Thursday, July 25, 2013

Recipe: Raw Vegan Tacos with Jicama "Rice" and Chipotle Cashew Sour Creme

This is one of those meals you'll want to eat all season long.  It's spicy, yet cooling, and perfect for the dog days of summer when you don't want to heat up your kitchen.  The flavors have a traditional southwest flare with cumin and chipotle pepper, yet the heat is balanced by the cool sweetness of raw jicama.  Lemon and lime add a pleasant tartness, making the meal feel satisfying to the palate.

To serve as an entree, spread the walnut "meat" in big leaves of Romaine lettuce, then sprinkle with the Jicama Rice.  Add a good drizzle of Chipotle Sour Creme (and if you're daring, squeeze on a little Sriracha), then garnish with fresh slices of creamy avocado, diced red bell pepper, cilantro and green onion.

This is the perfect recipe for a summer party.  Use smaller portions of the ingredients to fill endive leaves for "Raw Taco Sliders."  They make a lovely presentation fanned out on a platter.

Alternatively, slice thin rounds of zucchini and top with the filling ingredients.  Garnish with a single leaf of cilantro for that elegant flare.  Each mouthful packs the same delicious punch that will leave your guests swooning.  "I can't believe this tastes like real tacos!! SOOO good!!"

Raw Taco “Walnut Meat”
1 cup walnuts (soaked in water several hours, drained and rinsed)
1/4 cup finely diced, sundried tomatoes (approx. 8)
1 fresh plum tomato, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
1 handful fresh cilantro
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp cumin
1 teaspoon dry coriander
1-2 Tbl lemon juice
1/2 tsp sea salt

8 large leaves of Romaine lettuce, washed and dried

Pulse all ingredients except lettuce in a food processor until broken down, but still with some texture.  Spread about 2-3 Tbl of the mixture in each lettuce leaf.  Top with jicama rice and chipotle sour creme.

Jicama Rice
2 cups diced jicama
1/4 cup pine nuts (soaked in water several hours, drained and rinsed)
1 tsp olive oil 
1/2 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp salt

Pulse the pine nuts and jicama in a food processor until roughly chopped and a ‘rice-like’ consistency.  Place mixture into a colander lined with a cheesecloth or nutbag and squeeze to eliminate excess liquid.  Transfer this to a bowl, and then stir in the remaining ingredients.

Chipotle Cashew Sour Creme
1 cup cashews (soaked in water several hours, drained and rinsed)
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbl lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup water

Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender, gradually adding water to achieve a smooth consistency.

Making Raw Taco Sliders on CT Style

I return to the set of WTNH-TV's CT Style to make a recipe that's perfect for the dog days of summer, Raw Tacos with Jicama "Rice" and Chipotle Cashew Sour Creme.  This is a fantastic recipe to eat when you’re craving spice but don’t want to heat up the kitchen.  It’s quick to prepare and fun to assemble, plus the flavors are sublime.  These look lovely in Romaine lettuce leaves for a sophisticated entree, or in endive leaves for a smaller, appetizer sized "Raw Taco Slider."  Alternatively, they can be assembled on rounds of “zucchini chips” as nachos for a party.  

Tune in to watch how they're made and get the recipe here!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Recipe: Vegan Maple Bacon Hot Fudge Sundae

I'm sure every vegan can relate to that feeling of being bombarded with bacon everywhere you look in the foodie world, where it seems as if no food item is immune to being combined with it... bacon beer, bacon apple pie, even bacon PB&J. When I was recently sent a link to bacon ice cream, I think I just about went over the bacon edge.  My immediate reaction to this idea had me rolling my eyes and sighing heavily, and yet, on second thought my head was pondering, "hmmm... vegan bacon ice cream sundae??" If this could be veganized, it would be like sacrileging sacrilege, thus canceling it out.  So I gave it a try and I am beyond pleased with the results.
I made a simple chocolate sauce sweetened with maple syrup and heated in a pot just until warm to the touch.  Then I drizzled it liberally over some super creamy vanilla So Delicious soy ice cream.  The hot fudge was topped with a generous sprinkling of WayFare Foods "pigout" vegan bacony bits.

The end result was a rich and decadent dessert that was sweet and savory with just the right amount of saltiness.  I think I'd double the portion of bits the next time, or maybe even swirl some in with the ice cream and refreeze it.  This got better and better as it sat and oozed away in my hot and humid kitchen. Delish!!  

Vegan Maple Bacon Hot Fudge
1 Tbl coconut oil
1 Tbl cocoa powder
1 Tbl Sucanat
1 Tbl maple syrup
2 Tbl rice milk (approx.)
splash of vanilla
pinch of sea salt
2 tsp WayFare Foods "Pigout" vegan bacony bits

In a small pot over medium, stir together coconut oil, cocoa powder, Sucanat, and maple syrup until there are no lumps. Heat for about a minute or until sauce thickens, then gradually add a tablespoon or two of rice milk, vanilla, and a pinch of sea salt, and stir together to achieve a smooth and silky consistency.  Stir in 1 teaspoon of vegan bacony bits, then pour sauce over soy ice cream.  Sprinkle with remaining bacony bits.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Part IV: 9 Ways to Be a Thrifty Vegan

In my previous Secrets of a Vegan Personal Chef entry, I discussed how to keep a tidy kitchen.  The post focused on how to stay organized and focused to create a sense of balance and positive energy in your kitchen.  Today's post features a common concern of newbie vegans: the steep price tag of eating healthy.  Yes, it's much cheaper to dine on burgers and fries from the "Value Menu," but when you think about your health and the health of the environment, the cost of those cheap eats can really add up.  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Restaurant Review: G-Zen

It's been awhile since I've visited G-Zen, an organic vegan bistro in the shoreline town of Branford, CT.  The last time I was there was to attend the launch of their Saturday "Buddha Brunch" and sample some breakfasty foods, so I was looking forward to returning for dinner with friends.

The occasion was the 40th birthday party of a friend and animal activist who arranged for 20% of the night's proceeds to benefit the Greater New Haven Cat Project where she volunteers.  I was happy to support this fantastic organization and celebrate the birthday of a very hard-working woman.

I started with the Fire Island Sake-tini, made with pineapple juice, coconut water, banana, and sake.  It was refreshingly tropical for a sultry summer evening.  The price ($12.50) was a little steep, but since the juice was fresh and organic, it was understandable.

For our appetizer, the four of us shared the Vegan Artisinal Nut Cheese Platter special which was served with baguette, champagne grapes, and dates on a bed of mesclun.  The three cheeses were made from pureed raw cashews in varieties of goat cheese, herbed cheese, and peppercorn brie.  All of these were tasty, but the portion would have been more appropriate for two instead of four people to share.  At $20, this also was a pricey menu item which would have been even more of a splurge had we ordered two.

One positive note is that I requested gluten-free bread which at first my server had said couldn't be substituted, but then she came to the table with a plate of puffy little flat rolls.  I neglected to take a photo, but these were the highlight of my evening:  it's rare to get soft, pillowy bread that is not only gluten-free, but also vegan.  I asked our server if these were made in house but was informed they came from Dee's One Smart Cookie, a gluten-free bakery in Glastonbury.  I highly recommend this bread if you can't eat gluten and are tired of those frozen bricks that taste like cardboard when you toast them.  The gluten-free pizza crust at G-Zen also comes from Dee's.

It was tough to decide on an entree since I've eaten nearly everything on the menu on prior visits to G-Zen as well as when they were served at Chef Mark Shadle's previous incarnation, It's Only Natural restaurant in Middletown, CT.  One item I hadn't ever tried was the Black Bean Burger, but since I didn't want it on a bun (although, in retrospect, more of that Dee's bread would've been pretty awesome!), I decided to order the Garden Guru, which is any 4 sides for $20.  I chose the burger, mashed potatoes and gravy, sauteed greens and grilled asparagus.

When the food arrived at the table, my server notified me that they were out of grilled asparagus and had substituted more greens.  Now, I'm a huge fan of greens, but when I order something that's kinda what I expect to get, so I was a little disappointed I hadn't been informed of this asparagus outage in order to pre-empt the substitution.  I think she kinda sensed my surprise and offered to bring me a different sub, so I asked for the mixed veggies... which ended up being more greens, plus carrots, broccoli, zucchini and turnips. Everything else on the plate was ok, though I kinda like my mashed potatoes drowning in gravy, which also would have been nice to slather on the somewhat dry burger.

I did not order dessert, but my dining companions enjoyed some Nice Cream and Carrot Cake.  Ultimately, the best part of the evening was the good company and conversation which lingered well past closing time.  It was a pleasure to be able to enjoy a leisurely meal with friends and not feel pressured out the door.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Cooking Class: Healthy Cooking in a Hurry

Last night I held the summer edition of my "Healthy Cooking in a Hurry" class for West Hartford Adult Education.  Because it was a sweltering evening after a long, hot and sticky day, the menu featured recipes that minimized the use of the oven.  The result was a delicious array of crisp, fresh veggies in savory sauces, along with a seasonally inspired dessert that was sweetly satisfying.

To start, we indulged in a Gazpacho soup made with cooling vegetables like cucumber and celery.  It was topped with a garnish of parsley oil and a fan of avocado, then served at room temperature.

Everyone was pleasantly surprised at how flavorful and substantial this uncooked starter was.  If I was making this for a summer party, I think it would look elegant served in tall shot glasses!

The entree was a combo of two uncooked salads that would work well at a picnic.  The Mock Chicken Salad is made with tempeh combined with chopped carrot, celery, red onion, and dill pickle.  I used Earth Balance Mindful Mayo, but Nayonaise and Vegenaise are also really good mayonaise substitutes.  This was served with a colorful Cruciferous Vegetable Slaw made with broccoli, cauliflower, and purple cabbage as well as pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries.  Not only was this melange of anti-cancer superfoods tasty, it was crunchy, too... but in a good way.

For dessert we indulged in Gluten-free Blueberry Buckwheat Hemp Crisp.  This is the same recipe as my Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp, but with the substitution of seasonal blueberries.  Almost any fruit can work here, though some are more watery than others.

I think the filling would have benefited from one more teaspoon of cornstarch, but the blueberry syrup at the bottom of the bowl was kind of a nice ending, nonetheless.  It was a light, sweet dessert to a meal that was filling but not stuffing.

What did you think of the meal?  Was it satisfying?  Were you surprised at how delicious these foods could be?

Monday, July 8, 2013

FREE Giveaway: So Delicious!!

It's the time... of the season for... ice cream!  I'm not a huge fan of frozen desserts, but when the balmy summer weather hits, sometimes that's exactly what I need to feel satisfied.  I recently sampled a couple of products from So Delicious, makers of all sorts of delicious non-dairy treats such as yogurt, creamer, beverages, and frozen desserts made with almond milk, coconut milk, and soy milk.  I love that they have several options for those who may be sensitive to soy, and this is what I tried.  I'm really excited to give you an opportunity to try some for FREE!! (SEE BELOW!)

Butter Pecan is the flavor that I gravitated to because it reminded me most of my childhood.  The almond milk version is rich and luscious, with a creaminess you'd never know wasn't vegan.

I found this to be perfect on top of a chocolatey dessert such as cake or brownie, and it would probably be even more fabulous drizzled with hot fudge.

Just to compare, I also sampled the no-sugar-added coconut milk version of Butter Pecan.  The flavor was not sacrificed at all by the erythritol used as a low-calorie sweetener.  This had a lighter feel than the almond milk, and it was a bit more icy than creamy when scooping out of the container.  I would recommend letting it sit at room temperature for about 5-10 minutes to soften it up before serving.

Nonetheless, this went really well on top of my Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp, and I imagine it would be nice simply served on top of fresh berries.

I highly recommend So Delicious, and I'm pleased to announce that they have given me coupons for FREE products to share with my readers so you can see for yourself how amazing their ice cream is!  TWO lucky people will receive a FREE coupon for ANY product to try!  

All you have to do is LEAVE A COMMENT below letting me know how much you love vegan ice cream and your favorite way to serve it.  I will notify the lucky winners MONDAY, July 15, so hurry up and enter!  Your icecreamy summer indulgence awaits!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Restaurant Review: Da Legna Cucina Rustica


About a year ago a new pizza restaurant opened on State Street just a few doors down from the famous Modern Apizza.  I heard rumors that they were making vegan pies and I couldn't wait to stop in to give them a try.  Unfortunately, shortly after opening, a fire caused them to shut down and I thought this new addition to the New Haven pizza scene was history.  Fortunately, they have rebuilt and reopened, and I was excited to finally visit.

Now, I won't get into the debate over who has the best pizza in New Haven, because essentially, whether you're in the Sally's, Pepe's or Modern camp, nobody is going to convince you to switch teams.  So when a newcomer enters the scene, it's tough to say where they rank, but as a vegan I'd declare Da Legna by far The Best simply because they not only have veggie toppings that go beyond the standard mushroom and peppers, but they have Daiya cheese.  Oh, and the pizza is really, really good.

This is reason alone to celebrate.  And it's nice too that they have a separate vegan menu to let you know which selections are free of animal products.  One note, however, is that the gluten-free crust option is also listed on this menu, but it is made with eggs, so it is NOT vegan.  Keep that in mind before getting TOO excited!

I neglected to take a photograph of the vegan menu and the online menu does not include all of the vegan pie combinations, but there was enough of a selection to make ordering a little bit of a time-consuming process.  A 12" pie is $8 and a 16" pie is $13, with toppings $2 each.  Among the substantial selection of veggies such as broccoli, fresh tomatoes, basil, arugula, black olives, mushrooms and onions, they also have vegan chicken, meatballs, and pepperoni.

One of my dining companions created a small pizza with broccoli, spinach, and vegan chicken.  It was the first to arrive at the table, and we all stared at it with gaping wide mouths making gurgling noises.  I apologize for torturing everyone by making them wait while I took photos.

I shared a large pizza with arugula, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, onion, and black olives.  It arrived steaming hot and, although slightly charred around the edges, was still delicious.  The wood-fired oven toasts the dough and lends a smokey flavor to the crust, which is thin and crisp with a good chew around the edges.  A small pie is firm enough to pick up a slice in your hands, but the large pie suffered with a bit of limpness in the center and needed to be eaten with fork and knife.

There is a decent amount of flavorful sauce underneath all the toppings, and the gooey creaminess of the Daiya cheese really made this pie taste and feel authentic.  I know this is a small thing to get excited about, and when most people go out for pizza they just think of it as an ordinary meal, but for me, to be able to walk into a pizza place and be able to eat a pie like everybody else... it's pretty spectacular.

Sure, it wasn't gluten-free, and for health reasons I know I can't do this every day.  But once in awhile, a what a treat!  But if Da Legna ever masters the gluten-free vegan crust, I think I probably would make this a weekly ritual.  For now, I'm looking forward to going back to try their Gazpacho and Raw Vegan Cauliflower "Couscous" Salad one of these steamy summer nights.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Recipe: Gluten-free Strawberry Rhubarb Buckwheat Hemp Crisp

I recently held a Vegan Potluck Picnic at the Well on Wheels world headquarters to celebrate the Summer Solstice.  Not only was it awesome to get together with some fabulous vegan friends I hadn't seen in awhile -- years even! -- but of course, there was the delicious food... glorious, glorious food... that we feasted on all afternoon.

A favorite was the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp that I made.  I had picked about 7 pounds of strawberries earlier that week and was excited to use them in a recipe.  Well... actually, I realized I wasn't going to eat 7 pounds of strawberries on my own, so I NEEDED to find a recipe for them.  I also had some rhubarb in my freezer from earlier in the season, and since the two balance each other perfectly in that sweet and sour way, I was thinking I'd make a pie.  But the pressure of coming up with a reliable gluten-free pie crust while prepping food and getting my place all neat and tidy for 20 guests made me opt for something simpler:  a crisp.

I've made an apple crisp with this recipe that came out really good, so I figured I'd give it a shot with the strawberries and rhubarb.  I think it was successful.  The fruit became a little bit saucy after cooking, so I think I'd add a bit more cornstarch to the filling next time.  The topping gets its crispiness from a combination of Erewhon Buckwheat Hemp Flakes that have been lightly pulsed in the food processor, then mixed with hemp seeds. It's a streusel-like texture that's not too crunchy, and it pairs well with the creamy fruit.

I served mine with a couple scoops of So Delicious sugar free butter pecan coconut milk ice cream.  It was heavenly and had me dreaming of long summer vacations swinging on porch swings, relaxing by the pool, and falling asleep listening to ocean waves.

Gluten-free Strawberry Rhubarb Buckwheat Hemp Crisp

3 cups strawberries, sliced, reserving about 1/2 cup for garnish
1 cup rhubarb, diced into 1-inch pieces (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup organic coconut sugar or Sucanat
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp corn starch
pinch of sea salt

1/2 cup almond flour (Bobs Red Mill Almond Meal)
1/2 cup all purpose gluten-free flour (I use Bobs Red Mill)
1 Tbl hemp seeds (Bobs Red Mill Hemp Seed)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup organic coconut sugar or Wholesome Sweetners Sucanat
1/3 cup coconut oil (Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil)
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 Tbl sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In an 8"x8" pan, toss together filling ingredients, then set aside.  In a food processor, pulse buckwheat hemp flakes, almond flour, gluten-free flour, and hemp seeds several times until flakes are slightly crushed.  Add cinnamon, sugar, coconut oil, and sea salt and pulse until they begin to clump together.  Sprinkle topping loosely over the filling mixture, leaving spaces around the edges of the pan, then sprinkle with sliced almonds. Cover with foil and place on cookie sheet to catch any drips.  Bake for 30-40 minutes or until fruit filling is bubbly, then remove cover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes to crisp the top.  Remove and let cool before serving. Garnish with fresh strawberries and edible flowers.