Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Éclairs

Ah, the éclair.... These delightful pastries remind me of the summer I spent a week with my mom and sister in the quaint town of Saint Amour, located in the Franche-Comté region of France. While my mom played her heart out in a flute masterclass, my sister and I were free to roam the streets in search of adventure. While we didn't find much to do besides waiting for stores to open (they seemed to always be closed!), we did make a point of stopping by the local pâtisserie each day for crème-filled éclairs. When the August Daring Bakers challenge was announced, my taste buds were tickled. Could I recreate a vegan version of the eclairs I remembered so fondly?

Traditional éclairs call for a choux pastry, which contains butter, flour, water, and eggs. Perusing the internet for recipes left me doubtful that my vegan version would have that signature "puff." I gave my mini éclairs a fighting chance by adding a bit of baking powder to the "choux" (using a slight variation from this recipe). For the inside, I used agar flakes to create a vanilla bean pastry creme, not as thick as I would have liked, but one can only slave over a hot stove with agar for so long (especially in the heat of summer!). Topped off with chocolate ganache and a few chocolate covered cocoa nibs, and voila!

Check out that bubble in the vanilla bean pastry cream. Too cute, huh? And the best part? I could close my eyes, pop one in my mouth, and be transported back to the streets of St. Amour.... sitting on a bench with an éclair in my hand, a smile on my face, and two people I love by my side.

And just a reminder to vote here for the Iron Cupcake Earth Challenge before September 4 at noon!

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Vegan 100

When I first saw the Omnivores 100 list, I kind of threw up a little inside my mouth (oxtail, foie gras? ew). Thank goodness Hannah came up with a Vegan 100 so all of us vegan foodies could play along without having to cross out half the list due to ethical reasons. You should play along too!

1) Copy this list into your own blog, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten. (and mine are in blue)
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Post a comment on Hannah's blog once you’ve finished and link to her post
5) Pass it on!

1. Natto
2. Green Smoothie - I love me some spinach in my smoothies!
3. Tofu Scramble
4. Haggis - ick! some faux meats are really too creepy!
5. Mangosteen
6. Creme brulee
7. Fondue - chocolate counts, right?
8. Marmite/Vegemite
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Nachos
12. Authentic soba noodles
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Taco from a street cart
16. Boba Tea
17. Black truffle - I've had the oil, but never even seen the real thing
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Gyoza
20. Vanilla ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries - while hiking near Seattle one summer, we pickes a ton of mountain blueberries and made a crisp!
23. Ceviche
24. Rice and beans
25. Knish
26. Raw scotch bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche - made my own!
28. Caviar - had a tiny taste and thought is was waaaay too salty
29. Baklava - had this at vegan bootcamp!
30. Pate
31. Wasabi peas - addictive little boogers
32. Chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Mango lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Mulled cider
37. Scones with buttery spread and jam
38. Vodka jelly
39. Gumbo
40. Fast food french fries
41. Raw Brownies
42. Fresh Garbanzo Beans
43. Dahl
44. Homemade Soymilk
45. Wine from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - this is all thanks to John
46. Stroopwafle
47. Samosas
48. Vegetable Sushi
49. Glazed doughnut - I think I've hit the triumvirate of vegan donuts: Mighty-O, Voodoo, and Ronald's
50. Seaweed
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Tofurkey
54. Sheese - I had a tiny bite for free at the Seattle Veg Fest!
55. Cotton candy
56. Gnocchi
57. Piña colada - had a lot of these on our honeymoon at St John
58. Birch beer
59. Scrapple
60. Carob chips - might have never tried them if it weren't for VeggieGirl!
61. S’mores - please send more for my birthday! (the sweet&sara kind, but I've also done the homemade route)
62. Soy curls - ordered these in bulk, so I'm all set
63. Chickpea cutlets
64. Curry
65. Durian
66. Homemade Sausages - Julie's are the best!
67. Churros, elephant ears, or funnel cake
68. Smoked tofu
69. Fried plantain
70. Mochi
71. Gazpacho
72. Warm chocolate chip cookies
73. Absinthe - I love little green fairies
74. Corn on the cob
75. Whipped cream, straight from the can
76. Pomegranate
77. Fauxstess Cupcake - somewhat embarassing to admit...
78. Mashed potatoes with gravy
79. Jerky
80. Croissants
81. French onion soup
82. Savory crepes - must get over my fear of crepe-making
83. Tings - oh man, now I really want some
84. A meal at Candle 79 - one of the best meals of my life!
85. Moussaka
86. Sprouted grains or seeds
87. Macaroni and “cheese”
88. Flowers
89. Matzoh ball soup
90. White chocolate
91. Seitan - a good reminder to make some this weekend
92. Kimchi
93. Butterscotch chips - thanks to Bazu!
94. Yellow watermelon - I hope I find this someday...
95. Chili with chocolate
96. Bagel and Tofutti
97. Potato milk
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Raw cookie dough - one of the benefits of lots of vegan baking!

With the only failing grade in my life (66/99, discounting the haggis), I really need to get to work on trying some of these!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cupcakes Will Sustain Me

Well, maybe only for a little while. But it was cupcakes and a few other vegan treats that sustained me on Friday night for our local vegan group's first summer movie night and bake sale! I made almost 100 minicupcakes for the event in four flavors, including: vanilla with raspberry cream cheese frosting, chocolate with peanut butter frosting and chocolate ganache, chocolate orange cupcakes with orange frosting (and a fondant flower :-), and vanilla with mocha chip frosting.
The feature film of the evening was Sustainable Table, a documentary about what is on your plate and where it comes from. The film includes segments on the history of agriculture, animal agriculture, plant-based diets, organic & sustainable foods, and what you can do to help. I was so proud to have several family members and friends in the audience to share this message with. I would love to hear who you would share this kind of a film with and why, so leave a comment and I'll choose one person to receive a free copy of this DVD! Please comment by August 31 :-) Here's only one table from the bake sale. By the end of the night, there was almost nothing left (we had a turnout of about 70 people!). Besides my minis, there were lemon bars (made by Stacey who has a new blog!), peanut butter oatmeal cookies, homemade protein bars, chocolate caramel bars, creamsicle cupcakes, and a chocolate cake!
And if 100 mini cupcakes in one week wasn't enough.... I bring you my entry for the Iron Cupcake Earth Chili Pepper Challenge: Just Peachy Texas Kicker Cupcakes.

The initial idea for these cupcakes came from a jar of BBQ sauce in my pantry, Peach Chipotle BBQ sauce to be specific. These cupcakes are made with peach preserves, a little hint of cornmeal, and ground chipotle chili powder layered with fresh Texas peaches (the last of the season!!). On top is a peach glaze infused with a whole chipotle pepper and a drizzle of white chocolate ganache. Innocent at first bite, these little cuppers pack quite the kick about 10 seconds after swallowing.

Oh, and did I mention that this was a contest that you can all go vote for the winner beginning August 31 at noon (CST)? How about that there are all kinds of prizes for the winner, including an adorable Cakespy original watercolor, cute cooking tools from Fiesta products, the book of pure cupcake decorating genius Hello, Cupcake, the super handy Cupcake Courier, fun stuff from A Taste of Home, and the ultrachic Jessie Steele hostess aprons? So be sure to vote here before September 4 at noon!

And remember, even if you don't vote for my kicker cupcakes, let's make sure that vegan cupcake cuisine reigns supreme in this Iron Cupcake Earth Challenge and all of those to follow of course!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Entering the Terrible Twos

The month of August marks my two year veganiversary!! This causes for celebration in the form of super chocolate vegan gelato served in a tulip cone, both from a recent Vegetarian Times issue. Smooth and creamy, this pudding-like gelato was perfect on its own, no extra flavors or mix-ins necessary.

Looking back, here are a few of my proudest vegan moments of the year....

1. Adopting Lucas and Petunia, two rescued pigs living at Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary
2. Vegan wedding cake!!
3. Becoming more involved (currently treasurer) Society of PEACE, a local vegan outreach group
4. Going live on air to interview fellow vegan bloggers and activist/writer Mark Hawthorne
5. Helping paint the Go Vegan Art Car for ten thousand Houstonians to see
6. Winning a Veg Bloggy award from VegNews
7. Discovering that vegan baking is a powerful and convincing form of outreach!

Looking ahead, I think my vegan twos will be terribly terrific!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Real Mixed Bag

That was John's response when complaining I couldn't think of a post title and listing off everything in it.... works for me.

A good friend told me recently how much she enjoyed the Potato and Eggplant Moussaka from V-con and how perfect it would be for a potluck. I couldn't agree with her more! Go make this now if you haven't already.... or at least make that pine nut cream and start putting it on everything.
My favorite sushi place in town (Rickshaw) uses soy paper in place of nori for the veggie roll. So when I saw some in pretty colors at the grocery store (all using vegetable based dyes), I had to try it! I had a bit of a tough time getting the edges to stick. I think this might be my new homemade sushi wrapping standby, although John prefers nori, so we'll probably keep both on hand.
I finally got around to making the vegan omelette for one, except I doubled the recipe to make it for two. These were filled with sauteed creminis, swiss chard, onion, and topped with fresh heirloom tomato. I apparently need to work on my flipping skills, but this was delicious despite its appearance.
Two recent Society of PEACE events called for baked goods, so I pulled out my trusty and somewhat tattered copy of My Sweet Vegan and cranked up the oven. On the left, the Cookies and Creme Pound Cake, a fun twist on a very classic dessert. And my recent acquisition of butterscotch chips from Bazu led me to the butterscotch blondie recipe, where the chips were the perfect addition to these gooey bars.
And it seems most of my posts just aren't complete without a cake! This is my 3rd fondant covered cake, and I think it turned out pretty well. All of the decorations are made of fondant (except the pink centers on some of the flowers which are dragees). Inside, a red velvet cake with pecan praline buttercream. Perfect for the southern belle birthday girl...
This upcoming week will see some serious baking in my kitchen, and along with that comes lots of dishes.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Cape Without Cod

To celebrate John's parent's 50th wedding anniversary, the whole family (all 20 or so of us) spent the week on the beach in South Yarmouth on Cape Cod.

Before heading down to the Cape, John and I took a detour into Central Square for lunch at Rangzen Tibetan Restaurant where we were joined by Emilie from The Conscious Kitchen and her husband. The four of us enjoyed a delicious lunch from the buffet and good conversation. After interviewing Emilie several months ago, it was so much fun to be able to meet with her in person!

Emilie must have heard my secret cries for a week without homemade cupcakes! It was so thoughtful of her to bake these and transport them by bike. They were devoured rather early in the week and I can now attest to the fact that her baked goods taste just as amazing as they look! Thanks Emilie!

On the way out of Boston, we stopped by Wheeler's Frozen Desserts to get a taste of their famous vegan ice cream. I had a scoop of peanut butter (my favorite) and Mexican chocolate. Still waiting for they day when they open up shop in my neighborhood...

While on the Cape, we didn't do much eating out, but one afternoon while shopping in Chatham, we stopped into the Anytime Cafe where they had a vegan wrap on their menu. Not the tastiest wrap I've ever had, but certainly edible.

A few cool pictures from the trip... an amazing orange full moon on our walk home from dinner one night. And a jellyfish from our dock at the mouth of the Bass River. John got stung one night while in the water (I was safe on land)!

Home for the week was a little cottage merely 50 feet from the water. When we first arrived, I was a bit skeptical as to how I would be able to cook anything in the miniature and dated kitchen, but it grew on me and I was able to turn out quite a few meals for myself and to share with the family. The stove/oven combo must have been straight out of the 1950's! But I managed to make things like tofu and asparagus stir fry, baked tempeh, roasted chickpeas, and a beautiful peach and blueberry crisp! The potato salad on the bottom right (please excuse the camera lens in the photo) is a family favorite put together by my father-in-law. John's family went out of their way to make sure I had plenty to eat :-)
The hydrangea must be the most popular flower on Cape Cod, because we saw them everywhere. I especially loved this heart-shaped one from my sister-in-law's garden. And I couldn't not post a photo of one of the gorgeous dahlias planted by my father-in-law.

One foggy afternoon we went on a whale watching trip to Stellwagen Bank, just northwest of the tip of Cape Cod. I was a bit skeptical that we would actually see anything, but we saw a number of minky whales, and had numerous sightings of humpback whales! One pair was a mother and baby (left photo). It was amazing to be so close to these majestic creatures.
We also trekked over to Chappaquidick Island, sight to the famous beach scenes from JAWS, to enjoy a final day in the sun. Lunch was picked up from Skinny's Fat Sandwiches (I got a pretty tasty tofu salad wrap) and I baked some chocolate chocolate chip pecan and peanut butter oatmeal cookies for dessert. It was a perfect beach day (the first photo in the post is from the beach on Chappy).

After returning to Boston for one night before heading home, we soothed our sun-soaked bodies with some of the new Purely Decadent coconut milk ice cream, cookie dough flavor. I am still sad I haven't been able to find this stuff in Houston.
So that wraps up my posts about my month of intense traveling and I should now be getting back to blogging about life in Houston!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Whipped Into Shape (Vegan Baking Bootcamp-Style)

Sift that flour! Soak that agar! Roll that pie dough! If these commands send you running towards the kitchen to stand at attention, then you would have loved Vegan Baking Bootcamp, a five-day course offered by the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC and taught by the highly acclaimed diva of dairy free desserts, Fran Costigan. I had the honor and joy of attending from July 7-11 (for other posts about the previous class, look here and here) with 13 other aspiring bakers. Here is a brief account of each day...

Day 1 - Demo Day. Orange tofu cream, wheat free lace cookies, cornbread, nut cream, and fruit gel

Even though there was no mixing or kneading on my part, my hand was tired by the end of the day from taking notes. Fran covered topics such as the importance of mis en place (having all your ingredients ready before you start baking), staple ingredients for vegan baking, and various techniques and tricks that can make a baker's life in the kitchen a little easier.

Day 2 - Creamy and Gelled Desserts. Assignment - mango mousse, rice pudding, maple cider sauce, orange-ginger crisps, carob pudding, and magic chocolate pudding cake.

This was our first day to do some baking of our own. Half the battle was finding our way around the kitchen. Thankfully there were four amazing assistants who were always there to help. We broke into groups and were assigned several recipes. One major success for the day? The demystification of agar. It seems the key is soak time and lots of patience!

Day 3 - Cookies, Bars, Muffins, and more! Assignment - almond anise biscotti, carob brownies, pumpkin muffins, basic biscuits, and sesame oat squares

By the third day I was finally relaxed and in my rhythm. It was kind of nice to be assigned recipes, because I tend to be a creature of habit, and bake things I know and like. Carob brownies were something I would have never attempted (why? when there is chocolate), but the results were surprisingly delicious.

At the end of the day, it was all about presentation. We plated our desserts and lined them up for discussion and tasting. Can you see the tripod on the far right photo? There was a Japanese journalist who came by each day to document and photograph the class for an article in a Japanese food magazine (Cafe Sweets), where vegan desserts are apparently all the rage!

Day 4 - Pies and Tarts. Assignment - Black Bottom Coconut Banana Cream Pie, Fourth of July Blueberry Streusel Pie, and random tarts of our choice (as seen in the first photo of this post).

As someone who all too often relies on store bought pie crusts, the first lesson of the day (making your own foolproof flaky pie crust) proved to be one of the most beneficial for me. It was also yet another test for my dough rolling skills, I'm getting closer to being able to roll a circle! And can you believe that there are 8 cups of blueberries in that monstrous pie?!

This class would not have been the same without Fran Costigan and her contagious energy and excitement for all aspects of vegan baking. She was graciously giving of her time and vast knowledge. Her words of encouragement have given me motivation to continue to experiment and enjoy baking back in my own kitchen.

Day 5 - Cake Day! Assignment - 24 Karrot Cake with tart lemon spread and Chocolate Layer Cake to Live For with chocolate cream frosting

This was the day I had been looking forward to all week. And can you believe this was the first carrot cake I've ever made (bottom left)? Making the cake was about 30% of the fun, the rest was decorating! We played with melted chocolate (with tranfers and bubble wrap), frosting spatulas and tips, fresh flowers, and gold luster dust.

I even got to use some of my recently acquired cake decorating skills to ice smooth our chocolate cake. It was very exciting to find a frosting that contains no shortening, EB, or powdered sugar; and one that you can still pipe! We had fun playing with gold luster dust on the mint leaves.

The reward each day for hours of baking? Sampling, of course. My plate got a little bigger everyday as you can see...

After flexing my vegan baking muscles all day, every day for an entire week, you might think I was ready for a break from desserts. Quite the contrary! My sweet tooth rarely diminishes in strength, but more importantly, my interest in all things vegan baking has been heightened to a new level. From understanding the chemistry of baking, to using natural/wholesome ingredients, to perfecting presentation, I want to learn more about it all. Fran's class provided me with a jumping off point to explore baking on my own, and I can't wait to get started!

Thanks to Fran, our assistants, my baking partners (pictured above with Fran), and the whole class for making this week truly worth using up half of my allotted vacation for the year! For more pictures, visit my flickr set. Also, if you are interested in any of these recipes, most of them can be found in Fran's book More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally.