Thursday, August 29, 2013

Vegan Death By Chocolate Cake

I remember a particular Haas family reunion way, way back when my Aunt Judy brought a Death By Chocolate Cake. I was about eight or nine, I guess. And I'd never heard of a Death By Chocolate Cake. But it looked heavenly.

There was a layer of chocolate cake or brownies topped with chunks of candy bars and Cool Whip. And though some people would have been most excited about the chocolate part, it was the Cool Whip that made the happiest. I loved Cool Whip. I could have eaten a whole tub with a spoon if my Mama would have let me (Come to think of it, I bet Granny would have let me when Mama wasn't around. Granny let me eat whatever I wanted!).

Anyway, I remember LOVING that cake. I think I had it a time or two after that at various potlucks or parties, but my days of Death By Chocolate Cake have been long gone for years. But I've never stopped thinking about it. It's been on my "to veganize" list for years and years.

So last week, when I needed to think up a dessert to bring to Death Cafe, a local group that gets together once a month to discuss the process death and dying, this seemed like the perfect time to work on finally veganizing this magical cake.

Okay, so it doesn't look too sexy on a plate, but it's a mush-pile of awesomeness!

Note: In case you're wondering more about Death Cafe, you can read a story I wrote for the Memphis Flyer about the local group. It's a national movement to take the taboo out of discussing death. I mean, we're all gonna die someday, right? Might as well be cool with it.

Before you die though, you should probably make this cake at least once. I'm thinking of including this in the 1980s section of my retro vegan cookbook. But here's the recipe!

Vegan Death By Chocolate Cake
Yields one 9x11 pan of cake

Brownie layer:
Non-stick cooking spray
1/2 cup silken tofu, crumbled and pressed into a measuring cup
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup almond milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons coffee liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Everything else:
2 packages vegan chocolate pudding mix (Jell-O brand is vegan)
4 cups almond milk
1/4 cup coffee liqueur 
1 10-ounce bag vegan dark chocolate chunks
1 can Rice Whip or Soy Whip (or 1 box Soy Whip Whippable Topping, whipped)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square brownie pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Place the silken tofu into a food processor and process tofu until smooth, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl. Add the oil, almond milk, sugar, 2 teaspoons coffee liqueur, and the vanilla extract. Process until no lumps remain, stopping once to scrape down the sides.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Spread the batter into the brownie pan.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until the center seems set. It should bounce back slightly when touched. Set aside.

While the brownies are baking, make the pudding according to package instructions using the 4 cups of almond milk. Place the pudding in the fridge and allow to set.

Tear the cooled brownies into small pieces and place in a 9x11 glass casserole dish. Pour the 1/4 cup coffee liqueur over the brownies.

Once the pudding is set, spread it over brownie pieces. Pour half of the dark chocolate chunks over pudding layer.

Top with the entire can of vegan whipped cream (if using a box of whippable topping instead, you may not need to use the whole batch). Use a cake spatula to spread the whipped cream to cover the entire dish. Top with the remaining dark chocolate chunks. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Vegan Garden, Day 3

For the past two days, I've posted about my meal plan of homemade, frozen, vegan dishes from The Vegan Garden, a food delivery service that ships meals to busy vegans via FedEx. You can choose a meal plan, and they'll ship as many breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts as you need.

They sent me a three-day Pioneer Meal plan that included breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert for each day for review. Here's what I was given for day three.

Breakfast was a Chocolate Muffin, which I enjoyed with a banana and a glass of almond milk.

Wow! This was definitely the best breakfast of the three they sent. I LOVED THIS MUFFIN! It was so soft and moist, and there were melty chocolate chips in the middle (cause I warmed the thawed muffin in the microwave for 15 seconds).

Lunch was Bangkok Salad, which I had with a green cucumber-tomato salad.

These were peanut noodles, which were supposed to be eaten cold. Loved the creamy, peanutty sauce. And while I wouldn't have guessed that noodles would hold their texture after freezing, I'd have been wrong. You couldn't tell this dish had ever been frozen. And yes, I added sriracha.

I had my dessert for an afternoon snack 'cause I always get hungry around 3:30-ish. I enjoyed this Chocolate Chip Cookie with a cup of hot black tea (which, as always, I'm trying to learn to love).

The cookie had that fresh-from-the-cookie-store-in-the-mall taste. That's the best way I can explain it. When I was a kid, I always thought the mall cookies were better than homemade for some reason. And this had that certain taste. It was soft but held its shape well. No crumbly vegan cookies here.

Finally, dinner was Zesty Zucchini Soup, which I served over brown rice and doused with sriracha.

It may look like a mystery green puree, but damn was this good. Zucchini, squash, green chilies, onions, and spices are blended together. The one thing that's been most surprising (and pleasant) about The Vegan Garden's meals has been how well-spiced all of these dishes have been. Nothing needed added salt. Everything was very flavorful.

That's all for my three days of meals. I'm a little sad that it's over, and I'll have to go back to cooking tomorrow. I've enjoyed being lazy (and very busy) for the past few days. If you're a busy vegan and would like home-cooked meals delivered to your door, you should probably check out The Vegan Garden's meal plans. They're a little pricey, but you're paying for convenience and, of course, delicious meals.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Vegan Garden, Day 2

Yesterday, I posted about one day's worth of homemade, frozen, vegan meals from The Vegan Garden, a food delivery service that ships meals to busy vegans via FedEx. You can choose a meal plan, and they'll ship as many breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts as you need.

They sent me a three-day Pioneer Meal plan that included breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert for each day for review. Here's what I was given for day two.

Breakfast was Tutti Frutti Quinoa, a gluten-free breakfast made from quinoa, fresh berries, and vanilla soymilk.

As far as I could tell, there were blueberries and raspberries (but maybe strawberries). This was yummy and very filling. I'm more of a savory breakfast person, but I occasionally like a sweet porridge-style breakfast like this. I had this with a banana and a glass of almond milk.

Lunch was Giardino Pizza, a generous square slice of vegan cheese pizza with peppers, onions, and olives.

Because it was frozen when I put the pizza in the microwave, the cheese got all melty and gooey like frozen pizzas tend to do in microwaves. But I love that! Nothing beats eating pizza with a fork because it's too cheesy to eat with your hands. That's a good vegan problem to have. The crust had that awesome, soft deep-dish texture. This pizza was the business. I'm not positive, but I think was made with Daiya cheese. I had it with a side salad.

I had a few after-work parties/meetings to attend, so I had my dessert as an afternoon snack that way I'd be satisfied until my late dinner. Dessert today was Apple Crisp.

This was so delightful. It looks like apple pie filling, but there were oats and vegan butter mixed in, so it had the taste of a full-on pie or cobbler without the crust.

You might have noticed in the first picture in this post that there was a vegan gumbo for dinner. And that's what I was expecting when I put that package in the microwave for dinner. But when the meal was heated and poured into a bowl over brown rice, I noticed the gumbo wasn't very soupy. I assumed the veggies had absorbed some of the liquid, so I added a little water and some hot sauce and heated some more.

And then I took a bite. Surprise! This wasn't gumbo at all! This was Huevos Con Chorizo from The Vegan Garden's breakfast menu! It was basically a spicy tofu scramble flecked with slices of soy chorizo. They must have mixed up the two in labeling. But it's an honest mistake. Both dishes contain the chorizo, and the huevos looks a lot like gumbo when frozen.

As much as I love gumbo, I'm a bigger fan of anything with tofu. So this was like a bonus! I only wish I'd realized this was a tofu scramble before adding water. With the added water, it was more like Huevos Con Chorizo soup! But regardless, loved this dish! There was so much chorizo, and the tofu was heavily seasoned.

This is a small vegan-run company, and any mislabeling is purely human error. It can happen, and it didn't bother me a bit.

Well, that's all for now. Check back tomorrow for my last full day of The Vegan Garden meals.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Vegan Garden, Day 1

One of the biggest concerns I hear from new vegans or people considering going vegan is simply not having the time to cook. For some who live in vegan-friendly cities, dining out is the answer. But not everyone lives in a town with a vegan restaurant and certainly not everyone has expendable income.

I'm lucky to live in a vegan-friendly city, and I'm lucky to have enough free time to cook big meals a few nights a week that can stretch throughout the week. But for those who aren't, there are vegan meal delivery services like The Vegan Garden.

The Vegan Garden delivers homemade, frozen meals through FedEx, and you can pick how many breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts you want through their meal deals. They sent me a three-day supply to review here, so that's what I'll be blogging about for the next couple of nights. They even included a meal plan that told me what to eat for what meal on what day. Here's my Monday offerings.

I'm not sure how everything was still frozen when it arrived at my office a couple weeks back. The dry ice in the shipping box had dissipated, but every package was completely frozen, even the baked goods. So you don't need to worry about things thawing during shipment.

For breakfast today, they sent me a Blueberry Muffin.

I know some folks are used to eating small morning meals on the go, but I'm a big breakfast kind of girl. So I added a banana and a glass of almond milk. The muffin tasted fresh, even after being frozen and thawed. And it was only 79 calories! All the calories and ingredients are listed on their website, by the way.

Lunch was this Quinoa Salad with green beans, chickpeas, and a cumin vinaigrette.

The instructions say to thaw and eat this cold. But I warmed mine up because I failed to read the directions, thinking it was supposed to be a hot meal. And it was actually amazing hot! I expected to have to add seasonings to these meals because I like strong flavors. But this was well-seasoned and didn't need any dressing up. I served this with a green side salad.

Dinner was Osaka Teriyaki Tofu.

I know it's only day one of three, but I'm pretty sure this will be my favorite dish out of all the ones they sent. The tofu was fried and very well-seasoned (but yes, I did add sriracha), and it was sauteed with broccoli, green beans, peppers, a sweet and savory teriyaki sauce, and sesame oil. Loved the chewy tofu, which probably only got better with freezing. I served this over some brown rice that I made to beef up my dishes over the week.

I was afraid the portions would be rather small when I saw the frozen packages, but once thawed, these are actually sizable portions that make a full meal when combined with rice or a salad.

Each day's shipment includes a dessert too. Today's dessert was this Banana Bar.

Now I know it doesn't look super-sexy. But this was actually like a soft slice of banana bread. It's made with bananas, oats, raisins, and brown sugar. At only 79 calories, it's practically a guilt-free dessert.

I loved today's meals. The tofu was definitely the highlight, but everything was delicious. And since I've got a busy week ahead of me, it's nice to know I don't have to cook.

Check back tomorrow for day two on The Vegan Garden meal plan.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Return of the Magical Traveling Vegan Potluck

Before I get into tonight's post, I have a fun announcement! I reviewed Texas Chainsaw Massacre from an animal rights perspective on the fabulous Our Hen House podcast this week. And I'm in the same episode as vegan actress Emily Deschanel. You must listen! 

Last year, my friend Leslie launched The Magical Traveling Vegan Potluck, which had a good several months-long run of moving from one friend's house to another before it fizzled out. But she just moved in with our mutual friend Michael, and she's bringing the potluck back. We had the first return potluck at their place last night.

If all goes as planned, the potluck will be hosted by one friend or another each month. We had a great turnout last night with lots and lots of yummy vegan food!

Since I'm working on my retro vegan cookbook, I decided to work on crafting a cheeseball recipe. Cheeseballs are totally 70s, right? After some tweaking and experimenting, I came up with these Mini Walnut and Cheddar Cheeseballs.

I made eight small balls. My plan was to make one big ball, but the soft vegan cream cheese in the recipe was too soft to get the cheese to roll into a ball. So I froze small balls in muffin tins and then de-frosted before serving with crackers. I finally got a chance to use my cheese board and cheese knives! See, vegans can still have cheese.

Speaking of cheese, Cassi made a delicious cheesy Vegan Lasagna from Vegan Planet using Daiya and tofu ricotta. I could have eaten this whole pan. But I was nice and saved some for the other guests.

Greg brought his famous Tofu Nuggets. These are like little chicken nuggets, and they're awesome. He has to bring these for every potluck now because someone always requests them. Last night, he whined about being a one-hit wonder. But hey, if the people want tofu nuggets, give them tofu nuggets, dude.

Michael and Julie brought a fresh Cucumber, Tomato, and Beet Salad made with produce picked from a garden in Jonesboro (my hometown!).

Vaughan, always the creative cook, made an interesting dish using lentils, broccoli, cashews, and almonds. He typically just throws stuff in a pot and never makes the same thing twice. But it's always good!

Leslie made so much stuff!! And since she's really into Indian food, she treated us to all sorts of interesting dishes. There was Pani Puri — fried hollow crisps stuffed with chickpeas, potato, and chutney. I've had these in Indian restaurants, but it was way more fun stuffing my own pani puri in Leslie's kitchen.

And there was my very fave, Bhel Puri! Indian chaat dishes are my favorite things, and I love this crunchy snack of sev, puffed rice, veggies, and tamarind sauce.

For dessert, Leslie made the most amazing Mango Custard. I couldn't stop eating this. It had fresh slices of apple, banana, and mango floating in a lightly sweet soy-based custard. It's a dish I often see on Indian buffets but can never try because it's typically made with dairy.

To drink, Leslie made homemade chai, but I forgot to photograph it. And she made Rooh Afza. This is a sweet Pakistani syrup that tastes lightly of rosewater, and you mix it with water. It's so refreshing and summery. I love that the label says "summer drink of the east."

Autumn stopped by Muddy's Bake Shop and picked up some Vegan Almond Brothers Cupcakes. Muddy's is a very popular local cupcake shop that always has a few vegan flavors. These were the business.

Here's a full table shot!

I ate so much! And Leslie sent me home with some leftovers, which I had for lunch today. Can't wait til the next month's potluck. I'm so lucky to have amazing vegan and vegetarian friends who can cook!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

It's Chai Time

Sorry to give you two review posts in a row. I like to break them up with posts about vegan events, other stuff I'm eating, or the occasional recipe. But I haven't cooked much this week and my other planned posts still need some work. So here's another review.

Lucky for you, it's a review of something awesome. As some of you long-time readers may know, I'm not a huge fan of drinking hot tea. I love the idea of hot tea. But I'm a Southern gal, and down here, we drink our tea sweet and iced (or in my case, kombucha-ed). And it's just hard for me to get used to enjoying tea any other way.

But there is one big exception: Chai!! I love hot chai because it's creamy and sweet. And it seems closer in taste to coffee than tea. Blue Lotus Chai is my favorite brand because they make instant chai powder. I'm lazy when it comes to some things, and making chai from scratch is one of those things. I'd rather use the little wooden spoon that comes with every package or canister of Blue Lotus Chai to scoop out the exact amount needed for a cup, stir it into hot water, add plant milk and agave, and enjoy.

Blue Lotus Chai, a small company out of Oregon, sent me samples of their newest flavors to try — Mandarin Masala Chai and Star Anise Masala Chai.

Each of these packages contains enough for 17 cups, and you can order this size to sample. Or you can order each flavor of Blue Lotus Chai in three-ounce reusable tins (makes 100 cups).

On Tuesday, I called a couple of co-workers over to help me sample these in the breakroom. Susan, my managing editor, and I tried the Mandarin Masala, and Hannah had the Star Anise. I am NOT at all a fan of anything anise or licorice-flavored, so I needed Hannah's help with that one. After heating our water and adding chai, we stirred in almond milk and agave.

The Mandarin Masala Chai is made with black tea, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and citrus blend from extract. The orange notes wafted from the package when opened, but they were much more subtle in the tea. It wasn't overly citrusy, but a hint was there. It reminded me of Christmas. Not sure why I associate oranges with Christmas, but I do. I'll be warming up on the cold nights to come with this comforting mandarin chai.

As for the Star Anise, I could definitely smell a strong licorice scent when we opened the package. Once mixed with hot water, the scent in the air wasn't as strong. Hannah said the tea — seasoned with ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, star anise — was definitely licorice-y, but it wasn't overpowering. She said the anise was a nice complement to the other masala spices of cinnamon and clove. I might just have to be brave and give anise another try soon.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

These Cakes Won't Make You Crabby

Disclaimer: I've never eaten crab. And I don't really know what it's supposed to taste like.

But I have eaten my share of vegan crab cakes. Memphis' Imagine Vegan Cafe has some on their menu. Our Whole Foods here sells some in their deli case. And a friend who used to run a vegan lunch pick-up service in Memphis would feature crab cakes from time to time. All of those crab cakes were awesome.

But none could even come close to rivaling the Match Vegan Crab Cakes. 

These look and taste like what I'm pretty certain crab actually looks and tastes like. To be sure, I had my co-worker Hannah try a bite. She's had plenty of real crab in her day, and when she sampled these Match meat cakes, she made that face that people make when they try a vegan meat that tastes eerily similar to the real thing. You know the face.

Just look at the inside. Doesn't that look like flaky crab meat?!

These were among a giant box of samples that Match sent me to review. They come frozen, and they're pre-breaded. All you have to do is fry 'em up in a little olive oil. I served mine with vegan horseradish sauce, fried okra, and mashed butternut squash.

I've never been a fan of seafood. Growing up, my parents hated seafood, so we never had shrimp, crab, lobster, or anything like that in our house. And when I sampled shrimp once in my pregan days, I almost threw up it was so nasty. I'm just not a fan of fishy tasting foods. So I'm really surprised that these Match crab cakes didn't totally freak me out. They're not super fishy tasting, but when you cook them, a seafood restaurant smell does waft through the house. But I guess just knowing they're made from soy and wheat protein made me more comfortable. These are really yummy, and they'd probably fool any omni.

Last time I blogged about a Match product, someone asked in the comments if they were available in Memphis. Sadly, the answer is no. But you can order Match online. And they also have a request letter form on their website that you can fill out and hand to your grocer to encourage them to carry Match meats.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Vegan Drinks 2.0

Last month, I blogged about Memphis' first-ever Vegan Drinks, a very successful event at Chiwawa in Overton Square. We had our second Vegan Drinks event tonight at 3 Angels Diner in the Broad Avenue Arts District.

In case you're not familiar, Vegan Drinks is a nationwide grassroots social movement. Vegans get together. We drink. We eat. We chat. That's it. Tonight's event was big too! Bigger than I expected, and we even had some new people show up!

3 Angels Diner is a kitschy diner with a couple of vegan items. None of Memphis' totally vegan restaurants serve alcohol (Imagine Vegan Cafe is in-between beer permits, but they will have beer again in a few months!). So for Vegan Drinks, we have to pick places that are vegan-friendly and not totally veg.

I started with a High Cotton Scottish Ale. High Cotton Brewing Co. is a fairly new local mircobrewery putting out some high-quality beer. I've sampled a few of their offerings recently, but this dark and toasty Scottish Ale is my fave so far. I also tried the High Cotton Saison tonight, but it was just okay. It reminded me a little too much of a hefeweizen. Too light for me.

Autumn had a Long Island Iced Tea.

And then she had a Cocotini (not sure what was in this!).

I failed to take pictures of everyone's drinks, but I know some Manhattans were ordered, and Greg had a Sidecar. So retro.

3 Angels doesn't have appetizers, so everyone who ate ordered full meals. I had the Momma's Veggie Sandwich — seasoned tofu, roasted red peppers, pickles, vegan mayo, and lettuce — with Flattop Roasted Taters with Red Peppers and Onions.

Here's my sandwich open-faced. That tofu is amazing!

I've had this sandwich several times before, and it's always a winner. Several people at our table ordered the veggie burger, and there were mixed reviews. It's been my experience that 3 Angels veggie burger varies each time I've tried it, so I tend to avoid that now. You can never go wrong with the Momma's Veggie. Sadly, the eggless tofu salad sandwich that used to be on the menu is gone now. That was always my favorite.

Anyway, we had a great time. And we'll do it all again at a different place next month. We plan to rotate Vegan Drinks around to vegan-friendly bars around town.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Spicy Korean Rice Cakes

No, not those kind of rice cakes! These aren't the dry, bland, tasteless, crunchy cakes (although despite their blandness, I actually like those rice cakes). I'm talkin' about garaeddeok, chewy Korean cakes that are more like a big noodle and less like a dry patty.

I first discovered these a few weeks ago at a little noodle shop in Memphis called The Crazy Noodle (review post coming soon). I ordered a bowl of vegan noodle soup there, and it was loaded with these flat, chewy rice patties that were unlike anything I'd ever tried.

I'm a noodle freak. In high school, I used to write poems about noodles. If I were being executed in a prison somewhere, I'd request noodles for a last meal. And while these aren't technically noodles, I'd place these somewhere on the noodle spectrum. They're actually made from glutenous rice flour, and they're super-duper chewy. Think chewier than tapioca. If I had to pick a favorite texture, it'd be chewy.

Anyway, shortly after trying these at the Crazy Noodle, I found some at the Asian market by my house. I didn't know what I'd do with them, but I knew I'd figure something out. And then, as if by fate, I stumbled on the recipe for Spicy Rice Cakes by Jesse Miner in the August issue of VegNews.

Okay, I know this looks a little messy. But I made the dish last night and took pictures of the re-heated leftovers. The rice cakes taste awesome the next day, but they don't photograph as well since they tend to stick together as the dish cools. The cakes, baked tofu, cabbage, and scallions are simmered in a spicy, sweet, and savory sauce made from soy sauce, sugar, rice cooking wine, and ground chili.

Anyway, if you have the August issue of VegNews and you have access to an Asian market, you should definitely make this dish.

On non-noodle-related note, I have my first real running injury — a stress fracture, which came during a 7-mile run this past Saturday. And I'd wear that like a badge of honor if I weren't smack dab in the middle of training for my first half-marathon. I saw an orthopedic doctor today, and I have to wear special flat shoe for 2 weeks. And no running for at least that long. Really hoping this thing heals in two weeks because my race is on October 13th. Until then, the doctor gave me permission to maintain my cardio on a stationary bike. Ugh. Here's my boot.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sheridan's Very Vanilla Birthday

My BFF Sheridan's 33rd birthday was on August 8th, but we didn't get a chance to celebrate it together until this past Saturday night. Sheridan lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, but she was in Jonesboro (our hometown) to do birthday party stuff with her family this weekend, so I drove up yesterday to see her.

Here we are with one of her birthday cupcakes!

I make Sheridan's birthday cupcakes every year. She's vegan too! We usually go over recipes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and she picks what sounds good. This year, she requested the Maple Cupcakes with Sugared Walnuts.

These cupcakes are sweetened with maple syrup and brown sugar, and there are sugared walnuts — made by toasting walnuts and then coating in a maple-sugar caramel — peppered throughout. For the frosting, I skipped the maple frosting suggested in the book since it calls for soymilk powder, which I don't have access to here (come on, Whole Foods, start carrying powdered soymilk!).

Instead, I made the Vanilla Buttercream from VCTOTW, but I added a dash of maple extract. Creamy maple-y goodness.

Making these cupcakes seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out my new bottle of Nielson-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract.

This was sent to me to review over a month ago, but I've not baked much lately. So this was my first chance to try it. I'll admit that I'm typically a cheap-o when it comes to buying vanilla. I do buy the pure stuff (no artificial vanilla here!), but I usually buy the store brand. I figure pure vanilla is vanilla is vanilla, right?

Wrong. I cracked open this bottle, and the most velvety notes of vanilla bean wafted through my kitchen. Unlike some of the vanilla I'm accustomed too, this stuff didn't have that strong alcohol smell. It was more like the scent of a freshly cut vanilla bean, which I'm also typically too cheap to purchase.

The Nielson-Massey vanilla lent these cakes and the frosting a delicate vanilla flavor that shone through despite all the maple extract in the recipe. It definitely make a difference. Plus, this stuff is organic and fair-trade, so you can feel and warm and fuzzy and ethical when you use it. From now on, I'll definitely spring for the good stuff.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

BBQ Nachos!!

Legend has it that barbecue nachos were invented in Memphis. Not sure how true that is, but when you google "barbecue nachos," almost every search result on the first page has a Memphis connection. So I believe it.

There are barbecue nachos on menus all over this city, and yes, there are even vegan BBQ tofu nachos at R.P. Tracks. But let's face it — fried tofu coated in tangy 'cue sauce is amazing, but it's not a great imitator of pulled pork barbecue. I really haven't found any spot-on imitation pork. The "pulled pork" barbecue recipe in Cookin' Crunk uses tempeh, and it's delicious. But it's not pork. Jackfruit coated in BBQ sauce looks an awful lot like the real thing, but it's all off texture-wise (Too soft? Not chewy? Can't quite put my finger on it).

Enter Match Ground Pork Without the Meat.

Last week, I shared a review of Match burgers, which are perhaps the meatiest vegan burgers I've ever tried. And same thing goes for this Match vegan pork. Tastewise, it's a spot-on imitator of meaty pork. And although it's not as stringy as pulled pork, the chewy texture is just right.

Like all of Match's ground meats, it comes frozen in a one-pound package. You simply thaw and cook just like you would with meat from animals. Just as animal meat isn't seasoned, neither is Match's ground meat without the meat. Match sent me several samples of their products to try (more reviews to come), but when I saw ground pork, I knew exactly what to do — BBQ Nachos!

I thawed the pork, crumbled it into a skillet, and browned it in a little olive oil. Then I added enough bottled barbecue sauce to coat and cooked until the sauce was heated through. I used Food Should Taste Good Blue Corn Chips, Teese Nacho Cheese Sauce, raw corn cut from the cob, diced tomatoes, salsa, jalapenos, and Wholly Guacamole.

This was such comfort food. I've made this same meal for three days in a row now, and I could honestly eat this for three more. But I'm out of chips. Sadness. I did, however, have leftover pork that I refroze for later use. Unlike meat, Match can be refrozen without any concern of going bad. That's just one of the many advantages of using vegan meat. Of course, the fact that no animals died for these nachos is best advantage.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Vegan Aspertame-Free Gum!

When I was 14, my best friend Sheridan and I attended Barbizon Modeling School. We had big dreams of being famous. She wanted to be an actress, and I just wanted attention (modeling, acting, whatever would get me seen). Yea, I was a bit of a fame whore.

Well, Barbizon didn't do much for us, except drain our parents' bank accounts. Oh, and we learned some very 1980s makeup tricks (and this was 1994, mind you). But it was fun. And it made us feel special and important. I remember this one instructor who told us that ladies never chew gum in public. Never one for following rules or doing anything lady-like, I silently scoffed. I'd chew gum wherever I damn well pleased.

Fast forward to today: I still love gum, and I'm still as far from lady-like as can be. But as a semi-health-conscious vegan, it's hard to find a gum that's both animal-free and free of nasty aspertame. There are a few brands out there, and some are better than others. Enter PUR Gum.

The makers of PUR sent me samples of their aspertame-free, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, nut-free, dairy-free, diabetic-friendly gum. There's pomegranate-mint, wintergreen, spearmint, and peppermint.

The gum is sweetened with xylitol, a naturally occurring alcohol found in some fruits and veggies. There is a little controversy over xylitol, but I don't typically buy all the anti-this-or-that-hype. I eat soy. I use agave. And although I try to avoid GMOs and white bread, I don't make it a religion. So I'm fine with chewing a little xylitol gum.

These are the small candy-coated Chiclet-style squares. When you first pop one into your mouth, there's a burst of flavor and a slight crunch through the hard shell. The flavor is intense and perfect for coating your garlic breath ... for about one minute. And the it starts to die away. And then the gum gets a little waxy and hard to chew. Luckily, that's sufficient time for masking bad breath.

To be fair, I've had similar experiences with just about every candy-coated gum. Only the soft sticks (which are almost always from brands that are either not vegan or loaded with artificial sweeteners) have long-lasting flavor.

My mom has more patience with gum, and she tried a piece as well. She says the PUR gum softens up again once you've chewed for awhile. I believe her. That woman has the patience and perseverance of a saint.

Always a fan of fruity gums, I thought the pomegranate-mint gum had the best flavor of the bunch, but the mintier flavors were better breath fresheners.

Although the gum's long-lastingness could use a little work, I'd still say that PUR Gum is one of the tastiest "healthy" gums that I've had. I'd buy it if I saw it at Whole Foods. I don't care what that instructor from Barbizon has to say about it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Eatin' Vegan in Chicago

Last night, I posted about the fun time I had at Chicago Veggie Fest — doing cooking demos, signing books, eating delicious vegan festival food. Tonight, I'll post about the food I ate in Chicago outside the festival.

It was a really quick trip (arrived Friday at 4 p.m. and left Sunday 5 p.m., and most of the time in between was spent at Veggie Fest), so I didn't have nearly enough time to squeeze in all the stuff I wanted to eat. But I knew that a trip to Chicago would not be complete without a visit to the Chicago Diner. Soon after checking into our hotel in Warrenville (way, way out in the suburbs), Paul and I hopped back in the car (after a 10-hour car trip, mind you) and drove another hour into the city.

Little did I know, the Chicago Diner is right in the heart of Boystown!! There were rainbows and adorable gay boys and lovely lesbians everywhere!! My kind of place. These rainbow art installation street signs are all up and down North Halsted, where the Chicago Diner is.

Once inside, I ordered a Bloody Mary right away, because, vegan Bloody Mary. I asked for the spicy version and look how it came garnished — with "spicy" written in sriracha!

I'd been studying the menu for weeks, so I already knew what I wanted to order. We started with the Vegan Poutine (Teese cheese, gravy, sour cream, vegan bacon, and scallions atop waffle fries). BEST THING EVER! Even my omni boyfriend couldn't stay out of it. I think he ate more of this than I did. I was trying to save my appetite for the big entree.

Also, Paul ordered some Edamamme as an appetizer because he loves the stuff. I like it too, but I can eat that anywhere. Meh.

For my entree, of course I ordered the Radical Reuben! How could I order anything else? It's the stuff vegan dreams are made of — corned beef seitan, Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, vegan cheese, and marbled rye. Oh my! Every bite was pure magic.

The Chicago Diner offers dairy cheese by request, so I fully expected Paul to order something with dairy cheese. But you know what? He ordered a totally vegan entree with no prodding from me — the Country Fried Steak.

Wow. This was just as good as the reuben, if not better. It was a tender seitan steak coated in the world's best crispy breading and deep-fried and then covered in country gravy. Lucky for me, Paul could only eat about half before he was full, and then he said I could have the rest for breakfast in the hotel room! Score. He raved and raved about that country fried steak all weekend. He just couldn't believe how much he loved seitan. Planting seeds, my friends. Planting seeds.

Anyway, we were way too full for dessert, which is damn shame. Chicago Diner is known for their phenomenal milkshakes. But I'll have to save that for next time.

We ate at the Veggie Fest for lunch on Saturday, but we headed back into the city Saturday night for dinner. Now I really had my heart set on a meal at Upton's Breakroom, but I promised Paul we'd find him a Chicago dog while we were there. And since he was such a good boy and ate all vegan on Friday night, I decided we could opt for a vegan-friendly hot dog joint for dinner.

Huey's Hot Dogs has both meaty Chicago dogs and vegan ones. Here's mine loaded up with tomatoes, mustard, a pickle, sport peppers, and celery salt. This meal was delicious! I'm a sucker for a good hot dog. Plus, this place has a dog-friendly patio, so we spent our meal hanging out with other people's pooches.

Speaking of pooches, we stumbled upon a "gourmutt" Doggie Food Truck just a few blocks down from Huey's!! Fido's To-Go sells doggie fro-yo and fresh baked treats.

I picked up a couple of Peanut Butter and Coconut Rice Krispie Treats for Maynard and Datsun.

I was kinda hoping there'd be enough time left to swing by Upton's for a late-night snack, but they close at 10 p.m. and we just couldn't make it. Next time.

Even though we were stuffed, I wanted to check out Handle Bar, a mostly vegetarian bar (they do serve a few fish dishes) in Wicker Park.

I ordered a Beermosa — made with the regionally brewed (Michigan) Bell's Oberon Ale and a splash of orange juice. Very summery and refreshing.

Sad story: We parked the car about a block away from Handlebar, and as I stepped out of the vehicle, guess what I saw — a Vietnamese sandwich shop called Bon Bon. And guess what they had in their window — a menu that listed vegan ramen as an option. I wanted it sooooooo bad!!! But we'd just left Huey's, and I was stuffed. I considered letting my inner glutton shine through, ordering it anyway, and dealing with the guilt later. But I talked myself out of it.

I wish I hadn't. I wish I'd just ordered those damn noodles and worked extra hard to get back on track this week. Damn food guilt. I woke up the next morning thinking about those noodles. That's how badly I wanted them. You know ramen is, like, sacred food to me, right? Anyway, once we were back to the hotel and Sunday at Veggie Fest, we were about an hour outside the city and driving in just for noodles was too far out of the way. But next time, right? Next time. I have a lot to do next time! Guess I'll have to plan a trip back to Chicago soon.