegan (of course) ice cream, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, and then pass out from the excitement of it all. Oh it is so difficult to be a deprived vegan, living off nuts and berries, isn't it? 

The obscenely decadent and delicious creation above was a pistachio doughnut topped with orange vanilla ice cream, the ice cream totally reminiscent of, but even better than, the Creamsicle memories of my childhood. And the one below (did you think I was going to share?) was a vanilla sprinkle doughnut with a scoop of cherry vanilla. So good it should be illegal.

And just in case you aren't ready to run out the door and race over to Dunwell, I'll also share this pic of my Mother's Day morning assortment. Clockwise, starting from top left: French Toast, Strawberry (I think? It was a while ago), Vanilla with Chocolate Sprinkles, Chocolate Glazed, Peanut Butter and Jelly filled, and Pistachio. 

Ok, so I did share. Just a little bit.

So this is ice cream, you say? I think I like this stuff.

Dunwell Doughnuts
222 Montrose Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11206

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hi again.

Gosh, I've really been the worst blogger ever. Here it is mid-July and I think this is my first post of the year. I pretty much abandoned this baby for a while, mostly because I had my second (actual human) baby in December and managing two wee ones full time takes up pretty much all the time and energy I have. But like I said in my last post, about a million years ago, I really miss it. I really, really miss connecting with people and I miss the creative outlet that this blog provides me. And I miss the fun of posting vegan food porn.

This is the sweet pea, Dahlia, two months in this photo but seven months old already, who is taking up so much of my time and attention these days, along with her very active toddler brother. (This awesome vegan onesie was courtesy of Marisa, from Vegucated fame.) Just when I was barely getting a handle on being a mother of one, along came this little bundle to again turn everything upside down. I'm happy to say though that this time 'round feels a lot easier, even though it's still crazy hard work. I don't know if it's because girls are easier than boys, or because she's just an easier baby, or because this is the second one so maybe we know what we're doing this time, or what. But at any rate, it sure is an adventure with these two little peanuts, and damn if I'm not freaking exhausted all the time. 

Which is to say that I've really lost my cooking mojo over the last several months. Or year. Years. Two years. It's hard enough finding the time and energy to just get SOMETHING, ANYTHING ready in time for dinner, let alone the colossal task I face now of preparing meals to satisfy the grown-ups, a picky toddler, and an infant who is just starting solid foods. But lately I've been finding some inspiration again, leafing through cooking magazines and books, catching up on some long-forgotten blogs, and even some recipe testing for my friend Annie's forthcoming second cookbook (more on that in a minute). So I'm dipping my toes in the water, hoping I can carve out some time to begin posting regularly again. 

My own home-cooked meals have been less than blog-worthy lately, but I can at least share with you a few good eats we discovered on a recent trip to Cape May, NJ. I'm so out-of-practice that I forgot to photograph many items we ate (breaking the cardinal rule of food bloggers), but here are a few good things:

Our first stop in town after a 2 1/2 hour drive with emergency stops for breastfeeding was at The Wild Burrito. They actually had tons of vegan options, like all-day tofu scramble breakfast tacos, and a BBQ seitan burrito, and everything tasted super fresh, especially this perfect batch of just-made guacamole, which we inhaled within minutes. Super friendly service and the guy (owner?) even mentioned to us that they always use separate pans and cookware for the vegan items. We would definitely stop there again. 

Another place we visited was Good Earth Organic Eatery. A small, somewhat hidden, friendly cafe, they do serve fish but are mostly vegetarian. There were plenty of vegan options though, and a surprising find was this spaghetti with fresh-squeezed carrot and ginger sauce (above). I'm not going to lie, when my husband ordered it, I thought it kind of sounded like a hippie health food dish, and you should know by now I'm not really that kind of vegan. But I was pleasantly surprised, the ginger was subtle and this was really a fresh, warming, very satisfying and delicious dish. I am definitely inspired to try to recreate this one at home. 

I ordered the Sunflower Seed Pesto pasta (below) which was also really delicious. Creamy, nutty, nicely spiced, Bodhi and I ate this one together and loved it. 

We really enjoyed our entrees at Good Earth, but the cake we took back to the hotel for dessert left a lot to be desired. And the fish smell in the restaurant was kind of overwhelming. I sort of feel that even if a restaurant serves fish, if it's fresh, it shouldn't smell, you know, fishy. But at any rate, it's one of the few veg-friendly places in the area, and they do have some good things going for them, so I'd still say they're worth checking out if you're in the area. 

The best place in town for breakfast was at Bella Vida Cafe. A super casual, diner-type spot, it offers vegan pancakes, waffles, and the tempeh scramble above. I loved the tempeh scramble, it was hearty and chock full of vegetables, black beans, and topped with Daiya cheese. Sorry about the photo - I forgot to take it until I was almost finished eating. I told you I'm out of practice with this food blogging thing. 

That's all I've got for now, but as I mentioned earlier I've just started some recipe testing for my friend Annie's second cookbook, her follow up to the ever popular Betty Goes Vegan. I'll be posting about that soon, to give you a teaser of what to expect. Hint: it's good. 

The Wild Burrito
6300 New Jersey Ave 
Wildwood CrestNew Jersey 08260

Good Earth Organic Eatery
600 Park Blvd 
West Cape MayNew Jersey 08204

Bella Vida Cafe
406 N Broadway (Eldredge)
West Cape MayNew Jersey 08204