December 24, 2008

So the 16 oz. of light sour cream that resulted from the aforementioned series of misunderstandings was not all of it. The remaining 16 oz. haunted me with its siren call until I decided that despite the February expiration date, that stuff had to be out of the fridge before I left for California. I used the opportunity to veganize the previous recipe, aside from the the sour cream of course. The combination of banana and yogurt worked very well, with only a hint of banana permeating the cake. If forced to choose I would say I liked this version better, but that might only be because I made more topping and dressed it up with more fruits.

Identity Crisis Coffee Cake
Thanks to Deb for posting the helpful agave-related info. I made this version of the cake before receiving them but next time I go for agave over granulated sugar I'll follow her liquid proportions and baking time suggestions.

For cake:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup raw cane sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup agave syrup
1/2 cup 0% Fage yogurt
1 banana, mashed
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
16 oz light sour cream
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
For topping:
1 1/4 cups dried currants
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 1/2 - 2 cups chopped walnuts
1 - 1 1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 9" x 13" pan.

Mix topping ingredients in bowl and set aside.

Sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder in medium-sized bowl and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, combine wet ingredients. Gradually add flour and switch to a mixing spoon if necessary.

Pour a little more than half of the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it until it is more or less even.

Evenly sprinkle half of the topping and cover with the rest of the batter. Smooth the top as best you can and sprinkle the rest of the topping evenly over the cake.

Bake for an hour or so until a toothpick comes out clean (might take a little longer).


December 19, 2008

Through a series of misunderstandings and a case of mistaken identity (though, if the cream cheese had sat in the cupboard much longer it probably would have at least smelled like sardines) I ended up with a surplus of sour cream in the fridge. "Surplus" meaning "some," because typically there is none. I don't know what people do with sour cream but baked potatoes aren't usually on the menu and I can't think of any other dish that would require me to purchase the stuff. True to form, I decided to figure out something to make with the sour cream rather than let it go to waste. This of course required employing kitchen staples that otherwise would have gone towards a planned and necessary dish in the service of using up the sour cream, amounting to a net loss of food funds. At least it would have amounted to a net loss had the resultant coffee cake not been so damn delicious and had it not prompted me to finally use the currants I've been carting around for about seven months now.

This coffee cake is the kind of coffee cake that motivates you to make a pot of coffee just to have an excuse to eat it. It is moist and soft but quite firm and slices well without crumbling into bits. You can adjust the streusel to meet your taste; when I make it again I'm going to layer just a bit more in the middle. This took me back to the days when I was near obsessed with eating coffee cake every Sunday, with the plus of not making me feel like I was going to need someone to cart me around in a wheelbarrow for the rest of the day. It keeps very well in the fridge so you don't need to eat three warm mugfuls topped with raspberry jam in one sitting. Unless you want to.

Currant-Walnut Coffee Cake
I spent way too long trying to find cake recipes that included sour cream and discoverd that for a 9" x 13" cake most recipes required essentially the same proportion of ingredients. Eventually ended up amalgamating this one and this one. I'm not a big fan of putting chocolate in bread so I liked the idea of the currants and jettisoned the addition of cocoa powder. I was considering veganizing the cake by subbing yogurt for eggs but didn't have yogurt, and also considering using agave syrup as a healthier sweetening agent but worried about the batter becoming too soupy. The substitution of agave for sugar necessitates the reduction of other liquids by 1/3 and I didn't know if the sour cream counted as a liquid, if the eggs technically counted as a liquid...I decided it wasn't worth the stress. That said, next time I might try going 1/2 cup sugar and 2/3 cup agave and leaving the other ingredients as is. Next time I will also use whole wheat pastry flour, which I was holding in reserve for these.

For cake:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
16 oz light sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
For topping (you can't really mess this up, just use as much of each ingredient as you prefer):
2 cups dried currants
1 1/2 - 2 cups chopped walnuts
3/4 - 1 cup sugar (I used raw florida crystals but next time I will use light brown)
2 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 9" x 13" pan.
Mix topping ingredients in bowl and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then add eggs and vanilla and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
Sift flour (I think this is important) and whisk together with baking soda and baking powder.
Incorporate, alternating between adding the sour cream and the flour mixture to the wet ingredients.
Pour a little more than half of the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it until it is more or less even. I say a little more than half because I like my filling as close to in the middle as possible and have had too many loaves and cakes ruined by filling sinking to the bottom and sticking to the pan. Avoid the devastation.
Sprinkle batter with a little more than half (depending on how you like your filling to topping ratio) of the the currants and nuts and cover with the rest of the batter. Smooth the top as best you can and don't worry if the smoothing process churns up a bit of the filling. Sprinkle the rest of the topping evenly over the cake.
Bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Not only did I dig into it immediately without it dissolving into a steamy mess, but I left it in the pan to cool without it suffering any ill-effects. The edges did not toughen and the bottom did not burn. Once I did want to transfer it, it slipped right out of pan without leaving a speck of itself behind.

reason for making the coffee cake
coffee cake


November 24, 2008

Despite having plans to cook up a storm, and despite having already knocked out two varieties of cranberry sauce, last Sunday I found myself a couple hours post-cranberry clean-up making ravioli from scratch. The initial urge was to use up stuff in the freezer in order to give the turkey a little more room. Why this culminated in me with flour up to my eyeballs and a waterfall of raw egg cascading over the counter I can only explain by saying that an idea born of sanity does not always end with a sane result. Luckily in this case the result was at least pretty tasty and the required skills can be filed under "useful kitchen knowledge."

Corn-Shallot Ravioli
makes about 24 ravioli + a little extra dough for some linguini

Note: I followed Mario Batali's recipe for pasta dough, though I was eyeing Lidia Bastianich's while I was doing it. Lidia's doesn't call for as much egg, and uses this thing called the food processor, which has real walls, not walls made out of flour...I think next time I'll use Lidia's. Or maybe I'll go with Mario again but use a food processor because flour makes a very weak retaining wall and egg is no fun to clean up and if you have a recurrent and mysterious wrist ailment you might not want to engage in aggravating activities such as kneading. In any case, the dough turned out quite well and I added a ton of black pepper to the basic recipe to positive effect.

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
5 eggs
1 - 2 Tbl pepper (If you don't like pepper, just leave it out or add a preferred spice.)
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 package frozen sweet corn
generous amount grated pecorino romano (~ 1 cup)
3 Tbl Major Gray's mango chutney
salt and pepper to taste
To make dough:

Dump the flour onto a wood surface (be it counter or cutting board) and make a mound with a well in the middle of it.

Whisk eggs together and pour into the well. Note: you might want to do this gradually to avoid a disaster. On my first attempt I overestimated the depth of the well and the strength of the "walls" and ended up with raw egg everywhere. I ended up pouring in a little bit of the egg, mixing it with the flour, pouring in a little more, mixing, pouring, mixing, etc until the egg was fully incorporated into the flour. At this point there was still a fair amount of loose flour but just keep packing it together and evenually you'll be able to form a uniform ball.

Knead for 10 to 15 minutes (the dough should be stretchy). Wrap dough ball in wax paper and let it sit for about 30 minutes while you make the filling.

To make filling:

Sautée shallots in olive oil until translucent.

If you're me, add the frozen corn to shallots (after rinsing the particularly icy chunks) and nudge it around with a spatula until it seems cooked. If you think ahead, follow the cooking instructions on the corn and THEN add it to the shallots.

Add chutney (Use as much or as little as you like and be aware of adding too much sweetness to the already sweet corn. I like Major Grey's green label because it's got more a spicy kick to it but can imagine that adding a sweeter chutney would end in an unappealing saccharine glop.)

Remove mixture from heat and add grated pecorino romano to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Pulse mixture in food processor until uniform in texture. Put in fridge until read to assemble ravioli.

Assemble the ravioli:

Cut off a quarter of the round of dough and run it through the pasta maker. I got down to the second to last degree of thickness and might even try to go for the thinnest setting next time because the ravioli were still a bit thick.

Lay pasta sheet on cutting board and arrange dollops of filling evenly along one of the edges, keeping in mind to leave enough room in between for the seams. Brush water along outer edge and in between the filling and fold the empty half of the pasta sheet over the filling. Press along the seems to create a bond between the pieces of dough (I realized while doing this that a lot of air gets trapped in with the filling if you don't firmly expel it from the cavity. This doesn't make a lot of difference in the resultant ravioli aside from making them less unwieldy than they are if puffed up tighter than a drill sergeant's chest.). Cut the ravioli along the seams and stack between layers of wax paper in fridge until ready to use. Continue to use 1/4 chunks of your original dough ball until you've used up all the filling, at which point use the remainder of the dough to make whatever shape pasta you deem fit.

Bring water to a boil and cook ~ 10 minutes or until pasta tastes done.

The Merits of Carrots

November 22, 2008

Let Thursday stand as evidence that I am not trying to eradicate dairy from my diet. Between the two kinds of stuffing, sweet potato pie, butter-soaked onions etc I'll be well set in that department but as is my wont I shall now let you in on yet another "why does this cookie recipe look like a stew recipe?" recipe.

I had squirreled away four cans of tomatoes and a hefty supply of carrots and shallots with the intention of making a double-batch of Batali sauce but as the days went by I was faced with dwindling ambitions and carrots on the verge of wilting. Not one to simply eat the carrots, I went in search of a carrot cookie recipe. Alright if you must know, I looked for a carrot-ginger cookie, obvs. The search proved much more difficult than I anticipated, mainly because that combination of ingredients tends to get you a bunch of results for carrot cake, or carrot cake cookies. I was not interested in carrot cake. Finally I found three recipes and after combining and veganizing them I hit on success. I have not forsaken bananas, but carrots made an argument for careful consideration in the "mushy items you can put in baked goods" competition.

Vegan Oatmeal Carrot Ginger Cookies
Like most of my vegan cookies, these did not retain their crispness once they had been stored. My theory is that my use of primarily liquid dairy substitutes makes for a cookie that ultimately succumbs to its own moisture. This does not affect the taste but I was a little embarassed to offer them to people at work. Their crumb-mumbled declarations of "delicious!" made me feel better, but I really wish I could keep the out-of-the-oven crisp shell from fading.

Another note: these would also be good with some raisins added. I did not have rasisins.
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
6 Tbl unsweetened apple sauce
2 Tbl apple butter
2 Tbl vegetable oil
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/8 cup agave syrup
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup 0% Fage (or any egg subsitute equivalent to 1 egg)
1 cup oats, old fashioned or quick (not instant)
3/4 cup shredded or grated carrots
1/2 - 1 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans and just a few walnuts)
1/4 - 1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger (confession: I did not really measure how much ginger I put in. That goes for the nuts too.)
Preheat oven to 375.

Mix together all dry ingredients save nuts and ginger.

In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until thoroughly mixed.

Gradually add flour mixture and mix until evenly distributed, then add in nuts and ginger.

Line baking sheet with parchment and evenly distribute dough balls roughly 1-2 Tbl in size.

Bake for 10-13 minutes or until browned and crisp. Be patient and don't worry too much about them burning. These are very forgiving and very moist cookies.

Makes about 24 cookies unless you don't eat ANY of the dough, in which case you might squeeze out a couple more.


October 13, 2008

I used to hate bananas. Actually, I sort of still hate bananas. I like banana sliced in some yogurt, or in a pancake, or in an oatmeal chocolate-chip cookie from Vegan Treats, but I can't make it through more than half of a plain old banana without retching. Luckily for my potassium intake there are so many ways to consume bananas other than their raw form. Subbing bananas for eggs in many baked goods is an excellent way to use up the slimy buggers, reap their nutritional benefits, avoid the cholesterol pitfalls of eggs and, at least in my experience, leave the resultant baked good with only the merest hint of banana flavor. Of course if you're going for a veritable banana bread you'll want to amp up the banana in the recipe, but by subbing about 3/4 to 1 mashed banana for each egg in a cookie or quick bread recipe you should not be reeling with banana after each bite.

Lately I've been obsessed with bananas and have eschewed eggs nearly all together. This has not always been successful, but it has not been the fault of bananas. (The incident of the lemon yogurt cake in which I subbed oil for butter and ground flax with blueberries for eggs will be referred to simply as The Unfortunate Collapse.) The obsession was primarily inspired by my discovery of a cache of frozen bananas in our new temporary freezer (thanks Elin!). Freezing bananas is ingenious. They look incredibly gross and sometimes leave an unsightly ooze on the freezer shelf but that's better than leaving them collecting fruit flies until you're obligated to whip out the flour or toss them. Forced baking never yields the best results (except for those vegan banana oat bombs I made awhile back, but I'd say those were more the result of a fixation). I argue that frozen bananas are even better for baking than the ripest of ripe bananas because the innards emerge post-thaw in such a gelatinous ooze that they mix right up with the rest of your wet ingredients without requiring much mashing.

Having learned to embrace a proclivity to boost the gas bill, I popped a couple frozen bananas into a bowl of warm water and messed around with this recipe with happy results. The muffins emerged moist (but not in that undercooked "I can tell something that was not egg or butter was used in this baked good" way) and perfectly crispy on top. Prepare for winter: make these post haste.

Banana-Nut(s) Muffins
I omitted the chocolate chips that were included in the original recipe because, come on, let's at least maintain the charade that muffins are not cake long enough for me to slather peanut butter, nutella, plain old butter or maybe something comparatively healthy but still not quite like apple butter on them. Also, I really don't like banana and chocolate together. I know. It just doesn't work for me, if I want chocolate I want chocolate, not banana-y chocolate. I might also omit the coconut next time, though I'm concerned that that might result in a drier crumb. Were blueberries still in season I would certainly have tossed some in. Ditto re crystallized ginger. And finally, as I am currently nursing a fondness for seeds, I might experiment with some sunflower or pumpkin seeds stuck on the tops (though such adornments typically lend themselves most harmoniously to breads including squash or pumpkin).
2 super-ripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
6 Tbl unsweetened apple sauce
1/4 cup unsweeted soy milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup shredded coconut
3 tsp corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 and grease your muffin tins. I do this by rolling vegetable oil around in one depression, wiping most of it up with a paper towel and then distributing oil to each subsequent depression with the sopping towel.

Using a hand mixer beat bananas, sugar, apple sauce, vanilla, oil and soymilk until a semi-smooth mixture results. Don't worry if there are still some discernible pieces of banana in the mix, unless you prefer removing all traces of your ingredients' former selves. I like a chunk of banana now and then.

Whisk together the remaining ingredients and gradually stir into the wet mixture until just mixed.

Evenly distribute batter into muffin tin and bake for about 25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Let cool slightly in tin before turning them out on a rack to cool completely.

Makes about 9 muffins depending on size of muffin tin.

Ginger is King

October 7, 2008

I am a ginger addict. Give me a baggie of crystallized ginger at the Co-Op and you will find me a few minutes later sweating and shaking in line while polishing off the last medallion. Restraint isn't my strong suit anyway and when it comes to ginger any attempt at moderation is a wasted ten seconds of self-delusion. I try to stick chopped crystallized ginger in pretty much anything I bake, even though the resultant pebbles of tongue-searing spice aren't everyone's flavor of choice. Occasionally even I will admit that the pleasure of consuming the ensuing baked good might have been heightened by the omission of ginger, but generally I make wise decisions where butter and sugar are concerned. Stumbling across the following ginger cookie recipe was one of the smartest things I ever did. I meant to post them last winter but my first batch didn't even see tupperware due to being scarfed down by myself and some dinner guests. While not as bitingly gingery as the previously-posted vegan ginger snaps adapted from How It All Vegan, these cookies still have a nice zing to them and are less dense and more cakey. They cook up perfectly every time with nice cracked tops and freeze very well. You might even want to eat them with a few tablespoons of apple butter for dipping. These are the lengths to which people who were deprived Dunk-a-roos will go.

Almost Vegan Apple Butter Ginger Cookies
I riff on this recipe, using yogurt for my egg replacer (hence the not quite vegan-ness, though of course you can use soy yogurt if that's your prerogative ) and adding sundry fillings as desired. Dried cherries do pretty well and I'm sure some chocolate wouldn't hurt things.
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup sugar (I use florida crystals)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger (or more)
4 Tbl canola oil
4 Tbl blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup unsweetend apple butter (I like Kime's)
1/4 cup yogurt (any kind will do, even non-fat. If you'd like to use another egg replacer just use however much evens out to one egg, i.e. 1 1/2 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer. I have not tried using a banana in these for fear of imparting an unwelcome banana taste but maybe the ginger would take care of that).
Turbinado sugar for dusting.
Preheat oven to 350.

Whisk together wet ingredients.

Whisk together dry ingredients.

Mix wet ingredients with dry ingredients.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop dough balls roughly 1-2 Tbl in size and roll in sugar to coat. Evenly place on baking sheet.

Bake for about 12 minutes or until the cookies appear set. Remove from oven, let cool on rack.

Makes approximately 24 cookies.


June 12, 2008

A muffin is a difficult creature. The muffin top is universally lauded while the muffin bottom generally labeled innocuous if not a downright waste of time. I suggest that this unfortunate attitude towards the muffin is a result of a slew of uninventive and bland muffins saturating the market. Of course the crispy browned muffin cap will be relished and the bottom left to moulder in its wax paper if it isn't interesting enough to garner interest. The trick to muffins is to make them pleasing enough in flavor and fillings that the crisp of the top is merely an added bonus. Else the muffin experience is one that veers dangerously close to pastry regret, sparking self-flagellation and vows to never again spend money or time or both on an uncommitted baked good.

I don't often make muffins in the absence of a function since they don't lend themselves to moderate consumption. When the time comes it's the whole muffin or nothing, not so much because half a muffin will not keep as well as a slice of cake but because for the dedicated eater wrapping up half a muffin is insulting. Muffins don't inspire me in the way of cookies or cakes, and living in close proximity to each of these fine muffin purveyors typically deflates my muffin-baking sails.

However, I got to thinking about muffins while obsessively plotting my gustatory attack on San Francisco and wondering how I might weather eating a slice of pizza, a cheese roll, a vegan chocolate mint cookie, a piece of foccacia (depending on the topping of the day) AND a cornmeal blueberry muffin from the glorious Arizmendi without keeling over. I haven't come up with a solution short of "sack up and take it like a cheese detective" (post-Arizmendi note: it can be done. It's not pretty, but it was delicious) but the last item on that list of must-haves reminded me of the baked offering that, in conjunction with a provocatively spicy soy chai latte, inspires me to brave the laptop jockeys at Ritual: the dirt bomb.

Does all this gibbering have any bearing on whether you should go make dirt bombs right now? Not really. At the last minute I decided to make use of some ground flax, not yet having experimented with it as an egg substitute, and then decided to oh hell just make them vegan. I'm not crazy enough to have foregone the whole rolling in butter and cinnamon-sugar bit but if for some reason (I don't want to hear it) one wants to skip that step, rest assured that the muffins sans butter bath are very tasty on their own.

"Vegan" Dirt Bombs
The flax seed worked fabulously as an egg replacer and the blueberry gave a nice subtle dimension to the muffins. Next time I make these I'm going to stick in some fresh blueberries or blackberries.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup agave nectar
2 tablespoons ground flax seed mixed with 6 tablespoons water
1 cup soy milk

for topping:
3/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 and grease your muffin tins.

Sift dry ingredients together into a mixing bowl.

Whisk vegetable oil, agave nectar and soymilk together and add the flax/water mixture.

Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and mix until evenly integrated.

Pour equal amounts into muffin tins and bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let muffins cool before dipping them in melted butter and then rolling them rigorously in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Allow the sugar to set before digging in. Or don't.

Makes 12 dirtbombs.

Slavery to Savory

June 4, 2008

I enjoy baking and enjoy eating my baked goods, but I've come to realize that when I have the urge to bake cookies what I often want is something more akin to a cracker. Same goes for a hankering for chips, which is why these have changed my life and I can't seem to stop touting them at every opportunity. This realization spells the end of the need to justify veganizing countless perfectly reasonable cookie recipes, for the answer to that indignant question of why anyone would mess with butter and eggs is this: I prefer salty to sweet. Though my recent introduction to self-made chocolate croissants courtesy of an ingenious suggestion by visitor Anna to stick chunks of dark chocolate into a crispy plain croissant ("they just taste so much better that way!") was a revelation for which I cannot thank her enough, when it comes down to it I would sooner never eat chocolate again rather than forgo bread, crackers, cheese, etc.

That being said, crackers can only be so decadent (alright prove me wrong) and the best cookie recipes come from that melding of sweet and savory, a savory treat decadent enough to truly be a treat. The following buttery peppery nutty nuggets that pass as cookies are such a treat. Involving too much sugar to be called crackers, yet pervaded by a magnificent spiciness that smacks into the butter with a satisfying muffled thud of agreement.

Hazelnut Black Pepper Cookies
from Chocolate & Zucchini
yields approximately 60 cookies

I have made these cookies a couple times now and discovered that chilling the dough for an hour doesn't really seem necessary unless you are squeamish about getting more butter residue on your hands while constructing the dough balls. While they don't call out for a plethora of additions the way some cookies do, this time around I added some diced crystallized ginger to half the batch and they turned out wonderfully (just watch out for the spice factor).
3/4 cup whole hazelnuts
1 2/3 cup whole wheat flour (I have used whole wheat pastry flour as well as a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose with germ and both have worked just fine)
2/3 cup rolled oats (Clotilde suggests spelt flakes, which I have not yet tried since I am typically flush with rolled oats rather than spelt flakes)
1/2 cup + 2 Tbl unrefined cane sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 pinch salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper (1/2 tsp if you want a wallop)
10 Tbl butter, chilled
2 Tbl orange blossom water (Clotilde suggests rose water, but fear of ending up with cookies smelling and potentially tasting like potpourri I have only used orange blossom water. Plain water is fine as well seeing as you really just need something to add a bit of moisture to the dough, but the combination of smells provided by the orange blossom water and pepper is worth it.)
Preheat oven to 300 F unless you are going to chill the dough for an hour, in which case preheat the oven when the dough is almost finished chilling.

Toast hazelnuts in a dry skillet until they are fragrant and be careful not to burn them. Let them cool a bit before chopping them roughly, either by brandishing your best mallet or carefully using a chopping knife.

Mix all ingredients except for the butter and orange blossom water and whisk until blended.

Finely dice the butter and add to the dry ingredients. Either use a pastry cutter or your hands to work the butter through the flour mixture, breaking up the resultant butter balls until you get something like coarse meal.

Gradually add the orange blossom water whilst stirring until the dough is damp enough that you can pack it together into two balls.

If desired, cover the bowl with a dishcloth and set aside to cool for an hour.

Place walnut-sized dough balls on a baking sheet (I was dubious about emulating something so diminutive as a walnut but dough balls this size do result in appropriately sized cookies considering how much flavor is in each one. This way you can dip two in your tea rather than bolting through one larger mass), flatten them down and bake for 25 minutes until just barely browned around the edges.

Leave on baking sheet for a few minutes before setting them on a rack to cool.

Keen on Beans

June 3, 2008

It's been over two months. Sorrysorrysorrysorrysorry. Alright, onward.

I never liked beans much. String beans frenched and dressed with lemon juice yes, but vulgaris, no. Hamburger soup involved painstakingly removing all the kidney beans and piling them like sweating larvae around the perimeter of the plate, imaging that the two likely tasted quite similar. I'd ask for my burritos without beans, my tortas without beans, wouldn't touch a bean-tainted salsa let alone a bowl of chilli. Funnily enough (or perhaps not so surprising), even my countless bean-based co-op meals did not do much to pique my interest in the foul little things. I can't quite pinpoint when the tide turned and I think nutrition of all things actually had the most to do with it: I decided that I'd better start liking beans. Now it seems all bets are off as far as how long it will take before I'm sick of beans seeing as I'll down a nice can of Goya anything in about as long as it would take me to work through an equivalent serving of sorbet or Tomme Crayeuse. Beans with salmon, beans with spinach, beans with kale, beans with cumin and chile, beans and grape tomatoes (rarely beans and rice, hm.).

In an attempt to hasten the approach of summer, I made the following salad sometime in March. Though I initially thought it would suffer from the near tasteless peppers (seasons Tory, produce has seasons), the dressing packed enough of a punch that combined with the richness of the black beans it pulled together a pleasing dish. Now that my procured peppers are up to the task of providing a crispy combination of sweet and sour, the dressing provides a subtle compliment to the natural play of flavors provided by the key ingredients. Unless you're one of those people unlucky enough to taste soap instead of the glory that is fresh cilantro, said green is a treat as a garnish for this salad.

Black Bean Bell Pepper Salad
from Smitten Kitchen
A note in regards to beans: I say use Goya. Yes, yes, you can soak your own if you wish but I've had nary a bad can of Goya anything. They are never mushy or flavorless and hold up under vigorous rinsing. Black, chick, cannellini, go to town.
2 cans black beans
4 bell peppers (I use one of each color)
1 medium white onion (Use red at your peril. I like to eat raw onions so I didn't perish.)
3 Tbl olive oil
1 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp honey
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
juice from one lime
fresh cilantro
Rinse the beans well and drain them.

Seed and chop the peppers and onion and mix with the beans.

Whisk the remaining ingredients together, and toss over the bean mixture. Adjust to taste depending on your penchant for sweet and spicy (I typically add a bit more salt and a few cranks of pepper).

Garnish with cilantro.

Deprivation and Innovation

March 20, 2008

whilst watching Aliens

I'm not certain what it is about late night baking, but lately I've found myself settling in around midnight exorcising some floury demon. A few weeks ago a couple hours of indulging in cheeses, olives, bucatini all' amatriciana and three flavors of gelato at Otto resulted in an inexplicable and quite frankly distressing craving for cookies. Maybe olive oil + wine + curds + pig's jowl = cookie, I don't know. Forced to abandon my initial idea to hit up Build A Green Birdbath Milkpaint Corkboard Bakery for their stealth vegan chocolate chip cookie bomb of addiction, I decided that my cookie craving could be standing in for a desire to create and went home and started mixing. [Paul Reiser! Sigourney Weaver and her terrible hairdo do not trust Paul Reiser. He explains 57 lost years in the same tone he'd tell Jamie that Murray ate her slipper. Cats know what humans do not! Oh, oops, dream sequence. Wow I really don't remember a lot of this movie.]

I was going to make these, but my penchant for pseudo-veganization and complications rode high once more. Molasses is my friend of late so there was no question about that oozing in somewhere, and I've been trying to figure out when and how butter substitutes are suitable so I tried an oil and apple-butter combo. [You should believe Ripley, ill-coiffed Lily Tomlin look-alike skeptic and company.] Conceding that my cookie had morphed into a different animal entirely, I threw in cinnamon and pecans for the hell of it.

I was dubious during the preparation process since until the addition of the yogurt the dough has the gritchy consistency of lake sand. The resultant cookie bomb [stick to your guns Ripley, those colonial marines can suck it. And those drinking glasses are completely impractical.] was a fantastically dense hunk of savory nuttiness with enough of a hint of sweetness to still qualify it as a cookie. Their crisp shell masks an unexpected chewiness and have kept marvelously in the freezer. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest everyone adopt "When In Doubt, Add Molasses" (or maybe "Ultimate Badasses Use Molasses"?) as their new baking motto, but I continue to be flummoxed and fascinated by the stuff. Just beware treacle-filled bowlers...

Vegan Cocoa Pecan Molasses CookiesMakes 3 dozen cookies
Adapted from this original non-vegan recipe. The resultant cookie bomb is dense and cakey with a vague nutty and fruity flavor imparted by the apple butter and the molasses. Though many recipes that call for yogurt stipulate full fat, I myself have never had a problem using non- or low-fat and prefer to use Fage when possible. Suggested alternate additions in place of chocolate chips and pecans: peanut butter chips, walnuts, dried cranberries or sour cherries.
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 Tbl unsalted butter or oil (safflower) (I used 6 Tbl oil and 2 Tbl apple butter)
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
14 Tbl unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

Mix together the oil and sugar, then add cocoa powder and mix until well-blended. At this point the dough resembles wet dirt.

Stir in yogurt, molasses and vanilla (the dough should become much more manageable after these additions). Mix until just combined and toss in the chocolate chips and pecans.

Evenly place tablespoon-sized dollops on baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until the tops of the cookies look set. Remove from oven and leave on baking sheet for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Bruising and Boozing

March 16, 2008

The following series of posts will be horribly out of chronological order but nevertheless replete with deliciousness so I feel little chagrin. I'd all but chained myself to my chair to get some posts dashed off when my wine-seltzer-fruit punch cocktail (not as good as it sounds...or perhaps just as good as it sounds?) kicked in and instead of typing out the five or so entries I've had swirling in the cranial vortex for the past few weeks my fingers started searching out new things to bake. Sharing responsibility with the alcohol for this baking itch was a near-moldering banana in the fruit basket that gradually loomed so large in my sights that I could resist it no more than Macbeth his ghostly knife. For that banana to come to rest in the trash would be a musaic tragedy, and I was going to save it. Deciding that I also wanted to use maple syrup and nuts, I scoured the web and ended up working from a composite of about a dozen recipes.

Let's just get this out of the way: the cookies are vegan. Let's get another proclamation out of the way: I have a feeling that the majority of cookie recipes I post will be vegan. There's little logic to it, I've already declared my fealty to Lord Dairy in so many words, but I really like dense salty cookies and quite often going vegan is the way to achieve this result (though just wait until I try my black olive shortbread, those buggers are going to be so oozy with salt and butter that after eating them you won't be able to engage in anything requiring dextrous digits). There will be no further apologizing or justifying in this department but, being a fan of grandiose statements applied to trivial subjects, I hereby dedicate myself to pushing the limits of applesauce, bananas, psyllium and all other stand-ins for lactose and embryos. Onward.

Vegan Maple Banana Oatmeal Cookies
yields 36 cookie nuggets
A few notes:
-I have fallen in love with the taste of maple syrup in baked goods but you can certainly substitute brown sugar if you'd like a cookie without that maple edge.

-Bananas are often employed as an egg substitute (~1/2 pureed banana per egg) and can have a surprisingly minimal effect on the overall taste of a baked good.
My confounding recent conversion to the pro-banana camp leads me to suggest that another half or even whole banana be employed in this recipe to really give these cookies a banana kick, the one lends a pleasing hint and does the job of an egg but some might desire more of a smack of banana flavor.
-I'm not positive that the soy milk is necessary, I just thought the dough seemed a bit dry.

Though I resisted the my typical urge to start adding ingredients willy-nilly, I am fairly convinced that additions such as apple butter, crystallized ginger, yellow raisins or ground flax seeds would all yield a tasty result.
3 Tbl oil (I used canola, I suspect safflower or any vegetable oil would work just as well)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 mushy banana, puréed or otherwise reduced to a pulp
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbl unsweetened soy milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 - 2 cups rolled oats
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375F.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.

Whisk the oil, honey, maple syrup, soy milk and vanilla. Stir in the banana, pecans and rolled oats.

Gradually add the flour mixture, stirring whilst adding and thoroughly mixing until dough is a gummy mass.

Evenly distribute tablespoon-sized dollops of dough on baking sheet and flatten slightly if desired. These cookies really do not spread during baking so if you prefer discs to nuggets, prep accordingly before putting in the oven.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies are slightly browned and crisp. Remove from oven and cool on rack.

Aching and Baking

January 30, 2008

"Why do you want a vegan cookie?" "Why did you get the soy chicken salad instead of the chicken salad?" "Soyrizo? You mean chorizo, right?...it's made out of what?!"

I know it doesn't make much sense. I love ice cream, chorizo tortas slathered in crema and the lasagna-esque chocolate peanut-butter cookies from Grey Dog, but I also love Soy Delicious with vegan oreos, soyrizo quesadillas and stand by my conviction that Keri's Kreations' chocolate chip cookie is worth badgering my friends in San Francisco to cart over to me if they can't swing by Arizmendi for their hockey puck of a vegan chocolate mint cookie. I believe I need to put this issue to rest once and for all: vegan food can be really good even if (especially if) it isn't peppered with the righteousness and obduracy that accompanies so many of its proponents. Consequently, while I avidly follow developments in bacon, fat-free vegan also features in my regular rotation. I don't generally make much of a point to harp on fat content (why take any joy out of piping hot cheese grits?) but delicious is delicious and if it comes rolled up in a fat-free bundle then that means more for me.

Which leads me to biscotti. I set out to make quinoa cookies, but lacking rolled oats and fielding a thoroughly horrified reaction from the mother upon my suggesting I sift packets of oatmeal to separate out the oats, I needed to change my plan with a quickness. While it is easy to think of biscotti as stale-tasting cookies served up either shrink-wrapped or crammed and crumbling in jars at your local coffee house, I prefer to think on the unfailing sensation of decadence whenever an unrequested crisp little biscotti arrives alongside a cappuccino. Nostalgia won a double victory tonight, for not only did these subtly spicy little crisps trigger fond memories of their predecessors but they have also cemented what was previously a suspicion that coffee should never be served without them. While I am plotting more elaborate ingredient variations, Susan's simple recipe for success continues the trend of fool-proof baking begun by the beer bread. Much as bread is not bread unless there is a dairy product on or in it, coffee is not coffee unless it comes with a cookie.

Ginger Biscotti
adapted from Fat-Free Vegan

I was tempted to maintain the veganness of the original recipe by using a banana in place of the Ener-G egg replacer (an item of which I am fond but not currently in possesion), having done so successfully recently in the service of some apple butter ginger cookies. Fearful of ending up with either mushy or banana-tainted biscuits, I decided to sack up and use an egg and as much water as was required to achieve the desire consistency of dough. If you insist on vegan integrity, use 1 1/2 Tbl Ener-G and 6 Tbl water plus more if needed. Adding the chopped walnuts was a success, and next time I'm going for dried cranberries and a good dredging through some melted bars of Dagoba xocolatl.
1 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp (packed) freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts
2 eggs
6 Tbl water
1 Tbl molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350.

Sift together the dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and water.

Gradually add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients followed by the molasses, vanilla and walnuts. Mix well, adding more water just until the dough holds together. It will be sticky

Divide the dough in two and place on a floured surface. Shape each half into two logs about 2" wide and transfer to an an oiled cookie sheet or silicone baking mat, Flatten the logs to about 1 inch high. Bake for 30 minutes.

Take the baking sheet out of the oven and cool the biscotti for 10 minutes (it didn't take a full ten before I could successfully cut into the logs but don't risk breaking them).

Cut the half-baked logs into 1/2" slices on the diagonal.

Place the slices cut-side down on the baking sheet and bake for 10 more minutes before turning them over and baking for another 8-10 minutes.

Remove from oven. They will likely still be somewhat soft in the center but will harden as they cool. And then soften upon being dipped in espresso.

Beers and Tears (of joy)

January 24, 2008

I have a lot to cover. I know I said that San Francisco's luscious pastries, damn fine coffee and superlative pizza would have their day(s) and they will. I think. But right now I am motivated by the mad ecstasy of warm carbs to share with you as quickly as possible the method by which you too might experience the singular joy of warm bread at midnight. I don't do yeast these days, though I have before and hope to once more. The primary reason why I have not attacked my old standard, Cuban Easy Bread, is because whenever I read a recipe directive to "place dough on floured surface" I immediately cringe at the thought of placing a precious lump of dough on any surface of my kitchen, floured or no. So until I have a nice wood countertop to flour to my heart's content and clean with boiling water and oil with oils, yeasty bread will have to wait. Hence beer bread. Beer bread is an infinitely satisfying amalgam of quick bread and yeast bread, requires practically no effort or baking talent and acts as a stellar vehicle for whatever fixins for which you might be jonesing (though fruit probably wouldn't work too well as filler, stick to savory). Though it lacks the satisfying crisp crust of a veritable loaf, it toasts brilliantly and possesses the chewy elasticity of a kneaded bread. The ineffable delight of oven-fresh bread is one I discovered at school, lurking in the kitchen waiting with a ladle of butter/salsa/peanut sauce for loaves oozing with jalapeno-jack to come out of the oven, marveling at the occasional emergence of foccacia, challah, sourdough, witnessing the regenerative power of sizzling crumbs and learning that carbs consumed standing up and in good company are not ones to be counted.

Whole Wheat Beer Bread
from a recipe from Farmgirl Fare

When I first made beer bread I used all-purpose flour and included chives, caramelized shallots, sundry herbs and sharp cheddar cheese. The result was nothing short of delicious, but after trying out this whole wheat version I think that the hint of beer that lingers in the bread weds more successfully with the darker wheat flavor than with regular flour. A note about the beer: though recipes recommend using an Irish Pale Ale, I used a darker brew. The resulting taste is definitely heavier on the beer side of things so if you would prefer something that has a better chance of skating by unnoticed on the AA buffet table, use a lighter beer. Also, this bread has a tendency to get a bit soggy after being wrapped in foil. This can be countered either by toasting individual slices or popping the whole loaf into the oven at 200 degrees for a few minutes until the top dries out. Finally, a layer of cheese on the top of the loaf pre-baking can't hurt.
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbl granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbl baking powder
1+ cup grated cheese of your choice, sharp cheddar works well
14 ounces beer (or 12 ounces beer & 2 ounces water)
Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, salt, herbs and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in beer and cheese and mix just until combined.

Spread in a greased 8-inch loaf pan, brush with egg glaze and bake about 45 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool 10 more minutes.


January 15, 2008

I don't presume to suggest I have enough of a readership at the moment to render an unannounced absence of such length "inexcusable" exactly, but it is certainly not good in terms of its reflection on my professions of dedication to homaging. I'm not trying to make excuses but the past two months have been rather tumultuous. One day after the last post our little Tory started a new job, a development which had several effects. One was to cut the fromaging down to one day a week (the busiest day no less), thereby making extensive research and lingering behind the cheese counter near impossible and putting the "cheese of the week" feature in jeopardy. I know that is a flimsy excuse at best, but I hope to apply myself with gusto to making up for the dearth of dairy on this site. Another effect of newfound employment was a schedule that hardly allows for eating, let alone chefery or invetigating. While the wilds of Astoria undoubtedly hold a few gems, I haven't been able to convince any of my coworkers to try out Sarajevo Fast Food and the bodegas enticing me with hastily scrawled signage advertising tortas do not deliver. Such are my paltry excuses, which add up to "whine whine whine I'm tired whine whine."

This isn't to say I've been entirely inactive. I did make a thoroughly aesthetically disastrous batch of spice cookies, an even tastier cakier version of my peanut butter cookies (more syrup, less sugar), tried some stellar Brooklyn locations (top runners Lucali and the Soul Spot), uncovered some chickens named Patrick in Chinatown, pigged out on Taster Matt's irrefutable masterpiece sinker: farfalle ala canned salmon as well as an inspired mushroom bread pudding, found what I'm going to deem the best place to get tasty cheap fake meats, and whipped up many a masterful batch of cheese grits. All of this plus San Francisco adventures when we return...after I get some more sleep.