Monthly Archives: December 2011

Projection: Spicy Cinnamon Ornaments

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Celebrate the sweet smell of Christmas with cinnamon. These cute & fragrant ornaments are super easy to create and a make a fun project for families. (Or just for you.)

This craft is a holiday classic. We aren’t sure where the recipe or idea came from originally. If it was you – respect. On an internet search, we found over 20 variations. Some were more complex than how we make ours. Others, almost identical. Either way, this simple project is a winner.

Spicy Cinnamon Ornaments

2 cups ground cinnamon

1-3/4 cups plain applesauce

ribbon

Preheat Oven to 225.

Mix together cinnamon and applesauce until a thick dough forms. You may need to use your hands towards the end, it gets firm.

Sprinkle a rolling surface with more cinnamon and work the dough into a flat circle. Roll out to about 1/4″ inch and use cookie cutters of choice to create festive shapes. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Poke a hole in the top with a straw or skewer.

Bake for 2 to 3 hours, until dried all the way though. Ours took about 3 hours.

Once cooled, thread with ribbon. You can hang them inside – they smell wonderful and spread cheer throughout the house. Or you can hang them outside. Many kinds of birds love cinnamon and will enjoy sharing holiday fun with you.

We have also seen these decorated more elaborately for indoor use: painted or with beads/glitter pasted on. If you use paints or other decorations, though – don’t put them outside for the birds!

Hanukkah Latkes

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Fried food is always delicious. Especially latkes. There is religious symbolism to latkes as part of a traditional Hanukkah celebration. Just like those fabulous fried Hanukkah jam doughnuts. It is reference to the miracle of oil that lasted for eight days.

This is our vegan version of latkes. Give them a try. Whether you’re lighting a menorah tonight or not, we know you’re gonna like ’em. And Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah Latkes

5 cups shredded white potato

1 cup shredded yellow onion

1 tsp. salt, plus more for seasoning

1 tsp. ground black pepper

1 Tbl. arrowroot powder

1/2 cup oil for frying (we tried canola and coconut, both work well)

Combine shredded potatoes and onions in a large bowl with salt, pepper and arrowroot. Allow to sit for five minutes, and strain off about 1/2 of the excess liquid.

In a heavy-bottom, sturdy pan, heat about 1/4 cup of oil. Oil should be hot when you add potatoes.

Make small patties with potato mixture and fry only two or three at a time, so you can keep careful watch over them. Cook on each side about 2 minutes and flip gently. When it’s ready to turn, the edges of the latke will be golden brown, but not black. As you need more oil, add it to the pan and allow to heat before frying more latkes.

When the latkes are cooked on both sides, place on a paper-towel lined plate and sprinkle with salt, to taste.  Serve with applesauce, chopped fresh parsley or soy sour cream.

This recipe makes about 20 latkes. Eat ’em while they’re hot and crispy!

Note: Shredding potatoes and onion by hand is a big job. It’s doable, but if you have a mandoline with a shredder, that will work as well. Or you can use a food processor with a shredding attachment.

Baked: Ella’s Banana Cranberry Cookies

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This is a very special cookie and we hope you’ll give it a try. A 14 year-old vegan named Ella created this recipe herself. She was at summer camp last year and her fellow campers were making cookies with eggs – so she invented this recipe using what was available to her. And it’s terrific. We’ve made two batches already.

Ella’s recipe was recently featured in the Baltimore Sun on December 6 as part of the 2011 Cookie Contest! Go Ella! It’s awesome to see a vegan cookie in the line-up of major publication – all thanks to you!  Way to represent. 🙂

Ella’s Banana Cranberry Cookies

1/2 ripe banana

1/4 cup organic brown sugar

1/4 cup organic evaporated cane juice sugar (or use regular vegan sugar)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup flour (Note: we used 1/2 all purpose and 1/2 whole wheat – it was good – not too earthy)

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 cup oil (Note: we used canola oil)

1/3 cup dried cranberries (Ella likes Craisins, but dried cranberries from the bulk bin worked great!)

Preheat oven to 375.

In a large bowl, mash the banana with a fork. Add the brown sugar, evaporated cane juice sugar and vanilla to the banana, and mix until the sugar is just wet. In a small bowl, mix the baking soda and flour, then add to the banana mixture.. Mix until the flour is barely wet. Add the oil and dried cranberries, and mix until the oil is combined.

Drop by rounded teaspoons-full onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until cookies begin to brown. Let cool ten minutes.

MMMmmmm – now, you’ll want to eat them by the handful.

Thanks Ella, for letting us share your tasty cookie recipe!

Sweeties: Theo Chocolate

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You can’t be a true eco-chocoholic and not know about Theo Chocolate. These folks are incredible. They are the only bean-to-bar, fair-trade organic chocolate manufacturer in the USA. That’s impressive, as no other chocolatier we know about is that committed to sourcing and production.

Theo is dedicated to the environment, to ethical labor – and deliciousness. Their story is an inspiration – we can only hope more companies will take steps to follow their example.

Some of Theo‘s sustainable practices include sourcing as much as possible locally, having a factory powered by green energy, ensuring that the cocoa growers earn a living wage and using organic, fair trade ingredients for all their sweets.

A friend from Seattle, AK, told us about Theo Chocolate. She followed up by mailing us our first three samples of this tasty treat: a Toasted Coconut Dark Chocolate bar, a Cherry & Chili Dark Chocolate bar and a Fig, Fennel & Almond Dark Chocolate bar. After sampling them all, they are all our new favorite. A super delicious!!

Theo is based in Seattle, Washington. You can visit their factory there and shop onsite – or online. Vegan items are clearly marked and you can read ingredient lists, which is perfect.

Grab a handful of these ethical, enjoyable sweeties for yourself!

Classic Style Mac & (not) Cheese

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It’s vegan folklore… like a magical unicorn or a fairie. The *perfect* vegan mac & cheese recipe. We all wish for it, long for it. Yea, me too.

We’ve tried quite a few, both our own and from books. Here’s one we liked and served to family. It’s based on the traditional mac & cheese method with a roux.

Is it *perfect*? Nope.

Is it good enough to share? Yup.

Classic Style Vegan Mac & (not) Cheese

14 oz. bag of pasta (pick your fave… sprials, elbows, etc.)

6 Tbl. Earth Balance, plus more for casserole

1/3 cup whole wheat flour

4 cups unsweetened almond milk (we like Silk brand)

3 tsp. yellow mustard

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

4 cups Daiya shreds (we used 1/2 cheddar style, 1/2 mozz style)

1/2 cup soy sour cream (we like Tofutti brand)

8 whole wheat Ritz crackers

Preheat oven to 350 and coat a 9×13 casserole with Earth Balance. Set aside.

Boil pasta according to package directions. Cook to al dente and drain in a colander. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottom saucepan, make a roux. Melt 6 Tbl. Earth Balance over low heat. Add flour gradually, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until your roux is thick. Add almond milk in a slow stream, continuing to stir with whisk and bring to a boil. Stir regularly. Add mustard, cayenne and salt/pepper. Simmer over medium/low heat until sauce thickens, about three to five minutes. Do not allow to scorch.

In a large bowl, combine Daiya, soy sour cream and roux sauce. Stir with a wooden spoon until ingredients are mixed. Add cooked pasta and gently fold until well coated. Pour into the prepared casserole dish.

Crush Ritz crackers over the top and garnish as desired (we like red pepper rings). Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes until browned and bubbly. Serve warm. Will feed about 6 people as an entree or up to 8 or 9 as a side dish.

Smoky Brussel Sprouts

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We want to help you embrace the brussel sprout. Try this simple and enjoyable side dish with just about any meal. The smoked paprika is really a key ingredient. If you substitute another variety, it will still be good – but different. Most major grocery stores carry smoked paprika, but if you can’t find it – try Amazon.com – they have plenty of the stuff!

Smoky Brussel Sprouts

1 lb. brussel sprouts, halved (about 4 cups)

2 onions, sliced in half-moons

1 shallot, sliced in half-moons

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tb. olive oil

1/2 tsp. chili pepper flakes

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1 tsp. orange zest

salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Combine all ingredients in a casserole dish and bake, covered, for 60 minutes until all ingredients are tender and cooked-through. Uncover, stir and cook another ten minutes. Serve warm.

Sweeties: tru sweets Organic Candy Canes

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Admit it… you love it. Who doesn’t crave the minty sweetness of a candy cane around the holidays?

There are two ways to go about a candy cane, right? You have the people who crunch it up – it makes that loud crack when you bite into it, the little sugary shards of candy cane fall in a whisper on your hand, and the whole thing is literally gone in about 4 snaps. Or you’re one of those folks that licks a candy cane. You gradually peel down the sticky wrapper, the red stripe slowly disappearing until you are licking a pointy white stick. It’s cool… we understand.

Well, tru sweets has a Christmas miracle for you… organic, all natural, vegan and gluten-free candy canes. On a quick glance at the box, you will adore the ingredient list. It’s only four items: organic evaporated cane juice, organic brown rice syrup, natural peppermint oil and fruit/beet juice for color. Packaged in recycled board.

The organic candy canes are sweet and minty. They’re ideal for crunchers or lickers. We tried them with two small kiddos recently and they certainly passed the toddler test. Everyone was asking for more.

The stripes aren’t quite red. They’re more like a shade of darkish pink. It’s all good. You’re gonna love ’em anyhow and once they’re decorating your Christmas tree or in a candy dish, you won’t even notice the natural color. If you take some to work, be prepared to the share the whole box. Everyone is gonna want one. Or four.

tru sweets Organic Candy Canes are about $4 a box. You can pick them up at Whole Foods, or online at the Natural Candy Store or Amazon.com

Sock it to Me

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Cozy winter clothing is one of the best parts of living in the Northeast. And warm feet are a big part of that. Now you have eco-friendly options for toasty toes – socks and tights made from sustainable bamboo.

These are available all over the place now – you can even find big labels like Calvin Klein and Gold Toe using bamboo for socks. Stores as varied as Kohl’s to Neiman Marcus offer bamboo. We even saw some in a local drug store. So why not go green – on your feet?

We tried out several pairs of bamboo socks and tights. They were crazy comfy and silky. They stayed tight – no drooping at the knees on the tights. The socks held up well to washing, too. Bamboo is naturally antibacterial, breathable and very durable.  No one will look at you and think you’re a greenie-freak, either. It’s not like wearing a tie-dyed dashiki (no offense intended if you wear a tie-dyed dashiki – sounds cool to us), the variety and styles of bamboo socks and tights will fit into any professional or social environment smoothly.It won’t take you long to fall in love with bamboo on your feet. With all the fun patterned tights available and great socks for men and women, everyone will be wearing bamboo soon!

Blue Nile Ethiopian Cuisine

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My little Palm Pre saved us again from another crappy “just-off-the-highway” meal when we were traveling from Nashville TN back to Baltimore MD a few weeks ago. Smart phones are amazing. All I needed to do was visit a website that all vegetarians and vegans should know about: Happy Cow. See, Happy Cow is an online guide to finding vegetarian food anywhere in the USA. You just type in the city/town closest to you and it will give you a list of possible grazing stations. They’re been online since 1999 and if you haven’t seen this site, go visit as soon as you finish reading this post.

Back to my story…. It was a Sunday night and we were about to pass through the college town of Harrisonburg, VA. Happy Cow showed several options – but only one was open. Turned out to be our lucky day. Blue Nile Ethiopian Cuisine was an exotic jewel. It was so good, we would drive there as a destination for dining.

Right out of the gate, the service was excellent. We called from the road to double check the menu. The manager answered and she understood what we were asking for (vegan food!) without any elaborate explaination. In fact, she had options for us and as well versed with vegetarian cuisine. When we arrived, it wasn’t long before close, but we were seated and served comfortably. There was no rush.

Inside Blue Nile was elegant and had a sophisticated touches like original work by local artists. We especially liked one large piece made by the bartender (!!) which was created from repurposed wood.

If we hadn’t been on the road, DH would have definitely had to try the Blue Nile Sunday special: $1 Bloody Marys. But instead we opted for the Ginger Tea and the house Ethiopian Coffee. The tea was made from peeled fresh ginger and toasted ginger zest. To call is refreshing and zippy is an understatement. The Ginger Tea was a peppery, perky cup of goodness. Perfect after 12 hours in the car. And the Ethiopian coffee was not your usual brew, either. It was smooth and had a hint of spiciness. The coffee smelled like a plate of warm cookies.

Next, we moved on to Shorba, which was a vegan peanut and lentil soup served with a slice of vegetarian Himbasha honey-bread. The Shorba was thick, creamy and decadent with a complex flavor that was both sweet and spicy at once. I was honestly pretty full by the time the soup was all, and we shared a good deal of it. But that was just the beginning.

DH ordred a lentil salad called Azifah Fitfit. It was a mix of whole lentils, green peppers and chopped onions, tossed with vinegar and house-made Ethiopian mustard, served chilled on a huge piece of Injera. The presentation on Injera bread was a show-stealer. Injera is made from barley, teff and whole wheat, and it looks like a giant pancake. The texture isn’t cakey though, it’s more chewy and soft. And tasty! The Azifah Fitfit was tangy and bright with distinct flavors from the veggies, lentils and mustard.

We both ordred an entree at Blue Nile, too ~ DH got Shiro Wat, which is Ethiopian comfort food consisting of ground peas and beans stewed with onions, garlic and Berebere – a pepper that serves as a spicy base. I tried the Tofu Keye Wat, which was tofu stewed with onions, garlic, ginger and Berebere. And while we were ready for more Injera with the main course – we were delighted to see seven sides! We got to sample two kinds of cabbage, a fresh salad with mustard dressing, more kinds of stewed lentils, potatoes, peas – and the BEST collard greens either of us ever tasted. Seriously. When we talk about Blue Nile now, two weeks later, we still mention the collard greens.

The range and layers of flavors on our plate can only be described as an experience – it wasn’t just a meal. It was balanced, elegant and exoic, but also earthy, filing, comfortable.  Really, you’ll just have to go try it for yourself.

Blue Nile has indoor and outdoor seating areas, as well as a nightclub on the lower level. While it’s not strictly vegetarian/vegan, Blue Nile is crazy veg-friendly. They offer nine vegan entrees, as well as the soup and a variety of salads, and six veg sandwiches on the lunch menu. Prices start at only $9.00 for an entree and soup/salads are available for $4.00 to $6.00. A steal.

They’re located at 181 N. Main St, Harrisonburg, VA. (540) 432 NILE. Whether you live near there, or you’re just passing through, Blue Nile is more than worth a stop. And try Happy Cow – it led us to this wonderful place. Who knows where you may end up for dinner, where ever you are…

Heavy Duty: Lodge Cast Iron

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When we travel, we learn the darndest stuff. On our drive home to Maryland from Tennessee last month, we learned that there is only one company in the USA making cast iron – which is a fabulous cookware, by the way. It’s even-cooking, durable and retains heat like a champ.

Lodge Cast Iron is based in Pittsburg, Tennessee and their entire line of products is manufactured in the States. We stopped by their factory store in Pigeon Forge, TN to browse, shop and chat with the staff. Everyone there adored Lodge cast iron. It was cool to be a store where the employees were truly enthusiastic about what they were selling – when they were talking to complete strangers.

Lodge makes Dutch ovens, skillets, cornbread molds, woks, griddles, grill pans and a full line of accessories. They even have fun novelty items – like a cast iron skillet butter warmer and another shaped like a guitar.

We already owned a Lodge dutch oven and griddle. We now have two more skillets, a butter warmer, a bread mold for cornbread and a smaller griddle.

Besides it’s superior cooking ability, there’s something else to love about Lodge cast iron: it will outlive you. Seriously. This cookware will last for generations. The DH has one piece from his great-aunt that’s in perfect working order and is over 50 years-old. He makes a mean vegan grilled cheese on that cast iron.

It’s wonderful to have a cooking tool that will last – so many gadgets and gizmos break or need replacement regularly. Stuff like that is landfill fodder. Cast iron is not – it’s heavy duty, hardcore cookware. Your kids will use your cast iron.

It’s easy to use and maintain, too. Before DH & I were together, I was intimidated by cast iron. I had heard it was a lot of work to season and clean- so I avoided it. That’s simply not true. It’s easy as pie to use and maintain. Lodge sells pre-seasoned cast iron now, too. And if you have your own cast iron, you can check out Lodge’s page on cast iron care.

Oh – and yes – cast iron will feel heavy to you at first it you’re accustomed to cooking on Teflon or aluminum cookware. Suck it up. Think of how buff your arms will be just from sauting some broccoli for dinner. It’s actually a bonus.

We loved that Lodge has an eco policy. They are making efforts to keep their business and community cleaner and greener. A big deal to eco-hippies like us. And they even have vegan recipes online. Try this Southern standard in your cast iron: Sourdough Biscuits. Or the Rosemary Red Potatoes.

You don’t have to travel to Tennessee to buy Lodge cast iron. You can get it all over the place at places like Amazon.com, CHEFS Catalog, Williams-Sonoma, Target, REI and Crate & Barrel. Or order from Lodge’s website. A great – and reasonably priced – gift for any cook or foodie on your holiday list. Heck, it’s a great gift for yourself.