Sunday, June 27, 2010

Daring Baker's May Challenge: Pavlova

You've never heard of a pavlova before, right? I certainly hadn't, but that's the fun of being a daring baker. This (originally Italian) dessert is yet another pastry that leans really heavily on eggs. I mean, really really heavily. I didn't count, but I believe the combined recipes for the different components of the pavlova probably use close to a dozen of the things. In a single dessert recipe! That's well and good for the omnis among us, but as a vegan any recipe that is such a large percentage egg presents an even greater challenge. It piques my self-righteous vegan bakerishness that the damned things are so hard to replace! Well, not always, of course. Most recipes use only one or two eggs, and these represent no problem at all. While my final product was delicious and hit the mark in some ways, I was destined to be disappointed in the elements for which that elusive mystery of leavening and coagulant are most sincerely wanting.

Enough preamble. Let me tell you about the pavlova. The basic idea is a baked meringue base (potentially full of vegan fail), topped with a mascarpone mousse (less tricky), and then drizzled with creme anglaise. While the final component wouldn't have been that difficult to veganize, in spite of the original recipe calling for 6 egg yolks, the recipes I found would have added quite a bit of expense to an already expensive challenge. For example, the recipes I found called for coconut milk and amazake, along with a bunch of other things that I don't routinely keep around the house. Since apparently some dissenting schools of thought maintain that the true pavlova must contain fruit, I opted to deviate from the otherwise decidedly chocolate version proscribed in the challenge notes in just this detail. I made a chocolate meringue, chocolate "mascarpone mousse," and used some delicious and local fresh cherries for my topping. I hope the DBitS (Daring Baker in the Sky) doesn't come down too hard on me for this deviation.

The most challenging element was obviously the meringue. As I'm sure you, dear reader, very well know, a meringue cookie is basically a slightly sweeter, baked version of the foamy stuff you have probably had on top of lemon pie. The cookie meringues are supposed to be very light (because they're mostly air), crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside. How to veganize a cookie made primarily of whipped egg white? In some way, I always knew this day would come. The meringue is also the perfect deathblow with which to follow my defeat at the hands of the cream puff from last month. With all my moaning, though, I wouldn't want to give you the impression that meringue is a completely unconquered territory from the vegan point of view. That isn't at all the case. The trouble is that almost all successes have become proprietary or otherwise extremely difficult (read expensive) to attain for the average, unassuming vegan baker. On the one hand, there is this Vegan Meringue Mix manufactured by Angel Foods, of which Hannah Kaminsky offers a lovely review on her lovely blog. I couldn't quite use a box mix for something on the Daring Bakers, though, could I? On the other hand, the most successful fluffiness in the veganverse seems to rely on a substance called Versawhip. This stuff seems to be some kind of franken-technology made from soy protein that manages to stabilize air bubbles in your vegan fluff/meringue/what have you. They must not really want to sell the stuff to us plebs, though, because ordering a meager 2 ozs of the stuff would have set me back $16 after shipping. Seriously.

In the end, I went with this recipe from Adirondack Vegan's blog. I used my pastry bag and piped both small cookies and the larger pieces suggested in the challenge notes. The smaller pieces definitely puffed more than the large ones and had a nice, deep chocolatey flavor. I should note that I added 1/3 cup of cocoa powder to the above recipe. Though I thought they were pretty non-fantastic, C and my brother couldn't stop eating them. They were airy enough, but the outsides were still soft even though they were definitely cooked. I really wanted that meringue shell crispiness.

For the mascarpone, I simply added melted bittersweet chocolate to the "cheese" recipe in this veganized tiramisu. It's been years since I had a dairy tiramisu, but this resulting "cheese" or "mousse" or whatever it is is seriously rich and delicious--the perfect accompaniment to a not very sweet meringue cookie. Since my small cookies worked out the best, I ended up making mini, not quite bite-sized, pavlovas. They were far from perfect, but we enjoyed them. I'm also inspired to continue experimenting with meringue. I'm sure to try any recipe I can find that comes neither from a box nor from the elusive versawhip, at least until they decide they actually want to sell the stuff to regular people.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Beet Bhajia

As I write this entry, I should admit that I'm feeling a bit paranoid about the recipe title. I hunted around on the internets, of course, but I couldn't drum up any kind of consensus on how exactly to spell the name of these delightful, vegetable and chickpea flour-based fritters. Of course, I could have just called them fritters, I suppose. I opted to hazard the misspelling largely because the word "fritters" summons up something corn and flour based, something southern U.S. Bhajia (or bhaji or bajji or bagia, you get the picture) can contain eggs but lean much more toward the bean flours than the wheat. This fact combined with the sort of spicing I opted for I believe places the resulting morsels squarely in the bhajia category. Thus, I take my chances.

I suppose I also could have called these Kitchen Sink Bhajia as their genesis sprang from my desire to use up some of the produce from our farmbox. We always rip through the kale, collard greens, and chard, while the beets and zucchini tend to linger a little longer around the kitchen. I remembered my friend Lizz's old roommate describing to me her very simple method for making some kind of shredded zucchini pancake that sounded really delicious. She nonchalantly rattled off the ingredients and instructions, and I listened with interest, all the while knowing full well that there was no way in hell I would absorb that information sufficiently to put it to use. As predicted, when my thoughts turned to the kind of things--patties, fritters, croquettes--I could make with shredded zucchini, the details of that recipe were long gone. It's kind of like remembering having read a book, but not being able to recall much about the plot. Well, as they say, that happened.

After hunting around for a while, looking at recipes in my cookbooks and checking my most beloved of blogs, I ultimately decided to make a very simple bhajia. As with all fritterish foods, the dryness of the shredded vegetables is of the utmost importance. Really watery veggies, like pretty much everything in the squash family, needs to be drained for a good long while before you attempt to make your bhajias. If you don't count the draining time, these come together really quickly, are extremely flexible, and require very few ingredients. Hurray for that! I will definitely make things again.

Beet Bhajia

3 small zucchini, shredded
3 medium or 4 small beets, shredded
1 small yellow onion, shredded
1 1/2 c garbanzo bean flour
1/4-1/2 c unsweetened nondairy milk
sea salt
ground black pepper
1 t allspice
2 t ground cumin
1 t cinnamon
oil for frying

Place the shredded zucchini in a colander. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and allow to drain for at least an hour. Return to it occasionally to give it a good squeeze. Again, you want to remove as much liquid as possible. When you're ready to make your bhajia, dump the zucchini in a bowl with the beet and onion and mix well. Add the spices and flour, and stir to coat well. Add the non-dairy milk just until you can squeeze the mixture into lumps that stay together.

Form into golf ball sized balls and fry in a small amount of oil for several minutes on each side. You could have these with some kind of raita, I suppose. We had them with a pesto sour cream, baked tofu, and steamed chard.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pizza: Barbecue Tempeh and Pesto-Fresh Tomato

Can you stand it, dear readers? Yet another post about pizza? I hope so because there is more to come! My fantasy of having my open letter to Tofurky generously answered by that same entity came true, and I will soon be posting about their new line of frozen vegan pizzas! My cup overfloweth. Perhaps in anticipation of receiving the coupons for these pizza from the very nice rep with her keen eye trained on Google Alerts, I couldn't help but make my own pizza again last night. Perhaps also in anticipation of getting to try different flavors/varieties of pizza, I decided to make two very different kinds myself.

C swore that he didn't have a preference, though I suspect he was just being kind. It seems obvious that he would prefer the Buffalo tempeh pizza to the more delicate pesto and fresh tomato, particularly since his body-building frenzy makes him obsessed with all things protein. The more protein, as far as C's concerned, the better. In fact, left to his own devices, he would out-protein the most meat-eating person, but would smell SO much better after doing it. Personally, I thought the Buffalo tempeh was really good. The only thing I would change is using more onions. I also think celery would be an interesting addition. If I make the pesto and fresh tomato pizza again, I would put the tomatoes on top to dry slightly during cooking. I would also add, perhaps, roasted garlic and black pepper. That would really put it over the edge.

The following recipes, however, indicate what I did rather than what I would do. Please note, both of the below instructions do not include information on preparing your pizza crust. I'm assuming that you have your pizza dough, divided and stretched into an appropriate shape, ready for topping. This is where we begin.

Buffalo Tempeh Pizza

1 pkg tempeh
1 T Bragg's
oil for frying
1/4 c Franks Red Hot (truly, nothing else will do)
2 T vegan sour cream
3 large shallots, sliced thinly
1/2 c barbecue sauce (I used the Backyard Barbecue Sauce recipe from Veganomicon.)
1 c cheddar style Daiya, food of the gods
1 prepared pizza base 

Prepare your toppings: Toss the sliced shallots with a small amount of olive oil and roast them in a 350 oven for 20 minutes or so. They should be tender and just beginning to brown when finished. Meanwhile, slice the tempeh lengthwise, and then cut those pieces in half. You would fairly short, thin pieces to work with. Transfer them to a frying pan and cover with water. Bring the tempeh to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Pour off any remaining water, add some oil to the pan, and fry until the pieces begin to brown. Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, combine Franks and sour cream. Adjust with either to suit your taste. Add tempeh to the bowl and toss to coat.

Assemble your pizza: Spread barbecue sauce evenly over crust, leaving about an inch around the edges. Arrange tempeh slices on the sauce, then sprinkle with roasted shallots. Top with cheddar-style Daiya.

Pesto-Fresh Tomato Pizza

2 large roma tomatoes
1/3 c pesto, or more, depending on your taste and on the pesto
black pepper
1 c Italian-style Daiya

Spread the pesto on the pizza crust. If your pesto is homemade and really thick, like mine was, simply add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Layer with thinly sliced tomatoes, sprinkle with black pepper, and top with Daiya.

Bake pizzas in a 500 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An Open Letter to Tofurky

Dear Tofurky,

I saw a bit of advance warning of your new line of frozen vegan pizzas on Vegansaurus (apologies, I couldn't work out the permalink for the specific post) recently, but I could barely contain my excitement when I discovered that Santa Rosa Community Market already stocks all THREE varieties of them. I lingered in front of the freezer-case so long that the employees got suspicious. I pointed and pawed at the glass.

I love that they're topped with the ever-amazing Daiya cheese, which is much of the appeal. I could never stomach the idea of spending between 8 and 10 dollars on Amy's one pizza that is dairy free by virtue of simply having no cheese at all. I know not all people are of this opinion, but what's pizza without cheese? Am I seriously expected to get a frozen, cheese-less pizza for more money than a similar pizza with dairy cheese and be happy about it? No way. And, seriously, good job with the Daiya. Follow Your Heart is perfectly good, but for all things melty, Daiya is unarguably the way to go. Unmelted vegan cheese tucked inside an omelet or scattered atop the nicest pizza feels a little like spitting in the eye of God, or some such ungainly metaphor.

Please don't mistake me. I love making pizza. I love eating pizza even more. I love being able to eat pizza without planning hours in advance. Sometimes I especially love eating pizza I didn't make. All of which brings me to this: Hurray for frozen vegan pizza!

To facilitate what is sure to be a glowing review on my budding vegan food blog, I want to invite you to send me some samples of these pizzas! I promise to cook them reverently, share them with friends (well, maybe), and gush about them well beyond the bounds of reason right here. Since shipping frozen food is always a problem, I would happily also accept some pizza coupons in lieu of actual pizzas!

Much love and ever fondly,


Friday, June 4, 2010

Food Tourism: The NYC Editions, part 2

I'm so happy to tell you that I've found it: the center of the vegan "chicken" universe. Please note, I'm not claiming any kind of originality with this finding. I was certainly not even close to the first one there, even among my small circle of friends. Nevertheless, this experience comes with a certain amount of self-gratification. One must be able to both locate and appreciate brilliance. While I'm sure my friends living in Brooklyn or its surroundings are duly smug about their proximity to Foodswings (ahemMatt), I hypothesize that their measure of its goodness might be hampered by that same closeness. Living on the opposite coast entirely, I am humbled at having experienced it: the perfect vegan drumstick. The center of the faux chicken universe. I might even say that this is the ultimate meat analogue.

After sampling the Foodswing wares during the first leg of our trip to New York, we went twice more during the second. Both subsequent visits were driven by a desire for these amazing drumsticks. The sandwiches and fake fish are all perfectly servicable, but for me, it's all about  the drumsticks. What can I say about them? A thick layer of not-too-dense, succulent seitan, breaded and fried, then coated in the traditionalish Buffalo sauce or some version of a southern-style barbeque sauce. Amazing. They deserve much more praise than my currently-addled brain can summon. For you, my dear readers, I managed to exercise enough restraint on our third trip to Foodswings to take some quick pictures before I devoured them.

Before you get too impressed by my self-control, though, I should acknowledge that it was largely made possible by a case of gross over-eating. It is not without some shame that I admit that this final trip to Foodswings was preceded by two hours of Belgian-beer swilling at Spuyten Duyvil and a full dinner at the fabulous Pan-Asian restaurant Wild Ginger. By the time we got back to Matt's apartment, armed with drumsticks and two hours of George Romero's Survival of the Dead, I wasn't at all sure I was going to make it. I powered through, even though it cost me that night's sleep as I contemplated my belly excessively full of protein and occasionally rued the day I was born. Luckily, hindsight is a kind mistress and smooths all such memories into just another hilarious episode of reckless food tourism, which I then present for your amusement.

Above is the lovely, tangy salad that came with my entree at Wild Ginger. We also split some spring rolls and two (count them, two!) orders of their amazing watercress and soy cheese wontons, which are served with drizzles of some sort of mango puree. I'm drooling at the memory.

And, finally, this last picture is my citrus seitan entree. Marinated soy curls flavored with a savory sauce and served on a generous bed of broccoli.

And that's it! This is the end of my NYC travels in food, at least until I can manage to get back. Matt seems to like me well enough, so perhaps... Finally, one shot of C looking like the smug, vegan bastard he is. Can you really blame him?