Thursday, February 26, 2015

New Vega One Flavors! Mocha and Coconut Almond!

For years, I've been completely satisfied with the standard Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake flavors — French Vanilla, Chocolate, Berry, Vanilla Chai, and Natural. But Vega has just gone an outdone themselves with two new flavors that are available exclusively at Whole Foods — Mocha and Coconut Almond! They recently sent me a tub of each to review.

Now, mind you, these flavors are only available in the NEW Vega One formula, which has more protein (20 grams) and more greens (6 servings) per scoop than their old Vega One recipe. And that's just fine by me. I drink Vega One powder in smoothies to recover from my runs four days a week, and the more protein, the better for my sore muscles.

Out of the two, Mocha is definitely my fave. It has a strong coffee flavor with hints of chocolate. Think Java Chip Frappucino but way healthier. I tried this a few ways, but my very favorite was in this Raspberry Mocha Protein Smoothie.

This thick and creamy smoothie serves to both help tired muscles recover and to wake you up for the day. I had one this morning after my last pre-half-marathon training run before the Little Rock Half-Marathon this weekend. Perfect start to my day.

Raspberry Mocha Protein Smoothie 
1 1/2 cups unsweetened chocolate almond milk
1/2 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
1 scoop Vega One Mocha

Combine the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

But I also love the Coconut Almond. And I believe it's a bit more versatile than the mocha powder. It pairs well with chocolate and vanilla flavors. But you can also take this the tropical route, which is what I did with this Pina Colada Smoothie (or Greena Colada Smoothie, as I've taken to calling it).

Greena Colada Smoothie
1 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen pineapple
1 tsp. spirulina powder
1 scoop Coconut Almond Vega One

Combine the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Jamaican Feast!

We have a great little Jamaican restaurant here, Evelyn & Olive. And we were supposed to eat there last week for February's Vegan Drinks, but I had to cancel the event due to an ice storm. I'd been craving Evelyn & Olive's rice & peas, but no dice. Stupid ice.

But I had a can of Jamaican red peas in coconut milk in my pantry that I'd picked up from the international aisle at Kroger back in November. And there was a recipe on the back!

So tonight, I finally satisfied my Jamaican food craving!

The Jamaican Rice & Peas were so simple. I just combined the can of soft red peas in coconut milk with dry brown rice, green onion, garlic, water, and chopped habanero pepper. And then I cooked the dish just like I'd cook plain brown rice. It tasted so very similar to rice & peas at Evelyn & Olive!

I'd share the recipe, but it's on the can. And I think you'd need these specific peas to make this dish the same way. The coconut milk is all thickened and paste-like, and I'm not sure how it would convert using regular coconut milk and red beans.

But I will share a couple other recipes! To serve alongside the rice & peas, I made Fried Plantains with Sriracha Mayo.

When Megan hosted her Veggin' Out potluck back in October, she served Tostones with a Spicy Mayo, and it was so good! I wanted to recreate her sauce, and I could have just asked for the recipe. But I figured it'd be more fun to come up with my own version.

Fried Plantains with Sriracha Mayo
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 plantains, peeled and sliced
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp. vegan mayo
2 Tbsp. vegan sour cream
2 Tbsp. plant milk (I used coconut)
1 Tbsp. sriracha

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the plantains, and fry on one side until golden, about 5 minutes. Use tongs to flip each side, and fry on the other side until golden. When they're done, remove with tongs and place the slices on a paper towel-lined plate. Season with salt.

While the plantains are frying, mix the mayo, sour cream, plant milk, and sriracha in a small bowl. Drizzle the sauce over plantains to serve.

At Evelyn & Olive, they serve a fresh Tomato-Cucumber Salad as a side. So I knew I wanted that with my home-cooked Jamaican feast, too. Here's what I whipped up. It would have been best with summer tomatoes, but hey, you gotta work with what you can in February.

Tomato-Cucumber Salad
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
3 roma tomatoes, halved and then sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Allow to sit and marinate for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.


To wash it all down, I drank some home-brewed Ginger Beer!

I've been brewing kombucha for more than a year now, but I've just started brewing ginger beer, and it's so easy. First you make a starter with sugar and fresh ginger, and then you use that to ferment a gallon-sized jug filled with ginger, sugar, and water. After a few weeks, it gets all fizzy, and then you bottle it. I'll be demonstrating how to make ginger beer and kombucha at Vida Vegan Con in Austin in May!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bluff City Vegan Eats: Midtown Crossing & Pink Diva Cupcakery

I'm so lucky. When I bought my house in Crosstown, an up-and-coming Memphis arts district, in 2012, this neighborhood didn't have much going for it. But it had promise. It had potential. It had people fighting for it. And I believed with all my heart that, in a few short years, this area would be the hippest place in town.

And it's happening. The neighborhood is called Crosstown because the anchor is a 1.4-million-square-foot abandoned Sears headquarters that was called Sears Crosstown. It's sat vacant for 17 years, casting a gloomy (yet hauntingly beautiful) shadow over the Evergreen neighborhood (where I live), Speedway Terrace, VECA, and the other surrounding residential areas.

The vacant Sears Crosstown building today

Well, last Saturday, we broke ground on a $200 million project to transform the abandoned building into a mix of medical services, education programs, arts, residential, and retail. The name Sears Crosstown is changing to Crosstown Concourse.

Here's what Crosstown Concourse will look like.

And here's a street view shot of what the retail space will look like.

Because the funding and visioning of that project has been underway for a few years now, life has totally blossomed in my little hood. In the past two years, so much new stuff has opened! I'm a short walk from a hula-hooping studio, a music college, the Hi-Tone (a rock club), an art gallery, and the coolest vintage flea market in town. AND A VEGAN CUPCAKE BAKERY! But more on cupcakes in a few.

Just across the street from me, there's a new restaurant called Midtown Crossing. And if you were to glance at their menu online, you'd think the place wasn't at all vegan-friendly. There's nothing vegan on the menu. There are a handful of vegetarian items, but everything has cheese. But they're more than happy to whip up a fantastic off-menu Vegetable Pizza with no cheese. Just make sure you also ask them to leave the butter off the crust.

I had one on Friday, and it was fantastic. And I'm typically a girl who snubs my nose at pizza without vegan cheese. But the crust on this pie is homemade and so good that it makes up for the lack of cheese. That said, I'm hoping to eventually convince them to keep some Daiya on-hand for vegan requests. And next time, I may bring my own and see if they'll add it to my pizza.

For the veggies, you can choose any they have. But I went with green and black olives, caramelized onions (so good!), mushrooms, jalapenos, and tomatoes. They loaded the pie high with veggies!

They also have a portabella melt on foccacia bread that could be made without cheese, and they've expressed a desire to add some vegan savory stuff to the menu.

But when it comes to vegan dessert, Midtown Crossing has that COVERED. My friend Cassi recently opened her vegan cupcake shop, Pink Diva Cupcakery inside Midtown Crossing.

She has a variety of cupcakes for sale daily (except for Thursday, her off day) from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. (until 8:30 p.m. on weekends). And she also takes special orders, which she prepares in Midtown Crossing's kitchen. When I was there last Friday night for dinner, she had her Cookies 'n' Cream Cupcakes.

And her Snickerdoodle (cinnamon cookie cakes!) and Diva Delight (chocolate coffee cupcakes stuffed with chocolate mousse and topped with vegan whipped frosting and ganache).

The Diva Delight are my personal fave, but she has some new flavors that I haven't tried yet. There's a new Bluff City Blueberry (vanilla cake with blueberry compote) that I can't wait to try. But I'm on cupcake hiatus for a week. With cupcakes across the street, you can only imagine how much damage I've done lately. I must take a break.

Anyway, check out Midtown Crossing and Pink Diva Cupcakery. Both are located at 394 N. Watkins. Midtown Crossing delivers pizza too, and you can order at 901-443-0502. And Pink Diva cakes can be special-ordered on Cassi's website.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Nii Bars!

Y'all know how I feel about smoothies, right? Well, bars don't get as much love on my blog, but they're a crucial part of my life. Every morning, I wake up around 5:30 or 6 a.m. and feed the six cats, two dogs, and a squirrel. And then I have a bar.

Sometimes, they're raw fruit and nut bars. Other times, they're granola bars or even homemade date balls. But before every workout, whether I'm running outside or staying indoors for cross-training or yoga, I must have a bar. I'm the kind of person who wakes up hungry, and bars keep me full until I'm done working out. Then I have a smoothie or a real sit-down breakfast.

Raw fruit and nut bars are probably the best bet on running days. Since they're made with mostly dates, they break down as fuel fast and they're easier on my tummy. And I'm always trying new raw bars, like these Nii Bars that were sent to me for review.

Somehow I failed to photograph the Almond Chocolate Chip bar, but there was one of those too.

And they sent me some new flavors that didn't even have their own packaging yet. These were Cacao Coconut.

These organic, gluten-free, vegan, soy-free bars are made with dates, cashew butter, dried fruit, rice protein, hemp seeds, and quinoa sprouts. Lots of good stuff! And each bar has around 7 to 10 grams of protein.

The (not pictured) Almond Chocolate Chip was actually my favorite bar. It contained the teensiest bites of chocolate chips and little crunchy almonds. And the texture of all the bars is chewy and soft. Imagine a Larabar with a but more chew.

My next fave was Peanut Butter because peanut butter. The flavor reminded of a peanut butter cookie, and there's a bit of dark chocolate in there too.

Cacao Coconut was great as well! It has crunchy cacao nibs and just the right hint of coconut without lots of fibrous flakes.

Berry Cashew was the first one I tried. It was flecked with dried berries. I didn't get much cashew flavor from it, but that's probably because dried berries are so tart that they overshadow everything.

And finally, there's Cherry Coconut. This one had chunks of cherry and walnut. Reminded me of cherry pie in bar form.

Love these bars! At around 240 calories, they're a big snack. But I typically halve them since I like to keep pre-run snacks down to 150 calories or less, unless I'm going on a long run. If I see these at the store, I will most certainly buy them again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Flashback to 1900

Remember that cookbook I've been working on for, like, the past three years? No? That's probably because I haven't been working on it (or writing about working on it) in months. My cookbook of trendy recipes from the past century got put on hold for the past six months or so while my creative muse took a break. Sometimes you just gotta wait until inspiration strikes. Thank goddess I don't do this cookbook author thing for a living.

Anyway, inspiration has struck. And I'm back in the game. I realized, though, that the only way for me to get this book done is to go in chronological order. Since I started working on this second cookbook in 2012, I've been developing recipes from the various decades — the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and so on — in all kinds of crazy order. I've already got at least 50 or more recipes developed, but they span various decades. But my brain doesn't really work that way. I need to start back at the beginning, back at 1900.

Luckily, my editor gave me a book all about dining out between 1900 and 1910 that she reviewed for our paper, The Memphis Flyer, awhile back. It's called Repast: Dining Out in the Dawn of the New American Century, 1900-1910, and it's filled with images of menus from restaurants during that decade.

I've been studying those menus for ideas. And when I spied Denver Omelet on a menu, I knew I just had to develop a Tofu Denver Omelet!

I used a mixture of silken tofu, chickpea flour, and some other spices and such for the omelet, and the filling is made from homemade steamed seitan (recipe will be in the book), red and green bell peppers, onions, and vegan cheese. So good!

Omelets are still popular today obviously. But I spotted another menu item that I'd never heard of — Milk Toast. And after some research, I learned that milk toast was a popular comfort food breakfast in the early 1900s. And it's just what it sounds like —toast with some warm milk and butter poured over it. I used sprouted grain bread, Earth Balance, and cashew milk.

That milk is slightly thickened with flour, so it's more like a gravy. And from there, you can make it savory or sweet. I tried it both ways — once with salt and pepper and once with cinnamon and sugar. Even though I typically gravitate toward savory things, I actually preferred the cinnamon sugar on this! And I know it sounds totally weird, but milk toast is so good! It's very soul-satisfying, and I can see why it was considered a comfort food back then. Definitely adding this to my breakfast rotation.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Keep It Vegan

What a cute cookbook!

That was my first thought upon flipping through Aine Carlin's Keep It Vegan: Over 100 Simple, Healthy & Delicious Dishes. First of all, Aine herself is just adorbable. She's a former actress-turned-food blogger who hails from Northern Ireland but now lives in Cornwall. She's pictured throughout the book doing various kitchen stuff — stirring muffin mix, chopping watermelon.

But most of the pictures in this full-color tome are of beautifully photographed entrees, appetizers, and desserts — perfectly rolled sweet potato & spinach sushi, bite-sized bloody mary bruschetta (it has vodka in it!), hearty stuffed mushroom burgers, and mouth-watering banana, peanut butter, & chocolate sauce sundaes.

Truth be told — I want to make EVERYTHING in this book. Especially the aforementioned sundae. But for this review, I only had time to try two recipes. Last week, I made the Hole Mole Black Bean Chili with Homemade Tortilla Chips.

I love chocolate in chili, and since chili season is damn near over, I figured I should make this before it was too late. Oh my gosh. This might be my favorite chili ever. The dark chocolate gave it such a thick and creamy, chocolatety flavor, and all the spicy stuff — habaneros (subbed for the red chile in the recipe), cayenne, chile flakes, hot sauce — worked together to add just the right touch of heat. Plus, there were red, green, and yellow bell peppers. Oh, and balsamic vinegar. I've never used that in chili, but it really added something special. Before serving, I also topped this with vegan cheese shreds and vegan sour cream because that's what you do with chili.

The recipe also includes instructions for frying your own tortilla chips. It's so simple! I may never need to buy pre-made chips again. Just chop up tortillas and fry in oil. The recipe called for flour tortillas, but I had corn ones in my freezer, so I used those. And I dusted them with chili-lime salt.

Last weekend, I made Aine's Bell Pepper & Pea Party Frittatas for a potluck. Sorry for the crappy photo, but I was at a potluck!

These are little mini frittatas made in a muffin tin. The "egg" part is made with tofu, and they're loaded with English peas, bell pepper, and parsley. I love a good vegan egg, and these were really yummy. Great party snacks!

The book is divided into breakfasts & brunch, mid-day meals & simple suppers, something special (for parties and special occations), sides & sauces, and sweet treats. As I mentioned before, I want to cook everything in this book — cumin-spiced carrots, snickerdoodle quinoa bowl, Indian-spiced tacos with mango salsa, balsamic & black peppercorn cashew cheese, and carrot cake bites. I'm sure I'll never get to all of these, but they're definitely on my list. Keep It Vegan has the potential to become a go-to volume on my cookbook shelf.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Yuve Protein Powder Review

I don't know when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I went from always feeling like a newbie runner to feeling like a real runner. It's all about confidence and doing crazy stuff that only runners do, like getting up at 4:30 a.m. to run in 10-degree weather or, as was the case this morning, getting outside and running on icy sidewalks covered with only a light dusting of snow for grip.

It was dumb, I'll admit. I have a half-marathon in two weeks, and I can't really risk breaking or spraining anything. But yet, the runner in me HAD to do it. Had to see if I could do it. And guess what? I did. No falls. Easy run at a slower-than-normal pace. Took walk breaks over the super icy patches.

Anyway, another thing that makes me feel like a real runner is my adherence to running nutrition. After reading Brenden Brazier's book Thrive a couple years ago, I'm a firm believer in the power of the protein powder consumed about 30 to 40 minutes post-run. High-protein smoothies help rebuild muscle so you recover faster. And that means less soreness after a run. I typically drink Vega powder in my smoothies, but I'm always open to trying new powders.

I was sent samples of a new powder by Yuve to review, and it's a real winner! The flavor is Chia Seeds & Cocoa.

This powder is packed with vegan protein (rice and pea) at 21 grams. Plus, there are eight grams of fiber, an omega blend, maca, chia, probiotics, vitamins and minerals from real food (like goji berries and prunes), and greens. It's non-GMO and gluten-free.

But how does it taste? I whipped up this Blueberry Cocoa Smoothie, and it was fantastic!

Just the right thickness for a smoothie, likely from the chia seeds (Of course, like most powders, the package just recommends mixing with water, juice, or milk. But I think powders belong in smoothies). The maca flavor is very prevalent because when there's maca in something, you'll know! But I LOVE that flavor. It complements the cocoa nicely. Here's my recipe.

Yuve Blueberry Cocoa Smoothie
1 cup cashew milk
1/2 cup coconut water
1 frozen banana
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 package or scoop of Yuve Raw Chia Seeds & Cocoa

Put everything in a high-speed blender (or any blender will do), and blend until creamy and combined.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Let the Good Times Roll (in the Snow)

Okay, that title is a little deceiving. We didn't get snow from Winter Storm Octavia. We got ice. Thick, slippery, stupid ice. But "snow" kinda rhymes with "roll," so we're gonna go with that.

Anyway, we've been iced in at home since Sunday night. I've worked from home both days, and I'm going a little stir crazy. But the roads started to melt today, so I think I should be able to drive into the office tomorrow. I sure hope so because I made this whole King Cake last night for Fat Tuesday today! Somebody's gotta help me eat it.

Every year, I make a vegan king cake to take to the office, and even though I knew I might still be iced-in today, I decided last night to make one anyway. A Fat Tuesday without king cake is just sad, right?

Anyway, Paul and I had a slice, but there's tons left. I used Kittee's recipe as always, and this year, I went with a strawberry cream cheeze filling. I usually overfill the jellyroll-style cake, and this year was no different. So part of the cake was a little flat where the fillings popped out, but it was still delicious. And we didn't find the baby inside, so I'm sure one of my co-workers will tomorrow.

Sadly, the ice storm — our first winter weather event all season! —meant I had to cancel our Vegan Drinks meetup tonight. We were supposed to meet at Evelyn & Olive, a Jamaican restaurant. And that isn't very Cajun, so I guess the cancellation was for the best. Instead, I stayed home and cooked this Louisiana Spaghetti from Good Time Eatin' In Cajun Country, an old vegan cookbook from the 80s!

This had a homemade spaghetti sauce with lots of peppers, onions, herbs, and heat! It called for cayenne, and I also added some Slap Yo Mama Cajun seasoning. Oh, and I added mushrooms because I wanted Paul to eat some too. And he only eats spaghetti with mushrooms.

I washed it all down with an Abita, of course! Apparently, Abita makes a Mardi Gras Bock, but I didn't see it at the Kroger by my house, and I was scared to venture out on the icy roads to go to the Cash Saver, which has a much better (and cheaper) beer selection. So I settled for the Abita Restoration Pale Ale.

And I'm about to have an Abita Grapefruit Harvest IPA while Paul and I watch In the Electric Mist on Netflix. Never seen it, but it's a crime drama set in New Orleans. Seems appropriate.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Veggin' Out: The Results Show

Remember back in October when three of my friends and I took turns hosting dinner parties and filmed them for a reality show webisode competition? If you don't, you can catch up here, here, here, here, and here.

But basically, we're doing an American vegan spin on the British dinner party reality show, Come Dine With Me. On the show, four strangers each take turns hosting a three-course dinner party at their house for the four of them. After each dinner, the three guests who didn't host score the party on a scale of one to 10. The host with the highest score wins.

And that's what we did, only without the stranger part since we all know one another. And of course, everything was vegan! Anyway, we're calling our show Veggin' Out, and even though we wrapped up filming in October, editing is hard work! I mean, I'm not doing any of that. But our friends Megan, Joey, and Stephen have been busy editing over the past few months, in their spare time between their real jobs.

Last night, we gathered at Megan's house to film the results show! The winner was revealed, and we got to film our reactions. I'm sworn to secrecy, but you'll find out soon when the shows are uploaded to YouTube. Here's Megan with the results in an envelope, between takes. Reality show secret: Sometimes we film things more than once to get it right!

We didn't do a dinner party for the results show, but can't gather without food! So we had a potluck. Megan made a ton of stuff since we were at her house. She made some of the best Buffalo Cauliflower ever! And we had a vat of Imagine Vegan Cafe's ranch dressing for dipping.

And she made Vegan Rotel Dip! She made so much that she ended up sending us all home with some. Yay for leftover snacks!

She also recreated the Tostones with Spicy Aioli that she made for her dinner party back in October. These were hands-down my favorite dish out of everyone's dinner parties. Fried plantains are just the greatest!

And if that wasn't enough, Megan also made Pigs In Blankets. I've been eating a lot of these lately, and I will never tire of them.

Stephanie brought Pizza Rolls! These are like cinnamon rolls, but instead, they're savory and stuffed with Daiya mozzarella, marinara, and Tofurky Italian Sausage. Yum! Ooh, and there's that big ole bowl of vegan ranch creepin' in the corner. I could eat that whole bowl by itself with a spoon. No shame.

I brought Bell Pepper & Pea Party Frittatas from Keep It Vegan. More on these in a review post of the book later this week!

And it's not a party without cake, right? Stephanie brought some leftover Valentine's cupcakes — chocolate kalua, lavender vanilla, rosewater almond, strawberry champagne, and lemon drop. I had a lemon drop one because lemon!

And Pam ordered a dozen Peach Bellini Cupcakes from Cassi's new Pink Diva Cupcakery business. Those arrived a little late, so I failed to photograph them there. But here's a picture of the bellini cupcakes at Cassi's pop-up shop a couple weeks ago.

Alright, well stay tuned for more details about Veggin' Out. I promise to let y'all know as soon as they shows are ready!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Day Fun!

I had a great food-filled Valentine's Day! It actually started a few days early, when my daddy's Valentine arrived in the mail. My dad ordered me a bunch of Valentine's candy (and some Vegg powder) from Vegan Essentials and had it shipped to my office! Thanks Daddy!

There are Sjaak's heart-shaped "melk" chocolates, truffles, and a big dark chocolate heart filled with assorted chocolates. And a whole bag of individually wrapped Surf Sweets gummy hearts! On Thursday night, I had half of this Melk Chocolate Heart, and I shared the other half with Paul. I don't usually share chocolate, but I figured that's what you're supposed to do cause it's Valentine's, right?

On Friday night, I had this Sjaak's Heart of Cherry truffle while we watched Gone Girl. It's stuffed with soft, cherry-flavored fudge. Yum! And yes, I'm wearing Valentine's PJ pants. I'm a nerd.

And then came Saturday! The big day. I figured the real holiday deserved the big heart. So after running 12 miles on the Shelby Farms Greenline, I sat down with this chocolate heart stuffed with more chocolate!

Here's an inside shot. There were two foil-wrapped chocolate heart halves, and when you open them, there are Forrest Gump-style assorted chocolates inside. I went for one of the square ones, which turned out to be a chocolate-covered caramel. Yum!

Later on Saturday night, Paul and I went to dinner at Bhan Thai.

I started with the Crispy Spring Rolls. Love these because not only are they stuffed with the usual veggies, they're also stuffed with thin rice noodles.

For my entree, I went with the Pad See Ew with Tofu. Ever since I discovered Pad See Ew at Bangkok Alley a few weeks ago, I can't stop thinking about it. There's something about the chewy wide noodles with the veggies and tofu that just does it for me. New favorite Thai dish!

After dinner, we went to our friend Andy's annual Anti-Valentine's Day Party. It also happened to be doubling as my friend Greg's going-away party. He's moving back home to Kentucky for awhile. Sadness.

But on the upside, there were Vegan Pigs In Blankets at Andy's party. And (not pictured) Vegan Chili-Cream Cheese Dip.

And Stephanie brought Valentine's cupcakes! I picked a Chocolate Kalua Cupcake. Yum.

Bonus: My cats love each other too. Today, I caught Gelfling and Ozzy snuggled together in the recliner. They rarely acknowledge one another, unless Gelfling (the black one) is picking on Ozzy (the tabby). But here they are all snuggly and cute!