28 April 2010

Experimenting with Green Garlic

The farmers' market is a wonderful produce source year-round, but I particularly enjoy seeing all that is available there during spring and summer, when fruits and vegetables seem most varied and abundant.  Lately, the local Saturday market has been peppered with stacks of green garlic.  The ubiquitousness of the purple-tinged, scallion-like stalks recently encouraged me to purchase a small bundle, despite having no clue what to do with it.  The latest issue of Vegetarian Times provided some suggestions for using green garlic, but they were too vague to really spark my creativity.  After a bit of brainstorming, kitchen experimentation ensued.

First up, I decided to depart a bit from my usual bread regimen to revisit the realm of biscuits and scones.  Until this point, for one reason or another I had never attempted to make a savory scone and biscuit attempts have always stayed fairly neutral.  Wanting to finally give it a shot, I decided to combine fresh green garlic and dill in a savory scone- or biscuit-like creation.  I'll just call them scones, because that's what I originally had it mind when making these.  (I really don't know the difference between scones and biscuits and have always assumed it must have something to do with method.)  I used a blend of oat and whole wheat pastry flours and went easy on the sweetener, with the aforementioned aromatics providing the flavor.  I hoped that the dill wouldn't overwhelm the mildness of the green garlic; it didn't, but it seemed like the green garlic mellowed out even more as it cooked.  So although I enjoyed the hint of dill and the appearance of green, white, and purple specks, I would have liked a more pronounced green garlic flavor rather than a barely-detectable one.  Clearly, if I make these again, the formula will first require some tweaking.
Part two of the green garlic experiment yielded more favorable results: Whole Wheat Green Garlic Flatbread.  Barring my well-known preference for yeast-leavened bread, I think the relative simplicity of the flatbread formula just worked better than the completely improvised and slightly more complicated scone formula.  Although the finished product still featured a mild green garlic flavor, it was pleasant nonetheless.  And really, you can't go wrong with flatbread.  What is particularly nice is that this bread's mild hint of garlic makes it perfectly tasty unadorned, but the flavor is not too overpowering to pair nicely with a spread or entree.  In any case, the texture is great: soft and chewy, with a crisp edge here and there.  I may try toasting some in the oven to make flatbread chips, or making wraps from them...if I don't just eat the remaining as-is.  Here's how I made them, for those of you perhaps interested in giving the recipe a try.  Just keep in mind that if you really want more of a garlicky flavor, the amount of green garlic given below isn't going to provide it, so either increase the amount of green garlic or just use regular garlic instead.

Green Garlic Flatbread (printable recipe)
Makes 8 pieces

1/2 c water, just warm to the touch
2 tsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 c unsweetened soy yogurt, at room temperature
1 c unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 T green garlic, minced (can substitute regular garlic)
1 T vegan butter, melted, or oil (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the water and brown sugar.  Sprinkle in the yeast, and let it sit for five to 10 minutes to proof (discard and start over if the yeast doesn't begin to foam).  Thoroughly mix in the soy yogurt.  Add the bread flour, 1 cup of the whole wheat flour, and salt, stirring well until combined.  Stir in the remaining whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup at a time, kneading it in with your hands when the dough becomes too thick to stir with a spoon.  Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for another five minutes until it is fairly smooth, adding more whole wheat flour if the dough is still sticky.  Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover and let it rise at room temperature for approximately an hour, or until the dough has nearly doubled.

Gently degas the dough and knead in the green garlic until it is well distributed.  Divide the dough into eight equal portions, form each into a ball, then cover and let them rest for 20 minutes.  The dough will rise slightly.

Heat a nonstick skillet or griddle over a medium flame.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each dough ball into a thin (between 1/8" to 1/4" thick) round or oblong disc.  When the griddle is hot, turn the flame down to medium-low, place one of the dough rounds over it and cook it until the top begins to form bubbles and the bottom is barely beginning to brown.  This should take two to three minutes.  Lightly brush the uncooked (top) side with melted vegan butter or oil, if using, then flip and cook until the underside is brown, about another two to three minutes.  Brush the top with butter, flip the bread for the last time, and cook until the underside is brown.  Brush the top with more butter, if desired, and remove to a cloth-lined plate or basket.  Repeat the process with the remaining dough.  Serve warm.
As with most bread, leftovers can be frozen.  To reheat, I either wrap pieces in foil and warm them in the oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or so, or carefully heat them on the stove directly over a low flame.  Of course, you could reheat the bread in a pan on the stove instead, or even just pop a piece in the toaster.  Whatever method you choose, enjoy!

24 April 2010

PB and Apple Pancakes

Pancakes, in my humble opinion, are an any-time-of-day food.  If there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating a maple syrup-drenched short stack at the crack of noon on a lazy weekend, why should lunch or dinner during the week be any different?  Pancakes are not only quick and easy to whip up, but versatile, too; one can stack, stuff, or top them with almost anything to make them taste delcious.  While I love "traditional" pancakes--in their vegan form, of course--it's fun to play with a basic recipe to create something a little different.  If done right, as I believe was the case with these Peanut Butter and Apple Pancakes, the results can be deliciously rewarding.
The idea of combining peanut butter and apples for pancakes arose when brainstorming uses for the last remaining Jonagold apple in the fruit bowl.  Due to its slight tartness, I wasn't too keen on eating it as-is.  I used to enjoy eating peanut butter with sweet apples, but having moved beyond the sweetened peanut butter of my childhood in favor of natural, unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter, I couldn't really see that old snack combination working in quite the same way.  But nostalgia has its way of inspiring good eats.  Remembering how much I enjoyed the Peanut Butter Pancakes from 500 Vegan Recipes, I figured that combining that basic idea with the aforementioned childhood snack could be just as delicious.  It certainly would sweeten things up, especially with a generous dose of maple syrup (or in this case, a decadent combination of peanut butter and maple syrup) that is pretty much essential when pancakes are involved.

These tender cakes are sweet, rich, and full of nutty, apple-y flavor.  The additional peanut butter in the syrup puts them over the top, but there's nothing wrong with a little indulgence now and then, right?  I initially used apple slices to place on the uncooked side of each pancake before flipping them, and although that worked fine and the slices even carmelized a bit, you can make it even easier on yourself (and also distribute the apple pieces more uniformly) by dicing the apple and mixing it into the batter instead.  For a peanut butter-banana version, simple substitute apple with banana.

Peanut Butter and Apple Pancakes (printable recipe)
Yields 2 to 4 servings

3/4 c oat flour or rolled oats, finely ground
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted peanut butter)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/4 c nondairy milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 T unsalted, natural peanut butter (Either smooth or crunchy is fine; I prefer crunchy.)
2 T pure maple syrup, agave nectar, or molasses (I prefer maple here.)
1 medium slightly tart apple, such as Jonagold

Core and thinly slice the apple.  If desired, save a few apple slices and proceed to dice the rest, setting all of the apple aside while you prepare the batter; for completely hassle-free pancakes, just dice the entire apple.  Heat a nonstick skillet or griddle over medium-low heat.  To prepare the batter, combine the oat flour or ground oats, whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the nondairy milk, vanilla and almond extracts, peanut butter, and maple syrup.  Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.  If it seems too thick (more so than a typical pancake batter), slowly incorporate more nondairy milk until you achieve the desired consistency.  Fold in the diced apple, reserving the apple slices for later (if using).

When the skillet is hot, spray it lightly with oil.  Drop the batter in scant quarter-cup amounts onto the hot skillet.  If you opted to reserve some apple slices, arrange a few atop each of the pancakes.  When bubbles appear on the tops of the pancakes and the bottoms are golden brown--this normally takes a couple of minutes or so--flip the pancakes and continue to cook them until the other side is golden brown.  Remove to a plate and serve warm with Peanut Butter-Maple Syrup.

Peanut Butter-Maple Syrup
You can make this in any amount using this ratio:
1 part unsalted, natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
2 parts pure maple syrup
pinch of salt

In a saucepan over low heat, combine all of the above ingredients until homogenous.  Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve and enjoy!

I ate these pancakes for lunch one day, and they not only took me back to my childhood, but kicked that old snack favorite up a notch.  If you like the fruit and peanut butter combination, you may want to give this recipe a shot and have yourself a decadent anytime snack or meal!

21 April 2010

From Leftovers to Food On-the-Go

If you happen to have leftover Japanese-style curry around (as I did recently), kare man is another delectable way of eating it.  Kare man refers to manju--Japanese steamed bread buns--containing Japanese curry filling (kare referring to curry, and man referring to the bread).  The varieties of manju are virtually endless and come in both sweet and savory forms, with the curry-filled version among the more traditional.  Stuffed bread seems to be one of those foods that is present in every food culture, so although I had never tasted kare man until making it myself, I have eaten foods that follow that same concept of bread with filling; as a child, for example, Hawaiian manapua (steamed bun with meat filling, similar to Chinese bao) was well-stocked in the family freezer.
Besides providing an excuse to eat more bread as well as changing up the curry-with-rice routine, once cooked, kare man can easily be refrigerated or frozen then reheated in the microwave (or resteamed if microwaves aren't your thing), making a very convenient grab 'n go snack or small meal.  And it happens to be pretty simple to make.  I followed this kare man yeast dough recipe, using a 1:1 ratio of whole wheat and all-purpose flours.  Then I filled the dough with my Japanese curry leftovers (although the version given with the dough recipe looks mighty tasty, too) and steamed them as directed.  The dough can be made with baking powder instead of yeast, but I prefer the loft and flavor of yeast-risen bread over those that are chemically-leavened.  Once steamed and cooled, the buns can be eaten or stored, as mentioned earlier.  I prefer to freeze them so that I can grab one at anytime throughout the next few weeks or so, if there are even any left at that point.  There is no need to thaw the kare man before reheating; just put them on a plate, cover with a damp paper towel, and microwave for a few minutes (time varies with the amount being reheated) until warmed through.  Easy, right?  If you like bao, curry, bread, and handheld meals, you should give kare man a try.  And while you're at it, experiment with whatever dough flavorings and fillings you fancy (um, Choco Man, anyone?), letting your creativity and appetite inspire you.

19 April 2010

Spicing It Up

Many people have a go-to condiment they put on practically anything edible.  For example, my younger sister used to love eating foods doused with ranch dressing, but now prefers to just melt cheese over everything instead.  Some people swear by ketchup.  I was never too fond of condiments as a child, preferring most foods unadorned, and although I have since then embraced various dips and dressings in moderate amounts, I tend not to dress every edible thing in sight with a particular topping.  I do, however, really enjoy spicy food, so if I'm eating something savory that doesn't have enough heat, I find it only gets better with a dash of red pepper, a generous squeeze of sriracha, or dose of some other hot sauce.  The balance of flavor and heat is key, so as long as the amount of spice doesn't mask the flavors of the food, it's fine.

I began enjoying spicy food when a friend introduced me to Indian cuisine several years ago.  I love the fragrant and flavorful combinations of spices and heat in each dish.  For a period not too long ago, it seemed like I was cooking Indian-inspired food all the time, but at some point abandoned it while exploring other cuisines.  With a hankering for something good n' spicy, I revisited those beloved Indian flavors for a dish I threw together using some edible odds and ends from my kitchen.  What resulted was something like Chole Saag, or chickpeas with mixed greens, with a lower ratio of leafy veggies to chickpeas than one would normally find in the authentic dish.  I certainly don't claim authenticity here.  Cumin, coriander, turmeric, and garam masala gave the dish Indian-inspired flair, and sriracha added heat.  Had I any fresh spinach in my possession, I would definitely have included it in my leafy green mix, but I settled upon the rainbow chard and bok choy that were available instead.  Chopped red bell pepper added color and texture.  Full of fresh veggies, spice, and hearty beans, my dish of chickpeas, bell pepper, and greens made for a satisfying meal.  I ate it with homemade whole wheat naan, which mopped up the gravy well.
Another piece of nostalgia came in the form of Japanese curry.  This was the only style of curry I had ever known as a child.  Normally made from a roux available prepackaged in blocks, sometimes even boxed with a mix of vegetables already included, Japanese curry was one of those easy, quick-cooking, filling dishes that was a staple in my parents' kitchen.  Those roux blocks are still quite popular these days, are found in most Asian markets, and seemingly are more common for preparing Japanese curry in the home than actually making the entire thing from scratch.  However, I enjoy not only knowing that I can make something from scratch, but also being able to control which ingredients make it into my food.  Most of the premade curry roux available commercially that I've seen are not vegan anyway, so having my heart set on Japanese curry meant that I had to make my own box-free version anyway.

Unlike the typical, saucy beef version of the curry of my childhood, my vegan re-creation uses firm tofu and has less gravy.  I actually decided to forgo the roux process in an effort to limit the fat, relying on cornstarch to thicken the dish instead and making this version a one-pot dish.   But for a closer-to-authentic approach, feel free to add approximately 2 T each of oil and flour after cooking the onions (cooking as you do a normal roux), and skip the cornstarch step later on in the process.  Most traditional Japanese curries use regular potatoes, but I opt for white-fleshed, Japanese sweet potatoes for a subtle flavor contrast within this mostly savory dish.  I don't recall eating curry with peas, but after consulting the recipes here and here for ideas, I decided to include a small amount in this hybrid, vegan manifestation. although the peas are optional.
Japanese Curry with Tofu (printable recipe)
Yields 6 to 8 servings

1 lb firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and cubed
2 large onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium sweet apple (such as Fuji), peeled, cored, and pureed; or 1 c unsweetened applesauce
3 medium to large Japanese sweet potatoes, cut into bite-sized cubes (regular potatoes are fine)
5 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 T tomato paste
1 T vegan Worchestershire sauce, or shoyu/soy sauce
1/2 tsp sriracha (This amount adds a good amount of heat, so use less or omit for a milder result.)
2 T garam masala
2 T mild curry powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground fennel seed, or 1 star anise
1 bay leaf
3 c water
1 1/2 T cornstarch
1/2 c peas, fresh or frozen (optional)
Spray oil, or 1/2 tsp mild-flavored oil
Salt to taste

Add oil to or lightly spray oil in a large nonstick pot, and place over medium-low heat.  Mix together the garam masala, curry powder, ginger, and fennel seed, and set aside.  In a separate bowl, combine the tomato paste, Worchestershire sauce, sriracha, and apple, and set aside.  When the pot is hot, add onions and cook, stirring, until they are soft and slightly brown.  (If you prefer to create a roux instead of using cornstarch as a thickener, at this point stir in the oil, then flour, and cook out the flour taste for a minute or two, then proceed.)  Stir in the garlic, then add the spice mixture, stirring and cooking for a minute or two, until the spices are fragrant; add a splash of water and stir to prevent any sticking, if necessary.  Stir in the apple mixture, then add the potatoes, carrots, bay leaf, and star anise (if using).  Gently mix in the tofu.  Slowly stir in the water and bring the pot to a boil, uncovered.  In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with 1 1/2 T water to create a smooth slurry (omit this step if using the roux method).  Stir the cornstarch slurry into the boiling liquid.  Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until the potatoes are tender (time varies depending on the size of the pieces) and the sauce has thickened.  Add salt to taste.  Add the peas (if using) and simmer for an additional minute so that the peas are warmed through.  Serve hot alongside steamed rice.
This recipe makes a fairly large amount of curry, so feel free to freeze portions of it to have no-fuss, box-free Japanese curry anytime.  I hope you enjoy it!

15 April 2010

Fresh Vegetable Lasagne with Tofu "Ricotta"

In an effort to challenge myself to cook up an actual, savory meal (something I haven't done in awhile), I turned to the vegetable bin in my refrigerator for inspiration.  Pasta was at the back of my mind, but with the highlights of the veggie bin being a lone carrot and head of broccoli, ideas for satisfying dishes didn't exactly jump out at me.  Pasta salad wasn't going to cut it; I wanted to make something including pasta, but that would require me to spend more time in the kitchen and produce something substantial enough for lunch.  And somehow, out of the blue, I came up with lasagne--one that, aside from the dried noodles, is made entirely from scratch.  I hadn't made lasagne in quite some time, and an impromtu, homemade version sounded like a nice change.  I had the necessary ingredients on hand (including a package of Teese vegan "cheese" I hadn't even touched since buying), the morning free, and the motivation to get cooking.  So I thought, Why not?
What resulted from my lasagne project was a hearty, layered pasta dish that included some fresh veggies, tofu, whole wheat noodles, and a tangy-sweet homemade tomato sauce.  The tofu "ricotta" was very similar to dairy ricotta, taste-wise and texturally, providing good contrast to the chunky, slightly spicy vegetable filling.  Here's how I did it, and how you can do it, too.

Fresh Vegetable Lasagne with Tofu "Ricotta" (printable recipe)
Yields 10 to 12 servings

12 standard-sized, dried whole wheat lasagne noodles (not the short, "no-boil" type), or preferred type
Tomato Sauce (recipe provided below), or 1 jar of prepared tomato sauce of choice
Tofu "Ricotta" (recipe provided below)
Vegetable filling (recipe provided below)
1 c vegan mozzarella-style "cheese," such as Teese, shredded (optional)

Tomato Sauce:
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)
1 T tomato paste
2 14-oz cans (or 1 28-oz can) crushed tomatoes
2 T fresh basil, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 T carrot juice, or 1/2 T agave nectar, or other sweetener of choice (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large nonstick pot over medium-low flame.  Add 1 T fresh water, onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft; add more water if the mixture begins to stick to the pot (alternatively, just use a small amount of oil).  Stir in tomato paste, then add the crushed tomatoes, basil, and bay leaf.  Stir to combine, then turn the heat down to low flame so that the sauce simmers lightly.  Taste for salt and pepper, and if desired, add carrot juice or sweetener (this balances out the acidity of the tomato).  Simmer on low, partially covered, for 1 hour, stiring occassionally and cooking until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Tofu "Ricotta":
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 T fresh basil, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
1 lb firm tofu (not silken), drained
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Nondairy milk as needed, or water
Salt to taste

Add the garlic, basil, and thyme to a food processor or blender, and pulse to finely chop.  Crumble in the tofu and add the lemon juice, then process everything into a thick, creamy paste, adding nondairy milk or water, 1/2 T at a time, if necessary.  Taste for salt; it should be mild but not bland.  Set aside and prepare the noodles and vegetable filling.
For the noodles:
Bring a large pot of water to boil, then add a generous amount of salt.  Add the dried noodles and cook until al dente (mostly cooked, with some bite), according to package directions.  Drain the noodles and set aside, making sure they don't stick to each other.

Vegetable filling:
1/2 one large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 carrot, chopped
1 medium to large head of broccoli, florets only (approximately 3 to 4 cups), chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 c blanched spinach, chopped and squeezed of as much liquid as possible
Salt and pepper to taste
Sriracha, or hot sauce of choice, to taste (optional)

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-low flame.  Add 1 T fresh water, onion, garlic, and carrot, stirring occasionally and cooking until the onion is soft; add more water if the mixture begins to stick to the pan (alternatively, just use a small amount of oil).  Add the broccoli and cook until the broccoli is bright green and still firm.  Stir in the spinach.  Add salt, pepper, and sriracha (if using), to taste.
To assemble the lasagne:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  In an 8x11.5x2" baking pan, add just enough tomato sauce to create a thin layer at the bottom.  Cover the sauce with four noodles, overlapping them slightly so that they fit.  Spread half the tofu "ricotta" over the noodles in an even layer.  Top with half of the vegetable filling, spreading it in an even layer.  Cover the vegetables with one-third of the tomato sauce.  Cover with another four noodles, layer again with the remaining "ricotta" and vegetables, and top with another third of the sauce.  Cover with the remaining four noodles, then top with an even layer of the remaining sauce.  Sprinkle the shredded "cheese" evenly over the top, if using.

Place the baking pan over a rimmed baking sheet.  Cover the lasagne gently with a "tent" of foil.  Bake for 30 minutes, covered.  The lasagne should be heated through and bubbling slightly.  Remove the foil, and bake uncovered for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, if using "cheese" (Teese doesn't melt, but will brown lightly).  Cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
I certainly liked how this particular version turned out, and won't mind making it again when time permits.  Of course, this lasagne can be made with a variety of vegetables and sauces, so feel free to alter the ingredients to your whim, and enjoy!

13 April 2010

Baking Spree: A Carb Story

If I ever failed to acknowledge my shameless addiction to carbohydrates, I'll take care of that right here and now: I love carbs.  Based upon the proportion of bread-related material I've posted here so far, this news shouldn't be surprising to anyone, but somehow it just felt right to state the obvious.  Of course, my carbohydrate fixation doesn't end with bread; rice, potatoes, pasta, and other starchy foods are fine with me, too.  As it happens, however, today's entry focuses on bread.

When it comes to bread, I prefer yeast-risen types.  Before I finally acquired the skills necessary for basic bread-making technique, when (or if) I baked bread, it was always some sort of sweet quick bread.  Now, I hardly ever bake quick breads, preferring the scent of fresh, homemade bread wafting about the house--the type one only achieves with the inclusion of yeast--not to mention the flavor and texture.  I have only recently begun a more in-depth exploration of bread-making, inspired largely by other bloggers' beautiful creations and Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice

This week, I consulted Reinhart's book to bake up batches of his Kaiser Rolls and Pain de Campagne.  I have been curious about the kaiser rolls in particular, because the dough-knotting technique, used in absence of a special cutter, appeared a bit daunting.  However, Vegan Dad's recent post chronicling the ease of his Kaiser Roll-making experience encouraged me to finally give the recipe a whirl.  Like Vegan Dad, I replaced the egg using an equal weight of unsweetened soy yogurt and opted for smaller rolls.  The method for forming the rolls without a cutter really was not difficult at all, and although some of the rolls don't look as uniform as they would had I used a cutter, the taste and texture are very much like that of the kaiser rolls I had so often during my summer abroad in Vienna a few years ago; in both cases, they were crusty on the outside, tender inside, and light as a feather.  It's wonderful to be able to recreate those tasty memories, and in vegan form, too!
The other Reinhart recipe I used this week was for Pain de Campagne.  It is seen as an ideal dough for forming uniquely shaped loaves, but my primary reasons for going with pain de campagne was due to the amount of remaining pȃte fermentée--which was necessary to make in order to proceed with baking a single batch of the kaiser rolls--and the presence of whole wheat flour in the pain de campagne dough.  I did also figure that I would have gotten to the recipe at some point anyway, and that further experimentation with dough-shaping couldn't hurt.  Having made just enough dough for a single loaf, I went ahead with shaping it into a couronne (crown).  Unfortunately, I faced some difficulty moving the dough onto the peel, and then with transferring it from peel to baking stone, so the finished loaf was slightly misshapen, and the indentations hardly visible.  The hearth-style baking technique also didn't suit me well, as the smoke alarms in the house are apparently sensitive to burning cornmeal bits on the oven floor (a common occurence when making pizza), and their sirens threaten (and do) screech every time the oven door is opened if any of the burnt matter still remains.  The loaf was still crusty, with good flavor due to the long pre-ferment, but the next time I try that recipe, I think I'll shape the dough into something that doesn't look like a giant, imperfect doughnut.

Speaking of doughnuts, I have been wanting to make some for quite awhile now, but had not gotten around to it until last night and this morning.  While I prefer the taste and texture of more traditional fried doughnuts, I am always hesitant to fry, because I hate dealing with the amount of oil needed to deep fry and am too aware of all of those empty calories I'd be ingesting, even with my consumption of fried food being a rare occurence.  I have made decent baked doughnuts before using this recipe, but I wanted to see if I could change it up a bit by incorporating okara.  I have often been curious about the use of okara for baking yeast breads, specifically with regard to the use of fresh okara by several doughnut makers in Japan.  From what I've read, it seems that like any standard doughnut purveyor, Japanese doughnut shops serve up their okara (or hara) doughnuts deep fried.  So from the start of my okara doughnut experiment, consulting that aforementioned baked doughnut recipe as my foundation, I knew that despite having never had the opportunity to try a hara doughnut (or even to travel to Japan, for that matter), my vegan, baked version would be very different.  My hope was that it would at least be somewhat doughnut-like, as well as delicious.
I made several adjustments, replacing the sugar and agave with an adjusted amount of maple syrup, incorporating whole wheat flour, omitting the applesauce, adding okara (of course), and adjusting the amounts of yeast, salt, and vanilla extract.  My technique was also differed from that specified by the recipe, but perhaps I'll post something about the process in more detail later.  As for the result: deliciousness, indeed!  I made 16 three- to four-inch diameter doughnuts (cut using a biscuit cutter and a smaller, circular kitchen object whose purpose is not quite clear) out of a little more than half of the dough.  They turned out incredibly soft and mildly sweet, admittedly more like sweeter, very soft dinner rolls with holes in the middle than actual doughnuts, but addictive nonetheless.  To make them more doughnut-like, I whipped up a few glazes: vanilla, maple, and cocoa.  The vanilla was the thickest of the three, ending up as an icing that I didn't bother to thin it out.  The cocoa, on the other hand, was very runny and messy, and never hardened.  And in classic, Goldilocks fashion, the maple glaze turned out "just right," just thin enough to run all over the top and sides of the donuts while still being able to set properly.  And the flavor was the best out of the three, too.  I do still have dough leftover, so assuming the dough hasn't fermented for too long already, I'll get another shot at perfecting the glaze tomorrow.  I may even end up frying the doughnuts if I'm feeling a little more adventurous and not too guilty about all of the (non-greasy) bread I've lately been enjoying too much.
I will try to restrain myself from too much bread-baking, particularly if it leans toward the sugary side of things, and focus my efforts in the kitchen to cooking up savory meals...after that final batch of doughnuts, of course.

10 April 2010

Hot and Cold

Two of my favorite foods of all time are chili and ice cream.  As a kid, while some of my friends would refuse to eat something so hot as chili on a warm day, or anything frozen on a chilly evening, I was never bothered enough to let the temperature of my surroundings stand in the way of chili cheese fries or a scoop of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream.  Often, bowls of chili and scoops of ice cream somehow went hand-in-hand--perhaps it was opposite elements of hot and cold offsetting each other--although of course, I didn't always require one in order to devour the other.  As you may have guessed, my pre-vegan eating habits were not always very healthy.  Around the time I had first developed interest in veganism, I remember being sure to ask one of my vegan friends whether such as thing as vegan ice cream existed.  He assured me it did, much to my relief.

That chili and ice cream combination (in its vegan form) still works for me.  So I suppose it's no surprise that a recent venture into chili cooking sparked an ice cream craving.  All of this sunshine is a good enough excuse to bring out the ice cream maker, anyway.  But first up was the chili.

I've made chili dozens of times since becoming vegan, never using the same recipe or method twice, primarily because I am always interested in finding different ways of mimicking the "meatiness" of my former non-veg favorites.  This time around, an eight-ounce package of tempeh approaching its "best by" date inspired me to consider tempeh crumbles as a way to achieve that heartiness.  Using leftover pinto beans (already seasoned and deeply savory in their own right), the tempeh, onion, garlic, red bell pepper, chipotles in adobo sauce, tomato paste, various spices, and enough water to thin it out, the dish was done in a snap, and still managed to taste as if it had been simmering on the stove for much longer.  I think this was due in large part to the prepared pinto beans, which had, indeed, simmered for about two hours when I cooked them last week.  A tablespoon or two of cocoa powder added depth to the chili, with smoked paprika and chipotles giving it heat.  And the tempeh worked very well as a meat substitute, adding texture that beans alone could not achieve.  I'll definitely use it in future batches of chili.
When it comes to ice cream making, my greatest challenge is determining which variety to create.  Ready access to Wheeler del Torro's The Vegan Scoop, with its scads of dairy-free ice cream flavor options, does not make narrowing down the possibilities any easier.  Chocolate is always a winner, but I like to branch out once in awhile to try more unique flavors.  Fortunately, the decision-making process was shortened by the presence of roasted and mashed sweet potatoes in my refrigerator.  Leftovers were proving handy that day, putting sweet potato ice cream in my sights.  I followed Wheeler's recipe with the following alterations: I substituted the sugar with a reduced amount of light agave nectar (1/2 cup) and omitted the nutmeg.  Finding the recipe's stated amount of sweet potatoes ambiguous--the recipe gives the amount in terms of numbers of sweet potatoes of unspecified type--I settled upon a cup of cooked, mashed, white-fleshed sweet potatoes.  I followed the procedure for assembling the ice cream as written.  The resulting ice cream was just the creamy, sweet, frozen treat to follow that hot bowl of spicy chili.
I have only tried a few of Wheeler's ice cream recipes, but I'm definitely going to attempt more in the coming months.  Honeydew is of particular interest, but that will have to wait until melons are once again in season.  If any of you are familiar with The Vegan Scoop and would like to suggest a flavor to try, or even just want to share an old favorite, I'd love to hear from you!

05 April 2010

Food for a Family Gathering

Every few weekends, my immediate family amasses at my brother and sister-in-law's house for a barbeque-potluck.  There is always more than enough food to go around, but being the lone vegan of the bunch, I always end with the choice of 1) sticking to plain rice, roasted corn, and possibly some chips with salsa; or 2) bringing my own dish for all (including myself) to enjoy.  Gatherings centered around food and family are no fun if one must go without food whilst others nosh to their hearts' delight, so I always opt to bring along an omnivore-friendly dish or two.  I like the idea of being able to cook/assemble something that everyone can enjoy while allowing non-vegans to experience how tasty food can be without the need for animal-derived components.

With Easter upon us yesterday, I thought it fitting to finally try my hand at this recipe for Oster-Mandelöhrchen (Easter Almond Ears), found over at Mihl's blog.  I know I should slow down on the bread baking and consumption of sweets, but these treats have been calling my name for sometime now and they were so perfectly festive.  I made some alterations: incorporated some whole wheat pastry flour, replaced the sugar with a reduced amount of agave, left the almonds a bit chunky, used the zest and juice of half an orange instead of lemon (I didn't have one), and added a touch of almond extract to the filling.  I forgot about the margarine for the filling, consequently omitting it.  The result: delicious!  This was a sweet (but not too sweet) departure from your morning cinnamon buns.  I liked the orange-nut combination, but I'm sure the original lemon version is equally tasty, so I'll be sure to try that next time.

For a savory contribution to the potluck, I brought along Green Olive Hummus, using a Fatfree Vegan Kitchen recipe.  Prior to yesterday, I had already tried Susan's basic hummus recipe and greatly enjoyed it, and her other recipes are always winners, so I had no doubt that this one would be no exception.  I love olives, too.  And this hummus was definitely a hit with the family, who munched happily on multigrain tortilla chips slathered with the stuff.  I added ground cumin and smoked paprika to the hummus (called for in the plain version, but not the olive version) and increased the amount of lemon juice.  This dip ended up being pretty addictive, and I thoroughly enjoyed it spread on warm, toasted bread.  I imagine that this would also be great on bagels, sandwiches, crackers, etc.

The last item I made for the potluck was also a savory dish: Lentil Tart with Tahini Crust from 500 Vegan Recipes.  It was very easy to make and I already had all of the ingredients stocked in my kitchen, which is always a plus.  I didn't have spelt flour, so I used a combination of oat and whole wheat pastry flours, and also replaced the red onion with yellow onion, also due to availability.  The tart turned out beautifully--slightly spicy, hearty, and very tasty.  I greatly enjoyed the creaminess of the lentil filling, crispness of the tahini crust, and overall spicy, savory warmth of the dish as a whole.

I am happy to say that my family seemed to enjoy all of my potluck contributions.  They can be skeptical about vegan food--being so accustomed to meat and dairy--so their approval of my contributions makes me confident that they will embrace and enjoy more vegan dishes at the next family gathering.  And knowing my family, that next potluck isn't too far off.

03 April 2010

Things I Should Have Made A Long Time Ago

I am constantly browsing cookbooks, food blogs, and other online resources for kitchen inspiration.  With so many interesting and fabulous-sounding recipes out there, it is very easy to want to try many more than time can possibly allow.  Sometimes the recipes I attempt aren't worth writing home about; sometimes they're very good, even great.  And every now and then, I'll finally get around to making something that makes me think, for one reason or another, Why haven't I done this sooner?

The latter happened to be the case both yesterday and this morning.  Earlier in the week, I baked up a loaf of Anadama Bread, using the recipe from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  The recipe yields two standard-sized loaves, so although I could probably finish off both loaves myself within a few days, I've managed to restrain myself enough from going to town on that bread that there was still a sizeable hunk of it remaining yesterday afternoon.
Up until that point, I had mostly been enjoying the bread without adornments, just sliced and toasted.  Once or twice did I dress my toast with a thin layer of low-sugar apricot preserves.  A few mornings ago, I mixed up the bread routine by making French toast with pecans, using a hybrid of recipes from Vegan with a Vengeance and Skinny Bitch in the Kitch.  I sweetened my version up by adding vanilla and almond extracts, ground cinnamon, and maple syrup (the last component both in the batter and over the top).  It was mighty tasty, but I figured I can't eat all of that bread in French toast form, as delectably tempting as that sounds.  Toast is so much more convenient.  I just needed to give it a little something-something to make it more interesting.  Nutella, the ubiquitous chocolate-hazelnut spread, would have been an option in my pre-vegan days, but the presence of unsavory ingredients rendered it useless to me.
I had seen several recipes for homemade versions of gianduia, the generic name for Nutella and its spreadable choco-nutty brethren that is so popular in Europe.  I thought about attempting one of the recipes that don't call for hazelnut extract, an ingredient I can't seem to locate in any markets around here, but then still hesitated when noticing the inclusion of hazelnut butter, another elusive ingredient.  Some versions, such as Mihl's recipe over at seitan is my motor and Isa and Terry's in Veganomicon, only require whole hazelnuts, which are toasted and processed into homemade hazelnut butter.  But I often have doubts about my food processor's ability to adequately grind food to its required state, based mostly upon the appliance's apparent refusal to chop dates to my liking.  But gianduia sounded like just the right thing to doll up that plain ol' toast, so casting my doubts aside, I decided to try my hand at Mihl's version, beginning with the homemade hazelnut butter.

After toasting two cups of raw, whole hazelnuts in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes, I allowed them to cool slightly before loading them into my food processor.  After several pulses, things were looking good: the metal blade was doing a nice job of chopping up the nuts into smaller and smaller piece that eventually gained a flour-like consistency.  So I let the blade whir.  This is where that "Why haven't I done this sooner?" moment came in.  That hazelnut flour was amassing into a thick blob--so thick that I needed to scrape the sides down every now and then.  After a couple of minutes, that mass became smooth and glossy.  My poor food processor, plagued by my doubts of its capability to handle even basic grinding, proved me wrong and produced a fine batch of homemade hazelnut butter!  Requiring one ingredient and a little patience, homemade hazelnut butter is quite possibly one of the simplest things to create, convincing me that I had waited too long to finally make it.
The rest of the gianduia recipe was even easier.  Besides replacing the sugar with about 1 1/2 T agave and adding a pinch of salt, I followed the recipe as written.  In a matter of minutes, I had my very own vegan gianduia!  It's not a smooth as Nutella, but it's definitely spreadable and I actually like the texture of the ground hazelnuts, having always preferred crunchy peanut butter over smooth.  Somehow, I managed to wait long enough to allow the gianduia to set up in the fridge before spreading any of it on a slice of leftover Anadama Bread.  The slightly sweet combination of rich chocolate and toasty hazelnut was just the thing for the toast, and I'm so glad that I now have a Nutella replacement to use in other decadent applications as well.
Revelation number two arrived today, unsurprisingly, in bread form.  Lately, I've had a continual inclination to attempt to bake melonpan, a sweet Japanese bread with cookie topping that traditionally contains no melon but is formed to resemble one (although some versions now contain melon extract).  It's a unique treat that is easy to find in well-stocked Asian groceries, but unfortunately, these pre-made rolls are usually not vegan.  For that reason alone have I not eaten one since adopting a vegan lifestyle.  Perhaps it is something about the shape or whimsy of the bread that made me think of it whenever I spotted aisles of Easter-themed candies, or maybe it's the fact that one of my good friends is enjoying a trip to Tokyo right now while I can only hear about it and watch Kurosawa films at home, or it could be that I'm suddenly missing the taste all over again, but in any case, I've had melonpan on the brain.  So it was only logical that I bake some of my own in vegan-friendly form.

I had perused Colleen Patrick Goudreau's recipe for Melonpan (Japanese Cookie Bread), available in The Joy of Vegan Baking, when I first received a copy of the cookbook as a Christmas gift two years ago.  I made a mental note to try it one day, but the cookie step kept pushing the recipe down on my "to do" list, despite looking fairly easy to complete.  It actually is really no more difficult than combining a standard bread recipe with a cookie one.  I made a few alterations: for the bread dough, I used whole wheat pastry flour for 3/4 cup of the all-purpose flour called for, omitted the sugar, added 1 T agave, and mixed in nondairy milk when the dough was too dry to properly knead; for the cookie portion, I used only 1/2 cup vegan buttery spread, replaced 1/4 cup of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour, replaced regular sugar with raw sugar, and added 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Unsatisfied with Colleen's method of just piling the cookie around the bread dough balls--I didn't think it would result in the melon-like appearance I was accustomed to seeing in pre-made melonpan--I went with other proposed methods found online for creating the cookie topping, creaming the margarine with the sugar and vanilla before adding the dry ingredients.  I then rolled the dough into balls and allowed them to chill in the refrigerator before rolling each one out into a 1/4-inch thick disc.  For each bread roll, I draped a cookie disc over the dough, gently sealing it around the bread only down to the baking sheet and not covering the bottom of the roll.  Then I used the back of a knife to carefully score a diamond pattern on the cookie topping.  I baked the rolls as directed.
The baked melonpan was exactly how I had hoped it would result, both visually and taste-wise.  It looks like a melon but tastes like the cookie bread of my childhood, maybe better, because it's a home- and handmade, vegan creation filled with nostalgia.  And yes, it was definitely prompted me to wonder why it took me until today to bake up my own batch.  I mean, really, I love baking bread, sweet treats, and creative challenges--especially those involving recreating non-vegan favorites--so everything about baking my own melonpan should have gotten me to try it sooner.  But wishing isn't productive, and I did finally try the recipe, so I can't complain and am actually quite pleased with experience and results alike.
Now to figure out a way to fit in more time for kitchen experimentation...

01 April 2010

Snack Time Roundup

I, like so many other people, am a snacker.  While I typically eat three main meals per day, those meals are sometimes not very substantial due to my tendency to graze throughout the day (sometimes it's the other way around).  What's nice about this time of year is that the selection of seasonal fruit seems to be expanding favorably, so I don't always necessarily reach for convenient, and frequently unhealthy, junk food.  But as a carbohydrate addict, I do have a soft spot for starchy foods, especially during snack time.  I try to stick to nuts or other proteins to fuel me, and although that doesn't always work out, my snacking habits have definitely improved over the last few years of being nearly fast food-free (unfortunately, French fries still tempt me).

This last week has produced a few snacks that I've thoroughly enjoyed.  Unsurprisingly, they fall largely on the carbohydrate side of things; I was brought up on a love for potatoes, bread, and rice, and that attachment runs deep.  Thankfully, I've learned a great deal about portion control over the years--much to my benefit health-wise--and have been fairly good at not completely going overboard with the snacking.  Check out these between-meal goodies:

Baked sweet potato fries.  I sprinkled them with Creole seasoning, drizzled them with the slightest touch of olive oil, and baked them on a wire rack placed over a baking sheet for optimal crispness.  On another occasion, I topped some fries with smoky black beans and Daiya vegan cheddar slices, broiled them until the "cheese" melted, and enjoyed them for lunch.

Simple, crispy fried rice.  This is very quick and easy to make, and actually isn't really frying in the sense that a nonstick pan greatly limits, if not eliminates, the need for oil.  I heated up a nonstick skillet and spritzed it with a very small amount of oil.  After adding some cooked white rice, I mixed in a splash or so of shoyu and cracked black pepper, cooking for a minute or two over low to medium heat before pressing the rice together to allow it to clump and form a crust on the bottom.  Once a golden crust formed, I flipped the rice over, disturbing the clumps as little as possible, and cooked the rice until the crust formed on the other side.  Those crisp edges on the rice is the best part of this snack, and achieving that golden crust is the whole point of the pan method.  My mom often did this to leftover rice when I was a child and we both still enjoy it in this really basic form.

Granola bars.  This is take number two of the granola bars I half-successfully attempted to make last week.  I ended up using slightly more brown rice syrup than called for in the recipe to ensure that all of the components would stick enough to actually form bars.  I also threw in chopped hazelnuts; crispy rice cereal; a pinch of salt; and ground cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom.  Fortunately, this batch stuck together, resulting in bars that were nutty, crispy, chewy, sweet, and pretty addictive.

Sourdough pretzels.  I used my go-to recipe to make these, with a few alterations: I substituted some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, replaced the butter with vegan buttery spread, used two tablespoons of barley malt syrup instead of sugar, and added about a tablespoon of baking soda to the water during the boiling stage.  I have always been a big fan of pretzels, and this version is always tasty, with a crisp brown crust, chewy interior, and hint of sourdough flavor.

As much as I can snack on these little treats all day, I know I should be eating more substantial and more nutritionally well-rounded food.  I'm aching to cook up a storm in the kitchen anyway, which I haven't done in quite some time.  Hopefully, I'll be churning out more proper meals in the near future, in which case I'll be sure to share them with you here!