Friday, February 25, 2011

Back to the Roots: Celery Root

Last year at the PSU farmer's market, I was offered a sample of something that looked like a sauteed bamboo shoot.  It turned out that it was actually celery root; the taste was unusual and delicious.  I recently got my hands on one of my own in the hopes of preparing it the same way.

Doesn't it look fascinating?  Almost like an anatomical heart.
While googling preparation instructions, I learned that you can eat celery root raw or cooked.  Either way, it has the unmistakable smell and taste of celery, with the texture and crunch of a carrot.  I learned from my New Whole Foods Enclopedia (no, not that whole foods; just whole foods) that the reason is because it's actually in the carrot family; who knew?  I've since decided that it would make a great and interesting crudite/conversation vegetable.

Peeled, it kind of looks like a giant, off-white strawberry.

I'm just winging it here; no idea of the "right" way to cut it.
The size of the root was deceiving; despite all of the chunks that I ate raw, there was a lot left over to saute.  Prepared with lots of onions, some garlic, salt & pepper, it  had a very pleasant taste but wasn't a huge hit.  I think the celery/carrot novelty wears off relatively quickly, as did my supply of Secret Aardvark- which, coincidentally, pairs extremely well with sauteed celery root.

Having had my fill of the sauteed cubes, I decided to mix the leftovers with some broth in order to make a celery root soup.

not applesauce
Since I don't have a Vitamix (a fact that I am reminded of often by a friend [see comments]), it was significantly chunkier than I presume it should have been.  And the fact that it looked like chunky apple sauce didn't make it very appetizing.  But it was decently pleasant, if not missing a special something that the sauteed dish was missing as well.  Any must-try celery root recipes?  My root preparation seems to leave a lot to be desired.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When Friends Are the (Peanut Butter) Bomb

Today I had the opportunity to visit with a very good friend whose company is available only infrequently, as she is a hardworking mom of two adorable, sociable, startlingly clean, young children and one older, rescued, super-pooch.  While this is about her, I would be remiss not to mention her fab husband as well; they are a kind, supportive, and generous pair.

As if it wasn't enough that she was able to carve time out of her schedule to spend the afternoon with me, she also unexpectedly brought along with her a gift in the unmistakable pink bag of you-know-who, the queen of treats.

Now I don't know about you, but I have never lifted, let alone been gifted and had in my possession, an entire Vegan Treats (Peanut Butter Bomb) cake; it is of impressive heft!  Ah, the weight of delight friendship.

Besides being a most generous bearer of vegan goodies, my friend is also an all-around swell gal.  What else would you expect of someone who knows that the best gift is one that is edible?  Fiercely independent, capable, and honest; I have relied on her level-headed forthrightness at many important junctures in my life- relating to employment, relationships, and inconsolable loss.  Her support and advice are invaluable; she is both the friend you can laugh with over him your embarrassing missteps, and cry to amidst your devastating heartache. 

During the course of our conversation today, I was introduced to the Almsgiving tradition associated with Lent, wherein one "gives something up" and puts something positive in its place.  Even though I am a wholly non-religious person, this idea really resonated with me; while I might not entirely understand the concept of many religious practices, I can certainly see the positivity incorporating this idea into your life could cultivate: perhaps just by taking extra time out of each day for a simple act of friendship, no matter how small.  Isn't it nice when those closest to us manage to so easily make us better people without even trying?

behold: a humongoid act of friendship
I could go on and on; but, perhaps the best example of my friend's overall rad-ness is in the conversation she had with the counterperson at Vegan Treats.  When told that the Peanut Butter Bomb serves 8-10, she knowingly (and, hopefully, proudly) replied that, in this case, it would serve one.  Serve it did.

Now I know I've said before that vegan friends are the best, but with non-vegan friends like this, I do believe it is a toss-up.  This one, in particular, is the (Peanut Butter) bomb.  So, a heart-felt thank you, friend, for this, for sharing some of my "crazy", and for all of the other ways you've shown your friendship over the years!

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Ugliest Bread Yet

Dr. Cow cheese is so delicious that you can eat it plain, but I prefer it accompanied.  Since I've been on kind of a roll with fresh bread lately, instead of the crackers that usually do a disservice to the swanky cheese, I decided to go all out and make fresh baguettes to go with my gourmet wheels.

I chose the My Bread recipe for stecca, but omitted the possibly sog-inducing brush of olive oil and sprinkle of salt step.  I don't like mushy bread and the idea of my hard-earned loaves soggifying like an old, hot pretzel made me cringe.  So, despite my previous missteps, I made the alteration and it proved wise: as I wound up with a beautiful, browned crust.

It wasn't all fun and games, though.  While the directions call for quartering the dough after the second rise, they don't mention that doing so will create a sticky mess that will render your tea towel unsalvageable.  Needless to say, it wasn't very easy to, further, "stretch into long tubes"; so I knew immediately that this was going to be some unattractive bread.

Yet I half expected them to magically settle into perfect loaves while cooking.  They didn't.  However, they did manage to cook perfectly, despite the unfortunate visual.

And once it was all sliced up you'd never know the intact loaves hadn't been pretty.

Next time I'll try to make two larger loaves.  Halved, these are begging to be made into garlic bread.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Traditional (Vegan) Valentine's Day Chocolates

Regardless of how many other treats are involved, Valentine's Day wouldn't be Valentine's Day without Rose City Chocolates, and this Valentine's Day was no exception. 

If you're not already familiar, introduce yourself; these sweet treats are as authentic as Valentine's chocolates come.  They are fairly priced and the people from the company are extremely addition to being vegan friendly.  They have a huge following and are always adding new flavors to the vegan options- of which there are many.  As a new vegan over a decade ago, I remember how thrilling it was to receive such a traditional treat: veganized; it never gets old. 

Pre-selected assortments are available from their website (all year long!), but if picking and choosing is more your speed, contact Bobby's in Boonton, NJ.  My absolute favorites are anything hazelnut (there are a lot; try them all), the adorable peanut-shaped peanut butter cream, and the Irish cream barrel.

Always a pleasure, Rose City!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lagusta's Luscious Bluestocking Bonbons: Revisited

In order to illustrate how factors such as your mood and state of mind affect your approach, one of my college professors gave the same drawing assignment on two separate occasions.  With that in mind, in light of the grudge I was holding against the chocolates in my previous post, I decided to take his advice and, instead of shunning them, taste with a clearer head and neutral opinion- once I had given my disappointment in the experience a chance to subside.

As previously stated, I was extremely anxious for the opportunity for VM and I, dark chocolate lovers, to try the lauded Lagusta's Luscious Bluestocking Bonbons.

So, on this day, I approached the box of candy with my original intention intact: to enjoy handmade, artisanal chocolates created by a vegan blogger and chocolatier I have long admired. 

I am a sucker for a chocolate key

We purposefully started off with the flavor I knew would be VM's favorite: the raspberries de pizan; I couldn't have been more right if I were psychic.  While I am no fan of fruity desserts, for the purposes of this tasting I gave it a try.  Even though the flavor pairing isn't my particular preference, the perfection of this truffle was not lost on me.  For VM, however, this type of truffle is tailor-made and this specific truffle was extraordinary.  We were both wildly impressed by the freshness, taste, texture, etc.; it was truly exquisite and exactly what I had originally expected from a chocolatier of Lagusta's caliber.  Throughout the tasting, this truffle remained VM's #1, so I promised the rest to her.

no flavoring; you can see this raspberry filling is the real deal

Next up was the flavor I expected to be my favorite: the chocolate coconut cream pyramids; right again.  Filled with super moist, non-artificial coconut filling; forgive me for describing it as a high gourmet version of the Mounds bar (minus the almond) I recall fondly.  Surprisingly, VM disagreed; it was actually too moist for her taste and, for the record, she maintains that a Mounds bar is drier.  I'll defer to her on this one because she's tasted the original much more recently than I have; no worries: more pyramids for me.

Because I don't like flowery flavors, the beautiful rose petal decoration on the pomegranate truffles had me wary to try them.  But the taste was neither flowery nor bitter- what I generally equate with pomegranate; instead a smooth, slightly fruity truffle that VM deemed her #2 favorite behind the raspberry.  I'd put it ahead, so we'll share the remaining truffles.

The crumbly look and texture of the chipotle-vanilla truffles was extremely enticing.  However, I knew that what lurked underneath was reason for me to be trepidatious.  As a considerable spice fiend (moreso than VM), I can never seem to get my food to pack enough heat; but, I still don't like the idea of spicy chocolate.  VM unequivocally bowed out of this taste, so I was left to go it alone.  It was not an exception.  While I loved the chocolateyness of the truffle, once the spice kicked in it was a definite no for me.  I will offer the remaining truffle to a friend for another opinion, but this pairing stays on my "no thanks" list.

VM loves peppermints; you will never find her without a handful in her mouth or pocketbook.  I, on the other hand, abhor them.  Ironically, neither of us like peppermint patties, but I wanted to include Selma's peppermint patties in the assortment so that my friend who loves P. Patties could try them.  As a result, this taste could have gone either way.  Surprisingly enough, VM didn't like them at all, but I was unexpectedly intrigued by the combination of the dense, non-obnoxious mint and thick chocolate.  I actually ate two, then had to remind myself to save some for said friend!

I'm glad that when we tried the rosemary sea-salt caramels I neglected to recall that rosemary was an ingredient.  Had I remembered, we both would have been extremely hesitant to try them.  As it turns out, this caramel was not of the variety of the chewy, Kraft cubes of my childhood, but instead a harder caramel that softens as you chew.  The sea-salt was a nice touch, and vastly milder than the black salt that I so disliked in the anatomical hearts of the February chocolate of the month.  In fact, I enjoyed the candy considerably...right up until the rosemary finally kicked in at the end, and then- not so much.  VM even less so.  We are not rosemary fans in the least: in cooking and, as it turns out, in sweets. 

The last of the individual chocolates to be tasted were the yuzu white chocolate truffles.  I hadn't a clue what yuzu was, but I figured I was already in for a pound.  VM and I collectively eschew crystallized ginger, so we picked off what we assumed was such before partaking, and then bit into a most cool, refreshing, excellent tasting, fluffy-textured truffle.  I personally found it more vanilla tasting than white chocolate, but I think the reason we both enjoyed it so much was that it was extremely reminiscent of the liquor Cointreau that is a staple in the Bean house.  Unusual and divine, this truffle was definitely a favorite of mine, and ranked a solid #3 for VM behind the raspberry and pomegranate truffles, respectively.

And, finally, we revisited the two previously-tasted chocolates-of-the-month and confirmed that they simply consist of flavor strengths that are not- by any stretch of the imagination- for us. Unfortunately, there were a lot of them.

The other chocolates that we had anticipated trying: coconut-rum truffles, Kahlua truffles, and Pauline's peanut butter cups would have been much more our speed; it goes without saying that I am still dismayed that what I expected to be an altogether fun tasting wasn't entirely so.

But, nonsense notwithstanding, I am satisfied that my original expectation for these chocolates to be impressive was fulfilled and that Lagusta's Luscious Bluestocking Bonbons is truly the artisanal chocolatier I anticipated, with offerings that exceed the expectations of my own chocolate/sweet loving mouth, as well as provide more interesting concoctions for more adventurous foodies.

Monday, February 14, 2011

As if Valentine's Day Doesn't Suck Enough

I've been eyeing Lagusta's Luscious Bluestocking BonBons for a loooong time.  And by "eyeing" I mean that I have painstakingly studied the offerings to the extent that I have long kept a detailed post-it on my desk at work with all of the flavors that VM and I should try.  Guilt assuaged by the fact that the "chocolate care" section of the site distinctly points out that, "...chocolates store beautifully in the freezer, so if you're thinking of buying a few, why not buy a few more?", a hefty order was placed.

In record time, a huge USPS box was at my door, bringing with it the immistakable smell of deliciousness.  Unfortunately, when I was recycling the mailing box I was disappointed to see that the actual shipping cost was a fraction- about 25%- of what I had been charged.  Considering that if you live in the vicinity, Lagusta offers free delivery, such a mark-up comes across as a penalty to those who don't.  While it is my choice to spend a lot of money on product, I tend to feel taken advantage of when there is an absurd profit made on shipping. [Update, 2/15/11: Lagusta has been kind enough to credit my account in the amount of the shipping over-charge.]

The first box VM and I opened contained the Valentine's chocolates of the month.  According to the website, the "The sweet simple heart shape is filled with rosewater (dairy-free) cream, punctuated with a high note of pomegranate."  I enjoyed it at first bite, but then extreme floweriness took over.  I personally like rosewater, but this contained entirely too much for my taste; VM agreed.  The anatomical heart was described as "solid chocolate made with 66% dark chocolate, packed with lightly crushed cacao nibs, locally-roasted coffee beans, black salt enriched with volcanic minerals, and crunchy bits of bright dried cherries."  This flavor started out fantastic: chocolate, crunch, mocha...and then the salt hit me.  Hard.  Before I could say anything, VM, lover of all combinations of chocolate and salt, said between chews, "Very salty, no?"  The saltiness continued to overpower our tastebuds long after we'd swallowed.  They were so overwhelmingly salty that I actually suggested that they might have caused our blood pressure to elevate.   

I was disappointed, but undeterred and anxious to dig into the big assortment.  I felt that it was possible that the Valentine's selections were simply too highbrow for me, as I am admittedly a fan of traditional flavors.  For this reason, I was very specific about the flavors that I wanted in my big assortment, and even sent an additional message in order to confirm my request.  The prompt response stated that they would "try to put as many of those in the box as we can!", which I took to mean that there would be as much quantity of my selection squeezed into the box as possible.  However, when we opened the box my glee at finding a handwritten flavor key quickly disappated at the realization that it contained less than half of the varieties I had requested.

Certain that the error could be rectified, I immediately returned the box- untouched- to the fridge and contacted Lagusta.  She responded with apologies that they do not guarantee that you will receive exactly the assortment you request, suggesting that her intial response did not refer to the quantity of my selection, but rather to the fact that they would try to comply with as many of the requested varieties as possible.  She closed her response with encouragement to try the chocolates I'd received, most of which either don't appeal to me or are repeats of the flavors in the previous box.  As someone who doesn't make a habit of spending $100 on chocolate (and shipping), this was not the solution I was looking for, nor expected from a small, independent business.  If I'd wanted to order a generic box of whatever was on hand, I wouldn't have been so specific.

Make no mistake, I was so excited at the prospect of trying Lagusta's chocolates that as soon as I'd placed the order I began writing what I assumed would wind up a completely complimentary post about an admirable, vegan owned and operated company.  But, while I am undoubtedly impressed by Lagusta's commitment to quality, vegan confections (one need only check out the what they're made of section of her website in order to be), there is something equally important to be said for an interest in customer satisfaction, which, I am disappointed to say, is severely lacking in this case. 

In our collective disgust, neither VM nor I have yet to taste any of the selections in the big assortment, nor do we have any inclination to do so.  Quite frankly, for the purposes of this post it doesn't much matter, as they've already left a bad taste in our mouths.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Early Valentine's Day Sweets, Courtesy of an Omni Dad...and Sweet & Sara

As far as I'm concerned, the only good thing about Valentine's Day is the chocolate.  So, I wait for it.  But, imagine my surprise, when, a week early, I was lucky enough to unexpectedly find an abundance of chocolate-dipped marshmallows intended solely for me.  Needless to say, I didn't waste any time digging in.  No standing on ceremony waiting for V-day for me!

To give credit where credit is due, the gift was courtesy of my omni Dad.  Omni or not, he knows where the goods are at...and they are definitely at Sweet & Sara!  As a family, we are huge fans; these marshies were no exception.  Huge, fluffy marshmallow hearts: half original, half made superior by their having been dipped in luscious, dark chocolate.

There are rumors that Sweet & Sara is working on adding to their product line and we couldn't be more excited.  If their current items are any indication, there is no doubt that whatever is coming down the pike is sure to be equally as fabulous.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vegan Friends Are the Best

I don't know about you, but I think vegan friends are the best.  They can tell you that the barista is lying to you when he says the pumpkin spice syrup is vegan.  They artistically promote veganism.  They will march, protest, and leaflet with you all the live long day.  If they're wearing something cool you don't have to awkwardly ask to read the contents label before you try to track it down on the internet.  They understand that sometimes you have to make the five hour roundtrip to visit your animal friends at the farm sanctuary. And, most importantly, they share your goal of a wholly compassionate world for animals.

But let us not forget the intrinsic food bond between vegan friends.  Picking a restaurant is never easier, as you are not the odd vegan out.  Conversations peppered with recipes and recent Yelp reviews are a given.  And, if you're lucky, you have vegan friends who gift you fun vegan snacks because they know you can't get enough.

They even share yummy stuff with you despite the fact that you're on your way to lunch (and already have dinner plans).

Better still, they will bake and bring you a ton of tasty stuff just because they are super vigilant about keeping excess sweets in the house.  Brace yourself as you behold (clockwise from left) a super-soft, closest-I've-ever-had-to-an-Entenmann's-soft-baked chocolate chip cookie, a fresh berry mini-muffin,  a crispety-crunchety why-can't-I-achieve-this-kind-of-success peanut butter cookie, and a lemon poppy mini-muffin: all from one baking session!

Vegan friends will tell you when a new cookbook is coming out and will even take the time to point out specific recipes that you might like.  And they will gift you awesome spinach red lentil soup so that you're not an entire fatty-fat fatty; since, if left to your own devices, you would be.

But best of all, vegan friends are the best because they join the blogosphere so you don't have to nag them for their recipes.  Introduce your vegan gut to "My Vegan Gut".

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Vegucating Robin: Cannellini Bean Concerto Stoup

After the success of my spaghetti squash, VM was forced decided that we should join forces to make the inaugural Vegucating Robin recipe, Cannellini Bean Concerto.  If you were wondering where I get my predilection to substitute, she claimed she could make "this" soup without consulting the recipe and by using celery.  Note: there is no celery called for whatsoever; we used the recipe as written.

The actual ingredients.

white onion, kale, cannellini beans, carrots, tarragon (broth unpictured)

VM is a great eyeballer and we have extremely similar tastes and neurosis proportion preferences, so we agreed upon these minor substitutions:

  • 2 cans of beans instead of 1 lb dry (ironically, VM doesn't like things "too beany")
  • 7 small carrots instead of 2 (big fans of them in our matzoh ball soup too)
  • 7 cups of broth instead of 5 (not ones for stingily brothed soups) [update: leftovers absorbed much of the broth so I'd recommend starting with 8 cups]
The soup turned out fantastic, with the unexpected flavor of the tarragon both subtle and unmistakable.  It was really amazing what a few, fresh ingredients could become in a relatively short time.

We are both admitted fans of Amy's canned soups, so this was not only an unusual occurrence, but an extraordinary treat.

This may be one of my new favorite soups; thank goodness there is some leftover.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dun-Well Doughnuts: Doughnuts Done Well (yes that was too easy)

Last night, I, and about a thousand other hungry vegans, braved the cold and ice to stuff our faces with support Dun-Well Doughnuts in their official launch at MooShoes.  There were boxes and boxes of mini donuts available for generous sampling, in plenty of varieties.

As I was with a group, we were able to try quite a few flavors.  On the top is a chocolate iced donut, to the left strawberry iced, and on the bottom two peanut butter (iced) & jelly (filled).

These are the dapper men behind Dun-Well doughnuts: Dan & Chris.  Some friends and I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dan about veganism and his new business; he is thrilled to be embarking on this journey and I'm happy to support it.

But back to the donuts (sorry, guys).  This is the inside of the chocolate-iced; the icing was decadently chocolate-y and generously applied.

And this is the inside of a Boston Creme: covered with the same rich icing, with the bonus of being filled with a light custard.

But even though I am a chocolate fiend fan, my absolute favorite donut of the night was the peanut butter and jelly; the icing was extremely peanut buttery and the inside was bursting with delicious jelly.  I am very picky about when and where I ingest fruit in any form, but this was fantastic.  I would like twelve one of these with a vat scoop of Lula's peanut butter and jelly ice cream, please; thank you.

Speaking of Lula's, they- the awesomely talented and kind folks behind the magic, were there scooping out complimentary ice cream made especially for the event: Bavarian Cream!  See, donuts & ice cream: not such a crazy concept.

Also there were some fine and extremely pleasant folks from the new, vegan bar: Pine Box Rock Shop, sampling wine, champagne, and potent cocktails.  Yep, you heard me right: ALL VEGAN BAR.  So not only do they have all kinds of vegan wine and beer, but they also make just about any kind of vegan cocktail you can think of; I do believe a bloody mary is calling me (please let it be filled with all kinds of pickled veggies & lots of spice).  Oh and you know what else?  They carry V-Spot's amazing empanadas so that you can drink, eat, and be thirsty again!  For my friends reading, this sounds like my kind of brunch; who's in?

Yep, the evening consisted of all this & so many vegan donuts too!

Another ridiculously successful, vegan, community event hosted by MooShoes.

Dun-Well donuts are expected to be available soon [please see update from a vegan-in-the-know in the comments] at Champs Family Bakery, and Cocoa V.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow Days = Isa & Terry Recipes in the Bean House

With all the snow of late, I've been cooped up in the house with nothing to do but cook.  Since my cookbook collection contains primarily Isa and Isa & Terry tomes, it's no wonder that in the span of two days I amassed the spoils of three of their recipes.

The first night I tackled Hottie Black-Eyed Peas & Greens (p. 119-120) from Isa's new Appetite For Reduction.  My go-to collards & black-eyed peas recipe contains coconut milk, so I was interested to try one that didn't.

tip: always buy the biggest bottle of Sriracha you can find
I substituted 1 pound frozen collards for 1/2 pound fresh, upped the liquid accordingly, and used quadruple the onions.  But the main adjustment was that, despite Isa's suggestion to the contrary, I used Sriracha...and lots of it.  LOTS: in and atop.  The meal was hearty and healthy and, best of all, all cooked in one pot.

With some vegetable broth leftover, the next afternoon I decided to finally tackle Isa's PPK Broccoli Curry Udon soup.  I found it a few weeks ago, but a friend with similar taste beat me to it and provided me with some tips.

  • I substituted 4 cups of mixed, frozen veggies for the 6 cups of broccoli
  • used 14 ounces of wet udon noodles instead of 8 dry
  • halved the ginger (not a fan)
  • doubled the garlic
  • used significantly more than a pinch of red pepper flakes (fan)
  • added an extra cup of broth
  • used whole coconut milk
  • omitted the toasted sesame seeds (I keep forgetting to buy them)
you can't go wrong with some Sriracha on this either

This recipe used significantly more pots, pans, and bowls than I'm used to, but I've got to say that the result was worth it.  I should note that even with my extra cup of broth the soup had a significantly higher proportion of contents to liquid, so I served it with a spoon and fork- which you'll need for the unwieldy noodles anyway.  Also, if you like your food piping hot, plan to heat the whole concoction for a few extra minutes before serving. 

At this point I had coconut milk left over so I used that as an excuse decided to make Isa & Terry's VCIYCJ Magical Coconut Cookie Bars (p. 121-122).  I've never made them before, but they were one of my favorite things served at the book launch.  Once I'd started I realized I had less than the exact amount of certain ingredients, so I decided to cut the 1/4.  Normally people halve or double a recipe, but I seemed to have exactly 3/4 of each ingredient and I wanted to make as much as possible.  This would have been fine...if I were any good with fractions (I did know enough to use a smaller pan).

Other than that, I subbed Biscoff cookies for the graham cracker crumbs- an awesome flavor addition.  Note that I did use a bit more butter; apparently Biscoffs are dryer than graham crackers (?).  Oh, and I take full responsibility for my laziness having accidentally pulverized my pecans in the Magic Bullet instead of chopping them by hand.  The nutty dust wasn't pretty, but that didn't affect the taste of the bars, which were a hit.