Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: Xan Confections & Spork

About 6 1/2 years ago, Tracey Downey experienced a loss in her family and used it as the impetus to make a career change that honored her true interests. She had apprenticed under a French chef at age 17, but upon getting married and having children, had left the culinary world behind. With a renewed dedication to the culinary arts and a request from her new husband to recreate his grandma's homemade caramel, Tracey got to work. She nailed the caramel recipe in three tries, despite not having the recipe. Within a year, she had taken every chocolatier course she could find and developed a product line. She opened a store and was inspired by customers with various allergies and yogis to create a vegan line.

Xan Confections was born in 2009 after her storefront closed and has been thriving with a vegan and an omnivorous line ever since. The vegan chocolates are readily available at Whole Foods either pre-packaged in beautiful assortments or by the piece in the bakery section. It is so exciting to be able to pick up a beautiful assortment of ethical chocolates on a whim! I strongly suggest the delicious Xan Confections for holiday gifts.

Tracey herself was vegetarian as a teenager and resumed her vegetarianism about 3 1/2 years ago, becoming vegan about a year ago. Her new veganism brought her to Spork Foods to learn how to cook to accommodate her new lifestyle. This created a lovely opportunity for the Spork students this past May when Tracey guest-taught a chocolate-making class! I made sure to be one of the first to sign up because I wasn't going to miss the chance to meet Tracey and learn a couple of her secrets.

Enthusiastically knowledgeable about chocolate from its growth to its politics to its history, it was fascinating to listen to Tracey's lecture. The photo above shows her holding a life-size cacao pod replica against a life-size photo of a cacao tree. After the lesson, we were given the chance to make our own chocolates. Tracey demonstrated the making of Vegan Fruit Caramel Ganache (raspberry, I believe, in our case) and then gave us each our own piping bag full to pipe into little chocolate cones.

We also formed Dark Chocolate Swiss Truffles out of malleable chocolate squares, rolling them in cocoa powder, cacao nibs, powdered sugar, and shredded coconut.

I'm overjoyed that I was able to spend a morning with Tracey learning all about chocolate and it was all thanks to Spork Foods for creating the class! Which leads me to the second part of this Holiday Gift Guide post: Spork! There are now two ways to give the gift of Spork. For those who are in LA or who will be visiting LA, Spork Foods offers amazing multi-course meal vegan cooking classes every Saturday and Sunday (except holidays). Each weekend has a different theme with the menus posted on the website so you can choose which appeals most to you. I have my eye on a couple in the coming months. The in-person classes are a really wonderful way to interact with the Spork sisters, meet new friends, and eat delicious food together. Plus, you take the recipes and the knowledge of how to prepare them home with you. You know, treating yourself to a Spork class could really be seen as a gift to your friends and family, too; if you learn how to cook, they'll benefit when you cook for them!

A Spork Online subscription is also an amazing gift. Since I purchased my subscription, I have been watching the high-quality episodes over and over again. You can watch from start to finish or you can watch just the segment with the individual recipe that interests you, depending on how much time you want to devote in the moment. One month is only $7.95, so it's great for a stocking stuffer, and includes access to archived episodes in addition to the episode of the month. Considering that in-person classes cost $65, the online classes are an incredible deal. There are also 6-month and year-long subscriptions for $39.95 and $74.95, respectively. I think you'll find that the person you gift a subscription to will be really grateful!

The moral of the story is that Xan and Spork are two excellent vegan-owned companies to support this holiday season!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: ResBLENDent

As the holiday season is upon us, I thought I would highlight a few companies I feel are worthy. I featured a gift guide early this year and some of these companies might be repeats from that post, but believe me, they deserve to be repeated.

Today's fantastic company is Blend Apparel, whose soft, thick hoodie is shown above. I've seen this hoodie look equally great on guys and girls and, I have to be honest, my favorite part is the ampersand (&) zipper pull.

Blend Apparel is vegan owned and operated, eco-friendly (apparel is made with organic cotton and bamboo and the website is wind-powered), and a percentage of each purchase is donated to hand-picked charitable organizations. Supporting Blend Apparel is supporting our vegan community.

On top of all this goodness, Blend is having a huge sale right now, where all apparel is at least $10 off (t-shirts are usually $24.99-29.99 and are now $14.99-19.99 and I paid $54.99 for the hoodie, which is now on sale for $34.99). So, get a gift for yourself and the people you love!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

VeganMoFo: Survey & Compassion Over Killing

I'm not sure where this survey originated because I've seen it on numerous blogs. Since today is the last day of VeganMoFo, I thought I'd give in to the allure of the survey.

What is one food you thought you’d miss when you went vegan, but don’t?
I honestly didn't think I would miss anything! Occasionally, I miss angel food cake, which was the only cake I ever really loved.

What is a food or dish you wouldn’t touch as a child, but enjoy now?
Mustard. Oddly enough, I didn't care for it until I started college. There are a lot of foods that would fall into this category, though; I was a very picky eater when I was younger. (See the next question for proof that I am still a little picky.)

What vegan dish or food do you feel like you “should” like, but don’t?
I won't touch avocado. In LA as a vegan, that is apparently sacrilegious. The rest of my "no thank you list" is onions, scallions, shallots, chives, leeks (i.e. anything that tastes like an onion), fishy-tasting sea vegetables, and raw tomato.

What beverage do you consume the most of on any given day?

What dish are you “famous” for making or bringing to gatherings?
Vegan Cadbury Creme Eggs (also see here).

Do you have any self-imposed food rules (like no food touching on the plate or no nuts in sweets)?
I do, actually! I would rather that different components of the meal not touch on my plate. Also, I tend to eat in preferential order, consuming what I like least on the plate first and leaving my favorite part for last. Oh, and I usually eat at specific times during the day and don't like eating outside of those times.

What’s one food or dish you tend to eat too much of when you have it in your home?
Sweet & Sara Toasted Coconut Marshmallows.

What ingredient or food do you prefer to make yourself despite it being widely available prepackaged?
Any baked goods. I've never tasted a store-bought cookie that's as good as homemade.

What ingredient or food is worth spending the extra money to get “the good stuff”?
Dark chocolate (photo above is of Xan chocolates). Rejuvenative Foods's raw almond butter. Organic veggies and fruits on the dirty dozen list. Rawk-n-Roll kale chips.

Are you much of a snacker? What are your favorite snacks?
I'm so not a snacker! Sometimes I eat a few snack-type things for dinner, though (maybe similar to tapas-style eating?), in which case, see above re: kale chips.

What are your favorite vegan pizza toppings?
Artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, and jalapenos.

What is your favorite vegetable? Fruit?
I seriously love vegetables and fruits, so this is a tough choice. My favorite vegetable is probably kale and my favorite fruit is fresh blueberries.

What is the best salad dressing?
I just like a drizzle of red wine vinegar as salad dressing.

What kind of soup do you most often turn to on a chilly day or when you aren’t feeling your best?
Dreena Burton's Mellow Lentil Sniffle Soup.

What is your favorite cupcake flavor? Frosting flavor?
I might be ex-communicated for this, but I'm not huge on cupcakes. If I had to pick, the Tiramisu cupcakes by Clara's Cakes would win (you can read Clara's blog here)...or maybe her gluten-free vanilla cupcakes with soy-free chocolate icing (in the above photo, Tiramisu is on the right and the GF vanilla with chocolate icing is on the left).

What is your favorite kind of cookie?
My homemade Snickerdoodles.

What is your most-loved “weeknight meal”?
I'm not usually home in time to make dinner on weeknights, but back in the day when I was, my Broccoli-Tofu Stir-Fry and Chili Mac were definite favorites.

What is one dish or food you enjoy, but can’t get anyone else in your household to eat?
This is not an issue in my household.

How long, in total, do you spend in the kitchen on an average day?
On an average day, probably a half hour or so, but on the weekends, when I have time to cook, it can be anywhere from an hour to three hours!

In Compassion Over Killing news, there will be a vegan holiday cooking demo led by Chef Gwendolyn Mathers (aka Miss Kitchen Witch) this Saturday, December 4 from noon until 2 p.m. Registration closes tomorrow, so buy your ticket before you miss your chance. Here's the menu:

Savory Twists
Stuffed Dates

Side Dishes
Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onions
Citrus Twisted Cranberry Relish

Main Dish
Pumpkin Risotto with Crunchy Seitan

Cranberry Orange Truffles

The $20 admission fee includes the cooking demo, food samples, and a goody bag containing recipes, COK notecards, coupons, and product samples. Plus, all the proceeds benefit COK!

Monday, November 29, 2010

VeganMoFo: Thanksgiving Wrap-Up

I'm grateful to have a magnificent vegan community and am especially grateful to said community for a truly abundant Thanksgiving this year. On Thursday, I was very fortunate to have taken part in the Bold Native family's Thanksgiving potluck where more people than I could count sat down together to enjoy an amazing vegan bounty. I spent time with friends, made new ones, and didn't even sample a third (maybe even a quarter) of the food that was on hand. My contributions were the stuffing (this year, I made it using an entire sourdough baguette that I cubed and dried a day in advance) and Dreena Burton's Chocolate-Pumpkin Pie (better photo of a pie I made from the same recipe here) in the above photo.

Appetizers included these gorgeous savory tarts with aioli, the recipe for which will soon be available on Spork Online:

A tofu-based dip with pita points, veggies and hummus, chips and salsa, and olives:

And a huge bowl of vegan chicken curry salad (this is available at the Whole Foods deli counter and is really delicious):

My plate included (clockwise from top) Brussels sprouts, eggplant parmesan, seitan en croute with a green sauce (I believe this is also from an upcoming Spork Online recipe), spicy cubed pumpkin, my stuffing, the most amazing gingery mashed sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes:

I went back for seconds of the mashed sweet potatoes and spicy pumpkin. I also ate, but did not photograph, kale salad, breaded seitan, and two different versions of homemade cranberry sauce. Among the dishes I didn't try were succotash, ratatouille, many different stuffings, quinoa salad, and so much more that I can't recall and was too stuffed to eat.

For dessert, all I could find room for was this lovely Strawberry Chai Cobbler:

To me, Thanksgiving this year was exactly as it should be; a house absolutely packed with friends, great food, and overflowing with joy. There are hardly words to express how thankful I am to have shared the holiday with this wonderful group of people.

On Friday, I was invited to an ingenious Thanksgiving leftovers potluck at the home of the C'est la Vegan team. What a brilliant way to get leftovers out of the house and spend another day with friends! With leftover stuffing and pie in tow, I joined my hosts and ten other friends, including Miss Alix of Cute and Delicious, Shawn of Little Vegan Planet, and the mastermind behind Alternative Outfitters.

This photo doesn't come close to doing justice to the wonderful kale salad, sweet potato casserole topped with Dandies (another Spork Foods recipe!), and mashed potatoes and gravy I sampled. I didn't photograph dessert because I knew there was already a beautiful picture of the Pumpkin Butterscotch Trifle here.

Yesterday marked another momentous occasion: My cat, who I adopted from my hometown's shelter via a foster when he and his late twin were 6 weeks old, turned 20 yesterday! I have so much for which to be grateful.

Friday, November 26, 2010

VeganMoFo: Follow Your Heart Thanksgiving Feast

We all know that Follow Your Heart is one of my favorite places to eat and shop. The small, co-op market and cafe is like home to me with its earthy, hippie vibe, delicious food, and other fun things (I bought myself a new pair of earrings there a few weeks ago).

This year, as with last, I went to FYH for the Thanksgiving Feast offered the day before Thanksgiving. The meal came with soup or salad (I opted for salad with a no-oil tahini-dill dressing), seitan turkey, stuffing (this year's stuffing was really good, better than last year's), mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, lemony green beans almondine, cranberry-mandarine orange compote, and spiced sweet potatoes. I was not able to finish everything, but part of the beauty of Thanksgiving is leftovers, right?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

VeganMoFo: Blondies and Brownies

Hannah Kaminsky is hands-down one of the most innovative, creative, and accurate baking cookbook authors I've encountered. Her recipes can turn something as seemingly simple as a blondie or brownie into a complex, uniquely flavorful and textural dessert suitable for any occasion. She first shared her extraordinary talent with us through her blog, Bittersweet, followed by her cookbook, My Sweet Vegan, and numerous e-cookbooks on a variety of sweet subjects. Her newest e-cookbook, Blondies and Brownies, is unparalleled.

Boasting twelve recipes (six blondies and six brownies) for a mere $5, this e-cookbook is worth every penny. I realize that sentence makes me sound like I'm Hannah's PR agent, but it's really just that I believe in Hannah and I believe in supporting our vegan community. I've found myself relying on Blondies and Brownies when I am baking for a potluck or a bake sale or just when I'm in the mood to bake. In fact, it would provide perfect last-minute recipes to whip up for your Thanksgiving feast tonight! Check out the Turkish Delight Blondies I baked this summer; they were easy to make, used ingredients I already had in my pantry, and were a huge crowd-pleaser.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

VeganMoFo: Kaia Foods

Last spring, Kaia Foods generously sent me a selection of their raw foods products (thank you so much, Kaia Foods!). As I was about to embark on an international vacation, these were perfect travel snacks! The sprouted buckwheat granola and kale chips were my favorite of the bunch, but I also enjoyed the flavorful sprouted sunflower seeds and the soft fruit leather. If you've never tried sprouted buckwheat granola, I highly recommend this crunchy, filling cereal. It's good plain or with cold vegan milk!

With Thanksgiving upon us tomorrow, tell me please, for what are you thankful?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

VeganMoFo: Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

Yet another gem from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar is packed with cookie-baking tips and recipes from classic to healthful to innovative.

I baked the Roll-and-Cut Sugar Cookies shaped like music notes and holiday dudes and topped them with the book's Confectioner's Icing. These are both great recipes, although you could easily cut the icing recipe in half or even make only a quarter of it and you'd still have plenty.

Banana Everything Cookies

Cherry Almond Cookies

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip (a variation of Peanut Butter Agave Cookies)

For a real treat (pun intended), head over to the Madcap Cupcake blog where she is dedicating her entire VeganMoFo to baking cookies from this book!

Monday, November 22, 2010

VeganMoFo: Get Healthy, Go Vegan

Dr. Neal Barnard has been one of my vegan heroes since I first went vegetarian over 12 years ago. His book Foods That Cause You to Lose Weight was the second vegan cookbook I ever owned, picking it up at the Barnes & Noble in New York City's Union Square in the winter of 1999. (If you're curious, my first vegan cookbook was Cooking with PETA, which I'd purchased a couple months earlier.)

When I learned that Dr. Barnard was releasing a new cookbook earlier this year, I was really excited to get my hands on it. I was so fortunate that Da Capo Lifelong sent me a review copy of The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook and gave me permission to publish one of the book's recipes (see below)! I quickly made several recipes from the new book (including the Fire-Roasted Tomato Black Bean Chili, Fettuccine with Roasted Peppers and Zucchini, and Curried Chickpea Spread seen in this post), but I also read it cover-to-cover.

Replete with easy-to-understand information about nutrition's impact on overall health and disease (both prevention and reversal), this is a great book to recommend to people who are new to veganism and new to healthful eating. In fact, I suggested it to a friend whose father was just about to embark on a vegan journey (read about his experience here). He loved the book and even wrote my friend an e-mail detailing the delicious Sweet Potato and Black Bean Brunch Burritos he'd made from the book!

I love this book for its quick, easy, and healthful recipes and I love Dr. Barnard for being so committed to promoting health and disease-prevention through nutrition.

Fire-Roasted Tomato Black Bean Chili

1/2 yellow onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, with liquid
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons chipotle powder
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup TVP crumbles (optional)

1. In a large saucepan on high heat, saute the onion in 1/4 cup water until it starts to turn brown.

2. Add 1/4 cup water and stir. Add garlic and cook for 3 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro, beans and their liquid, cumin, chili powders, oregano, salt, and TVP crumbles, if using.

4. Reduce heat to minimum and cook for 10 minutes.

From the book The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook by Neal Barnard, MD and Robyn Webb. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2010.

[Notes: I omitted the onion and did not use the TVP crumbles. Also, instead of doing this in 4 steps, I simply added all the ingredients to the pot at once and cooked until heated through. I took it to a 4th of July potluck and it was so delicious that I was asked for the recipe!]

Friday, November 19, 2010

VeganMoFo: Raw Banana Nut Squares with Coconut 'Cream Cheese' Frosting

Before he left LA for the east coast, I sent I Eat Vegan home with a half batch of Dreena Burton's sweetly satisfying Raw Banana Nut Squares with Coconut 'Cream Cheese' Frosting. The rest froze nicely for an occasional treat.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

VeganMoFo: Yellow Sweet Potato Chickpea Pie with Basil

Coming together easily, Dreena Burton's delicious Yellow Sweet Potato Chickpea Pie with Basil is quick enough for a weeknight meal, yet impressive enough to serve at a dinner party. Leftovers reheat well, too!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

VeganMoFo: Coriander Infused Orange-Ginger Red Lentil Soup

Most of my favorite Dreena Burton recipes are soups and this Coriander Infused Orange-Ginger Red Lentil Soup is no exception!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

VeganMoFo: Lemon-Infused Mediterranean Lentils

Dreena Burton has managed to make lentils even more addictive with this flavorful test recipe.

Monday, November 15, 2010

VeganMoFo: Olive Oil Almond Muffins

Muffins tend to be potluck crowd pleasers and these Dreena Burton tester muffins did not disappoint! They were among the first goodies to disappear.

Friday, November 12, 2010

VeganMoFo: Thai Chickpea Almond Curry

Spicy, creamy, and full of legumes and vegetables, this Dreena Burton test recipe was absolutely delicious.