Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Caramel Cake

I am not completely sure what happened to the month of November. Between post-MoFo blog abandonment, making enough "decontructed pumpkin pie" for 80 people, and preparing for our own Thanksgiving dinner, Daring Bakers kind of crept up on me.

Luckily for me, this month's challenge for Caramel Cake with Caramelized Buttercream frosting (written by Shuna and presented by Dolores and her cohosts Alex and Jenny, with GF help from Natalie) allowed for some freedom and was easily veganizable. The first step to making caramel cake? Well, that would be making the caramel.

I got a stern warning from the main dishwasher in the family NOT to let the caramel burn lest I spend hours scrubbing out the saucepan. It was extremely tempting to remove the pan from the flame before the syrup turned a golden amber color, but I resisted even in the face of the potential consequences.
Knowing that I've done several cakes for Daring Bakers already, I decided to mix it up a bit and make cupcakes. I only slightly modified the recipe for agave nectar cupcakes from VCTOTW, subbing half of the agave nectar with the caramel. And to make for an even sweeter surprise when one bites into the vanilla and caramel-scented cupcake, I filled the center of each with caramel before baking.
See that caramel bubble on the wrapper below? That's the caramel trying to bust out. Just a swirl of fluffy buttercream and a drizzle of caramel completes these simple cupcakes.
And I didn't even have to scrub the pot for hours on end....

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gifts in Kind

I have been lucky enough to receive several gifts in kind the last few weeks...

Amey from Vegan Eats & Treats was kind enough to send me some of her homemade quince jelly. She also included some chocolates which disappeared not long after I opened the package. I have been using this jelly on my morning English muffin and it is delightful!
Two weekends ago while we were in Austin for the chili cook-off, we made a quick pitstop at Sugar Mama's Bakeshop to try out their new vegan cupcakes! After sending an email to the owner thanking her for adding cruelty-free cupcakes to the menu, she offered me a free cupcake! We got there just in time to swipe the last vegan cupcake of the day... peppermint patty. So perfect and so pretty.
And Stacey thought of me when she saw this cupcake notepad while she was out shopping!

With all this kindness that has been gifted to me, I have been wanting to "pay it forward" and send kindness to others. As luck would have it, I opened up Sarah's blog from Sew Crafty Houston (an awesome little craft studio and sewing lounge!) to find a pay it forward challenge. Here it is...

The rules are simple: I will send the first three five people to leave a comment on this post a handmade gift within the next 365 days (that’s my kind of time frame!)

I am willing to post anywhere in the world, so don’t let that stop you from commenting.

The catch is that you have to have a blog and be willing to do the same thing....

And since I can't send everyone who comments a handmade gift (if I only had the time!), my gift to the rest of you are two recipes!

Baked Acorn Squash with Hazelnut Pearl Couscous

1 acorn squash
2 T olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups Israeli/pearl couscous
2 shallots, finely diced
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 T hazelnut oil
fresh black pepper to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
2. Cut the acorn squash in half and remove the seeds (clean off the guck and toast them with salt and pepper, they're delicious!). Lightly oil the inside of the squash (approximately 1 T). Place the squash cut side up in a baking dish and fill with 1/2 inch of water. Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until squash is tender.
3. While the squash is baking, in a large saucepan saute the shallots in olive oil until slightly caramelized, approximately 10 minutes. Add the couscous and cinnamon and stir to lightly toast the couscous for 5 minutes.
4. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed.
5. Add toasted hazelnuts, dried cranberries, and parsley. Drizzle with hazelnut oil to finish.
6. Once squash is done baking, fill it with the couscous mixture.

And here's a link to the recipe for Society of PEACE's award winning chili!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sugar Cookies with Cairo

On Friday night, we took a break from our regular weekend routine and hosted Cairo, a 3-year old vegan toddler that is full of energy! This gave his parents a chance to have a night off on their own. Cairo requested that we make vegan sugar cookies earlier in the week, and who am I to say no to baking?

First step... dough smashing! And of course getting flour all over the counter and on our faces (on Cairo's cheek and my nose). I pre-made the dough using the recipe from Katie at Troubled Tofu, which I highly recommend if you like soft sugar cookies! Scroll to the end to see the crossposted recipe.

After dough "smashing" we rolled out the dough... Check out the cute "Junior Baker" apron he has on!
Next, we cut out the cookies into different shapes. Cairo was especially excited about the dinosaur cookie cutters (triceratops, stegosaurus, and tyrannosaurus rex), he loves dinosaurs.
While the cookies were baking in the oven, we built a skyscraper made out of Linkin Logs. I remember playing with these as a kid, but don't think I was ever able to build anything that tall!
Once the cookies were cooled and the icing was made, Cairo got right to icing the cookies (like the stegosaurus shown below).
Then there was the question of sprinkles. Too many choices. But once Cairo made a decision on what color to use, he was committed. John tried to coax him into adding more sprinkles, but Cairo clearly had a vision. A vegan master baker in the making!
Check out the care he used in applying the sprinkles! He decorated a cookie for his mom, a cookies for his dad, a cookie for John, a cookie for me, and a few cookies for himself (smart kid!).
The finished plate of iced vanilla sugar cookies... my favorite (besides the blue T-rex that Cairo decorated for me) was Cairo's rainbow snowflake on the bottom left. He kept dipping the spatula into the different color icings saying "a little of this and a little of this and a little of this...." So cute!

Whew! Three hours with a three year old really wore us out, but Cairo was such a happy, fun, loving kid that it was worth it. As we were sitting on the couch watching a video, there was a dragon eating spaghetti and meatballs. John asked Cairo if he ever ate meatballs. His reply? "We eat spaghetti with veggie meatballs".

NoWhey's Sugar Cookies

2/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
egg replacer = to 1 egg (use ener-g, not flax)
4 teaspoons soymilk (might need to add more in later)
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Thoroughly cream shortening, sugar and vanilla in a mixer until a bit fluffy, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl every once in a while. Add egg replacer; beat until even more light and fluffy. Stir in soymilk until well combined. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients and then blend into creamed mixture. It will seem a little dry at first, but keep blending and it should be moist enough to hold together well. If it is extremely crumbly, add about a teaspoon more of milk. Divide dough in half, wrapping each half in wax paper. Chill at least 1 hour.
On lightly floured surface, roll to 1/8 inch thickness (one half at a time, while still chilling other half). The thicker it is, the softer the cookie though. Cut in desired shapes. Bake on greased cookie sheet about half an inch apart at 375 for 5-7 minutes. Cool slightly, remove from pan. Cool all the way before frosting. Makes 2 dozen (depending on cookie cutters).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Vegan Chili Cook-Off Deep in the Heart of Texas

This past weekend, Society of PEACE took a roadtrip to Austin, Texas to compete in the 20th annual Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-Off. Don't let the sign below fool you, this was an all vegan event held at the Austin Farmers Market :-)

17 teams from around our beautiful state competed in the competition. Each team was charged with making 5 gallons of vegan chili. In case you've never had to make 5 gallons of chili yourself, here is what all the ingredients look like.... thank goodness all those cans are recyclable!
After the vegan police inspected all of our ingredients, we got started bright and early (around 8am) chopping vegetables, draining beans, measuring spices, and getting everything prepped to start our first batch of chili.
At high noon, the doors were opened to the public for chili tasting. Before we knew it, there people were lined up at our booth! From then on, it was an almost constant stream of filling up chili bowls, serving up cornbread, selling baked goods, and handing out vegan literature. With all the running around trying to make additional batches of chili, I barely had time to say hello to Diann from Eat'n Veg'n who stopped by for a sample. It was nice to see a familiar face!
So did I manage to actually eat any chili during the cook-off? The answer is, of course, yes. We did several tastings of our own chili to get the seasoning right, and John was nice enough to run out into the crowd for brief breaks from kitchen duty and bring me back almost all of the other chili entries.
Chili wasn't the only vegan food being served up at the Society of PEACE booth. We made several batches of cornbread (one with jalapeno and one without) that were complimentary with chili samples while supplies lasted (it went fast!). To soothe the taster's taste buds, we offered grapes as a palette cleanser. And to finish with something sweet, as a fundraiser we offered Stacey's pumpkin oatmeal cookies and my pumpkin pie brownies as well as chocolate and vanilla cupcakes (Happy National Vanilla Cupcakes Day by the way) swirled with Society of PEACE colors.
As the competition came to a close, we gathered around to hear the results of the judges voting as well as the crowd favorite. Imagine our surprise when we heard Society of PEACE called out... the judges awarded our chili 2nd prize!! It was a rewarding finish to a crazy day. I had such a great time making chili with our awesome team: Sergio, Stacey, John, Kristen, Tosh, and Cairo (he's hiding between Stacey and I). Be sure to check out Stacey's post about the day on her blog Te Amo Vegano! And Tara posted about her experience as a chili tester on her blog My So-Called Vegan Life!
Congratulations to everyone who competed!! And the next time someone asks you how a vegan could ever survive deep in the heart of Texas... send them to the Lone Star Chili Cook-Off!