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Winning at Life

Let’s have a little conversation about comfort desserts. Apple pie? Sure. Banana cream pie? Ok. How about chocolate pudding.

Oh baby.

I know I’m not the only one to grow up with boxes of instant Jell-o pudding taunting me from a shelf high up in the pantry. Did anything taste better after a dinner you didn’t really like, but ate so you could have some dessert?

Dairy free versions are nothing new- silken tofu anyone? I’m not going to go there. Promise.

Oh my, so many sentences ending with question marks. Sorry.

This dairy free version is rich in fiber, vitamin E, B12 and potassium. Oh, and it tastes DELICIOUS. I swear it. Avocado, honey, cocoa powder and vanilla are vita-mixed into a tizzy and that is it! No creating a custard, bringing to a boil, nada.

I won’t lie to you. I’ve found that about 1/2 cup serving is the most you can get away with before you start to detect avocado. Garnish with chopped pistachios, cocoa nibs and good quality artisan salt, or, fresh berries and dark chocolate shavings. Don’t tell your guests either, it is super fun to have them guess the secret ingredient!

Dairy Free Chocolate Pudding
Adapted from Whole Living
Makes 6 4oz servings

3 avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
5 TBSP good quality cocoa powder- I like Dagoba (side note- here is a great article from the New Yorker featuring Dagoba)
1/4 cup good quality honey (substitute agave nectar for a vegan version)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup shelled raw pistachios, chopped
1 TBSP cocoa nibs
High Quality sea salt like Murray River pink salt or Cyprus Flake Salt

In a blender, puree the avocado, cocoa powder, honey and vanilla until smooth. If serving that day, portion out into serving dishes, cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to eat.

When ready to dig in- you can’t wait, can you? Garnish each serving with some chopped pistachios, a pinch of cocoa nibs and salt.

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I took a break from soups for a while. I’m not entirely sure why. I think it is because I stopped eating bread, and, well, why else do you craft up a big pot of warming soup if not to dunk a crusty chunk of artisan bread?

Guess what? I’m over that. Soup has found a home on our weekly menu plan. Having moved into a house with a chest freezer I’ve discovered the joy of freezing a half batch of soup and hello, having dinner set aside for a future date.

The Voluptuous Vegan has followed me house to house, state to state since college and I’ve never cooked out of it, not once. The recipes are organized by menu, which I find frustrating, and the goal of the book, highlighting the sophistication of vegan cuisine, allows for a collection of time-consuming multi-step recipes. Just not my thing right now.

Lucky me to find this gem in the first chapter. Chickpeas, water, onion, parsley, garlic and lemon. Author Myra Kornfeld suggests making a spiced oil to drizzle over the top, which I tried, and liked but far easier and just as tasty to dollop a spoonful of the hot pepper paste harissa and stir into my soup.


You can start soaking the beans when you leave for work, and pot to table, be eating dinner in an hour an a half-just enough time to trim some cauliflower, toss it with olive oil, salt, pepper, and more-than-you-think-you-should-use tablespoon of cumin. Spread it on an oiled baking sheet and roast at 400 for 20-30 minutes. Add in some chopped kalamata or oil cured olives, and a handful of chopped parsley.  Don’t forget the bread, because, c’mon. Why else make soup?

And here we are, 2 down 98 to go.

  1.  Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
  2. The Essential Cuisines of Mexico
  3. Aquavit
  4. Korean Kimchi and Le Cordon Bleu
  5. The American Family Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
  6. The Lee Brothers Cookbook
  7. CIA Garde Manger
  8. At Home with Japanese Cooking
  9. The French Laundry Cookbook
  10. World Vegetarian
  11. Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen
  12. Eat for Health
  13. The Voluptuous Vegan
  14. China Moon
  15. The Art and Soul of Baking
  16. 660 Curries
  17. The Northwest Essentials Cookbook
  18. Tapas: a Taste of Spain in America
  19. Little Foods of the Mediterranean
  20. Vegan Cupcakes Takeover the World
  21. 3 Bowls
  22. Charcuterie
  23. Martha Stewart Hors d’Oeuvres
  24. Rawvolution
  25. The Baby Cuisine Cookbook
  26. Mastering the Art of French Cooking
  27. 1080 Recipes
  28. I Know How to Cook
  29. Japanese Vegetarian Cooking
  30. A Cooks Tour
  31. Invitation to Korean Cuisine
  32. The Vegan Gourmet
  33. Korean Cookery
  34. Korean Cooking Made Easy
  35. Vij’s
  36. Supernatural Everyday
  37. Supernatural Cooking
  38. The Kripalu Cookbook
  39. Making Artisan Chocolates
  40. The Engine 2 Diet
  41. Cafe Flora Cookbook
  42. Chefs on the Farm
  43. Vegetarian Turkish Cooking
  44. Cocktails 2006
  45. Pacific Northwest Wining and Dining
  46. Sips and Apps
  47. Entertaining for a Veggie Planet
  48. Homemade Cheese Making
  49. Joy of Pickling
  50. Vegetarian Planet
  51. The Splendid Grain
  52. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
  53. Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
  54. Quick and Easy Korean Cooking
  55. The Improvisational Cook
  56. The Northwest Kitchen
  57. River Road Recipes
  58. Rebar Modern Food Cookbook
  59. The New American Chef
  60. Harumi’s Japanese Cooking
  61. Mario Batali’s Simple Italian Food
  62. Ratio
  63. The Just Bento Cookbook
  64. Washoku
  65. The Japanese Kitchen
  66. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
  67. Laurel’s Kitchen
  68. Les Halles Cookbook
  69. The Garden of Vegan
  70. Singapore Heritage Food
  71. Eat Cook Hong Kong
  72. The Balthazar Cookbook
  73. The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  74. The Art of Simple Food
  75. Eating Korean
  76. The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook
  77. Chang Mai Thai Cookbook
  78. Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
  79. Ad Hoc at Home
  80. Around my French Table
  81. Raw Food Real World
  82. My Sweet Vegan
  83. The Raw Gourmet
  84. The Whole Foods Recipes- Vitamix
  85. Fish Without a Doubt
  86. The Splendid Table
  87. The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves
  88. The Moosewood Cookbook
  89. Simple to Spectacular
  90. The Herb Farm Cookbook
  91. Putting Food By
  92. Cooking the Middle Eastern Way
  93. Bruce Aidells’s Compete Book of Pork
  94. Crust and Crumb
  95. Cocktails 2009
  96. Peas and Thank You
  97. The 30 Day Vegan Challenge
  98. Webber’s Big Book of Grilling

Dudes, I’m two months into my resolutions. Every Saturday morning when I sit down to make my meal plan and shopping lists, I grab two books, and read through each recipe, assessing if I can fit so and so into our weeknight routine of walk through the door, feed Ella, make dinner, wash dishes, and pass out, all before 9PM.

Along with the challenging of selecting weeknight friendly recipes is how to document this project. Am I writing a cookbook review? Am I sharing a recipe? Should I cook it a few times and offer you my version? I don’t know how that is going to look just yet.

I’m always a little afraid a cookbook author is going to come across a recipe that has inspired me (I’ve only changed two ingredients) and call me out. Crazy, right? Like Deborah Madison has nothing better to do than comb small time bloggers and find her recipes? So, please, be patient with me as I fumble through this project, and please offer up the feedback! Let me know if you want the recipe, or don’t want all the photos, ect.

Right now I feel like all I can do is just get a photo in before a lunch needs to be made, a floor needs to be mopped, a diaper needs to be changed. I moved my desk into the basement to get a little more peace and quiet so I could actually commit words to screen, but I never seem to get down here. For serious, my basement is a scene plucked from a horror movie: solitary bulbs hang from the ceiling, unfinished walls, a furnace that bumps, and a midget zombie in the corner drooling. I’m just going to say it. I’m afraid of my basement.

Wow, this is getting long winded, isn’t it? And, we haven’t even gotten to eating raw! Let’s move on, ok?

Matt Amsden’s Rawvolution is one of those books I acquired with high hopes of becoming a more conscious, more healthful eater. High hopes, but not necessarily the passion to commit to a life below 138 degrees. I had a roommate in college who exclusively ate raw and I recall, with tangible pain, those gastro-intestinal cramps that would sneak up on me after a serving of Morgan’s raw falafel dinners.

When I finally cracked the cover I found lively recipes was a variety of flavors, and varying levels of difficulty. This isn’t a scary health food cookbook.  Not everything needs to be dehydrated for 48 hours, or soaked and sprouted. The flavors are bold and bright. The food is beautifully photographed.

You will want to eat this food.

Matt’s dishes don’t strike me as something I’d need to label RAW. Instead, these recipes are plant strong, healthy sides everyone can eat and enjoy.

Last year I posted this Hemp Tabbouleh Recipe, inspired by Rawvolution, I’ve tried the mock tuna salad, Nut Meat Tacos, and I hope to eventually try the onion bread but planning around the dehydrator is proving a roadblock.

For this project I whipped up the Seed Cheese Wraps with Sunflower Seed Cheese, so technically two recipes. Overachieve much?

I’ve since made these wraps a few times. The seed cheese is more like a humus boasting a yeasty lemony flavor, and the collards, when young and tender stay together nicely and politely yield to each bite.

And there we have it, one book down, 97 to go.

  1. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
  2. The Essential Cuisines of Mexico
  3. Aquavit
  4. Korean Kimchi and Le Cordon Bleu
  5. The American Family Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
  6. The Lee Brothers Cookbook
  7. CIA Garde Manger
  8. At Home with Japanese Cooking
  9. The French Laundry Cookbook
  10. World Vegetarian
  11. Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen
  12. Eat for Health
  13. The Voluptuous Vegan
  14. China Moon
  15. The Art and Soul of Baking
  16. 660 Curries
  17. The Northwest Essentials Cookbook
  18. Tapas: a Taste of Spain in America
  19. Little Foods of the Mediterranean
  20. Vegan Cupcakes Takeover the World
  21. 3 Bowls
  22. Charcuterie
  23. Martha Stewart Hors d’Oeuvres
  24. Rawvolution
  25. The Baby Cuisine Cookbook
  26. Mastering the Art of French Cooking
  27. 1080 Recipes
  28. I Know How to Cook
  29. Japanese Vegetarian Cooking
  30. A Cooks Tour
  31. Invitation to Korean Cuisine
  32. The Vegan Gourmet
  33. Korean Cookery
  34. Korean Cooking Made Easy
  35. Vij’s
  36. Supernatural Everyday
  37. Supernatural Cooking
  38. The Kripalu Cookbook
  39. Making Artisan Chocolates
  40. The Engine 2 Diet
  41. Cafe Flora Cookbook
  42. Chefs on the Farm
  43. Vegetarian Turkish Cooking
  44. Cocktails 2006
  45. Pacific Northwest Wining and Dining
  46. Sips and Apps
  47. Entertaining for a Veggie Planet
  48. Homemade Cheese Making
  49. Joy of Pickling
  50. Vegetarian Planet
  51. The Splendid Grain
  52. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
  53. Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
  54. Quick and Easy Korean Cooking
  55. The Improvisational Cook
  56. The Northwest Kitchen
  57. River Road Recipes
  58. Rebar Modern Food Cookbook
  59. The New American Chef
  60. Harumi’s Japanese Cooking
  61. Mario Batali’s Simple Italian Food
  62. Ratio
  63. The Just Bento Cookbook
  64. Washoku
  65. The Japanese Kitchen
  66. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
  67. Laurel’s Kitchen
  68. Les Halles Cookbook
  69. The Garden of Vegan
  70. Singapore Heritage Food
  71. Eat Cook Hong Kong
  72. The Balthazar Cookbook
  73. The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  74. The Art of Simple Food
  75. Eating Korean
  76. The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook
  77. Chang Mai Thai Cookbook
  78. Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
  79. Ad Hoc at Home
  80. Around my French Table
  81. Raw Food Real World
  82. My Sweet Vegan
  83. The Raw Gourmet
  84. The Whole Foods Recipes- Vitamix
  85. Fish Without a Doubt
  86. The Splendid Table
  87. The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves
  88. The Moosewood Cookbook
  89. Simple to Spectacular
  90. The Herb Farm Cookbook
  91. Putting Food By
  92. Cooking the Middle Eastern Way
  93. Bruce Aidells’s Compete Book of Pork
  94. Crust and Crumb
  95. Cocktails 2009
  96. Peas and Thank You
  97. The 30 Day Vegan Challenge
  98. Webber’s Big Book of Grilling

Did you know you can do this

To an egg?

Is it creepy or cute? I think it is toeing the line a bit, but I get over it for Ella’s lunch. After seeing egg molds on other bento blogger posts and running across the molds at Uwajimaya,

I went for it, following simple instructions on Just Bento. Ella is now rewarded with lunches that look like this.

Her daily pass downs from day care claim, CLAIM, she eats everything.  Even though when I feed her hard boiled eggs at home, she instead likes to crumble the yolk to bits, rub the powder around her high chair tray before trussing her fingers around in her hair. Homegirl is on to something- she has some seriously shiny locks.

Last year I made this fantastic resolution to cook out of each and every cookbook I owned.

It was one of 29 resolutions I made.
I didn’t quite get around to it.

This year, 2012, i’ve got high hopes. I’m going after it again.
Let me start by saying I have 98 cookbooks. This doesn’t include the numerous culinary reference books, culinary pictorials and travel books littering our living room- oh, and the giant stack of food magazines collecting dust in a woven basket next to the couch.

This goal was born after what was to be a lazy morning of pouring over my collection, scanning each book, dog earring recipes we had liked for easy meal planning reference- a tip I had picked up on a grocery budgeting/meal planning blog. By the end of it I was a embarrassed to discover I had only really cooked from about half my collection. Some books, I hadn’t even cracked.

I can’t explain just what it is about cookbooks. Maybe it is hope; the promise of a great dish with great friends, or the perfect family meal. Can a cookbook lead you to a better life? The author’s notes at the beginning are a favorite, offering a peek into the cook’s philosophy. Knowing what gems lie in those pages it is too hard for me to let go of even one.

Each week I’ll post what I make, culling the books that didn’t make the cut. Did you see that picture of my collection? Time to tame that beast. Read below to see which books I’ll be cooking out of in 2012. Let me know if any of your favorites are on that list and what I should make. As I’ve discovered choosing just one recipe to make is more difficult that I thought!

  1. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
  2. The Essential Cuisines of Mexico
  3. Aquavit
  4. Korean Kimchi and Le Cordon Bleu
  5. The American Family Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
  6. The Lee Brothers Cookbook
  7. CIA Garde Manger
  8. At Home with Japanese Cooking
  9. The French Laundry Cookbook
  10. World Vegetarian
  11. Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen
  12. Eat for Health
  13. The Voluptuous Vegan
  14. China Moon
  15. The Art and Soul of Baking
  16. 660 Curries
  17. The Northwest Essentials Cookbook
  18. Tapas: a Taste of Spain in America
  19. Little Foods of the Mediterranean
  20. Vegan Cupcakes Takeover the World
  21. 3 Bowls
  22. Charcuterie
  23. Martha Stewart Hors d’Oeuvres
  24. Rawvolution
  25. The Baby Cuisine Cookbook
  26. Mastering the Art of French Cooking
  27. 1080 Recipes
  28. I Know How to Cook
  29. Japanese Vegetarian Cooking
  30. A Cooks Tour
  31. Invitation to Korean Cuisine
  32. The Vegan Gourmet
  33. Korean Cookery
  34. Korean Cooking Made Easy
  35. Vij’s
  36. Supernatural Everyday
  37. Supernatural Cooking
  38. The Kripalu Cookbook
  39. Making Artisan Chocolates
  40. The Engine 2 Diet
  41. Cafe Flora Cookbook
  42. Chefs on the Farm
  43. Vegetarian Turkish Cooking
  44. Cocktails 2006
  45. Pacific Northwest Wining and Dining
  46. Sips and Apps
  47. Entertaining for a Veggie Planet
  48. Homemade Cheese Making
  49. Joy of Pickling
  50. Vegetarian Planet
  51. The Splendid Grain
  52. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
  53. Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
  54. Quick and Easy Korean Cooking
  55. The Improvisational Cook
  56. The Northwest Kitchen
  57. River Road Recipes
  58. Rebar Modern Food Cookbook
  59. The New American Chef
  60. Harumi’s Japanese Cooking
  61. Mario Batali’s Simple Italian Food
  62. Ratio
  63. The Just Bento Cookbook
  64. Washoku
  65. The Japanese Kitchen
  66. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
  67. Laurel’s Kitchen
  68. Les Halles Cookbook
  69. The Garden of Vegan
  70. Singapore Heritage Food
  71. Eat Cook Hong Kong
  72. The Balthazar Cookbook
  73. The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  74. The Art of Simple Food
  75. Eating Korean
  76. The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook
  77. Chang Mai Thai Cookbook
  78. Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
  79. Ad Hoc at Home
  80. Around my French Table
  81. Raw Food Real World
  82. My Sweet Vegan
  83. The Raw Gourmet
  84. The Whole Foods Recipes- Vitamix
  85. Fish Without a Doubt
  86. The Splendid Table
  87. The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves
  88. The Moosewood Cookbook
  89. Simple to Spectacular
  90. The Herb Farm Cookbook
  91. Putting Food By
  92. Cooking the Middle Eastern Way
  93. Bruce Aidells’s Compete Book of Pork
  94. Crust and Crumb
  95. Cocktails 2009
  96. Peas and Thank You
  97. The 30 Day Vegan Challenge
  98. Webber’s Big Book of Grilling

WARNING! THIS POST IS A-LONG, B-CONTAINS NO PHOTOS, & C MAY OR MAY NOT CONTAIN A TINY RANT ON PROCESSED FOODS BY YOURS TRULY. 

Trimming your grocery budget must be a big resolution for 2012, because a day does not go by without a tweet landing in my feed encouraging me to, “use coupons to cut your grocery bill in half!”

And while I want to save a little change like everyone else, the obsession over extreme couponing is Freaking. Me. Out. Have you seen this show? Or, caught one of the coupon queens on Andersoncooper/nateberkus?

Is it impressive that these ladies stock their basements and garages with more inventory than Costco for a handful of singles? Sure, but what runs through my head when the camera pans across these bomb shelters packed full of processed foods,  is “wow, this is what is contributing to the health crisis in America.”
A touch dramatic. I know. So before I go out on my rant, let’s just clear the air on a couple of things, yes I work for a natural grocer where we sell processed foods (convenience). Yes, I sometimes, gasp, buy and eat processed foods (convenience), and hell yes I use coupons to stock up on said processed foods that are pantry items, body care, or cleaning supplies. FYizzle, Whole Foods Market shoppers in the PNW, right now all Tom’s of Maine oral care products are on sale AND there is a $2 off coupon in stores!!! Extreme coupon that.
1 minute soap box, and I’m done, promise.
Processed foods overall are really really bad for us. Have you ever checked out the ingredient list in canned soup? Know what all those words are? How about sodium levels? Did you know that nutritionists recommend a 1 to 1 calorie to sodium ratio for processed foods? Good luck finding that on the shelves. Can I just recommend The China Study for a little light reading on how the Standard American Diet is killing us?
Shopping the perimeter of a grocery store is what is going to keep us healthy, but rarely are there coupons for produce, bulk foods, or meat and seafood.
So can you still trim that budget, eat healthy, fresh food without depending on coupons for highly processed items you don’t likely even use?
Yes, yes you can.
We’re not perfect by any means, and I went waaaay over budget with the holidays (lesson learned for next year, budget in Thanksgiving dinner). The following is what has worked for us to wrangle the grocery beast into submission. I hope it is helpful to you.

#1 Meal Planning.

It takes some time, a lot of time, but planning your meals leads to reworking leftovers, saving food and saving dollars.

#2 Go Vegan! A Couple TImes a Week

If you eat three meals a day, 7 days a week, you can surely cut animal products from a few of those. Animal products are more expensive than even the priciest organic veggie. Freeing up that room in your budget allows you to put a little extra change towards higher quality organic products while still saving money.

#3 Take your Lunch to Work. Every day.

It isn’t glamorous, but seriously, just do it. If you need some inspiration, just type bento into flickr.

#4 Don’t go Gourmet Every Day.

In this food pop culture world you can feel like a culinary outcast if your dinner wasn’t grown by the farmer down the road who also happens to be your accountant, and your beer didn’t come from your neighbor who homebrews. Here’s the deal, you need to be ok with a bowl full of brown rice, topped with beans and covered in salsa a few times a month. You can eat like Bon Appetite feature just a couple times a week and still hold that foodie head high.

#5 Buy in Bulk- Then Freeze it.

We were lucky that the house we moved into had a deep freezer, so when chickens, ground beef, berries, or avocados go on sale at a deep discount I buy buy buy and freeze it. Sure, it is a bigger investment up front, but try calculating an extra $20 a week for sale items into your budget. You’ll find that you’ll spend less for meals planned around those sale items.

#6 Beer and Wine are not Part of the Grocery Budget.

I like the wine, and the mister likes the brew, but we like it a little too much for our grocery budget to keep up. We decided that drinks would need to come from our own pockets, and now that it does, we drink much less.

#7 Work for a Grocery Retailer

Alright, so not piratical for everyone, but if you are in a position to take up part time work, most all grocery retailers offer a discount! There’s an automatic savings in your bill.
I’ve told you mine, now you tell me yours!