Monday, July 11, 2011

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be Marie Simmons

Last week I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet one of my culinary role models, Marie Simmons. If you don’t know about Simmons, you should. Simmons was a contributor to Bon App├ętit magazine for 18 years via the “Cooking for Health” column. She has won numerous awards for her cookbooks including the James Beard Award and the Julia Child Cookbook Award. Beyond her culinary expertise, Simmons was a warm, approachable, and learned speaker, displaying a thorough knowledge of ingredients, techniques, and flavors. I could go on and on about how admirable Simmons is, but when it comes to cookbook authors, food speaks louder than words.

It was with high expectations that I cracked open Simmons’s latest work, Fresh & Fast Vegetarian. Simmons is not a vegetarian, but she has a deep respect for vegetables, grains, and legumes. Her recipes are extraordinary in every sense of the word, deviating from standard flavor and texture combinations. At her signing, I had the opportunity to taste the Black Rice, Mango, and Sugar Snap Salad; Green Bean, Corn, Tomato, and Cucumber Salad; Shredded Tuscan Kale Salad; and Cabbage, Pineapple, and Peanut Salad. They were all totally mouthwatering, and this is coming from someone for whom no love is lost with salads. I actually can’t wait to make all of Simmons’s recipes, starting with this Warm Green Bean and Tomato Salad with Mint.

Warm Green Bean and Tomato Salad with Mint

12 ounces green beans, cut into 2” pieces
Kosher salt
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup finely chopped mint
1 pound tomatoes, cut into 1/2” wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper

Steam the green beans in a pot or microwave. Lightly crush the clove of garlic, and rub the inside of a medium bowl with it. Add the hot green beans to the bowl along with the mint. The heat from the green beans will allow the garlic and mint to bloom with flavor. Add the tomatoes, oil, salt, and pepper, and toss gently. Especially delicious served warm.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What Vegans Eat

I had an interesting conversation with a coworker this morning about my being vegan. He is your typical skeptical man, who imagines veganism as a life sentence of wasting away while eating salad. But, as we continued talking, another coworker remarked, “At least beer is vegan.” The skeptic was immediately intrigued. “What about whiskey?” Yep. “Tequila?” Yep. “French fries?” Yep. “Sold.” It’s amazing to me how nebulous and strange veganism appears to people. Presented in the light of restriction and lack, it is completely unappealing. But, in reality, I eat so well! So, instead of continuing to emphasize all the stuff we don't consume, I was inspired to compile a list of all the wonderful things you still get to eat when you’re a vegan:

Tortilla chips
Olive Oil
French Fries
Tater Tots
Sweet Potato Fries
Ramen Noodles (Oriental Flavor)
Pie Crust
Phyllo Dough
Pita Bread
Pizza Crust
Jolly Ranchers
Mike and Ike
Sour Patch Kids
Swedish Fish
Sweet Tarts
Cracker Jacks
Club Crackers
Potato Chips
Movie Theater Popcorn (often made with coconut oil and imitation butter)
Graham Crackers (watch out for honey!)
Teddy Grahams
Ritz Crackers
Cap’n Crunch
Cocoa Puffs
Froot Loops
Frosted Mini-Wheats
Nutter Butters
Nature Valley Granola Bars (The kind your mom used to put in your lunch box)
Wheat Thins
Bac-o Bits
Enchilada Sauce
Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup
Curly Fries
Canned Frosting
Hash Browns (may contain butter - check the label)

*Special thanks to PETA for contributing to this luscious list!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Vegan Birthday Party: Chocolate Cherry Cake

What kind of birthday would it be if you only had one cake? Fortunately, that’s not really the way we do things at my house. When it comes to dessert, more is more. So, of course, yellow cupcakes were not the end of Summer’s birthday celebration. On her actual birthday, she requested our traditional family birthday cake: Chocolate Cherry Cake.

My mom invented this cake for me when I was a kid, and I had it every year on my birthday. One memorable year, my 15th birthday, my mom had baked an especially beautiful cake for me. When my friends came over for dinner, 3 year old Summer decided to carry the cake out to show everyone. Well, two layers of chocolate cake, a can of cherry pie filling, and a serious amount of frosting proved too much for my baby sister. The cake landed on the floor, irreparable.

I decided not to hold it against her though, and even offered to make her a Chocolate Cherry Cake this year. Served in the afternoon with green mint iced tea, it was a festive end to Summer’s Birthday Weekend!

Chocolate Cherry Cake

2 recipes of chocolate cake baked in 8” round pans
1 can of cherry pie filling
1/2 cup non dairy butter
3 cups confectioners sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 to 4 tablespoons water

Turn cakes out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before assembling.

Drain the can of cherry pie filling into a small bowl, and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, whip the butter until it is smooth and creamy. Sift the sugar and cocoa into a medium bowl. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter, alternating it with tablespoons of water, mixing well. Add the vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Add more water if the frosting looks dry, or more sugar if it looks wet. Set frosting aside.

Place one cake on a plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top of the cake. Cover with the cherry pie filling. Set the second cake on top of the cherry pie filling. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Refrigerate for at least one hour to allow the frosting to set. Enjoy!