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.