28 November 2009

The Inevitable Thanksgiving Recap

While so many people I've talked to were grumbling about feeling stuffed to the brim with food after indulging in Thanksgiving festivities, I felt fine.  Really.  Cooking essentially with myself in mind before catering to the lack of dietary restrictions of everyone else at the family dinner--I get to be middle child, black sheep, and the only vegan (probably) within a country mile--I didn't exactly feel up to squeezing into the kitchen crowd Thursday, so I threw together a grand total of four items: protein, veggies, starch, and dessert.  For a holiday meal, one might have thought my plate looked pathetically well-balanced and sensibly portioned, but I try to keep all things in moderation, because I just feel better that way.  Here's what I made:

Savory Leek Quiche
I used this Vegetarian Times recipe once to bring to a barbeque/potluck, and people (myself included) seemed to enjoy it.  I particularly like that it calls for firm tofu rather than the silken tofu whose texture I typically don't relish. To give the tart an autumn-esque spin, I added chopped, roasted, and peeled chestnuts; a few chopped sage leaves; and a touch of poultry seasoning.

Braised Kale and Red Swiss Chard
I love greens, and I figured that my family could use something both healthy and delicious to accompany the fattening and very unhealthy things already on their plates.  The dish was simple, involving eyeballed amounts of chopped onion, roasted garlic, vegetable broth, salt, pepper, shoyu, and a bundle each of kale and red swiss chard.

Whole Wheat Pan de Sal
Pan de sal is a Filipino bread roll often consumed at breakfast.  It's soft and fluffy in the center with a slightly crusty exterior and distinct breadcrumb topping.  I've consulted this recipe from Allrecipes.com many times, and with a few alterations, it never fails to produce excellent bread.  I increased the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and used mostly whole wheat flour rather than all-purpose for a more wholesome bread, adding a 1/4 cup of vital wheat gluten to ensure that the end results wouldn't be dense.  The original recipe also does not call for the breadcrumb topping, but it's essential for emulating the pan de sal of my heritage, so I brushed the rolled dough with almond milk and sprinkled the tops with whole wheat breadcrumbs before baking.

Pecan Pie with Chocolate Chunks
Using this recipe from Vegweb.com, I managed to bake up a candy-sweet vegan dessert in very little time.  I spotted the recipe months back and saved it to my recipe box online, always intending to replicate a popular, non-vegan pecan pie a friend told me about produced by a specific cafe/bakery back in our little college town; it apparently was full of pecan halves, leaving very little room for a sweet "goo" layer to settle at the bottom (which ruins too many perfectly good pecan pies), and studded with not-quite-melted dark chocolate chunks.  Feeling suddenly inspired, I created a thin whole wheat crust--I'm not much of a pie crust-loving gal--to hold the filling.  I added an extra 1/2 cup of pecan halves to the filling to minimize the chances of that "goo" layer from forming and to maximize nuttiness.  I figured I could get away with using only half of the melted Earth Balance called for, and it worked out fine that way.  Midway through baking, when the recipe calls for a reduction in oven temperature, I buried a few scattered chunks of dark chocolate into the filling and proceeded with the baking.  By the time I cut into the pie a few hours later, the chocolate chunks had resolidified as I intended.  I never did try that pie my friend told me about, but my own might have been decadent enough to rival that other non-vegan (and from what I hear, quite pricey) version.

It may not have been a fancy vegan Thanksgiving meal, but I'm satisfied with it.  There was no pressure to compromise my lifestyle, and with sensible servings of relatively healthy dishes, I didn't feel like a glutton post-meal.  I say that's successful enough.

25 November 2009

Kitchen Happenings

With so many wonderful recipes hitting bookshelves and the blogosphere, it seems quite remarkable that people are still devising novel ways to cook up tasty eats.  There are so many delicious-sounding recipes floating around, in fact, that my list of "to-cook" dishes has long been too long for me to find the time and materials necessary to get through each item.  But in between cooking up the ever-familiar "go-to" meals and life beyond the kitchen, in the last week or so, I've found the means to try some new dishes, all of which were more or less as tasty as they looked or sounded when I first came across them.  Here are a few notables:

Sweet Potato Cake from VegNews.  I halved the recipe to achieve a single-layer cake, substituted sweet potato with roasted blue ballet squash--it has a similar texture and nutty flavor--used only cinnamon rather than the other spices, threw together a cinnamon icing, and topped that with sugared walnuts.  The cake was moist and sweet, but not overly so.
Celebration Pot Pie with Pumpkin Biscuit Crust from Fatfree Vegan Kitchen.  I halved the recipe and it still made enough to feed a few people.  I also had roasted and pureed acorn squash on hand rather than pumpkin for the biscuit topping.  It was warm, comforting, hearty, and very, very tasty.
Cauliflower "Risotto" from One Frugal Foodie.  I made no substitutions, although I eyeballed the amounts of onion and cauliflower, using a leftover hunk of the onion and an entire small- to medium-sized head of cauliflower.  This grain-free dish is remarkably reminiscient of the more familiar type made with arborio rice.  It was so delicious.  This is such an easy and creative way to cook cauliflower that I would never have thought of myself.
Butterless Avocado Brioche from Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.  As suggested by the recipe's author, I baked the loaf at a lower temperature than the original recipe states, for a slightly longer time.  I love the creativity that spawned this recipe, too.  Who would have thought that using avocado to replace eggs and butter could yield bread, of all things?  And the dough pre-bake is a lovely avocado green that is retained in the finished product.  Thick slices would make great French toast.
Obviously, there are many, many recipes out there worth trying!  I'll probably never make a serious dent in that "to-cook" list of mine, but I'll keep trying anyway, especially if the payoff is as delectable as it's been so far.

22 November 2009

So Many Lemons

I don't know if it has something to do with living in this particular part of the state, or if it's a "California thing" in general, but there never seems to be any shortage of lemons here.  Even with many of the housing developments of the last couple of decades occupying former orchard or other agricultural lands, one need not travel far to come across the next lemon tree; lemon orchards are still quite abundant despite the continual growth of housing units, and many residents grow their own backyard citrus trees.  It's no wonder that I realized the abundance of locally grown lemons at my disposal.

My favorite store-bought vegan cookie is of the lemon poppy seed variety, and it just so happened that I just recently devoured the last of this infrequent indulgence.  After savoring the last bite, I resolved to attempt to bake up some chewy, lemony cookies of my own, despite having had few successes in the realm of chewy cookies.  Sure, I've baked up pretty batches of lemon biscotti and lemon cornmeal cookies, but I also find it much less difficult to bake up something crispy than to achieve the perfect balance of soft, chewy, and completely cooked.  And I knew it would be difficult to exactly replicate the texture and flavor of my beloved store-bought favorite, but I gave it a go anyway.  No sense wasting perfectly good lemons, in any case.
I actually really like the cookies resulting from my first attempt at chewy, lemony, baked deliciousness.  After consulting the Internet and finding an appropriate Vegan Treats recipe (featured at VegNews), I made some adjustments to suit my taste and what I had available in the kitchen.  In terms of the inspiration recipe's use of soy yogurt, it was something I did not have on hand and did not want to track down on a late Sunday afternoon, so I replaced that and some of the margarine called for with a blend of leftover silken tofu, the remainder of vegan soy mayonnaise in the refrigerator, and a small amount of vegetable oil.  Now, I've not tried Vegan Treat's recipe as written, but sticking to their given amounts of margarine and soy yogurt obviously sounds much easier than my method.  But I try to work with what I have at any given time, if possible, as well as adjust the other amounts to my tastes (in this case, increasing the lemon factor for more of a citrus punch).  These cookies are still a work in progress, but I'm fairly happy with my first shot, so hopefully future adjustments can be kept at a minimum.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies (inspired by a Vegan Treats recipe) (printable recipe)
Makes 32

3/4 c granulated sugar
3/4 c light brown sugar
1/4 c vegan soy mayonnaise
3 oz firm silken tofu (equal to 1/4 package of the vacuum-packed type)
2 T vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 T lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp poppy seeds

Blend the soy mayonnaise, tofu, and vegetable oil until smooth.  In a large bowl, mix the tofu mixture with the sugars, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and lemon zest until well-combined.  In a separate bowl, mix the the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, along with the poppy seeds, and mix well.  Scoop walnut-sized portions of batter onto parchement-lined baking sheets, leaving at least an inch of space around each dough ball to allow for expansion.  Gently press the dough balls down slightly to smooth out the top and slightly flatten them (this isn't completely necessary, but the resulting cookie will look nicer and will brown more evenly).  Bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 24 minutes, until the edges begin to turn a light golden brown; check after 15 minutes for browning, turning the sheets midway.  After removing from the oven, let the cookies stand on the sheets for a minute or two before placing them on cooling racks.  Enjoy!

16 November 2009

Almost-Pasta Dinner

I spend so much time in the kitchen.  Really.  But sometimes I either lack the energy or impulse (or both) to cook, leaving me snacking and trying to find quick meals to assemble with on-hand ingredients and minimal effort.  Pasta is up there on my go-to list of quick-and-easy meals, but as I drew closer to plunging the last of my whole wheat elbow macaroni in a pot of boiling water, I suddenly lacked any desire for noodles.  It's rare for me, but it happens.  Strangely enough, the meal that would be pasta morphed into a slightly more labor-intensive seitan-making session.  As in chicken-style seitan for a "chicken" marinara sandwich.  I guess I snapped out of my laziness.  The reasoning probably isn't that solid, but hey, at least I stuck with the pasta sauce, so the idea didn't just come from nowhere.

Anyway, I used yet another Fat Free Vegan Kitchen recipe to get dinner going.  I followed the directions for the seitan cutlets through the steaming step.  I used only half a cutlet for my sandwich--I wasn't that hungry--and rather than flouring it, I sprinkled it lightly with salt and pepper and browned it in a nonstick skillet.  The sandwich bread was the end of a store-bought French baguette that I lopped off for my eating pleasure.  I thought I'd keep the sandwich simple by just dressing the browned, chicken-style seitan with homemade marinara.  Had I any greens in the house, I would have applied them to making this a heartier meal.  But while those extras would have made dinner more substantial, they really weren't necessary here and I rather enjoyed the simplicity of the sandwich as-is.  It was surprisingly reminiscient of the chicken parmesan sandwiches I enjoyed back in high school, sans pan-frying and animal products, of course.  I guess it was a good thing I dumped the pasta plan.  Not that I have anything against pasta, mind you, but I'll save it for another lazy night.

13 November 2009

When Cravings Compete

It's a bit unusual for seemingly opposing cravings for Thai food and pizza to swoop upon me at the same time, but maybe it was just one of those moments on one of those days.  It could have been a dilemma, but I was too hungry to ruminate.  Rather than settling for something quick and totally unrelated to the aforementioned cravings, I decided to slap the two ideas together and call it lunch.  Yes, it was time to finally try out a Thai-inspired pizza about which I've been quite curious but had never ventured to sample.  Its existence is not unheard of; in fact, I've heard that the California Pizza Kitchen, non-vegan manifestation of this concoction (Thai Chicken Pizza) has been pretty popular since its creation.  I've never had CPK's Thai pizza, but as far as I know, they use a peanut sauce as its base, which is what I did, so I'm sure my vegan version was somewhat reminiscient of CPK's non-vegan one.
I had some Trader Joe's Chicken-Less Strips lying about the refrigerator, so it worked quite well as a vegan substitute for protein.  I would have just stuck to veggies and peanut sauce had I not had those strips on hand, and it probably would've been just fine that way, but I liked that added substantiality from the protein.  I made a sauce from natural peanut butter, rice wine vinegar, shoyu, cilantro, chili paste, and a touch of water to loosen it up when it became too thick to spread nicely, eyeballing everything and tasting it to make sure the mixture resembled a Thai peanut sauce.  I dredged some browned pieces of faux chicken in the sauce so that they wouldn't be too dry while baking and set them aside while I spread the rest of the sauce on the disc of homemade whole wheat dough I had just rolled out.  Pre-oven toppings went as follows: faux chicken, red bell pepper slices, and steamed broccoli florets.  While the pizza was baking, I whipped up yet another batch of a Fatfree Vegan Kitchen recipe (this time for Mozarella-Style Cheeze).  After removing the pizza from the oven, I drizzled the Cheeze sauce over the top of the pizza, then sprinkled it all with grated carrot (supposedly in the style of CPK) and chopped cilantro.  Crushed peanuts would have made for an excellent crunchy topping.  I have to say, it can neither be considered remotely authentic (Thai or Italian), which is why I'm referring to my pizza as "Thai-inspired," but it was tasty anyway.  I basically used whatever vegetables I would have put with a peanut sauce, threw it on pizza crust, and topped it all with "melted" Cheeze to fuse the cuisines and tie the pizza concept together.  Surprisingly enough the Cheeze complemented the peanut sauce well, and half the pie later, my hunger and cravings were satisfied.  I'd say that experiment was a tasty success.

10 November 2009

Recent Kitchen Action

Although I've not yet confirmed what to do about my little vegan corner of the Thanksgiving table this year, I am leaning toward making an assortment of appetizer-like or bite-sized treats, savory and sweet.  Of course, that leaves the dilemma of deciding upon the specific little bites to make without going overboard.  I already have cookies and cupcakes in mind for dessert (pumpkin pie isn't doing it for me lately), but the savory element is up for grabs.  Hmmm.

In the meantime, I'm staying active in the kitchen, wondering whether I should even stick to a Thanksgiving-themed menu--ya know, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, etc.--or try for something more non-traditional, like say, a tasting of international delights.  I tend to cook whatever fits my mood, and often fall into particular types of cuisines for short spans, but this week, it seems that I'm all over the board.  Here are a few things I've created during the past few days:

Black bean and tofu enchiladas
These were a result of the remnants of a huge pot of freshly-cooked black beans and a leftover hunk of firm tofu.  The sauce is also from scratch, and on top of that is some "cheese" sauce (using Susan's recipe from Fatfree Vegan Kitchen) I still had from making baked potatoes a few days earlier.  I would occasionally buy a certain frozen black bean and tofu enchilada plate from the grocery store across the street from my apartment while still in school; this is my homemade version of it.

Pumpkin scones
I had a bit of black futsu pumpkin puree that needed to be used up, and found a recipe for Pumpkin Scones from Carole Raymond's Student's Go Vegan Cookbook.  I added just a bit of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves to prevent blandness and bring out the pumpkin flavor, but using a light touch to avoid overpowering it.  These were meant to be drop scones, but I wanted a more uniform size and shape, so I opted to drop the batter in muffin tins, resulting in the muffin-like appearance.

Hoppin' John
I saw the dried black-eyed peas in the pantry, and remembering how much I liked this recipe for Hoppin' John, I gave the recipe another go with most of the alterations I'd used the first time.  I threw in the last little bit of leftover black beans and a couple of seeded Thai chili peppers from the garden, so the dish turned out quite spicy.  I do enjoy spicy food, but even I have to admit that I was not expecting so much heat from the peppers, especially because they had not seemed to spice up other dishes I've used them quite to the same degree.  Apparently, I underestimated their potency.  But the food was good, so I can't complain too much.  I'll just make note of the amounts for the next time around.  Sorry for the poor quality of that last photo!

05 November 2009

Vegan Croissants, Two Ways

I made croissants for the very first time today, and they were vegan to boot.  Admittedly, I have never been too fond of the flaky French crescents or anything very buttery in general, even before becoming vegan, but the occasional croissant suited me fine.  Sure, it's fine to indulge in little treats now and then, but a croissant always seemed like the type of thing that just felt fattening, akin to the donuts of my youth, so trying to live with moderation and health consciousness in mind, I typically have little issue with avoiding such things.  But something compelled me to make croissants anyway; I think I was drawn in by the challenge of not only the specific process of folding the dough with the fat, etc., but also of successfully adapting a traditionally non-vegan recipe to produce relatively tasty vegan end products.  Whatever the reason, I made the things, and I'm pretty sure that even the omnivores in my life will make sure the pastries won't stick around for much longer.

Newly-rolled dough crescents.  Better than pre-made?  Probably.
These croissants are about as buttery as they get without the use of actual butter.  Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks provide the butter substitute that make the pastry so flaky, although they did turn out a bit greasy as well.  I used the croissant recipe from Nick Malgieri's How to Bake, a cookbook among my mother's mighty kitchen arsenal, and was a bit taken aback by the amount of fat required.  I actually considered reducing the amount required by the recipe by a half cup, but since I'd never made croissants before, much less using this particular recipe, I followed the amounts precisely and only made alterations in order to "veganize" the dough; as mentioned, vegan buttery sticks replaced the butter, and unsweetened almond milk replaced dairy milk.  When preparing to bake the dough, I rolled half of it into plain croissants and they other half into the Almond Croissant variation given by Malgieri.  The almond paste used in the latter was a homemade, vegan version, of course.  And because I have dough leftover--the recipe for the croissants themselves is written for a half-batch of dough--I may try making Malgieri's Chocolate Croissants.  But I should probably stay away from too much pastry for awhile after this fattening kitchen venture.

Plain croissants (foreground) and almond croissants (background).
Almond croissant, on a festive Eiffel Tower plate.

04 November 2009

Thinking Up a Meal for One

Because no one else in my family can even imagine Thanksgiving without the bird, real butter butterhorns, and other traditional feast fare (a.k.a., saturated in animal products and totally unhealthy), I'll most likely have to cook up some vegan eats for myself this holiday season, not that I don't already do that on a regular basis, mind you.  Really, the main problem I have is that I need to reduce the scale of whatever it is I decide to make, because frankly, while the family might taste a little bit of whatever is on the table--vegan and non-vegan alike--they won't be grabbing for seconds from my stock (preferring the aforementioned traditional fare over my stuff), and I can't see myself eating it all in one sitting.  I know, leftovers are an inherent part of Thanksgiving, but I can only take so much of them and I hate to waste.  Hmm.  I'll be thinking hard about this one for the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I cooked up a couple of things during the last few days and thought I'd briefly show you the results.  The first was a result of trying to mix up my weekly sourdough routine, and the second, just a craving for a vegan version of a Filipino staple dish.

Sundried tomato and garlic sourdough bread.  Thick slices make great savory toast.
Tofu pancit.  I used thin rice vermicelli rather than the thicker wheat noodles that are often used.
Croissants are in the works, so check back for those a little later.

01 November 2009

World Vegan Day 2009

Happy World Vegan Day!  Today kicks off World Vegan Month (all of November) and that sounds like a good reason to celebrate with more great vegan food as the winter holidays begin to roll around.  Check out the World Vegan Day site for related links.

Tomorrow, 2 November, is World Pneumonia Day.  It's the first ever held, and many will be showing their support for the cause to prevent and treat this often devastating disease by wearing blue jeans.  See other ways to show support.