Thursday, April 27, 2006

wacky cupcakes

i'm really starting to come around regarding the whole vegan baking issue. after not a small number of disasterous attempts at baking egg and dairy free i pretty much threw in the peta embossed towel. what with a butter and egg loving cookie eater in the house cawing and deriding my poor, flat, chewy baked goods, what else could i do? i hated to throw my little spongy mouse pad like cakes into the garbage can, but i hated to eat them even more.

so while i still bake egg (free range, blah blah blah) and dairy (organic, blah blah blah) filled sweets for my not-always-so-sweet, i find that i'm cooking more vegan cookies and cakes that are passing muster. i don't really know what has changed. maybe i'm selecting my recipes more carefully. maybe i've learned that to overbeat a vegan baked good equals instant failure. maybe i've just learned that baking is a science and that you need to actually read the directions and, here is the really hard part, follow them.

and so on a momentary note of vegan victory, this here is a recipe for wacky cake. aka crazy cake. aka make do cake. aka (my favorite moniker) dump cake. the bones of this recipe has been around since the forties when bakers had to "make do" with what they had on hand during the lean wartime years. the recipe can be made into a sheet cake or a round cake, but i like the little cupcakes best. the directions specified to not use dutch processed cocoa but since that was all i had on hand, and i have a very difficult time following directions, i used it anyway. with no ill-effects. the cakes rose beautifully with a light airy crumb, a high peaked crown and a lovely chocolately flavor.

wacky cupcakes
1 1/4 cup white or wholewheat PASTRY flour
1 cup finely ground sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup +3 Tablespoons water
1 T. instant coffee granules (totally optional)
3 Tablespoons oil
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1/2 Tablespoon vanilla

sift the dry ingredients together in a bowl (first five items) then whisk to combine. in another bowl place wet ingredients (water, oil, vinegar and vanilla) and whisk vigorously until well combined. BRIEFLY mix the dry and wet ingredients. DO NOT OVERBEAT or your cupcakes will be tough! they will become mouse pads! place cupcake liner in a 12 muffin tin and lightly spray with oil. fill to about 2/3 full and bake about 25 mintues at 350.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

filet-o-tofu sandwich

mc rae's filet-0-tofu sandwich

iridecent skin'd
swimmer of my happy meal
sleeps in whole wheat bun

i've been toying with the idea of a faux filet-o-fish sandwich for some time now and had pretty much decided to try a beer batter coating and deep frying pressed slices of firm tofu as a filet substitute. then i came across a recipe for tofu fish sticks from the vegan lunch box. it immediately appealed to me because there was no deep frying involved. deep frying really bums me out cause it makes such a mess and because at least one of those little high velocity fire-bombs of boiling oil always manage to hit me right in the center of my rather prominent forehead.

the only major alteration i made from the original recipe was to press the tofu (i only had medium, not firm tofu) and to omit the nuts. oh, and i didn't have any soy milk for dreding the tofu in but since it was already pretty moist i figured the topping would adhere without the additional liquid, which it did. i did not have any kelp powder, which i believe is quite pricey, but did have a big bag of kombu taking up real estate in my cupboards. so i threw it into the dry container of my vitamix (i suppose a food processer or blender would also work) and voila, instant kelp powder! this might be a good substitute for you if you can't find the already powdered stuff or if you want to save some money. you can buy strips of thick, leathery kombu seaweed pretty inexpensively in a chinese'll probably run you a little more for the same thing in a japanese market.

and how did it turn out? well, with a little homemade tartar sauce, some sliced dill pickle, onion, lettuce and a toasted whole wheat bun, it tasted pretty damn good. a nice little crunch on the outside of the tofu from the cornmeal, a little sweet and tart from the tartar sauce, and some heat from the onion. but to be honest, the tofu tasted better on its own. the subtle fishy flavor and contrasting textures of the interior vs the exterior of the tofu got a little lost beneath that big, pillowy wheaty bun. don't get me wrong, it tasted great in the sandwich, but the tofu is good enough to stand on its own little kelp constructed fins. with maybe a little dipping sauce on the side.

tofu filet-o-fish
1 lb. package firm tofu, drained
2/3 cup fine cornmeal
2/3 cup almonds (optional)
2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoon kelp granules
2 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon dill weed
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2/3 cup plain, unsweetened soymilk
1 lemon for garnishing

place all the dry ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until the nuts are very fine. if not using nuts you may omit this step. set dry ingredients aside. cut tofu into even slices just under ½-inch wide, then into fish stick sized slices. if making sandwiches, cut each block of tofu into four horizontal slices. dip into soymilk (or not), then press into the dry mixture. lightly oil or pan spray a baking sheet with olive oil and lay tofu slices. bake at 400 for about 15 minutes each side.

serve on a toasted whole wheat bun with pickles, onions, lettuce and homemade tartar sauce (vegannaise mixed with chopped dill pickle, onion, lemon and maybe a squirt of ketchup). squeeze alittle lemon juice over the top if you're eating them plain.

Friday, April 21, 2006

banana bread (vegan and oil free)

in my fruit basket the other morning i spied a little pile of yellow and brown speckled bananas looking for all the world like they needed to be sent off to a leper colony lest they infect their citrus and kiwi neighbors with an overdose of fruit-maturing ethelyne gas.

gingerly i peeled the darkest one open over the sink, fully expecting a geyser of fermented banana liqueur to squirt me in the eye. instead, glowing up at me was a lovely ripe bit of flesh, perhaps just a little past its prime with a few age spots and a certain lack of integrity of form, but seducing me with its heady scent of tropical decay. such a one as this, i thought to myself, should be honored not with the trash heap but with the loaf pan.

tip tap tip tap, my fingers typed away until i stumbled upon this recipe somewhere on the net. it may have originated from bryanna clark grogan but i'm not sure. well, wherever it came from, it was the perfect use for the half tub of tofu i had lurking in the dark, cold recesses of my no-vegetable-crisper, broken-down, second-hand refrigerator. and for those whatever-happened-to-baby-jane bananas that were attracting the fruit flies in a frenzied orgiastic orbit.

this is a nice, light banana bread. due to the fact that there is no added fat (aside from that in the tofu and walnuts) the resulting loaf is not that dense, greasy monstrosity you find in coffee shops all across the country. instead the texture is a bit spongy and moist with a light banana flavor and a whisper of nutmeg. made with wholewheat pastry flour and tofu, it's a snack bread you can feel good about snacking on. unless you snack on half the loaf in one afternoon, in which case i guess it no longer qualifies as a snack.

oh, and the vegan-dessert-hating half of this household gave this banana bread two thumbs up with the caveat, "just don't tell anyone there's tofu in it". now that's saying something...

banana bread
8 oz (1 cup) soft tofu, not silken
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
2 ripe bananas
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 orange, zest only
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

in a blender whir all the wet ingredients together (tofu, water, sugar, bananas, vanilla and orange zest) until very smooth and creamy. in another bowl sift all the dry ingredients together. using a wide rubber spatula fold the wet and dry ingredients together handling the batter as little as possible. pour into one greased and floured loaf pan (about a 9 x 5) and bake for about 40 minutes or until done at 350.

Monday, April 17, 2006

ginger cookies (vegan)

here is yet another recipe from vegan with a vengance (i promise i'll move on soon!). these are the ultimate ginger cookies with a nice spicy bite from the ginger and a rich molasses body. that they happen to be vegan is just a bonus.

these cookies can be either crispy and wafer-like or crispy on the edges and chewy in the center, depending on how thick or thin you flatten the dough out when forming the cookie. myself, i like a very thin and crispy biscuit (like a gingersnap) so i make them a little smaller and quite flat. they're very good either way. pressing the coarse sugar on the top gives them a pretty, sparkly surface which is not pictured above since i only had the regular stuff and past experience using regular grained sugar for that sparkled look resulted in a sloppy, mottled appearance.

sparkled ginger cookies
4 Tablespoons coarse sugar (turbinado or demerrera or "sanding" sugar)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 Tablespoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup soy milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

sift dry ingredient (except sugar) into a bowl and set aside. in a large bowl combine wet ingredients, including sugar and whisk or beat on medium until blended. stir in the pre-sifted dry ingredients and mix until well combined. the dough will be quite sticky and you may need to dampen your hands to work with it. roll the dough into little balls (about 1 Tablespoon) and flatten out to your liking... the thinner the cookie the crisper it will be - a slightly thicker cookie will yield a crunch on the edges and a slightly chewy interior. press the coarse sugar onto the tops of the cookies and bake about 10 minutes at 350 on a greased cookie sheet.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

heart of darkness: black cocoa "fauxstess" cupcakes

eat me

why are the snack foods marketed towards kids made of the most artificial, bad-for-you, just-plain-junk ingredients? and why do kids go nuts over the stuff? oh, i know why, it's because these little nuggets of garbage taste good. i can still clearly remember the wave of joy that washed over me each time i found in my lunch bag one of those little packets of impossibly orange colored "cheese" that came with a few crackers and a little red plastic stick for spreading. it never occured to me to wonder why this cheese never needed to be refrigerated, or why it left that kinda waxy coating on my tongue. i just knew i loved that plastic box with the little compartments and the vivid red and orange nestled therein. and how about those little white milk-flavored sugar sticks that came with two different colors of sugar. you'd lick the stick, dip in sugar, suck off sugar and dip again. sugar on sugar action. hardcore.

cheese thingies and lick'em sticks aside, my all-time favorite snack was the veritable hostess cupcake. or the ho-ho. or the twinkie. or the suzy-q. really they were just different sheeps' clothing hiding the same wolf. now, as an "adult" (how did that happen? i don't feel like a grownup!), i have the contradictory emotions of longing and disgust when confronted with my former love, the hostess cupcake. sounds like a bad relationship, yes?

well, it doesn't have to be that bad. not if you whip up a batch of fauxstess cupcakes from the Vegan with a Vengance cookbook. if you're not familiar with this little gem and you are a vegan you should check it out...the recipes are approachable (this by far the most complicated one in the book) and for the most part they consistently deliver on flavor and ease of preparation. i've had good results from most of the recipes, especially the pumpkin muffins and lemon cornmeal waffles.

but back to these "fauxstess cupcakes". i'd been eyeing this recipe for several months but kept putting off taking the plunge because they seemed so horrendously complicated. i mean four different things to make for one little cupcake?!! and then there was that damn black cocoa. what the heck is black cocoa anyway?

having been through the fire of these doubts myself, let me just say, "do not fear the fauxstess". although these guys are undeniably a multi-step project, they are not difficult to make. the cupcake itself is very straightforward. the ganache is just a matter of throwing some stuff together in a bowl and nuking it. the royal icing is basically powdered sugar and water. and the filling, well, you do have to beat the filling for what seems like an eternity. the assembly of the components is just plain fun and could be a good project with the kiddies. or the roommates. or your imaginary friends. all one of them.

the part that gave me the most difficulty was the black cocoa. black cocoa is like it's dutch processed sibling but extra "dutched", meaning it is made significantly more alkaline. this results in a cocoa that has a very dark, almost black color with a mellower, deeper flavor. regular cocoa is sharper in taste, lighter in color and more acidic. some say this extra dutching makes it taste "chalky", which i can see, but it is not an unpleasant taste and it is very slight. it's the same sensation in the chocolate part of an oreo cookie. the hard part was finding the stuff. after fruitless expeditions to five different markets i ended up purchasing some on the internet. you can make these cupcakes without the black cocoa but they will not have that dark brown color and characteristic taste.

if you're not completely scared off yet, carry on brave soliders, and give these a whirl. i promise you, i really promise you, that you'll like them. and if you don't want to deal with all that frosting and margarine and shortening nonsense, just make the cupcakes. they have a gorgeous crown and a light, airy texture. they are good enough to eat all by their lonesome. or maybe you could poke your finger in the center to make a little well, fill it up with rasperry jam, then sprinkle powdered sugar on the top. or not.

naked an unafraid, little cupcake stands in all it's natural glory

the cupcake
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 Tablespoons black cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain rice or soymilk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

preheat the oven to 350 and line a 12-muffin tin with paper cupcake liners. spray with the liners with canola spray to prevent sticking. sift together the flour, cocoa powders, baking powder, baking soda and salt. in another bowl combine the rice milk, oil, maple syrup, sugar, vinegar and vanilla. beat at medium speed for about two minues. add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat for about another minute to combine. fill each cupcake liner about 2/3 full and bake for about 25-30 minutes. remove from oven and allow to fully cool.

the filling
2 Tablespoons non-hydrogenated margarine
1/4 cup non-hydrogenated shortening
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons superfine (caster) sugar
2 Tablespoons plain, full-fat soymilk powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

in a small bowl beat together the room temperature margarine and shortening until well combined. add the sugar and soymilk powder and beat at high speed for a long time. ten minutes or until the icing is very fluffy. add vanilla extract and a tiny pinch of salt and mix for another minute. set aside.

the ganache
1/3 cup soy or rice milk
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 T. maple syrup

in a small saucepan bring the soymilk to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. add the chocoate and maple syrup and mix. remove from flame and allow residual heat to fully melt the chocolate. stir to combine. or you can place all ingredients in a microwave safe bowl and melt on high for a minute or two, checking and stirring the mixture every twenty seconds until done.

the squiggles
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 Tablespoon soymilk powder
1 Tablespoon water

sift the sugar into a bowl and add soymilk powder. add 1 teaspoon of water, then the rest bit by bit until you get a thick consistency, slightly more solid than toothpaste. this stuff has to hold its shape so it should not be drippy in the slightest.

putting it all together
1. poke a hole in the center of each cupcake with your finger, making a little well where the filling will go. place the filling in either a pastry bag, or improvise one by using a ziplock bag with a tiny bit of one edge snipped off. fill the hole until the frosting is level with the top of the cupcake.
2. spread the chocolate ganache over the top of the cupcake, covering the frosting filled hole either by using a cake decorating spatula or dipping the tops of the cupcakes into the bowl of melted ganache. place cupcakes in the fridge for about ten minutes to set.
3. again either using a pastry bag with a little attachment or another ziplock bag with an even tinier bit of the edge snipped off, make the squiggles on the top of the now firm ganache. place in refrigerater again for a few minutes to fully set.

Monday, April 10, 2006

sauteed romaine lettuce with garlic and hot pepper flakes

cooked lettuce, who would've thunk? it is absolutely delicious. i got the idea from a local burmese restaurant. the sauteed lettuce has a delicate sweetness and a pleasing combination of softness in the leaves and a bit of crunch in the heartier stems.

and it couldn't be easier to prepare. simply slice a head of romaine into about one inch rounds, heat some oil (or not) in a pan, and fry away. add pressed garlic, red pepper flakes and salt to taste. the whole thing takes maybe seven minutes, start to finish. one head of lettuce reduces down to about two cooked servings. or if you're a greens and garlic hog, like myself, one serving.

so if you have some hearty romaine lettuce lurking in the fridge that you need to do something with, give it a whirl. i promise, you'll like it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

weekend cat blogging #44

red boy says, "haliotosis? who, me?!!"

Monday, April 03, 2006

mixed greens with cumin and paprika

"yes, i know i'm not so very pretty but you might be able to dress me up a little with a few bits of vibrant diced red pepper or a big pink polka dot bow perched cockily on my, um, well since i have no head, you might place it to the side of the bowl"

i eat a lot of greens, probably several heads each week. usually cooked up in the most boring manner: sauteed with garlic and red pepper. or stewed, until falling apart tender with tomatoes and a few shakes of creole seasoning. i was getting bored with my limited repretoire and while making further explorations of deborah madison's "vegetarian cooking for everyone", yielded yet another interesting but simple recipe: mixed greens seasoned with cumin and paprika.

this is an interesting dish. i would have never thought of pairing cumin and paprika with greens but it works. the spices are robust enough to stand up to the flavorful greens and the cilantro and parsley layers more green flavor into the dish. sometimes i find the flavor of just kale or chard to have the subtlety of, um, a pile-driver. the additional greens somehow diffuses it's assertiveness. i really like this dish but my man is lukewarm toward it. maybe if i sprinkled some bacon on it it might bring him 'round...

mixed greens with cumin and paprika
12 cups mixed greens
4 large garlic cloves
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped cilantro
1-3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin

if using tougher greens, remove stems from leafy part and layer in a steamer basket, stems first. steam until tender. cut into 1 inch x 1 inch pieces. if using a softer green, such as chard, you can omit the steaming part and cut. put garlic through a garlic press or pound with salt in a mortar and pestle. heat oil in a large skillet and cook paprika and cumin over medium until just careful not to burn the spices or they will become bitter. stir in garlic, green, chopped cilantro and chopped parsley and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil to serve. if you prefer not to use oil, you can "steam fry" the greens by placing a drizzle of water in the pan before adding greens, spices and parsley/cilantro. being a super-stanky garlic freak i always reserve just a pinch of raw garlic and stir it in after the dish is finished cooking.
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