Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Easy, Yummy, Cheap Cookies!

The Topic: Homemade cookies that make amazing (and affordable!) gifts with Associate Publisher Colleen Holland

The Dish: I love to bake, but rarely do much of it anymore. Having an entire cake or a couple dozen cookies around the house is, frankly, a recipe for disaster. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, most of the time.

The other night, I got a hankering for homemade chocolate chip cookies. We must have been talking about them at the office that day, or maybe it was an ad for vegan cookie dough I had seen. Whatever it was, I could not stop thinking about spoonfuls of fresh, chip-and-nut-filled dough (my weakness) and hot-out-of-the-oven cookies. I had to have them! So I pulled out Claire Gosse's 2010 cookbook 
Are  you sure that's Vegan? and got baking.

When I find a great cookie recipe, I always want to share it. And this was no exception. Claire's Nutty Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies are sinfully delicious, and make a wonderful gift for co-workers, friend's birthdays, or anytime you want say "thanks" to someone special. Hey, anything you can do to get them out of the house, right? This recipe makes a ton of cookies, so each one ends up to cost just pennies. So for not much dough (the green kind), you can share great vegan desserts (always a crowd-pleaser) while saving money on something you would have bought from the store.

Nutty Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
I absolutely adore any cookie with oatmeal, chocolate chips, and nuts—and this recipe has them all. Since I am recipe-challenged and always have to change something, I added white chocolate chips (purchased at Food Fight! vegan grocery in Portland), slivered almonds, and extra vanilla. Yum.

What You Need:

2-1/2 cups oatmeal
1 cup vegan margarine
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
Egg replacer for 2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces chocolate chips
4 ounces grated dark chocolate
1-1/2 cups chopped pecans

What You Do:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend oatmeal in blender to a fine powder.
2. Cream the margarine and both sugars. Add egg replacer and vanilla; mix together with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and soda. Add chocolate chips, grated chocolate, and nuts.
3. Roll into balls and place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

The Final Word: Homemade cookies always make the day a little better, and these were no exception. Pick up a copy of Claire's Are you sure that's Vegan? for excellent renditions of everything from red velvet cupcakes and pineapple upside down cake to vanilla fudge and peanut butter cups. You won't be disappointed.

I am a sucker for raw cookie dough. I love it and eat by the spoonful! But then I don't feel so hot.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stocking Your Vegan Pantry

The Topic: Stocking your pantry with vegan essentials with Associate Editor Jennifer Chen

The Dish: At the end of a long work day, cooking dinner is one of my favorite ways to relax. Lately, I've been really into making my own beans and seitan, and stocking up my pantry so that during the week most of the prep is already done. Here are my suggestions for keeping your vegan pantry ready to go for effortless weekday meals on the cheap.

Beans. I used to buy canned beans for convenience, but lately, I've been prepping my own beans. I personally love chickpeas and black beans, which are both so versatile in the kitchen. By buying dried beans in bulk, I can make cups and cups of beans versus one canned container. Soak your favorite beans overnight in two to three inches of water. Cook over low heat for an hour-and-a-half or longer, depending on the bean. Approximately one cup of dried beans will give you three cups cooked. If you have a copy of Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction cookbook, she has a great chart of bean cooking times. And if you love chickpeas, you have to try her Chickpea Piccata.

Seitan. At first, I was intimidated to make my own seitan until I tried Robin Robertson's recipe for basic seitan from 1,000 Vegan Recipes. It's so easy! Really. The main ingredient is vital wheat gluten, which you can find in the bulk section of a health food store or online from Bob's Red Mill. You can flavor it with anything you like. I stick to Robertson's simple additions of nutritional yeast and tamari for a juicy seitan "steak." I make about four pieces of seitan and freeze half for recipes to make later. Here's a basic homemade seitan recipe from Isa.

Tofu. I grew up eating plain tofu with a little bit of soy sauce on it so I love tofu in all forms. If you can get freshly made tofu, I urge you to buy it (such as local brands Hodo Soy and Tofu Yu)—the taste is entirely different. But if you can't, here are my tips for getting the most tofu for your buck. For vegan desserts such as Chocolate Mousse, buy silken tofu in Tetra Paks from a local Asian market. I bought 6 packs for 79 cents each since they have a long shelf life. For firm or extra-firm tofu, buy the packaged kind with two bricks of tofu in one pack so you can use one and save the other. 

Rice and grains. I always buy a huge bag of brown rice from Ranch 99, my local Asian grocery store. And by huge, I mean, it looks like a bag of dog food. While I don't eat rice at every meal, a large bag can cost about $20 and last me at least six months. For grains such as quinoa or millet, I frequent the bulk bins. Quinoa is actually a seed, and this little powerhouse packs protein like nobody's business and magnesium, which helps alleviate headaches by relaxing blood vessels. This little tidbit is especially helpful for someone like me who is deadly allergic to aspirin, or anyone who suffers from migraines.

Nuts. The bulk bin is the best bet for stocking up on almonds, walnuts, cashews, and macadamia nuts. It's certainly not cheap to buy macadamia nuts ($17 a pound!), but for select recipes such as the Luscious Lasagna (Veganize It! November+December 2011), which calls for a macadamia-nut ricotta, the bulk bin is your friend. I've spent ample time buying nuts from Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and here are my top choices. Buy pine nuts from Trader Joe's rather than in bulk at Whole Foods since it's at least a dollar or two cheaper. The pre-packaged almonds and walnuts from the Whole Foods generic brand are cheaper than the bulk bin prices. Lastly, store your nuts in the freezer so they can last longer. The oils from nuts can turn rancid if left on a cabinet shelf, so your freezer is your best bet for fresh nuts.

The Final Word: By making some of your own ingredients and stocking up on vegan essentials, you can save big on your final grocery bill. The time and effort to make your own beans or seitan may outweigh the convenience of already prepared goods, but sometimes a splatter of elbow grease and DIY pluck can help you enjoy your home cooking just a little more.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cheap Eats: Spaghetti Squash Bolognese

The Topic: How to cook an enviable, cheap and easy vegan version of spaghetti Bolognese using squash with Editorial Assistant Hilary Pollack

The Dish: I'm not the best cook at the VegNews offices, or at my own apartment, for that matter. However, there are a few dishes that I've mastered and managed to replicate time and time again to excellent critical reception. One of my greatest crowd-pleasers of all time is a spaghetti squash version of Spaghetti Bolognese, which is not only more healthful, but more interesting—and in my opinion, tastier—than the traditional stuff. Better yet, it's virtually fool-proof. Here's the lowdown on how I make mouths water without fail.

Easy Spaghetti Squash Bolognese

Serves 2

What You Need:
1/4 cup water
1 medium-sized spaghetti squash, halved with seeds removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 to 5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup vegan ground crumbles
1-1/2 cups prepared vegan marinara sauce
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup mozzarella-style vegan cheese (I use Daiya)

What You Do:
   1. In a large microwave-safe bowl, add water. Invert one half of spaghetti squash on bowl, cut side down, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 8-1/2 minutes. 
   2. In a medium frying pan over medium heat, add olive oil, shallot, and garlic. Stir periodically until shallots and garlic are almost translucent, then add mushrooms and crumbles. Continue to stir periodically until crumbles and mushrooms darken slightly. Add marinara sauce, pepper, and salt, and allow to simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring periodically. 
   3. Carefully remove plastic wrap from squash and flip over so that cut side is up, and allow to cool slightly. With a fork, comb sides of squash to extract noodle-like strands. Continue until all flesh has been separated into strands.
   4. In a large saucepan, add spaghetti squash strands and cheese. Add sauce and mix well. Serve hot!

The Final Word: This dish is super hearty and much healthier than carb-loaded white pasta. And, even a culinary dunce can whip it up without incident. If you want to make a fancier rendition, try roasting the spaghetti squash halves in the oven topped with olive oil and freshly ground pepper, or replace jarred sauce with our Homemade Marinara or the filling from our Bolognese Lasagna. Spaghetti squash is so easy, tasty, and versatile, it's hard not to get hooked.