Experiments in vegan cooking

Recently, I decided to try making some vegan recipes. I’ve made two dishes, so far, and I have a third and fourth that I’m wanting to try out. I’ve basically had positive outcomes; the recipes I’ve found are surprisingly simple to follow and don’t require weird ingredients (one ingredient did require trips to 3 different grocery stores, but that was really my own fault).

I really have nothing against vegan food. I’m a total omnivore; sometimes I like to eat meat and sometimes I have meat-free meals. The reason I haven’t really tried vegan recipes up until this point is that the recipe websites and cookbooks I consult most often aren’t vegan.

This time I didn’t actively seek out vegan recipes, I sought out the recipes of a specific chef who happens to be vegan. A number of months ago I saw an episode of “Cupcake Wars” on the Food Network which featured vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli. She won the competition, and I thought she was such a winning personality on the show, plus she’s from LA, so I checked out her website to find out more. Not only does she have vegan pastry recipes, she has vegan dinner recipes.

A few nights ago, I finally decided to make one of her recipes. I chose the vegan mac ‘n’ cheese which had gotten rave reviews in the comments section. The only ingredient that was foreign to me was nutritional yeast. I knew it was a health food product, which should have been my first clue to head to Whole Foods, and I ended up going to 3 stores to find it.

The mac ‘n’ cheese tasted delicious, but it didn’t really taste like cheese sauce. The sauce tasted more nutty. Also, the photo on the website made the sauce look really orange, similar to Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese, but mine turned out a nutty brown color. I added some turmeric to brighten the color.

So after missing the mark, somewhat, on my first recipe, I decided to try another pasta recipe. I chose the vegan pumpkin penne pasta, because we’re getting into fall. It turned out delicious, and all the ingredients were incredibly accessible. Most of them I had in my cabinet already (and you probably already have them in your kitchen as well). If you love pumpkin and nutmeg and sage, you’ll love this recipe. Don’t think about it being vegan, just think about the delicious fall flavors.

Vegan pumpkin penne pasta

I’m anxious to try the vegan pad thai and vegan avocado pesto recipes. I have no intention of ever actually becoming a vegan, but I like experimenting with different cooking styles; it helps me develop my skills and gain a better understanding of cooking methods.


Delicious Iced Tea

Wednesday was insanely hot here in LA, and in the evening, instead of taking my usual cup of decaf coffee or hot tea, I decided to make iced tea. For a really long time, I didn’t know how to make individual cups of iced tea. Most people I know usually make iced tea by the pitcher full and the usually use tea bags specially labeled as “iced tea” or they use Crystal Geyser powder packs.

Now, if you’ll let me be judgy for a moment, let me say, you can do better. You are free to experiment with any type of tea you like. You’ll find that some teas are really good iced, and some just aren’t. Just remember that tea bags labeled “iced tea” and powder packs are not your only options.

Genmai Cha iced tea
Genmai cha iced tea in a large mason jar.

Wednesday evening, I decided to make an iced green tea, because I find green tea quite refreshing when it’s really hot. My favorite green tea right now is genmai cha, a Japanese green tea mixed with toasted brown rice. You taste the nice grassy flavors of the green tea, and you also get the toastiness of the brown rice. But you can start with your personal favorite. Here’s how to make an individual cup of iced tea:

1. Measure your favorite loose leaf tea into a tea pot and fill the pot with boiling water (for black and herbal teas) or near boiling water (for green tea).
2. Steep the tea according to the directions or personal taste.
3. Fill a large cup with ice. When the tea is finished steeping, strain the tea into the cup of ice. A lot of the ice will melt. Don’t worry, just add more.
4. Enjoy.

My Food Weakness

Often times on this blog, I spend a lot of time pontificating about how easy and simple it to cook your own homemade meals. I wax poetic about fresh ingredients like basil and parsley, and I freely admit the superiority of making your own ingredients like vanilla extract and Nutella.

But we all have our weaknesses, those food items that, not matter what food philosophy or diet you subscribe to, you cannot resist.

For me, that item is…Hot Cheetos.

Yes, sir, I am absolutely gaga for Hot Cheetos. When I was at Davis during finals time, I would buy two large bags of Hot Cheetos from the local RiteAid and eat them while I was studying. I ate an entire large bag by myself while driving from Los Angeles to Davis after a school break. I ate them in DC whenever I could find them at 7-Eleven. And I’m eating them tonight because they lovingly beckoned to me from the check-out line at Albertson’s.

Usher In Summer With Gazpacho

Summer is definitely here; it’s sunny and warm and breezy…just the way summer should be.

Soup is usually reserved as a food of the cooler fall and winter months, because it’s warm and comforting. It warms you up when your insides are cold.

But I can think of no better food to eat in the summer than a lovely cold bowl of gazpacho, a Spanish tomato based soup made of raw veggies. It is so delicious and healthy, and when served with a nice piece of garlic bread, you’ve got a wonderful meal that will cool you down after a day out in the sun.

Gazpacho is really easy to make. All you need is a good blender. Most gazpacho recipes I’ve seen call for the use of tomato juice in addition to using fresh, raw tomatoes for the soup base. This recipes (from South Beach Diet) only uses raw tomatoes for the base.

There are so many ways for you to play with your gazpacho recipe, to modify it to your particular tastes. Maybe next time I’ll add zucchini or red and orange bell peppers, and maybe add a kick with some sriracha. And I would like to top my gazpacho off next time with some avocado slices.

Gazpacho has a lovely texture.

Serves 4

2lbs. heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped (or you can use your favorite kind of tomato, I used roma)
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, roughly chopped
1/3 cup parsley leaves
1/2 small red onion, roughly chopped
1 small jalapeño, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cup ice cubes
1Tblspn. extra virgin olive oil
1Tblspn. red wine vinegar
1/4tsp. salt (or however much you want to achieve desired taste)

1. Combine tomatoes and garlic in a blender and puree until smooth. Place in a large bowl.
2. Combine cucumber, bell pepper, parsley, onion, jalapeño, and ice in a blender. Puree until slightly chunky. Add to bowl with tomatoes.
3. Stir in oil, vinegar, and salt. Taste to test. Add more salt if necessary.
4. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or until chilled.
5. Serve in large bowl with garlic bread and avocado slices on top (optional).

PW Project: Chicken Pot Pie

Last month my aunt and uncle from New Jersey came to visit. I decided to cook dinner for their first night here. I’d been hankering to make chicken pot pie for a while, so this was the perfect opportunity; pot pie is a great comfort meal to eat after spending the entire day in airports and on airplanes. The recipe is only in the cookbook, but this turkey pot pie recipe is exactly the same, just swap out turkey for chicken and use the optional ingredients.

Add everything to dutch oven
After cooking veggies in butter in a dutch oven for a few minutes, add cooked chicken.


PW Project: Super Duper Pie Crust

I have always been a little afraid of making my own pie crust, because I thought it was…difficult. I used to use the pre-made pie crusts from Trader Joe’s, but I didn’t really like them because they were hard to roll out. After making this pie crust recipe, I don’t really know what I was worried about. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to store bought pie crust, not when making your own is this easy.

Cut the flour and shortening
Use a pastry cutter to cut the shortening into the flour.

This recipe is super easy to make, and the best part is that you can make the pie crusts ahead of time and then freeze them until you need to use one. Also, according to Ree, freezing the pie crust dough before using it it helps to increase its flakiness.

Add the water and vinegar
Add water, vinegar, one egg, and salt.

This recipe can either make 3 thin pie crusts or 2 thick pie crusts. After making the dough, divide it into plastic bags and place in the freezer. When you’re ready to use one, take it out of the freezer, let it defrost, and roll it out. I found it to be much easier to roll out than the pre-made pie crusts from Trader Joe’s.

Three pie crusts
Form into disks for easy freezing.

The taste is out of this world. It’s delicious and flaky and airy and everything a good pie crust should be. I have one pie crust still in the freezer; I’m waiting for the right recipe.

Celebrating Father’s Day

For Father’s Day last Sunday, I made breakfast for my parents. I made crêpes, and I served them with nutella, sugar and lemon juice, and fresh fruit. Everything tasted super delicious, and we all enjoyed the food.

I’ve been making crêpes for a few years now, and I knew they would be well-received by my dad. My favorite crêpe recipe is by Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini. I always add the rum; it adds great flavor to the batter.

Sunday spread
Our table spread.

Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake

Last month I asked a friend of mine if I could make her a birthday cake. I had a real hankering to try my hand at a cake, and I thought it would be awesome to share it with a good friend. My friend expressed a preference for a chocolate cake, and so I set to work searching my favorite cooking blogs and websites searching for the perfect cake.

Oster mixer
Mixing butter and sugar together.

Red Pepper Risotto

I’ve been away from my blog for a while, but during that downtime I did plenty of cooking and baking. And I have pictures to share!

I cook dinner for my family about once a week. I like to look for new recipes each week that allow me to learn different cooking skills.

One of the things I love to cook is risotto. I think it is so delicious and creamy, and I’ve found that it can be a meal by itself. Risotto is great because its variations are endless. Also, risotto is really not that hard to make; the hardest part is patience. You can’t prepare the ingredients and then throw everything in the oven and walk away. With risotto, you have the stand over the oven, ladling broth into the arborio rice mixture, and stirring the arborio until the liquid is absorbed. And then repeat until the risotto reaches desired creaminess.

Risotto is commonly made with arborio rice, a short-grain rice that is very high in starch. It’s this high starch content that gives risotto its creaminess; it doesn’t come from any type of dairy cream. The arborio absorbs the liquid (usually chicken or vegetable broth) during cooking and releases the starch which makes the arborio creamy.

I recently made this red pepper risotto recipe posted by Ree (aka The Pioneer Woman) on the Tasty Kitchen website.

Red pepper risotto

(I apologize for the really horrible photo.)

It turned out really delicious and creamy (helped out by the use of goat and Parmesan cheeses). I definitely want to make this risotto again, and I think I want to try adding mushrooms. Risotto is endlessly versatile; once you’ve mastered a basic risotto recipe, you can get really creative with the addition of ingredients.

To Quote Lucille Bluth…

“I’d rather be dead in California than alive in Arizona.”–“Pilot,” Arrested Development

Eh, this is a bit of an exaggeration. Of course, I think California is the best, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Although, I’ve been to Arizona, and it has some lovely parts (but not the recent anti-immigration law).

This map was recently published in the New York Times. The map shows where to live if you want to avoid a natural disaster. I guess not surprisingly, the South has the highest hazard risk.

The sentiment is in the right direction. I wouldn’t make my decision of where to live based purely on risk of natural disaster. I wouldn’t move out of California just to avoid and earthquake, and I don’t stay in California just because Disneyland is a short drive away. If people only lived where they were at a low risk for a natural disaster, everyone would live in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. But we all know that’s not true.

P.S. Arrested Development is hilarious. You can get it on DVD.

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