Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Project Smoothies completed

I finally finished the Smoothies chapter of Crazy Sexy Kitchen, the VegCookbook Club's first selection of 2013. Next month's cookbook has been announced: Color Me Vegan by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. 
Chai Latte
A lovely chai that is nicely spiced and warming. The drink wasn't too sweet with ginger and cardamom to balance out the dates. However, it isn't really what I think of when I think of a smoothie. Where's the fruit? In fact, I added freshly brewed black tea, taking a "Note From Chad" suggestion. This tea variation pairs well with a chunky book.
Closing the Smoothie chapter
For the Love of Nog!
This frothy, pale treat also seems like it could fall under "and other beverages." There isn't much fruit involved either, just banana and dates. For me, this was a super sweet beverage, although lighter than the "vegg nog" that I made from Nava Atlas' Vegan Holiday Kitchen. (Alas, no rum in the CSK version.) Both nogs have proven to me that nutmeg is a spice to break out year-round, not merely for holiday concoctions.     
Homemade cashew milk
Basic Nut/Seed Milk 
Finally, I used raw cashews for this homemade nut milk. This recipe produced a creamy liquid with a strong cashew flavor. I tried this milk in my morning smoothie but found it too rich and overwhelming. Instead I added small amounts to mugs of black tea and matcha.

The recipe was much simpler than I anticipated. I soaked cashews in water and then blended the bloated nuts. I wasn't able to find a proper nut milk bag for straining. (Even at Whole Foods!) Instead I improvised with some small cotton sachets* that I found at my neighborhood natural food store. After I squeezed the cashew liquid from its pulp, these sachets resembled spent prophylactics. (Just saying.)

*The bags are reusable and the packaging says they are ideal for teas, bath herbs, camping, and backpacking. Perhaps they'll come in handy for future VegCookbooking?

Friday, January 25, 2013

In a mood for curry

Here are two unique curried items that I made from Crazy Sexy Kitchen, the VegCookbook Club book for January. I scored a bottle of curry powder at our local Japanese market last fall and hadn't cracked it open yet. Luckily, this cookbook offered up some novel ideas.
Curried Nada-Egg with Watercress Wraps
Perhaps this recipe wasn't written for me, as I haven't had a hankering for the egg salad sandwiches of my pre-vegan childhood. However I did love the peppery watercress and the zippy curry flavor in the tofu spread. Of course, the wrap also involves a mega-dose of Vegenaise and Dijon mustard. I added a wee bit of red onion, in addition to the green onions. (Maybe some garlic would work in this mix?) The recipe made loads and would be suitable for summer picnics in the park.
Curried Cashews
This was my first snack recipe from the book. I used my oven and the cashews smelled divine when roasting. However I'm not sure if they turned out as crispy as a dehydrator might have achieved. Either way, they are an oniony, salty, and currylicious treat. A good backpack stash.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pancakes and some salad dressings

We had a long holiday weekend in DC, with the Inauguration and MLK Day. So I made Crazy Sexy Kitchen pancakes and a few of the salad dressings, also from the January VegCookbook Club pick.
Cornmeal Banana Walnut Pancakes 
This recipe by guest chef Fran Costigan is great stuff. It's written in an engaging, almost conspiratorial fashion. "Don't worry,"Costigan advises as you flip the pancakes. So I didn't. And the pancakes turned out scrumptious. This is what I'd serve at an Inaugural Luncheon, instead of bison (yuck). Next time I make these, I'll also double the recipe and have more maple syrup on hand.
(From left) Basic Italian, Garlic Tahini, Miso-Citrus
Salad dressings
I've made of four of the salad dressings in the Dressings, Marinades, and Condiments chapter. The Basic Italian Dressing was sweet and slightly spicy. The Garlic Tahini Dressing was simple and straightforward. The Miso-Citrus Dressing was salty and orange juicy. But, by far, the Dijon Vinaigrette (below) is the the one I'm going to re-elect. I love Dijon mustard, so what's not to love about this garlicky, vinegary mustard dressing? Like the merch hawkers said down on the Mall yesterday, "Twice is Nice." I'm definitely making this dressing again and again.
Dijon Vinaigrette

Friday, January 18, 2013

Madeira Peppercorn Tempeh and a Greensicle smoothie

I finally made a main course dish from Crazy Sexy Kitchen, the January VegCookbook Club selection. Plus another smoothie, as I attempt to complete that slim chapter.
Tempeh with side of Brussels Sprouts and mushrooms
Madeira Peppercorn Tempeh
This tempeh recipe is by guest chef Tal Ronnen. It was my first disappointing dish from this cookbook. This may have something to do with it being a level 2, "cheffy" dish and me being a level 1, beginner cook. The kombu broth worked out well. But the white flour coating gave the tempeh a gummy texture, totally opposite from the crispy, crunchy appearance that the accompanying photo suggests. Also, I didn't like the Earth Balance addition to the sauce at the end. It felt like cheating and added little flavor enhancement. The sauce, by the way, turned out an unappetizing lavender-hue. ("Like Kelly Osbourne's hair?" asked my Mom as she commiserated via phone.)

Greensicle Smoothie
This smoothie made up for the failed tempeh. It tasted like those orange Creamsicles, a post-swimming lesson reward in my childhood. I couldn't find yacón syrup at my natural food store but agave nectar was on special. I also skipped the romaine lettuce and went purely spinach for the greens. Almond milk, orange, and vanilla make up the creamy counterpoint to the leafy greens. A sweet, after-school treat. Join Team Smoothie, kids!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Project Smoothies

Inspired by the Crazy Sexy Kitchen Project blog, I decided to try and complete the excellent smoothies chapter in Crazy Sexy Kitchen. Unlike Brooke, I don't have the stamina to cook the entire cookbook, but one chapter I can handle. (Especially, a no-cook chapter.) It's a mini CSK Project: Smoothies.

I've already made four of the inventive and tasty recipes. Here are two more smoothies. I have three more yet to attempt. And I want to experiment with the basic nut/seed milk recipe also included in this chapter. (I just have to score some cheesecloth or a nut milk bag.)
Strawberry Fields Smoothie
It's hard not to sing The Beatles' song while making this smoothie. It calls for three types of fruit: strawberries, orange, and banana mixed with spinach and non-dairy milk. I didn't have a lemon on hand, so I added the zest from the orange. (FYI: Zesting an orange makes so much healing citrus aroma. Totally sinus clearing.) The orange didn't overpower the summery strawberry transfusion. I used frozen berries here because it is winter but I can't wait to make this drink from fresh berries, come late-May or June.  
Vanilla Mystic
Boy, this is a white smoothie. Creamy and sweet but so white, with only vanilla and a sweetener giving it a slight hue. I used almond milk as the main liquid. Also I couldn't find a young coconut to crack, so I went with the soaked cashew option. I did find raw coconut butter--so rich! This smoothie already seemed like a quasi-dessert but the coconut butter took it full decadence.

I can't imagine drinking this concoction daily. However, it'd make a good gateway recipe for skeptics who think that blended drinks are nasty or "too-healthy" tasting. You could slowly add berries and greens once they're hooked on the mystic.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Beetbox Juice and Butternut Bisque

Beetbox juice
Here are two healing liquids from my winter sickness recovery. Inspired by Kris Carr, I drank a healthy, raw juice this weekend. Juice bars are few and far between in DC but one has recently opened downtown, steps from the National Mall. Protein Bar, a Chicago-based fast-food health chain, has a handy Penn Quarter location at 398 7th Street NW.

Their beetbox juice (above) is a blend of apple, cucumber, beet, carrot, and ginger. This drink was a light and attractive mix, not too earthy or challenging. Protein Bar seems serious about their juice. They have a sign posted at the counter that warns customers to expect a wait of up to fifteen minutes due to the dual-disc juicer process. And they give you a buzzer for your juice!

I'm definitely going to go back for more juice-ups and to try the food. It looks like they have many vegan menu options. (Plus they have large Sriracha bottles on the condiments table. Always a good sign.) Protein Bar also offers blended drinks, including some with funny names that are interesting to compare with their Chicago menu. For example, "Wrigley Peeled" becomes the "Federal A'Peel."
Butternut Bisque
This bisque is from Crazy Sexy Kitchen, the January VegCookbook Club pick. It is a sweet and soothing broth, just the thing for a sore throat. The book's recipe features pumpkin as the main veggie but also recommends squash and sweet potatoes as alternatives. Good thing, because we had a huge butternut in our kitchen, just waiting for soup-making. The recipe also calls for onions, roasted garlic, veggie stock, maple syrup, spices, and wine. The resulting butternut bisque didn't produce the bright orange-hue that a pumpkin soup might, so I used an Instagram filter.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Crazy Sexy smoothies continued...

Here are two more Crazy Sexy Kitchen smoothies that I made earlier this week before coming down with the flu. I really like this smoothie chapter of the January VegCookbook Club selection. Kris Carr makes me want to invest in the Cadillac of high speed blenders: the Vitamix. (And a juicer, a dehydrator, some sprouting equipment, a nut milk bag, etc.) But my current situation (tiny budget, small kitchen) means that I'm using my trusty Cuisinart food processor to blend these drinks.  
A.J.'s Power Smoothie
I made this smoothie recipe twice. The first time I used blackberries and it came out an ugly brown-shade. Also I accidentally dumped a large amount of cayenne pepper into the Cuisinart bowl. (I was trying to add a sprinkle of cinnamon. Unfortunately, the cayenne pepper bottle looks remarkably similar and was missing its lid.)

The second time I mixed the correct ingredients: almond milk, berries (strawberries this time for an attractive hue), mango, raw almond butter, kale, spinach, and cinnamon. Much better! This smoothie was light and dreamy. The book says that Chad Sarno's daughter is a big fan. She clearly has mature and enlightened taste buds. I'm also developing a taste for greens in my smoothies.    
Aztec Spirit
This smoothie put me in mind of a café mocha. I got to add cayenne on purpose to this recipe. (A pinch, not half a bottle.) Also in the mix are: unsweetened almond milk, cacao powder, vanilla, agave, kale, and a shot of espresso. I went with cold coffee here but maybe you could use hot? This combo made a heady brew, rather bitter to my green tea drinker's palate. So I added some banana to mellow the sharp flavor. A tasty treat but not a smoothie I'd make a habit of drinking.

In the meantime, I've been browsing the excellent Crazy Sexy Kitchen Project, where Brooke is taking on the entire cookbook. She calls her blog "like the Julie/Julia project but without the butter and meat!" (Ugh, those bone marrow scenes.) It is fun to read about Brooke and her family's foodie adventures. She is inspiring me to try some of the more difficult, "cheffy" level 2 recipes. The smoothie chapter has been all "easy breezy" level 1.

Monday, January 7, 2013

VegCookbook for January

January's VegCookbook Club is Crazy Sexy Kitchen: 150 Plant-Empowered Recipes to Ignite a Mouthwatering Revolution by Kris Carr with Chad Sarno. What a beautiful book to behold!  It's filled with glossy, "food porn" photos and has a colorful, attractive design. I'm just starting to cook from it and am totally pleased. It's the perfect volume for January detoxing. Here's what I've made so far:
My new favorite smoothie
Crazy Sexy Goddess Smoothie
So refreshing! It looks dark purple and viscous but it tastes summery and airy, like a fruity gazpacho. I've fallen in love with this blend of cucumber, coconut water, greens, blue berries, and banana. I left out the main ingredient: avocado, opting for some nut milk instead. I also didn't add any stevia, as I'm not a fan of extra sweeteners. I did add raw cacao, the suggested superfood. It gives the smoothie a chocolaty under taste.
Green Colada
This smoothie is a tropical pick-me-up. It calls for vegan milk (I used unsweetened almond), pineapple, orange, banana, and spinach. The results are a nice color, unlike many of my usual brownish "green" smoothies. I think I was in a smoothie rut but this cookbook is a revelation.
Warm Kale and Quinoa Salad
This warm salad is a breeze to prepare. (My boyfriend said it smelled like green peas while it was cooking.) I think it might be more of a quinoa kale salad in terms of its ratio. When I make it again, I'll triple the kale. I used almonds and dried cranberries here. I'm sure you could swap all types of nuts and fruits. You could also play with the dressing for more variety. However sometimes it's nice to have a simple and straightforward grain. It'd work well as a subtle side dish.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Lotus Cafe in Silver Spring

For New Year's Eve, my boyfriend and I got our Vietnamese fix at Lotus Cafe in Silver Spring, Maryland. Located at 8077 Georgia Avenue, Lotus Cafe is next door to Jackie's Restaurant and can be spotted from the Metro train when it surfaces. We had visited this unassuming spot before, back when it was called My Le. I remember dining alfresco on the wooden patio. This visit we checked out the restaurant's interior--a bit funky but not without charm. In fact, we had the whole dining room to ourselves because other folks must prefer posh, white table cloth restaurants for New Year's celebrations.
Summer rolls
We started our meal with artfully arranged summer rolls. These tofu rolls were a nice, fresh break from the many deep-fried spring rolls of Christmas past. I ordered the Half Burn Rice Noodles (top), not entirely sure what the name meant. The thick, wide rice noodles that came out were, in fact, half-charred and deliciously so. My boyfriend ordered pan fried rice noodles (below), which came as a thinner vermicelli. These plates were very similar in terms of fried tofu, veggies, and sauce. Really, the style of noodle was the big difference.

Lotus Cafe has a sizable vegetarian section on their menu. They also have a full bar, which was essential for the holiday. Their patio alone deserves a revisit in nicer weather.    

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Paragon Thai in Cleveland Park

Pad bean sprout close-up
My boyfriend and I ate out way too much during December because we were on our holiday dinner and a movie kick. For Christmas Eve and day, we had great Chinese food at Harmony Cafe in Georgetown and at Jackey Cafe in Chinatown. I took photos of these two spots but the lighting was often too dim for blog purposes. Guess I'll just have to visit each another time. (A good problem to have.) However one restaurant that we visited on the Christmas holiday weekend had both great food and excellent lighting: Paragon Thai Restaurant.

This welcoming Thai restaurant is in a small strip mall at 3507 Connecticut Avenue. It's extremely handy to the Cleveland Park Metro station and steps away from the Uptown Theater, the greatest movie screen in the District, now an AMC Loews cinema. Paragon Thai was very busy on the night that we visited but the staff was attentive and kind.
We started the meal with two appetizers: Tao Hoo Tod, aka crispy golden tofu triangles, and deep-fried spring rolls. These appetizers were both excellently done, appealingly greasy. Next we had two mains. My dish, the Ka Pow Jae (below) was very spicy, as advertised. It was almost "Thai-hot," as some menus call it. This level of spiciness is a challenge that I love to meet.

My boyfriend got a mild pad bean sprout dish (top) with lots of mushrooms in a brown sauce. Paragon Thai also offers brown jasmine rice, for an extra charge. They have a full bar and reasonably priced Asian beers.    
Ka Pow Jae