Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Gluten Free Bars & Bites!

As you can probably glean from reading from my posts, I'm not gluten-free. Or anything-free, except of course, animal product-free. Thankfully, I was blessed to not have any food allergies or intolerances. And that's a good thing because I love to eat all the things.

But I have to admit that there are some gluten-free products that are just as good (or in many cases better) than their gluten-containing counterparts. For example, I'll take rice, corn, or quinoa pasta over seminola any day, and I prefer gluten-free rice crackers to wheat crackers.

And when it comes to energy bars and protein powders, who needs gluten? The GFB sent me some of their bars and bites to review, and if you hadn't told me these were gluten-free, I'd have never guessed. They sent over a box of assorted flavors of their The GFB Gluten Free Bars. There is Cranberry Toasted Almond, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Butter, and Coconut Cashew Crunch.

And three bags of their The GFB Gluten Free Bites — Dark Chocolate Coconut, Chocolate Cherry Almond, and Coconut Cashew Crunch.

I like protein bars after a tough workout or for a mid-day snack when I'm too busy to eat lunch on time. These bars are perfect for both situations, and I know because I tested them out both ways. I had a couple of flavors after my Wednesday morning Butts & Guts class, and they kept me full until morning snack time. And one of these bars kept me full from the morning I awoke on my last day in Austin (back in May, for Vida Vegan Con) throughout the taping of Vegan Mash-Up. 

Each bar has around 11 to 12 grams of protein, and they're made with brown rice syrup, a rice and pea protein blend, crisped rice, flax, and individual ingredients depending on the flavor. Of course, my favorite was Peanut Butter. But Coconut Cashew Crunch was a close second. The bars have a chewy texture thanks to the protein powder blend, and they taste like a healthy cookie. Very impressed.

As for the bites, well, I had a hard time keeping Paul out of them. I finally had to write notes on the bags telling him to stay out (I'm not a fan of sharing, especially since Paul can eat an entire bag of these in one sitting).

They're like little date balls covered in coconut or almonds. They're chewy like the bars. But since they're smaller, they have less protein per serving (about 4 grams) and less calories. I've been enjoying these for pre-workout snacks on easy days, like when I do yoga or other low-impact stuff. I'd actually tried the Dark Chocolate Coconut before because my mom picked me some up at TJ Maxx. But surprisingly, the Chocolate Cherry Almond were both my and Paul's favorites. I rarely pick fruity for a fave. But these were amazing.

I'll definitely be buying more of these! 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen

Here lately, my favorite cookbooks are those dedicated to cuisines of other countries — especially Ethiopian and Indian food. Those are cuisines that I didn't grow up eating, and so when I was learning cook, they were completely off my radar. And though each cuisine is very different (and their native countries are nowhere near one another), they both were mystifying to me. So many new spices and flavors to work with.

Kittee Berns' Teff Love is educating me on Ethiopian, but up until now, I didn't really own a cookbook dedicated to vegan Indian food. I'd dabbled here and there with dals and curries and even a few Indian flatbreads. But they were from recipes I'd found online or from cookbooks that contained a wide range of global fare. But finally, I own a great totally vegan, totally Indian cookbook! It's Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, and it's filled with recipes for all of my favorite dishes to order from Indian restaurants, plus lots of stuff I've never heard of.

If you're not familiar, Richa Mingle blogs over at Vegan Richa, and she's always posting recipes for really delicious things with gorgeous accompanying photos. Her blog recipes aren't always for Indian food, but many are. But this book, which is loaded with full-color pics, focuses on Richa's native cuisine and family recipes.

There are chapters for vegetable curries (the Roasted Cauliflower and Radish Curry sounds amazing!), dals (Sprouted Mung Bean Curry with Dinner Rolls or Misal Pav is my kind of street food), flatbreads (Avocado Naan!), and of course, desserts (vegan Besan Ladoo or Sweet Chickpea Flour Balls!). She even has a chapter filled with homemade spice mixes and chutneys.

There are so many things that I want to make from this book. But I narrowed it down to three recipes for this review. I had everything in my pantry to make Mom's Chickpea Flour Pancakes (Pudla), so I whipped up a batch for breakfast every day last week.

Richa suggests stuffing these omelet-like crepes with chopped veggies or vegan feta. I went a little crazy and stuffed mine with sauteed zucchini and squash and Heido Ho Smoky Chia Cheeze. I served these with some Onion-Jalapeno Chutney that had been lurking in my pantry, unopened, for over a year. These tasted a little like tofu omelets but not quite as eggy. More bready or pancakey. And I loved the strong flavor of red onion and cilantro in the batter.

For dinner tonight, I made a couple more recipes — Kofta Balls in Nut-Free Cream Sauce and Mom's Okra & Onion Stir-fry.

The Kofta Balls were so much fun. They're are made with grated potato, chickpeas, and a bunch of spices, and then they're baked (thankfully, my oven worked this time). I considered making my own garam masala using Richa's recipe, but I got lazy and bought a jar from Whole Foods instead.

The sauce looks creamy, like it'd contain silken tofu or cashews. But it's made creamy with cauliflower! Fresh, chopped tomato, cauliflower, hemp seeds, and spices are sauteed until tender, and then you cream the sauce in the blender. Since it's nut-free, the sauce is really low-cal, so I can eat more of it! I added fresh tabasco peppers from our garden, so this was really spicy. But that's how I like it.

The Okra & Onion Stir-fry is simple and delicious. Okra's in season now, but I had some home-canned, sliced okra that my Granny gave me from last season. So I put that to use here instead of fresh. And it worked great! I just didn't cook it as long because home-canned okra gets pretty soft in the mason jar. I added some fresh jalapeno and yellow cayenne from our garden.

This is such a fabulous cookbook! I can't wait to get into the kitchen and try more things!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

11 Years!

Paul and I have been together for 11 years. 11 years! That's a long damn time. But the years have flown by. It definitely doesn't seem like it was 11 years ago that we met at Newby's, a little college bar, over a game of pool.

Some years, we do fancy things. But most years, we just go out to dinner. We don't go out to dinner together very often, so anywhere we go seems special. This year, we had $100 in gift cards for Babalu Tacos & Tapas in Overton Square, so we figured why not use them and get free dinner.

Babalu is a casual taco joint with a big patio, and the weather has been so nice lately. So of course we sat on the patio.

I started with a TC Tea cocktail — sweet tea vodka, mint, lemon, powdered sugar, and Sprite.

And we ordered some Tableside Guacamole to share. They make it fresh right in front of you, and they add sundried tomatoes, which really adds a yummy kick. I ordered a side of crudite for dipping, so I wouldn't be tempted to eat so many chips before my food arrived.

I won't show you what Paul ordered because it wasn't vegan. But I had the Black Bean Torta with red chimichurri, grilled red onions, arugala, and avocado. They typically use eggs as a binder in their homemade veggie burger, but since they make them to order, they can make the patties without eggs. Also, while I'm not a fan of arugala, it actually worked well here.

Paul told one of the hosts that it was our anniversary, unbeknownst to me. So I was super surprised when the server brought a sparkler to the table! I love sparklers!

We usually go to Newby's, the bar where we met, for drinks at the end of our anniversary night. But Newby's closed down last year. It's reopening soon, but it's still closed for now. So we just went home. Now we're stuffed and watching a movie. And then we'll call it a night. But it was a lovely, laidback anniversary.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Vegan Hobo Burgers!

UPDATE: OMG, OMG, OMG marriage equality!!!!!! I wish this was a post about ALL THE RAINBOW CAKE. But I wrote the following on Thursday night before the awesome news that same-sex marriage is legal everywhere. So I wanted to post this update to say Happy Marriage Equality Day!!!

Okay, so I'm sure the word "hobo" isn't PC. But since we're talking about food and not people, I'm gonna go with it. When I was growing up, my mama would often make something she called "hobo burger packets" — burger patties baked in tinfoil with potatoes and carrots.

It was a popular recipe at the time, and the idea for it was some romantic notion that travelin' folks could cook this simple meal over a campfire without any special utensils. Of course, when we ate this for dinner at home, my mama didn't bake it in a campfire but rather in the oven. Well, it's been years since I've had a hobo burger packet, but I finally made some Vegan Hobo Burgers this week!

I wish I'd photographed this in the tinfoil, but you get the idea. You take a veggie burger, some raw potatoes,  carrot, and seasonings and wrap 'em in a little pouch folded from foil. Then you bake, and if desired, top with gravy or ketchup. Simple as that.

I used Field Roast Hand-Formed Burgers for this because they're basically the best burgers on the planet. Have y'all had these? They're so meaty and juicy. Oh my! I may have purchased four packages last time I bought them just to make sure I didn't run out for awhile. Any veggie patty would do, but hearty, juicy veggie burgers would work best. For the gravy, which I added over the top at the end, I used Riega Foods Turkey-Style Gravy Mix (I found this at Rabbit Food in Austin!). But any brown gravy will do! And gravy is totally optional.

As you can see in the pic, broccoli and cheeze makes an excellent side. That was Heidi Ho Smoky Chia Cheeze.

Here's the simple recipe for the burgers. But it's not so much a recipe as a meal with instructions. Since you make individual packets, this recipe just serves one. But you can easily double or triple or whatever. Just wrap each packet separately.

Vegan Hobo Burgers
Serves 1

1 thawed veggie burger patty (you could use frozen but it would take longer)
1 medium red potato, cubed
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. seasoning salt (I use Cavender's Greek Seasoning)
Pinch of garlic powder
Black pepper
Non-stick cooking spray
Aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 400.

Tear off a large sheet of aluminum foil and place the potatoes and carrots in the center. Spray them with non-stick oil and add spices. Toss to coat. Place the burger patty on top and fold the sides of the foil in to cover everything. Seal by folding the foil where the sides meet.

Place the foil on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are tender.

Note: If you have a crappy oven like mine that only works sometimes, you can also do a variation of this on the stovetop. For that version, steam the potatoes and carrots for about 5 to 7 minutes. Then heat about a teaspoon of oil in a skillet, and add the veggies. Saute until browned. Add the burger to the center of the pan and cook on each side until browned and cooked through, stirring the veggies around the patty as you go.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

So Delicious Plant Milks!

When I went vegan in 2004, the only plant milks sold at Memphis health food stores — there were three at the time — were soymilk and rice milk. Those were my only options for replacing dairy milk. Soymilk was all fine and good. I still love soymilk. But rice milk? Bleh. It's like the skim milk of vegan milks. Watery and gross.

But my have things changed 11 years later! You can make milk out of just about any nut or seed! Even coconuts! And there are so many brands to choose from, and they're available in regular old grocery stores. Sometimes, it's nice to just reflect on how far we've come. Sure, vegans have a ton of work ahead to grow our numbers (This study says we're only .5 percent of the U.S. population! Only .5 percent!). But we're making progress.

So Delicious is surely behind some of that progress, thanks to their huge variety of dairy-free milk products. They sent me six of their milks to review. I'd tried most of these before, but it was fun to sample them back to back to really get a feel for each milks' nuances.

I'm really into cashew milk right now. I alternate between Silk and So Delicious, but So Delicious is a much better company. They're all about sustainability, and their products are always non-GMO. So I was happy to have these So Delicious Cashew Milks! And I generally buy unsweetened milks because they're more versatile and have less calories.

I tried the Unsweetened Vanilla Cashew Milk in this Raspberry-Orange Protein Smoothie. The vanilla was a nice complement to the vanilla hemp protein powder, banana, raspberry, and orange juice. The cashew milks are really thick and creamy, and that just makes for a thicker, creamier smoothie. I like my smoothies to be thick like milkshakes!

The unsweetened milks are great for both dessert items and savory dishes. I used the regular Unsweetened Cashew Milk in this Earth Balance mac & cheese. Creamy, dreamy mac. And the cashew flavor is subtle enough that it didn't stand out in this dish. Sadly, this Vegan Dish plate fell out of the cabinet last weekend and broke into a million pieces. Goodbye, favorite plate!

My favorite thing about the cashew milks are their super-low calorie counts. The So Delicious Coconut Milks have a slightly higher count. Well, at least the sweetened ones do. The Unsweetened Coconut Milk only has 45 calories per cup. It taste great in dishes but just as great on its own. One morning, I had a glass with an Ozery Bakery bun topped with almond butter and strawberries. And more strawberries on the side. I was on a berry kick for awhile a month or so ago!

This Original Coconut Milk is sweetened and has 70 calories. But it sure makes a tasty drink to wash down Hampton Creek's Just Cookies! And it's not so sweet that it overpowers the sweetness from the chocolate in the cookie.

The Vanilla Coconut Milk is sweetened, too, and honestly, it's so good on its own that I hated to mess that up by adding it to a dish. I ended up drinking most of it by itself. Again with the strawberries!

I saved the Chocolate Coconut Milk for last! Save the best for last, right? This one definitely had the highest calorie count at 90 calories per glass. But that's still lower than some brands of chocolate plant milk. It was pretty sweet, like dessert on its own. But it was delicious blended into this Chocolate Blueberry Smoothie — chocolate milk, chocolate hemp protein, banana, blueberries.

One morning, I even had some in my Chocolate Power O's Cereal. Because chocolate cereal with chocolate milk. That's what being a grown-up is all about. If I want chocolate milk in my cereal, then by god, I can do that!

Loved all these milks! My only complaint with So Delicious milks though is that they only contain 10 percent of your RDA for calcium. Some other brands of plant milk have anywhere from 30 to 35 percent of your RDA. I'm all about getting my calcium in without having to worry about eating my greens everyday. So I wish So Delicious would up their calcium levels. But that's my only complaint! The milk is delicious and versatile and so much better than dairy ever thought about being!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Vegan Meetup's First Potluck!

We have a newish vegan group in Memphis — Vegan Dineouts & Potlucks —that's organized through meetup.com (here's our page!). Memphis vegan Susan Stern started the group when she moved to Memphis last year, right around the time our decade-old meetup group, Food Awareness, was going on an indefinite hiatus (Food Awareness is officially retired now btw). The Universe has a strange way of working like that.

Since Memphis Vegan Dineouts & Potlucks launched, we've been on a ton of dinner, lunch, and brunch outings. But the group held its first potluck this past weekend. Vaughan (the lead organizer of the now-defunct Food Awareness group) and Nicole opened up their lovely Midtown home for the party. When Paul and I arrived, we were greeted by this cute sign in the yard!

I made Spanakopita using the recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance (tofu, spinach, scallions, walnuts, and nooch). I'd made it once years ago, and I remember thinking that it was easier than it sounded like it'd be. But on Saturday afternoon, before the potluck, I was cursing my decision. It's not hard to make, but filo dough is a pain to work with. And my oven crapped out on me, so I had to bake these in Cassi's oven down the street.

I had leftover filo after I ran out of the tofu filling, so I opened up a can my Granny's homemade pear pie filling and made some Pear Fruit Pies with cinnamon and agave.

There was sooooo much delicious food at this potluck! So much! I can't remember who brought everything, but I'll do my best. This Veggie Wild Rice came from a girl I hadn't met before, but it was so good.

Somebody made a Garden Salad, which was probably a good call considering all the madness we ate.

Pam's Asian Cabbage Slaw with Tofu and Shiitakes was off the chain. I could have eaten this whole dish full.

Nicole's mom — Beverly — made a really unique and delicious dish with Lima Beans, Tomato, and Vegan Chicken.

Dinesh and his wife, whose name I did not catch, brought some amazing Indian food — Basmati Rice and a Red Bean Curry. Paul probably ate two bowlfuls of this alone.

Steven brought a tasty Kale & Sweet Potato Salad. Sorry for the blurry pic though! The sweet potatoes were mashed and mixed in with the kale.

Vivian's Macaroni Salad so colorful and delicious. I LOVE a good macaroni salad. This got me in the mood for picnic season!

Vivian also brought some soft and sweet Cornbread! Vivian and I share a taste for good country cookin'. YUM!

Susan made this fun White Bean & Quinoa Salad with tomatoes and greens. I love dishes like this at a potluck because I can eat lots and feel good about eating something healthy and tasty.

Susan also brought Potato Salad. It tasted like summer with lots of lemon and dill!

Adam and Emily showed up just in time with this Roasted Vegetable Pizza. The crust was just perfect! I really need to invest in a pizza stone.

A new fellow whose name I cannot remember (was it John?) brought this colorful Potato & Kale Curry with Rice Noodles.

Nic showed up super late with Roasted Veggie Lasagna. By then, I was stuffed, so I packed a slice to take home. I had that for dinner tonight, and it was fan-freaking-tastic.

Wai also showed up late with this Chickpea & Cabbage Saute. I also packed a bit of this to go. Perfect healthy side to my lasagna!

Here's my plate! Well, my first plate. There was a second plate with pizza and curry noodles. And a third plate with dessert (but more on that in a few).

After we ate the main course, we all sat around and chatted, waiting to find room to stuff down dessert. Here's Paul and I.

A posse in this kitchen with our hosts Nicole (in the foreground) and Vaughan (with the eye patch).

Some grown folks and a baby in the living room. That's Adam — the pizza guy — with the baby and Emily is in the floor. Dinesh and his wife are on the couches.

Max, Beverly, and Rita stayed close to the food table. I don't blame them.

And Cassi has a policy now that she'll only make weird faces in pictures. So there ya go.

Speaking of Cassi, of course the vegan cupcake diva brought cupcakes from her bakery, Pink Diva Cupcakery. She brought Sweet Potato Mango, Fruity Pebbles (flecked with Fruity Pebbles, of course), and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I tried the Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and it was delicious. She uses fancy cinnamon, and it makes a big difference.

Susan brought these yummy Raw Truffles! I can't remember what all was in them, but they tasted just like an Almond Joy, so there was definitely coconut in there.

And Karen brought a delightful Maple Brown Sugar Cake. I'm such a sucker for maple everything. I only had room for a sliver of this, but I wish I could have fit in a whole slice.

Well, that's it! We ate sooooo much. And of course there was wine to wash it all down. Memphis vegans knows how to party.