Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rachael Ray

I know that quite a few of you out there dislike Rachael Ray. I've always been able to see the glass half full when it comes to her because she takes the time to create vegetarian recipes and a multitude of her recipes are very easily veganized. While I was on the lovely vacation that I just took, I watched her daytime talk show every day. Over the last 2 weeks, she had 3 vegan snacks of the day (one of her daily segments is to plug a snack product and she gives each audience member a sample of that product): Divvies Kettle Corn, Bittersweet-ness granola by Feed Granola Co., and Betsy & Claude Baking Co.'s Peppermint Chocolate Chunk Cookies (I'm not counting the olive oil potato chips she had one day or it'd be 4).

Also over those 2 weeks, Rachael made two dishes that are completely vegan if you leave out the garnish of parmesan at the end: Mushroom Ragout and Caponata She featured several more recipes throughout the 2 weeks that could be vegan by substituting vegan butter and vegan parmesan for the dairy varieties.

What's more, she had Dr. Phil's wife, Robin, on one show to bake her favorite Christmas cookies, which just happen to be vegan!

While this post is not intended to be a love note to Rachael Ray, I think it's important to recognize that she is very enthusiastic about creating vegetarian recipes. She also refers to vegetarians as "meat free-ers," which I think is an affectionate term with a nice connotation. It's true that, in general, she is unabashed about her love for meat and dairy and I don't support her in that at all. However, she is helping integrate vegetarian meals into the American diet in her own way and I think every bit of help counts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

She's ba-ack!

From where is she back? From vacation! I took a lovely 7 work days off, covering 2 weekends in the process, for a total of 11 blissful days of vacation. I didn't travel, I just took 11 days to unwind, take a break, relax, and have fun. If you're ever in the position to take advantage of such an opportunity, I highly recommend it. I felt so relaxed and happy during this time off without obligations and it's so rare to be afforded that kind of luxury in today's fast-paced world.

I've been keeping up with your blogs and now I'll fill you in on some of what I've eaten over the last week and a half. Unfortunately, I didn't take photos, so you'll have to take my word for it!

On December 8, I attended a PPK potluck in Burbank with the beautiful and multi-talented ladies from To Live and Eat in L.A. and Your Vegan Mom (and Your Vegan Mom's husband). Hosted by Hannah, for whom I don't have a link, the potluck was a really nice way to meet like-minded people and enjoy good food. I decided this would be a great time for me to share the vegan butterscotch chips that Hannah sent me (I can't find her original post about these super-sweet chips), so I baked the Chocolate Brownies from The Joy of Vegan Baking, subbing butterscotch chips for the chocolate chips and nuts. The recipe instructions indicate when to remove the brownies from the oven for a fudgy texture, so I did just that. Unfortunately, these brownies were a complete disaster. They never set up except for the edges and the only way I can think to describe them is similar to English sticky toffee pudding, which I've never tried, but I think might possibly have a similar texture to these "brownies." They were just complete mush and I'm certain it has nothing to do with the addition of the butterscotch chips. I followed the instructions to a T and measured correctly and I know I'm not the only one who's had problems with this cookbook, so I'll let you be the judge. I might be returning this book. All I'll say is that I was not a happy girl upon realizing that I was either going to have to quickly whip together a new potluck dish, stop at Trader Joe's on the way to the party, or show up empty handed. In a mad frenzy, I made the Brown Rice Krispy Treats from Simple Treats because they were fast, easy, and I had all the ingredients. They didn't hold together at all, but they tasted good and were better than the disaster that called itself brownies. Other potluck dishes that evening were To Live and Eat in L.A.'s fabulous BBQ tempeh with sweet potatoes and fennel (delicious), Your Vegan Mom's yummy "meat"balls (these were so good), jackfruit tacos, soyrizo tamales, adorable little olive appetizers that were crafted to look like penguins, and a bunch of other things I can't remember because the event was a week and a half ago. It was a very nice evening and I had a great time!

I have to send a big "shame on you" to my local Whole Foods for the poor excuse for a hot food bar I found last week. I can't remember which day I decided to have lunch there, but I do remember that it was cold and I was looking forward to soup. It was about 1:30 p.m. They had a vegan lentil soup that day, but the pot was empty to the point that I couldn't even get any of the remaining soup into the ladle. I asked someone behind the counter to please replenish it and then waited for her to do so. I saw her pull out the soups and then I waited some more. I was waiting a good 15 minutes before she finally told me it would be another 30 minutes until the soup would be ready. Mind you, she said nothing about a wait time when I first politely asked her to refill the soup. She just let me wait around. When she broke the news to me, I decided to choose something else from the hot food bar. Well, guess what...nothing vegan was in supply except for Spanish rice and stuffed grape leaves (well, there was hummus, but it tasted gross and was crusted over). So, that's what I ate for lunch: Spanish rice (good) and 2 stuffed grape leaves (good, but a little too oily). I could have made a salad, but it was so cold that I needed to eat something hot. For shame, Whole Foods!

Now for the good news! I ate dinner at Follow Your Heart again on Sunday. This time, I tried the Braised Tofu Soft Tacos, which are served with Spanish rice, black beans, and a cabbage salad. This is an enormous plate of food and very messy. I was not able to pick up the tacos at all, so I ate the filling with my fork and ate the tortillas separately. Despite the mess, the tacos were very good...dense, chewy tofu, melted Follow Your Heart cheese, tomatoes (yes, I did eat them, but they were semi-cooked), and lettuce...yum! It also comes with a cup of soup, so I chose "chicken" fajita soup, which was delicious! The broth was spicy and hearty, the "chicken" had a great texture even if the chunks were too big, and the veggies were perfect. Follow Your Heart offers about 5 fresh soups daily, most of which are vegan (2 usually contain dairy). Their soups are creative, healthy, and always tasty.

Finally, I did cook something on December 11th for a special someone. I made my favorite stir-fry, which is an adaptation of an old Cooking Light recipe that someone gave me years ago. It's usually Broccoli-Tofu Stir-Fry (to which I add shiitake mushrooms and water chestnuts), but this time, I made it with broccoli, asparagus, sliced cremini mushrooms, and tofu. The sauce is mainly sesame oil, soy sauce, seasoned rice wine vinegar, and cornstarch to thicken it. Served over brown rice, this was a delicious meal and definitely omni-approved! I got a LOT of compliments for this meal. :)

My apologies for the long post and my thanks for reading it! Oh, and thank you for empathizing over the Cheesecake Factory debacle!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Quick Cheesecake Factory Update

Thank you all for your comments and assistance! I ended up ordering the Luau Salad minus the chicken, onions, wantons, and dressing (opting, instead, to dress my salad with balsamic vinegar). I'd been planning on ordering a pizza without cheese until I saw VeggieGirl's comment indicating that none of the doughs and pastas are vegan there. My salad ended up being ridiculously boring. It was nothing but mixed baby greens, shredded carrots, cucumbers, and chopped nuts (I think they were supposed to be macadamia nuts, but they were indistinguishable). When I asked the server where everything else was (it was supposed to have red and yellow peppers, green beans, and mango), she went to ask the chef and returned with a plate of mango/pineapple salsa. Her explanation was that I'd ordered the salad without onion and the fruit in the salad was a salsa. Umm, not according to the menu, people! Anyway, this was not an extremely enjoyable meal and I went back to the office hungry. :(

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cheesecake Factory

Ok, vegan warriors, we have a challenge ahead of us! My little department holiday lunch is going to be at The Cheesecake Factory this Friday afternoon. I thoroughly reviewed the menu and it looks, to my eye, like there are really only 2 candidates: Evelyn's Favorite Pasta sans fromage, bien sur, or the Fresh Mozzarella Pizza also sans fromage. I'm not sure if it's safe to assume that the pasta is egg-free, though. What really bugs me about this menu is that it's enormous and doesn't have one single vegan dish on it. Even worse, every single salad has either cheese or some kind of meat on it. When did we become a society where salads are rarely just veggies? The Luau Salad minus chicken and onion actually sounds wonderful, but who knows if there's egg in the crisp wantons and what the heck is in the dressing? I'm sure that the server won't know and I really try to make as few substitutions as possible when I go out, just to make things easier. Pardon the venting; I've just become increasingly frustrated with this restaurant over the years and generally avoid it altogether.

In other news, I cracked myself up a little today. I brought both lunch and dinner to work with me today because I was staying late at work for a screening of the movie Juno. So, my dinner was a hemp seed nut butter and organic raspberry spread sandwich on sprouted whole grain Ezekiel bread. Does that sounds like hippie food or what? And I'm so not a hippie. It just made me laugh because imagine an omni's face if I had told him/her what I was eating. We all think it's normal, but others haven't quite caught on yet. :)

Juno is a wonderful film that's excellently written. I laughed so many times. It's an indie film, so many of you won't have an opportunity to see it if you live in a small city, but I recommend you do if you have a chance. Plus, the main character mentions vegan shoes in one scene and I'm pretty sure she's wearing a veg message t-shirt in another (it's a green t-shirt w/ carrots on it, but the majority of the shirt was obscured by the flannel she was wearing on top). Hooray for promoting veganism on screen!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pizza Part 2

Pardon me for taking a few days off from blogging; I guess I needed it! Here are the pizza photos I promised you on the last day of VeganMoFo:

In this photo, you see the box of pizza crust, Lightlife Baked Ham Style veggie lunch meat, and the grater full of Follow Your Heart mozzarella. On top of the toaster oven are the pizza crusts themselves.

This photo is of the finished product: Vegan Hawaiian Pizza!

In other news, the prosciutto was next to the baked tofu again at Trader Joe's. Ugh. So, I went to the little management desk and let them know that wasn't cool in the nicest way possible. I also had to ask them where the heck my fat-free original flavor WestSoy soy milk was. Apparently, it hasn't been discontinued, so that's good. Remind me not to go to Trader Joe's on a Sunday again, ok? I'm hoping that was the problem as opposed to them not carrying it anymore.

I went to a family gathering on Sunday, for which my dad's cousin was kind enough to call me ahead of time to ask me what I could eat. What I've come to realize is that it's far easier to let people know what I don't eat because there's so much that I do eat. She was so sweet to go to Follow Your Heart to buy vegan mozzarella (she actually put this out like a cheese plate and it was actually good eaten plain in cubes) and vegan parm for the Italian meal she created. There was a huge spread of veggies and hummus, bruschetta, and the aforementioned FYH cheese (plus omni cheese) for the pre-meal munchies. The main vegan dish was pasta with veggie sauce and she also bought FYH vegan caesar dressing for the salad. Yum! I missed out on dessert because none of the options were vegan and she'd declined when I offered to bring a dish, so I didn't bring a vegan dessert to share. That didn't bother me one bit, though, as I happily munched on grapes for dessert!