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.