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Vegan Manicotti Crespelle

Before baking with Miyoko's VeganMozz

Before baking with Miyoko’s VeganMozz

I wanted to try out a new vegan cheese, Miyoko’s Fresh VeganMozz style. I had been inspired to make a crepe style manicotti and used my Pennsyltucky Griddle Crêpe and Tofu Cashew Ricotta recipes.

When I opened the cold block of VeganMozz and nibbled a small piece I was very impressed. I cubed about half of the block and folded it into the Tofu Cashew Ricotta then built the manicottis as I had seen Lidia do on Lidia’s Italy.

Sadly, the new cheese didn’t impress me baked as much as it did cold. It didn’t brown and upon getting hot didn’t get stretchy at all. It just slightly melted and was about the consistency of the Tofu Cashew Ricotta.

The Magic of Giving

To quote an old English Wiccan, “Magic is the art of getting results.” For years we have been working hard through social media, visiting restaurants, word of mouth and through international – local organizations to encourage more vegan options in restaurants. The annual Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards were easy to share because there were so few choices. Each of those special veggie options needed to be celebrated and as years went on there were more and more.2015-10-15 12.20.40

Fast forward a few years and we honestly can not keep up with all of the vegan options in Central PA! We still travel, are vegan and love to eat but just cannot get to every place in our region that has great veggie food within the year. We hope it is the energy we have given to encourage and educate that has paid off. Good magic we will call it.

With that, let us pass along a local restaurant that is worth mentioning in St. Mary’s, PA, New Horizons Healthy Foods. Back in October, when we thought we would still be able to judge every veggie burger in central PA, we stopped in and enjoyed a vegan Bacon Cheeseburger that was divine. It was a huge quinoa patty topped with lettuces, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, vegainaise, a dairy free cheese and coconut bacon and was served on a house made raw carrot bread. This is just a sample of all the amazing foods we have eaten this past year in our region!2015-10-19 16.31.50

Because New Horizons Healthy Foods is also a store, I wanted to make sure to purchase some of the coconut bacon. It was delicious and I hadn’t bought any in quite a while. I was shocked to find that it too was made in house.

Here is the best thing of all, they shared the recipe! So from New Horizons Healthy Foods to us to you. Happy vegan eating in central PA and everywhere. When you give, sometimes you magically get back in return!2015-11-06 13.18.45

Refreshed Spice Jars

Old Spices - Old Labels

Old Spices – Old Labels

When a reminder about replacing your old spices (about every 6 months or so) came out on the Post Punk Kitchen Facebook page on December 28th, Jim had a good chuckle. We were already in the midst of discarding old spices, washing our spice jars and totally renaming all of the spices.

That’s right, renaming our spices. Because the old McCormick spice jar labels are paper based, we decided to design new water-proof ones to encourage regular cleaning. I decided if we were redesigning them, it was a great time to keep our lives full of fun and rename them all too!

It became a project over the holidays and enlisted Arron and Amy’s help in coming up with creative names. I didn’t want to have the traditional “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” nor “eye of newt” magical ingredients. The idea was to have crazy names but none that would every infer harm, even to mythical beasts.

Between the 4 of us, we came up with over 60 names for our almost 50 herbs and spices that we regularly use. Terrific ideas like Spiced Mojo, Seeds of Truth and Sowbug Jokes took the place of Whole Cloves, Anise Seed and Cumin Seed.

Cutting out the new waterproof labels.

Cutting out the new waterproof labels.

We washed all of the jars and lids, peeled off the old labels then replaced any old herbs and spices with new. We decided to get rid of the Marjoram because we rarely used it. The same went for Lemon Peel since we zest and freeze what we use rather than nasty dried stuff. That and the double jars we had of Fennel Seed allowed us to swap in a few spices that we had in an overflow drawer.

After the new labels were designed, names chosen to represent specific herbs, labels printed, cut out and applied, difference in overall appearance is wonderful. I am so excited to have jars that I can wash off easily without being afraid of ruining the labels.

Detail of some new names.

Detail of some new names.

If you think it will be confusing as to remembering what spice is what new name, I have to admit that it is a bit. We did, however, print the name of the contents in a smaller font to make clear what was inside. At first glance it looks as if the names are in no order at all but we have kept them in alphabetical order of contents Agar-Agar being first and White Pepper being last even though it looks like Ice Feathers leads the list and The Twitch is the last of the spices.

Even with those precautions, the spices have shifted a bit from what I was used to. Yesterday I sprinkled some Ground Cloves on some corn chips I was baking, thinking it was Chili Powder. It keeps life fresh and makes us smile. I am thinking it will be no time at all until I will be able to tell the Cuddled Imaginaries from the Dragon Sighs.

New spices, new labels.

New spices, new labels.

Jo Jo Potatoes for Brunch

JoJo1I saw this recipe on Somer’s Vedged Out blog and the photo looked so much like Elk Creek Café’s Crispy Potatoes that I am obsessed with replicating. I left a comment for Somer that I was certainly trying them for Sunday brunch and I did! They are the closest thing to my dear Crispy Potatoes that I have made in my own kitchen.

Somer’s recipe is called Truck Stop Jo Jo Potatoes with Vegan Ranch Dressing and I made both recipes. Go on out to her blog and read the whole story and comments that follow. It makes the recipe all the more special.

I will note that of the options she mentioned I used the tapioca starch and the mixture of sea salt and celery seeds (grinding the latter with my mortar and pestle) for the potatoes. I don’t know if it made much difference but I used coconut milk for the ranch and the option of soaking the cashews and the whole thing separated a bit upon sitting.

Coated with seasoning, ready to bake but DO NOT do it on foil like I did.

Coated with seasoning, ready to bake but DO NOT do it on foil like I did.

The flavors were great and, upon realizing I might be getting closer to perfecting Crispy Potatoes, I researched other Jo Jo Potato recipes. Being from the east coast and having never heard of them before, I suspect that might be the key. I did find one based on a Cook’s Country recipe at Jenn’s Food Journey but didn’t like the sound of the panko bread crumbs nor parmesan cheese because that would make them less like what I was trying for.

Somer’s recipe turned out pretty darn close and in some ways even better. I love the seasoning in both the potatoes and ranch dressing. I really liked the tip both blogs shared about pre-heating the pan and did that but I was really stupid and foil lined my pan – DUH! When I went to turn the potatoes half way, I found it was a big mistake.

All was not lost, we unstuck the potatoes and enjoyed a brunch with some super yummy Jo Jo Potatoes in our own kitchen.

On your Mark, Get Set, Trader Joe’s!

Starting tomorrow, November 9, 2012, residents of central Pennsylvania will no longer have to drive over 100 miles to find their closest Trader Joe’s. Depending where in Pennsyltucky you live, the closest to the North (Rochester, NY), South (Pikesville, MD), East (Wayne, PA) and West (Pittsburgh, PA) have not been easily accesible for weekly shopping.

Longtime local residents or new to the vegetarian scene may not have ever shopped at nor even heard of Trader Joe’s. My introduction to the brand was about a decade ago when a displaced California resident with whom I worked lamented the fact that she couldn’t understand how we survived without Trader Joe’s. You rarely miss what you don’t have nor ever experienced so I thought she was being pretty dramatic about a grocery store.

To this day, I think I have only shopped at 3 or 4 and have found that there is an art to shopping at Trader Joe’s. Let me share some secrets to getting the most out of your first visits, so you’re not pulling your hair out looking for something like the ever-absent baking soda.

The Line

The couple of times I visited the NYC location in Union Square, I found it so small and crowded that the line to check-out snaked through the aisles of the store. I found we had to dodge a lot of people just to look at what was on the store’s shelves and just “shop!” The 100 or so folks in line were not just there for opening day, each visit was a regular shopping day. It is not just the NYC stores, we have found it to be so in almost any Trader Joe’s at any time of day.

Lines can be so long, that Trader Joe’s will have employees on hand to hold up giant “end of line” signs. Then, when you get closer to the cashiers, there’s a person watching for each of the perhaps 20 cashiers hold up their numbered paddle (like a ping pong paddle) to signal they’re ready for a customer. Unlike most grocery stores in the world, the cashiers have no conveyor belt. They pull out a shelf to set stuff on; a very small shelf.

Here is the best take-away tip – Smart shoppers come in pairs; one to roam and shop, and the other to stand in line the whole time and shop what they walk past.

If you have to shop alone, the best strategy is to shop the middle first. In most stores, this is where you’ll find frozen goodies like frozen pizza, bags of pasta and the accompanying pasta sauce, etc. Then hop on to the end of the check out line, where you’ll walk alongside the vegetables, fruits, breads, and shtuff for the duration of your stay. It is almost guaranteed that the line will be long enough for you to have ample time standing next to each of these refrigerated sections (unless you are in the 10 items or less line).

So, until this new store settles in and becomes less of a novelty be aware of the possibility of long lines. I know those of us who have watched it’s construction and lamented it’s delay from over a year ago (Say it Ain’t so Trader Joe) won’t let that stop us from jumping into the fray.

The Food

The next helpful tip – Veggie shoppers can look for the 2 green symbols on Trader Joe’s product labels.

Trader Joe’s Vegan Products

Trader Joe’s has identified products free of all animal products and/or by-products including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin, lanolin and confectioner’s glaze with the “V” (for Vegan). Check out the Vegan list.

Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Products.

They also have a Vegetarian list that identify a products in which no ingredients or sub-ingredients are animal derived from meat, poultry or fish. These products may contain eggs or dairy. Those products will be marked with the lighter green trifoliate symbol.

Many of the products are private label; by eliminating the middleman. Trader Joe’s aims to keep prices low on quality products, which means lots of on-the-shelf turnover, and many typical items missing from the store. You are sure to love discovering new products, not breaking the bank on unusual frozen foods and imported foods but if you go with a grocery list of typical household items for the week, you’re sure to be disappointed.

Do note – The fruits-and-veggies section at Trader Joe’s is unique in that you can’t just buy one tomato. The store selects four or five and packages them together – not ideal for shopping for a single meal, but perfect when planning for a week.

Everyone is going to have items that they favor. I have gone through about a dozen online resources so this is a combined list of favorites and best buys.

Favorite Vegan products:
• Soft-Baked Snickerdoodles
• Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
• Vegetable Panang Curry with Jasmine Rice
• True Thai Vegetable Pad Thai
• Thai Vegetable Gyoza
• Falafel Wrap
• Chickenless Crispy Tenders
• Chickenless Nuggets
• Turkey-less Stuffed Roast with Gravy
• Cherry Chocolate Chip Soy Creamy

Vegetarian best buys:
• The Chocolate – From Valrhona and Toblerone bars to Belgian and Swiss bonbons, Trader Joe’s chocolate comes from all over the world at down-to-earth prices. The Valrhona bars that sell for up to $4.99 elsewhere can be had at Trader Joe’s for just $2.99. And Trader Joe’s house-brand bars, none of which contain any artificial flavors or preservatives, are even cheaper. Trader Joe’s chocolate chips ($2.29 for a 12-ounce bag) are a particularly good buy: In a taste test of 12 brands on foodie site, they bested Ghirardelli and Hershey’s — at more than a dollar less per bag.

• Fresh Flowers and Plants – The flowers at Trader Joe’s are high quality and the prices often better than even the wholesale prices she gets at local flower markets. Potted plants such as rosebushes, bromeliads, and herb gardens at Trader Joe’s typically sell for at least 20 percent below what they go for elsewhere, including nurseries.

• Cheese – Trader Joe’s stocks about 60 cheeses at any one time, and with a fairly compact display space, the turnover is fast, keeping it super-fresh.

• Nuts and Trail Mixes – Variety alone makes this category impressive. Trader Joe’s stocks 20 different types of trail mix, including peanut butter cup, mango and cashews, raspberry and chocolate, wasabi, and even espresso bean. And the prices are right, too — 12-ounce bags of Trader Joe’s trail mix cost $3.99 to $4.99, in some cases more than a dollar below supermarket prices. When it comes to nuts, Trader Joe’s carries five different varieties of almonds alone.

• Toilet Paper – Trader Joe’s 100 percent recycled toilet paper scored a “green” rating on the Natural Resources Defense Council tissue guide in 2009, based on the percentage of post-consumer fiber used (80 percent) and the chlorine-free bleaching process used to make it. And while Charmin and Cottonelle (both of which the NRDC slapped an “Avoid” label on) typically sell for $8.99 for 12 rolls, Trader Joe’s rolls sell for less than half that ($3.99 for 12). Take that, Mr. Whipple!

• Maple Syrup – This may be the sweetest bargain in the store, with Trader Joe’s Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup from Canada costing just $5.49 for 12 ounces. Time Out Chicago rated this the best-tasting maple syrup in a blind taste test, beating, among others, Whole Foods’ store label syrup, which cost 60 percent more.

Time to Vote – Vegan Style!

Hopefully you have had a chance to cook up a few of the recipes from our most recent Virtual Vegan Potluck like I have. I am about to enjoy a bowl of VegCharlotte’s Rajma for lunch. Join me?

Even if you haven’t started cooking your way through the great offerings, you can give good vegan food a shout out and enjoy browsing the recipes at the Virtual Vegan Potluck. Please read through and pick out your favorites and give a vote for your favorite recipe(s).

All you have to do is email An Unrefined Vegan with your pick from each course – remember just one recipe per course. She will tally the results and the winner from each category will get a Virtual Vegan Potluck t-shirt! The winning recipes will be posted on the VVP website.

Rules of the contest are:

1) please vote only once – choosing one selection from each course;
2) if you participated in the Potluck, please do not vote for your own recipe;
3) VVP participants, blog readers and total strangers welcome to vote;
4) please do not vote for An Unrefined Vegan’s amazing recipe no matter how much you want to – she happens to know the person giving out the t-shirts;
5) voting closes at midnight (U.S. Mountain Time) on November 12; winner announced November 13.

For me it’s always about the t-shirt, so if you enjoyed my Pennsyltucky Griddle Crêpes, give me a vote in the Desserts category. Most importantly, enjoy all the efforts these great bloggers have put into making a successful vegan potluck. Check out the sponsors too!

‘Coming a Veg’ – The Vegan Journey

‘Coming a Veg’ is a monthly series which highlights vegetarian and vegan “coming of age” stories. What started as a 30 day commitment ended up changing his life. Jim Tunall of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania has an inspiring story to share about his past year and all he has experienced as a vegan. Happy Veganiversary Jim!

I am a life-long animal lover. The obvious dog and cat stories certainly are top of mind. As a youngster I befriended every pet along the seven block walk back and forth to school. More than occasionally I carried a bag of food for neglected canines and treats for outdoor cats. I had a pet raccoon for two years and raised pigeons. In our backyard we raised chickens and geese.

As a teenager, growing up in a clan of hunters, I discovered I could not pull the trigger on a rabbit or squirrel or turkey or deer or bear. Before I gave up the “sport” entirely, I often shot several feet off target so not to upset a favorite uncle who always was with me. He finally surmised that I just was a terrible shot.

We lived in a rural area and I loved sighting deer and turkeys in the woods or while out for a drive. Seeing a fox, weasel, bear, elk or wolf in the wild was pure excitement. I enjoyed days on farms and pet many a cow and chased a pig or two. At the dinner table I never equated those animals with the meat I was enjoying. It just did not cross my mind. Until November 2012, meat was a mainstay of my diet, three times a day, seven days a week.

So how does over sixty years of being a meat eater Segway into a vegan lifestyle? Being perfectly honest it was a spur of the moment decision. After several major weight loss programs over many years succeeded, each one with a loss of fifty or sixty pounds, a light bulb went off in my mind. Diets do not work. Doing the same thing repeatedly with the expectation of different results is predictable failure. So, how do you lose weight and then maintain the new found healthy level you’ve set as your goal?

I was the co-leader of a community wide healthy living tune-up and meltdown program in 2010 and 2011. We reached over 500 people each year and lost close to 5,000 pounds in total each time. The third year start date was close at hand in November of 2011 and I had gained 30 pounds that I lost the prior year. I couldn’t spearhead the program unless I could find a way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight level.

One of our presenters in year one was a vegan. Most participants were less than impressed with such a radical lifestyle. How could anyone follow such a rigid plan, almost a religious dedication to the concept and contrary to billions of dollars of advertising and the bulk of most restaurants menu offerings? Do these people march in “Save the Animals” parades and chain themselves to baby calves on their way to becoming veal Parmigiano?

My wife shared the same history and I shocked her completely when I asked her to join me in “trying” the vegan program for 30 days. Let’s just see how radical this plant based lifestyle is. We went all the way and eliminated meat, fish, dairy, eggs, sugar and oils and only ate “whole” grain breads and concentrated on getting loads of dark green plants like kale and avoided soy based processed substitutes. It took two days to feel empowered and three to get hooked on the amazing new opportunities.

We set a goal of 80 ounces of water per day to our new way of fueling our bodies. Whole grains and fruit for breakfast. Creative stews of beans and kale and cabbage and brown rice and root vegetables for lunch and amazing spinach salads, stir fires or whole grain pasta for dinner. Low calorie popcorn for snacks and nuts as an alternative.

Seeking area restaurants with vegan choices became our hobby and there are many exciting options to dine out. This has been a growth industry just in our 11 month journey. The internet is a God-send of information and resources.

So how are the Tunall’s doing? We are both down 50 pounds. I no longer use medications to control high blood pressure or high cholesterol. We rarely use any pain medications for headaches or sore muscles. We enjoy good health and feel great with loads of energy and all our food addictions are in remission. Occasionally we find ourselves in social settings where we fall into vegetarianism, but it is a rarity.

We feel content, empowered and have a brand new desire to march in that parade to “Save the Animals”. Our seventeen year old daughter is firmly a dedicated vegetarian with no pressure from either of us. It was her choice.

We originally committed to 30 days, recommitted to six months and then extended our vegan contract to one year. We have already decided to re-up for year two. It is truly an exciting, fulfilling and satisfying journey. We aren’t evangelizing yet, but we are very close to it. We don’t preach, however, if asked we take advantage of the opportunity to elaborate. Life is good!

I recommend three books to everybody interested in healthy living:

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyne

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell & Thomas M. Campbell

Forks Over Knives: the Plant Based Way to Health by Gene Stone, Esselstyne & Campbell

The first Monday of every month I feature a new ‘Coming a Veg’ story and would I love to include yours! If you are feeling shy, your story can be posted under a creative screen name, anonymous or at least pass this request along to any other groups or individuals who may be interested. Find more information at this link or send submissions to my email: Pennsyltucky Veggie.

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