Monday, December 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: French Yule Log

I believe I have met my match. Never before have I heard myself utter the words after savoring a bite of dessert, "That's too much chocolate..." but this month's holiday Daring Bakers challenge has proven that such a thing exists. Since I served the yule log for our holiday dinner, I added some festive vintage decorations. The mushrooms and silver trees were my favorite.
This French Yule log has, count 'em, six different elements with a grand total of nine layers. Starting from the bottom up:
1. hazelnut genoise
2. dark chocolate ganache
3. chocolate hazelnut mousse
4. hazelnut praline insert
5. more mousse
6. vegan pastry cream (a stand in for creme brulee)
7. more mousse
8. more genoise
9. chocolate icing
Even the tiniest of pieces felt like a brick of chocolate had just settled in my stomach.
If I ever do dare to make another yule log, I think I will break it up with a bit less chocolate. Maybe a vanilla mousse? I can hardly believe I am typing this out, I feel like I'm cheating on chocolate!

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Dance of the Sugar Plum Vegan

There is something magical about the Nutcracker ballet... the music, the story, the thought of a land filled with endless sweets. Many years growing up, I looked forward to wearing my holiday dress and using those little glasses to magnify the dancers up on their toes. I would leave the theatre feeling like I too had been transported to the land of the sugar plum fairy with a nutcracker prince at my side. Since I didn't make it to the ballet this year, I put together my own little video to whisk me away to that magical place filled with holiday sweets...
(music from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker)
video

This year's holiday baking included veganizing some of my childhood favorites. They turned out so well that I'm going to share the recipes...


Mounds Bars - a graham cracker crust with a gooey coconut filling and topped with a layer of chocolate

Ingredients:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Earth Balance vegan butter, melted

1 cup coconut (sweetened, not dessicated)
3/4 cup sweetened condensed soy milk (recipe here)
1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup vegan chocolate chips
1 T chunky peanut butter

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350. Mix crumbs, sugar, and melted earth balance and press into an 8x8 pyrex dish.
2. Combine coconut, sweetened condensed soymilk, and vanilla in a small bowl. Spread carefully on top of crumbs in an even layer.
3. Bake for 15 minutes in 350 oven. Remove from oven and cool.
4. Melt chocolate chips on a double broiler. Add in peanut butter. Spread on top of baked bars.
5. Refrigerate until chocolate has set and ready to serve. Store in refrigerator.


Pecan Tassies - a creamy dough with a sugary sweet pecan filling

Ingredients:

1/3 cup vegan cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Earth Balance vegan butter, softened
1 cup all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp EnerG egg replacer + 2 T water
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 T Earth Balance vegan butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup pecans, chopped

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325. Line a mini muffin pan with liners and lightly oil. Set aside.
2. In a stand mixer, cream together softened cream cheese and butter. Mix in flour until well incorporated. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour.
3. Shape dough into 24 - 1 inch balls. Place balls into greased muffin cups. Press dough into the bottom and up the sides of the cups.
4. Beat together the EnerG, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt until well combined. Add the chopped pecans.
5. Fill the dough lined muffin cups with the pecan mixture. Top with extra pecans if desired.
6. Bake for 25 minutes at 325, or until filling is set. Remove from oven and cool until able to remove the tassies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Crispy Peanut Butter Balls

Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup chunky natural peanut butter
2 cups crisped brown rice cereal
1/2 cup sweetened coconut

Directions:
1. In a large bowl, combin rice cereal and coconut, set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring sugar and corn syrup to a boil.
3. Add peanut butter and return to a boil. Continue to boil for approximately one minute.
4. Pour sugar and corn syrup mixture over cereal mixture and quickly coat the cereal.
5. Drop 1 T sized balls onto waxed paper and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday full of friends, family, and of course, lots of vegan sweets.

W.I.P. Wednesday: PJs and Pizzelles

I have graduated to sewing curves! And the zigzag stitch! And elastic! These Eiffel Tower pajama pants were made with the Sew Easy Pajama Pants pattern and with the help of the lovely Sarah. They are an xmas gift for my sis (who loves Paris, hence the pattern).

In addition to my normal holiday baking, I also attempted vegan pizzelles for the first time (and subsequently learned that I've been pronouncing "pizzelle" incorrectly my whole life). The whole process was a bit finicky, but with a little more work, I think I'll have it mastered! I used a variation of Emilie's recipe, with both anise and ground almonds.


My next project? Baby bibs and an animal friends fabric book for my good friend who is expecting a little one on Feb 14th! And maybe a pair of pajama pants for myself :-)

Holiday baking post is up next....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Ghosts of Christmas Meme

Since I have now been tagged four times for the "7 random facts meme" by Liz, Stacey, Al, and Sarah; I figured it is about time I got around to posting it! And since I recently saw The Christmas Carol at the theatre, I'm going take a stroll with a few Christmas spirits. And I'll throw in a recent dinner as well. As the clock strikes 1 am, I am visited by...

The Ghost of Christmas Past

1. When I was in grade school, I won a poetry writing contest and the prize was getting to go see Queen Elizabeth when she came to Houston (an aside: I was first accused of plagiarizing but then they realized I was merely using another author's style, but it was pretty traumatic to be accused of such a thing as a fourth grader). I still remember the very royal feeling dress that I wore to the event.

2. My first marathon attempt was when I was 17 years old on the coldest day I can remember in Houston. I dropped out of the race around mile 13 with a mild case of hypothermia. After that we had two days off from school because of icy roads. (I later completed my first marathon while living in Colorado)

3. I used to have a serious love for the frozen Stouffer's corn souffle when I was growing up. Now that my taste buds have matured a bit ( i.e. I need more spice), the kicked up southwestern corn pudding was just the thing to send me down memory lane last night. (from veganomicon, served with chile cornmeal crusted tofu and mango salsa)


The Ghost of Christmas Present

4. Now my current obsession is Maine Root Ginger Brew. I just had to say something about this because Stacey predicted I would. I am trying to be good though and limiting myself to just four per week. Beware though, this is not your standard ginger ale. If you take a big gulp, it will come back to bite you in your throat!

5. Not sure why, but I got all into the holiday spirit this year and decided to get my first tree as an adult (and after much research on the environmental consequences, I went for a real tree). I even carried on the tradition from my childhood of making fudge to have during the decorating process. And it finally made me appreciate that my mom got us an ornament every single year, because now I can look back and remember picking them out. And funny, my ornaments seem to mimic my obsessions at the time (I got a cupcake this year).
6. I have itchy legs. Seriously, even though I live in a pretty humid climate, I have terribly dry, itchy legs. The moisturizer I'm using right now just isn't cutting it (Alba). Any suggestions?

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

7. I've been in somewhat of a blogging slump, but that will hopefully change soon with the new year. I do have a major holiday sweets post coming your way next week. As my brother would say, "wait for it". There's much more where this came from...

For the two of you out there that haven't been tagged yet.... you are now tagged if:

1. you're looking out your office window (or at your cubicle wall) right now wishing you were anywhere but there
2. you like having nuts stuck in your teeth

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Craftiness and Cupcakes on W.I.P. Wednesday

Lately I have been trying to overcome my left-brained tendencies and get a little crafty. So when Shellyfish introduced her Work-In-Progress (W.I.P) Wednesdays last week, I thought I would join in on the fun occcasionally (maybe once a month I'll post my crafty endeavors)!

Now I know I'm supposed to post works-in-progress, but I couldn't help but showing off a few completed crafty things. Starting with cupcakes of course! But these are no ordinary cupcakes.... they are crafty cupcakes. I made these to bring to an amigurumi class at Sew Crafty Houston, my first attempt at crocheting (and definitely not my first attempt at cupcakes)!

And how perfect is it that we crocheted cupcake ornaments? I still need to work on my crocheting technique....
I've also been learning to sew. I haven't moved beyond straight lines and 90 degree turns yet, but maybe someday soon. This weekend I made up a bunch of reusable bags to use for Christmas gifts. These are so easy to make! Just four straight lines of sewing, a few more if you want to add a handle. And the more you give them away, the less everyone will use wasteful wrapping paper.
And now for the real "works-in-progress", all knitting projects for Christmas! These projects are all at a beginner's level, and most involve just knitting and purling. I'm knitting as fast as I can to finish these up before the 25th. There is a boy hat, fetching fingerless gloves (okay this one is for me, but I've put them on hold till after the holiday), a pair of yoga socks using bamboo and soy yarn, and a one-row scarf. Not to mention I need to cast on three more dishrags!
There is something very magical and rewarding about a handmade gift. With each stitch that is sewn, every row that is purled or every cookie that is baked, there is also a lot of love that goes into that fabric, yarn, or dough. As I'm working on a particular gift, I often think of times I've spent with that person or how they might use what I'm making them. It has helped me understand the true spirit of giving. What handmade projects are you working on for the holidays?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Get It While It's Ripe

I must admit to a serious addiction... I can't stop filling my bookshelves with vegan cookbooks. So for all of you out there that are working on one (Hannah, Ricki, Urban Vegan, Celine & Joni, Bianca, others?), you can count on me purchasing a copy! One of my more recent cookbook acquisitions is "Get It Ripe" by Jae Steele. The first half of the book is a great reference tool on how to cook the basics, stocking your pantry, even some details about the wonders of our digestive system! But of course, the best part is the recipes. Her dishes rely on fresh, seasonal produce, which is something we could all use more of.

The first recipe I made from the book was the Sesame Kale Soba. Such a simple meal, but very flavorful and beautiful color with the olive green soba noodles (these had some kind of sea vegetable in them) and the emerald green kale. The sesame seeds added some textural crunch.

And since my first home-cooked spaghetti squash turned out so well, I decided to try something a bit fancier, spaghetti squash with pinenut parm. I think I may have found a vegan parmesan that I love! Next time I make this dish, I'll remember to invite friends over because we had tons of leftovers (luckily not a bad thing).
Even though the day's of fresh basil are waning with the entrance of cold weather to the Houston area, we have plenty of frozen pesto to remind us of the summer months. In this dish, pesto pairs perfectly with white beans, quinoa, and fresh spinach.
And I couldn't leave out the ultimate in fall seasonal produce... the pumpkin. I used Jae's recipe for pumpkin pie to make a "deconstructed pumpkin pie" for our recent Society of PEACE Thanksgiving dinner. Constructed of a base of pumpkin mousse, a pumpkin and chocolate chip biscotti, and a dallop of vegan whipped cream with a dusting of cinnamon, these were devoured (and hopefully enjoyed) by the 75 dinner guests.
Even if you aren't addicted to cookbooks like me, I think this one is certainly worth checking out!