Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Comfort Food

We recently went through a cold and rainy spell in Los Angeles (yes, I realize that 55 degrees isn't cold to many of you, but I'm an L.A. native and anything below 80 degrees is cold to me!). Although I had no desire to do anything other than hunker down on the couch under an afghan that my mom knit, I spent that Sunday evening in the kitchen. It seemed like the perfect time to use up 2 potatoes and a bag of Brussels sprouts that were languishing in my fridge, so I set to work to find the right recipes.

I perused multiple cookbooks (no surprise there) and Susan V's FatFree Vegan Kitchen. What I found were the Tomato Soup with Roasted Garlic and Seasonal Herbs and the Golden Potato and Tempeh Casserole.

Am I the last to discover how intoxicating the smell of a garlic bulb roasting in the toaster oven is? Truth be told, I'm not a fan of tomato soup unless it's a chunky one like this that could probably double as a marinara sauce. Pureed tomato soup (like that you find in a can or a box) makes me gag. This FFVK soup, however, is flavorful and warming; perfect on a cold night. As a bonus, I had everything I needed in my pantry and, while I now need to re-stock my supply of Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes, those are something I always keep on hand. The only substitution I made was to omit the onion in favor of an extra stalk of celery.

The casserole is basically scalloped potatoes stuffed with goodness to make it a meal instead of a side (well, that's at least how I see it!). I haven't had scalloped potatoes since I was a kid and my mom served the boxed version as a side dish, but from what I remember, the creamy, cheesy sauce in this FFVK dish is spot-on. I did make multiple substitutions (and an addition) based on what I had on hand: I used 8 oz. of Trader Joe's baked tofu in a 1/4 inch dice instead of tempeh (I didn't have any), added shredded Brussels sprouts to the middle layer along with the tofu, used plain hemp milk instead of soy (I keep hemp milk on hand for times when I need a full-fat version of non-dairy milk because I otherwise use fat-free soy milk, which is too thin to use in recipes like this), Dijon mustard instead of stone ground, and dried tarragon instead of fresh. I will absolutely make this recipe again; it's outstanding!

Thank you, Susan, for helping me warm up on a cold night!

Friday, February 20, 2009

I Heard a Rumor...

A couple years ago, I discovered Crazy Rumors brand lip balm through the vegan store Alternative Outfitters. It was love at first application and I've been a loyal fan ever since. I usually keep one in my bag (right now it's Hazelnut from the Perk line) and a store of back-ups at home for when I run out (currently Plum Apricot and Apple Spice from the Brew line). I'm on a mission to try each and every flavor that appeals to me.

I recently visited the Crazy Rumors website and noticed a place where customers can make requests for their products to be carried by local retailers. I wrote in with Follow Your Heart as my retailer of choice (they have an aisle of health and beauty care products). The owner e-mailed me in reply and offered to send me samples to review on this blog. Of course, already loving her products, I agreed!

She sent me 3 flavors: Banana Split from the A La Mode line, Coffee Bean from the Perks line, and Orange Bergamot from the Brew line. Descriptions of all their flavors are on their site.

Starting with the flavors I already had in my own collection, my favorite is the Hazelnut. All Crazy Rumors flavors go on really smoothly without any waxy feeling whatsoever. Hazelnut is no exception. There isn't a strong coffee taste, but more of a perfect hint.

Apple Spice is really lovely. It smells just like the little packets of hot apple cider mix that used to hit the spot on a cold day.

Plum Apricot isn't one that I would buy again. It's flavor isn't distinguishable, but rather is just sweet and fruity. It isn't bad or unpleasant; there are simply better flavors available.

Of the 3 flavors that I received, Orange Bergamot is hands-down the best. I didn't expect to like this because bright citrusy flavors aren't what I want from a lip balm. However, Orange Bergamot's flavor is tempered by the Earl Grey. What results is an incredibly smooth and delicious lip balm.

Banana Split didn't fare so well. I was pretty certain I wouldn't care for this flavor because banana is definitely not something I want to taste on my lips all day long (and I love bananas, so it's not that). Banana is the only flavor that comes through, although the website lists chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, fudge, and cherry as additional components of this flavor. Also, unfortunately, Banana Split is the only Crazy Rumors flavor that goes on a bit waxy. The other A La Mode flavors sound great, though (I haven't tried them), so don't let this dissuade you.

Coffee Bean has a strong coffee scent and goes on extremely smoothly. It's a little bold for my taste, so I'd probably go for a different flavor over this one, but it's a great choice for a real coffee lover.

Crazy Rumors is my first choice in vegan lip balm and with 24 (I hope I counted correctly) flavors available, you're bound to find a bunch you like. Their Candy Cane line is currently on sale and they offer a free tube of any flavor when you spend $24. If you'd rather not order online, there is a store locator on the website.

Oh, and if you don't want to take my word for it, visit the Vegan Beauty Review blog and check out Sunny's review of Crazy Rumors!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Canadian Care Package

Everyone who knows me knows I LOVE care packages, so you can imagine that I was ecstatic when I received a heavy box from Ricki of Diet, Dessert and Dogs and Sweet Freedom today. YAY!

The box was chock full of (clockwise from left):

Homemade granola replete with dried fruit & nuts (oil free, sugar free, salt free, and DELICIOUS) (EDIT: recipe here)
Hemp seeds (you read my mind; I'm running out)
Maple flakes (I didn't even know these existed!)
Organic wild rice pasta (I'm super excited about this)
Organic microwave popcorn (French language side facing)
Dulse (a first for me)
Ritter Sport peppermint (RIP vegan Ritter Sport peppermint)
Cocoa Coffee Simply Bar (vegan and gluten free)
Fair Trade Earl Grey dark chocolate (I've been wanting to try this)
Organic European dark chocolate (so dark and inviting)
Organic Theobroma Chocolat with pineapple chunks(!)
Pure & Natural Soap (aloe vera, olive oil, & vitamin E scent)

Ricki, I'm overwhelmed by your generosity. Thank you so very much! I can't wait to cook with these delicious foods and you know the popcorn will be part of my Oscars celebration this Sunday!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Spicy Indonesian Stir-Fry

One of my first vegan cookbooks was Foods that Cause You to Lose Weight by Dr. Neal Barnard (mine is an older version with a different cover). At the beginning of my first voyage into veganism 10 years ago, I had a decidedly un-stocked pantry and this recipe for Spicy Indonesian Stir-Fry was my introduction to turmeric and cumin. I remember going out and buying a spice rack and individual spices just to make this dish. I'm not sure it made a great impression on me because I didn't make it again until right after the calendar turned to 2009 and I think I've discovered why.

This time around, I used brown rice spaghetti instead of udon (I just wanted to use what I had on hand), but that's not what I realized. The recipe calls for an entire teaspoon of turmeric, which makes the dish quite bitter. I'd increase the cumin and decrease the turmeric and I have a feeling that would make all the difference in the world for this healthy and otherwise delicious meal.

If you don't have this book, check it out from your local library and give it a chance. It is replete with tasty and nutritious dishes, most of which are also quick to prepare.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Urban Vegan

Since January 9, I've been quietly testing as many recipes as possible for Urban Vegan. She graciously let me come in very late in the game (the other testers started in November) to help with the testing for her upcoming book The Urban Vegan: 250 Street-Smart, Animal-Free Recipes.

What you see above is a Pumpkin Spice Baby Bundt (Urban Vegan's post on them here). My glaze was thinner than hers, but still good. The baby bundts were both omni and child approved!

Also, this recipe let me accomplish two firsts: 1) The first time I used my baby bundt pan; and 2) The first time I used the oven in my new apartment (and my new oven thermometer!).

On January 1, I moved to a new apartment (from a spacious townhouse, temporarily, while I look for a place to buy) that is literally brand new. Nobody lived here before me and all the appliances are completely vegan because they'd never been used! I didn't know, however, that new ovens set off smoke detectors when they're first used because they have a layer of enamel that needs to burn off (or so I was told), so, yeah, I set off the smoke detector. That was annoying, but the good news is that my oven heats properly.

Testing for the cookbook is closed now, but expect to see posts about the recipes I made peppered throughout this blog in weeks to come. You'll definitely want a copy of this book when it's published!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Ivy

There's a cottage-like restaurant in L.A. that's infamous for its see-and-be-seen atmosphere; where producers and celebrities have been known to hold meetings to negotiate deals...or producers and celebrities' management, I should say. The decor is shabby-chic and punctuated by the white picket fence that separates the patio seating from the sidewalk. I've lived in L.A. my entire life and I work in the entertainment industry, but late December 2008 was my very first time dining at The Ivy.

I was with people who don't know or need to know about this blog, so I don't have any photos from the restaurant. However, I had several vegan (or veganizable) options from which to choose. To drink, I had fresh watermelon juice that was incredibly delicious. It had tiny pieces of diced watermelon in it, so it had a slushy quality and was lovely.

It wasn't apparent whether their pasta was fresh (i.e. containing eggs), so I asked the waiter. He returned with the news that several of their pasta shapes were, in fact, vegan. I ordered Rotini alla Checca; a fresh tomato, basil, olive oil, and garlic sauce. The photo above is my leftovers. The portion was huge! This is one of my favorite go-to meals to order in an omni restaurant and it hit the spot.

La piece de resistance was dessert. The Ivy serves spectacular sorbet. I had a sampler of peach, mango, coconut, and raspberry sorbets and they were easily the best I'd ever had.

While I'll never be able to afford The Ivy's hefty prices, it's good to know that, if I'm treated to a meal there, I can eat very well. It's definitely worth it to go at least once for the ambience and wonderful service.