Monday, June 6, 2011

World's Best (Vegan) Chocolate Cupcakes

These babies are so good, you don't even need to bake them. The avocado makes the batter rich and creamy like chocolate pudding. (Me and the kiddos spent some time "cleaning" the bowls and spoons.) RC and I served these after garnishing with fresh mint from our new garden. (I'll write more on our greenish thumbs later.) For now, enjoy making the world's best chocolate cupcakes:

Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 avocado, pitted and peeled
1 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 cup vegan milk (I used unsweetened coconut)
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Frosting:

1/2 cup Earth Balance butter
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla or 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
3-4 TBSP vegan milk or water, or more as needed (I used soy milk creamer)

Optional garnish: fresh mint sprigs!

  1. For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin pan with paper liners. (I actually got 15 cupcakes out of this, so I used a 2nd pan.)
  2. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
  3. Puree avocado in food processor until smooth. Add maple syrup, milk, oil, and vanilla and blend until creamy. Whisk into flour mixture.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared cupcake cups. Bake 25 mins. or until toothpick inserted into center comes out with some crumbs attached. (Mine were done at 21 mins.) Cool.
  5. For the frosting: With an electric hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth.
  6. With the mixer on low speed, add the confectioners' sugar, and cream for about 2 minutes.
  7. Add the cocoa, vanilla, and milk, and turn the mixer to high speed once all the ingredients are relatively well combined. Beat on high speed until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add 1-2 more TBSP of milk if it's too dry.
  8. Spread over cooled cupcakes, and store any extra in the fridge for whenever you need a little chocolate frosting in your life!
  9. Add optional garnish and chow down!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Easy Hummus Recipe

I bought a food processor for the sole purpose of making homemade hummus, and have never looked back. (Of course, the lovely bonus is that I get to make all kinds of things I otherwise wouldn't.) If you use canned chickpeas, this recipe comes together in about 15 minutes, and it's a great way to sneak in veggies for picky eaters. I've included celery here, but I've also had success with carrots, roasted red peppers and kale. Actually, I love the kale hummus, but at a certain point my daughter was on to me and refused to eat any more of the "green hummus."

Easy Hummus
(Basic Recipe)


15 oz. can chickpeas
3 TBSP tahini
1/4 cup water
2-3 TBSP olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic (depending on size)
2 lemons
2 celery hearts, chopped
handful fresh parsley (dried works in a pinch)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. sea salt (or to taste)
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
paprika, additional olive oil, and parsley for garnish

1. Begin by draining and rinsing the chickpeas. I usually let them sit in the colander while I prep the rest of the ingredients.
2. Spoon the tahini into the food processor, making sure to stir it first so the oil is well mixed in.
3. Squeeze the juice of both lemons into the processor.
4. Add all the rest of the ingredients, including the chickpeas, and with the exception of the garnish.
5. Run the processor for about a minute or so, until the mixture looks pretty smooth. At this point, I scrape down the sides, run it again, and then add more water if it seems too thick. (It will thicken up in the fridge, so I usually make the initial batch pretty thin, slightly thicker than a salad dressing.)
6. Taste, and adjust seasonings.
7. Spoon into a bowl or storage container, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle paprika and more parsley on top. Enjoy with crackers, veggies, as a topping on rice cakes or bagels -- or, as my two-year-old prefers, with a spoon straight from the bowl!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Forks Over Knives

Last night my friend Mudpie and I went to see the new documentary Forks Over Knives at the Kendall Square theater in Cambridge. It was a Sunday night at 9:30, so I shouldn't have been surprised that there were only a handful of people watching. Still, it was kind of a shame, because the movie was so incredibly moving and inspiring.

I was braced to see heart-wrenching footage of factory farms and gory images of sickly hearts undergoing surgery, but there was actually much more of the latter than the former. This isn't a film about animal rights, although it touches upon the subject briefly when the filmmaker visits Gene Baur, the founder of Farm Sanctuary in Watkins, NY. Its subject is nutrition and the indisputable science behind the fact that a plant-based diet is the most beneficial diet for humans from every perspective: warding off disease -- including cancer, heart disease and diabetes -- lowering incidences of depression, lowering the cost of health care on an individual and institutional basis, stabilizing the economy and contributing to the health of the planet. Seems like tall order for a salad, no?

The film explores why we seem to favor surgery and pharmaceuticals over such a simple answer to our national health crises. (Hint: The same people who created the food pyramid represent Big Agro and sit on the Dairy Council.) There's fascinating footage from the fifties and sixties showing ads encouraging people to drink lots of milk and eat meat for protein. And all those messages are still lodged firmly in the consciousness of the American people even as meat and dairy over-consumption continues to make us sicker and sicker.

The two stars of the film are T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Caldwell Esseltyn, M.D., whose work provides much of the decades-long research and clinical experience to back up the therapeutic claims of a plant-based diet. But they are joined by many other medical professional whose work also verifies these claims. (There are, of course, dissenting opinions gathered by representatives from the American Dietetic Association and the USDA, but these are pretty easily dismissed when their ties to Big Agro are exposed.)

Some surprises in the film: the only person to ever use the term "vegan" was Mac Danzig, an ultimate fighting star whose physique should put to rest forever the false claim that you need animal protein to build muscle. Danzig takes great pains to portray his dietary choice as personal, not political, saying that it's what works for him, and that he did it for totally selfish reasons to get into optimum shape. Still, watching him in action is a pretty compelling argument for becoming vegan! (Abs to rival Phil Collens's, y'all!)

The animal studies highlighted in the film that test links to dairy and cancer used groups of rats fed a diet of 5% casein (dairy protein) and 20%. The rats in the 5% group had negligible cancer rates, whereas the rats in the 20% group had skyrocketing cancer rates. But when the rats in the 20% group were brought down to a 5% casein diet, their rates dropped back down to the levels of the rats that had been fed a 5% diet all along. Now, I have to admit, animal studies (even for such a good cause) make me cringe. Still the idea that cancer triggers can be turned off just as easily as they can be turned on is pretty exciting. Even more exciting is that the no-cancer group didn't have casein removed entirely, just lowered to a 5% rate, which supports the idea that we can leave room in our diets for the occasional indulgence, and still enjoy health as long as the majority of the time we're consuming the stuff that's good for us. (Vegetables, grains, fruits.)

We also got to see some regular people with the usual diseases (heart, diabetes, breast cancer) who switch to a plant-based diet under the supervision of Dr. Esselstyn and the results are pretty astounding. Diabetes is completely reversed, heart patients given less than a year to live thrive for the next 20. And then there's Ruth Heidrich, a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her forties, who is still running Ironman triathlons in her seventies. There's a particularly clever shot of her running through a crowded park, past a bench where two elderly people -- probably her age -- are sitting, hunched, while she trots by in her form-fitting shorts. Almost like the viewer is given a choice: which person do you want to be? The sickly, tired one on the bench, or the one that's still vital well past an age when we expect people to have the energy for long walks, never mind running marathons.

Drs. Campbell and Esselstyn are also living examples of why a plant-based diet works. Both these men (born in '33 and '34, respectively) are in their seventies and healthy and active in their fields. Go see this movie! And if you don't want to take my word for it, take Roger Ebert's. He says it'll save your life.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Fountain of Youth (Or, how to look like a rock star forever)

Anyone see those great photos of Def Leppard guitarist, Phil Collen in both Vegetarian Times and VegNews this month? (Although with Veg News' reputation, you never know, maybe that was a fake meat-filled Phil Collen! Har, har... seriously, I love those guys.) Anyway, if you didn't here's a link to another recent photo that will leave you wondering, can this guy actually be in his fifties? How does he do it? Don't most rock stars look like this, or this, at that age?

Here's a hint: in the VegNews article, Phil is referred to as "the resident juicer on the band's tour bus." His recipe includes spinach, kale, lemon and ginger. Well, now I can say that Phil and I have something in common other than our prowess on the axe. (OK, so mine's mostly imaginary.) Because I've finally gotten that new juicer I've been stalking on amazon.

I'd been making due with this guy, a thirty dollar special from Target, since last year, and I have to admit it was a good, cheap way to try out juicing. But it was also loud enough that my kids would run screaming from the room whenever I turned it on. It also spit out a lot of wet pulp, and sometimes even chunks. The one time I tried to juice carrots it was clearly overwhelmed. It was all the little guy could do to make juice for one, never mind an entire family.

Now, RC and I are juicing every morning and enjoying our first meal of the day liquid and raw. (There's a dirty joke in there somewhere.) I start with a basic recipe I got from Natalia Rose's Detox 4 Women: romaine, kale, ginger and lemon, and then add whatever else we've got or need to use up. Lately that's been cucumber, green apple and celery. This morning I added green pepper with great success - it gave my juice a subtle nutty flavor. I also stir in a packet of stevia, which takes away the bitters if I want to go heavy on the kale.

I've been doing this for about a week now, and have started to crave my green juice in the morning. It definitely makes me feel energized, but also light, in a way that I never did with my old coffee and a bagel routine. Then, mid-morning, I have some green tea (you didn't think I was going completely caffeine-free, did you?) and my first solid food of the day, cereal or yes, a bagel (but with smashed avocado in place of the cream cheese.)

The best part? My kids love the new juicer. You can actually watch as the pulp is separated from the juice, and the noise isn't obnoxious at all. That last part I will also let stand as my mini-review of Def Leppard, although I have to admit to liking this version of Pour Some Sugar on Me even more than the original.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Traveling Vegan Part 3: Alchemy Juice Bar

During last weekend's Easter trip to CT, I managed to meet up with my old friend, Alicia. And by "old," I mean someone who knew me back in my electric guitar-Jack Daniels'-lawn-ornament-stealing days. I'd met her through Ducky, the drummer of the "band" I played in when I was sixteen. She was the little sister of a drummer friend of Duck's, and so we all kind of thought of her as the little sister, even though she was only a year or two younger than us. Need I say that she proved many times to be the most badass of us all? Those are stories for another blog, though. (Or perhaps they should be burned.)

Anyway, fast forward more years than I'm willing to admit, and Alicia and I are both married with kids and carnivore husbands, and trying to pursue a healthy, plant-based diet. Through the magic of Facebook, I've been able to watch Alicia build her repertoire of mouth-watering raw foods recipes for her business Naturawl Being, and was more than happy to sample the raw menu at Hartford's Alchemy Juice Bar on her recommendation. (Also, look at her photo -- this is what people are talking about when they mention the raw food "glow.")

I have to admit, although I've read enough about the raw vegan diet to realize it takes the benefits of a simply vegan diet to the next level, it's always seemed too complicated to me. Like I'd have to give up way too much. I can be compelled to give up hamburgers, thinking about the poor Being ground up to make them, but it's harder to pass by a nice, plump vegan bagel when I'm the only who suffers by eating it. Also, don't you need a lot of equipment? Dehydrators and super-blenders and spiralizers and such? No, Alicia assured me. Those things are nice to have, but definitely not necessary.

And so I've started to think about adding more raw foods to my diet. And since thinking about it, I've noticed that my kids gravitate naturally towards them. They're always eating raw fruit -- several helpings a day, in fact. They love when RC makes smoothies too. And raisins. And nuts. Makes me wonder if it's time to start trying to go raw one meal a day, now that I'm mostly vegan two meals a day anyway. Hmmm...

In the meantime, I leave you with more food porn from our fabulous raw lunch. (Sadly, I can't include the raw chocolate/coconut "maca-roon" because that was mow-mowed faster than the camera could catch it.)

Tantric Love Smoothie (berry tea, strawberry, banana, coconut, cacao & goji)

Stuffed Pepper with Flax Crackers
Raw "Pizza"

Kale Chips

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vegan Food Porn

By now you've probably heard about all the hub-bub over the VegNews scandal. If not, here's a short summary: turns out this vegan magazine has been using stock photography to illustrate its recipes, and on occasion this means that they've had to photoshop out the -- gasp! -- meat. This caused quite an uproar in the vegan community when the magazine was outed by Quarrygirl. While I don't agree with those who think using stock photographs of meat contributes to animal suffering (when it's used to promote a vegan lifestyle, doesn't that mean the opposite?) but I do agree that if you're going to show a picture of a recipe it should actually be that recipe, not some generic one containing completely different ingredients.

I've bought VegNews at Whole Foods a few times -- a guilty pleasure for me -- and had been considering getting a subscription when my current Vegetarian Times ran out. But now I'll probably stick with VT, since it seems like a much more professional organization all around. (And includes recipes like this one, which was a big hit last Thanksgiving.) Although they include a lot of recipes with dairy/eggs, the more I learn about vegan cooking, the more I think it's not really so hard to convert a vegetarian recipe into a vegan one. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, the whole controversy got me thinking about photography, and vegan photography in particular. You don't have to look very hard to find food porn -- it's everywhere these days. Not just in gourmet mags like Food & Wine, but even in places like Shape magazine and the good old Sunday Times. (All of the links go to vegan recipes on these sites.) But my own experience has been that it's not as easy as it looks to capture beautiful food on film (digital or otherwise). I'm still working on it.

I'll leave you with a few photos of some recipes that I've tested for the Happy Herbivore's newest cookbook. I can't share the ingredients (yet), so it's kind of a tease. As you can see, I'm still working on my form. But I can guarantee you, these pictures were made without harming any animals or innocent sticks of butter.

Chocolate pancakes, rising on the skillet.

Vegan frittata with Kale (plate by the fabulous Mudpie)

Chickpea tikka masala with a side of lemon-garlic asparagus

Channa Saag, with vegan yogurt

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

And the Winner Is...

Sardine Mama's vegan alfredo! Made with cashews, garlic, water and vegan parm, it doesn't get any easier than this. (See the full recipe in the comments section, here.) I picked it over the other recipes because of its simplicity and adaptability. I added roasted garlic, steamed broccoli, sea salt and lemon pepper to the version in the photo, and will probably continue to play around with it.
Thanks to everyone who sent in a recipe! Sardine Mama, hope you enjoy your new copy of the Happy Herbivore!