Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cheap Snacks (and Other Stuff!)

I'm cheap. That's partly because journalism isn't the most lucrative career, but you don't go into the field for money. I'm okay knowing I'll never be rich so long as I'm doing something I love. But that does mean I have to cut corners to make ends meet. I can trim a budget like nobody's business ... except when it comes to food.

I have a food hoarding problem. Mostly a snack hoarding problem. I like good food. Organic stuff. Special vegan snacks. Weirdo hippie shit. And that stuff's not cheap. But I've found a new online source for cheap snacks (and all kinds of other stuff!) — Vitacost!

Vitacost contacted me asking if I would review their Whole Food Women's Daily Multi-Vitamin. Of course I said yes. So they sent me these:

Unfortunately, the pills contain milk, which I didn't realize until I read the fine print at the bottom of the bottle. Bummer. I'll have to re-gift these. But that's not the cool part.

Vitacost also sent me a $25 gift certificate to spend on whatever I wanted in their online store. They have everything from healthy snacks to dog food to animal-free bath products to vitamins and supplements. And everything is offered at a discount price. For example, a bottle of Earth Friendly Products Eco Ultra Laundry Detergent (what I use) is $11.12 on Vitacost, versus $15.29 retail. Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Pizza Crust mix is $2.59 instead of $4.29 retail.

After at least an hour perusing their offerings, I finally settled on this stuff:

There's Crisproot Thai Ginger Cassava Root Chips ($3.79 as opposed to $3.19 retail), Kaia Foods Barbecue Kale Chips ($4.79 as opposed to $5.99 retail), Snack Factory Supreme Pretzel Crisps ($3.39 as opposed to $3.59 retail), Seeds of Change Jalfrezi Curry Sauce ($4.49 as opposed to $4.99 retail), Artisana Raw Walnut Butter with Cashews ($9.89 as opposed to $10.89), and two packages of $1.09 healthy Koyo Ramen Noodles (y'all know I HAD to get some ramen!).

All of that was only $27.93! (One commenter pointed out that the math doesn't come out exactly, but that's because the two packs of ramen were slightly different in price. One was $1.09 and the other was a tad less, but I just listed the one price above because I was tired while blogging last night and too lazy to look up the few cents difference). And shipping was only $5. If you only order a few things, the shipping may actually balance out the retail cost of the item. But if you buy a lot, it's definitely worth it. Especially for hard-to-find items (like the walnut butter for me) that you have to order anyway. I actually didn't go for the super discounted items, but rather things I cannot find in Memphis.  But if you're seriously looking to save, there are some deeply discounted things on Vitacost.

Just stay away from the milk vitamins! Thankfully, the site does list ingredients for every product they sell, so you can easily determine a product's vegan-ness before buying.

Oh, and bonus: The Vitacost shipping box has a recipe for hummus!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

B-Nut Squash Soup

Tonight's post is short and sweet. First, we'll get a little business out of the way. The winner of my Cookin' Crunk giveaway is Brandy! She was lucky commenter #105 out of #106!

Now for the food. You know it's truly fall when you finally break out the butternut squash. Or at least that's the case for me. I never make butternut squash dishes until well into the season, and that's not intentional. I usually just forget about the poor little b-nut squash.

I only remembered him this time because the November recipe of the month in the Happy Herbivore 2012 wall calendar is this Butternut Squash Soup:

I've made various butternut squash soups in the past, but none were as simple as this recipe. It's simply squash, curry powder, and vegetable broth. That's it. But I did add a lot of homemade hot sauce and a little almond-coconut milk (to tone down way too much hot sauce) upon serving.

What's your favorite fall veggie?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vegan Cuts Snack Box!

I love a good snack box. And I especially love a good snack box assembled by some of my favorite vegan discount specialists, Jill and John of Vegan Cuts. When I was offered a box to review, I jumped at the chance.

In addition to offering loads of vegan products at bargain prices (think Groupon for vegan treats), Vegan Cuts has begun offering subscriptions for snack boxes loaded with samples of products they offer. For just $19 a month, you can get a cute ass little box of awesome delivered straight to your door. My sample box arrived a few weeks ago. Look at what was inside!

There's Toasty Onion Seasnax, a reusable glass straw from Simply Straws, Berry Plus laundry soap, Surf Sweets Sour Berry Bears, a Caramel Peanut Protein Bar from The Simply Bar, a Dark Chocolate Mint Delight, and a Betty Lou's Cashew Pecan Ball. Oh, and a Vegan Cuts sticker!

I received this package at the office, and after I snapped this shot, I immediately ripped open the Surf Sweet gummy bears. These were the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Plus, they're loaded with Vitamin C. Healthy gummy bears!

Next, I tried the Delights treat. It was all raw and super healthy, but it didn't taste like health food. More like a tasty, minty brownie bite:

I ate the Cashew Pecan Ball before a morning run this week. I've had these before, and they are just so perfect. Betty Lou's does a snack right, y'all. Just the right amount of cashew butter and nuts. Not too sweet. Not too health food-tasting:

I loved the Seasnax! I often keep little snack packages of seaweed on my desk for light mid-morning snackin', but the kind I buy at the Asian market doesn't come in flavors. These sheets had a slight onion salt flavor. Like potato chips, but totally not. Bonus: This whole package only contains 14 calories!

I wasn't so sure about the Berry Plus laundry soap. We have an HE washing machine, and nowhere on the sample package did it say this stuff was okay to use in an HE machine. But I googled it and found out Berry Plus is made from all-natural soap nuts, which have a low sudsy factor. So they're safe to use in HE machines. This tiny vial of soap contains one teaspoon of detergent, and yet, it made a whole big load of laundry smell so fresh and so clean:

I've not yet eaten the Simply Bar, but it's on the list for tomorrow morning's pre-workout snack. Also, I'm super stoked about the Simply Straw. I broke my last two glass straws (sigh), so it'll be nice to have a new one for my occasional pre-run smoothies.

Vegan Cuts is now taking orders for the December snack box! Get over there and order one for yourself (or as a Christmas gift for someone else!).

Oh, and don't forget about my Cookin' Crunk giveaway. Contest ends Wednesday night, 9-ish CST.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Crunk Time with Cat!

Last year, my partner Paul and I traveled to Portland for the first Vida Vegan Con blogger's convention. There was a meet-and-greet on the first night at a restaurant miles from the host hotel. Unfamiliar with any public transit system, Paul and I attempted to navigate to the opening night event by bus. We had no idea where we were going, and neither of us had ever ridden a bus. I'd printed directions and downloaded a Portland transit app. We crossed our fingers as we stepped onto a bus that we assumed would take us to the right place.

Shortly after we hopped on, the bus made a stop and on came Cat of The Verdant Life. Suddenly, I knew all would be okay. Cat was headed to the same place, and I trusted her bus navigation skills. Throughout the conference, we stuck close to Cat's side.

Well, I haven't seen Cat since last August in Portland. But just before Thanksgiving, she messaged me to tell me she'd be passing through Memphis today on her way back to Ohio from New Orleans. She and her boyfriend Mark met up with Paul and I for dinner at the vegan-friendly Trolley Stop Market.

Cat ordered one of the restaurant's massive vegan calzones (she opted for no vegan cheese in favor of broccoli, artichokes, and something else I can't remember). This thing was bigger than her head!

Monday night is Vegan Night at the Trolley Stop, and they always offer a vegan dinner special in addition to the other vegan options on the menu. Tonight was the Vegan Baja Bowl (black beans, rice, roasted corn, tomatoes, tomatillos, cilantro, and avocado). That's what I ordered. Ironically, the Baja Bowl was served on a plate:

Our boyfriends ordered meat sandwiches. Ugh. I'll spare you the details.

After dinner, we hit up Boscos Squared for some local brews. Cat and I ordered the Boscos Export Stout:

Here's Cat and Mark:

And here's an artsy shot of Paul and I (and Paul's Flaming Stone beer):

Good times!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cookin' Crunk Giveaway!!!!

As I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post on Thursday, my veganaversary was Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). To celebrate, I'm giving away a copy of my cookbook, Cookin' Crunk: Eatin' Vegan in the Dirty South.

Now, although the book has been out since September, I've not yet held a giveaway on my own blog. That's because I've been waiting for this very special occasion (my 8th veganaversary and 18th vegetarian-aversary) to do so. All you have to do is a leave a comment at the end of this post.

But first, I want to give a photo shout-out to all the other bloggers who have posted pictures of recipes from the book. Just for fun.

Not only did Joni Marie Newman (of Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet/Vegan Food Gifts fame) write me an awesome endorsement for the back cover of Cookin' Crunk, she also gave me a glowing review on her blog, Just the Food. Check out the Fried Tofu Chicken Wafflewich she made:

From Joni Marie Newman, Just the Food

My buddy Justin Fox Burks, fellow Memphian/photographer extraordinaire/cookbook author, made my Hot Tamale Pie and posted the recipe on the Chubby Vegetarian:

Justin Fox Burks, Chubby Vegetarian

Tofu Mom, who I like to think of as my (and everybody's) "internet mama," combined two recipes I never thought of combining — Fried Green Tomatoes and Country Buttermilk Ranch Dressing:

Tofu Mom (Marti Hall), Vegan Food: More Than Tofu and Sprouts

Speaking of fried green tomatoes, John P of the I-40 Vegan Kitchen combined my green tomatoes with my Bringin' Home the Tempeh Bacon and my Vegan Pimento Cheese to make this mouth-watering (I know, cause I made one after I saw John's) Grant Stack Sandwich:

John Plummer, The I-40 Kitchen

Also, while there's no pictures to post here, Lesley of Lesley Eats reviewed Cookin' Crunk for the Nashville Scene's dining blog, Bites.

Allison Rivers Samson of Allison's Gourmet interviewed me for her Fridays with Friends segment on her Sweet Talk blog.

And fellow Memphian Jennifer Chandler, author of Simply Salads, Simply Suppers, and Simply Grilling, also interviewed me on her 30-day vegetarian blog when she went meat-free for a month.

I hope I didn't forget anybody! I've had a lot of folks post pics from Cookin' Crunk on Instagram and tag me. It's so awesome to see people making my food! It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Anyway, for a chance to win a copy, leave a comment here letting me about your favorite Southern dish. I'll randomly choose one winner on Wednesday night. Also, please leave an email address with your comment if you don't have one linked through a Blogger or Wordpress profile. I have to have a way to contact you if you win!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Veganaversary

Years ago (we're talking 1994), I gave up meat on the day after Thanksgiving. In 2004, I went one step further and gave up cheese and eggs on the day after Thanksgiving. So Thanksgiving is a pretty special day for me. It's Veganaversary Eve, and that's as good an excuse as any to pig out on delicious vegan food as I can think of. Of course, I don't really need an excuse.

Since I have the best Mama and Granny on the planet, I can eat every dish at the Thanksgiving table. They make all the sides vegan and a few of the casseroles have vegan versions (all for me!) and nonvegan versions (for everybody else). And I get a Tofurky while everyone else eats turkey. Here's what we had this year.

Of course, there's the obligatory Tofurky. Some years, I mix it up and bring a Field Roast or a Gardein turkey, but good old Tofurky will always be my fave. It's bigger, and I think, tastier, than its competitors:

My mama is FAMOUS for her Cornbread Dressin.' And lucky y'all, the recipe is in Cookin' Crunk. But hers is always better than mine because she has the magic touch (and because she uses white flour):

The one dish I knew I'd miss the most when I went vegan after Thanksgiving 2004 was Hash Brown Casserole (hash browns, cream of mushroom soup, cheese, butter, and cornflakes). For a few years after going vegan, I definitely missed it! But then my mama tried veganizing it using Daiya cheddar and her homemade vegan cream of celery soup! Hurray!! Hash Brown Casserole again! (Oh, and her version is also in Cookin' Crunk):

While we're on the subject of Cookin' Crunk, look what Granny brought — Corn Casserole (also in my cookbook) made with vegan cream cheese. The recipe in my book is her recipe that she gave me to include:

And there was one more crunk item on the menu — my Deviled Tofu Bites. Granny and Daddy were anxious to try them. And everyone at dinner loved them and said they taste "just like deviled eggs." My aunt Mildred said, "If you were to close your eyes and eat one, you'd never know the difference." Score! By the way, we didn't have nonvegan deviled eggs this year, so everyone ate tofu! And we put them in my Mama's retro glass deviled egg dish:

While we were in Atlanta for VegFest a couple weekends back, my Mama and I picked up some Judyfood Southwestern Dip from the Whole Foods by our hotel. It's a local (to Georgia) savory vegan dip that tastes like dressed-up mayo. This dip has chipotle peppers and sundried tomatoes. We used one of Judy's (the maker of Judyfood dips) for Southwestern Pasta Salad. It has pasta, Southwestern Dip, black beans, corn, peppers, avocado, lime juice, and some other stuff:

Granny also brought some Greens and Turnips (both hand-picked from a garden!) cooked together, but I forgot to photograph those. And she brought some Green Beans with Carrots:

Mama made some delicious vinegar-based Coleslaw:

And she made her standard homemade Cranberry Sauce with Pecans:

I managed to fit a little of everything mentioned above onto one plate. And I managed to fit that plate's contents into my belly:

And I still saved room for dessert. Now, we've NEVER had pumpkin pie at the Phillips family Thanksgiving dinner. My mom always thought she hated pumpkin, but her tastebuds are expanding, so she decided this would be the year we'd have pumpkin pie. But oh, it wasn't a traditional pumpkin pie. No ma'am. It was a Pumpkin Pudding Pie with Vegan Caramel!

The pumpkin puree is mixed with vegan vanilla pudding and rice whip cream. It sits atop a layer of vegan caramel (homemade, of course) and pecans, all packaged in a graham cracker crust. Oh, and there's more caramel and pecans on top too. This may have been my favorite Thanksgiving pie ever! Here's an inside shot of its creamy goodness:

So now I'm stuffed. We ate all of that at lunch, so for dinner, I had a little popcorn. And even the popcorn was probably too much. I feel like I'm about to explode. But there's more eating ahead of me. I have tons of leftovers for the weekend, and I'll be having my annual veganaversary Black Friday brunch (tofu scramble, hash browns!) at Brother Juniper's with Mama in the morning.

Hope y'all had a Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Oh, and just in case you want to try some of the above-mentioned recipes (deviled "eggs," corn casserole, my Mama's dressin'), you should head over to All About Vegan Food! Blogger Glauce is giving away a copy of Cookin' Crunk, as well as copies of Hannah's Vegan a la Mode and Isa and Terry's Vegan Pie in the Sky.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vegan Turkey Burger Time!

With Thanksgiving only a day and a few hours away, I'm sure you're all drooling over the thought of that Tofurky or Field Roast that will be at the center of your dinner table on Thursday. I know I am (it's Tofurky for me this year), but until then, I'll give you an un-turkey teaser.

As I've mentioned before, I'm currently working on my next cookbook project, a book of veganized trendy food through the ages. I don't really know when turkey burgers first came on the American food scene, but I remember eating a crap ton of them in the 1980s, when low-fat foods and diet fads were all the rage. So for my 1980s section, I created a Vegan Turkey Burger:

I used chickpeas for the light color and lots of poultry-esque herbs (sage, thyme, marjoram) for the turkey flavor. I wasn't sure how it would turn out. But as much as I hate to brag (okay, okay, I don't really), I must admit that this was pretty damn perfect on the first try. It's a substantial patty that doesn't fall apart, and it has an amazing flavor. It's crispy on the outside, like a patty-shaped falafel minus the lemon juice and parsley. It could easily pass for a vegan chicken patty too, but faux poultry is faux poultry, right?

On the side, I made some Green Beans & New Potatoes that I'll also include in the 1980s chapter:

Again, I'm not sure when this recipe actually dates back to, but I found a non-vegan version (with bacon! Ick!) in a 1984 issue of Southern Living.

Speaking of turkeys, if you haven't adopted one through Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-a-Turkey program, now is the time. Every year, instead of eating a turkey, I adopt one through Farm Sanctuary. This year, I chose Thyme, mainly because I love that name!

“Now is the Thyme to start a new Thanksgiving tradition: Adopt a turkey!”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Let's Go on a Savory Journey!

I run. And therefore, I eat a lot of bars. Every morning, before I hit the pavement, I have a "first breakfast" of an energy bar, a smoothie, or a vegan yogurt. But while I love the latter two, it's easier to rip open a bar and down it quickly at 6 a.m.

Now, this is gonna sound a little cray. But I prefer savory treats over sweet ones 99 percent of the time, especially in the early morning. My sugar cravings don't come until 2 p.m.-ish. Unfortunately, most all bars are sweet, whether they're naturally fruit-sweetened or sweetened with evaporated cane juice. Or at least that's what I thought ... until I met Journey Bars!

Journey emailed me asking if I'd like to sample two of the vegan flavors in their line of savory bars. When I read "Pizza Marinara" and "Rosemary," I shot back an emphatic "Hell yes!" All of the Journey whole grain travel bars are savory, soy-free, gmo-free, fiber-filled, and free of artificial preservatives. And while not all are vegan, the above-mentioned flavors are (and they're clearly marked "vegan" on the front of the package). It also appears that the Hickory BBQ flavor is vegan too, but I didn't get a sample of that one:

I couldn't wait to tear into these, but I made myself wait until a planned run. That meant holding on to these babies until I returned from Atlanta VegFest. That was tough. But I succeeded. And these were well worth the wait.

The Pizza Marinara Bar is a soft bar, reminiscent of a tender focaccia. It's seasoned with tomato paste, onion and garlic powder, and red pepper. And the base is made from organic whole grains, such as buckwheat, brown flax seed, amaranth, and millet. It was like eating pizza for breakfast, which is truly the best way to start the day (yea, I should have been a Ninja Turtle):

The Rosemary Bar is a crunchy bar, quite different in texture than the pizza bar. It's more like a thick, herbed cracker. It too has onion and garlic powder, as well as rosemary of course. It has the same whole grain base and just a hint of apple for a touch of sweeteness. But not too much sweetness!

I loved that the these bars contain amaranth. I've found that amaranth-based bars are always my favorite. There's something about that crunchy texture that I really adore.

How would Journey bars stack up to others I've tried (and I've tried just about every bar out there)? BEST THING EVER! Maybe I'm biased because I love savory stuff, but I'd choose these over sweet, fruity bars all day long. I haven't seen these for sale around here, but there's a store finder on their website. And you can order samplers or 12-bar packs there too.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gettin' Crunk in Little Rock

I had a booksigning in Little Rock, Arkansas on Saturday. It's about two-and-a-half hours from Memphis, and my BFF Sheridan lives there. So we made a day of it. My friend Cassi (who lives in Memphis) and I loaded up my car with books and samples of vegan pimento cheese sandwiches and headed for LR at 7 a.m.

We arrived earlier than expected, so we had plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely brunch from the very vegan-friendly Root Cafe:

The Root Cafe's chef, Cash, is super awesome, and he made my Vegan Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy from Cookin' Crunk to serve for brunch that day!!

Sheridan ordered that plate, and even though I really wanted to order my own chocolate gravy plate, I was so torn because I'd been dying to try the Root's vegan Bhan Mi Tofu Scramble. I decided that, since I have the recipe for chocolate gravy and can make it any time and since I'm very rarely able to enjoy brunch in Little Rock, I'd get the Bhan Mi:

You can't tell but there's a delicious tofu scramble underneath those raw carrots. There's also a layer of vegan mayo, hoisin sauce, and sriracha. It's served with little toasts, like a deconstructed bhan mi breakfast! And the Root has the best salad dressing on the planet, which is served over the bed of mixed greens. Of course, I snuck a bite of Sheridan's biscuits, and Cash did an amazing job!!

The Root serves coffee in various, re-purposed mugs. Sheridan got stuck with the 40th birthday mug! But she's only 32, I promise:

Here's Cassi and me:

After brunch, we walked across the street to the Green Corner Store, where my booksigning was set to begin at noon. The Green Corner Store is cute little gift shop that sells local, handmade, and eco-friendly gifts. Lots of old friends stopped by, and I made some new ones too (The sun was very bright coming through the window!):

One of those new friends is Sydney. She ordered her copy of Cookin' Crunk awhile ago, and it already had stains on some of the pages!

The Green Corner Store has an old-fasioned soda fountain and ice cream bar, and they have vegan flavors and toppings clearly marked with a little "v." I just had to try a scoop of Coconut Coffee Ice Cream topped with Waffle Chips and Dark Chocolate. So good!

They also brew their own kombucha. Sheridan and I bought bottles and then we had the soda jerk flavor them with custom syrups. I chose hibiscus flower, and Sheridan had raspberry. Cassi took a sip of my kombucha and decided the fermented tea wasn't for her:

As if we hadn't already eaten enough all day, we were ready for dinner after the signing. So we made the drive to Lilly's Dim Sum and Then Some for my favorite dish there — Spicy Panang Curry with Tofu.

Why is this my fave, you ask. Because that fried tofu goodness is served with coconut curry sauce over RAMEN NOODLES! And y'all know how I feel about ramen! Sheridan ordered the same thing.

Anyway, we had a fabulous day! I sold some cookbooks, met some new people, saw some old friends, and ate myself silly.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Veggies for Carnivores

As a vegan, I sometimes forget that non-vegans eat vegetables too. I tend to think of veggies as "our domain." But of course, I know we all need vegetables to survive. Omnis like vegetables too. And cookbook author Lora Krulak's new book Veggies for Carnivores: Moving Vegetables to the Center of the Plate is a good reminder that, vegan or not, veggies are good for everyone.

This cute little volume is about the size of a thick owner's manual. You know, the kind that comes with a new appliance or something. But instead it serves as an owner's manual for the vegetables lurking in your refrigerator's crisper.

Her recipes are very simple. They tend to focus on one or two veggies as the star of a dish with only a few spices for flavor. She lets the natural flavor of vegetables be the star of the show. Recipes are organized into a few short chapters. There's one for sauces and dressing, another for broth-based soups, another for blended or raw and crunchy salads, one for small plates, and one for smoothies.

I chose to try two simple recipes, both of which seemed appropriate for winter. I made the Roasted Onion and Parsnip Soup with Curry and Hot Chili:

This simple soup is a twist on traditional French onion soup. Parsnips and onions are roasted and then simmered in a vegetable broth with curry and hot chili powder (I used a super-spicy chili powder that I picked up at the Asian market).

At the end of each recipe, Lora includes add-in ideas and variations. Some of those include meat or dairy suggestions, but she never includes those things in her actual recipe. For this dish, she suggested topping the soup with cheese like one would do with a French onion soup. So I topped mine with a little Follow Your Heart mozzarella. The sweet parsnips were a perfect balance to the nearly caramelized onions. And the curry brought all the flavors together (plus, it made my kitchen smell wonderful for two days!).

I also made Lora's Roasted Carrot Hummus:

There's no chickpeas in this hummus. Instead, roasted carrots are blended with tahini, garlic, and onions for a delicious spread. The sweetness of the carrots adds a lovely flavor. Plus, it's nice to sneak veggies into hummus since I tend to eat way more protein than veggies.

These two dishes were delicious, and I have my sights set on a few more. I've bookmarked the Roasted Root Fries (made with beets!), Cauliflower Steak with Harissa Sauce (you had me at "steak"), and the Secret Guacamole (it has celery, maple syrup, and red peppers in it!).

No matter your dietary lifestyle, we could probably all use a little veggie boost in our lives. Lora's book can help!