Wednesday, October 6, 2010

five courses of joy

a fantastic vegan meal at tayst restaurant

Last week, we joined a roomful of Nashville vegans for a sold-out event at Tayst restaurant, which we were fortunate to attend as guests of the chef. We'll take you through a play-by-play of the evening, but before reading any further, you might consider picking up your phone right now and calling in a reservation for next week's encore dinner. The food was phenomenal... bring an omni guest and let the power of inventive, well-executed vegan food blow his mind.

Okay, you've got to be ready for some photos and commentary after that statement. Here we go...

Quinoa and pea cakes with spaghetti squash, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, and pomegranate
The opening course welcomed us with the flavors of late summer easing into fall (at last!). Delicate field peas were the star, their smooth texture distinctive in each bite of earthy quinoa and starchy squash. The restrained brushes of bright pomegranate glaze and pesto emulsion complemented, but did not overshadow, the warm, subtle character of the cake. 

Smoked pumpkin bisque with polenta fritos and arugula
This was Danielle's favorite dish! The soup was first experienced as a bold, smoky aroma, then filled the palate with deep, complex sweetness, with just enough acidity to prevent it from becoming cloying. Its texture was smooth and velvety, but without the tongue-numbing thickness of a dairy-based bisque. The flavor was perfectly balanced, divulging no ingredients other than the smoked pumpkin that it billed. And our table wanted a bottomless basket of the crisp, golden polenta fritos! 

Almond gnudi, toasted almonds, almond froth with sorrel pesto and pepper sauce
Crystal loved this elegant tribute to the almond. The dumplings were tender and succulent, a perfect bite with a dip of bitter-savory pesto or piquant pepper sauce. And the almond froth was no gimmick: its airy presence delivered a sweet hint of creamy almonds. Our table agreed that this dish deserves a spot on the regular menu.

Marinated, grilled tofu with carrots, eggplant, crispy shallots, roasted cucumber, tobacco potatoes, beets
This preparation of tofu and vegetables plays on the idea that vegans only eat... well, tofu and vegetables. But in this case, the tofu displays deeply caramelized grill marks, its warm interior fairly quivering with custard-like density. The presentation of the vegetables suggested that each should be savored on its own, so that its individual preparation could be studied: a dessert-like beet sauce, cucumber with a hint of seafood (sorry, that is the only way to describe it!), and potatoes with the sweetness of marshmallows. The result was an intriguing dish that makes the diner appreciate the facets of vegetables to which we are usually oblivious.

Warm flan with cashew cheese, apples, chestnuts, and dried cherries
The intensely savory creation described as "cashew cheese" fascinated and perplexed us. It bore no resemblance to the simple, light spreads that we've made, and was surely fermented, or maybe cured like a pâté? Chef Barlow revealed nothing, and seemed pleased to hear the observation that the dish was like a cheese course and dessert on one plate. The flan was not overly sugary, and was a nice foil for the sour-sweet cherries.

Finally, we had a meal in Nashville in which the use of plant-based ingredients was central to its creation, not an inconvenient, limiting factor. We didn't have to choose among different combinations of seitan and tempeh (which are, on occasion, delicious and desirable), or omit the dairy from a dish that was designed to have it. We went out and tasted food that we couldn't devise quickly or recreate at home easily. And the dining room was full of other people who seemed to feel the same way. Did we mention the dinner was sold out?

There is another Veganstravaganza dinner at Tayst on Wednesday, October 13, with another possible event in November. We hope that the success of this concept will inspire other Nashville establishments to offer vegan menu items and events. And we hope that Chef Barlow and the staff at Tayst will further commit to vegan dining by giving Full Menu Status to some of their outstanding vegan creations.

Tayst Restaurant and Wine Bar
2100 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Veganstravaganza at Tayst

food to get excited about

Check out this menu:

Quinoa and pea cakes with spaghetti squash, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, and pomegranate
Smoked pumpkin bisque with polenta fritos and arugula
Almond gnudi, toasted almonds, almond froth with sorrel pesto and pepper sauce
Marinated, grilled tofu with carrots, eggplant, crispy shallots, roasted cucumber, tobacco potatoes, beets
Warm flan with cashew cheese, apples, chestnuts, and dried cherries...

... with wine pairings!

This is the feast that co-blogger Crystal and I will be sharing at Tayst next Wednesday evening. It is the most intriguing line-up that I've seen in Nashville. I am delighted that Chef Jeremy Barlow is committing to vegan food for the evening, and am very grateful to be invited to attend. 

Check back next week to read all about the roasted cucumber-y, almond foamed goodness!

Veganstravaganza Dinner
$45 for five courses with wine pairings
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
6:30 pm

Tayst Restaurant and Wine Bar
2100 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

vegan ice cream recipes

churning our way through A La Mode*

Birthday Cake Ice Cream

Danielle says:
So satisfied have I been with my repertoire of banana shakes and green smoothies that my ice cream maker has spent most of the summer shoved behind the fondue pot.  My freezer was so crammed-full of frozen bananas, nuts, and leftovers that it could scarcely accommodate the freezing apparatus.  Fortunately, an important event stirred me to correct both these situations, and when the machine was plugged in and the bowl duly frozen, a cadre of recipes awaited in Hannah Kaminsky's e-book, A La Mode.

I made three batches over three days; it was easy with a little planning! Twenty-four hours before ICD (Ice Cream Day): find ice cream freezer and stash that baby in the, well, freezer. You can't cheat thermodynamics, so don't even try! At least 12 hours in advance: make ice cream base. Since most recipes require cooking in this step, you must allow time for the base to chill before adding it to your machine. Again, love and respect the laws of physics! Then, the fun starts.

The first recipe that I made, Peanut Butter Bombshell, turned out to be my favorite: its texture was so smooth and rich, its flavor so intensely gooberlicious, that I will definitely return to it. I used Trader Joe's chocolate Cats Cookies (yep, they're vegan!) and omitted the peanuts. Though the author notes that the cookies add "depth to this otherwise one-note ice cream," I might just leave them out next time and not tell her. Salted Creamy Peanut Butter Ice Cream, anyone?!

The perfect mate for PBIC has to be Jam Ice Cream, no? And it was a simple recipe to boot: all of three ingredients and less than five minutes of cooking time. If I have six minutes next time, I'll add a little starch to give this ice cream the custardy consistency of Hannah's other recipes. Strawberries 'n' Cream, here we come!

I couldn't put the ice cream spinner away without making something chocolate. I used this recipe, which calls for coconut milk, to produce a heavenly batch! Try it for yourself as a preview of the fantastic, frozen creations that are included in A La Mode. The recipes I tried were delightful, and the crowd of vegans and omnis who devoured them at my house seemed to agree! Next, I plan to make a batch of French Vanilla to accompany the luscious strawberries and peaches that find their way to my kitchen!

Chocolate Ice Cream
Crystal says:
I was so excited to receive A La Mode to review that the day it arrived in my inbox, I put my my ice cream maker's freezer bowl into the freezer. I had to wait 24 hours for the bowl to freeze completely so I thought it would be a good idea to get started on the ice cream as it too would require time to chill in the fridge before churning.

For my first recipe, I decided to make the German Chocolate Ice Cream. The ice cream base looked so thick and creamy I couldn't stop myself from trying a little spoonful before putting it into the fridge. It was absolutely delightful. Over the course of the next 20 or so hours, I frequently found myself going back to the fridge to devour to test the temperature of that chocolatey goodness. It eventually turned into a delectable pudding and, honestly, at that point, there was no need to even bother with the ice cream maker. But, for you my dear readers, carry on I did.

In the book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, the author Harold McGee says that the mark of a well-made ice cream is one that is, "creamy, smooth, firm, almost chewy." I am pleased to say that Hannah's chocolate ice cream base is all of the above. However, it is not for the faint of heart. This ice cream is the richest ice cream I have ever eaten and that is exactly why I love it. Other ice cream recipes I've tried produce a delicious product but a little bowl always leaves me wanting for more. With Hannah's recipe I was able to have just a few spoonfuls and feel completely satisfied. It is a great way to enjoy a sweet treat without all the guilt and pain that comes from consuming too many sugary calories.

I have made it many times since then, altering it slightly each time (omitting the coconut swirl, adding instant coffee crystals to make it a mocha ice cream, adding little brownie bites) and every variation has been just as scrumptious as the first. The picture above shows the mocha variation.

Eventually, I decided it was time to try out another recipe (for what kind of tester would I be if I only tried one of them?). I was recently in Oklahoma visiting my family and one day we took my niece, Sydney, to an ice cream shop. Sydney ordered her favorite flavor, Birthday Cake and they scooped her up an artificially colored and flavored cone full that she happily devoured.

It was with my sweet niece in mind that I made Hannah's Birthday Cake Ice Cream (pictured at the beginning of this post). I loved the idea behind it and her method for making this ice cream but, in all honesty, it was a little too sweet and thick for me. However, it's probably perfect for the little kiddos and you can feel good about serving them something without all the artificial junk. I know that my niece will LOVE it and I can't wait to make it for her the next time I see her.

* We both received free e-copies of A La Mode to review.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

happy birthday, crystal!

say it with ice cream

Today is the birthday of my good friend and co-blogger, Crystal! To celebrate, I made three kinds of ice cream and assembled the funnest ice cream cake I could dream up (Mom: I know that "funnest" is not a real word).

The ice cream recipes were created by Hannah Kaminsky, cookbook author and blogger extraordinaire.  Check back soon for Crystal's and my review of her e-book, A La Mode. If you just can't wait to try one of her decadent delights, click on over to Bittersweet blog to find the chocolate ice cream recipe that I used (sans chocolate chips, and it was still awesome).

And what was the foundation of all this deliciousness?  It was the Simply Wonderful White Cake from Alisa Fleming's excellent resource and cookbook, Go Dairy Free. We have more to say about that book, too, so stay tuned!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

tasty ways to cook cauliflower

appreciating a versatile vegetable

Last week, I took several dishes to work to celebrate that underrated, sometimes-maligned, but potentially delicious vegetable: cauliflower.  Like other brassicas (I'm thinking of cabbage and Brussels sprouts specifically), cauliflower, when carelessly under- or over- cooked and thoughtlessly seasoned, can become bland, soggy, and odoriferous.  However, when cooked properly, cauliflower can acquire a deep, rich flavor or exquisitely creamy texture, depending on the preparation used.  This versatile veggie would be more popular if people tasted a few delicious cauliflower dishes, and learned how simple they are to prepare.  With this goal, I offer the following recipes:

  • roasted cauliflower, with savory, caramelized flavor and lovely crispy bits.
  • cauliflower soup, which has a creamy mouthfeel, but is dairy-free.
  • basil hummus with cauliflower, a smooth dip in which the vegetable replaces most of the olive oil.

The simplest method to showcase the glory of cauliflower is roasting, and I've found the following steps from Cook's Illustrated to produce the best results.
Roasted Cauliflower
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

One head cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 475 F.
  2. Wash and trim one head of cauliflower and cut the stem flush to the bottom.  Place the cauliflower on the cutting board, stem side down, and gently cut it, through the stem, into eighths.  This will result in eight, wedge-shaped pieces.  Spray or gently coat all sides of each wedge with a thin coat of olive oil, and season with salt.
  3. Place all wedges onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover tightly with foil and place in the preheated oven for ten minutes.
  4. After ten minutes, remove foil and return pan to oven for 8-12 minutes.  When cauliflower starts to brown, remove pan from oven.  Gently flip all wedges and return pan to oven for 8-12 minutes more.  Remove cauliflower from oven when all wedges are golden brown (total cooking time: 30-40 minutes).
If that recipe proves how tasty cauliflower can be, the next one shows how creamy. It's a soup that, if served to me under the name of vichyssoise, I would swear contained potatoes and cream. This recipe is also adapted (and veganized) from Cook's. I have to tell you, the texture that the cauliflower achieves after being in the blender for a minute is jaw-droppingly smooth and creamy. Typically, I try to get away with "pureéing" soups with my immersion blender to avoid cleaning the jar blender.  However, if ever there were a reason to wash an extra tool, the pudding-like consistency of this soup is it!  Use your favorite combination of aromatic veggies to make your broth, or use a good brand of low-sodium vegetable broth (I like Trader Joe's brand, which tastes like the vegetables have been roasted).

I've included some ideas for variations that came to mind as I taste-tested the soup after blending.  I haven't tried these combinations, but I'm not worried about it.  After all, this is soup we're talking about, not rocket science baking.

Creamy Vegan Cauliflower Soup
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
makes two quarts

1 head cauliflower, about 2 lbs.
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dry white wine or vermouth, optional
6 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper
Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning (or other coriander- or cumin- based spice blend)

  1. Trim leaves from cauliflower and cut in half. Chop florets into walnut-sized chunks, and stem pieces about half that size. Set aside in a bowl.
  2. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion to the pot with a pinch of salt. Sweat the onion, turning the pieces and not allowing them to brown, until it is translucent.
  3. Add the wine, if using, and stir until it has evaporated.
  4. Add the chopped cauliflower to the pot, turning to coat with oil.
  5. Add 4 cups of vegetable broth to the pot, cover, and simmer until cauliflower is tender, about 12 minutes.
  6. Purée the soup in several batches by carefully ladling the cauliflower and broth into a blender, filling the blender only half-full. Blend to purée, then set aside puréed soup and complete the remaining batches.
  7. Return puréed soup to soup pot and add vegetable broth to achieve desired consistency. Add seasoning blend to taste.
  8. Warm over low heat to desired serving temperature and enjoy!

Variations: substitute two leeks, chopped and cleaned, for yellow onion; use 2 T of yellow curry powder as seasoning; or, add one handful of cleaned and chopped watercress, arugula, or spinach to cauliflower during final two minutes of simmering.

The final recipe is my version of the Cauliflower Hummus from Veganomicon. Instead of adding half a bottle of olive oil to your hummus to achieve a smooth texture, why not use cauliflower? It's lower in fat and higher in vitamins, minerals, and fiber!  Veggies for the win!

According to Cook's Illustrated (again), the secret to smooth hummus is breaking down the chickpea hulls as much as possible, and then adding the fats gradually in the final step.  Love those test kitchen gurus (even if they are un-veg-friendly).

Basil Hummus with Cauliflower
makes 3 cups

2 cups chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, cooked and drained  
1 cup cauliflower, chopped
2 cloves garlic (roasted if you've got it!)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
salt and pepper
  1. Steam cauliflower florets until tender, about 8 minutes.
  2. In a blender or food processor, add chickpeas, cauliflower, garlic, lemon juice, and basil. Blend until smooth, adding a tablespoon of water if needed to get things moving.  
  3. In a small bowl, combine EVOO and tahini by whisking with a fork.  
  4. With the blender running, add the combined fats gradually by pouring in a slow stream through the top of the blender.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish with basil leaves, sesame seeds, EVOO, etc. Will stay fresh and green for several days, tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

main squeeze café

a delightful lunch stop

I wasn't born a road warrior, but I recently realized that my life is headed that direction: my husband just bought a 1970 slide-in camper for his almost-classic Ford F150.  The camper needs some improvements before I'll call it my vacation home.  In the meantime, I've been acclimating to the asphalt-loving lifestyle, which kicked off with our recent trip from Nashville to Santa Fe, NM.

We drove the westward leg in one go, stopping regularly to walk our dog and stretch, and completed the route (almost exclusively on I-40) within one day.  I had brought a hefty supply of cold salads, PB&J, and favorite snacks from Trader Joe's, so we didn't face the challenge of trying to find vegan food at truck stops along the way.  After spending a fantastic week in Santa Fe (more to come on that topic), it was time to pack up the car for our return leg, which took us north through Colorado before heading east on I-70.

Our decision to take a less-direct route was rewarded: the Colorado countryside and rolling green fields of Kansas were worth the extra hours on the road.  And then, my thoughtful husband suggested a stop in Columbia, Missouri, which he thought was the kind of town that might have a vegetarian restaurant.  A quick look at this resource confirmed his suspicion, and we pulled off the Interstate in search of Main Squeeze Natural Foods Café.

Main Squeeze was perfect: the vibe was warm and fun, the decor was funky and creative, and the menu offered a variety of yummy-sounding sandwiches, salads, and wraps, in addition to fresh juices, smoothies, and baked goods.  The staff were friendly and helpful, and all of the customers seemed peaceful and content, enjoying their healthful lunches while chatting or reading.

I ordered the Tempeh Ruby sandwich, which would be my first Reuben-style meal ever, vegetarian or otherwise.  It was totally delightful, with mildly spiced soft tempeh, crisp and tangy sauerkraut, and sweet, creamy dressing.  The soft, savory rye bread from Uprise Bakery completed the combination (or should I say, made it complete).  The freshness of all of the ingredients was palpable, and the flavors were perfectly balanced.  I wanted to order another Ruby to take home, but knew that a second helping couldn't provide the same satisfaction.  So I simply savored the moment, pausing to enjoy my perfect company and the wonderful handmade goodness that we were served.

Charles had the Sunshine Burger, a vegan patty topped with fresh tomato, lettuce, and Russian dressing and served on a wheat bun.  I could tell by how few words we exchanged how much he enjoyed it.  We each had a cup of (vegan) creamy soup with local greens, smooth and satisfying.  We agreed that the meal was the perfect respite from our long car trip, and returned to the counter to further reward ourselves with dessert.  About half of the desserts were vegan, and they ran the gamut from full-on-sugary cupcakes to heartier bar cookies and muffins.  I opted for the latter, choosing a chocolate coconut bar.  It was tasty, but I could tell that Charles would've preferred something of the sweeter variety.  I'll have to let him choose, next time!

I loved our visit to Main Squeeze, an establishment that seems to address all facets of being a responsible restaurant.  In addition to using organic produce almost exclusively, and local produce when available, they offer filtered water, avoiding the packaging and inhospitable expense of bottled water.  The restaurant's waste is minimized by composting, recycling, and use of earth-friendly to-go packaging.  They also support the community by participating in fundraising events and providing space for local artists to sell their work.  According to their website, the mission of Main Squeeze is to be a sustainable business, basing their decisions on this question: "Is this the very best that we can do for the health of our planet, our employees, our customers, our community?"

Clearly, Main Squeeze made a happy customer out of me, and I highly recommend that you check it out, whether you're a local or a cross-country traveller.

Main Squeeze Natural Foods Café
28 S. 9th Street
Columbia, MO 65201

Sunday, June 13, 2010

a kombucha experiment - growing a scoby, part 2

daily status, in pictures

Last week, I blogged about my experience with kombucha. Every morning for the past 9 days, I excitedly checked on my little experiment and have watched my jar of tea rapidly produce a healthy SCOBY.

If you look really closely, you can see a small whitish spot in the center of the jar. That is the start of my SCOBY! I was so excited when I lifted up the towel and found it had actually started to grow.
By day 4, there was a very noticeable film across the entire surface of the tea.

By day 9, I thought my SCOBY was thick enough to transfer to a new batch of tea and start my very first brew! I'm a few days into it now and anxiously waiting for the 5th day so I can bottle it with fruit juice and begin my double fermentation.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

the dirty dozen list

a useful tool

In a perfect world, everyone would have access to all of the organically-grown produce that they wished to eat.  However, budgetary restrictions might prevent this in many households, including my own.  The Dirty Dozen produce list, compiled by the Environmental Working Group, is a useful tool for balancing the goals of eating a lot of produce, limiting our exposure to pesticides, and keeping the grocery bill within the budget.

This list is a ranking of the fruits and vegetables with the highest residual pesticide load.  There is a companion list, The Clean Fifteen, and a full list that includes other popular produce that falls in the middle of the pesticide spectrum.  According to EWG, eating produce listed on the D12 list will cause you to be exposed to ten or more pesticides a day; eating the produce on the C15 list would limit your exposure to two or fewer pesticides a day.

Does this mean that you shouldn't eat celery, the top veggie listed on the D12?  No, but knowing that it is the most likely to be contaminated, you might choose to buy organic celery instead of conventionally grown.  The list can help you determine on which foods it makes sense to spend the extra money to buy organically grown produce.  For example, I choose to save a little money on avocados (on the C15), but spend a little extra on organic apples (on the D12)  It's handy to consult this list not only when buying fresh produce, but also when choosing frozen fruit and veggies, and items such as apple sauce or juice.

In general, I avoid buying conventional produce that's on the D12, but ultimately, I base my buying decisions on the foods that I need and want to eat.  For example, I buy kale and collard greens on a regular basis.  A large bunch of conventionally-grown greens can be had for less than a buck at many markets, while organic kale is usually available only at Whole Foods for $4.  So, I tend to buy the conventionally-grown greens, because I think that it's important to eat a lot of dark, leafy greens.  Another approach would be to buy low-pesticide-load broccoli most of the time, and buy the organic leafy greens as an occasional splurge.

I hope that you appreciate the information that this list provides, and that you find a way to make it work for you.  I think it's important to remember that the vegan diet eliminates exposure to many toxins, because we aren't consuming all of the chemicals that are stored in the fat of animals, which are usually fed a diet of highly-sprayed grains (in addition to other unsavory junk).  Since more organic choices are available when a certain produce is in season, shopping according to the D12 also promotes buying seasonal and local produce.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

vegan gazpacho

a refreshing summer staple

When I first met my husband, he told me about this restaurant he used to frequent with his mother called Salmagundi's at South Coast Plaza in Orange County, CA (unfortunately they went out of business before I moved to So Cal so I never had the pleasure of eating there). When Marty went to Salmagundi's (I just love saying that name), he always got a bowl of gazpacho which he described to me as salsa soup and THE BEST DISH EVER. While I love salsa, I couldn't imagine eating it straight up out of a bowl so I kind of dismissed the idea and wrote it off as something I would never make.

A few years ago, on a blistering hot day, Marty tried again to convince me that  gazpacho was a refreshing dish, perfect for our Tennessee summers. I caved in and decided to give it a try. After searching the internet for ideas, rather than follow one specific recipe, I decided to wing it and throw together whatever sounded good to me. What resulted was a dynamic burst of summery freshness and, from my first spoonful, I was hooked.

Now, Marty and I anxiously look forward to warm weather and ripe, local produce so we can make gazpacho. Once the temperatures get above 70 degrees, our fridge is rarely without a bowl of this lively vegetable medley.

makes a huge bowl full
  • 4 large, very ripe tomatoes (or 2 fresh tomatoes and 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes)
  • 1 peeled cucumber
  • 1 bell pepper (or an extra cucumber)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • jalapeno to taste (I usually use 1)
  • fresh cilantro to taste (I usually use about 1/2 of a bunch)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • juice from 1/4 of a lemon
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • diced avocado / guacamole / vegan sour cream / raw corn kernels (optional)
  1. Roughly chop the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, and onion into large chunks.
  2. Add the veggies and everything else to a food processor and pulse until you have very small pieces (the size of a kernel of corn or smaller).
  3. Taste and add more vinegar, lemon, olive oil and/or salt & pepper if necessary.
  4. Top with diced avocado, guacamole, a dollop of vegan sour cream, sprinkle with corn kernels cut right off the cob or all of the above!

Friday, June 4, 2010

vegan chocolate + chile shake

an exquisite creation

My craving for sweet food begins when I wake up and has been known to last all day long.  I want to reduce the refined sugar in my diet because these empty calories don't do my body any favors, and it is swimsuit season, after all.  GT's Kombucha has been helping me curb my cravings, and I recently came across a new weapon against my mental desire for sweets: shakes made with frozen bananas.

Frozen bananas behave like ice cream when added to shakes, providing a creamy texture and natural sweetness. While we don't care for this thick consistency in our fruit smoothies, my husband and I agree that bananas are excellent for emulating milkshakes.  Of course, along with the texture attributes, bananas also contribute their characteristic flavor, but it complements a wide array of fruits, nut butters, and spices.  Adding cocoa powder plus a few dates produces a toothsome snack without refined sugar.  This version is a nod to the popular combination of chocolate and chile, particularly to the trend-setting Vosges chocolate bar.  A little dose of capsicum adds heat and complexity to the mellow cocoa flavor, and the warm spice of cinnamon completes the exotic blend.

The recipe below yields a subtle heat that should be approachable to most people, and you may find yourself increasing the amount of chile in future batches.  Ancho is poblano pepper in its dried form, and its flavor is on the mild, sweet side of the chile pepper spectrum.  It is requently included in mole sauce, and whole anchos are easily found with Mexican groceries.  Cayenne powder introduces a warm heat that dissipates quickly, instantly tamed by the sugar of the banana.  While I like to have this shake for breakfast, others might find it a more appropriate later in the day, and it is decadent enough for serving as dessert.

When I start the day with some version of a chocolate banana shake, I feel satisfied for hours.  Amazingly, I'm able to skip second breakfast, and can even dismiss sweets that might present themselves later in the day.  This is accomplished with no refined sugar and very little fat!  If unsweetened almond milk is used, I estimate that this recipe contains less than 400 calories and 20 grams of sugar.  Let's compare this to the chocolate shake from Sonic that I would have eaten in my pre-vegan days: 568 calories, 25.6 g fat (17.9 g saturated fat), 49 g sugar!  And absolutely no fiber, which may explain why it was less satisfying than this shake, with about 12 grams of fiber.

I feel really good about the "milk"shakes in my life, and I hope that you indulge in something equally pleasurable.

Vegan Chocolate + Chile Shake
makes one 12-ounce shake

1 1/2 banana, peeled, cut into chunks, and frozen
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 medjool dates
ice cubes
4 oz non-dairy milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (if using plain non-dairy milk)
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho chile
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Add all ingredients to blender.  Blend until smooth according to manufacturer's instructions.
  • Pour into a glass and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

falling in love again with my blender

osterizer hacks

Today's post was intended to include a recipe for a shake that I have been eating every day.  But something developed that I find even more exciting, and the exotically-spiced chocolate shake will have to wait until Friday.  It is postponed so that you may read of the newly-discovered capabilities of my old blender.

I bought a classic Osterizer during college for making frozen margaritas.  I'm sure it was used for other applications a few times, but the cause that led me to plunk down $60 at the local Target was making sweet-tart, icy, tequila-laden cocktails at home.  I chose this model because its metal base seemed sturdy and its retro, beehive shape looked cool.  It has a 500-watt motor and a simple, toggle control with three options: on, off, and pulse.  Alas, it wasn't proficient at crushing ice, producing libations of irregular consistency, with persistent, large chunks of ice among the smooth icy granules.

Over the ensuing years, I came to prefer margaritas on the rocks (could this dismissal of my mother's preference be indicative of my own personal development? Must ask therapist).  Gradually, the blender was used less and less frequently, and I confess that my old friend spent the past year languishing in the guest room closet.

In starting my vegan education last fall, a powerful blender seemed a useful tool to have.  Luckily, my mentor lent me a brawny model so that I could whip up thick sauces and creamy smoothies to my heart's tummy's content.  I used it frequently, forsaking the Osterizer and wondering how long I could wait before sinking $400 into a new wunder-blender.

Today, preparing to make the shake, I pulled out the Jack LaLanne blender... and also the Osterizer.  Frankly, I expected to start the process in the Ostersizer, then give up and dump everything in the JLL blender to finish.  However, to my shock and awe, my old buddy did an admirable job, blending ice, frozen banana and all into a thick, creamy, uniform consistency.

Here's what I think made the difference: a tamper!  I inserted the tamper from the JLL through the opening of the Osterizer lid to push all of the ingredients toward the blades while it was running.  So, before you drop $400 on a Vita-Mix or a Blendtec, you could try using a tamper device with your blender, taking care that it is the proper length not to make contact with the blades. *

You may be wondering about the bizarre appearance of the blender in the leading photo.  Well, it happens that an observant consumer realized that the Oster blade apparatus fits perfectly onto regular-mouth Mason jars.  I couldn't be more tickled, since I store my bulk, dry goods in Mason jars.  Instead of the two-part canning lids, I use plastic storage lids that can be purchased in packs of eight from many retailers.  But I digress.

By attaching the base of the Oster to a Mason jar*, the blender can effectively process small amounts of wet and dry ingredients.  In a quick experiment, I placed a small amount of rolled oats in a 20 oz jar, and a few almonds in an 8 oz jelly jar.  With a few pulses, the blender produced oat flour and almond flour, the consistency of each comparing favorably to the flours that I usually make in the coffee mill.  With this setup, the Osterizer essentially does the job of a Magic Bullet!  This is fantastic because Mason jars are inexpensive, come in a variety of sizes, and are easy to clean (i.e. are dishwasher safe).  How's that for a multitasking tool?

Which brings us to another advantage of the good ol' Osterizer: the canister can be disassembled, so I can clean the carafe and the blades thoroughly without shredding my sponge (or my fingers).  Replacement parts and additional accessories (including a milkshake blade!) are also available at reasonable prices, though Oster doesn't offer a tamper.

So, though my experiments are limited, I think that my old blender will be seeing a great deal more use in the future.  To summarize my opinion of the Osterizer:

  • Pros: easy to clean, powerful, all-metal drive system, affordable, attractive styling, simple controls, good blending ability when used with tamper, fits Mason jars for more versatility, easy to clean, easy to replace parts.
  • Cons: relatively small carafe capacity of five cups, gaskets must be aligned properly to prevent leaking.
So, if you don't care about pulverizing an iPad in your blender, you might give the Osterizer a try!

*The manufacturer does not endorse using a tamper or Mason jars with the Osterizer blender.  If you choose to use your blender in this way, it could potentially damage your blender, cause additional damage and/or injury.  The authors of this blog are not responsible for any mishaps that may occur.  Operate your blender at your own risk!

PS: I just entered a giveaway for Artisana Coconut Butters at Chocolate-Covered Katie's blog, and you should, too!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

a kombucha experiment - growing a scoby

in the beginning

We found out that my maternal grandmother had cancer in 1994. At that time, Kombucha's popularity in America was rapidly growing, so much so that it was considered by many to be the living "pet rock of the 90's." Kombucha, a fermented tea, has been touted as a miracle cure for everything from indigestion to cancer, which brings me back to my grandmother.

When my mom's friend, Uncle Rohn, found out about my grandmother, he insisted on giving my mom a "baby" SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) so that she could start brewing the tea to give to my grandmother. Unfortunately, my grandmother wasn't interested in drinking it.

Intrigued by the long list of the benefits attributed to kombucha, my parents decided to drink it themselves. Of course, they let me and my siblings try it but none of us could stand the vinegary taste. My mom successfully brewed it for a few months, the sour smell permeating throughout our house, but then reports of two women dying from kombucha hit the news and she decided the risk* wasn't worth the potential benefits. I'm not too worried because I found this report by the CDC  stating that investigators never established a link between the two women's illnesses/deaths and their consumption of kombucha.

Fast forward 16 years to a couple of weeks ago when Danielle called me to tell me how excited she was about a bottle of Synergy Kombucha she recently tried. The next time I was over at her house, she offered to share some with me. My distant childhood memory had me feeling apprehensive so I was pleasantly surprised when it tasted nothing like what I remembered it to be. Some of this may be due to my changed taste buds but some of it may also be attributed to the 5% juice they added to the tea. Whatever it was, I was instantly hooked, however, at $3.50 per 16 oz bottle, a daily addiction would be rather expensive so I knew I'd have to start making my own.

I didn't know anyone who was currently making kombucha so that meant I would need to grow my own other words, the gelatinous blob that sits on the surface of the tea.

I spent hours researching it on the internet, gathered up the ingredients, and got to work.
What you'll need:
  1. A bottle of raw, organic kombucha (I used Katalyst Kombucha)
  2. Black tea
  3. Sugar (refined and granulated...the white stuff)
  4. A gallon-sized glass jar or bowl (use one with as large an opening as you can find - the more surface area you have, the more oxygen the SCOBY will have access to and the better your fermentation will be)
  5. A clean tea towel or paper towel to cover your jar
  6. A rubber band to secure the towel and prevent bugs from getting in (if you use an especially large bowl, you may want to also put two pieces of tape, criss-crossed) across the opening of the bowl so the towel doesn't dip down into the tea)
What you do:
  1. Sanitize everything that is going to come into contact with the kombucha. It is a living culture and you don't want to risk contaminating it. I put all of my tools/containers into the dishwasher and set it to run the sanitizing cycle. I also ran a super hot iron over my clean tea towel.
  2. Boil 1 cup of water in your stainless steel pot.
  3. Add 1 tea bag and steep for 15 minutes.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon sugar.
  5. Cover and let cool down to room temperature.
  6. Pour into your glass jar and add the bottle of raw, organic kombucha.
  7. Cover with your towel and secure with a rubber band.
  8. Put in a warm place (68°F - 85°F / 20° - 29° C), not in direct sunlight, where it won't be disturbed. Moving it at this stage could be detrimental to the growth of your SCOBY.
  9. Wait for what seems like an eternity! Approximately 1 1/2 to 3 weeks until the scoby is between 1/4 and 1/3 inch thick.

I'm still waiting and will post an update next week!

Here is my glass jar, covered with a tea towel.

*Home-brewed kombucha tea can become contaminated with mold that can make you sick so if you ever see signs of mold (green, pink or black circles that may also be fuzzy) on your SCOBY throw it (and any tea your scoby came into contact with) out.  Kombucha can also be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria  but I read here that, "Kombucha is unlikely to become contaminated with bacteria if the tea broth has a sufficiently high sucrose content (approximately 10+ percent sugar), making it a naturally inhospitable environment. Furthermore, the tea—with its high acidity, alcohol content and antibiotics—makes bacterial contamination even less probable." As with all food preparation, if you follow sanitary procedures and have hygienic brewing conditions you will significantly minimize any chances of contamination.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

vegan tofu scrambled "eggs"

a delicately flavored dish

I didn't grow up eating tofu, but I did grow up eating scrambled eggs.  It was an easy, filling dish that I could whip up in a few minutes at home, or a safe choice at a diner where other options seemed too greasy or sweet.  Before I realized how the poultry industry is conducted, eggs seemed like a sensible food to eat once in a while.  And I really liked their texture, flavor, and versatility.

With about six months of vegan cooking and baking under my belt, I'm learning which animal-free ingredients contribute the right balance of protein, fat, and water to particular recipes.  I've eaten creamy desserts, smooth sauces, chewy cookies, and tender cakes, all eggless.  I've also had several versions of that protein-packed, vegan stalwart: the tofu scramble.

The scrambles that have crossed my path have been seasoned with pungent flavors such as cumin, curry powder, and garlic.  While I enjoyed them and appreciated how simple they were to prepare, my palate needed a little time to recover from the heavy spices.  For breakfast particularly, I wanted to create a scramble with mellow seasonings to complement the soft texture of tofu.  One that emulates a plate of scrambled eggs.

The scramble starts with sautéed shallots, which become sweet and aromatic.  Turmeric, with its powerful, golden color and relatively subtle flavor, is still in the mix (I can't totally break with tradition).  But it is the only ground spice invited to the party.  Instead, choose a combination of the lighter-flavored herbs from your pantry or garden: dill, tarragon, chervil, chives, maybe a touch of parsley or marjoram.  Add dried herbs at the beginning so they absorb some of the tofu's moisture while cooking, and toss on fresh herbs at the end, so that they retain their vibrant flavors and colors.

The secret ingredient, the one that adds a touch of authenticity to this pan of faux oeufs, is a dash of black salt.  Crystal gave me this fine, pinkish-hued salt, which is called kala namak and is used in certain Indian dishes.  Its sulphurous odor can be overwhelming, but a small amount of black salt provides a convincingly egg-like aroma to this tofu scramble.  Look for it in Indian grocery stores.

Tofu Scrambled "Eggs"
makes four servings
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 pound firm tofu, drained and lightly pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon black salt (kala namak)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh summer savory
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon 
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • vegan parmesan-style sprinkle (optional)
  1. Heat EVOO in a medium-sized, nonstick pan over moderate heat.  Add chopped shallot to pan and sauté until aromatic and translucent.
  2. Add tofu to pan, crumbling into irregular chunks the size of walnut halves.  Sprinkle black salt and turmeric onto tofu and sauté for five minutes, turning gently to combine.
  3. When tofu is uniformly golden-colored and is heated through, remove pan from heat.  Sprinkle fresh herbs and several grinds of black pepper on top of tofu and turn to combine.  Divide between four warmed plates and serve with parmesan-style sprinkle.
Note: Dried herbs may be substituted for fresh. Use 1/4 teaspoon dried herbs for 1 teaspoon fresh, and add dried herbs with black salt and turmeric.

Monday, May 24, 2010

sweet relief: nashville food blogger bake sale

vegans represent!

As a way to raise money for the Middle Tennessee flood relief efforts, we will be baking up a storm this week and sending our goodies to the Sweet Relief Bake Sale. We're planning to make a bunch of goodies from the talented Hannah Kaminsky's new e-book, Blondies and Brownies.

So come on out, get yourself some awesome homemade treats and help support your fellow Nashvillians. If you are interested in volunteering to bake or to help out with the sale, contact Lindsay for more information.  Also, feel free to RSVP on Facebook and spread the word via whatever social media you use!

Sweet Relief: Nashville Food Blogger Bake Sale for Flood Relief
Saturday, May 29th, 1:30-4:00pm
The Green Wagon, 1100 Forest Avenue in East Nashville (map)
All proceeds benefit Second Harvest Food Bank.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

vegan chocolate creme pie

luscious and decadent

This silky pie is one of my favorite ways to indulge my sweet tooth.  Packed with a rich chocolate flavor, just a tiny sliver is immensely satisfying. The best part is that this pie can be made in about 10 minutes using a handful of pantry staples but it tastes like you devoted hours in the kitchen to working on it.

I've had this recipe for years now so, unfortunately, I'm not sure where I initially got it from. It originally called for a store-bought graham cracker crust (which is how you can make it in 10 minutes) but I prefer to spend a few more minutes and make a gluten-free crust which was modified from Fat FreeVegan's oatmeal cookie crust.

Chocolate Creme Pie
  • 1 vegan pie crust (store-bought graham cracker or use recipe below)
    **If you're using a pre-made crust, proceed with the filling. If you're making the oatmeal cookie crust, make the crust first so you can make the filling while the crust is baking.**
Chocolate Filling
  • 2 boxes silken extra-firm tofu
  • 12 ounces dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup (in a pinch I've also used agave as well as granulated sugar and it turned out fine)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • OPTIONAL (I don't usually add these) to taste liqueur of choice (like Amaretto and Kahlua) or instant coffee granules (Starbucks VIA works great here)
  1. Place silken tofu into a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Melt chocolate chips in a double-boiler or microwave (if you use the microwave, do 30 seconds at a time and then stir).
  3. Add melted chocolate chips to tofu and blend.
  4. Add maple syrup, vanilla extract, liqueur or instant coffee (if using) and blend, scraping sides if necessary to make sure everything is incorporated.
  5. Spoon chocolate tofu mixture into pie crust.
  6. Chill pie until ready to serve (4-6 hours is perfect).
Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cookie Crust
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 cup sorghum flour (may use a wheat flour if you're not concerned about gluten)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly oil a 9-inch pie pan.
  2. Put the oats into a food processor and process until it's flour. Add the remaining dry ingredients and blend. Drizzle in the oil as you're pulsing the mixture. When it's thoroughly wet but still crumbly it's done.
  3. Put the mixture into the pie pan, and starting at the center, flatten and press it with your fingers until it covers the bottom and extends up the sides.
  4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until it it is crisp but not overdone.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

vegan milk + cookies

a classic snack, dairy-free

I'm not much of a baker; in fact, I can't remember the last time I baked a cake. I usually go for sweet treats that involve chilling, blending, and otherwise not turning on the oven. But I love cookies, especially chewy, oatmeal cookies with lots of cinnamon and raisins... a portable dose of oatmeal that's ready for spontaneous snacking!  My craving for these goodies was recently awakened, when my mom bought a jumbo cookie at lunch and allowed forced me to finish it.

It was awesome.  And even more awesome was the realization that the ingredient list seemed to correspond very closely to this recipe, which Crystal discovered and shared with me a few weeks ago. I tweaked it a little to achieve the spices and texture of the Alternative Baking masterpiece. This included substituting pumpkin pie spice for their cinnamon, because I love the flavor of nutmeg with raisins. I used instant oats and finely-chopped walnuts to create a smoother texture. The sugars were creamed with the sugars for several minutes in a stand mixer to create lots of little air pockets, which expand when the baking soda and powder are activated by the oven's heat. And I tried to observe the cardinal rule of baking: don't overmix the dry ingredients!

Then, it was on to the next challenge: don't overbake!  I've found this to be the trickiest part of vegan baking, and it's hard for me to resist sliding the sheetpan back into the oven when the cookies look pale and a little too moist.  Go ahead and take them out:  they will continue baking on the pan for a minute, and will firm up on the cooling rack. You don't have to worry about undercooking these egg-less goodies!

I poured a  glass of chilled hazelnut milk alongside these warm cookies.  It was my first time making nut milk, and its freshness is a distinct improvement over nut milk in aseptic packaging.  Plus, hazelnut milk is not as easy to find in shops, and making it at home saves a trip to Whole Foods!

Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
makes 2 dozen large cookies
  • 1 cup Earth Balance, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 "eggs" (I used 3 teaspoons of Ener-G egg replacer whisked in 4 tablespoons of water)
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups instant oats
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together margarine, brown sugar, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy.
  3. Add egg replacer eggs and beat until well blended.
  4. In another bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Gradually add dry ingredients to margarine mixture until well blended.
  6. Stir in oats, raisins, and nuts (if using).
  7. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, drop the dough by 1/4 cupfuls and lightly flatten with fingers.
  8. Bake for 13 minutes and remove baking sheets from the oven. Let cookies remain on baking sheet for 2 minutes.
  9. Transfer to cooling racks to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container.

Hazelnut Milk
makes 6 cups
  • 3/4 cup raw hazelnuts
  • 6 cups drinking water
  • maple syrup, up to 1/4 cup
  1. Add hazelnuts to bowl of water. Cover and refrigerate for 4-8 hours.
  2. Remove bowl from refrigerator and pour soaked nuts and liquid into Vita-Mix or similar, powerful blender. Blend according to manufacturer's instructions, up to two minutes.
  3. Pour nut milk through a fine sieve or two layers of cheesecloth, into a clean bowl.
  4. Add maple syrup by the tablespoon to achieve desired sweetness.
  5. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

the best coffee ever

spiked with spices

I weaned myself off of a caffeine addiction many years ago so now I mostly drink decaf. I know, most people ask, "why bother," but this way I can still enjoy the taste of a delicious cup of coffee. Plus, I love holding a warm coffee cup in my hands and smelling the earthy aroma.

Taking a cue from Trader Joe's Wintery Blend Coffee, I started spiking my own decaf coffee with different spices. I never measure anything so each day is a surprise. After I dump in my coffee grounds, I add a generous amount of cinnamon, followed by a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, cardamom and allspice (with the occasional grind of black peppercorns). Give it a quick stir and start brewing.

It makes for a really wonderful treat the morning and I encourage you to give it a try.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

the silly goose

new favorite nashville eatery

"Would you like a basil lemonade?" Who, I ask you, can resist these words on a sunny afternoon off, particularly after having hopped off a motorcycle into a bright, cheerful, cozy restaurant? I certainly couldn't, and so began our mid-week lunch at The Silly Goose in East Nashville.

We sat at one of the four-top tables in the intimate space, which has high ceilings, original art and murals, and a few bar seats along the front glass walls.  Our server was friendly, hospitable, and attentive.  Just over my shoulder, three more smiling folks worked calmly in the open kitchen.  We sipped our basil lemonades as we looked over the menu, which features bold flavors and some locally-supplied produce.

Wonderful dining partner that he is, my husband allowed me to order for both of us.  We began with the Mexico City couscous dish pictured above, which was infused with red chili and garnished with two vibrant pepper purées.  Though the menu description includes chicken, ours was modified to include avocado and served with the chèvre on the side (Charles reported that it was mild and creamy).  I loved the balance of flavors and textures: mildly spicy, chewy couscous, bursts of sweet, smooth mango, creamy slices of avocado, and the occasional smear of zesty purée.  Washed down with a refill of sweet-sour, herbaceous lemonade!

We also ordered the Wizard wrap, with cheese-less pesto instead of aioli.  The refreshing combination of fennel and roasted red pepper played beautifully against the deep flavors of marinated portobello mushroom and balsamic reduction.  We chose a side salad (herb couscous was the other choice), which was a generous portion of fresh, local greens.

I thought that was going to be it.  I was well pleased by our selections, and was already planning which menu items (Fielding couscous, Goose Stack salad, beet-apple-ginger juice) that I would try on our next visit.  But, following a friendly conversation with the main cook about how the restaurant wishes to accommodate all diners' food preferences, it came out that one of the daily ice cream flavors was vegan.  Mango-lime ice cream, made with coconut milk.  Of course, this led to our ordering a bowl, which led to three luscious scoops being delivered to our table.  We devoured the smooth, sweet, toothsome treat, and I leaned back in my chair with a feeling of absolute contentment.  We lingered for a few minutes before heading out on the bike.  I was certain that we would return.  Soon.

The Silly Goose
1888 Eastland Avenue
Nashville, TN

Sunday, May 9, 2010

vegan fat-free carrot cake

with not-so-fat-free penuche frosting

I love carrot cake with the same passion that Marty has for my chocolate cake with coconut pecan frosting. Unlike my chocolate cake, I am always experimenting and trying new recipes for carrot cake. Recently I tried to make a carrot cake with no added oil or margarine and I'm really pleased with how it turned out.

I negated any fat-free benefits though by frosting it with a caramelized penuche frosting but this frosting is so good it's worth it! My cake recipe was modified from Kittee's ginger karrot kake recipe and the penuche frosting recipe was modified from a recipe I found on southern food.
Vegan Fat Free Carrot Cake
makes enough for 1 fat 8" cake or 2 6" inch layers
  • 1/4 packed cup prunes (1 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup water or juice
  • 1 teaspoon lecithin granules (optional but it improves the texture)
  • 4 ounces pound of firm, silken tofu (the kind that comes in an aseptic box)
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 pound of grated carrots (approx 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans (omit if you want it to be fat-free)
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries or raisins
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour one 8" cake pan or 2 6" cake pans.
  2. Add prunes, water (or juice) and lecithin granules to blender and blend until smooth. Scrape out of blender into small bowl. Measure out 5 tablespoons into another small bowl. The leftover prune puree can be stored in the refrigerator and used for another recipe.
  3. Add the tofu and orange juice concentrate to blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to the bowl with the 5 tablespoons of prune puree. Add vanilla and brown sugar, mixing well.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and cardamom.
  5. Line a kitchen towel with paper towels. Put grated carrots in paper towels and roll up like a tootsie roll, squeezing to remove the excess moisture.
  6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Fold in the wrung out carrots, pecans, dried cranberries (or raisins), coconut and ginger.
  7. Pour the batter into the 8" cake pan or half into each 6" cake pan.
  8. Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes for 6" pans or 40-45 minutes for 8" pan (I like to test the center with a toothpick about 5 minutes before the timer goes off and every few minutes thereafter. When tester comes out clean it is done.)
  9. Let cool ten minutes in pan, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling. Wait to frost until cake is completely cooled.
Penuche Frosting
makes enough to frost a 6" 2-layer cake
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup soy milk
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar, more or less
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1. In a saucepan, melt Earth Balance.
    2. Add the brown sugar. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium low and continue to boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. If you stop stirring, it will scorch and taste awful!
    3. Add the soy milk and bring to a boil,lower heat to medium low, stirring constantly for another 2 minutes.
    4. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Add vanilla extract. Add sifted confectioners' sugar, a little at a time, beating until it's thick enough to spread. If not thick enough, add extra sugar. If too thick, add a little hot water.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010

    vegan black bean + pumpkin dip

    not your typical hummus

    Have you ever opened a can of pumpkin purée to make muffins or another scrumptious creation, and then found yourself with a scant half-cup of leftover pumpkin?  Have you wondered what application would give you maximum enjoyment of such a small amount?  Here's an idea: a flavorful, savory dip that marries luscious pumpkin with velvety black beans and smoky, piquant spices.
    This dip, which has a creamy texture and a hint of mellow sweetness, is excellent with raw vegetables, tortilla chips and crackers (I like Trader Joe's new gluten-free Seeded Onion and Chive Corn Crackers), as well as starchy side dishes, like corn or sweet potatoes.  It would also make an excellent filling for light, soft tacos with avocado and shredded cabbage.  The next time I make this dip, I will gently fold in the pumpkin last, so that streaks of bright orange contrast with the deep gray tone of the bean purée.  The recipe below reflects this change.

    While I opt for canned pumpkin purée for sake of convenience (and so I can have it year-round), I do cook my own black beans.  Per Rick Bayless's instruction, I add a couple of sprigs of fresh epazote to the beans, along with a sliced onion.  Epazote is available in bunches at Latino markets, and is priced at 99 cents in my area.  I buy a large bunch, wash and dry it, separate the sprigs, and freeze them on a flat surface.  Once frozen, I throw them into a zip-top bag and keep them in the freezer for flavoring many pots of delicious beans.

    The other special seasoning in this recipe is smoked Spanish paprika, or pimentón.  Its smoky, sweet, earthy flavor is intense, and I caution you to use it sparingly!  It adds a deep dimension to bean and rice dishes, and is my favorite addition to roasted potatoes.  Smoked paprika is also one of the pivotal ingredients in this intriguing recipe.

    Black Bean and Pumpkin Dip
    makes 2 1/2 cups
    • 2 1/2 cups cooked black beans
    • 2 tablespoons tahini
    • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 lime, zested and juiced
    • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
    • 1 teaspoon whole coriander
    • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
    • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
    • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
    • 1/4 cup pumpkin purée
    1. Grind the whole coriander, cumin, and pepper flakes in a mortar and pestle or a clean coffee grinder.
    2. In a food processor, combine black beans, tahini, garlic, EVOO, garlic, salt, ground spices, and paprika. Purée until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
    3. Transfer to a serving bowl.  Gently fold in cilantro and pumpkin purée.  Do not mix completely, so that ribbons of pumpkin remain visible.
    4. Serve chilled and refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container.