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.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Vegan flapjacks

Some mornings I feel as if age has no meaning. Other mornings, I wake up and feel every month, hour, and second of my thirty-six years. Sometimes the thirty-six-ness is concentrated in certain body parts (in this morning, my right shoulder). Other times my sense of is more diffuse, and is experienced a general stiffness—or just a sense that life is short and I should be doing more with my existence.

However, while some days I feel old, I do know that I have never felt as old, as I did when I was twelve. I’ve written before about that annus horribles. I remember feeling as if my survival depended upon getting out of New Jersey as soon as possible. Thus, I concocted a plan to become a child actress, given that I would no longer have to go to school and just have a private tutor who would obviously let me do what I wanted—read entertainment biographies and write poetry—until I became sixteen and could quit school entirely.

I have to say that my mother was actually pretty sensible about my plan. Instead of reacting with horror, she suggested I try out for some local theater productions. Twelve to thirteen is a rather difficult age for a child actress, unless you’re particularly winsome and cute ( I was neither). However, fortune smiled upon my stage dreams, and a local dinner theater put out an open call for its dramatic production of Wait Until Dark.

Wait Until Dark, famously made into a film starring Audrey Hepburn, is about a blind woman who is terrorized by a gang of thugs, over which she ultimately triumphs by breaking all of the lights in the house, giving herself an advantage over their nefarious schemes. She makes her disability into a weapon and looks fabulous doing it, because she is Audrey Hepburn!

A secondary character is a mouthy, obnoxious girl named Gloria who first torments the blind heroine by rearranging the furniture, but eventually helps her defeat the evildoers. Gloria is a slightly tubby, awkward, bespectacled girl with few friends and an Attitude.

Please don’t think I’m being overly self-aggrandizing, dear readers, but let me assure you that in middle school, I was born to play Gloria.

Most dinner theaters cater to little old ladies and serve cake during intermission, but this dinner theater was in a Japanese restaurant called the Kobe, in a rather sleazy strip mall. The club was noted for its elaborate and incredibly strong tropical drinks and excellent sushi. Of course, my mother was always there during the rehearsals, but as I was the only child amongst adults in what was effectively a dive bar, the experience convinced me even more that I was very worldly and knowing.

“I take my coffee black,” I’d say as we sat in the green room at 10pm, bolstering ourselves with caffeine as we suffered through yet another run-through of the play.

The cast members were very nice to me—I remember one man was one of twelve children and had many interesting stories to tell about life in a large family that were nothing like Cheaper by the Dozen. Another man taught me how to use chopsticks to eat rice. But there was one night I distinctly recall that still surprises me.

I forget how the subject of vegetarianism came up—I was a vegetarian when I was twelve—it must have been when we were eating dinner. When they asked me why, I explained to them how much I was opposed to the cruel and inhumane conditions animals raised for food.

The guy who was playing the villain was aghast. “That’s not true,” he said. He was a bit of a Southern New Jersey cowboy type. “They’re treated just fine. Cows aren’t penned up. They run free until slaughter.”

“No, they’re fattened in feed lots,” I said. “And what about veal?”

The rest of the cast turned on me, pointing out the usual arguments about how animals eat other animals and blahblahblah.

What shocks me, looking back is that you must understand that I was TWELVE at the time. The venom that was directed against me by ever single member of the production astonishes me in retrospect.

I mean, there I was, feeling oh-so-sophisticated, wearing a sweatshirt that depicted a cartoon rabbit wearing roller skates. There was a friggin’ rainbow in the background of my puffy paint rabbit sweatshirt because it was still the 80s. My hair was in braids. I wore thick glasses. Surely the appropriate response, even if you are a devout meat-eater is: “Look, she's probably going through a phase and at least she’s not crushing on Ricky Schroder from Silver Spoons.” Yes, I thought I knew everything at the time, but isn’t that as much a symptom of being in middle school as acne?

Having been involved in the food Internet scene longer than I’d care to say, it still amazes me, even as a decidedly non-devout ‘pro-sustainability/meat reduction’ type of vegetarian, the venom that the topic can stir up, rather than reasoned disagreement.

While the cast and I never quite ‘made up’ about the topic the next day one member was reading a magazine with an ad from PETA, featuring a baleful looking cow in a veal pen. As a kind of apology, he put it up the advertisement in the green room, and there the photograph remained, watching the cast do the things that middle-aged actors do backstage—strip half-naked to squeeze into costumes behind sofas that smell like cats, tell inappropriate jokes, and complain about their weight.

I’ve written about this easy British oat cookie before, when making a version of it from Bon Appetit. If you need to make a vegan treat quickly, this is the perfect solution. The following is my recipe (approved of and requested, even by my Greek meat-eating family). Flapjacks can be made with either butter or a vegan buttery spread (like Earth Balance). Oddly enough, my British friends have always said to me that flapjacks are much better when made with margarine, and in a side-by-side comparison, I did find the vegan version to be slightly better.

Note: I know that Lyle’s Golden Syrup is rather an unusual ingredient in the United States, but it is available at most supermarkets in the baking section, and it has a wonderful flavor that is rather essential to the taste of a ‘real, proper’ British flapjack. This is after all, a four ingredient recipe, though you are of course free to substitute. For vegans, acquiring a jar of Lyle’s is particularly worthwhile, because it makes a great stand-in for honey.

Vegan British Flapjacks
The vegan kind made with Earth Balance is on the left. Right is non-vegan, with butter.

Ingredients

1 stick of Earth Balance or regular butter
1/2 cup of organic brown sugar (make sure it’s not filtered with bone char if you’re serving it to vegetarians or vegans)
1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
2 cups quick-cooking oats
Earth Balance sticks are shorter but fatter than regular sticks of butter.  Don't be freaked out!

Procedure
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 9 inch round cake plate with parchment paper.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stirring in the sugar and syrup. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the oats. Remove from the heat.
3. Pour the oat mixture into the saucepan. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
4. ‘Score’ into 8-12 triangles. Mixture will still be soft. Wait several more hours (preferably overnight) and then cut and serve.
Easy, and full of crispy, oat-y deliciousness, regardless of what kind of butter you use!