Sunday, May 31, 2009

Products in Jars: A Review

One perk of being a vegan blogger is that I'm occasionally and generously given products to review. This review installment focuses on products that are packaged in jars.

First up, way back in March, Zukay Live Foods sent me two jars of salsa and two jars of relish. The jars arrived with a typewritten warning about the products fizzing and bubbling due to the fact that they're fermented and full of wonderful probiotics. I set the sealed jars on my counter and left them alone for several days until I was ready to use them. Then, as I was sitting on my couch in the family room, I heard little noises every once in a while, as if air were being released from something. I thought nothing of it, but it kept happening. When I got up to investigate, I realized that it was the contents of the Zukay jars that were causing the commotion!

When I finally tasted the Zukay products, my favorite was the Horseradish Dill Relish. It tastes more like dill pickles than horseradish, but I really enjoyed the fresh, light flavor. Mostly, I ate this on Ezekiel toast. The Garlic Dill Relish smelled very strongly of garlic, but the garlic flavor wasn't overwhelming.

Both salsas were quite good and slightly different from each other. The Hot Salsa Vida had a great kick to it and had a thinner tomato base. The Mild Salsa Vida, on the other hand, had a thicker tomato base and, obviously, was less spicy.

I apologize for taking months to post this review, but maybe it'll help Zukay keep the awareness of their products at the forefront of everyone's minds. Their products are available directly from their website and at limited U.S. stores.

I'm going to attempt some restraint when discussing these Naturally Nutty nut butters just as I had to exercise restraint when eating them. They're very good! According to the NN website, Katie Kearney, a vegetarian mom and nut butter lover, decided to create healthier nut butters for her kids. Knowing that flax seeds and hemp seeds are loaded with nutritional benefits, Katie added the super seeds to her nut butters, as well, and ended up with delicious and nutritious spreads.

As an aside about my own life, my brother was diagnosed at 9 months old with a potentially fatal peanut allergy about 30 years ago when peanut allergies were extremely rare. We currently have the luxury of finding alternative nut butters on practically every grocery store shelf because this allergy is now prevalent (unfortunately), but that was not the case 30 years ago. So, my mom made cashew butter from scratch when we were growing up and we didn't have peanut butter in the house until we were both old enough to understand the ramifications of him ingesting it. Although her freshly homemade cashew butter was superb, I'm sure she would've been thrilled to have had the alternative nut butter options readily available today.

I tested the Chocolate Cherry Peanut Butter, the Vanilla Peanut Butter, and the Vanilla Almond Butter (Katie asked me which flavors I wanted to test and these were 3 of my top 4 choices). I sampled all of these straight out of the jar on a spoon. Who needs bread to interfere with the nut butter goodness?

The Chocolate Cherry PB wasn't overly chocolaty or overly peanut buttery, which means that the balance of flavors was nice. It was slightly textured from the addition of ground flax and hemp seeds, so it was smooth, but a little grainy (in a good way), and had the chewy addition of dried cherries.

The Vanilla PB required a little stirring to distribute the small amount of oil that had accumulated on top and the vanilla powder that had caked together on one side of the jar. This PB tastes deliciously like the inside of a Butterfinger bar (from what I can remember).

Although I tasted the Vanilla Almond Butter second, I'm saving the best for last. I couldn't get enough of this nut butter that tasted like the most fantastic almond cookie you could possibly imagine. Like the Vanilla PB, it needed to be stirred to distribute the vanilla powder, but that was a small effort in exchange for such wonderful flavor and texture. I'm actually really happy that I can't buy this at my local market or I might gain 50 pounds!

Naturally Nutty products are only available directly from their website, I believe, but please make sure to read the ingredients of each product, as they're not all vegan.

I also recently sampled PB2 and Chocolate PB2, powdered peanut butters from Bell Plantation. Unfortunately, I didn't care for their odd, overly-processed flavor (especially bizarre because they claim that no chemicals are used in their process) or texture. I do appreciate Bell Plantation's kindness in sending me samples to review, though.

Thank you to all three companies for creating vegan products and for being kind enough to send me samples to review!

Monday, May 25, 2009

WorldFest 2009

May 16 was a fabulous day for Los Angeles vegans and all the other lucky people who were able to attend WorldFest. This eco-friendly festival featured a plethora of vegan food; so many options that I found it difficult to decide what to eat when I arrived. There were Thai, Caribbean, raw, and comfort food options, among bakers, traditional festival food (funnel cakes), and ice cream...and every last bit of it was vegan.

I opted for a delicious semi-raw burger (everything is raw except the bun) from Sun Power Natural Cafe (I'll write a separate post on the cafe later; it deserves its own spotlight), which I enjoyed while watching Rory Freedman of Skinny Bitch fame interview Kathy Freston, the author of Quantum Wellness.

When I saw that Maggie Mudd had a WorldFest booth, I was ecstatic. I've spent a lot of time in San Francisco, but never with a vegan, so I haven't yet had the opportunity to eat at all the wonderful vegan restaurants about which my friends rave. I just had to try both the infamous TarMack (from their site: Soy based. Chocolate and peanut butter flavored soy ice cream with peanut butter swirls and chocolate cookie) and Memphis Mudd Pie (Coconut based. Coffee flavored coconut milk based ice cream with chocolate cookies, fudge swirls, and a touch of southern whiskey). I also tried bites of my friends' mint chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin cookie, and blueberry flavors. After trying all these flavors and savoring every creamy bite, I was happy that Maggie Mudd is not easily accessible to me! It's just that good.

Follow Your Heart was there selling barbecue seitan sandwiches (they let me taste a piece of the barbecue seitan and it was great!) and some of their packaged products. At the end of the day, they sent me home with free containers of their Smoked "Chicken" Salad (so good that I used to eat it on a daily basis), Chocolate Mousse (thick and rich and peppered with dark chocolate chips), and Miso Ginger Dressing (creamy and gingery).

I spent some time visiting with dogs and cats who were available to adopt, saw a cow being led by an Animal Acres volunteer, walked among the booths, and saw the inspiring Capt. Paul Watson speak (and sing!). More than anything, though, I spent a beautiful, sunny day in the park at a very vegan festival with my friends.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Give Me Sweet Freedom or Give Me...

Last fall, I was one of the fortunate few chosen to test recipes for Ricki Heller's Sweet Freedom, a cookbook dedicated to vegan desserts and sweet treats that are also free of wheat and refined sugar. As a holistic nutritionist, whole foods chef, and vegan with a self-proclaimed sweet tooth, Ricki has an extraordinary vision and palate for creating delicious food that is also healthful. Many of the recipes found in the cookbook are those she felt she must share after closing the doors of her bakery, Bake It Healthy, lest the world be completely without her spectacular treats.

As I'm a naturally curious person, I had a plethora of questions for the wonderful Ricki, who I've had the opportunity to get to know better through the recipe-testing process. She graciously agreed to answer them for me and, of course, for you.

Ultra Fudgy Brownies

1. After so many years as a conventional baker, how did you manage the transition, and how difficult was it?

Learning to bake all my favorite desserts without the usual
all-purpose wheat flour, eggs, butter, or milk was a huge challenge at
first. I went through a lot of experimentation and many, many flops.
But once I got a feel for the “new” ingredients, I was able to convert
pretty much any of my older recipes (there’s a chapter in the book
devoted to ingredients and conversions). After that, it was a natural
step to begin creating my own, original, recipes.

2. How do you know what substitutions to use in alternative baking?

I began by checking the types of substitutions used by other vegan
bakers, whom I consider the experts in replacing eggs and dairy in
baking. Once you know the basics, it's not that difficult to transfer
this information to pretty much any recipe. I talk about different
ingredients I use and how to substitute in Chapter Two of the

3. Which recipe was tested the most?

By far, the whipped cream is the most-tested recipe; I went through at
least 60 attempts before I hit on the one I liked. I had a version on
my blog that worked, but was really, really time-consuming and fussy.
I streamlined the process for the cookbook and created something
almost identical to the blog version with less time and effort. So
far, it’s always been a hit with anyone who tries it, whether or not
they normally eat dairy.

4. Are your desserts low-fat?

While many of the desserts would be considered low-fat, that is not
the aim of Sweet Freedom. My goal was to create healthier desserts
that contained real, whole, unprocessed and all-natural ingredients.
Without eggs, dairy, or refined sugar, they are also lower in allergens
than most desserts out there. As a result, the desserts in Sweet
actually provide nutrition as well as great taste!

Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

5. What was your favorite childhood treat? Have you successfully veganized it and, if so, is the recipe in the book?

My favorite childhood treat was always chocolate--a big piece of milk
chocolate, all on its own, was one of the things I loved the most. In
a way, I've veganized it, because a sizable number of the recipes in
the book feature chocolate! My favorite is probably the fudgy brownie
or the Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip cookies. I also love the
Chocolate Buttercream frosting, though, which does remind me of milk

6. Is there a favorite non-vegan recipe that you've been working on veganizing and perfecting, but haven't quite achieved yet? If so, what is it?

Yes, I've been working on an eggy souffle. I know there's an
abundance of vegan souffles out there, from cheezy to spinach, but I
want to make one that's similar to a plain egg souffle--slightly
sweet, light, airy. I'm still working on it!

7. Have you started writing recipes for a second sweets book?

Yes, believe it or not, I have. I've been on a special detox diet for
a few weeks now and have been experimenting with some grain-free
goodies. Even before this diet, though, I had started playing around
with gluten-free baking and have really enjoyed it. I've got a few
recipes already set aside. [Ooh, I hope I get to be a recipe-tester for this book, too!]

8. Are you considering writing a cookbook of savory recipes?

I hadn't thought of it, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out!

9. You seem so open about sharing your stories. Do you have any reservations about revealing details of your life to your blog readers?

This is an interesting question. When I write my blog, I do realize
that others read it, and I am aware of how much I put out there. I
suppose that after 20 years of teaching at the college level, I'm
pretty comfortable sharing anecdotes about my life. We all have a
public and a private persona; as someone on a reality show (I think it
was Tori Spelling, forgive me!) said, "I don't feel that I'm sharing
too much of my life because even though the cameras are here with us,
they aren't really capturing every single aspect of our lives; we
still have private moments when the crew is gone, or if we tell them
to stop filming." Similarly, I don't post private conversations,
secrets, or intimacies between me and my partner, for instance (and I
do try to protect others in my life by using pseudonyms for everyone
else). I'd say I'm pretty comfortable with the level of information I

10. You've brightened the lives of children with allergies by baking allergen-free birthday cakes for them. What was the most memorable cake you baked for a child who'd never before had a birthday cake?

It was a chocolate layer cake with a bouquet of spring flowers made
from frosting. This little girl was seven years old and had never
tasted real cake! She had a strong sensitivity to sugar, couldn't eat
wheat, and was lactose intolerant. Mine was the first cake she'd ever
had and she was absolutely thrilled with it. Her mother called me up
after the birthday party and told me how her daughter had squealed
with delight; the mother had cried with joy to see her daughter so
happy! My heart just swelled.

Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies

11. Which of the book's recipes are ACD-friendly?

It would depend on which phase of the Anti-Candida Diet someone was
on. During the first (most stringent) phase, no sweeteners or fruits
are allowed, so most of the desserts would be eliminated. But in the
later phases, cookies such as the Pecan Coconut Chews, Easiest Almond
Cookies, or even the Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies would work well.

12. How long have you been vegan?

I was vegan for many years during university, after which I became ill
and was told to change my diet to bring back animal products for
health reasons. Once I felt better, I naturally gravitated back
toward a vegan diet, this time with my knowledge as a holistic
nutritionist. I eat vegan because it's my personal taste preferance
and because I feel best eating this way. I've been eating this way now
for about 10 years.

13. What is your go-to recipe to make for a vegan food-resistant omnivore?

Any time I'm dealing with a skeptic, I pull out a batch of the Ultra
Fudgy Browies or the Butterscotch Blondies with Chocolate Chips--both
are always a hit.

14. Has anyone ever approached you months or years after taking one of your nutrition/cooking courses to tell you that your teaching changed their life?

Actually, this has happened a few times. One of my first cooking
class participants was a woman who'd been going through chemotherapy
for breast cancer. She had had to radically alter her eating habits
and was very keen to learn how to eat healthier foods; she signed up
for every course that season (about 12 in all). About a year later,
she contacted me to visit the new holistic health center she'd started
with another cancer survivor. She had completely changed her life.
It was thrilling to see the transformation in her!

Another participant who'd been suffering from a plethora of symptoms
came to two or three classes and really enjoyed them. She asked me a
lot of questions about how I'd come to be where I was, how I got
involved in nutrition, and so on. The following year, she quit her
job and went to study nutrition at the same school I'd been to. She's
healed herself completely and now practices in a private clinic here
in Toronto.

15. When are you coming to visit me in L.A.?

As soon as is humanly possible!! Maybe I could combine it with a book
signing. . . ;)

Butterscotch Blondies

Thank you, Ricki!

Sweet Freedom is now available for purchase here and on Amazon. It will quickly become one of your favorites, so please add it to your cookbook collection as soon as possible (and please write an Amazon review after you do)!

P.S. All photos in this post were borrowed, with permission, from the Sweet Freedom blog.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Daiya Vegan Cheese, Take Two

Last night, my friends Foodeater and the Quarrygirl team gathered in a gorgeous kitchen to further test the Daiya vegan cheese I mentioned here. With a bag of the Italian (mozzarella) flavor and a bag of the cheddar flavor, we set out to make two pizzas and grilled cheese sandwiches.

While we were waiting for the first pizza to bake, we whipped up a grilled cheese sandwich that was the best I've had since my dairy-consuming days. In grilled cheese form, the cheddar Daiya tasted just like the mild, creamy American cheese that I would only tolerate in a grilled cheese sandwich when I was a kid (I never was able to eat the orange squares straight from their plastic wrappers as some kids did).

The Quarrygirl pair introduced me to a pizza topping combo that I absolutely loved: fresh tomatoes, cremini mushrooms, and fresh garlic. You can see that pizza in all its deliciousness at the top of this post (check out the stretch of the Daiya!).

Our second pizza was topped with fresh tomatoes, fresh garlic, Field Roast sausage, and Yves pepperoni. This was also a really good pizza. I enjoyed the spiciness of the faux meats against the creaminess of the Daiya and the freshness of the veggies.

This experiment solidified my original thoughts about the Daiya Italian style. Its flavor is mild and creamy and it definitely sticks to the back of the teeth when eating. Next time I make pizzas, I think I'll mix some of the cheddar in with the Italian to add a little flavor. I'm not sure how well cheddar goes on pizza, but the Italian is too mild on its own. I'm also really looking forward to a time when Daiya is available in block form so we can create a thicker, more pizza-conducive shred. Fingers crossed that will be soon!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Daiya Vegan Cheese + Dandies = Movie Night!


Have you heard of Daiya vegan cheese? It's been a major topic of conversation ever since this year's Expo West. Daiya is a vegan cheese that purports to stretch (check out the photos on the website!), a quality usually only achieved by the inclusion of the dairy-based ingredient casein.

About 2 weeks ago, I got a sneak preview taste of the cheddar flavor from a friend who had received a block of it. We tried it cold out of hand (only ok), cold on flax chips (good), and melted into quinoa for a quasi-cheesy grits dish (delicious).

I thought it was going to be months and months before Daiya was available to purchase, so imagine my surprise when I received an e-mail from Pangea vegan store letting me know that they are now carrying the much-coveted cheese. I immediately ordered 3 bags of shredded Italian style (mozzarella) and 2 bags of shredded cheddar style.

Obviously, pizza was in order for the Italian style. I've never made pizza dough from scratch and I felt that the Daiya deserved a true pizza for its first sampling. So, I arranged to take a fellow vegan on a surprise adventure yesterday to the amazing Purgatory Pizza (L.A.'s omni pizzeria whose owner is so vegan-friendly that she offers Teese pizzas, vegan pesto, and a couple vegan meats) with the Daiya in tow.

We knew that we wanted a half vegan pepperoni, half artichoke heart, olive, mushroom, and green pepper pizza, so we also brought vegan pepperoni and artichoke hearts with us, as those are not offered on the menu.

Our beautiful pizza was hand-delivered to our table by the man who made it. After we'd each tried it, the Purgatory chef came out again to talk to us about how we liked the Daiya compared to the Teese they usually use for vegan pizzas.

The verdict? Well, I'm a bit on the fence. It has a very pleasant, mild, creamy flavor that doesn't really taste like mozzarella (disclaimer: I have not had dairy cheese since February 2001 and don't know how long taste memories can last), but doesn't really taste much like anything else, either. I find that's true of many vegan cheeses (for example, Teese tastes buttery, not like mozzarella). It melted quite well, leaving a few visible fine shreds on top and an evenly melted surface covering the rest of the pizza. Also, the melted Daiya stuck to the roof of my mouth.

One thing was suspiciously missing, though...the stretchiness we were promised! Our pizza chef thought a possible reason for that lack was the fine shreds of the Daiya. He explained that a longer, thicker shred would be more likely to produce the stretchiness that Daiya's photos exhibit. [As an aside, I did see the tiny strands of stretchiness in the cheesy quinoa above, but that Daiya came from a block and was not shredded.] Further pizza experimentation is in order and will happen on Sunday!

Last night's pizza adventure was part of a concerted plan that also included movie night (Surrender Dorothy, a disturbing, extremely low-budget indie film) and Dandies vegan marshmallows.

I'd promised to make Rice Krispies treats and rocky road ice cream to properly showcase the air-puffed marshmallows. I received rave reviews for both and we had a very happy movie night (well, the movie wasn't a happy one, but the night on the whole was).

Using the traditional Rice Krispies treats recipe, but substituting Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks and one 10 oz. bag of Dandies and pressing the mixture into a 9x9 pan yielded these beautiful and cruelty-free treats that were just as good as, if not better than, the non-vegan version:

I made the Baracky-y Road Ice Cream recipe from A Vegan Ice Cream Paradise, too, painstakingly cutting those sticky little Dandies into approximately thirds and using dry roasted, unsalted almonds. This coconut milk-based ice cream was perfectly rich and delicious last night, but a bit too rich for me on second tasting today. I also had a difficult time getting it to freeze properly in the ice cream maker. After 40 minutes of churning, it still wasn't ice cream consistency, which I'm guessing is because the liquid mixture wasn't chilled before it went into the machine (I let it cool for an hour, but didn't chill it, as the instructions didn't call for chilling). At that point, I put the cold mixture into an air-tight plastic container and let it finish freezing in the freezer. Despite this, it really tasted like what I remember of dairy rocky road ice cream.

I think I'm done with sweets for quite a while...

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Very Vegan Birthday Party

My 33rd birthday is tomorrow, May 5. To commemorate this momentous occasion and their birthdays, my two wonderful friends, Your Vegan Mom and Foodeater, whose birthdays are May 2 and May 10, respectively, decided to throw the best vegan birthday party ever this past Sunday afternoon. Oh, no, your eyes are not deceiving you; that is, in fact, the one and only Frankenstand in the photo above.

The Frankenstand's creative proprietor set up his infamous vegan hot dog stand bright and early in Griffith Park's Old Zoo bear enclosure especially for we three vegan birthday girls. He decorated the stand and the condiment table with tiny zoo animal figurines for the occasion and then got to work cooking up his wonderfully savory treats for the small group of our closest friends.

I chose the Franken, a spicy Italian-style sausage, and topped it with yellow mustard and sauerkraut. It was even more incredible than I'd imagined it would be!

Your Vegan Mom made a really delicious vegan queso for ballpark-style nachos. In the photo below, you'll notice that I was testing my ability to take the heat from the jalapenos. I was definitely able and subsequently piled many more of the spicy disks on top of my nachos.

I baked a batch of my now-perfected Chocolate Chip Cookies and a batch of my most requested Snickerdoodles. (You'll likely see future posts dedicated to my veganization of these recipes.)

Foodeater had the brilliant idea to commission cupcakes from Vegan Bake Sale, which just so happens to be owned and operated by one of our good friends. She chose the scrumptious Cookies 'n Cream and Strawberry Shortcake varieties.

JennShaggy surprised us with the gift of homemade Lemon Poppyseed Cupcakes with Lemon Glaze that were fabulous.

We received another baked surprise in the form of a rich and decadent Chocolate Mousse Cake with Raspberry Coulis by Brittany.

We have the most talented group of friends and I'm grateful for each and every one. Thank you all for spending a beautiful Sunday celebrating with us!

Head over to Foodeater's blog to read her post about this spectacular party (you might even catch a glimpse of my right hand and forearm and my party dress), as she captured it perfectly.

Stay tuned for more birthday-centric posts since I believe in celebrating not only my birthday (remember, it's tomorrow, May 5!), but my birthday week!