30 November 2010

At Month's End

So ends another Vegan MoFo.  In the fashion of many fellow bloggers, I reflect fondly upon these last 30 days whilst bidding farewell to a wonderful month-long celebration of vegan food greatness.  The huge participation has been impressive, the edibles delightful, and animal-friendly enthusiasm palpable, making this one exciting time to be part of such a fabulous online vegan community.  The mass marathon blogging may be over until next year, but undoubtedly, numerous blogs--longtime haunts and recent discoveries alike--will continue to grace the blogosphere with cruelty-free undertakings.  The food musings here won't end today; I shall return shortly with more food musings.  Thanks to all for sharing your food love, comments, and simply stopping by to read!


To punctuate this bittersweet ending, I'll share an easy but delicious recipe for the Chunky Black Bean Soup I enjoyed last night.  Consider this a hug-in-a-bowl to all of you lovely readers!  The cold weather first nudged me back toward soup cravings, which eventually escalated into full soup mode.  Hearty and warmly spiced, a bowl of this savory, brothy goodness is a scrumptious way to fill a belly and combat frigidity.


Chunky Black Bean Soup (printable recipe)
Yields 6 to 8 servings

3 c vegetable broth
2 (15-oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 c peeled tomatoes, chopped
1/2 c onion, chopped
1/4 c green onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dark (mild) chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cayenne, or to taste
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
1 c blanched spinach, drained and chopped


Combine everything but the spinach in a large pot.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce to medium-low heat.  Allow the ingredients to simmer for approximately 30 minutes, adding the spinach in the last five minutes.  Remove from heat.  Remove and discard the bay leaves.  Extract approximately two cups of the soup and set aside.  With an immersion blender or regular stand blender, blend the remaining contents of the pot until no large chunks remain; alternatively, blend the entire soup for a smoother texture or skip the blending process completely to retain a much chunkier texture.  Return the soup (including the reserved two cups) to the pot and cook until just heated through.  Serve hot and enjoy!

29 November 2010

Mmmm Muffins

I was still relatively picky about food not too long ago, considering few foods appetizing.  Collectively, items I would have willingly consumed as a child would likely not constitute a well-rounded diet, as I shunned most fruits and vegetables--oddly enough, I have always enjoyed spinach--their dehydrated forms automatically despised.  I was the little girl who never wanted an oatmeal raisin cookie, relenting only if the treat contained chocolate chips, in which case I would pluck each shriveled fruit from its snug cookie pocket.


Over the last year, I've developed a liking for a variety of dried fruit.  I may snack on a small handful of sweet-tart cranberries or mango strips and can even tolerate the occasional raisin.  Dried blueberries are another story; I enjoy them fresh and frozen, but they retain an odd, non-berry-like flavor when sweetened and dried.  Ironically, I have a substantial store of them on hand at the moment--the undesired residue of a dried fruit blend that included more palatable components.  Being averse to avoidable waste, I contemplated tasty means of dwindling the blueberry surplus, wondering whether they could contribute to a decent baked good.  A plethora of berry-inclusive recipes exist--many of them classics, such as quick bread--so deciding among them was mostly a matter of narrowing down options.
Scones sounded tempting, but I instead settled upon adapting this muffin recipe from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, replacing the cranberries with blueberries.  I also omitted the agave (the dried berries were already sweetened), reduced the sugar to a half cup, and used finely chopped candied orange peel instead of fresh zest.  The resulting muffins were tender and of the perfect sweetness.    In fact, they are like a typical muffin that uses fresh berries, but without the gooey purple mess.  Studded with softened, chewy berries that lost their precooked, off-putting flavor and kissed with the brightness of citrus, the muffins were a delightful snack to enjoy with a hot cup of tea.  Based on the success of this dried berry experiment, I may try scones when I next feel the need to reduce the blueberry supply.

28 November 2010

One More MoFo Survey

I found this survey over at Luciana's Vegan Kitchen, but it's apparently available on The PPK.  It seems quite appropriate timing during this epic month of all things vegan.

What’s your favorite spice or spice blend?
I love the deep, smoky flavor cumin adds to dishes.  I’ve recently discovered that roasted potatoes with Cajun seasoning is delicious.
Roasted potatoes with Cajun seasoning.
You have $20 to spend on fresh groceries and produce for the whole week (with a fairly well stocked pantry of dry goods, legumes, grains, and spices).  What do you buy?
Rice, black beans, lentils, whole wheat flour, lemons, kale, spinach or bok choy, firm tofu, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.

What’s your favorite way to make tofu?
Pressed and baked or lightly pan-fried, seasoned simply with shoyu and maybe a squirt of sriracha.

Vegan guilty pleasure?
Junk food, particularly vegan chili fries.

If you could make anyone vegan, who would it be?
I’m not keen on coercing others into changing their respective lifestyles, but I hope that in small and varied ways, I can inspire positive, constructive attitudes in others.  Likewise, I’d like for that effect to in turn encourage me to continue to make conscious consumer choices.

If you could only read one other vegan blog, what would it be?
That is one tough call!  So many vegan blogs inspire me to be more creative with and continue to love food.  But I do really love reading Seitan is My Motor; Mihl’s recipes and photos are gorgeously executed.

Were you always interested in cooking, or did veganism change the way you saw and interacted with food?
My interest in cooking stems from childhood and really began to grow during adolescence.  Veganism definitely gave me new perspective on my eating habits; I’m much more conscious of what I consume and also more open to trying various foods.

Excluding analogues, what new things have you tried that you probably wouldn’t have as an omni?

What is the one vegan staple that everyone seems to love, but you can’t get behind?
I can only handle tofu-based dessert pies in small doses, because I find that they sometimes retain an odd, beany flavor.

What was your first “wow, I’m such a stereotypical vegan” moment?
When I ate baked tofu and an entire batch of nooch-covered kale chips for dinner one night.

First recipe you veganized?
I catch really remember, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was chili.

What would you like to veganize, but haven’t yet?
Most of the very non-vegan-friendly, Hawaiian-style fare I enjoyed as a child.

Favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?
A sharp chef’s knife.

Most disastrous kitchen failure?
On Super Bowl Sunday a few years ago, my roommates and I were in the middle of baking miniature pizzas when our apartment completely lost electric power.  The pizzas were only partially baked, so the bread was quite raw and doughy.  As they rested uncooked for the hours it took to finally acquire maintenance assistance, the cold pizzas became stone-hard on the exterior and remained dense and undercooked in the middle.

First vegan cookbook?
Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

What question about being vegan do you HATE answering?
I don’t hate answering questions about being vegan, but certain ones like “Don’t you think [any given dish] would be better with butter or bacon?” are a bit annoying, condescending, and difficult to answer.

If you could tell the world one thing about vegans, what would it be?
We’re not all svelte and we have plenty of protein sources.

Funniest vegetable?
Nagaimo (Japanese mountain yam) strikes me as being a little strange, visually and texturally.

What is a family recipe you have veganized?
My mom’s Mini Pecan Tarts.  They’re a popular treat around the holidays.  When I gifted my first vegan batch to some friends, one of the guys insisted that the tarts had to have been made with butter (which, of course, was not true), due to the flakiness and rich flavor of the crust.

Weirdest food combination?
Apples or pears with hummus may sound unconventional, but that particular sweet and savory combination isn't necessarily bad.
Classic hummus.
Is there something you wish you could veganize, but can’t/couldn’t?
It’d be interesting to attempt a fluffy vegan soufflé, but I don't really know how to go about it successfully.

Favorite ways to prepare tofu, seitan, tempeh, any other vegan proteins?
I love to bake, lightly pan-fry, and broil tofu.  Seitan and tempeh are wonderful in stews or chili, and I also love the White Bean Tempeh Gravy from Vegan with a Vengeance.

Are your pets vegan?  If so, what do you feed them?  Tell us about having vegan furbabies!
I have no furry companions or furbabies.

Favorite non-dairy milk?
Plain, unsweetened almond milk.

What’s one “vegan myth” you’d like to squash?
I’d like to show others that an animal-free diet isn’t necessarily expensive, elitist, or consist primarily of leafy salads; whole food vegan dishes can be beautifully varied and flavorful!

27 November 2010

On a Roll

It's hard to believe that this is already the final weekend of Vegan MoFo.  The blog world is still buzzing with vegan food love around the clock, even as the time for marathon posting nears it end. Out-of-town travel and family time have made recipe development and detailed posting infrequent. But I will continue to make time for that daily post.  After the weekend, upon returning to my regular kitchen, I hope to close out the month with more interesting and substantial food and accompanying musings.


One evening before leaving for the holidays, I developed a sudden craving for quinoa, so I decided to cook a batch of the grain-like seeds.  Rather than use it in a pilaf or salad, I tried cooked quinoa as a rice substitute in sushi.  I used the vinegar seasoning outlined for sushi rice in The Enlightened Kitchen, Mari Fujii's wonderful Japanese Buddhist temple cuisine cookbook.  The sushi filling consisted simply of leftover broccoli slaw tossed with shoyu and sriracha.  Although the roll was a bit messy to assemble--between the veggie shreds and quinoa, there were more than a few stray bits to contain--tight coiling of the roasted nori-wrapped bundle prevented the sushi from falling apart.  Sweet, savory, and a little spicy, the quinoa sushi was a pleasant-tasting, more protein-filled alternative to the average vegetable roll.  I enjoy rice too much to make a permanent switch to rice-less sushi, but I wouldn't mind the occasional grain (or in this case, pseudo-grain) swap.

26 November 2010

Another Thanksgiving Round-Up

As previously mentioned, this year's Thanksgiving gathering was characterized by a few nontraditional elements, but the potential for epic feasting never changes.  Opportunities for over-indulging was high, partly due to the near-doubling of guests present and edible contributions from all parties.  Of course, I didn't stick to my initial two-dish plan; I introduced five vegan items to table and other guests' generous consideration of my dietary lifestyle contributed another three.  There were food options available for everyone, and needless to say, we ate well.  I'm thankful for being fortunate enough to not only have food on the table at all, but also to be able to make mindful decisions about my consumption.


This being a primarily omnivorous feast, there was an array of non-vegan fare typical of a Thanksgiving gathering.  I'll share with you the vegan assortment.


Roasted butternut squash salad
I adapted this recipe from 101 Cookbooks, using butternut squash instead of pumpkin, and agave nectar instead of honey.  For the cilantro-haters at the table, I replaced the herb with fresh parsley and thyme.  I didn't blend the dressing with seeds or nuts to make it creamy, instead adding a handful of sliced, toasted almonds for crunch.  Red pepper flakes contributed the slightest bit of heat to the sweet, savory, tangy salad.
Lentil soup
This soup was delicious--a hearty, warm, and comforting dish to help guard oneself against the autumn chill.  I very slightly adapted The Clean Eating Mama's recipe, omitting the celery (I had none on hand), adding chopped leeks and red pepper flakes, and replacing the dried herbs with fresh thyme.  The soup simmered for only 40 minutes, just until the potatoes and lentils were cooked through, because I didn't want them too soft.  Both texture and flavor were perfect.  Store-bought, artisan Mediterranean olive bread helped to clean out my bowl.
Braised kale
I like to cook kale simply, often defaulting to the basic method of sauteeing sliced onion and garlic before adding chopped kale and some sort of liquid to braise the greens.  I used vegetable broth and orange juice this time, which contributed good flavor.  Sorry, I didn't get a chance to snap a photo, so just imagine a bowl of cooked leafy greens.


Two more savory vegan dishes were available, courtesy of other guests: a wonderful Brussels sprouts salad, made with toasted pecans and flavored with black truffle oil; and a flavorful spinach salad, tossed with an orange-sesame dressing and studded with sliced almonds and dried cherries and cranberries.


For dessert, the party who volunteered to bring dessert thoughtfully included a small, raw vegan "punkin pie mousse" especially for me.  It was creamy and sweet, tasting just like pumpkin pie filling.  I also treated myself to non-dairy, coconut milk-based chocolate ice cream and Ina Garten's French Chocolate Bark, a simple but rich candy that I made vegan-friendly by using non-dairy chocolate.
It was definitely a lovely meal--one that will no doubt linger for many days, as we have a large amount of food leftover.

25 November 2010

Harvest Feasting

So begins a long day of food and socializing.  At the moment, the bustle in my sister's kitchen has still not radiated into chaos.  I'm only preparing two dishes, but orchestrating access to counter space and oven and stove time is somewhat tricky.  Such is the nature of holiday gatherings.


As the sole vegan at this year's feast, I brought along a single-portion, animal-free, frozen pot pie with the intention of potentially enjoying it as my entree for today's late lunch/early dinner.  But because I planned soup, bread, and salad for today's vegan portion of the menu, I decided to instead just eat the pie for lunch yesterday.  My sister is quite fortunate to live less than a block away from a farmers' market featuring so many fabulous food vendors, many of them including vegan selections.  I bought a Sweet Potato Thai Coconut Curry pot pie--vegan, of course--from one such vendor during a previous Bay visit and stored my purchase in the freezer.  After a brief thaw and reheat, the pie was as tasty as the market sample--sweet, savory, creamy, flaky, and hearty, all in one delicious package.
I hope you all enjoy a lovely Thanksgiving, or happy Thursday for my non-American friends.

24 November 2010

Bowl Food


A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law took me to a Vietnamese restaurant she once frequented with her late father.  The eatery is in an unassuming building in an average-looking shopping plaza, its interior likewise typical of many family-owned-and-run establishments.  And like so many of those small businesses with a local following, this place had one of its own, guided by an impressively vast menu tucked within the restaurant's humble walls.  It even included a small section devoted to vegetarian fare, from which I selected Bún Chay, a delightful and filling mound of vegetables, noodles, and tofu.  I enjoyed this bowl-bound creation so much that I took note to attempt to recreate it in my own kitchen later.
A recent hankering for rice noodles prompted me to revisit the noodle salad, with a few liberties taken to streamline the already simple process even more.  Rather than shredding lettuce and assorted veggies to line the bowl, I chopped a few leaves of Napa cabbage and topped it with store-bought broccoli slaw (a blend of toothpick-sized pieces of broccoli and carrots).  Boiled and drained bihon (rice vermicelli) sat upon the bed of veggies, with lightly pan-fried tofu nestled atop that.  Torn cilantro and mint added the necessary herbal component, with crispy fried onions and crushed, roasted peanuts finishing off the toppings for the Bún Chay.  I made the sauce from this recipe to dress the salad, using vegan "fish" sauce in place of shoyu for a bit more of an authentic flavor.  A heavy squeeze of sriracha kicked up the spice.  Delicious.  It was a balancing act trying to mix everything in that small bowl, but devouring it all was quite easy.

23 November 2010

Holiday Travel

I apologize for yet another abbreviated post, but I'm only now getting settled at my sister's house in the Bay.  The familiar, hours-long drive is still draining and family visits present their own exhausting qualities.  The presence of relatives will increase significantly over the next two days, culminating in a larger-than-normal Thanksgiving gathering, so I will have little time to blog, although I will try my best to share daily food musings.


I've mentioned previously that I usually travel with at least one sugary treat to share with friends, hosts, and hostesses.  I continued the trend this visit by baking a batch of Magical Coconut Cookie Bars from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.  After repeatedly considering this scrumptious-sounding baked good--chock-full of chunky sweetness--I finally indulged my curiosity by attempting these rich bars, swapping the pecans for almonds due to greater supply of the latter.  Indeed, the bars were delectable and quite decadent.  The only issue I had was with the softness of the graham cracker base.  The photo in Terry and Isa's book shows pristine blocks of distinct layers of chocolate, coconut, and nuts, bound together with the sweetened coconut filling atop firm graham cracker crust.  My bars, in contrast, were somewhat sloppier and probably more malleable than the authors intended.  Textural issue aside, the bars boasted wonderful flavor, providing a sweet ending for this tiring day.

22 November 2010

Cooking to Make Space

Given the amount of cooking that happens in my house, it's reasonable to wonder about the fate of potential leftovers.  Remains of any dish typically scatter to various hands, if not to my plate for consecutive days.  When there is a particularly hefty yield of food, I typically freeze a large portion of it, with the intention of exhausting the supply over the next few months.  This arrangement occasionally leads to surprising finds when I inevitably deem it time to relieve the freezer of select contents, despite having previously encountered whatever items happen to be of renewed interest.

A comparable incident occurred today as I rummaged through frozen miscellany.  Happening upon a sizable serving of homemade gnocchi, I was inspired to use it as a starchy base for leftover Mushroom Gravy.  Chunks of Pumpkin Fauxsage--another freezer discovery--added protein, and a handful of chopped, blanched spinach rounded out the concoction.  The savory gravy, dense dumplings, and chewy seitan made for a humble, yet hearty and tasty combination.  The bonus is that I now have a few more nooks of space in the refrigerator and freezer for future cooking ventures.

21 November 2010

Glitter


Despite being primed for cooking and Thanksgiving prep yesterday, I spent Saturday almost devoid of kitchen contact.  I'm not much of a shopper, but somehow became trapped for hours in the pre-holiday retail gauntlet, much to my chagrin.  Consequently, a single serving of miso soup was the lone result of what should have been a more extensive round of cooking.

To add a touch of sparkle to this rather dull confession, I leave you with a brief mention of the candied orange peel I made a few days ago.  The process was very simple, albeit a little time-consuming, and the patience will paid off in a jar-full of bright, glittery, sugary citrus bits.  Below is a simplified description of what I did.
Candied Orange Peel (printable recipe)
Yields approximately 2 cups

4 organic navel oranges, rinsed well (to rid the fruit of wax coating)
2 1/4 c evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 c water
Candy thermometer

Remove the peel from the oranges and cut it into 1/4" strips.  Save the flesh for other use.  Place the peels in a pot and add just enough water to cover, bring it to a boil, then drain.  Repeat the process twice, drain the peels, and set aside.

In a large pot, combine 2 cups of the evaporated cane juice with the water, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Heat the sugar-water mixture over medium flame until the temperature reaches approximately 230 degrees Fahrenheit ("thread stage").  Add the peels, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, until the peels are translucent.  Remove from heat and carefully arrange the peels on a wire rack to dry for several hours or overnight.  While still tacky, roll the peels (a handful at a time) in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, gently shaking off excess crystals.  Return the peels to the wire rack to dry completely.  Enjoy!
I'm sure this process can be used with other citrus peels; candied lemon or lime peels sound like tasty variations.  I have not yet decided how to use the sugared strips, but I imagine they would be lovely as both a decorative and tangy-sweet addition to various cakes, scones, and the like.

20 November 2010

Rainy Morning Comfort

Good morning, all.   Intermittent rainfall and perpetual grayness is just the sort of thing to lubricate the synapses in my weekend-ready brain--I relish this surprisingly bleak weather, which is so fitting for mid-November--preparing me for the Thanksgiving menu planning with which I've encountered such difficulty.  Perhaps all it takes is a looming deadline and a jog through an invigorating downpour to inject some life into my love for cooking.  Here's hoping for sustained productivity and future palate-pleasing edibles.

Examining the basic elements of a traditional Thanksgiving table seems like a logical beginning in my quest to narrow (or rather, decide upon) my contribution to this year's meal.  Because turkey was always a secondary element of my plate, even in my omnivore days--my focus was always on the starchy sides--when I think of Thanksgiving, I immediately envision mashed potatoes and gravy.  Preparing the hallmark side dish was usually my task, but I won't be surprised if my minority presence as the sole vegan at this year's feast prompts someone else to take over, undoubtedly for fear of butter-less--or worse, vegan butter-laden--spuds.  Everyone seems to drench his entire plate with gravy anyway, but that is always a conveniently ignored fact.  In any case, my turkey-less feasting means that  I will also have turkey-less gravy, so on my breakdown of meal basics, I've chosen to first work on that part of the plate.
Recipes for mushroom gravies are readily accessible in both print and online, so I didn't have trouble finding one that looked suitable as a saucy accompaniment to a Thanksgiving meal.  My only concern was the presence of mushrooms themselves, because I tend to be ambivalent about the texture and flavor of cooked mushrooms.  I persisted with trying it anyway, and thankfully so; the Mushroom Gravy from Veganomicon was quite delicious (an opinion echoed by my mushroom-loving mother) and will not only turn up again on Thursday, but may in fact nudge my opinion of cooked fungi toward a more positive direction.  I enjoyed the sauce atop some homemade drop biscuits, with leftovers making a rich and heavy (in a good way) contribution to this morning's breakfast.  Should my willingness to join the kitchen frenzy prevail this week, I'll expect to have a sturdy arsenal of carbs to sop up that savory goodness.

19 November 2010

Pizza Kind of Day

It's the end of yet another week, there are leftovers abound, and I'm hardly in the mood to cook.  As a child and through my teen years, I considered Friday the second-best day of the week (just behind Saturday).  It marked the final school day before the weekend; evenings were often designated for movie theater ventures and sleepovers.  Even without after-school plans, I always prized Fridays for the brief respite it introduced from the weekday routine.

Nothing fueled the fun like a good, old-fashioned end-of-the-week pizza night.  Whether ordering in or making pies from scratch, there was always something deeply satisfying and comforting about sharing such doughy deliciousness with friends.  Unfortunately, that tradition of sorts occurs much more infrequently these days.  But funnily enough, most of my pizza consumption still occurs on Fridays--perhaps an unconscious ode to those vaguely celebratory gatherings from adolescence.  Such was the case today.  In my laziness, I had a small pie made to order from a nearby pizza vendor that recently began to offer Daiya mozzarella as an alternative to cheese.  My veggie-covered pizza was a delicious combination of mushrooms, red onions, artichokes, olives, bell peppers, and tomatoes atop a whole wheat base.  From the crisp, brick oven-roasted crust to melty vegan "cheese" to chunky vegetable fixings, the pie was quite the tasty end to a long week.  I'll save the cooking for tomorrow.
Happy Friday!

18 November 2010

Chocolate Toaster Pies: Take Two


The response to my first attempt at recreating a favorite childhood "breakfast" item--nothing less than junk food, really--seemed reason enough to explore the process a second time.  I did a bit of tweaking and took notes along the way, for anyone interested in a guideline for venturing into the realm of homemade Glazed Chocolate Toaster Pies.  This attempt yielded pies that were at least shy of borderline cloying (unlike attempt number one) and perhaps not so decadent that they must be relegated to dessert-only status.  All the same, they indeed still oozed with chocolaty richness; should you dare to indulge in a Glazed Chocolate Toaster Pie for breakfast, I suggest having a mug of hot coffee or chilled nondairy milk handy, in the event one feels the need to temper the sweetness.
Glazed Chocolate Toaster Pies (printable recipe)
Yields 8 individual pies

Cocoa pie crust (adapted from Bryanna's Low-Fat Oil Pastry):
1 c unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c + 2 T nondairy milk
1/4 c + 2 T vegetable oil
1 tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Mix the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl, until well-combined.  In a separate bowl, combine the nondairy milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract, and oil.  Stir the wet mixture into the dry until just combined.  Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, if possible; this step isn't necessary, but chilling the dough makes rolling it out a bit easier.  In the meantime, make the filling.

Chocolate filling:
2 oz dark chocolate, chopped, or semisweet chips
2 T brown sugar
1/2 T vegan butter
2 T nondairy milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 chocolate sandwich cookies (filling discarded), crushed

In a double boiler (i.e., a bowl placed over a pot of steaming water), combine everything but the crushed cookies, cooking over low heat until the chocolate is melted.  Remove from heat, stir in the crushed cookies, and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  To assemble the pies, divide the pie dough in half and roll it out into a rectangle of approximately 1/8" to 1/4" thickness.  Cut the dough into strips, approximately 3" wide, long enough so that the finished pastry will be a rectangle when folded upon itself from the short end (think roughly palm-sized).  Place a heaping tablespoon or two of the filling on one half of each rectangle, leaving about a 1/4" space along the edges.  Fold the other side of the dough over the filled side, matching the sides and corners, firmly sealing the edges with your fingertips.  Press the tines of a fork around the sealed edges of the pastry and pierce the top of the filled pastry to allow ventilation.
Arrange pies on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes, until the dough is firm and the bottoms are barely browned.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.  Prepare the glaze.

Hard cocoa glaze:
1/4 c powdered sugar
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp light corn syrup
1 tsp nondairy milk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Drop of pure almond extract (optional)

In a small bowl, sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder.  Add the remaining ingredients and whisk with a fork until well-combined.  The glaze will be thick but spreadable.

Spread a thin layer of the glaze on the tops of each cooled pie.  Sprinkle with more crushed chocolate cookies or pearl sugar.  Enjoy at room temperature, or reheat in the microwave or very briefly and at your own risk (only a minute or two) in a toaster (the glaze must be completely hardened first) to enjoy them warm.

17 November 2010

Plans

Amidst indulging my miscellaneous kitchen-related whims, cooking what happens to strike my fancy (within my means, of course) on any given day, I realized that I have absolutely no clue what to contribute to my family's Thanksgiving table.  A week from tomorrow, the small gathering that normally occurs at my parents' house (my childhood home) will not only be transplanted to the Bay area, but will also include twice as many guests.  As the sole vegan of the bunch, I will most likely need to dictate whatever I plan on consuming during this day of epic feasting; when it comes to this particular meal, my family holds rather rigidly to their preferred dishes and ways of preparing them--none of which happen to be vegan-friendly.  The familiarity of the kitchen and company, as well as an abundance of prep time, allowed me to cook what I pleased at last year's gathering, so I certainly felt satiated by night's end.  But the uniqueness of the conditions involved with this year's event may limit the vegan food presence.  I don't even know whether I'll bother cooking an entree to suit vegan and omni palates alike; perhaps underlying anxiety, or (gasp) a degree of apathy sneakily urges me toward an easy out, such as whipping up a few simple, last-minute sides and heating up a frozen, single-portion vegan pot pie (delicious, to be sure, but quite the opposite of the customary cook-fest).  I sense a real lack of motivation, but I suspect I just need inspiration.  An emphasis on a whole foods approach seems most appropriate for this particular gathering--I find that some of the omni guests won't warm up too well to items like meat analogues, for example--and will continue to try to develop my mini-menu.  Any recommendations for dishes to prepare are most welcome!


And if all else fails, perhaps I'll just bring along homemade bread--perhaps a batch of Spiced Pumpkin Bagels and hope it fuels my creativity.
I made a few adjustments to this recipe, using roasted and pureed cushaw, a blend of bread and whole wheat flours, more cinnamon, less ginger and nutmeg, apple cider instead of orange juice, and barley malt syrup and molasses instead of brown sugar. I also included a pinch of cloves for additional autumnal essence.  Rather than making eight regular-sized bagels, I rolled a dozen mini-bagels.  They turned out nicely spiced, just a bit sweet, chewy.  The bagels were rather tasty with sweet and savory adornments alike, but somehow even a bagel sandwich made with one of these lovely gems seems an ill-fitting component of Thanksgiving dinner...

16 November 2010

Whoopie Pies

Until yesterday, I had never eaten a whoopie pie.  I had not even heard of such a thing until perhaps a year ago, which is surprising, considering the size of my sweet tooth.  Intrigued by this cross between cake and cookie sandwich, I considered assembling a batch.  Pumpkin whoopie pies are all the rage at the moment--seasonal appropriateness obliges gratuitous winter squash inclusion across the food spectrum--but this being my first whoopie pie experience, the seemingly traditional chocolate cookie, vanilla filling version prevailed.
Of course, scores of recipes for the classic treat are readily available to fulfill one's whoopie pie-related curiosities, theoretically complicating the selection process.  However, settling upon what seemed like a suitable guideline was not that difficult at all.  I consulted two separate recipes for the cake and filling, respectively, although they were quite similar and I'm sure each in its entirety would have sufficed as a complete pie-assembly guideline.  Perhaps I should have kept to a single source for both cake and filling.  Although the final pies were delightful handfuls of sweet deliciousness, I felt a bit unsatisfied with the texture of their components; the cake was soft but a bit flat, while the filling seemed more runny than fluffy.  So despite the pleasant flavor outcome--chocolate and vanilla are usually a winning combination--the pies didn't strike me as particularly extraordinary.  Maybe subsequent attempts at perfecting them will change my mind.

15 November 2010

Tofu, Spice, Everything Nice

When I feel like I'm running low on novel meal ideas, I often seek inspiration from other cuisines.  If I find something both palatable and already suitable to my lifestyle needs--namely, affordable and vegan--the task of feeding myself is that much easier.  But if a particular dish strikes my fancy while requiring a few substitutions or alterations, so be it; I'm fine with flexing some creative muscle, and in fact, a bit of challenge is what makes cooking continually enjoyable.

When required to improvise, especially when it involves preparing a dish I have not yet encountered, I find certain staple items in my kitchen useful for completing the task without straying uncomfortably far from my comfort zone.  A recent foray into Korean cuisine illustrated the usefulness of stocking my kitchen with versatile, varied ingredients.  Because I have enjoyed Korean food on only a handful of occasions, I still know very little about it through first-hand experience.  So when I found discovered this recipe for Fire Chicken, I was both intrigued and a little hesitant about applying a vegan touch to the dish; while the components seemed simple enough to arrange (even with a couple substitutions), admittedly, I worried a bit that I was approaching the dish too casually--that the one-to-one exchange of my kitchen staples--tofu for chicken, sake for cheongju rice wine, brown rice syrup and agave for honey--for what was actually required was too simple, even inappropriate for achieving the proper textures and flavors intended.  But the combination of pear and kochujang (Korean chili sauce)--sweet with spicy--compelled me to move forward with what I had on hand to make something that I hoped would suit my tastes.
Fortunately, the attempt resulted in a pleasantly sweet-savory-spicy tofu dish.  Because I was mindful of the blandness of unseasoned tofu, I diluted the marinade in order to avoid over-salting the tofu, so the pieces turned out with just the perfect amount of seasoning.  Although I was fine with the overall results, the texture of the dish could improve with either a firmer tofu (super-firm, rather than the water-packed firm tofu I used would be ideal), seitan, or tempeh.  The pear-based sauce is actually quite tasty and would probably taste delicious broiled on just about anything that could use a bit of sweet heat.

14 November 2010

Busy Sunday

While I would love to while the remaining weekend hours away at my leisure, I have a full day planned out-of-town with the family.    Fortunately, my general sleep deprivation somehow still allows me to be a "morning person," so I've squeezed in a run and breakfast to boot, the latter of which I briefly share with you.


Raised with the notion that Sundays call for "proper" breakfast (e.g., one involving something cooked rather than cold from a box), I still apparently retain that mindset to some degree, often taking the time to crank up the stove or oven for that all-important first meal of the day.  Given today's time restraints, I continued yesterday's emphasis on breakfast with another quick, morning classic: pancakes.  It seems like ages since I've eaten plain, traditional-style "buttermilk" pancakes--I often take advantage of the limitless creativity involving a basic batter by adding fillings or flavorings--so I decided upon cooking the No-Fail Buttermilk Pancakes from 500 Vegan Recipes.  I substituted all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour, the sugar with a tablespoon of maple syrup.  As their name implies, these beauties did not fail my expectations at all; drizzled with pure maple syrup, these pancakes were delicious, tender, and very much reminiscent of regular, non-vegan versions I once enjoyed.  This may be my new go-to pancake recipe.
I hope everyone enjoys what's left of the weekend!

13 November 2010

Breakfast Treats

Happy Saturday, all.  Weekends are a time for the occasional sweet indulgence, even at breakfast time.  I typically prefer savory meals to begin my day, but sometimes the allure of maple syrup-drizzled pancakes or waffles, scones, or cornbread is too powerful to resist.  That sweet presence doesn't necessarily prevent me from tempering it with a salty side; regardless, the first-meal-of-the-day focus will lean toward saccharine if the mood dictates.


Waffles are amongst my favorite non-savory breakfast foods.  I have long moved beyond the boxed biscuit-mixed incarnations--although the crispy, club soda-infused Heloise variation begs for a vegan remake--in favor of the equally simple, from-scratch cakes.  While I tend to default to my adaptation of the Pumpkin Waffles from Vegan with a Vengeance when the waffle craving strikes, I wanted to try something ever-so-slightly different this time around.  With just the perfect amount of pureed sweet potato in tow, I set about making a batch of Sweet Potato Ginger Waffles from 500 Vegan Recipes.  For the sake of simplicity (not that the recipe seemed difficult, by any means), I omitted the ginger candied nuts and focused solely on the waffles themselves. The only other adjustments were to reduce the amounts of cinnamon and ginger in the batter and add vanilla extract.  Admittedly, the resulting waffles were very similar to the Pumpkin Waffles, but I didn't mind.  The lightest touch of maple syrup completed the breakfast scenario nicely.
Although I try to limit morning food extravagances to the odd, lazy Saturday or Sunday, sometimes breakfast treats make weekday appearances.  A few days ago, I had a sudden, nostalgic urge to recreate a certain frosted toaster pastry I adored as a child.  An incredibly picky eater, I had very specific dietary preferences, one of them being that if made to choose between sweets involving either chocolate or fruit, the former always won without question and in whatever form available.  So it should come as no surprise that my toaster pastry of choice during childhood was of the cocoa-laden variety.  As I grew older and my tastes developed, the fruity flavors finally appealed to me.  But having already tried my hand at fruit-filled vegan toaster pies and realizing that I had never attempted a chocolate version, I opted for the latter, in all its chocolaty decadence.
The process seemed simple enough: make a chocolate pie crust, gooey chocolate filling, and chocolate icing.  Those basic components to the toaster pies certainly raised questions about the prepackaged inspiration's intended consumption as a breakfast item, but curiosity urged me to persist toward achieving my goal of chocolate toaster pies.  The haphazard creation came together rather easily.  I used a sweetened, cocoa-infused adaptation of this low-fat pastry; filled it with a blend of melted dark chocolate, almond meal, sugar, crushed chocolate wafers, almond milk, and vanilla extract; baked and cooled the rectangular pockets; then topped them with a cocoa-laced glaze and pearl sugar.  The toaster pies were sweet, rich, incredibly chocolaty handheld treats--not quite like the frosted toaster pastries of my youth, but rather like a more tender, fresher-tasting substitute.  I don't fancy eating these for breakfast unless I really want a heavy chocolate jolt to begin the day (I still question the sugary breakfast marketing scheme).  These are more appropriate as dessert items, and quick ones at that; the hard glaze actually allows for the pies to be reheated in the toaster for a decadent treat on the go--or breakfast, if you must.

12 November 2010

Seitan Fail = Chili Success

Since adopting veganism around two years ago, I have fully embraced the fact that it continually encourages my development of multiple perspectives, trying new foods, and adapting to sometimes animal-unfriendly environments or situations.  Adjustments in the food aspect of my life has been particularly enjoyable, fueling my creativity while usually filling my belly with exceptional eats, although sometimes (and thankfully so) I don't necessarily need to work very hard in order to enjoy a satisfying vegan meal; when I'm out and about, it's all about making conscious choices, which are made easier by the day as veganism seems to become more widely recognized and accepted, at least by the marketing powers that be.

My food choices when back in my own kitchen are another story.  Here, I am left to my own devices and can more or less throw together any meal I happen to want--within reason, of course, and assuming various conditions permit a little experimentation (e.g., budget, supply, time).  And when I have that sudden desire to recreate something I enjoyed in my pre-vegan days that also happens to have no available vegan substitute, resolution to the open-ended question of what to cook up next narrows considerably, and I have yet another goal in mind.  Along those lines, I recently decided to finally attempt a vegan meat analog that might adequately mimic a particular type of sausage my family (all of whom are still omnivores) have enjoyed as a weekend breakfast item all my life.  I'll go into more detail when I've achieved more of the desired results.  Although I've successfully made seitan "sausages" multiple times, everything about the one I'm currently trying to create makes the task more difficult than anticipated.  This results of this first attempt weren't terrible by any means--just not really at all like the product I wanted to achieve.  But I will keep trying and let you know if it ever works out.
Because the seitan "sausage" was still very much edible, I decided to incorporate some of it into a hearty chili.  I had  planned to make chili this week and am glad I finally did, because chili is a bit of a pick-me-up; it's a belly- and heart-warming ode to a food I've always loved.  I consulted Vegan with a Vengeance for a recipe to use as a guideline, selecting the very appropriate Chili sin Carne al Mole.  I had somehow neglected to try this particular recipe, despite that aforementioned fondness for chili and the fact that the book is one of the pioneer tomes in my personal vegan cookbook library.  I didn't end up following the recipe exactly as written, halving the total yield and estimating and substituting some ingredients (namely, simmered black beans for pinto beans and fresh tomatoes for tinned).  The chili was fantastic anyway--deep, rich, savory, stick-to-your-ribs goodness with kick of spice and hint of sweetness.  The molasses addition was something I had never thought to use in chili, but I'm glad I did.  I enjoyed the chili with steamed rice and crisp oven potatoes, because I couldn't decide between chili over rice and chili fries.  Needless to say, compromise was a tasty choice.