give the gift of good taste: edible holiday gifts

I love giving gifts. I like taking the time to find something my loved ones will enjoy, I like making presents look nice, I like making people happy just by handing them something. Most of my gifts are store-bought, because I cook so much throughout the year, but this year, I did more cooking and baking for gifts than ever before.

First, the gifts that aren't edible. I don't like wrapping paper, so I generally wrap gifts in saved tissue paper, newspapers, or pages from the old Yellow Pages. I'm a bit of a closet pack rat, so I usually have that sort of thing around.
One of these packages (for my fairly-newly vegan sister) contains gifts by some other blog-wielding vegans you might know:
One of the adorable panda-with-cookie totes from Panda with Cookie's Etsy shop! AIt was a big hit. And in the tote, I put a copy of Melisser Elliott's Vegan Girls Guide to Life, which I had her sign when she visited last month.

Okay, so those are vegan gifts, but you're here to see edible vegan gifts. So without further ado:
TOFFEE. I have always loved toffee. Almost once a week when I was in elementary school, my mother would go grocery shopping next door to a small bookstore I liked. She'd give me $5 (most of the Fear Street books I liked back then were $3.99 or less), I'd go buy a book while she shopped, then I'd meet her back at the store in time to buy a Skors or Heath bar with my change. I miss toffee, and until I discovered this recipe at the kitchn, I had no idea it was so easy to make. It's not that much work or time, even, though it does require a lot of stirring.

Homemade toffee is VERY easy if you have a candy thermometer. I recommend getting one; I use it often to measure water temperatures for breads, oil temperature when I'm frying, and yes, for candy. I think mine was around $5 at the local hardware/homeware store. However, if you don't have a candy thermometer, neither did the lady who wrote the kitchn recipe above! She judges by color. I always get paranoid about having to tell the difference between "dark golden brown" and "blond" and "honey-colored" in recipes, so I stick to the thermometer. Also, I used a large, rimmed baking sheet to cool my toffee. If you don't have one (why don't you?), you can use several baking dishes, like 2 9x13s or something. Whatever you use, line the bottom and the sides with foil, and removal will be a snap. This recipe makes a lot of toffee; a large baking sheet full, enough to give as gifts to at least 4 people.
Homemade Vegan Toffee

1 lb (that's 2 cups, or 16 ounces) Earth Balance (vegan margarine). That's one box of the buttery sticks, or one tub plus 4 Tbsp
2 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups chocolate (chips and/or chopped baking chocolate; I did a mix since I didn't want the chocolate layer to be too sweet)
toasted almonds, roughly chopped (optional)

Line a baking sheet with foil, set aside. Get out all of your ingredients ahead of time.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and sugar together. Stir this mixture constantly until it reaches 300 degrees fahrenheit. I've seen ranges between 285-310). If you don't have a candy thermometer, that's the point at which it's very thick and has turned dark golden brown. I think this is the "firm ball" stage, if you're one of those people who tests with a glass of water. It's going to be really bubbly at first, and thickens as it hardens. Anyway, that took me about half an hour. DO NOT STOP STIRRING, because if this stuff burns, all will have been for naught. Once you've reached 300 degrees, remove the saucepan from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking sheet; use a spatula to smooth out. Do this quickly, because it will start to harden.
Sprinkle the chocolate across the surface, and allow this to sit for a few minutes, until the chocolate is glossy (3 minutes, 5 if your chocolate chips/chunks are large). Use a spatula to smooth the chocolate over the toffee. If using almonds, sprinkle the almonds over the top.
Allow to cool. Our kitchen is cold, so it was totally cool in under 3 hours, but it might take longer if you have heat in your kitchen. Anyway, once the bottom of the baking sheet is cool to the touch, remove the whole thing, foil and all, from the baking sheet. Peel the foil off the toffee (it comes off really easily), and break the toffee into whatever sized pieces you'd like. Store toffee between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container.

It's dangerous for me to know how easy it is to make toffee. The only thing that is not preventing me from making it (and eating it) all the time is that it takes a whole pound of Earth Balance, which is both pricy and fatty. It is a special occasion food, Sarah, remember that!

If you have trouble cleaning up the saucepan and spoon, I recommend running your hottest tap water or boiled water over them. This loosens up and dissolves the sugar.

Okay, so maybe toffee still seems too tough to you, or isn't your thing, or, like me, you want a sampler of desserts to give to relatives. What else is a good edible holiday gift?
Chocolate bark! This is another one of those things I thought was harder to make than it actually is. In fact, it is so simple that I feel silly giving a recipe for it, so I will just give you instructions.

Melt equal parts sweetened and unsweetened chocolate (ie, chocolate chips and baking chocolate) together in a double-boiler or bain-marie.

While it melts, chop up what you're going to put into your bark. In my opinion, the perfect chocolate bark consists of four flavor sensations: chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, and something that's surprising and/or has a kick. You can experiment at will, but here are some suggestions:
  • Nuts: Almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamias, peanuts;
  • Dried Fruits: Cranberries, raisins, apricots, apples, dates, figs, currants, mango?;
  • Something surprising/with a kick: candied ginger, candied citrus peel, prettily zested citrus, crushed candy canes or other flavorful candy, vegan white or butterscotch chips, pretzels (okay, those don't all have a kick, but are surprising and fun, so they go in this category).
Depending on how much chocolate you use, you want from 1/2 to 1 Cup of each of these things.

As with the toffee, you shape the bark by pouring it into a foil-lined pan. for 16 ounces of chocolate, you'll need at least 9X10 inches. I only used about 10 ounces of chocolate, so I used my 7x11 baking dish, and if you'll note, the bark is still pretty thick. Anyway, pour the chocolate into the pan, then sprinkle your chopped ingredients over the top. Use your hands to press them down into the chocolate. Let this cool for several hours. When the bottom of the pan is cool to the touch, you can remove it from the dish, peel back the foil, and cut it into pretty squares--or break it into rustic chunks.

I also made treats for my coworkers: Almond Crescent Cookies. When I was little, my mom made these a few times. She didn't like to make them, because blanching and grinding all the almonds was a real chore, but I LOVED them. I have never actually thought Crescent Cookies look like crescents; as a child they reminded me more of worms, so in my head, they will always be Worm Cookies.
I cheated: I used Bob's Red Mill almond meal instead of grinding the almonds myself. I made this recipe from Martha Stewart, substituting Earth Balance for the butter. The "dough" never came together; it was all crumbly. I added a Tbsp of soymilk, though, and it behaved EXACTLY like it should. The resulting cookies are very good, very subtle, and one of my coworkers came up to tell me that the cookies were exactly like the Vanilla Kipferl his German grandmother used to make (Kipferl is German for Cresent).

Finally, for my brother Robby, I made homemade grenadine. I used the recipe from the Cupcake Project as a starter, but changed a few things. I'll write more about it soon. (I'm planning an epic Pomegranate Post coming up in January.)
I also gave Robby some Chocolate Peppermint Penguins, which I made by taking the leftover chocolate and crushed candy canes from my Candy Cane Biscotti, mixing it, and pouring it into my Penguin Ice Cube Tray. I love that thing; I got it for free back when I worked for a publishing company that was a division of Penguin Books. I forgot to take pictures of the penguins, though, so you will just have to imagine how cute they were.

Did you give any edible or vegan gifts this holiday season? Did you get any? What were your favorites?


Great Expectations: hearty rolls and stew

I love food and I love to read. As a result, the first week [or the third week...] of each month, I'll combine these two interests in a post about food from literature. I'll mostly be sticking with books from classic literature, so you're likely to know the storylines anyway, but just in case you don't: warning: there may be spoilers ahead.


This time of year, everyone pays attention to Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, which, despite all the corny movies and TV specials based on it, is a good story. But for my "food in literature" post this month, I want to talk about another of his famous works: Great Expectations.
A lot of people read this book in high school or at least college, but I somehow avoided ever having to read Dickens in an academic setting, so in reading this book, which everyone else implied was long and heavy, I found a pleasant surprise. It's long, and it's a dreary story, but the characters are very much alive and interesting, and the grime and gloom of Dicken's Victorian England is positively palpable. Few of the characters are really likeable, but you want to give them the benefit of a doubt; it is their environment that makes them who they are.

And what an environment! The settings in Great Expectations could be characters on their own. We visit and revisit the graveyard, the swampy Kent marshes, Miss Havisham's ruined mansion, the dingy London apartment, the ominous lawyer's office--they build up around the characters and the reader like a tall wall. Dickens's Victorian England is gray, depressing, and oppressive. But there are respites! There are some good people, and in this book, the good people are accompanied by good places--and good food. I always invoke food in literature as a depiction of comfort and emotional (as well as physical) nourishment; Great Expectations seems to do the same. Joe, the Pockets, and Wemmick are some of the most likeable characters in the book, and the homes of these people are the few sources of warmth and light that Great Expectations offers. And with all of these people, Pip eats food.

There is a fair amount of alcohol, and some tea, but we do not see many of the characters' meals. Because food does not appear often in the book, when it does appear, it is obvious that it has an important role. Early in Pip's life, we see that the abused little boy takes a great deal of comfort in eating bread with Joe, his sister's kind husband. At the uncomfortable Christmas dinner, Joe gives Pip extra gravy to try to make up for the boy's treatment. When Pip comes into money, one of the first things he does in London is eat with Herbert Pocket--buttered chicken and parsley, strawberries for dessert. And when he meets Wemmick, a trusty advisor and friend, Wemmick invites him back to his eccentric but endearing house for a homegrown meal.

As I said a couple weeks ago, I was originally going to recreate a vegan version of a Pork Pie. But then I read what pork pies are; ground-up season pork surrounded by pork-flavored gelatin in a pie shell. I thought about grinding up and seasoning tofu, making an agar-tofu-jelly, and baking that, but it still doesn't sound appetizing. More revolting than comforting. I realized, though, that Pip never ate the Pork Pie; it was not a source of comfort to him. The bread that he and Joe share early in the book and the simple meal of stewed vegetables that they pull from Wemmick's garden are not only more appetizing, but much easier to veganize.
Wemmick's stew isn't vegan--he adds fish--but my Autumn Root Stew is actually probably pretty close to the recipe Dickens had in mind. This time I added a cup or so of chickpeas for protein.

Pull-apart rolls are fond memories from my childhood, and this reminded me of Pip's fond moments eating bread with Joe. I like to add some whole wheat flour (not whole wheat pastry flour!) for extra heartiness, but you can do all white flour if you prefer. You'll probably end up using a little less water, though. If you want to replace MORE of the white four with whole wheat flour, add a couple Tbsps of gluten flour to make it stick together and rise better, and you may need more water.
Hearty Pull-Apart Rolls
Makes 12 rolls

3 tsps active dry yeast (you can also use a packet, but that's less yeast, so give it a little more rising time)
1 tsp sugar
1 Cup warm (not hot) water
2 Tbsp oilve oil, divided
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup whole wheat flour
Vegan margarine, to top (optional)

Mix the yeast and sugar in the bottom of a large bowl. Add about half the water. Give this about 5 minutes to sit. Meanwhile, gather your other ingredients.

Add the rest of the water, the salt and 1 Tbsp oil. Stir to combine. Add the flour a cup or so at a time. After the 2nd time, you probably won't be able to stir much anymore, so use your hands. Once it's all fairly combined, turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface, and knead for 5-10 minutes, sprinkling extra flour over the top if it's too sticky. The key to really nice, light bread is to keep the dough as wet as possible, so ideally you want it a little sticky, but not if that makes it too tough to work with. Roll the dough into a large ball.

Use the remaining 1 Tbsp oil to grease the sides of a large bowl. Put the ball of dough in the bowl, turning to coat it with the oil. Set a dish cloth over the top of the bowl, and leave in a warm place (our kitchen is cold, so sometimes I preheat my oven briefly, then set the bowl on top) for at least two hours.

After two hours (or more), punch down the dough and remove from the bowl. Lightly oil a pie plate. Divide the dough into twelve equal parts. (I find this is easiest to do by dividing it in half. Take one of the halves; divide that in half. Then divide each of those smaller halves into three. Voila, twelfths!) Roll the twelfths into balls, and space them fairly equally in the pie plate. They won't touch; that's okay. Cover again with the dishcloth, leave to rise for at least another hour. Preheat the oven to 375.

Depending on how warm your kitchen is, after an hour the rolls might be touching. If not, don't worry; they rise more in the oven. Remove the dishcloth, then bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes. You'll know they're done because tops will be golden brown and will sound hollow if you tap on them.

Remove the rolls from the oven, and rub a tablespoon or two of butter over the tops of the rolls. It pools in the valleys between rolls--yum. Allow to cool for a couple minutes before pulling them apart (or bringing the pie plate to the table for others to pull apart).

These are best warm, but they're also good for breakfast the morning after, dipped in agave (or maple syrup) and cinnamon.

I've been wanting to do an "edible gift guide" post all December, but unfortunately, the people for whom I'll be making said edible gifts read my blog, so I've had to wait. This weekend I'll finally give people their presents, so expect an "edible gift guide" after that. And Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!


Candy Cane Biscotti

I really like biscotti. A not-so-sweet cookie that was designed to eat with tea or coffee? How can you not love it? However, vegan biscotti is hard to come by, and even then, if you buy it, you often end up with chalky or rock-hard biscotti. Between Boston's vegan biscotti dearth and my own pickiness, I have come to the conclusion that if I want good biscotti, I really just have to make my own. I've been toying with the idea of making my own biscotti for a while, and when I found out Earth Balance's recipe page is having a dessert recipe competition, I headed into the kitchen and got to work.
After some experimenting, I ended up with a delicious Candy Cane Biscotti. You can see my recipe here on the Made Just Right site.

The biscotti aren't super sweet, but the candy cane garnish is additional sugar, so to keep the sweetness down, I used baking chocolate with only a little added sugar to dip them in. They were delicious. I brought them to a friend's Rock Band party to share, so that way I wouldn't eat them all by myself, but they went so quickly that I think my next batch of biscotti will be for me and me alone.
If you look closely, you'll see that the candy canes aren't bright white and red. This is because I used Tru Sweets' organic candy canes, which are made from organic sugar and brown rice syrup and are only colored with fruit juices. They taste and behave just like commercial, chemically candy canes, but have real ingredients.

Did you notice how GORGEOUS the above biscotti photos are? That's because I didn't take them myself. My friend Michael is a real photographer, and is the one who hosted the Rock Band party. I told him the fee for my biscotti delivery service was that he had to take snappy pictures for me. And they're so gorgeous! Thanks, Michael! Michael has a blog that I totally recommend called Dazed and Infused, which teaches you how to infuse your own spirits and make tasty drinks with them. He also includes occasional pictures of his adorable, Godzilla-sized kitties.


"food from literature" entry will be a little late this month

During the first week of each month, I like to post an entry that features food from literature. This month, however, it will have to be a little late. You see, I read Great Expectations, and was excited to veganize the traditional Victorian English fare Dickens mentions, especially the pork pie that Pip steals right in the beginning. And then I found out what a Victorian Pork Pie would actually consist of, and it grossed me out too much. Even the thought of a veganized version is unappetizing. I'll either come up with something else from the book (other foods mentioned: mince meat, chicken baked in parsley and butter... nothing too interesting to veganize), or use another book for this month. Either way, the entry will be a bit late.

In the meantime, I will be struggling to get the thought of "pork jelly" out of my head.


how I made light-blocking shades for a skylight (and hid our ugly venetian blinds)

The boyfriend has always wanted a skylight. A year and a half ago, a contractor doing work on the bedroom said that with only a day or two of extra work, he could put in a skylight. The boyfriend was psyched--finally, a skylight in his bedroom, just like he's always wanted!
We were both really excited at first. The skylight brightens up the room, and we were both enchanted by the idea of looking up and seeing stars at night.

After a couple months, however, I came to hate the skylight. I'm a very light sleeper, and I'm really light-sensitive: to fall asleep, I need darkness. To stay asleep, I need darkness. Look at the picture above. Do you see the blinds? How light gets in between them? After a couple months, I began waking up with the sun every morning and having trouble going back to sleep, because light crept in through the edges of the blinds. Even at night, if the moon was full or if there was a Red Sox game (thanks to Fenway Park, the whole Boston skyline lights up on the night of a Red Sox game), I had trouble falling asleep because of how much light the blinds let in.

We looked into buying light-blocking shades. A lot of them run $200-$500, but honestly, it would have been worth it for me to start sleeping better. But we found out that a lot of skylight models have limited options for what kinds of blinds are compatible... Our model in particular is ONLY fitted for these metallic Venetian blinds. And I have to say, even if they could block the light, I think these Venetian Blinds are pretty ugly.

I found a temporary solution:
I shoved a thick blanket between the window and the screen. It looked ugly, it began to warp the screen a little, and it made the room dark, but I finally slept better. The boyfriend, who had spent good money making this skylight happen, was a trooper, and was glad to let me get some sleep, but I could tell it was sad for him not to actually use the skylight... and I felt a little guilty. Plus, on bright sunny days, when we weren't trying to sleep, it was a lot of work to get the screen off and the blanket down just to get a little sun in our room.

I once had bought light-blocking curtains for our living room that were much too big, so when I had them shortened, there was a lot of extra material that the tailor let me keep. Looking at my blanketed skylight, I decided to put that old curtain cloth to use and make my own light-blocking shade. Because I wanted the shade to be easy to lift, I attached it to the Venetian blinds. (Another benefit of doing it this way: hiding the ugly Venetian blinds!)

Cloth (thick and/or lightblocking if you're trying to block light, but if you just want to cover up ugly Venetian shades, anything will work)
Needle and thread
Venetian Blinds

First step: I took the blinds down from their track on the skylight. I was actually planning to do it with them still on the window, but the boyfriend pointed out that it would've been a lot more work.
I cut the cloth to be the width of the Venetian blinds, and added an extra two inches of height, so I could do a quick sort of hem on the top and bottom.
I cut little tabs on each end of the hem, to slide over the edge of the blind, then just closed up the tab with a bit of thread. You will note that little green dot: because the skylight is higher up, an inexact hemming job looked fine, so I saved myself time by just making little loops every couple of inches. (I don't have a sewing machine, so hemming would have taken me quite a while.)

After I sewed the top tabs around the top blind, I counted down every six blinds and sewed the edge of the curtain around the edge of the blind:
I went back and forth several times, leaving about a finger's width of slack, since the blinds turn when you raise/lower them. When I did this, I made very tiny stitches on the front, so you can barely even tell they're there.
I did this on both sides, every six rows, until I got to the bottom. I treated the bottom like the top; I fake-hemmed it, cut little tabs in the sides of the curtain to slip over the edges, and then sewed the ends of the tabs to the curtain.

We put the blinds back on their track and: voila!
The only thing I'm not crazy about with this is that it bulges a little at the bottom. I could have avoided that by making a center tab in the bottom hem, which I think I might actually have done near the top? But it looks fine, and we rarely have the skylight closed when there are guests over, so no one notices it but me (and now you).

The thing I like best about this shade is the way it looks when we open it:
I don't know if you can see it well in the picture (my camera was not happy taking pictures of the open skylight), but it bunches a lot like a Roman shade! In this picture it wrinkled a little along the gray crank on the right, but that doesn't happen often.

Now both the boyfriend and I love our skylight: it lets in lots of lovely light, AND it lets me sleep.


give thanks! it's the last day of Vegan MoFo!

Goodbye, Vegan Month of Food!
I have posted for all 30 days of VeganMoFo! It was great, but I am so glad it's over; no more "Wait, did I post today?!" feelings of panic before I go to sleep, no more forced entries on days I don't feel like talking about food. But I'm definitely glad I did it, and I'll definitely do it next year.

I finally have Thanksgiving pictures to post, and with them, a note on Thanksgiving. I touched on my thoughts on the day a couple years ago, but I want to reiterate them. Thanksgiving is about celebrating the blessings in your life, appreciating what you're thankful for. I think that it's important to take time to recognize the good things in your life. If you do that every day, maybe you don't need Thanksgiving, but is it really so bad that the government has reserved a day for us to spend time over a meal with our loved ones? People who claim Thanksgiving is about genocide and racism are unfamiliar with the history of the holiday, and I suggest to them that they read about our nation's history and that of the holiday, even if only the Wikipedia pages. Thanksgiving was always a harvest celebration. A feast or festival where we, humans, give thanks for the bounty of the earth, of our ability to survive, to be sustained by our environment--both in terms of food, and in terms of support from the people around us.

I appreciate my family. In the past few years, so many of my family members have gone vegetarian and vegan that our meal was almost entirely vegan. There was some token meat, but only for one person! And it's not in any of the pictures. All of the things below are vegan!

I got the idea for this delicious Cashew Goat Cheese recipe from C'est La Vegan. My family was so impressed with how much it looked--and even tasted--like goat cheese! It takes a lot time to make, but it's pretty easy. And I kept worrying at every step that I was doing it wrong, but it came out perfect.
I rolled it in a mixture of normal black pepper and freshly-ground cubeb, pink, and green peppercorns, just for effect.

One family member thought it was actual goat cheese, and tried to warn us vegans away from it!

Appetizers eaten, we then had THE MEAL:
Clockwise, from the bottom left: mashed sweet potatoes, rolls, earth balance, brussel sprouts with garlic, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole (with miso instead of mushrooms, to make it cheesy. I totally recommend adding a couple Tbsps to YOUR next green bean casserole), corn, cranberry sauce, my mother's awesome stuffing, herbed gravy that came with the tofu turkey.

You will note the central part of the meal, the tofu turkey, is missing; we hadn't yet brought it to the table. My family's favorite, so-simple entree for holiday meals is Fresh Tofu Inc's Tofu Turkey:
The Tofu Turkey is lightly seasoned tofu, with a crispy skin. It's tasty, but not overpowering, and, unlike most other vegan holiday roasts, it isn't especially salty. We had two for 9 people, and had a bunch of leftovers, so it serves plenty. Plus it's cute! I tried to get a better picture of its little smile, but it was too blurry:
It comes with an herby, rice-flour-and-nutritional-yeast-based gravy.

We paced ourselves pretty well with eating, which is good, because there was PIE:
I'm cheating, actually--this is last year's pie, because I forgot to take a picture of this year's. But we had the same options this year! Pumpkin pie (from Bryanna Clark Grogan's recipe), and Maple-Pecan Pie (also from Bryanna Clark Grogan). This year, we ran out of pecans, so my mother tried it with half pecans and toasted walnuts. It was so delicious that she's planning to make it like that every time.

Finally, though this didn't make it into this year's Thanksgiving dinner, Sunchoke Salad with olive oil, scallions, and balsamic vinegar is a go-to dish for most of our holiday meals, and WAS present last Thanksgiving.
And with that, my friends, we have come to the end of VeganMoFo! I'm glad to be done with daily entries. I'll still try to post at least once a week. And next week, look for another food-from-literature post! I read Great Expectations this weekend. You can also look forward to some posts that aren't about food.
Thanks for reading this month, and for those of you who just started reading, I hope you stick around!


a big pizza post!

The boyfriend and I are finally back from spending Thanksgiving with my family in upstate NY, but since I haven't had time to upload photos of our delicious almost all-vegan meal, you get the next best thing: a pizza post!
Bread, oil, something cheesy: what is there not to love about pizza? The sad thing for me is that because I can't have tomatoes, it's only white pizza for me--so even ordering from vegan pizza places can be tough or boring. Fortunately, pizza is delicious and easy to make at home; including the dough rising, homemade-from-scratch pizza only takes 2 hours, and an hour or more of that is just waiting for the dough to rise! It's incredibly satisfying to make your own pizza, and a lot cheaper than buying pre-made.

This looks like a lot of steps, but it's very easy. I'm just writing everything out in case you've never made any type of dough before.

Pizza Dough
Makes one large pizza dough. Servings depend on what you serve on the side. This serves 2-3 if you're not eating much else, but can serve 4 if you have side dishes)
1 C warm water
2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast (this is 1 packet if you use those)
2 tsp sugar (or maple syrup or agave) (optional but recommended!)*
2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil
1 scant tsp salt
2 1/2 C flour (You can sub up to half with whole wheat flour [not ww pastry flour!], but it won't rise as well. I only sub about 1/2 a cup with Whole Wheat flour.)
additional flour for dusting (I'd say a scant 1/4 C for the whole process)

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the yeast with the sugar and about half of the water, stir to dissolve as much as possible. (The water should be warm but nowhere near hot--err on the side of cooler water. Yeast comes to life best in warm environments, but temperatures over 110 F can kill the yeast.) Let this sit for about five minutes.

Meanwhile, use 1 tsp of the olive oil to lightly grease the inside of a medium-large bowl. It's good if the excess oil sinks to the bottom.

Back to the yeast! It should be mostly dissolved. There may be foamy clumps on the surface; that is good! (If there aren't, don't worry.) Add the rest of the water, the salt, and the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil. Stir, then add the flour, about half a cup at a time if you have the patience. Stir to combine; it will be shaggy and messy. Take your dusting flour and sprinkle a little bit on a clean counter or cutting board. Also dust your hands. Now dump your dough mixture onto the surface, and use your hands to work in all the shaggy bits.

Now you're going to start kneading. Kneading isn't scary or intimidating; as long as you're always doing something to the dough, you really can't go wrong. This dough is a little wet, which means you may need to dust your surface and hands fairly frequently to keep it from sticking to everything. Push the dough around, fold it, twist it, whatever you want--basically you want to be punching it down and handling it until it becomes only a little tacky (not full-on sticky), and is consistent and kinda rubbery in texture. Smooth and shape it into a nice, smooth ball. Put the ball in your pre-oiled bowl, rotating it so that the whole surface has an oily glaze. Keep the bowl in a warm place (near a heater is good, or if you're cooking, near the stove), cover it with plastic or a dishcloth, and let it rise at least an hour.

You can use that hour to prepare your toppings, if you want.

Ideally, your dough will double in size. If you're in a hurry, an hour to an hour and 15 minutes is fine, even if it hasn't completely doubled. If you're not in a hurry, letting the dough rise for a couple hours is nice. Anyway, when it's done rising, preheat the oven to 425. Get out a baking sheet (or if you're fancy, one of those pizza stones; I have no idea how those work, though). Lightly grease that with a touch of olive oil. It's best if you do this with your hands, so your hands are a bit oily still when you go on to the next step. This is the best part: Remove the cover from your dough, and punch it down! It usually makes a satisfying sighing noise. Take the dough out, mash it and stretch it and mash it again a few times with your hands, then put it down on the backing sheet. Spread the dough out into the shape you want (ie, circle, rectangle, triangle, whatever), working it with your fingers to try to ensure that it doesn't get too thin or too thick in some places. (The bigger you make the pizza, the thinner the crust will be.)

Put on your toppings. If you like thin-crust pizza, put it right in the oven. It'll rise a little as it cooks. If you have time and like a breadier pizza crust, you can let the dough sit and rise for another 30-45 minutes, preferably near the oven, before baking. It'll rise more in the oven, too. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the sides of the crust begin to brown, checking occasionally.

*-Note: Adding sugar to a yeast-water mixture is called "proofing" the yeast. Yeast feeds off on the sugars in flour, which is how it rises. Giving the yeast a little extra sugar earlier on in the process helps it rise more quickly, but some chefs suggest it is only marginally so, which is why I say it's optional.

The pizza pictured above is made with daiya cheese, onions, and my signature zucchini pepperoni. But I don't get daiya very often, so usually I make my own cheesy sauce out of nutritional yeast, herbs, cashews and/or tofu. Here is the same kind of pizza but with a homemade cheesy topping:
You may be wondering, what is with this "signature zucchini pepperoni?" WELL. Let me tell you. As much as I love pizza, I also try really hard to eat my 5-9 veggie servings a day. Zucchini pepperoni is my way to work in more vegetables and still have something salty and smoky on top of my pizza. Just to let you know, though, zucchini pepperoni is NOT pepperoni. It gives a salty, smoky, flavorful kick similar to pepperoni, but it's not meaty, nor is it going to trick you or anyone you know into the fact that it's not meat or fake meat. It's delicious, though, and worth making at least once.

Zucchini Pepperoni
Enough for 1 large pizza

1 zucchini, sliced very thinly
1-2 Tbsp olive oil (depending on how big your pan is)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp OR 1 tsp pepper (I like a whole tsp; it makes it spicier)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
dash ground cloves or allspice (optional)

Put the oil in a large pan (I use 9x13). Swish it around so that the entire bottom of the pan is coated with oil. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and liquid smoke; swish around the pan so that they mix. Sprinkle over the pepper, garlic powder, oregano and (optional) spice.

Now, place all the zucchini slices in the pan in one layer. Flip them all over so that both sides have touched the liquid mixture before you lay them flat. Once all the zucchini slices you can fit are in the pan, gently swish the pan around so that the excess liquid washes over some of the zucchini. (If there isn't excess liquid, add a little more soy sauce and/or liquid smoke.)

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then check. Most of the liquid should be gone, and the zucchinis on the edge should be crispy. The middle ones will never quite get crispy, but they shouldn't look soggy--if things are soggy, let it cook for another 5-10 minutes. (Cooking time varies so much because it all depends how thinly sliced the pieces are.) Remove from oven, allow to cool at least a little before putting on pizza so you don't burn yourself.
Here is a homemade pizza with zucchini pepperoni, sauteed garlic and artichoke hearts. If you couldn't tell from these pictures, I'm pretty simple when it comes to my toppings: after something cheesy (homemade or store-bought), I like 2 or 3 at the most.


weekend brunch: cinnamon rolls

The Cinnamon Rolls from Vegan Brunch are amazing. You will eat more of them than you suspect.
Though I have made a ridiculous number of recipes from Vegan Brunch, I held off on the cinnamon rolls for too long. See, I really think of them as a breakfasty food, and yeasted breads are not easy to have warm and fresh and out of the oven for breakfast, since they take so darn long. But! Letting the dough do its first rise overnight leads to fairly quick preparation in the morning.

Also, when recipes tell you to sift your powdered sugar, sift your powdered sugar. I didn't for the icing, and you can see the little clumps of sugar that remained. The clumps are tasty, but not as photogenic.


weekend brunch: breakfast sandwich

My tea is trying to support my VeganMoFo blogging! For all the motivational quotes I've seen on the Yogi Tea tags, that's the first time I've ever seen this one. Ha.

If you can't read it properly, it says "Keep up."
Good timing, tea--the week around Thanksgiving is the tricky part of having Vegan MoFo in November. This week the boyfriend and I are visiting my family in upstate NY, where we have little internet access. I wrote this post a little ahead of time, and it'll be brief.

It's the weekend, so: Weekend Brunch!

I made this Ham, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich for the boyfriend's birthday a while back. I bought Yves Canadian Bacon for the "ham," but I made the nutritional-yeasty cheese sauce myself. (There's only so much storebought fake stuff I want in a meal...). Some simple scrambled tofu, and English muffins with margarine made it deeelicous, though really messy to eat. The home fries on the side are white sweet potatoes, which aren't as sweet as their orange counterparts.

Looking at this picture makes me want to make it again really soon.


how to replace nightshades part 4: tomatoes

In my little series on how to replace nightshades, I have left the hardest for last. Tomatoes perform a variety of roles in cooking. Raw, they provide a nice firm texture and a fresh, tart flavor. Cooked, they provide thickness, acidity, sweetness, and hearty flavors for sauces, soups, curries, spreads, pasta, and countless other dishes.

Tomatoes are probably the hardest nightshade to replace for two reasons: 1.) tomato products come in so many shapes and forms that they are useful in all kinds of recipes, and 2.) they are often a substantial part of the dish they inhabit. Think about it: tomato sauce, tomato salsa, minestrone soup. Tomatoes are not just ingredients in these recipes, they are the base of these recipes. But all is not lost! When you encounter a recipe with tomato in the ingredients list, ask yourself: what is the role of the tomato in this dish? Is it acting as the dish's acid? sweetener? thickener? is it, in the case of a salad, there for texture and color more than for flavor?

Before I start discussing replacing tomatoes, I want to introduce you to your two new best friends:

Umeboshi Paste
Tamarind Concentrate
On the left, umeboshi paste. I only know the Eden brand kind, and I get it from a health food store; you may be able to find some at an Asian grocery store, or you can just order it online. Umeboshi paste is made from a tart Japanese plum that is pickled in brine and then ground to paste. It is incredibly salty, and though it looks expensive, one little tub of this will take you months to finish off (and it keeps for years in the refrigerator). Umeboshi paste provides a bit of the texture cooked or reduced tomato products provide, as well as all of the zing and near-sweetness tomatoes have. Stir a little (meaning maybe half a teaspoon) into any recipe that would otherwise have tomatoes (cooked recipes are better, but I've stirred some into mango salsas), and taste to see if you want more. Reduce the salt in the recipe by a little. If you really, really can't find it, you can use a little umeboshi vinegar (which is easier to find, but not as good a tomato replacement) in its place.

On the right, Tamarind Concentrate. I like the Laxmi brand, but you can find this in any Indian/Southeast Asian or Latin American grocery stores, or in a well-stocked grocery store's "ethnic food" section. Tamarind concentrate may also seem a little expensive, but a little goes a long way, and though you should keep it in the fridge once you open it, this too will last forever. (I have used tamarind that has sat in a fridge for about a year. The sugar in it crystalizes around the edge a little, but it was fine to eat.) It resembles molasses in appearance, but is much much tarter. It has a little sweetness to it, but is mostly sour. Any time a recipe calls for tomato paste, I use at least half tamarind paste to make up for it, because it resembles tomato paste in terms of taste in a recipe.

If you want to substitute effectively, those are essentials. Below I will list how to substitute for (most) tomato products.

Replacing Raw and/or lightly-cooked Tomatoes

For the most part, raw tomatoes are often present in recipes to help add a bit of tartness, crispness, and color. To achieve similar flavor, you can use an under-ripe mango. I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out: an underripe mango has not ripened enough to be sweet, and it has a tartness and near-sweetness reminiscent of a tomato. Sliced, the fruit's texture is also similar to a thick slice of tomato. You want a mango that has only the tiniest bit of give when you squeeze it with your fingers--it shouldn't feel soft by any means, but it shouldn't be as hard as rock. Peel it, and either slice or cube it. This is perfect for sandwiches, salsas, and cold salads. You can also ad it last-minute to stir fries, but if you cook it too long, it will become sweeter. In a cold salad (grain, pasta or vegetable), you can also substitute raw zucchini or summer squash for raw tomato. Diced it small and add a small amount (about 1 tsp per tomato replaced by zucchini) of lemon juice to the recipe. Also consider substituting or adding cucumber, which provides the same watery, crisp texture as raw tomato.

For lightly-cooked tomatoes, like the kind you might have in an English breakfast or on Eggs [Tofu] Benedict or Florentine, lightly sautee sliced or fileted zucchini in a small amount of olive oil and vinegar over high heat until it begins to soften and brown on each side.

Replacing Tomatoes in Cooking

I have some bad news for you: if a recipe calls for an entire can or more of diced, crushed, stewed, peeled, ground, or pureed tomatoes, I can't help you. One can or more of tomatoes means that they are a significant part of the recipe that you are better off looking for a different recipe. But don't give up hope; lots of dishes that call for those ingredients are also available nightshade-free. For example, though minestrone soup usually calls for diced tomatoes, I have seen recipes without any. (Search engines' "advanced search" option lets you find recipes that don't include a word [like tomato].) You can find variations on curries that call for cans of tomatoes that instead call for a little tomato paste or a single chopped tomato (both of which are easier to substitute). Be creative, and don't despair.

First and foremost, if you're anything like me, you probably miss the occasional thick pasta sauce. I have a recipe for tomato-free marinara here, and you can find many others by a simple internet search. It may seem like a lot of work, but this stuff freezes well, and will help you out if you're missing this basic comfort food. You can also buy Nomato's nightshade-free marinara, barbeque sauce, or ketchup.

Mostly, though, in cooking, you'll need to replace a couple chopped tomatoes, or 1/4 C tomato paste, or a couple tablespoons of ketchup. Remember that tomatoes are primarily in these recipes to add some tartness, a hint of sweetness, and thickening properties. This is easy! And you have a variety of options. If the chopped tomatoes are supposed to remain whole throughout the recipe and not create a sauce, like in a sauteed pasta dish, you can substitute and equal amount of zucchini for the tomato. If the chopped tomato is supposed to cook down into a paste, treat it like tomato paste in a recipe, which you can substitute with:
  • Canned pumpkin puree, butternut squash puree, or sweet potato puree. Obviously not the kind with spices in it. These thicken a recipe, and with a tiny addition of vinegar (or ume plum paste!) also provide the sweetness and acidity of a tomato.
  • Umeboshi paste. I described this above, but this is great for adding to a tomato-textured thing, with tamarind to create the perfect fake-tomato paste taste, or by itself if you're just trying to replace the taste of tomatoes (like in salsa and other sauces, or curries).
  • Tamarind Concentrate. Again, I discussed this above, but it's great for adding the zing you miss with tomatoes to a variety of recipes. It is especially good in seitan, or other recipes in which tomato paste serves as a moistener and flavor enhancer. Works especially well with umeboshi paste. Tamarind and a little sweetener of some sort is the best substitute for ketchup in recipes.
  • Molasses. Molasses have such a strong, distinctive flavor that you only want to use a tiny bit of them, unless it's for something like BBQ sauce, which benefits from the taste of molasses. Combine this with one or more of the other options in recipes where tomato paste is added as a moistener and flavor enhancer.
  • Peanut butter. I know how crazy this sounds, but in certain recipes, especially in seitan or meatloaf-imitations, peanut butter adds a nice texture and interesting depth of flavor. Plus, it acts as a thickener.
The bad news with these is that with the exception of the purees (which still need you to add a bit of vinegar), they need to be used in some combination. The good news is that you can mix and match, and you can work on your ratios according to taste (ie, if you need 3 Tbsp tomato paste, you can use 2 T tamarind, 1 T peanut butter, etc). You'll need to do some experimenting, but at least you no longer have to overlook some of your old favorites.

In the case of sundried tomatoes, I know, I miss them too (especially the oil packed ones! yum). Consider using olives in their place.

And with pizzas, while non-tomato marinara can do the trick, if you're anything like me, you'll come to a new appreciation of white pizza. And of pesto as pizza sauce.

Tomato dishes are so ubiquitous that few of us can imagine comfort food without them. But like I said above, be creative, and don't despair! Nightshade-free doesn't mean comfort-free. You have options.

One final note on avoiding tomatoes. As with peppers and potatoes, tomatoes can sneak into unexpected foods. Many fake meat products, especially veggie hot dogs, bacon, deli-style slices, and Italian-flavored sausages, use tomato paste for color and/or texture, so as always for the nightshade-free vegan, read ingredient labels carefully before buying fake meats. Sweet-and-sour sauce, many other flavorful Asian stir-fry sauces, and barbeque sauce almost always contain ketchup or tomato paste, as do most homemade seitan recipes, so check ingredient labels and be sure to ask about these things if you're at a restaurant or friend's house.


know what I'm thankful for? My oven.

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Kitchen Appliances.

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm in upstate New York for a couple days, with little access to the internet, so I wrote this post (and the next couple days' posts) ahead of time. Whether you celebrate the day or not, I wish you all good food and the ability to recognize the good things in your life--today and every day!

I am thankful for many things, and I like to think I have an idea of how lucky I am in life, but there are always things you take for granted. For example, THE OVEN. And THE STOVE. Think about it: how much of your food today, or any day, would be possible without one? Earlier this month, we didn't have gas at our house for almost two weeks, and since we have a gas oven/stove, I went two weeks figuring out how to cook in a kitchen without any fire.

Gas ovens and stoves have been around for about a hundred years; before that, people still cooked on heating stoves, in fireplaces, and in ovens built into fireplaces. I found myself wishing for the first time that our adorable decorative fireplace was functional. Alas, I had to figure out how to make two weeks' worth of meals (well, okay, we went out to eat twice, out of desperation) without fire.

Some of you are probably laughing at how easy this sounds: there are many heat-generating appliances in the kitchen! But while I cook constantly, and while I cook well, I am conversant in only the most basic of kitchen appliances. Stove, oven, toaster, food processor. Even the blender confuses me sometimes. We don't have a microwave. Before a year ago, I never knew how to use a rice cooker. Our toaster oven intimidates me (toasters are so much simpler!) with its non-numerical settings (what kind of setting is "frozen foods?" Is it supposed to thaw things, or cook them through, or...?). I've never made successful waffles in my waffle iron. But in the early days of November, I learned how to love the toaster oven, the rice cooker, and my waffle iron.

Well, no, I still don't actually love them. But I sure learned how to use them.

First timid step, turn the plates in my waffle iron over to use the "griddle" side, which I tried once and gave up on after everything stuck even though it's supposed to be nonstick. I made savory pancakes, first putting some chopped leeks and carrots on the griddle with some oil, Mongolian-grill style. Once softened, I scraped them off the griddle into pancake batter, then poured the batter on the griddle.
Result? Some tasty pancakes! I used hot water from the tap to dissolve some miso with black pepper and oil for emulsifying, so it was sort of a gravy (because the water didn't stay how long, it was actually more like a thick salad dressing, but it was tasty!). It turns out it's probably not my appliance ineptitude; this griddle takes a lot of time to get hot, then at no matter what setting, it gets really hot and everything still sticks to it. The food was good, but the process was not fun. So no more of the griddle, I figured. That's cool, I still have THE RICE COOKER.

I'm not completely rice-cooker challenged; it's just that I'm not comfortable with it, since I've always been a boil-your-rice-in-a-pan kind of girl. In the last year or so, since I moved in with the boyfriend, his rice cooker and I have come to an uneasy truce, as using it allows me more space on the stove. I have always imagined that grains other than rice would work in a rice cooker, so my first adventure was to cook quinoa in it for a quinoa salad. That went well, so later in the week, I decided to step it up a little; I made paella by turning on the cooker and leaving the top open to sautee veggies with some oil, cooking those till soft, then adding the rice and some flavorings before finally closing it. After it shut off (as it does when it's done), I turned it back on to get the crispy rice along the bottom/sides. It was pretty good, though it got a little mushy. I even made some pasta in the rice cooker (by boiling water in it, then cooking pasta accordingly) and tossed it with roasted veggies (from the toaster oven) some arugula, and a vegenaise-mustard-vinegar sauce to make a tasty pasta salad.

At this point I felt pretty confident with my rice cooker skills, so for my next big experiment: SOUP IN A RICE COOKER.
Broccoli and Pumpkin Cheese Soup from Vegan Today. This was delicious, though I didn't cook the carrots long enough, so they didn't get super smooth when blended. I served it with toast, from the toaster oven.
It looks evil, but the toaster oven became my best friend for two weeks. I started out only using it to toast bread as a side for whatever else I was making.

For example, I made Chilled Avocado Soup, from the Elephant Walk's recipe.
The Elephant Walk is an upscale French/Cambodian restaurant that is surprisingly good to vegans. I can't have the soup at the restaurant because it has tomatoes, but upon hearing people rave about it, I made it at home without them. It was easy to make without a stove, as the soup is raw. It was good, but be generous with the avocado, since it's the only thing that really helps cut the acidity. We had a side of warm bread with cheese sauce, courtesy of the toaster oven.

Soon, however, I wanted more than bread. Two weeks without baked goods is, for me, a very sad two weeks. And/or an impossibility. Neither muffin tins nor baking sheets fit in the toaster oven, but it CAN hold 8x8 baking dishes and springform pans, so I opted for brownies.
Melting chocolate without a stove is not so easy, though. I made a makeshift bain-marie with two bowls, filling the bottom one with hot water from the tap. I covered it and let it sit for five minutes, then stirred the chocolate and replaced the water (which had cooled) with hotter water--the whole process took almost half an hour. But! The chocolate melted, and two cycles of the toaster oven's "Cake" setting later, I had brownies! And not just any brownies:

Pumpkin Pie Brownies, from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. (Online version of this recipe here.) Because I had to guess at cooking times and temperatures (surprisingly, the "cake" setting isn't 350, but ranges between 325 and 350, and the cycle is only 25 minutes, so I had to run it twice), I was worried it'd be a little dried out, but I really think this was the best recipe I could've gone for, since all the pumpkin kept it nice and moist. We had a bunch of friends over shortly after I made these, and everyone was crazy about them.

With successful toaster-oven brownies under my belt, I felt like I could handle anything, so I took on a FULL HOMEMADE TOASTER OVEN MEAL.
I felt like toaster oven McGuyver! Oven-fried tofu, roasted sweet potatoes with arugula, and biscuits. (I made a quick balsamic sauce on the side, in case things were too dry.) This took a lot of advanced planning, as obviously all these things can't go into a toaster oven at the same time. I made the biscuits first; they're the cornbread biscuits from Vegan Brunch, my latest carb crush. Half a recipe would fit on the tiny baking tray that comes with the toaster oven. Then, I tossed chopped sweet potatoes and arugula in salt, pepper and oil, then folded them all up into a foil packet. These went into the toaster oven on one of the higher settings ("Frozen Foods," I think, or "Roast." I imagine this is somewhere around 425).

THEN the Oven-Fried Tofu!
This is actually really easy, and can be made in any kind of oven. It serves 3-4, depending on how much other food is on your plate.

1-2 Tbsp vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance)
1/2 C flour
1-2 tsp dried herbs: I like sage and garlic powder, but you can add any you'd like.
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 16-oz block of tofu, sliced into slabs (their thickness is really determined by how many you can fit into your pan. 8 can be squeezed into an 8x8 baking dish, 10 into an 8X12, so cut it according to your pan size.)

If you have an oven, preheat it to 425. (I only had a toaster oven, and it was already on.) Put the margarine in a baking dish, then put the baking dish in the oven so the maragrine melts while it preheats.

Combine the flour and seasonings in a large ziploc bag. Put in all the tofu slabs, and SHAKE LIKE CRAZY until all the slabs are coated.

Take the baking dish out of the oven, and swirl it around so the bottom is coated with margarine. Take the tofu slabs out of the plastic bag one by one, shaking them a little to get off excess flour. You only want a thin coating of flour on each piece. Put the tofu in the pan, then placei n the oven. Cook for 20-30 minutes, flipping the tofu about 15 minutes in. You want the tofu to get at least a little golden on both sides before it's done. Serve with a dipping sauce or gravy.

Having only a toaster oven, I made this recipe and set the pan on top of the foil packet of veggies. Everything took a little longer than normal, but came out great, and super hot. While I put those on the plate, I popped the bisuits back in the toaster oven on "toast" for a minute or two, just to warm them up, and we had a full meal from the toaster oven! And fortunately had our gas hooked back up soon after.

I'm glad to know that if for some reason we don't have gas again, I can still eat well, but right now, I am SO thankful to have our oven back.


go max go candy bar review

A little while ago, the boyfriend and I discovered a little gourmet foods store while we were on a walk. We decided to check it out, and were disappointed to find that it stocks a lot of the same stuff we can get at our co-op, but is also one of those places that's so proud of their charcuterie counter and their exotic smelly cheeses. So we were about to leave the store empty-handed, when we noticed, right by the exit--a display of vegan candy bars!

Vegan candy bars!!!

Now that I know what to look for, I've since seen (and bought) these candy bars at our co-op, and Whole Foods carries them, too. Go Max Go is the name of the company who makes them. Their mission is to make a vegan candy bar with no hydrogentated oils or high fructose corns syrup. They produce four styles of vegan candy bar, each modeled after an existing non-vegan kind. (Which is to say, the kind you miss!) The "Jokerz" bar is like a Snickers, the "Twilight" bar is like a (U.S.) Milky Way, the "Buccaneer" bar is like a (U.S.) Three Musketeers, and the "Mahalo" bar (the one not shown here) is just like an Almond Joy.

For the sake of your edification, dear reader, I took it upon myself to try each one. I only took pictures of three, though. I ate the Mahalo too quickly. (Uh, but I swear I ate these all over time, not on the same day!)

I'll review them in order of my favorites! The Mahalo, the Almond-Joy-ish one, was my favorite by far. For those of you who have had an Almond Joy, that's what this is! For those of you who haven't, it's a sweet, moist coconut base with a couple almonds whole on the very top, then the whole thing coated in chocolate. Delicious. Sorry I didn't take a picture, but there's a nice one on the "Products" page of the Go Max Go Website.

My next favorite: the Twilight bar. This is a Milky Way knock-off.
I assume most of you know your basic candy bars, but there may be some confusion: "Milky Ways" are called "Mars Bars" ourside the US. It is a layer of nougat topped with a layer of caramel, coated in chocolate. When I was little, Milky Ways were among my favorite candys, because the caramel was really good. I ate the nougat just to get to the caramel... and I kinda feel the same way about the Twilight. The nougat is a little gummy, with a very slight chocolate flavor. The caramel is a little grainy and not as firm as I remember Milky Ways', but it tastes awesome.

A right behind the Twilight bar in my opinion is the Jokerz bar, which resembles a Snickers bar.
It's just like the Twilight bar, but with peanuts inside as well.

Finally, the Buccaneers bar, which resembles a US Three Musketeers Bar (or a European/Austrialian Milky Way).
It's light, chocolate-flavored nougat coated in chocolate. I'm not really crazy about nougat to begin with, and I never used to eat Three Musketeers bars, but the boyfriend was realy excited about this one; it's his favorite. I find the nougat a little gummy and a little too sweet.

So! Pros: Your favorite childhood candy bars--but vegan! That's a pretty big pro. Also, the chocolate on all these candy bars is a pretty decent quality for a candy bar. You can actually taste it as chocolate. And the caramel is rich and flavorful.

Cons: Maybe it's just because I'm a grown up now (ha), but these things are very sweet. I'm not really into super sugary things; I tend to try to reduce sugar in my recipes and I prefer very dark chocolate, so it may just be that my taste buds aren't used to candy-bar levels of sweetness. The boyfriend and I split each bar, because one alone would be too much sugar for our mouths to handle. (You know how if you eat too much sugar, the back of your mouth feels weird?) But again, that might just be me. Also, almost all of the bars have barley malt, so they aren't gluten free, so sorry gluten-free vegans.

Have any of you tried the Go Max Go candy bars? What do you think? Are there other (high-fructose-corn-syrup-and-hydrogenated-oil-free) vegan candy bars out there I don't know about?

Note: Go Max Go doesn't endorse or even know about this review; I just got excited to see vegan candy bars in a store, so I bought them and decided to let you know what I thought.


barbeque seitan brisket

A while back, one of the boyfriend's co-workers brought barbeque brisket into work to share with everyone. The boyfriend, feeling a little sorry for himself, texted me to ask if I thought I could make a seitan brisket. I had no idea what brisket was, but I'm always up for a challenge, so I said yes and commenced looking up recipes online.

It turns out brisket is actually a cut of meat (usually beef). It's most commonly associated with Jewish and Southern cuisine. Once I actually realized brisket is just... meat... I was a little unsure I could or wanted to pull off a convincing seitan version, but considering that neither the boyfriend nor I ever had the real thing, and the fact that it would be smothered in barbeque sauce, I figured it couldn't go too wrong, so I gave it a shot.

It turned out really well.
As I said yesterday, my go-to seitan recipe is the Seitan o' Greatness recipe from the PPK. This is a good base for the brisket, but needed quite a few changes, for three reasons: 1.) brisket by itself isn't as flavorful as Seitan o' Greatness, 2.) Brisket isn't shaped like a log, and 3.) Brisket isn't cooked in foil. So! Changes I made:
  • I made the substitutions for nightshades I mentioned in yesterday's post.
  • I left out all the spices, since this seitan is supposed to imitate a basic cut of meat and shouldn't be super flavorful.
  • I DID use the full amount of black pepper, though, and added a pinch each of sage, thyme, rosemary, and parsley.
  • Instead of shaping it into a log, I made an approximate brisket shape.
I lightly greased an 8x8 pan, then put in the seitan brisket. Next I preheated the oven to 375.

The next step is to mix 1 Cup barbeque sauce and 1 Cup water in a small bowl or large measuring cup. I make my own barbeque sauce, but you can also use store-bought. Either way, it should be a little smoky, so if it isn't, add a tsp of liquid smoke. You need to add the water because otherwise the seitan will dry out in the oven. Pour the sauce mixture over the seitan, swishing it around a little to make sure the bottom soaks some up, too.

Bake it, uncovered, until the water evaporates and the barbeque sauce thickens on the brisket, and on the bottom of the pan. This took me somewhere around 40 minutes. I'd recommend checking it at 30 minutes; if there's extra liquid, spoon it over the brisket. If there's not extra liquid, add some. There's a lot of guesswork here because I didn't write down what I was doing, but I will make it again sometime to confirm the cooking time and temperature. But keep an eye on it and you'll be okay. It should look like this when it comes out of the oven:
Let it sit for a couple minutes, then transfer the brisket to a cutting board. Slice.
It is up to you whether you want to google "brisket" to see what the meat version looks like, but if you do, you will be as amazed as I was at how close this looks.

Spoon the thickened barbeque sauce that was left in the pan over the slices, and serve with southern-style sides (like greens and mashed sweet potatoes, above; biscuits would be good, too). After if cools, slice it thinly and use on sandwiches. It is ESPECIALLY delicious on sandwiches.