April 11, 2012

Food Truck Review - Cinnamon Snail

I'd been hearing about this organic, all vegan food truck called the Cinnamon Snail for awhile now. Based out of Red Bank, New Jersey, the snail makes it way to different neighborhoods in Manhattan every Monday-Friday, serving breakfast and lunch. Sometimes they also appear at special events in the outer boroughs. Reading about their menu on-line was enough to make me drool: sandwiches like the Lemongrass 5-Spice Seitan and the Red Curry Grilled Tofu Banh-Mi; Raw Pizza; a Fiery Southeast Asian Salad; and of course, the pastries. Their name "Cinnamon Snail" refers to their giant cinnamon rolls, but they also serve a delectable variety of donuts, danishes, cookies, etc.

The only problem is that they go on a hiatus every Winter. I waited patiently through the cold months until they finally hit the road again. Last week I read that they'd be parked in Midtown West, pretty close to my work. I strapped on my tennis shoes and set-off in search of the bright red truck. The walk was longer than expected and by the time I got there, it was around 12:20, prime feeding time. The line was already developing. People had heard about the Snail and they were hungry.

On this particular day, they happened to be set-up in front of Random House and people were pouring out of that building in droves to stake their place in line. (Proud to report: no line cutters! Yay, Random House!) As I squinted to see the menu from my place in line, I heard others raving about what they'd ordered on previous excursions. I could see the pastries in the case at the front of the truck... they were so close, yet so far away. I busied myself on my iPhone and within about ten minutes, I was at the front of the line. I decided to order a bit on the healthier side and went with the Maple Mustard Tempeh Sandwich. But no vegan can resist a dessert, so I added a Vanilla Bourbon Creme Brulee donut for good measure.

Another ten minutes later, I had my order in hand and began the trek back to the office. The sun was beating down and I was hungry, oh so hungry. I was tempted to sit down on the sidewalk and scarf down my food right then and there, but a meal so special deserved the proper environment in which to be enjoyed. I patiently made my way through mid-town and finally arrived at my desk. I tore in. 

Why yes, I am available for hand modeling. That scab should heal soon. (Ugh.)
On one hand, I was hoping the sandwich wouldn't be too good, because it would only lead to a deepening desire for Cinnamon Snail in the future. But those hopes were dashed. This thing was delicious. The bread seemed homemade and was lightly toasted, the tempeh was marinated to perfection and was layered with fresh kale, even fresher tomato, and grilled onions. It even smelled fantastic; I caught a few co-workers peeking over their cubicles to see what the heck I was eating.  

I told myself I'd save the donut for later in the day, but two minutes later I decided that was dumb. There could be an earthquake. We could all be dead later in the day! The donut didn't fare too well in my walk back to the office, so I'm sparing you a picture, but it tasted pretty darn good. The grease stains on the paperbag it was in were a reminder of the calories being consumed, though. I think next time I'll order a simpler dessert. This was a bit too much of a sugar rush for a weekday afternoon.

How do you find out if Cinnamon Snail will be in a neighborhood near you? The best way is to follow them on Facebook and Twitter where they update you with their scheduled locations. Try to go early or late to avoid rush hour, or be prepared to wait 20-30 minutes. It's worth it.

I see they are parked on 47th and Park Avenue today... that's pretty close to work. No, I will eat my leftovers like a good girl. Maybe...

March 28, 2012

New Contest Winner

Hello! So Katie, the original winner of my Blissful Bites by Christy Morgan giveaway, never contacted me. Sorry Katie, I tried to give you lots of time to respond, but I had to choose a new winner. The new winner, chosen at random is...


Who wrote: "Fresh fruit is absolutely blissful!"

So many fruit fans around here! And I'm one of them.

aschwitters, please email me at hally dot thornton at gmail dot com as soon as possible and a new cookbook will be on its way to you! Have a great day everyone!

March 26, 2012

Recipe Testing

Just a quick peek at some of the recipes I've been testing for Isa. That's a homemade peanut butter granola bar with a smoothie that I had for breakfast one morning.

Don't they look pretty all browned in the pan? I didn't even really know you could make granola bars at home. And they're GOOD.
These are the Lunchbox Chocolate Chip Cookies. They're quite healthy (well, at least they're not unhealthy) and so yummy. Can't wait for the cookbook to come out so all of you can try the recipes, too! Have a great Monday!

March 25, 2012

Recipe - Zesty Chickpea Salad

You know the old saying, "Opinions are like a**holes; everybody's got one"? Well, chickpea salad recipes are to vegans like opinions: everyone has their favorite way to make it. I decided this week to come up with my own and I've gotta say... I kinda killed it!

In my pre-gan days I loved tuna salad from a certain deli in Tucson. One of my friends who worked there said that the secret to really good tuna salad is fresh dill. Since then I've been using fresh dill in everything I can sneak it into, I adore it! It is one herb that doesn't get enough love, so I knew it would definitely make it into my chickpea salad. I also like a lot of crunch in recipes like this, so I used celery, green onion, and (the dark horse ingredient) diced red pepper. I love the way the peppers burst in your mouth with each bite, they really add an unexpected flavor here. Finish it up with some fresh lemon, vegan mayo, salt and pepper and layer it on toasted multigrain bread with tomato and lettuce. SO GOOD.

I'll let Johnny's words speak for themselves: "Next time you make this, don't change ANYTHING." "You have to blog about this." "This is one of the best sandwiches I've ever had!" Oh, and we ate this for dinner two nights in a row. Unprecedented in our household! I served it the first night with a simple vegetable soup and the second night with roasted sweet potatoes. I had a ton of leftover cilantro in the fridge, so I made a cilantro pesto to go with the potatoes. Stayed tuned for that recipe in my next post! 

Zesty Chickpea Salad
Serves 6-8

2 cans organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, seeded and diced
2 tbsp fresh dill, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
5 tbsp vegan mayo

In a large bowl, mash the chickpeas until they are nearly all broken up, leaving a few whole. Add in all other ingredients and stir to combine. It's as simple as that!

March 19, 2012

Giveaway Winner for "Blissful Bites" by Christy Morgan!

Just a quick note to announce the winner of my giveaway from last week. The lucky reader who will receive a copy of Blissful Bites, the wonderful new cookbook from Christy Morgan, is.... Katie! She wrote:

Congratulations, Katie! I couldn't agree more, mangoes are way up there on my list of blissful foods. Please drop me a note at hally.thornton@gmail.com with your address and BenBella Books will send you your prize. Yay!

Also, I made the most AMAZING chickpea salad sandwiches for dinner tonight. Recipe for that coming soon. Have a great evening everyone!

March 15, 2012

Book Review and Giveaway - "Blissful Bites" by Christy Morgan

As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently sent a copy of Blissful Bites: Vegan Meals That Nourish the Mind, Body, and Planet, the new cookbook from Christy Morgan, to review. I have been following Christy on Twitter for awhile now and her comments never fail to make me laugh or inspire me to try something new in the kitchen, so I was interested to find out what her recipes would be like.

First, a bit about Christy: she is a vegan macrobiotic chef. She was trained at The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin. She teaches classes and gives lectures about how to change your life through healthy cooking. And she has a blog called The Blissful Chef where you can find tons of information about vegan cooking, recipes, etc. It's safe to say that this chick knows her stuff!

Now, onto the book... let me start by saying that it's absolutely gorgeous. I love that it is paperback rather than hard cover because it is easier for me to use in the kitchen and lighter to carry around. Christy's introductory comments pulled me in right away because it's quickly apparent that her food philosophy is very similar to my own. She urges you to listen to your body and feed it with the foods that make it feel best. When your diet focuses on fresh, organic produce, whole grains, lean proteins, etc. you just end up feeling better -more balanced, calm, and energized. It's not about stigmatizing foods and labelling them as "good" or "bad", but simply about being intuitive. There will always be a time and place for an indulgence or two, but the goal should be to stay away from caffeine, sugar, white flours and highly processed foods, since they tend to drag you down physically. Common sense, really.

I know all of that is easier said than done, but flipping through Blissful Bites, I was amazed at how many of the recipes called to me. Christy makes eating well seem very appealing and not at all like you're giving anything up. The book is divided into categories like "Breakfast and Brunch of Champions", "Delectable Vegetable Sides", and "Healthier Desserts You Crave". Each of those categories is further broken down by season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Anytime. This really helps you to focus on fruits and vegetables that are in-season and readily available. I love that! Cooking seasonally and locally is always a goal of mine, so this is right up my alley. 

Christy also marks each recipe with applicable icons for raw, gluten-free, soy-free, low or no oil, and less than 45 minutes making it very easy for people with special diets to quickly find recipes they can enjoy. Because Christy is also a private chef, she has marked some recipes as "Chef Favorites" and "Fan Favorites" based on those for which she's had the best feedback. And there are beautiful full-color pictures of most of the recipes, which always helps you to know that you're on the right track when tackling something for the first time.

I had a REALLY hard time figuring out which recipes to test first because they seriously all look so good! One in particular really stood out to me and that was the Veggie Stuffed Pasta Shells with "Mama Mia Magnifico Sauce" and Tofu Ricotta Cheeze. As someone who suffers from acid reflux, I am always looking for ways to cut down on trigger foods like tomato sauce, and the "Mama Mia Magnifico Sauce" contains no tomatoes whatsoever! I had to give it a try. The base is butternut squash (which is pretty genius, since it has a texture very similar to crushed tomatoes when it's cooked and blended) and it is given a red hue from  grated beets. I was surprised at how much it looked like the real thing! 

I knew it would be tough to get Johnny to try this one since he is serious about his Italian food. But I explained this was not meant to taste exactly like tomato sauce. Rather, it was more like a vegetable sauce that should be judged on its own merits. He finally gave it a shot and he totally loved it! I was equally impressed and coming away from dinner without that acid feeling in my throat was a big bonus.   

My lovely mother-in-law and brother-in-law were in town this past weekend, so I thought it'd be fun to make brunch for everyone one day. The Pumpkin Spice Pancakes sounded too good to resist, so I made up a batch of those and they were very well received. They are a great spongy, fluffy consistency and are perfectly spiced. Johnny was once again the lone holdout, busying himself with his fruit salad before daring to try the pancakes (I guess he has something against pumpkin due to his dislike of pumpkin pie). I left the room for a minute or two and when I came back, he had gobbled up three pancakes and also had his foot in his mouth.

I was a bit more hesitant to serve the Sizzling Tempeh Bacon to everyone as I knew my MIL and BIL had never had tempeh before. But they both really enjoyed it and my MIL even said she would cook it at home if I gave her the recipe! You can buy some pretty good pre-packaged tempeh bacon at the store, but it doesn't really compare to making it yourself. This version is slightly sweet, salty and smoky - the perfect accompaniment to any breakfast or brunch.   

I plan to cook many more recipes from Blissful Bites and highly recommend everyone pick up a copy for themselves. If you are lucky enough to be in one of the cities Christy is visiting on her book tour you should definitely go! Here are some upcoming dates:

Thursday, March 15th @ 5:30pm - Roots Market, Washington, D.C. - book signing with food samples

Saturday, March 17th @ 4:15pm - Whole Foods Tribeca, New York, NY - cooking class and book signing

Monday, March 19th @ 6:00pm - Sun in Bloom, Brooklyn, NY - dinner, cooking demo and book signing

Tuesday, March 20th @ 6:30pm - Whole Foods Market, Dedham, MA - cooking demo and book signing

For additional info on any of these events or for additional dates, visit Christy's web site here.

*** BenBella Books, the publisher of Blissful Bites, has graciously offered to send a copy of the book to one of my readers! To enter to win, just leave a comment below saying what blissful food is to you. The deadline to enter is Saturday, March 17th at 12:00pm EDT. Good luck! ETA: We can only ship to addresses in the US or Canada on this one. Sorry international peeps, I'll get you next time! ***

March 13, 2012

Vegan Sweet Treats

You may have noticed that there has been a lack of food related entries as of late here. A few reasons for that. First, I have been testing recipes for some upcoming projects for the lovely Isa Chandra Moskowitz (!!!). This is quite exciting as Isa has always been such a favorite of mine. She's written quite a few cookbooks that are essential to any collection such as Veganomicon, Vegan with a Vengeance, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, Vegan Pie in the Sky, and my favorite, Appetite for Reduction. Right now, I am testing recipes for her contributions to the upcoming Forks Over Knives cookbook (her contribution will be low-fat and low-sugar dessert recipes) as well as meals for her latest cookbook that will focus on easy weeknight meals.

I've also been cooking my way through Blissful Bites, the new cookbook by Christy Morgan. Her publisher contacted me to see if I'd be interested in reviewing her book and I jumped at the chance. Christy's food philosophy is very close to my own - lots of whole foods, veggies, fruits and nothing too complicated. The book is amazing and I'll be posting a full review very soon. I'll also be hosting a giveaway for a copy of Blissful Bites, so keep your eyes peeled!

*** Note that Christy's book tour is underway, so if you're interested in checking her out or attending one of her cooking classes, check here for dates and locations! More about this in my upcoming post, just want to give people a head's up. ***

Anyway, it's been nice not having to be too inventive in the kitchen the past few weeks, but the downside is that I don't have any new recipes to post here! So I thought I'd just share some of my favorite vegan treats that I've been enjoying between mouthfuls of Isa's healthy desserts and Christy's healthy meals. Everything in moderation, right?

On my way home from therapy on Saturdays (yes I go to therapy, I'm a real New Yorker now!) I always walk by this statue at the Polish Consulate's building. He looked so chilly on this day, I kind of felt bad for him. I was tempted to bring him a treat to warm him up. Then I realized why I'm in therapy.

Maple Leaf Sandwich Cookies from Trader Joe's. These are one of those "accidentally vegan" products and hot damn are they ever delicious! They are mapletastic and how they make the "cream" layer without using dairy is beyond me, but it tastes really good. They are very bad for you (like 5g-of-fat-in-each-cookie bad), but for an occasional treat they are perfect. I like mine with black tea and soy milk.

BTW, I use a nifty device called the AeroLatte to froth my soy milk when I'm having tea or coffee at home. It's really neat! You just warm up your milk in the microwave, froth it with the AeroLatte, then add in the tea or coffee. It feels more ceremonious and special than just pouring the milk in.  

Cookie Butter. Cookie butter originated in Europe under the name "Speculoos Spread". The name says it all - this is butter made from blended up Speculoos cookies. This stuff was mythologized by vegans because it contains no animal ingredients and vegans in Europe were always bragging about how good it is. When news hit that Trader Joe's was carrying their own version here in the States... well, let's just say if there was a "Vegans Gone Wild!" video series, the camera guys would be provoking us to show our naughty bits in exchange for a jar of this stuff. I have to say, the best way to enjoy this treat is with a spoon. It tastes just like a buttery cookie full of spices like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Delightful! It seems now that the original Speculoos Spread has invaded the U.S. and I've been seeing it in my regular grocery store packaged as Biscoff Spread. Do yourself a favor and try it sometime.

ARGO TEA. Has anyone else experienced this magical place? They are only in select cities for now, like Chicago, NY, St. Louis, and Boston, but I anticipate this place is gonna blow up in the near future. It's like Starbucks, but for tea, and way better. There is one near Johnny's school so he took me in one night. I don't know why I was skeptical (probably because it feels insane to spend $4 on a cup of tea), but I was quickly hooked. So far I've tried the Mojitea (an iced mint tea concoction), the Teapuccino (I got it with black tea, soy milk and vanilla flavoring - cracktastic!), and some sort of sparkling iced tea drink. They have sugar-free options for those watching your sugar intake (as I am obviously failing to do), and they have some yummy looking food including several vegan options.  If you're ever near an Argo Tea you should totally check it out. Oh, and they have coffee, too, but coffee is so passé.
Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate Marzipan Bars. I remember one year for Christmas, my Dad went all out and decided to make a cake that was covered in marzipan. He sculpted it to look like a giant present with a red bow and it took him hours! It was the coolest, yummiest thing ever and I've had a soft-spot for marzipan ever since. So when you fill delicious European dark chocolate with sweet almond paste, you really can't lose. This is one of my very favorite vegan candy bars and the best part is that it's so readily available. If I need a fix, I can always find them at Duane Reade or the grocery store.

Enjoy Life Mini Chips. These little guys are the best chocolate chips I've ever had, vegan or not. Luckily for me, they are dairy-free as well as soy and gluten-free. They are great in cookies and baked goods, but you can also just sneak a few from the bag if you have a sweet tooth. I've also melted some in the microwave with non-dairy milk and blended it with my AeroLatte for a perfect cup of hot chocolate.

So there you have it! I'll be back soon with that book review and giveaway!

March 1, 2012

Field Trip - Central Park and FAO Schwarz

We have been experiencing some freakishly warm weather in New York this year. While it's a little scary to think about the part that Global Warming may play in this (it's real!), it's also kind of nice to be able to get out of the house on the weekend instead of trembling under a blanket on the couch and watching "People's Court" episodes (Johnny is mildly obssessed with Judge Marilyn Millian). A few weeks ago, we decided to take a jaunt up to Central Park and soak up some nature, something we don't get nearly enough of in our Concrete Jungle-y lives. 

Central Park is pretty much my favorite place on earth. No matter how many times I go there, I always find something new to explore. This is the Turtle Pond, which should really be called the Duck Pond, because it's full of the most adorable little ducks! Check out that blue sky... I forgot the sky was actually a thing.

There's a little pier that you can stand on and the ducks will paddle right up to you, undoubtedly seeking food. 

We all know what this is... a memorial for everyone's favorite defunct toy store, "The Imaginarium". Remember that little entrance that was just for kids? Sigh... Just kidding! This is obviously the John Lennon memorial located in the Strawberry Fields section of the park. I'm a little embarrassed to admit I'd never been there before this day. We visited on a non-descript Saturday, but there were lots of tributes to Lennon laid out on the memorial and many people paying their respects. A couple of musicians nearby were singing and playing his songs on the guitar. Johnny said he always gets sad at this place, but I actually felt really hopeful. Lennon accomplished so much in his short life and his message is still so relevant. 

That's The Dakota, the building where John and Yoko lived for many years, and where he was shot. It's such a gorgeous building, but there's a definite darkness around it.

After the park, we walked to The Paris theater on 58th Street and took in a showing of "The Artist". It was the perfect venue to see it in, it's a really old theater and has lots of charm. The movie was also quite excellent, that doggie just slayed me!

On the way back to the subway, we happened upon FAO Schwarz. How is it that neither of us had ever been there?! We hightailed it inside and feasted our eyes upon all that was before us...

A statue of Indiana Jones made entirely of Legos? Yes, please.

A foosball table with Barbies as the players? Don't mind if I do!

Johnny wearing a Minnie Mouse hat intended for a small girl? Well, that's just a bonus!

February 10, 2012

Tofu Scramble Two Ways

Okay, I really don't know why it took me so long to make a tofu scramble at home. I love eating them out at restaurants (Blue Willow in Tucson makes my fave), but for some reason I was really hesitant to make my own. I guess I thought it would be difficult, but nothing could be further from the truth!

I had some extra firm tofu, spinach and mushrooms in the fridge one night and I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I decided to go for it and tackle the tofu scramble once and for all. After consulting a few recipes on the netz, I headed into the kitchen determined to defeat my opponent. And I succeeded! So much so that I made another one just a few days later. These are definitely going into the rotation.

Not only do these scrambles come together quickly, they are really versatile. Like I said, the first time I used mushroom and spinach - a classic combo - and kept the seasonings to what would compliment those flavors. The second time, I planned to add it to a breakfast burrito, so wanted to punch it up a bit. I added lots of diced red pepper, onions, more cumin than the first time. They both came out great! In the future, I think I'll try adding some Mediterranean flavors (kalmata olives, roasted red peppers) and serve alongside hummus, pita, and Greek salad. OR you could mix in Soyrizo, potatoes, and diced tomatoes and serve it with flour tortillas and avocado. If it's good enough for scrambled eggs, it's good enough for scrambled tofu. And don't be fooled into thinking tofu scrambles are only for breakfast. They're full of protein, but they're not too heavy, so it's the perfect fit for dinner. Besides, breakfast for dinner has always been one of my favorite things.

One tip: the drier your tofu, the more it will brown in the skillet. Once you remove the tofu from the package and drain it, be sure to press it for at least 20 minutes to get the water out. I do this by wrapping the block of tofu in a few paper towels and setting it on a plate. Then I place another plate on top and add some heavy objects - canned goods, a jar of pasta sauce - on top of that plate.

Johnny ate both of these right up! I had to coax him into eating the breakfast burrito - he doesn't like tater tots if you can believe it. But even he couldn't deny that the crispy potatoes, tofu scramble, and cool, creamy guacamole inside a warm tortilla was a little piece of heaven...

The makings of a damn fine breakfast burrito. YUM.

Mexican Style Tofu Scramble
(Makes 8 breakfast burritos)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 red pepper, stem and seeds removed and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 block extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Heat your olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and red pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Cut the tofu into large chunks and add to the skillet. Break it up with a spatula so that it resembles scrambled eggs. Add your spices and toss to ensure they are evenly distributed. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, allowing the tofu to get browned a bit. (A metal spatula works best for keeping the browned parts intact.) If you aren't seeing any browning, increase the heat a bit and continue cooking for a few minutes.

Serve with warm tortillas, tater tots, and guacamole!

Crappy cell phone pic! This is what happens when you are too hungry to take a proper picture.
Spinach and Mushroom Tofu Scramble
Serves 6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
½ pint of mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 block extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 cups fresh spinach

Heat your olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and mushrooms and cook for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Cut the tofu into large chunks and add to the skillet. Break it up with a spatula so that it resembles scrambled eggs. Add your spices and toss to ensure they are evenly distributed. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, allowing the tofu to get browned a bit. (A metal spatula works best for keeping the browned parts intact.) If you aren't seeing any browning, increase the heat a bit and continue cooking for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and add in the spinach. Stir in and allow to wilt for a few minutes.

I served mine with roasted sweet potatoes and a toasted Food for Life Brown Rice English muffin spread with Earth Balance. Those muffins are really good, BTW!

February 8, 2012

Field Trip - Jim Henson's Fantastic World at the Museum of the Moving Image

Today I'm going to kick off a new series of posts called "Field Trip"! Those two words bring such good memories to mind... permission slips, 18 passenger vans, and a whole day away from the classroom. Since we don't get to take field trips as adults, I love spending at least one day of the weekend running around New York City with Johnny and acting like we're in 3rd grade again. I'd like to share some of those adventures with you!

A few weekends ago, we made the trek to Astoria, Queens (really only an easy subway ride away from Manhattan. Well, easy except for the fact that someone had peed in the corner of our subway car. A delight for the nostrils!). Our destination was the Museum of the Moving Image and I didn't really know what to expect other than lots of Muppet-y goodness. They have an exhibit running through March 4th called "Jim Henson's Fantastic World" and being the Henson-philes that we are, we knew we couldn't miss this.

I have to say, this museum is FRICKIN' AWESOME! After paying admission and checking our coats, we booked it to the top floor to see what we came for. At the top of the stairs an old friend greeted us... 

Kermit the Frog here! Live and in person. We almost fainted! This guy is bigger than any celebrity in our eyes. He's so wise and kind and tiny and green and just a few notes of "The Rainbow Connection" brings both of us to tears. According to one of the video exhibits, Kermit was Henson's first puppet. He used a sock and some wire and spent hours practicing to get just the right facial expressions for Kermit using only his hand. So awesome that his very first character is still going strong! 
Aside from the videos, I had fun browsing the sketches of Henson's early ideas and seeing how they developed over time.  

The next room graced us with Rowlf! One of my very favorite Muppets. He is just the epitome of cool, right? Never flummoxed, always content to play his piano. A video in this room showed that Rowlf originated in a commercial that Henson did for Purina Dog Chow. Henson created puppets for a number of commercials throughout his career and some of them were hysterical! 

If commercials were still that cool, maybe I could give the "fast forward" function on my DVR a break.  

"Mahna Mahna - Doo doo doo doo doo! Mahna Mahna - Doo doo doo doo!" Talk about an earworm. That song will be in your head for daaaays now and you'll like it! Did you see the new Muppets movie with Jason Segal yet? If not, I highly recommend it. Like seriously, just go see it now and then come back. I'll wait...

Are you back? Wasn't it awesome?!?! One of my favorite parts is when everyone sings "Mahna Mahna" at the end. Maybe I'll post a petition on change.org to make it our new National Anthem. 

I somehow forgot that Henson did so much more than just The Muppet Show. In fact, Fraggle Rock was my very favorite show as a tot. Do you remember the old HBO promo that came on before every episode? I would get so excited as the TV screen swirled around the inside of the HBO logo because I knew that Fraggles were near! "Dance you cares away (clap clap), worry's for another day! Let the music play (clap clap) down in Fraggle Rock!" Sheer genius! It was pretty neat to see Gobo and Cantus in real life, though Red was always my bestie.

I loved seeing so many little kids at the exhibit discovering some of Jim Henson's creations for the first time. And there were many 30 somethings reliving their youths, just like us. I was very inspired to see how Henson started with just a simple idea, but he had the determination to bring all his visions to fruition. What a badass.

Creepy old make-up. Now with extra formaldehyde! 
We then explored the rest of the museum and we were completely taken aback by how cool it is! There is a permanent exhibit called "Behind the Screen" that is devoted to the technical side of movies: a collection of vintage movie cameras, sound recording equipment, make-up, wigs and costumes. 

Rwaaaaarrr! Rarrwaaaarrr!
There was also a booth where you could go and dub your voice over a scene from a movie (we found out that Johnny is terrible at voice acting!). My favorite installation was "Tut's Fever", a "working movie theater that pays homage to the ornate, exotic picture palaces of the 1920s." There is a ticket booth, concession stand, screening room, and secret passageways.

That, sir, is a Cosby sweater! A COOOOSBY SWEATER! (And Annie Hall's costume)
In summation, I know the "Sh*t New Yorkers Say" video proclaims that "No one goes to Queens", but if you live in the area you must make an exception and get over to this museum a.s.a.p. I promise you'll have a sensational inspirational celebrational Muppetational good time! (Honk)

February 6, 2012

Our "Superbowl Sunday" Eats

I put "Superbowl Sunday" in quotes because our household isn't really sports oriented. I  used to be a die-hard hockey and basketball fan, but over the years the appeal of sports has dwindled for me. I guess I just don't really get it... a bunch of dudes earn millions of dollars for running up and down a field with a ball. Fans get all excited when the team who happens to practice and play in the city/ state where they live wins. But really none of it matters because next year a new season will start and every team will have a chance to win the big trophy again. I'm being a little flippant and nihilistic I suppose, but it seems like there are so many people more deserving of money and accolades than athletes. Teachers for example. Where are their six figure contracts and merchandising deals?  

Needless to say, the only parts of the Superbowl we watched were the halftime show (my curiosity always gets the best of me) and a few commercials here and there. Otherwise, we devoted our time to Puppy Bowl VIII on Animal Planet and I whined and moaned about how we don't have a canine companion in our lives. Those dogs are just so freaking cute! I kept hoping one would come through the screen and bound into my arms. (sigh) Someday we will adopt a dog, I promise you this!

I did end up spending most of the day in the kitchen, but I didn't exactly cook Superbowl fare. I made some completely mind-blowing breakfast burritos in the morning (more on that recipe in the next few days) that made my tummy very happy. For dinner, our appetizer was already planned. Johnny's mom sent us a gigantic assortment from Alfonso Gourmet Olive Oil and Balsamics in Tucson and we had been patiently waiting to crack into it until Sunday night. 

I broke up a fresh baguette and we got to work mixing and matching flavors to our hearts' content. My absolute favorite thing in the whole world right now is the Peach White Balsamic Vinegar. DUUUUUDE. I mixed it with a bit of their Manzanillo Extra Virgin Olive Oil and almost had a stroke it was so good. I am absolutely going to be ordering a full bottle of that stuff once the sampler runs out. I'm dreaming up vinaigrette recipes already. It will be perfection on summer salads! Our other favorites include the Espresso Balsamic Vinegar, the sweet and thick Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (I really want to try this on ice cream!), and the Tuscan Herb Infused Olive Oil. But honestly, all of it was delicious. Thanks, Mama Mo! Such an awesome gift!

While we could have easily made dinner out of nothing but bread, vinegar and oil, I thought we should try to get something a bit healthier into our panzas, too. I'd heard wonderful things about the Mango BBQ Beans recipe from Appetite for Reduction, one of my favorite cookbooks. I felt a little guilty buying a mango in the middle of winter, but whatever. Sometimes you just need some out-of-season, far-from-local fruit! I served it over some quinoa and I sauteed a big bunch of kale and drizzled that with some of the Tuscan Herb Infused Olive Oil.  

I loved this dinner! It felt like a very modern, elevated take on rice and beans. The flavors in the bean dish run the gamut from sweet to spicy and hit on everything in between. The quinoa came out really fluffy and delicious - it's quickly replacing brown rice as my favorite accompaniment to most meals.

Johnny had his usual reaction to a plate that contained cooked greens: he screwed up his face and stuck out his tongue in disgust. It's a knee-jerk thing and I have to talk him into eating that first bite every time! He ended up liking the kale, but not being a huge fan of the beans. I'm not sure why, I thought he'd really like the bold flavors, but he just thought something didn't taste right. He's not a lover of mango, so I knew it was a risk going in. Oh well, more for me to take for lunch this week!

February 5, 2012

You Look Like a Monkey... And You Smell Like One, Too!

Guess what? The Odd Couple Eats is officially one year old!

::**~Confetti, Applause, Streamers, Vegan Cupcakes For ALL!~**:: 

Does the title of this post make sense now or was I the only one who added that verse to the end of the Happy Birthday song as a kid? Man alive, a whole year... It's been fun, it's been tasty! I've been taking a look back and wanted to share some of my thoughts on what has transpired and what my hopes for the future of this blog are. Settle in, friends...

If blogs got birthday wishes, this one would be hanging out in St. John right now... 
When I started this blog last January, I was new to veganism and was navigating my way through a crazy array of information regarding health and nutrition. I was constantly reading  books, web sites, and food labels. Honestly, it was overwhelming. I had just never thought that much about what I ate before. It feels weird to say that now, but it's true. Food was about taste and little else, so suddenly being confronted with a "limited" diet and restrictions was tough. I had to answer my own questions about veganism (Where do you get protein? How much is enough? What are the names of hidden by-products to avoid?) and simultaneously build my knowledge of health and nutrition from the ground up. And yes, I was dragging Johnny with me through it all. He is quite the trooper, isn't he?

Life is much easier these days. I navigate the grocery store like a pro, trial and error led me to discover which "healthy" foods I enjoy the most (and which Johnny will and will not abide), and I've finally found certain recipes that I can cook again and again and never tire of... You know how you think of certain recipes as "Family Recipes" because your parents made them so often when you were growing up? The fact that I'm starting to make my own collection feels really cool!

I always had second thoughts about creating my own blog. I had no idea how to build a web site or write a recipe or even dream up enough content to keep things interesting. Not to mention there were already so many awesome sites out there dedicated to vegan cooking... was it really necessary for me to add my two cents to the change jar? (It's a rhetorical question, don't answer that!) But I knew that if I was learning so much about nutrition for the first time that many others were in that boat with me. I think it takes a lot of people writing about the same topic to have an impact and a real reach. So I went ahead with The Odd Couple Eats and somehow it all just sort of fell into place.

This blog has been a way for me to share all this with you, but it's also been a touchstone for me, a constant reminder that putting the time and effort into cooking is so worth it. For the first time in my life, I feel like the decisions I make about food are well-informed and, dare I say, even political. I've found issues about which I'm passionate (animal rights, supporting local and sustainable companies, educating children about nutrition, etc.) and I'm not sure that would have happened without veganism and this blog. Cheesy as it may sound, it's empowering.

The absolute best part for me has been the tremendous support I've received. At the outset, I figured my friends and family would read my posts and giggle at my writing or be inspired to try tempeh for the first time. But people from all over the world have read this blog and that boggles my mind! A highlight was definitely when Alicia Silverstone at The Kind Life featured me last summer - her book was the whole reason I went vegan in the first place! And all the encouragement you've given me about my writing led me to the realization that writing is my passion in life. Why have I denied that for so long? It's given me the push I needed to return to school in the Fall to study Creative Writing and I don't think I've ever been so excited!  

So THANK YOU to everyone who reads this blog, who post comments or recommends one of my recipes to a friend. It's had a major impact on my life and it means the world to me.

That said, I'd like to take this blog in a bit of a new direction. In looking back over some of my old posts, I found that the most entertaining don't just focus on cooking, they give you a glimpse into my life. And likewise, the blogs I enjoy reading the most allow the readers to really connect with the authors. So going forward, I'm going to try and balance informative cooking posts with some that are just about my life: what I'm eating (even if I didn't make it), wearing, and doing for fun. I'm hoping to post more frequently (be prepared for crappy cell phone pics) and to try out many new things. There's lots in store, so stay tuned... 

January 13, 2012

Recipe - Stuffed Butternut Squash

Okay, I finally have to admit it: winter is here. We East Coasters totally lucked out and managed to get away with unseasonably warm weather all through December, but it's catching up with us now. Johnny and I have been piling on the blankets at night, I ordered a few pairs of comfy over-the-knee socks from Sock Dreams for an added layer of warmth, and the hats/scarves/gloves have come out of hiding and taken their rightful positions on our bodies. No snow yet, but I'm sure that's next. I remember sort of secretly wishing for snow a few weeks ago, but I'm beginning to think that was a mistake...

It's no surprise that I've been craving warm food from morning till night with weather like this. I've traded breakfast cereal for oatmeal, salads for soups, and I have a hot mug of tea in my hand every night (our kettle is getting quite the workout!). And while I'm sure I'll be complaining about a lack of produce come March, right now I'm digging on winter vegetables. Butternut squash has got to be at the top of that list. So easy to prepare, so filling and satisfying... it's deep orange color even makes it look warm. Perfect seasonal food.

I remember first having butternut squash as a kid when my parents would make their famous Stuffed Squash. Their version uses bread cubes and sausage and my siblings and I absolutely adored it. Of course, we'd pretty much eat the stuffing and leave the squash behind. Nowadays I'm more like to scarf the squash up first! So how do you replace sausage in a favorite childhood recipe and still get a tasty result? Lots and lots of flavor.

I was drawn to this recipe because it called for an unusual combination of ingredients. Dried fruit and sundried tomatoes? Intriguing. I made some substitutions based on personal taste and what I had on hand and I really loved the result. The sweet and savory flavors blend into a perfect bite and the combination of toasted bread and silky, buttery squash is delicious. I used croutons, but next time I will use crusty bread and cut it into smaller cubes for a more stuffing-like consistency. I really can't wait to make this again!

For his part, Johnny claims his tastebuds were a bit off as he was recovering from a cold the night we ate this. So he didn't like it at first, but he warmed up to it slowly, eventually eating most of his half. He's such a fan of his own stuffing, his mind isn't really open to new interpretations. :-)

Stuffed Butternut Squash
Serves 2
(Based on this recipe by Food.com)

1 butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, diced small
1/8 cup cooking alcohol (I used Mirin)
2 cups bread cubes or croutons
1/2 cup dried fruit (I used cherries, but cranberries or raisins would also be nice)
1/2 cup nuts (I used chopped walnuts)
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut your squash into equal halves and remove the seeds (I use a small ice cream scoop for this and it works great!). Rub the cut side of the squash with a bit of olive oil and place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Cook for 30 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onions, celery and carrot for about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and garlic and continue cooking until soft. Add your cooking alcohol to deglaze the pan, making sure the heat of the pan is high enough that the liquid bubbles up and begins to evaporate.

After a few minutes, add the bread cubes, dried fruit, nuts and sundried tomatoes. Stir well and add your spices, then stir in the vegetable broth to soften the bread. Remove from heat.

Allow the stuffing mixture to cool a bit, then spoon it into the cooked butternut squash. Bake on your baking sheet for another 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve with some lightly dressed mixed greens.