Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Pecan Gateau with Praline Buttercream

I had my doubts that this month's Daring Bakers challenge would actually get done. I was away from my kitchen every weekend of the month. But something told me that I would enjoy the result of this challenge, so I rallied and did some daring baking the day before posting! (I'm usually not a procrastinator with such things) The challenge was a filbert gateau (i.e. cake) moistened with simple syrup, layered with praline buttercream, topped with apricot glaze, and finished with a chocolate ganache. Being the Texas girl that I am, instead of using hazelnuts for the challenge, I used the nut of our beloved state tree (and my mom's favorite); the pecan.
I must admit that with the time crunch, it was tempting to crack open a bag of pre-made pralines. But in the spirit of the challenge, I made them from scratch. Growing up, my mom and sister often made pralines and often complained about the finicky nature of candy making, especially in a humid climate. My experience was no different (I singed the ends of my hair!), luckily it didn't matter that I had one massive praline because it went in the food processor to making praline paste. But just to show I made them, here they are....
Veganizing this challenge was a cinch. For the originally egg-laden genoise, I used the recipe for the virtuous vanilla cake from Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally, substituting 1 cup of ground pecans for the 1 cup of whole wheat flour called for. For the buttercream, I used the tried and true fluffy buttercream recipe from VCTOTW, adding a splash of Grand Marnier to complement the apricot glaze. The combination of the praline paste and buttercream yielded amazing results.
Now I am a bit saddened that I only made a mini-cake. At least I have this last piece of cake to enjoy....

Next up, my baking adventure in NYC! (promise, this daring bakers challenge really snuck up on me!)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

NYC - I Have Never Eaten This Much Food in my Life

So much I'm not sure how I digested all of it (maybe I still am ;-). My weeklong visit to NYC was full of amazing food, inspiring sights, blogger meetups, hanging out with two of my favorite people (my mom and sis) and lots and lots of baking (stay tuned for my vegan baking bootcamp post!). Watch out, this is a mega picture post.

After arriving in the city, I was in the mood for a light dinner, so I headed south to Sacred Chow in the village for vegan tapas. I ordered a trio of tapas including bbq seitan with cabbage, raw kale salad, and root vegetable latkes with Indonesian date butter. This was my first latke experience, and I was not disappointed. Friendly staff as well :-)

On my second night in the city, I went out with a new found friend from class to Pure Food & Wine for some fancy raw food. We decided to share all of our dishes. For starters, there was veggie sushi (I think the rice was daikon?) and an arugula salad with watermelon, a refreshing start on a hot evening. Then we enjoyed "chevre cheese" stuffed squash blossoms with heirloom tomatoes and avocado as well as a spanikopita with root vegetables (the dots are grapes!). Both dishes were amazing and it was hard to believe they were raw! We couldn't leave without dessert, and since it was quite warm sitting on their back patio, I chose the Thin Mint Sundae. Mint and chocolate ice cream paired with a chocolate cookie, very heavenly. I highly recommend trying Pure the next time you're in NYC.

Red Bamboo is know for its wide selection of tasty faux meats, and it did not disappoint. After a day full of dessert tasting, I was in the mood for something a bit lighter, and definitely not fried. The grilled bourbon chicken was very tasty. The plain steamed veggies on the side were a bit boring and bland, but I was actually in the mood for that.

Even with all the desserts from class, I somehow was able to make it to Atlas Cafe twice during the week to pick up something from the massive Vegan Treats dessert case (I did at least make the 2 mile walk from Chelsea!). There was Death by Chocolate Cake and Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake. Both were devoured, but the peanut butter (top right) with added fervor.

On Wednesday night I met up with VKO from Lifestyles of the Chic and Vegan at Candle Cafe. We started with the very popular seitan chimichurri, pleasant texture and delicious flavor. For dinner I had one of the evening's specials, walnut crusted tempeh over quinoa with sauteed green beans, good, but not nearly as delicious as the cajun seitan sandwich that VKO got (which she also recommended to me, doh! should have listened). We saved a little bit of room for dessert, the chocolate mousse pie, yum! But of course, the sweetest part of the meal was visiting with VKO! She was even kind enough to lend me her umbrella for the rainy walk/subway ride back to Chelsea.

My mom arrived in NYC on Thursday to spend the weekend (my sis took a red eye and came the next morning), so we headed south for dinner to Wild Ginger. Samosas to start, then I had the black pepper seitan while my mom went with the pad thai. Next time I would choose different menu options because none of these were particular favorites. But I've heard many good things about Wild Ginger, so I would definitely try again.

Friday night we enjoyed an early, relaxed dinner at Blossom in Chelsea. Lots of delicious food, including the phyllo roulade, sweet potato gnocchi, and stuffed portobello mushroom. My favorite was the roulade with the lentil stuffing served over swiss chard, very filling and hearty. For dessert we sampled the cheesecake, pretty plain and simple.

And another blogger meet up! Bazu from Where's the Revolution was in town with her husband celebrating his birthday, so VKO and I met up with the two of them at Blossom Cafe on the Upper West Side. Bazu brought us vegan butterscotch chips! All of my food photos were kind of so-so, but I had the grilled tofu salad, which was just what I needed after finishing cake day at bootcamp. Luckily the blogger photo turned out (on the left the three of us, and on the right from a few nights before). These two meetups were one of my favorite things about the trip...

Of course, I didn't just eat and blogtalk my way through NYC, I enjoyed spending time in Central Park getting lost in the maze of trails, spotting turtles, and seeing the first fireflies of my life (lower right picture, those bright spots!). We also spent time in the Metropolitan, Guggenheim, and MoMA (my favorite), saw a Broadway show (Legally Blonde), and shopped on 5th Ave (no purchases).

After a long day of roaming the city, we were ready for our fancy dinner at Candle 79. For starters we had some veggie sushi to refresh our palates, then we went seitan crazy!! My mom and I split the seitan piccata and one of their specials for the evening, a pumpkin seed crusted seitan over rice and a kind of cuban bean stew. Certainly some of the best seitan I've ever had. For dessert we split the brownie sundae with ancho chocolate sauce. I think I could have eaten three of these.

I viewed the city from atop the Empire State building, took a ferry out to admire Lady Liberty, saw some the the NYC waterfalls, and even saw a Houston Astros version of the Statue of Liberty (on parade for the baseball all star game that week).

On Sunday afternoon, we attempted to visit the Natural History Museum, but were turned away due to a "special event"... what a bummer! But we made up for it by revisiting Blossom Cafe for black-eyed pea cakes, quesadillas, and the best vegan burger I've ever had... the soy bacon cheeseburger. Greasy and good. And what goes better with a burger than a chocolate peanut butter shake? Well, nothing.

My last day in the city came too quickly. I had some errands to run on the Lower East Side, so we stopped at Teany cafe for a quick lunch. I was most impressed with the chicken salad sandwich and my raspberry lime ricky, a refreshing drink on a hot day.

And the errands? Cupcakes from Babycakes. On the left gluten free chocolate and on the right spelt lemon. I wasn't thrilled with the texture of either cupcakes, but I did really enjoy their brownie bites. And such a cute little bakery! And I loved quote on the back of the cupcake boxes, "Saving your behind, one cupcake at a time".

Had to hit up Economy Candy for vegan lentils (aka m&ms). Just inhaling the sugar in this place is enough to send you into a coma. And since my favorite pair of work shoes was ripping at the seams after years of wear, we visited Mooshoes where I walked out with some green Molly shoes and an herbivore shirt. Now that's my idea of shopping... who needs 5th Ave?

Whew, sorry if some of that seemed random, I've been trying to get this post up for almost two weeks now! But this isn't the last you've seen of my trip to NYC. Just wait for all the bootcamp desserts!! And thanks to everyone who gave me vegan foodie advice!
I'm on Cape Cod right now with all of my inlaws, sorry I haven't been visiting blogs regularly! I return home for good this weekend and will play catchup.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Las Vegas in a NY Minute

Happy late 4th of July!! Just thought I would show off my Stars and Stripes cobbler (recipe based on this one from Everyday Dish).

I should be sleeping right now, but here's a quick run down of our trip to Las Vegas. Thanks to stonie brook for her suggestions! The first place we hit up was the Go Raw Cafe down by the airport. For lunch, I had the enchilada. Very refreshing after stuffing my face with way too much food the day before in San Fran.

And of course, what trip to Vegas would be complete with out a little... no, not gambling (for me at least).... vegan donuts from Ronald's! I roused up John and the couple we met in Vegas to drive out and get some donuts one morning. This place looks like a normal donut show, but the top two shelved are all vegan! These reminded me of the donuts I used to have growing up. We tried chocolate covered, cream filled, glazed, and what John referred to as an "apple burrito".

After donuts, we made a trip out to the Hoover Dam, quite an amazing engineering accomplishment!

Other things we did in Vegas... walk the strip, see two shows (go see Le Reve!), watch John play blackjack, ate overpriced sushi. And I got a preview of the city where I am right now.... New York!

Can't wait to catch up with what everyone has been up to!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 .... Launch!

A launch party that is! We went out to San Francisco this past weekend (and then onto Vegas, the topic of a separate post) to attend the launch party as "VIPs" (haha) for the July/August issue of VegNews magazine. After a delayed flight due to the smoky skies around the city, we finally arrived, dropped our bags at the hotel, and rushed up to North Beach ...

Lunch was at The Usual Suspects, a new (and sadly, may no longer be open?) vegan/vegetarian cafe nestled up against Telegraph Hill (literally!). Since we hadn't eaten all day (and it was 3pm our time), we started with some taquitos served with an creamy dipping sauce. They were gobbled up of course. John went with a big salad topped with lots of veggies and cashews while I had the schawarma stuffed with seitan (no good pic of that). But the best part of the meal? Chatting with Melisser (who was there frosting 200+ mini cupcakes for the launch party, part of her Sugar Beat Sweets business) and sampling her chocolate cupcake with tangerine frosting. Heavenly! Maybe someday she'll give me the secret to what makes her frosting so fluffy.
After a relaxing afternoon of strolling through North Beach, we headed down to SOMO for the launch party at the Electric Works art gallery. After scoping out the silent auction items, we perused the artwork for a bit before the crowds starting arriving. I had a blast meeting VegNews staffers, fellow bloggers, ppkers, and even someone that recognized me from reading my blog (hi Kenya!). The martinis and wine flowed like water. And Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers jazzed up the evening with their saucy tunes.
During the party, appetizers from local veg eateries (including Millennium, Usual Suspects, and Herbivore) were passed by a wonderful group of volunteers. As dessert time drew near, we stationed ourselves near the bar and managed to score 4 mini cupcakes, courtesy of Sugar Beat Sweets. As you can tell from the photo, they went fast!
Even though it had been a long day, and almost midnight Houston-time, we couldn't not eat at Millennium on our brief trip to Frisco. So we forced ourselves :-) We started off with a roasted beet appetizer with hazelnuts, so delicious. John ordered a salad for dinner... let me just say that it was quite possibly the best salad I've ever tasted. And dang, I don't remember what it was called. There were greens, fingerling potatoes, smoked tofu, other stuff I'm forgetting, but oh I will never forget how much I loved it. For my entree, I had coconut black pepper crusted tofu, served with fragrant rice, oyster mushrooms, edamame and some other veggies. Dessert was a must, even after 1 full size and 4 mini cupcakes that day. I must not have satisfied my chocolate fix yet, because I ordered the chocolate almond midnight. We got it to go and headed back to our hotel room. Most of it was actually eaten the next morning for breakfast!
6:30 am the next morning came fast. The 17 hour trip to San Francisco was a whirlwind of vegan food & sweets, music, art, and new & friendly faces. Wish we had more time, but we'll be back...
I am heading out of town again this Sunday, so forgive me for not visiting blogs the week I'm gone! I do have a post or two lined up to publish while I'm away though. And once I return, I will have some vegan baking bootcamp stories to tell and lots of sweets to show.... NYC here I come! (any advice on where to eat is welcomed of course)