Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkin Party!! (with a pumpkin mousse brownie recipe)

Pumpkin Party!!
The Occasion: Kicking off the harvest/fall season and celebrating the bounty of fall produce on the weekend before Halloween! It feels like Halloween always kicks off the autumnal/winter holidays, and it is such a fun, light-hearted holiday which I love (aka there's no pressure to throw an impressive party with a beautiful feast like there is for thanksgiving or christmas......which lends itself well to my lazy disposition)

The Plan: The weekend before Halloween, I invited a few close friends over to carve pumpkins and eat halloween/autumn/pumpkin themed food! We drank pumpkin beer, hard apple cider, carved pumpkins, and enjoyed eachothers' company. We have been blessed to have warm weather in October, so we were able to carve our pumpkins outside......yayy!

Pumpkin Party Part I: The Pumpkins

Pumpkin Carving: This is honestly one of my favorite things to do, and I wish that one could do it all year round without seeming like a fool. My brother was kind enough to accompany me to our Trader Joe's where we purchased 14 gorgeous pumpkins! Pumpkin carving is pretty easy when it comes to the basics, it only gets harder when you decide to take on a masterpiece such as Van Gogh's starry night as your jack-o-lantern design.  

- sharp, medium kitchen knife,
- curved metal scooper/spatula
- sharpie
- small knige or pumpkin carving knife

The Pumpkin my friend accidentally cut out the entire face of;
but he saved it by making it seem like a "Pumpkin Mask"
1. Cut out the top of your pumpkin, preferably with at least some kind of distinct pattern so that it is easy to close and open
2. Hollow out your pumpkin. This is the part that takes awhile, and this is what I would suggest using a metal scooper or spatula for. Although it takes awhile, I find it weirdly satisfying and fun, but that's probably just because I'm the coolest kid on the block.
3. Decide what design you want to carve out, and see if you can find a stencil for it online. If you can't find a stencil, it's probably okay to free-hand it, just make sure that you are keeping in mind which parts need to be carved out/removed, and which parts need to stay on the pumpkin/attached to the pumpkin. One major problem that happens is that people accidentally cut out an entire segment of their pumpkin design because they didn't factor in that they need to keep everything connected to the pumpkin somehow (this happened with one of my friends but he dealt with it like a champ).
Us with out finished pumpkins! (mine is a witch-hello kitty if you can't tell)
4. Once you have decided on your design and carefully drawn it onto the pumpkin, carefully carve out your design using small, sharp knives or pumpkin carvers. 
5. Remove any leftover sharpie with ethanol (rubbing alcohol) and a paper towel.
6. Refrigerate you pumpkins until you want to put them out so that they last longer.
7. Celebrate.........because you just carved an adorable (or frightening) pumpkin!

Pumpkin Party Part II: The Foods
The plan: To serve up some light snack-ish type food with a Halloween/Pumpkin theme. The snacks included:
- guacamole, salsa, and chips: recipe for the guacamole is here, and the chips and salsa were store bought
- veggies & roasted red pepper hummus (I just added the red peppers so that the hummus would be orange to fit the fall theme, but they also added a great flavor): The Basic Hummus recipe can be found here, and then all you have to do is add roasted red peppers to it. 
- Halloween themed veggies courtesy of my friend Sara (we had Cauliflower "brains" and carrot "fingers").....they were delicious to eat AND fun to look at ;)
- Pumpkin Mousse Brownies! These were a hit, and a recent recipe creation of mine, and the recipe is to follow!
- Pumpkin Ale: We tried 2 brands, and the resounding favorite was KBC's Pumpkin Ale which I purchased from Trader Joe' go get yourself some of that before pumpkin time is over!

Pumpkin Mousse Brownie Recipe: 
This Recipe has 3 components- The Brownie (bottom) layer, the Pumpkin Mousse (middle) layer, and the Chocolate Ganache (top) layer, as well as assembly instructions.
Date Paste!

Prepare in Advance:
- Date Paste: This will be used in all three components of the recipe, and about 2 1/2 cups total are needed for the entire recipe. Date paste is made by soaking pitted medjool dates for 4 hours, and then blending the drained dates in a food processor until fluffy.
- Coconut Milk: Place canned coconut milk into the freezer so that the thicker, white part of the milk separates and rises to the top. This is the only portion of the coconut milk you want to use, and should make up about half of the can.

Brownie Ingredients: 
- 1 cup all purpose white flour
- 2 tbs cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 heaping tbs unsweetened applesauce (optional)
- 1 & ¾ cup vegan chocolate chips  (reserve ¾)
- 1cup date paste 
- 1/2 cup soymilk
- 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar (any light/white vinegar should work fine)
This is what your batter should look like when it's all done.
- 1 egg equivalent (I used the Vegg but you should be fine using a flax egg or Energ-G egg replacer)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 tbs fine instant coffee
Directions for Brownies:
1) Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
2) In a large bowl mix together all the "Dry" ingredients, EXCEPT for the applesauce. Reserve this for later.
3) In a small pot over low to medium heat, mix up ONLY 1 cup of chocolate chips (reserving ¾ cup) with all of the other wet ingredients just until all of the chocolate chips are melted and the mixture looks even.
4) Slowly add in the liquid mixture to the "dry" bowl. Mix for about 20 seconds; if you feel that the batter is still too dry add the applesauce, but if it looks like the image on the right, then you don't need the applesauce.
5) Stir just until incorporated. Avoid stirring for too long as this will make the dough too tough. The dough should be shiny but does not have to be perfectly smooth, as long as the color is even.
Just about to go into the oven! This height of the walls of
this tray is what is important.
6) Line medium-large baking tray that has higher walls with parchment paper just along the bottom and pour in the brownie mixture. (You want to use a larger sheet because the brownies are not supposed to be as tall/thick as in a normal brownie recipe, and you also want vertical space to add the other layers of this dessert after the brownies are done. You can use a smaller tray if you want thicker brownies, but make sure the walls are tall enough)
7) Sprinkle about ¾ cup of the reserved chocolate chips evenly over the batter.
7) Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
8) Remove the brownies and set aside to cool

Ingredients for Pumpkin Mousse:
- 1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 can pumpkin puree
This is what your mousse should look like after processing.
- 1 1/4 cup date paste
- 1 cup canned coconut milk (top thick white part only)
1. Remove only the thick, white portion of the coconut milk from the can and place in the food processor.
2. Add all other ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth and even.
3. Pour evenly over the cooled brownies (which should still be in a baking sheet and remain uncut)
4. Place in the freezer while you prepare the ganache.

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:
- 1 cup coconut milk (top thick white part only)
- 2 ¼ cup chocolate chips (about 1 bag)
- 1/3 cup date paste
- 1 tsp vanilla
- ½ tsp salt
Pouring the ganache....the last step!
1. Add all ingredients to a small, heavy bottomed pot.
2. Heat the pot on low-medium heat, stirring continuously.
3. Once the mixture is smooth and everything is completely evenly mixed remove from heat. (all chocolate should be melted at this point)
4. Place in the freezer, and stir it every 10 minutes for half an hour. 
5. Once the ganache is only warm/lukewarm on the back of your hand, go ahead and pour the ganache evenly over the pumpkin mousse layer of the brownies.
6. Place the entire tray back in the freezer for another hours.
7. Using a sharp knife dipped in hot water, cut the brownies into little squares before removing them from the tray to serve.

Now stop reading this recipe and go make these addictive brownies!!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Real Art in Los Angeles: Brewery ArtWalk!

Background info: There is an old Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery near downton Los Angeles, that was shut down a long time ago(sad day). With the passing of "Artist in Residence" Code in the city of Los Angeles, artists were allowed to live and work in industrially zoned spaced. This means that this giant, abandoned Brewery/warehouse could now be used as studio and combined studio/living spaces by artists.

Development of a community: Artists took advantage of this amazing opportunity, and immediately filled every space with studios and studio/living spaces. More than half of the artists have a mixed use studio/home set-up. There are many different types of living/working arrangements within the brewery itself because of all of the different building types and designs that were a part of the Brewery/factory. It is a truly awesome place, the property is giant (I want to guess at least 2 square miles) and there are many little gardens, parks, and even a beer garden throughout the old brewery.

The Brewery Artwalk: Twice a year the artists of the Brewery open up their homes and studios to the public FREE OF CHARGE for the Brewery ArtWalk. This is super-exciting for me, because I get to feel like an awesome, artsy-fartsy, hipster person, and I get to dress up like one, without actually having to be artistic.......WIN! But seriously, the artwalk is such an awesome experience. My friend Sara actually introduced me to the event, and invited me to go with her, and I am soooo happy that I did. There are so many different types of art it is mind-blowing. There is everything from paintings and photography to bedazzled bull skulls and "garden art." There is lots of stuff for sale such as candles, artwork, posters, photographs, tapestries, unique textiles, sculptures, unique kitchenware, and much, much more. The architecture itself is worth the visit, even if you don't like art one bit. The gorgeous industrial spaces, some with exposed brick, and some with lots of metal and concrete are amazing. There are also a lot of rustic, overgrown gardens that are gorgeous and make the spaces even more charming. There is also an awesome beer garden/outdoor BBQ and cafe area that is open to everyone. I honestly wanted to go back so badly that I already looked up the next time it is open and marked it on my calendar.

Pictures of some of my favorite things:

Love the mix of materials. Also that
square tub looking thing on the right
side of the second floor is a jacuzzi!
Gorgeous overgrown garden

Love the exposed beams.
Also this artist had gorgeous tapestries.
Face of one of the buildings that housed
about 15 artists' lofts.

Kitchenware Artist. This space was awesome
as was the kitchenware they were selling.

This space was mostly just bull skulls and
billy skulls that were finished in really
amazing colors, textures, and materials.

More of the bedazzled skulls. I was just
captivated by them, I can't quite explain it.
This picture does not do the art justice.
A view of downtown LA from the balcony of
one of the lofts.

Gorgeous worn out metal building. I love the
This is a real kitchen in the living space of one of the
artists. This is SO stunning! Love the design choices.
My friend standing on the bridge overlooking just a
small part of the brewery. You can see a little bit of
the beer garden/cafe.

Tempting Tempeh Taco Time!!


The inspiration: So I have been super busy these past few days, and have had to throw together some really last minute dinners which actually turned out surprisingly well. Tacos are quick and fun, and I like that you can make up a sort of taco bar, where everyone gets to make their own tacos with whatever toppings they prefer so tacos were an easy choice.

The idea: Crumble up tempeh (a soybean patty) so that it is similar in texture to ground meat and then season and cook it so that it tastes like taco filling. Make other toppings like guac, lettuce/cabbage mix, chopped onions, salsa, etc.... and let everyone go wild.

Nutrition nut: Tempeh is a lightly fermented soybean patty, so it is a complete protein, which means it contains all of the essential amino acids. It also has all of the fiber of the soybeans, and is lightly fermented so that the soy is actually easier to digest. It also just taste darn good. We get some more fiber and antioxidants in this meal by using taco toppings such as romaine lettuce, red cabbage, salsa, and red onions. We also get our dose of healthy fats from the avocado in the guac! Using whole wheat tortillas is also an excellent idea, although my brother hates whole wheat anything, so that wasn't an option tonight. Sad day.

The Verdict: My Dad and brother devoured them, and I will remind you for the millionth time that neither of them are vegan! My brother even asked if he could take the leftovers to school the next day!!
WHAT what!

Recipe: Tempting Tempeh Tacos
Just onions and bell peppers at this point.

Taco filling ingredients:
- 2 packages plain tempeh
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 minced medium garlic clove
- 1 cup canned, crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablsepoon chile powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon chile pepper flakes (optional, depends on how spicy you want it)
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

All of the veggies are in, and tempeh is about to go in!
1. In a saute pan saute the onions  & green bell peppers on medium heat until they are starting to turn clear. If they onions start to stick, add some water or oil, whichever you prefer.
2. Add in the red bell peppers, mushrooms, and garlic and saute for a another few minutes until the bell peppers have really softened. Again, if they start to stick, add a little water or oil to loosen things up.
3. Crumble the tempeh by hand into the pan with the vegetables. Try to crumble it into as fine of a grain as possible, this will make very similar to traditional taco filling.
4. Stir around the tempeh so that it mixes with the vegetables.
5. Add in the tomatoes as well as all of the spices. Mix well.
6. Cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to the lowest setting possible, and let it cook for at least 20 minutes. You can stir it every once in a while if you think it needs that.

Gauc with everything mixed in!
Guacamole ingredients:
- juice of one medium lime
- meat of 3 avocados
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
- 3/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno (optional, if you liked it spicy definitely add it though)

1. Place avocado meat and lime juice in a bowl.
2. Using a fork, mash up the avocado meat until almost completely smooth. (You could also do this in a food processor but I'm old-fashioned. Okay okay, I'm just too lazy to use and then wash the food processor, you got me)
3. Add all the other ingredients and mix, mix, mix!

Taco Bar!! The finished filling is on the right side.
Taco Bar toppings: Now you can add whatever toppings to your taco bar that you like. This is the best part of the whole thing, so go wild and prepare whatever toppings your heart desires. I always like to have a couple of vegetable options, some salsa, and always some guac. Some things I have had in the past that would be good ideas are a (vegan) cheese, black beans, tofu sour cream, or anything else that sounds good on a taco! Here is a list of the toppings I prepared on this particular night.
- chopped romaine lettuce & red cabbage
- chopped red onions
- pickled jalapenos
- salsa (not home-made)
- guacamole

Eating TACO TIME!!
Now all we do is heat up some tortillas, get some Tempting Tempeh Taco filling, and load up on whatever toppings our hearts desire.

Leftover ideas:
We had lots of taco filling leftovers, so for lunch the next day my brother took some taco filling and guac to school, and at it like a dip with a bag of tortilla chips. You can also re-heat it, add some more tomato sauce, and have some south-of-the-border sloppy joes. There definitely many other ways to use the leftovers as well, but my genius brain can't think of any. Let me know what you think, and if anyone has any creative ways to use the leftovers, please let me know!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Beyond Sushi......vegan sushi is more than just cucumber rolls!

The "Mighty Mushroom" roll from Beyond Sushi

The Inspiration:  A visit to Beyond Sushi, which is an amazing and super creative vegan sushi place in NYC. I will be writing up a more in depth review review soon, but suffice it to say that this place serves up amazing, creative, hearty, and healthy vegan sushi.
The dilemma: For most of my life as a vegetarian and then vegan I always had to order the boring cucumber roll at sushi restaurants. Now don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with a good old fashioned cucumber or veggie roll every once in a while, but sometimes you just want a heartier, more meaty/umami sushi. My inspiration for this roll was to make a more satisfying and protein packed vegan sushi roll that has more going on than plain old veggies. The mushrooms and the use of soy sauce in the marinade adds an umami taste to this filling, which will help to make the roll taste more satisfying. Umami may sound funny, but it's actually a critical flavor component, and the Japanese actually refer to it as the 5th element of taste; it is what adds a heart, almost meaty taste to things
Filling the fish gap: Instead of filling this roll with nemo's little brother and sisters (too much?) I decided to fill it with a delicious, lightly marinated tofu and marinated, cooked shiitake mushrooms. I kept some of the cucumbers and carrots for crunch and flavor variation, but the roll is probably 50% Tofu & Mushrooms and 50% veggies.
Nutrition decision: I chose tofu because it is a lean, complete protein, has fiber, and absorbs marinades well. I chose shiitake mushrooms because they have healing, medicinal qualities and are a good source of selenium (and they also just taste amazing); they also get really "meaty" when cooked down and absorb marinades well.

The Recipe: Vegan Umami Sushi Roll
This recipe will be broken up into 4 parts: Making sushi rice, making the fillings, making the sauces, and rolling the roll.

Sushi Rice: This part should be done at least 2 hours in advance so that the rice can cool before being used in the roll.
- 2 cups sushi rice (brown sushi rice is fine, I just used white because my brother will not touch brown rice......... sad day)
- 2 1/4 cups water (plus more for washing rice)
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons can sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
1. Wash and drain the rice until the water runs clear. This will take a minimum of 5 rinses, but it usually takes me 8 because I have rice washing OCD (just kidding......maybe)
2. Put the rice and the water in a heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a summer for 15 minutes.
3. After 15 minutes remove the rice from heat and DO NOT TOUCH for 10 minutes.
4. In the meanwhile, mix the vinegar, salt, and sugar in a small bowl and microwave just until all the sugar is dissolved.
5. Transfer the rice to a ceramic or wooden bowl and evenly drizzle the vinegar/sugar/salt mixture in.
6. Gently cut the mixture into the rice. This mean take a large wooden spoon to the edge of the bowl, press it so that it goes all the way through the rice to the side of the bowl, and then drag it across the bowl so that you have basically"cut" a line through the rice. Rotate the bowl and keep doing this gently until the rice seems evenly coated. (You never want to mix the rice because it will squish the rice and make it too goopy/sticky)
7. Cover the rice and let it sit for a few hours until it is room temperature. Do not put it in the fridge or freezer to cool, it will clump and get grainy.

Filling recipe:
Tofu Ingredients:
- one 12 oz. package of firm tofu
- 1 tablespoon brown rice syrup (maple would work fine as well)
- 1 teaspoon sriracha
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine (mirin)
Tofu Directions:
1. Press the tofu for an hour. This can be done with a tofu press, but if you don't have one there is an alternative way to do it; I don't have a tofu press so I McGyvered it. You can simply wrap tofu in 2 or 3 paper towels, place it on the bottom side off a plate or baking sheet, with another plate or baking sheet on top, and then weight the sheet with heavy items. I weighted my baking sheet with canned beans.
Cooking Shiitake Mushrooms
2. After the tofu has had a significant amount of water squeezed out of it, thinly slice it, and put it in a ziploc bag.
3. In a bowl mix soy sauce, rice wine, brown rice syrup, sriracha, and ginger.
4. Add this marinade to the bag of tofu and let sit.

Shiitake Mushroom ingredients:
- 2 large, fresh shiitake mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine
- 2 tablespoons water
Shiitake mushroom directions:
1. Slice mushrooms into 1 cm thick strips
2. Add mushrooms and the rest of the ingredients to a small, heavy bottomed pot.
3. Heat until mixture begins to bubble, then reduce the heat, place the lid on the pot and let cook for a minimum of 20 minutes.
4. Take the lid off and let it continute to cook until the liquid is almost entirely gone.
5. Remove from heat and let cool.
Fillings ready to go!

- 1 medium peeled cucumber, sliced into matchsticks
- 2 carrots, sliced into matchsticks
- thinly sliced avocado

Sauce Recipe:
- 2 tablespoons veganaise
- 1 teaspoon sriracha (add less or more depending on how spicy you want it)
1. Mix together and set aside.

Sushi Assembly
Additional Ingredients:
- Nori sheets
Ready to roll!
1. If you have a sushi rolling mat, lay the shiny side of the nori sheet face down on the mat. If not, just lay the shiny side of the sheet face down on a flat plate or cutting board.
2. Take a small handful (1/2-2/3) cup of sushi rice and place in the center of the sheet.
3. Spread the rice entirely from the top to the bottom of the sheet in the long direction, but only in the center third of the sheet in the horizontal (shorter) direction. You should have about 1.5-2 inches of uncovered sheet on each side of the tall rice strip.
4. Lay fillings slightly on one side of the center in the rice strip. Add as much of every filling and of the spicy sauce as you want. I omitted the spicy sauce in most of my rolls because the shiitake and tofu added more than enough flavor for me.
5. Once all the fillings are laid down, tightly roll up the sushi beginning with side where the fillings are closer to the edge of the rice, making sure to press it firmly throughout the entire process. (For example, in this picture, I would start rolling from the left side)
6. Let it sit for a few minutes and then cut with a very sharp knife.
7. **optional** Top each roll with a thin slice of avocado.

 Now enjoy yourself some lovely vegan sushi!
My completed rolls :)

Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm not fact, I'm BACK!!

I know it seems as though I just dropped off the face of the Earth and stopped blogging, but that was never my intention. If I were ever going to stop blogging or end my blog, I would definitely have a farewell post! I have just been very busy the past couple of months with a few things such as:
- Grad School research and applications
- Recieving my Diploma!!! Haha, yes I know this isn't something I was actively doing but I'm really excited about it and wanted a reason to post a picture of it......I know sometimes I'm so cool it's out of control.
- Studying for the GRE (yes part of grad school apps)
- Writing my personal statement (okay, okay, this is also part of grad school apps)
- Dedicating more time to taking care of the house and family, mainly by cleaning more, doing more of the grocery shopping, more of the meal cooking, and lot more of the clean-up (due to various family circumstances I needed to seriously step up my involvement in the running of our household and take on lot more daily responsibilities). This is something I am more than happy to do, but it took some getting used to.
- A knee injury (Ileotibial Band Syndrom) that sidelined my from running for a couple of months and turned in me into a Grumpy McGrumpster

However, all this time of not posting made me realize how much I truly loved blogging and how much of a create creative outlet it is, so I have made a resolution to NEVER let me blogging drop off the way it did before, no matter how busy I get. I have a lot of great recipe posts, running posts, travel posts, and restaurant reviews to share, but I just wanted to make this quick post to say that I'm back and I'm not going anywhere. Also, on a completely random note I discovered strawberry flavored Hello Kitty Soda at 99 Ranch Market (an excellent asian specialty market), and while I usually don't endorse buying sugar sweetened beverages such as soda, this one has a Hello Kitty on it and I have a very serious Hello Kitty obsession so I was thrilled! I was actually at the asian market buying ingredients for Vegan Sushi, which will likely be my next recipe post (either tonight or tomorrow)!