Sunday, February 27, 2011

Daring Bakers February Challenge

As I believe I've mentioned before, the thing I really enjoy about being a Daring Baker is the opportunity to make things that it really never would have occurred to me to try. This month is certainly no different. On the whole, the genre of "soft desserts" has largely eluded me. I like pudding as much as the next girl, but it isn't something that I think of making. Maybe it's because my mom used to make it for me as a treat when I was a kid. She would always make the Jell-O brand pudding that comes in the little cardboard box. I'm guessing it's mostly powdered milk, artificial flavors, and cornstarch, but I really loved it. In fact, if I may be forgiven a bit of compromising disclosure here, I think I have a story that illustrates in gritty, shameful detail just how much I loved pudding as a kid (or just how much of a blossoming fatty I was even then):

When my sister and I were little, like maybe first grade and kindergarten or thereabouts, she had a nasty flu. It wasn't anything more serious than the usual virus that kids are always picking up from each other--grimy little carrier monkeys that they are. My poor working mother in these cases always did her best to avoid cross-contamination, so that she wouldn't have two sick kids on her hands. Unfortunately for her, she has also made vanilla pudding for dessert on the night when my sister started really feeling poorly. Beth only made it through about half of her pudding before leaving the table. I don't remember exactly if she was feverish or pukey or what, but she was quite sickly. I ate my pudding and was soundly warned by my mother to stay away from my sister's pudding, which she promptly covered in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge, no doubt anticipating that my sister would be wanting some soft foods the following day. As soon as nobody was looking, though, I tucked in and helped myself to several spoonfuls. Of course, shortly thereafter I got sick, and I remember feeling only a little guilty for having brought the illness on myself by virtue of my gluttony. God help me, I could not stay away from that pudding. I think it was butterscotch.

As an adult, I suppose I still have a vestigial prejudice about pudding. I think the only real pudding comes in those little cardboard packages and my mom makes it for me. I'm sure those packages aren't vegan, and I can't remember the last time my mom made me pudding, but the prejudice remains. I didn't claim it was rational. Other than pudding, I did try my hand--successfully, I might add--at creme brulee before going vegan, and I've taken a few--largely unsuccessful--runs at ice cream. This is where the DB challenge comes in. I had never even thought to make panna cotta. Panna cotta is similar to creme brulee except it is traditionally coagulated with gelatin instead of eggs and/or cornstarch. Both are rich in fat. The obvious vegetarian substitution is agar, and I weighed a number of different recipes before deciding on one that used a mixture of soy creamer and soy yogurt. The result? Eh. I thought the panna cotta tasted like yogurt, and the proportions of agar to liquid were definitely off. Panna cotta is supposed to hold its shape, but be soft on the spoon. My panna cotta was like strained yogurt. If I had it to do over again, which given my above ambivalence for soft desserts I am unlikely to do, I would do something coconut based with vanilla beans and way more agar. The second aspect of the challenge was florentine cookies, which are delicious to dip into panna cotta, even an unsuccessful variety like mine. I messed these up by making the cookies too big, which didn't allow them to spread enough to be the thin and crispy sandwiches they should have been. As a happy accident, though, I had to substitute cinnamon sugar for half the sugar required by the recipe because I was out of the plain stuff. The mixture had been kicking around since I made Christmas cookies for my family. The cinnamon really kicked the flavor of these rich, oaty cookies up another level and made them something special. I'll welcome an opportunity to try these again, only thinner and crispier.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sicky Stew

I made this soup for C when he was suffering from one of the many viruses that run rampant every winter. As an educator, he is particularly prone, and his last bout with the flu was particularly long and unpleasant. I've been meaning to take his immune system aside and have a little heart to heart with it because it doesn't quite seem to have the right idea about how viruses should manifest. I am almost never sick for more than three days, and I pretty much always experience sickness in the same general pattern. Day one: headache, chills, aches, swollen glands. Day two: sinus congestion, sneezing, watery eyes. Day three: runny nose and cough. C, on the other hand, experiences these symptoms randomly, in no particular order, and they frequently last for days and days at a time with no sign of abatement. Or worse, yet, and this is what happened with the last, pernicious virus, the symptoms will dramatically decrease or even vanish for several days only to emerge again more violently than before. It's just wrong, dear reader. Just wrong. If you find yourself caring for the similarly afflicted, or you just want an easy, rocking, and protein-rich stew, try this one.

This stew was a hit with C, and like all soup, tends to improve with age. It really is a basic miso soup with the garlic and ginger bumped up to fight off the bugs and a healthy amount of tofu to make it heartier. The result is rich and thicker than you might assume. I love adding kale to soups, so the next time I make this I might add some shredded lacinato in place of the wakame. As with all miso soups, though, remember not to bring it to a boil to preserve the probiotic qualities of the miso.

Miso Tofu Stew

2 T olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced (or more or less depending on level of sickness and tolerance for garlic)
1 2" piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 package extra firm tofu (water-packed)
dried wakame--I used about half of a 1.76 oz package
3 c water
miso--I used sweet white miso, but I think chickpea would also be great.

Saute garlic and ginger in the oil until fragrant. Stir in tofu and add water. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat. When the water is very hot but no longer boiling, stir in about 2 T miso and dissolve. Let the soup cook for about ten minutes, not boiling. The tofu will soak up some of the broth. Check the flavor. Add a bit more miso if want it stronger, a bit more water if you find it too strong. When all the miso is dissolved, and you're satisfied with the flavor, stir in the dried wakame. Cook five minutes more.