Monday, December 30, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Vegan Pancake

Happy very belated Christmas!  Hope you had a wonderful holiday and didn't go too overboard with the treats.  I took quite the blogging vacation over the holidays, so there's plenty to catch up on. 
Leading up to Christmas I worked really hard to find a good vegan pancake recipe, because Josh's family has a Christmas day pancake breakfast tradition.  While Josh's dad said he would make two separate batches of pancakes, I was really hoping to find a vegan pancake that everyone could enjoy so he wouldn't have to do double duty.  While I knew I could make delicious banana nut pancakes or chocolate chip pancakes, I knew Josh's dad wouldn't want to make anything but a "normal" pancake, so I search high and low on the Internets for a recipe that wouldn't have too many odd ingredients and would taste delicious. 
My first go around was to make this recipe for Snickerdoodle pancakes.  I tried it first without the cinnamon (thinking even that was too "odd" for a standard pancake), and they were quite good, but when I tried adding the cinnamon in they were amazing!  Josh, my handy pancake tester, loved them too.  They were so good we could have gobbled them up without even adding any syrup. 
And that's probably because the recipe called for sugar.  That's right, I managed to read and follow the recipe without noticing that Katie added "you can use much less [sugar] if you’re planning to top with syrup".  So I decided I really needed to make another batch sans sugar to be sure before sending it off to Josh's father to seek his approval.  I followed the recipe again, but subbed out vanilla almond milk for plain and nixed both the sugar and the cinnamon.  The results weren't quite as stellar as the original (hey, less sugar ... what do you expect?) but with syrup they were definitely good enough to seek the approval of a non-vegan.  They were still light and fluffy without too strong of a baking soda flavor - which usually seems to be the culprit in less-than-tasty vegan pancakes.  After my lengthy pancake testing, I finally decided to send the recipe off with my vanilla almond milk and no sugar modifications, but add back in half the cinnamon for that extra something special. 
I sent the recipe off to Josh's father and fully expected a delighted crowd on Christmas morning.  But alas, the fear of a vegan recipe was too much for him.  He made two batches of pancakes on the big day - one for Josh and I, and the "normal" version for the rest.  Which was probably for the best, because for some reason the vegan pancakes turned out pretty badly.  They were definitely low on the cinnamon, but that wasn't the culprit.  Maybe they weren't cooked long enough on either side?  Or maybe my non-stick pan was a better method of cooking them than the sticky pan filled with oil?  (That's my personal guess.)  Of course I ate every bite, but I'm glad everyone else wasn't subjected to them.  That definitely would have turned them off of vegan pancakes forever.  Instead, I can hold out hope that they may still enjoy them in the future.  In the meantime, I've found my own perfect pancake recipe and squirreled it away in my Paprika app for safekeeping.  While I don't eat pancakes often, I definitely know what recipe I'll follow the next time the mood strikes. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Earning Treats Through Healthy Dinners

Knowing Christmas was coming, Josh and I have been trying to focus on eating relatively healthy dinners to save up credit for all the sweets.  Though it's a lot of work, all these dinners were delicious, nutritious, and most made enough leftovers for lunch the next day. 
This Italian potatoes and white beans with vegan sausage was probably my favorite of the meals. 
But Mexican pasta was definitely a close second.  I used salsa mixed with cashew cream for a dressing over spring salad mix, avocado, black beans, corn, tomatoes, and fried onions.  Yum!
One night we had one of our regular staples - tofu, broccoli, and edamame with Thai peanut sauce.  While I usually serve this dish with rice or bean threads, and nixed the filler for a healthier meal. 
The last of our healthy meals wasn't perhaps really all that healthy at all, but it certainly was delicious!  I roasted Brussels sprouts, then mixed them with sautéed veggie Italian sausage and cashew cream sauce.  Not perhaps the most gourmet of dishes, but it was warm and comforting - the perfect winter meal!  And Brussels sprouts are healthy, right? :) 

Overrun By Christmas Sweets!

Happy Christmas Eve!

I wouldn't exactly call myself a Scrooge, but I'm not normally one who's big on Christmas spirit.  While I definitely love wrapping and gifting presents, I don't have a lot of holiday ritual.  I don't like Christmas songs.  I don't expect a particular Christmas dinner, or want to watch that one movie I just have to watch every year.  But what I do love is treats.  I don't have one go-to Christmas treat in particular - so maybe this isn't a holiday thing at all, but just my general love of treats manifesting in the season's license to indulge?  Either way, I find myself making lots of sweets and goodies this time of year.  And this year was definitely no exception. 
My holiday season really kicked off at the beginning of last week with the culmination of my work's Holiday Sharing program.  I have organized the program for six years now, where my office adopts needy families in the area and provides them with gifts, canned and household goods, and raises money to buy them a grocery gift card.  While it's a wonderful program that everyone likes the idea of us participating in, it can be hard to woo actual volunteers to help out.  So my yearly solution is to make sweet treats for the people that come help me sort and deliver everything.  This year I made s'mores treats by using the Rice Krispies Treats recipe, but subbing out vegan marshmallows and Golden Grahams.  Then I stirred in chocolate chips for a messy but delicious final product. 

Fortunately for my waistline, the majority of the S'mores treats got eaten by coworkers and all I returned home with was an empty Tupperware.  But that doesn't mean I haven't been chowing down on plenty of treats myself too.  My favorite Christmas cookie of all is the cashew nougat cookie by Archway, but it's incredibly hard to find.  A few years back we found a Harris Teeter in Baltimore that stocks them, and since then I've made a yearly pilgrimage to stock up.  This year was no different, and I grabbed four boxes.  One went straight into the freezer to enjoy in April, and one has already been devoured.  Two boxes to get me through the New Year :) 

Another little goodie I've been enjoying lately is So Delicious Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk.  I originally planned to pick up some more Coconut Nog since I liked that so much, but Whole Foods had other plans for me - namely, that they were out of the Nog.  Instead of leaving sad and with nothing, I decided to try out the Pumpkin milk instead.  While I think I still prefer the Nog, this has been a fair substitute.  In fact, I'm enjoying the last glass of it this morning. 

Just a couple days after Holiday Sharing wrapped up at work it came time to make another treat to share with coworkers for our annual holiday office party.  While management supplies the booze, we are encouraged to bring in treats to share.  And since I knew there wouldn't be a lot of vegan offerings on the table, I would have to supply my own. 

Years ago a friend of mine made molasses cookies for Mole Day (Oct. 23) that I loved.  While I've tried and tried to get the recipe out of her, I never have, so I decided to try my luck with the Internets.  I started working with this recipe from Betty Crocker, which I quickly realized was the same recipe that appears on the back of the molasses bottle except for oven temperature, cooking time, and the direction to sprinkle water on the cookies for the cracked effect. 

I decided to split the difference by using Betty's cooking temperature and time (plus I'd already preheated the oven) and sprinkling water on my cookies.  Straight from the oven the cookies were beautiful, chewy, and delicious.  By the next day they were still delicious, but too crisp for my taste.  Fortunately, most everyone else seemed to have no issue with the texture and complimented them.  This was especially fortunate because I ended up with so many cookies that I had plenty to bring to work, save a few for Josh and I to enjoy at home, plus extra batches to share with friends and Josh's family.  Molasses cookies all around!
I made what will be this year's final foray into the world of holiday treats last night, though it was the one treat I'd been planning the longest.  Every year Josh's favorite Christmas treat is White Fudge Oreos.  He gets a box mostly to himself, but I manage to sneak a couple for myself.  While Oreos are one of those surprise vegan items, the white fudge coating is decidedly not vegan.  So I decided to recreate my own version using vegan white chocolate chips I ordered from Amazon, plus Double Stuf Oreos - oh, the indulgence!
Making my own White Fudge Oreos was surprisingly easy.  Just melt white chocolate chips in a double boiler, coat Oreos, then decorate for extra Christmas festivity (plus to hide imperfections!).  One bag of white chocolate chips gave me enough coating for 16 finished Oreos (plus one taste test, of course) - not a bad haul compared to the 12 you would get from Nabisco's box.  And they tasted just the same to me.  But the most important verdict came from Josh.  He had two last night for dessert and said they were great.  Success!
Now to hit the gym ...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dinner with Friends

Two weekends ago Josh and I had plans to get together with friends at their house for dinner.  We hadn't seen them in a while (and not since I became vegan) so I gave our hosts a heads up about my diet change and asked if I could bring a vegan dish to share.  I thought it would make all of our lives easier because it can be hard for people who aren't used to it to figure out vegan entrées.  
I asked what they would be serving so I could try and make something complementary that everyone could enjoy.  When my friend said her husband had a great chili recipe that they would make, so I thought it would be perfect to also bring some vegan cornbread on the side.  Since I had only made vegan cornbread once before (before I was even vegan) and it had been a big failure, I decided to do a test run of this recipe the day before.  
The first batch I made had great texture and moisture but wasn't sweet enough in my opinion.  For the big get together I added extra sugar and maple syrup and subbed out vanilla almond milk for plain.  Batch number two was perfect.  And I think everyone enjoyed it.  Warm cornbread with Earth Balance - yum!

I also brought a main course to share that I thought would complement the chili - Mexican pasta salad.  I followed this recipe but tweaked the proportions and left out the black olives.  Does anyone actually like black olives anyway?  Though it was simple the pasta salad actually turned out great.  It was super easy to whip up and had enough going on to be an interesting main dish.  
Unfortunately, when we arrived our friends had decided to nix the chili and serve Indian food!  Oddly enough, everything still seem to go together pretty well.  And hey, if the food's good, who cares if it all follows the same theme?  All you really need is good friends and a few laughs for a great evening.  And if your friends go buy you Sticky Fingers vegan cupcakes for dessert, that doesn't hurt either!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Addis Ababa - the Restaurant (Of Course!)

Back when I first decided to make a real effort to explore Silver Spring I bought a Groupon for Addis Ababa restaurant.  Silver Spring has tons of Ethiopian restaurants, but hey, this one had a Groupon!  Plus it had pretty good reviews and I knew it was close to our place.  In fact, I think we passed about five other Ethiopian restaurants on our way there, and it was only about four blocks away! 
When we got to the restaurant we were really excited to see how vibrant and full the restaurant was.  So full, in fact, that they directed us upstairs to their much less vibrant upstairs addition.  There were a few people upstairs, but the décor left much more to be desired.  Josh got to enjoy sports on a series of giant TVs lining the walls - much more sports bar than Ethiopia-away-from-home upstairs.  But the menu was of course the same, and there was a huge vegetarian section. 
We ordered the combination platter and the vegetarian pea stew with garlic, onions, and jalapenos - basically every item you can possibly get on the vegetarian menu, all piled onto one giant plate to split.  I also ordered a glass of honey wine, which I really enjoyed - it was so sweet you could barely tell it was wine, but I love that kind of thing!  All the food tasted amazing, but our favorites were the lentils, the tomato salsa-like item, and the pea stew.   
Without the Groupon this place would have been a pretty good deal, but with it our meal was an absolute steal!  Some places have Groupons so often you won't bother to go unless you have one.  But while I'll definitely be looking out for more Groupons for Addis Ababa, I'm sure we'll be visiting again soon even if I don't find one. 

Holiday Drinks

The cold weather has officially come to Maryland.  In fact, I worked from home Tuesday when I saw there was a mini-blizzard blowing outside my window.  Fortunately the blizzard cleared up around 1 and it was all sunny skies for the rest of the day - I even convinced Josh to go on a short run outside with me! 
But on those days when it's just too cold to venture out, it's nice to curl up with a warm drink the comfort of your heated home.  My old go-to for those occasions was Ghirardelli hazelnut hot cocoa mix.  But when I started hunting around the stores the other day to replenish our supply, I came to the rude realization that it had been discontinued! 
Once I'd spent a sufficient amount of time reeling from this tragedy, I had to settle for plain hot chocolate mix, made with chocolate soy milk for extra chocolate-y goodness!  It doesn't taste quite as good, but it still manages to warm you up on a cold night! 
Beyond plain old hot chocolate, I've been indulging in a few other favorite holiday drinks lately - both old favorites and new.   On the new favorite side is SO Delicious coconut nog - egg free and dairy free!  I'd actually never had real egg nog before, so I don't exactly have anything to compare this to, but I think it's excellent!  It's creamy, nutmeggy, and tastes oh-so-decadent!  The cool drink is also a nice alternative when you want something festive but you're not actually feeling all that cold. 
Josh and I have also been drinking a lot of an old favorite - apple cider.  One of the great things about cider is that it can be enjoyed hot or cold - best of both worlds.  I normally just have it cold, mostly because I'm lazy, but it's nice to have the option.  It's also less rich than hot chocolate or the coconut nog, so you don't feel like you're drinking dessert.  Guilt-free holiday treat ... sign me up! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vietnamese Food ... Never Again

In further attempts to explore all the wonderful things Silver Spring has to offer, Josh and I recently (and by recently, I of course mean several weeks ago now - bad blogger!) visited Lotus Café.  Though neither of us has ever been a fan of Vietnamese cuisine, the restaurant is just a few blocks from our house, and their sign prominently says that they offer vegetarian cuisine.  So we decided we had to give it a shot ... even if all we found out was that it wasn't for us. 
And unfortunately that's exactly what we found out.  The servers were really nice when we asked for recommendations on their favorite vegetarian dishes, though they seemed pretty much flabbergasted that we even wanted to order the vegetarian food - guess that sign is all for show.
We finally decided on the curry tofu and the tofu shiitake stir fried.  Neither of these seemed like particularly inspired dishes, and perhaps that should have been our first tip-off.  The curry tofu was definitely the winner of the two - though it had celery which just about ruined Josh's evening all by itself.  The Tofu shiitake stir fried had almost no flavor, and I'm not even sure if those were shiitake mushrooms.  How do they manage to make a shiitake that slimy? 
Everyone seems to love Vietnamese food so much, we end up trying it pretty regularly, always hoping this one new restaurant will finally show us what it's all about.  But just like all our other forays into Vietnamese food, this one also left us feeling like all we're getting is a really horrible, flavorless version of bad Chinese food.  And who wants to go out of their way to pay for that?  Even though we're both firmly in the "never again" camp, if we give it another five years or so we just might find ourselves trying Vietnamese food again.  But maybe that time will be the difference and we'll love it!  *Fingers crossed*

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thanksgiving Recap

Well, considering Thanksgiving is now almost a full week ago, it's probably finally time to do a Thanksgiving recap. 
I hit the treadmill both Wednesday and Thursday last week to help balance out the overeating I knew would be inevitable on Thanksgiving.  Nothing too hard.  I did a leisurely 2.5 mile run on Wednesday, then did intervals Thursday - alternating 2 minutes of walking at 3.2 with 2 minutes of sprinting at 7.0 (yes, that's sprinting for me).  Just enough to perhaps negate half a slice of pie ...
Early in the day Thursday I got my cook on at home, making the two dishes I planned to bring to dinner: butternut squash tamales and caramelized onion sweet potatoes.  The tamales were quite involved time-wise, but the actual hands-on time was pretty minimal.  While I soaked the corn husks for 1/2 hour I sautéed frozen butternut squash cubes (make life easy whenever possible) with garlic, onion, and Mexican spices.  Right at the end I added fresh chopped cilantro.  I also mixed masa flour filling, then laid everything out to fill my tamales.  During all of this I also roasted my sweet potatoes in the oven for an hour (turning once halfway through).
While the filling process took a bit of time, the real time involvement with tamales is steaming them - which I did for 1 1/2 hours.  Actually, after checking the water level and making sure everything would be okay, this is the point at which I ran downstairs to get my quick workout on in the building's exercise room.  By the time I was done with my workout the tamales were all set and I pulled them off the heat and showered. 
Once I was all showered up I caramelized red onions and peeled and mashed my sweet potatoes.  I mixed the mashed sweet potatoes, Earth Balance butter, salt, pepper, and the caramelized onions for probably one of the simplest dishes ever.  The sweet potatoes mixed with onions might seem like an odd combination, but trust me ... it's very tasty! 
With all my cooking pretty much wrapped up by 1 pm, Josh and I made some quick Tofurky sandwiches before leaving for his parents' house.  We figured we owed it to the holiday to have some Tofurky, plus we shared a bit with Panda - one of her favorite treats.  I'm pretty sure she was thankful ... in her own way. 
At Josh's parents' house we walked the dogs then spent most of the rest of the afternoon eating tons of appetizers.  They laid out a huge spread that included olives, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, dolmatas, and hummus with pita and falafel chips.  I really tried to reign it in on the appetizers, but I was still pretty much full by the time actual dinner rolled around. 
Because it was just the four of us, we tried to go pretty light on the number of dishes.  In addition to the two I'd prepared, Josh's parents made delicata squash stuffed with a wild rice mixture and soup.  I managed to get a picture of the soup, but somehow completely failed to get a picture of the squash. 
Possibly because at this point I was freaking out over my failure to successfully reheat tamales.  When Josh and I looked on the Internet, we found two different sources that said to unwrap the tamales from their husks, lay them in a baking dish with butter, and bake until the masa filling starts to brown. 
Baking the tamales out of their husks just makes them a horrible dry mess.  I tried to compensate by adding tons of green salsa on top of the tamales, but it was no use.  They were pretty horrible.  I'm pretty sure the correct answer would have been to re-steam them for a bit until they are warm, then unwrap when ready to eat.  Which is why you have never been to a restaurant that serves you a tamale outside of its corn husk - they always give you a plate and you unwrap it yourself.  Oh well.  Unfortunately harsh lesson learned. 
Fortunately soon after the tamale failure it was time for dessert.  I mentioned earlier that Josh's mom planned to make a "real" (non-vegan) pumpkin pie and a vegan apple tart for me.  Translation: Lindsay gets an entire apple tart almost entirely to herself.  Luckily, it was an incredibly delicious tart which I had both for dessert on Thanksgiving and then again Friday morning for breakfast.  Maybe I should have spent a little more time on that treadmill ....

Vegan Brunch at Muse Cafe

This post has been several months in the making now, but it was pretty much worth the long delay.  It all started in mid-October, when Josh's parents sent me a gift certificate to Muse Café for my birthday.  They had read about the chef's special vegan Sunday brunch, where Todd Gray puts together a delicious vegan brunch buffet for the prix fix price of just $25 per adult - definitely not a bad deal at all when you see the huge spread.  Plus you sit right in the Corcoran Gallery in a beautiful atrium enjoying live music!  Lovely Sunday morning ambiance.

It was such a thoughtful gift, but of course it took me until early November to set a date when Josh and I were free.  They recommend reservations, and once we saw the small seating area fill up that definitely seemed like the right way to go.  Luckily, I picked a beautiful day and we metroed into DC with no issues at all.  The weather was so great we even walked around like tourists for a bit afterward, taking in the White House and a bit of the mall before heading home. 

The buffet is set up in the center of the seating area, and they give you a menu so you know all there is to offer - and there was plenty.  I got one of each of the savory options except for the soup, because it was such a warm day I didn't feel like I needed the warm food.  (But Josh did have it and said it was great.) 

It may not look like it, but I genuinely did try to exercise restraint when loading up my plate.  I got just a little of everything, but everything turned out to be quite a lot.  Both our favorites was the truffled macaroni and cheese.  I mean, what's not to like?  Truffles - yum.  Macaroni - yum.  Cheese - yum.  I really wish I could figure out how to get that recipe.  But really every single thing was so delicious.  It's a wonder I had room to try the sweet treats. 

But somehow I managed ... That's right, I got one of everything off the sweets table too.  Actually, I got two pieces of French toast because they looked so small and innocent.  And apparently because I'm a glutton.  It was a real struggle to finish the plate - but finish I must because it was soooo good.  The only thing I didn't eat all of was that little muffin - it was too dry and not very flavorful.  When you're getting ready to burst, any food that isn't perfection must be left by the wayside! 

My favorite of the sweets turned out to be the lemon poppy seed cake trifle with fruit compote.  Maybe if I hadn't gone so crazy getting everything else I would have had room for seconds of it ...  But then again, if I hadn't gotten everything then I wouldn't know if really the baklava or chocolate chip macaroon was my favorite.  That's right, no regrets! 

AAAAANNNNNNNNNNNDDDDDDDDDD .... our brunch didn't quite use up the gift certificate.  So we will just have to return to sample the Muse vegan brunch again soon! 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Basil Cashew Cream Two Ways

When we were out West a couple weeks ago, we visited the home of friends and spent tons of time hanging out in their back yard.  We admired all the lovely veggies they had planted in their garden, which of course led to them sending us home (on a plane!) with tons of kale and chard. 
Fortunately, the greens survived the trip.  But that also meant I needed to figure out what to do with them.  Feeling the need for wintery comfort food, I opted to use them in a pasta dish.  I sauteed the kale and chard with garlic and onion, then tossed the cooked greens with pasta and a basil cream sauce I adapted from my standard cashew cream version.  In addition to the usual cashew cream ingredients, I mixed in some fresh basil leaves.  You could definitely taste the basil in the sauce, and it made the whole dish taste a bit lighter and fresher (a bit ...). 
The next day I ran out to grab ingredients to use up the basil cashew cream in a whole new way - with roasted veggie sandwiches.  I roasted zucchini, red pepper, eggplant, and onion in the oven for about forty minutes (flipping halfway through), then used the basil cashew cream as a spread on the French bread.  The spread gave the sandwich a tangy sharpness that was amazing.  This may have been a quick attempt to use leftovers, but I think I preferred it even to the pasta dish! 
Basil cashew cream sauce = big winner!