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!

Monday, April 11, 2011

True Bistro

How psyched was I when a new vegan restaurant opened up in Teele Square, walking distance from my house? So psyched that it took me nearly three months to get there! Actually, I've been dying to go to True Bistro, and have only life's busy-ness and a tendency for penny pinching to blame for not getting there sooner.

But last week an old friend came to visit from L.A., giving me the perfect excuse to plan a girls' lunch out. It was Sarah, Cathy and I -- all writers who met through Grub Street more years ago than I'd like to admit. We each have a different relationship to veganism: Sarah was raised vegetarian, although she's an omnivore now; Cathy tries to eat veg once a day; and well, you know about me already.

While the company made the lunch memorable, I'm happy to report that the food did not disappoint. First, it was really nice to feel like I could order anything on the menu, and not have to worry about hidden animal ingredients (or guilt). I ordered the "Gardein Panini" a sandwich made with Gardein "chicken," arugula pesto, cherry tomatoes and vegan mozz. I would have happily eaten this back in my carnivore days, without giving it a second thought. The "chicken" bites were satisfying and went perfectly with the creamy cheese and the zip of the arugula pesto. (I loved the latter so much that I made a version of it at home later in the week.)

I also couldn't resist ordering the vegan mac & cheese, with smoked tofu and garlic breadcrumbs. I've been eyeing the vegan m/c recipe in the Happy Herbivore cookbook, but am a little skeptical about alternative cheese. (See my post about the gluten-free/vegan pizza project.) I'm happy to say that True Bistro's version exceeded expectations. Definitely a restaurant I'll go back to.

How about you? Favorite vegan restaurants in the Boston area or beyond?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Gluten-Free Vegan Pizza Project

I wrote about this over at Wine Among Friends today, and thought I would share the link here as well. The hardest thing about becoming vegan, for me, has always been giving up cheese. (There were entire days in my 20's when I existed on red wine, french bread, chocolate and cheese.) But I'm feeling hopeful about leaving it behind in the near future. Cheri Smith just wrote an excellent post about her experience giving up mac & cheese over at crazysexylife that made me feel like if she could do it, I could too.

In the meantime, I'm looking for good substitutes. For last week's vegan pie we went with Daiya mozzarella, which has a great texture and really melts (so much so that we're still tweaking the amount -- you need way less than cow's milk mozz), but is still a processed food. This week I'm going to try a secret recipe for homemade ricotta that our friend the Happy Herbivore is letting me test.

What about you guys? Any good cheese substitutes to share?

Friday, April 1, 2011

When the Weather Outside is Frightful...

We make chocolate-chip pumpkin muffins! (Recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance -- The Best Pumpkin Muffins + vegan chocolate chips.)

This was the view from our porch this morning:

And from inside the kitchen:

(Yes, I know what day it is -- but vegan baked goods are no joke!)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Win Your Very Own Happy Herbivore!

Um, not the Happy Herbivore herself, of course, but her fabulous cookbook that I've been happily using for the past few weeks. BenBella books, the publisher of Happy Herbivore, has graciously offered to supply one of my readers with a free copy. Hooray for free stuff! Double hooray for free vegan stuff!

So here's the contest: In the spirit of the Happy Herbivore, send me a quick, easy, cheap vegan recipe -- something relatively simple that might be your go-to vegan meal. Please, no fancy equipment. (For example: a blender/food processor is okay, dehydrator or spiralizer is not.) Put your recipe in the comments and I'll pick the winner. The cookbook will be sent to you directly from the publisher, without even my chocolate-dusted fingerprints* to mar its new-book shine.

My latest experiment: H.H's black bean brownies. Next time I would add chocolate chips to the batter. But that's just me.

UPDATE 4/4: I'm going to pick the winner on Monday (4/11). If anyone is still thinking about posting a recipe, please post by this Friday (4/8).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Honey, I ate the... honey?

Many times I've been putting together my daily vegan meal, only to find out that a key component of it contained a hidden animal product: honey. I was inclined to ignore this -- after all, it comes from bugs, and it's not like they're hooked up to milking machines or confined in factory farms... or are they? Then again, I'm only eating vegan once a day (officially) and to slack off seemed a little too wimpy even for someone as, uh, wimpy as myself.

I've found honey in: bread, granola, granola bars, salad dressing, and crackers. Especially bread -- I've had to pass on plenty of yummy-looking organic loaves at Whole Foods because of their honey component. (I also found it in plenty of non-vegan foods, like yogurt.)

Now, I wonder if companies are using honey instead of sugar because sugar has become such a dirty word (for good reason -- Kris Carr, in her new book Crazy Sexy Diet, likens it to crack) and honey has a natural, almost good-for-you image (think Burt's Bee's) that can easily make us forget that, at the end of the day, it's just another form of sugar?

A quick research session in Google Library turned up plenty of good reasons (other than the obvious, it's not that great to eat sugar ones) not to eat honey, for both dietary and environmental reasons. Turns out, commercial honey farms are just as terrible for bees as factory farming is for cows, pigs and chickens. Should we really be surprised? And even if you don't care about whether or not bees feel pain, or suffer when they're fed corn syrup to replace the honey that's been harvested from them, it seems such a little thing to give up.

I'm curious how other people feel about this issue. Do you agree with Daniel Engber, who wrote in Slate that "to debate the question in public only makes the vegan movement seem silly and dogmatic," or does it make sense for us to try to combat the idea that it's a harmless and maybe even healthy product?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Red Lentil Dal

I've been happily cooking my way through the Happy Herbivore cookbook this week, beginning with these healthy blueberry oatmeal muffins. I made them with my toddler, Lil' Sprout, and was pleased to find they're that rare variety of homemade baked good that only requires you to dirty one mixing bowl. Sounds like a small bonus, but remember, I was baking with a two-year-old! Also, they were delicious.

Next I moved onto the red lentil dal, a recipe Lindsay Nixon has been kind enough to let me post here:

Red Lentil Dal

Serves 4. "Dals are essentially thick stews made with lentils and traditional Indian spices. On my website, this is one of my most popular recipes. It's been around the online block a few times, and for good reason. It's easy, delicious, and cheap. Make it once and it will never leave your regular rotation, I promise."


1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 TBSP ground ginger
1/2 c. dried red lentils
2 cups vegetable broth
1 chopped tomato with juices
3 oz. tomato paste (about 5 TBSP)
1 TBSP ground coriander
2 tsp garam masala
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
cayenne, to taste

1. Line a medium pot with 1/4 cup of water and cook onions and garlic until translucent.

2. Add turmeric, cumin, paprika, and ginger and cook for another 2 minutes, adding water if necessary to prevent any sticking or burning.

3. Add lentils, broth, tomato, tomato paste, and coriander, stirring to combine.

4. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes or until lentils are cooked and orange-ish.

5. Add garam masala, stirring to combine, and let rest 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne.

VOD notes: Never having cooked with dried lentils before, I didn't realize they had to soak for 8 hours -- so I actually had to make these a day later than I'd planned. (My fault for not reading the directions on the package!) Next time, I would add more fresh tomato, and would also have vegan raita on hand. The dish is very fragrant, and will make your house smell amazing! However, since RC and I don't usually eat this kind of flavorful Indian food (we're tikka masala wimps) I'm going to let my neighbor, Mudpie, weigh in:
"I think this dish is definitely for spice lovers like myself. I particularly liked the fresh ginger. I made a few adjustments to suit my personal preferences. There was a slight bitter note that balanced with a dash of salt and I added a little more cayenne to get the heat the way I like it. I will definitely make this dish for Mudhoney and I. He will love it."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Happy Herbivore

I mentioned in my last post that I'd recently picked up The Happy Herbivore, a new vegan cookbook written by Lindsay S. Nixon. Well, come to find out that Lindsay is doing a blog book tour, and she's been kind enough to stop by my own fledgling blog (bloglet?) to answer a few questions.

Before I get to the Q & A, though, I have to confess that Lindsay is my new vegan crush. Her cookbook is beautiful -- full color pages for many of the recipes -- and geared towards vegans and non-vegans alike. (Symbols accompany each recipe highlighting features such as "fat-free," "gluten-free," "kid-friendly," and "omni-friendly"-- short for omnivore-friendly, of course). In addition to answering my questions, she's agreed to let me share one of her recipes with you, which I'll do in my next post along with mine & RC's rating.

VOD: I love that your recipes look relatively simple to make, and that most of them have easily recognizable ingredients (even for someone who's not a full time vegan). Was this a conscious choice on your part, in terms of recognizing an unfilled niche in the vegan cookbook-o-sphere, or is it more a reflection of your personal cooking style?

LN: Both; a big "goal" with my book was to show that eating vegan meals is easy, approachable, possible. So many vegan cookbooks call for exotic ingredients which I think intimidates people and turns them off. I think a lot of people feel you have to live in a big city or have a large budget to be vegan, which isn't true.

As for my style: I once went to 5 different stores to find pomegranate molasses, and when I found it, it was $7. I used it in the recipe--which was very good, but not something I could eat all the time, and then I couldn't find another way to use the stuff. I've since moved across the country twice, and took that damn molasses with me each time on principle. That really stuck we me, so I took care to never write recipes like that.

VOD: What's your culinary background? Are you entirely self-taught, or do you have any formal training. (I say this as an amateur cook who sometimes wonders if she should go take a knife skills class to learn to chop like the badasses on Iron Chef...)

LN: Self-taught, completely. I chop like the people on Iron Chef --- lots of practice!

VOD: My husband, the “Reluctant Carnivore” is usually skeptical when I tell him I'm going to make a vegan recipe, so it’s especially gratifying to find vegan dishes that he loves. Are there any recipes from your book, in particular, that you'd recommend I make for him?

LN: There is an "omni-friendly" icon, that's a good starting place... I think the portobello steaks are a good jumping off point.

VOD: When you went vegan did you change your eating habits all at once or use a more gradual approach? What did you find the hardest to give up?

LN: I was a vegetarian before I was vegan, but if I could do it all over, I'd go all in. Nothing was hard for me to give up; and I've never had cravings for animal products since--thankfully. I think once I wrapped my head around why I wasn't going to eat those foods anymore, it had a "mind over matter" effect.

The only "hard" part was giving up convenience. I was a law student at the time, so I missed being able to get a muffin at Starbucks or a slice of pizza -- but once I saw how much money I was saving by brown bagging it, any annoyance quickly disappeared.

VOD: On the flip side, what were your greatest discoveries after deciding to forgo animal products?

LN: I am continually surprised at how much better and healthier I feel. I saw huge improvements in my energy levels, my skin cleared, my migraines are pretty much gone, I lost weight, I reversed some digestive issues... but there have been some other really "nasty" discoveries... like when I picked up "omega-3 peanut butter" and noticed it had fish guts in it... or that sprinkles are made from melted beetles... ick.

VOD: Any dishes in particular that you might never have tried as an omnivore?

LN: I eat a much wider diet now than I ever did as an omnivore. I was a horribly picky eater as an omnivore, constantly frustrated that nothing sounded appetizing, and that's the exact opposite now. I am in love with Ethiopian and Indian food -- which I'd have never tried as a meat eater.

VOD: I saw that you have a new cookbook in the works. Where do you get the inspiration for new recipes?

LN: It's definitely more challenging this time around, particularly because I'm living on an island where I don't have as much variety, it's really hot (not conducive to wanting to cook) and I don't feel as inspired as I did in NYC walking around at the Farmer's market... but I just sort of take an ingredient, like say, cauliflower, then start tinkering with it until a recipe appears... kind of like a writer just putting pen to paper and seeing where it goes.

VOD: What does it take to become an official recipe tester for the Happy Herbivore (hint, hint)?

LN: I hand pick all of my testers. I look for people who tweet and blog about my recipes, have made a lot of my recipes, are really familiar with my style and are just generally fans of what I'm trying to do... why are you interested ;-)

Um…. Hell, yeah!

Lindsay S. Nixon is a rising star in the culinary world, praised for her ability to use everyday ingredients to create healthy, low fat recipes that taste just as delicious as they are nutritious. Lindsay's recipes have been featured in Vegetarian Times, Women's Health Magazine and on The Huffington Post. Lindsay is also a consulting chef at La Samanna, a luxury resort and four-star restaurant in the French West Indies. You can learn more about Lindsay and sample some of her recipes at

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

They Said it Couldn't Be Done

And by "they" I mean the Reluctant Carnivore, and by "it" I mean vegan cheesecake. RC's point was that there are certain foods that rely on animal products as their main ingredient and to take, for example, the actual cheese out of a cheesecake could only result in an inferior product, if not an outright disaster. But I was undeterred! I'd been wanting to make a vegan cheesecake for awhile, for a few different reasons:

1) Cheesecake is my absolute, all-time favorite dessert, but I hate how guilty I feel after eating it.

2) RC usually can't share in my (pretty rare) indulgences because the lactose bothers him.

and, finally,

3) See above title!

Although I was dying to try the recipe in my new Happy Herbivore cookbook, I decided to go with one from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Joy of Vegan Baking. The recipe in the HH cookbook is low-fat, and while I'm happy to forgo the cheese, lowering the fat content leaves even me skeptical. (Don't worry -- I'll try that one next and report back!)

The recipe I finally used was an adaptation of Patrick-Goudreau's lemon cheesecake, with a homemade graham cracker crust. I used Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese as the vegan cream cheese and Red Mill egg replacer. The crust was made from Trader Joe's graham crackers, Earth Balance and good ol' granulated sugar.

The result? Well, consider RC converted! He rated it ***** Meatilicious! The cake was slightly lighter in texture than the regular version, but other than that it had a similar mouthfeel and taste. I added more lemon juice than the recipe called for (after squeezing 2 organic lemons I didn't want to toss any) and the result was delightfully tangy. Also, the graham cracker crust carmelized nicely during baking so that it had an almost candylike flavor. Yum, yum!

P.S. Thanks to my running buddies Leslie and Cathy, and my intrepid neighbor Mudpie, for also being willing guinea-pig taste testers! Either you're all lying to me, or this is one good cheesecake!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Old Fashioned Falafel

One week into a two week working vacation out in the Bay Area, here's what I've learned: 1) Mother Nature can be cruel. (Yes, we're talking about arriving in CA along with the rains, when suddenly, out of nowhere New England turns 68 degrees and sunny); 2) Two much red wine with dinner will almost certainly impact your Scrabble score; and 3) Just because there is a food processor sitting in a prominent position atop the refrigerator doesn't mean that all its parts are intact.

Yes, well, I was determined to make falafel last night, equipment be damned! I have to admit, I'd been feeling a little wimpy keeping up my vegan-once-a-day habit with Peace cereal and coconut milk. Everyone in this house (we're staying with my in-laws) is an amazing cook -- including, of course, my fabulous Reluctant Carnivore husband -- and I decided it was time to step up to the plate and serve a vegan dinner. I chose falafel because it was the first vegan recipe that I got RC really excited about, and also because my in-laws happened to have a copy of the Moosewood Cookbook in the house.

I immediately noticed a few discrepancies with the Skinny Bitch recipe I've been using at home. The main one being that the S.B. recipe calls for baking the falafel, while Moosewood goes the old-fashioned frying route. S.B. calls for breadcrumbs, Moosewood only uses flour. Both, however, call for mixing the batter in a food processor. This is how I did it instead. (I think that might be a potato masher. Not sure. There were many strange and interesting devices hidden in my mother-in-law's cabinets.)

I made sure to mince the garlic, scallions and parsley as small as possible (something I normally rely on the processor to do), and once I was 2-3 minutes in, the batter came together easily. I used a blender to make the tahini-lemon sauce (also from Moosewood, but I jazzed it up with extra garlic and plain soy yogurt.) For sides, I sliced iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado and baby carrots. I also roasted some garlic because I found a cute little garlic roaster while searching for the missing food processor part, so that ended up on the table as well. Not really authentic middle eastern, I suppose, but it did prove my point that roasted garlic can improve just about any recipe.

Here they are, happily sauteeing in some coconut oil:

Not a very good shot of our table, but I'd forgotten to take pictures until only 3 falafel were left:

The Reluctant Carnivore proclaimed them the best falafel I'd made yet -- garnering 5 stars, "meatilicious" on his vegan rating scale -- which makes me think that I'll probably go the hand-mashing route from now on. The flavors seemed bigger and bolder, I'm guessing because the ingredients weren't so uniformly pureed. Also the texture was a lot nicer. These babies also made for a nice salad atop a bed of mixed greens, along with the leftover tahini sauce -- a no-brainer for today's vegan meal.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Java, Bye-Bye

I never drank a full cup of coffee, or smoked a whole cigarette for that matter, until I worked. I was fifteen, at the bottom of the totem pole at our local CVS, and for the first time in my life felt tired. I manned the cashiers evenings and weekends, and when I wasn't working, I was in high school, and when I wasn't in high school I was busy mooning about the boys I liked and avoiding homework. Sometimes I practiced my electric guitar and daydreamed about becoming a rock star like Lita Ford, but mostly I was avoiding something. Avoiding required reading, avoiding the disapproving glances of my elders, avoiding thinking about what I was going to do if the whole rock star thing didn't work out.

Breaks were rationed pretty strictly at CVS. You got 15 minutes if you worked three hours, over five and you got a half hour. But when the store was quiet and the smokers wanted to go take a puff, no one thought twice. They would congregate in the back room sometimes for 10, 20 minutes, while the newbies like myself stood at the register and tried to act casual when someone bought condoms. There was no way I could have gone up to my manager and told her I wanted to stand in back and daydream for twenty minutes, but now I sorta wish I had.

There was also a morning coffee run to Dunkin' Donuts on the weekends. I started out drinking it black, because that seemed badass. (That was also why I smoked Marlboro Reds.) It wasn't until my twenties that I started brewing my own java at home, and by then of course I was hooked. The cigarettes fell by the wayside in my early twenties, but coffee seemed so innocuous. Every once in awhile an article in a women's magazine would tout the power of its antioxidants.

It was the hardest thing to give up when I first found out I was pregnant, even harder than my beloved red wine. I went cold turkey and had a migraine for three days and vowed I would never drink the stuff again. But, dazed and confused, with a newborn in the house, I came back. Again and again. Now it's been almost two weeks. (Except for the pot I brewed when a friend came to visit - but doesn't casual consumption prove the addiction is gone?) My moods are more stable. I don't feel the same crash in the early afternoon. And, I'm not sure if this is a coincidence, but I was finally able to break through my weight loss plateau, and go from 8 pounds down to 11. (I promise that's the last I'll talk about weight loss. Sugar says that no one cares about your weight, and I believe everything Sugar says.)

Lest you think I'm a total caffeine-free saint, I am still drinking tea. Usually a cup of green in the morning -- which is a milder pick-me-up, and feels cleansing -- and then sometimes a cup of something in the afternoon, with coconut milk creamer. I discovered this chocolate mate at a Stop N' Shop in Somerville, and it seems to have that magical ability to assuage both a chocolate and a coffee craving.

These are intermediary steps. I'm hoping that, as I get healthier and cleaner, I won't need caffeine at all. We'll see. One day at a time, as they say.

Friday, February 11, 2011

'Tis the Season for Roasted Garlic

A long, long time ago (in my twenties) in a galaxy far, far away (Avon, CT) I worked at a swanky Italian restaurant. This is where I tasted my first portobella mushroom, my first rib-eye steak, and where I learned what risotto is. I also learned that serving take-out to ornery customers is much easier after employee wine tastings, and that when the dishwashers say "caliente" they mean the dishes, not you. Anyway, those are other stories.

The main thing this restaurant was famous for was its roasted garlic. You could smell it even before you entered. It was on my skin, and my lips, when I left every night. It lingered, warm and toasty, and completely inoffensive, as long as you shared it. Sometimes I would tell customers it was an aphrodisiac, especially if they seemed to be on a date.

Raw garlic, ready for roasting

The best part is, it's vegan and you can do it at home! Heat the oven to 320, chop a giant head (or several smaller ones) in half, douse liberally with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, pepper and thyme, put in a garlic roaster, or cover with tin foil and bake for around an hour and twenty minutes (or until a butter knife plunges easily into each clove.) I usually put the garlic roaster on a baking sheet, since I add a lot of olive oil and it sometimes bubbles over. Now you have the means of taking just about any savory recipe to the next level. Use the garlic-infused oil to make salad dressing, drizzle over roasted veggies, or add to any saute. The garlic itself is great spread on toast or crackers, or added to mashed potatoes. Yum, yum, bring on the garlic love!

Roasted Garlic, golden and buttery!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tofu and Peas Korma

Way back in the 00's, when I first went vegetarian, my friend Beth gave me The Tofu Cookbook by Leah Leneman. The cover features a tempting looking cheesecake with succulent raspberries. In the ten years that I've had this cookbook, have I ever tried to make that tofu cheesecake? In a word, no.

In fact, I've realized that I treat my cookbooks much like I do my favorite restaurants. Once I find a recipe (or menu item) that I love I tend not to deviate. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, ya know? So for years I've been making this yummy szechwan tofu with peanut sauce from this book, and pretty much ignoring the other recipes. You could figure this out on your own if I handed you my book, because that's where the spine is broken and the pages stained!

In the spirit of new beginnings, I decided to branch out this week. My husband, who shall be referred to hereafter as R.C. (for Reluctant Carnivore), only grumbled a bit before I reminded him it was for my new project. He also agreed to come up with a rating system, to gauge each recipe's appeal for a confirmed meat-eater. It goes like this:

***** Meatalicious!
**** Vegan, shmegan -- I like it!
*** Meh. I'll eat it.
** That ain't no pork chop.
* Brother, can you spare a sirloin?

Without further ado, the (slightly modified) recipe:

Ingredients: 1 pkg. firm tofu, oil for frying (I used coconut, of course!), 2 large or 4 small tomatoes, 3 TBSP raw cashews, 1 inch fresh ginger, 2 large onions, 1/2 Earth Balance, 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 bay leaves, 4 tsp. ground cloves, 1 tsp. chilli powder, 1 1/3 cups water, 1 1/3 cups soy yogurt, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. coriander, 2 tsp. garam masala, 2/3 cup frozen peas, 1 tsp. sugar, sea salt to taste

First, a trick I learned from Isa Chandra Moskowitz, in her book Vegan with a Vengeance. Press your tofu! It really does make a difference to get all the water out. As you can see, it's also a great use of those non-vegan cookbooks you're using less of these days:

Then, cut the tofu in half. Cut one half into small cubes and deep-fry:

Drain the fried tofu and set aside. Chop the tomatoes. Put in a food processor with the cashews, ginger, and garlic. Blend thoroughly:

Chop the onions coarsely. Saute them in the Earth Balance until lightly browned. Lower the heat, stir in the cinnamon, bay leaves and cloves and cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the chilli powder, add the water, pureed tomato mixture and soy yogurt. Bring to a boil.

Stir in cumin, coriander and garam masala and simmer for a few moments. Add the deep-fried tofu and peas and cook for 2-3 minutes. Finally, crumble the remaining tofu into the pan, along with the sugar and salt to taste:

Enjoy over brown rice -- or perhaps homemade naan!

Notes for next time: I would half the sauce recipe as this made a lot. (I had to make extra rice to finish it off.) I would keep the same amount of tofu, though. I would also add some whole cashews to the sauce at the end. And I'm definitely on the look-out for a good home-made naan recipe.

This one will really make your house smell good! It's so fragrant and flavorful, and a little spicier than the food I normally make. It's a pleasant burn, though, not one that overshadows the more subtle flavors of the tofu and peas. And how about R.C.'s rating? This one garnered four stars! **** Vegan-shmegan, I'll eat it! Not bad!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Traveling Vegan

Since there weren't any blizzards predicted for this past weekend, it was the perfect time to take the kiddos to see my parents in Connecticut. (Also, the hubs was out of town at a conference in DC.) Now, a word on my parents' eating habits. I love them to death and they are rock star grandparents, but their idea of healthy eating is to make that Mountain Dew a diet. Okay, so that's not really fair -- since my dad was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago, my parents have had to really cut down on the sugar/starch intake. But, like many Americans (myself included) they want to have their cake and eat it too -- even if it has to be made with Splenda.

At any rate, I knew if I was going to stick to my vegan resolution, I'd have to take matters into my own hands. First stop, Whole Foods. There's a reason why it's nicknamed Whole Paycheck -- there's always a little sticker shock at the register, no matter how careful I am to buy bulk and on sale. Eating organic, never mind vegan, is expensive! (This could prompt a whole rant on how we're subsidizing the wrong kind of food, but more eloquent ranters than I have already done so.)

Here, then, are the staples I chose to get me through the weekend: unsweetened coconut milk, vegan bread, organic greens, vegan muffins, strawberries, coconut milk yogurt, smoked tofu, vegan cereal, lemon & avocado (to use as salad dressing), a giant head of garlic to roast, and some yummy peanut/chocolate granola bars to satisfy my chocolate cravings (those cupcakes couldn't last forever!) There was already fruit, more salad veggies and -- hurray! -- hummus back at the house. My one mistake was to forget the Earth Balance. My parents use margarine, but it contains milk, and even worse, trans fats. Another bad-for-you disguised as a good-for-you.

This was way more than I ended up needing, but good practice, since we're headed west next week to visit my husband's parents in California. This was the first time that I looked closely at labels on items I wouldn't normally think of as containing animal products. Several yummy-looking breads didn't qualify since they were made with honey. And there's hidden dairy all over most granola bars!

How about you? What are your vegan must-haves when traveling? Ideas for budget-conscious vegan eating?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Who Says It Has to Be Health Food?

Since yesterday's vegan meal was the aforementioned coconut yogurt, I decided to supplement with a little vegan baking. I love to bake when it's snowing, raining, or, let's face it, beautifully sunny outside, and I hadn't done any since embarking on the South Beach diet Jan. 1st. OK, so I lost 8 pounds (go me!) there was something a little sad about the way my toddler kept looking wistfully at the stand mixer.

I chose a chocolate cupcake recipe from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's "The Joy of Vegan Baking." I've tried a few of her recipes, and have generally liked the results. I say generally, because I've found that there really is no substitute for butter in baked goods. Earth Balance is wonderful, but a chocolate chip cookie made with real butter will kick a vegan chocolate chip cookie's ass any day, in the realm of taste, if not compassion.

I decided to see if using coconut oil instead of the canola oil the recipe called for would make a difference. I'm enthralled with all things coconut (see yogurt above), and after considering it a luxury for so long, love that it's now becoming something of a health food. I wondered if using coconut oil would somehow compensate for the lack of richness inherent in not using eggs or butter.

Other than that, as you can see, the ingredients are all pretty standard baking-pantry fare:

I began by whisking together 3 cups flour (I used whole wheat for 1 of those), 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. baking soda and 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder. The recipe then says to make a "well" in the middle of these dry ingredients and add 3 tsp. vanilla extract, 2/3 cup canola oil, 2 TBSP white distilled vinegar, and 2 cups cold water.

Thrilled that I didn't have to dirty a second bowl (if I ever write a vegan cookbook it will be titled Lazy Bitch), I proceeded to dump in the wet ingredients, substituting coconut oil for the canola. Did I mention this was my first time using coconut oil? This is key. I had no idea it would be solid at room temperature. If I had to do it over, I would have warmed it slightly AS IT ACTUALLY TELLS YOU TO ON THE LABEL so that it turned liquid, but instead I dumped it in as is, and ended up with coconut oil glaciers floating in a chocolate sea:

After much mashing, I realized that the coconut oil was not going to mix consistently with the dry ingredients. This was when the chocolate chips got involved:

Because I believe chocolate chips are to baking what (vegan) bacon is to savory cooking -- it can mask many errors! I baked these in muffin cups for about 18 minutes, and they came out glorious, if slightly uneven. Here's what they looked like after frosting with vegan strawberry buttercream frosting (1/2 cup frozen strawberries pureed in food processor, then whipped into 1 cup Earth balance. Add 3 cups confectioner's sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract and 1-2 TBSP nondairy milk):

These came out wonderfully chocolate-y, with a very subtle coconut flavor. The impact of not throughly mixing in the oil was minimal (there were little pockets on top of the cupcakes, which I masked with the frosting). I would still liquify it next time, though.

Finally, I leave you with the aforementioned toddler, making off with the beater used to mix the frosting. It doesn't get much better than this on a snowy New England day!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Journey Begins

Welcome to my new blog! Some of you may know me as Drunk Mama over at I'll still be writing about my adventures in wine over there, although there may be an occasional cross posting. I've decided to start a fresh page, because it's 2011, baby, and I'm ready for something fresh! After being a vegan voyeur for years I've decided it's time to take the plunge. Or, at least 1/3 of a plunge, LOL!

I've done the research. Beginning with Diet for a New America, which my friend Chris turned me onto way back in '99, to more recent books like Skinny Bitch and Detox 4 Women, I'm convinced that a vegan diet is the healthiest one out there. In fact, after reading Diet for a New America, I went vegetarian as my new year's resolution in 2000, with the idea that I would gradually transition to veganism.

Eleven years (gulp!) and two kids later, I'm a confirmed omnivore. I had such powerful cravings for meat -- steak, specifically -- during my first pregnancy that I ended 6 years of vegetarianism with the most delicious filet mignon I've ever had at Cafe Pasqual's in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I tried to quell my conscience with the notion that it was a Nieman Ranch steak, which meant that the animal had been humanely raised and slaughtered.

Now my husband and I belong to a meat CSA, and have vowed to limit our at-home meat consumption to the 10 pounds a month we get from Chestnut Farms. But my conscience is still nagging at me. I continue to read up on veganism, and find myself drawn to the new vegan cookbooks that are constantly coming out. (Stay tuned for reviews of my favorites!) When I really think about what an animal raised for meat goes through -- no matter how humanely cared for -- there's something in me that rebels against it. If it were up to me to raise and kill my own meat there's no question, I would be vegetarian. So, how can eating meat be right for me if it requires a certain amount of denial?

I want to live life with my eyes wide open, fully conscious of how all my decisions -- not just those that effect what's on my plate -- influence the experience of all living beings. And so... I've decided to dip my toes in the water. How hard can it be to eat vegan once a day? I welcome you to follow along as I find out. I plan to post my favorite meals 2-3 times a week, as well as reviews of the books that inspire me and help to keep me on the path. Let's be honest, with two small children, there will be days when my vegan dish is a bowl of coconut milk yogurt (yum!) and granola. But hopefully there'll be lots more elaborate and interesting meals too.

Stay tuned!