Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eat Pastry Gluten-Free Baking Mixes!

I should start this by saying that I'm by no means gluten-free. In fact, most days, I'm quite gluten-full. I'll eat ALL THE BREAD. But I have a deep love for gluten-free baked goods too! I like the slightly different texture, and I'm partial to the flavors of chickpea and brown rice flours. In fact, my very favorite ready-to-eat-with-a-spoon ready-to-bake cookie dough is made by the gluten-free magicians over at Eat Pastry.

I love their cookie dough so much that I proudly wear my Eat Pastry apron all the time!

And I had to don that very apron recently to try out a couple of Eat Pastry's new gluten-free baking mixes!

Let's start with that Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Mix. As you probably know (because I've mentioned it here five million times), my birthday was last month. And even though I had a professional vegan birthday cake (by Stephanie!) at my official party on the day after my big day, I needed a smaller batch of dessert for my actual birthday. I went to my friend Shara's house that night, and I wanted to tote along some cupcakes.

It seemed like the perfect time to try out this new mix! The mix is very versatile, and there are all kinds of suggestions on the back of the package for ways to use it — sheet cake, cupcakes, brownies! I opted for the Mint Cupcakes variation, which involved adding a 1/2 teaspoon of mint extract to the batter. Oh, and I added a bit of green food coloring to the frosting, made with my go-to buttercream recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

These were so good!! The cake was light and airy, and honestly, if I didn't know it was gluten-free, I wouldn't have been able to tell. The folks at Shara's house — all non-vegans — enjoyed them!

Next, I tried the Gluten-Free Buttermilk Biscuit Mix. I've never tried gluten-free biscuits, so I had no idea what to expect.

The dough rolled out nicely, and it was easy to cut the biscuits and transfer them to a baking sheet. They didn't get quite as fluffy as my homemade gluten-containing biscuits do, but that's okay. I loved the flavor — the chickpea flour really shines though. They were a tad more crumbly than I'm used to, and the one I tried to split and butter fell apart. I found it was easier to eat them without trying to cut in half.

The biscuits were excellent served with my homemade Tofu Ham (from Cookin' Crunk!) and Redeye Gravy (just black coffee, tofu ham marinade, and oil). I used the redeye gravy for dippin'. Yum!

Unfortunately, the Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Muffin Mix didn't work out so well. When my package of samples arrived in the mail, there was a letter from Eat Pastry letting me know that the samples I'd received were still being tweaked. The letter said the final muffin mix would not contain chocolate chips.

After I attempted to bake the chocolate chip muffins, I understood why the chips were removed from the final product. All of the chips sank to the bottom of the muffin tins while baking, causing the muffins to stick my well-oiled pans. Typically, when baking with chocolate chips, you can just toss the chips with flour before adding to a mix, but I'm guessing gluten-free flours don't coat the chips as well. Anyway, the muffins broke to pieces as I tried to remove them. But I did sneak a few bites, and the flavor was spot-on. If you see the muffin mix in stores, and it doesn't contain chocolate chips, I'm sure it will work out just fine!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gourmet Popcorn!

A couple weeks back, I blogged about UncommonGoods, an online gift shop with a mission of selling "handcrafted gifts created in harmony with the environment and without harm to animals or people." That last bit is from their website.

It's a good veg-friendly company (they do sell some cheese items, but most things are vegan), and they pay even their lowest paid seasonal workers 50 percent above the minimum wage. About half of what they sell is handmade, including the item I'm featuring tonight. UncommonGoods sent me this box of joy to review on my blog.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I'm a popcorn fiend. It's seriously like a drug to me. Once I start eating popcorn, there is no stopping until every kernel is devoured and I've licked the salt or seasonings from the bowl. Yes, I have no shame. I'm a popcorn junkie.

This gift box from Dell Cove Spice Company contains four tins of gourmet kernels —Black Pearl, Baby White, Midnight Blue, and Red Diamond Valley. And there are also four tins of savory seasoning — Butt Kickin' BBQ, Sweet Onion, Spicy Cajun, and Sweet Ginger.

As much as I adore popcorn, I love it most when the timing is just right: It's a Friday or Saturday night. I've eaten a light dinner and have room left for popcorn. And I'm in the rare mood to stay home and watch a movie rather than go out with friends. The stars have to align for all of that to happen, and when it does, popcorn makes it all the more special. That happened this past Friday night.

I have one of those fancy movie-style popcorn makers, a hand-me-down from my parents. They bought a bigger popcorn maker because they also have a popcorn addiction, and I got their old one. I heated some vegan butter-flavored olive oil (from the fancy olive oil shop) in the machine and added the tin of red kernels.

These were so light and airy. Like little crunchy pillows of heaven. I quickly sampled all of the seasonings and finally settled on Spicy Cajun, a blend of smoked paprika, organic garlic salt, sea salt, organic onion, cayenne, and black pepper. Just the right hint of spice and salt. Perfection. I ate the whole bowl myself while Paul and I watched A Million Ways To Die in the West and Chef. I don't share popcorn.

Dell Cove's hand-crafted popcorn seasonings and gourmet kernels would make an awesome holiday gift for a popcorn lover like me! The popcorn is GMO-free and grown in the Midwest. And the spices are organic. Score! They also sell a sweet popcorn kit with seasonings in flavors like pumpkin pie, dark chocolate, key lime pie, and cinnamon.

By the way, UncommonGoods has tons of great gifts, so check it out for your holiday gift shopping. To make it easier on you, they have a gifts for women and gifts for men page, but if you're like me, you're friends are all pretty androgynous in their tastes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Vegan Drinks: BBQ Tofu Nacho Edition

Long before Memphis was the vegan-friendly city it is today, there was just Tracks. Beloved old R.P. Tracks, home of vegan BBQ nachos and discounted shooters when trains roll by. It was one of the few places offering vegan options back in the mid-2000s, and I made a habit out of regular trips there for nacho gorge fests.

But these days, with Imagine Vegan Cafe in my weekly meal rotation and abundant vegan options at food trucks and various other restaurants, my favorite nacho joint has fallen by the wayside. It's been almost a year since I've been to R.P. Tracks! It was high time we held another Vegan Drinks event there. So tonight, we gathered at R.P. Tracks for our monthly vegan cocktail meetup!

That was most of the table. And here's Stephanie and Pam. They wouldn't fit in the first pic.

I wasn't in the mood for a sweet drink. Thankfully, my favorite seasonal local beer was on draft — Ghost River Black Magic! It's a porter with a hints of coffee and chocolate. I had two.

In fact, most people ordered beer, so I don't have lots of fun cocktail pics to share. Except Pam had to be the oddball and order something weird. Her cocktail was called Sex With An Alligator — Midori Melon and Jager.

R.P. Tracks has a wealth of vegan options, but since it had been so long, I just had to go with the classic BBQ Tofu Nachos. I always order my chips on the side for dipping. Also, Tracks doesn't serve guacamole anymore, and they don't have vegan sour cream. So Stephanie and I typically tag-team and bring our own. I supplied the guac, and she brought the Tofutti.

Stephanie and Pam ordered nachos too, but Pam doesn't like the black beans that come on the nachos. So she ate all of her BBQ tofu really fast. And then she just ordered a side of tofu.

Melissa ordered my second-favorite menu item — BBQ Tofu Burrito. It's basically like the nachos but in a burrito.

Nathan got the BBQ Tofu Sandwich with Sweet Potato Fries. By the way, I'm pretty sure the coleslaw here is not vegan, but Nathan isn't vegan, so he didn't care. But if you are and you eat here, maybe ask them to leave that off the plate.

Both Susan and Nicole got orders of the Buffalo Tofu Wings. They are served with ranch that is not vegan, but they'll leave it off the plate by request. This was Nicole's daughter's plate, and the kid eats dairy. But Susan had her ranch left off.

And Nicole also got a Tofu Club Sandwich with Steak Fries.

It was a delicious night! And it reminded me of all the menu items I haven't had in far too long. I'll be back to Tracks very soon. There are wings in my future. And burritos. And club sandwiches. Mmmmmm.....

Monday, November 17, 2014

Crunk for the Holidays: A Very Crunk Thanks-living!

My first (and only, so far) cookbook, Cookin' Crunk: Eatin' Vegan in the Dirty South, has been out for a couple years now. And I'm sure many of you have it. But does your mom have it? Your sister? Your cousin? Your mom's sister's best friend's cousin? I figure the holidays are as good a time as any to launch a little cookbook push. Plus, new readers come along all the time. So each week from now until the solstice holiday, I'll devote one post a week to Cookin' Crunk fun. And a couple of those posts will include giveaways of signed copies! Yay!

Right, I know we're all planning our Thankgiving (or better yet, Thanks-living, because we're not eating animals) menus. Maybe you're having a totally vegan holiday at home, or maybe you have to sit through a meat-in-every-vegetable, turkey-carcass-on-the-table meal with your in-laws. Either way, you've gotta eat something. So I've put together a list of Thanksgiving-appropriate dishes to share (or horde for yourself). For those that have recipes online, I'll link. But some are only available in my book. Should you need to buy a copy, you can get them on Amazon! Or there's a link to Paypal on the right side of this blog for signed copies!

In the South, family dinners start with deviled eggs. In fact, most of them probably get eaten before the meal even begins, as everyone sneaks in the kitchen to grab one from the fridge. Swap out those chicken embryos for my Vegan Deviled Eggy Bites. Recipe is listed here.

And then you'd better get some greens in your body before fill yourself up sugar and Tofurky. Try this simple and elegant Seitan & Red Pear Salad. There's tender homemade seitan, crunchy red pears, omega-rich walnuts, and a white pear-balsamic vinaigrette. Of course, you can always cheat and buy pre-made seitan! Recipe is in the book.

If you're the type to serve a soup at Thanksgiving (my family never does), my Harvest Crowder Peas are light and soul-warming. Just crowder peas (or black-eyed peas if you can't find crowders), onion, garlic, celery, carrots, and fresh basil. Recipe is in the book.

Now for the main dish, I'm a plant roast kind of girl. And I generally always buy a pre-made roast, like a Tofurky or a Field Roast Celebration Roast. This year, I'm trying the Gardein Holiday Roast! But if you'd rather go homemade, you could whip up a batch of my Dijon-Pecan Seitan with Maple-Mustard Glaze. Tender nuggets of seitan are coated in a sweet and tangy mustard sauce, rolled in chopped pecans, and then baked in the oven. Recipe is in the book.

It's not Thanksgiving without dressin'!!! And my mama makes the best Vegan Cornbread Dressin' in all the world! Lucky for you, her recipe is in my cookbook. It's a little labor-intensive since it involves making your own vegan cream of celery soup to go in the casserole, but maybe one of these days, some awesome vegan company will develop a condensed casserole-friendly cream soup to make it simpler.

My mama also always makes a Hash Brown Casserole on Thanksgiving! Her vegan version — recipe is in the book — is so simple! You can use your leftover cream of celery soup from the dressing and then just mix in frozen hash browns, vegan cheddar shreds (we use Daiya), vegan sour cream, and sauteed onion. Top with corn flakes, bake, and boom. Deliciousness.

You'll be needing some veggie sides with all that brown food, of course! One little salad just isn't gonna cut it. Try my Mess O' Greens with Turnips. These are smoky, slow-simmered collards with a hint of sweetness, just like my Granny makes 'em. Recipe is here.

And then be sure and try my Smoky Stewed Okra & Tomatoes to add some fun African flair to your Thanksgiving table! Okra is slow-simmered with smoky flavors, tomatoes, and a hint of agave. Yes, we put a little sugar in everything down here. Cuts the acidity and brings out the natural flavor. Recipe is in the book.

Finally, if you have room left in your eatin' pants, it's time for dessert! You could go classic and make my Tipsy Dark Chocolate Pecan Pie. It's a creamy chocolate pie with roasted pecans and a smidge of dark rum! Recipe is here listed on the Earth Balance website.

Or there's always cupcakes! It may feel like winter already, but technically it's still fall. And that means, it's still pumpkin season. How about some Vanilla Spice Cupcakes with Pumpkin Buttercream? You'll need the book for that recipe!

And finally, we've got to work some sweet taters in here! Check out my recipe for Sweet Potato Bread! This makes a nice, light Thanksgiving dessert or a great breakfast the morning after the big meal. Enjoy with a cup of coffee!

Hope your Thanksgiving is super-crunk!!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Vietnamese Bake Sale at Quan Am Monastery!

I'm not Buddhist, but I definitely like to work some Buddhist principles into my hodge-podge of spiritual beliefs. Not to mention that Quan Am (or Kwan Yin, as I typically call her) is my favorite boddhisattva of compassion. As an ethical vegan, compassion is numero uno.

All that is to say, I love to get out and support my local Buddhist monastery whenever I can. Quan Am Monastery has a lovely Sunday service (all in Vietnamese) and a free vegetarian lunch, and Cassi and I have gone to that before. In fact, Cassi is Buddhist-ish, so she attends quite frequently. But I'm more of an eater than a meditator, so my favorite time to visit Quan Am is when they're having a "bake sale" fund-raiser for the monastery.

I blogged about my first visit to a Quan Am bake sale back in 2012, but they have them quite frequently. In fact, they had one today, and I scooped up all sorts of delicious goodies on the cheap. By the way, even though it's called a "bake sale," it's more of a "prepared Vietnamese meals" sale. There's not much in the way of baked goods, but there is a ton of savory treats. And everything is vegetarian (and generally vegan).

It was a nasty, cold, and rainy day, so I didn't take any photos of the beautiful grounds. But here's an older sunny day pic of the massive Quan Am statue surrounded by foo dogs. She greets you as you pull into the parking lot.

The bake sales are held in the back building on the property. And when I arrived around 12:15 p.m., it was kickin'. My friend Wai directed me to the hot soup table. A woman was building noodle bowls with all sorts of add-ins. I chose one with rice noodles, tofu, seitan, carrots, lettuce, and bean sprouts. Oh, and there were tiny Vietnamese apples that looked like black olives!

I sat down and enjoyed my soup at a table with a few other friends. And then I grabbed Cassi and we made our way around to buy grab-and-go items to feed us for the week. I got Banh Xeo with dipping sauce for tomorrow's dinner. Banh Xeo is basically like a vegan omelette-crepe thing made with rice flour and coconut milk. It's stuffed with tofu and bean sprouts!

And then I found some "Beef" Seitan and Green Bean Stir-Fry. I'll make at least two meals out of this by adding brown rice. And that seitan beef is insanely awesome.

Last time, I attended the service at Quan Am, I stuck around for lunch. And for dessert, I was served Che Bap, a Vietnamese sweet corn pudding made with tapioca, sugar, and coconut cream. So good! I had to buy some at today's bake sale. Only $2 for all this!

And there was one actual baked good! That's because Cassi made Vegan Green Tea & Almond Cupcakes to sell! I grabbed one for the road. My icing got a little smooshed, but it was delicious.

I'm not sure yet of the next bake sale date, but if I find out soon, I'll add it to this post. If you're local, you should definitely come check it out.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


I've long been a fan of sprouting. In fact, I haven't purchased sprouts in years. Our Kroger stores don't carry them because of some sort of food safety issue (whatevs). And why drive out to Whole Foods when I can grow my own sprouts for pennies?

I've always used the old jar method. Put some legumes or seeds in a mason jar and soak with water overnight. Drain. Cover the jar with a wash rag or cheesecloth and rinse the seeds twice daily until sprouts are fully grown. Simple. But I always lost so many sprouts in the rinsing process. Either they'd slip through my colander or they'd get stuck to the sides of the colander.

But my friends Sheridan and Drew got me the coolest new kitchen toy for my birthday. Meet the Victorio 4-Tray Seed Sprouter.

You soak your seeds overnight and then spread one tablespoon of seeds in each of the four trays. Here are some alfalfa seeds right after soaking and draining.

Then each morning and each night, you pour two cups of water into the top tray. Each tray has tiny holes, so the water slowly drains from one tray to the next, rinsing the sprouts as it goes. It solves that whole losing-sprouts-down-the-sink-drain problem. The water is collected in the base tray, and you just dump it after it's full.

Within a few days, each tray produces fluffy sprouts! Look how cute?

I love this thing, and I think I'll keep something sprouting all the time now. I love using sprouts in salads, soups, stir-fries, and sandwiches. Yum! Next up — mung bean (my fave)!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I Love My Vitamix!!!!!

I got a Vitamix for my birthday! And it's basically the best thing ever.

I've been blending the crap out of everything. I'm most excited about my Vitamix's Hot Soups setting. I mean, my blender cooks soup, y'all!!! I know so many of you have one too, but it's all new to me. And it is blowing my mind. Tonight, I made the Thai Pumpkin Soup from the Savor cookbook that came with the Vitamix. Most of the recipes in the Vitamix book are vegan or vegetarian (or at least easily veganizable).

Isn't it pretty? I just sauteed the onions in a pot and simmered the coconut milk, pumpkin, tomato paste, garlic, and veggie broth on the stovetop for, like, two minutes. And then I transferred it to the Vitamix and set it on "Hot Soup." It runs for 6 1/2 minutes, and it gets so hot that steam comes out of the top. In fact, I burned my thumb pretty bad with steam when I opened the Vitamix lid.

But it was worth it! I topped this delicious, creamy soup with unsweetened soy yogurt, peanuts, parsley, and (after the photo) sriracha.

Mostly, though, I've been using the Vitamix to make drinks. I drink protein smoothies four days a week after my training runs, and on other non-running days, I juice. This week, I've been enjoying the Perfect Protein Power smoothie from The Blender Girl cookbook, which I purchased as a birthday gift to myself to complement my new blender.

Here's what's inside.

Pears, spinach, ginger, banana, lime juice, almond butter, hemp seeds, and vanilla protein powder. Yum! The Vitamix just pulverized those greens!

I typically use my Breville for juicing, but there were a few Vitamix juice recipes in The Blender Girl cookbook, so I thought I'd try them. I made this Green Alkalaid this week — lemons, spinach, apple, ginger, cucumber. It was tasty, though a bit more fibrous than I like my juice to be. I'll probably stick to my juicer for juice-making.

Just to give an idea of how powerful this is, check out my water to solids ratio here. Only one cup of water! My old Oster blender would have just completely given up and died if I'd tried that.

Paul has been working on getting a bad cold for days now, and I've got my first half-marathon in three weeks. I don't have time to get sick. So, last night, I made us both the Beat the Cold and Flus Blues juice from The Blender Girl.

This has immune-boosting ginger, carrots, lemon, apples, cinnamon, and cayenne. It was super-yummy, and it made me feel like maybe I was staving off the sickies. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.