31 October 2011

A Final Treat

October has been a month of so much cooking inspiration. There are too many wonderful examples to name here, so I won't even try. I was, however, so inspired by the perfect melonpan posted yesterday at Smooch Panda's Sweet Creations, that I felt compelled to revisit this tasty, Japanese-style, cookie-covered bread. Jun posted a follow-up today, which features an adorably festive jack-o-lantern version. Given that today is Halloween, it's not much of a surprise that I also had pumpkins on the brain when contemplating my own melonpan project.


I thought it would be cute to model melonpan as my favorite pumpkin, kabocha, with its orange interior and green shell. Mind you, this version isn't remotely authentic; true melonpan (besides not being vegan) is named for its melon-like appearance, and is not actually flavored like melon. My kabocha-pan doesn't taste very much like kabocha, but the roll is actually made with pumpkin, which gives the interior its orange hue. The cookie topping is made with a matcha-tinted and -flavored dough. I also filled a few of the buns with shiro an (sweet white bean paste), to allude to a pumpkin seed center...or maybe just an excuse to use a filling. It occurred to me afterward that mashed, sweetened kabocha would be a better fit for the pumpkin theme. In any case, the kabocha-pan turned out well. Soft, fluffy bread with a sweet, crunchy cookie shell is a sweet way to celebrate Halloween or an autumn day.
Kabocha-pan (printer-friendly version)
Yields 12 rolls
Nut- and soy-free options (see individual recipes)


Bread: 1 batch of Sweet Potato Roll dough, substituting mashed kabocha (or other pumpkin) for sweet potato
Cookie topping: 1/2 batch of Matcha Coin dough (recipe follows)
Filling (optional): 1 c shiro an or mashed, cooked, sweetened kabocha


For the bread:
Prepare one batch of Sweet Potato Rolls, substituting kabocha or other pumpkin for the sweet potato. While it rises, prepare the dough for the cookie topping.


For the cookie topping:
Prepare one batch of Matcha Coin dough and chill it for 30 minutes. You'll need only half of a batch, so either bake the remaining dough as cookies or save it for later. Divide the dough to be used for the kabocha-pan into 12 equal pieces. On a lightly-floured surface, roll out each piece into a thin disc. Lightly score the discs in a starburst pattern, making several lines that intersect at the center. Lay the discs on a baking sheet in a single layer.


To assemble the kabocha-pan:
After the bread dough rises, gently deflate it and divide it into 12 equal pieces.
*To make unfilled rolls, roll and pinch the dough into balls, and place them on parchment-lined baking sheets, a few inches apart (six to a sheet).
*To make filled rolls, before rolling the dough, roll heaping tablespoon-sized amounts of shiro an or mashed kabocha into balls and set them aside. Flatten the dough pieces into discs, place filling at the center, and pull the dough around the filling. Pinch the dough to seal it around the filling, and place the balls, seam side down, on the parchment-lined baking sheets.


Lay one prepared cookie disc over one bread dough ball, gently smoothing down any overlapping areas of cookie dough. It's fine if the cookie layer is bumpy and doesn't cover the bread completely. Repeat for the remaining rolls. Allow the dough to rest for 15 to 20 minutes as you preheat the oven to 350°F/180C.


Bake the bread for 18 to 20 minutes. The cookie topping should be firm and the bottoms of the rolls should be golden-brown. Carefully remove the rolls to a wire rack to cool.
***


Matcha Coins (printer-friendly version)
Yields approximately 3 ½ dozen cookies
Nut-free and soy-free options

2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 T matcha
½ c vegan margarine (soy-free, if desired), softened at room temperature
½ c evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar
¼ c turbinado (raw) sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 T cornstarch
2 T water
2-3 T nondairy milk (rice, hemp, oat, or coconut for nut- and soy-free versions)

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water until the cornstarch is dissolved. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whip together the margarine and sugars until the mixture is well-combined and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and cornstarch mixture and stir until they are fully incorporated. Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt, and matcha. Stir just enough to combine the dry mixture with the wet, then add 2 T of the nondairy milk, using your hands to gently gather the dough into a ball. It should be a bit crumbly, but hold its shape when pressed together. If the dough seems dry, add another tablespoon of nondairy milk.

Divide the dough in two equal pieces. Roll each half into a 1- to 1 ½-inch diameter log and wrap them, separately, in plastic wrap or parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or until chilled.

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone lining. (If the dough was wrapped in parchment, you can simply reuse it as the lining.)

Cut the dough into ½-inch-thick slices and lay them on the prepared baking sheets, 1 ½ to 2 inches apart.* Bake for 15 minutes, or until the bottoms of the cookies are golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

*Note: If you don’t wish to bake all of the cookies in one sitting, you can refrigerate the dough for a few days,  as a log or pre-sliced. You can also freeze the dough. Just be sure that everything is wrapped well.


***
It's been a lovely Vegan MoFo, friends. Thank you so much for sharing your fabulous food creations and reading along. I hope you'll stick around, because I plan to stick around here, too.


Have a fun and safe Halloween!

30 October 2011

Iron Chef Challenge #4: Carrots and Oats

Posting my entry to the final Iron Chef Challenge for this year's Vegan MoFo is a bittersweet event, but at least the outcome was tasty. I had fun participating in the challenges (save for the first, which I missed); they provided a much-needed sparks of creativity on my part.

In keeping with my apparent tendency toward creating savory dishes for each challenge, for this round, I put an atypical spin on granola. Granola is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions oats (one ingredient for this challenge), but I didn't want to be too predictable by making a typical, sweet version that happened to have carrots (the other secret ingredient) thrown in. Inspired by this recipe for carrot furikake, I made a delectably savory, sweet, and spicy granola. It's crunchy, chewy, and bursting with the flavors of Japanese cuisine I love. Make a batch and be prepared to flex some snacking discipline, because if you're like me, it will be easy to get carried away with a jar of these clusters around.
Carrot Furikake Granola Clusters (printer-friendly version)
Yields approximately 3 cups
Gluten-free option; nut-free

2 c rolled oats (gluten-free)
1 c puffed or crispy rice cereal (gluten-free)
1 T milled flax seed + 2 T warm water
2 T tahini
1 T mirin
2 T soy sauce (may substitute tamari for gluten-free version)
1 T maple syrup
1 T white or brown rice flour
2 tsp shichimi togarashi
3 medium-sized carrots, grated (approximately 1 c, lightly packed)
½ c shelled edamame
1 T hulled black sesame seeds (may substitute brown sesame seeds)
1 sheet nori, toasted
Canola oil for the pan

Preheat the oven to 325°F/170C. Line a rectangular brownie pan (I used a 7x9" pan) with foil and oil lightly.

In a large bowl, combine the rolled oats and crispy rice cereal. In a separate bowl, whisk the milled flax seed and water together until it becomes viscous. Whisk in the tahini, mirin, soy sauce, maple syrup, rice flour, and shichimi togarashi. Add the wet mixture to the oats and rice cereal, stirring to combine. Fold in the carrots, edamame, and sesame seeds. Press the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan and lower the oven temperature to 300°F/150C. Allow the granola to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove the granola in one piece by lifting the foil lining from the pan and placing it on a baking sheet. Gently pull the granola into clusters, spreading them over the foil. Bake for 45-50 minutes, turning the granola every 5-10 minutes to ensure that the clusters don’t burn. Remove from heat and allow the granola to cool in the pan completely. It will harden more as it cools. Crumble the nori over the granola and gently toss it to evenly distribute the ingredients.

29 October 2011

Afternoon Project

I made a batch of homemade vegan candy corn this afternoon. I'm not much of a candy maker, but felt a certain festive inclination to try this recipe. It's easy to follow, but takes quite awhile to make what seems like a million of these wee nuggets. My batch is a little speckled, likely due to the soymilk powder not becoming fully incorporated. The texture is slightly gritty, but the chewiness perfectly mimics that of the candy corn I enjoyed as a child. To achieve the honey-like essence I remember from store-bought versions of the candy, I replaced half of the corn syrup with agave nectar. The slight alteration worked well. I'm curious about how a maple syrup version might taste, but given the tedious nature of the task, I probably won't make another batch of these festive confections for quite awhile. I have more than enough to share, anyway.
What (if any) Halloween treats do you enjoy?

28 October 2011

Double

I can't recall ever making a fruit crisp prior to this week. I have baked various cobblers, crumbles, pies, and tarts in my many years of milling about the kitchen, so how something so familiar and as classic as a crisp escaped my attention is beyond my comprehension. In any case, my first foray into this particular corner of the pie-like dessert realm resulted in not one, but two crisps.

I've had my eye on this recipe for Raw Persimmon-Apple Crisp since seeing it over at Swell during last year's Vegan MoFo. Unfortunately, the birds had their fill of the fuyu persimmons from the backyard tree before I could get my hands on a single fruit; too upset about having to purchase persimmons last season (for the first time in years, by the way), I skipped it altogether. This season, birds and humans are sharing the goods more evenly, so I once again have an indefinite supply of one of my favorite fruits.
So I made the raw crisp and loved it. The crunch of firm persimmon and apple slices are simply delightful. The sweet and tart flavors from the persimmon and apple, respectively, is a lovely contrast that works harmoniously. The date-nut topping adds more crunch and sweetness without setting it over the top. In fact, the whole thing is quite refreshing. Despite the lack of applied heat, this raw crisp still has a comforting, autumnal feel, just without the weight of other seasonal sweets.
I did also make a more traditional, baked crisp, inspired by none other than Martha Stewart. Her recipe for Cranberry-Pear Crisp sounded oh-so-wonderful; it's not only another easy dessert, but it also calls for the fresh cranberries and pears I happened to have (and still do, actually) crowding the refrigerator. I baked a half-sized crisp, making the necessary vegan-butter-for-dairy-butter swap, then adding lemon zest and fresh ginger to the filling for a little extra zing. I also reduced the amount of fat in the topping and threw in a handful of chopped, raw walnuts.
The cooked then cooled dessert was more watery than I would have liked, but the fruit was perfect; it was tender with just the right amount of bite. Again, the tangy and sweet interplay was delicious. The lemon and ginger were subtle, but the flavors fit in nicely with the fresh fruit and cinnamon in the topping. The topping itself was like a crumbly, buttery granola. The bottom-most part of it was slightly mushy, making it almost oatmeal like (still good). The dessert as a whole isn't too sweet, so I may or may not reheat leftovers for breakfast tomorrow.
***
A huge "thank you" goes out to The Raw Cooked Vegan and Scissors and Spice for passing along the Liebster Award to me. It's an honor to be recognized by these two wonderful blogs (and the equally lovely writers behind them). I do so appreciate the blogger love/Liebe!

27 October 2011

Greenery

Despite being a picky eater as a child, I actually enjoyed eating spinach. That affinity to it lives on, these days with more zeal; I have adopted a tendency to incorporate them into a variety of dishes--namely soups, smoothies, and as a side to everything else. Other leafy greens, such as kale ans Swiss chard, have entered my diet much more recently, but are also fair game for nearly anything I plan to consume.

Upon spotting this recipe for Kale Bagels, I knew a batch of my very own would be in my near future...or so I thought. Even with a love for leafy greens and downright obsession with bread, I lost track of the bagel recipe, sending my epic plans of bagel baking and devouring into online recipe limbo. Obviously, I eventually rediscovered the recipe, but some part of me wishes I attempted it sooner, because the end result is quite delicious. The seasoned, wilted kale packs good flavor and retains some bite, even after the bagels have baked. The bread is tender (undoubtedly with help from the greens), chewy, and likewise flavorful. Requiring no adornment, my bagel was eaten plain, although I'm sure some of the remainder will contribute to a few delectable sandwiches. The bagels smelled a little like pizza as they baked, so I'm keen on making bagel pizzas with a few, too.
As good as the bagels turned out and as content as I would be eating only bread as a meal, I figured that I should probably throw something else in the dinner mix (and this would-be dinner post--I'm really messing up my themed posts lately). So given what was on hand and the recipes bookmarked, I went for a simple dish. This one in particular used shirataki, konnyaku that is shaped into long, noodle-like strands. (Just Hungry describes this traditional Japanese ingredient quite well.) I ended up making a mash-up of two pesto recipes, using the cucumber, tomato, and noodles from one and the edamame pesto from the other. Perhaps I should have stuck with a single recipe, because the result of my haphazard pasta assembling was, frankly, a bit bland. The bland underwhelming result surprised me, because the pesto itself was tasty and the heirloom grape tomatoes were juicy and sweet. After the following photos were taken, I mixed in leftover pureed squash and sriracha, which improved the flavor.
Maybe I was destined to eat a bagel sandwich for dinner after all.

26 October 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Jigae

I love spicy, piping-hot stews. Kimchi Tofu Eggplant Stew (Jigae) really hits the spot on a cool autumn day. It's from a test recipe for Terry Hope Romero's forthcoming cookbook--a collection of worldly delights that you will definitely want to keep on your radar.

25 October 2011

Chewy. Crunchy. Sticky. Shiny.

Vegan MoFo has me in a sort of food daze (in the best way possible). So I'm going to make this post quick--snack time quick, one might say. Here are a couple nibble-worthy items I cooked up from my treasure trove of bookmarked online recipes.

A few days ago, I made my first batch of senbei, or Japanese rice crackers. I adapted this recipe, using roasted shiro goma, shichimi togarashi, and yaki nori. Maple syrup replaced the honey. I also supplemented some of the oil with toasted sesame oil. These crackers were tedious to make, because the process required pressing each cracker individually, as well as baking, glazing, and drying steps. Unfortunately, the finished crackers weren't completely crisp; some were rather chewy in the middle, which is something I don't relish in a cracker. But the flavor was very reminiscent of the store-bough arare I liked to munch as a child (and still do, on occasion). Perhaps a few more tweaks will help to perfect subsequent senbei attempts.
Making these Almond Butter Rice Crisp Treats required much less effort than the senbei. I've had the recipe for the former bookmarked for a long time and am glad I finally made a point to try it. I used a combination of nut butters, mixing almond butter with the dregs of a jar of smooth peanut butter and gianduja. A few stray, roughly chopped, vegan marshmallows went in for good measure. The bars were just as easy as (if not actually easier than) assembling traditional crispy rice bars, and equally delicious. The nut butter-rice syrup combination gave the bars a sweet, chocolate-kissed, nutty flavor. It has been a struggle staying away from these crisp and chewy bars.

24 October 2011

Kabocha

Not too long ago, I only used pumpkins for their aesthetic appeal. The familiar orange spheres were good for carving, not so good for eating. Once my tastebuds decided to recognize the culinary value of winter squash, my reasons for crowding my kitchen countertop with them reversed. I now buy pumpkins in several varieties, specifically to cook, never carving them to rot on the porch or become subject to late night pumpkin-smashing by neighborhood kids.

My favorite winter squash is kabocha, which is sometimes referred to as "Japanese pumpkin." I love it for its vibrant, orange flesh; starchy, sweet potato-like texture; and mild, slightly sweet, chestnut-like flavor. I usually steam or roast kabocha, but have been wanting to think of other methods of cooking the squash. Enter this recipe for kabocha nimono, or simmered squash. With the help of some dashi (kombu dashi, in my case), mirin, sake, shoyu, and sugar, plain squash turns into something that is a little savory, a little sweet, and entirely delicious. The seasoning liquid isn't overwhelming at all, although it does have a nice flavor of its own. Because the liquid didn't completely evaporate, I decided to put it to double use as a simmering liquid for baby bok choy (a vegetable that has been a staple in my refrigerator lately). Leftover steamed white rice rounded out a small, simple, tasty breakfast.
My blog posts this week will focus on internet-based recipe that I've bookmarked but have not yet had chances to try. It will be difficult to narrow down my choices for the week, given the endless amount of fabulous dishes featured online, but one must draw the line somewhere. What online recipes are in your queue? How do you decide what to cook?

23 October 2011

Stollen

I didn't post this on Friday as I had intended, because it was still in the oven when the last of the natural light disappeared for the evening. Stollen is already difficult enough to see under its trademark layer of powdered sugar; photographing the loaf under horrendous indoor lighting would only add to the visual distress. I needed to wait for the bread to cool before slicing it anyway, not that an explanation is necessary or remotely interesting.
I've neither tasted nor made stollen until this attempt, but have grown increasingly curious about them over the last few years. Following Peter Reinhart's recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I made the necessary vegan substitutions (i.e., replacements for eggs and butter), as well as a few other adjustments. Rather than using candied fruit soaked in brandy, I soaked dark raisins, dried cranberries, and dried, chopped apricots in spiced rum. Finely chopped, candied orange peel replaced orange zest. The filling itself was a combination of additional dried cranberries, sliced almonds, and a thick ribbon of homemade almond paste. The end result is one massive, dense, sweet crescent that is loaded with fruit and nuts. Each bite has hints of citrus and rum bitterness. Stollen is certainly a colorful, wintry-looking creation--appropriately so, for something traditionally eaten during the winter holiday season. It's a bittersweet reminder that with Halloween around the corner and Thanksgiving a month away, the full-fledged holiday baking frenzy will be upon us soon enough.
*UPDATE 12/02/11: This post is heading for the special holiday edition of YeastSpotting.

22 October 2011

Iron Chef Challenge #3: Coconut

It's time for another Vegan MoFo Iron Chef Challenge! This weekend's secret ingredient is coconut. After discovering the wonderful creaminess that coconut milk adds to so many dishes--a personal favorite is coconut milk-based ice cream--I seem to use that magical elixir in my food more and more. I've also begun to use coconut oil sporadically. Fresh, young coconut and its delicious juice are rare treats. Although it is one of the most accessible forms of coconut, the dried, shredded or flaked flesh hardly make it into any of the dishes I prepare. As a child, I disliked anything containing dried coconut; the texture of it, especially when it was untoasted, bothered me tremendously. I actually enjoy toasted coconut now and tolerate untoasted coconut in moderate amounts, but still don't use it very often. The Iron Chef Challenge seemed like as good an opportunity  as any to give that once-abhorred stuff a shot.

I went for simplicity here, opting to make a simple twist on hashbrowns. The addition of coconut gives the classic brunch dish a bit of a sweet, tropical touch with a bit of chewy bite. Thai curry paste adds a host of other complimentary flavors, as well as spice. I used a homemade paste, but store-bought paste would certainly work, too. Varying types may differ in heat and general intensity, so just adjust the amounts as necessary. Roll up a slice of this potato-coconut cake and top with sriracha for an extra kick, or simply enjoy it plain. It's delectable either way.

Coconut Hashbrowns (printer-friendly version)
Yields 2 large or 4 side servings
Gluten-, nut-, and soy-free

½ lb yellow-skinned potatoes (such as Yukon gold), cleaned and unpeeled
1 tsp salt
¼ c dried, shredded or flaked coconut (unsweetened)
2 tsp Thai curry paste
Canola oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200C. Lightly oil a medium-sized cast iron skillet (approximately 10-inch diameter) and place it in the oven to heat as you prepare the ingredients for the hashbrowns.

Grate the potatoes. Sprinkle salt over them and place them in a sieve over a bowl to drain for several minutes. Squeeze out and discard the excess liquid. Mix in the shredded coconut and curry paste.

Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and press the potato-coconut mixture into the bottom. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake it for 12 to 15 minutes, until the potato shreds have softened and cooked through.

Remove the foil cover from the skillet. The edges of the hashbrowns should be browned, but not burnt. Lightly brush the top of the hashbrowns with additional oil. Place them under the broiler for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and crisp. Serve warm and enjoy!

21 October 2011

Bits and Pieces

Tonight's dessert is actually in the oven at the moment, so I think I'll just share it later. Fret not, friends; the sugar bomb that was (read: was) a certain pecan chocolate pie concocted mere days ago somehow did not put me off from sweets for very long. Granted, I couldn't eat much of the pie (too rich, making for generous giveaway slices). Anyway, I'll share more about what's currently making the house smell heavenly sometime later. In the meantime, care for brownies?

Paying a visit to the pages of one of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's well-known food tomes, The Joy of Vegan Baking, encouraged me to get a little creative with a batch of brownies. I've baked some of these Chocolate Brownies once before and from what I recall, followed the recipe quite closely. This latest batch included a few adjustments. I replaced applesauce with pumpkin puree; reduced the sugar (also using half white, half brown); mixed in finely chopped a chocolate bar instead of chocolate chips; added instant espresso powder; and incorporated some almond paste that was idling in the refrigerator from another recent baking project. These no-added-fat (save for the almonds) bars were dense and incredibly fudgey. The almond paste must have melted into the batter, because I couldn't find discernible clumps of almond anywhere. It didn't seem to make a difference, though, because those moist, rich, chocolate-flecked bars were a hit with the family. Win. On another note: thumbs down to nighttime baking-related indoor lighting.
No-Bake Pecan Brittle Bars from Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman's always amazing 500 Vegan Recipes land more on the less saccharine end of the sweet treat spectrum, but are no less munchable. I really couldn't get enough of these things. They didn't exactly turn out as bars; it was much easier to break the cooled, pressed mixture of oats, pecans, and sweeteners into granola-like clusters. They were sweet enough for me to consider them something of a confection, but still suitable for post-morning-run snacking.