Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trip to Ghana

I had my first experience eating Ghanian food this weekend after a trip to DC brought me to the Ghana Cafe in the northwest neighborhood.  And it was delicious, reminiscent of Ethiopian food but without the injera. 


Since being back home I've been doing some research and discovered two other Ghanian restaurants tucked into hidden corners of the same neighborhood.  One, Akosombo, is apparently known mostly to the locals, since there is no signage and the entrance is hidden from the street (ironically, "akosombo" means "welcome").  Word has it that this is the place to go for authentic Ghanian food, so on my return trip I'll be sure to get my detective gear together to sleuth out a visit.  For a first timer, though, Ghana Cafe was a good place to start.  In fact, I think it was my favorite meal of the entire trip.


It started with a hearty portion of fried plantain and peanut.  Even after a 15 minute walk back to the hotel, they held their heat and crispness, along with a smooth, sweet and creamy inside reminiscent of donuts.  Mmmm.... donuts....


Because of the cold (it was in the 30s our first night!) I ordered a traditional Nkatekwan (peanut soup) to warm me up.  This needed a little salt and peppery kick, and the accompanying spice mixture was unexpectedly sandy and unpalatable; nonetheless, it was still satisfying probably because of the peanut butter.


There was a fairly extensive Vegetarian selection on this menu, which though interesting to read, made it difficult to decide what to try.  I opted for the Sampler Platter and let the chef choose what to serve.  There was Spinach & Egusi (kind of a curried spinach/collard mixture), Red Red (fried plantains and bean stew in red sauce), Rice and Beans, and Cabbage and Beans.  (I think he pegged me for a timid American, since two of the items had rice, but they were still good.  I should've tried either the Banku (fermented corn made into balls and served with stew) or FuFu (dumplings made from yam & cassava starch), but I didn't want to offend my server.  Next time. 

Next up... my visit to all-vegan Sticky Fingers Bakery!




Monday, March 22, 2010

Meatout Recap

I hope everyone had a blast celebrating the Great American Meatout this weekend.  Have you made a pledge to go vegan?  It's easy if you start with some great recipes. At the Well on Wheels cooking class, we toasted the first day of Spring with an Equinox Elixir made with pear, pineapple, banana and kale.

This was followed by a warm Potato Leek and Fresh Asparagus Soup topped with Wild Garlic Chives.


Looking at the leeks

The main course was Walnut "Neatballs" in a Vegan Bechamel Sauce with Quinoa and Steamed Kale.  This required a little hands-on assistance from some willing volunteers.  


 
Getting into the mix

Thank you, Jeff and Linda!

 
Lovely little rows

We finished the evening with a Chocolate Molten Lava Cake and Raspberry Sauce.  

 


 
The alchemy of hot water and chocolate

Thank you everyone who attended, and to Camden and Dianna for the fantastic action shots.  If you would like to see more photos from the event, click on the link here.

Special THANKS to my helpful assistant:  mom!!  :)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Meatout Prep

In between raking, mulching, planting and cleaning, I've been doing some prep for tonight's Great American Meatout cooking class.

I cut a bunch of wild garlic chives form the yard - these will go nicely as a garnish on the Potato Leek and Fresh Asparagus Soup.


And to save a little time tonight, I blanched and cut the asparagus.  Everything tastes so green!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Meatout Giveaway

I just opened my package of goodies from FARM USA for the Great American Meatout cooking class I'm hosting March 20.  I have a cool men's size small t-shirt to give away to one lucky person attending, plus lots of cute postcards.


Will this be yours?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Neat Balls

 
I spent the afternoon putting together the menu for my Great American Meatout cooking class and dinner coming up soon on March 20.  This is my favorite time of year for veggies, and I really want to do them all justice... leeks, asparagus, greens, wild garlic chives.  And then there's the maple syrup.  mmmm... hopefully there'll be some available in Connecticut sugarhouses by next weekend.  It would make the perfect dessert.

Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian's Survival HandbookToday I was testing the entree, Carol Adams' recipe for Baked Walnut Balls in Bechamel which I've had my eye on for about 5 years.  I decided to make it gluten-free so I could indulge, and I'm glad I did because it was hard to stop at just 3.  Then 4.  Then 5.  Oh, who's counting?  The recipe is from her fabulous cookbook, Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian's Survival Handbook, which every vegan should have in their library.  Really, it made all the difference for me during those first two formative years as a vegan.

This is a recipe that she, too, has modified over the years.  It was first introduced to her in 1978 when the caterer at her wedding created Baked Walnut and Cheddar Balls Bechamel from Anna Thomas' Vegetarian Epicure Book Two (Book 2) as the main course.  Since then, she discovered a recipe reminiscent of the original called Walnut Balls with Tofu Lemon Cream Sauce from Reggi Norton and Martha Wagner's Soy of Cooking: A Tofu and Tempeh Recipe Book, minus the dairy and eggs.  I used corn meal in place of wheat germ, gluten-free bread crumbs, and brown rice flour instead of whole wheat.  These were delicious, as I'm sure hers were.  In fact, they're just the right texture that I surmise they'd hold up well in a marinara sauce with spaghetti or even in a vegan sub smothered in melted Daiya cheese.  I made a big batch of 2 dozen, then froze them in a zip-lock bag for a quick "go to" meal when I'm too busy to cook.  I think I'll have to make myself busy this week. 

First, toast 1 1/2 cups of walnuts in the oven, then grind them in a food processor.  Combine with 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup corn meal (or wheat germ, if you're not gluten-free), 3 Tbl chopped fresh parsley and 1/2 cup minced onion.  Note:  Even after this step, my kitchen was already smelling like an Italian restaurant.

Next, puree in a food processor 6 oz. silken tofu, 1/4 cup plain rice or soy milk, 1 Tbl tamari, 1/4 cup brown rice flour (or regular flour), 3 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp lemon juice, and some fresh ground pepper.

 
You may need to scrape the sides with a spatula a couple times to be sure it all gets in there.  Combine the two mixtures together and stir until everything is evenly distributed. 

The mixture should be moist, but still able to hold its shape.  Spoon into tablespoonfuls and roll into balls. 


Place balls on oiled baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until bottoms have browned.

These were delicious on a bed of steamed kale and drizzled with Bechamel Sauce.  I even liked them with a squeeze of ketchup.  Yum!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cinnamon Pecan Sticky Buns with Maple Glaze

No, these aren't gluten-free. Yes, they're vegan. And by the aroma, I'd surmise they're delicious, though I haven't dug into them yet.

It's been awhile (years, in fact) since I've made this recipe, and I thought of tweaking it into a gluten-free version, but decided to start with something reliable. It's a test batch for a TV appearance on WTNH's Good Morning Connecticut this weekend.

The dough is fairly simple, just a modification of a focaccia dough with a little more sweetness. I also like to melt coconut oil into the batter for some decadence (just a tablespoon, though!).

After it sits about 5 minutes, I stretch it out into a rectangle (no need for a rolling pin!), then spread it with a bit more melted coconut oil, sprinkle chopped pecans, raisins, and cinnamon on top, and roll it jelly-roll style. I made 8 slices, then turned over each slice onto an oiled cake pan.

I let the slices sit and rise while I took Zinny out for a walk (about an hour), though a half an hour would probably be long enough. I popped the pan into a hot 400 degree oven for 15 minutes (checking after 10).

Meanwhile, I made a maple cashew glaze in the Vita-Mix (Vita-Mix 1700 Turbo Blend 4500 Countertop Blender with 2+ HP Motor), then drizzled it over the top. These are going to be heavenly.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why Vegan?

I was recently interviewed for a soon-to-be-launched online news site called The Daily Norwalk. One of the questions I was asked was "When and why did you become vegan?"

Here is my response:

I originally changed my diet in 1996 for health reasons. I lived my whole life with seasonal allergies, but around age 30 I developed a chronic cough, fatigue, asthma, and was always getting colds. Traditional allergists told me I needed to 1) get rid of my dog and 2) be on steroid medication the rest of my life. Since I didn't want to do either of these, I did some research on alternative medicine and found a naturopathic doctor who recommended that I change the way I eat. This meant: no sugar, dairy, processed foods, refined flour, or caffeine... my five basic food groups. But since she said I could keep my dog, I decided to give it a try. I was already a vegetarian (or what I now refer to as a "junk food vegetarian"), mostly eating pasta, pizza and bread all the time. When I learned about battery cages and dairy cows on factory farms, it became much easier to give up cheese, my favorite food.

[I'd love to read YOUR stories, too, so please post a comment below!]

Here are a couple more questions from that interview:


2. What sort of clients seek you out - people looking to make a lifestyle change, vegans in need of new recipe ideas, busy types who can't cook for themselves?

Over the past year I've seen a dramatic increase in people interested in eating healthier not only for themselves, but for the planet. I think there is a growing awareness of the negative effects of factory farms due to the mainstream exposure of writers like Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer, TV shows like "Ellen," and various celebreties promoting the benefits of a vegan diet. Consequently, people often tell me they no longer wish to support a system that mistreats animals and want to make a difference in the world by choosing a more humane diet. I am thrilled when I hear this! For some, this means incorporating more organic fruits and vegetables into their diet and eating less meat. For many others, they've decided to make a commitment to be 100% vegan. I'm happy to support anyone at whatever stage of the journey toward a healthy lifestyle they are on. Many people lead hectic lives and I'm here to make the transition easy!

3. Tell me about some especially funny or interesting that's happened on your journey as a vegan chef - a dish that went wrong? Kitchen misadventures?

Hmmm... misadventures... I think you have to read my Blog - The Traveling Vegan Chef (http://wellonwheels.blogspot.com) for that! I'm not a fan of the "Hell's Kitchen" approach to cooking, and mostly just try to enjoy myself and put love into the food I make. That's really what it's all about. Have fun in the kitchen! Don't worry about making mistakes - even the best chefs have thrown out food that was brilliant in conception but inedible in execution.

What I will say is that every day is different and it's always an adventure. I really enjoy meeting people and hearing about their challenges as they adopt new eating practices, learn new skills in the kitchen, share food with family and friends, and develop a greater awareness about the food they eat. This is what being vegan is about: making conscious choices. It's very empowering. When you realize that you can make a difference in your life simply by deciding what food to put into your body, it becomes a positive experience. And the potential to influence others in the process is exponential. Even going to a restaurant can become a learning opportunity - for the server, your dining companions, and sometimes even the chef. Sure, sometimes it can be a little awkward to speak up and explain your dietary choice without sounding dogmatic. But I always conclude that this little bit of discomfort is worth tolerating if it can reduce the amount of animal suffering in the world.

I'm often reminded of a quote by Margaret Meade: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I think we've already got that small group together, and it's growing every day. You never know what you are truly capable of until you take that first step.

Great American Meatout 25th Anniversary

Ahhh... smell that fresh air. Yes, my favorite season is just around the corner. While March 20 officially marks the first day of spring, this year it also marks the 25th anniversary of the Great American Meatout - the day to commemorate our love of animals by not eating them!

Every spring, thousands of caring Meatout supporters educate their communities and ask their friends, families, and neighbors to pledge to "kick the meat habit (at least for a day) and explore a wholesome, compassionate diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains." I hope you will be one of them!

In honor of the Great American Meatout, I will be hosting a cooking demonstration at the Well on Wheels headquarters (more below). Please join me for this fun event!

Great American Meatout Vegan Cooking Demonstration
(perfect for newbies with tons of questions and long-time vegans who just want to enjoy some good food and good conversation)
Well on Wheels Headquarters
Hamden, CT
Saturday, March 20, 5:00-7:00 p.m.
$25 (proceeds benefit FARM USA)

Seating is limited so please RSVP to reserve your space.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gluten-free Toasted Coconut Almond Cookies

It's a quiet night here at Well on Wheels headquarters... chilly outside, warm and toasty inside, and that means it's the perfect storm for creating Toasted Coconut Almond Cookies.

Remember the Good Humor truck? One of my favorite ice creams (back in the days of my innocent non-vegan youth) was the Toasted Almond Bar.

It had that pleasing golden color and nutty crunch on the outside, and creamy rich vanilla ice cream on the inside. Of course, you can still get today's version, with an artificially flavored yellow center and other scary ingredients.

I like it best as a somewhat healthier vegan cookie that's thin and crisp on the outside, yet chewy in the center. [Note to self: These would be heavenly with So Delicious Coconut ice cream.]

The last time I made this recipe was for a Holiday Craft Fair two winters ago at the Unitarian Universalist Society in New Haven. I met quite a few vegans there, and several commented that they were happy to find gluten-free baked goods since they could no longer eat wheat. (oh how I can relate to that sadness, followed by the joy of discovery!) On the plus side, these cookies can also be enjoyed by those who are not vegan and haven't had to give up eating wheat.

As all my favorite recipes go, they're quick and easy to make. There are a few ingredients that are specifically for gluten-free baking (xanthan gum, rice flour, tapioca flour), but you can substitute an equal amount of regular white flour and eliminate the xanthan gum if you don't have to worry about gluten. They come out equally delicious (so I've been told!).

Gluten-free Almond Butter Coconut Chunk Cookies
1/3 cup almond butter
2 Tbl coconut oil, melted
1 organic Florida Crystals, plus 1 Tbl reserved
1/3 cup soy milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup organic brown rice flour
¼ cup tapioca flour
½ cup ground almonds, plus 1 Tbl reserved
½ cup coconut
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp xantham gum

Start with your mise en place

Grind the almonds into a chunky powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, blend together first five ingredients and set aside.

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In a large bowl, whisk together flours, ground almonds, coconut, baking soda, sea salt and xantham gum. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir together slowly until well combined.
Drop 1 heaping tablespoon of batter into a rounded ball onto oiled baking sheet, pressing tops down slightly. Sprinkle each with chopped almonds.

Bake 5-10 minutes, or until batter spreads and edges begin to brown. Cool on baking sheet 1 minute before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!