Vegan Cooking Class

I'm still kind of in shock about how well the cooking class went. We've received nothing but compliments, and I feel like I had a big part in making the class successful. I don't even know where to begin. At about 2, I met John at Kroger and we hopped around buying all the food. We got back to the church around 3:30, cracked open some beers, and cooked nonstop for the next 2 hours. People started to trickle in about 4:45, and we had relish trays out on the tables with celery, sliced tomatoes, olives, and pickles. It was brilliantly easy and a relish tray is a classic Southern appetizer, so it went with the night's theme. People seemed to be mingling and talking, so it gave us a little extra time to cook and prepare. There was definitely something wrong with the ovens at the church: everything took like three times as long as it should have, but somehow it all worked out.

At about 5:20 we got started with the class, and by that time there were around 20 people there. John and I did a brief introduction. I did a talk on vegan health and also a little vegan mythbusting regarding things like a diet of nothing but tofu and salads, or overly complicated protein combining. Then Brandy talked about why veganism and vegetarianism is important to her as an omnivore, before Dan (another omnivore) talked a little bit about the environment and the impact of dietary choices. After that I did a demonstration of the chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon, and talked about fake meat vs. other protein sources. I emphasized that if you expect it to taste like meat you're going to be disappointed, but if you just expect it to taste good you might really enjoy it.

Then we served the food, buffet style, and took some time to eat. Chickpea cutlets, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, cornbread, and turnip greens. Classic Southern food with a vegan spin. For condiments we had agave nectar, bbq sauce, hot pepper sauce, bacon salt, and of course salt and pepper. People seemed to really like the food, which was awesome, and I got a break to sit down and eat with people and talk.

When people were mostly done eating, Gene gave his heavily censored talk about animal rights. This was so important to me, because although it absolutely needed to be said, I'm so cautious when dealing with a mixed audience. It's easy to put someone on the defensive. He did an awesome job, though, and the audience then started sharing their own stories, also tactfully, about their own experiences with the meat industry.

John then gave a quick talk on stocking a vegan pantry, and eating vegan on the run. It was a good way to show people some of the staples they might not previously have kept in their kitchens but might need to think about in order to eat more vegan food. Throughout the night, we also touched on other issues like eating local and organic foods, and using cloth grocery sacks. They integrated into the topics so easily, and why not talk about important things like that when you have a captive and friendly audience?

I wrapped up the end of the night with a brief note on how dietary practices tie in to spiritual beliefs, and then we served dessert. John totally bailed me out on this one, because when we met up I still had no idea what to do for dessert, but he had a quick fruit crisp recipe that was super easy and hello, cobblers and crisps are about as Southern as you can get. It was fantastic, despite the unruly ovens, and everyone loved it. We ended at about 7:15 or so, and the young adult group stayed for clean up and celebratory vodka shots.

Looking back, it was such an awesome experience. I'm a total introvert so speaking in front of a group and organizing and event like this takes so much out of me (look how pink I am!) but it was so rewarding to be able to share a topic about which I'm so passionate with new people. A Mexican theme follow-up class is already in the works. I can't wait.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I've been sucked onto the roasted Brussels sprouts bandwagon. They really are amazing and you munch them like popcorn or potato chips. Cut off the bottoms, slice them in half, toss them in olive oil (or cooking spray) and a bunch of salt. Cook them 10 minutes on each side at 400 degrees. I think the bigger ones should have cooked longer, so next time I may take out the little guys and leave them in for a bit.

I'm also playing around with taking pictures without a flash. I think I like it better.


Simple Mattar Curry

Remember how I lamented about the droopiness and yuckiness of canned vegetables in my last post? There is one exception. I love making curry with canned peas. I think it's because real curry cooks for a long time, so the peas are sort of brown and wilted by the time it's served. Frozen or fresh is superior, certainly, if you have a long time to cook or the forethought to use the crock pot. Today I was lazy, however, and threw together this really easy mattar curry. I sauteed half an onion and a few cloves of garlic, added a can of peas (undrained), and then threw curry powder all over the place along with a little salt and pepper. Then I just let it simmer for a few minutes, and served it over some short grain brown rice. Basmati would have been preferable, sure, but I didn't have any and I like the sweetness of the short grain brown. I think it's a nice compliment to a sweet yellow curry. I start work for real on Wednesday (right now I'm working but not in the office) so a lot of my posts may be of my cute little sectioned lunch box that my mom got me.


Green Thai Curry

I know, I've been abusing the hell out of the frozen stir fry veggies lately. They're just so goddamn versatile, I can't help it. For me, the quality of frozen vegetables isn't low enough that I don't enjoy the food (like it would be if they were all droopy and canned) and it's the only practical way I know to get the diversity of vegetables in the small amounts I work with.

So here's another look at them, this time with tofu. I used the Thai Kitchen brand curry paste which was sort of lame. The flavor was weak and the spice was almost nonexistent. I need to go back to Sam's Oriental and get more of that stuff in the tub. Anyway, this was super easy: a block of tofu, a bag of frozen veggies, a can of coconut milk, some vegetable broth, lemongrass, and lots and lots of curry paste until I realized it wasn't going to get spicy and just added sriracha.


Chocolate Banana Peanut Butter Rolls

I had a yoga retreat at my church this morning, and there was a potluck brunch afterwards. My assignment was to bring bread. I did bring bread, a nice multigrain from Boulevard Bread Co., but my cooking class is coming up in a week and I figured I should bring something good to pimp it out. I think I may have mentioned this before, but nothing represents veganism as well as delicious baked goods.

I've also just been wicked intent on making these lately. I love the combination of chocolate and bananas, and peanut butter I like as a nice accompaniment. Last week we had a few bananas who had seen better days and I was going to make banana bread, but then I looked on the bjorkedoff blog and saw these and fell in love.

Unfortunately, I didn't get around to it until too late for those bananas. Also unfortunately, there was no recipe posted for these, but there is a bjorkedoff recipe for cinnamon rolls that others seem to enjoy. I used that recipe (modified for my usual impatience and inability to locate ingredients) and made the following modifications: instead of the flaxseed and water as egg replace, I used one large banana; instead of the cinnamon filling, I used about 3/4 cup of chocolate chips melted up with 3/8 cup chunky peanut butter. I left them un-iced, also, because the sweetness of the chocolate was sufficient, I thought.

They turned out really well, considering I winged it entirely, and everyone at the brunch was adequately impressed. I'd like to try to get more banana flavor in there, because it's so incredibly subtle, so I may play with the recipe more next time. A few people asked if I was going to teach them how to make these at the cooking class. I stumbled a lot before I muttered something like, "These are pretty difficult, on the general cooking, uh, difficulty ... scale." And it's true: real baked goods, with yeast and kneading and time to rise, take a lot of time and labor. I was up at 6:30 this morning making these. The result, however, is so, so worth it.


Chickpea Cutlets

I mentioned earlier that I'm working on a vegan cooking class at my church. I'm still really excited about it, especially after the planning meeting we had last night. I tried the chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon for the first time. I admit, my expectations were pretty high, and I was a little disappointed. I think it was the texture. We pan fried them, and while the outside was nice, the inside was mushy. They were redeemed today, however, when I tried the baking method with the one leftover cutlet. SOOOO much better. Dry and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Here is it plated up with my salad and some BBQ sauce.

The other recipes were a a hit, though, especially the cornbread and the roasted garlic mashed potatoes. I'll have plenty of pictures of the event when it goes off in a couple of weeks.

I know a lot of people would prefer that I include recipes, but when they're from cookbooks I feel bad giving them out. I'll say, however, that most of them you can find online if you google the right words. In fact, a good chunk of Veganomicon is available here, with some of the best recipes redacted, of course. A lot of cookbooks are available at the library too, and if we're friends you can always borrow mine. I just don't feel comfortable putting the recipes out on the internet without permission. It's not because I'm being a stingy, pedantic lawyer; it's really because I respect the authors and their work.


Quinoa Salad

I finally got around to buying a big bag of quinoa from the bulk bins. I've had quinoa before, and I know how healthy it is, but I just never really think of it. Quinoa is technically a seed from a bush, but you treat it like a grain when you're cooking with it, and it's like a little vegan nutritional messiah. I looked at the directions on the bulk bin and it was the same as what you'd do with rice on the stove top, so I had the bright idea to use my rice cooker. It was a little unnerving, actually, because I love my rice cooker and I'd be really sad if anything happened to it. Some people do all manner of crazy things with theirs, but mine so far has been used exclusively for rice. It turned out really good, though, and the whole house had that toasted sesame seed smell.

After I cooked up a big batch, I started looking for things to do with it. Vegan with a Vengeance has a couple of recipes, but they're both kind of warm and heavy sounding and I just wasn't in the mood. I thought about doing the pineapple quinoa stir fry from Veganomicon but I really wanted to do something with ingredients I had on hand. As I often do, I searched food network, thinking I'd find something I could modify. What I found was a lovely Emeril recipe that, while I did modify it, is vegan to begin with. Looking at it again, I really didn't modify it all that significantly. I used three clementines instead of the supremed oranges (I hadn't ever heard the term supreme used in this way before, but I intend to use it liberally henceforth), and I also omitted the olives and reduced the olive oil to 1/4 cup (really, it was plenty, and I probably could have used even less). I probably used more parsley than it calls for, because I love fresh parsley and I didn't measure it. The omission of the olives was a measured choice: I only had Spanish olives and they seemed too savory for the rest of the salad. I opted to add a little more salt, instead.

The salad turned out fantastic. The onions added a little kick and the clementines and golden raisins were like little sweet nuggets of yummy. The quinoa and cumin both have a wonderful nutty flavor. I'm totally making this again for a summer picnic or something.


Spicy Peanut Sauce

I know, it's been a while. I took the bar exam. I have no idea if I passed, and I won't know until April 4th. I took about four days to just binge on horrible, non-vegan, non-diet food and massive quantities of alcohol. It was worth it. I'm recovered now and back in the kitchen. Today for lunch (and last night for dinner) I made this super easy noodle stir fry. Seriously, it's rice noodles and frozen veggies. The sauce is about 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tbsp chunky peanut butter, and a few dribbles of sriracha. When it cools a little bit the sauce gets all sticky and super peanutbuttery, and I live for that moment.