Saturday, December 25, 2010

Dirt Cake and Marzipan Mushrooms

This is a blog of heartbreak, dear readers. That is, I had my vegan heart set on making a buche de noel for my friend Diana's Christmas Eve party. And I had that heart broken. For those of you who are not so much in the know on these things, a buche de noel is also known as a yule log. Basically you make a swiss roll cake, then frost and decorate it to look ~kind of~ like a log. Cocoa sprinkles and powdered sugar stand in for "dirt from nature" as one amusing ehow video suggested and snow, obviously. It is also somewhat traditional to create a bark-like effect by dragging a fork along the frosted log, and to festoon the log with marzipan (or meringue, for the chicken ovum-inclined) mushrooms. Inevitably, I got cocky. I thought I had this yule log thing on lock-down. I dropped hints about it on facebook. I trumpeted about it to my friends via text message and on the phone. I was so confident that I was going to be able to pull it off seamlessly that I didn't leave myself all that much time to correct/revise/reverse direction altogether.

Then two things went wrong. First, the coconut whipped cream with crushed peppermint sticks was too thin. This part was my fault. I didn't allow adequate time for the cans of coconut milk to chill in the fridge, and apparently the store had had a run on them recently so the ones I bought were too recently manhandled in a warehouse somewhere. Because of this, the fat was insufficiently separated from the more liquidy part of the milk. Because of this, the coconut milk was too runny. And because of this, the coconut whipped cream was too runny. You're seeing the pattern here, right? I honestly think I could have worked with a too runny filling, though, if only the cake, which had rolled up perfectly and without incident when it was fresh out of the oven, hadn't cracked all the way through in three places when I unrolled it. There I was, dear reader, standing in my kitchen wearing my fabulous black Secret Society of Vegans apron, with my chilled bowl of runny, but decidedly delicious, coconut whipped cream ready by my side. As I gently unrolled the cake, using the utmost care, the damn thing cracked. My shrieks of disappointed horror could probably be heard in three counties. In desperation and denial, I attempted to fill the cracked thing anyway, only to have it crack even worse when I rolled it back up again. Furious, now, I threw the whole thing in the fridge and faced my beloved partner, C, who was standing gingerly by to absorb the tears or fists that inevitably result from such a thwarting at the hands of the baking gods.

While I was initially infuriated by C's suggestion that I make another cake, I soon calmed down and saw the wisdom in this proposal. I quickly whipped together a double batch of the basic chocolate cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and baked it into a layer cake. This I frosted with chocolate buttercream and some of the now delightfully glaze-like coconut whipped cream. I topped the cake with adorable marzipan mushrooms. Seriously, can those things be any cuter? I left the sides of the cake bare, which rather worked because it was my de facto buche de noel...just without the log part. I instead thought of it fondly as a dirt cake, and I enjoined the party goers who received it to imagine that it was, in fact, rolled in some meaningful way. So I guess this is after all a sort of meaningful holiday story of thwarting, sadness, anger, and redemption. I really wanted a buche de noel, but what I got instead was a dirt cake. Luckily I--and my friends--really like dirt. Now somebody please please please give me another excuse to mold things out of marzipan, because I may have a new addiction.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Daring Bakers December Challenge

You probably didn't notice (or did you?), but I skipped a month of Daring Bakers Challenges. With family visiting and Thanksgiving to plan, I just couldn't wrap my head around it. But I'm back! The December challenge was relatively easy, fun to make, and delicious: Christmas Stollen. Basically, this is a yeasted sweet bread, filled with candied fruit and dusted with powdered sugar. The host for this month's challenge, Penny from Sweet Sadie's Baking, explained in the notes that the loaf is traditionally shaped to represent the baby Jesus, though her directions specify a wreath shape. I would have been a little creeped out to hack into and eat something shaped like a baby. But maybe that's just me.

The stollen was delicious. So much so that I was relieved to be able to take it to a holiday party to which C and I were invited. How better to dispose of a delicious sweet bread loaf of 10-12 servings than to take it to a party and foist it on other people? Otherwise, C and I would likely have stayed home with it for days, shaving off thin slices repeatedly and trying to convince ourselves that we had not eaten enough to qualify as a serving, even as the loaf steadily dwindles and disappears. It would have been ugly. I might have stopped going to the gym, and become to altogether disoriented from the constant influx of sugar and white flour that my senses might have gone completely out of whack. I might have started gargling with olive oil and brushing my teeth with marzipan. I might have required an intervention that wouldn't come because C would have been collapsed under a pile of stale cookies with his cell phone just out of reach. I'm not going to lie to you, dear readers. Our lives are hard.

Anyway, though it looks pretty fussy, this loaf was pretty easy to make. The only extra step involved candying citrus peel. Because why buy pre-made citrus peel when it's quite easy to candy your own? I had already done something close to this when I made the orange marmelade for my first ever Daring Bakers challenge. Luckily, that stuff lasts forever. I'm just a tad ashamed to admit it, but I think we might have a small jar of it kicking around the fridge. Basically, you slice the orange peel, blanch it three times, and then cook it in syrup until the peel absorbs all the sugar. Then you roll it in powdered sugar and let it dry. This candied peel is then chopped and added to the buttery dough along with rum-soaked dried fruit (I used cherries). Once the dough is assembled, it hangs in the fridge for up to a week (I let it go three days) before shaping, final proofing, and baking.

Now that I've had it, I can see why this sort of thing makes such excellent Christmas gifts. The stollen is sweet, tender, and flaky, but also quite sturdy. It apparently ships well as the post-baking bastings of butter (well, vegan margarine) and sugar act as a kind of preservative. If you're a fan of sweet breads and have time to make your own, please consider forgoing the inevitable holiday panettone and try this instead. Seriously, bread in a box at the grocery store? What's that about? Incidentally, if you are now fired by the passion of a thousand suns and just know that you have to make your own stollen like right. freaking. now, send me a message or email me and I'll give you the vegan lowdown for enterprising stollen bakers. It is well worth the effort.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Roasted Carrot Soup

Last week I had a sudden, intensely strong craving for borscht. I am not, in general, a huge beet fan, but I absolutely love a bowl of borscht. The earthiness of the beets mixes with the mild sweetness of the carrots and cooks up into a kind of buttery tasting soup that still manages to seem very...clean, for lack of a better word. Admittedly, the soup's vibrant redness and capacity for staining things makes it a bit dangerous. If you have to spill some soup on your favorite pajamas (doesn't everyone eat dinner in pajamas?), you don't want that soup to be borscht. All the same, though, that level of danger makes eating it just a little bit more special.

After that lovely stuff was all gone, though, we I wanted to go with something a bit safer. What's safer than carrots? I realize that the world is littered with carrot soup recipes, many of which lean heavily on a variety of fat sources to thicken and enrich them. Since I am personally not a fan of soups with a really heavy mouth-feel, I opted to use just a bit of cashews to give it that slight, cream-based feeling. My other main contribution is roasting the carrots instead of just cooking them in the broth or with the onions. I've been a bit single-minded about roasting recently. Seriously, there aren't many things I can be talked out of drizzling with a bit of olive oil and baking in the oven. Also, the garlic roasts along with the carrots, and very few things in this world are more delicious than roasted garlic. Or it may just be that there are very few things in the world about which I will resist the temptation to speak in hyperbole.

All joking aside, this is the time of year to make root vegetable soups. Right now the squashes, beets, and carrots are bursting from the produce shelves in all their winter abundance (which, incidentally, also means that they're at their cheapest), but don't be lulled into complacency. The season will be over sooner than you think.

Roasted Carrot Soup

1/3 c raw cashews, soaked for three or four hours
5-6 medium-sized carrots, thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced or chopped
sea salt
1 small sweet onion
1/2 t turmeric
1 T rubbed powdered sage
3 cubes veggie broth
6 c water
1 mandarin orange

Preheat oven to 375. On a baking sheet, toss carrots and garlic with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring at least once. While the carrots are roasting, heat a little more oil in a large pot. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add turmeric and sage and cook 3 minutes more. Add 3 cubes of broth and 6 cups of water (or just 6 cups of veggie broth. You can figure that out right?) and reduce heat to low. When the carrots are tendered and starting to look a bit caramelized, remove from oven. Process carrots, garlic, cashews, and about a cup of the broth/onion mixture until smooth. Add more broth as necessary. Return the soup to the pot and cook on low for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors mingle. Squeeze the juice from the orange into the soup, stir briefly, and serve topped with roasted pepitas. Some of the onion chunks will still be in the soup, but we like it that way.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Food Porn

C's famous stuffing
As promised, dear readers, here are my results from the kitchen-related havoc that, for so many of us, signals this recent holiday. I've never actually been all that wild about Thanksgiving, largely because as a kid I wasn't into a lot of the food that is traditionally served. Call me un-American if you must. I will carry the banner of my anti-nationalistic sentiments boldly. As I've grown older, though, I've developed a sort of mild, nostalgic fondness for the Thanksgiving meal formula. As I indicated in my preview post, I went very safe, very traditional, and this at least partially because my omni mom and stepdad were visiting. If the "turkey" loaf sucked, they would go home with stories of how horrible tofu turkey is. And I can't have it, gentle reader. I can't. So I stuck with the tried and true. Should we decide to celebrate next year in quasi-similar fashion, I think we'll get a bit crazier. The menu was exactly what I've already described. Now for the photos.
Apple Pie: As you'll see below, I also made pumpkin. Making this one was really just a concession to my own taste because I have...issues...with pumpkin. As it turns out, apple pie is also my mom's favorite kind of pie. Bonus! Also, I used a skull and crossbones cookie cutter to remove the center of the top crust, but I don't think you can tell...

Green Beans: I was torn at first about whether to make these or brussels sprouts. I tend to prefer the latter, but I went this way because the oven was already spoken for. I didn't want my brussels to have to jockey for position with the stuffing and two roasts. These were very lightly steamed and dressed in a simple orange-citrus dressing, then sprinkled with slivered almonds.

Orange-Almond Cinnamon Rolls: Because you have to eat breakfast on Thanksgiving, too. Also, I love love love adding citrus flavors in general, but orange in particular, to cinnamon rolls.  It's a simple step but makes them so much more special. We ate all of these in one sitting. 

Seitan En Croute: Otherwise known as that-which-I- refuse-to-stop-calling-Seitan-Wellington. If I make a mushroom pate of some sort and layer that between the seitan and the pastry, will it be a Wellington then? Or need one appeal to the mastery of Bryanna Clark Grogan to make such a claim? (If you're wondering who she is, get thee to your google, vegan neophyte, and be chastened.)

Pumpkin Pie: One must, right? C loves pumpkin pie, so really I made this for him. Aside from being consistently thwarted by cracking tops, I find pumpkin pies very easy to make. Now that I've gone this way, I won't use tofu in one again. I made this recipe, and I highly recommend it for simplicity, ease, and flavor.

Also wonderful and visible in the top photo were C's reliable tasty mashed potatoes, his masterful onion, mushroom, and miso gravy, and a stuffed seitan loaf.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Preview

And an appeal. Thanksgiving has a very special place in my heart because it is the holiday most strenuously organized around the meat of one particular bird. Every year, billions of turkeys are slaughtered in factory farms after living dark little lives of deprivation and suffering. I think about them every time someone gobbles over a store intercom or cheerfully yells "Happy Turkey Day," as though the day had anything to do with us actually liking turkeys. If you haven't already, and you can afford to do so, please consider making a holiday donation to Farm Sanctuary. These beautiful people make it their business to rescue and advocate for farm animals in the U.S. Though you can (and should) give them money any old time, they have a special turkey adoption program over the holidays. If you require a degree of anthropomorphizing to get into the giving spirit, you can adopt a specific turkey and have a certificate and picture mailed to you. For example, the cunning guy on the right is named Harley, and he can be your adopted turkey for a mere $30 one time donation. Here's a link to the turkey adoption program at Farm Sanctuary.

On to the food: I'm excited to be hosting my mom and step-dad for Thanksgiving this year. It's my first time getting to actually cook for my family at my own house, and I'm over-planning and freaking out way more than I need to. This is especially the case since I'm not making anything very risky. In future years, I'll probably let myself get a little nuts and serve pasta or pot-pie, but this year is all about the known quantities. My family is already having their first ever vegan Thanksgiving, so the pressure is on to represent. Here's what I'm making:

Seitan Wellington
Stuffed Seitan Roast
Garlicky Mashed Potatoes (though not too garlicky because my mom is committed garlic-phobe)
Caramelized Onion and Miso Gravy
Stuffing (no idea what this is going to be like. Stuffing is exclusively C's territory.)
Steamed Citrusy Green Beans
Cranberries (my stepdad's contribution)
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pie

Buckle up, dear readers. Food porn is forthcoming.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Garlicky Roasted Vegetable Soup

This mild and hearty soup is perfect for the slightly chilly evenings we're starting to get here in Northern California. Roasting the vegetables accomplishes two things. First, it reduces and simplifies your total cook time. You can get the vegetables roasting at your convenience, and let them hang in the oven and cool until you're ready to make your soup. Second, roasting vegetables gives them a rounder, sweeter flavor than you can get by simply cooking them in a pot of broth or sauteing them in a pan. I'm tempted to call this soup Garlic and Roasted Vegetable Soup because, being the kamikaze garlic eaters that we are, I put an entire head of roasted garlic into the batch I made last night. I know that many people don't have this kind of devil-may-care attitude toward the stinky rose, so I'm modifying the recipe below for saner pallets. In the meantime, have a pleasant thought for the poor folks who might end up on the treadmill next to mine this morning as a fog of garlic smelling sweat blooms off of me during my run. Hopefully they feel, as I do, that garlic is a perfectly good thing to smell like, but more likely, they do not feel that way.

Garlicky Roasted Vegetable Soup

First, roast your vegetables:
2 c diced winter squash (I used banana squash, which is similar to butternut. I tend to gravitate toward these kinds because you can chop them up, skin and all. I positively loathe peeling squash)
3 medium sized carrots, sliced
2 smallish zucchinis, diced
garlic (I used an entire head because I'm fearless like that. You should use as much as you think you can stand. And then a little bit more.)
oregano and rosemary
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 375. Combine all veggies on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and season with herbs, salt, and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring every ten or so until the vegetables and garlic are soft and golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool if you're not quite ready to make the soup yet.

Assemble the soup:

1 medium sweet onion, diced
roasted vegetables from above
2 c beans (I used a mixture of kidneys and pintos because that's what I had in my freezer.)
2 cubes veggie broth
3 T tomato paste
4 c water
olive oil

Saute the onion in the olive oil over low heat for 20 minutes. The point here is to caramelize them, so you'll be looking for hint of golden color. When you're happy with your onions, add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes to let the flavors mingle.

We had this soup with these olive and onion bread rolls from this adorable blog. I highly recommend them. They were easy and really fast, for yeast breads. The combined rising time is less than an hour! I subbed green olives for the kalamatas, but I feel that was a mistake. I think they need the dense saltiness of a more pungent olive to really meet their full potential. I also used a simple egg replacer of 1T cornstarch and 2T water in place of the Ener-G because I'm lazy. It didn't seem to matter at all.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Roasted Cauliflower

I have a new love, dear readers. It's a funny story, actually. We've known each other for ages. We weren't good friends, or anything, but we would see each other at parties and receptions. I would always say hello, and we'd chat a bit, but I never thought much of her. My eyes were always drawn away to the vibrant oranges, reds, and greens that invariably accompanied her. I figured that she hung out with the more desirable vegetables because she had low self esteem. Clearly, she didn't want anything better for herself or she would DO something about her blandness. Don't get me wrong, I always thought she had a little something special going in the way of texture, but who wears all white every single day of the year? It's kind of creepy when I think about it that way.

Finally, we've had a bit of a breakthrough. When I made a run to the tiny store down the street to pick up some kale for dinner, all they had was one sad, single, solitary head of cauliflower. I groaned, of course, but I would have groaned even more loudly at the prospect of a dinner without vegetables. Basically, she really was the last girl at the bar that night, so I resigned myself to her. I decided to take it as just the next thing in a long line of sad compromises and settlings-for that combine to produce adulthood. Imagine my delight when I discovered that all this sad little cruciferous really needed to shine was a break from the endless parade of crudite platters and mushy, over-steamed medleys. I'm not saying that she's the only one for me. Far from it. There's plenty to go around, ladies. But I'll never again walk by her at a party without winking and telling her she's pretty.

Roasted Cauliflower (the way god would have intended if he existed and cared about such things)

1 head cauliflower (splurge for the organic!)
1/2 c raw pepitas
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Break the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and arrange haphazardly on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and stir about to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir. Sprinkle with pepitas and return to oven for an additional 10-15 minutes. When it's ready, the cauliflower will be golden and tender, and the pepitas will have puffed admirably, like only pepitas can.

I've messed around with this a bit, adding onions, shallots, fennel, and the like, but I think I prefer it just like this. The only thing that kicks it up just that one additional notch is to squeeze a fresh orange over it immediately before serving.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daring Bakers October Challenge

I confess with not the slightest bit of shame that my toes curled with delight when I saw that the October Daring Bakers Challenge was doughnuts. Before C and I moved to California from the hinterlands of Western New York (Hey, Buffalo!), we dreamed of vegan doughnuts. We fantasized. I researched and whimsically plotted. I gazed longingly at doughnut pans in kitchen supply stores where I can reliably be found gazing longingly. I bookmarked vegan blogs that featured doughnuts. This continued even after we picked up our kitties and all our worldly possessions, made the four day trek across the frigid middle of the country, and found ourselves in a substantially warmer place where vegan doughnuts are no further away than the Whole Foods, or even better, any cafe/restaurant in San Francisco that carries the now famous Pepples. Don't get me wrong, the crumb doughnut at Whole Foods is well beyond passable, and the lovely folks at the Donut Farm in Oakland are doing more than their fair share to make the world a better place by making delicious morsels flavored with salted caramel, blueberries, chocolate, green tea, etc. Perhaps the long arc of history tends also toward vegan doughnuts.

In spite of all this, I always wanted to try my hand, and the DBers Challenge provided me with just the opportunity. Though the limitations of the challenge prescribed only that we make doughnuts--fried, baked, yeasted, cake, filled, whatever--I decided to make two kinds. I figured that while I'm filling a pan with hot oil, something I practically never do, I might as well get the most bang for my buck. Inspired by Pepples, I decided to make a cake doughnut with salted caramel frosting. I also wanted to try a yeasted doughnut, so I opted for a traditional jelly-filled, since that had been my favorite as a child. My results were a little bit mixed. The cake doughnut with the salted caramel glaze was truly out of this world. For the glaze, I tinkered around a bit with a few recipes to get an icing with a depth of luscious flavor that has my mouth watering just thinking about it. For the doughnut itself, I veganized the basic recipe provided in the challenge by simply swapping out the omni ingredients for vegan equivalences. The yeasted doughnut was not as successful. When I was mixing up the dough, I thought it felt kind of rough and dry, not at all what I was expecting from doughnut dough! I didn't realize until it was almost through with the first rise that I had forgotten to add an egg replacer. The resulting doughnuts were still tasty, but not as light and airy as I wanted them to be. They were much more like decadent little dinner rolls filled with jelly and rolled in raw sugar. They kind of grew on me, actually. 

These are definitely not the kind of thing you'd want to make on a daily basis, but for an occasional treat they were truly divine. In fact, I just might whip up a batch of cake doughnuts the next time I get invited to a brunch. Since that almost never happens, I should be safe for a while. If it does, I might try making them with whole wheat pastry flour since I really can't imagine it would have a huge impact on the texture or flavor and would make them much less egregious. I think the only other thing I should add about these is that I used sunflower oil for the frying. I'm not including the yeasted doughnut recipe because I'm not yet in a position to vouch for it. If you want it, message me and I'll send it along.

Cake Doughnuts

2 1/2 c flour
1/2 c sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg

1 c non-dairy milk
1 egg replacer (I used Ener-G)
1/4 c melted and cooled vegan margarine
2 t vanilla

Mix wet and dry together and then combine. Cover and refrigerate one hour. Flip dough out of bowl and knead lightly with a bit of flour, just to make it dry enough to work with. Roll out to about 1/2 to 3/4 inches think and cut into desired shape. They will rise when they cook! If you're like me and don't have a doughnut cutter, cut the doughnuts with whatever circular objects you have around that will produce a doughnut shape. I used a drinking glass and the cap from a bottle. Drop the doughnuts in the hot oil and fry on each side until golden brown. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

Caramel Glaze

Melt 1/4 c margarine in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 c raw sugar and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 c plain soy (or rice or coconut) creamer and return to a boil. Reduce to a low boil and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add 1 t sea salt. Allow to cool, then whip in 1/2 cup organic powdered sugar. When the doughnuts are cool, dip them in the cooled (not cold) glaze. I sprinkled them with a little bit of salt just to be extra crazy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Perfect Tomato Soup

Back away from the Pacific Foods, the Amy's, and the Imagine. Though all of these may offer a perfectly serviceable soup when you find yourself hungry, desperate, and extremely short on time, the tomato soup from the completely brilliant Susan V of Fatfree Vegan doesn't take much more time and is soooo much more delicious. C and I were engaged in a bit of impromptu brainstorming as we attempted to sort out what to have for dinner on our first night at home from Florida. When C kept saying the word "soup" with a single-mindedness not to be lightly ignored, I went straight to the recipe index on Susan's blog. When I saw her recipe for Tomato Soup with Roasted Garlic and Seasonal Herbs, I knew I had a winner. And wow. I loved this soup. Susan's stroke of genius is blending roasted garlic with fire-roasted tomatoes. Though the recipe indicates adding a bit of sugar or agave to cut down on the acidity, I didn't think it was necessary at all. I also doubled it, added a bit more garlic, skipped the celery and cayenne, and opted out of the yogurt and croutons she suggests as toppings. I'm including her recipe below, revised to reflect my changes, along with my method for roasting garlic. Don't skip clicking the link because she also includes directions on how to produce your own fire roasted tomatoes if you are averse to the canned varieties. (Also, her blog kicks ass.) We had this soup on a chilly evening in early fall with some cabbage and edamame and a grilled Daiya sandwich. I will be making this again soon.

Tomato Soup with Roasted Garlic and Seasonal Herbs

1 large onion, diced
1 28-ounce can Muir Glen Fire-Roasted diced tomatoes
1 28-ounce can Muir Glen Fire-Roasted crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
2 cubes veggie broth
2 tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoons rosemary
10 cloves roasted garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onion in a bit of olive oil until translucent, then add everything but the garlic and simmer on very low heat for 10 minutes.
Transfer half of the soup to the blender, add the roasted garlic, and puree until fairly smooth.  Add the salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Roasted Garlic

Form a pouch from a square of aluminum foil large enough to hold the amount of garlic you want to roast. Drizzle the garlic with a little olive oil and pinch the pouch closed. Bake in 400 oven for 20 minutes. Remove the pouch and test the garlic. When you can pierce a clove easily with the tine of a fork, put the open pouch back in the oven for another 10 minutes. This shorter, open roasting lightly caramelizes the garlic and enhances the flavors and sweetness. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Madness in Fort Lauderdale

C and I just returned from spending a week in Fort Lauderdale. He was having surgery, so the trip was far from all fun and games, but we did manage to squeeze some fun and relaxation out of time otherwise spent in deep convalescence (for him) and ennui (for me). And as you no doubt are already anticipating, having advanced knowledge of what unrepentant piggies we are, a healthy portion of what I mean by "fun" came in the form of food. The day that C had surgery, our bff Matt sent a lovely package including a dvd, a massive Walking Dead omnibus (which the invalid couldn't even pick up by himself), and some freshly baked treats from a newish (I believe) vegan bakery in Brooklyn called Champs. If I have erred in any of the above, hopefully Matt will be good enough to offer some corrections. Though both of the care packages we received in Florida were ostensibly intended for C, and not me, I was good enough not to take complete advantage of a situation in which he literally would have been helpless to prevent me from devouring all of the pastry's in Matt's care package: pumpkin danish, peach danish, chocolate chip scones, chocolate chip cookie, and rocky road cookies. Seriously, big ups to Champs. Though the scones were delightful, remaining tender even a few days after Matt mailed them to us, the show stealer were the danishes. I took care that we ate them first to extract the maximum benefit from the treat that seemed most in danger of suffering from the passage of time. C ate the pumpkin (or rather, I fed it to him in chunks a few hours after he got out of the surgery center) and pronounced it "buttery and tender, just the right of sweetness to spiciness ratio." I ate the peach, and largely concur with him with one addition--they used real, actual peaches in the danish topping. Maybe it's been too long since I've had a danish, but WOW. I was expecting a sort of peach flavored fruit mush and I got perfectly sweetened chunks of actual peach. Unfortunately, our fatness and the frenzied eating we occasionally engage in prevented me from snapping the pictures that these treats definitely deserved, but I'm including here whatever I was able to get in the few quiet moments before the storm.

How Sublime does artichokes
We also seized the opportunity to indulge in the dining offered by Sublime restaurant, getting takeout one night and then actually going in for the full experience when C was finally upright for more than a few hours at a time. They bill themselves as a natural and organic restaurant, and the whole menu is completely vegan. Sublime is definitely a little on the pricey side, especially for a cheapo like me, but we saved enough money eating boxes of frozen vegetables that I microwaved in our hotel room that I didn't so much mind the final splurge. The decor is really lovely, with an indoor waterfall on one side, high ceilings, low lighting, and warm colors. We showed up for happy hour to make the most of the half priced drinks, and did we ever. I started with the Cutini, a martini made with muddled cucumbers and organic gin, while C had the watermelon margarita. After this round, we shared an appetizer of roasted artichoke that had been liberally drenched in garlic infused butter and topped with panko. I ordered the watermelon cosmopolitan, and C opted for some Patron, straight up. The drinks were all very fresh, and we enjoyed some delightful banter with our bartender, even managing to draw her into a conversation about the economic and environmental impact of the gulf spill. Our idea of a good time.

Mushroom Ravioli

Isn't she beautiful?

Chocolate Nirvana Cake
We had already tried the macaroni and cheese, frito misto (a delicious fried cauliflower dish), and steak burger, so in the restaurant, I had the mushroom ravioli and C got the Shepherdess Pie. I just had a feeling about those ravioli, and I was right on. They were delicate and richly flavored. A light garnish of roasted tomatoes gave them just the right touch of acidity. C said the pie was tasty but mostly potatoes, a bad thing coming from a protein-focused guy who certainly would have liked more seitan or veggie crumbles or the like. By far, the best thing on the menu--in my humble opinion--is the coconut cake. I liked it so much I ordered it twice. Most of the reviews I've read online focus on the chocolate nirvana cake, a dark chocolate and kahlua number that people get really excited about. While I thought it was perfectly servicable, the real magic is the coconut cake. Seriously. Three layer of dense, moist white cake spread with coconut buttercream and topped with a large, buttery, almond tuile cookie. This is a dessert worth risking diabetes over. 

Friday, October 8, 2010


Rocky Road

It would be difficult for me to engage in enough praise of Berkeley's little gem of a vegan bakery, Cinnaholic, to qualify as hyperbole. My sister and I decided to check it out when we found ourselves unexpectedly taking a short trip to Oakland. After a quick drive we found ourselves in what seemed like it was downtown Berkeley--though it was my first and only trip there, and thus, I wouldn't really know. Suffice it to say that Cinnaholic surpasses even my most hedonistic of piggy fantasies. And it's really a whole package kind of deal. The decor is a mixture of modishly crisp black and white and a punk/tattoo kind of aesthetic. Lillies on the counter; Misfits posters framed on the walls. The spotlessly clean food area was presided over by cute tattooed girls with black hair, who were more sweet and patient than my slack-jawed wonderment really warranted.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Preparing our order and ignoring how spazzed out I was.

Beth in contemplation
Fudge Brownie Chunk
In addition to a cooler full of drinks, coffee, and a small selection of grab-n-go pastries, the whole business of Cinnaholic is cinnamon rolls. These perfect, large, fluffy, and delightfully soft goodies can be topped with any of a huge variety of flavored frostings and toppings. For the delirious and disoriented, they have a small selection of specialty cinnamon rolls for which they've already combined frostings and toppings to create specific effects. B ordered hers with butterscotch frosting and marshmallows while I ordered the chocolate chip cookie dough. For our people who weren't lucky to accompany us on this magical adventure, we got a fudge brownie chunk and the rocky road. When all was said and done, I definitely ate more than my fair share, and I found it incredibly difficult to stop eating them even after the last bits had lingered in the fridge for a few days. Truthfully, the only thing that stopped me was my over-developed sense of shame.

C likes to accuse me of being hyper-critical because of my inability to name an eating-type establishment with which I don't have some kind of quibble. Truly, I have wracked my brains before in a vain effort to prove him wrong. I don't like to think of myself as all that much of a curmudgeon. (ahem) For whatever it's worth, then, dear readers, let me just tell you that I have nothing bad to say about Cinnaholic, and that is truly the highest endorsement I can offer. I loved it. 

I need one of these. Right now.

Beth's creation: Dandies, walnuts, and butterscotch frosting

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Golden Squash Bread

The weather has been on a steady downward trend for the last couple weeks here in northern CA, not that it is particularly consistent in any season. On second thought, I might instead blame my romantic fall inclinations on the mounds of pumpkins and squashes that have started popping up at my local natural foods stores, replacing the summer racks of perennials and cut flowers. In any case, my increasing sense that autumn has arrived has been inspiring me to linger in the kitchen over some of my favorite comfort foods: warming soups or stews paired with cornbread or some such baked deliciousness. Deliciosities? Whatever. Also, I’ve been trying to make meals early in the week that remove some of the onus for coming up with meal ideas every freaking day while C is trekking diligently back and forth between where we live and the classes he’s been teaching in San Francisco. Last week I made a very garlicky white beans and leafy greens soup and a pan of cornbread laced with caramelized onions. 

This week I was thinking about chili. I decided to make a mixed kidney and pinto bean, very tomatoey concoction, and I mixed in some chopped up baked seitan steaks for some of that extra protein on which C is so inevitably fixated. Sadly, I had to learn once again that seitan steaks don’t fare all that well when immersed in liquid of really any sort. They just tend to get a bit…spongey might be the right word. The resulting chili was just fine for us, but I won’t be feeding it to guests any time soon. What stole the show this week was the bread I made on the side. Since I had resisted the urge to put squash in the chili—really, I like to put squash in just about everything, much to C’s consternation—it just had to find its way into the bread. I was very much hoping to make squash muffins for a little variation, but at the eleventh hour I couldn’t locate my pans. This development sent me crawling back to the large cast-iron. Supposedly, a little iron leaches out of the pan into whatever food is cooked in it, and this is particularly welcome since I tend just a bit toward anemia in my old age. We were both very happy with the resulting bread. The squash gives the bread a very satisfying moistness and mouth-feel, and the bread itself differs from the cornbread of which this is a kind of cousin in being very light and fluffy. I’ll definitely make this again, and I humbly suggest that you give it a try as well.
I used delicatta squash because I'm deeply averse to peeling vegetables. I suppose you could use any traditional winter squash like hubbard or pumpkin or kuri or whatever. Instead of just cubing the squash, skins and all, you would want to bake it, scrape it out of its shell, and then mash it. 

Golden Squash Bread

1 medium delicatta squash—or butternut, carnival, etc.
½ c stone ground cornmeal
1 c corn flour (alternatively, you could use 1 c of whatever cornmeal you have around)
1 ½ c whole wheat pastry flour
¼ c raw sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 c unsweetened non-dairy milk
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/3 c canola oil
½ c grated vegan cheddar cheese
1 T oregano

Preheat oven to 350.
Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Cut squash into 1 inch chunks and arrange on baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. When the squash is very soft and lightly browned, remove from oven and allow to cool. Mash thoroughly and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375.
In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeals, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar. In a small bowl, combine milk, vinegar, and oil. Allow wet mixture to stand for several minutes, then whisk in squash, oregano, and cheese. Fold wet mixture into dry. Turn the batter into a lightly oiled cast-iron pan. Bake for 35 minutes and let stand five minutes before serving.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Daring Bakers September Challenge

This was easily the most vegan-friendly of the DB challenges in which I've participated. Don't get me wrong--it's not that I mind a challenge. Quite the opposite is true. What intrepid vegan baker doesn't thrill at the successful veganization of an omni dessert? Still, I enjoyed being able to focus on the decorations for this challenge and not fret about the basic elements. The challenge? Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. The theme for the month was September. Basically, I needed to make a basic cut-out sugar cookie, shaped and decorated in the theme of whatever September means to me. Admittedly, I was somewhat stymied initially by my serious lack of cookie cutters and not feeling like making my own. Okay, so I'm not all that intrepid. As I examined my options, however, and considered what I might say September means to me, I hit upon exactly the thing.

My sister has given me more than half of my small cookie cutter collection. I have five, she's given me three. I have a pumpkin, a sort of conjoined heart, and some lips--in addition to the circle and diamond shapes that I got all on my own. Whenever I see these lips, I think of her. She loves Valentine's Day and all its attendant paraphernalia. Hearts, flowers, candy, and the like. She likes friendly things, in general.This September makes me think of her even more because she recently traveled from her home in Virginia to visit us where we live in California. Thus, my contribution to the theme of September comes in the form of lip-shaped sugar cookies. Because I have always been more of a Halloween kind of person--skulls, black, metal, I decided to decorate these friendly lip cookies in a dark, gothy way. I was thinking that the cookies could sort of thematically represent our sisterness, having components of both of our interests.

I enjoyed making these cookies and was surprised at the ease with which the cookies, frosting, and decorations came together. I only had to make one trip a little out of the way to pick up the kind of solid food coloring that doesn't dilute icing. I was also concerned that the royal icing wouldn't harden enough to get fancy with the piping. If the icing is too thin or too wimpy, it would bleed into the other colors or just kind smoosh all over the place. Apparently, the trick to getting royal icing just the right texture is to draw a knife across the surface and count to 10. The icing has the right thickness if the surface smooths itself out between 5 and 10. It took a little bit of futzing, but I was able to achieve the right consistency fairly quickly. My only regret is that I didn't have more than one pastry bag when undertaking to use multiple colors of icing in quick succession. I managed by both washing and refilling the bag as quickly as possible and sacrificing one ziplock to the cause.

The cookies and the icing were both firm to handle but soft to eat. I was really impressed with the combination. I think these cookies would ship really well, even decorated (provided the weather cooperates with temperatures cool enough not to melt the sugar). They look really fancy, even when decorated by an unrepentant amateur such as I am. I found the cookie recipe HERE. I halved it because I didn't want to be inundated with cookies. The royal icing recipe is HERE. I ended up making two and a half recipes, and that was the perfect amount of icing for the cookies.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese--Virginia Style

As promised, this post is brought to you by my beyond fabulous sister as a bit of guest-blogging from the other coast. You can get a visual of her lovely mug by referring to the pic from my last post. Enjoy!

I have been promising, intending, mentally compiling, and now actually composing my bit of guest bloggage for my amazing sister’s Vegan Squared.  No need to fasten seat belts for a culinary dash around the world, get cozy and lean in for the scoop on Macaroni and Cheese Vegan, Virginia Style.  (Note to the more persnick reader:  The recipe is Virginia Style, because that’s where it is made.  If my family moves to the much-more-fabulous BEACH it will thence be BEACH Style.  Feel free to call yours -insert your home name here- Style.  For that matter, please take all due credit for making it up yourself; I don’t mind in the least!)
ANYWAY.  Macaroni and Cheese is important to my family in a way that makes me get all teary and think about baby animals and sunshine.  Really, minus a vegetable, and sometimes vegetables can be unwanted guests at a meal, it is a meal unto itself.  Arguably it can be considered a side like mashed potatoes, but who would balk at a bowl of macaroni and cheese for lunch?  Try the same thing with mashed potatoes…not even close, right?
This recipe sprang from my head one night over the holidays while I struggled with my desire to cheat on my vegan life-choice for a macaroni and cheese fix (the ultimate day-after-MUCH-merrymaking-food).  Additionally, my house was full of kids, who minus the two youngest, had been slogging through puberty long enough their taste buds had helpfully dulled enough to tolerate more than the boringest foods.
I did what mothers do, opened the refrigerator, combed the cupboards, made a pile on the counter, grabbed the food processer and got serious.  As my vision narrowed and a plan came together, this is the recipe for how it went down….

Combine in a food processor on puree, heavy-process mode
          1 12 oz tofu (since it's being basically liquefied, I am pretty sure any type would do)
          1 10oz block of Vegan Gourmet Cheddar—IT MELTS! (I pre-shred it before tossing it into the food processor because it’s so easy)
          +/-¼ cup soymilk to obtain thick, cheese sauce consistency (water, rice milk, whatever works as well)
          1 c nutritional yeast (because it's so AMAZING in its cheesy likeness, but I recommend stealth should any prospective eaters likely be skeevy about eating yeast…..not everyone can be so enlightened.  This recipe works because my husband is always strategically out of the room while I am making it.)
          1 teaspoon salt, some pepper if desired (cayenne is fun, too!)

Fill larger-sized casserole dish with 1 ½ - 2 16 oz boxes of pasta (sized and shape are personal.  I lean toward macaroni noodles, but only if they don’t have ridges on them.  See what I mean?!)

Pour on cheese sauce and mix to coat

Add 1 - 2 14 oz tubes of Lightlife Gimme Lean (Ground Beef Style) depending entirely on personal feelings about meaty macaroni and cheese.  (We like lots of Gimme Lean and I have been known to toss in leftover Smart Dogs as well!  Leave it out altogether if you prefer.)

Mac n Cheese Porn
(Here is where some people might try to sneak in a detestable vegetable, like peas, that always seem to worm their way in where they are clearly not wanted……..  Everyone, it is totally OKAY to skip the vegetable sometimes!  Pea Cheering Section, do what makes you happy!)

Top with crushed chips (Jalapeno Kettle Chips ROCK!) if you so choose

Bake 30-45 minutes at around 400-425

I hope you like it.  We love the vegan-ness of it and its very tasty macaroni and cheesiness of it.  I must add, however, that my younger children adhere strictly to an Annie’s only policy when  it comes to macaroni and cheese (on their off days from omelets, pizza, and veggie burgers……..).  Eat what you like.  Rock on!