Adios, MoFo: Ghosts of Halloween Past and Cupcakes of Halloween Present

Happy Halloween, blogpals! I wish I were a kid, because it’s 70 degrees today – perfect trick-or-treating weather! All the neighborhood kidlets will be able to gather their candy without having to hide their costumes behind icky winter coats. Awesome.

Before I move on to the Halloween fun, I just want to do a little MoFo wrap-up. This has truly been an amazing month. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my first month as a vegan! To everyone who participated, read posts, and left comments, thank you so much for your support. I can’t tell you how much it means to me! The vegan community is amazing, and I felt so welcomed during this month. Your support helped me to post every single day this month. THANK YOU! See the end of this post for an exciting announcement – you’ve all given so much to me, so now I’m giving something back!

Now for the fun. This year, I’m celebrating Halloween in true MoFo style – I baked and decorated a lovely batch of Halloween-themed cupcakes. I was intending to share them with all my little cousins tonight, but a bunch of them are sick and they’ve decided not to gather so as to prevent the further spread of germs. :( Oh well; I’m sure I’ll find someone to share them with! I made a batch each of the Golden Vanilla and the Basic Chocolate cupcakes from VCTOTW, and decorated them in a variety of styles.

First up is Mr. Pumpkinhead. Isn't he cute?

I hope you're not scared of spiders...

All hail the Pumpkin King - it's Jack Skellington!

And here’s the whole gang (minus their less-than-photogenic pals, who will soon find a home in my tummy).

All together, now.

I also finally got to use my new Halloween mini-cake pans! They make cute little ghosts and pumpkins.

I think they're a little scared of Yorick...

And here I am with my creations.

Do you like my Jack Skellington earrings? ;)

I may have to make cupcake baking a new Halloween tradition! I’m breaking with old traditions this year – I’m not dressing up. This is my first costume-less Halloween ever! I know, I know, that’s horrible, especially because I absolutely love costumes! But this year I just felt like taking a break from the partying and dressing up craziness. I politely declined a few invitations, so for the first time ever I’ll be staying home and handing out candy to the kids. It’s a far cry from the past four years of college Halloween fun, but I’m okay with that. Next year I’ll be in Madison – which is supposed to be absolutely insane for Halloween – and I’m sure I’ll be up for crazy costuming once more. In the meantime, here’s a little collage of my costumes from previous years. They’re not all from Halloween, but I think they illustrate my love of dressing up. We’ve got some Lord of the Rings, some Harry Potter, some Nightmare Before Christmas, a zombie witch doctor, and a Goth Detective front and center (if you get that reference, I think I love you), among other things. :)

I may or may not be holding a huge bottle of vodka in the center photo.

Happy Halloween, friends! Be safe and have fun. Also, MoFo may be over, but the fun sure isn’t. Check back tomorrow for my first ever GIVEAWAY! Yay!

P.S. If I were dressing up this year, I’d definitely be one of the girls from Subtle Sexuality. ;) Office love!

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On Becoming a Cheezehead: My Exciting Employment News

This post has two purposes. I’m saving my creative, Halloween-y post for tomorrow (obviously), so today I am going to share some news that I’ve been withholding for a while. But first, cheeze.

Remember how much I enjoyed VeganYumYum’s Mac & Cheese last week? Well, I’ve been craving something creamy and warm and cheezy ever since, so today I cobbled together my own version of a cheeze sauce. It’s basically a big ol’ mess of EB, soy milk, nutritional yeast, a bit o’ flour, tahini, and various spices. Simple and totally awesome after taking a baking stint in the oven for 15ish minutes. It definitely hit the spot, and I’ve got leftovers for tomorrow, so I’m golden.

My bit o’ news is actually cheese-related, so here it goes – I got a job! I’m going to be a tech writer at a medical software company in Madison, Wisconsin! I’ll be moving out there in December and joining the land of the cheeseheads in America’s Dairyland. Kind of ironic, huh? I go vegan and then I go to Wisco. Heh. But I can’t really complain; it’s a full-time job with good benefits at a good company, and I’m going to need the moneyz once my student loans are no longer in their oh-so-wonderful grace period and I need to start repaying those suckers. So – any Madtown vegans in the house? Or, any recommendations for awesome places to eat in Madison? I’m excited because it’s a much bigger city than my hometown and my college town, so hopefully I’ll get to meet ~*~real live vegans~*~ and dine at ~*~real live vegan restaurants!~*~ Haha. Seriously though, if you’ve got any suggestions, let me know. :)

Ciao ’til the LAST DAY OF MOFO. Aahhh!

Short ‘n Sweet: Peanut Butter Cookies

I’m keeping things short and sweet tonight, mostly because there’s not much to say about peanut butter cookies. It’s peanut butter… in a cookie. With chocolate chips, if you’re me. You really can’t go wrong.

I made the Crispy Peanut Butter Cookies from Vegan With a Vengeance tonight. Actually, I think these are the first straight-up vegan p.b. cookies I’ve ever made; I baked a batch of the Big Gigantoid Crunchy Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Cookies from VWAV last year, but yeah, not exactly the same. These are simple cookies that get the job done. What else is there to say?

Actually, I will say that these cookies are more sandy than crispy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I prefer a chewier cookie, but still. They didn’t hold together very well during the baking sheet —> cooling rack transfer, although I might’ve been a little overzealous in my transferral and moved them before they were properly cooled. Whatever; they’re still tasty enough. I can’t say I’d rush to use this particular recipe again, but that’s due to personal preference more than major recipe fail.

Don’t worry  – my final two MoFo posts will be way more creative than this one. Pinky swear!

Product Review: Sesame Seaweed Rice Balls

I woke up this morning with the intention of doing my first ever “daily eats” post – I was going to photograph everything I stuffed into my gob today, and then share it with y’all tonight. But then I got lazy, and then it got all grey outside and the lighting in my kitchen was horrible, so… I gave up. Instead, I need to – need to – tell you about my new favorite thing.

YUMMY.

Forget cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudel, I’m talkin’ about these SESAME SEAWEED RICE BALLS, people. Trader Joe’s had a bag of these intriguing specimens on sale for somewhere in the region of $1.50, and I had to try them. In two days’ time, this is what remained of my bag:

DONE.

A whole lotta NOTHIN’. These lil guys are like CRACK. They’re not overly salty, but they have little flecks of seaweed that give them little bursts of yumminess. And the sesame flavor is understated, but in the best way possible. Basically, they’re tiny little balls o’ deliciousness. I’m pretty sure I could’ve eaten the entire bag in one sitting, but somehow I managed to make it last two days. Small victories.

Anyway, if you’re in the market for a relatively cheap snack food, give these little guys a shot! They’d make great travel food, I bet. They’re easily munchable yet they won’t leave you feeling all gross like you would if you downed a bag of chips or something. Plus, they’re vegan AND gluten free! Everyone’s a winner! Yeehaw.

Introducing the VeggaBar!

Although I definitely took advantage of the empty kitchen while my parents were on a mini-vacation this weekend, I’ll admit that my innovation and creativity were not particularly high. Sure, I followed a couple of recipes and had an especially productive Friday, but I’ve been itching to try something new. So when I came home from a trip to Trader Joe’s with a package of delicious Medjool dates, my mind instantly began pondering the creation of some kind of raw (or nearly raw) bar.

Now, obviously this is not my invention. I adore Larabars, and although I’ve yet to try Angela’s Glo Bars, they look amazing. And lots of other bloggers have come up with similar concoctions lately. Averie’s shared some scrumptious-looking Raw Vegan Donut Holes while Katie’s Fudge Babies are taking the blogworld by storm. What with these girls’ creations and the availability of tantalizing raw bar and cookie recipes in raw food books, it’s clear that this is a dessert variety that’s definitely in vogue at the moment.

And that’s okay. I felt like I was in good company when I was in the kitchen experimenting with my own version of raw(ish) bars. I enjoyed the results of my personal experimentation, and it’s fun to think about all the variations I could try in the future, taking inspiration from all the other wonderful bloggers out there who’ve made their own contributions in this realm. So without further ado, here are my Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie VeggaBars!

Aren’t they cute? Inspired by the adorable mini Larabars (trick or treat sized, perhaps?), I made a bunch of tiny bars along with some circular “cookies”. If I owned any cute smallish cookie cutters, I definitely would’ve utilized them! These are yummy little nuggets of flavor, a fusion of the Oatmeal Raisin Cookies in Ani’s Raw Food Desserts and a Peanut Butter Cookie Larabar. It seems silly to post a “recipe” for these, but I’ll do it anyway.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie VeggaBars
Ingredients
3/4 cup dates, pitted (I used a blend of Medjool and presoaked regular dates)
1/2 cup peanuts
1/4 cup oats
pinch salt (optional)

Add dates and peanuts to food processor; process until peanuts are roughly chopped. Add oats and salt and pulse until combined. Remove “dough” from food processor, roll it out, and cut or shape as desired!

Easy as pie, and thrice as healthy. Yum!

Yup, it’s Another Pumpkin Baked Good

My Google Reader has pumpkin recipes up the wazoo these days – MoFoers are sharing the pumpkin love  left and right, and beautiful orange baked goods are ubiquitous. It almost seems trite to make my own pumpkin-y post, but I’ll just tell myself I’m getting into the seasonal spirit.

Unlike the tons of creative MoFoers who are sharing brand-y new pumpkin recipes, I’m just going to share a photo or two of some simple Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from VCTOTW. It’s difficult to go wrong with the pumpkin + chocolate chip combo, so these cuppers are super yummy. Light, fluffy, and smooth, they’re perfectly delicious.

I left these cupcakes nekkid because a. I didn’t feel like making frosting last night, and b. I only made three traditional cupcakes. The rest of the batter was used in a Halloween-themed mini-cake pan I recently acquired. I’m not posting photos of the results because this was just a test run; I needed to see how high the cakes rise so I can judge how much batter to use next time I make them. But I’m preparing to make some cute Halloween baked goods, so expect to see those soon!

I promise to have more inspiring/inspired posts for this final week of MoFo – I can’t believe it’s almost done! This month has flown by. My oh my.

A Tempt-ing Solution

One of my most perplexing conundrums (conundra?!) as one who eschews dairy is what kind of milk to use. Soy milk is pretty standard; it works in baked goods and hot and cold cereals alike. But I’m not too keen on consuming tons of soy products, so I’d like to cut back on that. Plus, I don’t actually enjoy drinking soy-milk straight-up from a glass. Maybe it’s because I was never much of a dairy girl to begin with, but I was never one to pour a glass of ice cold cow’s milk and suck it down just because I thought it tasted good. Even so, every once in a while I’d like to drink a glass of something with my cookies. I tried it with soy milk a few weeks ago and quickly remembered why I didn’t do that in the first place. Blech. Even the vanilla kind just doesn’t do it for me.

A better alternative in the taste department is almond milk. I actually enjoy the way it tastes, and it’s also great for baking and cereal-eating. But while I’m at home with my family, using it in baked goods is a no-no – my dad and sister are both allergic to almonds. Boo.

And I just can’t get behind rice milk. It’s way too watery and thin for my tastes. I’ve used it in baked goods, but I don’t think it’s ideal for that purpose.

So, apart from having multiple cartons of multiple types of alternative milks in the fridge, I generally just stick with soy so that I can ensure I won’t kill anyone who accidentally eats an almond milk-laced cupcake. But that MoFo survey got me thinking about less common types of milks, types I’d always vaguely meant to try. So when a recent trip to Whole Foods I discovered Tempt Hemp Milk on sale for $1.87, I did a mental dance of glee and snatched up a carton. Oddly, only the vanilla variety was on sale, but that works for me. The regular price was $3 and change, so it was a pretty fantastic sale. I thought that maybe some of their vanilla cartons were nearing their expiration date, but mine’s good ’til July 2010, so no problems there! I was so excited about this purchase.

Tempting...

I couldn’t wait to try this stuff. I decided to pour myself a glass for a taste test, ready with some of those chocolate chip cookies I made recently in case I couldn’t stomach it plain. But it was love at first sip. It’s creamy and delicate, similar to soy milk but without that, um, soy taste that turns me off. The flavor is much more neutral, but deliciously so. It’s amazing! I haven’t baked with it yet, but I’m excited to try. Maybe I’ll use a blend of rice and hemp milks in the future, since rice is pretty cheap.

I wish I’d bought more than one carton, but before I left Whole Foods I checked to make sure the sale wasn’t ending any time soon; it’s not; the price is good through December! You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be back to stock up. Alternative milk problem SOLVED, thanks to the amazingness that is hemp.

Lemon Poppy Seed Letdown

I love the Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins from Vegan Brunch. I may have only made them once before today, but that one time was enough – I was sold at the very first bite. These muffins wowed my family; my omni dad in particular raved about them for days. Although he’s nothing but supportive of my vegan ways, I know that he was slightly wary of vegan baking for a while. But these muffins totally destroyed that wariness. In fact, they pretty much crushed it into tiny crumbs of lemony, poppy seedy deliciousness. So when my friend and I made a Saturday morning tea date, I thought I’d whip out the ol’ recipe and make up another batch of these delightful nuggets of tastiness.

These came together without a hitch. In an amazing feat of preparedness, I set out my ingredients last night, so everything was at my fingertips this morning. The batter came together quickly and tasted divine. I even managed a quick shower while my muffins were baking. I thought nothing could go wrong, especially when I saw how wonderful my muffins looked after I removed them from the oven.

Looks can be deceiving.

But the best laid plans of mice and men… sometimes yield tough, slightly overcooked muffins. I was SO disappointed when I broke one of these guys in half and noticed that the crumbs weren’t as moist or tender as I’d remembered. A taste test revealed the sad truth – they were overdone.

Now, I know that it’s not exactly difficult to mess up muffins; either over-mixing the batter or overcooking the muffins can lead to unfortunate results. But I definitely did not over-mix this batch; I stirred until the wet and dry ingredients were just combined and then promptly removed my spoon from the batter. So the fatal error must have occurred in the oven. And that really grinds my gears, because I always set my timer for less than the recommended baking time. I know my oven, and I’d rather have undercooked than overcooked baked goods – you can always put ’em in for another minute, but you can’t take away baking time! For these puppies, I set the timer for 22 minutes. Isa recommends 23 – 27 minutes of baking time, and I assumed 22 would be the perfect time to check them and judge whether or not they needed another minute or two. I also remembered that the first batch I made could’ve used another minute, so I thought I was all set.

Obviously I wasn’t. When the timer sounded and I opened my oven, I was alarmed to see that the tops of my muffins had already browned. When my handy muffin-testing toothpick came out clean, I pulled that pan out of the oven quicker than you can say Isa Chandra. At that point I thought they were probably fine, but… I was wrong. Sigh.

In the grand scheme of failed baked goods, these muffins are really not that bad. The average taster probably wouldn’t even think to comment on their slight toughness; in fact, my friend and my brother said they were perfectly fine. But since my point of comparison was pretty much a perfect batch, I’m judging these guys rather harshly. They don’t have the lovely, moist crumb I remember so fondly, and the lemon flavor is a little lost beneath the toughness, but those really aren’t dealbreakers. It just bothers me that I couldn’t replicate my initial success. I think that next time I make them, I’ll use a 350˚ oven instead of the 375˚ recommended, just so I can better control the baking process.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to “suffer” my way through a batch of slightly overcooked Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins… ahh, the difficult life of a vegan baker!

Food Frenzy Friday

Get ready for some seriously good eats, folks! I’ve been a busy little vegan during the past 24 hours, and I have photographic evidence. But before the good must come the bad, alas. Thankfully, the only bad eats I’ve had lately were not made by me. Tonight my aunt I and went out to dinner so we could catch up and I could update her on some Important Life Events (more about those in the future). We decided to forego our standard favorite eateries for a new Thai place nearby; we felt adventurous and willing to give a new business a shot. Unfortunately, I wish we’d stuck to our tried and true restaurants, because this place was just not good. We ordered pad thai and a dish with steamed veggies and fried tofu, hoping to share the two between us. Well… we did share them. We shared the slimy, overcooked pad thai noodles and the flavorless steamed vegetables that probably came right out of the freezer. The only decent part of the meal was the peanut sauce, and even that was nothing to write home about. My aunt is much more assertive than I am and complained about the pad thai, so we didn’t end up paying for it (or eating it, for that matter.) Oh well – at least our conversation was satisfying.

Now we’ll move onto better – and tastier – things! My parents are away for a short vacation, so I’m enjoying having the run of the kitchen. Not that they don’t love it when I cook for them, but I kind of enjoy being able to blast my music while I’m cooking! Plus I can experiment with new recipes and not have to worry about anybody seeing my failure… not that I’ve failed lately. Yet. Anyway, when I filled out that Vegan’s 100 List last week, I was shocked to realize that I’ve never made vegan chocolate chip cookies. Although I’ve only been officially vegan since the beginning of this month, I’ve made exclusively vegan baked goods for almost a year now. So when I saw some dairy-free semi-sweet chocolate chips on sale at the grocery store, you know I had to snatch up a couple of bags. Last night I decided that I should make some cookies to accompany the new Office episode. I debated between using a chocolate chip cookie recipe I found on the PPK and the Happy Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that has rave reviews on VegWeb. Ultimately I went with the VegWeb recipe. All those laudatory comments left me with pretty high expectations. So how did they turn out? Well… they look pretty!

Happy cookies?

And they taste pretty good, although I’m not sure these are my holy grail when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. I found the dough waaay too dry and ended up adding extra soy milk, so I’m a little skeptical of this recipe. At first I was not impressed at all, but after I ate a couple the taste began to grow on me, and today they taste even better. But I’m definitely going to try another recipe next time I get bitten by the chocolate chip cookie bug! What about you guys? Do you have a tried and true chocolate chip cookie recipe?

My next kitchen endeavor occurred this morning when I consulted the wonderful Vegan Brunch in search of a waffle recipe. I ultimately settled on the Chelsea Waffles, since I wanted a pretty neutral flavor that would pair well with my marinated apple topping (chopped apples + cinnamon + turbinado sugar + maple syrup). It turned out to be an excellent choice.

And in the mornin', I'm makin' WAFFLES!

Oh, yum. These were awesome! I didn’t have barley malt syrup, so I substituted a mix of brown rice syrup and blackstrap molasses. This worked really well, although I think it made the waffles sweeter than they should have been. Still utterly delicious, though. But what else should I have expected from this book?! Duhhh.

My final cooking experiment came from Vegan Dad. Although I’ve been a huge fan of his blog for ages now, I’ve never actually tried one of his recipes before today! But I’ve had a box of vital wheat gluten sitting in my pantry for about a month, and I decided it was time to tackle a seitan-based recipe. Now, I’ve only actually eaten seitan twice in my life before today. Both times it was from Whole Foods’ prepared foods bar (the two times I tried it were the only two times I’ve actually eaten there). But I enjoyed it, and since everyone and their mom seems to whip up seitan in their sleep, I knew I had to attempt it.

When I was omni, I was never a huge wings fan, but somehow the idea of vegan wingz really appeals to me. I’ve made the tempeh wingz from Don’t Eat Off the Sidewalk twice; the first time I didn’t have panko and they were really kinda gross, but the second time I absolutely loved them. So I thought that trying out Vegan Dad’s Ultimate Vegan Hot Wingz would be an appropriate way to attempt seitan. And I was right.

Wingz, baby.

Although wingz aren’t the most photogenic food, I think these lil guys are sorta cute. I ate them with about 3/4 of a red pepper, not because they were spicy at all but because wingz feel like junk food to me, and in my mind I can counter eating junk food by eating straight-up, super-healthy, raw veggies. Whatever. In any case, the wingz were surprisingly yummy! I was a little nervous that they’d be too squishy; a few commenters apparently had that problem and I was concerned that I’d used too much onion and destroyed the delicate liquid/dry balance. But the dough stayed together perfectly well, and I loved the feel of it! Is that weird? I’ve always been a tactile kind of girl; I love polymer clay and Play Dough used to be one of my favorite “toys”. So I got a kick out of the strangely-textured seitan dough, I’m not gonna lie. And the end result was so good. I used the wing sauce recipe from Don’t Eat Off the Sidewalk instead of Vegan Dad’s, since I really like that one, but other than that I didn’t stray from his recipe at all. And I’m glad I didn’t.

So, all in all, the past 24 hours have been an EPIC SUCCESS. And who knows what the weekend will bring! I’ve got the kitchen to myself for two more days… muahahaha.

Five Minute Photoshop: Ms. Mac N. Cheeze

Ladies and gents, I’d like to introduce you to a new friend of mine. She’s comforting and reassuring and, um, delicious. Meet Ms. Mac N. Cheeze.

Mac N. Cheeze in da house!

I know, I know. You thought I couldn’t get any lamer after my Banana Muffin Photoshop stupidity. But, oh, I can, and I did.

It seems to me that making – and, ideally, enjoying – dairy-free mac and cheese should count as a rite of passage of sorts, a hurdle to be cleared on the way to vegan nirvana. I’m happy to say that I’ve jumped that hurdle and avoided any embarrassing falls.

While vegan mac and cheese has never exactly scared me, per se, I’ve always been a little reluctant to try it. I didn’t think I was a bit nutritional yeast fan, and I was never fond enough of regular mac and cheese to make finding a vegan substitute a pressing need. Truth be told, I always associated the rich, homemade versions of mac and cheese with tummyaches; my stomach has never dealt well with large amounts of fat (and probably dairy), and super creamy dishes never sat well with me. I did enjoy Annie’s white cheddar shells, but overall macaroni and cheese was never high on my list of all-time favorites.

That said, there came a point when I began to crave something creamy and warm and reminiscent of those cholesterol-laden dishes I used to occasionally enjoy. Tonight I decided to fulfill that craving. After perusing various mac and cheese recipes, I settled on this simple one from VeganYumYum. Although cashew-based “cheeze” sauces seem to be all the rage – and that VegNews recipe looks intriguing – I wanted my first vegan mac and cheese experience to be more traditional, meaning I wanted to try it with nutritional yeast, even though I was a little uncertain if I’d even be able to stomach it.

Happily, I was more than able to do that. I really and truly enjoyed this recipe. Even though I left out the miso, I thought it was wonderfully creamy and tasty. I think I may’ve used a bit too much tahini, as it was bordering on the verge of too sweet, but that’s my fault since I was halving the recipe and eyeballing measurements. I’m pretty sure my eyes almost bulged out of their sockets when I first tasted this “cheeze” sauce, I was so pleasantly surprised. I thoroughly enjoyed my bowl of penne and, um, yeast, and I’m happy to say that it didn’t leave me feeling full and sick like “real” mac and cheese used to do.

The only downside to this meal was its rather unflattering aesthetic. I didn’t bake it and top it with breadcrumbs, so it was pretty ugly… hence the Photoshop jobber. But other than that, it was a wonderful introduction to the world of vegan mac and cheese and I can’t wait to try more variations on this wonderful dish. Ms. Mac N. Cheeze, we’ll meet again soon – I promise!