28 February 2010

Good Things to Come (Take Note)

Much of my cooking in recent weeks has been in the form of testing recipes for Taymer Mason Guillaume's upcoming cookbook, Vegan in the Sun.  It's been a wonderful experience that has reaffirmed my appreciation for everything that goes into the cookbook process.  Caribbean food is fantastically flavorful, so of course, the food has been delicious!  Here is a glance at a few of the delectable things that resulted from testing:

Fat Free Black Eyed Pea Stew

Coconut Turnovers


Ital Mixed Bean Stew

My family especially loved the turnovers (for good reason) and could not seem to get enough of them.  I'm happy for Taymer and grateful to her for allowing me to participate in the recipe testing.  The cookbook is going to be awesome, so keep your eyes out for it!

24 February 2010

Oh-So-Soft Sweet Potato Rolls

It should be obvious by now that I am a sucker for homemade bread.  So when I have cooked, leftover sweet potato to use up, chances are that I will choose baking bread over pie.  Not only have I never really taken to pie crusts (as weird as that may sound), the only type of sweet potato pie I've liked so far uses Okinawan sweet potatoes, which are only available for maybe two months during autumn, so generally my own pie-baking attempts are limited to the end of the year anyway.

After a few trials, I think I've found a suitable, go-to recipe for sweet potato rolls.  It uses few ingredients and the resulting bread is pillowy-soft and just slightly sweet.  I prefer using white-fleshed sweet potatoes or the purple-fleshed Okinawan sweet potatoes rather than the orange-fleshed ones that so often dominate supermarkets; the white and purple varieties are much sweeter and not nearly as watery as the orange type.  Because the Okinawan sweet potatoes have disappeared from my local farmers' market for the time being, I was left with a comparably sweet and starchy purple-skinned, white flesh variety that is more widely available.  If neither of those starchy types are around, the orange works fine for this bread--my first couple attempts at sweet potato bread used orange-fleshed potatoes--and gives it a distinct orange color.  Just be aware that you may need to add more flour to your dough.  I love these rolls plain, but I may add some chopped pecans in a future batch for nutty crunch.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
Sweet Potato Rolls (printable recipe)
Makes 12 to 16

3/4 c plain, unsweetened nondairy milk, warm to the touch
1 T agave (molasses may be substituted, but the flavor will be slightly stronger and not as sweet)
2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
1 c cooked and mashed sweet potato (preferably a white- or purple-fleshed starchy variety, but orange is fine), cooled
1/2 tsp salt
1 T mild oil, such as canola or vegetable oil
2 1/2 to 3 c flour (I used a blend of predominantly whole wheat and some unbleached bread flour)
mild oil, for coating the bowl, dough, and baking sheet
nondairy milk (optional), for brushing the tops

Mix the agave with the warm nondairy milk in a large bowl.  Sprinkle the yeast on top and allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes to proof, until the mixture becomes slightly foamy.  Stir in the mashed sweet potato.  Stir in the salt and 1 cup of flour.  Continue adding flour, 1/2 c at a time, just until you have a soft dough that is too thick to mix with a spoon.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, adding more flour if necessary, until you get something that is still soft but no longer sticky.  Form the dough into a ball and place it in a large, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour or until roughly doubled in size.

Gently deflate the dough.  Pull off pieces slighly bigger than the size of a walnut and roll and pinch them into balls.  Place the balls of dough on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, 2 inches apart; for soft-sided rolls, arrange the dough balls in a 9-inch square pan so that they are just touching.  Lightly oil the top of the dough and cover again to rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Just before placing them in the oven, lightly brush the top of each dough ball with nondairy milk.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.  Serve warm and enjoy!

19 February 2010

The Month of Cake

January and February signal the yearly birthday and anniversary onslaught.  After getting a brief post-holiday breather, it's celebration time once again, beginning with my parents' anniversary in mid-January and stretching on until my younger sister's birthday at the end of February.  No matter how many important dates fall within that period, family tradition wordlessly states that each acknowledgment be accompanied by a minimum of a family gathering and an appropriately-themed cake.  That means a lot of cake.

While cake is not necessarily my dessert of choice, I do enjoy the occasional slice or oh-so-pretty cupcake (all vegan, of course).  And it doesn't take a specialist to distinguish the good from the bad.  Last year, my mother unsurprisingly insisted upon the necessity of cake for my birthday, but having not had the opportunity to acquire a vegan confection, she managed to get me to bake my own cake, despite my attempts to convince her of its triviality.  I whipped up a Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream using the recipes from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Joy of Vegan Baking, filling and topping the chocolate creation with some of the first strawberries of the season from my family's favorite, very local strawberry farm.
Last week, that same insistence upon upholding tradition for my family's acknowledgment of 20-something years of my earthly existence yielded not just one, but two vegan cakes, neither of them a product of my own effort.  The first, a very moist chocolate-orange treat studded with chopped almonds and drenched in rich ganache, was my mother's first attempt at intentionally-vegan baking.  I loved everything about that cake.  Unfortunately, I have no photos to share with you, but believe me, it was pretty fantastic.

Cake No. 2 was a different story.  The day of my birthday, Mom and I set out to collect ingredients for dinner.  While perusing the bakery section of the grocery store, we came upon a small selection of six-inch cakes from Fabe's All Natural Bakery, with three apparently vegan varieties.  My mom, perhaps feeling guilty about the previous year's cake situation and also likely as curious about this prepackaged vegan dessert as I was, had me select a cake, despite having already prepared a perfectly delicious homemade one that morning.  So I chose the Banana Cake; my other options were Carrot Cake and Triple Chocolate, but I'm not a big fan of carrot cake and another chocolate cake wouldn't lend itself to much variety.

I had never heard of Fabe's Bakery until that point.  The Banana Cake that my mom and I took back to the house was labeled as vegan, wheat-free, and like the rest of the company's baked goods, made using all natural ingredients.  Apparently, this cake was meant to be "moist and irresistible."  We wouldn't know whether that claim was true until later that night.
So how did Fabe's cake hold up to Mom's?  The homemade chocolate cake, also vegan and devoid of preservatives, was far superior than the prepackaged Banana Cake from the grocery store.  While the Banana Cake looked cute and pretty with its cream-colored frosting and slivered almonds, once I cut into it, a cross-section revealed layers of a stiff, buttercream-like frosting alternating with dry, dense cake layers.  "Moist and irresistible"?  Unfortunately, no.  Fabe's creation definitely suffered textural problems, and the flavor--akin to banana bread without enough bananas--was tolerable, but not "irresistible."  Although I fully anticipated its inability to upstage anything my mother bakes, the storebought cake was still a disappointment.  I'll stick to cakes that are either homemade or baked fresh on-site.
Because this has been a rare week in February without a birthday cake, a chocolate craving gave me an excuse to--what else?--bake a cake.  Since stumbling across this recipe for Hot Fudge Cake at the Affectioknit blog, I have been waiting for an excuse to try it out.  I gave it a go last night, indulging in the cake's brownie-and-chocolate-pudding-like decadence.
The last of the birthdays is just around the corner, so it is yet to be seen what next week's cake will be.  To be perfectly honest, I don't think I'll mind a break from both the celebrations and the ultra-rich desserts that accompany them...at least for the time being.

15 February 2010

"So This is the New Year..."

(Thanks to my good friend, Tanya, for sharing her love of Death Cab for Cutie...and by extension, getting those lyrics in my head all day.)

Happy belated lunar new year, all.  Rather than partaking in Valentine's Day festivities--to be quite honest, I've long had mixed feelings about the "holiday"--I focused any celebratory energy toward Losar, the Tibetan new year, in my own small and typical way: by cooking.  The last three weeks of food-related ventures have been devoted primarily to birthday celebrations and recipe testing for Taymer Mason Guillaume's upcoming cookbook, Vegan in the Sun (you'll want to keep your eyes out for this one!), so I thought it'd be nice to celebrate Tibet this Losar by sneaking in a simple Tibetan dish.  I know very little about Tibetan cuisine.  My online search consistently produced results for a noodle soup called thenthuk, and finding it an appropriately simple recipe to try, I gave it shot.  According to the recipe I ultimately consulted, thenthuk translates to "pulled noodles," named based upon the preparation of the noodles for the soup.  I only made the following alterations to the recipe: 1) I omitted the optional meat, and 2) threw in an entire vegetable bouillon cube instead of just "a pinch."
Despite its simplicity, the soup was both tasty and filling, thanks to spinach, potato chunks, and thick, handmade noodles.  I'm eager to explore Tibetan cuisine further when time permits.  I know a single pot of soup isn't the most celebratory way to ring in the new year, but for me at least, it was a way to show some love and support for the Tibetan people and whose culture's existence is still, unfortunately, very much threatened.  I hope that this year, the Year of the Metal Tiger, may bring about peace and happiness for all.

06 February 2010

One Issue, Five Recipes

Whenever I find a recipe that sounds appetizing, I begin to mentally shuffle through the contents of the kitchen so that I can get cooking as soon as possible.  If I have enough of the ingredients for the foundation of a recipe, I usually try to make it with whatever alterations are necessary or better fit my taste preferences.  When I received the latest issue of Vegetarian Times a few weeks ago, it delighted me to see that many of the magazine's recipes not only sounded tasty, but also largely called for ingredients I use regularly.  With sparked interest, I set about making the following dishes from the February 2010 issue of Vegetarian Times, all with wonderful results:

Tempeh-Oatmeal Meatloaf
I didn't have herbes de Provence, so I used a dried Italian herb mix instead.

Smoky Split Pea Soup
With an abundance of red bell peppers on hand and absolutely no celery, I figured I could swap the two.  The soup turned out just fine, and I liked the added sweetness from the bell pepper.

Toasted Oat-Almond Muesli
I used maple syrup instead of agave--I love maple granola--and both dried cranberries and chopped, dried apricots.  This became quite an addicting snack.

Garlic and Kale Soup
Criminis replaced the shiitake mushrooms (another availability-based substitution).  This soup had such a wonderfully savory flavor.

Iced Oatmeal Cookies
These cookies remind me of a particular oatmeal cookie my older sister and I loved as kids.  I'm really no raisin fan, so I replaced the raisins with dried cranberries.  I also left half of the cookies un-iced, because they were sweet enough as-is (although the sweet lemon flavor of the icing does complement the cookie nicely).  My non-veg family really enjoyed these either way, so that's good enough for me.

I continue to eye the recipe for Minestrone with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and White Beans.  It's yet another recipe that calls for items I keep stocked in my kitchen.  I have a feeling I'll enjoy the soup, too, based upon the success of the magazine's other recipes, my love of minestrone in general, and my current soup mood.  I also just baked up some ciabatta, and being such a bread fanatic, I can see little better than warming up on this cold, rainy day with a hot bowl of soup and crusty bread.