Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

This Thanksgiving presented an unfamiliar issue for me: I was shockingly lacking inspiration, motivation, and desire to prepare my vegan feast. My attitude was laissez-faire and I was more than ready to eat cereal with soy milk at the family meal. For once, I just didn't care.

Then, on Friday the 13th, when I woke up to a flat tire (a puncture wound from a screw, no big deal) and spilled 1/3 of a Sigg worth of water on my lap and all over the interior of my car within minutes of beginning my morning commute on a donut tire, my mom called. You see, her best friend, who has been part of my life for the last 23 years, is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer at the moment and the chemo has affected her taste buds to the point that she finds unpleasant many of the foods that she would usually eat on Thanksgiving. So, she asked if she could share my vegan Thanksgiving foods this year. This is the woman who selflessly cared for my mom when she had her first Crohn's disease surgery 18 years ago, while also helping the 15-year-old me through the difficulty of seeing my mom vulnerable for the first time by endlessly working crossword puzzles with me after school. She's a no-nonsense woman with an amazingly sharp wit and she is one of my favorite people in the world. Magically, my inspiration and motivation reappeared. After one 10-minute phone call, I had a full Thanksgiving menu jotted on a sticky note.

We dined on the Traditional Cranberry Sauce that I love from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan, Mashers and Two Pepper Golden Gravy from Julie Hasson's test recipes, Wild Rice Pilaf from Clean Food, Julie Hasson's test recipe for Garlic Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and a plain, baked garnet yam.

The test recipes were all delicious and I was happily surprised at how easily they came together. The pilaf was a huge hit and, although it is in the "Spring" section of the book, it has the lovely fall flavors and textures of dried cranberries and slivered almonds. I modified the recipe to eliminate the mushrooms in favor of a drained, rinsed can of chickpeas, used short-grain brown rice instead of brown basmati (that was what I had in my pantry), and omitted the shallots and oil. Baked yams (or sweet potatoes) are among my favorite foods and are so easy to make (scrub well, then prick all over with a fork and place on a foil-lined baking sheet in a pre-heated 400 degree Farenheit oven for 60 minutes or until a fork easily penetrates it).

For dessert, we shared the Baked Pumpkin Pudding from the Joy of Vegan Baking. This had the lovely spices and pumpkin flavor associated with traditional pumpkin pie, except with, in my opinion, a much better texture. Never a pie crust fan and disliking the texture of pumpkin pie, this was a nice way for me to share in the pumpkin pie festivities without actually having to eat pumpkin pie. I had to change the recipe slightly to use a 7"x11" glass casserole dish and bake for about 40 minutes because I don't have 6 oz. ramekins. It turned out perfectly.

While gratitude is a part of my daily life, on this year's Thanksgiving, I was especially thankful to be able to give back by sharing nourishing, home-cooked vegan food with someone who has been such a blessing in my life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pre-Thanksgiving Meals

Los Angeles vegan, vegetarian, and vegan-friendly restaurants have been serving up wonderful vegan Thanksgiving-style meals this month. I sampled a couple:

When I first tried the Happy Happy Holiday Feast at Hugo's (from the menu: Two New American Veggie patties (or turkey breast, chicken breast or grilled Organic tofu) with our vegan, gluten-free mushroom gravy. Served with mixed seasonal vegetables, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. (Vegans should substitute rice or roasted potatoes for mashed potatoes)), it was pre-movie take-out. The New American patties were the star of the show, absolutely delicious and the perfect texture. While the side of brown rice, steamed veggies, gravy, and cranberry sauce were good, this meal would be nothing special without those patties.

The Happy Happy Holiday Feast in the restaurant. Since this is a November special, there's still time for you to try it, too, if you are in the L.A. area.

Tonight, one of the most important people in my life, for whom I'm eternally grateful, and I had the Thanksgiving meal at Follow Your Heart. Their seitan turkey is unmatched, in my humble opinion, and paired beautifully with well-prepared mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, roasted green beans, and baked, spiced sweet potatoes (I definitely detected cinnamon). While I didn't care for the stuffing (it was a bit gummy) or the cranberry sauce (surprisingly lacking in flavor), the meal as a whole was extremely comforting and satisfying.

I've also enjoyed several other November specials at Hugo's and they were all great.

My very favorite Hippie Hemp Seed Salad that I wish were a permanent menu item (from the menu: Chopped leafy greens, tossed with Forbidden Rice (the same black heirloom rice that was once grown exclusively for the Emperors of China), carrots, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, dried cherries, mango, celery and a hemp seed dressing. Topped with dry-roasted almonds.).

This Moroccan-Style Stew (from the menu: Butternut squash, carrots, potatoes, green beans, garbanzo beans, garlic and raisins in a slightly spicy, exotically full-flavored Moroccan sauce. Served with a choice of Organic quinoa or brown rice, fresh mint, a side of yogurt, cucumbers and a slightly spicy harissa sauce.) was mildly spiced and hearty without being heavy. Order it without yogurt to ensure it's vegan.

The Mixed Vegetable Curry (from the menu: A blend of peppers, onions, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, squash and celery in a light coconut-mango curry sauce. Served over a blend of Forbidden Black Rice blended with baby spinach.) was perfect in every way.

May your Thanksgiving be full of joy, laughter, warmth, and the comfort of those you love.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sarah Kramer in L.A.

Last night, our L.A. vegan community was fortunate to host the incredible Sarah Kramer, author of four fantastic vegan cookbooks and publisher of vegan wall calendars. We held a book signing event to benefit Compassion Over Killing, a multitude of L.A. vegan restaurants contributed food, and fun was had by all.

I was extra lucky to have dinner with Sarah before the event. She suggested Ethiopian food, so I took her to my favorite, Nyala. We each ordered the Vegetarian Combination and savored our food over a mixture of vegan talk and girl talk.

Once at the event, Sarah mingled a bit and then gave an inspiring talk about how she "vegan." A vegetarian since birth due to her mom's vegetarianism, she talked about growing up vegetarian in a not-so-progressive city, and how she eventually found a supportive group of like-minded friends in her late teens. Her first book, How it All Vegan, originated as a zine to give as holiday gifts. It was such a huge hit that she and her writing partner at the time decided to send book proposals to several publishers. Their first choice, Arsenal Pulp Press, immediately and enthusiastically responded and has been publishing Sarah's books ever since.

Not surprisingly, I have copies of all of Sarah's books (I picked up the most recent, Vegan-a-Go-Go, at the event last night). HIAV was published the year after I went vegetarian and I learned so much from it. More importantly, though, Sarah's writing is warm and friendly, making me feel like I had a vegan friend from afar. Through her books, she gave me recipes, eco-friendly housekeeping tips, party ideas, and travel tips. In person, she's just as lovely, friendly, and open.

What a great evening we had! Thank you to all who organized the event, to Compassion Over Killing, and, especially, to Sarah!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Happy Herbivore Strikes Again

Have you read the news? Did you see that Happy Herbivore is publishing a cookbook with BenBella Book Publishers, home of The China Study?

I've secretly been testing recipes like those you see above, which are Tofu Turkey smothered in Thanksgiving Gravy with a side of Mess O' Greens. I also tested a Chorizo recipe that somehow went unphotographed. There will be many, many test recipes to come!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rejuvenative Foods

When I read the Choosing Raw post about Rejuvenative Foods, I was intrigued enough to e-mail them about their products. Roughly a month later, the Rejuvenative team e-mailed me with an offer to send samples and, of course, I accepted!

This adorable jar of raw, organic almond butter just might be the most delicious food to have ever passed my lips. The only ingredient is "organically grown raw almonds," but this doesn't taste like any almond butter I've ever eaten, raw or otherwise. It's like eating the sweetest liquid almonds and I believe that's due to the way the almond butter is processed. According to the jar, "We make our raw almond butter by grinding fresh organic almonds four or more times. Slow, repetitive grinding and cooling keeps the temperature low enough to retain enzymes and life energy. We then refrigerate it immediately to bring you a product that is truly superior, healthful and full of life energy!"

Not only is the almond butter delicious, it also has a very fluid consistency, about the viscosity of brown rice syrup. There is no oil pooling at the top of the jar, no parts that are drier than others; the almond butter is the same from the time it's opened until the time it's empty, no stirring necessary.

While it's very pricey at $22 for an 8 oz. jar, if you can afford it, I highly suggest you splurge on this incredible almond butter. I definitely would if I could.

This was my first experience eating Kim-Chi and I wasn't quite sure what to do with it, so I simply tried it straight from the jar. It has a really strong flavor that I think would be amazing paired with brown rice. Considering its richness in probiotics and enzymes, maybe I will just continue eating it one bite at a time straight from the jar.

I really love sauerkraut, but I've never had sauerkraut like this one. I'm used to sauerkraut being shredded in thin, semi-long pieces of cabbage, but this sauerkraut is more effervescent, resembling pulverized cauliflower in appearance, and almost fizzy with enzymes and probiotics. It tastes good, but I'll need to get used to the consistency.

Thank you, Rejuvenative Foods, for letting me sample your products!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy World Vegan Day 2009!

I made it through VeganMoFo with daily posting and now it's time to celebrate World Vegan Day! There's an event this evening at a local skating rink, but I'll be celebrating with a day of yoga and cooking vegan food.

I strongly believe in the power of delicious vegan food as the best advocate for veganism. Case in point, my plate from a summer dinner party (roasted Brussels sprouts, corn bread, spicy beans, and salad). Oh, and for dessert, the requisite cupcake. Have a wonderful World Vegan Day!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

VeganMoFo: Happy Halloween!

Los Angeles Vegan Drinks held its Halloween party Thursday night at the Little Bar and a wonderful time was had by all (the RSVP count was 120!). Those in costumes were rewarded with cupcakes from Jamaica's Cakes, generously provided by our gracious organizers. The Frankenstand, L.A.'s very own vegan hot dog cart, was on hand to provide dinner to the hungry.

While there were three people dressed as pirates (at least three that I counted), there were some unique costumes, including a corporate green-washer, a cow with a sign reading "Thank moo, Animal Acres," Punky Brewster, a shower a la Karate Kid, and my personal favorite, a garden gnome.

On this final day of VeganMoFo, I'm thinking back on all that has happened this month. It has been full of wonderful things that I never would have expected and I can only hope that the magic continues.

Have a very fun and safe Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

VeganMoFo: Rome Apples

When I saw these perfectly red Rome apples, reminiscent of the poison apple from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I knew I had to relax my rule about avoiding red apples. You see, red apples tend to have a mealy texture and I don't care for that. I knew I was taking a risk, but the Romes were just so pretty that I had to give them a chance. I wish I could tell you that I'd had nothing to worry about, but the Romes I chose were, in fact, mealy despite the fact that they seemed firm. Disappointing, but sometimes its worth it to venture into new territory.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

VeganMoFo: Hugo's Tacos (Studio City)

I've told you so much about Hugo's Restaurant, but I've yet to disclose my favorites at Hugo's Tacos, which has a clearly-printed list of its vegan menu items and carries Follow Your Heart cheese. I ate quite a few meals there this summer as I was planning my move and top honors go to the dish that is simply called Salad (from the menu: Romaine lettuce, green beans, corn, zucchini, pico de gallo, cotija cheese and vegan spicy caesar dressing.). They swap out the cotija cheese for Follow Your Heart (you can see it in the little container in the foreground) to make it vegan and that's all there is to it. On the particular occasion captured above, I also ordered a tasty side of white beans.

If I'm feeling particularly hungry or indulgent, I'll order a Burrito (from the menu: Flour tortilla with organic spanish rice, organic white beans, choice of filling, choice of salsa, onion & cilantro.). Hugo's Tacos offers two vegan "fillings" to add to its menu items and my preference is for the zucchini, corn, and string bean option. I believe this one contained the soy chorizo, potato, zucchini filling, but I don't care for it, as it contains onions. What I do love, however, is that there's a choice between an all-vegetable vegan filling and a meat-analogue vegan filling to suit everyone's tastes.

If you're in the mood for dessert, Hugo's Tacos delivers with a creamy, cinnamon-laced Rice Pudding to end the meal on a sweet note.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

VeganMoFo: End of Summer Bash

Our Los Angeles Vegan Drinks chapter has grown to epic proportions. At the end of August, well over 100 people came out for a meet-up event at Mama's Tamales in downtown L.A. Mama's Tamales, which has been vegan-friendly (check out the menu!) for quite some time and which introduced Daiya vegan cheese to its menu earlier this year, kindly closed down its regular business to host a fully-catered vegan event with live music.

As the event died down, a choice of savory and sweet tamales were served, but I didn't have a chance to try them because I was already full from this beautiful assortment of dishes:

Daiya-filled pupusas with a pickled vegetable garnish.

Quinoa and cranberry stuffed tomatoes.

Roasted vegetables and olives over polenta.

Daiya enchiladas with choice of salsa.

Also among the goods were Daiya quesadillas, assorted olives, and vegan-friendly libations. There was even a videographer at the event, meaning that you can join in the party, too!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

VeganMoFo: Roasted Butternut Squash

Despite our weather being sunny and mid-80s, we're still reaping the benefits of autumn. I've been having squash cravings, so I roasted this small butternut squash at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (it probably could've used another 5 minutes). When it was cool enough to handle, I scooped the flesh out of the skin and ate it plain for lunch. Butternut squash really doesn't need any adornment; it's perfectly sweet and flavorful on its own.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

VeganMoFo: The Ginger Man

Although it has been a long while since I was last there, I used to attend screenings of restored classic films through the UCLA Film & Television Archive very often. The best films I saw there were Ernst Lubitsch's The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) and One Hour with You (1932). Oh, how I wish those were available on DVD to watch anytime I'd like.

This is supposed to be about the food, though, and there is a food-related story to tell. At one of these UCLA Archive screenings, I'm going to guess about 8 or 9 years ago, a man sat in a seat a couple down from mine. He had long, unkempt hair and hemp sandals. He pulled out a bulk-bin bag of crystallized ginger and started snacking happily. I thought to myself, "How can he so easily eat all that spicy ginger?"

Fast forward to some point thereafter when I, too, discovered the joys of sugared ginger. Except that I take it so far as to prefer uncrystallized ginger (the Trader Joe's brand), forgoing the extra layer of sugar in favor of an even more intensely spicy and warming ginger bite.

VeganMoFo: Peanut "Better" Cookies

More often than not, I get the best cookie results by veganizing my childhood favorite recipe. I didn't grow up with one for peanut butter cookies, though, due to my brother's peanut allergy. So, when my assistant repeatedly asked me to bake peanut butter cookies for her, I gave the recipe in Dreena Burton's Vive Le Vegan a shot.

While I don't usually have high hopes for cookies that contain oil rather than vegan butter, Dreena's Peanut "Better" Cookies live up to their name. The cookies were soft and chewy, unlike some other peanut butter cookie recipes that produce crunchy, crumbly cookies. My assistant, who is not only an omnivore, but an extremely picky one, proclaimed these the best peanut butter cookies she'd ever had and has been begging me to bake them again ever since. Mission accomplished.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

VeganMoFo: With a Flourish

In Los Angeles, we are fortunate to have a multitude of vegan restaurants from which to choose. Opening earlier this year, Cafe Flourish is one that boasts a mixture of comfort food with innovation.

The first time I hit up this mid-Wilshire cafe was with Foodeater and we split dishes to be able to taste more of the menu.

We started with the Flourish Roll (from the menu: Carrots, red bells, cucumber, cilantro, sunflower seeds, green onion, mint, peanuts & rice noodles snuggled in a leaf of red lettuce with a coconut tamarind sauce. Addictive.) minus the onions. The combination of fresh herbs, crunchy vegetables, and the wonderful tamarind sauce was perfect for an appetizer or for a light meal.

Next up, we tried the Mi Casadilla (from the menu: Creamy mashed cassava root with garlic sauteed kale & roasted poblano pepper in a spelt tortilla. Paired with guacamole, pico de gallo & “sour cream” of course. A spicy number.). While I avoided the guacamole and pico de gallo, I absolutely loved the casadilla itself. What an incredible idea to use mashed cassava in place of cheese! With the delicious kale and spicy, smoky poblano, this dish tied for my favorite of the meal.

At the time, this SMac "N" Cheese (from the menu: Gluten free! Rice elbow pasta in a super creamy “cheesy” sauce with house salad.) was a special, but it's since been added to the menu. I didn't care for the cheese sauce, though I liked that the pasta was gluten-free for those who normally can't have pasta.

The other dish to tie for my favorite was this Thank God (of your choice) for BBQ! Be Love Corn-Crusted Pizza (from the menu: Marinated baby jackfruit with soy monterey jack, crispy onions & jalapenos. Spicy!). My half was sans onions and I savored the spicy-sweet, BBQ sauce-covered jackfruit, topped with what I believe was Follow Your Heart cheese, and the occasional bite of jalapeno to add to the heat. The cornmeal crust was a bit thicker and crunchier than a flour pizza crust and I enjoyed the change.

On a subsequent visit on my own, I ordered the Raw Beauty Love Salad (from the menu: Packed with omega 3’s to give you the glow. Mixed baby greens, kale, corn, dried figs, cucumber, basil, mint, hemp seeds & granny smith apple rounds with a tangy flax dressing.). I'm sure this is a salad I could whip up at home, but I wouldn't have thought to add the fresh herbs and dried figs. It was an incredible salad that I often crave. If only Cafe Flourish were a little closer to where I live or work...

Friday, October 23, 2009

VeganMoFo: Quinoa and Veggies

Lunches this week have been nutrient-packed steamed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and peas) with protein-rich quinoa, along with my lunch staple, the red grapefruit. Simple and healthful, it's consistently kept me satisfied until dinner time.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

VeganMoFo: Seed

Last night, I was fortunate to be able to catch up with a good friend over a healthful dinner at Seed in Venice. After all the rich meals I had last week, I have been focusing solely on whole foods this week. In keeping with that, I ordered the Saisai Donburi Macro Bowl (from the menu: kabocha, kale, shiitake, arame, bean sprouts, daily bean [black bean, in this case], saurkraut, balsamic-miso sauce). Served over organic brown rice, this macrobiotic bowl was exactly what I wanted; a delicious bowl full of perfectly prepared vegetables, legumes, and grains.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

VeganMoFo: Four-Course Meal at Madeleine Bistro

I've written about Madeleine Bistro many times in the past, as I've been dining there since they opened, but this my first experience with their tasting menu. To celebrate a friend's birthday, we hit Madeleine's this past Saturday night and decided to go all out on the four-course tasting menu.

I started with a freshly-made Green Juice of kale, apple, ginger, and beet (hence its purple hue).

My first course was the velvety Butternut Squash Bisque topped with spiced apples and fried sage leaves.

Next up was a dish I'd been waiting to try for ages: the Green Papaya Salad with tofu, rau ram, peanuts, and chili-lime marinade. I feel confident in saying that this is the best dish I've ever eaten at Madeleine's.

This beautiful plate is the house-made Smoked Cheese with poached pears, spring mix, and candied walnuts.

While I really wanted to try their Caramelized Apples dessert, it wasn't available, so I ordered the Holiday Pie Trio (Pumpkin, Pecan, French Apple) with Cinnamon Ice Creme. At left, the pumpkin pie had a wonderful custard-like texture that I much preferred to the standard Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. It was very lightly spiced and actually made from kabocha squash that day. In the center is the French apple pie, which had a custard top that I wasn't expecting and really enjoyed. On the right is the pecan pie topped with (as the pumpkin pie was) a wonderfully light and delicious whipped cream. This pecan pie tasted like it was made of roasted nuts stuck together with maybe molasses and brown rice syrup or maple syrup instead of pecans suspended in the bizarre goop of a standard omni pecan pie that I never liked. It was rich and delicious.

We had an amazing conversation with the owners of Madeleine's that night. They took a generous amount of time with us, despite having a completely packed restaurant (including the owners of Millennium where I haven't yet had the opportunity to dine). When the conversation turned to some of the other menu items, they were so proud of the new Philet No Phish (from the menu: panko-crusted seitan, cheese, tartar sauce, whole wheat bun) that they offered to send us each home with one to try. I ate mine for dinner the next day and it was really good. The juicy seitan was nicely coated with crispy panko and there was just enough sauce and cheese.

Madeleine Bistro seems to get better every time I go, making me look forward even more to my next meal there.