Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Simple Recipes for Joy by Sharon Gannon

Sharon Gannon, the founder of Jivamukti-style yoga and the Jivamuktea cafe, has put together a collection of recipes that embody the practices of ahimsa, a nonviolent yoga principle, to produce simple, nutritional, vegan meals. My friends in New York City have always told me about the Jivamuktea cafe as it is one of the best places to get fresh, vegan food in the busy city. Now, for the first time, Sharon reveals the secrets behind the cafe's acclaimed menu.

In the first twenty or so pages, she talks about how the meat and dairy industry have brainwashed most Americans. "In America, Froot Loops, a highly processed, high-fructose, genetically modified, corn-based breakfast cereal, is cheaper to buy per serving than a piece of real organic fruit." She states, "Everything that is good for us and good for the environment has been stigmatized with the label alternative while foods that are harmful to our health and the health of the environment are called  normal or standard and that is sad." Agreed.

She goes on to talk about the impact on the environment and all life on this planet. She states, "When you have a simple choice to be kind or cruel, why not choose to be kind and, by doing so, contribute to raising the level of joy and happiness in the world?"

She later tackles frequently asked questions about the vegan diet, offers cooking tips, and details how to stock your kitchen to prepare for cooking. The recipes include soups, pasta and sauces, dressings, salads, dips and spreads, grains, beans, tempeh, tofu, and seitan, vegetables, potatoes, toasts, sandwiches, smoothies, teas, and desserts.

So what about the recipes? The recipes were so simple that I had a hard time imagining how to make a meal out of them. I found the 30 sample menus in the back of the book really helpful as they put these simple recipes together into two- to four-course meals. I tried four of the recipes.

The first one I made was a real winner! The Curry-Tahini-Shoyu Noodle Soup is a one-pot meal filled with fresh vegetables, aduzuki beans, tofu, and udon noodles. It is so delicious! It's a mildly spicy Japanese country stew that is perfect for a chilly evening with friends and family.

Next, I made the Pasta with Pesto. It was super easy to make and turned out great. It was an oily, basil-rich sauce with a touch of nutritional yeast to give it a cheesy, chunky consistency. It wrapped around and coated my fusilli noodles just right.

Next, I tried The Most Simple Dressing. All you do is add olive oil and lemon juice over greens and you are done. The only flaw with this recipe is that it doesn't state how much greens to use. My advice is to use at least an entire pound of greens with this dressing. I only used a bowl and it soaked my greens so much that they were almost inedible.

Lastly, I tried the White Bean and Kale Soup. Everything about this soup sounded good -- a warm broth filled with cannellini beans and kale. It turned out to be a wholesome soup, but lacked a bit of flavor.  I'd recommend it if you are looking for a simple, wholesome soup, but if you are looking for a lot of flavor, you may want to add a bit of paprika or even sriracha to it.

So, all in all, the recipes in this book are about as wholesome and simple as can be. In some cases, I thought they were a bit too simple.  If you are a new cook looking for very healthy, plant-based recipes, then this book will give you a solid foundation from which you can continue to build. If you are a very seasoned vegan chef, then you may be a bit bored with the simplicity of the recipes. But, no matter what, I'm sure you will love the pictures and you will learn something in the 300+ pages. This hard-backed book is very professionally done and the layout makes it very easy to read and follow. The book goes on sale today on Amazon for $29.86. Order yours now here.

Full Disclosure: Although the cookbook was provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

DC VegFest 2014 is Coming!

Mark your calendars for DC VegFest 2014! I get so excited around this time of the year because it means a whole day of veg fun is headed our way!  DC VegFest is the largest vegetarian celebration in the Nation's Capital and it'll be here next Saturday!

The other night, I had the privilege of attending the DC VegFest Media Party at which I got to meet and talk with vendors and sponsors whose products will be showcased at VegFest.  The party was held at Busboys and Poets and they were letting us try some of the newest vegan menu options like the sliders (a huge hit!), chikn' satay, and cucumber "tuna" canape. Yum! They will be a restaurant vendor at the event so be sure to stop by.

The raw vegan truffles from Joy Bliss Raw were AMAZING!

The fresh, raw juice from South Block Juice Co. was to LIVE for!

And the Vegan Treats chocolates were unbelievable.

Oh, and I couldn't possibly forget to mention the delicious Charm School Chocolate white chocolate bar!

DC VegFest will take place on Saturday, September 20 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. I've heard that people start lining up to get in at 9 a.m. to get one of the free goody bags (there are only 1,000!), which typically run out pretty early. More than 15,000 people are expected to attend this year's celebration. More than 100 exhibitors will showcase a wide range of products, services, and resources to help Washingtonians discover why eating a plant-based diet and choosing vegetarian foods is the best way to protect our health, the planet, and the animals.

What to do there:
  • Sample free delicious vegan food from vendors like Treeline cheese, Barefoot Bucha kombucha, Kate Bakes bars, and Sticky Fingers brownies
  • Learn from expert chefs hosting cooking demos
  • Hear from nationally renowned speakers 
  • Enjoy live performances from local musicians
  • Hit the restaurant vendors like Amsterdam Falafelshop, Bread & Brew, Vegetable Garden, and Pete's New Haven Style Apizza
  • Relax in the beer and wine garden
What to see there:
11:20 a.m.  John Schlimm: Welcome to the DC VegFest
11:30 a.m.  Dr. Betty Smith: Aging Agelessly, Running Long Distances Powered by Plants
12:00 p.m.  Erica Meier: Veg Eating on the Rise -- Standing up for Ourselves, the Planet, & Animals
12:25 p.m.  Bryant Terry: Afro Vegan -- cooking demo
1:15 p.m.    Robin Quivers: The Vegucation of Robin
1:50 p.m.    Joe Yonan: Eat Your Vegetables -- cooking demo
2:35 p.m.    Neal Barnard, MD: How to Kickstart Your Health
3:10 p.m.    Alexis Fox and Micah Risk: lighter cooking demo
4:00 p.m.    DC VegFest closing remarks

Get there early! I hope to see you there!

Date: Saturday, September 20
Time: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Yards Park in DC

Friday, September 12, 2014

Garden Lasagna with Cashew-Pine Nut Ricotta

I've always aspired to make my own raw lasagna and I found just the right recipe in the Crazy Sexy Kitchen by Kris Carr and Chad Sarno. This raw-tastic lasagna has layers of zucchini instead of cooked noodles, marinated portobello, ripe tomatoes, and a cashew-pine nut ricotta that has the richness of the real thing. But really the magic is in the olive tapenade -- this stuff is too good to be true. So layer it up any way you like and in the end, you have the healthiest version of lasagna with the richest taste you've ever had.

Garden Lasagna with Cashew-Pine Nut Ricotta
Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 1/2 cups sliced portobello mushrooms (or king oyster, chanterelles, baby portobellos, or porcini)
  • 2 Tbsp tamari
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 round zucchini,  thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 cup Cashew-Pine Nut Ricotta
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes tossed with one clove garlic, minced, and 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 vine-ripened tomatoes
  • 1 cup Olive Tapenade
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh oregano (optional)

Marinate the mushrooms in tamari and olive oil for about 15 minutes to soften, turning several times. Strain the mushrooms and set aside.

Build the lasagna layers on large plates for individual portions in the following order: sliced zucchini, Cashew-Pine Nut Ricotta, tomato mixture, sliced tomato, marinated mushrooms, sliced zucchini, Olive Tapenade, sliced tomato. Finish with a small spoonful of Cashew-Pine Nut Ricotta.

Garnish with freshly ground black pepper and fresh oregano, if you like. If nothing else, it certainly looks beautiful!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Nationals Stadium Vegan Fare

I am not a baseball fan, but I enjoy attending a live game once a year or so.  The Nationals Stadium surprisingly has many vegan options, which makes it a big draw for vegans.

On this particular evening, I wanted something very light so I went to the South Capitol Sushi. You'd hope that a sushi place, even one in a baseball stadium, could make all of their own food. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I ordered the one thing that was vegan there -- the avocado rolls. When I got back to my seat, I read the ingredients on the package and was horrified. I thought I was ordering fresh avocado rolls. But, they had some peanut sauce in them that was made with all kinds of artificial ingredients including modified corn starch, caramel color, acetic acid, and red no. 40. Wow. I still ate them, but reluctantly so. And I was not happy. They were filled with more lettuce, carrots, and cucumber than they were with avocado so it was more like eating a plain lettuce wrap with some chili sauce.

Of the other options I saw at the stadium, there is the Field of Greens that offers [supposedly] vegan veggie dogs, burgers, and more. Other options include vegan chili at Hard Times Cafe and Ben's Chili Bowl. But, my favorite place, hands down is Shawafel, which has vegan cauliflower and falafel sandwiches that are so good. Next time, I'm going back to Shawafel.

Play ball!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cashew-Pine Nut Ricotta

This raw ricotta from Crazy Sexy Kitchen by Chad Sarno and Chris Carr can be used as a layer in raw lasagna, a spread for veggie wraps, or a topping for crostini.

Cashew-Pine Nut Ricotta

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for a few hours to soften
  • 1/2 cup raw pine nuts
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp chives, minced
  • 3 Tbsp parsley, minced
In a food processor, blend cashews, pine nuts, lemon juice, onion powder, nutritional yeast, salt, garlic, and water until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Add chives and parsley to the mix and stir well.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Woodlands Vegan Bistro, DC

In June of 2013, Everlasting Life Cafe in the Park View neighborhood of DC changed its name to Woodlands Vegan Bistro, but they still continue to serve the vegan comfort foods everyone loves. They were bought by Mickiyah and Vernon Woodland five years ago, but hadn't changed the name as the cuisine remained the same. Another Everlasting Life Cafe exists in Maryland and after enough confusion the Woodlands decided it was time to brand this restaurant as their own. I hadn't been here in a while so I headed over for dinner on a Friday night.

It was quite busy when we arrived.  We walked back into the back room where you order deli-style from the items in the case. There is always one featured entree and a number of hot sides and raw salads. We got our food, placed our orders for drinks and took a seat. The dining room is one big room with brown pleather-covered tables and heavy wood chairs. On this particular night, they were playing slow jams really loud.

Not too soon after ordering, they called me over to the counter to tell me that the wheatgrass shots we ordered were being made not from fresh wheatgrass, but from powdered wheatgrass. I had already paid so I told them that was okay. When I received them, they were huge like juices and did not taste good at all. Not at all what I expected.

We started eating while waiting for our juices. I ordered the Wild Mushroom Burger, but this was also not what I expected. It was described as a delicate patty with a delicious mushroom blend. It should have been described as a blend of mushrooms, battered, and deep-fried. I was not prepared for this. It was served with lettuce, tomato, onion, and cashew cheese. I liked the cashew cheese, but the burger itself was too big and too fried. It tasted okay, but wasn't at all what I expected.

On the side, I had the Caribbean Chickpea salad, which was really good. It was just chickpeas with a delicious curry spice mix. I also had the Garlic Kale salad, which is usually one of my favorites, but this time it tasted like the kale had been sitting in the garlic sauce way too long as it was particularly soggy.

For my fresh juice, I got the Incredible Hulk made with celery, cucumber, carrot, kale, collards, spinach, and parsley. It was really bad. I don't think I've ever had a juice I didn't like, but this one was pretty disgusting. It had a really harsh taste and I ended up just throwing it out.

Chris ordered the special of the day -- the pot pie. It was a pretty basic pot pie with not much flavor and a bit too much dough. It really needed a meatier ingredient on the inside like mushrooms or a faux meat. On the side, he ordered the broccoli and their famous mac and cheese. The broccoli was just steamed plain. The mac and cheese was pretty good, but also tasted like it had been sitting out for a while as it wasn't very warm.

All in all, I'd say I was disappointed. The food here is not cheap as our bill came out to be almost $40. For what we paid, I felt like the food could have been a lot better. The burger was deep-fried and not advertised as so, the drinks were disgusting, and the warm food wasn't that warm. That's not to mention that I should have been informed that the wheatgrass "shot" was not a fresh shot whatsoever before I paid. This was not the best experience I've had here and I only hope my next experience is better.

Woodlands Vegan Bistro
2928 Georgia Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 232-1700

Everlasting Life Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 8, 2014

JJ's Sweets - Cocomels

In the years between when I went vegetarian and vegan, one of the only things holding me back were caramels. There is nothing quite like the sweetness of caramel flavor in your hot chocolate, on your ice cream, or, even better, just straight out of the package -- hard and soft caramels.  It was really the moment I discovered JJ's Sweets Cocomels that I realized that vegan wasn't going to be so difficult after all.

When they started back in 2009, JJ's Cocomels were a game changer. At a time when caramels were made by mixing butter, heavy cream, corn syrup, and white sugar together, JJ's changed everything by not only veganizing caramels, but making them as healthy as they possibly could be.  They are everything you ever remembered in a caramel, but even better. Yeah, I actually think they are better than the typical non-vegan caramels made with milk.

JJ's makes both soft caramels and hard chocolate-covered caramels. They are all so good, I really couldn't say that I like one more than the other. I guess if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the chocolate-covered ones with sea salt. You bite into this semi-hard caramel and you get the sea salt followed by creamy chocolate followed by chewy coconut-inspired caramel. It's truly amazing. It's not too sweet and is just the right balance of chocolate and caramel. These would satisfy the most discerning caramel lover.

Other flavors include vanilla and espresso and how I love that the espresso has an coffee bean on top of it!  So what is a chocolate-covered Cocomel made of? The ingredients are coconut cream, brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, chocolate, vanilla extract, sea salt, and xantham gum. The icing on the cake is that they are organic and, therefore, non-GMO as well. How many chocolate candies do you know of that are certified organic? Not many. So they've really gone the extra mile.

Then there are the soft, chewy, naked caramels. By not coating these with chocolate, you really get the full coconut cream taste melting in your mouth. These are also truly amazing. They are made with the same ingredients of coconut cream, brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, sea salt, and xantham gum. That's it. I gave some to some non-vegans and they were floored by how good they were.

The naked Cocomels come in original, java, sea salt, and vanilla. I loved the java flavor as you can actually taste the java bits inside.

These decadent, melt-in-your-mouth caramels will transport you to a caramel wonderland from which you may never want to return. To get there, you'll have to buy some of these caramels, which you can find at Amazon here. While you are doing that, I'm going to bathe my body in a sea of Cocomels...one can dream, can't she?!