Vegan Peace Corps Cookies

Okay, so I was TOTALLY going to post about  the fabulous, amazing, best-thing-I’ve-ever-made dinner that I made last night. Seriously, it was so stinkin’ good. We deemed it ‘restaurant quality’, and determined that it was among the best meals we’ve eaten in recent memory.

However.

The post would have been rendered utterly un-enticing with the enhancement of photos, and someone (ahem) can’t find her camera.

I used it last night to photograph the afore-mentioned delish dinner, and I then used it to photograph the youngest child being silly. I think I left it in the girls’ room, but they’re asleep and a quick glance in the room did not reveal the camera. I am certainly not about to rouse two sleeping toddlers, so I didn’t actually venture into their room to search more thoroughly.

I know the camera will turn up. I’m just disappointed that I don’t get to post about THE dinner until later. Oh well. Every day, at my job (and in general, come to think of it), I am reminded that there are many, many people out there with problems far greater than a missing camera with pictures of a yummy vegan meal, and I consider myself very, very fortunate for my lot in life.

So, I will post the recipe for the peanut-butter chocolate bars that the girls and I made yesterday to share with various neighbors, because I had already downloaded one picture of the bars.

I really like these because they are SO quick, and they’re made with ingredients I usually have around the house (when I make them with oats, at least), and they are really quite delicious. They are a great combination of sweet and salty, with a touch of vanilla, and they have a wonderful, slightly-crunchy texture, tempered by the smooth chocolate, which also balances out the sweetness nicely. I’m not a huge chocolate fan, so I use less, but use as much as you like.

This is loosely based on a recipe I found in a Peace Corps cookbook that a dear friend gave me ages and ages ago. It is not a vegan cookbook, and not even vegetarian, and it is not mass-produced: it is a spiral-bound collection of a rather odd assortment of recipes. Some are native recipes to the countries in which volunteers served; some are standard American recipes, and some are in-a-pinch recipes. Anyways….this is one that was  a real find. I’ve made it many ways, but this is the ‘standard’ way I make it for guests. This is a quick and truly delicious recipe. Everyone who’s tried it loves it; I’ve even had some incredibly hard-core Southern meat-eating, hunting men say that this recipe has showed them that vegan good can actually be good. True, that’s not really a great compliment, but for the rural south, that’s pretty good!

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (Nabisco grahams in the red box are vegan, and health-food stores often have vegan grahams) (you can also use a combination of ground oats and whole oats, which is how I often make these for myself) (this is about 1 whole sleeve of graham crackers; put them in a bag and roll it with a rolling pin to crush the crackers)

4-6 tablespoons Earth Balance or other vegan margarine, melted (start with 4 and add more if necessary)

1/3 cup peanut butter

salt, if needed or if using unsalted peanut butter

a small splash of vanilla

about 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 – 1 cup vegan chocolate chips, melted (the original recipe calls for a cup, which is waaaaay too much for me, but I’m not crazy about lots of chocolate)

directions:

Mix the crushed graham crackers, confectioners’ sugar, and salt if using. Add in the margarine, peanut butter and vanilla and stir to combine. You want a pretty stiff dough; you may need to use your hands to combine everything thoroughly. If the dough is liquidy at all, add more graham cracker crumbs, or some oats. I have found that the amount of margarine needed greatly depends on the humidity. If you are in a really dry climate, you may need 6 tablespoons instead of 4.  You do not want any of the dough to stick on your hands; a few crumbs sticking is okay, but no actual clumps of dough.

Press into a 9 x 9 pan. Cover with melted chocolate. Let set before scoring and eating; if you’re in a hurry (cough, cough), put them in the freezer or refrigerator to hasten the setting process.

Odds and Ends, Plus Vanilla-Coconut Cream Coffee

Wow, it’s been a while since my last post! I would like to say that I have a good excuse, but of course I don’t. Work, teaching, kids, running, cooking…..amazing how much time that stuff takes up!

We’ve had a fabulous Memorial Day so far. I usually don’t work on Mondays, so this should feel like any other Monday, but somehow it really seems like a holiday! We don’t have any big plans. I had a nice 6+ mile run; I was proud of myself for running in 70+ degree weather. I usually wilt in the heat and don’t run after the sun comes up, but I purposely slept in this morning and still ran. Go me! 🙂  After running, the girls and I (well, mostly I) made some no-bake peanut-butter chocolate bars and brought some to two sets of our wonderful neighbors, then hit the playground for some slide-and-swing action.

these are one of my favorite recipes ever – quick and delicious, sweet and salty, crunchy and smooth, all at once

We are lucky to have 3 playgrounds in walking distance – I don’t know how I’d survive my at-home days without them! Completely unintentionally, the high-school age kids of our neighbors accompanied us to the playground. it was nice to have some adult company, and the girls love their “grown-up” friends. They are a simply lovely and gracious family. We’ve really enjoyed getting to know them. It turns out that we have quite a few things in common: reading, music, dogs, art. I found out today that the dad has a blog about gardening, which is fitting because their garden is truly beautiful and amazing. We admire it every time we walk by their house, which is usually at least once a day. They have offered to help us set up a container garden, which I’m excited about. Neither my husband nor I have a green thumb, but I’d really like to spruce up our yard a bit. I am so excited to have guidance and help with the garden.

This past weekend we hosted a small birthday dinner for my mother-in-law. I made the vegan paella from The Voluptuous Vegan. It was fabulous. Of course, never having had ‘regular’ paella, I have nothing with which to compare it, but nevertheless, this is a delicious and impressive dish. Instead of mixing the rice, veggies, rosated cauliflower/chick peas and roasted tempeh all together, as per the recipe, I layered everything on top of the roasted tomato sauce, which made for a beautiful presentation. We ate it so fast that I did not get any pictures.

I thought this cake looked really pretty, and it was sooo good, too. I usually don’t like nuts in my food, but the sliced almonds added just the right amount of crunch and contrasted nicely with the smooth, sweet almond frosting.

I made a vanilla cake with strawberries and almond frosting for dessert. It was scrumptious. I haven’t had luck previously with making the standard vegan baking-soda-and-vinegar chocolate cake as a vanilla version, but I tried again and it worked this time. Normally it’s too moist/spongy/sweet/baking-soda-y, but this time I got the proportions right and it was moist without being gummy or spongy, and sweet without being cloying.

Lastly, this afternoon I treated myself to a cup of coffee at home, with a touch of vanilla extract, over ice, and topped with some leftover whipped coconut cream. (My husband had made the whipped coconut cream to go on the cake, and we had a tad leftover). It felt like a decadent coffee-shop style treat; I enjoyed it while reading on the couch while the girls napped. I just brewed one cup of coffee, added a drop of vanilla and a touch of sweetener and soy milk, ice, and then topped it with the whipped coconut cream. Delish.

We have a really old-school, environmentally-friendly coffee maker. It makes exactly one cup at a time, which is great for portion control but not great for serving guests or combatting excessive sleepiness due to toddlers and nervous greyhounds. Oh well.

our super-dooper fancy-schmancy coffee maker

I’ve got some homemade seitan and tofu marinating in a mustard-y and olive oil marinade, and will bake it in a bit for dinner tonight. I’m not sure what else we’ll have; maybe some sauted zucchini? Definitely no-bake peanut-butter chocolate bars for dessert, of course 😉

I will post the recipes for the peanut-butter chocolate bars, and the cake, soon.  I also need to be better about posting (in general) and recording runs (in specific); I’ve got to start the official marathon training soon!

Vegan Chocolate-Mint Cups and a Woo-Hoo for Extended Nursing

Okay, so there are about a million recipes for vegan peppermint-patty-type desserts, and they’re all basically variations on the same general theme. So, there is nothing earth-shattering here, but these ones are A. easy – SUPER EASY B. quick C. made with common pantry ingredients and D. delicious.

First, running round-up: I ended up hitting the snooze button a few too many times yesterday and thus slept through Wednesday’s run. Oh well. 3 miles Tuesday, 5 today. My bookclub is taking a weekend trip to one of the SC islands, so I’ll get a good beach run in there. I never, NEVER understood the appeal of beach running until I moved to SC. Up north, at least in my native Massachusetts, the beaches tend to be rocky and debris-filled, which is not exactly ideal for beachy runs. However, here in SC the beaches are nice and smooth, so I finally understand the appeal of running on them.

makes 10-12 large (muffin-size) cups

4 tablespoons vegan margarine

1 tablespoon coconut oil (you could probably use more margarine)

2 tablespoons vanilla-flavored light corn syrup, or brown rice syrup

about 1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla, if you’re not using vanilla corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract (this is strong stuff, so use with caution! a little goes a looooong way)

approximately 3 cups of confectioners’ sugar

10-12 squares Trader Joe’s Pound Plus dark chocolate, melted (or use chocolate chips)

Line 10-12 muffin molds with muffin liners.

Cream together margarine, coconut oil, extracts, and salt. Add in brown rice syrup or corn syrup; cream together. Work in confectioners’ sugar. Melt chocolate; put a little in the bottom of each lined muffin mold, and move it gently up the side a little using a knife or spoon. Divide the filling into 12 balls; flatten gently, place on top of the chocolate, and pour more melted chocolate on to cover. Cool in the refrigerator.

I’ve been trying to come up with a good post about the whole Times breastfeeding cover controversy. I think I’ve been doubly invested in this particular debate, as both a nursing mom and a vegan. It just strikes me as very, very odd that people object to women feeding children from their own breasts, yet think it is a-okay to feed from the breasts of animals that are a completely different species from us, unable to consent to said feeding, and are animals the consumer will never, ever meet. To me, it is completely natural to nurse my child (or someone else’s who needs breastmilk); it seems completely unnatural to think of nursing from another animal, such as a cow. So, from a purely natural/evolutionary sort of perspective, I just don’t see why people get SO UPSET over breastfeeding moms.

Of course, a lot of it has to do with our society’s somewhat warped views on sexuality. I was in an airport once, nursing of my kids, and noticed a guy giving me some unpleasant looks (he never said anything to me). The magazines being sold at the airport’s Hudson News showed far more boob than I would ever show while nursing, yet people will criticize someone for nursing. It seems weird to me that we’re okay with all of the sex and breasts we see in the media, and even promote such images to our teenage kids, yet a breast being used for its intended use is somehow “gross” and “unnatural”. I heard a local radio station say, in response to the Times article, that past a certain age (before a year), the mom should just “pump and put it in a cup”. The announcers were acknowledging that breastmilk is best for babies and even toddlers, but thought it was (their word!) more ‘natural’ to pump rather than breastfeed! I nursed my first until almost a year and a half and am still nursing my second, and I really don’t see how nursing causes any sort of psychological damage. I think weaning abruptly and suddenly getting rid of the closeness of nursing would cause more damage than the nursing ever could.

Anyways….as a nursing, vegan mommy, I am proud of the woman in the Times story. In the rest of the world, kids routinely nurse to 3-5 years old.  The NYTimes published an article this week about how the US is the bottom of the developed nations for breastfeeding. Maybe stories like the ones in Times will help change this statistic.

Peanut Butter Coconut Chocolate Chip Vegan Bars

These are FANTASTIC. They are soft and chewy without being fluffy;  dense without being gummy; they have perfect combination of flavors and textures. YUM. They remind me of a vegan version of some of the treats Averie bakes up over at www.loveveggiesandyoga.com.

Running stats, before I forget: 6.5 miles yesterday, 11.5 today; all while listening to Dvorak, Brahms and Elgar. Not bad! I’ve signed up for a marathon in late October. I dread training during the hot southern summer, but it’ll just make me tougher, right? Right?

Second, I have to give my husband props for a wonderful mother’s day. He made a fabulous lunch: homemade seitan with a shallot-caper sauce, coconut-oil brussels sprouts, Indian spiced green beans, baked sweet potato, and then a plum crisp with homemade vegan soy ice cream. Holy yum. I had a very relaxing day. I started with the afore-mentioned 11.5 mile run; I honestly cannot think of a better start to a day than a good long run.

On to the recipe……makes 16 or so bars (one 8 x 8 panful)

Preheat oven to 350.

1/3 cup peanut butter, creamy (unless you like crunchy)

1/3 cup coconut oil, softened but not melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more if you are using unsalted peanut butter

1 cup brown sugar (this could probably be reduced)

3 tablespoons almond milk

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup vegan chocolate or other flavor chips (I used chocolate and white chocolate)

Cream together peanut butter and coconut oil. Add in salt, vanilla, sugar, and almond milk; mix until well combined. Add in other ingredients and stir until incorporated. Press into an 8 x 8 pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. If you don’t want them slightly gooey, leave them in longer, but they really are better all soft and gooey. Trust me on this one.

 

Oh my GOODNESS Vegan Cookie Bars

So. Freakin’. Good.

These were absolute perfection in vegan cookie bar form. Perfection, I tell you. I made them on Saturday; we had a babysitter coming that evening (we had to play for a wedding) and I didn’t want to leave her without some sort of tasty treat. That, and I was really feeling the need for some soft, gooey, dense, sweet, multi-flavor cookie bars.  I had in mind something like vegan Samoas cookies (the Girl Scout cookie; they were called Samoas back in my day, but they are probably called something else now) combined with one of my oldest and most beloved of vegan cookie recipes. My college roommate and I used to make these fabulous peanut butter chippy cookies – basically, they were peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips and butterscotch chips (we could get vegan butterscotch chips at Wegman’s) thrown in. They were delicious, but they were very crumbly and not quite the right texture. These bars are similar in terms of all of the flavors going on, but the texture is simply divine – soft, sllllightly chewy, and dense.

The babysitter ‘attacked’ them (her word), as did we. They were SO. GOOD. Recipe coming tomorrow. I am too tired and lazy to go find it and post it. Pitiful, I know. Pitiful.

I had a hard time coming up with a cute and appropriate name for these little puppies. I kept thinking of them as “nothin'” bars, as in “there’s nothin’ wrong with these bars!”. I’m not sold on it, though. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these delicacies, but I’m also not sure there’s any name out there that does these bars justice.

Peanut butter. Chocolate chips. Vegan white chocolate chips. Coconut. OH MY.

In other news, I used a crock pot for the first time yesterday! My husband’s had one for years and he uses it every now and then, but I never have used it; the thought of leaving something plugged in all day scares me. Yesterday I was at home with the girls so I made a crock pot Thai curry. I just threw in raw, chopped sweet potato, carrot, zucchini, and onion, and added some Massaman curry paste, coconut milk, oil, soy sauce, tamarind paste, and a touch of brown sugar. I added as much water as I would have used cooking this on the stove; that was a mistake. The curry was delicious but watery (none of the water boiled off, of course. Whoops!). I will definitely use the crock pot again. I think it generates less heat than using the stove does, and I am always looking for ways of reducing heat in the summer.

Sunday Evening Sandwiches – with Tempeh!

yesterday’s run: 6.5 miles, sans water and sans Ipod. I set out for an easy three miles but just felt like running more. Today’s run: slightly over a mile to the gym, a gym workout, and a run back. It has been probably a year since I’ve gone to the gym. It’s close to my mother-in-law’s house, but a 15 minute drive from ours, so I just never make it there. I really should make more of an effort.

Last week when I was at Trader Joe’s I saw a big jar of vegan mayonnaise for a fabulous price. I decided to try it, and was pretty excited about my purchase…until I realized that I have no idea what to do with mayonnaise. It’s been almost 2 decades since I’ve had mayonnaise, and even in my pre-vegan days I just didn’t eat it much. So, I kept wondering, what do people do with mayonnaise? It occurred to me that probably, just probably, folks use it on sandwiches. So tonight’s dinner was designed as an attempt to try to use some mayonnaise. It turned out beautifully. I still have a ton of mayo to use, though, so I’d welcome some suggestions!

I pressed some tofu and then pan-fried it in my cast iron skillet with some oil. After it had cooked for a few minutes, I added a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, and hot sauce. I did the same with some tempeh. I also dry-grilled some zucchini on the stove-top grill, and I made some of my soon-t0-be-famous spinach pesto, this time with raw sunflower seeds for the nuts. Yum. I had made bread earlier this week, so we used that for our sandwiches: a tiny bit of mayo, some spinach pesto, zucchini, and tofu or tempeh. These were a big hit. My 1 1/2 year old loved the tempeh and ate some plain. The pictures of the finished sandwich are pretty underwhelming, but this really was a nice, and quick, combination. Nothing was so strongly flavored enough to be dominant, so you really got to taste each component. My husband made a few zucchini-tofu rolls, and those were tasty too.

cast iron skillet-fried tofu

 

Cast iron skillet-fried tempeh – YUM!

Spinach pesto – my favorite, and probably best, recipe creation EVER

A fully compiled sandwich. See? I told you it was underwhelming in looks – but it is totally worth making and eating!

I had a few baking adventures yesterday, one of which turned out superbly (picture below, and recipe coming soon!) and one of which came out tasty but otherwise not successful. My husband nicknamed them ‘natural disaster brownies’ because they look like they were hit by a tornado. 🙂

So. Freakin’. Good.

Questions:

1. What do you do, if anything, with mayonnaise, vegan or otherwise?

2. Have you ever bought something that you didn’t know exactly what to do with (food-wise)?

3. Have you ever had an unsalvagable baking or cooking disaster?

Straight-up Vegan Pumpkin Bread, A Win, and Sappy College Memories

This is one of my favorite recipes ever. Ever ever ever. First, though, before I get to it: running report. 3 miles each on Tuesday and Wednesday, 4 miles today. I have signed up to run the Greenville marathon, which is in late October. I’m planning to loosely follow one of the Hal Higdon running guides; I’ve used his programs before and have found them pretty good. Really, all I do is follow his long-run schedule…..I really do follow it loosely. 😉 I run marathons to finish them and try to beat my prior best time, not to place or even come remotely close to placing. I just enjoy having a challenge and something to work towards. I am not looking forward to training in the middle of the brutal SC summer, but that’ll just make me tougher, right? Right?? Moving on…..

I won something!!! I won a pack of the Purefit bars from the fabulous Averi’s blog, over at www.loveveggiesandyoga.com Her blog is not all vegan, but she often provides vegan options, and she has a lot of vegan recipes (particularly in her older posts). Plus, she is a super creative and decadent baker, and I enjoy looking at her creations and drooling over them, even if I don’t intend to make them. I have made some of her recipes, for example, her chocolate-mint bars, which are fab.u.lous. Averie also has fantastic baking tips (notably, the slightly-melted-margarine-for-soft-cookies tip. It works. I swear it does). Her blog is more than worth checking out. Anyways…..I will write about the Purefit bars when I get them and sample them. It’s fun to have a treat to look foward to!

On to the recipe. This is one of the first recipes I ever vegan-ized. I got it from an old college friend. In college, I had a really, really close friend who was the person who converted me from vegetarianism to veganism. We live far apart now but are still so close in terms of our viewpoints in life. We email and call and it’s almost as if we’re back in college, baking vegan treats on a Friday night in our tiny dorm kitchen ‘cuz we were total social losers and didn’t have any other friends to hang out with for more exciting collegiate social plans. Just kidding, we really enjoyed each other’s company and enjoyed staying in, baking, talking, hanging with some other girls in the dorm, and building relationships that have lasted a decade and a half since. We were in an all-girls dorm at a large Ivy – it was like being at a small college within a research university. Best of both worlds.  It really was. Most of my really, truly close friends are from college. I have said over and over that my choice of schools was the best decision I have ever made, and that it is the one decision over which I have had not a single regret. I made such tight, deep, personal connections with some of the other women in my dorm; I haven’t had anything like it since. I love my college buddies! Making this bread, emailing with my college buds, and reading their blogs makes me so happy and yet so sad (to be far from them) at the same time.

FINALLY, enough sentimental blah-blah-blah, and on to the stinkin’ recipe! As I was saying, this is a recipe from my college friend Lisa. She had been a vegan for a few years when we met as freshman, so she had already converted some recipes. This is not exactly how we made it back in the day (she used Ener-G egg replacer, for example) but the result is the same. This was a recipe she had gotten from a friend’s mom, so it’s really what, a fourth-hand recipe? I’m not sure. I have cut down on the sugar, believe it or not, but everything else is close to the original, just made vegan.  I increased the spices and added vanilla (shocking, I know!) This works as bread, muffins, or a coffee cake. Delish. I call it straight-up pumpkin bread because it is a good, traditional basic non-frouffy recipe without any weird ingredients. It is one of those no-one-will-guess-it’s-vegan recipes, which cannot be said for some other vegan pumpkin breads I’ve tried (you know, the ones that are all dense and gummy and just…..bleh).

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease 2 LARGE bread pans, or 2 medium/regular bread pans and 1 mini loaf pan, or one 9 x 13, or several muffin tins (makes about 48 mini muffins, probably at least 2 dozen regular muffins)

2/3 cup vegan margarine, melted

2 cups sugar

2/3 cup water

about 1/4 cup ground flaxseed, plus water  **

1 1/2 teaspoons salt (less if you are using salted vegan margarine)

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon (heaping!)
1 heaping teaspoon cloves (again, heaping!)

a pinch of nutmeg

a splash of vanilla, optional

1 15-oz can pumpkin (the regular size can, not the really big can)

3 1/3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

** Put about 1/4 cup ground flaxseed into a one-cup measuring cup. Add warm/hot water so that the cup is almost full of water, but not completely full. Stir with a fork or whisk to combine, and let sit for a few minutes while you get everything else ready. Alternatively, you can use any form of egg replacer for the equivalent of 4 eggs.

Method: Melt margarine. Stir in sugar, pumpkin, spices, vanilla and mix well. Add in the flax/water mixture; stir until well combined. Add in a cup of the flour; stir until well combined. Pour in a little water; stir until well combined (are you sensing a theme here?). Alternate between adding the water and the flour, stirring well after each addition. You may need to use slightly more or less water; you want a thick batter, but not so thick that the flour is not easily incorporated. The 2/3 cup is usually sufficient but every now and then I need to use a teaspoon or so more or less.

After you’ve added the last of the flour/water, add in the baking soda and baking powder and fold them in to incorporate; do not overmix at this point.

Pour into prepared pans. For loaf pans, bake for about an hour and 10 minutes, until dry on top and until a toothpick comes out clean. These loaves take a lot of time to bake, but they’re worth it!