Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Short Cupcakes with Whipped Coconut Cream

I have been dying to try one of Chef Chloe's recipes since seeing her whoop the butter right out of the Food Network's Cupcake Wars.  It was such an inspiration to see a vegan being highlighted on such a meat-centered network.  I had been wanting to make her Raspberry Tiramisu cupcakes that won, but I didnt' want to go to the store and buy amaretto and raspberries.  My garden will be full of raspberries in another month.  So, I decided to mix it up a bit and take a little from here and there and put my own twist on it.

Let me just say that although there is no orange in the title of this recipe, orange is a key component to the flavor of this cupcake.  Just like the PPK girls think raspberries and chocolate should get married and have beautiful little raspberry chocolate deserts, I think orange and rhubarb are soul mates.  Their love is sercret love though, due to the well-established relationship between rhubarb and strawberries.  I'm not trying to break up a happy home, I just think a third party really spices things up.

For this cupcake I used Chef Chloe's vanilla cupcake recipe from her Rapsberry Tiramisu cupcake.  I also added about a half teaspoon of valencia orange zest to the batter.  While the cupcakes were baking, I made my strawberry rhubarb filling (with orange).

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
2 stalks rhubarb finely chopped
5-6 strawberries finely chopped
the juice and zest of half an orange (I used whatever zest was left after I had added a tiny bit to my batter)
1 cup sugar (I could have used less, I realized after tasting, but it's still tart enough)
1 Tbsp cornstarch

I mixed this all and cooked over medium high heat until it was bubbly and gooey and then simmered it a bit longer.  I used a wooden spoon to stir it, and while I don't know that this is a crucial element, I kind of feel like it might be.  I set it on the back porch to cool and took my cupcakes out to join it.

While things were cooling out back, I made the whipped coconut cream from Chef Chloe's Berry Cobbler  recipe.  I would strongly recommend using one of the brands of coconut milk she suggests.  Mine didn't have a thick cream on top so I had to fiddle with freezing it and such to harden it up so it would get fluffy-ish.  I'm sure it works if you do it right, and the flavor was awesome anyway.

For the assembly, I used a grapefruit spoon to scoop a little hole out of the top and saved my scooped out part.  I filled each cavity with jam and had a little jar left over for toast.  Then I placed the removed part back on top and topped the whole thing with whipped coconut cream.  I served it in an ice cream dish without the wrapper and we ate it with a fork.  So fancy-like, the person you share them with will feel so special (bonus if you cut a strawberry slice to look like a heart and put it on top).

Bread Pudding: Really? I Love This?

I vaguely remember not liking bread pudding as a child, so I figured that was probably still true.  But I got this great loaf of cinnamon raisin bread at the farmer's market last week, and after one round of fantastic French toast, I really wanted to make bread pudding with the rest.  I figured, it would be French toasty, but also like a spongey cake.  MMMmmmm...  It was heaven.

Here's how I made it:

half of a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread, cut into cubes (the bread I had was already pretty dry, but you could dry it out if you have moist bread to start with)

1 cup soy creamer (I know, right?)
1 1/3 cups soy milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla

2-3 Tbsp Earth Balance butter
about 3 Tbsp maple syrup
1/4 raisins (I recently discovered the O Organics brand from Carrs/Safeway that come in the ziplock package are the juiciest raisins I've ever had)\
Cinnamon for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 10 by 10 pan (I use spray coconut oil and it works great for nonstick and doesn't leave a strong flavor).  Toss cubes of bread into pan.  Whisk the wet ingredients (not butter and syrup) until completely combined.  Sprinkle the raisins over the top of the bread and then pour the liquid on top.  Press your bread down with your hands until all the bread is moist.  It should bounce back when you let go, but it will be wet.  Drizzle the maple syrup over the top.  Place pats of butter in about half tsp amounts over the top and then sprinkle with cinnamon.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Then remove the cover and bake for another 10-15 minutes depending on how crispy you want the top.

This was an awesome desert and we had leftovers for breakfast.  If, like me, you aren't a regular bread pudding fan, this might convert you.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sugar Free Brownies

I wanted a super moist brownie with sweetness and chewy texture that didn't have sugar.  I try to limit my sugar when it's tasty, and I have been thinking about dates lately and how sweet and great they are.

Usually, when baking, I say follow a vegan recipe or modify a vegan recipe because it's so hard to get ratios and measurements right.  It's science, chemistry, not the intuitive stuff of cooking.  This time, I wanted something that called for eggs that I could use my dates to replace.  I found this recipe on that sounded right, then I went from there.

Here's what I used:

10 dates large dates equalling 3/4 cup when pitted and squished down
1 cup hot water
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp flax meal
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

First off, I feel it's important to use great moist dates.  I'm not sure how this would turn out without very plump and juicy dates that blend well and are super sweet.

Preheat oven to 350 and line a 9 by 9" pan with parchment paper.  Put pitted dates and hot water in food processor and blend until smooth.  Transfer into a bowl and add maple syrup, flax, vanilla, and oil and stir until smooth like a carmel.  Then put in dry ingredients in a pile on top, finishing with the baking powder.  Stir from the top of your pile down so that your dry ingredients mostly blend before they get mixed into the wet completely.  The alternative is to stir your dry ingredients together in an different bowl or to sift them inot the wet to combine them well.  Once everything is a gooey combination, spread it into your pan and bake for about 25 minutes.  Test at 20 min and then go from there.  A toothpick inserted should come back mostly clean.  It might still stick a little, but there should be no goo.  Let cool and then slice into small squares.  I did 16 squares and that made my brownies 160 calories each.  Not bad, if you ask me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vegan Burgers Two Ways

I saw a picture of cupcakes that looked like hamburgers and was inspired!  I must have looked through 20 or more images of this style of cupcake, each a little different, and I made a simple one just to try it out.
I added color to fondant for the cheese, used a vanilla cupcake recipe and made 6 cupcakes and then added melted chocolate to the rest of the batter and made 6 more chocolate cakes to make my burgers.  I experimented with frosting and coloring, but the coloring gave it a weird taste, so I opted for Wild Salmonberry Jam spread on each side of the vanilla cupcake.

The other burger is just tempeh marinated with BBQ sauce, then topped with sauteed mushrooms and fresh tomato on toast.  I also made sauteed collard greens and onion and carrot roasted "fries" with mustard maple glaze.

Who says vegans can't have great burgers?

Friday, June 18, 2010

You Can't Eat Tofu Scramble Every Day: Potato Mushroom Breakfast

I just can't afford to eat tofu scramble every day.  Plus, I had quite a bit of tofu in dinner last night, and I try not to eat tofu for every meal.  This morning I made a skillet breakfast with potatoes and mushrooms and some lovely smokey spice.

For two adults and one tiny baby portion:
2 small yellow potatoes microwaved while wrapped in a wet paper towel for 2 minutes, then chopped into bite sized pieces
1/2 yellow onion diced
about 5 large crimini mushrooms cut into wedges
2 sweet peppers cut into slices
1 clover garlic chopped 

not pictured: potatoes in the microwave.

I tossed this (and potatoes) all into a medium high pan with enough oil to cover the bottom.  I continued to toss these until they started to get browned on the edges.  Then I added salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and some nutritional yeast.  I continued to toss these with the added spices until it was well browned.  I turned off the burner and threw in a handful of fresh cilantro and gave it one more toss.  It was a delicious breakfast and a hearty alternative to the tofu scramble.

Basic Lasagna Canvass

This was my first vegan lasagna, and I'm no lasagna expert anyway, so I made it a very basic one.  My husband and baby both loved it as is, but I think it needs a little something for next time.  It's a great jumping off point though.  You could add layers of roasted veggies, fresh basil, Italian style TVP, or lots of garlic for more flavor.  For a simple lasagna, feel free to just use this easy recipe.

Enough lasagna noodles for your pan (only you know how much this is)
2 packages soft tofu
1/4- 1/3 cup nutritonal yeast, to taste
5-6 cloves of garlic
1/2 yellow onion
Italian Seasoning dry spice mix
about 2 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for sauteeing onion and garlic
2 cans chopped stewed tomatoes (I get the S&W organic from Costco, so I always have some on hand)
1 bunch kale (or spinach, or chard, or other greens of your choice)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzerella daiya cheese

1.  Get a large pot of water boiling for the lasagna noodles, this will take a while, so I put it first.  Salt and oil the water.
2.  Smoosh the tofu into a large bowl until it is the consistency of ricotta.  Add salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, and Italian seasoning to taste.
3.  Dice your onion, but leave garlic cloves whole and sautee lightly so that they are not browned, but the sweetness in them developes.  Chop half of this sauttee finely and add it to the "ricotta" and put the other half in the blender.
4.  Taste check your "ricotta" and add what is needed
5.  Add the two cans of tomato to the blender and blend until course, not totally smooth.  Add Italian seasoning until the flavor is how you like it.
6.  How's that pasta water doing?  Boiling?  It should be by now.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Add the pasta to the water and once it's softened enough to sink down a bit, add the entire bunch of kale (or greens of your choice).
7.  Pull the greens out as soon as they are blanched, drain, then chop them while the pasta finishes up.
8.  Your pasta should still be al dente (firm) because your other ingredients are wet and the noodles will absorb that liquid.  Pull them out and lay them on a cookie sheet or large plate.
9.  Pour a bit of your tomato sauce right from the blender into the bottom of your baking dish and spread around (might as well just wash your hands and get right in there quite frankly, it's going to get messy).
10.  Put down a layer of noodles (trimming and adding half sheets if needed for full coverage) and then a layer of your "ricotta," then sprinkle with about a third of your greens, and finally finish with some more sauce.  As you are spreading these layers, get your hands in there and really make things even.  Repeat these layers two more times, then top with a final layer of noodles, sauce, and sprinkle your daiya on top.  I add a bit more Italian seasoning over my daiya.  Cover the pan with foil and *cook for an hour and a half, then uncover and finish another half hour (you can do about 5 minutes on broil at the end for that crispy top crust). *Once it's covered, you can refrigerate for up to a day before cooking.

As with all lasagna, I think it's even better eating the cold leftovers the next day.

Edited later:  This was such a hit with my darlings that I had to make it again!  For my second round, I only did a bottom layer of pasta, a middle layer of pasta, and a top layer.  I left out the daiya for cost reasons and just poured marinara over the top and sprinkled it with flax meal/nutritional yeast/salt combo.  For the tofu, I used one package of silken and one package of firm and that made a much better ricotta consistency.  I doubled the amount of onion and garlic too.  
All my changes made for an even better lasagna that my little family adored.  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's Not a Vegan World

I went into Costco yesterday and I was overcome with a deep depression that took the entire rest of the day to get out of.  Normally, I try not to think about meat-eaters too much.  I try not to focus on the animals I am not consuming, but that others are.  But in Costco, I walked in and smelled meat.  I haven't had such a strong aversion to that smell since I was pregnant (I'm not now pregnant.  I'm sure of it).  By the time I got to the back of the store where all the meat is, I was just dreading it.  People were buying these huge chunks of meat, pieces I used to buy and parcel out for the month.  It reminded me of all that meat that I ate, and all that meat that others are eating.  I was hormonal (I am not pregnant) and I had this sadness like I just can't even interact with meat eaters anymore.  My friends and family are one thing, but strangers who want to question or criticize me just make me crazy.  I don't want to have to justify what I'm doing.  I'm not killing or torturing animals as a means to nourish myself or my family... How is that a problem?
I know this too shall pass, but it was such a hard day.  I saw this hilarious bingo card today though, and it made me laugh.  It's so true of every meat eater who has rubbed me the wrong way with their questions (mostly, the people that respect your choices don't have a lot of questions or concerns).

My favorite part is "Preaches to you about how preachy vegans are."  The only time my eating habits come up are when I bring something to a party (I mention that it is vegan, and I answer what that means by saying there aren't eggs or milk products in it), or if I am ordering or eating food with a group of people I don't know well.  For some reason, people I have just met often feel it is there duty to "defend" their right to eat meat simply because of my presence.  I don't push or preach to them, just try to listen and say, "Yeah, a lot of people feel that way.  That's not what I do."

I guess I needed a place to vent.  My hormones are reregulating and I'm feeling better today.  I still wish I had a bigger vegan community to be a part of.  My local vegan meetup group may be disintegrating because the organizer is stepping down.  I haven't really utilized the group anyway.  Some day I will have a vegan cafe and there will be a wonderful community of repeat customers.

Part of my depression is that we have been seriously looking for cafe locations all over the country and have found a few promising sites, only to find that they have already been leased out by the time we contact someone.  We don't know anything about starting our own business, only that we have passion and aren't completely without reason or math skills.  Today, as I was feeling down, I said to my husband that I know it's never going to happen.  He tried to reassure me that we just need to contact a small business association and draw up a business plan so that we can make a wise decision.  My fear and lack of faith are worse than the failure that has already happened in my head.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Whole Foods and Baby

My daughter just turned ten months and has been a voracious eater from the start, so I'll freely admit that this is not necessarily normal child behavior...

But my baby girl love eating WHOLE fruits and veggies.  It began when she was getting her teeth (she got six in the course of just over a month, so they kind of all came at once for us).  I would give her a cold stalk of celery out of the fridge and she would chew to her heart's content.  It was a great tool for teething.  As her teeth came in, she was actually chewing the celery and eating it.  I would watch her like a hawk, but celery is cool because all those strings keep it together well.  So she could get off bits, but it didn't come off in choking chunks.

Now she has six teeth, and she eats everything- plus, she wants it whole.  Even when I cut up avocado in little chunks she smears it around like a cranky pants.  She likes spears of avocado- or, as I've learned from leaving our CSA box on the floor, whole avocado with the skin on.  A few weeks ago we were at the weekend market and got roasted corn and she was a champ eating it right off the cob.  She likes a whole strawberry that she can bite into pieces rather than slices of strawberry.  I cut her grapes in half, but only after she had to cough one back up that got stuck.  She recently discovered the joys of eating an apple off the core- and that's just what she does!  It's maddness, but it's her maddness, so I allow it.

Here's what she's had so far today:

Freeze dried apples, strawberries, and blueberries
One toasted slice of Dave's Killer Bread (covered in seeds and full of protein)
Bites of my oatmeal with soymilk
water from her straw cup

mum mum crackers
cucumber in slices
bites of my veggie sandwich
blue corn chips that came with my sandwich
vegan African peanut soup (she is not allergic to peanuts)
water from my glass with a straw

most of an apple cut into slices without skin, then she grabbed the rest and ate it off the core
4 snap peas
3/4 of an avocado in slices
6-8 grapes halved
a few bites of my vegan chocolate beet cake
another slice of toasted bread

I guess I should be honest.  She also ate a couple handfuls of dirt from the garden while I was watering and attempted to eat three rocks that I retrieved from her chipmonk cheeks.  She tried to bite into the spaghetti squash I just bought while I was putting away groceries.

I share all this because my daughter's eating habits make me so happy.  I love that she loves veggies and fruit and wholesome bread.  As her biting improves, it's amazing to see her eat more and more and take delight in all the glorious flavors of nature's bounty.  We shared a mushu veggie wrap with tofu the other day because she was able to take bites of my wrap and share with me that way.  There was so much flavor for her to experience in that, and she wanted more and more.

Someone asked me, not too long ago, "My son won't eat vegetables, how do you think that vegetarian thing will work out when she gets pickier?"  I know many babies love veggies and then go through an antiveggie stage, but it's not like she's going to ask me to cook up some chicken one day.  She is already an adventurous eater, she eats with her eyes (she obviously chooses colorful foods over bland ones), and she will try anything and has obvious preferences.  She has a healthy relationship with food, which for a woman of any age is such an asset.

I think many adults tell children that children don't like veggies.  I was always told that vegetables were delicious and good for me (so much truer than the other things we tell children).  I remember as a child that my favorite food was brussel sprouts.  My family thought this was the funniest thing ever, but they were just so good!

I will finish with a story of a recording that my grandmother made of me as a child.  She loved to get out her tape recorder (am I old for saying this?) and record conversations with me.  We had just gotten Chinese takeout, and she was asking me about what I was eating.  My grandmother was not an adventurous eater, and had ordered chow mein.  I was having mu shu.

Grandma:  "What are the little black strips in your food?"
Me: "That's fungus."
Grandma: "Ewwwwwwwww!!!!"
Me: "I LIKE fungus!"

I didn't let an adult's view of what a kid should like or my granmother's food hang ups get to me.  I can't wait for my daughter to grow and learn to choose foods she enjoys and be able to express preferences.  My hope for her is that she can follow her palette and always love the veggies like she does now.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Non-Vegan Family

Awww... I love my family.  We just spent almost 2 weeks visiting family (mine and my husbands) and it was our first visit since becoming vegan.  I should point out that before vegan, we were meat-eaters, not just vegetarians who recently gave up eggs.

As much as each person is well-meaning, it's nice to be home and away from that.

My mom, who is totally supportive, seemed to get defensive and in what I felt was out of nowhere decided to try and come up with a product I use that harms animals.  I could have easily helped her by pointing out that the effects of my consumption of most mass-produced items is harmful to wild animals whose habitats are destroyed to build factories and the like, but I didn't really want to help her out.  Instead I assured her that my soap and shampoo are both vegan (Dr. Bronners and Pureology).

My grandfather believes everything should be enjoyed in moderation and doesn't seem to have any sympathy for the plight of animals, so a complete elimination of animal products just doesn't make sense to him.  He wanted me to admit that I would eat the neighbor's eggs raised humanely and with plenty of space to roam.  I just don't want to eat the neighbor's eggs.  Sorry.  Also, those same neighbors were clearly neglecting their cow who I almost climbed the fence to milk after I saw her two days in a row completely engorged and barely able to walk because her calf was in a seperate field.

My in-laws come from cattle ranchers and just don't get it.  When my husband told my mother-in-law that we weren't eating animal products (he used the word "meat") anymore, her response was, "People need protein, you know."  My father-in-law is not a fan of most vegetables, and refused to eat them when he came to visit us last summer, so I figured this would be interesting.  My mother-in-law suggested that if I want my husband to gain weight (he is underweight due to his inability to absorb fat), I need to feed him meat.  I pointed out that eating meat hasn't worked in the last 15 years or so, and we're trying something different.

The surprises of the visit were when my husband's aunt, who raises cattle for a living, had us over for lunch and made a great green salad and a fruit salad.  She even got bread that she had carefully read the label on to make sure it would be okay for us.  It was the easiest meal we had with anyone else and she didn't make us feel like a burden at all.  The other surprise was when my low-carb friend whose diet includes quite a bit of meat directed us to a great vegan cafe.  I think these two examples prove a theory I have been tossing around for a while: the people who are anti-vegan are those who are insecure about their own diets.  Those who feel confident in their own eating habits respect the choices of others and are happy to accomodate those they care about.

Speaking of vegan cafes, we first visited Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe in downtown Sacramento, Ca.  What an amazing little place.  We had sandwiches on our first visit and got whoopie pie to eat later.  I got a sweet potato sandwich that had perfectly melted daiya in it.  So amazing and very comforting.  My husband got a great tempeh reuben.  The second time we went was for brunch and I got the tofu scramble and was startled by how much better than mine it was.  It was otherworldly.  We got a chocolate chip sandwich cookie with peanut butter cream filling.  When I ate the cookie later that night, my husband actually laughed out loud because he said the expression on my face was so blissful it was hilarious.  Peanut butter and chocolate causes bliss.

We also found a place in Sonora, Ca called Toukies.  It was weird because they didn't say vegan anywhere on the menu or in the restaurant, but when I asked about the "soy cheese" in the shells and cheese, the waitress said, "Oh, everything in the restaurant is vegan."  It makes me wonder why they don't just say so, but I didn't ask.  The shells and cheese were outstanding and the cheesecake we had for desert was unlike any other vegan cheesecake I've tried.  It was light and fluffy and had a similar consistency to the no-bake cheesecakes- but better!

These two cafes left us feeling like a vegan cafe is far from a crazy idea.  Both seemed busy and successful despite being such a specific type of food.  We were inspired and have begun a search for a venue to open our own.  We stayed up late asking my grandfather about his experiences as a small business owner and what it was like to start out with a baby and such an uncertain job.  He opened his own second-hand store in downtown Sacramento when my mom was just a baby and they had my uncle on the way.  He was able to provide for his family with that store and started with just three items out on the sidewalk in front of a small store front that he leased from a very nice man who let him defer the first three month payments until he got going.  He still has the first two dollars he made (on a push mower that he had paid a dollar for) framed in his living room.  We want our daughter to have a family business to grow up in, and to learn from our example that it's a good thing to follow your dreams.