Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Cookie Baking/Round One

It is time, once again, for me to bake for my trouble shooters. They do so much for me throughout the year, it is nice to be able to do something for them and who doesn't love some cookies for the holidays? This year I am taking a little bit different tact. My oven was out of commission for a while, so it messed up my baking schedule. I was not able to bake on my days off, so I have to get it done while I am working. This can prove challenging as most of you busy folks know. I've decided the best plan of attack is to break my baking into two rounds.

Last night was round one. I also decided to give love to two different authors this year (well technically it will be three). For round one, I featured Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. The cookies were from Vegan with a Vengance and Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I try to get a good balance of flavors, colors and textures. For round one the selections were City Girl Snickerdoodles.These made the cut for their ease of making and they just happen to be a special favorite of one of the guys. Next we have the Ginger Sparkle Cookies from VwaV. They epitomize the smells and flavors of Christmas baking to me. They are soft in the middle and crunchy on the outside. The molasses and ginger make you feel all elf like and happy. I had a bit of a problem with the dough this year for some reason. It was super sticky. I ended up having to add 2-3 extra tablespoons of flour to be able to work with them. Last but certainly not least are the decadent Chocolate Fudgy Oatmeal Cookies from VCIYCJ. These are a simple cookie that produce decadent results. They are rich, but I pretend they are healthy. They do have oatmeal after all!

I hope you enjoy round one of my Christmas baking frenzy! For round two, I plan on featuring cookies from the Vegan Cookie Connoisseur by the adorable Kelly Peloza. What to make, what to make? Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thanksmas Pasta Bar

Happy Holiday season to one and all! Whatever you celebrate, I wish you health, happiness, joy and peace.

Sometimes in all of the hustle and bustle of the commercialized Christmas season, it is easy to lose sight of the real joy of Christmas - Love. This year all of the adults in our family agreed to forgo gift giving with each other so that we could focus instead on giving to needy families and children. The company I work for is huge into community outreach. Our employees give time and money to hundreds of local organizations. Each year different departments each adopt a local family in need. We had a family of seven. Their requests were mostly for necessities like blankets, space heaters and warm clothes. Of course the kids had some toys they were hoping for as well. We were able to get just about everything on their wish list donated. I was fortunate enough to be able to be part of the team that delivered the presents to the family this year. I can't adequately describe how grateful and excited the family was. The kids were allowed to open one present while we were their. The joy on their faces was a sight to behold.

This year I became involved with a group called Dining for Women. We get together once a month for a potluck. We write a check for what we would have spent going out to dinner and donate it to DFW. The money is used to empower women and girls who live in extreme poverty all over the world by funding programs to educate them and improve their lives. This fabulous group of women have touched the lives of so many other people in our community and all over the world through their volunteerism and giving. This month we banded together to give to a local childrens home called Sunshine Acres. We put together several gift boxes that were filled with gift items, party favors and cake mixes so that the children could have presents and birthday celebrations throughout the year. It was a fun gathering of friends that also happened to be a great way to give back to the community.

With all of the gift giving and donations out of the way, it was time to focus on family. It can be pretty stressful and difficult to get growing and extended families together over the holidays. Fred's kids have so many places to visit over the holidays. Everyone wants to see the grandkids, including us. Fred and I have never had traditional work schedules, so actual holiday dates don't really mean a whole lot to us as far as celebrations go. We are used to being VERY flexible with our dates on these occassions. To alleviate the stress of having to try and see everyone on the actual holidays, we decided to have a Thanksmas (thank you Tyler for coining our new holiday) celebration between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Fred proposed doing an afternoon into evening celebration so that we could play games both outside and inside. What a splendid idea! This way the family and friends could pop in anytime.

Family Time - Generations

The big question for me was what to make for dinner? I wasn't sure when our guests would be coming and going. I also wasn't sure how hungry the crowd would be. My daughter in law offered to bring a salad and our daughter brought some tasty beverages. We also had some noshing materials set out. For the main food event, I thought it would be fun and handy to do a pasta bar. I got busy making Lachesis' incredible Alfredo sin Mushrooms, Frecklefoot's killer Vodka Sauce, and my own version of meaty spaghetti sauce. I cooked up three different types of pasta and sliced and diced a variety of veggies and Julie Hasson's Italian Sausage. It worked out swell, with people coming and going all day. Everyone got a hot and fresh dinner. Oh, and I must not forget the garlic bread. Our son-in-law was in charge of cooking the garlic bread; lest we have the ADD induced tragedy of last year's burnt loaves. I made a mixture of olive oil, tons of garlic, fresh herbs and Carla's Cheezy mix for the garlic bread. I could have eaten a whole loaf myself...and I may have. I don't think anyone went home hungy and everyone got to custom order their pasta. It was a really fun way to do a holiday dinner. This may be a new tradition for us!!

Pictured here are the pasta bar fixin's

Here is a view from the other side. You can sese the sauces simmering.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Waiting for Appetite for Reduction and Giveaway Winner!!

While I anxiously await my tester copy of Isa Chandra Moskowit's LOW FAT book, Appetite for Reduction, I am going down a tasty and healthy memory lane of my testing experience. I will do a full on review when my copy arrives, but for now, I'd like to share one of the recipes that I honestly wasn't expecting much from and was pleasantly surprised at how truly wonderful it was. I bring you the Goddess Nicoise Salad. This baby packs in a slew of flavor and texture without a boat load of calories. As an added bonus it is very filling so you don't leave the table feeling deprived. Make sure you try it out!

Ok, now lets talk about food at the other end of the spectrum. COOKIES! I want to thank all of you who commented. It's nice to see that you are out there reading the blog and loving cookies!

The winner of the VIT home made cookies is #3! Steph. Steph, please e-mail me at vegintraining at gmail dot com with your address so I can mail you some sweet treats. I will be sending it USPS so if you have a post office box it can be shipped there. Thanks again to everyone who commented. There will be more giveaways coming up!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Product Review - Queen Creek Olive Mill

Queen Creek, AZ used to be a small county island in the middle of nowhere. There were a sprinkling of farms, horse properties and a backdrop of the San Tan Mountains, but not much else. We took a drive out there last week and much to my amazement it has become quite the metropolis. On the outskirts of town there sits the Queen Creek Olive Mill. The olive mill is owned and operated by the Rea family. The land was previously vacant when they purchased it. Today they have  They have been experimenting with different varieties of olive trees for over a decade.

We decided we'd pay the $5.00 per person and take the guided tour. It is a very small operation so my use of the word guided may not be an accurate description of the "tour". It was, however, very informative. A lovely young lady educated us about the history of the property and more importantly about the olives and olive oils produced there and elsewhere. She explained that the trees at the mill are still considered very young for olive production, so their yeilds are fairly small. They actually only produce the Extra Virgin Oil from their trees. The infused oils are sourced out of Italy. They have a big olive orchard to the north of the main building and they also have some trees planted in a small picnic grove pictured below.

The mill has a little deli counter. Most of the items are not vegan, but a few can be easily vegainzed. We didn't take the opportunity to eat on this visit, so I can't comment on the selections at this time, but I can tell you they use local breads and many other local ingredients, including herbs from their own organic herb garden.

The tour was short, but infomative and fun. After a 20 minute little talk outside in the lovely weather, we were lucky enough to be taken to the press room. They only harvest and press 2 1/2 months out of the year. We unknowingly picked the perfect time to visit. I'm not sure the tour would be worth it when they aren't pressing because there is not much to see. However, you do get a complementary olive tasting. It was really nice to be able to sample a few varieties before purchasing. During the presentation, we were told they have a specific percentage of each type of olive. We noticed that the mix in the press was a bit different than described. the green olives are very young, produce a peppery flavor and should comprise about 40 percent of the mixture. As you can see here, it appears there were more in this pressing.

The press room

The talk at the beginning of the tour is decidedly geared toward convincing you to go into the retail area and buy some of their product. Check this out. Have you ever expienced such a variety of olive oils in one place? There were a couple of rows just like this one. There is a tasting bar with a big variety of the oils they sell. The flavors are really interesting and the quality is excellent. I didn't buy any olive oil because I still have their vanilla and chile oils left over from a gift I recived last year. I need to whip the vanilla out for some holiday baking.

I did get some of their Vermouth Garlic Stuffed and Mexican Lime Jalapeno Stuffed olive. They are big and delicious on their own or in a martini. I also picked up some of their Spanish Fly dirty martini mix. It's a nice way to get your olive juice without having to strain it out of the can. Honestly, I 'm not that lazy, but I was amused by the label and couldn't resist owning the bottle.

They also sell many local products like baked goods, sauces, syrups and candies. I picked up a little bit of the organic Jalapeno pepper sauce. It was great on my buffalo wingz.

The retail area has a boutique type vibe and prices. The entire operation is very clean and the staff was very friendly. I'm looking forward to heading back out to check out some of the wine tastings and entertainment they offer. If you are in the area and want an atypical desert adventure I'd recommend stopping in. You're likely to drop some coin, but it is a novel and fun experience. We had a nice afternoon enjoying AZ weather in December.

As an added bonus we saw these very cute t-shirts that are perfect for our upcoming Martinis and Manicures fund raiser on December 16th! If you are in the area, come support the "girls"!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Holiday Baking - Giveaway!

Inspired by Celia at On Cardamom and Cast Iron, I've decided now is a great time to do a holiday giveaway. Coming off of a month of spicy treats, my sights are now turned to sweet treats.

Each year I do a massive cookie baking fest for all of the trouble shooters that work so hard for me each year. There are close to 40 hungry line men who do all they can to keep our customers in power all year long. It is always fun to bake for them. Many of these guys give Phat Freddie a hard time about his eating habits and tease us both about that "vegan crap". On one particular occassion PF brought a batch of cookies into his office. One of the trouble shooters (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) was spouting off about how he'd never eat that vegan stuff as he was scarfing down a delicious vegan cookie. Each year I try to introduce another variety. I haven't decided the selections for this year, but I have lots of options, what with Carla's Quick and Easy Bake Sale recipes and Kelly's Cookie Connoiseur Book? It's going to be hard to narrow it down.

In the spirit of the giving season, I offer to you a box (2 dozen or so) of home-made vegan cookies. Just leave a comment telling me about your favorite cookie and why it is special to you. I'll be drawing a name at random Wednesday, December 8th. This one is for US folks only as I'm afraid they wouldn't make the trip overseas. I'm hoping to do an international giveaway soon!

Happy holiday season!!!

Vcon Rumnog Cookies

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Follow up - Piri Piri and Peppedews

After our little celebratory happy hour I realized that I had not taken the time to tell you about two of the peppers featured in the final MoFo 2010 post.