Happy Treats: Vegan Peanut Butter Puff Balls

My most sought-after vegan treat comes from our local natural food grocer in Buffalo, Lexington Co-Op. These peanut butter Rice Krispy treats are entirely dairy-free, rich and sweet and topped with a thick coating of perfect chocolate. And they are huge. I mean, they are so big that, like an impressive hamburger or submarine sandwich, they are difficult to get the mouth around but just as satisfying to conquer in their entirety. There’s no cutting these treats up and enjoying them delicately; you can only mow them down like a ravenous piggy until you can no longer take the intensity of this dessert bar.

So much less mess than Rice Krispies. And tasty.

So much less mess than Rice Krispies. And tasty.

I decided to make my own peanut butter treats so I could control the sugar content. For my first batch, I found an interesting peanut butter at one of our local conventional grocery stores called Better’n Peanut Butter, a product that is certainly more processed than your average natural peanut butter but lacked some of the standard scary oil additives and came in a chocolate flavor. Oh my yum! So good. I bought some dairy-free, fair trade, organic cacao chips for the chocolate coating and used coconut oil to get them a bit stickier at room temperature.

There are two versions of this recipe: the one with the aforementioned chocolate peanut butter, and another I made subsequently that consisted of all natural peanut butter, chocolate chips in chip form rather than coating, and a bruleed sugar topping that made the entire dessert reminiscent of a s’more. But better. Try both versions, add your own “quirks” to them, and have fun! And trust me, you’ll never miss the marshmallows.

So yummmmmmyyyyy!!

So yummmmmmyyyyy!!

Better’n Shmallows Vegan Peanut Butter Puff Balls
3 c. puffed millet
1/2 c. Better’n Peanut Butter brand chocolate peanut butter
1/4 to 1/2 c. coconut oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
a touch of honey
about 8 oz. chocolate chips (make sure they’re dairy free)

For these puff balls, melt the peanut butter, coconut oil, honey, and vanilla extract together in a skillet over medium heat in a double boiler, then pour over the millet in a stainless steel bowl once melted. Mix well, then pack into a 9×9 glass dish or cupcake tin, if you’re feeling adventurous. I used an ice cream cone making pan, which makes bigger treats than a cupcake tin would. Let freeze for 30 minutes, and melt chocolate over medium heat in the double boiler in the meantime. Pour the melted chocolate over the cooled treats and cool again until the chocolate hardens. Then, enjoy ’em!

Vegan Peanut Butter S’more Puff Balls
3 c. puffed millet
1/2 c. natural peanut butter
1/2 c. coconut oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
a touch of honey
about 1/2 c. chocolate chips (again, vegan)
sugar and blow torch for the brulee topping

Melt and mix these treats as you would the others, except that you should mix for about a minute to cool a touch and then mix in the chocolate chips. Sprinkle fairly liberally with sugar, then freeze as usual for 30 minutes. Then, brulee the sugar until some of it is about black; this will give it a truly rustic s’mores feeling. Enjoy!

Let me know how they turn out friends 🙂

Taste of Buffalo

Thank goodness there is no stomach in this shot...

Today is a lazy day. It’s a hundred bajillion degrees outside, and a whopping 84 in the house. How am I supposed to move off this couch? I’ve been awake for 5 hours but have accomplished approximately nothing besides eating and sweating in my pajamas. After deciding approximately 2 hours ago to remain in my vegetative state until I absolutely have to get up and shower for work, I picked up the July/August issue of Buffalo Spree and turned to “The Best of WNY 2011.” It turns out that our culinary instincts have steered us down the right roads, indeed; the very same restaurants that we have visited and enjoyed in this area first, before all others, crop up repeatedly in this section of the magazine. The Blue Monk, Pearl Street Grill, Gin Gin, Spot Coffee, and even the Old Pink for drinks. And based on a quick Google maps search, it turns out there’s a great little bakery just a block and a half from our new apartment that boasts a whole wheat cinnamon roll! Breakfast will never be such an easy decision once we move…

There was no better way to sample even more of what Buffalo has to offer than to attend Taste of Buffalo, the annual two-day food festival that brings the area’s restaurants downtown for some long, hot hours of gorging and drinking. And gorge and drink we did. Along with my partner, my housemate, and our landlord/neighbor/friend, we ate our way through ticket after ticket of delicious munchables. My first stop was Bravo Pizza & Grill for a small sampler of lobster bisque. Though it was incredibly hot and I was wearing a black shirt, I couldn’t resist sampling the bisque – and I’m glad I did. The bisque was pleasantly “fishy,” creamy, and had a little kick of spice probably added with some red pepper. The creme brulee that my partner tried was also creamy and had a nicely caramelized top on it. I also liked that they included some take-away menus at their booth. My next stop was at Polish Villa for a cheese pierogi, its sauteed dough crispy and flavorful and its smooth filling kicked up a notch with a slightly sweet addition to the cheese and herbs. The sauerkraut pierogi was good as well, and my tummy welcomed the rich treat. Though I didn’t have one, all three of the boys had a smoked chicken stuffed banana pepper from Hog Wild BBQ. I tried a bite and it was gooooood – cheesy and spicy enough to make me hiccup! We all agreed that the heat overshadowed the flavor a bit, but I did enjoy the subtle smokiness that went into the dish.

At this point, we all decided to stop and take a break to cool off. I had my first taste of the famous Anderson’s ice cream, and let me tell you, I plan to go back for sure. I tasted the white chocolate and raspberry truffle ice cream, and it was both thick and light at the same time. I am picky about ice cream – I can’t eat it too often, it can’t be too sweet or feel too fatty in my mouth – and this ice cream takes the cake of some of the best I’ve ever tasted. I tend to like places that make their own creams and custards, and I am impressed by Anderson’s ice cream. I didn’t like their pineapple upside down cake flavor, which my partner chose and I thought was far too rich, but their dessert is certainly to be admired. Yum. I ate the whole bowl.

Following Anderson’s, we headed over to 31 Club’s booth for some absolutely delicious samples. I tasted their gazpacho shooter with lump crab meat, which was (unfortunately for me) served spoonless. It was hard to get over the fact that I was basically drinking soup with small chunks, but the gazpacho was a chilly tomato bomb! The crab meat was hard to detect over the flavor of the tomato and cilantro, but it was great nonetheless. Jonmark tried their full-sized arancini: two fried balls of risotto and veal with both red and white sauces. To. Die. For. The white sauce in particular was incredibly full-bodied, yet, I’m glad I didn’t get one for myself despite my mouthlust for it – gorging would have been limited for me afterwards since the dish was so filling (according to my partner). After this, I had to take a break for a while and let my stomach chill out, so I insisted that Jonmark and I go taste some Glenora wine samples. Glenora wines, to me, always strike a nice balance between sweet and dry. My tongue never gets caught on my palette from a super dry swallow, and I also never gag over the disgusting taste of alcohol. I tasted the riesling, the pinot noir rose, and their pomegranate, and enjoyed each one. The pinot noir rose is my new favorite blush wine, particularly since it wasn’t overly sweet like many blushes I’ve had. This one could definitely be eaten with any meal – you wouldn’t have to pick between red or white!

My tummy warmed and full of samples, I ventured over to the Red Osier booth to taste my first ever beef on weck. I adored the deep flavor of the roast beef with the salty contrast and crunch of the caraway seeds. My partner, who admittedly didn’t like the beef on weck he tried from Pearl Street Grill, loved the taste of Red Osier’s weck. This is a sandwich I want to explore from more infamous locales like Schwabl’s as well. Our last savory culinary venture was at Papaya, where we had calamari fried in panko. Though there were a few booths boasting calamari, I prefer fried seafood done in Asian-style locations because I prefer panko to more traditional flour frying methods. I love panko, and it turns out so crispy and a bit blandish for a great compliment to seafood. The calamari from Papaya was yummy for sure! Jonmark and I ended our part of the culinary adventure with an entire bottle of water, a 10 oz. glass of wine each (I had the pomegranate and was still in love), and a bowl of refreshingly crisp watermelon sorbet from Sweet Melody’s. What a day!

Funnily enough, we came back from Taste of Buffalo and suited up for the beach. Stuff your stomach, put on a swimsuit and get half naked…good idea. At least we waited half an hour to swim! Another hilarious outcome of the day was the horrible stir fry I made for dinner as a result of the canned stir fry sauce with chicken Jonmark bought…it smelled like dog chow. Gross. At least the memories of all that good at the festival was enough to get us all through the night.

Recipe for Disaster

When it rains, it pours.

My partner and I have searched high and low for over two long months for an apartment that we can genuinely see ourselves living in for the next two years: affordable, clean, spacious, cleverly located, and equipped. And it’s just been a blur of place after place after place after…steadily blurring place, lackluster (to put it nicely) and simple (to put it reallyyyy nicely). Meanwhile, the overall health of my vehicle declined as my brakes screeched and ground to every stoplight in the greater Erie and Niagara areas. As its health declined, my sanity and well-being began to spiral out of control as the sure thing that this move to Buffalo once was supposed to be crumpled in front of me. And, as always in the worst times of my life, art and eloquence remain crushed by the weight of reality, heavy and inescapable as it is.

And then, in one sudden weekend, everything changed. The car from hell stopped in the middle of fourth-of-July-weekend traffic, and there it was: a brand new Toyota waiting for me to just take the jump and lease it for three uncertain years. A big leap, for sure, and still an uncomfortable one, but no longer do I feel completely unsafe and anxious for the 90 plus minutes worth of commute I make daily. No longer do I cringe at every stoplight I barely pull through legally as my car barely accelerates and just scrapes, scrapes, scrapes like a prisoner dragging its fingernails on the floor in reluctance down the highway (yes, I’m actually comparing that Buick to the stereotypical innocent girl character who gets dragged around in many horror films). Now, I just drive in style (and monetary depletion, but what does my bank account need with the extra money every month anyway?)

Jonmark and Thai food...friends and enemies

What other good has befallen me since attaining this shiny bullet of a car? Well, it didn’t get us the gem of an apartment that we found on Monday in the heart of Buffalo city, but it was something to talk about for sure – our landlord to be works at the same car dealership! That’s the kind of irony you can’t write into a nonfiction story; it’s just not believable as a real life scenario. Since its fortunate falling into my hands, my new ride has also brought me to two very special places: White Village restaurant with my parents (yay!) and Jasmine Thai restaurant with my partner (pictured right).

My parents, my partner, and I had all endured a long and stressful day trying to get my car out of the middle of the intersection of a major multi-laned road and the thruway and signing stacks of papers for my new car while attempting to get my brother to his art camp on time…and we were all tired. I was suffering an extemporaneous headache and a sunburn, we were all sticky from the heat and humidity of the day, and the freezing cold air pumping out of the hotel air conditioner tempted us all to order Chinese food right to the hotel room. However, we took the advice of the desk clerk and traveled a few miles down the road to White Village. The interior was dark and sleek, the hostess was incredibly helpful and pleasant, and our waiter was a pro; our many courses came out so promptly after the last of us put our forks down that it seemed robotic but is really the mark of a server that is both skilled and caring. In the last few years, my mother has developed a propensity for nice drinks and multiple appetizers at meals, and we ordered an entire bottle of Pro-mis-Q-ous wine, Thai spring rolls, and spinach & artichoke dip to begin our foray. The wine was dry, but even this semi-sweet lover found the glass enjoyable, particularly following each completed swallow. The spring rolls were crunchy, snappy, perfectly fried and well-paired with the spicy sauce. I love it when food just tastes fresh. The dip was the creamiest and most artichokiest artichoke dip that I have ever tasted in my life – and I feel I should sincerely apologize to my Advanced Nonfiction class for the sorry excuse for dip I brought in at the end of the semester. Such crap really pales in comparison to the richness of White Village’s dip, which was a very special special indeed! The lemon vinaigrette my mom and I chose for our salads was almost certainly homemade, and then the entree…I ordered scallops with sweet pea risotto. Though the risotto was slightly overcooked for a risotto, it was absolutely delicious. The starchiness was perfected with the addition of a tangy cheese (parmesan, I would think) and the snappy sweat peas. And the scallops, oh, the scallops – never have I had such a mellow, flavorful scallop with the texture of a pad of softened butter…yum. When you put all of this together with the beurre blanc, it was probably the lightest of rich meals to ever sit in my stomach and warm my soul-mouth/heart-mouth

Too Hot to Handle

Cooking, unfortunately, has taken quite the backseat to other ventures lately. There is my work schedule which, as a waitress, is nothing if not hectic, unpredictable, and not at all conducive to regular meals. Some nights I work until 5, some 8, some 11:30, and many of these shifts are followed by a 45-50 minute commute home. Not only do I typically fail to eat for 8 hours at a time, but I frequently come home and gorge, gorge, gorge on whatever I can whip together quickly, pick up already made, or retrieve from the refrigerator. It goes without saying that I don’t have a whole host of pleasurable home eating experiences to accompany my only minutely shrinking middle, or to compensate for the hours of hunger. Then there are all the fun things there have been to do instead of spending two hours prepping, cooking, and eating. Yesterday, my housemate Lucas and I did the tourist thing in Niagara Falls, making ourselves into walking human twinkies as we suited up in the plastic water cover that inevitably failed to keep us dry on the Maid of the Mist. There’s bars like Nietzsche’s and Club Diablo that have kept us entertained with music and drinks late into the night…all nights of the week. And it may or may not be true that we have gotten so bored with life that we have played cribbage on the living room couch or wandered around the ritzy neighborhoods slugging out of 40’s at 1 o’clock at night. When there is such fun to be had, who cooks?

The last barrier to cooking is, without fail, the summer months. In spite of the never ending heat and humidity, and the accompanying feeling of sluggishness common to the summer months, I have managed to cook a few decent meals that have certainly satisfied our tastes. Besides learning to make crispy Chinese noodles homemade and whipping up a delicious fish fry from scratch (which will surely be documented in future posts), I have had a few requests for soup recipes. Luckily, it was chilly enough at night to make this soup an okay eat. Plus, with our good friend all sniffly with a change-of-the-seasons illness, this soup came to the rescue. The first night, there had not been enough broth to thin out the hearty bean and tomato base, and the rice soaked up a lot of liquid as well. However, once more broth was added night two, the soup was perfect! I can’t say with any measure of certainty how much soup this makes, or what quantities of some ingredients should be added – soup is not meant to be exact in my opinion, and when you’re making something out of what you have lying around, exact is not always an option. My recommendation with the soup is to make it how you like it – be sure to add enough liquid to keep it a soup, but make the consistency as thick or thin as you like. Make it as chunky as you like. Give it a spicy kick, or keep it mellow. This recipe, more than any of the others, is really just a guideline for your creation.

The best way to describe this soup is hearty but not rich. The beans, tomato, and rice give the soup a good amount of depth – and if you use homemade stock like I do, the soup will be even more complex in flavor. The “fifth taste” – umami – is really the star of the show because of the deep meat and starch flavor and texture. However, the summer veggies add a little mellow tang and contrast the background flavors with a light, fresh taste. Since it is not cream-based, this soup is definitely fit for a summer night; I wouldn’t recommend serving it cold, so make sure you’re either in the shade or under the stars for this one.

I’ve named this soup specifically to purposely draw attention to its two main ingredients: rice and beans. Those of you who are like me and love rice and beans will take delight in turning your favorite rice and beans recipe into a soup. I plan to do just that the next time my stomach is hankering for something steamy and satisfying. One thought I just had while typing was that this recipe would be excellent if re-created but with the addition of asparagus, my new vegetable love and a perfect companion to squash and zucchini.

Whitney’s Rice and Bean Soup
1 small can tomato paste
1 average bag of dehydrated pinto beans (or whatever is your favorite)
1 and 1/2 cup rice
1 small yellow squash
1/2 average zucchini
1-2 cups homemade meat stock w/ meat
2 bouillon cubes
min. 7 cups water
salt and pepper
Italian seasoning and garlic powder to taste
red pepper (optional)

-Rehydrate your beans. My beans had already been boiled for twenty minutes a few days prior to my recipe, so I recommend gently boiling anywhere between 45-60 minutes on medium heat. Make sure that as the beans begin to cook down, you add more water to the saucepan so they can get really mushy. Tip: Use a nonstick saucepan; I didn’t, and we probably have to throw out the pot because the beans stuck to the bottom and burned!
-Once you’re satisfied that the beans are sufficiently mushy, mash them with a potato masher as thoroughly as possible and return to low heat, adding tomato paste, salt and pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes if desired, and Italian seasoning. Let cook for 1-2 minutes, just to meld the flavors together.
-Add homemade stock and veggies to the pot, cover and let simmer for at least 10 minutes. The goal is to get the veggies cooked enough so that they aren’t crunchy (unless that is your preference, in which case, cook for about 3-5 minutes instead). Tip: Make sure to cut your veggies “spoon sized”: small enough so that you can have a piece or two on your spoon with some broth. I had to suggest to my housemate that he cut them “girl spoon sized” because I take considerably smaller bites 🙂
-While the veggies cook, bring 1 and 1/2 cups rice to boil in 3 cups water and then return to simmer for 20 minutes. Tip: Unlike regular rice cooking, where you simply wait for the rice to absorb the existing liquid, you want to cook them like the beans and continue to add liquid to them. That way, they are already fat when they enter the soup and they won’t absorb quite as much of your broth. This prevents your soup from turning into a stew or something that resembles a risotto dish (like mine did).
-Dissolve two bouillon cubes in two large cups of water and add to the soup along with the rice. Let simmer for 10 minutes and add more liquid as needed and/or desired. Also season as desired. Tip: Soup, like many dishes, tastes better after it has sat overnight. If you can’t make the night before, though, it’s no big deal: it will still be delicious!
-Remove from heat and serve! I suggest bread and butter as usual, but crackers, crostini, or whatever you have around works too.

It’s no New England clam chowder, which is my favorite kind of soup, but this dish was certainly gratifying, particularly as an end to my only day off last week. Speaking of soup, I had a delectable tom yum goong at the Saigon Cafe on Elmwood Avenue recently. It was the kind of spicy that goes right to the back of the throat but doesn’t leave you scrambling for water like you are dying of thirst (probably from the chili oil, primarily). It was nice on a temperate evening, and the red curry I followed it with was also good. While I like my curry a bit more spicy than this one was, it had a great balance of sweet flavors from the coconut and the savory of the spices. Plus, it came in a cool bowl 🙂 Live on, crazy summer soup eaters!

Holy ‘Mole!

I was waiting to post this one once I got all the pictures uploaded…but with half of my stuff put away in a storage locker, it is hard to find all the necessary equipment. Pictures soon!

Love the Guac

Oh, summer. Today, it is 87 degrees Fahrenheit…in Buffalo, NY. New York. Western New York. How far does one have to be from the Equator to get some relief from the heat? The worst part is that it is not even June yet. Actually, I take that back – the worst part is that our apartment doesn’t have air conditioning. And the bedrooms are upstairs. Steamyyyyy.

It is days like this that I have a hard time eating food that is hot, or even food that is cooked but served hot. Oftentimes I stick to salads and sandwiches almost every day because other foods sit too heavily in the stomach for comfort. It seems funny that just two days ago it was so chilly that I sought hot chocolate because I was so chilly, and now I seek the pumped cool air of our local cafe for some relief. What am I drinking on this hottest of our hot days so far? A ca phe sua da, or Vietnamese iced coffee, which is a rich and dark espresso mixed with sweetened condensed milk and poured over ice. The condensed milk has become traditional to the Vietnamese region’s coffees due to limited access to fresh milk. That’s a coffee with a history – and the way the sickly-sweetness of the milk counters the very intense roast of the coffee strikes a nice balance. Plus, the plethora of ice gives me just enough of a brain freeze to make me forget the heat outside. Though, a glance out the window at the hazy, grey-blue of the clear sky is a certain visual reminder that what awaits when I leave here is a sticky ass from the super-hot car. At least I have an excuse to spend some more time in the air-conditioned indoors: grocery shopping.

So many avocados...

One of the first meals I made in our small kitchen was a nasty zucchini and broccoli alfredo over ramen noodles. What was I thinking, you may ask. It’s what little was left of our food cache after moving from Oswego to Buffalo, and we were hungry. Certainly, my second creation was much more interesting and definitely satisfying. After a trip to the local co-op for some locally and organically-grown vegetables, I whipped up a delicious guacamole. The funny part is that I made it without tomatoes, onions, or cilantro, which are pretty standard additives to a guacamole. You’ll see that I still got them in – with store-bought salsa. The scattered and impromptu nature of this guacamole has given it its name, but I don’t think anyone will be disappointed (unless maybe they are from a Mexican family). The salsa and lime juice give this guacamole a smoother texture while providing the same veggie flavor many enjoy in their guac, and the jalapeno provided the spicy kick I always enjoy in my Mexican-inspired dishes. We ate this guac with organic, gluten-free crispy crackers from the co-op, but I would suggest blue corn chips.

Make a nice slice all around

Whitney’s Cupboard Guacamole
2 ripe avocados
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 tsp. of cumin
1 – 1.5 tsp. minced garlic
2-3 very heaping spoons of salsa (to taste)
3-4 jalapeno rings, diced finely
1.5 tsp. jalapeno juice

Removing the seed

-Prepare avocado and mash in bowl. Tip: For those of you who have never dealt with a whole avocado before, my advice is to put a very large, sharp knife through it until you hit the seed and work the knife around the avocado to complete a full circle. Pull the halves apart and whack the seed gently with your flat knife. Twist a bit and pull to get the seed out. After this, you simply follow the edge of the rind with a spoon to get the soft, delicious insides out.
-Roll the lime on the table to get the juices loosened up and cut in half. Juice the lime into the mashed avocado. Tip: I like to “grapefruit” lemons and limes: after squeezing the juice out, firmly run a spoon around the inside as if you are eating a grapefruit to get the extra juices and a little of the tart inner rind out. It gives the guacamole an extra kick.
-Add the other ingredients and stir. Let sit in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so the flavors can mingle and make small talk, then enjoy! I suggest eating it with blue corn chips – so good….

This guacamole is perfect for the summer months, when you want to eat something that is quick, light, and definitely not hot. It’s also very easy to transport, so picnicing with it is no problemo. 🙂

What do you like to eat during the summer months?

Yes!