Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Mini Egg-Free Easter. Whaaaaat?

Week the Thirteenth brought with it a unique challenge...my first vegan Easter.

Yah. The term Vegan Easter would have been an oxymoron for me three months ago. No Easter eggs? No Cadbury Popping Mini Eggs? No Polish sausage in the Easter basket to take to church for blessing?

Does not compute.

But that was three months ago. This Easter was a Very Vegan Easter for me. And it totally computed.

Before getting into that, though, a quick rundown of Kind Diet meal experiences for Week the Thirteenth...

Monday 13.0: Seitan Piccata with White Wine and Capers (p. 156) / Rustic Pasta (p. 147)

Not gonna lie...seitan does not look particularly appetizing coming out of the package, but lightly fried up and covered with white wine sauce and served with Rustic Pasta, it's pretty dang good.

The seitan itself is soft in texture and mellow in flavour.

 The white wine sauce took a while to get used to. My mom joined Rob and me for dinner, and none of us were totally on board with the first bite...it was very tangy and definitely not a flavour I was feeling. However, as the meal went on, it grew on us. Just took a few bites for the palette to acclimatize.

The Rustic Pasta was better the first time I made it during Week the Sixth. Something wasn't as insanely delicious this time around, and I can't figure out what, so I'm just gonna be extra super careful the next time I make it to try and replicate our first experience with it (when Rob rated it pretty darn close to that elusive 5)

Rob's Rating:
Seitan - 3.5 Happy Tongues
Rustic Pasta - 3 Happy Tongues (4.5 the first time)

Tuesday 13.0: Ginger Baked Tofu (p. 160)

Ginger and garlic together is always a winner, and these little tofu "steaks" were winners as a result of being marinated in such a bi-winning combination. Even Charlie Sheen would agree. A great option for a meal on the lighter side.

Rob's Rating:
Ginger Baked Tofu - 3.5 Happy Tongues (Rob wants the tofu bite sized)

Wednesday 13.0: Eggplant Chana Masala (p. 166)

Yay vegan Indian food! I love the texture of the eggplant in this dish, it was nicely complimented by rice and naan, and although it doesn't stand out as one of my absolute favourite Kind Diet recipes, it's pretty quick and easy and plentiful. It made excellent leftovers for lunch the next day, as well dinner for me on Thursday 13.0, paired with some steamed Baby Bok Choy with Ume Vinaigrette (p. 265).

Rob's Rating:
Eggplant Chana Masala - 3 Happy Tongues

I was actually still eating this dish on Good Friday (Friday 13.0). I always fast every Good Friday, and abstaining from meat wasn't an issue this year. We don't do the bread and water thing while fasting, but we do avoid any treats or elaborate food. I figured a third day of leftovers counted as un-elaborate.

After Good Friday mass, and because it was also Earth Day, we took the dogs for an epic walk to Rocky Point.

Curious George isn't much of a walker, so he was happy chillin' in the backpack.

For Holy Saturday (Saturday 13.0), I made a small family dinner and experimented with a vegan appetizer I was hoping to take to our friends' house for Easter brunch the next day...Artichoke, Mushroom, and Leek Crostini with Pesto (p. 204). 

Both my mom and Rob the Husband gave this an enthusiastic thumbs up, so it made the cut for the next day's Easter Sunday brunch. The mushrooms and leeks together are stellar (but I of course speak from an extremely biased mushroom lover's POV). I actually wasn't a huge fan of the pesto on top, which was very heavily saturated with the flavour of pine nuts, and I have discovered that I'm not a huge fan of pine nuts. I actually always thought I loved pine nuts, but it would appear that I am mistaken, and my affection for pine nuts was all a lie.

Saturday's dinner continued with Rice Waffle with Vegetable Melange (p. 221) and Sugar Snap Peas, Radishes, and Edamame with Lemon Butter (p. 167).

The rice waffle was SO FUN and easy to make! Mush up brown rice with some miso and pastry flour and pour it in a waffle iron, then top with anything. The vegetable melange was pretty good (I substituted some marinated tofu for seitan), but the waffle itself was the winner here. I am totally looking forward to making this again and finding all sorts of crazy and delicious things to top the waffle with. I loved this concept.

The other veggie dish was fine.

Fine, but it didn't stand out to me as something I'd be excited to repeat.

My first vegan Easter meal :) Not an Easter Sunday spread by any means, but as a small Easter Vigil meal for my small family, it worked out just fine.

Rob's Rating:
Crostini - 4.5 Happy Tongues
Rice Waffle - 4.5 Happy Tongues
Peas, Radishes & Edamame - 2 Happy Tongues

And finally, the centre of the culinary portion of the Easter experience...Sunday 13.0...Easter Sunday Brunch.

I felt incredibly blessed that my family had been invited over for brunch by a friend whose daughter is a  vegetarian, and flirts with the vegan world more often than not. They were SO AWESOME and accommodating. Case in point...traditional Polish white borscht (zurek), but paired with a vegan Polish sausage option for us...

Why do we need the meat substitute at all? Because it would be blasphemous to have zurek without the sausage. The risen Jesus says so.

Yah, that's pretty friggen delicious.

**Side note...I was about to launch into a mini-rant directed at people who complain about vegans eating processed meat substitutes, but I'll save that for another day, as this is an Easter post and Easter is a time for joy and celebration, not rants :)**

So keeping consistent with joy and celebration, check out the spread...

I seriously love our friends :) I went to brunch expecting that I'd have to cheat with dairy or chow down on my vegan crostini appy to partake in the meal, but for almost every non-vegan item on the table there was a vegan version...sausage, potato salad, and carrot salad, along with tofutti cream cheese and vegetables.

And to make the day even better, Alicia's Mixed Berry Cheesecake (p. 192) made an appearance for dessert, made by my gorgeous friend Hanna :)


Speaking of score, just as I finish this post, THE CANUCKS WIN GAME 7 IN OT!!!!

HELLS YES!!!!!!!!!


No...no...I have a duty to finish this blog.

Vegan Easter was awesome.


GO CANUCKS GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Catching up with Kind on Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! Shining sun, chirping birds, snoring geriatric dog...what a great morning to play catch up.

I have been cooking over the last month, I swear.

This blog hasn't really reflected that lately, what with Spring Break in Banff,  my minor obsession with making Babycakes icing, and a couple of weekends of cheerleading competitions, including one in Anaheim, taking up my focus. I haven't posted any Kind Diet recipe attempts since St. Paddy's Day. Oops.

I'll punish myself with the cheese grater later. For now, time to catch up on noteworthy meals over the last few weeks...

After we returned from Banff, I should have been oatmealed out, as it was one of the only things I could eat at breakfast. 'Twas not the case, however, and I was eager to try Alicia's oatmeal.

This was stupid easy to make. I have no idea why people need instant oatmeal in a packet...I just mixed in the ingredients and added some water. It doesn't get much easier than that, and it was delicious (crispy apples for the win). Why have I never mixed apples into my oatmeal before? Because I was a sad, deprived, uninspired excuse for an oatmeal cook. That has now changed.

The biscuits were ok. I might try them again, but play around with the shape to make them thicker. I dunno...nothing to rave about, anyway. Galahad got to finish off a few, and he was a fan.

Rob's Rating: 
Oatmeal - 4 Happy Tongues
Biscuits - 3 Happy Tongues

My Saturday 9.0 cooking streak continued with Fried Udon Noodles (p. 229).

Just like the Rustic Pasta that I love, these noodles are prepared with cabbage, and I'm still surprised at how well cabbage works in pasta dishes. It just adds a really nice texture, taking away from the heaviness of the pasta to balance out the meal a bit. The flavour here is crazy good...the noodles are seasoned simply with paprika, giving them a really unique, almost sweet character.

No leftovers at the end of this night.

Rob's Rating:
Udon Noodles - 4 Happy Tongues

On Sunday 9.0 I had a hankerin' for risotto, and busted out Risotto with Oyster Mushrooms, Leeks & Peas (p. 228) for dinner. This was my second go at this recipe, and after the first time I made it, I resolved to deviate from the recipe a bit and cook the rice on mushroom broth instead of water.

Good idea.

Holy crap was the risotto incredible this time around. I mean, it was really good the first time we made it (I'd be hard-pressed to find an unpleasant risotto dish), but using the mushroom broth really took the deliciousness factor up a notch and put this dish in a whole other category, approaching the distinction of being one of my favourite Kind Diet recipes (right up there with PB cups, cornbread, and Caesar salad). I think it also helped that this time I used actual oyster mushrooms, as last time I got a bit confused with Whole Foods' abundant mushroom selection and bought the wrong ones.

Rob's Rating: 
Risotto: 4.5 Happy Tongues

Monday 10.0 was back to school after a one week Spring Break while other schools got to enter their second week of Spring Break, so to distract myself from this harsh, brutal unfairness, I made Radicchio Pizza with Truffle Oil (p. 144) for dinner, which also happens to be the first recipe in The Kind Diet.

This was all right, but definitely not one of my faves. The radicchio was quite bitter, which I don't mind in small quantities, but as the basis of the pizza it didn't work for me.

The redeeming factor of this dish, however, was the white truffle oil.

Listen carefully, for what I am about to tell you could change your life forever.

If you are a lover of all things mushroom, you MUST go out and blow $19 on an itty bitty bottle of white truffle oil. This stuff is INSANE. I drizzled it over the pizza, and it had such incredibly intense, amazing flavour, no exaggeration, I think I saw heaven. It was like the taste equivalent of looking into Chris Pine's eyes.

I know, right?

Rob's Rating:
Radicchio Pizza - 2 Happy Tongues

I didn't have to cook on Tuesday 10.0 because Rob so graciously volunteered...poutine with mushrooms and mushroom gravy. The perfect indulgent comfort food.

Monday 11.0 was a Tofurkey Pizza we bought at Karmavore, with salad and fresh squeezed apple juice a la Rob the Husband.

Not quite as good as traditional pizza, but it was definitely a worthy substitute. I'd totally buy it again.  And I realized I am a huge fan of fresh apple juice froth. 

Tuesday 11.0 was my second attempt at Tuna Salad Sandwich (Kinda) (p. 246). The first time I made this I cut up the veggies and tempeh a bit too big, which made it difficult to eat on a sandwich, so this time I cut everything up a lot smaller, which worked better in sandwich form. I liked this better than Rob did, but I think I prefer it with the larger chunks and in salad form instead of on a sandwich. It would be great to take as a salad on a picnic in the summer.

Note to self: Go on a picnic this summer.

Rob's rating:
Tuna Salad Sandwich (Kinda) - 2 Happy Tongues

Monday 12.0 was Mountain Burgers with Alicia's Caesar Salad (p. 175).

We also had quinoa burgers last week, and with such incredible burger meat alternatives around, I am not missing hamburgers at all. As long as I can slap on some mushrooms and avocado, my burger is good to go, no carcass needed. Definitely looking forward to sparking up the bbq this summer, hells yes.

The salad totally upped the awesomeness factor of the burgers as well. Alicia's Caesar salad has become a Happy Tongue Level 5 staple in our house...Rob even knows how to make it.  

On Tuesday 12.0 we tried what was probably the most unique and unexpected Kind Diet recipe yet: Waffle, Sausage and Cheese Panini (p. 153).

Break out the tambourine, because some celebrating is in order.

I know I'm not the only one out there who celebrates amazing discoveries with a rousing tambourine solo. Who's with me?!

Yes, well, this particular dish, on paper, just looks weird. Rob was actually the one who picked it, and I wouldn't have been trying it any time soon if if wasn't for him. The sauce is apricot jam, vegenaise, thyme, and pepper. Weird, right? You're supposed to slather that on a couple of waffles, and cram in some Italian soy sausage, sun dried tomatoes, arugula and vegan cheese. I repeat, weird. But I suspended disbelief, gave it a go, and was TOTALLY BLOWN AWAY by the brilliance of this culinary masterpiece.

Think super high quality McGriddle. Minus the heart attack.

Alicia uses the words "decadent" and "scrumpdiliumptious" to describe this panini. I concur. The savory and sweet flavours mingle together in a borderline palate overload of incredible flavours. I couldn't finish mine (Rob was happy to help out with that), and it's definitely something that goes in the once in a while category (and please for the love of Charlie Brown have some greens on the side), but it's one of those fantastic discoveries I'm really excited to have in my arsenal the next time I'm wanting something unconventional and fun just deelishus.

Rob's rating:
Waffle, Sausage & Cheese Panini - 4.5 Happy Tongues

One last Kind Diet meal of note to wrap up this catch up. Sunday 12.0: Mochi Waffles (p. 286)...also my second time making this one, but I used cinnamon-raisin flavoured mochi this time and covered it with apples.

Like my last experience making mochi waffles, I wasn't too thrilled with them. They are extremely hard to bite and chew, and while the flavour is ok, the texture in waffle form doesn't really do much for me. I like mochi better when it's not quite as hard, like the little soft bits that spill out of the waffle iron....those are fun & gooey. I'm thinking I might be overcooking them in the waffle iron, but if I take them out any earlier I don't think they'll be totally formed.

I wish Alicia could just come over and make this for me so I know whether I'm doing it wrong and potentially missing out on something great. I will cook with mochi again to try out different ways of preparing it, especially because Rob really likes it, but I don't think I'll be pursuing it in waffle form again. Alicia's Oatmeal (with apples and raisins this time) was perfect on the side, along with some veggie bacon (which totally tastes like turkey bacon).

Rob's rating:
Mochi Waffles - 3 Happy Tongues

There. Caught up. Sorta. I'm actually already well into Week the Thirteenth and have totally been busting out the Kind Diet recipes this week as well. But those will have to wait, as this Earth Day is already far too lovely to spend blogging indoors. Plus it's Good Friday, which means I'll be fasting...no treats today; just the basics.

Earth Day agenda:
-Finish blog post with gorgeous pics of Chris Pine.
-Good Friday Mass.
-Epic walk with the dogs.

Well, I've just done my part to make the Earth more beautiful.

You're welcome.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Disneyland + Cheerleading + Babycakes = My Weekend

So, occasionally in my line of work, if the stars align just right, one may get a break from the whole teaching/marking/planning routine and get to do something awesome.

Like go to Disneyland.

Yah, I totally got to go to Disneyland last week. To a competition with a dozen of my adorable cheerleaders.

Yay extracurricular teacher-sponsoring! (You won't hear me say that too often.)

I knew there was going to be some dairy cheating going on, but I was really looking forward to the challenge of keeping the trip as vegan-friendly for myself as possible.

It started out easily enough at the airport. Thursday 11.0 lunch ended up being chow main, tofu and veggies from a Chinese place in the airport food court, and I had my Pringles to keep me company on the plane. After checking in at our hotel we headed to Downtown Disney, where I had a trio of Mediterranean dips (hummus, baba ghanoush, and mouhammara) at Uva Bar

I also got to watch the aftermath of a very, very intoxicated lady falling off her barstool and smacking her head on the concrete while her pre-teen son screamed for help. Nothing says good clean family fun like getting thoroughly tanked and falling off your barstool and smacking your head on the concrete and freaking out your poor son at Disneyland. Way to go Mom! And the best part was that she stayed down for the duration of my meal a few feet behind me while people tended to her. Needless to say, I was eager to finish my baba ghanoush and get out of there.

Our hotel provided a hot buffet breakfast every morning. There wasn't much for me to partake in other than potatoes and toast. I ended up bringing some Earth Balance butter and Rice Dream from home, so I was able to have cereal and butter my toast, but for the most part, breakfast was unremarkable.

This brings us to Friday 11.0, aka Disneyland Day! The itinerary...8am-12am...16 hours of Disneyland awesomeness. There would have to be a few meals thrown in here, so I made sure to google "vegan disneyland" to see what my options were. I was thrilled to find a vegan dish at the Blue Bayou, aka super cool restaurant right inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I had made resos a few days earlier for myself and my cheer coaches, and we scored a sweet waterside table.

Even though I doubt my starter salad dressing was vegan, my Portobello Mushroom and Couscous Maque Choux was thumbs up for sure.

Some cheerleaders even floated by us on the ride and said hi :)

How adorable are they? :)

Overall, lunch at the Blue Bayou was pretty pricey, but definitely worth it for the atmosphere and unique vegan dish. Love this place.

I can definitely see a shift in the snack foods that Disneyland serves. It was great to see pineapple, mango, and lots of fruit options, and I got to enjoy some apple chips and a giant pickle (yes, a giant pickle, because giant pickles are awesome) in addition to my non-vegan churro (I told you there'd be some cheating). There was more cheating at the candy store where I bought the dairy-laden chocolate peanut butter bar (but avoided the gelatin-laden chocolate marshmallow bar!), and I cheated even more with a Mickey shaped beignet.

Food that's shaped like Mickey Mouse shouldn't count as cheating. I mean, it's Mickey Mouse. At least I didn't partake in the Turkey leg like my carnivorous coaches...

I love them anyway.

A basket of fries while watching Fantasmic rounded out the evening, and we finished off the night with some team bonding on a couple of rides before heading back to our hotel.

If 16 hours of exhausting Disneyland awesomeness wasn't enough, I had Babycakes cupcakes waiting for me at the hotel.

I had ordered Babycakes earlier in the week from their LA bakery, to be delivered on Friday to our hotel room. After my three unfortunate attempts to make their icing, I had to try the real thing to see if it really was worth it.

Yah, it's really worth it.

**Side note...holy crap do I look haggard eating that cupcake. I mean, seriously, that is not the kind of picture one puts up on the internet, but it was my first official babycakes experience, so whatever, I'm keepin' it real. It's the end of a 16 hour Disney day. Let's see what Natalie looks like at the end of a 16 hour Disney day...

Life is officially unfair. Side note over ***

But back to the cupcake. The icing is thick, vanilla-y, and not too sweet. AND IT TASTES NOTHING LIKE SOY! WHY then did they have to screw with my mind and put a different recipe in the Babycakes cookbook?? WHY??? The icing from the bakery is really yummy, especially considering it's dairy and sugar-free! The cake itself is dense and crumbly, and very tasty. Though I can't help but remain pissed off that the official cookbook doesn't provide the official recipe for the official cupcake, this cupcake is definitely thumbs up, and my faith in Babycakes is restored.

Saturday 11.0 was a busy competition day for my cheerleaders, and despite the crazy long Friday we spent at Disneyland, hanging out at the hotel by the pool after the competition was not on their list of things to do. We proceeded to Downtown Disney that afternoon for shopping and lunch at Rainforest Cafe. I ordered lettuce wraps, and it was pretty easy to vegan-ize this meal by subbing in some mushrooms for the chicken.

Yay :) Messy to eat but light and yummy and (mostly?) vegan (you never can be sure about the noodles). And having good luck with vegan meals on this trip made it easier to justify non-vegan desserts. Like my apple-stuffed churro.

Oh yes, this was indeed a weekend of churro indulgence. I know that every time I ate one, an adorable baby chick somewhere in the world shed a tear. I had to mitigate this somehow, so I told my cheerleaders that every time they swore in Disneyland a fairy would die. I think saving the lives of a few fairies makes up for making baby chicks cry.

Sunday 11.0 was Day 2 of the competition, as well as the awards ceremonies. This meant waiting around at the Anaheim Convention Centre surrounded by more churros and Dippin' Dots (don't worry, I avoided the Dippin' Dots...and the churro here tasted dry and gross, so that one shouldn't count). Veggie burger with a crapload of tomatoes for lunch.


The award ceremonies for our division went until almost 2:30, and our shuttle to the airport was picking us up from our hotel at 2:45, so we really had to hurry back to the hotel. For me and my natural tendency towards fast-walking, this would not have been a problem, but going at the pace of a group of 15 other slow-walkers was just downright excruciating.

It was like this during the ENTIRE trip. We'd set out as a group to walk somewhere, I'd think I was just setting a normal pace at the front of the group, and then I'd hear whining behind me that I was walking too fast. I was the old lady of the group (over twice the age of some of my cheerleaders), and I CONSTANTLY had to wait for these guys to catch up. Sometimes a few of them would speed up beside me and ask why I was walking so fast. I'd tell them it was the absence of animal products in my system not weighing me down :)

Anyhoo, we made it to the airport with plenty of time to relax before the flight, and I was happy to find a seemingly vegan meal (not sure about the noodles themselves) at a seafood restaurant in the airport...pasta with veggies and a garlic sauce, no alterations needed.

Overall, the trip was goodtimes. Disneyland was crazy fun, the kids were genuinely a lot of fun to spend time with, and I got to bring home Babycakes (I even packed my Tupperware to bring the cupcakes home for Rob the Husband nice & safe...and he thoroughly enjoyed them too). There was some vegan cheating with desserts, but I stayed true to the Plant with my meals. It was a friggen exhausting four days keeping track of a dozen teenagers in California, but this

and their adorable smiley faces made it all worth it.

Now if only they would learn to walk faster.