Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Noodles!! for Lasagna

Time once again for another Daring Bakers Challenge!! Only this month we have a new website, new logos, and a very different kind of challenge: making your own pasta! And not just any pasta, spinach lasagna noodles layered with a country ragu and bechamel sauce. Veganizing this challenge wasn't even an issue. Those eggs that pasta recipes call for? Not needed at all! For the pasta dough I used a recipe from Nonna's Italian Kitchen, but substituted semolina flour for regular flour and added pureed spinach. I made my ragu using a simple marinara sauce recipe and adding some texture in the form of sauteed onions, green pepper, soy crumbles, fresh basil, and plenty of garlic. The bechamel started with a simple roux of Earth Balance and flour, with soymilk, white pepper, and nutmeg added to the mix and thickened. But really the whole process is best illustrated in pictorial format...

Since I am lucky enough to have a husband who is half Italian, we actually own a pasta machine! Not that I've ever used it until now. With John's help we cranked out pasta sheet after pasta sheet...
After cutting the pasta into shapes resembling lasagna noodles, they were spread out to dry. I had quite a bit of pasta leftover!Vegan Noodle holding one long vegan noodle!
Sauces simmering....
One thing about making your own pasta... it makes a mess. Flour everywhere and in every crevice!! It was even all over the floor by the time we finished.
But it was all worth it in the end. I'm not sure I'll ever be quite as happy with dried pasta. The two sauces complimented each other nicely and the noodles were amazing.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Breathing Some Soul Into My Kitchen

You would think that since I grew up in the South, my formative years were filled with Southern comfort and soul foods. Truth be told I was never a fan of fried chicken, grits, collard greens, or most of the staples of the South. But all of that seems to have changed in the last few years (except for the chicken part, of course), and now I savor the flavors of soul cuisine. So when I was asked to review Vegan Soul Kitchen, a new cookbook by Bryant Terry, I took that chance to breathe a little bit of soul into my kitchen.... and here's what I came up with.

One mandatory recipe to make (for anyone who gets this book) is the one that inspired the book itself; citrus collards with raisins redux. This was my first time cooking collards in my kitchen, and I was worried that the bitterness would be too much for me. Wrong! The burst of citrus and sweetness of the raisins was the perfect compliment to the greens.

Along with the collards, I made whole-grain mustard and cornmeal crusted seitan and sweet cornmeal-coconut butter drop biscuits. The biscuits ended up looking more like cookies, but none of that mattered once you slathered on a little Earth Balance and took a bite... these just melted in my mouth. I also loved the crunch I got from using coarse cornmeal.

Another meal I made was the blackened tofu slabs with succotash salsa. The blackened tofu was quite a hit, and I liked his suggestion of chilling, slicing, and putting it on a salad. The succotash was alright, I don't think it turned out so well because I used both frozen corn and lima beans (fresh is recommended), plus my tomatoes were less than stellar. But during the right season (summer) I think this would really compliment the tofu.
And to round out my review, tonight I whipped up a trio of salads for dinner, including: carrot-cayenne coleslaw, chilled citrus broccoli salad, and roasted red potato salad with parsley-pine nut pesto. The pesto had a very unique flavor, thanks to the addition of miso I am guessing. Next time I would use more red pepper, but this is a potato salad that would certainly please a crowd. The broccoli was also full of flavor, though the citrus wasn't too overpowering. The only unfortunate thing is that the acid in the citrus turned my bright green broccoli into a mucky brown color! The coleslaw wasn't much of a standout, and I didn't end up tasting the cayenne at all. But my cabbage-loving husband still devoured it with pleasure.
Overall, I have really enjoyed the recipes from Vegan Soul Kitchen. Bryant Terry gives us quite a variety of traditional southern recipes, but with a modern twist. The tone in his directions is smooth and relaxed (he actually told me to "massage" my broccoli!). And his soundtrack selection for each dish allows the food to really sing to you in more ways than one (though I didn't have too many of them on my iTunes playlist). Surprisingly, though, I'm not even sure Bryant Terry is a vegan (based on his comments in the introduction... haven't confirmed this!). I guess this is one detail I am willing to overlook, because I sure do like his soul food!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dust Off the Shelf - The Classics

It's time to dust off my cookbook shelf again! This time with a triple shot of Sarah Kramer and a double dose of Tanya Barnard: La Dolce Vegan, How it all Vegan, and The Garden of Vegan. Like many of you out there, these cookbooks were the first thing I turned to when I went vegan (hence the post title, "the classics"). And it was a good thing too, because they are filled with familiar recipes that are generally simple to prepare and taste delicious.
From La Dolce Vegan, I cooked up the Aloo Gobi Potatoes and Cauliflower, making sure I added plenty of peas (a favorite of mine in Indian dishes). This was the perfect quick meal: a short ingredient list and minimal cook time, plus the result was full of flavor and rivaled the aloo gobi at my favorite Indian restaurant in town! Served with my favorite lemon basmati rice on the side. In The Garden of Vegan, I dove right into the extensive dessert section. I was looking for something to build a cute housewarming gift around, and these lemon poppyseed shortbreads were just the thing. Lemon is such a fresh and inviting scent; perfect for a new homeowner! I wrapped the cookies with a cute yellow bow and added it to a box with a lemon tea towel, zester, squeezer, and a tiny bottle of lemon oil.
And finally, from How It All Vegan I made one of my childhood favorites -veganized-... chocolate chip cookie bars. Part cookie, part cakey brownie, but all parts good. These turned out so moist and fluffy, it was difficult not to eat the whole pan!
So now my cookbook shelf is looking rather spiffy and well used... but it will surely collect dust once again, and that's when I'll be back with another round of Dust Off the Shelf!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fabric and Fondant

It's time for another Work-In-Progress Wednesday! This week I'm focusing on fondant and fabric, my two weapons of choice when it comes to creating lately.

I finished up sewing my sun and surf halter top with the help of my Sew Crafty peeps. I love the fabric and can't wait to wear this around the beach when summer rolls around. To celebrate, I of course brought cupcakes. I made the VCTOTW S'mores cupcakes but added a chocolate ganache layer beneath the frosting to add extra chocolatey flavor and added ricemallow cream to the frosting (both tips courtesy of Conscious Kitchen). The ganache was still warmy when I frosted them, so they ended up being all gooey.... just like a good s'more should be!

Another completed project started off with making what looked like packing peanuts to one of my Flickr commenters! These are actually handmade fondant bows. Unfinished bows on the left, finished ones on the right. I had to make 72 of these little bows....
To go on top of 72 cupcakes! These were for a Breakfast at Tiffany's-themed bridal shower. Half chocolate and half vanilla, both with cream cheese frosting tinted that signature blue color.
Here is a close up shot of the cupcakes. Apparently they were the hit of the party!
Now for a few current projects involving fondant and fabric.... This hula print really made me giggle when I saw it so I'm using it to make someone else smile on their birthday. Can't reveal any more than that right now, more to come later.
And here is a fondant giraffe that I'm working on as I type this for a banana first birthday cake. Assembly will take place tomorrow. Now just trying to decide on a coordinating border color to pipe on the cake. I'm thinking brown? Or is that too blah? Future projects: the WIP stitch along, blankets to donate to the Snuggles project, and an apron!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Beeting Hearts and Half-Eaten Chocolates

Yes, I know February is over... all the Valentine's Day flowers have shriveled and died, the last few half eaten truffles have been forgotten in the heart-shaped box, and all the card companies have moved on to the next commercialized holiday (I guess that would be Easter?). But I still thought I would blog about an amazing dinner and everyone's favorite on Valentine's, boxes of chocolates.

For dinner, I made seitan piccata and stuffed mushrooms, both from the Candle Cafe cookbook along with roasted beets sprinkled with celtic gray sea salt and a dribble of balsamic glace. I had to use my heart cookie cutters on the beets, because honestly, when else can you use them if not on Valentine's day?
After seeing a post on the always fabulous Girlie Girl Army about the delicious treats from Allison's Gourmet, I decided to splurge and buy myself a box of truffles (thinking there was no way that John would figure out a way to get vegan chocolates). The box included three types of truffles (hazelnut, mocha, and almond) and three types of caramels (pecan, peanut, and chocolate) Next year I will be ordering a box full of the caramels (pecan was my favorite)! Not that I didn't like the truffles as well, but I had plenty of those to choose from....
Because to my surprise, John did a little online searching on his own and ordered me a box of truffles from Rose City Chocolatier. I was seriously impressed with his effort. This one had all kinds of flavors (hazelnut, vanilla, mandarin, coconut, pistachio, strawberry to name a few). Quality-wise they weren't quite up to the standard of Allison's truffles, but it was kind of fun to eat a box of chocolate the way I used to... take a bite and if it was a less than stellar flavor (the mandarin), I just put the uneaten half back in the box!
And as if I didn't have enough chocolate... I made chocolate covered strawberries drizzled with the last of my white chocolate chip stash. What the strawberries lacked in ripeness, the chocolate more than made up for in sweetness. The strawberries, chocolates, a bottle of champagne, and the Lush sex bomb bath bomb made for quite a relaxing evening.