26 November 2011

The Re-cap

By virtue of my position as sole vegan of the family, I'm essentially in charge of making sure there is something animal product-free on the table at family gatherings (including the obligatory holiday meals) if I expect to eat. Thanksgiving is the perfect example of the family food dynamic at work. My family is perfectly content to practice the enduring tradition of preparing the same, dairy- and poultry stock-laden dishes year after year on this day of epic gluttony. They are actually quite rigid in their insistence upon including those aforementioned items, so my assistance in preparing the usual sides is both unneeded and unwanted; the assumption is that animal-friendly adaptations to preciously preserved quantities of butter, cream, and turkey stock will diminish the flavor of said dishes--an unfortunate way to indulge, it seems. Consequently, any culinary contribution I choose to make is, by default, superfluous.

Although I would have been perfectly fine with preparing an ordinary, single-serving meal for myself, I opted instead to make some effort in not completely isolating myself from the rest of my family, preparing a few items to add to an already complete Thanksgiving menu. Some of it was prepared in advance, effectively reducing my risk for a sort of social claustrophobia that I have come to associate with the holidays while leaving more space for others to go about their cooking. Indoor lighting unfortunately made for some poor-quality images, but the food was actually quite good.

My contributions created a "vegan corner" at the buffet table. Yes, that is just what I made for the feast (i.e., a mere portion of the entire spread). Talk about having more than enough food. Clockwise from top left: barley mushroom casserole, pumpkin cinnamon layer cake, pear frangipane tart, whole wheat rolls, sauteed kale, and roasted Brussels sprouts. My mother actually prepared the pomegranate-glazed Brussels sprouts, using this recipe and reserving that wee portion you see here for yours truly, before tossing the rest with non-vegan, vanilla-scented butter. In my humble opinion, the fruity flavor of the butter-less sprouts was just fine.
My barley mushroom casserole was an adaptation of a recipe from Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet. I threw in several additions to give the casserole my own spin--namely, reconstituted dried mushroom blend (porcini, shiitake, and trumpet); fresh crimini mushrooms, assorted herbs, and orange juice; smoked paprika; and chopped, blanched spinach. A drizzle of black truffle-infused oil was added to the casserole after it finished baking, giving it a deeper, richer mushroom flavor. My family seemed to enjoy this dish a great deal.
Vegetable broth-sauteed Tuscan kale was a last-minute dish. I simply couldn't have a proper meal without greens. This simple side dish included sliced onion and garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and a touch of nutmeg.
To avoid complications with securing oven space, I baked whole wheat rolls the day before Thanksgiving. They were as good as fresh after being reheated in the oven--soft interior with a thin, crisp crust and hearty wheat flavor. A recipe is in progress until I can get the flavor and texture just right.
In yet another moment of failed self-restraint, I made not one, but two desserts for Thanksgiving. The pumpkin cinnamon layer cake is an adaptation of this recipe (with unsuccessful cinnamon swirls hidden by maple "cream cheese" frosting). I took the liberty of making spiced, pumpkin ale-glazed pecans and walnuts (adapted from this simple recipe) to decorate the cake. The cake in its fully decorated state was understandably sweet, but acceptably so when consumed in small quantities. My family didn't seem to have a problem with it, or any decent, vegan cake, for that matter.
The Pear Frangipane Tart was my favorite of the two desserts. I adapted the recipe from Isa and Terry's latest gem, Vegan Pie in the Sky. The recipe was also posted to The PPK, but I've only just noticed that it is slightly different from the one printed in the cookbook. The PPK version of the recipe mentions using apricot jam to glaze the tart, which I didn't do, because that step is absent in the book version. No matter; the tart was absolutely delectable without the glaze. When I answered my mother's inquiry about the crust by telling her it was shortbread, she replied enthusiastically, with apparent surprise, "It really does taste like shortbread!" I'm not sure what she expected it to taste like, but I'm glad she approved.
That, my friends, is how I went from one end of the food prep spectrum to the other, nearly forgoing any culinary contributions to basically cooking what could have been a full menu on its own. And so continues yet another tradition: a holiday season marked by indulgence. It's as good a time as any to mindfully reflect upon the true feelings of gratitude for being able to enjoy this sort of thing.

23 November 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Thanksgiving Preview

I came close to not bothering to cook up anything at all special for tomorrow's holiday, but alas, could not resist the cooking urge. Taking advantage of an idle kitchen at my disposal today, I earned a head-start on preparing my contribution to the obligatory family gathering, hopefully reducing some of the competition for oven usage and countertop space with my family tomorrow. In case you couldn't tell, I'm less than enthusiastic about tomorrow; I have my reasons. A food-related round-up is likely to happen in the near future, but it's best for all of us to consider this notion as more of an assumption than a promise.
Happy Thanksgiving to those who are celebrating it tomorrow. May you have many, many reasons to be thankful. Have fun and celebrate responsibly.

21 November 2011

The oven never sleeps.

To say that the oven is in constant operation is actually an exaggeration. I've said over and over that I prefer stove-top cooking over baking (still true), but baking has apparently become my "thing." That love of fresh bread is to blame, as is my compulsion to stuff my friends with gift-worthy baked sweets whenever the opportunity arises. Cooking and baking are constants for me, despite my lack of (if at best, sporadic) blog presence. Tonight, the oven gets the spotlight.

So what have I baked up lately, you ask? Have a look.

Fresh cranberry pumpkin muffins were a little sweet, but mostly tart. It may or may not be a work-in-progress, depending on whether I decide that refining a recipe is a worthy project.
I will, however, likely make further attempts at perfecting a multiseed whole wheat loaf. This first loaf was good, but could benefit from a flavor boost. A touch more molasses might do the trick, but we'll all have to wait awhile to find out whether that assumption holds true.
The very afternoon I finally retrieved a copy of Vegan Pie in the Sky (Moskowitz and Romero, 2011), I baked this Brownie Bottom Peanut Butter Cheesecake. It was a deliciously rich choice. Not one to spend much time prettying up my desserts, I opted to forgo adorning the pie. While a chocolate drizzle or roasted peanuts would have been lovely additions, they really weren't necessary, because the pie was delightful as-is.
Although less decadent than the cheesecake, Impossible Vegan Pumpkin Pie was delectable in its own right. Yes, it is possible to truly enjoy a crustless, low-fat pie. I adapted the recipe by reducing the amount of sugar to one half-cup and omitting all spices except for half the amount of cinnamon (to allow more of the pumpkin flavor to shine through). Again, the pie required no extras in order to be perfectly satisfying.
Roasted satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato) is an autumn staple in this house. The sweet, starchy tuber requires nothing more than a brief spell in a hot oven. Seasoning is superfluous. It's a simple treat I will gladly eat any day.
What have you baked up lately?
***
I nearly forgot to mention this month's Love Drop (again), and I feel bad about my unintentional delay. (Many, many apologies to the fine people behind this project, as well as current and future recipients of their hard, admirable work.) Please do visit the site for details about the present mission--maybe drop some love of your own, if you have the inclination--as well as the results of previous drops.
Image courtesy of Love Drop.

16 November 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Braid

I intended to craft a Danish pastry-brioche-strudel hybrid this past weekend. Forgotten breadcrumbs and broken concentration fated me to instead make a large, braided, pear-filled bun. Edible mishaps are perhaps the best kind, although the unforeseen fact that it would invite more to follow was mildly frustrating, to say the least.

13 November 2011

Iron Chef Challenge - November 2011: Breadcrumbs

The Iron Chef Challenge returns! This time, the secret ingredient was breadcrumbs. One could use them to devise endless variations of bean and veggie patties, balls, and loaves. Oven-, pan-, or deep-fried fritters are so delectably crisp with their crumb-coated exteriors. The savory possibilities seemed not only obvious, but wise routes to take, considering the almost comedic errors that plagued my overly-complicated deviation. I'll explain further, beginning with the odd means by which I came about my challenge plan.

It began with a first-time attempt at making gingerbread--not cookies, but an actual loaf. For reasons I won't bother to address, the loaf refused to bake through, essentially resulting in an extremely moist center (if not just plain raw). That was fail number one. Just as I was in the process of baking this loaf, I heard about this month's Iron Chef Challenge, so decided to attempt to salvage the loaf by breaking it apart to dry it as bread crumbs. The process was lengthy and imperfect, thanks to the uneven initial baking of the loaf, eventually yielding hard, shrunken, citrus- and ginger-scented pebbles. They were so hard, in fact, that my reliably sturdy food processor could only crush them into Grape Nuts-sized nuggets. By this point, I had decided to use whatever crumbs resulted from the gingerbread failure as part of a strudel-cinnamon roll fusion. The size of the nuggets simply wouldn't do--they were too hard and certainly not crumbs--so I resorted to the big guns (i.e., a Vitamix dry container) to get the job done. That was fail number two. Thanks to the frightening power of that contraption, it quickly pulverized my would-be breadcrumbs into almost a fine flour. I wasn't sure how much the texture of my filling would be affected, but onward I pressed, with more mistakes to follow.

I actually meant to make a rather snazzy Danish braid (using this fabulous brioche dough instead of pastry) with a spiced pear strudel filling. And I did make one that happened to look and taste quite nice. So why is the braid not my entry to the Iron Chef Challenge? I was so focused on how I would go about making a presentable braid that I forgot to include the breadcrumbs with the filling before proceeding with the braid. Again, fail.

So, after making another batch of brioche, I decided to attempt autumn fruit "strudel rolls" (as strudel often have breadcrumbs added to the filling). To make the filling, I simmered peeled and diced fuyu persimmon and d'anjou pear with a bit of fresh ginger, orange juice, and brown sugar, until thickened ever so slightly. My breadcrumbs were at the ready for whenever I planned to assemble the rolls.

But yet another folly would make the process that much more frustrating. Although I chilled the filling for awhile before deciding to make the rolls, my impatience compelled me to accelerate the process by slathering still-warm fruit compote onto the rolled out brioche dough. It seemed harmless enough, and frankly, I was sighing with relief that I remembered to sprinkled the gingerbread crumbs over the filling this time around. Naturally, I was wrong. You see, friends and curious readers, the filling was just warm enough to melt the fat in the dough to the point at which trying to roll it and the filling into a coil made for a sticky feat. By some miracle, I managed to prevent holes from tearing, but that didn't prevent the individual rolls from being misshapen and downright ugly. They were uneven in size, too--certainly not indicative of my ability to turn out some prettier baked goods, but maybe that's just me trying to make myself feel better about this whole debacle.
The rolls rose as hideous blobs, save for one or two that held promise of looking normal.
In the end, the rolls had a lovely, buttery, golden-brown crisp on top (because the brioche itself did not fail), with a uniquely bread pudding-like interior (completely unintentional, by the way, and not necessarily favored). The gingerbread crumbs did their duty, helping the filling to be texturally similar to that of strudel filling, albeit with a more autumnal flavor that was delicately sweet. I won't go so far as to call this experiment a complete failure, but it certainly is not without its disappointments (or "lessons," to be more optimistic about it). If it gets a second look, I will be sure to go about the process more thoughtfully.

12 November 2011

The Post-Pepero Post

The day of triple 11s (11 November 2011, or 11.11.11) has long passed in all global time zones, so it's safe to say we won't be seeing the likes of such a "singular" event in our lifetime (ha). North America honored its veterans. People the world over made epic wishes. Although I am not one to believe in wishing, I did spend 11:11 trying to turn my incessant moodiness into positivity--namely, mindfully recognizing a deep sense of gratitude and directing it into thoughts of peace and hope. The practice in general has not been easy lately, but so it goes.

Just what did I do to make the day a bit more bearable? I baked cookies. More specifically, I baked Pepero, because yesterday was also Pepero Day in South Korea. I first learned of this South Korean version of Valentine's Day last year; this year, Mipa posted another vegan version of the cookies, which I couldn't pass up. I've never eaten true Pepero as far as I can recall, but I did have quite the affinity for its apparent cousin, Pocky. And any excuse to bake cookies is a good enough excuse for me, obviously. I simply ignored the so-called "romantic" element of the holiday; there were no declarations of undying love represented by the exchange of chocolaty treats here, thank you very much. (Please do excuse my bitter and impatient tone. It's the cynicism talking.) Back to the cookies...
The homemade Pepero were delightful. Some remained simply chocolate-covered, while others were topped with crushed toffee bits, too. That extra touch of sweet crunch was a good move. It's far too much fun to munch on crisp, chocolate-coated cookie twigs to stop at just a few, so I guess it worked out that I had no plans to share them with a special "other." See that? Positivity. (Sorry, I'm just being odd.)
Have any of you ever eaten Pepero or Pocky? Any favorite types (e.g., original, strawberry, chocolate-almond, etc.)?

09 November 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Carbs

It seems I have effectively slumped back into more-cooking-than-writing-about-it mode. Truth be told, a multifaceted exhaustion of sorts is having its way with me, as is my shameless weakness for bread.
Danish pastries with almond paste.
Steamed pumpkin muffins.
Pumpkin cranberry upside-down cake.
Multi-grain bread with roasted garlic pumpkin mash.
I shall try to return to decent blogging form soon...

03 November 2011

Routine

Miso soup is my go-to, anytime meal. I usually have a bowl for breakfast, but it is not uncommon for me to make a quick bowl for lunch or dinner, especially on cooler days. It's my primary reason for stocking up on dried kombu (for making dashi) and merely one reason for eating my way through ridiculous amounts of fresh spinach in any given week. To prevent burnout as well as make use of whatever items I happen to have in the refrigerator, I don't always prepare miso soup in the exact same way. Sometimes I'll add cubed tofu; other days I'll throw in tofu shirataki noodles, cabbage, or baby bok choy; usually, I saute thinly sliced onion or mushrooms, if not both, before adding dashi (or water, in a pinch). The versatility of this dish is simply lovely. Of course, I always have a generous handful of spinach and little bit of spice from sriracha, shichimi togarashi, or homemade serrano pepper paste.
My current favorite concoction gets a briny, spicy kick from kimchi. I've begun to develop a strong liking for the famous Korean fermented cabbage, with a particular affinity toward making my own. Unsurprisingly, it tends to find its way into at least one meal each day; it seems only natural that it would eventually coincide with my daily bowl of miso soup. Shirataki noodles are well-suited to this application, because their fishy aroma cooks out and is replaced by the flavors of miso and kimchi. The noodles also add textural variation and bulk, making for a simple but hearty meal that warms both belly and soul.
Kimchi Miso Soup for One (printer-friendly version)

Yields 1 serving
Gluten-free, nut-free


¼ c vegan kimchi, roughly chopped
1 ½ c vegan kombu dashi or water
½ tsp shiro miso
1 ½ c fresh spinach, washed, drained, and lightly packed
6 oz shirataki noodles, drained and rinsed
Optional: soy sauce (or tamari for gluten-free version), sriracha

Heat a small over medium-low flame. Add the chopped kimchi and cook it for a few minutes, just until it softens. The juice with caramelize and stick a bit, so be careful to not burn it. Pour in the dashi or water and stir to deglaze the bottom of the pot. Allow the liquid to just come to a simmer, then add the shirataki noodles. Cook the noodles for one minute. Scoop up a bit of the hot liquid to make a loose, smooth paste with the miso (a small ladle and chopsticks work well) before stirring it into the pot. Add the spinach, submerging it in the liquid until it wilts. Taste for seasoning; add a drizzle of soy sauce, if necessary. Remove the pot from heat, pour the soup into a large soup bowl, and mix in a squirt of sriracha, if desired. Enjoy hot.

01 November 2011

Celebrate

Happy World Vegan Day! According to The Vegan Society, today (1 November) "marks the start of World Vegan Month every year, commemorating the coining of the term 'vegan' and the founding of The Vegan Society in November 1944." While many people seem burned out by the amazing energy of Vegan MoFo, I appreciate having yet another month dedicated to all things vegan to keep the communal spirit flowing. I'll be forever grateful for the mindfulness veganism fosters in myself and others--more than enough reason to celebrate.

To no one's surprise, food is my favorite vehicle for celebration. Last month's marathon food blogging involved a huge amount of cooking, so most of results have shown up here already. The few that didn't are not exactly grandiose, but still noteworthy; such simple delights make being vegan not merely livable, but truly enjoyable.

These fuyu persimmons (some of my favorite fruits) are as local as they get, picked ripe from the backyard tree.
A single, fresh, homemade, whole wheat pita is definitely better than a stack of chemical-laden, factory-born bread. Of course, a stack of homemade pita is even better. Baba ghanouj is a terrific accompanying dip.
Strong, black coffee and a pumpkin scone make another lovely pair, no corporate coffeehouse required.
What simple things have you enjoyed lately?