Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking Back on 2011

Recently, a coworker, after a year of health problems and approaching 50, said to me, "It sucks to get old." I disagree. I think life only gets better as we age.

I'm now in the "older women" category I used to lump all women over 30 into. This year I turned 38. My twentysomething self would have thought that was ancient. My body and spirit know better. I've never been more fit, strong, healthy, stable, and happy as I am now. When I look back at this year, I'm proud of what I accomplished...
  • I maintained my weight loss. Considering that research shows the majority of people who lose weight gain it back, this is a huge accomplishment for me. I reached my goal weight in September 2010 through a combination of following WeightWatchers, adopting a plant-based diet, and sticking to a fitness regimen that combined cardio and strength training. I'll be doing a post in January about how I maintained my loss (my maintenance strategies are different from weight loss strategies).
  • I started running. I've never been able to run before in my life but started running in June after following the Chi Running program. I ran my first 5K in August, am training for a 12K, and now consider running an essential part of my life. I'm hooked!
  • I started doing yoga. The personal trainer I worked with this year to learn how to maintain my weight loss urged me to try yoga. I'd always thought of it as glorified stretching, beneath real exercise, and scorned it. A coworker who also taught yoga introduced me to types of yoga that fit my personality. I now am hooked on Ashtanga yoga, a very vigorous and athletic style. I also do Yin yoga to keep my hips strong and healthy so I can keep running. While Ashtanga yoga is seriously butt-kicking with full body toning and lots of cardio bursts, I now realize yoga is so much more than exercise. It's taught me how to return to the calm, strong core of myself whenever the outside world is chaotic. I use what yoga teaches me when I'm stressed at work or when I feel like emotionally overeating. Now, I'm a believer!
  • I learned how to play football. I've never played sports (aside from a miserable attempt at volleyball in high school) but always wanted to learn how to play football. My personal trainer taught me some basics, and in the fall, I formed a team of coworkers to play intramural flag football at the university where I work. Even though we played against college kids younger than we were, we had a blast. 
  • I learned to love my body. I'm not skinny, and my body isn't perfect. But this was the first year in my life that I loved to shop because everything looks good on, the first year of my life I was buying size smalls instead of extra-larges, and sizes 4 and 6 instead of 12 and 14. It's not all due to the weight loss. Strength training keeps me toned, running helps keep my legs strong and muscular, and yoga makes me feel long, lean, and stable. This balanced fitness program, combined with a healthy, plant-based diet, has given me a confidence I've never had before. Now I love my body as it is, flaws and all.
  • I started cooking from scratch. One of my 2011 resolutions was to cook more things from scratch in an effort to eat mostly whole foods and not buy packaged foods and also to save money. I started baking my own bread, cooking my own beans, making my own vegetable broth, and in general trying to cook from scratch instead of buying packaged foods. I joined Project: Food Budget and learned a lot. I was also on TV for a segment that talked about that project.
  • I started recipe testing. I was thrilled this year to test recipes for the Happy Herbivore cookbook. I love Lindsay's recipes, and it was exciting to be part of the process as she created fantastic vegan recipes.
  • I helped animals. I love animals. By eating a plant-based diet, I chose not to support industries that torture animals and saved the lives of nearly 200 animals (according to PETA's statistics). While I had to say goodbye to my longtime feral cat this year, I took on a very time-intensive and costly project to socialize and find homes for three older, feral kittens after trapping and spaying their mom. I'm happy to say that all three are now in good homes--their adopters still text me photos of them. Oh, and I also rescued a newborn deer--what an experience that was! 
  • I chose a healthy lifestyle. I never get sick and have always been blessed with good health, even when my diet and lifestyle were poor. But I believe that my plant-based diet and active lifestyle keep me in good health. While I chose a plant-based diet mainly because I love animals, I realize that my diet combined with my active lifestyle are helping to ward off illnesses and diseases.
  • I started blogging. I started this blog in January 2011. Since then this blog has connected me to so many fantastic people and their equally fantastic and inspiring blogs I otherwise wouldn't have known about. 

2011 has been a great year, but it's time to make way for a new year, which I'm sure will be even better. Happy New Year's Eve!

What are your greatest accomplishments from 2011?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Plant Superstars: Research Round-Up

I love food and spend so much time thinking about how good the meals I cook taste that I sometimes forget how healthy a plant-based diet is. In 2009, the American Dietetic Association, the world's largest group of nutrition experts, published a position paper stating that "appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases....Vegetarian diets are often associated with health advantages including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates.”

Since then, research continues to show what nutritional superstars plants are. Here are some excerpts from recent issues of health and fitness magazines.

Plant-Based Diets Help Prevent Cancer
From July/August 2011 issue of Women's Health Magazine

"More than 35 percent of all cancer cases could be prevented with lifestyle changes. 'A cancer-protective diet is plant-based, so always fill two-thirds of your plate with fruits, veggies, and whole grains.' Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and ask your doctor about your healthy weight range." With a plant-based diet and exercise...
  • 70% of endometrial cancer cases could be prevented.
  • 45% of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented.
  • 38% of breast cancer cases could be prevented. (See next excerpt below for more.)
  • 36% of lung cancer cases could be prevented.
  • 24% of kidney cancer cases could be prevented.

Plant-Based Diets Help Prevent Breast Cancer
From October 2011 issue of Fitness Magazine

"Eating to beat breast cancer is easy. Fill two-thirds of your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. 'These foods contain nutrients and phytochemicals, which help our bodies fight cancer by, for example, blocking the growth of tumors or repairing DNA that has been damaged.' Research shows that the following six foods may have a particularly potent protective effect against the disease.
  • Leafy green vegetables. Spinach, collard greens, and Swiss chard contain high levels of certain carotenoids, antioxidant-like substances that wipe out harmful free radicals before they can damage healthy cells.
  • Cruciferous vegetables. Compounds in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale may help regulate enzymes in your body that defend against cells that could become cancerous.
  • Berries. Strawberries and raspberries are rich sources of ellagic acid, a phytochemical that helps short-circuit cancer cells' ability to multiply.
  • Mushrooms. Women who ate a third of an ounce of mushrooms daily were 64 percent less likely to develop breast cancer, one study found. The fungi appear to act like aromatase inhibitor meds, which block the body's production of the cancer-feeding hormone estrogen.
  • Parsley. This herb is packed with apigenin, a compound that appears to block the formation of blood vessels to cancerous mammary cells.
  • Whole grains. Brown rice, bulgur, and buckwheat contain lignans, substances that reduce breast cancer risk by as much as 14 percent. " 

Five Surprising Superfoods
From October 2011 issue of Fitness Magazine

"Apples, almonds, broccoli. If you eat the same things every week, you may be missing out on an easy way to boost your health. 'Many of us pass up foods that are nutritional powerhouses, because we don't know how to prepare them.' Bust out of your culinary rut with these five disease fighters.

Bamboo Shoots
  • Why? A great low-calorie, high-fiber veggie packed with antioxidants that help ward off cancer-causing free radicals.
  • How to Enjoy: Find bamboo shoots in the canned-food section of your supermarket. Add to salads, stir-fries, and soups.
Pumpkin Seeds
  • Why? Rich in protein and phytosterols, these little treats have been shown to reduce levels of harmful LDL cholesterol.
  • How to Enjoy: Eat them plain for an afternoon snack or sprinkle some on top of your salad for added crunch.
Swiss Chard
  • Why? This leafy green is loaded with potassium, which helps to balance electrolytes and prevent muscle cramps.
  • How to Enjoy: Simply saute Swiss chard and garlic in olive oil for a delicious side dish.
  • Why? Kiwis have more immune-system-strengthening vitamin C than grapefruits, oranges, or strawberries.
  • How to Enjoy: Switch out your usual berries with kiwis to put on [oatmeal], or toss them in your favorite salad.
  • Why? Beets are rich in folic acid, which has been show to lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in blood linked to heart disease.
  • How to Enjoy: Roast beets to bring out their sweetness. Drizzle them with olive oil and place in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes to an hour. "

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cookbook Review: Everyday Happy Herbivore

In the midst of the holiday frenzy, I was delighted to get the Everyday Happy Herbivore cookbook by Lindsay Nixon. I was fortunate to be recipe tester for this book after meeting Lindsay at a book signing in Pittsburgh earlier this year. I've been making these recipes all year after first testing them and can honestly say that this is my favorite cookbook.

The recipes truly are for everyday meals. I work full-time, spend a lot of time exercising, and also this year spent a lot of time socializing feral kittens for adoption, so I rarely had the time or motivation to cook elaborate meals after work. These recipes were a godsend. I could make most of them in less than 10 minutes; the longest took 30. And for most of the recipes, I had the ingredients on hand so didn't have to buy anything additional. When I did have to buy ingredients, they were always easy to find at my local grocery store. I was testing recipes while I was doing Project: Food Budget, so I really kept track of my spending. When I did have to buy ingredients for a recipe, they would usually cost me less than $5.

And these fat-free and low-fat recipes also helped me to maintain my 30+ pound weight loss. To maintain my weight loss, I eat veggies, whole grains, and protein (legumes or soy) at every meal. This combination fills me up and keeps me satisfied so that I'm never starving and chowing down vegan cookies because I'm crazed from hunger. Plus, veggies, whole grains, and legumes are the most healthful things you can eat, so these recipes helped keep me strong and healthy (I continue my record of not being sick for about 13 years!)

In addition to being quick and easy to make, using everyday ingredients I had on hand or were inexpensive to buy, and helping me stay slim, these recipes are delicious! When I first started making Lindsay's recipes, I was skeptical whether fat-free (the recipes have no added fat, like oils) could be good. Now, I'm a true believer. I use Lindsay's fat-free cooking techniques all the time, but I never feel like I'm dieting or restricting what I eat because everything is so good. I've made some of these recipes every single week for the past six months because I love them so much. Here are my favorites!

The recipes I've made the most are
  • Miso Gravy. If I need more greens or grains in my day, I whip up some of this gravy in about three minutes and pour it over steamed kale or quinoa, or make a bowl of steamed greens, brown rice, and either beans or tofu and pour this on. It's one of the best all-purpose gravies I've tried.
  • Tofu Fries. These "fries" are easy to prepare and have a great texture from the tofu having been frozen. And they're delicious. Even my tofu-hating husband grudgingly admitted that they "weren't bad." I often have a meal of tofu fries and steamed kale and brown rice with miso gravy. It's a nutritionally complete meal that's quick and easy to make and delicious.
  • Everyday Mushroom Gravy. This is another fantastic gravy for pouring over steamed greens or grains, and it has the added benefit of being filled with nutritious mushrooms. It's so delicious, I've eaten it by the spoon like soup!
  • Cheese Sauce. This is the best all-purpose vegan cheese sauce out there! It makes my steamed kale sing, and it's also delicious on other steamed veggies, potatoes, and the tofu fries (as cheese fries!).
  • Greens Quiche. This quiche takes about five minutes to prepare and 30 to bake. It's a high-protein meal with tofu and greens and is a perfect breakfast on mornings when I strength train and need a high-protein breakfast. It also makes a good lunch served with a simple salad and a grain.
  • Smoothies. If you're familiar with the Happy Herbivore website, you have probably made Lindsay's smoothies. I have one of them pretty much every single day and sometimes add flax meal for extra protein. My favorites are Cinnamon Bun, Neapolitan, Oatmeal Cookie, P. Chocolate (high-protein for after strength training), and Peanut Butter Cup. I have yet to try the Mojito Smoothie, which seemed to get rave reviews by the other testers.  
  • Balsamic-Dijon Vinaigrette. This salad dressing takes about one minute to make, and I have it every week if not every day. It's a great dressing for a salad of mixed greens, walnuts, and apples.

Other great recipes I tried are
  • Spinach and Artichoke Fritatta. Another good high-protein breakfast dish, this eggless fritatta has a perfect texture and tastes amazing.
  • "Oyster" Po'Boys. Made with oyster mushrooms, these sandwiches were phenomenal!
  • Island Portobello Burgers. These are the antidote if you're bored with regular portobello burgers. These are extremely flavorful and very easy to prepare.
  • Smoked Cauliflower Soup. This five-minute recipe brings a new, smoky taste to traditional cauliflower soup...and takes about five minutes to make.
  • Spicy Mushroom Stir-Fry. I love, love, love this dish. It uses sweet red chili sauce and is super quick and easy to make. It's great over brown rice with steamed broccoli on the side.
  • Cauliflower-Pumpkin Curry. This is another of my favorites from the book. I've made the Peanut Pumpkin Curry variation over and over. It's a fabulous complete meal when I add chickpeas and serve it over brown rice.
  • Skillet Frijoles Negros. This has to be my all-time favorite black bean recipe. I've had these beans on a tortilla with some cheese sauce, or as a side.
  • Chickpea Tenders. Wow! When I tested this recipe, I thought it would surely blow the vegan community away. These high-protein tenders have a taste reminiscent of chicken without tasting like it so much that it's gross. The texture is great too. 
  • Pablo Pasta. This Mexican take on classic mac and cheese is amazing! It has a spicy, creamy sauce and includes black beans.
  • Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce. This creamy sauce is amazing over pasta.
  • French Toast Muffins. Amazing! I made these muffins several times and even brought them into an early work meeting. No one could believe they're fat free! I topped them with Lindsay's maple glaze from her first cookbook, and they were incredible. 

There are so many other recipes I tried and loved, and I can't wait to try the ones I didn't get a chance to test. If you're looking for quick and easy recipes that are delicious and nutritious, order this book!

And congratulations to Lindsay for another fantastic cookbook!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Favorite Cooking, Baking & Fitness Gifts

I hope everyone had a good Christmas and/or is having a good Hanukkah! I finally feel like I can breathe now that all my cookies have made their way to neighbors, friends, and family (with a healthy supply left for me in the freezer), I'm done with holiday parties, and most of the family get-togethers are over.

For one holiday party, I tried the Mushroom-Walnut Pate from Veganomicon. The woodsy mushroom taste combined with the sweet, licorice taste of tarragon was delicious. I'd post a picture, but it looked like, well, brown crap on a slice of baguette. For Christmas Eve, I made Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping from Veganomicon that I made for Thanksgiving. I didn't make anything for Christmas because my family made me vegan versions of old Slovak favorites: mushroom halupki (mushrooms and rice stuffed in cabbage), bobotki (sauerkraut and doughballs sauteed in vegan margarine), and sauerkraut pierogi. Yum!

Most gifts people gave me were related to cooking, baking, and fitness, and I love them all!

The gift I'm probably most excited about was a Jade yoga mat that my husband gave me. I'd heard from several people that Jade mats are the best--you don't slip, and they're thick. When I researched the mats online, I was excited to learn that they are made of natural rubber with no PVC, are eco-friendly, and are made right here in the U.S. Plus, for every mat sold, the company plants a tree. Yay! Unfortunately, when I opened the mat, there was a large, ugly, raised seam on one side. I couldn't remember seeing such a seam on other people's mats, so I emailed the company. They apologized for the defect and are shipping me out a new mat. Yay for great customer service!

I also got a book about the New York City Marathon, A Race Like No Other. I just started running in June, ran my first 5K in August, and continue to run about three days a week, between 9.5 and 12 miles. I'm training for a 12K in May and am up to 5.5 miles of continuous running...and cannot imagine running 26.2 miles. Maybe someday, but for now I'm enjoying the book, which promises to be a great inside look at the marathon.

I also got a new running top to add to my large, stylish fitness wardrobe that rivals my regular wardrobe. :-)

Another gift I love is the Magic Bullet blender! Every time this infomercial comes on, my husband I want to order it but never have. In one of her cookbooks, Isa Chandra Moskowitz confessed she's a Magic Bullet lover because you can blend different sauces and salad dressings and store them in the containers that come with the blender. It also comes with four cups that can be used for blending a smoothie and then drinking right from the cup. I make smoothies nearly every day, and it's sooooo much more easy and convenient to blend and drink from the same cup and then just toss it into the dishwasher.

I also got a Kitchen Aid immersion blender for pureeing soups and other dishes right in the pot. (This is another tool Isa swears by, and I don't think Isa has ever been wrong.) It's going to be so much easier to blend in a pot rather than transferring to a blender or food processor and then back to the pot for heating.

I actually got a third blender! My husband got me a single-serving blender to make smoothies, with the blending jar also a cup you can take with you, but since the Magic Bullet does the same thing, I'll take the third blender back.
The last cooking gift I got was a mini doughnut pan. I've been wanting to make the baked mini doughnuts from Vegan Yum Yum Cookbook. I've had way too many cookies the past week and am sick of them, so as soon as my sweet tooth returns, I can't wait to bake doughnuts.

What are your favorite cooking, baking, and fitness gifts you gave or got this year?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Final 2011 Cookie Baking Weekend

I'm done baking Christmas cookies! I made 12 varieties, 405 total. And I'm officially sick of cookies.

I decided to keep the Orange Pecan Squares in the roster because I've had a few and actually really like them. The dense texture is still a turn-off, but the taste is good. And honestly...I can't bear to make any more. I bought ingredients for no-bake Swedish Chocolate Balls but then hit my cookie-baking limit. So the Orange Pecan Squares will have their day on my cookie trays after all.

This past weekend I made Chocolate Chocolate Chip Walnut from Veganomicon. I'd made the Orange Chocolate Chocolate Chip variety this summer, and the walnut version was just as delicious. They're chocolaty, chewy, and full of chocolate chips, with a slightly salty, nutty taste from the toasted walnuts. A winner!

Next I made Hazelnut Fudge Dreamies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. Oh...these really are dreamy. The puffy shortbread cookies made of hazelnut liquor and toasted hazelnuts are fabulous on their own, as was the dough I couldn't stop eating.
The fudge filling is a rich ganache made of semisweet chocolate chips, soymilk, extract, margarine, and more hazelnut liquor. The finished little sandwich cookies are somewhat difficult to eat but fancy and absolutely amazing. These might be my favorite cookies this year.

I also made Chewy Chocolate Raspberry Cookies from Veganomicon. These have a pretty crackle on top when they're baked and are soft, chewy, and full of chocolaty raspberry goodness. Another winner!
Finally, I made Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. The peanut butter oatmeal cookie is good enough, but the salty peanut topping makes these really great.

My final list is
  1. Peppermint Chocolate Chip
  2. Citrus Glitters
  3. Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles
  4. Peanut Butter Chocolate Pillows
  5. Lazy Samoas
  6. Frosted Sugar Cookies
  7. Gingerbread Men
  8. Hazelnut Fudge Dreamies
  9. Chocolate Chocolate Chip Walnut
  10. Chocolate Raspberry
  11. Peanut Butter Oatmeal
  12. Orange Pecan Squares
This week I'll be packaging them up as gifts before putting the rest on cookie trays for family meals on Christmas Eve and Day. I hope by then I'll have my cookie appetite back so I can enjoy some too!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Tale of Two Holiday Parties

Last week we had our formal office holiday lunch at the Grand Concourse in Station Square. If you don't know Pittsburgh, Station Square is one of those touristy places with over-priced shops and restaurants that people who like really touristy places love. The Grand Concourse is a seafood and meat restaurant set in the historic old train station at Station Square and seems to be one of those fancy, expensive restaurants that gets a crowd regardless of the quality of its food because of its location.

They'd given me two vegan options to choose from: pasta primavera and stuffed mushrooms. But when I got to the restaurant, they told me the pasta had eggs in it and the mushrooms had cheese. (!) So this is what I was served: steamed broccoli, steamed asparagus, and lemon-scented white rice.

My boss was seated at the table and asked if it was what I'd consider a good vegan meal; he honestly didn't know and was curious. I replied that they had tried very hard to accommodate me. With veggies and a whole grain, the meal really wasn't absolutely awful, nutritionally speaking at least. But here's the thing:
  1. Where's the protein??? Protein is really important nutritionally (though most American diets include too much protein). For me personally, I need protein to feed my muscles, keep me lean, and maintain my weight loss. I wrote a post a while back on how I get enough protein, but the gist is I need to eat protein at every meal and sometimes for snacks too. And really, how hard is it to open a can of beans, drizzle some olive oil on them, and sprinkle with salt and black pepper? 
  2. The restaurant probably equated "she's vegan" to "she wants really bland food." I imagined the cooks in the kitchen trying to think of the least offensive thing they could serve me. I guess if you're not familiar with vegan cooking, that might make sense. But come on...they couldn't saute the veggies in a bit of olive oil for me, maybe with some minced garlic, and maybe even be a little crazy and add some crushed red pepper? Or maybe they could have been even crazier and added everything to a wok with some fresh minced garlic and ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil. 
In contrast, I made my own dish for a less formal potluck holiday lunch today. I made the Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions and Spiced Pita Chips from Veganomicon. I knew others were bringing a salad and fruit platter, so my veggies were covered. This protein-rich dish is one of my all-time favorites. I've made it before for dinner parties and just as a splurge for myself. It calls for a lot of olive oil to caramelize the onions so it's not the poster child for ultra-healthy vegan eating, but damn is it good (though it photographs like a pile of mush).
I also made Peppermint Brownies, which were originally Frankenmint Brownies that I recast with a holiday theme.

These brownies were soooooo awesome. I used slightly more tofu (yes, tofu!) than the recipe calls for, and they ended up so moist they melted in my mouth. Combined with the rich minty frosting, they were amazing. Recipe here!

What I learned from this tale:
  • Grand Concourse could learn a thing or two from me. 
  • Most omnivores are clueless about what vegans eat and think we eat bland, boring food (we don't!).
  • It's good to represent and bring vegan awesomeness to potlucks, even if the other potluck selections are gross and offensive. [Um, someone made bacon chocolate chip cookies. :-( So I guess it wasn't bad enough that two animals, cows and chickens, suffered to make the cookies, but pigs--the 5th most intelligent animal on earth and likely the ones most attuned to their awful treatment on factory farms--too. Boo!) 
  • While it's good to represent, I didn't even need to bring anything. Five coworkers made vegan versions of their dishes for me and another vegan in the office. Yay! I felt so loved. :-) 

The End (until next holiday!)

2011 Cookie Baking Weekend 3

Eight kinds of cookies baked after this past weekend...but one batch may not make it onto my cookie trays and gift bags.

First I made Lazy Samoas from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. How can you go wrong with a toasted coconut cookie dipped and dripped in chocolate? You can't! This may be the best cookie dough around. Consequently, the total cookie count was sacrificed due to many tablespoons of dough going right into my tummy. Oops! Here's the delicious cookie pre-chocolate-coated.
And here are the finished Samoas in all their glory. Mmmm!

Next I made Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cookies. I know--chocolate chip cookies for the holidays seems a bit like cheating because you can make them in your sleep. But it's amazing what one small teaspoon of mint extract does to regular ole' chocolate chip--it elevates them to holiday cookie tray status. I made these last year, and many people told me it was their favorite. I agree, especially when they're warm and gooey right out of the oven. Recipe here.
I felt like a little kid after a day of baking these two cookies because my belly hurt from eating the dough and fresh-from-the-oven cookies!

I gambled on the third cookie of the weekend and made a recipe not from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar or a recipe from other well-known vegan cooks. I tried the Orange Pecan Squares from the December 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times. I love orange and was curious about the orange pecan combo...but I should have been known better when I saw there wasn't any baking powder or soda in the recipe. The ingredients were minimal: flour, processed pecans, margarine, sugar, orange zest, and vanilla. When I mixed the dough, it was dry and crumbly so I added some soymilk to make it form logs. I chilled the logs, cut off slices and baked them, then coated them with a glaze made of powdered sugar and orange juice.

They were...okay. The flavor was good but they were extremely dense with an odd texture. I actually thought to myself that these cookies were what omnivores would expect of vegan cookies: dry, a little weird, and just okay. When my husband tried one, he said pretty much the same thing! So now I have 35 of these in my freezer with a decision to make. Do they deserve a place on my gift trays and gift bags, or should I keep them for myself and feature only the spectacular cookies I know people will love?

This week I'll be reviewing my cookie list and seeing if I can find a good replacement in the event I don't give these out. Next week will be my final baking weekend!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2011 Cookie Baking Weekend 2

Another weekend of Christmas cookie baking excitement!

First up: Citrus Glitters. I made these last Christmas and a few other times this past year. They're soft, buttery cookies with a hint of citrus (thanks to citrus zest) and a sugary shell. They're wonderful.
Next up: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pillows. Oooooh....yeah! These are probably the best cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and have made many cynical omnivores cry, "I BELIEVE vegan cookies can be good!" Mixing up two separate doughs (the peanut butter filling and the chocolate cookie exterior) and putting them together is a bit of work, but it's not too bad, especially considering how worth it they are. The first time I tried one, with the peanut butter filling still warm from the oven, I nearly toppled to my knees in bliss. And the best part: you can find the recipe here! (Sidenote: I've said this before, but these cookies only work when you strictly follow the instructions. I know someone who tried to substitute regular milk for the soymilk, and they didn't turn out.)
Finally, I made good ole' Roll-and-Cut Sugar Cookies. This is probably the last time I will make these because they were a total pain in the butt! Armed with a giant canister of holiday cookie cutouts I just bought, I was really excited when I first started making these. The buttery vanilla dough is simply addictive. It has to chill overnight, and I couldn't stop going to the fridge and breaking off little chunks of dough.

Then I started to roll out the dough...and remembered how hard it is to get a uniform depth. I couldn't quite get it right, and some of my cookies were a little uneven. And then, of course, cutting them out and transferring them to the baking sheets was an exercise in patience. This year, I did remember to cook them less before they barely browned so that they'd be a little chewier instead of crispy.
I was sick of them before I'd even started decorating them, so I was not in jolly holiday spirits as I mixed up the decorating icing. I did minimal decorating, but even that was too much for me. I think the trees turned out cute. The stockings are a little blah. They tasted very good, but next year I'll leave them off my baking list.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

2011 Cookie Baking Weekend 1

Last weekend I started my holiday cookie baking. I'll be making 11 kinds total, most from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.

I made Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles, which were a big hit and most people's favorite last year. Cayenne pepper adds an unexpected kick to these chocolate cookies with a sugar-cinnamon topping.
I also made Gingerbread Men! Not only was this my first time making them, but I can't even remember the last time I ate gingerbread cookies. Maybe as a kid? I'm not a very patient person, nor am I good at decorating, so cutting these out and decorating them was a bit of a pain for me. But I think they turned out cute, and they're absolutely delicious. Get the recipe here!
This weekend I'm making at least four more kinds...and loving it. Is there anything better than eating cookie dough???