Saturday, February 26, 2011

Vegan Tofu Curried Salad


Eventually, every vegetarian is confronted by the specter of tofu.
$1.49 at Wegmans: Because of a lack of attractive designer recyclable bags,I always feel a bit uncomfortable shopping at Whole Foods

I'm often asked: "So what do you really eat? Tofu?"  I must confess that if I were able to derive all my necessary nutrients from Snickerdoodle batter and peanut butter eaten straight from the jar, I would be a happy woman.  When I first stopped eating meat at age thirteen, my greatest sacrifice was having to switch from Oreo cookies to Hyrdox, because Oreos (back then) contained lard.  However, woman cannot live by chocolate alone (or so I have been told).

Truthfully, I don't understand why tofu has such a bad reputation. In many areas of the world, even meat eaters enjoy eating tofu.  Believe it or not, there are actually meat-based dishes that contain tofu. True, on its own it's not a particularly attractive ingredient.  But then neither are boneless, skinless chicken breasts or strips of cut-up pulled pork.

Tofu, as far as I'm concerned, is the real 'other white meat.'
I think the other reason tofu has a bad reputation (in a very non-Joan Jett kind of way) lies in the fact that often people fail to drain it before cooking with it, giving it a watery or slimy texture.  Usually I put it in a strainer, perch it over a bowl.

Then I weigh it down with a plate and another bowl.  See?  Easy enough.

Tofu is a great absorber of flavor, which is why I love to use it in curry-flavored dishes.  Mixed with the vegan mayonaise 'Nayonaise' it's a great meat-based salad alternative.

Vegan Tofu Curried Salad
Makes 5-6 servings
Ingredients

1 package (14 ounces) of firm tofu, drained of water
5-6 tablespoons of vegan mayonnaise (I prefer Nayonaise)
1/4 cup of finely minced onion (red or white)
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup crasins (dried cranberries) or golden raisins


1. Mash the tofu, Nayonaise, onion, curry powder,  together.

2. Fold in the cashews and dried fruit until well-incorporated.

3. Serve on salad, on toasted whole wheat bread or pita slices.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Nature Valley Peanut Butter Granola Bars (Vegan) Clone


The peanut butter addiction started quite innocently, I recall. 

In fact, like many addicts, I didn’t fall in love with it at first bite. My mother’s version of the classic pbj was a thin dressing of Skippy, a chaste smear of Smucker’s jelly (often strawberry with seeds—ick), on RYE bread.   

My passion was likely kindled by my infatuation with sweets that contained peanut butter—Reece’s Peanut Butter cups, Reece’s Pieces, and Häagen-Dazs peanut butter swirl ice cream. The latter was particularly intoxicating, because when you first began to eat from the pint container, the ice cream and peanut butter would be virtually impossible to hack away at with your spoon. Then it would grow slowly softer, and by the time you finished the entire container, the black-flecked vanilla ice cream and peanut butter would be pleasantly pliant to the tounge, blending salt and sweetness together in pleasant, oozy goodness.

I had all the signs of addiction for many years. 

Needing more and more of a high to get a fix? 

Witness the pints of Häagen-Dazs vanilla AND chocolate peanut butter ice cream in the refrigerator—plus a fondness for both kinds of peanut butter-flavored Girl Scout cookies. 
 
Lying about my level of consumption?  Even to myself? 

“I’ll just even off that jar, so the top is nice and smooth before I put it away.”  Even off the jar into oblivion, that is!   

Partaking in your fix upon getting out of bed?

 Have you ever stuffed cinnamon raisin toast with marmalade and peanut butter?  Or had a peanut butter ‘crunch’ chocolate doughnut for breakfast?

Fortunately, I’ve lost my taste for most of those treats. However, I do have a bit of fondness for one of the healthier incarnations of peanut butter snacks from my childhood— Nature Valley Peanut Butter Granola Bars.

Here’s a vegan, gluten-free clone I made that I like even better than the commercial variety—and it’s made from scratch so there are even fewer ingredients in it than in the original bars.

Ingredients

 3 / 4 cup of natural, crunchy peanut butter (I used Crazy Richard’s—choose a brand that’s very oily, to make sure the bars don’t turn out dry)
1 / 4 cup organic brown or turbinado sugar
6 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup (you can use honey, but the bars won’t be vegan)
2 melted tablespoons of Earth Balance butter substitute (again, you can use butter if veganism isn’t of concern)
3/ 4 cup rolled oats (not instant)

Procedure
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a square or round 8x8 or 9x9 inch pan with parchment paper
  2. Melt the peanut butter, sugar, Lyle’s Golden Syrup and butter in a pan over medium heat until fully incorporated. Add oats, stir, then remove from heat.  
  3. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 30 minutes.  Remove the mixture from the oven (Mixture will still be slightly soft). Score into bars after cooling for twenty minutes, while still pliant.  Break into bars and cool on a rack or plate.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Snickerdoodle Blondies (Fearlessly Easy)



When I was living in Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, I befriended a couple known as ‘The Simons.’  Simon and Simon were the sort of men who made me feel terribly gauche and American, even though they were the first people who really welcomed me into their home after I transplanted myself across the pond. 

Despite growing up in tiny, working-class towns in the North of England and the Midlands, both Simons had successful, rather glamorous careers, one as a television producer, the other as a part-time actor and full-time employee for the local tourist bureau.  Both Simons spoke several languages, had lived all over the world,  and had a kind of effortless, easy charm in the way they talked. I loved hearing how while traveling in Spain the hotels where they stayed had no problem with the fact that they were partners, but were mortally offended by the fact that both of them were vegetarians. “The Spanish translation for vegetarian,” said one of the Simons, “is someone who eats chicken, rather than pork.”

I envied one of the Simons greatly, the television producer. Not so much his career (well, maybe a little). But his sense of confidence, daring, and utter absence of fear, which was clearly part of why he had become so successful, at such a young age.

There was a photograph on the mantel of the Simons’ house, featuring the television producer Simon holding a large, furry tarantula in his outstretched hands. “That was my graduation photograph,” he said, when I asked him to explain it. Apparently, he had recently ‘graduated’ from a class designed to wean people of their phobias, and his was spiders. The final challenge, after being exposed to photographs of spiders, plastic spiders, and spiders in cages was to hold a live spider for at least a minute, stroking the beast like it was a pet.

“Aren’t you glad I urged you to take the class?” his partner said.

I looked at the Simon in the photograph, at his gritted teeth and narrowed eyes.  His expression seemed to say: “You bastard, get this thing off of me,” although neither Simon swore very much.

If only my fears were so easily defined as spiders. As a small girl, I hated insects, but not enough to call it a phobia.  My fears have always been floating and diffuse—the dark, insects, getting on the wrong bus to go to school...I suppose the most constant fears in my life have always been very physical and continue to be so—I recall my fear of diving headfirst when I was on the swim team, my current fear of doing a headstand in yoga class, and the fear of riding fast on a horse that is slowly but surely being extinguished by my exhilaration of doing a brief canter around the arena.

Of course, you could say that I’m thirty-six-years old and hardly an aspiring Olympian—what does it matter if I never get over any of these fears?  But it’s hard not to see these fears as a metaphor for my life, a fear of losing my head (supposedly the only thing about me that is remotely interesting), that fear that has always been my greatest obstacle in my path to success.  If only there was an aversion therapy, a phobia class where I could take my fear of the unknown and letting go. If only I could touch that fear, pet it, and cradle it like a spider!

A woman in my yoga class, an interior designer, wrote a blog post of her own about overcoming fears.  It’s not my place to speak for her, so if you want to read what she wrote, you can read about it on her blog.  However, it was nice to know somehow that I'm not the only one who occasionally things "oh shit, you want me to--what."  Of course, the challenge is overcoming that mental barrier, and making myself physically strong enough to do so...

Anyway, in thanks for her post, I decided to bake some Snickerdoodle blondies for my friend.  These were so good I immediately had to bake a second batch for myself.  The original recipe can be found here, but I made some small changes, like using white whole wheat flour and raw sugar rather than all-purpose flour and brown sugar.  I also omitted the nutmeg, preferring to let the cinnamon stand on its own.

These are fearlessly easy to make, even more so than Snickerdoodle cookies. The only worry you need to have is the danger of consuming more batter than actually ends up in the pan.  I always think recipes should have a rating on 'batter taste quality,' and this one is a clear A+.  And it makes the house smell lovely, like cinnamon raisin toast on speed.

Ingredients

The base
2 2/3 cups white whole wheat flour (original recipe says all-purpose, but I usually substitute white whole wheat flour in everything)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar (the original recipe says brown, but I just used unrefined Florida Crystals sugar)
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, beaten


Topping
2 tablespoons sugar (I used Florida Crystals brand sugar)
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a square pan (I used a 9X9) with parchment paper.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. 'Cream' the butter and sugar together, add both beaten eggs.
4. Mix in the bowl of dry ingredients into the butter, sugar and egg mixture, incorporating slowly, until well blended.
5. Pour into the prepared pan.
6. Mix the 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of sugar together in a separate bowl and sprinkle evenly onto the top of the batter. (Note: The mixture seemed like quite a bit to cover a small pan but it did incorporate nicely into the blondie when cooked).
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Alicia Silverstone's "The Kind Diet" Pumpkin Bread


“Hey, Di! Remember me?”
“Um, are you the chick that wipes down the yoga mats at my gym?”
“Noooo…..Dionne, c'mon!”
“The girl that I pay to do my daughter’s homework so she’ll get into Harvard? My Shiba Inu walker?"
“We went to high school together!”
“Oh yeah, you were one of those complicated chicks who used to hang out in the band room, listening to Meat is Murder by the Smiths and playing ‘EZ arrangements’ from Les Miserables on the trombone.”
“Have you been in touch with Cher? She wrote a book—The Kind Diet!  I’m totally buggin’ that she’s become vegan.  You know, I’m a vegetarian.”
“That’s no excuse for not getting a manicure, Mary.”
“Have you tried any of her recipes? Now, I am totally loving the first half of the book. I loved reading about her journey to veganism and trying crazy celebrity diets before going vegan—like her story of going raw in the middle of a freezing New York winter. I can totally relate to trying to live on mango smoothies when it’s zero degrees out, just because you're on some crazy, obsessive diet. Vegetarianism seems so sane by comparison. And some of her nutritional info is pretty sound—like the fact that Americans drink more milk but have higher rates of osteoporosis than anywhere else in the world. Other parts of the book, like saying if you don’t brush the dirt off your vegetables, you can use that as a source of B-12 and coffee gives you wrinkles, not so much. (She does, however, suggest that you use a supplement given the depletion of natural bacteria with B-12 in the soil, due to commercialized agriculture.) Still, as celebrity diet books go, it’s way better than most.”
“Wait, are you still talking to me?”
“But back to the recipes, Di—some look really good. But the first one I tried—the macadamia nut pumpkin bread, I had some problems with. First of all, Alicia says that maple crystallized sugar is way better for you than other types of sugar, even unrefined raw sugar.  And maple sugar costs $6.99 for a tiny little package.  For the 2 cups of sugar I’d need to make the bread as written, I’d have to pay more than thirteen bucks even BEFORE I bought the nuts.”
“Girl, you sound like one of those poor people who call Whole Foods ‘Whole Paycheck’ and buy supermarket sushi.”
“I had some other problems too—the recipe calls for FIVE cups of canned pumpkin. Five!  Well, okay, Cher says fresh is better, but she does say you can still used canned. The bread took an hour and a half to cook because the mixture was so wet and sticky. And even then the bread was pretty  unremarkable, and totally overwhelmed by the macadamia nuts. I mean, one cup of WHOLE macadamia nuts—eating this bread was like eating a handful of nuts on top of a really, really super-sweet not very pumpkin-y loaf.”
“Maybe you should give it another try.”
“I did—I tried making banana bread, subbing banana for the pumpkin. That was better, using the five cups of banana, because it was a bit drier and cooked within 45 minutes, like the recipe was supposed to, but still the result was way sweet. Like Hello Kitty meets Betsy Johnson from the 80s-type sweet. And then there is the caste system.”
“The what?”
“Well, Cher divides the book into three levels of veganism. On the bottom of the totem pole are flirts, people just ‘flirting’ with veganism and reducing their use of meat-based products. There are recipes for them like vegan waffle, sausage, and cheese paninis. Next in the caste system are the vegans who avoid animal-products entirely. But the superheroes are supposed to be the best, the people who go totally macrobiotic, no more than one piece of fruit a day, no vegan convenience foods, and no sugar. They eat stuff like dandelion, bok choy miso soup.  I mean, I’m not sure I dig this rating system. You could be macrobiotic and still drive a Hummer, ya know?”
“Mary, you didn’t even 'get' the caste system in high school, so this is way over your head, girl. I'm outtie! And if you see anyone I know (which I highly doubt), don't let anyone know that I was shopping at Wegmans. I only come here to shop when I'm on the East Coast because my kid has developed an addiction to Frosted Flakes.  Stupid nanny."
The Kind Diet Pumpkin Bread


5 cups (!) canned pumpkin

2 cups maple sugar (I admit I used vegan, unrefined organic 'regular' sugar because of the expense of granulated maple sugar. I apologize if this makes the difference between the recipe 'working' and not working to Ms. Silverstone.)

2 tablespoons of flaxseed mixed in 6 tablespoons of water

1 cup nondairy 'nut' milk of your choice

3/4 cup safflower or other non-hydrogenated oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups spelt flour

3 teaspoons baking soda

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 cup grain-sweetened nondairy chocolate chips (I admit I left these out. Although I'm not vegan, I wanted to make sure that the recipe was 100 percent animal free, and even the vegan chocolate available in my area has a note on the package that it is processed on machines that also manufacture chocolates with milk solids).

1 cup whole (!) macadamia nuts

Procedure
1. Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare two 9X5 (large) loaf pans with nondairy butter, spray, or parchment paper to avoid sticking.
2. Combine the canned pumpkin, sugar, flaxseeds in water, oil, milk and vanilla in one bowl (your 'wet' bowl, and it will be very 'wet' indeed!). Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg together. 
3. Gradually incorporate the dry mixture into the wet, then fold in 3/4 of a cup of the nuts (and chocolate, if you are using chocolate).  Pour into the two loaf pans. Top with the remaining  nuts and chocolate. Try to avoid tripping on any small, hungry dogs in your kitchen at this point, given that macadamia nuts and chocolate are toxic to the species. (Spilling either in your kitchen would be a very 'unkind' way of cooking from The Kind Diet).
4. Bake until the top is firm and a toothpick can be extracted 'clean.'  Alicia Silverstone suggests this takes about 45-60 minutes, but it took 90 minutes for my loaves to cook, and my oven doesn't 'run cold.'
Even to long-term vegetarians like myself, flaxseed in water always looks pretty gross.

Option: I also made two loaves with 5 cups of mashed, overripe bananas. This recipe was actually more successful but still I wasn't that pleased with the taste. I still found the bread overly sweet and overwhelmed by the nuts.  It did, however, only take 45 minutes to cook.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

All-American Healthy Snickerdoodles


Today is Super Bowl Sunday! Back in my high school and college days, I never would have uttered the words with glee.  Because of my total athletic ineptitude, I tried to feign an attitude of being ‘above’ such cares as the NFL, NHL, NCAA—heck, even gym class. However, I always had a secret vice—I loved watching women’s gymnastics and figure skating, and equestrian events during the Olympics.  Gradually, the Olympics proved to be a gateway drug to following all types of sports (not having to play volleyball against people taller than 5’2 was also helpful in stoking my enthusiasm).

However, in recent years, regarding football, I sometimes experience a twinge—I still root on my beloved Giants, but I do sometimes worry about the effects of concussions on all players.  Hopefully, the League will begin to do something to address this in regards to tackling style and helmet design. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Mary, don’t you ride horses?  Well, yes, but there is one crucial difference regarding the danger level—the point of riding isn’t to hit your head. In fact, it’s generally something every rider wants to avoid.

But don’t listen to me, because my methods of risk analysis have never been particularly sound.  If football is an all-American sport, for many years I pursued another all-America pastime—not having health insurance. And to show that I am a true Yankee Doodle Dandy, it was because I thought I didn’t need it.  My rationale was as follows: I was young and my great-great grandparents on my mother’s side lived well into their nineties.   I was a vegetarian and a runner.  Although I am a very physically timid person, even after I lost my mother to cancer, I felt that being sick, really sick, was something that happened to other, older people. On the rare instance I needed an antibiotic, the visit to the doctor and the medication cost far less than even a monthly premium.

One day, in the summer, I arrived home from work, quite tired, and decided to take a swim before ‘turning in.’ I’ve never regretted taking a swim, I told myself.  After doing 30 or so laps, I decided I’d had enough.  My right ear was full of water, but when I tried to shake it out, the water remained stubbornly in the ear canal.
I remember showering and falling asleep, with my head tilted to the right, in hopes that the water would drain out over night. I woke up with the sound of the ocean in my ear.

 For the next day or two, I walked around with my head half-cocked.  By the third day, I was no better and I noticed that a strange amoeba-shaped rash had started to spread all over my stomach.
I asked my father to drive me to the doctor.  Driving had become difficult, given that the right side of my head felt as if it was being pulled down by a fishing weight.

“You always get upset over nothing,” he told me, but agreed.

I went to a walk-in doctor and asked for an antibiotic. “It’s tough living on your own, a single woman,” the doctor said, looking at my chart.  I explained to him I was sure I had an infection.  “It will go away,” he counseled, and when I showed him the growing amoeba, he said it was a rash from my bathing suit, even though I always showed immediately after swimming.

I finally got my antibiotic, mainly because I think the doctor wanted to get rid of me, and within a day or two, the pressure went down in my ear, as if my magic.

A year later, I had to have a pool company (ironically called The Pool Doctor) investigate a leak in my pool. When Dr. Pool Dude didn’t show up, I was surprised, given that The Pool Doctor was one of the most reliable companies I’d ever done business with in my experience as a homeowner.  The pool guy came, a week later, apologizing and saying he’d been in the hospital.  “I had this infection,” he said.  “This weird purple rash had spread all over my body.”

I have had health insurance since I was thirty, and while I hardly use it, I’m glad I have it.  In fact, I’ve even become one of those people who gets angry when she sees a close friend choose to suffer for months, rather than see someone, as if avoiding the doctor is a proof of one’s good health.  So for fuck’s sake, if you need to go, go (that means you B—)!

A happy and safe Super Bowl to both teams (But go Steelers!).  And happy and safe Super Bowl Parties to you all.

All-American, Healthy Snickerdoodles

(A truly all-American cookie, for the all-American pastime).

Adapted from the Hillbilly Housewife

Ingredients

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 /2 teaspoon baking powder
1/ 4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of butter or butter substitute (1 stick)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 /2  cup white whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar blended with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon

Procedure
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F
  2. Cream together the butter and light brown sugar.  Beat the vanilla extract into the egg and fold into the butter-sugar mixture. Sift the baking powder, salt, and both flours. Fold the sifted mixture into the ‘wet’ ingredients.
  3. The dough should be fairly stiff.  Roll into balls, approximately one tablespoon in size.  Roll in the sugar and spice mixture.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes.  Cookies will be slightly soft when taken from the oven, but will harden quickly. Can be served warm or cool.