Monday, December 17, 2007

Deadline Approaching for Menu for Hope Raffle

If you haven't donated yet, the deadline for participating in the Menu for Hope raffle is drawing near. As my raffle prize (code UE21), I'm offering a copy of Veganomicon and a six-pack of organic, raw agave nectar.

I know says they're out of stock on the agave nectar, but have no fear, if you are the winner of my raffle prizes, by the time the winners are announced on 9 January 2008, the agave will be in stock.

One of the questions I get a lot is "How much of my money actually goes to those kids in Lesotho?" Well, to quote Pim, the grand mistress of the Menu for Hope,

For every $100 donated to Menu for Hope, nearly $87 goes directly to the school children and farmers in Lesotho.

Here's how we came to that number:

0% go to Menu for Hope management
We don't take any cut at all from this. All the bloggers participating do it for free.

7% go to The UN World Food Programme
The WFP uses no more than 7% of their total funds raised each year for their operational overhead. You can see the entire 2006 operating report for yourself here.

Firstgiving 7.35% 6.35% go to Firstgiving
Firstgiving, the online fundraising company we use to manage Menu for Hope donations charges a service fee of 7.35%, which covers credit card processing, hosting, security, administrative, service, and all other services they provide.

Donors can make an online donation with a credit card. Firstgiving collects and processes the payments and, at the end of the campaign, transfers the donations in one lump sum to the WFP. This is a win-win situation for all parties involved. The bloggers never touch the money. The WFP don't waste overheads on processing mini-donations, the majority of which were between $10-$50, that's a whole lot of tenners to make up 60K.

Last year, Firstgiving was kind enough to donate back 1% of the total amount we raised back to the campaign. This is in lieu of a discount on their already small fees, so, basically, Firstgiving only charges our campaign about 6.35% fees! Thank you so much Firstgiving!

The rest, 85.65% ~86.65% goes to the children and the farmers. You can meet them here.

Knowing that so much of my donated money goes directly to the targeted folks is one of the key reasons I participate in this raffle. You can see what I bid for here.

To find out exactly how to participate, please see this post.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Menu for Hope -- Why You Should Bid on Prize UE21

Well, it's more like why you should participate at all.

All the funds raised by Menu for Hope 4 raffle go to the UN World Food Program's school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa. This particular program enables the WFP to buy supplies specifically from local, subsistent farmers who practice conservation farming.

You can see amazing photos of the folks in Lesotho here.

Please bid on my prize (detailed below) and learn more about why we do this each year.

This post explains everything you need to know about bidding for a copy of Veganomicon and a 6-pack of raw, organic agave nectar to raise funds for the Menu for Hope.

Please join us in our efforts to help those who need it the most.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Menu For Hope 4 Has Begun -- I'm Offering Veganomicon and Agave Nectar as My Prize!

Note: If you visit both Altered Plates and Here and There, you'll notice that the posts will be similar because I'm promoting the Menu for Hope fundraiser (and my prize, in particular) on both blogs.

For the past four years, a fellow food blogger, Pim of Chez Pim, has organized the Menu For Hope fundraiser in support of the UN World Food Program. Five years ago, the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia inspired her to find a way to help, and the very first Menu for Hope was born. In 2006, Menu for Hope raised US$60,925.12 to help the UN World Food Program feed the hungry all over the world.

As Pim says, "We may never eradicate hunger from the face of the earth, but why should that stop us from trying?"

Each year, an ever-growing group of us food bloggers from all over the world join forces to host the Menu for Hope online raffle, offering an array of delectable culinary prizes. For every US$10, the donor receive a virtual raffle ticket toward a prize of their choice. This year, I'm offering a copy of "Veganomicon" and a six pack of raw, organic agave nectar bottles (23-oz each) for my raffle prize.

"Veganomicon">Veganomicon," by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, is the third book by the famed Post Punk Kitchen Duo of Brooklyn. The recipes are very easy to produce, tasty and easy to alter, if necessary. Because there are so many different types of healthy and delicious recipes, it's a book everyone should have in their kitchen, not just vegetarians. The recipes use easy-to-find ingredients and most take fewer than 10 steps to make. Makes a great gift for a new cook as well as a seasoned chef.

Madhava raw organic agave nectar is 25% sweeter and one-third as glycemic as sugar. It's a vegan, delicious, and natural processed sugar substitute. It has the consistency of honey, but without the heavy flavor profile. It's perfect for
drizzling over Greek yogurt. Comes from agave cacti in Mexico. Kosher.

To Enter

If you're interested in participating in the raffle, here's what you need
to do:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from
our Menu for Hope at

You also could visit the East Coast regional Menu for Hope 4 page to see what others in my region are offering (some pretty big stuff!).

2. Go to the donation site at
and make a donation.

3. Please specify which prize you'd like in the
'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your
donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please
use the prize code. VERY IMPORTANT INFO: MY CODE IS UE21. Example:

Basic Order

Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize
of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for
EU01 and 3 tickets for UE21. Please write 2xEU01, 3xUE21. Example:

Advanced Order

4. If your company matches your charity donation,
please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim
the corporate match.

5. Please check the box to allow us to
see your email address
so that we can contact you in case
you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Check back on Chez Pim on
Wednesday, January 9, 2008 for the results of the raffle.

Thanks for your participation, and good luck in the raffle!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Just in Time for Hannukkah -- Latke Crisps!

Crunchy, yummy, and low fat are three ways to describe this tasty new snack available from Thou Shall Snack. Latke Crisps are very light, not at all what you'd expect a potato pancake crisp to taste like. What they do taste like is rice crisps -- most likely because the second ingredient is rice flour.

I liked the sour cream and onion variety so much I ate the entire 1 oz. bag. Lucky for me, that's only 110 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. They come in other flavors such as original and zesty veggie.

The best part about Latke Crisps is that they're not fried -- they're baked! I know, I love friend food too, and I know that it's Hannukkah (well, when the sun sets in a few hours). But think about all the heavy, caloric food you'll be having this holiday season. Don't you want a light, crunchy, savory snack that isn't going to cost you hundreds of calories?

Overall, I'm not sure they really remind me of actual latkes, but I liked the flavor, texture, and novel idea behind them. You have to admire the company name, too, Thou Shall Snack. Although I keep wanting to type it as "Shalt" instead of "Shall." Oh well.

Happy Hannukkah! May all your dreidels land on Gimel. :D

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Baked Cheesy Goodness

Today I made some truly amazing, gooey, cheesy baked macaroni and cheese. I loosely followed Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything, and used a bit more cheese.

I'm a huge admirer of Bittman and his work. Each Thursday, I look forward to the New York Times Online posting his Minimalist cooking segments. More than anything else, I enjoy tinkering with his recipes. They're so flexible and easy, that's it's hard not to like them.

This home-cooked mac and cheese has risen to the top ranks of yummy comfort foods in my book. It's pretty cheesy stuff, so a little goes a long way.

So, for your enjoyment, here's a short movie of my experience making this very tasty dish.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A New Thanksgiving Favorite -- Smitten Kitchen's Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette

Oh such a delicious savory pie! Another Deb, aka Smitten Kitchen, created this marvelous dish that has become my family's newest Thanksgiving favorite!

Here's my brother at the end of the buffet table (after taking a large serving of the butternut squash and caramelized onion galette) showing his gratitude for the feast.

If you noticed a family resemblance, that's because he's Tyler's dad.

About the galette, I made a few alterations to the original recipe, including using non-fat Greek-style yogurt instead of sour cream in the crust, and mozzarella cheese for fontina in the filling. But, because I know you enjoy these, I made a movie of how I made the galette. I apologize for the clippy audio. No idea how that happened, except maybe in the upload from my camera to the computer. Also, it was my first time using the camera staged on a mike stand with a Gorilla pod. I will improve, I promise. For now, though. Hope you enjoy the movie below. It's divided into three segments because the whole thing is 23 minutes long.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cookbook Review: Morimoto, The New Art of Japanese Cooking

Back in August, I was contacted by DK Publishing to review the new book by Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Morimoto -- The New Art of Japanese Cooking. I finally had some time to read the gorgeous, coffee-table-sized cookbook and try a couple of the recipes.

First, the majority of the recipes in this book are NOT for beginners. However, I did try the Crab Naan and Bagna Cauda Morimoto-Style recipes a couple of days ago, and was duly impressed with the results. Normally, I noodle around with the recipes, but in this case, I followed them strictly to the letter.

What would be useful in a future edition (or a future book by Morimoto) is the approximate length of time each recipe takes to prepare. Had I not budgeted time in advance, I would have failed to deliver the bagna cauda with the naan.

On the other hand, the ingredients for this recipe were pretty easy to find (unlike some of the other recipes in the book) and use.

As far as the flavors and taste were concerned, my guest, Thom and I were not disappointed. Thom thought the naan tasted more like naan than previous versions I've made. He also like the addition of the crab. Because I had a job interview the following day, I didn't eat too much of the bagna cauda since it was pretty much pure garlic. But, it was tasty. I would make both again, but I probably would add some spices to the naan. Other than the crab, it was plain.

Overall, the book is very well done, but probably targeted to a more advanced foodie than I am. Also, not many of the recipes are vegetarian, so I'm not sure I'd recommend it for my vegan or vegetarian friends. It would probably make an impressive gift for someone who truly enjoys trying new Asian foods and cooking complex recipes.

Below is a short movie that shows how I made the recipes. I've also included a bonus recipe for Pakoras that I thought were far tastier than the naan and bagna cauda.

Famous Fat Dave Takes Us On A Veggie Food Tour of NYC

If you've been reading the food blogs for a while, you should be familiar with Famous Fat Dave, The Hungry Cabbie. If you have never heard of Dave, it is my pleasure to introduce you to him. Everyone, meet Dave.

Before becoming a New York City cabbie back in 2001, Dave worked for a variety of food stores: Orwasher’s Bakery, Guss' Pickles, Nathan’s hot dogs, and Murray’s Cheese. But Dave is probably best known for his wonderful food tours of New York, Famous Fat Dave’s Five Borough Eating Tour On The Wheels Of Steel.

Because I've long wished to experience Dave's food tours, I asked him if he could take me (and my young nephew Tyler -- you've seen him before on this blog) on a vegetarian tour, specifically the Chunky but Funky Monkey Package. Dave readily agreed.

Almost two weeks ago, Tyler and I took the train from New Brunswick, NJ, into Penn Station, where we met up with Dave and his wheels of steel.

After only seconds in his car, Dave surprised us with a cheesey appetizer -- Ewephoria sheep's milk gouda from Murray's Cheese Shop. It was mighty tasty. Tyler and I both enjoyed breaking off tiny pieces of the cheese because we knew we were just at the beginning of a foodie odyssey.

Dave explained our options to us as we munched on the Ewephoria.

We decided not to spend an inordinate amount of time in the lower east side's eateries, but to get a taste, our first stop was Kossar's Bialys. If you've never had a bialy before, you would think it was a cousin to a bagel. You'd be correct to a certain extent, except that bagels are boiled before baking and bialys are not.

Dave selected one garlic and one onion bialy for Tyler and me to try. We both enjoyed the chewy, doughy bits, but saved most of the bialys so we could use them to cleanse our palates between tastings. (And, we didn't want to fill up early. We had several hours of grazing ahead of us.)

Next came the pickles.

We drove to the Pickle Guys store and tried a variety of pickles (new, half-sour, three-quarters sour and full sour).

We also tried pickled garlic, which was surprisingly sweet, pickled green beans, and olives.

I liked the almond-stuffed olives the best.

We spent the majority of our time in Brooklyn after the pickle experience. First, we stopped at Waterfalls Cafe for a truly excellent sandwich of fried cauliflower and tahini. We didn't eat in the cafe, however, because Dave had a delightful surprise for us.

We dined by the Hudson River, Tyler and I, sharing the tasty, tangy pita sandwich. Way in the distance, we could see the Statue of Liberty.

Tyler and I agreed that one of the highlights of the dining experience was the pita sandwich. It was like falafel, but ten times better.

Next, we traveled to Ferdinando's in Brooklyn for some squid and octopus salad (for Tyler and Dave) and broccoli rabe (for me, primarily).

Next off to Red Hook...

We sat in this lovely greenhouse of sorts in front of the legendary Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies in Red Hook, eating our seafood salad and greens.

Tyler really liked the seafood salad, but what about the broccoli rabe?

It was a bit bitter.

After we picked up a "swingle" for Tyler, we headed out to a nice little park with a great view of the Statue of Liberty. Yes, that's me on the left.

Here's Tyler's "swingle," the dark chocolate-dipped key lime pie on a stick.

He LOVED it.

Next, we headed out to Bensonhurst for thick pizza slices (Sicilian style) at L&B Spumoni Gardens. (My apologies for the poor audio in the next clip.)

Soft, yummy slices with the cheese under the sauce. It's very traditional and tasty.

Tyler also tried the spumoni.

It's served in a traditional Italian ice cup, but it looks more like gelato.

Probably my favorite new taste came when we headed back to the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan for a warm sesame bagel spread with fresh whitefish salad at Ess A Bagel.

It was like great tuna salad, but much less fishy and so much more tastier. I'm definitely going to have to visit a Jewish deli soon for another great warm bagel with whitefish salad.

Finally, we ended our trip at Pommes Frites, Belgian-style fries served with a huge variety of flavored mayonnaises. I'm not a big fan of fries with mayo. Too artery-clogging and rich for me, but the fries were pretty good. We tried parmesan peppercorn, horseradish and pesto mayos.

The fries are served at these odd little tables with holes to hold drinks and the fries, which are served in paper cones.

Overall, Dave's food tour was loads of fun, and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone visiting New York City. Just remember that our tour was customized for us. He usually takes people to some of the places, but you can ask for exactly what you want, and I'm sure he'll accommodate your needs.

Contact Dave here. You'll be happy you did.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

VeganMoFo Meme

Yes, I know. I haven't been a vegan in quite some time. However, I love vegans, vegan food, vegan cookbooks, vegan blogs and things veganesque. Speaking of vegan bloggers, Bazu at Where's the Revolution posted a meme with all kinds of interesting questions. Since Bazu tagged all readers, I'm taking up the challenge with the meme below. Please consider yourself tagged if you haven't already participated. Let me know when you've posted yours. I'll happily come read it.

1. Favorite non-dairy milk? Currently, it's unsweetened vanilla almond milk, although vanilla rice milk comes in a close second.

2. What are the top 3 dishes/recipes you are planning to cook? Coconut biscotti, carob orange French cake, and another pear pie.

3. Topping of choice for popcorn? I'm a purist. Salt.

4. Most disastrous recipe/meal failure? Either millet or the time I murdered a pound of asparagus with several lemons.

5. Favorite pickled item? Pickled string beans from the Famous Fat Dave food tour (soon to be posted here).

6. How do you organize your recipes? Not very well. John and I were just talking about buying me a very large accordian folder for the printouts and pages from magazines.

7. Compost, trash, or garbage disposal? We use trash and the garbage disposal. I wish I owned my house and yard in a place where we could compost. Unfortunately, our homeowners' association is way behind the times.

8. If you were stranded on an island and could only bring 3 foods...what would they be (don't worry about how you'll cook them)? Bananas, avocados and brown rice.

9. Fondest food memory from your childhood? Mom teaching me how to eat pomegranates.

10. Favorite vegan ice cream? My Perfect Vegan Scoop.

11. Most loved kitchen appliance? A tie between my immersion blender and stand mixer (both by KitchenAid).

12. Spice/herb you would die without? Salt

13. Cookbook you have owned for the longest time? Ironically, although I've technically owned my Moosewood cookbook the longest, it was in my mother's bookshelves for 10 years.

14. Favorite flavor of jam/jelly? Orange ginger marmalade.

15. Favorite vegan recipe to serve to an omni friend? Peanut butter cookies.

16. Seitan, tofu, or tempeh? Seitan.

17. Favorite meal to cook (or time of day to cook)? Probably Indian food -- naan, dal, saag. MMM.

18. What is sitting on top of your refrigerator? Our rice maker and vitamins.

19. Name 3 items in your freezer without looking. Pistachio nuts, cornmeal, and tomato sauce.

20. What's on your grocery list? I just went shopping this morning, so nothing for a change!

21. Favorite grocery store? Whole Foods, but it's too expensive, so we go to Stop and Shop.

22. Name a recipe you'd love to veganize, but haven't yet. I'm working on a carob spice cake and am nearly there. Just can't nail down the eggs yet.

23. Food blog you read the most (besides Isa's because I know you check it everyday). Or maybe the top 3? David Lebovitz, Culinary in the Desert, and Cream Puffs in Venice. If I were truly shameless, I'd post my other blog. So there! :D

24. Favorite vegan candy/chocolate? Carob mint creams.

25. Most extravagant food item purchased lately? Non-vegan items I won't say.

26. Veganaise or Nayonaise? Mustard!

27. What is one recipe or ingredient or cooking technique that you've become familiar with in the last year that you can't imagine you ever lived without? Using pureed white beans to replace up to 1/2 the fat in a recipe. Super idea!

28. What would be your last vegan meal? Definitely an Indian feast ending with my vegan ice cream.

29. Make up your own question to put here (and answer it!)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Product Review: Maverick Digital Oven Thermometer -- Update

I probably complain about my oven at least once a week (if not more, depending on how often I use it). Appliance experts have examined it and declared it to be of sound mind and body. I beg to differ.

To prove the point, I purchased a Maverick Digital Oven Thermometer, which works via a probe hanging from one of the oven shelves.

What I've discovered is that my oven will not keep a steady temperature of 325 degrees F. That's a huge problem since most baking recipes call for 350 degrees F, which I must cut by 25 degrees F when I use agave nectar. Yesterday, I found myself turning the dial to nearly 200 degrees F in order to achieve a good result when baking a cake. What a pain!

In the meantime, I'm saving my pennies for a new oven.

Do you use an oven thermometer? If so, how accurate is your oven?

Update: It occurred to me that I hadn't actually reviewed the device above. So, here is my review: It is very easy to use right out of the box. The thermometer allows you to use it as a timer and monitor (with a built-in alarm) when the oven temperature is not at your prescribed baking temperature. The only drawback is the overly long cable from the oven probe to the display piece. However, there's a nice, strong magnet on the rear of the thermometer, so you can place it where you wish on your oven or other metal surface. Finally, with all the nice features this device has, along with its low price, I recommend it with 4.5 stars out of 5.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Birds

The fact that thousands of grackles descended upon my neighborhood on Friday is probably pretty timely given that Halloween is Wednesday. It was like I was in the middle of the Hitchcock thriller, The Birds. Stunned by all the birds, I managed to collect myself enough to put together this little bit of footage.

Have you ever seen anything like this?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Buttery Corn Bread

I've had some white corn meal in my fridge for a while (and needed the space), so I went to my current favorite baking book, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking for some inspiration. I followed the directions pretty much to the letter except for the honey. For that I used agave nectar. If you've been keeping track of my other blog, you'll know that I've had quite a bit of luck baking with the stuff.

I went for the crispy crust, so I melted a tablespoon of butter in the pan (which had been preheating in the oven) right before I poured the batter.

It had me a bit worried -- all that butter pooling on the top -- but all was well. It came out fluffy, corny, and very tasty.

My friend Richie said it would be perfect with chili. I think next time, I'm adding cheddar cheese and red pepper flakes for a bit more pizazz.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Field Trip with Mom -- Cross Estate Gardens and Willowwood

In honor of Mom's birthday back in August, we planned a day of doing things she really enjoys -- visiting gardens and spending time together. Of course, since we're such busy people, our first day free was 13 Oct. (hence the warm clothes--it was a chilly day, unlike the balmy weather we've had lately). Our top two choices were relatively local to Mom: Cross Estate Gardens in Bernardsville, NJ, and Willowwood Arboretum in Chester, NJ.

We stopped at Cross Estate first, taking a tiny hike from the parking lot to the actual house. Cross Estate is actually part of our National Park System (and FREE), so you should go see it if you're a taxpaying American. It's our land, after all.

Mom was enamored of this giant silver maple in the back of the house (view is from the rear of the field in the back of the house).

There she is, giving us a bit of perspective.

We walked around to the front entrance of the gardens and were greeted by a long pergola draped with wisteria. It probably looks amazing in the spring when in bloom.

It's longer than it looks.

You wouldn't think so many flowers would be blooming in October, but there were plenty of colorful blooms on display for us.

Even irises.

Lots of lavender Russian sage.

You probably can't tell from the photos, but there were bees everywhere. All different kinds, too, from yellow jackets and bumblebees (one in the center of the photo below) to wasps.

Always the teacher, Mom must have said, "Look at it!" about a hundred times. "Make sure you take a photo of this. People should see this!"

"OK, Mom."

"Can you believe these colors?"

After enjoying all the colorful flowers at Cross Estate Gardens, we programmed Mom's GPS to find Willowwood. Unfortunately, we had to take a pretty big detour, but the path led us through some pretty swanky estates. I'm always amazed at the affluence in New Jersey. What do these people do? Or, are they "old money?" Probably a mix of self-made folks and the perpetually wealthy. Regardless, they have lovely homes (as much as we could see from the road) and land.

Willowwood Arboretum is on the land formerly owned by the Tubbs brothers. There are gardens extending out to the road from the front of the Tubbs' house as well as hiking trails with rare plants and trees in the rear of the house. All told, 130 acres are available for exploring.

First thing first, though. We had to use the restroom (go before you go to Cross Estate Gardens because there are no services there). Decorating the outside of the restroom wall of the shingled barn was this amazing staghorn fern.

180 degrees from the staghorn fern was this trumpet vine with blooms that had to extend at least a foot!

Mom was happily surprised that the Tubbs brothers had planted redwood trees in their garden.

Walking around the back of the house, we saw Pan's garden (and more pergolas).

We also witnessed a giant nest. It must have been a squirrel condo. It was at least 3 feet square.

There were many plants sporting colored berries. Mainly, we saw the usual red berries.

But we also were nearly knocked over by these vibrant, sapphire blue berries from Japan.

Mom and I broke from the other trails and walked to the end of the property to a tree-line walk filled with yellow berries.

To our right was a very large meadow, but since it was bow-hunting season (not to mention deer tick season), I suggested that we keep to the path.

Did I mention that we also saw plants with white berries and red stalks that almost reminded us of capillaries?

Finally, we headed back to the cottage garden and out to the car to decide where to have lunch.

We drove into Chester to discover that we were smack in the middle of the town's Apple Harvest Festival!

There, we witnessed a marching fife and drum corps as they played on every block along the main drag.

We eventually had lunch, but the highlight of the day was spending it with my Mom.

How do you spend time with your Mom?