March 9, 2015
When I heard that Starbucks was going to offer coconut milk nationwide, I was intrigued. While I don’t buy coconut milk for drinking, I do love ice creams and yogurts made from it. I also buy the canned versions for cooking and baking, and recently, for turning into amazing whipped cream. For drinking, we stick to soy and almond as of right now.
But before I give my opinions about the new milk, a small digression. As I read about the new item in advance of its being available, a lot of the comments were negative. Are the soy and coconut milks offered by Starbucks perfect? No, of course not. Would it be great if we could get non-dairy milks without carrageenen and other iffy ingredients? Sure. But I think a lot of people lost sight of the big picture here. Starbucks doesn’t have to offer any alternatives to dairy milk. While there are more people avoiding dairy everyday, we are far from the majority. Perhaps a little gratitude that our non-dairy needs are being considered at all would serve us better than complaining that they got it wrong. It’s a step in the right direction.
Back to my review. I tried the coconut milk in my usual Saturday mocha. It was good–definitely added a coconut undertone to my drink. The thing I didn’t like about it was that it was thinner than the soymilk. It also didn’t have the same degree of foaminess. Since I don’t really have a problem with soy, I will likely stick with that option for now as I prefer the extra creaminess. But I like that it is available as an option, and I may try it again when I shift to iced drinks in the warmer weather.
If nothing else, I do appreciate that Starbucks is broadening their options and thinking about people who cannot, for whatever reason, have dairy or soy.
Even in the twenty-first century, it can be difficult to be a vegan. Most restaurants are still way behind the times when it comes to menu options. People still look at you funny and wonder how you can possibly survive without all the wonderful and artery-clogging options out there. It is at times like those that I am so happy to have a book like The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions, by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman. When I first saw the book, I didn’t think I needed it. After all–I have been a vegan since 2003, and I was vegetarian for a long time before that. I knew all about substitutions–or at least I thought I did. No how much you think you know, if you are a vegan, cook for vegans, or simply want to include some healthier options in your diet, this is a great cookbook to have in your arsenal.
The book is helpfully divided into color-coded sections: Dairy (including cheese), Eggs, Meat, Animal By-Products (honey and gelatin), Gluten, Soy, Refined Sugar, and Fat. At the end is a comprehensive chart covering everything. There are the substitutions, but there are also recipes using those substitutions. The authors also indicate what ready-made substitutions can be found at the store–and when it is easier to buy rather than make.
The first recipe I made was the Basic Soymilk Mayo, which is in the Egg section. There are actually two mayo recipes, that one and another using tofu. The soymilk mayo has two variations, one that involves cooking, and one that doesn’t. I haven’t made the tofu recipe or the cooked soymilk one, but the no-cook version is worth the cost of the book. I really don’t think I will ever need to buy pre-made vegan mayo ever again. It is really easy and really good–it actually has an “eggy” taste. I use Light Silk Soymilk (or the store brand equivalent), and it still comes out thick and rich. I use it for cole slaw, pasta salads, vegan tuna/chicken salads, and as a condiment on sandwiches.
Another recipe from this section that I made was the Chick-o-late Brownie Cake, where chickpeas are the substitute for the egg. I made the gluten-free version, and it was really good. You would never know there is a can of chickpeas in there.
From the Dairy section, I have tried the White/Milk Chocolate Bar and the Chocolate Pudding. As a vegan, white chocolate is difficult to find, so I thought this recipe would be the solution. Raw cacao butter is on the expensive side, but I did get a big enough package to make each recipe once–and I have enough to make the milk chocolate again. I wasn’t able to find vanilla powder, so I used vanilla extract, and I didn’t purchase the optional soy lecithin. Still, the end result was pretty good. I used some candy molds I had, but an ever better use for them would probably be in baked goods.
The Chocolate Pudding was also quite good. I used Silk’s Light Chocolate Soymilk, and I am often concerned that the light won’t thicken well, but no issues! Some of the pudding was used to make the Walnut Chocolate Brownies in the Egg section, and they got raves from my daughter!
From the Meat section, I made the Taco Meat, and that runs a close second to the mayo for a recipe that, on its own, is worth buying the book for. The recipe has a gluten-free version that uses TVP, which is the one I made, and a soy-free version using wheat gluten. It was so good–and so easy! You don’t even need taco seasoning, because all the spices are right there in the recipe.
Further in the chapter is a recipe for Pizza Pepperoni Topping with the same gluten-free and soy-free options. It was OK, but I blame the fact that my liquid smoke is really old, and not the recipe, for it not being perfect. I used to love pepperoni, but the vegan options at the store have too much gluten for me, so this was nice to have on my pizza! I also tried the Bacon Bit recipe, but it came out a little watery. Next time, I will try less water or a longer baking time. Might also add a bit more salt.
The Gluten chapter opens with an All-Purpose Baking Mix, and it is used in some of the recipes. I also tried it in some other recipes, and the resulting products had really nice crumb and texture, better than I’ve gotten with other a-p flour substitutions. I made the Chocolate Chip Muffins, which called for the baking mix, the Provençal Socca, the Superfudgy Coconut Cookie Bars, and the Coconut Cinnamon Raisin Bread. All were really good. Socca is a flatbread that is cooked in a skillet like a crepe. We had them plain–the recipe includes ideas for toppings–and they were really tasty.
There are a few sections I haven’t tried yet, but I have seen a lot of testy-sounding recipes that I am excited to make. And I recently read on Facebook that they are working on a second volume. When that one comes out, I won’t be hesitating!
July 1, 2014
I don’t make pies. They tend to stress me out with all the rolling and what not, so I avoid them. So when I got a copy of Pies and Tarts with Heart, by Dynise Balcavage, to review, I saw it as a chance to be converted to the wonders of making pies–and, to some degree, it worked.
One of my favorite things about this book was that it isn’t 100% what I think of when I think of pie cookbooks. Yes, the usual suspects are there, but there is a big section on savory pies, as well as “Imposter” pies–think whoopie and shepherd’s. All the recipes are vegan–I love being able to skim a cookbook knowing I can make just about anything. And just about every recipe has a gluten-free option, which is also great. I think there are only a handful of recipes that are dependent on gluten ingredients like phyllo or puff pastry, and as the market expands, that may change.
The first recipe I made, Macaroni Pie, came from the “Imposter” chapter. It was really easy, and all the ingredients are probably in everyone’s kitchen. Since my husband is not a mac and cheese fan, I made it for my daughter and I when he was out of town. Sadly for me, I only got one or two servings because my daughter liked it so much, she wanted the leftovers for lunch that week. Good parent that I am, I sacrificed my chance to have the leftovers for my own lunch. When she asks to take leftovers for lunch, I know I have a hit.
From the Savory Pies and Tarts chapter, I tried out the Cheeseburger Pie and the Hash Brown-Crusted Breakfast Pie. They were also both very good–and I think the Cheeseburger Pie went to lunch as well. For the Hash Brown Crust I used frozen hash browns because I didn’t feel like grating potatoes, and they seemed to work OK. I also used tempeh in place of the ready made breakfast sausage, because I couldn’t find a gluten-free option. The Cheeseburger Pie was the only one that called for a rolled crust, and the g-f recipe was pretty easy.
The chapter on Nutty Pies included Choco-Coco Macadamia Pie, and the picture in the book was enough to put it at the top of my Must Make List. A macadamia nut crust filled with chocolate, cream cheese, and coconut–I could have eaten the whole thing myself–in one sitting. But I was good and did share. It was creamy, crunchy, and chocolatey. Yum, yum, and yum.
My husband chose the Lemon Fluff Pie, from the Citrus Pies and Tarts chapter, for Father’s Day, but I ran out of time for the crust, so we had the filling as a pudding with the Enjoy Life! chocolate cookies I bought to make the crust from on the side. It was really good.
Decadent and Creamy Pies–the title of the chapter kind of says it all. The S’more Pie jumped out at me, and I made it recently for company. I used shortbread cookies for the crust instead of graham crackers–we also use those cookies to make s’mores, so I knew it would work. When I brought it out of the fridge, my daughter said it looked just like the picture in the book–praise doesn’t get much higher than that!
While I haven’t become a total convert to pies, this cookbook did make me realize that pies don’t have to completely stress me out., and I do look forward to exploring some of the other recipes.
April 16, 2014
The wonderful folks at Fair Winds Press sent me some new cookbooks to review, and I have been hard at work sampling recipes! That is part of the reason I haven’t posted too much–I have been saving it all for the review.
So, the first book I have to talk about is Fusion Food in the Vegan Kitchen, by Joni Marie Newman. I wanted to sample at least one recipe from each chapter before I reviewed the book. I haven’t yet made anything from the dessert chapter, so I will update when I have!
The recipes are divided into seven sections: Sauces and Condiments, Starters, Soups and Salads, Main Dishes, Sides. Beverages, and Desserts. The Introduction is shorter than I have seen in most vegan cookbooks, so some knowledge of vegan food and cooking is assumed. What the intro does focus on is explaining fusion food and going over some ingredients one might want to have on hand for this style of cooking. There were only one or two things I had never heard of before, so it isn’t an obscure list. There is also a key explaining the the recipe/allergy notations that will be found at the start of each recipe.
From the Small Bites and Starters chapter, I made the Orange Tempeh Kebabs, which also required a batch of the Garlic Orange Sauce from the first chapter. I am the big tempeh fan in the family–the others blow hot and cold depending on the recipe. This one was a hit all around. I opted to not serve it as kebabs, or even as a starter, but, instead, as part of the main course. We had baby bok choy and some adorable, gluten-free, duck-shaped pasta I found a Whole Foods to go with it. I used the rest of the Orange Sauce on the bok choy and pasta–it was so good!
I love chowder, but haven’t had it too often now that I don’t use dairy, so I was excited to see a recipe for Coconut Curry Pea and Potato Chowder in the Soup and Salad section. I love Indian food, but my husband is often not a fan, so I did halve the amount of curry powder the recipe called for. I also had fewer frozen peas in the freezer than I thought I did, so I added some corn. It was creamy, thick, and totally yummy. I claimed most of the leftovers for myself, but it was a hit with everyone when I initially served it.
From the same chapter, I also made the Chinese Style Macaroni Salad, which also required a batch of the Sweet Chile Sauce. The recipe invites creativity, so I played with the veggies I included. I didn’t have any green beans or scallions on hand, so I added bell pepper instead. I opted to not include the sesame seeds, and I also reduced the amount of red pepper flakes by half. Even doing that, it was quite spicy–I will probably tame the sauce a bit the next time I make it. However, it was still good–my daughter even asked for it as her lunch that week, which is a definite sign of success!
Also from the Soups, I made the Sloppy Joe Pho. When I served this and said what it was, my husband almost refused to eat it–he is not a fan of anything “sloppy” when it comes to food. However, he did give it a try, and it was an all-around hit. It was warm and just spicy enough.
The Pho is one of only three recipes in the book that call for TVP, and the other two have wheat gluten as a main ingredient, so I almost didn’t try them. But they sounded so interesting, I wasn’t going to give up. The Kofta Kebabs recipe is in the Main Dishes section, and I decided to give it a go. At first, I was just going to cook the TVP with the spices and make a sort of scramble with them, but I did some poking around online for an alternative binder. I happened across the blog My Real Food Life, and a recipe for gluten-free meatballs. Taking inspiration from there, I used a blend of tapioca starch, flax meal, and rice flour until I got the consistency I wanted. I shaped the Kofta as burgers instead of kebabs, and the result was fabulous. The taste was unaffected by my gluten-free tweaking, and we all got to enjoy it! All the other recipes I made were gluten-free from the start or included g-f options in the recipe.
From the Sides and Snacks chapter I made the Nori Roasted Potatoes. I used a blend of white and sweet potatoes, and it was also quite good. I love roasted veggies in pretty much any form, so this was an easy choice.
When I was trying to figure out what to try from the drinks chapter, I mixed up a couple of the recipes in my head when I was buying ingredients, so I ended up making a combination of the Ice Blended Mexican Hot Chocolate and the Banana Bliss–it was fabulous. I made a half recipe since I am the only coffee drinker in the house, and it came out fine, and I had a little party of my own!
I have several cookbooks by Newman, and they all have been hits. This is another. The recipes are, for the most part, familiar bases with global twists–and the ethnic cuisines included cover just about every continent. Fusion cooking is a good way to dabble in international cooking without making anything too scary for picky eaters. While there are some ingredients that may be harder to find, there are plenty that are right there on any grocery store’s shelves. I look forward to remaking some of the ones listed above, trying some new ones, and getting to that desserts chapter!
February 28, 2014
I know it isn’t really endless, but I am beginning to think we’ve all been transported to the North of Westeros. Forget Winter is Coming, it has come, kicked our butts, and is refusing to leave!
Anyway, the calendar says Spring is coming soon, though I do have my doubts at the moment–especially when the temperature reaching 32 is a cause for celebration. But I digress.
I wrote a few weeks ago that I was determined to get back to clean eating, and I am happy to say that I have been largely successful with that. My weight is just about back to where it should be and the cupboards are largely junk-free. All this bad weather hasn’t helped, since snow days bring out the desire for chips and warm bread–along with warm chocolaty things. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this before lunch….
To honor the cold weather, I did make a wonderful Pumpkin Chili last week–the recipe came from Great Gluten-Free Vegan Eats. I cut back on the spices a bit for family consumption–though except for the day I made it, I have been the only one eating it! I had never made a pumpkin-based soup before, and I wasn’t sure I would like it, but it was quite good–pumpkin is definitely not just for sweets! It also has chickpeas, black beans, tomatoes, corn, and green pepper. Maybe I will have some for lunch!
Well, all this talk of food is making me hungry, so I think I should run with that lunch idea. More yumminess to come, I promise. And some new book reviews soon!
February 3, 2014
It has been some time since I have posted. Toward the end of last year, things got really busy, and I wasn’t as invested in being healthy–at least, not as much as I wanted to be. My weight crept back up (not a lot, but enough by my standards), and I got discouraged. While it was crazy around here, part of the reason I stopped writing here was, I think, due in part to that discouragement. As cliche as it may be, the start of a new year gave me a chance to reinvest and recommit. I am going back to eating clean, and I have been happy with the results. I really shouldn’t be surprised that paying attention is the key. Didn’t I learn that already?
So, here is to a new year. I look forward to posting again!