Sunday, June 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Danish Bread

My second Daring Bakers challenge is complete! Unlike last month, this challenge was much less about veganizing the assigned recipe and more about technique. The scariest part for me was making the laminated dough, consisting of alternating layers of detempre (dough) and beurrage (butter, i.e. Earth Balance). Even with well chilled ingredients, my butter was squirting out the edges every turn of the dough I made. But in the end, I had two beautiful fruit-filled danishes to show for it.

The process of actual braiding the danish was much easier than I anticipated. The hardest part was rolling out a rectangle! And of course, on my first braid I failed to place the dough on my silpat prior to braiding.... big mistake and is was a painstaking process to transfer it, I was lucky it didn't get ruined! (check out this and this video for a visual demonstration)

As the danish baked, orange and cardamom (in the dough) wafted through the air, filling the house with an amazing aroma. I wish I could bottle up that smell, I think it might get me out of bed faster in the morning. Here is the danish right out of the oven.

For the danish braid filling, I wanted to use mainly local ingredients, especially with the bounty of fruits available in the summer season! The danish below is filled with blueberries and blackberries, and a pastry cream (not local) with drizzled icing for some extra sweetness.

The second braid is filled with Texas peaches and finished with almond icing as well as sliced almonds. I didn't quite get the flakiness I wanted (probably due to all that squirting Earth Balance), but these still tasted so much better than those store-bought danishes I remember from my pregan days.
With the leftover dough, I experimented with a few smaller danish shapes for fun. Now I'm wishing I had more of this dough in my freezer to make a few danishes whenever I fancied them.

What will next month bring for this vegan daring baker? I guess you'll just have to wait and see!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bar Stocking, Potlucking, and Ice Cream Making

Before I head out of town for a long weekend, I though I would share what I've been up to in the kitchen....

Here are the tiramisu cupcakes I made for an "stock the bar" engagement party. The engagement actually happened in Italy, so I thought these were appropriate. They might be my favorite from VCTOTW, although it's so hard to choose just one!

On Saturday night we hosted a small potluck to show appreciation for everyone involved in our Go Vegan art car. For an appetizer I cut up some of Julie's sausages and simply sauteed them and served them with a mustard sauce. These were a big hit.

My main course contribution was Isa's broccoli quiche from her upcoming brunch book. Oh I love her so much for sharing this recipe before the book is available. I added some tempeh bacon and a healthy dose of nutritional yeast. I was so sad to see it go so fast at the potluck, so I made another one last night.

Here's my plate from the potluck.... homemade bread with avocado butter, pasta salad, pineapple slaw, fruit, quiche, and mac and cheese (with peace sign pasta!). I had another plate with lasagna and tamales as well!

For dessert, I tried to recreate something I saw at one of our favorite cafes here in Houston (Brasil), a mini cake with chocolate base layer, fresh fruit (strawberries and blueberries), and topped with chocolate mousse (from VCTOTW). The presentation needs some work, but the taste was right on.

I finally broke down and bought an ice cream maker, an attachment for my Kitchen Aid standmixer (anyone use that one?). The last time I made ice cream was in high school chemistry class!! This try turned out well except I learned a valuable lesson, big chunks of strawberries in your strawberry chocolate chip ice cream cause major brain freeze and tooth pain! I also need to figure out a storage system since my ice cream developed ice crystals; I'm assuming because I didn't have an airtight seal. But, nonetheless, with temperatures soaring here, this is just what I needed when I walked in the door after work.

Tomorrow we leave for a San Francisco to attend the soldout VegNews launch party and then onto Las Vegas for the remainder of the weekend. Who knows, maybe I'll come back a millionaire. At least I'll come back with a tummy full of Ronald's vegan donuts....

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Virtual Trip to PDX via Everyday Dish TV

It's been over a year since my last trip to Portland, and with the Try Vegan Week and Let Live Conference going on in the month of June; I've found myself wishing for a free plane ticket to this vegan friendly city! Instead, I think I found the next best thing.... a gastronomical tour of Portland's cuisine from right here in Houston, courtesy of Everyday Dish TV.

I started my virtual trip with a simple, yet fancy-sounding dish served at the vegan restaurant Nutshell (where there has been some recent controversy), sauteed chard with cherry ginger gastrique. This is a great way to eat more greens! The sweet yet sour sauce really helps mask the bitterness of the chard. I served this over sauteed polenta, with a side of grilled tempeh.
This next dish I was super-psyched to see, since it is the exact dish I got for dinner at the Farm Cafe.... herb crusted tofu with mushroom marsala. Although it took a bit of time to put together, this was a perfect Friday night meal to celebrate the end of the week. I think this is a tofu dish that would really impress for dinner parties, it's so crisp and flavorful! Plus you can have fun with the presentation. (and oops! I forgot to cut my tofu into pretty triangles!)
Next I tackled a recipe that has made the rounds already on pretty much every blog I've seen (and for good reason!), Julie's spicy Italian sausages. Where have these been all my life? I made a few sausages as well as some cutlets. The cutlets I sauteed in the leftover breading from the herb crusted tofu and served over pasta.... parmigiana-style. Soooo good. And I thought it was so cute to see Julie's dog roam into the kitchen during the demonstration! And to complete my tour, I had to make dessert! Chocolate mocha cake seemed like the natural choice. This is a rich, deep chocolatey cake that gets a kick from fresh-brewed coffee and a splash of alcohol (I used Kahlua versus the suggested rum). Finished with a chocolate ganache... what could be better?
I was sad to miss the vegan prom in Portland last weekend, so I took a trip down memory lane instead and dug out my high school prom pictures! Don't you just love the cheesy backdrop? Even though I did have the sparkly dress on, at least I didn't have big Texas hair! Isn't my date cute :-) Too bad he only exists in photoshop.
Thanks so much to Julie for bringing us such wonderful vegan cooking shows on Everyday Dish TV. Now hurry and go take a virtual trip of your own! Plane tickets aren't getting any cheaper....

And on another note, tune into Go Vegan Texas this coming Monday at 10am CST. I'll be cohosting with Kristen and Stacey for the show themed "Walking the Walk" where we interview Mark Hawthorne, author of Striking at the Roots. You can listen online or download the show from the archives. Should be a good show!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I Wish I Was A Little Bit Taller

I have nominated myself for two "memes" of sorts, one because I wish I was taller (more on that one later) and the other because I was bored at work and wanted to have fun with flickr.

This first one I saw on Hannah's lovely blog. Each photo represents something about me. (click on the image to view larger size)
The concept:
a. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
b. Using only the first page, pick an image.
c. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd's mosaic maker).

The Questions:
1. What is your first name? Amanda
2. What is your favorite food? peanut butter
3. What high school did you go to? Elsik (*edit* our mascot was the ram, which is what came up on flickr)
4. What is your favorite color? green
5. Who is your celebrity crush? Johnny Depp
6. Favorite drink? water
7. Dream vacation? Nepal
8. Favorite dessert? chocolate
9. What you want to be when you grow up? a mom
10. What do you love most in life? family
11. One Word to describe you. complicated
12. Your flickr name. vegan noodle

For the second meme, Shellyfish used a unique way of tagging folks by listing five random categories, one which called on those who feel a bit vertically challenged (I'm 5'2.5" that 0.5 " is very important to me). So here goes, this one is a bit long...

What were you doing five years ago?
I was living in Boulder, CO working toward my masters degree in Geology. That pretty much consumed all my time.

What are five things on your to-do list today?
1. return a double stack cupcake holder with a completely stupid design
2. bake a mini chocolate mocha cake
3. suck it up and put some gasoline in my car
4. start preparing to cohost GVT next week
5. menu planning for weekend dinner party

What are five snacks you enjoy?
1. peanut butter on just about anything
2. fresh fruit
3. tortilla chips with mango salsa and guacamole
4. roasted chickpeas
5. chocolate, duh

What are five things you would do if you were a millionare?
1. Go bicoastal and get a place in San Francisco and on the coast of Massachusetts
2. Give a big chunk to Society of PEACE so we could do some serious vegan outreach
3. Use one of my new residences as an animal sanctuary
4. Travel the world
5. Open up a vegan bakery and not have to worry about making a profit

What are your 5 bad habits?
1. starting projects and not finishing them
2. leaving clean clothes in the dryer for days
3. don't read as many books as I should
4. a weakness for kitchen toys
5. letting produce go bad before I use it

Where are five places you have lived?
1. Houston, TX - the suburbs
2. Fort Collins, CO
3. Boulder, CO
4. Babenhausen, Germany and Chester, England (for about 5 months)
5. Houston, TX - the city (way cooler)

What are five jobs you've had?
1. hostess at The Black-Eyed Pea (even in my pregan days I was scared of the food)
2. soils lab and field assistant
3. taught Intro to Geology laboratory
4. writing environmental impact statements for reclaimed mines
5. geologic modeling research and applications

Five people I tag (again borrowing from Shellyfish), if you...
1. bite your nails
2. secretly listen to Britney Spears while driving
3. wish you had a pig as a companion animal
4. consider yourself a scientist
5. ate a cupcake this past weekend

(I just realized that I reavealed five more things about me with this list, except #2, really) Next post will include food, and a prom picture (yikes!).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sampling Squares, Planks, and Bars

I was lucky enough to get some samples in the mail of "darn good whole foods" made by Honest Foods. When I am traveling or on the go at home, I always have a stash of vegan snacks in case I skip breakfast, can't find something vegan on the lunch menu, or I'm getting the munchies late in the afternoon. So I was very excited about the opportunity to add a few more to my usual repertoire. Inside the package addressed to "walking the vegan line" (which in itself was exciting to see), I received samples of all flavors from their two whole foods product lines: country squares and granola planks.

The country squares are a soft, chewy, whole grain bar that comes in four flavors: choco p'nut butter, apple ginger spice, farmer's trail mix, and cran lemon zest. All four are made with whole grain oats, almond butter, dried fruit, and other ingredients you can pronounce; with 6 grams of protein and a healthy dose of omega 3's. These were perfect for when I was heading out the door hungry. My favorite? Well, this shouldn't be a surprise to any of you that read this blog with some regularity, but it was the choco p'nut butter, followed by the farmer's trail mix (I loved the addition of pumpkin seeds in this one!).
For some strange reason I was less excited about the granola planks, probably because I tend to prefer soft and chewy things to brittle and crunchy. But these were a pleasant surprise! I enjoyed eating the blueberry vanilla crackle plain out of the box, the maple almond crunch crumbled as cereal in almond milk, and the pomengranate walnut crisp topped on vanilla soy yogurt. Check out the Honest Foods website for a list of places where you can purchase these to taste for yourself!
Since I was in the sampling mode, I decided to do more, but this time, no freebies :-) My sister highly recommended the Vosges "haut" chocolate, but with "haut" prices, I was glad to find some miniatures to taste that were a little nicer on the pocketbook. The flavors included the creole bar (coffee + cocoa nibs), red fire bar (ancho and chipotle chilies + cinnamon), oaxaca bar (guajillo and pasilla chilies), and the black pearl bar (wasabi + ginger + sesame seeds). These miniatures are worth savoring every bite, don't use these for a quick chocolate fix! I brought a few with me to share with a few girlfriends when we went to see the SATC movie, and I made mine last about twenty minutes into it. The clear winner for my tastebuds was the Red Fire bar... the fire of the chili and the spice of the cinnamon was a combination that awakened my tastebuds. Coming in second had to be the Creole bar, I loved the crunch of the cocoa nibs.
I think I could get used to this product sampling thing...

Friday, June 6, 2008

My Own Form of Detox

I am honored to have been chosen by VegNews to receive a VegBloggy award for 2008! I am so excited to see who else has gotten one (here's some I know of right now: conscious kitchen, vegan talk, urban housewife, bittersweet, veganyumyum, get sconed, fatfree vegan kitchen). The July/August issue hits newstands on July 1 (earlier for subscibers), so be sure to pick up a copy! And I really wish this was one of those awards that you could also give to five other bloggers so we could spread the love to all vegan blogs. Because really, I think we all inspire each other and are all deserving of recognition in the vegan/vegetarian community. I'm also excited that this gives me an excuse to stop in San Francisco at the end of the month (on my way to Las Vegas) for the Music Issue Launch Party. Hope to see some of yall there!

Now, back to my regularly scheduled blog post.... looking back on recent posts, there has been a lot of dessert! And I've seen several of you blogging about all the raw food and cleanses and detoxes you have been doing, and this is a great season for it! Now I'm not really on a detox, just a blog post detox (yes, just last night I had a brownie, but it was low fat!). All healthy food in this post. First, a grilled vegetable salad with corn, asparagus, and portobello mushroom over a bed of spinach with heirloom tomato and sunflower seeds.

The mushroom was marinated in red wine, olive oil, and dried basil. The corn was just basted in some olive oil and placed right on the grill for about 15 minutes. As you can see, the grilling of the asparagus was a bit tricky... we lost a few to the doldrums of the charcoal fire! I've tried skewering them in the past, but was just too lazy to do it that particular evening.
For Memorial Day, we brought out the grill once again for more corn on the cob and some homemade burgers! This was my first attempt at a homemade burger and it was not really very successful. I spaced reading the instructions earlier, and discovered the burgers had to chill 4 hours, time that I didn't have. So our tempeh mushroom burgers (grated beet lending the red color) kinda fell apart. John showed some mad skillz with the grill by managing to get them off in one piece!
And finally, the Taco Salad from Yellow Rose Recipes. Romaine lettuce with cilantro topped with taco TVP, avocado, tomato. Joanna's spice mixes (this one for the tvp) are the best. And no oil! Okay, so there was a dallop of sour cream, but the rest of the dressing was just fresh lime juice. I've been making a few things from YRR lately for the review I submitted to our Society of PEACE newsletter.
I hope everyone has a great weekend. Tomorrow I am going blackberry picking!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Birthday Baking

Two very special people in my life celebrated birthdays during the month of May, my mom and my husband, John. And birthday celebrations call for baking!! For my mom, I was excited to try out my new Wilton giant cupcake pan. To decorate, I decided to do something of a tribute to all my mom's hardwork on our wilton character cakes when we were growing up (I recall strawberry shortcake, cookie monster, He-man for my brother, among others), using the star tip, #21. The cake was hazelnut and filled a hazelnut chocolate mousse, topped with buttercream. I think from this distance the cake looks all right...

But up close it was just a big old mess! (I am hearing Cher say this from Clueless) From the start, there were problems. The cupcake pan doesn't really bake evenly and I didn't have the patience to bake the two halves separately. And then there were multiple decorating disasters.... a basketweave that refused to adhere to the cake, a top border that had to be completely removed, and by that time, I was just too flustered to do my drop stars very neatly. I nicknamed this "a cake only my mom could love".
Taking a break from birthday cakes, for John's birthday I made a strawberry rhubarb galette from a Millenium recipe (the recipe is online), one of John's favorite fruit combinations. The walnut pastry crust turned out great, and it was a pretty fancy little dessert that required minimum effort, especially from a Millenium cookbook (this is the first time I have made anything from it!). Next time, I would add about half the fresh ginger the recipe called for in the fruit filling, it was a bit overpowering.
And finally, an actual meal (it seems like real food always ends up at the end of my posts lately?!), the orange chipotle glazed tofu from the June issue of Vegetarian Times. Very tasty and so simple! This was also a recipe that John and I could agree on since I like sweet sauces and he likes spicy ones, and this dish was a little of both.
I finally got my new blog banner up after about six months of procrastinating! I went for a Texas theme that I'm sure makes my mom proud.