Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Daring Bakers July Challenge--Swiss Swirl Ice Cream Cake

I didn't think I was going to have time to complete this month's challenge, dear readers, both because of the overwhelming amount of crazy in my personal life and because of the marked complexity of this particular challenge. First, the crazy. I was spent the first couple weeks of this month with my sister and family in Virginia and North Carolina. There was much delightful bonding and lazing about on sunny beaches. After, I returned to a veritable storm of backed up work obligations, and just barely managed to find my way to clearer metaphorical skies when our friend Matt arrived from Brooklyn for a visit. Lucky for me, and C and Matt and my brother, I finagled a few days to put this month's challenge together. As with the other DB challenges, I had never before heard of this particular (and decidedly decadent) confection. What made it a particular challenge, was that I had to make five separate components to combine into the finished product. Further complicating matters was the extravagant amount of down-time built into this challenge because this frozen cake is composed of several layers, and each must be frozen before the next is added.

The Swiss Swirl Ice Cream Cake is built upside down in bowl, frozen in its totality, and then inverted on a plate for the striking presentation you see in my included photos. The bottom (or top, depending on which way you're looking at it) is a sliced Swiss Swirl cake, followed by one flavor of ice cream, a layer of fudge sauce, and then a second flavor of ice cream. The host of this challenge allowed for a lot of flexibility in terms of variations and flavors, so I took just a few liberties. Because C is always gushing about how much he likes the combination of lemon and chocolate (largely, I believe, due to the Rugelach Rolls I made a few months ago--though perhaps I overestimate my culinary influence in this regard), the Swiss Swirl cake is dark chocolate, filled with lemon buttercream frosting. For the cake recipe, I used Bryanna Clark Grogan's recipe for chocolate swiss roll cake. I was really worried about the cake, and after reading some of the other DBer's results, I find that my anxiety was justified. At least one person who typically cooks without eggs had a terrible time producing a rolled cake with the right texture and taste. I'm extremely grateful to the unquestioned greatness of Grogan in this regard. Her cake was just perfect. The recipe came together easily, and I had no trouble rolling, filling, and re-rolling it after baking. Hurray!

For the first ice cream, I made a blueberry frozen soy yogurt. The comparative lightness of the frozen yogurt proved a welcome reprieve from the richness of the cake, the fudge sauce, and the final ice cream layer. For the latter, I used a rich chocolate ice cream with coconut undertones. Of course, I don't have an ice cream maker, which has always made me steer clear of attempting homemade ice creams. The vigilance required to produce a result that is never quite smooth enough in texture makes me reluctant. For this cake, I did what the challenge host suggested and removed the ice creams from the freezer every two hours and beat them with and electric hand-mixer. This seemed to work fine even though the ice cream never got to quite the texture I would want for serving to people who don't already love me, if you know what I mean.

The resulting cake is something beyond decadent, though I'm happy to report that it is much easier to slice than I thought it would be. I can definitely see making this again for a very special birthday, should I ever have a friend with a penchant for ice cream cakes. This was my favorite Daring Bakers challenge to date, hands down.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mushroom Miso Soup

Along with the fabulous hijiki salad from my last post, I made miso soup. I didn't have time, however, when putting up my last entry, to include my method for the latter, so I'm returning now to do so. Even though, I suppose, miso soup is largely a no-brainer (miso + hot water), I was really happy with the way this particular variation turned out. It is both wholesome and satisfying, healthy and an excellent comfort food. To cut down on the health factor, we had some potstickers to round out the meal. These are just the frozen kind. I can't remember the brand, but I think they're fairly ubiquitous. I really wanted to make some spinach and tempeh wontons, but I haven't yet figured out where I can buy vegan wonton wrappers. Such a simple thing, yet it continues to elude me. I did see a recipe online a few years ago for making your own wonton wrappers--apparently the silly things are just flour and water, but I have yet to summon up sufficient DIY fervor to roll out tiny little squares of dough. So we beat on, valiantly, without homemade wontons.

Mushroom Miso Soup

1 small onion, yellow or sweet
1 lb mushrooms, I used white
2 cloves garlic
4 cups water
1 vegan bouillon cube
4 collard leaves, de-stemmed and thinly sliced
3-4 T red miso (or white or brown or whichever kind you're lucky enough to have on hand)
a few pinches cayenne pepper

In a medium saucepan or small stock pot, saute the onion and garlic in a bit of oil until softened and translucent. Lately, I've been cooking my onions for long periods of time at low heat. The idea is to push them to the edge of caramelization--if not right bloody over into full-blown, lightly browned sweetness! Depending on how much time you have, try to give them at least five minutes or so. Add the sliced mushrooms and saute again, just until the mushrooms start to look like they're softening and releasing their water. Does that sound dirty? Add the four cups of water, and then toss in the bouillon cube. Bring to a low simmer, and let it go for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat way down and add the collard greens and miso. As I've noted before, once adding the miso, do not let the soup return to a boil. The water should be more than hot enough to render the ribbons of collard greens tender and sweet. Add the pinch or two of cayenne, depending on how spicy you like it. Try the leftover soup cold for lunch.  

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hijiki Hijinks

It may appear that I've been rather remiss with my blogging lately, dear reader. I was indulging in a little well-deserved (I hope) rest and relaxation while visiting my lovely sister and her family. Now, post talking, bonding, and flopping around in the North Carolinan surf, I've returned to my little nook in CA and am very much back to business as usual. Though I must confess to being almost permanently uncertain about what that even means. In any case, searching around in my addled brain for a meal I might produce that would be worthy of your perusal, I recalled a package of hijiki I picked up at a tiny story in the minimally famous town of Bodega, CA. As a quick sidenote, and to gratify your curiosity which has been most assuredly piqued by my insinuation that the town in question has any kind of claim to fame at all, I should add that some of the most famous scenes from The Birds were shot here. Specifically, Bodega, California, is the site of both the church and the schoolhouse (I believe) from that movie. Of course, living in this area of the country, we're practically swimming in Hitchcock memorabilia and filmic references, and the little store that is the point of origin of my inspirational hijiki, features a nice selection of framed movie stills, books about Hitchcock, and other such items. I should also add that I hadn't been looking to buy hijiki, or any kind of seaweed at all. I just stopped by, on a whim, as I was driving home from a lovely afternoon exploring the beaches of Sonoma State Park. I just can't walk by a reasonably-priced package of those delicious, dark green squiggles. 

Since I seem to be in the business of declaring to you all of my various preferences for one kind of thing or variety of thing over others, I hereby proclaim hijiki to be my favorite sea vegetable. My suspicion is that I might be mostly alone on this one. There simply isn't all that much hijiki eating that seems to go on, particularly when you consider the relative popularity of arame/wakame and nori, to their various purposes. I really enjoy the slight fishiness of hijiki. It also boasts a delightful texture and is perhaps singular among sea vegetables in its resiliency. By that I mean that it is certainly among the less likely to melt into a slippery unsubstantiality, even when added to a steaming bowl of miso soup.

As far as methods of preparation go, though, salad is really the best way to enjoy hijiki. I've made this salad a number of times, and I never measure anything. The following is my best estimation of how, approximately, to go about it, though I find hijiki both delicious and incredibly forgiving. I inadvertently made enough of this to feed the proverbial army, so unless you have an army to feed, I recommend reducing the portions accordingly. Though a cup of dried hijiki may not really look like all that much, know that it expands to 3 or four 4 times its starting size when soaked. Or just living off of it for a week, which is what I intend to do.

Hijiki Salad

1 small package dried hijiki (a bit over a cup)
1 pkg frozen edamame
4 small-medium carrots (grated)
toasted sesame oil
2 T prepared mustard (I used stoneground)
5 T rice vinegar

Put dry hijiki in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Let this sit for about 10 minutes, then drain and transfer hijiki to a saucepan. Cover with water again and bring just to a simmer. When the water is hot, add the frozen edamame and remove from heat. When the edamame are thawed, drain again, and transfer the hijiki/edamame mixture back to the large bowl. Add the carrots and toss well. In a small bowl, combine mustard and vinegar and pour over the vegetables. Season with sesame oil and Braggs to taste. Cover and chill at least an hour before serving.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Adventures in Burger Management

After C told me that one of his old friends had requested that I blog about burgers, I took up the cause as a very special challenge. My first request! This is obviously the source of some excitement in my very small bloggerverse. It can be lonely out here. The first place I thought to look for inspiration and recipes was Joni Newman's blog, and I'm happy to say that my first impulse was the right one. She has an entire book devoted to burgers, so she is clearly the virtually-resident expert on the subject. I'm particularly impressed by the diversity of ingredients that she works with, and the wide variety of flavors represented by her burgerly incarnations. Because I believe C said his friend wanted to make them at her workplace, I wanted to pick a recipe with some specific (but not strict) qualifications: relatively easy to find ingredients, not too many of the former, not terribly complicated, and easy to bake or fry. I wanted a burger that was flavorful and firm, definitely nothing even resembling mushy.

My results have been mixed, but I've decided to share them anyway. I should add that the "mixed" part of my results have no relationship to Joni's recipes at all, as you will see.

The first burgers I made were her Scarborough Fair Tofu Burgers, so named because, as you can probably guess, they contain parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Lucky for me, I really enjoy the combination of these herbs, though I imagine the base burger recipe would do very well with many different spicings. The tvp- and tofu-based burger was both firm and flavorful, and I think these particular burgers came the closest to fulfilling all my above requirements. The pumpkins and sunflower seeds add a little boost of texture that C and I both found very palatable. I baked mine, though Joni says you can certainly fry them, and I did run into a bit of trouble when I attempted to turn them half-way through cooking. The burgers really wanted to fall apart at that point, but after baking the second 15 minutes, they held together beautifully. I did not cover them with the prescribed foil. I'll definitely be making these again.

Those really represent the bulk of my successes. I subsequently endeavored to make up my own recipe for a sweet potato burger with wheat gluten as the binding agent. Though C assured me that these were good, I thought the texture much too mushy, even after prolonged cooking at a low temperature. Rather than go down that road again, I've decided that truly beans and legumes, rather than tubers, are the appropriate matches for a gluten-based cutlet. I include the photo of this ill-fated experiment, mostly because I didn't photograph the third recipe I tried: Joni's Edamame Burger. Of these final burgers, let me just say that I was really excited about the recipe. I love green food, I suppose, even (or maybe particularly) when the food in question is not necessarily supposed to be green. Everything was going splendidly, and I think I was poised to like these even more than the Scarborough Fair burgers, when I became deeply suspicious that my besan flour had, shall we say, taken a turn for the worse. C refused to confirm my suspicions, and I made the burgers anyway, though largely at this point because I had already mixed them up and, as I have indicated before, abhor waste. What's the worst that could happen? Would rancid bean flour make us sick? Probably not, right? And the burgers didn't make us sick, but my apprehension about them, which manifested as a distinct feeling of unrelenting skeeve, prevented my enjoyment.

Now I feel a little bit like I do in those dreams that we all have where we find ourselves somewhere we're not supposed to be...without pants. If this post has any value, it may just be for you to seize your besan flour immediately and store it properly in the refrigerator. Just because it's never gone rancid on you before DOES NOT mean that you're safe. With all of that said, I'm still looking forward to the next phase of my burger challenge, and I think it will be these. Beautiful, right? Simple, few ingredients, versatile, and (total bonus) green!