Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mexican Vacation

I'm just back from a week in Mexico! I didn't take many pictures of the food because I just wasn't thinking clearly - vacation-mode was in full swing. But I have a few I thought I'd post here.

When we first arrived we were a little early for check-in so we sashayed over to the bar to wait. Because I'm not a big drinker, I couldn't decide what to order. When Jesus, the bartender whose colorful shirt you can see on the left of the photo, mentioned mango daiquiris there was nothing more to say other than SI!! Por Favor!! I love the mangoes! My BFF and travel partner, Gary, ordered the banana version (on the left).

This is just a simple salad but I loved how gorgeous the colors came out. That watermelon is so pink - and was so sweet! There are also hunks of jicama that was marinated in herbs and vinegar (nice!) and plain ol' iceberg lettuce, which I normally pass on but even that was so fresh in Mexico that it was delish. I opted to pass on the assortment of dressings available in favor of oil and vinegar and was delighted to find the oil was olive infused with pecans! Very subtle, but very nice and something I plan to try making at home.

One of my favorite parts of the day while in Mexico at La Posada del Capitan Lafitte is the 'early bird coffee'. They prep a couple of pots of coffee (or tea) and you just grab what you want and go watch the spectacular sunrise.

A full breakfast is served later but some people (like me) just can't wait to get their coffee.
The great thing about hitting the 'early bird' service is the packages of Soles cookies. They are simple, probably considered no big deal to people in Mexico, but they are one of my all-time favorite 'bought' cookies. And when I read the label and found they are actually vegan I was just thrilled. How could they not be vegan? Look how happy they are!

For the most part we stayed at Lafitte, there's really no reason to leave paradise, is there?

But one evening we spent a couple of hours in the town of Playa Del Carmen and while waiting for our return ride to pick us up we happened on a little restaurant that was having a happy hour. Two drinks for $5. We opted for the Margaritas - don't you love the hot-pink, plastic glasses? Don't be deceived by the funky color, these were the real deal and possibly the strongest drinks I had on my entire vacation. One of these for each of us and we were both flying. It was the perfect (and cheap!) way to chill out and wait for our ride.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Baked "Sweet Potato Pie" Fries

On Thursdays I try to bake cupcakes because I meet friends for lunch on Fridays. This means I get the fun of baking and I have a place to take the cuppers and not have them in front of me where I can get at them. Having cupcakes in the house = dangerous! Delish, but dangerous.

This week I did not get to bake because I'm going to Mexico in a couple of days and just have too much last-minute stuff to get done. However I did make Sweet Potato Fries!

I had a few sweet potatoes sitting around and they were never going to last until I returned from vacation, so I flipped through Vegan With a Vengeance looking for something really quick and simple. I found a recipe for Sweet Potato Fries. YES!!

Unfortunately the recipe in the book calls for spices I did not have on hand. The recipe is more savory with cumin and coriander. But my 'taters needed cookin'!! So I altered the recipe to suit what I had around.
2 large sweet potatoes
1 T. olive oil
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. freshly ground nutmeg
1 t. ground allspice
a sprinkle of sea salt (optional)

In a large bowl mix together the oil and spices. Slice the sweet potatoes into long strips and throw 'em in the bowl giving a good thorough toss with the coating mixture. (It just gives the potatoes a very slight coating, for a hint of flavor without too much oil.)

After the potatoes are coated, lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet (I lined with parchment because I hate scrubbing baking sheets) and lightly sprinkle with sea salt if you like. I chose to add a touch of salt because I find a little sea salt really lets the sweetness of a yam or sweet potato shine. But it's completely optional.

Bake in a 425° oven for about 15 minutes, flip them and let them bake for another 10-15 minutes.

The 'fries' have a real pumpkin (or sweet potato) pie flavor. How could they not with these spices? And are very dessert-like. I ate them solo, I'm not sure they would work as a side dish - but as a snack or a very healthy dessert they rock!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Onions and Peppers with Pasta and Basil

This is something I've been making for years. It's one of the easiest dishes to throw together and also one of the fastest. Depending on the pasta's cooking time and the amount of peppers and onions you want to use this will take you between 15 and 30 minutes to prepare. How's that for simple?

You can use any color pepper or onion - whatever you have on hand is good. I usually like to really up the color with red, yellow and orange peppers but today I only had one red pepper in the fridge and it needed to be used before it kicked the dust.

I'm also really partial to red onions in this dish because the color *oomph* is so awesome.

So all you need is some onion, some pepper, some garlic (because where there are onions there should always be garlic), a nice olive oil and fresh basil. Sometimes the basil is wildly overpriced, or you just can't find it any where. This dish is just fine without it - but if you can get your hands on some it really is a perfect little sparkle of flavor here.

Just put the pasta on to boil and then chop everything else up. Don't go nuts with a small dice, bigger is better here. Even the garlic is best when sliced in large pieces (it gets really sweet and you'll be happy for a big yummy bite of it!) Saute the onions and garlic in some olive oil in a pot with high enough sides that you can add the pasta. When the onions and garlic start getting translucent throw in the peppers.

By the time the pasta is done your sauteed veggies should be soft and tender, but not mushy! Drain the pasta and toss it into the veggie pot and stir it up. You can add a bit more olive oil if you need to - everything should have a slight sheen of olive oil. Not dripping oil, of course, but just a light coating.

The last step is to toss the fresh, chopped basil in and mix it together. Season with a bit of real sea salt and that's it. Now eat!
You can also omit the pasta, throw in some chopped veggie sausage and serve it on a roll. You'll feel like you're at the San Gennaro festival! Not that San Gennaro has Vegan versions of the Sausage and Pepper hero, but, oh you know what I mean!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Fettuccine Alfreda - From VWAV

Vegan With A Vengeance has a recipe for Fettuccine Alfreda. A friend of mine who also just got hold of this FABULOUS cookbook, saw the Fettuccine Alfreda and was very excited. He's not a Vegan, but he is lactose intolerant, so something as cheese-heavy as Alfredo sauce is essentially something he should eat only when he's really hankering to hang in the Emergency Room for a few hours.

Since the recipe calls for Nutritional Yeast and he was not excited by the idea of that ingredient, I thought I would try the recipe out so I could report back to him whether I thought it was worth a trip to his local health food store for a canister of Nutritional Yeast.

Going on the record right now: Josh, go get some Nutritional Yeast. Like Yesterday! Go. I love this stuff - it's so good! I put some into Italian dressing to give it a little hint of Parmesan and it really did.

So back to the Alfreda. I did not follow the recipe exactly only because I was out of some of the ingredients. This was a spur of the moment cooking choice, I was not in the mood to run to the corner for ingredients. I had nothing even close to the yellow mustard the recipe asked for and my 'medium' onion was more like a very small, very frightened itty-bitty onion that did not want to participate in class. But I went for it anyway. Figured I'd get the basic flavors of the Alfreda sauce and see how it went from there.

You're supposed to sauté the onions and garlic and put them in the blender first, then add everything else. Silly me. I got ahead of myself and toasted the pine nuts first, and put them in the blender. I didn't think this was a huge deal - blender. Blending. What's the dif, who goes in first? And I wanted to use the same pan and save some dish washing. Well... I think it might make the blending process smoother if the onions and garlic went in first. That's all I'm saying.
I did not have fettuccine so I used what I had, tri-color whole wheat rotini.

When the pasta was almost done I tossed in some frozen haricot vert. Why? Because: Dee-lish! I love string beans. They only need a minute in the boiling water to defrost and cook through so why boil another pot? Just put 'em in with the pasta and they all finish at the same time. Easy Peasy.

Then I drained the whole thing, put some on a plate and poured the sauce on top. This entire process took less than 20 minutes - which I LOVE!

Did it taste exactly like traditional Alfredo sauce? No. But it might, if you have enough onion and you actually use the mustard... and you know... follow the recipe as it is written. I'm not sure if it should be as darkly colored as mine, but I don't think it matters. And even if it doesn't taste exactly like 'the real thing' it is absolutely YUMMY! There is a definite cheesy taste, and it is easily just as filling as old-school Alfredo. According to VWAV the recipe serves 4, but honestly it is sooooo filling I think it's more like 6 servings, possibly 8. I have close to a pint of this easy-to-make sauce in the fridge now and I'm looking forward to seeing how it holds up.

I can actually see this sauce as a nice choice mixed with cold noodles, sort of an Alfredo Pasta Salad. Yum!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Deep, Dark Chocolate Almond Ice Cream

I have been borrowing ice cream recipes from A Vegan Ice Cream Paradise for weeks. I finally decided to try my own flavor. I am still borrowing the basics of Agnes L.'s recipes, but I'm switching it up a little. Having some fun.

1 c. soy creamer
3 c. almond milk (chocolate)
¾ c. sugar
¼ c. dutch cocoa
2 ½ T. arrowroot
1 t. vanilla extract
½ t. almond extract
½ t. chocolate extract
¼ c. roasted almonds (coarsely chopped)
¼ c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mix ¼ cup of almond milk with the 2-½ tablespoons of arrowroot and set aside.

Whisk ¼ cup of chocolate almond milk with the ¼ cup cocoa, then add it, the soy creamer, almond milk, and sugar together in a saucepan.

When the mixture has just started to boil, take off the heat and stir in the arrowroot slurry. This should immediately cause the liquid to thicken.

Stir in vanilla, almond and chocolate extracts.

Set the ice cream mixture aside to cool. Once it cooled mine was actually a bit like pudding and had a slight skin which should be stirred up or it will 'plop' out of the pan all at once and make a mess of your ice cream maker. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions, adding the almonds and chocolate chips in the last 5 minutes.

I'm really thrilled with how this came out. It could be a little creamier, maybe 2 Cups of soy creamer and only 2 cups of Chocolate Almond Milk would fix that. This actually is like a really mushy fudgesicle, and I'm very, very okay with that!


People have asked me: what does a Vegan eat for breakfast?

I'm not the ideal person to ask, because I've been known to have salad in the morning and pancakes for dinner. I'm not locked-in to the meal-types. I love cold cereals but I don't eat them often because I tend to want to eat the entire package. Not a smart move.

But I recently picked up a big tub of Soy yogurt and some muesli and have found a really simple almost dessert-like breakfast that doesn't make me want to swallow every last ounce of cereal.

I like mixing textures, creamy and crunchy are well-represented here by the yogurt and muesli and then a handful of blueberries puts it over the top.

If you stir it all together it turns a into a purple explosion!

How's that for a "starving" Vegan?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Crimson Velveteen Cupcakes

It's Thursday and that means cupcakes.

I've never had Red Velvet Cake, so making the VCTOTW Crimson Velveteen cupcakes was a bold adventure. But let's face it, how wrong can you go with chocolate anything?

I love baking. Everything starts out as a whole lotta mess o' nuthin' much.

Mix it all together and it's a regular cupcake bucket o' blood.

I know they look kind of gruesome here, but after they bake...

Oh. My. GOD! They're nekkid!! Don't stare like that!!

It's okay to look again. They have their pretty Vegan Cream Cheese icing on. Some even dashed on a hint of cocoa powder, because some cupcakes just don't know when to quit.

Let's cut one open and see how pretty they are inside. Because we all know that's where true beauty lives.
Yes. Yes. Pretty, pretty on the inside, pretty on the outside! YUM!! Let's eat 'em before they take over the world!!!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Put Away the Cupcakes - it's Ice Cream Time

Vegan Ice "Cream" of course.

Today's foray into the frozen fun is "Butter" Pecan. The recipe is from A Vegan Ice Cream Paradise and it's a keeper!

Want to see it happen? Good, because I want to show you!

It's not so much to look at here. This is the blending of the sugar, 'milks' (I used almond milk instead of soy milk just for the extra nuttiness), and the fabulously yummy Earth Balance margarine.
When everything is blended together you cool it and then it goes into the ice cream machine to 'become' ice cream.

In the meantime I toasted my pecans. The ones I had were raw, and toasting always releases more flavor. I had the time, let's face it, ice cream is not an instant dessert, so why not toast up those pecans? It's really simple to throw them into a non-stick pan for a couple of minutes. Just keep them moving around so they don't burn and when you smell the nuttiness, you know they're calling uncle. Take them off the heat and spread them on a plate to cool. I toyed with the idea of making them into pralines, because how decadent would that be? But since this was my first attempt at Butter Pecan I opted to go with the basics.
Here's the cooling pecans next to the ice cream machine which is diligently turning that liquid into ice cream.Most of the finished product went into a plastic container and into the freezer. Sadly there was a little left that just wouldn't fit. So I had to eat it right away. Awful, huh? I 'forced' my dog to help me with this nasty task. He kept a stiff upper lip and did his best (there wasn't a drop left between us). This is seriously the best butter pecan I've ever tasted. And it doesn't have a drop of butter in it! Isn't that amazing?
I like a LOT of stuff in my ice cream - let's just say if I'm eating plain vanilla there had better be a big ol' brownie underneath it - and since you can't really stuff the ice cream machine with a lot of add-ins, I compensate with an extra nutty garnish of whole pecans.If you're a Vegan (or lactose intolerant!) I really recommend getting your own ice-cream machine. It is so insanely simple to make your own - you can make the flavors you want (invent new ones!) and it's cheaper than buying it. Of course the downside is that you can have ice cream handy any time. Oh. Is that a really a downside? Make some ice cream!! (And your dog will love you for it!)