31 October 2009

Butter in Pumpkin Form

Ah, Halloween.  I hope y'all are having a fun one.  And I hope you've had fun with Vegan MoFo this year; I did, and it's been great to connect to and be part of such a creative and amazing worldwide vegan community.  So thanks to you all for making it such an awesome foodie month, and I wish you the best in cooking, blogging, and celebrating veganism!

Admittedly, I haven't been in the most celebratory Halloween mood at all, but this morning I did still have yesterday's roasted black futsu to work with, and I had said that I'd try to at least use do something with it to honor the spirit of the season (kinda).  I was so close to just making the Vegan with a Vengeance Pumpkin Waffles again (so deliciously awesome), but I think I'll save it for breakfast tomorrow instead.  I found an awesome recipe for Maple Pumpkin Butter from Vegan Visitor, and having never even tasted pumpkin butter--like nut butter, it has nothing to do with dairy at all--it seemed an appropriate time to try some out.
This is some good stuff.  The recipe seriously calls for only six ingredients, requires minimal effort, and still turns out oh-so-tasty.  You can't go wrong with the pumpkin-apple combo, and the addition of warm, autumn spices enhances the tastiness.  The aroma of the pumpkin butter as it cooked made me a bit impatient, so against my better judgment, I dipped up some of the spreadable pumpkin goodness while it was scorching hot and burned my tongue in the process.  I recommend you wait for it to cool slightly before indulging; it's worth the wait and much less painful.  And it will be so delicious paired with those pumpkin waffles in the morning.

30 October 2009

The Return of Pancakes and Pumpkin

I spent the entire day out and about, so I never got much of a chance to do my usual kitchen takeover after finally returning home early this evening.  But I did pick up a huge bag of fresh okara, something about which I knew only vaguely and had never actually tried, so I figured I could pull something together using the okara as a foundation.  I recalled having seen a few recipes utilizing the stuff in my mom's copy of A Taste of Tofu by Yukiko Moriyama, and immediately decided upon Okara Pancakes, figuring that they could pass as a decent, quick-ish dinner.  I went along with the recipe despite being a bit taken aback by the entire cup of sugar it called for, adjusting only to use egg replacer to make it vegan.  The result?  I was right to worry about the sugar, because these pancakes were definitely more saccharine than I prefer--the sweetener and flour were in equal amounts, after all, and the sugar actually carmelized to form a shiny crust.  They were really were so cloying, but I suppose they'd be good for dessert at least, and definitely more palatable with a vast reduction in sugar next time around.  I'll be looking for more savory uses for okara very soon.
In the meantime, I did happen to cut open the black futsu for roasting.  Of all the winter squash I have, the black futsu has the shortest shelf-life after it's harvested, so it only made sense for it to be used first.  And because tomorrow is Halloween (and last day of Vegan MoFo), I'll try to get into the spirit of things by finding some pumpkin-related goodness to cook up with the roasted futsu.

29 October 2009

Winter Squash Abound

I finally made it out to a pumpkin patch, but not with the intention of hay rides or even to select my Jack 'o Lantern to-be.  No, my goal was to peruse the wide, interesting array of winter squash, harboring ambitious plans to pick a decent variety to admire then cook in creative and delicious ways.  Also no stranger to the kitchen, my mother opted to join me on this adventure.  This particular pumpkin and squash purveyor offered the usual varieties like acorn, butternut, and delicata squashes, along with types of which I'd never heard nor seen.  They ranged in size from the roughly hand-sized Hungarian finger fruit to banana squash almost the size of a toddler.  The guy minding the stand was kind enough to lend us a helpful guide--created by the so-called Squashman years ago--about the various squash available, which included tips on how to cook each type and even offering accompanying some of the Squashman's favorite recipes.  Taking note of what seemed most interesting and tasty, my mom and I grabbed us a wheelbarrow and made our selections.  She chose her two acorn squash, so called for its acorn-like shape, which happens to be Mom's favorite winter squash; I picked up a Guatemalan banana squash, an oblong, blue squash probably around two feet long; a blue ballet, blue and round with slight points on opposite ends; a Tahitian butternut, which looks like a typical butternut squash but a bit larger, smoother, and often with a long, craned neck; and a black futsu, apparently a "hard-to-find" Japanese heirloom pumpkin that is black when ready to be harvested, then turns to an amber color (like mine) as it sits.  With such a wonderful assortment of winter squash, it should be exciting to explore all of the great ways to cook up these edible beauties.  I'll definitiely be doing a lot of roasting, because I like how the process brings out squash's natural sweetness.  I welcome and would be thankful for any suggestions for cooking and recipes, if anyone cares to share them here!

Squash types: (left to right) blue ballet, Guatemalan banana, Tahitian butternut, black futsu, acorn.

28 October 2009

Spiced Cider Pancakes

I've never been a huge fan of spiced apple cider, but seeing it absolutely everywhere lately got me curious about it (a recurring theme, as you may notice)--curious enough, in fact, to pick up a bottle of it last week to reassess my judgment.  And of course, now I'm finding that I quite enjoy the stuff.  It complements the smells, colors, and flavors of autumn nicely and seems like the perfect pairing for the returning cool weather.

To make it even more quintessentially autumn, I whipped up a quick and tasty batch of Spiced Cider Pancakes this morning.  Inspired by the prominent ingredients in the cider--like unfiltered apple juice and an array of spices--I incorporate some of the apple cider itself into the batter and enhance the cider flavor with additional cinnamon and clove.  Applesauce gives the pancakes more apple flavor while reducing the amount of fat.  The sweetness of these pancakes make them delicious as-is, but they are also good with just a tiny drizzle of pure maple syrup if you like them extra sweet.
Spiced Cider Pancakes (printable recipe)
Makes approximately 15 silver dollar-sized pancakes

1 c flour (I used half whole wheat, half all purpose)
2 tsp baking powder
2 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of salt
2 T oat bran
2 T vegetable oil, or other mildly-flavored oil
3 T unsweetened applesauce
3/4 c spiced apple cider
1 tsp vanilla extract

Sift the dry ingredients (except for the oat bran) into a large bowl.  Mix in the oat bran.  Combine all of the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.  Pour the wet into the dry ingredients and mix until combined.  The batter will thicken a bit as it sits; if it seems too thick, add a bit of extra cider.  Lightly spray a skillet with oil and heat it over a medium-low flame.  Drop batter into the hot skillet in 1/4 c amounts, allowing space for spreading.  Flip after bubbles form on top and the underside is golden brown (this can happen a bit quickly due to the sugar), and continue cooking the pancakes until the other side is also golden brown.  Enjoy!

27 October 2009

A Miss and a Few Hits

It's easy to get too ambitious in the kitchen.  I'm all for trying new things and I've become increasingly open to foods I may not have even heard of only a few years ago.  Often, braving the world outside of my culinary comfort zone brings about positive results--such as broadening my palate and fostering creativity--but sometimes the venture introduces food I do not particularly enjoy.  That, of course, can also be positive in the sense that I at least will have discovered that I do not like a certain item and can store that knowledge away for future reference.  I am no stranger to such "learning experiences."

I discovered tonight, for example, that I am not a fan of broccoli rabe.  I bought a small bundle of it on a whim the other day, and having heard that it is slightly bitter, ended up boiling it in vegetable broth.  I thought that a good, long simmer in the salted broth would take care of the bitterness, but when I bit into it, the leafy green veggie seemed to bite back; it was sharp, bitter, and a little too unappetizing for me.  It reminded me of how I have yet to develop a taste for mustard greens, another bitter vegetable that, on multiple occassions, I've tried hard to like, with little success.  Needless to say, I won't be giving either green a go for awhile.

Thank goodness for tempeh.  Yes, it is also slightly bitter if not cooked properly, but I've learned that simmering the tempeh for a bit in salted water or broth will take care of that quite nicely.  Sauces or other seasonings also help, of course.  What is wonderful about tempeh, too, is that it is sturdy enough to undergo a good boil, grilling, or probably any other way one might want to cook it.  Tonight, I browned boiled cubes of tempeh before simmering them in a maple-shoyu -garlic sauce.  It turned out sweet and savory without being too much of either, and paired well with mashed, roasted cauliflower and potatoes (the broccoli rabe made no further appearances, unfortunately).  A sprinkling of toasted almond pieces added a nutty crunch.
Another success, and one that is hard to mess up: raw frozen yogurt.  It's amazing how a food processor can transform a frozen banana into a convincing frozen yogurt facsimile.  It makes a great dessert (or snack), either plain or topped.  I particularly enjoy this fool-proof treat with a bit of granola or a drizzle of chocolate sauce.  And when not everything goes as planned, it never hurts to end with a winner.

26 October 2009

A Whole Lotta Dill

When I looked into my refrigerator this afternoon, I noted two things that probably needed to be used soon, lest they take a turn for the worst: fresh dill and vegan soy mayonnaise.  I honestly do not remember what compelled me to purchase the dill during a recent farmers' market venture, because I usually only have it around when making tzatziki.  It was such a lovely, hairy-looking bunch of the herb that it would have been an absolute shame to waste.  As for the soy mayo, I only purchased it because it had been on sale, and a discount price sounded much better than trying to make my own when all I wanted at the time was a basic tofu salad sandwich.  And I'm never been much of a mayonnaise fan even in my pre-vegan days, so go figure.

So here I was, wondering what to do with these two items, when I drew inspiration from an unlikely, very non-vegan source: Paula Deen.  Yes, the queen of butter got me to salvage my refrigerator leftovers in a vegan-friendly (albeit a bit fattening) way.  It just goes to show the scope of things one can recreate to fit her own dietary/lifestyle needs, and the fact that inspiration can come from anywhere (ah, the joys of cooking).  I recalled an episode of her cooking show in which she focused on potato dishes, and in it she baked these thick, breaded potato wedges using mayonnaise.  This happened to be the perfect item to try, as the yellow potatoes were also looking to hit the deep end soon.

Using Paula Deen's recipe for Oven-Fried Potato Wedges as a guide, I put the dill and vegan soy mayo to work while making other adjustments to suit my current supply of ingredients.  I incorporated fresh, chopped dill and minced garlic into the soy mayo, as well as mirin and shoyu to both thin it out and flavor it.  Rather than using cornbread dressing mix, I toasted and crumbled some of yesterday's cornbread with panko and more dill and seasoned it with salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder.  Before dipping and baking, I microwaved potato wedges for a couple of minutes to ensure that they'd be fluffy and cooked through in the end, then patted the wedges dry before dipping and baking on a lightly oil-sprayed cooling rack placed over a baking sheet; I wanted to minimize sticking and additional fat while ensuring that the wedges would have a crisp coating all around.  I used the same process for leftover, drained tofu slabs.

Potato wedges.
Tofu sticks.
I loved the potato wedges.  Although the cornbread coating tended to make a crumbly mess, it was indeed crisp.  The inside of the wedges were likewise fluffy and flavorful without being overly-seasoned.  The tofu was fine, although it still retained some of the mayo taste, which would prevent me from using this method on it again.  I ate the potato wedges and tofu with a tzatziki-like soy yogurt dip, using more dill (of course), garlic, seedless cucumber, green onion, and salt and pepper--a nice, cooling contrast to the hot and slightly spicy oven-fried items.  The combination made for a good appetizer, and I can see the foundation recipe working with a myriad of spices, seasonings, etc.  Thanks, Paula!

Dill soy yogurt dip.
Everything on one platter.

25 October 2009

Resource Pile = Good Things to Eat

I've enjoyed cooking since childhood. One might say it began with an Easy Bake Oven obsession, then proper baking with my mother during the holidays, and eventually progressed into more savory stove-top pursuits originating in my teenage years. A semester-long cooking class during high school made me realize all of the cooking skills I'd learned from watching and helping my mother in the kitchen over the years, and I also discovered quite a fondness for the therapeudic and creative aspects of cooking. Years later, I still love being in the kitchen.

Despite having spent so much of my life both observing others cook as well as testing out my own culinary skills, I still feel like quite the novice when trying to develop recipes of my own. Always a big fan of cookbooks, I am much more comfortable with using recipe guidelines and adjusting them to fit my own tastes than procuring something completely of my own design. And when I first became vegan, cookbooks, food blogs, and other online resources aided me tremendously during the transition to a more compassionate and health-conscious lifestyle. I draw a great deal of inspiration from these wonderfully creative resources, and I must admit that I still have an obsession with cookbooks. Among an extensive list of covetted kitchen tomes, I'm dying for copies of Good Food from a Japanese Temple, an beautiful showcase of shojin ryori; Vegan Brunch, from the amazing Isa Chandra Moskowitz; The Vegan Scoop, which is all about frozen ice cream-like treats; and Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, the upcoming book from Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. My current collection is a small and humble one, but if not for self-restraint at my favorite bookstore, it would almost certainly be much larger than this:

The mixed results of obsession, necessity, and charitable family and friends.
But as I've said, I very much enjoy trying recipes that others have posted online in blogs and recipe forums. Tonight's dinner came courtesy of Susan V's Fatfree Vegan Kitchen recipe for Easy Macaroni and "Cheeze." As a child, I greatly enjoyed ordering macaroni and cheese from a certain family-style restaurant chain my family frequented after church service each Sunday. I used whole wheat pasta and added an extra pinch of turmeric for that distinctive yellow color. While this vegan version is not quite like actual mac 'n cheese, it is still satisfying, flavorful, and comforting--not to mention as easy to make as the title suggests.

24 October 2009

Cookies with a Kick

What a busy day. I'm tired and improperly nourished, so unfortunately there's nothing terribly interesting I can really say tonight, except that I did manage to finally get around to trying Isa and Terry's Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodle recipe--the one everyone in the vegan world seems to have already tested and loved. It's with good reason, of course. All I can say is that these spicy, chocolately morsels have officially confirmed my intention to rush out and get the new cookbook, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, as soon as it hits the shelves.

23 October 2009

Seitan and Waffles

I planned on making the recipe for Sourdough Waffles from the Bittersweet blog upon returning from my morning jog, although I should have guessed that my day would go completely as planned when I awoke a half hour later than is normal for me, and with a headache. I went out for a jog in spite of my annoyance at having to contend with increased morning traffic and sunlight in my eyes, and looked forward to the waffles that were to grace my plate at breakfast. Alas, a last-minute change in plans sent me out and about before I could put anything in my stomach, so that bubbly brew of waffle beginnings would have to wait until later.
A long afternoon went by before "later" became dinnertime nearly a full day after getting part one of the two-step recipe together. I hadn't tried sourdough waffles yet, nor had I tried the recipe for Jerk Seitan from Vegan with a Vengeance (Moskowitz), but I figured that the two pair up just fine, in a soul food kind of way. I like waffles and I like spicing up my seitan, so how could that epic combination not work? Well, it worked pretty well. The waffles were crisp and slightly sour--letting the mixture sit for nearly a full day probably developed the sour notes well--and tasted particularly good with a dribble of pure maple syrup to counteract the definite lack of sweetness in the waffles themselves. The seitan was spicy and tangy, and paired with the maple-dressed waffles and some sweet-and-spicy kale (kale, onion, garlic, shoyu, maple syrup, and hot sauce), it provided an interesting taste sensation. I probably would have preferred rice accompanying the seitan, but the meal was unique yet still satisfyingly familiar. That works for me.

22 October 2009

Easy Pumpkin Tortellini

I found a delightfully savory use for leftover pumpkin puree: pumpkin tortellini. Frankly, I'm a little burned out on sweet, pumpkin-spiced baked goods and am trying to avoid any more until Thanksgiving. The nice thing about the tortellini, too, is that they are so easy to make, which is great because I hadn't realized how little time I ended up having to make dinner tonight until I started getting hungry.
Tortellini construction consists of 1) the pasta element and 2) the filling. When put in that way, it might sound like a lot of work, but if you're not making every component from scratch, it's really, really simple. Rather than make my own pasta dough, I grabbed gyoza (Japanese dumpling) wrappers from the refrigerator instead, taking care of the first component. For the second component (the filling) I took a bit of my pumpkin puree and mixed in salt, pepper, nutmeg, and ground sage to taste. To assemble the tortellini, working one-at-a-time, I placed approximately one teaspoon of the filling onto a gyoza wrapper, wet the edges with water, and folded the wrapper into a half-moon, pressing the air out and sealing the edges. Leaving it at that stage would make it more ravioli-like, so to create tortellini, I gently made an indentation in the straight side of the half-moon and pulled the points together, sealing them with water and a good pinch. After using the remainder of the filling, I boiled maybe eight tortellini in salted water, then dressed them in a very small amount of jarred tomato sauce. The resulting pasta was creamy and delicate. The minimal use of seasonings and sauce allow for the creamy, slight sweetness of the pumpkin to come through nicely. I apologize for the less-than-amazing photos.

Cooked, pre-sauce

All sauced up

21 October 2009

Family Favorites, the Vegan Way

As a second-generation Filipino-American whose parents are heavily influenced by local-type Hawaiian culture and cuisine, I may or may not be considered a typical product of an American upbringing, depending on how one views it. For example, my paternal grandmother never baked us cookies or layer cakes, but rather, would serve up lumpia (more authentic varieties of what my friends used to call "Filipino eggrolls") or sinigang (a sour soup), staying true to the traditional foods of her upbringing in the Philippines. But then again, that's America the Salad Bowl for you. Mind you, these dishes weren't unheard of in Hawaii, especially with the huge Filipino population living there, and in fact, my mother cooked many of the staple dishes from that culinary tradition, although undoubtedly via the local translation of it. As with interpretation of any sort, certain elements of the original form change or become lost while maintaining its essence. Because so much of Filipino cuisine is saturated with meat and other animal products, attempting to "veganize" any of it can sometimes make a proper interpretation--one that maintains that traditon or essence while serving a new lifestyle--difficult. Fortunately, I was never a huge fan of many of the Filipino main dishes my father enjoyed growing up, so I don't attempt a reimagining of such fare all that often.

One thing I did and still like, however, is my parents' version of what I think is avocado con hielo, a dessert much like a sweet avocado milkshake traditionally consisting of fresh avocado, ice, and sweetened condensed milk mixed in a blender and served in a glass. My vegan version is actually a interpretation of an interpretation, because my parents made a much simpler form of it using neither ice nor sweetened condensed milk. They didn't even use a blender. What they did and still do is treat it as more of a snack, cutting or mushing up an avocado with a little bit of brown sugar and milk and eating the resulting mixture with a spoon. It looks unappetizing, and I've gotten bewildered reactions from friends who find the idea of eating avocado sweet strange, but once people try it, they don't usually find it quite so odd, although they often admit that it is something to which one must grow accustomed.
It's very easy to make a vegan version of the avocado treat; just replace the milk with a nondairy version of your choice. I used almond milk in mine, but now that I think of it, coconut milk would be pair up nicely with the avocado, too. The amount of liquid is up to you; I like my avocado thick, so I just wet it with a small amount of nondairy milk, while my dad, on the other hand, likes his more soupy.

Other sweet treats I used to enjoy as a child were malasadas, deep-fried Portuguese doughnuts that are very popular in Hawaii. They are a bit like sugar-coated doughnut holes, but darker with a crunchier exterior and chewy interior and a distinct taste that is perhaps akin to the slight sourness of over-risen yeast dough. I don't like deep-frying anything, no matter how good it tastes, but I had such an urge to recreate the doughnuts, and frying is really the only way to make them properly. You can find malasadas plain or filled with various custards and jams, but the way we always ate them in my family (and what is most traditional) was unfilled. My mother's recipe makes the basic yeast dough that includes milk and eggs, but remembering that slightly sour or baking soda-like hint the malasadas always had, I thought it might be worth a shot to not only use vegan substitutes for the milk and eggs, but also to employ my good old starter. You can usually leave any unused dough made the traditional yeast-risen way in the fridge for a few days anyway, which allows it to keep while further developing its distinctive flavor. Using the sour starter basically mimicked the developed flavor while eliminating my need to use yeast--one more successful and delicious way to use leftover starter!
In terms of savory food associated with my upbringing, chicken katsu was one of my favorite dishes as a child. It's neither Filipino nor Hawaiian by way of colonialism, but is actually a common item found in Japanese restaurants. A large Japanese population does live in Hawaii, so it did figure into my family's dinners at least as a product of its availability in the islands (as so many things did). Katsu is a thin, breaded, fried meat cutlet. Chicken was the go-to protein in my house growing up, and it seemed like we ate chicken katsu quite a bit back then. I sometimes requested it for my birthday dinner, because I enjoyed it so much. I haven't eaten it in years, and these days I try to avoid anything greasy, and of course, derived from animals.

But it dawned on me recently that there must be a way to create a vegan facsimile, and considering it is a fried cutlet after all, it occurred to me that seitan might just work. So I decided to try it out. I thawed a seitan cutlet (made from Veganomicon before freezing) then carefully sliced it into a thin round, because what made my mother's version so good was that she pounded the meat very, very thin so that it would cook quickly and become very crispy. I couldn't flatten the seitan cutlets, so that's why I thinly sliced it instead. I whisked a thin batter of almond milk, salt, and flour to dunk the cutlets in, then dredged them in a mixture of panko (flaky Japanese breadcrumbs), flour, and salt. Then I pan-fried the seitan in vegetable oil until was golden brown on both sides.
The result: tasty, crispy success! The thicker slices of seitan were still a little chewy, as seitan tends to be, but otherwise, the texture and taste of my vegan version of katsu was fairly similar to how I remember my mom's chicken katsu. If it sounds like it should have some kind of sauce, it usually does; Mom always made a dipping sauce with shoyu, ketchup, and brown sugar, but I just never cared for it, always preferring my katsu plain with rice. And that's how I ate the seitan katsu: with steamed rice (brown this time, but it was nothing but white rice as a kid) and the addition of a veggie side (sauteed chard being the upgrade from canned green beans) rounded out the nostalgia. All of the day's tributes to family favorites are on the fattening side, so I won't be making them very often in the future, but at least I know that it is possible to relive childhood through vegan interpretation.

20 October 2009

Adventures in Pretzel-Making

Okay, it wasn't much of an adventure, to be perfectly honest. I've made these pretzels half a dozen or so times prior to today's batch, and the recipe I always use seems pretty much fool-proof at this point. Since beginning my sour starter in June--I've heard that some people have kept and used the same starters for decades, which is incredible--I've begun making bread in various sourdough forms at least once weekly, preferring not to toss what's leftover (the "discard"). And I've always loved pretzels, so I make them maybe twice a month, consulting this recipe from The Foppish Baker. It's so easy to use, and the results are always delicious; my particular starter imparts a distinct sour flavor that is balanced by the sweetness of the sugar. This time around, I replaced some of the sugar with barley malt syrup (found in some bagel recipes, including my version). The Foppish Baker's pretzel recipe actually calls for boiling the pretzels rather than dipping in or brushing with a water-baking soda mixture, so I always compromise by boiling them in water with a bit of baking soda added. The lack of an eggwash makes always makes browning the pretzels problematic, so this time I tried brushing the boiled dough with agave nectar diluted with the boil stage liquid, then sprinkled the dough with kosher salt. It worked! The tops were a crusty brown, the salt stuck, and the centers were still soft and chewy. I thought pretzel-like buns would be interesting, so I shaped some of the dough into balls rather than twisting them into a typical pretzel design. Boiled and baked in the same fashion as the other pretzels, the buns turned out perfectly fine, holding their shape very well and maintaining that same, crusty-chewy texture. Mmm, sourdough pretzel perfection.

19 October 2009

Split Pea Soup

Mmmm, split pea soup. It's more like half soup, half stew, depending on the thickness of it. I tend to prefer it on the thick side, which makes it so hearty and filling. Tonight, I didn't use any particular recipe, opting to throw in whatever I could remember from the last time I made it. Beside the usual appearance of items like carrots, onions, and potatoes, I included a bit of barley, leeks, and several dashes of shoyu and hot sauce. There was garlic, celery, bay leaf, and thyme involved, and the dried split peas, of course. To serve it, I pulled out a mini sourdough boule from the freezer and toasted it up with the idea that it would be the perfect bowl for cradling an individual portion of the soup; in truth, it was a more like a bread cup, but no matter. I can't have soup without bread, whether it comes in cup, bowl, or a more normal form, and the bigger-than-a-roll-but-smaller-than-a-loaf boule served its purpose of turning hearty soup into a substantial dinner. The sourdough starter is out and fed, so there is more bread (possibly in boule form) to come in the very near future.

18 October 2009

Pumpkin, Times 3

I dedicated my cooking experimentation to finding delicious ways to use up more of the pumpkin puree made the other day. I've been dying to make Pumpkin Waffles (from Isa's Vegan with a Vengeance, of course), which sounded divine and like the perfect thing to start my day of pumpkin-themed gastronomy. And, like any good waffle recipe, it looked effortless--a definite plus, considering I also planned to cook a huge batch of time-consuming breakfast (or "square," as my family calls it) potatoes to add a savory element to my morning. So after I returned from my morning jog, I was both energized and hungry for a carb-heavy meal.
The waffles were good. Really good, actually. I held back on the ginger and nutmeg, because I find they can overpower food sometimes, and the waffles turned out exactly how I had hoped: not too sweet, but definitely not bland, with the pumpkin pie spice aroma and taste that warm you right up. Topped with a few sugared pecans and pure maple syrup made these waffles the best vegan version I can recall--seriously. They remind me of my month studying abroad in Vienna two summers ago, when there were a few days midway through the trip during which some of the other students continually professed a craving for waffles, and even began a sincere hunt for waffle purveyors. Honestly, with all of the wonderful pastries, bread, and confections offered up by way of Vienna's awesome cafe culture, I could let the waffles wait for me back home, preferring to try new things at the source while I still could. Ah, memories. But back to present-day pumpkin...

Later this afternoon, a good hankerin' for cookies and a friend's approval encouraged me to try the recipe for Susan's Pumpkin Cookies (but not the fat-free version) over at Fatfree Vegan Kitchen. The only adjustments made--I have this compulsion to not follow recipes exactly as written--were to cut back a bit on the ginger and nutmeg and replace the okara with firm tofu (actually suggested in the recipe itself). That holiday season aroma wafting around the kitchen while the cookies baked was just so comforting, and I had a good feeling that these were going to be just as good as they smelled. And yes, they were. The cookies were soft and sweet. They don't need icing, but I don't think a little drizzle could hurt at all, and it would be oh-so-pretty.
To end my day's pumpkin-themed kitchen experience, I took a more savory approach. After all, I couldn't just eat sweets all day. (Or could I?) I didn't see myself trying to get too creative, so for the pumpkin element of dinner, I decided upon trying to make some sort of flatbread, in the style of a chapati or whole wheat tortilla, from which I would make a sandwich wrap with the hummus I made a few days back. I used stone-ground whole wheat flour, pumpkin puree, salt, a pinch of ground ginger, green onion, and just enough hot water to form it all into a workable dough. After letting the dough ball rest, I divided it up and rolled each piece out into a thin disc, cooking them over a comal. Hurray, pumpkin-green onion flatbread!To make the wrap, I slathered hummus on one side of a flatbread disc, topped one half with sauteed chard, Bosc pear slices, and grilled marinated tofu, and folded the unadorned side over to sandwich the contents. The wrap was sweet, savory, and very filling. The flatbread alone unfortunately didn't taste distinctly of pumpkin or even ginger, probably due to the pungent flavor of the green onion, but it wasn't bad and worked as a suitable sandwich base. So my "wing-it" attempt at pumpkin flatbread didn't turn out quite as hoped, but at least the pumpkin lent some distinctive softness to the bread, if not a standout flavor. I liked it, in any case, and that's good enough to close out my pumpkin-themed experimentation...for now.

17 October 2009

Throw It in a Bowl

When I'm feeling tired (and yeah, a little lazy), I don't exactly want to spend much time cooking. But alas, we all need to eat, and quite frankly, a peanut butter sandwich is hardly my idea of dinner. Fortunately, a couple handfuls of dried orzo was inspiration enough to throw together a light meal, using ingredients I almost always have in my refrigerator and pantry. Because the tiny pasta can go with practically anything, I basically threw whatever sounded pasta-salad appropriate into a bowl and deemed it dinner-worthy. There was minimal chopping, and the only cooking involved boiling the orzo and toasting pignoli. Thank goodness for the jarred artichokes, black olives, and sundried tomatoes.
While toasting a handful of pignoli in a dry pan and boiling about 2/3 c of orzo in salted water according to the package directions, I gathered up the rest of my ingredients: the aforementioned jarred items (artichokes, black olives, sundried tomatoes), two green onions, two garlic cloves, dried cranberries, tofu feta (made earlier from a recipe in Carole Raymond's Student's Go Vegan Cookbook), a few fresh basil leaves, and a leftover lemon half. I eyeballed the amounts of the jarred stuff, drained them, chopped the artichokes and tomatoes into small pieces, and sliced the olives in half lengthwise. I finely chopped the basil, garlic, and green onions, and cut the tofu feta into small cubes. Everything went into a bowl. Once the orzo was done, I drained it and added to the bowl as well and gave it all a quick mix to keep the orzo from sticking to itself. After a squeeze of lemon juice, a grind or two of black pepper, and a sprinkling of dried cranberries, I gave the whole thing a last toss. The resulting orzo salad was tangy from all of the brined ingredients, a bit spicy from the fresh garlic and pepper, and sweet from the sundried tomatoes and cranberries. The pignoli added that nuttiness I love so much, while the basil and lemon matched perfectly to add some freshness to the dish. The whole thing was so fast and easy to make. Had I been hungrier, I probably would have eaten this as a side dish, but it was fine for my quick and light meal.