30 January 2011

The Vegan Pizza Day That Was

I hope everyone enjoyed yesterday's first annual Vegan Pizza Day. Not only did I appreciate the widespread attention so enthusiastically devoted toward a day of celebrating the joys of delicious, animal-friendly fare--pizza is always a reliable source of culinary gratification, especially of the festive sort--I relished the excuse to spend an afternoon in the kitchen. I may finally be emerging from my cooking rut, for which I sigh relief.

Curiosity, chronic indecisiveness, and an abundance of dough eventually produced three homemade pizzas: pizza bianca, artichoke and seitan "pepperoni," and deep-dish. The pizza bianca, more of a sauce-less flat bread than traditional pie, used a whole wheat variation of the Pizza Napoletana dough from that treasured Reinhart book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I brushed the thin disc with roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil, lightly sprinkled shredded mozzarella-style Teese over it, and baked the pizza on a preheated stone at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Slices of the crusty-but-chewy bread made for a tasty prelude to the more elaborate pizzas to follow.
The second creation, an artichoke and seitan "pepperoni" pizza, utilized more of the whole wheat dough and resembled a more traditional pizza. I topped the raw dough with homemade tomato sauce (recipe follows), caramelized onion, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, blanched spinach, more Teese, and slices of Fat Free Vegan's Veggeroni. Again, a spell atop a hot stone in a hot oven resulted in a delectable pizza. The seitan "pepperoni" became a bit brittle and toasty around the edges, but no matter; the crunch of those smoky-spicy slices added welcome textural interest.
A departure from the preceding two pies, the deep dish-style veggie and seitan "pepperoni" pizza boasted a different base dough altogether and was baked not flat on a stone, but molded into a cake pan. I used the dough from Pennies on a Platter's Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza, substituting vegan "butter" for dairy butter. I filled the unbaked shell with various toppings--Teese, caramelized onion, seitan "pepperoni," sun-dried tomatoes, tomato sauce, bell pepper slices, blanched spinach, black olives, and a light sprinkling of additional Teese--brushed the dough with garlic olive oil, and baked it according to the recipe's instructions.
The finished pizza crust wasn't as flaky as one typically expects of deep dish-style pies; rather, this crust had a fluffy, airy interior with crisp exterior and cornmeal crunch throughout. It was actually a rather nice complement to the hearty fillings, with all elements harmonizing into a beautifully messy, deliciously savory treat.
Here is a basic rundown of how to make the sauce I employed, as promised:


Thick and Chunky Tomato Sauce (printer-friendly version)
Yields approximately 4 cups

1/2 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, finely grated
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
1 T tomato paste
2 (14-oz) cans diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low. Add onion and carrot, lightly salt and pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and slightly caramelized (approximately 5 minutes). Stir in garlic and cook for approximately a minute or so; it should be fragrant but not brown. Slightly crush the pepper flakes and dried herbs before adding them to the pan. Stir in the tomato paste until it is well-distributed. Lightly drain one can of tomatoes, then add the contents of both cans to the saucepan, stirring to incorporate. Bring the sauce to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, the partially cover the pan with a lid (allow some ventilation). Allow the sauce to simmer gently for at least 30 minutes--up to an hour, if time permits, to further develop flavor--stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Remove from heat and coarsely blend until desired smoothness is achieved. Allow to cool before dressing pizza, or warm through to enjoy with pasta.
Needless to say, my humble Vegan Pizza Day celebration was flavorful and fun. How did you celebrate?

26 January 2011

Fundamentals

Regardless of my level of desire to cook on any given day, certain items remain staples in my diet and are never too difficult or time-consuming to warrant at least a haphazard attempt at procuring them. Food fatigue continues to foster a steady intake of easily-accessible foods, which in my current situation involves frequently defaulting to bread or rice, soup, and beans (with nuts, blanched greens, and fruit scattered amongst the day's eating). The most labor-intensive part of those items occurs during the initial cooking process, after which leftovers are stored and easily stretched over a few days in the refrigerator, if not longer in the freezer. As long as the food tastes good, the lazy cook in me doesn't mind a somewhat rigid menu borne of minimal effort. Accordingly, on the carbohydrate side of things, the last few weeks have involved only the following from-scratch creations (a small amount, given my bread baking fixation, but a sign of life nonetheless).

English muffins. I adapted the recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, making the necessary vegan substitutions and incorporating some whole wheat flour. These were quite as holey as store-bought muffins--I let the dough over-rise while I spent a couple of hours running errands--but these homemade muffins weren't particularly dense and like most homemade bread, they tasted better than their mass-produced, chemical-laden counterparts.
Zinfandel walnut bread. This project was the result of a serendipitous encounter with a bread recipe that requires approximately the amount of wine I happened to have leftover from the previous night. Again, some substitutions were in order. Vegan adjustments included flax and water for egg and coconut oil for butter; zinfandel and walnuts (what I had on hand) replaced chianti and pinenuts, respectively. I also incorporated more whole wheat flour--it's a bit of a habit--and increased the hydration with a few additional tablespoons water, which likely account for the relatively faint purple hue. Referring back to The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I employed the "hearth-style" baking method, using a steam tray, baking stone, and increased oven temperature (450 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 375) in order to achieve a rustic, crusty exterior on the loaf. The heavenly aroma of wine and warm bread filled the house as it baked. The finished bread was indeed crisp on the outside, tender inside, as well as flavorful (only faintly of wine) and nutty--delightful for either sweet or savory applications.
As mentioned, soup and beans also figured into my January menu. Perhaps I'll post a rundown of related dishes soon...

19 January 2011

Still Sweet

Although it is already mid-January, post-holiday mental burnout and a certain malaise linger, limiting most urges for extensive kitchen activity. I continually admire the food masterpieces of other cooks, but more often than not, I simply cannot muster the energy to direct that inspiration into much of anything. Meals are accordingly dull and redundant; the few dishes I have cooked are stretched for consecutive meals over a few days, each serving once or twice as an item to truly savor before reducing to yet another means of sustenance. The good news is that I have not entirely lost interest in cooking, and oddly enough, the holiday sugar rush has not seemed to deter me from concocting sweets. The week's confections were as follows:

Raised Waffles
As both a waffle- and yeast-risen bread-lover, I couldn't resist trying the Raised Waffles from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Brunch (2009). I substituted some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour and fermented the batter for an hour rather than overnight--perfect for creating a late, hassle-free breakfast. Baked in a Belgian waffle-style iron, the waffles had deep pockets that were ideal for cradling Chunky Red Bean Jam (Tsubu An), which I made using a recipe from the gorgeous Kansha (2010) by Elizabeth Andoh. Of course, maple syrup and toasted pecans were also in order. The waffles were fine plain, too. I froze the leftovers, which reheat to a nice crisp in the toaster.
Pecan s'mores clusters
These candy nuggets were an impromptu product of a craving for s'mores and good timing, because I happened to have the appropriate ingredients on hand and managed to properly temper the chocolate without the benefit of a working candy thermometer.  Basically, I gathered clumps of chopped vegan marshmallows, broken vegan graham cracker pieces (homemade, in this case), and toasted pecan pieces (not a classic s'mores ingredient, but a lovely, nutty addition), coated them in a blend of tempered dark chocolate and coconut oil, and allowed the clusters to cool and harden. Despite their richness, these s'mores clusters are ridiculously addictive. Fortunately, I made a small batch, so overindulging wasn't much of a concern.
It feels like I am gradually regaining the motivation to get back into the kitchen for more serious cooking--I haven't ignored the savory realm, either--so I hope to return to my more enthusiastic, kitchen-lurking self soon.

12 January 2011

Review: Tofutti Cuties

A few months ago, a kindly Tofutti representative contacted me, asking if I'd like to review some of the company's frozen, dairy-free desserts*.  Having had only limited exposure to the brand's product line--at the time of request, I had only tried the faux cream cheese and sour cream in several applications, with mostly acceptable results--I was open to tasting something different.  I finally did just that, recently opting to try two different flavors of Tofutti Cuties, those seemingly omnipresent, palm-sized "ice cream"-like sandwiches.

Mint Chocolate Chip was the first flavor I elected to try.  As is often the case with soy-based, nondairy "ice cream" treats, the sandwich was rock solid right out of the freezer, although allowing it to thaw for a few minutes at room temperature melted it just enough so that I wouldn't lose any teeth during the tasting.  After averting a potential dental emergency (okay, that's an exaggeration), I soon realized that these Cuties would live up to their "snack size" label; it took only a few modest bites to consume a single sandwich.  Thawing the treat improved the dessert's creamy texture and made for somewhat sticky (although not uncommon for typical ice cream sandwiches) chocolate cookies.  The cookies alone were, in fact, very similar to those featured in the non-vegan ice cream sandwiches I loved as a child--soft, stick-to-your-teeth slabs of chocolaty goodness.  The mint chocolate chip filling wasn't quite so tasty, at least on its own; it didn't taste particularly creamy and the flavor was a bit flat.  The filling benefited from being sandwiched between cookies, making the overall package a decent treat for occasional consumption.
I later tried the Chocolate variety, which somehow seemed more texturally appealing, with the richness of the cocoa flavor more successfully masking the partial iciness of the filling.  Otherwise, my verdict on the second tasting was pretty much identical to the first: adequate to quell that sweet craving, but not my first choice of "ice cream"-like vegan desserts.  Mind you, these sandwiches were by no means terrible--as I said, they were fine--but they just didn't impress me.  I would probably only purchase Tofutti Cuties out of convenience (they're readily available in many major grocery chains), but homemade and store-bought coconut milk-based "ice creams" still top my dairy-less frozen dessert list.  Thanks to Tofutti for allowing me to try some of its products; I greatly appreciate the opportunity.  It's good to know that there are vegan dessert options out in the mainstream market!
*Disclaimer: I received these products for free (via vouchers provided by the company), but was neither paid nor pressured to review them.

06 January 2011

Celebrating Pizza, Vegan-Style

At some point prior to committing to veganism, I, like many of my lacto-vegetarian and omnivorous friends at that time, had become very accustomed to smothering everything in cheese as an alternative to meat; a layer of gooey, greasy mess somehow seemed like the only way to make up for the absence of animal flesh.  Unsurprisingly, when I discovered that the only viable equivalent to vegan pizza was one without cheese, I had to take time to warm to the idea.  But my love for all things bread compensated for the lack of dairy-blob toppings just enough so that I quickly overcame that last craving threat.  And cheese-related regression is even less of a probably nowadays, thanks to some impressive, convincingly "melt-y" vegan cheese analogs.  They make for a tasty indulgence when I really just want a little somethin'-somethin' more from a pie than just bread, sauce, and veggies.
A mozarella-style Daiya-covered chunk of goodness.
It turns out that many vegans share the pizza love--enough so to establish Vegan Pizza Day, which falls on 29 January, 2011.  Called "a celebration of the most awesomest food ever," this looks to be a holiday of epic proportions.  It does, after all, have its own website, which vegan pizza connoisseurs and casual consumers alike could surely appreciate.  The fine folks at Vegan Pizza Day are even giving bloggers the chance to kick off this massive pizza party in style, so check out the Vegan Pizza Day site for more details!  Happy eating!

05 January 2011

Introducing: Love Drop

Each being on this planet deserves love, a touch of kindness and compassion.  And amidst particularly tough times, some people could certainly use the love, via a few warm hearts and helping hands.  Each month, as part of the Love Drop Blogger Network, I'll be posting an introduction to Love Drop's featured individual or family member in need of our help.  The goal is to raise support and awareness for a great cause: building a community who believes in changing lives through the power of positivity and heartfelt, well-intended giving.


This month's Love Drop focuses on Jill and her children in Chicago.  Watch Jill's video below:


This project is all about coming up with creative and fun ways to make a difference for someone. Here's what you can do to make our first Love Drop special for Jill and her family:

  • Join the team - Become a member by paying whatever you want. Even $1.00.
  • Join our blogger network - Blog about our Love Drops once a month! It's easy, it's rewarding, and it REALLY helps spread the word (which in turn helps the families!). Love Drop will give you all the content you need.
  • Give a gift or provide a service - Gift cards, household goods, football cards/jerseys for the boys, web design services, pampering gifts for Jill, etc. (email all ideas/questions to team (at) lovedrop.us, and we'll make it happen).
Want to know more about Love Drop?  Here's a rundown, courtesy of Love Drop's very own Nate and J$:
Love Drop is a micro-giving network of people who unite as a community to help one person or family a month. By subscribing to the team for as low as $1, they make it easy for their members to change lives in a fun and tangible way. Each month Love Drop delivers a unique combination of unexpected financial gifts, personal encouragement and the support of local and online communities.
Every month the Love Drop community comes together to raise as much support and awareness as we possibly can. It starts on the website - LoveDrop.us, gets spread across our entire network of blogs, continues through the forums where all our members are brainstorming, and finally lands on the front steps of our recipients. Literally.
At the end of every month, Nate and J$ show up in the town the people live in to deliver this pile of goodness. The money, the gifts, the services, everything! It's all on film, and it all ends with an amazing outpouring of love. And then it starts all over again the next month. Help them, and their flagship partner, Kona Grill, make this drop in Chicago amazing!
I hope you all will nurture that giving spirit and help to spread the word about this beautiful cause. Please feel free to Tweet, share on Facebook, email a friend, etc.--whatever means you see fit to take part, build awareness, and drop some love.  Thanks!
[Video, image, and informational content courtesy Love Drop]

02 January 2011

Luck-Minded...?

I don't actually believe in luck--the idea of fate, that all entities occur with some predetermined purpose, is more congruent with my spiritual and philosophical world view--but I certainly embrace educating oneself about its widespread significance.  Luck is such a fascinating notion, contributing heavily to many New Year traditions, particularly with regard to food.  I have noticed that many "lucky" foods prepared during this time of year signify money, either by color or shape (e.g., greens are thought to resemble paper bills, round items like lentils resemble tokens or coins).  As a way to officially acknowledge the transition to a new calendar year and pay homage to that luck-oriented food traditions, I made a few dishes that are thought to bring fortune to their consumers in the months that follow.

On New Year's Eve, I cooked a half-batch of black-eyed peas and kale, an adapted version of this recipe from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, an homage to traditional fare from the southern US.  The combination of black-eyed peas and greens is thought to represent money--coins and paper bills, respectively--and accordingly, future financial prosperity.   Kale replaced collards--I more frequently have the former, rather than latter, on hand--and added diced carrot and minced jalapeno.  This hearty dish was spicy, smoky, and absolutely delectable.  I enjoyed a fresh helping on New Year's Eve and leftovers the following day.
I also paid tribute to Japanese New Year cuisine with homemade mochi (prepared on New Year's Eve) and ozuoni (mochi soup, my first breakfast of 2011).  Rice and rice-based munchies are pantry staples at my house, so naturally, the thought of being able to make pounded sweet rice at home without much manual effort sparked some excitement.  Thanks to easy-to-follow instructions, I had a hefty glob of freshly pounded mochigome just before lunch on New Year's Eve.
I reserved some mochi for the ozouni to be eaten on the morning of New Year's Day and other applications, but couldn't resist testing its moffle (mochi waffle) potential.  The moffles were light and crispy.  A slather of shiro koshi an (smooth white bean jam) remedied any plain waffle blandness, making for unique and tasty brunch fare.
My version of Maki's ozouni (using vegan modifications) was equally delightful, serving as a light and tasty New Year's Day breakfast.  I used a few of the mochi cakes prepared the previous day, konbu dashi, "chicken-style" okara seitan instead of chicken, fresh spinach, and omitted the kamaboko.  Along with her soup recipe, Maki explains the fortune-bringing significance of pairing chicken and greens.  I'm not sure if seitan "chicken" counts, but in any case, I relished the soup's broth-y goodness.
New Year's Day concluded with a delicious confection.  Alfajores are shortbread-like, dulce de leche-filled sandwich cookies that are prevalent throughout South America year-round and particularly popular during the winter holiday season.  Inspired by a friend's adoration of these treats and a new batch of vegan dulce de leche, I found a recipe and set about making some vegan-friendly and supply-contingent alterations.  Vegan "butter," powdered egg replacer, flax "eggs," and dairy-free dulce de leche served as animal-free substitutions; I substituted arrowroot for some of the cornstarch, due to dwindling amounts of the latter, and lacking cognac or brandy, used amaretto instead.  I'll go along with the coin-signifying theme as my excuse for my New Year's indulgence of these sweet discs.
Lacking my own support for the notion of luck itself, the above array of "lucky" food probably will not direct me toward a year of prosperity, but I am content to have welcomed the next calendar year in delicious fashion and definitely willing to contribute toward developing personal growth and productivity.  I hope that the rest of 2011 and beyond may be filled with peace, happiness, and health for all.  Tossing in a bit of good food couldn't hurt, either.