Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Indulgences

We're fairly low key holiday people, for various reasons. Adulthood brings with it multiple changes, adjustments, and occasional disappointments, and it's up to us to negotiate this time of year that is both the brightest (for some) and the loneliest (for many). C and I both come from families where the holidays--Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially, are pretty much a BFD. My mother always went to great lengths to make these days special, introducing lots of tiny rituals and letting me (even as a kid) be responsible for planning and making things that everyone would eat. I think, but I'm not sure, that at least some of these early efforts included things like vienna sausages and cheeze whiz. Cuz, you know, I was a kid. Even when I got older--high school and undergraduate college--my mom insisted on reading aloud from Twas the Night Before Christmas. Though I don't follow most of these traditions as an adult with my own household, sort of--it's the economy, yo--she did successfully instill in me an appreciation for tradition and a certain amount of modified ceremony. As a result, I can get a bit persnickety about making things special around the holidays. Mostly, because C and I are such vigorously confirmed fatty pantses, this means special things to eat.

C has some similar holiday issues. I wouldn't call it baggage, exactly, but even after a few years of not spending the holidays with his family, he continuously regales me with tales of his mom's fabulous Christmas traditions. And I've gotta say, that shit does sound good. But again, what he have together is mostly food. For Christmas breakfast this year, I made the much-lauded cinnamon rolls. I've blogged about them before, but I usually make a slight modification of Isa's recipe from Vegan Brunch. I've posted the recipe before, so you could either flip back through the recipes (a feat made much easier by the new blog format), or just buy her book. She's awesome and she lives in Omaha. That is easily one of my favorite cookbooks. And the cinnamon roll recipe is both minimally fussy, very flexible, and consistently awesome. I used half white spelt flour and half whole wheat pastry flour. Our beloved roomie has issues with wheat, so we do our best to accommodate her gastronomical requirements. I also added orange zest to the dough and chocolate chips to the filling, which took these rolls a tick over the limit of what is truly reasonable. Isn't that what the holidays are really about? Violating the bounds of decency through rampant consumption? We're just doing our part. We also had tempeh bacon (by C) and a beet and citrus salad (by D).

After a day of lounging about, reading and chattering at each other, we had a festive dinner. D was up north, so C and I had to content ourselves with one another's company. Not particularly difficult since we like each other. When you have all day to cook something and aren't in any kind of hurry, definitely try this seitan brisket from the seemingly (and sadly) defunct Veganize It...Don't Criticize It! (Who am I to be talking about defunct, though, amiright?) We ate this moist, flavorful brisket heaped with red wine reduction gravy and stewed vegetables. On the side, we had some perfectly cooked brussels sprouts and these pull-apart pumpkin rolls. The rolls were good but not as fluffy and moist as one might hope. This, however, was entirely my fault for using a whole grain flour. After the near-diabetes-inducing cinnamon rolls from the morning, C and I wanted to give our systems a little break. They were still tasty and soaked up the juice from the brisket with great panache.

Happy holidays, everyone! Or, alternatively, happy holidays are over! 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Guest Post: No-tella Cookies!

I am become an inveterate shirker, but here to save the day is another guest post from my vivacious and clever sister on the other side of the country! If you have been keenly feeling the lack of nutella in your life, because your ethics/health concerns have driven you away from the miasma of animal products, make sure to give these a go. You won't be disappointed: 

My youngest daughter set out this fall to complete a NOLS course out west, we live in Florida.  With a very heavy, mommy-heart, I sent her off and knew I might only speak to her at the completion of her term.  (If you don't know NOLS, I highly suggest having a look into it for any newly graduated in your life.  The term has been amazing for her as a human and also as a young woman, but you haven't tuned in to to hear my lustful mommy lamentations!  Please feel free to contact me at any time for those.)  When she called, shortly after arriving, to tell me she would be able to not only make calls, but also receive mail between courses, I nearly leapt for joy, repeatedly! 

Being a huge lover of mail, the UPS Truck, and all sorts of things having to do with correspondence, having the opportunity to reach out to her in that way was delightful.  I wanted to pack her a box of things that she could use, enjoy, but that would not be burdensome to her.  Amongst her group they live by the motto:  Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.  So, what woud be more obvious to a mother and daughther who have shared much connectivity over coffees, cupccakes, cookies, pies, cakes than a box of mommy-baked-lovin? 

Considering all of the above I landed on cookies, being that they are such heartly little travelers and so easy to share.  Everyone loves cookies!  My daughter is a cookie lover from way back and a Nutella junkie.  I began to draft a plan to create some peanut butter cookies made with Nutella, except not Nutella, because it isn't vegan.  Aftert much recipe reading and thinking and stewing (yes, I am my sister's sister, and that shit runs deep) my No-Tella Cookies were made.  I call them mine because I have made the recipe pulling from about eight separate takes on vegan peanut butter cookie recipes, and a few non-vegan recipes.  In the end, it didn't prove to be too difficult and I maintain that successfull baking is all about ratios, sweetness, and consistency of the batter/dough.  Call it cups, handfulls, coffee mug-fulls, or in my case, small pottery bowls made by my grandmother (I don't own measuring cups or measuring spoons, *gasp*).  So, if you are implementing my recipe, please feel free to make changes, swap ingredients for others of likeness in wetness or quality, it'll probably be okay!

In any case, my point here is to share what I planned, what I did, and how it all went down.  Please, enjoy!!!!!

Vegan No-Tella Cookies:

First, make No-Tella

In a double boiler combine:
 1 standard jar almond butter (hazelnut, peanut, whatever.)
2 standard bags semi-sweet chocolate chips
1t vanilla
1 cup confectioner's sugar

The cookies
2 c flour
1t baking soda
3/4t salt
1 c No-Tella
1 c maple syrup
1 1/2 t vanilla
apple sauce

Mix all wet ingredients (while the No-Tella is still warm from the stove is very helpful!)
Mix all dry ingredients
Add dry to wet in increments mixing well.
When all is combined, the dough will be a bit dry and will become slightly drier the longer you have it on the countertop, for this purpose, have some applesauce handy and add as needed.  Your cookie dough is the best consistency when it does not stick to your hands when balling it and yet is not so crumbly that balling it is impossible.  Don't be afraid of adding applesauce as it seems necessary!

I baked at 350 until they were cooked, but I have recently read about baking cookies at lower temperatures to bake more evenly without over-cooking the cookie edeges and would do that with this recipe next time I make them.  These cookies are a bit of the heftier variety and as such, a slower, more soaking baking environment may be beneficial. 

The end of the story is that my daughter loved her No-Tella cookies!  They were also loved by my other two girls who received mommy-packages, my husband, my youngest son (he sits very firmly in the pastry camp with me), and the local rowing team.  I hope that you enjoy them and love them. 

 [NB: She also sent them to your favorite absentee blogger, who also loved them!]

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October Sweets

Who doesn't love kitties, pumpkins, and sunshine?
I've planned a number of things to blog about recently, but not all of them have worked out as well as I hoped. The first one was a pizza-themed stuffed squash, which I thought would be fantastic and ended up not. My brainstorm/flash-of-brilliance/genius moment was the idea to create a kind of deep-dish pizza experience inside the organic buttercup squash C and I bought on a recent trip to the quaint and country-ish north bay. Note, I can call the north bay quaint and country-ish with that bland, self-satisfied air that city people use to talk about rural areas now that we have relocated to the city from that same quaint and country-ish area. Have I mentioned how much living in San Francisco is rocking my socks? Cuz it is. In any case, the squashes looked wonderful, particularly since we acquired them on a honeyed afternoon, strolling around rustic pumpkin patches in the deliciously fall-tastic California sunshine. I should add that C (as part of a bargain the details of which I will refrain from boring you) paid dearly for the pleasure of bringing home a selection of gourds and squashes from that visit. They were ~quite~ pricey, but, again, the price reflected the beauty of the whole experience. This is especially easy for me to say as, again, I was not the one paying.

So, anyway, I hollowed out these squashes and stuffed them with layers of sauteed sausage, greens, onions, tomatoes, and cheese. Then I baked them for....well....too long, as it turns out. Or maybe my error was in not adding enough moisture to the fillings before I baked them. Or maybe they needed to be covered with foil. In any case, though they were entirely edible, they were also a long way from wonderful. You will not get that recipe from me.

Instead, I want to tell you about two successes. Kind of. First, in preparation for Halloween, and after realizing that it had been a long long time since I had done any baking at all, I decided to try Isa's new recipe for traditional chocolate pudding pie. I think I've already spent some time ranting about how annoying I find the tofu + chocolate chip concoction when it is made to stand in for all things thick and chocolatey. It serves quite nicely as cupcake topping or as a dense dessert, but please don't put it in a pie shell and try to sell it to me as pudding (or as whipped cream, because,  COME ON!). Instead, when the craving for pudding strikes, and if you're anything like me, it does strike, resist the urge to buy something pre-made and back away from the tofu and chocolate chips. Back far, far away. Make this instead: Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding Pie. Isa Chandra is a goddess. Everyone should know it.The white blobs on my pie represent my effort to transform this already perfect missive of chocolately goodness into a s'mores pie. I mistakenly thought that melting vegan marshmallows might produce something vaguely drizzle-able if not spreadable. As it turns out, not so much. Might I suggest simply dotting the top of your pudding with whole or chopped marshmallows (or better yet, ricemallow cream) should you share a similar mania for improving upon perfection? Don't do what I did. That way lies madness. And failure. Delicious, delicious failure.

Yesterday was Halloween, and we decided to mark the occasion with some special, Halloweeny candy. After mulling over our options--D wanted butterfingers, C wanted peanut butter cups, I wanted to melt some freaking chocolate over something or another--we opted for creative candy cups. These were super super simple and extravagantly rich. You know, like candy. I'm including the "recipe" here with the understanding that if you google "vegan peanut butter cups," the internet will produce a plethora of identical or nearly identical versions of the same thing. The basic idea is that you melt chocolate chips, spread the melted chocolate into cups, fill with whatever, then top with more chocolate. I'll be more specific for those of you who might feel a little trepidatious about this process and include the sincere assurance that you need fear no peanut butter cup. But also make sure that you have people over to help you eat these. Take my word for it. Anyway, here's how I made them:

1 1/2 bags vegan chocolate chips (I used WF brand)

Line a cupcake pan with standard liners. Put 3/4 of the chips in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stirring well between each one. When the chips are smooth and completely melted, spoon evenly into 12 cupcake liners. Use the back of a spoon or a pastry brush (I did a combination of both and found this process quite messy indeed) to spread the chocolate up the sides of the cupcake liners. Put the pan in the freezer while you make the peanut butter filling.

1 cup chunky peanut butter
1/4 c powdered sugar
1 t salt

Stir well. Remove pan from freezer. If the chocolate is nice and solid, drop spoonfuls of the peanut butter mixture into the bottom of the shells. Distribute evenly and press down to cover the bottoms of the shells. We decided to get crazy and top the peanut butter mixture with either crushed pretzel bits or a single frozen cherry. (The cherry was my own genius addition to the chocolate peanut butter cup phenomenon. Remember, you heard it here first.) Press everything firmly down. Put the pan back in the freezer while you prepare more melted chocolate.

Microwave the remaining chips in the same way. When the chocolate is ready, spoon over the peanut/pretzel/cherry topping. Smooth out as much as you can. Don't worry if the chocolate doesn't completely cover the top. They're homemade. Chill out. Sprinkle with course sea salt and refrigerate.

Try not to get diabetes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yuca Chips

My sincere apologies in advance to those of you unfortunate souls living in the large swaths of the world where this delectable root is unavailable. As a longtime erstwhile dweller in such places, I have many times been frustrated by a lack of access to certain products and items that didn't make it to the shelves of my local grocery story or natural foods cooperative. Now that I live in San Francisco, and it is absolutely everything you imagine it to be, dear reader-living-elsewhere, I suffer from no such condition of scarcity. This ubiquitous abundance has lulled me into a false, but not totally unwarranted, sense of security. You might also call it a certain grocery-related cockiness. It went like this: After thinking about yuca off and on for the last year or so, I finally decided to make some chips as a delicious, greasy accompaniment to nice, salty savory black bean soup--Cuban style. Well, I'm not totally sure it isn't actually Colombian style because every component of this dish is traceable to the influence of my friend tatiana de la tierra. When we all lived in Buffalo, and C and I were super lucky and well-behaved, tati would have us over for dinner. One my favorite things that she made was an intensely garlicky black bean soup, greens, and yuca. Mostly, she would boil the yuca, insisting that the important step was to "shock" the frozen chunks of root by quickly immersing them in boiling water. She would then dress the cooked chunks very simply with  bit of olive oil and vinegar (I think). While I haven't tried boiling it in this way, I did try my hand at frying it into thinly sliced chips. I like that so much that I haven't branched out far beyond it. Perhaps this is a mistake and my kind readers will show me the error of my ways.

On this specific occasion, perhaps because I have walked by the piles of yuca so frequently in the grocery store, blithely certain that it would be there when I wanted it, I had a hard time finding it. I actually had to go to no fewer than four stores before I located it (for 99 cents a pound!) at a little grocery store on Folsom. The moral of the story? Stay humble.  Learn from my mistake, dear reader.

But perhaps I should back up just a bit. Dear readers, meet yuca-->. Yuca, readers. (image lifted from this lovely website). My understanding is that this white root is one and the same with cassava, which we hear so much more about. My friends in Montana are always a bit confused--as I was once--about the difference between this plant and the more familiar (in drier states) yucca (on left). Don't confuse the two. One has leaves like razor wire and no edible root to speak of, the other is deliciousness incarnate.

When I first had yuca, the best way I could think of to describe it is like a potato if potatoes were super-powered and extra delicious. Yuca has all the tenderness and durability of a potato without the cloying starchiness. It truly is wondrous. If you are lucky enough to live where you can find this root, and you haven't already tried it, may I heartily recommend that you do so? As a bonus, if you prepare like I describe below, it's super fast and easy.

Yuca Chips--this barely qualifies as a recipe, I realize

yuca--Have at least two roots to make it worth your while. Trust me, you're not likely to have leftovers!
oil for frying--I used canola, but you could use any oil that performs well at high heat
1 lemon

I know, right? I feel a little silly. Peel the yuca. It will have thick, waxy skin, but it comes away easily enough with a sharp paring knife. Cut off the extra hard stem at one end and remove any dark or unappealing bits. Do I really have to tell you that? Now use your excellent knife skills to slice the yuca width-wise into thin chip-sized pieces. Fry in hot oil until golden and just a little crispy. Sprinkle with salt and squeeze the lemon over the chips. Delicious. Potatoes can go to hell.

Incidentally, I wasn't planning on blogging at this time about the Cuban/Colombian style black bean soup, but let me know if that's something you would like to see. I live to serve you.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Desperation Lasagna

Doesn't "desperation lasagna" sound like something you might eat with Calamity Jane? The two of you could slam forkfuls of the stuff into your starvling mouths and wash it down with brimming tumblers of sour mash. Don't forget to swear. A LOT. I'm not sure why, but this morning I have a bit of Deadwood on the brain. If you haven't seen that regrettably short-lived show, I assure you that you are missing out. After watching a single season, you will doubtless notice a marked uptick in your use of the f-bomb, and you might even find yourself unconsciously mimicking Tim Olyphant's signature loose-and-stiff-at-the-same-time saunter. That's how you walk when you're not afraid of anybody or anything. And, really, couldn't we all use a little less fear? My goal for the day is to channel Olyphant. Not a bad objective, as such things go.
But I didn't name this dish Desperation Lasagna specifically thinking about the Old West, except for the fact that my work schedule has me running around so much that a patient observer might have been treated to the sight of tumbleweeds blowing through the virtual landscape of my much-neglected blog. Never fear, dear readers. Though I have taken other mistresses, writing for other sites, you are still my first love. But I digress. Desperation lasagna is actually sort of a euphemistic name. I also could have called it "kitchen sink lasagna," since I made free with the ingredients based on what we had around. For example, we didn't have mozzarella daiya, which is what I would normally use for lasagna, but we did have cheddar. Thinking about yellow and lasagna led me to sub other ingredients for those of a similar hue. Thus, I discovered that butternut squash and corn are actually quite delightful in a cheddary dish of lasagna in place of sausage and mushrooms. And why not? I already put all kinds of unconventional things in my enchiladas. Lasagna is the next logical step. I think if C could testify, he would tell you that it was quite delicious.

Finally, a note about the noodles. I don't precook lasagna noodles. Ever. In my view, it's a total waste of time and energy. And the no-boil lasagna noodles are a rip-off. Don't bother with them. Regular noodles work just fine without pre-boilng, so save your money for some beer and chocolate. That's what I do.

Desperation Lasagna

1 pkg lasagna noodles--I used brown rice because our new roomie has wheat issues, and I thought she might want some eventually, but any kind is fine. Just keep the quinoa away from me. It hates me.
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 pkg cheddar Daiya or Follow Your Heart cheese (Or go traditional and use mozzarella. See if I care. Or be totally crazy and skip the cheese altogether. You won't miss it that much.)

Ricotta -- Should I be calling this something clever, like "RiNotta"? Oh well.
2 pkgs tofu (28 oz total), extra firm
1/4 c nutritional yeast
1 T, heaping, dried basil
1/8 c olive oil
4-5 minced garlic cloves

Mash everything together in a big bowl, and set aside while you prepare your veggie filling.

Veggie Filling
2 T olive oil
1 pkg frozen butternut squash. (Normally, I would use fresh, but it's still pretty spendy in these parts--not quite yet in season--and I was [as usual] short on time. Sue me.)
1 c frozen corn kernels
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3-4 minced garlic cloves
1 head curly kale, chopped
Thyme and marjoram to taste
A few splashes of Bragg's

Saute onion in oil with garlic until translucent. Add squash and herbs and cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in kale and corn, add some Braggs, and cook until kale is softish and dark green. It can finish cooking in the oven.


Lightly oil a casserole dish.  Open the can of tomatoes and spoon about 1/4 of them directly into the pan. Spread around to cover the bottom in a thin layer. Layer half the noodles on top. Don't worry if they need to overlap a bit. It doesn't matter, and what are you going to do with leftover lasagna noodles? Nothing. So don't waste them. Spoon 1/2 of the tofu mixture on top of the noodles, then cover that with half the veggies. Add 1/2 cup of water to the can of tomatoes and stir, then spoon 1/2 of that mixture onto the veggies. Sprinkle with 1/2 your cheese. Repeat with the second layer: Noodles, ricotta, veggies, tomatoes, cheese. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. This is an important step as it traps the moisture for the noodles to absorb instead of releasing it into the oven. Cook 1 hour and 20 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Distracted Mac n Cheez

As I mentioned briefly at the end of my last post (and I know that you are hanging, trembling, from my every word, dearest reader), I've recently landed a new job. I love the work, but the commute has thrown my cooking (and reading and running and writing and everything else) schedule into a bit of a tailspin. As I struggle to regain my equilibrium and accustom myself to my new work schedule, I hope you will hang with me as my posts slow down a bit. Not only have I not had as much time to write of late, but I also haven't had as much time and energy to cook meals worthy of blogging about. Experimental cooking and baking require a certain amount of space and time to percolate, to develop, to be born into the world. In other words, to be a food blogger or a novelist, as a famous lady once said, requires a living wage and a room of one's own. I'm only making part of that up. And before I have you thinking that my situation is one of utter scarcity, I should mention that I recently made a really slamming lentil soup with whole wheat biscuits, but neglected to photocopy it before it was all gone--or, really, disappeared down C's voracious and extremely charming gullet. I've already threatened to make it again and blog about it, this time making sure to capture the necessary photographs. One can't blog about a new recipe without also posting pics, can one? Is this yet another instance of an area in my life where I am imposing artificial and unnecessary restrictions? I'm awesome at that.

For today, though, I have something a bit different. As I mentioned, C and I are living a bit in extremis right now. I'm swamped with work and driving, but so is he. In addition to all the usual nervous-making business, he's sickish. This magical combination of circumstances led to him slumping over his laptop all day, mostly suffering silently through lesson plans and job letters. When we got around to discussing what to have for dinner, as we do especially when I'm uninspired, C murmured--somewhat incoherently--about how much his sicky stomach wanted macaroni and cheese. As I've mentioned before, we aren't usually pasta people, but we are human; we can get down with some mac n cheese from time to time. Also, I've posted mac n cheese recipes before, most notably my sister's recipe, but the one I made tonight is a little simpler and a lot lazier. This one isn't bad for an evening when you're short on time and ingredients but long on the desire for comfort food.

Distracted Mac n Cheez

1 pkg (9oz)  whole wheat pasta (I used fusilli--personal preference)
4 T earth balance
1/2 c garbanzo bean flour
1 T dried mustard powder
2 c non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond)
1 T marjoram
1 T whole black peppercorns
2 t salt
1 block Follow Your Heart cheddar vegan cheese--grated
1 pkg vegan lunch meat, chopped--I used turkey style
1 1/2 c frozen peas

Preheat oven to 350. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Set a timer for 12 minutes, so you don't need to worry about keeping track of time. When the 12 minutes are up and your pasta is delightfully al dente, remove from heat and drain well. Set aside. While the pasta is cooking, make your cheezy sauce. In a medium saucepan, melt margarine. Add garbanzo bean flour and cook 2-3 minutes over medium heat until fragrant and bubbly. Add mustard powder and stir well. Slowly stir in non-dairy milk and bring to a simmer. Add peppercorns, salt, and marjoram, then cook until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in lunch meat and peas.

Lightly oil a large casserole dish. Add pasta. Grate half of cheese over pasta, add all of sauce, and stir to combine. Top with remaining cheese. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. If this was Cafe Gratitude, I would make you utter the following affirmation before I let you eat it: I Am Comforted.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vegan Buffalo

Legendary Biff's Sandwic
C and I just got back from a week-long trip to visit our BFFs in New York. As always, when we travel, we cut a vicious swath through every vegan food establishment that crosses our paths--and some that don't. While in NYC, of course, we hit our much beloved Foodswings on a few occasions, though we also found time for a few other places. With the exception of one ill-fated night spent at a Hilton in downtown Manhattan, drinking martinis and drunkenly arguing politics with a financial manager named Raoul, I ate really really well. On that latter occasion, I spent the day cavorting--as much as I can ever be accurately described as cavorting--with my lovely sister around Manhattan, and by the time we got around to trying to locate some vegan food in the financial district, we were up to our eyeballs in vodka and oriental snack mix. In any case, while I might tell you a bit more about our fooding adventures in NYC, for now I want to focus on a much-maligned city in the heart of America's Rust Belt (and my former home)--Buffalo.

What you should order for breakfast.
Veggie Wetshoes
I realize that you, dear reader, might not readily imagine Buffalo to be a vibrant locus of delectable, affordable, and easily accessible vegan victuals, and I can totally see how you might feel that way. Nevertheless, stuff has seriously improved in that unassuming and friendly burg. Our favorite place always has been and continues to be Amy's Place. I'd love to give you a link to a page that would capture the bohemian charm of the place, but they are so authentically bohemian that no such page exists. Instead, you just have to go there, order yourself a plate of veggie wetshoes (hold the cheese and sour cream), and say hi to Amanda for me (Hey, Amanda!). They have gotten more vegan friendly over the last few years, culminating (at least according to C and I, but who else would you listen to on this topic?) with the Biff's Sandwich. This barbecued seitan masterpiece is served with thinly sliced onions and tomatoes on a sesame roll with non-dairy garlic spread. I'm drooling a little just thinking about it. C and I always order it with steamed broccoli to replace the usually scattering of potato chips and compensate for the lack of grease and fat (in the chips, anyway) with an order of veggie wetshoes. These are curly fries topped with Amy's signature lentils. If you want to go really crazy you can ask them to add veggies or more seitan to the order. But that's only if you're really really really nuts. In the morning, we get more of the lentils served with veggies, homefries, and toast, along with a side of tofu bacon, which they call sizzle strips. I can't stop them from calling them that.

Finally, though I'll admit to being a little over vegan cupcakes (done and done, people!), the locally owned bakery Dolci makes some fan-freaking-tastic cupcakes. They also had brownies and cookies, which I'm sure are good also, but if you check out the pics of the chocolate peanut butter, chocolate strawberry, and rum-soaked mojito cupcakes, I think you'll see why I chose the way I did. These were all moist, sweet, and flavorful, but not the kinds of sweets one should eat lightly. Half of a chocolate peanut butter cupcake cracked me out, but maybe I'm overly sensitive. In any case, these are thoughtfully made and totally delicious. The chocolate peanut butter is a chocolate cupcake filled with a dense, sweetened peanut butter filling and topped with smooth peanut buttery buttercream and more chocolate. The chocolate strawberry is the same cupcake with smooth, chocolatey filling and strawberry buttercream (and fresh strawberry slices! ftw!). Finally, the mojito is a lime flavored, rum-soaked cupcake topped with a slightly salty lime frosting. There was nothing underwhelming about any of them. Quite impressive. And if the cupcakes aren't reason enough to travel to Buffalo just to stuff them into your face, let me assure you that the service is top-notch. When I went, my good friend Shawnie was working, and he is beyond adorable and totally sweet. If you require more incentive than that, I simply can't help you.

As a side note, I hope to get some more cooking posts up soon. I got a job I really like and am still getting used to the schedule. Bear with me through the transition!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mock Tuna (Chickpea) Salad

In the veganverse, a recipe for mock tuna salad may seem just a touch like reinventing the wheel. You know, everybody has their own recipe and is convinced that it's the best, but we're mostly dealing with slightly modified configurations of the same basic ingredients. Nevertheless, for those of you who haven't yet waded into the fecund waters of mock tuna, I offer my own variation on the theme. C and I like to eat this in the summer when neither of us feels particularly inclined to cook. I make up a huge batch, and we eat it for days. My sister recently asked me if I gave some away to friends when we had had all we could eat. I assured her that she dramatically underestimated the dent that C and I can put in a veritable shit-ton (technical term, excuse the jargon) of chickpea salad. We like to eat it tucked into tortillas with mounds of fresh, crunchy salad. I wasn't feeling super creative yesterday, so all this consisted of was green lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. When I'm more on my game, the salad might also involve things like sliced radishes, bell peppers, capers, and the like. On a similar subject, I think C and I are probably single-handedly supporting the folks over at the Ezekial bakery. Ever since we discovered the flourless sprouted grain tortillas, we've been eating them several times a week. If you decide to bite our style and pick up some of these to go with your mock tuna salad, I strongly recommend tearing them into fourths and making sort of mini-tacos out of them. The flourless thing is super healthy and very tasty, but it doesn't lend much in the bending department.

Also, these directions use dried chickpeas. Personally, I only use canned beans in conditions of duress or extreme laziness or poor planning. For what you get, they're kind of expensive, frequently packed in some kind of preservative, and have the added annoyance of the packaging. Dried beans, on the other hand, are probably the best available bang for your vegan protein buck. Buy them bulk for that extra special feeling of environmentally-savvy self-righteousness and save even more money while you're at it. As an added bonus, cooked beans freeze beautifully, so I like to prepare them in huge batches and freeze whatever I'm not using right away. The next time I want beans, I just grab a container from the freezer and dump them into my soup or thaw them in the fridge for my next mega-batch of mock tuna salad. With all that said, of course you can use canned beans. Scale the recipe down accordingly.

One final note, it may be sort of misnomer to call this a recipe when it's really more of a method. Experiment with other ingredients if you're feeling crazy (cayenne, anyone?) or just adjust the proportions to your own taste.

Mock Tuna Salad--To feed an army (or C and I)

3 lbs dried organic chickpeas
5 stalks celery
2 large pickles
pickle juice (right from the jar, folks)
3-4 T prepared mustard
1/2 - 1 c vegenaise (depending on your fatty quotient)
1 T kelp powder
1/4 c nutritional yeast
4 T Braggs amino acids

The night before, put the dried chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water. You want at least three inches of water over the top of the peas because they swell a LOT. In fact, funny story: The night I was soaking these particular beans, C just happened to be up late and heard a bizarre popping sound. He eventually discovered that the source of the sound was the chickpeas cracking as they absorbed the water. Weird, right? Anyway, the next day, whenever you get around to it or at least two and a half hours before you want to eat, drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a large stockpot. Do NOT use the soaking water for boiling. Cover with fresh water and bring to a boil. Skim the foam off the surface of the water, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the chickpeas are tender, probably 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Allow to cool, then scoop half the beans into containers and freeze for next time. Pat yourself on the back for being so forward-thinking and frugal.

Dump the remaining beans into a large, sturdy bowl. Mash the beans with a large mallet or potato masher or whatever's handy. Whenever I mash beans, I miss our friend Keith from Buffalo who was seriously the best bean masher ever. He would patiently, stolidly, demolish the beans until not a single whole bean remained. I weep a little when I think about how awesome it was. Maybe you have a bean masher in your life. If you do, don't take him/her for granted. Treasure every moment like it's your last. It may very well be. When your beans are suitably demolished, mix in all the other ingredients and adjust the seasoning to taste. I would add the pickle juice last in whatever quantities you desire. Full disclosure? I use a lot. I like the moistness the juice lends to the salad, and I think it can stand in for a lot of the fat that I would otherwise rely on. Just go easy with the juice/vegenaise proportions until you find one pleasing to your pallet. And seriously, you can't screw this stuff up. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Feed Me!

I don't mean to blow my own horn, beloved readers, but I'm a pretty good cook. Not the best, but definitely not the worst, if you know what I mean. I'm convinced that at least part of the reason that people seem to like my food is that I enjoy making it. Whatever I saute or bake, braise or broil, bake or flambe comes from a place of pleasure and love. This is not to say that I have no darkness in my life, but rather that I do my best to keep it out of the kitchen. Still, as much as I enjoy cooking and feeding people, sometimes there is nothing more delightful than being on the receiving end of that transaction. Today I want to tell you about two things I ate that I didn't make.

C and I just got home from a weekend stay in San Francisco with my dad and stepmom. We had a lovely time, and I plan to write a bit about our adventures eating in one of the least vegan-friendly areas of the city. Seriously, to spend much time in Fisherman's Wharf is to forget that there are foods that don't come either breaded and fried or drenched in cream sauce and served in a bread bowl. Don't worry, dear readers, I didn't drink that particular Kool-Aid. (There was no vodka in it, anyway.)

The lighting was bad, okay? It was a bar.
Instead, at the end of the visit, we rounded off our weekend with a trip to Patxi's, the now famous Bay Area pizza chain that has set the universe on its head by making a vegan deep dish pizza. I thought it would be good, reader. I didn't know how good. We ate at the location in Noe Valley while the U.S. women's soccer team was being defeated by the Japanese team. Toward the end of our stay, people were slumping out of the place, with that not-so-subtle air of quiet disappointment common in sports fans whose teams have lost. In the midst of their defeat, however, I was elated. Well, not elated. I was staring greedily, with a thin line of drool linking my quivering chin to my empty plate, at the last piece of pizza. You see, we went to Patxi's with two friends of ours who had already staked the place out, knew the pizza to be as good as it is, and who already had established the baseline limit for how much of it to consume in one sitting. Since it was C and I's first time there, we had no such limits. Perhaps "normal" for us would be three pieces per sitting, rather than our friends' usual one to one and a half. It wouldn't be the first time we went above and beyond. C and I always try to go above and beyond. Fortunately, the 14" pie only had 8 pieces--2 per person. Only shame kept me from diving face first into the final piece, after our friends had made their way through 3 combined.

This the shape my dreams will take from now on.

Our pizza was a whole wheat Chicago style pie, which, if memory serves, is a layer of crust, topped by sauce, toppings (artichokes, mushrooms, spinach, and garlic), cheese (Daiya!), another layer of crust, and more sauce. It sounds good and tastes even better. It ain't cheap. That 14 inches of sheer, orgasmic vegan pizza indulgence cost more than $30. But, wow, so so so good. I've already promised to take my sister there when next she visits again.

This pic is also dark because I was too lazy to move to better lighting.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful salad that C made last night. I know I make it sound like I do absolutely all of the cooking around here, but it isn't so. I only do about 70-75 percent. C may quibble with that percentage,  but last night he made a veganized, super-healthy waldorf-style salad with blanched kale, raw apples, toasted walnuts, Field Roast sage sausages, and avocado. It was wonderful. I'm including a picture just so you know how lucky I am.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bon Voyage Cake

These cakes send the wrong message. These are happy cakes, but they mark a sad occasion. Well, not sad, exactly. More mixed. Our friend Diana is planning a move in the nearby future away from her pastoral, suburban home in Sonoma County back to the bustle and glamor of San Francisco. C and I--much, much, much to our chagrin--can't move with her, so instead we brought these cakes to her going away party. She requested Mexican Hot Chocolate and Red Velvet, so that's what she got. The layer cake is red velvet with cream cheese frosting--both recipes doubled and adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. The Cupcakes are Mexican hot chocolate from the same book, but the frosting is a definite deviation. Here's what I did:

Tequila Lime Buttercream

1/2 c vegan margarine (I used Earth Balance, like always)
3 c organic powdered sugar
1 t sea salt
2 T tequila
1 T freshly squeezed lime juice
zest from one lime

Whip margarine. Add sugar and blend for 3-4 minutes. Add salt, tequila, and lime juice. Whip for 7 minutes or until you are outrageously bored. Just don't get bored too soon, or your frosting will suck and I won't feel sorry for you. Fold in lime zest and adjust flavors as necessary. One more note about this frosting: Use it sparingly. If you're spreading it on cupcakes, like I did, you only need a thin layer. The tequila/lime/salt combination packs a flavor punch, in Food Network lingo, and will easily overpower subtler (read "wimpier") flavors.

Friday, July 8, 2011

World's Fussiest Salad (But Worth It)

An alternative title for this particular salad might be something along the lines of Most Labor-Intensive Salad Ever. I won't lie. As I was making this, over the course of several hours on a lovely summer afternoon, with the birds chirping outside and a breeze rustling the trees, I grumbled. Had the salad not ended up meeting and surpassing my expectations with its deliciousness, I would still be grumbling. Instead, I woke up this morning with the self-satisfied complacency that can only come after successfully crafting a complicated salad. It's a very rewarding experience. And if you have, say, three or four hours to spend on it, give it a try. This recipe makes a very large salad. We took ours to a Flamenque barbecue with lots of people, and we aren't sad to have a little left over for lunch today. There are three parts to this recipe: 1) The salad itself, the vinaigrette, and the spiced walnuts. You can really make them in any order, but do allow time for the walnuts to cool before adding them to the salad. It's also important to let the salad soak in the vinaigrette for a while before serving. It makes it just that much more delicious.

World's Fussiest Salad (But Worth It)

1 bunch curly kale--sliced thinly
1/2 head red cabbage--sliced thinly
1 red pepper--julienne (bust out those knife skills!)
1 cup cooked and cooled wild rice
1 mango--diced
1 pint strawberries--sliced

First, blanch the kale. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then remove from heat. Add kale to the water for a minute or two. The amount of time the kale needs to spend in the water depends entirely on the tenderness of the leaves. If the kale gods were smiling down on you when you selected that particular bunch, the kale may need only a quick dip in the water to soften it slightly and brighten it to that lovely shade of green. If the kale gods were off smiling down on someone else while you were selecting your bunch, the leaves may need to stay in rather longer. Just check the leaves frequently. When they reach the desired level of tenderness, dump them into a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Allow the kale to cool a bit, then combine kale, cabbage, red pepper, rice, mango and strawberries in a large bowl and toss to combine.

Citrusy Garlic Vinaigrette

1 head garlic--roasted
2 valencia oranges
1 lemon
1/3 c olive oil
pinch salt
1 t whole black peppercorns

Squeeze roasted garlic into a blender. Yes, the whole head. Don't be such a wimp. Press the juice out of the lemon and oranges and add that to the blender. Add salt. Puree until smooth. With the blender running, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Toss in peppercorns and blend again. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Spiced Walnuts

2 T vegan margarine
1 t chili powder
1 1/2 c whole raw walnuts

In a small frying pan, melt margarine. Add chili powder and stir well to combine. Add walnuts and stir to coat. Toast on low heat until walnuts start to brown. Cool thoroughly.

Pour vinaigrette over the assembled salad and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Before serving, sprinkle liberally with spiced walnuts.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Malted Cherry Cheesecake

Cheesecake hasn't been the exclusive province of the dairy-eaters for many many years. Not since the first hippie threw some tofu and cashews and sugar into a blender before molding it into a perfect New York style cake have vegans pined for that formerly apparently unreachable. In fact, I think one of the fun things about being vegan is getting to surprise and delight omnis who believe that they have cornered the market of products and recipes that have been available to my kind for practically ages. I've had omnis ask me whether I miss chocolate. (It's vegan, bitch!)* Or ice cream. (Can you say Ice Bean, bitch?)* Or cream cheese. (You see where this is going, bitch?)* And it isn't always omnis who aren't aware of the progress we've made since we left the breast milk of cows for the baby cows, for whom it is a nutritionally perfect food.

All of this is a long way of saying that many vegans have scaled the mountain of cheesecake before me, so there isn't a lot of guesswork involved. No complicated methods or powders. No intricate series of heating and cooling, combined with gentle or vigorous agitation. No super expensive and weird ingredients. In fact, the major downside to making vegan cheesecake is really the cost involved. At the WF by my house, an 8 oz container of vegan cream cheese is $3. Given that the average vegan cheesecake calls for 24 oz of the stuff, that's $9 right there before you get to any other ingredients. Maybe that won't bother some people, but the chronically underemployed (Holla!) get a bit wary.

While you're splurging on cream cheese, though, you might as well pony up for some more of those fresh cherries. Break out your chopstick again, if you were short-sighted enough not to pit enough last time to see you through this next endeavor. If you have any friends just standing around, use your Vegan Domination Card to conscript their idle hands to this critical service. One chopstick, three bowls, and two nimble hands is all it takes to convert a bowl of fresh cherries with stones into one without.

This particular cheesecake is a delightful configuration of three different recipes drawn from different sources and combined to create a delicious and decadent summery confection. I halved the recipe for cheesecake, which produced a creamy layer of just the right thickness and topped it with a lush layer of homemade cherry pie filling. You could, of course, buy a can of pie filling, but that stuff is always packed with chemicals, corn syrup, red dye, and preservatives. Making your own is super fast and easy, as soon as you get those cherries pitted. The malted crust from the genius brain of Hannah Kaminsky ties the whole thing together beautifully. The flavors in this crust are more complex than what you get in a traditional graham cracker crust, and I really enjoyed the caramelly base notes of the malt accenting the sweetness of the cherries.

First, make Hannah's recipe for Malted Pastry Crust:

Malted Pastry Crust:
1 2/3 Cups All Purpose Flour
6 Tablespoons Cup Barley Malt Flour/Powder
2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
Pinch Salt
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Chilled and Cut into Pieces
6 Tablespoons Vegetable Shortening
2 Teaspoons Plain Soy or Coconut Yogurt
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water, Ice-Cold
 My shortened, sloppier directions are as follows: In a large bowl, combine flour (I used whole wheat pastry, not AP), barley malt powder, sugar, and salt. Cut in margarine (I used 12 T margarine instead of 6 margarine and 6 shortening because I didn't feel like buying both) until you have pea-sized bits. Add yogurt. Mix in ice water by dribs and drabs until the dough holds together. Press into the bottom and sides of a 9inch springform pan. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 325 and make half of this cheesecake recipe:

¾ cup, + 1 Tablespoon sugar
¾ cup non-dairy yogurt
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons non-dairy milk
1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
24 oz Tofutti (or similar brand) imitation cream cheese (3, 8oz containers)
 You can halve recipes all on your own, right? Pour the cheesecake mixture evenly into the prepared crust. Bake for about 1 hour. It's okay if it looks a little jiggly when you take it out of the oven. It will firm up as it cools. When the cake is approaching room temperature, cover and chill.

Prepare cherry pie filling:

4 cups fresh, pitted cherries
1/4 c cornstarch
pinch salt
1/2 c raw sugar
1 1/2 c pomegranate juice
juice from 1 lemon (omit if using sour cherries)

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Then add everything else and cook over medium heat until thick. Cool thoroughly.

Spread cherry filling on cheesecake and chill until ready to serve. Marvel at the wonders of vegan cookery and shed a few tears at the blenders full of tofu and cashews that came before you. They sacrificed everything, so that you could have this cake.

*Apologies to my tender-eyed readers for the swears. We just finished watching the third season of Breaking Bad. In addition to being a-maaazing, it has littered my speech with "bitches." Don't worry. It will pass.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fresh Cherry Pie

The universe is a dark place, dear readers. A howling, godless wasteland in which we are adrift, tossed about like rudderless boats among the wreckage of other lives. The howl of a bleak monad on an even bleaker bridge echoes in the chasms of an indifferent world. Given such desolation, we can do better than debate the meaning of ethics in a world without punishment or salvation. We can do SO much better. We can make fresh cherry pie. It's true that pitting fresh cherries is labor intensive. It takes time and effort, and those without the benefit of a cherry pitter will suffer more than those with one. What is this, other than further proof of the way that an indifferent universe doles out its sweetness and benefit? But you already know this. You have resigned yourself to a life of pitting cherries with a chopstick. Of cajoling your reluctant partner to man up and grab a chopstick of his own. Of defiantly resisting the siren song of those bags of frozen pitted cherries, relying on the sweat of your brow to make your sweet reward. Really, in a world like ours, what else do you have to do?

Fresh Cherry Pie

1 batch pie dough (enough for a top and bottom crust)
5 c fresh, pitted sweet or sour cherries (goddamnit! I can't find sour cherries anywhere in NorCal!)
1 c raw, organic sugar (keep it vegan, y'all)
1 t salt
juice from 1/2 lime
2 T margarine
4 T tapioca flour/starch

Preheat oven to 450. Line pie pan with half of dough. In a large bowl, toss cherries with sugar, salt, lime juice, and tapioca, then dump the lot into pie pan. Dot cherries with little chunks of margarine. Roll out remaining dough and arrange into a lattice topping. Sprinkle pie with a bit more sugar. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 40-50 minutes more, or until crust is golden and the pie juices are thick and bubbly. NB: Fresh berries release a veritable boat load of juice when baked. After 30 or 40 minutes, if your pie looks like a lake of fruit juice, let it cook longer. The tapioca thickener should catch up with the liquid and thicken up nicely. All we have is each other, dear readers. And fresh cherry pie.

Also, how badly do I need to re-do my blog design? Bad, right? I know.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lemon Peppery Pea Soup

To be a food blogger of any consequence, one must at some point make a claim for having a dish that "tastes like summer!" Such a dish inevitable relies heavily on seasonal produce, sometimes fresh herbs, and almost always lemon. I'm not without my own sentimental streak about such things. When I decided to make pea soup, I consciously wanted to create something that would taste like sunshine and leisurely afternoons, though I have had neither of these for a while. And c'mon! Pea soup should at least make the short list for foods that can be justifiably described synaesthesiastically (new word!) as "summer." What I came up with actually tasted more wintery to me, perhaps due to my heavy-handed use of pepper. I didn't mess up, dear readers, I've just really been feeling the peppercorns lately. I also decided to leave half the peas whole, which is a bit unconventional in a blended vegetable soup. The extra texture was welcome, particularly after C proclaimed his (hitherto unknown) disinclination for smooth soups. I can kind of see where he's coming from. I think the critical factor in smooth soups, aside from flavoring (duh) is consistency. Too thin, and they're unpleasantly watery. Too thick, and, well, "blorf" is the word that comes to mind. "Babyfood" is another.

I'm sure I will play with this soup more with time, but this recipe is a good baseline. I really like the lemony peas laced with the smokey zing of pureed peppercorn. I wouldn't call it the "ultimate" or even "penultimate" soup of summer, but it fits neatly into the sort of gloomy, lingering Spring we've been enjoying in Northern California. Consider making this on a chillier-than-usual summer day, or a warmer-than-usual day in winter. I love a good contradiction.

Lemon Peppery Pea Soup

2 (16 oz) bags frozen peas (I know fresh would have been better, but they tend to be a) more expensive, and b) more work than I could handle on this particular day. By all means, use fresh.)
1 small Vidalia onion, diced
1-3 t whole black peppercorns (depending on your tolerance of/love for pepper)
3 c water
1 cube broth
2 T dried dill
1 T dried basil
10 fresh mint leaves, chopped
juice from one lemon
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, saute onion in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Add one bag of peas, herbs, and peppercorns and cook for 5 minutes. Don't let it stick!. Dump the peas/onion/pepper mixture into a blender or food processor. Add 2 cups of the water and blend until smooth. Return to pan. Add final cup of water and remaining ingredients. Cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes, adjusting seasonings as necessary. If you're one of those people who can't abide a pureed soup without a swirl of some kind of dairy analog, by all means add a dollop of soy yogurt or sour cream before serving.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vegan in Bulgaria

I already blogged about my food experiences in Eastern Europe over at Vegansaurus, much to my delight, so now I just want to share some of my favorite pictures from the trip. Though it may betray a certain naivete about the way that teh internets work, I'm disinclined to post these photos on facebook. I am actually disinclined in general to post any pictures to facebook, though I realize this is minority opinion. I'm not criticizing those folks; it's just not my way. Instead, I want to showcase just a few of the best ones here, so that my friends and loved ones and anyone interested who follows my blog can check them out. If you don't already read Vegansaurus--I'm a guest blogger now!--you should check out my pics below and then head over to their site. Now to the pics. And bear in mind that I was there for two weeks and visited five cities. As a photographer, I am the very soul of restraint.

View from our hotel in Bansko.

Could this scene look any more Eastern European? Oh, except for me standing there.

The central square fountain in Plovdiv.

Coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. I actually know how to order this in Bulgarian.

Underground ruins in Plovdiv. I framed this shot carefully, so you can't see all the cigarette butts, plastic bags, and soda cans.

A very old ampitheater, also in Plovdiv, where they still have live performances. Not when we were there, obviously, unless you count a random American girl who belted out "Amazing Grace" while standing on the stage.
A guy selling nuts outside the Bachkovo Monastery. If you're familiar with Elizabeth Kostova's novel, The Historian, then you've read about this place. I couldn't get a good shot of the monastery itself because they don't allow photography inside the walls, so just imagine some Eastern Orthodox priests milling around behind me, carrying incense and chanting. It WAS Easter, after all.

After a long day of walking, I found a little peace at this bar with a lovely, completely empty, lilac-surrounded beer garden. I don't think my picture really captures the soft, filtering sunlight, and it definitely doesn't capture the bird sounds and the gentle, lilac-scented breeze.  It really was a little piece of heaven.

So....why do they call it the Black Sea? This is the beach in Burgas (sometimes spelled Bourgas). It was much chillier on the coast than further inland, which seemed a little counter-intuitive to people from a mountain state in the U.S. In the summer, by all accounts, this place is slamming with tourists and locals.

When you see a statue of Pushkin, you take a picture of it. I don't make the rules.

Downtown Burgas. It was drizzly for most of the time we were there, but the town was lovely.

The valley and fortress of Tsaravets in Veliko Turnovo. Impressive, right?

Pirouetting on castle turrets can be hazardous to your health.

Ruins, fortress, blah blah blah.

The Bulgarian peasants were extremely grateful to their Soviet liberators. 

That's it! Well, not really. I have loads more pics, but I tried to choose judiciously. My next post will be about food. I promise.