Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bryanna's 5-Minute Miracle Chocolate Mug Cake

Sometimes I just really want a nice, gooey dessert. And sometimes, I just gotta have chocolate. Usually this urge strikes right after dinner, leaving me unsatisfied and wishing that I'd baked something earlier in the day day. So when I found the recipe for Bryanna's 5-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake on Vegsource, I couldn't wait to try it. Since it is so fabulously quick and easy to make and yes, yummalicious, it can be whipped up anytime the urge strikes in the future! I also couldn't wait to share it with my readers.

All you need are a handful of simple ingredients, a couple of coffee mugs (or ramekins), and a microwave oven. Over the years, I had drastically reduced the use of my microwave oven and had even considered getting rid of it, because of articles I'd read about the hazards associated with its use. But in Bryanna's vegsource post, she thoughtfully provided a link about microwave cooking, safety, and nutrition. I learned a few things I wasn't aware of. For example, I didn't know that doctors Neal Barnard and John McDougall both use microwave ovens in their cooking. If they don't fear the microwave, why should I? And another tasty tidbit: Did you know that a microwave saves 80% of the energy that would have been used in a regular oven?

After assembling the ingredients on my counter top, it took me less than four minutes to measure them out and mix them together, and another minute and ten seconds to heat them. Oh yeah, these babies came out nice and chocolatey!

Mark ate his naked, (the cake was naked, not Mark!), but I couldn't resist eating mine with a scoop of So Delicious Green Tea coconut milk ice cream! Ordinarily, I would have grabbed a container of vanilla, but since I was out of it, I discovered that green tea, coconut, and chocolate are a heavenly combination.
Such a deeply rich and satisfying dessert as this, which can be put together in no time at all, truly is a miracle!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Taming the Heat

Do you love kitchen gadgets? I certainly do! Get me near a Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma store, and I can do some seriously damage to my bank account. I don't know how I ever lived without my Microplane grater or my apple corer. Anything that will make meal prep quicker and easier is something I must have. At the top of my wish list right now are a tofu press and an industrial French fry cutter. You hear that, Santa?

I also love spicy foods: I can never get enough Thai, Indian, or Mexican food. But I don't love super hot foods. I know there are lots of people who really like it hot—the hotter the better. But I don't enjoy setting my taste buds on fire. I always deseed and devein hot peppers like jalapeños, habañeros, and Thai chile peppers before cooking them. Carefully removing and discarding the seeds as well as the white cross walls and veins, where the capsaicin is produced, is how you can tame the heat.

How often have I cut myself cleaning out the inside of a jalapeño, and how many times have I thought how tedious it is to do this job? (Quite often, actually. A knife in my hands is a disaster waiting to happen.) So what a stroke of serendipity that I should run into Joe Norris, the owner and inventor of the PepperShark, at the Eugene Celebration this past weekend!

This snappy little stainless-steel precision tool is designed to clean, deseed, and devein peppers.  It fits neatly in the palm of my hand, and with its smooth finish and razor-sharp loop fashioned at the tip, I was ready to try it out on this little green lovely:

I ran the tip around the inside of the pepper, and removed the inner flesh and most of the seeds in one swift stroke.

As you can see, the walls still remain. But this is where the PepperShark really earns its name.

Instead of having to use a knife to scrape or cut the white walls away, I simply ran the tip of the PepperShark over the remaining veins and in seconds was left with a perfectly clean jalapeño! What a neat little timesaver!

Next, I wanted to try the PepperShark on a bell pepper. I cut off the top, and what I'd usually do at this point is cut off the bottom, pull out the center part, cut the bell into segments around the veins, and then either cut or grate the veins to remove them.

But in this case, all I had to do was pull out the core, and slide the PepperShark over the veins to be left with a perfectly clean bell.

And now that I have these beautiful peppers ready to roll, I think I'll prepare some Black Bean, Corn, and Rice Burritos for dinner tonight. Oh wait, the recipe doesn't call for red bell. That's okay, I'm going to chop this one up and throw it in anyway. It will be all the more delicious!

Here's an exclusive offer just for my readers! Order your very own PepperShark today (did I mention that they're only ten bucks?), and Joe will throw in a free PepperShark as a bonus! That's buy one, get one free, (one for you and one for a friend!) if you leave a comment on this post, and then head on over to the PepperShark website and place your order today!  You'll want to place your order, then go to the contact page and mention my name or "Hungry Vegan" blog to get your free PepperShark. What a deal!

After you've received your nifty new PepperShark and have had a chance to play with it, I would love to hear how much you love it, and I know that Joe would, too!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ste Martaen Gourmet Cheeses are
a Delightful Vegan Alternative

I first learned about Ste Martaen Gourmet Cheese Alternatives on Twitter, of all places, and I'm glad that I did. These tasty semi-soft vegan cheeses are available in Muenster, Pepper Jack, Smoked Gouda, Colby, and Olive varieties. They're a great soy-free option made with simple ingredients: purified water, agar, organic cashews, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, tahini, sea salt, and spices. Am I going to tell you that they taste just like real cheese? Of course, not. I'm not aware of any non-dairy cheese that perfectly mimics the flavors achieved from the curdled milk of cows, sheep, goats, or other mammals. (And that's a good thing in my opinion.) But just like the Feta and Bleu Cheeses made by Sunergia Foods that I love so much and Daiya's Mozzarella and Cheddar cheeses, Ste Martaen vegan cheeses offer even more versatility in the kitchen and add new palate-pleasing pleasure to everyday vegan meal-planning.

I thought that the Meunster was a beautiful thing to behold! These cheeses shred and slice wonderfully.

And the Smoked Gouda made a delicious cheeseburger. That's a gluten-free Chez Gourmet Oregon Harvest Veggi Patti, (my new favorite go-to burgers), on a Dave's Killer Bread Blues Bun and yes, I do like ketchup!

Last Saturday I treated myself to a delightfully light, picnic-style lunch, which I actually did bring outdoors to enjoy, since the weather was exquisite! All of the Ste Martaen cheeses paired beautifully with Dr. Kracker Seeded Spelt Flatbread Crackers. A handful of farmer's market-fresh strawberries, a small bunch of green grapes, and a glass of vegan Radical Red Wine from The Organic Wine Works rounded out the meal.

I decided to surprise Mark last night and made a huge plate of nachos with Trader Joe's Veggie & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips and Ste Martaen Colby and Smoked Gouda cheeses. We both enjoyed the gooey goodness of the Nacho Cheese Sauce, and you can find the recipe here.

If you're lucky enough to live in Chicago, you'll find Ste Martaen Gourmet Cheeses at Whole Foods, Bonne Sante, and True Nature Foods. Otherwise, you can order them online direct from Ste Martaen.

Tasty Update: Mention this post with your first order, and Ste Martaen will send you one free cheese!

Tasty Update #2: New vegan cheese companies are sprouting up like bean sprouts! Check out: Miyoko's Kitchen and Vtopian for vegan aritisan cheeses that are so sensational, even your dairy-consuming friends will be amazed!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tempt Me!

How crazy is it that industrial hemp farming is still illegal in the United States? Given that the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper and hemp cultivation was mandatory in many of our country's first colonies, how is it even possible that such a sustainable, versatile, useful crop could ever be outlawed?

Industrial hemp's history can be traced as far back as 8000 BC when hemp agriculture and textile industries began in Europe and Asia. The uses for hemp are innumerable: from food, to fiber, to paper, to fuel ... What a tragic irony that tobacco farming is legal in the U.S. while hemp cannot be grown by American farmers under current federal law. Hemp contributes to the health and well-being of people and the planet, while tobacco contributes only to illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke in the U.S. So why aren't we converting tobacco plantations into eco-friendly hemp plantations? Australia began licensing of hemp farms in 1992, and Canada legalized the commercial growth of industrial hemp in 1998. Wake up, America!

Oh, but wait ... we are beginning to wake up, at least, state by state. Just one year ago, Oregon joined several other states when Governor Kulongoski signed a bill into law giving Oregon farmers the right to grow industrial hemp. And here in Oregon, a growing number of companies manufacture hemp products—among them are The Merry Hempsters, Trust Hemp Cooperation, and Living Harvest Foods.

Several years ago I wrote an article for vegsource.com called "Hemp is Good for You," which featured a few of my favorite foods made from what many consider "nature's perfect food." Since then, Living Harvest has come out with a line of milk beverages and ice cream made from hemp that have become increasingly popular. (The Chocolate Fudge and Coconut Lime ice creams are delicious.) They also make hemp oil and have introduced a new line of hemp protein powders.

One serving of Tempt Hemp Protein contains:
135 calories
3 g fat
22 g protein
All 10 essential amino acids
It's a rich source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, iron, magnesium, and potassium.

Living Harvest has succeeded in keeping their protein powder from tasting oily or hempy. But it did have a distinctively hemp-like smell when I added it to my morning smoothie, so I threw in a splash of vanilla extract, which masked it completely. If only I'd known they also make a Vanilla Spice protein powder. I'll bet it's terrific!

Tempt Hemp Protein added a nice creamy flavor to my smoothie and infused it with a beautifully rich, vibrant color. It was an energizingly tasty way to start the day!

Morning Protein Power Boost Smoothie

1 cup water (I like Taste Nirvana's Real Coconut Water)
2 very ripe bananas
1 medjool date
1/2 cup frozen fruit of choice (I used raspberries in the smoothie pictured above)
4 Tbs Tempt Hemp Protein Powder
Splash of vanilla extract

Blend all together and enjoy!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Finding Vegan Gold in Miami

I recently returned from visiting my mom and one of my oldest, dearest friends, Parandeh, in Miami. Actually, Mom's condo is in Aventura and Parandeh has a beautiful home about 15 minutes away in Miami Shores. It's been two years since my last visit, and the sweltering 94° degree heat and 100% humidity didn't seem to bother me nearly as much as I had anticipated. I was just so darned happy to see two of my favorite people in the world.

Eating out together has become a greater challenge as years have gone by. Meeting both my vegan needs while at the same time honoring my mother's abhorrence of anything that might be labeled "vegetable" rather than "animal" or God forbid, "organic" is almost impossible. Fortunately, Parandeh is far more flexible. Over the years, it's become more and more difficult to find a decent Chinese restaurant, and during this trip we couldn't find even a single one. Overall, I found the food quality at Miami restaurants to have continually deteriorated with each visit. This time, even my favorite vegetarian restaurants (which are few and far between to begin with), have gone downhill to the point where I don't even want to spend the money eating there anymore.

But I have noticed a strange phenomenon emerge in Miami over the last several years: Sushi-Thai restaurants. Now, don't get me wrong, I love veggie sushi and Thai food, but somebody please tell me: since when do they go together? And these places have sprouted up ALL over South Florida! I mean, you don't really see too many sushi places that don't also do Thai, and I've yet to see one Thai restaurant that didn't also serve sushi. Is it like this anywhere else in the country?

We didn't actually eat at the restaurant below, but I kept forgetting to take a photo of a restaurant sign that said "Sushi" and "Thai" so I made a quick stop to have the girls pose for this pic, just so I could document this whole sushi-Thai thing.

I've yet to find one of these establishments that actually do both cuisines well, so I'll often start with a sushi roll, and take it from there. The vegetable sushi roll at Thai House II Restaurant & Sushi Bar is filled with asparagus, carrot, spinach, and strips of kanpyo (or kampyo), a cooked and seasoned type of Japanese gourd. The veggies were fresh, and the combination was filling and tasty!

Breakfasts are always a special treat at Parandeh's house! To begin with, she has the most amazing mango trees on her property. While there are more than 400 varieties of mango in the world, Parandeh's are the sweetest, juiciest, most delicious mangoes I've ever eaten. I'm not saying I've eaten anything close to 400 different kinds of mangoes. But I've probably eaten at least a dozen different varieties in places like Hawaii, India, Venezuela, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and I'm telling you, Parandeh's mangoes are amazing!

The breakfast spread was a nice departure from my usual morning smoothie: a hearty 10-grain toast, several kinds of preserves, including Parandeh's mother's lovely home-made sour-cherry and one of my favorite indulgences, halvah, (made with tahini, sugar, and pistachios), both of which Parandeh had just brought back from Iran a few days earlier.

One morning after breakfast, Parandeh and I set out to visit the Fruit & Spice Park in Homestead, Florida, the only tropical botanical garden of its kind in the United States. This unique 37-acre Dade County Park features over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and nuts, and showcases 150 varieties of mango, 75 varieties of bananas, and many other exotic edibles from around the world. Although much of the property's history dates back to 1898, Mary Calkins Heinlein (1903-1975) was the driving force behind the creation of this amazing park, which first opened in 1944 and now bears her name. Her fascination with the exotic fruit and flora that flourishes in South Florida's subtropical climate evolved into a lifelong passion.

When we arrived, we learned that the next scheduled tour didn't begin for almost an hour, so we hurried back into the car and made the 6.6 mile trek to Robert is Here Fruit Stand, where we'd find an incredible selection of delectable exotic fruits to buy. This landmark fruit stand and farm was established in 1959 when Robert was just six years old. On the very spot where the fruit stand sits today, Robert's father set him on the roadside to sell cucumbers from his farm. In order to insure that customers wouldn't miss the table where the little boy had set up his roadside shop, Robert's father placed two hand-painted signs at each end emblazoned in red with the words "Robert is here!" The story is really quite charming, and I encourage you to read more about it on the Robert is Here website.

As soon as you step inside, you are greeted by Robert's pride and joy, his impressive selection of mangoes!

These wonderful mamey were right next to the mangoes. I'd had some incredible mamey flavored sorbet the night before and couldn't wait to taste the real thing. I discovered that I LOVE mamey. Its brightly colored flesh is strangely mushy and a bit dry like a sweet potato, only much, much sweeter.

Finally, I got to taste dragonfruit! And I didn't have to pay $12.99/lb like I would have back home! They were not as sweet as I expected, but still very delicious. The texture reminded me of kiwi, with all those tiny little black seeds. They sure are one of the prettiest fruits I've ever seen!

I couldn't have been more excited to see this display of jackfruit! As you may recall, I first tasted jackfruit and wrote about it a couple of months ago. The fruit I purchased back then was imported from Thailand, and therefore, not fresh and certainly picked long before it ripened. I still loved it, but it was nothing compared to the taste of FRESH jackfruit, which is super sweet. WOW! My taste buds screamed with joy! They were so captivated by jackfruit's intoxicatingly sweet, tropical flavor, the taste lingered on my tongue hours later. 

Another one of my favorite new fruit discoveries is monstera. Beneath the bumpy green exterior is a sweet, juicy, white flesh, which tastes like a cross between banana and pineapple. If you try to eat monstera before it's ripe, it will actually burn your mouth. But it's easy to know when it's fully ripened, as the green kernel-like skin will start to fall off, revealing the sweet edible fruit beneath it!

While Parandeh shopped for all manner of fruit butters, preserves, and chutneys, Robert Jr. was happy to answer my many fruity questions. Like his dad, he sure knows his fruits!

Packages in hand, we dashed back to Fruit & Spice Park just in time to begin our own private tour, as we were the only visitors there for the 1 PM start time. Our adorable volunteer guide, Erica, made the experience so much fun as she identified all of the unfamiliar fruits, flowers, and trees we encountered and gave us a little history or anecdote about each of them. She invited us to munch on all of the fallen fruit we could find, and needless to say, we ended up grazing our way through the park, oohing and ahhing all the while.

We came across this odd-looking fruit, which we all sampled and thought tasted much like a cross between a grape and an apricot. Oddly, no one at the park knew the name of this lovely orange-colored bumpy fruit with the fuzzy skin. They called it "Jackfruit Relative," even though it neither looks nor tastes anything like jackfruit. So I gave it a new name, "grapericot."

Speaking of jackfruit, these big babies were actually growing from the bottom of this tree!

Parandeh was wearing the perfect colors to pose beside these lotus flowers in the park's herb garden. Doesn't she look pretty?

I've heard Doug Graham say that rolinea tastes like rice pudding. Sadly, we did not get to experience this delectable fruit. It looks a lot like a cherimoya (one of my very favorites!), but is supposed to taste quite different. Oh well, tasting rolinea is just one more thing to add to my bucket list!

This heavily-laden loquat tree was spectacular! And it generously offered up to us our fill of ripe loquats. They're slightly acidic when eaten underripe, as we discovered when we picked a few. But fully ripened loquats have a delightfully sweet flavor. These tasted much like guava and strawberry.

The trees are planted in the park according to their native continents. We made our way through Asia, Africa, and Europe before the sky broke loose with a torrential summer thunderstorm. You can clearly see the sky darkening just before the clouds burst in the photo below.

Even though we get more than our fair share of rain in Oregon, we rarely get such torrential downpours, and rarer still are thunder and lightning storms. So I found this twenty-minute spectacle absolutely thrilling!

Since we didn't make it to South America, this gives me the perfect excuse to visit the park again!

When you live in South Florida, you don't really need to go much farther than your local supermarket to find an impressive selection of delicious tropical fruits. I snapped this photo in Epicure Gourmet's produce department, not far from my mother's house.

On the last full day of my visit, Parandeh had to go back to work, and my mother and I got to spend some quality mother-daughter time together. She joined me for what was to be the best meal of my entire trip: lunch at Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin! This two-year-old gem serves some of the most delicious Caribbean American vegan cuisine I've ever experienced. I could have easily eaten every meal of my trip here and never tired of it. As soon as we walked into the restaurant, Hakin's winning smile and warm hospitality made us both feel instantly at home.

While Mom enjoyed a tall glass of juice, (we didn't tell her it was organic), I indulged in an amazing lunch plate made up of Seitan BBQ Ribs, Curry Herbed Tofu, Herb Tomato Chunks, Quinoa with Spinach and Carrots, and Sautéed Bok Choy along with a glass of freshly squeezed Carrot-Beet-Apple Juice. From the very first bite, I could tell how much love went into the preparation of this exquisitely prepared meal.

Not that I really had room for it, but Hakin tempted me with his Pineapple Tofu Cake, and so I relented and ordered a small slice. Without hesitation, I can safely say that it was the most scrumptious pineapple cake I've ever eaten, even surpassing my own pineapple upside down cake, which up until now, I thought was pretty awesome. The heavenly buttercream frosting was sinfully rich, and the cake was sweetly moist and filled with little chunks of pineapple. I didn't think I'd finish the whole thing, but I polished it off in no time. I was really glad Hakin talked me into it!

After lunch, Mom and I strolled around Aventura Mall. I was in search of some incredibly comfortable Zealand memory-foam flip flops, but The Walking Store was out of my size. I think my mom looks so cute sitting in front of this fountain! It was so hard to say goodbye to her.

When Parandeh arrived home from work the three of us headed out for one final meal together. We made our way to Kampai Japanese (and Thai) Restaurant at The Waterways. I had very little appetite for dinner after such a filling lunch, so I ordered the vegetable roll with ginger dressing and wakame salad on the side. I enjoyed my last dinner of the trip together with my two best girls very much.

On my last morning in Miami, I worked for a few hours and then headed back to Hakin's for a hearty breakfast and some empanadas to take with me on the 10-hour journey home. Hakin's mother, brother, and niece were there that morning, and I couldn't resist taking this beautiful family photo. (I love how his brother is sitting in the background smiling and unaware that his photo is being taken!)

The Blueberry Pancakes and Scrambled Tofu were absolutely delicious. I enjoyed them with a Pineapple-Banana Smoothie and Hakin's lively company. What a delectable breakfast!

The next time you're in Miami (or if you're lucky enough to live there), run, don't walk to Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin. You'll be treated to one of the best meals of your life.