Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Opera Cake!

After months of seeing Hannah of Bittersweet and Jessie of Cakespy post their delicious concoctions from the Daring Bakers Challenge, and more recently from Shellyfish from Musings from the Fishbowl, and Bex from How to Feed a Vegan, I decided to get in on the baking action with my first challenge. At the unveiling of this month's challenge, I was both nervous and excited. As I read the challenge description for opera cake, I couldn't help but hum Toreador! (if you've heard Carmen, you will of course be adding the extra oomph to the end) I have certainly never attempted, or even eaten, an opera cake. But I've seen them, oh yes. Layers of almond cake with decadent coffee buttercream and chocolate mousse and glaze. It is enough to make a chocolate lover bust out in song (opera, of course). But the rules specified that this opera cake was to be light in color and in flavor. Although this was initially a bit disappointing, I knew that this was why I joined Daring Bakers... I make chocolate stuff all the time. I needed to attempt something new. So here it is, my Raspberry Lemon Opera Cake with a white chocolate drizzle (I am hearing Entre'Act in my head, an appropriate entrance that I also used for my recent walk down the aisle).
Being an "alternative" daring baker (the recipe we were given was a far cry from being vegan, I think there was something like 12+ eggs!), I had to change a few things and used different recipes for pretty much everything except the syrup that I soaked the cake in. Let's start with the jaconde, aka, the cake. I used the almond cupcake recipe from VCTOTW, because really, that little book has never failed me. I increased the almond meal for a more pronounced almond flavor, used raspberry soy yogurt (although I don't think you could really tell), and baked it in a jelly roll pan to produce three layers of cake. After cooling and gently removing the cake from the pan and cutting into three rectangles, each layer got a healthy drizzle of lemon simple syrup before the next element was added....
Buttercream! Raspberry buttercream that is. I used a raspberry syrup I found at our mega-liquor store (Spec's for those of you in the Houston area) as the liquid for a traditional vegan buttercream. I chose not to use any shortening since no piping was involved and I could afford a softer frosting consistency. Each layer of buttercream was topped with chopped fresh raspberries, adding both extra flavor and color.
The final two layers were the greatest challenge, a mousse and to finish it off, a glaze. In order to bring out the lemon flavor a bit more, I decided to make a lemon mousse. I used a silken tofu base, fresh lemon juice, lemon extract, sugar, vanilla, and some cream cheese to help it set a bit. I was quite pleased that there was some leftover after slathering it on the cake, the rest of the afternoon I happily dipped my finger in the food processor bowl until it was gone.
The white chocolate glaze I approached with much caution. Back in December I had a disaster trying to make a ganache out of some vegan white chocolate chips, and ended up wasting an entire bag. But I did manage to get enough white chocolate to drizzle (never posted about it, but you can see the cake here), so that's what I did this time. Much to my surprise, it went much smoother (literally!) than I had anticipated! It also provided just enough embellishment on the cake that all it needed was a few fresh raspberries for garnish.

It may not be the prettiest opera cake (I wish my edges had been a little cleaner), but let me tell you, it tasted divine. I especially loved the bites where I could squeeze an additional fresh raspberry on my fork. Totally worth the time, effort, and thought. Now I can't wait to see what next month's challenge is!
Be sure to check out other daring baker posts, listed on their blogroll.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hope for the Western Slope

Now that I've returned from my trip to the field (and gotten my baggage finally... a whole other story), I'm finally sitting down to catch up on blogs. I actually ate much better on the western slope than I thought I would. Unfortunately, I also didn't take as many pictures as I thought I would, but here's what I ended up with.

In Grand Junction, this was painted on an abandoned building behind our hotel. "Hope for the Western Slope". This helped set the tone for the rest of the trip, at least foodwise for me. Our first night in Grand Junction was a Sunday, so several of the restaurants I wanted to try were closed (welcome to small town USA!). Luckily, our hotel rooms had a microwave, so an Amy's black bean burrito was my dinner for the night. I was also able to make my own oatmeal in the morning (which I did all week) and brought some single servings of soy milk as well.

Night 2 was a little rougher. We were in Green River, Utah. Ray's Tavern is a famous geologist's hang out (not sure why). See their sign bragging that it's the place for everyone? Everyone except vegans that is. They had a Boca burger on the menu, but it wasn't vegan and besides, they cooked it on the same grill as everything else. Bleh. So I ended up with an iceberg lettuce salad and a plain baked potato. Better than nothing I guess. This is where my snacks came in handy.
Night 3 we were in Moab, Utah. It probably wouldn't have been too tough to find a decent meal in this touristy town, but I was even luckier to meet up with a childhood friend who made me this tasty salad using local greens....
And veggie sushi filled with asparagus, mango, tofu, carrots, green onions, and arugula. Plus there was a big bowl of cherries and some coconut sorbet (mmmmm) for dessert. Thanks Meg for an amazing dinner and of course your company!
Our final night we were back in Grand Junction at a local restaurant for the group dinner, il bistro Italiano. The chef was very sweet and made me a huge bowl of pasta with lots of veggies, a portobello mushroom with red sauce, and a salad. I ended up stuffed but somehow still had room for one of the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I brought with me (Uncle Eddie's brand).
And here's one of the more scenic pictures I took in Colorado National Monument, with some storms brewing in the background. I love being out west, the scenery was amazing. But my stomach and dry eyes and skin are glad to be back home in Houston.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Rock Hound

This might surprise you, but as a geologist I seldom get to actually look at rocks anymore. Mostly, I sit in front of a computer or in meetings like the rest of the working world. But this week, I get a chance to actually get up close and personal with some spectacular rocks in Colorado and Utah. And the scenery isn't bad either! (this photo of the Delicate Arch was from a previous work field trip)

I'll be staying in Grand Junction, Colorado as well as both Green River and Moab, Utah. Don't worry I have lots of snacks packed (seems like half my suitcase is full of food!). And luckily I also have friend in Moab who was kind enough to offer to cook me dinner one night! I'll be updating on Twitter and maybe sending a few phone pics.

But, don't want to leave you without any food posts. Here's a quick dinner that John fixed us this week, Sesame Soy Curls with Asparagus and Quinoa from vegan yumyum. I tried to get John to guest blog about it, but he's a little shy :-) Another tasty way to eat soy curls.
I'll return on Friday to catch up with blogs and hopefully get a post in of my own!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Go Vegan Art Car

Saturday was the 21st annual Houston Art Car Parade, and this year there was a vegan-themed entry by Society of PEACE! We spent the last five weeks painting this car. I'll let the pictures speak mostly for themselves...
The view of the trunk, which says "Peace begins on your plate" and "We are not food, clothing, test subjects, or entertainment". Isn't the monkey cute with his little banana? And the mouse? And check out our vegan license plate!
A view of the front and top of the car. The car design was inspired by vegan artist Peter Max. We were so lucky to have an artist in our group to do the drawing, Michelle did an amazing job!
During the tailgate party, we took the opportunity to do some outreach and set up a vegan literature table.
A vegan close-up.... I love the strawberries!
And just so you know we didn't starve, here's some of our snacks.... chips, carrots, hummus, grapes, pasta salad ....
Tings, empanadas, and peanut butter cracker sandwiches.
Here we are driving in the parade! We heard so many positive comments, lots of "go vegan" shouts, and plenty of smiles, waves, and peace signs.
We handed out vegan postcards with fruit along the parade route. They went fast! Notice our Vegan fake tattoos (brought back from Seattle by by mom)? We also got shirts for the occasion with the art car design on front and our Society of PEACE logo on the back (view and purchase one here).
And more food, muffins! Almond quinoa and low fat banana muffins both from Vcon.
I promised you more cake, and here it is. This is my first fondant covered cake! I swirled green and blue fondant to match our Society of PEACE logo. We all returned to our place after the parade and got to enjoy this treat, as well as some air conditioning (no ac in the car and it was in the 90's!).
Inside shot! The cake was red velvet with a vanilla buttercream frosting. More about fondant in a later post...
John snapped this photo of me waving from the car during the parade. By the end of the day we all felt like we'd been in the vegan Miss America pageant!
Although our car didn't win any prizes (there's always next year...), we were happy knowing that we got out the "Go Vegan" message to over 200,000 Houstonians!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Vote for our Vegan Art Car!

Voting is over now.... :-)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Houston Vegans Celebrate!

This past weekend, Houstonian vegans gathered to celebrate two milestones..... the 6th birthday of the Go Vegan Texas radio show and the opening of a new all vegan restaurant, World Veggie Cuisine. **Update 06-06-08 Sad to report that World Veggie Cuisine is no longer open** First, the food. The buffet was huge, about half raw items, and included cajun, ethiopian, and comfort food. On my plate below I have bbq seitan, lentils with injera, potato salad, sprout salad, chickn empanada, green salad, and black beans. This wasn't even close to everything that was served. The food was delicious, and I think my favorite was the potato salad. It's very exciting to have another vegan option for dining out!

After dinner, we honored the founders and hosts of Go Vegan Texas, including Janice Blue (pictured below), Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, Jerrilyn Halbert, and Kristen Lee Ohanyan, as well as their longtime sound engineer Mark McGuire. They told the stories of how the show began, challenges over the years, and hope for the future. We are so lucky to have an all vegan radio program here in Houston!
We also had a raffle to raise money for Society of PEACE. The prize? A vegan cake that I baked and decorated. Almond torte with a strawberry mousse and fresh strawberry filling and frosted with an almond buttercream. The raffle raised over $50!
Here is a close-up of my buttercream flowers (yellow chrysanthemums and pink rose) in my basketweave "basket" with a rope border. This is probably my best rose to date! I've had some issues with my icing being the right consistency. But with my new stand mixer (thanks honey!), things seem to be improving. Oh, and since several of you asked how I got the embroidered affect; it was easy! Simply ice your cake smooth then wait approximately 10-15 minutes for the icing to crust over. Then, take a paper towel (this is where the print comes from, so they will vary by brand) and a fondant smoother (or your hand) and essentially "iron" your cake.
Since the cake was being raffled off, I wanted to sneak a taste of my creation. So using the leftover cake after leveling, I made my own little mini cake. The mousse came out kind of runny, but it was still delicious! And as it turns out, I got to have another taste, since the person who won the raffle graciously shared the cake with everyone after the dinner. Aren't vegans nice?
I hope you're not sick of seeing pictures of cakes, because there's another few headed your way soon. That, and pictures of the art car! The parade rolls tomorrow! Expect a full report by Monday....

Monday, May 5, 2008


In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I made my first mole sauce! I used the recipe for the Chile Chocolate Mole from V-con. Then I just sauteed some lightlife chikn strips (my first time trying these as well), onion, and zuchinni and topped with plenty of the mole. This sauce is amazing, and if you haven't had a chance to make it yet, go do it! It's not one I've seen much of on other blogs, so I just thought I would give it a little plug. On the side we had a salad with grape tomatoes, crushed blue corn chips, mango salsa, and guacamole. And yes, that's tequila in the background. A perfect way to celebrate this Mexican holiday. Ole!

I know I have been slacking on the posts lately. I've got several lined up that I need to get to.... battle vegan cheese, a vegan restaurant opening/Go Vegan Texas celebration, and some other random stuff. My excuse? Lots of art car painting. And cake decorating. Both of which you will see in upcoming posts as well!