Monday, June 28, 2010

Clif Bar Expands Their Non-Vegan Product Line

An evening of mixed emotions.  I was excited when I found a box from Clif Bar and Company in my breezeway.  (Nice toss, mail carrier--11 yards inside my gate is a new record!) I had responded to an offer in an issue of the company's cleverly-named marketing newsletter, "ClifNotes":
We've been in the kitchen, working hard to whip up a new recipe. We're still sworn to secrecy on the details but wanna send you a free bar to give you a chance to try it before it even gets to the store.
I eat a Clif bar almost every weekday morning, so how could I resist a sneak-peek at a new Clif product? I took the box inside and opened it up.  This is where I was immediately disappointed.  The new product was something called "Crunch," and my particular sample was "Honey Oat."  Thanks, Clif.  At least it wasn't made of bacon.

I went to the Clif site to see if there were other Crunch flavors.  There are: Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and White Chocolate Macadamia.  Of all these flavors, only White Chocolate Macadamia is vegan-friendly.  The others contain honey, though only Honey Oat is up-front about it.

I did some more research on their site.  In a difficult-to-find section, I found the following:
All CLIF Bar products are made from ingredients that do not come from animals except most Mojo and CLIF CRUNCH flavors (contains organic honey), CLIF SHOT ROKS and Luna Protein (contains whey).
 So there it is.  Most of their products are still vegan. But I'm still disappointed.  So I'm sending them this:
Dear Clif Bar and Company,

I received my preview Crunch bar today (Honey Oat). I'm vegan, so I was immediately disappointed that it contains honey.  I checked your site and learned that three of the other four new flavors contain honey, too.  Is this a trend?

My vegan friends and I used to appreciate not having to read your labels, confident that your products were friendly. But now you seem to be slipping to the dark side.

Please come back,
 Update (2010-07-01): I got a response and a vegan bar is on the way!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Potluck? Cupcakes!

I got invited to a potluck at my neighborhood park, by friends I'd been meaning to catch up with since I moved back to San Francisco 7 months ago.  So there was no question that I would go.  But you can't go to a potluck without homemade food, just like you can't go to a costume party wearing merely a wig or a mustache or an eye patch.  Meaning, you could go empty handed (or, in the case of my analogy, wearing a shitty costume), but you would be insulting the people who actually put some effort into their contributions.

Furthermore, as a vegan, you have to bring really delicious food.  You have to break omnivorous stereotypes that bland tofu and rice comprise the bulk of our diet. So the quick-and-easy, please-and-impress-all answer was obvious: cupcakes.

There's really only one resource to turn to when you're making vegan cupcakes: Isa and Terry's Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I quickly flipped through it and decided upon a basic combination: Golden Vanilla Cupcakes topped with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

Two hours later and $35 poorer, I had 11 ugly but delicious cupcakes in a cardboard box.  (I know they were delicious because the 12th cupcake was in my belly.)

A couple notes on the cupcake recipe--Isa and Terry give you the option of using canola oil or margarine.  I chose margarine and I don't regret it because the cake was rich and buttery.  Also, I overfilled the liners a bit, causing the cake to rise too high and form a small, mushroom-like ridge.  It wasn't such a big deal, but it would have looked silly if I had chosen to pipe the frosting on rather than spread it on clumsily. So err on the side of under-filling the liners.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Samosas and Singharas: Learning Indian Food

I want to learn how to make good Indian food.  I want to have a few solid, delicious vegan Indian dishes that I can make off the top of my head, almost unconsciously.  I want to one day be sitting there, on my couch, in my house clothes, and casually turn to my guest and say, "hey, I'm going to whip up some samosas."

I began my (possibly lifelong) journey toward Indian food mastery at my small library of cookbooks, intent on making kick-ass samosas.  After flipping through all of their indexes, I found the word "samosa" in only two: Vegan with a Vengeance's Potato-Edamame Samosas with Coconut-Mint Chutney, and Veganomicon's Samosa Stuffed Baked Potatoes.  I'd made the latter a couple times in the past, and loved them, but they were far more "baked potato" than they were "samosa," so the first recipe won.

An important word absent from the VwaV recipe's title is "baked."  Yes, baked samosas, which contain edamame.  Not exactly the authentic Indian cuisine I was aiming for, but the spice list added up to something close, so I gave it a shot.

After a mildly labor-intensive hour-and-a-half, I created a mound of soft, yellow pastries containing a samosa-like filling.  When dunked into the mint chutney (which, sadly, lacked cilantro due to local scarcity), they tasted more like savory cupcakes than kick-ass samosas.  Edible, yes. "Good Indian food," sorta.  Satisfying? No.

At least I had defined, hopefully, the nadir of my journey.

About a week later I was at a bookstore with my friend Promnesiac and wandered over to the ethnic cuisine section to see what vegetarian Indian stuff they had.  Turned out they had the bible of vegetarian Indian cooking: Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. Holy crap.  About 800 pages, weighing in at around 4 pounds.  Not a photograph in the entire book, just illustrations. A section titled "Deep Fried Breads."  Three different samosa recipes in the section titled, "Deep Fried Savory Stuffed Pastries."  I returned the drool-swollen tome to the shelf, purchased a clean, dry copy, and dragged it home.

It was immediately clear that making the samosas in this book was going to be a challenge.  Making the dough, filling, and accompanying chutney was going to be a demanding but manageable trial. Forming perfect samosas with all these components, however, was going to take a lot of practice. I didn't want to fail immediately,  so I opted for a compromise: Tangy Potato Coconut Singhara Logs, (a.k.a. Aloo Nariyal Singhara). They're basically rolled-up samosas.

It took a mere three hours to make these and their accompanying Toasted Coconut and Tomato Chutney.  Three very clumsy, messy hours that were punctuated with geysers of hot oil and the jarring sound of food processor abuse.  But it was worth it!  That is, until I had eaten all of them, which is far too many to eat and remain comfortable.

I think I'll pick something from the "Dal Soups" section next time.