Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Round-Up 2011

[Christmas Eve, 2011]

Does anyone else feel like they have a giant ball of dough sitting square in their gut today? My body takes a serious beating every holiday season. A delicious beating...but serious nonetheless. Truth be told, I'm kind of struggling to remember what kale looks like.

The festivities have left me too tired to be witty or creative so I am just going to show you what we ate.

We started the celebrations with a Christmas Eve lunch at my Mom and Dad's:

Vegan meatballs - I think my mom said they were made of eggplant?

Pan-fried potatoes (lots of them)

The greatest stuffing I have ever had in my life.

My mom even made her own (stuffed!) seitan roast.

Everything above, plus steamed veggies with almonds, white wine gravy and an apple quinoa! I tried to pace myself but I still left stuffed.

From there we headed to a potluck at my in-laws. I brought veggie sandwiches.

Mixed veggies and herbs on freshly baked rye bread (thanks Grainharvest Breadhouse!).

We came home and set up an air mattress on our living room floor, to assist in the movie-watching laziness that was about to commence. Oh, and we opened presents!

This toy had to be taken away from her in less than an hour. A new Dora Personal Record.

This year marked the first Christmas Day in twelve years that we didn't have a single place to be. So we decided to start on a new tradition - The Christmas Morning Brunch! Except that we slept in and opened a bottle of amaretto first and thus it took me a lot longer to make what I was making than I thought it would. Long story short, it was more like The Christmas Mid-Afternoon Meal.

The main feature - Vegan Benedict Florentine with homemade Hollandaise sauce from Vegan Diner! I'd be lying if I said I'd ever had a non-vegan version of this. Or that I even know what a benedict is. I'm not actually sure I'd ever even heard of it before this cookbook (you think I'm joking when I say I've always hated breakfast food, but I am so serious).

Regardless of what non-vegan versions are like, this one features spicy homemade herbed seitan breakfast sausage patties, English muffins, tomato and baby spinach. And the Hollandaise, which just might be the best part!

The one exception to my Hatred of Breakfast Rule is the breakfast potato. These are also from Vegan Diner.

Veganism is winning me over to the breakfast-loving side, let me tell you.

If you don't have your very own copy of Vegan Diner, you can find the recipe for the Breakfast Potatoes here. The Benny recipe is also available on Google Books, but for some reason I can't get a link to post here on the blog. You can find it easily, by scrolling down a couple pages past the Breakfast Potatoes recipe. You can also find the recipe for the herbed breakfast sausage patties here. Alternatively you can use tempeh bacon or pre-made veggie ham, but these patties are super easy to make and not something to shy away from.

We also drank quite a bit of coffee on Christmas, because Santa brought Paul a Keurig - but don't worry, he loves the environment just as much as we do and made sure to include a reusable K-Cup so that we can enjoy lots of fair-trade coffee without filling the landfills with too many of those little plastic cups.

Santa brought me many kitchen goodies too. My favourite is this cake stand!

I hope those of you who celebrate had an enjoyable Christmas and that you're not feeling it as much as I am. Back off, gluten. I think we need to see other people for awhile.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Black Rice with Corn and Cranberries, Roasted Root Vegetable Salad & Gardein Turk'y

One of our holiday traditions involves a festive vegan feast for two on the Sunday before Christmas. We've been doing it for years now. We are usually really busy with family events on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and though our relatives are always kind enough to make sure there are some vegan foods available for us, we love the idea of a full-on traditional (vegan) feast. The weekend before Christmas is usually that best time to do it.

This year is kind of weird, though, and for the first time in our entire twelve year relationship, we have nowhere to be on Christmas Day. So theoretically, we could have our feast then - but we've got plans for a whole new kind of Christmas Day tradition that I will blog about when the time comes!

For now, here is our Sunday-Before-Christmas-Vegan-Feast-For-Two 2011, courtesy of Vegan Holiday Kitchen!

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad - parnsips, radishes and sweet potato with fresh field greens, all tossed in a citrus dressing.

Black rice (which I had never had before, and now absolutely love!) with corn and dried cranberries. Sadly I didn't have as much corn as I thought I did, so visually it's not as festive and colourful as it should be - but you get the idea!

I nearly fell over when I saw that our neighbourhood supermarket was stocking Gardein Turk'y. This is, after all, the place that keeps discontinuing my unsweetened almond milks and didn't understand what I was saying when I asked for tempeh. Now, I usually make my own seitan roasts but since we had spent a large portion of the day cleaning up after the previous night's Ugly Xmas party, I was looking to cut a couple corners this year.

The verdict - awesome! The outside is crispy, the inside moist and the gravy that accompanies it is delicious. It's was the perfect addition to our little feast. It's also great if you happen to be the only vegan attending an omni Christmas dinner, as so often happens, because it comes in individual pieces rather than a whole turk'y, so none will go to waste. Not that any would anyway - I'd imagine these guys make for pretty great Boxing Day turk'y sandwiches.

This is a Christmas of firsts, and we have another new tradition to share.

Our dog has had a bit of a rough year, but because she has us to take care of her and make sure she gets what she needs, it is so minimal compared to the plight that millions of farm animals experience each year. We don't know how much time we have left with her, but we do know that so far we have had six wonderful years. Six years in which she has been safe, fed, warm and loved and sadly this is not the case for so many of her animal counterparts out there in the world.

We can't take them all in and financially we can't support them all (although if I ever won the lotto, the first thing cheque I would write would be to various farm sanctuaries - maybe even start my own!). But I do believe that just because you can't do everything doesn't mean that you should do nothing and this Christmas we've decided to sponsor a turkey from Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary for all of 2012, and then when Christmas 2012 rolls around, we will sponsor another animal.

If you're looking to start a new Christmas tradition this year, please consider the animals! We chose Cedar Row because it's so close to home for us - maybe we can even visit our turkey friend sometime soon! There are plenty of farm sanctuaries and animal organizations in every neck of the woods that are struggling to help the earth's forgotten creatures, especially in these times of economic confusion. If you don't know of any local farm sanctuaries, consider Farm Sanctuary and their adoption program - I would argue that Farm Sanctuary is the most important resource on veganism and animal advocacy currently in operation, using a more positive platform than many other organizations via education and awareness rather than intimidation and aggression. Their New York location is another place I hope to visit in 2012.

From our home (and our home on the web) to yours, we wish you the merriest of Christmases, filled with love and laughter and all of the creatures you love.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Peanut Butter Cups (and the 4th Annual M&P Ugly Xmas!)

My favourite Christmas tradition is our annual Ugly Xmas party. For the last four years our friends have helped us mark the season in our unfinished basement, decked out in all that is bright, loud and festive and together we sing, dance, drink and eat.

Peppermint Patties are usually a staple for this type of Christmas event but honestly, this year I've managed to max out my interest in peppermint. I blame the peppermint lattes I started injecting directly into my bloodstream on November 15th.

The peppermint patties are delicious, don't get me wrong, but this year I went in another direction with the sweets and decided to try the Oh She Glows peanut butter cup recipe instead. I was pleasantly surprised with not just how delicious they were, but how easy they were to make. Done in an hour, these little cups are rich, decadent, and will be disliked by no one.

One little tip that I will add to an already-great recipe. The cups are made of two layers, one peanut butter and one chocolate. I found it useful to put the bottom peanut butter layer in the freezer on its own for about a half hour to an hour before putting the chocolate layer on top. When I tried to do them together it made a hot and gooey mess and it was not visually attractive at all. No idea how Angela managed to pull it off doing the two layers together, but I was not skilled enough!

Also, even though I've blogged about these festive cool hummus pizza bites before, here's another photo of them - another staple at our annual party!

And now...onto the outfits!

Dora is surprisingly cool with taking photos in get-ups like this.




And our buddies...

And, as always, a secret ballot determines the person who embodies the spirit of Ugly Xmas the most each each year. The winner gets a take home prize, but more importantly they get to wear "The Ugliest" hat and have their name recorded on it for all of human history! This year's winner was Tracy...

...her sweater featured velcroed skiiers!

Thanks to all our friends who came out to the 4th Annual M&P Ugly Xmas. Plans are already in motion for next year!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Curried Split Pea Soup

Vegan with a Vengeance took its turn in my cookbook roster this week. I've had this book for close to five years and I'm at the point now where I've tried almost everything that doesn't feature cauliflower or cooked cabbage (pretty much the only two vegetables that I don't like). There was one lonely little pink sticker still poking out of it and it pointed to this recipe for a warming split pea soup.

It couldn't have worked out better, because I am on a pretty serious curry kick these days. I'm always into curry, but the last month or so I've noticed that it's pretty much all I want. I want to eat it. I want my house to smell like it. I want to pour the powder on the floor and roll around in it.

Nevermind that last point. Because that would be an unforgivable waste of curry powder.

Luckily curry loves my body (and your body!) as much as I love it. Curry is thought to have some serious cancer fighting properties, in thanks to its main component: turmeric. An active component of turmeric is an antioxidant called curcumin and it is thought to protect vital organs, particularly the colon, from free radical damage. There is also some evidence of it destroying already-existing cancer cells within the body and on a molecular level, it can even interfere with the way cancer grows and spreads throughout the body. Studies have shown that people who frequently consume turmeric have lower rates of breast, colon, prostate and lung cancers.

If cancer doesn't terrify you like it does me but you happen to experience joint pain or arthritis, adding more turmeric to your diet could mean the relief you've been searching for. In addition to its cancer-fighting properties, the curcumin found in turmeric is also a powerful anti-inflammatory - one that you can't accidentally overdose on and has zero side effects (unless you call deliciousness and post-meal-satisfaction a side effect).

Turmeric also gives things a vibrant yellow/orange colour and goes a long way in making a blah meal aesthetically pleasing. Besides, how else would I have mimicked Paul's favourite cake from his pregan days - Betty Crocker boxed yellow cake? Yes, that's turmeric in a birthday cake. That's also turmeric in the Lemon Mousse pie Paul just made, too. No, you can't taste it.

Turmeric is my best friend. I buy it from my favourite Indian grocer, in bags the size of my head.

I also buy it in the form of curry powder. When it comes to curry powder, quality does matter and you do notice a difference between brands. But if I'm no where near a specialty store, I'm not above buying a no-name pack of curry at the supermarket. Still good. Just not as good.

This soup features tons of other delicious elements in conjunction with the curry power - ginger, coriander, cardamom, cumin - each with its own unique flavour and suspected healing properties. This is a perfect soup to curl up with now that the cold weather is upon us.

In addition to the Vegan with a Vengeance book, you can find a digital copy of this recipe here.

I was going to wait until Boxing Day to pick up these adorable Christmas bowls at half price, but there were only a couple left and I was terrified they would be sold out by then. My obsession with buying random plates and bowls is starting to get a bit out of control.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lemon Mousse Pie

I feel kind of ill-equipped to be blogging about this pie that comes courtesy of Vegan Pie in the Sky because Paul made the entire thing from start to finish. My only contribution to the process was busting through the door at 6pm with a fork in my hand, only to find out that it wasn't yet ready. Because it takes a small eternity for this particular pie to set.

We are not a patient people when it comes to sweets. The twenty minutes it takes to make chocolate chip cookies is a lot to ask of us, so you can imagine our horror when we learned that this pie needed to set in the fridge for FOUR HOURS.

In fact, our version of it needed to set for longer than four hours because we are not hip enough to own the cute little individual spring form pans that this recipe calls for. Instead, we had to use a 9" spring form pan and make a full size lemon mousse pie.

Science is not our strong suit so of course we didn't factor in the chemistry behind the size difference and almost ruined the entire pie by pouring the gelatinous lemon mixture on top of it before the mousse was ready. Who would have thought that a pie with a larger surface area would take longer to firm up than a pie with a smaller surface area?!

It appears that high school science classes have failed us. Maybe even elementary school science classes?

Lucky for us, it was only the very edges of the pie that slumped because of this oversight and we managed to salvage the rest. Plus, the pie was just for us and when it comes to desserts for ourselves we rarely bother with the fancy and typically even forgo separate plates in favour of eating right off the pie dish/cake plate/muffin tin to save on dirty dishes.

Anyway, the point of all this is that if you are making this as a full-size pie and are serving it to people whose opinions you value I very much recommend letting it set for five to six hours.

Did you notice my use of the word "gelatinous" and did it generate some concern?

Rest assured that gelatin is still has disgusting as ever - made from the collagen found inside animal bones and we certainly did not use it. We used agar. I'm just not sure the term "agarinous" has yet generated widespread acceptance with regard to all that is vegan and jiggly and would make Bill Cosby proud.

For those that are unfamiliar with agar (or "agar agar"), it comes from red algae and it is the best way to mimic Jell-o in vegan desserts. Like a lot of sea vegetables it can be pricy, but a little bit goes a long way in adding a certain jiggly quality to foodstuffs and (Praise Seitan) it is agar agar that makes vegan Jell-o shooters possible.

You can buy it in flake or powder form. I've found that powder is ideal for baking because it's more quickly and easily dissolved when heated and powdered seems to be the preferred form in vegan cookbooks. Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero even go so far as to say it is the only acceptable option for making their pies. The thing is, agar can be difficult to find and the flake variety seems to be more readily accessible than powder. At least around here.

So Paul used the flake, and on this particular Isa and Terry recipe it was completely fine, you just need to use a little bit more of the flake and cook it for a little bit longer. A ratio of approximately 1 tbsp of agar flake for every 1 tsp of agar powder should do the trick.

If you haven't ever used agar agar or agar powder, know that there is a bit of a learning curve to it. I am constantly screwing it up when I make Boston Cream cupcakes - some days it's perfectly jiggly, other days it's super runny. It's a bit of a diva with a Goldilocks complex: it demands the exact right cooking temperature and time, the exact right liquid-to-agar ratio and the exact right amount of time to set. You also don't want it to get old, either. I've never seen an expiry date on the powder but I find that as it gets older its ability to "gelatinize" (agarinize?) becomes compromised.

So truthfully, I don't like to work with it all that often because it's caused quite a few kitchen meltdowns over the last few years. But when the stars align and you get it right, it's one of the most amazing things. And it always, always makes for the best desserts.

Paul has even gone so far as to state that this lemon mousse pie is his favourite vegan dessert of all time.

While lemon might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to festive desserts, the gingersnap crust should do the trick - I guarantee that it will impress both the vegans and the non-vegans that you're spending the holidays with.

No digital recipe for it yet, you'll have to pick up a copy of Vegan Pie in the Sky!

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Vegg" Nog

Three years ago today I launched This is Vegan for the very first time!

On December 12, 2008 I had been vegan for about six months and TIV began as a simple ocular response to the question, "What is Vegan?" by featuring pictures of the food I was eating. Since then it has taken on a more traditional blog format with recipes, discussions, book reviews and giveaways. TIV has given me a platform to not only share what I am passionate about, but to interact with others that share that same passion, or at the very least, are curious about it. This blog has opened doors to new experiences and friendships and in that way it has given me so much more than I have given it!

I want to take a quick moment to thank you all for your continued interest, input and support regarding this little project of mine. There are tons of vegan blogs to choose from out there and I'm honoured that you take time out of your day to stop by mine. I hope to continue to provide my response to "What is vegan?" for many years to come!

Now -- I think this celebration calls for a little drinky, don't you?!

I should preface this by saying that I've never had egg nog in my life. Paul has, though. Hard to believe now, but we did celebrate many a Christmas as "pregans", and in those days Paul insisted on buying a small carton of egg nog and a bottle of spiced rum every single year, thinking he would like it and not at all remembering the many times in years past when he discovered just how much he didn't like it. This went on for years until, of course, he went vegan and now the decision to act impulsively (or, rather, not act impulsively) at the grocery checkout is made before he even arrives at the store.

All that doesn't matter now because we've found a perfect egg nog alternative, courtesy of Vegan Holiday Kitchen.

Up to this point I've had very little need for vegan nog alternatives because like I said, I've never had interest in the real thing. I've not really looked at the cartoned variety that is available at our supermarket, but I do know that lot of the recipes I've encountered online call for tofu and I'm not super crazy about silken tofu. Especially in a drink.

But then Nava Atlas sent me a copy of her Vegan Holiday Kitchen cookbook, featuring her very own Vegg nog (sans tofu)! It calls for vanilla almond milk and all the traditional eggnog spices (mmm nutmeg) as well as cashew butter.

We also employed our good friend the Captain to spice things up even further.

The verdict: Mellow, creamy and delicious!

The mellow was great, but we tend to like things with super strong flavours and we may or may not like the alcoholic portion to be strong, too. So we ended up doubling everything except for the milk.

Much thanks to Vegan Holiday Kitchen for our newest Christmas tradition! Now I just need a set of these to enjoy it in.

Hard to believe that Christmas is less than two weeks away now!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Classic Spinach Lasagna (and a moment for the sharks...)

I don't think I've ever had a bad lasagna. As long as it has enough sauce and Daiya (or a non-dairy vegan cheese of your choice), you can't really do wrong by the big L. It's warm. It's hearty. And as long as you have a big enough lasagna dish, it can feed an army.

There are approximately thirty million animal-free lasagna recipes in the vegan world. I'm sure all the variations are delicious in their own way, but sometimes going the traditional route is the most rewarding. Whole wheat noodles. Tofu ricotta. Some spinach. Lots of mozza Daiya.

Using tofu in place of ricotta is pretty old school. The vegans of yore didn't have the substitutes that we have today so they got down and dirty with their fingers, crumbling tofu and mixing in spices. Sometimes it's nice to pay homage to our vegan foreparents and do the same. This is 2011, though, and the only work my fingers did involved pressing the button on the food processor.

The recipe comes from How it All Vegan, and you can also find it here.

P.S. For local readers...

My friend's nine-year-old nephew is leading the local charge against the cruel practice of shark finning, by starting an online petition asking Kitchener city council to ban the sale of shark fins, as well as any products that may contain them. Shark finning is one of the most violent atrocities inflicted upon living creatures and the results of it have no place in our region. As it stands, the practice of shark finning is illegal in Canada but there is no such law prohibiting the sale and purchase of shark fins harvested internationally here in Waterloo Region. However, supporting the industry financially makes us just as culpable in the violence as those who commit the physical acts themselves and it is time that we end our involvement entirely.

You can read about Carleton's mission here and sign his petition here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

(Not Really A) Curried Couscous Salad

Quick and easy mealtime solutions are not the direct subject matter of the Show Me Vegan blog, but they really should be. Everything I've tried from there has become part of the perfect mid-week hustle and bustle antidote - especially during this season.

I recently tried the Show Me Vegan Curried Couscous Salad.

I love whole grain couscous because it's pretty much the quickest of all the grains to prepare, making it the perfect mid-week carb. Not that the 30 to 40 minutes it takes to prepare brown rice or quinoa is unbearable. It's just that some nights you need your carb fix within five minutes and not a second more.

I will note that my version is not really a curried couscous salad at all. This is because I eliminated one key salad ingredient: the oil. Oil is what makes it a salad, of course, and I'm sure it would be delicious with it. I just thought it would be fine without, too. And when it comes to oil, when you can do without, you probably should.

The curry and wine vinegar lend plenty flavour on their own, so if you're trying to limit oil when you can like I am (and if you aren't, I suggest checking out Forks Over Knives), don't be shy about leaving it out or cutting the 1/2 cup oil down considerably.

The fact that this meal is done in 10 minutes is my favourite thing about it. My second favourite thing is that the first step involves toasting the curry. I will never understand people's aversion to the smell of curry - it's one of my most favourite scents.

With a side of whole grain pita bread, you've got yourself a pretty decent weeknight meal that can be served warm or at room temperature. It keeps well in the fridge and because it doesn't need to be hot the leftovers will be perfect for your packed lunch the next day.

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