Sunday, July 27, 2008

Vegan Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

Lately, I have been trying to make the perfect vegan cupcakes. It all started when I purchased Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I started out making a basic vanilla cupcake with a rich chocolate frosting. The cupcakes did turn out delicious, and I did get a good response from my office peeps, but I wasn't 100% happy with them. Then, I made the Chai Latte Cupcakes with a sugar and cinnamon topping. Again, this cupcake had potential, but I knew it still needed work.

Tonight, I got together with some friends to watch The Godfather II, and I decided I would try out another cupcake recipe to try out on my friends. I know, Cannolis would have made more sense, but I already had the ingredients for this. I'll try out vegan Cannolis next time for ya! This time, I decided to make the recipe for the basic chocolate cupcake (with a few modifications) with Vegan Buttercream Frosting. Can you say, Yum? Here it goes:

The Cupcakes
1/2 cup mocha soymilk
1/2 cup plain soymilk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup raw granulated cane sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup coca powder (I use the brand Green & Blacks Organics)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
about 1/2 cup chopped vegan oreos (I use Newmans Os dairy free and wheat free)

Preheat oven to 350F and line muffin pan with muffin papers. In a large bowl, whisk together mocha and plain soymilk and apple cider vinegar, and set aside for about 5 minutes to curdle. While you are waiting, go ahead and measure out all of the ingredients. When you are finished measuring, you can start adding ingredients to the soymilk and vinegar mixture. Add the sugar, oil, and extracts and mix together until foamy. You can mix this in a separate bowl, or sift together if lumpy, or you can just go ahead and add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder, and salt to the mixture. Then, I continue to mix together until creamy. Some small lumps are okay, but try to make the batter as creamy as possible. You could probably do all of this in a blender too. Add the chopped oreos to the mixture and continue to mix. I use a hand chopper that I purchased from Pampered Chef that worked quite nice for chopping the oreos. It takes about 6-7 oreos to make 1/2 cup. Pour the batter into the muffin liners. This should make around 12 cupcakes. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes. Eat the leftover batter and lick the mixing spoons! When done, let cool for an hour before topping with the frosting.

The Frosting
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated shortening. (I use Jungle Shortening)
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine (I use Earth Balance)
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup plain soy milk
4 chopped vegan oreos

I do all the mixing in a blender. You can mix manually as well, but I find a blender much more efficient. Mix the shortening and margarine until well combined. Add the sugar and continue to blend until the butter mixture coats the sugar. Add the vanilla and soymilk and blend until creamy. Add the chopped cookies and blend until the mixture is creamy and the chopped cookies look like small crumbs inside the mixture.

Once the cupcakes are cooled, top the cupcakes generously with the frosting. Break cookies in half and top each cupcake with a half of a cookie. I find that the cupcakes are best to serve after they have been cooling for about 4 hours. It has been my experience that if I serve them too soon, then they aren't always cooled all the way through and the frosting doesn't sit well on a warm cupcake. Also, you want to let them cool long enough so that they are sitting firm against the liner. If you dig in too soon, then they may fall apart in the middle when you peel the liner off.

Delights and After Thoughts:
When I went shopping for this recipe, I went to the local grocery store, which is much closer than the whole foods. I actually only needed to buy the shortening, and so I went looking for it. I had never purchased shortening before, so I wasn't really sure where it was located or what I was looking for, but I finally found it by the oils. The first one that I see is by Crisco, and the label said "No Trans Fat." I thought, Awesome, but I checked the ingredients anyway to make sure it was vegan. First of all, I noticed that the first ingredient is fully hydrogenated oils, and the second is partially hydrogenated cottonseed oils. Second of all, there was about 10 more ingredients that I had never heard of. I thought, how could they label this as no trans fat? But, then I looked closer and it said, No Trans Fat Per Serving. Needless to say, I had to run to Whole Foods to get the right kind of shortening that won't kill me or my friends. I do have to say though, that it really makes me angry that these companies trick consumers with how they label things. It also upsets me that it is possible to make these products with ingredients that are healthier, but they choose not to. And lastly, it annoys me that the local grocery store doesn't carry any unique brands of shortening for people who want to live longer. So, that's my rant about Crisco.

Back to the finished product of the cupcakes.....
These cupcakes are my best to date. They came out perfectly chocolaty and moist, and the buttercream frosting is to die for! I'm working on perfecting the basic vanilla and chai latte cupcakes, so I'll get back to you (Cannolis first though). But for now, bake these mouth watering cupcakes, and be sure to close your eyes and really enjoy that first bite!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Some Pictures Taken With My Camera Phone of the Orzo Soup (Recipe Below)

Spicy Orzo Soup with Fire Roasted Tomatoes

Tonight for dinner I decided to try a variation of a recipe I saw on 101 cookbooks by Heidi Swanson . Her recipe is not vegan, so I ommited and added some ingreadiants to make it my own. I do have to say, I was delighted with the results!

7 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cup tri colored orzo
1 3/4 cups finely chopped spinach
14oz can of fire roasted tomatoes (drained)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
7 green onions chopped (green and white parts)
olive oil
sea salt to taste
3 tablespoons chopped vegan Mozzerella Cheese (Follow Your Heart)
Optional: 1 sliced carrot, 1/4 cup diced turnip, 2 stalks celery chopped, 1/2 chopped white onion

Pour you vegetable broth in a stockpot, and if you choose to add the optional vegetables, throw them in now. Bring to a boil. Make sure to skim the top of the soup if any foam or fat rises to the top. While you are waiting for your vegetable broth to boil, grab a separate pot, boil water, and pour in your orzo until just done. This should take around 10 minutes. I am not a fan of cooking pasta in the broth you will be eating because it makes it a bit starchy. While you are waiting for the broth and orzo to boil, go ahead and pour the fire roasted tomatoes, with about a tablespoon of good olive oil in a small skillet or saucepan, add the red pepper flakes, and set to medium heat. Cook for about 5 minutes and set heat to warm. Pour the spinach and scallions in the vegetable broth once it starts boiling. Once the orzo is finished, drain and add the pasta to the broth. Cook for about 3 more minutes to make sure all of the flavors are blended together. Once the soup is finished, ladle into a bowl, spoon a generous portion of the tomato mixture into the soup, sprinkle some olive oil, throw in a pinch of the mozzarella, and add some salt if needed. You're done! YUM!

Delights and After Thoughts:
This recipe is great for improvising which gives you the option to use any leftovers that you may have in your refrigerator, freezer, or pantry. A few weeks ago I made a vegetable barley soup, and used a stock recipe that I found on the Post Punk Kitchen website. I'll have to write about that one sometime too. I had about 3 cups of that frozen, so I used that along with Imagine Organic Vegetable Broth for my broth base. The broth that I had frozen already had vegetables in it (carrots, turnips, onions, and celery), which is why I listed those as optional. Feel free to add a small amount of your favorite vegetables to this soup. I originally wanted to use whole wheat orzo, but I couldn't find that anywhere. But, I did find this tri-colored orzo by Rice Select, and I am glad I did because I think it made a great addition to this soup. I just want to note that you can order whole wheat orzo off of the rice select website in bulk or off of amazon in normal size portions. The fire roasted tomatoes with the red pepper flakes do make the soup pretty spicy, so if you do not like spicy feel free to use any other type of canned tomato (chopped or crushed would work just fine as well) and omit the red pepper flakes. Salt is all about preference. I did add a pinch of salt to taste, but I am not a fan of adding a lot of salt or any if I don't have to. I prefer to taste and enjoy food for its original flavor. But, let's face it, sometimes we need a little salt to bring out the flavor, but not so much that it takes over the dish.

After I was finished, I decided to just throw the tomato mixture into the broth, and poured the soup into soup bowl sized Tupperware (thanks to all the orders of soup from Chinese and Thai restaurants), and freeze. Soup is one of my favorite foods, and this has made it in the top rankings! Make sure to eat slow and really take in the flavor and scent of this soup. If you enjoy it spicy, this soup will be sure to help clear your sinuses and congestion. This soup is great for any occasion, and I hope you enjoy!


Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Spinning Class

Tonight after work I decided to try out a spinning class. I love Fridays at the gym because it's pretty empty and it's a good stress release to end the week. I haven't participated in a spin class for a couple of years, and I thought it was time to give it another go mainly because my tennis shoes are falling apart and this is the only cardio exercise that they will make it through. So, I walked in, and I either looked confused or the teacher realized I was new because he walked over, introduced himself, and helped me adjust my bike to meet my needs. Everyone in the class seemed to be regulars because they were all cracking jokes. The teacher was quite a character as well, which made the class interesting. Then, right before we warmed up he mentioned that this was supposed to be a 45 minute class, but we were going for an hour. That comment instantly brought me back to the first time I did a spin class.

I was in Sarasota with my sister about 8 years ago and we decided it was time to try our first spin class. Classes usually run about 45 minutes unless otherwise noted, but of course we picked an intense class that was over an hour. We're both pretty in shape, but we were both dying in this class. I have a hard time giving up in a class, so I suffered all of the way through. When the class was over, I remember thinking,
I am never going to go through that again, but they pulled me back in!

In addition to the hour long announcement, a man and woman were talking two bikes over from me, and the man yelled out, "Hey, this woman took your class once and she's back again, she must be nuts!" Needless to say, I was a little terrified of this class, but i decided to stick it out and I'm glad I did. What got me through this class were the instructors funny comments and the good music he played (Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and U2). He would also make sure to get off his bike every other song and ask everyone personally how they were doing. I thought that was a nice gesture, or maybe it was an excuse to be lazy for a few seconds. Then, at one point he said, "We're halfway done, 17 songs left!" That kind of scared me and I couldn't tell if he was joking, but then after the next song he mentioned that we had 6 songs to go, which made me feel more confident. Anyways, this was a great cardio and leg workout and guaranteed lots of sweat. So, I made it through my hour long spin class and I will go back for tennis shoes or old!

This weekend I am going to work on making baked polenta for the first time ever, and I'll also make some vegan cupcakes. Be on the lookout new posts, pictures, and recipes. I also appreciate your suggestions and comments! Have a wonderful and relaxing weekend.

Welcome to Veganism!

Hi! My name is Monica and I have recently decided to become a vegan. My decision to cut out meat from my diet was primarily for health reasons, but as I started researching the animal agriculture industry, this decision became more of an ethical one. Later, I decided to slowly cut out animal products, and now I have currently been vegan for 3 weeks.

Being vegan is still new to me, and I am slowly trying new recipes and learning what ingredients are derived from animal products. It has also been interesting learning what items to substitute in recipes that call for eggs or cheese. Some changes have been simple for me, but they have also been tough. One of the hardest things for me is going out to restaurants. I realized that unless I go to a place that is a health food restaurant, it is almost impossible to get a completely vegan meal unless I want to eat a raw salad every time I go out. I am trying to get used to tasting if there are animal products in these dishes. For example, I went to a Mexican restaurant and ordered a veggie fajita, but I am sure the veggies were cooked in butter. I also ordered a Thai dish yesterday: Baby Corn and Mushroom with veggies. The sauce looked as though it could have been vegan because it was clear and not creamy, but I am not sure if they used fish sauce or butter. I do not go out to eat a lot, but when I do I try my hardest to order vegan, and this has definitely been one of my challenges.

Along with becoming vegan, I have also made other healthy changes in my life such as exercising, yoga, cutting down white flour, refined sugars, and artificial sweeteners. I make an effort to only eat whole wheat breads and pastas, and I cut down caffeine and alcohol. I would like to cut out caffeine completely. I cleaned out my pantry of these things along with items that have MSG as well as trans fat or other unhealthy processed items. I realized that spending time listening to your body is so important and helpful. I also find it helpful to carry a pad of paper with me and write down ingredients in foods that I am unfamiliar with. This way, I can look them up later and I know exactly what I am ingesting. I notice changes in the way my body feels and reacts to food that is processed or unnatural. These changes have really made me feel so much healthier physically and emotionally.

I created this blog for all vegans, but especially for the recent vegans, or anyone interested in exploring veganism. This blog also focuses on healthy issues, so you may find posts about exercise as well. It is my hope that as I make new discoveries, try new recipes, create substitutes for ingredients, or overcome tough challenges during this process that we can help each other along in refining our veganism. I wish you luck and I look forward to your comments and suggestions!