27 February 2011

Recipe Testing: Cookies!

Need a sugar fix? Sexy Vegan Mama's Amaretto Sugar Cookies and Kahlua Crinkle Cookies are sure to satisfy a craving for something sweet. These goodies are the latest test recipes I've attempted from Christina-Marie "Sexy Vegan Mama" Wright and William Maltese's forthcoming cookbook, Sweet and Simple Vegan Desserts, which is due to hit shelves later this year.

The Amaretto Sugar Cookies are reminiscent of the roll-and-cut cookies from childhood--which is to say, they're wonderful. Rather than the normal extract, liqueur is used here, which works just fine in infusing these cookies with lovely almond flavor. These fun, versatile baked treats can be as soft or as crisp as one desires, depending upon how long the dough is allowed to bake. Preferring my cookies on the softer side, I baked the batch for the minimum duration needed for the dough to bake through, approximately 10 minutes. Firm outside, yielding inside, and topped with glittery, cinnamon-sugar crunch, the Amaretto Sugar Cookies were very much a hit with all who tasted them.
Notes on the making of Sexy Vegan Mama's Amaretto Sugar Cookies:
- As with other roll-and-cut doughs, I only re-rolled the dough once in order to avoid toughening the resulting cookies.
- I don't suggest baking the cookies until they begin to brown. I baked a few for up to 15 minutes, just to see if they would ever color along the edges, and they never did. What were crunchy cookies the day of baking became rock-solid the next day. What's true for all cookies is true for these as well: do not over-bake!
- The almond flavor was very subtle, contrary what I expected. But the cookies were still delicious--just the proper amount of sweetness--with or without the cinnamon-sugar coating. Almond icing (suggested in the recipe) appropriately accentuated the cookies' underlying nutty essence, but again, they are fine unadorned.

The Kahlua Crinkle Cookies are also familiar treats that evoke fond memories of childhood--of time spent in the kitchen as my mom's eager assistant, or peddling lemonade and warm baked goods at yard sales and on dull summer days, all involving flour-dusted counter tops and happy, sugar-filled bellies. As with the sugar cookies, Sexy Vegan Mama's crinkle cookies include liqueur as a flavoring (Kahlua, in this case), rather than the extracts found in many cookie recipes. Easy to make, albeit a bit messy, these chocolaty bites were received well by my chocolate- and cookie-loving family.
Notes on the making of Sexy Vegan Mama's Kahlua Crinkle Cookies:
- Mixing all of the dry ingredients with the wet was challenging, because the dough became very thick and stiff. For future batches, I would try to add half the water to the wet ingredients before adding the dry, then add additional water if it is necessary to moisten the dough in order to achieve a more workable consistency.
- The recipe yielded 57 pieces, rather than the projected 65, likely due to inconsistency when rolling the pre-baked dough into balls. The size of each resulting cookie (consumable in a bite or two) seemed appropriate, given their richness.
- The coffee flavor was quite faint, so if anything, the Kahlua probably enhanced the chocolate factor, rather than adding any distinct essence of its own. Of course, intense chocolate flavoring was not unexpected, considering the amount of cocoa it required, nor was it a bad thing.
- The cookies were crisp on the outside, yet fudgy inside, resembling the texture of a brownie. The cookies remained moist for as long as they lasted (a few days).
- I was alarmed at the amount of sugar called for in the recipe: two cups total for the dough itself, one for the crinkle coating. The cookies ended up being much sweeter than I tend to prefer my desserts, although no one else seemed to mind. The bite-sized nature of the cookies helped in this regard, making it easy to limit myself to one or two cookies per sitting. Because the dough balls really do require a heavy coating of powdered sugar in order to yield the best crackled look, I would likely reduce the amount of sugar in the dough itself in subsequent batches to moderate the sweetness, hopefully without negatively altering the texture.

Both cookie varieties were good, and definitely promise to satisfy any sudden urges for sugar consumption. I anticipate more sweet delights as recipe testing continues (see my previous recipe review here). Be sure to visit Sexy Vegan Mama's blog for more of her original creations.

23 February 2011

Roasted Carrot Apple Soup

I almost made it through the cold season without more than an allergy-induced sniffle and the normal headaches, but alas, illness finally struck. Despite crawling sneakily upon me over the span of nearly a full week, the sickness was at its worst--primarily involving a migraine, congestion, and mild cough--for only a day. Of course, soup was in order--all day, in fact, beginning and ending with some form of miso soup, with a sweet-savory, mildly-spiced carrot and apple concoction for lunch. Here's how I made it, should you like to try it for yourselves.

Roasted Carrot Apple Soup (printer-friendly version)
Yields 4 to 6 servings

6 medium-sized carrots, cut into large chunks
2 leeks, cleaned thoroughly, white parts chopped
1 tsp dried thyme, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c water
2 c vegetable broth
2 medium-sized, sweet-tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 (1/4-in thick) piece fresh ginger, peeled and slightly crushed
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Generous pinch red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper, to taste
Green onion, sliced, to garnish (optional)
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Place carrot chunks in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, ½ tsp thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 45 minutes, or until the carrots are tender and beginning to caramelize. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-low flame or heat setting. Add leeks and saute until softened. Add garlic and saute an additional minute, until fragrant. Add water, broth, apples, ginger, cumin, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Increase to medium-high heat and bring contents of the pot to a boil. Add the roasted carrots and reduce heat so that the soup simmers steadily. Cook for a few minutes to soften the carrots further, then remove from heat. Remove bay leaf, puree the soup with an immersion blender (regular stand blender is fine), then heat over low until the soup is hot. Garnish with sliced green onion and enjoy hot!
I'm glad to be back to my relatively healthy self, which will hopefully mean more posting here. A cookie review is ahead, so stay tuned!

15 February 2011

Recipe Testing: Working the Cupcake Magic

A year after my first taste of cookbook recipe testing, I'm thrilled to be part of a new vegan cookbook project, and an especially sweet one at that; this time around, I'm testing recipes for the forthcoming Sweet and Simple Vegan Desserts, a cookbook written by Christina-Marie "Sexy Vegan Mama" Wright and William Maltese. The book is set to release sometime in 2011, so keep your eyes peeled for what looks to be yet another gem of a vegan cookbook.

To kick off the fun, I decided to make Sexy Vegan Mama's incredibly adorable Derby Gurlz Double Mocha Mini Cupcakes with Coconut Almond Cream Cheese Frosting. If the name alone doesn't make you smile, one look at these wee chocolate treats will. With just a bite, you will surely be hooked, as were my tasters--some cupcake non-likers, others cupcake devotees, many chocolate lovers, and all (save for yours truly) omnivores. These minis have received nothing but rave reviews and even a few requests for repeat batches!
As mentioned, the recipe follows in straightforward fashion and whips up very quickly. Although not instructed to do so, I sifted the cocoa powder into the dry ingredients to ensure more lump-free distribution of the cocoa. The rest of the recipe was completed as written, with beautiful results.
Making the frosting was nearly as easy making the cakes themselves, with likewise delectable flavor and sweetness. I chose the handheld mixer option, which involves only slightly more effort than using a stand mixer. Only four of six cups of powdered sugar were used to make the frosting appropriately stiff for piping through a makeshift icing bag (i.e., a plastic zip-top bag with a hole cut in the corner and a piping tip slipped in), yielding more than enough frosting to generously top four dozen mini cupcakes. A dusting of cocoa powder and single chocolate chip provided the final decorative touches to each cake, modeled after the version depicted with the recipe.

The mini cupcakes were a pleasure for all who tasted them. Despite lacking the particular coffee flavor I expected from the "mocha" in the recipe title, the cupcakes boasted a deep chocolate richness that often results from adding coffee to chocolate baked goods. Studs of chocolate nestled within the cupcake domes added a welcome textural element to the otherwise plain (although by no means dull) cake. The sweet almond frosting was a delightful complement to the chocolaty intensity of the cake itself. In their entirety, the mini cupcakes were simply divine and dangerously addictive. I was particularly grateful for their diminutive size, which theoretically aids portion control.
Visit Sexy Vegan Mama for additional sweet treats and continue to check back here for more test recipe recaps!

13 February 2011

Nibbles

It has been a particularly dynamic week, with the last few days involving almost no cooking for myself. In lieu of any visual representation of the amazing food I've enjoyed during another brief, soon-to-end visit to the Bay area--although subdued by most standards, one of the more "indulgent" ways to mark my birthday, which I typically consider not particularly noteworthy--I present an entirely pictorial recap of pre-travel eats (further details pending). Enjoy!
For those who are curious, the last image is of a sesame-ball-lemon-poppyseed-muffin-kabocha-coconut-sorbet "cake," a makeshift creation of vegan eats to hold the birthday candles my sister insisted upon lighting. My sister may be a year older than me, but has always been more whimsical.
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Thanks to Vic from The Life for passing along this Stylish Blogger Award! There are a few rules that accompany its acceptance:
1. Make a post and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Award 10 recently-discovered great bloggers.
4. Contact these bloggers and tell them they've won.

Seven things about me:
1. I have never liked the classic American condiments (ketchup, yellow mustard, relish, dill pickles, mayonnaise) and probably never will.
2. Languages and etymology fascinate me.
3. I'm just shy of being five feet tall.
4. I love to sing, but am too timid to do it when many unfamiliar people are around.
5. I watch just as many foreign-language films as English-language films...perhaps even more of the former than the latter.
6. It is highly likely that at any given moment, my currently-reading list contains at least three separate novels.
7. Being in landlocked locations for extended periods makes me somewhat anxious.

I'm a bit blog-shy, so we have yet to see whether I bend rule number four. In any case, it was difficult to narrow down my list of recipients to just 10 blogs. There are so many amazing--indeed, stylish--blogs and bloggers out there, but here are my 10 picks, unranked and all certainly worthwhile.

Around the World Vegan - Cooking with global flair.
Chow Vegan - All kinds of deliciousness.
Cooking vegan food up north. - Vegan fare in Iceland.
Everyday Photos by Jodi Anderson - Just what the title implies, presented in a lovely way.
Go Fork Go! - Food and running.
go vegan meow! - Cooking tutorials, neatly and gorgeously presented.
Inspired Eats - A trove of recipes to inspire.
ISLABORG - More lovely photos.
Kitchen La Boh√®me - Oh so many delectable recipes.
sweet persimmon - Food aesthetics and ethics.


I'm glad to have stumbled upon these blogs. Please do check them out for yourselves and continue to share the blog love!

06 February 2011

Delayed Recap and Then Some

I hope all have enjoyed a pleasant weekend. Although Lunar New Year kicked off a few days ago--3 February marked the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit/Cat (the latter is in accordance with the Vietnamese lunar calendar)--and has likely been overshadowed by the inescapable presence of Super Bowl fanfare, I thought I'd share a bit of my food-related experiences regarding both events. First, I present you a brief look at what I cooked to ring in the new year.

Matcha Mushi Pan (Green Tea Muffins)
Since receiving Elizabeth Andoh's cookbook, Kansha (2010), as a Christmas gift, I have been eager to try the myriad vegan Japanese recipes housed within the gorgeous tome. This particular dessert recipe quickly caught my eye, as I have been a longtime fan of nibbling on steamed breads and cakes. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed with the outcome of these muffins, for several reasons. The kuro mame (sweet black soybeans, prepared from another Kansha recipe) didn't settle into the heart of the cake as promised and became dry and a bit unsightly atop the steamed muffins; the cakes lacked even the slight sweetness normally found in this type of cake, and were almost bitter from the matcha (powdered green tea); and the muffins dried out very quickly. They actually weren't too bad upon immediate consumption. I see potential in this recipe, so an eventual revisit and tweaking is in order.
"Pulled" noodles
It is more appropriate to call these particular results "rolled-and-cut noodles." Lacking the noodle-tugging experience, technique, and shear skill of Chinese pulled noodle masters, I failed to properly produce noodles of the appropriate texture and length (that befitting the tradition of noodles symbolizing longevity). In an attempt to avoid wastefulness, I resorted to rolling out the dough and roughly cutting it into long strips. The noodles held remarkably well following a vigorous boil. Added to miso broth with spinach and seitan strips, the noodles provided a hearty starch element to the soup and tasted a bit like udon.
As for Super Bowl XLV, I didn't exactly celebrate it in any way; rather, inspired by game day fare, I found myself craving chili this afternoon. With so much "chicken-style" seitan remaining from Lunar New Year, I decided to try my hand at cooking a "white" chili--well, one comparably lighter in color and related to but distinctly different from the dark, tomato-based, black bean-filled variation to which I am accustomed. I was actually quite pleased with the results of my experimentation. The chili was a hearty blend of textures (thick, creamy, and chunky) and flavors (smoky, savory, somewhat spicy, slightly sweet) that proved pleasing to a more "traditional" chili-loving gal like myself. Of course, this fairly spontaneous concoction is not quite perfect, but it seemed tasty enough to share this first attempt. I'll undoubtedly revisit the recipe and make adjustments, but for now I'll provide instruction on how you can attempt my first take on "white" chili, if you so choose.
Seitan "Chicken" Chili (printer-friendly recipe)


1 medium onion, chopped
1 c seitan, chopped
2 (15-oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, divided
3/4 c cooked satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato), peeled and chopped, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 T tomato paste
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 (4-oz) can diced green chili
2 (14-oz) cans vegetable broth, preferably low-sodium
1 bay leaf
2 T cilantro, chopped
2 tsp oil
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mash together 1/4 c each cannellini beans and satsumaimo. Set aside.

Heat oil in large nonstick saucepan over medium-low. Saute onion and seitan for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft. Stir in garlic, cumin, smoked paprika, and cayenne and cook for an additional minute or two. Stir in tomato paste and mashed bean-potato mixture until well-distributed. Increase heat to medium-high and add remaining beans, carrot, green chili, vegetable broth, and bay leaf, bringing the contents of the pot to a boil. Reduce heat and allow mixture to simmer for approximately 30 minutes, until the carrot is tender and the chili has thickened. Add remaining satsumaimo and heat through. Adjust for salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro and lime juice. Enjoy hot!

I'll be enjoying leftovers for the next few days, and you can be sure that once I replenish the depleted potato and cornmeal stores in my kitchen, there will be chili-topped fries and cornbread (respectively) involved.

01 February 2011

February Love Drop: Ethan and Alex

It's February, which means there is another Love Drop on the way! But first, here's an update on the first ever Love Drop, which happened in January: Within the span of a single month, the Love Drop Team raised over $2,500 and gathered numerous boxes of goods to help Jill and her family cope during a difficult time in their lives (one marked by homelessness and financial worries). More than 400 generous individuals united for this project, each donating a small monetary sum to make a positive contribution for this family in need. . Thank you to all who participated in this truly wonderful act of kindness! Check out the final presentation here.

This month, the Love Drop Team asks us to help out the Rewolinski family, whose two young boys--Ethan and Alex--have severe autism. The goal is to raise $13,000 to get the boys a highly-trained service dog--for purposes of encouraging social interaction, protection, etc.--and if possible, two iPads, which would help Ethan and Alex effectively communicate with others (Alex in particular is non-verbal). Watch Ethan and Alex's video below to hear their story.


Here are three ways you can help:
  1. Join the team - This is the best way to help out, and all it takes is $1.00.
  2. Join our blogger network - Do what I do by blogging about our Love Drops each month. It's a simple, rewarding way to spread the word about a beautiful cause--one that benefits the lives of needy families from our community. This definitely helps to create awareness, and Love Drop will give you all the content you need.
  3. Give a gift or provide a service - Gift cards (iTunes would be great!), two iPads (so we can help the boys speak again!), and anything else you think could help out.
Thanks for reading. Join in, spread the word (feel free to tweet, post to Facebook, link back, etc.), and if at all possible, please drop some love on this deserving family.
[Content/image courtesy of Love Drop]