Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Natural Is Good

Have y'all tried Good 'n' Natural bars yet? I feel like I've tried just about every bar out there, but these were new to me when I spotted them on the shelf at Kroger the other day. I grabbed a peanut butter one, along with a stash of Luna bars. Then one day, before my run, I tore open the bar open and took a big ol' bite.

Wow! These had everything I love in a bar: not too sweet, just the right amount of chewiness, made with seeds, nuts, fruit. Perfection. Just a few weeks after trying the PB bar, Good 'n' Natural sent me an email. They wanted to mail me a few samples to review on the blog. I was itching to try the other flavors: Lemon, Cranberry Almond, and (again) Peanut Butter.

Yum! Though I loved the Peanut Butter bar the best, the other two were quite tasty. The Lemon would be my second fave because I'm a sucker for citrus. The Cranberry Almond was nice too with just the right fruit to nut ratio. Also, I love that these bars are sweetened with brown rice syrup and maple syrup instead of evaporated cane juice.

Here's a closer look at that Cranberry Almond bar:

I went to Good 'n' Natural's website, and they have a cute little video about how the company got started. This lady named Sarah Walker started making bars in her tiny kitchen to give to her friends in a town called Sun Valley. The bars — made with real nuts, seeds, and fruits — were an instant hit, and people started paying her to make them. The business expanded. She hired a catering friend Ann Scales. And now you can find Good 'n' Natural bars all over!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Vegan for the Holidays

It seems like ages ago when my cookbook author friend Zel Allen asked me to test for her Vegan for the Holidays cookbook. Way back in 2010, I tested her Harvest Succotash, and my was it delicious! I knew Zel's tome of celebration feasts designed especially for the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day would be amazing.

Well, the book is finally out and I got my very own autographed, complimentary copy in the mail a couple weeks ago. Chapters are divided by holidays, so there's a section for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzza, and New Year's. Oh, and there are a couple of photo spreads packed with homey photos of decadent holiday spreads.

When flipping through, the Mac 'n' Cheese picture caught my eye first. I'm a sucker for trying every vegan mac & cheese recipe on the planet. Plus, I wanted to make something that could double as an any time meal, since the holidays are still (thankfully) a few months off. That mac 'n' cheese recipe was hanging out in the Kwanzza section just one page over from a recipe for Jamaican Jerk Tofu. Both sounded anytime enough for me.

Look at that gorgeous Jamaican Jerk Tofu:

It's marinated in a gingery, cumin-laced, hot pepper sauce and then baked in the oven. The maple syrup in the marinade provided the perfect level of savory-sweet. Oh, and those peppers I used for garnish? They're Thai hot chilies from our very own front yard hot pepper garden (yes, we're even growing ghost peppers ... more on that some other day).

Now let's talk Mac 'n' Cheese:

To be honest, I've never met a vegan mac 'n' cheese I didn't like. Cashew sauce, nooch-based sauce, from a bag, from a box, whatever. I'll eat it, and I'll proclaim it to be the best thing I ever tasted (I do that a lot if you haven't noticed). But for real this time: Zel's mac was soooooo creamy and perfect. The secret was melted vegan cheese shreds. There's not a drop of nooch in this sauce, and it was so very cheesy.

I've never actually made my own mac 'n' cheese using vegan cheese shreds. Not that I haven't wanted to, but vegan cheese is kinda pricey, and I'm too cheap to buy more than one bag at a time. This recipe called for both vegan cheddar and vegan mozzarella, which if purchasing Daiya or Galaxy shreds could have cost almost $10. Fine for holiday entertaining, but a little pricey for one of my everyday meals.

But Galaxy has been so generous! They sent me more samples of their vegan shreds, so I happened to have a bag of Mexi-Style Shreds and a bag of Mozzarella Shreds just sitting around. I subbed the Mexi-Style for the Cheddar. The Galaxy cheeses melted beautifully, and the sauce stayed creamy even after baking with breadcrumbs on top.

Here's a full plate shot with a side of Steamed Kale (tossed with soy sauce, mirin, sriracha, and garlic):

As for the rest of Vegan for the Holidays, it's loaded with harvest time meals and yuletide treats making it a must-have for this coming holiday season. I mean, would your Un-Turkey Day be complete without Savory Lentil Terrine with Mushroom-Wine Sauce, Mashed Potatoes with Onion-Chardonnay Gravy, or Apple Crisp?

And what would Christmas be without Tomato-Pine Nut Pie with Sweet Potato and Nut Crust or Wassail? Hanukkah is incomplete without Mushroom-Barley Cholent and Potato Latkes with Tofu Sour Cream. The New Year's section is really special because Zel includes recipes for a first of the year soup and chili bash. I think her New Year's Resolution Soup (made with healthy cabbbage, rice noodles, shiitakes, and broccoli) will be a new tradition for me this year.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Vote for Me!

In this election season, I'm sure you're all thinking about the presidential race (I'm rooting for Obama, but I'm pretty sure y'all already knew this liberal vegan's politics). Well, the presidential race is pretty darn important. But there is one more contest that you shouldn't skip — Ethical Ocean's Vegan Recipe Challenge!

My Tofu Deviled Eggy Bites are in the running, and I'm up against some pretty stiff competition. There's Chocolate Covered Katie's Deep Dish Cookie Pie, Hannah Kaminsky's Pomegranate Ice Cream Pops, and Barb's Grilled Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas, plus about twenty or so other mouth-watering recipes from fellow vegan bloggers.

My eggy bites taste just like deviled eggs. I swear. Even omnis are blown away when I serve these little dudes at parties. The magic is in the black salt. Guess that makes it black magic, but anyway ... The full recipe is up on Ethical Ocean's site, plus you can see everyone else's recipes too.

You get one vote per day, and polls are open for the next 15 days. So if you could vote for me daily, I'd love you forever. Aw, what the hell? I'll love you forever anyway. But it'd still be way cool if you'd vote for me.

Each time you cast a daily vote, you are automatically entered into a random drawing of all votes made that day. So you can win something just for voting! I'm not sure if recipe authors win anything, but I'm voting for myself too so I can enter those daily drawings. In case you didn't know, Ethical Ocean is a cool vegan online shop on which every product they sell must meet at least one of these designations: Good for People, Good for Animals, or Good for the Environment. Who wouldn't love that, right?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bee-Free Honee!!!!!!!!!!

I'm one of those vegans who doesn't intentionally eat honey but doesn't stress when I'm served a bread that contains honey at a restaurant or friend's house. I love bees, and I know factory bee farming can be cruel. According to my cookbook hero (and the editor of Cookin' Crunk, y'all) Jo Stepaniak, "Even the most careful keeper cannot help but squash or otherwise kill many of the bees in the process. During unproductive months, some beekeepers may starve their bees to death or burn the hive to avoid complex maintenance."

Yea, not cool. But for some reason, I still don't stress about accidentally eating honey like I would stress if I accidentally ate cheese or, heaven forbid, meat. Nevertheless, I don't buy the shit. I use agave instead, and I think it tastes even better than honey. But a few weeks ago, a nice lady named Katie (that rhymes!) sent me a sample of her Bee-Free Honee:

It's made from Washington apples, sugar, and lemon juice. That's it. And holy wow, y'all. Holy effing wow. This stuff is ten times better than I remember honey tasting, and it's that many times better than agave. It has the thickness of honey, which agave lacks, with a special tart sweetness that could only come from apples and lemon juice. I wanted to try using it in ways that let its natural yumminess shine, so I first enjoyed some on a Whole Grain Bagel with Almond Butter and Bee-Free Honee:

Then I whipped up an easy-as-pie Honey Mustard Salad Dressing using Dijon mustard, a tad bit of water, and Bee-Free Honee:

And this morning, I drizzled some Cooked Barley Flakes with Bee-Free Honee, Walnuts, and Cinnamon:

Honestly, I could just eat this stuff with a spoon, and I kinda already have. There are very few products that I review on this blog that I cannot live without, but this is one of them. And thankfully, it's not too pricey. You can buy a four-pack (that's 12-ounce bottles) for $19 on Amazon or a single bottle for $4.45 on Pangea. Yea!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cashew Alfredo

Over the past few weeks, I've been trying a few new dishes using some organic, natural food samples from Sunfood. They sent me a generous package of goji berries, raw olives, coconut sugar, and organic whole cashews.

I knew exactly what to do with the cashews — cheese!! Raw cashew cheese sauces are among my favorite raw food dishes, but I so rarely make them since bulk cashews are kinda spendy. There were about two cups of whole, raw, hand-cracked, sustainably harvested cashews in this 8-ounce bag, which happened to be exactly how much I needed to make the Cashew Alfredo Sauce from Eat Raw, Eat Well:

I served my creamy cashew alfredo atop raw zucchini and sweet potato noodles made with my new spiralizer! I've only used it once before, and let me tell you, it makes all the difference in the world for raw pasta. Before, I would use a veggie peeler or simply julienne my veggies for raw noodles, but raw pasta is so much more fun to eat when it's spiralized!

Anyway, back to the cashews. When I make cashew cheeses, I always buy the bulk cashew pieces in the Whole Foods bulk bin. And that's fine for blending into sauces and dressings, but I don't believe I've ever really tried a whole, raw cashew. These nuts were the cleanest, freshest tasting cashews I've ever tried. Each one was fully intact. Not a broken nut in the whole bag. It seemed a shame to blend them into a sauce. But nevertheless, the sauce (made with cashews, nutritional yeast, miso, lemon juice, and garlic) was delicious, and after one bite, I had no regrets.

What are your favorite ways to use raw cashews?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

BBQ Ribs, Vegan-Style (and Cookbook News!!!)

I live in the land of barbecue. Meat-eating tourists make it a point to try some Memphis barbecue while they're in our fair city, and locals quibble over which off-the-beaten-path, hole-in-the-wall 'cue shop has the best wet or dry ribs. Well, I've never had Memphis barbecue, and I've lived here 10 years now. I was already a vegetarian when I moved here and soon after, I became vegan.

But that's okay. There's nothing remotely appetizing about stringy pig flesh covered in sauce, and the idea of eating anything off of a bone is vomitous. But I do love barbecue sauce, especially when it's slathered all over some tofu or seitan. That's why I got excited when I saw that July's recipe in the Happy Herbivore 2012 wall calendar was Seitan Ribs:

Look at those juicy seitan ribs all glistening in the afternoon sunlight. Awwww ... and they taste as delicious as they look. Like all HH recipes, this one was oil-free, and while I do love me some healthy oils, this dish really didn't need any. The baked seitan was chewy and tender and tangy and savory-sweet.

I enjoyed my ribs with a side of steamed squash and some of my Mama's Mac & Tomatoes:

This is a dish from my cookbook, which went to press this week, y'all! Cookin' Crunk will be in my hands (and hopefully in yours too) before I know it. Anyway, the dish is based on a side my mama made all the time when I was a kid. Fresh summer tomatoes are cooked down into a juicy broth and mixed with macaroni, olive oil, and a little fresh basil. The basil, by the way, was my addition. My mom kept it simple, and it's just as yummy without the herbs. By the way, my cookbook also includes a similar rib recipe, but it's for a dry-rub-style seitan rib.

Speaking of my cookbook, Amazon FINALLY added the cover image on the pre-order page. Check it out and get yours reserved now!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Of Long Lost Vegan Cookzines ...

Back in my early vegan days, I only owned a handful of formal vegan cookbooks. There was How It All Vegan by Sarah Kramer and Tonya Barnard, Robin Robertson's Vegan Planet, The Vegan Sourcebook by Joanne Stepaniak, and a few other oldies-but-goodies. Plus, I had a few vegetarian cookbooks that I used to veganize recipes.

But most of my recipe ideas came from vegan cookzines back then. Among my faves were The Cheap Vegan (my first vegan cookzine, a compendium of affordable vegan recipes including an old-school seitan recipe using only whole wheat flour and water ... yep, no vital wheat gluten ... we're talking old, old-school seitan) and a teensy-tiny little old thing called Rabbit Fodder Addict. Both were written by vegan zinester Stephanie Scarborough.

Rabbit Fodder Addict was no bigger than the palm of your hand, and it contained about 15 or 20 easy-as-vegan-pie recipes. I've probably made everything in there. The Rabbit Fodder Addict zines were part of a series put out by Portland's Microcosm Publishing, but I only had one. I think it was #3 but I can't be too sure. I recently remembered this beloved little handmade book and went searching for it on my cookbook shelf. My collection of cookbooks has grown to nearly 200, and all those giant, colorful, professionally published volumes must have completely swallowed up my tiny Rabbit Fodder zine. It's nowhere to be found. Most likely, it's stuffed in the pages of a bigger book, possibly swallowed up for an eternity. Sadness.

Thankfully, I do remember my favorite recipe from the book. I was recently reminded of it when trying to think of some old breakfast standards from my early vegan days. It's really been years since I've had this Tofu Bagel Breakfast Sandwich:

I don't remember what this was called in the book. But it's quite simple. Plain tofu fried up with Cajun seasoning and topped with vegan cheese (I used the Daiya Jack Style wedges), stuffed into a bagel spread with Vegenaise. Simple and delicious. I remember making this with Tofutti vegan cheese slices or Vegan Rella back in the day because that was all we had around here. Ha! My how the vegan world has changed over 7 years.

Does anyone else remember the Rabbit Fodder Addict series? What were your first vegan cookbooks?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Halo's New Vegan Dog Food!

My oldest dog Datsun used to be vegan. Yep, he's one of those "used to be's." But it's not his fault. It's mine. He was vegan until we took in an abused pit bull mix last year. With one more mouth to feed, I really couldn't afford the $45 a bag for V-Dog anymore. Both dogs eat 4 cups a day, so that would mean twice as much money. Oh, and I have 6 cats to feed too. So reluctantly, I put them back on the non-vegan Whole Foods brand dog food.

But when Halo offered me a free sample of their new Vegan Garden Medley, I jumped at the chance. I knew the boys would love it! The first few ingredients in this dry food are green peas, chickpeas, pearled barley, oat groats, pea protein, and flaxseed. Plus, there's plenty of veggies, like beets, potatoes, spinach, carrots and lettuce. It seems only natural that Halo would introduce a vegan dog food line since vegan Ellen DeGeneres is a co-owner.

When the box arrived at my office, my co-worked Hannah said, "Let's try it!" And why not? It's vegan, right? We each popped a morsel in our mouths. And, um, well, it's dog food. It wasn't bad, just not my choice of favorite snack. But my pups have different tastebuds, and it's designed for them anyway. So what did they think? I'll let them tell you in their own words. First, here's Datsun:

"Hey everybody! My name is Datsun, and I love to eat! I didn't used to be quite as interested in food, but now that I'm 10, I like to spend my days lounging on my special dog couch, awaiting my next meal. I like my usual food, but I also like to eat any cat food that falls in the floor when mom feeds the cats. Oh, and I like to stick my face in the cat food and eat while mom fills their bowls. Hell, I even like cat poop! But I've kicked that habit and would rather not talk about that."
So what did I like about the new Halo Vegan Garden Medley dog food? The taste! I gobbled this stuff up even faster than I do my usual food. Plus, it's loaded with antioxidants from fruit and vegetable sources."
 And here's what Maynard had to say:

 "Hey, hey hey!! Maynard here! I'm a rowdy, one-year-old pit bull mix, and I came from a broken home. But things are better around here. Before, I was tied to a tree outside in the heat and cold. But in my new home, mom lets me sleep on the recliner. And that's awesome! But I really don't sleep that much. I'd rather play and jump on people. It's rude, but I'm hyper, I just can't help myself."
"I usually hate meal times. The cats chase me away from their food bowls, and sometimes, they use their claws on my nose. I'm especially terrified of Gelfling, the little black cat. He's small, but he's pure evil. Anyway, I usually stand around my bowl and watch everyone else eat first. And then I nibble a little. And then I try to sneak some cat food. And then I make a lap around the kitchen, and then I might nibble some more. Datsun finishes his food really fast and then, since I'm not always manning my bowl, he tries to steal mine. But mom always tells him no, and then I reluctantly finish my bowl so no one can steal it from me."
"But when mom fed us Halo Vegan Garden Medley, I ate every bite as fast as I could. She fed us outside that day so she could take better pictures, so the cat food wasn't a distraction. But I doubt I would have noticed anyway! I ate mine almost as fast as Datsun, and he's a speed eater! It was delicious, and there's no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Plus, no corn, wheat, or gluten. I don't even know what that means, but mom seems pretty happy about it."
So there you go! The boys loved it! If I ever get a raise, switching to Halo Vegan Garden Medley is first on the list.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gettin' Starchy With It

Eat more starch. Go vegan. Limit nuts and avocado. Avoid oil. That's the basic outline for Dr. McDougall's Starch Solution diet and the premise for his new book, The Starch Solution.

I have to say, as a starchy carb lover, the title of the book drew me in. I love grains, potatoes, corn, winter squash, all of that. It makes me feel more full, and it's satisfying. Plus, I'm always a fan of vegan books disguised as diet books. There's no mention of vegan on the book jacket, just the words "Eat the foods you love, regain your health, and lose the weight for good!" I like books that draw more people into our little vegan cult via health claims. I don't care why you go vegan (ethical or health), just so long as you do.

McDougall argues that starch is beneficial despite anti-carb diets that preach the contrary. Starches are made up of chains of glucose molecules, and the body breaks it down into simple sugars that provide sustained energy to keep our bodies full and satisfied. And that's an idea I can get down with. More starch? No problem.

I do, however, take issue with McDougall's no oil/limit fats ideas. He makes some arguments against the common belief that good fats prevent heart disease in a chapter called "The Fat Vegan." But I know there are conflicting studies out there, and I'm of the belief that the body needs good fat to help it absorb other nutrients. An oil-free diet may be okay in the short-term for someone trying to lose weight, but not all of us are trying to lose weight.

Anyway, the oil thing aside, I'm in total agreement with McDougall's arguments for more starch. Thankfully, he also includes some starchy recipes and a meal plan to get started. I chose to make his Spicy Lima Beans and Cabbage:

I used fresh limas from the Memphis Farmers Market for this recipe, plus shredded cabbage, corn, and brown rice. Super starchy, especially when served with the recommended corn tortillas. But perhaps the best part of this recipe? The fact that it called for sriracha! It was delicious, and indeed, it did keep me full for hours.

That's probably because I also made McDougall's Southwest Red Potatoes:

These "fried" potatoes were pretty tasty and filling, but I must admit that I broke one really big rule. The recipe called for frying these in a non-stick skillet with oil-free dressing. But I used the oily kind. Sue me. These were delicious, and since the other dish was oil-free, I figure it all balances out, right?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Coco Chia!

I wanted to title this post "Ch-Ch-Chia," but a quick Google search revealed that I've already used that title for another post back in 2010. It's a shame when you've been blogging so long that you start using the same titles.

Anyway, tonight's quick post is all about the mighty chia seed. I've never been a huge, huge fan of chia seeds. They're cool, but I'm not really a health food nut. I'll take a bowl of vegan chocolate pudding from a box over a bowl of chia pudding any day. But I do try to eat healthy sometimes, especially before my morning runs.

I save the naughty stuff for later in the day. For example, I may have ended my night with deep-fried vegan calamari (from Imagine Vegan Cafe) and a vegan rice crispy treat (prepared by my friend Stephanie of Swell Baked Goods, sold at Imagine), but I started my morning with this Coco Rizo Cooler from Eat & Run:

Another one of ultramarathoner Scott Jurek's healthy pre-workout drinks, the Coco Rizo Cooler is a refreshing start to a 6 a.m. run in 80-plus degree rising temps. Inside there's homemade brown rice milk, agave, light coconut milk, coconut extract, and chia seeds.

I used some sample seeds sent along with a review package from Nativas Naturals (yes, the raw food companies have been sending me a lot lately, and I'm very grateful!). In the past, I've only used chia seeds to make thick puddings and overnight oats, both of which get a little more gelatinous than I feel comfortable eating. But since you can drink this beverage immediately after blending, it doesn't get too thick and weird. In fact, the chia seeds gave this drink a bit of heft, which helped it keep me satisfied on my three-mile run.

Chia seeds are a great source of omega fatty acids, and they contain more antioxidants than flaxseeds. They're also an excellent source of fiber, and they even have a bit of calcium too!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Casual Meets Gourmet

My next cookbook will focus on veganized versions of trendy foods throughout the last century. Originally, I planned on sticking to the retro 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. But now I'm sort of thinking of going a little further back to the early 1900s (rolls with currant jelly, anyone?) and a little more forward to the Asian fusion cuisine-loving 1990s. Maybe.

I still have plenty of time to figure it out because right now, I'm focused on the 1950s and 1960s ... partly because I'm working my way through Mad Men, and I draw a lot of inspiration from what foods are mentioned on the show. For example, I'm pretty sure I heard a mention of chicken salad sandwiches the other day. Those are so very retro! So I created a vegan Tempeh Salad Sandwich instead:

Yes, that picture is pretty brown. Sorry. But I swear it was delicious. First try and it came out perfect. I've made plenty of vegan egg salads in my day, but I've only experimented with vegan chicken salad a few times.

To make up for that drab, brown picture, check out the Side Salad I ate with my sandwich:

Those olives on top are the "gourmet" part of this post. They're Organic Raw Peruvian Botija Olives from Sunfood. Sounds super fancy, huh? These little raw olives are sun-dried and pitted, so chopping them for a salad is a cinch (I HATE pitting olives!).

Sunfood sent me these in a package of samples to review on the blog. These are, by far, my favorite among the samples they sent. I've seen recipes call for raw olives, but I've never been able to find them. They're soft and chewy. Despite being sun-dried, they don't require rehydration. And they have a strong olive flavor that would only be appreciated by a true olive lover. Thankfully, I adore olives!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bluff City Vegan Eats: Lunchbox Eats

Yo, it's been a way long time since I've written a Memphis restaurant review. That's mostly because I've reviewed all of the places I dine regularly, so writing about new ones means branching out. That's exactly what I did when I visited Lunchbox Eats with my friend Shannon for a weekday lunch awhile back (Confession: I've been sitting on these pics for well over a month, but I forgot to post them!).

Lunchbox Eats is this quaint little downtown lunch spot with a school theme and a vintage vibe. The first thing I noticed were these cute ass owl salt and pepper shakers. Every table has a different set of retro shakers! The owls are not what they seem ...

And our server gave us menus, which are printed on ruled notebook paper! Adorbs!

I'm not typically one to order anything besides water to drink because I don't like to drink my calories. But when the server mentioned Blueberry Lemonade, I couldn't resist. It came in this giant Mason jar, and it hit the spot on a hot, summer day.

I checked the menu out online before our lunch date, so I knew that there was only one sandwich that could be made vegan. But that was okay because it sounded delicious. The Extra Curricula Portabella is described as "a playful take on a Wellington, because this one is with only MUSHROOMS! Smoked Portabella Mushrooms piled with a soulful mixture of veggies, sandwiched between Crispy Phyllo Dough joined with Tomatoes and Spouts."

There's no cheese on this sandwich, so you don't have to ask to have it left off. But the phyllo is usually buttered, so be sure and ask them to spread it with oil instead. Tastewise, this sandwich was delicious. It needed a little salt, but everything in my life needs more salt, so ... Also, this sandwich must be eaten with a fork because it's nearly impossible to pick up. Oh, and did you see the cute ass lunch tray it's served on?

The vegan sides at Lunchbox Eats are the best part. Besides the usual fries, they have Chickpea Crunch (roasted chickpeas) and Kale Chips!!! I had to try the kale chips!

These are baked to crispy perfection, and they're served plain. Just salt and oil. So I dipped mine in ketchup. So, so delicious.

Shannon ordered a meat sandwich, so I'll spare you. But she did insist that I take a picture of her French Fries. They give you a whole pound of fries with one order! And they're quite tasty:

Overall, Lunchbox Eats is awesome. Besides the portabella sandwich, they also have a ginormous salad that can be made vegan. It's got roasted corn, roma tomatoes, banana peppers, pickles, and Tabasco onions. But be sure and ask them to omit the cheese and cornbread croutons (actually, I'm not sure if these are vegan or not, but I'd leave them off to be on the safe side).

Lunchbox Eats is located at 288 S. Fourth St. Call 901-526-0820.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Happy Trail Mixes To You

I'm not sure how it happened, but a couple years back, companies just started emailing me all the time asking me to review their products. Now I'm not one to turn down free stuff, especially free vegan stuff from mostly small, independent vegan-owned companies. I don't want to be a free advertisement for conglomerates, but I love showing vegan companies some love .. especially when they're making awesome stuff.

Sometimes, just as a total coincidence, a few different companies will send me similar products around the same time. For example, over the past few weeks, I received generous trail mix sample packages from SunRidge Farms and Nativas Naturals.

SunRidge Farms sent me their Organic Deluxe Trail Mix and their Organic Supreme Almonds:

First, I ripped open the trail mix because I'm a sucker for nuts mixed with dried fruit. This mix has raisins, dry roasted peanuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, apricots, pumpkin seeds, apples, walnuts, and (my very favorite) dates:

It's unsalted, and though I prefer salt in just about everything, the natural taste works here. Plus, I feel better about myself after eating handful after handful when it's not loaded with sodium. I like to grab a nut and a fruit and eat them in the same bite, so I tried different combos. The best were peanuts and dates.

Now I'll tell you more about the SunRidge Farms almonds in a minute. First, check out these Trail Mixes from Nativas Naturals:

One has goji, mulberry, and goldenberry:

And the other has that same berry combo, plus cashews and cacao nibs:

I'd actually tried the latter when I made my Forgiveness Mix from the Crazy Sexy Diet cookbook back in January.  I love, love, love the tartness of the berries, especially the goldenberries. And the mix with the nibs is just amazing. You've got bitter cacao, tart berries, and smooth cashews. With all those different attitudes, it's like an episode of America's Next Top Model in your mouth.

When I made Kris Carr's Forgiveness Trail Mix a few months ago, I combined the nib mix with pepitas and more cashews and put it in a jar on my desk at work for mid-morning snacking. Well, my co-worker Hannah helped me eat it, and then she made the same mix to replace it. Only she re-named it Friendship Mix because she thought Forgiveness Mix sounded hokey. After we finished Hannah's batch, we went on a Chex Mix kick and never replaced the Friendship Mix.

So I combined my SunRidge Almonds with the goji, mulberry, and goldenberry Nativas Naturals Trail Mix, and a new jar of Friendship Mix was born!

The clean, crisp almonds are the perfect complement to the tangy, dried berries. Plus, there were still some leftover pepitas in the jar from last time (score!)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Beans, Berries, & Brownies

The black bean brownie craze made its way through the vegan blogosphere a few years back, and while I was always intrigued, I was never, like, "OMG, I gotta make those." I'm pretty adventurous when it comes to food, but beans and brownies? I just wasn't so sure.

But as I recently professed in my review of Eat & Run, I'm a newly converted Scott Jurek fangirl. When I saw his recipe for Chocolate Adzuki Bean Bars in Eat & Run, I became a believer:

I made a batch of these earlier this week to snack on before my morning workouts as a fun new thing to occasionally swap for my usual smoothie. Adzuki beans are often used as a sweet bean paste in Asian desserts, so I figured this wasn't too much of a stretch.

Now don't get me wrong: These bars are not dessert. They're more like health food — beans, banana, goji berries, barley flour, brown rice flour, cacao powder, and maple syrup. And that's perfect! I don't feel the slightest bit guilty having one of these bars before a run. They're just a tad sweet, and it's a natural healthy kind of sweet.

Hey, speaking of goji berries, I used some free review samples sent to me by SunFood.

They sent me a package of all sorts of raw snacks to try, and these were the first thing I opened. Love goji berries! I've never been too keen on all the superfood hype, but I just love the way these tart-sweet berries taste. These little guys have 18 amino acids, provide more than 20 trace minerals, and are a great source of antioxidants and dietary fiber.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fried Food Tastes Better

My co-worker/cubicle neighbor Hannah came back after lunch today and said, "I think I'm gonna throw up. I just ate fried for lunch."

"Fried what?" I asked.

"Like everything – fried pickles, fried green beans, French fries, tater tots. Just fried fried," she replied.

Well, that may be a little too much fried. I mean, all that would taste delicious while you're eating it, but I can imagine not feeling so hot an hour later. But a little fried food every once in a while is healthy. Maybe not in a nutritionally beneficial way, but in a healthy for the soul way. That's what I believe, anyway.

So I indulged in a little "healthy" fried splurge too — Fried Squash from my so-close-to-coming-out-I-can-taste-it cookbook, Cookin' Crunk: Eatin' Vegan in the Dirty South:

I grew up eatin' this stuff every summer. My mama would bread and batter fresh summer squash and toss it in a pan of hot grease. Then she'd drain it on paper towels, add a little salt, and voila. There's no better way to enjoy summer squash.

I ate mine with yesterday's leftover Red Pepper Jelly Glazed Tofu and some steamed kale to balance out all the grease.

You can pre-order my cookbook here on Amazon. The cover image STILL isn't up and I'm not sure why, but I can assure it looks awesome. It should be out next month-ish if all goes as planned!

While we're talking announcements, my friend Mary Wilmer, former cookie magician behind Intention Cookies (a now-defunct vegan cookie company that promoted cruelty-free livin' and good karma) has asked me to mention her cookie partner-in-crime Terry Bradford's IndieGogo campaign. He's trying to raise money to create a DVD and CD of a recent concert he had filmed. Bradford used to sing back-up for Celine Dion, and now he's trying to branch out into his own musical career. In fact, that's why Mary and Terry stopped making Intention Cookies. They wanted to devote more time to music. Anyway, if you're interested, here's the link to the fund-raising campaign.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hot Pepper Jelly Fun Time!

Y'all know how I love hot stuff, right? But you probably didn't know that I'm also a hoarder of jams and jellies. Well, I am. I love all things jellied that come in cute ass jars. I've been known to store a jar of jam for 2 years before cracking it open just because I like to look at it on my shelf. But when Jenkin's Jellies sent me full size jars of all four flavors of their organic pepper jellies, I knew I'd be cracking these open immediately. My pit bull Maynard couldn't contain his excitement either:

Each jar comes with a tiny little spoon with a sticker that says "Stir me." So like Alice in the rabbit hole, I followed the instructions. Here's a close-up of Jenkins Jellies' signature flavor — Hell Fire Pepper Jelly:

They also included Passion Fire (peppers + passionfruit), Guava Brava (peppers + guava), and Fiery Figs (peppers + figs). Each jelly has its own distinct flavor. Hell Fire is definitely the hottest, but it's not overpoweringly spicy. Spice-a-phobes could probably even handle the heat, but then again, I'm not the best judge of heat levels considering that I bathe everything in mounds and mounds of sriracha. The Guava Brava was the sweetest, and the Passion Fire has a nice sweetness to it as well. The Fiery Fig had the most savory flavor and seemed like the best of the four to use in a salty-sweet dish.

So what to do with all this pepper jelly? Well, I had to get a little creative. First, I tried the Hell Fire Pepper Jelly straight up spread onto a slice of my Wartime Wheat Bread (which I blogged about here). Delicious on its own!

I also tried the Hell Fire spread over toast with Tofutti cream cheese, but I forgot to snap a picture. Vegan cream cheese and pepper jelly may be one of the best combos ever.

Last week, I made the Jalapeno Garlic Grits from Vegan Brunch for breakfast. And just as I was plopping my serving in a bowl, I thought, "I bet this would be even better with a scoop of Guava Brava." And it was. The perfect combo of savory, sweet, and spicy:

The samples came with a card promoting a soon-to-be released Jenkins Jellies cookbook called Sweet Heat: Cooking with Hell Fire Pepper Jelly. On that card, there was a list of ideas for how to use pepper jelly, which included this tip: "Spice up your peanut butter sandwich." At first, that sounded weird. But the more I thought about it, the more it sounded like spicy Thai food peanut sauce. And I like Thai food, so what the hell? I tried a PB&PJ (that's peanut butter and pepper jelly) sandwich, but I failed to photograph it. I did, however, snap a pic of my similar breakfast this morning — Passion Fire Pepper Jelly and Almond Butter on a Whole Wheat Bagel:

That list of ideas also mentioned the possibility of using pepper jelly as a glaze for meats. When I see the word "meat" with my vegan goggles, it magically transforms to "tofu." Pepper jelly glazed tofu sounded magnificent! So I googled and found this recipe for Red Pepper Jelly Glazed Tofu:

I used Fiery Fig for this, but the glaze also includes orange juice, curry powder, soy sauce, and a little cornstarch to thicken. Perfect with a side of steamed kale and deep-fried squash.

Conclusion: Jenkins Jellies are pretty much the best thing ever! They're made by actress Hillary Danner (Gwyneth Paltrow's cousin) and her friends Maria Newman and Chef Jared Levy. There are no artificial ingredients or preservatives. They're gluten-free and organic and just fabulous all around. They're only available in select stores, but you can order jars online here.