Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Baked Potato Buffet Bar Party!

"Oh, exalted PoTaTo!"
I am now a proud member of the potato club

lots of baked potatoes, a big bowl of chili, and a big bowl of steamed broccoli florets.

Last weekend, we hosted a family dinner at our house. My family is quite excellent -- but as you might recall from previous posts, we have quite a staggering array of dietary preferences. From salt-free + oil-free vegans on one end (my aunt & her partner) to teenagers who are definitely not enthusiastic about veggies (my brother's children and step children) and even a serious soy allergy. Ha ha, it's pretty funny.

So, somehow in conversation with my mom and my aunt, I realized we could have a baked potato bar party, and it would meet everyone's needs! 

Everyone loves chili on baked potatoes, so I made a batch of chili from "30-Minute Vegan." I hadn't ever made this recipe before, but I absolutely loved it. Possibly my new favorite chili recipe?! I did make a few substitutions (extra can of beans instead of seitan and doubled the quantity of chili powder...) to good effect. 

And my aunt and her partner brought along a huge and beautiful salad, which was a perfect side for hearty potatoes and fixins. 

I made a big spread of various toppings (in addition to the chili and broccoli):
Salsa, Sauteed Leeks, chopped Cilantro, Spicy Heidi Ho Cheeze
Avocado slices, BacoBits, Scallions, and Creamy Heidi Ho Cheeze

Yumz!! My brother's family also brought along a few non-vegan toppings (shunned from my photograph!!!), but they also tried and enjoy the Heidi Ho cheese, which is pretty cool.

potato sirsasana

my plate of goodness

I almost never make baked potatoes, but I gotta say, this was one of the most yummy and satisfying meals I've had in a while. It really Hit The Spot. As you can see, I had a sweet potato under all that good stuff! Everyone else wanted a regular potato, but I went the other way. Happily, there were actually a couple of baked potatoes left over, so I got to try that version for lunches over the next couple of days too. So delicious and filling and full of flavors and textures and colors.

sorry for the well-after-dark picture, but hopefully it's better than nothing

For dessert, I kept it simple - I made a batch of Dreena Burton's Homestyle Chocolate Chip Cookies (my favorite recipe ever) and a few baskets of fresh-from-the-farmers-market strawberries. Suffice it to say, there were not any dessert left overs! 
This dinner was so fun and such a hit with everyone, that I had to go out and buy a special mug for my potato friend.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Vegan Tuck Box Review: fancy vegan snacks from the UK!

When I was 12 years old, I had a life-changing realization. My father was invited to a scientific conference in Europe, and so my parents decided that was a good excuse for a European family vacation. Our first stop was Copenhagen, to visit some good friends of theirs. Their friends had a daughter - Cecilie - just a couple years younger than me, and she and I became fast friends. 

Soon after our arrival, Cecilie took me down to the corner store near their house. I don't remember the details, but I do remember that we went there to buy candy. And this was the moment of my life-changing insight: 12-year-old me became aware of the existence of International Candy. I can't even tell you what a little candy fiend I was as a kiddo. Realizing that other countries had other candies that I had not ever seen or heard of absolutely Blew My Mind. I was amazed and awed at the glory and the potential of so many unknown treats. It's so funny, because it was basically just an understanding about the existence of different cultures, but through the lens of a 12-year-old candy lover. 

whaaaa?!! my horizons are expanding! the world is full of wonder!

Ever since that wonderful moment, I just love to discover candies and treats from other countries. Nowadays, when I have the chance to visit another country, you can bet I'll be spending plenty of time sussing out the grocery store and looking for (vegan) goodies. 

it is so fun to get a box with customs labels and air mail stickers

A little while back, the folks at Vegan Tuck Box sent me an email asking if I would like to try out and review one of their monthly snack boxes. I love snack boxes, so I went to check out their site and realized they were in the UK. I wrote back with regrets, that I was located in California... Well! Imagine my delight when they told me that they were able and willing to ship internationally. Sign me up!

It was a total thrill to get an international care package. Took me back to the good old days of international PPK swaps and sending care packages to friends in college and getting mail from my mom when I was in Italy during college. No doubt about it, international mail is SPECIAL. Worthy of all-caps, even.

a peek inside!

The box was really pretty big, and jam-packed full of goodies. I was super happy to open it up and see just how many different things had been squeezed inside. I was quite a little Speedy Gonzales unpacking this baby - I couldn't wait to inspect each and every international surprise:

First Impression: This snack box totally rules!!

Look what I found inside - I felt like little 12-year old me at the corner store in Copenhagen all over again! So many fun and exciting goodies that I hadn't ever tried or seen or heard of before! The magic and wonder of unknown snacks!

Now here's one of the very best and most important things about this excellent tuck box: FIVE chocolate candies. Chocolate is definitely my A+ #1 snack, and the snack box I usually get rarely has chocolates. So this was a total delight for me. Plus, I must say - not just chocolates but full-size, high-quality and totally delicious chocolates. That Sarelle hazelnut wafer thing was just about the most fun candy treat I've had for a long, long time. For this alone, the Vegan Tuck Box has won my heart.

The savory side of things was a great mix too - savory Thai peanuts, apple chips, BBQ potato chips, raw crackers, and a neat seed mix for sprinkling on yogurt or smoothies. Very good! I like that there was a mix of fruity and salty and healthy and "snacky" items besides the candies. I have pretty much loved everything I've tried so far, but I haven't broken into the crackers or potato chips yet. You can see that my loyalties haven't changed all that much since I was 12 years old.

I also really appreciated that every single item in the box was an actual snack. I know that sounds silly, but some snack boxes include items that aren't actual snacks (lip balm, powdered stuff to add to smoothies, ingredients, etc).. I loved just getting a big box of snacks!

I enjoyed this box so much, and I absolutely loved the experience of getting international treats that were new to me and felt so special. The cost of the box itself is quite reasonable, but - unfortunately - the cost of shipping to the US is really a lot. If you're in the UK the shipping is probably way cheaper, and you should sign up for it! I think I might let myself order a box every once in a while as a special treat for myself - just since I thought it was so fun and exciting. If you also love international treats, or if you have a special friend who does, I think it's a worthy indulgence. They definitely won't let you down on the chocolate front!

*update!* I almost forgot to mention:
If you're interested in trying it out, you can use the code "blog20" at checkout to receive 20% off your first box order. wooo hooo!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Excellent Homemade Yogurt, the cheap & easy way

Maybe you have shed a few tears recently about the final demise of Whole Soy Yogurt. No doubt about it, it's a real shame to see such a wonderful family-owned vegan business go under. I was a big fan of their yogurt for many years. Back when they first had to take a long hiatus from yogurt-making, I finally got desperate, and figured out how to make my own yogurt. I first blogged about it back in February 2014. Since that time, my fridge has never been yogurt-less. I just keep using the last little bit of each batch to make the next, and by now I have some mad yogurt skillz.

you too can be a proud yogurt mama

Hearing all the sad-sackery about no more plain, unsweetened yogurt on the market... I decided it was a time for a detailed DIY post. As you may know, I make my yogurt following the recipe for Cashew Yogurt from "Artisan Vegan Cheese," by Miyoko Schinner. I LOVE this homemade yogurt so much. It's tart and thick and tangy and smooth and delicious. When I eat it for breakfast, I often add a bit of jam or fruit -- but since it's totally unsweetened, I can also use it all sorts of savory recipes with great success.

Plus, the best part is -- It doesn't require a yogurt maker or any fancy equipment (other than a cheap culinary thermometer). You'll need: a pot, a whisk, a blender, a thermometer, and some good sized jars for your yogurt. That's it! I got my thermometer for super cheap at the mainstream grocery store near my house, and it has served me well for years.

Happily, Miyoko has very graciously allowed me to share her yogurt recipe with all of you! 
Here's the recipe, and then I'll do a photo essay on how to do each step. 

Cashew Yogurt
shared with permission, from Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner
makes about 5 cups

4 cups plain or vanilla soy or almond milk (use plain if the aim is for savory recipes)
2/3 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 3 hours, then rinsed and drained
(for my take on this recipe, I've reduced the cashews to 1/2 cup per batch - partly to reduce the calories and also to reduce the sweetness of the cashew nuts in the final product)
3 tablespoons plain, unsweetened nondairy yogurt
(obviously, this is an issue, since such a thing doesn't readily exist on the market anymore. The very first batch I made, I used 3 Tbsp of store-bought plain, but sweetened, soy yogurt. Ever since then, I've just used the tail end of my previous batch of yogurt)

To make:
1. Process the Ingredients
Put 1 cup of the soy milk and the soaked & drained cashews into a blender and process until smooth and creamy.

2. Heat the soy milk
Transfer the blended mixture to a medium saucepan and stir in the remaining 3 cups of soy milk with a whisk. Warm over low heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 110 degrees F or until a few drops placed on your wrist feel slightly warm. Remove from the heat.

3. Culture the yogurt
Add the nondairy yogurt and stir until thoroughly combined. Pour into a clean 1-quart glass jar and cover. Let rest in a warm place for 4-8 hours, until the yogurt has set and the desired degree of tartness has been achieved. Refrigerate the yogurt, it will thicken even more as it cools.

Now, a DIY Photo Essay, in case you are still feeling anxious about making your own yogurt. Hopefully this will convince you how easy it is:

Measure out your cashews
(I always make a double batch, because that way, I don't have to make it as often)

Soak the cashews for at least 3 hours, or up to 24 hours.
Drain and rinse them only when you are about to use them.

This is the soy milk I use for my yogurt
I like this milk because it is fortified with calcium and vitamins, and I like that. I'm pretty sure you could use any soymilk you fancy. I haven't tried it with almond milk. I don't eat loads of soy, and I like to use soy milk for my yogurt so that it will have a higher protein content. Otherwise, I usually drink plain almond milk.

Have your 3 Tbsp of plain (hopefully) unsweetened yogurt in a small bowl, measured out and ready-to-go, for when you'll need it later.
(or 6 Tbsp if you're making a double batch, like I am)

Pour the drained & soaked cashews into the blender with 1-1.5 cups soy milk
It's easier if you don't put in too much milk at this point -- you'll have an easier time getting a creamy result. Blend until the whole thing is smooth and creamy.

Pour your blended mix and all the remaining soy milk into a pot on the stove

 Put in your thermometer so that you can keep an eye on the temperature, and warm the mixture over low heat. Whisk it from time to time, until it reaches 110 degrees F.

Viola! 110 degrees F. 
Don't let it linger over the heat. Remove the pan from the hot burner.

Add in the pre-measured yogurt and whisk well to integrate it. 

My big, beautiful yogurt jars
Now, carefully pour the warm yogurt mixture into large, clean jars. I got these jars at the thrift store and they are great. The pouring process is a bit messy, and I couldn't do it and take a picture of it at the same time. You'll just have to figure it out. I trust you. 

 my low-tech method
Once my jars are filled, I seal them closed and I put them in the room-temp oven to set for 6-8 hours. I just figure that the residual warmth of the yogurt mixture gets trapped in the oven and is sufficient. It seems to work just fine! A few times I have preheated the oven to the lowest temp possible (175 F on my oven), and then left the door open to cool it off a bit before putting the jars in. Either way works great. I also usually turn the oven light on -- partly to remind me that the yogurt is in there, and also for the little bit of warmth it generates.

Now you have to go away and do other things for 6-8 hours. That's the hard part. Don't forget about your yogurt! Although, once I did forget about it until the next morning, and it was totally fine and I ate it anyway and it was good. So, this whole yogurt-making process is actually quite forgiving after all.

 Look at that!
After your 6-8 hour wait, you'll come back to discover beautiful, perfectly set plain, unsweetened soy yogurt in your very own kitchen. It's so awesome!

After this, the jars go into the fridge
The yogurt really does continue to set and become more tangy in the fridge. Sometimes a bit of liquid forms and I just pour it off - because I like thicker yogurt. If you like thinner yogurt, you could just stir the whole biz and re-integrate the liquid. 

In her cookbook, Miyoko says that the yogurt will last 1-2 weeks if kept in a covered container in the fridge. But, I must confess, I keep mine for much longer (4 weeks?), and it's just great. In fact, I love how it gets thicker and thicker as time goes on. 

So there you have it! 

I hope I've inspired you to try making your own yogurt at home. It turns out to be quite easy, with just a few minutes of active effort - and the yield is totally delicious homemade yogurt. Dry your eyes and get cooking! 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Jambu Shoe Review & Giveaway!

Most days you can find me wearing flip flops. Since I teach yoga and practice yoga everyday, I feel like I'm always just about to take my shoes off -- so what's the point of lacing up? Now that I ride my bike so often, you might also find me in my highly unstylish (vegan!) clip-in bike shoes. Not to mention the fact that I am also almost always wearing yoga clothes.

I know most people spend the day looking forward to getting home, taking off their work clothes, and slipping into their yoga pants. Well, for me it's the exact opposite. Ha ha. I always love an opportunity to kick off the flip flops, put on some non-stretchy fabrics and some fancier shoes, and feel like a real grown up!

My first-ever pair of Jambu shoes. I found these at a local shoe store years ago, and I still love them 
I couldn't believe that such cute and comfortable shoes were all vegan.

A few years ago, I started to feel like I was living my whole life in my PJs and I felt like slob. So, I embarked upon a "Wardrobe Improvement Project" (aka WIP) -- an effort to supplement my non-yoga clothes options. In addition to a few skirts and a few nice tops, I was gonna need some cute vegan shoes. Turns out, that's a bit more easily said than done. I looked high and low before I finally hit paydirt! I discovered a super awesome pair of dressy shoes with cute detailing and strappy straps ~ made by a new-to-me brand called Jambu Shoes. They had great-looking shoes, and many (though not all) of their styles were vegan. Since that first discovery, I have owned, worn and loved many pairs of Jambu shoes.

My second pair of Jambu shoes were these excellent and comfy little sporty shoes. 
They were perfect for dog walks and bike rides.

on the bed, chewing happily                                              tragedy strikes

 I am forced to talk about these shoes in the past tense because a couple of years ago Miss Dottie Bonkers chewed the straps off of the left shoe -- and despite multiple efforts, I was unable to repair them. Taking these pictures made me realize that I had actually held on to these shoes all this time just because I liked them so much. Finally, it was time to let go. I took my photo with Dottie (the perpetrator of this heinous crime against vegan shoes) and finally tossed my destroyed shoes. 
*wipes tear from eye*

By far my most favorite pair of Jambus are the pair of lovely little brown Esmerelda boots that I found on Zappos a couple years ago (Zappos even has a vegan search filter!). I fell in love with these comfy, warm, stylish and snazzy shoes. Plus! They even have a super easy Velcro open-close, so they aren't a hassle to take on and off over and over again during the course of the day. That's a nice convenient touch for a yogi like me.

I gotta tell you something about these boots. They put such a Pep In My Step! Every time I put them on, I feel a little more sassy, a little more daring and saucy, a little more take-on-the-world. Even my mom noticed that I walk differently when I wear my Jambu boots! It's like they're magic little confidence-giving mood lifters. 

Since I love them so much, I featured these little brown boots in my vegan Christmas gift guide last season -- and to my total delight, I got an email from Jambu asking if I'd  like to receive a new pair of Jambus and do a review. Heck, yeah!! They have quite a few vegan styles - as you can see here - some are more dressy and some are more sporty. It sure was hard to pick, but I decided that my life would be greatly improved by a sweet little red pair of boots.

so cute!!

I was right! Somedays I want to feel fancy and elegant and sophisticated - and my brown boots are perfect for those days. Other days I need a little more sass in my step, a little more flair on the feet - and these red boots really bring it!

These boots are SO comfortable. They have a slight heel, but they feel really stable to walk in. The soles inside are cooshy and super comfy. The shoes are lined, but I still feel they are more comfortable when worn with socks. They are also pretty warm, so they're better for days or nights when you want cozy feet and not for hot days. But, you should probably be wearing your flip flops on hot days anyway!


Even though I usually wear a size 9 or 9 1/2, my brown pair of Jambu boots are actually an 8 1/2. In fact, all my old pairs of Jambus  seemed to run a size or two higher than standard sizing. So, when I first wrote back to Jambu, I asked for a red pair of Esmerelda boots in size 8.5, figuring they would be the same.  

Jambu seems to have resolved these sizing issues though, because it turned out that the 8.5 were just a bit too small for me. Feeling confident about the sizing, I wore them out to dinner for one night before realizing they really were too small for my feet to keep wearing them. I felt so sheepish about writing back to Jambu to let them know that my sample shoes were too small. The folks at Jambu were super gracious about it and sent me another pair that fit perfectly! My new pair is a size 9 and fits perfectly with a thin pair of socks on my feet.

Jambu Esmerelda Boot Giveaway!

it could be YOU snapping your heels in these fancy red boots! 

Luckily for any of you with size 8.5 feet - After my ordering snafu, I just happen to have a super snazzy pair of size 8.5 red Esmerelda boots from Jambu! After talking with the folks at Jambu, they suggested I put my too-small-for-me shoes to good use and feature a give away on my blog. Like I said, I did wear them that one time, but they are essentially brand new and they want a happy home on your feet. 

To enter - just leave a comment here and tell me about your favorite shoes ever, or your favorite pair of vegan shoes, or whether you are a fancy shoes or a flip flops person, or really just say anything nice. I'll pick a winner on Thursday, April 30th.

Sorry international friends, this giveaway is open to USA readers only.

**Free Two-Day Shipping!**

Happily, even if you aren't a size 8.5, Jambu has offered a code to receive free 2-day shipping 
if you order from their site: "jambuvegan"

Also, in honor of Earth Day, they will be planting a tree for every pair of shoes ordered, 
and giving away tote bags. Pretty cool! 

Stevie & Amey : friends for life
I know it's silly, but one of my favorite things about these boots is how cute they look when I look down at my own feet. This can most definitely not be said of every shoe style in size 9