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Northern New Jersey’s Best Kept Vegan Establishments

| March 3, 2012 | 4 Comments

I’m from NJ, born and raised.  Sometimes, I am ashamed to admit this fact.  Fortunately, I have the luxury of voluntarily revealing this often-irrelevant piece of information or not because I have (since I made my escape back in 2000), lost the notorious NJ accent.  Thus, I can usually remain incognito.  However, I’m back visiting family who still reside here.  In fact, my parents are still living in the same house I was born and raised in and where I cultivated that one-of-a-kind accent.  It is nice to see my family, but the actual location of NJ–well, let’s just say that we have a love/hate relationship (and I suppose I also have a similar relationship with my parents, but really who doesn’t?).

Would I ever, given the choice, want to permanently reside in NJ again? No.  However, returning every few months to visit family and friends is fun and a vegan adventure because we are so close to NYC and lots of vegan eateries.

The “love” part of my relationship with NJ was manifested when I had a vegan feast extravaganza on my recent visit.   Here are some places you ought to check out if you are in the area or want to let NYC know that they do not own the vegan food real estate market.

First stop, Rutherford Pancake House (40 Park Avenue, Rutherford, NJ) for some impressive vegan French Toast made with their home-made Challah bread, complete with whipped vegan butter; yummy Tofu Scrambler with amazing rosemary infused potatoes; Quesadillas with Daiya cheese, fresh spinach and mushrooms, served with vegan sour cream, salsa, and sweet potato French fries.  Yes, I ordered all of the above and had lots of leftovers (which were gone a day later!).  Then, when you are stuffed to the brim with all that delicious food (the vegan options are expansive at this place), you can take a nice, albeit short walk, down the street to satisfy your sweet tooth (just in case the vegan Belgian waffle with chocolate chips didn’t already do that) to the Sweet Avenue Bake Shop, a vegan cupcakery located at 153 Park Avenue.  I’m not sure how I didn’t come across this bakery sooner (they opened in 2007), and I’ve been vegan for 14 years and back to NJ often. This observational failure on my behalf was not contingent on the fact that I do not enjoy cupcakes–because I adore them, now and always.

However, in case you need to fall in love with cupcakes, here’s a sampling of the cupcakes we tasted at the Sweet Avenue Bake Shop: Chocolate Sundae with chocolate Bavarian crème filling; Old Skool (think Hostess cupcake from back in the day); Sexy Sadie (red velvet cupcake with vanilla frosting); and a day-old Spicy Hot Chocolate cupcake for half the price and still super tasty with a serious spice kick even a day later. Also sampled were four cake balls—two were gluten free (red velvet and cookie dough) and two were vegan but not gluten free (cookie dough and cookies and cream). Did I mention that EVERYTHING in the cupcakery is vegan?  So you never need to ask if any item is vegan (although my mother asked about 10 times–thanks for looking out for me, Mom). A bakery where the default is vegan? Wow, I know. It’s like entering a vegan heaven. But it’s real!  My mom and I loved the cake balls; they were a big hit.  They resembled munchkins and, seriously, who doesn’t love a well-crafted flavorful vegan munchkin.  Oh, well maybe the raw vegans and those obnoxiously snarky non-vegans who haven’t tasted the pure sweet ecstasy of the cupcakes at Sweet Avenue Bake Shop.  Fortunately, for Jake and Danielle Vance (the owners), there are lots of other vegans and non-vegans alike who will take gustatory pleasure in the offerings at Sweet Avenue.   And a bonus is that you can down your cake balls and cupcakes with a piping hot mug of vegan hot chocolate with marshmallows.  Go check this place out ASAP and report back to me your findings—they have new cupcake flavor specials daily!

Vegan Hope

| January 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

Part One (Written 11.7.10):

I know, I know.  It’s been a long while since my last posting. I apologize.  And—if you will humor me with some tolerance for excuses—I have some great reasons why I’ve been in absentia.  Part of those excuses has precipitated this posting.

As of late, I have met people who fall into one of three categories:

  1. Those who say they are cool with vegans  2. Those who show through their actions—not just their words—that they are cool with vegans and 3. Those who lie through their teeth, albeit unintentionally.

My vegan radar has been finely tuned over the years to appropriately place folks into one of the above categories; however, I think due to other confounding factors and a certain level of jadedness, I’m not so sure my radar is working well.  And my liberal nature, predisposes me toward living in the “grey;” therefore nothing is absolute or so discretely categorized.  In my opinion, monochromatic hues do best in the worlds of interior design and fashion.

Here is where I get confused about folks who aren’t okay with veganism (and mine in particular).  I just don’t get the logic.  Here I am practicing veganism for GOOD reasons.  To help the animals, fellow humans, the environment—my intentions are good, the result of my veganism is to save lives.  I’m acting in a compassionate manner.  It’s not as if I’m some terrorist who has this extremist nature and my behavior results in mass murder and violence!

So I don’t get it.  Even if someone doesn’t agree with veganism on a pragmatic level—it’s inconvenient, not tasty enough, etc.—I can’t fathom why, on a philosophical level, folks take issue with it.

There are folks who say it’s not a big deal, but given enough time spent with my veganism and me, it becomes a big deal.  Go figure.

So there is all that—which can be frustrating.

And then there is the hope.

My co-workers have been incredibly thoughtful around my veganism—bringing me vegan snacks when the group snack isn’t vegan; making dishes vegan so I can enjoy them as well; always remembering when ordering food for an event to have a vegan item; and informing me of new vegan restaurants.  The openness and inclusiveness at work have somewhat renewed my faith that people are truly open to veganism and maybe do fall into category number 2.

These vegan encounters have given me hope that the movement is becoming more widespread, more pronounced, and more accepted.

Part Two (Written 1.17.11):

I love when life works like this.  I just sat down to write a new blog entry, finally feeling inspired to post something again.  I realized that I had an unfinished blog entry on my desktop dated from November and read through it.  It is mostly what you have read in Part One.

The irony is that I was about to write today about the same thing I started to write back in November, with some subtle variations of course.  However, the motif unobtrusively flows from Part One to Part Two.  Ah, one has to love those synchronicities.

So on to today’s post:  I have been spending time with a carnivore.  An open-minded (albeit fiscally conservative Republican) carnivore to be fair, but a carnivore nonetheless.  However, for the past four weekends, he has eaten (mostly) vegan with me. We have cooked together, we have baked together, we have shopped together, we have dined out together, we have thoroughly discussed vegan cuisine and recipes and ingredients and where to buy them and when to get them till the “cows come home” (where they live a glorious bovine life, regularly go out to pasture, and then pass away via a natural death on the organic farm where they have been compassionately raised from birth).

I forgot how fun it can be to cook and bake.  More notably, I forgot how fun they can be with a willing and equally excited (note: I’m EASILY excited so the baseline is clearly subjective) companion.  And mostly, I forgot how wonderful these moments and actions can be when they involve vegan foodstuffs!

And to carry on with the theme of Hope from up above, I have been ridiculously impressed with how seamless the transition to consecutive all-vegan weekends has been for a guy who has spent the past 40 years of his life eating most anything he wanted—lots of fish, lots of meat, and lots of dairy.  He hasn’t harped on the lack of beef in our Tofurky Kielbasa infused stir-fry, despite the fact that he prides himself on his special marinade that turns that “normally ordinary beef stir-fry into an extra-ordinary one”; or lamented the fact that the only sour cream in the fridge is a veganized take on the real stuff (btw: I swear Tofutti vegan sour cream tastes, smells, and resembles their vegan cream cheese a little bit TOO much); he was skeptical about the Tofurkey Roast but ended up losing the bet that he wouldn’t like it, which got me a yummy stir fry dinner and lots of homemade guacamole! In fact, he quite enjoyed the Tofurkey Roast.  My vegan cranberry bread sans the cinnamon is also thoroughly enjoyed.  And Earth Balance surpassed Land O Lakes on several occasions–same is true for my Dad.  And the list goes on. . . OF COURSE IT DOES!

I was nervous, as expressed in Part One.  I was skeptical that an American Man, who wasn’t vegan and grew up in our culture, could understand veganism, let alone respect and appreciate it in me.  And—perhaps most importantly–really enjoy it!  Not “learn” to enjoy it, but take pure delight in some (albeit not all) of its delicacies, tastes, flavors, and creativity.

This man—if asked–may say I’ve given him a gift—expanded his ideas of food; of what eating means; of how new types of food can be tasty and healthy and satisfying; and how all of the above can be true in a vegan paradigm.

But if someone were to ask me, I’d say that the reverse is true: that this man has given ME a great gift.

He has re-inspired me to love food again; to delight in the gustatory pleasures; to revel in a dab of Earth Balance on some hot fresh bread; to fall into fits of ecstasy (yes, you read that right!) over some amazingly delicious homemade guacamole; to notice the importance and artistry of plating, of aesthetics, of visual displays and cues and meaning.

He’s inspired me to finally post again on this blog and, at the very least, that’s worth a nod of acknowledgement.  Who knows what the future holds–whether we’ll be cooking and baking together for years to come or only a few months. Nonetheless, he’s reminded me how much I love veganism—not just the food, but the whole philosophy; how much I love practicing veganism.  He’s allowed me to be me.  He’s given me a freedom I know I possess but that I don’t often feel is acknowledged by others.  Likewise, I can let him be him and eat his cheese and his fish and his Indian chicken tikki masala and that in the sharing and in the communion of the relationship we can also find common food ground that is delicious and fun and wonderful. It’s also the philosophy behind veganism: compassion, empathy, tolerance, love.  Via the creation of the food, we create ourselves anew and the relationship.  And that is quite a gift.

Either way, I’ve always said that I never enjoy cooking and baking alone.  But thanks to a man who–on the surface–is not the frontrunner in the race toward veganism and who–most likely–will never be fully vegan himself, I am palpably reminded of why I don’t enjoy doing it alone.  I’d say that’s a beautiful gift.

Now, I only need to start taking pictures of all that glorious food!

Filed Under: Featured Articles

Vegan Book Suggestions

| March 18, 2010 | 2 Comments

It may have been a bit of time since my last blog posting, but rest assured: my veganism has continued uninterrupted in the meantime!  The words may have been scarce to cross your computer screen, but great, healthy, and tasty vegan food has been gracing my palate consistently.  And, if you take the following advice, your motivations for going vegan may be duly increased and your plate, too, may hold some delectable vegan delicacies!

I’ve also been blessed to have someone in my life that is truly interested in learning more about veganism—its health benefits, specifically.  I have found that all of the direct and indirect benefits of veganism–including health, animal rights and welfare, social justice, and environmental issues—appeal to different folks.  I personally do not care WHY someone decides to go vegan (all reasons are valid and legitimate) but simply that they do!  And, of course, if I can guide someone through this journey, make it an easier, less confusing one for them, then there is not much that will make me happier and feel more fulfilled (well, except for a damn good piece of vegan birthday cake, which is on my mind as I’m about to ring in a personal “new year”).

Along that vein, here are some great books I recommend to learn more about the health benefits of veganism. Furthermore, the main folks in the field who are noteworthy and will forever wear the “Vegan Crown of Knowledge and Erudition” are, in no particular order:  T. Colin Campbell, John Robbins, Howard Lyman (used to be a cattle rancher who turned vegan), and Neal Barnard.  All of these men (hmm, is there some gender inequality in the fight for equality for all sentient beings?? Ironic, huh? J) are great writers, well versed in the field, and have been in and around the movement mostly since its inception.  In many ways, I think, they greatly brought the movement to where it is today. They advanced it, they propelled it, and most importantly, they brought these issues to the forefront at a time when it was less than “cool” to do so.  In my opinion, such folks fall into the true “hero social revolutionary” category—minus the guillotine and communism.

Recommended Books to Read to Discover Your Inner Vegan Mojo:

  1. The China Study by T. Colin Campbell–Dr. Campbell is a biochemistry professor at Cornell University.  I haven’t read this book personally (yet), but I know the author well, and this book is a BIG deal. It made headlines upon its release, and it’s well researched.  I think this would be a great way to learn more about the health benefits of a veg lifestyle from a renowned nutrition and health expert in the field.

Here is a synopsis of the book:

“The research project culminated in a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, a survey of diseases and lifestyle factors in rural China and Taiwan. More commonly known as the China Study, “this project eventually produced more than 8000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.”

The findings? “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease … People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored,” said Dr. Campbell.

In The China Study, Dr. Campbell details the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and also its ability to reduce or reverse the risk or effects of these deadly illnesses. The China Study also examines the source of nutritional confusion produced by powerful lobbies, government entities, and irresponsible scientists.”

2. Howard Lyman’s book –No More Bull

3. John Robbins — Diet for a New America (the book that made me go vegan senior year in college) and The Food Revolution (I’d read this one as it’s more recent).  His latest book is Healthy at 100.  Here is synopsis of this one:

“In this revolutionary book, bestselling author John Robbins presents us with a bold new paradigm of aging, showing us how we can increase not only our lifespan but also our health span. Through the example of four very different cultures that have the distinction of producing some of the world’s healthiest, oldest people, Robbins reveals the secrets for living an extended and fulfilling life in which our later years become a period of wisdom, vitality, and happiness. From Abkhasia in the Caucasus south of Russia, where age is beauty, and Vilcabamba in the Andes of South America, where laughter is the greatest medicine, to Hunza in Central Asia, where dance is ageless, and finally the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa, the modern Shangri-la, where people regularly live beyond a century, Robbins examines how the unique lifestyles of these peoples can influence and improve our own.”

4. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

Also, if you’d like to get more of a “visual,” there is a movie called Earthlings you can view.  If you were going to only watch one thing, this is it. But be forewarned, it graphically portrays animal abuse and cruelty.  Don’t eat beforehand, especially any meat or dairy products!

You can watch it free online at the Earthlings website or on various other sites—just google it.

“Narrated by Academy Award Nominee Joaquin Phoenix and featuring music by the critically acclaimed platinum artist Moby, EARTHLINGS is a documentary film about humankind’s complete economic dependence on animals raised for pets, food, clothing, entertainment and scientific research. Using hidden cameras and never-before-seen footage, EARTHLINGS chronicles the day-to-day practices of the largest industries in the world, all of which rely entirely on animals for profit. Powerful, informative, controversial and thought-provoking, EARTHLINGS is by far the most comprehensive documentary ever produced on the correlation between nature, animals and human economic interests.”

Filed Under: Featured Articles

Peace o’ Pie Gourmet Vegan Pizza: Food Review

| January 25, 2010 | 4 Comments

Yes, it has been a while since my last post.  Feel free to email me some chastisement.  But no worries, this entry is well worth the wait!

What is more fun (and tasty) than grabbing a pizza on a Friday night and then some drinks afterward in a hippie, fun, cool part of Boston called Allston?  Not much, except if you make it vegan pizza! That’s right.  An all-vegan pizza place opened up this past October in Allston, aptly named Peace o’ Pie Gourmet Vegan Pizza.  They renovated the space previously occupied by TJ Scallywaggles– also a vegan eatery.  Yes, I should have been the first one lined up on opening day.  (Again, feel free to email me some chastisement).  Alas, I was holding out to make sure that the word on the vegan street was good and solid before I took my taste buds for a raucous, gustatory, pleasure-seeking thrill ride. This place has been reputed to be some of the best pizza around, vegan or not.  So I decided the time had come, and I rounded up a willing participant.

Upon arrival, I immediately went to promoting my company, Purposeful Palate.  Come on, what else is a struggling entrepreneur to do?  After I had charmed the co-owner, I asked him what was the best item on the comprehensively itemized all-vegan menu.  Did I mention it is ALL VEGAN?! Not only do they have pizza with toppings galore, they also have breadsticks (cheesy or plain), and calzones. For the pizza shop ignoramuses among us (do they even exist?), a calzone is a stuffed pizza. Peace o’ Pie describes it as a “pizza turnover.” Hailing from NJ–and in close proximity to NYC and the best pizza in the country–I think one of my first words uttered was “calzone.”  Fine, perhaps this is a slight exaggeration, but here’s the bottom line–I was born a foodie.  Too bad my parents never saw the whole vegan path a comin’! I hope they don’t blame the calzone for my dietary switch.

Anyway, I now understood why this establishment is named Peace O’ Pie Gourmet Vegan Pizza.  A seemingly proper name indeed when faced with the vast array of premium toppings one can pile atop their pizza or in their calzones—artichoke hearts, apple sage sausage, tempeh, sun dried tomatoes, pepperoni, and portabella mushrooms.  I was in a semi-conscious vegan haze of edible delights.  The decision was difficult, and I was initially leaning toward purchasing several slices, a calzone, and some cheesy breadsticks (let’s repeat this for the peanut gallery:  cheesy vegan breadsticks with organic sauce!).

It was so hard to choose: should we go with the Fresh, the EP, the Classy, or the MD pizza pie?  I couldn’t figure out what all those initials stood for, but I didn’t really care.  I was too focused on the yummy toppings listed following those initials. Upon serious contemplation my “first time vegan pizza eater” and self-proclaimed “carnivore who’s ambivalent about meat” and I decided to try the special of the day: barbecued chicken pizza.  Fortunately, we are both big barbecue sauce lovers.  We also could have elected to go with a whole-wheat organic crust or–on Thursdays only–a gluten-free crust.  Not only do they cater toward the vegan gourmand, but they also support the gluten allergic folks.  How thoughtful and strategically savvy.

We sat down at a corner window table.  I was pleased with the cute green tables, and the Parma “parmesan” cheese and red hot pepper flake shakers sitting on them.  I think the only extra addition ought to have been some garlic powder.  In New Jersey it is a sin if pizza places don’t have BOTH garlic powder and red pepper flake shakers available for dousing the greasy, cheesy, non-vegan, and artery clogging taste creation.

Our pizza arrived freshly baked, hot, and doughy.  The pizza was amazing—amazing as in “I ate two more slices than my stomach could handle” amazing.  Even the crust was superb–soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside.  And an extra perk: the very last slice was still warm and soft!  Was it on a heated plate? Nope.  Did we eat it super fast? Nope.  So how’d they do it? The magic secret: it’s vegan! Yes, I’m convinced that its inherent veganism secured it more warmth and flavor till the very last bite.  Feel free to challenge me on this—you can include it with your email chastisement (see above). But I felt like I’d at least give my opinion on the matter.

The new Gardein brand mock chicken was used, and this is one of the best mock meats to recently hit the market. The pizza had a bit of marinara sauce on top but was mostly smothered in barbecue sauce.  A mixture of cheddar and mozzarella Daiya soy-free cheese was generously melted all over.  Peace o’ Pie also carries Vegan Gourmet brand cheese, which is also quite tasty; however, the new Daiya brand has revolutionized the vegan cheese world.  We got a large size, and we ate it all!  It was heavenly, the best vegan pizza I’ve had in my whole vegan life (12 years to be exact).  The Daiya cheese was unbelievably “cheesy,” creamy, and rich (in the healthiest sense of the word, of course).  This new vegan cheese has been getting rave reviews for its exceptional taste and melting capabilities. Dare I say it, but I think it may actually resemble (and taste) like the non-vegan version.  I know; this is a bold statement, and it’s been a while for my taste buds.  But I’m willing to take risks; I’m that kind of gal. So I stand behind the bold and the obvious, especially because my fellow pizza eater (who had NEVER had a vegan pizza before) was duly impressed as well.  Did I mention we got a large and ate it all?  Enough said.

At one point the owner, Eric Prescott, came over to have a chat.  He was interested in the non-vegan’s perspective of the pizza.  My friend said this:  I am going home and throwing away all of my leftovers from Bertucci’s!

And both Eric and I immediately realized the genius in this statement.  It was summed up so eloquently—Bertucci’s be damned, vegan pizza is here to stay.  And thankfully, so is Peace o’ Pie.  Stop on by or order up a delivery and partake in a tasty vegan epicurean delight.

Peace o’ Pie

487 Cambridge Street

Allston, MA 02134

617.787.9884

Tikvenik 
(Pumpkin-filled Fillo Pastry)

| November 25, 2009 | 4 Comments

Тиквеник (for those who can read the Cyrillic Alphabet and/or speak Bulgarian)

Following the Bulgarian specialty dish motif, here is another recipe to tempt and expand your palate.  If you thought the Bulgarian Fried Dough was great, you’ll love this dish too.  What can I say?  Clearly, the Bulgarians know how to do it right, and this is another one of their delicacies.  It is simple, nutritious, and easy to prepare (assuming you don’t have a Fillo dough catastrophe).

Tikvenik
Preparation:

Cut pumpkin in half and remove the seeds*(see tip below for how to use the seeds).  Remove the skin of the pumpkin and cut into 2-inch cubes.  Steam the pumpkin until tender then drain and mash. Add ½ cup of brown sugar (or sweeten to taste) and 1 tsp. of cinnamon then transfer to a pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat then set aside to cool to room temperature.

Once cool, stir-in the walnuts (about 1 cup, chopped). Now unfold the fillo pastry. Take two sheets and dot with butter or oil. Spread about ¾ cup of the pumpkin mixture across the width of one sheet. Fold over the two shorter ends then roll into a cylinder before rolling into a spiral on a greased baking sheet (see photograph). Repeat the process with the remaining pumpkin and pastry, adding each roll to the end of the spiral, making it larger.

When done, brush the top with melted butter or oil and then transfer to an oven pre-heated to 410°C and bake until lightly browned (about 15 to 20 minutes). Reduce the heat to 365°C and bake for a further 40 minutes. Sprinkle powdered sugar over the top if desired.  Serve hot.

Tikvenik

Tips:

Pumpkin is stock full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.  It is also a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Phosphorus, Iron, Magnesium, Folate, Niacin, and Vitamin B6.  Pumpkin is also low in sugar, and thus low on the Glycemic Index and suitable for diabetics.  This food is also low in saturated fat, and very low in Cholesterol and Sodium.

*When you are scooping out the seeds and innards, a good idea is to rinse and save the pumpkin  seeds (pepitas) and roast them in the oven.  I seasoned mine with cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and coriander to give them a nice flavor.  Pumpkin seeds have many health benefits, some of which include a good source of protein, zinc, and other vitamins, and have been said to lower cholesterol.  One gram of pumpkin seed protein contains as much tryptophan as a full glass of milk (see, another reason it’s easy to go vegan).  Pumpkin seeds are a good source of magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and phytosterols.

Walnuts are great for vegans because they are an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, a special type of protective fat the body cannot manufacture. Walnuts, in particular, have significantly higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids as compared to other nuts.  Walnuts’ concentration of omega-3s (a quarter-cup provides 90.8% of the daily value for these essential fats) has many potential health benefits ranging from cardiovascular protection, to the promotion of better cognitive function, to anti-inflammatory benefits helpful in asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. Walnuts and their Omega-3’s help improve the ratio of good (HDL) cholesterol to potentially harmful (LDL) cholesterol. Omega-3s also reduce inflammation, which is a key component in the processes that turn cholesterol into artery-clogging plaques. Walnuts are one of the best plant sources of protein. They are rich in fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and Vitamin E.

In addition, walnuts contain an antioxidant compound called ellagic acid that supports the immune system and appears to have several anticancer properties.  Walnuts are considered to be an herb in traditional Chinese medicine. They are said to tonify kidneys, strengthen the back and knees, warm and hold Qi in the lungs and help kidneys to grasp the Qi, moisten the intestines and move stool.

Just remember that all nuts, including walnuts, are high in calories, so moderation is the key (and if you use them to REPLACE meats and cheeses, your health will increase but NOT your caloric intake).

Season Favorites–New Vegan Skittles and Pumpkin Tapioca Pudding

| November 2, 2009 | 1 Comments

The word has gotten around.  Skittles are now vegan–no more gelatin added.  And also gluten free to boot.  This news traveled fast, although ironically not by the makers of Skittles but by the vegan community.  I figured as part of that community, I’d help spread the word too.  Albeit, from a health perspective I’m not promoting large quantity consumption of The Skittle as they still contain lots of sugar, corn syrup, and that dreaded hydrogenated oil.  But in moderation everything is fine.

Skittles can be eaten all year round.  Halloween is always a good time to chew on a few; however, up until very recently, the classic candies were non-vegan friendly because they contained gelatin.  But times they are a changin’ and now, more than ever, is the time to jump on the eco-friendly, animal-friendly, and ethical-friendly VEGAN BANDWAGON! The festivities abound upon such a bandwagon, as evidenced by the newly released all vegan Skittles!  Confectionary connoisseurs rejoice–our time has come.

I was never a huge lover of Skittles as a kid, mostly because I was always a hard-core chocoholic (although they now have come out with Chocolate Skittles, but this is a more recent occurrence).  Nevertheless, Skittles maintain a special place in my heart, and there have been a fair number of times over the years when I wanted to have a good sweet chew on some.   Now, my cravings can be satiated, and I can “taste the rainbow” as often as my heart desires.

Moving on to other sweet treats, I recently baked some Pumpkin Tapioca Pudding. It was pretty darn tasty and a nice seasonal dessert.    Here is the recipe:

Pumpkin Tapioca Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp Tapioca small pearls
  • ½ can of pumpkin puree
  • 2-3 heaping tbsp of sunflower seed nut butter (Trader Joe’s brand is the BEST but feel free to use any nut butter flavor and brand)
  • ¾ cup coconut milk
  • 1 ¾ cups water
  • 2-2.5 tbsp sweetener—I recommend using Agave Nectar (Stevia is also a good sweetener, you can do 1/2 of each)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon (and to garnish)
  • ½ cup vegan soy whipped cream (or rice whip works too—Soyatoo makes a good vegan whipped cream)

Preparation:

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil and then add in the tapioca pearls.  Make sure to whisk often so the tapioca does not stick to the bottom of the pan or to each other.  Let the tapioca cook for about 15 minutes, until the pearls have become more translucent.  The mixture will have thickened by now, and the liquid will be opaque.  In a separate bowl, mix together the sweetener, coconut milk, and cinnamon.  Add this mixture to the tapioca once it has finished its initial cooking.  Let cook for an additional 5 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and mix in the nut butter and pumpkin puree; then mix in the whipped cream last.  Serve into two small bowls or cups and refrigerate for several hours to let it thicken.  Garnish with cinnamon or sliced bananas.  Add additional sweetener if desired.  Serves two.

Bulgarian Fried Dough

| October 26, 2009 | 3 Comments

This weekend my friend (who is also vegan) and I partook in one of his favorite childhood memories—fried dough for breakfast.  Being an American, my breakfast childhood memories (which were “pre-vegan” for the record) center on weekend trips to IHOP; pancakes; waffles; bagels with cream cheese, lox, and whitefish salad (thanks to those Jewish roots); and grits (I’m a Jersey gal, born and bred, but my Dad, for some unknown reason but a glorious stroke of good luck for me, is a big fan of the grit and so he made them for me often).

However, my friend’s Bulgarian roots have him experiencing different breakfast memories.  Although Americans (and most people in general, cultures aside) do love most anything fried, I would normally advocate that avoiding fried foods in general is the best course of action.  But life is about embracing risk and stepping out of our “normal” routines to add some excitement and gustatory stimulation every now and again.

And if an exception (and all exceptions in moderation of course) were going to made, I’d have to say—now that I’ve been privileged to this culinary and bountiful Bulgarian breakfast brouhaha—that a great Indian Samosa and Bulgarian Fried Dough are the two exceptions that ought to be made!  They are both vegan, of course.  Do not think for a second that veganism doesn’t have “exceptions” or taste bud tantalizing delights!  It does, and this dish proves it. Furthermore, making Bulgarian Fried Dough is FUN!  I’ll take you through the steps with visuals to guide you along the way.  My friend’s hands make their Purposeful Palate debut!

Step One:  Make the dough.  Given that my friend grew up watching his mother make this stuff, he wasn’t so sure about exact measurements, but the dough came out perfect.  That being said, I’m going to give you approximations, and you can fine tune as needed. Mix flour (all purpose flour works best, but feel free to use whole wheat flour or gluten free flour to make it a bit healthier or to avoid the gluten—just remember that certain flours impart certain textures and the fried dough may be either less doughy or more doughy given the type of flour you use) with some cornmeal flour; a ratio of about 85% flour with 15% cornmeal.  Mix in water and a packet of active dry yeast.  Add salt to the dough if desired (or do like the Bulgarians do and add to the top of the Fried Dough upon eating).  Knead until dough is of dough-like consistency.

Step Two: Now that the dough is made, it’s time to get down to business.  Knead the dough with a rolling pin on a baking sheet (preferably a flat baking sheet to make the kneading process easier).

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Once you have the dough flattened to about a ½ to ¾ inch thickness, cut the dough into 2 x 2 inch squares. Expand, pull, and flatten the square of dough in your hands to make it thinner and more elongated.  Set these aside to get ready for some deep-frying.

Optional: Bulgarian Fried Dough is often filled with feta cheese to form a fried dough feta cheese pocket.  We decided to take a more vegan friendly approach and made fresh spinach and vegan Nacho Cheese (Follow Your Heart brand) pockets instead.  We fried some and baked some (to be healthier). So if you want this treat without all the oil then bake the pockets and the bread (which turns out like a flatbread—and then you can drizzle with olive oil or add some spices on top). Note:  When frying the pockets, be sure to turn down the temperature on the frying oil; otherwise, the dough will cook faster than the vegan cheese has a chance to melt (yes, it DOES melt!).   This happened to us (as evidenced by the picture), but it was still super tasty.

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Step Three: Once the oil is bubbling and hot in your large sauté pan, drop the pieces of fried dough into the oil.  If you see air pockets forming in the dough, then you are doing it correctly.  Once the dough is golden brown, it is done and you can remove it from the oil.  Set aside to cool.

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Step Four: Have a wonderful and tasty Bulgarian inspired breakfast!  Sprinkle salt on the Fried Dough for added flavor or feel free to do it the good ole American carnival inspired way and sprinkle powdered sugar and/or fruit on top!

Vegan Stuffed Squash–Last Night’s Epicurean Delight

| October 25, 2009 | 0 Comments

Last night, I cooked an alternative version of the traditional stuffed acorn squash with rice dish.  Instead, I replaced rice with millet, an uncommon but nutrition powerhouse ( and gluten-free) grain.

Before I tell you about my delicious and aesthetically pleasing, eye-catching dish (and there is a picture to prove it), let me give you some information on millet.

It has been hypothesized that the cultivation of millet was of greater prevalence in prehistory than rice, especially in northern China and Korea. Millet made its way from China to the Black Sea region of Europe by 5000 BCE, where it spread widely due to its resistance to drought.

Millet’s protein content is very close to that of wheat; both grains provide about 11% protein by weight.  Millet is rich in B vitamins, especially niacin, B6 and folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Millet contains no gluten, so although it is not very suitable for raised bread, it is very suitable for those who are gluten intolerant, have celiac disease, or other forms of allergies/intolerance to gluten.  However, word of caution:  millet is also a mild thyroid peroxidase inhibitor and probably should not be consumed in large quantities by those with thyroid disease.  Otherwise, bon appetite!

Another derivation in this recipe is that I used a Red Kuri (Hokkaido) squash, a red-orange Japanese squash that averages about 5-10 lbs. each and is teardrop-shaped. The golden flesh is smooth, dry, sweet and rich. This squash is available year round and can be baked, braised, pureed, or steamed to be served as a side dish or used as a base for soups.

Okay, now that the main ingredients have been discussed, let’s move on to the actual recipe.

Vegan Stuffed Squash

Ingredients:

  • 2-4 Squashes (feel free to use any type you please!), halved lengthwise; seeds and membrane removed.
    • Note:  Keep the seeds!  Rinse the seeds, pat them dry, and spread them out evenly on a baking sheet that has been lightly sprayed.  Spray seeds with olive oil or Earth Balance, sprinkle with salt or other seasonings.  Bake the seeds in the oven at 375 F for about 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown.
  • 1 cup millet (prepare millet as stated on package instructions; use veggie broth instead of water for more flavor)
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 3 cups of fresh baby spinach (add more or less as desired)
  • ½ block of vegan Follow Your Heart Nacho Cheese chopped into small chunks (this adds great flavor and texture—optional, or feel free to use any other vegan brand you prefer)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped (use any type of nut you prefer)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2-1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • cilantro–to garnish

Preparation:   1. Preheat oven to 375 F 2.  Prepare millet and set aside 3. Place squash halves face down in a large, shallow baking dish or cookie sheet; bake squash for 30 minutes 4. In a skillet, sauté the garlic and onions in the olive oil; add all seasonings listed; add carrots, nuts, and vegan cheese and continue sautéing.  Finally, add the spinach until all veggies are cooked to perfection!  5.  Add the millet to the sauté mixture; mix together.  6.  Remove the squash from the oven; scoop out some of the flesh and mix with the millet/veggie mixture; make sure to leave some squash flesh still in the squash!  7.  Fill each squash half with the millet mixture until a mound forms.  8.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for another 30 minutes or until squash is tender all the way through.  9.  Enjoy!

The Tasty Triumvirate–Items Not to Be Missed

| September 29, 2009 | 1 Comments

In my very first blog posting, I would like to take this opportunity to inform you all of three staple food items that I rarely do without.  These aren’t necessarily “essentials,” but they are darn tasty, healthy, and easy to prepare (for those of us who are on a tight time schedule and need convenience).
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