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!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cherry-Cherry Cake

Consider this an interim post, dear readers. I know I've fallen off a bit lately. Part of the reason for this is that I've started another blog with two of my nearest and dearest. Don't worry. I'm not cheating on you. This other mistress is a politics and culture blog where we rant about horror films and television shows and Baby Boomers and Glenn Beck and comic books and and get the picture. So if you're feeling like this blog is simply not meeting your personal quota of my commentary and general sassiness,  head over to Bullypulp for your fix in a slightly different context. Other than that excuse/disclaimer, I have only food porn to offer you today. As I indicated in my last post, I have two new recipes in the queue, one of which comes from my sister Beth. She's promised me a guest post on her vegan mac n' cheeze. I'll also be posting my Daring Bakers challenge results on the 27th (and not a day before!), so there's some stuff to look forward to.

My sister just visited C and I from Virginia, and her visit was the occasion of much foodiness. We're such piggies that you really need only nudge us and we'll trundle you along to the nearest vegan sandwich/ice cream/doughnut. She arrived shortly after her birthday, so while she was here I made sure to make her a cake of her very own flavor specifications. Being mildly fruit-oriented, she asked for either orange or cherry. Since I have before made a strawberry cake to great success, I opted to try the latter by simply substituting cherry analogues for the strawberry ingredients in the original recipe. Because kittee is a completely brilliant baker and recipe writer, the cake was wonderful even with my considerable interference. It was so good that I'm hoping someone will ask me for an orange birthday cake, so I can see how it turns out with a more citrus-y flare. Go ahead, ask me. (Seriously, folks, if you need a cake recipe, you need look no further than the source blog of the link above. She's amazing.) Though I think Beth had originally requested a basic, vanilla buttercream for the frosting (she was adamant that it not be cream cheese), I couldn't resist making the cake cherry-cherry by adding a bit of the cherry extract to the frosting and dying it a lovely pink to match the cake. Then I topped the whole thing with piped stars and frozen cherries. My piping skills undoubtedly leave much to be desired, but I muddle along. I'm happy to say that a short three days later, with much help from my ever-accommodating brother, the cake is gone.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Millet Polenta

As tasty as this meal was, I'm afraid it commits the sin of being more than a hair too monochromatic. After I plated it up, I thought about a story our friend D likes to tell about her mother's all-yellow meal. Apparently it was a thing. This isn't quite all yellow, and it was very tasty, but I don't know that I'll again serve millet and cauliflower together! I've written before about my love for millet. That is well-established. It is by far my favorite grain, though *alas* it is my second choice. I had a short but torrid fling with quinoa before she dumped me. I spent two long, sleepless nights rocking on the couch with a horrible stomachache before I decided that the feeling was mutual. If quinoa hated me so much, I would console myself in the warm and welcoming arms of  almost-as-nutritious and equally sexy millet. One of the benefits to being a millet girl is getting to discover the flexibilities of this grain. Though I usually just cook it up and stir in some caramelized onions before serving it with some greens and a protein of some sort, I also like to soak it, blend it, and make waffles with it. Well, I used to make waffles before my waffle iron followed quinoa's lead and broke up with me. Now I either make millet pancakes or millet waffle fragments. We eat the latter in piles, which is still tasty but lacks something in the looks department. Also, you totally can't spread vegan margarine on waffle fragments.

Traditional polenta always strikes me as such a weird food. Though I like the flavor of the savory cornmeal concoction, I get a little turned off by its texture when served as a soft, pudding kind of thing. I prefer it when it has been pressed into a log or a loaf and then sliced. To make it even tastier, the slices can then be fried in a bit of oil and served with some kind of sauce or pesto or vegan cheese. Of course, I'm not the first person to make millet polenta. A quick google search for millet polenta returns a lot of results. There's one in Vegan with a Vengeance that uses sundried tomatoes and spinach, I think. When I decided to attempt it, though, I knew I wanted to go super simple. I like millet so much that I don't want a lot of other flavors to get in the way. This very basic millet polenta is delicious and savory on its own. You can even eat the slices and skip the frying part all together if you're feeling averse to the extra fat. C and I both enjoyed the slightly crisped slices of polenta, which I topped with a flavor-packed mushroom and caramelized onion tomato sauce.

Basic Millet Polenta

1 cup millet
3 1/2 cups water
1 vegan bouillon cube

Boil the water in a medium saucepan. Add the millet and bouillon and return to a boil. Cover and let cook for about 30 minutes, checking frequently after 20. When the water has all been absorbed, remove the millet from the heat and allow to cool slightly. When you can touch the grains without wanting to die, scoop it into a loaf pan. Press the millet down evenly and firmly. Refrigerate for an hour or so. The millet wants to set up. It doesn't need much convincing. Ten minutes before you want to eat, loosen the sides of loaf from the pan and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into 1/2 inch slices and fry lightly in a large skillet. Top with sauce, or not, and enjoy.

Roasted cauliflower recipe is forthcoming. I've been making it quite a bit and trying to nail down the perfect combination of seasonings. Consider it something to look forward to, along with the September Daring Bakers Challenge and my sister's very special guest blog about vegan macaroni and cheese!