Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Good Ribbing

I'm a sucker for popular culture. It's brain candy - wasting time, attention, etc., but somehow amusing. In most cases, it's like being an anthropologist trying to figure out why it's popular when it makes little sense to me. Enter my momentary fascination with McDonald's McRib. This thing really is disgusting when you dissect its ingredients (like a hot dog), yet it's something of legend.

McDonald McRib devotees who use "McRib tracking sites" and have launched "Save the McRib" campaigns (clever McDonald marketing.) Simpsons played the craze homage by making Homer a ribwich deadhead. But how does it stack up compared to a comparable plant-based alternative?


I compared the McRib to a vegan MorningStar Farms Hickory smoked BBQ riblet on a Food for Life whole wheat burger bun. Here's how they stacked up: 

Sources: MorningStar, Food for Life, McDonalds
Fewer calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium and more protein and iron in the vegan version. The vegan version was also higher in carbs, sugar and dietary fiber. Definitely not a health food, especially if you're watching your glucose or sodium levels.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Swimming in Cheddary Bliss

On Friday, I had to alert the staff I work with that due to a wind chill warning that could reach -40 degrees they should work from home, or at least take extra precautions if they chose to come into the office. This was the same weekend my newlywed husband was making final preparations to leave for a lifelong dream trip to Nepal instead of our Hawaiian honeymoon. I was in need of something warm and comforting.

Flipping through the pages of Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Isa Does It cookbook featuring easy to prepare home-cooked 100% plant-based recipes, I found myself getting inspired. Then, I flipped to Cheddary Broccoli Soup and I was sold. 

I didn't have an immersion blender and I'm not crazy about pureed soups, so I left the veggies in tact, but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. The results was a delicious, satisfying soup I couldn't get enough of, and was literally scraping the last bits of the side of the bowl. So enamored was I with this soup that I mentioned it in a radio interview I did later that week.

The plant-based "cheddary" flavor is a mix of white miso, nutritional yeast and cashew cream. The miso has the slightly salty, mouthwatering effect while the nutritional yeast adds color and a funkiness you get from cheese. The cashew cream is velvety creamy with just the slightest touch of sweet that pulls the whole thing together. Seriously, you need to try this recipe.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Betty Does: Meatloaf

UPDATE: Compassionate Action for Animals posted my review of Betty Goes Vegan.

For the holiday break, I have been set on completing my second cookbook review for Compassionate Action for Animals: Betty Goes Vegan by Annie and Dan Shannon. I got a boost in inspiration with the arrival of VegNews Best of edition which awarded Betty Goes Vegan Best New Cookbook for 2013! 

When I was a teenager, I decided to be a vegetarian which was not that easy of a thing in the 1990s in Northern Minnesota with the idea that you'd simply replace meat with faux meats. The options were meager: boca burgers or morningstar - neither of which were vegan. Twenty years later, I am impressed with the myriad of faux options available at the grocery stores and Target near my home. It is really becoming easier to make the transition from eating animals. That said, for some, there is still a dish that might weaken their resolve to make more compassionate food choices. When I was a teenager, it was my mom's meatloaf that ended my early stint as a vegetarian, so fitting that I sample one of the "meatloaf" recipes in Betty Goes Vegan.

The mexican meatloaf was pretty easy to make and fun to form and baste with the homemade bbq sauce. I really liked the look of the loaves out of the oven with the carmelized bbq glaze and the speckles of cilantro, onion and black beans. I used Gimme Lean ground beef style for the first time and was impressed at the flavor and consistency as a ground beef replacement. Even before I went vegan, I had started to add more vegetables and herbs to dishes like this which can be kind of heavy and bland otherwise (there is a reason we used to douse meatloaf in ketchup.) Adding the chili, cumin, garlic, cilantro, black beans, jalapenos, salsa and red onions definitely added some flavor, but the red onions didn't really cook down and were overpowering (maybe saute them in advance) and the spices weren't prominent enough for my liking. 

In addition to the mexican meatloaf, I made the vegan ranch dressing and while initially skeptical of all the ingredients, I was very impressed with the end result. The flavor popped and was reminiscent of the ranch I remember. This was great because with the exception of Native Foods (their ranch recipe is here) and Chicago Diner, I haven't really found a  vegan ranch dressing I like. As Annie and Dan warn though, I did find myself thinking about what else I could put the dressing on....thankfully in addition to the spinach salad I had a baked potato that was just begging to be a ranch baked potato!  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Betty Does: Cassoulet

UPDATE: Compassionate Action for Animals posted my review of Betty Goes Vegan.

Before my fiance went vegan our "go to" for celebrating special occasions was a french restaurant, Meritage. I loved to order the specials or the vegetable trio and revel in the symmetry of richness and delicacy that is french cuisine. He, on the other hand, was hooked on the cassoulet with its rich slow-cooked meld of beans and meats.

When I saw the cassoulet recipe in Betty Goes Vegan, I knew it has to be on my list for testing for my next cookbook review. If it came even close to the meal from Meritage, I knew what would be on my Valentine's Day menu as an homage to our special occasions of the past with a dollop of compassion in the vegan preparation. However, since cassoulet is really just a french name for casserole, hot dish or chili - a hearty one dish meal often filled with nostalgia for home cooking - there was a good chance this would be something different entirely. And it was.

First, I fell victim to the rush of not reading the recipe thoroughly. I saw the 20-30 minute prep time in the intro and thought I could make the dish after work; however, once I started I realized it was meant to cook in the slow cooker for 2-3 hours. Yikes! I also began to question how much richness the dish would have since the vegetables were added to the slow cooker raw rather than browning them first. I couldn't help myself later in the cooking process when I went off recipe to deglaze the pan that I browned the tofurky italian sausage and gardein scallopini in - the browned bits are the best part!!! 

The final deal breaker for this cassoulet being a substitute for the Meritage version was the consistency of the final product. Rather than a rich, almost creamy stew of beans this was a soup with abundant broth. Had we set out to make a bean soup we would have been satisfied with this outcome. With plenty of leftovers, I found the dish did develop in flavor on days 2 and 3, but it never broke down to that creamy rich goodness that comes when white beans melt away in to velvety sauce. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Betty Does: Beefless Stroganoff

UPDATE: Compassionate Action for Animals posted my review of Betty Goes Vegan.

I finished the Vegan Eats World review for Compassionate Action for Animals (you can read it here)! After exploring French, Korean and Latin American cuisines, I thought it best to return to my roots for my next cookbook review. Enter Annie and Dan Shannon's Betty Goes Vegan. My mom had the orange Betty Crocker Cookbook with the full color photos I would page through drooling over the various colorful beverages and desserts as a kid. I would imagine myself as an adult serving frothy colorful beverages in strange shaped glasses to wash down fancy appetizers like the spaceship-like cheese orbs. I was a very popular hostess in my young imagination.

In the introduction to Betty Goes Vegan, that popular hostess is revealed as the inspiration of author Annie Shannon. She talks about adoring the image of Betty Crocker as the woman who does it all "with a smile and faux pearls." Let's be honest, that's not me, but many of the recipes in Betty Goes Vegan harken back to my childhood family dinners (perhaps it is because Betty Crocker was "born" in Minnesota (Minneapolis at General Mills to be exact.))

Beefless Stroganoff p.244
The first recipe I tested was Beefless Stroganoff (page 244) because of fond memories of eating this dish at the table in the kitchen with my family as a kid. Stroganoff is a Russian dish, but popular in many nordic countries. With its rich sour "cream" based "meaty" sauce served over a bed of pasta or potatoes, its no wonder cold climates (including my hometown on Minnesota's Iron Range) gravitate toward this hearty dish. Growing up it was about as non-vegan as a dish could be featuring beef and gravy with sour cream over egg noodles. It was also one of the recipes my mom made from that big orange Betty Crocker Cookbook, so I was excited to see how Betty Goes Vegan's version compared.

Why hello, Stroganoff!
The Betty Goes Vegan recipe is more sophisticated than the stroganoff I remember as a kid with red wine and fresh parsley brightening up the hearty, creamy dish. Piling on the portobellos and sliced olives instead of beef, the Betty Goes Vegan recipe doesn't feature a mock meat like many of the other recipes in the book. Instead of salt and worcestershire sauce, Betty Goes Vegan subs in a generous amount of Bragg's liquid aminos making the hubby remark on the saltiness and  2 teaspoons of blacked pepper (I couldn't believe that was accurate and cut the amount in half.) The dish was better the next day when the sauce had a chance to thicken and the flavors develop even more. If I made it again, I might try adding the flour in the Betty Crocker original recipe which would thicken the sauce and add a little more sour cream. All in all, I appreciated the ease of making the dish and the accessibility of the ingredients, and could see myself tinkering around with the recipe again.    

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Simply Delicious

I'm reviewing Terry Hope Romero's Vegan Eats World cookbook for Compassionate Action for Animals, and today was the last day of making recipes from the book. I thought it only appropriate to make something with some Latin American flavors and a dessert since she's also the author of Viva Vegan! and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I also wanted to focus on easier dishes given the epic Korean feast I made from Vegan Eats World last weekend.

Chipotle Tofu Cemita Sandwich (p. 107)
The Chipotle Tofu Cemita recipe sounded great and we had most of the ingredients on hand. I highly recommend taking a couple minutes to make the pickled red onions (p. 62) which were simple and a perfect addition....oh, and super crave-worthy. If you don't have the cookbook, you could sub some soy chorizo for the tofu and make your own cemita. You just need: 1) bun (preferably with sesame seeds), 2) vegan mayo, 3) tomato and avocado slices; 4) cilantro, 5) soy chorizo or chipotle tofu; 6) pickled or fresh red onion; 7) romaine or cabbage; and 8) slather of refried beans. Assemble and enjoy.

Cemita toppings, including pickled red onions (p. 62)
What would be a cookbook review if I didn't sample one of the dessert recipes? Not to mention, dessert is pretty much my favorite meal. I was drawn to the gorgeous Tenacious Tart Tatin (French caramelized apple tart) because of the photo, but the ingredient list was also really appealing. I was shocked there were no spices in the recipe, but after tasting it I can attest it doesn't need them. The caramelized apples were super easy and kind of fun to make. I can guarantee I will be making this again, or may just make the apples and serve with non-dairy ice cream.

Tenacious Tart Tatin (French Caramelized Apple Tart) (p. 321)
Look for my review soon, but I can give this sneak peak: If you like to eat out to try new food adventures and wish you could recreate a few of them at home, you'll love Vegan Eats World. I know I have, so much so that despite having what I need for the review, I still can't wait to make the momo dumplings with spicy sesame tomato sambal and cabbage slaw (p. 184) and the steamed bbq seitan buns (char siu seitan bao) (p. 197)!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Holy Crepe!

I had the impression crepes were a difficult, finicky thing to make with a paper thin consistency that seemed destined to tear or end up in a jumbled mess. I also thought you had to have a crepe pan to make them which I do not have. So, as you may imagine, I've never made crepes ... before today. 

As part of the wrap up weekend of making recipes from Terry Hope Romero's Vegan Eats World for a review I am writing, I decided to try the International House of Crepes recipe because I had all the ingredients and she said I could make them in a cast iron skillet (which I have.) 

International House of Crepes (p. 203) 
 It turns out crepes are only moderately difficult to make. You really don't have a lot of wiggle room once you drop the thin batter onto the well-greased cast iron to swirl it into a thin perfect circle. I made 6 crepes and they will pass, but none of them were beautiful. The one in the photo above was the last one I made and so is a little thicker than the rest because I was finishing off the batter. I made so many because I like the tip Romero has to store them in the fridge under plastic wrap and use them as you wish.

Last week when I was sampling recipes from the cookbook, I made a Korean dish that had me using 8 recipes in the book. Today, I wanted to keep it simple, so even though Vegan Eats World had a number of delightful savory filling options, I elected to do a little earth balance buttery spread and bee-free honee with a dollop of blackberry preserve. I felt less guilty for taking this shortcut after attending a book reading this week by Isa Chandra Moskowitz for Isa Does It. In response to an audience question, she said whenever the dish involved a lot of steps and looked like it would take a lot of time it was probably her friend Terry Hope Romero's recipe. Unlike last weekend, I wasn't itching to get in the kitchen and cook for hours, and the nice thing is I didn't have to. Though I do wish the red wine braised leeks would magically appear in my kitchen to stuff into a crepe. :)

Earlier in the week, I did an adaptation of Vegan Eats World's Jigae stew (p.151)to use the leftovers from our Korean feast and I definitely will be making this again. It's a perfect winter stew of kimchi, tofu and eggplant with a bit of kick from chili powder....mmmm.

My advice after making a dozen new recipes from Vegan Eats World? If you haven't in awhile, take one of the cookbooks off the shelf and find a new recipe to try...and then actually make it. It's been fun to explore.