Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pie and Blasphemy

I finally got everything required to make a pie. I had planning on making Figgy Apple Hand Pies from Vegan Pie in the Sky for a few weeks, but kept having ingredient shortages. Over the weekend, I solved that problem, and got to work.

The pies were easy to make, even with a series of user errors that stalled the crust completion. Even the folding of little dough rectangles was easier than I would have anticipated.

They are lovely little pies, and the taste is completely pleasant without being cloyingly sweet. They almost seem appropriate for breakfast.

I will definitely make these again, but that's actually my chief complaint. I followed the directions and measurements perfectly. That includes filling the dough rectangles with a "scant 1/4 cup of filling." Well, it did until I immediately realized that I'd have more filling than necessary, and went with a not-so-scant 1/4 cup in each.

Even after that, I had only used half of the filling made. That means I had 2 entire cups of filling left over. Seriously? That's very annoying. I would have happily made a double batch of dough before I'd cleaned everything up. Hell, if it didn't need 40 minutes chilling time in the fridge, I'd have made a whole new batch right there.

It's one thing to have a little left over, but to have literally twice what you need gets wasteful. Of course I'll make another batch of pies, and yes, I know it could be worse. Nearly everything could be worse.

So I put a note in my book to make double the dough next time around, but I wonder if that should be my rule of thumb for hand pies from the book? I will make them again beyond this week to use up the dough. They'd be brilliant in kids' lunch boxes.

The thing is, this is the third pie I've made from this book. I didn't do a write-up on the Grasshopper Pie, but I wasn't really impressed with the texture or taste. I found the Apple Crisp a little ho-hum. Now I have a pie that's pretty good, but with an avoidable error in the recipe. This all makes me uncomfortable because I swear by Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I have never had a flop from either.

In fact, anything by Moskowitz or Romero has been a smashing success for me. Maybe such consistent high performance sets an unfair standard. Writing this, I couldn't help but feel guilty about criticizing the work of two people who I admire so much.

I know three pies from a book are not enough by which to judge, though. You won't see me over at Amazon, writing a lengthy review based on such a pathetic sample size. In fact, I'll be even more determined to try more pies, and to see what the book really has in store.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Short and Sweet Celebration

Even though I didn't do a whole Thanksgiving spread this year, I still want to make good on my MoFo promise and explore Alicia Simpson's Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations for the holidays. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I did so by making the Classic Macaroni and Cheese and Southern-Style Greens, and ate them with some Chipotle Lime Crispy Fingers.

Quick, easy, and crazy delicious. As with her nachos, Simpson's mac and cheese required no cheese analogs, no nutritional yeast, and no plant milks. I'm not opposed to those things, but it's impressive that she creates such smooth flavor using veggies and spices only.

This book is pretty awesome, and though the chapters by holiday are fun, this is more of an every day book than I remember to give it credit for.

This picture isn't as good because of the light, but when I realized that my Pika Chu stapler was in the frame, I had to post it.

A few days later, I decided to tackle the Raw Sweet Potato Pie to make a complete meal out of the meager leftovers. That didn't go as well.

When someone says "raw" and "in your high-speed blender" in the same recipe, they do not mean in your food processor. They probably don't even mean in your Magic Bullet. They probably do mean in your $400 kitchen Sarlacc pit/Vitamix. I don't have one of those.

The pie blended up eventually, but it was frustrating and I lost a spatula in the process. All that and the flavor wasn't great. The spices were perfect, and the crust was fantastic, but raw sweet potatoes may not be right for me. No pictures for that one though. It's ugly.

It's still haunting my refrigerator, but I'm starting to have some ideas for how to re-purpose it with other leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Just Reporting on the Same Holiday Everyone Else Is (Was)

I ended up going out of town to a non-vegan dinner for Thanksgiving. That's OK though - it was not the first time I'd been in that position, and I decided to try one of the recipes that inspired me during MoFo.

The Beast is a casserole layered with semi-traditional Thanksgiving foods and flavors. I say semi because soy curls are probably not totally traditional. Megan over at Down Home Vegan posted the recipe she created after competing in a Vegan Iron Chef competition. Since I needed a meal that would travel for the holiday, I decided this would be it.

I am stunned by how fast and easy this was to make. I wanted to get a head start, so I started making the components while I had a few minutes, and before I knew it, the ramekins were going in the oven.

(Sadly, none of the pictures feature the pumpkin gravy, which was subtle and surprising in flavor).

I had to make a few adjustments, and baking it in ramekins was the first, so I reduced the cooking time a bit. I have these great ramekins that are large enough to hold a meal-sized portion, and that have these handy plastic lids. So they're much easier to pack and lug around, but more importantly, I clearly had a limited amount, and I couldn't share with the omnivores.

Typically, I do like sharing, but it sucks to bring an empty casserole dish home and spend the next few days hearing about everyone else's damned sandwiches and soups while I'm making new meals and being pretty grossed out. This goes doubles for those meals at which NOTHING is suitable except what I brought.

So The Beast was quick and easy, and it worked to suit my selfish side. On top of all that, it was a dish that goes where you want it to go. I couldn't find soy curls, so I used TVP. Then, I decided that I wanted to make my own cranberry sauce, so I used Alicia Simpson's recipe, but I added the vanilla and cardamom as directed by Megan (I will never make it any other way). Finally, I forgot to top it with puff pastry, and it didn't matter because the mashed potatoes made for a lovely crispy topping.

None of that mattered, everything was amazing. Plus, like any holiday food, it was even better as leftovers. I had made it the night before, so it was all leftovers all day!

The Beast was only missing one part of a holiday meal, so I also made the Pumpkin Gingerbread with Pumpkin Butter from Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations. I made it in a loaf pan and it was super cute. I did stress a little, thinking about how I should have made a glaze rather than the butter, since it would have looked more festive. Someone should have slapped me. The combination was awesome.

So at least I ate well. It's getting harder and harder to sit down to large celebrations that are so closely linked with a practice that I find so utterly revolting. It's heartbreaking and frustrating at best. I don't want to dwell too long on that right now. I'll keep dreaming of a day when I have the space to host the type of celebration of thanks that I'd like to see - one of hope, love, and compassion for everyone.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ginger Whiskey Truffles

You can't have a proper Birthday Dinner without a celebratory dessert. I actually picked out the dessert nearly a month ago, and doing so inspired my post on MoFo Ideas That I'd Like to Try. When I saw these Whiskey and Ginger Truffles on Tea and Sympatico, I knew that I had found the perfect dessert for the bourbon-drinker in my life.

The truffles were super easy to make, except for one thing. As an American, I'm not used to measuring things in terms of mass, and I'm really not used to that near-mythological metric system. Luckily, I have a kitchen scale, and was able to measure everything in grams. While doing so, I took the time to figure out what that would mean in cups and tablespoons.

The really cool thing though, is that when I wrote to the author, she gave me permission to repost the recipe with the converted measurements! She informed me that hers is based on a recipe she found at her local food co-op, The Eighth Day.

If you want an alcohol-free version, or just a base version to experiment, check them out here. T&S informed me that she's experimented with variations like chocolate and orange, rum and raisin, and cherry and coconut, which have all turned out great.

I'll probably experiment a lot and then give away tins full as gifts, since they're easy and delicious. I'm thinking a crème de menthe version would be great for the holidays. The ginger whiskey were rich and decadent, and they left me feeling fancy and smug, like that one guy in Mad Men who's always in his scotty dog pajama pants. You know the guy.

If you want to feel that way too, but, like me, you're too American to be bothered by a logical and easy system of weights and measures, just follow the easy recipe below, and have your girl bring you your finest cozy jams.

Ginger Whiskey Truffles
with permission from Tea and Sympatico

3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
2.5 tbsp vegan margarine
1 tbsp whiskey
1 tbsp non-dairy creamer
1/3 cup ground almonds (grind up 1/4 cup of whole almonds)
1.5 cups powdered sugar
5 large pieces of crystallized ginger chopped into tiny pieces
cocoa powder for rolling

  • In a pot over low heat, melt the chocolate and margarine together.
  • Stir in the cream and whiskey, followed by the rest of the ingredients.
  • Chilling in the fridge until the mixture cools, and is firm to the touch.
  • Roll the mix into walnut-sized balls and roll them in cocoa.
  • Store them in a covered container in the refrigerator.

And that's it! Super easy. These took me less than 10 minutes to mix and cook, and the batter firmed up enough as I left the pot on the stove to cool a bit. The rolling step is fast too. The measurements above are approximate, but I can tell you that none of them are heaping. When in doubt, err on the side of under-measurements, as you can always add more of whatever to mix on the stove.

By the way, they're great with coffee in the morning.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Birthday Dinner

With the pizza long gone, it was time to try the Grilled Seitan Caponata with Lemon Pilaf from The Sexy Vegan Cookbook.

Let me start by saying that I began this recipe on Tuesday so that it would be ready Thursday night. Brian Patton says upfront that the dish is "quite a production," and he wasn't kidding. This recipe requires 5 recipes from the book. I cheated just a little though. I had seitan cutlets from American Vegan Kitchen in my freezer, so I used those.

On Tuesday morning I took said cutlets from the freezer to thaw, since I'll need to marinate them for 1-4 hours. I also soaked the beans, salted the eggplant, and roasted the tomatoes. I made the Tomato Killer, which is the sauce that forms the base of the Caponata, cooked the beans, and made the Caponata that night. It took forever with all the chopping and simmering. I did this in part to save time Thursday, but also to make pizza for dinner, which I'll write about later.

On Wednesday, I marinated the seitan, and I made the dessert, which you'll hear more about later.

Finally, on Thursday, I grilled the seitan, made the pilaf, and put the whole thing together.

It's not necessary to begin so far in advance, but there is a lot of down time that makes this impractical without planning ahead. This is definitely a Sunday dinner scenario, where you have the whole day to roast, and soak, and salt, and wait. Also, I was working late on Thursday, so I knew I couldn't come home and try to put together a smashing dinner in record time. Even still, I put way more time into this meal than I have into any in a long time. So was it worth it?

I know that having to make a bunch of recipes from one book to make a single dish is a sticking point for a lot reviewers. I always grumble at first when I see that, but it's not so bad. In fact, making stuff from scratch is one of the real joys of cooking. You can exercise some serious quality control that way.

In this case, I have mixed feelings.

I do like the Caponata. It's all veggie and it you can't help but feeling you're getting a better nutritional experience than you might be with plain old marinara, which is the suggested substitute if you're feeling lazy. Plus, the texture really adds a lot in terms of making it feel like a full meal.

The Lemon Pilaf was bright and zesty. I liked the contrast with the heavier tomato flavor of the sauce. However, I wish I would have made this dish in the early spring or late summer. The veggies make more sense during those times, and the flavors just make more sense then.

Like I said earlier, the seitan was from another book, but I don't think that was a problem. I should have grilled it in my new George Foreman rather than laz-ing out and pan cooking it, so that it would have been crisper. I know that's user error, but one recipe complaint that I have is that it was too lemony. In the future, I'd reduce the amount of lemon juice by half in the marinade.

So in the end, this dish didn't knock my socks off as I'd hoped, but it was pretty good. I can't say that I'd make it this way again as it was so involved, but it might be interesting to play around in order to come up with a simpler, more flavorful version.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Curry and Cabbage

The description of the Butternut Squash and Green Beans in a Coconut-Milk Curry in 5 Spices, 50 Dishes suggests using the leftover butternut squash in a raita, which is a lot like a salad or relish, and is meant to be an accompaniment to an entree in keeping with Ayurvedic cooking practices.

So I flipped to the appropriate chapter in the book, just to take a peak, and I noticed the Tangy Shredded Cabbage Salad. I still had some purple cabbage left over, so I figured it would be a nice side.

I figured right. The salad lives up to its name, and would be a surprising substitute for coleslaw at a family picnic. It was particularly nice next to the rich Butternut Squash and Green Beans in a Coconut-Milk Curry. I love curries as it is, and I think making this recipe has taught me a better way to do it. It's also the first dish from this book that gave me a flood of ideas for altering it. Not because it was bad, but because it seems so versatile. I'd particularly like to add tofu or tempeh in the future.

The author, Ruta Kahate, suggests serving with steamed Jasmine rice, but I didn't have any. Instead, I went the other direction, and prepared a rugged wild rice blend. It worked perfectly, but next time, I'll prepare my rice with cinnamon. I think it'll do a lot to compliment the coconut milk and spice.

These are just two more winners from this book. I still have a dish or two to make, but I'll be tapping some of those other books this week. Eventually though, I'll return to 5/50 so that I can work on my veganizing skills.