Vegan Pots de Creme

img_3215     This recipe for Vegan Pots de Crème is excellent the way it is, but there are some simple variations you could do (see below).   This is really easy, delicious, and elegant enough for a dinner party or New Years, or Valentines Day.  I topped mine with easy, homemade coconut whipped cream, but So Delicious also makes non-dairy whipped cream in a tub.

VEGAN POTS DE CREME

Makes about 6 generous servings

INGREDIENTS
3/4 Cup full-fat coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
12 oz. Mori-Nu Silken Firm tofu, drained  (organic if it’s available)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Cup vegan chocolate chips  (dark or semi-sweet)
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, heat the coconut milk until very hot, but do not simmer or boil.  In a blender, put silken tofu, sugar, salt and chocolate chips.  Measure out only 3/4 Cup of the hot coconut milk, add it to the blender along with the vanilla extract, and blend until smooth and silky.  Spoon the mousse into small ramekins, espresso cups, demitasse cups, etc.  It’s rich, so keep the servings small.  Chill in fridge for at least 4 hours, but you can make this a couple of days ahead even.  Serve chilled or, I like it halfway to room temperature.  When ready to serve, top with vegan whipped cream, such as coconut whipped cream, So Delicious, etc.  See other variations below.

EASY VARIATIONS
For Black Forest flavor, make with dark chocolate chips, and top with a few pie-filling cherries and a dollop of whipped cream.  For Mocha flavor, make with vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips and add a couple teaspoons of espresso powder or instant coffee to the saucepan of hot coconut milk.  Or before serving, drizzle on some vegan caramel sauce.  You could layer the bottom of the ramekin with a few caramelized banana slices, or go for an almond-joy flavor with sweetened coconut and toasted almonds, etc., etc.
IMG_2875  I prefer the organic if I can find it.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

IMG_0384    The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  by  Marie Kondo is a simple little book, but it can change your life.  At 224 pages, it doesn’t take long to read, and the language translated from the Japanese is easily understood.  The concepts seem deceptively simple but the impact can be great if one is open to it.    One thing that might seem unusual about Kondo’s methods is the way she acknowledges the spirit of things.  For example, she thanks her clothing when she hangs it up at end of day.  In clearing out clutter, one must hold each object to see if it “sparks joy.”  This might seem strange at first, but Kondo spent 5 years as an attendant maiden at a Shinto shrine, and this may explain the animism in her teachings.  And by holding each object, we get it out from the back of the closet or down from the shelf, and we consider why we acquired it and if we still really want it.  There are some good articles about the KonMari method, like this one in the New York Times, or this one that actually has an excerpt from the book and a little video of Marie Kondo explaining some of her organizing principles.

In America, many of us have so much STUFF that we rent storage units and we don’t know where things are anymore, so we end up buying multiples of things we already own but cannot locate.  Kondo takes exception to all this storage.  It’s one thing to store a bin or two of seasonal clothing, or holiday decorations in the attic, but the level we have taken it to is indicative of issues that need to be resolved.  And after all the clearing out, we can stop paying for things we don’t really need, stop taking care of things we don’t want, and spend more time living.  In one example, a client of Kondo’s cleared out a lot of books and realized that most of the books she had kept were about a particular subject she was passionate about, and so she changed her career.  Another little bit of magic is that supposedly, all the things you really want will fit easily into your living space.  The things that spark joy will be close at hand, respected and available to use and enjoy.

A few weeks ago, after reading Kondo’s book, I didn’t think much about it, but something in my consciousness was unlocked, and I soon got the bug.  Kondo recommends starting with your clothes, so of course I began cleaning out a large filing credenza in my office, getting rid of about 25% of the papers therein.  Then I began going through old Martha Stewart magazines (I no longer subscribe).  I cleared out 40 of them, and went into the attic and brought down the rest and stacked them all in one place.  Then I got rid of 20 more.  This was a bit time consuming, and my husband was now beginning to wonder if everything else was going to fall by the wayside as I continued on my clearing-out spree, so I put that task aside for another time, but at least the magazines are whittled down and now all in one place.  Also, I realized I had a moral obligation to recycle those magazines (not donate them), because they’re full of recipes for dead non-human animals, and so that’s what I did.  One less bin in the attic.

I’ve already returned this book to the library, but from what I can remember, Kondo recommends beginning by clearing out objects you no longer want, because this is the best way to figure out what you need.  And this involves my favorite concept from the book–amassing all like objects in one place first.  My previous method of organizing was to tackle one drawer, or one corner of a closet, etc.  However, the benefit of putting all like objects in one place is so you can SEE how much of that thing you really have.  This in turn influences how willing you will be to let go of things.  One of my best friends recently called me a minimalist.  She will now see this is not true, for I will show you an example of my most-recent lost weekend of organizing.   I decided to tackle socks.  Not my sock drawer, but socks in general, because the truth is that I sort of knew I had socks in various dresser drawers.  I would buy a pack of socks, and decide the seam was too pronounced on the toe, or that I only liked 4 of the colors in a pack of 6 pair, etc.  So, I would put the extra socks in the bottom drawer or something.  This went on for 10 years or so.  I put a clean bed sheet on top of my comforter to create a flat (and conveniently elevated) surface that would show off all the socks for the photo below.  Well, I was shocked to find I had 90 pairs of socks!  After putting some never-worn socks in the donate bag, throwing away any socks that were a bit worn or pilly, and also tossing the singles, I was left with 45 pairs of socks, and this includes footie socks, hiking socks, cotton socks, knit dress socks, etc.  I will not buy socks again for a long time and will throw them away as they wear out, bringing this number down to a more-reasonable level.  Kondo recommends using regular old cardboard shoe boxes to organize, so despite my penchant for fancy storage boxes, that’s what I did.  I also used this video to fold my underwear.  On a roll now, I next tackled all tee shirts, including tanks that I wear as undershirts in winter, and short-sleeve and long-sleeve tees.  Again, I used the handy YouTube videos for folding–this one for short sleeve, and this one for long-sleeve.  Folding is an important part of the KonMari process, you see, and I am now a Konvert.  See last photo below for tee-shirt drawer results.  Since my tee shirts had been hanging in closets, folded into drawers, and mixed in with sweaters, this process led me to organize my sweaters all into one drawer, and switch out my cold-weather clothing for warm-weather clothing.  Even Lars got into the act, and I stopped to help him organize his three big dresser drawers.  In the process of all this, I threw out things like old sachets that had lost their mojo, and 4 decrepit sports bras.  Into the donate bag went two packs of unopened panty hose (shudder) from God-knows-when.  One thing leads to another, in an inspiring way.  Where will it end?  Who knows?  I will give it some thought later, but right now, please excuse me while I go Kondo the coat closet.
IMG_0390  BEFORE
IMG_0392  AFTER, with underwear on the right
IMG_0393  ALL TEE SHIRTS, INCLUDING TANKS on left, SHORT SLEEVES AND LONG SLEEVES.

Miyoko’s Creamery Vegan Cheeses

IMG_2814    We ate a lot of good food on Thanksgiving, but the highlight for me were these vegan cheeses by Miyoko’s Creamery.  These are gorgeous, cultured nut cheeses that taste like good European cheeses.   It’s possible that my favorite is the Classic Double Cream Chive (above photo), which is like a rich Boursin with a lovely herbal flavor from organic chives.    I admit to eating too much of it on Thanksgiving.  Like, I could hardly wait for lunch the next day to break out the crackers, not kidding.  A few days later, that wheel was polished off, and we broke open the Fresh Loire Valley cheese which is wrapped in a fresh green fig leaf (see photo below).  Talk about presentation!  The Fresh Loire Valley cheese is a bit similar to the Classic Double Cream Chive except perhaps a bit milder, with a nice subtle tang–addictive in its own way, let me assure you.  I thought I tasted a hint of lemon in it, but it’s probably the organic wine that it’s made with.  The last one we tried was the Double Cream Sundried Tomato Garlic, which, despite its name, tasted like a delicious very-mild smoked-cheddar cheese ball.  These are KILLER, the bees knees, the awesome sauce, the cat’s pajamas, and the bomb.  Thank you, Miyoko!  In case anyone doesn’t know, Miyoko has also written a cookbook called Artisan Vegan Cheese.  I’ve made a couple of the cultured cheeses in the book, with good results.   To make simpler vegan cheeses at home, please check out the Vegan Cheese category on this site.  To order Miyoko’s incredible cheeses, go to Miyoko’s Kitchen.  If we are eating dairy, we are killing veal calves, and subjecting female cows to lifetimes of extreme suffering, while simultaneously ruining our planet, giving ourselves cancer, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks, and starving children across the globe.  As we awaken, we can choose a different path.

IMG_2804  My favorite so far.
IMG_2807   Classic Double Cream Chive
IMG_0026  Fresh Loire Valley cheese in fig leaf.
IMG_0017
IMG_0019  Fresh Loire Valley cheese.

Sweet and Pungent Spinach

IMG_1447    The title of this recipe is a traditional Chinese one, in honor of the upcoming Chinese New Year on January 31, 2014.   This year, Chinese New Year officially begins on February 4, and it will be The Year of The Wooden Horse,  or The Year of The Green Horse.  As an Earth Dog, I’m predicted to have a very good year, hurrah!  This fast and delicious recipe is from a Chinese cooking class my Mom took back in the 1990’s.  I’ve reduced the oil and sugar, and added the flake salt.  See photos of the original recipe below, including the Chinese teacher’s chop (seal).

SWEET AND PUNGENT SPINACH

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS
5 ounces fresh spinach  (142 grams)    (I usually double it, see notes below)
1 teaspoon peanut oil
1/4 Cup peanuts  (I like salted cocktail peanuts)
a sprinkle of fine sea salt, or any good salt

DRESSING INGREDIENTS
1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar

DIRECTIONS
In a large, non-stick skillet, heat oil on medium or one click below medium.  In a little bowl or cup, mix dressing ingredients.  Stir fry spinach until crisp tender but not too wilted–this happens very fast!  I turn my heat off half-way through and let the hot skillet do the rest as I stir.  Toss spinach with dressing and put into individual serving bowls.  Serve immediately with peanuts and salt.

Notes:  Because American spinach is generally very small and tender, I do not remove the spinach ribs.  The spinach cooks down a lot.   I usually double the amount of spinach for the two of us, but I keep the dressing amounts the same.  Spinach is loaded with iron, calcium, protein and Vitamin A.
IMG_1451 IMG_1452

Vegetarian Plus Vegan Ham Roll

IMG_1369    After having such good success with the Vegetarian Plus Vegan Whole Turkey, I decided to give the Vegetarian Plus Vegan Ham Roll a try.  And I’m glad I did.  I got this specifically for Christmas day, but I could also see having it at Easter.  I was amazed at how much it smelled like ham as it was baking, and the flavor is very hammy as well.  Everyone knows that Ham Biscuits are a Southern Tradition.  For many, Ham Biscuits are served on New Year’s, but I have a girlfriend from South Carolina who always serves them on Christmas Eve.  I ordered this from Vegan Essentials and it was shipped with cold packs around it.  When it arrived, I called Vege USA on their 888 number and was told I could put it immediately into the freezer, which I did.  I paid about $40 for it, including $4 for the cold-pack shipping.   The box says this 2 lb. vegan ham roll serves 14 and I believe it.  When it was partially thawed, I cut it in half and put half of it right back in the freezer, and we had ham every which way for the next 4 or 5 days.  On Christmas Eve I made a bunch of vegan Sweet Potato Buttermilk Biscuits and put them in the freezer (un-baked).  On Christmas Day, I made the ham roll and some of the biscuits and we had them with slices of Daiya cheese and my homemade mustard (photo below).  I did prepare the Apricot Plum Glaze that came in the box and it’s surprisingly good (Lars has been having it on his ham biscuits).  I also made a delicious ham salad, with some Vegenaise vegan mayonnaise, organic sweet relish, and a bit of salt and pepper.  This minced ham salad would be good for a rustic ham roll, or tiny finger sandwiches for afternoon tea, or on the aforementioned biscuits.  With the half that’s still in the freezer, I’m thinking Portuguese Bean Soup, and Lars suggested Ham and Pineapple Pizza.  This is a convenient, delicious solution for those transitioning or entertaining omnivores, and for vegans who want traditional flavors on holidays.  I also like that it allowed me to focus on the baking and side dishes and holiday preparations, and not worry so much about the main dish.  If you want to make this at home for pennies, try this vegan Candied Ham.   We’re talking about vegan ham, of course.  Bless all the pigs and may we never torture and eat them again.  Happy New Year.
IMG_1383  Real Southern Style Sweet Potato Buttermilk Biscuits (vegan) for the traditional holiday Ham Biscuits.

IMG_1371
IMG_1370

Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles

This recipe for vegan Dan Dan Noodles can be mostly prepped ahead, and then thrown together at dinnertime.  I made this the first time with soba noodles, but upon reheating, the soba stuck together and made a gloppy mess.  So now I use Ka-me brand Curly Noodles (Chuka Soba) from the store and they’re great, lending a Chinese-food flavor and texture.  But, many dried Oriental noodles would do.  You can play with this, as many chefs do.  For veggies, I’ve used chopped green cabbage, finely chopped celery, grated carrots, bell peppers, etc.  You could use water chestnuts, or throw in handfuls of chopped frozen spinach.  Again, you can make the base of the sauce the day before, and you could even chop everything that morning so you’d have everything ready for a quick throw-together at dinnertime.   p.s. If you want to go all out and be authentic, Penzey’s has the real Szechuan peppercorns, but plain ground black pepper is also good.  Traditionally, this is made with Chinese Chili Oil, but I’ve kept this recipe in such a way that it uses ingredients most people might have at home.

VEGAN DAN DAN NOODLES

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
2 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter or Tahini
2 Tablespoons Tamari, or low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon white miso paste  (or yellow miso)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Cup hot water

2 teaspoons peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
½ tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns (or ground black pepper)
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

1 to 2 Cups chopped vegetables
12 oz. package soy crumbles, such as Beyond Beef,  or Boca
1 Tablespoon vinegar, such as brown-rice vinegar or umeboshi vinegar or Chinese black vinegar
squirt of Sriracha sauce (optional)

5 oz. (up to 8 oz.) pkg. Asian Curly Noodles, such as Ka-Me brand
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 Cup chopped toasted cashews or peanuts (I use Planters from a can)
Optional: 1 Tablespoon sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS
Whisk together peanut butter, soy sauce, miso, sugar and 1 cup hot water in medium bowl, and set aside.   Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat.   Add garlic, pepper and ginger, and cook 1 minute.   Stir in vegetables, and cook 2 more minutes.   Add vegan meat crumbles and cook 2 minutes more.    Add tahini/miso or peanut butter/miso sauce to skillet and stir.  Bring to a simmer, and cook 3 minutes more.    Add vinegar and optional squirt of Sriracha sauce, and turn heat off.

Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions, but throw a teaspoon of sesame oil (or some other oil) into the boiling water to prevent noodles from sticking together.    Drain noodles, and place in a large bowl.  Toss with 2 cups of vegan meat sauce, or ladle the meat sauce on top.    Garnish with cashews or peanuts and then green onions.    Optional: sprinkle sesame seeds over all.   Serve hot.