29 May 2011

Recipe Review: Peanut Butter S'mores Cheesecake

I was never a "cheesecake person." As a picky eater during childhood, I considered tangy flavors in dessert simply unappetizing. Although that changed during adolescence, I still disliked cream cheese in general, as well as the heaviness and richness of cheesecake. I did eventually discover that the ever popular cake-pie hybrid was not completely unwelcome to my palette--I will indulge in a vegan version occasionally, although that introduces a separate issue regarding tofu-based pies--but it has never been my top dessert preference.

But if anything could test my long-standing hesitation to fully embrace the realms of cheesecake and vegan tofu-based pies alike, Sexy Vegan Mama's Vegan Peanut Butter S'mores Cheesecake may very well be it. This is one seriously decadent vegan indulgence: layers of vanilla, peanut butter, and chocolate cheesecake filling atop a buttery graham cracker crust.
Here's how the test-run of the recipe transpired. The directions indicate to use regular (not silken) tofu without specifying firmness level, so I used pressed tofu, because I automatically press tofu before I use it anyway. I chilled the pie briefly before adding each layer of cheesecake filling to prevent them from blending. In my eagerness to taste the finished product, I omitted the suggested chocolate drizzle; it didn't end up being necessary, although I'm sure it would have been a nice touch.

The Vegan Peanut Butter S'mores Cheesecake was definitely rich, but that richness masks the dessert's tofu presence (you may recall the aforementioned issue I have with tofu-based dessert fillings). I particularly liked being able to enjoy distinct layers of filling; the dense richness of the fudge-like chocolate component was made less intense by the relatively lighter, but still distinct peanut butter and vanilla flavors. Although the cheesecake was more peanut butter cup than peanut butter s'mores, I'm not complaining. It was tasty, held together nicely, and froze beautifully, too; pulling a pre-sliced piece (or two) from the freezer and having it thaw in the refrigerator for a few hours became an effective way to savor the indulgence while practicing portion control.
The recipe will be included in Sweet and Simple Vegan Desserts, the forthcoming cookbook authored by Christina-Marie Wright and William Maltese, so do keep your eyes out for it and prepare yourselves for some incredibly delectable vegan goodies. Be sure to also check out the Sexy Vegan Mama blog and follow along on Twitter for even more treats.

22 May 2011

Not quite ordinary

Sundays are always a little peculiar. For whatever reason, that specific day of the week is one often marked by headaches and a skewed sense of time. I wouldn't necessarily call it a lazy day--the inevitable feeling of inactivity-induced stagnancy is not one I particularly relish--but somehow, it just feels different. Granted, I am not technically "at home" (although my sister's house sometimes feels more like home than does my current residence) and am trying to fight off the rarely occurring nuisance of mild illness. It also happens to be my sister's boyfriend's birthday, so the usual complement of celebratory elements (e.g., dinner preparation, cake baking, etc.) make their expected appearances. I can't really say whether the atypical nature of current circumstances amplifies that "Sunday feeling," but in any case, it's turning out to be a bit of an unusual day.

The early part of the afternoon was also something of an oddity for me. On a quick lunch run with my sister, I recalled hearing word of a local cheese shop selling vegan grilled cheese sandwiches. Sacred Wheel, the shop of interest, was mere steps away from the deli from which my sister purchased sandwiches for herself and the birthday boy. Opting to indulge my curiosity about whether the aforementioned vegan grilled cheese sandwiches were still in circulation, I ended up wandering into a place I normally would not expect to find vegan-friendly food options.

Sacred Wheel was indeed serving vegan grilled cheese sandwiches today. Vegan seafood chowder was also on the menu, but I decided to stick with just a small sandwich: a combination of sliced artisan bread, cheddar-style Sheese vegan cheese (also sold prepackaged in a small variety of flavors), and basil pesto, pressed panini-style to a golden crisp. The vegan cheese seemed to melt just as its dairy counterpart would, stretched impressively, and featured a very cheese like flavor--more like American cheese than cheddar. I didn't mind, as I used either variety when composing grilled cheese sandwiches back in my non-vegan days. The herbal element from the pesto made for a simple but tasty upgrade from the comparatively plain after-school snack of my adolescence. The entire package was a delightful surprise. I can now add vegan grilled cheese sandwiches to my working knowledge of vegan food options within walking distance of my sister's house.
The image doesn't show it, but trust me, there is properly melted vegan
cheese hidden between those toasty bread slices. It's a shame that my
phone's camera couldn't get a good shot of the stretch.

18 May 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

I'm feeling the onset of illness and am heading back to the Bay tomorrow, so I anticipate updating this blog even more sparsely this week. Whilst I try to return to state more conducive to blogging, I'll just share a few food photos from the last week or so.
We've reached the halfway point of the week. As I mentioned earlier, I'll be spending the upcoming week in the Bay Area, with family time and birthdays coinciding this weekend. What are your weekend plans?

13 May 2011

Golden Moment

I go through food-related phases, during which I gravitate toward a particular type of ingredient, dish, or cuisine. Inspiration is everywhere and can strike at any moment, only making cravings for comestible goodness more salient. Usually a round or two of appetite-induced cooking experiments will yield more than satisfactory results. Occasionally, a specific not-quite-right element in a dish will throw me into mad pursuit of nearer-perfection, especially if it involves a textural issue. For items like molten chocolate cakes, macarons, angel's food cake, and ice cream, texture is a universally defining feature that pretty much negates the role of personal preference (e.g., favoring fudgy or cake-like brownies, etc.), so success of the final outcome greatly depends upon achieving the proper consistency.
Granola is one of those highly customizable foods that can vary in both flavor, shape, and texture. During adolescence, despite my unending love for chocolate, I burned out on the chewy chocolate chip granola bars I had been eating since childhood, suddenly preferring thin, crisp, sweet bars without add-ins. I soon grew weary of those, too, all the while not realizing until much later that 1) granola need not be restricted to a handheld form and 2) it can be easily and inexpensively made at home to suit my mood at any given moment. I've long since then embraced the homemade route, making batches upon batches of granola, chewy or crunchy; the amount of bite usually depended upon whether I decided to stick to lower-fat consciousness or indulge in a slightly higher fat content. In either case, batches were almost always crumbly. Many trials and recipes later, I was still getting crumbly (albeit tasty) granola that simply would not clump. The clustered granola I hoped to achieve seemed eternally elusive. That is, until recently.

Yes, my friends, this overly dramatized story has a happy ending, and a recipe to boot. I've finally figured out how to bake crunchy, clumpy granola that also happens to not be drowning in fat. The process involves a bit of patience, as the granola initially bakes in a single mass (as if making bars), then is broken into clusters before baking at a slightly lower temperature. The recipe is for a very almond-filled combination--I love almonds and almond-flavored foods--but I've provided suggestions for other variations at the end. Do what suits your tastes and revel in golden, crunchy granola bliss.

Almond granola clusters (printer-friendly version)
Yields approximately 2 ½ cups

1 c rolled oats
1/2 c puffed millet or other puffed cereal
2 T toasted okara, oat bran, or ground oats
1 T rice flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
pinch salt
1 T milled flax seed, whisked with 2 T warm water until thick and viscous
2 T natural almond butter (I prefer raw and crunchy.)
1/4 c maple syrup (dark amber or Grade B for a distinctive maple flavor) or agave nectar*
1 tsp canola, coconut, or other mildly-flavored oil
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c raw almonds, chopped
Oil, for the baking pan

*Note: Using agave nectar yields slightly sweeter and deeper golden-brown granola than if using maple syrup.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a rectangular brownie pan (I used a 7x9" pan) with foil and oil lightly.

Combine dry ingredients, except the almonds, in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine almond butter, maple syrup, and coconut oil. Microwave for 20 seconds, just to loosen the ingredients and melt the fats. Whisk in the flax seed mixture and extracts, then add the wet mixture to the dry, stirring to combine. Mix in the chopped almonds.

Firmly press the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pan 180° midway through baking time. Lower oven temperature to 300°F and remove the pan, allowing the granola to cool for five minutes.
Remove the granola in one piece by lifting the foil lining from the pan, and place it (still in the foil) on a baking sheet. Spread out the foil so that it lies flat. Break the granola into chunks of desired size and spread the pieces out over the foil. Place the baking sheet in the oven for 25-30 minutes (20-25 minutes if agave was used); check the granola and turn every 5-10 minutes to ensure even browning and that the clusters don’t burn. Remove from oven to cool completely before enjoying. The granola will harden as it cools.
Pistachio cranberry: Substitute shelled pistachios and pistachio butter (easily made from scratch, but almond is fine) for almonds and almond butter, respectively; omit cinnamon and almond extract; use light amber agave or maple syrup; add 2 T dried cranberries with pistachios.
Chocolate peanut butter: Substitute roasted salted peanuts and peanut butter for almonds and almond butter, respectively; omit salt, cinnamon, and almond extract; mix 2 T cocoa powder into wet ingredients.
Add-ins: other nuts, seeds, or spices; citrus zest; dried fruit; dark chocolate drizzle; dried coconut flakes; etc.

I'm rather partial to munching on these granola clusters hot out of the oven from the storage jar, but it's certainly enjoyable as a crunchy addition to oatmeal, cereal, non-dairy yogurt, and the like. How do you prefer your granola?

04 May 2011

Spicier Shews (and Not Just for Mac)

I've become quite fond of Isa's delicious version of vegan mac and cheese since making a slightly-adapted version of it recently. I had to make another batch soon after the first (which was actually only a half batch, silly me); it would have been simply wasteful to not put that leftover sauerkraut to use. This time around, the resulting sauce was slightly green, likely from the serrano peppers I blended in, which I've been putting in everything lately. I exercised patience and baked the pasta, as the recipe instructed. The addition of crushed rice cereal made a nice, crunchy topping.
While making that latest batch of "cheesy" shells, I ended up with a lot more sauce than the pasta needed, so I saved a bit of the excess sauce, thinking it would make for a tasty spread, dip, or filling for another dish. With talk of Cinco de Mayo circulating around the Internet--it is tomorrow, after all--I was getting a hankering for something spicy. It started with dry-fried, Cajun spice-marinated tofu yesterday--not Mexican or even Mexican-inspired, but I really like that spice blend. I wanted something bread-like with which to eat this delicious tofu, but the heat convinced me that using the oven was ill-advised. Homemade whole wheat tortillas became a suitable alternative. Then I remembered the reserved, serrano-spiked shews sauce. Long story short: I made quesadillas. They were good--a little gooey and nothing like the "real thing" (i.e., the dairy cheese-filled type), mind you, but definitely good and something I'd make again.
Before creating this Cajun-Mexican fusion snack, I figured it might need a little something to go along with it, so I threw together a corn salsa of sorts. Apparently, broiling thawed sweet corn kernels gives them an almost fire-roasted-like flavor, which was what I hoped to achieve. Using whatever was on hand, I combined the sweet corn with green onion, tomato, avocado, garlic, cumin, serrano, salt, pepper, cilantro, and calamansi juice. The resulting salsa ended up being a lovely, sweet-salty-spicy side to the quesadilla and appropriate addition to a somewhat unconventional concoction.
If you ever find yourself with some sauce to spare from a batch of Mac & Shews, you may want to take advantage of its versatility (maybe spice it up) and try it in another tasty way. To those of you who celebrate it, have a happy, safe, and delicious Cinco de Mayo!

02 May 2011

Monday Miscellany

I have a collection of photos that for various reasons never receive blog face time. Despite at some point deeming a given dish potentially worthy of further elaboration in this humble little space, half the time it won't make the cut. Usually it's a matter of a dish no longer seeming interesting enough for me to share, but sometimes I'm just become lazy about squeezing in even a brief mention. But as I periodically shuffle through the images I've stored, it seems wasteful to keep some of them--even if all of my photos are merely decent-looking--if I'm the only one to see them.

Consider this the first post in a series dedicated to photographed dishes that never quite made the cut. The archives go back to the beginning of this blog (nearly two years--yikes), but I'll just flood your visual field with miscellany from January through April of this year. Enjoy!
Feel free to holler if you want to know specifics about any of the food here. I'll can't promise I'll remember specifics about how it all went down, but I'll try my best!

May Love Drop: The Stalnakers

[In the interest of getting the word out as soon as possible, this month's Love Drop update is a straight-up reblog of the information Love Drop's own Nate and J$ shared with the Blogger Network.]

Hey guys! The Love Drop team is at it again! Last month they gave over $6,000 worth of cash and goods to their recipient, the Kahlen family, who had been going through a financially hard time due to the economy (and whose daughter is currently battling Tuberous Sclerosis). They focused on their love of spending time together, and brought them over 8 pairs of tickets to a whole bunch of local events. It was awesome, and you can watch how it all went down here.

This month they rally behind the Stalnakers - a family who, along with thousands of others along the gulf coast, are still reeling from the effects of the BP oil spill. Our goal is to get them a reliable used car this month as their previous two have died, and it's getting harder and harder for them to manage w/ the one they're currently borrowing. They've been giving back to their community since they moved in, and now it's time for US to help them!

Want to help?  Here are three ways you can participate:
  1. Help them get a car! - Our #1 goal is to give them a reliable used car in decent working order. If you have any leads, discounts, or connections in this area, please email Love Drop and let them know.
  2. Give $1.00 - This money will help get them back on their feet, and relieve some financial burden. Every dollar counts!
  3. Give a gift or service - Gift cards are always helpful. Places like Target, Wal-mart, restaurants, etc would definitely help them out. Services too - especially those you can offer yourselves, or from your company. 
Thanks everyone! We'll let you know how it goes!