Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 30: The End of the Beginning

Thank goodness for Vegan MoFo. Because of this wonderful month-long blogfest, I now cook nearly everything I eat. I am totally vegan, just as I said I'd be by the end of the month.

I have accomplished what I set out to when I started MoFo. I absolutely intend to continue this way. After MoFo, I'd like to get to a place where I can make up my own dishes - nothing seriously fancy, but something. I'd like to know what spices are for what, and what they taste like. I'd like to be better at cutting things. Perhaps that will be part of my New Year's whatever-you-call-it.

Today, I made the Tomato-Rice Soup from Veganomicon, and despite the fact that I didn't have much time to eat it, I really enjoyed it. The only gripe I have with the recipe is that it says that it takes 45 minutes. The time should be at least an hour.

I give myself double the time a recipe says, because I know I take very long to prep. I had to leave the house by 4:30 today, so I started prep between 2:15 and 2:30. It was about 3:00 once I was actually cooking.

The cooking went fine, except that even after cooking and mixing the ingredients together, the instructions said to bring to a boil (that took forever!) and then simmer for 45 minutes. See, so really, you're doing actual cooking for at least an hour.

This really would not have been a big deal, except that I had to leave and I ended up being a little late because I didn't finish dinner on time. Sheesh.

Regardless of all that, it was absolutely delish. I'm so glad there's a lot left over :)

And that my friends, is the last MoFo post. Cheers!

The Complete Opposite of Vegan

I was looking for something kind of mindless to watch in the mid afternoon, and I saw that Bizarre Foods was on, and it was set in LA. So, I decided to check out what kind of weird crap people eat here. Big mistake.

The first thing that I see is the process of making head cheese. I nearly vomited. It's so freaking gross, I seriously can't believe anyone thought to do that.

The next thing I see is a baby pig being boiled. A whole baby pig. In goose or duck fat. And the guys were drooling over this. I changed the channel. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

I honestly can't believe there is baby pig on a menu here. EEEeeeeek. Needless to say, I won't be setting foot in that establishment. Or watching that show again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 29: "Pantry" Burritos and Cookies!!!

I don't "cook;" I follow recipes. Today, however, I threw together stuff I already had to make dinner! Nothing fancy, just burritos. I had half an onion, some cilantro, a can of refried black beans, Tapatio, lettuce and tortillas. Oh - and I bought the cheddar Daiya. Put them all together, you get burrito!

For dessert, I made something quite reliable. Chocolate Chip Cookies from Vegan With a Vengeance. Now, I've only made them according to recipe once, and truthfully, they didn't turn out so great - the dough was crumbly and didn't really hold together well. I don't think the Earth Balance was room temperature...

What I usually do is use applesauce to make them lower-fat, and half sugar, half Splenda. Tonight, I used applesauce and all sugar. They taste so yummy! The BF LOOOOOOVES them.

That was it. A fairly simple day. Oh, and I finally finished the ridiculously hot chili :) Now to finish the Thanksgiving leftovers...

Vegan MoFo Day 29: Le Grande Grocery Tour

Ah, the penultimate MoFo post. Today was the wonderful grocery tour, only this time, I drove instead of walked to save time -- I had other things to tend to. Honestly, though, driving only saved me about half an hour! Gr.

Let's start with this week's menu:
  • Black bean burritos (own recipe)
  • Tomato-Rice Soup (Veganomicon)
  • Spaghetti and Bean Balls (Veganomicon)
  • Mac Daddy (Veganomicon)
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies (Vegan With a Vengeance)
I realize, it's a lot of pasta, but there's also protein-filled ingredients in each dish. I thought about getting vegetables for sides, but I don't have a steamer, and I'm too lazy to prepare them another way. I did get salad though, so we'll get some veggies in this week :)

All in all, I went to four stores, which seems to be the norm. I either have to get used to it, or cook stuff that has ingredients I can get from just one store. (Ok, I can probably get everything from Whole Foods,  but I am trying to be a bit cost-conscious...)

Though I had to visit four stores, I at least succeeded in having a complete grocery list (I left nothing off!) and finding every single thing on my list :) Now I can't wait to make everything!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 27: Challenge... Accepted?

Yes, I know that it's Day 28, but this post is about yesterday, Day 27 :)

Yesterday was my first true outing for which I had to do research. The BF and I met up with his friend for brunch in a nearby city, and I didn't know vegan-friendly restaurants in that area. I had researched some restaurants in the area, and I found a place that I thought would work.

The reviews I read about the restaurant mentioned vegan options - some sort of tofu scramble. However, the restaurant didn't have a website, so I wasn't able to look at the menu. When I finally did, all the breakfast items were egg-something-or-other, and I saw nothing about tofu mentioned on the menu. It mentioned that things could be made vegetarian, but not vegan. There were a couple of small items -- side salad, bowl of fruit -- that were vegan, but nothing meal-sized. The only thing I saw that might be vegan was the veggie tacos.

I don't like to be "difficult" at restaurants. I have friends that are servers, and I hear their horror stories - I do not want to be one of them! So, I didn't ask a lot of questions. I ordered the tacos. Corn tortillas, soyrizo, lettuce, onions, cheese and sour cream. I asked for no cheese or sour cream, and believed in my heart that they would be vegan.

They came out and looked great. There was a side of pinto beans on the plate, and I didn't touch them. The tacos tasted fine, but man they were greasy! Were they totally vegan? I can't say for sure, especially since I didn't ask, but I'm not going to freak out about it.

I guess that's how I'm going to be. I mean, as a vegetarian, I knew that it was possible that my food would prepared on or near a meat surface. As a vegan, I can ask questions, but I can't freak out about things. You just never really know what's going to happen to your food at a restaurant anyway. I just have to do my best to be prepared ahead of time.

We went to the theater - a matinee - after brunch, so there was quite a long stretch between brunch and my next meal. The theater was right by an In N Out Burger, so I had to get some french fries! At least I know the only thing that goes in the deep fryers there are potatoes...?

What I learned from yesterday's experience -- and reader comments -- is that I should always be prepared with some snack or food, in case there isn't something for me to eat where I happen to be. You can also bet that I will get to know every vegan-friendly establishment within a 50 mile radius of me :)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 26: The "Sorry to be so difficult" Factor

This month of being vegan has been pretty easy. I've been cooking most of my meals, and when The BF and I have gone out, we've gone to vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants. Even Thanksgiving was fine because I cooked. Totally easy.

My first real "challenge," however, comes tomorrow. The BF and I are meeting his friend for brunch in a different city, and we have to decide where to go. The friend is a meat-eater, The BF is vegetarian, and then there's me -- the one who doesn't want unsuspecting dairy products to touch her plate.

I looked up breakfast/brunch restaurants in the area that cater to vegetarians/vegans and non-vegetarians alike. I was pleased to find a few. A couple of the well-reviewed restaurants didn't have websites on which I could view their menus -- gr. The reviews mentioned veg-friendly items and tofu scrambles, so that's good I guess.

For a short while, this will be part of veganism that I won't really enjoy. I am not one to impose my beliefs, practices, or opinions on anyone, and I don't feel comfortable making people eat (or do anything, really) only where I want to. I personally get annoyed when people are like that, so I don't want to be annoying. I try to be all-inclusive, and I find that it usually works the other way around, too, with my friends.

I know this will get better over time as I am more aware of restaurants, and as my friends are more aware of my veganism. But yeah, the first few gatherings will just require a bit of research on my part, and that's ok.

Vegan MoFo Day 26: Thanksgiving Yesterday, Leftovers Today

For Thanksgiving yesterday, I made two sides -- Potato Fennel Gratin and Green Bean Vegan Casserole, both recipes that I got when I attended the Native Foods cooking demo last Saturday.

It's a good thing I woke up early yesterday. I had prepped much of the ingredients for my Thanksgiving sides on Wednesday, but I didn't prepare what would take the longest -- the potatoes. I got up, washed them, boiled them, and then embarked on the painstaking task of peeling them. So, that took about an hour total. The rest of the gratin recipe was fairly simple, save for a lot of dish washing.

The casserole recipe was a little... confusing. The instructions had me blanch the green beans, fry the flour-coated shallots in oil, heat up bread crumbs, cook mushrooms, and stir in a Vegenaise mixture with the mushrooms. Then, the last step said, "Remove from heat, add green beans and bread crumbs, then toss and serve!"

Wait - did I miss something? Was it supposed to be a green bean salad? Hm. I thought casseroles were supposed to go in the oven for some time. And what am I to do with the shallots? Er...

So, I put the green beans, the mushroom mixture and the bread crumbs in a baking dish and stuck it in the oven for 20 minutes. Then I put the shallots on top and kept it in the oven for another 5 minutes. I figured that would work.

After those two sides were done, I put the Native Wellington in the oven for almost an hour. Then, we packed all three in one of those insulated bags and headed on down to Orange County. It all surprisingly stayed rather warm.

The stuff was all good :) I actually think I liked the green beans the best. I forgot to take pics of it all yesterday, but I took a picture of the leftovers I had today.

Clockwise from top: Potato Fennel Gratin, Native Wellington with Mushroom Gravy, Green Bean Vegan Casserole
We've eaten so much of it already. The green beans are almost gone, the Wellington has a couple servings left, and the potatoes have a few large servings to go.

I'm already thinking of Christmas food to try. I am pretty sure I want mashed potatoes this time, and I think I'd like creamed spinach :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 24: Thanksgiving Prep

I was going to make our Thanksgiving dishes today. Then, I realized that one of the dishes would only take about 30 minutes to make, total. So, I did laundry.

Of course, I still got the urge to do something cooking-related. I figured that if I prep the ingredients, then I can save myself about an hour tomorrow. (Seriously, you should see my knife non-skills. I take forever.)

I sliced shallots, trimmed green beans, sliced fennel, minced garlic, and sliced onions. I saved the potatoes and apple for tomorrow. More on this later.

After prepping and storing the goods, The BF and I went to Native Foods for dinner. We had a 2-for-1 entree coupon, and we had to pick up the Native Wellington we ordered a few days ago.

I had the Scorpion Burger, with a side of sweet potato fries, and the Lavender Lemonade. OMG it was all delish! After dinner, we picked up the Wellington, and I got a cheesecake to take home. Mmmm... it came with blueberries, and it was so freakin' good.

Unfortunately, when I got home and opened the fridge, there it was - the stench of fennel and onions. Oh good god. Sure, we'll use those tomorrow, and the fridge will be rid of the culprits, but will it really be rid of the odor? Hope so, but afraid not. Baking soda will be on my urgent list.

Vegan MoFo 23: Chili Redux

After last night's semi-disaster, I was determined to correct my wrongdoing. I set my mind to having the way-too-hot chili for lunch, but toned down so that I could actually eat it.

I grabbed the can of corn kernels that I had in the cupboard and put them in a pot straight up, without draining. I then poured about a third of a cup of unsweetened soymilk in and heated the whole thing up until it was simmering.

Then, I poured in the chili from last night and heated it all up together. Mind you, I had the idea to put corn into the chili last night as I was making it, but I figured I had already messed things up so much that I should just leave things be.

Once the chili was hot (in temperature), I served it up, again with the avocado garnish. I gotta say, it was way better! I could stand the heat, and the corn and soymilk added just a hint of sweetness. The BF said it was just as spicy as it was last night, but he did like the corn.

There's still a whole bunch of this stuff left, but at least now I know that I can eat it :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 23: I'll Never Do THAT Again -- Hot Peppers & Substitutions

This story goes to show that not planning a menu for the week can be hazardous. Hazardous, indeed.

This week, I figured that, since we are making a couple dishes for Thanksgiving, we could take it easy on the cooking for daily meals. So, I didn't plan a menu, I just bought a few simple items to throw together. Except, I didn't buy enough -- we had nothing to eat for dinner tonight or meals tomorrow.

Not to worry. Since yesterday, I'd been itching to cook something. Mid-afternoon today, I got a craving for chili. I looked in all my cookbooks and didn't really see a recipe I wanted to try -- until I got to Veganomicon.

I found the recipe for Manzana Chili Verde, and I was interested. The recipe called for a pound of Yukon gold potatoes, and I just so happened to have a 3 pound bag, of which I only need 2 pounds. Cool. I wrote down the list of ingredients and headed over the store.

Oh yeah -- I also only had about 2 hours in which to get the ingredients and cook the chili because The BF had a class to get to. Listed cook time for the chili? One hour. GO!

Mistake #1: I somehow always manage to forget something on the list. This time, I had vegetable broth written down very clearly, and I didn't get it. Never mind that I was crossing stuff off -- I obviously didn't see that it wasn't. Thankfully, The BF offered to go back and get the broth.

Mistake #2: I've never cut up chili peppers before, so I just went right on ahead and treated them like bell peppers. I cut them up, plucked out the seed parts, and sliced them with my bare hands. What kind of peppers? Jalapeno and poblano. It would be a while before I realized what I had done.

Mistake #3: As I read through the steps for the recipe, I noticed yet another ingredient I had somehow forgotten -- cumin. This one didn't even make it onto my list! Terrible!! I grabbed one of my cookbooks that lists substitutes for spices. The substitute for cumin was chili powder. I thought I had that... but no -- I had cayenne pepper. That should be ok, right? The recipe calls for 3 teaspoons of cumin. Something inside me said that I shouldn't use that much cayenne. So I only used 2 teaspoons.

Mistake #4: Following the directions again, I realized that it was time to put the cilantro in -- only I hadn't prepped it yet! I grabbed it and started plucking. It felt really... grainy. Ugh. I hadn't washed it! Gross.

The rest of the cooking went fine. I didn't screw anything else up -- I couldn't afford to! With minutes to spare, I served the chili to The BF (and served a bowl for myself).

Thank goodness for the avocado garnish, because this stuff was HOT! I don't like terribly spicy food in the first place, but this was ridiculous. My mouth burned and I was sweating from my forehead. I also got a terrible headache. I couldn't finish it, and my poor BF had to eat it so quickly before class. He was nice enough to say that it tasted good, despite how hot it was.

From what I could tell, it tasted fine, but I don't know how the heck I'll make this edible for me. I'm afraid it will burn through the glass bowl I saved it in -- you know how the flavors set in. Ugh! I think I might try to add a can of corn to it.

Oh, and my hands are BURNING!

Never. Again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 22: Monday Grocery Walking Tour

In my previous post, I said I had decided on what to make for Thanksgiving dinner. I added all my ingredients to my phone app and the BF and I (he has the week off) went on the Monday Grocery Walking Tour together.

First stop, the West Hollywood Farmers' Market. Frankly, This was a bit disappointing. Some of the prices were better than what I saw yesterday at the Hollywood Farmers' Market, but they didn't have shallots - the thing I was really looking for. I was also just a little too impatient to compare prices and quality between vendors. I really want to like shopping at farmers' markets, so I'll keep trying.

We left the market with an empty cart and headed to Whole Foods. There we were looking for a few things I knew I could only get there - Vegenaise, EnerG egg replacer, nuts in bulk. This is also where I totally changed my mind about Thanksgiving dessert. I realized that I simply couldn't have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. It certainly didn't help that it was everywhere in the store.

I really didn't want to make a pie, but I - with the BF's help - decided that if I could find a vegan pumpkin pie for a decent price, that would be our dessert. Enter Fabe's Bakery vegan pumpkin pie. Done!

Next stop was good old reliable Trader Joe's. Here we got all the produce we needed for the green bean casserole and the gratin. We also got a few items for some very easy to make dishes this week - tacos and fried rice.

Last stop was Jons for some inexpensive white pepper.

The tour was a little tiring - we both got very hungry and cranky after walking behind a bunch of slowpokes and nearly being hit by a couple of a-hole drivers. Walking in LA is dangerous!

I'm actually looking forward to making the sides. Mmm... yeah!

Vegan MoFo Day 22: Thanksgiving Decisions

I've been having a difficult time deciding what to bring to my sister's place for Thanksgiving. I want to cook something, especially since I haven't really cooked from a recipe in a few days.

However, I don't want to spend a lot of money on... anything. Sheesh.

So far, we know for sure that we are having the Native Wellington from Native Foods. I love potatoes and stuffing and pumpkin pie, so I want those. The BF loves green bean casserole.

Here's what I decided:
  • The Wellington already has some stuffing in it. As much as I love stuffing, I'm going to skip it. Besides, the vegetables I have in the fridge are going bad, so it's not like I can use them anymore. Definitely not worth buying MORE stuff just to make something from something I have.
  • I'll make the Green Bean Vegan Casserole and Potato Fennel Gratin from the Native Foods cooking demo this past weekend. I trust the recipes are good, so that works for me.
  • I'll make the carrot cake cupcakes from VCTOTW. I have all the ingredients I need for them, and everyone loves them. 
Phew. Now off to my big grocery tour to get the good stuff!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 21: Hollywood Farmers' Market - Popped!

I had read all about the breakfast sandwich by A Taste of Life on quarrygirl.com... so this morning I took the BF to the Hollywood Farmers' Market this morning to give it a try.

It was our first time to the market, and my goal was to get the sandwich and just browse the vendors. By the time we got there, we were hungry, and of course we had no idea where A Taste of Life had its booth. For anyone who hasn't been before, it's on Selma, on the east side of Ivar.

We got to the booth, and I looked at the menu on the table - there was no such thing as a breakfast sandwich! They had a breakfast burrito on the menu... so we asked for that. Ha. Ha. Joke was on us, the vendor apologetically told us that they now sold a sandwich instead. Yes, please!

I told him we had heard great things about it, and when I opened it up - OK, I am salivating just writing about it. It was GOOD. I want another one. Now.

As for the market - like I said, I just wanted to browse. I didn't have anything in particular I wanted to get besides the sammy. It was bigger than I expected. I had only been to two other farmers' markets before - Brea and West Hollywood - and those are really small. I got pretty overwhelmed, but I did take down info on some vendors that I was interested in.

I definitely, DEFINITELY want to go back for the sandwich. It's seriously every bit as good as people say!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 20: Native Foods Cooking Demo and Lotsa Nachos!

I'm STILL full!

This morning, the BF and I went to Native Foods Cafe in Culver City for a Thanksgiving sides cooking demo. Hello samples! On the menu:
  • Potato Fennel Gratin
  • Fresh and Lively Brussel Sprout Hazelnut Salad
  • Pear Cranberry Upside Down Cake
They also served samples of their Chai tea and Watermelon Fresca.

This was the first cooking demo I'd ever been to. We couldn't see a lot of what was going on because of the seating arrangement, but Chef Tanya was good at explaining what she was doing, and why, and giving little tips along the way.

She also told her story, which included how she opened the first Native Foods in Palm Springs in 1994. Um HELLO! Where was my little vegetarian teenage self when that happened?! I grew up in Palm Springs and I seriously had no idea the place existed until a few years ago when a colleague in Orange County told me about the Costa Mesa location. Tragic.

Back to the food. The gratin was DELICIOUS. I've been wanting to make the traditional mashed potatoes for T-day, but I may very well make this. Why? Because I know it's good. I didn't think I liked fennel. I certainly don't like the way it smells. But it didn't taste very strong in the dish, so - yum!

Next, she showed and fed us the brussel sprout salad. The BF does NOT like brussel sprouts, but I convinced him to try it. I myself wasn't sure that I'd ever had brussel sprouts. Neither of us liked it. In fact, he hated it - he looked like he was going to be sick. The hazelnuts were good though!

Last, we had the cake. Oh my, this was delicious. I think the only thing that might have made it even more special was some sort of syrup it. Like, barely drizzled on it.

Besides the (mostly) yummy tastes, we got recipes of each dish, plus a recipe for Green Bean Vegan Casserole. We also got coupons for the seasonal Native Wellington, and for free entrees with purchase of an entree. I've heard good things about the wellington, so I ordered one. Sadly, the free entree coupons are not valid until the 23rd. Boo.

That didn't stop us from having lunch there today. I make the mistake(?) of ordering the Nuevo Native Nachos AND a root beer. I say mistake not because they weren't good, but because I got full after just a few bites! I had to take them home, and nachos are not nachos as leftovers. I already ate some more at home, and they were good, but I still have a lot left!!!

Oh yeah! I forgot to mention that I won a Native Foods tote bag! They gave away several things, including a mug, cooking DVD, a whole pie, and a wellington! I really like my tote bag though, and I used it to go shopping immediately afterward :)

I have to say, the cooking demos, which Chef Tanya holds once a month, are a great marketing tool. They are free, and they totally win you over to the food. Not that we didn't already love Native Foods - which is why I totally don't mind being sold on their stuff :)

We'll be back to pick up our wellington on Wednesday, and we'll probably use our coupon then!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 19: Potato Fail, Easy Eats

Man, I've been HUNGRY today! Granted, I've kind of been grazing all day, rather than eating meals. BF left the saag, so I had a bit of that.

But - what I've really been craving today is potatoes! I considered how I might want to make them - Home style? Mashed? Just cooked somehow?

I decided on mashed, with garlic and shallots. Mmm...! I grabbed the potatoes out of the cupboard and started to wash. Hm, the first one was part green... No worries, I'd cut around it.

Hm... the second one had little itty bitty eyes... Is that bad? Oh, and it's kind of green... hm... Were the other ones bad too?

Sadly, yes. All the potatoes were growing eyes or green. Ugh. I really really really wanted potatoes. I'm still hungry. Now what?

Thank goodness I got some angel hair pasta and a jar of tomato basil sauce. It's not potatoes, but it's something. And it's EASY.

Speaking of easy, I think I might go easy this week on the cooking. I mean, make really easy stuff. I worked HARD this week, for someone who doesn't cook, and I really just want to enjoy the holiday week with the BF. Plus, he does the dishes, and I think he's really starting to resent me ;-)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 18: Pumpkin Saag-a

Goodness gracious, this was a beast of a recipe to make! Pumpkin Saag from Veganomicon.

I prepped the pumpkin yesterday. I chopped the onions, minced the garlic, and chopped the spinach today, which took a pretty long time.

That's a lot of spinach!
Once I got cooking, everything actually went really smoothly. I followed the recipe almost exactly. It calls for an inch cube of fresh ginger, grated, and I just used about 3/4 teaspoon of ground ginger. I don't have a fine grater or microplane, so I figured why bother with fresh ginger.

Regardless of that, it tasted FANTASTIC. The BF had so much that there was barely enough left over for both of us. (I'm sure he'll take all of it to work tomorrow for lunch.) I cooked some brown rice to go with it. It was jasmine, not basmati, but I didn't really see the need to buy an extra bag of rice to just accompany the saag.

This was really great, and I would make it again, but I would have to wuss out and use canned or precut pumpkin. 

Vegan MoFo Day 18: Cupcakes, Again!

I had eaten all the cookies. They were delicious cookies. But they were gone.

I needed something sweet to eat. Two carrots were aging in my fridge, along with a bowl of cream cheese frosting. Both enough for another batch of Carrot Cake Cupcakes :)

I started to gather my ingredients, when I realized I was missing one - soy yogurt. Not to fret! I had some Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese in the fridge. I figured that would work.

I substituted the Tofutti for the yogurt exactly. It mixed in fine, but once I mixed in the dry ingredients, it was a little thick, so I just added some plain unsweetened soymilk to thin it out.

They came out just as great as before. The only difference was that this batch was just a little lighter in color.

Yay me!

Vegan MoFo Day 17: I'll Never Do THAT Again, Pumpkin Edition

Seriously, never.

Day 17, and I decided to prep the pumpkin for the Pumpkin Saag recipe from Veganomicon. The little thing looked so cute and harmless!

But pure evil awaited me. I proceeded with the instructions for preparing the pumpkin - cut the top off, get the seeds out, scrape out the stringy stuff, cut it in half. No problem. I just took my serrated knife (pretty much a bread knife, but my only serrated one) and started to saw away.

After at least 10 minutes, barely breaking skin
I began to understand what those electric turkey carvers are really for - pumpkins! I'm inclined to say that it took me about 30 minutes to finally get that stem outta there. Once I finally got it out, I got this:

Seed time. I gotta say, I didn't enjoy pulling those things out by hand. A couple things came to mind. I tried to scrape/seed with a spoon, but that wasn't very effective at all. I got what I could out of there, which probably took about 20 minutes.

Finally, time to cut in half. By then, I figured it was going to be ridiculous. Not to mention, I don't like knives. Trying to cut into this stubborn thing with the biggest, strongest knife I had simply freaked me out. I imagined trying to unwedge the knife and having it jab me in the face. Ugh.

Luckily, that did not happen. Also luckily, after just a little bit of carving in, I discovered that I could crack the pumpkin! I did that on both sides and, after far less effort than I anticipated, I broke the pumpkin in half. I then scraped the remaining stringy stuff off. However, I realized that pretty much all of the inside of a pumpkin is stringy, so I stopped.

I put the evil thing into the oven, where it roasted for nearly an hour and smelled wonderful.

I can see why pumpkins have become a Halloween tradition. Those things are freaking EVIL and frightening to deal with! I should/could have assumed this when I decided to embark on this recipe, but the book gives NO warning of just how RIDICULOUSLY hard work they are!

I'm excited to make this recipe, but if I really love it and ever want to make it again, I guarantee that I will not be using a fresh pumpkin.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vegan Fail; Goodbye to...

I was so excited to make tonight's dinner - my version of the Tostada Pizza from CPK. Then, I realized something. I hadn't looked at the label on the soy cheese I bought yesterday. It contains casein. Vegan fail.

I didn't want to waste food or spend even more money than I have this week on food, so I decided to use it anyway.

The pizza turned out ok. The BF said it was really good, so I'll believe him. I didn't care for the ranch dressing that I used, nor did I care for the soy cheese all that much.

I know that I won't get to eat cheese - real cheese - as a vegan. I'll really miss it. The vegan (and not-really-vegan) cheeses I've had usually taste fine at first, but then something weird happens. There's no other way to explain it other than to say I get dizzy after a few minutes when I eat them. The only one that didn't make me feel that way was Teese Nacho flavor.

All that said, there are other things I must say goodbye to, and these are the ones I'll miss most:
  • Cadbury Flake
  • Peanut M&Ms
  • Twix
  • milkshakes, in particular, Haagen-Dazs Vanilla and Dulce de Leche
  • In-N-Out grilled cheese
  • Thrifty Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
  • brie
There are probably a few more I could throw in there, but those are the ones I thought of quickly. Looking at the list, it's all junk food anyway (well, except the brie). I'm perfectly fine giving all those things up, knowing that my body and conscience will feel better for it.

I really did feel bad about the damn casein.

Vegan MoFo Day 16: Countdown to T-Day - Make, or Take?

I just received confirmation that my family will be having Thanksgiving at my sister's place (rather than a restaurant, which was almost an option). The non-vegetarians will be ordering their food because they don't want to cook. I, however, have to either make, or take vegan food - and I don't know what I'd like to do!

Time consuming, and potentially expensive depending on quantity and ingredients. Although... I do have some potatoes and celery leftover from this week's chowder recipe, and I want to try making a "Hawaiian Sweet Bread" stuffing. Because I'm crazy.

I will have to make everything beforehand and bring it down somehow. Which means that in addition to buying food, I might have to buy containers.

Definitely less time consuming, but possibly more expensive. Whole Foods has a lot of vegan items on their holiday menu. One veggie restaurant near me has a meal to order for quite inexpensive, but I have to find out if it's entirely vegan. Other restaurants have stuff to order, but at large quantities.

This option has me actually having to talk to people and ask questions, and pick up food on either Wednesday or Thursday, which will be very busy, I'm sure.

I'm leaning toward making food. Perhaps instead of making my daily meals labor-intensive, I'll stick to easy stuff. That way, I can put the work into Thanksgiving menu items.

ta da!

Vegan MoFo Day 16: The Grand Grocery Store Tour

Because of my impulse to make Pumpkin Saag this week, I had a few ingredients left to buy after my big trip yesterday. This morning, I embarked on a neighborhood-wide grocery store - on foot, mind you!

First stop - Jons. I'd been in there before, but I wasn't terribly impressed. They have a pretty good selection of international food, but not vegetarian/vegan food. However, after today's trip, Jon's scored a couple points. They have a spice section with little bags of just about every spice for $.89 or $.99. The one spice they didn't have was the one I was looking for - garam masala! They had a great selection of other stuff, so why didn't they have that? Boo. They did carry peanut oil, which was also on my list, but it was a big bottle for about $7. Too much.

Next stop - Target. I was hoping they might carry peanut oil for cheaper than I would find it elsewhere. They didn't carry it at all.

Next stop - Trader Joe's. Same hope as with Target. No peanut oil.

Last stop - Whole Foods. I dreaded that this would be the only place I would find all the ingredients I was looking for, because it can be expensive. However, the vegan ranch dressing I needed was on sale, the garam masala was not ridiculously expensive, and the peanut oil was small in both quantity and price. Even though it can be pricier, I love Whole Foods because they carry just about everything I need. It's a bit difficult to walk there and get a lot of stuff, because it's at least a mile.

So, what have I learned? I pretty much need to shop at at least three places. Maybe one day I will only cook meals that I know I can get the ingredients for at ONE place. Until then, I'll get plenty of walking done at least.

Vegan MoFo Day 16: Last Night's Corn & Potato Chowder

Ah, adventures in cooking. Last night was another lesson in how not to chop onions, how not to burn onions, and how not to leave things bland.

First thing's first. I made Corn and Potato Chowder from Robin Robertson's 1000 Vegan Recipes - even though it was hot yesterday. Here were the ingredients:

Actually, carrots were not listed in the ingredients, but I had some left over from last week, so I thought I'd throw them in.

My prep left a little to be desired. I chopped the whole onion, and MAN - I should practice that. I was tearing up a LOT, and I really just couldn't chop very well. Tiny pieces here, big chunks there, disaster everywhere. I thought of the episode of that show "Master Chef" and how one of their first challenges was to chop onions. I would have failed.

Once prepped, I followed the recipe as written. Silly me. The first step says to heat the oil over medium heat, then add the onion and celery. Then, it says "Cover and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes." That's exactly what I did. No stirring, no sauteing, nothing.

I checked on the pot at about 7 minutes, and my onions were burning. Now, I thought this would happen, but why would I cover a pot, only to have to open it constantly in order to saute? I was pretty disappointed in that instruction.

I ended up having to empty the pot, set aside the cooked vegetables, and SCRUB the burnt onions off the bottom. It was hard work, and it took a while. Now I know to FOLLOW MY INSTINCTS. Once I got that under control, I followed the rest of the recipe.

Everything went fine. I pureed half the soup in the blender, and it wasn't as tricky as I thought it would be. Seasoning the soup was a little tricky for me, though. The only spices that the recipe called for were salt and pepper, to taste. I don't know how to season very well - I usually don't season food enough. I didn't want the soup to be too salty, so I had a little trouble with it. The soup was a little bland, probably because I used low-sodium vegetable broth. I decided to add a little ground nutmeg to give it something interesting.

The chowder turned out fine. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't AWESOME. Even with adding nutmeg, it still didn't taste quite... there. I'm having leftovers today, so maybe the seasoning has set in a bit. Thankfully, you couldn't taste the burned onion, but you could see it here and there.

Garnished with green onion

I'm not sure if I would make this again. Personally, I just need instructions and seasoning to be very descriptive, as I don't have a ton of cooking knowledge.

I don't actually know how I came across the recipe. I don't have the book, so I must have copied it from a website that posted it. I am curious to see the actual book though, and I would try another recipe from it.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 15: Grocery Shopping and Impulse Buys

Today is grocery day! I really used to hate grocery shopping, but now that I have an idea of what I'm going to buy, it's become much more enjoyable. I wasn't even embarrassed to take my utility cart and walk the .7 mi to the store - something people just don't do in LA.

In my previous post, I listed the recipes that I would be making this week. Before I even left for the store, I decided to leave the Carrot Bisque from Veganomicon out in order to save a little bit of money.

However, when I got to the store, I saw that they had sugar pumpkin, and I got excited. After discovering how much I liked Indian food, I wanted to make the Pumpkin Saag recipe from Veganomicon, but I had no idea what sugar pumpkin was or where the heck to get it.

I got the pumpkin and the spinach that the recipe calls for, but of course, I could not remember what the remaining ingredients were. I'll have to go to the store again - besides, I couldn't find vegan ranch dressing for the Tostada Pizza.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 14: Last Night, Leftovers, & Laziness

I made a pleasant discovery last night - I like Indian food! The BF and I went to dinner with his family, and they took us to an Indian restaurant. It was only my second time ever at such a place. My first time was in New York, and I somehow concluded that I didn't really care for it.

Last night, however, I loved all the dishes we ordered. One was Saag, another was a lentil-based dish, and the other was a big combo of yummy whose name I cannot recall.

So yes, I now like Indian food :)

Today, BF and I had the last of the leftover quiche. So yummy, yet so much work. I was a little hesitant to say I'd make it again, but I now think I definitely would.

I had a busy day, so I got lazy for dinner. We had some Gardein buffalo wings and crispy tenders. No sides, no frills. Just right out of the package.

In the spirit of laziness, I made the menu for this week really easy. I decided to make a couple of soups, pasta, and one thing I've been craving:
  • Corn and Potato Chowder (from 1000 Vegan Recipes by Robin Robertson)
  • Carrot Bisque (from Vegan with a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero)
  • my (vegan) version of the Tostada Pizza from CPK
  • angel hair pasta & sauce from a jar - in case I screw any of the above up
Those should all yield plenty of leftovers. Though, it's going to be another warm week in LA. Sigh.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 13: Birthday Antics and Quiche

Oh my, I am a flake. I let two days go by without blogging. Shame on me. Here's what you missed:

Day 11 - Thursday
I celebrated my birthday (again) at Disneyland with the BF an my family. I had intended to eat vegan at the park, using this post from Adventures of an Average Vegan as my guide. Key word: intended. Fail. I was shamefully suffering the consequences of Wednesday night's birthday celebration, and I desperately craved dairy all day. I'm not proud of it, but I decided to eat only vegan the next day.

Day 12 - Friday
Everything I ate on Friday was vegan :) Even better, I made the "hard" dish for dinner - Asparagus Quiche with Tomatoes and Tarragon from Veganomicon. It was quite the adventure.

First, I made the pastry dough, using these ingredients:

I ended up using more water than the recipe called for, because the dough simply didn't stick together. It ended up fine. The hardest part of the whole dish was rolling out the dough. It was seriously labor intensive, as my working surface kept sliding around. I wish I had taken a picture of me doing this because it was pretty funny.

Since the dough had to sit in the fridge for at least an hour, I moved on to the filling. Sorry, I didn't take pictures of this either. I made a couple of boo-boos during this step.

First, my garlic was not really fresh, and I used it anyway. I honestly didn''t know if it's bad to use "bad" garlic. I figured we'd soon find out.

Then, I tried to multitask while I was sauteing the asparagus, shallots, and garlic. The asparagus and garlic turned out fine, but the shallots burned. I probably had enough to start over, but I decided not to.

Everything else turned out fine in terms of assembly. However, when I tasted a bit of the filling, it seemed like there was too much tarragon for my taste. Here's what it looked like before going into the oven:
The olive oil didn't drizzle so much as blob...

I baked it for 45 minutes, and let it cool for 20 minutes, as instructed. We were so hungry by then. I cut into it, and the filling was really soft, as it was when I spooned it in. So, I put it in the oven for another 30 minutes. This was probably a mistake, as the crust ended up really hard. Here's what it looked like after:
Not much different, huh
I was honestly not very optimistic that this would taste right. What I had previously tasted was strong on tarragon, and the fragrance was strong on garlic. (Seriously, is it bad to use bad garlic???) The recipe sounded so good, but I didn't think I had executed it quite right.

I apologetically served it to the BF and myself. Surprise - it tasted fantastic! The only thing that wasn't right was that the crust was definitely overcooked and very hard.

I was so relieved that we didn't die of poison or suffer indigestion from the bad garlic and the burned shallots!

I'm not sure if I would attempt this recipe again. At least not while I still consider myself a novice cook. It was very labor intensive. If/when I do try it again, I would love to do them in ramekins as individual quiches.

go here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 10: Leftovers and Cupcakes

We have too much food right now.

There's still some pasta left from Sunday night; fried rice and stir-fry from Monday night; and a lot of the breakfast casserole that the BF made for me yesterday. It didn't help that he forgot to bring lunch with him yesterday, and that we did a take out picnic last night.

So, there's a whole lot of food in the fridge. Tomorrow, we'll be gone all day, so I won't/shouldn't make the quiche until at least Friday. Hm...

One thing one can never really have too much of, however, is dessert! Yesterday, I made Carrot Cake Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I haven't had carrot cake in a long time, and it just seemed like the perfect fall sweet. Pics below, though I forgot to take any while I mixed the batter :(

Mmm... vegan cream cheese frosting!

Chillin' out

All frosted and ready to eat!

By the by, I was a little too lazy to frost them as instructed (rolling the generously frosted cupcakes in chopped walnuts), so I just had the BF stick a walnut in the center of each of them. Also, walnuts look like lungs. Just saying.

come on over...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nary a Vegbook in Sight...

Amazon.com has it's Best of 2010 lists posted, based on sales and editors' picks. The top 10 cookbooks don't include a vegetarian cookbook, let alone a vegan one. Sure, there's a dessert book that is probably vegetarian by default, but who knows.

This probably shouldn't surprise me, but it does for a couple reasons. It's trendy to be 'green' these days, so shouldn't a list of the best cookbooks of the year include one that fits in? Yes, there is a book that address sustainability in the kitchen, but it's not a vegetarian book. Vegetarianism and veganism is one pretty darn good way to be environmentally conscious.

Also, there's been so much fuss about obesity in our country, and the consequences that come with being overweight. Yet, the books featured in the list don't generally sound like they contain health-conscious recipes. There's a book called Pig, for goodness' sake.

Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise, yet a best of cookbooks list doesn't contain such a book? It just doesn't make sense to me.

Vegan MoFo Day 9: Happy Birthday to Me!

This morning began with the BF getting up really early and making me breakfast :) It was not vegan, but my guideline for this week is that everything I make should be vegan.

After breakfast and some clothes shopping, I checked my email and saw one from Native Foods - a vegan/vegetarian restaurant with several locations in Southern California. They're holding free cooking demos over the next few weekends, featuring Thanksgiving fare. You can bet I signed up for that! If you live in SoCal, you can sign up for one too.

Later this afternoon, I will embark on those Carrot Cake Cupcakes...mmm....

Monday, November 8, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 8: Dinner Was Served!

Well, kids, I did it. I cooked dinner!

Before I get into that, I'll have you know that I went to four different stores to find everything on my recipe lists. FOUR. Why four? Because there is apparently no such thing as a navy bean in my part of Los Angeles. I didn't bother to look up a substitute until I was at the fourth store - great northern beans it is.

But I digress. Tonight, I made dinner. As mentioned in my previous post, I made Chinese-Style Vegetable Fried Rice, paired with Seitan, Mushroom, and Onion Stir-Fry (both from The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet by Nava Atlas).

Including the time it took for the rice to cook, I think it took about an hour and a half. What can I say - I'm slow. While the rice cooked, I minced some green onion for the fried rice, and sliced an onion and drained the seitan for the stir-fry. (The recipe called for two onions, but after I sliced one, I decided that was enough!)

Waiting for the rice to cook...

Once the rice was done, I did double duty on the dishes. My stove has never seen such action!

And here are the finished dishes:
Colorful! Bright! Fried Rice!

Looks WAY less yummy than it tastes

Here's what they looked like on my plate:
Ok, my plating skills leave something to be desired

I gotta say, I thought that the rice would be really awesome, and that I would simply eat the stir-fry without loving or hating it. In actuality, the rice was good, but the stir-fry was even better. It's all about the sauce. I didn't want to overdo the soy sauce on the rice, so I was probably a little too shy. For the stir fry, I used Trader Joe's General Tsao Stir Fry Sauce. That stuff is good.

The BF, upon first taste, said it was amazing. Eh, so what if he was being nice. I'd totally eat the leftovers, and that's all that counts.

Yay, me, for making dinner! Tomorrow, I make birthday cupcakes. YUM!

Vegan MoFo Day 8: Shopping Day!

Before I get into it, I just saw that I have followers! Thanks for following - now I really have to keep up with my posts.

In addition to being excited about having followers (and that Conan starts tonight), I am looking forward to grocery shopping and starting to make some recipes! I actually got my act together and made a kinda flexible menu for this week. Oh yeah, and I'm excited because it's my birthday week!

For breakfast this week, we have cereal, English muffins, and tons of instant oatmeal left over from a recent trip. Because the BF takes lunch to work, lunches will consist of leftovers from dinners the night before. For dinner, I will COOK!

I decided to make one really easy meal, a couple of fairly easy meals, one pretty complicated meal, and one dessert (for my birthday!). Here's what's on the menu for this week:
I'll take pictures and review the dishes.

All right, I'm off to the store. Or stores, plural, depending on whether or not I can get all the ingredients in one place. I'll report back with findings.

I'll take you to my leader

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 6: Stumbling

So apparently I'm not great at writing every day.

Progress so far:
Wednesday, I made a big boo-boo when I got really excited about the vegetarian section at my grocery store. I saw some ranch dressing next to the Vegenaise and assumed that it was vegan. I got home and realized it wasn't.
Yesterday, I started reading The Ultimate Vegan Guide.
Tonight, I had dinner at Greenleaves, a "vegan" restaurant in LA that has been pointed out as not actually serving all Vegan food. I tried pho for the first time and I maintain that I am not a big fan of Asian food.
I'm not even really close to having a menu for next week, but I can make our "usual" stuff and veganize it if I have to.

go there

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 4: Smaller Bites

I completely slipped on posting yesterday. Sadly, it's probably because I didn't have much to say.

I did more recipe research, and - as determined as I am - this cooking thing seems pretty daunting. At least, cooking everything from scratch. So many ingredients (expensive), so many things to prep (time-consuming and dangerous for those who don't like knives), and so many cooking terms I have to... come to terms with.

None of this means that I have given up, or that I will give up. No! What it means is that - duh - I have to be more specific about my goals. What can I say - it's a process.

My overall goal is to be 100% vegan and comfortable with cooking by the end of the month of November. In order to meet that goal, this is how I will break it down:
  • Week 1 (Nov 1-7): Gather recipes for future menus. Finish consuming perishable non-vegan  food items in fridge. Buy vegan items on next grocery trip, including easy-to-make (gasp - microwave!) items.
  • Week 2 (Nov 8-14): Make vegan cupcakes for my birthday :) Make a point to eat vegan, and find vegan food items if out celebrating birthday. Cook at least 2 vegan meals*from recipes. Continue to sift through recipes and shop for only vegan items for self.
  • Week 3 (Nov 15 - 21): All meals will be vegan. Cook at least 4 meals from recipes.
  • Week 4 and on (Nov 22 - 30): Cook all meals, including Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, vegan!
*Meals include lunch and dinner, and will last a couple of days, since nearly all recipes yield too much for just two people. So really, it will be like I'm cooking double the meals.

Once I start cooking stuff, I will be posting pictures - yay! This is going to be funny.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 2: Soup Too Nuts

In my quest to find menu items for the coming week or so, I have learned several things:
  • I have more cookbooks than I really need.
  • On top of those cookbooks, I've saved a lot of recipes from magazines and websites. Sheesh.
  • Soups are not necessarily easy to make.
  • I should seriously consider getting an immersion blender.
  • I will either have to eat large portions of soup; eat the same soup for several days; freeze a lot of soup; or cut recipes in half.
  • It's way to freakin' hot in LA these days to even think about soup.
While I could just pick a book and make recipes from it, I have to be a little more practical. I'm trying to feed two people, satisfy both of our tastes, and spend as little money as possible. Therefore, I really want to spend the next couple of days sifting through the pile of recipes to find ones that help me do just that. My new goal is to have this done by the weekend so that I can shop and cook on Sunday. Nuts.
Vegan Month of Food

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vegan MoFo Day 1: Hungry, but Blogging

That's right. I confess: I am not currently a vegan. I've been vegan, and I would like to be again, which is why I decided to participate in Vegan MoFo. I think it's just the motivator I need to meet the goals I listed above, and a few more. Plus, my unemployed, aging ass needs a project right now.

It's almost lunchtime, and all I can really think about is having the remainder of the Tomato Basil soup in the fridge and half a Tofurky sandwich.

However, I was going through my RSS subscriptions, and I realized/remembered that today is World Vegan Day, and the beginning of Vegan Month of Food (aka Vegan MoFo). Then, I thought, Hey, I've been meaning to eat healthier/learn to cook/become vegan...

There will be some challenges, but I am determined.
  • Currently,  I am vegetarian, and my "weaknesses" are chocolate and cheese. 
  • I don't really know how to cook. Spaghetti and grilled cheese sandwiches are about it. I've made several recipes from cookbooks, and I've succeeded - mostly.
  • My boyfriend, who lives with me, is vegetarian, but I'm pretty sure he has no plans to go completely vegan. So, we'll have to buy our own cheeses.
Full disclosure - I went grocery shopping this morning before I decided to MoFo, and my cart was not all vegan. My goal for today is to go through my books and files for recipes to include in menus for later this week and for next week. I'm thinking mostly soups and stews with grains. I don't think I can screw that up so badly, right?

Seriously, I'm really hungry now.