Thursday, January 31, 2008

giving these gems their due

Tonight, I want to give two very special cookies their due. Even though I baked both back in December, they got lost in the holiday shuffle and never got the superstar treatment that they deserve on this blog, so hear goes:

Lemon-poppyseed crackle cookies from Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan:

I made these as part of my holiday cookie baking. They sounded good, but I thought they would be rather mild and take a backseat to the other cookies, especially since they are so healthy (whole grain, low fat, low sugar). However, these cookies had such great flavor and texture that all my cookie recipients raved over them. Fortunately, they are light and vibrant enough to eat any time of year, not just around the holidays.

Chocolate chocolate-chip cookies (with walnuts and cranberries) from Veganomicon:

I made these one night when both Daiku and I were craving cookies (that seemed to happen a lot in December!) I added cranberries to the recipe. We both loved them- soft cookies with a deep, rich, intense cocoa flavor, walnut crunch, and cranberry chewiness- yum! Again, a year-round cookie.

If you're looking for some cookies to bake, I couldn't recommend these two more highly.


Monday, January 28, 2008

short, warm, and sweet

Ever since we got back to Syracuse, Daiku and I have been trying to get back into our normal routine- cooking, eating, working, etc. I have to admit, though, when it comes to eating, we are still a little bit discombobulated, relying a lot on pantry foods and quick meals, most of them not blog-worthy. However, we have eaten a few sweet goodies that are definitely blog-worthy.

First, Daiku made these gorgeous cinnamon rolls. For anyone hanging out in the vegan blogosphere, or on the PPK, Evan's cinnamon rolls are old news, but we haven't had a chance to make them until now. And I'm so sorry we waited so long, these babies are magnificent! Daiku used half white and half spelt flour, and the infusion of whole grain didn't have a bit of negative effect- these were fluffy, soft, sweet and gooey- everything a cinnamon roll should be. Instead of making all the icing the recipe called for, we made a small batch and put them on individual rolls as we ate them - this way, we could warm them up without worrying about runny icing, and we used much less icing.

On a slightly less virtuous note, Daiku also made these raspberry chocolate chip blondies from Vegan with a Vengeance. I was always intrigued by the beautiful combination of blood-red raspberries, dark chocolate chips and fluffy white cake in this recipe.

Unfortunately, it appears that we under-baked it a little, it was gooey in the center. But we ate around the gooey parts while it was still warm and it was still satisfying.

On the freak produce front, here's a slightly x-rated specimen, from a package of freeze-dried mangosteens from Trader Joe's. I've never tasted fresh mangosteen, and like durians, I'm saving myself for them until I have a chance to take a trip to their home base of Southeast Asia. The freeze-dried ones are pretty good snacks, though!

I was looking through old photos and found this one, which I think you guys will like. My friend Natalie manages to be a genius cake-decorator in addition to teaching art history and working on her dissertation. When one of our favorite professors was leaving to teach at another school, she baked this cake in the shape of a film reel for his good-bye party, since he teaches film courses. Pretty cool, eh?

Finally, when gooey vegan baked goods aren't enough, you need really warm slippers to survive the Syracuse winter! I've been looking for ages, and finally managed to find these warm, soft, lined booties. Vegan fluffy booties on clearance, $10. Coziness and warmth on a freezing night, priceless.


Monday, January 21, 2008

D.C. eats

It was really nice to kick back and relax at my mom's house for a week after coming back from L.A. Not only did we get to unwind from traveling and milk the last few days of our school break, but we also got to eat really well.

** Before I go any further, I want to take this opportunity to thank my mom, who watched our cats Bijou and Marble for us while we traveled. Without her help, we would never be able to go anywhere, due to Bijou's diabetes, which necessitates 2 insulin shots every day. Thanks, mom! We love you! **

First up, our meet-up! Daiku and I got to meet Mary from Pickled Treats Last Longer and Bofiek from the PPK at Java Green restaurant. Mary and I have been visiting each other's blogs for at least a year, so this was a real treat.

Java Gren's menu was an awesome combination of vegan Korean and American goodness- I don't remember the last time I had Korean food!

From top to bottom, Daiku got the spicy noodle soup, Mary got the Jobche noodles with tofu, Bofiek got the tofu and avocado wrap, and I got the bulgogi and kimchi. My plate came with bulgogi (beef BBQ with a sweet sauce), rice, noodles with veggies, and a huge hunk of kimchi. It was wonderful- spicy and tingly, just as kimchi should be.

Here's the group- Daiku, me, Mary, and Bofiek. You'll notice that everyone looks nice and normal, but my face is mysteriously blurred!

During our meal, DJ Kim, the owner of the restaurant came around and spoke to us. He was so nice and friendly, and interested in learning more about all of us. I can't believe I'd never been to this restaurant before- I will definitely go back next time I'm in the area.

We took some dessert to go- after browsing all the tempting sweets on offer, we chose this slice of sweet potato pie from Sweet-n-Natural.

It was so good- fresh and spicy. My mom loved it, too.

I did some baking at my mom's place. I wanted to make something for my uncle, and since he loves coconut, I decided to go for the coconut custard pie from My Sweet Vegan. Because my mom doesn't bake very much, there weren't that many baking dishes or ingredients in the house, so I decided to take a shortcut and use a prepared chocolate pie crust from Whole Foods. Above you see the pie fresh out of the oven- it filled the house with such an intoxicating aroma!

And here is a close-up of the pie after being topped with some shredded coconut. As tempting as it was to steal a slice before delivering it to my uncle, I didn't- so I didn't get to taste this pie! But my uncle, who got it the day after we left, made sure to tell us that it was excellent and he really liked it- yay!

After baking this pie, I had half a box of silken tofu and part of a can of coconut milk left over. I knew that my mom wouldn't use them up and they might go to wase, so I tried to come up with an idea of what to do with them. Then it hit me:

Brownies! There was a box of brownie mix in my mom's cupboard which was vegan, but called for 2 eggs (in addition to 2/3 cup oil and 1/4 cup water) to make. I used 1/2 box (6 oz.) extra firm silken tofu, 1/3 cup coconut milk, and 1/3 cup oil, and I omitted the water, since coconut milk is waterier than oil. I blended these together in a food processor, and then stirred them into the brownie mix. I sprinkled the batter with some walnuts, baked as directed, about 5-10 minutes longer than called for, and voilà! Veganized brownies from a box!

Daiku and I always try to grab some Ethiopian food when we travel, since there are no Ethiopian restaurants in Syracuse. My mom wanted to go out and hear some jazz. The Sunday night before we were supposed to leave, we found a way to do both of these things!

Twins Jazz is a jazz club and Ethiopian restaurant in one - crazy combination, right? But it was an awesome experience. Above, you see the vegetarian platter that we shared: yellow split peas, collard greens, and cabbage, along with yummy injera bread. Usually, there is a pretty hefty cover charge at Twins, but Sunday night are jam sessions, so we got in for free and got to hear several hours of really cool improv by various musicians. Food, drink, music, and good company, what more could you ask for?

Finally, some random cuteness:

Here are Marble (back) and Bijou (front) chilling at my mom's house. Even though they each had a carrier, they would take turns using just one. When one of them was inside the carrier, the other would just sleep outside. They were really comfortable there.

And here's the newest addition to our extended family- Nike, a Shiba Inu puppy that my cousin just got. He is only 15 weeks old in this photo, and one of the nicest, cuddliest, friendliest puppies I've seen in a long time- it was so fun to play with him!

That's it for the travel stories, folks! I'm thinking of posting a list of all the restaurants I visited over the last month, along with websites and contact info., so that you can all be well-fed whether your travels take you to Southern California or Washington D.C.! Stay tuned.

Restaurant Info:

Java Green
1020 19th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202 775-8899
Fax: 202 315-3485

Twins Jazz
1344 U. St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Tel: ( 202) 234-0072
Fax: (301) 445-4363


Monday, January 14, 2008

a very vegan Christmas (and new year!)

Christmas 2007, Hollywood Boulevard

We were supposed to drive home to Syracuse today, but after seeing reports of snow and icy conditions forcast for much of our drive, we decided to hang around here for just one more day. Snow. Blizzards. Reality is truly setting in- vacation is over! Oh and did I mention that I start teaching on Wednesday??

Christmas Eve 2007, a lone house on a Malibu hill

I don't really know how to put this post together- it's little odds and ends of foods, family, get-togethers, and miscellaneous interesting things that I really want to show from my trip to L.A., but that have been piling up instead. I decided to just try to form them into a narrative - and where that doesn't work, just to let the photos speak for themselves. This post is very photo-heavy, but I promise that won't happen again any time soon! Here we go: little snapshots of how we spend Christmas, New Year's, and all the days in-between...

A trip to southern California just isn't complete for me without a visit to the Getty Museum, where I have spent many hours studying and researching. And a visit to the Getty isn't complete without a stop at the cafeteria, where you can get good veggie food for decent prices.

On the day we went, they had freshly made tortilla chips and this awesome spicy salsa, all for about $2.

Daiku and I also shared this veggie burger platter. The veggie burger came with pesto aioli, but we asked them to put that on the side, since I didn't want dairy with my burger.

While we ate, we were treated to the sight of this picturesque winter sunset.

A trip to L.A. is also incomplete without a visit to my aunt and uncle's house. Here is my uncle giving his cute dog Shylor a pistachio.

That night, we all went to an Indian restaurant and enjoyed tons of veggie dishes- I won't bother showing you all the photos, because they look pretty standard, but here is a shot of rice that I thought looked pretty.

Well, so did these veggie pakoras- and they were really yummy.

I never noticed the abundance of citrus trees seemingly growing in every yard when I lived in California- I guess I needed an outsider's eye to really appreciate it.

And boy, did I appreciate it. Here's one of the glasses of fresh-squeezed citrus juice that I drank for breakfast. In this case, it was a combination of grapefruit, sweet lemons from my dad's tree, and some super tart oranges that I snatched from a tree down the street. I miss these concoctions already.

My brother and me (can you find us?) during a hike through the Topanga Canyon State Park

I haven't really made formal new year's resolutions this year, but one thing I want to do more regularly is update the "vegan Iranian" section of this blog. Not only is Iranian food one of my favorites, but it is so easy to veganize. Case in point, these two dishes that my aunt treated us to during a visit to her place.

In both photos, you see rice pilafs- combinations of rice, veggies, beans, and spices that make up an important part of the cuisine. On the top, you see a pilaf of rice and lentils, topped with raisins and potato tadig. On the bottom, you see a carrot pilaf with raisins and almonds, flavored with cinnamon. Both of these dishes are designed to go with some sort of meat, but they stand alone perfectly- or better.

Here's a funny photo of Melisser (the Urban Housewife) and me making funny faces on our trip to Scoops, the ice cream parlor that serves different vegan flavors every day. In the background you can see Jennyshades from the PPK. She is the one who tipped me off about lots of good vegan restaurants, including...

Greenleaves Vegan- a casual place serving diner food with a Thai twist. Here's something that I had never tried in vegan form before, but was dying to- Thai iced tea! Yay! Nothing can compare to that unique flavor, and this definitely satisfied a craving for me.

While we were there, we also decided to try these pancakes and chicken platter, which was really good. I had heard that this restaurant has the best vegan pancakes in L.A., and it was true- the pancakes were light and fluffy and flavorful, just perfect. This dish would be really good hangover food- but even though we ate here on New Year's Day, we weren't too hungover.

Even though you would have thought we were as we added these onion rings to our order! They were so good, especially with their tangy/spicy dipping sauce. I'm not usually a big fan of onion rings, but I had to admit these were good: crisp, not greasy, and full of not-too-hot not-too-boring flavor.

But what did we do on New Year's Eve, you might ask? I apologize upfront for not having better photos of this meal, because it was truly special. Dinner at Madeleine Bistro in Tarzana. The lighting was romantically dim, horrible for photos. But the food was so great that I'm going to break my self-imposed no crappy photos rule to show you:

the organic beer and beet/orange juice...

...the beet tartar with tofu cheese...

...the lemon-rosemary seitan with asparagus crepe and zucchini...

...the chicken-fried seitan with cranberry gel, stuffing bread pudding and coconut sweet potato puree...

...and bananas flambe split. Though we didn't over-indulge and go for the 7-course holiday tasting menu on offer, we thought this meal was amazing and hit all the right notes. The beet tartar was so good- definitely something to try at home, especially with the parsley oil and balsamic drizzle that accompanied it. The cold marinated beets and warm tofu "cheese" played off each other wonderfully. I have no words to describe the main courses- the seitan was divine. The best seitan I've ever tasted. (Unfortunately, the chef would not divulge any of his secrets! So now I'll just have to daydream and know that ass-kicking seitan is really, really possible) For dessert, we had planned on ordering the chocolate souffle, but I'm glad they had sold out, because it led us to try the bananas flambe split, featuring caramelized bananas, 3 flavors of ice cream, and an unforgettable homemade whipped cream that had an indescribably amazing taste and, more importantly, mouthfeel.

I really hope Madeleine comes out with a cookbook one of these days, so we mere mortals can have a shot at making some of these dishes at home. This place is worth a trip to the valley, guys!

Thank you all, by the way, for your compliments about my new haircut! Both Daiku and I felt that the new year demanded a radical change in hairdos, since both of us had let our hair grow way too long for way too long. We had our hair cut by my awesome aunt at her salon. This also happened to be the day before her birthday, so Daiku, my brother, and I took her some birthday treats from Leaf Cuisine, a series of raw, vegan, health food restaurants in and around L.A.

On the top was a slice of chocolate cake, and on the bottom, a decadent strawberry mousse creation. We all loved these little treats and could not believe that something so health could taste so rich and creamy. Yum!

Here's one of my favorite treats, from of all places, California Pizza Kitchen. I love ordering their 4 mushroom pizza (hold the cheese, of course) and then sprinkling red pepper over it generously. The woodsy, savory flavor of the mushrooms is always a treat for me- it is intense!

a rose in my dad's front yard, with not one but two bees inside

Remember the wall of vegan ice creams at Follow Your Heart market that I showed you in my prvious post? Well, I could not resist going home with two of them (difficult to choose just 2, but our time was severely limited!) Here we have strawberry frozen yogurt from WholeSoy, which was surprisingly sweet and creamy for having few calories and only 1 gram of fat per serving. It also went really well in smoothies and milkshakes.

My favorite, though, was this fudgee fudge flavored ice cream from FreeZees, an Arizona company that I had never heard of. Now I'm sad that I can't access their treats all the time because this ice cream was so good! It was cashew-based, which gave it a very unique texture and taste- like a not-too-sweet fudgesicle. Both Daiku and I liked it a lot. And, surprise! It was carob-flavored, not chocolate. There might be hope for carob-suspicious Bazu yet, if I keep eating carob this yummy!

Just as we were leaving L.A., it started to rain. When bad weather starts, it's our signal to leave a place, it seems! We left Syracuse last month the day before a major blizzard, we left L.A. at the beginning of a rainy and stormy weekend, and now we are leaving Washington D.C. right as the unseasonally warm weather is giving way to freezing temperatures. What will we find in Syracuse tomorrow...?