An Explanation of an Absence. . .

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that my smart phone decided to stop working. I got a camera for my birthday but something seems to be corrupt in the SD card. Every time I try to read it on my laptop, everything freezes and crashes. I eventually gave up on taking pictures, until I can get the situation fixed.

I really miss blogging here! I know I have basically no followers, but I don’t care. I love cooking and I love writing. Now I can cook and I can write, but writing about cooking feels odd without photographs. 

I’ll at least get things up and running before VeganMoFo. I don’t like to think of myself as a VeganMoFo blogger, or a NaNoWriMo novelist, but these events exist for a reason. They’re a great recharge opportunity if you fell into a situation like this. 

On that note, both of these are when I will hopefully be in grad school next semester. Isn’t that just lovely? 

Sweetie. . . Tuesday – OH’s B-Day!!

My twice-weekly posting plan is. . . failing so far. I’ve been caught up in other goals: fitness goals. So that’s not too bad, right?

It’s not the best of excuses, given that I do most of my posting during down time between work and studying. You know, while. . . already on the computer.

Here’s a few more sheepish ellipses: . . . – . . . – . . .

Anyway, I realized today that I needed to post. I had planned to post this on Friday, but I thought it would be best to actually post rather than preserve a theme.

My camera was dead during the actual baking process (recurring theme), so you can instead enjoy the beautiful shots of my cake in transport. Yes, my car is messy. Yes, I made sure everything was sanitary and stable. The cake is actually in a large bit of Tupperware – I removed the lid for the pictures, but it’ safe from car messiness. Just consider it “art.”

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No?

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I am quite obviously not a professional cake decorator. I’m learning! This was my first time making a serious attempt to decorate a layer cake, or a cake other than a cupcake. I don’t think I’ve ever written in icing before.and my writing is atrocious enough with a pen. Let’s give me a bag of butter-cream!

For the blue icing, I actually cheated. I used one of those little icing packs with the change-able plastic tips. It was “accidentally vegan” and gave me a steadier hand to work with. PLUS, I didn’t have to work on a fourth recipe. Recipe number four for something that hardly imparts flavor? Nah.

I baked this cake and ganache from the Post Punk Kitchen. I was going to fill cake with chocolate mousse, but I bought too soft of tofu. Apparently, there is a huge difference between silken soft and silken extra-firm. The difference is melted milkshake vs mousse. I ended up throwing in some powdered sugar and even cornstarch, but it wouldn’t set. I threw in peanut butter – nothing. I finally took spoonfuls of this mess and beat it with powdered sugar for a peanut-butter-chocolate glaze.

Overall, it’s not perfect, but I’m very satisfied with the results! I haven’t had samples of the whole cake, but I did have little tastes of each component: all but the decorator’s icing are either good (filling) or GREAT (Isa’s stuff).  I can’t wait to show it off to Mr. Obnoxious Hand!

Sweetie Fridays – Chocolate Chip Cookies, Version 235723

Sweetie Fridays - Chocolate Chip Cookies, Version 235723

I really need a new baking sheet, huh? Preferably with a big roll of wax paper to preserve it. Anyway. . .

I’m on a mission to find the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe. A mission to find this recipe and share it with my five-odd readers. There hasn’t been a mission this intense since Monica tried to track down the cookies once baked by Phoebe’s late grandmother.

Unlike Monica, however, I know the perfect starting point: the back of the bag. Now, when I say back of the bag, I really mean, “back of a bag I haven’t purchased since God knows when.” Nestle Tollhouse (nesle tolus, not nesli tolhaus) has been my go-to since I first started baking cookies solo, and they’re a great control recipe.

Wanting a) to have my own recipe for blogging and fattening purposes and b) to have a cookie more suited to my own personal tastes, I’ve been experimenting. Going vegan has led me to make two obvious changes: switching out the butter and eggs. The butter was easy – Earth Balance sticks are a godsend.

For my first couple batches, I played it safe and baked the recipe as is, with Earth Balance buttery sticks, two “flax eggs,” and subbing half my flour for whole wheat pastry. This has been great, but again: not my own.

My next experimentation was majorly healthy. . .izing. . .  it. I used all whole wheat pastry flour and cut the sugars down to 1/2 cup each. These were alright – very cake-y and very health food-y. They tasted too much like what people would expect to taste when you tell them you’re giving them a vegan dessert.

Yesterday, my omnivore boyfriend requested chocolate chip cookies. This time, I decided to make them anti-health food (no flax, only white flour), so he wouldn’t be too angry when I turned around and took the crisp right out of the cookies.

He loves crisp and I love chew. It’s enough to tear a couple apart!

What I ended up doing. . . I subbed half the baking soda with baking powder, and was very pleased at the texture. Chewy and really held a round shape once baked. I think I found my new control!

Buffalo Chick Bowl “Recipe”

This is so simple, it feels silly to call this a recipe. But, if you’re like me and ate your fair share of “buffalo” style chicken in your meat eating days, sometimes you need a healthier alternative to a buffalo chick’n sammie.

Funny thing is, this didn’t start with a buffalo craving. I was in the kitchen with only an avocado as a fresh ingredient, wondering what I could make myself for dinner. This is what I came up with.

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Ingredients

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup of dry  brown rice (+ 2 cups of water)
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (or 1.5 cups cooked)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 tsp buffalo sauce (plus more to taste)
  • Black pepper and cilantro, to taste

Method

  1. Press and mince the garlic, then sautee in oil until fragrant, but not burnt.
  2. Add rice, water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to low heat and cover. image
  3. While rice cooks, prepare the topping: mash whole avocado with tsp of buffalo sauce. image
  4. If you have a well-stocked fridge, throw in some greens just before the rice is done. Otherwise, wait until fully cooked and add the chickpeas.image
  5. Add the spices until sufficiently flavored.
  6. Scoop into two bowls and top with avocado sauce, and additional buffalo sauce, to taste.
  7. EAT!

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This makes two decent size bowls and is both delicious and simple! Perfect for a work-night dinner.

Sweetie Fridays – Donut-Shaped Cakes

Baking is a science; everyone knows that. Yes, a seasoned baker can experiment with good results. Yes, even some of the most experienced cooks need a cookbook to refer to turn by turn, if they decide to bake. And it’s best not to substitute if you’re working with a new, unfamiliar food (such as cake donuts).

Luckily, not all accidents are bad. Sometimes, an accident ends up being pretty darn good. Those times, a simple name change may be in order.

I had fresh pumpkin to use, and after much thought, I finally decided on the pumpkin spice donuts from Betty Goes Vegan. I bought the cookbook on impulse when it was featured in a giveaway during VeganMoFo and was excited to try my first recipe.

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The ingredients above are where you can see the red flags. Ener-G is not called for in the recipe once. Instead, I haphazardly used it to replace arrowroot flour. As for the seemingly innocent brown sugar? Hard as a rock.

Being impatient and what-not, I decided to try moistening the brown sugar directly, rather than throwing in a slice of bread or covering in a wet cloth. I ended up using way too much liquid (which, I assume, is why this has never been advised).

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Other than the poor ingredient choices, I gathered my supplies and followed the directions. The first element I took issue to was that brown sugar was grouped as a dry ingredient, that you were to mix in with the flour, etc.

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And then. . . If I read this correctly, you are to throw the wet ingredients directly on top.

Now. . . While I doubt this is responsible for my donuts coming out wrong, I do take issue to the method.  I grew up in the two bowl school: one for liquid, one for dry – throw it together. If you want to be ballsy, one bowl; but you first cream your sugar and butter, then mix in the liquid, and then throw in the dry. This all seemed incredibly backwards to me and, unsurprisingly. . .

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I was left with lumps.

Also, I don’t think I need to point out that the batter is practically liquid, making boxed cake batter look like cement. I’ve especially never seen a batter this thin when using solid oils.

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In the end, they looked fine, and they tasted great! Just, admittedly, not like a donut – more like the moistest, most decadent muffin you ever sank your teeth into.

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I didn’t have a donut pan, so I made most of my donuts as “holes” in a mini-muffin pan. . .

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And then made one small batch of half-filled cupcake liners with small foil balls to give them a hole.  I saw this idea online and it apparently can work wonders – I’m assuming it didn’t work properly on mine since they were too moist.

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Once dusted and iced, they did look nice, right? Either way, they were popular with those who tried them, and that’s all I can ask for.

Next time, however, I plan on following unfamiliar recipes better.
And don’t be surprised if I stop buying brown sugar from now on, and start adding the molasses back in myself.

Vegan on a Budget – Local Store Guide

Ethical living doesn’t have to be expensive, in terms of animal cruelty. You just need to learn to rethink your shopping.

When I first went vegan, I broke the bank. I bought everything I found with that beautiful vegan label. I ate out constantly, not knowing how to prepare enough vegan meals to get me by. Over the following months, however, I learned how to rethink my shopping.

This is something of a regional guide. Not all stores I mention here will be available in your area. Maybe none will be. Maybe only Walmart will. But this is all based on what I found, shopping in my Nevada town.

The (Major) Stores – In Order of Region 

  • Scolari’s and Sak N Save: the only true local store to my area, headquartered in Sparks, NV.
  • Save Mart  (known in some regions as Lucky, FoodMaxx): Northern California and Northern (western) Nevada only.
  • Rayley’s (known in some regions as Bel Air, Nob Hill): Northern California and “Northern” Nevada
  • WinCo: West. Specifically. . . Washington-idaho-nevada-California-oregon. . . (or Winning Company, if you want to be technical) But then Utah and Arizona came along and ruined everything.
  • Smith’s: extension of Kroger, a national chain. (Per wiki, Smith’s is in the southwest and Rockies.)
  • Safeway: international chain. (U.S. and Canada)
  • Trader Joe’s: national chain.
  • Whole Foods: international chain. (U.S. and U.K.)
  • Walmart: international super-chain. (I’m sure you know just how global they truly are.)

Scolari’s/Sak N Save
As I mentioned, I do not shop at these stores. I never have, since moving to the area. My reasons are simple: price. Sak N Save is apparently the “cheap” version of Scolaris (which I have literally never shopped at), and I can count the times I have shopped there on one hand. The prices, I’ve found, are always inferior, and they don’t even have great quality to back it up. I’ve shopped there only once since going vegan, when my boyfriend had a job interview at a neighboring store. I picked up this cookie:

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Which was great. Like a vegan, extra nutritious cookie from Pepperidge Farms. But in the future, if I really have a hankering, I’ll pick it up at Whole Foods. It’s conveniently at the front of the store near the buffet, with other single serving snacks.

Save Mart
I shop here often, but not much in terms of dollars spent. It’s basically the neighborhood grocery. . . the closest grocery store to my house, my boyfriend’s house, my mother’s house. . . And my office is even a stone’s throw away from a Save Mart parking lot!

Not my favorite in terms of price, but sometimes you can’t beat convenience. I’ve been known to grab a can of peas or frozen dinner, every now and then. For being the neighborhood grocery store, it’s actually pretty vegan friendly (just. . . again. . . not wallet friendly).

Every Save Mart I’ve stepped in has had at least one vegan ice cream, and one variety of Veganaise. Many have a variety of Tofurky products and one Earth Balance margarine. Some even have “Go Veggie!” shreds. I can even count on them to have a pint of Silk creamer in vanilla, just in case I forgot a quart from Whole Foods.

Last night, while picking up chips, I found even more goodies!

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Vastly superior “barista style” creamer (at barista style prices).

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Vegan mylk chocolate? I may or may not have impulsively grabbed the crunch bar. . .

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And last but not least, Enjoy Life chips! I’ve never seen them in store before, and I’ve always wanted the adorable chunks! Of course, with the price, we’re talking Christmas cookie treat only.

Sidenote: my hometown Redding is home to a Food Maxx, which is basically nothing like Save Mart at all. The prices are better with a worse selection: wallet friendly, not so much vegan friendly.

Rayley’s
I NEVER shop here. I loved this little store when I was a young vegetarian in Redding, as they have an extensive natural foods extension, and will still cost you less than a local organic store or co-op. However, if you have a Whole Foods, shop there. Rayley’s is ridiculously expensive on these items. It’s really sad when Whole Foods is your bargain! The only thing I like about RaYley’s is they have a good Tofutti selection, including their version of drumsticks and their American cheeze slices. Are these treats fun? Yes. Are they worth going down there more than once or twice a year? No.

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Well. . . almost. . .

Winco Foods
It just might kill me not to turn this into an Ode to Winco. I have mentioned plenty of times how I much I love this store, however, so I won’t bore you too much.

As far as vegan specialties go, their selection is “meh.” Great selection on Boca and Tofurky, but the only cheeze is Go Veggie! cream cheese (bird poo when compared to Tofutti). They have Silk yogurts in blueberry and strawberry, which is great. And they have your standard mylks: Silk and Almond Breeze, and sell both brands’ iced coffees at a great deal.

However, I shop here for the prices. They are, hands down, the cheapest place to shop. This is also the case in Redding, and I’m going to make a bold statement: if you have a WinCo in your town, it will be cheaper than any other store and you should drop your routine and make them your number one store. Seriously. Just do it.

They have cheaper prices on brand names, like Quaker and Sara Lee. They have cheap prices on their generic brand Hy-Top. Most of my pantry items are Hy-Top labeled. They have amazing prices on produce (without sacrificing quality).

Most importantly: their bulk foods section is of the gods. I laugh in the face of boxed pastas and bags of beans and grains. If I already have a dedicated bottle, McCormick and etc. make me giggle. If you want natural nut butter, you can grind peanuts and almonds fresh and take it straight home. Every granola you can imagine, including several that are vegan-friendly, they got you covered. Pet food? You’re good. Every and all flour or sugar you could need? Including ORGANIC sugar (and thus bone char free)? Yes indeed.

The only complaint about WinCo is about staffing. You don’t want to shop there when SNAP, Social Security, and WIC are processed. You are best to avoid it on the weekends, if possible. You have to bag your own goods. But if you’re lucky to bring home $1000 dollars a month, you’re not going to care.

Smiths
I never shop here and can’t speak for prices. I have shopped there once since going vegan, to pick up a bag of Dorritos in order to break a $20. It has never been in my interest to return. They seemed to be pretty medium-priced, and they’re not anywhere near my neighborhood.

Safeway
I never shop here. I went there once or twice when I was living in Pacifica, but that’s about it. Out of my price range and neighborhood.

Trader Joe’s
I shop here maybe once every month or two. It’s a great place to get cheap ice cream, cheeze, and cream cheeze. Their prices on sliced sourdough will make San Luis hang his head in shame. I used to love their veggie sushi, but they changed the recipe to worship mushrooms. They also have the best prices for individual Luna bars, and have good deals on natural toiletries. They also have fun things like fancy alcohol, chocolate, and “butters” (ie: pumpkin, speculoos). They sell cheap versions of expensive things, but I don’t often have the time to stop by. If I race against the clock and bring along an insulated grocery bag, I might shop here on the same day as Whole Foods, since they’re only a few blocks apart.

Whole Foods
I shop here for only the most specialized of specialty vegan foods, and only once a month. . . Unless I crave ice cream or run out of a toiletry.

They’re the best place in town to buy your vegan mayonnaise, margarine, and cheeze. The selection is amazing, and is often cheaper than at a “normal” grocery store. You will never (ever) see me grab an apple or bag of rice from this store, but over time, I’ve learned how to use Whole Foods to my advantage.

If you like something that isn’t available generic elsewhere, but is at Whole Foods: choose the 365 version. It’s going to be cheaper than the brand name, at least with mylk and vegan toiletries. I bought shampoo yesterday, and I could have sworn from the price tag I was purchasing Tresseme. I picked up vanilla soymilk for a friend: $1.67 for one quart.

Also, they’re more likely than other stores to have vegan items on sale or with store coupon. Yesterday, they were selling So Delicious almond milk (my favorite) for $1.57 per quart. I bought all my arms could carry! (Even Walmart should be hanging their head in shame!)

Just stay clear of the packaged vegan foods, and you’ll be fine. Unless you like buying frozen pizza for $8, or ice cream for $6. Then why are you reading this guide? (I say as if I have never done that myself.)

Walmart
I shop here fairly often, somewhere between the frequency/dollars of WinCo and the natural chains. I probably don’t need to tell you much about them: they’re cheap. They’re convenient in that you can buy literally anything else your heart can think of while you’re there. Their Great Value brand is affordable.

More vegan-friendly than I would think. . . Some Light Life items by the tofu, plenty of mylk (including my favorite!). What can I say? It’s Walmart. You’re going to save money.

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Apparently So Delicious’ Barista Style creamer is really hitting it mainstream.

Sidenote: Scroll up and compare to Save Mart. Yeah. I should have captured Whole Foods when I was stocking up on mylk. Oh well. I’m pretty sure it’s closer to Walmart’s price, or at least it was when I last purchased it.

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A typical Maddie haul, with admittedly ambiguous Skittles. And Soy Nog! I can’t wait to rip into it and review. 

That’s all for now. Next week, I plan on sharing some more frugal tips. Stay tuned!

 

“Sweet” Friday?

As I mentioned on Monday, I am planning on taking a twice weekly approach to my posts: Mondays for savory foods -Fridays for sweets, with random posts in between when warranted. Awesome thing is, I recently made pumpkin donuts from Betty Goes Vegan. Not so awesome thing, I am currently without a phone charger and my pictures are still trapped on the phone. But every cloud has a silver lining, as many cliche, and this is a great excuse to unload a sweet-heavy draft I’ve been neglecting for months.

I mentioned this trip to Great Full Gardens before, in my anti-Daiya post. If whiny vegans irritate you, I suggest avoiding that link. Instead I want to tell you the good!

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Before we stopped in for dinner, I insisted on buying cupcakes from neighboring Batch, thinking there was no way I’d end up finding a (nothing with eyes, all organic, all natural, all good) dessert for me at Great Full. I was, of course, wrong. More on that later. The green one was mine, chocolate with mint buttercream, and it was delicious. Batch is just my style: (comparatively) light on icing, and much more vegan friendly than Reno’s favorite cupcake shop. The other one belonged to Zayne/OH, and if memory serves, it was chocolate caramel pretzel.

That pink stuff was delicious watermelon creme Oogave. YUM! This was just delightful – sweet, just the right amount of tart, and not fake-tasting like standard fruity sodas.

We then split a veganized bruschetta, which the waitress was gracious enough to offer with Daiya, no charge. (As it wasn’t under a bed of Tofurky pepperoni bits, I picked a lot of it off. Rude of me, I know.)

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Zayne had the (meat) Ruben and I went boring, as usual: with the fettuccine. I was about to go with pizza, but after eating the appetizer and realizing, “no Maddie, you hate Daiya,” I quickly made the switch. Next time I have the money, I’m thinking vegan Ruben. I’m just afraid nothing will hold up to the fettuccine!

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In the end, it turned out. . . cute little hipster cafe is vegan friendly outside of vegan cheezes (shock, right?). Lo and behold: vegan dessert! This was my first time eating “raw” and not a Larabar. It was delicious! It actually tasted like cheesecake (even OH agreed)! If memory and picture serve correctly, the cheesecake that day was chocolate cherry. Whatever it was, it was amazing.

I’ve since returned to Great Full Gardens twice, for drinks. Once I stopped in for a latte (which was pretty darn good). Recently, they revised their menu to be more clear (now everything that is vegan is clearly marked, leaving no ambiguity at all). When they updated their menu, they added a new item: Oogave root beer with Coconut Bliss FLOAT! VEGAN FLOATS! Not  your every day treat given the cost, but it was an amazing summer treat! Unfortunately, its tasty beauty and OH’s signature obnoxious hand, like the pumpkin donuts, are trapped in my phone. You’ll just have to imagine this one.