Monday, December 24, 2012

Homemade Christmas! Peppermint Chocolate-Covered Pretzels

I absolutely love Holidays.

Christmas, especially. I feel SO incredibly fortunate to have such a rock solid family that makes the holidays so special. 

They are the greatest, seriously.

And friends, too! Which is why I decided to make them all delicious Christmas gifts!

I think homemade Christmas gifts from friends are the best, and Colin and I are lucky to have friends who really value things like time and energy and creativity in gifts over the dollar amount (...hopefully it's not only because they are all broke students like we are ;)).

Plus, everyone knows the best kind of homemade Christmas gifts are the ones you can EAT.
As much as I love cookies, I really wanted to do something a little different - and something maybe not SO heavy as a sugar cookie.

I decided on Peppermint Chocolate Covered Pretzels. 

We found these adorable 'holiday shaped' pretzels and world market which I knew would be perfect.
They are shaped like trees and bells and stars! Isn't that so cute? I think they are great. 

Peppermint chocolate covered pretzels are so simple: Really, all you have to do is melt coconut oil and chocolate chips on a double broiler on the stove, add a few drops of peppermint oil dip em' in and then sprinkle crushed candy canes over the top.

Easy right? 

It is time consuming, but totally worth it. And they taste DELICIOUS. The sweetness of the chocolate, with the saltiness of the pretzels and the double kick of peppermint.

YUM. And so Christmas-y. Your friends will love them, promise.

Peppermint Chocolate-Covered Pretzels
  • 1  bag holiday shaped (or regular) pretzels
  • 2 bags vegan chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, divided
  • 8-10 drops of peppermint oil
  • 6 candy canes

Prepare your work station. Lay out wax paper on several cookie sheets.

I like to do the pretzels in two batches, each time using a bag of chocolate chips and 1/8 cup of coconut oil. It's easier to deal with the chocolate that way and then you can make better use of your cookie sheets instead of having 6 cookie sheets clogging up your fridge (I don't even have 6 cookie sheets so I HAD to do them in two batches.)

Using a double broiler, melt the coconut oil and chocolate chips over low-medium heat.

When warm, add in the peppermint oil. Depending on how peppermint-y you like them, you can adjust the amount of oil you use accordingly. Start on the conservative side because that stuff is strong.

While the chocolate is heating, unwrap the candy canes and place them in a gallon sized plastic bag. Using a meat cleaver, crush up the candy canes (you could use a food processor I guess but crushing them with a meat cleaver is SO FUN. And if you're vegan like me, this might be the only action the meat cleaver ever sees...)

Then, once your chocolate is melty, start dipping your pretzels! Dip about 8-10, laying them out on the wax paper and then sprinkle crushed candy canes over the top. I find that doing 8-10 at a time is a good number to keep them moving but not too many that the chocolate starts the harden. Adding the coconut oil makes it a little more forgiving - it won't set up as quickly and melts a lot easier. Definitely use coconut oil if you can!

Then, once your first cookie sheet is full, pop it in the fridge.

Rinse and repeat until all pretzels are covered!

You can present them however you want. I chose to put mine in little mason jars and decorate them as pictured :) I thought they were cute that way but be creative!

 In other Christmas news - some friends and I did the Peacock Lane run put on by Portland Running Company and got to run down the brightest and most Christmas-y street in all of Portland :)

It was a blast.

 So so pretty. And it DEFINITELY got me in the Christmas spirit.

The only thing better than running is Christmas running!

I hope you all have beautiful holiday plans!

More Christmas posts to come!

Live long and prosper! And Happy Holidays!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Massaged Kale Salad w/Lemon Garlic Tahini Dressing

Yet another Vitamix inspired recipe for you today...this time I take on Dressing.

And kale.

Pretty much if you've ever met me you know that I LOVE kale.

I talk about kale an inappropriate amount. Sometimes I am reminded how socially awkward I am when I find myself talking in excess in public about things like kale...and vitamixes. In other words, I found yet another way to mix two of my obsession into one amazing dish.

Even if you don't like kale you would probably like this. When you 'massage' the kale it gets all soft and pliable, losing its rigidity and bitterness to take on more of a salad-green type texture but with lots more flavor and lots more vitamins.

Here, I combine kale, homemade dressing, chopped carrots, avocado and a handful of spicy roasted pumpkin seeds for a powerhouse lunch.

 Massaged Kale Salad
Serves 2 
  • 1 bunch lacinato or 'dinosaur' kale, chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon-garlic-tahini dressing (recipe below)
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 carrots, chopped or grated (I used the Vmix on setting 2 for about 20 seconds to chop mine!)
  • About 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

Lemon Garlic Tahini Dressing
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Juice from 1 large or two small lemons
  • 2 Tbsp tahini
  • 1 Tbsp white or yellow miso paste
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger (doesn't need to be grated if you are throwing it into the Vmix)
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 small handful basil or parsley 

To assemble the dressing: place all ingredients in the Vmix or blender (or food processor) and blend until smooth.

I love the vitamix so much because it has this amazing ability to make everything super creamy and delicious. From smoothies, to soup, to this dressing, I guarantee you won't be able to get the same creamy consistency with a regular blender as you do from a Vmix.

They really are amazing.

Once the dressing is blended, pour it over your chopped kale. Then, using your hands, 'massage' the dressing into the kale for about 3-5 minutes or until you can feel the kale softened under your fingertips. Taste a sample and if it doesn't seem 'massaged' enough - feel free to give it a little more time. You won't over-massage it.

Then, once your kale is nice and relaxed, add in the carrots, avocado and pumpkin seeds and mix until just combined.

Such a perfect, light summery dish. Just in time for the dead of winter and (almost) the longest day of the year.

And the end of the world.


But hey, if the world is going to end tomorrow, I want to be eating kale.

Live long and prosper...and when I say live long, I hope it's longer than just December 21st, 2012 ;)

(Don't worry, NASA says we'll be fine)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wonton Soup

Sometimes I get the strangest cravings. It's like some sensory memory is triggered and after that point, I just can't get whatever the catalyst was out of my brain.

So, when the craving arose for wonton soup (despite it being the first meal in several days that didn't in some way incorporate the Vitamix) I figured I would try to make it myself.

Wonton soup is traditionally made with a clear broth (usually chicken) and dumplings filled with either pork or shrimp and ginger. Obviously, none of those things would work in my vegan version so, naturally, I modified.

This is a very non-traditional wonton soup. So non-traditional I hesitate to even call it wonton soup. But it's the closest thing I can think of and it totally hit the spot for my wonton soup craving so what the heck? Wonton soup it is!

I had some of Pacific's Vegan Pho broth in the cupboard, as well as a Imagine's 'No Chicken' broth. Since I couldn't decide which one to use, I went half and half.

 Wonton Soup
(serves 2)
  • 1 tsp + 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 cup Vegetarian Pho base
  • 1 cup 'No Chicken' broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup 'mixed wild dried mushroom medley' (from Trader Joe's)
  • 8-10 wonton wrappers
  • 1/4 cup TVP, reconstituted with tamari or soysauce and water
  • 2 large handfuls baby bok choy/napa cabbage or kale (I had kale so I used it!)
  • Green onions, diced (for garnish - if you have them. I didn't so I really don't even know why I'm including this. I think it just makes for a nice presentation)

Begin by sauteing the first tsp of ginger, the garlic and the carrots in coconut oil for about 3-4 minutes. Then, add the broth and the water as well as the dried mushrooms.

While the broth is simmering, prepare your 'wontons.'

Mix together your reconstituted TVP and the second tsp of ginger. This is your filling.

 Take a wonton wrapper, lay it face up and place a small spoonful of TVP in the center (about a tsp). Using warm water, moisten the edges of the wrapper and then fold it over like a calzone. There are lots of techniques for shaping and folding wontons but, like I said, this is very nontraditional wonton soup and I was hungry so I just folded them in half and called it a day.

Once your wontons (dumplings, whatever you want to call them) are ready, dump them directly into the broth and continue to simmer over medium heat. Cook the wontons in the broth until they float.

Then add your chopped up greens and let them wilt down for a minute or so (up to two if you're feeling really crazy).

That's it! A makeshift wonton soup! It would never be served in any kind of respectable Asian eating establishment but man did it taste good!

Give it a try - and put your own spin on it if you've got the time :)

The other thing I've been craving lately (in awkwardly large amounts)? Grapes. I just want them all the time. Thankfully Costco is only minutes away and they carry grapes in awkwardly large amounts. Perfect.

 Do you ever get cravings? What do you think causes them?

Live long and prosper, and give into your cravings on occasion ;)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Vitamix: The Beginning of a Lovestory :)

I've been pining over a Vitamix for months now. Years, even. And yesterday, my cooking dreams came true when my dad and step-mom surprised me with an early Christmas present :)

I was stoked, to say the least.

As soon as I took it out of the box, my mind was whirring with dozens of recipes I was aching to try. Recipes that had not previously been possible with my outdated Hamilton Beach blender.

I made 6 distinctly separate recipes in less than 24 hours.

First on the docket: Tortilla Soup :)

The v-mix...doin it's thing. See all the steam?!

This recipe is a Vitamix class and is in all the V-mix sponsored cookbooks, but, me being me, I had to put my own twist on it.

This recipe utilizes soycurls, and the edamame 'soycutash' blend from Trader Joes.

Tortilla Soup
Serves 2 very hungry monkeys
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 bell pepper
  • 2 cups veggie broth
  • Taco seasoning of choice
  • 2 tsp Sriracha or other hot sauce
  • 1 large handful soycurls (reconstituted)
  • 1 cup 'soycutash' or other frozen veggie blend
  • Scant 1/4 cup chopped olives
  • Small handful spicy flaxseed tortilla chips

Place first 7 ingredients in the Vitamix. Select variable 1, turn on and then quickly raise up through Variable 10 and then to High.  Allow the mixture to blend on high for about 6-7 minutes or until near boiling.

Meanwhile, nuke the soy curls and frozen veggies in the microwave for a minute or so. They don't have to be totally cooked (the hot soup will cook them) but they shouldn't be totally frozen either.

Once the soup is done heating, add the remaining ingredients and top with tortilla chips, avocado or tofutti sour cream if you have it!

See why the Vitamix is so amazing? Soup! From scratch! In less than 10 minutes. Colin said it was 'one of the best things he'd had in a long time.' He says that about a lot of the food I make. But still :)

Next on the list: Edamame Hummus.

I was too big of a piglet to take a picture of this one, but the general idea was:

  • 1/2 bag frozen, shelled edamame
  • 1/4 cup Tahini
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Sriracha
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp (or more) water

Blend together a voila! Edamame Hummus. Serve with veggies and delicious crackers.

Next (again, not pictured) was applesauce.

This one is reeeeal easy. Take 3-4 cored apples. Place them in the Vitamix. Add a Tbsp of lemon juice and sweetener of choice, blend until apple sauce. Use a lower setting for chunky and a higher setting for smooth.

Then, this morning I made a green smoothie (tasted just like Jamba Juice!)

And, finally, I took a stab at some almond butter.

Almond butter is one of the trickier things to make in the Vitamix because you have to make sure you don't overhear the engine. I did it in several stages, adding almond mild periodically to help it smooth down. I'm glad the almond butter turned out so creamy, but I might just do it in the food processor next time to avoid the scare of engine overheating in my amazing new toy.

For Almond Butter: Simply add raw almonds and a splash of almond milk and turn the Vitamix from Variable setting 1 through 10 and then to High as quickly as possible. Blend for a couple of minutes, using the tamper to constantly scrape down the sides.

Use that technique for about 3-4 cycles of several minutes on, several minutes to let the engine cool off and you will have almond butter!
Sooo creamy and smooth and good! And much more affordable than buying it at the store.

I used raw almonds but you could use roasted or flavored as well.

After my trail run yesterday I made an almond butter, banana and jam (Trader Joe's reduced sugar raspberry preserves) sandwich and thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Seriously, this stuff is that good.

Major props again to my awesome family for this beautiful surprise.

I don't know that I have ever loved a material possession so much :)

So begins my lovestory...

Live long and prosper, fellow blenders!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Guest Post: Ceviche, Tortilla Soup, Tacos & Mango Salsa

 Colin doesn't always cook. But when he does, he does it for REAL.

A few weeks ago he made me a wonderously large and mexican meal from scratch that was UNREAL. I mean vegan ceviche? Incredible.

I've been bugging him since to blog about it and he finally did :)

Here is his post + accompanying pictures:

The time had come for me to flex my culinary muscles.  Every so often it's time to take the driver's seat and make sh*t happen in the kitchen, and just when I had lulled Taylor into a state of complacency where on some level she had to be doubting my ability to muster so much as a can of chili to nourish myself - I took my opportunity to pounce.

Sometimes I just wake up and get an urge to do something creative.  That's why I'm in the field I am in and that's what keeps things exciting for me.  Sometimes I build, sometimes I come up with ideas, sometimes I draw, and sometimes I cook.  For me cooking is at its best when it is a creative challenge, and when it involves an element of design and presentation - that is when a truly satisfying meal results.

My idea for this challenge was a multi-course vegan meal highlighting a particular food culture.  I came up with three ideas - Asian, Latin, and Northern European.  Latin won out because I was excited to take a stab at a vegan version of one of my favorite dishes - ceviche.

Ceviche is one of those near deal-breaker foods for me.  Deal breaker in the sense that I love it so much it could almost be that insurmountable obstacle preventing me from being vegan.  Almost.  But my experience with Taylor, and the broader Portland food scene, is that if there is a food you love and it doesn't adhere to your dietary restrictions, you re-vision it in a way that does.  And that is why I spent the better part of my day, on this particular Thursday, driving all around town in search of vegan scallops.

Ceviche is a simple dish in theory, that is impressively complex in execution.  At its essence chopped fish pieces, "cooked" in the acidity of lime juice, it is a dish that is so rich with flavor that any number of things could make it go wrong, and the best ceviche is probably the product of generations of tweaking a recipe and passing it down.  Probably every town from Baja to Argentina has their own spin on ceviche and each will claim it's the best.  Here's my vegan ceviche:

Bag of vegan scallops, cubed
Juice of 6-8 fresh limes
Diced bunch of cilantro
1/2 large white or yellow onion, roughly diced
1-2 Heirloom tomatoes, diced
Drizzle of Olive Oil
Splash of fresh squeezed orange juice
Pinch of Salt and Cracked black pepper

After cubing the scallops (larger pieces are nice when working with real scallops, but vegan scallops are a little harder so I recommend smaller pieces than even the ones depicted below) layer the cut pieces in a shallow bowl or Pyrex dish.  Add diced onions and toss.  Cover the tossed mixture with the juice of the limes.  Save a little bit (1/4 cup) for later.  Ensuring that the mixture is almost fully covered by the lime juice, refrigerate it for 3-6 hours.  The 3 hour limit is considered the minimum time for the acid to "cook" raw fish, however in this case it is simply about imparting the lime flavor into the vegan scallops.  Because of the nature of the medium, I think more than 3 hours would be desirable - in my case it was just all I had.  So whip up the concoction in the morning, let it marinade all day at work, and finish the ceviche for dinner.

To finish the ceviche, take the "cooked" scallops out of the fridge, and drain the lime juice.  There is no nasty by product with vegan ceviche so you don't have to be pedantic about it, you just want to get rid of most of the juice so the end product isn't over the top limey.  Add diced tomatoes, diced cilantro, splash of orange juice, drizzle of olive oil, and a splash of fresh lime juice (that you saved) to the mixture.  The orange juice may be the trick here because it imparts the desired citrus element but the natural sweetness of it will help cut the sharpness of the lime.  Toss the mixture thoroughly and salt and pepper to taste.  The result should be light and fresh and crisp and should look like this (below).  Serve with round tortilla chips, or more traditionally, with flat baked tortilla rounds.

Now, when I go to a Mexican restaurant, ceviche is always going to be part of my lineup, but rarely will it be the sole dish.  I wanted ceviche to be the appetizer in this meal, and the real stars to follow.  Next, I'll introduce you to my fresh mango salsa, a necessary part of the dishes to come.

I learned this simple salsa recipe on a sailing trip and it stuck with me ever since.  The relative strength or weakness of the dish is in the ratio of its ingredients.  Too much bell peppers and you have a meek and mild dish.  Too much mango and you have a fruit salad.  Overcook it and the flavors are shot and the consistency sucks.  You get the point - so I'll say that this batch turned out particularly well but you have to fine tune this recipe to your own tastes.

3 Heirloom tomatoes, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, seeded, diced
3 jalapenos, seeded, minced
1 serrano, seeded, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 large mango, diced
Bunch of Cilantro, diced
Juice of 3-4 limes
Pinch of Salt and Pepper

In a medium to large pot, combine the bell peppers, jalapenos, serranos, and onion.  Add 3/4 of the lime juice and heat over medium-low.  Heat until steam and sporadic bubbling occurs.  If you heat it too long the whole thing will get frothy, and then you know you're sunk.  So after 5-10 minutes of heating, remove it from heat.  Add the tomatoes, cilantro, and mango, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour (or until fully chilled).  Remove from fridge, and strain as much liquid as you can without *squeezing* it out of the salsa.  Add the remaining 1/4 of the lime juice as liquid.  Salt and pepper to taste and toss thoroughly.  The consistency is like pico de gallo that has been softened up ever so slightly by the cooking process.  It should look like this and will make an amazing topping for what's to come:

When I was in Phoenix this summer, I was in a wonderland of authentic Mexican cuisine - and it wasn't all carne this, carne that, either.  My hands down favorite dive in East Phoenix was La Condessa, and I may have single handedly kept them in business with the number of veggie street tacos I ate there.  So if you're wondering, yes, the next dish in the lineup is the famous La Condessa Veggie Taco, deconstructed and adapted by yours truly.

Package of small, organic corn tortillas, yellow or white
Bunch of fresh spinach
1-2 Poblano peppers, cut into strips, and seeded
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
1/2 red onion, cut in strips
Fresh seasonal mushrooms, cut accordingly
2 TBSP Maggi Seasoning
Salt and pepper
Juice of 3 limes
1 large avocado
Olive oil

In a large pan or wok (cast iron best), heat olive oil.  Saute onions, mushrooms, poblano, and jalapeno over medium-high heat in a sauce of Maggi, lime, and oil.  When onions begin to look clear and mushrooms are browning, add spinach and rejuvenate the sauce as necessary.  After a couple minutes of cooking the spinach should be wilted and cooked.  Sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper, add a squirt of fresh lime juice, and serve over oven-warmed corn tortillas, street taco style.  Garnish with sliced avocado and top with mango salsa.

Finally, for the capstone to the meal - a comfort food dish that was bound to be a crowd pleaser on what was a particularly cold fall day - the Tortilla Soup, vegan style.  In the act of conceiving this culinary shock and awe campaign, I envisioned the Tortilla Soup as a light and delicate counterpart to the rest of the meal, where all the elements harmoniously hung in the balance... In actuality, when this dish rolled around I think we were both so full it was hard to even finish, not to mention that it was hearty enough to have been the sole course and no one would have complained.  But it was delicious.

1 can of "Cuban Style" Black beans
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
1 quart of vegetable broth
1 small can of fire roasted green chiles
1 or 2 ears of white sweet corn
Chopped chives or green onions
Fresh seasonal mushrooms, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 poblano, seeded and diced
1 heirloom tomato, diced
1 large avocado, cut in strips
Juice of 2 Limes
3 TBSP ground cumin
2 minced garlic cloves
4 or 5 corn tortillas, from tacos, cut into strips
1/2 package of Daiya cheese
Tofutti Sour Cream (optional)
Salt and Pepper

In a large soup pot, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil.  Add corn (stripped from cob with a knife), mushrooms, poblano, jalapeno and saute for another several minutes, stirring.  Preheat your oven to 400.

Add the wet ingredients - canned chiles, canned tomatoes & veggie broth.  Add the cumin and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir and simmer the mixture on low-medium heat for half an hour.  After oven has heated, add strips of tortilla, tossed in olive oil, to a baking sheet and bake until golden brown.  If you want you could dust these in chili powder pre-baking, or lime juice.  

Right before serving, mix in chopped heirloom tomatoes and canned beans, add a dollop of sour cream to each bowl (if desired), top with a sprinkling of Daiya and chopped onions, and sliced avocado for garnish.

*Sigh of Relief.*  If you read this whole post, you know as well as I do what an undertaking it was.  Unless you are unemployed with some serious time on your hands, or addicted to trucker pills, this is probably hard to pull off on a regular basis for dinner.  But, I knew, as I crammed spoonfuls of tortilla soup into my distended stomach, that although it may happen more rarely than a spotted owl mating with a snow leopard, I can still bring some game in the kitchen.