Thursday, August 26, 2010

Product Review - Uptons Natural Seitan and Smoked Cheddar Style Sheese

Before I delve in to the review I just wanted to shoot out a couple of reminders. Don't forget about the Men Who Cook 2010 Challenge and Giveaway. Men can show off their mad kitchen skillz and get a chance to win the most awesome American Vegan Kitchen cookbook by Tami Noyes from Vegan Appetite! Entries must be submitted before September 8th. Click here for contest details and get those boyz cookin'!

Also coming up is the next Food Network Friday Challenge. This week we're taking on Tyler Florence in honor of the new FN show The Great Food Truck Race. Each of us will put our spin on his Double Dipped Fried Chicken recipe. It's a lot of fun, so I hope you can join in. Do your thing with the recipe and post a link at Vegan Appetite or e-mail Tami with your creation.

While I was visiting in Chicago in July I had the pleasure of meeting up with Liz from Cooking the Vegan Books and Tami from Vegan Appetite. We had great fun talking food, partaking in adult beverages, and enjoying the city together. The only complaint I have as that our time together was too short. Liz was kind enough to bring me some Sheese products all the way from the UK. Sheese makes some amazing tasting vegan cheese products. I had tried the blue cheese variety when I visited Portland last year and really liked it. Sadly, I left Liz's gift at my mom's house when I retured to AZ. My neice just happened to visit a couple of weeks ago and brought the Sheese back for me. Yay for awesome neices!

So finally I get my goods. Sheese freezes and travels quite nicely by the way. It is actually produced by a company out of Scottland called Bute Island Foods. I have yet to find it here in the Phoenix area, but you can order it online. The company has a really nice website that gives you information on where you can find their product in the U.S. Last night I opened the Smoked Cheddar flavor. It has a nice smoky smell. The texture is nice and firm and wonderful for grating. Grate it I did. I also tasted it before cooking it. The texture will not fool you into believing it is dairy cheeses, but it did not offend like some other brands. We thought it tasted more like smoked Gouda than Cheddar...which for me is a big plus. I love that Gouda flavor. I made a chorizo and cheddar quesadilla. I have to say it didn't melt really well, but no matter, it was really tasty on the quesadilla. Just a word of warning: if you are looking for the ooey gooey melty texture you will be disappointed. If you are looking for a yummy tasting alternative to cheese, this is it.

Also featured in last night's quesadilla is a product I had never heard of: Upton's Natural Chorizo Style Seitan. Upton's is based in Chicago. They boast all natural seitan products that are all vegan and low soy. Their products can be found in several states, but sadly not AZ. However, they do sell their products online through Vegan Essentials. I chose the chorizo style seitan. I used to love the spices and flavors or chorizo (both Mexican and Spanish style). The texture of Upton's chorizo was much like that of ground beef. It was closer to Mexican style than Spanish style, but it was much drier than the chorizo I've had in the past. This is not necessarily a bad thing depending on how you use it. I think it would work quite well in burritos or enchiladas. The spice mix is a little weak for my taste, but if you are a little leary of a lot of spice and heat, this might be just the product for you. It is very easy and convenient to use. It crumbles very nicely. I love the fact that it is truly a natural product and made in my kinda town.

Here you can see the cheeze is not very melty, but it was oh so tasty

When you put both products together, you get a quick and tasty snack or meal. I added a bit of chopped onion and jalapeno and called it dinner. I try not to use processed food too often, but I would use both of these products again. I do hope to see these products here in the future. I liked them both better than a couple of other products we have in the valley.

For those of you who are not vegan or are just starting to embark in meat/dairy substitutes, always keep in mind these products are not meant to be identical to their animal derived counterparts. You must enjoy them for what they do offer and that is tasty flavors and interesting textures.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Taking on the Vcon Part 11 - Blueberry Corn Pancakes

This week has been ridiculously busy, so I was very happy that this week's recipe was quick and simple. It took less than 10 minutes to mix the pancakes up (about 7 to be exact). I subbed frozen blueberries for the fresh. Organic fresh ones are stupid expensive right now. We had some frozen ones in the freezer, so there! I'm not a huge pancake eater so I love the idea of little twists on traditional pancakes. This recipe was easy and different for sure, but it was not a home run for me. I found the mix to be far too thin and the pancakes really spread out. The texture might be improved by reducing or eliminating the water. Come to think of it, the frozen berries just may add the additional moisture you need to leave the water out completely. I would probably let the mix sit for 10 minutes before adding the blueberries next time to see if it would tighten up more. I didn't have time to wait this time.

The flavor and texture were OK, but honestly I much prefer the Banana Walnut pancakes in Vegan with a Vengeance. They are a tiny bit more work but a whole lot more substantial and tasty in my opinion. If you are looking for a quick and easy breakfast, this one will fill the bill, but if you have a ripe banana and a few more minutes. Make the other ones. They always go over well when I make them for people.

Here you can see the massive spreading.

Ready for the eating.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Enter the Men Who Cook Challenge - Win a Prize!

Back in 2008 there was a fun challenge proposed by a PPK member who was very distraught over the lack of representation on the boards and in general of awesome male vegan kitchen masters. It was proposed that those of the male gender don their best aprons and rise to the challenge of "Men Who Cook". Because I love men who cook for me (or anyone else for that matter) I wanted to revive this lost tradition.

To sweeten the pot, I am offering a free copy of American Vegan Kitchen by Tami Noyes of Vegan Appetite to one of the lucky participants. AVK has so many American classics I thought it would be a great prize for men (and women) everywhere!

Here are the instructions/rules.

1 - You need to be of the male persuasion
2 - You need to cook something vegan (this can be an original or not)
3 - You must take and post pictures
4- You need to blog about your cooking experience (giving recipes would be a nice added bonus)*
5 - You need to make a comment on this post and provide a link to your Men Who Cook entry or you can comment here and e-mail me the link.
6 - Entries must be recieved no later than September 7th.

* If you don't have a blog, you can still play. Either 1 - provide a picture and maybe send me a little note or 2 - comment here about your experience.

What I'd love for you to do, but it is not mandatory:

Take creative/fun/outrageous pictures of the cook
Come up with an original recipe or method
Have a lot of fun with this! (Well this should be mandatory)

What I promise to do:

I will, with your permission, post the link to your post on my wrap up post.
I will post a thread on the PPK (for those of you who are on the PPK) on Wednesday, September 8th for you to post your food porn.
I will randomly select a winner from the comments posted on this post on the same date
I will ship the book to you (Sorry U.S only this time folks, I'm poor right now)
I will think you are totally awesome
I will thank you from the bottom of my heart and my belly

It may not be instantly apparent, but I am taking some business classes and in these classes they are teaching us the importance of providing specific measurable goals. Hence my goofy lists! How'd I do? Would my instructor approve?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Taking on the Vcon Part 10 - Strawberry Plum Crisp

Welcome back to another edition of taking on the Vcon. This week is kind of special because it is raining like crazy outside. We don't get this pleasure too often. It is a perfect night to turn the oven on and fill the house with incredible smells.

As I start my entry for today, the crisp is in the oven. I wish I could adequately describe the smells wafting through my house. It is just as awesome as the torrential downpour we're getting tonight.

This recipe is perfect for this time of year. I was actually able to find some incredible ORGANIC black plums. They were huge and beautiful. I think I may have put too many in the crisp, but I will know shortly when the crisp is finished baking. OK, I'll be back in a little bit with more details and results.

I'm back and it looks pretty awesome. I have to wait 10 minutes before I can dish it up. Torture!! In the meantime I'll post the recipe here for your pleasure. Now I won't be posting every recipe here, because this is a book I think every cook vegan or not should have. It is a great resource of information on all sorts of ingredients and prep methods. So go get it peeps.

Strawberry-Plum Crisp

2 pounds black plums (about 10)
1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced in half
1 tablespoon tapioca flour or arrowroot powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons aniseseed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
3-4 tablespoons canola oil

Preheat the oven to 375.

Prepare the filling:
Chop the plums by cutting round the seed. Cut them into slices that are between 1/2 and 1/4 inch thick. Place in and 8 x 8 inch baking pan. Add the rest of the filling ingredients and stir to dissolve the starch. Set aside.

Prepare the topping:
Toss all of the topping ingredients except the canola oil into a mixing bowl and mix together with a fork. Drizzle in the oil by the tablespoon while tossing with fork until the topping becomes crumbly and doesn't look too dry. 3 tablespoons should be enough if not add up to 1 more tablespoon one teaspoon at a time. . Sprinkle evenly over plum mixture.

Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes. It should be bubbly.

Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes (typing the recipe should take about that amount of time). Top with vegan vanilla ice cream.

Ok I have to take another break. It's been 10 minutes and I have to try this! I made one big mistake, so I hope it's OK. Notes to follow.

Back again. Well I really need to quit trying to cook after working 12 hours. I make a lot of mistakes when I am tired. Tonight I made a pretty big one. I only used 1/4 cup rolled oats instead of 3/4 cup. This should have been a complete disaster, but it was not too bad. The crisp came out with a lot of liquid in the bottom and the anise seed was more prominent than it would have been. The anise seed gives it a very unique flavor. I think it makes the dish...if you don't screw the topping up like I did.

I think next time I will slice the plums a bit thinner, especially if they are a bit under ripe like mine were tonight.

One other variation I made to the instructions is that I put the filling in large bowl to make it easier to stir it up. I do this a lot. I figure it's worth washing the extra bowl to get a good mix on.

The recipe is solid, the cook, not so much today. It is very quick to throw together. It took maybe 10 minutes to prep. It has to cook for a bit, but hey, you need time to do your dishes, right? This is the time of year ladies and gents. If you want a really nice and easy, tasty plum dessert, do it to it!

Just out of the oven:

Topped with So Delicious Vanilla

Make sure to check in next Tuesday for Vcon Blue Corn Pancakes!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Happy Birthday to Fred!

Although I'm pretty certain he doesn't read my blog, I have to wish my #1 taste tester and #1 man a very Happy Birthday. I wish I were at home cooking him up a special birthday breakfast, but alas, I have to work so that I can buy those very special ingredients.

Fred has bravely taste tested hundreds and maybe even thousands of recipes over the past few years. He has made so many runs to the grocery store for me it is just crazy. He plans special culinary surprises for me. He is one heck of a cook himself and occassionally treats me to a lovely Fred-cooked dinner. He takes joy in finding culinary tools that make my heart go pitter patter. He is my own personal gardener, who respects the fact that I want no chemicals and pesticides on our foods. He does and is so much more, but this is the food blog, so I'm only listing some of his wonderfulness. For this I thank him.

It is so hard for me to find the words to describe the great things that are Fred. It is impossible to honor him properly on his special day. But in my heart, I am thankful for the day he was born and feel so lucky to be able to share another year with him.

Love and Chocolate!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Food Network Friday - Rachel Ray's Reuben Mac and Cheese

Welcome to another Food Network Friday! Oh and today is lucky Friday the 13th! Me and my food fanatic buddies tackled a recipe from Rachel Ray this week. This week's recipe was chosen by the one and only Liz from Cooking the Vegan Books. Liz is a huge Rachel Ray fan so she selected her Reuben Mac and Cheese for this week's challenge. See what everyone else came up with at Tami Noyes' blog Vegan Appetite.

This recipe was truly a challenge for me on many levels. First off, I am not a huge fan of saurkraut, almost to the point of being a hater. Hate is a strong word and one that I always tell the younsters they should not use. So I should probably take my own advice. Let's just put it in my not so favorite file. Because I took creative license with this recipe, I cut the saurkraut down to just 1/2 cup. This allowed a bit of the flavor to come through without offending me. I will go step by step through my process. I am going by memory, since I left my notes elsewhere. I will update the recipe if I find errors later on.

The first challenge was to come up with a tasty substitution for corned beef. It would have been far too easy to just use seitan. But I wanted to go outside of the box a bit on this component. Here is what transpired. On day one I took two large portobello mushrooms, cleaned out the fins, sliced them very thinly and laid them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. I made a corned "beefy" marinade (recipe to be posted later) and poured over the mushrooms. The sheet was covered with another cookie sheet to keep wayward flies from dining on the delectible morsels. This was placed outside for 8 hours to semi-sun dry. Hey, there has to be some advantage to 110 degree weather!!! I say semi-sun dried because they were still a bit moist. You don't want them to totally dry out. The mushrooms can be used immediately or stored in the fridge for 2 days. The mushrooms are the most time consuming part, but most of that is inactive drying time. The mushrooms make this dish, so I promise when I can find where I wrote down the ingredients, I will post the recipe and prep pictures, pinky promise. They rock. I think they would be extra special on a reuben sandwich where they can be more of the star.

Once the mushrooms are ready, the rest comes together fairly quickly. I'm doing this from memory, so here goes:

Portobello Reuben Mac n Cheeze

1/2 pound ziti or corkscrew pasta
2 slices toasted rye bread, ground into bread crumbs (see note)
1/4 cup loosely packed parsley, corsely chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/4 cup unsweetened soy milk
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon corn starch
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 1/2 cups Daiya Italian Blend cheeze, divided
1 recipe Corned "Beefy" Portobellos
1/2 cup saurkraut
1/3 cup vegan 1000 island dressing (I used a test recipe from Carla Kelly)

Set up your mis en place (get everything out and ready to go). This will go quickly once you get started.

First cook pasta according to package directions to al dente.

While pasta is cooking, prepare the topping. In a food processor grind dried rye slices, chopped parsley and smoked paprika.

Mix soy milk and cornstarch together in cold medium sized sauce pan. Heat over medium heat stirring frequently until thickened, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Stir in mustard. Add 1 1/4 cup Daiya and stir until it starts to get melty.

By this time the pasta should be done. Drain pasta and return to pan. Stir in sauce, mushrooms, kraut and 1000 island dressing.

Pour into lightly oiled 8 x 8 pyrex pan. Spread bread crumb mixture evenly over the top. Sprinkle eavenly with remaining Daiya. Place under broiler for 2-3 minutes until top looks a little bubbly. Do not leave under broiler too long, lest you have a pyrex explosion. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Dish out and eat up!

**Update** This dish is getting mixed reviews. Fred didn't like it at all. He actually said that he ususally likes most of my experiments and that I rarely bomb, but this one might just be one of those bombs (or something close to that). I'm on the fence, but I have to agree 100% that this is not one of my favorite creations. Maybe it's just me, but I think the combo of ingredients with the pasta just doesn't work really well. I've had much better Mac and Cheese. But who knows you may think it's awesome. I DO think the mushrooms and 1001 Island Dressing would rock on a regular reuben-esque type sandwich. I will experiment with that in a later post.

OK kids, here is you PSA for the day. Try to avoid cooking when exhausted. Also try to avoid moving too many things off of the counter at once. If you do not heed this warning, this could happen to you and your kitchen. It is a sad moment when almost an entire recipe of 1001 Island dressing meets its untimely demise this way. I have to admit. I thought this was hilarious, but I'm glad Fred wasn't home to witness this. He never reads my blog, so my secret is safe!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tofu Dog Wars - Who's is Best?

Last week I had a bunch of teen agers coming over for a party. I was trying to find an easy way to feed this army of boys. Of course hot dogs came to mind. They can be cooked on the grill quickly (an important feature in 100+ AZ weather). The trick for me was that all the neighborhood kids know that I do not eat meat, which makes their noses crinkle quite often. So I wanted to make the veggie dog experience fun. In the spirit of adventure I devised a blind taste test of three brand of tofu dogs to see which one meat eaters preferred.

My local Whole Foods had three different brands (pictured above). All the dogs were cooked on an outdoor grill. They were cut into bite sized pieces for all to try naked (the dogs, not the peeps). This may not have been the best option, because hot dogs really need the fixings to taste good in my opinion. But who am I to say? I never really liked hot dogs of the meaty variety all that much either. But that could be because I found out how they were made at a rather tender young age. 

I'm not sure if it was bias on my testers' part because they knew they were veggie dogs or if the results were truly accurate. No one really cared too much for any of the selections. I had a rather large plate of hot dogs left over, which with 10 hungry teen aged boys is not a good sign. There was a clear winner amonth the three. The Yves Jumbo dogs recieved the most votes by a great majority. They had the most realistic texture and the best flavor overall. Fred likes to have some quick protien available for busy days. I do buy him tofu dogs on occassion. After this test, he will be getting Yves from now on.

 The Tofurkey dogs were the loser with only one vote. Most of the crowd thought the flavor, color and texture of the Tofurkey dogs was odd and gross. No one really commented on the Litelife Smart Dogs.

So what have we learned from all of this? Don't let your neighbor kids know you don't eat meat before serving them hot dogs. Do not serve tofu pups naked. If you are going to enjoy a pre-packaged tube steak, try Yves Jumbo dogs. Don't forget the brat relish from American Vegan Kitchen. That stuff will make any dog taste like a million!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Taking on the Vcon Part 9 - Grilled Yucca Tortillas

Welcome to another tasty version of taking on the Vcon where 4 chicks take on one fabulous cookbook, Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. This week's recipe was selected by our master baker friend Rikki Cupcake over at Seitanic Vegan Heathen. Again she selected a recipe that I have not yet made. This makes me very happy as I love trying new things.

So the first challenge was finding yucca. Sometimes it is plentiful at Whole Foods and even regular stores. But no such luck today. I even stopped at the Guadalupe Market that often has all sorts of unusual produce. I was a bit concerned that many of their produce bins were barren. I hope this was because they were really busy today and not something more ominous. I was pleasantly surprised to find a vegan chorizo in their cooler. I plan on experimenting with that later this week/month. I also found a locally made salsa which was according to Fred "Hot without blowing your head off". I'll talk more about that later. On to this week's recipe.

Grilled Yucca Tortilla from Veganomicon

1 pound yucca, peeled, chopped into 4 inch chunks, and each chunk quartered
3 tablespoons olive oil (I reduced this by half)
6 cloves minced garlic
1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into small dice (about 1 cup)
1 jalapeno, roasted or raw, seeded and minced (I didn't seed mine, I like heat!)
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
pinch of ground white pepper

I also opted to add 1 cup black beans

Boil 3 quarts of water in a large, lidded pot. Add the yucca and cook for 20-25 minutes, until yucca is tender and flakes when pierced with a fork (mine took more like 30-35 minutes) The instructions in the book are a little off here. According to the ingredient lists the yucca is to be peeled and chopped before cooking. In the instructions it says to peel the skin off after boiling. I opted to peel before boiling because there was funky waxy coating on it. I'm glad I did, because on big chunk of one of the yuccas was moldy. I cut carefully from the middle to each end like so:

Then I cut each yucca in half and quartered each half, like so:

Next I boiled the yucca for about 35 minutes until it was soft and flaky. While the yucca boiled I minced my garlic, finely diced my fresh jalapeno, and diced the yellow bell pepper. In a cold small iron skillet saute the minced garlic for about 2 minutes or until sizzling and fragrant. Add jalapenos and yellow bells cook stirring occasionally until soft (about 6-8 minutes). Let cool for a few minutes and stir into mashed yucca. Add lime juice and salt. I used my hands to mush it in really well. I then added 1 cup of black beans being careful to keep them as whole as possible.

Heat up a griddle or a cast iron pan. I used a cast iron pan. Heat pan over medium heat. Spray tortilla with canola or olive oil (the side that will be on the outside). Working quickly, lay tortilla in pan and spread 1/2 cup filling on one  half of the tortilla.

Fold tortilla in half.

Press down gently with spatula. Cook until tortilla is golden brown and flip over. Do the same on the other side, making sure filing is hot. Remove from pan, cut in half and serve. 

Can be served alone or with your choice of yummy toppings like guacamole, salsa, sour cream. I thought they were pretty darn good alone. I did have to try them with a locally made delicious salsa called Drunken Jalapenos Hot (Habanero) Salsa. I love that it is made right here in Higley, AZ. It's a family owned business and the salsa is pretty tasty too! Go local baby!! You can find it at the some of the local farmers' markets or order it online. Muy bueno! 

I really enjoyed this recipe. It felt quesadilla-esque, but it wasn't cheezy, in a good way. It was filling without feeling really heavy. The yucca gave it a starchy, but slightly sweet flavor. It is a pleasant change from the run of the mill quesadillas (when I say run of the mill, I mean yummy, deliciously cheezy versions that I love). But sometimes a desert dweller or quesadilla lover needs to break out of the box. This is a easy and tasty way to bust out. Give it a shot when you see yucca at your local market. 

****Be sure to check back next week for Vcon Strawberry Plum Crisp****

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Taking on the V-con Pt.8 - Mac Daddy and a Vcon mini-review

I'm a little late to the party. But I was invited (ok, I totally begged to be invited) by Rikki Cupcake of Seitanic Vegan Heathen to join her and two of her awesome friends, Courtney and Katie, to take on Veganomicon. What does this mean? It means a whole lot of yummy. It also means that each week we will be making a recipe from Veganomicon and posting our results and witty commentaries on our blogs.

Let's go back to 2006 for a moment. I was then looking to change my diet and lifestyle. I had grown more than a little leery of the meat producing monster of an industry. It is no secret that the animals are pumped full of antibiotics to keep them alive in unhealthy, awful living conditions long enough to get to slaughter. Add to that the fact that they are also pumped full of growth hormones to make them grow unnaturally large in a short amount of time (with hormones that may very well cause breast cancer). As a breast cancer survivor, I am always researching ways to prevent a reoccurance or other health issues. So I started searching the internet to find out more about vegan cooking.

In my quest to cut down and eventually eliminate meat from my diet, I stumbled across this interesting and colorful forum the Post Punk Kitchen. While the PPK may not have completely transformed my life, it certainly transformed my kitchen! Well maybe it has transformed my life a little too. Shortly after I started lurking on the forum, Isa Chandra Moskowictz author of Veganomicon invited me to be one of her testers. The love affair with Vcon had begun. The recipes in this book range from simple to fancy pants and everything in between. Isa is a magical godess with flavors, textures and spices. Even if you aren't vegan or even vegetarian these recipes are awesome. As I was testing many of my unsuspecting omnivorous friends ended up being taste testers. They will tell you that her recipes are top notch for any occasion.

This week's recipe is for Mac Daddy. I tested a shit-ton of recipes for this book and somehow missed this one during testing, so I was pretty excited to try something new. This is a take on baked mac and cheese. I hesitate to even say that, because it will set up unrealistic expectations. I think it is more of a creamy, lemony, macaroni casserole. I used elbow macaroni made with Jeruselum Artichoke flour. The texture was perfect for this dish. It was pretty easy to pull together. You can cook the pasta while making up the cheezy sauce. Realistically you could probably get this ready for baking in about 15 minutes. It took me longer because I happened to be on the phone with my MIL. The reason I mention this is because it was such an easy recipe I could make it while discussing hot air ballooning and several medical procedures. So if you are not a whiz in the kitchen, this recipe is for you. I chose to make a version with kale. I had some to use up and I loves me some greens.

I liked this dish very much, but it wasn't true passionate love that I have for some other dishes. That whole unrealistic expectations thing got the best of me. The texture is so so so good. It is creamy, inviting, and filling. But I personally felt it was a bit heavy on the lemon flavor. This can easily be remedied by reducing or eliminating the amount of lemon added when mixing in the pasta. That is the only criticism I have and it's not so much a criticism as a personal preference I suppose. Because this is so easy and makes a hearty amount, I would def recommend trying it yourself. It's a great dish for potlucks or feeding a big, hungry crowd. Great for weeknight too! Next time I make it I will reduce the amount of lemon. I'm also going to add some fire roasted diced tomatoes because that's how I roll.

I'm so excited to be part of the Taking on the V-con gang. Thanks for letting me play!!!

This must be mac and cheese month because this months Food Network Friday Challenge is a remake of Rachel Ray's Reuben Mac n Cheese. So check back in next Friday, August 13th for more carby goodness!