Cookbook Challenge 2 - Urban Vegan

This week's challenge feature a cookbook with which I am unaccustomed. Oh, I've previously browsed Dynise Balcavage's blog, Urban Vegan, but I've never really followed one of her recipes before. I've only had this cookbook in my possession for about a month, and the spine is still stiff. That's not to say I'm uninterested in her recipes, it's quite the opposite actually. I'd dare to say I'm intimated by them! Her recipes are well-traveled and intelligent, mimicking the sophisticated versatility and variety of urban life. And I only ended up making one thing all week.

Due in equal parts to the mound of leftovers in the fridge, my failed attempt at grocery shopping and a general lack-o-time, I barely explored all of the potentially decadent recipes at my disposal. I did, however, LOVE the one meal I made in the middle of the week. 

Cashew Curry Casserole

Matt and I love all things curry, and we weren't feeling too experimental this week, so we went with something we knew we'd love. The Cashew Curry Casserole took 15 minutes to prep and 45 minutes to bake. That is my ideal weeknight meal scenario; it's just enough time to play with and feed the puppies, have a beer or two and decide what movie we're going to watch. By 7PM the timer was buzzing and  the scent warm aromatic curry filled the air. What could be more comfortable on a rainy weeknight than that?

This casserole consisted of chickpeas, broccoli, and tomatoes all tossed in a cashew butter & almond milk mixture. Red Thai curry paste was dissolved in the liquid, and I upped the spices to include crushed red pepper, cumin and oregano. A dollop of tomato paste was adjusted into the recipe, and I follow Dynise's suggestion to add sliced mushrooms and red bell pepper strips. This casserole was fantastically comforting and contained most of my favorite food items. We served it with some Thai jasmine rice and a sprinkle of cashew pieces. The leftovers tasted great the next day.


Cookbook Challenge 2 - Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook

Cookbook Challenge II - VEGANOMICON!!!

For the second week of CCII, one of the most widely known and well revered vegan cookbooks made its way into my kitchen. Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook is what I like to call the rebellious younger sister to Irma Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking. Moskowitz and Romero of The Post Punk Kitchen have at it in this all-encompassing, over-achieving bookshelf staple. With nearly 50 pages devoted to kitchen gadgets, stocking the vegan pantry and vegetable/grain/bean cooking how-to's, this truly is the ultimate vegan cookbook. Oh, the 250+ vegan recipes might also have something to do with it.

Upon it's publication, I remember hanging out at the local bookstore while I waited for my then-boyfriend to get out of work. I'd pick up a copy of Veganomicon and read it, cover-to-cover, but never had enough money in my pocket to help me bring a copy home (bah, unemployment!). Eventually I saved up enough quarters and it was aaaallll mine. Since then, I've discovered some of my favorite meals and have made them repetitiously. Though to be honest, I've only made a handful of the recipes in this book because the first ones I tried were so amazing, and I never saw the need to try something new! Well, that changed this week. I selected three recipes I've never tried, but were well received within the vegan (and omnivorous) community!

Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango Peaches

I'm a huge fan of grain & bean salads. They're more filling and add a lot of depth and flavor to the monotonous leafy green salad. When I saw the recipe for the Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango, I was hooked. I ended up subbing the mango with defrosted peaches (from this past summer - so sweet and juicy!) and unfortunately had to omit the fresh cilantro as a result of absent-minded grocery shopping. The salad had every sort of sensation your mouth could fathom without being overwhelming. Sweet and savory are a wonderful pairing; here they are harmoniously tied with rice vinegar, grapeseed oil (I used olive) and salt for a hearty combination of soft, crunchy, sweet, and salty.

Corn and Edamame-Sesame Salad

In an effort to juxtapose my gluttonous eating of prior days, I opted for another wholesome salad. The Corn and Edamame-Sesame Salad was ridiculously easy to make and kept me full for hours. Edamame is loaded with protein and is ready to eat in under a minute - buy it shelled and frozen for those nights when you only have time to boil water! The dressing is a nutty and salty combination of sesame oil, rice vinegar and tamari (or soy sauce), all of which are relatively inexpensive (considering how little is used per serving in most recipes), especially at Asian markets. I added diced red onion and shared this with some new friends at a vegan potluck! It keeps well and is great served cold or at room temperature - perfect for traveling, picnics or workday lunches.

The final recipe that I selected is one of Veganomicon's most famous; Chickpea Cutlets have been popping up all over the vegan blogosphere since the book's release. I have no good excuse for not making them until now, so I won't even waste your time. They were as wonderful as I anticipated.

Chickpea Cutlets, mashed sweet potatoes, steamed green beans

Now that is my kind of meat-and-potatoes dinner. Not the traditional typical American meal, but so much more flavorful than any I've ever had. The chickpea cutlets were very "meaty" due to the vital wheat gluten - a natural protein found in wheat used to improve the texture and elasticity of bread, also the main ingredient in seitan - and packed with fiber AND flavor (who knew?!). I opted for the baked method instead of pan-frying to cut out some fat. These were wonderful and my only complaint is that I didn't triple the recipe. The firm yet moist cutlets were perfectly crispy and had a really robust flavor. They were mellow enough to be served in a myriad of ways - my next batch will be devoted to a vegan Po'boy and I'll season it appropriately (Matt said so). I served this batch with steamed green beans and Indian mashed sweet potatoes - made Indian by the leftover  dal saag (lentil/spinach dish) from a friend's birthday dinner.

Three more recipes down, and I've barely unearthed the magnificence that is the ultimate vegan cookbook - Veganomicon. Tune in next week for the third installment of CCII - The Urban Vegan: 250 Simple, Sumptuous Recipes, From Street Cart Favorites to Haute Cuisine.


Holiday in South Florida

I'm taking a quick detour from my very active participation in this year's Cookbook Challenge. Over the winter holidays I visited friends and family in my Florida hometown, Fort Lauderdale. In addition to sleeping in for an entire week (!!), I wined and dined at one of the finest vegan dining establishments on the east coast. Sublime Restaurant and Bar is located in downtown Fort Lauderdale and features an all-vegan fancy-foods menu! The owner, Nanci Alexander, is also the founder of ARFF (Animal Rights Foundation of Florida) and 100% of the restaurant's profits are donated to organizations set on reducing animal cruelty and promoting a vegan lifestyle. It also doesn't hurt that all of their food is absolutely delicious.

Matt and I started with two appetizers (they were having an anniversary special - all appetizers were only $4!). The Crispy Eggplant Rollatini was perfectly proportioned and the vegan ricotta couldn't have been creamier. I'm usually skeptical about ordering dairy analogues at restaurants, especially ones that are house-made, but I'm glad I did in this instance. Below, our second appetizer is one that can't be missed. I've ordered it every time I went to Sublime and it keeps getting better and better. The Frito Misto consists of battered and lightly fried cauliflower florets covered in a sweet chili sauce and topped with black-and-white sesame seeds and a spring onion garnish. M-O-U-T-H-P-A-R-T-Y. Just writing about this dish has me yearning to recreate it. I know what my weekend project will be...

If you are intrigued at all by the appetizers, you must stay for dinner. The menu at Sublime is really diverse, featuring salads, sushi, brick oven pizza, an array of entrees and mouthwatering desserts. Matt ordered the Mushroom Ravioli for dinner and I was utterly speechless after my first bite. The pasta was made in-house and if that was any indication of fresh pasta, I'm seriously missing out. It was soft, silky, creamy, sexy yummy goodness. The filling was excellent as well, but they could have served just me plain noodles and I wouldn't have complained.

My entree was almost as delicious (maybe if it had been wrapped in ravioli noodles...) but still very enjoyable. The Sublime Picatta consisted of Gardein cutlets, mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and a lemon caper sauce. I've only ever tried the chicken-style Crispy Tenders, but I've heard really good things about Gardein brand meat analogues so I decided to give it a whirl. The taste and texture were pleasurable, but anything covered in lemon caper sauce would taste good to me. I was mostly surprised by how they found such thick asparagus!

Let the verdict show that vegan gourmet is entirely possible, and insanely delicious. If you're ever in south Florida, support this vegan establishment!


Cookbook Challenge 2 - Appetite for Reduction

Lately I've been craving the lightly prepared stong aromatic dishes native to Thailand. For my birthday, Matt and I ate at Rama Restaurant, a whole-in-the-wall  serving up some of the finest Thai food (as far as I know) in Baton Rouge. The slow service was easily overshadowed by the fragrant and spicy meals we ordered. Fried veggies - eggplant, yams, green peppers, green beans, potatoes, onions - with sweet and sour sauce (not exactly authentic, I know) stimulated our tastebuds and appetites for two tasty, albeit oily, Thai entrees.

cellphone porn!
left to right: veggie pad thai, panang tofu, fried veggies

Matt ordered the Veggie Pad Thai sans egg as usual. This fish-free variation was so light and fresh, we damn near inhaled the entire plate (by the way, the portion-to-prices ratio at Rama is amazing; two people could easily share one plate..unless you're either one of us)! Any extra room in our mouths and bellies was quickly filled with my entree, Panang Tofu. Green beans and mushrooms were the main contenders in this warm and spicy coconut curry dish, along with copious amounts of fried tofu! So...Thai food...isn't it amazing? Yeah, I know; I know.

Cookbook Challenge II - Appetite for Reduction

My greatest qualm with dining out, especially at Asian/Indian establishments, is the amount of oil used by the restaurant chefs. I can't consciously dine out often for this reason alone. It's a bittersweet scenario, actually. The openhanded oil applications force me to make my own renditions of these aromatic appetizers, and while they may not be authentic, they are certainly satisfying.

This is where Appetite for Reduction is plugged in. As I flipped through the already slightly tarnished pages (I'm a bit of a messy cook...) I noted several Thai-inspired recipes that I would have to make. The first thing to catch my eye was the Pad Thai salad with Peanut-Lime Dragon Dressing. The dressing was a sweet, spicy and tangy combination of ground peanuts (for which I substituted crunchy peanut butter), sriracha, lime juice and a few other things I'll just call delicious. I added sauteed tempeh cooked with tamari (a great gluten-free alternative to soy sauce) and omitted the red onion because I didn't have one.

Pad Thai Salad and Crispy Tamari Tempeh with Peanut-Lime Dragon Dressing
Did I mention that AFR has an entire chapter devoted to bowls (and sandwiches, but they deserve their own thrown)?! Using the remaining Peanut-Lime Dragon dressing, I made the Peanut-Lime Tempeh Bowl, which consisted of fluffy quinoa, steamed broccoli, more tamari tempeh and the dressing. I jazzes it up with sauteed bean sprouts and alfafa sprouts for an amazingly filling and insanely delicious dinner.

Peanut-Lime Tempeh Bowl
This next Thai-inspired dish was featured in my post about tofu, but who's going to argue with me? I think it deserves another fifteen minutes of fame. Ladies and gentlemen, Red Thai Tofu...

Red Thai Tofu and Green Beans with (not) Thai Basil
No, I didn't use Thai basil, and I thought of adding fennel or dried mint to give it the cool depth I notice in Thai basil, but I didn't want to stray too far from the actual recipe. Crispy tofu, spicy red Thai curry, sriracha, ginger and garlic all go great together. Add some sauteed green beans dusted with red pepper flakes and a squirt of lime and you're in business. I have no negative critique other than I wish I had more, and right now please.

In fact, I think I need to go pick up some tofu and lock myself in the kitchen. Until next time...


Cookbook Challenge 2 - Appetite for Reduction I

Cookbook Challenge II - Appetite for Reduction!

If you're not already part (or at least aware) of The Post Punk Kitchen, you are seriously missing out. What initially began as a public access vegan cooking show created by cookbook-author extraordinaire and baketivist Isa Chandra Moskowitz, has now fully blossomed into one of the most active vegan communities in the world. As a member of the PPK message boards, I can personally vouch for the massive amounts action on that forum. Alongside all the mindless banter and deep conversations revolved around bodily functions (I never said we were a mature bunch..), vegan food is the topic of most conversations. Whether it's an uplifting thread about all of the accidentally-vegan snack foods found in convenience stores - I nearly pooped my pants when I learned that one of the Doritos chips is vegan! - or reviews on the latest vegan cookbook to hit the shelves, food is not far from any of our minds.

The latter topic holds particular significance to this post. Over in The Kitchen - Food & Cooking forum, the second annual Cookbook Challenge is taking place! For the next 12 weeks, participants will be cooking at least 3 recipes from a randomly selected, albeit predetermined, cookbook and sharing their creations with fellow PPKers. As a participant, I'll be posting photos and reviews of my selected batch of recipes at the forums as well as the here blog. I'm particularly excited about participating because this week's cookbook has quickly become one of my favorites. Appetite for Reduction (AFR) is Isa's newest vegan cookbook, and it focuses on low-fat, whole-foods based cooking for folks with an appetite. I've read the book from cover-to-cover and there isn't a single recipe that I don't want to immediately shovel into my mouth. If the sound of this cookbook strikes your fancy, why not try one or all of the sample recipes at the PPK? I promise you won't be disappointed.

I'll talk about this book more throughout the rest of the week, but I think my first dish is past due. Talking about vegan foodz is nice and all, but I'd rather show you!

Caesar Chavez Salad with Eggplant Bacon

Ahh, the Caesar Chavez Salad with Eggplant Bacon. Let me start by introducing the salad dressing. One thing I've truly missed since becoming a vegetarian is the creamy tang of caesar dressing. If you weren't already aware, most commercially produced bottles contain anchovies and eggs in addition to a boat load of cream and calories, and are unsuitable for veg*ns. Annie's Goddess Dressing is a suitable store-bought replacement and has always satiated my appetite, but at $5-$6 a bottle, I only buy it sporadically. After making the Caesar Chavez Dressing in AFR, I will never buy another bottled salad dressing, of any variety. Isa has done it again! This dressing is perfectly remniscent of caesar dressing - uber creamy, briny and cool. I've been making it in bulk batches and drizzling it on anything I can think of - salad, pasta, pizza, quinoa, my tongue, etc. Seriously, you NEED to make this dressing. For utter ease and generosity, the recipe can be found online in Amazon's trusty Look Inside feature. Just click the book's image (log in if you have an Amazon account; you'll be able to see more recipes that way) where it says Look Inside and you'll be able to see the first half of the book for free (then, of course, you should buy it and support that awesome lady).

As for the Eggplant Bacon, that deserves equal praise. Drenched in a bath of soy sauce (tamari for those with a gluten intolerance) and liquid smoke, eggplant is the perfect medium for such an application. The recipe calls for thin slices of eggplant, to recreate the look of bacon strips, baked at a high temperature for utlimate crispiness. I did find myself baking the eggplant for more time than the recipe called for because my toaster oven sucks. I thought the strips of eggplant were aesthetically awesome, but found myself shoving whole slices into my mouth at a time. Next time I'm going to chop it into very tiny cubes in the hopes that it'll get even crunchier and I'll fool myself into thinking I have more on my plate (eggplant gluttony?!).

Caesar Chavez Salad with Eggplant Bacon

All things considered, this recipe gets my highly regarded stamp of approval. It's cheap to make and comes together in less than 30 minutes. With less than 160 calories per serving (recipe serves 4) and a ton of vitamin A, you'll be doing yourself a favor by consuming my new favorite, the Caesar Chavez Salad with Eggplant Bacon from Appetite for Reduction.


appetite for tofu!

Red Thai Tofu and Green Beans with Thai Basil

One of the most repeated assumptions made of vegetarians and vegans today is that their diet consists primarily of a slimy and flavorless bean slab called tofu (aside from the occasional twig and clump of dirt!). I can't recall how many times my tofu intake has been questioned, usually accompanied by distorted faces and protesting grunts. For a long time, I sided with the average carnivore and detested the white beany block. I'd only ever tasted poorly (if at all) cooked tofu, and it certainly lived up to it's stereotype: mushy, bland and utterly unappetizing. I could never appreciate the praise and preference given to tofu by vegetarians. Well, that all changed shortly after I started reading vegan food blogs and trying some of the recipes calling for that soft wet slab. Through them and my own experience, I've learned many key steps and secrets to turning the initially unappetizing bean curd into a pleasantly palatable protein! Here are several things I've learned about tofu:

-Stick with firm or extra firm tofu packaged in water (usually found in the produce section of your grocery store) for "meatier" dishes. Silken tofu will not hold up to being fried, grilled or baked and the texture of aseptic-packed tofu (such as Mori-Nu brand) will never measure up to the aforementioned.

-Pressing tofu releases much of the absorbed water and helps it firm up. Wrap tofu in several layers of paper towels or tea towels and place between two plates. Top off your sculpture with something heavy, like canned beans or a couple of your thicker cookbooks. Wait at least 30 minutes and gasp in wonder how much water has been squeezed out.

-Tofu still too mushy for you? Freeze it! Remove the tofu from its packaging, cut into desired shape (rectangular slabs, triangles, cubed, etc.) and layer between paper towels on a shallow plate. Allow the tofu to fully freeze before handling it any further. When ready to use, let the tofu thaw completely and you'll be surprised how much of the water seeps out. This type of tofu works great in marinades and results in a firmer, chewier finale.

-Marinades are your friend! Let your tofu spend the night with some liquids and herbs and you'll be surprised how happy it is in the morning! Try olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic and fresh or dried basil  for Italian tofu. Crave Asian flavors? Combine peanut oil, soy sauce or tamari, agave nectar, fresh minced ginger and garlic together for a salty and sweet Teriyaki-style of tofu.

-I think tofu should be crispy, like most things I eat, but I can never deliberately deep fry things in my home. Pan frying works just as well as deep frying without any of the mess or post-consumption bloating. Take your biggest non-stick saute pan, spray with a little bit of cooking oil and get to work! Use tongs or a flat spatula for easy flipping, and to insure each side of the tofu gets crispy.

-Still can't get behind the meaty slabs? Scramble it! I consume most of my tofu in this fashion solely because it is so forgiving and works with whatever your have on hand. Modeled after scrambled eggs, tofu scramble is much more versatile, flavorful, and no animals are harmed by it's consumption! Try my recipe for Green and Gold Scramble, or check out Vegan Brunch for several pages of scramble variations.

I guarantee that following these steps will result in a flavorful vegetable-based protein. So banish your reservations and prove your presumptions wrong. Stop shoving your tofu to the wayside and make it the star of your next meal!