Friday, March 30, 2012

Caramel DeSasters

Recently I got to make a dent in the four pounds of earth balance that my awesome secret santa Jay gave me back in December.  Although I made vegan Thin Mints last spring, Caramel DeLites were always my favorite Girl Scout cookie, and when my friend Denise suggested we try this recipe from VegNews, I jumped at the opportunity.

But this didn't go too well. 

The cookies tasted great and rolled out pretty nicely.  I think you should just sub baking powder for the baking soda and cream of tartar.  Who owns cream of tartar?  Well, now Denise does.  The recipe also made a much bigger yield than the recipe said, and they spread a lot in oven, so we had tons of huge cookies.  So far, so good, though.

The caramel was very wet and gloppy.  Maybe we just put too much on, but even had we exercised restraint, it never would have really dried (perhaps more arrowroot?), and it made the cookies get soggy.  I'd be curious to try using the similar coconut caramel that went on these German chocolate cupcakes.

And finally, we used carob instead of chocolate chips.  No.  Do not do this.  It was very dry and gloppy.  To make it thinner, I used the ganache recipe from s'mores cupcakes.  This helped in the short term, but the carob never really hardened, and it didn't taste like chocolate.  Now, I actually really like what carob tastes like, but it's not a substitute for chocolate; it's its own thing.

Not an epic failure, but certainly a learning experience--and a time-consuming one.  Interestingly, the starving grad students I know ate them up quite quickly.  One fan told me that if you don't think about it as a cookie, it's actually really good.  And indeed, given the frequent references I've just made to cupcakes... this is a pretty serious dessert.

Vegan Caramel DeLites
(from vegnews)

For the cookie base:
 1-1/2 c powdered sugar
1 c vegan margarine
1/3 c vanilla almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond or coconut extract
2-1/2 c flour, plus more
2 TB arrowroot powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

For the coconut caramel:

 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 TB vegan margarine
1/2 tsp arrowroot powder
1-1/2 cs shredded coconut

For the chocolate coating:

1 10-ounce bag vegan chocolate chips
2 TB earth balance
1/2 tsp vanilla

1. For the cookies, in a large mixing bowl, add powdered sugar, margarine, almond milk, vanilla, and almond extract. Mix until well-combined. Add flour, arrowroot, baking soda, and cream of tartar and mix until dough forms small pebbles. Using your hands, combine dough into a large ball and knead once or twice until dry ingredients are well-incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for two hours.
2. To make coconut caramel, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add coconut milk, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, margarine, and arrowroot, stirring constantly. When sugar melts and begins to bubble, reduce heat and allow to simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove saucepan from heat and let cool for 20 minutes, then stir in coconut.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray cookie sheet with baking spray. On a floured surface, divide dough in half. With a roller, roll each half to 1/4-inch thickness. With cookie cutters, form cookies into donut-shaped rings or any other desired shape.  Keep in mind that they spread quite a bit!
4. Space cookies 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove and place on wire cooling rack. Fill a frosting gun or pastry bag with coconut caramel and pipe caramel on each cookie.  Not too much.
5. To make chocolate coating, melt chips in a double boiler with other ingredients.  Allow to cool before piping through a bag (like so).  Return completed cookies to cookie sheet and refrigerate for 2 hours or until chocolate is fully dry.  Makes at least 3 dozen.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Eggplant Chickpea Curry

Eggplant and legume are such good friends, they've already been together in stews on my blog three times.  Each one has had different flavors (cumin, za'atar, fennel, nutmeg, lemon, pomegranate molasses) and different add-ins (tomato, kale, cilantro), and Isa's Eggplant and Black Eyed Pea Curry is yet another variation.  I made it very spicy and used chickpeas instead of blackeyed peas, but otherwise, I made the recipe as it was.  It doesn't look like much, but the velvety texture of the eggplant counteracts the more grainy texture of the chickpeas.  Lemon, fennel, and curry powder make for an interesting set of flavors as well.

Eggplant-Chickpea Curry

1 TB olive oil
1 large onion, diced medium
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping TB minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 lbs eggplant, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
2 TB spicy curry powder
1/2 tsp ground fennel seed
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1/2 c red lentils
1/2 c brown or green lentils
1/2 c lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped (extra for garnish)
5 c vegetable broth
3 c cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained (about 2 16 oz cans)
2 TB fresh lemon juice
2 TB tomato paste 

1. Preheat a 4-quart soup pot over medium high heat. Saute onions in oil until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and saute for another minute.
2. Add the eggplant, curry powder, fennel seed, salt, pepper and cayenne along with a 1/2 cup of the vegetable broth to cook the eggplant down for a minute or two.
3. Add lentils, cilantro and remaining vegetable broth. Cover pot and bring to a boil, keeping a close eye. Once it’s boiling, lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 40 minutes, until lentils are tender and eggplant is soft. Add chickpeas to heat through, and stir in the tomato paste and lemon juice. If you’d like a thicker curry, then leave the lid off for the last 10 minutes. For thinner then just add a little extra broth. Taste for salt and seasoning.
4. Let sit for 10 minutes or so for maximum flavor. Serve garnished with cilantro if you like.  Serves 4-6.


And now, for some Jon's bounty:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Red Lentil Pancakes with Mango Chutney

Last weekend I cooked dinner and played piano with/for a new friend.  Playing music is so much like cooking.  In each case, it's often about translation-- taking something written and turning into a one-time event.  Sure, you can record the performance, or freeze your leftovers, but for the most part, each time you give life to the words, numbers, and symbols on the page, you're making something a little different.  So many variables: your instrument, the tempi, the volume, the phrasing and dynamic, the articulation, etc... and with food, the freshness of the ingredients and the place where they came from and the time of year... and in both cases, the people you're sharing it with.

This, of course, is assuming you're doing everything possible to accurately reproduce the communication from the page.  Usually there are substitutions, estimates, whims, and corners cut.

And you might not even be following a recipe to begin with.  Because every Bach invention you play (or hear), every Indian curry you make (or eat), you're building up an incredible vocabulary, inventory of tricks, figures, combinations, structures, patterns, all components that can be recombined to make something new.

We live in a culture that rewards those who cook by the book but enviously pays lip service to the superiority of the untutored creative genius.  I think the idea that these creative practices are wholly separate is a fiction.  The most historically "authentic" performance of a Handel aria demands a huge amount of interpretation and decision-making on the part of the performer, and the freest jazz solo ever played is informed by any number of tropes and patterns the player has played many times before.

I've been thinking about all this as the frequency of my posts dwindles.  It's not that I'm not cooking as much, but rather that the most appropriate cooking blog posts are the recipes that I follow rather closely.  The things I make when I'm in a hurry, when I want something comforting and familiar, or when I want to be able to talk with guests... are usually those things for which I don't need a recipe.

That said, here's a new recipe, seen separately in several places.  We had these lentil pancakes with a mango chutney I thought I was making up off the top of my head--sauteed onion, ginger, mustard seed, and cumin seed; added mango and salt; simmered; finished off with lemon juice--only to realize this morning that I'd made a similar (more complicated) version almost a year ago.  And speaking of almost a year ago, we finally finished up the mangoes that had been in my freezer for nine months.  They were still delicious--there was way less fallout than there was when Mel Gibson's character in Forever Young got thawed.

We had the pancakes and chutney with baingan bharta and kale sauteed with garlic, stock, and lemon.  Since we ate all of that up, the pancakes are photographed above with rice and and a new eggplant lentil curry.

I used arrowroot as a binder for the pancakes and realized how far that $8 bag I bought at Whole Foods is going to take me.  Considering I use about a tablespoon per month, we're talking lifetime supply.

The pancakes were very fragile until the heat activated the arrowroot, but I think this was exacerbated by the fact that I blended the lentils with all the other ingredients, so that they never really got creamy and batter-like.  Still, they turned out delicious, and with the chutney, they were delightfully reminiscent of potato pancakes with applesauce.

Spiced Red Lentil Pancakes

1 c red lentils, soaked overnight and drained
2 TB arrowroot + 6 TB cold water (substituted for 2 eggs)
1/2 c chopped scallion
1 large carrot, finely julienned or grated
1 TB minced garlic
1 TB minced peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 TB garam masala
1 tsp red pepper flakes (omitted)

1. Put the lentils in a food processor and add about 3/4 cup water (or less). Puree until a smooth and thick batter is formed. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the arrowroot mixture, scallion, carrot, garlic, ginger, garam masala, chili, and salt.
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray. Ladle in the batter to form several smaller pancakes.  Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the bottom is browned, about 2 1/2 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2 1/2 minutes.
3. Serve hot with some kind of mango chutney and fresh cilantro.
Serves about 3.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Apricot-Tamarind-Chipotle Tofu

Inspired by this recipe on holy cow, I used this cooking method to make this awesome baked tofu.  The combo of apricot, tamarind, and chipotle results in something uncannily (and I use the word consciously) like BBQ sauce: tangy, sweet, smoky, and spicy.

This was easy and delicious.  I'll definitely keep this one in my repertoire.  1/4 c chipotles was pretty spicy, so be warned.

Apricot-Tamarind-Chipotle Tofu

1/4 c apricot jam
1 TB tamarind paste
3 TB water
1/4 c stock
1 tsp toasted cumin seeds
1/4 c chipotle en adobo chopped (with sauce)
1 block tofu, cut into small steaks

1. Preheat oven to 350*.  
2. Combine all ingredients from jam to chipotles in a bowl and mix well.
3. Place tofu in a single layer in a baking dish.  Pour sauce over it.
4. Bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes (until most of the sauce is absorbed), stirring or flipping every 15 minutes or so.
5. Serving suggestions: hot, over rice, with cilantro and extra sauce... or thinly sliced in sandwiches!
Serves about 3.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Apricot Rugelach

When I worked at the Angel Food Bakery years ago in Chicago, my favorite thing we sold was apricot rugelach.  This was my first attempt at a vegan version.

I had never before in my life bought vegan cream cheese, which has a few too many ingredients for my tastes.  Still, since Trader Joe's came out with their own (much cheaper than Tofutti) house brand, I thought I'd give it a try just once.

Following the recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking, I cut chunks of shortening and cream cheese into the dough, which I then chilled.  Later, I rolled it out before spreading a layer of jam and then a layer of chopped dates, walnuts, and cinnamon on it.  Cut like a pizza, then rolled up into cute little horn-shaped cookies.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Beet and Sumac Hummus

It looks like raspberry sorbet, but it's actually hummus.  Beets experienced a huge surge in popularity in the week leading up to Valentine's Day.  I think this recipe from one arab vegan was part of that trend.

Sumac and I have never really had a great relationship.  I guess I don't trust it not to take control of a dish as it once did.  Still, I was intrigued by this hummus recipe and decided to give sumac a chance, starting with a very small amount and working up to that specified by the recipe.  As it turned out, you can barely taste it.  It adds a bit of pungency and sourness, but it's not overpowering.  Garlic and lemon help keep it in line.  To the original recipe, I added more tahini and cumin as well as aleppo pepper flakes.  I think the texture could be richer from still more tahini--the chickpeas and the beets have almost no oil in them.

Also: Here's a page with a bunch of hummus variants I have made.

Beet and Sumac Hummus
(adapted from one arab vegan)

1 1/2 c chickpeas
3/4 c cooked beet, roughly chopped
1/4 c tahini
1 TB aleppo
1 tsp cumin
1-1.5 TB sumac
1 tsp cumin powder
sea salt to taste
juice of 1 lemon
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 tsp olive oil
reserved water from beets or chickpeas as needed

Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend, scraping down the sides frequently. Note that the beets will release some moisture – so be wary of adding too much reserve water to thin. Serves 6.


Asparagus is coming back in season!  Following the Bittman bible, I roasted these at 450* for about 15 minutes.  Olive oil, salt, and one crushed clove garlic.

I had these with the old standby wheatberry salad.  Because there's so much vinegar in the salad, it balanced out the asparagus really nicely; there was no need for lemon on the asparagus.  Later I ended up cutting the asparagus into bite-sized pieces and just throwing them into the salad.