Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The World's Easiest Vegan Fudge Recipe (Or How to Make Friends and Influence People)

I confess; this post might end up being my undoing. I am so excited about this can't lose fudge recipe: I know how daunting vegan baking and cooking can seem (though I promise, it doesn't have to be!) and just how difficult it can be to find an easy vegan fudge recipe that is still delicious, which is why I decided to share it.

And therein lies the personal problem for me. I have made this fudge countless times and shared it with friends and family at parties and brought it as a hostess gift. It is always wildly popular and loved by all who eat it, but once those folks read this post and see just how easy it is to make, they might feel like I'm phoning it in whenever I bring it as a gift. But for my fair readers, it's a risk I've decided to take.

I am truly stretching my brain to remember where I found this recipe for the first time. I remember the day I found the recipe. I just desperately wanted fudge. Fudge usually involves marshmallows; I don't usually keep vegan marshmallows in my house and they can be on the expensive side (though I strongly recommend the delicious Dandies brand if you are inclined to go buy some). I also wasn't excited at the prospect of standing over a stove and going through the actual rigamarole of fudge-making; I just wanted to fudge to appear. I think I may also have wanted peanut butter and chocolate, too.

Now that I reread that passage, I must have been having a cranky day of fudge craving - yikes!

Anyway, I ended up ordering vegan fudge from Realist Mermaid on Etsy. When the fudge arrived later that week, it was delicious (though I just checked, and sadly, it appears she took down her store). But that did not fix the problem that I wanted fudge NOW. So I looked around on Allrecipes and found what appeared to be the world's easiest, three-ingredient recipe for fudge. All three ingredients were in my house. There was almost zero effort in putting it together. And there was chocolate AND peanut butter in it. I excitedly made it and I've never looked back!

This fudge recipe has been a hero to my countless times. I've thrown together as a dessert when I've been invited to parties at the last minute, it's been a great on-the-go snack (both for winter, when fudge tends to make a holiday appearance and summer, when I want to keep the oven off), it is fancy enough to be wrapped up nicely and presented as a hostess gift, and it can also feed at least one pregnant lady who OH MY GOODNESS NEEDS CHOCOLATE NOW. (I'm going to keep it real with you - I'm actually eating this fudge while I'll type this post.)

Here's how it all comes together!

These are the three ingredients you need - one cup of vegan chocolate chips, one cup of peanut butter, and 3/4 cup of maple syrup. For chocolate chips, I like the Enjoy Life brand, though I've also been known to get the Whole Foods 365 brand Vegan Semisweet Chocolate Chips. (Ghirardelli Semisweet Chips also used to be vegan, but it's been awhile since I've checked.) For peanut butter, I always use natural peanut butter. I tend to get chunky, but smooth or chunky will work. For maple syrup, just get the real stuff. Grade A or B is fine; the grade has to do with the color and flavor, not the quality, so just get what's on sale (I keep a big jug of it in my fridge).

Add all of the ingredients to your pot and melt together, stirring constantly, over medium-low to medium heat. This should only take a couple of minutes...

...until it looks smooth and yummy, like this! (Of course, if you use chunky peanut butter, the peanut chunks will remain. I think that's a positive thing personally!)

Line a square pan with parchment paper. Pour in the fudge mixture and spread it evenly throughout the pan. You might find the edges do not neatly go down; that's okay. Those pieces will just turn out "rustic," which means your friends will believe you that it's homemade, or you can just cut off those little pieces and eat them yourself later. :) If you don't have parchment paper, you can also grease the pan with vegan butter (like Earth Balance), but I strongly encourage you to use parchment paper; it really makes the job - and most any other baking or cooking job - easier.

When you're done, cover and put in the fridge for at least an hour. With this batch, I was tired, so I stuck it in the fridge overnight. When the fudge is firm, remove it from the fridge. Lift the fudge out of the pan by holding onto the parchment paper.

Remove the parchment paper and put the block of fudge on a cutting board. Cut up into slices (I usually cut columns, then rows, as demonstrated above).

And voila! Delicious fudge, ready to be shared! Or not... :) Happy eating!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge
adapted (I'm pretty sure) from Allrecipes

1 c. vegan semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1 c. peanut butter, smooth or chunky (I use natural peanut butter)
3/4 c. maple syrup (Grade A or B is  fine)

1) Melt together chocolate, peanut butter, and maple syrup on the stove over medium-low to medium heat until smooth.
2) Pour mixture into an 8- or 9-inch square pan lined with parchment paper or greased with vegan butter, like Earth Balance.
3) Cover and chill in refrigerator for at least an hour, until firm.
4) Cut fudge into squares (if using parchment paper, I recommend lifting the fudge out of the pan first, peeling off the paper, then cutting up the squares on a cutting board).
5) Store in the fridge.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easy Peasy Dried Beans

Two of the biggest questions I often hear about going vegan involves expense and meal planning - specifically, how do you figure out what to cook and keep the cost reasonable?

Like any diet you pursue, vegan or otherwise, planning ahead is one of the best things that you can do to tackle both of these problems.  If you live in the real world, though, "planning ahead" may not be in your habit pattern or, frankly, your vocabulary. While I certainly don't want to discourage you from planning ahead, there's no need to feel guilty if you can't think past your next meal, much less what you will be eating for a week.

I am one of these latter folks. Some weeks, I've got a perfect meal plan all set up on Sunday, with the shopping and food prep done, and we are ready to execute. Then there are other weeks where I open up the fridge and desperately hope there's at least a container of Whole Soy & Company yogurt in there so at least I have breakfast worked out, and whatever you do DON'T ASK ABOUT DINNER.

One of the best tricks I've figured out for both of these meal planning scenarios is to have some beans on hand. I'm not going to get into the merits of beans - there has been enough written on their awesomeness that I don't need to get into much detail here. They are also extremely versatile, which I plan to tackle in future posts. But let's be real - they can also be super annoying.

How can the humble bean be annoying? Basically, you've got to make a decision: canned or dried. You can't beat the convenience of canned beans; crack open that can and you're ready to go. If you prefer minimally processed food, though, then there's no question that dried is better than canned. Canned beans are also relatively more expensive: I can spend $2 on a one-pound bag of organic dried beans and end up with multiple cups of cooked beans, or I can spend $1.19 on a can of organic beans and yield, well, a can of beans. Now, with this said, in the processed food/expensive spectrum, neither of these violations are particularly egregious, so if you prefer to keep canned beans in the house, I tip my hat to you. If, however, you prefer to go the dried bean route, you will end up with healthier product at a fraction of the price.

But oh, dried beans, what a pain you are to make, what with your soaking and rinsing and boiling and taking several hours to get done. Ugh. That is, until I watched one of my close friends make a delicious dinner, using a slow cooker and zero soaking of beans. ZERO SOAKING OF BEANS. So I found the recipe, adapted it a bit, and realized I could use the crock pot to prep my beans and stick them in the fridge or freezer or ahead of time with almost no effort.

I admit, I still have to make these ahead of time, but I can prep these beans on a whim, without planning for soaking time or being close to the stove at all times. I can basically rinse out some beans, pop them in the slow cooker, and run errands or go about my day while the beans are preparing themselves. And Greg often prepares these beans, too; he will notice that our bean supply is low, so he'll just knock out a quick batch while he's working on other things. It's a huge help! I used to stray away from the slow cooker for making beans because I've read all kinds of things online about getting an uneven product, but I have to tell you, I have now prepped beans this way countless times and never had a problem.

So here we go!

First, figure out what beans you want to use. This recipe should basically work for any bean; Two BIG warnings though:
- NEVER use this recipe for red kidney beans. Kidney beans contain a naturally occurring toxin that the old version of bean prep knocks out...but I'm not confident that the slow cooker can neutralize this toxin. As a result, in my house, we eat canned kidney beans, where this toxin is never a problem. In my mind, it's worth the slight extra cost for the peace of mind.
- There is no need to use a slow cooker to prep lentils or split peas; these are quick cooking, non-soaking beans that should just be prepped on the stove (although there are plenty of delicious slow cooker recipes that utilize lentils or split peas - and in those cases, have fun!).

Anyway, for this example, I used about 2 cups of black beans. Two cups is pretty standard in my house, but I've used more and less; I find it doesn't really matter.

 Place the beans in a strainer and give them a good rinse, sorting out beans that are broken or just generally look unappetizing and removing any rocks that may have accidentally gotten in there. (I remember reading that tip once, thinking it was weird and unlikely, and then one time actually finding rocks.)

Place the beans in the insert of any slow cooker, then fill up the insert with water until it's nearly full (leave maybe an inch or two at the top.

Cover and cook on high - that's it! Check after about 3 1/2 hours, but the beans should be pretty well cooked after four hours. You'll know they are done because they are soft and tender to bite into without dissolving into mush, or, if you are a visual person, you should be able to pull on the skin of the bean and it easily pulls away.

When the beans are done, dump them in the strainer and rinse them with cold water. This does two things. First, it stops the cooking process. Second, if you are like me and sometimes (which means often) forget about the beans and they are a bit overcooked, this will help firm the beans back up. (In related news, if you think you overcooked your beans, fear not! They will be fine, usable, and still delicious after the cold water rinse! If you're still not convinced, pop them in the freezer. I promise - it's really okay.)

At this point, do as you please! I usually put some in the fridge and the rest in the freezer, and then they are ready for my use when I am having a meal prep panic attack.

Happy Bean Eating to you  and yours!!

Easy Slow Cooker Beans

Up to one pound of beans (do NOT use kidney beans/red beans or lentils or split peas)

1) Place up to one pound of beans in a strainer. Rinse and pick through the beans to remove broken beans and anything that shouldn't be in there.
2) Put beans in a slow cooker insert; fill with water, leaving 1-2 inches of space at the top.
3) Cook beans on high for 3 1/2-4 hours, until beans are soft and tender to bite. You should be able to pull on the skin of the bean and it easily pulls away.
4) Rinse beans in a strainer with cold water.

Beans are now ready to go in any recipe or can be put in the fridge or frozen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

How I Went Vegan

Now that I'm back in the blogging saddle, I thought I should address one of the biggest changes I've undergone since my last post in 2010: I've successfully become - and stayed - vegan. How did I make that happen? I'm pleased to report that, once I had a plan, it was actually quite easy. The key to my last sentence, of course, was that I had a plan.

As you might recall, I've actually been vegetarian for several years (since 2004, to be exact). I always wanted to go vegan because I felt that my personal ethics regarding animals and animal rights were not consistent with how I was living my daily life. I had tried to go vegan before, but I never stuck with it.

So what was the problem? Fundamentally, I didn't know where to go to ask questions. I had found discrete ways to investigate veganism - the most obvious, of course, being to explore creating vegan desserts so I could continue to enjoy my baking (and eating) hobby - but I found that as I figured one thing, another would baffle me. Interestingly, I have found that most people fall in the same boat; many people intellectually appreciate the merits of veganism and the ethics behind it, but without any practical know-how on making the transition, they are stuck.

Then, I got a great tip from Marla Rose from Vegan Street; she had recently reviewed Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's book The 30-Day Vegan Challenge and strongly endorsed it, so I thought I would give it a try. Let me tell you - I picked up this book, read it from cover to cover, and I never looked back.

This book was phenomenal. Colleen addressed all questions, big and small, about becoming and staying vegan in a friendly, non-judgmental way. Once I finished the book, I put together a general plan for becoming vegan, identified what areas would be challenging, and identified how I would confront those challenges and incorporated them into my plan. For example, Colleen noted that one challenge of becoming vegan was knowing what to make dinner after a long day at work when you're creativity is drained. She then provided a helpful "go-to" list of quick and easy dinner ideas if you're in that situation. That was definitely me; early on, when I needed something fast, I often returned to that list so I wouldn't stumble into old habit patterns. It was a huge help for me.

It's now been over two years and I've never looked back. In fact, after reading her book, it is almost embarrassing - in a good way - how easy it was to become vegan! I truly cannot endorse this approach enough, and I still turn to this book as a resource and for Colleen's absolutely delicious recipes.

Now, The 30-Day Vegan Challenge is an online program: click here if you would like to sign up. Colleen is in the process of revising the next edition of the book, and I will certainly let you know when she publishes it. Everyone who is curious about veganism should give it a try; I promise, you won't regret it!

Friday, April 18, 2014

I'm Back - and Headed in a New Direction

Hello Internet!

I can't believe it's been nearly four years since I have posted something. I've always loved writing this blog. It has been a tremendous way for me to document my transition into veganism and to share what I've learned along way.

I'm trying to figure out where I lost my way. Certainly life got in the way, as tends to happen to all of us, but when I reflect, I think I realized why I stopped posting. My original mission for the blog was to talk about becoming vegan through the lens of someone who was experimenting with vegan baking. When I started this blog, I think that succinctly captured the route I was taking to explore veganism. What surprised me, though, is how narrow this topic started to feel. I felt compelled to keep my topics pretty close to vegan baking with some forays into cooking; I always felt the need to have a recipe with every post and not to stray too far.

In reality, though, becoming vegan has opened up a much wider world to me. I have experienced a number of positive changes that I would have loved to write about, but it didn't fit into a neat construct of putting up recipes, so I ignored my urge to write about other things. The result: some combination of burning myself out on my original mission and writer's block with regards to recipes. So I simply stopped posting, always thinking I'd get back to it...until four years went by.

I have missed this blog, though, and interacting with all of you. So with some further thought on the topic and some amazing support from my husband Greg, I've decided to relaunch Veg Baker, J.D., but with the expanded approach I should have taken much sooner in my blogging career. Will I still write about baking and cooking? You betcha! But there probably won't be a recipe in every post. In fact, I don't know how many recipes will even make it to the blog.  So what will I talk about instead?

My new mission for the blog is to be a more expansive resource for all kinds of readers, from established vegans to skeptical omnivores. I still want this space to be a place without judgment, but I will do more here than before and address more topics than the old format allowed.

So what exactly will I write about? Well, to give you a sense, I think it's only fair to give you a brief update about what's been going on with me! For starters, I'm pleased to say I have now been vegan since October 2011. That means in addition to talking about the vegan transition, I can also talk about simply being vegan in a number of settings, from basic meal planning at home to buying a vegan suit to finding good vegan eats in Chicago and on the road to making sure all of my consumer choices are consistent with my feelings on animal rights. I am also happy to report that my husband and I are expecting our first baby this summer, which is very exciting! I have stayed vegan throughout my pregnancy, and we plan to raise our child vegan as well, so I hope this page can be a resource for folks who are interested in raising a new generation of vegans.

And honestly, from there, I'm sure I will continue to talk about more subjects as they come up, both in my personal life and from questions I am happy to field from my readers (you can still email me at!). But the short answer is I don't want to make the same mistake I did before; as I grow and share my experiences, I want the blog to grow with me, too, and I am thrilled to have you come along on the ride

Thanks for coming back to visit me - and I can't wait to get started again!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Farmers' Market Love Affair Continues

I've talked about how farmers' markets are to me what shoes are to Carrie Bradshaw: it's fundamentally an intense love affair and a scary proposition all at the same time.

I've taken the love a step further; my friend Katie introduced Greg and me to Newleaf Grocery in Rogers Park, and it is now officially all over. Newleaf delivers weekly, organic produce boxes that include almost entirely local produce with some an additional surprises thrown in. For example, I was thrilled to see mangoes this week; I popped it in the blender with the raw ice cream recipe, and a wonderful concoction was born - and devoured. Even better - Newleaf delivers year round, which means my madness can continue well into the winter months. Oh happy day!

Of course, adding Newleaf into my farmers' market mix means that I am really setting myself up for produce overpurchasing. Don't get me wrong; the boxes from Newleaf are plentiful and a great deal, especially considering the contents. Unfortunately, because I have no willpower when it comes to fruits and veggies, each time I walk past any kind of farmers' stand (which are all over Chicago now), I end up taking something home.

I've talked before about herding those veggies together and making soup, but sometimes I want to change it up a bit. Greg loves stir fries; I think they're fine, but I don't necessarily seek them out. Thank you Shape magazine for featuring a recipe for Indian Vegetarian Curried Fried Rice. It gave me the best idea for putting together a base recipe to help me clean out some vegetables - and some grains, too! Yes, sometimes I have a variety of leftover grains lurking around my house, from rice to quinoa to millet, and this stir fry is a great way to make those disappear as well. Depending on the grain you pick, you can also make this dish gluten free as well.

Finally, if all of my talking about farmers' markets leaves you wanting more local fresh produce, but you don't know where to turn, check out Local Harvest. It's a tremendous resource for finding anything you could possibly want, from stands to CSAs.

Clean Out the Pantry Stir Fry (adapted from Shape magazine)
Yields: 4 servings

Grain of your choice (be creative, or just clean out what you have! Our favorite is quinoa)
Vegetable oil (use something with a higher burn temperature, like vegetable, canola, or grapeseed) or spray
Onion, diced, if you're using it
1 tsp. powdered ginger (or 1 Tbsp. minced fresh, if you have it)
1 1/2 -3 cups vegetables (favorites include garlic, green beans, carrots, celery, peppers, corn, broccoli, but seriously anything would work)
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 -2 c. beans (take your pick; I usually use ones I'm cleaning out of the fridge. I've used chickpeas, black beans, red beans, and pinto beans)
1 - 1 1/2 c. tomatoes, if you're using them (fresh, sliced, or canned; even crushed works)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
A couple cracks of black pepper

1) Prepare grain according to package directions. When you are within 10 minutes of finishing the grain, start the stir fry in a separate pan or wok.
2) Heat oil or spray in pan; add onion, if using it, and ginger. Stir fry for about 30 seconds; add your vegetable mix. Stir fry for about 2-3 minutes, until vegetables are crisp tender but cooked.
3) Add in curry powder; cook with other ingredients for about 10 seconds.
4) Add beans and tomatoes; cook for 2-3 minutes, or until all liquid is reduced (whichever happens second).
5) Mix in soy sauce and pepper; cook for one minute.
6) Serve over grain.

Let 7-11 Cater Your Road Trip

August has officially started, which means you may be trying to squeeze in that last road trip. If you need a snack on the go, put faith in the local 7-11 to come to your aid - no joke! Huffington Post has an article on the vegan offerings at these convenience stores. Although my first reaction was to laugh, I think it's actually pretty great there are more options on the road than I assumed (and that there are apparently vegan versions of Girl Scout cookies...).

Click here to check it out!

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Call to Arms: Help Popeye Win $10,000 and Raise Awareness about Disabled Pets

It's no secret how strongly I feel about shelter dogs and cats. One special spot in my heart will always be for the paraplegic animals, though; they make astounding pets just like any other dog or cat you may find, but sadly, they tend to be overlooked.

Let's change that! One of my favorites is Popeye, from Walkin' the Bark Rescue. Popeye was rescued from Taiwan and is now a spunky, adorable foster dog living the good life in Northern California; please read his amazing story here, and think about adopting him! And seriously, who wouldn't want that face?

My friends have had to talk me off the ledge multiple times when it comes to Popeye (and by the ledge, I mean hopping on the next plane to San Fran to bring him home. If only we didn't have a million stairs and if only I knew whether or not he wouldn't mind being tormented by three dog sisters...).

Anyway, if you can't adopt a guy like Popeye, let's raise his profile to help him find a home! His foster mom, Judy, has been nominated as an outstanding foster parent on Petfinder, and if she wins, Walkin' the Bark gets $10,000! It's very easy to do, and you are allowed to vote multiple times. The link is here:

So let's get down to business and raise money for Judy and her work while helping more people learn about Popeye, and hopefully, speeding up his chances to get a forever home!