Sunday, June 29, 2008

Salt of the earth

I'm a sucker for flavored salt. I think it adds extra depth to simple dishes.

That's why I picked up this chili salt here, which is made by a local upscale grocer and sells for $6.99 a pound. That's one of the cheaper ones, too -- truffle salt, saffron salt and vanilla salt go for much more.

Chili salt

(It's worth it, though, as soon as you've tried my roasted potatoes with chili salt.)

Lately I've started making my own salts in various flavors, because I simply can't afford to keep shelling out for fancy-schmancy stuff I can do just as well in my own kitchen.

The general rule is to combine 1 teaspoon of flavoring with ¼ cup of coarse sea salt, fleur de sel or sel gris.

* For citrus salt, take finely grated orange, lemon or lime peels and let dry on a paper towel before adding to sea salt. This is a perfect addition to steamed summer vegetables.

* Lavender salt is made with dried lavender buds and sea salt. Other dried herbs will work too.

* If you have a smoker, spread kosher salt on a pan and let it smoke. Perfect on potatoes, summer salads or tofu.

* For truffle salt, slice a truffle into three pieces (the little jarred truffles will work for this) and bury the pieces in a jar of salt. Use on everything, especially tomatoes.

Magical mystery loaf

I will admit that this loaf does not look appetizing. And it probably doesn't sound appetizing either. Nothing called "loaf" ever does.

Magical loaf

What you don't know is how flavorful this combination of brown rice, mushrooms, carrots, celery, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and spices can be. It's nothing pretentious, nothing fancy, just good, solid food. It's the kind of satisfying meal that makes you hunker over the plate and scarf down every bite.

I didn't have time to make a gravy, so we ate it meatloaf-style ... with ketchup. It could have used some more binder to make it more loafy, but it was really delicious anyway. If loving a squishy loaf is wrong, I don't want to be right.

The recipe came from the Magical Loaf Studio program via VeganLunchbox. The program is super cool. You select different options for proteins, carbs, spices, etc., so you can build the recipe using things you already have on hand, and every time you'll end up with a new and different loaf.

Here's what I used to make the Magical Maggie Loaf.


1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

2 TB olive oil

One onion, diced

One large garlic clove, minced

Two celery ribs, diced

One cup mushrooms, cleaned and chopped

2 cups cooked black beans

1 cup cooked brown rice

1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth, as needed

1 heaping TB flaxseed meal

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 TB nutritional yeast flakes

2 TB ketchup

Several dashes vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce

1 tsp. salt


Preheat the oven to 350º. Spray a loaf pan or 8x8 square baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside (an 8x8 pan makes a crisper loaf).

Grind the pumpkin seeds into a coarse meal using a food processor or spice/coffee grinder. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Sauté any vegetables you've chosen in the olive oil until soft. Add to the large mixing bowl along with all the remaining ingredients. Mix and mash together well, adding only as much liquid as needed to create a soft, moist loaf that holds together and is not runny (you may not need to add any liquid if the grains and protein are very moist). Add more binder/carbohydrate as needed if the loaf seems too wet.

Press mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until cooked through.

Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a plate or platter and slice. Serve with potatoes, vegetables, and vegetarian gravy, if desired. Cold leftover slices of make a great sandwich filling.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mistakes were made

Why no pictures or a recipe?

Tonight I accidentally cooked the blueberry-chipotle tofu too long, and unintentionally made blueberry-chipotle tofu jerky.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Get a loaf of this

I love baking bread.

It's very comforting and makes your home smell great. It tastes way better than store-bought stuff. And it makes you feel all virtuous and earthy, like a pioneer woman.

My very favorite recipe is so easy, it's almost a crime. But just look at the gorgeous results:


The recipe was first published in the New York Times and has been making the rounds on food blogs ever since.

Don't be intimidated by the 22-24 hour time. I was almost scared off by that too.

It seriously takes about 30 seconds to stir everything together, then you let the dough sit for 12-20 hours. (I leave mine where it won't be disturbed, like on top of the fridge or inside the microwave.) After it's rises, roll it into a ball and let it sit for two more hours. Then bake for about 50 minutes.

No-knead bread

I actually prefer to use this version of the recipe, which just includes some minor tweaks and tips. It also has pretty photos, and I like pretty photos.

Trust me on this. If you love bread but you've never made it at home, this is definitely the one to try. It makes bread with big, soft bubbles on the inside and a satisfying crunch on the outside. Best of all, it will impress everyone you know.

Homemade bread

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Grumpy sushi

I've been doing tons of cooking lately, though you'd never know it to look at this blog lately. It looks like all I've been doing is getting storebought stuff and convenience food.

And today is no different.

In my defense, I was in a car accident this afternoon. I'm fine, but I'm hella grouchy. After dealing with the police, insurance, tow truck, body shop and rental car, I really didn't want to bother with cooking or standing around in the kitchen.

So I picked up veggie sushi from Fresh & Easy.

Veggie sushi

After I polished that off, I was still pissed off, so I had some popcorn and French fries -- because that'll teach that mean old lady who plowed into me!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Even my cocktails have veggies in them

This was my cucumber mojito from Wang's in the Desert.

Cucumber mojito

I had it the same night I went out for Palm Springs Restaurant Week. It was a 117-degree night, and I wanted a ridiculously refreshing drink -- and that's exactly what I got with this mojito.

Also, it was a fantastic reminder of why one really great cocktail is better than 3 sub-par ones.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Green smoothie

Green smoothie

Because I still don't get enough greens in my diet, I've been blending them into my morning smoothies.

This one is made of strawberries, a few chunks of frozen mango, half a frozen banana, almond milk, maple syrup and a fistful of frozen spinach.

No, you can't taste the spinach. I promise.

The Shrek glass, however, is a necessity.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"Cheese" ball

I bought a bag of raw Brazil nuts recently for a very specific recipe. And then I promptly forgot what I planned to make.

No matter. I saw this recipe for Brazil nut cheese and became obsessed with the idea.

You soak the Brazil nuts overnight, then puree them into a creamy, fatty paste. (I tweaked the seasoning on the recipe a little -- the way the recipe is written is too bland for my taste.) Roll everything into a ball and squeeze out the extra liquid.

"Cheese" ball in process

Cover the ball in fresh herbs. I used whatever I had on hand from the farmers' market.

"Cheese" ball

The recipe said to bake until the ball cracks, and mine never quite did that. I finally got tired of waiting and pulled it out. I think altogether I cooked it too long. The cheese would have been less dry and crumbly if I would have kept the bake time around 20 minutes.

I still really like this concept. I was a child of the 70s, so cheese balls represent everything fun and grown-up and glamorous to me. (Yes, that really is as sad as it sounds.)

I'll probably make this again next time my friends come over for wine and nibbles.

More eggless quiches

It's official. I'm completely addicted to these mini crustless tofu quiches from Fatfree Vegan.

Mini eggless quiches

I think I've made a batch every week since I discovered them. They're a quick breakfast, great snack and easy lunch. I am so thankful Susan invented them, and I'm forever in her debt.

Recipe here.

Chocolate + millet

What looks like dookie but tastes like a candy bar?

Dark chocolate treats

A few weeks ago I bought a big bag of puffed millet, thinking it would make a great breakfast cereal. And it does, if you like styrofoam peanuts for the most important meal of the day.

Since then I've been looking for some other use for the puffed grain.

I found inspiration in this post on Culinate, where the writer mixed puffed millet with sunflower seeds, currants and melted chocolate. Stir everything together, form into piles and chill until hard.

I didn't have sunflower seeds or currants, so I substituted walnut pieces and dried cranberry. Altogether it was easy, fast and wonderful, if a little messy -- these things melt really fast in your fingers.

Jason said they remind him of no-bake cookies. I hope not, because all the no-bake cookies I've ever tried have tasted like dirty wooden spoons. True, these things are not baked, but they are more of a confection than a cookie. I like them quite a bit.

I'm not even close to the bottom of the millet bag, so I'm trying to think of other great combinations with millet and chocolate. Next time I think I'll do pepitas and cayenne ... or cashews and dried apricots ... or ...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A very balanced diet

Tonight for dinner I had:

Three black olives
Half an avocado
One mango
One homemade peanut butter cookie

I love nights when Jason is away.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

XXX SpaghettiO's

Rated XXX because these sexy vegan SpaghettiO's are for adults only. If they came through the mail, they would arrive in a plain brown package. If they were in a store, you would have to show ID before stepping through the velvet curtain. If they ...

Well, I could go on with the analogy, but I won't. Especially since it involves hot dogs.

I don't know why I get cravings for food I never really ate before I was a vegan, but I do. Today it was SpaghettiO's -- even though it's been about a decade since I've actually eaten a can of the chemical-rich, preservative-packed stuff.

I think I did a pretty good job replicating it, though. It was reminiscent enough of the tomatoey pasta I ate as a kid, but this version was spicy, thick and very grown-up.

Vegan spaghettiO's

Here's what you'll need:

- Anelletti pasta (O-shaped pasta)
- 2 cans condensed tomato soup (Or just one can if you don't like your pasta too saucy. But I personally think everything is just a vehicle for sauce.)
- small onion, diced
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
- Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
- 2 T. nutritional yeast (optional)
- fresh basil (optional)
- vegan hot dogs (optional)

Here's how you make it:

1. Boil the pasta. I made half of the 1-pound bag, and it easily made enough for four servings.

2. While that's boiling, heat some oil in a saucepan and saute the diced onion until softened. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Ditto with the crushed red pepper, if you want it.

3. Open the condensed soup and add to the saucepan. Thin slightly with a little soymilk (or soy creamer if you want a richer sauce). I also added some salt at this point because Jason thinks I eat too much salt, so he bought the low-sodium soup, and of course it wasn't salty enough ... it's a stupid, vicious cycle.

4. I also added nutritional yeast and fresh basil, then whizzed the heck out of everything with my immersion blender.

5. You know what? I like hot dogs. So I tossed a couple of sliced veggie dogs in the sauce and cooked until heated through.

6. Drain pasta.

7. Combine pasta and sauce.

8. Profess your undying love to me because it is so good.

Totally chill food

Usually the heat doesn't really affect me until it gets higher than 110 degrees. But yesterday was a slimy, humid 108 that had me begging for mercy -- and summer has barely even started.

Because my place is outfitted with The Little Air Conditioner That Could, it has enough trouble keeping up with the outside temperatures. I cannot possibly make it worse by turning on an oven.

So it looks like I'll be having salads, soups, slaws and other chilled-out meals for the next few months.

Here's today's lunch:

Mango salad

That's actually my favorite salad in the world. Just a tiny bit of lettuce (butter lettuce is best, but I only had romaine), a mango, hearts of palm, red onion. Top with a lime-dijon vinaigrette if you're feeling fancy. If you're lazy, just add some salt, chile powder and a generous squeeze of lime.

Since I won't have time to eat before yoga tonight, I also packed a side of beans and corn. For good measure, I added tomatoes of death.

Corn and beans

I need other ideas, though.

What are your favorite things to cook ... er, NOT cook ... when the temperatures start to sizzle? I'm thinking the chilled avocado soup in this post might be a welcome reprieve from my usual gazpacho.

I'm also willing to use a crockpot and the stovetop. Just no oven.

Hooray! Vegan food for restaurant week

Earlier this week I wrote about how disappointing it was to discover that the only vegan menu for Palm Springs Restaurant Week had fish and honey on it.

Today I received a very kind e-mail saying that the menu has been adjusted.

Hello Maggie,

While I was retyping the menu for our website today it dawned on me about the Bonito Flakes. I did not know about Honey. I will update the menu.

Here are the replacements:

Vietnamese Vegetable Wraps:
Fresh Vegetables Wrapped in Softened Rice Paper Served Chilled with a Mildly Spicy Citrus Dressing

Spicy Tofu: (Our chef removed the honey)
Wokked in a Mildly Spicy, Garlic, Soy Sauce

Thanks for your input and for keeping us honest!

Sincerely yours,

Alford Harrison
Managing Partner, Wang's in the Desert

He also followed up with a very nice call.

So if you're a vegan/vegetarian in the Palm Springs area and you're interested in restaurant week, please support Wang's in the Desert. They put together a wonderful menu that not only has vegan options, but MULTIPLE vegan options. I also appreciate that they're so open to feedback from patrons.

Make a reservation today by calling 760.325.9264.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jamaican jerk tempeh

I've owned "One-Dish Vegetarian Meals" by Robin Robertson for months now and have barely cracked it open.

And I finally figured out why: I don't like the fonts and the colors.

Of course, that is a stupid (and nerdy) reason for not using a cookbook, especially when I've heard nothing but praise for Robertson.

I finally gave one of the recipes a try, a Jamaican jerk tempeh stew that can be served over rice or couscous.

Jamaican jerk tempeh

The spices were amazing and completely different than the flavors that I usually bring to the table. I backed off on the hot spices a little bit, knowing that we would have leftovers sitting around for a while and the heat would likely increase. But that gave the cinnamon and allspice a chance to shine through, which I loved.

Plus, the dish was fast and easy -- a real winner.

Now I'm looking forward to trying another one-dish wonder.

The native was calling

Last night I went to a kickoff party for Palm Springs Restaurant Week.

My meal looked like this:

Lone bruschetta

Pineapple martini

Little-known fact: When you get some alcohol in me, especially on an empty stomach, I become a total dude. I just need some nachos, man.

One quick call to Native Foods later, and I had a takeout order ready to go. It was a box full of everything yummy -- handfuls of tortilla chips, black beans, corn, crumbly soy "meat," lime-kissed guacamole, cashew cream, green onions and loads of cilantro.

Native Nachos

Besides, it should be against the law to cook for yourself so soon after vacation. The last thing I wanted was to set foot in the kitchen. God bless vegan takeout.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Newport Beach for vegans

I'm back from beautiful Newport Beach.

Going down

Beach homes


We stayed in a happy beach cottage with a raspberry door. It was literally 15 steps from the sand.

Beach house

We spent all weekend biking until the sidewalks ran into the ocean.

Beach biking

My bike

We showered outside, which was excellent. I never want to shower inside again.

Outside shower

We spent hours in the ocean playing in the crashing waves, our hair tangled with salt, our bodies sunburnt and exhausted.


All that PLUS gorgeous Viking appliances!

Viking appliances

As far as food goes, mostly we grazed on nuts, toast piled with avocado and tomato, salad, quinoa mixed with green olives and dates.

The first day we biked down the beach, took the ferry to Balboa Island and rode around there, came back and stopped for dinner at a small taco shack on our way home. My friend Leslie told the owner that I don't eat any animal products. "Oh, vegan!" the owner said. We asked if there was a word for vegan in Spanish. The woman shook her head sadly. "No crema, no queso," she said.

Before ordering I wanted to make sure the beans weren't cooked with lard. The woman said, "No! No lard. We make healthy food. No animal products. We don't want to kill people."

I had veggie enchiladas filled with peppers, spinach and mushrooms, with pinto beans, rice and a handful of chips. It was satisfying beach food.

Veggie enchiladas

The next night we stopped at A La Carte, a place that looked really promising. We were all on our bikes looking at the menu when the manager poked his head out the door and asked if we had any questions. When I asked if he had anything for vegans, he ushered me inside and introduced me to the chef/owner. Together we went through the entire menu together.

They told me about all their vegan friends and the dishes their friends love most. There were a number of really tasty-sounding options: Curried red lentils and rice, green salad, Korean tofu, spicy Thai noodles ... All vegan. I quizzed them on everything a second time. "No fish sauce No chicken broth? No cream? No butter? No dairy?"

"You must try the polenta," the chef urged. It sounded delicious -- soft polenta layered with eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini with a breadcrumb topping. But I said I was thinking about a salad and noodles instead. "Oh, the polenta is so good," the owner said. "You'll love it."

Well, how could I refuse? I ordered the polenta.

I didn't make it past the first bite before I tasted cheese. I asked the waiter if there was dairy in my meal. He got the chef.

"Oh, there's no cheese," she said, smiling. "I just use a lot of cream and butter to mimic cheese."

The offending dish


They gave me some veggies and noodles while I waited for something else.


It was OK. And then I got the tempeh burger.

Much better

Not great.

Actually, the food was probably good, but the polenta tainted everything for me. They could have trotted out my very favorite foods and it still would have been difficult to forget how they disrespected me.

It was depressing. We had a contract of trust, and they broke it. It was like having a boyfriend cheat on me. I kept going over the conversation in my head: Did we not communicate? Why did this happen? Where did it go wrong?

However, that's the worst thing that happened during an otherwise glorious, relaxing weekend at the beach -- which makes me a very lucky girl indeed.

Palm Springs Restaurant Week

I was so excited to find out that one of the restaurants participating in Palm Springs Restaurant Week has a completely separate menu for vegans. Yay!

I immediately emailed Jason and told him we should make reservations.

So imagine my disappointment when I looked at the menu and realized two of the dishes are very much not vegan. (Bonito flakes = fish = not vegan. Honey = not vegan.)

I emailed the restaurant, and hopefully they will adjust their menu in time for restaurant week.

I do give them praise for trying something so cool and progressive. However, this gives me serious doubts about the vegan-ness of the other dishes.

Also, I realized after sending my e-mail, there's no vegan option for dessert.

So sad.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Taking a break

I'm off to the beach for a couple days!

Be back soon ... hopefully with lots of good food stories and plenty of inspiration.

Brunch in a bento

Ah, brunch. As Jaques says on The Simpsons, "You'd love it. It's not quite breakfast, it's not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end."

I adore everything about brunch, so that's exactly what I've been packing in my lunchtime bento for the past few days.

Brunch in a bento

The bundles are another recipe ganked from Vegan Dad, and they are goooood. It's the sweet-savory taste philosophy of a McGriddle, minus all the fat, cholesterol and self-loathing. They are fantastic.

I was nervous about the mini crustless tofu quiches. After all, how eggy could they possibly be? Turns out they are so wonderful. Light, fluffy, packed with flavor. I added a tad bit more cornstarch than the recipe called for, and my quiches still ended up a little soft. But upon reheating, they were perfect. I'll definitely be making them again.

If only I could have packed a tiny thermos of mimosas ...

Yucky gnocchi

Well, they can't all be winners.

Homemade gnocchi w/pesto-ish sauce

It turns out that homemade gnocchi, once cooked and frozen and reheated again, tastes like lumps of glue. And not good glue either. The cheap stuff.

And the pesto that I made with the fresh green garlic from the farmers market tasted rancid and bitter.


Grilling pizza

We're about to hit three-digit weather again, so last night we took advantage of the cool, 95-degree night and grilled out.

Grilling the pizzas

That's Jason's anti-vegan pizza on the left, and my virtuous vegan one on the right. (Mine looks bigger, but I swear it's just perspective. We are all about equality, even down to our dough balls.)

Vegan Hawaiian pizza

The Hawaiian pizza thing didn't work as well as I'd hoped. I used some sort of vegan deli slices that were pretty flavorless, especially after being grilled. I need to find something saltier to mimic ham.

Any suggestions?

The pineapple was damn tasty, though.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Just Vegin' Out

I have a story in tomorrow's paper about Vegin' Out, a completely fantastic L.A.-based company that just expanded their services to my neck of the desert.

Here's why they're so awesome: Vegin' Out brings healthy, fresh vegan food right to your door. Each delivery consists of 9-10 meals for $100, plus $15 for shipping.

It looks just like this:
Food delivery

The menu changes each week. My week consisted of tofu teriyaki and stirfried veggies; pasta primavera; tamale black bean pie; gazpacho; wheat berry salad; chickpea, kale and red rice salad; emerald veggies; roasted root vegetables; and five macadamia nut chocolate chip cookies.

Vegin' Out delivery

I tested the service for a week. Their portion sizes are smaller than what I typically eat. (I think I got slightly more than 7 meals out of it.) But everything tasted great, almost as if someone had just made it in my own kitchen, and there was a lot of variety.

During the time period, there was one particularly long, rough day at work. I came home very late and almost wept with relief when I saw so much tasty, ready-to-go vegan food in my fridge. Each bite of kale salad seemed to erase a little more stress and tension. (Moral: Never underestimate the power of a really hearty, nutritious meal.)

Overall, Vegin' Out is not a service that I could afford all the time.

But when my life gets busy and stressful, taking care of my health is one of the first things to go. Earlier this year when I was covering film fest and endless music festivals and running from one event to another, I skipped meals way too often; I felt sickly and exhausted all the time. In situations like that, I think Vegin' Out is definitely worth the price.

Vegan food

I think I'll probably just have them deliver to my office to give me energy on those particularly long days.

Monday, June 2, 2008

My cups overfloweth

I ganked the idea for green chile chickpea tortilla cups from Vegan Dad, but with one major change -- I was too lazy to make or buy tortillas, so I used wonton wrappers instead.

Until tonight I had completely forgotten that I used to use wonton wrappers as cups for everything, from mini breakfast quiches to a baked stirfry appetizer. Why did I ever stop? They have a delicate crispness that pairs well with almost anything.

As for the filling, I wish I would have spiced the chickpea and chile mixture a little more. It was a tad too mild for my taste. Otherwise, delicious.

Wonton cups

Green chile chickpea wonton cups

This was my first time using Tofutti cheese in a recipe. I wouldn't really want to eat it plain, but I was impressed by how well it melted and the fact that it didn't taste like crayons.

I served the wonton cups with a cup of this posole/tortilla soupish concoction I invented over the weekend. Basically, it's just a spicy, zesty vehicle for hominy and lots of veggies.

Soup full of veggies

Also, avocados are lovely and plentiful right now, and I have a big pile of them from the farmers market. This will obviously help me achieve my goal of eating one avocado every single day for the rest of my life. Yummy.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

No queso fun

I keep forgetting to post about my Baja Fresh experience a few weeks ago.

Jason and I were out and about running errands and paying little attention to what time it was. And then the hunger hit both of us like a truck -- it was 2 p.m., we hadn't had lunch yet and neither one of us had eaten breakfast.

I don't really like fast food, but at that point we had no other option. I needed to fill my belly right away. There was no way I could make it all the way home without my stomach eating itself.

But because I don't eat much fast food, I felt a little helpless in that moment. I couldn't think of a single place that would accommodate vegans. I furiously googled away on my iPhone, trying to find a list of good candidates.

Jason picked up something in nugget form from McDonalds while I ended up at Baja Fresh, where the staff was super knowledgeable about their food and told me about several options on their menu. I ordered the grilled veggie burrito, which was stuffed full with peppers, onions, black beans and salsa.

Since I ordered it sans dairy, here's what my receipt looked like (the churro is Jason's, by the way):

No queso fun

The "no queso fun" part cracked me up. Poor vegan burrito. No cheese, no fun.

Farmers market salad

Even though I hate the assumption that vegans only eat salad, I do enjoy a really well-constructed plate of produce.

Like this.

Chop chop salad

I made this chopped salad as soon as I got home from the farmers market. You could practically taste the sunshine in it.