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.