As I've mentioned, I love the Monk Bowl from The 30-Minute Vegan. It's tasty and versatile. So versatile, in fact, that I managed to "invent" a whole new version of it for dinner last night.

A few days ago, I ordered an awesome dish called Long Life Vegetarian from the Great Wall Chinese restaurant in Schenectady. I had no idea that it was going to arrive with an indescribably huge amount of steamed mixed vegetables, and I wound up only being able to eat about half of them. The other half got tossed in the freezer. (It also came with garlic sauce on the side. How cool is that? I'm not a fan of having things dripping in sauce, so it was awesome to choose exactly how much I wanted.)

I was by myself for dinner last night, so out came the Monk Bowl recipe. I marinated some tofu in diluted garlic sauce, re-heated the veggies in the microwave carefully so they didn't get soggy, and cooked up some brown rice in leiu of quinoa for a base. Then I topped the lot with more diluted garlic sauce.

modified monk bowl

The result was delicious! I dubbed it the "Leftover Chinese Food Monk Bowl", and now I want to have some more Long Life Vegetarian so I can do it over again.

Of course, this could just as easily be done at home with fresh veggies. The dish I ordered came with broccoli, mushrooms, onions, carrots, baby corn, and snow peas, which I think is an awesome combination for pretty much any Chinese-type veggie dish.

Question for the comments: What's your favorite way to enjoy leftover Chinese food?
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I can't believe there are only four more days left in Vegan MoFo! It seems like I've only just started posting and reading about all the amazing vegan food the world has to offer. But I'll save the waxing poetic for the end of the month. Today, since I didn't do it over the weekend, I'm reviewing Vegan Yum Yum by Lauren Ulm.

I had heard of the Vegan Yum Yum website, but I'll admit that I had passed the cookbook over before because the title struck me as silly. Joke's on me, though; this book is far from silly. When I gave it a look at Barnes & Noble last week, I knew I had to have it in my collection.

The book has a lot going for it. First and foremost, the photographs. Ulm has a knack for taking some of the most appetizing food photos I've ever seen. More than once while flipping through the book, I've had moments where I want to reach into the picture and sample the recipe!

Second, Ulm provides clear ingredients lists and instructions (with more pictures if necessary). If a recipe requires unfamiliar or tricky techniques, she walks readers through the steps so as to avoid the dreaded dinner disaster.

Third, the recipes in Vegan Yum Yum aren't necessarily what you'll find in other vegan cookbooks. Yes, there is the ubiquitous tofu scramble and basic vegetable soup, but Ulm also tempts us with neat treats like vegan breakfast sandwiches made with maple soy tofu and tofu "eggs", pineapple baked tofu with seared pineapple rings and nutty greens, seven spice udon, and Moroccan spiced root vegetable home fries.

My only problem with this book is that some of Ulm's suggested serving sizes are almost twice what I would normally eat; but I'm a small person, so I can't judge for everybody. The bottom line is that Vegan Yum Yum is an amazing book that I highly recommend adding to any cookbook library. You'll enjoy looking at it, cooking from it, and especially eating the tasty results!

I feel like I've been a bad MoFo'er lately, especially with all the lovely recipes that other talented MoFo bloggers have been posting. The MoFo Headquarters daily roundups have been making me drool, to say the least, and my posts pale in comparison to the awesome that's circulating the interwebs this month.

The problem is that, when I invent something out of whatever's in the refrigerator or make an old familiar recipe with a twist, I don't usually write down what I do. Most of what I turn out doesn't strike me as new or exciting, even when it turns out very well. So I don't have very many recipes to share that I can call my very own.

That said, I love trying other people's recipes. I'm a sucker for cookbooks and recipe websites, and I browse for stuff probably more than is healthy. I've found a lot of things that I really enjoy making, and I'd like to share a few of them.

Five Awesome Recipes on the Internet

Not Meatloaf - This is an awesome recipe for chilly weather. I found it over the summer and waited until it started feeling like fall to give it a try. My family and I weren't disappointed! Back when I ate meat, I never liked meatloaf, but this veggie loaf is flavorful, filling, and downright fun to make. If you cook the brown rice and lentils beforehand, it doesn't take very long to put together, and it's easy to make your favorite sides while it's baking. Definitely worth a try!

Tofu Cream Cheese, Version 2 - I mentioned this recipe a few posts back, and it's worth mentioning again. I'm a bagel fiend, and cream cheese was a very difficult thing for me to have to give up. Enter this neat little concotion. It's not quite as thick as dairy cream cheese, but it's very tasty and easy to customize. It could also make a great spread for sandwiches, if you're so inclinded.

Snickerdoodle Blondies - Found this via one of the MoFo daily roundups and had to try it. It is, quite simply, amazing. And easy! And low in oil! There are really no cons to this recipe, which turns out moist, cinnamon-y blondies that are certain to be a hit with vegans and non-vegans alike. I'm planning on making a batch or two to share with the local NaNoWriMo group during November.

Chai Tea Breakfast Marathon Muffins - YUM. There is no other word for these hearty muffins. What's not to like about a muffin recipe that has chai tea in it? The only thing I did differently when I made these was to substitue applesauce for the bananas. They're perfect for breakfast, snack, with tea, or whatever!

Homemade Sausages - I stumbled upon this recipe this morning, so I haven't had a chance to make it yet, but it's calling to me. It's calling to me enough to make me add vital wheat gluten to my grocery list. Sausage was one of the last meats I gave up, and I still like a veganized version now and then. It's hard not to love a well-spiced link in a bun with onions and mustard, especially when you can control the amount and types of spices!

There's so much more to find on the internet (duh, this IS Vegan MoFo, after all!), and I'm sure I'll have more to share before the month is out.

Question for the comments: What's your favorite recipe that you stumbled upon via the internet?

Vegan MoFo, Day 24 - Starfruit!

i set her on fire again
Not much of a post today...I've had a long, busy day already and honestly can't think of anything creative to blog about! But there is this:

starfruit

Starfruit! I vaguely recall eating pieces of this in fruit salads as a kid, but I had never eaten one by itself until yesterday. Since peaches are out of season now, I've been looking for alternatives and picked one of these lovely little things up while I was grocery shopping.

WOW. I mean, wow. In addition to being pretty and unusual-looking, two things that will generally sell me on a food even before tasting it, starfruit is quite the treat. It's light, which is nice after a heavy meal when you're wanting for some raw food without filling up too much more, and it has a sort of citrus feel without acidic undertones. Given what they cost at my local grocery, it's going to have to be a treat, but I'm glad I bought one!

Question for the comments: What's your favorite "unusual" or "exotic" fruit?
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As I mentioned in my previous post, I picked up a copy of Lauren Ulm's Vegan Yum Yum earlier this week and was anxious to try it out.

Flipping through it, I found Lime Peanut Noodles with Seitan, Kale, and Carrots. Now, anyone who knows me could tell you that putting rice noodles and peanut sauce in the same recipe is a sure way to grab my attention. I'm frequently guilty of buying frozen Ethnic Gourmet pad thai with tofu when I'm craving peanut sauce in a hurry.

ingredients

With the leftover kale from yesterday and the seitan I picked up the last time I was at the co-op, I was all set. (Have I mentioned that I also love recipes that look pretty?)

lime peanut sauce

The sauce was really easy to put together...I think it took all of two minutes. I was done with it before the noodles were done cooking.

noodles done

And speaking of cooking, the stir-frying itself didn't take very long, either! The kale only had to cook for a couple of minutes, and everything else came together like clockwork. This is definitely a recipe that you can make if you're on a time crunch but want something really incredibly tasty.

Because it was. Mmmm. I've only owned this book for three days, and I'm already in love with it. I can't wait to try more of the recipes!

Vegan MoFo, Day 21 - Garden Fresh


Every year for as long as I can remember, my family has planted a garden. The tradition has expanded somewhat over time from the traditional peas, lettuce, and tomato plants to include things like potatoes, beets, strawberries, zucchini, broccoli, and squash, all in plots that now take up a large chunk of our front and side yards.

For the past few years, we've grown kale.

bagged kale

This started because my brother was a kale fan, and he's largely responsible for the upkeep (and amazing yield) of the garden. I've always been a big fan of spinach, myself, and it took me longer to warm up to the more bitter greens. Over time, though, I've come to appreciate things like chard and kale.

soaking kale

First off, it's pretty. The leaves are an attractive, crinkly shape that makes for a bit of a crunch even when it's cooked, and blanching gives the color a bit of a jewel tone.

Secondly, it's one of those things that everyone probably gets sick of hearing is good for them...but it's true! Kale is chock full of vitamins as well as calcium, making it a good choice as a side dish or an addition to a favorite veggie dish.

cooling kale

I blanched and froze most of this batch, which is how we preserve a lot of our veggies, but I also make sure to leave some raw. I picked myself up a copy of Vegan Yum Yum yesterday and can't wait to try the Lime Peanut Noodles with Seitan, Kale, and Carrots. Either that or the Crispy Sesame Kale. I hope I left enough for both...

Let's face it, there's always something you miss when you choose to or are forced to change your eating habits. There's that one food, or set of foods, that you either associate with something like a holiday, or just plain love to bits. Often it's not even about the specific food itself; it can be about the spice blend, or the season, or even the temperature outside. Eventually, us vegans will crave something non-vegan.

Fortunately, there are a lot of tasty ways to satisfy these cravings, many of which have the added bonus of being healthier than the "original" versions. So today I want to share my personal top five vegan substitutes for non-vegan foods:

1) Yves Deli Salami - This starts the list because it was one of the first "fake meats" I tried after going vegetarian. When I was a kid, I wasn't much for lunch meat, but I adored salami. I still do, but I remember the taste of the spices as being the draw of it rather than the meat, so Yves brand slices are a perfect substitute. They don't have the strange, rubbery texture of some other vegan "meats" I've tried, and of course they lack the nasty patina of grease that always seems to linger on real lunch meat. A few slices on some whole-grain bread with tomato, lettuce, and a little mustard, and former salami eaters will be good to go!

2) Almond milk - A few months ago, this would have been soy milk but, after trying almond milk, I'm not sure I could go back. While soy milk has its merits, I've found almond milk to be lighter in both texture and flavor, making it great for cooking, baking, and dumping all over my favorite cereals. So far I've been using Blue Diamond unsweetened, either in original or vanilla, and both are amazing. I'll continue to use soy milk when I feel it's warranted, but as a default non-dairy milk, I'm sticking with almond.

3) VeganRella cheese - My search for a decent pre-made "cheese" ended with VeganRella. After being disappointed by varieties that either hid tiny bits of milk protein in them to aid melting or just plain didn't melt at all, I discovered VeganRella at my local co-op. They carry both cheddar and mozzarella flavors, and both stand up to the challenge of imitating dairy cheese without being disgusting. VeganRella is smooth and creamy. It grates well and melts well without having any casein hidden in it and without feeling greasy. If you miss cheese like I do, this brand is definitely the way to go.

4) Sunshine Burgers - I've tried a lot of veggie burgers since going vegetarian, and it was hard enough then to find something that tasted good enough to want to eat over and over again. Going vegan made it that much harder--so many varieties use either cheese or eggs as a binding agent! But Sunshine Burgers are different. They're made with seeds and nuts, and so are held together with natural oils. They come in several varieties, but my favorites are Garden Herb and Southwestern. These burgers brown nicely without needing any oil in the pan, and are a good source of protein and unsaturated fats. Plus they're great with a variety of garnishes!

5) Sweet Nothings fudge bars - I know very few people who don't like chocolate, and I am definitely not among them. I have always been a sucker for a good chocolate bar, truffle, cookie, cake, and, of course, ice cream. And nothing says "being a kid in summer" like fudgecicles. So what's a vegan to do when blindsided by a craving for creamy, cold chocolate on a stick? Enter Sweet Nothings fudge bars. The local co-op carries them individually and in boxes of six, and they are the perfect solution for a restless sweet tooth. Plus they're fruit-sweetened, making them a light treat for a summer afternoon. (Or, you know, any time you're dying for something fudgey.)

It's hard to miss non-vegan food when so many great alternatives exist! Of course, this list is tiny in comparison to the huge variety of choices that are out there, but thus far these are some of the best I've found.

Question for the comments: What's your favorite veganized non-vegan food item?

For the past few days, I've been hanging out with a friend from out of town, and on Friday night we picked up a mutual friend and hit up a local Lebanese restaurant: Beirut on River St. in Troy. My mom had previously been there with some friends from her Bible study and the place came highly recommended.

I had already seen the menu online, but took the time to peruse it again. There are several very tasty-looking vegetarian options, though both of my friends and I decided that the falafel dinner sounded the best. We each ordered one, but first we had to try the garlic fries.



These were talked up to me the most out of everything my mom and her friends tried. I asked to make sure there wasn't anything non-vegan hiding in the garlic paste, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I could, in fact, eat it without a problem. The verdict? Completely awesome. The paste was pretty much straight-up garlic, sprinkled with a bit of mint, and the fries were fresh and warm. We ate these while waiting for our falafel dinners.



The falafel came served on a bed of greens with tomatoes, tahini sauce, and some amazing turnip pickles. There was an option of either baba ghannouj or hummus as a side. Since I haven't had hummus in ages, I opted for that. We were also offered a basket of very tasty pita bread!



We weren't disappointed. The food was warm, fresh, and delicious. Despite being fried, neither the falafel nor the garlic fries were heavy or greasy. The staff was friendly and attentive, and the service was exceptional. We enjoyed chatting with them while enjoying our food.

It was a great night. All three of us had a good time, and agreed that we would definitely go back. It's nice to be able to say that I've found another restaurant where I can go without worrying about what I'm going to order, and where I can have a good time with veg and non-veg friends alike. If you're in the Troy, NY area, check out Beirut!

Vegan MoFo, Day 15: Making the Switch


My switch to a largely vegan diet started out as a slow one. The first time I had a problem with milk was when I was ten years old, and that was pretty much it as far as dairy intolerance went. I stopped drinking milk and continued eating pretty much the same way I always had.

Then I started to "grow out" of meat. I noticed that every time I ate it, I liked it less and less. Beef was the first to go, then pork, then finally chicken (I never liked turkey much). At that point, I had very little idea how to be vegetarian, let alone vegan. I toyed with the idea of veganism for all of a week before I realized that my family's pantry wasn't ready to support it. Thus was born years of "flexitarianism" in which I waffled on what I liked and didn't like, and what I was willing to eat.

I was the kid who didn't like fresh tomatoes, raw mushrooms, and a whole host of other things, though I would happily eat spinach, brussels sprouts, etc. But as I started eating more vegetarian meals, I learned to like more things. Beans became more central to my diet, and tofu found its way into the refrigerator for the first time. Slowly but surely, I was moving away from the diet that had dominated my young life.

Slowly, that is, until true lactose intolerance snuck up on me and belted me over the head. (Metaphorically speaking.) Even into my twenties, it hadn't been so bad. I could still get away with things like ice cream and cheese so long as I took a Lactaid pill first, and lactose-free milks were a serviceable substitute for "normal" milk. Then, one morning this past January, my stomach had a nasty disagreement with some Lactaid milk, and it all went downhill from there. Ice cream, yogurt, cheese, and just about everything else with even a trace of dairy was soon to follow. Lactaid pills stopped working. It was then that I fully realized I had to stop tricking my body and do something constructive about my diet.

Enter Vegan Planet, the local co-op, and all the other stuff I've already blogged about. But when compared to my gradual divorce from meat, the elimination of dairy was abrupt. At the outset, it was entirely about eating without adverse reactions. All I wanted was to be able to have food I could eat, to be able to prepare things I liked and to find new things that weren't going to make my digestive system rebel on me. I was excited about trying vegan food, don't get me wrong, but it was a change that arose from necessity rather than personal choice.

It's been almost a year since the fateful can of yogurt that prompted my "conversion" to veganism and, looking back, I can't say that I'm sorry about it. Even if I could go back to eating dairy, I don't think I would. Are there some things I miss? Sure. I think there always will be, especially after having to give them up so abruptly. But there's nothing that my old diet can offer me that I can't get through my vegan diet. The tastes that I miss aren't worth trading in the fact that I feel lighter, healthier, and just plain better now that I eat vegan. I don't get sick as often, my sleep cycles are more regular, and I no longer experience stomach upset or heaviness after meals.

When people ask or express concerns, I tell them what I've discovered: it's a good life. One I definitely don't mind exploring further and experimenting with!

Vegan MoFo, Day 14: The Joy of Gumbo


I was in the mood for something with beans last night and, once again, it was Robin Robertson to the rescue! I'm still in possession of a library copy of The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook, and a quick flip through the index turned up "Ravishing Red Bean Gumbo".

simmering gumbo finishing gumbo



It was a delightful simmered mixture of onions, peppers, celery, diced tomatoes, beans, and spices; perfect for a dreary day like yesterday. I made some brown rice to go with it and it was promptly sucked down by my family with great enjoyment.

served gumbo



Lacking filé powder, it was a bit thinner than it might otherwise have been, but the flavor was great. If I make it again in the future, I think I'd add a minced hot pepper of some kind. I like added spice in bean-and-tomato dishes!

And, from the vast sea of posts that have popped up this VeganMoFo, today's project:

snickerdoodle blondies



Snickderdoodle blondies, from Flour Riot. They're like little pillows of cinnamon-y goodness, and I swear they're one of the easiest things I've ever made. I think they'll be my go-to recipe for NaNoWriMo gatherings next month!

Vegan MoFo, Day 12: Vegan Cream Cheese


I have a confession to make. I love cream cheese. It was the last thing I gave up as my lactose intolerance barreled out of control, and even knowing what I know about the dairy industry, it's one of those things I can't help missing. There's something familiar and comforting about a crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside toasted bagel spread with cheesy goodness.

My separation from dairy cream cheese was abrupt; that is, I was forced by necessity to give it up before I had a chance to think about it in the context of veganism and personal health. This, of course, gave rise to the panicked question, "What am I going to do??"

The answer? Why, make my own dairy-free version, of course!

This is where the awesomeness of the online vegan comes in handy. Still new to the "using tofu as a cheese substitute" idea, I had only tried to mimic cream cheese once before in a vegan cheesecake recipe. It was all right, but as an overall taste experience, I was less than impressed. But I was determined to have my cream cheese and eat it, too, so to the internet I went!

I wound up going back to that first recipe I had tried. Remembering that it was a bit on the tangy side, I tried to lay off the lemon juice a little and made sure to use a good-quality tamari, which I hadn't had the first time. (I'm loving San-J organic reduced-sodium tamari these days!) Then I added a few spices and chopped veggies, and viola! Cream cheese. Almost. It was a little on the runny side, which I blame myself for. Being desperate and in a hurry to replace a once-loved condiment wasn't necessarily conducive to turning out the perfect end product.

Today, I ran out of that experimental cream cheese and decided it was time to try again. I forgot to take pictures--I have a feeling that it's going to take all of Vegan MoFo to get used to the idea of photographing my food--but I can tell you what I did differently:

-- I took the recipe's suggestion and wrapped the tofu in a towel for a while, rather than using my usual paper-towels-and-heavy-board draining method.

-- I used a genuine food processor instead of a blender (which was all I had at my disposal the first time).

-- I took massive liberties with seasoning to invent a flavor of my own.

That last one, of course, isn't a necessity, but it was a random inspiration. I remembered that, at some point in the past, I'd had a salsa-flavored cream cheese and adored it. Being the spicy food addict that I am, I decided to attempt to replicate that, or at least get a salsa-y feeling to my cream cheese. I'm pleased enough with the end result that I'll share it here!

Vegan Salsa "Cream Cheese"
makes slightly more than 1 cup

Ingredients

To
Vegan-Food.net's Tofu Cream Cheese, version 2

add before blending (spices to taste):
chili powder
ground cumin
black pepper
hot sauce of your choice
one chopped garlic clove
5-10 Mt. Olive hot banana pepper rings
chopped fresh tomato


Blend everything in a food processor as per the base recipe's instructions. Adjust to taste, stick it in the refrigerator to set and blend the flavors, and enjoy!

So there you have it: vegan cream cheese. Sure, you can buy Tofutti, but where's the fun in that??

Question for the comments: What non-vegan dish did you absolutely have to find a vegan alternative to?
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This weekend's post...eatery review! Remember how I mentioned a few posts back that it's almost impossible to dine out vegan near where I live? This still stands true, but the almost is a little less bleak now that I've discovered the menu at Moon and River Cafe in Schenectady.

moon and river menuI've known about Moon and River for several years, but mostly knew them as a tiny coffee shop and live music venue. Lately, though, they've expanded their menu exponentially to include many vegetarian and vegan food options for every meal. Though their menu does offer many omni dishes, they tout themselves as "90% vegetarian" now. I was very impressed by the selection when I saw the menu online, and decided that the new dishes needed a test run!

I headed over on Friday night to meet a musician friend and have dinner. After much deliberation, I settled on the "Greek Gyro"; a long pita bread topped with sauteed vegan Boca burger chunks, onions, zucchini, grape tomatoes, and spices. (Unfortunately, all I had with me to take pictures was my phone, so they're not the greatest.)

greek gyro

Now, the food wasn't five-star. It wasn't anything I couldn't have made in my own kitchen. But keep in mind that Moon and River is a very, very small place. Not exactly a hole in the wall, but definitely on the "local small business" end of things. Which, in my mind, makes the size of their menu all the more impressive. Having to stock all the ingredients necessary to make whatever the customer decides to order is a big deal financially, and having staff trained to prepare all the dishes has got to be a demand on time.

Speaking of, when my friend and I arrived, it was before the evening rush and the cafe was staffed solely by the owner, Richard Genest. He was friendly and helpful, and prepared our meals single-handedly. I liked the effort he made in the artistic presentation of the food. The gyro was perhaps a bit more oily than if I had cooked something similar myself, but overall it was quite enjoyable, and light enough that I felt I had room for dessert, which is almost unprecedented for me when I eat out.

What does one have for dessert at a small cafe? Why, vegan chocolate pie, of course!
vegan pie

Not only was this delicious little slice of chocolate heaven vegan, it was also wheat-free (and inexpensive). Notice that it was so tasty that we couldn't wait to try it before taking a picture. Along with a cup of coffee that was strong enough to meet my approval (another nearly unprecedented event!), it was the perfect end to a light, tasty meal.

All in all, I'd say that Moon and River is a great place to spend an evening with a friend or two. In addition to their expanded menu, they continue to have live, local music seven nights a week. My friend and I didn't get to stay for that, but I have seen shows there and played there myself in the past and can attest to the fact that it's an intimate venue and a lot of fun.

Richard also has a sense of humor.
thing for sale

My friend and I were highly amused.

Since I'll be going out tonight and trying some new vegan options at a local cafe, I thought I'd do my weekend cookbook review today. Then I realized that there was no way I could pick just one, especially not after having spent the last three days surviving on Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible, and caffeine. So instead, I present to you...

Three Go-To Vegan Cookbooks of mine, and why they should be on your shelf, too.

Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson -- I've mentioned before that I'm just a tad obsessed with Robin Robertson, and I blame this book for starting it all. Vegan Planet was my first fully-vegan cookbook, and it's a purchase I will never regret making! Robertson's collection of 400+ recipes has you covered from appetizers to desserts, from breakfast to dinner, and everything in between. The recipes touch on many world cuisines and gives us vegans a chance to try things we might never have considered, as well as offering satisfying vegan versions of foods we remember from our omni days. Two favorites in my house are the tempeh moussaka and the baked mac & "cheese" -- warm, filling baked dishes that make it easy to feed a family, whether or not they're all vegan.

Vegan Express by Nava Atlas -- What's a busy vegan to do when struck by a craving for something really unique and tasty? Never fear; Nava Atlas is here to present you with 160 amazing recipes that are easy, fun, and fast! In the mood for Thai food? Whip up the Thai Pineapple Fried Rice Stirfry, which is as colorful as it is delicious. Looking for something familiar to feed your omni friends? Try the "sausage" pizza and see if anyone even notices its vegan as they're busy sucking it down. This is a seriously great little cookbook with recipes for any day of the week. As a bonus, Atlas offers menu suggestions to make completing your meal a breeze, and nutrition facts so that you can know at a glance if what you're making for dinner fits your daily meal plan.

The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau -- If you know anyone who still equates veganism with personal deprivation, show them this book and blow their minds. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has amassed an amazing and delicious collection of anything and everything that vegans and non-vegans alike could want to bake. From muffins and breads to cookies, cakes, and pies, The Joy of Vegan Baking is chock full of goodies. Goudreau makes it easy to cook up vegan versions of old favorites like chocolate chip cookies and apple pie, as well as treats like chocolate mint chip cookies and chocolate peanut butter cupcakes (complete with chocolate peanut butter frosting). Definitely a must-have book for anyone with a sweet tooth!

Question for the comments: What was your first vegan cookbook, and what about it makes it stand the test of time?

Vegan MoFo, Day 8 - Tasty Tofu Wraps


In reading other MoFo blogs, I've already come across some amazing-looking recipes, many of which have instantly found their way into my bookmarks and my mental "I must make this as soon as humanly possible" list.

I won't claim that this recipe is of that caliber, but I wanted to share something easy and tasty that I enjoy making. (If you're a fan of VegWeb, this recipe can also be found there.

Tasty Tofu Wraps
serves 2

Ingredients:
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/3 package firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and cubed
1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips--OR, a mix of sweet colored peppers
1 1/2 cups fresh spinach, shredded
2 large slices tomato, diced
2 tablespoon Nasoya fat-free sandwich spread, or your spread of choice
black pepper
Italian seasoning
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 burrito-size flour tortillas
shredded vegan "cheese" of your choice (I like VeganRella cheddar!)


Directions:
-- Heat olive oil in a saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant; about 1 minute.

-- Add tofu cubes and increase heat to medium-high. Add black pepper and Italian seasoning to taste. Stir fry, stirring constantly, until tofu begins to brown.

-- Reduce heat to medium; add pepper strips. Cook, stirring frequently, until peppers are soft. Adjust seasonings to taste.

-- Spread 1tbsp. of sandwich spread on each tortilla. Top with half the tofu mixture. Garnish with spinach, diced tomato, and "cheese".

-- Wrap and enjoy!

As a variation, you can stir fry just the tofu and leave the peppers raw for a crunchier wrap.

Unfortunately, I'm going to be away from my kitchen for the next few days, but that just means I'll have to be more creative in my posts. Today: why the local co-op rocks!

Being from a largely rural area of New York, my definition of "local" is rather broad. I know some people who find it an imposition to drive twenty minutes to a regular grocery store, but I have no problem making a forty-minute trek to the Honest Weight Food Co-Op in Albany. Given that the Northeast seems to still be crawling its way out of the dark ages when it comes to veganism, it's comforting to have a go-to store in my area. (We have yet to see a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe's around here!)

So, for today's post, I present The Top 5 Reasons Why Honest Weight Rocks!

1. Fresh vegan food - Honest Weight has a great deli area that prepares fresh hot and cold food, as well as sandwiches, on a daily basis. All of the food has clear ingredient lists, including the hot lunch buffet, and most of it is vegan. That means, as a vegan or someone with dietary restrictions, you can go in, grab lunch, and know exactly what you're about to eat--with no hassle. No having to ask a zillion questions about the food in order to get a straight answer about what's in it, no having to hunt down a detailed menu or ingredient listing; it's all right there for you. And the food is amazing! Sweet potato and cranberry salad, roasted portabello sandwiches, hot seitan entrees...and tons more, every single day.

2. Wide selection - Given that it's hard to find veggie burgers without cheese and soy yogurt without milk proteins at most stores in my area, it's almost a relief to go to the co-op and be able to browse multiple brands of dairy-free foods. You can also get a lot of gluten-free products, soy-free options for those who have to or prefer to limit their soy intake, and--the star of the co-op--a huge bulk foods section. Dry beans, flours, TVP, spices, tea, and so much more can be had in bulk at prices that are often much cheaper than buying their pre-packaged counterparts. I love getting quinoa from this section; they have both the regular and red types and it's frequently offered at sale prices.

3. Locally-grown produce - There's a great rotating stock of locally-grown produce to peruse, much of it at prices you may be hard-pressed to find on even the "cheap" produce at the regular grocery store. All the local products are labeled as such, along with the specific farm or location the food comes from, so you know where as well as what you're buying. I've found some of the most amazing fruit I've ever eaten just by having a quick look around this section! They even have locally-roasted coffee.

4. Awesome monthly specials - Every month, a wide variety of in-store specials are posted online, as well as in the store. Downloadable PDFs of department-specific deals and a monthly newsletter/ad combination are available on the co-op website. On top of that, there are usually even more great deals once you actually get to the store. And, unlike a local grocery, the deals are good all month rather than only for one week. So if you run out of your favorite non-dairy milk or organic snack, you know you can pop by and pick up more without breaking the bank.

5. Friendly, approachable staff - Members of the co-op also work there, which means that they're already invested in the co-op as a whole and believe in its principles of providing quality natural food to its customers. They're friendly, easy to talk to, and are always willing to answer questions, which makes the co-op an even more fun place to shop!

Other highlights include being able to purchase reusable containers for bulk items, discounts for bringing your own grocery bags, and weekly tastings of vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free recipes and products.