What I’m reading: Supermarket Vegan and The Conscious Cook

I am not vegan.  I am not even vegetarian.

I was vegan for a long time, and vegetarian for a long long long time.

Yet, I never felt good eating that way, and after a number of health issues arose culminating in a very difficult pregnancy, birth and recovery with Bess I made the decision to re-introduce meat to my diet.

There are other issues at play, too.  I have become more committed to eating local and unprocessed food as much as possible.  I avoid tofu, tempeh, seitan, and other heavily processed soy  and vegan substitute foods.  While the animal rights issues are undeniable, I find the environmental benefits of this diet compelling.

I eat locally-raised grassfed animals.  As part of my choice to eat food with a face, I made a pact with myself to visit my food while still on the hoof (or wing, whatever).  The least I can do is look these animals in the eye and say thanks.

For what it’s worth, I have come to believe that different bodies have different nutritional requirements because they evolved in different ecological niches.  People who live at high altitudes or latitudes where plants don’t grow have traditionally subsisted on animal protein.  People who live in tropical climates where a wide variety of plants grow have traditionally been vegetarian.  My body is healthier when it is given animal protein, and I don’t think that makes me a bad person.

That said, our weekly menu includes plant-based meals, and I am always on the lookout for recipes that will satisfy my family.  (My baking is always vegan because Bess has egg anaphylaxis and does not tolerate diary well, in addition to being gluten-free because she has Celiac disease.)

conscous cook by tal ronnenWhile browsing the cookbook section of the library, I picked out two cookbooks that looked promising.  The first one, The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat by Tal Ronnen, is a beautiful book.  The photography and graphics really caught my eye and I decided to take it home for a closer look.  Unfortunately, the usefulness of the recipes did not match the book’s aesthetic appeal, at least for my family.  The recipes were much too fancy for our palates and way too labor-intensive (Sweet Onion Beggar’s Purses, anyone?), and they included a lot of wheat and processed foods like Veganaise and Gardein.  However, if I was hosting a dinner party with a guest list that included vegans, this book would definitely be a useful resource – and I wouldn’t mind having it on display in my kitchen as a piece of art.

supermarket vegan donna kleinOn the other hand, Supermarket Vegan: 225 Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Recipes for Real People in the Real World by Donna Klein is an understated, text-only volume (with a cover price of $18.99 as opposed to $29.99 for The Conscious Cook).  But the recipes are perfect for a new vegan who is wary of unfamiliar substitute foods, or for a time-pressed whole-food family like mine.  The recipes are straightforward and simple, the ingredients are readily available, and Celiac-friendly substitutions are easy to make where required.  I think I’ll be buying a copy of this one.


Portobello Mushrooms with Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes (from Supermarket Vegan)

  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 medium), peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon finely chopped or pureed canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce (these are HOT so go easy if you’re cooking for kids!)
  • 1 clove chopped garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 6 large portobello mushroom caps

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Lightly oil a baking sheet with sides or a shallow casserole and set aside.

In a large saucepan, place the sweet potatoes in enough salted water to cover by a few inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat slightly and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain well and return to the saucepan; add the coconut milk, 3 teaspoons of the oil, chili, garlic, and pepper.  Mash until smooth but still slightly chunky.  Add the scallions, stirring well to combine.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Mound equal amounts of sweet potato mixture on the gill side of each mushroom cap.  Transfer the mushrooms to the prepared baking sheet and brush the tops evenly with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil.  Bake in the lower third of the oven 10 to fifteen minutes, until mushrooms begin to soften and release their liquids.  Place on the center oven rack and bake 5 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes are lightly browned and mushrooms are tender when pierced with a knife.  Serve immediately.

Chocolate cupcake recipe/science experiment (vegan and gluten-free)

gluten free vegan chocolate cupcakes

They look better in person. Trust me.

Bess attended a friend’s birthday party last weekend.

Translation: I needed to bake so that I could bring food that is similar to what the other kids were eating but safe for her.

I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting in the oven lately, and I think this one is a winner.  I even got confirmation from another egg-free friend!



  • 1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour Blend*
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup mild coconut oil
  • 1 cup very hot water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 12 muffin tins with liners.  (For vegan, gluten-free baking I always have the best luck with aluminum liners and my stoneware pan.)

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt, getting rid of any lumps. Add the oil, water, and vanilla. Mix until smooth.  Then add the vinegar and stir thoroughly.  This is the cool-science-in-the-kitchen part – you can see the batter start to change color as the vinegar reacts with the baking soda.

Pour into the prepared cups and bake for 25 minutes, until springy to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting. Makes 12 cupcakes.

* I love Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour Blend, but I’m sure others would work.  I am not paid by Bob’s Red Mill to endorse their product.  ;)


  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (give or take)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Over very low heat, melt the chocolate and coconut oil together.  Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the hot water and combine.  Slowly add the sugar, stirring constantly, until it reaches desired creamy consistency.  Add the vanilla and stir.  Allow the frosting to cool (it will get a crunchy coating on top).

Mardi Gras cupcakes (vegan and gluten free)

vegan gluten free cupcakes

Here they are! I wish I was better at food photography.

As I mentioned in my last post, our Daddy was just away for over a week. He was in Quebec City for a hockey tournament, but this tournament happens to coincide with the Carnival de Quebec, which is a celebration held every year in the period before Lent. Similar celebrations occur around the world, primarily in Catholic countries and most famously in Rio de Janeiro. But nothing is quite like Carnival de Quebec, with the snow sculptures and parades (it’s 12 degrees below zero, people! on the thermometer! and there’s wind!), and the canoe races. Ah, the canoe races – please, do watch the video on You Tube. It has to be seen to be believed.

Anyway, in our own little secular New Jersey version of Carnival, we made cupcakes and talked about what Mardi Gras, Lent, and Easter signify for people who are Christian. Here is our cupcake recipe, which – like most of my baking – is an adaptation of a recipe found in the Babycakes cookbook:

  • 3 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour Blend
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/3 cups agave nectar
  • 3/4 cup plain unsweetened applesauce (homemade if you have it!)
  • 3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • powdered sugar
  • milk of choice
  • food coloring

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 standard 12-cup muffin tins with liners. (I have had the best results with aluminum liners and a stoneware baking pan.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt. Add the oil, agave nectar, applesauce, vanilla and lemon zest to the dry ingredients and combine.  Stir in the hot water and mix until the batter is smooth.

In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Pour two tablespoons of batter into each prepared cup. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of the sugar/cinnamon mixture over the batter in each cup.  Then pour another two tablespoons into each cup so that they are almost filled. Bake the cupcakes on the center rack for 22 minutes, rotating the tins 180 degrees after 15 minutes.  The finished cupcakes will be golden brown and will bounce back when pressure is applied gently to the center (and a toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean, if that’s your preferred method for determining the done-ness of baked goods).

Let the cupcakes stand in the tins for 20 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack and cool completely.

We made green, yellow and purple icing – put about four or five tablespoons of powdered sugar into three bowls, and then add a splash of milk. And I mean a splash, a teeny-tiny bit, because you would be surprised how little it takes. You can always add more, and don’t forget that you will be adding more liquid in the form of food coloring.

I let the kids go crazy with the food coloring – you can sort of see from the pictures that the color was pretty vibrant, and that was from only about ten or twelve drops.  I helped them with the purple, we found that the best ratio was about 2 red:1 blue, so we ended up doing maybe eight red and four blue.  Then we just drizzled the icing over the cupcakes, and done!

king cake cupcakes for Mardi Gras


Gluten-free, egg-free pumpkin chocolate chip mmmmmmuffins

I'm no food stylist, but you get the idea

It’s smelling a lot like autumn around here!  I’ve had a hankerin’ for my old fall faves – pumpkin chocolate chip muffins – but since we bake gluten- and egg-free around here, I haven’t had them in quite a while.  I decided it was time to remedy the situation, and with all the free time we had lately with the blizzard and all I decided to tinker with the recipe a bit to see what I could come up with.  With nearing six years’ worth of allergy-friendly baking under my belt, I figured I should be able to come up with something.

By golly, I did!  And here it is (makes 12 regular or 48 miniature muffins):

1 2/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose flour blend

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, divided

1/2 teaspoon xantham gum

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons applesauce (I used homemade, of course!)

1 tablespoon flaxmeal

3 tablespoons hot water

1 cup plain pumpkin

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or coconut oil for the vegans, melted

1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine applesauce, flaxmeal, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and hot water; set aside.

Line muffin cups with paper cups.  (I personally like the heavy-duty aluminum liners better for this, and my stoneware muffin pan did NOT work well.  Use a metal one instead.)

Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, pie spice, baking soda, remaining 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, xantham gum, and salt in a large bowl.

Thoroughly whisk pumpkin, butter, and applesauce mixture.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Pour over dry ingredients and fold in with a rubber spatula until dry ingredients are just moistened.

Scoop batter evenly into muffin cups.  Bake 20 – 5 minutes, or until puffed and springy to the touch in the center.  turn out onto a rack to cool.  Keep in a plastic container or bag in the fridge but DEFINITELY reheat before serving.

So good!


Binge-Worthy Broccoli Recipe

Photo courtesy of Flickr user miwaza

I haven’t shared any recipes here before, but this one is too good not to pass along.  My kids liked it, and I actually BINGED on broccoli.  It is SO good.  But a word of caution: eating too much broccoli in one sitting may have unwanted side effects, so proceed with caution.  You know what I’m talking about.

It’s from Mollie Katzen’s book The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without – I took it out of the library but I think I may buy it for my personal cookbook collection.  This recipe looks like a lot of instructions but it’s really just “cook the broccoli and toss it with the dressing made of vinegar, mustard, honey and oil”.  Easy.

Broccoli, Apples & Red Onion in honey Mustard Marinade (I didn’t add apples because I didn’t have any in the house and it was still so so crazy good)

1 large bunch broccoli (1 1/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons lightly-colored honey

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or, in Rachel Ray-speak, EVOO)

3/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 medium-sized tart apple, thinly sliced

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put up a large saucepan of water to boil.  While waiting for this to happen, remove and discard the thick lower stems of the broccoli, and cut the thinner upper stems and tops into medium-sized spears.  Measure the vinegar into a medium-large bowl.  Use a small whisk to stir constantly as you add the mustard, garlic, salt and honey.  Keep whisking as you drizzle in the oil in a steady stream.  The mixture will thicken as the oil becomes incorporated.  By now the water should be boiling.  Turn it down to a simmer and add the broccoli.  Let it cook in the water for 1 or 2 minutes, or until it becomes very bright green and tender-crisp (to your liking).  Meanwhile, place the sliced red onion in a large colander in the sink.  Pour the broccoli and all its water over the onion in the colander.  The hot water will wilt the onion slightly upon contact.  Place the colander of vegetables under cold running water for a few minutes, then shake to drain well.  Transfer the vegetables to the bowlful of dressing.  Use tongs to toss until the broccoli is well coated, adding the apple slices as you go.  You can serve this right away, or cover and let it marinate in the refrigerator, where the flavor will deepen.  Serve cold or at room temperature topped with freshly ground black pepper to taste.  If you are not going to serve this right away, you might want to leave out the apple slices and add them shortly before serving.