31 January 2012

Recipe Testing, Part 2

I've kept my kitchen well-stocked with a world of sweet temptations, thanks to continued recipe testing for Terry Hope Romero's forthcoming cookbook. The sweet nature of testing for me lately has only reinforced what I already knew about the gal who co-wrote well-known and beloved books on vegan cupcakes, cookies, and pies: the woman knows her way around some serious desserts. If you can stand the tease, have a look at just a few of the sugary delights you'll want to make when Terry's latest work hits store shelves.

Hazelnut Orange Blossom Baklava
Hazelnuts make this classic pastry that much more special.
Mochi Red Bean Ice Cream Dumplings
These frozen bundles of dairy-free ice cream, anko, and sweet rice are the vegan answer to store-bought mochi ice cream.
Italian Cashewcotta Cheesecake
Rich and creamy, this crustless cheesecake is quite delectable on its own, but the balsamic strawberry topping makes it truly difficult to resist.
Mexican Chocolate Flourless Torte
This chocolaty cake is as decadent as it looks. Think fudgey brownie with a kick.
Coconut Lime Flan
Admittedly, I am not particularly fond of gelatinous textures, so this dessert was my least favorite of the bunch. I did, however, like the combination of coconut and lime--flavors which often evoke dreamy thoughts of a tropical escape.
Carrot Semolina Halva
The natural sweetness of carrots balances the spicy warmth in this thick pudding.
You can read Part 1 of this series of recipe testing posts here.

23 January 2012


When former plans to make gyoza fell through, I made my own generically-Asian-inspired dumplings. The impromptu jiaozi/gyoza/mandu/momo/potsticker/dumpling-making session ended up being a delectable way to use up a bit of leftover tofu and wilting bundle of watercress. Also stuffed with shiitake mushroom and some aromatics, these little bundles were bursting with savory deliciousness, no dipping sauce required. Admittedly, I took more than a simple taste or two of the tofu mixture and would gladly enjoy a proper bite of it as-is or with it piled atop steamed rice.
Crumbled Tofu Dumpling Filling (printer-friendly version)
Yields approximately 2 cups
Nut-free; gluten-free optional

½ c dried shiitake mushrooms (can also use fresh)
Hot water (enough to cover dried mushrooms)
½ c onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz firm tofu, drained and pressed
1 T shoyu or gluten-free tamari
1 T mirin
¼ tsp ground cayenne
1 ½ watercress (leaves only), cleaned and finely chopped
2 T green onion, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour in enough hot water to cover them. Soak the mushrooms until they have softened, drain the liquid, and gently squeeze the mushrooms of excess liquid. Dice the mushrooms and set them aside.

Heat a large, nonstick skillet over a medium-low flame; if not using nonstick, add a drizzle of mild-flavored oil to the pan before heating it. Add the diced onion and mushrooms and cook them until the onion softens, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic and cook for a few seconds--just until fragrant--then crumble in the tofu. Stir in the shoyu, mirin, cayenne, and watercress, cooking the mixture for a few minutes to allow the greens to wilt. Taste for salt and pepper, adding more if desired. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the green onion. Enjoy hot with steamed rice, or allow the mixture to cool completely before filling dumpling skins.

22 January 2012

New Year-esque

Inspired by the myriad treats people are making to celebrate the lunar new year and relishing a chance to spend some time in the kitchen, I cooked up a few nibbles this afternoon.
Yakbap (Korean sticky rice cake, also known as "medicine rice"), made from this recipe and pressed into mini-muffin molds.
Clementine cookies that resulted from a citrusy adaptation of my Matcha Coin recipe.
Manju (Japanese sweet bean-filled pastries), adapted from this recipe. These are supposed to look like chestnuts, but a lack of egg wash resulted in a lack of browning.
Egg-shaped manju.
A peek at the homemade shiro-an filling for the manju.
None are specifically tied to new year festivities, but I did keep traditional, symbolic elements in mind (e.g., roundness of each item signifying wealth, clementines representing luck, white rice ushering in a clean start). Even if that is a bit of a stretch, one can't really go wrong with just a little sweetness to start the year, right?
Here's to a happy, healthy Year of the Dragon!

14 January 2012

Iron Chef Challenge - January 2012: Squash

Winter squash has been a regular part of my food rotation since October. I can't seem to get enough of kabocha (my favorite variety) in particular and happen to have two small ones on my counter as I write this blog post. But when I found out that squash was the secret ingredient for this month's Iron Chef Challenge, my reaction was torn. As much as I enjoy eating winter squash, I hardly prepare it beyond simply roasting or steaming it, because the bright, sweet flesh is just so delicious in its plain, cooked state.
Unaccustomed to applying creative energy to this particular ingredient, I had some difficulty devising a unique dish in which to utilize the squash. However, the Pan-Fried Spiced Gnocchi I did end up making were easy to assemble as well as eat. In a not-so-novel maneuver, I basically put a slight twist on the traditional potato and flour dough, using winter squash puree and whole wheat flour. Cayenne and nutmeg are warm foils for the squash's natural sweetness. Browned to a golden-crisp in a wee bit of oil, doused in store-bought, wild mushroom gravy I happened to have on hand, and sprinkled with fresh thyme, the gnocchi were all at once crisp, chewy, sweet, savory, spicy, and oh so scrumptious.
Pan-Fried Spiced Squash Gnocchi (printer-friendly version)
Yields 2 to 4 servings, depending on appetite
Nut- and soy-free

½ c winter squash puree (I used roasted red kuri puree.)
1 T flax seed meal
3 T warm water
1 c whole wheat flour, plus additional flour for rolling
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
Water and salt for boiling
Vegetable or light olive oil for pan-frying
Gravy or sauce for serving (optional)

Fresh thyme or chopped sage for serving (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together the flax seed meal and warm water. Set the mixture aside for a few minutes to allow it to thicken.

In a large bowl, combine the squash puree, flax seed mixture, salt, and spices. Mix in the whole wheat flour and knead the mixture until it forms a tacky dough; add more flour if the dough is sticky, until it forms a ball. Divide the dough into two equal halves. On a lightly-floured surface, roll each half into a ½-inch-thick rope and cut it into ½-inch wide pieces. Roll the pieces gently over the back of the tines of a fork, if desired.

Bring several cups of water to a boil in a large pot, add a few large pinches of salt, and carefully drop in the gnocchi. Stir, then allow the gnocchi to gently boil until they rise to the surface, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. They should be somewhat firm. Drain and set aside.

Lightly coat the bottom of a large-sized saute pan with oil and heat it over medium flame. Add the drained gnocchi to the pan. Fry them, turning occasionally, until the gnocchi turn golden-brown. Serve warm, plain or with gravy or sauce of choice and a sprinkling of fresh herbs.

What's your favorite way to cook winter squash?

09 January 2012

A Healthy (Re)Start

Although I don't set new year's resolutions--if anything, the renewed, 12-month cycle on the Gregorian calendar serves as a convenient reminder to work toward long-term, personal improvement--I do like the idea of trying to make lasting, healthy changes. It happens that my mind and body need just that right now. For months, I haven't been taking care of myself in a proper way; too much indulgence in processed flours and sugar essentially became a form of self-abuse. I am, quite literally, tired of cycling between feeding bad habits and beating myself up over it. I'm tired of needing to react to it, rather than proactively being more mindful of my eating habits. Perhaps with so many people striving for healthier selves (for however long it lasts for them), attempting to simplify my consumption will be easier than if I tried to give it a go alone.

Thankfully, much of my food intake has been fairly devoid of those discipline-weakening items (e.g., bread, white rice) that seem to trap me into feeling less-than-stellar. My diet lately has looked much like the following:
My vegan version of ozouni (Japanese new year soup) to ring in 2012: clear mushroom broth, mushrooms, carrot, spinach, and just a bit of homemade seitan and mochi. It's a slightly simplified version of the bowl I made for New Year's Day 2011.
Green smoothie as a refreshing, post-run pick-me-up: spinach, pineapple, green apple, red grapes, celery, orange juice, ginger, and silken tofu (not a normal component of my smoothies, but I had some leftover and figured some low-fat protein couldn't hurt).
A simple, leafy, out-of-character lunchtime salad: mix of lettuces, arugula, and spinach; crimini mushrooms; simmered French lentils; green apple; and a splash of red wine vinegar. I'm definitely not a "salad person," but I've been enjoying variations of this salad for a few days now.
Raw hummus on whole-grain rye crispbread. The raw hummus (sprouted chickpeas, lemon juice, raw tahini, garlic, salt, cumin, paprika, and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil) tastes much like regular hummus, but lighter and a little grassier.
For the most part, embarking on my individual path with the mindset of a group approach has been working well. I can easily tell myself that I am not unique in wanting (no, craving) a healthy, balanced way of living, and believe it. It is true, after all, given the hoards of people who tend to adopt that fitter-happier mentality when January arrives. It's also true year-round, which is all I need to know in order to put myself back on track to feeling like that more energetic, happier self I've missed for so long. I do actually enjoy fresh produce and whole grains a great deal, so I'm confident that my personal journey will continue to take healthy turns.

What are some of your favorite healthy foods?

04 January 2012

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: That's so last year.

Here are just a few odds and ends I cooked up before the 2011 calendar became obsolete.

Cosmo's Apple Pie, adapted ever-so-slightly (in the form of organic apples I refused to peel and reduced sugar content) from Vegan Pie in the Sky.
Black Bean Pupusas, (again) adapted ever-so-slightly (i.e., made spicier and smokier with a hit of diced chipotle in adobo sauce) from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.
French Bread from The Bread Baker's Apprentice.
Biko (I winged it).
Mojitos, courtesy of my sister's boyfriend (he winged it).
Sunken-frosting peanut butter cupcakes (i.e., my failed-but-still-tasty attempt at making the Self-Frosting Peanut Butter Cupcakes from My Sweet Vegan).
Goodbye, 2011. Hello, 2012.