Sunday, May 29, 2011

Napolitanke (Chocolate Wafer Cookies)



This is Vegan's Resident Mom (read: my mom) is really good at veganizing non-vegan things. Really, really good. You may recall that for Christmas this year, she veganized my favourite childhood meal Zgance and Red Sauce.

While I was born in Canada, both my parents immigrated from villages Croatia, where I can only assume there was no such thing as veganism. I grew up somewhere between old country traditions and the standard issue 1980s/1990s Canadian way of life and my elementary school lunchbox typically illustrated this fact via foodstuffs. I took the standard North American favourite PB & J sandwich pretty much everyday, but my dessert treat was often a single serving pack of Napolitanke, which never failed to perk the interests of the non-immigrant classmates peering into my lunchbox with a "What's that?".

It only took snapping a single piece off and sharing it with these buddies of mine before they were hooked. Napolitanke became a hot trading commodity on the old recess playground.

While the factory-made Napolitanke were so good, they were nothing compared to the homemade ones my mom would make for special occasions. They were my favourite of the Croatian treats not only because they tasted good, but because I was never recruited to help in the making of them. This is unlike the other famous Croatian treat, the "Peach Cookie" which I never developed a taste for because making them was this arduous task that involved rolling the cookie in food colouring and guaranteeing that my fingers would be a fluorescent red for the duration of Christmas/Easter break.

I don't remember much about the standard Napolitanke recipe although I do vaguely recall some paranoia surrounding a raw egg component arising once people became more well-versed in the fine art of food poisoning in the mid-1990s.

You don't have to worry about that here because my mom has veganized her much-loved Napolitanke! And although I am biased to vegan foods I have to say that the vegan version far surpasses the omni version - the filling is richer and more decadent while the square itself far less heavy (thanks to the lack of raw eggs, I'm assuming).

Napolitanke (Chocolate Wafer Cookies)

Ingredients:

1 package wafer sheets (at least 5 of the long ones or 7 of the square ones pieces per pkg.)*

200 ml (approximately 7 oz) rice milk
2 cups sugar
4 oz vegan chocolate (chocolate chips work fine)
2 1/2 cups ground walnuts
22 arrowroot cookies, finely ground**
1 1/2 cups vegan margarine

*This is an example of a package of wafer sheets. Because they are an import item they can be tricky to find and I would suggest visiting a European grocer (in Kitchener-Waterloo they are available at Italo Foods). Just be sure to read the ingredients of the particular brand you find to make sure they are vegan. This is the only hassle involved in making these squares and I promise it will be worth it!

** Many brand name/supermarket brands are "accidentally vegan", just read the label!

Directions:

1) In a saucepan, bring milk and sugar to a gentle simmer (just below a boil) and mix until sugar begins to melt.

2) Add the chocolate to the milk mixture and mix until smooth.

3) Add margarine by the tablespoon and mix until melted.

4) Add the cookies and walnuts and mix until well incorporated. Take off the heat and let cool until thickened and at room temperature. If you are in a hurry, place in the refrigerator until cool.

5) Prepare a large baking sheet by placing a piece of foil over the surface (enough to cover the entire giant "wafer sandwich" when finished). Place one wafer sheet on top of the foil and then spread the filling over the wafer. Repeat with additional layers until all the filling is used up. Do not put filling on top of the final wafer sheet.

6) Wrap the giant "wafer sandwich" tightly in the foil. Place a heavy book over top and place in the refrigerator. Allow 8 hours to cool (preferably overnight).

7) After it has sufficiently cooled, slice it into small squares or rectangles. The amount of servings this recipe makes depends on how you want to cut the slices. Cutting them the way you see pictured above can get you upwards of 40 squares, depending on the size of your wafer sheet (which is a frightening number but they freeze wonderfully so nothing will go to waste!)

8) Serve immediately, or keep refrigerated until ready to serve.


Being that this recipe is courtesy of my mom, I unfortunately don't have step-by-step pictures to guide you through the process. The recipe is pretty self explanatory, but if you do run into any trouble while you're making it just tweet me via @ThisIsVeganBlog (my blackberry is perma-attached to my hand so I can provide assistance in real time, should you need it).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cilantro Ginger Tempeh Toss (with Rice Noodles)



Two summers ago I tried to grow a potted garden and months later, as my plants turned brown (and then black) while my neighbours pulled eggplants the size of my head out of their gardens, I realized I was not cut out for the green arts.

I am just too fussy and I need immediate gratification otherwise my attention disorder kicks in. Painstakingly watering a pepper tree everyday, which then, after three months, produces only two bell peppers both of which are infested with tiny but terrifying bugs, is just not for me. I'm glad I did it, though, because before that experience I had spent twenty plus years as a city girl, filling my grocery bin with produce and not taking the time to appreciate just how much patience, devotion and skill the precious folks called farmers possess so that they can supply us spoiled city dwellers with our fix of tomatoes. Though farmers and vegans don't always get along, it is because of them that I am able to sustain and thrive on my vegan diet and I hope they know that I appreciate it.

However, spring is here, and if you venture into the world of growing your own foodstuffs I would like to suggest the herb garden. Which is where I wish I would have started.

Maintaining a herb garden is pretty much the only outdoor activity that a frighteningly pale bookworm like myself can handle. Because it involves only five steps:

1) Go to the hardware store.
2) Find the herb garden section and select a pot that looks healthy (even if you don't know what "healthy" looks like).
3) Lug it to the cashier, huffing and puffing and grabbing your lower back. Even though it weighs all of ten pounds.
4) Take it home and put it in your backyard.
5) Forget about it until you decide you want to impress your friends with parsley garnish on their pasta.

Done.

Oh, and a friendly reminder: you don't really want to forget it out there when winter comes. Like I did.

Actually, that's a bold-faced lie. The first snowfall came and I stared out at it thinking it would be a good idea to at least put it in the garage. At this point I got distracted, most likely because someone came and dangled a set of keys in front of my face or something, so it stayed out there through many a blizzard. Strangely enough, spring came around and the entire thing was dead except for the bright green chives that suddenly started sprouting. Let it be known that henceforth chives are are to be used as the example of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Because (wo)man cannot live on chives alone, it's just about time to go out and buy myself another herb garden. Hopefully I can find one that has cilantro this year, because this recipe was really good and I'd love to have my own supply!

The recipe is found in the 10th anniversary edition of the How it All Vegan cookbook. I can't seem to find a digital copy although I could swear there was one a week ago when I first started researching this recipe. If you are better with Google than I am you just might be able to locate it.

While the vegan protein found in Asian-style dishes is typically tofu, I love that this recipe gets a bit adventurous and uses tempeh instead. While I'm good with a little bit of tofu, I find tempeh to be much easier to digest and it is so easily accessible these days it would be such a shame to not eat more of it.

You start by making this gorgeous green sauce with the cilantro:



And pan frying the tempeh:



And then you move onto the rest of the veggies and the coconut milk:



Whenever making stir fries and stir fry-like entities I usually use soba (buckwheat) noodles because they are always in stock at our supermarket (probably because we are the only people that buy them). This time I decided to live a little and bought some rice stick noodles, which I have bought and ruined in the past by cooking them too little/too much.



99 cents for this whole thing! What a steal! And if you follow the directions on the package rather than assuming you know what you're doing, you most likely won't ruin them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cookies'N'Cream Birthday Cake



We marked my husband's 28th birthday not-so-long ago with our friends and too much alcohol and this birthday cake.

I'm not sure if anyone in the Kitchener-Waterloo area does vegan birthday cakes at a reasonable price but I should probably look into it because the cakes I make always look like crap. Uncomfortably lopsided. Icing looking like it's just been flung on when in reality I painstakingly tried to make it look like it's not a hot mess.

The good news is that regardless of their frightening appearance they usually taste pretty good. This one was particularly yummy, and I have Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World to thank.

First, I doubled the basic chocolate cupcake recipe with two cups of crumbled Oreos tossed into the batter, split it between two round baking pans and baked it at the regular temperature of 350F but doubled the time (approximately 40 minutes).

Then, I made one batch of the Chocolate Buttercream Frosting and spread half of it over top of one layer and then placed the second layer on top. The remaining frosting went on top of the upper layer.

Then, I made a batch of the Vegan Fluffy Buttercream and removed a cup or so, then tossed in about 10 more crushed Oreos to the frosting that remained in my mixer. The plain frosting went into my pastry bag so that I could write the birthday message and the frosting with the cookies went around the sides of the cake (very sloppily, I might add - I do not have proper icing tools).

Note - you can always skip the chocolate buttercream and just go for the cookies'n'cream frosting, if you aren't wanting to write anything on top of the cake. This would make baking the cake considerably less time consuming and your sanity may very well be saved if you are trying to do this all two hours before your guests are expected to arrive, like I was.



Et voila - a very messy but very decadent birthday cake and I got the seal of approval from the many omnis that attended the birthday festivities at our place. It's kind of fitting though - messy cake to go with my messy hair, after too many glasses of wine, midway through the party.

And one more thing - a picture of the awesome Sick on Sin t-shirt I got Paul for his birthday. We first saw the shirt last year at the Toronto Vegetarian Food Fair and when I saw it online I knew it was perfect for him. A little vegan humour for the zombie enthusiast that he is:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gnocchi with Red Beans



Oh my goodness. I have had no time to breathe as of late.

But I hate it when I don't have time to update, because I want as much vegan deliciousness on the web as often as possible. On my blog and every other blog out there. This is Vegan is a simple hobby of mine, but at the same time I like to think of myself as contributing to positive images of veganism, even with my poor photography skills and my borderline incompetence in the kitchen. The bottom line is that day after day we're smacked in the face with charges about veganism's "harmfulness", we're teased by the mainstream for our rigidity with regard to our beliefs, or we're simply forced to listen to tarty celebs running their mouths. I like to focus less on this (although there are some instances where an anti-vegan topic is just insane enough for me to discuss) and more on the best part of veganism - the food!

So while I currently don't have the time to devote hours to my beloved kitchen and subsequently have very little blogging material to work with, my busy-ness gives me a good opportunity to talk about how vegans do fast food.

Because YES, even vegans are sometimes too busy and frazzled to remember to soak their cashews two hours in advance. And YES, vegans do like food on the go and it often has nothing to do with a drive thru (although I'll admit it, I'm not too good for a drive thru on particularly desperate afternoons or particularly drunken midnights).

So here's a quick one, courtesy of Vegetarian Times. If you want to get fancy you can make your own gnocchi (aka "potato dumplings" aka "pasta potatoes") because it's relatively easy to do so, but it's also sold in vacuum-sealed packages in most mainstream supermarkets and takes all of five minutes to boil.



Boil it. Toss it with garlic, beans, roasted red peppers, tomato sauce, artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes. And really, anything else you like (like capers!).

You are done and consuming your protein, calcium and iron in less than ten minutes. Recipe here, but you don't even really need a recipe.

I feel like I'm talking really fast, even though I'm not talking at all. Happy eating, my blog friends, I promise to devote more time to you soon!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thrive Juice Bar, Waterloo



I'm kind of embarrassed about how long it took me to visit this (mostly) vegan restaurant. Especially since I expend a tremendous amount of energy bitching about the lack of vegan dining options around here. After all, we traveled all the way to Montreal and then all the way to Los Angeles, our major objective for both being the consumption of the most amount of vegan food possible in the least amount of time. And yet, somehow, I couldn't find time to visit a veggie restaurant that is less than fifteen minutes from my front door and is constantly given rave reviews by our friends and family (many of whom are not even vegan for goodness sake!).

Fear not vegans (and foodies) of Kitchener-Waterloo, I am here today to talk about Thrive Juice Bar. Better embarrassingly late than never, yes?



I heard about Thrive on Twitter (how modern of me!). Months ago. But the truth is that we really don't do the restaurant thing all that much. While most people dine out at least once a week, we treat a lunch or dinner at a restaurant as a reward of massive proportions. Our dates out turn into these big affairs that we find ourselves excited about for a week beforehand, googling menus and deciding our meals days in advance. Because we let other people make our meals for us so infrequently, we end up sticking to old favourites when we do finally let loose and order that takeout.

We are so weird. I know this.

Last Saturday we had a ton of errands to run and decided it was the perfect opportunity to stop by Thrive.

Located at the Bauer Buildings in uptown Waterloo, Thrive promises to provide you with "Fuel for Life" while encouraging you to "Take Health into Your Own Hands". While I do love me a deep-fried tofu entity smothered in sugary sauces followed by a decadent cupcake, at the heart of my veganism is a desire to take care of animals and the planet, while also taking care of myself.

I love vegan comfort food restaurants because they showcase the diversity of veganism and the absence of the great personal sacrifices everyone seems to think a vegan diet entails. But I also love vegan restaurants rooted in health consciousness, because by respecting our physical bodies enough to eat consciously, we are also participating in respect for the animals and the environments that are at the heart of our cause. However, while these two types of cruelty-free dining experiences are often pitted against one another, I firmly believe there is room for both of them in the greater vegan landscape. You'll never hear me playing favourites.

That being said, what I particularly love about the vegan restos that promote health is that they let the whole foods do the talking. Fruits, vegetables and grains are so flavourful on their own that it can be quite the shame to smother them in sauces all the time. While I am known to get giddy over vegan takes on traditional omnivorous foods, there is something to be said about scrapping our old notions of what delicious food is altogether and embracing veganism for what it can offer on its own: a whole foods diet based on vegetables and grains and the health benefits that follow. Processed foods not required.



We started out by splitting a Coconut Cashew Medjool Date Premium Blend
From the menu: coconut gelato, medjool date, cashew butter, lemongrass, raw agave, rice milk, coconut water. ($6.99 for 18 oz).



The soup of the day was a mushroom.



Paul got the Vegetarian Reuben Sandwich
From the menu: lightly toasted organic marble light rye with virgin coconut oil, brisket seasoned tempeh, house made sauerkraut, Dijon mustard, lactose free Swiss cheese, served with a vegan dill pickle & potato chips. ($7.50).



I got the Artichoke, Sweet Basil & Sun Dried Tomato Pizza with mozzarella Daiya.
From the menu: house-made arugula pesto, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomato, roasted red pepper, dairy free mozzarella daiya cheese & sweet basil finished with extra virgin olive oil & coarse sea salt. ($9.50 plus $0.75 for Daiya).


Everything was fresh and flavourful; filling without being too heavy. The coconut/cashew blend was so amazing that I'm afraid I'll never try any of their other drinks in fear of missing out on it. If you visit Thrive and try one of their Vega-powered concoctions, please let me know how it is and maybe you can sway me!

For the quality of ingredients used, Thrive is reasonably priced. Service was quick and efficient and the funky and unique atmosphere makes it a cool place for your next lunch date. This is Vegan: Seal of Approval granted!

Because we are crazies who google menus before visiting restaurants, I had my heart set on the House Veggie Burger but unfortunately they were sold out by the time we got there on Saturday afternoon. It's alright though, the next time we loosen the purse strings a bit and decide to treat ourselves to another lunch, we know where we can go.

Thrive Juice Bar
The Bauer Buildings
105 – 191 King Street S,
Waterloo, ON
(519) 208-8808

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Seitan Nacho Supreme



I stopped eating meat about a year before I finally went vegan. Although I was pretty intolerant of lactose for most of my life (I spent my childhood partaking in pharmaceutical cocktails before birthday parties), I was terrified at the prospect of living a cheese-less existence. Even for a year or so after I had become aware of the violence committed in the name of producing dairy, I remained under the cheese spell. I had no problem throwing in the towel when it came to every other animal product and byproduct - chocolate bars at Halloween, dairy ice cream sundaes in the summer, cow's milk on my Cheerio's, scrambled egg sandwiches before school. But I was definitely one of those that used and abused the phrase that us vegans have come to loathe a bit: "I wish I could be vegan but I could never give up cheese". Even after I realized the contradictory nature of my strong opposition to not only all kinds of meat, but my particular objection to veal, which is as much a product of the dairy industry as a glass of cow's milk. Even after I felt sick to my stomach after eating most days. I simply refused to stop with the cheese.

I wish I could say that what finally caused me to break up with cheese was a new level of awareness about the plight of dairy farm animals and an instance where my ethics matched up with my actions. Unfortunately, it was far more selfish than that.

Paul and I were celebrating our second wedding anniversary at a cottage in the Grand Bend area of southern Ontario. The cottage didn't have a television and our getaway was smack in the middle of the 2008 Eurocup tournament. Being the soccer fanatics that we are, we found ourselves a pub that was airing the semifinal games and so we pulled up a chair and some beer and ordered a plate of 3-cheese nachos.

Two hours later, I was pretty violently ill. More ill than I ever remember being post-meal. And in between moaning and clutching my stomach I did a little soul searching - why. Why on EARTH was I participating in something that I not only morally objected to on pretty much every ground, but also something that had spent the majority of my 20+ years on the planet absolutely destroying my insides? Before then I knew in theory that cow's milk is meant for baby cows and baby cows alone but here was my concrete proof of its unsuitability to the human digestive system, ruining my summer vacation.

I thought I really loved the taste of cheese but now that I'm nearly three years cheese-free, I've realized that I was more so addicted to it than actually into it. To this day when I think of that plate of nachos, with the grease pooled up in the particularly curly nacho chips, I gag a little bit and thank heavens everyday that it did what it did to me, or I would never have found out just how amazing being free from it is. Four years ago I could have never imagined being someone who is quite literally repulsed by the concept of cheese. I know this probably sounds ridiculous to the lot of you, and quite honestly three years ago it would have sounded pretty ridiculous to me too, because it sounds like I am talking about heroin or binge drinking. But seriously, the second you say the sentence "I could never live without _______" you've lost control. And I used to fill in that blank with a capital C-H-E-E-S-E.

At the time of that sketchy nacho plate, there really weren't many suitable cheese alternatives in the vegan world. Maybe if there were, I would have stopped with the dairy long before I actually did. But back then I figured I was committing myself to a lifetime without anything even similar to cheese and at that moment, in that small town in southern Ontario, I was confident in living my life without ever again having a traditional slice of pizza or a plate of cheesy enchiladas.

And then, two years later, Daiya arrived. Quietly and discretely, without a drop of soy in it, in cheddar and mozzarella and on the shelves of many a specialty store. Now, in 2011, it's even available in chain supermarkets and restaurants and even those who aren't vegan are giving it a try when they realize what dairy is doing to their insides and the insides of their little ones. Daiya is taking over the world, my friends!

And here is the latest edition to their cheeseless cheese army:



When Paul spotted it at the Healthy Haven in Kitchener and brought a pack home, I knew I had to end my three-year Nacho Shutout. Here is how I did it.

Vegan Nacho Supreme

10 oz diced seitan
1/4 cup all-natural barbecue sauce
1 bag of your favourite restaurant-style tortilla chips
2 tbsp chili powder (or to taste)
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
1 diced tomato
1 diced jalapeno pepper (or chipotle pepper, if you're feeling frisky!)
3/4 cup salsa
1 cup cooked black beans
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
2 cups Daiya Pepperjack style shreds
1 avocado, diced (I was out of avos when I made this, but please, do add it!)

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 375F. In a small saucepan, combine diced seitan and barbeque sauce, and allow to sizzle for 4-5 minutes (or until crisped up).



2) On a large pizza stone or pan, spread the tortilla chips as evenly as possible.



3) Sprinkle tortilla chips with chili powder.



4) Top the chips with onion, bell pepper, jalapeno/chipotle pepper and tomato.



5) Spread the salsa overtop the vegetables as evenly as possible.



6) Top the salsa with the black beans, corn and avocado (if you have it).



7) Sprinkle Pepperjack Daiya over absolutely everything.



8) Finally, top with the seitan.



9) Toss pizza pan into the oven for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is sufficiently melted. When finished, pull it out of the oven and let settle for a couple minutes, because it is going to be pretty hot to the touch.



This makes a ton of nachos so it makes a perfect party snack. We, being the gluttons that we are, ate it for lunch one day last week (don't judge!).

So, three years later, my feud with the almighty nacho plate has come to a thrilling conclusion. After that Grand Bend incident I honestly thought we'd never be able to reconcile. Thanks Pepperjack Daiya, for bringing the Nacho back!

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