Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chocolate Coffee Crunch Cake

As part of my long-standing family tradition, I honor all requests for birthday cakes to the letter. When I was growing up, my mom would make every member of my nuclear family (there weren't all that many of us) whatever kind of cake we wanted...from scratch. The scratch part is important because the rest of the year it was all cake mixes and pre-packaged sorts of deals. I don't mean to talk smack about the whole pre-fabricated cake phenomenon. Now that I'm all grown up and just a bit handy in the kitchen, it strikes me that those boxes really save very little work. Like I told my sister a while ago, if you have flour, sugar, oil, baking soda/powder, water, and vanilla, you have a cake. Obviously some cakes are more complicated, but the basic principle holds. I suppose the mixes save a bit of time and measuring, but that's about it. I tend to prefer the greater flexibility and options involved with the little extra effort of baking from scratch, especially since basic recipes--like the one I made for C's birthday this year--are so completely simple. Though I may be personally leaning toward pie (in the epic struggle between pie and cake), birthday cakes are really one of my absolutely favorite things to bake. 

This cake, which we tentatively dubbed the Chocolate Coffee Crunch Cake, was dreamed up by a pair of vegan piggies as we engaged in a bit of brainstorming to come up with the perfect idea for a cake to celebrate his 32nd birthday. The chocolate was kind of inevitable. What IS IT  with people and chocolate cake? I am positively giddy on the rare occasions when people request Cherry Cake (like my sister) and Strawberry Cake (like our friend Lizz). I doubled the recipe for basic chocolate cake from VCTOtW and flavored the basic buttercream recipe with coffee extract. This cake really hinged, though, on the toffee. Though I have long gazed fondly from the sidelines, I haven't ventured much into the field of candy-making. This was the first recipe I've ever made where I didn't feel comfortable shrugging off the direction to heat to some specific temperature. Candy making seems to be all about precision, so I gleefully selected a candy thermometer and set to work. Thanks to the pioneering work and self-sacrifice of The Vegan Table, toffee is a confectionery delight that is well within an enterprising vegan's reach. That deceptively simple recipe, and the whole fabulous blog, can be found here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Souley Vegan Wants to Kill Me

And I'm really not complaining. I can think of many many ways to die that would be worse than asphyxiating under a pile of southern fried tofu and potato salad. So can you, I imagine. These photos are from our second trip to this haven of greasy fried goodness in its unassuming Oakland location. I always worry when I visit a great restaurant for the second time that my good experience won't be replicated. In this instance, I particularly had some niggling--and totally unwarranted, as it turns out--doubts about my memory of what I had been proclaiming near and far to be the best potato salad in the world.

Barbecued tofu with potato salad
Southern fried tofu, collards, and potato salad
Southern fried tofu, biscuit and gravy, potato salad, peas.
Souley Vegan treats customers to a very laid back atmosphere. You walk in, order your food from the very nice lady at the front counter, pay, and then wait for your food to brought to you. The inside of the place is sunny and clean, and food is ordered by the item. Basically, you can get one item for $6 and pay $2 for each additional item. If you're an unapologetic newbie and want to try a little of everything, you can get a heaping sampler platter of just about every dish for $19 to which you can add red beans and rice and pile of fried okra for an additional $6. We went that way the first time we ate at Souley Vegan, but this time we were much more focused in our attentions. C ordered some okra to split with Matt, and they got it all to themselves because Diana and I don't have much to do with the stuff. Slimy, folks. Slimy. C also ordered the barbecued tofu, which comes smothered in an earthy, darkly sweet sauce. Matt, Diana, and I all opted for the southern fried tofu, a starchy-proteiny offering that the menu describes as better than fried catfish. I love me some fake fish, dear reader, and while this particular tofu isn't doing much in the way of trying to taste fishy, it is delicious. Imagine thick, marinated slabs of tender tofu generously breaded in a delectable, peppery cornmeal crust. The only item that I was not so impressed by was the biscuit and gravy that Matt ordered. The truth about this may well be that I'm a biscuit snob (add it to the list of ways in which my nose is permanently in the air), but I found the texture too cakey for my taste. I think a biscuit should be dense and flaky, and this was like a slightly savory muffin. Tasty, but not biscuity.

 We all got the potato salad, and Matt ordered black-eyed peas while Diana and I both picked the sauteed collards. And have I mentioned how amazing the potato salad is? Because it is. Amazing. Tangy and creamy, but not overly saucy. In general I'm underwhelmed by potato salad, and as I've stated, would generally rather save my carbs for sweets and liquor. This absolutely does not apply to the potato salad at Souley Vegan. It's a damned good thing I don't live in Oakland.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Meat" Balls

I experiment with faux meat, dear readers, so that you don't have to. I wouldn't go so far as to call my experimenting selfless, but you may do so if you think it's appropriate. I could hardly stop you. As I think you've gleaned over the last year of my bloggage, C and I are not big pasta eaters. Personally, I prefer to save my carb calories for sugar: fermented or otherwise. I'll skip the linguini, but please pass the beer and the truffles! I'll forego the fusilli, but don't withhold the martinis and chocolate mousse. You can see where I'm going with this, right? On occasion, though, I want to eat something that I can twirl up with my fork. Something slathered in a tangy, chunky marinara. Something piled with "meat" balls. Just as I discovered--after going vegan--that the main draw of my once beloved caprese salad was actually the salted fresh tomatoes with basil (and not, in fact, the fresh mozzarella), I more than enjoy a plate of spaghetti and meatballs without the spaghetti (and, obviously, without the meat). I swap the pasta out with the much-maligned spaghetti squash (so easy, so quick, so good for you!), and the meatballs with "meat" balls.

Before experimenting with the recipe I'm including in this post, I had restricted myself out of laziness to the Veganomicon recipe for beanballs. While I still like these and find them both savory and quite palatable, they never really scratched my itch for "meat" balls. Isa and Terry came up with something very special in their now famous chickpea cutlets, but I just don't think the formula extends well to a mock-up of those savory balls of beefy death that people enjoy with their pasta. Though vegandad has a meatball recipe that uses tempeh,and I'm interested in trying it, I've recently had great success in making some adaptations from the recipe in the New Farm Cookbook. Since I picked up an extra big spaghetti squash, we had ample "pasta" for two nights. Each recipe makes 36 balls, but because C and I are such piggies for protein, we pretty much made our way through an entire batch each night. If you feel nauseous thinking about it, you are most certainly not alone. We DID have leftovers, though, so let that mitigate your derision, however slightly. The main reason I made these twice, though, is because I thought the seasoning in the original recipe was wildly insufficient. The second night, we amped it up a bit, and I'm posting the recipe with my changes. These are super fast to make and quite tasty, as all fried things are.

2 c dry tvp
1 cube beef-style broth
1 3/4 c boiling water
1 small onion
3 T olive oil
2 T Braggs
2 T oregano
black pepper
1 t garlic powder
1/2 c whole wheat flour
oil for frying--I used canola

Dissolve broth cube in boiling water. Pour over the tvp and stir briefly. Allow to rest for 10 minutes to rehydrate. Meanwhile, dice and saute the onion in the olive oil. When the onion is translucent, stir in the herbs and garlic, drizzle with Braggs, and cook a few minutes more. Stir onion and flour into soaked tvp. Stir rigorously for a minute or so to develop the gluten. Form into 1 inch balls and fry until brown.

Incidentally, I realize that this post represents a betrayal of my pledge to my squash-hating readers to refrain from posting about two squash dishes in a row. I apologize for this and suggest that you selectively edit to make this post less offensive. Every time you see the word "squash" simply substitute it in your brain with something else, like "sunshine" or "pumpernickel." If it works for the great masterpieces of canonical American fiction, why not my humble food blog?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Baked Squash Stuffed with Brown Rice, Cashews, and Mushrooms

We've talked about this, right? If you've not already started taking serious advantage of the heaps of succulent winter squashes piled in and around your local natural foods store, then I have to infer that you haven't been paying attention. Or that you live in a winter-squash-free zone. Wait. Are there winter-squash-free zones? I hope not. *shudder* Or that you share my beloved sister's unfortunate aversion for all things gourd-like and answering to the name that rhymes with "quash." To her, and those of her ilk, I apologize for this blog entry. It is not for you, gentle squash-haters. And to you I promise that my next blog post will be, like those fictive (I hope) zones I worried about above, entirely squash free.

For my part, I can't resist them. It is always with a bit of sadness that Spring finds me lingering a little mournfully in front of the steadily dwindling piles of winter squash. Maybe the kabochas vanish first, then the red curry, the carnivale, the turban, the hubbard, the delicatta, the acorn (Actually, the acorn can leave whenever it wants. I can't abide by a squash that I'd rather die than peel. Have you seen those things?). Finally, we're left with a small collection of anemic, watery spaghetti squash that aren't worth buying. But there's enough time to mourn what hasn't yet come to pass for the year, now we should eat squash!

The following recipe is a successful version of a stuffed, baked squash that I attempted last winter. On that occasion, I underestimated the needed liquid levels and the baking time, and let me just say that it was...unsuccessful. C, bless his heart, claims not to remember it. But I do. This time it turned out the perfect combination of savory stuffing, meaty mushrooms, toothsome cashews, and sweet squash flesh. I used a baby hubbard, but I think you could use any of the hard skinned varieties. Really, this recipe is more method than anything else. I'll definitely be making something similar before that bittersweet and inevitable day arrives, heralding the arrival of strawberries and the departure of the winter squash.

Baked Squash Stuffed with Brown Rice, Cashews, and Mushrooms

1 medium winter squash

Slice a thin disk off the bottom of the squash to give it a base. This prevents it from rolling around on your baking sheet. Cut the top off, much as you would a jack-o-lantern. You want a large enough hole to easily clean and stuff the squash. Clean out the seeds and stringy fibers and set aside.

1 c uncooked short grain brown rice
2 t unchicken broth paste (or 1 cube)
2 c water

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for 45-50 minutes until the rice is cooked. While it's cooking, make the rest of the stuffing.

1 medium yellow onion
2 c (about 1/2 lb) sliced crimini mushrooms
sea salt
black pepper
1 c raw cashews

Saute onion until translucent. Add mushrooms and cook until soft. Season as desired, then remove from heat. When the rice is done, add it to the mushrooms, along with the cashews, and stir well.

Preheat oven to 400. Spoon filling into squash, pressing down with your spoon to pack it. Replace the top of the squash and bake for about an hour. The squash is done when a fork can easily pierce the outside shell. A word of caution: Overcooked squash is by far preferable to undercooked. So when in doubt, give it ten more minutes.