Graham Cracker Gingerbread House

Graham Cracker Gingerbread House

As I’m not much of a baker, I always feel a bit left out of all the baking and cookie making going on at this time of year. I don’t want to be a Grinch nor do I want to subject innocent, unsuspecting people to my novice baking. Thankfully, there’s no baking involved in making a graham cracker gingerbread house.

While most store-bought graham crackers contain honey, Nabisco Original Graham Crackers (in the red box) are vegan. For the frosting glue, you can use caramelized sugar or vegan royal icing. I went with the royal icing, that stuff works just like cement.

Graham Cracker Gingerbread House Step 1

Using a sharp serrated knife, gently saw off the top corners of two graham cracker sheets for the gable sides. Saw two more sheets in half for the square sides and roof. Have plenty of extra graham crackers handy in case of breakage.

Graham Cracker Gingerbread House Step 2

Pipe icing onto the bottom and side of a square piece. Place on a piece of cardboard or an upside-down paper plate. Use a small jar to prop it up while gluing down the next piece. Pipe icing onto the bottom of a gable piece and attach to the square piece.

Remove the small jar and attach the other sides with icing. Make sure the gable pieces are directly across from each other.

Graham Cracker Gingerbread House Step 3

For the roof shingles, split a mini oreo, and scrape off the filling. Attach it with icing to a square graham cracker. Repeat in a tile patten and let the pieces dry before attaching to the rest of the house with icing.

To make a door, cut a sheet in half and then in half again and attach with icing. Add other assorted decorative candy as desired. I used a strip of seaweed for the walkway and sprinkled shredded coconut around for the snow. Lastly, dust with powdered sugar over the top of the house for an extra festive look.

Vegan Royal Icing
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons water
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

Stir together the sugar and water until smooth. Add the corn syrup and stir until the icing is smooth and glossy. If icing is too thick, add more syrup. To use, fill a resealable plastic bag and snip off a tiny bit of a corner.

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Tyler Florence Inside the Test Kitchen

Vegan Gravy Ingredients

Apparently, I’m not much of a traditionalist. I always seem to be trying out a new something or other for my holiday meal. This year is no different, with focus shifting away from a main dish and landing squarely on a side dish. And not just any ol’ side dish, but the best mashed potatoes and gravy ever.

Drawn in by the notebook style/theme of Tyler Florence’s latest cookbook, Inside the Test Kitchen, I came across the Vegetarian Thanksgiving Sauce (page 81).

Delighted to see a meat-free version, I knew I was making this sauce when I saw the recipe doesn’t include flour or cornstarch. It’s made from pureed vegetables (see ingredients photo above). You’re now free to smother your entire plate with gravy without having any guilt whatsoever.

Vegan Mashed Potatoes

Naturally, I had to make the Extra Potato-y Mashed Potatoes (page 192) to go with the gravy. They really are the best mashed potatoes ever. The recipe calls for the potatoes to be cooked in heavy cream instead of water, to retain more of the potato flavor. I subbed in full fat coconut milk instead and vegan butter.

For you mashed potatoes purists, no worries, it doesn’t taste like coconut, the predominant flavor is that of buttery potatoes. Soft, oh-so-fluffy, buttery potatoes. You can see the recipe here.

Fig-Hazelnut Fruit "Salami"

I also made the Fig-Hazelnut Fruit “Salami” (page 54) as part of a cheese plate. Easy to make out of just hazelnuts and dried Mission figs, it’s sweet and figgy.

There’s a few more recipes I’m excited to try like the Kale Waldorf Chicken Salad (page 74) and the Creamed Kale (page 155), all veganized of course. One already vegan is the Black-Eyed Pea and Charred Vegetable Chili (page 238). But the vast majority of the recipes are for omnivores (if looking at meaty things bothers you, it’s probably best to look away or quickly flip past those pages).

Inside the Test Kitchen Cookbook

Inside the Test Kitchen is very nicely put together with its notebook design complete with rounded corners and elastic stretchy band/bookmarker on the outside. Inside, the theme continues in the page layouts and the content. The success and failures of various experiments by Tyler and his team, like the stretchy cheese test (I would love to see someone do a vegan cheese version).

The Test Kitchen is a real, actual place, located in Mill Valley, California. It’s where the recipes for the cookbook were created, written and shot entirely on an iPad by Tyler. The cookbook was such a fun read, I’m inspired to be like Tyler and try my own kitchen experiments.

This post contains Amazon links, I get a few coins tossed my way if you click on any of the links and make a purchase of anything.

Barnana, Bar None

Barnana Organic Chocolate Chewy Banana Bites

With a bit of assistance in the review department today, I’m reviewing Barnana, the super potassium snack. They’re dehydrated organic banana pieces with a sweet and chewy bite.

I received all four flavors from the company to try out. I shared them with a couple of little omnivore foodies in the family, ages eight and ten.

Barnana Organic Chocolate Chewy Banana Bites

Their number one favorite is the Organic Chocolate Chewy Banana Bites. Covered in dark chocolate, it’s like eating a piece of candy. The banana bites look like candy too. Sadly, they are not vegan as the glaze has an ingredient that’s similar to honey in it. But it is vegetarian.

Barnana Organic Original Chewy Banana Bites

Raw and vegan, the Organic Original Chewy Banana Bites was also singled out as being a favorite. The natural brown color didn’t fazed the mini taste testers one bit although they did ask about the white powder which is just organic banana powder (not sugar as one tester guessed).

Barnana Organic Peanut Butter Chewy Banana Bites

Another flavor that’s vegetarian instead of vegan is the Organic Peanut Butter Chewy Banana Bites. I had a few of those as well as the chocolate bites before I discovered they weren’t vegan. It’s not labelled on the package but it is on the Barnana website.

I don’t usually make a big deal out of accidentally eating something that’s vegetarian instead of vegan, it’s not like a vegan angel loses its wings or anything. I had just assumed all the flavors were vegan. It’s my own fault for assuming instead of checking.

Barnana Organic Peanut Butter Chewy Banana Bites

The peanut butter was our least favorite flavor, the eight year old didn’t even try as he’s not a peanut butter fan and the ten year old was unenthusiastic. I thought it was another one that’s very candy-like but with peanut butter.

Barnana Organic Coconut Chewy Banana Bites

We all liked the last flavor, Organic Coconut Chewy Banana Bites (raw and vegan). It’s very similar to the original bites but with coconut. The smaller, square shape were also noted.

Overall, the kids really like trying out the various flavors. It’s a great, healthy, portable snack. They liked them so much, they were running around chanting “Barnana, Barnana, Barnana…”

Later in the day, they also enjoyed eating Barnana quietly while watching a movie.

Barnana Organic Coconut Chewy Banana Bites

As I had an extra bag of the coconut Barnana, I used it in the crust for mini cheesecakes. Based on my mini raw mixed berries cheesecake recipe, I replaced the dates and coconut with Barnana and used up the last of the fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market.

Dessert instead of a snack. Given its mini size, it’s more like a snacky dessert.

Mini Raw Strawberry Cheesecake

Mini Raw Strawberry Cheesecake
Makes 4 mini cheesecakes

Crust
1/2 cup raw almonds
One 3.5 ounce bag of Barnana Organic Coconut Chewy Banana Bites
Pinch of salt

Place almonds in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add the Barnana bites and salt, continue to pulse the mixture into fine crumbs.

Coat the pans with raw coconut oil. Press the mixture into the bottom of four 4-inch diameter mini pans, packing it well into the pans. Set aside.

Filling
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
1 cup strawberries, sliced
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1/2 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon raw coconut oil, melted

Pulse the cashews in a food processor until crumbly. Add the rest of the ingredients except the coconut oil and pulse until smooth.

While pulsing the food processor, slowly add the coconut oil until blended in. Spoon the filling into the prepared crusts. Gently wiggle the pan around until the filling smooths out.

Place in the freezer until firm. To serve, defrost in the refrigerator for about an hour. Top with additional strawberries.

Disclosure: I received the products free of charge from the company to review. The opinions and experience with the product expressed herein are my own. There was no pay to say.

This post also contains Amazon links, I get a few coins tossed my way if you click on any of the links and make a purchase of anything.

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On the Go with Rice Scooters

Sprogs Rice Scooters

Rice Scooters, I first came across these tasty little snacks at the downtown Palo Alto farmer’s market.* Made by Sprogs, they may be small in size but they’re mighty in flavor.

Freshly made from Northern California brown rice, they’re hand-pressed slabs of rice with a variety of ingredients. Similar to o-nigiri but with more modern flavors. With meatie, veggie and sweetie options, there’s something for everyone. Plus, all of the veggie ones are vegan! Bonus points for that, and a couple of the sweeties are vegan as well.

Sprogs Kale & Kimchee Rice Scooter

Pictured above is the Kale & Kimchee which is my favorite. I like the spicy flavor the kimchee adds. The Shiitake pictured below is a close second, you can’t go wrong with mushroom umami. The other two veggie flavors are Coconut Red Lentil and Roasted Corn & Poblano, both good in their own way.

Vegan sweetie flavors are PB & Berries and Sunflower Butter & Berries. Just like a pb and j sandwich but with rice, although I prefer my rice to be savory rather than sweet.

Sprogs Shiitake Rice Scooter

Normally, I don’t like to eat cold rice, but these rice scooters are different. The rice stays soft even when chilled so they’re fine to toss from the fridge into a bag and let it come to room temperature for on-the-go eating. They can also be warmed up which I’ve haven’t tried.

It may seem a bit pricey at $2.59 each for a block of rice. But I figured it’s no different than paying $4.99 for a simple avocado roll from the supermarket take-out sushi counter. Plus the scooters are much more portable. And tastier. I’ll be packing a few for the trip to Grandma’s house next week.

* I haven’t seen Sprogs at the farmer’s market lately. But they’re available in select San Francisco stores, see their website for a current list or order online.

Cinnamon Bun Smoothie

Cinnamon Bun Smoothie

This holiday season, have your cake and eat it too.

Not cake exactly, but a cinnamon bun and I’m having it as a healthy smoothie. Prettified with a swirl of agave nectar on top, it has all of the flavors of a cinnamon bun but without the guilt and empty-do-nothing-for-you calories.

Hamilton Beach Commercial Bender Toggle Switches

Super easy to make even with my ancient blender with its toggle switches. It has been with me since forever, a commercial bar blender from way back when my parents had their restaurant many years ago. It doesn’t make the smoothest of smoothies but it still manages to get the job done.

But if it ever croaks on me, I would replace it with one of these babies from Williams-Sonoma. Actually, I’m hoping Santa is feeling extra generous in his gift-giving come December.

Dear Santa,
I like the red Vitamix. I’ve been very good. See? I’m having a smoothie.

Cinnamon Bun Smoothie

Cinnamon Bun Smoothie
Makes 12 ounces

1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 banana, peeled, sliced and frozen
2 tablespoons rolled oats
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar or pure maple syrup

Toss all of the ingredients except the agave nectar into a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into a cup and drizzle the agave nectar in a spiral on top. Serve immediately.

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Vegan Birthday Freebies

Sprinkles Vegan Red Velvet Cupcake

September was quite the month of decadence with me trying out as many vegan birthday freebies as I could. Turns out I only had time to get to just a few of them. Unsurprisingly, I made sure to hit up some of my favorite spots first.

Since they open at 9am, first up is a vegan red velvet cupcake from Sprinkles. It’s still the one and only vegan option available. To get it, join their birthday club and on your b-day, you’ll get a email for a free cupcake that’s only good on your actual birthday. They will ask to see your id.

Veggie Grill B.T.L.A.

At Veggie Grill, you get a free entrĂ©e of your choice, I got the B.T.L.A. – smokey tempeh bacon, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro pesto tossed arugula, aioli mayo on grilled sourdough with yukon gold fries. It’s another awesome new addition to their menu. So far, I’ve liked everything that I’ve ever tried at Veggie Grill.

The birthday offer is good for 14 days from when it’s sent, I received it a week before my b-day. The email said they check id but they didn’t for me. To get it, join the GrillClub and get a free dessert just for signing up and occasionally they’ll send coupons to try out various items for free.

Starbucks Hearty Veggie Brown Rice Salad Bowl

Register a Starbucks card to get a birthday reward redeemable for your choice of drink or food. I went with the Hearty Veggie and Brown Rice Salad Bowl – roasted butternut squash, beets, kale, red cabbage, steamed broccoli florets and peas with lemon tahini dressing over brown rice. It was pretty good. Nice and healthy. Although I would prefer it if they had de-stem the kale.

Ike's Place Vegan Tom Brady

For a free birthday sandwich from Ike’s Place, join Ike’s E-Club. You’ll get an email with your free sandwich coupon a week before your b-day. It said to bring your id since they’re going to card you but they didn’t ask to see my id. It’s good for 14 days from when the email was sent.

I got the Vegan Tom Brady – vegan breaded chicken, garlic, mushrooms, herb sauce, avocado, vegan cheddar on Dutch Crunch. Messy to eat but so good. I can only managed to eat half of an Ike’s sandwich at a time. I also phoned in my order so I didn’t have to wait in line. As always, you get a free lollipop at Ike’s whether or not it’s your birthday.

I received these other birthday freebies that I didn’t get around to trying. But there’s always next year.

Red Robin, free birthday burger
Rubio’s, free meal up to $7
Johnny Rockets, free hamburger with a purchase of any entree and drink
Noodles & Company, free birthday bowl

Rice Cooker Vegan Frittata: A Guest Post at Vegan Miam

Rice Cooker Vegan Frittata

Guess what? We’re going for a visit today! I’m so excited to be guest blogging over at vegan miam, one of my favorite blogs. Rika + Doni travel the world over searching out the very best in vegan eats.

From Paris to Thailand and points in between, they make me want to pack my bags and hop on a plane. Back home in Oregon, they cook up delicious meals such as Gochujang Tofu Pickled Cucumber Bowl and Taco Beer Flatbread Pizza with Roasted Corn Poblano.

Today, I’m sharing a vegan frittata made in a fuzzy logic rice cooker, let’s click on over for a visit and the recipe.

The Veggie Grill Mountain View

Veggie Grill Buffalo Wings

I finally got around to eating at the Veggie Grill in Mountain View that opened earlier this year. I’ve been down to the Southern California one in El Segundo a few years ago. I loved it then and I still love it now. In the interim, they’ve expanded their menu and they have a number of interesting new items.

Buffalo Wings, while good (I think they’re just Gardein Chickin’), weren’t quite as exciting as the below cauliflower bites.

Veggie Grill Crispy Cauliflower

Crispy Cauliflower – fried panko breaded cauliflower florets tossed in a sweet and spicy, orange sauce. I got the sauce on the side as well as extra buffalo sauce. If you’re going for something fried, this is the thing to get.

Veggie Grill Bombay Bowl

Bombay Bowl – roasted veggies, super grains, kale, cannellini beans, almonds and topped with a green curry coconut sauce. Not the most photogenic of bowls but flavorful and filling. I wish I had asked for the sauce on the side as I couldn’t eat it all in one sitting.

Veggie Grill "Crab" Cake Sandwich

The “Crab” Cake Sandwich was exceptional – crispy “crab” cake, spiced tartar sauce, pickles, tomato, lettuce and red onion on a wheat bun with Yukon Gold fries. I don’t know where they get the crab cakes from but they’re really good.

Veggie Grill Carrot Cake

And the Carrot Cake was fluffy with big strands of carrot and the cream cheese icing wasn’t overly sweet, just the way I like it.

It’s pretty quick too, I usually get my food in about 10-15 minutes or so after ordering. Super friendly people and very helpful with menu suggestions if you’ve never been or are unsure.

There’s only two other Veggie Grill locations in all of Northern California, one at Santana Row in San Jose which I haven’t been to yet and the other that just opened in Corte Madera. If only there was one closer to me, I would be eating there all the time.

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