29 January 2010

A Weakness

There are few things more comforting and delicious than bread hot from the oven or griddle.  I really can't resist it, whether it be sweet or savory, in the form of a loaf, roll, or disc.  Devouring carbohydrate-laden foods has always been a weakness, making bread no exception in the irresistable temptation department.  Having become much more comfortable with baking my own bread during the last few years, I am constantly consulting my favorite recipes as well as seeking new ones in order to ensure that I have a substantial supply of starchy love on hand.  The past few weeks have been no different.  Have a look at the results of my most recent attempts at bread-making:

Sourdough Banana Bread
I used this recipe from The Fresh Loaf, implementing vegan substitutes where appropriate.  I also replaced the walnuts with ground almonds already on hand and chose to use vanilla extract rather than orange zest.  I loved that this bread both deviated from the usual cinnamon-flavored versions of banana bread and was only slightly sweet.

Pain (French Bread)
Basic French bread recipes are typically quite similar.  I altered it slightly by substituting half of the bread flour with whole wheat flour.

Pizza Bianca
My version of the Roman flatbread used a pizza dough recipe my mother always uses when making regular pizza.  I substituted half of the bread flour with whole wheat flour, and to make the bread slightly sweet, I added two tablespoons of sugar to the dough.  I brushed the rolled disc of dough with some Kenzoil (an herb- and garlic-seasoned olive oil) and sprinkled it with course salt and pepper before baking.  The herb and garlic flavors were hardly detectable in the end result, so next time, I'll use plain, extra virigin olive oil prior to baking, and maybe the flavored oil for dipping.

Sourdough Sticky Buns
I followed this recipe for Sourdough English Muffins (again, using half whole wheat flour and making vegan substitutions), and added 1 tsp baking powder and 1/4 cup of sugar during the kneading process.  [Update 1/31: For my most recent batch, I added 1 tsp vanilla extract at the beginning, and later reduced the amount of sugar to 2 T.  The buns had a nice hint of vanilla and were perfectly sweet.]  For the "sticky" topping, I melted roughly a 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1 tsp vegan buttery spread, and 1 T almond milk, then poured it into a lightly greased muffin pan.  Toasted pecan pieces went over the caramel.  I divided the dough into 12 pieces and distributed them in the prepared pan.  After a brief rest, the pan went into the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.

Sweet Potato Rolls
I threw these together to use up the rest of a huge, roasted sweet potato of which I'd only eaten a fraction.  The rolls were slightly sweet and pillow-soft.  I'm still working on perfecting the recipe.

I baked up some yeast-risen biscuits to go with a hearty bowl of chili for lunch this afternoon, but because I rushed the biscuit-cutting step by using a knife rather than circular cutter, the biscuits turned out a bit ugly (albeit pretty tasty).  They are not as biscuit-like as I'd prefer--they are actually quite fluffy, like a typical, soft yeast roll--so I'll probably try to make them with alterations and hope for better results next time.  The work won't be such a bad thing; it just means more bread for me!

21 January 2010

When Life Gives You Soybeans

Tofu is a staple food in my kitchen.  Since becoming vegan, I've developed a taste for those blocks of bean curd that so often serve as my stand-by protein.  Despite my frequent reliance on tofu for providing substance to meals, until very recently, I had never tried making it myself.  I'd never even made my own soymilk.  So some time ago, I resolved that one day I would not only take it upon myself to make soymilk, but also go a few steps further to turn that soymilk into tofu.

The other day, I spied my unused homemade tofu press made using these instructions from i eat food, and took it upon myself to begin the tofu-making process.  Just Hungry has a very useful series of blog posts called "Milking the Soybean," which describes in detail how to make soymilk, tofu, and what to do with the okara leftover from making soymilk.  Because I was making it all from scratch, I began at Part 1.  My first-ever attempt was a success, so I was encouraged to move on to making the tofu.  I set aside some of the soymilk for drinking later and reserved the okara (the remants of the soymilk-making process).
I continued onto Part 2 of Maki's "Milking the Soybean" series, my homemade press, cheesecloth, and nigari at the ready.  I was only able to find concentrated liquid nigari (the coagulant used for making tofu in Japan), rather than the powdered version, at the Asian grocery, so I used the same method of dissolving the coagulant in water using a slightly smaller amount.  It worked out fine, much to my relief.  Here are the curds before pressing:
And this is what it looked like after removing the tofu from the press, removing its bitterness, and dividing the block in half so that it would fit in a storage container:
With that wonderfully fresh tofu on hand, I just had to use some of it for dinner that night.  Despite leaving it in the press for nearly half an hour, the tofu ended up being fairly delicate.  I didn't want to handle it too much, but unfortunately that didn't quite work out so the nice cubes of tofu ended up turning into some unruly lumps by the time the dish was done.  I basically threw the few vegetables I had available (a red bell pepper, a few carrots, and some green beans) into a hot wok with oil, added a bit of shoyu and sake, then added the cubed tofu, stirring the mixture gently and letting it simmer until the veggies were tender.  The tofu pretty much fell to pieces but it still tasted good.  I actually found out that letting the tofu simmer in a bit of liquid actually allowed it to firm up, just as parboiling tofu would.
The next night, I used the remainder of my homemade tofu to make something simpler.  After cubing the tofu, I let the pieces saute on all sides in a touch of oil.  The I added a mixture of maple syrup, shoyu, and rice wine vinegar and let it simmer for a few minutes until most of the liquid had evaporated.  With a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, the dish was done.  The tofu was firm but creamy with a sweet-salty flavor that paired well with plain, steamed rice.
I didn't want to throw out the okara leftover from making from making the soymilk, so I set out to find something to make from all of that fiber-rich goodness.  I'd made okara pancakes once, using a recipe from one of my mother's cookbooks, but I wasn't very fond of the results; they were cloying and had a strange aftertaste.  After a brief online search, I decided to dry the bulk of the okara and use the rest to make Mary's Okara UnChicken Nuggets.  Eaten plain, they tasted a bit dry, so I made a quick dipping sauce of shoyu, sriracha, and rice wine vinegar.
During my search for okara-based recipes, I became intrigued by word of the existence of okara donuts.  I'm not particularly fond of either deep-frying or deep-fried foods--they're tasty but that unhealthy greasiness isn't very attractive--but I was curious about how this okara donut might taste.  I haphazardly threw together an okara-based dough to bake in the oven and ended up with something more sweet biscuit-like than donut-like.  The donuts didn't taste bad, but they weren't exactly amazing either.  A dusting of powdered sugar made them a little sweeter, but the primary issue was the texture.  Perhaps I'll give in to frying up some donuts the next time I get around to making soymilk again.
Despite the lengthy and somewhat messy process involved in making tofu, it was an enjoyable learning experience.  It tested my patience and made me appreciate the steps needed to get from soybean to bean curd.  And it's always rewarding to be able to truly create something from scratch.  I'll definitely do it all again.

14 January 2010

Help for Haiti

My heart goes out to those suffering the devastation of the recent earthquake in Haiti.  For those of you who want to and can help--any and all relief efforts are surely appreciated and definitely needed in the aftermath of natural disaster on such scale--head over to the PPK blog.  You'll find this listing of vegan bake sales being held to raise money for disaster relief and show support for Haiti.  Please, if at all possible, become a bake sale volunteer, start your own sale, or visit a sale to buy some vegan treats for a good cause.  Thanks.

11 January 2010

Cool Weather Comfort in a Bowl

While the rest of the continent seems to be in a deep freeze, around here it's been a string of stereotypically warm and sunny California days.  Yes, this is California, but last time I checked, the Bay Area was still chilly, as was the rest of the state north of the central coast.  It's not that I don't enjoy temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s, but such weather really isn't normal for January, even here. 

Before it began to heat up around here, soup sounded like the perfect food for those cool days.  It also ended up being a tasty way to use up many of the vegetables I had lying around--namely, the winter squash that had been sitting unattended for quite some time.  Aside from the tedious process of cutting up the very large Guatemalan blue banana squash, making the rest of the soup was quite easy.  I decided to roast all of the vegetables, because I love the sweetness brought out by this particular cooking method.  I'm sure a wide range of veggies could be used, but this is what I put in my soup (using what was readily available):

Half-inch cubes of winter squash (2 to 3 cups)
2 large leeks, cut into rings and rinsed thoroughly
3 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
A head of garlic, with the top third of it removed
Half a head of cauliflower, separated into florets

I kept the different vegetables separated on rimmed baking sheets, drizzled them all with olive oil, and sprinkled them with salt, black pepper, and a few pinches of dried thyme.  I wrapped the garlic, cut side up, in a piece of foil.  Everything went into the oven--preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit--and I checked each type of veggie for too much browning, turning them periodically.  Because the project was a bit spontaneous, I didn't keep track of roasting times and just played it by ear.  The squash was the last to leave the oven, staying in for approximately an hour.
All went from oven to soup pot.  I added 4 cups of liquid: 2 cups of vegetable broth and 2 cups of water.  When making soup, I normally favor all if not most of the added liquid in the form of vegetable broth, but this time around, I knew the roasted vegetables would have a good amount of flavor themselves and did not want to mask it with too much broth.  I used an immersion blender to puree most of the soup, leaving some chunkiness to achieve the desired texture.  After heating the soup through and tasting to be sure the amount of salt was appropriate, I ladled a bit into a bowl, dressed it with a dash or so of hot sauce, and enjoyed my roasted veggie soup with a warm hunk of crusty bread.  It was so comforting and a wonderful blend of savory and sweet flavors.  So for those of you still experiencing wintry weather, try roasting up some veggies and have yourself a bowl of hearty soup to warm up.

01 January 2010

End-of-Year Roundup

As 2009 rolled to its finale, during the infamous season of epic feasts and baking extravaganzas, I found myself a bit out of sorts.  Despite my affinity toward kitchen-related activities, I spent the latter portion of December primarily away from the stove and oven, mostly snacking on odds and ends, hardly engaging in proper meals, and only occasionally mustering the energy to cook something of substance.  Here is a glance at a few random, final cooking projects from the year:

Key Lime Shortbread Rounds from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar (2009).
Vegan Vanilla Waffle Cones from Kamutflake Girl's adaptation of a Gale Gand recipe.
Baked sweet potato samosas adapted from this recipe at Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.
Cheesy Quackers from 500 Vegan Recipes (2009).
Curried Butternut Squash Hummus from 500 Vegan Recipes.
I hope you all have a wonderful 2010, and many more good years to follow.