Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Lavash

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge marks a momentous occasion... I didn't have to make a single substitution to make the recipe vegan! That's because this month's lovely hosts are members of the Alternative Daring Bakers, representing both vegan and gluten free... Shel of Musings from the Fish Bowl and Natalie from Gluten a Go Go. The challenge? Make vegan, and optionally gluten-free, lavash (an Armenian cracker bread) topped with a spice mixture of your choice and a vegan dip! It was nice to have so much freedom to play around with the flavors. And luckily, my post-Ike power situation was resolved this week (after 12 days without power), so I was able to bake with my own oven!

Even though we made Armenian-style lavash crackers, I chose an Egyptian spice mixture as a topping. Dukkah is a blend of dry nuts, seeds, and spices. The dukkah I made has slivered almonds, sesame seeds, cumin seeds, fenungreek, dried thyme, black peppercorns, and sea salt all toasted lightly, then ground into a coarse meal (photo below is just after toasting).
I was a bit pressed for time last night when I made these crackers. We were having a dinner party and I was making three other dishes at the same time, so I chose a simple dip for the lavash that would let the dukkah spice mixture shine through. This is a traditional hummus recipe from Veganomicon, finished with a light dusting of paprika and a drizzle of olive oil.
As for the lavash, they are crispy and full of flavor. In fact, I am eating them for breakfast with leftover hummus as I type this post. Best of all, they were very easy to make and my dinner guests were impressed with homemade crackers!
I hope all of the Daring Bakers had fun with this challenge and saw how easy it is to bake with vegan ingredients! There has not been a challenge yet that I couldn't complete, baking vegan allows you to experiment and be creative. I would encourage anyone to join us as an alternative baker any month to see how much fun it can be. Thanks again Natalie and Shel for a challenge that will go down in daring bakers history!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Ike Didn't Beat Up My Basil" Cupcakes

Hurricane Ike may have taken away my oven, but it sure didn't take away my will to bake (though it did provide the inspiration) for the Iron Cupcake Earth, Battle Basil Challenge.

Since we still don't have power at our house (going on Day12), and baking without an oven can be a bit challenging, I spent Sunday baking at my parent's house. Their basil survived Ike's strong winds and rain, and presented a perfect opportunity to add local ingredients to this month's challenge. Here is the basil basking in the morning sunlight, ready for the rare opportunity to be paired with a cupcake.My inspiration for these cupcakes came in several forms. I wanted the frosting swirls to look like a satellite view of the hurricane, which meant leaving a hole in the middle to represent the eye of the storm. After the storm, our garage was speckled with leaf debris, and in cupcake form this meant torn pieces of basil as the "sprinkles".
The morphology of this cupcake was kept pretty simple with a traditional chocolate cupcake filled with basil infused chocolate mousse and topped with swirled vanilla bean and basil buttercream.
These cupcakes were delicious, just the perfect amount of basil without being overwhelming and ruining the overall chocolate flavor.
And don't forget, you decide who wins Battle Basil in the Iron Cupcake Earth Challenge! Voting starts September 27 at noon here. And the winner will receive lots of cool prizes from Etsy artist Metal Sugar, Fiesta Products, Hello Cupcake, Jessie Steele Aprons, Cupcake Courier, and Taste of Home. Lots of other vegan bloggers are participating, so take a minute and vote for your favorite so a vegan cupcake wins this round!

And I must apologize for being a bit absent on many of your blogs lately, I feel so out of the loop! Without power I have limited internet time at work during the day. I am trying though and will get around to commenting eventually... thanks for your patience. And I promise my next post won't be anything Ike related!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hunkered Down: Our Hurricane Ike Story

Having grown up here in Houston, hurricanes are not a new thing to me. I was about 4 years old when the last big hurricane (Alicia) hit Houston and my memories of it include playing on a tire swing the day before the storm and taking a walk outside when the eye passed over us. Hurricane Ike has certainly left a bigger impression on me, so I thought I would share some photos and a few thoughts about my experience.

The night before the hurricane, I was pretty relaxed. With Rita missing us at the last minute three years ago, and the fact that we are pretty far inland, I wasn't too worried. I stocked up on some food that day, and would have filled up my gas tank except all the stations on my way home were out of gas. We removed all the porch furniture, and put some of our more fragile plants inside the garage. Then I made dinner.... a delicious salad with roasted shallot dressing, chickpea romesco (from VCON), and mustard crusted seitan (from YRR). We went to bed with full bellies, hoping we would wake up to news that the storm had weakened as it neared land.

Sleeping on Friday night when the hurricane hit was next to impossible. Our power went off around midnight and in addition to the howling winds shaking the house, it was starting to get very warm without the air conditioner. Finally around 2am, John got up to peek outside some of the windows. At that point he told me to get dressed and ready to leave, because there was a fire about 25m from our house! The picture is really blurry, but you can see the fire trucks and flames coming off a Houston restaurant (Brennan's). We were worried that with the high winds, the fire might start moving, but thankfully they got it under control.

Several hours later, after the eye of the storm passed and the sun came up, we awoke to find street flooding that was almost up to our doorstep. Thankfully, the water began receding after I snapped this photo.

After concluding that our townhome didn't sustain any major damage (except for the plants we left outside all got knocked over), we took a walk down our street to see how the neighborhood fared. We saw lots of downed trees.....

This one knocked down a power line and clipped the edge of the house right across the street from us.

This tree blocked the entire street until someone with a chainsaw came by and made room for cars to pass.
And this tree came down with so much force that it shoved a car out of it's way!
Luckily though many of our huge, beautiful live oak trees survived the storm, minus a few branches here and there.

The streets were littered with debris, including roof shingles, leaves and branches, styrofoam board, and signs....
Such as a piece of the Jack in the Box sign on Montrose.
And a Montrose street sign that blew down from a stoplight intersection.

Sadly, there were also signs of looting, such as at the Berryhill on Montrose (along with their torn up patio)....
And the Starbucks in the same parking lot with a smashed in window.
After our walk through the neighborhood, I noticed how our garages were covered with pieces of leaves. Looks like something you would see in a modern art museum.
That night, with candles and flashlights to light the way, a hand-crank rechargeable radio to cut the silence, our last bit of cold champagne for a mimosa, and our leftovers from the warming fridge, we ate dinner. Our "hurricane hash", John arranged the plate to look a bit disheveled, with the green beans leaning over like many of our neighborhood trees. Our hash included chickpea romesco leftovers, homemade seitan, mushrooms, and green beans.

At this point, I pretty much stopped taking pictures. Sunday was much of the same, we took walks, cleaned up the yard and packed up what was left in the fridge into coolers. Everything we had in the freezer (including the last bit of wedding cake... our 1 year anniversary is next week) ended up getting tossed. We headed out to my parents house where they had power and stayed till Monday evening (Thanks mom & dad for a place to crash and for feeding us well!!). Then we got a call from a neighbor that our power was back on. We rushed home only to remember that our townhomes are on two sets of transformers... and we are on the other one.

We still don't have power... I am back at work right now typing this up. We are still trying to salvage our refrigerator food, so the search for ice is constant. I still haven't attempted to get gas because the lines have been so long. But slowly, things are returning back to normal. And it's easy to see how lucky we were compared to many in the surrounding area, especially the areas hardest hit.

I hope to get around to visit blogs in the coming days, especially if our power is restored. And I am really hoping to get back in the kitchen soon (though thankfully we do have a gas stove)! Thank you so much for everyone's thoughts and well wishes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Blogging Break Due to Ike

Just wanted to let everyone know that we are okay!! We still have no power where we live (some water pressure), but luckily my parents on the west side of the city do have power, so we drove out here this afternoon. Thanks for everyone's concern! I hope to be back to blogging soon... I definitely have some pictures and stories to share.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pushing 30

I am now officially in the last year of my 20's. Here I am blowing out the first of two sets of candles.

If you remember my birthday last year, John made me an ice cream cake. Well this year he outdid himself and made a mocha devastation cake (from My Sweet Vegan) and got fancy with a piping bag! It was a lesson in patience to stand by and watch someone else decorate a cake, but I tried my best to keep my mouth shut (except I had to say something when he accidentally wrote a "b" instead of a '"p" in "happy"). I can't wait to see how he tops this next year!!
Sunday was the Houston Vegan Knitters first meeting, the perfect occassion to make knit cupcakes (inspired of course by vegan yumyum's version)! Simple vanilla cupcakes with chocolate buttercream right out of VCTOTW decorated with natural sprinkles and fondant "knitting". One was a mini-version of my very first knitting project, a pink and white dishcloth (which I'm still working on). I am so excited for more knitting projects, including making blankets to donate to pet shelters, a hobo bag, belt, fruit cozies, cupcakes, and maybe a scarf or two. Now I just need to learn how to purl....
I have been in the mood to make a fancy dinner ever since I saw the recipe for Emerald Rice Cakes in the June 2008 Vegetarian Times (originally from Millennium). There were four separate elements to this dish, including a butternut squash puree, habanero jerk sauce, homemade seitan and cauliflower stir fry, and jasmine rice cakes. It was certainly worth all of the work, and the puree and sauce could easily be made a few days ahead.

And on my actual birthday (the 8th), my mom made me a chocolate pecan pie (from La Dolce Vegan), since the weekend had been been filled with too much cake already. The two red candles apparently represented 10 candles each.... 29 candles on one cake is a bit too much.
Thanks so much to everyone for the birthday wishes!!! And a special thanks to my family and friends for making it such a special weekend.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Invasion of my Wok

It was just like any other ordinary evening. After prepping the veggies I got out my wok to start stir frying. I casually grabbed the bottle of olive oil and drizzled a bit in the pan, turned my back to grab a spatula for only a moment, then returned to my wok to find this weird little guy looking back up at me.
You know how sometimes you see produce that is just so beautiful that you put it in your basket and forget to check the price until you see it flash on the computer screen at check-out? This happened to me with some gorgeous graffiti eggplants (not sure why I didn't photograph it), now forever known as the $7 eggplant. I kept it simple and served the eggplant napoletana style with artichokes, tomatoes, and capers from VWAV. Being a somewhat picky eggplant eater, I thought the graffiti eggplant had a milder flavor, but probably not quite worth the high price!

I recently picked up a copy of Vegan Express and have been meaning to try out a recipe from it. Wow, do I love how fast this meal got cranked out... grilled polenta with spinach, black beans, and sun-dried tomatoes (I also added a few chipotles in adobe sauce). This meal also reminded me how much I love my grill pan!
And after dining at the real Candle Cafe in NYC back in July, I dusted off my Candle Cafe Cookbook to make the tempeh scallopini. You honestly can't go wrong with a mushroom sauce made with wine. This sauce theme was continued later in the week when I made purple hull pea and quinoa croquettes with mushroom sauce from VWAV (but the picture turned out kind yucky).
I am so ready for the weekend! We have our first Houston Vegan Knitters meeting on Sunday at Field of Greens, and I think I'm going to attempt veganyumyum's knit cupcakes for the occasion! Oh yeah, and I turn 29 on Monday....