Monday, 25 February 2013

Book Review - Virgin Vegan

A handy sized introduction to being vegan for the average person. Linda Long has compiled lots of information, and brought together a bunch of recipes to set vegan newbies on a good path.

The book is hard cover, printed on shiny, easy to clean, paper, with lots of photos of the recipes on the pages where the recipes occur. I know lots of folks need the visual when cooking so this will appeal to them, and will help new vegans visualise the finished dish, especially good for those unfamiliar with the ingredients.

The introductory sections cover everything from ordering in restaurants to prep-ing vegetables at home, vitamins to ingredients to avoid, though because these is so much touched on some of these segments are quite short and sweet and a new vegan may need to do more searching if they have more questions. They are worth reading, even for a more seasoned vegan.

In the recipe sections, the recipes are logically organised into chapters, and give a good selection in each chapter, so there is something likely to appeal to all tastes in each one. The recipes are easy to follow, and on the whole simple, with nothing too challenging for a new vegan. A lot of the recipes in this book (most of them) are contributed, coming from as wide range of sources - I did try to make recipes which were contributed as well as ones which are the authors. My only nitpicking in the recipe chapters would be that there is not a lot of space for the recipes (due to the handy size of the book) and they often require page turning to follow a recipe, or ingredients list.

The recipes I made -
Page 55 Creamy Mustard Vinaigrette
I had to add a little sweetener as I found this dressing as written a little too sour and bitter. It may be just me.

Page 55 "Sea Czar" Dressing
Loved this caesar version - nice hint of brine from the dulse, and good hit of garlic and lemon. Pictured on the salad.

Page 42 Re Lentil Soup with Nut Cream
Luscious and smooth, this simple lentil soup is great comfort food. Easy to make and hittig the spot on a cool evening.

Page 75 Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas
Oh yum, this was lovely. I will make over and over for sure - nice balance of the sweet, the spicy and the earthy.

Page 84 Heather Mills' Sesame Soba Noodles with Peanut Dressing
Not the prettiest looking dish, but very tasty. Lovely sauce, though very rich and filling. I would add some steamed broccoli to it next time to have some veggie goodness there too.

Page 90 Picnic Potato Salad
I ran out of vegan mayo so made the silken tofu variation and had to add more mustard, some lemon juice and some vinegar as well as a little oil to get it not tasting so much of plain tofu. It was very tasty, and easy to personalise but I would recommend the mayo option!

Page 93 Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Croutons
Though no croutons for me. Tasty and simple way to make sprouts, though I think I had small ones. Going by the cooking times indicated would have given me sprout mush so I had to adjust. Photo above with the Sweet Potato and Chickpeas.

Page 119 Vegetable Cakes
I found these a little delicate when cooking - had to be gentle with them to stop them from falling apart. Tasty though.

Page 128 Nava's Baked Macaroni and "Cheese"
Super simple and easy - will end up tasting like whichever vegan cheese you choose so be sure to chose one you like.

Page 148 Pecan Pie
Not overly sweet, which is lovely. Really lovely and adored by everyone I shared it with.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Recipe of the week - Hot and Sour Noodle Soup

Hot and Sour Rice Noodle Soup

Hot and Sour Rice Noodle Soup
Serves 4

I think I’ve mentioned before how I was an AFS Exchange student in Thailand in my late teens, and how I’ve recreated some of the wonderful taste experiences from that time, but in vegan form. This is another one! If I haven’t mentioned it, then you’ve just learned something new about me!

Serve the soup un-garnished with the garnishes at the table to everyone to add to their own taste. Then the soup won’t loose its pretty garnishes as you serve.
You need both a spoon and a fork to eat the noodles and broth.

You need 2 green onions (also known as scallions and spring onions) for this recipe. Half are used in the broth and half as a garnish.
Start with 1 jalapeno if you are not sure of the level of heat you want.

Preparation Time – 10 Minutes
Cooking Time – 20 Minutes

[gluten free]
[soy free]

1 tablespoon Peanut or Canola Oil

¼ cup finely chopped Shiitake Mushroom caps, 2 or 3 mushrooms, about 4-ounces

2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Green Onions, white and bottom green only, minced, about a tablespoon, see Notes
1 to 2 Jalapeno Peppers, minced, see Notes
1 tablespoon minced fresh Ginger
1 tablespoon minced Lemongrass, 3 stalks
1 tablespoon minced Cilantro Stalks
1 teaspoon Lime Zest, optional

½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Black pepper
Pinch Chili flakes, optional

6 cups Vegetable Stock

5-ounces medium Rice Stick Noodles, half a packet
2 tablespoons Lime Juice
1 tablespoon seasoned Rice Wine Vinegar

Salt, Pepper and Asian hot sauce to taste

¼ cup Cilantro Leaves
2 Green Onion, green tops only, sliced, see Notes
¼ cup roasted salted Peanuts

In a medium pot over medium-high heat, sauté the mushrooms in the oil until soft, aromatic and starting to brown, 3 minutes.
Add the garlic, onion, jalapeno, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, and lime zest, if using, and allow to sizzle and become aromatic, 1 minute.
Add salt, pepper and chili flakes, if using, stir.
Add stock, cover, and bring to a full boil.
Remove from heat, stir in rice noodles, lime juice, and vinegar. Re-cover and stand until noodles have softened and are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Check temperature of the broth and if necessary reheat gently. Taste and season as required.
Serve immediately garnished with cilantro leaves, green onion slices, and peanuts.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Get your crunk on....

I reviewed Biana's Cookin' Crunk a little while ago (follow the link) and enjoyed what I made so have no problems with no directing you to her blog, Vegan Crunk, for a bunch of exciting Cookin' Crunk related giveaways and what have you. Its all part of a week long social media campaign and you can win stuff!!
Off you go.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Book Review - Green Smoothie Joy

On first read I thought this was a bit of a weird title - but reading through the book, and having made recipes from it, I feel it is quite apt. The book is packed with information and recipes to allow you to bring the joy of green smoothies to your own life. Corny for sure, but true.

This book is not vegan, though every recipe is very easily made so by simply replacing any dairy called for with non-dairy alternatives, and using agave in place of honey. Most of the ingredients called for, as you would expect, are fruits and vegetables.

In the substantial introductory sections you're taken through pretty much everything you need to know as a background to making your own smoothies at home. Touched on is the benefits of smoothies, the differences between juices and smoothies (fibre mainly), equipment needed, tips and hints to making smoothies perfect for you, and of course, lots of information about the ingredients used and the benefits they bring. I found these sections interesting reading.

The recipes are broken down into a series of chapters with themes grouping them together - for example one that use fresh juices in the smoothies, ones which are mostly fruit, extra filling "meal" smoothies, and treat smoothies (no green in these). Makes sense, and I tried to try one from each chapter.

Believe me, for the recipes in this book you do not need a high powered blender (though I'm sure it would help). I don't have one, (though would love one if anyone wants one tested!) and had no problem making any of the following recipes I tried. I did have to ensure I blended for long enough to get a smooth consistency, but this was no biggie. Onto the recipes I made...

Page 63 Pear Delicious Green Smoothie
My pears were very ripe and had that sort of gritty quality pears sometimes get. This unfortunately didn't blend out so my smoothie tasted a little gritty too. The overwhelming taste in this for me was the cilantro, which I found too much until I added a little sweetener and it was better (for my tastes).

Page 88 Mint Chocolate Chip Green Smoothie
I liked this one a lot. It was thick, refreshingly minty, with hints of the cocoa. I did add some sweetener as I found I liked it better that way.

Page 122 Body Boosting Green Smoothie
This one was lovely. A beautiful rich red colour (from the beet), thick and very creamy. I added some sweetener (yes, again) to counteract the intense earthiness from the beet.

Page 138 Coco Mango Smoothie
Fruity and sweet. No greens in this one, but I imagine you could for sure. Yum.

Page 156 Strawberry Cream Green Smoothie
This one tasted completely of strawberries and bananas - you'd never know there was greens in this if you drank it blindfolded. Very good.

Page 157 Coffee and Almond Breakfast Smoothie
This was good too - not too intensely coffee flavoured but nicely balanced.

Page 165 Creamy Peanut Butter Berry Smoothie
Another non-green one, but very tasty. Not too much of a peanut butter flavour, so I'd maybe put more in if you are specifically looking for that.

If you're interested in smoothies, and looking for recipes to introduce green smoothies to your diet then you can't really go wrong with this book. There are interesting flavour combinations which you can adjust to personal taste, and lots of information too.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Recipe of the Week - Kale-cannon and Avocado

Kale-cannon and Avocado

KaleCannon and Avocado
Serves 2

This is one of my takea on that traditional Irish dish, Colcannon. You may think the addition of the avocado is strange, but try this please, it is really yummy, and adds a creamy richness to the dish. If you are an avocado hater, then by all means leave it out.

Next time you make mashed potatoes for dinner, make too many on purpose so you will be ready to make this dish the next day!

Preparation time - 10 minutes, not including cooking potato
Cooking time - 15 minutes

[gluten free]
[soy free]

1 teaspoon Canola Oil

¼ cup sliced Onion
2 cloves Garlic, minced

1 ½ cups shredded Kale
1 cup leftover Mashed Potatoes, at room temperature

½ Avocado, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat, then sauté the onion and garlic for 5 minutes until lightly browned.
Add the kale, cover and steam for 3 to 5 minutes until bright green and tender.
Add the potatoes, stir to combine. Cook 5 minutes until just lightly browned, turning infrequently, just enough so it doesn’t stick or burn.
Remove from heat, stir in the avocado, taste for seasoning and serve.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Book Review - Chloe's Kitchen

Another book I got for Christmas!!
I think the kids' chose it because they liked Chef Chloe winning on Cupcake Wars! On cooking shows they always cheer for the vegan chef, and if there isn't one then the prettiest girl, (hey, they're little girls what do you expect) so they doubly liked Chloe.

The book is an attractive one, printed on shiny paper, filled with lots of photos, and is certainly appealing to flip through. The recipe chapters are logically organised, with nice, yet standard, introductory sections, and as you'd expect, from the winner of a desserts show, there are loads of sweet treats in the desserts chapter. The recipes themselves are set out with lots of space, mostly one to a page, easy to read, easy to follow, with nice chatty introductions to each. They are not exactly health food, but genuine everyday recipes which the average person would find appealing. The only thing I found a little off putting was all the photos of Chloe herself. On the cover is fine, but inside, if there are photos, I want to see the food, not the author. Small thing, but something I didn't like.

On to the recipes I made - page number order -
Page 47 Caesar Salad with Maple Wheat Croutons
Though I didn't make any Croutons. I found the recipe simple to make, basic even, I thought it was lacking a little bit of depth compared to other vegan Caesar dressings I have made recently, and that it needed a little something else to make it really pop. Nice enough as a dressing, but nothing outstanding.

Page 79 Guilt Free Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Oh, yum. Lovely idea too - to use both parsnip AND cauliflower to lower the fat and increase the nutrition in mashed potatoes. You could taste all the ingredients in the mash, but this added interest to the dish. Would make again for sure, though I think I'd add more roasted garlic to make it a more dominant flavour. Below
Page 81 Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with toasted Hazelnuts
Loved this. I do enjoy roasted Brussels. Above.

Page 107 Falafel Sliders with Avocado Hummus
I didn't make them into sliders, but found these so easy to make, even with all the component parts, and so very tasty. Really good, can see these being made in summer on the BBQ.

Page 127 Best-Ever Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Nice, simple, comforting and homey. Easy, basic recipe (nothing new or different) which I enjoyed a great deal.

Page 141 Peanutty Perfection Noodles
So very good! I love peanut sauces on rice noodles, and this one didn't disappoint. Loved the touch of heat in the creamy sauce. Very quick too.

Page 155 Wild Mushroom Stroganoff Fettuccine
I found this one a little bland. Boring even. I thought we'd love it as we do love mushrooms, but it felt like it was lacking something, even with the addition of more salt than we usually use. It was easy to make, it just didn't suit our preferences.

Page 161 Country Meatloaf with Golden Gravy and Orange Scented Cranberry Sauce
More time consuming than a number of other recipes I made - there are three separate parts after all, but so very worth the extra time. The gravy is wonderfully savoury, so very more-ish, and the cranberry sauce so tasty with nuances from the orange. The sauce is maybe a touch sweeter than I would like, but I tried it with both the chocolate brulee and the vanilla ice-cream and thought it was perfect as a dessert sauce too! The meatloaf itself is lovely and moist, very tasty. This is perfect served with the Mashed Potatoes (above). The meatloaf also passed the next day pan-fry test. Recommended!

Page 181 Orange you glad I made Crispy Tofu
Tasty - crisp tofu coated in a thick orange sauce. The tofu lost a little of its crispy-ness in the final cooking, and became a little more chewy than crisp, but it was very good. I added steamed broccoli to the sauce and enjoyed this too.

Page 210 Chocolate Creme Brulee
I don't have a wee torch so didn't brulee the top at all. Thick, creamy and comforting, this was a lovely, if a little heavy, dessert. More like a chocolate pudding texture than what I remember from brulee. Good all the same.

Page 221 Cinnamon-Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies
I made the GF version. These spread like crazy on my sheet forming one big cookie which I had to cut into pieces. The cookies didn't look the prettiest because of this, but tasted awesome! It may have been the GF flour mix I used. Would like to try these again.

Page 238 Vanilla Bean Ice-cream
Texture of this straight out of the machine was wonderful, creamy and thick, but with time in the freezer it became too hard to scoop. The girls' thought it tasted too coconut-y and not vanilla-y enough - maybe adding some vanilla extract along with the bean scrapings would have been better for their tastes.

Page 243 Truffles
Lovely. I rolled mine in cacoa nibs for an extra crunch and chocolate infusion. The chocolate I used for the coating wasn't specifically robing chocolate and the coating ended up too thick. Made a lovely gift too.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Recipe of the week - Spicy Plantains and Spinach

Spicy PLantains and Spinach

Spicy Plantains and Spinach
Serves 2 as a generous side

I travelled through Tanzania for 6 weeks with my cousins a number of years ago now, (Shout out to Bec and Jim!) and as a vegetarian found that I ate a lot of spinach! Plain boiled spinach, oily fried spinach, spicy spinach, spinach with ugali (manioc mush), and on one occasion, spinach with plantains. The plantains and spinach weren’t very seasoned, and weren’t all that tasty to be honest, but the combination found its way into the back of my mind and stayed there.
When I learned I liked fried Plantains, thanks to Terry Hope Romero and testing for Viva Vegan!, I decided to revisit the combination and see if I could come up with something I would like. And I did.

I like my plantains to be mainly green with just a little yellow, and maybe a tiny touch of black for this, but that is my personal preference. If you know you like your plantains more or less ripe, use them as you prefer.

Preparation Time – 10 Minutes
Cooking Time – 10 Minutes

[gluten free]
[soy free]

Canola Oil
1 just about ripe Plantain, (more green than yellow and black but not completely green) peeled and sliced into ¼-inch thick slices, see Note above

3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh Ginger
¼ teaspoon Chili Flakes, or to taste
¼ teaspoon Salt, or to taste

6 cups Baby Spinach, or chopped Spinach

In a large, heavy skillet heat a thin layer of canola oil over medium-high heat. You just want enough oil to completely coat the bottom, not to have the plantains swimming in it.
Fry the plantain slices until golden brown, about 3 minutes each side. Remove from skillet, drain on paper towels, and roughly chop into small (no more than ½-inch square) pieces.
Using the same skillet and same oil (add a little more if necessary) with the heat reduced to medium, sauté the garlic, ginger, chili, and salt until aromatic, about a minute.
Add the chopped plantain pieces and sauté for another minute until well combined and the pieces are coated with the garlic, ginger, and spices.
Add the spinach, sauté for about 3 minutes, tossing well to combine, until the spinach is all wilted.
Taste for seasoning and adjust as required.
Serve immediately.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Book Review - The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen

The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen is the second book I have which is Aryurvedic in focus, though the other (reviewed here) is not vegan. I tried hard not to make comparisons between the two as I read through the introductory sections, though found that difficult. I will try here not to draw comparisons but to speak to this book on its own.

The book starts with 5 chapters of introduction, outlining Ayurveda as a system, terms and theories used, and an introduction to the doshas. The language used is everyday language, and not confusing for the average person. While the explanations are very expansive, well presented and full of information, I didn't come away with a clear sense of where I would fit as far as a dosha goes, so didn't take this into account when choosing the recipes to make.

The recipe chapters are logically grouped, and all offer a range of dishes. There are five colour photo inserts showing a variety of dishes from the surrounding recipe chapters, nice for those who like pictures. The recipes themselves are generally nicely introduced, are well laid out, easy to read and follow, and all come with information on preparation times, yield, and the impact on each of the doshas.

The recipes I made -
Page 51 - Quinoa Pancakes
Simplicity at its tastiest. Seriously easy. I made the Orange-Poppy Seed Variation and would suggest adding a little zest to them as well as the orange flavour got lost a little. Not as light as regular pancakes, but certainly a good start to the day.

Page 52 - Coconut-Mango Smoothie
I had all the ingredients except the mango in my blender, opened it up to find it rotten in the core, so I used frozen blueberries instead. Tasty and filling but not mango!

Page 55 - Morning Cupcakes
Probably my least enjoyed recipe. I think trying to make this into a sweet zucchini and carrot muffin, and loosing all the more savoury elements (caraway seeds and herbs) would have made it more enjoyable for me. Heavy and hearty which was fine, I just didn't enjoy the flavour combination.

Page 61 - Faux French Dressing
I added the optional avocado, which I think made it a little un-french like for me. It was a tasty dressing, I just don't feel the name suited once I had added the avo.

Page 66 - Fresh Red Onion Colelaw
Tasty. Quick and easy to throw together, though take care not to add too much raw onion (as I did) or else it will start to overpower the slaw.

Page 67 - Carrot Raisin Salad
Nice one. A little sweet, but light and easy to eat. Easy to make too.

Page 69 - Vegan Caesar Salad and Dressing Page 70
I didn't make the croutons. Enjoyed this one, but was missing a little hit of brine-y-ness.

Page 79 - Indian Spiced Guacamole
Oh, yum. Its a mouth party, and a challenge to pre-conceptions about guacamole. Not overly spiced, so you can still enjoy the avocado, but lovely for a change.

Page 81 - Garlic Dream Sauce
Nice and garlicky, thick and tasty.

Page 86 - Gado Gado Sauce
Nice change to my regular peanut sauce fix. Thick, but thins once poured onto something hot.

Page 90 - Palmesan Cheese
Nice vegan parm substitute. Easy to make and use.

Page 107 - Mom's Mac and Cheese
Made with GF pasta, of course. Nice variation, though it got very thick in the oven.

Page 132 - Broccoli with Miso Sauce
The sauce was lovely. Not just for broccoli I don't think - even would work as a salad dressing. Thinned a little once tossed with the broccoli.

Page 151 - Indian Chocolate Shake
I overdid the chili powder a little so mine was spicy! Lovely and chocolate-y, thick and filling. Easy to make, and enjoy.

I think this book would be awesome for someone who follows Ayurveda, either as an individual having a good grasp on things, or along side a practitioner. It would make an awesome resource book once you know your dosha and are wanting to achieve specific results through diet.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Recipe of the week - Hazelnut Latte Cupcakes

You know those Hazelnut Lattes you buy at the coffee shop? Here they are as a cupcake, complete with fluffy topping, and decorative drizzle. 

Hazelnut Latte Cupcakes

Hazelnut Latte Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

To make Hazelnut Meal/Ground Hazelnuts (if you can’t buy in the stores) toast roughly the same amount of hazelnuts as you need meal in a dry skillet until toasty and the skins are loosened. Remove the skins by rubbing the warm nuts in a tea towel, then pulse the peeled nuts in your food processor (or in batches in a coffee grinder) until they form a fine meal – keep a close eye on this as you don’t want to end up with nut butter! Measure out what you require and off you go; use leftovers on oatmeal or in another recipe. You can toast, and grind, the nuts and store in the fridge or freezer.

If using coffee granules, not powder, you’ll need to use the back of a spoon to push them through the sieve. You can substitute an equal amount of strong espresso if you don’t have instant coffee but have access to espresso. The liquid doesn’t impact the final result.

If your local supermarket doesn’t sell flavoured syrups for coffee, often your local coffee shop will. They may even sell you the amount you need so you don’t have to buy the whole bottle! 

Apparently, such as thing as Hazelnut Extract exists, but I have yet to see it. If you have some then use instead of the extracts listed.

 Preparation time – 10 minutes
Cooking Time – 20 Minutes

1 cup Soymilk
½ cup + 2 tablespoons Hazelnut Flavored Coffee Syrup
¼ cup Canola Oil
3 tablespoons light Brown Sugar, packed
1 ¼ teaspoons Vanilla Extract
¼ teaspoon Almond Extract

¼ cup toasted Hazelnut Meal
2 cups All Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
½ teaspoon Baking Soda
½ teaspoon Salt
2 tablespoons Instant Coffee Powder or Granules

Buttercream, for decoration, flavoured with Coffee Syrup if desired

Preheat oven to 375°F and line muffin tins with cupcake liners.
In a large bowl combine the soymilk, coffee syrup, oil, extracts, and brown sugar. Mix well.
Sift in the nut meal, flours, baking powder, salt, and instant coffee, mix to just combine so there are no large lumps.
Spoon mix into the prepared tins, and bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until tests done.
Allow cupcakes to cool in the tins for 5 minutes prior to transferring to cooling rack.
Decorate with Buttercream so that the tops look fluffy.

Hazelnut Mocha Latte Muffins
Proceed as above, but replacing 2 tablespoons of the Flour with Cocoa Powder.
Almond Latte Muffins
Replace the Hazelnut ingredients (coffee syrup, extract, nut meal and nuts in the topping) with Almond ingredients.