Saturday, August 11, 2012

Zucchini Bread Pancakes

    Boy, am I glad our zucchini plants aren't producing any fruit. Okay, that's a lie. I'm heartbroken, but it's still probably a good thing in the long run.
    I mentioned before that this is our first year getting a CSA share. (Quick rundown for the uninitiated: you pay a fixed amount for a share of a farm's produce before the growing season begins, then you pick up your veggies each week.) It's been a really great experience; only one or two wayward vegetables have spoiled before being used, and we've got a great variety each week. There have been lots of new things, like kohlrabi and fennel, as well as lots of things we've had but aren't in regular rotation, like beets and turnips. And then, of course, there are the old favorites: carrots, tomatoes, onions, kale, and zucchini.
    Endless zucchini.
    Seriously, mountains of the stuff.
    This leads us to zucchini bread pancakes. You know, for when you're already eating all the roasted zucchini you can manage, muffins have lost their novelty, and you want something you can douse in maple syrup, applesauce, or whatever your pancake preference may be.
    I learned the hard way that allowing the batter to rest is crucial here. There's a lot of water in the zucchini, which is why there's no water added to the recipe. Allowing the batter to rest helps everything come together into a cohesive batter before cooking. If you just cook them right away, the moisture will all hiss out at once and make your pancakes weirdly textured and impossible to flip. This makes between ten and a dozen 4" pancakes, depending on how liberal you are with the batter. Also, this is a "rustic" kind of batter on account of the big chunks of raisin and walnut; in other words, these aren't ever going to be perfectly round, and that's okay. It just adds to their charm, trust me.

Zucchini Bread Pancakes

1/2 cup soymilk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup grated zucchini
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons canola oil

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup raisins

First, measure out the soymilk in a large liquid measuring cup. Add the cider vinegar, stir, and then add the zucchini, applesauce, sugar, and oil. In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Make a well in the dry ingredients and then mix in the wet, stirring until there are no lumps. Fold in the raisins and walnuts. Allow the batter to rest for at least ten minutes--I mean it!--then preheat a skillet over medium heat. Spray lightly with cooking oil and scoop up scant 1/4 cupfuls of batter to form the pancakes. Gently flatten and shape the cakes with the back of the measuring cup. Cook for three to four minutes on the first side, or until the tops are bubbly and the edges are looking dry, and for about two minutes on the other side.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Coconut Death By Chocolate

    The name "Death by Chocolate" can mean a lot of different things, depending on where you live. Where I come from, it's a potluck staple: a trifle composed of box-mix cake or brownies, chocolate pudding, Cool Whip and crumbled Heath bars. Sometimes the cake or brownies are soaked in coffee or Kahlua, and sometimes the Heath bars are augmented with crushed Oreos, but the basic concept is the same: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, and the easier, the better. I mentioned to someone that I was thinking about a vegan Death by Chocolate, and her response was less than encouraging ("Boy, no whipped cream, no chocolate..."). Challenge accepted.
    Originally, I'd intended to make this for August 1st, which was my eighth vegan-versary. I know, that's kind of silly, but I've always kind of wanted to do something to celebrate the anniversary of the first time I turned down an ice cream sundae, and making a nostalgic dessert seemed to fit the bill. When I ran out of sugar after two trips to the supermarket, though, I took a deep breath and decided that instead of scrapping the whole plan, I'd just make it the next night.

    My version is from scratch, unlike its inspiration, because that's how I roll. It's also got a bit of a coconutty flair; since I was using coconut whipped cream, I figured following through and using toasted coconut in the toffee rather than almonds couldn't be a bad thing. This was my first experience making candy, and it was a lot of fun, and much easier than I expected.

This is a less-than-stellar picture, but it shows the layers well enough.There were two layers of everything in a very large glass measuring cup (since it turns out I don't own a trifle bowl.) Let's start from the top:

1. Toasted Coconut Toffee, based on this recipe with the obvious substitution of Earth Balance for butter, and toasted coconut for almonds.
2. Coconut Whipped Cream. I've had trouble getting this to set up during the summer months, but I figured for this, it didn't matter. It got to a softer, Cool-Whip type texture, which was perfect.
3. Chocolate Pudding. This is your basic soymilk/cornstarch/cocoa/sweetener pudding, nothing fancy.
4. Wacky Cake. If you've never heard of it, there are plenty of recipes available online. I think it's perfect for trifles because it's simple, uses all pantry ingredients and the batter comes together in like thirty seconds.

    Oof. This did not disappoint. I'd definitely recommend making this for a potluck, vegan or omni; there's absolutely nothing "fake" or "almost" tasting about it. Then you can wow all your friends by telling them you made everything from the cake to the toffee on top yourself. And if anyone calls it "fake" Death by Chocolate after that, you just point them out to me.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chopped Vegan: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies with Frozen Coconut-Mango Filling

Vegan Chopped is a little competition put together based on the Food Network show, Chopped. Details about this round are available here, but if you're like me and don't want to bother clicking links unless absolutely necessary, the secret ingredients for this round are red bunch beets, crisp rice cereal, dried unsweetened coconut, and mango.
    Integral to my entry was a piece of bakeware I've never actually used. It looks like this:

and my mother tells me it's a muffin top pan, but when I look at it, I think whoopie pies. In this case, Red Velvet Whoopie Pies with Frozen Coconut-Mango Filling. Here's what I did:

    First, I steamed, peeled and chopped the beets. I pureed them in my blender until they were fairly smooth and then added some canola oil and pureed the mixture until it was really smooth. All in all it was about a half a cup of pureed beets. I transferred the mixture to a bowl and added applesauce, sugar, apple cider vinegar, and vanilla extract.
    Then, I ground enough crisp rice cereal to make a quarter cup of a fine meal in my mortar and pestle, and added it to a second bowl with some white whole wheat flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt. I added the wet ingredients to the dry, divided the batter evenly among the wells in the muffin top/whoopie pie pan, and baked them at 350 degrees for twelve minutes.

    While that was going, I toasted some dried unsweetened coconut in a dry skillet and transferred it to the freezer. There was a can of full-fat coconut milk already chilling there, and I let those chill until the cakes had cooled.
    The filling for the pies was a bit of an adventure--I tried to make coconut whipped cream, which I've made successfully many times, but due to the heat, it wouldn't set up quite well enough. I added some extra sugar, but no luck, so I folded in the toasted coconut and mango as planned and threw the mixture in the freezer. I figured that was more in the spirit of Chopped than making new buttercream filling. It didn't freeze solid--thicker than ice cream, but not by much--so I fluffed it up with a fork and filled the pies. Thus, they were some kind of dessert super hybrid: whoopie pie meets ice cream sandwich. They did have to be eaten right away or kept in the freezer until serving, but really, if you have three whoopie pies and three people to eat them, are they going to last? I didn't think so.

...Yeah, about that. I only made enough for three whoopie pies because a) this is my first time ever winging a baking recipe and b) half of my household is made up of coconut haters.
    Okay, some notes about what they were like! The cake came out really well. The texture was pleasant and they held together very well. They were a smidge more red in real life than you can tell in the pictures, and they did not taste like beets at all.
    If I were to make these again, I'd probably just go with a buttercream filling because it's simple, but the filling was really good! Besides, a frozen dessert is always lovely when it's ninety degrees and climbing. The flavor was like a one-two punch of coconut and coconut with little bursts of mango every so often. The red velvet-coconut mango combination isn't something I would have tried outside of this competition, but it's actually quite nice. The chocolate flavor was not overwhelming, but it tempered the very sweet filling. All in all, I would call this entry a success, and I had a lot of fun doing it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Yeasted Doughnuts

When I was growing up, we spent the summer at a cottage whose back door was conveniently located across the street from a doughnut shop. Every morning my parents would buy a dozen of them for everyone--except I was a little weirdo and liked the plain doughnuts best, so they always had to get one or two of those for me.

I've tried making doughnuts a few times over the years and they've always ended up a bit of a mess with flour and grease spattered all over the kitchen and me close to tears. No more! I was determined to do it right this time. So given my tiny--TINY!--obsession with the show Good Eats, I decided Alton Brown's doughnut recipe was as good a starting place as any. On top of making the doughnuts vegan, I had to do a few things differently because I don't own a stand mixer. Or a doughnut cutter. Or pastry rings. Or a deep fryer. And I don't keep instant yeast around the house. And I can't really be bothered to break out the scale every time I cook. I also wanted to try to make filled doughnuts, which this recipe doesn't provide instructions for. Since I'm sure a lot of people are in the same boat there, I rewrote the recipe with my substitutions and instructions on how I did it. But it's totally based on his.

Basic Yeasted Doughnuts
makes about 2 dozen, depending on shape

1 1/2 cups plain almond milk
1/3 cup earth balance
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup plain soy yogurt
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
5 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting

canola oil for frying (amount depends on the size of your pot or deep fryer)

Heat the almond milk and earth balance until the earth balance has melted. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine yeast and warm water (not too warm! about 95 degrees, or your yeast will die and your doughnuts won't rise) with a pinch of sugar. Let sit for five minutes, or until bubbles form.

When the almond milk and earth balance is cooled to about lukewarm, stir it into the yeast mixture along with the soy yogurt, sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Add half of the flour and stir until incorporated. Add the rest of the flour in small increments until you have a cohesive dough. Transfer dough to a very well-floured countertop and knead for 5-10 minutes--you may end up adding quite a bit of flour at this point to keep the dough from sticking, and that's okay! Transfer your dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with a dish towel, and let rise for an hour or so. It should double in size.

Once the dough has risen, lightly flour a counter or cutting board and a baking sheet. Fold the dough over several times on your work surface to distribute the bubbles evenly, then roll it out to a little less than half an inch. How you cut out the doughnuts depends on what tools you're using: a doughnut cutter or pastry rings are the obvious choices, but I have neither, so I used a glass and a (clean) cap from a 2-liter bottle of seltzer. First I cut out the doughnuts with the glass (I got an even dozen) and then cut out the middles. Transfer the doughnuts to the baking sheet and let rest, covered with a dish towel, for another half hour.

Roll up your scraps into a ball and let it rest for at least a half hour before re-rolling and cutting a second batch of doughnuts. For filled doughnuts, just cut out rounds and don't cut out the middles, obviously. I did this for the second batch, and used the scraps to make slightly misshapen twisted doughnuts.

Heat your oil to about 360 degrees F. (I used a pot and a frying thermometer, so you don't really NEED a deep fryer for this.) Fry the doughnuts two or three at a time, for one minute each side. Remove and place on your cooling/draining rack--I use a cooling rack and paper towels, but paper bags and newspaper work too.

A word about the number of doughnuts to cook at once: if in doubt, go with one fewer. Don't be a hero and try to fit as many doughnuts as possible; crowding the pan will cause the oil to drop too much in temperature, and then you'll have greasy doughnuts, or your doughnuts might stick to each other, or both, and you will be frustrated and unhappy.

Wait until doughnuts are cool to decorate. For the unfilled doughnuts, you could sprinkle with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar, or go all out and make a glaze and use sprinkles, if you have them. For the filled doughnuts, you'll need a pastry bag with a large tip filled with jam or custard. Poke a hole in the doughnut with a chopstick and widen it a little bit. Fill using the pastry bag. Tada! Jelly doughnuts. Of course, if you're a little weirdo like me, you'll leave one or two plain, just in case.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Unwise Decision to Bake & NYC Noms

First things first: a while ago I agreed to bake a few batches of yummy things for an event my mom and I are going to tomorrow. The temperature today is somewhere in dear-god-I'm-being-boiled-alive territory, but I'm not one to duck out of baking. Luckily, a few people are avoiding refined sugar, so I got to switch out no-bakes for regular cookies--more on those later. In addition to that, though, the oven was on for almost three hours today for these lovelies:
Blueberry Scones (Vegan Brunch)

Toasted Coconut-Chip Muffins (Vegan Brunch--dried mango swapped out for chocolate chips)

Banana-Raisin Scones (Veganomicon--dates and walnuts swapped out for raisins)

Oat Bran Muffins with Jam (The Joy of Vegan Baking)

You know what's even better than a well-planned, thoroughly-thought out trip? Deciding to hop on a train to New York City then doing it hours later.

Backstory: My cousin, who lives in Oakland and whom I haven't seen since I was a wee child, was staying in New York. Since it's easy enough to take a train from New Haven, my brothers, Avocado, and I decided to go visit.

Our first stop was Lula's, of course. Both brothers thought it was damn fine ice cream, so if you've got skeptical non-vegan friends, bring them here! Their peanut butter-chip ice cream is the only vegan ice cream I've ever had that has the exact right ratio of peanut butter (a lot) to chocolate (a little).

We ended up stopping at a Mexican place fairly close by called Mary Ann's, which said they could do vegan food. My food was pretty tasty, despite the plain tofu; everything else was so flavorful that once I mixed it up it wasn't bland at all. Unfortunately the service was kind of poor. Avocado told the waiter she was a vegetarian, and they gave her a chicken taco instead of vegetable (after forgetting her food completely) and for some reason both of the brothers' entrees came with no cheese. When it was brought up to them they gave us a discount to make up for it, but still. Kind of a bummer. Remember to check your food at non-vegan restaurants, mistakes happen!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hot Weather Food & It's Only Natural

   In Connecticut, it seems to go from pleasantly warm in the day and cool at night to whimper-in-discomfort hot and humid all the time overnight. This kind of weather begs for snacky, room-temp-friendly foods--even if they require a half hour or so in front of a hot stove, as this meze we had the other night.

    That's fresh veggies, Yellow Rose Recipes quinoa tabbouleh, pita, falafel, hummus and some Greek-inspired zucchini fritters I made up--my mom doesn't like falafel, so I wanted to have something substantial (and of course, fried) for her to have. The texture needs some tweaking, but they were good.

    Some of the leftovers went into a pretty tasty bento for work the next day.

    Of course, you could always just let someone else do the cooking for you, even if the cooking consists mainly of sandwich-making. My uncle was paying a quick visit for a few days this week so we took him to one of my favorite restaurants for lunch today: It's Only Natural.

    We got the southern fried tofu appetizer for the table, which was pretty quickly gobbled up.

    This time I got the veggie melt, which is pretty much a stir fry sandwich with cheese on top. They did have melty vegan cheese available, but I went with cashew parm instead. If you're skeptical, it turns out that a stir fry sandwich is an excellent idea. This was super good, although after way too much southern fried tofu, I could only finish half of the sandwich.

    Stringbean and Avocado both got the cajun tempeh sandwich, which is still my favorite on the sandwich menu. Both sandwiches come with the best sweet potato fries I've ever had in my life. Seriously. Of course, in the week or so between whining about weather too hot to cook and today, the temperature dropped by about twenty degrees and it's chilly and gloomy. Nothing a cup of coffee can't fix. Okay, maybe three cups.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Nineteen! Nineteen Avocados! Ngahahahaha!

     I love avocados. A lot. So you need to understand, when I say "too many avocados," I really do mean too many freaking avocados. Nineteen, to be precise. Well, twenty-one, but we gave two away.
     My local supermarket does something great with their slightly damaged produce-- if it's still useable, they mark it down and sell it for a reduced price instead of chucking it. You can get a lot of great stuff this way: apples, oranges, onions and eggplant are all mainstays, and if you're lucky, you might find some avocados. That's how we wound up with so many. The catch is that stuff on reduced produce is, predictably, a little past its prime, and needs to be used up quickly. Three members of our household aren't avocado fans, either. Now, to be fair, a handful of the fruits were actually a little rotten and had to be chucked, but if you were ever wondering what to do with more than a dozen avocados in three days...

     A few batches of guacamole were in order, obviously.

     And avocado pie, which typically contains condensed milk and sometimes cream cheese. I kind of winged a recipe by condensing coconut milk on the stove with some sugar. It tasted great, but it wasn't quite sturdy enough, as you can see. I'm working on it!

     Chocolate pudding, which is every bit as rich and lovely as you'd expect. I cut down the almond milk on this recipe to just enough to make it smooth, and added a drop of almond extract.. Pictured here as part of a pretty extensive breakfast-for-dinner spread Stringbean and I put together at 10 o' clock the other night.

     And finally, one of my favorite combinations ever--broccoli and avocado, here with whole wheat pasta and some chickpeas. This is kind of a lazy version of Pasta Della California from Veganomicon.

We still have a few left in the fridge after all that! They're going into a giant bowl of guac tonight. I wasn't sure it was possible, but it seems that three young adults can go through well over a dozen avocados in a few days. Who knew?