March 30, 2011

Restaurant Review - 'Snice

We have an official stand-in for Johnny here at The Odd Couple Eats! A couple weekends ago Johnny was out of town so I made dinner plans with my awesome cousin-in-law, Kelly. She is so much fun and always willing to try a new vegan place with me. In fact, it was she who suggested 'sNice, a place that she and her co-workers order lunch from on occasion! Good lookin' out, Kel! We went to their newish location in Soho at 55 Sullivan Street. The menu is all vegetarian/vegan (with the vegan options clearly marked) and they have many salads, sandwiches, coffee drinks and baked goods from which to choose. 'sNice to have options!
Kelly looks so Irish with that clover in the background! Cute!
Set in the coolest of neighborhoods, 'sNice is very low-key, more like a cafe than a restaurant. Despite the many vegan options, there really wasn't much of a debate for me, I knew what I wanted right away: the Tempeh Reuben. The tempeh is prepared much in the same way as tempeh bacon: marinated, sliced and (I think) pan-fried. It was served on multigrain toast and topped with sauerkraut, vegan thousand island dressing, and Daiya cheese. All I can say is YUM! It was so, so good! The bread was toasted to perfection, the cheese was melty and gooey, the tempeh was smoky and nutty, and having a vegan creamy-type dressing is a huge bonus. Kelly stuck with a sandwich she'd had before and knew she liked: the Brie, Pear and Arugula with raspberry mustard. It was just as good as she remembered it and she said the dressing was especially good. Before we left, I grabbed one of their vegan Chocolate Espresso cookies. Wow, was that thing awesome! Unlike most vegan cookies I've had, it did not resemble a breakfast bar. Instead, it was thin, crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle and it had entire roasted espresso beans. Wish I had grabbed about ten more! 

Tempeh Reuben with side salad
Kelly's Brie, Pear & Arugula with raspberry mustard and a side salad
'sNice is a great place for lunch, coffee, or a casual dinner. If I lived closer I would totally order delivery WAY too often! Soho and the West Village are such gorgeous parts of town, I will certainly make the effort to explore them more often and revisit 'sNice in the near future!

March 29, 2011

Recipes - Lebanese Feast!

I had the urge to cook a big meal on Sunday and knew that I wanted to veganize some of my favorite Lebanese dishes from old family recipes. Lebanese food takes a considerable amount of work, but it's so worth the effort. I remember my mom, aunt, great aunts, and grandma cooking for literally DAYS prior to big holidays. They'd diligently make hundreds of afthiad (little meat pies) by hand, roll many dozen "grape rolls" (grape leaves stuffed with ground lamb, rice, tomato and garlic), and knead dough to make mahmool (cookies filled with walnuts, dates and orange blossom water) for hours at a time. The cooking itself was a social event where the booze flowed freely and the gossip and laughter could be heard for miles. If there is one type of food that gets straight to my heart, it's Lebanese food.

My menu started with my version of afthiad which are small "pies" usually stuffed with meat, pine nuts, onion and lemon juice. My version has spinach, pine nuts**, onion and lemon juice surrounded by flaky, crispy Filo dough - sort of a spanikopita without the feta. I also made Lebanese-style green beans based on a dish called lubiyeh (but I left out the lamb shoulder, obvs). I love green beans this way, they are tangy, tomato-y, tender and so good! I wanted another small side dish, so I decided to make roasted red potatoes which I've made before. This time I took some tips from a recipe by VeganYumYum and they were honestly the best potatoes I've ever made! The fresh rosemary gets a little crispy when it's roasted and it just adds to the overall crispiness of the potatoes. When eaten together, this meal is low in calories and fat, has no cholesterol (as with all vegan foods), and gives you a ton of Vitamins A and C! For added protein, fiber, and iron serve with a salad topped with chickpeas.  

Check out those potatoes... FOOD PORN!

Quick note on my dessert FAIL: I tried to make Farina Cake. As soon as I started making the filling (walnuts, sugar, and orange blossom water) I was immediately transported back to my mom's kitchen! There is something so magical about orange blossom water, it has a scent and a taste that is distinctly Spring to me. You can find it at any ethnic food market (Kalustyan's in NYC is amazing and Caravan in Tucson has it), I highly recommend getting a bottle and experimenting with it in dessert recipes. Sadly when I halved the recipe I forgot to half the baking powder and my cake was ruined! BOO. Nothing worse than a ruined cake! I am still not convinced the other measurements in the recipe I have are correct, so I am going to experiment with this one a bit more before posting it.

Johnny's reactions? He loved the afthiad even though he is not a fan of cook spinach, he actually liked it in these (I love it when I can change his mind about something, it's like a tiny victory!). He agreed that the potatoes were the best ever and was sad there weren't more. He wasn't a big fan of the green beans which is weird because I made a similar dish a few weeks back and he liked that. He has a cold so he said his taste buds might be off.

I definitely came out of this meal with a few dishes that I will make again and again!

**I interrupt this blog-entry with a word about pine nuts. Most of you know that I suffered a strange phenomena last year when I ate a bad batch of pine nuts and was afflicted with... PINE MOUTH! What in the world is PINE MOUTH you ask? It all started on a warm, August day... (cue harp music)

I had decided to make an avocado pesto that called for pine nuts, as most pestos do. I purchased a small jar of pine nuts from a gourmet store near our apartment and went to work making the pesto. The day after eating this delicious meal, I awoke to find that everything I ate tasted horribly metallic and bitter! It lasted all day and into the next day. I was horrified! Could I be dying? I felt like the world was collapsing in around me!

I did a search on the internet to see if I could unravel this mystery. I quickly discovered that others had suffered the same fate as me... PINE MOUTH! According to Wikipedia, "The Nestle Research Centre has hypothesized that a particular species of Chinese pine nuts, Pinus armandii, is the cause of the problem. The suspect species of pine nuts are smaller, duller, and more rounded than typical pine nuts. This finding has recently been confirmed. Metallic taste disturbance, known as metallogeusia, is typically reported 1–3 days after ingestion, being worse on day 2 and lasting typically up to 2 weeks. Cases are self-limited and resolve without treatment."

Damn Chinese pine nuts! I had no choice but to go on, tasting the bad end of a battery every time I ate or drank anything. After about a week it simply wore off and I went back to my regularly scheduled life. Needless to say, it gave me pause to use pine nuts in my afthiad recipe, but those little morsels just add so much to this recipe! Luckily, I was able to find some that were imported from good old Italy. I am happy to report that there was no recurrence of PINE MOUTH this time! And now on to the recipes...

Afthiad in front, green beans on the right, and potatoes in the back. Yum!
Vegan Afthiad
Serves 4

3 cups frozen chopped spinach, thawed
¼ cup pine nuts
1 tsp dried mint
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste
6 sheets thawed Filo dough
Canola or Olive Oil Spray

Preheat your over to 400 degrees. Place your spinach in a colander and squeeze it until you’ve gotten as much juice out of it as possible. Place it in a bowl. Toast your pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until browned, being very careful not to burn them. Transfer to the bowl with the spinach and add in the mint, lemon juice, and salt & pepper. Mix.

On a counter, spread out one sheet of Filo dough. Spray it with canola or olive oil spray, then place another sheet of Filo on top. Repeat until you have three sheets stuck together with oil. Using a knife, cut the Filo into 9 equal rectangles. Spoon about 2 tbsps of spinach mixture into the middle of each rectangle. Fold into triangles by folding the bottom edge up toward the filling, then folding each top corner down diagonally toward the opposing corner. Transfer to a baking sheet that has been sprayed with canola or olive oil, then spray the tops of the afthiad.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown, flipping halfway through for even browning. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Nutrition info per serving: Calories 149; Total fat 6.7g; Saturated fat 1.2g; Trans fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 159mg; Carbohydrate 15.6g; Dietary Fiber 2g; Sugars 0.6g; Protein 3.7g; Vitamin A 38%; Vitamin C 2%; Calcium 6%; Iron 8%

Lebanese-Style Green Beans
Serves 4

3 cups fresh green beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 15oz. can diced tomatoes (or you can puree a can of whole tomatoes)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Juice of ½ lemon

Rinse the green beans and snap off the stems and ends, then snap the beans in half so they are bite-size. In a medium pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat for several minutes, then add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the green beans, tomatoes, and salt and pepper. Allow to come to a boil, reduce heat to low, then cover and continue simmering for 25 minutes, or until green beans are tender. When finished cooking, add the lemon juice and stir before serving.

Nutrition info per serving: Calories 95; Total Fat 3.5g; Saturated Fat 0.5g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0g; Sodium 56mg; Carbohydrate 15.4g; Dietary Fiber 5.6g; Sugars 7.4g; Protein 3g; Vitamin A 21%; Vitamin C 42%; Calcium 6%; Iron 7%

World's Best Roasted Potatoes
Based on this recipe from VeganYumYum
Serves 4

3 cups small, thin skinned potatoes, rinsed and scrubbed
2 tbsp olive oil
Parchment Paper
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
Salt & pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large pot with water to cover. Boil over high heat for about 25 minutes, or until a fork can easily pierce through an entire potato. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and brush it with about 1 tbsp olive oil. Spread the potatoes out on the baking sheet evenly and cut an “X” into each with a small knife. Use a potato masher or the back of a fork to gently press on each potato until it splits open. Drizzle another 1 tbsp oil over the potatoes and sprinkle with s&p and rosemary. Bake for 30 minutes or until parts of the potatoes have browned.

Nutrition info per serving: Calories 367; Total Fat 7.6g; Saturated Fat 1.1g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 28mg; Carbohydrate 67.8g; Dietary Fiber 6.3g; Sugars 5g; Protein 8g; Vitamin A 1%; Vitamin C 73%; Calcium 3%; Iron 14%

March 17, 2011

Road Trip - Philadelphia!

Johnny and I decided to take a spontaneous mini-vacay-shon to Philly this last weekend. We just needed to get outta town for a little bit and see some new sights. One of my favorite things about the east coast is that things are much closer together and you can catch a train to so many places! Train travel is so laid back and there is an old school vibe about it that I love.

We took the Amtrak from Penn Station to Philly's 30th Street Station on Saturday afternoon. It's only 90 minutes away which went by really fast. We then took a cab The Hotel Palomar in the Rittenhouse Square area which was absolutely beautiful! It's a relatively new hotel and is really gorgeous. The service was great and every member of the staff I encountered was so nice. The rooms... have you ever stayed at a hotel and wished you could live there? The layout, the view, the decor... every little detail seemed thought out and perfect. I took mental notes and plan to recreate the bathroom in my future dream home someday. What Johnny does in his mental future dream home  is his business.

Sweet, sweet hotel room...
The Rittenhouse Square district is very cool, lots of shops and restaurants to keep you entertained. I was surprised at how narrow the streets are in Philly and how small the blocks are. Since we didn't have a car, we walked a LOT, and nothing was ever more than 20 minutes away. And coming from the bustling metropolis of Manhattan, it was nice to find that even downtown Philly stays relatively quiet! There were times we walked around and barely encountered a soul... we both commented on how it reminded us of Tucson... but with a few more things to do. :-)

Anyhow, the first night there we went to the South Street area and ate at Horizons, an upscale vegan restaurant. I was a bad blogger and didn't take any pictures because the place is very dim and romantic. I guess I have to get used to being that obnoxious person taking pictures of every plate! The food was really, really good. Here's the rundown:

Appetizer: Crispy Skordalia Pierogies - Yummy, but very small. For $10 you get two pierogies cut in half... that's $5 per pierogie! We were also given some homemade foccacia with herbed oil which was quite delightful.

Hally's Main: Grilled Seitan - I was a bit gun-shy about ordering this as I had just had a bad seitan experience, but I was SO happy I made this choice! The seitan was sliced very thin and grilled and I swear it tasted just like skirt steak! Even Johnny was shocked at how much it tasted like meat and he was sad he hadn't ordered the same thing. It was served over yukon mash with a creamy horseradish sauce. Again, the portion wasn't huge, but it was a very well-composed dish that I would definitely order again.

Johnny's Main: Steak Spiced Seared Tofu - A little disappointing because, based on the name, Johnny expected this to taste meaty like my dish did. It was more of an Asian stir-fry presentation, but the flavors were very, very good. It had creamy brussel sprouts on top that Johnny liked even though he usually detests brussel sprouts, and smoked walnut farro underneath that was wonderful. He also got a side of truffle fries which were outstanding.

Dessert: Chocolate-Stuffed Beignets - Not very good. There were three donut holes and each had melted dark chocolate inside. Sadly, the chocolate was very thick and chalky and not pleasurable to eat. I think they should thin the chocolate out and make it more like a sauce or cream. The dish also had a small mug of hot chocolate on the side which was confusing - we didn't know if we were supposed to dunk the dessert in it or drink it. We didn't finish the three donuts and for me to leave anything fried and chocolate-y on a plate speaks volumes.

Overall: I was impressed with what Horizons has done with vegan cuisine and I would definitely recommend you stop by if you're in the area.

We then walked around South Street for a bit, stopping at a comic book store and having a few drinks at an Irish pub. They had $5 Irish Gingers (Jameson's and Ginger Ale) that were served in gigantic glasses - I had two and was feeling very Irish! We then made our way back to Rittenhouse Square and went to Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. This is a "modern speakeasy" similar to PDT and Milk & Honey here in NYC. While you don't need a reservation to get in, you do need patience because they adhere to a "no standing" policy - they only let in as many people as there are tables available. And boy are they serious - one of the Philadelphia Flyers showed up while we were waiting and the doorman nicely told him that he would have to wait in line with everyone else. We only had to wait 20 minutes or so and it was well worth it. The decor is sleek and simple with leather seating, marble tables, and low candle light throughout. The waiters are all dressed like old timey barkeeps with vests, suspenders, and bowties. They make an effort to find out what you like and point you in the right direction on their extensive drink list. I ended up with the Fizzy Izzy which was made with whiskey, pineapple juice and some other ingredients that I can't quite recall. Johnny didn't know what to pick, so he told the waiter what he likes to drink (scotch) and he was presented with a Manhattan-type drink. He was very happy and it was a lovely spot for a nightcap.

Comic book store on South Street. Johnny got a Contra t-shirt!
On Sunday, we started the morning at Marathon Grill. Apparently, this place is a bit of an institution in Philly and has quite a few locations. It was very busy, but the service was great and the food was very good. I got the Tofu Scramble, which said "dairy-free" right on the menu - gotta love that they make it easy! - with homefries and toast. It was a little greasy, but still good. Johnny got a croissant sandwich filled with decidedly non-vegan food stuff and he absolutely loved it.

Breakfast a la Marathon Grill
We then ventured to the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. This is a building on South Street that artist Isaiah Zagar turned into a massive art piece. Last year, we saw a documentary that his son made about him called "In a Dream" that I highly recommend, so we were thrilled when we figured out that the building Isaiah is working on in the film is in Philly and is open for tours! There are several large-scale mosaic murals by Mr. Zagar in the area around Magic Gardens, as if to prepare you for the intensity of the Gardens. As you approach the building, you start to see it: bottles, dishes, tiles, any and everything made of glass or ceramic, some broken and some whole, and all held together with bright white mortar. 

Entrance to The Magic Gardens
There are two parts to the Gardens: the interior of the building and the outdoor courtyard. The interior of the building functions as a museum and gallery and there is a basement and several large rooms that are absolutely covered in mosaics. There were a few childrens' programs going on that day and kids were creating mosaics and being given tours. 

I think if the Alamo had a basement it would look like this
and it would definitely house Pee Wee's bike.
Outside, there are steps and paths that lead you in, out, and all around the massive courtyard, and each inch is covered with Mr. Zagar's creations. There are bicycle tires, plastic flowers, and other odds and ends added into the mix. We overheard one of the tour guides saying that when Isaiah ran out of surfaces on which to create, Mr. Zagar starting digging and building upwards, creating the labyrinth-like courtyard that stands today.

I fully expected for David Bowie to jump out from around a corner. 
It is such an amazing and inspiring place and I'm so glad we got to visit. And later, as we walked down South Street, we saw Isaiah Zagar making his way to the Gardens, so we took the opportunity to steal a picture!

What a badass!
Later that night, we headed to Monks' Cafe for dinner. I read about this place on Yelp and knew we had to give it a try. There was a bit of a wait (it seemed to be the only place open on Sunday night) but we got a spot at the bar and sampled some of the Belgian beer in which they specialize. Once seated, I ordered the Vegan Burger with carmelized leeks and sauteed mushrooms. It was really, really good and was served with their "award-winning" Belgian fries. Johnny took advantage of the fact that we weren't at a vegan restaurant and tried the Mussels and Fries and the Chicken and Apple Sausage sandwich. I don't think I've ever seen him eat so much! We both loved it.

Monday we got a late start, so we walked to Reading Terminal Market, where I was told we could get a cheap lunch. Unfortunately, we arrived just in time for lunch hour, and the place was SWAMPED. This is a big indoor marketplace with produce vendors, butchers, and even Pennsylvania Dutch stands (sadly those are closed on Mondays). It's a bit like a giant food court with around 20 different stands offering different options and a big seating area where you take your food to eat. Johnny finally got a genuine Philly Cheesesteak and definitely enjoyed it. I was not so sure what to get. There was a stand called Basic 4 Vegetarian, but nothing stood out to me and the line was ridiculous. I started with a banana and pineapple smoothie from the smoothie stand and then wandered a bit. I finally decided on a Vegan Vegetable Wrap from one of the deli stands. It was nothing to write home about and I think I ate less than half of it. I'm sure this place would be impressive for meat-eaters, but for a vegan it's really not that great. :-(

We then walked over to the historic area and saw the Constitution Center, Independence Mall, and the Liberty Bell Center. When I say "saw" I mean we walked through and didn't even go in any of the buildings! It was such a dreary day and the commercialization of our nation's history was a bit depressing. Plus there were a bunch of horse-drawn carriages, which put me in a stinky mood. We'd have been much happier at the Museum of Art, but they close on Mondays. Bad planning on our part!

One of the many INSANE murals we saw. The public art in Philly is great!
We caught the train that afternoon and were both very happy to see Manhattan as we approached it. It's amazing how a city this big can feel like home! I hope we get to visit Philly again as there is still a lot we didn't get to do (so bummed we didn't get to try Sweet Freedom!) and it is a really awesome place.

Recipe - Masoor Daal

Before I start this post, I want to take a second to start a convo with anyone who may be reading and appeal to you to give me some feedback! Are there any types of food you'd like to see me cover (Italian, Asian, etc.) or specific recipes you'd like veganized? Would you like more gluten-free recipes? As a blogger, I sometimes feel like I'm sending this stuff out to the universe and I don't know if anyone is reading. So if you are, let me know! I know you can't become a follower of my blog unless you have a Google account (lame), but you can still comment on any post even without a Google account. I plan to start a separate Facebook account for the blog, too, so it'll be easier to tell when I've posted something new. But in the meantime, let me know if there's anything you'd like to see more of - that is, as long as it's vegan. :)

And now for the recipe. Indian food has quickly become one of my favorite cuisines since becoming a vegan - samosas, curries, chickpeas, okra, eggplant... it's vegan bliss! We are lucky to live in the Murray Hill neighborhood of NYC which the locals have affectionately dubbed "Curry Hill". I have never seen so many Indian restaurants in my life! During the walk from our apartment to the subway I encounter no fewer than a dozen Indian restaurants, making for some... interesting smells first thing in the morning. I have happily sampled a handful of these restaurants while I remain skeptical of others such as "Curry in a Hurry": steamtables and freakishly fast service? This may be why Indian food conjures images of doubled-over gut-clenching sprints to the nearest bathroom! For this reason Indian food has sadly gotten a bad rap with some. But don't be deterred my spice-phobic friends! I have a wonderful recipe for a mild Indian dish called Masoor Daal that is sure to please your palate.

Masoor Daal really just refers to the main ingredient of the dish - red lentils. They are combined with some spices and simmered until the lentils break down. The end result is a stew-like dish that is delicious when served over brown basmati rice. It's low in fat and calories, but a great source of iron and protein.

Oh, and Johnny wasn't able to eat much of this because I keep forgetting he's not supposed to eat lentils (oops!), but he did give it a taste and was mournful that he couldn't have more. And he's one of those people that generally avoids Indian food like the plague!

(No picture this time, Johnny looked at the pic I took and went "....Eww." It may not be pretty, but it tastes really good!)

Masoor Daal
Serves 8

2 cups red lentils (a.k.a masoor daal)
6 cups water
1 small white or yellow onion, diced small
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala (a spice blend that you can find at any ethnic food store)
2 tsp marjoram or coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 of a 16 oz. can of diced, peeled tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 tsp fresh ginger (peeled and diced)
1 tbsp Earth Balance

Rinse lentils and pick out any stones or twigs. Place into a large pot and cover with 3 cups of water. Add in all other ingredients and stir together. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the remaining 3 cups of water and stir. Bring back to a simmer and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Add in the Earth Balance and continue simmering for 5 minutes or until you have achieved your desired consistency (the daal should be a bit thicker than soup). Allow to cool and serve over rice.

Nutrition info per serving: Calories 157; Total Fat 2.3g; Saturated Fat 0.3g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 302mg; Carbohydrate 25.7g; Dietary Fiber 11.6g; Sugars 0.8g; Protein 9.6g; Vitamin A 0%; Vitamin C 3%; Calcium 1%; Iron 13%

March 8, 2011

The PPK's Chewy Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

What better way to follow-up a preachy post about veggies than with a recipe for cookies? Even vegans have unhealthy cravings, what more can I say? It started on Saturday when Johnny and I decided to check out a restaurant in the East Village called Quantum Leap. I was a little bummed when I realized Scott Bakula was not a server, but all was redeemed when I saw that they serve vegan banana pecan pancakes! That with a side order of "soysage" made for one of the more memorable breakfasts in my recent past. Johnny opted for the vegan blueberry waffles with scrambled eggs and soysage links. Yum!

Then Sunday night, I was watching "It's Complicated" (don't judge me, I have a penchant for love stories involving 60-year-olds) and there is a scene where Meryl Streep and Steve Martin are on a date. It's late at night and they've indulged in a bit of... ahem... *smoking* and she takes him to the bakery she owns and tells him she will make him anything he wants. (Basically my dream date.) He wisely chooses a "warm chocolate croissant" and she proceeds to make it from scratch. He nearly dies when he takes his first bite.

That was it, I had to bake something immediately! I settled on these cookies from The Post Punk Kitchen and wowie zowie, I was not disappointed! These suckers fulfilled every chocolate fantasy and I just had to share the recipe. Try not to look at the nutritional info, it'll just harsh your sugar buzz. These actually turn out pretty sweet, so in the future I may only use 1 1/2 cups sugar and unsweetened almond milk... ya know, to make them "healthy"! And Johnny is a fan, though next time I may half the recipe so we don't eat 24 cookies between the two of us. Maybe they'll freeze well?

No these aren't hamburger patties, they're delicious cookies!
Chewy Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yields 3 dozen (mine only yielded 2 dozen and they weren't that big)

3/4 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon whole flax seeds (I used ground flax seed)
1/2 cup soymilk (I used vanilla almond milk)
2 cups all purpose flour (I used white whole wheat flour)
3/4 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips (make sure they are vegan!)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grind the flax seeds on high in a blender until they become a powder. Add soymilk and blend for another 30 seconds or so. Set aside. **Note: Rather than dirty my blender, I just whisked together the ground flax seed with the almond milk for a few minutes and set aside to thicken. This will only work if you are starting with ground flax seed though.**

In a large bowl sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a separate large bowl cream together oil and sugar. Add the flax seed/soy milk mixture and mix well. Add the vanilla. Fold in the dry ingredients in batches. When it starts to get too stiff to mix with a spatula, use your hands until a nice stiff dough forms. Add the chocolate chips and mix with your hands again.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and flatten into a disc that’s about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet about an inch apart. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes, then set them on a wire rack to cool completely.

Nutritional info per cookie (based on a 2 dozen yield and the ingredient swaps I used): Calories 215; Total Fat 10.9g; Saturated Fat 2.8g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 103mg; Carbohydrate 31.1g; Dietary Fiber 3.5g; Sugars 20g; Protein 2.3g; Vitamin A 0%; Vitamin C 0%; Calcium 2%; Iron 6%

March 3, 2011

Veggie Monster Pizza

Sunny days, sweepin' the clouds away, on my way to where the air is sweet... Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?

Oh my goodness, were you all as obsessed with Sesame Street growing up as I was? I remember that every day, no matter what was going on, my mom would turn on Sesame Street and it held my complete attention for thirty minutes. Even the song takes me back to those happy memories and makes me want to go run through a field somewhere. Some of the characters - Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Telly - were recently featured on an episode of Top Chef Masters, and I was surprised at the effect that they still have on me! They made me laugh so much that I felt like a kid again!

But the whole thing got me to thinkin'... what if Cookie Monster had been Veggie Monster? I think Sesame Street does a great job in teaching kids about proper nutrition, but one of their most loved characters is a stark raving lunatic for one of the unhealthiest foods out there. I think the funny thing about Cookie Monster is his total lack of control when it comes to cookies, but if you replace the cookies with veggies or fruit, is the humor lost? I don't think it would be and the message we'd be sending our children would be invaluable.

Does this make you love him any less? DOES IT?!?
Growing up, my parents both worked full-time and we were always on a budget. Dinners weren't always the healthiest and we had a lot of Hamburger Helper and fast food. Goodness knows they did their best, but there wasn't a lot of focus placed on nutrition. I know so many families face the same challenge: you have to make your money stretch so you buy what you know will be filling and easy. But now that I'm older, I realize that I became addicted to certain foods - I was so used to the high fat, sodium, and sugar contents of restaurant and processed foods that whole, nutritious foods lost any appeal.

When I made the decision to go vegan, I really had no choice but to take my nutrition into my own hands and it has been a serious learning curve! I feel like I had to deprogram myself from craving those unhealthy foods and force myself to eat what is good for me. It took some time, but honestly I've come a long way. I literally crave vegetables now and I haven't eaten a hamburger in so long I think it would kill me to do so. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand the value and necessity of indulging sometimes (I still eat my fair share of potato chips and vegan ice cream!), but that should not be what we are eating three meals a day. I look back at even the school lunches that were provided in middle and high school and I'm shocked! Hamburgers, french fries, chimichangas, pizza... we're not even giving kids a chance when those are the foods we're offering them!

One of my all-time favorite comfort foods is pizza, but I haven't had a traditional piece of pizza since October. Instead, I visit one of the few restaurants in NYC that offer vegan pizza, or I make my own. I prefer to make my own because it's quick and easy and I'm in control of the ingredients. I never allow myself to use as much salt or fat as a restaurant would. And almost every grocery store carries pre-made pizza dough now, so there is really no excuse to not try making your own pizza sometime. I only buy whole wheat dough because the white dough is just too high in carbs, but I was thrilled to see that Whole Foods now makes multi-grain pizza dough with lots of iron and protein and very little fat! I used it to make this pizza, which I think my hypothetical Veggie Monster would totally dig and I think any kid would be pretty happy to have this for dinner, too!

Oh and Johnny was a big fan of this pizza! He said it was the best vegan pizza I've ever made, but I don't think he likes vegan cheese much as I saw him picking most of it off. If you don't like vegan cheese, try going totally cheeseless or use some part-skim mozzarella shreds - it'll still be way healthier than Pizza Hut.

"I want VEGGIES! Nomnomnomnomnom."

Veggie Monster Pizza

(Makes 8 big pieces)

Pre-made pizza dough
1/8 cup White whole wheat flour
Canola or Olive Oil spray

1/2 jar marinara sauce (check the ingredients and try to buy a low-sodium variety)
1 Yellow Bell Pepper, sliced into rings
1 Onion, sliced into rings
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 zucchini, diced
1 cup shredded vegan mozzarella cheese (I like Daiya the best)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. On a clean surface, sprinkle your flour and roll out your pizza dough. I use a rectangular cookie sheet to cook my pizza, so I roll my dough out in this general shape. Use more flour if necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. Spray your cookie sheet with a bit of oil and transfer the dough to the sheet. Spray the dough with a bit more oil. Bake for about ten minutes, remove from the oven, and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Once the dough is cool, spread your marinara sauce in an even layer on the dough, leaving some room around the edges. Sprinkle on half of your vegan cheese and then arrange your vegetables on the pizza. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting into 8 pieces and serving.

Nutritional info per slice: Calories 296; Fat 5.5g; Saturated Fat 1.1g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 474 mg; Carbohydrate 50.1g; Dietary Fiber 13.4; Sugars 4.6g; Protein 9.4g; Vitamin A 9%; Vitamin C 83%; Calcium 2%; Iron 14%

March 1, 2011

Soup and Smoothies Make Us Jedis!

Do you believe that you are what you eat? I do. I know when I am concentrating on cooking healthy, whole foods, I feel better and have much more energy. Now that I don't get protein, iron, and calcium from meat and dairy, I am always searching for other ways to incorporate  these important nutrients. This has made me a more informed and creative cook and is one of the many benefits of being vegan!

One of my go-to blogs for new and inspiring recipes is Little House of Veggies. Morgan is super creative in cooking vegan food for her family and often posts pics and videos of her adorable kids helping out! Just goes to show that being a vegan can be healthy at any age. My favorite recipe that I've tried from her blog is the Tomato and Vegetable Soup with Pearl Barley. Vegetable soup is great when you're watching your weight, because it's so low-fat and you can eat a lot and not feel guilty!

Look at all those veggies!
I usually make a few swaps to the types of veggies I use in this recipe: the original calls for asparagus, but Johnny can't eat it, so instead I use a 1/2 cup of frozen corn and a 1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame. Johnny is a huge fan of the barley in this soup (much to my surprise!) he says the consistency reminds him of little shrimp... not sure I agree, but I'm just happy he's eating my food. :-) This recipe makes a TON of soup, so just freeze whatever you don't use. I served this with a few pieces of french bread that I buttered with Earth Balance and put under the broiler for a few minutes. Okay, not the healthiest, but it's hard to have soup without bread to dunk in it!

I have also been making a lot of smoothies lately and we've both really been enjoying them! What an easy way to get a bunch of fruit (and even veg) into your diet. They make me feel amazing, like I could move objects with my mind, or win in a light-saber duel with Darth Maul. I buy frozen, organic fruit like berries, pineapple, peaches, etc and then blend them with bananas and some non-dairy milk (I like vanilla flavored almond milk). It's like a little bit of summer in the middle of a dreary winter - what's not to love about that? I also throw in some ground flaxseed for the fiber and omega-3 fatty acids and kale for vitamin C and calcium. You honestly can't taste anything but fruit and these additions make this an extremely healthy meal!  I have been using my immersion blender (a.k.a. stick blender) and the cup attachment that came with it is perfect for blending smoothies. I would tell you to give smoothies a try, but as Yoda says, "Do or do not, there is no try."

Yoda Approved!
(It's really hard to make a smoothie look good in a picture.)
Jedi Knight Smoothie

(Serves 1)

1/2 cup frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup frozen pineapple
1/2 banana
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
2-3 leaves raw kale

Toss all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth, or use your immersion blender like I do. Garnish with a paper umbrella, maraschino cherries on a toothpick, and suntan lotion.

Nutritional info: Calories 304; Total Fat 4.4g; Saturated Fat 0.4g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 91mg; Carbohydrate 64.6g; Dietary Fiber 8.1g; Sugars 47.2g; Protein 4.8g; Vitamin A 109%; Vitamin C 119%; Calcium 18%; Iron 13%

Book Review - Appetite for Reduction

For Your Consideration...
Bhutanese Pineapple Rice and Hoisin Mustard Lettuce Wraps
So did everyone watch the Oscars? What did you think? I surprised myself by seeing every Best Picture nominee this year with the exception of Winter's Bone, which I will have to check out soon. My favorite nominated movie was True Grit, I'm just a sucker for those Coens. My favorite category ended up being Best Documentary (feature length). I thought Exit Through the Gift Shop, Gasland, and Inside Job were definitely some of the best movies last year... yet another sign that I am becoming a hippie I guess. 

I thought this year's awards were a bit slow. I am a huge James Franco fan, but he seriously seemed stoned or exhausted during the show. Somehow his chemistry with Anne Hathaway was a lot better during the promos leading up to the Oscars, but totally fizzled on Sunday night. And the big award winners were very predictable, so that also made things a bit boring. The biggest shocker of the night was that I didn't cry once! Usually, someone's acceptance speech makes me blubber like a baby, but it just wasn't happening this year. (I did shed a few tears during Oprah's Oscar show yesterday, though. Those damn PS 22 kids are just so cute!)

Growing up, the Oscars were always such a big deal in my family. We'd always cook a fancy dinner and gather around the TV to root for our favorites. I like to keep the tradition alive and cook a nice dinner for the big night. This year, I decided to make a few recipes from a new cookbook I ordered. It's called Appetite for Reduction (Guns 'N Roses reference - sweet!) by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. For those not familiar with her, she's a bit of a goddess in the vegan community. She used to broadcast a cooking show called The Post Punk Kitchen from her tiny apartment in Brooklyn with Terry Hope Romero. The two of them wrote several cookbooks together, such as Veganomicon and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

Appetite for Reduction is a great book, because it focuses on low-fat, healthy vegan recipes. Sometimes vegan cookbooks can be all about taste and pay little or no attention to calorie and fat content. So far, every recipe I have tried from this book has been a success, so I highly recommend picking up a copy! My favorites are the Ginger Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Apples (woah!), Hottie Black Eyed Peas and Greens, and Black Beans in Red Velvet Mole. For Oscars night, I made the Hoisin Mustard Tofu Lettuce Wraps and the Bhutanese Pineapple Rice recipes (though I couldn't find Bhutanese red rice, so I just used brown jasmine). The lettuce wraps were awesome, I have never used yellow mustard in an Asian dish before, but the taste was surprisingly good! And pineapple with rice... it's hard to go wrong there.

Sadly, Johnny's schedule is all messed up because he was working on a big show for school, so he slept clear through dinner and did not get a chance to test out the food. But he's definitely been a fan of other recipes from this book, so I think it would get his stamp o' approval! If you want to try a few of Isa's recipes before you buy one of her books, head on over to The Post Punk Kitchen's site, there are tons of recipes and lots of helpful veganriffic info there. Enjoy!