Tuesday, July 01, 2014

DIY Soy-Cashew Yogurt Update!

Hey! Remember a little while back when I got so excited and posted about finally making my own homemade yogurt? Well! I've been at it ever since and now I am a total pro.

you can call me YoPro

I still use Miyoko's recipe from Artisan Vegan Cheese - but I reduced the cashews to 1/2 cup per recipe (down from 2/3 cup). I really like this because it results in a tangier flavor and the cashew flavor is no longer noticeable. 

my two big yogurt jars

Nowadays, I make a double batch every time. These are my two big jars. I make the yogurt using a bit of the last batch as the starter, pour it into my jars, and just put the jars in the oven (turned off) for a while. I'm not even too specific about the timing. After 7-8 hours, I take a peek, stir 'em up a little... see how they look. If I'm content with how thick the yogurt has become, I'll transfer them to the fridge. If not, I'll leave them another hour or so.

To my delight, each progressive batch has gotten tangier and tangier! Also, I've noticed that it gets thicker as it ages, so at the end of my double batch is the best time of all. I'm gearing up for 4 weeks in Italy, and I'm hoping that if I make a little batch before I go, it will last four weeks in the fridge for me and so I can use it as starter once I get home again. I don't want to lose all the magic of my yogurt power that has been gradually building all this time! 

I have yogurt with breakfast almost every day: sometimes with some fruit, or cereal, or a little dab of jam, or all three! This yogurt is so tangy - which is what I love about yogurt - and then just a little touch of sweetness goes so nicely with it. I like it more than any store bought vegan yogurt I've ever bought - I don't think I'll ever go back! 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bollywood & Dosa Friend Night

Last week, two of my special friends came over for a quality night together. One of my pals just took off for two months in Europe, and I'll be gone for a bit too, so we wanted to revel in some serious QT together (quality time, folks) before being apart. 

Miss K had an idea to have a girls' night and watch a Bollywood movie together, and then Ms S and I decided that as long as we're watching a Bollywood movie, we may as well also be eating dosas and uttapams. What Fun!

thematic centerpiece!

We split up the work of cooking: I made a batch of dosa batter, some coconut cilantro chutney, and an unintentionally huge batch of sambar. My buddies made the dosa filling, some tamarind chutney, and a glorious batch of pistachio-cardamom ice cream

a little peek inside!

I really love dosas, and I really love uttapams... but usually if you go out to eat, the servings are so huge that I am forced to chose one or the other. With the joy of home cooking, we made small dosas and small uttapams so everyone got to try both.

Both dosas and uttapam are made with a fermented batter of rice and dal, and you can make a thin crepe with it (that's the dosa), or you can make a thicker pancake with it (and that's the uttapam)... it's cool because you get two pretty different culinary experiences out of one batter. We went for a pretty traditional potato-masala filling for the dosas (busted our frozen curry leaves out of the freezer!), and for tomato-onion uttapam

the whole spread of glorious yum

If you've ever gone out for South Indian food, you know that it's always served with lots of components: usually at least two chutneys and the sambar on the side. So, it can be a lot of work to do it right if you're doing all the cooking yourself! Sambar is one of my favorite foods, and this was the first time I've made some that I really loved. I used this recipe I found online, and it was just right for the spice and flavor profile that I prefer. The only thing I would change is adding still more tamarind, because I like my sambar with a good sour punch. 

I used another recipe from the same website for the coconut cilantro chutney and was equally delighted with the results! Again, my favorite chutney I've made to date. I gotta check out more recipes from that site, pronto. 

The tamarind chutney that Ms. S brought was a really perfect compliment to the one I made, and I was so glad she brought it. As you can see, I even busted out my special little metal bowls that I bought in India for our condiments! 

This night was The Best
We even got furry snugs.

After stuffing ourselves silly with deliciousness, we retired to the sofa and checked out a few different Bollywood trailers before settling on "Jab We Met." Ms. K had the genius request of a blanket for more snuggly goodness -- so we each got blankets, a hot drink, and cozied up. After a little digestive time had passed, we got the ice cream out of the freezer and busted into it. Wow. I don't know how she did it, but Ms S. made a truly wonderful and balanced Pistachio Cardamom Ice Cream - a strong cardamom flavor that wasn't overpowering, a super creamy texture, a beautiful pale green color... It was lovely, but I didn't photo-document it, so you'll just have to imagine it!

I asked for Bollywood movie suggestions on Facebook and got so many great ideas. I'd already seen quite a few of them, but I'll share the list here in case you're looking for a fun night with your friends!
3 Idiots
Hum Tum
Dhoom 2
Chennai Express
Om Shanti Om
Bride and Prejudice
Monsoon Wedding
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Kambakkht Ishq

Have fun!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

BBQ Veggie Salad & BBQ Tofus

Twenty years ago, I set off for a semester in Florence, Italy. While there, I met my art teachers, who have been an important part of my life ever since. One very special part of studying with them is the community of students we have built over all these years. Back in the day, we were all surly, highly emotive art students. Today, we are all grown-up, a bit more emotionally balanced, and still sharing this special connection of continuing to study and grow and learn together... In fact, in July I'll be heading back to Italy to study with my teachers again.

Our community of students is spread out around the world - mostly Europe and the USA, but also beyond. So, any opportunity that we have to be in the same place at one time is special! 

Recently one of our pals who lives in the midwest was coming out to San Francisco with her husband and their new baby. We all gathered together at a friend's house and had a wonderful afternoon together. I got to meet everyone's little kiddos, and catch up on their lives, and enjoy the conversation and connection together. It was especially sweet, since of the four of us who got together, only two of us will be able to go to Italy this summer.

I brought one of my favorite tofu dishes of all time: Grilled Herb Tofu, from the Real Food Daily Cookbook. I just love this tofu so much. The marinade is savory, without being too dominant in any one direction, and it's also packed with fresh herbs: basil, dill and parsley. The resulting tofus are so good! Of course my awesome friends made lots of other dishes that were also vegan (I wasn't even the only vegan there!), so I ended up with a heaping plate full of goodness. 

I also made the Long Weekend Grilled Salad from Oh She Glows, which I absolutely love! Chock full of veggies and avocados and topped with a cilantro-y dressing... this salad is pretty much pure summer in a bowl for me. I haven't had this book for long, but I've already made this salad a handful of times!

Our lovely friend who hosted us lives a good distance away, and at first I was reluctant to go because I don't really like driving long distances, especially by myself. But, I'm SO glad I went, and the drive home went so quickly because I was still buzzing with all the happy friend love from our afternoon together!

Friday, June 13, 2014

What I Ate For My Birthday Weekend!

My birthday was last Monday, but when you're birthday is on a Monday, you've just gotta seize the moment and make a whole weekend out of it! I turned 41, which isn't really a big, exciting milestone you've been anticipating all your life. So, celebrations were peaceful and low-key... mostly involving lots of friend time and lots of carbohydrates. Ah, a perfect combo. 

The whole affair started off with a Saturday morning Pancake Breakfast with my sweet mom and dad, who I love so much. My dad was a little disappointed, because he wanted waffles - but I invoked Birthday Privilege and made pancakes. Not just plain ol' pancakes either - but the Carrot Cake Pancakes from Isa Does It. I've had my eye on that recipe since I first got the cookbook, and I LOVED THEM. They were chock full of carrots, and of course I added the optional pecans, which was not a mistake. I made a double batch, and between the four of us, there were just a couple left over. Mmmmmmm. I cannot wait to make these again!

To go along with the pancakes, I also got lots of really yummy fruit at the farmers' market that morning: two kinds of cherries, and super fresh strawberries. Plus! I found the new Apple Maple Breakfast Links by Field Roast at the Whole Foods here in town, and so we had those too. They were super good and I will most definitely be buying them again! I wanted some sort of savory / protein to go with the pancakes, and these were a great match. I'm not sure if I could really pick the apple & maple flavors out, but they did taste like yummy little breakfast sausages, so I was very happy.

 Here's my plate (though I did have seconds!) - complete with roasted asparagus! 

I can't really tell you how happy this breakfast made me. Sometimes it feels like my Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of lucky vegans posting pictures of all their amazing weekend brunches they are enjoying, and I get pretty envious. I'm really not very satisfied with the vegan breakfast options here in Santa Cruz, and so I've been slowly building pent-up longing for a good, proper, balanced, fancy breakfast. This special morning with sweeties and savories and veggies and fruities and hot coffee and family and fun was JUST PERFECT.

 Yummers is begging for asparagus. His favorite. 
He can be quite bossy and persistent about it.

On my actual birthday, two awesome friends came over for dinner - it was nice to keep the whole thing quiet and low-key. They brought a really beautiful salad (with strawberry-balsamic dressing!), and I made Grilled Herb Tofu Sandwiches with caramelized onions and sundried-tomato pesto. Apparently I was too busy eating to take pictures of all that vegetable goodness - but I did snap a picture of the dessert I made. After much deliberation, I decided to make the Double Chocolate Strawberry Pie from Vegan Diner for my bday dessert and it was great! I love the simplicity and ease of this recipe, and I love the combo of the rich chocolate + raspberry liquer with the super bright freshness of the berries. 

It's no surprise to me that I mostly celebrated my birthday with special breakfast treats. Most days I try to keep my breakfast simple and nutritious, but I do really love fancy breakfast. I always wake up hungry, and ready to go! So, another treat I made myself for my birthday weekend was a batch of the Baked Apple Oatmeal from Oh She Glows. Except that it's not really apple & pear season - so I used peaches instead. SO GOOD. The recipe calls for lots of nice warming spices like ginger and nutmeg and cinnamon, which all go just as well with peaches as with apples.

I just made a half batch, which gave me about 4 modest breakfasts. I portioned them into little pyrexes, and then I had special breakfast for a few days in a row. What a treat! This picture was taken when the oatmeal was fresh out of the oven, still steaming away. This was my first time making baked oatmeal, and I really loved this recipe. Next I have my eyes set on her Baked Carrot Cake Oatmeal recipe. Mmmm. 

Also, on the weekend I got together with some of my friends from high school (and earlier!) and their cute kiddos. We had a really sweet little lunch picnic in the park overlooking the harbor... with time to catch up, kids playing, and beautiful sunshine. My friend Carey surprised us by bringing really yummy mini-cupcakes from a local bakery, and she even brought me my own little special box of FOUR mini vegan cupcakes in different flavors. Wow! And then they all sung Happy Birthday to me, which I wasn't expecting! I dug right into the Mocha Cupcake... and saved the others for later. They were really good, and I loved the modest mini size. She also brought along shiny noise maker tooters, which the kiddos enjoyed with great festivity and relish!

On my actual birthday, I taught yoga in the morning and then rushed off to my weekly yoga group practice. I joined this group about a year ago, and it has really enhanced my life and my practice. Because I teach on Monday mornings, I am always a little late to join our practice. When I finally got there, they had put flowers and a card and a special chocolate bar down right where my yoga mat would go!! I was so super touched. And then, after a really great practice together, I came out of savasana to find a chocolate cake with 41 chocolate chips on it! We had a very sweet little moment together, and then we went out in the sunshine for some strawberries and cake. It really meant so much to me. I feel lucky to have friends who I have known for so many years and also new friends who I am still getting to know!

All in all, it was a very nice birthday weekend... lots of good food, quality time with the people I love, good yoga time, lots of special surprise treats from my friends, and a generally mellow vibe. 
Onward, ho!

Bonus Fur Pics:
A rare moment of Footie and Yummers near one another, but not engaged in active paw-to-paw combat. They don't love each other, but we love them both. 

I love this picture of our doggie crew. This pretty much sums it all up. Stevie looking up at us. Snoopy keeping Dottie busy so that she won't bother Stevie. Snoopy's tail in motion. A good little moment in time.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Orange-Miso Bowl & Yolos

I've had a bustling spring this year, with lots and lots of teaching yoga... but now things are slowing down a bit, which feels great. One of my top priorities has been to catch up on friend-time; so recently two of our special friends came over for dinner. It felt so fun to sort through recipes and think about what sorts of foods my friends would enjoy, and putter away in the kitchen with little Stevie by my side preparing dinner. Just like old times! 

For an appetizer, I made these Kale Salad Cucumber Cups from Vegan Finger Foods. I gotta say, that book really came in handy! I was trying to find a good appetizer that would harmonize with the dinner I had planned... when I remembered my newest cookbook, VFF - of course it had many good ideas! If I had had more time, I would have also made the Glazed Sugar Snap Peas. These were really fun, and it was my first time making cucumber cups. I must find more excuses for cucumber cups in my life! 

One of our friends who came for dinner, Ms. B, has to eat gluten-free, so I decided to check out my new favorite cookbook, "Oh She Glows," because I knew it had lots of gluten-free recipes. Even though you're not supposed to try out new recipes on company (a rule I always break!), I settled on the Orange-Miso Bowl - which has quinoa, sprouts, roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, and various tasty garnishes - all topped with an orange miso dressing. There were supposed to be edamames on there too, but I forgot about them entirely. No worries, it was highly delicious anyway!

(in fact, I've already made this recipe again, subbing grilled zucchini instead of sweet potato - this is a super versatile recipe, and I love the dressing!)

Whenever I cook, little Stevie Wonder lies on the kitchen floor by my feet. The other pets often come running into the kitchen if they hear me drop something, but Stevie is always there by my side ... so I sometimes sneak her little bites of veggies. But then, if the others hear her chomping, they come running anyway, and I feel guilty and end up giving everyone a nibble. Such a softie!

This was good meal for Stevie - because she got some carrot ends and some sweet potato nubs.

This is not a good picture, but I felt morally obligated to include it because these little Yolos are super delicious. Another OSG recipe, the filling is just dates and peanut butter - and somehow the result is amazingly tasty. In a moment of keen intuition and brilliant insight, I doubled the peanut butter that the recipe called for. That was a good move! Then the little balls are rolled in melted chocolate and frozen. Ms. B needed a low-sugar dessert and this was a really great solution - these guys are tiny, but tasty and satisfying. I'll definitely make them again soon!

Friday, June 06, 2014

A Taco Party of Joy

Last weekend, we gathered at our friends' house for a wonderful potluck taco party. Their house is up in the mountains with a beautiful little meadow filled with fruit trees and surrounded by redwood trees - so the setting was really wonderful. Plus, great friends, delicious food, and great weather. It was super awesome. Eventually, the mosquitos chased us inside for cake... but who would complain about that?

a totally great time.

Our charming hostess Ms. A went all out. First, she made the Life-Affirming Queso Dip from "Oh She Glows," which was pretty much irresistible. Any time I got more than 10 feet away from the picnic table, I would start to feel separation anxiety about being so far from this precious, precious queso. I'm so glad she made it, because I've had my eye on this recipe in the book!

Ms. A also made these beautiful and tasty Raw Ceviche Cups in endive leaves. They had hearts of palms and cilantro, and other yummy stuff. Also, look at the pretty red endive!

Then, there was this giant bowl of beautiful Salsa Verde. Mr. Vegan Eats & Treats has a deep love for salsa verde, so he was totally stoked. Plus, it was sooo good. Alana says the recipe is from a book called "Cooking in the Moment." It was really super.

Mr. J brought along some of his super good bourbon-soaked tofus with Mexi-seasons. They were a perfect combo of sweet and spicy, cut into pleasantly huge chunks, and overall totally great.

Grilling corn and warming tortillas on the grill - as you do.
Ms. N brought the corn and that was a GOOD IDEA. It was my first corn of the season and it was delicious and I was happy and I like corn. The end. 

As for me, I brought along a big veggie mix taco filling - made with summer squash, red onions, and mushrooms; sauteed with garlic, thyme, oregano, red chili flakes, and cumin. Yumz! I also brought a huge pot of homemade refried beans, but there is just no way to take a pretty picture of that.

Plate #1, of many

Ms. A also made some really great Jackfruit Carnitas (from Vegan Eats World), and some beautiful pink pickled onions... but I think I accidentally got over excited and started eating tacos and stopped taking pictures. 

It was fun to have so many fillings to choose from and mix and match! After a few tacos, I abandoned the tortillas all together and just starting nomming on all the different fillings... it turned out to be a really great variety of veggies, proteins, fresh, rich, chewy, crispy... A taco party is a great potluck idea!

 I couldn't decide which picture was cuter, so you get to see them both.

 Of course there was dessert! My birthday is coming up, so the most excellent Ms. N made a really pretty Tres Leches Cake - topped with vegan whipped cream and giant strawberries. YUMS. As you can see, the little guests at the party were quite excited about this whole cake situation. What you can't see, is that us grown-ups were just as jazzed! ha ha. Suffice it to say, there wasn't any cake left over!

A taco party made for a really great dinner party potluck - highly recommended for some summer fun of your own!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Yoga Retreat Noms (and giveaway winner!)

Last weekend was my annual Spring Yoga Retreat, which I lead at a beautiful retreat center here in Santa Cruz. In years past, I have always co-taught the retreat, but this was my first ever time leading the whole weekend by myself! It was a great experience: we had a really perfect group of people, lovely weather, good focus in class, and friendly connections outside of class... and - of course - good eating! 

Dinners at the retreat center are usually a giant salad full of super fresh greens, soup, and fresh bread. This is pretty much my ideal situation in life... so I was very content. One night we had this veggie soup full of veggies, and the second night we had a really lovely dhal. They also make their own salad dressings every day, and this bright green basil dressing was SO super good... I was happy when it made another appearance at lunch on our last day!

 Dessert is also provided at dinner, which is super fun! The first night we had these amazing chocolate-dipped peanut butter bombs. Holy wowsers - they were decadent and delicious! Also, you can't tell, but they were a serious commitment: they were huge! The second night we had a really nice fruit salad with some fruit juice, shredded coconut and crushed walnuts mixed in. The walnuts were really nice in the fruit salad. I am going to borrow that idea!

Lunches at the center are usually the Big Meal - which (again) is just perfect for me. Saturday we had salad bar, enchiladas, and roasted brussels & cauliflower. Yum Town! The retreat center is always all veg, but for the retreats I lead, they happily accommodate my all-vegan request. The food this time around was really great : full of variety and fresh, seasonal veggies, colorful, and flavorful. It feels like such a luxury to have healthy, home-cooked vegan food prepared for me!

Dessert isn't served with lunch, and so many years ago, I began a tradition of bringing homemade cookies for the retreat attendees. There's always at least one gluten-free person in the mix, so this time I chose the Chocolate Chip Cookies from Oh She Glows and they were amazing!! She tells you that they spread a lot - and they really do, so be warned. Instead of grinding my own almonds and gf oats, I just used almond flour and gf oat flour and they came out great. I will definitely make these again! Also, I made a double batch, which made TONS. This way I could share them with the staff and other guests at the retreat center and still had a few left over.

The center is such a beautiful place. It's located in the redwoods forest and there are vast hiking trails and nature all around. At the top of one of the hills is this beautiful meadow, filled with sunshine and Tibetan prayer flags. The center, Land of Medicine Buddha, is operated by a Tibetan Buddhist organization. All around the property are beautiful temples and statues and prayer wheels. I'm not a Buddhist, but I love the colorful and artistic beauty of it all. And the natural beauty is pretty glorious too!

 There are even two cats who live on the property! This one has only been around for a year or two, and she is semi-feral. Her name is Sherbert and she is very pretty. Sometimes, while I was teaching class, I would look out the window and see her resting out here in the sun... hard not to get distracted!

This was our final lunch on Sunday afternoon: giant salad bar, tofu cakes (you can hardly see them in this picture, but they were really delicious and fun to eat), green beans with sliced almonds, pasta & pasta sauce. I skipped the pasta in favor of multiple pieces of fresh bread (BRED 4EVR), and put the pasta sauce right on my green beans. It was a great lunch!

p.s. Last week I hosted a giveaway for a copy of "Vegan Finger Foods," and today I used the Random Number Generator to pick a winner: #26 Choirqueer! Huzzah! Congrats to you, and may the joy of finger foods be upon you! Thanks to everyone who entered!