Blog changes

Hey everyone!

New blog new blog!

As you may know, I’ve started a new blog called Seitan Beats Your Meat at http://www.seitanbeatsyourmeat.com, which will now be my primary blog for recipes, food photography, and vegan-related news. You’ll find more information on the new blog over there. Along with that, The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur will soon be redirected over there, so update your RSS feed.

Vegan cookies

What about The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur? I’ve been thinking about it for awhile and as for this blog, I am in the process of moving the content of The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur to vegancookies.wordpress.com. This was originally just to host the blog archives for reference, but now I’m looking at it as an opportunity to bring the focus back to what started this blog: vegan cookies! I’m keeping it short form: recipes, links to cookie recipes around on the internet, and vegan cookies from stores, restaurants, and bakeries. Basically vegan cookie HQ. I’d love to publish reader submissions as well, so please email me recipes, links to your blog posts, guest posts, or other vegan cookie-related news and I’ll be happy to feature you. Just keep it vegan, of course.

See you on the new blog(s)!


Vida Vegan Con II: Year of the Instagram

Mo, Amey, and Kittee of Vegan Battle Royale

During the weekend of Vida Vegan Con II, Portland was a 24-hour vegan playground. It was raining when I hopped off the plane and continued until it was time to head home, but it would’ve taken much more than a little rain to faze the excited attendees of vegan summer camp! The classes were engaging and inspiring, the food was plentiful, the drinks were flowing, and fun was most certainly had!

After my flight was delayed for 3 hours (shakes fist at O’Hare), I arrived in Portland a little later than expected. Melisser‘s flight was delayed as well and luckily, we got to PDX within five minutes of one another and traveled through the rain to our respective accommodations.

I spent the weekend in a rad apartment on Mississippi (I would frequently say M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I in my head in a singsong voice typing it into Google Maps throughout the trip) with Joni, Jackie, Louzilla, and Michelle. Joni and Jackie greeted me at the apartment and within four minutes, we were headed downstairs to the bar. This was the first of many times we would take advantage of the fact we were staying right above a bar.

Oh hey, we were also staying right down the street from Flavour Spot, the waffle cart that sells vegan sausage waffle sandwiches dripping with buttery maple cream. This was “pre-breakfast.” Sidenote: it really turned out to be just breakfast.

We then made a trip to Hungry Tiger Too for lunch (or breakfast, if we’re still going with pre-breakfast), where we met up with Joanna after unabashedly stalking her on Instagram and noticing she was right down the street at that very moment. I got two corndogs and a side of cheese sauce. Saucy.

We then ventured over to the vegan mini-mall and went to Herbivore, where we ran into more friends (hi Lauren!).

The unofficial VVC meet and greet was held at the White Owl Social Club, a new bar from the folks at Sizzle Pie, to which we arrived after a rainy walk. I can’t remember what this drink was called, but it had lemon, sage, rosemary, and bitters, and it was, er, interesting. After another questionable adventurous drink choice, I stuck to the basics.

What everyone was really there for was the wonderful company…and the macaroni and cheese burger! Louzilla and I split this one.

We got dessert at the famous Voodoo. I didn’t make it to Voodoo at the last Vida Vegan Con, so I’ve been eyeing the grape donut for over a year. I can happily say its deep-fried, Kool-Aid(?)-coated exterior lived up to my expectations.

After Voodoo, Louzilla and I met up with Joni and Jackie at The Bye and Bye and put away some of their signature cocktails, the Bye and Bye. A peach-infused bourbon, vodka, and juice concoction served in a quart Mason jar, at $7 it’s an economical choice for a lot of drink.

What, Vida Vegan Con hasn’t even started yet?

Vida Vegan Con was held at the Portland Art Museum. If it wasn’t clear that we’d arrived at the correct place, the Earth Balance car would’ve tipped us off.

After checking in, we ate at Veggie Grill for breakfast. This is the Buffalo Bomber Burger.

From the classes on Friday’s agenda, I attended Gena Hamshaw‘s Blog Writing as Writing, Isa Chandra Moskowitz‘s iPhone Food Photography, Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan‘s Why & How to Expand Your Message to Include Animal Rights, and Mo, Kittee, and Amey‘s Vegan MoFo Workshop. The day was so full, I forgot to take photos!

Gena’s writing class covered a selection of problematic habits writers fall into when blogging and how to remedy these mistakes. She spoke about how often bloggers spill their guts without editing their writing, producing sloppy content for the sake of meeting a self-made deadline, and trying to cover ALL THE TOPICS instead of choosing a focus and really honing in on how they communicate these ideas. As the first class of the day, this is where some new idea sparkage began in my brain.

In Vegan MoFo class, we collectively created MoFo themes for each day of the week that everyone participating in MoFo this year can follow. Pick one, do all 7, or none at all! I’m not going to reveal the winners here, so YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL MOFO.

Louzilla, John, and I failed to arrive on time to the Upton’s and Chicago Vegan Foods Taco and S’mores Pop-Up. Sad faces all around. We remedied aforementioned sad faces by getting dinner at Sizzle Pie, then dessert at Voodoo (again).

I panicked and got grape again. Loyalty.

On Saturday, Vida Vegan Con greeted us with a Portland Vegan Breakfast Showcase. A.N.D. Cafe, Back to Eden Bakery, Blackheart Bagels, Cinnamon, Divine Pie, Portland Juice Press, Portobello Vegan Trattoria, Sizzle Pie, and White Owl Social Club provided us with an unforgettable breakfast. I got polenta from Portobello, pizza from Sizzle Pie (this actually wouldn’t be the last time I ate Sizzle Pie during the trip), and a donut from Cinnamon.

I followed around Jason Das, Laura Beck, and Leigh-Chantelle that morning attended two panels that morning: Ethics Beyond the Plate, and Vegan Invasion: Community Building, where the discussions went beyond animal issues and food and focused on other social justice movements and creating community.

Vegan Battle Royale was held during lunch that day. I was called up to play extreme vegan trivia and can happily say that the MOTHERFORKING DESTROYERS won!

That afternoon, Gena Hamshaw, Jamie J. Hagen, and I led a panel on time management called Finding Balance: Blogging & Personal Life. We talked about the importance of setting realistic goals, schedules, and boundaries, and avoiding blogger burnout.

All the tables were scattered with VVC temporary tattoos. And coffee. They had coffee ALL DAY EVERY DAY. With coconut creamer. Be still, my heart.

That night was THE Galarama, which was a benefit for the Chimp Sanctuary NW. Dancing, silent auction, ice cream, tacos, chili cheese dogs, vodka root beer floats, vegan jello shots, long ass bathroom lines, oh my! And the beautiful Melisser was DJ-ing. We forgot to take prom photos beforehand.

The after-party was karaoke. Louzilla and I sang Party in the USA, naturally replacing “LAX” and “USA” with “PDX” and “VVC.” She’s just being Miley!

Photo from Joanna

Ashlee from The Lil Foxes and Melisser:

The next morning (the final official day of the conference!) I got a bit of a late start and snacked out of the swag bag for breakfast and went over my presentation for my afternoon class, trying not to hyperventilate just yet!

The first class I attended that day was Body Image Acceptance & Veganism. Each panelist (and moderator Laura Beck) shared her story and I think most everyone felt feeling inspired and a little teary!

Lunch was a build-your-own sandwich bar. My piled-high open-faced sandwich wasn’t pretty, but it was sure tasty.

After lunch, I gave my Artful Food Photography class. Since I live behind a computer, I started out DYING INSIDE on the nerves meter, but luckily got to comfortable quickly. Louzilla assured me I didn’t seem nervous and we’ve been friends forever so of course I trust her judgment. I focused on the blog as a space where the writer/photographer has complete creative control, and how to use that! We went over lighting scenarios, setting up shots, and a quick editing overview. The Q&A serendipitously turned into pictionary.

This is an example of how you could photograph cat cookies with your cat in the frame:

Or a Chipotle burrito. Complete with chips and guac, a crumpled up bag, and a margarita in a can, because that is how you represent a McDonald’s burrito. Real talk.

One day I will use these sketches and photograph these scenarios for real!

Although the conference was over, the fun was not! We hosted a party at the apartment.

Party decorations:

It’s Portland, so of course the mac and cheese restaurant down the street has a vegan option. Party planning fuel.

After lots of dancing and imbibing, Louzilla and I joined Melisser and Kerry for a trip to Casa Diablo, the only 100% vegan strip club in the country. Don’t Google this at work?

The next day was my final full day in Portland and I played it by ear.

The next morning, a few of us met up at Back to Eden Bakery. I ordered the asparagus cashew tart and soft serve. The tart was flaky, creamy, and flavorful, and the soft serve was like eating a cloud.

After a five minute torrential downpour, Jackie, Melisser, and I met up with the Vegan Cuts crew at the Bye and Bye. This is the meatball sub.

Jackie and I stuck around for awhile longer and sipped some more Bye and Byes. I can’t remember if I ordered one or two. This set the tone for the rest of the day. BAM.

We hopped on a bus to Ground Kontrol arcade. This is the Pac-Man bathroom floor! METAL MONDAY!

I ordered Vodka Tronics, which was a blue-flavored vodka tonic. And of course, there were vegan options all over the menu. Oh Portland, you beautiful foxy rainy town.

After Ground Kontrol and lots of quarters spent, Jackie and I met up with Jared for more Sizzle Pie (see?). We loaded up on pizza, then headed back to the apartment where I proceeded to stay up all night, then quickly pack and head to the airport at 5am. Oh, I slept good on that plane and when I got home.

I arrived at O’Hare and walked right into the rainbow hallway!

My swag bag, Battle Royale bag, speaker bag, and Food Fight! purchases got all mixed up with the packing, so I have no idea what came from where, but here (most of) it all is!

The verdict? Vida Vegan Con II was the best weekend ever! I brought my camera, but it never left the apartment, so I embraced the Instagram for documenting the weekend with no regrets. I left inspired, full of ideas, with new friends, and feeling good. We can read all the blogs and talk to all the vegans online, but nothing beats meeting in real life and celebrating at vegan summer camp. I’ve even taken action and started at least two new projects (details forthcoming) since leaving VVC. That’s what it’s all about, right?! YAY!


Ice cream party and VVC details

My ice cream maker was in hibernation through the very long Midwest winter this year. So rather than valuing the simple things in life, it was ravenous for over-the-top flavors when I pulled it out for the warmer months. This is peanut butter butterscotch maple chocolate chip (PBBMCC) ice cream. Coconut milk-based, this ice cream is full of peanut butter, pure maple syrup, butterscotch extract, and two kinds of chips. It’s extra decadent and also extremely simple to make because it’s not an exact science and there’s nothing to heat up. Lazy ice cream, if you will.

Here is how you make peanut butter butterscotch maple chocolate chip, PBBMCC, ice cream (see, I pulled a Rachael Ray* there) or a variation thereof:

1. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 can of full-fat coconut milk, at least 1/3 cup maple syrup, a few heaping spoonfuls of creamy peanut butter, and a splash of butterscotch extract.

2. Add a few splashes of non-dairy milk to make your ice cream go further. A little goes a long way. Too much will make your ice cream less creamy because fat=delicious. Taste and adjust the flavors as necessary. The two reasons I used maple syrup are (a) this is maple ice cream, and (b) it would be so much work to heat up the coconut milk and dissolve granulated sugar in it. You could do that though, especially if you want to mix up the flavors. Start with 1/2 cup sugar since maple syrup is concentrated sweetness.

3. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Typically, you’ll toss in the add-ins during the last 5 minutes of freezing (check your instructions). I added about 1/2 cup total of butterscotch and chocolate chips.

4. Done-zo! Eat that ice cream! Store in the freezer in an airtight container.

You can use these guidelines for a myriad of ice cream flavors. The basic formula is 1 can of coconut milk, 1/3-1/2 cup sweetener, and your flavors. There is much room for experimentation as ice cream is very forgiving.

*I don’t have anything against RR’s tendency to refer to an ingredient along with its clunky acronym over and over in speech (à la EVOO, extra-virgin olive oil). It’s proof that if you consistently say something odd and gratuitous, it can become your brand. In fact, I even have her orange tea kettle.

And finally, I’m so excited for Vida Vegan Con this week and can’t wait to see those of you who are also attending! The agenda looks fantastic and of course, the food will be out of this world.

This week I’m finishing up preparation for the two classes I’ll be teaching:

Artful Food Photography, Sunday at 1:45pm
I’ll be talking about the blog as a space where you have complete creative control to develop your own style. Having recently completed my degree in photography, I spent the last few years working with fine arts in school, producing commercial work for books and print media, and making photos for this blog that fall somewhere in between. We’ll discuss influences, designing your photos around the food, and presenting your own voice through the photos on your blog.

Finding Balance: Blogging & Personal Life, Saturday at 2:15pm
Jamie J. Hagen, Gena Hamshaw, and I will be speaking about the importance of setting realistic schedules and boundaries while juggling a full-time job or going to school, writing a blog, and maintaining a personal life.

I’ll be back following the conference to recap the weekend, the food, the classes, and what I learned!


Book cover: Cheers to Vegan Sweets!

I’ve been posting dessert photos and alluding to this book for quite a while, and now I have tangible internet proof and a cover image to post! Published by Fair Winds Press, Cheers to Vegan Sweets!: Drink-Inspired Vegan Desserts: From the Cafe to the Cocktail Lounge, Turn Your Sweet Sips Into Even Better Bites! will be hitting the shelves November 2013. The book contains 105 recipes and 45 full-color photos for desserts based on drinks like Apple Cider Donuts, Mexican Coffee Truffles, Margarita Ice Cream, and Shirley Temple Cupcakes. It’s divided into chapters like “The Café”, “The Lemonade Stand”, and “The Cocktail Lounge”, so there’s something for everyone’s tastes, whether you’re looking for treats for a kid’s party, or a boozy dessert. The book is clearly so awesome that it got an exclamation point in the title and two subtitles, and the designers at Fair Winds did an amazing job making the book really beautiful, so I’m really excited for you all to see the final product!

In the meantime, the book is available for pre-order on Amazon and many online retailers through the publisher’s website. Just as I did with The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, I’ll be selling signed copies on the blog and perhaps setting up a book signing in your city, so you can buy books packaged with love directly from me! Get updates on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Instagram, and follow Fair Winds Press on Facebook and Twitter! Feel free to email me with any inquiries! Thank you so much to everyone involved in this project! I’m looking forward to the release date and all the awesome people and opportunities that will come along with it!


Weekend Baking

As the temperature hit the single digits over the weekend, it seemed absurd not to have the oven on constantly as a source of comfort food and extra heat. I’m not crazy about snow or arctic-inspired seasons unless accompanied by holidays and a break from school and work, so January and February (and sometimes March, April, and May in the Midwest) are all about biding time until peeling off winter coats and scarves in the sunshine of spring is a reality. After a few forays into the icy cold streets and waiting in the wind chill for late buses (living without a car in a medium-sized city will crush all illusions of happy public transportation in due time!), baking cookies and tending a warm, crusty loaf of bread seemed like a much better plan.

In 2009 and 2010 I lived without a real kitchen for about 8 months and the majority of my diet was PBJ and Peanut Butter Panda Puffs, so not surprisingly, I was not so into peanut butter after that. I’ll eat a PBJ if absolutely necessary, but it’s never my first choice for lunch anymore. But of course, desserts are another story, so sometimes peanut butter cookies sound like an absolutely fantastic idea. This weekend I reached for the Soft Peanut Butter Cookies recipe from The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, which is my go-to peanut butter cookie recipe.

I was looking to make a standard whole wheat bread, but while flipping through my recipe binder I came across a molasses rye bread with caraway and raisins (recipe here). I made the bread pretty much as directed, except I couldn’t find raisins in the cabinet and left them out.

Still craving regular bread, I made a standard whole wheat bread recipe. I like to replace 1/2 cup flour in any given bread recipe with wheat gluten flour (the kind you use to make seitan) because it makes the bread fluffy and soft. While searching through the cupboard for some kind of seed or herb to add to the bread, I came across my giant bag of sunflower seeds and dumped some in the dough at the last minute while kneading. They made a wonderful addition for a little toothsome crunch throughout the loaf. I ended up using this loaf for BBQ seitan sandwiches with ginger sesame red cabbage slaw.

Stay warm, everyone! Bread and cookies are the answer to snow and subzero temperatures. Unless you’re in a warm climate, and in that case, I am extremely envious!


Plain chocolate cake [recipe]

I’ve been sick for five, going on six days this past week and I’ve enjoyed it too much. Unabashedly staying home writing, reading, watching too much TV, and crafting for five days straight, save for a few short trips around the block or to the grocery store, is pretty much my dream life. To eliminate the risk of becoming one with my blankets and couch and the fact that I feel mostly better today, I decided to descend upon reality and take more risks: sensory overload from the outside world, fresh air, and interaction with other humans. Needless to say, I survived, and the holiday season will be upon us soon in full force of overindulgence, reminiscent of those glorious five days when I was too sick to leave the house. Until then, simple pleasures will fuel the next couple weeks of an unseasonably warm December (in the Midwest, anyway). One of those pleasures is cake. Straight up chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, no frills.

This recipe is modified from my chocolate malt cake recipe. It’s plain chocolate cake, super fudgy, no unanticipated anomalies. You could add peppermint extract and Candy Cane Joe Joe’s to be festive, but save that for the end of the month and just eat chocolate cake.

Chocolate Cake

Makes 2 layer 8 inch cake

2/3 cup canola oil
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 cups almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2-3 tablespoons almond milk

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Line two 8 inch cake pans with parchment rounds and grease the sides with margarine or cooking spray. Set aside.

Pour the canola oil, sugar, almond milk, vanilla extract, and apple cider vinegar together in a stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Stir until just combined.

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually sift into the wet ingredients, stirring after each addition. The batter should be thick and pourable.

Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake for 30-32 minutes, until the tops of the cakes are firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool before attempting to remove the cakes.

In the meantime, make the frosting. Cream together the margarine and shortening in a stand mixer or with hand beaters. Gradually add the powdered sugar and cocoa, stirring as you go. Mix until completely incorporated, then add the almond milk. If the frosting is too soft or liquid, add more powdered sugar. Beat the frosting for 6-8 minutes. Add more powdered sugar or almond milk to adjust the flavor and consistency of the frosting if necessary.

Remove the cakes from the pans. Spread frosting atop one layer and place the second layer on top. Frost the sides and top of the double layer cake, piping on a border or adding chocolate and candy for decoration if you wish.


MoFo #20: More French desserts

Champagne, chocolate, Grand Marnier, oh my!

Mulled Wine
I mulled wine for the first time last Thanksgiving using the recipe from Celebrate Vegan. This year I made some with a different array of spices: cardamom, rose, anise, cinnamon, cloves, and orange. I’m going to continue making it each year in the fall and winter months, switching the ingredients up every time.

Grand Marnier Petit Fours
A tale of chocolate, roses, and scorned love that ends in tempestuous prose, broken ceramic, and orange cognac by candlelight. Complete with a marzipan “wax” seal.

Champagne Mousse Petit Fours
Fluffy chocolate cakes topped with elegant chocolate clouds comprised of bubbly sparkling wine with melting in your mouth its only purpose in life.

This concludes Vegan MoFo 2012 on The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur. Back to regularly (but somewhat capriciously) scheduled programming of weekly posts!
Thank you so much for reading throughout October, and thanks to the MoFo team for organizing yet another wonderfully global vegan event!