Wednesday, May 28, 2008

All is Full of Brunch

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend. Mine was great. I spent most of it cooking, then had a nice brunch picnic with my friends for Memorial Day.

SPOILER WARNING: The following post contains pictures and descriptions of testing recipes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's upcoming vegan brunch book, Crack of Noon. If you want to be surprised by the book, don't click!

(all outdoor photos below this point were taken by my friend Adrienne)

For me, the most important part of brunch is potatoes. I was tempted to bring three different types, but behaved myself and stuck with two:

First was Red Flannel Hash: a nice, smoky mix of potatoes and beets, sauteed, then baked. I still don't know if I like beets (I have trouble getting past the garden smell), but I've liked them whenever I've used them in one of Isa's recipes and that's good enough for me.

We also had Samosa Mashed Potato Pancakes, which are basically just flat, doughless samosas. All the goodness of the filling, none of the hassle of making dough. Win! They're one of those recipes that I have trouble believing came out of my kitchen because it tastes so professionally restauranty. Technically, the pancakes are fried, but don't let that put you off; look how dry my pan is:

The oil is pretty much a non-issue.

No brunch would be complete without pancakes, so we had Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes:

They're thick and hearty and kind of healthy. Lovely topped with agave nectar and fresh berries. As you can see at the link above, you need four different kinds of flour to make them, but don't let it put you off. They're worth it and you never know when you're going to need quinoa flour (seriously).

For protein, we had Spicy Pinto Sausages and Beer Battered Tofu.

The sausages are an adaptation of the Spicy Italian Vegetarian Sausage recipe from Everyday Dish. It's super cool. You make a seitany dough, divide it up, wrap it up in tinfoil so it looks like a bunch of Tootsie Rolls, throw it in a steamer for a while, and viola! Sausages. It couldn't be any easier. And it's even forgiving of the occasional cock up (I was short one half cup vital wheat gluten). The texture is great, and the spices are serious.

The Beer Battered Tofu is a vegan twist on the fish part of fish and chips. Yup, deep frying for brunch. These were great with a bit of malt vinegar (and even without).

For something a bit more like a "normal" breakfast, we had a Mexicana Scramble. It's great, but very vegetabley. I usually think of scrambles as having more tofu than vegetables, but this is so tasty, we'll let it go.*

I felt like we should have one straight vegetable dish, so I made Poblanos Stuffed With Coriander Seed Mushrooms. If you like spicy, you'll like this. Personally, I can only eat them cold, when some of the spice is held at bay.

I also grilled up some tortillas, in case people wanted to make breakfast burritos.

For dessert, we had Pain Au Chocolat and Orange Pecan Crumb Cake.

I'm an idiot and forgot to photograph the Pain Au Chocolat. It's the easiest thing in the world to make, and it's amazingly tasty and elegant looking. It's one of those desserts that's bound to impress if you don't tell people how you did it. I filled ours with berries and I think my face died and went to heaven when I ate it.

I don't like citrusy cakes much, but the pecans and nutmeg in this one balance it out nicely. It's pretty light, so most people were able to eat a piece, even after all that brunch. Now that I'm writing about it, I'm really looking forward to the leftovers when I get home.

I used the wrong sized pan, so the shape is messed up, but you get the idea.

I had some leftover beer batter and vegetables, so I fried up some shiitake mushrooms, cauliflower and broccoli. Yum!

* After eating the Mexicana Scramble and Beer Battered Tofu, people commented that I got the texture of the tofu really firm and nice. Slimy tofu is the worst feeling in the world. The secret: if a recipe calls for either firm or extra firm tofu, go with extra firm. And if it tells you to press the tofu, press the crap out of it. Seriously. For at least an hour. If you don't have to press it, just shake it out lightly and squeeze it between your hands a bit to get out as much of the moisture as you can.

Monday, May 12, 2008

In Recovery

After all the baking I've been doing, when it came time to cook for this week, I wanted to make something fast and easy, to give myself time to recover. Healthy would be good too, but it wasn't a priority. I just wanted to get out of the kitchen before midnight, after the Mother's Day festivities (dinner and a movie - Iron Man. The whole family loved it, even my grandmother, who went in saying "I don't like that nonsense."). Chickpea Broccoli Casserole from Vegan With a Vengeance to the rescue.

If you have a food processor, the active prep time for this casserole is probably about ten minutes. But if you have one of these, don't use the slicing blade to slice the chives. You may have better luck with the S-blade, but I don't know. With the slicing blade, I ended up with really long, thin chives. And I left them that way. It's all good.

The hardest part of this was mashing all the chickpeas because I didn't use a large enough bowl. That's it. There isn't even a fancy spice blend (though I'm sure you could add it, if you wanted to). Just olive oil, vegetable broth and salt. I didn't even have to mince any garlic!

This is probably the healthiest tasting dish I've made from one of Isa's books. It tastes very good, but it sort of tastes like how you'd expect vegan food to taste, which is not what I expect from an Isa recipe. That said, with all the crap I've been eating lately, "health food" was a welcome change.

It's not the prettiest or fanciest of dishes, but it's filling (and healthy and easy) and that's good enough for me.

Happy Mothers Day!

Happy belated Mother's Day to all the mothers reading this. And all the wannabe mothers. And all the people who have mothers. And everyone who likes mothers. Basically, I hope everyone had a nice Sunday.

My mother's birthday was also this weekend. As I mentioned in my birthday post, she loved my birthday cake (a little too much), so I made Blackout the Forest Cupcakes for her and my grandmother for Mother's Day/her birthday.

(Note: the post behind the cut is pretty image heavy; I was finally able to take some photos in daylight and may have gotten a little carried away.)

I started out with the same recipes I used for the cake, Raspberry Blackout Cake with Ganache-y Frosting and Chocolate Chip-Raspberry Blondie Bars from Vegan With a Vengeance, halving them and substituting cherries for raspberries. This yielded ten cupcakes. One could probably get eleven out of it, but I tend to overfill.

The cross-hatching on some of the cupcakes is neither functional nor decorative. I just dropped them upside down on the cooling rack.

Next, I cut a cone out of the center of each cupcake, trying to keep the removed part as tidy as possible, so it could be replaced neatly:

Then I filled the hole partway with the cherry layer:

Topped that with ganache:

Topped that with the bits of the cupcakes I'd cut out earlier (trimmed down for a neater fit - and so I had something to snack on):

Then the cupcakes went in the fridge until the ganache hardened and I could be pretty certain nothing would fall off when I turned the cupcakes upside down. Once they were cooled, I covered them with cherry preserves. I covered the full size cake with more of the cherry layer I made, but I didn't think the cupcakes would be able to accommodate the lumpiness of the cherries and still look nice:

I dipped each cupcake in the still warm ganache:

Then the cupcakes went back in the fridge, joined by the ganache, so it could harden. When it was firm, I used the icing to pipe ganache-y os on the cupcakes:

That was topped with chocolate covered cherries, and when I ran out of cherries, a truffle made from leftover ganache:

The money shot:

Loads of extra pictures:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yesterday was my birthday, and in honor of that most auspicious of occasions, I baked a cake and brought it to work for my office birthday party on Thursday. I call it Blackout the Forest Cake because it's sort of like a cross between blackout cake and black forest cake. To make it, I adapted parts of Raspberry Blackout Cake with Ganache-y Frosting and Chocolate Chip-Raspberry Blondie Bars from Vegan With a Vengeance.

I started out making the Raspberry Blackout Cake, substituting cherry preserves for raspberry:

Instead of topping it with more cherry preserves, I made the raspberry layer from the Chocolate Chip-Raspberry Blondie Bars, substituting frozen cherries for raspberries:

All that was topped with ganache:

Then another cake and more cherries. When I moved the second cake from the cooling rack to the cake, it ripped about halfway down and I nearly shit my pants. Thankfully, all the toppings covered it up quite nicely and no one could tell:

Then, the whole thing was frosted with ganache and refrigerated along with the remaining topping to firm it up to a spreadable and pipeable consistency:

I also dipped some fresh cherries in the ganache for decoration. I kept the stems on because I thought they kind of looked like birthday candles, and because it made them easier to dip. To get a good layer of chocolate on them, I dipped them, refrigerated them, dipped them again and put them back in the fridge until it was time to use them:

I'm not so great at frosting cakes yet, so I wasn't able to completely hide the seam between the cakes when I poured on the ganache. I managed to cover the seam with the refrigerated ganache, but it didn't come out as smooth as I'd hoped. I guess I just need practice (the top isn't so smooth either, but that's to be expected with the cherry chunks on it).

The next thing I did was pipe chocolate circles onto the cake wherever I wanted to place the fresh cherries. I think of them as "Ganache-y Os":

Then I pressed the chocolate covered cherries into the ganache-y os:

I probably should have done the cake assembly and decoration on the base of my cake carrier, but I didn't because I'm not so smart. I also made the even less smart move of covering my carrier with parchment paper, so that when I piped around the base of the cake, I wouldn't be doing it directly onto the carrier. Moving the cake from the cutting board to the carrier was a nightmare. I really thought I was going to wreck the whole thing. The sides ripped significantly, but I was able to hide it with icing. Then I piped a border on the top and bottom of the cake:

Thanks to the stupid parchment, the cake slid around the carrier throughout my commute (bus, train and 20-minute walk) and I thought it would certainly be ruined by the time I got to work. As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, it didn't turn out too bad; the trim is just a little flat. Here's a shot of the inside:

The cake went over very well, with two people having seconds and one attempting to steal one of the pieces saved for absentees.

Since I'd never made a cake like this before, I did half a test cake last weekend by baking one cake, cutting it in half and layering the two halves instead of layering two cakes:

Here's a shot of the cherry and chocolate layers:

My family loved the testcake so much I knew it'd be good enough for my coworkers. Actually, my mother loved it a little too much: my father had to make her back away from the table and when no one was looking, she rushed the cake and took a second piece (part of a piece I was saving for a friend). She's been talking about the cake all week, so I'm in the process of turning it into cupcakes for Mother's Day (literally in the process; I'm typing this while the ganache is cooling in the fridge). If the cupcakes turn out half as well as the cake did, it will be a happy Mother's Day indeed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Dont Fear the Seitan

So I was all psyched up to make Julie Hasson's famous sausages this weekend when my friend said she'd gotten BBQ seitan at a restaurant. Follower that I am, I wanted BBQ seitan too, so I made the BBQ Seitan and Crispy Coleslaw Sandwich from Veganomicon. Isa and Terry say the sandwich is based on one they had at 'Snice and few things can recommend a recipe to me more strongly than a comparison to 'Snice, so I was sold. I made Simple Seitan, Backyard BBQ Sauce and Home-Style Potato Rolls (all from VCON), put it all together with some coleslaw (included in sandwich recipe) and a bit of Vegannaise and died and went to heaven.

I know a lot of people are wary of making seitan. After The Lambs' Brains Debacle of '08, I understand why (thanks to Trina for that visual). But this was my second time making the Simple Seitan, and it's wonderful yet again. Clearly, it wasn't beginner's luck. This is just a fool proof way to make seitan. And to prove seitan making isn't scary or difficult (just time consuming), I'm going to take you through it with pictures (I think I did this last time, too, but I definitely took more pictures this time). In case you're not interested in all that, here's what my mouth is going to see as soon as this is posted:

The beginning of making seitan isn't much different from baking. Mix your dry ingredients (in this case, vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast):

Mix your wet ingredients (oil, garlic, soy sauce and some other stuff):

Combine your wet and dry. Mix it up, knead it for a while and cut it in thirds:

Throw it in a pot with some broth, bring it to a boil, simmer for a while, drain:

Tada! Your seitan is done and ready to be used in the recipe of your choice. It was my choice to slice it up:

And grill it in a grill pan brushed with peanut oil:

I think grill marks are sexy:

I tossed the grilled seitan in the Backyard BBQ Sauce and re-grilled:

Hot grill lines:

Don't forget to make your coleslaw:

Then, slice a roll in half, give it a little shmear of Vegannaise, a drizzle of BBQ sauce if you have bigger balls than me (the Backyard BBQ Sauce is too spicy for me plain, but it's perfect in the sandwich), pile on your coleslaw, top that with seitan, squish down the top bun and have the best lunch ever. It's one of the many recipes I've found in Veganomicon that leave me thinking "I can't believe this came out of my kitchen!"